Sunday, January 18, 2009

Compulsive Chronicles: Name Songs

Compulsive Chronicles is an ongoing column I write for Spoke(a)n(e) Magazine. It’s not so different from a lot of what I do here — devote entirely too much thought to the things I like. On this site, I’ll often be supplementing those columns with another habit of mine — fashioning those interests into some sort of list. And here, I’m not confined to roughly 800 words.

If you’ve come here for the first time by way of the magazine, welcome. Poke around. Pay no attention to the first draft quality in much of what I post.

In the absence of a ‘cut’ feature on blogger: For my lengthy but incomplete list of Songs With Names, please see the comments section. Here are five of my favorites:

1. Michael - Franz Ferdinand
This is what I am, I am a man
So come and dance with me, Michael

Singer Alex Kapranos summarizes the story behind this song as such: “It was one night when me and the band were out with friends from Glasgow and we went to this warehouse dance party thing called Disco X. It was a very debauched night and these two friends got it together in a very sexy way.”

I find it somewhat impossible not to dance to “Michael.” I love it, even though it’s one of those songs that after hearing it once, just reading the title of the song will have the chorus looping in your mind until the end of time.

Michael, you’re the boy with all the leather hips
Sticky hair, sticky hips, stubble on my sticky lips
Michael, you’re the only one I’d ever want
only one I’d ever want, only one I’d ever want

When Tyson and I were in San Francisco on our honeymoon, we went out to dinner and had a waiter named Michael. Michael was delightfully dreamy and seemed to think Tyson was too (which he is, of course). Michael looked at my left hand right away. I’d taken a shower before dinner and forgot to put my rings back on, and in seeing my bare hands, our already good service improved considerably. So much so that when our nineteen year old selves took a chance and each ordered a glass of wine, he served us without pause.

Maybe other women would find it strange to have her husband ogled by another man on their honeymoon, but I’m not other women. Michael the Hot Waiter, wherever you are, thanks for the booze. I hope someone once played this song for you.

2. Carey - Joni Mitchell
One of the very few instances in which a recording of me singing exists, it’s this song. If my memory of the situation is correct, an old boyfriend and I were in my car, and I had Blue on the stereo. Headed across the 10th Avenue bridge, we were on our way to Barnes & Noble’s short-lived open mic night. Old Boyfriend had his guitar and a tape recorder. Though I can’t remember anymore why he had the tape going then, much of Blue gives me a case of musical tourettes. Without really meaning to, I start singing along. Forgetting about the tape recorder for a moment, in not a particularly loud voice, I let out the last few lines:

Go to the Mermaid Café, have fun tonight
I said, Oh you’re a mean old daddy, but you’re outta sight

You can hear me in the background, and upon hearing the playback later, I was relieved to discover I stayed mostly in tune. That’s really all I can say about my voice — I can carry a tune. If you need a voice to fill out a musical theater chorus, I’m your gal. If I’m any better than that, I have a hard time believing it. I figure that an under inflated sense of talent is safer than over, lest I resemble an unfortunate American Idol audition. I may still have the tape stashed in a box somewhere, but now nine years passed, I don’t know if anyone else still has a copy.

What I love about Blue is that it resembles a good book, a collection of short stories. They’re personal like a journal entry, but written for public consumption. Characters come in and out of her life, she travels, but there’s a certain loneliness to it all. A longing. It’s an indispensable album.

3. Mary, Mary - Chumbawamba
Picture a group of fourteen year old girls singing the following lyrics:

No virgin, me!
For I have sinned
I sold my soul
for sex and gin!

Yeah, we thought we were funny. What with all that experience our fourteen year old selves had with sex and gin. (Eleven years later, and I’ve still never had gin. I’m waiting for the perfect moment to have the perfect gin & tonic, I suppose...)

You’re thinking, “That’s the band with that Tub-drumming, Tub... Tubthumping song, right? ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again’ over and over? Why, why would anyone still be talking about them?”

Hear me out, man. I used to make fun of them too. You couldn’t get away from the song or the video, with the eight billion of them jumping around with megaphones. My friend Heather bought the album and I thought Oh my God, if I have to hear that song every time I’m over there, what does the rest of it sound like?

It turns out, Heather had stumbled upon something pretty good. “Tubthumping” is the weakest song on the album, but it’s also the first song. If you skip right into “Amnesia,” you can pretend it’s not there, though enough time has passed where I don’t mind it anymore. I can’t quite describe the album, except to say one should not judge it based on the single. People like to toss around the word “underrated,” but these guys were.

I’m not sure what it says about us that our favorite song on the album described a girl who resembles the Lindsay Lohan of not long ago:

Get drunk on love
Wear next to nothing
In the pouring rain
Be a bad example
And do it all again

I guess I’d like to think that we knew we’d be better than that, if that’s not too retrospectively indulgent to say — That any future debauchery would be of the good-natured kind, and not so much a lifestyle.

4. Jimmy - M.I.A
As loathe as I am to jump on any hipster bandwagon, I still feel like I have to point out I bought the album Kala before The Pineapple Express helped make “Paper Planes” popular. If for no other reason, I mention it to demonstrate that I am still capable of making music purchases that are not rooted in the 90s.

Between reading a handful of reviews and my friend Kristen’s strong recommendation, I bought the album on an educated hunch. Since we live in the boonies and are forced to have dial-up, I’d heard only one song via youtube. I have a good track record with the intuitive music purchase, and luckily, I did not waste my ten dollars.

“Jimmy” threw me a bit, since it sounds so different from the rest of the album. You can dance to it all, but the disco strings here are something else. At first, I laughed. Then I let the album play through a handful of times, doing other things while I listened. This song was one of the ones that would bring me out the task at hand. I would say I paid attention, but really, I can’t tell you many of the words. I guess with a song like this, the words aren’t the first thing to which a person reacts. If a club DJ played this song and “Michael” over the course of an evening, I’d have to keep myself from hugging them. (SO not hip, man...)

My kids reacted. My son couldn’t have been more than six months old, and he would smile and bop his head every time. And my daughter will dance with even the whiff of a good beat. Thinking of them may elevate my opinion, but it’s one of my favorite songs on the album.

5. Damn, Sam (I love a woman that rains) - Ryan Adams
Though I’ve been on a huge Ryan Adams kick for the past year, more so than I usually am, I tried to forget about this song when constructing this list. How, I don’t know. When I bought the album in 2000, I wondered how exactly I’d been living my life without it. One could not exist on Strangers Almanac alone. For anyone who is interested in the complicated nature of love and longing, he’s a musical opiate.

Ryan Adams uses a lot of names in his songs — there’s Elizabeth, Amy, Lucy, Carol Lynn, Rosalie, Tina and even Sylvia Plath. He strikes me as that certain breed of songwriter who is so prolific, that if he did not get these songs, these people out into the world, his mind would overheat. One never knows if these women are sing-along fiction or real, and in the end, it does not matter. They feel real.

I enjoy his honesty, the conversational delivery. And though we don’t primarily work within the same medium, he makes me want to be a better writer. Every protagonist I’ve ever written could identify with these opening lines:

As a man, I’ve never been much for sunny days
I’m as calm as a fruit stand in New York
and maybe as strange

I’m interested in a life filled with people, yet feeling one step removed. I’m interested in the imperfect, how at once we can be both disgraceful and splendid. I want to know that though we may be flawed, we can still be revered.

Honorable mentions: “Lisa Listen,” by Lisa Loeb; “Oh Diane” by Fleetwood Mac.

Previously mentioned: “Dear Jessie,” by Madonna; “Eleanor Rigby,” by The Beatles;“I Love You, Suzanne,” by Lou Reed; “Jackie’s Strength,” by Tori Amos; “Janie Jones,” by The Clash; “Josephine,” by The Wallflowers; “Kate,” by Ben Folds Five; “Rosie,” Bye Bye Birdie; “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie