The Hold Steady, “The Smidge”
How apt that this one shows up on my birthday. Craig Finn sings convincingly about what it’s like to be a middle-aged guy, looking back on how things used to be when he was young and how they’re different now, and wondering if it’s possible to relight the spark. It’s actually a pretty bleak song, and in reality things aren’t as bad as all that, but it still speaks to - and, I think, of - me.
You can ask me not to do it but you can’t contain the kids/
We were living for the city. Now we’re living for the smidge/
We used to want it all. Now we just want a little bit
Digression time - when this album came out it was released on vinyl first, and when I DLed it that’s the copy I got. I listened to it literally hundreds of times before I got around to getting a different version, and once I did I realized that the vinyl rip had a skip in it at the beginning of this song, right in the middle of the first verse. It wasn’t super-obvious, and I had just assumed it was a weird time-signature change, but in fact it was a skip that got rid of about a line and a half of the song (and a pretty important one to the plot of the song). Even though I’ve listened to the “correct” version hundreds of times since, I still hear that weird skip in my head every time.
Florence + The Machine, “Rabbit Heart”
I don’t know, is anyone surprised I like this? I am, a little bit - I don’t usually go for the more orchestral stuff. But there is something undeniable about Florence Welch’s ability to communicate angst and uncertainty in the face of a scary world with unknowable rules that instantly transforms me back to being a socially awkward teenager again when I listen to her. I don’t know if there are teens who listen to Florence when they’re down, the way we listened to Depeche Mode or The Cure or Black Flag (note: I had no idea who Black Flag was until about 1993), but in my mind’s eye I totally see a 15-year-old girl posting woe-is-me to her LiveJournal while this song plays in the background.
(As a side note, isn’t “socially awkward” the default mode for all teenagers? Are any of them - or were any of us, even the ones who were “popular” - actually together when we were kids? I know the normal trope is “I was so unpopular in high school and didn’t have any friends,” but as I get older, and my kids inch closer to being teenagers themselves, I realize how ridiculous that sounds (and probably sounded at the time). I mean, I had plenty of friends in high school, and they were awesome. But that didn’t stop me from looking at other groups of people and wishing I were their friend, too. If I had been friends with them, would I have been popular? I guess, and I might have been happier, too - but I’m sure they looked at some other kid(s) and felt left out and un-popular because they weren’t in that friend group. So what does “being popular” even mean? ‘Twas ever thus, I guess.
This ramble brought to you courtesy of me turning 41 tomorrow.)
Last night, just hours after posting this, I lost two Final Four teams, including my champion.
Taylor Swift, “Picture to Burn”
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Like what you like, whether or not other people like it. Is it good? Bad? According to whom? Who cares? I think this song is a good song. I like it. It’s catchy. Taylor is adorable.
Work: 3rd out of 19
Pajiba: 6th out of 76
WSJ Daily Fix: 6th out of 154
The Awl: 11th out of 424
Uni Watch: 19th out of 500
Dave Matthews Band, “Ants Marching”
Hate is such a strong word. I don’t hate the Dave Matthews Band, any more than I hate Live, Creed, Widespread Panic, or Darryl Worley. OK, maybe Darryl Worley. But mostly I just try to stay away from music I don’t like. But I took this day’s writing to mean “a song from a band you hate that you actually like.”
Daryl and I have an understanding when it comes to the radio - ordinarily one should notify the other if one is planning to change the radio station (in case the other person actually likes the song that’s on, or just to prevent a jarring music-change without warning). But, when DMB comes on, we’re allowed to change it immediately, without worrying about letting the other person know. That way we’re spared as much whiny, stoned noodling as possible.
That said, “Ants Marching” is at least tolerable. I mean, I’m not going to sit there and listen to it, but it’s not imperative that it get off the radio as quickly as possible the way it is with “Crash Into Me” or “The Space Between,” or, God help me, “Tripping Billies.”
Elvis Costello, “Mystery Dance”
I’ve either posted, or am about to post, songs from all of my favorite artists except Elvis, who’s been at or near the top for me since I was seven years old (the advantage of having a relatively young, and musically hip, step-dad). Since then I’ve followed every musical detour and dillettante’s excursion, and almost always found something worthwhile in what he does, but when it comes to the best of Elvis it’s all about those first four albums: My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, and Get Happy!! This is what punk music sounds like when the guys in the band can actually play their instruments.
So, what better song to post when talking about Costello than the best song off the first album, a minute and a half of amped-up, reverbed anger?
Most post-rock bores me, but a select few bands either transcend the genre, or more likely include enough pop signifiers to keep me interested as the music veers into distinctly non-rock styles. Tortoise is one, along with Can and, to a lesser extent, Slint. Recently, I’ve really enjoyed Sigur Rós, as well as post-rock forays by bands I already loved like Wilco and Radiohead.
This particular Tortoise song, in addition to being the cornerstone of their greatest album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, was a song Daryl used as part of the self-meditation exercises she did when she was pregnant with Zosia, because neither of us could deal with the new age “music” that was recommended.
As a result, it’s a song that means relaxation, and sleep.
LCD Soundsystem, “Dance Yrself Clean”
I’m not much of a dancer (though I could do a mean moonwalk in 1984) and not much of an LCD fan, but when this one starts playing I get the strong urge to move. In my mind’s eye, I’m smooth like Sam Rockwell, but I’m sure that in reality it’s more like David Byrne.
In my head:
But back to “Dance Yrself Clean” - here it is performed the way it was meant to be performed: by Muppets.
My brain does a serious push-pull when it comes to larger questions of how to be in the world. Specifically, stuff. There are things I want. I want a remodeled kitchen, with an extremely kick-ass stove. I want to put a skylight in our stairway. I want to make over the upstairs bathroom with an extremely expensive shower. I want lots of new shoes, an upgraded iPhone, new pots and pans, an Xbox with Kinect (embarrassing, but true), a few sessions of personal training. I want a long interesting vacation to a foreign country.
Then I start to freak out about the cost. And not just the cost as in our personal budget, but about whether remodeling the bathroom or buying an Xbox is more or less the same as kicking a poor person in the face. There are people in the world who will watch their children die of hunger, and I am thinking about dropping fifty bucks on an All-Clad saucepan? Really?
And sure, I could send fifty bucks to a hunger relief agency, and I do that periodically, although the charity budget has to be split several ways because everything matters!
It does not change the fact that I still want the saucepan.” —Mimi Smartypants, saying what I think (again).
Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”
I could have chosen any of thousands of songs here - I picked this one in hopes that at least a few of you would get it stuck in your head. I almost chose “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies, but that song sucks.
Turns out knowing the lyrics to thousands of songs is not really that impressive in the age of Google (if it was ever impressive at all). Pre-Google, I did once get a phone call in the middle of the night from friends who were, for some reason, desperate to know the words to “Copacabana,” and sure that I would know them. I did not let them down.
Dancing sweatily for hours…Golla in the sound booth…too much cheap beer (and the occasional flaming watermelon)…singing “Only the Good Die Young” at Virginia…mosh pit during “Epic”…and, finally, running in a circle while this song played before stumbling out into the (usually) freezing cold early morning and walking down to Happy Chef, which was, at the time, the only 24-hour place in town.
Flash, Flash I love you! But we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!
Beastie Boys, “The Sounds of Science”
This reminds me not only of a place, but also of a time, and a person - my dorm room, any Friday afternoon during the spring term of my junior year, my best friend Mark. If I remember correctly (and I’m pretty sure I do), the sequence of events was:
1. Skip class
2. Walk down to Subway, get sub
3. Walk to Muni, get beer for radio show and bottle(s) of Boone’s
4. Return to dorm room
5. Drink Boone’s, eat sub, listen to Paul’s Boutique
It gets a little hazy after that.
There’s nothing wrong with my leg, I’m just b-boy limpin’…
Counting Crows, “Mr. Jones”
Exactly what Julie said about the exact same song: me, her, Cat, Becca, and Gary, dancing to this song in their apartment (or sometimes mine) before going out and drinking almost for free at Raw Bar, living our own personal version of ‘Friends’ and enjoying our early 20s in the greatest city in America. I still think about those years every time I hear this song.
The Band, It Makes No Difference
This song, geez. Rick Danko had one of the purest, saddest voices in rock, and it reaches into my chest and squeezes my heart. A torch song, pure and simple: achingly beautiful and guaranteed to wipe that smile off your face.
I love you so much / It’s all I can do
Just to keep myself from telling you
That I never felt so alone before
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be drinking my whisky and silently weeping.
Arvo Pärt, “Für Alina”
This might turn out to be the hardest one for me to choose a song for (and write about). Just about every song makes me happy; that’s why I listen to music, and thanks to modern technology I have at my fingertips literally thousands of different songs that can make me feel happy in thousands of different ways.
So, instead of picking a song that makes me feel happy, I chose one that makes me feel calm, which is harder than it sounds. A few years ago I started trying to figure out why I occasionally get freaked out/pissed off for no reason. It doesn’t happen often, and for the most part I’m decent at masking it when necessary, but it was something I didn’t like about myself that I wanted to change. Eventually, thanks to The Lovely Wife, I learned about something called “sensory integration disorder,” and specifically something called “auditory defensiveness.” In a nutshell, sometimes my brain can’t properly process certain types of sounds, and as a result I end up getting frustrated/angry/panic-y/HULK SMASH. It’s not pretty to see, and it’s not fun to be.
In trying to figure out how to read the signs of this coming on (it’s all about recognizing triggers, people), I searched for something I could listen to that might smooth out the jaggedness in my head. Most rock was out, since rock is (or should be) about jaggedness and dischord; jazz often made things worse, and classical music generally bores me. I had recently read Alex Ross’ brilliant book on the history of music in the 20th Century, The Rest Is Noise, and was intrigued by some of the minimalist composers he wrote about. I ended up listening to a bunch of John Adams, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Taverner, etc., and it was interesting and sometimes really good, but none of it grabbed me until I put on Arvo Pärt’s “Für Alina.”
I swear to God, it was like someone flipped a switch in my brain. Within minutes I was calm, and was able to sort of get my brain back in order and go on with my day. I’m listening to it right now, and I can feel myself relaxing: my breathing is slowing down, there’s less static in my brain, and I just generally feel better than I did five minutes ago. It’s pretty amazing.
Since I discovered this piece I’ve listened to a bunch of other minimalist stuff, and a lot of it is really calming to me, but nothing has the effect that this simple piece of piano music has. I don’t know if I believe in God, but if I do, I think he’s evident here.
So, anyway, yeah. “Für Alina”. Makes me calm. Calm is good.
Night Ranger, “Sister Christian”
There are so many, but honestly it’s tough to come up with a list of songs I hate. I try to let them wash out of my mind as quickly as possible, since I’m very susceptible to pop songs and if I listen to even a bad song enough times I’ll find the thing in it that’s good and then it’ll get stuck in my head and then I’ll drive myself crazy.
But anyway, “Sister Christian.” Kind of an obvious one for me. Even if it was a good song I’d probably hate it, considering it came out when I was 14. Let’s just say it was not the mass-media mention of one’s first name that a dweeby kid entering public school after a sheltered private school childhood is looking for.
The thing is, it isn’t a good song. Not even “bad-good.” Leaving aside the fact that no one names their daughter Christian (and in fact Wikipedia tells me that the title was based on a mis-hearing of “Sister Christy”), it pretty much encapsulates everything wrong with the power ballad - the syrupy production, the pretentious lyric, the extraneous solo. It’s a cheesy mess that has been only slightly redeemed by its use in the best scene in Boogie Nights.
One of my resolutions for ‘11 was to connect with friends through music. This little exercise will help me do so in a thematic way. Granted, it’ll bore quite a few of you. But just skip it. And for those that happen across something new and interesting (or a new and interesting way to consider something old), all the better. I’ve already downloaded a few tracks as a result of other friends doing this very exercise. Alas, here’s the story:
I’m a sucker for formatted writing opportunities (cf. Cannonball Read, which I’m woefully behind on but will be adding to later today), so of course I jumped on this one.
Day One: What Is Your Favorite Song?
The Replacements, “Can’t Hardly Wait”
I use to say that I’m a sucker for a song with horns, a full stop, or a key change, and this one has all three. The “single” from the Mats’ major-label “breakthrough,” it’s produced to within an inch of its life but Paul’s world weariness still shines through.
I think this song is a spiritual sequel to the great Box Tops song “The Letter,” sung by a young Alex Chilton. Alex is hopping on a plane to get home to see his baby again, but Paul appears to be a) writing from the point of view of the erstwhile letter-writer, and b) dispensing with the letter altogether in favor of an impromptu road trip: “Write you a letter tomorrow/Tonight I can’t hold a pen.” After all, why write a letter when you can just get in the car and drive all night? When the son of God is your co-pilot, anything is possible and it’s all good - even if he never buys any smokes.Album version:
It’s these sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments that underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexuality. A woman’s active embrace of the fame monster or participation in the sex industry, we seem to say, means that she compromises her right not to be assaulted, let alone humiliated, insulted or degraded; it’s part of the deal.
Objectification and abuse, it follows, is not only an accepted occupational hazard for certain women, but something that men like Mr. Sheen have earned the right to indulge in. (Mr. Sheen reportedly once said that he didn’t pay prostitutes for the sex; he paid them “to leave.”) One can’t help but think that his handlers might have moved more quickly to rein in their prized sitcom stallion if his victims’ motivations weren’t assumed to be purely mercenary. (Or if they enjoyed parity and respect with regards to their age, influence and earning power.)” —Truth from Anna Holmes in the New York Times. The entire op-ed is definitely worth reading.
Apparently Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem danced with each other when they came out to present an award at the Oscars on Sunday night:
Then they ended the dance with a kiss.
None of which we saw on the telecast because ABC decided to cut away to a reaction shot of Penelope Cruz through the whole thing. Thank god they used the seven-second delay to save us from any possible exposure to The Gay…
(from After Elton)
SCOTT LEMIEUX passes along a pretty useful point to keep in mind, courtesy of his friend Ken Sherrill.
Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:South Carolina – 50th
North Carolina – 49th
Georgia – 48th
Texas – 47th
Virginia – 44thIf you are wondering, Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is ranked 2nd in the country.
As Mr Lemieux says, this doesn’t show that collective bargaining makes school systems better. But it makes it pretty hard to argue the converse.