Sunday, June 30, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Seuqel), Day 30: A Song You Never Get Tired Of, No Matter How Many Times You Hear it

Today marks the end of the 30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel) and, although I've complained about the prompts several times this month, I think this prompt for the final day is an especially good one. I also realized over the past week that it's going to be difficult to drop many of the habits I've developed during this Challenge, like immediately trying to figure out a category or prompt for every song I hear.  All in all, though, I'm glad I did this again and I hope someone comes up with a new(er) version of the 30 Day Song Challenge before next June!

My pick for today is not only a song that I never tire of hearing, but it's also from an album that I never tire of hearing.  The album is Paul Simon's compilation Negotiations and Love Songs: 1971-1986.  I would count Paul Simon among the greatest songwriters of all time, including and especially the stuff he did after he left his former duo partner Art Garfunkel.  He's a master story-teller, he has a genius ear for melody, harmony and rhythm, and he somehow manages the content of human affairs, both epic and the quotidian, with equal sensitivity. 

I've only seen Paul Simon in concert once in my life, several years ago when he was touring with Bob Dylan.  I wish I could say I had the "good" fortune to see him perform live, but the truth is I found him insufferable on stage.  He's such a prima donna, and all his on-stage posturing gets very old very quickly.  (His on-stage posturing was only magnified by standing next to Bob Dylan, the performance equivalent of an oak.)  Still, the great benefit of seeing Paul Simon live was being able to see the incredible intricacy of his songs, which require at least two dozen musicians, more than half of which are percussionists.  It's quite a spectacle.  There's never a crack or a break in Simon's voice-- he's a consummate professional-- but I still may have preferred that they strap him into a chair or hide him behind a curtain.

Anyway, here's my pick for today, a song that I could listen to over and over again without ever getting tired of it.  It's "Train in the Distance":

That line-- "negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same"-- registers on my top-10 list of greatest lyrics of all time.  In fact, there are a dozen or so lines like that one in this song: lines that serve as building blocks for this particular story, but at the same time serve as universal (or universalizable) observations about the things we love and the things we think are true.  "Train in the Distance" is also a perfect example of Simon's attention to the more minute details of human drama ("from time to time, he makes her laugh, she cooks a meal or two"), details that are not themselves "dramatic" at all but rather which serve as the mise-en-scène for the countless other dramas that make our lives human lives. 

If you've ever lived close to a train track, which I have for many of the years of my adult life, you know exactly what it means to love and to believe in the sound of a train in the distance.  There's something seductive and promissory about that sound, something that assures you that there are other places, places where things might be different, where people might be happier, where you might even be able to go someday.  The sound of a train in the distance represents something more than what it is and, in this song, Simon articulates that something more exactly right.

The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 30 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge

Saturday, June 29, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 29: A Song You Like By a Band/Artist That Isn't from North America, Europe or Australia

Since we're now on the penultimate day of the 30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), I wanted to take a moment to say a few things about this whole venture.  First, I have to confess that, in my view, The Sequel's prompts weren't nearly as satisfying as the original 30 Day Song Challenge's prompts. (Today's prompt is evidence of that.)  Second, blogging the Challenge (The Sequel) this month was, just like it was the first time I did it in 2011, immeasurably enjoyable and gave me many opportunities to re-listen to, re-think about and re-fall-in-love-with a lot of music.  Third, as I said in my first go-round with this Challenge, this has been a great motivator for writing every day.  With the couple of exceptions when I was busy with RIRS (in Week 2) and when I had out-of-town guests (in the last couple of days), I've been able to start every day in June with a half-hour or so of writing about something that is both easy and incredibly enjoyable to write about for me.  Sometimes we need a reminder that writing really isn't a chore.  This Challenge is a great reminder of that.

Also, not for nothing, re-commencing the 30 Day Song Challenge has been a great boon for the traffic on this blog.  I've been pretty low-profile on this blog so far this year, something that I did more out of necessity than choice, so I worried that many of you readers might have disappeared forever.  I'm glad that isn't the case.  Since I started posting every day again, the traffic here has returned to its "normal" volume.  In fact, we're getting pretty close to a quarter-million unique hits on ReadMoreWriteMoreThinkMoreBeMore now.  That's right, a QUARTER-MILLION.  Whoa, dude.  I know that's like one-second's worth of Google traffic, but for a nobody Philosophy prof from Memphis, that's something to brag about.  Big thanks to all of you who've been here and stayed here over some or all of the last six years, and a big warm welcome to those of you who happened upon this site more recently. I hope you all stick around.

One last thing before I move on to today's Challenge prompt: several of you have written to me to say that I should choose another month-long challenge.  I'm definitely up for something like that, but I haven't been able to find anything comparable to the 30 Day Song Challenge.  So, a few friends of mine and I are trying to put together a Film Challenge, which would be identical in structure to the Song Challenge, only (duh) with movies.  We're trying to finish constructing the prompts-list in time to make it possible for July, but that deadline is sneaking up on us very fast.  If you've got any ideas for a prompt to include in a 30- (or 31-) Day Film Challenge, please, PLEASE, leave them in the comments section below, or msg me on Facebook, or Tweet me @DrLeighMJohnson, or .  Just fyi, here's a draft of the prompts for the 31 Day FILM Challenge so far.  It would be great if we could get the same buy-in for a Film Challenge that the Song Challenge has gotten, but that's going to require that it's actually a quality cinephile list. 

Ok, enough stalling, my pick for today comes from Miriam Makeba (aka, "Mama Africa"), one of my favorite artists of all time, and of any continent.  Makeba has tons of amazing tunes to choose from, but this is the one that I love the most.  It's "A Luta Continua" (trans: "the struggle continues"), formerly the rallying cry of FRELIMO during Mozambique's struggle for independence.

I wish the 30 Day Song Challenge had a prompt that asked for a "song that makes you want to fight another day."  This would be my pick.  In the rougher times of this past year, when there have been too many days that I've needed motivation to keep fighting, I had Makeba's "A Luta Continua" set as the wake-up alarm on my iPhone.  I did that partly because, knowing the history of this song, whatever struggles I was involved in seemed insignificant by comparison, but also partly because I know that every human struggle, great or small, needs motivation to continue.  Sometimes, the simple declarative statement "a luta continua"-- the struggle continues-- is enough motivation to keep fighting.

And that's, really, one of the most inexplicably potent faculties of music.  It has the power to make us feel things, think things, experience things and, most importantly, do things that, without music, seem impossible.

Nostalgic? Check out my entry for Day 29 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Friday, June 28, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 28: A Song You Like By a Band/Artist You First Discovered in the Last Year

It's funny how the process of "discovering" an artist or band happens sometimes.  Nowadays, when almost every venue for purchasing or pirating music auto-recommends artists/bands to you, it's very easy to get caught in a self-reinforcing loop of your own tastes and, correspondingly, it's very difficult to just stumble upon something genuinely "new" to you.  That's especially true if you don't live in a music town or have the opportunity to go see random live shows by random, no-name artists/bands.  But, even if you do live in a music town and even if you are willing to risk the five- or ten-dollar cover charge it costs to see someone you've never heard of before, it's still the case that countless businesses, agents, and bar-shills have probably vetted that band in advance and filtered it through the industry-sieve that separates what you could hear from what they think you should hear.

Now, I consider my own commitment and devotion to genuinely good music to be above-average, though I've definitely restricted my listening over the years into a tighter and tighter area of defined taste.  Still, I'm always on the lookout for something new and I'm more than willing to go all-in for an artist or band that really knocks my headphones off.  As I get older, I'm probably less inclined to give a chance to genres that I've already decided I don't like (e.g., metal, experimental jazz, anything "Celtic") but, on the whole, I'd give almost anything a listen if someone whose music taste I respect recommends it to me.

That's the way it's always happened, right?  A friend tells a friend that OMG she heard a great band last night, and then her friend tells a friend, and then he tells another friend, and the next thing you know people are wearing the t-shirts and playing the tracks at a party and making a five-hour drive to catch a live show and voila! one day somebody plays one of their songs on the radio, and...

Sigh.  Unfortunately, it hardly every happens that way anymore.

But here's a story of how it did happen that way.  And I'm especially happy to report this story because it came about as a consequence of this very 30 Day Song Challenge.  One of my Facebook friends, Daniel O'Grady, mentioned a band that I had never heard of in the comment section of some exchange regarding this Challenge ( the details of which I can't for the life of me remember anymore) and, as a consequence, I looked them up, downloaded their album, and almost immediately "discovered" and fell in love with them.  The band is Sparklehorse, an American indie-rock band fronted by Mark Linkous, which made it into the music biz the old-fashioned way: via college radio.  Here's the title track off their 2001 album It's a Wonderful Life:

I "discovered" Sparklehorse on the recommendation of a friend.  Nothing really unusual about that.  But here's the thing: Daniel, in this story, is technically more an "acquaintance" than a "friend."  He's a Facebook friend, the partner of a colleague of mine.  I can count on less than four fingers how many times we've ever had a conversation.  Prior to this exchange, I knew absolutely zero about Daniel's music tastes.  But somehow, motivated by that magical seventh-sense that causes people to do these sorts of things, I decided that his recommendation was one to heed.  Partly that was because he initially described Sparklehorse using a couple of anecdotes ("the lead singer offed himself") and music-lovers' shibboleths ("neo-Southern") that registered with me,  partly that was because we share enough friends-in-common for me to make a educated presumption about his sonic good taste, partly that was because in the few times we had interacted I found his general aesthetic, disposition, comportment and affect to be trustworthy, and partly that was because...  I don't know, sometimes you just fundamentally intuit that people are good people. 

This time, the intuition paid off, which isn't always the case.  For what it's worth, I don't think "It's A Wonderful Life" is the best of Sparklehorse's songs, but it's the first one I heard, the one that hooked me.  And there's not a whole lot of story I can share here about Sparklehorse, having not been a fan for more than three weeks tops.  So, today anyway, this post is less about the song or the band than it is about the kinds of beautifully serendipitous interactions that we music-lovers have with one another-- the kinds that, quite often, happen before we're really friends and which, even more often, make friends out of the strangers among us.  I'm talking about-- and those of you who are music-lovers will know what I'm talking about-- those times when, whatever it is in music that manufactures community, works its alchemy.

Thanks, Daniel.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 28 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 27: A Song You Think Would Be An Effective Instrument Of Torture

I'm playing catch-up right now because my dearest friend, Adriel Trott (featured in the post for Day 15 of this 30 Day Song Challenge), has been visiting me here in Memphis for the last several days.  I had every intention of trying to keep up with the Challenge while she and her husband Jeff were in town, thinking that I may be able to steal away for the 30 minutes or so that it takes me to write these posts every day, but, well ...

I clearly underestimated the force of our friendship.  And by "force" I mean the absolutely irresistible compulsion to party hard and late and loudly for every single minute of the time Trott and I find ourselves in the same location.

It was a great few days, but that's a story for another post.  (Actually, that's a story that will never see the light of day, most likely.)  Anyway, today's Challenge-prompt calls for a song that I think would be "an effective instrument of torture," and I didn't have to think about this one at all.  I knew, immediately, that my choice would be something by the truly tortuous band Creed, which is not only the worst band of my lifetime but may even qualify as one of the worst bands in the history of humanity.  Really, anything by Creed would suffice, and since their music is soooo tortuous that I couldn't subject myself to listening to it long enough to make an informed selection, I've just chosen their most "popular" song.   Here it is, if you can stand it, the whining, droning, melodramatic, and absolutely insufferable "Arms Wide Open":

I'm sorry I just did that to you.  Please don't hold it against me.  There are rules to this Challenge, and I'm just trying to follow them.  (Why do I suddenly feel like Eichmann?)  At least the video is monumentally bad in a way that you can laugh at, even if the song is still monumentally bad in the way that makes you willing to confess to being the third shooter on the grassy knoll.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry on Day 27 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 26: A Song By a Band/Artist You'd Like To Have Dinner With

I'm going to assume that today's prompt means for me to pick among living artists/bands, partly because it would be really creepy to have dinner with a dead person, but more so because the idea of choosing a dinner guest from all the living and dead artists ever is far too daunting a project for a music lover like me. 

What makes for a good dinner guest?  Funny enough, one of my favorite philosophers, the typically un-funny Immanuel Kant, had a lot of advice about this.  In his 1798 Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, Kant details the necessary conditions for an excellent dinner party, including (but not limited to) how many guests should be invited, what the topic, tone and order of conversation should be, how much silence is allowed, and other matters large and small.  Kant even gives an example of a good joke to tell at the dinner table.  All in all, his is a pretty decent guide, to be honest.  But, like most of Kant's advice, his recommendations come in the form of universalizable principles and not concrete directives, so it's still up to you to figure out exactly who could merit an invitation to your perfectly-executed soiree.

Here are my criteria: I want someone who is smart, who is old, who probably has a lot of good life stories to tell, whose philosophical acumen is above-average, whose politics are commensurable with mine and, most importantly, who might be convinced to pick up a guitar and serenade us when the dinner is over.  There are very few living artists who can tick off every element of that list as assuredly as Leonard Cohen can.  It's hard to pass up other contenders like Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson, Willie Nelson, Beyonce or Brian Wilson-- actually, Wilson would probably be a terrible dinner guest-- but Leonard Cohen has the whole package.  In fact, might as well give it a shot....

Leonard Cohen, would you like to come have dinner at my place?

There isn't a single bad song to choose from when it comes to Leonard Cohen, but in honor of the incredible (and incredibly historic) string of events that have happened over the last 48 hours, I'm picking this one. 

I love Leonard Cohen and that's about all I will say about him for now.  However, I will say more about democracy, which has both shone off and shown its ass in the last couple of days.  That means there will be a short interruption in the 30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel) coming up, so that I might offer a few remarks about SCOTUS, the demise of the Voting Rights Act, DOMA and Prop 8, the incredible filibuster of Wendy Brown and the absolute circus that is the Texas Senate.  Stay tuned for that.

Nostalgic? Check out my entry for Day 26 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 25: A Great Song To Work Out To

The thing about a good workout song is that it has to be semi-fast (but not too fast) and it needs to have a pretty steady beat.  No matter what sort of exercise you're doing, it's always made more difficult when you find yourself slowing down and speeding up in response to the music, so steadily-upbeat songs are the best.  Of course, it also helps if the song has some kind of motivational message, but that's not really necessary.  Workout music only needs to motivate you to keep moving and keep going, not to climb mountains or realize your dreams.  (Unless, I suppose, your dream is to climb mountains and mountain-climbing is a part of your workout routine.)  Any solid track with a solid beat will do the trick for most of us, regardless of what the song's "really" about.

Now, I've professed my affection for Flo Rida on this blog before, so it won't come as a surprise that I've chosen one of his songs for today's pick. I'd say Flo Rida was one of my guilty pleasures, but that would require that I felt at least a modicum of guilt about loving his music, which I do not.  Flo Rida's music is my favorite kind of hip-hop, by which I mean it's got all of the requisite thumping and wordplay that makes hip-hop great, but it also keeps melody at the fore.  (Check out his track "Whistle" for an excellent example.)  Today I'm picking Flo Rida's "Low," from his party-rific and cleverly-titled debut album Mail on Sunday.  Here it is:

This is definitely a get-up-and-move song, if you're not already moving, and an even better workout song, if you already are.  I have no idea what the beats-per-minute count of "Low" is, but it feels just about perfect to me for exercising.  It also has the superadded benefit of a chorus that almost forces you to act a fool every time it comes around and you find yourself incapable of resisting the command to get LOW, LOW, low, low,  low, low, low.....

If you've ever been in a club, you've no doubt seen something like the equivalent of Flo Rida's "Shawty," with her apple-bottomed jeans, boots with the furrr, baggy sweatpants and Reeboks with the straps. She wouldn't stop, made it drop, then she did that pop and lock.  Of course the whole club was looking at herrrrr.

Def put this one on your iPod for your next workout.  Next thing you know, you'll be getting low with Shawty.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 25 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Monday, June 24, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 24: A Song By The Sexiest Artist You Know

Prince Rogers Nelson, formerly "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince", now known just by his mononym "Prince" again, is the sexiest artist I know.  For music fans of a certain age, Prince (and his earlier band, The Revolution) is deeply etched in memory, in desire, and in purple as nothing short of iconic.  Standing at around 5-foot-nothing and weighing in at around a buck-oh-five (dripping wet), Prince is a heavyweight of swagger, sass and sex appeal, not to mention also one of the most productive, most creative and most successful pop-music artists of the last century. He's produced ten platinum albums and thirty top-40 singles over the years, and is reported to have several hundred unreleased tunes still hidden away in his "vault."  For over three decades now, Prince has managed to stay relevant, even penning the ultimate fin de siècle song, making it possible for everyone all over the world and for the rest of time to party like it's 1999.  He's nothing short of a musical and sartorial genius, sometimes so far ahead of the trends that his sounds and styles seem almost extraterrestrial to the rest of us mere humans.  Despite all this, though, Prince has also managed to remain extraordinarily private, cloistered away in his Paisley Park recording studios, making his odd idiosyncrasies all the more mysterious.

But, lawd almighy, is he sexy.

Choosing Prince for today's 30 Day Song Challenge prompt was easy, but choosing which Prince song best exemplifies his hot, slinky seductiveness is harder. I've chosen "Satisfied" from his recent album 3121.  Now, before you press play, I'm gonna ask that you give yourself a little privacy while listening to this.  Go ahead and shut your door, turn off your lights, close your eyes.  If you've got headphones, put them on.  Prepare yourself for the gift you are about to receive. 


"Satisfied" gets it all just right.  That sweet falsetto, the crying organ, those come-hither guitar wah-wah's, the punctuating horns and, to top it all off,  perfectly-situated gospel-infused affirmations by a backup choir clearly willing to aid and abet Prince in his criminal seduction.  The stops in this song get me right at my core every time.  They feel like that moment on a smoldering hot summer day, just before you jump off a bridge or a lake-deck, just at the moment that you lean forward and time stops and promises you that, when it resumes, you will be plunged into cool, sweet, watery bliss.  And you will be... SAT - IS - FIED.  

Nostaligc?  Check out my entry for Day 24 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 23: A Song That Makes You Think Of Family

I doubt I would have said this 10 or 20 years ago, because I was too young and too stupid and too stubborn and far too proud then, but I've got a great family.  I mean, a really great family.  We have our problems, like all families do, but there is no doubt in my mind, not a single one, that each and every member of my family would move mountains for me, without the slightest hesitation, if I needed them.  And I'd do the same, if any of them needed me, without hesitation.

Now, I don't want to be Pollyanna about this, because believe me my little nuclear clan has had more than our fair share of knock-down, drag-out, ugly and seemingly irreparable fights over the years about stuff that really matters.  Fights that I thought would never be mended, in fact.  But, in time, sometimes a long time, they have all been mended, elided or, in an often necessary but acceptable alternative, ignored.  Maybe it's a Southern thing, I don't know, but in my life, for all our differences, there's just been no getting away from my family.  I tried to run away from them, more than once, and they tried to disown me, more than once, but we've always found our way back to one another.  Even when I didn't want to come back, and even when they probably didn't want me back. 

That's the funny thing about family, isn't it?  You can't pick 'em, you're stuck with what you get... and yet, by virtue of the indiscernible and often cruelly ironic cosmic order, you somehow end up with the one you're supposed to have.

It took far too long in my life for me to realize how fortunate I am to be a member of the family I have.  Warts and all, I love them unconditionally.  They've stood by me when there were plenty of reasons not to, they've (more or less begrudgingly) accepted all of my faults and differences, they've bailed me out (literally and figuratively) every time I needed it and, more times than I deserved, they've (literally and figuratively) saved my life. What is more, I'm one of those lucky ones to have been born into a family that takes in all the wayward, loveable and unlovable, friends that we kids have brought into our home and my family has treated them all as if they were family.  In fact, in my experience anyway, those wayward souls get treated better than if they were family. 

That's the kind of hospitality that I was raised with and which, generically, goes by the stereotypical description "Southern hospitality."  But, let me tell you, that sort of beneficence ain't easy.  I cannot think of a single person, no matter their magnitude of vice, that my folks would turn away from the table at mealtime.  I wish I could, but I can't credit myself with that kind of magnitude.  In fact, I know people that my folks would willingly feed (and have fed) that I wouldn't even speak to on the street.  My folks are the kind of people I want to be, but they're most definitely better people than me, for sure.

And speaking of better people than me, there is no human soul on this earth that I know who is better than my younger brother, Ben. I wrote a song about him, many years ago now, when I was in one of my very first bands, Red Hip & The Boys.  Our band name came at the end of a long night of practice and beer and bourbon, when I somewhat inadvertently shared the story of my younger brother, who had a posse of imaginary friends when he was a boy that he referred to as "Red Hip and the Boys."  Our guitar player at the the time, a then-19-yr-old John Murry (who has since gone on to make it big for himself), immediately asked whether it was "Red, Hip and the Boys" (i.e., two persons and a group) or "Red Hip and the Boys" (i.e. one person and group).  I didn't know, and I still don't know, but "Red Hip & the Boys" became our band name that night.

Anyway, here's the song I wrote for my younger brother, and the song that I pick today for today's "song that makes me think of family":

No disrepect to the rest of my family, but my brother and I have a relationship that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. I know a lot of great people, but none like him.  Ben is kind, brave, smart, hilarious, almost super-humanly loyal and compassionate.  He's a great dad to two of the greatest little human beings in the world, my nieces Kameryn and Chloe.  He's an entrepreneur and a peacemaker, and he has what those of us who were raised in the church would call a "spiritual gift," the ability to make absolutely anyone, friend or stranger, feel immediately comfortable in his presence. For that, I will be forever jealous of him. 

There is no possible way that I could ever tell my brother how much I appreciate being lucky enough to be in the same family as him.  I can only hope this song says a part of it.  It's not a great song, I know.   I was young and green and barely knew how to play the guitar when I wrote it.  But it's got the all the heart and all the love I had for him, and still have, in it.

Nostalgic?  Check out my Day 23 entry in the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 22: A Song By the Most Overrated Band/Artist You Can Think Of

It's really no mystery to anyone who knows me how much I dislike Taylor Swift, today's pick for the most overrated artist I can think of.  Also, if you don't want to read the rest of this, let me sum up:


Just in case you're still reading, though, here's some elaboration.  It genuinely pains me to spend any time or space at all writing on this otherwise-respectable blog about Taylor Swift.  I'm sure she's a nice person in real life, and for charity's sake I'll even assume that there's a "real" person behind all that NashVegas commodification of her, but my chief complaint about Swift (and her music) is and has always been that she is so "produced" that it's practically impossible to take her seriously enough to include her in the category of natural kinds.  Swift even warranted inclusion in my series of posts on the Uncanny Valley as one of the preeminent examples of a simulacrum. (You can read my whole treatment of her here).  Despite myself, I do have to admit that her songs have gotten (slightly) better over the years, but that small credit I would otherwise grant her is mostly canceled out by the fact that, as her music has gotten better, it's done so on the back of a public-image campaign championing her "realness." 

If there's one thing that music lovers can sniff out like bad dairy products in the fridge, it's industry-produced "authenticity." 

Music fans don't abide bogus authenticity well.  And not in exactly the same way that art-lovers don't abide forgeries, I think.  Art forgeries are disappointing to discover, but there's something deeply, almost personally, offensive about fakery in music.  Especially music of the fundamentally "authentic" genres, i.e., country, folk, blues and gospel.  Perhaps more than the others, country music in particular has been a battleground for this contest between the real and the counterfeit.  The whole alt-country movement of the 90's was, in part, a reaction to what looked like (and was) for many artists and fans a regrettable turn in the Nashville-dominated country music industry towards mainstream/crossover/pop-country music.  When Nashville (henceforth, NashVegas) went "pop," so the story goes, all the real country songs with real country stories of weeds, whites and wine, of shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die, of kissing an angel good morning,  of gambling, of tears in beers and of all the exes in Texas either got lost or, worse, started to be sung by ingenues who had never smoked, drank or snorted anything, who had never kissed or broken up with angels, and who had never shot anything at all in Reno or anywhere else in their lives.  For a lot of us that love country music, every song that NashVegas put out after the mid-90's sounded like stock songs with well-placed, professionally-played but over-produced fiddles and pedal-steels and harmonies, but with absolutely no heart or grit or pain or realness whatsoever.

To wit, here is Taylor Swift's most recent hit, a truly bubblegum pop song, "We Are Never Getting Back Together":

Taylor Swift is, in my view, the very worst of the ingenues that enabled the rise of what is now the indomitable NashVegas (Evil) Empire.  There's really no excuse for calling Swift a "country" artist at all, which she is not.  And there's really no excuse for even the most uninformed country-music listener being hoodwinked into accepting that her self-absorbed, shallow and ridiculously conventional diary-entries count as real country songs.  Yes, she manages to manufacture a decent hook from time to time, including the especially infectious one in this song.  Yes, she's got that farm-girl je ne sais quoi that seems like she just stepped off a bus with a single suitcase and started waiting tables at The Bluebird Cafe to make ends meet.  Yes, she's a pretty girl that has had her heart broken.  But, c'mon now, her ex-boyfriends are John Mayer and Taylor Lautner and Jake Gyllenhaal.. You'll forgive me, I hope, if I don't rush to call the whaaaambulance for Taylor.

Taylor Swift is talented, I'll concede.  But only if you grant me in return that she's the most overrated talented artist today.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 22 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Friday, June 21, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 21: A Song By a Band/Artist That Never Achieved the Level of Fame They Deserved

Finally, FINALLY, today I've been given a prompt that makes for an incredibly easy pick.  I'm sure there are a million artists or bands that have never achieved the level of fame they deserved-- many of whom I know personally and who grind it out every night as hardworking musicians here in Memphis-- but when I read today's prompt, one band in particular immediately came to mind.

I'm talking about Lone Justice, an American alt-country band formed by guitarist Ryan Hedgecock and fronted by the inimitable singer Maria McKee.  Lone Justice was one of the original creators of the cowpunk sound, which combined country, punk, folk and blues music and had an all-too-brief, but very influential, life in the 80's.  For reasons that absolutely stymie understanding and offend cosmic justice, Lone Justice's albums never sold enough bring them fame, even despite the fact that their self-titled debut has been included on many lists of the greatest albums ever made.  (It is, by the way, one of the greatest albums ever made.)  I sometimes wonder whether or not Lone Justice was just a bit too ahead of its time.  A decade later, when the alt-country and roots-rock scene really exploded with the likes of Uncle Tupelo and all of its offspring (Son Volt, Wilco, Whiskeytown, Drive-By Truckers, etc.), no one really paid tribute to or even recognized Lone Justice as a trailblazer for their success.  What a damn shame.

Lone Justice was like a perfect omelet, which anyone who's ever tried to make one knows is incredibly hard to produce.  I mean, anyone can make an omelet, of course.  But a perfect one?  That requires the very best ingredients in the exactly right combination prepared by a masterfully-skilled chef.  Lone Justice had all of these going for it and, what is more, it had one of the best (and most underrated) female vocalists of all time to top it off.  No kidding, I would trade at least two, maybe even three, limbs for Maria McKee's voice.  Her's the perfect combination of strong, vulnerable, knowing and true.  It's the kind of voice that speaks through and for you, that haunts you, that you dream of at night, that is immediately and unmistakably identifiable, and that hurts all the way down to the very marrow of your bones.

And their songwriting was impeccable.  True to the musical roots from which they drew, Lone Justice's songs were simple, straightforward, almost elemental.  They were real, live human dramas in sonic form.  This is one of their best, "Don't Toss Us Away," in one of the rare live performances that you can find on YouTube:

I've said it countless times on this blog before, but I'll say it again: all you'll ever need for a great song is three chords and a sad story.  "Don't Toss Us Away" is the very best proof of that.

There are precious few songs, ever, that have captured so purely and so truly the core sentiment of heartbreak like the lyrics to this song's chorus: I still love you / I want you to stay / So darling, please, don't toss us away.  In the long history of sad songs, there are plenty of "don't leave me" ones, plenty of "come back to me" ones, and even more "I love you even though you don't love me" ones.  But there's something about this one.  McKee's not just asking her love to stay, or not to leave, or to come back.  She's not just asking that her love be reciprocated.  She's asking that a far greater transgression not be committed, that a grave and unforgivable insult not be added to an already devastating injury.  She's asking that the love not be tossed away, as if were.... well, as if it were what we (and she) already knows it is. 


And as if that weren't heartbreaking enough, as if the rapier-like edge of the song hadn't been driven deep enough, McKee delivers the coup de grace: that tragically sweet falsetto followed, like a storm follows the thunder and lightning, by the classic-country musical walk-down at the end.  A coup de grace is supposed to be the blow that ends the suffering.  But it doesn't here. Here, it only magnifies and intensifies and extends the suffering.  And, by doing so, it ultimately kills again.

It's more than a bit masochistic to love songs like this as much as I do.  But, oh, how I love them so.

Nostalgic? Check out my entry on Day 21 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 20: A Song That Could Have Been Written About Your Life

My self-imposed ban on repeating songs that I chose in the original (June 2011) version of this Challenge is making it more and more difficult every day to match the perfect song to this month's prompts.  My first choice for "a song that could have been written about my life" would have been The Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden," but I chose it for Day One of the 2011 Challenge.  My second choice, Solomon Burke's "That's How I Got to Memphis," was also off-limits, since I used that one for Day 30 of the same Challenge.  In fact, one of the prompts in the original Challenge was "a song that describes you" (Day 15), which is not exactly the same as "a song that could have been written about your life" but it's pretty close, so that knocked out even another possible pick for today.  With the extra "no repeats" restriction, today is an especially tough one.

There's something a tad morbid, I think, about picking a song that could have been written about your life given that, if you're the one picking the song, that means your life isn't over yet.  Of course, none of us know exactly how many chapters we have remaining to be written about us, but I'd wager that we're all reticent to say what the story is ultimately about before the last of it has been penned.  I've probably passed the halfway point in my life at this point so, even if there is a major plot-twist still to come, the basic contours of the protagonist's character have been drawn and the core of the story is already in place, I suspect.  I'm too much of a Sartrean to say that "people can't/don't change" given that the two fundamental elements of human life are possibilities and choices.  I've seen some pretty dramatic changes in people.  And I'm enough of a Derridean to know better than to underestimate the à venir.  But I also know it's a rarity when people do change in some truly fundamental way-- that is, when they not only choose new projects for themselves that redefine who they are, but also undertake those projects in a way that does not retain much of who they were before.  Today, I picked a song that seems to me like one that will hold up as a "song that could have been written about my life" regardless of what else is still to come, assuming I don't join a convent or become an ascetic. 

And I'm pretty confident that ain't happening.

My pick is "Take It To The Limit" by the Eagles.  This song was co-written and originally sung by bassist Randy Meisner, who allegedly never really liked to sing it (and who left the band after 1977).  Here's one of Meisner's last live performances of "Take It To The Limit":

I think I'd describe my life, with a little guilt but without much reservation, as certifiably reckless and imprudent.  Or dauntless and adventuresome, if we want to put a positive spin on it. Either way, I've never been very measured about my choices or activities, my likes or dislikes, my loves, my friends, my work, my commitments or opinions, and neither so about my virtues and vices. I stay up too late, I work and party too hard, I love and trust too indiscriminately, I am too enamored with risk.  I am and have always been an all-in kind of girl.  Go big or go home.  Those tendencies have inclined me to take it to the limit, and very often past the limit, with most things in my life. The thing about taking it to the limit is that it makes for equal parts epic successes and dismal failures, but it almost always makes for a good story.

For better or worse, I want to die with the most good stories.  In the immortal words of Oscar Wilde: "Moderation is a fatal thing.  Nothing succeeds like excess."

One of the things I've always loved about this song, which is ultimately a love-song to excess, is that it begins with someone "all alone at the end of an evening."  My guess is that many people find that sort of sad, but I never have.  I've been all alone at the end of an evening of excess plenty of times in my life, and they've been not only some of the most ruminative, but also some of the happiest, nights of my life.  That's the kind of happiness that doesn't require an audience or a confirmation, but just some time to reflect, to soak it in, to watch the bright light fade into blue, to think about someone who might love you who you never knew, maybe also to rehydrate it and sober it up a little, but mostly just to be there, alive and still living, in the moment.

I initially chose this song for its overall message but, upon re-listening, I realized that there's a lot more in the lyrics that hits home than I remembered.  You know I've always been a dreamer. (Check.) Spent my life running 'round. (Check.) You know it's so hard to change. (Check.) Can't seem to settle down. (Check.)  But the dreams I've seen lately keep on turnin' out, and burnin' out, and turnin' out the same.

Don't know about that last line yet.  The story's not over.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 20 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 19: A Song You Used To Love But Have Now Outgrown

For a few years in my 20's, I dated and lived with a Deadhead.  And I'm not talking about some amateur, weekends-and-summers only, tie-dyed, wake-and-bake, jam-band fan.  I'm talking about a Genuine True Believer.  He had whole cases of cassette-tape bootlegs from Grateful Dead concerts going back more than twenty years.  He was in touch with the deeper, transcendent even, spiritual meaning of every word that ever passed Jerry Garcia's furry lips.  He could listen for hours on end to their music, could pick out every last nuance of their improvisations, and could explain it a kind of endless-- and seemingly aimless-- detail that very closely approximated the structure of the music itself.  

Before we got together, I hadn't really spent much time listening to the Grateful Dead.  I knew the handful of songs that everyone knows just by virtue of cultural osmosis, but I generally thought of the Grateful Dead more as a social category than a band.  I had been to a Dead concert, one of the very last ones Jerry Garcia played before he died in the summer of '95 in fact, but that experience didn't make me a convert.  Mostly, there was just too much about the Dead aesthetic that ran contrary to my tastes.  I'm not a fan of jam-bands or wandering improvisational music.  I was never much of a pothead.  I found tie-dye shirts, hemp/corduroy skirts, Jamaican tams and Baha pullovers to be too colorful and too busy.  I hated the smell of patchouli and I liked to bathe.  In sum, it just wasn't my scene.

But I listened to their music-- A LOT-- for those couple of years that I was shacked up with my lovable Deadhead and, despite myself, a couple of songs wormed their way into my favor and lodged themselves there.  The one that stands out from the others is this one, "Liberty," a pretty late song in the long, strange trip of the Grateful Dead.  First played in 1993, it was only performed about 50 times before Garcia died two years later.   But, oh how I used to love this song:

I'm not exactly sure what it means to "outgrow" a song, but I've probably only listened to "Liberty" (or any other Grateful Dead music) a handful of times in the last decade or so.  Just listening to it now, I still love it, I still think it's a fantastic song, but it reminds me of another time, long ago, and another person, the younger me, who I'm not anymore.  In fact, whenever I hear the Grateful Dead these days I find myself immediately transported back to my early-to-mid 20's.  I have a kind of fond nostalgia for those years, but I'm glad I'm not in them anymore.  I'm happy to have outgrown them.

Hell, I'm happy to have survived them.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 19 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 18: A Song That Makes You Think of a Place You've Never Been

I've never been to Africa, which is particularly embarrassing in my case since I have a Doctoral Minor in African Studies and a large part of my dissertation involved the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Not having been to Africa is far and away the greatest regret I have in my life, one that will be reconciled some day soon I hope. 

Though, to be honest, I fear that if I go, I might never come back.

I've spent so many countless hours, days, weeks, months and years studying African history, interviewing African intellectuals, reading African literature, parsing African politics and culture, absorbing African music, learning and teaching African philosophy, that-- despite the fact we've never met in person-- I strangely feel as if I have a deep and abiding relationship with many parts of that Continent.  Everyone has their imagined home-away-from-home, I suppose.  For some it's Paris, for others it's Rio de Jeneiro, and I'd even bet for some it's Memphis.  For me, it's Cape Town.   One of these days, someday soon I hope, I'll at long last find myself atop Table Mountain and I am confident, that day, a lifelong thirst will be finally quenched. 

And so, the song I choose as the one that makes me think of a place I've never been is "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (God Bless Africa)."  It's the national anthem of Tanzania, Zambia and part of the national anthem of South Africa.  It was originally composed as a hymn, and was taken up again as a part of the pan-African liberation movements in the mid- to late-20th century. It is also an absolutely moving, stunningly beautiful and truly awe-inspiring song.  

Thirteen years ago, I had the good fortune to attend the ceremony and dinner at which Nelson Mandela received the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum here in Memphis.  I got to meet and chat with Madiba that night, an honor and a privilege I will never forget.  At one point during the evening, a choir who had traveled to Memphis with the South African delegation sang "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika."  It was the first time I had ever heard it and I remember thinking that there was nothing I wanted more than to go to whatever place was the source of that sound.  I began graduate school the next year and I knew the day that I walked in the door what the subject of my dissertation would be.  And that's exactly what it was.

Here's the renowned South African a cappela group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo (who you may or may not know from their collaboration with Paul Simon), performing the song:

In South Africa, the different verses of the song are frequently sung in the nation's several languages: Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English.  What a beautiful testament to what makes a nation.

One final note: if you've never seen the amazing film Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, which documents the role that music played in South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle, you should stop whatever you're doing right now and go watch it.  There is really nothing else in the world like human voices raised in solidarity and in song. 

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry on Day 18 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Monday, June 17, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 17: Your Favorite Holiday Song

It's hard to think about "holiday" songs in the middle of June-- in Memphis-- so today's entry will be brief.  I'm picking a Christmas song, not because Christmas is my favorite holiday (my favorite holiday is a tie between New Years Eve and Halloween), but rather because, c'mon let's admit it, Christmas has the best songs. I was tempted to pick something from the old Bing Crosby movie White Christmas because the very sappiest part of me loves that film so much.  But the truth is that a new version of a new-ish Christmas song came out last year and absolutely won me over the first time I saw it.  (For the record, this song is as much about seeing it performed as it is about hearing it.)  It's a version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" performed along with late-night host and former-SNL star Jimmy Fallon, his late-night house band (and Philly legends) The Roots, Mariah herself, and a bunch of adorable little kids.  What really makes this otherwise motley crew irresistable, however, is the fact that they bust this song out on a menagerie of grade-school music instruments.  It's really too cute for words. 

Warning: this video may give you diabetes.

I don't have anything else to say about this.  It's summertime, after all.  In Memphis.

Nostalgic? Check out my entry for Day 17 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge

Sunday, June 16, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 16: Your Favorite Song From a TV or Movie Soundtrack

Today is a two-fer in my picks for the 30 Day Song Challenge, in part because the prompt itself is a compound prompt.  I'll just say in advance that I'm only considering TV or movie "theme songs" and not any old song from a TV or movie soundtrack (which would include far too many songs that may or may not necessarily be associated with a television program or a film).  I actually have an entire playlist on my iPod that is nothing but my favorite theme songs.  And I'm talking about bona fide "theme" songs, not just songs-associated-with-a-TV-program-or-movie.

I'll start with my pick for favorite TV theme song.  This is a song that I've always loved and I've never forgotten since the first time I heard way back when.  In fact, this is the song I have set for my wake-up alarm.  After you hear it, I'm sure you'll immediately change your alarm song, too.  It's from the 1974-1979 series Good Times, about a poor black family in the Chicago projects.  Like many 70's sitcoms, Good Times served up its fair share of regrettable stereotypes and now-anachronistic social faux pas, but I actually went back and watched a couple of episodes a few weeks ago and it's still really, really good.  When I was a kid, I used to copy that schtick by James "J.J" Evans (played by Jimmie Walker)--  I'm Kid [clap] Dyn-O-MITE-- all the time, much to the chagrin of my parents and teachers and other white people. 

Here it is, the opening and closing credits of Good Times.  Unfortunately, this clip doesn't show the most abiding memory I have of this show, which was its feature of Ernie Barnes' painting "Sugar Shack" (pictured above) in the closing credits.  ("Sugar Shack" is my single favorite piece of artwork of all time, and I would happily accept your gift of a print of it to hang in my home.)  Good Times was a great show with a great theme song.  Check it out:


And for my favorite movie theme song, I'm picking something a bit outside-the-usual for me, but I can't think of any other circumstances under which I might get the chance to pick a song from Burt Bacharach, one of the greatest songwriters of American 20th century popular music.  I know there are a lot of better movie theme songs out there, so this pick is really a love tribute.  I think the (original, 1981) film Arthur is one of the funniest movies of all time, and despite all its cheesy-saxaphone corniness, I love this theme song.  Here's my pick, "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," composed by Bacharach and performed by Christopher Cross:

Two great lyrics for you today, folks.  Ain't we lucky we got 'em, good times and the best that you can do is fall in love.  Sometimes its the simplest of sentiments that ring the most true.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 16 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge

Saturday, June 15, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 15: A Song That Reminds You Of Your Best Friend

I really dislike the designation "best friend."  I can't entirely explain why but I've always felt like it's an impossible-to-determine category.  What makes a good friend the "best"?  The time you've known each other?  The experiences you've shared?  What you've given or sacrificed or provided for one another?  Is it about quality or quantity?  Is it measured by intensity or duration?  What is the for-the-sake-of-which of friendship, anyway?

I think I can trace my general attitudes toward friendship back to my youth.  In my younger years, my family moved around quite a bit.  In fact, when I entered the 9th grade, I was in my seventh different school. As a consequence of that itinerancy, I would say that I've always been, still am, by both necessity and habit, someone who tries to find and make friends wherever I am in whatever ways I am able.  Unlike a lot of people, I don't have friends now that I've known since childhood, friends with whom I went to summer camp or learned to fingerpaint or read or ride a bike.  The longest "continuous" friendships I still have are with a couple of high school friends. (Shout out to my Bartlett girls, VivaviousVal and JamMasterJen!)   Next to them, my longest and most enduring friendships have two sources: (1) my friends at Wild Bill's, a juke joint in town that I've been frequenting for going on twenty years now and (2) my Villanova (grad school) friends, people who I see maybe once a year. That is to say, measured in duration alone, my "best" friends are not exactly "longtime" friends.  They're all friendships I formed in my adulthood.

To make things even more complicated, I had my first serious fall-outs with a few friends in the last year and half, which gave me pause for the first time in my life to really consider not only what I think it means for me to be a friend to someone, but also what it means for me for someone to be a friend to me.  What I (unfortunately) learned from those experiences is, first, that friendship is something that should never be assumed, no matter how long it's lasted or how dear it is or how unassailable it may seem.  Friendships require constant maintenance, and if they're weaker than you thought and you look away for a second, they can vanish like a thief in the night. I learned, second, that friendships can't be maintained unilaterally.  In the unfortunate case when you discover that a friendship is a one-way affair, you'll inevitably find that it can't withstand even the slightest turbulence.  But I also learned, third, that there comes a time to let some friendships go.  It's sad when that happens and it leaves a gaping and irreparable hole, to be sure, but the world doesn't end.  In fact, it gets better, even if only because you come out of those experiences with a far richer understanding of and a far deeper appreciation for the friendships that abide.

Here's one thing I can say with total confidence:  friends are friends in my book, full stop.  On the whole, I'd do the same for the least of my friends that I'd do for the "best" of them.   That's the long and short of what it means to be a friend, I think.  Superlatives are unnecessary where friendship is concerned.  That said, today's prompt for the 30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel) asks for a song that reminds me of my "best" friend, so I have to put aside my populist inclinations for the moment and choose amongst my beloved.  Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn't at all difficult to do.

Adriel Trott, you BAMF, we've known each other for going on thirteen years now.  We've been there for each other in every high and every low of those years.  You know the very best and the very worst of the stories that can be told about me, and you've been (for the most part) discreet about telling them.  There is nothing that I don't love about you.  What is more, yours is the only wedding I've ever voluntarily attended and, when you walked down the aisle, I actually cried. We're both women of strong opinion, modest pedigree and sometimes ill repute, which makes our friendship loud and raucous and not for the faint of heart.  And it makes for a friendship for which I wouldn't trade anything.

I'll just say that, despite the million times you've asked me to play it, I don't really love this song.  But here it is, "Closer to Fine" by the Indigo Girls This one's for you: 

If I was ever inclined to give someone the designation "best" friend, Trott would get it, hands down, no contest.  I don't know if I can say it any better than the song does:  The best thing you've ever done for is to help me take my life less seriously.  

It's only life, after all.

Trott and I both come from hard-scrabble, grint-and-grind, fake-it-til-you-make-it cities, and families, and probably also genetic makeups.  I might say that we're one of those split-souls that Aristophanes recounts in the Symposium, but that would be to give myself too much credit. She's a force to be reckoned with, brilliant and brave, true as steel and just as strong.  And yeah, she brings me closer to fine every year that our friendship grows.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 15 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Friday, June 14, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 14: A Song You Associate With Breaking Up

I have a whole complex theory about breakups, the first and most important axiom of which is that breakups hardly ever "take" on the first time.  As a rule, if you've been in a real relationship with someone-- meaning, first, that you've invested a significant amount of time and emotion into the relationship and, second, that you've gotten to the point where your lives (friends, family, stuff, memories, home, schedules) are genuinely shared-- then I figure that it takes at least three tries for a breakup of that relationship to really stick.  The first try is the one where you immediately discover that you don't know how to do anything by yourself, so you go running back to the safe and familiar the first time you feel lonely.  But you find, alas, that what was broken is still broken, and although the rapprochement has given you a few nights/weeks of that familiar touch, it only makes the next parting more laborious and excruciating. The second try at a breakup is usually the ugliest one, because you both know you should've never rekindled the flame and so whatever other hurt you already felt is now augmented with shame and regret. This is when the claws come out, you say the hateful things you shouldn't ever say, your friends start being honest with you about your poor judgment, you slowly begin to think of what used to be "ours" as instead "mine" and "yours," and eventually you find that all the time you spend together only verifies and intensifies the feeling that this is not what I want.  It's between the second and third (i.e., "real") breakup that you resign yourselves to the inevitable, like watching a snowman melt.  It's going, it's going... and then, mercifully, it's gone.

I think that when a relationship finally dies, people have one of two reactions: either they focus their five stages of grief on their lost love, or they direct those emotions at themselves.  I count myself among the latter.  As a rule, in my life, I haven't remained "friends" with my exes.  Not out of any kind of abiding anger or because I don't think they're good people or even because I don't still love them, but only because the relationship we had was in a very special and very unusual category.  For me anyway, with very few (almost no) exceptions, those kind of relationships are just non-transferable to another category.

Enough with the amateur psychoanalyzing, though.

I picked today's song for two reasons.  First, it's a song from an album that one of exes gave me on our second try at our breakup, so it's actually a song I associate with an actual breakup.  But, second, this song captures the general sentiment that I feel after a breakup, which is something much more damning of myself and my inclinations than it is of anyone else.  Here it is, "I Fall in Love Too Easily" by Patricia Barber:

I didn't know this at the time I first heard this song, but "I Fall in Love Too Easily" is an old jazz standard, first introduced by Frank Sinatra in the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh. It's been recorded by many of the great jazz musicians over the years, but Barber's version will always be the one that hits home for me.  Her rendition is so quiet and so tender, and it captures just the right amount of vulnerability that the song requires. It is, after all, a song of self-reckoning, of owning-up, of looking at oneself in the mirror in the cold light of day and recognizing where one's fortress is weak.

My heart should be well-schooled / because I've been fooled in the past / but I fall in love too easily / I fall in love too fast

That just about sums up the whole emotional content that I associate with breaking up.  And, for the record, that goes for all kinds of breakups, not just romantic ones. 

Nostaligc?  Check out my entry for Day 14 from the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge

Thursday, June 13, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 13: Your Favorite Make-Out Song

First things first, if you don't know the story of that Vancouver Kissing Couple to the left, one of the greatest stories and images of the last decade, read about them here. Love and Revolution are two of my favorite things.

Picking my favorite "make-out song" violates more than a few of the Don't-Get-Too-Personal rules I've tried to uphold on this blog over the many years I've maintained it, but whatever, I'll just keep the details to a minimum.  I also probably should have read the prompts for this version of the 30 Day Song Challenge in advance, because if I had I might've have saved my pick from Day 9 (Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On") for today.  Since I vowed not to repeat any selections for the whole 30 Days, that meant poor Marvin had to set aside for today's make-out sesh.  What a shame.  Good thing there are a million good ones to choose from on my iPod.

My pick for today, "Bring It On Home To Me," is a classic.  It's been recorded by practically everyone.  It's a story of love and longing, like most great make-out songs, but it's got both a sweetness and an edge to it that sets it apart from the others.  What is clear from the lyrics is that the possibility of the singer's love coming home to him is far from assured.  And so, to make it sure, he's promising a lot.  Jewelry and money and forgiveness and tenderness and even his own servitude, even after he's dead and buried.  He's outright begging.  Begging for one thing and one thing only: just bring that sweet lovin' on home.

Now, sometimes-- most of the time, really-- begging is completely un-sexy.  It can be feeble and pathetic, or it can be histrionic in the way that motivates people to investigate the ins and outs of restraining orders.  But the kind of begging in "Bring It On Home To Me" isn't that way.  It's sweet.  It's impassioned.  And, most importantly, it's believable.  My guess is that the version of this song that most people know and love best is the one by Sam Cooke.  But I'm picking the Percy Sledge version, for a number of reasons.  Here it is:

Percy's version is a little slower than Sam Cooke's version, it has that great organ, some really stellar female backup vocals and, just in general, it's about a thousand times sexier than any other recording of this song, imho.  What makes this a great "make-out" song is quite different than what makes Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" a great make-out song.  This one is still aiming at the same (ahem) goal, I suspect, but it knows it can't get there without a healthy dose of good-ole-fashioned romance thrown in.  I mean, he's not technically asking for a make-out session; he's just asking for her to bring her sweet loving home. 

What happens when she gets home may be a fait accompli, to be sure, but all that beseeching sure is nice.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 13 of the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

30 day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 12: A Song You Love From the 00s

I'm really glad I was born at a time that allowed my life to span two millennia.  I sometimes think about my historical counterpart 1000 years ago.  She would have been born in the latter part of the 10th century, when the world was dim and dark and governed entirely by authoritarian power.  She would have lived almost 500 years before the invention of the printing press, 700 years before the discovery of electricity, 900 years before she could've even imagined anything like suffrage.  Most likely, she wouldn't have been able to read or write.  She would have lived hard, died young, bathed infrequently and probably done all of her lady-business outdoors.  If she were living anywhere near where I live now, she would have witnessed the very first years of the development of early Mississippian culture, building mounds and cultivating maize crops and, in general, going about a life that couldn't be more alien to me than if she had lived on Mars.

Now more than a decade into the 21st century, my memories of the fin de siècle are beginning to fade, but I do recall the Y2K phenomenon being a pretty big deal.  OMG, ALL THE COMPUTERS ARE GOING TO CRASH BECAUSE THEY CAN'T CHANGE DATES!!  Thankfully, it pretty much went off without a hitch.  Little did we know then, though, that the Day That Would Change Everything was still a year away.  It's still hard for me to believe how different the world is now than it was before 9/11.

Anyway, as I mentioned in the previous posts, I'm a huge fan of 50's-70's music, but far less so of the music of the 80's and 90's.  The Aughts, however, marked a return to good music for me-- and, for the record, I love the music of the twenty-teens as well.  There were a lot of good things to choose from in the 00's, but when I was deciding, I tried to pick something that I think I'll still be playing 20 years from now to remind me of the Aughts.  And so, here it is, "Hey Ya" by the incredibly entertaining duo Outkast:

It's funny, and more than a little anachronistic, that the song I will most remember from the 00's has a hook that instructs you to shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture.  Many, if not most, of the folks who were shaking it to Outkast's 2003 hit probably didn't really know what a Polaroid was, though they quickly made up for that with the insta-spread of the ubiquitous Instagram app.  Hipsters are a strange breed that way, all nostalgic for nostalgia as they tend to be.  Even the video is an homage, partly to the era it's throwing-back to and partly to the throwback itself.

"Hey Ya" is one of those songs, like the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" or Rufus Thomas' "Walk the Dog," that makes it just impossible to sit still when you hear it.  And go ahead, just try not to clap-clap-clap-clap when that part comes up between verses.  (You know the part.)  You think you got it? Oh, you think you got it?  Well got it doesn't get it when there's nothing at all.

Nostalgic?  Check out my entry for Day 12 from the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 11: A Song You Love From the 90s

This week, I've begun my third stint in the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies.  RIRS is an innovative summer program in which Rhodes' best and brightest students get to create their own independent research projects (each of which has some relation to the region) and work with one faculty member for eight weeks to complete it.  The projects span a really incredible range of topics and disciplines and the close-contact, collaborative and intensive environment in which we work all summer is exciting.  My favorite part of RIRS, however, is the first week, when we give our research Fellows a crash-course in Memphis culture, history, politics and arts.  For five straight days, we have the Fellows all day long-- and even a couple of nights-- which can be a bit overwhelming and exhausting, but which inevitably makes for some incredible conversations and experiences.

I mention this today for two reasons: First, because "Memphis Week" of RIRS is really exhausting.  Therefore, today's entry on my song-pick from the 90s will be brief.  Second, because it just so happens that as a result of this being "Memphis Week," I've spend all day for the last couple of days with a bunch of young people who were born in the 90s.  Several times today, as I was chatting with some of them, I wondered to myself what they would pick as "the" song of the decade in which they were born.

I feel fairly confident that it wouldn't be this.  Here's my pick, Boyz II Men's (1992) "End of the Road":

I know it's cheesy.  I am aware that I have chosen a boy-band.  But I can't help myself, I loved Boyz II Men then and I still do now. 

Nostalgic?  Check out my Day 11 entry from the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.

Monday, June 10, 2013

30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), Day 10: A Song You Love From the 80s

Let me just begin with the plot-spoiler for today's post:

I do not love 80s music.

In fact, there is very little about the 80s in general that I even like, much less love.  And I have almost no nostalgic feelings for that decade at all.  I don't like big-banged, hair-sprayed hair.  I don't like the sound of a synthesizer.  I don't like leg-warmers.  I don't like Reagan or the Cold War or anything celebrated in the film Wall Street.  I don't like slap-bracelets or waterbeds or jazzercise or My Little Pony or  neon-colored anything.  I also don't like epidemics (see: AIDS and crack and famine) or New Wave or metal of any kind (heavy, glam or otherwise).  To this day, the smell of Love's Baby Soft makes me throw up in my mouth a little.  I don't even like, and didn't like at the time, Judy Blume.  The people/trends/phenomena from the 80s that I do like now I only came to like well after their heyday, that is, only after liking them came to be infused with a healthy dose of irony.  Maybe my lack of affection for the 80s is grounded in the more generalized I-hate-everything-about-life disposition that defines pre-teen girls, which I was in the 80s.  I don't know.  At any rate, unlike the previous three days in this 30 Day Song Challenge (The Sequel), and unlike the subsequent two days to come, I don't find choosing today's song to be all that difficult.  I didn't even find the process of determining it all that enjoyable, to be honest. 

Did I mention I don't like 80s music?

An aside, in my own defense:  of course it's true, if I'm being generous, that there are many bands/artists/songs from the 80s that I "like."  I mean, you can't completely excise an entire decade of music from your catalog of appreciation and still call yourself a music-lover.  But, on the whole, this is my least favorite decade of music in the last century of American popular music.  Most of what I would say I really "love" of 80s music I love for reasons that are entirely different from, if not outright opposed to, the general criteria I employ for determining what counts as good music.  That includes even the absolutely idiosyncratic criteria that I would generally let pass as acceptable ones, like the "this-marks-a-momentous-moment-in-my life" criterion.  For better or worse, there are no songs from the 80s that signal those momentous-moments in my life. I did not drink my first alcoholic drink or smoke my first cigarette or lose my virginity or break the law for the first time or tell my first devastating lie or even have my heart really broken in the 80s. So, none of the quasi-objective or subjective criteria I usually employ hold.  It's not that I don't, or can't, "get" what it is that people love about 80s music.  It's just that, to the extent that I get it at all, I understand that affection more abstractly than I do viscerally.  As I said on Day One of this challenge, taste is a funny thing.

To wit, it will come as no suprise, I suspect, that my pick for today is Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," not only my favorite song from the 80s but one of the best music videos of the then-still-nascent MTV era:

I won't prattle on about how incredible this song is, which it is, or how non-representative of the 80s it is, which is probably also true. I will say that there are a lot of artists that people associate with the 80s-- Madonna, The Cure, Fleetwood Mac, Eric B and Rakim, The Smiths, Salt n' Pepa, Joy Division, The Pixies, Bon Jovi, Public Enemy, The Pogues-- but, with the possible exception of Prince, none of them define the 80s in my personal experience like Michael Jackson does. 

MJ had been at it for almost 20 years by the time the 80s rolled around, which is when he released the record-breaking album Thriller.  I was a young and impressionable 11-year-old at the time, but Thriller was the first album I bought with my own, very meager, allowance money.  What I didn't know at the time, but was ecstatic to find out upon my purchase, was that Thriller came with not one, BUT TWO, full-size posters of Michael inside the album.  That was the first and only poster of a musical artist that I ever hung on my bedroom wall. (*Swoon*)  For the record, during those same years, hanging on my younger brother's wall-- and I am sure he will order my assasination for reporting this-- was a poster of Alyssa Milano.  If history is written by the victors, let me be the first to write: 

Little brother, I WON.

Nostalgic?  Check out my Day 10 entry for the 2011 version of the 30 Day Song Challenge.