Sunday, June 13, 2010

Music Affairs Pt I: Never Played Out

While I was on my trip, I had a conversation with my sister about the songs we never get tired of. That no matter how many times we listen to them, they're never tired and always awesome. They're not necessarily your favorite songs of all time (though some of them may be on that list as well) - just the ones that are in it for the long haul. I really only have a handful that make top-tier there - but I'm ok with that.

The List:

- "Sparks Are Gonna Fly," Catherine Wheel: Come on Daisy don't drown me this time. The ultimate gym song, and really just great any time you want to feel a little edgy and a little sexy. It wasn't among their few modest hits - weirdly, all those are kind of soft-at-the-edges rock ballads. But I've loved this song for almost a decade now, and still never get tired of it. By far among my favorite songs - maybe even the top spot.

- "Semi-Charmed Life," Third Eye Blind: I've loved this song well over a decade. I remember having it stuck in my head during one of the PT sessions for Cardigan, so at least since 8th grade. It's kind of crept up on me - it was never a song I loved passionately or couldn't stop listening to, but as time has passed, I've realized that I just never, ever get tired of it. I'm always psyched when it comes on, it's perfect for singing along with, everyone knows it (and even if they don't love it, they almost certainly don't hate it - how could you?), and while it doesn't get old, it also evokes a different time. Late 90s rock FTW. [Also, I just looked on iTunes and found that this song is significantly less popular than "Jumper." How can that be?!? Stupid people and their not sharing my cultural judgments.]

- "Mr. Brightsides," The Killers: I remember exactly where I was when I heard this song for the first time - sitting in Trixie in the band parking lot at West, waiting for my brother to get out of school. I was freshly back from studying abroad, and trying to catch up on American music that wasn't "Survivor" or "Love Don't Cost a Thing." The Killers have a lot of songs I really dig - I'm one of like, ten people who loved "Sam's Town" - but "Brightsides" is the home run. Something about the way it rises and falls, how even the nonsensical lyrics ("turning snakes into the sea?") add to the sense of pain and resignation. Maybe it's the resignation that seals the deal - not a lot of songs out there memorialize the bitter acceptance stage of rejected love.

- "The Church of John Coltrane," St. Jude's Infirmary: Talk about obscure. Jamie introduced me to this song while I was in Limoges; though we have never verified personally, apparently it's the only great song the band has. But what a song. Eerie and haunting, great use of organ, awesome build-up of energy and emotion culminating in possibly the best spoken-word interlude of all time (in a heavy Scottish accent no less). That's actually how Jamie sold me on the song initially - she told me that one of the lyrics was "We're a Capra film with the last scene missing." If I'm ever unlucky enough again to have a relationship end badly (which, let's face it, is virtual certainty), I hope it looks like that line.

- "The Crane Wife Part I & II," The Decemberists: Though it was "July July" that gave me Decemberists fever (again, thank you Jamie), this is the one that has the most staying power. It's not that's it's my favorite of their songs - they've got so many great ones I'm not even sure I could pick a favorite. But this is the one I'm always in the mood for; it stirs me every time I hear it. It might be that I listened to it a lot before the first time Jamie, Tom and I were together in Oxford, right after he was accepted. I would put it on repeat and go through my daily errands in Limoges, picturing the three of us together running around Oxford, and it made me happy. I think something of that clings to it. And it's also another one that does a great job building intensity - in both halves.

- "Marching Bands of Manhattan," Death Cab for Cutie: My love of Death Cab really snuck up on me. By the time I downloaded my first DCC album Give Up had already been one of my all-time favorite albums for a few years, but for some reason I never moved on from there until Limoges. And while I love almost all of Plans, this is the clear standout. Like "Brightsides," I find it almost desperately sad, but also incredibly beautiful. I was at kind of an emotional crossroads when I first heard it, and the outro really hit me; it didn't exactly make me feel better, but it made me feel, which was enough at the time. Plus, it's just good advice, you know?

- "Alone in Kyoto," Air: On one of my visits to Jamie, I ended up (for a lot of stupid reasons I won't get into) booking my return flight two nights after she had to leave for vacation. Rachel was kind enough to put me up for the last night, but she couldn't meet me until like 8:30. Desperate to see the back of Oxford, I took an early bus to London and spent the day wandering around. (This was less awesome than it sounds because I had to carry my not-insignificant duffel bag the whole time.) By late afternoon I was tired and somewhat sad; the end of my Oxford trip had not gone well, and I felt humiliated and very aware of my personal flaws. I ended up on the riverbank outside the Tate Modern around dusk; I remember staring out over the Thames at the greyness of the city until I so cold I had to get moving again. And that's when I put on "Alone in Kyoto." And...and everything I remember after that feels different. I remember walking along the river, past an old-fashioned ship, across endless open courtyards, through crowds, with the interiors of everything around me glowing as the sky outside turned from grey to navy to black. The feeling that I was 22 and alone in London became wonderful and precious, rather than awful. And the music was a major part of that, as much as the time of day or the scenery; every time the song neared the end, I started it again. It's one of the best and most treasured memories I have from that year, maybe because I so rarely feel any of the things now that I felt then: young, alive, peaceful, like everything had yet to happen. I try not to listen to "Alone" too often now; like smoking a clove at dusk or the smell of Old Spice, it can take me back to a specific place very clearly, and I don't ever want to lose that place.

There are a few others that come close, and a whole bunch that might have made it had I been able to exercise any restraint when I first heard them but which I overplayed, to the point that they still retain that tinge of exhaustion ever years later. They will probably get their own list at some point, though probably without such extensive commentary. Same for albums - while I'm not a purist about albums and pick and choose from them with impunity, there are a handful that stand out. (One of which, weirdly, is the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack. Oh the power of nostalgia.)

I'm interested in what's on other people's lists - what are your Inexhaustibles?

1 comment:

Bix said...

1. "Jumper" is WAY better than "Semi-Charmed". Just sayin'.

2. I REALLY like Sam's Town. The whole album!

3. Other choices are definitely solid :).

4. My songs (in no particular order)...
This actually got SUPER long, so I posted it at my blog, haha.