Thursday, August 18, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge: A Song That Makes You Happy

Some blog I read recently posted a video of a guy singing along to his headphones on the subway. I’m gonna Evelyn Beatrice Hall this one and say that while I may not always appreciate the song choice/vocal volume/proximity to my head of subway singers, I will defend to the death their right to belt out whatever it is that’s making them okay with being carted in the dirty dark between stations, often standing, often tired. Outside New York City, the chances to sing on the top of your lungs come more frequently. Cars, in my mind, were built explicitly for this purpose. You can really murder a in the shower when your house is not divided from your neighbor’s by newspaper and seven coats of semi-gloss. But when the right song hits your headphones in public, the one that makes you just so thrilled to have ears in the first place, don't you ever feel like this guy? I respect this guy. I love this guy.

If music is a thing that makes you happy, it is a thing you often wish you could share. Living here you just can’t. So, my pick for a song that makes me happy is the one that gets me the closest to Mr. California Girl. It’s the one that makes me dance on curbs while I’m waiting for the light to change and the one I’ll stand up for on the subway just so I can do a subtle hustle. It’s Earth Wind and Fire’s “September.”

Tell me this doesn't make you ecstatic (and ever so seasick).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge: A Song You Hate

I can forgive a lot when it comes to music. For instance, I think Pink is great despite her consistently miserable lyrics. ( The waiter just took my table / and gave it to Jessica Simp.) (JESSICA SIMP.) I think Taco is perhaps the most frightening thing to ever happen to suits, synths, or the human face, but I can’t deny that his “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is somehow transfixing. I am legitimately moved by Velveeta classics like “Don’t Stop Believin’."

Moreover, familiarity alone can temper the hate I feel for a terrible song simply because I can sing along with it. Take Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” for example. I was going use that as the song that I hate. If given the chance, I would gladly stomp a copy of that CD into smithereens. But I just listened to it all the way through and accidentally hummed some and ignored the rest because it’s boring to the point of invisibility. Plus, the members of Lady Antebellum themselves are so nondescript that I basically just picture Amish dolls when I try to visualize their faces.

It takes an attack of terribleness on all fronts in order for a song to be so singularly detestable that it’s the only one I can pick today. And that song is “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer. How do I hate it? Let me count the ways:

1. The music itself is bland and irritating and, were it not accompanied by stupid lyrics, sounds like something that would play during a toilet paper commercial.
2. The lyrics are a fist to the solar plexus. When Mayer sings “your bubblegum tongue,” I want to swallow mine.
3. His delivery is that of a sweaty, touchy stranger at a bar you are trying to get away from.
4. He was a racist jerk to Kumail Nanjiani, who I just love.
5. Guitar face.

Most importantly, I despise the idea that my body could be considered a wonderland. When Alice went to Wonderland, she was confounded by a world turned upside down, where smug talking cats hung around being inscrutable and also there was that nightmare pig baby. I don’t want my body to be a universe of things a guy is seeing for the first time, because that means my body is a mutant, or that guy is, like, 12.

(You can find this song on Spotify, but why would you do that?)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge: Your Favorite Song

Asking me to pick my favorite song is kind of like asking me to pick my favorite hair on my head. Each individual song I like is less important than the whole bunch of songs together, and also that none of them are tickling my ear. It’s even harder to choose one because I’m a song person. Few and far between are the albums I’ll listen to in a sitting, and many of these are a product of preteen years spent in my friend’s mom’s Jeep Cherokee with a handful of CDs to fill the drive between Salvation Army and Goodwill.

That said, there are certain criteria that will guarantee a song a spot on the soundtrack during a pivotal scene of Kathy: The Motion Picture:

1. It is short. If it takes you more than three minutes to say what you have to say, I think someone should confiscate your Moog, or your Pynchon, or your psychotropics, or whatever has gotten into your bloodstream.
2. It sounds good sung in a car at a volume that will cause you to be hoarse.
3. It is somehow sad, despite sounding mostly happy. See: Robyn, Dancing On My Own.

There is one song that continually spackles these holes for me. It’s kind of a weird choice because, as far as I can tell, it first appeared on the Friends soundtrack. After the Replacements called it quits, Paul Westerberg shit popped up on a bunch of soundtracks (Dyslexic Heart, for example) and the song “Stain Yer Blood” is my favorite. Ever. Of everything.

Paul Westerberg is basically the world’s best rock star. I’ll pick his brand of sloppy, dopey genius every time over something more self-serious and grand. You married a guitarist? Great. You still live in Minnesota? Better. You’ve decided to make questionably bold eyewear choices in your middle age? Fantastic.

My friend Kai and I had a mixtape blog for a few months a while ago and I put this on the “Songs for Those Dreamy Girls (…We Wish We Were)” playlist. At the time, I wrote that it was:

My favorite song about a girl because Paul Westerberg is kind of my favorite guy. This one hits close to home because of how real it is: she’s hanging around, he knows she wants him, he’s all let’s do this thing tonight, whatever, no big deal, people are gonna talk about it, fuck them. But then! Transcendent musical magic that differentiates the pop muse from my average self: “Is it love?”

I still sort of agree with that description, but I’ve come to think that the great thing about this song, and about all concise guitar pop songs that so accurately hit home the singular feeling of romantic possibility, is the way that it lets you write your own starring scene. I'm not the girl who inspires songs to be written, nor is virtually anyone that girl, but "Stain Yer Blood" lets you be her three minutes at a time. When I hear “Stain Yer Blood,” I’m wearing the fictional vintage dress of my dreams, leaning against a wall at a party that never happened, feeling some sort of cinematic sadness that is neither annoying nor selfish.

Whatever romance I picture thereafter is less important than the romance of the song itself, that double knot it ties in my stomach and the possibility of feeling an adolescent intensity about everything forever. Paul Westerberg, in his song "It's A Wonderful Lie," kind of cops to the charade of songs like this:

So don't pin your hopes
Or pin your dreams
To misanthropes or guys like me
The truth is overrated
I suppose
It a wonderful lie
and I still get by on those

But that's why I love "Stain Yer Blood" so much more.

(You can find Paul Westerberg's "Stain Yer Blood" on the album The Resterberg on Spotify.)
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