Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ // Journey
25 in 25 Day 8: A song that reminds you of your first love.
“First love” can be interpreted lots of ways. I’m going to go all the way back and put the emphasis on the “first” more than the “love.”
I’ve written before that Simmons Junior High was the worst place in the world. It was easily the darkest two years of my life, and now, over 30 years later, I can clearly remember the feeling of dread in my stomach every morning upon waking up knowing another day in that shithole awaited. Possibly the only thing that got me out the door every morning (besides the fear of the truancy apparatus) was Karyn.
Oh, the hopeless, lovesick crush I had on Karyn. She was a band nerd like me, but she was also uncharacteristically gorgeous and therefore exempt from the bullying the rest of us endured at the hands of the jocks and stoners. She was also ahead of the curve biologically, if you will. And for reasons I still don’t understand, she liked me, too, though I knew it was not in the same way I liked her. I like to think it was because I made her laugh, but more likely it was because I was willing to listen to her complain about her various boyfriends. How I’d listen when she’d gripe that all Kirk wanted to do was feel her up in the woods behind the school. Yes, years before I knew it was a thing, I was the “good friend” guy. But I was so smitten I didn’t care, and was happy to be in her close presence and to have her confidence. I was also a little relieved, I think. I would have had absolutely no idea what to do if she did decide she “liked me” liked me.
One afternoon in eighth grade we were hanging out in the band director’s office: me and Karyn and Linda and Leo. It was just before Christmas break. We had the radio on in there, surely WLS, and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” was on. We were all singing along to the na na nas at the end in harmony. (Band nerds, right?) The hormones were absolutely crashing through my veins at that moment. It just felt like something was going on that day.
When the song ended after the last a cappella na na na, Karyn and I went right into “City of the Angels,” exactly in time, together, on key. It’s the next song on Evolution, and on the album there was nearly no pause between them. We looked at each other and giggled. Linda and Leo laughed, too, like “can you believe these two?” It was a completely magical moment. My soulmate and I! SHE LOVED JOURNEY AS MUCH AS I DID! If only she wasn’t dating that fuckstain Kirk, maybe I’d make my move. Just as soon as I figured out what a “move” was, anyway.
Whatever actual song was playing next on the radio, I don’t remember. We were all sitting around, not saying anything, when I realized Karyn was looking at me and Linda was laughing. I asked Linda what was so funny? And she said, “I think Karyn wants a Christmas kiss from you.”
I looked at Karyn, and it was obvious that Linda was right.
Mayor Of Simpleton // XTC
25 in 25 Day 25 (!): A song you could listen to all day without getting tired of
I had an ex who once described XTC as “snooty British rock.” I think that was the day I realized she would someday be an ex.
Damn, I love this band. Listen to this song on some good headphones if you can, and pay attention to the million little production and performance details that add up to near-masterpiece status.
- Colin Moulding is the bass player I want to be when I grow up. (Assuming I were a bass player.) Listen to the bass line here. He’s got the creative line building skills of Paul McCartney and the chops of Geddy Lee. Why his name doesn’t routinely appear on the lists of all-time greats is a complete mystery to me.
- The two intricately woven guitar parts: shimmering, sparkling, counterpointed, perfectly crafted, expertly played, tone to die for. And they work with that bass line! These guys must have spent hours working all this out, yet it disappears completely into the song unless you really dig in and try to tease it all apart.
- Harmonies. Who does them better? I already made one comparison to The You Know Whos, I can’t do it again. The tone cluster thing that starts around 3:12 is simply not of this Earth. Do not try this at home.
- Of course the songwriting is unparalleled, too. What a delightful conceit. Obviously this band is anything but simpletons, but there’s no sense of winking at us, no “aren’t we cute?” self-awareness that sometimes plagues this kind of pop.
This song is also my designated earworm killer. Whatever unpleasantry I may have stuck in my head, I know I can wipe it clean with just a few seconds of this. It’s warm sunlight, captured for me to use whenever I want, and I want it a lot.
Strawberry Fields Forever // The Beatles
25 in 25 Day 24:
A song that you have danced to with your best friend A totally undanceable song
The creator of this meme is a dancist pig. We’ve already established that I can’t dance (and that I don’t denote a “best” friend). I also told you what my first dance at my wedding was, which, arguably, fits the original description here and makes this redundant at best.
So enough with the god damn dancing, meme making teenager. Look, some of my best friends are dancers. My wife works for a world famous dance company. Most of you surely love to dance and are probably hot as hell when doing so. Seriously, you’re gorgeous. Shake what you got, I’ll watch (in a non-creepy way). Just don’t make me do it, too. “Dance like nobody’s watching?” Impossible. They’re always watching, and they’re laughing out loud at my lumbering oafishness.
Here is a work of stunning genius, one of the five best songs by one of the two best bands of all time. And it’s totally undanceable. Plus, I’ve made it 24 days into this without The Beatles, and that isn’t right.
(If a modern dance company has made this an award-winning repertory piece, just don’t tell me.)
Waiting On The World To Change // John Mayer
25 in 25 Day 22: A song that you cannot stand to listen to
Nope, no music file today. Not him, not on this tumblr. Enjoy this picture of him being “funny” instead. It’s from his “Mayercraft Carrier” (get it? LULZ!) promotion from a couple of years ago.
When my kids say that they “hate” something we admonish them. It’s too big a word for them to use at their tender ages of 4 and 6. Hate means something, something serious, something you need to have a few more years on this planet to really understand. However, if one of them looked up at me tomorrow with those sparkling, sky blue eyes and told me they hated John Mayer, I would take them out for a no-holds-barred shopping spree at Toys-R-Us and then take them for ice cream. I might give them a car. My heart positively soars at the idea that I may have raised them that well.
Wherever to start with this fucking guy, this rotten corporate creature, this sickening shill and crystal-pure distillation of everything that’s wrong with the music industry as it breathes its death rattles?
Per the meme, I will focus my hatred on this particular putrid “effort” instead of his larger body of work or the oeuvre he and his label have created. I could do that for a long time, and I did on my old blog. Some of this is borrowed from there.
We don’t even get to the second fucking word of the title before I’m irritated. To use the phrase “waiting on” as he does is a weak attempt at affecting a cheesy, weird, faux grooviness. It’s as if he wants us to envision him skipping down the cobblestones with Art Garfunkel. To my ear it just sounds fake and calculated. I wonder if he called the session musicians “hep cats.” He probably traded 12 emails with A&R about whether “on” or “for” would make him sound more like a studio rat, a pro musician. I’ve heard jazzers talk that way and I’m sure he has, too. They sound cool. He sounds like a moron.
As irritating as his studied choice of prepositions may be, that’s only a venal sin. Let’s step up and examine the mortal ones. For starters, the track itself is a brazen, shameless ripoff of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” He lifts the same V-vi-IV-I progression and apes the tempo and seductive sixteenth-note groove. He’s changed the melody because he had to; there is no way he could technically sing Marvin’s line, and Legal probably stepped in and pointed out their liability exposure if he went all in with this, um, “homage.” And in case you missed these Marvin Gaye references, he’ll give you a bigger one: he goes to the iv(m7) chord in the bridge, just like Marvin did in “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” perhaps the most important and eloquent anti-war and pro-environment songs, respectively, of all time. So add Marvin Gaye to the list that includes Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan: the ”dead geniuses whose graves are filled with his fecal pellets” list.
The only thing deader than Marvin, Jimi, and SRV in Mayer’s world is irony. Because while he’s ripping off protest songs which inarguably helped to crystallize a movement of young Americans as they fought the Establishment and subsequently literally changed the world, his own best advice to today’s disaffected young Americans is to just sit tight and hope that things will get better:
Me and all my friends
We’re all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There’s no way we ever could
Now we see everything is going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it
So we keep waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
Barf. Let’s start here: this (then) 29-year-old man has apparently appointed himself the spokesman for “young” Americans. What could be sadder? His obsession with his own youth is creepy but not really new. In previous songs, back when he was still actually young, not to mention commercially viable, he pointed out he might be having a “quarter life crisis” and that he “just can’t wait for his 10 year [high school] reunion.” OK, we fucking get it already, John: you were a young, precocious, up-and-comer. Operative tense: past. Besides, since when is success at a young age in the music business really that extraordinary anyway? Regardless, now he’s a grownup by any definition. The presumptuousness of saying he speaks for anyone except overrich, doughy frat boys who have grown bored with fucking starlets and are now trying to “get serious” is nauseating; to say he speaks for youth of any sort adds outright creepiness to the mix.
And did he really rhyme “beat it” with “lead it?” Seriously?
Another big problem is that it’s just bad advice. Is waiting
on for change really the best course of action, ever? Did Jefferson wait on for King George to change his approach to the colonies? Did Ghandi wait on for the British to chill? Did Dr. King wait on for the crackers running the South to see the wrongness of their ways? Did Blutarski wait on for the Omegas to embrace the Deltas?
Maybe what bothers me most is what he’s actually saying about the generation he purports to speak for. Sure, there are a bunch of disinterested, disenfranchised kids. There are plenty of slackers of all ages. To imply that an entire generation is just sitting around watching the world happen because “the fight ain’t fair” (another actual lyric; I just can’t bear to blockquote another word) is massively insulting. There are huge numbers of kids who are politically aware and working successfully to change things on both ends of the spectrum. How dare this bon vivant from the leafy suburban streets of Connecticut imply not only that kids are failing to change things, but also that they aren’t even capable? Could he be more condescending? More wrong? If I were a 16-year-old hearing this hothouse dandy insult me like that, I’d stuff the headstock of my Strat up his ass and rotate it 90 degrees.
Fuck you, Mayer.
Strange Brew // Cream
25 in 25 Day 22: A song someone has sung to you
Kinda. Pretty sure no one has ever sung a song to me directly, though I had a singer-songwriter friend in college who sang something at a coffeehouse once that was a little uncomfortable. I still never fully accepted that her song was about me, though. It seemed…vain.
But Strange Brew gets real close to the assignment. It would have been about ‘95 or ‘96 and The Good was playing SOP’s [sic] in Peoria. It was a late January gig, the weekend closest to my birthday. That was always a pretty grueling show — they didn’t have opening bands and we usually had to do three long sets.
The guys in the band had all kinds of birthday fun planned. During the break after the first set, they spirited me across the street to Big Al’s for a lap dance. They’d worked it out ahead of time with the club so I could get right in and out, so to speak. I’m not much for strippers or that kind of entertainment in general, but I do remember that girl being really funny and cool. She didn’t have that sad junkie thing going. Also: naked woman on my lap. There are worse things in life.
We ran back across the street to SOP’s and they were all kinda grinning when we took the stage. Devin asked me if I knew “Strange Brew.” I tried not to be insulted…any lead guitar player born between, say, 1945 and 1990 who can’t play every note from the Cream catalog should immediately put his gear up on Craigslist. Turns out they’d learned it earlier that week at a rehearsal. (I’d briefly wondered when I arrived at that rehearsal why it seemed like I was so late and they were all set up…they’d been there for an hour working on it without me.)
I think I’d been strapping on my Strat but I put it down as this called for the Les Paul. (That’s a helpful demarcation for when Clapton started to get boring: his Gibson era > his Fender era.) We slammed right into it, smiles everywhere, that electricity you get from a raw, unrehearsed performance zapping through us. It was tremendous fun, and yes, I stuck the landing.
The night ended there like it always did, with us crashing at a friend’s house after drinking with a bunch of Bradley kids until about 4am. Happy Birthday, indeed.
Fake Plastic Trees // Radiohead
25 in 25 Day 21: Your favorite song
How to pick a “favorite song?” I wrestled with this question since starting this thing three weeks ago. Music, being the emotional entity that it is, changes in the ways we take it in depending on our moods. My favorite song when I’m driving home with the harsh, late winter sun in my eyes on Friday after a particularly soul-killing week at work will not be my favorite song when I’m waiting at the gate before flying to St. Lucia for a week.
This all implies a constellation of my favorite songs. Others that received serious consideration, in no particular order:
- Ten Years Gone // Led Zeppelin
- Alex Chilton // The Replacements
- Strawberry Fields Forever // The Beatles
- Across The Universe // The Beatles
- Tumblin’ Dice // The Rolling Stones
- Cancer // My Chemical Romance
- Melissa // Allman Brothers
- Moonlight Mile // The Rolling Stones
- Cup of Coffee // Garbage
I could go on a long time with that list. There might be twenty contenders, so I needed to pick the winner. In thinking about it, I considered what I’ve seen here on tumblr when it works and reblogged/liked. One song appears here with some frequency and I really do ARB it, not to be cute, but because it’s that good and it means that much to me. I said recently that I think it’s the best song of the 90’s.
I also looked at my iTunes playlist and sorted by plays. As of this morning, Fake Plastic Trees has 47 plays, and the acoustic version from Clueless (shut up) has 13 more. That number is low; there are plenty of times I’ve played it straight off the CD, heard it on the radio, found it on the internet, whatever. I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times and I still can’t wait to play it again as soon as I finish writing this.
How heartbreaking is this song, both in content and performance?
It wears her out. It wears him out. It wears me out.
Such a simple line and sentiment, and so painful. In each case, the music comes down in intensity from where it was so he can say these lines four times each. It grabs you by the reverse emphasis. It gets its own chords, too: the verses, sad though they are, have been A and D majors, describing the scene and hoping for the best, but for the revelation everyone involved is just resigned and exhausted, you get a B minor. No dice, guys.
If I could be who you wanted.
We all know this feeling, too. This frustrating, sad soup we’re all swimming in is of our own making. If I could be who you wanted, it’d be so much easier, wouldn’t it? We build to the rage of the third verse, loud and angry with the desire to turn and run, to blow right through the fucking ceiling. But we never do, do we? Instead we bring it back down to a lonely, quiet B minor, complain that we’re worn out, and wish we were someone else.
Love Story // Taylor Swift
25 in 25 Day 20:
The last song alphabetically in your iTunes A guilty pleasure
John suggested that on day 26 we write about a song that we like that no one else does, but since this first/last alphabetized stuff is stupid, I’ll do this now.
I already confessed to my love of girl pop/ear candy. When I first heard Taylor Swift, I figured she was just another pretty little blonde thing who was backed by the full faith and credit of the Nashville songwriting apparatus and Hollywood production machine. But a friend of mine told me that she actually wrote all this herself.
I refused to believe it. Sexist? Ageist? Possibly both. I could not believe that a girl still in her teens had the depth of emotional experience and lyrical clarity that I was picking up from this record. There had to be a ghostwriter. But no: it looks like she really is a songwriting prodigy.
I dunno. Let go of your preconceived notions and the Jake Gyllenhaal tabloid stuff, and just listen to this little bit of sugar today and feel better for 3:56.
Baby, just say “yes.”
Mexican Wine // Fountains Of Wayne
25 in 25: Day 19:
The first song alphabetically in your iTunes A song that reminds you of your kids
Calling an audible here: I don’t care what the first song in my iTunes playlist is and neither do you and I don’t have a lot to say about it.
So, the kids. Really? A song with mostly nonsensical lyrics? Or are they nonsense: is he really talking about death, drug abuse, existentialism, and synchronicity? And what sort of psychopath associates that shit with his children?
Mercifully, it’s simpler than that. This CD came out when Sharon was pregnant with Danny, and I listened to it about a million times as I converted the tiny third bedroom in our old house to be a kid bedroom. This is easily the best record of the 2000’s (the “oughts?” do we have a working name for that decade yet?). Every song on Welcome Interstate Managers pretty much kills me, starting with the very first track. This record sounds great loud, by the way. The long intro with the lo-fi guitars and keyboards kind of lull you into thinking this won’t rock, and then BAM here comes the big, buzzy guitar.
Another reason this song in particular reminds me of the kids is this 30 second cutebomb.
The Sad Sound Of The Wind // Jules Shear
25 in 25 Day 18: A song that you love but rarely listen to
This was a quirky little record that came out in the early 90’s. XRT played this song a lot and appears to be the only radio station in the world that did.
I also remember Jules doing a songwriting clinic at the Old Town school around that time which I wanted to attend but it was sold out. How is it that a guy no one ever really heard of could sell out an auditorium based only on local airplay of one song? Because the song is just that good.
The nightime falls from right to left, the phone just rings and rings
The moth flies through the dark and says, “C’mon let’s burn our wings.”
So I flew out to the orange groves where we used to take a ride
But the warning said “Go back, it’s all been soaked with pesticide.”
Kiss of Life // Peter Gabriel
25 in 25 Day 17: A song that makes you want to dance
“But you’re a musician. You must be able to dance!”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard a variation of that, I’d pay for twelve weeks of intensive, private dance lessons. From that insanely hot Polish girl on Dancing with the Stars. At Amanpuri.
Fine motor skills != gross motor skills, and having a semi-decent sense of rhythm only serves to make me painfully aware of just how epically awful a dancer I am. The only thing worse than dancing like a drunken possum is knowing it and feeling the eyes of pity upon you.
Friday night I got to see Hubbard Street Dance in their spring series. As usual, they made my head explode into a billion little pieces and I haven’t put them all back together yet. I absolutely cannot fathom what these tiny humans do; it is about three parsecs from my reality. Who could move their body like that? How is this possible? I think dance is the pinnacle of performing art and maybe even culture in the large. Nothing moves and awes me more.
Re: this song, I had a friend* in college who was a dancer. She told me of her experience choreographing and performing a routine to “Kiss of Life.” She even showed me some of it.
Barely Human // Robbie Fulks
25 in 25 Day 16: A song that has made you cry
Back in about ‘97 I dragged Sharon out to go see The Insiders at Schuba’s. They were a local power pop band I’d loved since college. You may remember Ghost On The Beach (awesome 80’s video there, worth a look), a dynamite little number. Listen for the Chicago accent on the word “heartbeat” if you check that video. That was a great album which I owned at one point but can’t find now. Anyway, I totally dug those guys. They still play around town once in a while, which is heartening for an old fart like me who hasn’t fully let go of the dream yet.
The opening act was someone I’d never heard of, Robbie Fulks. The Reader said he did “alt country” which seemed like a giant fucking drag to me. By that point, the alternative movement had become self-aware and fully corporatized, and I thought I hated country, so combining those two together seemed like something I was destined to loathe.
Given that, I don’t know why we got there early enough to see the opening act but we did. All that happened was my brain chemistry being rearranged profoundly and forever by the genius of this man. Hilarious, poignant, insightful, articulate, creative, unabashedly intelligent, virtuosic. Country Love Songs had just come out and he played almost all of the songs from it. Besides Robbie on the acoustic guitar, he also had a four-piece band of superstars, including a pedal steel player who made me want to buy one the next morning and learn how to play it. I didn’t, but that’s still on my list.
Among the masterpieces he played that night was “Barely Human,” this absolutely gutwrenching first-person account of the horrors of alcoholism. Live, like on the track, he brought the already minimal band completely out for the fourth verse, just Robbie and his acoustic guitar: spare, dark, miserable, fearing and wishing for death simultaneously while recalling the wasted promise of his youth. I cried like a baby, just heaving sobs, right there in the middle of a crowded club.
I swear to you, of all the music I have ever posted or recommended on this page, the one you should go out and download today is this one. Seriously, go spend the $5.99 on this album and if you don’t love it I’ll refund your money.
Guilty // The Blues Brothers
25 in 25 Day 15: A song you love singing along to.
I love to sing along with pretty much everything, so this is just kind of a freebie, a chance to post something I really like.
Randy Newman, like Dylan, is best enjoyed when someone else is singing his songs. This is three minutes of fantasticness, just Belushi, Paul Shaffer, and a crowd that appears to really like some cocaine.
You’re The Best Thing // The Style Council
25 in 25 Day 14: A song that reminds you of your spouse
This was a challenge. Lots of songs remind me of Sharon…you live with someone for ffifteen+ years and that’ll happen.
We have pretty similar tastes in music. I remember when we first moved in together, we went through and merged our CD collections. (Remember CDs? LOL) There was a ton of overlap, maybe 50 discs. We put them in a box somewhere before actually getting rid of them…you know, a hedge. It wasn’t too long before we decided it was safe to get rid of them.
So, given the vast universe of music that I could have chosen today, I’ll go with one tied to an iconic moment. This was our first dance at our wedding. We split the wedding prep tasks fairly: I was in charge of the music and she had everything else. As I was narrowing the field of possible songs for the first dance, nothing seemed to be quite perfect. Some didn’t have the right danceable vibe, others weren’t pretty enough, or the lyrics weren’t 100% right.
Paul Weller got the closest. The verses are downright Shakespearian, like some of the better sonnets. The music’s just right. And the choruses are about 90% there:
You’re the best thing that ever happened to me or my world
You’re the best thing that ever happened, so don’t go away
Don’t go away? Is she thinking about bailing on him? Is that really the sentiment we want to introduce at a wedding? In the end we decided that was a relatively minor thing. Nobody was going away and everything else about it worked, so that was that. The DJ complimented us on the choice, saying he’d never used it before in doing hundreds of weddings. Part of our mission was to have the celebration be unique, so that felt like success.
Even though my dancing to this was horrid and laughable, like all my dancing was and is, the moment was one of many magical ones that night and the adventure has continued for over ten years. No one’s going away.
Joy To The World // Three Dog Night
25 in 25 Day 13: A song that reminds you of a former friend
Fortunately, I don’t have too many former friends. I prefer to think of them as people I’ve lost touch with, and if we bumped into each other somewhere today, we’d have a drink and catch up and it’d be all good.
There are a couple of notable exceptions. One is Karen. (No, not Karyn, but clearly a name I need to be wary of in my future encounters.) The story of why we’re “former” is too embarrassing and stupid to recount. It was 100% my fault and a source of tremendous regret even twentyish years later.
But the story was happy before the sad ending. We worked together at Safari Lodge, the biggest restaurant at Brookfield Zoo. It’s kinda like a big McDonald’s now, but back then it was more like a cafeteria. The zoo feels much more big business and corporate now than it did then. It was more like one of those funky, family-run amusement parks. The ones that are also disappearing in favor of sterilized, highly logoed versions, not coincidentally.
They had an old, out-of-tune upright piano out in the dining area of the restaurant back then. It was always turned around to face the wall and covered; I assume it was there for when they had afterhours private parties or whatever. Anyway, one summer night after the zoo was closed, we were all cleaning up the restaurant, hanging around, goofing off, having fun. Best teenager job ever, pretty much. Something inspired me to turn that piano around, pull the cover off, and sit down. I have no idea why, but I started playing and singing this song at the absolute top of my lungs.
Karen came over and started dancing. God damn, could that girl dance.
Doesn’t Matter Anyway // Greek Fire
25 in 25 Day 12: The last song you heard
Heard this on Q101 as I was getting out of the car. I liked it enough that I went looking to buy the whole album this morning, but it looks like it isn’t released yet. I could only find this single on iTunes. I’m surely too old to own anything this hip.
Kinda Muse-y, but I mean that in a good way. I’m looking forward to the release.