Anatomy of a Mixtape: Sussing You Out (by Joshua)

spin

I have a seriously problem when it comes to mixtapes. I’ll make them for any and all occasions. Birthday? You bet. Kwanzaa? Sure. Arbor Day? That was one hell of a party. Don’t knock partying on Arbor Day until you’ve tried it. But the mix I make most often is, without a doubt, one for a current or potential love interest.

Obviously these lists are always different, and those differences aren’t just based on the lady involved. If it was just about making a mix for a potential special lady friend, I might make the same mix every time, simply because if I found something that worked, I’d keep doing it. (It’s a combination of the idea of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and sheer laziness. To quote Dave Chappelle, “If a guy could get laid in a cardboard box, he wouldn’t buy a house.”)

So I have a treat for you. I normally don’t talk about this on this blog, but I have had a crush on a girl, a friend of a friend, and unsurprisingly, I made a mixtape for her. (Correction: She has already shot me down in the process of writing this post, but I like the idea enough that I’m gonna keep writing about it.) I was going over to my friend’s house under a thin pretense of playing drinking games, but really I was just going over there to try and see where she stood. So, before I left, I quickly slapped together a list. I called this mix, “Sussing You Out.”

And that’s what it was designed to do, musically. I had recently played a song for the friend that she was convinced the girl in question would like (that song was “What We Gained In The Fire” by The Mynabirds) so I built a mix around it, designed to figure out what kind of music she was into. But obviously I couldn’t put the Mynabirds’ song at the beginning, for two reasons: 1. You have to bury the lead when it comes to mixtapes for potential special lady friends, or else they may not listen past the song you said you’d play for them. 2. The song is really kind of an ending song, despite it being the opener on its respective album. No, I decided to open with “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, a great opening track, and one designed to slip into whatever situation the night had presented when I decided to start the playlist. It’s a chameleon song, you see.

But it has a flaw as an opening song – it’s not punchy at all, so I had to kick it up quick. Hence “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When I put this song on the list, it immediately synthesized my secondary goal with the playlist – subtly hint at the fact that I had a crush on the girl. If you look at the mix song to song, you’ll notice almost all of them are some kind of love song. Maybe not all of them are happy love songs (“Use Me” is a particularly fucked up version of love), but some of them are almost sappy (here’s looking at you, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”).

Now, the sequencing isn’t great. I did slap this together in about 15 minutes, and it’s not a super great representation of things that I like, just a bunch of songs that don’t sound out of place at a party, songs that I’d like to know if she liked, and songs that say, “Hey, I’m digging what you’re throwing down.” These goals are certainly achieved, but it can be done better, and despite getting shot down, I am gonna take another crack at it soon.

And to be clear: by taking another crack at it, I mean do a second draft of the playlist, not keep trying to woo a girl I know is not interested.

2013 in Song (by Noura Hemady)

Much as I am loathe to admit to being one of the sheeple for look for Pitchfork’s end of year best-of lists, I do. I’m always curious to see if my perception of the year’s best  music corresponds to “expert opinion.” There are usually a handful of songs I picked up throughout the year on there (Courtney Barnett represents that category for 2013). Mostly I read Pitchfork’s year-end list and I think a) someone bought you out, these albums are boring; b) why so much rap?; and c) EDM is awful, bring back britpop. Now I didn’t listen to the Beyonce album and likely won’t, ever, but I’m going to make a bold statement here. 2013 was not a good year for music. It was disappointing, in some cases, overly ambitious, and over hyped. Arcade Fire, I’m looking at you. Innovation is one thing, but making good songs is another.

With that said, my top five listen is not made up exclusively of songs released in 2013, though a few were. It’s a list of songs that meant something to me this year.

“Hail Bop” by Django Django

Don’t listen to Alt-J. Listen to Django Django. Put on “Hail Bop” while you’re walking somewhere. You’ll feel purposeful and you’ll get there faster.

Hail Bop is the second song on Django Django’s eponymous album. It comes after an “Introduction,” two minutes of weird techo feedback that you don’t really need to listen to. With “Hail Bop,” you’re immediately into the meat of the album. It starts with ominous synths in minor key, drums build into a crescendo, and then guitars lift the song into a purposeful, march. A few drafts ago, I described the song as an “inter-gallactic space march,” felt stupid about that then deleted it. But in reviewing the lyrics of “Hail Bop,” I’m fairly certain the song is about a meteor, so I’ll let that description stand.

But don’t just listen to “Hail Bop.” Listen to the entire album.

“Never Seen Such Good Things” by Devendra Banhart 

Devendra Banhart: classic hippie weirdo who makes: some strange motherfucking music (see: Megapuss, “Duck People Duck Man); some invigorating but still weird music (also see: Megapuss, “Theme From Hollywood”); and some music that is incredibly beautiful and melancholy. See: “Never Seen Such Good Things” from his 2013 release, Mala.

I’m not one to analyze lyrics too deeply. I think the melody typically provides the bulk of the narrative of the song, while the vocal are often just another instrument. “Never Seen Such Good Things” is an exception (as is Courtney Barnett’s “Avant Gardener,” below). The verses are witty, evocative, and haunting. I’m particularly fond of the line “Should have known someone so much like me/would give me heaven send me to my knees,” an acknowledgement – and one with which I fully agree – that the greatest pleasure can only be accompanied by the deepest of pain.  After three minutes, the song bows out in a refrain of “Sad Lady, you win, Sad Lady, you win” accompanied by a twangy guitar, softer each verse until the next song rises.

“Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand

While this is not one of my favorite songs of the year, I feel obliged to mention it in some way since Franz Ferdinand is one of my favorite bands.

Franz Ferdinand put out a new album this summer. It isn’t their best and it isn’t their worst. “Right Action” is a stand-out on the album: danceable (very important), kind of obnoxious, and irreverent. Some critics panned the song for recalling the “classic” Franz Ferdinand sound, but to me, that is its best quality.

Now, Franz Ferdinand does not tour often. I’ve only seen them once in nearly 10 years of fandom. So, when they toured the U.S. this fall, I went to New York to see them. I arrived on a Friday night. Franz Ferdinand played the following Tuesday. I almost didn’t make it to the show due to a last-minute collapse in civility between me and my show-going partner. Between tears and hugs and complaints and stress and lashing personal criticisms, we made it to the M train, conducted a thorough analysis of our argument, and arrived, 15 minutes late, at the Hammerstein Ballroom. I hadn’t cried like that in ages and forgot how utterly exhausting it is to sob. I wanted to jump, bop, shake to the songs that I love. But when Alex and Co. played “Right Action,” I could barely muster a two step.

“Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett

“Avant Gardener” is a story of depression told in deadpan. More so than most songwriters, Barnett’s verses, woven together, tell a coherent story. In this case, she’s out in the morning for a bit of gardening, has an anxiety attack, and ends up in an ambulance and rushed to the hospital. But she’s not panicked. She’s not even particularly worried about anything except the hospital bill. Ambivalence is the ultimate defense mechanism here. Even the guitars sound lazy and uninterested, muted and punctured by feedback.

Make no mistake, “Avant Gardener” is still catchy as hell.

“Brand New Start” by Little Joy

The first time I heard Little Joy in Prospect Park was on the most perfect summer evening last August. Earlier in the day, we’d been to Coney Island. We were sunburned, hungry, tired, and waiting for Beck to go on. I say I heard Little Joy because I did not see them. We laid in the lawn and watched the clouds pass into dusk instead of the stage. But the songs, joyous and melancholy all at once, caught my attention.

In “Brand New Start” Fabrizio Moretti, moonlighting as the singer of Little Joy while on hiatus from The Strokes, sings of “taking advantage of the season to take off your overcoat.” In the context of the song, it’s an obvious metaphor: shedding the superficial constraints that burden and doom relationships. The lyrics mirror the melody: “Brand New Start” is sweet, soothing, and optimistic: a song for dozing on the lawn on a warm night.

Honorable Mentions:

“Modern Love” by David Bowie: Did you watch Frances Ha five times in one week this year? Because I did. And next time I go to New York, I’ll queue “Modern Love” on my iphone, plug in my head phones, and pirouette through crosswalks all over the city.

MCII  by Mikal Cronin (Yes, the entire album): Because it’s 40 minutes of fuzzy, singable, catchy rock music. And every year needs an album like that.

2013 in 5 Songs: Getting Back to What Matters (by Nick Burka)

I Keep On Rising Up

I Keep On Rising Up

This year I realized that I didn’t relate to music like I used to. It’s not that I’d become less interested in music, quite the contrary (if anything I’d become more obsessed than ever: playing it, listening to it, finding friends with whom to collaborate or compare new obsessions, and, of course, writing about it). It’s just that this year I noticed the level of personal introspection that usually accompanies my musical experiences to be surprisingly low. Almost nonexistent.

((No one likes a person whose only thought is always “this song is totally about me!!” but a dose of healthy introspection never hurt nobody.))

In fact, it wasn’t until after I selected these 5 songs and began looking for common themes within them that I realized how little I’d really been paying attention to the music I was finding myself most connected to in the first place. As it turns out, each song speaks of frustration in one form or another. Frustration with love. Frustration with unrequited love. Frustration with the state of the world in general. Frustration with being frustrated.

Was my year really that sort of mess? Well no. In fact there was a lot to be happy about: new job with new experiences, new heights reached in a loving, intimate relationship, new (or renewed) appreciation and fervor for old pastimes and hobbies— a satisfying resume to be sure. But frustrations could be seen creeping in around at the edges, sometimes overshadowing those highlights: the stress of acclimating to a new job, the anxiety and uncertainty of moving a relationship to the next step, the difficulty in trying to keep it all together while still having time for one’s self.

Maybe that’s not exactly what these songs are about, but they’re not far off either, and these songs teach us a lot more than just how to express the trouble we feel. They also teaches us how to grieve, how to get by, how to overcome, and how to thrive once more. Not all at once, but gradually, eventually. Line by line, and verse by verse.


“How to See the Sun Rise” by Ben Sollee

Yes, O Lord, yes. Let’s set the mood and get in the groove. I first heard this charming, amiable Kentuckian during the summer of 2012 as an opening act. With just a cello, a high tenor warble, and a healthy dose of southern charm he managed to blow the headliner clear out of the water, and with waltzy little numbers like this one it’s easy to see why.

It’s a classic story of unrequited love told with greater poise and levity than I could have ever hoped to muster in a similar situation. The pain, the crestfallen looks, the misguided hope for returned affection— it’s all there, beautifully laid out in a jaunty, expertly paced 6/8 time signature that makes you want to howl at the moon and hear it all over again.

“Pretty Girl from Michigan” by The Avett Brothers

This band became something of an obsession with me from about February through May and this song fast became the symbol of that mania. We’re talking the kind of obsession that makes you disregard friends, family, work, and other obligations for days at a time. I went from not having listened to a lick of their music to coveting every EP and B-side I could find.

This story of a man who has lost interest in his partner— if ever there was interest to begin with— is told in a way that speaks volumes about the band’s versatility in song craft and ability to just plain crank it up and have a damn good time doing it. When being kind and being polite has failed to express your displeasure, why not just rock it out this way. Heck, by the sound of things she may even be so dense that she won’t even know this song is about her.


“Unaware” by Allen Stone

Of all the new acts to hit the scene in the last 18 months, this is the one you must look up. Like right this instant. His ability to channel 50 years of soul music tradition is unbelievable, and his sheer sonic range is incredible.

This is the wonder of Allen Stone. Endlessly talented, with a brand new album due out sometime next year, and yes, Ms. Springfield, you guessed it—son of a preacher man.

This song stays with you long after the final fadeout. The lyrics ache with raw and honest emotion, and the musical horse on which they ride pairs so perfectly: a resonant guitar line weaving in and out of the coordinated cacophony of electric organ, bass, and drums. A lone poet against the rush of midday city traffic.

“Push, pull, tear… can’t stretch any farther.” Preach it kid, preach it.


“You Never Need Nobody” by The Lone Bellow

If Allen Stone is the artist you should listen to from the comfort of your favorite armchair, then The Lone Bellow is the group you should see front row center when they come to your town in 2014. How they are able to move so deftly from plaintive and reflective soliloquies to romping and rollicking swells of sonic desperation and back again all within the same song is astounding. And that they do so without collapsing under the weight of sheer adrenaline and sweat — beyond me.

This song breathes, shudders, and shakes with the best of them of their debut album. Such expressive quality. Such honesty in songwriting. Such a masterful swell of sound and emotion. Yet even as frenzied and as stratospheric as the song climbs in intensity, somehow the trio is still able to give it a meditative, resolved quality. There is a light at the end of tunnel, even if the light comes from a place of acceptance.


“(I Keep On) Rising Up” by Mike Doughty

Sometimes, when the going gets tough and the music gets heavy, you just need to tell yourself that it’s going to be okay, whatever the cost, and this song was that sort of refuge this year. The job gets crazy, the relationship gets heavy, life does that “moving too fast” thing, and you’re contemplating the “what’s it all mean” thing for the        x-tieth time today.

Hang on. Give it a moment. Pour yourself a glass of lemonade and sip on the fact that, eventually, it all gets worked out. Even if it does take a lot of work to get there and a good dose of ingenuity. Of getting back up when the world gets you down. Of going your own way when all others seem silly or fraught with worry. Or even of just being impulsive and hoping for the best: “I ripped the rules up / Said I loved you on day three…”

This song recognizes the cynics and the skeptics, thanks them for their opinions, and says I respect your opinion, but right now I’m going to go about my business my way. Maybe it sounds too optimistic or even idealistic— but it feels right. And that’s a good way to get thinking about the new year ahead.

Nick Burka (@nickburkaotm) writes about music at NickBurkaOnTheMusic, keeping track of recent releases, local concerts, and the art of crafting the perfect top-five playlist.

If You Want to Destroy My First Love’s Sweater (by Nate Logan)

It seemed too complicated to find out the band behind the song “Buddy Holly.” X103, Indy’s “alternative” station, was pretty loose on giving the names of bands they played, often cutting songs short or talking over their final seconds. A DJ must have said “Weezer” at some point though, that’s the only way I could find the album. The minimalist cover, the band standing in front of a blue screen, gave no hint as to what the music would sound like. All I had to go off of was “Buddy Holly” and its music video.

Directed by Spike Jonze, the music video for “Buddy Holly” is a classic and marvel to watch. Jonze places the band in an episode of Happy Days where they play “Buddy Holly” and get adoring glances from girls, a stern look from Richie Cunningham before he runs into a bathroom, and The Fonz busts out in a jumping jack-like dance. I didn’t know about The Velvet Underground then. Weezer made me want to start a band.

This want solidified upon listening to the album in full. I was surprised that I could listen to it all the way through. Almost. My only hang-up was the closing track, “Only in Dreams,” because it was just so sad for a lovelorn boy from the Midwest like me. Matt Sharp’s bass trudges along as more and more instruments come in and Rivers Cuomo’s singing changes from wispy to desperate as the band hits the chorus:

Only in dreams

We see what it means

Reach out our hands

Hold on to hers

But when we wake

It’s all been erased

And so it seems

Only in dreams

As lame as it sounds, this chorus is how I felt in junior high. Cuomo’s predicament made me feel better about myself—I felt like I wasn’t the only loser in the world. Still, I could really never listen to this song. I always popped the CD player after the penultimate song, “Holiday,” or I skipped back to the beginning. And as I did this, I’d often be standing in my room by my bed, imitating Cuomo’s moves from the “Buddy Holly” or “Undone—The Sweater Song” music videos and singing along.

Of all the songs, it’s “Undone—The Sweater Song” that I love most. This song’s video, also directed by Jonze, has the band performing in front of the same blue screen as on the album’s cover. It’s a seemingly simple performance video, with elements of humor (Patrick Wilson running around his drum set) and oddness thrown in (a wide angle shot shows a small pack of dogs galloping past the band). I like this video and the song more than “Buddy Holly” because the song seems more intricate (the speaking intro, multiple voices in the chorus) and, as a teenager, was more in line with my general feelings. The song’s elements are delivered in a cheery package though—the song doesn’t sad. Devoid of music, the chorus is bleak:

                        If you want to destroy my sweater (Woah-ah-woah-ah-woah)

Hold this thread as I walk away (As I walk away)

Watch me unravel, I’ll soon be naked.

Lying on the floor, (lying on the floor)

I’ve come undone.

Despite this, I loved the song. I sorted out Cuomo’s vocals from guitarist Brian Bell’s and Sharp’s in the chorus and would eventually only sing his vocal when I sang by myself in my room or in the car. I scoured the Internet at dial-up speed to find lyrics to the song (I needed to know what Cuomo was singing at the end) as well as to try to find any and all other information on Weezer that I could.

I found the “rebel weezer alliance.” I found more than one Cuomo fan page made in Geocities. I found the Weezer symbol: =w= and learned to make it with my hands. I saw all sorts of Weezer paraphernalia on eBay that I wanted to buy because Weezer would never come to play in Indianapolis—bands only came through my town to get to Chicago or Detroit or Cincinnati or Louisville. Never Indianapolis. I wanted to be as close to the band as I could.

Though Weezer was the only band I could think about for a long time, soon there were more bands. And soon the CDs were stacking up in my room. After the release of Pinkerton, Weezer disappeared. And when they came back in 2001 with “The Green Album,” neither of us were the same. I was a sophomore in high school and slightly less melodramatic. Weezer had a new bass player and their new album didn’t echo anything found in the dark tone of Pinkerton, nor was it quite like the sad lyrics and hook-laden music combo of their first album. I could tell something was off and not just because my mom said she liked the song “Hash Pipe.”

Weezer had taken T.S. Eliot’s words in his famous essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and made them reality: “[the] progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.” This new album seemed empty, formulated, too much like science and not enough like rock ‘n’ roll. Further Internet research revealed that Cuomo possessed a binder of extensive information that would give him formulas to create perfect pop songs. One only has to look at the Billboard charts since Weezer’s comeback to see if that binder was useful or not.

That said—I did go to see Weezer when they came to play an outdoor show in Noblesville, Indiana in 2002. It was a childhood dream, after all. My LiveJournal entry from that show indicates that I really had a good time and they played songs that I liked, “Undone—The Sweater Song” among them. But my memory of that show has been tarnished by the albums Weezer released since “The Green Album.” At the time I saw them, Weezer only had three albums to play songs from—two great and one that was crappy. Now, the odds are not in my favor or anyone else’s who grew up loving Weezer’s twentieth century output. They’ve released six subpar albums since 2001, none of them even approaching the quality of their first and second albums.

In the end though, it comes back to love. “The Blue Album” was my first love—the album that pushed me into the music collector and snob that I am today. And for that I’ll always be glad. I was in the right place at the right time. But like most first loves, both of us have moved on and that’s OK. Weezer can make the music it wants and I can listen to other bands. There’s a new legion of fans who love Weezer for different reasons than I loved them and that’s OK, too. I’ll always remember “The Blue Album” fondly and still spin it. I still have my original CD from 1994. I’ve never replaced it and I don’t think I ever will.

Nate Logan is the Chief Editor of Spooky Girlfriend Press. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Creative Writing at the University of North Texas. He doesn’t want you to destroy his sweater.

Top 5 Songs of Unemployment (or: What I’ve Heard From Watching Too Much Tv) (by Joshua)

orange-is-the-new-black-1

The moral of this story is I need a hobby.

In the first week of June I took a much needed and long planned vacation to California for my cousin’s wedding, as well as visit Claire and Teresa. I hadn’t been to California since I was a teenager and I’d been meaning to visit Claire and Teresa since they moved out there. And right up until the very end of the trip, it was fantastic. Good food, even better coffee, and perhaps the best gin fizz I’ve ever had in my life. Oh, and the wedding was a ton of fun (sidenote to readers and myself: Look up The California Honeydrops. They were the best band I’ve ever seen at a wedding, period.).

It wasn’t until I was waiting for my flight home that it took any kind of bad turn (the giant blisters I got on my feet from those horrendous San Francisco hills notwithstanding). I had to be at the airport stupid early, and Teresa was generous enough to drive me over there at a time that should be reserved for old people getting their morning coffee. I got all the way through security before I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and realized that my flight would be delayed five hours. I should’ve packed a blanket. And a pillow. And a bed.

While waiting, I called my boss and left a voicemail to let him know I’d be back to work on Thursday. A few hours later, he texted me with the following message:

“We still have some problems with the oven so u don’t have to come yet I need to talk to youi regarding your work we can’t affored to pay you 14$ an you don’t meet our expectation. And you set most of the time so we don’t need you if any thing change we let you know.”

A few things here. First, his grasp on English is tenuous at best. Second, those spelling errors are faithfully reproduced. Third, I assume “set” means “sit,” referring to how I would finish my work and talk to our regular customers. Oh, and yes, he’s firing me.

What kind of person fires someone through a text message? And worse still, a text message rife with spelling and grammatical errors? I mean, if you’re going to fire me, at least choose your words with enough care to let your phone auto-correct the spelling. And maybe use full words? I worked there for three years, I deserve better than “ur teh suck fux ur jobb >:( “.But that’s what I got.

The past month has been spent sending out resumes and going on interviews, but truthfully, that takes up perhaps 2 hours of a day, with, if I’m lucky, one half-hour interview a week. The rest of my time has been spent occasionally hanging out with my brothers, going to the occasional party, and watching endless amounts of tv.

I’ve watched an insane amount. I’ve watched new shows, rewatched old shows, and seen every inning of every O’s game. Some of it is engrossing and filled with artistic value (Orange is the New Black, Twin Peaks, Breaking Bad), others are idiotic and mind numbing (god help me, The Cleveland Show), and some are simply just watching something I’ve seen many times before because it’s calmingly distracting me from how I’m gonna pay rent this month (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and How I Met Your Mother).

So it stands to reason I’ve been listening to a lot of songs that have peaked my interest from these programs. Shameful, i know. But like I said, the moral of this story is that I need a hobby.

“Let’s Move & Groove Together” by Benny Latimore, as seen in Orange is the New Black

If you’ve not seen this new show produced by Netflix, I would urge you to finish what you’re doing in a timely and conscientious manner, then figure out a chunk of time where you have nothing to do and plan on perhaps watching an episode or two of this show. Or, as I did, watch the first ten seconds and see Laura Prepon’s very ample…tracks of land and get hooked. That’s perhaps selling the show a bit short, though. It’s well plotted, well acted (for the most part. I’m looking at your sorry ass, Jason Biggs), and highly engrossing. And it has perfect music placement, as evidenced by the scene in which this song is featured, in which a scantily clad Taylor Schilling dances sexfully for Laura Prepon. I mean, just that sentence alone is all like, sploosh.

“Hold On” by Tom Waits, as performed by Emily Kinney in The Walking Dead

Music is not a big part of The Walking Dead, and it makes sense. I know I’m not gonna be worried about which playlist works best for this road trip or what some jerkoff’s Top 5 Desert Island tracks are in that situation. Mostly I’d just be about “Oh my god don’t bite me oh my god” and perhaps some derivative of that, like, “Please god don’t bite me oh god why is this happening ” or some such gibberish.  But in particularly tender scene, the group has holed up in a (mostly) deserted prison to protect the birth of a new child of the protagonist. The young daughter (Emily Kinney) of another character ends up watching over the baby, and sings it this song, which is both a little sweet and bone-crushingly bitter, as the child’s mother died in childbirth and her son had to put a bullet in her head. Oh, spoiler alert.

“Short People” by Randy Newman, as seen in The Cleveland Show

This one is embarrassing on so many levels. I mean, it’s Randy Newman. When you sing the theme song to a computer animated movie three times in a row you pretty much lose all your street cred. Which is a shame – he does actually have some tender heartfelt songs. This song is not one of them. Nor is it in a good show – it’s in the Family Guy spinoff. I hate that asshole Seth Macfarlane so much – he’s a racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic douchenozzle, but for some reason, in the past few days, I haven’t been able to watch anything but this show and baseball. I have literally no reason why, and I feel like an asshole. But man, this song has a great back-beat right? Right?

“Hey” by The Pixies, as seen in How I Met Your Mother

The main character of this show is both the worst character on the show and obsessed with The Pixies, both of which don’t deter me from the show. Despite growing up in the 90’s, I like very little of the archetypal 90’s grunge scene, from Nirvana to The Pixies to the Screaming Trees. (Sidenote: I’ve recently, however, become obsessed with Nirvana’s Unplugged album.)  But this song is rather perfectly 90’s: it starts with a simple call out to the audience through a nasally voice, then a bass played with a pick comes in by itself, then a guitar riff that could’ve been stolen directly from Sticky FingersWell, shit. That actually does make for a really good song.

“Living This Life Makes It Hard” by The Duchess & The Duke, as seen in Orange is the New Black

My television’s smarter than yours, and therefore has a Netflix app built straight into it. However, it’s not nearly as polished as the app on literally any other platform. The worst thing it does is, which no other platform does, is go through the entire credits, then put up the window to play the next episode, which it will do itself after a seemingly unending amount of time – 20 seconds. I mean, this is the goddamn future! I want shit to be instantaneous. It is the internet, after all. However, I do have to thank this shitty app for introducing me to this song, which I might’ve missed had I skipped the credits to the episode it’s featured in.  It’s wonderful – the harmonies fill your ears so pleasantly you sort of drift off into Nowheresville, population, you. And your fat, promiscuous mother. Oh!

Hole’s “Live Through This” Helped Me Live Through This (by Amy Berkowitz)

hole tape

Some people drink a cup of chamomile tea to fall asleep. Some count sheep. Others rely on a boring book or the soothing sounds of a white noise machine. But me? The summer before I turned 13, there was only one thing that calmed my mind at night: listening to Hole’s Live Through This on my Walkman.

On more than a few occasions, I fell asleep wearing headphones, listening to Courtney Love’s aggressive guitar and angry lyrics. I needed to hear someone else screaming about the same injustices that made me want to scream. If Hole could rage against sexism and conformity and the ludicrous claims that culture makes on women’s bodies, then I could take a break from it, at least long enough to sleep.

Just relax, just relax, just go to sleep. That’s a line from “Jennifer’s Body,” and sung soft and low, it’s the closest the album comes to a lullaby – if only it weren’t couched between hoarsely screamed verses and the machine-gun drumming and cymbal crashes that end the song. Live Through This is known for its “loud-quiet-loud” dynamic, and it plays with tempo in a similar way (“slow-fast-slow”). These sudden changes in volume and speed are among the many reasons why it’s a strange album to fall asleep to.

But then again, summer camp was a strange place. I lived in a cabin with nine other girls, and in those close quarters, anxiety and shame about our bodies hung in the air like bug spray. “You’re lucky,” my bunkmates would say, “you’re so skinny.” I didn’t think of myself as skinny or fat. I mostly thought of my body in terms of what it did, not how it was looked at.

Some of the meanest girls at camp were thin, and some of the nice girls were bigger. And of course, the mean girls would give the fat girls shit about their weight. Although I wasn’t heavy, I got shit, too: I was weird – I daydreamed all the time, didn’t have crushes on the popular guys, wasn’t in any hurry to start shaving my legs.

Live Through This was jarring and abrasive, sure – but it was also familiar. I’d listened to it countless times, and the intimacy was comforting. The cassette had been a birthday present from my friend Sara, the autumn before I brought it to camp with me. She knew I’d be happy to have my own copy, because we’d already spent hours listening to the tape in her room. After school, we practiced maximizing its cathartic potential, sitting on the floor by the stereo and rewinding over and over and over to the part in “I Think That I Would Die” when Love screams FUCK! YOU! 

FUCK! YOU!

FUCK! YOU! 

FUCK! YOU!

It felt good.

We didn’t know what the song was supposed to mean, but the lyrics were clearly about asserting ownership, then lashing out when that ownership is threatened. You can tell that without even hearing the words – just from the shattering violence of the clash between the moments of silence and the wonderful scream that follows.

It’s… [quiet guitar] Not… [same quiet guitar] Yours… [same quiet guitar] and then the FUCK! YOU!

Sometime between 1994 and now, I learned that Love temporarily lost custody of her daughter when she was two weeks old, and it makes sense that “I Think That I Would Die” was written about that traumatic experience.

But that didn’t matter to me and Sara. As we sat in her room, rewinding and rewinding and relishing the abandon of our favorite part of the tape, we were learning how to scream “fuck you.”

All 12-year-old girls have to learn how to scream “fuck you.”

Sara got her period before I did. I remember the package of Always pads that appeared next to her dollhouse one day. I remember she didn’t like to talk about it much. I remember boys making fun of her when they saw the pale green plastic of a pad wrapper sticking out of her back pocket. This was a signal. This was starting. Our bodies were not going to be our own anymore. They were becoming public; they could be commented upon, judged, held to sick standards; they could signify sex and whatever else, whether or not we wanted them to.

One of the main themes of Live Through This is the objectification of the female body: I am doll parts / Bad skin, doll hearts. 

Something the girls at camp understood better than I did was that women are required to be thin. No matter how many YM articles I read about “Skirts for Every Body Type!” where “pear-shaped” readers were perkily assured that there were “options” to “camouflage” their hips and thighs, I maintained some amount of immunity to the poison of this body shaming.

But even though the angst I had about my own body was minimal, I felt an overwhelming sense of outrage at the injustice of this requirement. How it made my best friend at camp anorexic, how it made the other girls in our cabin waste time worrying about the calories in pizza, how it made someone (we never found out who) vomit into Diet Pepsi bottles and hide them on the dusty shelves above our cubbies.

Nobody talked about the Diet Pepsi bottles. Nobody talked about eating disorders. Nobody questioned how damaging these standards of “beauty” were. Well, nobody except for Courtney Love, who knew just how fucked up it was: They say I’m plump, but I throw up all the time (“Plump”). Be a model or just look like one (“Asking for It”). Anorexic magazines / It smells like girl, it smells like girl (“She Walks on Me”).

The cover of Live Through This shows a beauty queen in a tiara, caught in the camera flash, clutching a bouquet of flowers. Contrast this with the image in the cassette insert: a picture of a young girl in a flannel shirt, standing barefoot on a gravel road (a family photo of Love at age 8).

courtney as child

The first time I opened the cassette and saw that photo, I was startled to see myself there: messy hair, sleeves too long, not quite smiling.

What is the “this” in Live Through This? For me, it was adolescence. How to understand a world that rewards women with crowns and flowers for being dumb and fake and smiling just right, when it makes more sense to hang out in a flannel and no shoes and do whatever you feel like.

If you live through this with me / I swear that I will die for you / And if you live through this with me / I swear that I will die for you. When I heard Love sing those lines in “Asking for It,” they felt like a promise. She understood my pain, because it was her own. She was like an older sister who had been to hell and back, and was there to tell me about it: Someday, you will ache like I ache (“Doll Parts”).

So, I did live through this. And I still am. That summer was the last one I spent at camp, and I haven’t needed to listen to Live Through This to fall asleep since.

Still, I return to the album again and again. It’s part of me. It played a tremendous role in the formation of my feminist identity. It taught me how to be angry. And even after nearly 20 years of listening, its cathartic powers haven’t dulled. There are some days when the only thing I want to do after work is blast Live Through This on my headphones and aggressively wash a sink full of dishes. Run the water hot, turn the volume up, and FUCK! YOU!

“It’s Good, But Will It Play In Peoria?” An Exercise in Pretension

shake on itThe bet was this: Could I come up with a playlist before our other friend showed up? I was sitting at a fairly well known sports bar in the shadow of Camden Yards with my friends Lucy and Eric and we were on our way to a fair bit of tipsy. I told them it would be done in a few minutes, let alone before Cassie, the other friend (who’s also notorious for running ridiculously late), showed up.

“But don’t let it be filled with all that pretentious crap you usually listen to,” Eric said.

I scoffed at this for two reasons: First, I’ve never thought anything I listen to is steeped in pretension, Arcade Fire aside. Second, coming from Eric, that was a rather hollow dig. You see, Eric is a good friend and a great guy, but he has the music taste of a drunk thirteen year old girl in 2001. His computer is filled with songs (see, I almost said albums, but I’m sure he buys songs rather than albums) by artists like  Blink 182, Bloodhound Gang, and Say Anything. Our music tastes clash violently, but have been known to come together before.  A good example of this is Stevie Wonder’s hit “Superstition.” It helps that the song has been replayed time and time again over commercials during the time we most often spend together, watching the Ravens kick the shit out of anyone who crosses their path on Sunday afternoons.

I can understand where he’s coming from, though. Some of the bands I listen to are about as far from his taste as possible, and take themselves probably too seriously for their own good. I mean, you’d catch Colin Meloy of The Decemberists masturbating to hardcore BDSM porn in public before you’d catch him listening to The Bloodhound Gang. He’d think the music beneath him, and it’d be because he takes what he produces seriously. The Bloodhound Gang obviously does not.

Here’s where creating the playlist became tricky, then. The original idea was just to create a list before Cassie showed up and one clean enough to play in a respected bar, but with Eric’s comment it quickly became a test of pretentiousness. Could I make a list that not only was really good, but accessible enough for everyone in the bar to enjoy it, including my musically-stunted friend Eric?

I made an attempt. I will give you the entire playlist here, then break it down, song by song, exactly how well I did. I will be judging the  list both by the construction and the pretension factor. Each song will have a rating (1 being the lowest, 10 being the highest) based on flow from song to song, how well it does in the theme of the list, exactly how pretentious it is, and whether or not both the bar and Eric and Lucy would approve.

(There also, along with any playlist I make for someone, was a secondary objective to inform and educate those who have not heard the songs before. In this aspect, the list was for Lucy: Most of the songs were ones I thought she hadn’t heard and probably should.)

“3-Way (The Golden Rule) by The Lonely Island featuring Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga

As a starting song: I thought this would get the list off on a funny and positive note, and it works. Rating: 9

Theme: Musically, it’s pretty different from everything else on the list, due to it’s distinct Lonely-Island-does-the-90s sound. Rating: 5

Pretension factor: This song doesn’t even attempt to take itself seriously. I mean, the use of the word “diggity” twice in a line seals it. Rating: 2

Will it play in the bar?: No. It’s about a devil’s threeway – that is not appropriate for the children in the bar. Why where there children in the bar? I don’t fucking know. It’s a goddamn bar. Whatever. That’s my problem. Rating: 3

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: I can’t imagine why not. Rating: 9

Verdict: While I found a song that may play in Eric and Lucy’s house, it’s probably not appropriate for a bar. Rejected.

“Dirty Song” by Cars Can Be Blue

Flow: It’s a good second song, and with the drumstick intro, it can follow any song. Rating: 10

Theme: An interesting choice, and perhaps put there just to shock. Doesn’t play well with others. Rating: 4

Pretension Factor: Again, I was trying to find a song I thought didn’t take itself seriously, and I got that. Rating: 2

Will it play in the bar?: No. Rating: 0

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: I’d like to think so. Rating: 7

Verdict: Oops. I kind of forgot this was to be played in public. Rejected.

“Let It Be Me” by Sam & Dave

Flow: Perhaps a bit too much of a slowdown. Rating: 6

Theme: This sort of hits the head on the nail, and kind of was the song I built the rest of the list around. Rating: 10

Pretension Factor: This is sort of straddling the line, as it’s a cover, and perhaps not the most well known Sam & Dave song. And since Sam & Dave aren’t exactly household names anymore, it’s kinda tough. But it sounds like it was on every radio station in 1967. Rating: 5

Will it play in the bar?: Without a doubt. It would fade into the background quite nicely. Rating: 10

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: Lucy would love the song, but I don’t think it’s quite in Eric’s oeuvre. Rating: 5 (splitting the difference)

Rating: It’d certainly play in Peoria (if Peoria was in Detroit), but I don’t think it’d satisfy my toughest critic. Conditional Acceptance

“Evidence” by Candi Staton

Flow: Perfect flow from the last song. Rating: 10

Theme: Fits in like a good di…uh, nevermind. Rating: 10

Pretension factor: I’d say nearly nil, but who the hell is Candi Staton? Well, who cares, it sound familiar. Rating: 1

Will it play in the bar?: Can’t imagine why not. Rating: 10

Will Eric and Lucy Like it?: They both should. Lucy would definitely like it, and Eric probably would have no qualms with it. Rating: 7

Verdict: A virtual slam dunk. Accepted.

“Work All Day” by Portugal. The Man

Flow: I think this song works well to follow soul music; it has such a great back-beat. Rating: 8

Theme: Now that we’ve gotten to the more recent music, I think this fits in quite nicely. Rating: 8

Pretension factor: It sounds like something that’d be on the radio, but the name of the band is an issue; however, that only becomes an issue when someone tells you about it. Rating: 5

Will it play in the bar?: Yeah, it has a good enough beat to be enjoyable. Rating: 7

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: I think they really would. I picked this song specifically to test their tastes. Rating: 7

Verdict: I’d bet on this song working well. Accepted

“How Long Will I Have To Wait For You?” by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings

Flow: Man, I am on a roll here. Rating: 10

Theme: 70’s sounding soul in a contemporary setting? Hells to the yeah. Rating: 10

Pretension factor: While not the most well known band out there, they are fairly popular, and with that universal sound, why wouldn’t they be? Rating: 2

Will it play in the bar?: Why isn’t this playing already? Rating: 10

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: Lucy, without a question. If Eric has like some of the other stuff on this list, he should like this song. Rating: 8

Verdict: C’mon. Slam dunk, NBA Jams style. Boom shaka laka!

“Rich Girl” by the bird and the bee

Flow: Oh man, this is the song I was waiting for, and when it starts, people know they were waiting for it too. Rating: 9

Theme: Exactly what I was going for! Rating: 10

Pretension factor: Well, it’s a cover, and it’s by a band that doesn’t capitalize its name, but it’s fucking Hall and Oates. It’s patently ridiculous, and treated as such. Rating: 1

Will it play in the bar?: Will it? People will be laughing all over themselves. Rating: 10

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: Perhaps. It’s tough, because Hall and Oates sucks, but this is a seriously awesome cover, both in music and message. I’d bet yes. Rating: 6

Verdict: It’s too big to fail! More than likely.

“Forgot About Dre” by Dr. Dre featuring Eminem 

Flow: Kind of a huge change, but it works. Almost. Rating: 6

Theme: Uh, this is different. It’s an R.A. Dickey knuckleball. Rating: 2

Pretension factor: Nil. It has Eminem, Slim Shady style, before he became an “artist,” when he was gleefully homophobic. Rating: 0

Will it play in the bar?: I’d say no, but if I wanted to, I could find an edited version and it would work. But I won’t! Rating: 3

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: They’d appreciate the irony. Rating: 8

Verdict: If it was edited, it would work. Conditional Acceptance

“Hold On” by The Alabama Shakes

Flow: I think we just entered a different section of the list. This does not flow well from the last song. Rating: 1

Theme: It does work in the longer scheme; it has that old+new sound I’m totally obsessed with. Rating: 7

Pretension factor: I wish these guys were more well known. And I know they just played on SNL, but does anyone really watch SNL anymore? (Okay, “YOLO” was pretty fucking hilarious.) And I also know they’ve been all over the music scene and in Rolling Stone and all over the music blogs (including this one!), but I can’t imagine 70% of America knows who they are. Rating: 8

Will it play in the bar?: I mean, ostensibly yes, but it would just as soon be ignored as it would be enjoyed. Rating: 6

Would Eric and Lucy like it?: Doubtful that Eric would like it, but I hold up hope. I’m also hopeful Lucy knows and likes this song already, because it’s balling. Rating: 6

Verdict: Perhaps a bit over the heads of the sports bar audience. Conditionally rejected

“Someday” by Middle Brother

Flow: I think this song follows well from the last song, and brings a necessary pick-me-up. Rating: 8

Theme: I like the sound of this song. It’s a what if: What if the Beatles went to Detroit in the 60s instead of India? I think they’d sound like this. Rating: 9

Pretension factor: Well, it’s a folk rock supergroup, so it’s certainly not gonna run up the charts. But the sound is so very accessible. Rating: 5

Will it play in the bar?: Yeah. I think it’s upbeat enough to be enjoyable to the masses. Rating: 7

Would Eric and Lucy like it?: I’d like to think they’d both like it, but I have doubts. Big, screaming, in my face doubts. Rating: 4

Verdict: I think it might work, and it’d make a few people reach for their phones for their music-tagging-app-of-choice to figure out who it is, which I think is a win. Acceptable

“Never Forget You” by Noisettes

Flow: Perfect. Rating: 10

Theme: I knew this song had to happen eventually. Rating: 10

Pretension factor: Well, they’re well known in Europe, but so is fucking soccer, and they even call it something different over there. It’s a great sound, though, and with the success of Amy Winehouse and her untimely death, people might be looking for something to fill that void, and these guys could easily do that (though without the rampant drug use [I assume]). Rating: 6

Will it play in the bar?: Yeah, most definitely. Another Shazam-able song. I know if I hadn’t heard this song before, I’d want to know who did it. Rating: 8

Would Eric and Lucy like it?: Lucy would, without a doubt. I have a feeling it’s pop-y enough to grow on Eric. Rating: 7

Verdict: Oh, hell yeah. This song is prime bar fodder. Accepted

“Float On” by Modest Mouse

Flow: With the slow exit to the previous song and slow entrance to this song, the flow could only be improved if the note this song starts with was in the same key as the last song. Rating: 9

Theme: Indie rock with a big beat? There’s a surprise. Rating: 9

Pretension factor: Well, here’s the thing. I’d like to think this song is really well known, and it should be, as it was freaking sampled by Lupe Fiasco. Then again, I’m not willing to bet the people who listen to Lupe Fiasco know from whence the sample came. Rating: 5

Would it play in the bar?: It’s Baltimore, and the crowd was mostly 20-30 year old white people. I’d bet heavily on that these people know the song, at least passingly. Rating: 6

Would Eric and Lucy like it?: Finally, I don’t have to guess. I know they both love Modest Mouse. Rating: 10

Verdict: 60% of the time, it works, every time. Acceptable

Breakin’ The Chains of Love” by Fitz and The Tantrums

Flow: Interesting choice. It’s a change, but it’s engaging. Rating: 8

Theme: Oh, hotness. Sweet hotness. Rating: 10

Pretension factor: Again, this is a problem of sound vs who knows it. But really, they’re on tour with Bruno Mars. Rating: 6

Will it play in the bar?: Yeah, sure. That thick baritone sax sound always seems to attract the listeners. Rating: 7

Would Eric and Lucy like it?: If they don’t, we’re gonna have a problem. But I can see Eric not being a fan. Rating: 6

Verdict: It’ll play, but people will think it’s Bruno Mars. Acceptable

“Wild Young Hearts” by Noisettes

Flow: There’s a bit of a pause, but it’s well worth it. The song picks up quickly. Rating: 7

Theme: I wish I didn’t have to include another Noisettes song, but I can never decide which song works better, so I always just put both in. It doesn’t bother me too much. Rating: 8

Pretension factor: Well, same as above, right? Rating: 6

Will it play in the bar?: Maybe even better than the other song. The guitar is more emphasized in this one. And it may have been in an iPod commercial (maybe?), so it may have instant recognizability. (Yes, I know that’s not a word.) Rating: 8.5

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: Lucy will definitely, and if Eric liked the other one, he will like this one more. Rating: 8

Verdict:  Done and done. It’s the hotness. Acceptable

“Trashcan” by Delta Spirit

Flow: Oh god, the lead in is so good, it barely matters what it follows. Rating: 10

Theme: Yes, and more. Rating: 10

Pretension factor: This song is in an ad for a popular show on FX, which means most people haven’t heard the song because they haven’t seen the ad, because they don’t watch FX. It’s not super pop-y, but it has that certain something. Rating: 7

Will it play in the bar?: I mean, probably, but I can’t say if many people would get into it. Maybe not at a sports bar. Rating: 6

Will Eric and Lucy like it?: Well, they like Legit, so I can only hope they know the song. I kind of doubt they’d like it. Rating: 3

Rating: Good for the playlist, perhaps bad for the masses.  Doubtful

“List of Demands” by Saul Williams

Flow: Eh. Not really working. Rating: 4

Theme: I’m not sure this is in the theme either, though it is jumping. Rating: 4

Pretension factor: A spoken word poet doing a music album with feedback and lyrics that require a course in race relations? Yeah, not accessable. Rating: 0

Will it play in the bar?: No. Rating: 0

Would Eric and Lucy like it?: Eric may like the music, but I don’t think either of them would keep the song. Rating: 2

Verdict: Total fail. Rejected!

“Bang Bang You’re Dead” by Dirty Pretty Things

Flow: Well, anything is better than the last song, and this works great as the final song. Rating: 7

Theme: A little more British than rest of the list, but it works, again, as the conclusion. Rating: 8

Pretension factor: Well, have you heard the song or the artist before? No? There’s a surprise. But the music isn’t terrible dissimilar to things available, so it’s not shocking to the ears. Rating: 6

Will it play in the bar?: Well, it’s a little loud, but yeah, no one would be offended. Rating: 6

Would Eric and Lucy like it?:  I honestly don’t know. I doubt Lucy’d be a fan, but Eric…maybe? Rating: 4

Verdict: Pretty thin, man. Doubtful