2013: 5 Songs My Kids Forced Into My Head/ 5 Songs With Meaning (by Anita Jackson)

Charm City Jukebox is doing their annual review of the year in songs and I’m totally honored to contribute a post for it. Claire, one of the editors, literally grew up in a house made of vinyl records. Nope, not figuratively– literally. (Ok, not literally, figuratively, but I’m working to build up her legend.) She really knows music and has great taste in it.

So she’s going to be thoroughly sorry she asked me to write this because most of the songs I associate with 2013 come from my kids, who one way or another hear –and sing — a ton of pop.

To alleviate the pain, then, I’m going to make two lists: One of songs I can’t shake out of my head due to sheer exposure, and one of songs I love for their artistic merit. Some may argue that something has artistic merit if the listener can’t get it out of her head, but I leave that for the comments…


“I Knew You Were Trouble,” by Taylor Swift. 

My older daughter P performed to this as part of her acrobatic gymnastics work. So it has sentimental value. Also, she doesn’t know many of the lyrics so she makes them up, which is always hilarious.

“Home,” by Phillip Phillips

I think P liked this because she knows it was associated with 2012’s Fierce Five. Billboard says it peaked in January of 2013, so there we go.

“Roar,” by Katy Perry

Their school mascot is a large wild mammal, so P’s school principal made them learn and sing this at the grand opening of their new school library. What has public education come to? Please, could they sing a song about Common Core? I would like to hear that song.

“The Fox,” by Ylvis

Well, now you’ve done it. There’s no going back, Norway.

“Palladio (Diamond music)” by Karl Jenkins (aka That Diamond Commercial, aka the Russian acro pair with the guy with the ponytail)

As new acrobatic gymnasts, one of my kids’ favorite things to do is watch acro videos. They’ve learned to love dramatic music, which I’m thinking is my gateway to playing for them other kinds of music to which they’ve been woefully underexposed, like Western classical and jazz.

If you’ve seen the diamond commercials with the fake Vivaldi, you’ll recognize the music from the acro video they refer to as “that Russian guy with the ponytail.” I recommend giving it a watch; acro is amazing!


“Heart of Gold” by Neil Young

I’m sure I’ve heard this song at various times in my life. But the other day during a rare and wonderful moment in which I was writing alone at a cafe, I heard this song come on. All I needed to be enchanted was the key line, “I’m a miner for a heart of gold.” There’s enough visually and emotionally inspiring there to prompt me to write a story. But I didn’t write about longing or love or mining; I dashed out a couple of pages about a woman and her sister opening a cafe and what the woman thought about the people who came there. But it was that song that nudged a story out of me. A song that can nudge (or coax or provoke) stories out of me belongs on this list.

“Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys

Starting the new year at the inauguration and hearing Alicia Keys sing this song was a highlight of the year, no doubt. Besides the fact I was at the inauguration and hearing Alicia Keys live, I was grateful to just be at a live performance. I love all kinds of live performance and haven’t had a chance to go for some years now. But now I’m starting to make time for it again–just at the point when my kids are about at the age where they’re able to absorb, enjoy and even analyze live performances. We’ve made it to another milestone, at which there’s a higher potential for fun than disaster in going to some performances together. So even though they enjoy mangling “Girl on Fire”–loudly–, this song reminds me how many good times we have in store.

“Abraham’s Daughter” by Arcade Fire

This selection is less about keeping with the fire theme (though I love themes) and more about the lyrics, which I couldn’t get out of my head. The line that stays with me is where the song’s protagonist, when asked what her name is, says she has none. Among the many nightmarish ways of dehumanizing someone, stripping away their name is one of the most profound and effective. It’s standard practice for dictators around the world to strip away a person’s name before kidnapping, illegally imprisoning or executing them. Names can signify nationality, religion, personality and more. The way your boss, teacher, or judge says your name may feel different from how your partner, friend, or mother says it. Names are part of our humanity in this sense, and “Abraham’s Daughter” expresses this powerfully.

“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” by Leadbelly, covered by Nirvana  

Another highlight of the inauguration was meeting Krist Novoselic, bassist for Nirvana. It was the beginning of a year in which Nirvana happened to figure prominently for me, from the spotlight of 20th anniversary of In Utero to my rediscovery of the band’s poetic, aching longing and betrayal conveyed in their cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” Grunge was so good to me the first time around, and it was good to come home to it again.

“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman

To really purge the dead-to-me lyrics of the Disney pop stars my kids expose me to, I need a good dose of Tracy Chapman. Nothing clears away the debris of bubblegum glitter pop like Chapman’s lovely voice telling the story of Fast Car. Nothing quite breaks me every time like:

I know things will get better

You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted

We’ll move out of the shelter

Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs

I remembering hearing that right after the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and all right after one school shooting sometime in the past year, and it probably would have been a good idea to pull the car over and just cry and cry and cry.

There’s a song to wrap up this list, a song and a video I come back to when I grieve as well as when I seek beauty. There’s a video of super slow motion ballet set to Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place (gigasmesh discoteque remix).” I saw this a couple years ago and marveled at the precision and softness, the strength and ease. But the song comes back to haunt me. Remember when those children were murdered by their nanny in New York City? “Everything In Its Right Place” sounded like a prayer that could not be answered.

Perhaps if there’s a thread running through these songs, it’s a thread of humanity–what it is to be human, what it is to share a life. There are many ways to remember and celebrate that, and maybe these are the songs that will help me do it.

Claire’s So Hot Right Now: April 2013

My very wise & owl-y engagement ring

I am back on the first substances we ever embrace—caffeine and sugar. I have Easter egg foil on my bedroom floor and heaps of coffee grinds rotting in my compost bin. I devour a square of chocolate on the walk home from the grocery store, handfuls of dried chili rubbed mangoes (“They’re healthy?” I think, despondently scanning the label). Another black coffee, another, a third—I would like to sip it straight from the pot. I stopped drinking alcohol a month ago: out of nowhere, it started giving me vicious heart flutters. So now I embrace caffeine shivers and scrape together spare quarters for candy like a kid. The Cults sing ‘What I most want is bad for me, I know,” and I nod in agreement.

“What a perfect love song,” I thought the first time I heard “Baby” by Devendra Banhardt. It’s a tall order, modern love songs—so easy to be cheesy or overly simple, so much easier as a listener to lean on the greats from a few decades ago when it comes to romantic music. But this song is silly, pure and joyful, fun to hum and play loudly. And my heart is silly, pure and joyful, it hums and plays loudly, because last month the person I love the most asked me to marry him and I said yes. You can see the happy, bejeweled owl that sits on my left ring finger and makes me smile.

It’s warm and there are little jasmine blossoms on the bushes when I take my walk, there’s a cherry tree that’s flushed and frilly. The sun is out at seven o’clock and I swear I was wrong, San Francisco does have seasons, you just have to live here for three years to feel them. It’s Spring, and the cheerful chorus of “Polaroid Song” is spot-on: “Feel like dancing on my own/ To a record that I do not own/In a place I’ve never seen before.”

It’s Spring, and Van Morrison is a man for all seasons. Every crunchy leaf or drift of snow, every soft pastel April day or first humid morning is best met with a Van Morrison song. I’m sending you glad tidings, from San Francisco.

“Strawberry Bubblegum” sounds like being a teenager in the summer, when you just started driving and there’s that one song that makes you feel sexy and alive, so you play it as much as you can, and the local station follows suit. I’m so tired of the eight minute song, a new favorite of intelligent popstars and rappers, but my weak attention span and jam band hangover didn’t stop me from loving the new Justin Timberlake album. I didn’t expect to, but how can you say no to something so fun and summer-perfect when soaring temperatures and swimming pools are around the corner?

And speaking of things I didn’t think I’d love, a lesson learned: Try the music you hate again. Just like every taste, your music tastes change without you even noticing. And speaking of songs that sound like being a teenager in the summer: “Keep the Car Running” by Arcade Fire fits the bill. Yes, I said I didn’t like them and believed it. Changing my mind was refreshing, and made me wonder what else I was missing. Could I enjoy other things I’ve disliked for years, like Twizzlers or horror movies? A Freon and fake butter scented movie theatre in Baltimore is surely the place to find out. I’ll keep you posted

Songs about Places (by Joshua)

I’m not a person who likes certain music because of the memories it evokes – I tend to listen to the music of a song first, decide whether I like it or not, then listen to the lyrics. If I happen to then associate the song with a memory or it becomes associated with something I’ve done, fine, but unless I’m listening to the song while creating the memory my music taste just doesn’t work like that. This, of course, makes this subject rather tough for me – I have to take it more metaphorically than simply picking a song about a place. It’s more like a song about a place I may have never been to, or have always been in, or a place that isn’t an actual place but an idea of a place that wishes it was a place but hasn’t quite made it out of the starting gate…Ok, I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore, but I think an English and Philosophy double major somewhere just got a boner.

“The Old Apartment” by Barenaked Ladies

Have you ever moved from a place you desperately loved, or in which you felt superbly loved? Have you ever been evicted? Or maybe it was just a place you needed to call home so badly it hurt, because nowhere else felt like home and it was your only place of refuge ever. Or maybe it was a place you hated and were so glad to leave you wished you never had to go back. And then you did, and wrote a song about any one of these things. That’s what this song is about. If you do follow in their footsteps, it’s probably best just to knock.

“The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire

I grew up in a city suburb, which I always just thought was the suburbs. Anything further than 2 miles or so from the city line just seemed like the boonies to me. Then I dated this girl who grew up in what I thought was the boonies, and she called it the suburbs. First, she was wrong. It was the boonies. Second, this song is about any place you can call the suburbs – it’s about boredom. Boredom and that desperate need to leave, which you think will solve the boredom. Rob Gordon/Zimmerman in High Fidelity explains it just as well: “You can leave the suburbs for the city but end up living a limp suburban life anyway.” The people in this song are desperate to escape but have no idea what that may lead to.

“All at Sea” by Jamie Cullum

The literal image here is to be in a small rowboat, floating further and further away from shore, leaving behind your friends and your worries, your hopes and  your disappointments, your melodies and dissonances. Cullum has captured perfectly that idea that sometimes you want the boredom, the exaltations – you want to escape the things that bring you down as much as the things that give you the most joy. Sometimes you need it to stay sane. Or maybe you don’t, but I do. Well, lucky you, if you don’t, but don’t fucking lord it over me, ok?

“Big Time in the Jungle” by Old Crow Medicine Show

I’ve never been to Vietnam, or been in the military, and I was born 30 years too late to sign up for the war there, but I think OCMS has the general gist of it. Or maybe they don’t. I don’t know. But it’s a great song, and bonus, it’s totally fun to play hanging around a campfire. Just don’t play it if there’s a disheveled looking dude wearing a bandana and an old Army jacket hanging out by himself far to the side of the fire. He might get angry.

“Tallahassee” by The Mountain Goats

This, like The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, is a whole album about a place. This album, though, tells a story of a terrible marriage. Our intro to the album is this song, as the couple arrives to their new house in Tallahassee. It’s a bad omen, this song – it’s slow and plodding, with a terrible sense of foreboding. When you arrive to your first house as a newlywed couple, it should be a joyous occasion, but it absolutely isn’t. When they see the house, they have to ask themselves, “What did I come down here for?” They remind themselves, “You,” but we know it’s putting off the inevitable – this place is wrong for them. Maybe it’s dramatic irony, or maybe it’s their own self-deception. Maybe it’s both.

Top 5 Driving Songs (by Joshua)

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who sing along to music and those who don’t. I am completely unashamedly in the first category, and I tend to find those who just sit and listen to music weird. Especially when it comes to listening to music in the car: I go wild. I don’t just sing; I shout the lyrics over the pumped-up volume and air-drum (which is weird, since I have never been able to figure out how to play the drums). It pains me to get into my car every day, as I have long since blown out my speakers and cannot listen to music at any reasonable volume (by reasonable I mean insanely loud). But every few days I have to take a delivery while I’m at work and I get to take my boss’s car and it has a fantastically loud sound system. Driving songs, for me at least, are ones that are fast, fun, and meant to be played as loud as possible. You want the windows down, you want the wind whipping through the car, you want the bass pumping and the guitars screeching. You want to be going fast, you want the roads to be empty. You basically want to be in Easy Rider, except instead of Steppenwolf you want something much more. Don’t worry, my friend, I’ve got you covered.

“Wake Up” by Arcade Fire

It’s expansive. It’s gorgeous. It’s happy and light and it’s super easy to sing along to. It has everything you want in a song to open up a new drive. This song somehow always pops up on my morning drive in my boss’s car. I think its brilliance comes in its simplicity – it’s a simple guitar line, played with the perfect amount of distortion. Sure, there’s a lot of instrumentation going on, but nothing is distracting. It just flows so well. And the lyrics, about childhood slipping away, are just perfect to shout out to the world through your open windows. And of course, it has the ubiquitous Arcade Fire end-of-song tempo change. (Side note: this is the song that caused the speakers in my car to blow out.)

“The Midnight Special” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

For me, this song is cruising down a country road, dust flying out from behind your tires, in a car with bench seats and lap belts, pulling swigs from a bottle of Jack with your drinking buddy at your side. It’s a roof slapping, toe tapping, hand clapping good ol’ time. Basically, it’s the opening scene to the Twilight Zone movie (1983). Of course, sans the scare.

“A Bar in Amsterdam” by Katzenjammer

Oh, this song just makes want to drive fast. Really fast, like irresponsibly fast. If I ever got into a car chase with the cops, I may have to put this song on. It’s so frenetic. The way I like to describe this band to someone who hasn’t heard them is as if the Dixie Chicks had a baby with Satan which was then raised in a carnival. In Hell. The Hell Carnival is way cooler than your lame ass carnival.

“I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys

This, for you faithful readers and friends out there, is not a song I’m expected to like. Maybe it’s because I like The Departed so much. Maybe it’s that insane drum line during the verses (they are truly ridiculous, right?). I don’t know. I normally hate punk music, especially the Irish tinged types. And I don’t tend to like Boston, either. But man, you put this on driving around the beltway and all the annoyances of driving (like getting stuck in traffic while driving a stick shift [aka, my personal hell]) just melt away. Sometimes you need a really angry song to get you through your daily commute.

“I’m On A Boat” by The Lonely Island featuring T-Pain

Randall Monroe of the webcomic XKCD had this to say about rap music:

And let’s be honest: It’s true. And this song sounds fucking awesome going 90 mph, and for added bonus, it’s on a list of driving songs and it’s a nautically-themed song. Also, T-Pain is hilarious.

(Note: Comic used without express permission but it and other many wonderful strips can be found at xkcd.com )

Guilty Non-Pleasures: Bands I Don’t Like, Even Though I Should (by Claire)

“What are the bands you don’t like, but you know you’re supposed to?”

That is my trademark grammatically incorrect, consistently conversation-game-changing question. Steal it immediately. It will liven up your dinner parties, improve your conversations, and win you unexpected friends. It’s magical, and really really fun. Enjoy. And to get you started (P.S. Always introduce your band first. It’s a tiny flick of social bravery, and it’s crucial to make this question work), here are my answers.

(***As I wrote this post, every band I listed below appeared in my mind and shamed me with songs by them that I enjoy. The songs below are my one-offs, the ones that made me almost cut these bands and artists from the list. Almost…until I listened to their other songs.)

Arcade Fire

I ask people this question all the time, and I always get the same answer: Bob Dylan. “What the hell is up with his voice?” people say. “He should’ve been a poet, not a singer” (to which I say you have clearly not read his poetry, and if he heard you and starts sending you chapbooks, no takesies backsies) I like Dylan’s voice, because I like weird, kind of unconventional voices. I like Patti Smith and Jill Sobule, I liked Dave Matthew’s voice in my DMB listening days (we talk about those days on this blog as though they were a shameful musical bender…and that attitude is correct). I like the Jerry Garcia Band and Garcia’s voice is noticably bizarre on a lot of those songs (I’m thinking specifically of their cover of “Accidentally Like a Martyr”) but I appreciate it.

Which is why I was shocked by my reaction to Arcade Fire. They make this big sweeping music, luscious and different, beloved by my co-writer and friends. I want to like it. It sounds like something I like. But then Win Butler’s hollow, whiney voice comes in and I’m done. That voice breaks me out of the experience of the song so quickly that a pail of water poured over my head at that same moment would feel deeply whatever, I’ve already been startled and disappointed, thank you very much.

When we were planning this post, Joshua said “We’re going to fight with people over this post” and I said “I know right? Other people. Totally not each other! Hey no big deal, but Arcade Fire is on my list.”

…we duel at dawn.


Just like everyone answers “Bob Dylan” every time, I answer with the exact same band, and line, every time: “Radiohead. Deduct cool points as necessary.”

They are the reason I came up with this question; I wanted to figure out if there were other people out there like me. Other people who have tried, like every slapdash early teens intellectual and budding music snob, to like Radiohead, and failed. Radiohead’s debut coincided with my own–so for my entire music listening life (excluding early years of Disney soundtracks, and radio dials and record players rendered useless by grubby fingers and early literacy), I’ve been told how much I should like them. I feel like I should have stories about incessantly sporting a baggy Radiohead t-shirt through 7th grade, or poring my allowance into fresh copies of OK Computer and Kid A, because I was definitely that kid, and I had those bands. I tried in high school, I tried again in college, with limited success. I clung to the handful of  songs by them that I liked with a sweaty fervor. But in the end, liking a couple songs is not the same as liking a band.

I don’t like Radiohead…I’ll give you a minute to deduct those cool points.

k.d. lang

I know I’m supposed to like k.d. lang because I have never made a Pandora station where k.d. lang didn’t swoop in, all mellow and Canadian, and edge out the station’s namesake (k.d. lang, you owe Aimee Mann, Brian Eno, and Best Coast apologies) There are songs by k.d. lang that I really like—Miss Chatelaine has run through my head on an incessant, accusatory loop since I decided k.d. belonged on this list. I even dabbled in defensive listening—I played k.d. lang song after k.d. lang song and except for a few old ones that I already knew and loved, they mostly struck me with the same feeling “This is boring. And I would like to turn it off.” And then I did, though not without guilt, because so many of those videos were peppered with interview clips of lang, who appears charming and funny and truly likable. I would have a beer with her in a heartbeat, but I can’t bear the full three minute sitting one of her songs requires.

Widespread Panic

Based on my Deadhead upbringing, this next statement could be summed up as “Hi, I’m Alex P. Keaton.” Here it is: I don’t like jam bands. Meandering solos bore me to tears, songs that last for 20 minutes plus feel like a psychic abomination on par with standing in line at the MVA, and the general middle aged dude-ness of it all makes my eyes glaze over. I’ve seen a lot of jam bands. I’ve listened not only to all the albums you’ve heard (you fuming jam band fans, you), but bootlegs you couldn’t imagine, tours you can’t believe you missed, shows that you were at that you repeat in your mind with the ardor of a little kid replaying their birthday party on a manic mental loop. I was there, and I was bored.

I love the Grateful Dead with the same soft, child’s love that I have for Sesame Street and hopscotch. And out of all those bands I’ve heard, there are songs here and there that I like, that I listen to sometimes. And there have been shows that were fun, mostly, with songs I went home and played again. But I’ve never had any of those feelings about Widespread Panic. They live in this realm in my mind with Galactic and all the other tertiary jam bands I can’t stand. If someone asked a question as straight and clean as “So what kind of music don’t you like?” I could point at them and say “Right there” and they would sum it all up.

Rilo Kiley

A few weeks ago, I talked about how I avoided Tegan and Sara for years, then fell hopelessly, song-repeatingly in love with them. This is part two to that story.

So I did it, I opened my ears up to Tegan and Sara, and they in turn opened me up to loads of artists who became the soundtrack to my early 20s: The Weepies, Regina Spektor, Kate Nash, Santigold, Laura Viers, The Sounds, the list goes on. And like I mentioned with Tegan and Sara, all that time I had spent avoiding Tegan and Sara had been made difficult by a boss and a roommate who adored them. Once I took the good advice of those two wise ladies, I thought I would keep taking that good advice and listen to Rilo Kiley. They both liked Rilo Kiley, and “Silver Lining” had spent a year on my blast-it-while-driving soundtrack, so I was sure this would be another musical homerun.

It wasn’t. I find Rilo Kiley really, really boring. Part of me thinks it’s an exposure thing—did I get to the band too late? Did I listen to the wrong things? I love The White Stripes, but if I’d been fed a diet straight off of their darker, noisier tracks, I think I would’ve bolted. Is that what happened here? I don’t know. All I know is that when they come on, I tune out.