In Which Fergie Saves the Day—Claire

The summer of 2007: My last summer as a college student. I interned in DC all day, took English classes at night, worked at a catering company on the weekends, and spent every other waking moment reeling from a breakup with my boyfriend of two years.  I was heartbroken, I was exhausted, I was smoking half a pack of cigarettes every day, and I was rocking a head full of muddy brown hair that I had dyed within an hour of the breakup (Life lesson: don’t be fast and loose with your post-breakup hair coloring).

Musically, it was a lucky time to be heartbroken. Amy Winehouse had just exploded, and I couldn’t get into anyone’s car without them saying “Have you heard this?” and cranking “Back to Black” or “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It was the kind of music that made me feel like “One day I will turn all this pain into art, ART!” instead of my usual “Tonight I will turn all this pain into pizza, which I will eat in my underwear, UNDERWEAR!”

In another happy twist of musical fate, my dad had given me Aimee Mann’s “Bachelor Number 2” and Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” at the beginning of the summer. I swished under the city on the Metro with “Calling it Quits” and “Down to You” blasting in my ears. I felt terribly deep. I imagined the many suit-sporting characters on the Metro coming over and asking “What are you listening to, over caffeinated tear-stained girl in half a catering uniform?”  “Oh just some Joni Mitchell,” I would respond casually, like this breakup was a time of great music-listening, poem-writing, maybe scotch-swilling, as opposed to a time of great toaster-streudel-eating and shower-crying.

I was working hard on the whole “change everything and get over this” game. I had a rearranged bedroom, the aforementioned new hair, the quick and joyless loss of ten pounds, and a well curated soundtrack. And though all of this was making me look thin and tired and very brunette, it wasn’t doing much to lift the breakup haze. Then it happened.

People ask Joshua and I a lot about our guilty pleasures. A real music snob will answer in a couple different ways. There’s the “no such thing” route. There’s the “what’s a guilty pleasure?” route. There’s the total lie route, where you pick a handful of clearly not questionable artists and add a time frame to their name (“Early Bonnie Raitt” or “Late Brian Eno”). And there’s the truth, which does not in this case set us free, but instead makes us blush. That summer, no matter how hard I tried to listen to the right music, a very wrong song got through to me: “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” by Fergie.

I don’t know why the artist known as Fergalicious was the one to break me out of my spell. But when that song exploded, it got under my skin. I sang the chorus constantly for weeks, and was basically half a step away from getting “But I’ve gotta get a move on with my life” tattooed on my upper arm. Singing it made me feel the kind of wistful empowerment I imagined a girl who was a breakup instigator would feel, even though I was firmly on the other side of that equation. The lyrics said everything I wanted to say: I miss you. You’re totally wrong for me. I’m going to go start my new awesome life with my backup band, the Black Eyed Peas.

That was my first, and last, experience as a Fergie fan. Though Joni Mitchell and Aimee Mann have stood the test of time, Fergie faded out for me. I gave you a hair dye lesson already, so lets close with a music lesson. Don’t be afraid of bad music. When you need something to get through to you, it doesn’t have to be beautiful or fraught: it can, on occasion, be something that belongs on a teen movie soundtrack. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Big girls don’t cry.

Top 5 Snowed in Songs


Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

This song is what it sounds like – it’s a ten minute guitar solo. I’m not big on them as a rule, but this one is different and a little (and mostly likely apocryphal) backstory is necessary: The guitarist, Eddie Hazel, was sat down in a room with a guitar and given a whole bunch of acid. When he was tripping balls, the band started playing a slow backing rhythm. George Clinton then told Hazel that his mother was dead and to start playing the guitar. Halfway through the blistering, emotionally raw solo, Clinton shouted to Hazel that he lied and his mother was alive. You can hear in the track how the playing changes. Still, it’s an awesome song to be snowed-in to. It’s long, it’s haunting, and if you let it, it will take your breath away easier than that draft seeping in the window.

D’Angelo – Untitled (How Does It Feel)

What do you want when you’re snowed in? I know I want a blanket, some hot chocolate, a roaring fire, and a special someone to snuggle up next to. This song is perfect for that – Snuggle up next to your baby and the fire and put this on. Soon enough you’ll be generating enough heat together to want to put that fire out.

The Band – Acadian Driftwood

This isn’t exactly the happiest song. It speaks of the expulsion of the Acadian people from Canadian islands and the hardships they endured during and after. But the melodies and somber and soothing and the guitar is lilting and strangely powerful. It also has great winter lyrics, my favorite being “I set my compass north; I got winter in the blood.” And the singing of Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson always sets my mind to ease.

Miles Davis – All Blues

I was very close to making this list all jazz. There’s something to be said to huddling around in blankets with the windows covered in snow and listen to Miles Davis or John Coltrane soulfully eek out a wonderfully crafted solo. This song has that in spades. It’s slow-moving and plodding, helped by having a simple blues 1-4-5 chord progression played in a 6/8 waltz feel. The head is an almost dark, muted affair mingling Davis solo with harmonies by saxophone and trombone. This whole album is good for a snowy day, but I find I gravitate towards this song and the lead track, “So What,” namely because their dark motifs remind me of the windows being caked in snow and it being dark, darker than it should be for 2 in the afternoon. Brew up some dark coffee for this one.

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife 1 & 2 / The Crane Wife 3

These are the title tracks the Decemberists’ fourth album, comprising one of their best song cycles. It retells the Japanese folktale of the crane wife. She is found, in the form of a crane, by a lonely peasant, who nurses it back to health from an arrow wound. Once she is set free, she returns as a beautiful women…well, why don’t you just listen to it? It’s heartbreakingly beautiful and impeccably sparse. Colin Meloy, the singer/songwriter for the band, is in rare form in this song cycle. An interesting side note about the songs: “The Crane Wife 3” is the track that opens the album, while “The Crane Wife 1 & 2” is the second to last track. It’s a great choice – “3” sets the tone for the album and piques the interest of the listener, who’s being let into the story in medias res.

Honorable Mentions:

The Decemberists – January Hymn: Disqualified from the main list simply because it’s too on the nose. Otherwise, a beautiful track.

Jamie Cullum – High and Dry: I normally hate Radiohead, but Jamie Cullum’s mournful vocal tone makes one glad you’re not outside.

Rasputina – Snow Hen of Austerlitz (Cellist’s Revenge Mix): Melora Creager’s ethereal, haunting voice only compounds the dark, dark plucks and short bow-strokes of the cellos on this track. Put this one on then watch The Shining. You’ll be terrified of the snow afterwards. And shouldn’t you be?


Shawn Colvin — “Riding Shotgun Down the Avalanche”

The guitar, at once spare and lyrical. Colvin’s voice, with it’s rising, even-keel alto (also Alison Krauss is music’s version of salt and her voice is the definition of “dulcet tones”). The lyrics, heavy-hearted and restrained. The combination is quiet and haunting, the sonic equivalent of stepping outside mid snowstorm, when everything is silent, and neighbor’s houses and lawns are one endless blur of soft white. The chorus’s request to  “Be quiet tonight, be sure to step lightly, on this mountain of new fallen snow” is fitting. This is the beginning of the storm. This is when it’s still magical, when your home is still warm-bellied and comforting, when the days haven’t passed and the tempers haven’t flared.

Joshua Radin — “Winter”

I don’t love snow. Now that I live somewhere without it, I have a sort of idealized craving for it when I come home for the holidays. I want to watch it flutter in the street lights, I want the soft powdery snow that piles up in the backyard and demands saucer sleds and mittens, regardless of age. This song is when it stops being fun. When I’m no longer barrelling down the enormous hill in my backyard, slicing through the cold air with ruddy cheeks and layers of soaked clothing. When the darkness, cold and still, wraps tightly around my house and the slow sadness of being alone, in the dark, with my thoughts, creeps in. On the nose, to be sure, but Radin’s whispery voice and the lyrics, painfully self aware to the point of melodramatic, exemplify the “I’m starting to wish this storm would end” feeling. Or, as I call it, Day 3.

Sufjan Stevens — “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti”

There are images of writing we all want—ones with big oak desks and low light, with a cigarette clamped in your teeth and a cup of coffee going cold and oily in the corner. The kind of writing that demands typewriters, thick glass tumblers, unbuttoned shirts and pushed up sleeves. You can be that person when you’re trapped inside. I’ve never done it successfully (my snowed in writing process goes like all of my writing processes—get up every 5 minutes, wear pajama pants, become really particular about having a glass of water, or cleaning something, or doing any and all non-writing related things). This is a good writing indoors song. It makes you feel something, though it’s hard to say what, and its got the right energy for being inside, thinking, maybe even productively.

Brian Eno — “By This River”

I used to work at a tiny music memorabilia company called Connected Music. I was there for years, starting in high school, and I attribute my Brian Eno love to that time. (My Top 5 Connected Music bands: Brian Eno, Nick Lowe, Bootsy Collins, Leftover Salmon, Lucinda Williams.) During one rough winter, (personally for me, financially for the business), the three of us listened to Eno, drank black coffee by the gallon, and snuck off for frequent, jittery smoke breaks, the smoke and our breath visibly intertwined in the cold air. A storeroom full of Devo costumes and Aerosmith lunchboxes is a weird place to discover Brian Eno, but there he was, the perfect soundtrack for long cold days in a musical bunker.

Van Morrison — “I Wanna Roo You”

One bright spot in an otherwise dark list. Van Morrison is required listening for snow days. And this song, a bouncey number set on a snowed in day, is perfect. The 23rd of December has come and gone, but may all your snowed in Roo-ing (or snow-less Roo-ing, for that matter) go exceedingly well. Roo away, everyone. Roo away.

Honorary Mentions:

Counting Crows — “Long December”: This song is being fifteen, sad, cold, and terribly deep. Pairs well with red wine pilfered from your parent’s bottle stashed under the sink.

Interpol — “Obstacle 1″: Featured prominently on a mixtape someone gave me in high school, which I listened to relentlessly for years. The first notes always give me the fresh anxiety of driving through a snow storm.

Mama Cass — “Dream a Little Dream of Me”: A good moony, daydreaming song. Snow days can be joyful and lovely. Our lists don’t reflect that (much), but I swear, it’s a possibility that your snowed in day will be all cocoa and old movies, picturesque views and good food. Fingers crossed, and if it is, here’s music for that sort of day. Enjoy it.