I’ve been getting a little too smug about listening to new music.
Before we started this blog a year ago (!!), I was in a serious musical rut. It seemed like every year I collected an album here and there, a spare song or two, but mostly I was hung up on the same artists singing the same songs that I’d been listening to for years. Then I started writing lists every week and assumed, I’m guessing correctly, that showcasing the same five songs every week would raise the ire of Joshua and all of you lovely readers. So I made it my mission to get into new music: I started reading more blogs, setting aside time for listening, devouring other peoples lists and mixtapes. Throw in the advent of Spotify, and a year later I have a rabid hunger for new music. I avoid records and artists I’ve spent too much time with: I want new songs, new voices, new list material!
When it comes to favorite verses, my ears abandoned this quest and returned to neglected favorites. These are the verses that pop up in my head out of nowhere, that I sing in snippets when I’m distracted, that still feel fresh and perfect after thousands of listens.
I feel so good I’m going to make somebody’s day tonight
I feel so good I’m going to make somebody pay tonight
I’m old enough to sin but I’m too young to vote
Society been dragging on the tail of my coat
But I’ve got a suitcase full of fifty pound notes
And a half-naked woman with her tongue down my throat
–“I Feel So Good,” by Richard Thompson
This is the crowning moment in “I Feel So Good,” Richard Thompson’s ode to gleeful misbehavior. The protagonist is young, fresh out of jail, and has transformed his desires for pleasure and revenge into an itinerary for an impressive evening. The motives, and plan, are layed out here. The impotence of youth may have rendered him “old enough to sin…but too young to vote,” but what does that matter when he can make your day, make you pay, and make off with a half naked woman and a suitcase full of cash? Never before has anger and revenge been treated with such good cheer. Thompson delivers the song with a grin you can hear through your speakers.
“While perspective lines converge
Rows of cars and buses merge
All the sweet green trees of Atlanta burst
Like little bombs
Or little pom-poms
Shaken by a careless hand
That dries them off
And leaves again”
–“Little Bombs,” by Aimee Mann
In high school, I vaguely remember this poetry workshop that filled me with endless dread where we wrote poems about paintings and the teacher dangled the opportunity to pitch the poems to an art/poetry themed magazine in front of us like a big abstract painting of a carrot. The whole experience left me in a cold sweat—it seemed impossible to make my writing as visually arresting as the exercise required.
Aimee Mann would’ve aced that class. Aimee Mann would’ve crushed us all. Read the first lyric from “Little Bombs,” or listen to it. Mann transports you to Atlanta, plops you down beside her, offers you her view in brilliant Technicolor, without fussy descriptions or overwhelming amounts of language (common pratfalls when trying to describe something visual). In my dream world, Aimee Mann decides to teach a writing class in San Francisco and I get to grill her on every nitty gritty detail of her strikingly clean prose. (Since it’s a dream, we also become best friends and go on a wacky road trip wearing matching pink wigs.)
“This shirt was the one I lent you
And when you gave it back
There was a rip inside the sleeve
Where you rolled your cigarettes
It was the place I put my heart
Now look at where you put a tear
I forgave your thoughtlessness
But not the boy who put it there”
–“This Shirt,” by Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mary Chapin Carpenter is the boss. Seriously. If you’re not an undercover fan likes yours truly, you might be rolling your eyes at this admission of Lite FM/ quasi country musical love. But trust me: That’s a mistake. Even though her most famous song is a cover (“Passionate Kisses,” originally by Lucinda Williams), she’s an incredible songwriter who produces lovely, impeccably balanced lyrics. In four lines, she can break your heart while juggling an ABAB rhyme scheme. John Darnielle, frontman for The Mountain Goats, will back me up if you need references. “This Shirt” is a great example of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s songwriting abilities, and I love this verse, which captures love, betrayal, and nostalgia in one sleek verse about a torn shirt.
“Don’t make a hullabaloo I’m not the hoi polloi
I’m try any trick and I’ll pull any ploy
I’m a used up twentieth century boy
Excuse me if you will”
–“New Paint,” by Loudon Wainwright
The language here is great—like Biden resurrecting “malarkey,” Loudon Wainwright slips “hullabaloo” and “hoi polloi” into the same lyric, maybe as proof that he’s a “used up 20th century boy.” This is a dark snippet from a seemingly light song—he warns his new lady love, who he has romanced with movies and dancing, that he’s a little devious and a little worn out, maybe not the ideal partner, but he hopes she’ll forgive that since “a woman that kind/is hard to find.”
If a guy ever used these lines on one of my friends, it would warrant elaborate eye rolling and warnings. With Loudon, I find it sort of charming and the lyrics get lodged in my head, forcing me to hum along for hours after listening….I guess Loudon should hang out with my friends?
“Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers and styles of clothes
Things that you held high
And told yourself were true
Lost or changing as the days come down to you”
–“Down to You,” by Joni Mitchell
This is one of my Top 5 break up songs; it arrived on my stereo when I was in the throes of a bad break up years ago. The first time I heard the first verse of this song, I burst into tears. They weren’t tears of sadness, they were tears of relief. The idea that things come and go, that ideals crash, and that you somehow survive, was so incredibly comforting. I almost wrote the word quenching there. I think it was both.
Circa 1974 Joni Mitchell became the big sister I never had. She was wise. She was available to hang out all day, and took all my teary late night calls. She knew what I was going through, and unlike everyone else, she always knew exactly what to say.