“Iron Road” by Waylon Jennings and Old 97′s
“Iron Road” by Waylon Jennings and Old 97′s
In another life, I was a noodle girl. I know that sounds like a euphamism for something (“What hard drug could noodles be?” cluck the tiny cartoon grandmas who read this blog only in my head). Big reveal: Noodles are….noodles. I cooked noodles for a carb-fiend themed restaurant the summer after freshman year of college. I made big steamy pots of penne and defrosted cream sauces. I melted half-frozen sticks of butter into butter sauce. I nursed a strong case of the blues with a diet of free warm flat breads and freshly baked rice krispie treats.
The restaurant was in a newly developed area way out in the suburbs, and the timing of my shift turned the highway into a parking lot, requiring a long, back roads filled drive to get home. I listened to “Satellite Rides” by the Old 97s every day. I smoked cigarettes, ate cookies, and rolled the windows down. I practiced functional weeping—that impressive maneuver where you cry like the apocalypse is nigh, while your body continues the calm, fluid movements of operating a vehicle. I prayed to Rhett Miller that things would turn around. They didn’t, and I blamed him.
I think it took me five years to get over being eighteen years old. When you spend five years trying to out run an outdated version of yourself, you end up throwing a lot of things away in the hopes that you can end that race. Sometimes I wonder why I got rid of a t-shirt I loved, or why a friendship ended without fireworks or reason. The other day I wondered if I could listen to “Satellite Rides” again without time-traveling. I did, and I found out it was exactly as I had left it: satisfying and fun, full of choruses you can’t shake out of your head for days, songs you have to play again and again until you wear your ears out.
There’s something deliciously healthy about reclaiming music, and I recommend it to everyone, noodle girl or not. Why should your exs, episodes, and bad memories get permanent custody of music you used to enjoy? It takes time. But that’s a good thing. It’s good to know that time can pass, that you can feel better. That you can turn that song on again. That you can forgive Rhett Miller.
Here’s a picture of Rhett Miller, who is very dreamy, especially in concert. Enjoy.
Dear Reader: Below you find a list of songs about Rock and Roll, or going to a rock club, and a short summary of why I like this song. I decided Rock and Roll and rock clubs were one in the same because I needed 5 non-lame songs to write about relating to Rock and Roll (be happy I didn’t decide to wax poetic on Billy Joel) and because going to a “club” and going to listen to rock music are basically one in the same for me (which is probably true for most readers of this blog, probably not true for most people in general). So, without further delay my selection of 5 songs that are sort of about Rock music:
“Rock and Roll” by the Velvet Underground
I tend to slip in and out of obsession with the Velvet Underground on a quarterly basis. I go clean every few months, and then, like a proper addict, relapse in a fit of nostalgia for the unremembered 60s. This summer, I can unequivocally blame Will Hermes’ book Love Goes to the Building on Fire for my rapid descent into my O.M.G you guys let’s listen to the Velvet Underground all the time neurosis. And if you haven’t read the book, I suggest you pick it up immediately, but be warned you’ll have to valiantly stave off a sense of New York bohemia just-chilling-with-Patti-Smith-lust that can be very distracting while you’re reviewing expense reports from Palestine.
Commence “Rock and Roll”: the guitar intro has just enough distortion to sound like a car with a booming radio rushing past on a bustling street.
Welcome Jenny, the girl whose life was saved by rock and roll. We all know what it’s like to suffer through the doldrums of Top 40 radio, waiting for that epiphanic moment when that song comes on and you’re consumed by joy, and also relief that there is good music in the world. As Lou Reed tells us, “it took no computations to dance to a rock and roll station.” Dancing to music that you love is an effortless affair: the body overtakes the mind and just moves.
Don’t we all kind of know what it’s like to be Jenny, plucked from our workaday existence and made exceptional by our love of song? Don’t we all kind of wish we were Jenny, grooving to the Velvet Underground on a crackling radio in our unheated loft somewhere in the village? Hey, isn’t that Robert Maplethorpe smoking on the street corner out there?
“Niteclub” by Old 97s
My longstanding love affair with Old 97s has been well documented on this website. They aren’t “rock and roll” in the same sense as the Velvet Underground: they earned their hangovers in bars wreathed with buffalo skulls and gazelle taxidermy somewhere in the steppe northwest of El Paso (as opposed to a filthy dive bar somewhere on the Lowest East Side). Fine, maybe I made that up based on every cliché I’ve ever met. But, the premise of “Niteclub” is as rock and roll as it gets – a vagabond musician with a tortured, romantic relationship with his favorite club.
The initial tumult of the parlor piano gives way to the lilting gait of guitar and drums. And then, Rhett Miller (O, Rhett! How we love the way you swing your hips on stage): from thousands of miles away, he yearns for the dank comfort of this club (Rock or country? We’ll never know) that stole so many hours of his youth, not to mention his one true love. It’s an easy song to sing, to mold your voice to every one of Rhett’s vocal inflections. He sings a cautionary tale of letting affection for a place, one that has housed your triumphs and tragedies, hold you hostage from the outside world.
“Rock and Roll Nightclub” by Mac Demarco
I don’t have a deep relationship with this song. I first heard it last week in the middle of a post-lunch comma at work and fell madly in love then played it for the next 3 hours of work.
Mac Demarco has that deep voice usually reserved for 70s soul men. On those men, it’s a smooth declaration of their virility. On Mac Demarco, it’s a mildly unsettling, seemingly deliberate strohbass. In other words, he sounds like that serious creeper in the corner of the dance floor trying to decide which drunk girl to cherry pick from her friends and subject to his unwashed armpit stench. Vocal tone aside, “Rock and Roll Nightclub” is a gentle song. It’s not paired with the usually pulsing grooves radiating sexual machismo (see, Iggy Pop, “Nightclubbing”), but rather the reverb fuzz of a plucked guitar, a musical analogy for the gradual haze of intoxication.
“Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop
There’s a masterful, deliberate escalation of tension introducing Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing.” Each beat on the drum sounds like a footstep heavy with booze, treading towards the nightclub in blurred anticipation of the pleasures within. Matched with the sinister tone of the pianos, you can be sure something wonderfully debaucherous will come from this trip to the nightclub.
Or maybe I’m just projecting the club scene from Trainspotting on my listening of this song.
“Rock DJ” by Robbie Williams
Who remembers Robbie Williams? Not me, up until 30 minutes ago while I was scouring my iTunes looking for songs appropriate for my given theme. I clicked this song and suddenly, there I was, circa 2000 pasting pictures of No Doubt and Stone Temple Pilots I’d plucked from the Internet onto my bedroom wall, anxious for my first year at Art High School and desperately trying to fit the part.
It’s hard to transcend your reputation as late 90s British pop monster. I first heard Robbie Williams on the “Now That’s What I Call Music 2!” record, which I will go on the record to proclaim is a brilliant compilation—dare I say best in the series—commemorating music at the end of the millennium. His song “Millennium” is the second song on the album, sandwiched between New Radicals’ “You Get What you Give” and Semisonic’s “Closing Time.”
Where “Nightclubbing” is sinister, “Rock DJ” is bouncing off the walls just-get-me-to-a-dance-floor fun. There’s almost a sense of innocence to it—no one’s getting sloppy drunk and crying on the floor, no one’s going to nod off in a corner into a drug and drink haze. “Rock DJ” is an explosion of bass, synth, and Robbie’s smooth falsetto. You’re just going to put on something shiny and dance with your friends. The song samples both Barry White and A Tribe Called Quest, and quotes Snoop Dogg: how can this not lead to something fun? Obviously, there’s going to be a disco ball.
Claire’s List: If we named these lists, I would call this one “Napkin Songs” or “Margin Songs,” since they lived on napkins and in margins, scribbled over the course of several months. In a weird experiment, I listened to them in order, and they mostly worked as a playlist, with a few minor alterations.
1. “Sweet Thing,” by Van Morrison
2. “Minneapolis,” by That Dog
3. “Le Temps de L’Amour,” by Francoise Hardy
4. “Fluffy Lucy,” by Cracker
5. “Everyday,” by Rogue Wave
6. “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage,” by Smokey Robinson
7. “Evening on the Ground (Lilith’s Song),” by Iron & Wine
8. “Benny and the Jets,” by TV Girl
9. “Love My Way,” by The Psychedelic Furs
10. “Life is Short,” by Butterfly Boucher
11. “Smokers,” by the Old 97s
12. “Waiting for Tonight,” by Tom Petty
13. “I Want You Back,” by Hoodoo Gurus
14. “Malibu,” by Hole
15. “The Crane Wife (Part 3),” by The Decemberists
Joshua’s List: I usually put these together with some sort of theme in mind. This time, I didn’t. It’s just badass.
1. “We Used To Wait” by Arcade Fire
2. “Demon Kitty Rag” by Katzenjammer
3. “Classy Girls” by The Lumineers
4. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” as done by Cake
5. “Choose Me For Champion” by Rasputina
6. “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
7. “Stay With Me” by Faces
8. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (live)” by The Band
9. “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by The Decemberists
10. “Telegram” by Saul Williams
11. “The Road” by Tenacious D
12. “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers
13. “Keep the Car Running” by Arcade Fire
14. “Dog Days are Over” by Florence + the Machine
15. “As I Rise” by The Decemberists
1. “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show
2. “In the Basement,” by Etta James
3. “Payback,” by James Brown
4. “Pusherman,” by Curtis Mayfield
5. “Sugar On My Tongue,” by the Talking Heads
6. “Love Lost,” by Temper Trap
7. “Thought I Knew You,” by Matthew Sweet
8. “Bad Reputation,” by Freedy Johnston
9. “Happy Birthday to Me,” by Cracker
10. “Timebomb,” by the Old 97s
11. “Girlfriend,” by Matthew Sweet
12. “Anna Ng,” by They Might Be Giants
13. “That’s Just What You Are,” by Aimee Mann
14. “Red Right Ankle,” by The Decemberists
15. “Big Country,” by the Talking Heads
1. “Welcome to the Working Week” by Elvis Costello
2. “Sympathy For The Devil (Neptunes Redux)” by The Rolling Stones and The Neptunes
3. “Rising Sun” by The Bridge
4. “She’ll Come Back to Me” by Cake
5. “Holocaust of Giants” by Rasputina
6. “Gardening” by Spoke Ensemble
7. “People II: The Reckoning” by Andrew Jackson Jihad
8. “Summer Breeze” by The Isley Brothers
9. “A Cautionary Song” by The Decemberists
10. “Frontin’” by Jamie Cullum
11. “Dear Maggie” by Kelly Bell Band
12. “The Infanta” by The Decemberists
13. “We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire
14. “Ain’t No Thang” by Katzenjammer
15. “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” by Stevie Wonder
Here’s how the summer after college graduation started for me: At graduation, standing in the line in our caps and gowns, waiting to proceed, all the other English majors rattled off what they were doing next. All but three of us chirped “Law school!” or “Teacher!” I looked at the other two kids who had offered a nervous laugh and a shrug as their career goal and was fairly certain we were all screwed. If my family hadn’t been waiting in the audience, I’m sure that Susie Shakespeare and Tommy D.H. Lawrence and I would have gone to the local dive bar and tried to figure out how none of us got the memo on teaching and lawyering. Then we would’ve all gotten “Personal Agency” lower back tattoos. (Although once they found out I was Claire Post-Colonial Literature, they probably would’ve banished me from our English-major-failure club with a loud “Take your feminist explorations of Edwidge Danticat somewhere else, hippie!”)
Anyway. In the month and a half after graduation, here’s what I acquired:
And then it happened. After weeks of darting in and out of DC, my face usually smushed into someone’s polyester-clad armpit (polyester takes that DC heat and turns it into a BO so powerful, it could create policy change), I traded in my resume-peddling and dwindling bank account for a brand new job in Dupont Circle. Suddenly after moving in very slow motion for half a summer, life sped up. My lease on my college apartment was up in a week, my boyfriend was in Asia for the rest of the summer, and my job started immediately. I had stepped into the next part of my life.
During my last week at the apartment and my first week at my job, my high school friend Noura Hemady (whose Old 97s post went up earlier today, go read it!) met me in College Park to go to an Old 97s show at the 9:30 Club. It was a silly evening: we were staying at my apartment, which I had already moved out of, so my room was empty except for a bed and a pile of blankets for Noura to nest in. I had rushed home from work and spent the rest of the night in my too-officey outfit. And when we finally made it to the show, my boyfriend started calling me from China, and no matter how quickly I rushed out of the 9:30 Club, the mob of Old 97s fans kept precluding me from leaving, so I missed every call. But here’s what I remember most about that night. I was standing against the railing upstairs with Noura, watching the Old 97s, as we both drank hard cider from long-necked bottles. I looked at her, at us, and I was filled with this really good feeling. I remember thinking “This is what my new adult life is going to be like! This is it! I’m a grown up, and everything is great!”
Did it turn out like that? Of course not. I didn’t know then that I was in the wrong job, in the wrong city, and that for the next year, I would grow up a lot over mostly unpleasant things. But for a moment, as I watched the Old 97s, I got to feel like a grown up in a totally innocent, blissful way. I’ve gotta thank them for that. And Noura, who probably forced me to go to that show.
I had my first show experience late. I had been to plenty of jazz festivals and concerts with my parents. I have a vague memory of going to a Santana concert at the peak of his Rob Thomas induced mid-90s comeback, only to turn away at the gate due to the overwhelming smell of pot. There is a chance I made up that story, but I feel like it might be true. My first show–to which I bought my own tickets and went sans parents–was the Old 97s at 9:30 Club in DC, Summer of 2005.