When the task was imposed of writing a paragraph about every song that’s ever mattered to me, I thought “oh, that’s gonna be easy.”
It isn’t. And as others have said, this project will never been finished, since music is always changing, and my tastes will always be moving forward. But it’s wonderful to look back. It’s like putting on a comfortable pair of pants, because you know how they’re going to fit. All of these songs fit me, and in a sense, they’re old favorites I’ll see hanging in the back that need to be put on every once in a while.
“If I Had a Boat” – Lyle Lovett
My parents really like Lyle Lovett. I remember listening to this and thinking how absurd it was to have a horse on a boat. I still like it.
“California Girls” – The Beach Boys
I’m not really sure who was listening to the Beach Boys during my childhood, but someone had to have been, since I know all the words to this song without really seeking it out myself.
You know what California? Fuck you and your beautiful women. I like this song, since I like the organ part, but I also love my fishy white pastiness, and I ain’t no farmer’s daughter.
“Heartbreaker” – Mariah Carey featuring Jay-Z
This song. Oh…this song.
Ok, so my father once described me in my early teen years as “hell on wheels.” I’d believe it. I was pretty damn sassy and, most of the time, flat-out rude. And I had a candy-coated Mariah Carey soundtrack to go with it.
This part, I feel, legitimately describes what I was like:
“When we apart, makes her wanna take a piece of paper, scribble down I hate ya.”
Yeah, I’m pretty glad we’re past that. But damn, Mimi’s got pipes.
“Just Like Heaven” – The Cure
I saw this video when I was maybe 11. I probably wasn’t supposed to be watching MTV or whatever it was on. I remember a dude with crazy black hair singing into the ocean over a cliff, and I was intrigued. And I liked the synth part. Never figured out who they were.
Fast forward to freshman year of high school. I was listening to newish music. I wasn’t listening to ‘NSync anymore, that’s for sure. I got Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me from the library, and I remember sitting in the music hallway before class one day and listening to this song on my blue DiscMan and realizing that track number nine was THE SONG!
“Trying Your Luck” – The Strokes
April 23, 2004. For a hot minute, I was Kelsey Pierson: Beatles Fan circa 1964. I cried when they played this. CRIED. I don’t really know why I glommed onto this song the way I did, but I did.
“Let it Ride” Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
The lap steel in this song still gives me chills. It sounds like a hot knife slicing through butter. This song makes me want to move to Tennessee. This song makes me want to “dance in the endless moonlight.” This song reminds me that life isn’t anything if you can’t let it ride easy down the road.
“Blue in the Face” – Alkaline Trio (2005)
I fell into a really deep depression after I finished high school. More specifically, I missed my friends. I didn’t like going to community college. I didn’t like that my friends seemed to have these amazing new lives that I wasn’t experiencing at all. I didn’t know what I was doing, nor did I know the outcome to whatever it was I was doing. I was just…alive. I could not make friends. I didn’t want to be that girl that peaked at 17, but I certainly felt like I had.
So my reaction was to listen to Alkaline Trio, of course. Good Mourning is pretty much standard issue for kids growing up in the greater metropolitan Chicago area. I used to drive around aimlessly for hours, lighting a fresh cigarette with the ends of the last one. I used to listen to this song in particular, over and over again. I used to cry so much that sometimes I wouldn’t even produce liquid. Just a horrible contorted face that I didn’t even know as my own.
I couldn’t make myself function with the people I did have. I couldn’t make myself feel better. I spent about 4 months feeling like a wet towel that had been shoved into a corner.
Songs can be like salve, or they can be like vinegar: they’ll help or hurt a wound. I still don’t know if the hours I’ve dedicated listening to Good Mourning have made me feel better or not.
“Do Ya” – Electric Light Orchestra
The Jeff Lynne wars of 2006 made for some pretty amazing discussions between two good friends of mine. One highly in favor of Lynne, the other wishing him dead for what he thought were crimes against music. Two households….
Anyway, long story short: this song rules.
“He Can Only Hold Her” – Amy Winehouse
First off, I really want Amy Winehouse to stop being crazy and go back to singing, because I love her voice.
Second, I hate the person that this song reminds me of. Well, no. I don’t hate him, but if I saw him, I hope I sprout claws so I can at least mess up his face a little. All I think I wanted from this person was to be pacified a little.
I listened to this a lot after this person hurt me. I hadn’t really felt pain like that before. I hated that he was, for a little while, the last person I thought about before I went to sleep. In hindsight, he really didn’t deserve that.
Anyway, I really adore this song for it’s horn line.
“First Night” – The Hold Steady
“BRENDAN! I DO NOT LIKE THE HOLD STEADY!”
Well, wrap that in cheese. I’m eatin’ it now. I just hadn’t heard this song. I don’t really want to wax on how much I like them, or how they’ve changed my life, or how many cool people I’ve met and had the opportunity to spend hours in a car with. Just know that part is there, and all that stuff makes it awesome.
This still breaks my heart:
“Don’t bother talking to the guys with the hot soft eyes, you know they’re already taken.”
“The Chain” – Fleetwood Mac
Those of you who know me will likely remember that this is my favorite album of all time, and this is easily the best song on Rumours. It’s like a miniature rock opera sandwiched in between two huge poppy songs. I imagine two tango dancers circling each other until POUF! The argument starts.
Not only that, but it’s pretty powerful to say to someone, “If you don’t love me now, then you will never love me again.”
I guess it made me realize that you have to be careful about saying “I love you.” It’s so easy, but it might be taken out of context or misconstrued.
“Jessica” – The Allman Brothers Band
There are two instances in which this song will always be awesome:
2. Porch Drinking
Now, I’m not sure if this is a universal phenomena, but porch drinking is awesome. Leaving the case on the patio and sitting on the stairs is one of the higher points of living in Chicago, mostly (if you live where I used to live) since your entertainment is about to go down in the alley behind your apartment.
As far as the driving part goes, this simple equation should clear it up:
Age of Car
“Videotape” – Radiohead
I was walking home from the El one night while listening to In Rainbows. It was raining pretty hard. I didn’t have an umbrella, and my train ran express to Division. About 5 blocks out of my way. Fabulous.
I hadn’t lived in Chicago for very long at this point. I was still kind of grappling with how big it really was. How many people are there and alone all the time. Walking home in the rain and listening to Videotape seemed to seal that for me.
“Apartment Story” – The National
This song makes me want to fall in love, but be at the comfortable, “hey look, I’m wearing my pajamas in front of you and you don’t care” stage.
I think part of the reason I sort of live vicariously through this song is because I cannot make a relationship work. I am perpetually stuck at the stage where you have to go to movies and dinners and coffee places and bars. I don’t know what it is that I do that blows it spectacularly to smithereens, but I’ve got to be doing something wrong. I don’t even want to be in a relationship. I want to be in THIS relationship. Maybe I’ve set myself up for failure because I love this song so much, but it really is a wonderful picture.
This song IS that comfortable stage. The couple in this song, to me, don’t have to go to any of those places I listed above. They’re in their apartment.
“The Greatest” – Cat Power
Chan Marshall came into my life at a time when I really needed her. I was left high and dry, with only a carrot dangling in front of me. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to do anything except drink IN my bed (which can be awesome, but not in this situation…).
The Greatest was a lullaby to me. I DID once want to be the greatest, but looking at myself then, I was far from the greatest. I was needy. I didn’t know what I was going after. I still don’t know what I’m going after. Thanks, Chan.
“Lovesong of the Buzzard” – Iron & Wine
One of my favorite memories of my old apartment was bringing Lauren’s little speaker thing into the bathroom and listening to music while I was in the bathtub. Our bathroom had this amazing window right in the shower that was unfortunately at boob level when one was standing up, but during a leisurely soak, was perfect to open up and soak up the summer breeze.
There’s something about the pure earthiness to this song (I think it might be the bongos…or whatever) that makes sitting in tepid water and counting the tiles a reasonable way to pass time, which is really a root of a greater pleasure I have. For some reason, if I need to think about something seriously, I usually take a bath. I have notebooks that have terribly crinkly pages, from the water and steam, and I keep pens in my vanity drawer.
“Old White Lincoln” – The Gaslight Anthem
Summer in Chicago smells. I still don’t really know if I like it or not, but it’s kind of a mixture of people’s body odor, cooking grease, and exhaust. Lauren and I spent a lot of time driving around listening to this song, mostly because it was on one of the three CDs Lauren had in her car. People roast to death in their cars in Chicago during the summer, since traffic is as common as oxygen, and everyone knows what happens when you leave the A/C on for too long. Lauren’s the pilot, and there we are, windows down. I’m always in the passenger seat. We rock out to this song. The end.
“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” – Talking Heads
Let it be decreed: If someone out there is wacky enough to want to marry me, I would like this to be our wedding song. Why?
“And you’ll love me ‘til my heart stops/love me ‘til I’m dead.”
“Mama’s Eyes” – Justin Townes Earle
This is a brand new addition to the list. I just got this record a few weeks ago, but this song is so simple and so sweet that I have listened to it probably 87 times since I got it. He talks about standing in the kitchen at 3 a.m., and I constantly find myself doing that. What is it about kitchens that’s such a comfort? There is something about leaning against the counter, enjoying the weird limbo between night and day that makes it prime thinking time. I feel like this song encapsulates that perfectly.