Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Listen Again: “I’ll Be There For You” (aka The Friends’ Theme Song)

The other day I was thinking of an interesting project to do as a follow-up to my Good Songs project now that that is over. If there’s one thing that I learned as an English major it’s that every piece of writing can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways. Some interpretations could be directly contrary to what the writer had in mind, but with enough evidence that interpretation can be justified.

This new feature looks at songs you know and love in a new light.

The first song that I’m chosing for this project is “I’ll Be There For You”. Even though you might not remember the group’s name (the song was performed by the Rembrandts and written by “Friends” creators David Crane and Marta Kaufman) you definitely know the song.

If you were alive in the summer of 1995 and had all five of your senses, this tune—much like the Friends themselves—was inescapable. According to Wikipedia, it reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 Airplay, Top 40 Mainstream and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks (of course it did) but reached only 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100, seven on Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks and 23 on Hot Modern Rock Tracks.

A few things before we continue: I have no idea what’s the difference between Hot 100 Airplay, Hot 100 and Top 40 Mainstream. These three lists seem to chart the same things and I have no idea how there could be such a wide discrepancy as all three of these charts seem to overlap one another. Furthermore I have zero clue as to why Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks and Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks are also separated by Billboard. Maybe the guy who owns Billboard needed to find his idiot nephew a job, so he created a list for him to screw around with. I don’t know.

I do like how this incredibly benign-sounding song reeking of 60s bubble gum pop was considered a “hot modern rock” track like. To whit, according to our good friends at Wikipedia some of the groups holding number one in “The Hot Modern Rock” category for 1995 were: Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis, U2, Live and Silverchair. I’ve said it before, but the 90s were a wonderful time.

Anyway, the purpose of writing this wasn’t to remind you of how popular this song was back in the day. Most of you lived through this time, this song (and the show) was ubiquitous. The song itself was all over the radio (including modern rock stations, I guess) and then you’d turn on the TV and see the cast of “Friends” doing stuff (“They’re all ACTUALLY friends in REAL LIFE!”) or you’d stop by a newsstand and view Joey, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and Monica (or their real-life names) on every magazine cover. It got so that I was seeing TV’s “Friends” more than my real-life friends. And I was in college at the time, LIVING with my friends.

The other day I had this song earwormed into my skull and on it’s umpteenth delivery, I was thinking that this song might not be the uplifting ballad of friendship that we all think it is. The Rembrandts did a masterful job of making it joyous and happy, but underneath all of the bubblegum and sugar lurks something darker and more sinister then is normally found in the Billboards 50,000 different Top 100 lists.

Let’s peer back the shiny, happy veneer by stripping away the instruments and gaze at the song’s words and formulate what was really going on.  

(Lyrics are italicized, but you know these words already.)

So no one told you life was gonna be this way
Your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's D O A
It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week
Your month or even your year but

The opening of the song is the narrator is talking (maybe lecturing) to his friend about what a shitty life he has. His friend is very depressed, about what, we are not privy to, but this depression has lasted a long time and encompasses the person’s entire life.

The narrator begins the song by making his friend’s predicament a twisted surprise, by letting him know that, “No one told (him) life was gonna be this way.” In other words, the narrator is claiming that everyone (aside from his friend) knew that life—to borrow from the Buddha’s teaching—is suffering and that you have to go through a lot of tribulations to be happy. The narrator explains to his helpless friend that people who are functioning adults—and who aren’t Richard Gere—understand  this reality. The narrator admonishes his friend for thinking that life was going to be one cake walk after another and now you’re finding out that your life blows and it’s rocked your incredibly fragile world. So in addition to your depression, you’re also dumb and hopelessly myopic.

The narrator continues to torment his friends by reminding him that his job sucks, it doesn’t pay well at all and he doesn’t have a significant other—he’s alone in this big world without any help or guidance. The unsaid exception, which we will see in subsequent verses, is that the song’s narrator portrays himself as this person’s only friend. Why does he do this? I’m not sure, perhaps the narrator is unbalanced too. Maybe he’s a masochist. Maybe he just likes fucking with his friend with the hopes that he’ll push his buddy over the edge into doing the unthinkable.

The narrator continues to harp on his friend, telling him to get his ass moving (“It’s like you’re stuck in second gear!”) but this prodding is actually doing more harm than good. You can’t just tell a depressed person not to be depressed, much like you can’t tell someone with a broken arm to heal faster. The narrator seems like a bright, articulate fellow, I am sure that he understands exactly what he is doing to his friends, which lends more evidence to my theory that he’s pushing his pal to the edge.

Furthermore, showing how hopeless his life has been in all facets (work and love life) is not blazing a path to better mental health nor is telling him that he’s been acting this way for over a year. The narrator does this to hurt his friend more. Now his friends is validated in his suspicions that his life sucks and to make matters worse, he now has the embarrassment of knowing that his friend(s) also think the life that he is leading is terrible. This isn’t just a little salt in the mental wound, the narrator is dumping the entire Morton’s factory on him.  

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

In the chorus, the narrator pulls the reigns back a little bit. He seems to be enjoying messing with his unbalanced friend and confuses him by telling him that he’s there for him. He’s always been there for him, just like his friend is there for him when he gets down. But that last line is more than a bit of bullshit because the narrator’s friend is obviously very depressed and has been for a long time, what solace could he give to the narrator?

But why does the narrator do this? Does he develop a conscious midway through this conversation? No, definitely not. I think that narrator is a very disturbed man who enjoys playing with his sick friend’s psyche.

You're still in bed at ten and work began at eight
You've burned your breakfast so far things are going great
Your mother warned you there'd be days like these
But she didn't tell you when the world
Has brought you down to your knees that

After the respite of the chorus, the narrator is back to admonishing his friend, “Work began at eight o’clock, and it’s now ten! What are you still doing in bed?” Not only is he calling attention to the depression—and it’s well known fact that depressed people find it difficult to leave the sanctity of bed—but he’s also sarcastically calling out his friend’s ineptness:

“You burned your breakfast[.] So far things are going great[!]”

Assuming that the song’s subject finally got the resolve to get up from bed and face an unforgiving world and his shitty job, he probably realizes that he’s late. So as he’s rushing around making sure that he’s getting himself properly prepared for the uncaring world, he jams a piece of bread in the toaster. If he’s already two hours late to work, this is quite literally the quickest and easiest breakfast that he can make, eat on the go and be at his desk within a set amount of time.

It doesn’t take much brainpower to make toast, children and the infirmed perform this task daily, yet the subject can’t seem to do this right. At this point in his life, he’s a hopeless failure and the narrator makes it his job to point that out. And he does it in the most obnoxious way possible by alerting him to that fact and then sarcastically telling him how well things are going. “You’re a simpleton who can’t even toast a slice of bread properly. Your life is just GREAT!”

He then goes for the coup de grace by invoking his friend’s mother. Adding a layer of confusion to his diatribe, the narrator tells him that “[his] mother warned [him] about days like these.” This admonishment comes despite the fact that earlier in the lecture, the narrator specifically told his friend that “No one told you that life was gonna be this way.” Is the narrator purposely confusing his friend or his he giving him another subtle—yet devastating—jab by insinuating that the subject’s mother, much like her son, is a no one?*

He then doubles down on the insult by saying your mother lied to you because she never told you that you we were so weak that you will be brought to your knees—not by famine or war or pestilence but by a burnt piece of toast.

* Comedian Rob Paravonian posed a similar connection between the second verse and the first. I think that my point still stands. 

One can almost imagine the scene of the narrator standing over his friend as he lies curled on the floor in the fetal position as he delivers this audial body blow as disgust drips from his last words. I’ll be there for you, indeed.

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

Our psychotic narrator begins to realize that he probably laid it on too thick in that last verse and pumps the breaks slightly. He doesn’t want blood on his hands. Like in the first chorus, the narrator is playing the role of good cop here by bucking up his friend’s spirits. He keeps repeating these thoughts to him that he’ll be there for him over and over again, as if it’s a mantra.

No one could ever know me, no one could ever see me
Since you're the only one who knows what it's like to be me
Someone to face the day with, make it through all the rest with
Someone I'll always laugh with
Even at my worst, I'm best with you, yeah

It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week
Your month, or even your year

In addition to the chorus, the narrator continues with the brain games by openly mocking his friend and daring him to end his life. The narrator tells his friend that he should die and the narrator is going to get away with the crime. The reason? “No one could ever know me, no one could ever see me. Since you’re the only one who knows what it’s like to be me.”

Further turning the screw the narrator admits, “even at my worst, I’m best with you. Yeah.” In other words the narrator is basically saying that what he is doing now is probably the worst thing that he’s ever done but at the same time pushing someone to take their own life is also the best salesmanship job he’s ever done. Some day the narrator, whom I am now picturing as Patrick Bates from “American Psycho”, is going to laugh and laugh about today’s events.

To further push his friend into the abyss, the narrator repeats his point verbatim from the first verse: your life is going nowhere and hasn’t gone anywhere for some time. Just do us all a favor and end it.

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)
I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

The narrator finishes the visit with the false mantra of being there for his friend. And then finally ends the charade with the sarcastic lie of “knowing” that his helpless friend will be there for him too. His friend can’t get out of bed and he can’t even make toast without screwing it up, how will he be able to lend any support to anyone?

The narrator (and deep down his friend) knows this and loves that he is able to get that last dig in. The final turn of his Machiavellian screw job is done. The friend now understands exactly what the narrator has been telling him all morning. What happens next to his friend is no longer his concern. The narrator wipes the apartment down of his prints and exits the door.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Good Songs XXVIII

Crumbs on the Table – D-Nice
Informer – Snow
I Left My Wallet in El Segundo – A Tribe Called Quest
We Want Eazy – Eazy-E
OPP – Naughty by Nature
Murder Rap – Above the Law
Principal’s Office – Young MC
Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em – Eric B. and Rakim
2-Hype – Kid N’ Play
Playground – Another Bad Creation
Straight Outta Compton – NWA
Funky Cold Medina – Tone Loc
Doowatchalike – Digital Underground
Mistadobalina – Del the Funkee Homosapian
Fight the Power – Public Enemy
It Takes Two – Rob Base and DJ Easy Rock
New Jack Hustler – Ice-T
The Bomb – Ice Cube
How Ya Like Me Now? – Kool Moe Dee
The Gas Face – 3rd Bass

This is the last “Good Songs” tape that I own, which means that this is the last Good Songs blog entry that I am writing. And it’s appropriate that I’m ending this nostalgia quest with a tape that is absolutely reveling in nostalgia. I created this tape in 1999* with the intent of driving around, reminiscing about the good old days.

* I’m pretty sure I subtitled this Good Songs tape “Middle School” because the songs on it definitely weren’t new school and they weren’t old enough to be old school—and by extension, neither was I. I also created a heavy metal mix tape, called Hairy Velveeta (it was cheesy hair metal, get it?) but that tape and a few other Good Songs tapes were stolen from my car one day. Hopefully that thief created a blog where he comments on tapes he stole from cars parked in Revere, MA. If he does, send me an email and we can link blogs!

It was around this time in my life where I began to slow down my consumption of new music. There were some new bands that I liked and that I’d make the effort to listen to, but new music wasn’t as available to me anymore. I had a legit career where I wasn’t able to sit in front of MTV* and be spoonfed the latest hits.

* It was also at this point that MTV decided that playing music 24 hours a day wasn’t paying the bills, so they began focusing on TV shows rather than music. If you read the oral history of MTV entitled, “I Want My MTV” you’ll understand exactly why the channel had to do that.

The radio stations that I listened to became more segmented and I concentrated mostly on rock. The late 90s were a bad time for rock music as third-generation Grunge and nü-metal was really coming into focus and bands like Creed, KoRn, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock were the most popular acts in the country. And I got aboard that train for a little while, but that music was terrible. It was all aggression with zero intelligence, after awhile it became very boring.

Around this time I created this tape, I moved back to my parents’ house in Amesbury and perhaps I was inspired (traumatized?) by living in my old bedroom that I went back into my “old studio”. It’s not a bad mix and does a better job of capturing what I was listening to back in the day than the previous other mixes did combined.

I was a bit surprised that older mixes didn’t have any Ice-T on them because my friends and I listened to Ice-T’s “O.G.” as much as any other tape we collectively had. And I mean we listened to him a lot, even going back to his old tapes like “Power” and “Iceberg” and newer ones like “Home Invasion” and his rock/rap band: “Body Count”—which were both horrible albums.

The one thing that I never noticed was Ice-T’s very prominent lisp. It wasn’t until comedian Paul F. Tompkins brought it up on a Podcast did I start listening to Ice-T’s old stuff in a new light. The juxtaposition of a tough guy and his posturing spit out through a lisp is hilarious.

In the fall of 1991, Naughty By Nature’s “OPP” was everywhere. The title of the song was sly and subtle (at least sly and subtle for an early 90s rap song) and the background beats are awesome. Especially when you layer the Jackson 5 “ABC” cut on top of it. It was a monster hit that produced parodies (MTV got on board with “Are You Down With MTV” that featured the gang from Yo!MTV Raps rapping), t-shirts and headlines alluding to the question. It was NbN’s world that year and we were all just living in it.

I was surprised that “OPP” or at the very least “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” (their second single, which sampled Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”) wasn’t included on any Good Songs tapes. Glad to hear that I corrected that mistake.

Since I’ve written about every other song on this tape, that’s pretty much it for this edition. I didn’t exactly stop create mix tapes in 1999, I moved on to creating mix CDs and they were really bad. And not bad in a way that it was fun to listen to some of these bad Good Songs mixes. They were bad in a God-I-never-want-to-listen-to-this-garbage-again, I mean Fred Durst was involved. The fact is, I have the CD booklet in my car and there have been times where I’ve tried listening to the tracks and it’s not good. Maybe in 10 years I’ll revisit, but I’m not ready to do so today.

In the next few days I’ll probably do a Good Songs wrap up where I figure out which track was on the most tapes (early bet is something by Lenny Kravitz, probably “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”) and some other odds and ends.

Regrets? I’ve had a few. The one thing that I wish that I had done differently was make “Funky Cold Medina” the last song on this tape. Why? Because it was the very first track on “Good Songs I” and that would have made for some nice symmetry. Good Songs could have been a Rust Cole infinity circle, man. Start with “Funky Cold Medina” and just keep on going and going and going and going until you get back to the drink that knocks you out. But that’s the thing about life and endings, it is very rare that you understand that something is going to end and that you have the foresight to have it end in a place where it began. 

Thank you for reading and thank you for the comments. For me, this has been a really fun writing exercise and an interesting trip down memory lane. I hope that you enjoyed it too. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Good Songs XXVII

Pop Song ’89 – REM
Jingling Baby – LL Cool J
Paint It Black – Rolling Stones
Let’s Go Crazy – Prince
Don’t Drink the Water – Dave Matthews Band
Flagpole Sitta – Harvey Danger
I Am the Walrus – The Beatles
Sure Shot – The Beastie Boys
Rock & Roll – Led Zeppelin
Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine
Number One Blind – Veruca Salt
School Days – Chuck Berry
The One – Tracy Bonham
Calling Dr. Love – KISS
Mountain Song – Jane’s Addiction
Moonlight Drive – The Doors
Where It’s At – Beck
Manic Depression – Jimi Hendrix
Alone + Easy Target – Foo Fighters
With Plenty of Money and You – Count Bassie and Tony Bennett
Deeper Shade of Soul – Urban Dance Squad
Rape Me – Nirvana
Rhinoceros – Smashing Pumpkins
I Wanna Be Just Like You – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

If you look at two of the last five songs on this mix, guess which movie I was really into at this point in my life? If you said “Swingers”, you win a no-prize. At this time in my life, it was no surprise that I obsessively watched the adventures of Mike, Trent, Sue, Rob and Charles. They were around the same age, they were in the same weird limbo between career and college, they drank a lot, played Sega and looked for girls. This was all stuff that my friends and I did. The only difference is that they were in Los Angeles and I was in Boston.

The style was consuming for awhile; I tried being a martini drinker, dressing nice(r), listening to swing music (I bought the Swinger soundtrack AND a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy CD), but it didn’t stick. By the summer I was back to my beer-drinking, slovenly-dressed, rock and rap ways. It was a nice suit to try on, but it didn’t fit.

This was a pretty decent Good Songs, on this listen I enjoyed pretty much all of the songs* and it’s one that I’ll probably fire up again. What I found interesting, is that not only do Count Bassie and Tony Bennett make their first appearance on the penultimate Good Songs tape but Prince, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones do too.

* I haven’t heard DMB’s “Don’t Drink the Water” in years, but I remember it being one of the last songs of his that I actually enjoyed. On this relisten, I can say that the song is excruciatingly terrible. It’s plodding, masturbatory, directionless and the lyrics are so ham-handed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Porky Pig was listed as a co-writer. Even the uncredited background vocals of Alanis Morissette doesn’t help much—though the way I felt about her at this point in my life, I’m sure it was a strike against the song. I always thought that it was DMB’s fans that drove me away, turns out it was him all along.

I wonder what took me so long to include the Rolling Stones on a Good Songs tape? The answer to that question is because I don’t own any of their albums, tapes, CDs, 8-tracks or MP3s (except for this one). It’s not because I don’t like the Rolling Stones, they’re an all-time great band, but I’ve never been inspired to transfer money from my wallet to a store’s cash register in exchange for one of their albums.

This isn’t a situation like Bruce Springsteen or Pink Floyd where I’m not crazy about their music, but I get why they have fans. I like the Stones and all of their hits and I’m sure I’d be crazy about their deep cuts too. But the Rolling Stones seem to be everywhere and they’ve never left us, which I think is the big differentiator from other bands that are seemingly everywhere like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin*.

* The Who fit into this mold too and I don’t own anything by them either, despite really enjoying their music. There’s a lot of great Who songs and they’re different and they’re loud and they’re smart and they have great lyrics and music, but I’m just not a Who guy. There’s not even a Who song on any of the 28 volumes of Good Songs, which is kind of surprising. I also don’t have a Tom Petty song on any Good Songs tape, which is even more surprising.

But the Rolling Stones won’t go away. The Beatles’ songs are still everywhere but the band broke up, John and George died, as a collection of individuals they did their own things. And some of that thing includes Beatlesque stuff, but they aren’t coming back. Same with Zeppelin. John Bonham is dead and Robert Plant—for whatever reason he’s giving this week—doesn’t want to reunite with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.  

This is my problem with bands like the Stones or the Who, they’re old (in their 70s) and they’re still touring. And yes, they’re still pulling in fantastically large crowds and are selling out arenas all over the Earth, but at some point, enough is enough. One could argue that these bands love what they’re doing and they’re moved by the spirit of the music. But when was the last time the Who or the Stones played at a small club? They’re playing in places designed to get as many people as they possibly can for as much money as they possibly can.

And that’s fine, I am not of the mind to tell a person when he or she has too much money*. But at the same time, it starts to look a little embarrassing, doesn’t it? I understand that baby boomers and the like will still feel youthful as long as Mick and Keith are prancing around a stage at Madison Square Garden like they did almost 60(!) years ago. But they’re not fooling anyone and they haven’t for quite awhile. Aside from Lorne Michaels or a few investment bankers, who thinks that Mick Jagger is cool**?

* Around the time that I created this mix tape, Led Zeppelin announced that they were going to lend their song, Rock & Roll, to a Cadillac commercial. It made me so angry and I mentioned that to my roommate, who was an accountant at a (then) Big Six accounting firm in Boston. We had a heated debate on selling out and how much money should a band make and whether commercial music is art. Not surprisingly I was on the liberal side of the argument and thought that this was abhorrent as Page, Plant and Jones had plenty of money and were ruining their song. My roommate said I was crazy and that pop music is a commodity and if someone wants to buy it, they should get cash for it. I was adamant that he was wrong, but after going over that debate, I was the one who was wrong. There is integrity among artists, but there’s never a time when one has “too much money” and for me to suggest that was dumb and naïve.

** Keith Richards will always have some semblance of coolness only because of what he’s done in the past. As a person, right now in 2015, Keith Richards isn’t really cool at all. He's old, he's broken down, unintelligible and is miming his way through old age. But the life that Keith Richards has lead is undoubtedly cool, so it carries over into his present day-to-day life. And I know how ridiculous it sounds for a 40-year-old man to be judging who or what is cool, but it’s my blog and it’s what I do.
As I get closer to the end of this project, the idea of youth and nostalgia is becoming more and more clearer. No one wants their youth to end—actually I should amend that, no one wants the youth that they have encased in amber (like the dinosaur DNA hidden in the mosquito in Jurassic Park) to end. But like that dinosaur DNA, if you try to replicate that youth now, it would go horribly wrong. And that’s what the Rolling Stones and their ilk are caught up in—though caught is probably the wrong word. Maybe partake? I don't know.

Audiences have long struggled when it comes to deciding how they want their entertainers to age. Do you want them to keep going on and on and on and on doing the same stuff year after year, decade after decade like the Stones or the Who? Do you want them to evolve as people and as artists so that their new stuff sounds nothing like their older stuff that you grew up with, like the Beastie Boys did before MCA died?

I don’t have the foggiest idea and often go back and forth on the topic as there are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. The Rolling Stone solution (for lack of a better term) is good because you can pay for your seat, hear the songs that you love, take a stroll down memory lane and for awhile feel like you’re young again. No one wants to hear a new Paul McCartney song or a new Stones song because you love the old ones so much and don’t want to sacrifice a hit for a song that will probably suck*.

* Musicians are like athletes. They peak in the late 20s and by the time they’re in their 30s (especially if they’re successful) it’s all downhill. There’s nothing worse than a millionaire trying to remember what it was like when he or she was poor.

But at the same time, that visage of nostalgia is smashed when you look on the Jumbotron and see octogenarians singing about banging chicks, taking drugs and being street fighting men. It’s embarrassing. And after the embarrassment wears off you look around and see all of the old faces and it dawns on you that you’re old too. That realization, juxtaposed with the music echoing your youth can be a real mindfuck down depression road.

The Beasties solution is the other side of the coin where you know you need to change, you do it and hope that your fans come along for the ride. It would have been real easy for the Beasite Boys to release License to Ill 2, LtI 3, LtI 4 and so on. The records would have sold a bunch, they’d have made a lot of cash and they’d be the heroes to bro-frat boys everywhere. But they realized that that wasn’t who they were and they changed it up for “Paul’s Boutique”, which was so far ahead of it’s time (it’s probably my favorite album ever) that it was a bomb.

No one knew what to do with a non-wiffle-ball-bat-raping Beastie Boys.

They released “Check Your Head” and their audience started to catch up. By the time they released “Ill Communication”, the Beasites were back on top and they were given carte blanche to do whatever the hell they wanted. 

Full disclosure: I love the Beastie Boys, they're one of my favorite acts. So I think that the way that their career trajectory went was probably the way I'd do it if I was in a band. But it was a struggle to go from hasbeens to geniuses and I bet they lost a lot of fans who thought that they “sold out” or “got weird”. Not a ton of bands can do this and the road to Cleveland is littered with acts who tried to switch it up and got left in the dust. If MCA hadn't died and the BBoys toured until they were 80, I'd probably line up to see them (though I'd have wondered if maybe they should change their names) so maybe it has more to do with the generation. On the whole, Baby Boomers are obnoxious and I've been waiting for them to exit the stage since I was a teenager, so there's a good possibility that I'm transferring my frustration with a whole generation on a five dudes from England. 

Because I get why these nostalgia shows are so popular. The last two concerts I saw were Living Colour (who played the entirety of their first album from front to back) and the Kings of Rap Tour (De La Soul, Ice Cube, Public Enemy and LL Cool J), so it’s not like I’m trolling for new music every weekend. It’s cool to take that DeLorean back to 1993 and relive your youth, I get it. I mean, I do it once or twice a year at most, but I wonder if it takes a toll on the artist?

And as terrible as this sounds, the only solution is death. Not your death, of course—that's crazy, but the death of your favorite rock star, which is terrible thing to wish for. But with the death of an important band member, that band stays crystalized in amber forever.

I’m not a person who puts too much stock in legacies—I think for the most part people who talk about that stuff are full of shit—but do you know how terrible the Doors would have been if Jim Morrison lived? He was would have spent the 1970s doing one embarrassing thing after another, recorded sloppy albums with messy poetry and it would have been bad. The 80s and 90s would have seen a revitalization in the Doors (like our 80s and 90s) and there would have been reunion concerts and Morrison being paraded around on talk shows like some relic from the dangerous past.

Jim Morrison, the one that we know, could have only existed in one time and that was the late 1960s. People had a higher tolerance for bullshit back then and the stuff he used to pull was considered whimsical and free-spirited.

“He doesn’t kow-tow to the Man, man.”

But you know who the Man is? It's us. If you paid money to see the Doors and Jimmy decided to tie one on or whip out his penis and the show was cancelled after two songs? That sucks, no matter how good of a story it is. You paid to hear music, not some drunk slurring through his songs*. I went to a Jane’s Addiction show where security was a joke and a crush of people bum rushed the stage in the opening minutes. The concert was postponed for an hour and when the band came back, they played for 40 minutes (all slow jams) before splitting. I felt ripped off.

* I know I wrote about this in a previous entry, but I bought a Jimi Hendrix/Jim Morrison "bootleg" that I thought was going to be magical. It was terrible. Hendrix was way too wasted to play the guitar and when he brings Morrison on stage to sing some song, Jim is too drunk to remember the words. I felt as if both of the ripped me off from beyond the grave. Stupid hippies. 

It’s almost better to go out early and leave a pretty corpse.

A few things:

Harvey Danger – When this song came out, I had a girlfriend and she said that every time she heard “Flagpole Sitta” she thought of me. I’m not sure why and I’m not sure if she still feels that way, but it was an interesting observation to make*. That got me thinking, I wonder if there are other songs that people associate with me? I know that there are a ton that I associate with people I know. I should probably make a list, I bet that would be interesting.

* My friend Ryan’s sister Keri said that every time that she hears Living Colour, she thinks of me. That’s probably because when I was at Ryan’s house, I’d make him play Vivid over and over and over again. It’s probably a PTSD thing. Sorry about that, Keri.

Veruca Salt – This song (Number One Blind) is on a very short list of my favorite songs of all-time. It wasn’t particularly popular, it doesn’t hold any special significance to an event that happened in my life, but for some reason I really love it. Okay, it’s the guitar solo at the end, so awesome. If I end up drinking too much and have my laptop in front of me, I will watch this video (only shown on MTV five times) on a loop.

REM – I put this song on here because it reminded me of a really tough time in my life and how I get past it. I was living in Winthrop with some friends and I couldn’t take my fund accounting job any more, so I quit (for the second time in four months). It felt awesome to leave and the last day was fucking great. However, after two months of no job, that awesome feeling was not so awesome anymore. I missed my work friends, I missed having money and I was getting worried that I’d never find a job.

I found one. For about a month I worked as a sales associate at J. Crew in Danvers, MA. There was nothing good about this gig: the commute sucked, the job was mind numbing, the money was horrible, no one there liked me and I used to let Gordon College coeds steal as much stuff as they wanted because I was so apathetic. But the muzak played “Pop Song 89” a few times during my shift (also George Harrison’s “What is Love?”) and it was the only good parts of my miserable day.

Things eventually got better, I ended up getting a job that I loved which lead to better jobs and experiences but when I hear both songs now, I think about those long, sad days and how tough it was.  It’s been a difficult few months for yours truly, but after listening to these two playlists and remembering where I was when I created them, I know that things are going to get better. There is some darkness in every life, but you have to keep plugging away and push and eventually that spring light is going to come cascading in.

I’m sure of it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Good Songs XXVI

Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve
Novocain for the Soul – The Eels
Santa Monica – Everclear
It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over – Lenny Kravitz
Time – Hootie and the Blowfish
Life in Mono – Mono
Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley
The Way – Fastball
What I Am – Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians
I Alone – Live
Lucas With the Lid Off – Lucas
Virtual Insanity – Jamiroquai
Detroit Rock City – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam
Hippy Chick – Soho
ABC – The Jackson Five
Mo Money, Mo Problems – Notorious B.I.G.
Suffragette City – David Bowie
Higher Ground – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Loved One – INXS
Laid – James
We Got the Beat – The Go-Go’s
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding – Elvis Costello
Pass the Dutchie -  Musical Youth

This was the first tape that I ever went on location to make, driving all the way to Needham, MA to make use of my friend, Shawn's extensive CD collection. Shawn had well over 1,000 CDs and I remember buying two extra-long cassette tapes (100 minutes total!) to harness all the music he had. This is the reason why the playlist looks like a collection of one-hit wonders and songs from bands whose albums I didn’t own.

It’s a mess, but a nice mess.

By the time I made this tape it was the spring of 1998, I was just starting a job as a reporter for the Revere Journal and living with three friends in a Winthrop, MA apartment. Life was good. I had disposable income (actually, not that much), a job that could conceivably be a career (though it didn’t turn out that way), a girl I started dating sorta seriously (we broke up by the beginning of the summer) and a place less than a block from the beach that I thought that I’d live in for a long time (I was back in Amesbury by fall of 1999).  But at that point in time, I thought that the future seemed very rosy and everything was coming up Byron.

That’s what I hear and what I feel when I listen to this mix, not the disjointed, almost manic squashing of artists such as Soho and the Jackson Five together, but the life of someone who had gotten over the hump since an unwanted college graduation and a terrible first job.

Since there is no real thread tying all of these songs together, I’m going to cheese out and write one-sentence about them. Just once sentence, that’s it. I promise*.

* Alright, maybe more than one. But I promise you that I will try to try. It won’t happen.

The Verve – I love this song, it makes me agitated, but in a good way. Like the lead singer in the video, I want to walk down a crowded street and bump my shoulder into everyone. That would be therapeutic. What’s not therapeutic (at least for the Verve) is that because they nicked a six-second sample of an obscure Rolling Stones song, they didn’t make a dime off their biggest single.  People got these guys confused with the Verve Pipe at this point in time.

The Eels – They had the theme song, Hombre Loco, for the brilliant HBO documentary “The Jinx”. This song is shockingly different from that song, it almost makes me want to check out the Eels’ back catalog. Almost.

Everclear – Lead singer Art Alexis whines a lot. Around this time I was kinda getting into Everclear because a bunch of Patriot players (include Drew Bledsoe and some of his offensive linemen) got into big trouble when they went crowdsurfing at an Everclear show and seriously injured a twenty-something woman. If the Pats liked them, why shouldn’t I? Anyway, Everclear was brought into the lexicon of a lot of 50-year-old sportswriters.

Lenny Kravitz – How many damn times is he on one of these mix tapes? God.

Hootie and the Blowfish – I like this song then and I like it now. I don’t care who knows it. Darius Rucker has a great voice and this song sorta has something to say. I’m okay with my choice.

Mono – This was the “haunting song” from the movie “Great Expectations”. I know nothing about this band, but I do like this song.

Jeff Buckley – If I was going on a date, this is the song that would be queued up and ready to go when I returned to the car. I thought that it made me seem sensitive and deep. Don’t laugh, it was on for my first date with my wife and we had a long, icebreaking conversation about Jeff Buckley*. How about that?

* What I did not know was that my wife's ex was a Jeff Buckley superfan who created a website dedicated to the man and his music. He also spoke to Buckley's mom on the reg, so my bullshit only went so far. 

Fastball – I like songs with a story to them. This song has that with an added southwestern flair. I feel like I should be enjoying a chicken fried steak and fighting off rattlesnakes as I listen to this.

Edie Brickell – This song reminds me of being in ninth grade and hanging out at my friend Ryan's house watching MTV on a mid-sized TV in his wooden paneled living room. That's pretty much it. I thought that Brickell was cute and looked like Simone (Khrystyne Haje) from "Head of the Class" and the Corey Haim movie "Lucas", I wonder what Paul Simon thought? Better yet, what did Lorne Michael think?

Live – I think that the reason why this band went away was because lead singer Ed Kowalcyzk was so intensely sincere. Every band has a bit of bullshit and myth in them and that’s what makes the bands tick. It’s what people latch on to, like Jim Morrison portrayed himself as this modern-day rock poet, but he was a drunk who liked to hear himself ramble. Kowalcyzk seemed so heartfelt and genuine and serious that he became a parody of himself. In the early 90s, most rock frontmen acted like Kowalcyzk, but you had an idea that they weren’t totally serious about it. Maybe I’m cynical, but I never bought it. Plus, their lyrics were pretty dopey too, “to cradle a baby in space.” Okay, dude.

Lucas – You should search for this video, it’s pretty awesome. When he first came out, I used to get him confused with MC 900ft Jesus or Us3, even though his song was called “LUCAS With the Lid Off”. Not to be confused with aforementioned Corey Haim move, "Lucas". Nor my nephew. 

Jamiroquai – If it wasn't for this video and his hat, I don't think anyone would have been ga-ga for this song. I mean, it's a good song. But good songs are a dime a dozen. This thing was all over the place in 1997 and 1998. I never figured out if Jamiroquai was one guy or a band. And he should have toured with Jodeci. That would have been dope.

Mighty Mighty Bosstones – This was an excellent cover by the Bosstones because it was so different from the original KISS version. This was a time where it seemed that every mildly popular band from the 70s and 80s were getting albums devoted to covering their songs and they were played the exact same way, as if the record companies hired really expensive bar bands. On the cover of this album – “Kiss My Ass” (a truly clever title) – the nuclear family is decked out in KISS makeup, except the little boy is not wearing Ace Frehley grease paint. That bugged me mainly because Ace was the coolest member of KISS, and it's not even close. 

Pearl Jam – This was the song to own if you were a “real” Pearl Jam fan back in the day. It was the B-side to the “Jeremy” single and record store workers would go crazy when someone asked what album Yellow Ledbetter was on*. If the universe was fair, this should have been former Boston Mayor Thomas Mennino’s go-to karaoke song.

* My old college roommate used to work at the Wall, a record store that was located in many of America’s malls. Just about every night in 1993 and 1994, he’d come back to school after his shift and complain about “idiots” asking about the album that YL was located on. He really became crazy about it. So, we’d ask him every time we saw him. Mainly because we’re assholes.

Soho – This song was featured in an episode of “Beverly Hills 90210”, though I can’t remember which one. I do remember that this was playing in a scene where Brandon was driving around and thinking about something important. I’d get this song ready for some important driving and thinking times too. Have I ever mentioned how much I loved 90210? It was a sickness.

The Jackson Five – These kids could really sing, huh? Damn it.

Notorious B.I.G. – For a song that’s credited to Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy and Ma$e won’t shut the hell up. But you know what? That was late 90s hip hop. Bigger is better and mo voices means mo money (which leads to mo problems*). This video was the first time that I saw anyone wear a Yankee hat that wasn’t dark blue. Mas$e started a trend that was copied by douche bags around the world (see Durst, Fred). Though I will say, I’m happy to see the gospel of baseball spread.

* Around this time Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn took his talents to Anaheim when he signed with the Angels. His career went right in the crapper after that. I wonder how many times any “hip” copy editor ever used “Mo Money, Mo Problems” as a headline of a story detailing how Vaughn should have stayed with Boston? Probably a billion, right?

David Bowie – I really should get into David Bowie, he’s someone that I have a feeling I might like. Maybe I’ll just tell everyone I’m into him. That’s just as good.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – As much as I like the Stevie Wonder version, I really like what RHCPs did with this song too.

INXS – Do you realize that this is remake too? It is. I had no idea, but man oh man, this was my favorite song off of my favorite album (circa 1988). You really can’t go too wrong with INXS on a mix tape. Who doesn’t like INXS?

James – It’s hard to listen to this song anymore. It was fun. Then it was fun and a bit overplayed. Then it’s just overplayed. Now it has transcended to shorthand. Like when you hear the first few guitar chords in a movie trailer, you know that something wacky is about to occur. “Uh oh, here comes ‘Laid’ and here comes a guy screwing a pie. Just like how God intended.”

The Go-Go’s – Their “Behind the Music” was awesome and is probably the reason why I put them on this tape. Sex, debauchery, drugs, booze, bitchy cat fights, selling out, punk roots, squalor. It’s all there. Go YouTube it, you’ll love it. I also probably put this on here because it’s in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, which I was obsessed with at this point in my life (I wanted to go to California and be a script writer – specifically for high school comedies. But I chickened out.).

Elvis Costello – I had a name burn my a disc with Elvis Costello’s best songs on it (he also did the same for The Smiths) and I still listen to both. Thank you Steve Kelly for that.

Musical Youth – Were you surprised when Musical Youth admitted this song was about marijuana? Yeah. Me either. I don’t care how old those kids were.

I did a bad job at keeping this to one sentence per band. Really bad. Sorry.