June 7, 2014 by Julia
Sorry, Aunt Sharon — I know how you feel about the posts on music. If you want to skip this one, I will still consider you a wonderful aunt and loyal reader. (I say this as one eldest-child people-pleaser to another. What a burden in life we carry!)
Last week my family of origin and I (when will we ever come up with a socially agreed-upon word for our parents and grown brothers and sisters?) were sitting around a fire pit on my parents’ back deck, for Dad’s birthday. We were listening to Oscar Peterson, an old-school jazz pianist who swings, and were talking about music in general when my sister Lisa said something like, “Music can be happy and still be good, you know!” Which I agree with wholeheartedly. But then my sister-in-law Destinee said “But it’s gotta rip your heart out and twist it!” which she demonstrated with hand gestures, and I was like, YES, THAT. That is what interests me right now.
(And then Destinee hacked my mom’s little portable hot pink speaker with her own iPod, and started playing some mystical, eerie stuff that I’d never heard before, and I said, “I want to be listening to this while I drive on a desert road at night with the top down,” and she and my brother Ben looked at each other and said, “OH, WOW, THIS ALBUM IS CALLED THE DESERT SESSIONS!” and we were all like, whoa. And I felt like a badass for guessing the intended theme of this unknown music within two minutes. MUSICAL GENIUS, RIGHT HERE. Except for the fact that I can hardly read music and have never studied musical theory or history and stopped playing piano a lifetime ago.)
I’ve been on a kick of trying to find those moments in music that strike a nerve, that buzz and grind with angst and longing. The excruciating ecstasy of a vocal screech up to the heavens. The acrobatics of an electric guitar that plumbs the depths and scales the heights, all because the musician is feeling it. If the volume or lyrics are inappropriate for children’s ears, fine. I will go for a drive after they’re snug in their beds.
There is a phrase that keeps coming to mind.
Mama needs a face-melting guitar solo.
Let’s talk about Jack White.
His guitar just drips with authenticity. It squeals and shrieks and thumps and digs down into the dirt. Oh, how dirty Jack White gets. You just know that he’s been preparing for this moment of performance basically his entire life, marinating in blues and funk and rock since he was a zygote. Jack White is an old soul who knows how to wail and improvise with the best of them. I don’t know if he truly abandons himself to the music – maybe it’s just part of his fantastic performance skills – but I don’t really care, because a human being is making those over-the-top sounds. And I am totally buying it, literally and figuratively. Also…(cough) sexy (cough) as (cough) hell. Cough.
You should probably just buy the entire White Stripes’ album Icky Thump, which features my favorite work of his, but the ones I especially adore from that album are I’m Slowly Turning Into You, A Martyr for My Love for You, and Catch Hell Blues (on which his guitar work is truly face-melting.) Another highlight, from The White Stripes’ album Elephant, is the epic bluesy seduction of Ball and Biscuit. It is awesome.
Let’s move on to Prince, because one of my favorite songs of all time is Purple Rain and I can do whatever I want on my blog. I never tire of this masterpiece. (The song, not the blog.) The performance quality is chill-inducing, and cannot be imitated. There is no reason for anyone to ever record this song again for mass consumption. I mean, you can put your cover on YouTube, but if anyone tries to sell a remake…woe upon their heads, or something. It all builds to that one moment after the achingly beautiful guitar solo where he comes back in with a fierce falsetto. That impassioned cry kills me every single time. You should probably rent the movie from Netflix and have a Purple Rain party with your friends. Or maybe I should do that.
Of course the rock music that is nearest to my heart comes from the 90’s alternative scene, because I was a teenager then, and I think teens might be especially good at tapping into music. Also, everything from our teen years stands out in our memories more vividly than other periods of our lives – I read that somewhere, and it’s true for me, at least. A few songs that I love(d), most passionately:
Creep and Paranoid Android by Radiohead. They manage to capture the cruelly bittersweet, dreamy feelings that I was experiencing much of the time. Of course Radiohead totally holds up for non-teenagers, too.
Plush by Stone Temple Pilots. I always turned this one up on the radio. Total release. Turns out it was Dennis’ favorite alternative rock song, too.
Undone, Say It Ain’t So, and Only In Dreams by Weezer. (Later on, on their Green Album, Hash Pipe totally rocked it, too.) Only In Dreams was never a single, but I have grown to worship its slow build of a guitar solo that opens up at the end like fireworks.
Who didn’t sing along to U2’s Pride (In the Name of Love)? In the naaaaaame of love, one man in the name of love!!! Technically, these songs came out in the 80s, but they were still super popular in the 90s, I think. And then at the end of Reality Bites, All I Want Is You is used in its entirety to great effect as we watch Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder pine away for each other. I can’t help thinking of this movie when I hear this song. Really, really great guitar solo. Oh heck, watch the movie clip here if you don’t mind spoilers, and then the conclusion to that scene here. Apparently I need to host a Reality Bites movie night, too.
There was also that awesome sing-a-long “yeaaaaaah” chorus to Nirvana’s Lithium.
The Cranberries were so cool. Linger brings back a lot of memories, but in terms of face-melting, Zombie was the best. I remember putting my head to the speakers of my boom box to get the full effect of those heavy guitars, the likes of which I hadn’t heard before.
The mother of all guitar solos from the 90s, though, in my very subjective opinion, belongs to Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Suck My Kiss. The synchronized energy as Anthony Kiedis and the band volley back and forth cannot be topped. It’s insane. No one drops the ball. It is a thing of frenetic beauty. If you like that sort of thing, I mean. If the title offends you, it’s probably not going to be your cup of decaf coffee. (Hi, Grandma!)
But back to present day, music-wise. I am a huge fan of The Strokes, and was obsessed with the song You Only Live Once for years before I realized it’s where the ridiculous/fun catchphrase YOLO originated. Anyway, it might be a perfect rock song. Also, Reptilia is greatness, and Automatic Stop and Juicebox. That’s not even including songs from their critically acclaimed debut, which is also brilliant but a little subdued compared to some of their later work.
There needs to be more ladies on this list. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are awesome, and I want to be Karen O. I think I put Cheated Hearts and Phenomena on all my mix cds to the point that people were like, you already gave me this song! Get over it already!
A few more that are filled with longing and angst, because I just can’t help sharing them:
Last Goodbye by Jeff Buckley. (How 90’s is this video?)
Sleazy Bed Track by The Bluetones (This video is mortifying. Please don’t watch it as you listen to the song. Well, I suppose you have to, now. But don’t let it affect your opinion of the song itself.)
In the Backseat by The Arcade Fire
A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum
Favorite by Neko Case
Unsatisfied by The Replacements
The Difficult Kind by Sheryl Crow (I realize her current stuff might be considered adult contemporary, aka pop/easy listening UGH, but her first three albums are amazing.)
Oh Well by Fiona Apple
Go or Go Ahead by Rufus Wainwright (Yes, I’ve mentioned this one before. Excuse my obsessions.)
At Least That’s What You Said by Wilco (hang in there for the guitar solo halfway through)
Pablo and Andrea by Yo La Tengo (see above – ditto)
And just to prove that while I obsess over the angst-filled songs, I do love some happy ones, too, Lisa! Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk, best ever.
Okay, I’m done rhapsodizing. Next up, the joy of Sad, Sad Songs! I’m only halfway kidding. I better wait a while for that one, or I’ll lose Aunt Sharon as a reader completely.