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Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I GOTTA GET DRUNK
Available on : One Hell Of a Ride
Sony : 2008
PUNKS IN THE BEERLIGHT
Drag City : 2005
FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK
If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Island : 1987
The other day, a friend commented on the prevalence of alcohol in adult life. "All social events revolve around booze", he said, and I had to put my glass down just long enough to agree. Dinner parties should really be called wine parties. Office functions quickly descend into dysfunction. And special occasions are made for toasting. Yes, growing up and drinking seem inextricably linked. Not that I'm complaining. I like my beer and my whiskey and my anything else you hand me. There's comfort and convivial warmth in alcohol. A few glasses and your cheeks flush pleasantly, conversation sparkles, and the night takes on a hazy dazy glow.
Not surprisingly, there are plenty of songs about booze. Indeed, many of them seem marinated in the stuff. Musicians like their vices, and so, there's an entire bar menu of approaches--Richard and Linda Thompson's hopeful determination ("I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight") and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone's woozy regret ("New Year's Kiss"). There's George Thorogood's cocky battle cry ("I Drink Alone") and the amusing musings of Stephen Merritt ("Too Drunk to Dream").
But a common thread throughout is love. Which makes sense. Booze is an emotional defense and well, love is a battlefield. We may have different orders to dull our pain (Guinness for me, please), but it all comes from the same wretched place. Take Willie Nelson's "I Gotta Get Drunk". The title pretty much says it all. But he expands on the statement:
I sure do dread it, cause I know just what I'm gonna doSure, he'll regret it. But he knows himself well enough to know he's gotta do it anyway. This is the sort of content resignation all gluttons for punishment can identify with. And I am the biggest glutton of all. Week after week, I recall the consequences, and yet off I go into dimly lit dives and cocktail lounges, ready to dim my senses. In the same way, I know there's danger, and yet, every time, I offer up my heart with reckless abandon .
I start to spend my money calling everybody honey then wind up singing the blues
So why do we do what we do when we know that it hurts to do it? Well, human nature is a bit of an idiot. And apparently it likes a good glass of wine.
"Punks in the Beerlight" adds a drinking partner to the mix. Now there are two 'burnouts in love' discussing their rather regrettable habits. You get the feeling they're singing both about the perils of drinking and of loving each other. Like Willie, David Berman's lyrics are self-aware as he sings to his lady friend. Interestingly, her only line in the song is less so - in fact, it seems almost delusional:
"If it ever gets really really bad, if it ever gets really really bad.." she sings.
Without missing a beat, he shoots her down: "Let's not kid ourselves - it gets really, really bad."
And he's right. Both pursuits are intoxicating, and both can lead to mortifying disaster. But oh how fun they are along the way. Sure, I'd trade in a few hangovers if I could. But those misteps and mistakes in love - they're the things that shape that wonderful thing called experience. And the neurotic optimist that is me.
Perhaps the greatest anthem of love and drunkenness is the Pogues classic, "Fairytale of New York". And it's a fitting choice for this time of year, of course. The holidays are upon us, and so is that frenetic, almost desperate desire to be merry and not overly bright. Shane McGowan and the late Kristy MacColl do a glorious job of dancing between the happy holidays of two tipsy kids in love and the bah humbug of a failed relationship. And they do it all in perfect, drunken harmony.
Now, this song could seem depressing--it is Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, after all. And yet, there is a strange optimism about the whole thing. Which is probably due to the setting. New York, like the night stretched before you, is always full of promise. And so, away they go, and live to tell the tale. Which is something we can do too. Drunkenness, like love, might leave us with a crushing ache. Our heads and hearts might be broken in the morning. We might swear off one or the other, vowing to be sober! To be single! And yet, all it takes is a little bit of encouragement--a greasy brunch, a new flirtation--and like fools, we're ready to take the plunge again.
Sinatra was swinging, all the drunks they were singing
We kissed on the corner, then danced through the night.
Cheers to that.
--Posted by Madeleine
Labels: booze, madeleine
posted by Ben
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Led Zeppelin I
Atlantic : 1969
I FOLLOW YOU
Amadou et Mariam
Welcome to Mali
Nonesuch : 2008
TOO MANY BIRDS
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
Drag City : 2009
Lately, everyone's talking about Twitter. Or is that twittering about talking? Regardless, the 140-character-limit monologue (mono-blog?) has gotten us all a flutter. It's the future of communication! The future of the written word! The future of the future!
If it's the future, then it has to be distinct from the past, right? By that standard, Twitter earns its stripes. We've probably always had some interest in endlessly self-indulgent pitter-patter, but now we finally have the tools to give constant shout outs to people--of course, they are essentially constant shout outs to ourselves. And who doesn't like a shout out? During my long, often thankless days gazing at the feeble beacon of my laptop screen, I must admit to the simple pleasure of digital attention. Instant messages. Blog comments. Facebook posts. All these notifications have become a meaningfully meaningless part of daily monotony - a sugar rush, sweet and fleeting.
When I first joined Twitter, I had the odd realization that communication had evolved away from the need for an exchange of information. The back and forth of dialogue was, finally, obsolete. Twitter didn't even pretend to be about adding friends, or making connections - instead it encouraged the one-sided wonder of following people. And as I decided who I should follow, I started thinking about what music would follow me. There aren't any songs specifically about Twitter, of course. No band has gone down that questionable path yet - though no doubt we'll eventually hear ditties about twenty-word errors ups and falling in love one status update at a time.
But plenty of songs are still topical. Take the famed Led Zeppelin song "Communication Breakdown," which has a fairly straightforward message:
Hey babe, I got something I think you oughta knowIndeed, that could easily fit into the short sentences of our digital age. But even in its simplicity there's a breakdown going on. Someone isn't getting that message, even though he's sending it loud and clear. This makes sense: we may be tech-savvy, but we will always be life-sloppy. As an advertising copywriter, I can compress complicated client briefs into headlines, long-winded arguments into pithy emails, and life into blog posts. But when it comes to getting emotion across in real-time, I go strangely mute. And though I have at least ten different ways of getting in touch, I always remain just out of reach.
Hey babe, I wanna tell you that I love you so.
I suppose to combat my inherent aloofness, I could take a page from Amadou and Mariam's book. In "I Follow You," the pretense of casual contact is completely discarded in favor of vocalizing unabashed determination.
When you go to school, baby I follow you The word "follow" is a bit uneasy; it suggests a shadowy presence lurking a few steps behind. And yet, somehow this song takes that notion, and injects it with such earnest sentimentality, that there isn't anything disturbing in the urgency of the lyrics. The same is true of Twitter, hopefully: "following" and even "stalking" are common Internet verbs, stripped of their threat because they're kept apart from reality.
When you go to work, baby I follow you
When you go downtown, baby I follow you
I think of you every day, every night
I think of you everytime, everywhere
Which suits me just fine. I would never really want to admit to my surreptitious interest in those I follow online. I mean, if I were to be more vocal in my longings, what of my pride and reputation? Turns out modern gratification still goes hand in hand with good old-fashioned fear of rejection. After all, what happens if no one responds? If you write something on the Internet, and no one acknowledges it, does it even make a sound? It seems safer not to try. In the end, it's almost a relief to sink back into the anonymity of an online world where no one pays enough attention to know how much attention you're paying. In "Too Many Birds," Bill Callahan nails the wistful comfort of this technological wasteland:
Too many birds in one treeIt's true. We are all too many lonely souls flapping about aimlessly together on one site or another. All just looking for a place to land, a stand to take, or maybe just a place to be noticed and go unnoticed at the same time. I'm not sure if I'll ever really take to Twitter. Its staccato impermanence doesn't do enough for me--even my short attention span longs for something a little longer. Plus, the hope it peddles is mostly false. Twitter might change the way we communicate slightly, but the glorious insecurities of life and love will always be more than 140 characters or less can possibly capture.
With no place to land
Note: This post represents approximately 35 Tweets.
Labels: madeleine, rock and roll
posted by mad
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
AIN'T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY
Bobby Blue Bland
BGO : 1974
I'M THROWING MY ARMS AROUND PARIS
Years of Refusal
Lost Highway : 2009
HONK IF YOU'RE LONELY
Drag City : 1998
Moving to a new city means being alone. This is an obvious statement, almost too obvious to state. But when you're the one alone in a city, it strikes you as a blinding, almost brilliant epiphany. "Here I am in a place so full of people - yet completely alone!" you think, smug, then scared, in your solitude. Or in this case, my solitude. I moved to New York City this past fall, and was suddenly very much by myself. After ten years in another friend-filled town, it felt strange and new to me.
Thousands of others have had this feeling in thousands of other cities before me. Many of them aren't even new to the city - they're just newly alone. And many of them have penned songs about it. Which makes sense - when artists are faced with change and loneliness, they muse, create, and whine poetic.
When I first arrived, I spent countless hours by myself, Manhattan and music my only friends. Headphones on, I explored, I encountered, observed. And I listened to what the experts (albeit musical ones) had to say. Their advice was varied. Bob Dylan warned that I'd get kicked up and knocked down ("Hard Times in New York Town"). The Replacements explained the woes of drinking solo ("If Only You Were Lonely"). Nick Gilder did some meditative easy rocking ("Hot Child in the City"). Heart did some melodramatic squawking ("Alone"). Soon enough, I noticed a common theme in the soundtrack: lost love. Meaning: your baby left you, which in turn has left you roaming the streets, remembering the happy threesome you took for granted. It was always you, your lover and the city you adored. And now that it's just the two of you- you and the city, that is - you're left to meander and mope endlessly. It's the perfect blend of mental catharsis, physical exercise, and, well, sightseeing. Add music and you've mapped out a potential route to recovery.
In Bobby Blue Bland's "Aint No Love In The Heart Of The City," you can tell he once loved both the city and woman desperately. And now he has, in effect, lost both. Because the blissful romance has disappeared, so has its backdrop. Sure, the city's still there, but without the context of the relationship, it's just a town full of cold shoulders and old memories. Now that she's gone the sun won't shine - at least for him - which sure 'nough is a pity indeed, because he now hates the very place that could actually help him mend his heart. As I know, the city can be a great romantic lead. It's always willing, always up for adventures - and though it pleases a giant population on a daily basis - its sights and sounds often feel like they're made for you alone.
Yes, rather than resent the place, why not embrace it to the point of extremity? Who needs love when you've got architecture? Real love is for sissies, anyway. Leave it to Morrissey to wail this slightly ridiculous sentiment with perfect (or at least perfected) sincerity. "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" has him personifying a place in the absence of human touch. Give him avenues and buildings and give them fast-- only stone and steel accept his love, and you get the feeling he needs to love pretty bad. I guess I kind of do too. Thankfully, an affair with any city has the happy guarantee of reciprocation. There's an easy intimacy in getting to know its quirks, exploring its nooks and crannies. It gives and you receive expertise on where to go and what to do. What a selfless lover.
Perhaps my favorite approach is a bittersweet medium between the two. The Silver Jews' "Honk If You're Lonely" suggests using a place you love to get over the one you loved, and in doing so, find someone new to love. Or maybe just other lonely hearts to fill the void. David Berman's melancholy deadpan takes loneliness in the city and turns it into a hopeful anthem for losers everywhere. As he cruises the strips of his town, he weaves a tale of taking a second chance on life in the city. He might pine a little, but he'll be damned if he lets anyone get the best of his experience. And so he uses his old haunts to kindle new love. This seems the perfect way to deal with loneliness and explore the city from a different (and potentially refreshing) perspective:
I know it seems sad to be this damn blueOf course, all of this alone-ness is usually only temporary - eventually you meet new people, you meet more new people, and settle comfortably back into the routine of relationships. Which is where (and when) you feel most at home. Because let's face it, we're a needy bunch, us humans: needy for validation, conversation, and the occasional Sunday brunch.
But there's always a chance that you'll meet someone new
But in those first solitary months, you find yourself alone in the city, and alone in the city you find yourself. After six months, New York and I are getting into the swing of things - slow dancing through evenings that run too late, stumbling groggily into hazy mornings after. I've met a lot of friends. Some keep going through the revolving door. Some stick and stick well. And when they're not around, I'm still content being alone. But I'm lucky - I wasn't heartbroken when I got here. So I guess I get the best of both worlds. And by worlds I mean cities. The sun is shining from the city hall to the county line. Stone and steel accept my love. And around every corner, there is the possibility of meeting someone new.
So by all means, honk if you're lonely.
Labels: madeleine, morrissey, soul
posted by mad