Monday, October 11, 2010

R is for Raging Repeatedly

R-Runs in the Family. I love Amanda Palmer. Her lyrics are incisive and her style is balls to the wall. In “Runs in the Family” Palmer takes a not-so-delicate look at mental illness, citing different examples of friends who have peculiar “maladies.” The unifying excuse for such illness is the observation that it “runs in the family.” I have bipolar disorder and OCD: as it turns out, both of these illnesses run in my family. And while I can manage these maladies, I will never be entirely free of them. Isn’t that a comforting thought?

If wellness is this what in God’s name is sickness?

Amanda Palmer, “Runs in the Family,” Who Killed Amanda Palmer, 2008

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Q is for Questionable Quirks

Q-Que Sera, Sera. This is my new theme song. I used to worry incessantly over things that hadn’t happened yet, continually obsessing and literally driving myself insane. In fact, I nearly worried myself right out of existence. Now, more than a year later, I realize how futile and meaningless such ruminations are. I have learned that there are certain factors of my life that I can control, but that much of what happens cannot be foreseen even by someone of my considerable psychic talents.

The future’s not ours to see…

"Que Sera, Sera," performed by Doris Day, written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, 1956

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

P is for Proper Puffing

P-The Pot. I was fortunate enough to see Tool perform live while I was living in San Antonio. They put on a hell of a show. Each member of the band is so talented that I could probably sit here all day praising them. Instead, I’ll simply let you listen. “The Pot” is one of my favorite songs because of the melody, the shifting time signatures, and the syncopation. The lyrics take a poetic look at hypocrisy. The bass line seems almost disconnected from the rest of the piece. And I love how the melody is introduced a cappella.

Soapbox house of cards and glass so don’t go tossing your stones around…

Tool, “The Pot,” 10,000 Days, 2006

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

O is for Obvious Overtones

O-One. This has stood the test of time as my favorite U2 song. The lyrics are what I find most compelling: seemingly simple sentiments are conveyed in rather clever fashion. Some of my favorite quips include “Did I disappoint you, or leave a bad taste in your mouth?” and “It’s too late, tonight, to drag the past out into the light.” It is interesting that though the lyrics are often acrimonious, “One” has quite the mellow quality to it melodically. And, as with many U2 songs, it is also easy to sing along to…

Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

U2, “One,” Achtung Baby, 1991

Saturday, July 24, 2010

N is for Gnarly but Nice

N-No Time Soon. Some people were destined to sing. I certainly can’t see Cee-Lo Green doing anything but crooning his heart out. I enjoy all Gnarls Barkley pieces, but this one in particular struck me because I desperately needed an “n” song. At the beginning of the piece, the acoustic guitar is particularly effective. The song then cascades into a marvelous dissonance between Green and the back-up singers. No space in the song is wasted, and every note and sound effect has a particular piece to contribute to the entire aural experience. Listening to this song, I can’t help but reflect on my husband’s upcoming training and deployment. I must continually reassure myself that though he will be far away, my greatest fears for him will happen no time soon.

And I carry this, it’s heavy. And I miss you already…

Gnarls Barkley, “No Time Soon,” The Odd Couple, 2008

Friday, July 16, 2010

M is for Monotone Melodrama

M-Mr. Brightside. I don’t know why I like this song so much, but I suspect the dirty drums have something to do with it. The Killers are here to tell a story, and they are very successful at achieving that end. The mostly mono-dynamic melody maps out a narrative regarding the trials of unrequited love. In contrast to ample action by the instrumentation, the melody is comprised of surprisingly few notes. Though the subject matter might be viewed as depressing, the manner in which it’s delivered creates quite the snappy song. My only complaint is that the monotone melody makes it difficult to sing along with...

I just can't look, it's killing me...and taking control.

The Killers, “Mr. Brightside,” Hot Fuss, 2004

Thursday, July 1, 2010

L is for Laden Lullabye

L-Like a Stone. This song is one of the very good things to come out of the too-brief union known as the supergroup Audioslave. When first hearing the song, I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics, and I assumed it was some kind of love song (along the lines of “Solid as a Rock” for lack of a better example). But when one really listens to this tune, it becomes clear that it’s a pretty little ditty ‘bout a thing called death. The beauty of the song is enhanced by Chris Cornell’s unique voice. But it is the expertly executed guitar solo by the extraordinary Tom Morello that truly throws the whole piece over the top. The day this song lost the Grammy to Evanescence was the day I stopped watching the Grammys.

The sky was bruised, the wine was bled, and there you led me on.

Audioslave, “Like a Stone,” Audioslave, 2002

Thursday, June 24, 2010

K is for Knives on Knuckles

K-King of Pain. It seems I have a thing for Sting. It follows that I also enjoy his work with The Police. “King of Pain” is one of my favorite songs. The lyrics offer stark imagery throughout, with all verses depicting tragedy: take, for example, the “black-winged gull with a broken back.” The poetry is gorgeous. The instrumentation is sparse in the beginning: later, the instruments echo the melody of the voice. There is also a lovely crescendo leading up to the last chorus, and you know how I love crescendos. Despite the negative connotations implied by the lyrics, the song becomes surprisingly upbeat. I enjoy exercising (and even dancing) to it.

There’s a little black spot on the sun today. It’s the same old thing as yesterday…

The Police. “King of Pain,” Synchronicity, 1983

Friday, June 18, 2010

J is for Jazzy Journey

J-Jump. The album Rock Swings is based on the concept that rock songs translate into the swing style very well. I highly recommend the album to fans of either genre. Though I miss the inspired guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, Paul Anka’s cover of “Jump” is brilliant. The lyrics of this song are not particularly profound, but Anka’s smooth voice exudes the impression that everything is just groovy. His laid-back interpretation could even be seen as an improvement on the original song. So relax, and enjoy…

You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real.

Paul Anka, “Jump,” Rock Swings, 2005

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I is for Infinite Interim

I-In the Waiting Line. I have seen this song used effectively in the film Garden State and an episode of “House, M.D.” It has a certain atmospheric quality, and a melody that mellows me out. The lyrics describe the senselessness of life spent in the waiting line, as all of us are at the mercy of our finite existences. As a military spouse, I have become an expert on waiting. And, quite frankly, I’m tired of it. So I will spend my time in the waiting line writing paragraphs about songs while desperately trying to ignore the insurmountable issues present in my life. Sound like a plan?

Do you believe what you see? Motionless wheel, nothing is real. Wasting my time in the waiting line…

Zero 7, “In the Waiting Line,” Simple Things, 2001

Sunday, June 13, 2010

H is for Habitually Haunted

H- Hurt. I would not have known of this song’s existence were it not for Johnny Cash. He took Trent Reznor’s reflective ballad and refined it into something utterly unforgettable. The synthesizer is replaced by acoustic guitar in Cash’s version and there is also a subtle change in lyrics (the “crown of shit” is artfully changed to “crown of thorns”). Dynamic contrast between the verses and chorus is driven by the instruments and enhances the intensity of the piece. Cash’s gruff voice lends an eerie quality that perfectly captures the measure of a man’s life. If you are not moved by this song, I suspect that you are made of stone.

You can have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, I will make you hurt.

Johnny Cash, “Hurt,” American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002

Friday, June 11, 2010

G is for Grasping the Gavel

G-Ghost Story. I was never really a fan of Sting until I saw him perform live at the Gorge in George, Washington, on the Mercury Falling tour. The man’s passion for his music was obvious, and his sheer talent was overwhelming. He jumped from instrument to instrument, and he even invited a fan on stage to help him sing the country song “I’m So Happy that I Can’t Stop Crying.” I walked into the concert a skeptic and came out as a believer. “Ghost Story” is just one of the brilliant songs on the album Brand New Day. The melody is a simple stepwise motion: the phrases in the lyrics aren’t necessarily unique, but the way that they’re strung together is. Only someone as versatile as Sting would explore the theme of love as a courtroom metaphor. The result is a song that has a wistful, lulling quality, with poetry that keeps the audience engaged.

Another night in court, the same old trial. The same old questions asked, the same denial...

Sting, "Ghost Story," Brand New Day, 1999

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

F is for Filmed Flirtation

F-Falling Slowly. My husband and I are big music nerds. I saw the movie Once and then I made him watch it. We both loved it, and if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out on a unique cinematic experience. “Falling Slowly” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and for good reason. Songwriters Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard expertly execute this tune about the power of love, music, and hope. The piece begins with the simple melody of an acoustic guitar. Glen Hansard’s vocals then echo the melody, and Irglova voices a haunting harmony. Piano is also introduced, and there is a lovely crescendo leading into the chorus of the song. By the end, strings enhance the arc of this simple, well balanced, and beautiful tale. I cannot recommend Once or the accompanying soundtrack enough.

And games that never amount to more than they’re meant will play themselves out…

Glen Hansard featuring Marketa Irglova, “Falling Slowly,” Once Soundtrack, 2007

Sunday, June 6, 2010

E is for Everlasting Euphoria

E- Everlong. I love me some Foo Fighters. I am so glad Dave Grohl was able to channel his considerable talent into something so successful after Nirvana. I will unabashedly proclaim that “Everlong” is my favorite song. The central reason for such favoritism? It’s all in the layering and dynamics, baby. The quiet, almost melancholy guitar chords swell into something utterly magnificent by the time the piece hits the chorus. The drums take the song into overdrive in a joyous flood of sound. Don’t ask me what the song is about, because I have no idea. With lyrics like “breathe out, so I can breathe you in,” my best guess is that it’s about love. Regardless, the song has all the enthusiasm of a passionate love affair. No matter what kind of nasty mood I’m in, “Everlong” can help me out of my funk.

The only thing I’ll ever ask of you, you’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when…

Foo Fighters, “Everlong,” The Colour and the Shape, 1997

Friday, June 4, 2010

D is for Damned Daylight

D- The Day I Tried to Live. I realized that this is starting to turn into the “easy listening” alphabet, so I decided to include a song with a little more bite. Soundgarden has always been one of my favorite bands, so why not examine one of their contributions to the soundtrack of my mind? As with many of the songs written by Chris Cornell, “The Day I Tried to Live” is a bit of a downer. The lyrics of the song describe the futility of life in general, and how everything you do is about as useful as banging your head against a wall. I don’t have to extol the virtues of Cornell’s voice, but I will anyhow: it is one of the most unique instruments I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Driven by the vocals, the dynamic contrast appropriately adds to the angst of this piece. As someone diagnosed with social anxiety, this song really speaks to me on a personal level. Most days that I try to live, I end up making a complete moron of myself.

Words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head. The lives we make never seem to ever get us anywhere but dead…

Soundgarden, "The Day I Tried to Live," Superunknown, 1994

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

C is for Cumbersome Courtship

C-Cannonball. His is a voice which seems constantly on the verge of breaking, and that is why I love it. With “Cannonball,” in particular, Damien Rice demonstrates his considerable talents as a musician and a poet. The sparse acoustic accompaniment beautifully sets this tale of wistful infatuation. Rice’s voice is full of passion and uncertainty, and these emotions are enhanced by the dynamic contrast of his guitar. The opposing ideas set forth in the chorus illustrate the contradictions and complexities of love. This seemingly simple piece is reflective of the brilliance of O as an album. If you don’t own it, you need to!

Stones taught me to fly. Love taught me to lie. Life taught me to die. So it's not hard to fall, when you float like a cannonball…

Damien Rice, “Cannonball,” O, 2002

Friday, May 28, 2010

B is for Beach Balls

B- The Boys of Summer. In this melancholy piece, songwriters Don Henley and Mike Campbell expertly created a classic tale of love lost. The lyrics detail a tumultuous memory of first love, and the overwhelming yet impossible desire to recapture those seemingly eternal emotions. Beautifully set against the backdrop of the haunting score, this sad story is infused with idealism and indignation. Henley’s voice perfectly articulates the desolation of regret. The hope and determination of the chorus shines brilliantly in contrast to the hypnotic pallor of the verse’s melody. The pulsating notes of the accompaniment, paired with small passages of narrative guitar, create an unforgettable atmospheric quality. Of course, I cannot discuss this song without giving credit to the poignant and perfectly directed video. But what I love about this song the most is that it’s so easy to sing along to…

Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach. I feel it in the air, the summer's out of reach…

Don Henley, “Boys of Summer,” Building the Perfect Beast, 1984

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A is for Anticipated Anguish

A-And So It Goes. As with many Billy Joel songs, the beauty of this piece lies within its simplicity. The repetitive melody of this tune ascends and descends as a wave of sorrow and understanding. The rhymes are simple and eloquent, and the theme of the lyrics is universal. Joel delicately reminds us that failed relationships, however tragic, are an expected part of life. He also proves that with reflection, one can achieve a greater understanding of the connections that tether one human to another. The song, as a whole, calms my heart and breaks it simultaneously.

And so it goes, and so it goes. And so will you, soon, I suppose…
Billy Joel, “And So It Goes,” Storm Front, 1989

Auditory Alphabet Approaching

I started this series a few years ago, but only wrote a few entries before I gave up. Let's see if I'm up to the challenge.

I’m aiming for amusing, or at least trivial, to help drag me out of this pit. I’m also aiming for alphabetical, to restore a sense of order. And I’m going to discuss music, because I miss it so. We have XM and an iPod and an old school radio and music channels available on cable. I have little excuse not to listen. So as long as I remember to tune in, and sing along, I imagine my mood will be much improved…