Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Don't Think I Don't Think About It: The Mature Breakup Song

It is my firm and fervent belief that in every truly great pop song, there is one moment in which all the various elements come together to take the song to the Next Level.

I've come to understand that I experience this Next Level in the way that, perhaps, others experience transcendental meditation or the starvation-induced euphoria that is day 2 of an expensive juice fast and that, perhaps, I am not alone in this.

It is also my belief, equally firm and fervent, that truly great pop songs are all around us.

This is In Bed With Amy Wilson.


The song: Dave Mason, "We Just Disagree"; 1977
The moment: 1:05

This is what I call a Grocery Store Song. It's got that much-maligned soft-rock quality of easiness, but a dedicated listen reveals depth.

This 1977 semi-hit features a man--one pictures him in a Kris Kristofferson-style denim shirt, well-worn--describing with a devastating combination of affection and coolness the all-too-common situation that most pop songs (and, let's face it, people) handle as the harbinger of the apocalypse: seeing one's ex for the first time after an amicable breakup.

"Been away," says the man in the song's brilliant opening lines. "Haven't seen you in a while. How've you been? Have you changed your style?"

These mastery of these lyrics lies in the simple fact that this is only one side of the conversation. But it's realistic, and perfect: of course she's changed her style. They broke up and he went, simply, "away" but he's still the kind of guy who asks her if she got a haircut. He was the perfect boyfriend, and now he'll be the perfect ex-boyfriend, and he'll do it all with a seeming lack of awareness of his own easy perfection.

(Most people who have lived past the age of 20 have met this kind of person, and so most people who have lived past the age of 20 know that this kind of person can inspire feelings of either unparalleled rancor or intense infatuation. But most often some combination of the two.)

The very ease and simplicity of the music itself, with its sweetly soaring 1970s orchestral pop arrangement, underscores the confidence the narrator projects.

"You don't seem the same," he says, "Seems you've lost your feel for me." This line, tossed off casually, might be a mature, reasonable (and probably honest) thing to say after a breakup (or so it seems to mostly immature, unreasonable me) -- but it's also unbearably cutting, considering we know nothing about the circumstances of this breakup or what led to the loss of this unheard woman's "feel".

Then he throws out the song's major argument (which happens of course to also be its chorus): "So let's leave it alone, cause we can't see eye to eye/There ain't no good guy/There ain't no bad guy/There's only you and me/And we just disagree." The major chords build to a tense and pretty point, and after just a BEAT longer than you think it should take the drums kick in.

It's sweet. It's beautiful. It might seem to lack zest. But the very fact that this unnamed Kris Kristofferson knockoff has to suggest that they "leave it alone" when so far their interaction has been literally nothing but charming pleasantries. What is the issue that lurks under the surface here?

I think any person who has lived past the age of 20 could fill in his or her particular blank.

That's the Moment. It reveals, in all this creamy 70s pop smoothness, the bitter kernel that is what's unresolved between these people who have a whole song dedicated to how resolved their Mature Breakup has been.

Cleanup on aisle 12!


The song: Darius Rucker, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It"; 2008
The moment: N/A; see below

In my very first post I am breaking my only rule. This is not a truly great pop song.

It is, however, a wonderful experience in addition to being one of the only other Mature Breakup Songs I know.

Darius Rucker is, to say the least, an unlikely country star. You might know him better as Hootie.

(of the Blowfish)

My first Pop Country phase was in the summer of 2009, when Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" ruled the charts, and took place almost entirely in the form of obsessively watching country music videos on the Great American Country channel which I mysteriously had in my apartment. Darius Rucker was just coming to prominence.

(You can NEVER understand how annoying commercials for Busch's Baked Beans are until you've spent at least 100 hours watching GAC. They always involve a running gag where a talking dog crashes innocent Americans' tailgate parties.)

The world of Pop Country is a strange and wild place which I hope to better address in the fullness of time BUT suffice to say it's not a place where you would expect to find Hootie.

But one of the most wonderful things about the genre of Pop Country is that it truly respects talent, even though it is chocked with factory-line songs about Good Country Boys and Good Christian Bitches by singers with names like Easton Corbin and bands with names like Little Big Town. This is why it is also one of the few genres that regularly honors and plays the NEW music of artists who are 40 and older (and there are many of these: when Brooks & Dunn announced their retirement to much fanfare in 2009, guitarist Kix Brooks was 54 and singer Ronnie Dunn was 56).

So even if you are black-- even if you seem kind of sensitive and political-- even if you are best known for singing lyrics like "I'm such a baby cause the Dolphins make me cry/ But there's nothing I can do/ Been looking for a girl like you"-- if you write a good song they WILL play the video on Great American Country. Several times a day.

And "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" is a good song. It's not a great one, but I dare you to watch that video and NOT want to hang out in a sun-dappled barn with that wonderfully friendly looking dude and drink whiskey and talk about What Might Have Been.

Don't think I don't think about it!


Topics to come on In Bed With Amy Wilson:

- Why In Bed With Amy Wilson?
- Soul Music And the Spring of the Soul
- Seriously, Guys, I Love Morrissey and You Could Too
- Is Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" the Best Folk Song Of Our Time (And What Does That Say About Us)?
- "I'd Rather Be Run Over By A Real Train Than Listen to 'Peace Train'": The Agony and the Ecstasy of Cat Stevens
- Moonstruck and Billy Joel: Who Is Amy Wilson?
- Why It Means Everything That Cher's Twitter Page Says Cher (Cher)

I also like to talk about movies, the possibility of being abducted by aliens, forms of hysteria in modern-day life, the British Royal Family, and nail polish.