Monday, April 30, 2012

Music for a Migraine: Cellos in the Mist

I have a migraine, which means I need to entertain my mind really gently.

I can't think of a better way to say it than that.

So when a cello-only cover of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" came up on my Pandora station, I entrusted my fate to the universe and clicked "thumbs up".

Then a few hours later this song came up.

Same band as the one that first caught my ear, but this is the song that made these crazy YouTube-dwelling Croatian boy-bander rock-cellists famous.

And a song that can do that? Well, damn.

The song: 2CELLOS, "Smooth Criminal"; 2011

a song to distract yourself with


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is Love So Fragile And The Heart So Hollow: Leather and Lace and

Let's start with the fabric of the space-time continuum. 

It probably is a fabric, and if it is it's a fabric that folds and flows in unknowable ways.

I live not only in a College Town but in the same college town where I myself went to college, a town where life flows along easily enough and it's easy enough to make a life outside the college world I might have thought was the only one but where 

there are moments, times and places, where the fabric of the space-time continuum is folded, thickly, and pinned.

It's graduation day.


I woke up two years ago on this day (not this date but this day) to a surprise early-morning thunderstorm and the feeling that the core of my life had fallen away, dropped through something like a peg through a too-wide space.

Of course now I am fully aware that that was not true, but it's not too hard to feel sorry for yourself when it's your graduation day and the Actual Literal President of the United States is your graduation speaker and he is telling you that he is filled with hope and expectation for you on this, your graduation day!

but you are focused on nothing but making sure your alarm clock is set each night and your door is locked, focused on these things to the roaring exclusion of everything else.

No matter how many times I checked I could never be sure that the alarm clock would not un-set itself in the night, and that's who I was when I graduated from college -- a 22-year-old person who could not trust her own perception that yes, the door is locked, I know because I locked it myself. 


If it is a fabric it is obviously quite an intricate print.

And where it is folded and pinned around a day like today, obviously it feels a little piercing (ha, ha) but I think instead of seeing it that way I will try to see moments like this as a place where things are firmly anchored.

I used to be that way but now I am this way.

It never has to be graduation day again.


The song: Stevie Nicks and Don Henley, "Leather and Lace"; 1982


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good And Bad? I Define These Terms Quite Clear, No Doubt, Somehow: "My Back Pages"

I think there is a certain kind of person for whom life really begins once we realize how young we actually are.

When I was in high school my friends put on a very passionate and well-thought-through production of a play called This Is Our Youth, and though I remember little of the plot now (I think there are disaffected rich kids in New York and possibly a drug problem possibly with cocaine?), that phrase stuck in my head: this is our youth.

Depending on how where you put the emPHAsis it can be somewhat disbelieving:

this is our youth??

this is our youth??

or it could be triumphant, bold and honest, brave and just generally accepting that "play the hand you're dealt" is good advice all around:

THIS is our youth!

But no matter how you slice it syntactically, our youth this unequivocally is and I think we should all do what we can to accept that while, as a generation, we've known pretty much nothing but the constant threat of some kind of impending doom--

(do you remember where you were when Y2K did NOT happen? I had just turned thirteen. do you remember where you were when you found out about 9/11? I was at my locker getting my eighth-grade science textbook. if you had to guess, where will you be when the 2012 apocalypse occurs? I'll probably be in my bed watching something stupid on Netflix!)

--we don't have to drown in our own fear of the unknown, the inevitable, the apocalypse, the world of adulthood. We can take a Prince approach to the subject, and I personally think we should, because this is IT.

(Previously: "Old Before Your Time")


The song: The Byrds, "My Back Pages" (original by Bob Dylan); 1967

Hey everybody, it's 2012!!



Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hey I Heard You Were A Wild One, OoooOoooOOooH: Modern Love

I've been listening to a lot of pop music recently.

Not just "pop music" in the acceptable-because-obscure genres.

We're talking, like, the good the bad and the ugly of today's pop scene.



There are two pieces of advice I'd give to the thinking person looking to navigate the waters of Actual Current Pop Music:

1. There will ALWAYS be something to embarrass you about any given song; I think that's what puts the "bleeding" in "the bleeding edge of current pop music".

2. No, most songs on Top 40 are not great. Most are not even good. But the way I see it, very FEW songs are actually good at all, just in general.

So if you hear something at least once or twice an hour on Top 40 radio that makes you
tap your foot or your hand or
has a hook that gets stuck in your head or
makes you want to roll the windows down and turn it UP

that's actually a pretty good hit rate considering the odds.


Then there are two more, just thoughts about the issue of appreciating POPULAR popular music:

1. There are two schools of thought in this world: "People are stupid. So if a lot of them like something, it must be stupid."; and "People are stupid, but if a lot of them like something, it could actually just be SO good that it penetrated the stupidness of people."

Because, yes, people are stupid and never more so than when considered in large groups. BUT people are also innately musical AS A SPECIES and programmed to love love AS A SPECIES, so it's not like even large groups of people can't recognize a good pop song (which is nothing simpler and nothing more complicated than a piece of art appealing to those two qualities of people).

2. Yes, pop music uses a lot of computers. Sometimes in ways that are stupid. But ALSO sometimes in ways that actually enhance the overall sound of the song.

and FURTHERMORE, it's not like someone has invented a Pop Music Song Creating Program.

It's still all humans, all human thoughts and human words and human tastes when it comes down to it. We use tools! And a computer is a REALLY GREAT TOOL.

So for every song that comes on the radio that makes you want to roll the windows down and turn it UP

there was a human in a studio somewhere who felt that feeling too and was smart enough to recognize it for what it was.

and god damn it aren't we all brothers and sisters????????????????


Okay. That's all the philosophizing I had for today. Enjoy this song. It fucking RULES.

The song: Flo Rida feat. Sia, "Wild Ones"; 2011


Thursday, April 12, 2012

What We're Having Here Is A Conceptual Interpretation Issue: DANCE Like You Are On FIRE

Note: This post was amended approximately six hours past the time of original writing.

aka SHIT guys I cannot BELIEVE I forgot to tell you this movie was co-written and directed by Sylvester Stallone!

As I feel is the case for most people, it's the times when my brain is the most tired that my thoughts tend to be the most darkly repetitive.

(Determining brain-tiredness vs. body- or soul-tiredness is a skill I am only beginning to acquire.)

Although it is my reflex now to turn toward pop music at these times, it's been my experience that pop music can really inflame my various anxieties and obsessions, if they are prone to inflammation.

Nope! When my brain is tired and my thoughts are too, music is NOT what I need. I need a dance movie.

And LAWD, did I find one.


What if I told you that there is a sequel to 1977's disco hit Saturday Night Fever? And that it is called Staying Alive? And features John Travolta reprising his role as Tony Manero. . .but this time he's trying to make it as a modern dancer on Broadway? And that the show in which he is eventually cast is a sexy S & M disco interpretation of a man traveling through hell called "Satan's Alley"? And that the entire movie is basically one long, ridiculous dance sequence? And that the music was provided by the Bee Gees?

And that the villain of the movie is a bearded choreographer/director who wears knee high boots and large cardigans who literally lurks and skulks around the theater, evilly smoking? And that he gives an impassioned speech midway through the movie about how the only way this Sexy S & M Disco Interpretation Of A Man Traveling Through Hell can work on Broadway is if the dancers really sell it, really feel it, really act as human interpreters of body language?

and then

what if I told you it is available on Netflix Instant?


I will caution you: Staying Alive is not an endeavor to be attempted lightly. You must have a high tolerance for young John Travolta and his meaty, passionate face.

I will also note that I actually think this is quite a good movie ASIDE from the inherent kitsch value (which is of course through the roof).

But the reason why I chose this and not any other movie I've watched in the last two months to feature on In Bed With Amy Wilson is because

well, I don't know. It's because

it seems to sum it all up, what I've been trying to say. You've (I've) got to really sell it, really feel it, I suppose.


PS Staying Alive also features the best closing lines I have EVER seen in a film EVER.




Seriously, guys! This movie was directed by Sylvester Stallone. In 1983. He apparently is an idiot savant.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

There's Nothing That A Hundred Men Or More Couldn't Do: "Africa" is Why We Are The World

So I don't think I have synesthesia, fascinated as I am by the concept.

But I DO think I have some sort of text-only form of it
by way of what I can only describe as compulsive metaphor-izing,
an affliction from which I have been suffering
for what I can only describe as my entire life.


So all I can say is

if THIS SONG were to be an experience

I think it would be a head massage at the Aveda beauty school.

Sure, it feels a little cheap and

it kind of smells too much like trees but

it's just so SOOTHING.

So I bless the earnest world-music trend of eighties pop for taking us there.

The song: Toto, "Africa"; 1982

Here's to the smell of sapmoss!

(whatever THAT is)


There Ain't No Doubt Who I'm Talking About: "Kentucky Woman"

Being the generally sort of squishy person that I am, there are very few love songs from which I cannot take SOME kind of lesson or reflection on my own (not all that remarkable, all things considered) life.

Of course, the reality of many love songs is that they are expressly written to be SO general that pretty much anybody could do just that.

(It's my understanding that that's why Pinterest was invented? But I am easily confused.)

BUT there are many love songs that feel very situation-specific and those are usually the best, even if you have no entry into the experience described.

I believe there WAS a Kentucky Woman in Neil Diamond's life, and whoever she was, I hope she enjoyed having a Neil Diamond song about her.

(Wouldn't you?? Look deep into your heart, and that particular truth is there.)

The song: Neil Diamond, "Kentucky Woman"; 1967

I bet she did like it, because whoever this Kentucky Woman was she does NOT seem like the kind of person who would enjoy being the subject of a more typical love song.

I like that about her!


Friday, April 6, 2012

So I Said Turn Up The Music Take Me Home Or Take Me Anywhere: Why I Will Never Forget Jens Lekman

In many ways, my upbringing was somewhat unusual.

For instance, as a product of my parents' mixed marriage, I was raised both Jewish and Christian.

(I turned out to be a humanist who feels vague stirrings in early-mid April.)

I was also born and raised in Portland, Oregon.

I graduated from high school and moved to Michigan in 2006, by which I mean to say that when I lived in Portland, we all knew it was a cool place but it hadn't quite become the Behemoth of Coolness from which I currently feel myself to be in quite happy (self-induced) exile.

But in any case, while being born and raised in Portland, Oregon, was in many respects exactly the same as being born and raised anywhere anyone else was, I will admit there were some distinguishing factors.

(My views on recycling, for example, are hopelessly entrenched.)

Where it came to music, I had to SPRINT to have any HOPE of keeping up with the cool music my cool music friends listened to. And usually I did not keep up, but still lamely tried in the way high-schoolers do, all the while listening to Top 40 radio alone in my room and in my car.

But luckily enough, there was Jens Lekman, the best damn Swedish pop musician of today.

(Yes, I said it, and I will stick with it




The song: Jens Lekman, "Black Cab"; 2003

This song, which apparently was actually played in heavy radio rotation in Sweden, features our narrator Jens leaving a party after the close of public transportation and getting into an unmarked private cab--knowing it might very well be driven by an ax murderer but so lost in his shame and guilt about ruining the party with his mopiness that HE JUST DOESN'T CARE!

(We've all been there, right? Metaphorically speaking.)

In addition to being awesome, this song also gave me a point of connection to my super-cool cool music friends--and I am glad of it, too, because even though things have changed a lot since 2003 for me, for us, and for Portland--

you haven't LIVED until you've driven over one of those bridges in your friend's mom's Subaru Outback singing at the top of your lungs




PS This song also reminds me quite a bit, and rightly so, of another song tailor-made for teenage angst-scream-singing. It reminds me of a different time in my life, and of different people, and of things that are less unreservedly good. But it simply CANNOT be overlooked in this discussion of teenage music memories...

The song: The Smiths, "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"; 1986

sing it with me now







(also, hey, flute solo! I do love a good flute solo.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Need Directions To Your Feet So I Can Watch You Walk: "Maps"

Note: This post was amended from its original approximately eight hours after the time of original writing.

(i.e. hey guys! had some more thoughts about this song!)

Tuesday often seems like a pivotal day does it not?

As Tuesday goes, so goes the week.

But sometimes it can be hard to build up enough energy to really attack Tuesday without building up SO much energy that you just want to bust down the doors of your office and run and run and run forever

(in a world where one could accomplish that without wheezing, naturally.)

So here's this song from the bleeding edge of current pop music (the album came out last week, I gather) to control the burn.

The song: Macy Gray, "Maps (Yeah Yeah Yeahs Cover)"; 2012

If you're in an office on this rainy Tuesday, put your headphones in and turn this one up.




I fear I was remiss in not addressing the original version of this song, which is truly a classic love song at this point. (Hey guys it came out almost ten years ago.)

I mean, when searching around for this song after feeling a sudden craving for it this morning, I found cover versions of it from a WHOLE lot of people.

Also when I was researching this song for this post (I have never been a particular devotee of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, feeling myself to be not quite worthy of it glamour- and world-weariness-wise), I discovered that the "MAPS" in "MAAAA-AAAA-AAA-AAPS" stands for "My Angus Please Stay" and it BLEW.



This song is one of those that proves for me that "indie rock", or whatever you want to call the distinctive sound of today, can be distorted and poetic without tipping over into insufferable pretension.

Sort of like how I really resisted reading Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad because I thought it would be unbearable (the cover art, the accolades, the comparisons to authors I hate), but then I had to read it for a book club and I LOVED it.

For me this song is the A Visit From The Goon Squad of the indie rock world.

(i.e. so much more warm and real than you expected and it knocks you off your feet)

The song: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Maps"; 2003

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Outside I'm Masqueradin', Inside My Hope Is Fading: Version v. Version


let's shake off those Sunday Night Blues and play a game I often long to play:

Who Sung It Better?

(really this is all just an excuse to listen to four different versions of the same song in a row,

because there's a lot of jollies there for the gettin' by those of us who get our jollies this way.)

TONIGHT on Who Sung It Better?: 1965's "The Tracks Of My Tears"

(Previous Sunday Night Blues: "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman")


Let's start with the 1965 original--a sweet, harmonious, swingin' little ditty by The Miracles.

Of course, background knowledge about the artist is always going to influence a comparison like this, so I really should offer extensive background on each of these.

But I won't, because I think that would make this post that should be light into something heavy. But I just HAVE to say something about The Miracles before we start.

The Miracles, later known as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, were Motown's first big hit act. They were hard-working and loyal to each other in the way of all the best Motown acts, and of course they grew up in Detroit all singing together as children.

(Sidenote: that type of story is always so fascinating to me as someone who, like many Michigan residents, would like nothing more than to think of a Detroit where children sit around and sing together instead of--well, I'll just say that it seems pretty hard to be a child in Detroit these days and leave it at that.)

In their mid- to late-career they like so many other great Motown artists would fall victim to the proclivities of that megalomaniacal genius, Berry Gordy: Smokey Robinson was rebranded as the "star", and in that single stroke The Miracles went from being Part Of The Art Themselves to being the Backup Act To The Art.

But in 1965 they were The Art, and that's when they sang this song.


Next up we have this magnificently weird, percussive, oddly modern-sounding version recorded by the Jackson 5 in 1968. It went unreleased for 40 years.

Thirdly, Gladys Knight (and her Pips) brings her earthysexy soul goddess vibe to "The Tracks Of My Tears" in 1970:

while in the same year, Dean Martin releases a version of the song that proves that the late-career singles of Artists Past Their Prime can very often wield a "what the fuck, why not??" coolness:

In 1975 Linda Ronstadt threw her hat in the ring. She's working her Little Girl Lost appeal, but this time spinning it as Little Girl Lost (And Found By The Love Of A Good Pop Song). You can tell she really genuinely loves this song:

It has been covered many times since then (and successfully if not particularly soulfully by Aretha Franklin for her Soul '69 album of 1969, which features her in finer form elsewhere), but it gets kind of hard to actually cover a song as popular as this after a while without collapsing under your own weight. So most of the other versions are sort of, well, internally collapsed I would say.

SO what do you think? I'd love to hear it at Perhaps eventually we can gather enough data about what kind of person likes each song to finally figure out What It All Means.

(A noble goal!)

And (she said, more to herself than anything) buck up! It may be Sunday but it's April, and it's all happening.