THE LINER NOTES:
When I’m in a funk, I retreat to music.
And our 2016 presidential election has put me into a funk. It’s depressing. It’s depressing that a human being so clearly vile as Donald Trump will now be the leader of our great country. He’s a bully. A narcissist. A jerk. And these are the nicer things one can say about the guy.
As I drove home from work on election night, I turned off my tape deck and turned on the radio to listen to the news, eager to hear those early poll results. They were not in favor of human decency. When I walked into my home, my wife was stunned and scared. “I’m sick to my stomach” was uttered more than once that evening.
That night, we went to sleep anticipating the inevitable, and awoke to its confirmation. It was a rough morning. Our daughters, excited to see a woman president, now had to try to comprehend how a bully– a person who represents everything we’re tried to teach them not to be– had been chosen to be president. As dramatic as it sounds, it was difficult to do anything that morning. Still, with all these what if’s and why’s weighing me down, I got into my car to head back to work. The news radio was now trying to explain what happened and hypothesize about what will happen next. I couldn’t handle any more.
I had to turn my music back on. I pressed “tape” and this was the song that played first. I shit you not.
(NOTE: it was the Beatles version, not McCartney solo, but YouTube didn’t have a straight version. Anyway…)
I chuckled to myself when it played. No, it was not getting better. True, it can’t get much worse, but it’s nowhere near getting better. These were my initial thoughts. Oh, the frickin’ irony! I scoffed. I shook my head. And it kept playing.
And by the end, my foot foot was tapping. And then this:
“The Elephant” is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s one of those songs where the music, the actual sounds of the instruments, sinks into my body and lifts me up from the very center of my being. “I can’t stop loving you/So I won’t/So I’ll do it.” Those lyrics might be about a woman. But in that moment, that morning, to me… it was about my country. And then the ending refrain comes floating in: “All that’s left of peace and love is a Saturday night and a little white dove” repeated over and over and over. It’s a bit of poetic gibberish that hit me hard upon this listen– quite likely the 4,865th time I’ve heard the song. My eyes watered. It was a joyful song playing during a moment of fear and anguish. Then the vocals layered “Oohs” over “Heys” over “Nah-nah-nahs” and the question of “Where are you now?” again on repeat.
I took it all in and felt a calm and a peace that only music could provide in that moment. Because: music. No matter what, there will always be music.
And I’ve got to believe it’s getting better. It can’t get no worse.
THAT’S GREAT, BUT HOW’S THE MIX?:
- “Impossible” – The Charlatans UK
- “Stacked Actors” – Foo Fighters
- “I Know What I’m Here For” – James
- “Close the Door” – Idlewild
- “What You Wish For” – Guster
- “T-Shirt Sun Tan” – Stereophonics
- “Buena” – Morphine
- “Getting Better” – The Beatles
- “The Elephant” – Dodgy
- “Super Bon Bon” – Soul Coughing
- “Headache” – Longpigs
- “Here Comes Your Man” – Pixies
- “Pumping on Your Stereo” – Supergrass
- “Beautiful” – Shack
- “My Name is Jonas” – Weezer
- “Top of the World” – Ocean Colour Scene
- “I’m Alright” – Owsley
- “Waiting For Changes” – Feeder
- “Eddie Walker” – Ben Folds Five
- “So What’cha Want” – Beastie Boys
- “Dear Sally” – Ben and Jason
- “This Lonely Place” – Goldfinger
- “We Are Monkeys” – Travis
- “It Must Be Summer” – Fountains of Wayne
- “Let Down” – Radiohead
- “Center of the Universe” – Built to Spill
- “Tracy Jacks” – Blur
- “Cruel to be Kind” – Spacehog
- “Low Light” – Pearl Jam
This tape sounds like me. Today’s me.
Not entirely, but closer than ever before. There are still a few bands represented here that are very much “1999,” but this is still a pretty solid representation of the kind of music I still enjoy today.
It opens gorgeously with The Charlatans’ “Impossible.” Like “The Elephant,” it has the power to transport me from the real world and onto the floating clouds of sound it produces. It’s Bob Dylan by way of Britpop and it’s a song I added to every mixtape I made for others that year. And probably the year after that, too.
As I’m looking at the track list, there are signs here that I was really making an effort to pick up more than just a band’s official albums. There’s a track each from rarities collections by Ocean Colour Scene and Ben Folds Five. There’s an early Travis b-side, “We Are Monkeys.” And also a rare b-side from the band Longpigs. I say “rare” because how many of us were actually buying singles from the band Longpigs? (I was! I was!) This song is fantastic. It’s got a bouncy lovelornness that I often find irresistible in music. And it’s soundtrack music. It’s music you want playing on your headphones as you make you’re way through Boston streets, to work or to play, lost in your own thoughts and dreams. And that’s what I was doing with my mixtapes from this era. I was soundtracking my travels. “Headaches” was perfect for this. Now let it soundtrack your completion of this blog.
Speaking of soundtracks, I want to highlight Idlewild’s “Close the Door.” If you’re familiar with Idlewild, then you know their first album had a rougher, punkier leaning than their subsequent balladry. I loved the images that “Close the Door” would bring to mind, not from its lyrics, but from the sloppy bass groove that opens the track. I always felt it would be a great “cut from black, close-up on wobbly shopping cart wheel” scene opener for a youth-gone-wild indie comedy. Which is probably more detailed than it needs to be, but it’s what I was thinking at the time.
(this video is for the song only)
As I listened through this tape, I was reminded of the effort I would put into timing out songs so there would be no gap at the end of each side. I didn’t like dead air. I wanted the last song to finish exactly as the length of tape ended, so my walkman would click over to the other side and we’d start all over again. No gaps. I did it to perfection on this tape. Side B ends with Pearl Jam’s somber “Low Light,” which runs nearly four minutes. As the song ends, the tape ends. Perfection! Of course, I often had spots at the end of tapes that were a minute or so short from the end. For those times, I had a handful of songs and snippets I would use to fill that dead space. One of my favorites turns up here to close out Side A.
PLEASED TO MEET YOU:
I’ll be honest. Since it’s been a year since I was actively writing this blog, I’ve sort of lost track of who we’ve met and who we haven’t yet. I’ve scanned back through and got a sense of things, but only by way of seeing who was featured in the “Pleased to Meet You” segment. I didn’t look song by song to see who else may have already been introduced. So with that said, forgive me if we’ve already met today’s band– or any others in the near future.
But I do know it was around this time I bought my first Built to Spill album. And I’m 86% sure it was after listening to snippets of songs from Keep It Like A Secret at a Tower Records listening station. “Center of the Universe” is the second song off that album, and I have a vague memory of wearing the sweat-covered communal headphones, hearing this song and being immediately sold. It’s one of their most straightforward pop songs, so one might complain that it’s not very representative of their sound as a whole, but damn it– I’m a sucker for a great, straightforward pop song.
WAIT. WHAT? WHY?
As I’ve been tunefully traveling through time, every mixtape I’ve sampled so far has had one or two “of the moment” bands included that I no longer own or listen to today. Did I really like the songs at the time? Or was I just sampling the music with my (seemingly) expendable income? Some of these bands stuck around for a while. Others were immediately sold for a loss. Two such bands are included here.
Both Feeder and Stereophonics were riding the coattails of Oasis, playing heavier versions of Britpop. Their lead singers’ gravelly voices were facsimiles of Liam Gallagher’s, so young Brits (and I, in Boston) were instantly smitten. Until you realize Liam was actually more talented and had some range. Anyway, neither band stayed in my collection for long. And since I’ve featured Stereophonics in previous posts, here’s Feeder.
THE SUPER ULTRA MEGA SONG:
It might not be that rare track that meant so much to me during this time of my life, but sometimes The Super Ultra Mega Song transcends my little world. Sometimes it’s just a stone-cold classic that cannot be bettered by memories or meaning. Sometimes, it’s just the Beastie Boys. Yeah, you can’t front on that.