Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What's Your Favorite Song?

On the McSweeney's Web site, they ran a series of short essays celebrating favorite songs. I thought it might be interesting to do the same here. It's also a good way to keep BFS active without relying too heavily on me to generate content. Your encouraged to post your own essay on your favorite song. It doesn't have to be as long as what I've written, but it would be nice if it were as maudlin and overblown. Or you can play it straight. Just don't reveal any private personnel matters that might get me into trouble.


Drownin' in this City

I first heard “Within Your Reach,” the last song on the Replacement’s Hootenanny album, while in college. It wasn’t until I bought the album in 1989 (and yes I do mean album, as in LP, as in pressed vinyl) that the power of the song really struck me. The song has soul. Deep, indelible soul.

Here on this classic post-punk album, amidst a collection of drunken and rollicking numbers, was an aching ballad that was more real than any song I had ever heard. Paul Westerberg recorded the song by himself with just a guitar, an effects pedal, and a cheap drum machine. The chords ascend and then descend throughout the song, creating a ethereal numbness to accompany the lyrics that are as pointed and direct as pointed daggers being directed at you.

Ah, the lyrics. Simple, yet powerful and perfect. Angst wrapped in anger topped off with a dollop of self-pity. Resignation climaxing in a wail of defiance. The perfect song for anyone who didn’t get the girl, knows they’ll never get the girl, still wants the girl, and wants her to know it and somehow feel bad about it, but of course she won’t feel bad about it because she’s probably into Richard Marx.

The lyrics play off the classic R and B song, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” But while that song is optimistic that true love will conquer all, the singer here is stricken helpless by love. He lacks all perspective with no hope of traversing natural barriers that metaphorically separate him from love.

“Reach” found some success after it was included in the soundtrack to the movie Say Anything. Fans of the film will remember that it played as the Lloyd and Diane sat pensively on an airplane, waiting to set-out on their life together. Totally inappropriate.

It’s said that Cameron Crowe, the movie’s director, had originally intended for the song to play during the movie’s most memorable scene. When the recently dumped Lloyd stands beneath Diane’s bedroom window, rain beating down upon him as a baptism on his soul, he holds a boom box defiantly over his head. The song that plays is meant to convey the contents of his tortured soul. “Reach” would have captured perfectly the torment that was welling up inside of him.

The movie’s producers probably recognized that this was the money scene, however, and wanted something by a more established artist to drive sales of the soundtrack. So instead we heard Peter Gabriel “In Your Eyes”, a good-enough song, I suppose, but ultimately unsatisfying knowing what could have been.

“Reach” also received extended play on my answering machine during the early- to mid- nineties, a fifteen-second snippet of which preceded the standard “leave a message” request. It annoyed friends, confused relatives, perhaps even vexed a telemarketer or two, but it never achieved the desired effect – to impress girls with my sensitivity and outsider taste in music. For girls to have been impressed, they would not only have had to have been Replacement fans, or at least like the song, but they would have also have had to call. Few did. And thus the song’s pathos touched me even deeper.

The song obviously doesn’t speak to me today as it did then. I no longer play it five or six times in a row. Maturity has a way of wising-up a rebel without a clue. But it is still one of the most powerful songs that I have ever heard. And if you don’t get it, then you ain’t got no soul.

11 comments:

Man with no cute name said...

Dan,

I listened to a snippet of your song. It wasn't quite as depressing as your essay made it sound.

Funny you mention Richard Marx. One of the best/funniest lines I have ever heard was made at his expense by Henry Rollins. Rollins said that Richard Marx music is for chicks, and men who have lost the will to breathe. It might not be quite so funny to your followers in print, but coming from Rollins in a cool, matter of fact delivery made it unforgettable.

As for a song that I really like and recommend to your "Army" I present "Universal Corner" by "X." Extremely motivating, and great for working-out to. Hard to listen to it and not feel better than you did before you heard it.

Anonymous said...

Dan,

That song was painful!

nancy said...

Dan

This is not the casual assignment I thought it would be. So much good music out there amidst so much crap. Since you represented what the Replacements are capable of, I'll throw a bone to somebody else.

I'm going to go with "Summertime Rolls" by Jane's Addiction off of "Nothing's Shocking". Perry Farrell is a maniac, but the man can write. "Summertime Rolls" evokes such a strong visual, for me at least.(Fingernails made of Mother's Pearl?? That's genius. )and gave a relatively clean-living girl such as myself a little trip into the drug-fueled brain of Farrell and I liked it.

"Well....she sings a song and I listen to what it says. And if you want a friend, feed any animal...There's so much space, I cut me a piece with some fine wine...it brought peace to my mind in the summertime.....and it rolls"

As an aside, a close friend of mine from my Chicago days(Kulis) was a DJ for U of I Circle Campus' college radio. He had the opportunity to interview Perry and Co. and prepared his questions very carefully to come off both hip, and reverant. Everything was going great, until Kulis asked "So, who's Jane?" at which point Perry stood up, nearly overturned the table and declared "This is over!" and walked out. So he's a sensitive guy too.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Universal Corner and Summertime Rolls are both righteous songs.

I can hear Henry Rollins delivering the Richard Marx line, so to me, it is funny.

The Perry and the upset table story doesn't really surprise me. I'm sure he got sick of answering for Jane, and perhaps since your friend went to great lengths to avoid cliched questions, Perry thought he could avoid it in that particular interview. That said, you can't write a hit song about a drug addict named Jane and not expect people to inquire about her.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

Laura said...

I would like to offer up Wilco's 'Misunderstood', from the double cd Being There. There is something I find so incredibly sexy about Tweedy's voice, that he could sing the alphabet and I'd find it riveting. Although I can't put into words what I love about his voice (realizing that the adjective 'sexy' is pretty subjective), I think Misunderstood captures perfectly why Wilco is a band for the ages. The melancholy, unsatisfaction, resigation, and borderline rage are captured perfectly. It's a song I can identify with on so many levels, and listen to back to back to back without ever getting sick of it. And, if you've ever had the privlege of hearing it live and acoustic, as I have, you know that it just doesn't get much better than that. To which I will just add one point. If you ever are in the audience when a song of that caliber is being done acoustically, please follow some basic ground rules: Don't talk, scream, or sing along. Enjoy the moment, and remember that we came to hear Tweedy, not you.

Anonymous said...

Dan, I'm a newbie to your blog, but a fan of your other writing and in the day I've spent reading your posts off and on this one is the one I feel most compelled to address - probably because its the easiest or at least the least likely to tick anyone off! So, here goes...

One of the best songs ever has got to be "You are my Sunshine". I know its probably more of hit with the preschool crowd, but personally it reminds me of a peaceful time as a kid and peaceful times with my kids. AND, its been used in a mustard commercial!

Otherwise, I'm not the type of person who can decide on a single favorite. I have favorite songs from various periods of my life: high school, college, post-college/pre-marriage and so on. Ultimately when my life moves on, these songs stay on my favorites list but all are there for good reasons, (well, good reasons according to me and it is my list) so it'd take more time than I have right now to put them all into these comments. Plus, this is my first post and I don't want to seem too eager...

Your choice is a respectable one! Blog on.

The 26th Man said...

Great idea, Dan. Maybe when I have a bit more time, I can add my 26 cents.

I do have one question, though. "Urethral numbness?" Shouldn't you get that checked out by your physician?

nancy said...

Ooh ooh ooh. Can I have another one? It's my favorite cover, so not the same as my favorite original work. Dinosaur Jr.'s cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven".

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

26th Man,

Okay Jeff, that's embarrassing. The word I wanted was "ethereal". I think that I must have misspelled it in the Word draft and Wordcheck changed it during the grammar check. I stand corrected and humbled.

Good to see you blogging again, my pinko friend.

Laura,

Of course you can't go wrong with a Wilco selection. I thought the version of Misunderstood that was on the I'm Trying to Break Your Heart documentary was especially poignant, given the band's struggles with the "man".

You must have been at the same Mississippi Nights concert that I was at when Tweedy came out for an unplugged encore and the frat boys who wandered in from Sundeckers couldn't keep their yaps shut.

Anon,

Your Are My Sunshine was one of the first songs that my oldest child sang for me, so I share your affinity. It's a timeless tune, isn't it?

Nancy,

You are allowed more than one pick. The Dinosaur Jr. cover of Just Like Heaven was one of my first indie rock purchases. I remember one of my college friends was trying to hip me to a John Lennon cover album of old rockers when I played J. covering the Cure for him. He didn't get it. I did. Obviously you did as well.

Thanks for commenting,
Dan

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