Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Soundtrack of your life - due 4/20/11

(By the end of the day, let's say, as I have not been as assiduous as I should in getting it posted.)

Last blog assignment, people. Also your last shot at having any fun at all in this course. I always try to include this at the end of the course for a few reasons: For one, it lets people have something personal and creative to include in the portfolio if they want to, because so much of the second half of the course is academically demanding. For another, you've had to listen to my music all semester, so this is your chance to show me (and each other) yours.

The assignment is simply this: If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be? In my head, my life already does. So pick a couple of songs – the precise number is up to you, but maybe 2 minimum, 10 maximum? – and give a short (or long!) explanation of why you would include them of a soundtrack to your life. The explanation can be very personal (“This is the song I play when I kiss my pillow and cry because Marilyn Monroe is dead”) to the fairly impersonal (“This is my favorite song to dance to because it’s got such a good beat”). Again, it’s up to you. Here is my list that is WAY too big because doing this was more fun than doing my real work:

“The Great Historical Bum” - Chad Mitchell Trio (kinda, it’s a really old song, but their version is the one I know best). This is what my crazy illiterate great-uncle Leroy recites any time he’s asked how old he is, so I grew up with it memorized. You ask him how old he is, and he says, “I was born about ten thousand years ago / There ain’t nothing in this world that I don’t know / I saw Peter, Paul and Moses playing ring-around-the-roses / And I’ll whup the guy that says it isn’t so.” He really is totally illiterate – he suffered massive head trauma as a child and lost the ability to read or write as a result. He has a farm in a part of Minnesota that they still haven't gotten around to paving yet. He was pretty much the most awesome uncle ever when I was growing up, because he let me blow lots of my childhood on driving his fire engine and poking sheep with a stick. He also had a brain tumor that took away a lot of his fine motor skills (cleaning and plucking chickens for a dude with no motor skills is not very fun, incidentally), and was once trampled by his own sheep when he accidentally pissed off one of the rams. Wow, it turns out that my childhood was pretty damn awesome. I look a lot like him. Hjalmer Willard LeRoy Hawkins, bless you and your crazy. (I’m allowed to use “crazy” as a noun because I’m getting a PhD, see.)

"Thirsty Dog" - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Oh, man, I love this one. It's fast and loud and my favorite song ever about making an apology. It sort of manages to sum up my feelings about almost every apology I've ever given - the speed of the song speaks to how I always want to blurt out the apology as fast as possible to get it over with, and the lyrics are the perfect mix of genuine shame, regret, embarrassment, self-pity, rage, and alcohol: "You keep nailing me back into my box / I'm sorry I keep popping up / With my crazy mouth / And jangling jester's cap. / I'm sorry I ever wrote that book / I'm sorry for the way I look / But there ain't a lot / That I can do about that."

"I'm Your Man" - Lizzie West. This is a cover version of a Leonard Cohen song. Cohen and his gravelly voice are pretty awesome, but also kind of creepy, so I think this version of it is the sexiest song ever recorded. Hands down. You could try to argue against me, but you would lose, because I am correct. It's also the only song I couldn't find anywhere on Youtube (not her version that is).

"Fuck and Run" - Liz Phair. Oh, hush, this isn't anywhere near as dirty, or as personal, as some of the stuff I could have put on here. This is from kind of an old album, but I only encountered it relatively recently. Phair does a lot of really creative and daring songs about sexuality and relationships, which is part of what I love about her. When I first heard this song, I started smiling, because I thought it sounded like it was going to be a fun song about one-night stands. ("I woke up alarmed / I didn't know where I was at first, / Just that I woke up in your arms.") And then . . . it wasn't. It was about the singer admitting that the way she was treating her life and her relationships was unsustainable, because there was something fundamentally broken about her. By the time I reached the end, I actually had a little lump in my throat at, "I can feel it in my bones / I'm going to spend my whole life alone." I think it really speaks to that little spot in everyone where you're convinced that you're the only one on the planet who hasn't figured love out.

"The Ocean" - Dar Williams. I sing this in the shower like every morning.

"Olga's Birthday" - Rose Polenzani. I used to sing this in the shower every morning.

“Home for a Rest” by Spirit of the West. This is a Scots-Canadian folk rock band. No soundtrack of my life is complete without this one. I first heard this song performed by an enthusiastic Canadian with an acoustic guitar on New Years' Eve, 2003, in Edinburgh, Scotland. It's a great, crazy, drinkin', partyin' song about going abroad to England: "You'll have to excuse me, I'm not at my best / I've been gone for a month / I've been drunk since I left. / These so-called vacations / Will soon be my death / I'm so sick from the drink / I need home for a rest." At the time, I'd been living in hostels in Britain for seven months, surrounded by insane Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and others, who were drunk all the time and occasionally stoned. (Except for the Quebecois, who were stoned all the time and occasionally drunk.) It was a great time: I was never bored even though I was working some horrible jobs, and I loved the people I lived with. Mostly. However, there was always this sense that we knew that the way we were living wasn't really healthy, and that some day we were going to have to go home. That night was just a perfect performance, with all these drunk and desperate expatriates shouting "TAKE ME HOME!" at the end of the chorus, and every time I hear the song, I go right back there in my memory.

"Tupelo," also by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. This gets an honorable mention just because the title of this blog is pulled from the lyrics. Say what you like about how weird the guy is, but he really is one of the most amazing lyricists of the twentieth century.

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