They’re playing my song

Theme songs. You know you have one. We all do. That song that doesn’t just speak to you, but speaks for you. Theme songs come in two different flavors: philosophical and subliminal. The former is a conscious choice, while the latter is more a reflection of our unconscious.

Philosophical theme songs are often easy to find and are generally straight forward. They serve as our own personal propaganda campaign and support the image that we wish to present to the world. A biker might choose something tough, like “Bad to the Bone” (George Thorogood and the Destroyers), while a lady-killer (or someone who wishes they were one) might choose something like “Sharp Dressed Man” (ZZ Top). Silly examples, I know. But they are believable, right? And don’t even get me started on the songs politicians choose for their campaign rallies.

For me, if I had to pick a philosophical theme song these days, I think it would be “I Heard Ramona Sing” by Frank Black. This comes from his solo work outside of the Pixies and is also found on the soundtrack for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The lyrics, specifically the first verse, appeal to my sensibilities and play off of the image I am currently cultivating here–the thoughtful music fanatic.  “I had so many problems/Until I got me a walkman/I really liked it a lot and/They walked right in and they solved them.”

The second type of theme song, the subliminal, is more likely to choose you than the other way around.  Unlike with philosophical theme songs, whether you like this song or not is irrelevant. You’ll probably just be minding your own business, idly flipping through radio channels or listening to that new album you just bought. An innocent turn of phrase will catch your attention and suddenly you know that this song has got you pegged. Discovering this type of theme song can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience. The lyrics may hit too close to home, revealing secrets you may not have admitted even to yourself. But you know that what it is saying is true.

I recently had this experience with “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem. I love this song, don’t get me wrong. It is fun to listen to and always gets me going when I’m tired in the morning. But it speaks to me on many levels. It is the perfect theme song for someone entering their 30’s, who spends more time at work than away, and who is wondering if this is how the rest of their life is going to be. There is a tired, dissatisfied undercurrent to this song, perfectly counterbalanced by the infectious, sometimes off-kilter dance beats of the instrumentation. “Break me into bigger pieces/So some of me is home with you/Wait until the weekend/And we can make our bad dreams come true/And its a go/Yeah its a go/But if we wait until the weekend, we could miss the best things to do.”

It’s hard to grow up… and it’s even harder when you realize that it has already happened…

Do you have a theme song?

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4 responses to “They’re playing my song

  1. So many possibilities…depending on mood and age and place. It used to jokingly be the awesomely awful “One and Only” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8f2mW1GFSI)
    Now, who knows, maybe Regina Spektor’s “On the Radio”

    “This is how it works
    You’re young until you’re not
    You love until you don’t
    You try until you can’t
    You laugh until you cry
    You cry until you laugh
    And everyone must breathe
    Until their dying breath

    No, this is how it works
    You peer inside yourself
    You take the things you like
    And try to love the things you took
    And then you take that love you made
    And stick it into some
    Someone else’s heart
    Pumping someone else’s blood
    And walking arm in arm
    You hope it don’t get harmed
    But even if it does
    You’ll just do it all again”

    • Both songs are valid, even if the first one made me chuckle. And I think they are great examples of both types of theme song. Thanks for sharing and supporting my theory! 🙂

  2. That to close to home part was beyond true. I don’t even like to admit to myself what my sublimial theme song is… Little Lion Man, Mumford and Sons. “Weep for yourself my man, you’ll never be what is in your heart”. My philosophical theme song is Swan Dive by Ani Difranco. My life would not be complete without Ani. “All the chance that I need is one in a million and they could call me brilliant.” Ahhh, the complexities of my mind in other people’s lyrics.

    • I love Mumford & Sons, but I admit their songs can really do a number on you if you hear them on a bad day. I personally find more commonality with their song The Cave. “I’ll find strength in pain and I will change my ways. I’ll know my name as it’s called again.” It hits chords I sometimes wish that it wouldn’t.

      Thanks for sharing!

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