Why I don’t listen to the Counting Crows anymore

I have a very clear memory of my first impression of popular music. I was still mainly listening to the oldies station in the back of my mother’s car in those days and was just starting to listen to music on my own. It would be years before I would seriously evaluate the music I was listening to, let alone figure out my own tastes. Being only a child of seven or eight flipping through stations on my tiny little boom box, I summed up main stream radio in very simple terms: Music is about love and longing. Either you’re wishing you were with someone new or wishing you could get back with someone old. I had no idea what longing was in those days, but everyone sounded so earnest that I figured it must be something important. And when you think about it, 8-year-old me stumbled on a grain of truth in there. Most music, popular music in particular, revolves around this one concept. Obviously there are many exceptions to this, but we’ll be exploring that sort of thing on another day.

It has been a very strange week around here. I was recently contacted by my one-and-only ex-boyfriend. We hadn’t had any contact for about 10 years and our history is really starting to get a bit ancient. I won’t go into all the gory details, but he was seeking some closure and hoping to grant me some as well. We’re both now happily married to other people and agree that things turned out for the best. But for a bit there, my mind was boiling. Our parting was as tragic and angst-filled as any emo teenager could ever hope for. And I thought my memories of that relationship had faded away, that the past had lost its sting. But it turned out I was wrong. I don’t want to go back and I wouldn’t change anything now. I’m in a loving long-term relationship with the man of my dreams. And the lessons I learned in my failed relationship all played a part in making me the person I am today. But my reaction to this whole experience has truly caught me by surprise. Things I hadn’t thought about in years started floating to the surface and I was amazed by the strong emotions they still sparked in me.

What really got me was the music that kept creeping into my head. I spent a lot of time lost in thought when I should have been doing other things, and there was always a song running in the background of my inner-monologue. Every now and then I’d kind of come to and finally listen to what was running through my head. Every time the song turned out to be strangely appropriate. Most of them were songs from those days, but some were new songs that suddenly took on new meanings. The list grew so fast that I had to start writing the songs down. There are many more than I want or need to go into. But to give you an idea of what was happening in my head earlier this week, here are three of the most appropriate ones: one bitter, one wistful, and one chaotic. All three were around when I was originally dealing with the break-up, and all three represent aspects of what I was going through then.

You’re So Vain by Carly Simon (specifically the 2nd verse)

Name by the Goo-Goo Dolls

Medication by Garbage

So now you’ve been reading for quite some time and you’re probably wondering what this has to do with The Counting Crows. Well, let me explain. When the relationship ended, I didn’t listen to music for several days. It seemed like every song I heard reminded me of what I had lost or literally said things I wasn’t ready to acknowledge. But this didn’t last and after acquiring several CDs from my sister and a dear friend, I started listening to music again in like it was water in a desert. It was around this time I picked up The Counting Crows first major album August & Everything After. Already seven years old when I bought it, it was new to me. And every song mirrored the turmoil I was experiencing inside. I listened to it constantly for a month or more and found some kind of respite with it. Like most of us have experienced at some point in our lives, I realized that what I was going through wasn’t new. I wasn’t the first to be hurt and I took a little bit of comfort in knowing that someone else had felt the same way. I loved that album. But I listened to it so much that it is now inextricably linked to that time in my life and to my memories of that relationship. I can’t listen to it, even after all these years. It’s not because I dislike the band and it isn’t because the music is bad. It doesn’t matter that I have/am/will make peace with my past. I just don’t have the heart to listen to it. It’s a bit like visiting a grave.

Despite my constant repetitive listening to this album, there was one song I always skipped. It hit home in ways none of the others ever did and I could never get past the first few lines without crying. I guess time does heal a lot of things because (thankfully) that is no longer a problem.

I want to end this entry with some amazing philosophical statement that summed up the importance of music and dealing with the things that life throws at us. But whatever I say will probably be trite and inadequate. The interplay between music and memory can sometimes be a painful experience, but in the end I know that it is useful. The Counting Crows played a big part in helping me to sort out my emotions and to move on with my life, but in the process they became a play list casualty.

The radio program This American Life has a wonderful exploration of the importance of the break-up song, which is definitely worth a listen to. Sorry for the link, but I can’t get WordPress and their embed code to play nicely together. Just trust me and follow the link. It is a great story and probably says somethings more eloquently than I can.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/339/break-up?act=1

Moby and the lights on the Charles

I’ve been feeling nostalgic for Boston lately. Anyone who knew me when I lived in Boston would probably find this ironic, because at the time I gladly told everyone who would listen that I hated it there. Living all my life until the age of 26 in the sunny (read: blistering hot) climes of southern Arizona, I decided I wanted to do something more with my life than shelve books in an elementary school library. I got the brilliant idea to apply for grad school, move to the other end of the country, take out a ton of student loans, and get a master’s degree in library science.  Madness, you say? Well, probably. But it was madness my husband was happy to assist with. So we packed up and we went. Leaving my home, family, and everything I’d ever known was one of the hardest things I have ever done… and it turns out that it was one of the best things I have ever done.

Living in Boston was quite the experience. We existed without a car for over a year and I took the “T” everywhere. I ran around like a maniac trying to juggle classes, readings, part-time jobs, internships, and commuting. Our apartment was tiny, with no amenities to speak of, and we lived in Allston which is affectionately known as the “student slum”.  While we were there, Massachusetts had 2 of their snowiest winters in decades (this was before last year’s crazy snow) and I just about froze my butt off. I struggled with bouts of seasonal depression and learned to have a healthy fear of winter. We struggled with money more than we ever had before and it seemed like we were always waiting for my student loan check or my husband’s under-employment check (gotta love the liberal welfare system in MA!). The whole time we were there, I pined for Arizona like it was some mythical land of sunshine and goodness. I even became known around campus as that chick from Arizona. I wanted to go home in a big way and many of my journal posts from that time period are dark, pessimistic, and (let’s face it) down right whiny.

But I also found my niche in Boston. I worked hard and did really well in school. I built up my resume and made contacts I still use today.  I was more active and energetic than I think I have ever been. I discovered the joys of little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, tasty pizza made by guys with heavy Mexican accents, authentic dim sum downtown in China Town, and thoroughly explored the world of beer. I adored this little ultra-green bagel place and spent hours walking around in the Boston Public Gardens and the Museum of Fine Art. I made some wonderful friends who I will treasure for the rest of my life. I grew and changed there. I discovered that I could completely uproot myself (and my wonderful husband) and totally start again somewhere else. I became so much more independent and I found an inner strength I never knew I had.

Perhaps my last two years in Charm City and it’s less glowing social success has got me looking back more fondly on Boston. Perhaps I miss the collegial atmosphere of a graduate program and the ease at making friends among lots of people also looking to build a new life for themselves in a new place. Perhaps it is the fact that I recently rediscovered that my old on-line journal has a surprisingly large amount of positive entries from those days. Most likely it is all three mixed in with a healthy dose of greener grass on the other side. Either way, I found some great music while in Boston. And now I feel like sharing. Aren’t you lucky?

Something that makes Boston unique for me is that much of the music memories I created there are so deeply entwined with location. Listening to The Ting Tings reminds me of driving down a specific hill on Chestnut Avenue towards Beacon Street. Stratosphere by Junkie XL always reminds me of walking through this little green space from the Fenway train stop to the campus. And Invincible by OK Go will always call to mind riding the B-line past the Boston University campus on Com Ave. Most of the time my music memories are connected to the person who exposed me to that band or to a specific event. But with most of my memories tied to Boston music, it is the geographic location that is the key. The activities are mundane, everyday tasks that do not really stand on their own. Except for one…

Like the others I mentioned in passing, this memory and the song associated with it are tied to a very specific location: Memorial Drive, along the Charles River in Cambridge. The song: Ooh Yeah by Moby. It was fall, but not yet cold. I was in the middle of my internship working with a collection of old court docket books for the Harvard Law Library. It had been a good day spent on the job and I’d met up with my friends and my husband. We had probably gotten something to eat and were now heading back home to the other side of the river. The Charles River is  beautiful and winding, bordered by two main arteries: Memorial Drive and Storrow Drive. Street lights and stop lights line these roads and after dark they shine on the water in greens, reds, and whites; almost like Christmas lights. We climbed into our car, my husband driving, my friends piled in the back, and I in the front passenger seat. Getting a sudden urge, I plugged my Ipod into the dashboard and selected this song. We drove home in the dark, looking at the lights shining along the river. I feel completely calm and content, something I can assure you is very rare in a grad student. It was almost a surreal moment and it has stuck with me. Even now, I can’t listen to it without feeling a little of that calm.

I will leave you with one parting anecdote on what life was like in Allston, the student slums that I called home. One day I am walking down Harvard Ave, a unique area with comic books shops, Russian grocery stores, and Korean restaurants. Weaving through the foot traffic past the dingy store fronts, I notice that on the wall in the alley between two buildings someone has sprayed painted the words, “Have a nice day!” That was Allston for you. Sketchy, but friendly.

Do you have a song that reminds you of a certain place?

Everything old is new again

I realize it has been quite a while since my last post. Trying to get me to produce regular entries seems to be a bit like trying to nail jello to a tree. Not for lack of ideas though. My latest excuses include being away working at my employer’s annual convention in Florida and then returning home to a very sick husband. I was exhausted and my immune system must have been at an all time low because it wasn’t very long before I got sick too. After being really sick for a week, it turned into a sinus infection and I finally got some antibiotics. I’m not back to normal yet, but it no longer feels like someone hit me in the face with a brick.

I’ve been thinking lately about the cyclical nature of music styles and trends. It has been said that there are no new ideas, that everything is reused. The romantic, idealistic side of me believes that creativity and originality are both alive and well somewhere. The realistic side of me acknowledges that nothing is ever created inside a vacuum. Everything is inspired by something else. But sometimes pulling from the past can be stifling rather than stimulating.

Case in point: Beady Eye. Maybe you’ve heard of them? The first few time I head their single, The Roller, they were distractingly familiar. The sound is tight and the production values are slick, hinting at some good label connections (although with the equality and economics of recording equipment these days, good production is hardly a distinguishing mark). I’d sit in the car listening really hard and wracking my brain as to where I’d heard them before. I finally figured out who they sound exactly like. Have a listen and see what you think? If you were aware of music in the 90s at all, I’m sure you’ll get it.

Obviously, that’s not the official video. I can’t make this too easy for you, can I?  But I’ll bet you’ve figured it out by now. It sounds exactly like…. wait for it…. Oasis! That lovely Beatle-esque Brit band that was pretty much everywhere in the 1990s. If you weren’t listening to their music, you probably at least knew that the band was fronted by Noel and Liam Gallagher. And a more volatile, bombastic, and British swear word infested musical relationship there has never been. Well, there’s a reason why Beady Eye sounds exactly like Oasis – they are Oasis… minus Noel Gallagher, that is. Apparently he couldn’t take dealing with his brother anymore and split in 2009 (I didn’t even know they were still producing music that late! I lost track of them in the early 2000s. Go figure). The rest of the band decided to keep going and chose to change their name to reflect their new make-up. But as far as I can tell that is the only thing they changed.

Maybe I’m judging too harshly, but I feel like they really passed up a good opportunity here. They sound exactly the same. For all I know, Noel could still be lurking in the background. You can’t even tell he’s left the picture. They could have taken his exit as a cue to shake things up and actually be a new band. With some creativity and experimentation, they could have produced something truly new and worthy. Instead, they keep pulling out songs that could have been living in their backlog for a decade. The ironic thing is that it is the first time in years I’ve head their current material played on American radio. This disappoints me even more because it rewards them for playing it safe. Maybe it’s more a reflection on me than them. I’ve grown and changed over the years, and my musical tastes have expanded and evolved accordingly. The 30-year-old me craves something new from them and is having a little temper tantrum for not getting it.

So it really appears to be true: everything old is new again. Oh well, they used to be a favorite of mine when I was 14. In honor of that (and to appease 14-year-old me for bashing one of her favorite bands), here’s my favorite old Oasis song. Ironically it’s one of Noel’s songs and, given my little rant, it feels oddly appropriate here. I remember being really excited when I first saw this video in 1995. Looking back through their catalog, I remember now how much I was into them in those days. And given their strong influence from the Beatles, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. Any way,  here you go:

Have any of your old favorites come back to haunt you?