Whatever gets you through the night

Holy smokes! My life currently resembles a working case study in insanity. It feels like I am swimming upstream these days with a whole laundry list of stuff to tackle trailing behind me, which somehow never seems to get any shorter. Between taking on a load of extra responsibilities at work, prepping for 2 plane trips and 1 road trip, staring down the barrel of another birthday, valiantly (read: vainly) trying to get/keep my house clean, and desperately trying to find time to write, I am beat. And with the changing of the seasons literally happening as I type, I know that if I am not careful, I could have a really bad Fall… and don’t even get me started on the upcoming holiday season. It doesn’t even bear contemplating. *sigh*

What can I do but keep moving? For now at least, it is full steam ahead around here and in light of this I would like to present to you a little playlist. I think I’m going to call it my Holy Crap! Mix. If it has a frenetic beat and some unstoppable energy–mixed liberally with a sense of desperation–then it belongs here.┬áPlease enjoy!

Whatever Gets You Through the Night, John Lennon

(Probably the closest thing to disco he ever did, but don’t be discouraged!)

Excuse Me Mr., No Doubt

(My very favorite. Gwen Stefani will mess you up!)

I Hear Noises, Tegan and Sara

(From my favorite Canadian twins. When I am frustrated and tired, I literally can’t play this song loud enough. )

Forever Yellow Skies, The Cranberries (Live in Detroit, 1996)

(Blistering guitars and drums not withstanding, just watch lead singer Dolores O’Riordan’s blur of an arm as she plays rhythm guitar.)

Paper Romance, Groove Armada

(Rather awkward video, but amazing song.)

Out of My Head, The Black Eyed Peas

(The moment I hear that base line, I literally breathe a sign of relief. Best sonic release valve I know.)

This is a list destined to grow. If you have any suggestions for additions, please drop me a comment and let me know.

Why don’t you make like a tree and leave (NSFW)

Tonight’s title probably sounds a little cryptic, but it will all make sense soon (plus, it made me chuckle). Honestly, I had to really stretch for a title this time, but thankfully Biff from the Back to the Future trilogy saved the day again (you’d be surprised how often that happens). I promise that this is not another one of my crackpot theories about music. (Really! I mean it!) What I wish to speak to you about in this week’s little lecture is well… how can I put this delicately? My subject is songs that lyrically tell someone to take a long walk off a short pier, but with a great beat you can dance to. In short, the cheerful fuck-off song (well… so much for putting it delicately). There is a real plethora of songs out there that fit this bill. Death metal has by no means cornered the pissed-off music market. Pop, rock, and even punk are chock full of amazing songs that can inspire bouncing around in your socks in the living room or dancing in your chair at work (I, of course, would never ever do anything so undignified). Sometimes when listening to this type of song you can be having such a great time that you forget how serious or angry or jaded the lyrics really are. The joyful energy of the music can have a masking effect, shielding the listener from the sometimes blunt anguish of the singer. But I find that the combination of lyrics and music often intensifies the experience and can be a great way to work off the negative vibes that accumulate throughout the day. And I’ve assembled a short list of examples here. Feeling stressed? Want to tell someone to go suck on a lemon? Well then let’s get started!

My first example is a no-brainer: 1982’s Goodbye to You by Scandal, a New York-based pop and rock band fronted by Patty Smyth in the early 1980s. ’80s pop is one of my biggest guilty pleasures (I’ll admit it) and this song makes me incredibly giddy whenever it comes on. With its great guitar riffs, manic electric keyboard solo, and Smyth’s smoldering delivery about a love that has sickened, it easily earns it’s place on this list. I’ll warn you though that the video is a little odd. Either someone didn’t quite master their lip-syncing skills or the video producer didn’t bother to match up the recording with the performance. It’s so close, but just enough off that there is almost an uncanny valley effect. Also, whoever thought random freeze-frame close-ups of the band members’ faces was a good idea probably had been smoking something that day. Oh well, here it is in all its slightly unsettling glory:

Next on the list is a song that might seem a little far-fetched at first, but bear with me. I speak of none other than Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 classic Go Your Own Way. True, it lacks the pure pop joy of Scandal, but this song more than earns its place here. The driving beat, the vocal harmonies on the chorus, the amazing bass lines of John McVie, and the plaintive voice of Lindsay Buckingham all add to the energy of the song and build something greater than the sum of its parts. Need to work off some steam really quickly? Take a power walk with this one in your headphones and you’ll be beat by the time the last guitar wail fades. I guarantee it! The lyrics are almost shocking when you stop and analyze them–essentially calling Stevie Nicks out on the carpet and branding her as an ungrateful slut! But the rocking tenor of the song softens the blow to the point that you walk away thinking only, “Wow. That relationship was a bit of a mess, wasn’t it?” It took me years (and a Fleetwood Mac Behind the Music special) to finally catch the true meaning of what he was saying. This time I’ve procured for you a video clip from their 1997 MTV televised reunion, responsible for generating a whole new chapter in the band’s lengthy collective career. As a bonus, you get to chuckle at the antics of drummer Mic Fleetwood. (By the way, I love Nicks and think that Buckingham probably could have handled the break-up better… certainly, he could have done it more discreetly.)

The third example in my little presentation is going to be really obvious. If you are compiling a non-soul crushing soundtrack for telling someone to drop dead, you would be horribly remiss to leave out Cee Lo Green. Let’s face it, his 2010 hit would make this list on the title alone. With a name like Fuck You he’s not exactly beating around the bush, now is he? And this song (and the accompanying video) have so much going on that they could easily merit their very own blog entry. Green is an amazing artist in his own right, but he has this great talent for imitating other singers. And in this song he is channeling Stevie Wonder like you would not believe. He even has a bunch of back-up singers who immediately put me in mind of The Pips (as in Gladys and). In the video we follow the growing pains of young Green, played by actors who do a kick-ass job lip-syncing, as he tries and ultimately fails in his attempts to win the girl of his dreams. It’s highly entertaining and is one of those videos that will give you a major case of the warm fuzzies–at least that’s what happens to me. I don’t know how you could have avoided seeing this video some time in the last year or so, but just in case here’s the uncensored version (NSFW!):

My last offering tonight is a song called Lemonade by Tsunami Bomb, a lesser know punk band from the Bay Area who broke up in 2005. The song was released in 2001, but I first discovered this band around 2002 or 2003 through a now infamous file sharing program called KaZaA (yes the spelling is accurate). Around that time I was seriously craving harder rocking bands that actually featured a female singer, but in those days your choices were either Christina Aguilera or Sarah McLachlan. Nothing particularly wrong with either choice or the genres they represent, but being a huge punk-rock fan I wanted something edgier. And the beauty of music sharing, although obviously illegal, was that you could expose yourself to music you often couldn’t find elsewhere. Tsunami Bomb didn’t always stick to strictly punk, often ranging along both the softer and heavier ends of the spectrum. But this song runs right down the middle. It is raucous and raw with exaggerated drums, the best bass line ever, and lead singer Emily Whitehurst’s surprisingly potty mouth lyrics. Even after all these years–and a couple cart loads of baggage connecting the song to someone I used to know–this song still hits a satisfying chord inside me. My list could never be complete if I left it out. (Sorry for the Powerpoint slide show for a video, but they never made an official video for this one and good live performances on YouTube are apparently in short supply.)

This is just 4 songs and I’m willing to bet that it is just the tip of the iceberg. What’s your favorite cheerful fuck-off song?

No greater feeling than hope

Okay, so it’s been a little while since I last posted. Frankly, it’s been an insane couple of weeks. Between 2 weekends out-of-town in a row (first for the amazingly, unexpectedly stressful 90th birthday of my grandmother and second for a professional conference) and a lovely headache that has been with me in one form or another since Monday… well, finding the time to write has been a bit tough, not to mention finding the ability to stare at a glaring computer screen for minutes on end. But enough whining. Here I am! Have I been missed? Who can say?

As for myself, I have literally been itching to write something. That list of entry ideas in my phone just keeps getting longer. I keep latching onto one of about 4 ideas and then experiencing what amounts to long and excited inner monologues that all ultimately ran out of steam before a computer, a piece of paper, my phone, or my head could be scraped together. And tonight that list is just going to have to stay as long as it is. No my friends, instead of delivering a speech about my first concert experience, my first album, the bitter sweetness of happy music written by a future suicide case, or that promised term paper on the role Rush has played in my life, you’re going to get something completely different. You’re getting The Black Eyed Peas…

One of the lowest points in my life occurred very shortly after moving to Charm City in the fall of 2009. Having recently graduated from library school in May, I was one of (but probably not the) first in my class to find a job in my field that would pay me. The only catch was that I’d have to leave Boston and move to Maryland… on the depleted financial resources one is inevitably left with after pursuing a graduate degree… and my husband would have to quit his job… in the middle of an economic meltdown. Well, there were not jobs for me in Boston, academic advisers had always sung the praises of being willing to move out-of-state increasing your chances of employment, and my husband had no attachment to his company. So we threw out, sold, or gave away everything we possibly could, borrowed money from family, and made the smallest, cheapest move we possibly could. At first everything was great. We found an adorable apartment in a decent neighborhood. I began settling into my current job. My husband began his new job search with a sense of casual optimism. And we began to explore our surroundings. This was late summer.

By January, the situation (both within our apartment and without) had changed dramatically. After taxes and health insurance for the both of us, my pay check was ill-suited for tackling the mountain of debt we’d racked up the last few years. My husband was still searching for a job, but had grown increasingly despondent. Like most people tend to do when facing the prospect of long-term unemployment, he stopped sleeping at night, began sinking into video games, and did not like being asked how his day went. I experienced the biggest bout of self-doubt it has ever been my misfortune to subject myself to and I stopped answering my phone because they only wanted one thing and I had to pay my heating bill first. We were feeling really low. The dreary winter weather wasn’t helping anyone either.

Now we were lucky. Really lucky. We had the amazing luxuries of a steady, if inadequate, paycheck and our wonderful families who went above and beyond helping us get by. During the first part of the economic downturn, a lot of people couldn’t even count on that much. I’m not painting such a bleak picture about my own situation to belittle the harsher reality of other people. But in my own limited experience, this was as bad as it has ever gotten. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before we hit bottom and things started to change.

It was some time around early February when my husband started finding job listings for jobs he was actually qualified for and felt happy about doing. He applied and started to get interviews that looked really promising. And a hotel in D.C. started actively courting him for his event a/v expertise. He started doing free-lance work with them. It stopped feeling like we were suffocating and we got a little extra money in our bank account. It truly felt like we were on the verge of something good happening.

One night around this time my husband decided to buy The Black Eyed Peas new album, The E.N.D. and he popped it into the car stereo. We’d left the darkly pessimistic city to go exploring out in the gentrified parts of the county. It was getting late and the temperature was falling. There hadn’t been any snow for a while, so the landscape was dead, gray, and dismal. But for the first time in months, we were both in a good mood. There was a sense of optimism we’d been greatly lacking and I could feel it bubbling just below the surface as we drove back towards the city. We talked about the future and smiled at each other. We made jokes and laughed and for the first time in a long time I didn’t worry so much.

And then this song came on:

Not being much of a fan before this album, and having had my head in the sand for the last few months, I’d never really heard this song before. I’d certainly never seen the crazy video they made for it. I remember sitting in the car and gazing out of the window. And this thrilling and powerful feeling of hope seemed to fill me. It was so intense, I think I may have cried. I feel silly to admit it, but reliving the memory right now is making me cry. Don’t tease me about it though…

Long story short, that sense of hope turned out to be right. A week or two later, my husband got his pick of three job offers and everything changed.

I’m still not a huge fan of The Black Eyed Peas. Their earlier work doesn’t really attract me and their latest album, The Beginning, is honestly underwhelming. But The E.N.D. has become one of my all-time favorites. Some of this is admittedly on the strength of my memories associated with the song I Gotta Feeling. But it is truly a worth wild album that is tightly crafted and possibly one of the last albums we will hear that was created expressly to play in order in one sitting–something that is becoming very rare in this iTunes world. And no matter how I may feel about their other work, if you ask me what I think of The Black Eyed Peas, the first words out of my mouth will be, “Oh, I love them!”