This magic moment

Picture if you will, a standing-room only club circa 2005. The walls are painted black, the house lights are up, the shadowy stage is empty except for a collection of glittering instruments resting on music stands, and the room is packed to the gills with anxious spectators all waiting for their free rock show to begin. The crowd is restless from standing outside in the pleasant Arizona spring for the last several hours, jockeying for line position and waiting for the doors to open. The buzz of not-so-hushed conversation fills the air. As the clock ticks its way past 7pm, the noise level rises.

No longer content to stand and wait for the opening act to take the stage, the questions begin to circulate. When are they starting? What’s the hold up? (It is amazing how impatient people can be when waiting for something they didn’t pay a cent for.) Everyone is tired and bored and ready to get the show on the road. But there are no answers from their fellow concert-goers, the occasional roadie strolling across the platform, or even from the disembodied soothing voice of a tech over the house speakers. So the assembled mass continues to stand, fidget, and stew.

Suddenly, the house lights lower and a previously unnoticed bank of televisions on the wall behind the stage dimly blinks to life. There is a sudden hush as every head turns expectantly and the whispering begins. Something is happening! Is that supposed to happen? Is this part of the show? But no… It is only a parade of music videos meant to sooth the impatient room. A collective sigh is issued and for a time it seems like this gesture of generosity on the part of the venue will fall on deaf ears.

And this, of course, is when it happens. The opening scenes of a familiar music video appear, multiplied in miniature across the many screens of the massive wall. The first acoustic guitar chords echo throughout the suddenly quiet nightclub. The first verse begins and the transfixed crowd watches the screens as if in a dream. It begins almost haphazardly, a few mumbled words here, a line hesitantly finished there. And within moments, without prompting, without orchestration, without even conscious thought, the whole room begins to sing.

Maybe it is the familiarity of a song released 9 years before? Perhaps it is the bittersweet loss of a talented singer before his genius was fully appreciated? The cause of this spontaneous musical interlude may never be explained, but no one in the crowd seems concerned. As the song progresses, the voices get louder, until the whole building echoes with a chorus 150 strong. After a few minutes, the song comes to its inevitable end and the room reverberates with a mighty cheer. Goths, punks, and even emo kids grin widely at each other. High-fives are exchanged and the overwhelming pretentiousness in the room takes a nose-dive. Peace and goodwill bubble up and overflow, leaving the room awash in positive energy. In time the opening act comes on and while they do their best to wow the room, they do not receive even half the enthusiasm inspired by this unscheduled sing-along.

Fatigued by the long hours of waiting and feeling like the headliner–a newly emerged group by the name of The Bravery–is not important enough to wait another hour for, my sister and I head towards the exit. Walking out into the cooling desert air, we take with us the memory of one musical, magical moment.

Though it does little to replicate that amazing, impromptu experience, here is the song that so inspired the crowd and myself that evening: Santeria by Sublime.


Eating Crow: Or How I Learned to Love the Cover Song

Okay, I have a confession to make… when I was a teenager, I hated cover songs. Truly and passionately. On principle. In my view, cover songs were simple counterfeits that could never compare to the original intent, feeling, or talent of the artist who created them. End of story. I was young and idealistic, I know. This was probably some of that music-snobbery i was accused of around the age of 16 or so. I persisted in this notion for several years and the good intentions of several well-meant gifts went unappreciated (although to be honest that elevator Muzak album of Beatles covers truly was horrid).

But I finally did come around… eventually. Although in truth it was not because I became older and wiser and finally gave cover songs a chance. No, it was the realization that several songs I adored were actually *gasp* covers themselves. The examples started to pile up and soon I could no longer stand by my fervent ideology. I embraced the cover song and discovered a whole new world of musical delights.

Which brings me to today’s little presentation. A case study (if you will) of Lovesong by The Cure. Originally released in 1989 on their album entitled Disintegration, this is a perfect example of British New Wave at it’s finest. Dark and melancholy, with just the right amount of pop sensibility to make it palatable to a main-stream audience. There is a bit of epic about it as well, bringing to mind images of star-crossed lovers vowing to love each other despite that world war or deadly plague or angry father. The video, however,  has the band moping around in the depths of some cave. Somehow doesn’t do the song justice. But for reference’s sake, here you go:

This is the original and by my 16 year-old ideology, it should be my favorite version, right?

Wrong. My favorite cover of Lovesong was performed by 311 for the 50 First Dates soundtrack in 2004. Taking the song in a different direction, they infuse it with a bouncy, almost reggae quality and add a slight echo to the vocals. It is slower than the original version and sweeter. It becomes a song of devotion, conjuring up images of crowded dance-floors that are suddenly empty when the eyes of two people meant to be together meet across a room. This even happens in the video!

I love this version, not just because it is beautifully performed and masterfully produced. Not just because Nick Sexton is hot as hell in the video. But because it was the first song I danced to with my husband at our wedding. (I’m biased. So shoot me.)

There are many, many, many covers of this song. And I’m sure they are all valid and vastly different. But I recently came across another version worthy of mention. Covered by British songstress Adele earlier this year, she brings a sultry and intimate feel to the song. With understated accompaniment and an amazing voice that ranges from softly crooning to belting out at the top of her lungs, she takes a familiar song and transforms it. It has a seriousness that the other two versions lack.

Songs like Lovesong ( and its many incarnations) show that a song can morph and come to possess a range far beyond their creator’s original intent. They can certainly  sway the certainty of a serious teenager standing by a silly conviction. Or they would have if they’d been around when I was 16…

Do you have a favorite cover song?