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Random Shuffle – Radiohead, Juliana Hatfield Three, Gillian Welch

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I'm put my music collection on shuffle mode and talking about the songs that come up.

I'm less interested in giving a simple review of each song than I am in the personal emotions and memories these songs conjure. I prefer to talk about music as an experience rather than something to be measured scientifically.

 

“Creep” – Radiohead
From Pablo Honey

I saw Radiohead open for R.E.M. during the Monster tour back in the mid-'90s. This was way before Radiohead became the pioneers they have since become and they were mostly known for the single “Creep.” I really don't remember much of their performance either as I was really just waiting for R.E.M

I do remember seeing someone who looked suspiciously like Michael Stipe wandering around the concession area across the arena. It looked just like him actually, all lanky and bald and all of my innards cried out that I should run over and say something. Like most things with me though, my logical and shy side controlled my actions and I stayed in my seat.

When R.E.M. finally did get on stage, Stipe made a comment about watching the Radiohead performance from that side of the stage and I nearly threw up.

I went to that show with a friend from college and one of her friends. I don't remember the friend's friend's name, but I sure remember her legs. She was the driver of the group and when she got into the car she was wearing a pair of jeans. As soon as we got out of site of her house (and presumably her parents) she stripped out of those pants to reveal a short black skirt and a great pair of legs underneath. I never did ask, but always assumed her parents were against such short skirts and so the pants were camouflage until she got out of sight.

Strangely, my friend quit talking to me after that show for no particular reason, as far as I could tell. I supposed I wasn't cool or hip enough for the friend's friend and I embarrassed her. Or something. Who knows? Who cares? I got to see R.E.M and Radiohead on the same ticket which is cool enough for me. Even if I remember those legs more than the show.

“My Sister” – Juliana Hatfield Three
From Become What You Are

I miss mix-tapes. I used to make them all the time – for myself, for friends, for potential loved ones. I loved having 90 minutes to be able to express myself by the songs of someone else. It was great fun to thumb through my CD collection looking for that one perfect song that expressed everything I needed to say and fit thematically between something like CCR's “As Long As I Can See The Light” and the Jayhawk's version of “The Lights.”

With CDs and iPods the mix-tape seems to have disappeared. At least round these parts anyways. Truth is though I made dozens of tapes in my day I only ever received two tapes in my life. The last was from the dear girl who became my wife and the first was from a funny, crazy lady from Arkansas affectionately known as “Woody.”

Woody made me a great mix-tape. It was fun and groovy and filled with a perfect balance of classic songs that I loved and more obscure stuff that I had never heard before. There was some Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Some Stevie Wonder and Sam and Dave. And thia great little number from Juliana Hatfield, one of Woody's favorite artists.

For a long while I only had a tape player in my car and that's where my favorite mixes got played. Woody's mix got preferential treatment for ages. Unfortunately somewhere in college I got a CD player for the car and my days of tape listening pretty much disappeared. I found Woody's tape this summer while cleaning out a bunch of junk. I gave it one last listen before tossing it out.

It was a great tape. I already miss it just as I miss those days of making mix-tapes.

I'm now in the midst of making my first mp3 playlist to give to my wife as a Christmas present. I am enjoying playing my music collection on iTunes and in my iPod and scribbling down songs that might make it into the playlist. It isn't as fun or as well planned as browsing through my CDs to make a tape, but I look forward to secretly slipping it onto my wife's iPod then telling her to play it while she's at work.

I wonder if when the next big method of music distribution comes around if people will lament the disappearance of the mp3 like they did for vinyl and the mix tape.

“Elvis Presley Blues” – Gillian Welch
From Time (the Revelator)

The first time I ever heard this song was while listening to Bloomington, Indiana's independent radio station WFHB in my car driving south down Indiana State Road 37 headed to my in-laws. I knew Gillian Welch from her work on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, but it upon hearing this song that I knew I'd become a fan.

I have made that trip down Hwy 37 on numerous occasions. My in-laws lived about 70 miles away from Bloomington and manys the time either they came up to spend the day or me and my wife would drive down and spend the day with them. Contrary to all the jokes, and sit-com plots, I have found in-laws to be nothing short of wonderful. My wife's mother and father are kind, generous, and loving people.

Home has always been more of a philosophical idea to me than an actual, physical place. As the son of a home builder I spent my formative years moving from house to house. Dad would build a new one, we'd move in and then it would sell in a a year or two. Then we'd move to a rental until dad had another house ready for us. Ad infinitum. As an adult I have perpetuated this concept and moved no fewer than 20 times.

Home is where the heart is they say, and I suppose that's true. But if home can be made of bricks and wood then for me it would look like that little house in Southern Indiana, where I have slept and ate and felt safe on so many occasions for so many years.

Like I said, we made that trip to their house many, many times. Sometimes I think my life has lived upon the road. I can remember traveling the 700 odd miles with my parents every year to visit my dad's family in Eastern Tennessee. School was a daily hour long bus ride, and later a 30 minute trip by car. I went to college, nearly 800 miles away in Alabama. As an adult, work commutes have often lasted over an hour. Visiting family and taking vacations always mean miles and miles of road. Not to mention the countless trips to the store and running errands and such like.

In my life, the road is always full of music. From the radio to CDs to singing softly to myself, while I am in my car, driving to my next destination, music always fills the air. I've always felt that the best place to listen is in the car as well. My mind is diverted enough with the drive to keep me from getting bored or distracted. I don't feel the need to turn on a movie, or play a game, or whatever. Yet the monotony of the road is such that I can pay full attention to the sounds and words of the music coming from the speakers.

And so it was on the day I first heard “Elvis Presley Blues.” It must have been Thanksgiving, for we were taking separate cars and that means I had to go back to work while my wife could stay a few days. It was one of those fall days where the air was cold and crisp but not bitter. The sun was moving quickly towards setting and the skies were clear. It was a perfect day as the Indiana farm land swept by me, and Gillian's plaintive, sad song about Elvis swept me away.

Later, when we arrived at my in-laws my wife and I both talked listening to WFHB and then we smiled knowingly and glowed over how brilliant that songs about Elvis was. She said we'd have to buy that album. I had to agree.

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About Mat Brewster