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Random Shuffle – Regina Spektor, They Might Be Giants, Elvis and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

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“Fidelity” – Regina Spektor
From Begin to Hope

My wife and I are different people when it comes to music. My wife is a radio listener. When we got married she had maybe 30 CDs. When it comes to naming her favorite bands, I'd have a hard time coming up with a list. I think she would too. I can come up with her top two (They Might Be Giants and Wilco). But after that I know of a few artists she likes, but none that I could elevate into a top spot.

She likes French music in the same way that she likes French films, French TV, French food and anything to do with the French people. She is a French teacher and she collects anything she can to do with the country and the culture. It isn't so much that she loves the music but that she likes that it comes from France. That is to say I don't think she so much loves the sounds as she wants to have things that come from the culture, and to have things she can share with her classes.

Passion isn't really a word I would generally use to describe the way she feels about music. Me on the other hand am fairly obsessed. I am constantly finding new music. I spend most of my days and nights plugged into some form of music or another. Whereas I'd have a hard time elevating music my wife likes into a top five list, my problem would be not knowing which bands that I love to put above the other.

I simply experience music differently than my wife. Sometimes I wonder how in the world we ever got together as music is so vastly important to me, and for my wife – not so much.

Then a song like “Fidelity” comes along and I remember.

My wife adores this song. Positively loves it. When it plays over the stereo a change comes over her. She transforms into someone else. Her face lights up, her body begins to move.

She sings. She sings! She sings along and dances and there is nothing in this world but her and this song.

I've seen her completely drained and exhausted, suddenly become this transfixed beacon of exuberance when the songs plays. I've seen her demurely sitting in the corner at a party, not knowing what to do with herself, playing the wall flower then suddenly becoming the very life of the party singing and vamping along to Regina Spektor.

No, my wife doesn't obsess over music like I do. She isn't concerned with listening to every new record she can get her hands on. She doesn't sit up nights curled up on the couch weeping over some sad bastard song playing through her iPod. But she loves music just the same. Whenever I shake my head wondering how we ever got together in the first place I try to remember “Fidelity” and the simple joy of a girl with a song that moves her.

“Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head” – They Might Be Giants
From Then – The Early Years

Speaking of musical difference between me and my wife, she absolutely adores They Might Be Giants. While me, I like some of their songs, but they tend to grate on my nerves, and that quick.

She likes their silliness. She likes all things silly. She likes Monty Python and Faulty Towers and most British comedy actually. She likes They Might Be Giants and the Barenaked Ladies. She likes Gérard Depardieu and Mr. Bean. She likes me. I half suspect she married me because I'm a silly boy most days and can make her laugh. That is strange in some ways because while I am often silly, I tend to gravitate towards the sad and languid.

My movie collection contains more extended tear jerking dramas than comedies. My music collection is full of sadness. I read books about death and pain and horror. I enjoy a good bit of laughter, but if you look deep down inside me…

If you get to the heart and marrow of me, you'll find something blue, something sad.

My wife on the other hand she shies away from sad things. She doesn't like sad movies or sad songs or sad stories. I suspect that she finds life to be filled with more than enough gloom that she has no need to find it in her art or entertainment.

I don't know what that means exactly. That my wife likes me because I make her laugh and that I spend my nights feeling gloomy while hiding behind a joke. It just is, I guess. One of those things.

“Go Daddy-O!” – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
From the Swingers Soundtrack

Does anybody remember the neo-swing movement from the mid-nineties? It was retro-hip. It was neo-cool. I was all over it. Or something. It hit me perfect at the time. I had been flirting with vocal jazz and the crooner scene of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra for a couple of years so when bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers started making the scene I jumped right in. Head first.

The music seems quaint now. Silly. Nostalgic. Kind of like Swingers the movie. At the time man, that movie was the bomb. Hilarious. Prescient. Me and the cavalcade of single guys I called friends must have watched it a million times. On the screen it was hip young guys doing hip young things and so were we. Or at least we wanted to be.

I tried to watch it again not too long ago and couldn't make it through. I'm older now. And married. Not in the least bit hip. The guys in the movie now seem tired and worn. Like a joke that's lost its welcome. It isn't a bad movie. It is just no longer for me. I've past the age where it makes any sense.

Like a lot of that music. Listening to “Go Daddy-O!' no longer makes me want to swing or dance. It doesn't move me in the same way it once did. I'm like the old man yelling to my young self to turn that racket down. I guess that's life. Thing change. We move on. What we once liked we no longer understand. Who we once were is not who we are now.

So it goes.

“All Shook Up” – Elvis Pressley
From Pure Gold

Karaoke is all the rage here in Shanghai. Everybody seems to love it, and it is quite an extravagant affair. All over the city you will find entire devoted to the past time. It is an entire industry.

I used to karaoke a little back in the States. We would go to this little dive bar out in the middle of nowhere and give it a try. This place was connected to a sleazy motel and the patrons weren't exactly the kind of folks I usually spent my hours with. Most of the time this hole in the wall was nothing but a dirty little bar, serving drinks to johns and junkies and whoever else was staying at the flea-bag hotel. On the weekends they'd whip out the karaoke machine and while the clientele didn't get much classier, it sure was a lot more fun.

The machine stood over in the corner and there was a little book where you could pick out your songs and give them to the DJ to queue up. The music would play, the lyrics would run across a small television screen and it was showtime. It was you, some random pop song, a few of your friends and a bunch of alcoholics (and come to think of it those were often the same people.)

Here the experience is so much different. No longer regulated to sleazy bars, karaoke can be found in glitzy ballrooms and swanky joints. We recently went karaoke-ing in Hangzhou and the experience was so much different than those in the US I started to think it was an entirely different activity all together. There was an entire building dedicated to the lip-synching game. Inside was a maze of hallways and at least a hundred different private rooms. In the middle was a cafeteria set up buffet style with a myriad of dishes.

Our room had three long couches curved around the walls with a big table in the center and a large screen tv to one side. The machine was in a corner and it had thousands of songs plugged in, including many English ones.

We sat for three hours singing songs by Elvis, the Beatles, Garth Brooks, and many others. It was a blast. Walking down the halls I watched big groups of people partying together and even a few rooms with no one but solitary couples singing their hearts out. Music is designed to be a communal experience, something to share. I suspect that the first caveman who ever let out a song, sang it to someone else. For thousands of years people have sat around camp fires, on their front porches, in their homes and sang songs to one another. Karaoke might not be as organic or romantic as that, but it isn't a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon either.

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