Every now and then I check the CD cabinetand notice that some of them are missing. If they happen to be the more romantic or ballad songs and albums, I always fin that I’m in a bit of a panic, because like so many people we have made tapes for someone just as we were getting to know them, dong what Al Pacino would call “The wonder of me thing” (Sea of Love). These are the songs like Bonnie Raitt s song, “Something to Talk About,” “They keep saying we stand just a little too close, stare just a little too long, laugh just a little too hard,” or something along those lines.
Anyway, it’s the sort of thing you think about when you think about gossip concerning an office love affair. I’ve noticed that the CDs are in different order as well, and I can tell you that I haven’t heard him play any of them at home. I also notice that CDS like old Rolling Stones (Beast of Burden era stuff), old Led Zeppelin with All of my Love and Kashmir, classic Bowie and Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde, and naturally, Bonnie Raitt and Nick Drake and John Cale – they have all been sucked into a devil vortex where I am quite sure they will reemerge on some cute young things walkman or whatever.
They are the same soulful singers that so many of a certain generation will put on tapes for every individual one has wooed or is wooing or has fucked or is fucking or wants to fucked or wanted to but left unrequited. They are the songs you put on a tape for someone you like, in that way. You think Wow! Those songs, like Nick Drakes Northern Sky and Hazy Jane and Fruit Tree and John Cale, Hanky Panky No-How and Andalucia are all for me. You listen to the tape over and over again, certain that there is some hidden meaning in the lyrics and that he is or was trying to tell me something by through the chosen songs and their lyrics. Something like, You’re wonderful. You’re unique. I made this for you because you inspire me like no one else has, or at least, not in the same way. Oh, bollucks.
For years, I listened to Northern Sky by Nick Drake and for years, I believed it was ‘our song’, a silly notion, I know, and probably one that is best left at Junior Prom, but it is sweet and innocent and why can’t we have our own songs? What’s wrong with that? as Paul McCartney would say. So it was our song, and I knew all the words, I sang it in the bath, in the shower, in the car, I turned it up, I listened to the whole album every night one winter while I was knitting him a scarf and I was happy. Stupid and happy.
I had knit a whole scarf, the first thing I’d ever knit in my life, to that album, to that song. To our song until one day, something happened and it was no longer our song. Or it was, it was mine, it was perhaps someone else’s too, or perhaps nobody’s at all. What I learned what I had invested all of this meaning in a song when perhaps it wasn’t there from the get-to. Such awful revelation.
We are all very egocentric in this regard, certain that the song on the radio are about us, as Carly Simon tells us, ‘you probably think this song is about you.” How many times have you heard a song at a particularly vulnerable time and been quite sure that the singer and songwriter knew first hand the pain your suffering. Your unique stadium self-pity was all right there in the riff. How did they know? Christ, when I first heard Nick Drake sing
Northern Sky, when he put it on a tape for me, I as quite sure it was about us and nobody else. Northern Sky is phrased as a series of questions. Drake wants to know, “Would you love me forever?” “Would you love me through the Winter?” “Would you love me till I’m dead?” “If you would and you could…” and so on. He seeks reassurance, but offers little. Oh sure, he’s ‘never seen magic crazy as this’, ‘never held an ocean in the palm of my hand,’ he tells us. I love Nick Drake, but he’s so needy here, so pleading and desperate and it makes me sad. I guess that’s his point – perhaps.
Drake asks, “If you would and you could….” He wants us to brighten his Northern sky. He wants so much, but what is he offering? I never thought about it until after I found out about the tape for A. I had been so busy offering that reassurance. I find myself, nonethless, saying, Yes yes yes in response to every question, and God yes, I’ll try like hell to brighten your northern sky. He is smart, because who would not like the conceit that they are important enough that they could actually brighten someone’s sky. It makes you feel important. until you find out that you aren’t the only one being asked.
Maybe there is no such thing as a song between two people that reminds them only of the other. It’s only normal that we would ask any lover “if they would and they could…” and find someone in the group that says “yes” then we can have his pick. When someone makes you a tape, you don’t think they’ve recorded the exact same songs for other lovers. So we are careful to make each tape slightly different; they are variations on a theme. We are well familiar with Northern Sky and Nick Drake and Bonnie Raitt and Led Zep. Maybe Led Zeppelin sang it best with, “All of my love to you and you and you and you….”
I am the product of my generation, which I am ambivalent about (but again, that’s another article). If I were to choose a relationship instead anthem at this point in my life, sad to say that I probably\would never have chosen Nick Drake or Bonnie Raitt in the first place. It would be more along the lines of “Hey” by the Butthole Surfers, or “His New Look” by Bong Water, or “Liar” by Henry Rollins or “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” by Moby, but that seems all together too angry. I would guess it’s more along the lines of a song by the beautiful and soulful Aimee Mann. I think the song, “Wise Up” captures this time. “It’s not what you thought when you first began it…” and she ends, as all jaded Gen-Exers do, with the line, “so just give up or maybe the best breakup song of all time and one that is relatively new “Come Pick Me Up” by Ryan Adams.
You see, we’ve seen the Baby Boomers before us become sell-outs and become the Me-Generation, sharking their way up to the top, screwing each other over. Ex-peace-loving hippies, now funding wars, or even worse, turning the other cheek and just not giving a shit because they’ve got soccer practice to think about or the Range Rover is in the shop, and all that free-love just led to a total degradation of women, not a real liberation as so many would have us believe. Not us. So we’re fiercely loyal to each other, but not to any high-flying bullshit ideals. We don’t make promises we can’t keep and we don’t pretend to be super-moral and we don’t give a shit about appearances – in fact, that’s a bit of a problem, because as a general rule, we are a rather unkempt group, sharing clothes for years, and holding on to the Puma and Adidas sneakers of our youth and listening to the plaintive song “Wildfire” because these things are our security blankets. And damn, we need those.
We are an insecure generation, but secure enough in our insecurity to sing about it, write about it, and believe that we have something important to say about it, some insight. We believe that because we are more concerned with substance than style and so perhaps, we have a chance at hitting something real. So when Aimee Mann sings “so just give up…” in that fucking gorgeous voice, and those lyrics that right now, I’m convinced she’s singing to me, that she understands me, I know that she won’t give up. That she means she’ll give up for now. That she feels like giving up. Really feels it. And for a while, she might… But I know that like most in my generation, she may be disillusioned, but that very fact pisses her off, just like it pisses me off, so she won’t give up for too long. That she’ll get back up again.
Not every relationship has a song and probably so much the better because it’s really kind of a corny concept. It either happens spontaneously, as I thought it did with He and I (but was clearly duped), or it doesn’t happen at all. If you have to force it, as some couples do, and there is a whole list of over-played couple’s songs, popular and known and despised by wedding bands the world over, then it doesn’t count.
The best relationship song I ever had was by XTC, performing as The Dukes of Stratosphere and the song was “You’re My Drug.” I can’t remember all the lyrics, but it’s got this really, there’s no way around it, groovy rhythm that just makes you want to move, and it’s all about this guy who is just fucking mad-crazy about this girl who has this drug-like affect on him, which is wonderful. It is basically anti-drug and pro-love, and very, very trippy at the same time. It is like being in love. It sounds that way. It is dizzying, sexy, memorable. Unlike Nick Drake’s Northern Sky which is so damn needy, You’re My Drug is about being fulfilled. It is an anthem about being whole. It says, you are It. It is, in every way, reflective of my relationship with Noah and the words and notes still hold true to this day. Northern Sky is beautiful, at times transcendental in that it says that you literally ‘brighten’ someone’s sky, and who wouldn’t want to believe that. But in the final account, I’m afraid a song like that has been a comet, a shooting star on which I wished and wished and wished, and some of those wishes came true, but not the big one
Now I know that while it is sweet to believe that if you wish upon a star your wish will come true, like throwing coins in a fountain, it is naïve, superstitious, and rarely are these wishes fulfilled. I’ve learned that to get what you want you have to make it happen, do something. That if you place all of your faith on a coin and a fountain, a star that shoots across your horizon, you will stay in one place forever. You’ll be waiting, waiting, hoping like hell, and while you sit still the world goes on all about you and the only way you stand a chance of getting what you want is to throw yourself in to it, immerse yourself in life, and then maybe, just maybe, you have a shot of getting what you want. There are no guarantees, but I do believe that whatever happens, we need to reconcile ourselves to it. Learn to be “still.” Sit and cry all you want about the past but know that you can never change what has happened. There is no ‘rewind’ button, sadly. But perhaps, perhaps the future will be great. It is a blank-slate, ready and waiting for us to fill it up with our sorrows and triumphs; it is promise itself. It’s time to find a new song and i’m open to suggestions, though right now i’m pretty stuck on just about anything by Ryan Adams, especially Come Pick Me Up. (come pick me up / fuck me up, steal all my records, screw all my friends/ with a smile on your face / and then do it again…)
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