Thursday, January 23, 2014

Life Soundtrack

One night in a Border's book store, I saw a copy of Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs sitting on a table. It was the name that caught my eye. I hadn't really heard of him at the time except that one of my friends mentioned that sometimes my writing is similar to his. It really isn't. I'm not quite that full of myself.

I loved the book though. I read the first page standing there in the store as that's usually a big factor in whether or not I'll buy it. I laughed so hard that I read another and another and another and had gone through most of the first essay before I knew it. I had found someone I could relate to on so many levels, and it felt good.

When he said:
"Do you know people who insist they like 'all kinds of music'? That actually means they like no kinds of music."
He totally had me. I finally found someone who got something I'd been telling people for years. That's not to say that someone who listens to a variety of music is incapable of truly appreciating music on any level. Not at all. I listen to a variety myself. But, when asked the question of what music I listen to, I'm going to have some very specific answers about how I grew up on Southern Rock, love the blues, both old and more modern bluesy garage rock, find peace of mind in sludge and doom, dance around the house to modern soul, and love, perhaps most of all, stoner rock.

To me, that's a much different response than "I listen to anything with a good beat."

To me, "I listen to everything" says that person listens to music as an afterthought. It's not a need like it is for me and people like Chuck Klosterman.

It also says that perhaps those people have never taken the time to find music that really moves them.

Maybe there are two kinds of people in the world--those who listen to music and those who only hear it.

When it comes to really being able to relate to other people, for me, it's important to me that those people see music the way I do--that it's just as vital to life as oxygen. I don't care what it is they listen to as long as it speaks to them on a very personal level and that, maybe, just maybe, even during a quiet moment, there's a song playing in their heads tied to a thought, a memory, or a mood. That's why I like asking people what songs (usually a small number...the smaller the harder the list is to make) might be found on the soundtrack if a movie was made about their life and why that person chose those particular songs. It tells me a lot about them and being able to share my own soundtrack, in turn, tells them a lot about me, how much I am willing to open up, and how I process music.

I have a tattoo on my leg of a quote by Woody Guthrie. It says, "There's a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you already traveled and makes you travel it again. Sometimes when I hear music, I think back over my days and a feeling that is 50/50 joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shapes in my mind."

That's how I approach my soundtrack. These few songs are placemarkers to tell you where I may have been at a certain time. Sometimes when I make this list, it's the song itself or the band or the lyrics, but these are all songs that lay out a map of my life. This isn't just a list of badass jams to make me look cool. In fact, a few of them are pretty fucking embarrassing. It's been a long road full of ch-ch-changes.

1. Cyndi Lauper-Girls Just Want To Have Fun

I have maybe a couple handfuls of clear memories from my life before age 12 or so. As you may guess from such a statement, those weren't exactly easy years. My earliest memory is from age 3 or 4 dancing around the house to this song. Carefree. Innocent. It wouldn't last but those fleeting moments of utter girlish glee have stayed with me. Anytime I hear it even now, I can't help smiling and singing along.

2. Eric Clapton-Cocaine

This song is probably the best way to place those hazy years of being a young Georgia girl. It's fitting, at least, since my dad was arrested for possession of said drug. With intent to distribute. I was 3, maybe. I was also used as a sympathy inducer for the jury by being brought to court every day during his trial. Lawyer tactic. I was blonde and cute, so he got off pretty light. Still, it was a common theme for growing up with a father whose nickname amongst those "sorry sumbitches" he called friends was Stormy. That old bastard loved this song, too. I can still remember times when we'd be stoned together later on in life. He'd put this song on and start fist pumpin' like a champ. She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine.

Tough Enough to Bite Our Lips Til They Bleed, Girl

3. Hangin' Tough-New Kids on the Block

                      Are you tough enough?

     oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Such complexity...  I was given a walkman knockoff cassette player with two cassette tapes one year for my birthday. One was NKOTB and the other Vanilla Ice. In restrospect, there are a myriad of other, much more influential, non mainstream albums I wish I would have gotten that year. I can't remember exactly how old I was but I figure 8 or 9. We're talking 1989 or '90. Both albums were released about that time. It was pop and poppy, white-guy hip-hopish stuff, but it could be worse. I could be reflecting on the importance of Garth Brooks' No Fences in my earlier years. Alright, stop. Collaborate and Listen. I don't think people who aren't from the deep South know what it's like to grow up with country, Jesus, and football being shoved down your throat all the time. To not partake in the bliss of one or all of those things is equivalent to denouncing the word of Joseph Smith in Utah. All of a sudden you're getting hate mail in your locker with crudely drawn dicks and cutout magazine letters. So, Hangin' Tough was my rebellion. My break from the hillbilly culture. It's disturbing, but still seems a step in the right direction. Considering the surroundings, I could have been singing "I'm a member of a Country Club....cuz country music is what I love" while Travis Tritt played in that walkman knockoff.

4. Nirvana-Smells Like Teen Spirit

For my generation, this makes me a walking cliche. I'm okay with that; it makes me authentic. This is the first cassette tape I ever bought myself with my own money. Side 1, track 1...Load up on guns, bring your friends. It's fun to lose and to pretend...  The lyrics were ambiguous, and I still don't really know what exactly mulattos, albinos, mosquitoes, and Cobain's libido have in common and there's not enough drugs in the world to make that clear. My parents were divorced or well on their way to being divorced and my mom was already seriously dating someone else (they've been married ever since but that's beyond the point). I was maybe 12 or 13 which puts it around 1994--the year Cobain burned out and made himself a junkie, rock martyr. Apparently, I was a little late on the grunge craze. With everything going on in my life, I was really entering a brand new world and with this purchase the same became true of my musical tastes. Evolution. We're talking about a major point in my life in all sorts of ways and this tape gave the perfect ambiance to my new direction. I think it's always been even more meaningful to me because I'd never really known anything about the band when I bought the damn thing. I picked it up on a whim. I like whims. People blame jesus and fate and destiny for whims but I sometimes think our brains function on a level we can't possibly understand. I grabbed that tape off a Kmart rack because it was exactly what I needed and because the cover pissed off my mom. 

5. Wonderful Tonight-Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton on here twice? I'm not even that big a fan. I mean I dig Derek and the Dominoes and Cream but twice on such a short list makes it seem like I might think this guy is some sort of god. I don't believe in gods so X that idea. The song choice following something like Smells Like Teen Spirit really does make me a cliche. Fuck it, you know? I am what I am and I know exactly why this song is on here. It's rare in life to find a friend who can accept you as you are with all your quirks and not be concerned about the possible negative consequences of associating with a social outcast back in the awesome days of high school. My family didn't have money. I wasn't a christian and didn't care in the least about football or country music. I committed social suicide early in life. It may have been genetic. I did have that sort of friend, though. She didn't much care what I listened to or believed in or how popular I wasn't. When she would come out to my dad's house, we would, invariably, listen to this song as some point in the course of the evening. And I would, invariably, make her slow dance with me. True friendship. And I still make people dance with me when it comes on to this very day. Whenever I hear it though, I think about her. We've gotten older and stay too busy to get together too often, but whenever we do, we always pick up right where we left off. She made a world of difference. I needed that kind of unconditional acceptance. Ironically, this song was written about Pattie Boyd who was married to Eric Clapton at the time he released it. However, prior to this, she was married to George Harrison, Clapton's best friend. I don't guess they had the same kind of friendship.

6. Glycerine-Bush

My first ever experience with sex happened by sexual assault. That's sad, I know, but it happened 14 years ago and I'm over it so we'll move on and not make a big deal of it. The first time I ever thought I wanted to have sex is a different story. I was introduced to this guy by a mutual friend (who ended up hating me for sleeping with him. she told my mom i was doing coke because of it. and i wasn't. i was just a pothead. that's ok, though. she never slept with him and now karma, if you believe in that sort of thing, has not exactly done her any favors). He was about 4 years older than me making any sexual contact between us completely illegal. He snuck out of his house and "borrowed" his parents' car. I snuck out of my house and got in said car which we drove a quarter mile down the road and promptly fucked in while Bush's Sixteen Stone played in the background. I sang along to this song in particular. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say and I realized as I got older I really wasn't ready for such a rendezvous. I didn't love him at the time but we remained friends for years and even had more sex sporadically. Sometimes he was incarcerated making sex impossible and I realize I'm not looking any better the further I go along. I still think fondly of him even now, though. We don't really talk; he's married and I can see why his wife wouldn't approve. The whole incident is significant, not because it was great sex--I somehow doubt it could have been, but because I feel it's indicative of my view of sex. Love was never a requirement. Maybe that can, in part, be blamed on the assault. Maybe it was being around my hippy father. Either way, there you go. The first time I ever chose to have sex, I snuck out of my house to fuck in the driver's seat of a Cavalier or something shittier like an Oldsmobile with Bush on the cassette player. I'm a hopeless romantic. I still sing along sometimes to certain songs if music plays in the midst of things sex related. I do have manners though; I don't sing with a mouthful.

7. Keep on Rocking in the Free World

This band I used to hang out with did a few covers. One of Weezer's Say It Ain't So. It was mediocre. The other was Rockin' in the Free World by Neil Young. Maybe I was always stoned but I think they actually did a good job on this one. I dunno. But I'll always think about them when I hear it. I wouldn't mind having it on my soundtrack while I'm at some Dazed and Confused style party at the moontower. My life was often like those scenes from that movie back in those days except I didn't have Parker Posey yelling at me to air-raid because I was talking to some nerdy guy she'd never dare to date. It was an awkward time of trying to fit in with people who really didn't give a shit whether I was there or not...and that's why I always identified with Mitch from that movie. This song is my period piece for that time. 

8. Loser-Beck

 For a little bit when I was 15/16, some of my stoner friends made "Loser" by Beck my theme song. I'm a loser, why don't you kill me? I was living in a rich neighborhood I hated; that was the reasoning behind the theme. I became a sellout because I lived near people we hated. I really loved the girl who used to sing it to me. She was funny and beautiful and she jerked me around. I'd also just moved back into my mom's from my dad's and I was having a tough time making the transition. After everything I'd gone through in the last few years, I really felt like a fucking Loser especially when I was with that girl, but she still made me smile. I was in this period of chaotically figuring out what it meant to wear my skin, and this song is a perfect anthem for that. 

Kill the headlights and put it in neutral....

I was really into a lot of 90s grunge music. Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden...I listened to a lot of what was termed "alternative" at this same time, but grunge was it for me. That's why I still love all those old songs even now. That style resonated deeply. Korn and Limp Bizkit and the whole nu-metal genre ruined grunge. I think Korn's first album--and the only somewhat decent one--signaled the end of it all. From the rise of rap-metal until the past several of years I spent a lot of time reminiscing about good music. I was stationary. No growth to speak of. I live in rural South Georgia. I had no idea what it meant to actually dig around and find things I loved.

I listened to Marilyn Manson (the first 2 albums) because of MTV2. And because I was weird and he was weird and I dug weird. I liked RHCP and POTUSA and REM and other bands easily described by capital letters. None of that ever really gripped me though on a deeply personal level. I can't even listen to the same Marilyn Manson songs now with any enjoyment. Counting Stars by Hum will always make me smile but there's no significance. I never lost touch with music but I didn't grow musically for a period of about 10 years. I was most often stuck on the same things and felt like I was missing something. Until I heard Baroness. But, back to the list. 

9. RHCP-Under the Bridge. 

Yeah, yeah I know what I just said. However, this song has very little to do with me personally. When I was about 20, someone I was pretty close to when I was in school was murdered. People might use the word "senseless" in talking about it but aren't most murders really senseless? Yes. Still, I took it pretty hard. This was the first person I'd ever had phone sex with and someone I, stupidly albeit, thought I was in love with for a few years. His dying young likely affected the memories I have of him i.e. I remember him with more fondness than I would have if he were still living. Somehow I still think he'd make the cut on this list if he had lived but he didn't. He was shot and left for dead after walking in on a home invasion burglary in his apartment. His death had an impact I've never really understood the depths of. It shaped my views on the criminal justice system and has influenced some of my career goals. I still go out to the cemetery at least once a year even going on 12 years later and I'm often drawn to people who remind me of him in small ways. I think this is why I dig jerks so much. Fuck me. I'm doomed to a lifetime of caustic assholes simply because the state of Florida has a completely fucked up criminal system that allowed two recidivists to continually get worse without any help until they finally killed someone. Anyway, he loved this song and all I need is to hear the opening bars to be flooded with thoughts of him. I miss that kid. 

There are 3 significant events/people in my life I don't really have songs attached to. It doesn't make them any less significant but I don't want to just attach songs to them in retrospect because it's sensible. I've done that before making this kind of list but in a way, that taints it. 

The first is the first guy I ever really truly loved. I will always think of him with affection and he's the only person I ever consider to have broken my heart. It was one of those couldn't eat, couldn't sleep situations. I've never been that way about another relationship or another guy period since then. I could choose Heartbreaker by Zeppelin simply because he sings a line "Some people cry and some people die by the wicked ways of love. But I'll just keep on rollin' along with the grace of the Lord above" and in some ways I totally feel that sentiment. It's the way I've always been except the whole Lord part. I roll along with the grace of my own strength. Ultimately though, fuck this song choice. If ever there were a movie about my life, the person lucky enough to play me would convey my heartache by those two days when I cried until snot flowed. Then I fucked this guy I knew and had previously wanted to fuck and the world was right again. Sex fixes so much. No songs about being broken and moving on are really necessary no matter how much this whole episode changed me. 

The second would be my marriage and separation. There's no song I attach to that guy or that time either. After he'd already left, he came over to pick up a few things and wanted to make a few cds. He ended up playing an AFI song called This Time Imperfect. I was standing in the kitchen holding our 2 year old and he came over and hugged us both sort of dancing. The three of us standing there in the kitchen slow dancing together in the face of this massive change and the sadness he and I felt about this failure is the sort of image that makes this all sound like a Lifetime movie moment and I suppose it sort of was. The lyics to that song say "I cannot stay here; I cannot leave. Forever haunted, more than afraid" and that really conveys how torn I was over choosing happiness for myself or choosing more financial stability for my son. But, I fucking hate that band overall. Have you seen that guy? Creepy. I still care a lot about my ex-husband despite the fact that he isn't necessarily doing the right thing financially right now. I don't harbor ill will about the failure of our marriage at all. I never should have gotten married in the first place. Marriage is a farce. I hate what happened and that we grew so far apart because that just makes life tougher for our son. As far as I'm concerned there's just not one song to denote every emotion I felt when all this happened. No song I knew of at that time that I fully associate with the relief I felt when it was all over. 

The third is my son. He loves music. Okay, let me rephrase. He loves "rockin' out" and as long as it's heavy enough or punk enough for him, he gets into it. And I mean he really gets into it. There's not just one song I could pick out to symbolize how music bonds us either. Sometimes we play air guitars and air drums while I sing songs in the kitchen sliding around in our socks. Sometimes we sing at the top of our lungs in the car. Sometimes we sing songs while we buy groceries. There's not really one that just stands out because we share so much. He's too awesome to pinpoint with just one song or one sound. He's so much impossibly more than that and I love him even when I am aggravated beyond reason with his precociousness. Besides, his favorite band is NOFX, and I just can't bring myself to include them on the list. I don't know, though...For the rest of my life when I hear "Don't Call Me White" I will always think of him singing it in the shower while I cringed and determined how best to explain that to someone who has yet to reach his 10th birthday. 

10. Baroness-Red Sky

A little over 5 years ago, this jerk I know told me I didn't have a clue what music is. He teased me relentlessly about what I chose to listen to and even when I bugged him relentlessly about what he defined as music, he wouldn't give in saying I'd fail to get it. It really pissed me off. He finally gave in though and told me to check on his music review blog for a band called Baroness and specifically the song Coeur which is off First, an ep released in 2004. I liked it and decided to check out some more from the band who had another ep, Second, released in 2005, and a full length album Red Album from '07 at that time. I downloaded all 3 albums, put them on a play list and hit shuffle. I was sitting with a glass of wine in an otherwise quiet house. Red Sky was the first song that played. I bobbed my head along from the start. By 38 seconds in, I suspected something great would come of this. By 1:31 of the 5:44 song, I was in a bit of lust. When the song broke into melody about 3 and a half minutes in, I closed my eyes, leaned back in the chair and enjoyed the ride. Everything seemed to fade into the background except that chair, my glass, and the sounds emanating from the computer speakers. It's been a good relationship. I dig their music and they keep making it (I should point out here that while I am not a hipster in my own mind, I am a music snob these days, and their last album blows dogs for quarters). I saw them live for their Blue Record release party at the end of 09 in Savannah, Georgia where they originated. They played in the bar where they first started and whose basement they practiced in. Most people I know have no idea why I like this band and why they led me on a new kind of evolution and I'm okay with that. I've never been the kind of girl who followed the rest of the herd. Everyone who loves music should find something that speaks to them on a level nothing else can and for me it's Baroness or at least the Baroness that produced the sounds from First, Second, Red, and Blue. I don't think it's a matter of l o v e. Love describes something so much less pure than what I feel as I type this listening to A Horse Called Golgotha. If love ever felt as easy and wonderful as a good song, I might not mind relationships so much. 

11. Rolling Stones-Can't Always Get What You Want

In a discussion on music, often you'll get a question about your preference of the Stones or the Beatles. By my inclusion of a Stones song on this list, my answer is pretty clear. Stones all the way. This song has a lot of possible interpretations with lyrics like "I saw her today at the reception, a glass of wine in her hand. I knew she would meet her connection. At her feet was her footloose man." It's funny the sorts of meanings people guess that might have including relationship bullshit going on with band members' girlfriends at the time. Or, one girlfriend at the time, Anita Pallenberg, who left Brian Jones for Keith Richards. (Whatever happened to bros before hos?) I don't care about any of that. The song is badass but for me, it's more about how life is just  a little tough but that's all part of it. You keep on going and working for it. You really can't always get what you want even when you have all the financial means to do so. But, you can, when you're willing to work for it, get what you need. Whether we realize it or not, that's often more important. When I hear this song, it's a reminder that I have everything I need. I'm where I need to be. Those thoughts form and I smile every time. 

Feel free to add your own list in the comments or in a message. This is a conversation I can't get enough of...

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