Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Voices Calling from a Yellow Road

Recently I've started to examine my musical taste as friends have invited me to concerts and lent me albums from (new to me) bands. Considering I haven't branched out significantly since my friends got me a Guster CD when I turned sixteen, it's about time. For me, the recurring theme is good lyrics. Songs with beautiful imagery, songs that tell stories - even if it's not poetry, I need to be able to sing along.

My sister and I used to send each other song lyrics quizzes when I was in high school and she was in grad school. One particularly memorable themed quiz was all drug-related songs, because earlier that summer I had ruined some of my mom's favorite classics (specifically "The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine" from The Graduate soundtrack - she accused me of smearing her innocent youth).

She thought the song was about a car. Not Ben Braddock's, though.

My friends and I also used to swap quizzes as notes between classes. It was a delicate balance of trying to introduce new songs, find the perfect not-too-obvious lines from shared favorites, and keep the quiz challenging enough to last through study hall. Picking a lyric too obscure was no fun; something too popular was too easy.

In junior year American Lit, my favorite paper compared three current(ish) songs with the themes in The Great Gatsby: "Fa Fa" by Guster, "Eddie Walker" by Ben Folds Five, and "A Distorted Reality is Now a Necessity to be Free" by Elliott Smith. My friend Terri and I sat on the hallway floor outside of class while she gave me detailed notes on my drafts, getting me to pull more out of "But it's still your reflection, you and no one else." My favorite songs were often stories - no wonder I could work them into an English paper.

The next year, my friends and I took AP French Literature. It was the first class where I understood why it mattered that an author used a specific word instead of another. (It's also the reason my heart aches whenever I think of La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu.) These classes tied together my love of lyrics and my continued fascination with the meaning of language and culture. It's why I annoy anyone who watches romantic comedies with me, why I rant about Ke$ha's "Die Young" while also dancing like crazy whenever it comes on, and why I don't really mind the commercials on Hulu because I can analyze them like a Maytag ad from 1952.

I realize I'm veering off topic here, so I'll try to pull back. Lyrics are part of how I remind myself where I am and where I've been. Listening to Sufjan Stevens or Nelly Furtado brings me back to driving into Somerville for tacos during free block. Listening to "Somebody that I Used to Know" by Gotye puts me in our cafe on Paros. "Hey Soul Sister" is when Eric and I met, "Safe and Sound" is our wedding. Listening to Guster constantly reminds me of who I was at sixteen, who I hoped I'd be, and who I'd like to be.

Also, nearly fifteen years later, I can still sing the entirety of No Strings Attached and can't wait for the situation in which that becomes a relevant skill.

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