Friday, May 20, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Pt 1: 30-21

I think the 30 Day Song Challenge on Facebook was one of the coolest Facebook time wasters they ever came up with. I decided when I was finished with the challenge I would write a blog about my choices and kind of go into more detail about why I made some of my decisions. This is the first part of what will be a three part series.

Part I - 30-21

30. My Favorite Song At This Time Last Year

My Uncle Frank was responsible for introducing me to Mumford and Sons. My uncle gives me a lot of burned CD's that he thinks I'll like, and most of the time it's generally stuff that I don't get overly excited about. I'm not saying I hate, or dislike, the stuff he gives me. I just don't do back flips over it. One day he came by to help me clean my carpet and gave me a stack of CD's. There was some Joe Bonamassa (take it or leave it), some Derek Trucks Band (meh), and a CD by this band Mumford and Sons. "You should listen to that one first," he said. "It's veeeeeeeeeery good." So after he left I popped it in my CD player. I thought it would probably turn out like all the other attempts at trying to sway my musical tastes. I was wrong. From the first song on the CD (this one, in fact) I was hooked. I loved the build of all their songs, the heavy handed pub feel of the vocals, and the blend of their instruments. But what I loved most of all were the lyrics! The person writing these words knew what they were doing, and what's more, had the ability to craft songs that teetered on the balance of commercial and abstract.

Out of all the songs, and there are some ones of notes - The Cave, Winter Winds, Little Lion Man - I kept coming back to Sigh No More. It's probably a sentimental choice for me because a bulk of the lyrics are taken straight from Much Ado About Nothing which after Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play (despite my animosity toward Shakespeare I have learned to enjoy at least some of his works). In fact the first line of the song - "Serve God, love me, and mend." - is what Benedict says to convince Beatrice either to convince her that she should marry him, or he says it to her after they're married. I can never remember which. Also, "Sigh No More" are the lyrics to a beautiful ballad from that same play.

So that is why this song was my favorite song at this time last year.

29. A Song From My Childhood

I could have picked any song from Sesame Street or the Muppet Show to answer this question. There are so many songs from the Muppets that bring me a lot of vivid memories of childhood. I picked this one for a lot of reasons, but really, for three main ones.

First, this was probably my favorite song on Sesame Street. It always felt like a treat when I'd watch an episode and this song came on. Even as a child I knew this was a very pretty song that made me think about stuff beyond the normal ABC and 123 themes of Sesame Street. I remember thinking how much I agreed with Ernie, how if I lived some place far away I would probably long for home and the people I loved. What I didn't know at the time was that Sesame Street was preparing me for the future. Growing up is like living on the moon. We grow farther away from youth, we have to part with loved ones, and we move away to new places, and it's scary. As an adult, I think this song has an even greater effect on me than when I was a child for this very reason.

Secondly, this song prominently features Jim Henson. Jim Henson was a cornerstone of my childhood, not only because of my love for the Muppets, but because his death was something that shook me. The death of Jim Henson was like a wake up call for me. It showed me that nothing was permanent, and that at any time something you're very used to can be snatched away from you forever. Did I mention I was 10? That's a lot of stuff to go through the mind of a 10 year old, particularly one who had personal dealings with death. Ultimately, though, Henson's death taught me to enjoy the time you have with people you hold dear, a philosophy I still practice to this day. This song, more than others he sang through the mouthpiece of his Muppets, drives that point home a little more for me.

Lastly, it's just beautiful. The chord progression is gentle and sweet, and the lyrics, for a children's song, are brutal and honest. I want to hug Jeff Moss for writing it.

28. A Song That Makes Me Feel Guilty

I didn't really have a good one for this category. I couldn't think of any song that made me feel guilty. So, because I'm a smart ass, I posted this one.

27. A Song I Wish I Could Play On An Instrument

In high school band we played this as a warm up. The percussionists didn't have to play during the warm up. I can't express in words the way the music made me feel when the woodwinds and the brass sound would swell and crescendo to this song. It was a very personal and spiritual experience, and I've only had that kind of experience with a few songs. Anymore, all I have to do is here the first few bars of this song and I'm instantly back in high school and all these memories and emotions come bubbling to the surface. Yeah, that's probably why I wish I could play this.

26. A Song I Can Play On An Instrument

I play ukulele. I didn't want to go with the typical Somewhere Over The Rainbow (which is becoming the Stairway To Heaven of the ukulele in that everyone knows how to play it) for this one, but all the other ones I know how to play didn't seem too great either. I ended up choosing this one because I think The Mountain Goats are great and I think more people should like them. Also it's a really great song!

25. A Song That Makes Me Laugh


Let me tell you why this song makes me laugh so much. For starters, I'm kind of a fucker. For the most part, I'm a nice guy. I do onto others as I would have them do onto me. However, there are times where I am taken over by some sort of evil, and I do things to people that I really shouldn't do - like give someone a mint that has been in my ass, or pay a tuition bill with money that I have blown my nose on. Usually, I only commit evil when I am wronged in some way (which in my defense...those two previous examples were my reaction to some endured injustice). However there have been times, though very infrequent, where I have done things to people that otherwise didn't deserve them. I am about to tell you about such a time. And let me say, in retrospect, I am not proud of this.

One year at the YMCA, we had a group of volunteer counselors that would come in every couple of days and help out with the summer day camp. The paid staff could not stand these people. They were lazy, annoying, and in some cases would actually get into physical confrontations with the kids. One of these people was someone I went to high school with. He was a couple of years below me and was known throughout the school as that kid who had a heart attack. For anonymity's sake we will call him Bob. Indeed, Bob had a heart condition, and had, at least once in his life, had a heart attack. I even remembering being the computer lab once, and Bob, seated next to me, just collapsed and fell out of his chair. He didn't have a heart attack, but it was pretty weird just seeing this guy fall out of his chair.

So one night, we had a family mixer/campfire for the kids and their parents. There were hot dogs, and campfire songs, and skits. The paid staff had a skit lined out for the volunteers to be in. At the end of the skit one of the volunteers, WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE, was going to get doused with a sizable quantity of bitterly ice cold water. The staff had a caucus to decide which volunteer was going to get doused. We went around the circle. Every vote cast was for Bob. I was the last vote. Now, at this point I could have objected, told them that it might not be a good idea, clued them in to his heart problem, but for some reason (mainly morbid curiosity) I said, "Yeah, Bob sounds good."

So the sketch goes off without a hitch. Everyone delivers their lines. The timing is great. The water hits its target - a terrific success. So everyone is laughing and clapping, and Bob, stunned by the blast of cold water wanders off and collapses in a patch of thick grass. The paid staff rush over to him. No, he wasn't having a heart attack. He was stunned, and felt like he needed to lay flat to catch his breath. However, when the staff rushed to him to see if he was alright, he told him he had a heart condition, and it became known that I knew this fact. So of course, they asked me why I didn't tell them this after they decided to dump a gallon of cold water on him without his knowledge, and all I could say was, with a morbid chuckle, "I just wanted to see what would happen." No one really looked at me the same way again.

Long story short, I'm a terrible person sometimes, and this song is an homage to terrible people, and reminds me of this story.

24. A Song I Want Played At My Funeral

This song is such a simple, yet deep, piece of existential philosophy. It will not only remind people of where I have gone, but where they will be soon. Nothing like making people ponder their own existence after seeing me off at the end of mine! It's how I roll.

23. A Song I Want Played At My Wedding

I don't plan on getting married. The handful of ladies that I have encountered who had wife potential have all been duds. Unless some Southern Belle comes along and sweeps me off my feet, I see a long chain of high end whores in my future. However, if I do get married, I want this song to play at my wedding. It's one of those love songs that has a tinge of cynicism in it. I call these bittersweet love songs, and I love them. There's a line in this song that goes, "The book of love has music in it./In fact that's where music comes from./Some of it's just transcendental./Some of it's just really dumb." I think this sums up my view of love to a tee. Sometimes love is pretty special, worthy of song, and beauty, and all these things that speak of heightened experience. And sometimes (most of the time), love is just fucking stupid.

22. A Song I Listen To When I'm Sad

I listen to a lot of songs when I'm sad. I chose this one because it has a couple of my favorite song dynamics going on.

First, it's mainly piano-centric. Newman employs some very simple chords and phrases them in very simple ways. It's not flashy. It's almost as if he is in the middle of writing this song, and the recording is a peek into that process. The orchestration is conservative and doesn't over power the tune.

Second, the lyrics are very simple. They're almost a throwback to the old jazz and ballad songwriters like Hoagy Carmichael. Randy Newman isn't hiding the fact that he's sad behind a bunch of poetry (which I also like, don't misunderstand). He's listing all these failures, and all this lost he's endured, but the real reason he's sad is because he lost this unnamed "you." You don't need to explain that. You don't need to delve into the meat of those lyrics. It's a situation we're all familiar with. It's the mark of a good songwriter when you can do something like this.

It's such a pretty song.

21. A Song I Listen To When I'm Happy

This song makes me happy for one reason, and one reason alone. It was the song my Papa Longan sang when he was happy, and I like this version because there are a lot of similarities between the way my Papa sang and the way Willie Nelson sings. My Papa Longan could carry a tune, but he wasn't a singer. He didn't hold notes, and he had a deep vibrato that was more noticeable as he developed lung problems later in life. Every time this song came on the radio, or if I played it in the car, he would sing along, and sing every word with a smile on his face. Every time I hear it I can't help but be happy.

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