Monday, December 11, 2006

although you pretend, I can see this will end

At some point, I will post a song actually recorded in this millennium, but in the meanwhile, this week, I present to you Cake's Haze of Love. In many ways, Cake is a one-note band with little range. In general, there are only a few bands I will staunchly defend when push comes to shove, because it's hard for me to argue with someone's taste.

Still, Cake is one of the few pleasant discoveries made during graduate school. Misery seems to be the best magnet for music. What I was listening to that year should have been enough to ring alarm bells. It is not that the music was particularly morose- by then, I had learned that you simply cannot listen to The Smiths or the like when you are actually in a legitimately low point in your life, because that sh*t will drive you over the edge. Instead, my musical tastes were frighteningly schizophrenic.

On the one hand, I was in Southern California. I was in Southern California just as an entire sound was emerging from the area. Sublime and No Doubt were starting to get some notice. And having just moved there, I could see how that sound came to be, how all that sunshine, water, money and plastic would come together to create that music. And then, it was also the first time I had lived on the West Coast, so it was my first introduction to West Coast rap. I have to tell you that living in Boston and New Jersey, you don't exactly have a lot of exposure to Snoop or Tupac (I think I had one friend in college who listened to Snoop Dogg and we were all worried about her). So, I was breathing in my new surroundings, absorbing the new sounds coming at me.

But on the other hand, I was miserable. It was the first, and possibly only, time I felt sincerely homesick for a sustained period of time. I don't even know what I was homesick for- it wasn't EBF and it wasn't New Jersey. It was just general homesickness for the familiar, for certain people, for solid ground that was not in danger of falling into the sea. At first, I relied on specific crutches. Back in New Jersey, E & I spent Saturday mornings listening to certain programs on NPR. So I would turn on my radio on Saturday morning, and huddle by it as if I was cozying up to a fire. When I heard Click and Clack jeering each other and listeners, their thick Boston accents sent a wave of nostalgia sweeping over me. But the talk was not sufficient- I needed music. So, I went backwards to the bands I used to listen to, listening to follow-up albums by The Counting Crows or Pearl Jam (the irony, of course, being that both of those bands are from the west coast). And it was fine, but it kept me dislocated- it kept me from feeling at all steady. And mostly, it kept me yearning to get back to the east coast as soon as was humanly possible.

With all that music, that random cacophony around me, it is actually a miracle that I wandered into my friend BH's lab one afternoon and picked up a CD he had been listening to. BH was from Kansas, was this scrawny brown-haired geek who was not the smartest kid in the class but also no fool. He wore a baseball cap to class every day, and when asked why, he explained, "I'm worried because people often mistake me for someone famous." When pressed to reveal who he resembled so closely, he would turn very seriously and remark, "I'm Batman." The kid had a lot of redeemable qualities, but probably the best of them was that he had a long-term, steady girlfriend. That made it incredibly easy for me and BH to be buddies for the entire year, without any tension or anxiety whatsoever. He was my one protector in graduate school.

And so, he handed me the Cake CD. And it was just like him. It was goofy. It was not particularly deep, not laden with the secrets of the universe or the meaning of life. It was not surprising or even inventive. But it was consistent. And it was good. And most of all, it was catchy- it was quite likeable. So, finally, thanks to the bespectacled BH, I had found music that made me feel okay to be marooned in Irvine, California.

A few years later, I went to see Cake perform at the Bowery Ballroom, and they did not disappoint. The lead singer, John McCrea, paced about the stage with a smirk, a completely incomprehensible smirk. It was impossible to tell if he was amused that the audience was singing along to every song, or if he was amused at his good fortune to get paid for this, or if he thought the whole word absurd. His grin was impenetrable. And even though he was all the things BH was not- pulled together, cool, women throwing themselves at him- still, the sight of him on that stage sent me back to graduate school and the one decent guy there.

Haze of Love is a song I've always kept in the rotation specifically because it is so harmless. It is not a song that is going to get you worked up to an extreme emotion on either side of the spectrum. If you need a rebound relationship to get through a bad breakup, this song works the same way- it's a nice transition. When you have tired of listening to Alanis Morrissette rage-ballads or Axl Rose screaming about how he had to kill a b*tch, but you're not quite ready for a frothy, hopeful tune of rainbows and unicorns and the sun coming out tomorrow, it's time for Haze of Love.

Sorry for the long-winded explanation, but that's really all I have today anyway. I spent the entire weekend baking (including a last minute Sunday night experiment of making quiche for the first time for no reason whatsoever, especially given that I am not a huge fan of quiche), but I am not able to share pictures at this time. Given my crap photography skills, that is probably for the best.

No comments: