Saturday, April 17, 2010

no need for words now, we sit in silence

K was watching a Youtube video of a man signing to The Black Eyed Peas Tonight’s gonna be a good night, and after the second viewing, S wandered out “to the porch.” This was how he referred to the stoop of two steps of concrete leading down to the walkway that night. Drinks dangling comfortably in our hands, we sat down together on the slab. An entire person could have fit in the space between us. We knew this, but we pretended not to know. We feigned comfort in our own little spheres.

It seemed like moonlight at first, but it was more the streetlight. It might have tinged the green leaves yellow, it might have made yellow leaves glow a bit iridescent. We had been drinking for too long to know for sure. But the small leaves clustered together and swayed slightly, lit by the moon and by the streetlights, together, shimmering against the night sky.

The cool night air kept us calm, but we did not shiver. The dog emerged and sat down in the front lawn. I changed the music to Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, and returned to my place on the stoop. K came out and it was only natural that she should sit between us. We all looked up at the breeze that we could not really see, and for a time, no one said a word.

Take a snapshot, photograph the moment, and it would have seemed like nothing. Nondescript house, three friends sitting around on a stoop on a Friday night, gazing about with buzz-filled glassy eyes. But it was so beautiful, so universal, so everything that has always been and always will be. May there always be stoops and beautiful nights and friends raising their glasses. And may there always be more than meets the eye- the unspoken tension, the possibilities, the delicious torture of uncertainty. Every bit of it, so so beautiful.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

life is unkind, we fall but we keep getting up

I seem to be oscillating between new and old tunes, so forgive the mood swings- that’s what happens when a student is doing a psychiatry rotation, I suppose (not really, said student just likes to tie in Psych references every time she does anything bonkers). The artist formerly known as Pied Piper tried to give me an assignment- silly rabbit, Trix are for kids, of course supplying me with a song to consider never leads to any writing on my part! He wanted me to ponder one Pretenders song, but instead, just to be the royal pain in the neck that I am, I found myself drawn to a different one.

This, I think, is because I’m avoiding melancholy. There is something distressing, something which could lead to meltdowns and heartbreak, just around the corner. I know gut aches lie ahead. But I am willfully ignoring it all. I am sticking my fingers in my ears like a five year old, stomping my feet, chanting “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!

And at a time like this, The PretendersMessage of Love is a nifty thing to have at the ready. As in my earlier post last month, I really do wonder what happened to all the bad-a$$es like Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde. Where did they come from, and why has no one carried on the torch? I remember the first time I heard Brass in Pocket, which coincided with the first time I saw the video- my reaction is best summed up as W. T. F.. Hynde is so strong. Her voice and the way she carries herself on stage, she just has this presence, this very do not f*** with me presence. And while the lyrics to Brass in Pocket are at face value almost arrogant, they are also longing, and she looks almost vulnerable in the video. I recall that I kind of loved that. Being a tomboy who could not decide whether she wanted to kick or kiss a boy, Hynde’s combination of confidence and yearning gave me a lot of hope.

As for Message of Love, this is just one of those songs. You know, at some point, I will compile a mix of songs that are guaranteed to cheer you up, and this will most definitely make the list. But it’s ten times better because it’s The Pretenders and it’s rock. I don’t know. When rock music is optimistic, not lewd or suggestive, not angry, not sarcastic or ironic, just optimistic, it’s so refreshing that you can’t help but grin. Message of Love starts with a catchy guitar and drum rhythm, the kind that makes your ears prop up a bit and pay attention. The lyrics show up, with Hynde’s usual combination of confidence and tenderness, and it may as well be gospel. Because Hynde’s lyrics, Wilde quote notwithstanding, are not that imaginative by any stretch. Message of Love is at its core quite a simple song in all regards. But I’m hard pressed to come up with a better argument for the less is more aesthetic than this song.

And as an added bonus, it wards off the other messages of love, the ones that involve uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. “Lalalala, I can’t hear you,” I yell again and crank up The Pretenders.

Monday, April 05, 2010

you are mine, you are what you are

So. I was going to write some down in the dumps post about this alarming dream I had recently, but thankfully for you and me, I remembered that I practically drove my car off the road yesterday when I heard this song. Because I am no teeniac and because I grew up in EBF and because I am fond of folk music anyway, I immediately recognized the CSNY hook. Actually, I imagine most people in my age range would recognize it, even if they did not know it was CSNY.

I used to listen to a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, no joke. I still think Helplessly Hoping is one of the saddest, prettiest songs ever. And the chorus of Southern Cross is probably permanently etched into my brain. But it always bothered me, the ending of Judy Blue Eyes. At first, it bothered me because I couldn’t understand the words at the end. The song becomes playful and then Stills bursts out into a foreign language. I assumed it was Spanish at the time.

Later, I believe Stills (or CSNY fans, not sure which) put in real Spanish lyrics, but in earlier interviews, Stills made remarks about how he had purposefully sang the coda in broken Spanish, wanting it to be essentially incoherent. Even as a young punk, that did not sit well with me. It sounded like a tourist’s interpretation of what Cuban music sounds like, and later, when I really listened to Cuban music, that became even more obvious.

It’s interesting, getting older, when it comes to music. In the late 90s, I remember a lot of people getting awfully bent out of shape about Déjà vu sampling Steely Dan’s Black Cow. Of course, this had a lot to do with the fact that the rappers who sampled Black Cow didn’t bother to ask permission and thus got themselves sued. But then again, rappers had been getting away with that kind of stuff for years. Part of it was that the tidal wave that is hip hop had not quite swept all preconceived notions away. There was still an argument about whether rap was music back then. The other part was that it was perceived as laziness, using someone else’s music in that way. In the case of Déjà vu, most of the criticism was legitimate- the only thing that really sticks out about the song, in retrospect, is the Steely Dan sample, which remains awesome.

Armada Latina is an entirely different experience. First of all, there’s the generational aspect. I bet most people who have listened to Armada Latina don’t even know (or care) who CSNY are (I’m not entirely convinced most people listening to the song are even aware of who Cypress Hill are). They certainly don’t care about hip hop co-opting a part of a song. And they most definitely do not consider it laziness.

But beyond all that, there is something else still at play here. This song reminds me of warm nights in Brooklyn (I know, I never lived there, I don’t know why it comes to mind). I am reminded of a colorful bar on the corner, people spilling out of it and drinking while music pulses. I am reminded of the different sounds and people and the beautiful clash of everything. It brings to mind Junot Diaz, in a way, this idea that this is the world we live in now. In this world, you don’t listen to Stills sing in gibberish; in this world, you get the real thing and if you don’t know the translation, then look it up, cabron, because that’s your problem.

I don’t know if Cypress Hill meant it that way, if they picked this sample because of it. After all, setting all of that aside, this song is just good. It should be played all over the place this summer. And it makes me happy when groups like Cypress Hill make a reappearance, because, selfishly, it makes me feel less like a member of the AARP. But I have to admit that the reason it tickled me as much as it did on first listen is how fiercely Cypress Hill and (okay fine) Skeletor Marc Anthony reclaim the CSNY bit- listen to it and tell me you don’t hear a little glee in that.