12 September 2010

Top 20 Songs to Be Lonely To

The weekends are always very strange for me. I'm an active person so anytime I'm left with as much as a little empty space in my schedule, it makes me nervous. I'm one of those people who doesn't want to be left alone with themselves. I like distractions and reasons to not think. Naturally, music is the perfect antidote. Since my closest friend had a severe accident, my best friends live in different states, and I'm a picky person, the weekends aren't what they used to be. I have friends that come and go, people I see from time to time but the person I spend the most time with is myself and my trusty iTunes catalog.

Just like everyone else, I have certain music that I feel at home with. There aren't any pretenses with these songs. They're not songs I have to get dressed up for or be with other people - they're songs that are mine. I am very musically sensitive in the sense that if I hear a song playing in someone else's car or in a restaurant or bar, I will instantly relate that song to that situation every time I hear it from there on out. Sometimes this is great and makes me love a song even more but occasionally it's the worst thing that could happen and I can never listen to the song again. Usually it takes a rather massive situation for this to occur but I always hate when it does. Take for example the gorgeous song "Dear Lord" by Joseph Arthur. I absolutely love this song - it could potentially be one of my favorite songs of all time. For a long time I didn't have it on my iTunes because I gradually tuned it out of my mind. Everything from the jangly, West Virginia sound of the guitar to the lyrics that so perfectly describe my ex-boyfriend, made me hate it. I hated the power it had over me. Every time I heard this stupid song I would cry like a maniac. With lyrics like "I'm sorry for the things I've done, I'm sorry for wanting to run" - when I hear it, it just brings back a time I want nothing more than to forget. Yes, this time was the basis of my personality today but I'd rather not think of the person that destroyed my youth (and shaped a great deal of myself). It's rough and I can't believe that a song could bring all that rushing back. And that's not even going into "Close to Me" - The Cure or "Your Eyes" - Peter Gabriel. They make me want to kill myself, figuratively. And for anyone that thinks I'm nuts, I dare you to consider your own personal history and tell me that there's not a song that does the same to you. I'm certain you'll find at least one if not a dozen others.

Finding old mix cds is like hell for me recently. The last two I found were from a person who committed suicide and the aforementioned lover. It's always great to hear love songs that now mean nothing - that are now probably on a cd for someone else. I love the art of a mix cd but the pain that comes after the initial rush is sometimes not worth it. I had a friend not so long ago who was making me a supposed mix catering to all my favorite styles - namely sensual tunes that he thought were more respectable than my more overtly sexy preferences. I saw on his iTunes that the list was named after me and everything. Great, I thought, I love new songs. I'm always more than ready to hear what turns other people on. Of course before I received said mix cd, we got into a musically charged fight and I will probably never receive it.

Music is such a strange animal. Music might be the biggest social tool - and lubricant - there is. More than sports and maybe even alcohol in some cases, music gets people talking and relating. I'm always amazed when I'm sitting at a dinner table and people start talking about music. Their eyes light up and they try to trade little stories that they think will make them sound impressive to the others, sometimes not even realizing that everyone at the table is trying to sound cool in one way or another. Sometimes I'm convinced that's the only reason people even talk about music. In some places it's almost taboo to talk about music in fear of sounding inferior. I had to delete a post on here one time because I spoke so inappropriately about a man I met at a bar that belittled me until I had no choice but to walk away. I had never come across such an arrogant person in my life. In my naivete, it was difficult for me to even believe that this man loved music as much as he was claiming. How could someone who was willing to sit with me for two hours discussing a single topic have such a strong disdain for music he didn't understand? He refused to even amuse the idea of someone like John Mayer having any talent whatsoever and bashed The National for becoming too mainstream. Unfortunately, the more I meet people who claim to be music lovers, the more I come across this same problem. It seems that every "music lover" of a certain age has the same opinions on what music should be. No young "hipster" guy ever openly admits appreciation for someone like John Mayer and any girl who likes him will bashfully say it or add the requisite "embarrassingly!" at the end. I've given up on trying to understand why this is. I continuously use the example that you wouldn't let someone else tell you what to eat so why do you let them influence what you listen to but clearly it's more important to be socially acceptable than - God Forbid! - like a pop artist. A band like The National could be making the greatest music of their career but if they're selling 300,000 albums in their first week doing so then all their "indie cred" is gone in certain circles. It's absolutely baffling to me. They're not working with Britney Spears' auto-tuning guy just because they're popular, they're still making the same album in their little studio whether they sell 1 copy or 1 million copies (clearly there's more to it than this but in theory they're still the same people with the same musical abilities regardless).

It has become so frequent that I hear music discussions I'd rather eavesdrop on than participate in that I have become very leery of ever discussing music myself. I don't like when people challenge me or try to test my music knowledge when they find out I want to be a music writer and I don't like having my own tastes on display in one-on-one conversations. I recently had a run-in like this on a Greyhound bus where I was suddenly put on the spot to discuss my "favorite genre". Granted, I'm a hypocrite because these are the kinds of questions I like to ask other people but when they come my way I try to avoid them. The person was very nice but my answer was incredibly jumbled. "Older R&B? Classic rock? Singer/Songwriter/'70's/folksy/country/twangy/quiet/dancy/hand clapping/hip shaking/short-type of songs"

Maybe I didn't say it in that way but I felt very strange. I felt like I didn't want to sound like an idiot and I didn't want to sound snooty at the same time. Somehow I almost felt like there was a right answer I should give. If you talk about music as if you know something about it, it comes across as pompous but in the same respect you can't act like you don't know anything. The thing I've always wondered is how anyone can judge someone else's taste when they probably know nothing about it if it's not their particular preference. There's an insane array of music out there! There's no way a single individual could be a master of it all in one lifetime. If someone told me right now that their favorite band in the world was Sugarland, I'd nod my head and really have no idea what to say. I don't know very much about contemporary country and therefore I can't tell you if they have great music or not. They could have some incredible lyrics, just because they're not my favorite doesn't mean they're not the best. There are patrons at the concert venue I work at all the time that are devout lovers of specific metal bands that I would consider awful at face value but really, have I given it a try? These people pray at the bottom of the stage these musicians perform on. They wear matching band shirts, get tattoos of their favorite lyrics, and sing along to every word. I am in awe of these people. I am one of these people. My outrageous love of The National is very often put into question among everyone from my friends to strangers. I have a tattoo dedicated to them, a half dozen National shirts in my closet, and listen to them absolutely obsessively. I don't think I'm weird so how could I ever judge another music lover even if it's not the kind of music I love? Actually, I tend to find that it's the people who really have an undying respect for the art of music that usually tell me they don't understand my particular interest but they love my passion for it. That's the attitude more people should have.

Sometimes it's even hard for me to believe that a few pieces of three minute works of art could have such a bearing on someone's life but that's the same kind of mystery that keeps me coming back. In my life, there have been some two hour movies that have made me feel intense things and I will watch them over and over again but are there ever any that I watch 100 times over again? No way. Are there songs I'll listen to over 100 times? Without question. In high school I went through what could only be considered the biggest singer/songwriter phase of my life. I would lay on my bedroom floor with my head up against a long, white dresser and just close my eyes trying to absorb every inch of an entire album by Howie Day or Josh Kelley or the great Jason Mraz. I'd listen to these songs so much and so intensely that they became part of the fabric of my being. I didn't necessarily intend for that to happen but they worked their way into my subconscious. When I hear Josh Kelley's "Home to Me", I am instantly brought back to that time. I guess now in some ways I wish they had been artists with a little more musical depth (I know some of my friends' high school experiences included Pavement, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, etc.) but for me these songs did have depth. I didn't know to listen to something because it was 'cool' or because someone was telling me to. I will certainly admit I had a slight *Nsync phase but I loved their acappela performances and still believe them to be rather decent singers (and dancers for that matter).

I kept a journal in high school and every entry would involve the music I was listening to. Of course I'm not the only one but I remember it was important to me to be very detailed. I would write down an entire album track by track and explain why it meant something to me. I'd use lyrics I knew by heart and write lists of all my current favorite songs. I'd look up similar artists everyday on AOL (the in thing at the time) and find interviews with my favorite musicians to see their influences and then look them up too. I'm not ashamed to say that through John Mayer I started loving jazz music. I guess the writers at Rolling Stone would probably laugh but I would never know who Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, or even Miles Davis was without Mayer's influence. Because I had such a desire to learn, I can actually recognize music from these people, not just know their name so if that's embarrassing then I'm happy to be embarrassed.

I'll tell people upfront that I'm not keen on Leonard Cohen, although I hoped I would be, and that I think Joy Division is overrated. I'm almost positive that somehow certain things got good word of mouth and people started to believe that to be taken seriously they had to go with the flow whether they wanted to or not. Something is not instantly cool because it's "lo-fi" and something is not instantly uncool because it's catchy and produced. I just saw Train - unintentionally - for the third time in two months tonight and although I'll agree that their music is over the top corny, I sort of love it. Pat Monahan gets on stage and not only gives his all but isn't afraid of looking like a loser. He's flittering around like a ballerina and he's having a great time in the process. He's also a great vocalist and songwriter - better in my opinion than a lot of indie bands that all end up sounding the same. It's the bands - in every genre - that take risks that end up coming out the victors.

I've been to over 30 John Mayer concerts and I'll tell you right now that besides some preppy girls that are too afraid to make fools out of themselves, everyone has a good time. At the 12 or so concerts of The National I've been to, I'd be hard pressed to think of more than a handful of people that looked like they were enjoying themselves. If you check out a video on Youtube of these people at the Brooklyn or Manhattan shows, they look like zombies while Matt Berninger is out there singing his soul out. It's almost like these people don't want to appear as if they're having a good time. Wearing their perfect pair of $200 vintage oxfords and their perfectly placed Urban Outfitters fedoras, heaven forbid they shake their hips a little. I am like this too sometimes, especially if I'm alone and a little worried of looking like the creepy, tall one, but by mid-show I tend to get over it whether I want to or not. I am taken in by the music I love more than most of my own family members. When someone's voice is in your ear every day for years you tend to get an attachment to them. I have been hearing John Mayer's voice in my ears for nearly 10 years now. That's longer than all my relationships combined and most of my friendships. When he's out having sex with half of Hollywood, it's not going to stop me from thinking of him as Uncle John. He's my poet. I don't care what the skinny guy in the bar with the tight "Ithaca is Gorges" shirt tells me, you know? I don't get it. And it's not just those kinds of people, it's much more than that. A lot of people preface their favorite music by saying they know it's "not cool" or something like that. I am a victim of this very often as well for some reason. I love Hall and Oates. Do you know how many people hate Hall and Oates? Neither did I until I started telling people I loved them. The game of music is very weird.

ANYWAY, I think this all started by explaining why I get lonely on the weekends. I used to have tons of people around me all time time. My friend and I would bring a bunch of people back over to my place after the bar or we'd get invited to a party or something and now that my partner in crime is otherwise detained, I'm left alone. When I'm wallowing the pain away in a drink or in someone else's company, the pain is easier but when it's a Saturday night and I know what I'm missing, it's a lot more difficult. I get a little sappy and start to feel sorry for myself and end up listening to The National or watching Chelsea Lately, depending on whether I want to get more depressed or pick myself up. In times like these I have my friendly musical voices to keep me company and I'd rather that than people I don't know - unless the people I don't know are the new songs I'm about to download on iTunes.

And as promised, here are the top 20 songs that I enjoy listening to while I'm all alone.

01 Amos Lee - Seen it All Before
02 Amy Winehouse - Wake Up Alone
03 John Frusciante - Song to Sing When I'm Lonely
04 Chet Baker - The Thrill is Gone
05 Band of Horses - Window Blues
06 John Mayer - Perfectly Lonely
07 Andrew Bird - Tenuousness
08 Buddy Guy - I've Got Dreams to Remember
09 Bill Withers - Ain't No Sunshine
10 The Beatles - Norwegian Wood
11 Smokey Robinson - Tracks of My Tears
12 Sondre Lerche - Stupid Memory
13 Frank Sinatra - Glad to Be Unhappy
14 Sufjan Stevens - To Be Alone With You
15 Dave Rawlings - To Be Young (is To Be Sad, is To Be High)
16 The Postal Service - The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
17 Peter Sarstedt - Where Do You Go to My Lovely
18 The National - Daughters of the Soho Riots
19 Pete Yorn - Don't Wanna Cry
20 Otis Redding - (Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay

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