Successful wedding receptions come down to music and food.
Not really. But good lede, right?
Successful wedding receptions involve a lot of different elements and require them all to come together, to complement each other, to form a cohesive whole. In some ways, it’s like designing an entire restaurant, from the ground up, knowing it will be open for a single night. But it’s not just a restaurant, because it’s not just dinner.
What a difficult list to compile. Especially since, glancing down at my iTunes running, there are 33,773 songs in my library. According to iTunes, it will take me more than 100 days of continuous listening (with no sleep, now I realize) to listen to them all. It’s rather extensive, and it’s the sort of collection that makes my taste in music suspect at best, beginning as it does with A-Ha (because any collection without “Take On Me” is incomplete) and ending (before it reaches songs without proper ID3 tags and lumps them all) with “Skin Up Pin Up” by 808 State/Mansun from Spawn: The Album (iTunes is the first organization system I’ve seen that puts numbers after letters, rather than before; if it did, the first songs would be by 1 Giant Leap or 12 Rounds). In between those few, there’s everything from Rick Astley, Belinda Carlisle, and Bon Jovi to all of Clapton, the Beatles, and Sinatra.
So it’s pretty expansive.
But expansive as it is, I tend to stick to some favorites. Lately it’s been a lot of Wolfmother (and Jet; what is it about Australia that inspires such great rock music from its bands?), Vanessa Mae, and, as always, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. Also, Adam Lambert and Matt Wertz.
So there’s a lot. But I winnowed. I winnowed after I kept reading other lists that fawned over, like, Radiohead and such. I mean, has Radiohead ever managed to be as good as Pablo, Honey? They’re like Pearl Jam and Matchbox Twenty, with fantastic debut CDs but output that has gotten subsequently less terrific with each title. For me, anyway. Your listening may vary. Also, dear Rolling Stone: The Strokes and Wilco in number 2 and number 3 spots, respectively. No offense, but seriously? No wonder people debate the continued relevance of the magazine. I mean, how safe.
Why not stretch a bit? Why not reach for some choices few people would expect? Then again, this from a guy who doesn’t really enjoy any of those three bands. I know lots of reviewers fell over themselves to heap a lot of praise on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but there wasn’t a single song on it that made me want to listen to the CD again. I get the impression it’s all just, like, hey, everyone else likes it, so we should, too, but to cite one of the artists who earned a spot on my list by way of a great CD, “You don’t know what love is, you just do as you’re told.”
So, suspect taste noted, shall we? My top ten albums of the last ten years, in order:
Besides two quotes, one from The Prince and one from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” those are the first three words of my novel. They occur as a thought when the protagonist, Chance Sowin, crosses his parents’ front lawn and sees that the front-door lock has been shattered. He’s been there before, you see, and in several ways, all of which those of you who know that it’s a time-travel novel might be able to conjecture, but it’s more than that.
When I was eleven or twelve, I stole Stephen King’s Needful Things from my father’s small bookcase and began to read it. It was the first adult-level novel I had ever read, and it rewired me in some very important ways. Not only was it the book that confirmed my lifelong addiction to reading and words, but it was also the book that made me realize I wanted to write. I had read the Hardy Boys series and A Wrinkle in Time, but they never suckerpunched me quite like Needful Things did. I felt that moment in the same way I realized I wanted to go to grad school; moments like that come with some absolute and incontrovertible certainty.
It is, perhaps, not altogether ironic that my first novel begins with the same words as Needful Things. There are so many cliches to go along with it: the circle of life, and what goes around comes around, and etc.
I think one of the reasons I felt the catharsis I mentioned was that we’ve gotten beyond the noise and chatter. No more political ads, no more proposition whatever, no more signs on people’s lawns. Used to be that it was difficult to separate the static from the noise; seems like now there’s too much noise, and it’s more difficult to separate the stupid from the real.
Every year, I think it’s going to be different. Every year, I write a little more about it, talk a little more about it, and every year I think it’s going to make some difference. Every year I believe I’ve processed it a little better, a little differently, learned to cope with it a little more.
Every year, I’m wrong again.
Every year, I think I might sleep a little later, and every year my body shocks me awake at almost exactly 8:45 am Eastern standard time. Every year I think I might just make it to my alarm, and every year I don’t. Every year I wake up confused and bewildered for a just a moment during which I don’t remember what day it is. And every year, I do, all over again. Every year, I get quiet and reticent.
Every year, I watch two videos. They are as traditional to me at this time of year as Twas the Night Before Christmas is traditional to December.
Unfortunately, WordPress, Comedy Central, and MTV don’t seem to play nice, so you’ll have to follow those links, but trust me, they’re worth it.
I just wanted to share them, because they are cathartic on a day on which I otherwise shut completely down. I tend to solidify like concrete, mute and rigid and immobile, and each of those videos seems to serve as tiny, persistent chisels, busting away all the defense mechanisms I’ve thrown up since the day I smelled that dust (some days I fear there are too many). And I figured, since I truly believe there is catharsis for all of us in sharing the memory of that day, I feel too that there is similar relief in sharing how we cope with it.
This year, I’ve had an epiphany, prompted by Making Light, a blog maintained by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Making Light is intertwined with my memories of that day; there was a check-in post there, that day, and I remember I either posted there or to the well. Today, Making Light pretty much defiantly rejected commemoration of the terrorist attacks in favor of other anniversaries/memories:
I am sure that there will be many places to remember the dead, and to debate the lessons they can teach the living. I’m confident that the Making Light commentariat will have a lot to say on the subject.
This thread is not for that. This thread is for defiant normality. If the aim of terrorism is to produce terror, grief and anger, then let us laugh, and rejoice, and love.
And I both understand and acknowledge the value of such a sentiment.
Moreso, I say, I’m sorry, but grief, for me, is normality today. Today, I laughed at my students, and rejoiced in the fact that people read what I’ve written, but both come in utter defiance. That doesn’t necessarily mean that both are tainted, but still, I look around at where I am and what I’m doing and remember where I was and what I was doing. This year, I acknowledge it hurt, and I accept that it’s okay. In the past, I’ve felt at times like I don’t have a right to feel this way, because hey, I survived and that leaves me so much better off than so many other people, but this year I note:
I’m sorry. I’m not okay. I’m not even a little okay. I miss Manhattan more than I can express. I miss my friends and my crummy little apartment and riding the subway to work. I miss all the terrific people I worked with and all the wonderful friends I made. I miss the neon and the way the sidewalk sparkled under my feet. I miss blowing half my paycheck on bad CDs at HMV, and watching movies alone at Virgin.
But most of all, even though I may not be okay, I am grateful.
I don’t think I’ve said it lately, but thank you. Because a reader is not solely the single best thing any writer can have, but also, arguably, what makes a writer in the first place. In “Your Name on a Grain of Rice,” Roger Clyne wonders:
What good is my love song if you ain’t around to hear it?
It’s not really that eclectic a list, but, then, Paste focuses mainly on independent “artists.” Even though most of the musicians they cover have major label record deals (I am, in fact, not entirely sure any of the songwriters they mention are truly independent). But that’s a side-issue.
Here’s their top ten:
9. Joni Mitchell
8. Elvis Costello
7. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
6. Leonard Cohen
5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
4. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
3. Bruce Springsteen
2. Neil Young (Buffalo Sprinfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
1. Bob Dylan
Not really all that inspiring, you ask me. Seems a bit safe, to me. Nobody on there who really makes you say, “really?”
But still I think they’re ignoring a lot of great artists on the list as a whole. For example, I think my personal top ten greatest living songwriters would be:
1. Roger Clyne
3. Paul McCartney
4. Axl Rose
5. Leonard Cohen
6. Tori Amos
7. Bon Jovi
8. Billy Joel
9. Tom Petty
10. Kevin Griffin (Better Than Ezra)
Also on my list would be Dave Matthews, Marshall Mathers (Eminem), Ben Lee, Jack White, Dr. Dre, Joni Mitchell, and Lili Haydn.
I mean, don’t get me wrong; I get most of Paste‘s choices. But Bob Dylan as number one? Really?
That’s a big “meh.”
But as always, I’m looking for recommendations, so who would your choices be?
I’ve been a huge fan of Clyne since 1995, and the Refreshments; Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big, & Buzzy was the first CD I ever owned I loved beginning to end. I played the shit out of that bad boy. Over and over. I passed up a chance to see the Refreshments in New York, once, and they subsequently broke up. Clyne reformed a band not long afterward with a few members of other bands from the Tempe music scene, and Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers released Honky Tonk Union.
RC&tPM are the most successful independent band in the country, from what I’ve read. I think they deserve it; I love pretty much everything I hear from them. Not everything, mind you; I think it’s rare to find an artist whose entire output one loves, but they come pretty close. Clyne reminds me equally of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and Bruce Springsteen, but to my mind surpasses all three with a unique vision of the southwest, peace, love, and rock ‘n roll. This new one, Turbo Ocho, is really good; not as awesome as !Americano!, but certainly among their best (though really, which isn’t?).
I’ve also just received the new Arsenal CD, Outsides, their follow up to Oyebo Soul (the latter of which apparently most accurately translates to “White Boy Soul,” which, being a white boy, I find amusing). They’re a bit of a fusion band; as nearly as I can figure, the members of the band are from El Salvador, Puerto Rico, and Boston, or somesuch; really, they’re a terrific mixture of some very different styles. They’re a bit electronica, but a little lounge-y, with some rock thrown in for a sexy groove. I dig them lots.
And finally, Steve Acho. I found Steve by accident; I’d been searching on iTunes for different versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (the greatest lyrics in the history of music? Discuss), and his covers CDs came up. I like his style and delivery; I’ve seen comparisons to Elton John and Billy Joel, but I think they’re superficial at best–just because he’s a dude with a piano doesn’t make him comparable. He lacks the ostentation of the former, certainly, and seems more passionate than the latter.