Erin Recommends: “That Teenage Feeling” by Neko Case

Neko Case should be a far more famous songwriter than she is. She wields words with the magic and power of a sorceress. “That Teenage Feeling” has been in constant rotation on my playlists lately, the struggle to love someone with the innocence of youth after you’ve lived a life that’s known heartbreak. My favorite verse is the fervent hope of her brave friend who declares; I don’t care if forever never comes ’Cause I’m holding out for that teenage feeling…

I knew that feeling once when I was very young where I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, was fueled and driven by thoughts of that girl. We fell hard in and out of love. It was brutal. After that I fell into relationships that offered a comfort zone and expectations were relatively low, the heat was set on low, no chance of anything burning down.

When my wife and I separated last year and our marriage finally ended, I figured I’d had a good run. I brushed the dirt off, tended to the bruising and accepted that I’d live the rest of my life in solitude. Then I met someone who turned my world upside down.

My girlfriend and I are ridiculous. We are currently in a long distance relationship fraught with complications. We spend hours video chatting, on the phone, messaging and sexting. We talk about everything and nothing, giggling, crying, bemoaning circumstances, repeating, “I miss you” and “I love you” over and over like a couple of teenagers.

When we met in real life fire warnings were set to red, high alert. Within a half an hour we were naked. We held hands as we walked and talked exploring the city where we’d decided to rendezvous. We’d stare at each other, grinning like fools, aching with want and desire. On a carnival ride we held onto each other with no intention of letting go because clearly we were going to fall, how we landed depended on we cushioned it for each other.

My girlfriend is a sexy nerd. She talks to me about the mystery of sea creatures, rodents and other wild things. She quotes research articles and academic scholars, she Googles everything. She has a big beautiful brain, a wicked sense of humor and takes my breath away every time I look at her. She is an incredibly talented writer who shows me how to be a better one. I want to be the best version of myself because of her.

She reads queer romance novels. I have never read any kind of romance novel. She tells me that we are like one. This makes me cringe. Especially when she says that the language we use is similar. My discomfort makes her laugh. And yet, I am far more romantic than her. She is relatively stoic (though I have cracked the code). She says romance novels are filled with daunting circumstances and obstacles not unlike our own. And even though you know how the story will end it is these things that make it so compelling.

My life derailed when I was seventeen. She has her own teenage story. We’ve declared this love story our teenage re-do. This, this is worth holding out for. This is that teenage feeling.

(Song recommendation by Erin L. Cork)

Carly recommends “Too Much” by Carly Rae Jepsen

My sophomore year of college was a haze of marijuana smoke, trying to impress the frat brothers by going shot-for-shot, dancing in the center of the room. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” wasn’t a new release in 2013 but was a group favorite, a staple at parties. I had the privilege of lurking in the house when those parties were over, the security of a group of lmen who’d protect my girlfriends as they slowly began to experiment. A safe place for excess. Though the boyfriend who introduced me to the frat wasn’t worth the drama, and though many of the friendships turned out temporary, Carly Rae Jepsen still transports me in an instant to sweat on my neck, a hundred people crammed into a little room, singing. Happy. Cool.

Six years later, I’m getting ready for work in Orange, California. It’s April and getting warm enough to hang out on the front porch again. I don’t trust Spotify’s taste in recommendations — it keeps throwing me fouls — but I’m giving my Discover Weekly a try. And as I wing out my eyeliner and lean in closer to the mirror, a shiny, familiar voice rings over the lilting, unfamiliar beat:

Am I bad for you?
’Cause I live for the fire, and the rain, and the drama too, boy
And it feels like you never say what you want
And it feels like I can’t get through, babe

Ooh, that melodramatic boy.

When I party, then I party too much
When I feel it, then I feel it too much
When I’m thinking, then I’m thinking too much
When I’m drinking, then I’m drinking too much

All those shots. Those crowded rooms.

I’ll do anything to get to the rush
Now I’m dancing, and I’m dancing too much
So be careful if you’re wanting this touch
’Cause if I love you, then I love you too much

I listen on repeat till it’s time to go to work. Dance around my house to “Too Much” when I get home again. Transported, if only for that instant, by Carly Rae Jepsen back to sweat, back to dancing, singing, happy. Cool.

(Song recommendation by Carly Madison Taylor)

Sam Recommends: “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina

In September, I went into my doctor’s offices for a routine pap smear and got some very unexpected news: I was pregnant.

I guess it wasn’t totally unexpected. After meeting my (absolutely adorable) newborn niece in August, my husband and I decided we’d stop actively avoiding pregnancy and “see what happens.” I thought it would take a few months at the very least, but apparently the first time was a charm for us.

In the doctor’s office, I was shocked but excited. I was still excited when I went home and shared the news with my husband. But later that night, when the news really had time to sink in, I cried for a full half hour. Had I just made a huge, life-altering mistake that I would regret forever?

You see, I had spent the last 20 years of my life fearing this very moment. Growing up in the US, pregnancy was the primary scare tactic used to promote the abstinence only sex education I received. As teenagers and young adults, we are told by our parents, teachers, and even the entertainment industry, that pregnancy will destroy our bodies, our dreams, our social lives, and our futures.

I believed all of that. And I also doubted that I’d ever have what it takes to raise a child. In my younger years, it was the lack of financial stability and a real career (with health insurance!) that made me feel unprepared. As I sorted those things out, I started to doubt my basic worthiness to be a mother. I had the most wonderful mom (by the way…happy birthday, mom!)…would I ever be able to live up to the example she set? And didn’t I have too many issues of my own to sort out before bringing someone else into the world?

Even though I am a competent and capable adult, with the stability generally considered necessary to raise a child, it was still incredibly hard to reconcile my new situation with all of those years of programming and self-doubt. To be totally honest, I still struggle with it a bit, even at 16 weeks into my pregnancy. In those early days, learning that I was pregnant felt like a massive failure…and also a bit like a death sentence. My life would never be the same, and I liked my life well enough. Would I spend the rest of my life mourning this relatively carefree and selfish existence?

Fortunately, since then, I’ve done some reading and reflecting. I am feeling more prepared for and excited about this new stage of life. Day by day, I am feeling more and more connected to the little human growing in my uterus. I’m spending less time imagining all of the worst case scenarios and more time imagining all of the fun moments and amazing experiences I’ll get to share with my future daughter. I’m still terrified about how good I’ll actually be at this parenting thing, but…I think that might be a good sign?

This is my first song recommendation for you, Kiddo. There will be plenty more to come.

(Song recommendation by Samantha Lamph/Len)

John Recommends: The Soundtrack from Godzilla: King of the Monsters

John Recommends: The Soundtrack from Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Image source: Forbes.

This year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, while it sported some stellar graphics, was a rather mediocre installment into the Godzilla cinematic legacy. Despite that, the film’s soundtrack rivals those of many of the action epics.

The segment I find myself re-listening to the most is Godzilla’s Theme. It relies heavily on the score of the original Godzilla movie, Gojira, released in 1954 (violins and all) as a base for the new score.

This refurbished take on the music also includes some potent choir chanting — chanting the likes of which suspended us in enthusiastic rapture in films such as the Star Wars prequels, The Lord of the Rings, or The Ghost and the Darkness.

Mothra’s Theme, or the Queen of the Monsters Suite, is a musical piece that is extremely beautiful, evocative of the natural splendor and grace of Mothra. Enveloped within it is a combination of eloquence, delicacy, reverence, and mournfulness.

In King Ghidorah’s Theme — the Monster Zero Suite — the chanting which was prominent in Godzilla’s Theme takes on an entirely different aura, representing a drastic change, an entirely opposite vantage point, from what might be considered the film’s true protagonist: Godzilla. For Ghidorah is his arch-nemesis, his chief rival.

Ghidorah is the villain, and as such his theme is much more sinister and gets executed perfectly. In Ghidorah’s Theme, the majority of the choir vocals seem to closely resemble Gregorian chant, perhaps evocative of the titanic struggle playing out between two great beasts which had been deemed deities by former onlookers.

All in all, I feel the soundtrack to Godzilla: King of the Monsters was far better than what the film deserved. If you haven’t seen the movie or haven’t listened to the score, it is definitely worth going back and listening to.

(Song recommendation by John Tuttle)

Jeanne Recommends: “Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos

My parents came late to cable television. It was 1991 or 1992 before we got it at our house, and only then because we could no longer get a reliable signal with just rabbit ears and my father couldn’t live without the news at the dinner table. My teenage self was thrilled. Back then, MTV and VH1 still played music videos and The Real World was edgy stuff. (I watched the first season faithfully.) Weekends, sick days, school holidays, and after school afternoons were replete with my first love: music. I would bounce between the two channels to see what videos were playing — if MTV was showing something I was sick of hearing, I’d flip over to VH1 to see what was going on there, back and forth, ad infinitum.

One bright morning, I was watching VH1 and a music video came on that I hadn’t seen before. A woman in a vivid purple slip with even more vivid red hair was seated in front of an upright piano, and I watched as she drew the now-familiar opening riff from its keys. Then she started singing, and I dropped the remote.

Excuse me, but can I be you for a while
My dog won’t bite if you sit real still
I got the Anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin’ at me again

I thought of my father. I didn’t yet have a name for his mental illness, nor had I begun to think of the way he had always treated me as abusive, but the image of “the Anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin’ at me” felt true in a way I had yet to fully understand.

So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts
What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts?
Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon
How’s that thought for you?

My mind pinballed to every pathetic boy I’d ever had a crush on. Damn, this woman got me. I was never quite good enough for any boy — too chubby, too smart, too weird. I’d had my first real kiss by then, but the boy didn’t want to be seen with me afterward.

Hey, but I don’t care ’cause sometimes, I said sometimes I hear my voice.
And it’s been here silent all these years

Every cell in my body breathed a sigh of relief, the kind that only comes when something — art, music, writing — spreads into the deepest corners of my being and works a kind of magic. Ms. Amos opened a doorway for me that day; a doorway between girlhood and womanhood, between fear and bravery, between keeping silent and speaking truth.

(Song recommendation by Jeanne Sharp)

Alma Recommends: “Love On The Brain” by Rihanna

On Love, Lust, and Obsession

Photo by frankie cordoba on Unsplash

Rihanna sounded quite loud through the speakers near us the last night I saw you. I think she wanted to make sure we heard her since. After all, her experience sounded so much like ours.

The bar was slightly crowded, more so than the prior time we were there. We sat in the same area: small tables yet spacious enough to keep our distance from one another.

Rihanna knows how dark and destructive love can be, and she was trying to warn us. Her presence among us was intimidating, with each shivering chord cutting through our veins and letting us know that ours was, like hers, a damaging-yet-undying love, and that it was time to let go.

I had many unanswered questions for her that night:
– What drives us to those relationships?
– What makes us stay for so long?
– Is it really love? Or is it lust? Or even worse, obsession?
– Do we like the pain of that kind of love?

These questions echo in my head time and time again. It seems like I only know the kind of love that hurts. The impossible kind that takes you up and down the emotional rollercoaster where adrenaline is high, and then tanks to its lowest low.

For the outsider, it is easy to blame it on lust: the passion, the attraction, the indescribable pull towards each other. And lust can quickly turn into an obsession: the need, the desperate wanting to be in with the presence of the other, no matter the consequences. It becomes an addiction, something you can’t live without.

I thought about Rihanna’s words for quite a while after that night. And I still think about it because I sure want the antidote if it is true that I have an addiction to the wrong kind of relationships. But I don’t think so.

I, like Rihanna, would do anything for love. I love with passion and with my whole being. Lust feeds the carnal hunger for the physical blending of the bodies, but I love with my heart and soul. I give chances, I forgive and stay and work hard on my relationships in the name of that love, and in the hopes that one day, it will all be better. But I understand that love can be on the brain for some, and they may not live and share that strength, let alone understand it or accept it as something to treasure.

I love to love with my whole self, but I have come to see that it is the kind of love that should be saved for those willing to accept it with an open heart and excited to take it and embrace it. And that is why my love is now confined within the boundaries of self-care.

Rumor has it that “Love On The Brain” is a response to Chris Brown’s song “Heart Ain’t A Brain” in which he also talks about the addictive kind of love:

A heart ain’t a brain
But I think that I still love you, still love you
A happy ending makes you cry
’Cause it ends when you don’t want to, don’t want to
And it makes perfect sense to end it like the start
How do I explain this nonsense to my heart?
A heart ain’t a brain but I’m thinking that I still love you
Still love you, still love — 

Rihanna’s “Love On The Brain” on YouTube

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Phoebe Recommends: Relatively Easy by Jason Isbell

In college I went through my first and worst depressive episode, but I tried not to burden anyone with it because all my friends were even more depressed than I was and had been dealing with it longer. I don’t know why the impulse to weigh two pains and deem only the heavier valid was so ingrained in me, but it was. I was losing the hardship Olympics, so I felt like I had no right to complain.

Maybe if I were fifteen I would have turned to emo, but at twenty I found comfort in country, a genre of achy breaky hearts and rock bottom drunkenness. Stuck in a coal mining town, forever indebted to the company store. Pregnant again and your man done run out on you. Of course, there are also trucks and tractors, front porches and fishing, sunshine and honkytonks and falling in love, but what country music does best is pain. I reveled in it.

I was stuck between two extremes: self-effacing denial as my friends shared their own struggles and myopic wallowing while Patsy Cline played. It took “Relatively Easy” by Jason Isbell, the final track off his 2013 masterpiece Southeastern, to bridge the gap.

“Relatively Easy” is one of those songs that almost means too much to me for me to be able write about it. It’s a song I’m hesitant to tell anyone to listen to because if they don’t like it, I’ll take it as a personal affront. Opening with deceptively cheery acoustic guitar and Isbell casually, sympathetically asking the listener if it’s been “a long day,” it goes on to be a miracle of perspective and contextualization, a reminder that things may be bad, but they could be worse. That things could be worse, but that doesn’t mean they’re not bad.

Here is your fair warning: I have very rarely been able to listen to it without crying.

CW: suicide

(Song recommendation by Phoebe Cramer)

Michael Recommends “Old Strange” by Steve Gunn

The sun crawls through these early winter days like a dog stalking something off in the field, trying to pace each movement to the rhythm of its prey, hunting the horizon, low on its haunches. The moon scrambles through bare locust as an arctic cold front folds down from the northwest. It’s this time of year, when the woods are slowly falling in on themselves and the stars seem to get brighter as the temperature drops, that I inevitably meander off into the world of Steve Gunn’s “Old Strange.”

Much like how the bone-map of the forest in front of my house is laid bare with each wind gust and frost, each listen and performance of “Old Strange” reveals something — a new note or syllable or image. I like to follow this song just to see where it takes me. I track it through the snow, following its licks and riffs until the spring when it inevitably skulks off into the undergrowth. Then, in late summer, when the river’s low and the trees are all dressed up and fox are only seen in those moments when light breaks and crack, I put my hand into the dirt and feel it murmur off in the thicket…

“planted there for us all

in the dirt tall and strong”

I first fell in love with Steve Gunn’s music off a recommendation from Aquarium Drunkard. His album, Time Off, is this incredible piece of acoustic alchemy — beautifully layered mantras of guitar, bass, and drums. Each song is it’s own entity, yet they fall into each other like a ravine ecology where everything makes sense and works its way towards a stream.

“Old strange came by night

bound away outta sight

took the path through the fields

pawned away what was real…”

These fields I walk through find their form in the winter as the wildflowers die and the grass crumbles under the weight of long nights. And this song seems to find a form with each turn in season. That guitar riff is constant, building layers upon layers and then peeling back slowly, methodically until a new strange vision takes hold, old in its ability to honor what was while breaking into a new field of what is and what will be.

(Song recommendation by Michael Garrigan)

Cory Recommends: “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)” by Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson knows what he wants.

People told me I was A Dad many years before I ever became a father. That I look and sound a bit like Red Green probably doesn’t hurt. In that mode, I bring you a song recommendation with a little fatherly advice.

Many people out there make their living telling others how to run their lives. I’m not interested in that. I’d rather share the tools I have and if they work for you, take them. If not, no harm no foul I hope. I find that the titular line of this song has been a helpful tool for me over the years.

It’s deceptively simple. OF COURSE, you say (rhetorically since I can’t hear you) a person has to know what you want in order to get it! Yet in my experience a surprisingly high percentage of people haven’t sat down and had an honest conversation with themselves about what they really want. Worse yet, a woeful number of people I’ve met have actively considered if what they think they want is a product of their own desires and hopes or are a fool’s errand sold to them by a system that chews them up for profit.

I sing this song to my coworkers on a regular basis when they come to my desk and ask me vague process questions. It’s a disarming way to start a cooperative conversation about the scope of their ideas and projects and what tools are at their disposal. We’re all in this together.

So do yourself a favor and take a few moments for some self-reflection. You’ll be glad in the long run that you did.

Plus, that tight horn section and bass guitar part are knock outs.

(Song recommendation by Cory Funk)

Iris Recommends: “Rise Up With Fists!!!” by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins

“Rise Up With Fists!!!” finds me one June afternoon, on a train from Heathrow airport back to Hammersmith at the end of a work trip to mainland Europe. It finds me because I’m playing Rabbit Fur Coaton my Spotify app, stuck on shuffle mode, all my skips used up too fast too soon. What took you so long, it seems to say, half glad and half reproachful. Where have you been all these years?

I’ve been gazing out of bedroom windows and cars and buses under the spell of “Melt Your Heart”. I’ve been going through phases of playing “You Are What You Love” on repeat, one relationship failed before its start after another, none really worth a good song. I’ve been waking up with “Happy” stuck in my head at times when I was everything but. That’s where I’ve been since my first encounter with Rabbit Fur Coat, around 2006. And now, “Rise Up With Fists!!!” finds me like a five-pound note fished out of an old coat pocket by pure chance. Well, actually, make it ten. Because that June afternoon happens to be in 2016, not even two weeks after the Brexit vote, and I’ve never been this fucking furious.

Jenny Lewis has a power that I — a woman who can’t sound so much as mildly annoyed without being called shrill — can only dream of: she can tell you the most damning things with the calmest, softest voice, without making them sound any less true. Even her angriest words never descend into the sort of blind rage the year of our Lord 2016 has brought me to the brink of. With “Rise Up With Fists!!!” I feel the punches to the gut a moment too late to steel myself for the ache, and There but for the grace of God go Iis the kind of perfect, neat, encapsulating sentence I could tattoo around my wrist (if I hadn’t heard wrist tattoos hurt like hell, and hadn’t long given up finding a god I believe in to the point of etching its name on my skin).

Don’t let the caustic tone fool you, though: this song has a big heart. It tears down false idols, it exposes the lies we tell ourselves to avoid looking into the future and seeing the abyss gaze back — and, all the while, it reminds us that not all hope is lost. It’s just not in our line of sight half the time we think we’ve got it; just not as big and bright as we expect it, and not where everyone says it’s easy to find.

(Song recommendation by Federica S.)