One of my favorite things to do on a weekend night is to sit in a cozy living room, sip on some wine or a cocktail and listen to music. There’s just something both “grown-up” and “youthful” about that atmosphere that makes me feel like there is nothing else I’d rather be doing.
On one of these nights I was in Chicago staying with my cousin and her husband. And just like we do at my own house, we designate someone’s tablet as the “music producer,” search YouTube for songs we want to hear and add the music video to the queue so that it will project onto a large TV for everyone to enjoy. It was on that night that I was introduced to “Roll the Bones” by Shakey Graves.
I was first impressed with the fact that this artist is playing an electric guitar, a bass drum activated with one foot AND a tambourine with the other foot. That’s just cool. But then when I heard the guitar chords, I fell in love with the song. It’s full of swings between major and minor chords, with bluesy 7th chords and maybe even other, less-often-used chord types in there.
He has an amazing voice, too. It’s gravelly and perfect for blues. And he has phenomenal vocal control, and throws in some cool slides into his singing to match the bluesy thing he’s dong on the guitar. Shakey Graves would be a trip to see perform live.
(And after you check out this song, check out a super-cool duet called, “Dearly Departed.”)
They’ve been on my radar for years, since their debut album Cape Dorywas blowing up back in 2011/2012. But for some reason, I never took the time to listen to that album. In fact, I still haven’t gotten all the way through it.
I have, however, become absolutely obsessed with 2017’s Yours Conditionally. It’s one of those rare perfect albums for me, an album that I can listen to from start to finish, enjoying every single moment of that 36 minutes and 17 seconds.
But the song I’m recommending today isn’t even from that album. It’s a single from the same year: “I Miss That Feeling.” In doing my reading on the band, I learned that this song is inspired by Alaina Moore’s struggles with anxiety — a struggle I share.
I had my first panic attack in 5+ years last week. I was sitting in bed, relaxing and reading a great book. When I finished the book and closed my Kindle, I saw a strange flash of light and my heart started racing. I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen to get a glass of water, mostly to prove to myself that I was not having a seizure and partly to be in the same room as another human being who could call the paramedics if I was having a seizure.
I wasn’t too surprised by the panic attack. I know my triggers, and my life is a perfect storm of them lately. Feelings of personal and professional stagnation, worry that I’ve passed my peak as a human being. You know, the typical symptoms of an existential crisis.
I’ve also been feeling a bit of whiplash at being 30 years old…soon to be 31 in just a couple of weeks. I’ve been looking at some old photos on Facebook, photos from my college days, and even further back to the end of high school. I’ve also spent some time reading my journals from those days.
I can’t believe its been 10–15 years since that version of me was navigating the world. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. And it’s even harder to wrap my head around what is perhaps the most basic truth of life: you can never go back.
They weren’t necessarily happier or even easier times. Yet I still feel nostalgia for them. A sense of loss for that phase of my life that’s over forever. That phase where I still had most of my major life decisions in front of me, when I was making my through life one unsteady step at a time. It was anxiety inducing in a different way, and I guess I miss that feeling.
I used to have this DVD collection of Spike Jonze’s music videos that I watched constantly. My teenage dream was to direct videos and his were my favorite: weird, innovative, and silly. Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain” was one of the best in the collection.
I came late to the band’s body of work, but this –one of their most commercially popular songs, from an album many rank as their worst –was a song I’d always loved. Recently I heard it again, but felt like I’d really heardit; sometimes it takes years to have a song come on organically in the exact right moment. For me and this song, it was during a frustrating stretch of standstill highway traffic due to a left lane closing, when there’s nothing to do but think about all the stuff you don’t want to think about and pray someone will let you edge into their lane.
I went home and re-watched the video with commentary. J Mascis notes the clip was supposed to be much more violent but was edited to be MTV-friendly. In it, Mascis and Mike Johnson play golf in congested Manhattan, wildly weaving their golf cart through traffic. The camera tracks the ball soaring over buildings, breaking a man’s glasses and knocking him out. After, it’s picked up by a group of confused businessmen, so Mascis and Johnson club them until they’re subdued (and then some). The band members are numb to the pain they inflict as they continue their impossible game. Do they only succeed because they’re able to ignore the pain they cause, as well as everything else surrounding them, all the suffering, the crowds, the humans living their lives?
The video doesn’t have it, but the song opens with a cork pop, releasing the driving riff and hypnotic rhythm. Two parts repeat, the first gentle and the next chugging, deeper, mimicking the lyrics: “I feel the pain of everyone/Then I feel nothing.” The interpretation seems to fracture: the speaker as extreme empath to the point of obliterating his own senses, or the speaker feeling the pain, but simply not giving a shit. The enormity overwhelms; maybe we should stop trying altogether. Mascis passes another version of himself in the video, forlornly playing guitar on the corner. Could this be a glimmer of self-reflection, of guilt we can’t escape?
The song finishes with an insane guitar performance, everything controlled chaos, overwhelming you, and then it ends — bam bam. Then it’s nothing, just a buzz in your ears.
Listener is such an appropriate name for this group of humans. The ideas and observations in this song require a stillness that only comes with listening intently. The music sways and swells and washes upon the shore of my heart, and although the band has seen members come and go, as Dan Smith sings, “we only have what we remember.”
I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of music videos. I usually prefer the first experience with a piece of music to be completely aural, and although I enjoy and make visual art, I often find the music video to be a distraction. I’m not interested in images that take away from the truth in the music and lyrics. Just give me the sound, man…
However, the video for “Wooden Heart” only strengthens the message. Perseverance. Hope. The will to live, even when you’re barely making it. I’ll dive deep one more time to try to save what I love.
I also urge you to read the complete lyrics on their own. They are pleading and humble, and they are brilliant. “My hopes are weapons that I’m still learning how to use right, but they’re heavy and I’m awkward. I’m always running out of fight.” The wisdom in these words paired with the rhythmic delivery and atmospheric guitars buoy my spirit.
It’s difficult to look at the world and not see the sinking ship. Corruption, violence, inequality. It’s enough to drive anyone mad, “but I still believe in saviors.” We have the ability, and even the responsibility, as human beings to spur each other on to better lives, to shock each other back to life. I hope this song has maybe helped in some way.
Sometimes all I need is 5 minutes to refocus. I just need 5 minutes of peace, 5 minutes of good music. After all, “everything falls apart at the exact same time it all comes together perfectly for the next step.”
There are songs out there that I like to call “necessary songs”. Songs that make the world a better place just by existing. Probably 90% of songs aren’t necessary. They don’t add anything to the world. That doesn’t mean that they are bad by any means.
One of my favorite songs of all time is “Cherry Pie” by Warrant, one of the greatest rock songs ever written. The lyrics, however, aren’t exactly adding anything to the world.
“Bend Not Break” by Alex Boye is, no doubt about it, a necessary song. Written for the purpose of saving lives, Alex Boye wrote this song for the purpose of keeping people going when they feel like killing themselves. As somebody who suffers from severe depression and is a quiet member of the mental health community, this song is super important to me.
The most helpful part of the song to me is every time he says “Not Today”. As in don’t kill yourself, at least not today. When I am at my lowest and feel like giving up, this is what I whisper to myself over and over in my head. Not Today. Not Today. Not Today. The message this song brings is “take life one day at a time.” If that is too daunting then one hour. Or one minute. Just never give up on life.
Everything about this song resonates for this country girl but this isn’t about me. This is about Yola.
I stumbled across her when Paste magazine recommended her album Walk Through Fire as an Americana album I should get to sooner than later. I clicked on it, listened to every song in one sitting, downloaded it and haven’t been able to stop listening.
Yolanda Quarterly or “Yola” grew up in Bristol, England in a home where music was banned but you know, she had a calling and followed it. The world is a better place because she did.
Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys produced this amazing piece of work, highlighting the talent of this woman. Every song on this album has a “this could be anywhere” and timeless resonance.
“Ride Out in the Country” quickly made it to the top of my playlist partly because this is who I am, the jump in my truck turn up the music, let the wind flow through my fingers, walk in the woods to sort things out, contemplate stories, find the perfect image or seek out answers.
The video here surprised me, didn’t see the shovel and hole coming but I love how she does it in a dress and work boots. It’s badass.
The album and Yola herself have recently been nominated for the Americana Honors and Awards. I know we haven’t heard the last of her.
*Some names were changed to hide their real identity.
Four years ago, Lewis, my schoolmate, joined a taekwondo session organized through his sister’s ballet company in Davao. I wanted to be part of it, too, but I just cannot ask my mother to join.
I’m a total copycat. Sometimes, when I know others joined any event that seem to help a lot for me, I easily push myself to get engaged. However, deep inside my head I know not all things end up good. Or maybe, I just seem to quit.
He was the only guy who could dance among my entire batch, and I had this sensation I was feeling deep inside. I tried to approach him but he usually brushed it off. So with the help of my best friend Vernie, I was able to befriend him.
Before I had to confirm that his involvement is not a joke, I was watching music videos of Prince in YouTube. His hit “Breakfast Can Wait” was my top favorite, coincident that there was this red lady kicking with her stilettos in the video.
Since then, every time Lewis gets into his taekwondo competition, Prince is always the playlist in my head. I keep repeating some of his songs like “Cream”, “1999”, “Free”, “Little Red Corvette”, and more.
In 2017, I was lucky to get one of his biography books titled after him in the bookshop, shortly before the management decided to change the establishment into an art shop just as calligraphy and lettering became a trend in the Philippines. After taking a glimpse on some pages of the book, there was one thing I learned about Prince: he was also a movie star. Can’t believe it? Me, too; I thought he was the first to do that.
The following year, when April came, the taekwondo trend came back. As school was about to end, my life was nothing but more of distortion as ever. I wanted to escape my fuss over Lewis and the rest of my batch mates, so I went over YouTube again and watched clips of Prince’s movies, like some from “Purple Rain”, “Under The Cherry Moon”, and “Graffiti Bridge”.
Then I had this idea of writing a book dedicated for him entitled All Time, Good Time together with the song “Thieves In The Temple”.
I could still remember the pictures of the music video coming in my head as I recall all my controversies for the last time around — how the static of emotional torture hit me and how senseless it is to have somebody who had nothing to do but play games. Lewis is smart; his gaming attitude just killed it.
Love come quick
Love come in a hurry
There are thieves in the temple tonight
They don’t care where they kick
Just as long as they hurt u
There are thieves in the temple tonight
Then, when I was out of my old school for my writing workshop that May, he invited me to join with the taekwondo team. Even so, it was too late; I already had a league of my own. Besides, what more could I get when I still have to pay the price of a thousand for the entire session? I shut it off. I said no.
Almost a year after, he finally got his black belt. I would have told him congratulations, but I guess it would become useless. Even being “friends” is no match to the turning point of my dramatic change in the aftermath of my distorted old life.
Well, I love looking at the lyrics rather than the music alone. For now, I just wanted to commemorate May with this, remembering all the lessons from the past, that I should not waste my time for all the nonsense stuff because I still have more work to be done.
I earned a minor in French in college but I’ve never been to France or even Canada. I don’t encounter the language as often as I’d like to, but I am still enamored with French cinema and music.
I remember being treated to lyrics in English, German, French and Japanese the first time I heard the “Oh Ah!” and “Monokini” albums by Stereo Total. Near the end of the 90s, I heard their cheeky tune “C’est la mort” on our local college radio station and had to hear more.
“Supergirl” is a fun, dance-y offering and the alternating vocals taunt and tease like characters in French New Wave films or songs by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. Even if you don’t know French, or the lyrics seem a bit ridiculous, you can appreciate the lively musicality and the homage to somewhere and someone new.
A bit more lighthearted fare, this song is such a fun toe-tapper with an endearing throwback style. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling doe-eyed and donning my faux eyelashes and ennui posthaste!
I started writing this on the 1st day of spring 2019. Even if the weather’s not quite there yet, this song gives hints of renewal. That smooth bass sound and pleasant groove help us make the shift into a new season with a curious caution. But there’s no need to shy from brighter skies here; RAMP presents a much-needed warm welcome with “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”
While working in a record store in Cincinnati from 2005–2008, we had a nice share of in-store performances and meet-and-greets. From the beloved, hometown Psychodots to local hero Bootsy Collins to the enchanting Over the Rhine and even… Stryper… many artists and groups stopped in or played there.
RAMP was a group I was not familiar with locally, as I grew up an hour away in a town that had many of its own claim-to-fame music greats. I heard whisperings of how iconic RAMP was and how the name stood for “Roy Ayers Music Productions.” Well-known jazz musician Roy Ayers did, in fact, write and produce for the group, but did not play or sing in the quintet. They released one album, “Come Into Knowledge,” in the 1970s that has since appeared in samples and been revered by hip-hop artists.
Meeting RAMP was like suddenly feeling surrounded by good energy. No-frills men and women who exude the same mellow, meditational feel inherent in their music. “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” is an underrated cover of a Roy Ayers Ubiquity track (on an album titled after the song) but born out of the Queen City.
I am now finally finishing this write-up as we get closer to summer. No matter the season, this song presents an easy and free soundtrack to anyone who longs to be surrounded by the light of life, the gentle warmth. This song has wide, open arms that invite you to bask in the repetition of sunshine.
Joni Mitchell turned seventy-five this year and I tried to write a song recommendation but really, have you ever tried to choose one Joni song for anything? I mean the woman is an influencer.
I always cite her as my single greatest influence. Multitudes of singer-songwriters, artists and writers say she is the one who has had the greatest impact on their work. The woman is a genius, a one of a kind. Her art resonates through generations. It endures and will be around long after my ashes are spread.
I grew up surrounded by her in my childhood home. In another essay that grew too long while trying to write a single song recommendation I wrote about my Top Five Goose Bump moments:
5) July 6, 1983 — “Chinese Cafe” Joni Mitchell Poplar Creek Music Theatre, Chicago
4) 0400 Jan 1, 1982: “A Case of You”, lying in my bed, KUFM radio, Missoula, MT
3) Spring 1973: “Little Green” -My baby brother’s first christening, St. Anthony’s Church, Missoula, MT
2) October 1992: “Hejira” Driving HWY 200 along the Blackfoot River, MT
1) August 2, 1989: “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” garage, pile of snow tires, Missoula, MT
Clearly, she has been there for all of them. I can recite her lyrics and liner notes from every album and the inspiration for almost every song. Brandi Carlile is going to perform the entire Blue album this fall in Seattle and I can hardly wait for that recording to be released.
Joni Mitchell is the quintessential artist and influencer, she has been with me for as long as I can remember — part of her pours out of me in these lines from time to time…
I leave you with “Hejira” but go ahead and try to choose one song that doesn’t find it’s way into you. Happy Birthday, Joni.