Falling In Love With Cities and Dead Musicians

When I was nineteen, I fell in love with Stevie Ray Vaughan.

And by proxy, I fell in love with Austin – this weird little music-loving burg in the heart of Hill Country. The place Willie has a street named after him.

I’m going to Austin next month for Austin City Limits.

Image by Brooke Weber.

Image by Brooke Weber.

To say I’m excited is an understatement akin to saying the Beyhive can occasionally be a little intense.

I’m going to Austin with two of my favorite people, I’m going to see Outkast and Pearl Jam and Gaslight Anthem and Benjamin Booker and holy fucking shit you guys, I’m going to see The Replacements live.

I’m going to eat ALL the food because Austin is the land of migas and tacos and vegan Frito pies. I’m going to drink Shiner Bock while listening to bluesy boogie rock and I’m going to take a shitload of pictures. I’m gonna be talked out of buying a pair of cowboy boots and talked into taking one more shot (which is always the best/worst idea).

And I’m going to leave a fresh pack of guitar strings at the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial at Lady Bird Lake.

It’s a bit silly, really. I mean, it’s not like he’s going to use them and odds are, they’re going to be stolen like, five minutes later.

(To the dude that’s gonna steal the strings: Play Lenny and if you don’t know any SRV, play a little Willie and if you don’t know any Willie, but the damn strings back)

But, when I was nineteen, I fell in love.

And love isn’t rational.

So, you leave six slinky strings for a man long gone and hope that somewhere amid the chaos and calm of the universe, he knows that you’re grateful for all the love he passed your way and that even though you never knew him, you miss him.

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Expectations Versus Reality Or, You’d Think People Would Have Had Enough of Silly Love Songs

I was Biffle’s date to a wedding this past weekend.

I am definitely the girl you want to take to a wedding.

Firstly, I can rock an LBD. Ninety percent of the time, my body can best be described as, ‘Jessica Hobbit’ – Jessica Rabbit curves and Frodo Baggins stature…and feet.

But my little black dress is capable of a little black magic and I get all sorts of va-va-voomy.

See? That’s not what I look like in real life! That’s all the dress and I’m pretty sure it’s made of the same magic material as Batman’s cape and the fever dreams of Vargas enthusiasts.

Secondly, I always order the much cheaper vegetarian option and if there isn’t one available, I’ll switch your side salad for my steak. Good deal, right?

And finally, thanks to years of attending public school in South Florida, I know how to dance. And by dance, I mean shimmy my hips to any sort of Latin-influenced rhythms.

Anyway, we’re at the reception when the DJ busts out with Amazed by Lonestar.

J: Ugh…
Biffle: What?
J: I hate this song and everything it stands for. I think my soul is dead.
Biffle: No, dude. This song kinda sucks.

As noted before, I am a fan of the love song. And like pretty much every girl I know, I wanted to have a love song kind of love…until I started thinking about it.

There’s this really great scene in 500 Days of Summer (sidebar #2: Tom is a terrible boyfriend. He just uses Summer as a blank screen to project all his hopes and when her actual personality comes through, he gets all pissy) that contrasts expectations with reality:

evr

A love song love life sounds like a great idea but if you scratch the surface, you realize it’s actually a spectacularly terrible idea.

Song: Power Trip
Artist: J.Cole
Sample Lyric: She got me up all night/Got me singin’ those love songs

Expectation: Dude, my boyfriend stays up all night singing love songs to me. He’s the most romantic guy in the world!
Reality: Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP. Some of us have to work tomorrow, asshole! Also, I’ll Be Watching You by The Police doesn’t count as a love song. It’s about a stalker. So either get in the bushes with a pair of binoculars or shut up!

Song: I’ll Make Love To You
Artist: Boyz II Men
Sample Lyric: I’ll make love to you/Like you want me to/And I’ll hold you tight/Baby, all through the night….

Expectation: Swoon…
Reality: Really? You’re gonna squeeze onto me through the entire night? You know it’s like, seven million degrees out, right? Also, “making love”? Ew. I’m with Fiddy on this one. I have no idea how one would even go about accomplishing such a feat. I make risotto. I make weird noises when I write. I make a beeline for the bar when I hear they’ve got Bluecoat Gin. Anything else? Eh, not so much.

(Not gonna lie, though? As contrived as the lyrics are, I am hard in the paint for this slow jam. Anytime I hear it, I ball up my little fists and sing like I’m trying to impress Adam Levine on The Voice)

Sidebar #3: Were you born in 1995? Guess what? You were conceived to this song!

Song: Let Me Love You
Artist: Ne-Yo
Sample Lyric: Girl let me love you/And I will love you/Until you learn to love yourself/Girl let me love you/And all your trouble

Expectation: This guy is in for the long haul and totally cool with all my baggage.
Reality: Looking for a project? Home Depot is that way. You can’t “fix” people, Bob Vila. Don’t even try.

Song: Love Story
Artist: Taylor Swift
Sample Lyric: Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone/I’ll be waiting all there’s left to do is run/You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess/It’s a love story baby just say yes

Expectation: YOU GUYS. We’re just like Romeo and Juliet. Our love is star-crossed and passionate and wild!
Reality: Romeo and Juliet is the story of two clamhead teenagers who knew one another for less than a week, decided they were in love, had massive communication problems and instead of trying to resolve things in a rational way, started fucking around with daggers and poison. And YES, I know that T.Swizzle gives the couple in this song a happy ending but that doesn’t do anything except prove that she probably flunked 9th grade English.

I’m not saying that a love song kinda love is always a bad idea. There are certainly exceptions to the rule (Thirteen by Big Star, Fix You by Coldplay – written by Chris Martin for wife Gwyneth Paltrow after her father died) but in most cases, reality doesn’t live up to expectations.

And that’s probably a good thing because seriously, do you really want to be kept up all night by some dude caterwauling about how he’s forever yours/faithfully? Yeah. Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong. Journey rules…just not at three in the a.m. when you’ve got work the next day.

Songs That Have Entirely Too Large An Effect On Who I Am Or, Everything You Want by Vertical Horizon

If my life was a movie, firstly it would be fist-eatingly, crashingly dull. Secondly, the audience would wonder why there was a little brown girl on-screen cursing up a storm and talking about food as if it was her boyfriend. And finally, if my life was a movie – I would play the sidekick.

In my own movie.

Cogitate on that for a second.

I am the sidekick in a movie about my life.

I am not the pretty girl you lust after. I am not the girl that inspires double-takes and sweaty tangled sheets. I am not Pattie Boyd – a muse who’ll inspire both one of the greatest and one of the most insipid songs of all time (George Harrison’s Something and Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight. What? The latter is glurgey garbage and should be summarily banned from all wedding receptions).

Dudes. It’s cool. I’m going somewhere with this and also, I’ve had thirty years to reflect on it.

I’m the girl you wanna hang out with because she can talk about how Undertaker is 21-0 at Wrestlemania or how Lily Allen’s brother is Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones or how someone needs to make a goddamn Batman movie featuring Arkham Asylum because the fucking Rogue’s Gallery would be even more bad-ass than the fucking Avengers.

I know my weight and I punch it.

And bolstering this belief is Vertical Horizon – that late 90s pop-rock act with one big hit and one smaller hit that featured none other than Kelly Kapowski in the video.

Everything You Want was on heavy rotation in my life in 1999. Well, the local alternative rock station was on heavy rotation (RIP 103.1 – The Buzz) but this song in particular? It hit me right where I live.

The lyrics were so overwrought with anxiety and suffering. I mean, you guys! It’s like this band really knows me! Like, they totally get me, right? Like, totally.

Yeah, me and every other poor bastard who has suffered through a crush. Read: everyone in the history of ever.

The last refrain had a particular impact – “I am everything you want/I am everything you need/I am everything inside of you/That you wish you could be/I say all the right things/At all the right times/But I mean nothing to you/And I don’t know why.”

I could relate in a serious way. When you’re 16 with frizzy hair and glasses (I legit spent my high school years looking like the ‘Before’ Girl in a bad 80’s makeover movie) – this song speaks volumes.

As is usually the case, Teenage Jaime was wrong and Adult Jaime (the broad with straight hair, gainful employment and a preference for expensive gin) is right.

Teenage Jaime: I just know that if my crush got to know me – I mean really know me – they would totally fall in love with me, right?
Adult Jaime: Wrong! “I mean nothing to you and I don’t know why?” Uh, seriously sailor? I think I know why. It’s because you’re a presumptuous wank who thinks you know everything. Seriously, Dipshit – If you really did say and do all the right things at exactly the right time, they would notice. Trust me.
Teenage Jaime: ….Wow. I’m kind of a dick when I grow up.
Adult Jaime: Yeah, but look how cute our hair is.
Teenage Jaime: Good point. So, what do I do about this whole crush thing?
Adult Jaime: Know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em.
Teenage Jaime: Did…did you just quote Kenny Rogers to me? Are..are you drunk right now?
Adult Jaime: Possibly.

Everything You Want had a pretty insidious effect on me. Teenage girls are already prone to crushing insecurity. Teenage girls with frizzy hair, glasses and Jessica Rabbit curves in a Bilbo Baggins body? Even more so.

That being said – I love this song. If I randomly hear it on the radio or on my iPod, I’m going to turn it up. But I’m old enough now to know the truth – that if someone loves you, they love you. That’s the long and the short of it. You don’t need to say all the right things at exactly the right time. You don’t need be some sort of mythical inspirational figure.

You just need to be yourself and if they can’t figure it out and they don’t love you based on that? Fuck ’em.

There’s seven billion people wandering around this shiny blue orb. You’ll find someone who wants you. Because, y’know, math.

And also because you’re kinda fucking amazing.

Trust me on that one – I’ve got cute hair and like good gin. I kinda know what I’m talking about.

Does A Confession of Love Require A Soundtrack Or, Boomboxes Deserve Love Songs

NPR poses the question – “Does a confession of love require a soundtrack?

For the most part, I’m a Bukowski Girl. I want the guy who holds my hand instead of buys me flowers (or you could go for extra credit and Bruno Mars it).

BUT – I’m also a girl who grew up on a steady diet of pop culture and I’m kind of a sucker for the musical confession of love.

Or like.

Or hell, even basic acknowledgment of existence.

Tom Cruise serenading Kelly McGillis with You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin‘ in Top Gun? It’s a great moment…even though he’s accompanied by a bunch of drunken flyboys.

Say Anything’s In Your Eyes moment is iconic and I’m pretty sure that 90% of all women who saw that movie had the same soft-focus daydream that maybe someday, someone would do that for them.

(Sidebar: This is a cheap, easy and effortlessly romantic gesture and yet, I don’t know one person whose significant other has shown up on their driveway avec boombox. What the hell? You don’t even have to do anything! Just show up and press play. Violation of noise ordinances aside, why hasn’t this happened more?)

I’m relatively certain that Heath Ledger’s brassy serenade of Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You can get a girl pregnant.

Oh wait. I’m right.

biancabelly

See?

So, I say YES. A confession of love requires a soundtrack because LIFE requires a soundtrack.

When I’m cleaning the bathroom, I shimmy like Beyoncé. Yes, it’s as unattractive as it sounds. No, you cannot come by, watch and laugh.

When cooking (actually cooking, not just making popcorn and calling it dinner), I have to listen to music. Tomatoes simmering with basil and garlic need a little Sinatra to help them along. It makes them taste better.

That’s science.

And the science of sound is important. I mean, it’s all well and good to lumber under the weight of a boombox but if you’re lumbering while playing Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton – you’re doing it wrong because that song sucks. Seriously, it is insipid pablum propagated by unimaginative wedding DJs and when you play it, you’re announcing to the world that you’re a chowderhead incapable of original thought.

Wow. I really hate that song, huh?

Anyway, I started thinking about love songs. The love songs that I love – the ones that I want sung to me in a bar or blasted from a boombox or sung in a stadium with the accompaniment of a full marching band. In other words, the good ones that make for a perfect soundtrack when accompanying a confession of love.

P.Y.T. by Michael Jackson – C’mere. No closer. Seriously, lean in because I’ve got a secret to tell you. You ready? All girls want to hear that they’re pretty. Not hot, not cute but pretty. And we don’t want to hear it from some leering letch at the bar or some undersexed bozo on the subway. We want you to look at us and smile and tell us that you think we’re pretty. And we want you to mean it (because we can tell if you don’t). And if we’re real pains in the ass (which some of us are), we kinda want there to be a little choreography involved.

By Your Side by Sade – This is a song upon which to create a moment. I’m a big believer in tiny moments and have a tendency to remember those much easier than the big moments. So, put on the song, grab your girl or guy and dance barefoot in the living room. Trust Sade. Trust me.

Diamond Ring by The Black Crowes – I hate public proposals. You’re asking one person to marry you; not the whole world. It’s intrusive and woe betide you if the girl says no. But, if you must – make it a full scale production that involves your ass clapping and stomping around like Chris Robinson, a full gospel choir and a finale that culminates with you getting down on one knee.

Thirteen by Big Star – Having a crush turns you into Neurotic Mess Crazy Person. NMCP overthinks everything. NMCP changes her outfit more than any person alive. NMCP pores over mix CD tracklists with the intensity of a hardcore Talmudic scholar. But all of that ridiculousness is worth it when you hang out with the person and get a buzz on just being in the same room as them. That is what this song sounds like – the buzz and blissed out feeling you get just being close enough to touch. And if you learn how to play this on an acoustic guitar, you’re pretty much guaranteed to save the world and get the girl

Realizing you love someone is kinda a big deal and I can’t think of anything more deserving of a little pomp and circumstance than that.

Well, other than when you eat a really amazing sandwich and Handel’s Messiah kicks in, but that happens to everyone, right?

Guys? Guys…? Seriously, we all hear the Hallelujah Chorus when we eat sandwiches? Guys…?

Every Word Handwritten Or, Pull It Out, Turn It Up, What’s Your Favorite Song?

I have this really great knack for making friends with people who love music.

Like, really LOVE it without being pretentious Barry-esque chowderheads.

Barry is judging you. With his eyes.

Barry is judging you. With his eyes.

A couple of days go, Dana texted me with lyrics to Prince’s Raspberry Beret. Let’s be honest here – ain’t nobody gonna love you more than the person who texts you Prince lyrics. True love is Fountain Diet Cokes, Prince lyrics and shoulder kisses and if anyone tells you otherwise — they’re lying.

A friend and I have been having this ongoing conversation about the generational shift in listening to music. My boy is a little older than I am so he grew up in the album era where you let your tape rock til your tape popped whereas I was an album girl for a hot minute when I still bought CDs but made the smooth transition over to individual songs via mp3 and haven’t really looked back since.

Lately, I’ve come to a realization. Listening to individual songs is like reading favored quotes from a novel. They sound good but you’re not seeing the whole picture.

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

It’s beautiful, right? A great love story – lush, poetic and effulgent with hope but unless you read the entire text, you have no way of knowing that this gorgeous scrawl is actually about how the very hope that sustains a man will eventually destroy him (unless you’re a real cynic who thinks all stories about pretty girls end in heartbreak).

That being the case, I’m coming back around to listening to entire albums straight through. And that has a lot to do with Spotify and The Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten.

Spotify is like being best friends with a really good DJ who doesn’t try to make you listen to shit you don’t care about and Handwritten? It might just be a perfect album.

It is a labor of love – every word handwritten. Every track painstakingly handpicked. These songs have this incredible ability to make me nostalgic for my own life. I’ve never been down to Biloxi Parish or driven on Mulholland Drive, but I get it.

The sentiment is universal and listening to the record, your nostalgia kicks up like dust swirling in a summer breeze.

My favorite thing about this record is how I don’t have a favorite thing.

However, I play this game where I try to choose and much like picking your favorite sandwich, it’s an exercise in futility (Go ahead. Try to pick your favorite sandwich. You can’t do it, can you?) as well as a testament to Brian Fallon’s skills as a songwriter:

I love the cadence of the chorus in Howl – “From your hips on down like elec-tric through the ground.”
No.
Wait.
It’s the Van Morrison-esque Oh-Sha-La-La sweetness in Here Comes My Man.
No.
Wait.
Biloxi Parish. Totally Biloxi Parish because he’s right – nothing truly matters that you cannot find for free.
Wait.
I take that back.
Desire has that great line about giving anything for the touch of your skin and the song is damp with longing. Like, the same kind of longing that Bruce sang about in I’m On Fire.
Oh and God, Mae! Because it’s rooted so deeply in Thunder Road and damn if it ain’t pretty…

I’ve always had a space for this album inside me. I just didn’t know it until I heard it and I’m so glad I did.

Having heard it, I feel a little more complete and isn’t that the whole point? To find missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle until you’re whole?

Bitch Bad, Woman Good, Lady Better Or, Hip Hop Heteronyms

I can rhyme every word of Juicy by Biggie, I took a hip hop class in college where I wrote papers about the Geto Boys’ Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta and the whitewashing of hip hop culture and I can, have and will continue to get into raging arguments who can truly be considered the G.O.A.T. (Hov’ obv’)

Despite this, I don’t consider myself a hip hop head.

Mostly because the hip hop I listen to is equal parts party and bullshit and party and bullshit.

I know that hip hop can be lush and poetic. Lyrical, gritty, eloquent, intellectual and socially-conscious. As someone who loves words, I should devour this stuff. Gorging myself with a half-mad ferocity but for reasons utterly unknown, I don’t.

Instead, I shimmy shimmy ya and gleefully boast that I see some ladies tonight that should be havin’ my baby, baby…

Luckily, I have a litany of people in my life far more plugged in than I am and who have no problem dropping some knowledge.

A couple of months ago, Biffle sent me this video:

I didn’t know much about Lupe Fiasco other than I really liked the track he did with Jill Scott (Daydreamin‘) and The Show Goes On – a gem that based on a Modest Mouse sample but after one listen, I was hooked.

Bitch Bad is a pretty interesting commentary on misogyny in hip hop culture and the double-edged duality of the word ‘bitch.’

(Tangential aside: I Googled ‘Most Misogynistic…’ and it immediately auto-completed to ‘rap songs’ which I feel is slightly unfair.

Yes, the Ying Yang Twinz says some really shitty things about women but you know what, dudes? So does Mick Jagger.

And as utterly repugnant as the words to The Whisper Song are, Under My Thumb is so much worse.

I love the song. I really do. I think it is a great piece of music and when it comes on, I turn it up loud but the lyrics terrify me.

“It’s down to me, oh that’s what I said /The way she talks when she’s spoken to/Down to me/A change has come/She’s under my thumb,”

Kaine and D-Roc are practically vibrating with testosterone-fueled bullshit braggadocio. But Jagger? He genuinely seems to abhor the woman in his life. That is real misogyny, not some pissing contest between two clamheads)

There’s a school of thought that reclaiming a negative word abjures it of its power, thereby empowering the formerly disenfranchised. The grande dames of hip hop like Missy, Nicki and Queen Bitch herself, Lil’ Kim brandish this word like a flaming sword.

Oh, you think I’m a bitch?
No, no, no, honey.
I’m the bitch.
The meanest, the prettiest, the baddest mofo lowdown around this town.
Sho’Nuff.

And there’s the other razor-edge of the scimitar.

Where a bitch isn’t all She-Ra powerful and in total control of herself but rather a conniving harridan who betta’ have your money or a gyrating, semi-naked piece of bubblegum – delicious and disposable.

So, which one is it? The latter? The former?

Personally, I believe it’s both. Words are malleable and intensely personal. A revolutionary can be a freedom fighter or a terrorist depending on which side of the line you’re standing on just as a bitch can be a zenith to which a woman should aspire to or a nadir to which she can sink.

I’m not a fan of the word ‘bitch.’ I never have been. I just feel there are better ways to extol your bad-assery than repossessing venom and spitting it back out with equal rancor. There are just too many good words out there to merely settle on an arrow shot in your direction

And despite never being mistaken for a lady or ever being called a woman (‘Muppet-esque baby child’ is much closer to the truth), I’m with Fiasco on this one: bitch bad, woman good, lady better, but my name is probably best.

Or if you wanna be real sweet, call me honey. Seriously. It’s ridiculous how far that’ll get you.

They Call Me Guitar Hurricane Or, It’s Only Rock & Roll But I Like It

Every year, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame releases a list of inductees and my blood pressure spikes a little.
Every year, I look over the list, realize they’ve made the same glaring omission, my blood pressure shoots up and I have a rage blackout.
And by rage blackout, I mean I write a cranky blog post.

See, when I was nineteen, I fell in love.

Hard.

I convinced a buddy of mine (heretofore known as Guitar Boy) to give me guitar lessons and every week, we’d meet on his driveway where I would learn how to play an A chord, figure out tabs and expand my musical horizons. My favorite part of these sessions was my weekly assignment — “Dude. Go home and download this. Next week, we talk about it.”

This is how I learned about Bad Brains, Anthrax, Rush and Steve Vai.

One afternoon, dude looks at me and says, “Alright. Go home and download Stevie Ray Vaughan. He’s a blues guitarist. Listen to Texas Flood and we’ll talk blues next week.”

I went home and downloaded Texas Flood.

It was good. Really good – all sweltering summer storms and fat beads of condensation slowly running down the necks of beer bottles. I liked it so much, I checked out his other work and the next week, headed over to my buddy’s place bubbling over with the kind of enthusiasm one can only get from true love.

Me: DUDE! Stevie Ray Vaughan is amazing. How come I’ve never heard of him? Have you heard Mary Had A Little Lamb? Holy shit! And Pride and Joy? Oh my God, that song! Can you imagine how great that would be live?
Guitar Boy: Dude, you know he’s dead right?

I stop. A total pause as if I’m being simultaneously punched in the solar plexus, doused with liquid nitrogen and walking in on Aunt Jemima rogering Crispin Glover (Yeah. Sleep easy at night with that mental image)

Me: What?
Guitar Boy: Yeah. Like, ten years ago, It was a plane crash or something*.

I stared at him and this utterly irrational surge of rage rushed through me.

Then, I basically Hadouken’d this kid

Considering he’s 6’4″ and I’m 4’11”, this was actually kind of impressive.

Me: You asshole! You knew I would love this and you knew he was dead and you made me fall in love with him anyway and I can never see him or hear new music from him and I hate you!
Guitar Boy: … (but his face is a mask of, “Wow. You’re just a teeny little gerbil of crazy!”)

I felt like I had been robbed.

And every single year, I get irrationally angry when I see the list of inductees and Stevie Ray isn’t on the list. Again.

Look. I know in the grand scheme of things, it’s not important. I mean, not really. There are other things in this world I should be focusing my energy on. But this matters to me.

Stevie Ray Vaughan was this amazing guitarist and when I listen to his music, I feel something. It strikes a chord in me that precious little else does.

Lenny might be an instrumental but it says more about that blissed-out dreamy stage of being in love than anything I’ve ever read. And he bends those notes and makes his guitar cry, I’m right there weeping with him.

So, Stevie Ray deserves this. He deserves to have John Mayer give a stirring elegy about how six strings animated Stevie Ray and in turn, Stevie Ray bought that guitar to life. He deserves to have a ragtag band of bluesmen and rockers rattle the stage with covers of The Sky is Crying, Crossfire and Testify.

He deserves to have people know his name, his music and the legacy he left behind.

And hopefully one day, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will realize this and honor the man in the way he deserves…but until then, I’m going to keep banging this drum and turning up the volume because they call him Guitar Hurricane and he came to rock my town…and he does. Every single time.

* It was actually a helicopter crash.