Archive for November, 2009

“Cheer Up, Emo Dude”: my five favorite sad songs of the moment

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Here are five sad tunes that have been keeping me company over the past month, listed in reverse chronological order:

1) “Casimir Pulaski Day” – Sufjan Stevens (2005).

I’ll admit, I was slightly disappointed when I saw this on the Illinois album tracklist and realized that this song was not, in fact, a Big Black cover. But Soof won me over, despite his religious under-/overtones, because of that gorgeous banjo melody, his hushed mention of “cancer of the bone”, and the ripples of sorrow that permeate this tune.

2) “Have You Forgotten” – the Red House Painters (1996).

Sometimes, all it takes is just to remember the innocence of happier times to trigger pangs of sadness, and the seriously underrated Mark Kozelek is at his nostalgic peak (or, rather, nadir) here as he remembers the simpler moments of a childhood gone by. The simple question at the core of this song (Have you forgotten how to love yourself?) really cuts right to the core of our weakest moments: as easy as it is to blame our sorrow on the failings of others, our disappointments are more often rooted in ourself.

3) “Love Will Tear Us Apart” – Joy Division (1980).

This one is almost too obvious– I mean, read the title and you know it’s going to be a sad tune. But this one is sad to me not so much because of the content of the song itself but because of its obvious personal-ness: you hear this song, and you know exactly what Ian Curtis was going through. There’s almost certainly a reason his wife had these words inscribed on his tombstone after he committed suicide a few months later, but we’ll never really know if it was to broadcast Curtis’s obvious pain or to punish herself for not being able to fix it.

4)¬†“Hey Hey What Can I Do” – Led Zeppelin (1970).

Let’s face it: if Robert Plant circa 1970 couldn’t keep his woman happy and satisfied, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

5) “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” – Bob Dylan (1963).

Admittedly, I have a love/hate relationship with Dylan: I love his songs but generally can’t stand listening to him sing them. I was reminded of this song recently by a haunting a cappella version, but it’s Dylan’s raspy, broken melodies that really channel his mood. Even as he ponders the ultimate choice (I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul), he pretends that he’s able to pick himself up and move on. Of course, we all know better. You just kinda wasted my precious time, indeed.

Save me, San Francisco.

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I saw Train tonight at the 9:30 club. Train is a band that I’m surprisingly really torn on; I find their albums to be pretty schmaltzy mainstream fare (my review of their latest, Save Me San Francisco, for Express, can be read here), but they absolutely blew me away when I saw them about five years ago at the Birchmere. That was an eye-opening experience, for sure: it was about the fourth show I’d ever reviewed for the Washington Post (my review can be read here), and I remember going into that show full of hipster arrogance about how awful this stupid mainstream radio band was going to be. And then Pat Monahan opened his mouth to sing, and my hipster stock plummeted as I stood in awe of his voice. Sure, Train’s original songs are kind of lame and cheesy, but at this show, they did a ton of classic rock covers that just blew me away: a note-perfect version of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”. The Beatles’ “Get Back”. Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”. And– my personal favorite– Led Zepplin’s “Ramble On”. (John Bonham died when I was too young to go out to concerts myself, so seeing a band cover Zep is the closest I’ll ever get to seeing the real thing.)

Without going all Garden State on you, the show really surprised me and made me think about music differently: I went into it with this whole scathing review written in my head, and then I had to take it back and write something much more positive– and genuine.

But, as for tonight’s show, I’m really not sure why I went. It was a weird show for a different reason; Monahan’s voice was pretty shot, which you could hear in everything he sang (and he even apologized for his lack-of-high-notes, especially in “Dream On”, which is the only cover they attempted). And there’s just something about the 9:30 club– yeah, it’s my favorite venue in this town, by far. But it also doesn’t have the same intimacy as the Birchmere did, and having seen them once in such a small venue, I could sense that some of the impact and intensity was missing. And, thinking back to that show from 5 years ago, even though I knew at the time that all the lame moves were totally calculated and predictable (bringing girls onstage to dance, etc), they feel way more so when you’ve already seen the same gimmicks before.

The other weird thing about tonight was this intense realization that I didn’t fit in there. This was A-OK fine by me– i certainly didn’t expect to. But there was the couple standing in front of me, sucking face during the entire concert. There were the girls who got pulled onstage to sing and dance who looked like they stepped right out of an Abercrombie ad. Just judging from how dressed up some of the crowd was, I’d guess that most of the people in attendance tonight go to a half-dozen concerts per year, tops. It’s a really weird feeling to be standing in a room full of people who connect with music in a very different way than I do, and I became acutely aware of being such an outsider (which one of the dudes in the crowd pointed out to my face, when he yelled at me for reading a magazine between bands. hey, dude, whatever.). I’m not really sure what kind of concert or crowd I do fit in at, but it’s most certainly not this one.

NP: Tortoise, “Along the Banks of Rivers”.