Repost: “Valentine”

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Too busy to finish formulating my thoughts for tonight, so here’s a classic by one of the Greatest Bands of All Time.

 

The Replacements are a Criminally Underrated band (at least in the mainstream; musicians and critics worship them).  Paul Westerberg is the voice of my generation.  Our theme: “Bastards of the Young” (maybe for a later post).  His lyrics are some of the finest songwriting ever.  Period.  I tend to conflate the band with the lead singer/songwriter, although I don’t mean to diminish the roles of the other musicians; The Mats couldn’t have existed without them.  But Westerberg has always been the main attraction for me.

As a former English major, words are very important to me; I majored in English largely because I loved books.  I myself am a very verbally oriented person.  Numbers often escape me, but words rarely do.  I’m not especially witty (you have been reading this, so you should know), but I like to think I can turn a nice phrase every so often.  Paul Westerberg turns a nice a phrase, on average, once a song.  One of my favorites, one that floors me every time, is from “Anywhere’s Better Than Here”: “They play with your head, but they’ll never stroke your hair.”  I mean, dear god, how do you pack so much despair, heartbreak, and love into just one line?  Westerberg has a knack for it.  “Answering Machine” keeps it coming with increasingly desperate questions about the impossibility of connecting with a human being through technology: “How do you say you’re lonely to an answering machine?”

The disconnect and loneliness of the people who don’t quite fit in is a recurring theme in Westerberg’s songs, coming to a horrifying peak with “The Ledge,” which was written from the POV of a young man about to commit suicide by jumping off a high building’s window ledge (“I’m the boy they can’t ignore.  For the first time in my life I’m sure.”).  That song is from Pleased to Meet Me, which I initially bought because I thought it was the coolest title ever.  Turned out the songs were pretty cool, too.

One of my favorites is “Valentine,” which is chock full of lyrical goodness right from the first line: “Well you wished upon a star, that turned into a plane.”  It’s a boy loves girl from afar story, a high school story of unrequited love.  Or something like that.  It’s clear he’s got a thing for her, but she’s not exactly receptive.  “Are you strung out on some face?  Well, I know it ain’t mine.”  The chorus spells out his longing, “If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will, and wash you back with something sweet as wine.”  Westerberg never writes about the driven overachievers; his songs are populated with the slackers and stoners, with dreams they’re pretty sure are never going to come true, but they can’t help dreaming anyway.  Like this guy.  Because at the end he declares “Yesterday was their’s to say, this their world and their time.  Well, if tonight belongs to you, tomorrow’s mine.”  He knows he might not get the girl, and he might not rule the world yet, but he is sure he’s going to win in the end.

Which brings up another song, reminding us that the freaks and geeks at the back of the class might actually have something to say about how the world is run: “You can’t hold our tongues, at the top of our lungs.  We’ll inherit the Earth, but don’t tell anybody.  It’s been ours since birth, and it’s ours already (don’t tell a soul).”

After all, even the losers get lucky sometimes.

Sorry . . .

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My life got a little hectic as my friend who doesn’t have her own Internet needed to use my computer (and my washer for some laundry) came by with her family.  I love them, but they have a lot of drama.  But I figure a couple of hours (or four) is something I can spare once in a while to help out.  They’re also looking for a new place to live (don’t ask), which is why they needed the computer.  Me, I spent much of today moving stuff around and trying to get things in some semblance of order in preparation for my mother moving in (11 days and counting).

So here’s a song about moving stuff.  It’s a song I’ve posted before, but this isn’t quite a repost.  Just a late night for me.

 

Freaky Friday: “Lovelines”

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This song isn’t freaky so much for its musical structure or fascinating artistic experimentalism.  No, “Lovelines” freakiness comes from its lyrical inspiration.  One day, while recording the album Hootenanny, the Replacements (who were probably drunk) decided it would be funny to put the personals column in a local paper to music.  Turns out, they were right.

While Paul Westerberg’s laughter might be somewhat mocking, there’s a genuine warmth to this goofy little goof, a studio throwaway that showed a lighter side to the Mats.  They were always better known for both their ramshackle, drunken live performance and their razor-sharp angst; Westerberg’s usual themes of heartbreak, loneliness, and alienation really didn’t leave much room for fun.  (FYI, Hootenanny also contains arguably their most painfully heartbreaking song ever, the masterful “Within Your Reach”.)  So “Lovelines” gives them a rare chance to be young and silly on record.  I’m not quite sure how the song made it onto the final track list, but I’m really glad it did.

As Paul Westerberg became a more proficient songwriter, his sense of humor showed through in more subtle wordplay that was both clever and emotional. But this little silly slice also shows that he could draw inspiration from virtually anywhere.  To me, that’s a hallmark of true talent and creativity.

“Things”

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I’ve been helping pack up my late uncle’s apartment this week, so it’s been a little melancholy and a little funny and a lot tiring.  He was more than a little strange.  Don’t get me wrong: my uncle was funny, kind, and generous.  He loved animals and kept a small jungle’s worth of plants.  But he was definately strange.  And in my family, that’s saying something.

But the whole process has got me thinking about Paul Westerberg’s “Things.”  It’s about packing up and moving–not just physical things, but the difficult, emotional, intangible things that make up a life.  It was written about his divorce from Laurie Lindeen.  (I should mention here that his Wikipedia page states that they are still married, but I recall hearing they’d divorced but still shared the same home because of her MS.)  It is one of those classic Westerberg songs that seems simple on the surface but carries a huge emotional punch.  There is anger and sadness and love all thrown together, like stuff thrown in a box during a move.  It tells the story of how a relationship begins and ends not with what is said, but what is left unsaid.  “Things I’m bound to tell you like ‘That dress looks great on ya.’  ‘I could use some breathing room, but I’m still in love with you.’  Things I’d never tell you, down the line someday, you’ll be a song I sing, a thing I give away.”  The things that matter most are always the things we have the most trouble expressing.  So we pack them away in little mental boxes and shove them into the darkest, dustiest corners of our psyches and hope we never have to move them again.  We know what to do with stuff: with blenders and plates and books and towels.  We almost never know what to do with our hearts.

“I packed my things today.”