“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

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While my ability to enjoy Christmas music has its limits, this is one song I could enjoy pretty much all year round.

Even if this wasn’t already a favorite carol, I’d like this plucky, jazzed up version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (morphing into “We Three Kings” in the second half).  With Sarah McLachlan contributing her heavenly voice, the Barenaked Ladies turn this into a jolly romp while managing to retain the reverence of the original tunes.  While I’m a much more secular celebrant, I understand the deep religious meaning of the holiday for many.  And I think this song manages to cover all the bases, appealing to all varieties of Christmas listener.

But mostly I like it because I think it’s cool.

Repost: “Building a Mystery”

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I got nothing today.  I’m still dealing with a little Sudafed-induced loopiness, so that’s what I’m attributing it to.  

 

If you listen to music on a computer, or iPod, or really just about any listening device made in the last decade or so, then you know the seductive wonder of the shuffle or random setting.  Apple even made it more interesting a few years ago with the introduction of Genius, a setting that chooses songs according to what you’ve been listening to or according to genre or mood or just about any other criteria (something I’m pretty sure my iPod did long before Genius ever came along).  It’s so much fun to see what the machine comes up with.  If you aren’t in the mood for the song, you just skip to the next one.

Of course, you’ve also probably figured out that there are a few songs you never, ever skip when they come on, for whatever reason.  I’ve started keeping track of these with a playlist on the computer; it’s surprisingly long.  Although I know that these songs really don’t come up all that often–most of them are in single digits for listens.  But there’s a couple of double digits, and this is one of them.  According to my computer, I’ve listened to “Building a Mystery” nineteen times (and about to be twenty).  That might not seem like too many, except that I’ve got nearly 6,000 tracks to choose from.  Why would I listen to one Sarah McLachlan song that much?

I don’t really have an answer.  I mean, obviously I think it’s a really good song.  The whole album, Surfacing, is pretty terrific.  But it was, frankly, overplayed on the radio when it was popular.  Not Chris Isaak “Wicked Game” overplayed, but it got pretty ubiquitous for a while there.  The lyrics, while pleasingly cryptic, aren’t really special (although she does drop the f-bomb, which works in the context).  The production and playing are okay, but, again, nothing special.  I do really love the minor chord it starts out on (minor chords rock).  And I found out one afternoon at a friend’s house that it’s a great song to swing along to (a child’s swing, get your mind out of the gutter).  But there’s nothing that makes it stand out.

Except for maybe the mood.  The opening sets it beautifully, descending into the dreaminess of the rest of the music nicely.  “You come out at night” adds to the, well, mysterious mood.  It’s hard to tell what emotions are being conveyed.  McLachlan’s lilting voice drifts from smirking to angry to sad to loving and back again, over and over.  Like a swing.  There’s no telling what’s going on between the characters in this song, whether it’s something supernatural happening or just a relationship cycling through ups and downs.  Whatever it is, it seems chaotic, disturbed: “You woke up screaming aloud, a prayer from your secret god.  You feed off our fears, and hold back your tears.  Give us a tantrum and a know-it-all grin, just when we need one when the evening’s thin.”  This is not a very stable person, “a beautiful, fucked up man.”  What’s happening?  I’m not sure it matters.  It’s about the mystery, not the solution.

That might be what I like most about this song, that I can’t quite pin it down, and, more importantly, that I don’t really want to.  I keep coming back because of the mystery that Sarah McLachlan builds so perfectly.

“Out of the Shadows/I Will Not Forget You

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As I was reminded by my dear Kira, today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  I’m a little late to the party, but I’m here.  Today is designated in the memory of the transgendered men and women, boys and girls, who have been killed over the past year because of ignorance, hatred, and bigotry.  I do not know how many were added to the list today.  I hope the number was vanishingly small.  I hope that next year, this day is meaningless.  I do not know these people, who only sought to live the lives they were meant to live, but I remember them.

Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” is more well known, but I think the earlier “I Will Not Forget You” is a more emotional song.  The passion and grief are palpable.  Paired here with a song from her first album, it forms a fitting tribute to the memory of these lives, and the lives of all transgendered people.  Here’s hoping that soon we will live in a world were everyone feels safe enough to come out of the shadows and be counted.

“Time After Time”

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I’ve written before about how a good cover song is some kind of weird mix of the familiar and the new.  That’s not just limited to artists covering other artists’ songs.  There’s been a spate recently of older classic rock stars re-recording their old songs in some new way.  Most recently, Peter Gabriel followed in Sting’s footsteps (how often does that happen?) and re-recorded many of his old hits and classics with an orchestra.  Now I’m not opposed to something like this, although I do view it kind of skeptically.  At its worst, it’s just repackaging a greatest hits collection to make people think they’re getting something brand new.  but when done with some style and artistic integrity, the results can be breathtaking.

Time changes everyone.  The perspective you have at 18 is different from the perspective you have at 25 or 30.  Middle-age brings not just new aches and pains and responsibilities, but the kind of experience that you wish you were 20 years younger to appreciate.  The same goes for musicians.  The songs they had hits with as 20-somethings become different when they sing them in their 40s or 50s.  They often develop a dislike of some old hits because they’ve had to perform the same songs over and over and over.  Re-recording a song can be a way to give a song a new life.  Or they can just sing it with someone else.

Cyndi Lauper’s monster hit “Time After Time” was impossible to escape during the 80s, and it’s still kind of hard to get away from.  It’s one of those songs you know even if you don’t like it very much.  A sweet, yearning, aching song, “Time After Time” is full of the kind heartbreak of first love ending.  It’s a vow and a promise: “If you fall I will catch you, I’ll be waiting, time after time.”  It can be hard to move on, so you promise to stay in touch forever, to never let each other go, even when you know that’s impossible.  It’s a story everyone’s heard a million times before, especially if you’ve heard “Time After Time” a few hundred times.

Lauper makes this song resonate anew playing it acoustically and sharing the vocals with the ethereal-voiced Sarah McLachlan.  There’s new layers to it with a new voice.  Turning “Time After Time” into a duet is one of the most natural evolutions of a song I’ve ever heard; part of me thinks this song should have always been a duet.    There are always two people in a relationship, two points of view, two hearts that break when things go wrong.  This version highlights this duality, with the disparate voices of Lauper and McLachlan blending seamlessly together.  It makes an already lovely song that much better.