Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rewind! Replay! Repeat!

Dissecting 3 Fav Rock Songs from 1993

Of late, I have been digging into my gargantuan collection of music and movies from the early 80s and 90s. Converting and archiving them onto my new pool of external hard disks and my cherished favorites onto DVDs and CDs (an extra precaution!)

I wish I could compile all my audio/video assortments into some sort of an exclusive WebSnacker anthology – an omnibus of say “Rock hits of 1990”, “The Best of John Carpenter”, “The Best of Pearl Jam”, “Teen Comedies of the 80s” etcetera. Well, but I never have the time..

Anyway, I was listening to this old dusty audio tape (on whose plastic case, I seem to have scribbled “the Rocketeer set - just don’t remember, what it originally meant?) and 3 first-rate rock songs stood out. I stopped, rewound the tape and gave myself an earful. Nostalgic aural bliss!!!

Has anything like this ever happened to you? I mean, songs that make them stand out in the middle of a TV commercial, or grabs your attention on the car radio while you're driving back home, or makes you listen to your MP3 player that much harder until you drain its battery.

So, what makes a good song? I suppose there's no definite answer because music affects everybody differently. It's about emotional depth, and the songs that sum up your life the instant you hear them. So the songs that make up the soundtrack of one person's soul might mean absolutely nothing to somebody else – your treasure, their trash! But the principles involved are the same from person to person, so I'd like to talk a bit about these three rock songs that have been near the core of my “rewind” music experience the last week or so.

1. "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by the Crash Test Dummies (1993)

This No.1 Modern Rock hit single from the Canadian folk rock band has an unrepresentatively simple tune that is well put together and still seems wholly absolute. But when you actually listen to the silly lyrics, it becomes a song about the things that just don't fit. It's not just that the verses don't rhyme but they aren't really connected to each other in any reasonable way.

Each verse presents a particularly sharp, distinct image of an oddball. From the boy who got in the accident, to the girl with birthmarks all over her body, to the boy who goes to church, you get peculiar minute details that make each character stand out in the mind. And I always find myself asking what it is about these details - what do they say about their characters? Why does the boy's hair change from black to white? Why does the girl's rebuttal to change in the changing room seem so touching? The song only lets the listener in on certain niceties of the characters, but they are the kind of hazy details that leave more questions unanswered, even as the images loiter in your subconscious. YouTube Video Link

2. "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows (1993)

This is a great hit track from the American alternative pop rock band whose songwriter and lead vocalist Adam Duritz obviously had an eye for impressive details.

Though many critics feel it’s a take on Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man", I interpret it differently. From the opening line, "I was down at the New Amsterdam / staring at this yellow-haired girl," you feel as if you can see the 'narrator' of the song, hanging around in nightclubs, bars and clubs with his companion Mr. Jones. They "stare at the beautiful women" and wish that they had the nerve to approach them. And all the while, the character who is telling us all this, who seems unable to bond with one woman, wishes that he could surpass himself and become so famous that "when I look at the television, I...see me staring right back at me." When he's an image that everybody knows and loves, he dreams, he'll never be lonely again. In the meantime, he keeps looking at women and wondering if one will ever come along that will be right for him.

I guess that if I went into much detail about my personal resonances with this song, this blog post would spawn into maudlin self-pity, but the grand thing about this track is that, in my view, you never get sickened with how apologetic the character feels for himself. He always remains fascinating, probably because we can all identify how each of us, at one time or another, has watched TV or movies, or listened to the radio, and thought to ourselves, "God, I wish I was there."

After all, we live in a world where what's "real," what is often measured to be most significant, is what the media makes omnipresent. For example, never mind whether or not we actually have any real emotional union to the famous celebrity of our choice; we constantly see them, so they are forever on our mind, even when we don’t want to think about them. And sometimes, when making a real emotional connection with a different person just doesn't seem to work, it's easy to think about being connected to everything and everybody and imagine that it actually might mean something, even if it would really diminish you to nobody. YouTube Video Link

3. "Disarm" by Smashing Pumpkins (1993)

Perhaps Smashing Pumpkins’ most popular song, "Disarm," from their hit second album ‘Siamese Dream’ has a unique auditory experience, which involuntarily suggests a sense of poignant rush, of some primitive sentiment which Billy Corgan, the lead vocalist is letting loose - from the low strings to the timpani drum to the sly church bells, the track sounds insistent and forceful.

Merge that with the beautiful lyrics, which seem to portray a tormented young soul on the edge of life and you understand where "Disarm" is aiming for, and something in you suddenly just clicks. The chorus line, "the killer in me is the killer in you," seems suggestive of Jim Thompson's novel “The Killer Inside Me”, but even more than that, it suggests the vein of fatalism verging on nihilism that runs throughout most of Thompson's work, and so much of our in style “dog eat dog” culture.

The character "used to be a little boy," and then things went horribly wrong and now "what's a boy supposed to do?" It's a lingering image that runs through, among other places, even old Elvis songs like "In the Ghetto" and "Kentucky Rain,” Catcher in the Rye, Rebel Without A Cause, hardboiled detectives, Pink Floyd's The Wall, even in the Hong Kong action worlds of John Woo and Yun-Fat Chow

Lets be honest, the void calls to each of us, and yet we all are concurrently attracted to and repulsed by it, and when we are unable to admit this to ourselves, we selfishly revel in watching other folks, especially the fictional, dealing with this crisis. And if, in identifying with these texts, we momentarily blow our staid lives out of proportion. Well isn't that what great music is all about - taking the everyday and making it awe-inspiring, even if its just for a few precious minutes! YouTube Video Link


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