(Alphabet Soup is an ongoing column in which I write glorified love letters to my favorite songs for each letter of the alphabet.)
While making my list, I set some arbitrary rules: five songs listed only in the order that they occur to me, no repeats of artists within the five songs, but with a couple of exceptions, possibly for the sake of filling out a letter. Some letters, obviously, are harder to fill than others. Even if I might have several songs from the same artist that I liked better than others that started with the same letter, I decided to pick one and work some others in. Honorable mentions are listed partially to make up for gaps I have in other letters. (You try and find five favorite songs that start with the letter Q, all right? Because I’m still thinking, even weeks ahead.)
That said, let’s get on to The Letter C:
1. Cast No Shadow – Oasis
That being said, I could have gone three other ways with Oasis and The Letter C. â€œCarry Us Allâ€ has the great lines: â€œI’m just trying to persevere with the sins I have to shake from me withinâ€ and â€œHave faith in what you got and it will carry us all.â€ It’s a beautiful, forgotten B-side.
I could have gone with the classic â€œCigarettes and Alcoholâ€ – â€œIs it my imaaaginaay-shuuun or have I finally found something worth living for?â€ and â€œIs it worth the aggrivaay-shun to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for?â€ – with all its Liam-swagger. You want to know why he’s considered one of the best frontmen ever? Be in the presence of him singing this song live. (That link is from a 2008 Wembley Arena gig, same year I saw them in Seattle. Fanbloodytastic.)
I could have talked about how â€œChampagne Supernovaâ€ first caught my attention and my memories of my friend Cathy and I singing, â€œWhere were you while we were getting high?â€ while in 8th grade, just to be somewhat annoying to any listening teachers (we were â€œslowly walking down the hall,â€ after all.)
Still, I had to go with the literary theme. I had to go with the song I love both when it’s on the original album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and when I hear it come from Noel on the MTV Unplugged session and other acoustic performances. â€œCast No Shadowâ€ also has a dedication to former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft, whom I did not know of when I bought the album. Later, I came to appreciate the parallelism. I know that it was sort of a dedication made in an â€˜I love you, man!’ drug haze and that both Noel Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft seem slightly embarrassed when a reporter brings it up, but on a very simple level, it is a nod from one songwriter to another.
â€œCast No Shadowâ€ is about feeling as though you matter. On both a literary and very real level, I am struck by these lines:
Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say
Chained to all the places that he never wished to stay
Bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say,
As he faced the sun, he cast no shadow
As they took his soul, they took his pride
I find it very easy to feel very small, as though no matter how much effort put into a person or endeavor will ever yield the desired results. Defeat, never feeling as though you rank and trying to persevere nonetheless – I try to tackle those themes in both my writing and my life. Sometimes, I succeed and those successes are enough to propel me toward trying again. Still, as we all know, it can be hard to even notice. Our focus too easily shifts to the disappointment and the despair in life, and we wonder how to cut through it all and still remain ourselves.
It’s worth reevaluating our presence in the world, from time to time, to assess how authentically we live our lives. Is it in the service of other people or ourselves? And which way do we want it? If service satisfies us, are we satisfied? How do we find a balance? How committed to happiness are we?
2. Cheeseburger in Paradise – Jimmy Buffett
By now, maybe you’ve noticed that my dad pops up a lot in this series. He is the number one reason why I know that what is on the radio, what your friends like, and what is deemed critically â€œimportantâ€ are not barometers for personal taste. From him I inherited my singing voice (passable) instead of my mother’s (prompts toddlers to ask â€œAre you even trying?â€), and from him I know how to tell a story. You might have also noticed that I keep referring to him in the past tense. My dad died on Christmas Eve 2005 from a heart attack at the age of 50. He would have enjoyed reading this ongoing series, though maybe not the “Brass in Pocket” story.
My parents grew up in Miami. They started dating in 8th grade, went to different high schools but continued their relationship on through college and then got married. As you did when you were a Miami local at the time, you saw Jimmy Buffet play about once a year. I imagine it’s similar to growing up in New Jersey and seeing… Well, Bruce Springsteen is up a few levels from Jimmy Buffet, but say, Bon Jovi – It’s something you do, even if you’re otherwise listening to Jethro Tull or Black Sabbath.
Needless to say, I grew up hearing a lot of Jimmy Buffet. I don’t own any of his stuff now (and am glad my dad never saw his partnership with the unbearable Toby Keith), but I will always have a soft spot for him. As a little kid, you have to love a song about cheeseburgers and permission to sing about beer. As an adult, I’d have to agree that a cheeseburger â€œwith lettuce and tomat-a, Heinz 57, french fry potat-aâ€ almost always sounds tasty – no mayo, even! I don’t even really know the rest of the words off the top of my head except the chorus, but that’s okay. The lyrics are pretty secondary for me in this case.
The summer after my dad died, my husband and I were back in Great Falls having a late night greasy plate of breakfast foods, and this song came on in the diner. Before then, I never would have suspected that such a happy song about one of my favorite meals would make me cry. â€œCheeseburger in Paradiseâ€ is less of a favorite and more of a dedication.
3. Cannonball – The Breeders
Every time I hear this song, a tiny voice inside my head says, â€œRawk!â€ At around ten years old, when this song popped on the radio, I would turn up the volume and jump around the room. I had no idea who the Pixies were and how they related to The Breeders. I had no idea who Kim and Kelley Deal were – I just wanted to rock out.
On a Spring afternoon in eighth grade, I bought the album Last Splash when Hastings had a one-day sale with a large portion of their used CDs for 99 cents. Honestly, it’s about the only song I listen to on the album. I’ve never given it a good, solid adult listen, but at the time, I glazed over the rest of the songs, except for â€œNo Aloha.â€ I suppose now I can look at it as paying the iTunes price for a song.
Some of the best rock songs appear simple. The pauses before the tempo kicks up are really what makes “Cannonball” great. It’s another one of those cases where the lyrics are not exactly clear, but you sing along anyway. When I first heard it, I had cassettes in my collection like Janet Jackson or Mariah Carey. I own exactly zero of those artists now (though I do still dig 90s Janet). I like to think that â€œCannonballâ€ became the precursor, one of the first seeds that would eventually blossom into the music I listen to today.
4. Cornflake Girl – Tori Amos
I remember the Christmas when my dad received Under the Pink from his sister. I did not exactly know Tori Amos’ name, but I had figured out how to play the opening notes to â€œSilent All These Yearsâ€ on my keyboard after hearing him play it, even if I did not know the name of the song at the time. My attention to Tori Amos would not happen until the summer before eighth grade. I’ve noticed that I think about that year a lot, but it really was the year that I became more… me. Maybe everyone does at thirteen, but then again, some thirteen year old girls then listened to Backstreet Boys, only to outgrow them later.
Point is, I found a way to do my own thing and have somewhat fervently grasped to it ever since. I’ve grown up, of course, but the elements began to fall into place: to accept the odd, to see other sides, and to push forward the ardent sense of ego that I sometimes find necessary for survival.
If there is anyone off the beaten trail, it is Tori Amos. If there was ever a song that lent itself to my half-dreamy spinning and singing alone in a bedroom, it was â€œCornflake Girl.â€ The song feels very orchestral in its arrangement – there are so many layers to notice and absorb. Of course, her writing has always been very heavy on the metaphor, and the meaning behind what she sings really only trickles into your consciousness as you grow up, learning more upon repeated listens.
Never was a cornflake girl
thought it was a good solution
hanging with the raisin girls
Some of my favorite Tori Amos songs sound very spare and I focus on the lyrics. However, a large part of me really loves when she lets everything loose and the big production spilled forth feels the most satisfying.
5. Crystal Days â€“ Echo and the Bunnymen
I didn’t get into Echo and the Bunnymen until I started working on my novel in earnest, where I felt I needed a soundtrack to go along with my characters. The story takes place primarily in 1992 and 1993 London, and so these characters would have a lot of fondness for 80s English alternative rock. I had “Crystal Days” on the Rule Britannia! compilation released by Q Magazine, which also had great tracks from The Jam and Small Faces, furthering the musical absorption necessary to keep working. Not everything I write is so completely steeped in music, but it does often make me want to get to work, and with musicians populating this particular story, their personal soundtrack helped me get into the right mindset.
Looking for hope and I hope it’s you
splitting my heart cracked right in two
the pleasure and pain endured to purify
our misfit ways and magnify our crystal days
The book is close to “done,” and by “done,” I mean close to being ready for professional eyes and the query process. Moving to another state, my CFS, and various other things have kept me from looking at it in quite some time, but I know I’m capable of making it the best it can be. I am past the hand-wringing, the “Oh god, this is hard, this sucks, this suuuuuucks” stage – for now. Anyone who writes with any regularity knows that the despair is cyclical, but not always predictable. I have faith in the power of revision.
What I love about “Crystal Days” is that it resonates with a common writing theme of mine – what are we willing to endure in order to eventually get what we want? What is the meaning of sacrifice? What does it mean to want something better for ourselves, despite our inherent flaws? And can heartbreak be sustaining? Worth it?
And what about you? Lay upon me your favorite songs for The Letter C. Don’t worry about repeating anyone else’s; just give me what you love.