Oh, friends, we’re chock full of love, lust and loneliness in this week’s Ode to The Letter O. Stick through until the end since I’ve left you all a present. Oh yes.
The Letter O
1. Overlap – Ani DiFranco
“I know there is strength in the differences between us, and I know there is comfort where we overlap.” I love this fantastic and quiet song about longing. Ani sings about the flirting dance two people do when at least one loves the other, yet neither can make a move. She feels as though she is reaching out more than the other person, and she sighs, “If you won’t give it to me, at least give me a better view.”
Come here / stand in front of the light / stand still / so I can see your silhouette / I hope / that you have got all night / cos I’m not done looking yet
That handful of lines rank up there in my mental library of all-time most beautiful choruses. I can feel that need, at the very least, to breathe in that other person, even if that’s all it will ever be. In that deep, gauzy part of my heart, I’ve felt where the thoughts trickle out in a roundabout way until sometimes I had no other choice than to be direct, if only to remove the unbearable weight of wondering from my chest. Over time, I kept that tally of all those little hints that made me believe that putting myself out there wouldn’t result in catastrophe, even if I expected nothing more than a response of, “Of course I knew.” I’d think, of course, you had to have known how I’d watch you cross a room, how I would hang on every word. Sometimes, it works out in the end.
Sometimes it’s more complicated. Sometimes “you don’t feel the same,” and I’ve had no choice but to keep it to myself, maybe even halfway from myself. It’s the sort of feeling where your heart believes it is the only heart that has ever had to wall off a little part of itself, leaving just a tiny bit of light for the occasional look. My head knows that no experience is ever completely unique, and so I end up writing about my love indirectly. I restructure it in the realm of other people. I restructure it as Fiction.
I build each one of my songs out of glass / so you can see me inside them, I suppose
Don’t mistake this for unhappiness. Consider it all one big mental tangle that I’ve reshuffled into something tangible, where it will continue to unravel and make peace with itself one word at a time. “Overlap” envelops me in a place where there is so much to say and yet only so much I have learned to speak aloud. I love this song for getting a version of those thoughts so right. What happens to people when they don’t have another outlet for it all?
2. On Your Own – The Verve
More than once, I had a conversation where the other person thought I used the word “love” too lightly. They thought of love only in the traditional, mutual lifelong commitment way. My argument was that it didn’t always happen that way, or rather, that it wasn’t only going to happen that way. That self-imposed, narrow definition left them bristling at the word, when my point was that there’s “love,” there’s “in love,” and then the whole range of feelings in between.
Tell me what you’ve seen / Was it a dream? / Was I in it?
You can love a person for their greatness, a love from admiration. You can love a person but not want to be in the same room as them. You can love a person for the way they love you. You can love a person but not want to sleep with them. There’s the sort of love felt for a person that is as superficial as love for chocolate. There’s family love, friendly love and yes, that big and infatuated type of love. In this song, Richard Ashcroft sings, “All I want is someone who can fill the hole in this life I know.”
His point is that “in between life and death,” we all want someone to bear witness to our lives, to share in the whole process of trying to figure it all out. If that’s not love, the willingness to do that with another person, then I don’t know what is.
Tell me if it’s true / That I need you / You are changing
Hope mixes with disappointment. The big loves don’t always remain permanent, and the hole left in their absence might not be filled in the same way again. The love in this song lies in the love of companionship, thinking that maybe if the other person doesn’t quite fit, they might eventually. If the person who used to fit that space in the heart changed and moved on, then there’s the hope that maybe the reverse can be true. I think that it usually doesn’t work out that way, but I guess by not trying, one would never know.
3. Oh My Sweet Carolina – Ryan Adams
In Missoula, Montana, on one of the odd triangular corners, sits a shop called Rockin’ Rudy’s. For a long time it was a great music shop with a side of interesting gifts. Now, the ratio of music to gifts is in favor of all those specialty soaps, t-shirts and toys, with most of the music crammed into the corner that used to house the jewelry. While the selection is still pretty good, especially for most music shops in Montana, I used to feel like I could find anything there – Bush and Oasis bootlegs, rare singles back when bands still released CD singles, that European import of a band without good US distribution, all of it. My dad, who was the type to have a subscriptions to unknown magazines about unknown folk musicians, could spend hours at the listening stations. Meanwhile, I’d have my thirty or so dollars I’d scrounged up, and I’d wander the rows of music. Scanning the names marked on white plastic dividers, I’d try to figure out the best use of my money and try to recall all those names I had trouble finding at home. My mom and brother would look around for a little while, but then get bored and sit outside while my dad and I continued our shopping. On one of those trips, I had listened to Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac on the way over, and I looked to see if they had any other albums. They did, but also written below their name on that divider: “See also Ryan Adams.” So I did.
Trying to find me something, but I wasn’t sure just what / Funny how they say that some things never change
One of the best parts of a trip to Missoula was the moment where we’d be just climbing onto the interstate, winding around the hills on our way back home, headphones filling my ears with new music. If those hills on the approach filled me with anticipation for what might come, then the trip home was a revelation. On these drives, I heard my first Oasis b-sides, little bonuses adding to what I already loved. Hearing Ryan Adams’ first solo album felt like stumbling upon an even more personal version of what I already loved about Whiskeytown. Both felt like musical secrets, and they continued to feel that way until late 2001 when Ryan’s “New York” changed everything.
Up in here in the city, feels like things are closing in / sunset’s just my light bulb burning out
Being from Montana, we get so used to being passed over or ignored that we start to feel like our own little secret. Missoula, a pocket of liberalism, is the opposite of conservative Billings, with places like Great Falls and Bozeman falling somewhere in the middle. Bad weather doesn’t phase us. Driving long distances, meaning more than 3 hours (yes, trips are measured in hours), to get what we want is no big deal. Yet, with opportunity forgetting that the fourth biggest state exists, people find themselves looking elsewhere. We start feeling the need to get out, to go somewhere where we don’t have to work so hard for entertainment and there’s the chance to earn more than federal minimum wage.
I lived in Washington state for seven years, and while I liked it fine, I still found myself thinking about Missoula. While I also liked the idea of living somewhere bigger, I never felt like I was “from” Washington. I missed Montana. Two years ago, we moved back to Great Falls, and I haven’t regretted it. Missoula is lovely, but Great Falls is underrated. I want this secret within a secret to step out into the open.
4. Only the Lonely – Roy Orbison
My brother and I used to make gagging noises from the back seat of the car when my mom put on Roy Orbison. Like Little Women and other “classics” she would try to hand me, I rejected the songs in an over-dramatic way because everyone knows that the second you hit late elementary school, your parents cease to be interesting. (Yes, I fear for my future, the mother of two children says.) I even sang a parody called “Ugly Woman” with oh-so-insightful lines like, “Ugly woman, don’t make me barf… Stay away from meeee!”
Of course, now I like Roy Orbison, but I still haven’t read Little Women. Sorry, Mom.
How could I not like Roy Orbison for all my fondness for “big” music? He had one of the biggest voices ever, and the few times I’ve heard some poor soul try and cover “Only the Lonely,” or one of his other songs, they inevitably come up short. Of course, that doesn’t keep me from singing along, mangling the words, and pretending I’m in tune. Isn’t there a rumor that even Elvis felt inadequate next to Roy Orbison’s voice?
Here’s the thing about liking Roy Orbison now after early years of protest – I still have yet to own anything by him. I don’t know why. I guess there are always other people who come to mind first, and maybe I’m too embarrassed to ask my mom where her Greatest Hits CD is. That’s really all I’m after, the greatest hits. I’ll still watch whenever I catch the Black and White Night special on PBS, though some of that has to do with watching Bruce Springsteen. Even though I don’t have the song at my immediate disposal outside of the internet, it was still one of the first songs that popped in my head when I picked my favorites for The Letter O.
5. Ooh La La – Goldfrapp
Goddamn, this is a sexy song. It’s glam and the video has a fucking disco-mirrored galloping horse. With Alison Goldfrapp purring over those synths, what more do you need?
Don’t want it Baudelaire / Just glitter lust / Switch me on / Turn me up / I want to touch you / You’re just made for love
You know, there’s really nothing intellectual to say about this song, but because I know my audience, how about we just turn this song up loud and take in the following images:
Oh My God, Whatever, Etc. – Ryan Adams (“If I could I’d fold myself away / like a card table / a concertina or a Murphy bed / I would / but I wasn’t made that way…”)
Outside – George Michael (Dance party! “Service the community / but I already have you see…”)