The Letter Y
1. You’re Missing — Bruce Springsteen
I don’t want to discount the loss of a family member that occurs over time due to illness, but I have difficulty imagining a worse feeling than the losses that come out of nowhere. Be it from an accident, a crime, the sudden failing of the body, and everything else so abrupt, the shock moves in waves, your head spinning and stomach turning the same way it did when you spent a minute too long on a carnival ride. Every loss is awful and tough, and I don’t know if having a long good-bye is any easier. However, to expect a person to return when they leave for work one day, and then they just don’t…
Your house is waiting, your house is waiting
for you to walk in, for you to walk in
but you’re missing
I never went to see my dad at the funeral home, telling everyone that I “didn’t need to see it to confirm it.” I wanted to have my last images remembered as living ones, and we did not have him or even a photo at the funeral. To do so would have been unnecessarily difficult. That whole week, I found myself making unrelated conversation with everyone, even laughing a little. I looked and felt horrible, but my natural reaction to my mother being so upset was to be the one who kept it together. I didn’t know what else to do, and then I worried that I came off unaffected.
Everything is everything
but you’re missing
The church was filled past capacity with people I’d known and known of since birth. I recognized rows upon rows of faces when I walked in, yet I tried not to fully look at anyone. To be spoken of in that situation, sitting right there in all my conflicted mess, felt odd. Even more odd, however, was having to remind people who I was. All these faces I knew, people who knew my mother and my brother, saw me with my no-longer-blonde hair, dry cheeks. I noticed the look. The look that puzzled over who exactly I was and why I might be standing with the family. To say I felt about ten steps removed from it all doesn’t begin to articulate the experience.
Children are asking if it’s all right
Will you be in our arms tonight?
When Meet the Press host Tim Russert died a few years ago — also a heart attack, also at work, also after saying to someone else how out of sorts he felt — I found myself glad I didn’t have cable news channels. Just the coverage on NBC alone wrecked me. I tried to keep it together in front of my kids, but I couldn’t. His son, Luke (which is my brother’s name), is about the same age I was when my dad died. He and I shouldn’t have much of anything in common, but there he was, on television and able to speak. Laughing a little.
Morning is morning,
the evening falls
I included this song in my list because I enjoyed it, though at a bit of a distance. I enjoyed it before it applied to my life, so once it did, I could still listen without too much distress. Then, during the coverage of Tim Russert’s life and career, NBC played “You’re Missing” over images of the lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan. Now, I’m not sure I can listen to the song without heartache, without thinking about how the unexpected is not uncommon. I do not wish the feeling on anyone, but I do wish that I wasn’t able to know that so soon.
2. You Were Meant For Me — Jewel
Is it still too soon? Are you all still sick of this song approaching twenty years after its release? (Really? I know, 1995 was that long ago.) If that’s the case, well, then the only consolation I can offer you is I’m referring to the album version and not the single. It’s the only version I have. They differ in arrangement a little — just enough that if you’re used to hearing it one way, it trips you up while singing along to the chorus.
The summer I turned fourteen, I listened to Pieces of You somewhere in the neighborhood of forty gerbillion times. I wasn’t the only one — just about everyone I knew owned it, even the boyfriend I had at the time. The songs were inescapable, and offered just enough challenge to sing and to think about at our newly aware age. Songs like the title track and “Adrian” dealt with the uncomfortable and sad.“Painters” and “Morning Song” were love stories we gobbled up like we knew what it meant. We wanted to know what it meant, at least. Lines like “I got my eggs and I got my pancakes too/I got my maple syrup/everything but you” are easier to dismiss away from the teenage sense of drama, when everything holds importance. However, when she steers away from listing every detail of her lonely day, she says something very true:
I go about my business and I’m doing fine
Besides, what would I say if I had you on the line?
Same old story, not much to say
Hearts are broken every day
Jewel may not be a consistently good songwriter, and sometimes her attempts at being insightful feel a little forced, but I related enough that I kept listening through her third album. Where the first album caught me at a time of testing my limits and having my first real boyfriend (who I broke up with for someone else… it’s the same old story, again and again), the second hit me at a time of defining love and realizing more who I was. The third had me breaking away, testing my limits again into adulthood, shaking anyone I’d outgrown. Anything newer than that hasn’t interested me. I’ve outgrown her as well, really. Every once in awhile though, I like to play the songs that coincided with my great sorting of life, and I cannot dismiss any of it.
3. Yes, Anastasia — Tori Amos
I’ve always thought that this song would have been fantastic to choreograph, though it would have to be edited to a third of its 9:30 running time. Both the first and second half could be shaped into something great, as much as I favor the big strings and loudness of the second half. I considered the song when I decided to perform a solo in my last year of dance. I ended up doing a splice of the instrumental portions of her songs “Icicle” and “Mother” instead. I think it worked out fairly well, though I’m not a particularly strong choreographer. I can envision bursts, but it took some time to work out three minutes for myself. The movement was a mix of ballet and modern, though heavier on the ballet. I may be built more like a tap dancer than a ballerina, but I’ve always enjoyed the fluidity and big leaps of ballet. Much of Tori Amos’ music lends itself well to that sort of movement — her music is nothing if not one swirling, complex story. To me, you could do an entire show with Under the Pink. Each song has a lot going on, with each one sounding different from the one that came before, while still being very much part of one package.
I’m a big fan of lengthy album closers, actually. I haven’t noticed the practice on more recent albums, but then, maybe I’m out of the loop. However, I enjoy a long final thought. Ani DiFranco has a few, like the aforementioned “Pulse” and the fun “Hat-Shaped Hat.” Bush’s “Alien” (though technically not the last song) is lengthy and Beth Orton closes Trailer Park with the ten minute “Galaxy of Emptiness.” I think it may have to do with the movement into 70-80 minute CDs during the ’90s, and away from the 45-50 minute time constraints on vinyl. CDs gave more room to meander on a thought, and I suppose now an mp3 could be as long as you wanted it to be. However, I don’t know enough about current album trends to know the difference they make. If anything, albums are hovering around the 45 minute mark again.
What I like about a lengthy last song is that, by that point, the music has marinated in my brain enough to where all sorts of ideas arise. The music reminds me of other songs, other feelings, and having an uninterrupted stretch to consider all that I’ve heard can be good. Listening before bed can be both good and troublesome because if I end up being inspired to work on something of my own, I’m often too tired to remember the next day. Maybe the thoughts never fully disappear. They roll around and pop out new, and I may never realize when they first occurred to me.
I never pretend to completely know what Tori Amos talks about in her lyrics, but she conveys moods very well. “Yes, Anastasia” lends itself to both introspection and urgency, and for me, it’s more about the music than the words. I love the full symphony. One could dedicate an entire class to dissecting her lyrics, but usually when I hear her music, I feel it in terms of movement. I think of my younger self, trying to make do with the square of free space in my bedroom, wondering what I could accomplish.
4. You Had Time — Ani DiFranco
My husband had an entire book idea flash through his brain after hearing these opening lines:
How can I go home with nothing to say?
I know you’re going to look at me that way
and say, “What did you do out there?
What did you decide?
You said you needed time and you had time.”
He wrote an entire story for National Novel Writing Month in only two weeks. Though it came out all right, as far as first drafts go, he hasn’t worked on it since. Maybe one day. The story didn’t have much to do with the end of a relationship — that was more the jumping off point — but I’m always interested in the different ways inspiration hits people.
Anyone creative will have the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” thrown at them. The stock answer is either a blank stare followed by, “What a dumb question,” or the person will come up with some sort of vaguely intellectual bullshit answer. I think creativity comes out of anywhere; it is both internal and external. Anyone who says every thought they’ve ever had is 100% original is either lying to you or lying to themselves.
I guess everything is timing
I guess everything’s been said
The challenge is to take that inspiration and make it feel new. Say it better than it has been said before; say it a little different than the person who came before. There’s a difference between inspiration and imitation, and sometimes the two are confused. To discount whatever turned on your brain in the first place is not being honest about creativity. Ideas are everywhere.
You will take the heavy stuff
and you will drive the car
and I’ll look out the window and make jokes
about the way things are
I suppose the right answer to that oft-asked question is, I’d be worried if the ideas ever stopped.
5. Youth Knows No Pain — Lykke Li
Holy shit, the drums in this. It is dark and ominous and just… Mmhmm. Clearly, I lack the words for how much I love this song.
Come on get down, come get down
Make amends, make a vow
Come on get down, come get down
Mighty you, here now
So come on honey, grow yourself to pieces
Come on honey, give yourself completely
And do it all although you can’t believe it
It is that mind-bending swirl of a willfully directionless existence. I do not have a story for this one, but I would also say that this acoustic version is pretty great too.
You Were Never There — Diego Garcia (“You had it all / more than most that I know”)
Your Love is the Place Where I Come From — Teenage Fanclub (“You never deny what you feel inside / I disappear when you’re not here in my life”)
Your Face — The Frames (“I’ve got to send this tape to you / and I’m gonna wait for you / cos I know something about you / There’s something about the things you do / There’s something about your voice”)
And because on the day that this post runs I will be in Portland, Oregon, about to see Noel Gallagher live, and my heart will be going a’pitter-pat or somesuch, we’re going to have him play us out with “You’ve Got The Heart of a Star.”
(“Cos you can only be what you are…”)
Lay ‘em on me, your songs for The Letter Y.