Friends, we are officially at the halfway point for this column. Let’s reward ourselves by rocking out and taking in the eye candy.
The Letter M
1. More Than This – Roxy Music
When I was younger, I went through a stage of disliking any music that sounded too ’80s. Just a whiff of synthesizer was all it took to make me roll my eyes. Luckily, I came to realize that every decade has shit tunes and great tunes, and no time is all that better or worse comparatively. Besides, how could I live a life without “More Than This”?
My obsession with this song started one November a couple years ago when I was working on a new (what will hopefully be a) novel. Headphones on, I had a selection of music set to shuffle and was lingering over a scene when “More Than This” came on.
Like a dream in the night / who can say where we’re going
And suddenly, I realized where I really wanted to take the story. A romantic relationship between two male characters provided the necessary stakes to my plot. I knew why one man would continue to involve himself professionally with the other, even when things start to go very wrong. I hesitate to give any specifics because it’s still in the very, very first draft stage, and saying plot points aloud at this time almost guarantees what won’t make it into the book later.
Still, “More Than This” helped me figure it out. I’m thrilled when a song provides an “A-ha!” moment. It is my very favorite thing when two of my loves overlap, so a music-writing connection is rather vital to my existence.
More than this – there is nothing / More than this – tell me one thing / More than this – there is nothing
I can’t quite make up my mind if this song is meant to be positive or negative, and I wonder if Bryan Ferry didn’t quite know either while writing it. What I lean towards is the feeling that, “This feels good now, and maybe it will even be great, but admitting that makes me nervous.”
It’s a shame that this video is so terrible, but one cannot have it all.
2. Make Yourself – Incubus
“If I hadn’t made me, I would’ve been made somehow.” If there were ever a surefire way to guarantee unhappiness, it would be by trying to live according to everyone else standards – and even worse, mistaking those standards as your own without question. Here, one of my favorite Incubus songs rails against that line of non-thinking and rocks out in the process. “You should really make amends with you / If only for better health.”
Brandon Boyd’s voice alternates between low purr, soaring call and cathartic scream, making it very satisfying to sing along. “Make Yourself” reminds me that no matter how nuts people might find a well thought out decision I’ve made – say, getting married at five days short of my 19th birthday – that I just have to ride out the doubt and trust that people will come around. If I started basing life-altering decisions on anything other than what feels right in my heart, “powers that be would have swallowed me up, and that’s more than I can allow.” And yes, most everyone has come to recognize my marriage as a good decision, though I’ll venture that not until our children were born did some people tip in favor.
Singing along to “Make Yourself” is also a satisfying way to vent frustration with the people who make everyone’s life unnecessarily complicated because they don’t have their own shit figured out:
If you let them make you, they’ll make you papier-mache / At a distance, you’re strong, until the wind comes / then you crumble and blow away
When this album of the same name came out during high school, I didn’t really pay much attention. I’d heard of Incubus, but never really investigated. “Drive” was on the radio and MTV plenty, and that was a fine enough song, but the first time they registered with me was when my boyfriend at the time had me download an acoustic version of “Pardon Me.” That song was far more interesting, so I borrowed the album for a day or two, but never had the chance to get into it until he got all twitchy and needed it back. It wasn’t so clear at the time, but I needed the upgrade to someone who had no proprietary issues with who was “allowed” to be into certain music. Now I’m glad to have Incubus remind me of the early days with my husband and not have them only be a band we listened to in high school. Besides, Old Boyfriend and I wouldn’t have ever discussed how Brandon Boyd has no need to wear a shirt. Ever. Look at that man. Mmhmm.
3. Miss Murder – AFI
I loved AFI’s Sing the Sorrow so much that the wait for their follow-up album, Decemberunderground, seemed to take decades. Then one day in April 2006, the arrival of the new single, “Miss Murder,” made me “eee!“ with delight. As you do. At the time, we lived out in the country, south of Spokane, WA, and our only Internet option was dial-up. Yes, for five long years, we lived without high speed Internet at home. Cry for me, Argentina. And in my music channel devoid world (for we did not have cable either), I waited out the 2+ hour download to see the video. It would tide me over until the June 6th release date.
Despite the fact that I love, love, love AFI, I fall somewhere in the mid-range of fan for this band. They have an enthusiastic following that is almost embarrassing in their devotion. I think much of it comes from the feeling of being an outsider, and it’s easy to latch onto a MAC cosmetics-wearing, vegan, straight-edge, sexually ambiguous frontman venting his frustrations in well-composed, punk-adjacent rock. I may have listened to the five albums I have forty bajillion times, but I don’t necessarily identify with some of the brooding undercurrent – I can be far too arrogant for that. However, “Miss Murder” gets so much right that it is pointless for cheap knock-offs to try.
The funny result of downloading the video is that my then-two-year-old daughter latched on to singer Davey Havok to the point where she’d run around the house yelling “I wanna watch Davey!” and imitated the hand motions in the video. She wasn’t even out of her crib yet, and we’d hear her singing over the baby monitor, “Hey murr murr can I, hey murr murr can I… take my eye-ff, WOAH-OH-OH!” Yes, I know – conservative mothers across America are tut-tutting in horror that I would let my sweet toddler sing a song called “Miss Murder,” but not only did she not really know what she sang, what she heard had more to do with loss and disillusion than anything “improper.” Just like “Ring Around the Roses” could be about the plague, I have no problem with my kid happily singing and dancing to a song she doesn’t understand yet. And now that she is old enough to understand, I trust that I have continued to raise her as a critical and creative thinker when it comes to art.
The album Decemberunderground provided a musical backdrop for my own grief in the year after my dad died. I needed some time to wallow and my usual cautious optimism went on hold. The songs provided just the right amount of uplift to keep me above water and just enough opportunity to sort through how I felt, even though the lyrics did not always 100% apply. “The stars that mystified, he left them all behind and how his children cried,” stands out in this song.
Grief aside, “Miss Murder” really is a catchy song, and it has the least to do with any feelings I worked through that year compared to others. (Particularly striking was “The Missing Frame” – “One at a time, I watched them all forget / One at a time, I’m lost in little deaths.”) The song opens with a great bass line before fully exploding. One of the things I like best about AFI is that it is not just a vehicle for Davey Havok, as attractive and talented as he may be. Every member of the band gets equal footing – there’s no searching for the bass line, there’s no overabundance of indulgent guitar riffs. Even their videos give almost equal time to everyone, and in that equal time, the musicianship stands out. No one serves as filler. The years between albums give them a chance to get everything right, not to mention that their sound has a tendency to wander in a new direction with each release. “Miss Murder” is a bridge between their familiar punk rock and the more electronic-leaning songs on the album like “Love Like Winter,” a dance single that sounded completely unlike anything else the band had done up to that point. “Miss Murder” has the shout-alongs made for the live show and a drum-along-on-the-steering-wheel beat. It’s perfect.
4. Mother – Danzig
In my early memories of discovering MTV, I can remember asking my mom why MTV wasn’t listed in the TV Guide. She said, “Well, all they play is music videos, so there’s no need to list it.” Funny how roughly twenty years later, you nearly pass out from shock if you see a full video on that channel.
Occasionally, I’d be left unsupervised with the TV while my mom got things done around the house, corralled my brother, etc. I’d mainly watch Nick at Nite before being shuffled off to bed myself – reruns of Mr. Ed, Donna Reed, Patty Duke and whatnot – but sometimes I would switch it over to MTV. Somehow, Young Me developed a crush on Danzig. Yes, that’s right. Glenn Danzig.
To be honest, I can’t remember which video I saw first. “Mother,” the studio version came out when I was five years old, and I was certainly aware of MTV at that time. “Mother (93),” the live version embedded above, was released shortly before I turned 10. The memories are fuzzy, but I remember the fascination starting well before I was 10, yet I have a distinct memory of seeing that ’93 performance and thinking, “Oh! I have to see the end of this video so it will tell me who he is!” I would have been so disappointed, I think, if I’d just been given a vague band name. Naming your band after yourself may seem silly to some, but at the time, it was extremely helpful. I told no one what I’d seen because although there hadn’t been an official conversation about it, I still wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be watching MTV. And like any kid’s logic goes, if there hasn’t been any official conversation condoning or banning an activity, then it’s best not to bring it up, just in case. You’re not breaking any rules if those rules have not yet been established. Plus, I didn’t want to be teased about thinking some dude on TV was cute, of course. An inordinate amount of time in my childhood was spent considering how to experience the least amount of hassle when it came to just about anything.
And I mean, those arms. Let’s have a moment together, in honor of those arms. That Young Me liked his appearance says a lot about some of my current eye candy preferences.
Also, I wonder if that’s where my preoccupation with wearing lots of black began. It’s a good thing I was a bright and happy kid, or I think more parents and teachers might have voiced more concern. The seeds of appearance and musical preference start early, and without Glenn Danzig, my much-loved AFI might not be here today.
“Mother,” either version, is one of my All-Time Favorites. Just that crunch and his voice do it for me. It’s big and awesome, and let’s all play it loud.
5. Monkey – Bush
A portion of the song “Monkey” gives me a case of musical tourettes:
You take these pretty photos / when will you be worthy of your good side? / Where will you be when the clouds break / and it all takes / just a little more than you have?
No matter what I may be doing, conversation or otherwise, I will burst, or at least murmur, into song when that section occurs. “Monkey” has a very satisfying crunchy guitar line, and Gavin’s voice is set to “extra-gravel.” It’s full of all sorts of hot energy, each line delivered with articulated urgency, not to mention, I get the added giggle of the song being titled with a word I find very funny.
The self-destruction angle of the song, I admit, did not quite sink into my thirteen-year-old brain when I bought the album. Really, it was a lot more fun to get caught up in the vague metaphors appearing as nonsense, a cornerstone of Gavin Rossdale’s songwriting: “I am lion face/ No Sancho Panza.” They’re still a bit amusing, even if I grew up enough to better understand what he might be getting at.
Aside from those lines I am compelled to sing each time, I’ve lived just enough life now where I am gripped by the thought, “I’m riddled by you/ I could have been better.” When it comes down to it, that theme is at the heart of everything I write.
Honorable (Magical!) Mentions:
Magic Man – Heart (I wish I had the set of lungs required to sing this song.)
Magic Pie – Oasis (Don’t you hate on Be Here Now. Not even you, Noel Gallagher. I still dig it, in all its excessive production.)