The Letter V was surprisingly not too difficult to find five great songs to talk about. V may be my least favorite Scrabble letter, but this week we’ve got some ’90s gems as well as some more recent tunes.
The Letter V
1. Volcano – Damien Rice
“He’s good, but he’s sort of stab-you-in-the-heart good,” I said to my husband when he asked how I enjoyed the album O. My friend Niall had sent it from Ireland, as the album had yet to have wide distribution in the US. When Damien Rice began to get all the critical nods of “˜Best of 2004,’ I always found it a bit funny that the articles neglected to notice the album’s 2003 release date. Not to sound overly hipster about it, but I’d been aware of him so long that it took a while for me not to feel surprised when this song would get radio play.
What elevates Damien Rice’s music from servicable folk music into something more extraordinary is Vyvienne Long’s cello and Lisa Hannigan’s backing vocals. He and Lisa have since parted ways, and to be honest, I’ve paid less attention to him since then. As a trio, they grab my heart in that great way that makes me want to sit and write.
In fact, one of the major themes I often write about can be summed up by one line from the chorus:
What I am to you is not what you mean to me.
I’m interested in the dynamics of relationships, both friendly and romantic, when two people give different importance to the other. I’m interested in the idling relationship, where it’s gone on too long to bother expiring, and I’m interested in how people need each other. I’m interested in one person’s total devotion paired with obliviousness of another to that adoration. I think about the possibility of assumed obliviousness when really it’s a case of unspoken understanding. When people set aside all caution and jump headfirst into what they know to be right, it’s interesting, however crazy it seems from the outside.
What I give to you
is just what I’m going through
This is nothing new
No, no just another phase of finding what I really need
is what makes me bleed
Damien Rice’s music has the ability to make me pick apart every complicated feeling, and somehow still enjoy doing it. His introspective songwriting style leads to self-reflection, a starting point for sorting out all the murky matters where the brain and heart argue. The music is both inspiring and difficult, and I’m not sure what the result of prolonged non-stop listening would be. Even when he sings, “You do not need me,” I still hear dedication, however bittersweet.
2. Violet – Hole
The first thing I think of when I hear this song is the episode of Beavis and Butthead who, upon seeing the video’s title on their TV, say “Yeah! Violence! I love it when they say right at the beginning what you’re going to see.” That video, along with the aforementioned PJ Harvey, is one of the few I remember from that show. The third? “Dammit, Pantera! I told you to get out there and mow that lawn!”
And the sky was made of amethyst
And all the stars are just like little fish
You should learn when to go
You should learn how to say no
Courtney Love may be crazier than a bag of monkeys, but as far as her music goes, I have no problem with her. I like this version of Hole, the “Celebrity Skin” version, and I dug the one single I heard from her solo album. Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” was one of the first moments in middle school that made me think, “You know, the R&B stuff my friends are listening to is crap.” Despite liking the music, I’ve only managed a dubbed cassette of Live Through This. I had friends who liked them, but I borrowed the albums in the days before readily available CD burners and Napster. How I managed to be more familiar with Hole than Nirvana, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a little about staring at bassist Melissa Auf Der Mar, but it also has a lot do with the scream-along satisfaction of the chorus:
Go on, take everything!
Take everything, I want you to
Go on, take everything!
Take everything, I dare you to
One of the funniest moments I’ve seen on MTV – besides the time Courtney Love threw things at Madonna and then almost fell on her – was when they had her and Melissa do a segment on House of Style, then hosted by the unremarkable Daisy Fuentes. On a show known for supermodels and whatever Todd Oldham had going, the two of them got on there, demonstrated how to rip a few t-shirts into a dress and more or less said, “Traditional fashion is bullshit.” Courtney Love may not be a role model, but she has had occasional moments of clarity.
3. Velvet Morning – The Verve
“Velvet Morning” sounds a little like something off Be Here Now, with a splash of “Champagne Supernova.” Some critics say Urban Hymns is the album Oasis wish they made instead that year, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses. “Velvet Morning” is a little psychedelic with a hundred different sounds overlapping each other and building into something bigger.
Yes, it’s been long
and yes, I still feel strong
Into the half light,
another velvet morning for me
That beginning could open a movie, one fresh beginning before diving into the story. Hearing this song is the closest I get to imagining what it must be like for people who see music in colors. The strings, the pedal steel, the vocals through a filter – all of it swirls into one package that begs to bleed over into other media.
And now I’m trying to tell you
about my life
And my tongue is twisted
And more dead than alive
Hearing those lines makes me think about the difference between writing to someone and talking to them. I’m a much more effective communicator when I can write it all down. My speaking style is either off the cuff or reserved, and I don’t know if I paint a very accurate picture of myself in conversation. I suppose everyone feels this way, and we all think we’re the only ones with the problem – thinking everyone else gets along just fine, and I’m just trying not to sound like the fragmented, inarticulate odd duck who has forgotten some of that handy arrogance along the way.
I said, Don’t you find
that it’s lonely
You walk there alone
And life is a game you’ve tried
I don’t know the solution. I’m still trying to find that balance between “Of course I’m fantastic, and you should think so too,” and over-thinking, dialing back too far. I suppose we spend a lifetime learning how, and sometimes we get it right.
4. Volumen Theme – Volumen
Unfortunately, YouTube is not forthcoming with this particular song, but since the band itself starts with The Letter V, we’ll say it’s okay. Instead, watch “Sexy Astronaut,” and then this interesting seven-minute short documentary about the band.
Volumen were a band born in Great Falls, MT (where I live again), who then settled in Missoula (where I once lived) and became big on that local music front. Then they promptly became all indignant that Great Falls only loved them after they moved away. Seeing as the lot who loved them were unaware and in middle school when they still lived in Great Falls, I always thought their accusations of bandwagonry were a bit … self-important. If it hadn’t been for their great live show, I would’ve discounted them as just another area musician that spent too much time on the idea of a band rather than being one, which would’ve been too bad, since they were quite a band. (I say “were” because I believe they are all busy with other projects at the moment.)
I saw them play two or three times, once at Jay’s Upstairs in Missoula (now closed), and maybe twice in Great Falls. The show I remember most will always be the Halloween Show 2001 held at, of all places, the Elks Club. I drove back to Great Falls to see Old Boyfriend perform as the opener (and he’d also organized the whole show), even though we were half-broken up by then. Hearing Volumen might have subconsciously been the reason I bothered going. The band arrived in their vintage ambulance they’d been using as a tour bus, all wearing retro medical uniforms – white coats, white nurses uniforms with the little hats, red crosses. They were a fully functioning unit in performance gear.
Volumen’s style hovers somewhere around danceable punk rock with a touch of nerdiness. They have drum machines, loud guitars, and songs about video games and my favorite, “Miniature Action Jesus.” They’re fun – way more fun in a live setting. I have the Super Confident Guy EP (with bonus How Do You Spell… ? album tacked on the end because the original run went out of print) and while all the good songs are on there, it lacks the energy of the gig. The chorus of the Volumen Theme loses some of its oomph when a crowd isn’t there to shout along, “Volumen! Woo!”
“How Do You Spell?” has a great sing-along silly chorus: “How do you spell Volumen?/ I said La-La-La-La-La-La-La Volumen.”
With it being Halloween, a prize went to the best costume. The band thought, and I thought, they had it in the bag with all that coordinated head-to-toe ambulance theme, but no… They gave it to a short kid who stuffed himself full of padding, put on suspenders, and became an almost circular fat man. I think Great Falls had trouble booking the band after that.
5. Virtual Insanity – Jamiroquai
I can hear some of you groaning already, I know. I got sick of this song too after the initial love affair, but enough time passed to where I heard the song on the radio one day and thought, “I should dig that album out.” If nothing else, it’s good for dancing around while picking up the house or cooking a proper breakfast.
The last time I remember the MTV Video Music Awards being anything good was in 1996. Bush, Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Alanis Morissette, and Jamiroquai all performed. Gavin Rossdale wore the shirt with the very tiny “˜Fuck you’ printed on it, Liam spit on the stage, Alanis needed to wash her hair, Jamiroquai broke out the moving floor again – MTV may as well have rounded up my CD collection and made a show of it because there was hardly a bad moment for thirteen-year-old me. At the risk of Irish readers throwing rocks at me, I’ll say that I even enjoyed The Cranberries performance that night as well.
The next year, the Spice Girls invaded the place. While I do still love them, they hovered the line between the MTV I grew up with – the mix of full length videos, music news and the occasional topical documentary – and the spiral into the crap we see today. 1996 was the last year that I didn’t mind them rerunning the broadcast almost nonstop for a week. I’m sure if I saw the ’97 awards now, I’d find it delightfully nostalgic, but at the time, it was a bit of a let-down.
To be honest, I rarely listen to Jamiroquai’s album Traveling Without Moving all the way through. Three songs stand out the most to me – “Virtual Insanity,” “Alright,” and “Cosmic Girl” (which some of you might know from the game Just Dance). The current radio play stays just sporadic enough that “Virtual Insanity” feels like a happy surprise. A musician could be known for worse.
Very Best Friend – Proud Mary (I really only know this song from a Q Magazine compilation, and that they were signed to Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash Records, but this was a great Aughts-era blip.)
Bon Voyeurs – Blaqk Audio (I know, V appears in the second word of the title, BUT this is a relatively new song, so give me a break. I love it. “Who cares who’s watching you with me?”)