Defining Irony

This profile of Michael Stipe goes on to explain why the author likes this story that Stipe shares. It touches a nerve because there was a time in my life where it might have been me in that Jeep. I don’t think I was ever that actively hostile to anyone but in the depths of a drunken night out, who knows? My time in Athens contains some of the brightest days and some of the darkest nights of my life. I was a person town in two and self-medicating to hide it all from the people around me and from myself.

Late one night, in the early 1990s, Stipe was in Athens, hanging out with Todd McBride, who was then the lead singer of a great bar band called the Dashboard Saviors, and the wonderfully eccentric singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt. The three were at The Grit, a cheap, vegetarian restaurant that has become one of the college town’s more iconic downtown eateries but which at the time was in a different building, closer to the edge of town. As McBride explained when he told me this story more than a decade ago, “The Grit was in this depot kind of building then — it was down at one end and this frat bar was down at the other. The place was closing up, we were getting ready to leave, and we were kind of hanging around outside The Grit, when this jeep full of frat boys comes by, throws a beer can at us, and screams, ‘Fuck you, faggots!’ Then they crank up the stereo” — at this point in his telling of the story, McBride began to sing the indelible song that was pumping from the jeep’s stereo — “It’s the end of the world as we know it / It’s the end of the …”

From “Michael Stipe is Present” in The Bitter Southerner.

There’s a reason that R.E.M. is my favorite band. Their music was a life raft I tried desperately to hang on to. Living in the town where they came to prominence made it all the more important to get lost in Swan Swan Hummingbird on repeat and spill my darkness into the chorus of Cuyahoga.

I’m pleased to have left a large part of myself behind in that place and time. But, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded occasionally of how close I might be to slipping back into the mindset, the actions, and the consequences of a life lived with little regard for others or myself. There’s nothing wrong with being humbled and being humble.

Jangle and Strum

This piece by Mitch Therieau explores the tension and latent power in jangle pop. I was in love with jangle pop before I even knew what it was. It’s a big part of why I fell in love with R.E.M. back in the 80s. My teenage self was realizing that there was more music to be heard than only what was on the radio.

It was where I found my independence. Long before any notion of publishing my thoughts on the Internet or in some video shot in my bathroom mirror, I was writing anonymous thinkpieces that I’d post to the school bulletin board. They’d be torn down almost immediately by a teacher that likely never read them. I’m sure they were horrible but a lot of them were exploring lyrics that opened up inside of me like fireworks in a jar.

I was fragile. The music was fragile. The metaphors were fragile. Everything was held together with artifice and risk.

I was excited a few months (years?!) ago to discover the Strum & Thrum compilation that collects some jangle pop tunes from bands almost no one heard of. This is astounding stuff that glittered just out of notice like seeing a glitch in the mid-80s bluster that disappears as soon as you look at it.

Death Songs

I’ve been curating a singular playlist for as long as it’s been possible to have digital playlists. I’ve migrated this list from service to service and device to device. On occasion, I change out a song or maybe two. But, the core of the list seldom changes. This is the list of songs to play at my funeral, in no particular order.

Bring It on Home to Me - Sam Cooke
While the song is his pleading to his lover to come back, there’s still a swagger in the delivery that meets with that tasty saxophone part to make this so damn sexy.

Christ Jesus - Deer Tick
There’s an ominous version of this song on their album War Elephant but I prefer the version from the Black Dirt Sessions. It uses a ringing piano instead of a bass and the lyrics feel a bit more present. I’ve been a seeker my whole life. This song understands that frazzled energy.

Live Oak - Jason Isbell
This song touches on a feeling I’ve had many times. Any of us that have gone through things that expose our darker dualities get it.

Tired of Being Alone - Al Green
This is where Hall and Oates stole it from. Another pleading man who might not be fully honest with himself or his lady friend.

Holding Back the Years - Simply Red
For my Dad.

Song for Zula - Phosphorescent
I’m happy that I haven’t had my heart broken like this poor bastard. The fury in this song is scary but it’s delivered with such despair that it becomes beautiful.

Change of Time - Josh Ritter
Wrestles with infinities with disarming simplicity.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Schmaltzy perhaps and beautiful in equal measure.

Atlantic City - The Band
Yes. A cover of the Springsteen tune. I like this version better.

Farewell Transmission - Songs: Ohia
Jason Molina is my favorite songwriter. He was able to see something in between the lines the rest of us fixate on. He was a conduit for a timeless yearning.

Many Rivers to Cross - Jimmy Cliff
There’s always one more river, Jimmy.

Jesus, Etc. - Wilco
I’ve often said this is one of the saddest songs but, jesus, don’t cry about it.

I’ve Just Seen a Face - The Beatles
That rush of love at first sight. It happened to me. It could happen to you.

Astral Plane - Valerie June
Her voice echoes an ancient Appalachia and then stretches to some future space zen godhead. It’s odd and tender and fragile and springs from the Earth.

A Little Bit of Everything - Dawes
The metaphors are strained but the feelings are real. I get the deep dissatisfaction this song finds a solution to.

No Hard Feelings - The Avett Brothers
I hope this is how it goes at the end.

The Maze - Manchester Orchestra
What a wonderful evocation of the complexities of loving someone to the point that it confounds you.

Gardening at Night - R.E.M.
My favorite band of all time and the first song of theirs that I ever heard. It will forever be at the center of my heart.

You can listen on this playlist.

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