A few months ago, I came across the track listing for the first of The Composite CDs sent all the way back in 2012. Over the course of a day’s commuting, I listened to the soundtracks for the past three years. It was an eye-opening sonic experience.
Outside of last year’s admittedly relationship-centric mix, I’d figured the mixes were just my efforts at compiling music I wanted to share with people I know with a track order that makes the listening experience enjoyable. Revisiting these mixes one day, back-to-back-to-back, it dawned on me that within the choruses, bass lines, and handclaps that populate these songs are stories. Other people’s stories being tweaked and massaged to tell my own story to you.
It was with one eye on that and another eye on that approaching thirtieth birthday that I realized, it’s all happening. I had kicked around the idea of doing a CD of just songs about places. Or of names. Or women’s names. Or just about New York City. But that isn’t how life works. Nothing is in a vacuum. The people I know and care about, the places I live, work, and visit all combine to create something larger than silo’ed apart lists.
There’s no theme this year, just music that speaks to me and reminds me of a time and place. I hope it speaks to you as well. Maybe not immediately. Maybe not all at once. But at some point, at some place, maybe it will.
Want a CD? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org by 11:59 pm on February 15 with your address and we’ll send you that CD.
By the time your second semester of freshmen year at college rolls around, you known both your limitations – that sixth can of Natty Light in the last 90 minutes was one too many – and how far you can push the envelope – waiting till the night before a ten-page paper is due to start writing: yes; waiting to study for a mid-term till the night before said exam: not so much.
Routines also become easier to fall into. Once a week during the spring semester of my freshmen year at Seton Hall, one of my roommates and I had the same hour-and-a-half block of time in the afternoon free. Invariably, we would play Grand Theft Auto and listen to whatever new CD I’d purchased in Hoboken. One of those felonious afternoons, we listened to Electric Version by The New Pornographers. For some reason, while unleashing utter destruction in GTA, we unknowingly sketched out a very intricate mumblecore movie about the folks living in our dorm suite, using each song in the album as a plot point. This cinematic crafting hadn’t happened before and never happened again, but it gave me an appreciation for songs that sound like they should be in a movie.
From the opening chords of “Heartbreaker,” one of the songs off The Walkmen’s forthcoming album Heaven, to the lyrics and the pacing of the drums, this song sounds like it should play during the opening credits of a good movie.
I’ve been listening to The Walkmen since 2004. Every one of their albums that consists of original material has explored similar sonic terrain while highlighting the variety of sounds that exist in that space. “Heartbreaker” signals a change to that method. Compared to songs off of Bows + Arrows and You and Me, “Heartbreaker” is downright upbeat. Lyrics like, “I’m not your heartbreaker/ Some tender ballad player,” have a vitality and energy to them. Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals have always been powerful and emotional, but in an angry, somber or resigned way. When Leithauser sings “These are the good years/ Ahh the best, we’ll never know,” it’s call to embrace the present, enjoy what we’ve got in front of us and who we’ve got around us. Much the same way, the heartbreaker/ballad player lyrics are both a promise of what he won’t do and also a quick acknowledgment of what he won’t be.
The unique thing for me about this song is that the order in which I heard it is totally backwards. Typically, I listen to the album (and song) ad nauseam leading up to a show, hearing the way the band’s studio intentions before seeing how the tune lives in an open space, performed by folks who’ve really only got one take to get it right. I heard “Heartbreaker” for the first time sitting in the front row of the balcony at BAM. This and other songs off of the upcoming album were totally new to me. I had no preconceived notions of what the lyrics meant or how the vocals would interplay with the instruments in a live setting. Maybe, most important, these songs had yet to make or leave their mark on me emotionally. Sitting in the breathtaking Gilman Opera House at BAM for The Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Festival, I was a blank canvas when these songs played.
Even when it was just Hamilton on stage with an acoustic guitar singing “Southern Heart,” a song about a guy who has bourbon in his blood and other Southern characteristics, there was an unexpected peacefulness in the band’s sound. I recently read an interview in Pitchfork where Leithauser discussed the new album. It came up that ten years in, all the guys in The Walkmen are now married and have kids. Is there any possibility that these new sentiments appearing on Heaven come from those changes in the band members’ lives? The utter despondency of “Thinking of a Dream I Had” – lyrically and sonically – has been replaced by a mindset that isn’t teetering on morbid depression and has a far healthier grasp of the world.
One last thing about this song is the still image The Walkmen put on the YouTube video. The photo is of Pete Bower, the band’s bassist, and his wife and two children. As someone who lives in Park Slope, I see elementary school students wearing geek chic on weekends and toddlers who probably think my green chucks are so high school. Maybe so, but the kid in the picture, all suited up, looks like he is on his way to the best 1920s-themed pre-teen birthday party ever.
I can stomach a days worth of tweets about etch-a-sketches. I can even handle an hour of tweets about etch-a-sketch and Mitt Romney’s dog, Seamus.
I am less patient when it comes to all things Tim Tebow. From his uber-obvious mediocrity as a QB to the on-again, off-again, on-again trade to the Jets.
But the one thing that gets my goat – every damn time it comes up is articles about the 2016 presidential election. No less, 2016 frontrunners! Seriously? We’re already talking about this? Do you hear anybody talking about who is going to represent the US in the 2016 Summer Olypmics? No, because there is a little thing called the 2012 summer olympics. People aren’t even talking the midterms – its my pet name for the Winter Olympics.
You know, it would be understandable if so much more had already happened. Like the Republican candidate had locked up the nomination. Or selected a Vice-Presidential running mate. Or how about started to run a national campaign after the convention in St. Petersburg.
With a third of the US Senate seats up for election, all 435 Congressional seats, a bushel of governorships, and a boatload of State Representatives and Senators on the line this November, it isn’t as if there is a lack of important stories for journalists to dig into.
Yesterday’s Roll Call article, “2016 Frontrunners Diverge on Redistricting,” is the second prominent article I’ve seen recently that devotes a significant amount of ink to the Democratic Governors of New York and Maryland, Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley. Even crazier, it tries to extrapolate their place in the Democratic Party based on each state’s redistricting fight! A Sunday Times article from February goes even further and hyping up long-time electeds like Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Not to be outdone, Politico went all in today, in what I can only imagine is their effort to win every morning between now and January 20, 2017 with the top of the page article, “Joe Biden in 2016? Not So Crazy.” The impetus for this piece is that Biden, who will be 73 in 2016, has started to put together a top-flight staff with no indication of the rationale behind these moves. And then throw in a West Wing-reference to fights between POTUS and VPOTUS and you got yourself a top story of the morning. Unless, these folks are being hired to run the Joseph Biden Institute on International Relations, High-Speed Rail, Baseball and All Things Awesome, lets focus on some substantive news.
The prize for earliest article has got to go to the New York Observer’s David Freedlander who wrote up the clash between Cuomo and O’Malley last November! Before the first Republican primary voter had cast a vote!
Lets put a stop to this craziness now! Maybe reporters are addicted to the horse race of politics, but even if they are, why are they jockeying for a race that is still years away from even reaching the starting gate. There is a horse race happening right now! Even if the GOP is beginning to coalesce around Romney, it’s not, for lack of a better phrase, signed, sealed, and delivered. We don’t know what type of tomfoolery could happen at the Republican convention in St. Petersburg. We don’t know what the general election will bring.
There is no question that 2016 will matter. But we kind of have an election going on right now and wouldn’t it be nice if we just focused on that? Who would want to miss a campaign trail reference to another “quintessentially American” toy by getting in a tizzy a governor who might run in 2016 or might bomb in the run-up to the run-up? Hey, Bobby Jindal!