Thursday, February 17, 2005

Lionel Richie's "Hello" is a rather egregious offender

Often, I get worked up when I read "Top Ten Somethingsomething" or "100 Best Blahbliblah". As I read through the list, I inevitably experience wild swings between joy (Yes! Nailed it!) and contempt (No, that is the wrongiest). I know my friends are thinking, "What? St. Murse visibly and audibly vacillate between euphoria and vitriol over something relatively trivial? No. No, I am not prepared to believe it." All I can say is, you know me too well and also that I'm sick of that cartoonish, overblown, ironic, shocked voice you use so quit it.

Anyway, Entertainment Weekly has another list out this week, "50 Greatest Love Songs". They wisely exclude unrequited love, lust, and standards like "It Had to be You" so as to make the list more manageable. Though they did include The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"which is clearly, brilliantly a secret, unrequited love. So I read the introduction and then right there, #1, The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows". Ugh. OK, I stipulate that is has a great arrangement and is beautifully sung, but those lyrics. Ugh.

I'll explain. There are certain cliches that drive me crazy. Cloying sentiments that annoy me like the intermittent back-up beeping of construction machines at 8 AM when you're just trying to get some goddamn sleep! Fucking bulldozer! With the beeping, then the not beeping, then the beeping again!

Aforementioned sentiments:

1. You complete me, (or it's corollary, I am some percentage less than 100 without you)
2. We will be in love forever and ever and ever
3. I cannot conceive of an existence where we are not in love
4. I will die without you

The reasons that I loath these sentiments:

1. You complete me, (or it's corollary, I am some percentage less than 100 without you)

What a sad specimin you are. Come back when you have your own life, personality, esteem, 2nd lung, etc. What you should be aiming for is, "You complement me." The second version is usually expressed as either half or zero. I would love to hear, "Now that I've met you, I'm 22.5% more me than before," but that rarely happens.

2. We will be in love forever and ever and ever.

Not bloody likely. Look around you, people break up all the time.

3. I cannot conceive of an existence where we are not in love

How unimaginative. The singer has experienced brain trauma or is too stupid to remember a time before s/he fell in love or to conjecture on a future without the love object.

4. I will die without you

No, you won't. Now you may commit suicide, but the cause of death will actually be the pills or gun or train wheels in addition to the inability to perceive that it HAPPENS ALL THE TIME and people GET OVER IT.

The bare human feeling that these sentiments try to dress up in distracting, Bedazzled™ clothing is simply, "If we were no longer a couple I would suffer from altered brain chemistry resulting in depression, a precipitous drop in sexual activity, and a crippling fear that I will die alone." Now if they would just say that, but instead they throw around gooey hyperbole.

Let's get back to "God Only Knows". It starts,

"I may not always love you"

A promising start. He's at least acknowledging the possibility. Then he wrecks it with,

"But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it"

Great. His love will last until the heat death of the universe. Cliche #2.

Second verse,

"If you should ever leave me"

So he dodges Cliche #3 (while putting the whole burden of the possible breakup on her, how gentlemanly), only to embrace Cliche #4.

"Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only knows what I’d be without you"

Not death per se, but the lack of a reason to live so it close enough. So there we are, a treacly mess.

As a counterpoint (and demonstration that I'm not a loveless automaton), let's move on to an example of a song that avoids all the cliches and is a personal favorite. Somebody at Entertainment Weekly had the great taste and ability to see through the admittedly odd phrases to the heart of Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)".

"The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong . . nothing"

What a incredibly clear-eyed vision of love. It captures the magical quality, without the desperate flailing about. Imagine that.

Later, David Byrne offers one of my favorite lyrics ever,

"Hi yo We drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth"

What an odd, yet sweet request. Sing into my mouth. Genius. Some day I hope to do that. Though, not to David Byrne. That would be weird. But also cool, in a weird way.

Near the end of the song, Byrne encapsulates the biological and temporal aspects of love with a few choice phrases.

"I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead"

Damn fine song.

The last think I'll say about the Entertainment Weekly list is that Elvis' version of "Can't Help Falling In Love" is like slogging through a field of thick pudding under a hazy sky to reach your love, where Lick the Tins' version (featured over the closing credits of Some Kind of Wonderful) is like skipping down a sun-dappled forest path to a hidden waterfall, hand-in-hand with your love.

Also, Etta James singing "At Last" is fucking sublime.


I just lost a really great entry that I spent the last hour writing. Argh.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The graveyard shift

In January I worked at the Co-op Bookstore, where all the students get their textbooks. I worked five nights a week, 11 PM to 7 AM. Yeah. Circadian rhythm was off a bit, but the pay and the fact that it was temporary made it worthwhile.

My first experience working through the wee hours was as a stocker at a grocery store. See if I was telling this story out loud, you might think "Why would somebody pay him to be a stalker at a grocery store?" but since you're reading this, no mistake can be made. And isn't that a shame? At the time, I already had a job working at a movie theater but I had this conviction that I could work out a schedule balancing day and night shifts. The goal was to make as much money as possible during the summer before I went back to college. I lasted all of two weeks at the grocery store before succumbing to exhaustion, crushing boredom, and a nasty cold.

The first few nights were interesting in that it was really odd to arrive at 11 PM and work through the night when a huge majority of people were asleep, or at least enjoying themselves reading in bed or watching TV in bed or having sex on the washing machine. Upon being subjected to a terse interrogation by the shift leader, I was given the sobriquet "College Boy" which is how I was referred to by my fellow stockers for the rest of my time there. Further, while everyone else could bring a walkman to listen to while they worked, I had to pass through some bullshit probationary period. Such are the petty tyrants of the night-stocking world.

Having no tapes of my own to drown it out, I had to listen to the store's piped-in music. I don't think I've ever noticed the music at the grocery store when I'm shopping, and rightly so. The volume is low, the noise of the other shoppers covers it up, and I'm thinking about what groceries I need. However, when mindlessly stacking cans of baked beans in an empty store, the songs seep in.

The music was a two hour loop that never varied the two weeks I was there and so I repeatedly endured the excrutiating, mounting dread as Martika's "Toy Soldier" drew ever closer. Bad as the anticipation was, it was nothing compared to the sonic icepick-through-the-ear that is the actual song. Any relief I felt when the song faded out was mitigated by the fell knowledge that the song would come back to stab at me again, always to stab at me.

Where "Toy Soldiers" brought me to the depths of hell, there was a shining beacon of light that also repeated every two hours, Ray Charles performing "You Don't Know Me". Written by Cindy Sherman, the 2nd most famous person from Mexia, TX (#1 being Anna Nicole Smith), Ray Charles aching voice perfectly illuminates the devastatingly beautiful words of unrequited love. I'd previously heard the song at a time where I could sympathize, and it would destroy me. On the long nights of stocking, it was a welcome respite from the vile pap that oozed from the store's speakers. Like Elton John.

Nothing at all interesting happened at the grocery store unless you consider the cardboard box compacting machine or perfectly lining up cans on a shelf interesting. Then again, maybe there's a six year old boy with OCD reading this, so who am I to judge? Wait, I judge the parent(s) of that child awful. Don't they monitor his surfing? For chrissake I wrote about autoerotic asphyxiation a couple posts back!

Anyway, the stocker job was terrible. Exhaustion and sickness are good indicators that one should quit a second job. Plus there's the little thing where I was so tired I accepted a obviously counterfeited $20 bill at the theater and was useless to the Treasury Department agent that inteviewed me afterwards.

Working at the Co-op was much better. Better environment, better co-workers, and rather more interesting. Heaviest book? A guide to pharmaceuticals. Most boring cover of a book? Every engineering text. Silliest picture on a technical manual? Somebody's kitty.

The music was a cut above the grocery store, yet still rather repetitive. As there was no one else in the store, we could listen to what we wanted. Yet, we most often ended up listening to what the supervisor liked. The supervisor sure did like his classic rock. So most nights, it was the classic rock station KLBJ, and constant rotation of songs you've heard too many times interspersed with ads for strip clubs, helicopter pilot lessons, and hair loss potions (target audience anyone?).

If it wasn't for AC/DC, Hendrix, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Pearl Jam, the station's overnight playlist would be cut in half. I like Aerosmith's "Dream On", but not every night. Ditto for Hendrix's "Fire". Also, the world would be a better place if Robert Plant had never read Lord of the Rings. I hope to never again hear him wail about Mordor. Shudder. The ads were another level of torture. While at least the songs didn't repeat in the same night, the ads sure did. Yes, owner of Sugar's, I get it, your hamburgers have sweet buns. At a strip club. Ba-dum bump krshhhh. And don't try to sell me on helicopter pilot training by saying it's cheaper than college. Really?! It's cheaper than the University of Texas (@ $26,000), one of the best deals in the country? Apples and oranges dude.

While my supervisor likes classic rock, his true passion is for prog-metal. Stuff no one who isn't into this stuff knows. In that way, it's cool that he's sought out off-the-radar music. In another way, it's so cheesy I alternate between feeling awe/horror and incredulous/glee. The worst/best is Ayreon's The Human Equation. Just so incredible in it's power to simultaneously offend and amuse me. It consists of chugging metal guitar interspersed with shrieking metal guitar, keyboard flourishes, and operatic vocals telling the story about a man who get's in a car wreck and works through his emotions while comatose. Featuring crutchingly lame high school poetry. I beg of you, go to the website, listen to a clip. In the word's of Bart Simpson, "It's craptastic."

The job was temporary and I'm done with it, until the beginning of next semester. Maybe it will be good prepatory work when I work nights at the hospital. Hmm, pulling books for college kids all night preparing me for hours of sitting interrupted by people bleeding copiously from various body holes? Yeah probably not.