Staying Down with My Demons

nationalThe thing that I love about The National is they come across as normal guys. And not just normal guys in a rock band but normal in the have a job and go to bed at 9:00, make your own coffee before work and check the mail when you get home kind of guys.

It took me about a year to get into their most recent album Trouble will Find Me, but I am finding all kinds of nuggets of truth; real life, normal guy, kind of truth in it. When Matt Berninger sings “God loves everybody, don’t remind me,” or “There are things that I should never laugh about in front of family,” you feel know that he is experiencing life in a similar way that you are.

My favorite song off of this album is ‘Demons.’ This song, like most The National songs doesn’t really build but simmers on low heat and ends just before the pot boils over, culminating with the realization that “When I walk into a room I do not light it up,” which really kind of kills the mood but reinforces the normal guy motif more than perhaps any other The National lyric yet penned.

‘Demons’ is a song about growing older and looking back and realizing we have not become what we had always dreamed we would be. I feel like a lot of my favorite songs are about this at this point in my life. But as many people say when they are dashing your gleaming dreams of the future, we are all time travelers, moving into the future one second at a time. Sometimes we peer forward and sometimes we look back, and Demons is looking back.

Whether he is “…secretly in love with everyone that I grew up with,” or “…hiding among the younger viewers,” Berninger is lost is a past that he can’t erase or relive. As the song progresses Berninger pleads to stay in a place and ‘paint the blood…on the door,’ wanting death to pass by, perhaps looking for more time to deal with the past that seems wholly unsatisfying to him.

In between all of this the chorus tells us simply “I stay down with my demons.” I think that this simple line reminds us of the dangers of living in our past, even though sometimes it is difficult to avoid.

The chorus reminds me of an instance when an eight year old version of myself tripped a friend from church on the pavement because he was being annoying. As he got up with bloody knees I almost immediately realized that it was me who was in the wrong (and also I was probably being the annoying one). And I would think that every ‘normal guy’ probably has  hundreds of instances like this in the past that he cannot seem to forget. I am sure that the friend that I tripped does not remember this incident but I do and thinking about it from time to time is how I  “…stay down with my demons.”

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The Stories in Songs (e.g. Vampire Weekend’s ‘Step’)

I love songs that tell stories. I am always amazed when a song with 2 verses a chorus and a bridge can tell a story as detailed and engaging as most 500 page novels. The best songs have characters and location and plot. Vampire Weekends ‘Step220px-Vampire_Weekend_-_Modern_Vampires_of_the_City’ has all of these things. It is about the experience of someone who progresses from living in the past to looking forward to the future, his relationship with his family and friends and “…punks huddled on Astor”, and it takes place in New York, where all great Vampire Weekend songs seem to be set.

It starts out with the main character remembering times past, things that he used to do. It starts with the line “Back, back, way back…”, reminiscing about the way things were. The light begins to dawn about half way through that maybe we remember things better than they actually were “…actually Oakland and not Alameda…,” and finally realizing that we need to stop living in this place the no longer exists and perhaps never did (“I was a hoarder but girl that was back then.”)

The second verse is someone living exclusively in the present (“I just ignored all the tales of a past life…”). This is someone who is coming to terms with who they are and what they want to be, someone who is becoming less concerned about other people’s plans for their life and more in tune with their hopes and dreams. People in his life are telling him what to do (“The ancestors said there girl was better…”) but he is not inclined to let them dictate his life anymore (“…stale conversation deserves but a bread knife.”)

In the third verse the protagonist is looking to the future and finding hope in what tomorrow may bring; finding peace in the fact that as we grow older we gain things that are more exciting that our physical abilities (“Wisdom’s a gift…”). However, he also realizes that just because we are older everyday does not mean that we have to give up just yet (“We know the true death, the true way of all flesh, everyone’s dying but girl you’re not old yet.”)

I wrote a blog a while ago about the LCD Soundsystem song ‘All My Friend’ and how I felt that the song could have been written about me. With Vampire Weekend’s  ‘Step’ I feel like the song was written around me because I could be every character in the tracks narrative. The main character is someone who gains an understanding that life cannot be lived in the past and that life has so much to look forward to, but I also resonate with the ‘Ancestors’ of verse two who try to limit the main character to the “way things have always been done,” and the muse of the song who mourns her youth and is frightened because she is not getting any younger and she feels as if she has so much left to accomplish.

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My New Favorite Bands

imagesOver the past year I have been using Spotify playlists to keep track of the music I have been listening to on a month-to-month basis. I started making a playlist every month in October of 2011. Some playlists have ten or twelve songs and some have two or three, each comprising my favorite tracks from the bands or albums that I was listening to that particular month. These playlists went on a hiatus for a couple of months starting in November of 2012. This hiatus coincided with my obsession with a couple of bands whose music is not available on Spotify. You may have heard of them; they are called Pink Floyd and The Beatles.

I guess there is not anything remarkable about listening to and enjoying these two bands, a lot of people do. I just find it interesting that I have been drawn to music that was made in the two decades previous to my birth, and generally when these things happen I start to wonder why.

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Most likely one of the greatest reasons that I have been mining in the past is because 2012 was a fairly uninspiring musical year, at least from my perspective. I needed to find some new things to listen to and the albums coming out at the time were not drawing me in (2013 has started well with excellent releases from My Bloody Valentine and Youth Lagoon and a highly anticipated Vampire Weekend set for release in early summer). Granted Pink Floyd and The Beatles are not the only great bands I have been drawn to over the last couple of months. Some other artists that I have been discovering are Talking Heads, David Bowie, Michael Jackson (yes, I unashamedly bought Thriller a few weeks ago), some Brian Eno here a little Duran Duran there and I felt proud of myself the other day when I could not only pronounce Depeche Mode’s name correctly I could also relate that their three best albums are generally regarded to be Speak and Spell, Violator and Music for the Masses.

What makes my dive into the past interesting to me is the way that I see these bands influence in the artist that I enjoy that are currently making music. It is great to listen to Tears for Fears or Echo and the Bunnymen and realize, “M83 were totally influenced by these guys.” I see the influence of a lot of great bands in the music that is coming out today, I just could not have told you where it was from a few months ago.

Also, my new music discovery method over the past few months has completely flipped, the magnetic field of artist discovery is now pointing to the South Pole, from the way that it usually works. Instead of finding a new artist because they were influenced by Nirvana I find that Nirvana was influenced by Dinosaur Jr. so I should listen to them (actually I have no proof of this particular influence but I feel that it must have existed). I have been exploring many of the past artists whose names have been mentioned by my favorite current artists. It has been an enlightening experience and it might be difficult to pull myself back into the present.

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