So, this is the bit where I’m supposed to tell you how important music is to me. I should tell you that since I was little I was addicted to the stuff and that my mom rubbed my gums with Dunlop Lemon Oil when I was fussy as an infant. Ok, so only the first half of that statement is true. But my dad did once give me the Macarena single as a tooth fairy gift when he ran out of quarters…truth.
Anyway. I’m an old lady by Infectious standards. I’m a 25-year-old Mama with a history in just about every occupation you can imagine (and a few you don’t want to) in the music industry. I get really excited when I cut just the right amount of thread for sewing projects, I always cuff my pants, and I hate that feeling when your teeth scrape against the pit of a peach or plum. I drink way too much tea, I watch way too much Buffy The Vampire Slayer and I would gladly become a mermaid if given the opportunity. So now that you know all of my vital information, shall we do this?
1) James Taylor- Sweet Baby James
I remember being surprised that the song sounded the same. Everything else was different-our address, our family, even our mom was somehow not the same now that she remarried. But as she sat there with her knees pulled up against her chest, leaning on the wall the separated my brother’s room from my own, she sang out a song which was soft, but it was clear. We had moved across the country, she married her high school sweetheart, and I couldn’t help but feel like I had left everything I had come to trust on the east coast. But as she moved from chorus to verse I realized I was wrong. I could trust in the music to stay the same. Sure, songs and artists would come and go, but the comfort in the familiar would always be there. That lullaby would be the same regardless of what side of the country I was drifting off to sleep on. I often wonder what my daughter will remember of her childhood. Nothing would please me more than for her to remember me singing the very same song to her night after night just as my mother did for me.
“Won’t you let me go down in my dreams?”
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2) The Monkees- Valleri
I have a long and storied past of liking dudes I have no business being interested in. Examples include, but are unfortunately not limited to, the guy who thought he was a vampire, the man who thought they drained the ocean each winter for sanitary reason, and the incredibly attractive but wholly unstable young professional who was absolutely certain that I, in fact, was not real. So where did such an emotionally fulfilling and mentally beneficial trend begin? Block Party Summer. See, as a kid my brother and I would spend six weeks at our grandparents house. Come a certain time of evening, the oldies channel would marathon a different television classic. I was a sucker for Monkee Mondays. I’d love to tell you that I just appreciate an awesome alliteration (see what I did there?), but thats total deceit. Davey Jones made me weak in knobby little pre-pubescent knees. In fact, I was so enamored by the geriatric gentleman that for my sixth birthday my aunt bought me tickets to see The Monkees play in Philly. That’s right folks, my first concert…was The Monkees. How cool am I? Jokes on you haters though, half way through the show Davey Jones took his shirt off and it was an experience! I’ll give you a second to puke before I go on…
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3) Crowded House- Better Be Home Soon
I often worry about how little I remember of my childhood. I can recall bits and pieces but never in the correct order, and never very clearly. Usually it’s all just a bunch of radio static, except when it comes to music. I distinctly remember driving down Route 23 in Wayne, New Jersey while my Dad taught me the difference between The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Incidentally, I also remember making a mental note not to mention that conversation to my mom when she called to say goodnight. I remember my mother singing along to Gloria Estafan with a beater for a microphone as she mixed a batch of cookies. But more than anything else, I remember Crowded House. My dad never said a lot about his feelings, but his song selections always gave him away. My brother and I saw my dad sparingly. Since we were on the other side of the country, we would fly back for school breaks but that was it. The six weeks we spent with him every summer started out upbeat. Those were the “And She Was” days; The “Metal Guru”, “Stray Cat Strut”, italian ice and water park days. But as September crept in and my brother and I prepared to return home the record flipped. If we’re being honest, the real song that killed me was a particularly heart wrenching version of “Crying Time” done by Elvis Costello and Glenn Tilbrook, but I can’t find it on youtube, so I’ll spare you. But the song that followed was Crowded House’s “Better Be Home Soon”. I can still smell the overwhelming baby powder scent that permeated my grandmother’s house and feel the scratchy fabric of a comforter that long since should have been retired beneath my scrawny thighs. And still, at 25 I can feel the lump rising in my throat…
“Don’t say no. Don’t say nothing’s wrong. ‘Cause when you get back home, baby I’ll be gone…”
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4) Bruce Springsteen- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
I work with this dude who gets way too much enjoyment out of teasing me. So when he made his brown eyes all big and made this stupid face to accompany the equally ridiculous voice in which he said “Oh yea, you’re like ALL ABOUT New Jersey”, I sort of wanted to punch him. But I didn’t. Because it’s true. You know what? I love The Garden State. A lot. I can successfully navigate both a jug handle and a traffic circle, I get overly offended should someone imply that I’m a BENNY, my favorite color is Asbury Park green, and I don’t understand why people do anything besides sit on the north beach during summer evenings. Actually, my favorite place in the entire world is Asbury Park, New Jersey. What’s not to love? It’s a beach town with awesome architecture, freaking incredible korean barbecue, and it was home to that weirdo dream sequence from The Sopranos. Oh, and it’s home to great music. I mean we’re talking Southside Johnny, The Gaslight Anthem, The Bouncing Souls…and The Boss. Am I a little obsessed with Bruce Springsteen? Do I have multiple pictures of his butt saved on my phone? Did I voluntarily, as a grown adult, dress up as the Born To Run album cover for Halloween? Ok, so yea. Those things are true. But am I sorry? Not a chance. Bruce Springsteen, and specifically Rosalita sound like home to me. And that’s impressive considering I couldn’t tell you where my hometown is. There’s this sort of magical time in shore towns called Local Summer after the Labor Day exodus. The tourists go home but it’s still warm enough to surf. The sunsets are somehow prettier and the parking is half priced. It’s wonderful. I can’t count how many times Rosalita has been the soundtrack to wandering bike rides through Ocean Grove to Asbury Park during those September sunsets. But listen, it’s not just me being biased. California native and natural-born cynic Tom Waits knew there was something special about those Jersey tides. (But let’s be honest, Springsteen’s cover was better). Through tobacco stained vocal chords Waits laid down some truth in “Jersey Girl”. “Cause down the shore everything’s alright. You and your baby on a Saturday night”. Regardless of the time, or place, that’s how Rosalita makes me feel. Everything’s alright, you know? It’s always local summer and its all good.
“I ain’t here for business, Baby. I’m only here for fun”
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5) The Replacements-Left Of The Dial
I move around a lot. I’m like a living Frank Turner song. Pennsylvania, California, New Hampshire, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky… I’ve been everywhere, man. As a kid it was tough. I bounced through climates and cultures on the regular. Nothing ever really stayed the same. Except music. As I grew older and began to dip my toes into the toxic cesspool that is the music industry, I began to associate places with the musicians and thusly the music that brought me there. While Memphis will always be Sun Studios and Beale Street, I will never be able to think of Nashville without thinking about The Koffin Kats at The Muse, Or Los Angeles without feeling the sunburn from Ink and Iron fives years ago. And of course, New Brunswick will always be home to Andy Diamond’s Church Street Choir. Mischief Brew’s Erik Petersen says to feel at home in any city, all you have to do is seek out the patches on the punks to find that you know all the same people, places and roads. I don’t think he’s wrong. But I think The Replacements really captured that sentiment in a very specific way in regards to musicians. Weeks spent in the back of a van or crammed into a tour bus means that relationships falter. People come and go as quickly as radio stations fading from city to city. It’s hard, and it’s taxing. I often find myself wondering why I do what I do. It stresses me out, it costs me money, and it makes me question my command of the English language. But leave it to The Mats to provide the answer. Left of The Dial. It’s spinning that worn out radio knob in circles until you’re sick, fanning through countless stations of crap until that one lucky click lands you on a familiar voice. It’s seeing a friend’s name on a marquee a thousand miles away from home. It’s holding on the radio station long after the static sets in.
“If I don’t see you again, for a long, long while. I’ll try to find you left of the dial”.
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6) Joe Ginsberg – Hold Me On
So this one didn’t exactly shape me. But it’s certainly a solid description. See, I’ve got this four-year without whom I’d be a far shittier human being. Actually, I’m fairly certain that she’s what keeps me human. She surprises me at every turn with her unending personality, her big heart and ceaseless wonder. Plus, she knows that the live version Cock Sparrer’s “Take ‘Em All” is better than the Shock Troops version, so basically, she rules. I’m not a particularly soft person. I’ve never been inclined to be nurturing or overwhelmingly gentle or even tolerant for that matter. But this little girl, she turned me into the person I was always supposed to be.
“I am reaching the great divide. You are sleeping, but I’ll be right on time, because you hold me on.”
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7 ) Elvis Costello-Radio, Radio
Call him Declan Macmanus or call him Elvis Costello, either way, the dude rules. Can we just get that out of the way? He’s done a lot of really cool stuff, but nothing nearly as cool as his stunt on Saturday Night Live on 1977. After the Sex Pistols were denied visas (shock!) to play the show, Costello stepped up to bat. The producers wanted him to play
“Less Than Zero”, a snarky commentary on a political situation underway across the pond that had absolutely no effect on the show’s American audience. Elvis had some other ideas. After playing the first few bars of the scheduled tune, Costello stops the band and apologizes to the audiences claiming “there’s no reason to do that song here”. They break into “Radio, Radio” resulting in Lorne Michaels standing off-screen flipping the bespectacled crooner the bird for the remainder of his performance. The stunt put the Brit on a short, but nonetheless impressive list of acts banned from SNL in the company of The Replacements, Fear, Sinead O’Conor and Cypress Hill. While obviously I wasn’t around to see the incident go down, I still think it’s one of the most impressive displays of total and ultimate cool. I mean think about it. Elvis Costello, Crown Dork of The Mods stuck it to the man. Yea ok, he didn’t do what he was supposed to. Naughty boy didn’t play the right song. But it’s so much more than that. He illuminated a giant, “screw you” and put the wrongs of the music industry and media in general on blast. “Radio, Radio” makes no bones about the cold, businesslike, anesthetized, corporate shift in the industry. And how did he do it? Through what venue? The biggest media giant of them all NBC! That incident (or learning about it anyway) was a turning point for me. Sure, nice music is nice. But I expect more. For the most part, if music isn’t starting fights or ending them chances are it won’t much appeal to me.
“Radio is the sound salvation. Radio is cleaning up the nation. They say you better listen to voice of reason, and they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that’s it’s treason. You had better do as you are told. You better listen to the radio.”
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8 )Mischief Brew- On The Sly
I grew up in basements. But in the Stockholm Syndrome kind of way. I grew up in creepy, sweaty basements beneath record stores, attached to New Brunswick bars, and nestled under a blissfully unaware, sleepy suburban town. I’ve seen bands that go on to sell out massive stadium tours play to 20 really, sweaty, sweaty people for a $7 donation in a guys garage. Which rules. I’ll never tell you that seeing Against Me! play in a crappy, semi flooded cement box in Allentown doesn’t fill me with tiniest bit of hipster pride, but it’s even cooler than that. See that show, and every DIY show before and after were a celebration of a totally different sort of ethics. Do It Yourself means a whole lot more than The Home Depot would have you believe. My morals have nothing to do with a weekend warrior installing a countertop with his wife looking warily on. Instead they have everything to do with keeping (or maybe reverting to) a musical community that embraces the art instead of the business. It’s about you and your friends figuring out what everyone is good at and using those talents to make something awesome happen. Who draws for the zine? Who’s got a space that can host shows? Who has screen printing abilities? It’s about working with what you’ve got to make something immense. While I can’t think of a Mischief Brew song that isn’t absolutely oozing in DIY sentiments, On The Sly is the community’s battle cry. Mischief Brew’s Erik Petersen screams the things I can’t bring myself to say, but this one really drives it home. If the concept of DIY is foreign to you, I beg you to seek out the scene in your community. If it doesn’t exist? Make it exist. DIY efforts have this really cool tendency to become these Islands of Misfit Toys, and you know, that’s how it should be. Don’t judge people. Don’t be snotty about what genre is playing and what the fans look like. Book the weird bands in whatever American Legion, laundromat, storage space or garage will have you. Charge a reasonable cover fee so as not to exclude anyone. Seek out the few labels and people in the industry who are doing things right and support the hell out of them. It’s important. It’s so important.
“The kids may all get out alive but none of them go home the same”
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9) The Gaslight Anthem- 45
I realize at this point you’ve been reading my ramblings for a long time. So what I’m about to say to you should come as no surprise but, I’m absolutely shit with words. Seriously. I have this issue where there are a billion things bouncing around in my head but I can’t seem to craft any of them into full sentence let alone impressive pros. Thankfully, when successfully navigating my emotions becomes a necessity I can rely on The Gaslight Anthem to help me out. At 22 I was divorced, a single mom, sick and completely shattered. In the span of three years I had gone from being an exuberant, firecracker with a razor-sharp wit and enough confidence to go around to an unsure and scared has-been with zero self-esteem. I had let my ex-husband and the events surrounding my divorce deplete me of every bit of self-worth I ever had. I spent way too many hours desperately trying to figure out how to get a man who treated me like hell to come back. It was somewhere between “If only I was thinner” and “maybe if I were just a little bit smarter” that a friend sent me early demos of The Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten. The first song was exactly what I needed. Brian Fallon laid it all out. He’s like look, my hands are shaking, my heart is broken, I keep going back to you and I don’t know why. And then he gives the best advice I could have received. It was something that friends had been telling me for months, but for some reason, the truth sinks in a lot more at 45 rpm. I like to think that everyone’s got an arsenal. We’ve all got this magic bag o’tricks we use to get by. As the years progress and I watch other people go through similar ordeals, I happily hand over the piece de resistance of my well stocked arsenal care of Brian Fallon. It’s very simple,
“Turn the record over. Let somebody else lay at her feet”.
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10) The Bouncing Souls- Ship In A Bottle
I really didn’t want to include a cheesy “keep-your-head-up” song, but to compile a list of my musical DNA and not include The Souls would be inaccurate. Plus, I’ve now named all three members of the Jersey Holy Trinity (hallowed be thy names). Since I was a kid The Bouncing Souls have had me shaking my boots. Whether it was Pete running his fingers through his hair in that ridiculous power stance he does, or getting goosebumps during “True Believers” they always got it right. I really feel like Ship In A Bottle is the perfect example of that. This came out just as I was coming out of my divorce haze, as well and it’s picked me up by my bootstraps more times than I care to admit. Have you ever stepped out of a really hot shower and taken a deep breath? You know how it feels when the cool air hits your lungs? Like all of a sudden you remembered how to breathe again? Yea, that’s sort of how this song makes me feel. Every single time.
“With every white knuckled fist…”
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