Synthesizers, Sentiment and Salt In Old Wounds

I missed the memo about synthesizers, sentiment and salt in old wounds.

Recently, I’ve had the interesting and enjoyable experience of hearing a few new songs, and since I’m kind of stunted and dull when it comes to music, I find it totally extraordinary when I actually clue in to the particular beauty of a new (at least new to me) song.  I suppose what I’ve found really remarkable is that I’ve had a chance to experience different versions of the same songs, and it’s been interesting to reflect on the artistic and emotional punch each version packed.

Here, lemme esplain…

A few weeks ago, I was listening to KCRW, ’cause I’m cool like that, and I heard this Gotye song:

This guy’s voice snapped me out of my commuter coma because when he belted out the chorus, he sounded a bit like Peter Gabriel and I thought was cool.  Coincidentally, that very night, a friend posted a link to this video, Walk Off The Earth‘s  cover of the same song:

A very cool visual gimmick, sure.  But when I compared the two versions of the song, I found that I liked the stripped down acoustic version better.  It just seemed a bit more raw, whereas the version with the electronica, while still really good in my opinion, just doesn’t convey the same emotional intensity.

But consider the following…here’s Bruno Mars‘ impossibly sweet smash hit, Just The Way You Are (not to be confused with the Billy Joel song of the same name, which is also great, but in a different way).

Now take a listen to the Boyce Avenue cover of the same song:

Lovely, but in this instance, I think it’s the beat and the swells of synthesizers that make Bruno’s version better.  The acoustic version just doesn’t have the same energy, and when a guy is just busting at the seams to tell a girl how wonderful she is, I think the song he’d sing  would be kind of peppy.

And one more…check out these three adorable Swedish women making beautiful music with just their voices and empty cottage cheese containers:

And now Robyn’s version…

I like Robyn; she’s fun and energetic and anybody who is that blonde is probably just all kinds of awesome.  But her version of Call Your Girlfriend  leaves me a bit cold, whereas the Erato version, with its simplicity and beautifully apologetic tone, had me holding back an ugly cry.  It had me instantly remembering when I was the girlfriend who got a version of that call a long time ago.

In my case, the conversation came a little too late, as the young man in question had already fallen very hard for another girl, but couldn’t quite summon the courage, or didn’t have the compassion, to let me go.  We languished in limbo for a while and it just got kind of embarrassing.  It sucked being forsaken for another, but there was ultimately a comfort in understanding that the young man who broke my heart had done it for a good reason.  He had found his true love, his soul mate, his life partner. Last I heard, they’ve been married nearly twenty years and have a gazillion babies. This is all water which has long since flowed under the bridge, but I  appreciated the bit of painful nostalgia that this song evoked.  I considered it a bit of emotional scar revision, which can be a good thing.

So there you go.  Sometimes keyboards and a fun beat can elevate a simple song into an anthem, but sometimes the electronic bells and whistles are just distracting.  In any case, I’m glad I got the memo on all these songs…I think I’ll be humming my own versions for some time to come.  Memo received.


I missed the memo about popularity.

What's your damage?

If memory serves, I was not particularly popular in high school.  I was one of those passably cute, but nerdy girls who mostly flew under the radar.  I occasionally mixed with the beautiful people, but was not established as a member of the “in” crowd.  I wasn’t prom princess or homecoming queen, but I also wasn’t bullied or tormented.  I mostly just did my own thing and mercifully, my high school years weren’t too terrible.  I did have an occassional pang of envy when I observed all the fun the popular people seemed to be having.  But I have recently come to appreciate that being popular ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Popularity has a  dark side and I’m currently living it.  In a development which I hope is both normal and temporary, my darling son has conferred upon me some serious most favored parent status.  So as to my son, I am extremely popular.  During our recent vacation, he was in full-blown daddy hating mode, so to keep the peace, I was stuck with most of the baths, bedtimes, and butt-wiping and it wore me out.  By any logical calculus, my husband should be the more popular parent, as he is a lot more fun than I am.  Maybe it’s Freudian, but whether it’s Oedipal or otherwise, I’m hoping this little phase is short-lived.

It’s hard to be the center of someone else’s universe, but as a parent, I suppose that’s what I signed on for, so my complaints are actually kind of petty.   But when people are clamoring for your attention, it can make your head a noisy place.  I suppose I’ll miss the noise when my boy is all grown up, but these days, I do sometimes miss the quiet.

And here’s another pernicious thing about popularity…when you’re admired it can mess with your head and make you think you have to be problem-less and perfect.  If you’re adored, you should make yourself worthy of adoration and never complain, right?

Remember reading “Richard Cory” in high school English class?  This Edwin Arlington Robinson poem always just devastates me…

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

For the record, I am not suicidal, but I totally get this poem.  It’s a weird sort of irony that the people we glorify sometimes end up isolated and sad.  I’m no Richard Cory, but I relate in my own small way. 

I’m not sure if I’ve got this memo entirely figured out…I suppose it’s ultimately about figuring out whether the cost of popularity is worth its benefits.  So while I think about it, here’s some Nada Surf.   Memo received.

Leaps of Faith

I missed the memo about leaps of faith.

The other day I watched a movie called Ira & Abby and boy, is it adorable and just chock full of memos. 

First things first, Jennifer Westfeldt is a freakin’ genius.   Seriously, all I need to know about life I’ve learned from watching “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “Ira & Abby”.  I hope she makes another movie, and soon.

In case you haven’t seen it, the premise of “Ira & Abby”  is that the titular characters meet cute and after about six hours, decide to get married.  Hyjinx ensue, of course.   Making a huge life decision like marriage should be carefully considered and undertaken only after serious reflection, right?  Well, sure.   Usually. 

But sometimes, there is something pretty amazing about leaping without looking.  Sometimes you can make a decision without having all the answers.    Sometimes you can start with certainty and work backwards.   Sometimes, you trust your guts and then just figure it out from there. 

I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty high-strung by nature, so the idea of taking any big step without a lot of careful preparation is fairly terrifying to me.   But here’s the thing…I think my need to control things is probably just ego.  Who the hell am I to think that I can plan everything out and then have everything go according to my plan?  Doesn’t the universe have some say?  In the words of Alanis Morrissette…”Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you…” No matter how I plot my course, there will always be some unforeseen detours, so once in a while, why not throw away the map all together?

There is actually something kind of  liberating about surrendering the pretense of control in some situations and just going with what feels right.  And there’s something almost intoxicating about the crazy confidence that comes from just trusting yourself.  But with that intoxication sometimes comes the hangover of working out the details.  But hey, once you’re emboldened by your own decisiveness, the logistics are cake. 

I’ll leave you with this Jason Mraz video…I dare you to watch it and not feel instantly happier and more optimistic.  Leap and the net will appear, indeed. 

Memo received.

Unrequited Love

I missed the memo about unrequited love.

OK, I’ll admit it… I watched the royal wedding. I didn’t do anything daffy like throwing a tea and crumpets party in the middle of the night, but later that day, I watched a couple hours’ worth of  footage.  And unless Kate and Wills are fantastically good at fake smiling, they seemed genuinely happy.  Time will tell if theirs really is a fairy tale marriage, but I’d like to think it really is true love for them.  I think it’s interesting that we call happy, mutual love “true love” but what’s the opposite of true love?  Is there such a thing as “false love”?  I think unrequited love comes close.

While I have been happily attached for a long time, before I met my prince, I kissed some frogs.  And sometimes I wanted to kiss the frog, but he didn’t want to kiss me.  Making out with amphibians is an extremely hard way  to learn about love,  but since I learned well, I think, I’ll presume to impart some insight.

There are two forms of unrequited love:

“Thanks, but no thanks”



“Thanks, but no thanks” unrequited love is that situation where you’re falling for someone, but there’s a lot of ambiguity. You agonize, wondering if you should make a move.  I personally think there’s something really delicious about the uncertainty and anticipation in this situation, but this is coming from an old married woman who has probably forgotten the acute torture of playing the “he loves me, he loves me not” game.  

I think I also missed a memo about being coy and playing hard to get, as when I found myself in one of these situations, I was pretty quick to just lay my cards on the table.  Perhaps it wasn’t particularly ladylike, but I felt brave and honest, and that felt good.  And when I got a “thanks, but no thanks” response, it actually wasn’t that bad.   I think the object of my affection was genuinely flattered that I was trying to put the moves on him, and I just had to trust and appreciate that he knew himself better than I knew him, and he knew that we weren’t a good match.  I didn’t get the guy, but I was still pretty pleased with myself because I had the huevos to just ask him; I totally respected that he had the huevos to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Believe me folks, you’d much rather get a “thanks, but no thanks” response than to find yourself in a “nevermind” situation.   A “nevermind” situation results from really unfortunate asymmetry in the depth of feeling between two people.  In my case, I once fell inexplicably hard for a guy, and though he was fond of me, he did not love me.  However, since I was reasonably cute and willing to afford him all the benefits of boyfriendhood without actually requiring him to be my boyfriend, he understandably hung around.  That is, until he fell inexplicably hard for someone else.  Everything that he had ever said or done that made me hope he might really love me too?  Oh, nevermind.

Sometimes when two people are together, one of them is in love, and the other’s just killin’ time. 

Avenue Q…so good…It’s like Sesame Street with sex and curse words.

So let’s sum up:  If someone makes you feel kinda funny, like when you used to climb the rope in gym class, just tell ’em.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Just don’t get too pissed or bummed out if  the response is “thanks, but no thanks.”  They’re doing you a favor and sparing you the heartache of a “nevermind”.  Memo received.