Beer and Pavement

Sometimes I Want to Remember

Posted in Records by SM on May 7, 2010

The best part about an iPod is that one can periodically revisit music that hasn’t been heard in months or years on the spur of the moment. Normally, to listen to an album or song, one would have to plan ahead or wait until they’re home, in front of their collection to put that one record on he just has to hear at that moment. The iPod is a luxury as it places an entire collection in the palm of one’s hand1.

Such was the case as I drove home the other day2. I wanted to listen to something old and comfortable, something to which I could sing along. This sent my mind wandering to a times when I turned to a record for comfort in times of trouble making the words of the songs on that record a part of me. It didn’t necessarily have to be a great record. It just had to be the right record for that moment in time.

I scrolled through the iPod until I landed on Eef Barzelay’s 2006 solo effort, Bitter Honey3. I don’t know that it made any end-of-year lists, but it made mine. 2006 was the middle of maybe the two worst years of my life4. Barzelay’s sad, sad album spoke to me. The album’s sadness allowed me to be comforted by the fact I was not alone in my own depression5. There were even moments of anger and hope which carried me through that time. The album’s place in my all-time list has less to do with its merit than it does its meaning to me and that time.

Similarly, Modest Mouse’s This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About came to mind as a record that helped me through a tough time. My last year of college sucked ass. I went through a crisis of what to do with my life in May, after graduation. Some things happened that called into question my educational trajectory at the worst possible time. My girlfriend/fiancée of three years decided to cheat on me and leave me for an accountant with a house6. I made an ass of myself on a weekly basis with various rebound attempts. Then, when things were starting to work in my favor again, it all went to hell. I was set to live in Seattle – my dream city –  when some unforeseen events caused me to return to my parents with my tail between my legs7. And through all of this, Long Drive was there. In fact, that chapter of my life falling apart and coming around was framed by two Modest Mouse shows8.

When I listen to these albums, it’s hard to separate them from my experiences in order to judge them solely on their quality. I can’t give either record or others with similar meaning a true rating. I might include them in this list or that list, but it’s completely based on the episodes associated with the music. It’s why some music stays in the rotation and others fade no matter how great the product9.

So, I think I will have to revisit some of these records. Bitter Honey is as good a place as any. I’ll try not to bore you with the details of my personal struggles from 2005-2007. Just know that the sentiment expressed by Mr. Barzelay closely paralleled my own experiences, metaphorically anyway.

That was my ass you saw bouncing
Next to Ludicris
It was only onscreen for a second
But it was kinda hard to miss

Bitter Honey open with the title track10 which also happened to be the hook that convinced me to buy this CD. The song is just sad and at that time in my life, that’s how I felt11. Nothing was going my way. I needed some company to go with my misery.

Anyway, the track moves on, describing sad moments in a woman’s life. It’s always odd to hear a feminist lament from a man, but somehow Eef Barzelay delivers without a tinge of condescension or even sarcasm. He’s just telling a woman’s story of a life where her only value is as a sexual object, caregiver, or both. There’s no preachy moment, Eef just tells it.

While “The Ballad of Bitter Honey” just made me sad, “Thanksgiving Waves” was the first song that crushed me. It puts forth this idea that it’s you and your lover in this predicament together. We turn to those we love and trust most in tough times, only to lose our love under the stress. Luckily, I didn’t lose my love. The thought of that possibility scared me every day. “NMA” is that apathetic kind of sad. The third track builds off of the second and wonders when the us-against-them attitude devolves into detachment.

“Well” is the track that still cuts a bit. My crisis had to do with work performance. I wasn’t performing well for many reasons, too many to get into here12. This song fills me with the fear of being found out. You know, that fear deep inside that everyone you love will discover you’re a fraud, a liar, a cheat. And on top of it all, you’re incompetent. Then, the focus of the song suddenly shifts or at least it did for me. Somehow, Barzelay’s phrasing made me think of my superior who was partially responsible for making me feel this way. My fears and anxieties shift to anger as this song carries on. The final line says what I have always wanted to say…

The truthfulness must leave the room
If I ever wish you well

The next several tracks focus on hopeless love stories. “Words that Escape Me” imagines his love dieing just so he can see how he’ll feel. “Little Red Dot” is a nice little ditty that would fit the bill for a lifelong love as much as a child13. “Let Us Be Naked” is about the exposure one experiences in the sweetest of loves. In “I Wasn’t Really Drunk”, the protagonist pretends to drink in order to be closer to his alcoholic lover, only to discover she has no feelings for him when they’re sober14.

“Escape Artist” gets back to escape from one’s reality that only a lover can provide. It’s risky. It probably won’t work, but we’re desperate.

Oddly, the record finishes with “Joy to the World”. I don’t know why, but it works. After the rest of Bitter Honey would drag me down, there’s a slight glimmer of hope in a Christmas carol sung by a Jewish country singer from Brooklyn that makes it fit. I don’t know. At this point in the record, I’m drained of cynicism and am ready for something else.

Is there a record that you often revisit not for its prowess but for the feelings and memories it stirs inside of you? Please share the albums that have meaning to you. You don’t have to go into details about the events surrounding those albums, but you can if you’re in need of some therapy.

1It really is quite an amazing human accomplishment. To think that we’ve gone from vinyl to eight track to cassette tapes to CD’s to MP3’s in my lifetime is akin to folks who lived before the Wright Bothers and eventually flew a commercial airliner.
2I drive a lot for my job. This will hopefully slow in the coming year, but I’ve logged more than 20,000 miles on the Prius in less than a year. That’s a lot for me.
3Admittedly, this is not an old record, but it does fill the comfort I was seeking.
4I will try to keep the details to a minimum. There is no need to rehash that time. It will just make for an uncomfortable silence in the comments.
5I attribute this idea – for me anyway – to something Wayne Coyne once said about why we all love sad songs so much. The idea of finding community in sadness is a comforting one. I may have to write a post on it.
6In her defense, he did play bass in a band and was unnaturally tall. Still, it was sort of a jerk move.
7Of course, if none of this hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t know my partner and certainly wouldn’t have my daughter. I completely recognize how fortunate I am.
8The first was my first MM show overall in a basement bagel/beer dive known as Bernie’s. The second was my third MM show in Cincinnati at a bar/laundry joint known as Sudsy’s. Both shows were extremely memorable.
9Due to a pretty meh lifestyle at the moment, I find it hard to keep listening to music just a year old. I guess that’s a good thing.
10The actual title is “The Ballad of Bitter Honey”.
11No, I didn’t have a complex about the size of my ass. It was the helplessness one feels when being judged. I explain it better in the next paragraph.
12I probably should have been on something. Oh well. That which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger or some shit.
13I’m already planning the second birthday video invite.
14This happened to me once, the first night I drank in fact.

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2 Responses

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  1. doublewordscore said, on May 9, 2010 at 3:18 am

    Mine are:

    Also, Bitter Honey, believe it or not. Woo!

  2. […] it is to simply quit telling girls how to like music. 8An artist I obviously love as this is the second post in this blog’s history that purposely features his work. Interesting that I don’t have that many of his albums. […]

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