song / context / result, pt. viii


“tell me about a moment, a song
and what it meant to you”


Song: Blak Pudd’n

Artist: SWV (It’s About Time, 1992)

Context: Coming from a modest family, we didn’t purchase albums, rather, after having been given a stack of “found” blank cassette tapes, I resorted to positioning myself in front of an unneccesarily large dual tape head monster, for hours on end, recording songs from the radio. One instance sticks out like no other, and that was the initial radioplay of SWV’s Blak Pudd’n. After securing a scratchy yet embraceable recording of the beat and bass heavy jam, I immediately rushed for paper and pencil, to write the overtly and sexually suggestive lyrics down. After many hours of “pushing play, stop and rewind”, the complete vocals were logged.

Result:  I played the song nonstop, rehearsing the cadence and flow with preteen precision. I got really good at it too. So good in fact, that in one moment of busting through the lyrics “cause women in the 90’s want more from a brother, than a part time lover, who’s wack under cover…”, my mom overheard and instantly extracted the tape from my tight grasp. I have no idea where that tape is now, but thank god for digital media, and it’s allowance of my frequent plays of this song. 17 years later, I still know every single word.


Song: Magic Doors

Artist: Portishead (Third, 2008)

Context: Third appeared in my music rotation thanks to a close friend, and I must admit that at the time I was not that excited about listening to it. I was a fan of Portishead’s Live in NYC disc, but not much else at that point. However, throughout the first spin the somber beauty of the record was evident, as every track seemed to build upon the emotional turmoil wrought throughout. “Magic Doors” fully hit me on a train journey from Bratislava to Berlin, as I desperately tried to break free of not only myself, but the world that appeared to be crumbling around me.

Result: “Magic Doors” is both a tragedy and a triumph. If you’ve never felt the anguish that Beth Gibbons displays in this song then I both envy and loathe you, as you’ve probably had a reasonably pleasant life, yet haven’t truly experienced the full range of human emotion. You are missing an important piece of clarity regarding self, and an extremely critical component of who you are as a person. Throughout the track Gibbons’ trembling lyrics cut deep, as she questions who she has become in a world that doesn’t seem to care. The song also displays one of the most unorthodox but effective horn solos I’ve ever encountered. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but now it’s obvious: the horn is trying to break free from thought, from reality, from itself. However, end the end it realizes this action is futile, and through some bitter and disturbing contemplation the horn finds itself once again. In a world where hegemonic confidence reigns supreme and those (from political leaders to corporate executives to Kanye West) don’t seem to question the idiotic decisions that they make on a daily basis, the fact that introspection and self-examination still exist in displaced areas of the musical world is reassuring. Maybe society would benefit from listening to a little more “Magic Doors” and little less “Stronger”.


Song: Show

Artist: Beth Gibbons & Rustin’ Man (Out of Season, 2003)

Context: About midway through my first year at university, and having been suffering various symptoms that were preventing me from going out and socializing and doing a lot of the things that make that time in your life so exciting, I eventually found my way to the doctors surgery. Over the next few weeks I was given a battery of tests with none conclusive, meaning that they wanted to do some virology tests, but with the extraordinarily high white blood cell count and other symptoms the doctor felt the need to tell me to consider the possibility of how I may have contracted HIV and anyone I may have infected, but the tests would be back in a few day. My mind raced going over and over any possibilities, but being unable to bring myself to tell any of my new university friends that I had only known a few months or my parents for the stigma attached, increasingly isolating myself. I would listen to this as the simple, crawling piano and haunting vocals helped me to slow my thoughts,and open myself to the possibility of letting others in.

Result: My friends could not have been more supportive and held my hand through the results process. Although the results were negative and my illness treatable for which I was elated, but strangely emotionally even more comforting was that I knew that they would be there whatever the news was and I realized how lucky that made me.This song reminds me of that comfort of close friends.


Song: So Much Pain (ft Luther Dickingson)

Artist: Star & Micey (S/T, 2009)

Context: This past year has been extremely hard for me as I have had to watch someone very close to me struggle with a very serious drug addiction. If you have ever had to go through this then I am sure you know how incredibly stressful it is. Over the last few months as I have gotten ready for the release of the new Star & Micey album, one song in particular has resonated with me. It’s actually written about someone close to singer Josh Crosby that had a drug problem and ended up going to jail. The song, /So Much Pain/, has been very comforting to me.

Result: When I shared the song with the person in my life with the drug problem – it really affected him and I am happy to say that at the beginning of this month he entered into a 60 day treatment program and is doing really well. Who knows what the future may hold, but it is always amazing to me how much music can make a difference in our lives.


Song: Retreat

Artist: The Rakes (Capture/Release, 2005)

Context: It was four years ago. I had graduated from college two years prior and was dealing with the ramifications of a useless degree and a life that wasn’t turning out quite the way I pictured. I was working in a record store, which was simultaneously the most fun job I could’ve hoped for, and a daily reminder that my hopes and dreams were becoming something of a lost cause. But the fact that I was making no money, working crap hours, and dealing with more high school drama than the set of a VH1 reality show, seemed relatively normal when all my friends were similarly dissatisfied. Life was commiserating about bad jobs and confusing relationships and going out dancing as much as possible. Getting off work at 10:00pm didn’t seem so bad when life didn’t even start until midnight.

The music that accompanied those nights usually belonged to the mid 2000s Britpop revival scene. This was the era of Arctic Monkeys’ “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and Hard-Fi’s “Living For the Weekend” – songs that seemed to celebrate the life I was living. It all had a tendency to blur together into one big musical sentiment of “Work sucks, romance is hard, but a great night out can fix everything.” And while I think that was the glamorous ideal, the one that got you through the day and turned the night six shades of neon, it wasn’t necessarily the reality.

The reality was, of course, a lot messier and a lot harder to find in a song that was meant to get asses shaking on the dancefloor. Which is why I was so taken aback the first time I heard The Rakes’ “Retreat” on some random NME comp. The song was fairly simple, but perfectly conveyed happiness mixed with despair, glamour interspersed with a complete lack thereof — the knowledge that at some point, this will all change and being deeply fearful of what that really means. “Walk home, come down, retreat to sleep. Wake up, go out again, repeat.” The idea couldn’t be more simply put, but this is exactly where I was during that portion of my life. “I don’t want to miss out on anything, at the same time I feel the need to retreat…Everything is temporary these days, might as well go out for the third night in a row.” Perhaps it isn’t the most poetic line ever written, but nothing could’ve summed it up quite so accurately.

Result: My life changed a lot over the past few years. I suppose I did what most people do – gave up on the things that weren’t working out, got a much better job (or at least a job that pays much better), did quite a bit of growing up. There’s a part of me that deeply misses the years I spent racing from retail hell to indie club bliss. The lack of responsibilities, the feeling that there was always something exciting going on – in a lot of ways, I was much happier then. It actually makes me a bit sad to listen to “Retreat” now, reminding me of a life I don’t lead anymore. But, at the same time, I realize there’s a tendency to romanticize those parts of our lives. Sure, the nights were a hell of a lot of fun, but the days were often kind of miserable. Which is essentially what “Retreat” is about. I was sad then too; I just didn’t admit it as much.

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