Oof, Valentine’s Day. Not a holiday I’ve been looking forward to of late, even if it does provide the chance to write up some favorite songs here, as per recent tradition. As many of y’all surely know, V-Day and all the attending hoopla is rarely much fun when you’re single, and it’s even worse when you’re walking wounded, as I’d number myself these days. To wit: Late last year, I got kicked right in the teeth by someone I was really fond of, and even though it’s been many months now since it all went down — long enough that I really should’ve just gotten over it and moved on — most days since then are sadly still kind of a struggle.
But, oh well…no hope, no harm, just another false alarm. I’ve loitered on the Injured List before — in fact, you could say much of my adult romantic life has been Grant Hillish to the extreme, all burgeoning potential cut short by season-ending injuries — so I’m pretty sure, at an intellectual level if not yet a gut one, I’ll get back in the game someday. In the meantime, here’s some music for ya. Usual rules apply: the files will be only up for a few days, right-click to save them, and please don’t link to them directly.
things fall apart, and tend to shatter
she like that s**t don’t matter
when I get home get at her
through letter, phone, whatever
let’s link, let’s get together
s**t you think not, think the Thought went home and forgot?”
For all the genre’s many strengths, the slice-of-life relationship song isn’t normally what you’d consider a central feature of hip-hop. Cuts like Method Man’s “All I Need,” Outkast’s “Mrs. Jackson,” or the Tribe’s “Bonita Applebaum” notwithstanding, shake-your-booty jams and odes to the playa lifestyle outnumber romantic ditties by at least five or six to one. “You Got Me,” from the Roots’ 1999 album Things Fall Apart, numbers among the exceptions.
Co-written by Jill Scott (who performed the song in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party and on tour for the Roots) and co-sung by Eykah Badu (on the original cut and video), “You Got Me” is a story of a meet-cute (“We used to live in the same building on the same floor and never met before until I’m overseas on tour“) that grows into a relationship that works despite the odds (“When you out there in the world, I’m still your girl“), and despite the loose talk all around. (“Lies come in, that’s where the drama begins.“)
It ain’t easy for the couple in “You Got Me,” but they’re making do. They got each other, and most of the time, that’s enough to get by. (And bonus points for ?uestlove’s infectious drum-and-bass outro — our time with this pair ends with the fade, but their story clearly continues.)
You Got Me — The Roots feat. Erykah Badu (3.9MB, 4:19)
From Things Fall Apart.
Relationships have all been bad.
Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud.
But there’s no way I can compare
All those scenes to this affair,
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.“
I picked a Bob Dylan song last year (“Most of the Time”), and I freely admit that, however brilliant, Blood on the Tracks is now one of the hoariest of breakup-album cliches. Still, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” was on my mind a lot over the past year (see also my review of The Fountain), so it’s going up anyway (and, hell, maybe I’ll pick a Dylan song every Valentine’s Day from now on — he’s got enough to go around.)
Here, unlike most of the cuts on the album, Bob is actually happy (“I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.“) — Life is good to him, he’s got a good woman by his side. But, though he’s ignoring it, the insurmountable problem — “the crystal…in the steel at the point of fracture,” to borrow a phrase from All the King’s Men — is already manifest, a tiny speck on the horizon soon to loom over everything. Despite his euphoria, Dylan can already recognize that this relationship is finite: Eventually, “Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know.” So, Dylan listens to the crickets and the river instead, and does his best to relish what happy moments still lie ahead, before the axe inevitably falls.
(Everybody and their brother owns Blood on the Tracks — if you don’t, buy it! For you and your brother! — so I’ve also thrown in a cover version by Mary Lou Lord. It’s a bit alt-chickish, sure, but I prefer it to other versions I can name, such as Elvis Costello’s too-jaunty-by-far take on Kojak Variety.)
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go — Bob Dylan (2.8MB, 2:55)
From Blood on the Tracks.
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go — Mary Lou Lord (5.3MB, 3:46)
From Hard Rain: A Tribute to Bob Dylan, Vol. 1.
And if you want a doctor, I’ll examine every inch of you.
If you want a driver, climb inside
Or if you want to take me for a ride,
You know you can…
I’m your man.“
Canada’s answer to Dylan, the inimitable Leonard Cohen has also been mining the joys and perils of romantic entanglements for four decades now. To be honest, I’m hit-or-miss with his early stuff, but I just can’t get enough of his “Satan’s lounge act” later period. (As I’ve said before, and as with Dylan, Tom Waits, etc., I’m basically a sucker for the “broken, gravelly voices with tales to tell” genre.)
Like “Everybody Knows” and “First We Take Manhattan,” “I’m Your Man” is one of the better-known songs from Cohen’s later incarnation (and the name of a recent tribute documentary to him, which I haven’t seen.) “I’m Your Man” combines a lot of Cohen’s strengths — that debauched, plaintive, and world-weary croak, a knack for memorable imagery and earthy allusions (even at his most bathetic, Cohen never lets you forget there’s a primal beast that “won’t go to sleep” raging inside him, one with carnal appetites inseparable from his professions of love — see also “In My Secret Life,” “Waiting for the Miracle,” or countless others), and a second-act twist that complicates what initially seemed to be a straightforward pop ditty.
Here, what appeared to be a confident ode to that special gal in his life becomes instead a hail-mary plea for forgiveness. (“I’ve been running through these promises to you, that I made and I could not keep“), one that he already knows is not going to shake out as he desires (“A man never got a woman back, not by begging on his knees…“) The joke is, Cohen’s not her man anymore. No matter how many times he says otherwise or tries to contort himself to regain his muse’s affections, Cohen is stuck being himself, the guy who blew it somewhere along the line. Sorry, Leonard. At least you got Manhattan.
From I’m Your Man.
‘There’s too much caffeine
In your bloodstream
And a lack of real spice
In your life’
I said :
‘Leave me alone
Because I’m alright, dad
Surprised to still
Be on my own.’
Oh, but don’t mention love
I’d hate the strain of the pain again…
Since I already lyric-checked the Smiths earlier in this post, why not go straight to the source? Maybe they just captured a certain zeitgest of feeling alone, different, and melancholy in the Reagan-Thatcher era. Still, the Smiths have a lot to answer for their part in helping to fashion a generation of angst-ridden, self-absorbed romantics (in which I include myself.) Either way, nobody does “way over yonder in the minor key” quite like Morrissey, Marr, & co., who built an entire career on the twisted, solipsistic pleasure one comes to take in excessive moping.
What the Smiths perfectly capture in song after song is the narcissism of the whole enterprise. With all the horrible things happening in the world every day to people who don’t deserve them, it takes no small amount of self-absorption and lack of perspective to luxuriate in a slough of despond for weeks on end. And yet, we all do it all the time, dwelling on our own petty problems while the world seems to crash and burn — it’s virtually inescapable.
In “A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours,” probably my favorite Smiths song (well, along with “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”), the band brings this irony front and center. In the lyrics’ biting condescension even in the midst of gloom (“people who are uglier than you and I, they take what they need and just leave“), in the vague disreputability of the land-grab metaphor at the heart of the song (“A rush, a push, and the land that we stand on is ours! It has been before, so why can’t it be now?“), and in Morrissey’s trademark wailing, swooning, and growling, “A Rush, A Push, and the Land Is Ours” captures both the varied emotions and uglier facets of heartache that will attend all too many of us this holiday Wednesday. (Also, courtesy of Youtube, here’s what appears to be the vintage video.)
From Strangeways, Here We Come.
However you stand on this Valentine’s Day, have a safe and a happy one out there, as always. (And, as I noted last year, if you want more music, Fluxblog does the mp3blog thing day in and day out, and is considerably better at it than I am. And Max of Lots of Co. offers choice dance/techno/pop mixes around the start of every month.)