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Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Perfect Guy

 
So sick of the objectification of men in the media. Its almost like they don't even exist if they aren't jacked and eternally sexually available. Think of the young boys who will measure themselves against the "perfect guys" displayed on this poster like a peace of meat. Jackpot for the ladies, though, amirite?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

This is your brain on Beyonce


Note: Lemonade has made this article obsolete. Perhaps it should be renamed, This Was Your Brain on Beyonce...until Formation.

Bey's surprise album was big news last year, and my main point of familiarity with the album was the ubiquitous, "I woke up like this" hashtags and tee shirts that followed in its wake, which I actually thought was a brilliant slice of irony, since no one in history has ever woke up looking like this:

Not even her.

So imagine my surprise when I found that the song it came from was actually a badly misjudged attempt at female empowerment, and my bewilderment that the world at large fell for it.

I'm gonna break the Beygency's gag order and lay this on the line: Beyonce is a mediocre feminist. Let's break down the song in question point by point:


I know when you were little girls
You dreamt of being in my world
Don't forget it, don't forget it
Respect that, bow down bitches (Crown!)
I took some time to live my life
But don't think I'm just his little wife
Don't get it twisted, get it twisted
This my shit, bow down bitches


An excellent point, Bey.  When we were little girls, we aspired to be as beautiful as the woman who sang Crazy in Love, Baby Boy and Deja Vu, videos that were always in heavy rotation on Much Music. She was as pretty as Britney or JLo, but with an actual voice. Apart from Gwen Stefani, the only pop singer who seemed like an actual talent and not a marketing gimmick. Bow down, indeed.

Flawless quotes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls,
"You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man."
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don't teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes


I agree with all of that, and good for Bey for putting it out there. Then she sings:


You wake up, flawless
Post up, flawless
Ridin' round in it, flawless
Flossin' on that, flawless
This diamond, flawless
My diamond, flawless
This rock, flawless
My rock, flawless
I woke up like this
I woke up like this
We flawless, ladies tell 'em
I woke up like this
I woke up like this
We flawless, ladies tell 'em
Say I look so good tonight
God damn, God damn
Say I look so good tonight
God damn, God damn, God damn



How did a song about female empowerment become a song about beauty? And why is this woman considered any kind of beacon for critical thinking? The biggest barrier to gender equality is the still persistent belief that a woman's worth is equated with her physical appearance - moreover, that a woman will never have an opportunity to prove her worth unless she is physically attractive.

And all that talk about how we make women compete against each other for men? How we should raise girls to compete for jobs and accomplishments? Could we have got another verse about that, Beyoncé?

Momma taught me good home training
My Daddy taught me how to love my haters
My sister told me I should speak my mind
My man made me feel so God damn fine, I'm flawless!

Physical beauty is the most important thing, repeated like an incantation against evil: Flawless, damn I look good tonight.

It's a bit out of balance, is what I'm saying, especially for a song that's meant to be at the vanguard of a social movement. To which you will respond: You're reading too much into it! It's just one song! To which I say:

(1) If you have a spoken passage by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, you're asking people to read into it. You can't claim to have something important to say, and then ask that no one listen to closely to it.

(2) It's not just one song.

You will never see Beyonce looking less than a 10, even in the video for "Pretty Hurts," the ugly, "no makeup" Beyonce is a knockout in a way that deflates the song somewhat. I'm not saying its a bad song, and can't hold it against her that she's beautiful. Though if this was the video, she would at least be putting her money where her mouth is, and that is something which Bey has for a decade, been categorically unwilling to do.

Recall one of Adichie's (and feminism)'s biggest grievances with patriarchy:

"We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are." This culture encourages women to fantasize about being what men want, rather than having an inner world of their own. It is acceptable to express your sexuality as long as it falls into the narrowly defined category of "attractive" and "not threatening".

And my oh my, how Beyonce's sexuality looks like a male record exec's wet dream.

Remember the video for Baby Boy, where Bey is greased up and dancing on a beach, while Sean Paul (business casual) sings on a bed of naked women?

Remember how that song was supposed to be about a sexy man?

Baby boy you stay on my mind
Fulfill my fantasies
I think about you all the time
I see you in my dreams

This woman's fantasy looks suspiciously like something a straight male record exec would dream up,


Like Where's Waldo for dirty old men
Deja Vu, same thing: She sings "Your sexiness is so appealing I can't let it go," but Beyonce is the only one working her ass off while Jay Z just hangs out like, "Yeah, I tapped that." (Full credit where credit is due, though, she was a way better dancer than Britney or Justin and I don't know why this didn't get more attention at the time)
All their collaborations in a nutshell.



More than ten years later, the videos for Partition and Drunk in Love - both meant to be about desire with the former explicitly setting itself up as a woman's fantasy - is the same old thing. Beyonce looks fabulous, works her ass off, and Jay sits around like Jabba the Hutt (at least in Drunk In Love she kind of looks likes she's having a good time). That's not equality. And it says something about the insidious power of patriarchy when women are taught to fantasize from a man's POV.

If Beyoncé's videos do represent a straight woman's desire, that desire is: "I want to be so beautiful that a famous man wants to fuck me." This is the exact opposite of empowering. It's downright regressive, a slap in the face to all those once-little girls that Beyonce compels to bow down before her, for the supposed gifts she gave to their self esteem.

When "Anacanda" came out, Nicki Minaj made this argument, to V magazine:
If a man did the same video with sexy women in it, no one would care. You’re talking about newspeople who don’t even know anything about hip-hop culture. It’s so disrespectful for them to even comment on something they have no idea about. They don’t say anything when they’re watching the Victoria’s Secret show and seeing boobs and thongs all day. Why? Shame on them. Shame on them for commenting on “Anaconda” and not commenting on the rest of the oversexualized business we’re a part of. 


 A male music video for Anaconda would feature Drake in a thong dancing with a bunch of nearly nude men, and, sorry Nicki, but people would lose their shit. Which is why we'll never see Jay Z dancing scantily clad on a beach while his wife sings about his sex appeal.

Because that would be threatening. That would actually spit in the face of gender inequality, and Beyoncé is not prepared to do that. If she did, the video for Run the World Girls would look like this*:
Yes, that's Madonna. And yes, Beyoncé's gender politics are musty and out of date compared to an act from twenty years ago.
You can't be universally beloved and a revolutionary. Really taking a stand means kissing half your fans goodbye in the hopes that twenty years from now you'll be remembered as a visionary (or, in the case of the lady above, be labelled a slut until you hit fifty and are rechristened "Slutty Granny" - because that's how much people hate women who actually challenge gender roles), and Beyoncé clearly is not ready to make that sacrifice.

Which brings me back to the first lines of "Flawless":

I know when you were little girls
You dreamt of being in my world
Don't forget it, don't forget it
Respect that, bow down bitches

When I was 13 I didn't realize how lopsided the depictions of women in the media were. It never struck me as strange that Naughty Girl and Baby Boy both starred an objectified woman and a fully clothed man. But I did feel small, and ugly, like I didn't deserve to have a voice until I was clear skinned and sexy as the women on TV, because in this culture beauty is still the qualifying step to personhood. Those without it need not apply. So imagine my disgust that a childhood has actually been playing for the other side all along, propagating and profit from the same inequality that causes young girls self esteem to plummet at adolescence, then asks me to bow down and be grateful for it. 

She's part of the problem. And the fans that see in her a beacon of hope: a shining example of how they too can have it all if they Just. Try. Harder, are kidding themselves.

On the upside, though, it's never too late to see why Madonna got excommunicated: 


*And the song would be called "Run the World (Women)" and would not have been written by a group of men.

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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Ali Listens: Against Me!

"I want you to want me"

That's not a line that appears on Against Me!'s album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but it might as well be on every record, more honest than a PARENTAL ADVISORY sticker, and practically stamped on the forehead of every person on the face of the earth. It's a universal feeling, and people do crazy things to satisfy that need.

I have a friend who feels compelled to buy a new outfit in advance of every public appearance. To that no one will notice what she's wearing, is to learn the meaning of "stink-eye". But there it is. Unless you're Beyoncé, no one cares (And if you are Beyoncé, thank you for visiting my blog).

Great music can force us to reckon with the emotions and hardships of those whose reality is radically, but not completely, different from our own. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is one of those miracles that puts you in the shoes of a person you mightn't think you had anything in common with at all, by using these universal experiences to put us in the shoes of a Trans Woman (specifically frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, who came out in 2012)


If "I want  you to want me" is the premise of life as we know it, the refrain to True Trans Soul Rebel is its natural nexus: "Who's gonna take you home tonight?"

Against Me! taps into the great fear of modern times: that you are not just unloved, but unwantable. That the things you do to distinguish yourself will never be noticed, only the ways you fall short: "You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress ...they just see a faggot", and in so doing performs two miracles:

1) Helps you see eye to eye with an outsider
2) Heals that outside status. Misery loves company. Reality loves sanctification. And that's what great music is, it turns something mundane or painful into something sacred and transcended.

This my longwinded way of recommending "True Trans Soul Rebel" and "Talking Transgender Dysphoria Blues to whoever wants to listen:

Okay, if you need it poppy, here they are performing with Miley Cyrus,
 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Overlooked Gem: Here With Me

The Killers are the last Great American Rock Band. Or they were. There are no Great American Rock Bands anymore. There are bands making great rock music, but they lack the cultural cachet that for decades defined the term "Rock Star". The Killers have been the last band to enjoy this success. They were enjoying Rock's last gasp around the same time The Kings of Leon rocketed to fame, but The Kings didn't have quite the staying power, while the Killers had three mega successful albums, enough to be among the defining voices of the decade when I came of age.

And then, nothing.

Their fourth album, "Battle Born" was, by my estimation, their best, with ready made singles and eye popping videos that nonetheless failed to capture the popular imagination in the way they deserved. Was it just the decline of Rock? The Killers were pretty pop to begin with.

For whatever reason, this beautiful song, with its beautiful video directed by Tim Burton, failed to gain any traction - it didn't even make it onto their greatest hits compilation, which is a sin, because its a gorgeous song, and the video is Burton's best work in a decade. For it to have less than a tenth of the views that Katy Perry regularly merits is a sin. Watch and listen, you're welcome:

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Century Trend


The first thing I have to say is everything is going to be all right. It just might take a history lesson to convince you.

Feminists have worked themselves into a lather over the Era of the Asses - From Miley to Minaj to Kim "breaking the internet", all the way to the absolute nadir of modern pop music, Jason Derulo's rancid "Wiggle." Kim Kardashian was modelling everything but clothing in her cover story for Love Magazine's February 2015 issue. Prada sunglasses and a Miu Miu bag couldn't compete with the tits and slit in that stairwell photo, but I'm not worried.
I am, after all, a scholar of fashion, so I know that whenever women's rights take a step forward in the real world, fashion and pop culture icons tend to swing the other way, if only for a while. It's a trend that began in the 1920s after women got the right to vote. No, really. To us in the 21st century, the iconic "flapper" of the twenties looks like a glimpse of joyful rebellion - alongside the ramping up of first wave feminism, the skirts and hair for rebellious young women got shorter, who traded in their corsets for shapeless dresses that were easy to dance in.



But flappers were not vanguards of the suffrage movement. They were notoriously oblivious to social causes and mostly in it for the attention (sound familiar?). To people from that place and time, what they most resembled were little boys. To reiterate, once women were allowed to vote, fashion started dressing them as children. I'm not saying this so that we can get angry at people who lived ninety years ago, but to point out a trend that's still going on. As much as we like to think of fashion and pop culture as being cutting edge, it more often represents a refuge for old ways of thinking to act like everything is normal - are women getting uppity and demanding a vote? Don't worry, they're just rambunctious little children.

Are they demanding equal pay for equal work? Nonsense, they just want to be your little baby doll.


Do I exaggerate?

Every major social achievement for women in the last hundred years has been marked by a regression in fashion. That's twiggy up there, premiere model of the nineteen sixties, a time when Gloria Steinem and the pill gave women a freedom they'd never enjoyed before. There were feminist sit ins at Newsweek and the Ladies Home Journal. Radicals threw maxipads into a trash can at the America pageant beneath a banner proclaiming "Women's Liberation". Mad Men fans know the fights they went through in the workplace, and anyone into fashion also remembers how short the skirts got toward the end of the decade, once they started winning.

High fashion and pop culture have never been a marker for the world we live in, but the world we wished we lived in - or rather, the world that specific tastemakers wished we lived in. While second wave feminism was scaring men and women alike, grown women were once again infantilized by clothing fit for a child. We have twiggy to thank for models who today are so thin they're practically invisible, because when some women started demanding equal work opportunities, the old guard no doubt wished they would disappear altogether.

But women bought those clothes! you might exclaim. That's because feminism scared women too. Having a voice, standing up to men you had always been taught to respect - even today most of us would rather crawl back into our daddy's arms than accuse our boss of sexual harassment, even if deep inside we knew it's our right. I never saw Gloria Steinem in a miniskirt, and in the end it was women like her who made the difference.

So maybe the age of the ass isn't as bad as we think.

Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, and the vastly out of her league Miley Cyrus are delivering a crass form of sexualisation, mistakenly labelled as feminist by people who don't know any better ("It's my body, I should be able to show it off how I like - and if 'how I like' is just a manifestation of ingrained patriarchy,--then screw you for using such big words!"), but in the real world where (most) people live and breathe, things are getting better.

Women still make less than 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, but it's something we're talking about more openly than ever before. The internet may have given a voice to both the best and worst in society, but cyber bullying and sexual abuse of young girls are now less likely to be swept under the rug, largely because of online activism. When Emma Watson made an empowering speech to the United Nations last year, some hackers may have threatened to release nude photos of the actress in retaliation, but the internet as a whole was overwhelmingly on her side. Last year, when Cee Lo Green tweeted, "women who have really been raped REMEMBER" it was met with the proper level of disgust and him being dropped from festival appearances. Twenty years ago, that would never have happened, and not just because there was no twitter - if you want proof of that, consider the decades it took the allegations against Bill Cosby to be taken seriously.

What this all means is that, by and large, women are growing their voices in the digital age, and the haters are becoming more and more of a minority. Knowing that, it was about time that our cultural icons regressed to reassure the masses who aren't quite sure about all this female empowerment going on. The popularity of the Kim Kardashian model of "fashion" - that is, less clothes more attention - is hopefully the last gasp of something ugly, rather than a marker for where society is headed. To the remaining men who live in fear of being called on their leering sexism (and the women who have yet to realize that such leering sexism is a problem), Kim's giant greased up ass, offered forth like a baboon who's presenting, is a symbol of a simpler time, of a femininity that doesn't think, doesn't demand answers, and might as well be made of porcelain, just like Twiggy and the flappers before her.

What, did you think she was a rebel?

Friday, 13 March 2015

Ali LIstens: Back to the Future




When I was younger, a hundred self important VH1 specials told me that music represented our culture in ways that no other artistic medium could. They lied.

Culture has changed a lot in my lifetime. Music has not. As I write the most popular song in the country is "Uptown Funk", a lovely little ditty cobbled together from thirty year old classics like "Jungle Love" and "Give it to me Baby" (Say Whaaaaat?), like the wet dream of an A&R guy from 1985: "Like Prince, but safer." The last few years also gave us "All About That Base", "Blurred Lines" and "Get Lucky", and a bunch more Bruno Mars to help us live in the past.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of pop history or mass culture should know something's askew right now. Pop music as we know it has a pretty short history. It's new enough that some of our grandparents remember its infancy, from Fred Astaire to Elvis Presley to the Beatles and Beyond. Through the decades pop has had two key tenets: It's youth oriented, and its all about novelty.

Those rules apply to almost all mass-consumed products in the 20th century. Novelty is the reason the iPad 2 was offered in different colours, with little else to distinguish it from the previous model. Novelty is the cornerstone of consumerism. And young people are almost always on the receiving end of the these gimmicks, because they have disposable income and no better way to spend their time.

This is the way its supposed to be, the way it has been for most of my life, and my parents' too. Young people feel like they own pop culture, like their parents are squares and their tunes are the music of revolution. Then you hit your mid twenties and realize Barbra Streisand can sing like a motherfucker and maybe mom had okay taste after all.

The wheel goes round and round: Elvis scandalized parents with his fabulous hips, the Beatles made them uncomfortable with their long hair, Zeppelin and the Stones scared them to death with sex, drugs and Satanism. Madonna was a hussy, Rappers were cop killers and the wheels on the bus went round and round. "Parents just don't understand" has been the unwritten rule of popular music for ages.

And yet...

When was the last time anything was truly shocking? The Wrecking Ball video? Anaconda? They're all pretty tame compared to what Prince and Madonna were doing decades ago (okay, fine I'll link to a sexy video if you promise to come right back) , to say nothing of the truly revolutionary spirit of acts like Neil Young or Public Enemy.

Kids these days may loathe the idea of "old" singers staying too long in the spotlight, but they're hypocritical in a way their parents were not:

Elvis sounded nothing like Fred Astaire.
Zeppelin sounded nothing like Frank Sinatra
N.W.A sounded nothing like Marvin Gaye

But

Lady Gaga looks and sounds an awful lot like Madonna, but tamer
Bruno Mars sounds a lot like Prince / Michael / Morris / Rick / insert-funk-legend-here, but more accessible.
Pharell Williams is paying seven million dollars because "Blurred Lines" - the song of the summer of 2013 - sounds virtually indistinguishable from Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give it Up"

But the hate lobbed in the direction of legacy acts (one legacy act in particular) is shockingly wrong footed. Madonna is told to leave the playground she built, because of her age, but to make room for who? Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Miley...all acts that owe her a huge debt and have no interest in building on her legacy, merely reducing it to its simplest moving parts (Sex! Shock! Girlpower!). I'm a millennial with a middle-aged soul, so forgive me for saying anyone who was shocked by Miley's twerking, three decades after Prince sang that he wants to "fuck the taste out of your mouth"  is damn soft.

But its not just music where we see this trend, which points to something much bigger. The rush to reappropriate old properties--from comic books, to movies to television and back again--is running rampant through this culture. Plenty of people complain about how Hollywood isn't offering anything new, but the truth is, these movies, these shows, this music, all of it gets made because the masses are buying them.

You'll hear theorists say that "People like what's familiar". Since when? Wasn't novelty the order of the day for the last five decades? The short answer is to that question is "yes". The long answer involves explaining the rise and fall of the Ford Motor company in the early 20th century, and since you don't really care about that stuff, you just have to trust me.

Speaking of films, what's the first hint that a movie is set in a particular decade? The clothing.
Now can you name any two years separated by two decades whose clothing was so utterly indistinguishable as 2015 and 1995? Bet you a nickel that you can't. 1960s fashion looks nothing like the 1940s or the 1980s. The 1950s are similarly indistinguishable from the 1970s, as the 70's are from the 90's, but that's when it stops. Chunky heels may be out, but I guarantee someone looking through Vogue twenty years from now wouldn't be able to guess for certain what decade we're in.  What has changed, fashion wise, are all throwbacks. "That's so Mad Men" you might say about a new dress, or "So eighties!"

This is a culture curiously divorced from our own moment in time, like none has been in recent memory.

Why?

Because we are afraid.

I may have lied at the top of this article. I said that music didn't reflect culture anymore, what I meant was that music never reflects culture, but cultural fixations. Why are we so obsessed with the past?

Because the present is a goddamn mystery. I'm not talking about dirty politics or poverty or racial divides or environmental destruction. You can find great, popular songs about those things from our parents' era a lot easier than you can from Beyoncé or her contemporaries.

I'm talking about how the internet, and all the technology that lives off it has completely changed the world so quickly we haven't quite adapted to it yet. Social media drives people farther apart, while online pornography is there at the click of a button (fine, here's another sexy video to reward the focus it took to read this far). Everything you ever wanted to see, and some things that you don't but will click on anyway are barking at you from the sidelines of every page you go to. Meanwhile, the things we were taught to hold dear to - friendships, a sense of belonging, even our own identity, has been untethered from reality. These tenets of humanity are strangely intangible in the age of the internet, floating in a digital realm we haven't got a grip on.

We need a sense of control, of belonging, of identity, which this new world order so insidiously inhibits. As a culture, we've gone back into the womb, like a groundhog who saw its own shadow and settled in for very long winter.

"What about the millenials?" you may ask. Most of the kids who love Uptown Funk and Born This Way are too young to be nostalgic for a time before the internet. How does this apply to them?

I'll tell you. It's a simple answer that bodes well for the future of humanity: because those are great songs. Specifically - "Jungle Love" and "Express Yourself" are great songs. And their enduring popularity shows that even as the world around us has exploded, we haven't lost that most basic human emotion that connects us to a great beat.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Ali Listens: The Best Song of 2014

So, its a little late for an entry like this, being as we are now well into 2015. However, this just needs to be said. The best song of 2014 was:

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Strand of Oaks, Goshen '97!!!!!

"What?" you may say. "Who?" "Which one's the title and which one's the artist?"
Settle down dear, all will become clear in due course.

First of all, here it is:
 
 


Do you hear the frustration? The fear? The hope? The Rock 'n' Roll?

I've been contemplating for a while what the difference is between Pop and Rock music, beyond the definitional, namely that "Pop" music is what popular and (new) Rock hasn't been popular for a very long time. I might just devote an entire post to how today's audience is determined to crawl back into the womb of "classic" sounds, but that's for another time.

The point is, Rock music isn't about what's popular. Its about what's true, or at least it should be. Rock history is littered with male power fantasy garbage (here's to you, Motley Crue), but at heart those were pop songs that were just pretending.

Real Rock'n'Roll is mired in the ugly stuff. It has its roots in pagan rituals on slave plantations. Misery is in its DNA. That's not to say that all Rock songs ought to be sad. Surely not. But they all must appreciate sadness. Happiness means nothing without the struggle from whence it is born. A great rock song doesn't have to be depressing, but it has to have the trace of a struggle in it.

Goshen '97 is the sound of a struggle. It gives no indication of where that struggle will take our protagonist - will he be victorious or will it all have been in vain? The song doesn't arrive at any destination, and it pre-empts the journey.

This song is about the moment you realize that the journey is necessary, that its possible, and that it actually started without you realizing it, while you were spinning your wheels in no particular direction.

At least that's what it means to me. Music is pretty subjective, and you can bet a song with the line "I was lonely, but I was having fun" hits all the trigger points for the person who wrote this about the emotional ravagement brought on by a Springsteen song.  At its heart, though that line represents that quintessential Rock'n'Roll pairing of regret and the joy of being alive. And speaking of joy:

"Then I found my Dad's old tape machine, that's when the magic began." I love musicians who love music. Almost as much as I love musicians who love life.  But flash forward another minute: "Before I was fat, drunk and mean, everything still lied ahead."

I would nominate that for single best line of songwriting of the year. Yes, better than "He toss my salad like his name Romaine." Better luck next year, Nicki. It's unexpected and it cuts like a knife. Likely the only time you've heard those words in life is when you're saying them to yourself, who has the courage to admit something like that out loud?

This isn't a song about facing the world, or even a song about the future. It's about the self. The conflict, the disappointment, the happy memories and the daunting next step.

Because, any contemplation of the future is ultimately a valuation of ourselves. The past - that's all about other people, circumstances that may or may not have been under our control. The present, likewise is cluttered with time and place.

But the future is all us. It's a question of Can? Will? Should?, and the answer always depends on how we feel about ourselves.

This singer is caught up with the past, disgusted with the present and contemplating the future based on these valuations. "I don't want to start all over again," he says. Well, that's not even an option, is it?

We don't ever go back, we just change direction. And for perfectly capturing the moment just preceding this realization, Strand of Oaks gets the humble honour of my top pick for best song of 2104.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Power of Love: or, How I Learned to stop worrying and listen to Springsteen


 
 
My parents owned Born in the USA when I was a kid, but it was on Vinyl so I never heard it played. Our turntable was long since broken by the time I was born. When the music of Bruce Springsteen filled our halls, but it was the sound of Born to Run, Tunnel of Love and the Essential on compact disc (Born to Run had the distinction of being owned on both formats, Darkness, sadly, only vinyl).

Since then, I've been building my Springsteen library, and it wasn't until today that I heard the eighth track on Springsteen's most popular record for the first time.

And lo, came the tears from a dormant part of my brain that I had nearly forgotten existed. A vault of adolescent loneliness and abandonment was breached by a thirty year old song. Such is the power of Springsteen.

Growing up, I had three best friends: The first, was my neighbour, who didn't go to the same school as I did, didn't really have any of the same interests as I did, and whose friendship was based almost entirely on geography. The second, was my best friend from school -- Laura -- who was funny and energetic and strange in all the ways that I was. The third, and most important was my cousin, Victoria. She had a single mother, and no idea who her father was. It seems like she spent other week at my Grandma's house around the block, and consequently we were nearly sisters. There were sleepovers almost every weekend during the school year, and in summers by the lake we took joint responsibility for looking after our unruly younger boy cousins. Thick as thieves.

In high school things changed, and until yesterday I understood these changes solely in terms of how they made me feel about my friends. Best Friend #1 and I drifted apart, starting a little before high school. We never had much in common, so it wasn't really surprising, and I didn't give it much thought.

Friend #2 went to the same high school as I did, but decided early on that I was not cool enough to be her friend, which is baffling still because she was not cool. She was never cool. Our joint un-coolness was what drew us together in elementary school. But, when high school began and it was apparent that I did not represent valuable social real estate she moved on. I remember with striking clarity the day I found myself sitting alone in the cafeteria. It was the first day of a new semester, and  the handful of friends I usually sat with now had a different lunch than I. Laura approached and I, breathing a sigh of relief, waved to her. I wouldn't have to sit alone after all, thank goodness. She saw me, then pretended she didn't. I was hurt, angry and I never tried to engage her socially after that, except perhaps a little bit some mornings, when my mom drove her to school! I had all kinds of opinions about her after that.

Friend #3 --the best friend, the family, the close-in-age sister I never had, topped them all for cruelty. She'd had a difficult life, in case you didn't pick up on that in her introduction as the bastard child who spent every other week at her grandmothers. Her mother was sick a lot, and depressed. Her family moved out of the city when she was just about to hit adolescence, finding herself in a brand spanking new subdivision where every house looks alike and she had to make new friends. When she did find out who her biological father was, it was a major disappointment. Any one of those factors would be enough to make a teen act out. Together, they were an H-bomb on her self esteem, and she acted out in ways we never would have thought possible - Stealing, lying, running away - the most egregious act of betrayal was falsely accusing her loving step-father of beating her, and taking that accusation to the authorities.

I can trace the trajectory of my feelings for her, like lines on a map: from concern, to anger, to pity, to relief, and finally to forgiveness (this is over a ten year period - and I'm happy to report that all's well that ends well and I'm going to be her maid of honour next year). I can do that for friends #1 and 2 also.

But until yesterday I never gave a thought to how all of this made me feel about myself. Which is where Springsteen comes in. Bobby Jean tells the story of a boy learning his best and only friend has left town without saying goodbye. "I wish I could have called. I wish I could have talked to you, not to change your mind, just to say good bye, Bobby Jean." Listening to it was like meeting my younger self, for the first time.

I spent a lot of time thinking about other people - how they were selfish, or stupid, or whatever - but I never had the perspective to see myself for what they had made me - alone. As far as I could tell, I was still the same person. It was them who had changed - who had sold out or betrayed me, who were selfish or superficial, but I never appreciated just what it did to me, how important it was to have one close friend, how empty we become when they're gone, and we're listening to the radio alone.

Something about this song took me back - A place, a time, a fully realized moment that I thought was lost to me, but got the chance to revisit. I listened to Bruce Springsteen and met myself.

This is why love music. This is why I pay money for music, and rant about how the industry has taken over the art. This is why I'm a true believer. If you're not, I feel sorry for you.