Thursday, September 13, 2007

A DJ Saved My Life Tonight

This post went up over two years ago, and I'm happy to say that I still love the songs mentioned in it. In terms of coincidence, "Dry the Rain" actually started playing as I finished re-editing that song's section of this post, which upped its "Play Count" to 104.

There was one time, back in 1997, when the girlie I was then rolling with and I were driving from Tacoma to Seattle (props to the Emerald City) and we got on an incredible radio streak: one great song after another, and they weren’t even all on the same station; one song would end, I’d start to flip through other stations and then run into the beginning of another great song. It was almost like magic. It was early autumn, the late afternoon, and the Pacific Northwest was doing that thing that it does so well: look unbelievably gorgeous. It was an incredibly beautiful forty minutes.

I’ve only had one other great radio streak like that, and that was back in 1988, when my big bro, our homies, and I were making the post-midnight, mid-summer drive from Madtown to Fresno to go to a dance club that had just opened up. (How’d we find out about the club? A few weeks earlier, we had been at a Fresno Carl’s Jr., and, while I was in the restroom, some young college girls who were hanging around in the parking lot had mooned our table. When I came back to the table, I was quickly informed of what I had just missed. I’ll be honest, I felt left out, so I went outside to talk to the young ladies and ask them what was going on. They made mention of a club at which they could shortly be found. Isn’t life great? Back, though to the story.) As we merged onto Highway 99, we caught the beginning of a dance music mix. I can't remember clearly anymore, but it may even have been a mega-mix.

You know how it is: The first song’s killing you, the speakers are bumping, and everybody in the car is bobbing their heads to the beat, happy as hell. Then, as you sense that you'getting to the end of one song, you stop moving, tensing up with anticipation, waiting to hear what song is going to start playing next, hoping that it’s not going to be a weak song that’s going to kill the vibe. But that night the deejay was locked in tight; every pounding track mixed into another pounding track, and it was almost like a miracle. We were delirious with music-induced joy by the time we pulled up to the club, and we danced our ecstatic brains out. It’s great to be young.

It’s hard to get those kinds of experiences anymore, to find anywhere a series of lovely songs strung so beautifully together, intentionally or not, but, thanks to iTunes and my iPod, I had just that experience a couple of days ago.

I’ve got a list of songs, entitled, appropriately, Song List on my rig, and, if I happen to read about or hear of a new band or a song to which I should listen, I’ll make an addition to the list. Then, when I get a chance, I’ll look to see if those songs are available on iTunes. If they are and I like the thirty-second samples, I'll download them and then transfer them to my iPod.

Obviously, then, the list is pretty random, so when I play my iPod through my car stereo as I’m driving to or from wherever, I’ll sometimes find that I’ve accidentally created a great grouping of songs. A recent miracle grouping occurred when I downloaded back to back Got Your Money, by Ol' Dirty Bastard; Inside and Out, by Feist; and Shout to the Top, by The Style Council. The one before that was from I May 2005, when I got Before We Begin, by Broadcast, Black Is Black, by Jimmy Ruffin, and I Haven't Got Anything Better to Do, by Dee Dee Warwick. Who knew that Dionne had a little sister?

The all-time great grouping is made up of these three songs that I downloaded 4 September 2005, : As You Turn to Go, byThe 6ths; Don't Wanna Know About Evil, by Beth Orton; and Dry the Rain, by The Beta Band.

I first heard As You Turn to Go, as it played over one of the last scenes of Pieces of April, a nice little movie, and, though the song didn’t really fit the scene, it just about crushed me.

Relevant lyrics:

Let there be a record of your gorgeous voice
The turn of phrase that filled my days with joy
Something like Bing singing soft and low
As you turn to go

I know I'm not supposed to say I’m sorry
I know you’ve had more loves than Mata Hari
But you know you’re the star of my life story
And I’m so sorry

In Conclusion:

Let the poets struggle to describe your heart
Your art of love and your love of art
Well, if you ever loved me
Tell me so
As you turn to go

If you ever loved me
Tell me so
As you turn to go

If you ever loved me
Tell me so
As you turn to go

It’s just a voice and a dude playing a zither (Yeah, I had no idea what a zither was; I had to look it up.), and the wistful sadness is overwhelming.

But then on the next song Beth Orton sings I don't wanna know 'bout evil/ Only wanna know about love about a billion times over a William Orbit beat, and I’m not so sad anymore. I just want to drive faster. I have no idea what the song is about (sample lyrics: Sometimes it gets so hard to listen/Hard for me to use my eyes/And all around the gold is glistening/Making sure it keeps me down to size… Say what?), but Beth Orton is one of my favorite singers, and I could listen to her sing the first five chapters of Life of Pi and actually enjoy those chapters for a change ('cause, otherwise, that book is weak).

And then there is The Beta Band. I’d first heard Dry the Rain in High Fidelity, a real snoozefest of a movie (Stephen Frears + John Cusack = a really boring movie), but the soundtrack was great. Dry the Rain gets off to an okay/pleasant start, and you think to yourself that listening to it is gonna be an okay/pleasant experience: not great, but not bad, tolerable. About 3:45 in, though (the song’s 6:05 long), the thing really takes off. Before, the singer and the band hadn’t really been doing anything memorable, but then an instrument (I want to say that it's some type of synth [but what the hell do I know?]) starts playing whole notes that almost sound like a melancholic choir, and you can already feel something inside you starting to rise (if I weren’t such a devout non-believer, I’d say that it was the soul), and then the lead singer starts to sing If there's something inside that you wanna say/Say it out loud it'll be okay/I will be alright, I will be alright/I will be your light, I will be your light and he’s so full of passion that you absolutely believe him. At the end of the first time that he sings this verse, which gets repeated for the last two minutes of the song, the other members of the band just put it all out there when they sing “I need love” in semi-ragged harmony, and you believe them, too.

Here’s what you do: get yourself some really good speakers for your car and then crank them as much as they’ll go, get the car going really fast (it’s probably a good idea to do this only late at night, and then probably out in the country), roll down your windows so that the wind is whipping into the car, and sing along as loudly as you can to the last 2:20 of this song. Don’t worry; if your speakers are loud enough, you won't even be able to hear yourself, or the wind. Keep playing that last 2:20 over and over, and sing along, sing until your throat hurts. Keep singing.

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