Saturday, November 20, 2010

Playlist of the Week: Reconsiderationing

They tell you it's important not to just hear, but to listen.  So I became a better listener.  Then, when I listened better, I wondered if I was actually hearing correctly...

Such has been a cycle in my life.  And a worrisome one at that.  I mean, your predicament goes from being one of mental laziness to an outright potential physical disability and then finally to a case of you just actually being an idiot.  It plagues our relationships, it plagues our professional work, and it can certainly plague our music listening experience--especially if you get to that third stage and realize that what you thought you were enjoying in the lyrics or what you thought it was envoking was all wrong to begin with.

Maybe "wrong" isn't really the word.  Something about music goes beyond the words to make you feel what you feel.  I mean, I never really knew the correct words to Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me" when I was a kid, but I still feel approximately the same thing after having learned the actual lyrics that I felt then.  Which is pretty much a combination of Voltron and a bald eagle soaring through the sky.

But there's still just that part of you that feels like a bit of a fraud when you find out that either A) as was aforementioned, you had been completely wrong about the words to a song you love or B) the song's ACTUAL meaning was quite different than the ASSIGNED meaning you had given it when you were saying to yourself, "Yeah man!  This is an exact reflection of MY situation and MY heartbreak and MY longing and MY desire and--you know--pretty much the song I'd write and sing to everyone right now--especially her--if I had, you know, any musical and/or songwriting ability!"  And that's why for some of us, it goes beyond an appreciation of music or even a conventional love of it.  These people are my personal conveyors of truth in a world where I am unable to shout it myself from a mountain top!  Yes Baby, Neil Diamond says the sweet clean words of my soul that I just can't quite get out of that stupid gut of mine.  You're welcome.

So when you find out you were wrong, it makes you question whether any of your sentiment was valid or that important in the first place.  The first song on this week's playlist is a beautiful love song by the criminally underrated and currently on indefinite hiatus Phantom Planet called "By the Bed" which falls tragically in to this category for me.  The song contains a dialogue between a man and a woman about their relationship.  The man who finds himself holding on for dear life and unable to let go.  The woman who responds with an unequivocal rebuff to these pleas that "there are things we cannot save, no matter how hard we try".  Now as you can imagine, I've FELT this song.  I've lived it.  I've cringed and screamed the lyrics while driving aimlessly through the overcast city.  We all have songs like that for us, right?

Well today while doing a little research for my blog (since I had already decided this song was going to top my newest playlist), I watched a video where Phantom Planet's lead singer and the writer of this song, Alex Greenwald, told an audience before playing it that this was a song about an interaction with his dying grandmother.  Umm, ex-squeeze me?  Baking powder?  But this song is part of the greatest hits collection of my perpetual and highly important heartbreak!  Who the HELL do you think you are making this about your grandmother????  Your GRANDMOTHER???  I was in denial like Preston from Can't Hardly Wait when he was told that Barry Manilow's "Mandy" was actually about a beloved pet dog and not about a forlorn lover.

After a bit of pacing around my living room and a couple of re-listens, I calmed down a bit.  I mean, the song was still beautiful, but just slightly different.  And I worry that by even telling you this that you all won't be truly able to truly appreciate the greatness of the song.  But ultimately, the song is still about the same big picture things it's always been about.  Love.  Loss.  The frustration when the other party can't or won't give you a say in the matter.  And whether I'm hearing right or listening intently or doing both, I've figured out that the truth is still the truth.  The music will ultimately mean what we really, really want it to mean.  So I will still reflect on heartbreak that has nothing to do with the death of my grandmother each time I listen because I can and because music affords me that opportunity.  I suppose the most vital thing is that while hearing what we want to hear, we also hear what we really NEED to hear, even if it wasn't necessarily what we were meant to hear.  Having said that, I plan to spend the remainder of my weekend examining the psychological and social implications of Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance".  Good day to you.


  1. Interesting comments on the difference between hearing and listening. My take on listening is similar to your implications. E.g. even though I am the producer, recording engineer, and musician on my brother's and my Dixieland CD, each time I listen to it I hear or feel something different. Sometimes I feel my brother's presence and the love we both have for each other and this music. Other times I hear the audio edits I made that sound particularly heinous and distracting. Then I'll listen selfishly and hear how great I sounded in some places. Of course this comment doesn't reflect my listening to lyrics per se but I think the same underlying idea is valid for the abstractness of the music as applied to the nature of the written and sung lyrics. That is each moment in our lives is just that ... a moment along our temporal journey ... as we grow along this time-line our listening reflects that moment only ... a solitary event only to be surplanted by the next moment. Such is the evolution of listening and life itself. I love your blog Rob!! Keep it up!!

  2. in regard to talking about the meaning of songs or song lyrics ... i am of the belief that everyone should be able to interpret it however they like. i don't like the idea that songs have only one meaning or one theme. this is why it unnerves me sometimes when one of my band mates will ask "what's this song about?" i want them to just hear the words i'm singing and decide for themselves what they want it to be about. (also, it's just plain embarrassing to admit what it's about sometimes). i believe this is the best way to make an emotional song even more emotional and the best way to ensure that the listener will be able to assign their own meaning to it as well. so there's no harm in you feeling a song is speaking to you about heartbreak between a once- romantic couple when in fact it's written about a dying grandmother. you get from music what you need.

  3. You have a tremendous way with words and thoughts! I think this same "frustration" of sorts plagues all listeners and interpreters of all things music. It's human nature to want so desperately to connect with something or someone and we create a false sense of security in our music and lyrics. As is the case all too often, we lift things to fantastical heights on the largest of pedestals, not realizing the implications of the inevitable crash and burn. Ah, well... nonetheless, I agree wholeheartedly that it is our personal interpretation of our music that makes it what it is. Although, I can't lie to you when I say I am befuddled at the success of and connection to lyrics such as "This s#!% is bananas!" But hey, to each his own. It's what makes the world go 'round, right? :) Job well done, sir.