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Musical memory

The lovely and multitalented Will Dixon, writer/director/industry suit/blogger, recently posted the question:

What’s the song when you hear in the car that you have to turn up LOUD, or if at home, dance madly around the office?

Will apparently never leaves his office, poor man.

My belated response, the first answer that came to mind, isn’t something I’m all that proud of, which is probably why it’s belated. I had to work up to admitting it. It’s one of those infectious songs that isn’t my favourite by a long shot, isn’t the best I can think of, but it’s the song that, invariably, I have to turn up and sing along with at the top of my tuneless voice. And then my head involuntarily does this funny bobbing thing, side to side.

The song? Hey Ya by Outkast.

Mock away.

It wasn’t until this past Thanksgiving that I discovered why I do that side-to-side head bobbing thing.

I am the twins in the purple dresses. I’d seen the video long ago, but didn’t tie the two together until I was driving in the car when that song came on (on a homemade CD where it’s followed by Ben Heppner singing Nessun Dorma – I’m either eclectic or tone deaf). I had to turn it up, of course, and my passenger recognized the little head dance I was doing.

That’s what music can do to you: it seeps into your bones and your brain and evokes buried memories as well as pure unadulterated joy. Even an inane song like Hey Ya.

The equally-lovely-as-Will-but-for-whole-different-reasons John Doyle, TV critic for the Globe and Mail, wrote a Christmas Eve column “giving thanks to the artists who make it a wonderful life.” He starts with an anecdote of tired and grumpy Christmas shoppers standing in line at a grocery store when Feist’s 1234 started playing, and the crowd’s mood shifted.

In an uncharacteristically sweet article, the usually hilariously cranky Doyle told an anecdote about having seen a pre-Feist Feist on the streets of Toronto, and continued:

I’m sure that some of the people in the store last week have, like me, lived long enough in the area to have passed Leslie Feist on the street, not knowing who she was or not imagining that her talent, her voice would one day bring an important few minutes of joy: A mother and child dancing to the sound of her music in a crowded store full of tired, sullen, stressed people; the mother-and-child being at the heart of the Christmas story that is, in turn, at the heart of the season that was making everyone so frantic and tired.

So I figured that I’d tell you the story so you might know this: Take pleasure in ephemera this season, in the small poetry of passing moments of joy that the most slender elements of the popular culture can bring. And remember that someone created those moments, a writer, a singer, an actor, a musician, someone you’ve passed on the street who had a talent, a gift unknown to you. And when you’re giving gifts, remember that gifts are given to us every day by people we don’t know, would never recognize.

According to the Christian tradition, which dominates the season for better or worse, miracles surrounded Christ’s birth. Well, there is something miraculous too about the pleasure that sweet, ephemeral entertainment can bring. And something miraculous about the creation of it. Enjoy it, whether you find it on television, in music or somewhere else. Take solace in the joy it brings and use the joy to tell someone you love them more.

How beautiful is that? A lot more beautiful than tying an anecdote into some sense memory of a spoof Charlie Brown video. So even though the sentiment is belated for the season intended, it’s worth remembering when we do something as simple as turning up the songs that infect our minds and bob our heads.

Once, once again

Nic Harcourt, music director of KCRW and host of the best-named music show ever, Morning Becomes Eclectic, as well as music supervisor of the short-lived but much-loved Love Monkey, released his top ten albums of 2007 (wait, is the year over already? What the hell happened to November?!)

One is Radiohead’s experiment in online distribution, In Rainbows (which looks like it will no longer be available for a pay-what-you-like download after Dec. 10). I’ll have to check out some of the other top nine I’ve never heard of, but #9 is Once, which I raved about earlier. Well, I raved about the movie, but I meant the album too. Check out a clip below, or see Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova sing Into the Mystic during their recent visit to Harcourt’s show.

The Wire soundtrack

The Wire soundtrack

My search for the music of The Wire is over: the show, entering its fifth and final season in January (for those lucky Americans with HBO — I’m still waiting for the season four DVD release) is getting its first soundtrack release by nonesuch records:

The Wire: ” … and all the pieces matter” will include several versions of the show’s opening theme song — Tom Waits’s “Way Down in the Hole” — as performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Neville Brothers, and DoMaJe, a group of Baltimore teenagers. To listen to DoMaJe’s take on the song, click here.

The disc will also feature a number of tracks from the Baltimore club and hip-hop scene that have never appeared on a major label release, including Rod Lee’s “Dance My Pain Away,” Tyree Colion’s “Projects,” Diablo’s “Jail Flick,” Mullyman’s “The Life, the Hood, the Streetz,” and “What You Know About Baltimore?” by Ogun featuring Phathead.

Other songs include “Oh My God” by Michael Franti, “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” by Paul Weller, “The Body of an American” by The Pogues, “I Feel Alright” by Steve Earle (who also has an acting role on the series), Solomon Burke’s “Fast Train,” and the show’s closing theme, “The Fall,” composed by The Wire music supervisor Blake Leyh.

Some of the most memorable dialog from the program’s five years will also be included on the record. The CD booklet will feature essays by the author and series writer George Pelecanos and the noted hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang.

I’ll be seeing Once again

I’ll be seeing Once again

Every once in a while, I see a lovely little movie that makes me happy every time I think of it. Nothing mind blowing, just a perfectly charming film that captivates me. Once is one of those movies.

I knew next to nothing about it before watching it, other than it was a Sundance success and told a love story through music (though it’s a musical in The Commitments sense, not in the Chicago sense where people burst into song for no apparent reason). The plot unfolds in unsurprising but also unconventional ways, so I won’t ruin it for anyone else by saying much more than that.

Written and directed by John Carney, Once pairs Glen Hansard — one of The Commitments and part of the real-life band The Frames — with Czech singer-songwriter Markéta Irglová in her first acting role. He’s character-actor attractive, but if I’d only seen a picture of her, I would have thought she was plain but pleasant looking. In motion, full of personality, she’s gorgeous. Her voice is hauntingly beautiful, as is the music she and Hansard co-wrote for the film, complementing his rougher tone. Entertainment Weekly says they are/were a real-life item, and as you can tell, I might be a little in love with both of them, too.

I had to go to iTunes to get the soundtrack after seeing Once, though the music is not the only thing to recommend it. These are characters you know, you care about, in a tale that feels fresh and true. Still, for a taste of what I’m talking about, here’s some live performances of music from the film:

Falling Slowly, performed on Letterman:

If You Want Me (my favourite track, but this has terrible video – good audio, though)

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians

I’ll be back after the long weekend.

In the meantime, can you believe it’s 15 years since REM released Automatic for the People? Via Pop Candy, again, Stereogum has released a tribute album, Drive XV. Download the free MP3s or listen online to tracks like the Meat Puppets doing Everybody Hurts (hi Lizzim!). There’s also commentary by each artist as well as REM’s own Mike Mills. Listen and learn.