It was 5:30 in the morning and it was pitch black in the neighborhood of Palermo. I was trudging lethargically on my way to the office to attend a video conference with a client in Australia. I was barely conscious from only getting three hours of sleep the night before, choosing instead to stay up late browsing TV Tropes. I had my headphones on and my iPod on shuffle mode as I labored zombie-like down Fitz Roy street.
It was about a block and a half from my office when a shadowy figure appeared beside me. When I turned, I saw he was talking. I pulled my headphones down and produced a “wha–” cut short by the realization that this person was holding a gun and it was pointed at my face.
The rest was quick. I gave him my phone and all the money I had. He ran off. It was swift and painless, like a quick transaction. After a few seconds I realized my music was still on (I don’t think he noticed I had an iPod). I put my headphones back on and realized, with some amusement, that the song I was listening to when I had a gun pointed at my face, was Stars’ “Romantic Comedy”.
Now, I should clarify that I actually really love Stars. It’s just that their particular brand of sideways sugary indie-pop goodness seems wholly inappropriate for the occasion. Imagine if something had gone horribly wrong during the mugging and I ended up with a faceful of lead. The last song I’d ever hear in this earth, before I shuffle loose the mortal coil, would be… “Romantic Comedy”? No. It’s a good song, but it’s not end-credits-of-biopic good. There’s no gravitas to it. No solemnity. No cathartic release. I feel like, if I were to take a bullet to the face, the song that sees me off into nothingness should be something else entirely. Something like…
Yo La Tengo- “Last Days of Disco”
A bed of stuttering, airy drums, hazy slide guitar, plucked bass chords and hushed vocals. Simplistic, almost child-like lyrics of wonder at the mundane treasures in life: songs, sunshine, dancing. When you see past the bullshit anxieties, drama and ridiculousness of everyday life, it all boils down to the little things. The faint sound of a vibraphone.
ceo- “Den Blomstertid Nu Kommer”
Eric Berglund’s mind is filled with church songs and beats, and here is the union of the two. A Swedish hymn from the 1600s usually sung by school children at the end of the school year, as a celebration of the turning of the season, of the freedom of summer. Its lovely melody is augmented here by Berglund’s vintage electro arrangement, all icy synth and swirling cello.
Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros- “X-Ray Style”
One of Joe’s all-time best songs. I first heard this in a beach house overlooking the ocean in Cartagena, as a confused 15 year old dealing with my first case of unrequited love. I was consumed by my own plight, as a teenager would be, and this song came on and drove me to an epiphany. I remember the moment clearly; standing up and looking out the window, up at the night sky, down to the rumbling ocean. And by the time the song reached its crest, and rolled back down like a wave, I knew I had to get myself out of that hole of self-pity and histrionics, the last few lingering arpeggios cementing my resolve.
M83- “We Own the Sky”
Another song that hit me at just the right time. Here are some words to describe this track: enormous, majestic, regal. Emotional, pulsating, expansive. Romantic, optimistic, foreboding. And just the right amount of French shoegazy cheese.
Chet Baker- “But Not For Me”
This is a young Chet Baker, his voice still more West Coast suave than insurmountably sad. “But Not For Me” is a jazz standard from the pen of George & Ira Gershwin. As with the rest of their oeuvre, this is a delightful number brimming with wit and joie de vivre, even when the very topic of it is of the woe-is-me variety. Regrets, longing, loneliness and yet, such a happening tune, such a toe-tapper. Kind of like life? Something like that.
Hot Water Music- “Jack of All Trades”
If I am to leave this world violently, perhaps it’d be appropriate to go off with a violent song. The typical ferociousness of Hot Water Music is subservient to the melody here, and it is a brief, acerbic send-off. “You could be no one, an inconsiderate bastard son. Kiss your smile goodbye. Kiss it all goodbye.” Maybe we all need a good yelling-to.