Friday, November 18, 2011

Challenge 17: iTunes

I have challenged my students to write a college application essay of at least 300 words every day for 30 days, working off a long list of essay topics. Below is one of my attempts. (Note from the future: Out of about 50 students, 22 actually completed it. I tried but gave up after 18 days.)

#141. In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun. (U of Chicago)

My question: What do the ten most-played songs in your iTunes library reveal about you?

1. "Does This Mean You're Moving On" by Airborne Toxic Event

This is a clever and upbeat rock song about a break-up. Some of the lyrics:
From the balcony, you call my name
I see you standing in the rain
Your words so dry, your face so wet
Said I broke your heart,
But it hasn't happened yet
I'll bet, your friends all hate me now
I get the strangest looks,
From that bitchy crowd
And though, they must think
They have every reason to
I guess I'm still not quite yet over you

When the words are wrong
And you're hanging on
Another guy's arm
Does this mean you're moving on?
What does this say about me? More than anything, this band and song hit my iTunes library at just the right time. There's no way of tracking my playlist from my vinyl, cassette, or CD days. But when I bought this MacBook and filled it with music, this is one of those bands that I listened to non-stop for a while. I guess I still do. I like to think that I listen to fairly obscure bands, that I'm one of these hipsters that listens to the cool stuff before it's popular. In fact, I'm pretty sure I was the first of my friends to listen to TATE, as they're known. But my coolness is fading -- I'm losing my edge. My brother just recently emailed me about seeing these guys back in Chicago, said it was one of the best concerts he's seen in the last five years. Living in the hills of India, I haven't seen a proper show in years.

2. "Nickels and Dimes" by Social Distortion

I love the wordplay in this song:
I'm a loaded gun pointed at the mirror
A drugstore cowboy whose end is near, yeah baby
I'm a big time skater with broken down dreams
I'm a derelict rebel without a cause
I ain't the cat with the sharpest claws, no baby
'cause sometimes life just ain't what it seems

I'm chasing nickels and dimes
The rest of the world passes me by
I'm just wasting my time
This is the band that temporarily turned me into a writer. Back in college, I worked in the pre-press department of the daily student newspaper during my freshman year. We literally cut-and-paste all the content of the newspaper onto pages which were then photographed and plated and sent to the printer. I desperately wanted to write for the paper. I got to know the editor responsible for the weekly arts-and-entertainment supplement, and I suggested a new column about music. I was also a DJ at the campus radio station, so I thought I knew about the newest, coolest bands. The editor agreed, and soon I was responsible for the "Alternative Beat" column. The very first piece I wrote was about Social Distortion. A couple of years later, I was a daily columnist and editor at the paper; one day, someone came up to me and said, "Hey, you wrote about Social Distortion once, didn't you? Thanks so much for that!"

3. "Into Action" by Tim Armstrong

This is number 3 on iTunes but probably number 1 on my iPod. Tim Armstrong fronted the punk bands Operation Ivy and Rancid, but this is from a solo project that's mellower and ska-influenced. For at least a month, I listened to this song every single day on my walk to work -- it woke me up and put me in a good mood.
We're gonna dig dig dig in deep hold our sacred ground
When the music come playing then you jump up, jump down
If you hook up the speakers, man, we'll bring the sound
And the music will be heard from miles and miles around
We got songs of redemption, songs of war
We got songs like this that can pack the dance floor

Let's get moving into action
Let's get moving into action
If your life's too slow, no satisfaction
Find something out there, there's an attraction
If you hesitate now, that's a subtraction
So, let's get moving girl into action

4. "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above" by CSS

The lyrics of this one aren't important. In fact, I don't even like CSS so much recorded. They are simply the best live band I have ever seen. I saw them at the Pitchfork music festival in Chicago several years back. Purely by accident, while waiting for the next band on the main stage to come on, I walked into the small side-stage tent where CSS were playing. A girl band from Brazil, Cansei de Ser Sexy ("I've grown tired of being sexy" in Portuguese) had everyone in that tent bouncing and sweating for their entire set. I'll never forget it. This, by the way, appears to be the only female act on my list -- wonder what that says about me.

5. "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by Eddie Spaghetti

This is a Tom Waits song, also covered by The Ramones, but I can't stop listening to Eddie Spaghetti's countrified version. The lyrics say it all:
I don't wanna have to shout it out
I don't want my hair to fall out
I don't wanna be filled with doubt
I don't wanna be a good boy scout
I don't wanna have to learn to count
I don't wanna have the biggest amount
No, I don't wanna grow up

6. "Bad Time" by The Jayhawks

Sometime around my fourth year of college, a friend who worked at a record store brought over the Jayhawks new CD. We popped it in the stereo, popped a couple of beers open, and sat there listening to the CD on repeat. I often wonder how many hours I've spent just hanging out, listening to music, talking about whatever. This is the one songs that really stands out.
I'm in love with the girl
That I'm talking about
I'm in love with the girl
That I can't live without
I'm in love
But I sure picked a bad time
To be in love, to be in love
7. "Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake" by Granddaddy

Another fairly obscure California band, Granddaddy was just cool. This song has a cheesy synthesizer opening which brings back memories of driving on Lake Shore Drive with one of my buddies back home. I was in a particularly good mood and started imitating playing the synthesizer on my dashboard. We laughed so hard I almost crashed.

8. "Spending the Day in the Shirt You Wore" by Poi Dog Pondering

I saw these guys play a tiny room on my university campus, back when they still lived in Hawaii. They were touring around the mainland, playing small venues, trying to build up a following. They ended up playing for almost three hours, half of which was the 10 members of the band experimenting with songs and sounds. They said they were having a great time, and so were those of us in the audience that night. The best way to describe their music is: it's pretty. Here's one entire song:
Oh the days of wine and roses and the rubbing of noses
Bare feet, new sprouts, and garden hoses.
Skipping stones, while skipping home...
"Look at that tree, it's got a brand new leaf!"
Candlelight, candlelight -- for no reason
Eating fresh fruit when it's in season.
Take an aimless drive behind a motor wheel
Sticking fingers on paintings to see the way they feel!
Spending the day in the shirt that you wore
I can sense your presence from the day before ...
9. "Big Romantic Stuff" by Bob Geldof

When I was in high school, my hero was Bob Geldof. That's because I loved Pink Floyd, and Geldof played the role of Pink in their movie The Wall. I later learned he was the singer of the Boomtown Rats, so I liked them (and that's probably what got me out of my classic rock stage). I ended up really liking his solo work, which had an acoustic Irish sound. The lyrics are full of melancholy and longing.
That French song playing on the radio at noon
The singer's name was Jean Michel and he's singing 'bout la lune
And she shivers as she comes awake
And remembers how to think
And she shakes the hair out of her eyes
But the daylight makes her blink
And the song it whispers in her mind like a half forgotten sigh
Of times of love the longest days and youth and endless skies
And ooh la la la
ooh la la la

Did they never tell you 'bout it baby
Did they never say it's tough
Are you never going to give up on that
Big romantic stuff
10. "I'll Follow the Sun" by The Beatles

I'm quite surprised that The Beatles made it into my top 10. For the longest time I refused to listen to them, thought they were too old or poppy or British or whatever. But everyone, I guess, eventually grows up. Maybe some day my entire top 10 will be filled with these guys. For now, it's a great way to end this list.
One day you'll look to see I've gone,
For tomorrow may rain so I'll follow the sun.
Some day you'll know I was the one,
But tomorrow may rain so I'll follow the sun.
And now the time has come so my love I must go,
And though I lose a friend in the end you will know, oh ...

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