MUSIC: The Perfect Songs, Part I
There are a handful of Perfect Songs in your life. Inspired by bloggers like the redoubtable Greg Burgas who does something like this, here's part the first of an occasional list of songs that don't have a wasted lyric, a missed note. A great many are love songs because, heck, that's what most songs are, and I'm a lovin' kind of fella. These songs are all attached to something for me, like most perfect songs have to be -- a place, a time, a person -- and that's a big part of what makes 'em perfect, of course. They tell their story, they pluck the heartstrings or boogey-joint (everyone has a boogey-joint), and they stick in your brain, buzzing away. Perfection is subjective; I'm right and you're wrong, or maybe the other way around, yadda yadda yadda. Here's three of my Perfect Songs, in no particular order --
1. "Wildflowers," by Tom Petty. A friend is in trouble, someone you adore who's bright and smart and yet has the world's worst taste in men; she deserves better, she really does, but she has to be free to make her own mistakes. One of Petty's most fragile, lovely songs, sung in a tumbledown bar on the edge of town; sentimental without being sappy, as true as it is bittersweet. That girl got messed up bad and you two never were quite the same. "You belong somewhere you feel free."
2. "Ocean," by Sebadoh. You know when you lust after someone but kinda want to kill them at the same time? That's this song, the soundtrack for those final days of a relationship. A bouncy jangling jingle, about love turning into hate, a girl who can't make up her mind, that moment when you realized you're trapped between people. Sebadoh, a half-forgotten band from the grungy slack mid-1990s with former Dinosaur Jr. member Lou Barlow at the helm. Lou sings this one with a bemused detachment, combining wry amusement with that awful ache. He knows his obsession is absurd but he can't quite give it up. In 1997 I listened to this song approximately 518 times. "But you answer every question with a riddle / And refuse to even choose to let me go."
3. "Downtown Train" by Tom Waits. Among the many sins for which Rod Stewart deserves to be burned at the stake is the fact that more people know his cover of this song than Waits' gruff, gorgeous original. Tom Waits has a voice that's been run over by a truck and scraped up and patched back together again, and that works beautifully for this lovelorn fable of a spurned man waiting for that train, that girl, that dream. It's far more audience-friendly than almost anything else Waits has ever written, and even Rod Stewart couldn't screw it up too badly. But drenched in rain and whiskey and stubble, powered by a marvelously shimmering, heartbroken guitar riff, the original can't be touched. "The downtown trains are full with all those Brooklyn girls / they try so hard to break out of their little worlds."
Look for more Perfect Songs in the near future!