Thursday, January 18, 2007

Another dubious public service

I’m usually something of a mess when I make it into my office. And usually, that’s the fault of my iPod, in the sense that I try to be friendly when I walk in the door. That’s difficult when you’re listening to music at potentially unhealthy levels, so my entrance usually involves a complicated ballet of removing gloves and ear muffs, and juggling them with my mug of coffee, all the while attempting to switch off the iPod and remove the headphones.

Yesterday’s arrival yielded an even more impressive picture, as I walked into the office with my jacket open, one ear bud still in place, and the other hanging at my side. Of course, that meant I was immediately greeted by our arts producer, who wanted to introduce me to the guy she was about to interview.

That guy turned out to be Milwaukee singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey, who shook my hand and immediately wanted to know what song was playing on my iPod at that instant in time. Thankfully, it was “Blown Kisses”, by Minnesota singer-songwriter Martin Zellar. Thankfully, because if your introduction to a reknowned singer-songwriter is going to be the name of the song you’re listening to, you don’t want that song to be “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick. Mulvey was duly impressed by my iPod selection. I made a mental note to check out Mulvey’s latest CD. Sheepishly, I admitted that the previous song I had listened to was “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick.

Regardless, it brought to mind a feature that’s appeared in several places (most notably around here, in the “A.V. Club” section of The Onion) in which people switch their iPods to shuffle, and then discuss – or in some cases, rationalize – the first five songs that show up.

So, not that you asked, here’s how my iPod shuffle shakes out, starting sheepishly with:

  1. “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick. Okay, we’ll file this one under “guilty pleasure”. The first-ever rock concert I ever attended was a 1979 Cheap Trick concert at, yes, the Agridome in Regina, Saskatchewan. It was not long after their “Live at Budokan” CD (er, LP) came out, and their North American tour was paralleling a cross-country trip my family was taking. Really. Had we not seen them in Regina, we could have taken in a Cheap Trick show in Mitchell, South Dakota or Pocatello, Idaho. My connection with the group has faded since I was 10 years old, though I can still manage to name all the members of the band (Rick, Robin, Tom (Bill? Dan?), and of course Bun.) I’ve never fully comprehended “Surrender”, though its refrain (“Mommy’s all right, Daddy’s all right – they just seem a little weird…”) always seemed like a nice sentiment, and one that I hope my daughter will someday take to heart. Peter Mulvey, to his credit, gave me a pass on this one, since Milwaukeeans have apparently adopted the Rockford, Illinois-based group as a “local band”.

  2. “Blown Kisses”, by Martin Zellar and the Hardways. I’ve been a fan of Zellar’s since I was a news reporter in Rochester, Minnesota, and hung out regularly at a bar that incessantly played his “Born Under” CD. If Bruce Springsteen had grown up in a small, industrial midwestern city, he may well have evolved into Martin Zellar, who writes with an uncommon empathy for his fellow humans and a heartbreaking understanding of his own failings. Besides that, it’s worth noting that the version of the song I was listening to is from his “Live – Two Guitars, Bass, and Drums” CD, and is WAY better than the studio version.

  3. “Got My Own Thing”, by Liz Phair. Great – what is this, “Mitch’s Guilty Pleasure Mix”? I figure I’m too male and too old to like Liz Phair, but there’s something about her raw, in-your-face attitude that I find appealing. That said, her older stuff (from her “Exile in Guyville” era) is a better illustration of that attitude than this track, which is from her latest effort, “Somebody’s Miracle”. Regardless, I like almost the entire newer CD, in that guilty pleasure-sort-of-way.

  4. “Your Life Is Now”, by John Cougar Mellencamp. I have no idea why this song is on my iPod. I don’t really like it that much – it is, I gather, supposed to be inspirational, a call to action, but – starting with the title - it has all the subtlety of a cinder block through a plate glass window. It sounds a little like it should be the theme to a prime-time drama on the CW network, which is to say it has a catchy melody line, but can easily be boiled down to a 30-second version in syndication.

  5. “Why Not Wyoming”, by Amy Speace. Ah, yes, that’s much better. Thematically similar to the Mellencamp tune, in that it also gets at the endless possibilities that stretch in front of us. But it appeals much more to my metaphorical nature than the previous Mellencampiness. I don’t know a great deal about Amy Speace, but she has a nice voice with plenty of range, a good ear for lyrics, and a very nice cowboy hat. I can’t decide whether I like the song’s gratuitous public radio reference (“ until we fall asleep/Listening to ‘FUV…” – a reference, I’m assuming to New York public radio station WFUV), but the song has a nice, soaring feel and a little hint of pedal steel guitar, which always conjures up the image of wide open spaces. Plus, it provided the inspiration for the title of a swell previous blog post. I really like this song.

So there you have it. And if none of this was the least bit interesting to you, consider that it probably took less time to read than it would have taken to listen to each of these songs.

Also, be thankful I didn't have to rationalize Song #6 - "Doin' the Pigeon", by Bert.

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