earlier this year, i was vinyl hunting at dr. disc when whatever liam was playing on the sound system caught my ear, and that isn’t something i often find happening to me. i liked it. i asked him what it was, he showed me this cd by sharon van etten, and then i bought it. i asked liam what he was listening to. he held up a copy of epic by sharon van etten, who i’d never heard of, and said, “it’s hot right now.” fortunately his fingers weren’t damaged from the heat. but i bought a copy, and then went home and listened to it later on.
at the time, there was still snow on the ground even though winter was supposed to be on its way out, and i had just unexpectedly reconnected with a girl i had been friends with but lost touch with seven years before. i wondered how she was over the years, but had no way to get in touch with her and didn’t think we would ever see one another again. as it happened, our paths did cross again, at a strange time for me. after feeling like there was a gaping void inside of me for most of my life because i could never seem to catch a break with the opposite sex, i’d finally made my peace with it and come to the conclusion that i was better off alone. if i was meant to stay that way for pretty much the entirety of my life, so be it. better to be on your own and relatively happy than to be with someone who has no understanding of who you are, no desire to understand you, and no respect for you or your feelings.
then i found myself hanging out with this girl i hadn’t seen in seven years, and she basically said, “i’ve always liked you, i still do, and i will be your girlfriend right now, if you’re interested.” i wasn’t sure quite what to do with that. to say it was unexpected would be like saying “it gets a little warm in july”. the last thing in the world i wanted was anything resembling a girlfriend. things just haven’t ever gone well for me in the romance department. i always end up giving all that i can, and then i usually find myself being thrown away like a piece of garbage once the other person decides there’s nothing more they want from me, if there was ever anything they wanted in the first place. or at some point they decide they want me to change who i am to make them happy, when it’s clear nothing i do will ever really satisfy them, because they were unhappy long before i came into the picture.
so i was wary, and not sure what i should do. on the one hand, i didn’t want any more of that pain and confusion. on the other hand, i felt if i didn’t at least explore the possibility a little bit, i could be passing up an opportunity to finally have something good with someone who might actually be right for me — that whole “you never know if you don’t try, but you can’t lose what you don’t put in the pot” double-edged knife of indecision.
with all of this swimming around in my head, i crawled into bed in the dark, put on headphones, and listened to epic for the first time. the two things that immediately struck me were, “this woman has a gorgeous voice, but it’s also unique, and human, and really interesting,” and, “every song seems to go somewhere unexpected, in terms of feel and tone.” two things i very rarely am able to get excited about when it comes to new music. in other words, i dug it. with a shovel.
then i got to “love more”, and it smacked me in the face with its open-ended beauty. i hadn’t heard a song that hit me like that in a long time. you know how sometimes you hear a song and you have this weird feeling like you’re changing in some barely tangible way while listening to it, and you’re not quite the same person anymore once it’s over? it’s not that the words seem to be ripped out of your own life (i almost never get that feeling from anyone else’s music), but more that there’s just something in there that resonates with you, and it’s kind of beautiful and painful at the same time.
that’s what that song did for me. it was exactly what i needed to hear right then. in the course of listening to it, i decided i needed to take the chance and see where this potential romantic adventure would go. fear and insecurity be damned. i would let my guard down and see what happened. and in spite of how spectacularly wrong we turned out to be for each other and how painful the fallout was when it all fell apart, i think i’d do it again. i learned some things about myself i didn’t know before. i made a breakup album of my own, for the first time in a while. i loved and gave everything i could, even if in the end it was lost on the other person and they had nothing to give back.
one of the great things about art of any kind is the ability it gives you to attach your own meaning to it, and how you’re then allowed to find that the meaning has shifted when you return to it later on, as if the art has changed along with you. when i heard that song again after my little romantic adventure was over, it meant something completely different to me and took on a more defeated, bittersweet feeling. but it was still beautiful.
i haven’t listened to the album, or that song, in a while now. i think i came to feel a little too close to it, and i was a bit of a mess when the relationship ended, because i ended up investing and caring a lot more than i thought i would. but when enough time has passed where i think i can return to it again, maybe i’ll feel something completely different all over again.
now i come to find out, randomly, that “love more” was recently used in one of those montages at the end of grey’s anatomy. while i’m glad more people will end up hearing a great song they might not have heard otherwise, i’ve never been more glad that i don’t watch much tv as a rule these days. i got to hear the song for the first time in the dark, on headphones, and i got to decide for myself what it meant to me, without having some soppy clichéd tv show stuff it down my throat in a glorified music video designed to wring pathos out of saccharine nothingness. this got me thinking larger thoughts about the whole issue of how people are introduced to music, and the role a medium like television plays in that. wasn’t it the grotesquely under-appreciated ernie kovacs who said it’s called a medium because it’s rarely well-done?
on the one hand, i think it’s great more people find out about great music they might never otherwise come in contact with, whether it’s through a volkswagon commercial or a glorified soap opera. and when the artists in question are still alive and it’s not a case of their corpses being raped for someone else’s profit, i’m glad they get to make some money.
on the other hand, i can’t possibly overstate how glad i am that i have never unearthed any of my favourite music that way. i had to hunt for a lot of things, and in some cases it took years of digging. before it was finally remastered and reissued last year, dennis wilson’s solo work was almost maddeningly difficult to find, outside of mp3s with crummy sound quality hiding out in various crevices of the internet. starsailor, the album tim buckley considered the finest he’d ever made, is still going for insane prices on ebay (you don’t want to know how much i paid for my hard copy…but it was worth every penny). and there’s something wonderful about having no idea what you’re going to get when you pop an album in the cd player or on the turntable — something the internet has done a good deal to change, for better or worse. when i sat down to listen to big star’s third or john cale’s music for a new society for the first time, i didn’t have even a vague idea of what i was about to hear, outside of what i was able to infer from what i had read about the music. there’s something magical about that unpredictability, and it wouldn’t be nearly the same if i had heard, say, “i keep a close watch” for the first time in an episode of desperate housewives (not that such a thing has ever happened, thank christ, but you get my meaning).
having said all of this, if i had the opportunity to get paid for having one of my songs used in a tv show, i would probably give it some serious thought. if i liked the show, i might go ahead and do it, assuming the conditions were reasonable. it would be a way to make some money without actually selling my music, and i think it would be kind of neat. plus, when it came time for the show to be released on dvd, i wouldn’t charge an exorbitant amount of money for the rights (so many shows have been absolutely butchered at the dvd release stage for this reason…northern exposure comes to mind, and i don’t even want to hear what they used for replacement music, because the music was half of what made the show for me).
but then, i’m not dead, so i’d at least have the opportunity to decide for myself what could and couldn’t be done with or to my music. freddie mercury didn’t have a say when the other members of queen decided to use a song he wrote to sell frozen french fries. big difference there.
i guess it’s a slippery slope for me. i like to keep some of the mystery intact, and work a little harder to find the things i really connect with. there’s a huge difference between hearing something in passing at an independent record store, and hearing that same song in a commercial or a tv show, with the music given a whole new context because of the images it’s attached to. and my own personal bias comes into play here, because i think it’s another thing altogether when we’re talking about GOOD tv and films that aspire to be art, or something more than just escapist fluff. in those cases, original music and the judicious use of already-existing material can combine to create something really interesting. in the words of the once-great eric clapton, it’s in the way that you use it. compare the masterful use of “wise up” by aimee mann in magnolia to its current cringe-inducing appearance in a commercial for the “reality” series intervention, and you start to see what i mean. if i think about that for longer than two seconds, this will turn into an angry rant/tirade…and we don’t want that. gotta save the bile for when it’s really needed.
the point, i suppose, is that i’m not about to start watching grey’s anatomy anytime soon. but i’m really glad i heard sharon van etten’s music that one day at dr. disc.