In the vault of personal history, there’s nothing sweeter (somewhat sadder) than the mix-CD never-sent. I found one the other day sitting around in my mess of blank and unused CDS. Decided to listen to it while in the car with Stu. It’s a pretty funny time capsule of April 2005, how a girl wanted (badly) to have this particular boy, Tom Tomlinson, as a boyfriend, while simultaneously establishing her cool credibility and impeccable taste. I’d upload it for the curious, but alas, it’s far too scratchy and beat up to garner any worth on the internet.
1. Calexico w/ Nicolai Dunger “Alone Again Or” (Love cover)–Start it out with a bam! Something that sounds familiar, like an old letter written years ago. But instead of the super 60s version, make it mariachis fronted by a wheezy Swedish dude. Bonus points for the fact that it’s a cover of a song prominently featured in my favorite movie Bottle Rocket, one that this boy Tom Tomlinson would have to see in the inevitable trajectory of our relationship. After all, I owned the poster for it since I was 16. And I had it on Dub Video Dub and VHS and if those didn’t work, I could just recite the film for him. Or do a damm good Owen Wilson impression, one that I haven’t stopped doing my whole life. I dodged the Massachusets accent, but the Owen Wilson drawl is a real problem.
2. Soltero “Fight Song For True Love”–This is a funny song since his voice sounds so old, tired, and wizened, but he’s talking about being a wuss at a protest, afraid of “Boston’s finest” police, admiring the brave girl he loves. It is obviously a brave metaphor for what will be our future relationship, where I am brave and in love and you, Tom Tomlinson, can only admire it. Gentle reader, if you want to read the secret history of all 21 songs through this admittedly indulgent exercise there’s more here:
3. Robyn “Konichiwa Bitches” Ah, yes, off the hot new album being released in the states THIS DECEMBER! Possibly the finest white-girl Swedish rapping ever, mostly because of the tinny video game sounds making her adorable little voice sound cool.
4. Art Brut “Good Weekend” Okay, this was slightly before people knew about this band in the states. So there was a one-two punch going here: cool new band, hilariously straight forward song about the exhilarating start of a relationship. Is putting this song on a mix totally cliche now? Is it like someone preaching the benefits of The Secret (tm Oprah) because they want to write their own reality?
5. The Walkmen “There Goes My Baby” A cool band (circa 2005–dudes, my how have you lost momentum with that crap last album and listless live show) doing a cover. A cover of a 50s song, and it really sounds perfect. I still love Bows and Arrows, too.
6. TV On The Radio “Mr. Grieves” A cool band doing a cover of what was and can still be the coolest band ever. And it’s acapella barbershop w/ just Tunde’s vocals. I think it was a secret track off an early ep? You should put this on your mix tapes too. It says a lot.
7. Grizzly Bear “Don’t Ask” For these next two songs, let’s go to the Flight Of The Conchords, “Think about it.” You know the part of the song where they sing “this is where we break it down–ooh–this is where we break it down–aah?”
This is “This is where we break it down–ooh”
8. Dirty Three + Cat Power–I forget the title
“This is where we break it down–aah”
9. Built To Spill “Big Dipper”
And here, I take the Conchords’ advice: “We’re building it up now!”
Also, this is a pretty classic song about being a twentysomething slacker, and it’s beautiful: “Jack thought it twice and thought that that that made it true.” Perfect. There’s some writing on this album that I wish I could steal, generally, when writing. I feel like it’s very hard to get a handle on writing about that crap age of being in your early twenties, when you’re poor and you don’t know what you’re doing or why the world is there. Sometimes songs (and Jessica Abel’s old ArtGirl comics) get that feeling of that age across better than books or film, which have too much space to wend down into maudlin cliches. Good on you, Mr. Doug from Built To Spill!
10. Okkervil River “Westfall”
Of course this goes on the mix. It’s the first band we saw live together, where we stood in front of the newspaper critics and they talked through the whole set. I was mesmerized and I didn’t know Okkervil River’s stuff that well at the time. You even gave me a ride home to the suburbs and we finally kissed while a hardcore tape played. As if it could ever be our song!
I ended up dating the other boy who I was seeing at the time, a boy who gave me a ride only part-way home to the next suburb over, because he had to rush get back to his other state for a performance. I stood in the rain by a Dunkin Donuts and called for a ride home from my dad. I was catcalled by students nearby my old high school and there was a troupe of bikers on motorcycles across the way. My dad was pissed. This boy called Okkervil River “music that girls would like.” I always thought that you understood Will Sheff’s sexy menace, Tom, in a way that this boy didn’t.
11. Otis Redding “Tramp”
Because I’m funny. And our relationship would be funny. And this song is a funny description of the male/female tug. Even though the lady’s nagging Otis, he doesn’t mind. He still breaks out into ecstatic whoops and yelps. It’s comforting.
12. Jens Lekman “A Sweet Summer’s Night On Hammer Hill”
One of the best Lekman songs, since he’s sampling a yelling crowd, making his song sound like summer camp and universal.
13. Elliott Smith “St. Ides’ Heaven”
Oh Tom, I’m so edgy and I have layers. I like Elliott Smith songs about being drunk and on drugs and stumbling around town! I know that pain! That’s not the charm of the song, though. Anyone knows how you can be out of your head, looking at the world, slightly above it, understanding everything. Elliott Smith can make me feel like that when he sings about depression. There’s something very human about it and it’s why his music is quite beautiful and uplifting to me.
Really, if you want to talk about music to slit your wrists to, why not do it to Sun Kil Moon (ugh), Amiee Mann (argh!) or Joni Mitchell? The boy I dated instead of you said I wasn’t woman enough for Joni Mitchell. I’m still there, I guess. Something about her voice kills me, makes me uncomfortable.
14. Ted Leo “Bridges/Squares”
One of the best songs about living in Cambridge that I’ve ever heard.
15. Jonathan Richman + The Modern Lovers “Fly Into The Mystery”
Continuing the theme: one of the best songs about walking around in the Boston area, but that’s Jonathan when he’s on for you.
16. Nicolai Dunger “Me, Ray, and JR”
A mix faux pas–but I hope you don’t notice! A second helping of Nicolai Dunger’s voice, but the Swede’s singing a creaky blues about Jonathan Richman, calling him “Yonathan Richman,” and it’s really endearing.
17. Will Oldham “Ignition (live)”–off the superwolf tour, maybe?
And another cheesy mix-link–the producer on the last song was Will Oldham, so naturally we go to the weird, lengthy, redneck take of “Ignition.” Who knew that Oldham would be in Trapped In The Closet years later?
18. Aretha “The Weight”
Pretty much one of my favorite songs, and one of my favorite versions of it!
19. Magnetic Fields “The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side”
Ditto. This song is particularly undeniable. Because the singer isn’t much to look at, but keeps his car for this one moment? It’s a pean for the hopeless lovers, the undeniable romantics, and it sounds like heaven. One of my favorite songs.
20. Giant Drag “Wichita”
Start the fade out with a sexy, guitar heavy pop song off the Giant Drag cd. It’s lazy to call it a girl doing her best My Bloody Valentine, but there’s something like that there.
21. M.I.A. over “Big Pimpin,” off “Piracy Equals Terrorism” and alas, I cannot remember the name!
And this, of course, was a coda just to remind you that I was quite the hip, winnable girl at the time. I guess. These days I don’t really listen to M.I.A. She doesn’t keep my attention. I like the fact that she’s been giving feminist interviews to the likes of pitchfork, but other than that I’m not particularly supportive of the crazy mixed messages and politics in her art. But at the time, Tom, remember, I was hip!
And perhaps that’s why Tom and I didn’t get together. In some ways, I was overly concerned with how I was coming across to him, fronting so hard. At the time, I was living with my parents and making some amount of money as a music critic, which in a way was what I always wanted to do, but also showed an incredible poverty of imagination on my part. So I carefully curated the perfect mix and failed in the execution. Tom was fresh out of a relationship and I went with the guy who didn’t even drop me off at my house. But the latter was a dj, and I learned my lesson about musicians, particularly musicians when you are a female trying to get paid for writing about music, and here we are today.
I’m not dating a musician.
I’m very happy.