A Song That Makes You Fall Asleep: ‘And So It Goes,’ Billy Joel (1989)

Maybe I’ll finish this “30 Day” song challenge before I die. 50/50 chance. Since it’s been a minute, I thought it wise to revisit the first nine spots on this challenge:

And now I see why my activity came to a screeching halt. “A Song That Makes You Fall Asleep?” Really? First of all, I can rarely nod off in 4-ish minutes. Secondly, isn’t this sort of a back-handed compliment? So I’m going rogue and choosing to believe this means a song during which I feel peaceful. Serene. Ready for Shavasana.

Admittedly I didn’t think about this long and hard, and perhaps I could come up with a better answer if I did. But the first song that popped into my head was “And So It Goes,” the last track on Billy Joel’s 1989 album Storm Front, although I’ve read he wrote it several years before that (about an apparently rocky relationship with Elle Macpherson. Ehhh? Always with the younger gals, hashtag KATIE LEE .)

Anyway. The lyrics are certainly melancholy and the melody, though technically in a major key, is laden with heavy sadness. It’s spare, needing nothing but a single piano track and Billy’s baritone at its most vulnerable.

And yet … not that simple.

In my days as a mediocre piano player, I purchased the sheet music for the Storm Front album and learned to play this track as written. But sheet music can’t capture the stutter-step hesitation of the chord progression that no metronome can contain. Joel’s inarguably a master at the keys, as evidenced by “Angry Young Man” and other showcases, but nuanced pieces such as “And So It Goes” also demonstrate his virtuosity.

Joel isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and infuse real depth into his lyrics, no matter the subject (“We Didn’t Start the Fire” notwithstanding). The vulnerability captured in this 3:53 track is no exception. “You can have this heart to break.” So basic, so poignant.

But does it make me sleepy? No. Namaste.


A Song That You Can Dance To: “Kiss Me Deadly,” Lita Ford (1988)

‘Day 9’ of the 30-Day Song Challenge, which is taking me a solid two years to complete. Here’s the deal. I don’t dance. I’m not good at it, I typically don’t enjoy it. It’s in the genes. My parents met on a blind date AT a dance and quickly bonded over the fact they didn’t like dancing. My Dad and I opted against a father-daughter dance when I got married.

Cause your friends love dancing, and if they love dancing, well … they’re no friends of mine.

Song I like to dance to

What happens when I darken a dance floor.

But I do love music, and occasionally, the rhythm is gonna get me, and my toe will start tapping. And yet, I couldn’t point to a song that I will ALWAYS dance to. A song I’d beg a wedding (or club) DJ to play. (Note: I haven’t been in a “club” in at least eight years.) I thought about it my entire commute home, and came up with a slightly bizarre answer: “Kiss Me Deadly,” the biggest (only) solo hit for former Runaway Lita Ford.

My third year of college, I lived in my sorority house.  Correction: I lived in the annex behind my sorority house, in a roughly 450-square foot, two-level mini-house with two other girls. The toilet was in its own room upstairs, the sink attached to the wall in the upstairs bedroom, and the shower downstairs. It was messy (my fault), drafty, and cramped, but pretty wonderful all the same. And before going out, as part of our “pregaming” ritual before such a term existed, my roommates and I would dance to a handful of songs: “We Are the World” (more of a singing-into-hairbrushes number); “Rhythm of the Night,” “Iesha,” and, yes, “Kiss Me Deadly.”  It strikes me that these songs, considered “oldies” then, were no more than 10 years old.  Essentially, the equivalent of “Since U Been Gone” or “Hollaback Girl” today.


I digress … back to Lita.

The 1988 song about being reckless, broke, and sexy ran up the charts as hair-metal was hitting its prime. Skid Row, GnR, Poison, Whitesnake … it was a glorious time (a time I’ve mentally revisited twice now in as many days). And in addition to it being one of the only female additions to the genre (and far superior to Vixen), the song sort of has everything.

Accelerating tempos. Syncopation.  Ample opportunities for air guitar. Even more opportunities to shuffle around angrily like John Bender in The Breakfast Club. Lyrics about (not) getting “laid,” for God’s sake.  So scandalous!   And, of course, a key change right into the closing vocal.

You know I like dancing with you, Lita. As it turns out.

A Song You Know All the Words To: ‘Baby Got Back,’ Sir Mix-a-Lot (1992)

‘Day 8’ of the 30-‘Day’ Music Challenge. While the previous entry left me stumped for even one viable choice, this task is tricky for the direct opposite reason, because there are so many songs to choose from. I’ve been a music fan since before I knew what that meant, toe-tapping along in the back of my Mom’s Dodge Dart. Toss in an aspiring karaoke ‘career,’ and I dare say there are tens, if not hundreds, of ditties I know every word to. ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ is embarrassingly among them, partly because I did a 10th-grade extra-credit project defining all the references, partly because I considered it a personal challenge.

Karaoke 5 (Ole)

Thug Life.

But the one I’ll focus on today is ‘Baby Got Back,’ and I’m focusing on it for a karaoke-related reason. Back when I first picked up the mic, the trend of preppy white chicks doing rap/hip-hop/what-have-you hadn’t really reached critical mass. At least not in my then-home of Cincinnati. So when I would take the stage — in a pink button-down and khaki capris –and attempt ‘Bust a Move,’ ‘Shoop,’ or ‘O.P.P.,’ it was taken as amusing and (occasionally, if I enunciated properly) entertaining.

But my piece de resistance now and forevermore — until I learn ‘Empire State of Mind,’ anyway — is ‘Baby Got Back.’ It’s kitschy but respectable, it’s hard enough that it can impress karaoke goers, and it has some truly iconic phrases contained therein. ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns, hon.’ ‘Red beans and rice didn’t miss her.’ And my favorite, ‘I’ll keep my women like Flo Jo,’ at which point one needs to flash a quick somber expression to acknowledge the Olympian’s premature passing.  Pour one out.

Anyway, what was most fun about this number was not the relentless bass line or the tongue-in-cheek bridge, but the fact that I knew all the words. Perhaps this poetry was burned into my brain from senior year of high school, it’s unclear. But the end result was that a karaoke performance could be rendered more ‘impressive,’ whatever that means in the karaoke context.  My signature move was to stand in FRONT of the karaoke-word screen, thereby proving I was legit and didn’t need no stinking lyrics crutch.

This has unfortunately ruined future rap attempts for me, because I insist on learning every word to any spoken-word piece I want to attempt, lest I look like I am reliant upon the screen.  Which, by the way, is a big part of karaoke, so I’m not sure why I (or anyone) cares.

Anyway, Mr. Mix-a-Lot, you seem like a pretty cool dude, and I’m proud to have performed your  iconic tune in at least five states (Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland) and probably more than 10 dozen times over the 15-plus years it’s been in my repertoire.  Thanks for making it so catchy … and so memorable.

Scene by Scene: “The Princess Bride” (1987)

Since its release, Rob Reiner’s fairly tale spoof The Princess Bride has gone from cult classic to one of the most beloved films of its generation. Which scenes make it tick? Rating each section on a scale of 1 to 10:

A Kissing Book (00:00) 7/10 The opening cough and Hardball! video game play with the audience expectations generated by the title card, hinting at the fantasy trope subversions to come. Fred Savage’s jaded kid pre-empts audience criticism by whining about the love story opening so unattractively that the audience feels subconsciously compelled to defend the story, on grounds of its lush cinematography, if not its overwrought, digest-form romance.

Three Lost Circus Performers (7:15) 8/10 Wallace Shawn, publishing scion and occasional character actor, shrieks so broadly as to clue even the youngest viewers in that they are watching a send-up, a Fractured Fairy Tale which one can enjoy in proportion to one’s familiarity with the original material which it parodies. The clear switch from location shooting to soundstage encourages us to see the work as a play.

A Damper on Our Relationship (17:20) 10/10 Is this the greatest swordplay choreography in the history of cinema, or merely the greatest comic swordplay? The Man in Black’s dry wit verbally fences just as spryly with Mandy Patinkin’s unexpectedly laconic sword-for-hire, with a final result somewhere between Buster Keaton and Woody Allen.

I Don’t Even Exercise (25:04) 7/10 Thanks to Andre Roussimoff’s gigantism-induced mushmouth, I couldn’t understand half his lines in the pre-subtitle era, but slapstick comedy comes through in any language.

Never Get involved in a Land War in Asia (29:30) 9/10 Shawn’s improbably confident Sicilian again steals the battle of wits, right up to the moment when, well, you know.

You’re Only Saying That Because No One Ever Has (39:00) 5/10 Despite the stagey perils of the Fire Swamp, the helpless waif and unflappable swashbuckler are less fun alone together than when playing straight man/woman to the zanier characters from whom they are temporarily separated.

If You Haven’t Got Your Health (50:24) 4/10 The films’ emotional nadir is also its least memorable section; torture never makes for entertaining viewing, only for setting up a cathartic rescue.

Mostly Dead (60:30) 9/10
Manic Miracle Max improvs, a compassionately shrewish wife, and a chocolate-covered pill bring the story back up to speed in time for the final act.

Storming the Castle (74:31) 7/10 What’s a holocaust cloak? Who cares? The lisping clergyman and doddering king remind us: all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good to be a moron, but thankfully more competent heroes know when and how to threaten dismemberment.

Prepare to Die (81:28) 9/10 Ah yes, I knew we had some catharsis around here somewhere. In fine heroic fashion, the knife in the belly is all but forgotten ten minutes later.

I Knew He Was Bluffing (87:23) 6/10 A quiet denouement; the once-skeptical boy’s shy request for a repeat performance gives voice to the audience’s approval of the film. The sitcom style “greatest hits” closing credits satisfy that wish to see it again.

P.S. I don’t know that the book is better than the movie, but it does help plug some of the “But what about…” questions raised by William Goldman’s Cliff Notes style adaptation of his own novel, which in turn claims to be “the good parts” of a still larger work. Cut, and cut some more: a lesson many recent movies should have learned in the editing suite.

I Predict a ‘Riot’

One of the things my boyfriend Ryan and I share is a love of music. He’s better at learning about new stuff, I’m better about talking about old stuff (e.g. 80% of this blog). I like to over-analyze lyrics, while he patiently listens; he likes to build spreadsheets of his ‘dream’ music-festival lineup, which I review in quiet bemusement and admiration.

This summer, we’re headed to three music festivals.  Lollapalooza (Day One only, where I hope to see Interpol, AFI, and six minutes of Eminem); LouFest (in my hometown, where we’ll hopefully see Arctic Monkeys, Matt & Kim, Cake, and/or Outkast); and Riot Fest.


Now, both of our musical tastes tend toward the ‘alternative’ side — whatever that means anymore — but his is more on the ‘folk’ end of the spectrum (Mumford & Sons, Lumineers) while I’m on the ‘punk’ side of things (Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, the aforementioned AFI).  All of the scare quotes are being employed, by the way, because none of these designations mean anything these days anyway. Only one thing is certain — Rihanna will always be terrible.

ANYWAY. Riot Fest really tends toward the ‘punk’ side of things. It’s also geared toward folks who graduated high school between, say, 1985 and 1990, so the crowd is a touch older than me and therefore [a touch + six years] older than Ryan. But it’s in beautiful Humboldt Park, in mid-September, and the lineup includes not only The Cure, Jane’s Addiction, and Cheap Trick, but also Slayer (!), GWAR (!) and Pussy Riot, so I’m thinking we’ll have to go to at least two of the three days.

Although it’s more than three months from now, we are already strategizing. One night, we sat down and plotted our ‘must sees’ versus our ‘Ehhhhhhh … might be fun to sees.’ Columns one and columns two, respectively.  ‘Should we rank both lists?’ Ryan asks. ‘No, just the first one, I think,’ I reply. And this is what we were left with.

Here is Ryan’s:

Ryan's Riot Fest Wants

Here is mine:

Beth's Riot Fest Wants

One, I realize another thing we have in common is atrocious handwriting (and mine’s worse, which is really unforgivable, considering I’m of the fairer sex).  Two, he has but one band on his ‘must’ list … I have 11 (with all apologies to the Might Might Bosstones, who apparently got downgraded).  At least one of my 11 is Weezer!  And this is basically a reversal of our LouFest lists, where I really only care about Cake, and he has taken to calling it ‘RyanFest,’ because he’s so excited about what it’s offering.

Well, we are learning from each other. He’s teaching me about The 1975 and Wild Cub, and perhaps I will introduce him to Thurston Moore and Cheap Trick.  Win win?

A Song That Reminds You of an Event …

Task 7 on the “30” Day Music Challenge … a song that reminds you of an event.

There’s been a complete unintended hiatus from the ole Neurotic City, because I’ve been trying to think of something for this for weeks. I have rarely struggled with writer’s block more, and I’ve had some bouts, believe you me.  What constitutes an ‘event,’ really?  Does it need to be something life-altering, like a wedding … or a death?

Can it be something fleeting and trivial, such as that one time I heard Miley Cyrus’ ‘See You Again’ in an H&M in Atlanta and noted with bemusement that every world-weary hipster in the place was singing along?

Or is it those collection of songs I heard non-stop in March 2001 when recovering from the flu on my couch and glued to MTV2?  (Which, oddly enough, STILL SHOWED VIDEOS then.)  Those were, if anyone cares, Lifehouse’s ‘Hanging By a Moment,’ Nelly Furtado’s ‘I’m Like a Bird,’ and Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Movies.’

The bf said his might be something that reminded him of a concert.  I openly mocked him, saying that’s akin to writing that “Gimme Shelter” reminds me of someone, and that someone is Mick Jagger. (Unless, I guess, the mental connection is not directly linear … Foo Fighters’ ‘Everlong’ reminds me of that time I saw the Foo Fighters is different — and therefore less allowed/excusable — than Food Fighters’ ‘Everlong’ reminds me of that one time I was at an Elton John concert, because I heard it on a loop while waiting to get out of the parking lot for 50 minutes.) Whatever, I’m a jerk.

Alice CooperI do associate a handful of late-1989 songs with a particular event of sorts. I was in a play — a musical (!) version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream — and as became my lot in life throughout my high school musical ‘career,’ I had a super tiny role.  (This, after winning ‘Best Actress’ in the 8th grade for my star-making turn as a hillbilly infested with fleas!  But that’s a story for another day.)

ANYWAY, my super tiny role kept me firmly hidden backstage where I belonged. I gossiped with fellow ‘actors,’ drank Diet Dr. Pepper, and — when there was nothing else to do — listened to the ‘Open House Party’ broadcast on my Walkman radio.  The description of this is better JFG’d, but suffice to say it was a syndicated weekend-night radio program for immature and friendless dumb-dumbs.  During the two-week Midsummer run, I frequently heard: ‘Love Shack’ (B-52’s), ‘Poison’ (Alice Cooper), and ‘Pump Up the Jam’ (Technotronic). Hey, at least OHP had all bases covered, from New Wave to Pseudo-Metal to ‘Dance.’  So to this day, when I hear any of these, I picture my 15-year-old bespectacled self, sitting cross-legged on a dirty linoleum floor, halfway enjoying the songs that would define my sophomore year. Btw, ‘Love Shack’ is terrible.  Among the band’s worst, and such a pity that it’s also their most famous.

Thanks for letting me ramble. I hope Day 8 is a bit more cohesive.


A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1993)

Task 6 on the “30” Day Music Challenge — A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere.

Y’all, I really wanted to have a better answer. I really tried. I even used the Jack Donaghy method and tried to capitalize on my most reliable period of uninterrupted thought (in the shower). I wanted to think of a song that reminded me of the hammock in my grandmother’s backyard. Or the park that hosted water balloon fights between me and my eighth-grade besties. Even, I don’t know, a song that sparks distinct memories of the halls of my high school, the Chicago Board of Trade, or the interior of my first car.

Dancing at Lebo's, California, Ohio

Pretty Much Sums it Up.

But, alas, I just kept coming back to Lebo’s. Lebo’s — located less than 10 miles east of downtown Cincinnati in the town of California, Ohio — is a large, barn-shaped bar soaked to its very core with hops, sweat, and the cast-off fat from chicken fingers and mini egg rolls. It’s the best kind of dive, that attracts all matter of clientele. Softball players stopping in for a pitcher or six of Miller Lite. Accountants from downtown hoping to slum it in ironic fashion. The elderly. You know.

There were a host of ‘regulars’ there that would treat the crowd to their ‘regular’ song (some of which I heard for the first time in this setting).  Fifty-something buddies Chris and Dave T., who would harmonize on Tommy James’ ‘Draggin’ the Line‘  before moving on to their standard solo selections, as well. (Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah‘ and Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525,’ respectively. The former is far more entertaining, and slightly less apocalyptic, than the latter.)  There was Brian-Austin-Green doppelgänger Todd, who would sing ‘The Chanukah Song‘ no matter the season.  Two preppy white chicks who shall remain nameless that would always insist on making the country-music-loving folks listen to ‘Baby Got Back.’

When I was a willing and frequent participant on Cincinnati’s karaoke circuit, Lebo’s was my Friday-night stop. And each week, the karaoke jockey, who looked like a cross between a standard schnauzer and Floyd from the Muppets, would open the stage with ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance.’ He wasn’t technically good, per se, but you don’t have to be to sing this one (or any Tom Petty classic, really).  There is a lot of spoken-word posing as singing, a few fun ‘Oh, hell yes’ opportunities, and the automatic visual association of a not-quite-dead-yet Kim Basinger. Did we wish he would ever mix things up a bit, try something new?  Perhaps, but then it wouldn’t have been Lebo’s.