FFWDing to the Best Part: “Kid Fears,” Indigo Girls (1989)

Been awhile. But I was inspired by one of my favorite new podcasts, Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs (MASTAS) to revisit the inaugural (major label) work of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, the self-titled Indigo Girls album. (Strange Fire technically came out first, but no one was really paying attention.)

When this record was released, I was a freshman at an all-girls’ school, living in the southeast U.S., a mere 3 hours from Athens, Georgia, out of which R.E.M. and the B-52’s had already come and in which a slew of folksy acts was incubating. (In addition to the Girls, Widespread Panic, Matthew Sweet,  Drive-By Truckers, the confounding Neutral Milk Hotel, and many other acts found their start here.) And still, I had to find out about this act from dear old Dad. Go figure. But no matter.

Everyone knows “Closer to Fine,” of course, and everyone should because it’s darn-near perfect. But I was always slightly more partial to “Kid Fears,” and not because I’m particularly fond of Michael Stipe (I mean, he’s [closer to] fine, but his presence wouldn’t automatically boost a song’s cred in my eyes and ears.)

First, the lyrical motif of the song resonated with me then (stupidly, as my fears in 1989 were of the kid variety) and now: What would you give for your kid fears? Ummm, instead of obsessing about expensive drywall repair, client meetings, and North Korea, I’d stress about having the right clothes from The Limited? Deal.

But as always, it’s the music that really brings this one home, particularly the three-part harmony once Mr. Stipe enters the picture. As a failed high school show choir nerd type (I guess I was a success on the “nerd” front), even when I’m listening to this song alone, I feel like I can only sing my favorite part of the harmony the first go-around; once it refrains, I need to save that part for the nonexistent other people in the car or shower. 

The song is 4:34 in length, and Stipe enters at the 2:30 mark, and from there on out (so nearly half of the song), it’s a vocal tour de force. More than just harmony, it’s a modern-day fugue (round?), with complementary yet distinct lyrical and musical themes. At 2:42, Stipe erupts from mellowness to full-on passion to deliver the “Replace, the rent [which for 25+ years I thought said rain] with the stars above” portion (a/k/a my favorite).

And because Stipe, like a show choir geek himself, wants to spread the wealth, he bumps it to soprano Emily to pick up the “Are you on fire…” baton for the subsequent refrains. If I had to pick the best of the best parts, I’d opt for 3:30 – 3:37, where all three voices collide and culminate into a crescendo, Emily’s pained “the ones that you love, ones that you love” tying a bow on the whole beautiful thing. It continues on from there for a bit to its eerie conclusion.

But I’m rusty. I’m not doing it justice. Just take a listen.


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.


Friday Lyric Quiz, #459 (The Alma Mater Edition)

Though you wouldn’t know it by my youthful exuberance, I’m rounding out my 30s. In fact, this year (specifically, today) I’m headed to my 20-year high school reunion. I spent ninth through twelfth grade at an all-girls’ school in Chattanooga, Tennessee after being transplanted from my hometown in Southern Illinois.

It was a bit of  a shock to the system. I didn’t understand why no one else had a Dukakis/Bentsen sticker on their locker.

My senior photoAnd yet, I found my groove, made some good friends and connections, and have almost entirely fond memories. There were only 91 ladies in my graduating class, so we all sort of know each other. Some I’ve kept in close contact with and others haven’t seen me since I looked like the attached photo.

What I do know is that I have better hair now. Marginally better musical taste. And that now, we are all of legal drinking age.

I’ll report back on the goings-on sometime next week. Until then, enjoy these 10 cuts from my graduating year — 1992 — when colored denim was in, political campaigns were revving to a fever pitch, and people couldn’t stop talking about Whitney Houston. So I guess not much has changed.

Friday Lyric Quiz #459 [scroll down for answers to last week’s quiz]

1. “Then you’ll know how it was meant to be, see the signs and know their meaning.”

2. “But now you’ve come along and brightened up my world, in my heart I feel it, I’m that special kind of girl.”

3. “But a v8 engine is a good start for me. Think I’ll drive to find a place, to be surly.”

4. “Although I am black and proud, problems got me pessimistic.”

5. “I’m living in an empty room, with all the windows smashed.”

6. “I’m your average ordinary everyday dude, drivin’ with my baby, to get her in the mood.”

7. “People try to say I act a little funny, but that’s just a figure of speech to me.”

8. “And I’ll take with me the memories to be my sunshine after the rain.”

9.  “She sees my good deeds and she kisses me windy.”

10. “Time can break your heart, have you begging please … begging please.”

Answers to Friday Lyric Quiz #458

1. “I took her out, it was a Friday night, I wore cologne, to get the feeling right.” (late 90s)
What’s My Age Again, blink-182

2. “Friday night, I’m going nowhere, all the lights are changing green to red.” (early 2000s)
Babylon, David Gray

3. “Oh Lawdy mama, those Friday nights, when Suzie wore her dresses tight.” (early 70s)
Crocodile Rock, Elton John

4. “Think I need a ginger ale, that was such an epic fail.” (early 2010s)
Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.), Katy Perry

5. “Friday night we’ll dance the spotlight grind, stop time heart for me if she’s not mine.” (early 80s)
Freeze Frame, J. Geils Band

6. “7:45, we’re drivin’ down the highway, cruisin’ so fast, I want time to fly.” (early 2010s)
Friday, Rebecca Black

7. “Throwing out your frown, and just smiling at the sound.” (early 90s)
Friday, I’m in Love, The Cure

8. “It’s Friday night and she’s all alone, he’s a million miles away.” (early 2000s)
Flavor of the Weak, American Hi-Fi

9.  “It’s Friday night, and I feel all right, the party is here on the West side.” (mid-90s)
This is How We Do It, Montell Jordan

10. “Friday night arrives without a suitcase.” (late 60s)
Lady Madonna, The Beatles

Sting Concert, Old Friendships, and More (In Which I Daydream About Lyrics)

One of my oldest friends, Sendil, had a quick trip to Chicago this weekend, his new lady-friend in tow. Sendil and I go way back – more than two decades – here’s proof!  That’s him, far left, with the Members Only jacket.  Forgivable for 1991.  I’m in the middle, rocking the too-big suede jacket and overly curled mushroom haircut.  Not as forgivable. Nor is the alien/phallic/Halloween-themed-in-September balloon hat rising out of the background.

Oh, the 90s

Here we are, older, wiser, and more attractive (even in workout gear), running the Chicago Gay Pride 5K in June.  (Sendil isn’t gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I don’t want to crush his game unnecessarily).

The combination of Sendil’s visit and the main event of the weekend – an amazing, musically progressive Sting concert – got me thinking about the power a songwriter can wield over the object of his or her affection.  Seriously, what lady wouldn’t like to be told that ‘Every little thing [you do] is magic?’

Sendil – always purely a platonic friend – is the only guy to have ever serenaded me. But to be clear, it was at a high-school talent show, I was pulled up on stage with no warning (while wearing a tucked-in flannel and jean skirt, as I recall), and the song directed my way was ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s ‘Good Enough for Now,’ which features such lyrics as:

You’re pretty close to what I’ve always hoped for
That’s why my love for you is fairly strong
And I swear I’m never gonna leave you, darlin’
At least ’til something better comes along

‘Cause you’re sort of everything I ever wanted
You’re not perfect, but I love you anyhow
You’re the woman that I’ve always dreamed of
Well, not really…but you’re good enough for now

Still, it was nice just to be included.

While every girl dreams of being serenaded (like, for real), only the rare and the proud ever reach that utmost pinnacle of rock-and-roll legend: the songwriting muse. Pattie Boyd. Dave Coulier. Pattie BoydWarren Beatty or whoever. Rosanna Arquette. Pattie Boyd. Damn, girl.

Note that the songs written for women are earnest and sweet (save the hints of sarcasm in ‘Wonderful Tonight.’)  ‘You Oughta Know’ and ‘You’re So Vain,’ however? Skew heavily toward the bitterness side of the scale. Ladies be crazy.

Other than perhaps a mean-spirited parody or two in fifth grade, I must say I don’t think a song has ever been written about me.  But here are a few lines I wish had been:

Dizzy, Goo Goo Dolls

You’re cynical and beautiful
You always make a scene
You’re monochrome, delerious
You’re nothing that you seem
I’m drownin’ in your vanity
Your laugh is a disease
You’re dirty and you’re sweet
You know you’re everything to me

This isn’t even that complimentary.  Cynical, vain, unpredictable, potentially misleading.  And yet the stanza wraps with a “you’re everything to me” despite it all.

Rio, Duran Duran

You know you’re something special
And you look like you’re the best 

So she’s confident, right? The titular heroine of the song already knows she is one of many special things but the singer assures her that she is, in fact the best.

Ain’t That Unusual, Goo Goo Dolls

See I’d love to be you 
‘Cause at least then I’d see you 

Yes, another GGD song.  It’s a sickness. Probably because singer/songwriter Johnny Rzeznik and I were BFFs for about nine seconds once:

This line is so gut-wrenchingly pathetic that you just have to laugh. And then cry. And then curl up in the fetal position with a bag of pita chips.

Love Song, The Cure 

Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am fun again

Was Robert Smith ever fun, really? Still a sweet sentiment.

Ladies (and gents), what song lyric do you like to pretend was penned about you?  I’m really hoping here that no one quotes ‘The Purple People Eater.’

Duh, It’s Like a Famous Quote (In Which a 16-Year-Old Movie Makes a Daily Appearance)

So… Clueless is probably my favorite movie.  Of course, there are movies that are more cerebral, more groundbreaking, and more visually stunning, but judged on the simple basis of staying power and pure joy it elicits, I’ve gotta hand it to Alicia Silverstone and her minions.  Collectively or apart, they are just delightful… period.

I’ve recently discovered something about myself – I will quote this movie, on average, once per DAY. Without trying. These quotes come forth organically.  And I don’t mean something as commonplace as “As if!” or “Whatever…” I am consistently spouting phrases that are recognizable as Clueless quotes. Assuming my listening audience is at least 25% as intimately familiar with the movie as I.

Yesterday’s quote, as I unwrapped a new purchase from Zappos? “It’s a dress(!),” with an air of sweet defensiveness. The day before, as someone asked if male team member Kelly was ever confused (on paper) for a female? “Billie Holliday? I love him,” I paraphrased.  “Wow, you guys talk like grown-ups” has been used more than once. And I have definitely reminded people that “It does not say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty.” (Even though I’d never attend a party she was throwing).

So what is it about this 1995 fluffy summer flick that leaves such a legacy? The smart, clever, quick, dialogue from Amy Heckerling (who directed the similarly iconic Fast Times at Ridgemont High), for starters. The Austenian roots. The rotating series of fabulous outfits, my favorite of which is the pink tunic, plaid leggings, and wide pink headband that Cher wears to Travis’ skateboarding competition (spoiler alert?) Mmm … Starbucks product placement.

Let’s not discount a fresh-faced Paul Rudd in his pre-Apatow career, charming up the joint? But most indelible is the spot-on performance from Alicia Silverstone, who somehow makes the character of a gorgeous and spoiled teen seem sympathetic and immensely likable. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again… this gal should have Witherspoon or Jolie levels of success. She’s ready for her close-up (and you heard it here first). Thank God to Stephen Tyler for bringing her into our collective consciousness.

Finally, it’s a reminder of a simpler time.  A portrait of largely innocent high-schoolers, optimistic, engaged with life, and unsullied by the trappings of whatever killed Tai Frasier at 32 years old. I saw it in the theater for a simpler time myself … I was still in college, life loomed large ahead of me, and my best friends that summer were my brother and his best friend. Sometimes it’s a fun escape to sink back into the world of Cher, Dion, Murray, Christian, and the rest, and remember a world when your biggest tragedy is being a virgin who can’t drive.

In closing, what-ever. What’s your favorite Clueless quote?