Is “Semi-Charmed Life” The Best Pop Song Ever Written?

Yes.

Oh, you wanted a whole post about this? I don’t know if I can manage that, but how about a top ten reasons list? Wait, you’re sick of numbered lists? Bullet points it is! Here’s why Third Eye Blind’s “Semi Charmed Life” is the best pop song ever written.

  • You know this song, at least peripherally. That’s how great pop music works: everyone who was around when it was released is familiar with it.
  • This song is about drug addiction, overdosing, and oral sex, but you probably didn’t know that. That’s also how great pop music works: the song is so good you bop along with your mom and dad to a radio spewing intimate details about blow jobs and crystal meth.
  • It dates itself just enough to feel 90s (see lyrics “velvet dress” and the poppy grunge sound of the guitars) but not so much you can’t love it in any decade.
  • “Do do do do do do dooooo, do do do do do do dooooooo”
  • There are about three different versions of the song played on the radio not including the versions with various levels of bleeping. I remember when it came out that the pop station “B103.9” of my youth would reverse A LOT of tiny parts of the lyrics to the point that today I still sing “Doing cnvkweroiufsckncdhffhsdkfh til you break IT WON’T STOP!”
  • Did I mention the “dos”?
  • “The four right chords can make me cry” and the song is basically just four chords (like all great pop songs).
  • It starts all at once with this weird little intense drum solo thing and as soon as you hear it you know you’re in for a good fucking time (like I imagine one’s first time on speed might be).
  • The breakdown where it’s all chill and cool which seems to mimic the slow, dreamy, trippy sleep you might slip into when you start coming down.
  • “But I’m not coming down!”
  • This is one of those 90s songs that’s simultaneously sad and happy at once. Even if you don’t know the theme or most of the lyrics, the concept of a “semi-charmed kinda life” is one of those “aww that’s nice…wait” kinda phrases. Stack on top of that the reaching “good-byeeeeeeee”s and sandwich it all between how happy a “do do do” should be, but how strained and almost mocking they sound and you’ve got a good feel-weird hoagie going on.
  • “And I speak to you like the chorus to the verse / Chop another line like a coda with a curse” is pretty fucking great. Any song that’s kinda meta really gets me.
  • DOO DOO FUCKING DOO, BITCH!

 

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Defining Albums

I’ve got this top five albums that I carry around in my heart. They aren’t necessarily my top five desert island albums or the top five albums I think are the pinnacle of what music should be. These are if, say, I needed to explain to someone how the fuck I got this way without my own words, I would just hand them these CDs. That’s a situation I’ll never be in, but guess what, Dear Reader? You’re on my blog, so technically you’re in that situation right now.

These are meaningful to me because of the times in my life when I fell in love with them, and the fact that they can so easily transport me back to how I exactly felt during a listening session. To be fair, Mandy Moore’s “Candy” can do that too, but I’m pretty sure that’s universal.

wallflowersbringingdownthehorseThe Wallflowers, Bringing Down The Horse, 1996

If there’s a theme going forward, it might be “depression.” I don’t know that I was ever clinically depressed, but sadness plays a big role in these picks, and pretty much every song on Bringing Down The Horse is, in a word, bleak. I was eight when it came out, and I think I got the CD when I was nine or ten. That may sound weird, but I grew up watching adult sitcoms and listening to both alternative/pop radio and classic 70s/80s rock, so The Wallflowers, The Verve Pipe, Matchbox Twenty, these were all sort of the backdrop to my childhood alongside Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen. I used to make up supernatural stories to the songs on Bringing Down The Horse, pretty easy when Jakob Dylan’s lyrics are already so prose-y and fantastical, and it sort of paved the way for me to really get into writing more dark and somber stuff. I mean, a pre-teen is probably already on the verge of that anyway, and the images of a boy living in a tower, a girl dying of a broken heart, and a man who can survive disconnecting the wires in his own heart just push you over the edge. Every song is magic, and if you didn’t before, you will absolutely appreciate the existence of the slide guitar after one listen, but of the non-singles, I’d suggest “Josephine” to get a feel for the album as a whole. (Please keep in mind that to a nine year old, the schoolgirl imagery was not weird. As an adult, I find this song…odd, but I don’t think that escaped the band.)

 

green_day_-_american_idiot_coverGreen Day, American Idiot, 2004

The first time I was old enough to cast a ballot for the President of the United States, I had the privilege and the honor to vote for Barack Obama. Everything I felt about this country could be summed up with the title track on this album when I was a teenager, and consequently, it’s probably more accurate now than it was 14 years ago. Beyond a punky middle finger to George W (remember the good ole days when Bush was the bad guy? Now the dude who infamously said well, I can’t pick just one, is the voice of reason!), there’s this sad, angry, trippy story about finding yourself and your place in a fucked up world on this album, and that’s what a lot of teenagers deal with. Sadly, the story itself ends with the protagonist giving up, so I was never keen on the last couple parts, but I like to think that just because he gives up on Whatshername doesn’t mean that Whatshername ever gave up fighting the good fight. The album is also incredibly theatrical (they did adapt it for the stage, after all) and loud and in your face. Basically a lot of things I wasn’t but desperately wanted to be. “St Jimmy” is one of the most fun, scream at the top of your lungs with your tongue sticking out songs:

 

the_killers_-_sam27s_townThe Killers, Sam’s Town, 2006

I used to say The Killers was my favorite band, but I realized that it’s actually just that they made one of my favorite records because they change pretty drastically from album to album. There are a lot of songs on their B-sides release, Sawdust, that I really like, but you can tell those songs were the ones that didn’t make it onto Hot Fuss because they belonged on Sam’s Town but ended up on Sam’s Town‘s cutting room floor. (A little detour here, but “All These Things That I’ve Done” is probably The Killers’ best song, but it’s weirdly on Hot Fuss despite the very clear Sam’s Town vibes it gives off, though it might be too hopeful and cymbal-crash-y for the latter. Okay, I’m done!) Again, there are a lot of story-telling songs, but the focus here is faith and in the mid 2000s that’s what I was struggling with too. Who am I, what’s my role in the world, what does God (yeah, big G) want me to do? All that bullshit. I also got interested in my mom’s life when she was growing up as I got closer to the age she was when she had me, thinking “I could never have a baby right now,” and curious about my biological father, and Brandon Flowers explores similar ideas in a lot of these tracks. “For Reasons Unknown” spoke to me on a primal level, and “Read My Mind” was basically the soundtrack to my struggle with sexuality. I don’t know if everyone has experienced this, but you know that thought when you’re driving over the speed limit toward a sharp curve on a country road and you’re like, “You know what, self? You don’t have to turn, you could just, like…keep going straight.” Well, “Why Do I Keep Counting” basically kept me wondering enough about mortality and God and the future to stay out of the ditch and keep my feet on the ground throughout 2008:

 

bat_out_of_hellMeat Loaf, Bat Out Of Hell, 1977

If there’s one album that doesn’t fit in…except it totally does! It’s a rock opera, it tells a story, it’s about finding yourself (though admittedly finding yourself half naked in the backseat, dry-humping a cheerleader), and it’s epic. I think my mom got this on CD when I was around eight, and I’ve been listening to it since. It was always fun, even when it was about heartbreak and death, and it might be what introduced me to the idea of the devil being a pretty cool guy. Like with Bringing Down The Horse, I wrote supernatural stories in my head to this one too, only these were cheesier and self-aware. There were vampires and werewolves and demons and blood pacts and necromancy and, of course, motorcycles, but with bat wings. And all before Twilight! I’m not going to offer you a non-single suggestion because “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” is literal perfection and Ellen Foley is a goddess (that’s not her in the video though):

 

blackparadecoverMy Chemical Romance, The Black Parade, 2006

The Black Parade is a desert island album for me. In fact, if I could only listen to one album for the rest of my life, just one set of songs, it would be this. Why? I wish I fucking knew, honestly. It’s super dramatic, it’s sad and self-loathing, it romanticizes war and cancer and abuse all of which are absolutely not romantic, but it’s also loud, clever, thoughtful, uses “fuck” unabashedly, it is just so much fun. Of course, My Chemical Romance’s popularity wasn’t born out of fun, they rode a wave of emo tears to the top of their genre. I wasn’t a huge fan of their first two albums (but “I’m Not Okay” always does it for me), and I never had scene hair or a lip piercing, but I felt a lot of the things expressed in these songs. Yes, they’re self indulgent, but I don’t think you can really feel an emotion without wallowing in it for at least a little bit. On top of all that, The Black Parade presents music in some of my favorite ways: broadway-esque with vocals that are full of emotion (and also ENUNCIATION), borrowing from other cultures and sounds but making those things sound borderline poppy, orchestral sounds, and lyrics that are angry but also humorous and kinda grotesque and demonic. Or maybe I’m over-analyzing it and it’s all shit, but it doesn’t matter because I love it. So on that note I’ll leave you with one of, if not the, most fucked up songs on the album.

Eulogy

In Billy Joel’s Master Class, he tells the story of explaining to his young daughter what death is. He told her that people never really die, they never really go away. Instead, when you die you go into other people’s hearts, and they take you on their journeys. In this way, no one ever really leaves us.

I really like that idea for the obvious reasons, but also because it’s so much easier to use someone else’s words when you can’t figure out what to say. If you know me you know I love words, but I don’t think I could ever find the right ones to define my grandma’s life. There are a handful that stick out: crafty, musical, hard-working, charitable, loving, but none of these can sum up who she really was.

She tried – emphasis on tried – to teach me to play the piano. My biggest regret, and I think one we all share, was not listening. There are only so many times you can play “Hot Cross Buns,” and only so many times the average person can listen to it, but Grandma wasn’t average. Just like how she never got sick of playing “Für Elise,” Grandma endured listening to us hit the wrong keys over and over because she wanted us to be on the same journey that she was: a quest to always be a better you.

She love music, singing, art, and I think she instilled that passion in all of us. Not necessarily for painting or piano, but she gave us the ability to develop a deep and enduring love for something. She taught us all a lot of things. For example, she taught me key words and phrases in French: bonjour, merci, au revoir, pamplemousse – that one’s grapefruit. She also taught me to call my grandpa “Tony” or “To-neeeee!” But most importantly she taught me to keep learning. The world is full of more than any one person can ever really take in, but it’s our responsibility to try.

Everyone here played a role in my grandma’s life: a caregiver, a friend, a son, a daughter, a husband, and you all gave her things so special, so dear, that they are irreplaceable. There is nothing left we can give to her now that she doesn’t already have in abundance where she is. But there is something we can do, though it may be more for ourselves. Carry my grandma around in your heart, bring her wherever you go, show her the world, take her on your journey, because she would want to see you keep learning, and she would never want to stop.

grandma

The Sportball We

I love language. The trivialities of linguistics, the odd words we use, how simple semantics can change entire meanings, dialects, colloquialisms: it’s all awesome (except, I admit, there are some accents that I hate, but that’s a whole other thing). English is remarkably complex and word-wealthy, borrowing from so many other languages and spreading across the whole globe, that there are practically no rules in English that aren’t at some point broken yet still considered correct, and just when you think “okay, this thing is a rule and there’s only this one exception”–BAM something else hits you in the face!

But I think I’ve come across something wholly unique in the English language, and I am fucking pumped. I have come to affectionately deem it “The Sportball We,” and, Dear Reader, I would love to explain, especially since it’s about to be the Super Bowl.

The Sportball We is something that we all are familiar with, but it hides in plain sight (hearing?), and you’ve probably never given it a second thought. Let me be clear: this is not a rant. I don’t care that people do this; I just find it fucking fascinating. What I am calling The Sportball We is the phenomenon that occurs when a person speaks about a sports team as if they are part of that team despite it being understood by everyone that they are, in fact, not a player of or other peripheral teammate to, that team. Example:

Did you see the Lightning game last night?

Yeah, we really crushed the Canucks!

or

Do you think we’ll make it to the Super Bowl this year?

or

Are you guys getting a new head coach?

Those second two examples are especially interesting since they can be said utilizing The Sportball We as a total replacement for the team name if all the speakers in a conversation know which team the answerer is “part of.”

What is most fascinating about this to me is sports are the only activity or organization that the speaker is not actually a part of yet speaks as if they are. When I tried to find other examples, my mind immediately went to religion and houses of worship. People say “we” when discussing their congregation or religion; however, they actually are part of these things. People are Christians or people belong to and attend a mosque. Sportball We-ers don’t take an active part in the game in the way a Jewish person might actively celebrate Passover, but SBWs do, in some way, take a passive role in sports by being fans.

So I thought, okay, what are other things of which people are fans? Music, of course. But do Beyonce’s fans leave a concert declaring “We totally slayed it on stage!” or ask one another if they’ve seen our new video yet? I don’t think so. Sometimes people refer to a fandom as a whole that they are part of, but that’s the thing: you are part of a fandom as you can take an active role cultivating it, but you’re not part of the band or musician, and music fans have a distinction in their speech that SBWs do not.

The same can be said for people who say “we” about their hometown or their alma mater. Though they might not live there or attend that school anymore, they did at one time, took an active part in living there, and would still be considered a representative of those peoples.

The only thing that seems to come close is when men say “we’re pregnant.” Your buddy Bob at the office is hauling around a fetus and vomiting his guts out as much as he’s tackling Tom Brady on the 30, but at least he actually (probably) had a hand in making it possible for a fetus to eventually exist, and in that way we can kind of parallel conception to being a dedicated sports fan who “helps” their team win. However, there are a lot of people who find the “pregnant we” weird, and almost no one who thinks The Sportball We is bizarre.

In fact, I never thought The Sportball We was weird until I started working in a male-dominated department where sports were discussed in numbers equitable to how children were discussed in my previously female-dominated department, so the language was constantly in my ear. It’s just a part of American culture and language, and that’s kind of cool. There is, of course, a lot that could be said sociologically about patriotism and sports fanaticism, but I’ll leave that to someone else for now. Instead, we can all just marvel at the uniqueness that The Sportball We brings to English.

Also if you think you have another instance of a “we” used in a socially acceptable and understood instance despite the user having no actual, active participation in the activity or organization, leave a comment below, Dear Reader, and I’ll be happy to tell you why you’re wrong.

Good Media

I like to let my brain melt after work, and I’ll watch a lot of YouTube, or I’ll play a TV show I’ve seen a hundred times already in the background as I do some other task like dye my hair, but neither of these things are particularly stimulating. If I’m paying enough attention then yes, The Office can still provide an entertaining and thoughtful 22 minutes, but I watch those shows passively now, and most often the videos I watch on YouTube don’t make me think very much, if at all.

And while that’s perfectly fine, I used to watch television–good television–religiously. I still believe that TV has the best story-telling potential, but my favorite shows came to their necessary conclusions or jumped the shark, and I never picked up anything new. Like what happens to most of us with the music we listened to in our late teens, I got stuck in my own golden era of media and just kind of stalled out.

I don’t think I spend less time consuming now, I just don’t consume much of value, and that’s sad, so I’m resolving to seek out good media as part of my bid to become more creative in 2018. There have been many times when I’ve seen a preview or read a review and thought, “Yes, that’s what I’ll watch/read next!” and then don’t follow through, but the other night I saw a preview for I, Tonya, a Tonya Harding (sort of) mockumentary and decided then and there I had to see it.

I, Tonya was easily one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Maybe part of my love for it is having been starved of new and exciting movies recently, but I doubt that is the sole factor (especially since I just saw The Last Jedi and fell head over heels for that).

Stories that make you rethink what a villain is, like Wicked or even the new Star Wars trilogy, have a special place in my heart. I, Tonya is one of these stories, and it’s beautifully complex. The real villains in I, Tonya are her mother, her ex-husband, and, unexpectedly, but refreshingly, you, the viewer. Highly recommend. A quick warning, though: if you are at all triggered by domestic abuse, you may want to steer clear.

I read a negative review of this movie because I like when other people are wrong, apparently, and the critic said that, “ultimately what gets lost is empathy for whom it matters most: Harding.” If you come out of watching this film without feeling total empathy for Harding, You. Are. Not. Human. Or you don’t know how to critically analyze something, which is rough for a professional analyst.

I’m trying to focus this resolution on all media, not just movies, so I did some digging in modern music as well, and I stumbled on both Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus.

Hear me the fuck out, okay?

I grew up in the age of the CD. An artist released a track on the radio and within a month their album, no, their compact disc came out. The CD was a story, regardless of if that was intended to be, and usually had some kind of overarching voice to it. In the age of the digital album, however, things are a-changin.

And that’s fine, but it’s also frustrating. I fell hardcore in love with Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” and “Wolves” is also pretty good, but as far as I can tell these songs aren’t attached to an album! If you like a song, there is a pretty good chance that the album the song came from will be a hit with you, but here I am with a couple measly singles and a desire to place them into a larger story that doesn’t seem to exist.

Then I found what is basically the exact opposite in Miley Cyrus. So, she had a rough patch, admittedly, but her newest album, Younger Now, and its title track especially are not just divergent of what she was doing, but it’s all stand-out, good pop music. Apparently between the, well, let’s say the “mistake” that was Bangerz and her newest, she released what’s essentially a mixtape, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. It’s touted as psychedelic pop and sprinkled with these really lovely songs that make you feel like you’re floating in space. I guess that’s exactly what psychedelic pop would be, hu? “Karen Don’t Be Sad” is my favorite so far, but I’ve not listened to all of it.

It’s essentially a foil to what Gomez has done in that she released a 23 track concept album for free on the internet. I don’t begrudge Gomez in any way for selling her music, they should all do what they want with their intellectual content, it’s just interesting the different directions each has gone.

This post is probably long enough, but I should also mention I’m reading Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I know I need to read more in general, and this was a good place to start. The book is short and reads very quickly. I’m really enjoying it so far and it’s very dissimilar to what I would normally read, but I’m going to save a more formal review for when I finish the whole trilogy. A film is being made for release this year, but the trailer feels much different than the book so far. An older me would be like “that sucks!” but a new me is looking at it like “this is great, two pieces of media for one!”

It’s funny I started out talking about TV, and then told you, Dear Reader, about all these non-TV things, but that’s the just the thing: I’m looking for something new and exciting, and movies and music can be consumed and moved on from while TV kind of sucks you into a commitment I might not be ready for again. Too soon, TV, too soon!

2018, the year of good media. I hope.

Blogmas: A Show

I think I’m officially an adult, Dear Reader, for, you see, I have been to a Show™. Well, to be fair, I’ve been to see a few live performances in the past, Christmas ones to be exact, but this was different. This time, Dear Reader, I was an adult!

There’s something particularly Christmas-y about getting together with a group of people you care deeply for and going to a venue where you’ll watch real-live people put on a performance. It’s probably the camaraderie, both of your small circle, and then of the greater circle you become part of when you cheer with, laugh with, and dance with a bunch of strangers. The shared sense you get when you’re part of a group or crowd can actually be quite nice. Of course, it can morph into mob mentality, but let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s stay on the lighter side of crowd psychology. Losing a sense of individual responsibility, in a reasonable and ethical way, is really freeing. You laugh as loud as you want, you smile, you dance, you don’t overanalyze, you can just kind of be. This might work on a smaller scale too. Sure, sometimes around groups of people we might act a little more reserved or put on a bit of a persona, but I find that more and more I’m able to be a little sillier, a little more daring, and a little more open when there are others around in ways I never thought I’d be able to before.

So, a Show, as I said. Husband, lovely couple, and I went to see Blue Man Group on Saturday, and it was a fucking blast. I always have a great time with lovely couple, so that was no surprise, but the show itself was wicked! I have always loved theater–the idea that there are real people in front of you in real time, performing their passion is something else. No one accidentally becomes a performer, not really. If you’re on stage, you love it, and if you’re talented, it will show. You end up there because you should be there.

Blue Man Group was so unique and a whole lot of fun. Even though it was a little topical with technology references, felt timeless in that it can always be updated but since it relies on physical instruments that are clearly handmade, it will remain this familiar thing. There was something about the narrator’s voice, I felt like I’ve heard it before. Maybe, maybe not, but it was familiar. But I definitely remember the Intel commercials featuring the “Bluemen” when I was pretty young, and the show felt exactly like that. Like maybe BMG had always existed and always would. And of course, the music.

I guess I didn’t realize the show would be so musical. I knew there was drumming, but it’s more than that (not that drumming isn’t complex on it’s own, percussion friends!) The instruments the performers use are totally unique to the show, so they’ve learned this distinct skill that can’t really be applied to much else, and it’s so incredibly impressive. For as long as I can remember, music has been the most moving thing to me. I can cry at the drop of a hat, but I’m extra emotionally susceptible to sounds. The show played with that a lot.

So now I want to go to Vegas and see another show, and also see some musicals here, and I want to dress up and be a fancy adult for all of those things. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?? Oh, and I also want to bring my rock and roll career out of retirement. I think that’s equally reasonable, yeah? Being an adult is hard.

Woah, it’s so hard I almost forgot your x-mas-y video of the day! Dang!

A Question For You (seriously, please comment)

Let’s do a creative exercise, shall we? This is a game I like to play with Husband on occasion, but I’ve elaborated here a lot. You don’t have to post your answers, but by god would I love it if you did.

Tell me about yourself. Not current dimensional timeline you. Tell me about you in dimension 104-D where alternate reality you is a pop* superstar. I want to know the following:

Your stage name or band name (or both!):
You music sounds like a mix between these two artists:
Instrument/s played (voice counts):
First Single:
World tour theme:
Compilation album title:
Name of another famous person you’re rumored to have hooked up with:
Name of the musician you do a Christmas duet with AND the song:
Name of the film or TV show (can be fictional, but please elaborate) you inexplicably guest star in and the role you play:
Your favorite candle scent:
That time you fucked up but everyone forgave you for it because you’re so damn awesome:

*Pop = popular, not pop music per se, BUT IT CAN BE.