by Chris Waller
Sweet Jane was a song that kept reappearing in Lou Reed's repertoire on live and studio releases throughout his long musical career. The warmth and intimacy of the tune has made it into one of those standards that feels ever so approachable to musicians and listeners alike. I remember that black and white footage of the Velvet Underground's early years with the floors covered by a cross legged audience. Perhaps more people could have watched if the audience were standing but the band always seemed a little conflicted between certain aesthetic ideals and a more practical kind of beauty. Perhaps it's less about the intimacy in Sweet Jane that I love than the feeling of standing slightly outside of it. Reed paints a picture of two lovers, Jack and Jane, who's cosy domestic life contrasts against the excesses of their youth spent in idleness and cross-dressing. The narrator, a musician, describes the couple's routine of work, love, and contentment in complete openness and does not ever scoff at the banality to which Jack and Jane have succumbed as many other members of the counter-cultural 60's may have done. To me, this is the sign of Reed's genius in finding beauty within the overlooked details of life. We may talk about turning our lives into a work of art amidst the corsetry and conviction of youth, yet Sweet Jane's narrator is clearly at a point of questioning these ideals and, at least momentarily, is seduced by the comfort of stable love, work, and a warm fire. Behind the luscious and constant chords there is an agonising moment of introspection occurring as he comes to terms with a certain notion of maturity. The final verse captures the pathos of this realisation perfectly through Reed's increasingly agitated vocals:
Some people like to go out dancing And other people like us, we gotta work And there's even some evil mothers They're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt And you know that women never really faint And that villains always blink their eyes That children are the only ones who blush
This song remains incredibly moving for me as someone who is feeling the pangs of maturity tear through my adolescent attitudes and convictions. We're always learning who we are, what we believe, and how we believe, and I think that Lou Reed felt the same. He performed this song for decades and though the style changed, the story of Sweet Jane and her husband Jack remains a compelling meditation on love and idealism. I'd have thought that these questions never really go away.
Hands Clean by Alanis Morissette
by Maciej Orłowski
A change indicates the implementation of a new purpose in the paths of our lives. Personal development belongs to values praised the most by the society. Even a mature human being needs a stimulus to start up again, find an interesting activity and adopt permanently to the non - constant environment. "If it weren't for your maturity none of this would have happened..." starts the confessional speech. Acoustic guitar accompanies the drums in the 4/4 time. Alanis Morissette in January 2002 released her new single "Hands clean" and accidentally taught me how to write a song.
Neon of a sushi bar, meal box on a table, thoughts placed somewhere in the air. The creation process starts together with inspiration forcing an artist to express. Alanis Morissette in the video for "Hands clean" invites a listener to take a look into the intimate background of shared story. My journey with songwriting started from my "Hands clean" translation. Afterwards, I bought my first guitar. The snow -ball effect of practical involvement into music absorbed my consciousness. The hidden message of "Hands clean", which supports the idea of free expression, motivated me to create my own artistic environment.
The analysis takes us few years later. The narrative character of chorus focuses on all things, which in memory still remains. The absence of acceptance, secrecy, the paralyzing pressure of rumour and other social conditions does not seem to be comfortable for a young and possibly inexperienced couple. Morissette vividly fluctuates between highs and lows of her powerful vocal scale. The self - diagnosis continues and suddenly turns into a description of top-down, patriarchal, unpleasant reality.
Explosion of disappointment comes soon. "You're essentially an employee and I like you having to depend on me" depicts the power-struggle in a relationship. The rhetorical questions introduced by gentle piano sounds increase the dynamics. Unfortunately, the biases of "Hands clean"'s main actors exists and impedes them on their way to unite with eachother. A tendency to sweep the problems under a rug instead of seeking for commitment and selective memory seems to be the cause of the relationships' collapse from a time perspective.
The choir of multiplied voices finishes the storytelling. "Hands clean" is a clear evidence of how a private narration might turn into the global occurrence. To my mind, the strongest advantage of the song is an approach to empower other people in sharing emotions without shame. Presently I truly believe in the power of lyrics and inspiration in my life.
First Day Of My Life by Bright Eyes
by Stuart Blackadder
It was earlier than fifteen when I felt music becoming a big force in my life, but not until then that I found what I had needed. The overwhelming selection upon the first foray is terrifying, and at times humiliating, requiring of a desperate elimination process. And that elimination process is unwieldy and impersonal, conducted by those around you and the puppet strings of peer pressure. Like discovering a taste for a dish you were never served at home, it was a great pleasure to be exposed to a song that struck a chord at my own human level, describing my position as a real person with real interests, real tastes. Nothing is more valuable to the human identity than the free will to select through instinct. It is complimentary to being.
'I swear I was blind before I met you', sings Conor Oberst in 'First Day Of My Life'. And so it was that this song healed my blindness. I could really relate to a certain casualness in Conor's singing, his voice was always in the room with me, and I could hear its cracks and false starts and wrong notes. He is playful with timing and structure, I was always showing off the final line as he sings 'I mean I really think you like me...', the final word wrung of all he has left, eventually dragged into the closing fingerpicked chords.
I first heard this song on MTV2. The video shows a listening party for the song. Different types of people have turned up, and the focus is on their reactions to the music. The tenderness of the song is written all over these reactions. The simplicity of this concept supports the songs unique appeal.
The freedom I had developed in cultivating my identity really began here, with Conor Oberst. This song led me further and further into his own catalogue, into the wonderful world of Nebraska’s Saddle Creek scene, up, up and beyond to American indie across the country, and eventually, through all its manifestations and variations, I was standing at the precipice from which we view the world, within which is everything, good and bad, and I was free to choose.
Unknown by Unknown
by Joanna Cho
My bare feet rubbed the accelerator, my long skirt caught at the ribbed edges of car pieces, my shoulders were hot. I had recently been given over 800 new songs by a friend from work and as I drove alone to some unknown destination, following cars I felt I should follow, following routes I felt I should follow, I had my phone plugged into the speakers with all these new additions on shuffle. A few minutes before I crashed, this song I resonated with started to play and I felt so so so so happy. I can’t explain it, but everything was just perfect. I had a vision of me crashing into a car in front of mine and I just laughed and weaved into the next lane, focused only on the unknown song, my happiness and the honey lighting. When I crashed the song was still playing, when I was shoving my weight on the brake my phone flung off the cable and there was silence, when my car had stopped sliding my phone started to ring and the love of my life was calling me.
It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan
by Ninke Overbeek
We're driving through summer. Warm wind floating in from the open windows of the old white Mazda, me in the backseat sweating. We're driving in non-airconditioned times.
Oh, to be forever in the backseat, staring at the trees flashing by. My fathers' arm hanging out the window, chainsmoking.
The words of the songs on the “summertunes” cassette are my bible. I am ten years old and the English language is still foreign to me, but I believe I speak 'song' perfectly, understanding on a deeper level.
A new one starts to play. There is a concentration in the low tune that blocks out all other thoughts. It sounds like it's spiralling towards something great, something important. Later I will learn these are the words I heard back then;
Darkness at the break of noon
A shadow even a silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying
So I start trying. It's just me in the backseat, no one else. My father is watching the road and I have to watch the roadsigns for him whenever he gets too nervous to think. I know I'm a little too small for the job, I mean I can merely see through the windows.
Even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked
– I just realised something
“You just gave me a heart-attack”
Dad he means that, even if someone's really important, they still have a naked body underneath their clothes, right? So they are still human, even if they are the president.
Man this feels great, its like someone just made my brain bigger. This guy made me understand something. Who is that singing dad
“That's Bob Dylan” my dad tells me.
He sounds really proud.
...but rather gets you down in the hole that he's in
So don't fear
If you hear
A foreign sound
to your ear
It's alright, ma
I'm only sighing
I believe Bob's been in this car with us. He's probably seen all of the world. I mean all of it, to the end of this highway and back. He's seen the stupidity of all and everything and he's just come to tell us everything will be ok. It's just stupid life we have to deal with. And here we are on a highway without a plan so that's good.
I sit up a little more straight. I look at the road, watch the roadsigns and try to remember the name of the city my dad is looking for. Don't worry dad, I've got this. It all makes no sense, but I will take care of it none the less.
...It's allright Ma,
It's life and life only.
Is there a song that changed your life?