A playlist: A Male Experience

For those who do not know the details, my living situation is slightly non-standard. I live with my female partner (Generally referred to as “J”), J’s female partner Sigrid, and their two kids M and K. (I borrowed the naming system from Sig since it is simple and elegant.) Mostly my interactions with the kids are limited to a slightly ill-defined sort of live-in uncle relationship as I am not one of their parents. Primarily I only say something about their behavior when it’s really egregious and J and Sig aren’t close enough to do anything about it quickly, but I also get to corrupt their young minds with all sorts of silly ideas as long as I think it won’t get the three of us in trouble.

Anyway, as with most people, music is played while driving. J has an interesting but somewhat limited palette for music but Sig tends to be a bit more catholic in her tastes (note the small ‘c’) and so exposes the kids to all sorts of stuff over time. The other day the Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime” was heard and the kids really liked it. Now Sig doesn’t have a lot of Talking Heads, and other then that and maybe a couple of other tracks isn’t particularly interesting in looking much more into them so she asked me if I had a copy that I could burn to a disc for the kids so they could listen to it in the playroom. Oh, and maybe some other stuff too if I wanted while I was at it. Maybe some male stuff. Sort of. The conversation was both simpler and more complex then that as it was between two people who have been friends for years and living in the same space for just over a year.

As with just about everything that I enjoy, I am primarily a dilettante when it comes to The Talking Heads. I have a more then passing familiarity with their album catalog, as well as some enthusiasm for portions of it but without a lot of significant interesting in keeping up with the minutia. Translation: I’ve got the “Sand In the Vaseline” greatest hits compilation and one other album and that’s about it which was more then enough to get started with the request and it didn’t take me too long for the idea to catch and be interesting enough to ensure it got done quickly.

Starting with “Once In a Lifetime” presents quite a bit of opportunity to go in any number of directions, but the one that really caught my attention was the aspects of dealing with modern masculinity and social roles for men and after spending a little time digging through my music collection it was pretty clear that it’s a pretty universal sort of theme.

  1. Once In a LifetimeTalking Heads – Popular Favorites: 1976-1992/Sand In the Vaseline
  2. On The AirGirlyman – Little Star
  3. All Kinds of TimeFountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers
  4. Jump Through the HoopsMighty Mighty Bosstones – Question the Answers
  5. Harder Better Faster StrongerDaft Punk – Discovery
  6. Pushing Me AwayLinkin Park – Hybrid Theory
  7. Losing My ReligionR.E.M. – Out of Time
  8. My CountryMidnight Oil – Earth and Sun and Moon
  9. ChicagoSufjan Stevens – Illinoise
  10. What Do You Want From MePink Floyd – The Division Bell
  11. ShoutTears for Fears – Songs From the Big Chair
  12. Let’s Go Crazy (LP Version) – Prince – Purple Rain
  13. I Wanna Be a CowboyBoys Don’t Cry – Retro Lunchbox: Squeeze the Cheese
  14. ArmyBen Folds Five – The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner
  15. ’64 AKA Go – Lemon Jelly – ’64-’95
  16. Blue Boat HomePeter Mayer – Earth Town Square

The initial version of the playlist was about four hours long, but I was able to cut it down to under an hour and a half pretty quickly by stripping it down to one track per artist. After a few arrangements for flow and tempo a narrative started to develop, and eventually ended up in this order.

The narrative can be divided pretty loosely into Consciousness (Tracks 1-4), Rising Bitterness (Tracks 4-8), Self Discovery (Tracks 7-10), Anger (Tracks 10-12), What Next? (Tracks 13-16).

Consciousness is the point where the nebulous character of the narrative, let’s just call him John (for “John Doe”), finally takes notice of his surrounding. It’s not something that happens to everyone early in life and from my own personal experience seems to happen periodically even, or perhaps especially, after you think you have everything figured out. Maybe it’s the first time John has noticed how the world expects him to be and how he feels about that. Maybe it’s the 10th time. It’s pretty much the same every time since it inevitably turns into…

Rising Bitterness, or maybe Growing Resentment, describes the internal dichotomy that represents the urge to follow on with what’s going on because it seems relatively stable and trying to make that fit with the knowledge that you don’t like what you are doing or who you have become, but you continue to strive because “that’s what guys do”. Right? At a certain point John decides that the problem can’t possibly be him, so he starts acting out against his loved ones (“Pushing Me Away”) and his habitual institutions (“Loosing My Religion”). I really wanted to put “Harder Better Faster Stronger” before “Jump Through the Hoops” since it fits the narrative flow better, but the the guitar intro to “Jump” just makes more sense after “All Kinds of Time”.

Self Discovery happens two ways: The habitual institutions are cutting it anymore (Religion = God, sex, beer, money, whatever); Someone finally says something to piss him off enough to snap (“My Country”). The little intro at the front of “Chicago” just felt like a light bulb going off in John’s head and the lyrics of the song are all about trying to remake oneself while still not quite over his previous life. Not having developed tools for real self actualization we end up with the despair and pain present in “What Do You Want From Me?” as we start with the shouty bit.

Anger is something that humans deal with, and some days I wonder if it isn’t something that males deal with more. Blame it on the testosterone or whatever, but my experience lived and observed indicates that women don’t as often have the spark of pure rage to battle when even the littlest thing goes wrong. This is a different kind of anger then the bitterness though, since it’s harder to externalize. John has finally figured out that he’s the problem and uses the power of the anger to drive him to finally try and figure things out.

Initially, the answer to “What Next?” is something infantile. If John is in his mid-40’s this likely involves a small, fast, red vehicle and/or a new sex partner half his age or younger. While I doubt we all wanted to be cowboys when we were young the basic form is pretty common. (I wanted to be an astronaut.) Or maybe he could just run away from it all? Join the military! After thinking through the possible consequences of that move and what is likely to come of it John finally somes to terms with the urge to just do something different (“’64 AKA Go”).

Peter Mayer’s “Blue Boat Home” isn’t quite the right ending for this narrative, but it’s mostly there because I know both M and K love the song and I wanted to make sure I anchored the disc with something else that they knew especially after something as long-winded as the preceding Lemon Jelly track. I’m not entirely happy with other bits of the order either. “Let’s Go Crazy” should probably be in Rising Bitterness. “What Do You Want From Me” probably the same. I wanted to be sure that there were a couple of peaks in the mix though. The Pink Floyd tracks makes for a really good low spot in the energy of the mix just about the in the middle of the disc then ramping back up to a peak at “Army” and a slow wind down to the end.

Anyway, I used the Bing music search to link to most of the songs and then linked the artists to the best info I could find for each of them. For those of you with Zune Passes, the Bing link has the advantage of letting you listen to most of the tracks. For those of you without it’s got iTunes and Amazon links as well.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on the mix or the narrative or both. I don’t often have something that’s quite this cohesive, so it made sense to try and have it written down somewhere.