It’s Kate’s birthday today, and so she gets this love song from Big Star’s second album, Radio City, about women born during September.
I say “love song,” but it’s such a wonderfully… macho song, lyrically. “I was your butch/And you were touched,” Alex Chilton sings at one point, later going on to struggle with that whole feelings thing (“I don’t know why/How can I deny/What’s inside?”) and boast that, of course, it’s all about the sex really (“Ooh, when she makes love to me”). But the posturing of the lyrics is at odds with the performance, all jangly guitars and harmonies and something more… soft, perhaps? Something more inviting than bravado? There’s a tension there, and it’s that tension that brings me back to this song so often, just as much as the melody and ease in singing along.
Anyway. Happy birthday to my very own September girl. I love you, you know.
Originality is elusive today in every place that people write – not just in journalism, but in academia, professional writing, book publishing, speech writing and politics.
In our panic to keep up with a changing world, we’ve failed to identify new methods for originality. We need to look to the writer-editor relationship, to the community of writers and thinkers, and to the very process that writers use to go from nothing to something.
It has to be said; my relationship with my editor at Time’s Entertainment vertical – who pushes me beyond the first pitches for a story, and then offers and suggests edits to the first draft that always make it a far stronger story – is something that I really treasure. It makes me a better writer, definitely, but so does having the time to take three days or so to get the Time story done. I agree that there needs to be more push towards original thinking in modern writing, but the sheer pace of most online writing works against that, in my experience.
The first time I saw this song was on MTV at a friend’s house, before its release; the captioning was missed, so I didn’t know who it was or what the song was called, but just the guitar solo at 2:34 and bridge at 2:49 made me weirdly convinced that I had to find out who and what I’d just listened to. The truth turned out to be a girl band so manufactured that the members of the band these days contain none of these original members, and everything I liked in this song came from Massive Attack producer Nellie Hooper. That, in many ways, feels like the true pop experience.
If Andy Williams hadn’t died, my Time piece would’ve been the most popular article on the Entertainment vertical today. Another reason to be sad about Mr. Williams’ passing, dammit! As it is, it did generate this spectacular response: “I really enjoyed your ST:TNG piece. It could have been shorter.” Thanks, I guess?
Here it is, for those of you know need convincing that Star Trek: The Next Generation actually predicted the future.
The album this song came from – Bellybutton – came out in… 1991, perhaps? And it was the soundtrack to my last year of high school, discovered via a tape-cassette given to me by a friend. This was my introduction to power-pop, I think, and this song was my introduction to Jellyfish. It’s got everything that I would end up loving about the band, from the humor in the lyrics (“She dots her ‘I’s with a smiley face/A work of art, in all but taste”) to the four-part harmonies and the jangly guitars, and I remember that I was hooked within seconds of hearing it for the first time. Maybe I heard it on the radio at first? I heard it and wanted to listen again, immediately, and then again and again and again. To this day, I want to be able to sing like the band sounds like in this song. I want to be able to make music like this all the time.
Part of me really likes the idea of one day writing a book, but then I see this and I just imagine myself being one of those non-fiction writers who’d end up having to hand back payments after missing the deadline or two.
There are days when everything gets on top of you, and you find yourself feeling that worrying sense of vertigo, even as you know that you’re standing upright and theoretically perfectly fine. On those days, dear friends, Martina Topley-Bird has this song for you, a simple one in which she reminds you that – like herself, of course – you should consider yourself too tough to die. If you don’t find yourself wanting to sing along to the chorus of this one, I suspect you need a whole lot more self-belief.
(I love the lyrics of this song; “The strange fruit swing” is a wonderful euphemism that plays off the Billie Holliday song, and yet brings a really strange sense of bleak humor to it. The swing? Really?)
And if Martina’s version isn’t enough for you, maybe you need this spectacular cover from Neneh Cherry and the Thing, from earlier this year:
Holy moley. More songs should sound like the sound of a messy, violent fight inside your head.
In addition to the regular diet of Star Trek novels to help my brain decompress – Warning, that Star Trek: New Earth series isn’t nearly as fun as you want it to be – this week, I’ve also been reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, a book that I cannot recommend enough. Wonderfully funny, bold and just plain fucking smart, I’ve heard a lot of people here in the US describe it as “The British Bossypants,” which – Well, I know what they’re trying to say, but it does How To Be A Woman an amazing disservice. For one thing, it’s more of a coherent book than Tina Fey’s, and it also has more to say – It’s trying to educate and argue as much as make you laugh, even though it’s at least as funny as Fey’s book. I really, really loved it, and I hope that the attention it got here in America around its long-overdue launch will make Moran well-known and much-loved over here, as well as in the UK.