National Public Viking

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Don't You Join the Foreign Legion (Mix CD)

A friend recently pointed me to an episode of This American Life about break-ups. We’re both going through them at the moment for two seemingly different reasons. One is the breaker-upper, the other the breaker-uppee, and yet we still hold onto those feelings because, well, they’re there.

In her story, independent radio producer Starlee Kine finds comfort in bad break-up songs… like Phil Collins-bad. In fact, she even calls him to seek break-up songwriting advice. (Her song is cute in typical smarty This American Life-style – I expected nothing less.) It got me to thinking about a recent mix CD that included a couple break-up songs and I decided just to flesh it out.

Here I am in my first real entry in months writing about break-up songs. This is really the stuff of pitiful Live Journaling. But at the same time, it’s bittersweetly therapeutic. Half of these songs really have nothing to do with how I feel right now. In fact, I don’t even really listen to much “sad bastard” music, mostly because it all sounds whiny to me. (Once I was asked if I liked Elliot Smith, to which I responded, “I don’t really listen to sad bastard music. I’d rather listen to someone like Leonard Cohen. That is depressed man music!”)

Why Don’t You Join the Foreign Legion is basically a way to look at all the aspects of this occasional rite of passage and how people have dealt with it, laughed at it, or not been able to deal with it at all. I’d like to think I’m having a good sense of humor in this selection of songs, poking a little fun at myself, especially since that’s how I tend to handle difficult and awkward situations.

If you scroll to the bottom, you can download the whole mix for your broken-hearted pleasure.

Why Don't You Join the Foreign Legion

1. The Pernice Brothers “7:30” - The World Won't End
How do you pick one song from your favorite album of all time, one literally filled with oh-so many choice love-lost songs? Do you pick the one where Joe Pernice can make “all the shit I put through you” sound like the sweetest, most sincere line from a breaker-upper? In the end, I have to go with a fast tempo and shimmering, brilliant ba-da-da harmonies.
2. The Mountain Goats “Have To Explode” - Tallahassee
I like the taut energy and the stoic emotion of “Have to Explode.” John Darnielle’s re-appearing “Alpha Couple” have certainly spit more vitriol in the past (or even just two songs later on this album: “Oceanographer’s Choice”), but there’s a brilliant, stark image of these two people that shouldn’t be together so much that they have to be, and how that contradiction’s stasis will eventually find a violent way to break that tension.
3. Adam Again “Stone” - Perfecta
When you yearn to quench emotional exhaustion.
4. The Star Room Boys “Why Do Lonely Men and Woman Want to Break Each Other's Hearts?” - Why Do Lonely Men And Women Want To Break Each Other's Hearts?
Lots of tear-in-my-beer songs to choose from, especially on this album from the Athens, Georgia twang traditionalists, but the song title really says it all.
5. Billy Boy Arnold “I Wish You Would” – Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection
Man, that harmonica just howls the hurt, doesn’t it?
6. Pavement “Cut Your Hair” - Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Boy breaks girl’s heart. Girl gets a new haircut thinking he’ll take her back or maybe some boy will ask her out. Steve Malkmus exposes us for when we want to be obvious.
7. Prefab Sprout “Goodbye Lucille #1” - Steve McQueen
A bit of tough love from the ‘80s and the namesake of this mix. Lots of great lines, palm-muted guitars and overly-earnest posturing, but this one really gets to the heart of get over it: “Ooh Johnny Johnny Johnny why don't you join the foreign legion / Ooh Johnny Johnny Johnny you're still in love with Hayley Mills.”
8. Starflyer 59 “Messed Up Over You” - Gold
I refuse to believe this song or even the entirety of Gold isn’t about Jason Martin’s most heart-wrenching romantic failure, but he’s claimed it isn’t. Still, nothing quite quenches my thirst for a seriously distressed, wallowing-in-distortion solo like the one on “Messed Up Over You.”
9. The Smiths “I Know It's Over” - The Queen Is Dead
Possibly the best irritatingly depressing song by The Smiths. Morrissey is so out of it that his vocal climax is excruciatingly moaned just under the pitch. It simultaneously makes me want to punch him in the face and hug away his pain (“Oh, mother, I can feel the soil filling over my head”? Geez.)
10. Rainer Maria “Tinfoil” - Past Worn Searching
I really tried to avoid any of the mid-‘90s emo I wept through high school, a genre that doesn’t know how to happy. But I’ll be damned if screaming “Goddammit, I’m not talking about my heart/ Like it’s something you could break” isn’t the most cathartic sing-along.
11. Fine China “I Dropped a Bomb on Your Heart” - When the World Sings
A coy synth-pop song by way of Morrissey, all heart-broken, green to love and the many, many mistakes to come.
12. True West “Look Around” - Hollywood Holiday Revisited
I don’t know if this song actually has anything to do with break-ups, much less relationships, but amidst personal introspection, I like the big picture view of “Look Around.” Just take a grand step back from yourself to see everything else that’s going on outside.
13. Scott Walker “The World's Strongest Man” - Scott 4
Oh, to have a voice like Scott Walker’s and make the lyric “And didn't you know that I'm not the world's strongest man / When it comes to you and your world I'm lost” simultaneously the most powerful and vulnerable words ever sung.
14. Songs: Ohia “Being in Love” - The Lioness
“Being in Love” has the kind of lyrics and performance that really lends to any interpretation, whether it be one of desperate hope or bitter desolation. I suppose that’s what makes it great. “We are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn.”
15. The Magnetic Fields “All My Little Words” - 69 Love Songs, Vol. 1
Stephin Merritt hits the nail on the head.
16. Lavender Diamond “You Broke My Heart” - The Cavalry of Light
I feel silly including a song that’s been re-purposed thrice-over as the indie break-up song of the last few years. But “You Broke My Heart” really puts the power in the hands of the break-uppee, which is why it’s so successful. I still don’t get what this “calvary of light” business is at the end. Maybe that’s what singer Becky Stark rides in on, white stallions made of rainbows and cardigans, when she confronts her old lover. That aside, you’ve never heard someone beat a tambourine so triumphantly in your life.
17. Jay Reatard “Oh It's Such a Shame” - Blood Visions
I needed some punk rock on this mix… bad. Something to kick out the (self-pity) jams.
18. The Weakerthans “Sun in an Empty Room” - Reunion Tour
I must have listened to this song eight times in row as I moved into my new place just two blocks away from my old residence. John Samson wrote “Sun in an Empty Room” about an Edward Hopper painting by the same name and, well, let’s just say it’s frightening how one’s biography can resemble another.
19. Crooked Fingers “Sleep All Summer” Sleep All Summer 7"
What makes the 7” version of “Sleep All Summer” so much better the original is that its been stripped of its excess. I’ve grown to love Dignity and Shame since it came out, but it was album tainted by slick production and superfluous arrangements in unnecessary places. Here it’s just Eric Bachmann, his voice and nylon-string guitar, with a cellist and female vocalist recorded live to an empty church hall. Its lo-fidelity recording gives the song the heart-broken character it needs, especially when the two voices singing “Why won’t you fall back in love with me?” become distorted from not only volume, but what seems like genuine emotion, as if we’ve stepped into a moment we shouldn’t have.

DOWNLOAD the mix here.
Tracks will be out of order once you unzip the files, so just order them in a playlist.


At 3:21 PM, Blogger christat said...

you need to do this mix thing more often.

At 3:22 PM, Blogger christat said...

also, because I am a girl, the lavender diamond song was my fav.

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Lars said...

I probably will make more mixes, since I like to do them for fun anyway.

I saw Lavender Diamond in concert. Whoa, that girl is PREH-SHUS. And I'm still not sure if that's a good thing or not.

At 11:47 PM, Blogger erin said...

i'm really digging those prefab sprout and mountain goats tunes...thanks for the mix!


Post a Comment

<< Home