Is music really the food of love? What if you're not very hungry? Or what if you are hungry, but only for the breakdown from "Come On, Eileen", and only the Save Ferris version? Each week, I'll try to decide who I am, what I like, and why on earth I like it with the help of Spotify's Discover Weekly.
My playlist has drastically improved from last week, which can only mean one thing: The Robots have been reading my blog. If you tuned in for volume two, you might recall that I fell down a weird Spotify worm hole two weekends ago. Specifically, I spent a good four hours listening to Musicals About The Plight Of Teenagers. I started with Heathers, then remembered Spring Awakening, then remembered that Carrie has exactly one good song in it, then Putnam County Spelling Bee, then Footloose for Christ's sake, and finally Newsies. Anyway, that resulted in some pretty decent Spotify recommendations, so maybe I should embrace my torrid past as a Sentient Broadway Wikipedia Page more often.
"No Culture" - Mother Mother
Oh man, my notes on this one are a garbled mess. I wrote them in my Notes App like a proper Who and I don't even know what I was trying to say. Basically, this song instills in me a desire to dance around a nightclub circa 2006, an activity that I didn't much enjoy even when it was actually 2006 - I was 22 and such things were more or less expected. This song makes me feel the way "On Top" by The Killers once did, when I stomped the streets of Ridgewood and wrote sad songs about boys in a capella bands. Please, someone, let me fall unrequitedly in love with you so I can fully appreciate this glorious song. First round's on me.
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify guessed my age based on the level of 90s music I listen to, serves me drunk sexy music that hearkens back to the era when they assume I was having lots of casual sex. JOKES ON YOU ROBOTS I BLOOMED MAD LATE.
"Daddy-Longlegs" - McCafferty
I love that chewy emo voice, the one they stole from Michael Stipe. The one where they savor every crunchy consonant and every mealy vowel, as if to say I AM SO MAD AND THE MAD WORDS TASTE SO GOOD. Why would anyone settle for a frail little amuse bouche resolution when seething, barely contained resentment is so very filling? I worked in restaurants for a very long time, people. Don't @ me.
Probably chosen for me because: My affection for emo has been well documented in this blog, I don't think we need to go over it again.
"Friendtopia" - Crazy Ex Girlfriend soundtrack
My intense jealousy over the career of Rachel Bloom keeps me from actively seeking out her work, which is shitty of me because everything I've seen from her is perfection. This song (a Spice Girls parody about literal world domination) made me laugh to the point of tears on the G train, a place where laughter happens so infrequently that my fellow commuters blinked at me in astonishment before slouching back into their blankets of regret. Anyway, this song is marvelous and I need to get over myself so I can watch her show without constantly thinking "Damn it, why didn't I think of this?"
Probably chosen for me because: The robots want me to grow as a person.
"Wobbly" - Ezra Furman
This one was my favorite for the week, because I've been feeling wobbly too Ezra! Like maybe I'm too old to achieve any of my life goals and I'll never be truly loved and have to settle for a man who sees me as a supporting character in his life rather than a fully-fledged human being and all my friends look like they're making progress and becoming brighter, clearer versions of themselves but I'm still the same bitter mess I was at 17 only I'm skinny now so people assume I can have things when I want them but every time I take a risk it blows up in my face so maybe I should just spend all my time comparison shopping for eyeshadows because at least there's a system to that - there are good products and bad products, and if you buy the correct ones you are perfect.
Probably chosen for me because: I'm so bad at holding it together that even my phone knows I'm a mess.
"Minnesota Strip/Song of a Child Prostitute" - Runaways OBC
I had heard of Runaways but never listened to the music, so I had no idea what kind of music it was. I didn't realize that this was a song from a musical right away when it started playing. This song is so gorgeous, and so strange, and so very sad. I'll need to listen through the rest of this show eventually, but I think I'll need to find a place to do so that is not the New York City Subway.
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify saw my teenage musical marathon and went "Oh, you like show tunes about youths? HERE YOU GO."
They gave me a song by Car Seat Headrest, a band I love, with the vocals so low in the mix I can't hear the lyrics. They gave me a song from Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812, but I refused to listen to it cause I'm seeing it in two weeks and I want to be surprised. They gave me a One Direction song that sounded like The Strokes.
There were a lot of solid contenders for blog material this week, and a lot of songs I really enjoyed. This playlist gets 4 out of 5 #SQUADGOALS! Next week, I'll be presenting the first of the blogs where I deliberately try to confuse the algorithm. I had to suffer through a lot of painful musical memories for you, so you'd God damn better well read it.
Can a person's favorite songs reveal their inner self? Can a woman whose room mate recently caught her drunk lip synching to the Jane Eyre OBC on Marcy Avenue at 2am truly be considered "cool" by any reasonable metric? Each week, I’ll attempt to decide who I am, what I like, and why on earth I like it with the help of Spotify’s Discover Weekly.
Week two was a bit one note, if you'll pardon the expression. I mean that somewhat literally - I got served a lot of drab, sing-songy melodies over slightly fuzzy guitars. You know when your coworker goes "Oh, you like music, have you heard of ********"? And then you listen to the debut album by ******** (not to be confused with !!!) and it sounds like the same car commercial ten times in a row but I guess they're playing Bonnaroo? This was a whole playlist of those. It's too early to give up on this concept though (and I just got my new playlist, and I have a LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT IT), so we'll struggle through with the standouts.
"Tell Me It's Ok" - Paramore
Guys, I like Paramore. I know, I'm supposed to spend all my time listening to Le Tigre or Nico or Patti Smith and goodness knows they're wonderful, but sometimes a guy is a dick or your boss is a dick or your friend is a dick and the only thing that helps is Hayley Williams, yelping over power chords. Paramore happened after I was out of high school, but the angst levels of their songs make me feel like theater camp never ended. I'd never heard this one before, and while it's no "crushcrushcrush" it's still been stuck in my head all week and I think that means the song is winning. Side bar: here's a Tumblr post from 2015 where Williams semi-renounces "Misery Business", a song with a great hook and truly objectionable lyrics.
Probably chosen for me because: I told you. I like Paramore.
"Number Crunching" - Ginger Snaps
Remember last week when I complained about how songs reminded me of other songs and I couldn't get over it? Well, this song reminds me of The 90s and I'm surprisingly cool with it. This sounds like Oasis wrote a song for the New Radicals and Beck stepped up to produce - that is the level of 90s in play here. It is an excellent song for sauntering down a street in a leather jacket - yes, I tried it. It does contain the lyric "I can't stand these hipster chicks," which I do not care for as a hipster or as a chick. However, my main issue with this song is that I've reached the age where new artists are being clearly influenced by the music of my youth, which to them is Classic Rock. All you little punks can get the hell of my damn lawn.
Probably chosen for me because: Chris keeps making me learn weird 90s covers to sing with his band. "You know this one," he always says. He's wrong. He's wrong every time. Except for "Glycerine", I knew that one.
For fuck's sake. I wrote down the band but not the song title. But I'm listening to their album now and I'm enjoying it, so let's just carry on with the introspection, shall we? At first listen I assumed Backwards Dancer were from approximately 2008, and I only missed them because that was the year I listened exclusively to Elliott Smith. I was surprised to learn that this band's self-titled album came out last month - perhaps this is the emo revival the fancy music blogs keep talking about? I had kind of assumed they were just trying to make Fetch happen, but ok.* Over the weekend I saw Two Star Motel, an excellent musical about a struggling band set in 2001, and between that and the humidity and the punks on my damn lawn I am more than ready to slam cheap beers in a crop top and be simultaneously sad/horny/sweaty. I suppose this means I am on board with the revival of emo.
Probably chosen for me because: I listen to that one Say Anything song a thousand times a month. I gotta knock that off or this blog is going to get really boring really quick. I once had this obnoxious therapist look at me with solemn condescension and ask "Do you even want to be happy?" No one writes good songs about being happy, silly.
*"Make Fetch Happen" is a good name for an emo revival band.
"Make Out" - Julia Nunes
Ok, I take back what I just said about good songs and happiness. I forgot that this song made my list for the week. Sure, it dips into minor in a few places which gives it a lightly bittersweet quality, but overall this is just a perky little bop about wanting your person to stay home so you can kiss them some more. Also it starts with the lyric "I got shit to do/I know you do too" which I find impossibly endearing. This song is #RelationshipGoals for that small shameful part of me that wants to live forever in the first date montage from a rom com. That part of me is deeply opposed to the revival of emo, but we don't let her talk much.
Probably chosen for me because: There's also that small shameful part of me that sincerely likes the song "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz.
Again, forgot to write down the song title like a dick. But I used to almost know Anamanaguchi! My friend knew the guy in it I think, and she was really into this local 8 Bit scene, and then one of her other friends wanted to do a Broadway 8 Bit mashup and she said "Hey Hannah, you've got a musical theater degree you're not using, right?" and so that's how I got roped into singing a bunch of songs from Wicked at an 8 Bit show at I wanna say General Assembly (but probably back when it was still Galapagos) which was crazy fun and also very strange and it was when my leg was broken so I had this weird Robot Foot Boot Thing and I was dyeing my hair black at the time and for some reason opted to wear this truly awful sweater I used to have so there ARE pictures of this event somewhere but sweet Jesus I look bad in them and I'm roughly 95% sure that Anamanaguchi headlined that show. Anyway whichever Anamanaguchi tune made it onto my playlist last week was enjoyable, because I looked down at my phone to see who was playing and said "Hey! Anamanaguchi! I used to almost know them!"
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify went on my Facebook, found those awful pictures, and is musically sub-tweeting me.
Overall Rating: There were a couple of good songs outside of the ones I listed, but not many. I give this playlist 2 Panics out of 10 Discos.
This week I promise to take better notes. I have been considering actively fucking with the algorithm for the purposes of Journalism, and when you see what they gave me this week after a day-long rock musical binge you'll understand why.
Do Spotify’s army of robots know me better than I know myself? Can an affinity for late 90s musical theater flops and Carly Rae Jepsen really define who we are? What if you only listen to Death Cab For Cutie when you’re shitcanned? Each week, I’ll attempt to decide who I am, what I like, and why on earth I like it with the help of Spotify’s Discover Weekly.
I’ve wanted to start this series for a while now - the problem was Spotify’s suggestions for me are very hit or miss. This is probably because Spotify has somehow both diversified and limited the music I listen to. I save anything that sounds interesting and then once every few months go on a new music binge where I listen to all of it at one time. On the day-to-day, however, I listen to a lot of comforting garbage ("you can do that on Spotify, because you don’t have to pay for it" she said, feeling intense musician guilt). I also have a tendency to listen to the same song over and over again. Yes, I know, you do that too, but I don’t think you do it as much as I do. I’m actually frightened to start linking to my personal account here because I don’t want anyone to know just how many times I listen to “Alive With The Glory Of Love” by Say Anything in any given month. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good song, but it’s not 1547 times a month good.
I also really, really love the song “Expensive” by Tori Kelly - it makes me happy every time I hear it. You know what else I listen to a lot? The original London cast recording of American Psycho. You know what else? “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers. You know what else? Lorde’s new song. And Radiohead’s old songs. And Fall Out Boy. And Lizzo. And sometimes I get drunk and listen to my own music on Spotify like an asshole because it’s easier than pulling up the mp3s on my laptop. No wonder the robots are confused.
Fortunately, for my inaugural week of this blog I got a pretty good mix. So let’s start with…
“FUU” - Dream Wife
This is my new anthem for ass kicking. Not that I kick a lot of ass, but this song makes me feel like I COULD PROBABLY IF I FELT LIKE IT. These women are UK based at the moment, but fingers crossed they make it to New York sometime soon. Also there's no lyrics for this song online and I'm dying to know what the last verse means, so if you speak Icelandic hit me up.
Probably chosen for me because: I listen to “Rebel Girl” whenever I’m trying to overcome social anxiety.
“Fountain of Youth” - Local Natives
I, like many the incorrigible narcissist in their early to mid 30s, sometimes see my life as if it were a tv show or movie. I am the protagonist (it’s my Head TV, I get to be in charge), and my friends and frenemies all have arcs that contribute to the major theme of...I don’t know, the harsh realities of adulthood or some shit. Anyway, this song sounds like it should be playing over the last few minutes of the final episode, as our heroes realize that under the Trump regime the world is no longer safe, for most people it never was, and that their previous feelings of hope and comfort were merely the illusions of arrogant youth. Still better than the final season of How I Met Your Mother.
Probably chosen for me because: I have a playlist saved on my phone that is almost entirely male-fronted indie rock bands from the mid-to-late oughts. I made it for my friends but I think I’m the only person who listens to it.
“Black Stars” - Xenia Rubinos
This song is absolutely gorgeous. I had never heard of Xenia Rubinos before and I'm so glad to have been introduced to her music. I was immediately struck by how unique and sparse the production is on this track, and even more so after reading what the artist herself had to say about the lyrics. This one was my favorite of the week, so good job, robots.
Probably chosen for me because: I’ve been actively trying to listen to fewer male-fronted indie rock bands from the mid-to-late oughts.
"Born Again" - Saint Motel
I am an absolute sucker for songs like this that pair snarky lyrics about the World At Large with jaunty, optimistic arrangements. This song had me at the first line: “There’s no need to be nervous, I’m not dangerous anymore." It bops and sways along for the first three minutes only to build to a choir at the end, because it’s poking fun at religion so of course it does. I’ll be checking out more from these guys as well, hopefully the rest of their songs are as delightful as this one.
Probably chosen for me because: I spent several months listening to I Love You Honeybear before I started to think that maybe Father John Misty is not making a meta commentary on fragile masculinity, but is actually just male and fragile.
“Intermission” - Emma Pollock
I saw Emma Pollock open for *I THINK* Rilo Kiley around 2007. I was both absolutely stunned by her music and super jealous that she was as good as she is and opening for *I THINK* Rilo Kiley. (Internalized misogyny is a rough gig, kids.) I spent a whole summer listening to her album Watch The Fireworks - my memory is a little foggy on this, but I may have bought my copy from her directly at the merch table. Just hearing her voice again filled me with this sort of bittersweet nostalgia. It makes me want to be 25 again and have picnics in Central Park and go to Yoga To The People and stay out all night and pine after terrible boys. Her voice sounds like believing in your future.
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify has been stalking my musical tastes since before Spotify existed; Spotify is clearly Skynet.
Honorable Mentions: “Boundary Road” - All Our Exes Live In Texas (like the Dixie Chicks and The Roches all smushed together!), “Child” - Ninet Tayeb (not Running Music so much as Running Away From Your Troubled Past Music)
“Blue Diamonds Fall” reminds me of “Footloose” and I can’t get past it. “American Girls” reminds me of “Celebrity Skin” and I can’t get past it. “Good Medicine” is pretty but preachy, “Brook Revisited” is pretty but didn’t do anything for me. Grimes annoys me and I have no idea why, I never really liked The Shins even circa Garden State, and Two Door Cinema Club is not the band I thought they were. I think I thought they were Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
OVERALL GRADE: Most of these songs were pretty enjoyable and sounded like Things I Would Like. I give this playlist two out of three Dream Wives.
That’s all for now, friends. Tune in next week for further adventures into whatever portion of my brain is responsible for my occasionally great, occasionally awful taste in music.
Note: I thought I would be able to link to last week's playlist before it recycled into a new playlist and I...could not. So I'll have a full playlist of all the tunes linked next week but for now you'll just have to search for them yourselves, you lazy jerks.
Most of the time when a song's subject is just too damn personal I drown it in metaphor and leave it at that (see "Chiaroscuro" for all the ways my parents' divorce is like the Washington Mall). If I can't make something funny or ironic, I hide it away so listeners might not figure out exactly what I'm saying. I have a few songs, however, that are just beat-for-beat retellings of actual events. "NSFW" - a title I always meant to change, but I guess it's too late now - is like that, but there are some things I had to keep vague. I wish I could tell this story outright. I wish I could use his real name. I wish he would read this. I promise he won't.
This is a story about a one night stand that didn't quite happen. It could have. I wanted it to. I had wanted it to for months, and given my history of keeping myself square in the proverbial friendzone I was baffled when he made a move. Also drunk. And drenched in cheap whiskey from Haley Bowery's since retired Super Soaker. I wasn't even supposed to be there - the cab driver had refused to take me to my own apartment so I wound up stuck at his. We sat on the floor and went through his old CDs like a couple of high schoolers. "Tonight Tonight" was playing from the stereo when he kissed me.
We'd been keeping time with each other for months, and most people didn't know. We'd sneak away from parties and spend hours talking, talking, talking. Mostly him, to be honest, although he let me get enough words in edgewise for me to believe that he cared for me. He was fucking someone else though. And when I paused the proceedings long enough to ask what their deal was (I am fairly certain that elegant phrasing was my exact words), I knew from his reaction that he wasn't going to commit to me anymore than he committed to her. Even drunk I am cautious by nature. "I can't be this for you,” I told him. “Can't because I'm in love with you” was the part I didn't say. I wonder if he knew.
There was no reason for me to stay once we decided sex was off the table. Only by that time it was 5am and I was more or less stranded at his apartment. So I stayed over, but I sure as hell didn't sleep. And that's where this song picks up - it's the chaos in my head from that night and the days immediately after, wondering if I'd made the right choice. I assume for the purposes of the narrative that he's sleeping soundly throughout my existential crisis (how he slept through that loud ass bridge I'll never know), although I'm not sure if that's true. I'm not really sure about anything he did, or said, or wanted. After a while I stopped trying to find out.
The title "NSFW" had a number of reasons behind it. Originally it was code for me not to accidentally email the demo to anyone, since this strapping example of chivalry had sworn me to secrecy regarding our not-quite affair. It's also meant to be ironic, a NSFW tag for a night when no sex actually occurred. Mostly though, it's an accurate description of the two of us the next day. He marched off to his office job on little to no sleep, and I was still hungover when I went in to wait tables at 5pm. We weren't suitable for anything. Certainly not one another, that much is clear.
(for the first half of this story, see track 3.)
When I wrote this song, I wanted it to be two things: a courtroom drama and an MGM musical. I have no idea why these two very different genres attached themselves to one another in my head, but whenever I think of this song, I picture its subject on trial, surrounded by tap dancers.
It usually takes me a couple of years before I can write a song about a man. I need them fully out of my system before I can write about a situation with the ironic detachment I use to keep myself from falling apart entirely onstage. This song was quicker - in fact, this man has heard me play this song, although I don't think he knew it was about him. He didn't really listen to lyrics.
Are you getting the impression that I'm still angry at this person? You are correct. That's why there's a several month gap between the post for "Surrender, Dorothy" and this one; I didn't know how to talk about this song. I rage in this song, not only at its particular inspiration, but at every man I've ever known who used me as an audience. My feelings, my thoughts, my art didn't matter to men like this one. They just wanted someone to talk at about their feelings, their thoughts, their art. They wrote fairy tale renditions of their own lives, recited them aloud and depended on my approval to make them real. When I was younger I confused this kind of behavior with love, or at the very least respect. I'm significantly more jaded now.
The song ends in a slight reversal. He spent years telling me his life story, but in the final chorus he's banned to the dark of the house, forced to listen to my testimony with no opportunity for rebuttal. He can stay there.
Happy Halloween, everyone! In honor of the holiday, allow me to present to you my new single, the cover art for which is a picture of me age elevenish, dressed in a DIY witch outfit. I still make that face to this day.
"Surrender Dorothy" is really the heart of this album. I wrote this song upon realizing something kind of bizarre about my childhood. See, I was a theater kid. Of course I was a theater kid, look at me. I did fairly well for myself role-wise, usually getting cast as whatever the antagonist character was in that particular play (this is the same girl who grew up to name her band "vs The Many", so there you go). In traditional musicals, female villains are frequently vamps/sexpots. However, the very qualities I had that made me perfect for these roles (low voice, big ass, affinity for wild gesticulation) also made me completely unattractive to teenage boys. The upshot of this is that I spent much of my teen years having middle aged theater teachers tell me to "be sexier" when I'd never kissed a dude. My first kiss was a stage kiss, as Petra in A Little Night Music at age seventeen, with the 22 year old college student playing Frid.
It's a bit of a mind fuck, honestly. I learned to be a caricature of sexiness without ever having a chance to learn about sexuality. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that I was able to perform so frequently in my teens. I'm certainly not blaming anyone for these circumstances, and I'm not angry about it, but that juxtaposition was a really important part of making me the person I am today. Namely, a loud, brash, gutter-minded mezzo who can't flirt. Like at all. Like not even a little bit.
The song also expresses my feelings about the whole Madonna/Whore dichotomy that still exists in pop culture. The biggest issue I find with this trope is that it defines women solely by how they fit into men's lives, which happens in real life more often than I think we'd like to admit. I've been involved with a few too many men who seem to see me as a prop for their story arc (see the rest of my catalog). But I'm not a character in some bro's novella*. I'm not a manic pixie dream girl, or an ingenue, or a hooker with a heart of gold. I'm a fucking person, and I am a fucking person even when I'm not fucking someone else.
"Surrender Dorothy" repeatedly asks the question "where do the funny ones go?" If I ever figure that out I'll let you know.
"Hotel Empire" is meant to be the turning point of the album, arc wise. The songs that come before it are women trying unsuccessfully to be good, and the songs that follow are women trying unsuccessfully to be bad. I had originally intended there to be another song called "Final Girl" that would bridge these two mindsets, but it was going to compare losing one's virginity to the final showdown of a horror movie and to be perfectly honest my first time wasn't that interesting.
"Hotel Empire" is inspired by Hitchcock, specifically Vertigo. It's a retelling of the film's plot line from the heroine's point of view with a few very large artistic liberties. A significant amount of my own experience is woven into the lyrics; this song serves as the conclusion of a relationship that winds through all of my albums thus far. Wanna hear a tiny musical? It goes Muse/Poor Leander/True Believers/Lady Of The Court/Hideous Adorable/Better Off My Way and this one.
Roughly, the story of Vertigo concerns a man (Jimmy Stewart, in peak Jimmy Stewart mode) who falls in love with a woman who dies halfway through the film. He spends the second half trying to turn a different woman into the love he lost, only to discover that they were the same woman all along. She sincerely loves him, but their whole relationship was an elaborate set up. This...did not happen to me. However, it did resonate with me in that I was once a woman who allowed her life to be dictated by the feelings of men. The repeated refrain of "go on, go on, I said I'm fine" is the mantra of so many women who are told again and again that to feel is wrong, to stand up for yourself is aggressive, and to raise your voice even slightly is "crazy".
My friend Jenny, who is very wise, once told me that "girls are crazy, but it's not our fault". Now don't get me wrong, I've heard plenty of stories of women doing some really fucked up shit to their boyfriends. But I think it's important to note that a lot of women are driven "crazy" by the fact that we're told constantly that our feelings don't matter or aren't real. We squash our thoughts and opinions down for as long as we can, playing the Good Girl until eventually, inevitably, we snap.
I didn't snap quite as bad as the character in the song. In the movie Jimmy Stewart's character chases his girlfriend to the top of a bell tower where she falls to her death, in my version she drags him down with her. When I snapped, I drunkenly told a young man who I had loved for many years that I "didn't even recognize" him anymore. I had swallowed my feelings for and about him for years, foolishly believing that keeping him in my life was worth the pain he caused me. He blustered away in a rage, leaving me to weep on the street for hours over everything I thought I had lost. I didn't contact him again after that. I have run into him at a few parties, and each time he looks panicked at the sight of me, as if he fears I might harm him. I'm confident that he tells his friends I am crazy.
Go on. I said I'm fine.
This song was inspired by documentaries, which makes sense as it's the most autobiographical track on the album. I wanted it to sound like it could be on the soundtrack for the Ken Burns miniseries The Civil War, which I watched with my parents as a kid. It's a song about America, and family, and grief, and the reference felt appropriate.
The lyrics are both a narration of a trip my younger sister and I took to the National Mall and a musing on my parents' divorce. My parents split up when I was 27, and it's strange when your family breaks apart after you're already grown. I didn't feel affected by it at first, or maybe it was that as an adult I didn't feel that I was allowed to be affected.
Each verse is about a different monument: first the Lincoln Memorial, then the Vietnam Wall, and then the White House. As my sister and I walked through the park, we realized that although our mother comes from a military family (her grandfather, father, and brother all fought overseas in various wars), we knew almost nothing about their service. I felt detached from my personal history, and adrift among the pieces of what used to be my nuclear family. I see that sense of detachment in the relationships I make now - I don't trust people to tell me the truth, and I never expect them to stay.
The title comes from a photographic/film technique that emphasizes the contrast between light and shadow. It's a reference both to the effect of the national mall after dark and the fact that try as I might, I can not divide my personal history into good and bad, black and white.
This one is my mother's favorite.
"The Auteur" is a Rom-Com. And not an especially good one, either. This isn't a Grant/Hepburn venture. It's not even a Hanks/Ryan venture. This is one of those trope-infested, endlessly predictable, cookie-cutter stories that were all too prevalent in the mid-2000s. I'd mostly stopped watching Rom-Coms by the end of the 90s, which might be why I launched myself headlong into a series of ill-advised life choices. If I'd watched more shitty movies, I would have been warned.
Our story begins with banter. The opening line is one of my favorite things that I've ever written - it combines a backhanded compliment with a challenge to a duel, which is as good a summation of this particular relationship as any. The leading man in question and I sniped at each other and traded barbs for years, while a procession of Totally Wrong For Him women stood off to the side, waiting for the war to end. In a true romantic comedy he eventually would have realized that I was the girl for him all along. Spoiler alert: I was not.
He would have been terrible for me too, of course. I stayed in this situation a lot longer than I should have, which is strange considering the story arch of the song it inspired. We never actually dated, but in "The Auteur" the pair couple off and instantly begin making each other miserable. The "right" girl becomes a carbon copy of the "wrong" girl, and the story begins again. The whole song revolves around the age old mantra "if they cheat with you, they'll cheat on you." I knew this story was going to end badly, so much so that I couldn't even imagine a happy ending for this song.
For more on the actual ending of this story, tune in for track nine.
This song started out about one person, and ended up being about someone completely different. Sometimes I'll have a lyric hanging around unused for years, and then I'll meet someone who just happens to fit the sentiment perfectly. In this case, it was "weary traveler ease your mind, I am not your siren/take heart - you survive this crash." When I first wrote that lyric it meant "I'm not going to hurt you." It eventually came to mean "you'll move on from this as if nothing happened."
The film pairing for this song is a period drama - think Merchant Ivory, or if you're a TV person, Downton Abbey. It's the story of a night out in Brooklyn with a man who was about to leave town forever, who (unbeknownst to me) had another woman waiting for him at home. I cringe when I think about how wrapped up I was in this one event. It seems so small and insignificant now, but at the time the romance of it felt urgent and enormous. The actual event was played out by drunk, insecure twenty-somethings, but this kind of story is timeless. I wanted to give it an update. And some neuroses.
When I think about these period romance dramas, I always imagine one of history's great cliches: one partner standing on the platform, the other waving sadly as the train pulls away, parting them forever. After staying out until dawn, annoying several bartenders, and slow dancing without music in a subway station, the subject of this song and I caught an F train back into Manhattan. He fell asleep, and I woke him just before his stop. He said goodbye, left the train, and walked away. The doors closed, and just as the train started to move he jumped back into the window, waving goodbye a second time.
I never saw him again.