Recently I upgraded from my older phone to a newer one. I say “newer” because I never get the newest phone–Sprint will give out a ‘
newish’ phone for a lot less than the actual latest release. (Yes, I’m the jerk who walks out with a Galazy 2 feeling smug because I paid 50 dollars less than I would have for the galaxy 3.) I did what I always do with a new phone: I tried out many of its features to see if I will actually use it.
Now, since phones are little supercomputers with more power than the machine that made the moon landings possible, there is no way I will use everything on them. But this phone as far more memory than my last beloved piece of crap, which means that I can actually run internet applications without my little and possibly carcinogenic friend committing ritual suicide.
So, after going through my semi-annual ritual of deleting contacts I don’t want to transfer and downloading all of the apps I need and getting my wife to help me figure out how to set up my email on the phone (because, my work has to make it difficult), I was ready to start. I always put music apps on my phone (Pandora, Stitcher et al), yet prior to this phone I found them frustrating. Streaming music uses a lot of battery life and, at least in some early versions, Pandora sounded terrible on the phone.
And yet, recently at the gym I found myself forced to use the phone or be forced to listen to Maroon 5. And this, my friends, was no choice at all. How did I end up in such dire straits? I am a serial iPod killer. My wife’s iPod that I borrowed so many months ago? It plays 5 seconds of a song and then gives up. My iPod that I lost and found? I keep losing it. Seriously, I am a fucking calamity.
So, at the gym I punch up Pandora and login. I have long been skeptical about Pandora and not just because of its lack of spontaneity and allegedly superior music matching algorithm, but because it seems to me to have little more idea of what I might like than Amazon currently does after watching my purchases for a decade and spying on my emails with the NSA. Who likes just one style of music that could spawn through mathematical analysis an anticipation of all possible sonic affinities? What can I punch in to Pandora to make it play TMBG, the Pixies, Mates of State and some Wu Tang? What if I want to hear some Nina Simone too?
But what choice did I have? (Please, someone give me another choice…) I started a Mates of State radio station, added some Tegan and Sara and, on a lark, threw in some Jose Gonzalez (because, come on, who doesn’t want the spare folk-inspired finger picking of Veneer when he’s running?). Eventually, after Pandora made me listen to that terrible Prius commercial (a Prius for everyone! As if the hybrid doesn’t pollute the environment too. It just does it less. Since when is less vice a virtue?) I heard something by City and Colour.
I had heard some tracks from City and Colour before (here’s a hint, the band is one guy and his name is Dallas Green) but I was never really taken by the music before. And though I feel it is dangerous to label a song from 2008 ‘new’, I can’t help but think of it new since this is the first time I heard it. Some of you already know of my sudden and powerful zeal for new music and I guess I have confessed before my love for (certain kinds) of folk. But something about the day, my stress level, and the fact that I needed that run made me ready for this song.
Part of my ‘readiness’ comes from the sound. City and Colour’s instrumentation reminds me of some early Iron & Wine compositions (before the band got way over-produced), even though the vocals are a little more Bon Iver (without the falsetto forced breathy character). And, like some of Micah P. Hinson’s best songs, this song steadily builds in volume, speed and instrumentation in a way that allows you to get carried away by the crescendo.
And, yet, I am sure that what really got me about the song (and I know this is the real cause) is that part of me is a hopeless romantic. I am a sucker for a good love song. It was something about the lyrics that got me. Here’s one of the repeated sections:
When you cry a piece of my heart dies
Knowing that I may have been the cause
If you were to leave
Fulfill someone else’s dreams
I think I might totally be lost
You don’t ask for no diamond rings no delicate string of pearls
That’s why I wrote this song to sing
My beautiful girl
Now, there’s really nothing here that distinguishes the song as not an emo horror show or something that wasn’t ruined by Ben Gibbard using the word “soul” or “possess”. In a way, I can imagine a future or past self mocking the lyrics terribly for their simplicity and naivete. Yet, it was that simplicity and naivete that seemed to me to be so earnest, unforced and, as a result, true.
Even as I walked away from the treadmill I tried to hate the song. I thought about the title “The Girl” and the possibly superficial and sexist fact that he keeps calling her “my beautiful girl”. What followed next was a mini-dialogue in my mind where I thought about my life and I phrased the problem platonically: Do you love someone because they are beautiful or are they beautiful because you love them?
This line of questioning is inspired by the famous Euthyphro Paradox from the Platonic dialogue of the same name where Socrates asks whether the gods love something because it is holy or if it is holy because the gods love it.
Why would I care about any of this? Like post people, I can’t hear a love song without turning into a narcissist. My wife and I have been together for over 16 years and she is one of the most dynamic and beautiful people I have ever met. Perhaps I was ready to hear this song because we have been so busy lately and so occupied with being adults, parents and professionals that our time for each other is limited. Maybe it was the first verse, repeated again as the third and fourth that made me pause:
I wish I could do better by you
’cause it’s what you deserve
You sacrifice so much of your life
in order for this to work
Now, of course, the reality is that my life and Dallas Green’s are very different, but this yearning to be more and to be able to do more is part of what makes the song work because real love is always a type of sacrifice, it is always in part a desire to be more as a recognition that no one of us is ever enough.
Or something like that.
And what do you think, my brother? Did I suffer a bout of temporary insanity? Is City and Colour worth listening to again or do you prefer the Socratic Robologues?