Define … “Me”

My friends and I decided it would be fun to exchange mix CDs with songs that “defined” us. Obviously, these songs are not meant to be definitive in the strictest sense, but I chose songs that point to a kind of person/philosophy that I think I am, hope other people see, aspire to become …

So I thought I would share the tracklist with you. My iTunes tells me that I have fifteen days of music, and how I went about initially choosing songs was simply scrolling through all of that and grabbing a song that, in turn, grabbed me. I ended up with a mix three hours long that way, but I managed to whittle it down to a lean one hour. I’ll include my rationale for including each song.

Here we go:

Common People, William Shatner – I knew I would start off with this song from the get-go, though I wasn’t sure which version to use—Pulp or the Shat-man. After a short deliberation, the Shat’s off-beat, emotional delivery (buttressed by Joe Jackson singing balls-out and Ben Folds’s music) won me over. This song rox my sox.

Do You Realize??, the Flaming Lips – I love this song—from its lyrics that juxtapose the heartbreaking and ironic aspects of life with those that are beautiful to the almost orchestral instrumentation to Wayne Coyne’s ethereal voice—I love love love this song. It chooses complication over Romance and still manages to be beautiful. I wish I could do that.

Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta, the Geto Boys – Hell’s Bell’s it feels good to be a gangsta! I actually got into a “passionate” discussion with one of my friends about this song. Quoth my friend, “They can’t even get the definition of ‘gangsta’ straight!” Which is of course why I love it. The song doesn’t give one definition of “gangsta,” but four—four that I think speak to a different part of how people, in this case gangstas, react to life. Plus it’s bad-ass.

Watching the Wheels, John Lennon – My favorite Lennon song—it reminds me to simmer down when I’m freaking out about work or money or writing, etc. The world could use more people who let go of the merry-go-round.

Knock Yourself Out, Jon Brion – This song, in addition to having a folky, laid-back feel to it and lyrics voice my personal mindset in regards to the metaphysical nature of the universe, has the added bonus of being on the soundtrack of one of my favorite movies. I saw Mr. Brion live and got to go on-stage, touch him, and personally request this song—which he played. As some will tell it, I also pushed over a pregnant woman causing her to lose her baby in order to get that chance … but she probably didn’t want that baby anyway …

Dance to the Underground, Radio 4 – This song has a kick-ass beat and attitude. And like its singer, every now and then I take refuge in the underground (be it in music, philosophy, or literature).

Dear God, XTC – Dear XTC, Thank you for saying in lyric-form many of the reasons why I don’t believe in a conscious, personal god and why, even if I did, I would not worship it.

Better Son/Daughter, Rilo Kiley – Rilo Kiley remains one of my favorite bands and, after just blasting god and religion, this seemed an appropriate follow-up. It’s hard to be a good (or better) person sometimes, but the song’s building drum march beat helps keep me going. May I also say how ridiculously perfect this music video is for the song … Ah, crazy Japanese movies, how I love you …

Space Dementia, Muse – Then again, sometimes I just want to disappear into oblivion. My girlfriend, Christina, told me after I put this on my mix that she rejected the message of this song (even though Muse is one of her favorite bands). What can I say? Sometimes I’m just cynical enough to prefer it if peace arose and tore everyone apart and made us meaningless again … and the music video includes Cowboy Bebop, which—regardless of what Christina says—still inspires me to write my own saga on Mars.

Mad World, Tears for Fears – So follows Tears for Fears, in a less intense fashion at least. I dig this songs catchy music coupled with its bleak lyrics. Truly, we live in a mad world.

Suicide Is Painless, The Ventures – He he he … This one sounds worse than it is. First off, this version has no lyrics and so is not explicitly depressing. Secondly, The Ventures gave it a catchy disco feel that I interpret as saying, “Life can really shit on you sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance.”

Korobeiniki, Ozma – And with new life given to me by The Ventures, I’m able to roxor nerd-style with Ozma’s Nintendelicious cover of the Tetris theme. Plus this video utilizes Captain N: The Game Master, which is a blast from my cartoon past. Pure sweetness.

Murder the Government, NOFX – Ozma’s nerd punk leads to what I feel is one of the best punk songs out there. This song lays out an anarchist manifesto at break-neck speed (once it gets going) and, though I usually identify as a kind of socialist, this song certainly calls to the anarchist lurking inside me.

Oo-de-lally, Roger Miller – I felt it fitting to follow that with the most laid-back song on the mix, a song from one of my favorite childhood movies, Disney’s Robin Hood. The juxtaposition reminds me that human beings are irreconcilably complex. I couldn’t find a suitable English version of this song on youtube (stupid Disney with their stupid copyrights) but I did find this sweet Swedish version. “Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, hopsa linkin dahhhhhh.”

Revolution 1, The Beatles – Out of NOFX’s anarchist spirit and Roger Miller’s country sensibilities arises an acoustic call to revolution, sung in muted, wispy tones and appealing to a rational, practical revolutionary. I’d like to think that describes me. I’d also like to point out that I put this song here by total accident, but since I thought of a reason for it to belong here I turn it from impulsive accident into artistic statement.

Philosophy, Ben Folds Five – In case you haven’t picked up on a theme here . . . although this was a last minute addition. I knew I wanted a Ben Folds Five song on here but couldn’t decide between this and Best Imitation of Myself. Well, Best Imitation of Myself gave the mix a particularly depressing turn, so I went with this one instead. By now I think we’ve had enough existential doubt for one mix . . .

Chicago, Sufjan Stevens – This song is perfect for a couple of reasons. One, I live in Chicago, I was born here, and—for the first time since moving all across the country during my childhood—I feel like I’ve found in here a region that I can call home. Second, its music is inspirational, while its lyrics are humble. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” indeed—but the song also offers a complicated and determined message of hope. Christina told me that this song felt like me, and I took that as one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, musically speaking, of course . . .

That’s it. Fittingly, I started listening to it as I began this post, and I have finished it as Sufjan brings it home for me. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. What songs would you have included on your own mix?

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