Thursday, December 29, 2005

My Mix CDs for 2005

Last year, I got a Best of 2004 mix CD exchange going with some of my music loving friends (and friends of friends). This was hot on the heels of a period when I was making mix CDs all of the time. I had a regular monthly exchange going with one friend (now sadly defunct) and was randomly making CDs for friends and family, for holidays, moving, whatever. I had made an early and imperfect Best of 2003 mix CD -- which, I think, was actually burned only once, and only one person besides my girlfriend has ever heard -- and I figured having a kind of CD exchange with friends would be a good way to ensure quality and share lots of new songs, albums, and bands. And it was.

But a funny thing happened in 2005. Apart from a few aborted attempts, I stopped making mix CDs. This was especially strange, since I finally had a car, where CD-length mixes really do come in handy. But I'd stopped exchanging with friends, and I had less and less success coming up with new ideas for mixes. Most of my 2004 mix CDs were concept- or genre-driven: a two-disc post-rock primer, or an album loosely structured around a theme taken from a song lyric or title. Besides a good tweak of my 2004 freak-folk mix ("The Hard-to-Find Stations on the AM Band," after a lyric in The Mountain Goats's "Jaipur"), I was coming up dry.

Instead, and not long into the year, I was listening to lots of new music and filing away songs for my 2005 mix. I had no theme or musical style in mind -- limiting an album to songs released in a calendar year is usually enough of a constraint to get started. But in September -- about two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast -- I had it.

Entirely by accident, or with the benefit of hindsight -- take your pick -- I had been putting together an album of songs from 2005, all released before Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath -- that seemed to be about the hurricane. Lines in songs I'd listened to a dozen times and ignored now had new relevance.

"I've lost my house. You've lost your house.
I don't suppose it matters which way we go.
This great society is going smash."
(The Books, "Be Good to Them Always")

"It's so cold in this house
The open mouth swallowing us.
The children sent home from school --
One won't stop crying.
And I know that you're busy too,
But do I know that you care?
You got your finger on the pulse,
You got your eyes everywhere,
And it hurts all the time when you don't return my calls
And you haven't got the time to remember how it was."
(Bloc Party, "Like Eating Glass")

"Sit down, honey, let's hang around.
We'll wreck their precious, their perfect town."
(Sleater-Kinney, "What's Mine Is Yours")

"She got screwed up by her vision,
It was scary when she saw him;
She didn't tell a single person
About the camps on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Lord, to be seventeen forever."
(The Hold Steady, "Stevie Nix")

The most uncanny of all was Archer Prewitt's "Way of the Sun." Prewitt's album Wilderness came out in January, and I had been listening to it semi-regularly for most of the year. I thought that "Way of the Sun," the first track, was the most beautiful on the album, a soft and shimmering gem with haunting but (I thought) fairly abstract imagery. Here are the lyrics:

Hello, my sweetheart
Hold still until they pass by
No, don't let them see you
They'll take what's left of our lives

Too late for the cameras
Everything's right
All the people are hiding,
Burn through the night
Please, what's the reason?
Say goodbye
All our lives are all on burning paper

We can get by on the candles
We can survive if we ration it right
It's the last of the candles
Let me take one more look at your eyes

We awoke in the morning
Caught by surprise
A helicopter was hovering
Up in the sky
Please, please believe me
I'd give my life

(Ave Maria)

I feel that it's over
We can go by the way of the sun
We can go by the way of the sun
I feel that it's over
We can go by the way of the sun
In the weeks after Katrina, it seemed less like a song than a first-person account. And other songs that didn't seem to reference Katrina at all had a new resonance. The Decemberists' "On the Bus Mall" was about two hustler/prostitutes... from New Orleans. Feist's "Mushaboom," with its idyllic wintry vision of children, suddenly seemed more poignant and insecure: its "rented house" and wait for "dreams to match up with my pay" came from a family relocated to Utah. What was really bizarre was that the music was changing the way I thought about Katrina -- I cared less about the storm itself, how the media covered it, or which awful politicians to deserved the most blame. Music written before the hurricane ever happened was giving me a better appreciation of the full human drama of thousands of people who'd lost their homes, who were angry, tired, but still hopeful to rebuild.

Once I had the theme, then it was easy to decide which songs to keep and which to let go. But the hurricane wasn't the only story I had found in the music. I'll tell the next story... in my next post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think he says, "We can get by on the canned goods," actually. But very nice.