Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In the Middle

Lately, I've been having an inordinate number of "those days" - to the point that it's more like one of "those weeks." And I'm fearful that it's on the verge of becoming one of "those semesters." Seriously, it's been rough lately and my workdays are not exactly stretching out before me like a glittering land of promise.

So I get a fresh cup of coffee and try to shake it off.

You see, things will fool you. And if you're not careful, you'll start thinking that what you're seeing - the gritty side of things - is the way things actually are. You forget to notice the pearls and begin to think that the headlines of doom, gloom, despair, and such-like are all there is. (Oh, no, rain of toads!!) Nothing in that is to be construed as meaning that there is no grit. Of course there is, and it's nasty; all I mean is that it's not all there is.

For instance, there's the book I just finished reading - Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen, if you're interested. Funny, passionate about saving what's left of South Florida, and unforgettable characters. There's the fact that I realized that Jimmy Buffett has a song for nearly every mood and maybe I should dig those out. There's the fact that the autumnal equinox is just around the corner - a day of rare equilibrium when the Earth is literally balanced in the middle of light and dark. And there's the fact that I found a recipe for "fidget pie" that I'm going to try, using equinox as an excuse. Maybe it'll get the "fidgets" out of my own system and let me move into the last part of this year with my head on a little straighter.

Or maybe I'm just bellying up to some strange sort of celestial raw bar that Douglas Adams could appreciate. Could go either way - I'll let you know.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Perfect" Songs

One of my favorite songs is R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming." A somewhat melancholy look backwards, the song includes the line "September's coming soon" which I've always seen as a lonesome statement of life's sands running swiftly towards - well, towards something that isn't quite certain.

So I started thinking. "Nightswimming" is a song I enjoy a good bit (in a certain mood, anyway), but it's not what I consider a "perfect" song. (Notice the quotation marks. I cheerfully accept that this is about to be a wildly subjective post.) I have a hard time explaining what makes a "perfect" song for me, but I think I've finally come up with a few criteria. Keep in mind that we're discussing perfection within the context of rock 'n' roll songs - I loves me a good piano nocturne, but that's off-limits for this discussion.

A "perfect" rock 'n' roll song must do the following, according the the Arbitrary Rules of Mockingbird:
  • Tell a story. Gotta love the narrative. The more universal, the better, but I'm a sucker for lyrics.
  • The story must be told from the perspective of looking backwards with knowledge gained over time.
  • Have a "hummable" hook - it's even better if it makes you want to belt out the lyrics.
  • Clearly capture a mood, time, season, etc.
  • Do the whole thing in under five minutes.
As you might imagine, I've found very few "perfect" songs. As is true of all art, most popular music is trash. A small percentage is good, a smaller slice of the pie is memorable, and a tiny sliver of the pie is transcendent. It's hard to find songs that fit that sliver, especially with my rules. As an example, the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is fantastic, but I have to admit that it doesn't have the "looking backwards" part. Bob Seger's "Night Moves" fits my list, but it officially clocks in at 5:25. We won't even discuss Billy Joel's opus "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant."

So what should I add to my playlist? Are my criteria just random and wacky? What works for you?