Welcome to another Favorite Tune Fridays to savor and absorb for the rest of the upcoming week! We have lots to cover, like...a brief history lesson in England's royal family (mistresses INCLUDED!), fighting hate with Michael Jackson and a super secret, too-much-for-you-to-handle read-aloud from my diary! Who's with me? HAPPY FRIDAY!
Back story: I had absolutely no idea who The Knife were until my freshman year of college. Upon buying this hot-damn cute pink dress from the Charlotte Ronson boutique here on Mulberry Street (the dress that I have since handed over to my good friend from high school because it looks way better on her. So nice, right?), I was given a "mix tape" CD created by Samantha Ronson as a get-with-purchase treat from the store. Though I never wore the dress more than once, the songs on the CD have gotten so much play over the past few years that it has absolutely been worth the buy. In addition to being introduced to artists like The Pointer Sisters, Ringside and Main Source - that I had never heard before the CD - The Knife were not only a new sound to my ears, but an increasingly addictive one (heed the artist links! they are youtube vids to the songs). The song "Heartbeats" featured these crazy-obscure vocals grinding up against this dance-y electro/synthpop sound, with infatuation-dizzy lyrics like: "you knew the hand of the a devil, and you kept us awake with wolves teeth, sharing different heartbeats in one night." It was great, it had movement and the words - something that usually draws me before beat - kept me interested and curious to what else The Knife had to offer.
And so I went scavenging for anything Knife-related. Back when imeem.com was actually imeem.com and not the Myspace take-over that it is today, you could log on, type in a song or a band name, hit the "auto-tune" option and be treated to non-stop music by that artist or by similar artists. So I typed in "The Knife" and a bunch of their songs streamed, keeping me pleased for hours. While at times their lyrics got lost over overly-dense sounds, a majority of their music I was deeply digging. But "digging" was an understatement when "Marble House" came on.
The song starts out with a minute and twenty seconds of heavenly, instrumental foreplay that builds up, in a very contagiously sexy way, to Karin Dreijer Andersson's extraordinary voice, which is haunting and ethereal all on its very own, but that reeled me in extra upon listening. If the steady pulsing of the synthesizers don't lure you in, the lyrics will. Rich in some sort of apparent impassioned struggle with the forbidden - be it of love, attraction, power, class or oppression, we don't know for sure - the words give weight to the intensity of the sound.
But the lyrics have certainly been up for interpretation. At some Knife concerts, it's been said that images of the Marble Hill House were displayed on a screen while they performed this song, leading people to believe that the song was written about George II, Prince of Wales and his relationship to his mistress, Henrietta Howard, who was also his wife's (Princess Caroline) Woman of the Bedchamber. Fans of The Knife speculate that the song's references to a sort of forbidden love behind marble walls reflects Henrietta's confliction in being someone's servant, while also experiencing these jarring moments of intimacy with them that are only cheapened by her roll in the household as a mistress and maid, therefore leading to confusion - and my favorite part of the song - "I raise my hands to heaven of curiosity. I don't know what to ask for, what has it got for me?"
In short, it's a beautiful tale of the fragility and vulnerability in censored love, hindered feelings and it all taking place inside a cold, impenetrable marble house.
As much as I've listened to this song all throughout college thus far (including those three or four days it was on non-stop repeat, probably instigating buckets of stabby feelings from my neighbor), I can honestly say it's one of the few songs that I will probably never get sick of. So give it a listen or two (or eight). I decided to not embed the official music video version, since a bunch of the beginning is cut out. The full five minute plus version is above, along with lyrics so you all can do your own analyzing. It's remarkable in sound and depth, vocals and music, and play and replay.
Michael Jackson - They Don't Care About Us
And now to completely change the pace, I picked this unapologetically fierce and raw song by Michael Jackson. I'm not going to go into a big ol' spiel about how I was raised on Michael Jackson, how he's my favorite artist, this and that, blah and blah because, whatever, that's not my story. Yeah, we all have been hyper-aware of Michael Jackson since forever, but my love affair with the music didn't start until my older sister (of course) bought his HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I album. She listened to it maybe once or twice, in full, and then it was retired back to her extensive collection of other artists on her CD rack. But, being the insolent, bratty little sister that I was (am? huh, what?), I wanted more, more, more! "Tara!" I would bug, "Tara! Put "Scream" on again. Tara! I want to listen to "Stranger in Moscow" ! Pleeeeeease?" Nag. Nag. Nag. Eventually she just handed me the CDs, kicked me out of her room and let me roam free around the house, clothed in Older Sister Trust, with her Michael Jackson CD to listen to as I pleased. Win, motherfriggin win
I retreated to the basement with my boom box, slid the second of the two CDs into the player and went straight for the ones I knew I liked - "They Don't Care About Us" being one of them. I learned all the words, (embarrassing confession up ahead!) and even made up a dance or two to it (I was like eleven, give me a damn break) and fantasized about being on stage with Michael, singing and dancing the night away. It was GLOR.I.OUS.
Though I liked the song immensely because it had this great rack clack, rack clack drum beat (that was me attempting an onomatopoeia), even at eleven I could hear the pain and anger and frustration in Michael's voice and the words that he was singing. Although it has garnered many misinterpretations - some alleging antisemitic slurs on Michael's part - it is clearly and undeniably a song about the social injustices that we face as humans - be it race, class, religion, sexuality or other. With each lyric he slaps at you (literally, that's what it sounds like!), you can feel his sadness and how he's not just singing about social issues from a pedestal soapbox, but instead straight from the heart where his feelings have been festering and now explode in splendid, chill-giving vocals.
Though the song, yes, uses colorful language, it's child's play compared to some of the smut (did I just use "smut" in a sentence? am I seventy years old?) that you regularly hear in songs today, and it's clearly being used to illustrate a point. When I found out that critics were criticizing Michael for using slurs, I was completely dumbfounded. Michael responded in a New York Times article, saying: "The idea that these lyrics could be deemed objectionable is extremely hurtful to me, and misleading. The song in fact is about the pain of prejudice and hate and is a way to draw attention to social and political problems. I am the voice of the accused and the attacked. I am the voice of everyone. I am the skinhead, I am the Jew, I am the black man, I am the white man. I am not the one who was attacking. It is about the injustices to young people and how the system can wrongfully accuse them. I am angry and outraged that I could be so misinterpreted."
The video, too, is chock-full of disturbing images illustrating 'round-the-world issues on hate, discrimination and poverty. At times it's hard to digest, but the message over-shines all. PLUS, you get to see Michael Jackson with a mullet. Come on, don't play. Just because he's the King of Pop doesn't mean we can't call a mullet a mullet.
Nirvana - Dumb
Back story: Wow, switching speeds yet again! Grunge, Alyssa, really? Because there are not enough flannel-wearing fools in the world currently that I need to delve deep into the early 90s and pull out dirty blond unwashed hair, holed jeans and ... misunderstood angst? GOD ABOVE. Anyway forgive me this, y'all, because it's been rainy and I'm feeling all SEATTLE-Y. And, clearly I just discovered the caps button. YOU READY?
All right. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I never really went through a Nirvana phase. To be frank, I was way too happy-go-lucky to ever be disciplined enough to lock myself in my bedroom with piles of Nirvana albums, holding myself whilst rocking back and forth, thinking about, like, emotional stuff and shit. Come on, yo. Not my style. BUT, (caps BUT) that doesn't mean that I didn't try. And Lord, I did.
Scene: It's my freshman year of high school. Everyone is bat-crap crazy in love with this local band, Sleep Well (now called Sound the Alarm). Well Sleep Well's band members all were still in high school with us, making the fan base extra large, extra angsty and extra crush-addled. I, as I am shameful to admit (and dear God, please don't let my older sister Tara be reading this, because, to this day, I have kept this story from her) fell into the destructive, yet high school-appropriate, groupie syndrome. PERHAPS I had a SORT OF MAJOR crush on Sleep Well's bass player, Colin. PERHAPS my older sister was friends with him, blessing me with a seat next to him in the backseat of her Saab when she would occasionally give him a ride home. PERHAPS I stalked him via AIM, obsessed over his hair, clothes, smile, dimples.....
NO, you know what? NO. NOT GOING THERE AGAIN. Too dark. I am a changed woman. Okay. Now. Listen. So, you know when you have a crush on someone and you want to know about all of the stuff that they are into so you can, in turn, know about all that stuff too, rendering the both of you to be, like, SOUL MATES, because you're both into the same books, movies and songs? Do you see where I'm going with this? Okay. Colin liked many bands - Incubus, Deftones, Nirvana...all bands I knew null about. But I wanted him to like me and I wanted him to think I was cooOOOOoool and down with the edgy shit. So, needless to say, I did what any teenager-in-love would have done: raided her older sister and stepfather's CD collection (yet again), scraping up what albums I could find and falling in love with songs I could stomach (because, at that time, none of this noise was the noise that I listened to. I mean, come on, I was dancing to Michael Jackson in my friggin basement! Do you honestly think I had a DEFTONES bone in my body? Absofrigginlutely not).
Long story short - and probably a great start to my thesis on My Life In Music: The Early Years, by Alyssa Miele - if I didn't have the crush, if I didn't make the effort, if I didn't purposefully plaster Incubus lyrics all over my away messages (OH COME ON, you remember those) in the hopes of reeling that oblivious boy's heart, I would have never come across this total friggin KEEPER of a Nirvana song (and that's not to say that there aren't any other Nirvana songs that I'm down with, because that's not true. Over time your tastes refine and you see the light, etc, etc...).
Always a sucker for the string family in instruments, the violin whispering in and around the rough voice of Kurt Cobain was enough to make me 1. fall in love with the song forever until the end of time, period. 2. Give Nirvana's other songs more of a chance, and 3. Be able to clean up the mess that my broken heart came to be when I learned that Colin was not only into one of my good friend's older sisters, but was ALSO being crushed upon by MY OLDER SISTER (small town...). It was probably one of my top ten Dear Diary moments to date. TO DATE.
But, yeah, anyway...Nirvana's "Dumb." Perhaps lyric-appropriate for the silent debacle I made of my tortured heart, the song tells the story of trying to fit in and of the pleasure or security or confidence or whateverthefrig that you get from playing the part and reciting the script. But, you know, it's DUMB, but it doesn't matter because at the time, you feel."happy" (a term, in high school, that is loosely translated to..."I finally have an almost-boyfriend who almost-knows I exist!").
You live and learn, and then you write columns. Colin, I still love you.
PS: You want to know the scary part? I even started going to a new youth group at Colin's church just to be around him. WHAT? I was messing with GOD? So dark. Lord, forgive me, he was in a band!
THE END. I can't confess to any more this week. You got the Michael Jackson dance and a high school secret love confession on the dubya dubya dubya, what more do you want from me? I'm spent! Until next week, music lovers...