A very sweet colleague of mine, who works at Apple, offered to order me an iPod Shuffle with his friends and family discount. I know I'm the last one on earth (the privileged Western "earth," that is) to have such a device.
This little player lets you load 240 songs. I've spent a few hours today scouring my iTunes and CD collection for my absolute favorites. I thought it would be fun to share the first ten songs that shuffle to the surface, no matter how embarrassing or obscure. Most of the artist links will take you to a performance of the song.
"You fixed yourself, you said, well never mind. We are ugly but we have the music."
Chelsea Hotel No 2, Rufus Wainwright. I've long loved songs about dramatic, tragic lives and lost love, tossed off with nonchalance. This Leonard Cohen cover pretty much epitomizes the genre. When Leonard Cohen wrote this song, which is about Janis Joplin, he became enraged when his publicist was so unchivalrous as to share the back story.
"Well nobody made this war of mine."
Mysteries, Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man. I love Portishead, but I love Beth Gibbons' solo album even more. This song sends me into a metaphysical swoon, with its lyrics about life as mystery. She's playing my song, because I think several times a day about how I'm alive right now, and how amazing that is.
"Memories mar my mind."
Love is a Losing Game, Amy Winehouse. More tragedy. Sometimes I wonder about myself. Why do I love Amy Winehouse, who is an utter wreck, with such great fervor? I'm a highly responsible taxpaying citizen, practically a teetoaller, and I have a tendency to run from drama. Yet I'm convinced there's a tiny little Amy Winehouse inside of me, who is demanding sensation and colorful madness.
"You were quicker than they thought. You just turned your back and walked."
Still the Same, Bob Seger. I've already dealt with my strange love of this song here.
"That money pump of power knows. The best defense is attack."
I Am the Law, Jon Langford. I've long had a crush on Jon Langford, because in my alternate, Amy Winehouse-ish mental world, I am drawn to drunken, larger than life outlaw/artists (but they have to be funny and self-deprecating.) This song, which is about the uses of power, totally rocks in a leftist sort of way. MP3 available here.
"Come to the fireworks, see the dark lady smile."
Burn It Blue, Caetano Veloso and Lila Downs
Caetano Veloso is another leftist musical hero, and he sings like an angel. I'm actually a little ambivalent about the slightly generic romanticism of this song, but I love Lila and Caetano's voices together.
"In the morning when you finally go, and the nurse runs in with her head hung low."
Casimir Pulaski Day, Sufjan Stevens. Sufjan Stevens is all about goodness, and living in a carefully controlled moral universe. This is very appealing to me, because I grew up in a very religious family, where it was believed that the smallest actions were making a splash in god's universe. This song seems to be about a chaste romance between the singer and a young girl who is dying in the bosom of her strict, religious family, and it's lovely and very philosophical.
Petit Pays, Cesaria Evora. I'm all about the lyrics, and Cesaria is singing in Portugese, which I don't understand (though I know she's singing about her "little country.") But when it comes to Cesaria, I don't need lyrics. Her voice contains the beautiful melancholy of living, and it soothes my soul. I saw her play once at the stunning Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and she was a stolid, barefoot presence, who seemed drenched in fatalism.
Samba Tranquille, Thievery Corporation. The first thing I ever liked about the Thievery Corporation was their name. This instrumental makes me feel like I'm in the dark, looking at city lights in the distance. MP3 available here.
"Is it a memory, or are you calling from somewhere?"
Do You Think About Me, Waco Brothers. I've always thought the Waco Brothers, one of Jon Langford's bands, were kind of mediocre, but I love this song, which energetically asks a straightforward question that I've had from time to time about past loves and lost friends. MP3 available here.
There's my 30 minute soundtrack. How about you?