Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Unfinished Line - a mix for Winter

The Unfinished Line - a mix for Winter

I had decided a while ago that I wanted to do a winter-themed mix, and here is the result. It came out rather sad and poignant, as I think loss has been on my mind a great deal lately. Maybe it's the seasonal moodiness but winter always sorta brings me back around to thoughts of where I am in life, where we are all, our future, mortality, and reminders of the years inexorably pushing by us. Thoughts of Christmas as a child, and now myself as a nearly-40 year old man, and those we've lost along the way. Family members aging, dealing with different health concerns. It's a bittersweet time for me, and i'm sure that's true for many people.

So it's a bit of a sad collection in some ways but it just mirrors my reflections and memories of winter. But there is warmth here too; hope and promise for the future. Many of the songs I associate with particular winter memories, and others just always come into my head this time of year because of their feel, or subject matter, or lyrics. Hope you enjoy it.

Counting Crows - A Long December

This was me not long out of college, living away from home on my own for the first time, trying to make a living and meeting people while working for almost nothing at a music store. Music of course had always been the constant in my life, and that hadn't changed. This song always touched me - the mournful reflections of hospital rooms in winter, the struggle to "hold on to these moments as they pass" - to live your live and enjoy the present because it may all be gone tomorrow. A beautiful song and seemed an appropriate opening track.

I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

David Bowie - Fantastic Voyage

More memories of Winter. This track from the "Lodger" LP was also included as the b-side to the perennial Christmas favorite "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth". I had the 45 as a kid, and I loved it, but it was the slow, oddball "Fantastic Voyage" that truly fascinated me. Before the MTV onslaught of "Let's Dance", this was my first introduction to Bowie. My uncle loaned me (which, ehem, ended up being 'giving' me since I never returned them and, in fact, still have them!) the 'Aladdin Sane', 'Young Americans' and 'Diamond Dogs' LPs. A lifelong Bowie fan is born. And this song still takes me back to my little blue, cold bedroom.

Remember it's true, loyalty is valuable
But our lives are valuable too

Eurythmics - Julia

Ahhh. So much of my childhood, as far as music, gets back to Eurythmics. They were the first music that was mine, not my parents. I played their first 3 albums endlessly. Then came their soundtrack to 1984 "For the Love of Big Brother". First single "Sexcrime" was banished from US radio (although it was a hit in the UK), and thus the 2nd single - the icy, beautifully grand "Julia" - was completely overlooked. But not by me; I was spellbound by it, and the entire album, a dark and sinister collection of barren synth landscapes, Annie's haunted vocals and songs about nightmares like "Room 101" that I didn't understand. Hearing this song now takes me back to winter; I would always retreat to my bedroom, my solace was (is) always music. Pure beauty.

When winter leaves her branches bare
And icy breezes chill the air
The freezing snow lies everywhere
My darling
Will we still be there?

Kate Bush - Under Ice

From, of course, "Hounds of Love". An exercise in building intensity & drama. Part of Side 2, the song cycle known as "The Ninth Wave". The strings, layered vocals, lonesome wail at the ending... It captured my imagination when it came out, and still does today.

It's wonderful
Everything, so white.
The river has frozen over
Not a soul on the ice,
Only me, skating fast.

Thomas Dolby - Airwaves

One of my happiest childhood memories of Winter. My mom & dad, brother and sister went with some of my Dad's work friends & their kids to a hillside for sled riding. The snow was deep and fresh; we slammed down the hill on sleds & inter tubes. I remember the hillside, the fire, the hot chocolate, the frozen oatmeal-raisin cookies. And riding home in my Dad's work truck, as always with my walkman playing. Thomas Dolby, both "The Flat Earth" and "The Golden Age of Wireless" were always in my walkman. I remember it so strongly; bone tired, worn out, coming home on the frozen roads, jammed into the front cab of the truck with my family, "Airwaves". Remains one of my favorite songs by any artist. To me, it sounds like winter.

Electric fences line our new freeway
here in the half-light, the motorhomes leave
knee-deep in water under a pylon
how slow my heartbeat, how thin the air I'm breathing in

The Roches - Star of Wonder

Always grew up around Christmas music. The family favorite was The Roches' "We Three Kings" Can't have a compilation that reflects my memories and feelings of Winter without delving into this. The harmonies... just gorgeous. This song is a bit of magic. I'm not a believer, but the awed faith in the vocals here make me... almost.

Star of wonder in the heaven, wonder what you want of me, should I follow you tonight?

Tori Amos - Winter

Portraits of getting older, of letting life slip through your fingers. Tori's epic ballad from "Little Earthquakes". A song for her father, and for reflecting of Winters past, promises kept and broken.

Hair is gray and the fire is burning
So many dreams on the shelf
You say I wanted you to be proud of me
I always wanted that myself

a-ha - Angel in the Snow

a-ha recorded so many great songs; "Angel in the Snow" from the 'Memorial Beach' album is a particular favorite of mine. It's warm and full of love, and with a vocal with the power to melt.

Angel, angel or so
Wherever you may go
Mmm, yeah
I'll follow
Wherever you may go

Sugarcubes - Deus

High school. Clear memories of walking around my home town with friends, or on my own, trying to find something to do. Walkman on, as always. My sophomore year of high school, that winter, I was immersed in "Life's Too Good" - a weird, fascinating, compelling, tough, utterly original record. "Deus". It was right around the time I was losing faith in God and religion, and I guess this off-kilter vision of God made sense to me at the time. I was anti-social, and even at family gatherings I would usually have my walkman running. I specifically remember listening to this track on Christmas Eve, privately feeling wicked that I was playing a song that repeated that God does not exist... ahhh high school, LOL. Yeah, I was a moody little sullen kid, but I still love the song.

To create a universe you must taste the forbidden fruit

Pet Shop Boys - Birthday Boy

"Christmas eve, he's born again". Pet Shop Boys brilliant allegory, beautifully layered and executed. I still think you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody with a body of intelligent, superbly produced pop music over the past 25 years that can equal the Pet Shop Boys. This is one of their hidden masterpieces, from the overlooked "Release" album. A contemplation of martyrdom, from Jesus Christ, to Mathew Sheperd dying alone on a cold wooden fencepost. We've seen it all before.

Christmas Eve
a time of joy
if you believe
in Birthday Boy
This time around
it's all a mistake
Is he deluded
or just a fake?

Eels - Dead of Winter

I couldn't think to do a "winter" mix without eels' amazing "The Dead of Winter". It captures something incredibly powerful and human. Standing outside in the freezing cold, trying somehow to come to grips with a loved one's devastating illness. That feeling of helplessness and grief - the silent, lonely moments when we try and contemplate what is happening and the fact that we can't change it. The emotion is frozen by a stark moment of clarity.

Eels' 1998 album "Electro-Shock Blues" is one of the most difficult to listen to out of all my collection, but it's perhaps the most gripping in it's raw portrayal of human emotion. And it also happens to be sublimely beautiful. There are moments, like "Dead of Winter", that are starkly painful. But there are also moments of whimsy and humor, nostalgia and hope. The name of this compilation (and my blog) obviously comes from this song. Life is indeed "the unfinished line" whether our storyline is over, or not.

So I know you're going pretty soon
Radiation sore throat got your tongue
Magic markers tattoo you
And show it where to aim
And strangers break their promises
You won't feel any
You won't feel any pain

Laurie Anderson - Slip Away

Spellbinding, haunted, sad and moving. Laurie Anderson's stately vigil over her father as he lays dying in a hospital room, and goes from living to death. Crossing the line. "Oh death that creep, that crooked jerk, he comes, he comes walking, he comes sneaking down that long irreversible hallways, grabs you in your sleep." Then outside, into the icy air of the hospital parking lot, fresh grief and pain - expressed with such grace and beauty.

i'm thinking how you taught me how to win
and how to loose
and how to fight the crippling blues that i was born with
bad dreams and nightmares

Sting - Why Should I Cry For You?

This is another song written after the death of a father. It's about fulfilling a promise and "going to sea" - living life, fully, your own life, as you want it. "Why Should I Cry For You" - - but you know that he does. But instead of crying, fulfilling a promise perhaps, taking strength and memories, and honoring your father through your own life. I admit to being an emotional wreck sometimes with certain songs, and this is one that actually does bring me to tears. Moving on with life, sailing through winter.

Under the Arctic fire
Over the seas of silence
Hauling on frozen ropes
For all my days remaining
But would north be true?

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