May 2004

Choose up to three songs that could be your personal anthem. Include a sample lyric of each. Feel free to elaborate further on why you think these songs are particularly descriptive of you.

Narrowing this down to three was a very difficult task. I am going with the ones that actually served as anthems for me, as opposed simply to songs I adored or thought were brilliant.

1) "Unusual Way" by Maury Yeston

You don't know what you do to me, you don't have a clue,
You can't tell what it's like to be me looking at you--
It scares me so that I can hardly speak.
In a very unusual way I owe what I am to you,
Though at times it appears I won't stay, I never go.
Special to me in my life since the first day that I met you,
How could I ever forget you once you had touched my soul?
In a very unusual way, you've made me whole.
This song is from the musical Nine; I believe that the first time I ever heard it was on the Tony Awards broadcast the year it was nominated -- 1982? The Raul Julia production, not the Antonio Banderas production, at any rate. It was in the middle of my peak obsession with musicals, during high school, which was a great time to be obsessed with musicals as it prevented me from becoming obsessed with any of my meagre dating prospects and gave me a nice mental outlet for my romantic inclinations. (Okay, being obsessed with Eva Peron because of Evita was probably not entirely healthy but hey, I was 15.) Anyway, I lived with this song for three years and the first time I ever fell in love, it became the anthem of that relationship, the repercussions of which I was still feeling quite intensely ten years later and which isn't dead nearly twenty years later.

2) "Closer To Fine" by the Indigo Girls

I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance: he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper, and I was free.
When I was trying to decide whether or not to drop out of my literature Ph.D. program, this song saved my sanity, it was so close to my state of mind. In fact there were no old-school bearded professors; I was graded and found wanting by the Marxist-feminist wing (not that there was in any way such a unified thing at the University of Chicago, as everyone was bitchy and competitive and I wasn't punk enough, bisexual enough or in favor, at least rhetorically, of blowing up buildings enough. By the time I left I honestly couldn't tell old-fashioned patriarchal oppression from new modern politically correct oppression. Enough years out of the academy during a Republican administration and meeting women who against all common sense refuse to call themselves feminists have mostly cured me of this.

3) "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, n’ how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
I loved this song as a child because Peter, Paul and Mary sang it, long before I had any idea what it was about or when or why it was written. I loved it again as a teenager when I understood exactly what it was about and when and why it was written. I love it now because although the face I envision for "a man" has changed, the relevance has become all the greater, and all the more poignant.

I had a very hard time narrowing this meme to three...was hugely tempted to use the non-anthemic but wonderful "In the Passage" by Dan Fogelberg ("There's a time when the traveler is fated to find/That insight has turned his gaze behind, behind/And the steps taken yesterday will beckon again/And lead to his weary journey's end, his journey's end/And in the passage from the cradle to the grave/We are borne, madly dancing/Rushing headlong through the crashing of the days/We run on and on without a backwards glance") because The Innocent Age was my favorite album in high school, which I think is pretty ironic, looking at the lyrics tonight and wondering how I had such a taste for nostalgia when I was too young to have anything to be nostalgic about. Kathy Mattea's "Further and Further Away", which is not an anthem, has the same effect (Mattea's "I Wear Your Love", which is an anthem, has unfortunately not really been mine except in theory). I think my great love of the Dawson's Creek soundtracks stems from its combination of forward-looking love songs like "Kiss Me" and twisted nostalgic pieces like "Waiting For My Real Life To Begin".

Okay, you know what? I have three more. But I'll keep them short.

1) "Hold On" by Mary Beth

At the start of your life, are you given a golden key
To personalize, so carefully
And slowly you groove it, make it your own
And when you find where it fits well, swing it wide
And follow him home, examine his soul.
Because as an explanation of how romantic love works, I just love this.

2) "Telling Stories" by Tracy Chapman

There is fiction in the space between
The lines on your page of memories
Write it down but it doesn’t mean
You’re not just telling stories
There is fiction in the space between
You and me.
She's a wonderful lyricist, and her love songs absolutely break me up ("The Promise" is both an A/B and R/S song for me, if you want a fandom connection). But this one, as pointed out at some point, doesn't only have to be about how personal memory and rewriting works; it could be about how fan fiction works.

3) "A Poem on the Underground Wall" by Paul Simon

Now from his pocket quick he flashes,
The crayon on the wall he slashes,
Deep upon the advertising,
A single worded poem comprised
Of four letters.
And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding
The poem across the tracks rebounding
Shadowed by the exit light
His legs take their ascending flight
To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night.
Picking one quote from Paul Simon is like picking one play from Shakespeare -- yes, I mean it, I think he's the greatest poet of a generation. This one has the lyric cleverness, the social rebellion, the wit, the manic rhythm...the F word as poetry. I love it.