Embarassed because I'd been caught listening to Billy Joel

This is not something I am prone to do, but we all indulge secret passions sometimes and I am no exception. Even worse was that I'd tried to cover it up.

By the time my relatively new friend Carla and I were buckling our seatbelts after the rock show, I had completely forgotten I'd been listening to Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Vol. 1 on the way to the club. Carla and I were sweaty; our ears were ringing, and we basked in the post-show, pre-bar glow. The dark windshield glimmered furtively in the light rain. Carla was in the passenger seat saying something I couldn't hear through my teal foam earplugs, which I proceeded to plop greasily into an empty coffee cup. I rememeber she wore a navy blue denim jacket with a lot of brightly-colored buttons, a lot of mascara and silver glitter. I turned the key in the ignition and the car woke up sputtering, gouting light everywhere.

I like to relish the moment, right after starting the car, when the CD player resumes its work, especially when I can't immediately place the music. Sometimes I wait for an appropriately anonymous section of whatever I'm listening to before I turn off my car so I might get to experience the mysterious instant of not recognizing the familiar when I return, setting up a little wonder pit-stop for myself in the future. It doesn't always work.

Then I try to prevent myself from identifying the music that's playing, delaying the jolt of recognition for as long as possible by shutting down mental file-searching and concentrating on the sound of the music. It feels great to hear something so good and unencumbered, if only for a moment. But when I started the car on my pseudo-date with Carla, something about the texture of the music, which I couldn't identify at first, bothered me. Something about its jittery piano and deep-throated vocals gave me pause. With dawning horror, I realized - Oh my god it's the freaking Billy Joel CD - and I stabbed the off button. The silence of the ocean floor flooded the car.

Carla and I had known each other for about a month - we met through a series of events that has nothing to do with this live jasmin story. We definitely had a spark, but we were also co-workers and were involved in vague relationships and would probably wind up being too good of friends for anything to come of it.

My real mistake wasn't listening to Billy Joel; it was trying to hide it. It's one thing to get caught doing something embarrassing, but it's much worse to actually appear embarrassed by it, which implies that you meant it. Had I just smiled rakishly, started belting out the lyrics ironically, or made a wisecrack instead of quickly turning off the CD player as if she wouldn't notice... I can't help but wonder what might be today.

We both stared straight ahead. I affected a studious aspect; her gaze was more searching. The silence was enormous. No cars passed through the gravel lot to make a munching sound. We were almost the last to leave the club, because we always stay until the bands are heading to the afterbars.

"What was that?" Carla asked, not unreasonably or without sympathy. Still, her voice sounded like a parody of casual curiousity. Her reflection looked slightly baffled in the windshield, brushed in broad dim strokes on the dark.

"Huh? Nothing," I said, in way I hoped would register as absently, feigning surprise at her question as if she'd jarred me from a pleasant reverie. I might have even yawned and stetched my arms. I suddenly developed an intense fascination with the web of cracks I had put right above the inspection sticker on my windshield. I'd been moving large furniture. Running my finger along the bright water trapped in the black glass, I furrowed my brow as if to say, These fissures are no longer acceptable; how might I bring my ingenuity to bear on a solution?

"That was Billy Joel," Carla said defiantly.

"No, it wasn't." My god, what did I mean?

"Yes it was!" Carla said in a scandalized tone. "That was 'Only the Good Die Young.'" She was smiling, but in an astonished, kind of affonted way.

It was. It really was. It wasn't exactly "We Didn't Start the Fire" bad, but still, it was bad. My jaw lolled like something with a busted hinge. I felt like maybe my eyes did something that might be construed as goggling.

She said my name plaintively, taken aback by the sudden disappearance of my usual bravado. I had to think in terms of damage control. I needed a ripping bon mot, something witty and cutting and dismissive.

"No it wasn't."

Oh dear. Like Peter in the Garden, I had opted for a third denial. I could see where it was heading. Like Peter, I was going to get called out.

Carla must have enjoyed the pliant, come-hither resistance of the stereo's knob as she purposefully depressed it with a stiffened finger. The jasmin live song began right at the titular chorus. "Only the good die young," Joel proclaimed, with what seemed to me a smug satisfaction. He would not be denied. I peered intently through the windshield as if trying to discern portents in the confusion of orange street lights refracting through the irregular rain. The part of the song right after the chorus that sounds like a used car commercial accused me from the air. Carla's gaze burned into the side of my head like a brand. Defeated, I turned down the volume a little, but let the song continue to play. Carla smirked at the floorboard as we drove off into the weeping night. At last call, she left the bar with some guy wearing earlobe expanders and a neckerchief. I went home alone. Although we remained friends, the tenor of our relationship was markedly different from then on, we never spoke of that night again.

[A friend of mine told me recently that she sometimes just had to listen to the Arcade Fire even though she "felt guilty about it," and it reminded me of Joanna's recent Shins-anxiety post. Around the same time I discovered a cache of old writing, stuff from my late teens to early twenties, that I'd thought long destroyed. This little Billy Joel thing was among that writing, and it seemed of a piece with this concept of taste-based guilt that keeps popping up for me recently. I barely recall writing this and certainly don't remember living it (my late teens and early twenties being a particularly blurry period in my life), so I'm not sure how much of it is autobiographical and how much is character sketch. I still don't wear earplugs, for instance, and I never knew anyone named Carla. But I did find a burned copy of Billy Joel's Greatest Hits in an old Case Logic CD binder, and I was terribly indie at that time in my life, so...who knows? It was probably a spot of both.]

The Untouchables were a Californian Mod/Ska band that passed into my airspace sometime during high school at a time when kids were popping up and down in Fishbone shirts. They are the first band I ever saw live. I was at a UB40 show at the Lisner Auditorium in DC, and the show started and I remember thinking "I didn't know UB40 had so many black people in it" and then after three songs I didn't recognize: "Geez when are they going to play 'Red Red Wine'?" It wasn't during one of my cooler periods. I really don't remember anything else about that night. I'm not sure why, although the Lisner has a way of sucking detail out of the air.

I didn't see a whole lot of live music in High School. I passed up a number of chances to see IRS-period REM. $8 seemed kinda steep. Ditto Prince's Purple Rain and Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense tours.

I did see Go-Go legends Trouble Funk play at Sidwell Friends, a small, private Quaker High School in Northwest Washington. I think Megan was there, though I wouldn't meet her until 2 decades later. And one of the first things we talked about when we did meet, was what the fuck was Trouble Funk always doing at Sidwell Friends High School?

The title track Wild Child was the clear hit off the Untouchables debut LP. When it comes to the 2-Tone species, I really can't think of a more wonderful specimen. The bands popular tide soon flagged, and drew back to the West Coast. I stopped listening to UB40 for good soon after and haven't even considered them for 20 years, though I did make a bet with my girlfriend a couple weeks ago: she claimed Neil Diamond wrote Red Red Wine, I insisted it had roots in an old rocksteady song. She won: the Jewish Elvis dropped that hot pocket almost FORTY years ago.

But I hung on to Wild Child in the form of a dusty gold Maxell cassette, and the song that I always returned to was Laser Show. There is something so perfectly and deftly spare about it. I was happy to discover recently that Wild Child had been re-mastered for CD in 2002 with free sex chat bonus action (including this extended version of What's Gone Wrong), and recently took up residence in iTunes.

I don't really have anything more to say, so I'll ask you, MW faithful, to answer me one or more of these questions:

1. What was your first concert? Discuss.

2. Name a T-shirt that out-sold the band it advertised more so than the Fishbone T-shirt.

3. The comments below were left on a youtube video. WITHOUT cheating, tell me the name of the artist and song they apply to. (The answer has nothing really to do with anything in this post)


Just a beautiful piece of musicianship. It's a shame that songs like this aren't big hits anymore..

If there was ever a song where the picture was painted before the artist ever said a word, it was THIS one. The scene, the mood, the picture...everything is set before he sings his first line.

sob sob sob (reminds me of my cousin who died of cancer a year ago)

Gangsta rap is all bad. Anyone who thinks it's cool to glorify criminal activity, prison life and raping girls is nothing but sick!!! This stuff is great! Good wholesome values here.

Man this song takes me back to the essence of my being, freakin amazing.

I actually saw him perform this song in the living room of a friend of mine. Excellent! He's a good guy too.

excellent i really like this song and im only 19

I was conceived to this song..thanks mom!

I remember puking up having the flu listening to this as a kid and it would make me feel better.

This song's so beautiful it makes me want to do smack.

great song, no good music now; rap sucks

i love this song!! i dreamt that i was flying and it was the best dream i ever had coz it felt so real..;'b

Reminds me of my vacation at Lake George, NY....circa 1972...

If you play close attention... this song is actually about espionage... Nothing is what it seems. Scope the lyrics reeeeeeeallll close...

rap is not REAL music. It is borrowed, homogenized, artificial crap that rots the brains of its creator and listener as well. This is an actually song with real instruments, thoughtful lyrics, melody, and emotion. Today's music doesn't just pale in comparison; THERE IS NO COMPARISON!

I just love this song because it reminds me of the best brothers ever, Kenny & Kevin, that night at the karaoke was AMAZING!!

And then she asked for a job

She's got me dead to rights though. Whenever people ask me about my influences, I'm like, Hummel figurines, photos, certain gems, cute kitten calendars. "Hang In There !" It's probably my preciousness that causes my enduring affection for the recent bumper crop of Swedish indie pop, which is uniformly whimsical and fey (the Knife, while incredible, is obviously excluded from this taxonomy), that has flooded the States over the past couple of years. We could start by talking about Abba, but on his deathbed, my esteemed mentor in preciousness (a certain gray eminance called Chauncy Wigglesbottom), clutching my ruffled sleeve with a daintily manicured hand, said to me, "Brian, never write about Abba!" And I gave him my oath. We could talk about Camera Obscura, but they aren't really Swede-poppers due to the minor technicality of being Scottish. We could talk about Jens Lekman or Pelle Carlberg, but their mannered affectations leave me a little cold. We could also start with Acid House Kings or the Cardigans, who laid a lot of the groundwork for this new wave of Swede pop - actually, we could definitely talk about AHK's frankly terrifying cover photo (notice how the eyes just follow you. Do they have Olan Mills in Sweden? Is it haunted?) but we've only got so much bandwidth here and I'd rather share the newer stuff with you.

The Concretes' Victoria Bergsman makes a terrific cameo in Peter Bjorn and John's conversation song "Young Folks", which is pretty perfect comfort pop - the whistled melody tattoos itself on your brain immediately, and the song does a great job of capturing the bubble-like quality of burgeoning romance (it makes me think of getting-to-know-you montages in movies: Throwing a medicine ball, chasing pigeons in the park, eating ice cream in front of a boardwalk arcade...). There's a really adorable video for "Young Folks" here, sort of like Linklater without the drugs and paranoia.

In my Pitchfork review of Loney, Dear's Sub Pop debut, I speculated that Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch collaboratively authored Sweden's English curriculum, explaining why so many Swedes get starry eyed when they sing in English. As one savvy reader pointed out, this isn't actually true - the jig is up, and I salute this reader's fine-tuned bullshit detector. At any rate, Loney Dear is an utterly likeable musician with a voice that seems to be composed of some sort of chilled liquid, and his record is my current go-to record for frazzled moments.

I wonder if this same reader wrote to I'm From Barcelona to inform them that they aren't, in fact, from Barcelona, and I wonder if they replied that it just sounds better than I'm From Jonkoping (umlauts sold seperately). IFB is a bouncy, jangly behemoth-- there are like 67 people in the band ("hey, I've got a kazoo and a neckbeard" - it's that kind of party), a utopian society where cute girls sing rapturous 20-voice harmonies with heinous boys and every day is school picture day. From personal research I've discovered that taking any "ba-ba-ba" section from an I'm From Barcelona song and using digital editing software to crank the speed and pitch way down turns it into a monkish chant. You should try it - it's fun, and Audacity is free! Sorry to say that I've run out of posting time before getting to The Legends and Hello Saferide (except to those of you who become personally offended when I write things, to whom I say, you're welcome), but if people want to hear more modern Swede pop or discuss it with greater depth, we could do that in the future - there's plenty of this stuff I haven't even touched on. You know your way to the comments box. Moistworks is nothing if not interactive. Until then, have a precious day!

A bad thing happened in our culture when depression became equated with moral clarity

On the one hand, it's heartening to think that hundreds of untreated mental patients found a market niche for themselves as SERIOUS THINKERS. How American is that? On the other, it means that some of our best creative and analytical minds work through the prism of misanthropy and self-loathing. (Leonard Cohen, anyone? Who's written songs like Hallelujah, which I love best in others' versions.)

I was thinking about this as I rediscovered one of the most glorious Internet artifacts of all time, one which, for me, justifies the entire existence of the medium: this riff on Jonathan Franzen's author photo.

I feel bad busting on JF. I haven't read any of his stuff. Then, I wasn't very motivated. It seems perverse to read someone's work just so you can make fun of him in an authoritative manner. Still, I'd checked out How to Be Alone from my local library. I'd leaf through it, reading a line or two of Franzen's plaints about not being read, or not being read correctly, and replacing it on my nightstand. After three renewals, I returned it to the public trust, leaving Franzen the gloomy satisfaction of being validated in his loneliness.

In my youth, I had a weakness for moody boys and manifestos. I was a smart chick, with glasses and everything, and as many other smart women do I cultivated a protective severity. Serious thinkers, i.e. men, like having us around: they need access to women, for purposes of sex, competition, and status display. Becasue we are basically ornamental, we are assumed to be lightweights-inadequately serious, mere creatures of the flesh. Having a sense of humor makes you particularly vulnerable to criticism. This was the case in every realm I inhabited: the musicians, the music geeks, the theory boys, the writers, the politicos. In every case, this jockeying over ideas; in every case, the collecting of women as decorative objects. I saw one guy beam proudly as his normally reserved wife leaped into an intellectual fray, "Now, that's the way!" And aside to his mates, "It takes her a while to get going, but she's got the right ideas." Thank goodness!

So, imagine my amusement at reading this, in a recent article

Perhaps his most unexpected conclusion was that ideology and political grievances played a minimal role during the initial stages of enlistment. "The only significant finding was that the future ts felt isolated, lonely, and emotionally alienated."

And this:

He has called his model...the "bunch of guys" theory. The bunch of guys constituted a closed society that provided a sense of meaning that did not exist in the larger world.

And this:

Within the "bunch of guys,"...men often became radicalized through a process akin to one-upmanship, in which members try to outdo one another in demonstrations of religious zeal.

Am I the only one who sees the family resemblance between this and certain recent debates on MW? Let alone all of graduate school and most of the arts?

I keep thinking about the kinds of knowledge that we value and privilege and wondering what it is we find comforting about ideology. In his memoir Fugitive Days, recovering ideologue Bill Ayers puts it well:

"Ideology became an appealing alternative in so many ways. Practice was uncertain and inexact; ideology cloaked itself in confidence. Practice was slow and ideology a smooth and efficient shortcut. Mostly, ideology was serious-people with ideology meant business. I didn't know yet how domesticating and cruel and stupid ideology could become, or the inevitable dependency it would foster in all of us."

Ideology, of one sort or another, keeps us locked up in cliques. The fact is, few people, mainstream or otherwise, know how to interact comfortably with people who are not mostly similar to them. For a long time after I moved to the suburbs, the only people I talked to were service personnel: the lady at the dry cleaners, the barristas at Starbucks, the janitors at the school. Everyone else was frozen into their upper middle class nuclear family world and they failed to perceive my many cultural refinements. My daughter had her first experience of social exclusion in first grade, when a friend of hers, who'd been to our home for play dates, wasn't allowed to invite her to a birthday party. "My mom said she wasn't sure what kind of person your mom was." Because I'm a single parent? Because we lived in a slum apartment? Because I dress like a hoochie? Because my kid was in day care? Even now, I walk into back-to-school nights and see women I've volunteered with on parent committees turn their heads away and fail to greet me. They cluster into mom cliques and fear the unknown.

Enough of high school, already. Lately I feel like the most subversive force in culture is friendliness or the willingness to say, "I don't know about that" and ask a question. When serious thinkers have exhausted themselves with complexity, with much more interesting views of the world, it's these sorts of hokey, simple things they come back to. I guess there is no workaround to the messy business of living.