Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lists of six most meaningful songs are making the rounds on the Internet, and it makes pretty nice fodder for a neglected blog:

What was the first song you ever bought?

Sigh. Do we have to? I suppose this is meaningful in that it reveals what influences surrounded you at a period of life probably marked by extreme cluelessness and impressionability. My first personal music purchase was The Best of Simon and Garfunkel. Grrrrrr. Could have been much, much worse, I suppose.

What song always gets you dancing?

As any acquaintance will testify, very few powers on earth get me dancing. If I stick to the literal question, the closest answer is probably Balkan music. But if we take it in the sense of a song that consistently rouses the blood, I'll take Tom Russell's Tonight We Ride (with Gallo de Cielo a very close second).

What song takes you back to your childhood?

Bill Staines' Sweet Wyoming Home: we had a cassette dubbed from LP that got a lot of play on long car rides across the west (I may still have it). Plus, I was in fact a child with a sweet Wyoming home. Those early Bill Staines recordings always call up the feeling of bundling up in the shotgun seat (no boosters or such in those more enlightened times), wrapped in a blanket in the cold before dawn, frozen sage, the invisible loom of the Tetons, and off across the basins and ranges as the sun came up. I can't find an online version that's really satisfactory, but this cover by someone named Windy Bill comes the closest for me, despite imperfect sound.

Runner up: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. They were the hold music on my mother's office phone system for years, and I still have them memorized. Music doesn't get any better than the Brandenburgs, so whoever set up that phone system, I owe you a beer!

What is your perfect love song?

Some possibly apocryphal person said that the three categories of song in existence are "I want a girl," "I love my girl," and "I lost my girl." Sadly, an awful lot of songs classified as love-y fall under categories 1 and 3. But a "perfect" love song really ought to be in the second group. And personally I'd prefer it to be genial rather than overwrought, happily enamored but in it for the long haul. It really doesn't get any better than the ironically titled I Don't Love You Much Do I? with Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris.

Incidentally, this also holds largely true in opera arias and duets, where simple "I love you" music uncomplicated by other matters is unexpectedly rare. But there's always the Pa-pa-pa-pa duet from The Magic Flute.

If we open it up to "lost my girl" numbers, Bucking Horse Moon is a damn fine song.

What song would you want at your funeral?

Let's not screw around here, what I want at my funeral is the Eastern Orthodox funeral service. For bonus tracks, I'll take any resurrectional music from Holy Week and Pascha. I especially like the Lamentations for Holy Friday, though unabbreviated versions that don't omit much of the best stuff are not to be found on the Internet.

Time for an encore. One last song that makes you, you.

I love Eurasian folk music, and there's no sound that captures open expanses, mountains and basins, weather and seasons, longing for travel and love of place, like Tuvan music. Sevek Aldyn-Ool singing kargyraa is a perfect example. I've always been very fond of Eshten Charlyyry Berge (It's Hard to be Parted From a Friend) by Huun Huur Tu as well.

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