This is the last column I’ll ever write for the Pilot, so I’ve decided to dedicate it to ME! (My apologies to the practitioner and others to whom I promised a whole quarter of this column.) In the three years I’ve written for the Pilot, people have approached me wondering what music I really like. Since every column is about a new album, song, or topic in pop music, do I have favorite bands? Favorite albums? Favorite songs? I distinctly remember the horror on the face of a friend when I told him my honest opinion of his favorite band, the Decemberists, and their latest album, The Hazards of Love. “Their music seems to be getting a bit gimmicky,” I said. “Too predictable. Too heavy on the pretentious folk narratives. After all, a band has to earn my respect before it drifts into that whole rock opera territory. And I feel like the Decemberists have always come close to crossing that line.” My friend blinked at me, then finally declared, “You hate music!” Then he refused to sit with me at dinner.
I have never forgotten that interaction. Because I DO love music! I really do! But I understand why people might think I don’t after I have written a bad review or verbally degraded a treasured artifact from an artist or group of artists that they hold dear to their hearts. I want to make sure I leave this column letting people know that I do have a heart when it comes to music. I don’t criticize everything I hear. I don’t strictly like certain music because it might be “culturally relevant” or innovative in style or craft. To prove it, this last column is about ten songs that I will always love, because they played a part in my experience at Principia, and not because they tickle my propensity for deconstructing music. Consider this a mix-tape for the Principia community. I’d burn every reader a copy, but I think that would be illegal and a bad promise for me to make through this publication. (You can find all these songs on just about every digital music distributor.)
In this last column, I would like to thank my parents, fellow Pilot columnist Alice Stanley, and Dinah and Paul Ryan for their support of my writing. And most importantly, I would like to thank former Pilot editor Abby Becker and former Pilot faculty adviser Craig Savoye for giving me this column. I’ve loved writing it, and thank you to everyone who has ever read it. Keep listening.
1. Wilco – “Hummingbird”
I’ve probably listened to Wilco more than any other band in college. I also saw them live twice. It is hard to pick one song from Wilco’s deep catalog because so many of their songs will forever be engrained in many of my experiences with people and places from ages 18-22. I chose “Hummingbird” because of the first line of the song, “His goal in life was to be an echo.” Everybody has wanted to be an “echo” at some point in their lives – to be remembered for something, or even to be so good at something that people forget all your “competitors” and you stand alone in their memories. I think my education at Principia has really taught me to let go of this desire, and I’m always humbled by the chorus of this song: “Remember to remember me / standing still in your past / floating fast like a hummingbird.” The reality is that we’ll never be bigger than our expressions. Even Paul McCartney will be forgotten someday, but the influence of his music will live forever.
2. Pavement – “Gold Soundz”
I once had a radio show at Principia and named it after this song. I remember being angry when the radio station put up an advertisement in the concourse for my show and spelled it “Gold Sounds” with an “s.” The radio show was a lot of fun – it was mostly playlists with a dumb theme and my friends calling in to heckle me. I also skipped a lot of the promos so I would have more time for the music. (Sorry, Rick!) I only had the show for one quarter, and I wish I could have kept doing it. Instead, I kept busy with the idea of being busy. I think most of Pavement’s music is about being preoccupied with ideas, rather than actual tasks. You can hear the apathy in Stephen Malkmus’ sarcastic voice.
3. The Shins – “Australia”
The first concert I ever attended in college was the Shins at the Pageant after they released their third and still most recent album, Wincing The Night Away. I think all freshmen have that moment when they are like “COLLEGE! I AM FREE TO DO WHATEVER I WANT AND NO ONE CAN STOP ME!” I had many of those moments, but I’ll always remember when the Shins tore into this song after their mellow introduction. I looked at my four other friends bobbing next to me, and thought, “I am so glad that I am here.” I later went on an abroad to Australia.
4. Spank Rock – “Bump”
I’d say the first half of college is at least 70 percent dance party. At these dance parties, there are way too many awesomely inappropriate and vulgar rap songs that get played, and for those readers who may or may not know, these awesomely inappropriate and vulgar rap songs are heard at Principia. So to refrain from mentioning the long list of songs and artists that will always remind me of dance parties at Prin, I’d say this song pretty much sums them all up.
5. Tokyo Police Club – “Nature Of The Experiment”
I was training for a triathlon spring quarter of my freshman year, and this song always sent a charge through me before bike rides or runs. I had a single on the first floor of Anderson, and my friend Ezra had one across from me. When we weren’t having dance parties to awesomely inappropriate and vulgar rap songs, like Spank Rock’s “Bump,” we were blasting this song into the hall from our speakers. What a fun time that was. Really, anything the two words “freshman year” conjure up for you can be heard in this two minutes and two seconds of pure head-shaking, arm-flailing pop punk.
6. Sigur Ros – “Svefn-g-englar”
I never had much of a connection to this Icelandic band until I saw the music video for this song during the spring quarter of my junior year. I was lying in bed with my laptop and reading a music blog that claimed Sigur Ros made some of the most moving videos to accompany their music. Little did I know when I began watching one of these on YouTube that a music video would affect me in such a way that I would begin to see art differently. Maybe it was special needs acting group dressed up like angels in the video. Maybe it was the lead singer Jonsi’s celestial croon, or maybe it was the stellar hum that sounded like a spaceship making a delicate landing periodically throughout the song. Maybe it was something entirely separate from the experience. But after I watched the video, I remember crying for a good five minutes. Then I went for a walk around campus in the early evening and came back feeling unusually grateful and optimistic. For the rest of that quarter, I listened to the song over and over and was really grateful for the grace that artistic freedom can bring.
7. Animal Collective – “Summertime Clothes”
I was on my abroad in Australia when I first heard this song. I had counted down to the release of the album, Merriweather Post Pavillion, and I decided to skip my internship to grab the CD at a record store. I spent the morning walking around Sydney, but I only listened to the album up until “Summertime Clothes.” I listened to it on repeat until I needed to meet up with the abroad group again. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life – walking through Sydney’s fish market and hearing Animal Collective’s ethereal noises swim through me. Ironically, the internship in Sydney got me an interview with Animal Collective – a dream come true. And I did the interview inside the Chapel because I needed good cell phone reception and it was raining.
8. Caribou – “She’s The One”
One of the greatest discoveries I’ve ever made was when I found the Billiken Club at Saint Louis University. This small venue, similar to our Pub, hosts about five to eight shows every Prin quarter. Some of my favorite live music experiences have happened there, but one of my favorites was seeing this band perform this song during my sophomore year. I went with my roommate, Greg, and we stood in front of the drummer who pounded the crap out of his poor drum set. Greg and I spent the rest of the quarter going to sleep to this song in our room on the second floor of Syl. Remembering how calm those spring nights were, hearing the vocal falsettos and swirling orchestra strings, makes me wish I could go back to being a sophomore instead of being a senior, scrambling to finish my capstone.
9. Silje Nes – “Ames Room”
Winter quarters have been tough for this California native. One of the things that brought me comfort on cold nights was this song from Norwegian singer-songwriter, Nes. Her light guitar picking and adorably imperfect voice whisked me off to dreamland, especially during my sophomore year when I was tired after swim practice. The first line, “We go ashore / to a place that is warm” could never have been more relevant after dragging myself out of the pool, walking hungrily to dinner through the cold, then into my bed for the night.
10. The Flamingos – “I Only Have Eyes For You”
If I remember any song I’ve enjoyed the most while being a senior, it’s got to be this one. My final year at Principia has been one of much growth socially, artistically, and spiritually – and the summation of this year could be described the same way I would describe this song. There’s an eerie uncertainty in the melodies and doo-wop vocals, but it all eventually culminates into a gorgeous wave during the chorus. “I Only Have Eyes For You” has also kept me great company at all times of the day – prepping for class in the morning, procrastinating after lunch, and studying late into the night. The song just sounds like a memory, and I’ll never forget how special it has been to hear it on a daily basis as I overcame challenges here at Prin. To me, “I Only Have Eyes For You” sounds like coming home after participating in the Iditarod.