All The Songs We Loved In May



I remembered that Can I Kick It was a song that existed back in February, when at the end of Tuesday night service one of my co-workers and I would play as drab and weird of music as could possibly be deemed appropriate in an appeal to get all the customers to leave. One night I was like “Oh, I’ve got it”- the grim opening chords to Cat Power's I Don’t Blame You sounded unthinkably hilarious. We started referring to that point in the evening as “Cat Power time.” Either before we figured out about Cat Power or after we couldn’t take another night of listening to Cat Power as a group of negligent losers nursed the glasses of water we’d poured them several hours ago and couldn’t take a hint we played a Best of Lou Reed album and when Walk On The Wild Side came on my line cook Johnny said “Oh, that’s where it’s from,” and I said “Where what's from?” and he said “Can I kick it?” and it would have been really cute if I’d said “Yes you can!” but I didn’t. I just said “Oh, yeah,” or whatever.

One weird night at the beginning of April I came home drunk and accidentally deleted my entire iTunes. Most of it was backed up on my external hard drive but before I remembered about my hard drive I freaked out and started buying a bunch of albums off the iTunes store. Just whatever albums I felt I couldn’t live without that happened to hop into my head. I bought the Tribe Called Quest Anthology and the next day I listened to Can I Kick It on the subway and it sounded the same as every other time I’d ever listened to Can I Kick It but for whatever reason I liked it better now. I don’t know why all the life decisions I’d made and events that had taken place since I last listened to Can I Kick It on a regular basis, in 2005, made Can I Kick It sound a thousand times better than it used to. I wonder if maybe it’s because I used to smoke a ton of pot and therefore was a chiller person. And now that I’m a career-oriented liquor-drinker AKA not a very chill person the chillness of Can I Kick It means more to me. Does more for me.

I wonder if I’ll ever get into smoking lots of weed again, I wondered. Maybe once I get a dog, I thought. There’s nothing much better to do when you’re stoned than look deeply into a gorgeous dog’s soulful eyes. It makes me so sad when people get their dogs high. I feel like a dog’s natural state of existence is way more pure and beautiful than our sloppy dirty stoned and a high would just sully it. Dogs don’t pick up on a ton of nuance in the world like humans do and that must be pretty confusing in itself. Throw pot on top of that haziness and it just sounds like a pretty sad place to put your dog in.

I would like to smoke pot in my dog’s vicinity but definitely make sure to blow the smoke out the window. I would like to keep the window open. And it would be the kind of weather where you could wear a hoodie and shorts. I’d be wearing my new Nike Frees and no socks. I’d be lying on a couch. I’d look over at my dog and I’d tell him he’s cute or he’s my best friend or whatever. Something nice like that. I’d play this song and either I’d ask him “Can I kick it?” and then I’d pick up his paws and mime like he was saying “Yes You Can!” and I’d feel so cool about myself for having received his approval. Or I’d pretend that he was asking me if he could kick it. And I’d point at him with both of my index fingers in a cool, sly way like a rapper would. It would almost break my heart to imagine him ever thinking that he couldn’t.

SHAKEY GRAVES, "Halloween" (Liz)

Shakey Graves is this boy Ali who's friends with Emily. A few times in 2009 the three of us went surfing together at nighttime in Venice; I remember Ali being a very graceful surfer, "a natural." When The State of Texas Vs. Alejandro Rose-Garcia came out I bought it to be a bro, and then I sort of forgot to listen to it. But a little while ago I put my iTunes on shuffle and "Halloween" came up and the creepy/creaky guitar me stopped me and I listened close and loved it. And I still agree that the guitar's creepy and cool, but the words are what got me: he sings about drinking too much and being stuck in your hometown forever in a way that's romantic but lazy or maybe insouciant, there's lines about living in the woods and the chorus has lyrics about liquor stores and crocodiles. I really like that boys can sometimes think about crocodiles when thinking about liquor stores. That's so encouraging.


I think I hate the LCD Soundsystem version of "Jump Into the Fire." I mean it's great and amazing, but I hate it, because it leaves out the best lyric. My favorite part in the original is when Harry Nilsson sings "We can make each other happy," but James Murphy changes it so he's just singing "We can jump into the fire" again, and it's such a tease. I've listened to the LCD Soundsystem cover of "Jump Into the Fire" about a gabillion times over the past month, and every single time some dumb part of me thinks James Murphy's going to sing the lyrics right, and he never does. That's always so frustrating to me, in a way that's almost physical. "Does James Murphy not believe in making each other happy?" is something I usually joke-ask when that happens. I just don't get the point in getting rid of what's maybe the most hopeful lyric in the song - but at the same time I don't really care about "getting James Murphy's points" in general, so ultimately it's okay. I'd much prefer to get Harry Nilsson's points, partly because during Moonlandingcon last week LJ made the cool decision that if Mad Men were the Beatles, then Stan Rizzo would be Harry Nilsson. Also, here's a photo that LJ's friend Matt found of Stan Rizzo wearing a headband and watching a hockey game. Perfect.

JAN & DEAN, “Norwegian Wood" (LJ)

My favorite genre of song is “songs that sound like they’re the beginning of everything.” Or at very least the beginning of a movie based on a novel I wrote about my life. I’ve listened to this song so many times at the beginning of so many summers, when a canopy of trees so green they look like they’re kidding, like they’re a parody of their own greenness, grows over my street. It feels like you’re walking through the hollow body of a covered bridge, and the only bummer I can think of is it’s too shady to get a tan. This song sounds like a time-lapse video of a caterpillar turning into the hottest orange butterfly, a hot sunset. This song is the hottest color orange before it turns into the hottest color pink.

I love Jan & Dean so much. I don’t think they’re underrated; I think I have weird taste in shit. They sound like an awkward, out-of-focus Beach Boys, but they’re bigger than the Beach Boys, they sound bigger, more animated- like a Jeff Koons sculpture of a Beach Boys song. They sound like the smell of a scrappy little beach shack that only sells inflatable plastic beach toys and sour keys.

Norwegian Wood’s such a crazy thing, isn’t it? A sweet, small song that doesn’t sound like it’s from any time. John Lennon wrote it. The words are the greatest and maybe only true poem John Lennon ever wrote. He sounds like a small, sad elf while he’s singing it. The little gnome camped out in the corner of the HELP! house. A lot of singers have sung a lot of different Norwegian Woods, and they’re something I’ve always been compelled to chase after. The real Norwegian Wood is an easy canvas to draw all over. It’s a dog skeleton or a box that smells of baking spices.

I sort of like Jan & Dean’s Norwegian Wood better than John Lennon’s- sort of. The Beatles version is more useful to me, I relate to the kind of art that it is and it makes me feel like a person. I like the guy in the song and how you can hear all the words very clearly. You have a lot of time and space to think about what the words mean. I like the guy in the song and how he burns the girl’s house down. I like thinking about John Lennon having girl problems. I like imagining him sitting on the carpet and drinking a glass of wine, I am imagining a cassis-y Bordeaux. I would pay so much money to find out what kind of wine John Lennon liked.

But the Jan & Dean just sounds better. I like to surround myself with it, wrap it around my shoulders like a beach towel after emerging from a swim on a chillier-than-expected evening. It’s a lush, orchestral kind of gorgeous; it’s the cassis-y Bordeaux. The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood is more about appreciating the simplicity of a clay mug full of water: the coldest water you ever drank, straight out the spring. And when you’re listening to Jan & Dean’s it’s not like you forget that the Beatles’ version existed. You’re thinking of the Beatles the whole time.

BELLY, "John Dark" (Liz)

I saw Throwing Muses and Tanya Donelly again last week. During Throwing Muses I ran away from my friends and sneaked around to Kristin's side and slipped between the curtain and the stage to get away from the swarm of dudes all crowded around the front, so it sort of felt like I was watching Throwing Muses all by myself, which was wonderful. During Tanya I stood on Tanya's side of the stage, and she sang "Not Too Soon" and "Honeychain" and "Red" and "Low Red Moon," which segued into "Dusted" and stole my breath away. She didn't play "John Dark," which is a B-side and so obscure that it doesn't exist online, but I recommend seeking it out if you like heavy-dreamy music. "John Dark" has got the sexiest lyrics which I wish were a story, like I wish all of Tanya's songs were stories, and my favorite of the lyrics goes: "I know you're upset because you haven't shaved your legs, and you're not a woman who might think that was European." I'm supersad about there being nowhere to listen to "John Dark" apart from my house, so as a consolation here's another storybook-ish B-side called "Dancing Gold," and here's a picture I took of Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly singing "Red Shoes" in L.A. on Friday night. I love how Tanya's touching her heart. When her sister's singing, Tanya just gazes at her.

PARQUET COURTS, "Stoned & Starving" (Liz)

I found this song on the radio, driving home one night when I was so sick of all the music in my car I just wanted to crash into a ditch. It was playing on some left-end-of-the-dial station to whom I felt so indebted for giving me Parquet Courts, I went online and gave them money as soon as I got home. "Stoned and Starving" is one of those songs that sound dozens of years old and brand-new at the same time, and I like that it's goofy but not in some embarrassing and indelicate way that I want nothing to do with. The singer guy rhymes "Swedish fish" with "licorice," neither of which sound like ideal stoned foods to me, but that's all right, it's the poetry that matters. I also really appreciate how he's stoned but still checking out the ingredients on product labels and questioning whether or not to go for it. There's a maturity in that kind of consciousness. It's so refreshing to see a pragmatic yet mostly positive take on grown-up stonerism.

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS, "Runnin' Down a Dream" (Liz)

Here's a good photo of Tom Petty and a bottle of Coke:

I'm very into Tom Petty lately and keep wearing this shirt that my parents bought for me when they went to see him in 1989 - on the front there's a picture of three dogs howling up at this celestial object that's part moon and part sun, and on the back there's a picture of a cow jumping over the moon. In the middle of May I bought his first three albums and decided that I want to steal part of the intro to his AllMusic entry for my obituary: "handled hard rock and melodic pop equally well, with epic tales of losers and dreamers."

"Runnin' Down a Dream" isn't even in my top ten Tom Petty songs, but the guitar solo at the end means a lot to me. I love how it's this total hotshot fiery thing that goes on and on and on, then just sort of dissolves and warps into the cool twinkly starry sound in the final seconds of the song. To me that's an ideal manifestation of masculine energy.

THE HOLLIES, “The Air That I Breathe” (LJ)

What I love most about The Air That I Breathe is that the chorus, the meat of it, “the air that I breathe” of it, doesn’t come into the song until it’s almost halfway over. Instead of going verse-chorus-verse-chorus like every other pop song you’ve ever heard, it jams all the dullish verses into the front half which you spend just kind of loitering around checking your watch or phone while the singer runs through the list of all the various things he’d rather have his wife or girlfriend than (I like the list- “no cigarettes,” “no sound,” there’s some weird ones). When you finally get to the first “All I need is the air that I breathe” it feels like you’ve been walking down the street in the shittiest middle of January and then a warm wind swoops in and carries you straight into summer. Into May. It never bugs you with a verse again; you get the straight goods until it’s done. Best of all is when there’s about thirty seconds left and it switches a bit. He adds a few extra syllables into the “o”s of “love” and the strings kind of snake around behind it. It’s not cool but it’s so good it’s beautiful.

On the last day of May I went for a run and then stopped running and listened to The Air That I Breathe while I walked to the grocery store to go buy some coffee and edamame beans. Crazy things always happen to me when I pop into that grocery store after running- once I was listening to All You Need Is Love on my iPod and then I took my earphones out to pay for a cucumber and All You Need Is Love was playing on the grocery store’s PA system. I took the hint, Universe.

A couple blocks before I got there I almost stepped on a dead squirrel carcass and one second later a toddler poked at the dead squirrel carcass with a stick. I smiled knowingly at his nerd dad for no reason- I don’t know anything about toddlers poking at dead squirrel carcasses with sticks. The nerd dad, who was not very handsome, smiled back at me. I felt happy that he’d found someone to mate with, so happy. I was happy that he had a fat-faced and inquisitive little son who he let poke dead animals and I thought, “He lives here. He lives here, in this city, with his son, and he will never leave here,” and it hit me, fully hit me, that I was leaving. I am leaving.

The dad and son walked on and I was left alone on a strip of uneventful and semi-attractive city street that I have walked down more times than I could even begin to remember. A street I have walked down drunk and not-drunk and stoned and not-stoned listening to every song by every band I’ve ever heard of and sometimes no song. Half the streets in this city may as well be another finger or toe of mine. Tattooed all over all my bones where I never even see them.

I’ve always given Toronto a raw deal for being “third-rate,” but I mostly only resent it because it’s home. I never wanted to be a person who stayed in the place where I’m from; that just seems like a waste of how big the world is, a big waste of how short and special your little life is- I never wanted to be a person who wasted it. That is the last thing I ever wanted to be. And London, hey, London’s a charmer. It’s so beautiful it knocks all the wind out of me, and I want to get to write about a world I find actually beautiful, not just a world I’m constantly  and desperately searching to find the shards of beauty in. Toronto has never been enough- it’s The Hollies to London’s The Beatles, The post-Graham Nash Hollies to London’s The Hollies with Graham Nash in them.

But in that moment my perception shifted. Toronto stopped being “the shitty post-Graham Nash Hollies,” and started being the so-good-it’s-beautiful Air That I Breathe. It made me think of a sentence Liz Barker once wrote about her hometown: “I love it because I left it.” That’s one of the top three or five Liz sentences I’ve ever wished were Laura sentences, half because it’s gorgeous and succinct and sort of a sentence-palindrome, half because back when I first read it I wished so hard it could be true for me about something. The only city I ever left was New York and I left it because I didn’t love it at all. But I’ve always loved Toronto, underneath all the grit and my shit I love it. And that afternoon, when the city of Toronto became The Hollies’ song The Air That I Breathe to me, I swore to myself that I would spend my last months here needing nothing more than to love it. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to let myself. And it’s a relief to me.


  1. Liz--I love the parquet courts song, something i probably wouldn't have come across on my own, that's why i like reading your posts....i like that the girl in the video actually looks like she is probably physically starving to death and then doesn't even finish her hamburger.

  2. actually sound a lot like LA woman