30 Day Song Challenge, Day 27: A song that breaks your heart

Life is short. Childhood is shorter. Spend it well.

My early childhood, like so many of my contemporaries, was one spent often in the care of grandparents while my parents both worked to maintain the household. My dad, especially, often worked 2-3 factory-type jobs to help make ends meet. His grueling work schedule, mostly overnights, meant that I really only saw him awake on weekends–those precious couple of days where we would drive into Marietta to pick up his paycheque and have lunch at Taco Bell still stand out as defining moments of my young life at the time.

This song is difficult to listen to for me even today as I find so much of my own life in the lyrics. While my dad wasn’t a traveling musician with “planes to catch”, there were many “bills to pay” and working overnights in a plastics factory was one of the best unskilled occupations in the Atlanta area in the 80s. In the 90s, it was fueling diesel trucks supplementing 24-hour shifts on an ambulance supplementing 24-hour shifts at the fire department. Sometimes I wouldn’t see my dad for days at a time while he worked consecutive jobs. I don’t blame him for this work; our lives–like so many others during that era–were financed through debt. I made the most of it, though, and my friends will oft remember so many afternoons and overnights at “The Yellow House”. When my domestic family fell apart in the 90s (brought on by many factors, but mostly by financial disputes, I’m certain), my friends were there to fill in the gaps. My dad and I had many falling-outs in my later teen years, and just before moving to college, I quietly moved out of the house and didn’t talk to him for months.

We have since, of course, reconciled. Today, those days are long passed and we enjoy a healthy relationship. Dad is nearing retirement (something I’m not sure how he’ll deal with, honestly, as he still manages to work 2 jobs, though he does take more holidays), and I live on the other side of the continent, but we do manage to keep in touch and visit about once a year. That bittersweet ending to the song punctuating a story that continues to this day.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 26: A song that makes you want to fall in love

More 80s cheese, please.

If that R&B groove of Daryl Hall and John Oates doesn’t make you want to VHS and make out, I don’t know what would.

Bonus, the “definitive” music video version:

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 25: A song you like by an artist no longer living

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called “life”….

Every lyric reads like an instruction manual. Dig it deep, you hoopy froods!

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 24: A song by a band you wish were still together

Heart times soul equals rock and roll.

It’s probably a bit of a cop-out considering Polaris didn’t “really” exist. The band, formed by Miracle Legion’s Mark Mulcahy, Dave McCaffrery, and Scott Boutier, only existed in the context of Nickelodeon’s The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Polaris finally stepped out of the TV set and onto the stage in 2012, leading up to a 2014-15 US tour and a couple of new records. As of this writing, the band has once again separated to concentrate on their own solo careers, but one can hope that–eventually–we’ll get a moment to catch another glimpse into that rock and roll world of Wellsville, USA in our favorite club venue.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 23: A song you think everybody should listen to

A classic from “the greatest tearoom orchestra in the world”.

I shouldn’t have to justify this one. If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favor and listen. You’ll be singing along by the end.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 22: A song that moves your forward

I might be the only person that actually enjoyed the entirety of this album.

This viral hit by UK anarcho-socialist pop punkers Chumbawamba came out during a seminal time of my life. All hell was breaking loose with me personally: I was transitioning to high school, trying to figure out my place in the social hierarchy of teenage politics while attempting to keep my idea of life together as my family fell apart due to divorce. This was the time in my life that I dedicated myself to exploring computers and the burgeoning World Wide Web–fancying myself another “Zero Cool” or “Cereal Killer” from Hackers (The Matrix wouldn’t be released for another two years). This was one of the anthems of my rebellious phase, which might explain why I enjoyed the whole of the album when most folks (at least, around me) were repulsed by the underlying messages of anti-authoritarian, radical progressiveism, and social liberation.

My mother took my sister and me to see Chumbawamba during Atlanta’s inaugural “On The Bricks” concert series. I had only heard the song on the radio at that point, but her fellow “mid-life crisis” mom friends were going and thought it would be a good way for her to “spend time with the kids”. They played a few tracks that I had not heard before, and I was getting into their odd brand of musical anarchy when Alice Nutter, who had disappeared during a set change, came back to the stage dressed in full habit and swigging from a freshly-opened bottle of Jack Daniels for their performance of “Mary, Mary”. It was at that moment that I “got” them. My mother was confused, her friends flustered, my sister blissfully ignorant (she was only 5 at the time), but I was enthralled. I was forbidden to listen to their “trash”, a demand at which I scoffed before turning them up to 11. They weren’t just musicians, they were artists making a statement–a surrealist, absurdist, antiestablishmentarianist statement–and I ate it up!

“Tubthumper”, besides being a super-catchy pub song, embodied the spirit of rebellion and the attitude of irreverence that helped define my personality. This was the song that played loudly when things would come crashing down around me, and when you’re an angsty teenager, even “trivial” inconveniences could seem like world-ending cataclysms. This was also early into my “British Phase” where–in an attempt to flesh out my identity–I embraced all things UK, especially comedies (Monty Python and Red Dwarf among others, thanks to the local PBS affiliate), James Bond, The Beatles, and punk rock. This is when I developed the characteristic “mid-Atlantic” affectation that I still often display, leading to so many people exasperatedly asking “Where are you from, exactly?” and scoffing in disbelief when I answer (I may write further about that in a later number, but it’s probably beyond the scope of this article).

More to the point, this was a song that punctuated some weirdly dark times in my life. This was the song that reminded me that, no matter the odds against you, you can get up again.

You’re never gonna keep me down.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 21: A song you like with a person’s name in the title

Do it, Rockapella!

Man, that ACME Pocket-sized color television and world band radio would’ve been a sweet prize to win! Too bad I never had a chance to school those other gumshoes on that gigantic map….

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 20: A song that has many meanings to you

Is it a snarky song of misplaced optimism or is it a darkly satirical song about impending nuclear war? Is the subject really optimistic about his post-collegiate future or is it just sarcastic angst regarding his lack of clear direction?

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 19: A song that makes you think about life

Besides every song ever? Probably this one:

What can I say about Tom Scholz’s breakout hit that isn’t covered in a new documentary on PBS? This 70s power ballad has always held a spot in the back of my mind that helped be get through both good times and bad. This was the first song I memorized on Guitar Hero and often used it to “shark” other players during the early days of the game’s rise to prominence. I used to tease the ex by substituting her name for “Mary Ann” in that haunting line “I see my Mary Ann walking away” before breaking into that face-melting solo.

I think, for me, the song really is about life in general, and the ups and downs we experience–love gained and lost, new careers and old, moving–the song plays like a memoir of a man looking back on his life so far, but the major chord structure lets us know that it’s all going to turn out okay. Ever the optimist, this is a song that reinforces that worldview for me.

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 18: A song from the year you were born

1983: One of the single best years in music history!

So. Many. Awesome. Tracks. One. Thrilling. Album. Thriller was a tour de force on the pop charts in 1983, smashing every record and selling over 66 million copies! In addition to being an unstoppable one-man hits machine, Michael Jackson knew how to make amazing music videos–he teamed up with some of the brightest minds in cinema (Landis, Coppola, Scorsese) to create not just music videos, but complete short-subject (and sometimes feature-length) films that centered around his tracks.

Adventitious Geekery and other distractions created or curated by Matthew "Atari" Eargle