Friday, September 2, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack (Pt. 2) - Marriage Is When We Admit Our Parents Were Right

I can't believe it! I can't believe we're here at Labor Day weekend already! When one of my best friends asked me to be his best man some 18 months ago I was honored and couldn't do anything but accept. Now that the time to live up to that is almost here, though, I'm increasingly incredulous that all that time has passed. This isn't the first friend I've had get married, but it is the first one from my far early childhood and I can't help but get a little soppy about it.

Don't worry, I'm gonna save all the really mushy stuff for the folks that are already liquor'd up at the reception but I do have a few things to say. Marriage is an embattled and increasingly territorial institution in America that seems to be more the butt of jokes than an object of appreciation. But I will say this. Marriage is, ultimately the glue society rests on. Don't believe me? Think to yourself how many people you know who were products of divorce, separation and unhappy marriages and think of how many of them would wan the same for their kid. Commitment, perseverance and genuine love may not be the easiest sells but they're timeless human needs that will outlast all our self-centered asses. So here's to love, marriage and those who can make that work with all the joy implied therein! 

1. "Today I Met The Girl I'm Gonna Marry" - The Nation Of Ulysses  Buy it.
All hail Nation of Ulysses! An impossibly fun, pretentiously leftist project that included current Pharmacist James Canty, their brief two-album run in the early nineties reminded us of everything that was good about punk. "Today I Met The Girl I'm Gonna Marry" is love song on speed that starts by pinching the opening from the Shangri-Las' "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" and only gets better from there. The Nation was all about melding grand statements on silly topics with a teenager's deathly seriousness about their own lives, this song does all those things perfectly.

2. "Chapel Of Love" - The Dixie Cups  Buy it.
Speaking of the Shangri-Las, who does a straight-up, love L-U-V lovesong than Phil Spector and the girl groups? The Dixie Cups would also hit the charts with great songs such as "Iko, Iko" and "People Say" but "Chapel Of Love" was their finest hour. How much more straightforward can a pop song be? "Bells will ring / the sun will shine / I'll be his and / he'll be mine / we'll love until / the end of time / and we'll never be lonely anymore." In anyone else's hands, this would be treacly pablum but in 1964, Phil Spector was at the top of his game and he turned this teenage daydream into pop gold. "Chapel Of Love" is the perfect song for the couple helplessly in love or the couple that's bucking all their family and friends to be together. I know that I'll hear it on my own wedding day and, honestly, how much more can you say?

3. "Hotel Yorba" - The White Stripes  Buy it.
One of the many stone-cold classics littered throughout White Blood Cells, the intro to "Hotel Yorba" never fails to get me pounding the roof of my poor Ford Escort à la The Dude. Jack White channels Mick Jagger at his faux-country best as he spins an yarn about his imagined life with his sweet heart. He sees them living a life in rural bliss in a cabin by lake, far away from their cares. The only thing is that she won't marry him! I can only assume the chorus is about the hotel for the reception, Detroit's own Hotel Yorba. Finally, fed up, Jack taunts her that "if I'm the man you love the most, you can say 'I do,' at least. I can only assume that he got a "yes."

4. "The Marriage" - Billy Bragg  Buy it.
Billy Bragg has the great gift of being able to simultaneously sing about the personal and the political without losing sight of the importance of either. "The Marriage" sees him playing this dichotomy with the utmost of delicacy without sacrificing honesty. Bragg is your classic male protagonist, skeptical on the outside, but ultimately helpless to resist the perfectly placed entreaty. He starts by telling his admirer that "you and your mother are just wasting your time," devilshly adding that while she's "picking Saturdays in summer," he's "[daring her] to wear white." But it's no use, as even Bragg knows. He eventually allows that his love can "drag me to the altar / and I'll make my sacrifice." Mayan imagery aside, this is a major concession. The marriage industry may be ridiculous. The Hallmark conception of love may be hokum pushed on the American people but despite it all, Bragg can't hold out. "Love is just a moment of giving" he modestly proclaims "and marriage is when we admit that our parents were right."

5. "Marry Me" - Drive-By Truckers  Buy it.
Every time I play this song for my father he always turns and asks me (I can't tell if it's ironically or not) when I started listening to the Eagles. You know what? I don't care if this is an Eagles rip-off or not (I still say that those chords are endemic in pop music) because this song blows the roof off of anything those southern-cum-SoCal boys ever did. "Marry Me" is from the DBT's 2003's post-Southern Rock Opera statement-of-purpose Decoration Day. It's a Mike Cooley jam session lasting over 5:00 with multiple verses and guitar solos to beat the band. The story is simple, guy gets girl pregnant, guy asks girl to marry him, hopefully girl says yes. But by recognizing its clichéd nature, "Marry Me" takes on life of its own and by the time Cooley yells that he'd "I’d rather be your fool nowhere than go somewhere and be no one's," you're just about ready to hop in the car with him.

6. "Wedding Song" - Bob Dylan & The Band  Buy it.
Dylan is a man with as many faces as you've found prizes in your breakfast cereal. But around the mid 1970's, he was in one of his most earnest phases (pre-Christianity) and it showed in his songwriting. While epics such as "Sara" and even "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When I Go" would establish Dylan's love for his second wife, nowhere would it ever be expressed in as straightforward and pure a manner as on this 1973 Planet Waves track. The album itself was knocked out in three days with the Band, but its closer was vintage Dylan, just harmonica and guitar, pouring out his heart. Lines such as "You’re the other half of what I am, you’re the missing piece / and I love you more than ever with that love that doesn’t cease" can't help but melt your heart and bring you into album that wants nothing so much as to enjoy a quiet night with the one you love. There may be prettier Dylan songs but never one more honest.

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