There are a number of songs you should not put on a mix for a significant other unless you’re absolutely sure about them. One is obvious, taught to us by both High Fidelity and good sense:
But for me, the really salient song is Spoon’s “Anything You Want,” from the album Girls Can Tell:
I was given both songs by a guy who actually did meet me “when [I was] nineteen and still in school.” It made “Anything You Want” seem like a song we could play at a wedding, that we could smile over twenty years later. Of course, we were dead wrong. And the song really, I think, is about a couple that’s broken up, and the guy who says that “I feel so in love and yet feel so alone” is trying to build a case that will compel the girl to come back to him. He can’t chase after her, whether because of pride, or hopelessness, so he’s conjuring up memories, more to keep himself company than anything else.
But even though the sentiment was mistaken, I’ll forever be grateful for the introduction to Spoon, one of my all-time favorite bands. I’ve written about the sonic reasons for this before. They’re one of the few bands where I can listen to entire albums, just put them on and let go. I’m a twitchy listener like that. But Spoon’s lyrics also just mean that I’ve turned over various songs like talismans, like worry beads. High on that list of songs is “The Way We Get By” (in instrumental, the opening music for Stranger Than Fiction, the scene of which is linked to in the Spoon post I linked to above):
Like quite a few of Spoon’s songs, it’s a laconic setup with a very sharp idea at the heart. As someone who favors major breaks and rapid and deliberate transformations, I’ve always loved the line “Let’s make a new start / And that’s the way to my heart.” There’s something more precise, and yet less melodramatic about that line than something like “run away with me!” I don’t know that Spoon believes in the transformative power of love, and I find that refreshing, sometimes, even if I’m working out whether I agree with the band.
Then there’s “Paper Tiger,” which strikes me as an almost Puritan pop song. It’s sonically minimal even for Spoon:
I love the austerity of the line “I will no longer do the Devil’s wishes” even if it’s explained just one line later (I tend to interpret “The Fall” in “Chicago At Night” as Miltonian rather than as autumn). The hesitancy of “I’m not dumb, I just want to hold your hand,” as if even that simple, natural gesture needs to be explained. Unlike in “Anything You Want,” the limits of the promise are clear: “It will not protect you / But I will be there with you when you turn out the light.” It’s not grandiose. It’s honest.
There’s an extent to which Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga bracketed the dissolution of the relationship that gave me that first song. I don’t particularly think that’s why I am less enamored of the former album and swept away by the latter, although I do feel like Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga captured a feeling of coming alive again, of grappling with sadness but recognizing that it was past (particularly “The Ghost of You Lingers“), of coming alive and finding myself home that I felt very strongly in 2007. ”The Underdog,” was, and remains my fight song, the verses I chant in my head when I’m angry or frustrated:
But more and more, I think of “Rhythm and Soul” as my current talisman, the clipped verses, the wonder and the whole wide world:
This band has touched me deeper than almost any other. I’ll still tell my kids about how much I loved Spoon, but in a very different way than I thought I would. Tonight, I’ll see them live for the first time.