Because T and I are living in a tiny, adorable town heavily populated by pick-up trucks, tree houses, porch swings, and extremely relaxed, surprisingly nonchalant deer, I find myself embracing a little bit more country in my usual repertoire of a little too much rock ‘n’ roll. (And not just in music.)
And while I’m not a stranger to the songbooks of country greats like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash (my true blue homeboy – so much so that we even share a birthday!), and can even very often be found blasting the tunes of Hank Williams III, I am still a girl built wall-to-wall with punk and heavy metal. Which is why I find the perfect compromise in Okkervil River, an alternative country/indie-folk group led by singer-songwriter, Will Sheff.
Every song in Okkervil River’s catalog is a direct result of Sheff’s keen attention to language, subtle wordplay, and story-telling prowess. He has, in short, the sensibilities of a poet, and it is precisely that quality that makes Okkervil shine. Consider the following a mere sampling of their genius, and a soundtrack of sorts for my tranquil, rural surroundings.
1. “(Shannon Wilsey on the) Starry Stairs”
Based on the life of the late porn star, Shannon “Savannah” Wilsey, this song is a quiet and, at times, heartbreaking meditation on fame, women in the media, and self-image, all in one brilliant fell swoop. Favorite line: “What a hot half-life I half-lived.”
About thirty seconds after I officially published the first “Kick-Ass Covers” edition of Mixtape Friday, T texted me with, “Dude, you’ve definitely gotta do a part two,” and proceeded to remind me of all the songs that I’d declared to her in an all-knowing exclamation of glee to be “an excellent cover!” over the past few years, and yet hadn’t appeared on my “essential” list. (There is one band, in particular, that I myself am shamefaced to have overlooked because, what the fuck, anyone who knows me knows how pivotal they are to my musical palette…but we’ll get to that later.) And then about thirty seconds after that text, I came up with the following list (which took all of three minutes because she, of course, had been right) and bided my time, waiting for the perfect Friday to share it with you all. WHICH IS RIGHT NOW! WHAT UP!
1. “Hey Hey, My My” – Battleme
The original hard-rock, uptempo version of this song (called “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”), along with its complimentary, acoustic counterpart, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” appeared as the last and first tracks, respectively, of Neil Young’s 1979 album, Rust Never Sleeps. It’s a brilliant, haunting, and evocative meditation on Young’s part regarding imminent changes in the world of music (particularly the rise of Punk) and what that would mean for his place and influence in it. Young plays with the song’s lyrical and musical arrangement in both tracks, and while Battleme covers only one of these, it manages to pay homage to both the lyrics in one, and the style and melodic intent in the other. (Another interesting fact: The line, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” is now infamous, as it was quoted by the late Kurt Cobain in his suicide note.)
Yesterday, I took a personal day off from life. I stepped outside my T-less isolation and went out into the world to have lunch, check out books and music, and just get some fresh air and clear my head. Everyone has days where they feel like throwing on their largest, most over-sized sweater and hiding their unwashed hair under a beanie to achieve the aspect of an evicted mole person, and yesterday was one of mine. For whatever reason, I was just like, “Life, I ain’t havin’ this.”
As I do in most situations, I have a special, go-to list of songs for moods like this – songs that tend to raise my spirits and make me feel like an A-list celebrity, or a fuckin conquistador or some shit. So for those in a similar mood, here’s that list, dwindled down to the essentials.
1. “Bad Reputation” – Joan Jett
The mantra of my every combat booted strut during The Dark Ages, this song still has a way of making me feel like the coolest chick on Earth (even when I’m sitting in my sweats getting potato chip crumbs on everything).