Song Series #7: Favorite Songs

0316Salamon_KLHturntable

Twenty years ago, I could have named my ten favorite songs. They would probably have been songs of Granfaloon Bus, Hannah Marcus, Sonny Smith, Ed’s Redeeming Qualities (or maybe 100 Watt Smile), the Breeders, Dieselhed, 20 Minute Loop, Leonard Cohen, Sonic Youth, and Kristin Hersh. Today I love those same songs–and others–but have a harder time naming favorites. Knowing this, I can enjoy the challenge. Maybe my choices will change over time. Maybe they’re narrow. Maybe they’re too far flung. But these are songs that I come back to again and again. For the sake of brevity, I will name not ten but four. Not in order of preference, but as they come to mind. I am not even sure that they are my favorite songs; many others circle around them.

The first is Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” It’s gentle slowness gives each word, each note more than you will hear in them at one given time: this grief, this anger and forgiveness, and beyond that, the witnessing of damage done. “And you treated my woman to a flake of your life, and when she came back, she was nobody’s wife, well, I see you there with the rose in your teeth….” Many have debated what this song is about in Cohen’s own life, but to me that isn’t the real question; rather, the question is what happens within the song. The backing vocals–by Corlynn Hanney, Susan Mussman–have no words and drift slightly behind; they sound like memory itself. But it also makes the song sound like a reflection, as though Cohen were partly singing to himself. I used to play this song on guitar often. It was true to me, although I had never experienced the story in the lyrics.

The second is 1LIFE’s “Maradok ember.” I have written about the song, covered it on cello (in Szolnok and Dallas), heard it performed live, and returned to it again and again. When they played it in Törökszentmiklós in August, I realized how radical and raw it is. I hope that it will eventually be heard all over the world.

The third is Cesaria Evora’s “Petit Pays.” This song creates the feeling of an old memory. As though I could ride it into babyhood, into those first sensations of the world, and then forward again into age and knowledge. I love Cesaria Evora’s deep, caressing voice and the way the words dance against the rhythms.

The fourth is Bob Dylan’s majestic “One More Cup of Coffee”–with a voice that lilts and cries, a melody with a Jewish or Middle Eastern feel, a violin weaving in and out of sound, and gorgeous backing vocals by Emmylou Harris–not really “backing,” but side by side with Dylan’s. It’s understated; it ends before I know it, and I want to hear it again. There’s an imperfection to it, also, that I love; the violin slightly (and pleasantly) out of tune in places, Dylan and Harris sometimes blending together, sometimes sounding like two strong and separate souls.

There are at least twenty other songs I could have included here. Maybe even fifty. But there’s something to be said for choosing a few.

I made some changes to this piece after posting it; in particular, I changed the first and fourth selections.

Image: Bradford J. Salamon, KLH Turntable, oil. Featured in Southwest Art Magazine, March 2016.

To read all the posts in the Song Series, go here.

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  1. Song Series #8: Different Exiles | Take Away the Takeaway

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