Song Series #11: Songs I Reach For, or Vice Versa

What does it mean to love a song? It’s something that comes over time, not usually at first listen. You reach back for the song, or it reaches for you. Something pulls it up and puts it on. The songs you “love” at first listen may stay with you a day, a month, a year, or many years, but you only find out over time.

The first is “Song for Iris” by Art of Flying, on their brilliant 2018 album, Escort Mission, the only vinyl album I have right now in Hungary. (I will eventually bring my records and CDs here and get a recordplayer too.) Here’s a gorgeous performance at the Taos Center for the Arts. You can read the lyrics on Bandcamp (where you can also purchase the album). I have often wished there were an Art of Flying songbook; their songs sound like they come through the ages, but they’re also right here, in our world. They could be sung in so many places and times, alone, with others, by the fire or on a long road. Here’s how “Song for Iris” begins:

I sing for the beautiful old singer
Voice rising higher than the moon
Who sings how trouble hangs around
& pleasure leaves too soon.

Ain’t it the beautifulest thing,
To be lost in the heat of love
I paint a river for your feet
Your blue-eyed sky above.

I can’t see your face at all, but
They say you’re everywhere.

Another song I reach for, again and again, over the years is “24” by Red House Painters. I say this reluctantly; I didn’t want to love this music, even back in the 90s, but forget it, it does its own work. This is from their 1992 album Down Colorful Hill. The lyrics begin:

So it’s not loaded stadiums or ballparks
And we’re not kids on swingsets on the blacktop
And I thought at fifteen that I’d have it down by sixteen
And twenty-four keeps breathing in my face

But it’s the guitar I especially love, its slow descent, the way it lets the voice swing slowly on it.

Another that comes back again and again is “Oh, My Girl” by Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter. I don’t know what the song is about, but I dance in it. The way her voice goes up on “Girl,” the way the voice, lead guitar, and viola talk to each other, the way the song paints a room with afternoon light, all of this is what I can name, but like any beautiful song, it goes from there into its own language.

There are so many more to bring up here–but one that has been in my ears is “Part of Joy” by Grandfaloon Bus, one of the hardest songs of theirs to describe, but one that goes far beyond whatever you hear in it the first time around. I wrote about it some years ago; somewhere, on an old computer, my thoughts are stored, I think. But I love how it leads, part by part, to its ending, “Here’s the last words that were said before the line went dead, before failure went to your head and so you lie instead of admitting you’d sing for your supper too.” That “sing” sounds sad and exuberant at the same time, and then the instruments take over. It’s one of my favorites on the album and in the Granfaloon Bus repertoire–though if “Say Cheese,” “Free Gold Halo,” “Sugar Museum,” and others were online too, I would have had a hard time choosing one.

I love songs somewhat in the same way I love stories–for their taut form, their imagination, their possibilities inside the brevity, and their way of calling you up out of nowhere. These are just a few.

To read my other posts in the Song Series, go here.