CC Best of Year (I) / Music

My Life in 20 Songs

Well this is our twentieth issue! I want to start it by saying that it has been (and continues to be) a real privilege writing for the Checkerboard collective. Our founders and members are quality people and I’m honored to share a URL with them.

In honor of our twentieth issue I decided to make a playlist for you. I poured over the list for weeks, changing songs right up until the moment I clicked “Publish” in the upper right corner of my screen. It’s not just any playlist. I tried my best to reach back into my memory and chronologically organize my life into a list of twenty songs. Chronicling my personal relationship with music one song at a time was harder than I thought. My favorite bands, for example, had to be represented by a single song, the one that I felt best represented the impact of that artist on my life at the time. Conversely, bands that I don’t necessarily LOVE now retained their place of significance on the list because of their role in expanding my musical tastes and horizons. Some bands that I really love were left off the list entirely. In the end, it’s just a glimpse. Just a taste. But I was surprised at the things I learned. It was illuminating, for example, looking back at my progression from “Christian” music to “secular” music (bridged unoriginally by punk rock and alternative bands) and also at the way in which almost none of the songs original release dates line up with dates in which I got into it, becoming proof of my seeming inability to get into new music.

I encourage you all to try this experiment. You might be surprised at what you come up with.

Anyway – here is my life in 20 Songs. With limited commentary. (Album name in brackets)

1) “Are You Going To Narnia” – 2nd Chapter of Acts (Roar of Love)

My brother will probably remind (correct) me in the comments, but this is the first song I ever remember loving. The first track from 2nd Chapter of Acts’ concept album Roar of Love, which tells C.S. Lewis’ classic story The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is still one of my favorite albums of all-time and I never go on a road trip without it.

2) “The Sheep and the Goats” – Keith Green (The Keith Green Collection)

A song that reminds me of my family. These records were all over our house growing up and we loved them. His enthusiasm and comedy made his music accessible to me even before I knew exactly how radical and powerful it actually was. Even all these years later I think this song is the best “Christian” song ever recorded hands down.

3) “What About the Love” – Amy Grant (Lead  Me On)

Whenever I hear this album I feel sad. I don’t know if this is because of the album’s own melancholy vibe, or because of Amy Grant’s sad gravelly tone, or because maybe it coincides with some particularly sad (and forgotten) experience from childhood. Maybe I was just getting old enough to really listen to the lyrics. I have a vivid memory of being a kid in the backseat looking out the window and listening to these lyrics. Three musical short stories ending in a vivid confrontation in front of the mirror. Still a great song – even though it’s super 80’s.

4) “What if I Stumble” – DC Talk (Jesus Freak)

Other than “The Sheep and the Goats” this is the best “Christian” song ever written. It might make me uncool, but I love DC Talk and I think they were fantastic for what they were. Certainly I remain proud of this song and its sentiment.

5) “Wonderwall” – Oasis (What’s The Story, Morning Glory)

Find me someone born in the early eighties who DIDN’T love this album. This song changed the whole world for three minutes. Without it I might not have learned how to play the guitar.

6) “Middlename” – MxPx (Life in General)

Two of this collective’s members (Joe and Suhail) sat me down one day and played me this song. I don’t remember the exact details, they probably were sharing the earphones of someone’s discman on the bus – something that happened many times at the back of big, crowded doubledecker buses. However it happened, it changed everything. Out went the Amy Grant records, and in came fast, loud, glorious punk rock.

7) “Linoleum” – NOFX (Punk in Drublic)

Someday I’ll write a whole blog about NOFX. Up until them I was completely (ignorantly) against secular music. I justified Oasis because they weren’t “bad”. I could apply no such justifications to NOFX. They blew the doors of my whole musical life. Almost twenty years later they are still one of my favorite bands. And they introduced me to maybe my favorite thing in music – harmonizing guitars. Punk in Drublic was (secretly) on repeat in my discman for almost a whole year, and is still one of my favorite albums of all time.

8) “Hate, Myth, Muscle, Etiquette” – Propagandhi (How To Clean Everything)

The white hot period of my punk rock obsession culminated in my love for this album. I loved it because it was so fast and so tight. I loved it because of how angry they sounded and because of how each song assaulted my Christian-kid sensibilities. I could play most punk music without my parents hearing the swearwords, but not Propagandhi. When they said fuck they stopped the whole song and made sure you were listening. As I got older I lost track of the band, but recently (thanks to Joe) I got back into them with a vengeance and find them still fast, still tight and still angry. And probably the best lyricists in the business of punk rock.

9) “Apparitions” – Matthew Good Band (Underdogs)

In 1998 I moved back to Canada and started basically a new life in a new place with a whole new group of friends. Lonely one night I turned on the TV and saw the music video for this song. The song and the video were completely haunting and mesmerizing. (Haunting is the theme that runs through almost every track on this list) Getting into this band I was pleasantly surprised that the main guy in the video was actually the main guy in the band and that they, like Propagandhi, were Canadian. Still one of my favorite artists, and certainly among my favorite music videos of all-time.

10) “I’ll Catch You” – The Get Up Kids (Something To Write Home About)

For the year 2000 (Y2K for the cool kids) I flew back to HK to spend the holidays with my family and see my friends. They had evolved away from punk music towards “emo” and had a whole bunch of new bands to show me. One of them I liked right away, although to this day I’ve only heard the one album. This song in particular became special to my girlfriend and I and when we got married four years later we put it on the mix CD we made for our guests.

11) “Unfinished” – Mineral (End Serenading)

That new year’s eve in HK we decided to watch the big harbor fireworks from the roof of one of the skyscrapers. Our original plan was to stake out the big Motorola sign (no longer there) and watch the fireworks from there, but a few hours before midnight we were discovered by the building’s security and thrown out. We ended up spending the whole day roof hopping and eventually trespassed (rather treacherously) over the skylight of a hotel and watched from their roof. As I remember we made a narrow escape from security there too before it was all over. But somewhere in that night someone put on Mineral’s CD and played this song. Before I left HK I visited a small record store and bought the album. The whole 20 hour flight home I played it on repeat. It wasn’t until many years later I looked up the lyrics and found out what he was saying.

“I wish you could put your ear up to my heart and hear how much I love you. I still dream of December. Dancing together with rings on our fingers. And the two shall become…” Maybe the best love song ever written.

12) “Jimi Thing” – Dave Matthews Band (Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds live at Luther College)

This album started my decade long love affair with Dave Matthews Band. Becoming a fan of DMB literally changed my life (especially my guitar playing) and for about three years was literally the only thing I was listening to. I just couldn’t get enough. This is still my favorite version of one of my favorite songs.

13) “Clocks” – Coldplay (A Rush Of Blood To The Head)

Moving out and living alone. Leaving home and going to film school. This was the soundtrack to all of that. Probably the cheesiest artist on this list (including Amy Grant) but I’m unabashedly a fan of the song (and the album). If it makes it any better I loved this song for about five months before it became a hit single. I feel lame even saying that.

14) “What Sarah Said” – Death Cab For Cutie (Plans)

This was my first introduction to Death Cab For Cutie. Now that I’ve gotten right into them and explored their entire catalogue I can say without hesitation that this is not their best song or even their best album. But when I finally stopped and listened to the words to this song it literally took my breath away. Ben Gibbard is a very big inspiration for me – both lyrically and vocally and I’d be content if my musical ceiling could touch his musical basement. See what I mean about him being way better at metaphors?

15) “Bleecker Street” – Simon and Garfunkel (Wednesday Morning, 3am)

In 2005 my dad died and my mom gave me his ipod. About a month after the funeral I embarked on a 16 day trip to India and Africa to help a friend of mine make a documentary about Aids and poverty. I took my dad’s ipod with me and, although it was loaded with thousands of songs and dozens of audiobooks, I spent most of the time listening to “The Essential Simon and Garfunkel”. It’s hard to describe. I miss him. And that music made it feel kind of like he was with me. The ipod is broken now, obviously outdated and obsolete, but I still have it.

16) “The Willing Well I: Fuel For The Feeding End” – Coheed and Cambria (Good Apollo I: I’m Burning Star IV Volume 1: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness)

Coheed came into my life in a very strange way. I’ve talked about it in other blogs and I’ll do so again I’m sure. This song is a perfect example. As you can see the song is strangely named, and all I knew was that I absolutely loved the part at 4:02 when, as I used to put it, “the music changes”. It wasn’t until my friend Brock blasted the song through the speakers of the furniture store we used to work at and I finally went over and looked at the track name that I was even able to find it. It’s far and away my favorite Coheed song and the song in my itunes library with the most plays.

17) “Videotape” – Radiohead (In Rainbows)

I was superficially into Radiohead ever since I saw Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet and heard “Talk Show Host” playing overtop Leo’s sycamore grove scene. But I never REALLY got into them until In Rainbows Live in the Basement. Seeing them play these songs live changed everything. Radiohead (all their albums top to bottom) became a big part of my life after that and this album remains among the most special to me of any band ever. (I say that a lot in this list)

18) “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – The Beatles (Abbey Road)

One of the only regrets in my life is how long it took me to get into The Beatles. But I’ve made up for lost time I promise you. Of all the bands on this list, I found it the hardest to pick JUST ONE Beatles song. I don’t even think I could have made a list of just 20 Beatles songs. But if you can only listen to one, listen to this one. Supposedly after meeting Yoko, John Lennon was inspired by simplicity and set out to write the most straightforward, simplified lyric he could, reducing the song’s entire sentiment to the least amount of words possible. What he came up with was a genius example of lyrical precision. “I want you so bad it’s driving me mad. She’s so heavy.” Ironically, it is set to the longest track (excluding the experimental Revolution 9) The Beatles ever recorded.

19) “My Girls” – Animal Collective (Merriweather Post Pavilion)

I found out about this band on one of Suhail’s “Best of” lists at the end of 2009. This song jumped out first, but I’ve since devoured their whole catalogue. I’m earnestly awaiting their new record.

20) “The Devil Is Beating His Wife” – David Bazan (Fewer Moving Parts)

This is the music currently getting high rotation on my ipod. I had heard of Pedro the Lion from my emo days but I never listened to him then. In fact, I never listened to him at all until I joined Checkerboard Collective. In our twelfth issue, Alison wrote a piece called “David Bazan, Honesty, and Getting Out of the Ghetto” and after reading it, on a whim (and because I live in the era of google and youtube) I looked up the song “Second Best” which Alison had mentioned in her article. The uncomfortable, razor sharp honesty of the lyrics stunned me. I couldn’t believe he could write that. It was emotionally devastating stuff – something that I’ve found is true of most of his music. But I was so drawn to it – not just the lyrical content but also the music. The melodies and the arrangements were so beautiful, so just what I needed. This song, and the bluntness of its storytelling should give you a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about. Add to it his spiritual journey and personal struggles, and you can see why I’m so drawn to his music.

Well, that’s it! Quite a journey. Come back again when I’m 40, and I”ll give you 20 more.

Stay tuned for our next issue where I’ll (hopefully) finish my list of Top Ten Favorite Movie Scenes Of All-Time!

Thanks for reading!

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