50 songs for 50 states: Florida

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Miami Nights – Wale

It was surprisingly difficult to pick a song for Florida. Despite a fair number of great artists hailing from the state, none of them ever wrote any particularly Florida-centered songs. Arguably, you could go with Petty’s “American Girl” which mentions highway 441), but c’mon, that song is about L.A. And there has been plenty of great rappers from there, but very few songs that are specifically about the place. It’s possible that I’m just completely missing some Latin classic that’s never crossed my radar. But I dug a bit and didn’t find anything obvious.

So anyways, we end up with a perfectly cromulent Wale song about strolling along South Beach, taking in the sights (strip clubs, fine restaurants, and a whole lot of different types of women), and casting a little bit of shade. I’m not saying it’s the best song in the world, but you could certainly do worse.

And no, I did not consider the theme song from Miami Vice. I have standards.

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It’s hard out here being a straight white dude, let me tell you

Patton Oswalt is annoyed with Salon, and his reasons are pretty hilarious.for reasons that are full of some industrial-grade cognitive dissonance:

Let me just make one more point. John Oliver doesn’t have many bigger champions in the media than us.  We have a been a big fan and celebrator of the important work he did on “The Daily Show,” the job he did filling in for Stewart, and then his own show. But it’s valid to look at the big-picture of late-night TV — Fallon, Kimmel, Letterman, Conan, Meyers, Stewart, Ferguson, Colbert — and to say it’s exclusively white. Exclusively white, straight and male. I don’t think it takes anything away from the brilliance of John Oliver to point that out.

It qualifies his triumph in what he does and it makes some people stop looking at the content of what is coming out of the face. All they’re saying is, “another white male,” and they take it down a couple notches.

But if all the faces are white males, shouldn’t people say that? Are we really suggesting that in every case, these are the most talented people?

But in John Oliver’s specific case, what did he have to do with that? If anything, all he’s done is champion the transgendered, champion women that are fighting against oppression and misogyny and stuff like that. So it’s an irrelevant point at that point. Again, it goes back to, you’re just looking at beans. You’re just counting. If you want to do a bigger article about that subject, that’s fine, but to slip it into an article just about John Oliver and his show, what does that have to do with anything?

That one sentence, you think, takes away from the individual?

It totally does. You’re focusing on something that has nothing to do with the actual content of what he’s doing.

So let’s get this straight. He thinks it’s unfair and ridiculous to focus on factors that are beyond the individual’s control in assessing the quality of their work.

And that’s his argument AGAINST worrying about the problem that only straight white guys manage to get jobs in this field.

Look, Patton Oswalt is a funny guy, and smart, and he seems to have put some thought into his positions. But it’s sort of like he spent 20 minutes looking over the wine list, asking about each varietal…and then decided to just drink out of the toilet.

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Just because I couldn’t touch it doesn’t mean I couldn’t love it

Call You All The Time – Vanessa Peters

Vanessa Peters is one of my favorite artists of the last decade. Every record from her is a joy, and With the Sentimentals is no exception. It’s probably the most classically ‘folk’ record from her yet—full of simple songs that draw you in quickly and leave you feeling light on your feet all day. The arrangements are light and relatively sparse, but full of warmth and joy.

After just a few listens, this record already felt like an old friend, a quiet and cheerful confidant—who doesn’t make demands but is just there to listen and smile and keep you company through the dark winter days. As I’ve spent more time with it over the past month, my estimation has only grown. It’s been a regular companion, a friendly voice in my ear as I garden or cook, a whisper of sunshine on my dark and dreary commute.

These songs are tender, casually-constructed, and intimate. They touch on heavy subjects and strike some deep emotional chords, but they do so with such an extraordinary gentleness and sense of good spirit that it never risks feeling oppressive. Even as she sings (on Getting By) “And I hope you know how hard I try / to live here in the present / not be a ghost of the past / ‘cause some days I’m barely getting by,” you still feel the hopefulness, the chance for a sort of happiness that can step out from the shadow of pain and loss.

My  favorite track is Call You All The Time, which is jaunty and fun and beautifully sunny, the sort of ‘breakup’ song that we almost never hear: one that remembers fondly but accepts the necessity of moving on, which acknowledges the breakdowns and recriminations but which doesn’t dwell on them. It makes me think of a box stashed somewhere in the back of closet, full of old photographs of smiling faces from relationships long gone. You almost never look at them these days—you’ve moved on, after all, and it doesn’t pay to live in the past. But you still hold onto them. Because you know that the happiness they represent was real. And it’s a mistake to think that something can only be truly good if it lasts forever. There are many forms of joy in the world, and joy isn’t any less true because it was momentary.

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Welcome to reality

Grimes scrapped her followup to Visions, including this track. Which leads me to wonder: is she going all Brian Wilson on us? Because this song is great.

Her voice is ethereal, as always, as she bobs and weaves amidst a woozy dance beat that feels effortlessly constructed and yet pitch-perfect. Incredibly catchy without being the slightest bit overstated.  It’s the sort of song you can listen to on repeat endlessly, fall into a groove, and only come out on the other side to realize that hours have passed.

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50 songs for 50 states: Delaware

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Wilmington – Doug Kwartler

Shockingly, for such an awful state, Delaware’s contribution to this project is one of the better songs. It’s the song about Delaware that Springsteen would have written if he had ever gotten around to it. Jaunty and heartfelt, lyrical but delicately poised. And a truly lovely melody.

The next best song about Delaware is probably…the theme song for an old Conan O’Brien sketch: “He’s Awareness Del. Making people aware. Aware of Delaware!” And a little bit of investigative work tells me that the guy who played Awareness Del was Jon Glaser – better known as Councilman Jamm from Parks and Rec! Cool beans.

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And the sadness I suppose, gonna hold me to the ground

This is the best song I’ve heard from The Tallest Man on Earth in a long time. It might even by my favorite song of his yet.

Following the path laid out by The War on Drugs last year, Kristian Matsson is mining the 80s for ideas. And the result is the sort of music that Dylan himself (an obvious influence for Matsson in all his work) was trying to make at the time, but without all the hiccups along the way.

It’s synth-driven and gorgeously constructed and just a lovely song. And it’s got me super excited to hear the rest of the album. Dark Bird Is Home comes out in May, and I will be pre-ordering my copy now.

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50 songs for 50 states: Connecticut

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

So…Connecticut. There sure aren’t many songs about it. But at least it lets us finally answer the classic question: when faced with the choice of an average Ben Folds song and an average Superchunk song, which do you go with?

On second thought, that’s not a question that leaves much room for doubt, is it?

Anyways, this is nowhere near the best song from them, but it’s perfectly serviceable. And perfectly serviceable Superchunk is still pretty darn good.

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John Kerry on DOMA, circa 1996

Came across John Kerry’s comments on the Defense of Marriage Act from back when it was being debated in 1996. While he declares himself to be against gay marriage, his comments are measured and generous and empathetic. It’s Kerry at his best.

Anyways, he was one of only 14 Senators to vote against the bill, and that’s a testament to just how far the needle has moved.

The truth that we know, which today’s exercise ignores, is that marriages fall apart in the United States, not because men and women are under siege by a mass movement of men marrying men or women marrying women. Marriages fall apart because men and women don’t stay married. The real threat comes from the attitudes of many men and women married to each other and from the relationships of people in the opposite sex, not the same sex. Yet, this legislation is directed at something that has not happened and which needs no Federal intervention.

Obviously, the results of this bill will not be to preserve anything, but will serve to attack a group of people out of various motives and rationales, and certainly out of a lack of understanding and a lack of tolerance, and will only serve the purposes of the political season.

If this were truly a defense of marriage act, it would expand the learning experience for would-be husbands and wives. It would provide for counseling for all troubled marriages, not just for those who can afford it. It would provide treatment on demand for those with alcohol and substance abuse, or with the pernicious and endless invasions of their own abuse as children that they never break away from. It would expand the Violence Against Women Act. It would guarantee day care for every family that struggles and needs it. It would expand the curriculum in schools to expose high school students to a greater set of practical life choices. It would guarantee that our children would be able to read when they leave high school. It would expand the opportunity for adoptions. It would expand the protection of abused children. It would help children do things after school other than to go out and perhaps have unwanted teenage pregnancies. It would help augment Boys Clubs and Girls Clubs, YMCA’s and YWCA’s, school-to-work, and other alternatives so young people can grow into healthy, productive adults and have healthy adult relationships. But we all know the truth. The truth is that mistakes will be made and marriages will fail. But these are ways that we could truly defend marriage in America.

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50 songs for 50 states: Colorado

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Rocky Mountain High – John Denver

In the end, there was only ever one song that could win for Colorado.  John Denver may sound corny these days, and just a bit too earnest for the ironic ears of the 21st century, but the man could write a song. And this is one of his very finest. In it you can hear the joy of the natural world, the grandeur of the mountains, and the tranquility they offer.

Other strong contenders were some country classics from giants of the genre: Townes Van Zandt’s “Colorado Girl” is everything that’s great about him. And The Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Colorado” is one of my favorites from them.

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50 songs for 50 states: California

A musical celebration of the 50 states. One song each week over the course of the year.

Oh, California. My adopted home, the muse of so many musicians over the years. How can I pick just one song for you?

This is almost certainly the most difficult state. You might make an argument for New York, but there the songs are really mostly all about one thing: the city itself. With California, the reach is expansive. California makes us dream.

Is your muse the beautiful city of fog by the Bay? Then you’ll want to make sure to wear flowers in your hair. Or keep an ear out for Otis Redding whistling down on the dock. You might catch the San Francisco Bay Blues, or you might lose your head there waiting for the fog to roll out.

Or go south, to the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica, where the surf is high and palm trees bend in the wind. It’s a particularly powerful vision on such a winter’s day. But watch out for the vampires walkin’ through the valley. The celluloid heroes of Hollywood that drift around you.

And then there are the women. Those California Girls. Fine, fresh, fierce…you wish they all could be like that. Or maybe you hate California girls. Maybe you’re looking for a lucky little lady in the City of Light. Or just another lost angel?

Or maybe for you California is the land of Bad Religion, of The Descendents, of Social Distortion. It’s California Uber Alles.

Or it’s the world of Compton and Watts, of South Central, and you hear the refrain of gunshots and the stomp of police boots.

I could go on forever. But ultimately I still need to pick one song. And for me it came down to three possibilities. One is pure schlock, but such wonderful schlock. The second steps beyond the specificities to tap into something far more eternal. And the third…well, ultimately it had to be the third.

So the first one is Phantom Planet’s “California.” You may remember it as the theme song to The OC, and it (of course) is nowhere near the best song about California. But in some ways it’s absolutely the most appropriate.

The second is “California Stars” by Wilco and Billy Bragg, lyrics written by Woody Guthrie – most likely composed at some point in the midst of the Great Depression. It manages to feel absolutely at home in either era. It’s a timeless classic.

But, in the end, there was no other choice but this one:

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