Welcome to a new feature on the blog, “A Moment in Song”, where I analyze some of my favourite moments in some of my favourite songs. Music can work on many levels, with the best songs featuring a combination of lyrical content, musical arrangement, tempo, vocal stylings, and just a little bit of magic to create something memorable. But sometimes within a song is one transcendent moment that stands out, a moment that hits you the first time you hear it and every moment after that. That moment may only be seconds long, but it’s what you always remember when you think of the song. This feature focuses on such moments to try and highlight all the little things that make music such a special experience.
The Song: “The Good That Won’t Come Out” by Rilo Kiley from The Execution of All Things LP (2002)
(To download, right click on this link choose Save Link As: http://andythesaint.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/01-the-good-that-wont-come-out.mp3)
Yes, I realize this is an incredibly random selection from which to choose to begin a new blog feature. A nine-year old non-single off of little selling album from a band that’s been on an extended hiatus long enough to make fans question whether or not they’ve broken up isn’t exactly topical. Which should give you another clue about my plan for this feature: I’m just going to choose songs randomly as they speak to me and not worry if they’re topical or not. If it’s a song that grabs people’s attention, great. If not, here’s hoping I can introduce a few people to some great songs while giving a glimpse into what makes them so great.
I’m starting with this song, the lead-off track from Rilo Kiley’s sophomore LP, because it’s the song that gave me the idea to write this feature. The moment in question with this song always stops me dead in my tracks, and got me thinking about how much power there can be in singular moments of songs.
As for the song itself, it’s a delicate song about all the ways people get in their own way when it comes to happiness. It’s powered by a soft but persistent snare drum and an arrangement of mournful guitars, vibraphone, and glockenspiel, all of which are designed to make the melancholia of Jenny Lewis’ lyrics and voice feel inescapable (literally becoming “the good that won’t come out” of her). Altogether, there’s enough craft in the song to make it one of my favourite tracks by the band, and a particularly great example of their early period alternative country stylings (and why many fans which they’d never left the genre). But it’s the moment that pushes it over the top as my absolute favourite Rilo Kiley song.
The Moment: 2:40-2:51
You say I choose sadness
That it never once has chosen me
(Maybe you’re right)
With one simple lyric, Jenny Lewis perfectly captures the nature of so much of our personal troubles. Which is to say, they are overwhelmingly self-inflicted. Yes, some people have legitimate problems, depression is a disease, blah, blah, empathy, blah. Don’t get me wrong, no one loves a sad song more than me (as you’ll no doubt discover if I keep this feature going with any regularity). But for many people, feeling sorry for oneself is a choice they persistently make despite having a whole host of things to be happy about. Or, if they are lacking good things in their life, it’s because they constantly make choices in their lives to eliminate the good. We may all blame the cruel world, fate, God, or whatever for our lot in life, but more often than not, we choose the sadness in our lives, not the other way around.
What’s great is that when Lewis’ protagonist is confronted with this accusation, she wearily accepts the possibility that it may be true in a half-whispered response. Probably never directly to the accuser, but in the confessional that is this song, she begins to accept that maybe she’s been getting in her own way all along. SHE chooses sadness, she hides behind stupid lies, and she’s growing tired of the wretched inertia that comes from it all. Will she ever do something about it, or remain indulgent in her melancholy? Who knows, but I think it’s telling that a minute after this lyric, the tempo of the song picks up, bringing in a rush of keyboards and orchestral bells, showing a desire to let the good out, even if it winds up trapped behind all her own bullshit.
I can personally relate for a couple of reasons. When I was younger, I was definitely the type that would choose my own sadness. Some of it has to do with simple human chemistry and my personal reaction to the raging hormones of youth. But more than that, I think I’d choose sadness because it felt more authentic. I didn’t really have anything to be upset about, but feeling down seemed to bestow a certain depth that I otherwise lacked. If I couldn’t win people over with charisma, maybe I could as the oh-so-tortured soul. Now that I’m older, I literally choose sadness, but only for entertainment purposes. In life, I’m surprising optimistic, since I recognize just how fucking blessed I’ve been. Again, some of that is luck, but a lot of it is due to the choices I’ve made. Unlike the protagonist of this song, I’ve chosen happiness AND recognized when it’s chosen me. But I still gravitate to sad songs, movies, TV shows, et cetera. I guess because I don’t get exposed to that end of the spectrum organically, I like to visit those places through art just to ensure I can still understand the full human experience. Plus, it’s wonderfully indulgent.