I’ve always felt uncomfortable talking about music. It’s one of those “get to know you” questions a lot of people break out during awkward silences: “what kind of music do you listen to?” I hate that question, because it always seems like my answer is wrong. Too much oldies, too much pop; not enough passion, not enough opinions. But I do love music, I’m just very bad at keeping track of big groups. I know more about 90s pop now then I did when I was at prime listening age back in the 90s, but that’s still not a heck of a lot. And after writing, singing is one of the things I enjoy most.
But I’m not musical. I took a few years of guitar in high school, and before that a smattering of piano/violin/clarinet as my parents and the public school system tried to instill in me musical skills (and the responsibility of practicing regularly). I was in the nerdiest celtic band ever (we specialized in covers of video game music) in high school. I was in choir on and off, but never had any real, proper training, and always froze when auditioning for solos. My music-major roommate has desperately tried to explain music theory to me a number of times, and it just doesn’t sink in.
That is to say, I’m not terribly qualified to talk about music. But I’m going to anyway. I’m going to lean into this discomfort and try to just enjoy talking about the songs I love, so I don’t have to flinch away from that question every time. What kind of music do I listen to? Well, lets find out.
“Marilyn Hanson” by Hank Green & the Perfect Strangers
I’ve liked Hank Green’s music for a long time now. You may recognize him as half of the brother duo that comprises the Vlogbrothers (the other half of which is John Green, of The Fault in Our Stars fame). He does about a million things (including writing a book), but one of them is making and performing music. His song “Accio Deathly Hallows” is one of the early reasons he and his brother gained so much Youtube fame, and he specializes in what I guess I’d call nerdy indy rock? He does some wrock and some punk and a mix of other stuff. Incongruent is his fourth album, and I’d argue his best. It’s certainly my favorite. His solo stuff is charming, but the overall production quality seems so much higher on Incongruent, and he really flourishes with accompaniment. But, what do I know?
I’m mainly here for the lyrics, and although this song has a kind of humorous title, the tone is so…sad. Nostalgic, with that melancholy tug at the heart. I’ve found I really seek out this mood when I’m writing (and in my writing, I tend to pick at the idea of losing something ephemeral that was never really yours to begin with). This song embodies that; it’s all about looking back on a time you shared with someone, that maybe wasn’t perfect or significant, but that you can’t ever really shake the loss of.
When I thought of starting this blog series, this was one of the first songs that occurred to me. I hesitated, because most people won’t have heard of this song–but that’s one of the reasons I want to mention it. There are definitely other songs that embody this feeling, but I can’t stop listening to this one.
I’m not someone who can have music going when they write, but Incongruent is one of the albums that gets me in the right mood to dive into a story. It also picks me up when I need it, because although there’s this sadness to songs like “Marilyn Hanson,” there’s a sense of hope, too.
“Did you ever wanna go to back where we were before?
Smell that pot smoke wafting out from under your dad’s door
And the steak knives by the bedside
Jokes cracked in the black light
They were maybe not the best times but, well I’ve had worse
And I wouldn’t trade those memories for the whole fucking earth…”