Then he showed me how to get back to the road. I came out to where everything was its own size and I had my song. I had the Binding Song. I choose that song because that’s what I seen most when I was traveling . . . people walking away and leaving one another. So I takes the power of my song and binds them together. Been binding people ever since. That’s why they call me Bynum. Just like glue I sticks people together.”
—from the play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” by August Wilson
In honor of the 2014 Grammy awards, I sat and listened to my clock radio for an hour, flipping around the dial. Just like the old days. Here’s what happened.
1. The Kinks. “Lola”
This song first came out in 1970, but a live version became an FM radio hit in 1980, when I was thirteen. There were whispers that “Lola” was a man who dressed up as a woman and then kissed another man. This was a transgressive concept to me at the time, though I doubt it would faze my kids at all today. I was excited about the taboo topic, but I had no clue what the song meant. This is why I don’t censor my adult conversations too much around my kids. I talk about whatever I want to when I am with my friends. If the kids are mature enough to eavesdrop, they are mature enough to puzzle out the things to come. Adults shall entertain themselves, and kids will catch up later.
2. Culture Club. “Karma Chameleon”
If my mother were asked her opinion about Boy George, she would say that he was a rather homely man who disguised his shortcomings with eccentric clothing and accessories. And I, reflecting my upbringing, have said the same thing to my kids about Lady Gaga.
3. The Script. “Standing in the Hall of Fame”
I’m wary of pop songs that promise their listeners great big fantastic things like fame, moving mountains, and being a champion. But inspirational songs are stock-in-trade to pop music. And we need them for our workout mixes.
4. Lana Del Rey. “Summertime Sadness” (remix)
I am just another drooling fan of Lana Del Ray, because she is beautiful and because she seems vulnerable. Being vulnerable is a huge asset. You must love your vulnerability. I heard that in a TED talk, which means it’s true. So stop being so defensive all the time. Let your guard down. Weep in public. Soften up, damn you.
5. Beyoncé. “XO”
New song, first time I’d heard it. She’s got a chorus backing her up on this one. It reminds me of the chorus in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” But all choruses tend to sound alike, don’t they?
One of my “peer influencers” on Facebook wrote that Beyoncé can really sing, while Rihanna really can’t. I think about that statement almost every time I hear a song by either one of them. Maybe Beyoncé has had a lot more training. But Rihanna has a certain je ne sais quoi. Both ladies are big of thigh and proudly display it, which gives me hope.
6. Ooh, what’s this. Some tinny eighties dance track, maybe Debbie Gibson or someone like her. Was it recorded on a four-track with a Casio drum machine? Fingerless gloves, six foot wrap-around belt, ankle boots, jumpsuit. Let’s dance!
7. Unidentified rap cooperative, sharing the mike.
Poetry in motion. But not real deep.
Money, sex, bullets, condoms, saints, hate.
Want you. Want you.
Back and forth.
Doesn’t speak to me. My fault.
8. Journey. “Don’t Stop Believing”
Steve Perry did nothing to disguise his homeliness and he’s doing just fine.
9. Train. “Drive-By”
Another song about a man who can’t deal with commitment. He lets the best one get away, but then he regrets it and wants her back. That story just never gets old. You can ride that vibe for a lifetime.
10. Okay, now I am hearing a song that typifies, for me, the commercial radio experience in this country. I have heard it a thousand times and I have no idea who sings it. And it is vaguely inspiring. It’s about a path, a road, a hope for the future. There is darkness, there is light. Which will you choose? *
*I later googled the lyrics, and the song is “Kyrie” by Mister Mister. I always thought Kyrie was a woman, but in fact, according to Wikipedia, it is a Christian prayer. It means something like “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Tricky.
I also heard Lola for the first time on the live track. On Q95 – "the album station." What confused me was not that Lola was a man, it was that the singer didn't seem to mind that Lola was a man.