14 July 2010

For Ellen.

Ellen Hinson died two years ago. Typing that sentence, reading that sentence, saying that sentence is completely unreal to me. And I know that it will remain unreal no matter what the number is.
Her death hasn't made me obsess over the concept of death or life or time or religion. When I think about Ellen, I don't think about death, I think about Ellen.
Ellen and I were best friends in middle school. People who knew either Ellen or myself post-middle school might not understand what our relationship was like. And of course, I'm not saying I'm any more important than friends she had before middle school or after. It's just that if you went to Franklin with us it was likely you didn't have a good understanding of what our relationship was like.
But that's also because no one understood our relationship except Ellen and me. There's a line in Stand By Me that goes "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?" And the answer is no, for better or for worse. Ellen and I were friends the only way 12-13-14 year old girls can be friends. We were fascinated by each other, obsessed with each other. When we met, on the first day of seventh grade, we had both gone to the same school with the same people up to that point. Ellen was still at the same school, Lusher, but I was new. But it was different for Ellen, too; seventh grade at Lusher always saw a substantial amount of new faces. I sat down at her table on the first day of school because there weren't any other seats left. I was terrified and barely talked. But I couldn't get over this one girl, who talked and laughed with everyone, whether she had known them her whole life or five minutes.
Ellen took me in immediately, but our friendship didn't grow out of necessity. On my end, up to that point I had almost exclusively gone to school with the same people from the time I was 5. My elementary school friends were all I had and I didn't know any better. That's not to say they weren't good friends (some of them were, some of them weren't) but I didn't really get much of a chance to make and choose friends.
If Ellen and I were different people we could have easily not be friends. We would have been friendly, sure, because even though Lusher seemed like a metropolis compared to the small town of my elementary school, it was small. But we didn't have to be friends. Our friendship came to be out of our love for each other.
Does that sound over-dramatic? Maybe it is, but everything is when you're a 12 year old girl. We talked for hours. We told each other secrets that neither of us had heard before. We wanted to be sisters just so we could be together all the time. Even our arguments, which were very few, usually had more to do with outside forces than each other and were resolved quickly.
Ellen shaped who I am today. She was so funny, I had never met anyone like her. Our senses of humor morphed together until we were virtually able to read each other's thoughts. Literally, the right sideways glance at her closet door had us laughing so hard we couldn't breathe. Even today I know why we found it funny but I could never explain it to anyone else, because no one else is me or Ellen.
I think it's standard when someone dies too young, especially in an accident, to have issues with the unfairness of it. I was always older than Ellen by almost exactly nine months, but I keep getting older and older than her. She will always be 19, and now I'm 22. It doesn't make sense to me. I'm not supposed to be that much older than her.
By now I've graduated college. I have a BFA. Ellen never graduated college. She should have a degree right now, too. Maybe she'd be in grad school. Either way she would be moving forward.
When I think of what she did and what she was capable of, I feel ashamed. And I hate that because I know Ellen would hate that. She was so smart and was only getting smarter. It's not that I have all of her smarts and I'm just wasting my life away, not doing anything with them; she'd always be an engineer and I'd always be a writer, no matter what happened two years ago. So I shouldn't feel bad. But when I think of all she had done and had the potential to do and when I think of my art school career and these little scribbles I make, I just feel ashamed.
But Ellen would be so mad to hear that. If I had the opportunity to tell her that, she wouldn't even let me finish. She read everything I wrote and begged for more, which says a lot considering she was reading the work of a pubescent girl. She told everyone that I was the best writer and she was proud because I was her friend. So instead of interpreting my feelings into something along the lines of "why her and not me," which she wouldn't ever want, I just interpret them this way:
When Ellen died a big hole was made. Not just a hole in the now, but a hole in the future. The stuff she was going to do can't be done anymore. And nothing can change that. But since I'm still alive I owe it to her to do everything I can in my power to help fill up the hole. I'll never do it. No one will. I'll never come close. But what I do with my life isn't just about me anymore. Ellen and I made promises to each other that we swore we would keep. There was one promise we made to each other the summer of 2001, wrapped up in blankets because of the air conditioning and relishing the artificial cold. When we made this promise and we thought of the future it was vague: it was hard to even imagine graduating high school, much less going to college and having careers and long lives. But we made the promise all the same and I have every reason to believe that even if Ellen died when she was 99 instead of 19 she would have kept it.
Now I'm the only one in the world who knows about the promise we made that night. And I'm the only one who needs to know. Because if our places were switched I know Ellen would feel the same way. And when I close my eyes I can see her sitting in front of me, our pinkies wrapped around each other in making what was as good as a contract in blood.
So Ellen, now and forever: this, all of this, is for you.

Ben E. King - Stand By Me

The Beatles - In My Life

10 July 2010

Songs About Literature

Y'all, I love books. That should be pretty obvious. I love music, too, because I'm a human. So naturally when books and music come together, I lovelove it.
I love when songs are about books. Or short stories or plays or poems. You get the idea. There are a million more than these, I'm sure. These are just the obvious ones/ones I like.

Radiohead - Exit Music (For A Film) - My favorite songs that are about literature are the ones told from the perspective of one of the characters. This one is particularly good because it's not in your face about Romeo and Juliet. But it is . . . Thom Yorke wrote is specifically to play at the end credits of Romeo + Juliet (hence the song title). But what I really love about this song is that it could be sung from the perspective of either Romeo or Juliet. I think we assume Romeo because Thom Yorke is a man, but there isn't anything in the lyrics that define sex. Both Romeo and Juliet had shitty parents, so it can be about either of them.

Peter Gabriel - Family Snapshot - This is based on An Assassin's Diary by Arthur Bremmer. It's sort of easy to write a song about a love story. Peter Gabriel wrote a song about someone who wanted to assassinate a a racist politician.

Taylor Swift - Love Story - This is a stretch. I admit it. BUT I LOVE TAYLOR SWIFT. Don't try to understand it. Just go with it. About Romeo and Juliet, this is written from the perspective of Juliet . . . that is, if Romeo had "talked to [her] dad" before their marriage and they grew old and happy together. I also like the addition of The Scarlet Letter ("You were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter"), which in the context of the song doesn't really make sense. BUT I DON'T CARE, I LOVE IT ANYWAY.

Aimee Mann - Ghost World - Pretty sweet song about a pretty sweet graphic novel. I'm not sure how many songs there are about graphic novels. I'm not talking about comic book series, though, and I am ESPECIALLY not talking about any of the terrible terrible terrible songs written about Superman.

Fear Before the March of Flames - The Lisbon Girls, Oh The Lisbon Girls
- I probably shouldn't count this because I hate this band and I hate this song. But I love the lyrics! And it's about The Virgin Suicides, my favorite novel. If only this song were in the hands of an artist that isn't absolutely awful.

Steve Forbert - Romeo's Tune - Another fairly upbeat Romeo and Juliet-based song. It doesn't explicitly change the story to happy ending like "Love Story," but you'd never know Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy based on this song.

David Bowie - 1984
- An appropriately dark song for 1984. The lyrics don't really explicitly describe specific events or characters in the book, but it does give a decent view of a dystopia/shitty world. "They'll split your pretty cranium and fill it full of air." Sort of wish there was a lyric like "They'll strap a caged rat to your face."

Fleetwood Mac - Rhiannon - This isn't quite based on Mary Leader's Triad, but it's not originally based on the Welsh goddess Rhiannon, either. Stevie Nicks wrote the song after she read Triad but really only used the name Rhiannon from the book, not much else. BUT the song is amazing, so who cares.

R.E.M. - Falls to Climb - The real benefit of having a singer like Michael Stipe sing about a short story like "The Lottery" is that he totally stays true to the nature of the story. If a scary or intimidating sounding guy sang the song it would really betray the subtlety of the story. And Michael Stipe has such a nice voice that really lends itself to the naivety of the main character. Also "The Lottery" is one of my favorite short stories, so there.

Bright Eyes - Tereza and Tomas - This doesn't have specific elements to the song that scream I'M ABOUT THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, but would that even be possible? If you aren't familiar with novel, the song would really just seem like a love song, presumably about two people named Tereza and Tomas. And really, you could argue that The Unbearable Lightness of Being is just a love story about Tereza and Tomas, too.

Simon & Garfunkel - Richard Cory - My high school English teacher in my senior year didn't believe me when, while reading the poem for class, I told her that there was a Simon & Garfunkel song based on it. "Who would write a song about a poem about suicide?" Well, I don't know, Paul Simon I guess. It's a great poem and a great song, which is not told from the perspective of Richard Cory (or even the second person, like the poem). My English teacher had never read Lord of the Flies, though, so she was really in no position to talk.

Panda Bear - Bonfire of the Vanities
- So the only lyrics to this song are "Don't you think that I cannot be sorry/It's always such a stupid thing that I can't deal with," which are obviously too vague to really pinpoint it as being about Bonfire of the Vanities. Especially since it could actually be about that other bonfire of the vanities. Noah Lennox's lyrics are usually pretty literal, so I would guess that they're at least inspired by one (or both?) of the two.

Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights - AS IF I would ever forget to include this. This is one of my favorite songs of all time. What I like the most about it is that it sounds like a love song . . . a character begging for her lover to come home. Except in Wuthering Heights, Catherine is dead and her ghost calls to Heathcliff from the window. So in the song when she says "come home" and "let me grab your soul away," it's a little creepier when you put it in the context of the novel. Also the first lyric is "Out on the wiley, windy moors." PERFECT.


02 July 2010


Here's a video of Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers emerging from darkness to break/melt your heart.

This has got to be one of my favorite songs ever. Granted, if I had to make a "favorite songs ever" list, it would be huge and impossible to rank, but still.

But what I really want is for Beach House to cover this song. It sounds weird at first, but think about it: Victoria Legrand doing those vocals, with all the lows and highs. And Alex Scally's guitar making it all sexy. So from now on I'm just going to send them telepathic messages regarding covering "Unchained Melody" and just hope.


The Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody