Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sad Songs Mean So Much

This is an oh so tragic story, so please try not to laugh.

A long time ago (no Spanish American War jokes, thank you) I was going through a really painful breakup, by which I mean I was at the beginning of a three year depression that made me all but impossible to hang out with because of my annoying habit of saying things like "What's there to live for?" in response to questions like "Would you like fries with that?"

As you can imagine, my emotional state was impacting my listening habits, and at one point the then new 1991 album Anything Can Happen, by Nashville alt-pop rockers The Questionnaires, happened to cross my desk.

One song from the album in particular -- the (I thought) ragingly beautiful breakup ballad "In the Back of My Mind" -- hit me pretty hard and I began listening to it obsessively, to the point where I think I basically ignored everything else on the record, the rest of which could have been Lithuanian grindcore for all I knew.

Anyway, one day a critical colleague of mind -- toiling at Entertainment Weekly, as I recall -- happened to ask me what I was listening to, and I recommended said Questionnaires album, rather heartily, as I also recall. A few weeks later he called me up about a review assignment, and he finally said "Uh...Steve? You know that Questionnaires thing you made me listen to? It...really sucks."

To be honest, I didn't really see the point in arguing, and I'm sure I figured that my own judgement probably wasn't all that reliable anymore, for obvious reasons. So I put the CD away out of earshot, and eventually mislaid it somewhere, probably while moving to a new apartment a year or two later.

Cut to the present and, out of curiosity, I snagged a used copy of the album at Amazon the other day and checked out "In the Back of My Mind" for the first time in nearly two decades. And guess what -- I still think that it's ragingly beautiful in a sort of Brian Wilson/early Association/lotsa harmonies kind of way. But I also can kind of understand how other folks might find it...uh, sappy.

Okay, no larger point, but you can listen to it here and make up your own mind about whether or not I'm the biggest pathetic wimp who ever lived.

Incidentally, the guy who wrote the song is big band jazz great Stan Kenton's grandson. What Stan would have thought about any of this, of course, is anybody's guess.


Brooklyn Girl said...

I like it. Definitely hear the Association but there's something else in the 12-strings I can't place ... Tom Petty? Youngbloods? Dunno, but it's very familiar ...

Dave said...

Nice song. Like BG, I hear more Association than Brian Wilson.

Speaking of Brian Wilson... Do you know that the Beach Boys recorded a gem, "In the Back of My Mind." It's on the second side of The Beach Boys Today, one of Brian's greatest achievements (it also contanis "Kiss Me Baby" and "Please Let Me Wonder"). Dennis is on lead and the vocal straddles the fence between whiny and magnificent --

steve simels said...


Beach Boys Today is one of my all time fave albums, very much in part because of "In the Back of My Mind," which, I'm sure you'll agree, was the first indication that there was more to Dennis than his teen idol status suggested. Utterly gorgeous song, and I am continually amazed that no classic pop singer in the Harry Connick mode has ever had the smarts to cover it.

Dave said...

BW's songs are so hard to cover, but "In the Back of My Mind" doesn't require the elaborate harmonies (it's hard to imagine "Kiss Me Baby" without them). I'm trying to think of truly satisfying covers of Brian Wilson songs. I was really moved by Vince Gill (especially), David Crosby, and Jimmy Webb doing Surf's Up at the TNT tribute to BW (which I saw in person) and by Paul Simon's "Surfer Girl" and Vince Gill's "The Warmth of the Sun" at the same concert. Videos of all of these are on You Tube.

Otherwise my vote would go to Glen Campbell's "Guess I'm Dumb" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5OXKRIyaxQ but the performance doesn't have to stand next to the Beach Boys. Brian could have killed this.