Friday, April 22, 2011

What's your LIFE CHANGING song?

I know there are some varying opinions on the movie "Garden State," but for this post I'd like you all to accept my premise, even just for the moment, that it was a steaming pile of overwrought, pretentious trash.


And the worst part of Garden State- i.e. the worst scene of what might be the worst movie ever- can be seen here. If you think I'm going to embed that shit, YOU ARE WRONG MY FRIEND. I won't sully the free, poorly-designed pages of blogger with even a second of Zach Braff. I will, however, transcribe the scene in question. I don't remember character names, thank God, so I'll just use 'Zach' and 'Natalie.'

The two are in a hospital, or auditorium, or plane, or something. Natalie is listening to music.

Zach: What are you listening to?

Natalie: The Shins. You know 'em?

Zach gives a thoughtful pause.

Zach: No.

Natalie: You gotta hear this one song. It'll change your life, I swear.

She leans over, but Zach is filling out forms or something.

Natalie: Oh, I'm sorry. You're filling out forms. Conundrum! Do you think you could, uh, listen while you fill out the forms?

Zach responds to her light teasing with an unamused 'yeah, I get it' demeanor.

Zach: I think I can handle it.

Zach puts on the headphones. He's totally skeptical. But then...SOMETHING HAPPENS. 40 consecutive shots show Zach and Natalie smiling at each other. A life is changed.

Even watching that scene so I could transcribe it was painful. I hate, hate, hate the way they hammer you over the head with the song. Music is supposed to support a movie (see: Wes Anderson), not an overt advertisement that tries to jam emotion down your throat. My throat is closed, Braff. But here's why I really hate that scene:

Back in the second semester of my junior year in college, late to the game, I came across the album 'Chutes Too narrow' by The Shins. It's fair to say I listened in a state of moderate awe. Song after song was spectacular. I was convinced this was the best pop album I'd ever heard.

When I get into something, I tend to get a little obsessed, so I took to the internet to research The Shins. I discovered they had another album, 'Oh, Inverted World,' released a couple years earlier. So one day I borrowed a car and drove to the mall to buy it. I can't remember if I even owned an iPod then, or if I was still rocking the discman, but one way or another I brought it out with me to the Duke Gardens for a listen.

It was a gorgeous spring day, and I immediately loved what I heard on the album. It was a little more melancholy and brooding, maybe, than the driving pop of 'Chutes Too Narrow,' but equally full of excellent melody and poetic lyrics. I had a new favorite band.

Then track number 6 came on. "New Slang." And, uh...

Well, I'm not going to repeat any words mentioned in a Zach Braff script. I'll put it this way: I'm not a big crier. I can go through some bad stuff, or witness horrible things, without ever shedding a tear. It just doesn't occur to me. But for some reason, when a piece of art hits me in the gut, tears will come to my eyes. By the cry test, I seem to have strict tastes (thank God, or I'd be crying all the time and wouldn't have friends), so it's a rare phenomenon. But it's consistent; to give a quick example, I cannot watch the part at the end of the "The Royal Tenenbaums" where Chas loses it and says, "I've had a tough year, pop," without breaking down. Seriously, even writing that sentence and remember the scene makes my eyes water.

Sitting in the Duke Gardens, listening to "New Slang" for the first time, I started crying. It pains me to admit this, believe me. But that's what happened. I probably hit repeat 10 times in a row, and with each listen the sheer heartbreaking beauty of the song just shattered me.

"Life-changing" is a huge term. I'm not sure listening to "New Slang" changed my life in any measurable way. But it's hard not to be grateful for those moments where you feel truly affected, and until I grow old and my memory dies, I'll remember listening to that song for the first time.

And then Zach Braff cheapened the living hell out of it by writing that scene. You can't do that! You can't force your moment down other people's throats! I was hesitant to even do that here, on a simple blog. It can't work that way. Everybody has to have their own moment.

After "Garden State," the snide fuckheads in the indie music community would use that scene to devalue The Shins. If you mentioned liking any of their stuff, especially "New Slang," the inevitable retort would follow: "Did it change your life???"

So a big thumbs down to Braff. I still love the song, but he kind of spoiled it for a lot of people.

Anyway, here's the point: another great moment I had hearing a song for the first time was "White Winter Hymnal" by the Fleet Foxes. It's less obviously brilliant than "New Slang," but it has the same elusive, sad quality that appeals to me in music. It's something I always have trouble describing, and in the end can only explain it the way people sometimes explain that they believe in God: "I just kind of feel it."

Which is probably annoying to hear. Here's the song, along with a great video:

In a couple weeks, the band's next album is coming out. I've been waiting on that for three years, and I'm hoping there's a few gems in there.

My question to you is this: what's your "Life Changing" song. You can tell the story, or just list the song. I'm curious to find which specific tunes really get to people. Hopefully we get a nice cross sampling of genres and old versus new, and maybe I can make a mix or something.

Sound off in the comments. Happy Friday, and we'll be back to sports next week.


  1. Oh, great. Shane is turning into Speaker of the House John "Weeping Willow" Boehner. There's no crying in blogs!

    Two life changing songs from me:
    Imagine--John Lennon
    Wish You Were Here--Pink Floyd

    Yeah, they show my age but they were powerful. Oh dear, I'm starting to tear up. Pass the Kleenex....

  2. although you may just be being alt by referring to albums by their first song, but the albums are actually called 'chutes too narrow' and 'oh, inverted world.' i agree with your assessment of garden state (which is full of scenes like that where braff is basically hitting you on the head and shouting 'IMPORTANT!'), and he definitely sort of ruined the shins, but let's get real - new slang kind of sucks, and is almost the worst song on that album.

  3. oh, and my songs:
    Rally - Phoenix
    G turns to D - Sloan
    Carpetbaggers - Harlem Shakes

  4. Anon, that would be a hilarious alt thing to do. But no, just a weird mistake on my part.

    Also, New Slang most definitely does not suck.


  5. Jacob "The Destoryer"April 22, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    Nice post Shane. I feel the exact same way about the Royal Tenenbaums quote. I have watched that part so many times I've lost count.

    For my life changing songs:
    I'll Believe in Anything- Wolf Parade
    Thieves in the Night- Blackstar

  6. Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin. The song got me into Zeppelin and then into classic rock as a kid. It "changed my life" because it has influenced my musical tastes ever since. And I still get the chills when I hear the opening riff.

    As far as other life-changing songs, gotta go with RHCP's Under the Bridge, Neil Young's After the Goldrush, Pearl Jam's Yellow Ledbetter, Sublime's Pool Shark, 4 A.M. by Our Lady Peace, and When the Music's Over by the Doors.

    By the way, the Garden State soundtrack is pretty solid. Always liked Simon and Garfunkle's Only Living Boy in New York, if only because it subtly hints that the rest of NYC is filled with soul-sucking zombies and insufferable Yankees fans. And I actually enjoyed the movie the first time I saw it.

    -Craig J.

  7. Something older: Hüsker Dü's "Celebrated Summer", which effectively changed what could be expected from a traditional "punk" song, IMHO. I think I was 13 or 14 when I first heard the song and it represented perfectly my perspective on summer, friends and school. 

    Something newer: The Avett Brother's "The Ballad of Love and Hate". The first time I heard it in my girlfriend's car I promptly dismissed it as banal, and made sure she knew it, but that's just because I was trying to not cry. Yes, I can be an ass. 

  8. I have to go with:

    Where is My Mind, Pixies (end scene of Fight Club)
    Porcelain, Moby (The Beach)

    For me, it was the combination of the song and scene that struck a chord in me the first time I saw it. Now, I can't hear either song without it immediately bringing me back to that moment.

  9. Great post! Not sure about "life-changing" but "spontaneous weeping" is good enough. Whichever, I'm enjoying looking up the ones from your readers I don't know (yes, you might need to play-list them). And spot-on re "New Slang" and "Tenenbaums" ("I've had a bad year" is right up there with "Dad, do you want to have a catch?")

    My adds:
    "Ode to Joy" (full orchestral & choral version)
    "Graceland" (Paul Simon says it's the best song he's ever written - who are we to argue, given those lyrics?)

  10. By the way, if you keep this idea going, some of these might belong in the "Whoa, the game just changed" category (or some such)?

    To that list, "8 Mile" must be added (old guy discovers Rap)

  11. Growing up, my mom listened to Jackson Browne pretty much 24/7 (and in fact, Ol' JB was my very first live concert-going experience back in 5th grade, though I certainly did not appreciate it enough then as I would now) but somehow, it took me until my Sophomore year of college to come across "Your Bright Baby Blues", which is just about as heartbreaking as any song gets. I must have listened to it 150 times on repeat for like four months. I've always been super melodramatic, but this song allowed me to push to new limits, imagining that I understood at all what Jackson was talking about. Suffice it to say, I obviously did not. But still, it's some deep shit.

    "I don't mean to be cruel, babe, but you're looking confused."

  12. A great lunchtime of looking up and listening - thanks!

    And to Anon, thanks for "Ballad of Love and Hate" - since this blog has deep roots in NC, the following is must-view:
    (On November 2nd, 2008, the Avett Brothers, those venerable sons of NC, performed for a full house at Memorial Hall on UNC Chapel Hill campus.)

  13. Oh Avett Brothers, they just came to Wilmington but I missed them because I'm an idiot.

    Anyways, to be vulgar go put on these two Sigur Ros songs back to back with your significant other and try not to bang. "Svefn-g-englar" and "Starálfur."

  14. So mine is an album not a single song but: "In the Airplane Over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel. Whole album is awesome and must be listened to from start to finish. (Standouts for me are "Oh Comely" and "Two Headed Boy part 2")

    Other bands get honorable mentions as well. Noah and the Whale, The Mountain Goats and the Decemberists.

  15. Oh and the Mountain Goats get extra love cause the dude is from Durham.

  16. Thanks for the comments, guys. Eric, I was actually going to mention that album in the post. At the same time I discovered The Shins, I discovered Neutral Milk Hotel. The title track was the first one that did it for me, and after that almost every track had its moment in my life where it just kinda blew me away. If I had to pick a favorite, it might be "Ghost." But they're all incredible.

    Good stuff from everyone.


  17. #41 by the Dave Matthews Band!

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