>If you read last week’s post (and made it all the way to the end), you noticed that this week’s entry was billed “The Things That Make Life Worth Living,” subtitled then, “Not Cold Weather, Old Age, or Baseball,” subtitled presently, “Anything But Crack.” Though the “things” themselves are wholly mine, the premise was gladly stolen from Cameron Crowe, formerly famous for his music criticism, currently famous for writing/directing Singles, Almost Famous, and Jerry Maguire, and almost famous for his upcoming movie Elizabethtown. You can read Cameron’s list here under “Claire’s America.” And if you’re thinking that I’m plugging Cameron Crowe’s movie because he asked me to score his next film, “A Movie Without Music,” you’re absolutely right.
What we have here is Part 1 (Parts 2-5 will come daily this week) of a list–randomly ordered but not randomly selected–of those very few things that can make a life, any life, worth living. These are the songs that I’ve heard, works of literature I’ve read, things I’ve consumed, places I’ve been, and bits of miscellani I’ve experienced; the beauty of the list is that it’s relatable to/different for everyone (and I’d love to hear yours). They are just some of the things from my limited experience that remain so memorable, beautiful, or simply brilliant, that I often revisit them when life appears forgettable, ugly, and dull. Here they are, in no particular order: the Things That Make Life Worth Living, ready when you least expect them, willing when you need them most.
The Grove at Ole Miss, gameday:
Acres of tailgating tents with satellite dishes and chandeliers, shaded by timeless oaks and the shadows of Faulkner and Welty, guided by hundred-year traditions and simple, divine, Southern hospitality. Bourbon and perfume are the smells. Abner’s fried chicken and chess pie are the tastes. “Dixie” and “hotty toddy” are the sounds. And the view is red-lipped, white-pearled, blue eyed, golden-haired, and tan-skinned. Locals know when Mr. Hefner said, “God has personally touched Oxford, Mississippi,” he wasn’t fooling about. Here the Rebels wear church-clothes on gameday as proof that football is a religious experience. Or perhaps militaristic: when the sun goes down over the Grove before a night game–hordes marching toward the field, drums pounding over the hill, candles dimly lighting the tents–it resembles an army’s campsite before battle. If football, kind folks, beautiful women, and great food are your bag–there simply is no finer place.
Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner”:
Though a case can be made for “Red House,” “Purple Haze,” and his masterful cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” this, to me, remains Jimi’s definitive performance. The “banner” usually kicks off festivities, but Jimi uses it as Woodstock’s swan song, a final, shrieking, embattled ending note to a concert defined by its contemporary cultural and political landscape. And while many of the decade’s most relevant lyricists performed that weekend, Hendrix’s wordless vision, revision, and reconstruction of a national anthem seemed to say the most. Something in that distortion, those dive-bombing tangents, the remarkably poised passion, and that one, desperately hopeful ring of clarity on “the land of the free,” paints a perfectly flawed picture of his times. The discord, beauty, chaos, and surviving optimism of that picture were surely familiar then, and seem increasingly recognizable now.
Yates apple cider, Rochester Hills, Michigan:
My friend and roommate Jeet, a Detroit native, introduced this to me three years ago when I drank Kroger apple juice and didn’t know better. I do now. The cider varies slightly year-to-year, depending on the past summer’s weather, but it somehow always improves. Typically spicy, smooth, and a little tart, it’s essential fall-time drinking, and always worth the year-long wait.
Finding money in an old pocket:
There you are, strapped and hungry, and there it is, a gift from Zeus, or whomever the Greek god of currency is. It has no source, no reason for being there, in your jacket from 7th grade. It is there simply because you needed it and were predestined to find it, or perhaps unwittingly willed it into existence. Either way, it is a gift, a tiny, unplanned fortune, meant to be shared with your unlucky friends and spent unwisely.
“Adam’s Curse,” by William Butler Yeats:
Without question my favorite work by a favorite writer. “Adam’s Curse” talks about beauty, love, and verse itself with such plain and (fittingly) gorgeous language that it’s seemingly written for the poetry-phobic. Writers would appreciate the defense of art in stanza 1, most women would relate to society’s beauty standards in stanza 2, and nearly all good postmoderns can see themselves in the poem’s final lines. While I’d guess Yeats wrote it for himself, I read it for my own, when poetry seems foolish, beauty absent, and love distant.
The smell of summer. Maybe it’s just an association from youth, linked to more than a couple childhood memories. But I’ll take mine bordering a makeshift football field or tucked behind a girl’s ear, on Memorial Weekend or sweetening the heat in August, in early morning or early evening. I believe, however, it’s best passing an open window, late at night, on a joyride to nowhere, while the city’s asleep and something finer is right in front of you, hanging in the air.
DBo’s chicken wings, Memphis, Tennessee:
There is something about a scalding hot tin pan of wings and drummies, soaking in some mystical sauce with a secret recipe nobody knows nor wants to know, 100 or more, waiting to be completely ambushed and ransacked by a few sweating, ravenous young men. Carrots and ranch cool the palate just long enough to go back for fourths and fifths. And, as though by design, the wings at the bottom are nearly submerged in hot sauce, one brutal, final test before surrender and retreat. Go for the wings, the price, and the service. Go hoping to catch a glimpse of DBo himself, paying his monthly visit in his Caddy with plates that read “WINGMAN.” Just do not go and order a hamburger.
OutKast, “Bombs Over Baghdad”:
Nevermind that this song is one of those rarities that actually gains cultural relevance over time. Nevermind that two rappers’ 5-minute call-against-arms rocks more than anything near the rock genre since Cobain died. It’s not just eye-popping lines like “Weather man tellin’ us it ain’t gon’ rain/So now we sittin’ in a drop-top, soakin wet/In a silk suit, tryin’ not to sweat” and “A scale and some Arm and Hammer, so grow grid and some baby máma/Black Cadillac and a pack of pampers/Stack of question with no answers.” It’s not the relentless, breathless, beat or the urgent vocals. It’s not the layered melodies, the faux-gospel outtro, or the hauntingly memorable hook. It’s all of it, and something more. This song is the sound of one city, one context, years of time and pressure, and two uber-talented artists exploding into one masterful reminder that there’s always a war on, and you don’t have to go anywhere but home to find it.