The Magic of Musical Nuts
There are certain songs that contain moments that transcend the surrounding material, even if the surrounding material is already sublime. There’s a tense build that gets released at a point in the song, or an abrupt turn, or a phrase or riff that just smacks your brain, moving your enjoyment from passive appreciation to frenetic celebration. These moments are like “musical nuts”–and that could be read as a climactic, nearly sexual moment, or “nut” could be considered an architectural term where the moment holds up and connects the other moving parts.
Danse Caribe by Andrew Bird
According to Mike Johnson
Andrew Bird is a daring and thoughtful composer, sending his songs into unexpected sonic directions that can give your inner ear a vertiginous shove. “Danse Caribe” includes many of these twists. Bird is also a master at building atmospheres and this song seems designed to be heard at full sail with sea spray in your face. After rolling along like a dreamy Caribbean sea chanty, we hit a dance break that is punctuated by whistling. Then comes a sawing fiddle intro that gives way to the flourishing moment (click here for video, the moment happens at 3:17), the proverbial nut, a solo that makes me want to do a flamenco (not do a flamingo, which is a completely different urge). I cannot hear this section without flapping around in my seat. Sometimes I take mincing steps and snap my fingers at alternating heights like a sexy exotic dancer; other times I play air violin, which is annoying even to myself. Whatever spastic movement it inspires, Bird eventually settles me back down as we soar back into the chorus and it’s back to full sail. The sky is blue, the water is flying underneath. Sure, we’re “mistaking clouds for mountains,” but we pursue the endless horizon like all the other impossible aspirations we’ve created.
Two by Ryan Adams
According to Jamie Lynn Miller
I’ve had a slew of tortured-soul boyfriends in my past; some might even say I’m a “hot mess-magnet.” I like to think I’ve reformed, that I’ve evolved past the allure of floppy hair obscuring angst-filled eyes—besides, I’ll always have Ryan Adams.
It’s good to have a rock star so emblematic of a hot mess: He helps women like me steer clear of men like him. Ryan Adams is the ultimate tortured soul, and while I’ve never seen him solo in concert, I’ve met people who’ve worked with him along the way. In their minds, he’s a real rock star, one of the true talents in the business— tremendously artistic, emotionally volatile. I did see Whiskeytown, his former band, just once; for about three songs. Around 20 minutes into the show, Ryan had some sort of tantrum: over the audience talking, not enough bananas in the Green Room…we never did find out exactly why he stalked off-stage. But he didn’t return, and the tickets weren’t refunded.
I didn’t hold it against him. Eventually, I became a huge Ryan Adams, solo artist, fan and I was obsessed with the album Easy Tiger for a good, solid year and half. About half of that year was spent dating my most wannabe-tortured soul boyfriend of all. It took me 7 months to realize the boyfriend was all smoke and mirrors—not deep, just hollow— but we shared a passion for Ryan Adams, and that just didn’t help matters.
We went through a phase of listening to the song Two over and over; he had floppy hair, just like R.A., and he’d sing along with his hair in his eyes and this passionate, downcast look on his face (which definitely didn’t help matters.) One night while we were making dinner— he liked to do the cooking, so he’d assign me some controlled task like chopping carrots, and then hover over the cutting-board to cross-examine my handiwork—that magical line appeared, (click here for video, the moment happens at 1:19), a mirror reflecting an essential truth about our relationship. He got it, too, and closed the distance between us by burying his face in my shoulder.
I’ve got a really good heart, I just can’t catch a break.
If I could I’d treat you like you wanted me to, I promise.
I love how that sounds, the way Adams fits the phrase “wanted me to” into the music—doesn’t apologize for the extra beat, but just sings it and makes it flow, the line even more profound for that one extra syllable of authenticity. It was a moment of authenticity between the boyfriend and me, too, the way the right line in a song brings two people together.
I still listen to Two and I don’t always think of that scene in the kitchen, or even of that boyfriend. But it’s surprisingly beautiful every time I hear it, and that line never loses its luster.
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