Q&A: Everything I Need to Know About Love, I Learned From Pop Songs

This year, I had the good fortune to be included in EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LOVE, I LEARNED FROM POP SONGS (Buttontapper Press, 2016, $2.99 on Kindle), an anthology of flash personal essays about—you guessed it—love and pop music.

It was a lot of fun to read the various essays selected by editor Laura Roberts, which span topics and genres, from PJ Harvey to the Spice Girls, from Outkast to Frank Sinatra. And it was fun to answer a few questions from Laura for her blog tour for the book’s promotion.


Q: Who’s your favorite musician or band right now?

The band I’ve fallen in love with the last five years or so is Frightened Rabbit. I’m a sucker for sad songs, and they make some of the best. “Poke”—oh Lord. Great lyrics, great music, great live, funny. I call their genre Scottish Emo Garage Rock.

Q: What was the first album you can remember buying? And do you still like it?

The first album I remember buying was Journey’s Frontiers. I would say I’m not a Journey fan, but let’s be real. I got rid of that record when I was a cool teenager, later teen. Then at some point, I missed it so much, I had to go back to Wax Trax Used Records (where I’d sold it) and buy it again. I was never completely sure, but I suspected I bought my same copy back. I wrote about that album in an essay that Hippocampus magazine published.

Q: What are your Top 5 Desert Island albums?

I can’t believe I’ve never compiled this list! Actually, I can believe it. I don’t like making these kinds of decisions. I’m going to work fast so I don’t second-guess myself. These aren’t in order.

  1. The Cure, Pornography
  2. Einstürzende Neubauten, Ende Neu
  3. Frightened Rabbit, Midnight Organ Fight
    Here’s where it gets difficult. I’m starting to panic. Shit. I’m having a little freakout: Jack White? PJ Harvey? Old Liz Phair? Ministry? Sleater-Kinney? Some of the albums I like are too short. I want to maximize my play-time. I kind of don’t need The Smiths because I have them memorized. So how about:
  4. Pablo Casals playing Bach’s cello suites, or maybe this two-volume Miles Davis Blue Note Recordings album I’ve been listening to lately
  5. An Evening With John Denver

Most of these make me really wallow in moodiness. It would be pretty emo on my island.

Q: Do you prefer to dissect lyrics or ignore them? Why?

I definitely dissect lyrics. I’ve been a writer since I was little. I’m a word person. I’ve been in love with the German industrial group Einstürzende Neubauten for 25+ years, and it’s so great—listening to Neubauten has kept my German-language skills alive, actually, and dissecting the lyrics is like reading poetry. I envy songwriters because they can tell an entire story in a two-minute burst of lyrics. If the lyrics are really nonsensical or stupid, and I like the tune, I have to hope the lyrics are unclear so I can ignore them.

Q: What song would you consider a guilty pleasure, and why?

Something by Katy Perry. I’m a closet pop music fan—I guess it’s the antidote to all those dark, sad songs—and for some reason I bought her Teenage Dream album. Not the regular release—I seem to have an extended version called “The Complete Confection”! Maybe “The One That Got Away” or “E.T.” I sing along in the car.

Q: Best song for when you’ve got the blues?

That depends. Sometimes I like to put on something super super sad, like “Poke” by Frightened Rabbit. Sometimes something epic, like Florence + the Machine. Sometimes I tune in to the top-40 station. See, I can’t decide.

Q: Best song for when you feel like dancing?

“Stigmata” by Ministry. That song never gets old for me. Of course, I grew up dancing like this:

How to Dance Goth from APBS on Vimeo.

Q: What band or song best represents your hometown and why?

I’m going back to John Denver. The Colorado Legislature made “Rocky Mountain High” an official state song of Colorado in 2007. The nature references were appropriate when I was a kid in the ‘70s and ‘80s; I suppose the word “high” is even more appropriate now.

Q: Everyone always picks “Stairway to Heaven” as the best song of all time, on those stupid Top 10 lists, which drives me nuts. What is the REAL Best Song of All Time, and why?

There’s no way I can be trusted with a decision like this. But it is NOT “Stairway to Heaven,” and I’m a bit aghast that it’s common for people to think so, even though I like Led Zeppelin. That’s such a dude choice, it makes me want to rebel and choose “Flower” by Liz Phair. Rolling Stone magazine calls Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” the greatest song of all time. That, I can live with.

Q: If you had to hire a band to play at your wedding, and money (and space/time) were no object, who would you pick–and what song(s) would you absolutely demand they play?

No band at my wedding. A wedding should be about the wedding. If I had my favorite band play, I’d be too distracted to focus on the marriage stuff, and then I’d be heartbroken later (see my note above about being indecisive!). For my actual wedding, which had a teeny-tiny budget, I made mixtapes. I put the songs in a certain order and conscripted a friend to be our DJ. Maybe I’m a little bit of a control freak. I wonder where I put those tapes?


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