Rearview Mirror – Brian Winterman

Rearview Mirror is our annual look back at the year in music from our friends in and around the business.  Musicians, managers, roadies, superfans, bloggers etc..

This recap comes to us from Brian Winterman, guitarist and songwriter for the very sadly broken up Throwing Stars. He talks about how songs are like time machines and the beauty of freeing yourself from your iTunes library.

Of Music, Melodrama, and Mary’s Prayer

One single event in 2011 had greater impact on my personal music listening experience than any other.

On Saturday, November 17th at approximately 7pm, in an old dorm room on the Vanderbilt University campus in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, the entire contents of my iPod were accidentally erased.  One bad mouse click, one electrical surge…I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.  Anyway, you might imagine the panic, the anguish, the frustration, the refusal to accept, et cetera.  You might imagine all that, and you might even be feeling those things vicariously, but that did not happen.  Not even for a second.

I felt immediate relief.  (“Please tell us, how can this possibly be, Winterman?”)  Read on, please.

You see, the Great Erase of 2011 happened as I was in the process of downloading a new song to the device.  The download didn’t work, and God let a bad digital fart, and several thousand songs went poof.  After seeing the “No Music” screen on the iPod, I shrugged, tried downloading the song again (worked!), then coolly and casually walked out into the Nashville night, ear buds firmly in place.  It was a beautiful walk in a world that was suddenly lighter, freer, and more focused.  Focused on nothing but that one song.

A few days later, I was back in Bloomington and had since added a few more songs to my iPod.  I ran into my old pal, Jason Evans Groth, who you might know best from my Rearview Mirror entry last year.  We chatted for a spell, and as we were preparing to part ways, I started putting my ear buds in.  I said, “Man, I’ve been listening to the same 3 songs all day and they’re just tearing me up.  I don’t know why I do this to myself.”   But I do know, and so did Jason.  Jason is an honest friend, and, as if the answer was on his tongue before I ever finished my sentence, he squinted and responded with one single word: “Drama.”

Now, one common side effect of aging is that some emotions grow stronger while others grow dull.  Emotions related to grandeur and romance, for example, frequently associated with youth (and frequently represented in music), are often the first to go.  At a certain point, fondly remembering that summer you spent with Suzy Sexypants doesn’t make the heart flutter like it used to.  Likewise, the music you once associated with the Summer of Sexypants no longer hurts so good (not a Mellenpants reference).  Did you put on a trench coat and hold a radio up to her window?  Not really, but at one time in your mind you did.  Well, not anymore, big boy.

So, when the opportunity presents itself, you have to go for it.  And by “go for it”, I mean you have to get into the role, let it in, and let it take you away.  You have to get dramatic.  In that sense, Jason was accurate in his choice of the word “drama.”  I was indeed willingly taking the stage in my mind, tragedy mask in hand, with only a full-length mirror in the audience.  In another sense, though, there might be a slightly more accurate word to describe my case.  This was no quick visit to the stage.  This was relentless and repeated, a voluntary pummeling, a manipulation of emotion so exaggerated that it could only be called melodrama.

I realize that this might seem like a minor difference, but it speaks to the very nature of my musical listening experience and what I learned about it in 2011.  I’m not open to emotional transportation with just any song.  I book my own flights and I fly there again and again and again until the thrill of the Magic Kingdom is gone.  Also, I don’t need quantity or variety of music at any given time.  I need the sting, the jolt, the bullet of the melodrama de jour.  And when I find it, I’m like a lab rat choosing between rat sex and free cocaine.  I will keep going back to the blow until it kills me or just doesn’t work anymore.  This is what the Great Erase of 2011 has taught me, and I am okay with it.  (For anyone who has made me a mix cd and I never got past track 3, this is why.  I am sorry.)

What was that single song I downloaded on Saturday, November 17th at approximately 7pm in a Vanderbilt dorm room?  I’m sure most of you have already figured it out.  I had heard a piece of it in a bar the night before behind the noise of drunk assholes and televised sports.  It sat in my subconscious for a few hours, and then I needed to own it and feel it.  In 1987, when this song came out, I was 12 years old.  I never had the cassette, and I only barely remember it being on MTV or the radio.  But hearing it again at that bar instantly took me back to a time when the only numbness in my life was most often related to masturbating too much.  There was no Suzy Sexypants associated with this song, just a general time and a place and a feeling that I needed to visit again.  And when I stepped out into that Nashville night, it all came back for 3 minutes and 54 seconds.  And then it came back again.  And then again.

So, to the songs of yesterday that were lost to God’s great digital fart, to the songs of 2012 and beyond that I have yet to discover or rediscover, and to my own poor, poor heart that yearns to bleed melodic streams of melodrama in desperate attempts to temporarily recapture a powerful emotion from long ago, I sing:


Happy New Year from Winterman & Danny Wilson.

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