the smell of my desperation has become a stench

I wish I was special

Yesterday my friend Kelly asked her friends on Facebook about covers of songs and which ones they like better than the original version. Here is my very opinionated and authoritative opinion about covers and why I didn’t have any in my arsenal with which to litter her comment section: why are you wasting my time making a cover of a song if it does nothing to change or improve upon or reinterpret the original piece of art, Braxton?

Someone in America named their kid Braxton, and one day that kid is going to wake up and find out that he is the human equivalent of a fake contraction. If you do not get that reference, BYE.

I didn’t scroll through the responses because I generally do not like covers (surprise), but she tagged me in one answer that featured this cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” by an artist called Kawehi.

Before I begin, here is the other thing about covers I hate because I’m an insufferable snob: everyone is always covering the same damn song, and I have heard enough covers of “Creep” to know that no one has ever come close to what Thom Yorke achieves through vocals alone from about 2:22-2:42. That song is almost 25 years old and that refrain there—those 20 seconds in his voice— that is still the sound every heart makes when it collapses in on itself from the weight of unrequited love. And it always will be.

However, this cover is one of those rare instances when someone has taken a Radiohead song, reinterpreted it in multiple genres all at once, turned it on its head and achieved the sound of a heartbreak just as universal. I could not be more in love with this version. And now I can’t stop listening to everything else she’s got going on. Which leads me to…

Spotify:

I’m being a terrible lover of music by encouraging the use of a music subscription service—I KNOW THIS—but it is the most used app on my phone. I try to support the artists I love by seeing them live when I can and buying their music. Spotify helps this because it introduces me to artists I would have never known about otherwise on a weekly basis. They have some spooky algorithm going on that creates a weekly “discover” playlist based on what I’ve been listening to, and because they are so dead on I’ve collected the best recommendations in monthly playlists of my own. March 2016 is a particularly good one, if I do say so myself.

This is not sponsored by Spotify, by the way. I hated the interface 18 months ago when I started using it and can still barely tolerate it. But when rdio closed it’s doors and I made the switch…

Fuck.

I hate remembering that month of my life. All of those memories.

Poof.

I was suddenly confronted with a mourning process I’d successfully delayed for nine months, the death of a love so rooted in music that because it was everything between the two of us—weekly playlists we’d make for each other on rdio and speaking to each other sometimes only through the words of artists and bands—it was impossible to see the nothing that was everything else.

I loved him dearly. And sometimes I think I still do when I hear a certain chorus or refrain, when I see the name of a venue where we saw a live show together—when every single man in Utah has MUST LUV COUNTRY in his online dating profile. Falling in love to music is glorious unless it all has to end. And then it’s the shittiest twist of fate that life can play on you. That which brought you so much unstoppable joy now has you begging for death.

This is why I can’t listen to this song ever again. I hear the first beat and I come undone. Still.

If you have some good playlists you’d like to share, leave your profile in the comments or email me. I’m always looking for new music.

34 Comments
  • Jack Pine

    2017/04/10 at 6:48 pm

    Hello! Love your blog – glad you’re back. Just FYI – your last name is spelled incorrectly on your home page (“Amstrong”).

  • Candace

    2017/04/10 at 6:53 pm

    Shovels & Rope! Buffalo Nickel is my favorite of their newest. They have an awesome documentary on iTunes, The Ballad of Shovels & Rope. Start there.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2017/04/10 at 6:57 pm

    Good catch! Will fix that as soon as I can. Thanks!

  • Jack Pine

    2017/04/10 at 7:01 pm

    I’m a college prof grading essays at the moment…nothing gets past me, mwahaha! Thanks for helping me procrastinate 🙂 Love your writing.

  • Amy G

    2017/04/10 at 7:25 pm

    I’m so glad you started writing again.

  • Erin Cooper

    2017/04/10 at 7:28 pm

    Fixed. Ohmygod thank you for catching that, Professor Jack.

  • erose

    2017/04/10 at 8:31 pm

    My current obsession is “River” by Leon Bridges. I could listen to it 1,000 times and never tire of it.

  • Matthew Herring

    2017/04/10 at 10:03 pm

    “It Gets Better” by Madchild showed up on my Discover playlist this week, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since.

  • Em

    2017/04/10 at 11:39 pm

    OMG so much great music! thank you! I tend to get a bit behind with music, I’m currently still locked in 2012 with Purity Ring and Chvrches!

  • Steph Wilson

    2017/04/11 at 12:13 am

    Christine and the Queens! She is phenomenal. Make sure to check out a video because her dancers are UNREAL.

    PS your playlists on Spotify are awesome 🙂

  • klatte

    2017/04/11 at 7:10 am

    On Spotify I like the playlists associated with favorite television shows, like Girls or True Detective. I might not like all of the songs, but I find good things I didn’t necessarily know and can follow those down the rabbit hole.

  • Becky V

    2017/04/11 at 7:46 am

    I know what follows is not exactly the point, but I agree about covers, and particularly Radiohead covers BUT. The fine Robert Glasper Trio recently covered ‘Reckoner’ and it is beautiful and extraordinary in its own right (they’ve also covered ‘Everything in its Right Place’ to great effect).

  • Mackie

    2017/04/11 at 8:13 am

    Ah! I started using Rdio based on your rec and was devastated to learn of its demise. It was the best! And I discovered SO many great artists! I, too, struggle with Spotify’s interface, so have been a subscriber of Apple Music….and it’s only meh….but am willing to give Spotify another try if you say so!!

  • Alison

    2017/04/11 at 8:20 am

    Great song (and video). There’s a clip on YouTube of Leon Bridges playing at the White House’s Ray Charles tribute a few years back. Totally worth checking out if you like Leon Bridges!

  • Marsha Bergen

    2017/04/11 at 8:30 am

    You’re right. I hate covers too. However, this is completely amazing and special. Nevermind the fact that she’s jamming with the pink guitar that my 7 year old daughter is learning to play!

  • Erica

    2017/04/11 at 8:53 am

    I shamelessly took the same approach to naming Spotify playlists according to the month. Now that I have a few doing it this way does bring me back to certain times. I also like my March 2017 list but it doesn’t have a lot of new music. Digging “Oh Wonder” which is currently in my April 2017 playlist. I am one of your 2 or 4 followers on some of the playlists you show above. I do like the Discover Weekly playlists they put together. I always find some good stuff there.

  • J-9

    2017/04/11 at 9:17 am

    I’m not a huge fan of covers but Disturbed’s “Sound of Silence” is one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard. I’m sure you’ve already heard it, but if not check it out!

  • Stacy

    2017/04/11 at 10:00 am

    I recently joined Spotify and I too am sometimes dumbfounded by the sorcery that finds me music that I love. I pick up my phone constantly to see who it is and hit “save”. It’s magic. My newest obsession is Jones and there seems to be something new out by her or with her featured in it every week or so.

  • Ciara Martinez Funk

    2017/04/11 at 10:01 am

    I, too, normally despise covers, mainly because the majority of covers feature nothing more than the exact same original song with an overdose of exaggerated vocalizing that really could have been left in the shower at home lol. However, there is one cover that I absolutely adore, and I have to admit that I mainly love it because I heard the cover version first and now the original seems off. Hate me if you must, but I think Shinedown’s version of “Simple Man” is to die for, and blows the original out of the water!!! Even after all these years, I still sing it on a regular basis and frequently use it to sing my kids to sleep!!!! ❤❤❤

  • sybann

    2017/04/11 at 10:08 am

    Normally I would agree – until you get to kd lang. Her cover of “Hallelujah” sort of proves the point. Everything she touches…

  • sybann

    2017/04/11 at 10:09 am

    “TWISTED” – damn – I could listen to that on repeat endlessly.

  • Anne

    2017/04/11 at 10:26 am

    Ohhh!! Dune and the London Session Orchestra. Question of Lust , Somebody (Depeche Mode), Who Wants to Live Forever (Queen), Save a Prayer (Duran Duran), Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince). Forever Young (Lionel Ritchie), Memories Fade (Tears for Fears). Omg.

  • KristenfromMA

    2017/04/11 at 10:37 am

    Have you listened to Shefita’s cover of Karma Police? Watch the video. That cart being loaded with people’s unwanted items/relatives makes it especially powerful.

  • Bonnie Bradley

    2017/04/11 at 11:15 am

    Holy, holy, holy crap! That “Creep” cover is amazing. THANK YOU!!!

  • JRSF

    2017/04/11 at 11:21 am

    Ah! The return of dooce music posts. Those were some of my favorite. Pandora listener here (trying to support the Bay Area home team)-I should see if they have something similar to curate.

  • Cristy H

    2017/04/11 at 11:55 am

    Best cover EVER!!!! (and I HATE covers)

  • pezliz

    2017/04/11 at 2:36 pm

    It makes me glad that my ex had awful taste in music. He didn’t understand my love for The Beatles.
    That being said, music is heavily connected to people and events in my life, even the trashy emo crap will bring me back to a moment in time.

  • Skerri

    2017/04/11 at 2:48 pm

    I love covers that bend genres. Johnny Cash covering NIN? Kills me every time. I grew up in a house that revered Johnny Cash. For a while when I was a kid, I thought he was my grandpa. (I was a weird kid.) The ability to take a song and perform it in a way that it was never meant to be, but to still have such a beautiful piece is real talent, to me.

  • kmpinkel

    2017/04/11 at 3:34 pm

    I, too, am trying to understand the uncanny ability of Spotify to just “know” in their suggestion tracks. I would be creeped out if it wasn’t so good. My playlist is so ll over the place I’d place caution tape all over it-you never know what you will get-box of unlabeled chocolates. Hate covers, but then there are always exceptions…..

  • J-9

    2017/04/11 at 5:19 pm

    That’s a great one!!!!

  • Amy Sackett Warren

    2017/04/11 at 5:25 pm

    I LOATHE covers, but Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt is better than the original. Sorry NIN. And I’m not even a country fan.

  • Elisabeth Gruner

    2017/04/11 at 6:44 pm

    I used to hate covers until a friend started making me playlists of just covers. Annoying, but good ones would pop up. And then I would find others on my own. My two current favorites (one I found, one he did): Beth Orton doing “Ooh Child” (weird and creepy), and Stevie Wonder covering “We Can Work it Out.”

  • Bronnie @ HelloThirties

    2017/04/12 at 2:22 am

    Damn woman, you are back and on fire. It’s so amazing to have you writing again!!!!
    I am not a covers fan, when Leona Lewis covered Snow Patrol’s Run, a little piece of me died.

  • Heather Johnson

    2017/04/12 at 10:16 am

    I like Birdy’s covers a lot (People Help the People, White Winter Hymnal, Skinny Love, 1901, The District Sleeps Alone Tonight). I also really like Best Coast’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon. Taken by Trees does a beautiful Sweet Child Of Mine. And of course The Chapin Sisters’ version of Toxic by Britney Spears… heh.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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