Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Marx, Mediocre Food and The Pretender

Whenever anyone asks me about Penn Station subs (we have one directly across from the law school), I always compare them to socialism. In theory, it should work -- and be nearing utopia status. And yet, every time I eat at Penn Station, I come away disappointed. I should love a hot sammich, but I always end up regretting it. I haven't figured out if it is the bread or the cheese or the meat, but something always screws it up.

Jackson Browne is the complete opposite feeling. He is a respectable hippie (i.e. he showers and shaves) who writes about the sadness of middle class life while singing about social justice. I nearly threw up typing that. If you read his lyrics, you may want to gag. And despite all of that, I love his music.

The best description of Browne came from a Rolling Stone review of Lawyers in Love:

Hard cases make bad law, lawyers like to say, and no rock & roll case is harder to pin down than Jackson Browne. For many listeners, Browne is the quintessential guilty pleasure, a navel-gazing singer/songwriter whose moony ruminations and hokey melodies ought to give anyone the giggles. But they don't. When Browne has all his talents in register, his work is almost appallingly moving.

JB has written the perfect break-up song (In the Shape of a Heart), the perfect song for unrequited longing (Somebody's Baby -- the 80s version of "You're Beautiful" with the added benefit that Browne does not sound like two raccoons copulating in a burlap sack when he sings), the perfect bizarre song (Lawyers in Love), the perfect overwrought political song (Lives in the Balance), the perfect song to be endlessly played on oldies stations (Doctor My Eyes) and an underrated perfectly silly song (For A Rocker). And the song that describes my life perfectly -- Running on Empty.

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that i used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes i see them running too

And Rolling Stone had the best lines about this song: "This is the hymn of the Harvard cowboy, a pragmatic hobo's lullaby. It's what daydreamers have nightmares about."

I can't identify what it is about JB's music that not only makes his hippie pablum palatable, but enjoyable. It might be the melodies, which are exactly my flavor of bubble gum. But by all rights, I should find The Pretender to be pretenious hooey, yet it is one of the most played songs on my iPod. I don't think it is anyone one "thing" in particular, but the entire package. The songs just work for me. I can't explain it. Can someone provide me with either a musical or psychiatric opinion as to why I would love this man's music?