Back in the grungetastic 90s when I walked around campus in torn up flannels, work boots in which no actual work was done and a backwards ball cap, I spent a lot of time thinking about what songs would go on the ultimate mix tape for Kristin, my lady (now my wife). I agonized over CDs and records, trying to present exactly the right mix of arty-and-contemplative-meets-semi-stud-athlete. There were a lot of things I wanted to say to her, but I didn’t have the equipment yet—grammatically or emotionally—to say them, so I let the music do it for me. I tried to handwrite the titles and artists on that impossible little sticker that went on the tape. I wrapped it lovingly and left it in her campus mailbox. She fast-forwarded through two-thirds of the tape (girls don’t love Pantera, as it turns out), yet the relationship survived because it was the thought that counted. She knew me better through it.
Really what we’re doing when we share music with someone is inviting that person to know us through it. In essence, we’re saying, “Isn’t it interesting what I find interesting?” Writing nonfiction is no different, so it’s no accident that I love them both.
This has quickly become one of my favorite recurring sections of the Cardinal & Cream in that it gives me an opportunity to know my students in a unique way and now I get the privilege of letting them know me in this unique (and perhaps disturbing) way. They’ll learn that most of what I learned about theology (until a certain age) I learned from 80s hair metal. So in that spirit:
Songs That Make You Feel Like You Can Do Great Things
Former Chicago front man Peter Cetera and current TV prosperity-maven Joyce Meyer have the same haircut—but that doesn’t negate the greatness of Karate Kid II and Cetera’s seminal “Glory of Love.” This song makes you want to find your Kumiko and fight for her honor against a guy who wears shiny shirts and high-waisted pants, and who growls all his dialogue. Good luck to you. “Man in the Mirror” is probably the best gospel song ever written. I believe in it.
Not many people have heard “Tangerine” from Led Zeppelin III. It’s my favorite Zeppelin—a slow, mournful and beautiful track about a guy estranged from a woman he can no longer love. This song was also in one of my favorite films, Almost Famous, for just a second.
Bad Weather Music
“For Emma” by Bon Iver is like a cable-knit sweater on a cold day or hot coffee in a Styrofoam cup. Enjoy.
80s Hair Metal with Questionable (but Still There) Theological Undertones
I learned from Warrant that “Heaven Isn’t Too Far Away” and from Slaughter that you’ve got to “Fly to the Angels.” There’s really not one grain of actual truth in either of these songs, but they’re still pretty great. “Fallen Angel,” by Poison, reminds me of almost every girl in Hartford City. Metallica’s “Creeping Death” is about Passover. Seriously, check out the lyrics. “Show Me the Way” by Styx is full of awful theology, but it sounds amazing.
Amazing Songs from Crappy 90s Asteroid Movies
If you don’t cry a little bit when the Bruce Willis character (Christ figure?) willingly goes to blow up an asteroid to save the world in Armageddon, then you have a cold, icy exterior around your heart. This song will help melt it. I put “Love Theme from St. Elmo’s Fire” in this category because while it isn’t exactly a crappy 90s asteroid movie it is, well, crappy. But the song is great.
Amazing Songs by 90s Girls
Embarrassing that I’m an ardent supporter of “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips? Maybe. A great song? Definitely. Also, “Stay” by Lisa Loeb is a karaoke and interpretive-dance favorite.
The Most Beautiful Pop Song Ever Written
“Anna Begins,” by The Counting Crows. Because every time she sneezes I believe it’s love and I’m not ready for this sort of thing.
Good Weather Music
“Chocolate” by The 1975 is auditory sunshine or, perhaps, auditory Prozac. Listen to it and feel better. Ditto for “Adelaide” by Anberlin, “Weekend” by Neon Trees and “A Favor House Atlantic” by Coheed and Cambria. “In your ocean I’m ankle-deep, I feel the waves crashing on my feet.” “Something Beautiful,” by NeedtoBreathe is, in fact, something beautiful.
I first heard “Back in the Day,” by Ahmad, when I was a freshman in college playing football and feeling old and feeling like I was a long way from home. In reality, I was 18 years old and home was only seven miles away. “I Remember You” by Skid Row is about love letters in the sand. Enough said. If you don’t smile when you hear “Jump” by Kriss Kross, there is no hope for you.
I covered an Oscar De La Hoya fight in Vegas once and found it to be the darkest, most depressing place on the planet. But I love the song “With Plenty of Money and You,” by Tony Bennett because it appears in the best scene (when T and Mikey arrive at the casino), in the best indie movie (Swingers) in the best decade (the 90s).
Tough Songs for Tough People
At face value, you might think that 50 Cent and I don’t have much in common. However, we’ve both, at one time or another, grabbed stacks of money and talked into them like they were phones and have both been shot 38 times and survived (note: only one of those things is true for me, while they’re both true for 50). “Gotta Make It To Heaven” is his best track, and you’ll notice that it’s not in the actual playlist because I couldn’t find a clean version. “Hangar 18” by Megadeth is another pregame locker room song. “New Noise” by Refused is the song that’s playing when Permian runs out of the tunnel in Friday Night Lights. Songs like these remind me of specific places and times…being the only white fighter at an inner city boxing club…feeling sick with nerves in locker rooms before football games. I love them for it.
Sad Songs About Getting Older-Slash-Songs I Want Played at My Funeral
“Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey is just, well, beautiful. At my funeral I want them to play “Release,” by Pearl Jam, because of the line, “Oh dear dad, can you see me now? I am myself, like you somehow.”