1. The Band, "W.S. Walcott Medicine Show"
This song was an homage to the F.S. Walcott's Rabbit's Foot Minstrel Shows of drummer Levon Helm's childhood in rural Arkansas during the 1940s. Though Robbie Robertson gets the writing credits (as per usual), it’s Levon and Rick Danko who give the song its heart. Whoever wrote the words, with Helm and Danko singing lyrics like “once you get it, you can’t forget it” and "if you're looking for the real thing/he can show you where it went" we can't help but be a little moved. Their love of live music is contagious and maybe it inspires us to push ourselves harder and enjoy all that the festival has to offer while we have the chance.
2. Cat Power, "Aretha, Sing One For Me"
This is a cover of a George Jackson song from the 1970s, but Chan Marshall's version is our favorite. It's from the Jukebox era, when Cat Power was simply happy and playing music that meant something to her. This song, in which the narrator attends an Aretha Franklin concert and begs her to sing something that will relieve her heartache, speaks to the emotional connection that can exist between artists and their audiences. Considering how many times I've listened to Moon Pix after a break up, the song also offers what was probably an unintentional reference to the cyclical nature of hero worship. Aretha inspires Chan. Chan inspires Emily. Emily inspires all of you.
3. The Fugees, "Killing Me Softly"
In the same vein as "Aretha," "Killing Me Softly" is about how a good singer can straight up penetrate the listener's soul. Though Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel get credit for writing the song and Roberta Flack gets credit for making it a #1 hit in 1973, nobody kills it (and us) quite like Lauryn Hill.
4. David Bowie, "Lady Stardust"
Young David Bowie loved to write songs dedicated to his favorite musicians. Hunky Dory had “Song for Bob Dylan,” but it’s his ode to fellow glam-rocker Marc Bolan, aka “Lady Stardust,” that really captures the spirit of the live music. He describes a scene surrounding one of Lady Stardust's performances. Femmes fatales and young boys were equally captivated by Miss Stardust's songs of "darkness and dismay"; the narrator says the performance felt like it went on forever. Of course that sort of time warp happens when the band is absolutely terrible, but somehow we don't think that's what Bowie is talking about here.
5. Spinal Tap, "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight"
This song is not so much romanticizing the concert experience as it is blatantly mocking it, but we are exhausted and we need a good laugh. YOU’RE SWEET BUT YOU’RE JUST FOUR FEET.
6. Peaches, "Rock Show"
By now Peaches is probably contractually obligated to mention private parts, but when she refers to a rock show as “a big gigantic cock show” it's pretty spot on. Now that we think about it, this song pairs very nicely with every song on the Spinal Tap soundtrack, which also mention penises a bunch of times.
7. Johnny Cash feat. Waylon Jennings, "The Night Hank Williams Came to Town"
Hearing Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings sing about Hank Williams warms our hearts in ways that are kind of embarrassing to articulate. This song is not just about Hank Williams—it's about Hank Williams as the mother-fucking savior. It's about how in a given community a concert can start to resemble a Church Sunday, so important you've got to have your mama iron your shirt. We think about that and then we think about how a good musician can draw thousands of adoring fans and give their lives as much joy and meaning as a belief in God would. We know that is an overly sentimental take on the music industry—hence the embarrassment—but we don't think we're off the mark at all. [You are—Ed.] A good show is a spiritual experience. We're not saying we're gonna have one this weekend, but the thought is exciting enough to get us out of our apartments no matter how tired we are.
8. The Clash, "(White Man) In Hammersmiths Palais"
This song is as much about a disappointing reggae showcase Strummer attended in London as it is about the decline of the British punk rock scene in the late 1970s (The new groups are not concerned/With what there is to be learned/They got Burton suits, ha you think it's funny/Turning rebellion into money), but Strummer ends with an important thought. I'm only looking for fun, he says. As much as we like to wax poetic on the spiritual implications of live music, the bottom line is that concerts are really just supposed to be fun. Are they more fun than spending Friday night alone with your cats, catching up on Gossip Girl and polishing off those dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joes? Maybe not, but they're fun enough dammit.
9. Wilco, "Heavy Metal Drummer"
As a woman, I tend to fall in love with whatever male rock musician blows me away on stage. I've pretty much wanted to marry The Strange Boys since 2008, so I can pick up on what Jeff Tweedy is throwing down when he sings about a girl who "fell in love with a drummer." This tendency to ascribe romantic attachment to musicians is surely just evidence of my deeply rooted emotional problems, but I do think it's important to note the power that good artists have to connect with their audiences on an emotional level, whether they intend to. Though the songs and the performances are entirely their own, they become ours when the experiences of witnessing them become important to us. Joe Strummer's fun eventually becomes a memory where fun and meaning are directly proportional. When a man like Jeff Tweedy thinks back on the fun he had at heavy metal concerts, he can say not only that he misses those experiences, but that he sincerely misses them. Hoping that we might one day look back on CMJ 2012 with such fondness, we decide that our night with Gossip Girl and the cats can wait until Sunday.
10. Pulp, "Sorted for E's & Wizz"
Let's close with a song that's technically about a rave. Still it's opening lyric—”Oh, is this the way they say the future’s meant to feel”—is probably the most perfect description of what was running through our heads the first time we got fucked up at a music festival.