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Mix Tapes From The Midwest:
I’m Not Down

I set out to make this mix as though I were making a mix for a new friend who knew nothing of my musical tastes.

I didn’t have a theme in mind, it was simply meant to be a mix of old favorites along with a few others that I wanted to hear right now and that fit well with the rest.

A theme crept in when I wasn’t looking. It’s all songs that put a spring in my step, songs that brighten my mood when I’m feeling blue.

If you’d like to hear the deluxe edition of this mix (meaning: all these songs, plus a handful of others), tune into Mix Tapes from the Midwest: The Podcast.

Side A

1. Gogol Bordello – Start Wearing Purple

My pals and I used to have Gogol Bordello dance parties. We also had Cramps dance parties and World/Inferno dance parties, but I digress… We’d put on our oddest outfits, ragged suits or voluminous skirts and of course hats, too, hats or bandanas. The only rule was that each of us had to wear one purple thing. I dare you to not dance to this wonderfully weird Eastern European punk jamboree.

I know you since you were a twenty and I was twenty / But thought that some years from now / A purple little little lady will be perfect / For dirty old and useless clown.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

2. Violent Femmes – Life Is an Adventure

My first ‘serious’ boyfriend put this on a mix tape he made for me. (By ‘serious,’ I mean, ‘the first boyfriend my parents knew about.’) It was during a miserable time in my life, and the relationship itself was miserable, but that was thirteen years ago, long enough that it no longer bothers me. And, anyway, this song has never made me anything but happy. Dig the messy folk/punk acousticness.

Nothing will bother you, / You will do what you want to. / Laughs and loves and hopes and dreams, / Action will supply the means.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

3. Alice Cooper – Escape

I met this kid once who was such a hipster that he didn’t even know who Alice Cooper was, or, at least, he pretended not to know who Alice Cooper was. I was baffled – how could you be an American kid of my generation and not know, not love, Alice Cooper? You can say whatever you want about Welcome to My Nightmare (the album this song is from), but I don’t care about critical acclaim or any of that. All I care about is that this song makes me feel good. It is, like, quintessential mid-‘70s rock’n’roll. There’s even a cowbell. What was with bands from that era and cowbells?

Don’t get me wrong don’t get me right / I’m not like you are / When I get home from work at night / I’m blacker and bluer / So I escape / I get out when I can / escape / anytime I can / It’s all escape / I’m crying in my beer / escape / just get me out of here.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

4. Cub – Way to Go

This song is deceptively sweet. I say deceptively, cos sound-wise, it is trademark Cub – jangly indie/pop/punk with lovely harmonies. But then, listen to the lyrics. This has been one of my theme songs since I was fifteen.

Be a good girl / and do what is right – / Fuck shit up / and stay out all night.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

5. Lou Reed – I’m So Free

I probably shouldn’t love Transformer as much as I do. I know Lou has made many more interesting and experimental albums, and Transformer is one of his most mainstream accessible works. Whatever. It’s a great album, and “I’m So Free” is one of my favorite tracks. It’s got handclaps, and it’s perfect for doin’ a sassy strut down the springtime sidewalks.

Yes I am mother nature’s son / and I’m the only one / I do what I want and I want what I see / huh, could only happen to me / I’m so free / I’m so free.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

6. New York Dolls – Looking for a Kiss

“When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, l-u-v.” With that nod to the Shangri-Las, the New York Dolls, my favorite sloppy glam-punk cross-dressers, blast into “Looking for a Kiss.” It’ll make you wanna say no to drugs, and yes to making out.

When everyone goes to your house, they shoot up in your room / Most of them are beautiful, but so obsessed with gloom / I ain’t gonna be here, when they all get home / They’re always lookin at me, they won’t leave me alone / I didn’t come here, lookin for no fix (I know…) / I been houndin the street all night late baby / Justa lookin for a kiss.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

7. Buzzcocks – Why Can’t I Touch It?

What is ‘it?’ (Uh oh, now I have a Faith No More song stuck in my head.) I think ‘it’ is love, or the object of the singer’s affection. And this song makes me want to fall in love. I know it sounds unrequited, Pete Shelley pleading “Whyyyyyy can’t I touch it?,” but for me, it calls to mind the beginning of a crush or relationship. It makes me think of that period of time, before you’ve even kissed your crush-person, or maybe after you’ve made out a little but still don’t know what direction the relationship is going to take. To me, that not knowing, and all the attendant nervous longing, is the best part. The hypnotic, funky bass line is the sound of falling, and the angular post-punk interplay of the guitars is the sound of that dance of tension and desire.

Then it looks so real I can see it / and it feels so real I can feel it / and it tastes so real I can taste it / and it sounds so real I can hear it / so why can’t I touch it? / so why can’t I touch it?

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

8. New Order – Temptation

This song is my ultimate springtime jam. It makes me nostalgic for a time I wasn’t part of, but also for an earlier era of my own life. It takes me back to my teens and early 20s, dancing in my bedroom or riding my bike while thinking about whoever I had a crush on at the time. It also makes me think of something Aaron Cometbus once wrote. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of: “If punks still danced, and fucked like rabbits, we wouldn’t lose so many people to the rave scene.” You hear that, punks? Dance! Fuck! Quit being boring and self-consciously hip!

Oh, you’ve got green eyes / Oh, you’ve got blue eyes / Oh, you’ve got grey eyes / And I’ve never seen anyone quite like you before / No, I’ve never met anyone quite like you before / Heaven, a gateway, a hope / Just like a feeling I need, it’s no joke / And though it hurts me to see you this way / Betrayed by words, I’d never heard, too hard to say / Up, down, turn around / Please don’t let me hit the ground / Tonight I think I’ll walk alone / I’ll find my soul as I go home.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

9. Pulp – Common People (Full Length Version)

This is just a perfect, danceable Brit-pop number. It makes me happy and angry at the same time. It makes me angry at those trust fund kids, the ones who pretend to be broke, who slum it with the rest of us, when all the while they could go back to a life of luxury if they so chose. At the same time, it makes me happy, makes me want to dance and sing (and drink and screw). This song makes being broke feel a little less awful – because at least Jarvis Cocker understands.

You’ll never live like common people, / You’ll never do whatever common people do, / You’ll never fail like common people, / You’ll never watch your life slide out of view, / And dance and drink and screw, / Because there’s nothing else to do.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

Side B

1. Madness – Tomorrow’s Just Another Day

Madness were part of the 2nd wave ska revival, but by the time this song came out, they were less a ska band than they were a pop/new wave band. They had a horn section, and some ska beats, but they certainly weren’t a ska band the way, say, The English Beat, The Selecter, and The Specials were ska bands. That’s okay, though, because I love them no matter what. This tune is a gloomy little pop-thing with a note of hope that creeps in despite itself.

I need a moment to reflect / On the friendships I have wrecked / Why is it I, don’t I always try? / I hear them say / Tomorrow’s just another day / I hear them say / And it gets better every day.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

2. Deal’s Gone Bad – Rough and Ready

I love old Deal’s and new Deal’s, almost equally. I have seen them live, in several different incarnations, more times than I have seen any other Chicago-based band. Listening to any of their albums reminds me of some of the best nights of my life. And I do like their older stuff, from back when they sang a lot of sexual innuendo-filled tunes about pirates and sailors. That said – they’re a better band, these days. They’ve added a soul element to their blend of rocksteady, reggae, and ska, and Todd Hembrook’s vocals are just tastier than Mike Park’s were. Mr. Hembrook has some fucking pipes on him, man. This tune, from their most recent full-length, The Ramblers, is a perfect way to start off a night of partying hard.

So, seven days a week / we all work for the man / but when the sun goes down / I see the moon rise up / yeah, yeah, we assume our command.

3. Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up

This song is a classic. Soulful funk to help pick you up, to help you move on up. Listen to those horns and drums, and Curtis’ velvet voice. It will make you feel like the star of your own film. That’s what it does for me, anyway.

Take nothing less, than the second best / Do not obey, you must keep your say / You can pass the test / Just move on up, to a greater day / With just a little faith / If you put your mind to it you can surely do it.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

4. Big Star – In the Street

If you’re not familiar with the music of Alex Chilton and Big Star, you may still recognize this song as the opening theme of That ‘70s Show. It’s a different version – the one on the show was performed by Cheap Trick, of all bands. Try to forget that version, and get into this one. It’s a beautiful piece of power pop, with a touch of soul influence that Alex Chilton brought with him from his prior band, The Box Tops. This song calls to mind the lazy days of spring and summer, driving around with no particular destination in mind.

Steal your car, and bring it down / Pick me up, we’ll drive around / Wish we had a joint so bad.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

5. Iggy Pop – Lust for Life

This song is about kicking junk, but I like to think it can also be about kicking the winter blues. It sure as hell isn’t about going on a cruise, and I’ll never understand why it was used in that commercial. Ah well. Once, I sang this on karaoke night at the local pub. A couple of squares in the crowd didn’t know what to make of someone who looks like me shaking my ass while singing “well, I am just a modern guy,” and they called me a fag. I think Iggy woulda been proud.

Yeah I’m through with sleeping on the / Sidewalk – no more beating my brains / With the liquor and drugs / With the liquor and drugs / Well I am just a modern guy / Of course I’ve had it in the ear before / ‘Cause of a lust for life.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

6. The Clash – I’m Not Down

Though this song was released in 1979, it has such a ‘60s feel to it, yet it isn’t without a certain punk edge, as well. It is one of my favorite Mick Jones-fronted Clash tunes. I’ve talked so much about my love for Joe Strummer that I often overlook Mick, but without him, The Clash wouldn’t have been The Clash. One major difference between his songs and Joe’s songs is that Joe was more politically focused, and Mick had a greater pop sensibility. This song is a prime example of that. As an added bonus, it always cheers me up.

And I have lived that kind of day / When none of your sorrows will go away / It goes down and down and hit the floor / Down and down and down some more / Depression / But I know there’ll be some day / When I can swing everything back my way / Like skyscrapers rising up / Floor by floor, I’m not giving up.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

7. Ryan Adams – To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)

This tune is so reminiscent of that country rock style of people like Neil Young and Tom Petty, with a little Bob Dylan thrown in. It’s about being sad, but it makes me glad pretty much every time I hear it. It makes me think of road trips with my best friend, her driving, my feet up on the dashboard.

oh one day when you’re looking back / you were young and man you were sad / when you’re young you get sad / when you’re young you get sad, / then you get high.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

8. Jill Sobule and John Doe – Under the Bridge

This is another song that’ll make you feel okay about being broke and down on your luck. It’s not the righteous anger of “Common People,” this is more of a ‘we’re all in this together’ tune. It’s an ode to the great recession, it’s a ‘who cares if we’re poor, we can still have fun’ song. Clap your hands, stomp your feet, and sing along.

Under the bridge, you’ll find us waiting / Under the bridge, we’ll sing a song / Under the bridge, we’ll light the fire / Under the bridge, come on, come on.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

9. NaNuchKa – Captain Sensible Calling

Yula Beeri, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer, used to be in the World/Inferno Friendship Society. She also had her own band, NaNuchKa. (She now performs with a new band, Yula and the eXtended Family.) Jack Terricloth, frontman for World/Inferno, joined NaNuchKa for this gorgeous duet. It’s a punky rock cabaret, and whenever I’m sitting around feeling sorry for myself, this song helps me get over it and get on with my life.

Heart breaks, I won’t talk about it / Milk spills, I won’t add to it / All you dour motherfuckers can leave your whining out of it.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon / iTunes

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