I Bet You Miss Your Friends

It was The Beatles (specifically Ringo Starr) who told us a few things we can do with a little help from our friends (Sidenote: most people are more familiar with Joe Cocker's cover of Sgt. Pepper's second track...but even that is probably due to its pop-culture bronzing as the theme to the Wonder Years...neither here nor there though). Most importantly, Mr. Starkey was sure to tell us that he gets by with a little help from his friends. Fair enough right? Where would we be without our friends? We love them like family, constantly refer to them as "ours" without actually identifying them ("One of my friends does that.", "One time, my friends and I...", "Tonight? Probably just hangout with my friends"), and we even neglect them more than we would ever care to admit. It all works out though because they are, after all, your friends. They have probably seen you in some of the most compromising situations you have ever been in (i.e. pregnancy scares, run-ins with the law, your 21st birthday). You have probably laughed with them more than anyone else you know, they most certainly know enough about you to break you (but wouldn't dare to if given the opportunity), and chances are you have shared some "emotional" moments with them as well (if you're lucky). There are very few people in your life you can expect to always be there for you, but your friends should be right atop the list. As such, I chose to put together and discuss a (short) list of songs (in no order) about friends (in their various incarnations). The only rules: the word "Friend" must be in the song title and it must not be attached to the words "boy" or "girl".

The White Stripes - "We're Going To Be Friends"
The White Stripes are most often known for music that inspires thoughts of gritty bars and even grittier guitars. However, that's what makes "We're Going To Be Friends" so great. Sandwiched in the middle of the Stripes otherwise rockingly raw third album, White Blood Cells, this track literally starts the second half of the album on a foot that we had never seen put forward by Jack and Meg. Although we have all come to expect a few oddities on every White Stripes album (see:"The Nurse", "Conquest"), "We're Going To Be Friends" wide-eyed tale of two childhood friends and their non-consequential daily routine showed us, for the first time, that the White Stripes were more than just in-your-face garage rockers. Jack tells us a story of two friends in their most innocent form. A time before school involved writing utencils that weren't colored, a time before we had realized our parents were not perfect, a time before cooties (I always picture the main characters in this song as a boy and girl for some reason). The song is friendship in its purest form, and that's why it was recorded the way it was (Jack, an acoustic guitar, and Meg with nothing but her hands in her lap). In a lot of ways, "We're Going To Be Friends" was a crossroads for the White Stripes, a band that could easily have been catergorized and washed away with the garage rock fad that was hitting at the turn of the century. Lucky for us, Jack and company rolled the dice and chose versatility over conformity.
Wilco - "We're Just Friends"
Jeff Tweedy has never wrote love songs in the traditional sense. He could never have written "I Want To Hold Your Hand", and probably would never have wanted to for a variety of reasons. Mainly though, it is because, more often than not, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" is not realistic, and Tweedy tends to focus on life's realities. "We're Just Friends" is a perfect example of this. The painful words of a man so broken hearted that he will do anything to just be in the presence of his former love. His solution? Act as though he is over aforementioned lover, and now try to befriend her. Hidden amongst this red herring though, are Tweedy's true sentiments. A man plagued with regret and infatuation, Tweedy's narrator "can't imagine ever being apart" from his former flame. In the end, this sparse track finds Tweedy at a piano bench trying to convince us (and himself) that he and this girl are just friends, but the truth of the story lies tucked away in the first verse when Tweedy asks the question, "If love's so easy, why is it hard?" Not quite Lennon & McCartney, but I think Jeff Tweedy is just fine with that.
LCD Soundsystem - "All My Friends"
A seven and a half minute song with a droning piano that never misses a step, LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends" is one of those songs where the music helps carry along the story. James Murphy speaks about waking up one day and realizing that the "best years" of your life are past you. Your life has turned into a daily routine (hence the repetitive piano), and it appears that you don't have as many friends as you used to. Murphy frames (my) young adulthood perfectly here, "You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan, and the next five years trying to be with your friends again." Some artists might try to serve listeners a glimmer of hope by providing a solution to this great dilemma, but in the end, Murphy is no prophet, just a scenographer, capturing this unfortunate realization in a song. The track closes with Murphy asking, "Where are your friends tonight?" and ultimately pleading, "If I could see all my friends tonight", vocalizing this idea that the transition to adulthood wouldn't be so hard if we could just be around all of our friends. This begs me to ask a question though: if we could be around all of our friends, would we really be transitioning into adulthood, or just living in deferment?
Okkervil River - "Song of Our So Called Friend"
Okkervil River's fourth album, Black Sheep Boy, is one of the best "indie rock" albums to have come out in the past five years. Of no coincidence, it is also one of the most depressing albums I own (and I do own it...on Vinyl...sorry). Its ninth track, "Song of Our So Called Friend" is no different. Okkervil River's ringleader, Will Sheff, tends to chronicle (rather eloquently) emotions/situations I have never fully experienced (mainly because I have never actually had my heart ripped out by a woman with a broken-glass glove, thrown onto burning pavement, and then trampled on by a pack of bulls...sidenote: my past girlfriends always preferred knit mittens...kidding...sort of). Anyhow, this leads us to two issues: 1) I may have completely missed the boat on this song, and 2) Any attempt at trying to re-write what I think Will Sheff was thinking would probably just cause the water to further muddy (that barely makes sense in itself). Accordingly, I will attempt to present to you my interpretation of this great song in a not-so-eloquent manner. So here goes: Boy (narrator) loves girl -> girl loves other boy (the "so-called friend" aka "the stone") -> other boy ("the stone") does not love aforementioned girl, or appear to even give a shit about her. What does this equal? Everyone is in love, no one is happy.
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - "Friends"
Ryan Adams can rock, he can roll, he can honky tonk, he can even rap (although I would advise against such behavior in the future). When it comes down to it though, what Ryan Adams does best is write quiet little numbers that leave you saying, "Yep. He got it just about right. Only her name was (insert name here)." Adams plays this card flawlessly on "Friends". On this particular occasion, he is capturing the feeling of being in love with someone, but knowing (for whatever reason) you are going to lose that person. Adams impeccably conveys the bittersweet emotions of loving someone who you know will be gone tomorrow. Trying to soak up those last few moments, and push those ugly waves of loss to the back of your mind/heart so you can enjoy just one more afternoon with that person. It all has to come to an end though, and the blues can only be held off for so long. What does Adams say you will miss most though when it all comes crashing down? The only thing that can help you out in a time like that, your friends.
- Jameson


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