“The Party” – Everybody Makes Mistakes

We start with a Beatlesesque piano chord.  The chord has a pulse, you can feel it swirling from left to right, over and over.  As it reverberates, we hear the clean, three note melody break through.  Da da daaaaa.  It’s that last note that gets you where you don’t expect.  Another chord hits and bounces back and forth on your speakers.  And here’s the melody line again.  Da da daaaa.  That third note. Reason and experience tell you that note should be at least a half step higher.  That’s how it gets you; it surprises.

The rest of the song is constructed out of parts we’ve already heard in other places.  (What sounds like) a drum machine kicks out a simple beat.  An acoustic guitar scratches out a basic rhythm.  It is embraced by a soft electric guitar with a muddy tone, maybe with a little chorus pedal.  The piano alternates between chords and that haunting, three note melody.  Layers of synthesizers fill in space.  The pace is slow and hypnotic.

JM’s baritone is silky here.  It doesn’t stand out.  The voice glides over the smooth instrumentation.  Every element of the music is sanded down.  There are no rough edges here.  Nothing stands out, but there’s also nothing here that doesn’t fit in.  At least not in the original song.

I’m going to bet that there are many passionate opinions about the saxophone reprise.  A Kenny G type saxophone exploration of an album closer is something that, by theory, we could say does not belong on a sf59 album.  I like it, personally.  Maybe I am kind to it because I played saxophone.  I think the main reason I like it is because you can hear the breath moving through the horn.  You can hear the tongue on the reed.  I am continually bedeviled by synthesized horn sections on studio albums so I appreciate the authenticity here.

I left you two alone
With nothing really wrong
But you messed up the party

It seemed like a good day to write this as this song is about equal parts party and disappointment.  Surely the holiday season has brought you close to either parties and/or disappointment.  Maybe we’ll take a moment to commiserate in our shared experience.

People are always trying to mess up the party.  It even happened at the first party I remember going to.   The memory of this party was brought back like a flash into my consciousness by a recent purchase of cowgirl boots.

Cowgirl boots have always meant victory to me.  I suppose they are my version of the smell of napalm in the morning.  I’ve wanted a pair of cowgirl boots for decades now but never had an occasion where 1) I found a pair I liked and 2) had the money to buy them.  I finally bought a pair a couple of months ago.  Victory was at hand again.

I never did you wrong
You keep on wasting holidays
I guess I could be wrong
I never wasted holidays

These weren’t my first cowgirl boots.  My first pair was given to me on my sixth birthday. My mom gave them to me before my birthday party because she wanted to take pictures with me wearing them.  

My birthday parties where always shared with my granny, whose birthday was a week after mine.  They were usually stuffy, quiet affairs in restaurants where you might expect a strange, pink fruit salad or inedible garnish to end up on your plate at any moment.  It is certainly not the kind of thing one wears her cowgirl boots to, but my mom didn’t get that memo.

Once we were inside and my mom was distracted making arrangements, my brother decides it is time for me to get my birthday spanking.  I could tell by the burning light in his eye that this was not going to be any joking matter.  I ran out of the restaurant as fast as my boots could fly, my brother mere steps behind.

I burst out of the front door and into the blazing light of the sun.  My birthday is in winter and the weather is always horrible.  I believe that I’ve only seen the sun shining on my birthday about four times in my entire life.  This was the first.

We’d had ice and snow in the weeks leading up to my birthday, but it had all melted away or so I thought as I rounded the sidewalk outside the restaurant.  My plan was to run circles around the building until my brother got tired and gave up.  A solid enough plan until I rounded the corner to the dark side of the building, the side that never saw sunlight, the side with an eight foot long solid sheet of ice.

For a split second, the image of the dark ice registered in my brain before my feet hit the ice.  I had no time to stop.  I couldn’t even slow down.  Going at a full sprint, I launched into that long, cold expanse.  

A friend like you is all I need
I wanna know
You messed up the party

Time shifted in that way that it does when you see you are two seconds away from a car crash or when you look in someone’s eyes and realize you are in love.  I remember everything around me.  I remember bricks of the building, colored like dirty sand.  I remember that the surface of the ice was not smooth.  I rode over its small hills and valleys, instinct moving my body towards balance.

You would think that cowgirl boots and ice would not make a good mix, but I made it through unscathed.  My brother and his sneakers didn’t fare so well.  He hit the ice hard after only making a foot or two.  He gave up his pursuit of the birthday spanking.  We returned to the party, me triumphant and he subdued.

I never did you wrong
You keep on wasting holidays
I guess I could be wrong
I never wasted holidays

But this song was about parties and disappointment, right?  I’ve gone on about the party but neglected the darker half.  Just like that third note of the melody, this story hits me where I don’t expect it.  It surprises me.

All I ever wanted was to get along and have some fun, at least where parties are concerned.  Even though I made it through my sixth birthday unconquered, disappointment remains as as I see all the ways that dysfunctional personality dynamics that made the story back then are still alive today.  The absent father.  The mother so distracted trying to meet expectations that she doesn’t realize what is going on around her.  The brother out for blood.  And me, I’m still floating across the all black ice that I’m surprised to find in my path, instinct moving me towards balance.

And I’m disappointed.  I don’t understand why it still has to be that way.  

I wanna know
I wanna know
I wanna know
I wanna know

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