The Decemberists: Castaways & Cutouts and Her Majesty

This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.

October 18, New York: I first discovered The Decemberists around the release of their second album. I listened to and liked both very much. They were full of clever, fun, intelligent little songs. I went to a couple of Decemberists shows and saw them live. But these songs didn’t begin to fuse themselves into my life until I began to create collections out of them on my Ipod. Rending apart the delicately-constructed fabric of studio albums to create infinitely shuffle-able playlists hours in length.

To listen today, these two are no longer albums to me. The experience, then, is wildly mixed. Songs like “Leslie Anne Levine” and “A Cautionary Tale” are jarring in their graphic detail. But “Grace Cathedral Hill” is stitched through my heart and to re-listen is to run my fingers against a familiar cloth. To listen to “Red Right Ankle” is to wrap myself in the best old blanket.

These are songs I know now from playlists long repeated, the most memorable of which being one called “Easy like a Sunday Morning”. This was the musical accompaniment to long Sunday drives through the eucalyptus and sea cliff landscapes north of San Francisco. These songs were the soundtrack to Jill and I first falling in love, sneaking out of the city in secret on the weekends to weave through mountain roads on California Highway One. At the very beginning, Jill told me she loved picnics and on one of our first dates I drove her to Point Reyes for a picnic overlooking the Pacific. We listened to “Easy Like a Sunday Morning” all the way there and back.

For this reason, “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade” is the song that always gets me. While I was falling in love with my wife on those drives, I was also falling even more deeply in love with California. When I left the state (thankfully, with the woman I’d found there) it broke my heart to listen to this song. I still get sweetly wistful to listen to it today. I know these two albums are struck through with Colin Meloy’s complicated attraction to and disdain for the state of California, but I’ve mapped my own meaning and emotion to the lyrics and songs. By soundtracking my own drives, they began to follow my own grooves of emotion. He might be dismayed to hear me say it, but in my ears the music of The Decemberists is all about truly loving a woman and truly loving the state of California.

Buy these albums from the ol’ Amazon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>