Welcome back this week to Youth Like Hubris and our Monday regular post “Music For Mondays.” This last week was crazy due to some new personal and professional growth for myself. I will be making an announcement soon.
Now that we are back and because this is part IV of our covered series, instead of looking at a cover of the featured band, I want to take a look at a cover the band did! Well not so much a cover as an original song paying tribute to an artist’s career but I will explain this in better detail soon. This week we will be looking at the Song Representing Memphis ft. Matt Berninger and Sharon Jones off of Booker T. Jones newest album the Road From Memphis.
For those of you that have been following the National Covered series, you may already know that the National is known for a very specific type of sound. I am of course talking about that melancholy middle America sound. Their songs are slightly depressing and somber. Instead of talking about the pains of love or the hipsterdom aesthetic of just disliking everything, their music really is that of an aha moment where you realize that your life is off course. Their music makes me think of those moments that you have where you are walking in a strange place, by yourself and suddenly it hits you like a wave. You suddenly realize that your life is not as good as it could be and you start to think about all the places where it went wrong. Where you made a bad decision or something happened to you and you realize that you are a shell of the man you could have been. You realize that you are just another cog in the rat race machine. You look at the path you took to get from an idealistic twenty something full of dreams, hope, and romance only to fall from grace and be where your at.
*Disclaimer: Now I know this sounds really sad but you have to trust me that even though the National may seem really depressing, their music offers a silver lining and ray of hope. You become aware of your life and instead of being sad and brought down, they somehow lift you, inspire you to be better. To get over this wallowing in self pity and wake up to the potential inside you. I always say I imagine being in my 40’s, burned out at a bar while the National plays on a Jukebox, but that doesn’t mean that in my 40’s life will be over, it is just that the National will ground me back in reality and help me improve from their.
What I love about the National is that true to their name, they are a band that really reflect the American dream. Started in Cincinatti, OH in 1999, based out of Brooklyn, NY now, created from the remnants of other bands with members who all could have had decent lives in middle-class careers and who sing all day about love’s lost and dreams faded they really address that “American” aesthetic. Of course it is one aesthetic that we are talking about here. Depression-era white middle class America. But just because they have fit themselves into that niche does not mean that their influence and style expands into different areas and eras of American music. They are so influential that other artists that represent the struggling motif are attracted to loving them. Booker T. Jones is one such example.
Booker T. Jones, one of the most influential Architects of American Soul Music, has created a career on talking about the hardships and difficulties of American life. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Jones became a musical prodigy at a young age gaining notoriety as a a bandmate for the MG’s in the 1960’s and learning Classical Composition. In 1992 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2007 won a lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammy’s. His career is extremely famous for producing and playing keyboard for artists like Neil Young, Ray Charles, Rita Coolidge, and Willie Nelson. His keyboard and organ style has been emulated and a constant in much soul music of the 60’s and 70’s era.
In 2011, Booker T. Jones released a retrospective album on Anti records (Dr. Dog and Wilco’s record label for those in the know) titled The Road From Memphis chronicling his career as well as his personal and professional growth in music. My favorite song off of the album is Representing Memphis featuring the crooning sultry voice of Sharon Jones from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and Matt Berninger. I think what really makes me love this song is that it is so intimate and heart warming. The song talks about the nostalgia of Memphis. With lyrics like “I love it on the southside, they know how to deep fry” and “I like it at the Harlem house, almost good as my momma’s house” you can tell that the song is a celebration of home and your roots. That these people and places are what made you. No matter where you go, what you do, if you remember your home and who you were, you will always be the best version of yourself. I think that the song fits with the National’s personal aesthetic really well because on the National’s albums Boxer, Sad Songs for Dirty Loves, and the Virginia EP, you hear songs that talk fondly of memories of a time long ago and people and places that you love. In the song Fake Empire, you hear about fall nights making apple pie and spiking lemonade and just loving life.
What Representing Memphis and the National are showing is that idea of looking fondly back at your past. Although the National tend to look back and be sad they have lost a part of themselves, they realize that who they are comes from where they have been. Representing Memphis by Booker T. Jones really understands that idea of fondness for the past and how it defines you and looking back on it should encourage you to grow and become better. A lesson that is true and beneficial for all.
Check out the song here