Sweet Child

I spent $20 on a replica of a coffee cup from the Titanic and I am so pleased by this expenditure and would do it again. It’s a very subtly oddly shaped cup made of thick white ceramic, and it has the heroic WHITE STAR LINE logo on one side in red. A gentleman’s cup indeed, now resting on the bottom of the deepest darkest coldest ocean, gently encrusted with weird algaes.

The other night we listened to every cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses that is available on Spotify. It took hours, and we didn’t even listen to full songs. It was a strange odyssey into the unknowable, algae-encrusted depths of the internet, upon the silent floors of which lie innumerable–literally innumerable; if pressed I could not even hazard a guess as to how many there were–covers of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, every single one, with the exception of Sheryl Crow’s, made by people or groups you have never heard of in your life. Some of them were just the full track of the original but with different vocals on top. Some were dramatically re-envisioned versions of the song; there were many, many sensitive solo piano versions, a dub-step version, at least three reggae versions, one country version, and a lot of house remix versions. There were versions for solo violin, two violins, solo cello, one harp, two harps, bagpipes, solo banjo, flute, several for string quartet, one for full orchestra, several versions for mandolin including at least three done by full bluegrass bands, many marching band and acapella group versions, several done as New Orleans style jazz, a couple live ones where it was a band playing the riff with a person yelling wildly (not singing) in a language I couldn’t identify, several on xylophone including at least two off an album of lullabies for infants, and this crazy one, the best one, that was like “Buffalo Soldier” production with Springsteen nasty sax on top.

You access all these by simply typing “Sweet Child O” into spotify. This captures the correct title, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” as well as the incorrect but common variant “Sweet Child Of Mine.” A few of the results are just unrelated songs that happen to share that title, including a few about Jesus.

It is clear that the opening riff of this song is very compelling to people all over the world, which seems fair to me, as it is a very good riff. All the cover versions also reveal that Sweet Child is actually a ballad, with this randomly tough-sounding riff as its backbone; this interesting affective tension becomes evident in the many sensitive ballad versions of the song, which turn the riff into a slow, sweet tune. The covers also really forcefully bring home how bad the actual song is, I mean the main melody and lyrics. All the versions of the opening riff are like, okay, this sounds pretty chill, like a string quartet interpretation of that riff and the chord changes underlying it, this is not bad. Then when the song starts it’s like…hoo boy. Everyone really leans on that awful blue note in the first line.

Many, many of the covers get the riff wrong in various ways, and it never stopped being jarring. Other versions reharmonized the song, which I found interesting.

We started listening to them and I assumed there would be three or five, but then they just went on forever; every time I got to the bottom of the spotify search results it would load more. It went on and on, and I became obsessed in a sort of Ahab-esque fashion. I didn’t want to quit before reaching the end. I kept playing them and playing them, periodically getting up to go sit in the dog’s bed so I could recharge my phone. My old man lay on the couch, accepting this sonic journey as this is something we periodically both do and it is one of the compromises of our marriage, going on tedious never-ending sonic journeys such as this, for example in the early days he liked to turn on the radio in the car and then turn the volume all the way up and all the way down over and over again for many minutes at a time; for another example just this afternoon he sat in the living room and listened to two full sound effects records (horse running; cat meowing; thunderstorm) from the 1970s in their entirety (and I will add that he has listened to these records before); another time he promised to make me tater tots and have 90s R&B playing when I arrived home from work but instead when I arrived home he was asleep on the couch and a recording of train whistles was blasting at top volume. So my Sweet Child journey was fair and just and my right and he accepted it as such. As I played the Sweet Child covers the sun slowly set over our neighbor’s house and lit up the trees beyond with a beautiful pink glow. Then the glow slowly faded and night fell. The Sweet Child covers continued. The windows were all open wide; I can not imagine what our neighbors thought. I kept thinking my old man had fallen asleep but then he’d suddenly burst out laughing at a new cover, for example the aforementioned reggae plus nasty sax one. When we finally reached the end I turned on the living room light and we stared at each other. How could it be? How is the panoply of human experience and expression possible?

Then we watched a movie and we both just kept hearing the Sweet Child riff in everything. It’s still running through my head now, and this all happened several days ago. In fact it all started, now that I am thinking about it, because I remembered this wonderful piece of sound art a friend named Aaron made, where he took just the first bar of the riff and ran it through a Steve Reich-esque phasing process for nine minutes, during which the riff goes on a journey of discovery of its own, engaging in different harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic formulations with itself before ultimately returning to coherence.

I want to go on the spotify journey again with other iconic riff-based songs, for example “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith. Just see what else is out there!

I had to go to school for a meeting yesterday despite it being summer and everyone was so pissed. At the end of the meeting our area head was like ok we need to schedule another meeting for tomorrow and everyone was like WHY and CAN’T WE JUST DO IT OVER EMAIL and AWWWWWW NUTS COME ON DAD.

I do like being on campus during the summer because all my otherwise fairly straitlaced new england conservatory style colleagues are in full on summer mode, straight up flip flops and shorts and tank tops, it rules. I was in my office constructing yet another email to the business manager about reimbursement receipts when one colleague came breezing in, in boat shoes with no socks and a lovely light linen shirt, and sunglasses, and sat down and was all casual like “what time is it, my watch is still set to west coast time, no big deal.”

Now I’m rewriting my book’s introduction for probably the billionth time, after hacking out a totally new outline for it with Gary two days ago. I love outlining so much, and yet it is the hardest type of enthusiasm to convey to students. I have gotten business majors excited about John Cage’s 4’33” so believe me I know how to convey enthusiasm for weird shit to people who don’t care at all about it; it is one of my talents as a teacher, which I know from the innumerable comments on my teaching evaluations that say some variant of “she made boring stuff really interesting,” a comment that always bothers me (if it was interesting then it wasn’t boring; things aren’t just “boring” as an innate feature of themselves) but what are you going to do. And yet, for all the years I have tried to convey the joy of outlining, I don’t believe I have ever once succeeded, though I have really put my heart and soul into it. It is my own personal poetic justice too because in my own student days I absolutely refused to outline, and I told my teachers all the same hubristic self-satsified nonsense my students say to me today: oh, I don’t need outlines, I like to just start writing and “see where the ideas take me,” etc. News flash kid, this is why your papers are all just stream-of-consciousness ramblings and I give you a damn B. Youth truly is wasted on the young, as I believe Oscar Wilde once famously said or wrote, although he certainly was not talking about outlining when he said or wrote it. And now I must ceaselessly rue my youthful braggings as cascades of my own students confidently inform me that they don’t need to outline in order to write a great paper; and so I am literally living the metaphor for hubris represented by the Titanic

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3 Responses to Sweet Child

  1. dv says:

    Let us not forget when Gary took us all on a YouTube journey of cover versions of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz.

  2. Drea says:

    I went way down the rabbit hole of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” covers some years ago. A wonderful journey, actually.

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