Mixtape Memories: Ryan Cooper – Leaving Songs

Right now I tend to divide my life into two segments – my old life and my new life. The old life comprises everything up to the events of almost a year ago that found me making drastic changes, selling my car and (in my mind) upgrading to a bike as my means of transportation, and transplanting myself from the Motor City to the ‘Dam. A move that took me and my wife a few thousand miles from everything and everyone we knew, although it may as well be a million miles.

Along the way, a baby came along, further cementing the idea that there was a definite separation between those two worlds.

Although the move was unexpected and happened quickly when it came, that’s not to say it wasn’t a long time coming. It was the culmination of years of dreams projected out into the cosmos, undirected dreams that simply spoke of our need to get out of town – to move anywhere. Sometimes the destination was Chicago, sometimes Seattle, sometimes Boston. Amsterdam? Never on the radar.

But as John Lennon said in his song “Beautiful Boy,” which is actually not on this list: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” and Amsterdam fell in our laps, as did the unexpected announcement that we were having a baby. With our typically adventurous spirits, we embraced both situations enthusiastically.

Prior to the realization that we’d actually be getting out of town, we spent many nights hanging out, just the two of us, drinking wine and dancing in the living room of our little Detroit bungalow. It was typically on a Thursday that these nights happened (also known as “Little Friday” or alternately and descriptively “drink and dance in the living room night”).

And while a lot of times we started listening to what we were really into at the time, the night would eventually make its way to our “leaving songs,” the songs that really spoke to us about packing up and getting out.

These are some of our favorite leaving songs.

Fastball – “The Way”

Definitely the most popular song on this list, it’s probably the one that first planted the seed in our heads, when we first heard it on the local alt-rock station while we were living in various dumpy places in the student ghettos of Kalamazoo (yes, that’s a real place). A song about a couple that just decides “screw it, we’re out of here,” and goes for it, opening with:

They made up their minds
And they started packing
They left before the sun came up that day
An exit to eternal summer slacking
But where were they going Without ever knowing the way?

It’s probably the song that first ignited my wanderlust. It let it grow and flare, and sometimes made me morosely miserable because I felt that until I really packed up and went for that really big move, I wasn’t being true to myself.

Over a decade later, I saw Fastball play at a party in Austin, TX. That song still brought tears to my eyes.

Less Than Jake – “Look What Happened”

To be fair, there are a ton of Less Than Jake tunes that could have filled this slot. I often felt the band was living a life that paralleled mine closely, with their lyrics maturing as I did, and it seemed that each successive album spoke to where I was at in a specific part of my life, feeling pinned down by career choices, feeling trapped by circumstances or missed opportunities, or feeling hopeful for what could still come.

“Look What Happened” merits it’s position on this list for lyrics that provide the perfect insight into the discussions of our Thursday nights:

And there’s been a few times
That we thought it felt right
To take the westbound signs
And just leave town tonight

And I swear it’s the last time and I swear it’s my last try
And we’ll walk in circles around this whole block
Walk on the cracks of the same old sidewalks
And we’ll talk about leaving town
Yeah we’ll talk about leaving
I swear it’s the last time and I swear it’s my last try

The Riverboat Gamblers – “Don’t Bury Me… I’m Still Not Dead”

While not exactly a leaving song, “Don’t Bury Me…” speaks to the defiant spirit that inspires the wanderlust. Another band that has several songs that could have made the list, the Gamblers are quite possibly the best live band I’ve ever seen, and I’m basing this on catching them at least a half dozen times.

Frontman Mike Wiebe is a cool guy in person and a madman on stage, propelling himself into the crowd with reckless abandon (including at a show we saw in Chicago where he dove off a second-level balcony only to be caught and carried to the stage – I sang a few words with him that night, and it remains one of my proudest moments).

“Don’t Bury Me…” is a song that testifies to anyone who feels left behind, urging them to not give up, to just keep throwing it against the wall until it sticks.

Or until they finally get out of town.

To those who stand watching the last bus as it drives away…again. 
Those those who see that by not playing and not giving in…they win.
To have no good reason, 
To no cuts and lesions. 
And to the confusion of our enemies. 
Just keep screaming out…I’m still not dead. 
Don’t bury me yet.

Simon and Garfunkel – “America”

Now it’s time to slow things down…

Seriously though, it’s not like the punks had the restlessness market cornered, and bands in the ’60s expressed this feeling as well as anyone else. For a lot of people for many years, the American dream was about buying a house and settling down to a good job, raising children and playing with grandchildren. We were well on our way to realizing that dream, and we found it lacking. Detroit was floundering under increasing unemployment and crime, and becoming less and less of a welcoming place to call home.

“America” spoke to a different aspect of the American dream, telling the tale of a couple who just set out to see what there was to see. As an added bonus, the couple was from Michigan, heading to New York. It inspired to romantic desire to see the country, to find that other aspect of the American dream.

I never realized that my “American Dream” was waiting for me in Europe – I just knew I needed to look for it, and I knew who I wanted to look for it with.

“Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together,
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America

“Kathy,” I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now”
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America 

Big D and the Kids’ Table – “We Can Live Anywhere”

A late addition to the list with a self-explanatory title, this song made its way to the late night sessions after Amsterdam had become a possibility, but not yet a reality. With it’s smooth swinging sound, it’s a romantic anthem. Rather than the melancholy desire to just get out, its more inspirational, telling us to leave town simply because we can, simply because it makes sense. If you’re not happy here, why not go someplace else?

You’re much happier when you sing
about how much you dig everything

We’ll live where we just joke the most
too far and away man,
we’ll find that nest of peace

‘Cause we can live anywhere
Yes, we can live anywhere
Pack your things up, come on let’s go
didn’t you know that we own this world?

The Thursday night music sessions continue here in Amsterdam, but they’ve taken on a new dynamic. We play with our infant daughter and sing our favorite songs to her. We dance around the bedroom with her to the Clash and Toots and the Maytals. And we still play the leaving songs, but now they’re more a memory of who we were, rather than a statement of who we are.

About Ryan

Ryan Cooper is a writer, a stay at home dad and a freelance astronaut who gave up his day job in Detroit to pursue an existence in Amsterdam. His music writing appears at http://punkmusic.about.com/ and he blogs about Amsterdam and parenting at http://blog.amsterdamtourist.com/

He is available for writing gigs, children’s birthday parties and outer space missions.



Mixtape: Soundtrack of a Love Life

OK...Lola didn't actually draw it herself, though she could have done. She's very advanced for her age.

Valentine’s Day – another day that splits society into several groups – the indifferent, the needy, the defiant, the lonely, the opportunists, the all-embracing, the first-timers, the new couple, the unimaginative, the idealists, the realists….

I’m of the opinion that a day to celebrate all the good stuff about your nearest and dearest is a pretty cool thing. My hubby’s of the opinion that we should do it more often and without prompt. That’s a pretty cool thing too.

My idea of romance has definitely changed since becoming a mum. I’ve done the “Valentine’s Day – am I bovvered?” thing, been through the young couple I-demand-your-finest-booze-and-a-burger phase and am now at the point where romance is in the everyday acts of kindness. Last weekend we took it in turns to give each other a lie-in. That was worth 1000 idly written rhyming poems and heart-shaped boxes.

However, in the spirit of the day and my fondness for mixtapes, I’ve made my own to celebrate love in all its forms. Press play after the intros.


I was around 16 when I first heard Green Day’s 39 Smooth (I was a late developer…having just been rescued from an uninspired Oasis teenlife). It was the perfect poppy intro to punk. Every song was the musical equivalent of one of my awkward adolescent moments and this one in particular never fails to make me sing along and remember that feeling. Here we go again….

Along the same vein, Alison’s Starting to Happen by The Lemonheads is another old favourite and contains one of my favourite lines in a song:

She’s the puzzle piece behind the couch that makes the sky complete.

This song reminds me of that bit just after the anxiety of wondering if they feel the same and just before you even think of taking it all for granted. It also made me want to be Polly, but wearing a bra.

There is nothing as ego-destroying and character-building as unrequited love.

Anyone who hasn’t felt like that about someone hasn’t lived. I’ve not travelled as much as I wanted and I have a huge bucket list to complete, but I’ve felt like this.

I love down-to-earth lyrics and a tangible story and Badly Drawn Boy knows how to put these two together over some jiggly-janglyness.

I first heard this next song a few months before I got married to Ewoud. One of our favourite Friday night pastimes was to go through YouTube and choose wedding songs. And on one of those Fridays, I was sitting on his knee, drinking wine, and we found this video, of other people doing the same thing and a lot of them looked how we felt.

This is the first day of my life, I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you. But now I don’t care, I could go anywhere with you and I’ll probably be happy…  

It also includes less traditionally romantic lyrics, including the metaphor “I’d rather be working for a paycheck than waiting to win the lottery”, but I like the realist approach.

Another song we listened to at the very start of our relationship was The Cure’s Just Like Heaven. It was on my ipod, which I’d hooked up to Ewoud’s computer. We were just about to kiss when this song came on as if we were in a very predictable indie flick romance. (If we had of been, I’d be Drew Barrymore circa ’95).

Show me how you do that trick, the one that makes me scream she said, the one that makes me laugh she said and threw her arms around my head…show me how you do it, and I promise you, I promise that I’ll run away with you…

But we decided not to run away, for once. We stayed right there. And now, here we are.

This is the Dinosaur Jnr version, because it’s my favourite cover and it’s louder and it’s more “us”.

Over the years, I’ve put the younger Billy Joel on the same pedestal I have also reserved for Robert De Niro – mainstream legends that I’ve forgiven many a trespass (Little Fockers was reeeally pushing it though).

This is a nostalgic story about young love and its afterlife and after too many years of going to shows where the band and the audience were too cool to move, it’s nice to see a singer get into it and entertain (without being all Robbie Williams about it).

The last song is well-placed because it is has a lullaby effect on me. It also conjures up an image of an old couple dancing together on their anniversary, whispering memories to each other, while their family watches from the sidelines and I like that. Good night people and goodbye Valentine’s Day.

Mixtape Memories: Paul Arts

Barrow-in-Furness in 1984. Before the internet; before downloads; before iPods. I was 12 years old and listening to records and cassettes. My good friend Luke lived with his dad who had an amazing stereo set up: record player, reel-to-reel recorder and huge speakers set all around the living room. Our favourite pastime, after practicing for our future career as BMX professionals, was to go back to Luke’s house, listen to music and write articles for our ‘zine which we never published. The song that brings this time back to me: Liar by the Sex Pistols. We loved the Sex Pistols and were seduced by the idea of anarchy and punk.

Whatever you think of John Lydon, the way he sang those lyrics, you couldn’t deny that he meant it! “Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, you lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, tell me why, tell me why, why d’ya have to lie?”

Five years later, at the age of 17, I became the proprietor of The Famous Skateshack, an indoor skate park in the sketchiest industrial estate in Barrow. The original proprietor had set up the Skateshack for his son, a keen skateboarder. His son had since decided that he was more interested (much more interested) in getting stoned than skateboarding and his dad had lost interest. It was a big deal for me at 17 and soon after taking over we held the first of many competitions – pay £5, bring a sleeping bag, ride or skate on the Saturday, sleep under the ramps and then enter the competition on Sunday. About 100 people came.

A write-up in one of the national magazines that covered the competition said that this wasn’t a bmx competition, this was a rave with a bmx competition attached. We went through a lot of stereo systems, the speakers would regularly break due to a mixture of playing music as loud as the stereo would go and the huge amount of dust that they would absorb from the warehouse.

If there is one song that sums up this memory, it would be Rags and Bones by Nomeansno. When I first started playing this song, some of the skaters would laugh at the lyrics. They soon came to love this song as much as me, “And I am married to a cigarette butt, lying in the gutter.” There are not many songs I can think of that are so good to hear really loud. Nomeansno make an amazing amount of noise for a three-piece band. Their lyrics are clever and catchy and the bass guitar is played like a lead.

(Ed. note: This live version starts with 2 Lips 2 Lungs and 1 tongue, followed by Rags & Bones. You can’t get enough Nomeansno really.)

Since leaving school, I had worked in the shipyard which was the main employer in Barrow. At the age of 20, I was laid off and on the dole. I grew my hair long and spent all my days and many nights riding, skating and doing other, less legal and more mind expanding things, at The Famous Skateshack. My best friend at the time, Leon and I shared a taste in music. We would often lie on the big ramp, looking up at the rafters in the ceiling, talking crap about all the brilliant things we were going to do and generally enjoying life with few responsibilities or worries.

The soundtrack was something by Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes, perhaps, “Billy the Whiz”. No doubt exacerbated by the state of mind we were in, the music we listened to, as well as being loud seemed to just flow along, as though it was getting ahead of itself. I loved discovering new music. Often, when you first heard a song, you didn’t really like it but different parts would catch your attention until you eventually appreciated the whole song as well as the individual parts that made it up.

At 21 I did probably the bravest thing I have done in my life, I went to work on a summer camp in upstate New York. The camp was for people with special needs and it changed my life. I had found something that I enjoyed doing and could do “for a job”. Going to America was a huge culture shock. I had to adapt my Barrovian accent to be understood. It was also my first real experience of the world beyond Barrow.

I decided to train to be a social worker and on returning to Barrow, enrolled in college then, two years later, set off to take up a four year social work degree at The University of Bath. I was so excited to be leaving Barrow. The song that I remember from the time, which I felt was about my own life, Bad Town by Operation Ivy – all together now, “No (no more), No (bad town), NO MORE BAD TOWN” and repeat.

After university, following a brief period living in New York, I got a job in London. We lived in Camden Town and were lucky enough to see a lot of great bands play live. The internet had changed music and living in London meant that music was also much more accessible anyway. The iPod really revolutionised the way I listened to music. Living in London is great but it’s important to have some tunes for the tube.

After five years in London, we (my wife and I) decided we were grown up and ready to settle down. Rather than buy a tiny house in a not very nice part of London for a lot of money, we decided to move back up north and buy a decent sized house in a decent part of the countryside for a reasonable amount of money.

These days I enjoy a virtuous outdoorsy vegan and family centred life while still working to make the world a better place. Many of the things and people who were heavy and positive influences are no longer part of my life. I understand that life moves on. I’m a great believer in progress and development and I’m truly happier, and definitely healthier, than I have ever been – but it’s also great to look back and still feel the same appreciation of these songs as I had when they were the soundtrack to my life.

Oh, I almost forgot, a fifth song, one that sums up my life today. Well, it would have to be the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse song. Even though we all know that Disney are fascists and must be stopped – but that’s a lesson I can teach my daughter when she gets a little bit

About Paul:

Paul lives with his wife and daughter (the dog emigrated – it’s a long story) in the Lake District in the UK. Having just celebrated his one year veganiversary, he is busy looking for other ways to become the ultimate human. So far this has included fell running, cycling and long walks in the Lake District. He still works in social work, supervising a small team of social workers who work with people with the most complex needs in the area. You can check out his progress on completing the Wainwrights as well as other feats of athletic, intellectual, ethical and artistic excellence over at his blog.

Mixtape Memories

One of my favourite authors is Nick Hornby. I love the way he creates characters, writes about relationships and, more importantly, how he incorporates the music he loves into his stories, until he’s created the soundtrack for the future film.

High Fidelity is the obvious to refer to, but I loved reading his essays 31 Songs, in which he shares the personal soundtrack that accompanies his most important life experiences.

I thought a smaller scale version of this would also be a cool way of introducing you to other international villagers, so I’ve started a series called Mixtape Memories where guests play you 5 songs that most remind them of a specific time and place. If you would also like to be part of the series, please leave a comment in this post or drop me a line on Facebook.