Here's a challenge to Seattle songwriters: Would somebody please pen a tune about the arrival of fall in the Emerald City ࠬa "Autumn in New York"?
Admittedly, the reality of that season in the Big Apple isn't quite so lovely as the song it inspired. One of my cronies who can still (barely) afford to live there called the other night and told me he'd been pining to see some fall foliage, which essentially requires leaving the city. "It might be nice to watch the color of something change besides the traffic signals," he sighed.
Fortunately, here in the Pacific Northwest we still have trees—at least for the time being. So the other afternoon I made a point of taking a stroll to appreciate the crisp chill in the air and the happy sight of children struggling with oversized rakes. As is the nature of autumnal walks, soon "It Was a Very Good Year" (from The Fantastiks) was stuck in my head.
At 33, I'm hardly in the "autumn of my years." Not even Indian summer yet. Still, I couldn't help but feeling over-the-hill as that song kept reeling through my brain. Blame it on writing about Aaron Carter (the little brother of one of the Backstreet Boys) and Rugrats in Paris and speculation as to the state of Britney Spears' virtue all day—that diet could make anybody over 16 feel wizened.
Of course, there's a very simple way to turn back the clock, and without plastic surgery: Lie about your age. My boyfriend in college, who was five years my senior when we met, stayed 29 for so long we eventually reached a point where I passed him. But I refuse to do that, because it means making a horrible sacrifice: downplaying the celebration of your birthday.
Birthdays are one of civilization's greatest traditions. They're like a personal national holiday, minus all that messy business of being assassinated or elected president. Play your cards right—take up anybody who even casually offers to buy you dinner, plan the party on a weekend—and the festivities can stretch on for weeks! Does that sound crass? Save your complaints for the retail goons who trot out Christmas decorations before the jack-o'-lanterns are tossed on the compost heap.
Forget about feeling "another year older and deeper in debt"—birthdays have inspired plenty of noteworthy ditties: "Born, Never Asked" by Laurie Anderson, "Birthday" from the Beatles' white album, "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen" by Neil Sedaka, and the perennial new wave gem "Happy Birthday" by Altered Images. Even the absence of birthdays has turned up some top-notch tunes, like They Might Be Giants' "It's Not My Birthday" and "The Unbirthday Song" from Alice in Wonderland.
But for superlative birthday music, the brand new Xen Cuts collection from Ninja Tune takes the, um, prize. The folks at this British label already know a thing or two about throwing great parties—as anyone who's checked out the Seattle shows by Coldcut, DJ Vadim, and Kid Koala in years past or ever visited the now-defunct London club Stealth can attest—and to celebrate 10 years of peddling stacks of wax, they've trotted out this special 2-CD set brimming with their distinctive m鬡nge of hip-hop, jazz, and cinematic textures.
Although the collection includes cuts from almost every artist in the Ninja stable, the business of nostalgia is relegated to a couple of introductory collages. At the top of Disc One, '80s sampling whiz and Coldcut hero Steinski shreds many of the label's finest moments into the dizzying "The Xen to One Ratio." The bulk of the program is recent or new offerings, and while the fare from better-known players is top-notch— especially the springy Jimpster mix of Irresistible Force's woozy "Nepalese Bliss" and "The Ageing Young Rebel," a collaboration between DJ Food and "word jazz" legend Ken Nordine—Xen Cuts is also a great opportunity to get acquainted with Ninjas you may have previously passed over. T Love's sweet-and-juicy rap "QMS" left me salivating in anticipation of her Astralwerks debut, and after getting lost in the indigo smoke of "Restless," I don't know how I ever got by without Clifford Gilberto.
Think you're a seasoned Ninja connoisseur already? All the more reason to run out and snatch up a copy of Xen Cuts, since for a limited time a third "Missed, Flipped & Skipped" disc is part of the package, featuring such unusual pairings as Tortoise's John McEntire deconstructing Coldcut's "More Beats & Pieces" and Los Angeles weirdo Sukia squaring off with DJ Food for "Feel'n You & Me."
Alas, Xen Cuts includes no songs about the splendor of October in the Pacific Northwest. Regardless, it's a great way to keep your head bobbing, and your spirit young, well into the winter months ahead.