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Song #1: Limp Bizkit: “Faith”

Written by Emily Lordi.

< guitar intro >

Perhaps it’s obvious to say that a band whose name makes you feel like an asshole for saying it also makes music that you feel dumb talking about. This is Limp Bizkit.

< I know not everybody has a body like me… >

That word isn’t supposed to be “me,” it’s “you”: “I know not everybody has a body like you.” But the mistake does set us up for the mistake that is this song, a shameless if not exactly narcissistic version of George Michael’s “Faith,” recorded in 1998.

I don’t want to push my aesthetics on anyone but like Carl Wilson I do wonder why the people who like this have such bad taste. Who are the people commenting on Youtube that this is “the best song ever”? Are they here? If so, let’s talk after. Maybe someone can explain this. But for now, I have the mic so I’ll just say, I’m sorry, this is the worst cover ever! Listen to this:

< gotta have faaaaith… >

Is all of Limp Bizkit’s music like this? I admit that this recording didn’t inspire me to look into it. Even before the chorus ripped voice and song apart to spew its vile faith out, there was Fred Durst’s too-drunk-to-care pronunciation and his trying-but-failing approach to intonation. But I guess that’s their aesthetic. And it’s aggressively not for me. Here’s Fred Durst from Wikipedia: “A lot of people [see our name] and go, ‘Limp Bizkit. Oh, they must suck.’ Those are the people that we don’t even want listening to our music.” Got it.

So let’s talk about the video. “Before this river becomes an ocean.” Fred Durst is standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. That makes sense—the Pacific Ocean! What happens next? “Before you pick my heart up off the floor.” Fred Durst is riding a scooter… he’s on stage; he’s backstage; he has a bulldog; he has a concert. Wow, there are a lot of people who like Limp Bizkit! They are really into it. The fans do all look white—but look: Fred has his arm around a black guy. Their close friendship must explain where these white guys learned to scratch records and why one of them can breakdance.

< Get the fuck up! >

Okay so that “get the fuck up” is sort of cool but whatever, let’s talk about George Michael. Did he let them do this? This cover does arouse my fidelity (dare I say faithfulness) to the original. The best-selling U.S. single in 1988. The song that showed us that the word “faith” could and should have two syllables. Listen to that Bo Diddley beat, how Michael’s vocals caress against the twang of the guitar—just enough friction. And then there’s his video: those tight blue jeans, leather jacket with the pearls, and his bouncy little “Footloose” dance with the guitar. He disavowed that straight-ish bad boy image when his video for “Freedom” set these objects on fire: there goes the jacket, there goes the jukebox. But little did he know his song itself would meet a similar fate.

Song #2: Mariah Carey: “Without You”

< piano intro >

Mariah Carey released her third studio album, Music Box, the August before I started high school. In 1993, in my white New England town whose kids were slouching into the grunge era, Mariah was not considered cool. And neither was I. That fall I never wanted to get out of bed and go to school but I would lie in the morning darkness listening to this song on my Discman. Mariah hardly ever covered other people’s songs and I’m not sure why she covered this Harry Nielson folk version of a rock song first released by Badfinger in 1970, the alleged year of her own birth. But it is the perfect cover, because it is a performance about doubling and departure.

The doubling starts with that saccharine two-fingered piano, an introduction preceded in its doubling only by the two-word song title itself: “Without You.” When she sings the second “Well I,” her voice will harmonize to give that lonely “I” company. Likewise, the lyrics keep splitting and restoring the rhymes. “Evening” rhymes with “leaving” but “the story goes” doesn’t rhyme… until the next line hastens meet it, to ensure that “story goes” won’t go without its “sorrow shows.” In the next verse, “tomorrow” and “sorrow” open out onto “let you go”—but that “go” gets bound up into “let you know what you should know.” Release, contract. Can’t let go. The same few words over and over:

< I can’t live, if living is without you, I can’t live, I can’t give anymore. >

The third verse will be the same as the first.

The synthesized production gives us a sound and its reverb snug within the chamber of a music box. But we watch Mariah take the song—as beautifully as she ever did—out of the box. From her throaty burrowing through the first word to her cries in all the right places, this vocal performance is everything that is great about Mariah. All that passion in her “bruise-tender” voice. All that ability, but not in your face. So you wouldn’t necessarily hear that she sings half of each verse without pausing for breath. But listen:

< Well I can’t forget this evening or your face as you were leaving but I guess that’s just the way the story goes… >

She doesn’t rush the end of that line, even though she’s at her limit. The song is about those limits—about how far you can go and where you end and the other begins. Is it possible to let go? To release that rhyme? I don’t think the song decides whether you can recover an “I” without the “you.” But Mariah’s performance dramatizes how you can outdo or exceed yourself, even when you think you’re spent.

Hence the octave jump. As soon as she starts that first chorus, so beautifully, profoundly low, we know that Mariah the whistle-range queen is going to take it higher. As in so many of Whitney Houston’s pop masterpieces, the pleasure comes in waiting for her to take it to a place where can’t sing along. And she does, so that the lyrics express a lack that the performance begins to defy. Just when it seems you can’t give anymore, what Nathaniel Mackey would call a “fugitive voice” comes in and gives you a voice—except in this case it’s a host of voices, what James Baldwin would call a “cloud of witnesses.”

< No, I can’t live... No, I can’t live… >

We expect the octave jump, but how many people hear that gospel choir coming? To me, anyway, it arrives as a gift, to blow up the song’s careful doubling. Bringing a sound much too large for the music box, the choir just blasts us with the sound of encouragement.

I was going to say that this song marked a career high for Mariah after which she couldn’t give much more. What if that’s what she was telling us? Those album covers were closing in on her face, making her look lighter, shutting out even her hair as if covertly preparing the new body that would never again be covered up from the mid-1990s on. Soon I would see more pictures of Mariah’s new cleavage than I would ever see of my own mother. And yet she still gives, whether we like what she’s giving or not. Refusing the fade-out, singing “no no no no” so that it becomes its mirror image: on and on and on.

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