We all go through phases with music. More than almost any other medium, music is highly fluid, with new artists, new songs, and even new styles of music coming to the forefront of pop culture and making other music newly irrelevant, easily forgotten.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I hear a new song and instantly love it, proving previously undiscovered tunes can quite quickly become a prominent bow in my musical quiver. Most recently, that song is David Bowie’s 1983 hit “Modern Love.”
Why this song resonates so much with me has almost nothing to do with the lyrics; they’re catchy, but I frankly can’t figure out what they mean. A sample of the opening lyric: “I catch the paperboy / But things don’t really change / I’m standing in the wind / But I never wave bye-bye / But I try, I try.”
So yeah. It’s not the words that make this my favorite song of the moment.
Rather, it’s the overall feeling of the track, as well as the context within which I first heard it, that generates my love for this song. Bowie’s “Modern Love” is featured in director Noah Baumbach’s most recent film, Frances Ha, an absolute charm of a film and one I urge anyone and everyone to see. You can check out the trailer below, wherein “Modern Love” kicks in at about the 22-second mark. The song fits wonderfully in the trailer, but its placement in the film works even better.
At one point in the film, the titular character Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, runs carefree in the streets of New York, rocking a semi-grungy leather jacket over a floral print dress, a backpack slung over her shoulders and the wind blowing through her hair. It’s a standout scene in a film chock-full of great moments, primarily for what it represents — things may not always go your way, as Frances learns, but you can still recognize the joy in every moment. After all, life itself is a blessing.
And nothing else exemplifies that joy and that perspective on life as well as Frances running through the streets to “Modern Love,” a song I’ve listened to on repeat ever since I saw Frances Ha weeks ago.
From the stripped down, muddled opening guitar riff — dun, dun-dun, dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun — to the mix of hi-hats, toms, and crashes on the drums, the two-note “baum-baaaaaaum” of the keyboards to the soulful, jazzy richness of the late song saxophone solo, everything fits together perfectly, effortlessly melding into a song to which you can’t help but smile, dance, or in Frances’s case, run through the city streets in your Converse All-Stars without a care in the world.
So often, songs are about the words. But not here; the lyrics are catchy, sure, and as such they help exude the carefree vibe that the song puts out, but they’re secondary to the song’s instrumental delight. It’s all about feeling, and David Bowie’s “Modern Love” creates in me that most-sought-after one: happiness. Sweet, utter happiness.