71. Song No. 734: “Bad Luck Charm,” Old 97’s
Graveyard Whistling, 2017
I cannot stand most country music (blame it on that unfortunate period of over-saturation in the early-to-mid ’90s when my mother harbored delusions of being a country singer and subsequently listened to nothing else for an interminable three-year assault on our ears and good taste, which I think is what they call “par for the course” in sports idioms) but when alt-country’s done right, it’s far more palatable, especially when either Mt. Desolation or the Old 97’s made it.
I was treated to Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller doing some solo gigs as an opening act eons ago and was immediately hooked. Giving his band’s stuff a try was naturally the next move; Scrubs‘ charming-as-hell use of “Question” only helped me fall harder for a band with the unlikely “country” designation anywhere in its niche-genre nomenclature.
Both my taste in music and I have definitely mellowed with time. Experience has taught me that I still hate country music but that there are always some mighty delightful exceptions worth fudging the rules for. Old 97’s are, admittedly, not the first band I go for when I don’t know what I want to listen to but they are consistently fantastic every time we find each other. But it still surprised me when this song grabbed me as hard as it did since it never separated itself from the herd before.
Relating all too well to the concept of being an unsuitable if not outright dangerous companion aside, “Bad Luck Charm” charmed with everything I love about Old 97’s (and it takes a lot to forgive that that greengrocer’s apostrophe, which is the one hangup I allowed myself to keep when I realized how unwelcome and unproductive being a prescriptivist pedant really is). I love the earnest lyrics that seem to come directly from a big, clumsy heart. I love the raw honesty every song exudes, whether it’s poignant declarations or a lust-addled pursuit or simply asking what’s so fine about art.
Sometimes it’s a measure or two that catches me, sometimes it’s a lyric that appeals to the part of me that wishes I were more poetic than verbose, sometimes it’s a combination of the two, sometimes it’s pure context. “Bad Luck Charm” hooked me with the line “I never am where I’m supposed to be,” which basically summarizes both my feelings about better living through the escape of constant daydreaming AND the stubborn sense that I am perpetually 15 minutes behind everyone else. Add this song’s healthy dose of establishing oneself as more trouble than one feels they’re worth, and you’ve got the gist of something akin to entirely too many therapy sessions spent explaining a dead horse to death.
The rediscovery of songs that never struck me before or just kind of bled into the rest of their enjoyable but not-often-listened-to album has been an absolute treat so far, and “Bad Luck Charm” might be one of my favorite new finds of these past couple months. While it may not have had the time to affix a memorable story to our shared past yet, there’s something special about falling in love with a song you got another chance to appreciate. And also irresponsibly personalize.