When I saw the movie Juno, I happened to be by myself. I was in a very crowded theater, sitting near the front (as I always like to do), and a couple sat next to me and started jabbering away during the opening sequence. "It's supposed to have great music!" the woman said. "Oh, yes, I know, I know!" the guy said.
"Hmmph!" I thought. I hate it when people talk during movies. I hate it when they think that just because there's no dialogue at some particular moment it's OK if they talk. It's not OK, guys. Just be quiet.
They continued to get on my nerves. At one point one of them said out loud, "Oh, she'll never go for that." Good lord. But you know, I had to say at the end that I agreed: the music was good! I liked it.
When I told my friends I liked the music to Juno, they said, "What?" "Really?" "I thought it sucked," and things like that. I had a twinge of 8th-grade style embarassment. Did I like something lame?
"But, The Velvet Undgerground!" I said. "That's song is great!"
"Cutesy guitar with awkward, reedy singing?" they said? "No."
I was curious enough to go to iTunes and check out the list and play some snippets to remind myself what it was like. Maybe I was hallucinating.
OK, so here's the story.
There are 19 songs. Four songs have coolness/excellence credentials I feel no one can counter, given the artists: The Kinks, Buddy Holly, Sonic Youth, and The Velvet Underground. Two are covers of classics: All the Young Dudes and Sea of Love.
A few songs are really short or instrumental.
Then things get interesting. We have six songs (!) from an artist named Kimya Dawson; we have two version of a song called "Anyone Else But You," and we have "Piazza, New York Catcher." All of these involve cutesy guitar and reedy singing.
Then, finally, we have "All I Want Is You," which is the very boppy opening song. "All I want is you will you be my bride? . . ." Remember?
OK. This last song (the first in the movie) is cute, but it's not cutesy; in fact the artist records children's songs. It's meant to be a nice, boppy, and kind of funny, song for kids. And you know, I like it. Not like I'm going to download it or buy it or whatever, but I think it's just a nice, simple, happy song. Like, "The Princess Bride" of songs.
What's a little more surprising is I also liked two of the cutesy/reedy songs: "Tire Swing" and "Anyone Else But You" are both real sing-songy, childlike, nice melodies. When I hear them I don't hear the style so much; I just hear the song. And I like it.
The rest of the cutesy songs, not so much; I don't know why. But we now have a full explanation of my initial judgment, especially if I'm right in thinking "Tire Swing" got more play in the movie than the other Dawson songs. If you put together these with the first batch, I clearly like a lot of this soundtrack.
Listening to the snippets on iTunes and from what I could remember, it seems a lot of the lyrics are simple and romantic. Not romantic in the teenage-crush-I-feel-like-I'm-going-to-die sort of way, but romantic in the simplest, "I like you" sort of way. In fact, The Velvet Underground's "I'm Sticking With You" fits in here perfectly; I remember how jarringly sweet it was to come upon that song at the end of the VU album with all its songs about heroin and sex.
Maybe I found that simple romanticism refreshing. On the other hand, maybe I wasn't paying attention and liked the songs in spite of that -- I do remember some sort of annoying lyrics, too. I'm not sure. But on the coolness question of Juno, I'm coming down on the side of coolness. It's not easy to write a nice simple melody, one that's not too catchy and not too elaborate, but just nice to listen to. And really, how could a soundtrack with Sonic Youth, The Kinks, and the Velvet Underground not be cool?