One fateful evening in 2012, kismet pulled Reina and Gauraa into a porch conversation about Bishop Allen. They realized, despite having grown up 8,657 miles apart, they had listened to the same records, subscribed to the same podcasts and shared the same pretensions. Separated by distance again, the two have decided to pull all the stops necessary to preserve their insular culture of staying in and overanalyzing music. You can read their first dinner discussion here. Tonight, Reina and Gauraa cancel their plans to discuss one of the records that brought them together, the original soundtrack to the 2014 film Begin Again.
Reina: I was supposed to be babysitting tonight. But I lied and said I have things to do and people to see and places to go, and they bought it because apparently I give off a pretty young and hip vibe. Chill, right? I mean I could have made some pocket change, but what’s a few bucks compared to a night in with some wine and my best friend? Be warned, I have lots of feelings and I may or may not have watched this movie twice last weekend.
Gauraa: Similar situation over here, minus the wine. Definitely no wine. But my wisdom tooth has erupted–“woe is me,” to borrow from “Lost Stars”–and I am on some pretty big boi painkillers right now, which, I assure you, will more than just compensate for my lack of wine tonight. Hip and young indeed, I know. God. Look at us. We’re a shame to our generation.
Well, I’m not sure if you’re in the mood for a flashback right now but, you know, I’m like Miss Patty from Gilmore Girls with my “it was the summer of ‘66 and I danced in a cage for Tito Puente” stories and, really, the painkillers aren’t helping, so, um: it was the summer of 2014, and it had turned out that the only schedule I was capable of sticking to was my solo Sunday schedule. Every Sunday. Just me. And the movies. Small diet coke, no popcorn. The whole nine. Admit one only. It was a tender day to begin with, and I had a lot many things on my mind so I decided to walk to Lincoln Square…from Greenpoint. In my new H&M platform boots. Like I said, it was a very tender day (“tender,” obviously being a euphemism for feeling like Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted on her ride to Claymore, ricocheting into the dark past as the ashes falling off her cigarette in a moment of stark sadness). I wasn’t looking for much, except for an escape from real life for an hour or two (read: Mark Ruffalo). Hell, maybe a laugh at Adam Levine’s expense (Kiera makes fabulous jokes about how he holds the microphone like a penis, in case you’re wondering). Begin Again took me by surprise. It resonated entirely–terrifyingly–with my New York psychosis–you know, when the city pushes you to an edge and you begin to stare too long at subway tracks and look at bridges differently. It recognized the moment before you steady yourself just enough to Google “therapists New York blue cross” in a manic frenzy. It was a moment of utmost serendipity, to feel all that heaviness and find yourself staring at the screen, watching a film that begins with Keira Knightley sweetly, starkly singing, “So you find yourself at this subway/ With your world in a bag by your side/ And all at once it seemed like a good way/You realize it’s the end of the line.” And, fuck, it hit me: maybe it’s not just me. Maybe it’s New York. Maybe it’s Youth. Maybe it’s Life. “Are you ready for the last act?/ To take a step/ You can’t take back?” That night I listened to “Lost Stars” and “A Step You Can’t Take Back” on my three hour long saunter back home. I felt better.
Reina, you connected rather deeply with this film and its soundtrack, too, didn’t you?
Reina: That I did. But my story’s a little different I guess. Because I didn’t come across this movie and soundtrack by chance, like you did. Actually, I had never heard of this movie until you told me about it. You told me about a really terrible week that you had. It was one of those weeks, boys, work, the city, nothing seemed to be on your side, and to top it all off, I was busy wasting away my days as a waitress in a bougie Upper West Side fine dining establishment. We were both busy and dealing with our own everyday problems and both a little lonely, even when we were together in the city that never sleeps. We hadn’t seen each other in a week or two, though we were within the same 300 square miles or so. I think we met at our usual place–off the Christopher St. stop in the West Village. We went wherever they would let us in with our fake IDs and ended up in the park as it was getting dark. You were telling me about how you went to see two movies by yourself in the middle of the day. You told me about a scene in one of the movies where the two characters walked around New York City with headphone splitters. How they went dancing to in a loud club, but they had “Luck Be A Lady” playing on their headphones. When I finally saw the movie, I immediately identified with that scene, just like you did. I love what you said about how the movie reflected New York psychosis and I agree that the city can be relentless and unforgiving, but I also feel like this movie is about learning to come to terms with the fact that life isn’t always perfect, and learning to find happiness in the small things and the everyday things that you take for granted. Like how they see the world a little differently when they’re walking the streets with their headphones in. I’m not really sure what exactly I’m trying to say, but I think that’s what I’m reminded of every time I listen to these songs. Little memories of us meeting for drinks, or stopping for karaoke, or even just getting mosquito bites sitting and talking until dark in Washington Square Park, that I learned not to take for granted. Life might not be perfect, but it’s filled with perfect little moments like those that remind me why I want to keep living. Maybe that didn’t make a lot of sense, but I promise it’s only going to make even less sense as I try to dissect my feelings with each song.
Gauraa: Tears. I have literal tears streaming down my face, Reina. And we haven’t even gotten to the first song yet.
Profound Genius annotation: Adam uses very clever wordplay in the second line. “On the lam” (like the animal lamb, or ‘young sheep’) means to be “On the run.” The “hunters” are most likely referring to those who doubt his love. There may be even be an extra layer here since Adam is talking to God, via the first line. A lamb is commonly thought of as a sacrifice in this context.
Best lyric: “God, tell us the reason youth is wasted on the young/ It’s hunting season and the lambs are on the run/ Searching for meaning, but are we all lost stars/ Trying to light up the dark?”
Gauraa: This is the most sincere song Adam Levine has possibly ever delivered. And I say this as someone who’s had a copy of Songs About Jane stashed in the glove compartment since 2005. Sure, on paper, this song is the perfect cliche but it’s sung as if the hurt has been internalized. And that, I find, speaks personally to the listener. I don’t feel great about Levine’s persona but his falsetto here perfectly captures the questioning vulnerability of the narrative. That bridge, that “I thought I heard you out there crying/ I thought I heard you call my name” line? It kills me. It has nothing to do with the verses, almost, but it’s such a justifiable narrative deviation. I was crying when I listened to this song on repeat on that walk home in 2014 and, in the moment, it felt like he broke the fourth wall, talking to me.
Reina: And to think he wasn’t going to sing it this way until Keira begged him to. But I agree, this song is so well suited for his voice. And somehow it’s also incredibly well suited for Keira Knightley’s voice too. It’s the “Sisterhood of Traveling Pants” of songs. This might be a weird parallel, but doesn’t the scene in the movie where he plays this stripped down version at his show remind you of that scene in “Music and Lyrics” when Hugh Grant and that spiritual blonde sing the stripped down version of “Way Back Into Love” instead of the the Buddha’ed up version?
Gauraa: Oh god, it most definitely is the “Sisterhood of Traveling Pants” of songs. And I don’t think that’s a weird parallel at all. Wholeheartedly concur. (Sidebar: we must discuss Music and Lyrics at some point, too.)
Reina: This scene kind of breaks my heart though. He’s being so sincere, and she’s just standing in the shadows, proud that he followed through with her request, but also refusing to join him on stage to sing the song. If I recall correctly, she leaves before he’s even done with the song. It’s like he’s asking for forgiveness, and trying to redeem himself by singing the song the way she intended it to be heard. And she is forgiving him by showing up and hearing the song, but instead of acknowledging it, she just disappears from his life. It’s a little sad, isn’t it?
Gauraa: Sad, yes. But vindicating. She had disappeared from his life long before his performance, I feel. This scene was just about closure. She wanted to see if her song had been given the treatment it deserved, and it had. The scene that follows, the final scene, shows Keira riding into the night with a grin plastered to her face. She’s liberated.
“Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home”
Profound Genius annotation: The recurring theme of “opposites” implies she had been causing him to do the opposite of what he really felt, and now she’s telling him to be himself.
Best lyric: “If you’re taking me home/ Tell me if I’m back on my own/ Giving back a heart that’s on loan/ Just tell me if you wanna go home”
Gauraa: This one’s delivered so delicately by Keira Knightley: “So maybe/ I won’t let your memory haunt me/ I’ll be sleep walking with the lonely.” Underneath the dainty, wispy texture of her voice lies great determination. Simple. Honest. No overselling here. And I think that correlates very well with the character she plays in the film. You know she’ll be crushed by the end of the relationship but at the same time you just want her to be crushed so she can grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s on the way home and be done with it.
Reina: I love the opening line to this song. “Maybe/You don’t have to smile so sad/Laugh when you’re feeling bad/I promise I won’t.”
Gauraa: Such gusto. Love Kiera. Love her voice. Love this song.
Reina: It’s a nice reminder that it’s ok to not be put on all the time. And it’s better to be yourself and be honest instead of trying to fake it until you make it, I guess.
Gauraa: Yes, this song is about dealing with your emotions, as opposed to playing the stoic. As the old saw goes, “Get back into your pajamas, go to bed, watch Ishtar, wallow, and move on.”
“Lost Stars (Keira Knightley Version)”
Profound Genius annotation: N/A
Best lyric: N/A
Reina: Arguably the better version of this song. I remember when I watched this movie with someone who wasn’t you, all they could do was criticize Keira Knightley’s voice. But I actually think her voice suits the mood of the songs she’s singing and fits in with the *aesthetic*. Don’t you think?
Gauraa: You know, I love Keira Knightley’s voice on this soundtrack. I know she’s not a singer singer but that lends an honest lightness to the song, especially in contrast to Adam Levine’s signature studio-honed glossy falsetto. There’s definitely some autotune laid out on her vocals but I think that’s quite negligible. It’s a great song and I like both versions. Keira’s rendition is raw and sweet and introverted but I think Adam’s delivery has a certain depth to it, too–the kind that comes with a perfect studio recording. That, I find, extrapolates the insularity of the narrative and tailors it to suit a different mood altogether.
Reina: I love the scene where they’re filming this as her Christmas present to Adam. The sweet piano in the background of this one makes it much more mellow and soft than Adam’s version.
The fact that it was a present and he continues to sing the song at his shows and on his album… It all makes me a little bit sad
Gauraa: Only Adam Levine would dump sweet British songstress Keira for major label Mimi.
“A Higher Place”
Profound Genius annotation: Adam is still confused and still he asks himself that if New York City is where your dreams of success comes true then why nobody smiles as “be happy and enjoy life.”
Best lyric: “That’s the dream/ To sing the perfect girl the perfect song”
Reina: I’ve never understood how in the movie, she hears this song and by the time the chorus is over, she’s figure out that her boyfriend is cheating on her? I just… feel like you have to connect a lot of dots and jump to a lot of conclusions to make that logical jump. Right?
Gauraa: Right. But he was in L.A., which, obviously, is a city that does terrible things to people. Besides, he was there without her, and now he’s back with this super douchey song with super douchey lyrics (case in point: “You take me to another space in time/ You take me to a higher place.”) Keira is a classy girls and she just knows she couldn’t be the inspiration behind this aspirant Top 40 over-produced trash pop. This is the imperfect song for the imperfect girl. (read: NOT Keira Knightley.)
Reina: Obv, Keira Knightley in this film is the epitome of perfection. Especially her wardrobe in this movie. And I agree, this song is douchey, but also incredibly catchy. It’s a feel-good song, which is funny given that it did NOT make Keira feel very good. It’s really cliché, like “You take me to a higher place” is a very generic lyric, but then again, maybe that’s supposed to some kind of a comment on the state of music today? That the generic clichéd stuff is what sells?
Gauraa: I definitely think it comments on the generic state of the music industry today, what with the abundance of copycat songs and stylistic arrangements that pander to the Hot 100. The film specifically comments upon that in one of the earlier scenes, when Mark Ruffalo tosses generic sounding demos out his car window. In addition, I think Adam Levine compromising the integrity of Keira’s compositions and falling for major label Mimi also reflects upon the state of the affairs today: the generic stuff sells, everyone’s an impostor. Everyone, except, of course, Randy Newman.
“Like A Fool”
Profound Genius annotation: She still loves him now and possibly keep loving him in the future.
Best lyric: “And you have cursed me/ When there’s no one left to blame/ And I have loved you just the same”
Gauraa: For all those of you who haven’t seen the film yet, this is the song Keira Knightley leaves Adam Levine on his voicemail, after he dumps her for a blonde girl called Mimi.
Reina: Jesus. This song. This scene. It’s all such #friendgoals. One day, this will be us.
Gauraa: Boyfriends, beware: you break our hearts and you’ll be on the receiving end of a sweet little song that’ll saw your heart into two halves.
Reina: “And you have broken every single fucking rule/And I have loved you like a fool.” This line hits so hard. I know the feeling well. I love that it’s such a sweet and cute song that hides these really biting and spiteful lyrics. I’d truly feel like a fool if someone left this on my voicemail.
Gauraa: Me, too, Reina. Me. Too.
“Coming Up Roses”
Profound Genius annotation: The idiom “everything’s coming up roses” is used when a situation is really excellent and successful and when life is prosperous. In the movie, Greta is referring to how good her life is now that she’s not with Dave anymore and she’s out in the world doing her own thing.
Best lyric: “Now we’re back on the street/ Found a song that’s worth singing/ The bloody nose of defeat/ While your victory bell’s ringing”
Gauraa: God. This is one of the reasons I like Keira on this soundtrack so much. She has such a tender, soft voice but then she spews fucking Shakespearean lyrics that are, like, daggers to your heart.
Reina: Truly. Straight the heart, then she twists the handle. “You were right all along/Something’s gotta change.” A side note though: when I watched this movie with a friend, she laughed out loud at the part where they paid the kids to sing in the alleyway. She said, “there’s no way those children would sound like that.” But honestly, I think that anyone can be a singer if they try? I mean, Keira’s trying, and songs like this fit her voice perfectly. I mean, yes, would these children be able to harmonize perfectly? Probably not, but I think they’d be able to at least sing what they’re told to sing. And at least in the context of the movie, it’s not meant to sound perfect. It’s more about embracing imperfections and reflecting the chaos and imperfection of New York City, isn’t it?
“A Step You Can’t Take Back”
Profound Genius annotation: While standing there the thought comes over her that if she were to step in front of the subway, it would be a good way to die.
Best lyric: “So you find yourself at the subway/ With your world in a bag by your side/ And all at once it seemed like a good way/ You realize it’s the end of the line”
Gauraa: This is the song the film opens with. A song contemplating the end of your time. God. And this is where the two narratives conjoin and begin again from the end.
Reina: Whenever I hear this song, I remember us blasting it from your bedroom when we lived together and singing along at the top of our lungs while “cleaning” the house. I think what’s so great about this song is that it’s not what you would expect. When you think of a song about taking a step that you can’t take back (maybe off of a subway platform), you don’t think of a sweet and major key melody like this. And as cliché as it is, I love that Mark Ruffalo finds himself and his purpose in life, when he hears this song about contemplating purposely ending your life. And that whole scene where he imagines the arrangement is magical, even though it’s cheesy. I love it all. It’s the best possible way to open this movie.
Gauraa: Yes, yes, yes. I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
Reina and Gauraa did not expect for it to be such an emotional Friday night. They insist they need to be alone now . You can find them here next Friday, getting excessively sentimental over Taylor Swift’s Red.