This morning, I began trudging to work — not walking or strolling, but trudging. I was feeling low. At one point, though, the Mark Mulcahy song “Hey Self Defeater” came on my iPod, and his voice rang with renewal:
“Hey self defeater / You’re underrated by yourself, so quit looking down”
Almost instantly, I was uplifted. It was only partly the lyrical inspiration. It was also because of my soft spot for Mulcahy, a Connecticut-based songwriter who has been dear to my heart since I first heard his songs on Nickelodeon’s “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.”
This is probably his most favorite song — and it’s a cover:
Mulcahy, via the house band Polaris (“three guys–Jersey, Muggy and Harris”), did most of the original music on the show (a program, incidentally, that was never shy about showing off its musical geekdom, with Iggy Pop, Kate Pierson and Michael Stipe among those logging guest spots over the years). Captivated by his “Pete and Pete” compositions like “Everywhere” and “Waiting for October,” I dug deeper and discovered his primary band, Miracle Legion.
For someone like me — an unabashed fan of catchy, jangly pop — Miracle Legion was a gold mine. I dove into whatever of their increasingly scarce back catalog (much of it was out of print) I could get my hands on. When I learned about Mulcahy’s solo work, I snapped that up, as well. Often, when meeting a self-professed musical geek, I would throw Mulcahy’s or Miracle Legion’s name at them, like spaghetti at the wall, seeing if it would stick — a nerd litmus test, of sorts — and I would always be let down if they had no idea who he was.
It was about more than liking jangle pop or ranking geek quotient, though. There has always been something to Mulcahy’s songs, whether they were for “Pete and Pete” or one of his own projects, that commands my attention. There’s a warmth to them that appeals to me. Much like “Hey Self Defeater” spoke to me this morning, his songs (many of which, I would be remiss not to add, were co-written by his Miracle Legion collaborator, Mr. Ray) have a way of lodging themselves not only in my brain, like any good catchy pop song can, but in my heart. From the longing strums of “Everywhere” to the sweet nostalgia of “Homer” to the simple delight of “You’re My Blessing,” Mulcahy has a unique talent for conveying those emotions in song.
While Mulcahy and Miracle Legion may not be household names, the Connecticut songwriter is not underrated by his musical peers. When his wife Melissa died unexpectedly, leaving behind three-year-old twin girls, the music community banded together to support one of their own by submitting covers of Mulcahy’s songs for a compilation called “Ciao My Shining Star.” In addition to a CD with 21 tracks, the digital-only version has 41 — 41! — songs, for just $10 more. I bought both versions, partly because I wanted a physical copy in addition to the jam-packed MP3 version, but also because I wanted to support the cause.
The greatest thing about the compilation is that while it is loaded with heavies like Stipe and Thom Yorke and the National, there are also a bunch of lesser luminaries and relative unknowns. Right now, I’m listening to a cover of “4:04″ by the Parkway Charlies. It’s good. They’re good. Who the heck are they? No clue. But I’ll find out.
I highly recommend this compilation. You don’t have to be a fan of Mulcahy’s to appreciate the songs contained therein, but hopefully listening to them will turn you into one.
I also like to think that for someone out there, a band like the Parkway Charlies is to them as Miracle Legion was once to me — a treasure you long to share with others. Thanks to this compilation, hopefully some of these excellent bands will get some much-deserved exposure.
True confession: A few weeks ago, I saw a promotional poster for “Ciao My Shining Star” on a lamppost in Boston. I took it and put it on my wall. I know I should have left it alone, but Mark Mulcahy occupies a special place in my heart. Special enough to merit theft. My only regret? Possibly depriving others of the awareness of his work. Consider this blog post my atonement.