A Workout Playlist: David Gray

Chris Lawhorn, the resident DJ at Marie Claire and Real Age, reviews 300-400 singles every month, trying to find the best new music for a workout. Every week, he’ll be posting an indie-centric playlist for MAGNET readers. To vote on upcoming tracks, hear this month’s contenders and find more resources for matching songs to the pace of your exercise routine, you can visit his workout music site.

This is my last workout piece for MAGNET. Though it’s been a hoot, I’d like to pursue a couple other opportunities. In the column’s short history, I’ve written more than a couple pieces about mainstream musicians who’ve surprised me. Erasure, Robbie Williams, Carly Simon, the Beach Boys, Dexy’s Midnight Runners—each has had some sort of brush, long or short, with fame on the pop charts. But, they’ve each also made records where I’ve been taken aback by their ballsy candor. In wrapping things up, I wanted to write about one more of these folks: David Gray.

I’m never sure where someone like this will fit into people’s frame of reference. I love David Gray. But he was the first act signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO label. “Babylon” was pretty ubiquitous. On the whole, his music sounds like something you might hear in a farewell episode of The Real World. And his album sleeves and promo pictures are almost uniformly bad—lots of sunglasses indoors and moody shots. So, if you’re looking for reasons to talk shit, you’ll find them. Having said that, he’s a pretty excellent songwriter, which is what this is really all about anyway. As an example, I wanted to write about “Forever Is Tomorrow Is Today.” The track appears on Gray’s third album. It’s pretty sparse. And the song, as best I can tell, is about a general feeling of urgency: that you may as well get on with things, because forever is essentially a series of todays. There’s nothing here, probably, that you couldn’t have deduced for yourself. What changes this, for me at least, is the song’s repeated “Get out of the way!” Throughout the song, in talking about the obstacles, distractions, pessimism and so on that are plaguing him, this is his response. And as the song goes on, the sentiment gets more pronounced.

As I get older, my relationship with music changes. My needs and priorities change. But, this notion—this feeling he’s describing—is a constant: that all the junk that’s in the way is going to have to get out of the way. Sometimes, it’s my junk. Sometimes, it’s not. But it has to go. And almost nothing does a better job of keeping me on task than hearing a slight and generally folksy English fellow belt, with increasing forcefulness, that everything and everyone need to clear the path. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to hit the track, tidy up your desk or otherwise cut the crap, this might do the trick.

Good luck, and thanks for reading!