Greatest Song Ever: “Airborne” by Wussy

“How the voice that used to thrill me / could cut me up and kill me …”

Photo of Tim LeeThis is courtesy of my friend Tim Lee, a singer/songwriter from Knoxville, TN, who was a co-frontman of The Windbreakers, a fabulous 80s indie act that should have been as big as R.E.M. As a matter of full disclosure, we were labelmates for several years and have also written and performed together on several occasions.

After The Windbreakers packed it in, Lee released a brace of solo recordings, including “What Time Will Tell” and “Crawdad.” After a brief break, Lee returned to recording in 2001 with “Under the House” (Paisley Pop). He now co-leads the Tim Lee 3; the combo’s newest record, “Raucous Americanus,” was released in October 2010.

John L. Micek (guest editor)

I was standing at the kitchen sink one night, my wifeís iPod plugged into the little player on the shelf, set on “shuffle.” The song started with a restrained strumming, slightly reminiscent of the Feelies, followed by a distorted, almost-whispered male voice, singing:

You said that you would call me,
and when you didnít call me
I gave you up for dead.
I was working on a backbone,
chiseling a tombstone,
when you called me up and said

through a wall of heavy breathing,
you thought it was relieving
to be out on your own.
How the voice that used to thrill me,
could cut me up and kill me
on the fucking telephone.

At which point, the full band kicked into gear, and fellow guitarist/singer Lisa Walker chimed in on the soaring chorus with Chuck Cleaver: “You did not even send me airborne anyway. / Why in the world I hung around is hard to say.”

Wussy, the band from Cincinnati formed by former Ass Pony Cleaver, plays a ragged sort of power pop, and the interplay between Walker and Cleaver is breathtaking at times — visceral, even; often like listening in on private conversations.

“Airborne,” the first song on their first album is a prime example, a breakup song that pulls no punches. The verses move through accusations (“Something from the ‘yours’ pile / shattered on the floor tile, / and you went off like Frankenstein”) and apologies, and continually builds on the same three-chord progression through to the end, even after a resigned Walker has declared in the last verse, “When youíre living on a floodplain, / it doesnít take a hard rain / to wash it all away.”

Itís a harrowing and beautiful 3:25. And every time I hear it, I want to hear it again.

Airborne,” from the album “Funeral Dress
Article © 2011 by Tim Lee