Parlez-vous français?

by Leslie Fowle (English/Journalism), published November 30th 2011

I just learned a very exciting word. The word isn’t particularly exciting in and of itself, but the fact it exists is. The word is “frisson,” and in French it means “a sudden passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion.” It’s basically the inexplicable feeling you get while listening to a particularly moving piece of music- you know, when you just feel like crying because all of the sudden you understand life. But then the song ends and you go back to caring about bodily experiences like hunger and pimples and other crap.

Anyway, inspired by this stumbleupon find, I would like to list pieces of music that have resulted in this type of reaction in my own life. I suppose I am emotionally attached to all my favorite music in some way, but these are specific songs during which I can remember the exact moment I was so moved- and why.

Here they are:

Twice – Little Dragon

Just listen to this song; it’s pretty self explanatory why it might be so frisson-inducing. Her voice is so ethereal. It seems fit for lying on a rooftop on a cool summer night, looking into the night sky and pondering the cosmos.

You Already Know – Bombay Bicycle Club

Postcards from Italy – Beirut

Ironically, this song makes me think of my recent trip to Germany. A friend with me on the trip played this song on his ukulele one night, and a group of us all sang along. It is the perfect sound track to a journey of any sort with lyrics like, “we put our feet just where they had to go.”

Nude – Radiohead

The Zephyr Song – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Although this song describes falling for someone in “perfect weather,” I specifically remember first hearing this song when I was falling for someone on a drive home during a snow storm.

My Lady’s House – Iron & Wine 

What Is and What Should Never Be – Led Zeppelin

This song and Led Zeppelin in general reminds me of the freedom of owning my first car. I would drive to Wendy’s and blast this out of my speakers all summer long.

Jesus, Etc. – Wilco

Samson – Regina Spektor

It was hard for me to pick just one Regina Spektor song for this article. Her voice was basically made for this kind of thing. Lyrics like, “You are my sweetest downfall/I loved you first, I loved you first,” just cut into my soul, you know?

New World – Devotchka

He Would Have Laughed – Deerhunter

This song is at the same time beautifully abstract and terribly sad. It was written as a tribute to the late Jay Reatard, solo artist and member of The Reatards and Lost Sounds.

Now Now – St. Vincent

Landlocked Blues – Bright Eyes

I’ve been a fan of Bright Eyes since 7th grade, like many of us, but I listened to this song again just recently. In light of what has been happening in our country recently, the lines, “And our freedom’s a joke/We’re just taking a piss/And the whole world must watch the sad comic display/If you’re still free start running away,” become awfully poignant.

Lake Michigan – Rogue Wave

The Dress Looks Nice On You – Sufjan Stevens

This song makes me think of a first love with innocent lines like, “I can see a lot of bright in you/ And I think the dress looks nice on you.”


Oof. That took a lot out of me.

Also, damn the French for having words that so accurately describe the human condition. Another good one is “l’esprit de l’escalier,” which is the unfortunate predicament when you think of all the things you wanted to say to someone after it’s too late.

Comments are closed.