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Modern Love

David Bowie – Modern Love

My brother was a huge David Bowie fan and my mother hated David Bowie. But my mother also worked full-time so my brother took advantage of her not being home in the afternoons and my other two sisters and I received a daily education in all of David Bowie’s great achievements. We were schooled on Ziggy Stardust, we looked at the cover of Diamond Dogs unsure of what to make of it, we sang along to “Queen Bitch”, I did a report for 9th grade English class on “Kooks.”

My brother went off to college in 1982. In 1983 David Bowie released Let’s Dance. This was not my brother’s David Bowie. This was more like my older sister’s David Bowie. In fact, the cassette I listened to in the car today is the original 1983 copy that my sister bought, complete with a little sticker with her initials on it to identify it as hers in her college dorm room. This was dance-y Bowie, and not in a “John, I’m Only Dancing” way. It was produced with Nile Rodgers, after all. For my brother, worshipper of punk, hater of disco, this was a step too far.

Listening to it now, some of the songs are not really that far of a departure from some of his previous work, but the hits were really big hits. If you’ve been a fan of a band or musician when they’ve been less adored by the general public and then they suddenly become everyone’s favorite, especially if the album they’re now getting all the attention for is one you don’t like, it puts a real strain on your relationship with that band. I know a little something about that. So in hindsight, I’m sympathetic to my brother’s plight. At the time, though, we little sisters thought it was pretty cool that David Bowie had made an album you could dance to with your friends.

Last week was David Bowie’s birthday and I presume my brother has long since forgiven the now 68-year-old for Let’s Dance, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to know that he doesn’t own it. Judging by the fact that this tape was abandoned by everyone and found by me in my mother’s basement when we were there recently, I’d say it’s no one’s favorite. That and no one has a tape deck anymore. Long live my car’s tape deck and Tape Deck Tuesday for these trips down memory lane!

 

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Could You

TV on the Radio – Could You

For New Year’s Eve, I took the kids down to Brooklyn because my sister was having a party. Two of my other sisters would be there and my nieces and nephew, so there would be lots of family hang time, even if it was a big, noisy party that went on until 4 a.m.

My nieces were having their friends over as well so there was a pretty good sized teenage contingent at the party. Some of the kids were the children of my sister’s friends and in some cases both the kids and the parents are friends. One of my niece’s friends, a 13-year-old boy I’ll call Joe, arrived with his parents and quickly disappeared with my niece and her other friends. My sister had been telling us that just before school let out for the Christmas break, Joe had come out to his parents and his friends. It seems like they all suspected as much already and having it out in the open was a relief. The big news was that he had also let another guy in their class know, and told him that he was interested in him. Much to everyone’s great delight, the other boy had written YES on a sign and was waiting outside of school for Joe at the end of the day.

My daughter (also 13) said that at midnight, Joe got a text from his new boyfriend and everyone was so happy for him. I spent some time talking with Joe’s parents that night and started 2015 off feeling good about people and about the next generation. No one would have been open about being gay when I was in eighth grade. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was someone’s beard for about two weeks back then. Here, not only was Joe confident and comfortable about coming out, it was practically just a formality, and the one relationship that changed because he did so, was one that changed in his favor.

I know this is far from everyone’s reality. I’m just glad for Joe that it is his. And I’m glad to be a part of a community with people like Joe’s parents and my niece and my sister and her other friends. I’m glad that my kids are growing up among people who are accepting of differences and that they are modeling that behavior themselves.

One of my Christmas presents from my mother was a gift card to the record store where I once worked after college. I picked up Seeds by TV on the Radio and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. I highly recommend the whole album.

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Nothing More

Alternate Routes – Nothing More

It has been two years to the day since the school shooting in Newtown, CT. This song was written to support the organization Newtown Kindness, which was founded by the parents of one of the children who was killed that day.

I live in a town very much like Newtown. These horrible events always seem like they’re happening somewhere else, someplace not like where you live or happening to people not like you. But not on that day.

To tell you the truth, I cry every time I hear this song, only takes about 30 seconds in.

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Synchronicity II

The Police – Synchronicity II

For Christmas, my younger sister put out a request for some music for her 14-year-old son. You see, though she was exposed to a wide variety of music as a young child and tween, by the time she hit high school, the rest of us were all out of the house. She played the piano and she liked to sing and she was good at both so my mother got her involved in the youth orchestra and some choral groups. I would make her tapes to try to keep her informed about new music that wouldn’t get air play on the local radio but the pull of her everyday music was strong. She spent so much time practicing that she didn’t have much time to listen to other stuff. By the time she got to college she was an early music voice major and it was all over. She met her future husband at the Gilbert & Sullivan society on campus and that was about as modern as her music collection got. Those grade school years spent singing along to I Wanna Be Sedated were all but forgotten.

As a toddler, my nephew could identify all the classical composers that were in constant rotation in their house. And I do mean constant. They have one of those multi-disc players and from the moment my brother-in-law comes down in the morning until they go up to bed at night, some kind of (usually choral) classical music is playing.

As her kids have gotten older, they’ve expressed an interest in listening to the top 40 stations in the car and she’s obliged. I think she’s hoping to make sure they fit in with their peers but it’s not usually music she completely endorses. And especially for a 14-year-old boy, she knows there’s better stuff out there, she just doesn’t know what it is. So she appealed to her older siblings to help out. She was thinking about what was playing in the house when she was young; David Bowie, The Police, Talking Heads but modern stuff was fine too.

I split the difference. I ordered a Kishi Bashi CD, thinking that might interest my cello playing nephew who has been immersed in classical music his entire life, since he puts a new twist on what you expect from a classically trained violinist. Then I made him a CD with a couple of Ramones songs, some Clash, The Police, Talking Heads, and Elvis Costello. I have to say, it’s pretty good. It’s skimming the surface to be sure but I tried to keep my quirky nephew in mind and picked songs that I think he might like. It has the bonus feature of being all songs my little sister will instantly recognize and shock her kids by being able to sing along, and, dare I say it, rock out? If my nephew doesn’t like it, I think she will at least.

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Pit Viper

 

10,000 Maniacs – Pit Viper

This is a curious tape I listened to on my way home from work for Tape Deck Tuesday. I had obviously whited out the track listing but the title (or spine? what would you call the part you can read when they’re all stacked up?) retained the original for side A but whited out side B. It now reads: “Secrets of the I Ching” with “Human Conflict Number 5″ underneath that then a bracket spanning both and “Hope Chest” at the end.

Secrets of the I Ching and Human Conflict Number 5 are both very early recordings by 10,000 Maniacs. Even back in college in the 80s these were sort of lost albums. But a CD came out in 1990 called Hope Chest, which combined the two. I have a copy, a reissue, of Secrets of the I Ching from 1988. This was a really difficult album to get a hold of. I have a very vague memory of having to send away for it through the radio station in college or something like that. I just pulled it out and inside was a purple piece of paper with information about “an Evening in Torpor.”

wpid-wp-1417584955438.jpegWow. Here’s where the internet is a weird and fantastic thing. My memories of the Evening in Torpor recording are soooo vague and I don’t have the album. Maybe my best friend has it? We often used to split things up and tape them for each other. But I have the piece of paper with the track listings for it and somewhere I must have a tape because I knew all those songs. Maybe I’ll find it but until then, there’s always YouTube.

Here’s what I figure I must have done, as I have no recollection of doing this. I must have taped Secrets of the I Ching off of the album, then a couple years later, Hope Chest was released which contained that album plus the EP Human Conflict Number 5, so I taped over the original recording and whited out the track listing in favor of what was on the CD. Why I didn’t just tape the songs I didn’t have and leave the original recording alone I have no idea. CDs were thought of as being “better” so that probably factored into it somehow.

Side A:
Planned Obsolescence
The Latin One
Katrina’s Fair
Poor De Chirico
Grey Victory
National Education Week
Death of Manolete
Orange
(unlisted but Wildwood Flower is tacked on the end here)

Side B:
Tension
Anthem for Doomed Youth
Daktari
Groove Dub
Pit Viper
My Mother the War
(lots of dead space)

There’s another video for Pit Viper with Natalie Merchant, John Lombardo, and Steve Gustafson in Dennis Drew’s student film made in Jamestown in 1982 that you should totally check out if you’re remotely curious to see how they all looked way back when.

Some of this early stuff sounds really different from what people normally associate with 10,000 Maniacs. I have to give them credit for introducing me to De Chirico and the metaphysical art movement with this album. Back in those pre-internet days, if bands I liked mentioned things in interviews or if I figured out some lyrics, I’d head over to the library to learn more. No, I didn’t have much of a social life, why do you ask? I sometimes think I learned more during those four years of college by following my curiosity about what influenced the bands I loved, than I did in the classroom.

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Lights Out, Words Gone

Bombay Bicycle Club – Lights Out, Words Gone

So NaBloPoMo is in the books, or in the blog archive. I missed one day, probably one-third of my entries were posted after midnight (though if I haven’t gone to bed yet, in my mind it is still the same day), and many were so short as to hardly count as writing. If I do it again, I think it would go better if I planned a little ahead of time and had some drafts ready to be used on days when I couldn’t manage to get around to it, or was thwarted by internet connection problems.

The crappy connection is really a nuisance because I’m usually spending a bunch of time looking for  a song before I start writing. On days when the song is already in my head and the entry is about the song somehow, either it jogs a memory or it’s related to something that’s happening, the post is easy and I can do most of it without the internet at all. Other times I don’t have a song in mind and it can take a lot longer to find the right fit, especially since I really try to mix it up and not just go back to my old standbys all the time. Hard to believe sometimes, I know, but I really do like finding new music and given that I had thirty days to fill up, this was the time to do it. Those days were really frustrating and time consuming when I’d have trouble just getting a video to load, let alone go back and forth between several while trying to decide on the one I wanted to use.

This month was also challenging because of all the things I crammed in. Two shows in one week that had me driving 3-4 hours each way, Thanksgiving up at my mother’s, and the kids had only one week that was a normal 5 days of school. I’m not sure who came up with the idea for NaBloPoMo (or WriMo for that matter) but I think a better month to propose would be March or April.

My main goal of blogging was never to be a writer. It was to have a way to share thoughts and ideas about music and bands, or tell a story about why a song had some deeper meaning for me. I used to do that in real life with friends but now my friends all live somewhere else and so writing became the only way I could keep doing that. I heard from one of my friends that even though some of these posts this month were skimpy (my words), she thought it was great to “hear” from me every day. If I look at this experiment as a way to make that connection with people and music, and focus less on whether my writing was the best it could be, then I guess it was pretty successful.

November 30, 11:45 p.m., NaBloPoMo, Lights Out, Words Gone.

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Blur the Line

The Meeting Places – Blur the Line

We are not Black Friday shoppers. For one thing, we’re not morning people. Being in line at 6am to go shopping sounds like a nightmare to me. It’s also pretty rare that I’m in the market for anything that might be on one of those big sales. Plus the crowds, the short tempers, really, there’s just no appeal.

I know the day after Thanksgiving has long been the unofficial start of the Christmas season, or at least the shopping season, but I don’t like the way it’s been creeping in sooner every year. I noticed several stores that made a point of opening at 6pm on Thanksgiving day. How shitty would that be for the people working there? I guess they would at least get paid double time but I would sure feel cheated if it were me.

When I was growing up we would all go to my grandparents’ in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. My mom’s from a big family too and there would be lots of uncles and aunts and cousins. I remember years when we had the grown-ups table, the kids table, and the spill-over table when there wasn’t enough room at either to fit everyone. The day after was always time to hang with the family members you didn’t see often and play with the weird old toys at grandma’s house.

Perhaps if we’d stayed home for Thanksgiving, and the day after was just us in our own house, shopping would have become something that made sense when you had a day off anyway. But that was never our custom and I like having a little buffer between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I like taking the time to just enjoy it before rushing onto the next holiday.

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Blood Bank

Bon Iver – Blood Bank

Look at that album cover. Brrrr. It doesn’t matter that I know exactly what I’m getting out of winter in New England, I am never ready for its arrival. It’s not that I’m caught off guard, I just live in denial until the last possible minute. Why spend one second more than you’re forced to thinking about it?

I don’t really wish I could join the legions of people who love winter, or even those who tolerate it well and think it can be pretty. I am very content to continue singing the praises of spring and summer. And one thing’s for sure, if I ever moved to someplace that doesn’t have winter, I would never miss it. People have questioned me on that one but I have lived through more than enough winters to last me a lifetime.

As I sit here now, wrapped up in a blanket, the wind is blowing down the chimney and rattling the glass doors on the fireplace. Snow is falling and pelting the window screens making an icy sound. So it begins.