Letter Never Sent

R.E.M. – Letter Never Sent

This past weekend we were up visiting my mother so I took the opportunity to go up to her attic and have a look for some things I thought I might have left there. My mom was thrilled at the prospect of getting more junk out of the house. We hauled two big boxes down and four or five small boxes (old 8×10 B&W photographic paper boxes) that I knew were mine. One of the big boxes turned out to be my mother’s stuff so we sat on the screened porch and went through our old things together.

My boxes were full of old letters and postcards from college and my early 20s. I also found a dozen or more concert stubs that I’ve been wondering where I’d put them. My mother’s box also had old letters and pictures from her college years and early 20s. It was fun looking through them and we’d stop and show each other some of the pictures or read aloud funny parts of letters. I found a postcard from my DC days with a Victorian illustration of a Valentine’s Day card on it and on the back, written in red ink and all capital letters it said only, “THE CAPITOL CUPID HAS HIS EYES ON YOU. BE PREPARED.”

Her one box was dispensed with relatively quickly but I needed more time for all of mine. The next morning I woke up before everyone else, took some boxes out to the porch and started going through them again. Tons of old bank statements and pay stubs and college records that I have no idea why I kept but they all need to be shredded. I divided things into piles; trash, shred, keep.

The keep pile quickly took over the table. I got an empty plastic bin and started filling it up. On several occasions I opened some old letters to see what was inside and found myself taking a seat on the porch swing, reveling in these wonderful old letters. My friends and I used to write really great letters. Even the envelopes got in on the action. I have many that are hand made, true works of art, or that are covered in quotes from songs or books we were reading. Things like, “Sometimes, at a certain point in your life, you come across an artist—or anything; it could be a pastrami sandwich, I guess—and it takes on incredible significance.” – Hubert Selby. Or, “Keep away from hairdos altogether. A hairdo, by definition, always makes you look like someone else. Or think you do.” – Cynthia Heimel. I have no idea who those people are, not then nor now, but reading them today makes me smile and think of the friend that felt they were just the right finishing touch or last thought to include on a letter that had already been sealed.

And the letters themselves, filled with observations, feelings, doubts and fears, emotions and dreams, are a glorious tribute to a time when communication wasn’t instant. Several letters I re-read mentioned missing a phone call, or being unable to reach someone by phone and the resulting regret or worry it caused. No cell phones, no email, no text messages or status updates. We wrote long letters with little notes in the margins documenting time or place. One letter might cover several days, with thoughts being dropped in favor of recounting something that had just transpired then coming back to that thought a day or two later, maybe with some new perspective.

I love that they are also to and from all kinds of different addresses. There were many sent to me c/o a relative or friend I stayed with for short stints while job hunting. Return addresses from Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Montreal, Philadelphia, New Hampshire, Tennessee, North Carolina. We were young and moving around a lot but we stayed in touch the only way possible.

I miss the letter writing days. I miss the time we took, the time we had, to sit down and put pen to paper, to ponder things and write it down to share with someone far away. Whether they were really important life decisions or tales of the ordinary day-to-day, these letters are something that tell me more than just what we were up to twenty-odd years ago. There is a large measure of our personalities in them. There is trust and truth. I see what made us click.

I’ve decided to write letters again. I was once a really great correspondent, if I may be so bold, and I want to try to rediscover that pace of writing and that level of attention and observation. I may not get any in return or I may fizzle out and they’d all become letters never sent, but I think it’s worth a try.

Swapped out the album version for this live version because, whoa, the video quality is amazing. I’ve seen this show on YouTube before but the quality was crappy. The one on this channel I just found though, is beautiful.



Public Image Limited – Rise

I seem to have a little theme going here this week. Uprising. Rise. Yes, definitely a stand up kind of week. This week’s Tape Deck Tuesday is a tape called Listen ~ Sing, April, 1989. There is a banana sticker firmly stuck to the case that I’m sure I stuck there. The tape was made for me by a friend shortly before the end of my senior year, her sophomore year, of college. She’d made me a tape of songs that she loved that I didn’t have so I would be able to listen to them (and sing) once she was gone.

This friend had been in my dorm the previous year. It was an old house that had been turned into a dorm, all women, of course, there was no other option. It was on the edge of campus, which is why I had picked it, but the majority of freshman and sophomores in the house would have preferred somewhere more happening. I was also looking for space, and something beyond your standard issue cinderblock with non-opening windows. I had been all over campus and had zeroed in on this dorm and this one room. It was the largest double on campus and I wanted it. I needed more room for dancing, after all.

If I remember correctly, the house had two singles, two or three doubles, a couple of triples and two quads. That’s a giant room with two sets of bunk beds. This girl arrived as a freshman and was put into one of those quads with three other girls who couldn’t have been more different from her. My roommate had been a total lucky lottery pick, just a junior like me who didn’t have a preference so they put us together. It turned out she didn’t have much in the way of preferences for any of the things that mattered to me. She liked to study with some background noise but didn’t care what it was so I could play my music pretty much any time I wanted. She didn’t have a lot of stuff so I could hang my posters any place I liked. Consequently this freshman saw and heard that I might be sympathetic to her situation and she ended up hanging around with me a lot.

The following year she brought a car back to campus with her. A car meant road trips and that called for tunes for the ride. She was a big fan of bands on the 4AD label, in some cases just because they were on that label. There are a bunch of those on this tape, a couple of her cult favorites (not The Cult though), and then some more of your usual college radio bands. PiL falls into that latter category.

Listen~Sing, April 1989
Side A – Listen
Persephone – Cocteau Twins
Muscoviet Mosquito – Clan of Xymox
Cut the Tree – Wolfgang Press
Fish – Throwing Muses
Birthday – Sugarcubes
Land of the Glass Pinecones – Human Sexual Response
Privilege (Set Me Free) – Patti Smith Group
Lucretia (My Reflection) – Sisters of Mercy
Unforgettable Fire – U2
Crushed – Cocteau Twins
Frontier – Dead Can Dance

Side B – Sing
This Corrosion – Sisters of Mercy
Mandinka – Sinead O’Connor
Jane Says – Jane’s Addiction
Caribou – Pixies
Jackie Onassis – Human Sexual Response
FFF/Rise – PiL
I’ve Been Tired – Pixies
Holiday – Salem 66
A New England – Billy Bragg

I had totally forgotten about Human Sexual Response. Completely. But when Land of the Glass Pinecones came on, I remembered. I liked the Jackie Onassis song in a campy way but Land of the Glass Pinecones was just a little too out there for me. Were they serious or not, I couldn’t really tell. This friend loved it. She used to sing along and really try to make that vibrato over the top just to annoy me. And This Corrosion by Sisters of Mercy is the classic song college DJs would put on when they needed to go to the bathroom, or run out to the other room to get more records, because it was so long.

My brother had been a Sex Pistols fan so I knew who Johnny Rotten/John Lydon was. Somehow though I had missed Public Image Ltd. in those years after he went off to college and we moved up to Maine. This video reminds me a lot of staying up late on Sunday nights to catch 120 Minutes on MTV. A bunch of these songs were aired on that program now that I think about it.

This is a fitting song for my mood lately. I am just as angry, if not more so than yesterday. So remember, “Anger is an energy.” Just make sure to funnel that anger into something productive. Get energized. It’s going to be a long haul.




Muse – Uprising

I am done being depressed. I am done being disappointed. The fight is on.

I remember being in my early 20s, living in Washington, D.C., the first George Bush was still president and I couldn’t imagine a day when I would feel confident that Roe v. Wade was not constantly under attack and when we could rest easy that women’s reproductive rights weren’t threatened. I went to protests and counter-protests, sometimes even on my lunch break (I worked right on the Mall).

Then Clinton was elected. It was a week-long party on the Mall. There was hope in the air. They built this “town square wall” where they encouraged people to leave notes about their hopes for the country. I wrote “Keep abortion safe, legal, available.” That was over 20 years ago, but you wouldn’t know it based on current events.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby has infuriated me. There are so many things wrong with it that I hardly know where to begin. Winning the case doesn’t even make good business sense for them. It’s way more expensive to pay for someone’s pre-natal care and then pay for the resultant child’s medical expenses on their dime than it is to pay for birth control pills. But it was never about that. Not really. It was about control, don’t kid yourselves.

I’m not normally very outspoken about my political views, though I think they’re pretty obvious, but it’s time to get back in the fray. I have children now and as long as we’re living in this country I’m going to fight to make the country they inherit be one that respects all its citizens. Crazy idea, I know!

Except it’s not. It shouldn’t be. Take a fucking stand, everyone. At the very least boycott businesses like Hobby Lobby. “Be a conscientious consumer.” That was some parting advice I received at a concert (yes!) when I was 20 and it has stuck with me and it’s still true. Think before you shop. We’re all busy and tired and money is tight, but there are so many more of us that if we all really put our minds to it, really tried, things could move.

Look, I’m not an especially big Muse fan and I don’t like big arena shows but I love this song and video. I love the way it gets the crowd pumped. I love the message in the song. My one hope after this debacle of a ruling is that it will propel people to get off the sidelines. I never thought my daughter would face the same struggles I did, and more, but it’s time to show the next generation how to use their voices as well as their votes.


Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)

Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)

It’s finally summer, my favorite season. I’ve always loved summer best, especially when I was young and summer meant no school. As I got older and carefree summers turned into summer job summers, I still loved it because hanging out with your friends became so much easier. Suddenly everywhere was a potential party, instead of having to find some indoor spot.

As I raced out the door this morning I grabbed an old tape that I’d recorded in the summer between finishing high school and starting college. A friend and I found our way to a party that someone was having out on a field somewhere down by the water. When I think about these things now, I can only assume I told my mother I was going to someone’s house because you’d be crazy to let your kid go to a party down by the rocky shore in a pitch black field. Who really knows where we were. I’m sure I wouldn’t even have been able to find the spot again the next morning. It was not one of our usual spots. Our usual spots were the athletic fields that were not in use by the local college during the summer, or the blueberry fields. Only in Maine*.

The party was your usual BYOB (and bug spray) and just hang out. Someone had made a small fire. In addition to the people you would expect to see, there were two guys from England, someone’s cousin and his friend I think. We got talking to them and while one of them was trying to pick up my friend, the other guy and I were left to make small talk. Naturally, I asked what kind of music he liked. He replied, British bands. Well, that’s not much help. Granted, after two years of living in Maine my knowledge of British bands was not very robust but surely he could name names. I offered up the English Beat which he pooh-poohed immediately and said no, try this, and handed me a tape.

Side A: Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady
Orgasm Addict
What Do I Get?
I Don’t Mind
Love You More
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)
Everybody’s Happy Nowadays
Harmony in My Head
What Ever Happened To?
Oh Shit!
Noise Annoys
Just Lust
Why Can’t I Touch It?
Something’s Gone Wrong Again

Side B: The Stranglers – The Collection 1977–1982
(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)
Hanging Around
No More Heroes
Walk On By
Something Better Change
Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
Bear Cage
Who Wants the World?
Golden Brown
Strange Little Girl
La Folie

I took it home and copied it so I could give it back to him at the next party out in a field somewhere else later in the week. So thanks, random English dude with curly hair, for having a friend that dragged you along to a party in the Maine sticks. These are some truly classic songs and a foundation for many bands that would come after. It’s also a great testament to the whole culture of tapes. Having handy some music you could share with someone. Would you carry an LP to a party on a field? No, you would not. But a tape, definitely.

* These were just wild blueberries growing in some undeveloped land behind a new-ish group of houses. It’s not like we were partying amidst someone’s crops. Wild Maine blueberries are the best kind but no one was there to go berry picking.



Cat Power – Manhattan

I was down in New York mid-week, a quick overnight trip, and I’m still thinking about it. Normally when I go into the city I stay at my sister’s in Brooklyn if I’m going out at night or, like last month, just meet up with friends in the day and head back home before it gets too late. This time my husband was coming with me to see a play and he’s allergic to my sister’s cat so we needed to find a hotel. It was my frustration with the hotel situation that prompted me to think of the LCD Soundsystem song earlier in the week but now, after being there for 24 hours, I’m in love all over again.

I left in 2000 because my job was awful. I had an abusive boss who yelled at us constantly, I was just scraping by, and at the end of the work day, I’d trudge through crowds of tourists outside our Times Square office, then take the subway for an hour to my apartment in Bay Ridge. I liked Bay Ridge fine but living that far out in Brooklyn meant I didn’t do as much in Manhattan as I would have liked.

This time we stayed in Manhattan. The play let out at 9:30 and then we went looking for dinner. After dinner we walked back to the hotel, and walking through Times Square wasn’t awful like it was when I was dodging people looking up while I was trying to get to the subway. It was a spectacle, tacky and flashy, but beautiful all the same. It was a warm summer night and it was perfect weather for being out. I absolutely love, love, love being outside at night in New York in the summer. I don’t even mind the smells.

It’s hard to imagine living there now, right now, with the kids at their ages and the impossible cost of living. We couldn’t afford it, plain and simple. But I miss living there, being immersed in it and having everything just outside your door.

I know lots of people who don’t like New York. It’s too loud or busy or overwhelming. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is that I love so much. There are problems, I’m not blind to them, but there is still this pulse that I haven’t felt in any of the other cities I’ve lived in. I see it in some of the scenes captured in this video.


Stop It

Pylon – Stop It

Hey! Kids! I’m in the crunch phase of a project at work and it’s the end of the school year, there’s a lot going on. Still, I did drive to work today and I did listen to a tape in the car so here we go. This Tape Deck Tuesday was just one of the cassettes where you wanted to have some albums on tape for the car or Walkman and not because you were creating some masterpiece.

Side A:
The Replacements
Let It Be/Stink

Side B:
The Replacements – Stink
Pylon – Gyrate

I’ve already written about Let It Be so I’m going with the Pylon track. Also because I just finished reading No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes, an oral history of City Gardens in Trenton, NJ. I was only at City Gardens once, to see Pylon in 1989. It was right before I graduated from college and I think now what lucky timing because if they had come through just a few days later, I would have left the area and missed the tour.

It’s no surprise that I first learned about Pylon because R.E.M. covered Crazy and talked about them a lot back in the mid-80s. I love that song. I had to know more. I can’t remember if I bought Gyrate or Chomp first but I have them both still, complete with the DB Records order form inside to order more great stuff! No matter which album I had first, I became a devoted fan. Some of the songs are just fun. “Precaution” comes to mind. Or “Read a Book.” You should see the way my kids look at me when I sing “Turn off the tv! You can learn more try to do without it.” Others are bit more nuanced, even if Vanessa is kind of shouting the lyrics as much as she is singing. Some of my favorite song lyrics are Pylon lyrics.

Speaking of books again, I really enjoyed the City Gardens book. If you had never been there, or weren’t aware of its legendary status, I’m not sure it has a lot of appeal. There are recollections of shows from band members who performed there as well as staff and club regulars. Since I was only there the one time, I didn’t really have much knowledge of the scene back then but I liked how each chapter/year began with a list of that year’s top 10 hits. Nothing could have been further from those top 10 than the stories that follow the listing. I’m not even a fan of most of the hardcore bands that are featured but I can appreciate how City Gardens was an oasis for kids in the area.

1989 was a period of time when Pylon was active in their on again/off again way. They had yet to put out Chain but a CD had been released that was a selection of songs from their two early albums. I loved the show. It was a small crowd, which always hurts a little, but on the other hand, I had plenty of room for dancing. Now rock & roll now!

My show may not have made the cut for inclusion in the book but I’m very glad that City Gardens existed and that I got to see Pylon there. I still have the t-shirt I bought that night and I consider it to be one of my most prized possessions. Sorry to say I have no idea if Jon Stewart was working the bar back then.




Back to the Old House

#WhereILivedWednesday: The Costume Shop

This past weekend was my 25th college reunion. I did not go. I never will.

I hated it there. It had been my safety school and I arrived with every intention of transferring after getting good grades for a year. Oh but plans can fall through as so often they do. After two rounds of transfer applications to at least a dozen schools, my choices weren’t better so I stayed put. While I had almost nothing in common with the vast majority of the students there (shallow, immature, young Reaganites looking to have the party experience they’d been too sheltered to have in high school), the university’s location in the Philadelphia suburbs was great. I could hop a train and be in the city in less than half an hour, I could ride my bike past centuries-old farms and enormous old houses, there were good record stores, and I had my work-study job at the costume shop.

The costume shop was my saving grace. I had auditioned for a play once during my freshman year but I discovered that because the university had a Master’s program in theater and they opened up their shows to anyone in the greater Philadelphia area, Equity actors even, I didn’t stand a chance of being cast as a middle-aged woman when plenty of actual middle-aged women (with much more experience) were also auditioning. My sophomore year I qualified for a work-study job so I went to the financial aid office and looked through the book of available jobs. There were two jobs at the theater, the box office or the costume shop. I looked into both but decided I could make more money in the costume shop and it looked like more fun anyway.

I was a dresser. The dresser is the person who gets all the costumes ready before the show, puts all the costumes in strategic locations backstage and helps the actors make those quick changes off stage. The rather less glamorous parts of the job included doing all the laundry and ironing and any mending the costumes required during the run of the show. You needed to be a jack of all trades in this small shop; wig maintenance, shoe repair, hat reshaping, hairstylist, always ready with a safety pin or a glue gun. Because I was pretty good at sewing I was allowed to help make the costumes prior to the show as well.

This was the real deal. The shop was run by a designer who drew what all the costumes would be and when we didn’t have something suitable in storage, we would build it from scratch. No Butterick or McCall’s patterns here, we would make patterns with muslin based on her specifications. We had several dressmaker’s dummies and an industrial strength iron and steamer, six or seven fancy Swiss sewing machines, a serger, two big padded and muslin covered tables around which several graduate students spent their days hunched over sewing costumes. If you were in the Master’s program, you had to do a practicum and you could choose building the sets, working in the costume shop, or doing dramaturgy. The set guys were pretty nice but the boss, not so much. The costume shop was definitely the life of the party.

I loved my job. I was good at it too. I took it seriously, unlike most of the other work-study students, most of whom only lasted a semester, a year at most, and were flaky and just didn’t think they really had to do anything. Maybe because I had once harbored dreams of being the one on stage, I felt you had better make damn sure everything was ready before the show and the costumes were all set up back stage because how shitty would it be to come flying off the stage and have less than a minute to get changed and back out there without help or without everything set up just so. I would set up the dresses so all the actresses would have to do is run off, I’d unzip/snap/button the dress they had on, they’d step into the next outfit, lying open in a circle on the floor, then I’d pull it up around them and zip them into the new dress. New shoes at the ready, hat, gloves, accessories, 1, 2, 3. Boom. Back out there. During a show’s run, I could easily rack up 50 hours of work each week.

The costume shop was my turf. When I walked across campus it was a toss-up whether I’d be ignored or laughed at by the other students but in the costume shop, I ruled. I had the key. I’d get there and open up before anyone else, then the actors would come in and be thrilled to see me. We’d talk, tell stories, and laugh. There was music and people and we were young and alive. To have a place where I was accepted and respected, by people who were way cooler than the big-hair/mullet crowd, made those three years tolerable. There were perks too. I never paid for doing my own laundry once I started working there because I had access to our private machines in the basement of the theater building. I scored some signature pieces of clothing, and found out where to buy my beloved shoes. I learned how to alter clothes and how to make fake blood.

When I left campus 25 years ago, I was relieved to be done with that place and haven’t missed it once since then. But I still keep the costume shop close to my heart.

#WhereILivedWednesday is a meme started and hosted by Ann Imig of Ann’s Rants. Please check out her site for other stories.



The Smiths – Ask

Let’s stay in Manchester a while, shall we? A few weeks ago I listened to a tape from my senior year of college that was titled “Anguish, Fear, Lamenting.” That one was a thinly veiled account of my frustrations with my lack of progress with a certain guy. Long time readers might have thought to themselves, wow, no Smiths on that tape? That’s a surprise.

Well, that’s because only a month earlier I had made the tape I listened to today. The title should tell you all you need to know. “Does the Body Rule the Mind or Does the Mind Rule the Body, I Dunno!” Subtitled “Morrissey’s Most Moaning Melodies.” I didn’t need any Smiths songs on that other tape because this one had 90 minutes worth, all trying to answer that question.

Body Rules the Mind (Side A)
This Charming Man
‪Handsome Devil‬
‪Hand in Glove‬
‪The Boy With the Thorn in His Side‬
‪Stretch Out and Wait‬
‪There Is a Light That Never Goes Out‬
‪Reel Around the Fountain‬
‪Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want‬
‪Oscillate Wildly‬
‪Well I Wonder‬
‪Half a Person‬
‪Suedehead ‬

Mind Rules the Body (Side B)
‪I Want the One I Can’t Have‬
‪Girl Afraid‬
These Things Take Time
‪You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby‬
Miserable Lie‬
‪Still Ill
‪Back to the Old House‬
‪Accept Yourself‬
‪How Soon Is Now?‬
‪I Know It’s Over‬
‪What Difference Does It Make?‬

I contemplated writing this entire post just stringing together lyrics from these songs to tell the story but I don’t have that kind of time and the songs tell it all themselves anyway. So I made a YouTube playlist this time since these songs are all readily available, unlike some of the other old tapes.

Tomorrow should be #WhereILivedWednesday so I’m borrowing another song from this tape to help out. Stay tuned!


She Bangs the Drums

The Stone Roses – She Bangs the Drums

I’m reading Peter Hook’s The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club and I’m up to 1993. In addition to recording how horribly mismanaged the club was, especially financially, from its very inception, it’s full of tales of the Madchester scene.

The movie 24 Hour Party People covered some of this, and how much of that film or Hooky’s account of events can be really accurate is something he even acknowledges in the beginning of the book. With the kind of rampant drug use depicted in both and the intervening years blurring memories, I’m sure there are holes in some of these stories. Still, I believe it was a wild time and that crazy things were going on in Manchester back then.

For Tape Deck Tuesday I decided to pop in my Stone Roses Fools Gold cassingle. Do you remember the cassingle? It seems like such a joke of a format. This one was even some kind of maxi cassingle because it was the cassette version of a double A side. Both sides of the cassette were the same, the full version of Fools Gold, followed by What the World is Waiting For, then the short version of Fools Gold. Even though I bought the thing, this seemed stupid to me. So I pulled the old, piece of tape over the little hole on the top, move and recorded a bunch of other Stone Roses songs over the short Fools Gold and all of side B. Blasphemy? It’s a cassingle, how much worse can it get?

Fools Gold

I used this tape for the first test of the tape deck, because cassingle.

Side A
Fools Gold
What the World is Waiting For
She Bangs the Drums

Side B
Elephant Stone
Shoot You Down
This Is The One

There’s the visual from Instagram for you.

I liked the Stone Roses and the Charlatans (UK) but I didn’t get into the whole scene. Maybe you needed to be on ecstasy to really appreciate them all but that wasn’t my thing. I rather liked being in control and I never really saw the appeal. I remember going to a Grateful Dead concert with a bunch of friends in high school and one guy in our group became truly green (I’d never seen a person actually turn green before) and passed out. These were some pretty hard partying kids but they were usually drinking beer and smoking pot and he had taken god only knows what. He was a big guy too, fell like a tree being chopped down. If he couldn’t handle that, little old me, who didn’t even smoke cigarettes, had better not take any risks. I wasn’t a total goody-two-shoes but I didn’t see the need to lose myself either.

I used to think I would really have loved to have been able to go to the Haçienda. Now I know that I would have been happy to have been there during the early days when it was a split of dance nights and live bands, and I probably would only have gone on the band nights, but I’d leave the ecstasy-fueled raves to others. The music is enough of a high for me.