Under a Rock

Waxahatchee – Under a Rock

For the next couple of months, Tuesdays are still the day of new music releases. Today the new album Ivy Tripp by Waxahatchee is out and I was listening to it online when a little notification popped up that there’s a tour stop not too far from me coming up in May.

I just finished reading the article in the New Yorker yesterday and figured I’d better hop on this show before I get shut out. It’s at a venue I had never heard of before and I always love checking out new (to me) places and doing what I can to support these smaller halls and clubs. I much prefer going to see bands in small places especially if they aren’t in the expected cities. Not all of us live in New York and while I’m always willing to travel, I can’t do that for every show I’d like to see.

I put my husband on notice that there are actually a lot of shows coming up that I’d like to see. There’s one day in May that has three shows, in three different cities (none of which are near me), and I just can’t decide which one I should try to go to. The venue is probably going to be the deciding factor on that one. These things matter! Take heart, small venues in small cities, I love you!



Billy Bragg – Sexuality

The headlines have been giving me headaches and making me angry, depressed, and scared. Sometimes I feel fired up and come out swinging, other times I am just overwhelmed by it all.

Today seemed like a good day to spin this 24-year-old (yet still eerily topical!) Billy Bragg song and watch Kirsty MacColl throw a pie in a stodgy old lawmaker’s face.


Fake Plastic Trees

Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees

The Bends was released 20 years ago today, so the music press tells me. I was pretty busy at work today and didn’t really pay any attention to the mentions about it that I saw go by, but as I was flipping through Twitter I saw an article where 33 musicians listed their favorite Radiohead songs. The part of the article that made the biggest impression on me was how all of these people talked about remembering this or that song from high school. Ooph. That made me feel old.

I feel the need to point out that the Radiohead band members are basically about my age, and they weren’t even called Radiohead until 1991, by which time I was living in DC and working at the Smithsonian. Not in high school. By the time their first album was out and “Creep” was big, I was not interested. For one thing, just as a matter of principal, I was wary of bands that got a lot of attention. I had just been through what one might characterize as a messy break up with a band because of my inability to handle just that. I was not going to let it happen so soon again. If Radiohead were that great, I was not going to fall for them. In fact, I was going to avoid them at all costs and I would maintain a willful ignorance about them for nearly 15 years. And for another thing, I was trying to carefully step away from the musical edge that I often found myself staring down; dark, introspective, angry, hurting or hurtful songs were dangerous for me. Where I’d been drawn to them for years, lived through them, took refuge in knowing I wasn’t alone because of them, I suddenly couldn’t handle it anymore. I didn’t listen to those kind of songs and feel comforted anymore, I felt like my bones were exposed. Everything hurt. What I did know about Radiohead was enough to tell me that I should not go near there.

Fast forward to 2007. I had just turned 40, I had two little kids and a job that was getting worse by the day. I was in a very static place and I’d packed away so much of what I had previously felt made me, me. I hadn’t even allowed myself to think about things like that because it seemed too risky to open all of that up. But then In Rainbows was released and I heard a song or two in my travels. Something clicked. “Bodysnatchers” felt like it was written for me. I downloaded it and would practically blow out my car’s speakers I played it so loud. I needed to feel it physically. And “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” made me dizzy with its perfection.  I adore everything about that song. I love that you can hear their fingers sliding across the guitar strings, I love that you can hear Thom Yorke’s frantic intake of breath, I love the quiet beginning and the roaring end. And the lyrics, whatever may have been the intention, made me think of an earlier me. The heady, swirling, sweaty, anonymity of a dark, packed club, yet the lights picking up something here, something there, possibilities and impossibilities colliding, getting lost between the notes, dancing. Those two songs convinced me to buy the whole album and from there I was hooked.

Over the next couple of years I acquired the rest of their back catalog and confirmed for myself that I was probably right to have kept them at arm’s length earlier because they had a powerful pull. By the time I got to Radiohead I had learned how to step back if I felt like I might get pulled under. I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I owe them a lot for showing me it could be ok, better than just ok, to open the door to those murky waters again.



Mark Ronson – Daffodils (featuring Kevin Parker of Tame Impala)

Happy Daylight Saving Time! Do you realize that it was still light out at 7 p.m. this evening?! There may still be feet of snow all around but I will now be able to arrive home after work in daylight which is huge. Such a difference!

But about those feet of snow, even if we had sun and warm temperatures for the rest of March, it will still be quite some time before it will look anything like spring. Before the blizzard back at the end of January, I had spied snowdrops (those little white flowers) in my neighbors yard. Now you have to look up for the faintest hint of life.

I have to credit my mother with pointing out that in these northern latitudes, when snow is covering the ground sometimes well into April, your best bet is to look for the “fat buds” on the trees. It’s easier to notice if you’re on the highway and can see a large expanse of tree tops. Starting about now, you can begin to notice a faint pink haze around the bare branches. You don’t really see it so much one tree at a time. When she first mentioned this to me I couldn’t see it and just complained that a faint pink haze didn’t hold a candle to the soft green fuzz of baby leaves that I was used to in the mid-Atlantic states. Now I can see it. Also, I don’t think my mom realized that most people are talking about something else when they talk about fat buds but I’m not going to spoil it for her.

I’d still rather have the bare ground and little flower shoots poking up through the ground, but I am thrilled with the extra hour of sunlight and I just bought some daffodils at the grocery store to tide me over for a little while.

I heard this song for the first time last week and thought the timing was great. The video quality isn’t great and the aspect ratio is off but I’m using this one anyway because, Soul Train.


Natural Thing

Poi Dog Pondering – Natural Thing

This past weekend I was down in New York for a pair of Poi Dog Pondering shows at the City Winery. I’d never been there before but I knew that the floor plan is pretty tightly packed tables and chairs. This sounds great for quiet, intimate performers, less of an ideal fit for a band that can swell up to a dozen musicians and usually has everyone dancing.

It had been so long since they’d had a concert near us that I was a little worried the first night. What if it wasn’t as great as it used to be? If this was my last chance, would it be the kind of show I’d be happy to have as my last memory of them live? I mean, we’re all getting older, you know? The last time they were on the east coast (six years ago) they did an acoustic five-piece show and played in some unlikely places so I figured that was probably more the model we would get. I am happy to report that they were seven people strong, just about all of my favorite band members were there, and they brought along all the necessary instruments to rock the house.

We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of the setlist since they’re working on a new album but it’s not out yet. They started out with some of their oldest songs which are more conducive to that seated environment. We were right up front, as is our preference whenever possible (when you’re short, this is pretty important), and you really couldn’t move your chair at all. The pace picked up with each song and I was dying to get up and dance . But when the band got to this song, and the line, “everybody stand up!” I felt like they were issuing a call to action. I couldn’t sit still any longer. I freed my chair from the next person’s chair leg and joined the growing crowd of people dancing in the aisle. Ah, much better.

The second night we were packed in tight again but this time I had my dance spot staked out ahead of time. I found out later that after Friday’s show, the wait staff were told on Saturday to make sure not to get in the way of people who were dancing. Pretty cool stance for the venue to take, considering we were dancing in the only area where they could move around carrying bottles and glasses of wine.

On Saturday I brought my sister along with me. The woman sitting to my sister’s left introduced herself and said she came from an extended family of Poi fans and they’d all flown in from across the country for this show. She proceeded to tell us that her brother had passed away about two years ago and they had hired Frank (Orrall, leader of the band) to come and play on their deck as a kind of memorial service. She introduced us to her husband, then her brother who’d come from Los Angeles, a sister up from Georgia, another sister from I don’t remember where, her parents were a few tables over and her brother’s widow was with them. She’d come down from upstate New York. Aside from Frank playing on their deck, this was her first real Poi show.

I have to say, I got choked up about this whole scene before the show even began. There are several songs that Frank has written that address death and dying, but always in a positive light somehow. It didn’t surprise me that they had asked Frank to come and play for them; my funeral playlist starts with a Poi song too. But it’s more than that. He has this magnetic quality, this positive energy that creates the kind of devotion that brings people in from all over for a Poi show. That keeps us coming back two or three nights in a row, even after six or seven year absences. It’s not readily captured in video or audio because it’s missing the interaction with the other band members and the audience. In real life however, on several occasions, I’ve watched people at their first Poi show just fall under the spell that’s been cast in the room. It isn’t like you’re blown away, it’s more like you’re lifted up. You feel lighter.


L-R, Ron Hall, Frank Orrall, John Nelson, Susan Voelz.

One of the woman’s party said Frank knew they were all there. Shortly after that the band came on stage and Frank said, “This is for our brother, Jamie,” the woman’s brother, and they played that same song that leads off my funeral playlist. It’s a lovely, quiet instrumental song and, this family, I really couldn’t look at them or I was going to lose it.

The setlist varied, though they started off in a similar older to newer, slower to faster song progression. This time I didn’t wait as long to move to my dance spot. More people were already up dancing than the previous night. The woman we’d been talking to came over and joined me. Then my sister and her sisters. At one point my sister asked to borrow my phone to take a picture, not of the band but of the audience up dancing. She said she’d been to the City Winery a dozen times before and had never seen that many people up dancing. By the end of the night the whole place was up dancing. It was a first for the City Winery.

I couldn’t have been happier. I was happy for them that the shows were such a success. I was happy for the woman and her family who so clearly enjoyed the show and I know just the kind of cathartic release this was for them. I was happy that I’d been able to see one of my favorite live bands and dance and bask in that glow after so many years.

Last week I remembered that the Amazon music app on my phone has any CD I ever purchased through the site available to stream for free. I’d bought their album “7” when it came out in 2008 through Amazon so I fired up my phone-Bluetooth-radio set up in the car and hit play. As I drove home it started to snow, and I didn’t even care. Nothing was going to wipe that smile off my face.


Chapel Hill

Sonic Youth – Chapel Hill

My recent posts lamenting the weather prompted one friend to say she felt so sorry for me and wished I could live someplace warmer. That was my sole goal when I applied to colleges. My family was well-versed in small New England liberal arts colleges and Ivy League schools, but once you passed the Mason-Dixon line, it was the land of the unknown. After only two Maine winters, I was hell-bent on going someplace warm and I didn’t much care what programs the schools offered, I just wanted to be where it was warm.

My mother refused to pay the application fee for any California schools so I decided to just apply to all the big state schools in Virginia and North and South Carolina. Not Georgia, that seemed too far south (I know, I know, but I didn’t then). Off went my applications to UVA, William & Mary, UNC-Chapel Hill, and UofSC-Columbia. My mom thought this was a really bad plan and insisted that I apply to two schools in familiar territory that her youngest brother had attended; one in CT, the other in a Philadelphia suburb. My dream school was Chapel Hill, with William & Mary a close second.

What we didn’t know was that these schools were much harder to get into if you were an out-of-state resident. I had bombed my junior year of high school because I was pissed off about leaving New York and moving to Maine. With less than stellar grades and only decent SAT scores, I didn’t make a convincing case. Chapel Hill only accepted 15% of its students from out-of-state residents. The Virginia schools allowed as much as 30% but the competition was strong. Needless to say, I didn’t make it.

In the end I had to choose between South Carolina and the Philly ‘burbs. I really wasn’t excited about either one. I’d had my heart so set on Chapel Hill that everything else seemed like a disappointment. My mother reasoned that if I intended to transfer anyway, good grades from the school she knew would look better than good grades from a giant state school that no one knew much about. While that made sense, the deciding factor for me was something I’d read in a brochure than came in the fat envelope from South Carolina.

It was a little piece filled with testimonials from students and there was this one girl who said her favorite thing about UofSC was sharing the bathroom with 20 other girls. I’d hardly ever known a day when I’d had the bathroom to myself and I was quite certain that my 17 years of sharing the family bathroom with my five siblings and parents had made me immune to any possible charms of a group bathroom experience with 20 girls I didn’t know. Plus, if that was considered printable by the school, it stood to reason that other people also shared that girl’s view and I was going to be a real fish out of water. South Carolina was out, and the deposit was sent to my uncle’s alma mater.

I did try to transfer, but I was slightly better informed the second time around and of my original group of schools, I only tried for William & Mary, where I still didn’t get in. I continued to carry a torch for North Carolina, Chapel Hill especially, but I recognized that my chances were even worse as a transfer student and maybe caring about the programs and majors was a better reason for choosing a school than just its happening music scene and lack of a harsh winter.

Years later when I was living in DC, a good friend from high school was going to Duke for her master’s. I rented a car and drove down to spend a few days so I could finally see if it was the perfect place for me. I hung out in Durham, made my pilgrimage over to Chapel Hill, and wound up my visit by meeting with someone in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of Art. I was working in one of the Smithsonian museums at the time and we’d been in contact with them regarding some piece in an exhibit so I figured it was my foot in the door. The person I spoke to was very nice but said it was pretty rough to work in a publicly funded art museum in a state where Jesse Helms was your senator. Oh. Yeah. I remembered happily signing a friend’s absentee ballot when he was voting for Harvey Gantt against Jesse Helms only a couple of years earlier. Hmmm, that was something I hadn’t spent much time thinking about.

I briefly flirted with the idea of graduate school down south, falling hard for Savannah College of Art & Design’s master’s program in historic preservation, but I didn’t end up going that route. I’ll never say never but at this point I think it’s unrealistic to uproot the family and though I hate the winter here, I am usually pretty happy about the political climate at least.


Today is the Day

Yo La Tengo – Today is the Day

It was snowing as I drove to work this morning. Of course it was. I was driving in the snow, making do with my phone-streaming-Bluetooth combo which was playing some ok music but not exactly what I want, and suddenly I thought, that’s it. I give up. You win, winter, you win.

My eyes stung. A heaviness came over me. It’s like I can feel the weight of all the snow, dragging me down. It’s cumulative, you know? If it could just melt a little in between storms, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. If it could be even close to an above freezing temperature on the rare occasions when the sun does make an appearance. I’m not asking for a lot. Sure, I want the snow to be completely gone, but I’d settle for a day that’s 35°F and sunny.

I can’t go away. I can’t quit winter. I just have to live with it. Today is the day it got the better of me. You defeated me, winter. You made me cry. Are you happy? Is that what you wanted?

The Only Place

Best Coast – The Only Place

Dear New England Winter 2015,

Fuck You.


Seriously, I’ve had it. I never truly considered LA as a place I could ever live for all the stereotypical reasons. I’ll admit to being an east coast snob. But I watch this video and…I just want to cry.

Blizzard warning in effect, snowplow scraping by; I want to live in LA and be a music supervisor and own nothing heavier than a jeans jacket. Sigh.

Next stop, Hawaii.


San Francisco Days

Chris Isaak – San Francisco Days

I was awakened at five something this morning by the sound of the snowplow going by. Again. It’s hard to sleep through, what with the loud scraping noise followed by that beep! beep! beep! of the truck backing up and then – thunk! – as the plow hits the ground again and more scraping as it turns the corner.

My mother just returned from a week-long visit to San Francisco to see my two sisters who live out there. My oldest sister moved first and slowly lured several other friends and family out to the city by the bay. At the time she lived in a house with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, when there wasn’t any fog. You’d wake up in the morning and go out to the living room and boom! It was easy to see how so many people decided to make the move. All the more so if you’d left behind winter grossness and still had an uncertain number of weeks more of it waiting for you upon your return.

When I was a young teenager, my dad lived in southern California for a couple of years. One summer trip we made a tour of California and saw San Francisco but trips with your parents (my dad, at this time in his life especially) when you’re that age are never your idea of fun. So I consider the first time I really saw the city to be a trip I made in February one year in my twenties.

I’d been living in Maine, losing my mind from all the snow. I tried the power of suggestion* and bought travel magazines and books about Caribbean islands, poured myself steaming hot baths and imagined I was in the tropics. It wasn’t working. My sister a year older than me, who had only a year or two earlier been enticed to leave Maine for San Francisco after experiencing the wow factor of our oldest sister’s place, convinced me I needed a vacation. I’d come to San Francisco for a few days then the two of us would go to Hawaii for five days, after all, San Francisco wasn’t vacation for her, and I’d get my tropical island dream.

My oldest sister picked me up at the airport. It was February. She had one of those little Jeep-like cars with open sides and the air was warm and flowers dotted the hillsides. “Wow,” I said, “it’s like spring.” My sister replied, “It’s not like spring, it is spring.” Suddenly the idea of moving to San Francisco didn’t sound so far-fetched after all.

I didn’t do it, obviously, but I have been out there a couple more times. Once in June for a wedding, when a busy schedule kept me from really doing anything on my own, and then another time in 2007 when I went for a conference. I’d offered to stay with my sisters to make it more affordable for work to cover the trip. My sisters pulled out all the stops again but by then I had two kids and moving that far away wasn’t in the cards. I enjoyed every last minute of being somewhere warm with green and flowering things and on dark mornings when I hear that snowplow go by, I am tempted by the idea all over again.

* It was also somewhere around this time that I went through a Chris Isaak phase. All his songs sound like warm weather. Just saying.


Dead Sound

The Raveonettes – Dead Sound

I’m afraid the tape deck in my car is dead.

At first I chalked it up to the cold weather, after all, I don’t function well in below freezing temperatures either. It was working fine and then suddenly not at all. However it didn’t make a difference if the car was warm or the tapes were warm, if they were in the middle or ready to play a full side. I would put the tape in and it would play for a few seconds then auto-reverse to the other side, then flip back, and after flipping back and forth a few times, it would spit the tape out.

I have one of those cassette adapter things that you stick in the tape deck and then plug into the headphone jack of an iPod or your phone. When I didn’t have a tape I wanted to listen to and the radio wasn’t interesting, I’d connect my iPod. Like so many of my things, my iPod isn’t the latest and greatest. It was a replacement Apple sent me for my first iPod (a 4GB Nano, the tall skinny ones) which had some kind of battery issue. I never had a problem with it but they were offering to replace it for free so I took them up on it. I got a newer Nano, 8GB this time, the little square one with a clip. No Bluetooth, no connecting to WiFi. It was good enough for the gym or the occasional plane or train ride though.

When I had new music I wanted to hear in the car, I’d download it to the iPod and then I could pop in the adapter and listen to it. I could listen to playlists that I’d made for friends or family and burned to CDs so I could test them out in my last car (that had a CD player, no tape deck). It was sort of like having the best of all car stereo options, even if it took a little juggling to make it work. There was definitely some primitive family charm about it too.

For a couple of days this past week I didn’t drive my car because of the various snow storms causing school cancellations. When I got in today, I crossed my fingers and tried a regular cassette (a full album purchased new back in the day). It sucked it in and I could see it wasn’t lying flat like it ought to be. Nothing I tried worked. I tried the cassette adapter, which it spat out immediately. I didn’t dare to try one of my homemade tapes because I didn’t want to risk it getting stuck in there forever or eaten. I gave up and listened to the radio. I pouted.

This leaves me with the regular radio and the various music and radio apps on my phone. I have a Bluetooth FM transmitter so I can stream stuff through the car radio. It works pretty well but I don’t keep my music on my phone and my iPod doesn’t have Bluetooth. If you have any radio stations you like, pass that info along and I’ll look for them in one of those apps.

Sigh. People have long asked me how I can stand my long commute and do I listen to audiobooks or something to pass the time. I have only really minded the drive when traffic or weather makes it take much longer than usual or if I have to be at work or home by a certain time and there’s nothing I can do to shave any time off of it. Usually, I have used that time as my indulgent blast the tunes and sing along as loudly as I want to time.

I can limp along with the phone and the Bluetooth set up but if I want to get to a place where I can really listen to what I want in the car, I’m going to need to upgrade something. Either I’ll have to upgrade my Rdio subscription (I currently pay for the web only version – it assuages my guilt of using a streaming service and I don’t have to hear ads when I listen at work) to include mobile or upgrade the stereo. I don’t think you can get a new stereo with a tape deck these days.

It also means Tape Deck Tuesday is on hiatus until I can figure this out. I haven’t completely given up hope of it fixing itself or me tinkering with it in my usual way, but neither of those things is going to happen when there’s all this snow everywhere. I have really enjoyed those little strolls down memory lane and I’ll miss the fun I had sharing the back story of some of these treasures. Fingers crossed that it’s just a temporary problem.