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Golden Thing

Throwing Muses – Golden Thing

Squeaking it in under the wire for Tape Deck Tuesday, today’s tape was another one-album-on-each-side tape. Recorded in March of 1991, side A was The Real Ramona by Throwing Muses and side B was Gold Mother by James.

I first heard Throwing Muses back in college from my friend who loved 4AD bands. She was from Rhode Island so they were like home town heroes to her. I’ll admit, I didn’t love them right away, but I really liked that they were different and some of Kristin Hersh’s lyrics struck a chord with me from the very beginning. I wound up listening to their first album quite a bit because of that friend and eventually I bought the Chains Changed EP, The Fat Skier (pretty cool, 45rpm on one side and 33 1/3 on the other), and House Tornado. I’m pretty sure I have the CD of Hunkpapa in a box someplace too.

This tape is the only copy I have of The Real Ramona though and consequently, it had been a really long time since I’d listened to it. I’d forgotten how good it was. Part of the reason I’m posting this so late is because I had a hard time deciding what song to pick. Counting Backwards and Not Too Soon were the “big hits” but I like a lot of the other songs better. I think I’ll be keeping this tape in the car with me for a while.

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Living in Colour

About a week ago, I was absent-mindedly surfing around late one night and got to thinking about my friend Rebecca. We were great friends when we were both living in DC but then we’d both moved on to other places and other things. I’d kept in touch with her sporadically but our paths hadn’t crossed in quite a while.

The last place I’d known her to be wasn’t really all that far away from me and I was thinking that I should get in touch and see if she had time to meet up some weekend afternoon this fall. When I didn’t find her listed among the faculty members of the university I figured she might be on leave or maybe she had taken a position at a different school and did a search for her name.

The search results puzzled me for a second. It was her, but why was it written in the past tense? I clicked into one, then another, and felt the blood rush from my head. These were obituaries. I did another search. Same results. How was this possible?

I must have read those tributes to her a dozen times each, looking for some indication that this wasn’t real. I couldn’t believe it. I was just going to see if she wanted to meet for coffee and now I was reading that she died in July from pancreatic cancer. She was three years younger than me. I swore it hadn’t been that long since I’d last done a search for her and seen her faculty profile and thought, wow, great for her! I’ll have to send her a note and catch up!

Only I never did send that note. I thought about it but then got busy, as you do, with work, the kids, etc. She’d pursued her PhD and followed her passion and was teaching at a great university. My life, married with two kids, living in a small town, seemed so ordinary compared to what I imagined hers was like. I easily talked myself out of contacting her because I thought, she’ll be busy, she has her academic friends and probably won’t have time.

When I read the obituaries, they all told about her contributions in her field and how talented she was and what a gifted teacher and how much students loved her classes. They were wonderful, beautiful portraits of my friend, and while I certainly recognized her qualities and traits, they all more or less began from the point when our paths diverged.

I’ve spent the days since learning of her death thinking about her and how much I admired her perseverance and passion. There are only a handful of people in my life about whom I can say they did what they always set out to do and Rebecca was one of those people.

Rebecca (left) and me in 1993?

Rebecca (left) and me in 1993(?)

I met Rebecca back in the early 90s when she came to DC after graduating college and had an internship at the museum where I worked. The internships were all unpaid so usually our interns either had some scholarship to support themselves or parents who funded their way. But Rebecca was supporting herself so she had taken a job working at the gift shop in the National Air and Space Museum. Have you ever been there? Let me tell you, it takes real dedication to your ideals to spend eight hours a day selling freeze-dried ice cream pouches and pens with the space shuttle floating back and forth to teeming hordes of kids and worn-out parents, so that you can have the opportunity to spend your off days cataloging slides with me in a photographic archive two floors underground.

Rebecca had a great laugh and a beautiful smile. I was always impressed with how well put together she looked. Even though she was just as cash-strapped as I was (more so maybe) she looked much more professional and stylish then I ever will (the picture is proof of this). She was the best whisperer I have ever met. You could be sitting three feet away from her and have no clue that she was carrying on a phone conversation but if you were the person on the other end of the phone, you had no trouble understanding her. Once she moved on to another opportunity at the National Gallery of Art, I didn’t see her as often but we got together outside of work frequently. We had orphans’ Thanksgivings together and we’d meet up for lunch or go grab drinks in the evening. We hung around together often enough that eventually my roommate and one of her roommates started dating.

I remember when she took her first trip to Italy and how excited she was to finally see things she’d only been able to read about. I remember how excited she was for me when I quit my job to go to Europe. A lot of people thought it was a foolish idea but she understood why I felt I had to do it. I went to visit her when she moved on to graduate school at Williams and was struck again by her dedication to her goals. Williams seemed so remote to me but she saw great opportunities and took advantage of everything the program had to offer. But mostly I’ve been thinking about what a great friend she was. I think about her warmth and her support and trust. Once the miles and the months separated us and I saw her less often, we were always able to pick right back up where we left off when we would get together or talk on the phone.

There is never enough time in life for all of the things we want to do. I am so deeply saddened that Rebecca is gone already and that I squandered the chance to see her more often. But as sad as I feel, thinking about her leaves me with a smile on my face. My only consolation, in reading those obituaries, is to know that she really did live her life in color, vibrant color, and that she shared that passion with so many other people. That is how I am going to remember her and I will try to honor her by carrying her spirit of fun and warmth with me and sharing that with others.

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So Sad About Us

Back in the beginning of the summer when we went up to visit my mother and I found those boxes full of old letters, I came across the letter that came with the tape I listened to today for Tape Deck Tuesday. I’d lost this tape at one point. I hadn’t realized it had fallen down below the cover that went over the spare tire in my first car. I sold that car when I left Maine to go to grad school in Wales and most of my stuff was at my mother’s house in storage so I just assumed the tape was there. It was a few years later when the guy I’d sold the car to had a flat tire and found three tapes hanging out there in the compartment with the spare. He dropped them off at my mother’s office and the next time I visited my mother, I reclaimed them.

The tape itself is like a time capsule but finding the letter is even better. Who could have predicted that the friend who made the tape for me would tell me a story in this letter about missing the sold out Breeders show and then continuing on to another classmates house which happened to be in the town where I now live. He describes meeting up with this friend who worked at a movie theater nearby and got them in to see Singles for free. I know exactly where this is, though 22 years ago, when he wrote it down, I had no idea. I was living in DC at the time and he was finishing up his senior year of college.

I also would not have remembered that the tape was a belated birthday present. He included a playlist from the college radio station where he was one of the music directors. It was for the week that began on September 20, 1992 and contains many of the albums the songs on this tape came from. He had taped some cut out words, ransom note style, to serve as the title of the tape and for both sides. I had a hard time deciding on a single video so while I was cycling through the videos, I decided to just make a playlist. I couldn’t find two of the songs and one or two are either different versions but without further ado I present:

Not as Fattening as Tuna Tacos

Brach’s Perkies Circus Peanuts (Side A)
PJ Harvey – Dress
Buffalo Tom – Velvet Roof
Tom Waits – Cold Cold Ground
Billy Bragg – She’s Got a New Spell (Peel Sessions)
Mark Eitzel – Western Sky
The Breeders – So Sad About Us
Blake Babies – Temptation Eyes
Action Swingers – Watch Out
Seam – Look Back in Anger
Yo La Tengo – Upside Down
Juliana Hatfield – I See You
Superchunk – Slack Motherfucker
John Zorn – Phonecall
The Stairs – Weed Bus
Seaweed – Squint
Drop Nineteens – My Aquarium
Spiritualized – 200 Bars

BonTon Electric Orange-Colored Cheese Popcorn (Side B)
Miracle Legion – Little Blue Light
3Ds – Dreams of Herge
Revolver – Since Yesterday
Polvo – Channel Changer
Shrimp Boat – River of Wine
Big Star – Nightime
The Golden Palominos – Alive & Living Now
Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me
Pale Saints – Kinky Love
Madder Rose – Baby Gets High
Verve – All in the Mind
Sonic Youth – Nic Fit
The Vaselines – Son of a Gun
The Leatherwoods – Happy Ain’t Comin’ Home

It was a tough choice but I decided to go with the Breeders track for the connection with the letter. I hope you take the time to check out the playlist, especially if you’re not familiar with any of the songs.

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Losing My Edge

LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge

Friday was my birthday. It was a beautiful day outside and I didn’t have to think about dinner which is a present in and of itself. I don’t like making a big deal of my birthday anyway, especially when it’s not a milestone number.

Befitting a low-key birthday, we watched the last two episodes of the series we’ve been binge-watching on Netflix. That might not have been the best idea. It had an open ending and I found myself awake at some dark hour wondering what would have happened next? It took me at least an hour to fall asleep again. My husband said he’d had weird dreams all night that were influenced by the show.

The combination of marking another year and finishing a tv show, yes, even something as trivial as a tv show, left me feeling pensive. What’s next? What do I do now? It isn’t that I need a new show to watch (though, suggestions are welcome*) but rather, that unanswered question at the end of the series got me thinking about the static nature of my life here at 47.

My kids are now 9 and 13 and I have more wiggle room at home because they’re more independent. But this treading water I’ve been doing, the steady job, the sensible shoes, the shows I didn’t see because it was an hour away on a school night, has meant I’ve drifted a little with the current. I haven’t looked up to see where I should be going. I have a long way to go still and I probably ought to start thinking about how to get to someplace that isn’t here. Where and what that is and how I can get there are questions I don’t have the answers for but the world is not waiting for me to figure it out. “The kids are coming up from behind.”

I’m losing my edge
But I was there

* We don’t have regular tv service, just a Roku box with Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. I hardly ever watch tv since we stopped getting cable but now and then, having something to watch that isn’t a full-length movie really hits the spot.

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Boogie Oogie Oogie

A Taste of Honey – Boogie Oogie Oogie

Seeing as how my last post was in reference to my first child turning thirteen, I decided that for Tape Deck Tuesday I would listen to the pre-natal exercise tape I have from a class I took when I was pregnant with her.

It’s pretty common for expectant first-time parents to do everything they can to make sure their baby will be healthy and that they’re ready for his or her arrival. We were fairly typical in taking a childbirth class, which I think was useful even if it only served to mentally check a box, rather than actually teach us something. I also took a couple of other classes offered through the hospital where our daughter was born, including a pre-natal exercise class.

I’ve never been one to go in for group exercise but I recognized that I probably wasn’t going to do any exercise on my own and I was nervous that if I tried, I would do something I shouldn’t. Better to have someone who knows a thing or two tell me what some good exercises would be and make sure I did them correctly.

The class was held in a physical therapy room in a medical office building next door to the hospital and was led by one of the physical therapists. I think it met twice a week but I can’t really remember now. There were usually two or three other women besides me and the instructor. We did work up a sweat but partly just because we were moving around an extra 10-25 pounds, depending upon how far along we were. Plenty of time was allotted for switching to exercises done on the floor. Here we go.

Side A
Nat King Cole – Love
The Lovin’ Spoonful – Do You Believe in Magic
There She Goes – The La’s
Never Let You Go – Jakaranda
This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) – Natalie Cole
Dream Come True – Ta-Gana
Let’s Get Together – Nobody’s Angel
Boogie Oogie Oogie – A Taste of Honey
some disco hit Shazam didn’t know and I couldn’t remember enough of to successfully Google it

Side B
Tom Petty – Time to Move On
Billy Joel – You’re Only Human (Second Wind)
Bob Marley & the Wailers – Easy Skanking
Grateful Dead – Truckin’
Grateful Dead – Sugar Magnolia

Side A was the get your heart rate moving side and Side B was the cool down, leg lifts side. I remember we walked back and forth at a brisk pace during the La’s song, with maybe a “grapevine” thrown in for good measure. And in trying to identify some of the songs on Side A, I can tell now that the instructor must have had the soundtrack from the Lindsey Lohan version of the Parent Trap. She was probably about 7-10 years older than me and she drove a Volvo station wagon with a Grateful Dead bumper sticker. Her tape reminded me a little of the kind of weirdly all over the place mixes that my oldest sister (probably about the same age) used to make.

After my daughter was born, I attended the post-natal exercise class, which overlapped a little with the pre-natal exercise class. The daycare we had our daughter in was just around the corner so it was pretty convenient and she added a lot of ab exercises for the new moms to try and get back to your pre-baby shape. Eventually the physical therapist found a new job that meant she wasn’t going to be able to lead the class anymore and the hospital decided not to keep offering it. I happened to be the only person at the last session once the pregnant moms left so she gave the tape to me, along with one of those stretchy resistance bands, so I could do the whole routine myself at home. I actually did do it a few times but then I felt like I could also just choose my own tunes and dance around the house and get as good a work out.

That said, I don’t think I ever knew that this song featured two women tearing it up on the guitar and bass. Nice work! Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Takes you back, doesn’t it?

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Thirteen

Big Star – Thirteen

Tomorrow my daughter turns thirteen. Thirteen! An actual teenager. My mother has long maintained that thirteen is the pits of life. She raised six of us so I think she speaks from a position of authority.

I know what it is. You’re no longer a child, not even a kid, but you’re still too young to do things the older teenagers do. There’s a whole world out there that’s just starting to be revealed to you, and it’s exciting and intimidating at the same time. You want in, but it’s a little scary.

I can’t say that I enjoyed thirteen much myself. I remember on my thirteenth birthday, my older sister and her best friend decided something ought to be done to welcome me to teenager-hood so they took me out to the street corner and pelted me with water balloons. That sort of sums up thirteen to me. Sure, I was hanging with the older teenagers, but I was most definitely not one of them. More like the butt of their jokes.

I wish I could spare my daughter the pain, the fear, the uncertainty, the second-guessing, but that would come at the expense of her experiencing the joy, the exhilaration, the burgeoning confidence of figuring out who you are and what your place is in this new world.

In my book, there is no better manifestation of this than Big Star’s Thirteen. It’s all there: the hope, the beginning of independence, a crush, a little bravado, a sweetness, a smile, and for me, always, a few tears.

Who knows what this year will bring. I have a feeling that at least I will be listening to this song on a pretty regular rotation, maybe I’ll even be able to turn her on to it too.

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Returning to the Fold

The Thermals – Returning to the Fold

*blows dust off keyboard* Hello there, patient readers. I’m at home recovering from surgery. Fun times! August was a blur of either days off with my kids during their summer vacations or frantic work days trying to get done all the work I needed to before having my gallbladder removed. Each day gets a little better but having never had any surgery before, I underestimated what having a piece of your body cut out would do to you.

I won’t go into any gory details but I’ll just say that this is one part of getting older that no one told me about. Yet it’s funny how once you tell people, “I have to have my gallbladder out” it seems like every fifth person has had theirs out too. The world is full of surgical secrets that people only reveal once you break the code of silence.

School has started back up and you’d think that would mean I could rest up but for whatever weird twist of climate fate, now is when we are finally having the hot, sticky summer weather we should have had in August. I’ve also discovered that my neighborhood is far from quiet during the day. It’s a constant flow of trucks making deliveries, lawn machines buzzing, home improvements out of sight but not out of ear shot. Who knew?

Hopefully I’ll be back in the groove here soon. I’m calling the last week a loss and if you posted something you really thought I’d like, please do point it out, but for the most part I’ve missed a lot and that’s just kind of my tough luck.

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What’s Going On

When the world starts getting crazy, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say when I start feeling like I just can’t handle this crazy world (’cause it’s not like this level of shit isn’t happening all the time), I turn to music.

As I’ve been watching events unfold this week, I just kept thinking to myself, what’s going on? I mean, what the fuck is going on? How is this 2014? How is this the US in 2014? And this song kept starting up in my head. Is it the Vietnam War or is it Ferguson, MO? Does it matter? And how sad is it that a song written over 40 years ago is still so relevant, so needed?

I hesitated to write this though because I felt like, who really needs me commenting about this. My one small voice doesn’t count for much. But my online friends were writing about looking for good things in trying times and doing what we can to make things more positive, and about acknowledging our privilege and in doing so, maybe at the very least helping to amplify the stark differences in our worlds.

Music is always there for me to express what I can’t manage to say on my own. It brings people together and finds common ground. I can’t stand the divisiveness that’s so present today. I’m confounded by the amount of hate I see. It’s belittling and stupid for me to say, hey everyone, chill out and listen to this song.

At the same time, because music does this to me, because it has the power to change me, to educate and inspire, I am going to say, hey everyone, here’s a song I’ve been listening to lately. I’ve been crying and trying to understand how the world can be so unfair. I’ve been unable to go to sleep watching Twitter for the word on the streets. I’m listening to these lyrics, I’m listening to your voices, and I’m trying to put a little love out there to chip away at all the hate.

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Ya, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on

Thanks, Marvin.

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All Together Now

The Farm – All Together Now

It’s been a while since I posted a Tape Deck Tuesday. I was off for a while, then I was driving a different car, summer is like that. I hope you all are getting away from the computer and out of your regular routine a little too.

Today I grabbed Follow Our Trax: Volume Six. I have no idea where I got this from. It says “Promotion Only. Not for Sale” and it dates from 1991 so I’m guessing I got it from a friend who was a couple of years younger than me and getting these type of things in at a college radio station. One of those, hey check out these bands/artists we are trying to promote!, deals. It has this super long insert that unfolds several times and is printed on both sides with all kinds of positive marketing language (in a loopy scripted font) about the bands on the tape. It’s the sort of thing that makes you think about the people tasked with writing the copy. There’s a thankless job. I like to think they were trying to amuse themselves and see how close they could cut it to satire while still making the higher ups happy. Otherwise I’m not sure how you wind up with things like:

traxFrom the labs of Muzic Research in Germany to your audio system comes one of the most innovative forces in the realm of technologically driven song writing. The two common threads of all BiGod 20 tracks are strong lyrics and hard beats. “Carpe Diem” is the second single from their upcoming CD Steelworks. Given the amount of fans BiGod 20 gained on modern rock radio with “The Bog,” this single should establish them as the band ready for the future.

Uh, sure. It’s like trying to come up with something original to say when you’re on your 20th thank-you card after a baby shower. What can I say about this hooded ducky towel? It’s such a cheery yellow!

Anyway, here’s the line up.
Side A
Morrissey – Sing Your Life
Violent Femmes – American Music
The Mighty Lemon Drops – Unkind
Stress – Flowers In The Rain
The Farm – All Together Now
Bigod 20 – Carpe Diem
Merlin – The Approach
Bomb The Bass – Understand This
Betty Boo – Hey DJ / I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing)

Side B
Lush – Etheriel
Ride – In A Different Place
Chris Isaak – Don’t Make Me Dream About You
John Wesley Harding – The People’s Drug
Tanita Tikaram – Only The Ones We Love
BoDeans – Paradise
House Of Freaks – Rockin’ Chair
Molly & The Heymakers – Walking To Iran

That last track is pretty cringe-worthy. If I hadn’t been stuck in traffic and managed to listen to both sides on the way to work, I have to be honest, I wouldn’t have finished it off for the ride home. This compilation is a strange one and comes off as really dated. I don’t suppose that’s something you think about when you put one of these things out, as a record company, these are the latest hits (you hope). I just don’t think it does any of these songs any favors. I’m surprised I still have it.

Since this week marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, The Farm track seemed like an appropriate choice. Sadly, I don’t think there’s much of an All Together Now spirit these days.

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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.

Well, this is a bummer. There was this gorgeous live version from 1984 from the Music Vault but they changed the settings on their YouTube video to private so I’ve had to revert to the studio version. I’d seen that show on YouTube on some other channel before but the quality was crappy. The Music Vault show though, is beautiful. The quality is amazing. Do yourself a favor and check it out on their site.