New Order – Shellshock

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks, big projects at work that kept me late, family visiting at the end of the summer, and finally, the start of the school year.

Sometime in there I was also added to the Facebook group for the 30th reunion for the high school class that I attended up through 10th grade. Even though we moved away for my last two years of high school, I had spent all of my earlier school years with those same kids and had a number of friends that I’d reconnected with on Facebook. People started posting old pictures from high school to the group. I even spotted myself in the class picture they posted as the cover photo for the group. It’s funny because I never would have remembered the event but then when I saw the picture, it came back to me.

With all of these images from 30 years ago fresh in my mind, my daughter started high school. I was definitely more nervous about it all than she was. I tried to hide that but I’m not really sure how successful I was. She has had a good start and seems to have adjusted pretty well. I, on the other hand…

First of all, the school bus goes past our house at a completely ridiculous hour so for years I had told my daughter I would drive her so she didn’t have to wake up before 6 a.m. Instead we both wake up by 6:15 and then sleepily shuffle through the bare minimum to get ourselves out the door by 7. As we sit in the drop off line, I watch all the teenagers pile out of cars and into the school. Even in my pre-coffee state I can see history repeating itself.

Last night was the Open House. There was precious little information about what that entailed but I knew we were supposed to get our child’s schedule and then follow through their classes for brief introductions from the teachers. Where to go inside the building, how long it would last, where all the classrooms are, were all things they just expected you to know. There weren’t any special signs just for the night to help out the freshman parents. The announcements on the PA were barely audible, the building has a confusing layout so the main entrance on ground level is actually considered the second floor. Not that it says that anywhere.

I wandered through the hallways alone, feeling very small and totally lost. I saw some people I knew but nearly all of them were breezing through the place like old pros and they seemed not to recognize me from elementary school events three years ago. I’m sure it’s partly a question of logistics that they have us all follow our kids’ schedules but I also think they are trying to give you an idea of what your kid’s day actually looks like. French class in this hall then race over to that wing for math, all the way to the far corner for gym class (led by Mr. Clean’s twin brother), up to the third floor for history.

It was just as awful as I remembered high school being 30 years ago. The walls of lockers, the tight staircases, the buzzing bell telling you to change classes, the smell of an old, sweaty gym, the cliques (yes, even as parents) you aren’t part of clustering in the hallways; all of it unchanged. I was walking around growing increasingly haunted by flashbacks. This was not helped by the presence of cheerleaders in high ponytails with heaps of baby blue sparkly eye shadow. I really don’t think it was the school’s intention to make my palm’s sweat but I’ll give them extra credit for recreating that authentic experience for me.

I can’t remember what I dreamed about last night but I woke up this morning with this song stuck in my head. When I went to find the video this morning, I realized there was a shorter edit of this song in the John Hughes movie, Pretty in Pink. The subconscious works in mysterious ways.


Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas

Beach Slang – Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas

Thanks to a random retweet I caught today, I have been checking out Beach Slang. I love the title of their forthcoming album, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us. Pretty great.

The other day This Is My Jam, a music site I took part in, announced that it would be closing up shop. I first got the word from a Facebook post that a friend made, a friend I know from another music site that folded a year or two earlier (sniff! R.I.P. And I found that site through a friend I’d made on another music site that’s still in existence but a shell of its former self.

A lot of my friends aren’t really into music. I have a hard time understanding how they can have such a passive relationship with music and they have a hard time understanding why I get so excited about it. We have other things in common and they’re nice people that I like a lot. But there’s something about people who get the same high from music that I do. It’s how it makes us feel, or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it’s how the music expresses what we feel. The thing is already there. Music just gives it shape. When words aren’t enough, that’s where music comes in and fills those holes.

The things I do to find people who feel like I do? I go to shows by myself, I hang out on music sites with unstable futures, I follow total strangers on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. I write about how my life has been influenced by music in hopes that other people who have that same passion will recognize me as coming from the same place and say hello.


South Philly

Cayetana – South Philly

This whole album (Nervous Like Me) is really hitting the spot for me lately.

It’s summer. I’ve waited all through one of the longest, most depressing winters in a long time to get here. I feel like I’m not appreciating it enough. Soon, much too soon, it will start to fade and what will I have to show for it?

I went for a walk at lunchtime the other day. If it’s not raining or too hot outside I try to get out of the climate controlled office so at least I can feel like I haven’t missed the entire summer. There was a group of kids from a day camp playing on a grassy field in the shade. Some of the older kids were playing touch football, another group had a Frisbee, then there were these four little girls facing each other sitting on the grass. They were playing the hand clapping game “Miss Mary Mack.” I was close enough to hear them as I passed by and not a word had changed. It has to be more than 100 years old.

Old and new. Cayetana is one of a bunch of new bands from Philadelphia, an old city (for the US) and an old favorite of mine. Check out the whole thing at Bandcamp.


Crystal Ball

Keane – Crystal Ball

I follow the blog One Week//One Band where a featured writer gets to spend a week going into as much detail as they want about their favorite band. It can be a lot to get through and I don’t always read all the entries but I appreciate the passion that people bring to the game.

This week the band is Keane, written by Mary Chang. Here’s a band that I was aware of but really didn’t know any of their work beyond the couple of songs that got radio airplay. I would lump them in with other bands from the UK of their vintage and not really pay much attention. But if you play the video, you’ll see that they are playing a big ass stadium show that is totally packed.

They are still a band I don’t know a lot about but I do know a little more than I used to and I’ve been kind of waiting to see what songs she would highlight. Today I read the entry about the song that has become the song I associate with Keane, Crystal Ball.

About six years ago, the woman who held the VP position that my department reported to, died after a relatively short but brutal battle with brain cancer. There was a memorial service held for her at the church where she and her husband had gotten married and it was standing room only with people from all different periods of her life in attendance.

The first person to speak was the headmistress of a school where the VP had worked for many years before she took the VP job. Second was the president of our company, lastly, one of her brothers-in-law. The headmistress painted a picture of a woman who was half the person I knew but half some other person I never met. Someone who threw great parties, loved music and especially dancing. Our president got up and talked about the person I knew. Then her brother-in-law got up and spoke about the person I never met. Again, talking about her love of music, that she did musical theater in college and more about her dancing. Really talked at some length, describing the way she danced and the joy you could see in her when she was dancing. About how she had turned them all on to the Cure during college and then in more recent years, the band Keane.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. There was nothing in her day-to-day office demeanor that would have clued me in about this aspect of her at all. I wasn’t really close to her but she was only 46 when she died, she had two young girls, maybe 11 and 12 years old at the time, and finding out this news about her liking the Cure and dancing up a storm at parties, I suddenly felt like, this could be me. The president played something on the organ during the service, maybe there had been some other music earlier, I don’t really remember. But when the formal part of the service was over, they played “Crystal Ball” as her husband and daughters and the rest of the family made their way down the aisle. The song sounded huge in the church and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It gave me goosebumps.

In the weeks that followed I spent a lot of time refining my funeral set list. I first started keeping a mental note of songs I would want to have played at a memorial service for me back in college but being in that church made me realize that I needed to get it into some kind of usable format. The VP had written down what she wanted the service to be like, which is how the Keane song wound up there. It dawned on me that no one in my family would know I had this list of songs and, coming from a large, Catholic family, if I didn’t leave some directions then it would never happen. Even worse, there would probably be some church service with prayers and hymns and it wouldn’t convey the person I am at all.

Despite not knowing any of those details about our VP before the service, now when I hear this song I can picture her spinning around and singing along, embarrassing her kids, loving life. That’s what I want people to take away from my funeral setlist too. The music I love is so much more than just nice background noise, it explains me. If you’re listening, and you’re wired this way too, you will understand. Because of this Keane song I found out too late that someone I knew was like me. Life can be short. Don’t wait. It’s hard to be open, really hard, and I don’t do it well in person. But through sharing songs on this blog I am able to reach out to like-minded people and say, this is me.


U.S. Blues

Grateful Dead – U.S. Blues

I had a really hard time picking one Dead song for today but hey, it’s the 4th of July weekend so this one, with its bicentennial video, seemed appropriate. Plus it’s one with Jerry Garcia on vocals and as tonight is the first of the three 50th anniversary Grateful Dead concerts in Chicago – which are also commemorating 20 years since they played their last shows before Jerry died – I thought it was fitting.

My oldest sister was (is still) a Deadhead. I don’t remember not having the Dead playing around the house as a kid. She put a “Honk if you like the Grateful Dead” bumper sticker on our family station wagon and much of the time it would be my mom driving around with a bunch of us littler kids in the back. She went off to college in 1979 and my next oldest sister and brother carried the torch for a while too but never to the same extent. I’m sure she toured as much as her money and available transportation allowed but it wasn’t like she ever dropped out and followed the band exclusively.

When we moved up to Maine, lots of the kids in my class were Deadheads. I was instantly welcomed by them as I knew all the songs and could sing the higher vocals in their basement jam sessions. And when a friend found himself with an extra ticket for the second show at the Augusta Civic Center in October of our senior year, he offered it to me. I was sure my mom would let me go, even though I was asking about going just hours before the show. To be honest, I didn’t have any of their albums myself and I was more interested in newer music but there’s no denying that the Grateful Dead helped shape my tastes, and I felt like one ought to go a Dead show at least once in life.

I can’t say I remember a whole lot about the show, not because I was high (although is it possible to not have at least a contact high at a Dead show?) but just because it’s been 31 years. I remember it being an unseasonably warm, sunny day and wandering around the parking lot before the show to buy a t-shirt to change into since I hadn’t had time to go home and change and my yellow and white striped button-down shirt really made me stand out. For all the concerts I have attended over the years though, this may be the one at which I saw more people just totally into being there. Completely immersed in the experience. It’s almost impossible to imagine a concert in 2015 that would have people that dialed in to a collective musical event.

My oldest sister lives in San Francisco now and she just went to the two shows in Santa Clara. Trey Anastasio is filling the Jerry Garcia role for these shows and even though I’m not a Phish fan, I can’t help but marvel at the way this has come full circle. One of those guys I was friends with in high school, went off to college where he became an early Phish fan, and subsequently became their manager. Small world.

Happy 4th of July and Happy 50th Birthday to the Grateful Dead!


Life and How to Live It

R.E.M. – Life and How to Live It

My favorite album, Fables of the Reconstruction, is thirty years old today (according to Wikipedia). I decided to write an essay about how important this album has been in my life and give Medium a try at the same time. You can read the whole story here: Thirty Years of Fables.

When R.E.M. disbanded, after my initial shock subsided, the first thought that came to me was, “there wasn’t even time to say, Goodbye to Wendell Gee.” I’d been gearing myself up to go see them live for a tour behind the new album (Collapse Into Now). I hadn’t been to an R.E.M. concert since the Green tour, in part because there weren’t any tours for the first two albums in the 90s. By the time they toured again for Monster, I couldn’t handle the crowds of people that would have been in attendance. R.E.M. had been such an incredibly personal and powerful influence in my life and I didn’t like sharing them with people who only knew the hits from the more recent albums.

By 2011 though, I felt the other people who would come out to see them were probably long-time fans like me. Instead I would have to be content with the concerts I’d been to in the 80s. And I am. My memories of those shows are perfect and I’m lucky to have seen them so many times back then.

One benefit of the band calling it a day is that they’ve gone on to other projects that don’t command such a draw. Last summer The Baseball Project played at an outdoor art park not far from where I live. For $15. The last time I’d paid $15 to see Mike Mills play was 1986. I’m not a big baseball person but you don’t pass up an opportunity like that. There were maybe 200 people there. I loved it.

wpid-img_20150610_115901.jpgAfter the show the band stepped off the stage and people gathered to have them sign baseballs and the like. I ran to my car and got my Fables journal. A year or so earlier, I’d won a free Vintage Vinyl Journal and I’d sent in a scratched up copy of Fables that I’d bought from my local record store for $3. I waited my turn and then went up to Mike Mills to get him to sign my journal. I’ve never been an autograph seeker but I felt like I’d regret it if I didn’t do it. We had a short conversation and I got the chance to thank him for making my favorite album and he shook my hand. It’s so fantastic when your musical heroes live up to the impression you’ve built up about them over the years.

I no longer feel like I missed out on a chance to say goodbye on some final tour. Instead other lines from songs on Fables seem appropriate. “Ok, we won’t say goodbye, so long is so much more,” and “time and distance are out of place here.” Here’s to 30 years of Fables.


Know How

Young M.C. – Know How

It was hard to get back into the groove of the work week after a long weekend (I started early, taking Friday off too), so I thought I’d try to help myself out by bringing along a tape for the commute. That’s right, Young M.C., Stone Cold Rhymin’. Go ahead. I can feel you smirking at me through the screen. It’s ok, I’m not above admitting I have this tape in my collection.

Honestly, it’s a classic. Who doesn’t know “Bust a Move“? Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah just did a version of it on his show about a week ago. Or “Principal’s Office“. Did you know Flea played bass on those two tracks? I was wondering if you could still detach the little Delicious Vinyl order form that’s part of the cassette insert and order a t-shirt but it looks like you can order it online and it’s actually cheaper now than it was 26 years ago.

I bought this tape while working at the record store the fall after graduating from college. Even with the employee discount, I didn’t shell out the big bucks for a CD unless I felt certain that the album would be one I’d play over and over, forever and ever, amen. If I bought the tape it meant I liked it enough to want to hear it on demand, but probably mostly in the car or for the Walkman.

It’s strange the way the format pecking order has shifted over time. The record store I mentioned opened selling only tapes and CDs. Vinyl was on the way out. Now vinyl is commanding top dollar and CDs are on the way out. Cassettes are rarely produced anymore and usually only as a novelty item. MP3s have replaced them as the cheaper, easier, more portable option – if you’re going in for ownership at all.

I like the ability to listen to music online and I’m paying for a monthly streaming service, but my preference to really dive in to some music means I am always going to want to buy some physical format for the albums I like the most. I want the liner notes, the artwork, the whole package. You know what I’m saying?


Alone at the Show

Girlpool – Alone at the Show

Last night I was alone at the show, as I frequently am. I went to see Waxahatchee with Girlpool opening up. I had heard some buzz about Girlpool but other than the fact that the band is two teenagers, I didn’t really have any idea what to expect.

The venue was some sort of former movie theater/small town playhouse. It was extremely quiet, with everyone sitting in their seats and the stage, a wide expanse of black, was nearly empty. They joked, “Welcome to the talent show!” and seemed completely at ease. Just two young women with a guitar and a bass and eyes firmly shut while they belted it out into the darkness.


The songs have a simplicity that’s not surprising given their ages and stripped down sound. As I sat listening to their lyrics and between song banter, with the audience and each other, they began to remind me of something. Ernie Pook’s Comeek.

That’s not another band but the Lynda Barry comic strip that used to run in the City Paper in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. They have a similar combination of innocence and insight beyond their years. Humor and sadness. Awkward yet confident. They felt like the kind of band Marlys would love. Girlpool, girl power. Like the lyrics from one of their songs, “If you are a Jane put your fist up too.” Right on! Even Super Right On!

If you’re not familiar with Ernie Pook and Lynda Barry, man, you are missing out. And if you get the chance to see Girlpool, you should do it.



The Charlatans (UK) – Opportunity

I forget what took us to one of those dollar store places a week or so ago but while the kids were looking around for whatever it was, I found myself looking at the cheap phone chargers and other iPod accessories. I decided to pick up a different fm transmitter adapter thingy, not Bluetooth, just plugs into your headphone jack. My daughter warned me that it would break, and soon, the way cheap plastic crap always does. It’s true, I don’t expect it to last long, on the other hand, if I can use my iPod in the car for a couple of months, the $5 will probably be worth it.

It works with my iPod decently. I hung the cord around the hands-free holder where I put my phone, both the iPod and the transmitter dangling down near the radio for the best results. Then it dawned on me that this might work with my old Walkman. I needed to find some working AA batteries first and hanging it off the phone holder wasn’t an option but I set in the passenger seat and fired it up.

And that’s how we have a new installment of Tape Deck Tuesday. Today’s tape was The Charlatans Some Friendly. I’m still not confident about putting my better tapes through the ringer here so I took one I wasn’t especially worried about losing if something went wrong. I kind of think I have this on CD too, though maybe that’s their second album I’m thinking of. I know I have the tape and CD for one of their early releases because I found the tape super cheap at the Goodwill or someplace like that.

This album makes me think of commuting on the Metro in DC back in the early 90s. When I first arrived there I was staying with my uncle in Georgetown and I would get off at Dupont Circle and go into Olsson’s or Kramerbooks to check out the latest NME and Melody Maker before making my way over to his house. Later I had a sublet up in Adams Morgan so I had every excuse to saunter slowly up Connecticut Avenue stopping into stores to get a blast of air conditioning. When I found a place up in Mt. Pleasant, if I was taking the Metro home from work by myself, I still kept my habit of walking up from Dupont Circle, through Adams Morgan and up to the house I shared with three other people. I always wished I lived in those cooler (and more expensive) neighborhoods but walking through them at least kept me from feeling like I was totally out of it.

There were lots of things I loved about living in DC but in the end there were slightly more things I hated about living there or I wouldn’t have left. I mostly think about the good parts and skim over the bad, now that 21 years have passed since I moved away. It’s all the cool shops, museums, and great bands at clubs I loved, that have stuck with me. I’m sure it’s best that way.


Bottled in Cork

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – Bottled in Cork

Just like Ted Leo going to see his sister, we’ve been visiting my husband’s family in Sweden. We just got back late on Tuesday and I’m still pretty tired from jet lag and just traveling. I am not going to catch up on all the online finery that we missed without access to the internet, there’s just too much. I managed to grab a little free wifi here and there to add some pictures to Instagram but didn’t have time for much else. That’s mostly a good thing but I do feel like I’m playing catch up.

Hopefully I’ll be back on track with a weekend under my belt. Until then, please enjoy this great send up of Green Day and American Idiot.