You Can Close Your Eyes

James Taylor – You Can Close Your Eyes

This past Christmas, all of my siblings and I were up at my mother’s house in Maine. My brother lives about a half hour away from her but the rest of us came from near (me at 4 hours) and far (San Francisco was the farthest). It was great to all be there, all of our kids got to see their cousins, which given their ages (13-19) is probably the last time they will all be together in one place until one of them gets married.

On Christmas Eve, someone suggested we sing some Christmas carols so my youngest sister, the one with the Yale music degree, played the piano and many of my siblings, my two brothers-in-law, one niece, and my daughter, all joined in. Very festive. On Christmas itself, my brother brought one of his guitars over (I think he has close to a dozen, he started making them himself some years back) for a late night jam session in the kitchen. My mother expanded her kitchen and turned her garage into a dining room thirteen years ago so when we are that many people, it tends to split into the younger generation hanging out in the living room and the grown-ups in the kitchen, taking care of meal prep or doing dishes. So after that was all done, out came the guitar.

Inevitably, there were the six of us, sitting around the kitchen table, singing James Taylor songs. The in-laws and the children drifted elsewhere. They would have been welcome, of course, but they aren’t as well-versed in the James catalog, and by that I mean, have the entire thing, with all the three-part harmonies and all the oh-nos and yeah-babies, committed to memory.

My oldest sisters were huge James Taylor fans so from the time I was probably about 8 years old, there was a heavy rotation of James’s records on the family stereo. My younger sister doesn’t remember life without James Taylor songs on in the background. So deeply ingrained are these songs in my brain that if I ever suffer from amnesia or lose my ability to speak from some kind of head trauma, I think I would still be able to sing these songs. Up until, say, 1985, when I went off to college, I know every song on every album of his. My first real concert* was James Taylor at Jones Beach. He is completely responsible for my love of three-part harmonies and for guys from the south with long hair and slight accents. Even my mother, who normally only listens to classical music, loved James Taylor (probably those harmonies) so he was long-car-ride approved. There we would all be, my mom driving and six kids jammed in the back and the way back, singing along, splitting ourselves into the different parts.

And so it was again in my mom’s kitchen. This song lends itself particularly well to this kind of sing along. I used to sing it to my kids when they were babies and I was trying to get them to go to sleep. I debated about which video of this song to use, the one from him in London in 1970 (so dreamy!**), or the one with Carly Simon (the cheesy mustache, so 70s!), the studio version, so you could hear the original standard, but then I saw this one. Stephen Colbert is so visibly thrilled, like he just can’t believe that he is getting to sing this song with James Taylor, in real life, that I couldn’t resist. Colbert is from an even bigger family than mine, and from South Carolina, and I can just imagine that his childhood was likewise spent singing these songs with his siblings in three-part harmonies.

*Technically, my first concert was James’s brother Livingston at a bar in New Haven when I was 15 but I don’t really count that as an actual concert.

**The way James looks in the 1970 London video, that set the standard for me for many years to come.

Hire

Girlpool – Hire

Needing something to take my mind off the state of the world, work, money, etc., I fired up Spotify for my drive to work and went to see what was in the new release section. I was pleasantly surprised to find a new Girlpool album. I was then further surprised because I’ve been out of it and didn’t know that Cleo Tucker had transitioned. I was not expecting a male voice but I really like it and I think the new album is a reflection of who they are now. It’s not just Cleo’s transition but also they’re older and the songs feel more grown up. I liked this Stereogum review I read in case you’re interested.

In my opinion, people who are coming out as trans during the chaos we find ourselves in politically these days, are the most courageous people I know. To do so under the scrutiny of the music business and public opinion is really fucking brave. Way to go, Girlpool. ✊

Feeling Gravitys Pull

R.E.M. – Feeling Gravitys Pull

It is Michael Stipe’s birthday so I figured that was a good reason to finally write this post I’ve been mulling over for more than a month now. That I waited until nearly midnight just goes to show that these things are sometimes hard for me to actually commit to writing. It’s so much easier when it stays up in my head, where I know what I mean and don’t have to try to lay it bare.

Just after Thanksgiving, a friend from Instagram posted a very intriguing picture. Actually, the picture would have meant nothing to me but the caption was, “Michael Shannon and friends perform Fables of the Reconstruction.” Um, what? So many questions. 1) Who is Michael Shannon? 2) Why? 3) Why Fables? As opposed to, say, any of the other I.R.S. albums? 4) Had I known about it, and had I been able to go (no on both counts) would I have? The jury is out.

I have since looked up who Michael Shannon is but that did not answer anything for me. I also looked up the event itself and learned that not only was this happening, but the stage show was accompanied by live drawings of the songs projected behind the performers as they played them. I asked my Instagram friend what the drawings were like and she said she couldn’t see them from her angle. But then the artist himself commented with a link to his Instagram with the drawing(s)! Please go check it out.

So then I was really torn in an after-the-fact dilemma of would I have had the guts to go. I really loved the drawings and the idea of witnessing this illustration on the fly of my favorite album would have been really cool. But other people performing the songs from my favorite album of all time? I’m not sure. A number of years ago A.V. Undercover had “Driver 8” on the docket and it was the last song left in that season, meaning no one else dared to cover it and The Walkmen were reluctantly tasked with it. I didn’t make it through watching the whole video. It’s not their fault, really. I’ve often debated with myself if I were in a band and presented with the A.V. Undercover challenge and an R.E.M. song were on the list, would I say we should do it because I wouldn’t want anyone else to, or avoid it for fear of not doing it justice. I’m not sure why Michael Shannon and Friends picked Fables, unless it’s their favorite too and they are not similarly plagued by these thoughts, but I feel like some of the songs would be really hard to do. To be sure, “Driver 8” and “Maps and Legends” along with most of Another Side (as opposed to A Side) could be pretty straight forward. But where would you even start to try and cover “Feeling Gravitys Pull” or “Life and How to Live It” – songs that, to me, are so endowed by their creators with an other-worldly quality that it’s simply not possible for mere mortals to touch them.

A few weeks later, a different Instagram friend, who is in a band out in San Francisco, posted a video snippet of them at a party doing a little preview of their project to perform Fables. It was just a couple of acoustic guitars and a guy singing “Driver 8” in a living room. Didn’t I sit around with my friends in high school playing guitars and singing songs by bands we liked? Of course. My friend Tom and his band even did “Can’t Get There From Here” at a house party the summer after my freshman year of college. That seemed fine. But that was also before I ever saw R.E.M. myself. [And here I have to just interrupt this story to say that, OMG, it happened again at the office Christmas lunch that people started talking about concerts and someone asked what was the best concert you’ve ever been to and I had to just say, “we already covered this” and shut that conversation down.] It is just that no one, ever, will be able to do what Michael Stipe does with these songs. I know that they aren’t trying to do what he does. I’ll bet that at 59, even Michael can’t just summon that up on demand. After all, isn’t that why they disbanded? I guess I am just having a hard time understanding what would make people take the leap from, hey let’s hang out singing our favorite songs off of Fables, to let’s perform the whole album in a club in front of people.

Clearly, as was already known, I have issues with R.E.M. and me and being out in public. It wasn’t always this way. In college I proudly wore my pink R.E.M. bicycle shirt all the time. I spent over a year searching for shoes just like the ones Michael is wearing in this video (close-up at 1:50) and then wore them every day because “when you meet a stranger, look at his shoes.” Maybe it’s because I spent so much of my 20s trying to emulate Michael and falling woefully short that I find this so perplexing. Maybe people who are not trying so hard to be something they can never be are able to just have some fun with songs they love.

In the end, I wasn’t there, I won’t be there, and in these dark times, I feel like creative people should bring whatever light to the world they can. And I really like those illustrations.

Day In Day Out

Johnny Marr – Day In Day Out

Yesterday I stayed up super late trying to finish something and the next thing I knew, it was 1:30 a.m. Without a post brewing in my mind from earlier in the day, I decided I would have to just skip it for a day. I am about to call it a night here but I did think I could manage to post something for the last official NaBloPoMo day. Perhaps I’ll keep up posting a little more now that I’m back in the swing of things. I did have an idea for a longer post but I didn’t have time to work on it so maybe soon.

You Wouldn’t Like Me

The Beths – You Wouldn’t Like Me

I feel like I saw The Beths open up for someone once, but seeing as how they’re from New Zealand, I’m probably wrong. Part of the reason I usually try to grab a picture or two from a show is so I can remember who was there, what the vibe was like, and for opening bands, it’s a way to jog my memory when I get home to check them out.

I’m also a huge Shazam fan. I definitely had another song by The Beths in my Shazam history so maybe that’s where I know them from. Either way, worth surfing through YouTube to see more.

 

High Pressure Days

The Units – High Pressure Days

I am really not sure what to do about the stress levels lately. It’s affecting everyone. More sleep? Exercise? Therapy? Drugs? We just had five days off for Thanksgiving and it didn’t even make a dent, in fact, it might have made things worse. There’s not enough time in the day, nor enough days in the week, to get everything done that needs to get done. My daughter tells me frequently that I am stressing her out. I am stressing her out because she is stressing me out! It’s a lose-lose situation that I don’t know how to fix.

Then there’s the general anxiety caused by having a narcissistic, pathological liar in the White House, out to enrich himself and his cronies at the expense of democracy. They are hell bent on the complete destruction of the economy, the environment, the educational system, the free press, diversity, truth, justice, and the American way. NBD. I drive around with my Mueller protest sign in the car because who knows when Mango Pol Pot might decide to have his unconstitutionally appointed AG fire the special counsel and we all hit the streets.

Tomorrow we find out if Mississippi can pull itself together and elect a black man instead of a woman who would gladly be in the front row at a public hanging. WTAF. 2018.