Author: Ellen

Instead of boring my friends with my need to catalog my life through music, I'm putting it here.

Still Ill

The Smiths – Still Ill

Next up on my concert calendar is Johnny Marr. I never posted an entry about the time I saw him 4 1/2 years ago but I did write it down and I’m just so excited about the show, that tonight I went back and reread it. I don’t want to post the whole thing because that feels weird this much later but the concert exceeded my expectations last time and let’s just be honest, it’s because of all the Smiths songs he played. I like his solo material and if he didn’t bust out any Smiths songs, it would still be a good show. However, those songs, they are not just songs.

One of the things that strikes me as I read what I wrote, my emotions were on full display at that show and I just let it happen. I think I was caught off guard. When he played Panic as the second song, I was really not ready. It came so early! The crowd responded with cheers and dancing, and everyone sang along. I am normally not someone who condones audience members joining in for anything but the most obvious of performer encouraged participation, but you didn’t know how badly you wanted to be in a room full of people singing, “Burn down the disco, hang the blessed dj, because the music they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life…” until you were doing it. Likewise with Headmaster Ritual and Bigmouth Strikes Again.

Since The Smiths broke up while I was in college, it’s not like there are albums from my early adult years to muddy the waters. All of their songs are a perfect little time capsule of those mid-80s, highly angst-ridden and lovelorn years. And so it was when I finally got to hear songs like Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, or How Soon is Now, I was overcome by a wave of feelings that I hadn’t felt in decades. When he played Still Ill, I’m here to tell you that it was like the old days and that night, the body definitely ruled the mind as tears and sweat dripped down my face in equal measure while I danced the same way I used to in my dorm room. The last song of the night? There is a Light That Never Goes Out. I was toast.

So this time, I am aware. I won’t say I’m prepared because those songs, and the memories and emotions that are tied to them, are strong enough to knock me off my feet. In a good way. Now. I like going to shows and having my breath taken away. I love to be reminded of the power of music and to feel it, truly, physically feel it. Maybe he won’t play that many of the old songs and it’ll just be a show. Or maybe he’ll play Ask and Half a Person or The Boy with the Thorn in His Side, and I’ll be toast all over again.

Meet Me in the Street

Sheer Mag – Meet Me in the Street

After a long hiatus, I finally made it out to a show earlier this week. This school year is my daughter’s last in high school and it has been jam packed with activity, much of which required me, or more precisely the car which I was driving, to be around in the late evening hours. That meant it really wasn’t possible for me to go to any weeknight shows and my weekends were often spent prodding her to finish her homework, study for the SATs, do her college applications, taking her to look at schools, etc. But now things are wrapping up and, miracle of miracles, we acquired a second car.

It had been nearly two years since my old Toyota’s clutch called it quits. What started as a way to save a little money and hold off on getting a new car until after the summer, turned into a two-winters long slog with just one car for a family of four people. I’m sure this is not that uncommon and even having one car is a level of privilege millions of people in this country don’t have. But I was also driving that one car 120 miles a day just to get to work. When I also had to tack onto that taking my daughter to three different after school activities, often requiring picking her up, dropping her off and then going back out to retrieve her later on, the time and miles I spent in that car was draining. I hit the trip counter on one of those longer days–170 miles. That wasn’t every day but it wasn’t that rare either.

Back in February, a friend at work mentioned that a woman in her department was thinking about selling her old car. It was in good condition, tiny, had good gas mileage and not a ton of miles. It wasn’t my dream car but she was practically giving it away, and it was too good a deal to pass up. So I became the owner of a 2008, noisy, bright red, two door Toyota Yaris hatchback. Things I like about it: I can park it anywhere, it gets pretty good gas mileage, it had less than 130,000 miles on it when I got it. Things I would change about it if I could: its weak engine, automatic transmission, manual windows and door locks (I would much prefer the reverse – a stick shift with auto locks and windows), a slightly weird odor like too much cleaner or a lifetime of air fresheners, and a non-working CD player. I got it to work once but mostly it just refuses to load a CD. It’s just pushing as hard as it can against any disc you try to insert. Because my previous Toyota was from the last century, it had a tape deck, as you might recall. This new-to-me car is at least modern enough to have an aux port so I picked up a cable and can stream whatever I want through my phone, but I still wish the CD player worked.

It took several trips to the DMV to transfer the title and get it all squared away so I spent my time in line buying concert tickets. With the freedom of a second car, I no longer have to be home to fetch or drop off anyone! The first of these shows was Sheer Mag the other night. Such a fun band. I encourage you to go if they come to your neck of the woods. It was great to be out dancing in a club again. We need that more than ever these days. I feel an impeachment playlist brewing. I’ll throw my poster board and Sharpies in my car’s tiny tucked away storage space, hook up the phone to the aux cord and blast this song as I strain my car’s engine and hit the streets. See you out there!

There She Goes, My Beautiful World

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – There She Goes, My Beautiful World

What a dispiriting weekend. While I had high hopes for the Mueller report actually documenting some of the total chicanery of the current mob in the White House, I had little expectation that those in a position to do something with that information would do so. Anyone who believed for a minute that a Twitler appointee would do the honorable thing and expose his lying ass has been living in a fantasy. I really hope there is someone in possession of the report who is willing to follow in Deep Throat’s footsteps and leak it all to the press.

I am so fucking sick of all the lies and bullshit and gaslighting. And there are never any consequences. None! At least the various House committees have started investigations, finally, but it is all taking way too long. The sheer volume of things that we have to put up with on a daily basis is more than I can keep track of so I’ve basically sworn off of Twitter. There will never be a day of reckoning for Mayor MAGACheese or that treasonous turtle currently serving as Senate Majority Leader. Lord, I hate that fucking fucker and I will never understand how anyone can vote for him.

In the midst of all of this unfolding, we were also navigating the whole college application process with my daughter. Between that and the deluge of crap coming out of DC, my eye has been twitching so badly that I was starting to wonder if I had a brain tumor pressing on a nerve or something.

It’s all so exhausting and all we can do is continue to shout and make a fuss. I’m afraid that it will take massive and consistent demonstrations before anything (if anything) would begin to make a difference and even then, elections are still 18 months away and that’s a really fucking long time.

I just want to be able to go back to thinking about art and music. I want to feel like going off to college is a worthwhile and important pursuit for my daughter so she is prepared for her future. That is really fucking hard when each day looks more and more like some dystopian novel. Everything is awful. We need to triumph. We need to restore sanity, decency, and normalcy. My beautiful world, we need to get it back.

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.