20s

The Great Beyond

The Great Beyond

From before Twitler took office, I have felt that he would get us all killed. Today we dropped a massive bomb on Afghanistan, apparently, and are making threats to North Korea. So it seemed like maybe I should not keep holding on to my memorial service playlist but that the time is right to share it. After all, if we’re going to have World War III, I may as well make sure this is out there.

However, the caveat is not all of these songs are available online in the versions that I would actually like to use and it varies between Spotify and YouTube which ones had to be substituted. For that reason, I’m running down the list below. I also can’t help the visuals on some of these videos, which is why I prefer an audio only experience for this, but life could be short so I’m over it. YouTube above, Spotify below.

The Great Beyond
1. Angelika Suspended – Poi Dog Pondering (Spotify has the preferred version)
2. Just Breathe – Pearl Jam
3. If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out – Cat Stevens (here the YouTube is worth it for the Harold and Maude clips since that’s key to its selection)
4. Belong – R.E.M.
5. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi – Radiohead (Spotify for the studio version, though I like the Scotch Mist version fine, it’s not the “right” one)
6. Treefingers – Radiohead (optional – serves as a transition but could also be cut or used as music while people are milling about before things get started)
7. Blood of Eden – Peter Gabriel (YouTube is the correct version from Until the End of the World)
8. Calling All Angels – Jane Siberry with k.d.lang
9. Heaven – Talking Heads
10. Wendell Gee – R.E.M.
11. Untitled – R.E.M.
12. This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) – Talking Heads

While there are a lot of songs that you might think I would have on a playlist for my memorial service, this is meant to be something you can actually play for assembled grieving friends and family and not bum people out too much. It shouldn’t make people feel worse. At the same time, sometimes it’s good to cry and let it out. The idea is that this should be in place of any hymns or prayers since I am not religious, though there are some songs that gesture toward that, after all I have a number of church-going family members, including my aunt the nun.

In the days to come I’ll take each one as a separate post with more details but for now I’ll let it speak for itself.

Welcome to the Occupation

R.E.M. – Welcome to the Occupation

Of course. Did you expect anything else?

My radio alarm clock went off this morning and, as if by fate, the first few notes of Orange Crush came blaring out. I hadn’t really thought about it before but, man, so appropriate.

But this song amazes me. It came out 30 years ago and yet is every bit as relevant as it was in 1987. In some ways we have come so far since then and I take solace in that. In other ways though, we still have a Congress that propagates confusion, we have never had a less qualified person as president, and cabinet nominees who are eager to destroy the agencies they want to oversee.

I know it sounds melodramatic but I really do feel like we are being occupied. These people are not what this country has been about, they are not representative of the majority of my fellow citizens. I hope against hope that this is the last dying gasp of an old, feeble power structure that we can lay to rest if we are awake and active enough.

I have a feeling that I’m going to be listening to this album a lot in the coming months. The whole thing, but especially the first (Page) side, is great for bolstering your courage to fight the good fight. We are on the right side of history and I will be there to protest and witness. I will do what I can to protect what we have and hold accountable those who would strip away our rights. I am raising my children to be vigilant and to demand truth.

This album and I are 30 years older but the passion and the vision are still the same. Back then it was with the first flush of understanding myself as a political being, now it’s with the sobering resolve to stand up for decency, justice, and equality, no matter the consequences.

O Mio Babbino Caro

Kiri Te Kanawa – O Mio Babbino Caro

This evening we went to my daughter’s chorus concert. The group she is in and the orchestra performed this song together and I am sure I was not the only one in the high school auditorium who had these scenes running through their mind.

A Room With a View is largely responsible for my fascination with British period films, Merchant Ivory productions, and a longing for Italy that five years of Latin classes never managed to spark. I actually went to graduate school with hopes of killing two birds with one stone; have the study abroad experience I didn’t have in college because I’d been too busy trying to transfer, and put myself on a path to working, somehow, with making film adaptations from books. This movie was going to be my thesis.

Ever since I first saw the film, and I can’t even remember now when that first was, I believed that all I needed to be able to start living the life I was meant to live, was to travel to somewhere as beautiful as the places so many movies I loved had been filmed. I was sure that if I could throw open my double window like Lucy Honeychurch and see the splendors of Florence all around me, my George Emerson would appear in a field of waist high wildflowers, just like that. And if that was too far-fetched, well, there was no shortage of other films to choose from as inspiration. Enchanted April, Howard’s End, all the Jane Austen film adaptations, everything Kenneth Branagh did, it’s a long list.

My first attempt at this was my first European trip in 1994. I’d quit my job and had this plan of settling in Prague and doing something to support myself. It didn’t matter what, I was just going to live in this beautiful city and things would click into place. I did have contacts and I’d done a lot of research, but after only two weeks I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I continued on to Austria, spending close to a week in Salzburg so I could see every inch of the place that had been burned into my brain from years of watching The Sound of Music. I returned to Washington D.C. from Vienna and figured I just needed to recalibrate this plan. Prague was beautiful but it was still shaking off the Cold War in a lot of ways and I was probably too young and uncertain about myself to have really made a go of things.

I wound up back in Maine by the summer of 1994. Always intending to leave before the snow flies, I was still there for winter, and the two after that. There’s nothing like a Maine winter to make you wish for sun-kissed foreign vistas. I spent a lot of money at the video store borrowing more and more films to transport myself to someplace else. Even soggy British countrysides were an improvement. That dream of the perfect place and the perfect life was still there. I felt like I needed a more realistic goal though, and that’s how the graduate school idea took hold.

“Oh, but dreams have a knack of just not coming true.” I finally made it to graduate school, in the middle of nowhere in mid-west Wales, and the professor who taught a course about film adaptations was on sabbatical for the year. Foiled again.

 

Old Old Fashioned

Frightened Rabbit – Old Old Fashioned

Two weeks ago at this time I was driving my daughter home from a show in New York. A couple of YouTubers from England that she follows were performing at the Beacon Theatre. I bought a single ticket for her to go and figured I could amuse myself for a couple of hours in Manhattan while she was at the show. She didn’t mind going alone and I didn’t see any harm in her sitting by herself. I’d let her go to a similar event closer to home last summer and it had worked out fine so I preferred to save the money and not have to sit through the show myself. She had a great time, I met up with my cousin for dinner and wandered around New York on a gorgeous evening, we were home by midnight – a success.

The next day at school she proudly wore the sweatshirt she’d bought at the show and told her friends all about it. One of them remarked, “I can’t believe your mom let you go to a show, in New York, on a school night!” She just laughed and said, “You don’t know my mom. She is always going down to New York for shows so it would be pretty hypocritical of her to say I couldn’t go.” She is only 14 and I’m her parent so when she asked about the show I could have easily found good reasons to say no, but it’s true that I have no qualms about driving down to New York, or several other places, to go to a show. Even on a school night. I place a lot of value on live performances and being there in person, to soak it all in. If I can make these memories happen for her, I’m happy to do it.

Later that week I took myself down to see Frightened Rabbit. I’d been looking forward to the show ever since tickets went on sale. Not only was it closer to home than the last two shows I’d been to (Boston and New York) but I’ve been wanting to check out this venue for a while. It’s been open for about a year and I’d heard only great things about it. I’ll definitely be back, which is what Scott Hutchison said at the end of the night too.

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I keep looking for concerts that I think I could bring my daughter along to and that she might actually enjoy. There’s one at the end of the month that I have my eye on but I’m not sure she’s sold on the idea. The older she gets the broader her musical tastes have become but she’s still greatly influenced by her friends. Going to see a band she doesn’t know doesn’t sound hugely appealing and she’d prefer to spend her time listening to her own music than something I suggest.

I have friends who have taken a really active role in shaping what their kids listen to but I have had more of a hands-off attitude. Sure, I’d love it if she liked all of my bands but I think it’s important for her to find her own way and create her own path. After all, it was my siblings, much more so than my parents, who prepped me for all the music I would discover on my own and the very act of digging in and finding my music, is something that I have always felt, as the fifth of six kids, helped me forge my identity.

Which is how we found ourselves yesterday at a big chain store (after first checking out my local record store and another independent record store, at my insistence) so that my daughter could buy her first record.* It’s her own money and again, far be it from me to tell her she can’t or shouldn’t spend it on a record. Yes! Please! Buy a record! A double album, even! I wish it hadn’t been Twenty One Pilots and I feel bad that it came from a big corporation’s outlet rather than the guy down the street but I still felt it was a worthwhile purchase. For one thing, buy the music and support the musicians you love so they can keep making music! If I teach her nothing else in this whole musical journey, let it be that. Then the added bonus of having the lyrics sheet and the liner notes to pore over while you listen. New records these days usually come with a digital download too so you can still take your music with you wherever you go.

As she peeled off the shrinkwrap and took one of the records out I did intervene and tell her the proper way to handle the vinyl and to be especially careful when putting it back in the gatefold cover to make sure to have the open side of the inner sleeve at the top so that the record won’t roll out while you’re looking at the inside, and always keep your hands over the opening because otherwise it will crash to the floor and break and you will cry. Why yes, I was speaking from personal experience. Fittingly, my first record was also a double album. Embarrassingly, it was the Grease soundtrack. Give me a break, I was in sixth grade! As I stood in the living room where the stereo was, looking at all of the pictures from the movie, out rolled my brand new record and before I could react it had hit the wooden floor and snapped into several large, black, pointy pieces. Kind of like trying to remove snow from the roof or hood of your car with a shovel, you only make that mistake once.

Our house is very old and creaky and the turntable should only be used when no one is walking around. I had suggested she might just listen to the digital download yesterday and wait to give the record a spin until she got home from school today. I forgot to show her how it all worked though. She called me at my office, having already removed the record I’d left on it (though not following my strict instructions about putting it away properly, ack!) and had hers on but sound wasn’t coming through the speakers. I spent way more time than I thought it would take to walk her through this old fashioned technology. First push the button on the receiver (what’s that?) that says phono (huh?!?). Then find the switch on the turntable that says cue to raise the needle, move it above the edge of the record, close the lid, move the switch back the other way to lower the needle, ta-da! It’s a slow start, but I feel like she’ll get there. If I can do it, so can she.

* She has CDs and other stuff she’s bought on iTunes but this is her first LP.

Feed the Tree

Belly – Feed the Tree

Today I got a notification from Bandsintown that Belly had added some more dates on their recently announced tour. When the word got out that they had reunited and would play a few shows, I remembered seeing a ticket for Belly at the old 9:30 Club the last time I looked through my old stubs. For the life of me I couldn’t remember the show though. I did spend a ton of time at the 9:30 Club back on F Street and I’m sure I saw a lot of bands I don’t remember but I felt like I should remember this show more. I tried looking on Setlist.fm but that didn’t help. I pulled out the envelope where I have the stubs and looked again.

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Upon closer inspection I realized this wasn’t a stub, it was the whole, unripped ticket. It was also still smooth and flat, not showing the tell-tale signs of a stub that had been shoved in my pocket and suffered the effects of one of Washington D.C.’s sweatiest and smelliest establishments. I stood there turning the ticket over in my hands trying to remember if they had cancelled or I had blown it off, though neither felt likely. Then it hit me. The date. This show was about a week after one of my three housemates had been shot in the head, after parking her car on our street. At first it seemed like a random drive-by but just before the Belly show, another woman was shot about a block away. Things were incredibly stressful and the only consistent part of the attacks in the pattern that police pieced together was that the gunman went after people walking alone. I typically went to these shows by myself and there was no way I was up for it. We had my housemate’s dad staying with us while she recovered (she did recover, thankfully, though she lost an eye from the gun shot) and we would come home from work in groups, go inside and stay there until morning. I liked Belly, but not enough to risk being the next victim of a madman.

I’ve just finished a novel, Every Anxious Wave*, in which time travel to concerts of the early 1990s plays a big part. In the past year or so, there seem to be a lot of bands that broke up in the 90s getting back together and going on tour. My interest in going to any of those shows was directly related to whether or not I’d seen them back in the day. If I had (the Replacements, Ride) then I preferred to have those old shows stand as the definitive memory of what their live concerts were like. Things are different now. It could still be great but it is different, there’s no way around it.

But I missed the Belly show. I could look at this new tour as a do-over. So far all the venues are a little too far away, and they’ve been selling out ridiculously fast, but I’ll keep an eye on it. Maybe reunion shows are as close to time travel as we’ll get.

*I have more thoughts on the topic after reading this book but they’re still scattered so perhaps that’s a post of its own.

Oh! You Pretty Things

David Bowie – Oh! You Pretty Things

When I picked up my phone this morning and casually opened Instagram to see if any of my friends had been at any great shows last night, I scrolled and thought, wait, what is going on here?! I frantically clicked over to Twitter to find some context, something confirming what seemed impossible. My brain couldn’t process what I was seeing. Days after his 69th birthday, after his latest album’s release and the video for the song Lazarus, without warning, David Bowie was dead.

A Monday morning doesn’t grant you the time to sit and absorb that kind of information. I jumped in the car to drive my daughter to school and fumbled for some kind of explanation to give her for who was David Bowie and how monumental his work and life were and god, how could he have possibly died!?

I got to work and settled into a non-stop Bowie marathon, starting with Hunky Dory. That’s the album that is my starting point for all things Bowie. As I’ve mentioned before, my older brother was a huge David Bowie fan and that’s the first one I remember being immersed in as a pre-teen while my brother ruled the turntable. Next up, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It wasn’t until college, probably, that I stopped to listen to what I was singing when “Suffragette City” would come on, and realized oh, hey, maybe now I get what my mom objected to about David Bowie. I was too young to really understand most of what she found offensive and she didn’t come right out and say it either, probably not wanting to acknowledge what had flown over our heads in case we hadn’t picked up on it the first time around. I just loved the songs and soaked them up like a sponge.

On through Diamond Dogs and Young Americans making my way into the Berlin trilogy, hitting Scary Monsters for the drive home. One of the great benefits of having been exposed to David Bowie before I could fully appreciate everything he was doing is that I just accepted it. Sure, I didn’t get what all the songs were really about but if my brother thought he was cool, then so did I. Having that kind of introduction to not just music but art, fashion, sexuality, film, theater, was truly a gift. If you had seen one of his more avant garde performances, even if you thought to yourself, what did I just watch?, it stretched you and your ideas of what was acceptable.

There will never be another person like David Bowie. Someone who never stopped creating and innovating, right to the end. Have you seen the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus“? And I loved this one for The Stars (Are Out Tonight) from The Next Day back in 2013. He was a genius, an artist, and an inspiration. We are lucky to have been alive during his lifetime.

My Generation

Patti Smith – My Generation (by The Who)

Tonight I’m going to see Patti Smith for the 40th anniversary of Horses show at the Beacon Theatre in New York. For years she’s been performing a run of concerts at the end of the year, including her birthday on December 30th and then New Year’s Eve, at the Bowery Ballroom or Webster Hall. Those shows always seemed to me to be for the insiders. Very intimate affairs that I’m sure were great shows, I’ve seen plenty of videos from those nights, but I felt like I should leave those to her hardcore fans. I didn’t feel like that was the right concert for a first-timer. So when I heard about this show at the Beacon, I felt the time was right. After all, it’s a bigger venue and while this is a special event, it feels more like an open invitation.

Patti Smith was a huge influence on so many of the musicians who influenced me. It’s well documented that Peter Buck and Michael Stipe met at the Wuxtry record store in Athens, GA, talking about Patti Smith. And if you listened to yesterday’s post and this one, you will hear that influence. That was enough of an endorsement for me. Yesterday marked an unbelievable 29 years since my first R.E.M. concert and I think it’s safe to say that I am who I am today because of that night and everything that followed. Even if it’s indirectly, I owe much to Patti Smith.

But it has taken this long for things to come together for me to finally see her live. I am excited and nervous. I am hopping the local trains and meeting up with my best friend, who was with me 29 years ago, and the symbolism is just about to do me in.

Flesh Without Blood

Grimes – Flesh Without Blood

New release Friday (still not used to that). Though this track was released about two weeks ahead of the album, Art Angels came out today. I have made peace with my streaming app for the car, after all it lets me listen to things like the newest releases on my way to work on a Friday morning and I’m paying $10 a month so I might as well use it.

I don’t think I could ever be a music critic because I need more time with albums before I can deliver an opinion and even then I’m more inclined to think my views are just mine, extremely subjective, and I don’t feel I have the musical knowledge to deconstruct songs the way reviewers always seem to.

I do know that this song sounded great in the car driving home in the dark this evening. Really loud. It made me want to drive much faster than is both legal and safe. In lieu of that, after everyone else went upstairs, I had a dance party by myself in the dining room. Come on over.

Sometimes I marvel at how people who are young can be so self-assured. When I think about what I was doing and how I felt about myself and my place in the world when I was the age Claire Boucher is now … well, I’d rather not. There are plenty of days where I still feel like I’m going to get caught impersonating an adult. Not that I feel childish but wasn’t there supposed to be some watershed moment that marked my passage from youth to full-fledged grown-up? You’d think marriage or having kids would have flipped that switch but in fact I think having kids just exacerbated my feeling like an impostor. I’m somebody’s mom?! Shit! I know how it happened but, how did that happen?

Is the kind of vision and will that Grimes has innate or did her parents have some really incredible skills and traits that they passed down to her? Even if her music isn’t your thing, you have to acknowledge that she’s managed to carve out a chunk of the music world and put her stamp on it. What’s the secret?

Timing

Tono and the Finance Company (Anthonie Tonnon) – Timing

All the credit goes to my local college radio station for introducing me to Anthonie Tonnon. I heard two different tracks from his most recent album, Successor, on this one woman’s show on Thursday mornings. I Shazamed those two so I could look him up later on and I think you might say I’m smitten.

Take this song, for instance. That charmingly different New Zealand accent singing, “I used to go for girls with better music collections than I have, providing they weren’t musicians…” Anthonie! Where were you when I was in my early 20s (oh, probably not born yet, hmm). Then he goes on to ask,

“How long ago did you split up with your boyfriend?
Does your blood still rush when you think of him?
Do you still kind of think that one day you’ll be back with him?
Oh come on, be honest!”

Oh come on, be honest!?! Here’s where that little Twitter exploding heart might actually be appropriate. Switch the genders and you have the story of my romantic misadventures all throughout college and my 20s. And if his songs about ill-fated relationships* aren’t your thing, there’s Marion Bates Realty, or Railway Lines, or Water Underground. Or if you’re a year out of college, Twenty-Three is for you.

I lose myself in his stories, sung in a voice that’s a little swoony. If you happen to live in the Los Angeles area, he’s playing at some French restaurant on Friday (11/6) and I think it would be well worth your time to check him out.

*Although, I don’t know how you can listen to a song like Skinny Jeans and not be taken in.

Zooropa

U2 – Zooropa

The other day my daughter asked me what people wore in the 90s since it’s school spirit week and her class is supposed to dress in that style for one day. I looked at her in jeans, a plaid button down shirt over a t-shirt, and a pair of Chuck’s, and said, “like that only, baggy.” We sure didn’t go for skinny jeans back then. I tried to think of other looks that she might be able to scrounge together. There was the baby doll dress with the clunky black shoes but she turned up her nose at the couple of flowery short dresses I found in storage.

I pulled up some videos hoping for inspiration. We checked out a couple of Nirvana videos, Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill (thinking she might fancy a riot grrrl look), L7. She wasn’t biting. I found a couple of Lush videos, maybe she would favor a more British take on things. The only thing she took away was a whole lot of black eye makeup.

The more I thought about it, the more I had a hard time putting my finger on a 90s look. Personally, I went from being an occasionally employed college grad who sported thrift store chic, to someone hoping to be hip while working at a museum in DC, then a cubicle farm at an insurance company up in Maine (ever the home of function over form), a year as a grad student overseas, and I closed it out working on the 30th floor at a publishing company in midtown Manhattan. Not a lot of crossover.

After looking at the videos, I hauled out some CDs to see if the cover art and liner notes might be of more help. My daughter lost interest and settled on her usual clothes; she’d just try to do something different with her hair. But once I started flipping through my music I got sucked in. I picked up a tape I’d made and was transported back to the early 90s.

Perhaps surprisingly, I went through a small U2 phase back then. Let’s call it their Berlin period. It’s a little strange that the height of their fame would be the moment when I would sit up and take notice, especially since I’d had friends that were on board from day one who had tried repeatedly to get me to fall for them and I had always remained more of a casual observer. It wasn’t that I disliked them, I just felt like they didn’t need me as a fan.

They certainly didn’t need me in the early 90s either as Achtung Baby took over the world. Blame it on Berlin. I’d been so swept up in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the huge and swift changes that took place all over eastern Europe in its wake. I also had it bad for the Wim Wenders film, Until the End of the World. I saw it in the movie theater four or five times and had the soundtrack on regular rotation. In that context, the U2 song became a favorite and I wanted more. I bought Achtung Baby and listened to it almost in secret. Of course I was going to love “Zoo Station.” Berlin. Trains. What’s not to love? But I found myself liking most of the album, in spite of the radio saturation.

We had an intern at work who came from Berlin. I rented old Wim Wenders films and peppered him with questions. 1993 brought Zooropa from U2 and Faraway, So Close! from Wim Wenders. By that time, living in DC and my job were starting to get to me. I wanted a big change. I decided I was going to quit my job and go to Europe. Though my plan was to make it to Prague and try to find a job (something that didn’t seem that far-fetched at the time), I was going to start my trip in Berlin. Before I could do it though, I needed to save up money so I got a second job working part-time at a bakery and I tried to cut down on costs wherever I could.

Riding my bike to work was something I did a fair amount but once it got dark and cold, I generally took the Metro. I decided I could at least walk home from the museum job if I didn’t have to be at the bakery right after and not spend as much on fare cards. I needed music for the walk though so I made a U2 tape with what I had available; Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and I borrowed The Joshua Tree from one of my housemates. I wanted the songs that made that Berlin connection but I also wanted it to be a companion once I was over there. If my plan worked and I’d stayed over there, I was going to just have the handful of tapes I’d managed to bring with me for who knew how long. I brought it along in the car today with my Walkman/FM transmitter combo for a rare Tape Deck Tuesday appearance.

Side A:
Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
In God’s Country
Some Days Are Better Than Others
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Where the Streets Have No Name
Mysterious Ways
Lemon
Running to Stand Still

Side B:
Zooropa
Zoo Station
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Until the End of the World
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
So Cruel
Re Hill Mining Town
One
With or Without You
One Tree Hill

I took the tape with me when I finally made it to Berlin in February of 1994. Listening to it is a little bit of time travel for me.