30s

Satanic Reverses

Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy – Satanic Reverses

Holding my daughter on her first Election Day, 2001.

I hope you all got out and voted today. I tried to vote this morning but I had to drive my daughter to school again today and when we pulled into the parking lot of the school where I vote, it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to get in and out quickly enough to get her to school on time. I’m glad to see everyone getting out and doing their civic duty but I wished we could have gone in together. I’ve been taking her to vote with me since she was two months old but in recent years I end up swinging by after work so it’s been a while. They’re studying forms of government in school and I thought it might make it all seem a little less abstract.

There were still people coming and going when I stopped to vote this evening but it was quiet. It’s not an especially upbeat election season. My state doesn’t have a senate race this year, my representative will be handily re-elected, it’s just the local seats and the race for the governor’s seat. Fingers crossed for that one. Nationally, I’m much less optimistic and down years make me nervous. Jittery even.

This song fit my mood today. It’s from 1992. Let’s repeat that. 1992. What the fuck, America.

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

Billy Bragg – Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

It’s May 1st, International Workers’ Day. I thought I’d take the opportunity to post a Billy Bragg song. Not his version of the Internationale, though I thought about it, but this song always brings a smile to my face even while it entices you to be active with the activists.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Billy Bragg but each time I’ve seen him perform this song he changes some of the lyrics to put it in context with events that are relevant to the current time. I looked at a bunch of live clips on YouTube but I’ll leave it to you to look some up if you’re interested. They’re like little historical snapshots. For myself, I’ll always remember the time he sang, “In a perfect world we’d all sing in tune but as we’re all Smiths fans give us some room!” That was the same show where he covered Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” with help from the opening band, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, on the pretext of proving that Billy Bragg fans could dance.

I love the rousing end of this song. I don’t know how you can not feel fired up. When I start feeling pretty discouraged about the state of the world, and lately that’s really easy to do, I need to remember to play this song. One of the live clips I watched was from the City Winery in Chicago about a year ago and I really love how he talked about fighting cynicism, more than anything else. I’m pretty jaded but he’s right.

“So join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just a t-shirt away!”

My Billy Bragg t-shirt from the Internationale tour.

My Billy Bragg t-shirt from the Internationale tour.

The back! Were you at one of these shows?

The back! Were you at one of these shows?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little t-shirt #tbt with your musical interlude.

Ages of You

R.E.M. – Ages of You

Today I found out about the Amtrak Residencies for writers. I can’t tell you how perfect that is. I might cry. Right now I am listening to the train tape I made in college (the digital edition on my iPod) and I can see the backyards of America in my head, obscured now and then by the blur of greenery; interrupted by the occasional overpass. I always thought that would make an excellent anthropology thesis, America’s Backyards as Seen from the Train. That’s where the truth hangs out. The discarded bicycles, rusted red wagons, trampolines, and clotheslines.

Close by the cities, the scenery is much more industrial. Warehouses. Graffiti covered brick buildings and cement walls. Trenton Makes The World Takes. The cities give way to the suburbs, where the backyards and cemeteries make up the scenery. Depending on what train you’re taking, you might get far enough away from the built up areas to see more traditionally scenic views. I always try to sit on the right side of the train in a window seat. If you always sit on the right, you’ll see what’s on the left on your way back.

I love everything about train travel. I love the big, beautiful, historic stations. I love the smells of the engine, some kind of weird mix of diesel and electric, hot and metallic. I love the rhythm of the train swaying gently as it clatters along the tracks. I love the tracks! I have two rusted and discarded old railroad spikes saved in a bin. I have several Amtrak train ticket stubs saved alongside concert tickets. I love leaning my head against the window and trying to find a spot to put your feet that gives you just the right amount of ‘please don’t talk to me’ body language or trying to sit in such a way as to invite a little conversation. I love watching my fellow passengers, listening to them chat with their seatmate or talk with their children about what’s passing by the window. I like to sneak a peak at the book they’re reading. Watching as people meet them when they get off the train, and others saying goodbye as someone gets on.

I have taken the train as far north as Montreal, as far south as Georgia. The Adirondack. Southern Crescent. Overnight trains. Commuter trains. Sightseeing trains. Subways. I’ve been to Zoo Station. Paddington Station. Two of my proudest foreign language moments were giving directions to Salzburg’s train station in German and confirming in Czech that someone was waiting for the correct subway train in Prague. The only Czech words I can still remember are the words for beer and ‘next stop’ which is what they would announce as the subway pulled into every station.

It is hands down my favorite mode of travel. It’s not the fastest, there are usually delays on the line somewhere, but when I take the train, at least half the reason is just being on the train. It’s not the most convenient, being at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. A few years ago, Amtrak started running a train up to Maine, the Downeaster. I am dying to take that train. In order to get the train from my house to my mother’s house up in Maine would involve me getting on a train when it’s still dark in the morning and switching stations in Boston. It would take more time than driving but I’m actually contemplating buying a used car up near my mother just so I have an excuse to make that trip.

There is just something about the train that brings up all kinds of emotions for me. It’s like I feel a tiny shred of what everyone else in my car is feeling. Some people are excited, some are sad, some are hopeful, some are worried, some are exhausted, some can’t sit still. I know all those feelings and have, at different times in my life, been one of those people sitting there. So now I look around and see me on my first solo train trip, me going to visit a sister or a friend, me with my best friend on an adventure, me trying to hold it together when things aren’t working out, me on my way to a job interview, me seeing new places and remembering all my old favorite haunts. I don’t get that from any other form of travel.

This is the fourth song on the train tape. My vinyl copy of this song has a longer finger-snapping intro. I really wanted to use this version but I couldn’t get it to only play the first part.

No Clocks

Pylon – No Clocks

Here we are, back to Eastern Standard Time. Boo. Hiss. Bah humbug.

I hate this day. So many people just adore the day we set the clocks back because they think they gain an hour of sleep. Unless you are a childless person who has to set the alarm and be at work somewhere early Sunday morning then no, you do not get an extra hour of sleep. You wake up at whatever time you would wake up and, if you’ve set your clock back before you go to bed, it is whatever time it says it is.

What you lost, however, is an hour of daylight at the end of the day. I guess if you live significantly farther south or at the western edge of your time zone, this isn’t such a big deal. Here in New England we are at the eastern edge of the time zone and from now until after the winter solstice, it’s all down hill. Let’s weigh it up. One hour of sleep, if you actually woke up, looked at the clock and said, “Oh good, I can sleep for another hour!” and then successfully fell back asleep on this one Sunday, or plunging darkness at the end of the work day for the next two to three months. Hmmm.

Overly dramatic, maybe. I think I have undiagnosed (because I’ve never done anything other than bitch about the darkness) Seasonal Affective Disorder and my office is a windowless interior space so to leave at the end of the day and have it already be dark, just depresses the life out of me.

I went to the grocery store late this afternoon and the clouds that had covered the sky for much of the day were breaking apart with the last rays of the sun lighting them up with amazing colors. I stopped to take a picture. It was 4:44 p.m.

sunset

The sky at 4:44 p.m. on November 3, 2013

Pretty. But I would find it much prettier if it had been more like 7 p.m. If only we could spring forward in March and then never fall back.

I Samma Bil

Bo Kaspers Orkester – I Samma Bil

Today was the Eurovision Song Contest, held in my husband’s hometown, Malmö, Sweden. If you’re not from Europe or happened to spend a year abroad there during school or something, you probably have no idea that this extravaganza exists. It’s quite the big deal there though and they have regional competitions to pick the one song/performer that will represent the country. Back in 1974 ABBA won with Waterloo. Were it not for Eurovision, they might have remained world famous in Sweden, as we like to say.

I have a number of friends who live in Sweden, most of them Americans who have Swedish spouses like me, and they have embraced the over-the-top campy nature of the event. I’ll see their posts about the preliminary competitions, Melodifestivalen, and who they’re going to vote for, who had the worst song or outfits, but come the grand finale of Eurovision, my Twitter feed is non-stop snarky comments about the schmaltziest acts Europe can dish out.

To my knowledge, Bo Kaspers Orkester has never taken part in any of that, but I wanted to have a little taste of Sweden to represent them tonight since Denmark took home the big prize. I like a number of bands from Sweden but most of them sing in English and I thought it would be nice to have something maybe a bit more Swedish. This video comes from another Swedish singing festival, Allsång på Skansen, which is held every summer in Stockholm. The whole idea is that everyone is supposed to sing along, it’s mostly songs everyone knows, people bring the kids, it’s kind of an institution. I think what might be the best thing about it is that it’s so beautiful there. And look, it’s like 9pm and it’s still broad daylight.

The first time I went to Sweden with my then boyfriend, I lobbied hard to go up to Dalarna in central Sweden because I’d grown up loving all of Carl Larsson’s paintings and Astrid Lindgren’s stories and I wanted to see places that looked like those. We had a friend from graduate school (where we’d met) who lived near there so we stayed with him for a couple of days and saw the sights. The first night we sat up talking and the Swedes all kept glancing at their watches and finally had to tell me that it was 1am and we probably ought to go to bed. It looked like it was maybe 8:30 outside to me and I was so buzzed from all the extra sunlight. One of my American friends now lives way up in the north of Sweden where it never actually gets dark in the peak summer time. Of course the flip side is that they have very little daylight in the winter. Which is why I always try to have our visits as close to Midsommar as possible.

Kool Thing

Sonic Youth – Kool Thing

Kool Thing indeed. Really, can you out cool Kim Gordon? I don’t think so.

I missed that yesterday was Kim Gordon’s 60th birthday. I think it’s easy to forget how long she’s been out there paving the way for women in music because she’s still doing it. I have always loved that she was part of a band that was loud, experimental, noisy. There aren’t a lot of women in bands like that, and even fewer back in the early days. That she not only held her own but was often out front, like in this song, just made her that much more cool in my book. Like she didn’t take shit from anyone.

When she and Thurston Moore announced they were splitting up, I was more sad about the break up of Sonic Youth than of some super couple of alt rock. I didn’t know why and it didn’t really matter to me. Now that Kim has said why, I just think Thurston was a fool. Because Kim Gordon is the hottest fucking thing on the planet in my book. Happy birthday and rock on, Kim!

Talk About the Passion


R.E.M. – Talk About the Passion

It isn’t often that I’m tempted to think about the 1980s as a time of hope and promise. My high school and college years took place during the Reagan years and everything seemed bleak and hopeless. My first presidential election is a day I’d really rather forget but never will. It felt like the beginning of the end (and in some ways, it was).

The news of late has been pretty awful. We don’t have regular television service any more so I’m not even talking about the major network news outlets (most of which I’ve had trouble stomaching ever since Peter Jennings died). It just feels like everything that I read or that comes across my screens lately is more disgusting, baffling, frustrating, sickening, shocking—yet at the same time not shocking, that I start getting really depressed.

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.”  Trust me, I know. And I know what you’re thinking. “For fuck’s sake! Combien de temps?! Hmm, Harry Reid?” All those empty prayers, empty mouths. This song may not have anything to do with the issues I’m incensed about today but it’s bigger than a single issue, or two or three. I want to talk about the passion. I want to talk about working toward something better. About finding some passion and doing something about it.

Today, one good thing came across the wires. For a few moments, I was reminded of a wonderful person who made a difference in so many lives. I’m talking about Mister Rogers. Today, March 20, would have been his 84th birthday. Mister Rogers not only lived his mission but he talked about it. And when you first hear his voice, especially in a serious setting like testifying before Congress, you almost chuckle to yourself thinking about how quaint and simple he sounds. But the more he talks, the more you watch everyone else get quiet. They sit, and they listen. They listen to him say things like, “I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.” In 1969! Talking to Congress about tackling mental health on children’s television! Or the way that he gently, and without pointing fingers, takes all of the television industry to task in his Hall of Fame induction speech (the whole thing is at the link above but if you just want to cut to the chase it’s here). Watch it. Really.

The article about Mister Rogers I linked to in the paragraph above is two pages long and has several videos, but they aren’t all that long and I promise you they are all worth taking the time to watch, and to read how and why he and his words are still relevant. In the final video included in the article, he says, “I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead…” Yes, it is tough, and we have a lot of hard work to do, and Mister Rogers isn’t here any longer to help us do it. He carried the weight of the world while we went busily about our days. We need to pick up where he left off. We have to.

Maybe it’s unfair to hold up Mister Rogers or bands like R.E.M. as examples of how we can take what we’re passionate about and try our best to spread the word and educate and inform people without getting mad or preachy. I guess I’m just hoping that we can remember those lessons and not get too discouraged. If there’s one thing I learned from the Reagan/Bush era it’s perseverance. It hurts and it’s demeaning to lose. But I, for one, need to look back at where I’ve been, what has been important to me, what helped me get through difficult times. This helps.

{If you’re wondering why I chose this early live video instead of the black and white one set to the studio track that would seem to fit perfectly, it’s because I couldn’t find a version of that without an ad and this time, I really felt like I didn’t want to subject people to a possible football ad.}

Iechyd Da

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – Iechyd Da

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus! Or, Happy St. David’s Day! St. David is the patron saint of Wales, where I went for graduate school to a small university in the middle of mid-west Wales. That’s the middle of the middle of nowhere. The town had more sheep than people and more pubs on its two main streets than any other kind of establishment. At least half of the town spoke Welsh as their first language and their English was so heavily accented that even if they didn’t speak Welsh, you had a hard time figuring out what they were saying.

It was a crazy place. Truly crazy. I lived in a graduate student house owned by the university called Green Acres. Me and ten men. We all had our own rooms (actually I think there was a double in the basement level) but shared the kitchen and the bathrooms (one on each floor). There was one other American besides myself and two Canadians who got how funny it was that this place was called Green Acres. There were plenty of jokes about me being the Eva Gabor character but really, this line in the Wikipedia entry for Green Acres pretty much sums it up, “Much of the humor of the series derived from the ever-optimistic yet short-fused Oliver attempting to battle against and make sense of the largely insane world around him.” Yup. As another American grad student we were friends with said once, “Wales, it’s like M*A*S*H (the tv show), if you don’t laugh, you’re gonna cry.”

I met my husband there. He was a Swedish exchange student (bizarrely, this was one of only four universities in the UK to have a Swedish program so they had a, relatively speaking, large number of Swedish exchange students) in the same grad program as me. Most of the other students in our program had either been undergrads at the university or at least had been through a UK institution and lived in the area and the crazy was just normal to them. We would get together after class and compare; is it like this in Sweden? No! Is it like this in the States? No! We bonded over our shared confusion and endless search for decent coffee in a land of tea drinkers (well, really, beer drinkers).

This was the mid-90s and there was actually a surge in Welsh bands making it big. Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, but I have a real soft spot for Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. Partly for their name, partly because they sang in Welsh, and mostly because they hailed from Carmarthen, the nearest place to catch the train east to England and London. If getting anywhere hadn’t been an all day affair, I might have been able to catch a couple of these bands while I was there but the bus schedules were…challenging.

My mother printed out and saved all the emails I sent her because she found the whole thing so amusing. One day I’ll ask her for that file folder and write a book about it or maybe a screenplay. The whole time we were there it just felt like you were in some kind of absurdist drama. I love it now, and think back very fondly on all of the bizarre experiences I had there, but it was without question, the strangest year of my life.

1999

Prince – 1999

I was stuck in traffic on my way to work the other morning. I turned on the radio to find out what was going on and, after learning I’d be there a while, started flipping through the stations. During the half hour I sat there I heard three Prince songs on three separate stations: When Doves Cry, Raspberry Beret, and Little Red Corvette.

Chances are if I’d been stuck there a little longer they would have played 1999. The album 1999 came out in 1982 (whoa, over thirty years ago!). At the time, the turn of the century seemed so far away and I couldn’t begin to imagine where I would be or what I’d be doing by New Year’s Eve 1999.

By 1999, I was living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan at a giant publishing company. You would think New York would be the ultimate place to be for New Year’s Eve, that one especially. However, I had my then fiance and his mother staying with me for the holidays. My future mother-in-law was 75 and didn’t speak English and taking the two of them into Manhattan where millions of people would be jammed in the streets, seemed like the worst idea possible.

My best friend was living outside of Philadelphia then and they were going to be away for a few days so she offered me their house. New Year’s Eve in Philadelphia instead sounded much more manageable and the chance to see the famous Mummer’s Parade on New Year’s Day was a big plus. Not many people would leave New York City for one of its biggest nights but that’s just what we did.

It also turned out to be Ed Rendell’s last night in office as the mayor of Philadelphia and they had a number of events all around the city creating a kind of roving party. As one event was ending and the crowd was making its way out of Rittenhouse Sq., someone bumped into my mother-in-law and said, “Oh, excuse me!” It was none other than the mayor himself. After that we made perhaps one more stop on the party tour but it was cold and we didn’t want to get stuck in traffic so we made our way back to my friend’s house before midnight and watched the fireworks on tv. Pretty low key. Let’s just say we didn’t bother knocking on Prince’s door.

(Sorry about the ad, the original video was removed from YouTube. I’ll keep looking for a better solution.)