40s

Ain’t No Stopping Us Now

Poi Dog Pondering – Ain’t No Stopping Us Now*

Not for the first time I have discovered myself in a video at a Poi show. I like to think I’m a good dancer. The video evidence suggests that may not be true. It doesn’t stop me from dancing, in fact I’m one of the people usually leading the charge. They’ve even created a new ticket category at the venue where Poi has been playing the last few years just for dancing. Only for their show. I checked the whole calendar and none of the other concerts had a dancing/standing ticket. I am pretty sure I have played a role in that.

*Original by McFadden & Whitehead

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Can’t Get There From Here

R.E.M. – Can’t Get There From Here

I am on the train to Maine. Let me say that again. I AM ON THE TRAIN TO MAINE!!! I have waited 34 years for this day so I am just a little bit excited.

In 1983, my mother got a new job up in Maine and those of us still at home moved from our New York City suburb to a small town in Maine. Up to that point in my life I had never given public transportation much thought. Every kid I knew had a father who took the commuter train into the city to an office job. That’s what my dad had done up until my parents got divorced and his company transferred him to their LA office. My mother’s job situation had been bad and the cost of living in New York was high. Moving up to Maine for a better job and into a less expensive house came along at just the right time.

We’d spent our childhood summers at a tiny beach town up in Maine and I think my mother had dreams that life would become as idyllic as those summers had been. Those summers were idyllic. But summer in Maine and winter in Maine are two very different things. I can’t speak for my older and younger sister who made the move with me but I was not looking forward to moving at all. I was 15 and my mother’s rule about going into New York City had been that once you were 16, you could take the train into the city with a friend and without an adult, so long as the friend knew their way around and she knew where we were going and what we were doing. I was just a few months shy of my 16th birthday and suddenly the promise of that freedom was gone.

Life in Maine took some getting used to. It wasn’t just the snow and the fact that everyone looked like they walked out of the LL Bean catalog. We were city girls by the standards of the Mainers in our high school. We dressed differently, we listened to different music, I remember one kid commenting that he had never seen a girl wearing nail polish before I came to school. The place where I probably experienced the biggest culture shocks was in my German class. I’d taken Latin in New York but the Maine high school didn’t have a Latin class at the level I was at so I started over and took German 1. If you’ve ever taken a foreign language, you know that you start with very basic things. Our German teacher was a funny little man from an Austrian skiing village. Teaching us about the seasons he mentioned that spring in Austria and Germany came in March with gradually warmer temperatures and flowers starting to sprout and bloom. The other kids took this information in as if they’d never experienced spring before. Little did I know it was because they hadn’t, not in March and not gradually anyway. When we learned about different modes of transportation, he talked about how the cities are all connected by trains and how much people relied upon trains to get to work. One kid raised his hand and asked if that didn’t cause a lot of traffic jams with the cars having to stop for the trains to cross the streets to get to the station. I think that was the moment when I thought, holy shit, I am really living in East Bumfuck now. We had train tracks in town but only the occasional freight train would use them. The gates would come down and stop traffic so the long, lumbering freight trains could creak their way through. These kids had never seen passenger trains. Had never seen commuter trains with dedicated tracks and tunnels so they never needed to cross the roads.

I went off to college outside of Philadelphia where two different train lines made stops on campus. I took the train into Philadelphia as often as I could, became a master at hopping the local trains up to New York City, and the Amtrak to destinations far away. I fell in love with 30th Street Station. After college I returned to my mother’s house in Maine. Shortly afterwards, there was a bus strike. I hadn’t gotten my driver’s license yet because I hadn’t needed it but suddenly I felt trapped. There was no way to get out of that small town if you didn’t have a car. I longed for a train to come and deliver me from the small town that felt so remote. Never had the words to this song felt more appropriate.

Ten years ago or so, they started an Amtrak train to Portland. Now it goes all the way to my mother’s town. You can easily walk to the train station from her house. It’s my dream come true. I never managed to do it before because now we are a family of four and it’s easier and less expensive to drive when we go to visit. But this time I am travelling alone and my car needs a new clutch so it was the perfect opportunity. There is still a little of that can’t get there from here element because you have to switch not just trains but train stations in Boston and, just to make sure I really appreciate the final leg of this trip, they put us on buses for the stretch between Boston and the first stop the train makes because of track work this weekend. I took a train, a subway, a bus, and finally the train that will take me all the way to my mother’s house. It took twice as long as driving does but it was worth every minute.

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.

Born Under Punches

Talking Heads – Born Under Punches

In just a few days, a matter of hours really, we will say goodbye to what has always been a given. Presidents come and go, some we wish would have left sooner, but I never before felt like our entire system of government was in jeopardy. Specific laws or rights have been under attack before but the very nature of our government?

The speed at which the Republicans in Congress have been trying to dismantle everything they fought against during the past 8 years is enough to make your head spin. Just keeping tabs on all the devious tactics feels like a full-time job. I worry that we won’t all be able to maintain this level of attention once Twitler is in office.

I keep seeing articles where it outlines all of the reasons why Trumpenführer is headed for impeachment but I just can’t see Ryan or McConnell doing anything to stop him. They are having too good a time screwing over the vast majority of the population. Just look at those shit-eating grins they’re sporting in every picture of either of them since Election Day.

It’s so impossible for me to contemplate living under a fascist that I’ve been imagining what else could possibly be in our future. Those assholes in Congress are so craven and ruthless that they will keep forging ahead with their plans and either ignore or support the Cheeto unless he does something that challenges their plans. I don’t think he’s smart enough to out fox them but I can imagine him becoming a political liability, especially if the Russia story gets more embarrassing. If it suits them, then maybe they’ll take up the cause to rid us of this disgrace. But then what?

Pence. He’s really an evil bastard. I actually wouldn’t put it past him to be working on some kind of scheme of his own to push the Orange Fool out and take over himself. I have previously been of the opinion that at least he’s a normal, if despicable, conservative politician and at least we know how to fight that kind of snake. But recently I’ve wondered if that would be better. I feel like I’d worry less about the country being ruled by a fascist authoritarian but Pence would probably do equal damage domestically. He wouldn’t Tweet us into World War III but he’s coming for your birth control and he wants to remove every LGBTQ protection we’ve managed to put in place. Education? Still fucked. The Supreme Court? Toast. Black Lives Matter? Not a chance. Worse yet, I feel like the relative “normalcy” Pence would bring might be enough to see a return to complacency amongst the general population. I want this over as soon as possible. Unless there’s some way to invalidate the election and never have either of them, while not handing things off to Ryan, then it’s hard to know what is the best possible outcome. It’s all so awful.

We have to keep our eyes on these slippery fuckers. These government men. Keep the heat on.

“All I want is to breathe.” Maybe in 2020.

(I encourage you to check out the whole concert this clip comes from. Really great. The comments contained this gem, “No one will ever be as attractive as Tina Weymouth is in this video.” Those biceps!)

Wolves, Lower

R.E.M. – Wolves, Lower

A friend of mine recently wondered “what WOULD be the R.E.M. song you’d send into outer space?*” even allowing for two or three songs if you had trouble nailing it down to one. I am unable to narrow it down to the single digits.

But the question reminded me of a musical challenge that a friend posed a few years ago. He had gone on a road trip with his wife and in preparation, he had decided to make a bunch of mixed CDs to take along. Some were based on a theme but a few were just music by one band. Not exactly a greatest hits, because sometimes the big hits are not your favorites (cough), but more of a personal best of. The sort of compilation you might make if trying to show an uninitiated friend why this band is great.

As he made these CDs, he spent too much time on the themed ones and left himself not enough time before their trip to give the band specific ones the kind of thought he felt they deserved. So he came up with some rules to get it done in time, the house on fire method of creating a best of CD. 1) Spend no more than 10 minutes on each band, 2) arrange the songs in chronological order, 3) if more than one song from an album, put them in the order they appear on the album, 4) include every album in the band’s catalog (but not compilations, live tracks, or B-sides), 5) when conflicted, go with the song that is a better road trip tune. My challenge was to follow these rules and make one CD for R.E.M. (and later, Radiohead), then we would compare setlists. Part B of the challenge was for each of us to take all the time you need and throw out all the rules except for it must fit on one CD and see how different the results were from your 10-minute version.

As someone who used to spend days, if not weeks, crafting mixes to fit a particular theme, endlessly refining the setlist and adding up the minutes to fit perfectly within the confines of a 90 minute tape (there’s a few in the TapeDeckTuesday category for old time’s sake), I was up for the challenge. The 10-minute rule was going to be tough but the point was to not overthink it, that was what the part B challenge was for. We later discussed the merits of doing a third round, when you specifically geared it for driving rather than a best of, but we never got that far.

I allowed myself a day or two of reconnaissance as I hadn’t really listened to the three-legged-dog albums** in years and had never committed them to memory like the earlier ones. The whole process is infinitely easier than it used to be because now there is iTunes (we traded them in Rdio, sniff! still miss you Rdio!) so you can just drag and drop and the minutes are added up for you. Still, it was not an easy task. I was so pleased with myself when I completed it in the 10 minutes allotted, only to go back and realize I’d inadvertently dropped two albums (Monster and Up) when trying to adjust for the 80-minute cut off of one CD. I readjusted it to include those so maybe it took 11 minutes. My mix was pretty good and I thought the flow from one song to the next was not bad, all things considered. It was a fun exercise and it was interesting to see where our choices overlapped. If you’re bored or need a diversion from the horrors of the day, I highly recommend giving this a try.

Part B was hard. Surprisingly hard given the rules were relaxed. The old master tape maker in me felt it had to be perfect. Without the rule about including every album I ejected five of the records so I had room for more favorites. Even then, my first pass ran close to three hours and I was hopelessly stuck on which songs I could sacrifice and still have a perfect best of. In the end I scrapped what I had and took a different angle, going for the personal more so than the best of. Which songs did I feel really expressed not just why this band was great, but why they were great to me. The insider’s mix, if you will. There were a few repeats from the 10-minute version but the “real” (versus the “house on fire”) version is really great. I still listen to it.

Not sure why the audio at the beginning of this video sounds warped but I couldn’t pass up the video. So Much Younger Then. Happy birthday, Michael. This is one of the few songs that made it onto both versions of my best of CD.

* Prompted by this video that was part of the Out of Time 25th anniversary promotional blitz.

** Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun. This was how Peter Buck described the albums they first did as a trio after Bill Berry left the band and I have always thought it was a very apt description.

Superstition

Stevie Wonder – Superstition

I woke up to the news that the Chicago Cubs had won the World Series, breaking a historic 108-year drought. A number of posts on Facebook were celebrating the win and pointing to Hillary as being from the Chicago area and a Cubs fan and surely this was a harbinger of another kind of historic win.

Normally I don’t think of myself as being superstitious but immediately I felt a sense of panic about conflating historic baseball victories and presidential elections. Those of us living in Red Sox nation (whether you are a fan or not) will well remember 2004, when the Red Sox won the World Series, breaking the Curse of the Bambino, and a Massachusetts Senator was the Democratic candidate. Living in my comfortable blue bubble I was buoyed by the Red Sox win, even if I don’t care a bit about the team or baseball in general, simply because it felt like it meant something. Massachusetts all the way, baby! Yes!

Needless to say, I was never more crushed than I was on the day after Election Day 2004. I’ve had a lot of disappointing outcomes over the course of my voting life but that one had been so clear cut for me and I couldn’t believe we were going to have to endure four more years of W. And the Red Sox win hadn’t done a thing.

I was already nervous about this year long before the candidates had even been chosen because of the date. November 8th. My first presidential election occurred on November 8th and, until that John Kerry loss, it had been my most disheartening Election Day. I’ll save that for another post but it sure wasn’t helping me to feel optimistic about things when I realized it. Adding the World Series connection to this upcoming contest was not helping.

I started looking for some ways that this year wasn’t going to be déjà vu but rather, a do-over. Someone else posted that in election years, when there was a 7th game in the World Series, a National League win has always equaled a Democratic win. I looked it up and it checks out. In the process I also realized that Curt Schilling was part of that Red Sox team in 2004 so, you know, he was probably a spoiler.

Anyway, as Stevie says, “superstition ain’t the way.” I’m working hard to not get spooked. The music is helping. It’s hard to be anxious when you’ve got a groove going on.

 

Crazy

Pylon – Crazy (live)

“This is for the girls.”

The world seems genuinely crazy right now. Each and every day there’s something else to add to the heap. I keep seeing “dumpster fire” being used to explain it but I feel more like it’s one of those tanker ships full of trash, on fire, giving off toxic fumes, and it’s coming for us. You can see it and smell it long before it crashes into land but can we push it back out to sea in time?

Today was not a good day. The ceiling (do you call it that?) in my car is drooping and feels gross. The on/off button on my iPod is stuck so it’s essentially broken. These are minor annoyances compared to the anxiety-inducing Bernie supporters who are booing and shouting over progressive politicians just because they’re sad their candidate didn’t win. Look, I understand the person you wanted to win, and were really excited to vote for, didn’t get the nomination and that sucks. Really, I do. Do you know how many times the person I wanted to have as the nominee didn’t win? Nearly every time.

Clinton/Kaine is not an exciting ticket. We don’t need exciting though, we need to pack the bench on the Supreme Court and get whatever we can through Congress. Push for more progressive and inclusive policies from the inside. It will be work but it won’t be impossible, like it would be if Trumppence and the orange shirts should come into power. I can’t understand how the prospect of that doesn’t terrify the vast majority of the nation, but especially anyone who claims to believe in what Bernie was preaching, and that you wouldn’t do everything you could to prevent it.

“There are no answers, only reasons to be strong”

I’m not crazy.

(The Pylon live album came out today. Get it here.)

Go!

Public Service Broadcasting – Go!

If you had the chance to see a band you love in a really incredible setting, you would go, wouldn’t you? It’s not that big a deal for me to go down to New York for a show but it’s not like I’ll make the three hour trip just to go to any concert. It has to be special or it has to be the band’s only northeast appearance. Sometimes it’s both.

This past Saturday I was down in New York to see one of two special shows by Public Service Broadcasting at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, playing underneath the Space Shuttle Enterprise. I mean, come on …

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Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the stage is in the lower right of the picture, you can just make out the drum kit and projection screen.

I would have traveled to New York to see them play at any venue but to perform songs from The Race for Space (among others) on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the shadow of an actual space shuttle?! Worth it. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I arrived about half an hour before the doors opened, eager to pick up my ticket from the will call window. Five or six people were there to do the same but when the museum said doors open at nine, they were serious. The line grew and I wound up talking to the people around me, including one guy who had cashed in frequent flyer miles and come over from England just for these gigs. This was not an uncommon story, as I would learn a little later on.

At 9:00 p.m. (and not a minute before) they let us in, got us through security and handed us our tickets (including two free beer tickets!) and ushered us back outside to make our way down the pier to the elevator. From there we went up three levels to the flight deck, then walked past some pretty impressive airplanes on our way down to the space shuttle pavilion. By this time it had gotten dark and the Intrepid seemed even bigger without the ability to clearly make out its lines. Finally we entered the room where the Enterprise was on display with several other exhibit panels and objects, including some Star Trek stuff. Those two free beers? Commemorative Star Trek Golden Anniversary Ale (there is also  a Star Trek exhibit at the museum since the original series first aired 50 years ago). A stage and screen had been set up in the rear corner of the pavilion. It was certainly the most unusual concert venue I can remember.

Someone on the museum staff welcomed everyone and remarked that she’d heard there were a lot of people from out of town. She said, “How many people came here from the UK?” Close to a third of the room shouted out. The west coast had a decent showing, then she said, “Anyone from the south, like Texas?” and one young guy just diagonally behind me gave a Texas-sized shout. In the remaining few minutes before the band came on, the couple beside me, who had come from the UK (husband and wife, she had surprised him with this trip as a birthday present) got talking with the young Texan. He turned out to be in town for a conference that had been taking place there earlier that day. He wore a t-shirt with an astronaut on it and in fact he’d been wearing a real space suit just that morning as part of the presentation his group from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University had done. If ever there was a guy who belonged at this show, it was him.

In short, we were a devoted, friendly crowd, appreciative of the surroundings. That’s my favorite set up. I never mind being there by myself when it feels like that. When you catch a stranger’s eye and you both give the smile or nod and kind of look around like, can you believe it?! Standing here under a fucking space shuttle with our Star Trek beers about to watch PSB play songs about Sputnik and Apollo 11. I am not that much of a space aficionado but I was a history major and there’s no denying that this was something special.

I’ve been searching for a way to describe the show and for the past couple of nights I’ve opened up the computer and stared at this draft and typed a little and deleted more. Nothing felt right. I had picked out the video above because I already blogged Gagarin last year (when I first learned about PSB) and because it’s a live clip and captures the visual elements of their performance. I also rather liked the directive of Go! – as if to say, you should go see Public Service Broadcasting if you ever get the chance. But what to say about the show wasn’t coming to me.

It turns out that dragging my feet has resulted in the happy coincidence that today is the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the subject of this song. I hadn’t known it was today until I started seeing all manner of celebratory images being shared on social media. I thought back to the show and the setting and the crowd.

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They didn’t only play songs off of The Race for Space, nearly half were from their earlier album Inform-Educate-Entertain. To some degree, that’s what their music does, though I don’t think that’s exactly what they set out to do. But what I do feel it does, and what Saturday night’s show in particular did for me, was allow me to be wrapped up in an experience so removed from the every day. Listening to songs that illustrate the triumphs and tragedies of mankind, watching old footage of people no longer alive, while people very much alive play the music while we dance in the audience, and every now and then turn around and look up at a hulking physical reminder of all of that. It gave me goosebumps.

After the show was over, we all headed back out into the open air to this.

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New York City, all lit up on a summer night. Perfection. This is what it’s all about.

 

Punks in a Disco Bar

Beach Slang – Punks in a Disco Bar

The thing about taking time off is that it’s so hard to get back into the swing of things once you return to your regular every day. We took a vacation to visit my mother-in-law right after school ended in mid-June and I feel like I’ve been catching up ever since.

We don’t have internet access at my mother-in-law’s place and that’s actually a nice break in some ways. Getting away from the US political scene was especially relaxing. I had every intention to use the couple of days I took off after we returned from Europe to do some stuff around the house and figured I could ease my way back into my usual habits. But the never ending string of bad news sidelined me. I got swept up trying to follow all of the latest shifts and turns in the Brexit fiasco, our own election debacle, then all the tragedies happening every day, too many to even recount. In such a landscape, it felt frivolous to spend time writing about music.

This past Monday, however, was my long-awaited to chance to see Beach Slang. The band hasn’t been together all that long but it’s been a bit rocky here and there and I didn’t want to risk missing them. The way 2016 has been going, I feel like going to see bands play live has taken on a new urgency. Not just because we’re losing legends at an alarming rate but also because there are so few moments lately that help to remind me that it’s not all gloom and doom.

We were a small crowd relegated to the small bar at the back of the venue but the band didn’t let that stop them from delivering a great, loud, boisterous set. It was just what I needed. I left the club feeling happy, actually happy, for the first time in what seemed like weeks. I think it’s safe to say that we’re in for many more miserable days before this year is over so I am going to take the good ones when I can get them.