40s

Crazy (live)

R.E.M. – Crazy (live cover of a Pylon song)

A friend of mine recently posted about being taken to a concert by her parents when she was very young, a toddler really, and how you don’t see that happen these days. The very next day she saw Robyn Hitchcock at a small venue where a couple had brought their two young children under four to the show. It didn’t go well.

This whole situation reminded me of this one time at work a few years ago, when we had an office lunch outside in the summer, and the conversation turned to concerts we’d been to. A younger guy in our department, he was maybe 30 at the time, mentioned that he had always felt kind of cheated because he’d never been able to see some of his favorite bands when they were still touring. For example, he lamented that his mother could have brought him along to see R.E.M. play when he was a toddler. The very idea horrified me. I didn’t even like having frat boys at R.E.M. shows because of their lack of maturity, I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted actual pre-schoolers in attendance. Hoping to end that line of thought I said that as a mom I so enjoy going out on my own, to have a break from the kids, and would never want to bring them along because I wanted to enjoy myself and not be worried about my kid.¹

But the nightmare didn’t end there. Somehow the subject changed to what was the best concert you’ve ever seen. I can’t remember what most people answered because I was gripped with panic. What was I supposed to say? My best concerts are the best I’ve seen because of how they left me destroyed and exhilarated at the same time. I couldn’t reveal anything like that to co-workers. Of course I wouldn’t have to say that but I was afraid that even just naming the show would betray a level of privacy that I would then never be able to regain. I debated lying, just pick some show that everyone would nod about and move on to the next person, but I worried that my body language would give me away. I am sure I am the only person at the table who was overthinking this thing to death. Probably because of the young co-worker’s earlier mention of having been left at home with a babysitter instead of at an R.E.M. show, I was really sweating it. If I said the best show I’d seen was R.E.M. at a 3,000-person, beautiful old theater in Providence, Black Monday 1987, would he press me for details?² There in front of everyone? I would probably have suddenly been a much cooler person in his estimation but I have spent decades obfuscating my devotions and this hardly seemed like the opportune moment to trash it all.

Just as it was nearly my turn to have to come up with something, our boss arrived and the question was to put to her. She was in her mid- to late-sixties and she answered without hesitation, “The Beatles!” I immediately declared that no one could top that so we should all just stop trying. Crisis averted.

But it bothered me for days afterward that I had been so tormented about it. I still don’t know what I would have answered. Why should it be so difficult for me to say what my best concert experience was? I toyed with the idea of telling him separately later but ultimately decided against it. I am still plagued by the fear that this knowledge in the wrong hands would be my undoing. Whether through cluelessness or maliciousness, I never wanted anyone to be able to unmask me. If people don’t know what your buttons are, they can’t push them.

When your favorite concerts are life-altering events, intensely personal defining moments, giving that away is too hard.

1. I would take my daughter with me to a show if she showed any interest but it’s only been in the last two years or so that I would have felt comfortable doing so.

2. Black Monday, October 19, 1987, the largest single-day crash in stock market history. Also, now a Showtime series. Something tells me they don’t include the awesome R.E.M. concert that night in the series.

P.S. Coincidentally, today (11/18) marks the 10th anniversary of the last R.E.M. show ever. My own last R.E.M. show was, holy shit, more than 29 years ago.

P.P.S. While I have bootlegs (tapes) of a number of the shows I went to, so far this is the only video I’ve found from an R.E.M. show I was at. Not the last, but close to it. Even sharing this video here is hard for me and I’m only doing it because it’s on YouTube and there’s nothing preventing you from finding it on your own. Dodgy quality but what do you expect for 29-year-old video filmed on a smuggled-in video camera?

Woke Up Hurting

Frightened Rabbit – Woke Up Hurting

Almost two years ago exactly, I went to see Frightened Rabbit. It was such a great show that the next day I copied the setlist and made a playlist so I could keep it fresh in my mind. With the news today that Scott Hutchison’s body had been found after he’d been missing for two days, I went back to it, and to the videos I’d seen from that show.

Even when you know that a person has struggled with depression for years, when a songwriter’s catalog is full of songs that reach into the depths and even sit there comfortably for a while, it’s still a shock to the system to learn that they’ve died. We take these songs from artists and we feel a kinship with them. They express things we have felt and they allow us to draw those emotions out and feel better because we know we are understood. So it’s especially hard to realize that this gift they have, which they shared with us, wasn’t enough. When you see the catharsis in the room during Keep Yourself Warm it feels like everything will be alright. I’m so sorry that wasn’t the case.

Thank you, Scott, for your music, your honesty, your witty turn of a phrase, your humor, and your self.

 

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

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.)