40s

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.

Soundcheck

Catfish and the Bottlemen – Soundcheck

Why do bands all cluster their shows around the same time? I can understand the appeal of a summer tour, and I get nervous about weather-related cancellations in the winter, but how about March? April, maybe? There were two shows I had to pass up recently due to time or money restraints, largely because this is also crazy end-of-the-school year time. There are kids’ events to attend and summer camps to be paid for and new clothes needed. My concert calendar wishlist is packed through the summer and I’m not even putting some of the big ones on it.

This has prompted me to set some criteria around what shows I will definitely go to and which ones I will base my decision about going on more spur of the moment factors. Is it likely to sell out? Upon hearing about the show, did I immediately check my calendar and my bank account? If those two things are a yes (and the rest of it works out), then I buy a ticket as soon as they go on sale. I work the other possible concerts in around the definite ones, which sometimes results in me blowing off a show that initially sounded like a great idea.

Take this past weekend. Cayetana were playing a show at an all ages venue and I’d even contemplated taking my daughter with me, but in the end I decided I wasn’t up for the drive. We’d been running errands all day and I’d been up early and the thought of the hour-plus drive home by myself made it seem less attractive. Probably if it had been closer to home or I had convinced someone else to come along, those things would have pushed me to head out anyway. I might come to regret that one but I’m hoping they’ll release a new album in the next couple of months and swing back around in the fall. Or, you know, twist my arm and make me go to Philadelphia.

One thing I am not interested in, not in the slightest, is any big festival show. In a renewed attempt to get Snapchat, I recently watched a story from the Bottlerock festival and I can’t say that I was favorably impressed by either the concert or the medium. I guess I really am old. And it has got to be something really special to lure me to a big stadium show. Radiohead is coming soon; to Madison Square Garden or Lollapalooza. I’ll pass. I’d love to see them again but if those are my options, I’ll sit tight and hope for something a little more approachable.

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.

These Are Days

10,000 Maniacs – These Are Days

This morning I got an email from my best friend that threw my whole sense of self spinning. She was just feeling nostalgic, brought on by the fact that tonight, just like 31 years ago, Villanova is in the NCAA basketball tournament final game. If you’re a March Madness fan, you might know that Villanova won that game over Georgetown in 1985. Let this be a lesson to all parents of high school seniors and college admissions people; when your school wins the NCAA tournament during the yield season, that school will suddenly be flooded with more acceptances than you had bargained for when those fat envelopes went out.  If you’re a 17-year-old who hasn’t quite made up their mind yet about where to attend college, there will be serious consequences for that waffling. You snooze you lose, in the housing assignment game at least.

For 31 years I have believed that I got shafted on the on-campus housing front simply because they were overrun by people accepting the offer of admission and that my number was just unlucky. No. It turns out, corroborated by my best friend’s roommate who was also on this email, that because we had all waited to send in our deposits until after that fateful game, we were joined by hundreds of people that were swayed by the win. Those who got their deposits in early were all set with dorm assignments while we were stuck on a housing wait list. We all wound up over at a nearby Catholic women’s college that often had enough dorm space to take in (female) Villanova students. I somehow managed to screw this up too because I didn’t even get a room there either. I got a letter from the Mother Superior a week before I was due to arrive saying that they had too many students as well (Villanova winning increased their attractiveness by proximity and an agreement to allow for the opportunity to take classes) so I lived in a large basement room with four other girls. That’s a story for another day.

I always felt like I had really just continually had the rug pulled out from under me in those months, weeks, and final days before I arrived on campus. First, it wasn’t where I wanted to be, and getting rejected by the schools I had dreamed about attending* was a sore point. Then to be told, after we’d sent the deposit in by the deadline, that there wouldn’t be housing for me, was really adding insult to injury. Finally, to have the back-up housing solution be a complete disaster was really the last straw. I had been to campus in April, after the championship but before the deposit deadline, and thought, hey it’s spring and it’s lovely here. Maybe this will be ok. But by the time I arrived at the end of August, I was dead set against the place. Forever.

It’s pretty well-documented** that I spent probably 25 years wondering how my life would have been different if only I’d done better in school my junior year of high school. Or if only I’d applied to a different group of schools. Or transferred to someplace else. On and on. But in all those years, it never once occurred to me that if I had put my deposit in right away, and I had been on-campus from the beginning, that my life would have been just as different even though I was at the same school. All that bitterness wouldn’t have been there, for starters, and I never would have met my best friend. I am sure of it. The number of things that would never have happened as a result, some of the most important and defining moments of my life, poof! Gone! Just like that. The best concert I’ve ever seen? I never would have been there. Road trip of a lifetime? Doesn’t exist. I had to stop thinking about it this morning and concentrate on driving in the snow(!) but it’s crazy.

In hindsight, my entire college experience was certainly a character building four years. I’ve always said that the only good points about it were the location, my job at the costume shop, and that that’s where I met my best friend. It’s only been in the last five years or so that I have also been able to see that I learned how to be true to myself and hold firm in my beliefs despite what other people may say or think. Maybe that’s how it was meant to be.

*UNC, the other team in tonight’s game. Oh the irony!

**Click on the College category if you’re curious.

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.

Pop Song 89

R.E.M. – Pop Song 89

Between the first big snow storm of 2016 and the impending Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, I’ve heard nothing but talk about the weather and the government for the last few days. Unsurprisingly, I’ve had this song stuck in my head on repeat. See also, this New Yorker cartoon.

The snow is coming down now, after a late start, and we even received a robo-call from the electric company telling us to be prepared for power outages. You all know I really hate snow but it’s only supposed to be 4-8″ this time around, a manageable amount. But the power outages are what I really worry about. Having lived through a power outage caused by a blizzard once before, I am scarred. I get nervous and make sure every available source of power is fully charged. This morning, before the snow started, I went to the grocery store and bought, not milk and bread, but a 9-volt battery for a hallway nightlight and some sterno cans. Mostly I am worried about our fish. My husband is allergic to all furry or hairy animals so we have a few fish that require water between 70-80 degrees. Based on our prior experience of being in this house without heat in the winter, they will not survive if the power goes out. I’m kind of hoping I could rig something up with the sterno cans in a pinch but I’m mostly just hoping we don’t lose power.

As for the politics, it’s just getting crazier by the day. I should probably disengage because I thought to myself the other day, this Republican field is so disastrous I wonder why there isn’t some independent candidate like Bloomberg looking to get into the race. And now look what’s happened. With 28-year-old songs* being as relevant today as they ever were, it’s not likely that I’ll be able to do that though.

*I did the math. Though titled “Pop Song 89”, it’s on Green, which was released on Election Day, 1988. My first presidential election. A dark day.

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?