50s

Meet Me in the Street

Sheer Mag – Meet Me in the Street

After a long hiatus, I finally made it out to a show earlier this week. This school year is my daughter’s last in high school and it has been jam packed with activity, much of which required me, or more precisely the car which I was driving, to be around in the late evening hours. That meant it really wasn’t possible for me to go to any weeknight shows and my weekends were often spent prodding her to finish her homework, study for the SATs, do her college applications, taking her to look at schools, etc. But now things are wrapping up and, miracle of miracles, we acquired a second car.

It had been nearly two years since my old Toyota’s clutch called it quits. What started as a way to save a little money and hold off on getting a new car until after the summer, turned into a two-winters long slog with just one car for a family of four people. I’m sure this is not that uncommon and even having one car is a level of privilege millions of people in this country don’t have. But I was also driving that one car 120 miles a day just to get to work. When I also had to tack onto that taking my daughter to three different after school activities, often requiring picking her up, dropping her off and then going back out to retrieve her later on, the time and miles I spent in that car was draining. I hit the trip counter on one of those longer days–170 miles. That wasn’t every day but it wasn’t that rare either.

Back in February, a friend at work mentioned that a woman in her department was thinking about selling her old car. It was in good condition, tiny, had good gas mileage and not a ton of miles. It wasn’t my dream car but she was practically giving it away, and it was too good a deal to pass up. So I became the owner of a 2008, noisy, bright red, two door Toyota Yaris hatchback. Things I like about it: I can park it anywhere, it gets pretty good gas mileage, it had less than 130,000 miles on it when I got it. Things I would change about it if I could: its weak engine, automatic transmission, manual windows and door locks (I would much prefer the reverse – a stick shift with auto locks and windows), a slightly weird odor like too much cleaner or a lifetime of air fresheners, and a non-working CD player. I got it to work once but mostly it just refuses to load a CD. It’s just pushing as hard as it can against any disc you try to insert. Because my previous Toyota was from the last century, it had a tape deck, as you might recall. This new-to-me car is at least modern enough to have an aux port so I picked up a cable and can stream whatever I want through my phone, but I still wish the CD player worked.

It took several trips to the DMV to transfer the title and get it all squared away so I spent my time in line buying concert tickets. With the freedom of a second car, I no longer have to be home to fetch or drop off anyone! The first of these shows was Sheer Mag the other night. Such a fun band. I encourage you to go if they come to your neck of the woods. It was great to be out dancing in a club again. We need that more than ever these days. I feel an impeachment playlist brewing. I’ll throw my poster board and Sharpies in my car’s tiny tucked away storage space, hook up the phone to the aux cord and blast this song as I strain my car’s engine and hit the streets. See you out there!

There She Goes, My Beautiful World

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – There She Goes, My Beautiful World

What a dispiriting weekend. While I had high hopes for the Mueller report actually documenting some of the total chicanery of the current mob in the White House, I had little expectation that those in a position to do something with that information would do so. Anyone who believed for a minute that a Twitler appointee would do the honorable thing and expose his lying ass has been living in a fantasy. I really hope there is someone in possession of the report who is willing to follow in Deep Throat’s footsteps and leak it all to the press.

I am so fucking sick of all the lies and bullshit and gaslighting. And there are never any consequences. None! At least the various House committees have started investigations, finally, but it is all taking way too long. The sheer volume of things that we have to put up with on a daily basis is more than I can keep track of so I’ve basically sworn off of Twitter. There will never be a day of reckoning for Mayor MAGACheese or that treasonous turtle currently serving as Senate Majority Leader. Lord, I hate that fucking fucker and I will never understand how anyone can vote for him.

In the midst of all of this unfolding, we were also navigating the whole college application process with my daughter. Between that and the deluge of crap coming out of DC, my eye has been twitching so badly that I was starting to wonder if I had a brain tumor pressing on a nerve or something.

It’s all so exhausting and all we can do is continue to shout and make a fuss. I’m afraid that it will take massive and consistent demonstrations before anything (if anything) would begin to make a difference and even then, elections are still 18 months away and that’s a really fucking long time.

I just want to be able to go back to thinking about art and music. I want to feel like going off to college is a worthwhile and important pursuit for my daughter so she is prepared for her future. That is really fucking hard when each day looks more and more like some dystopian novel. Everything is awful. We need to triumph. We need to restore sanity, decency, and normalcy. My beautiful world, we need to get it back.

You Can Close Your Eyes

James Taylor – You Can Close Your Eyes

This past Christmas, all of my siblings and I were up at my mother’s house in Maine. My brother lives about a half hour away from her but the rest of us came from near (me at 4 hours) and far (San Francisco was the farthest). It was great to all be there, all of our kids got to see their cousins, which given their ages (13-19) is probably the last time they will all be together in one place until one of them gets married.

On Christmas Eve, someone suggested we sing some Christmas carols so my youngest sister, the one with the Yale music degree, played the piano and many of my siblings, my two brothers-in-law, one niece, and my daughter, all joined in. Very festive. On Christmas itself, my brother brought one of his guitars over (I think he has close to a dozen, he started making them himself some years back) for a late night jam session in the kitchen. My mother expanded her kitchen and turned her garage into a dining room thirteen years ago so when we are that many people, it tends to split into the younger generation hanging out in the living room and the grown-ups in the kitchen, taking care of meal prep or doing dishes. So after that was all done, out came the guitar.

Inevitably, there were the six of us, sitting around the kitchen table, singing James Taylor songs. The in-laws and the children drifted elsewhere. They would have been welcome, of course, but they aren’t as well-versed in the James catalog, and by that I mean, have the entire thing, with all the three-part harmonies and all the oh-nos and yeah-babies, committed to memory.

My oldest sisters were huge James Taylor fans so from the time I was probably about 8 years old, there was a heavy rotation of James’s records on the family stereo. My younger sister doesn’t remember life without James Taylor songs on in the background. So deeply ingrained are these songs in my brain that if I ever suffer from amnesia or lose my ability to speak from some kind of head trauma, I think I would still be able to sing these songs. Up until, say, 1985, when I went off to college, I know every song on every album of his. My first real concert* was James Taylor at Jones Beach. He is completely responsible for my love of three-part harmonies and for guys from the south with long hair and slight accents. Even my mother, who normally only listens to classical music, loved James Taylor (probably those harmonies) so he was long-car-ride approved. There we would all be, my mom driving and six kids jammed in the back and the way back, singing along, splitting ourselves into the different parts.

And so it was again in my mom’s kitchen. This song lends itself particularly well to this kind of sing along. I used to sing it to my kids when they were babies and I was trying to get them to go to sleep. I debated about which video of this song to use, the one from him in London in 1970 (so dreamy!**), or the one with Carly Simon (the cheesy mustache, so 70s!), the studio version, so you could hear the original standard, but then I saw this one. Stephen Colbert is so visibly thrilled, like he just can’t believe that he is getting to sing this song with James Taylor, in real life, that I couldn’t resist. Colbert is from an even bigger family than mine, and from South Carolina, and I can just imagine that his childhood was likewise spent singing these songs with his siblings in three-part harmonies.

*Technically, my first concert was James’s brother Livingston at a bar in New Haven when I was 15 but I don’t really count that as an actual concert.

**The way James looks in the 1970 London video, that set the standard for me for many years to come.

Feeling Gravitys Pull

R.E.M. – Feeling Gravitys Pull

It is Michael Stipe’s birthday so I figured that was a good reason to finally write this post I’ve been mulling over for more than a month now. That I waited until nearly midnight just goes to show that these things are sometimes hard for me to actually commit to writing. It’s so much easier when it stays up in my head, where I know what I mean and don’t have to try to lay it bare.

Just after Thanksgiving, a friend from Instagram posted a very intriguing picture. Actually, the picture would have meant nothing to me but the caption was, “Michael Shannon and friends perform Fables of the Reconstruction.” Um, what? So many questions. 1) Who is Michael Shannon? 2) Why? 3) Why Fables? As opposed to, say, any of the other I.R.S. albums? 4) Had I known about it, and had I been able to go (no on both counts) would I have? The jury is out.

I have since looked up who Michael Shannon is but that did not answer anything for me. I also looked up the event itself and learned that not only was this happening, but the stage show was accompanied by live drawings of the songs projected behind the performers as they played them. I asked my Instagram friend what the drawings were like and she said she couldn’t see them from her angle. But then the artist himself commented with a link to his Instagram with the drawing(s)! Please go check it out.

So then I was really torn in an after-the-fact dilemma of would I have had the guts to go. I really loved the drawings and the idea of witnessing this illustration on the fly of my favorite album would have been really cool. But other people performing the songs from my favorite album of all time? I’m not sure. A number of years ago A.V. Undercover had “Driver 8” on the docket and it was the last song left in that season, meaning no one else dared to cover it and The Walkmen were reluctantly tasked with it. I didn’t make it through watching the whole video. It’s not their fault, really. I’ve often debated with myself if I were in a band and presented with the A.V. Undercover challenge and an R.E.M. song were on the list, would I say we should do it because I wouldn’t want anyone else to, or avoid it for fear of not doing it justice. I’m not sure why Michael Shannon and Friends picked Fables, unless it’s their favorite too and they are not similarly plagued by these thoughts, but I feel like some of the songs would be really hard to do. To be sure, “Driver 8” and “Maps and Legends” along with most of Another Side (as opposed to A Side) could be pretty straight forward. But where would you even start to try and cover “Feeling Gravitys Pull” or “Life and How to Live It” – songs that, to me, are so endowed by their creators with an other-worldly quality that it’s simply not possible for mere mortals to touch them.

A few weeks later, a different Instagram friend, who is in a band out in San Francisco, posted a video snippet of them at a party doing a little preview of their project to perform Fables. It was just a couple of acoustic guitars and a guy singing “Driver 8” in a living room. Didn’t I sit around with my friends in high school playing guitars and singing songs by bands we liked? Of course. My friend Tom and his band even did “Can’t Get There From Here” at a house party the summer after my freshman year of college. That seemed fine. But that was also before I ever saw R.E.M. myself. [And here I have to just interrupt this story to say that, OMG, it happened again at the office Christmas lunch that people started talking about concerts and someone asked what was the best concert you’ve ever been to and I had to just say, “we already covered this” and shut that conversation down.] It is just that no one, ever, will be able to do what Michael Stipe does with these songs. I know that they aren’t trying to do what he does. I’ll bet that at 59, even Michael can’t just summon that up on demand. After all, isn’t that why they disbanded? I guess I am just having a hard time understanding what would make people take the leap from, hey let’s hang out singing our favorite songs off of Fables, to let’s perform the whole album in a club in front of people.

Clearly, as was already known, I have issues with R.E.M. and me and being out in public. It wasn’t always this way. In college I proudly wore my pink R.E.M. bicycle shirt all the time. I spent over a year searching for shoes just like the ones Michael is wearing in this video (close-up at 1:50) and then wore them every day because “when you meet a stranger, look at his shoes.” Maybe it’s because I spent so much of my 20s trying to emulate Michael and falling woefully short that I find this so perplexing. Maybe people who are not trying so hard to be something they can never be are able to just have some fun with songs they love.

In the end, I wasn’t there, I won’t be there, and in these dark times, I feel like creative people should bring whatever light to the world they can. And I really like those illustrations.

High Pressure Days

The Units – High Pressure Days

I am really not sure what to do about the stress levels lately. It’s affecting everyone. More sleep? Exercise? Therapy? Drugs? We just had five days off for Thanksgiving and it didn’t even make a dent, in fact, it might have made things worse. There’s not enough time in the day, nor enough days in the week, to get everything done that needs to get done. My daughter tells me frequently that I am stressing her out. I am stressing her out because she is stressing me out! It’s a lose-lose situation that I don’t know how to fix.

Then there’s the general anxiety caused by having a narcissistic, pathological liar in the White House, out to enrich himself and his cronies at the expense of democracy. They are hell bent on the complete destruction of the economy, the environment, the educational system, the free press, diversity, truth, justice, and the American way. NBD. I drive around with my Mueller protest sign in the car because who knows when Mango Pol Pot might decide to have his unconstitutionally appointed AG fire the special counsel and we all hit the streets.

Tomorrow we find out if Mississippi can pull itself together and elect a black man instead of a woman who would gladly be in the front row at a public hanging. WTAF. 2018.

Blind

David Byrne – Blind

One of those September shows was David Byrne. I’d always regretted that I hadn’t seen Talking Heads before they broke up. Not that I really had the chance but it wasn’t physically impossible. I have felt this way since Stop Making Sense came out. I was in my senior year of high school and a friend and I went to see it at this tiny movie theater in our town up in Maine. Of course back then, I didn’t think I would never get the chance. We left our seats and danced in the aisle; I remember thinking, wow, imagine how great this would be in real life.

I also had thought about going to see David Byrne when he teamed up with St. Vincent for Love This Giant but I couldn’t really swing it. Earlier this year I heard about David Byrne’s tour for his latest album American Utopia. I checked out the schedule but the nearest venues for me were far away and not good timing so I didn’t get a ticket. As luck would have it, he announced a second string of dates with a show just a little farther than my usual haunts and it was even on a weekend! It was a seated venue I hadn’t been to before so I wanted to get a good seat. As soon as pay day rolled around, I managed to get a spot with only two people next to me and no one in front of me in the first tier (up three steps from the floor). It often pays to need only one ticket!

When I got there, the spot was even better than I had expected due to the weird way they configured the stairs and the railing. I had my own little private triangle of dancing space in front of my seat. 10/10, would buy again! But I was worried that people would be duds and not get up and dance and yell at me to sit down. No one was on their feet for the opening band, tUnEyArDs, and there were a lot of bald and gray-haired heads in the crowd. Thankfully those fears were put to rest as soon as the house lights went down and everyone in the packed auditorium was on their feet for the duration.

I don’t really think it’s possible to describe this show adequately. It was magical. David Byrne is a creative genius. It was equal parts theater performance, marching band routine, choreographed dance, light show, and concert. To say nothing of how talented, diverse, and international the band was. Everyone barefoot and in identical gray suits. Six percussionists wearing their instruments like a high school drum line. A keyboard player likewise outfitted. Two back-up singers/dancers, a guitar player, a bass player, and all wireless. Musicians came and went through a beaded backdrop that created three sides of a cube. So much to see and take in. I could have seen it every night for a week and still not have gotten it all.

There were a lot of Talking Heads songs but also plenty from the new album, and songs from his earlier collaborations and projects as well. I don’t think I will ever see anything like it ever again. It easily belongs in my top twenty concerts of all time, maybe even in the top ten. And that’s not just me, my sister and brother-in-law saw the show a few days later in New York and were similarly blown away. My mother’s neighbor saw it up in Maine and described it as “off-the-charts amazing.” In looking for a video to use with this post, I came across one from a woman in London who wrote in the description, “I think this is the best live show I’m ever going to see.” A sentiment echoed by NME.

I hope he had it filmed at some point because even though videos don’t really capture the energy of a live performance, it deserves to be professionally recorded. David Byrne is 66 years old and is not slowing down. I love that he is still as unconventional now as he was in the early days of Talking Heads. And it isn’t just for show, he walks the walk. He had Headcount.org along and urged everyone to vote, and they closed the night with a cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.”

The tour has moved on to Europe and then I think to New Zealand and Australia so I think you missed your chance if you didn’t get to go. I think it will be hard for him to top this but I’ll definitely keep my ears open for his next project.

The Great Curve

Angelique Kidjo – The Great Curve (Talking Heads cover)

Have you heard Angelique Kidjo’s version of the Talking Heads album, Remain in Light? If not, get on that right away. I heard about it this summer and for a couple of weeks, it was the only thing I listened to. It was the album I didn’t know I needed. As much as I love the original, hearing her version, and hearing an interview with her about it, brought another dimension to these songs I’ve had in my head for years.

Naturally, I went looking for tour dates and had every intention of trying to go down to New York to catch her show in late September in Central Park. Then September filled up with other shows and competing events at home and I couldn’t pull it off. This has been happening a lot this past year and I don’t really see an easy solution to the problem of needing to be in two places at once. Nor do I see things changing in our circumstances to free up some of my time or my required presence.

I just wanted to be in a big crowd of people who would all be grooving to these covers. The world would be a much better place if people would spend less time worrying about how stupid they think they look and just let the music lead the way.

(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang

Heaven 17 – (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang

What ho, November! I have to tell you all, my music listening these days is pretty much just an exercise in trying to not listen to the news. I start out in the car in the morning thinking, ok, what disasters happened since last night, because you know there are always a few, and I turn on NPR. But the second that they play a clip of the Tacky-Know-Nothing-Fascist-Vulgarian* speaking, I hit the button to change the station. Then I’m pissed off so I need something to counter my mood. I wouldn’t say I’m in a rut but I’m not seeking out a lot of new music either. I want something that delivers.

One of the reasons I keep coming back to NaBloPoMo is because I really enjoy being able to look back at the previous years and see what was going on. Guess what? I’ve now been posting angry political songs for three years running! It’s a tradition at this point, one I would dearly love to retire but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I end up pulling songs from my Resistance playlist a fair amount. It’s been my go-to when I need to quickly switch the vibe in the car. Usually I would also be listening to the new releases of bands that I’m going to see but my concert attendance has declined due to my kids’ schedules and our still only having one car. Some of them have been amazing so that’s good, but I miss hitting up the smaller shows and discovering something new. Hit me up with your suggestions.

 

Exhuming McCarthy

R.E.M. – Exhuming McCarthy

I thought I had written about my resistance playlist before but I can’t find it so I must not have. During the months between the election and the inauguration I tried to keep myself from descending into desperation by working on a playlist to bolster my stamina for the fights ahead. I hadn’t listened to it for quite a long time but today, I couldn’t take listening to NPR on my way to work to hear about how Vlad Jr. was committing treason in Helsinki so I plugged in the phone and fired it up. I’ve just made one substitution and should probably go back and tinker with it since it reflects the state of things before we were in it up to our eyeballs, but it did the trick on my commute. I’m sharing it with you all in this still in-progress format in case you too could use a little shot in the arm. Here you go.*

There’s a lot of talk from some GOP members about how stunned they are about Twitler kissing Putin’s ass and throwing the US intelligence agencies, plus the country as a whole, under the bus. Really? REALLY?! NOW you’re surprised? NOW you’re shocked? NOW it’s dawning on you that you’ve been backing a fascist traitor? NOW? Listen, this has been obvious for years. I was looking back through my entries to try and find that mention of this playlist and I have been talking about this since a year before the election, at least. Maybe longer. What did they think would happen when he said he would have a private meeting with no other Americans in the room? I mean, Jesus Christ, you can’t possibly be that naive.

Talk without action to back it up is cheap. How many of those Senators expressing horror at this shit show are still going to happily approve Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court? Unless they take a fucking stand and defect from the GOP, and do it now, I don’t see how they are not equally complicit. Well, I think they are complicit anyway, some actually so much so that they were alluded to in the indictment of 12 Russians last Friday. I just can’t comprehend the mental gymnastics necessary for them to live with themselves. What a bunch of fucking cowards. If/when the shit hits the fan they’ll be falling all over themselves to say they couldn’t have known. Bullshit. “…Senator, look you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Crickets.

I’ve also seen a number of people wondering why we aren’t all out in the streets. One reply I saw was pointing out that we don’t have job protections and without jobs, we don’t have health insurance. If there is a large enough outpouring so people can’t be penalized, it could work, but everyone is afraid to take that first step or waiting for the trigger. So we settle for planned marches and weekend protests. It makes us feel good for a few hours, the pictures are impressive, but it doesn’t move the needle.

Then I came to think about something my cousin had said that time I went to Germany and we visited Dresden. They used to gather in the evenings at a particular church (which had been left in ruins after the war) and shake their keys. Thousands of people all standing together and making noise. They did it on Monday nights. The wall fell within a matter of weeks. We could do that. All over the country, pick a spot, turn out. Let’s go.

* Sorry if you don’t have Spotify. I will try to make a YouTube version if I get a chance.

 

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.