College

Among the Americans

10,000 Maniacs – Among the Americans

One can no longer be surprised or shocked by the “new low” that 45 now inflicts upon us day in and day out. Yet still, I was stunned by just how awful today’s completely unnecessary show of his vileness was. Oh how I wish those Navajo code talkers had started saying something, anything, in their native language after he made his remarks. It would have scared the crap out of him.

His attempt at a dig at Elizabeth Warren was probably the sort of thing you could have predicted, and I’ll bet some White House staffer was standing around sweating it out, just counting down the minutes hoping to get through it before he could screw it up. Uh, it doesn’t work like that. He’s going to say something horribly inappropriate and/or offensive no mater who it is or what the circumstances are. I don’t understand why anyone shows up at the White House these days. It’s a given that he can’t be welcoming, genuine, grateful, or anything approaching normal human behavior.

But then to even hold this “ceremony” in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, who had signed the Indian Removal Act which forced other Native American tribes from their ancestral lands; that was no accident. I don’t begin to think Mango Mussolini is aware enough of history to have come up with the idea but as we have come to expect, those with devious designs know that just winding him up and turning him loose will net them results.

It’s a distraction, it’s just a distraction, you hear people say. Don’t lose focus! The tax bill! Net neutrality! The CFPB! Court appointments! Mueller investigation! It matters though. It all matters. I can be outraged at all of it.

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Begin the Begin

R.E.M. – Begin the Begin

Thirty-one years ago tonight I went to my first R.E.M. concert. It wasn’t my first concert but it was the beginning of what became a way of life. I hadn’t known a live show could be so completely captivating. I hadn’t known that a concert could change your whole way of seeing the world. I didn’t know that I would need to see it again.

We bought t-shirts, a poster, and a tour program, all of which I still have. The t-shirt is in tatters. The poster is rolled up in a tube, a little worn at the edges from years of hanging and rehanging. The program is in pristine condition, having been carefully stored in a plastic record sleeve and preserved in a plastic tote lo these 31 years. And the stub. In the past I hadn’t paid much attention to what became of my ticket stubs after the show. But this stub was pinned up on my wall for the rest of my college years and stayed with me through all of my moves.

After getting back to our college campus, my best friend and I poured over the tour program. Where were they going to be the next night and was it anywhere near us? Could we get the train to DC in a couple of days and go to the show there? Was it sold out? Where could we sleep? Who would be able to sleep after a show anyway? By morning we realized we couldn’t really pull it off but we never made that mistake again. One show was never going to be enough.

This video is from the Work Tour the following year. There are very few videos out there from the Pageantry Tour.

 

Supermoon

Omni – Supermoon

I had never heard of Omni before I saw them opening up for Franz Ferdinand back in June. I liked them and felt like they would be a lot of fun to see on their own for a full set when people aren’t impatient for the headliner. They’re from Atlanta. You could tell, couldn’t you? I mean that in the best possible way, in case that wasn’t obvious.

Once upon a time, that fact would have been enough for me to plop down probably up to seven dollars on their record. I have a pretty decent collection of records by bands who came from Georgia or North Carolina, or who had their album produced by Mitch Easter and/or Don Dixon, or mastered by Greg Calbi, was on DB Records, or 688 Records, you get the idea.

There is an original copy of the Method Actors Dancing Underneath sitting down the street in the M bin of my local (mostly used) record store. It’s $14. I haven’t bought it because that seems like a lot for just five songs. Besides, I feel pretty safe in leaving it there because I’m pretty sure that I am the only person likely to buy it. It’s been sitting there for a couple of years now and I keep pulling it out to see if the owner has realized that it’s not moving at all and maybe he should drop the price. He has not.

Now the price of a new record is rarely less than $20. I’m not begrudging bands for charging that much, given the costs to make and distribute them, to say nothing of how little they make from the streaming services, but it’s far less likely that I’ll take the plunge. The album this Omni song comes from was released in September so I couldn’t have bought it at the show anyway but I’m more likely to buy a record at a show because I am under the (perhaps mistaken – more to come on this another day) impression that the band will net more money this way. Come back this way, Omni! I’ll come see you and buy some stuff!

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.

You Are the Everything

R.E.M. – You Are the Everything

So, the other reason I was superstitious about this election is that it falls on the same day as my first presidential election, November 8, 1988. That one didn’t turn out so well.

At this point the prospect of having George H.W. Bush would be a godsend in comparison to what seems poised to happen here tonight. I’m not going to wait up to find out. Not that I think I’ll sleep but I’m going to stop watching.

This album came out 28 years ago today. I hated it. I hated it, hated it, hated it. I won’t say that I thought they sold out but it was not the album I wanted them to make. And I hated that people who had made fun of me for the way I looked and the things I felt were important, suddenly were listening to R.E.M. This was my band and how dare they like them now. I felt like I’d lost a lot that night. I’d lost the election, and I’d lost my favorite band to something that I didn’t understand.

I’m very scared for this world but there is still beauty out there. Deep breaths.

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.

 

O Mio Babbino Caro

Kiri Te Kanawa – O Mio Babbino Caro

This evening we went to my daughter’s chorus concert. The group she is in and the orchestra performed this song together and I am sure I was not the only one in the high school auditorium who had these scenes running through their mind.

A Room With a View is largely responsible for my fascination with British period films, Merchant Ivory productions, and a longing for Italy that five years of Latin classes never managed to spark. I actually went to graduate school with hopes of killing two birds with one stone; have the study abroad experience I didn’t have in college because I’d been too busy trying to transfer, and put myself on a path to working, somehow, with making film adaptations from books. This movie was going to be my thesis.

Ever since I first saw the film, and I can’t even remember now when that first was, I believed that all I needed to be able to start living the life I was meant to live, was to travel to somewhere as beautiful as the places so many movies I loved had been filmed. I was sure that if I could throw open my double window like Lucy Honeychurch and see the splendors of Florence all around me, my George Emerson would appear in a field of waist high wildflowers, just like that. And if that was too far-fetched, well, there was no shortage of other films to choose from as inspiration. Enchanted April, Howard’s End, all the Jane Austen film adaptations, everything Kenneth Branagh did, it’s a long list.

My first attempt at this was my first European trip in 1994. I’d quit my job and had this plan of settling in Prague and doing something to support myself. It didn’t matter what, I was just going to live in this beautiful city and things would click into place. I did have contacts and I’d done a lot of research, but after only two weeks I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I continued on to Austria, spending close to a week in Salzburg so I could see every inch of the place that had been burned into my brain from years of watching The Sound of Music. I returned to Washington D.C. from Vienna and figured I just needed to recalibrate this plan. Prague was beautiful but it was still shaking off the Cold War in a lot of ways and I was probably too young and uncertain about myself to have really made a go of things.

I wound up back in Maine by the summer of 1994. Always intending to leave before the snow flies, I was still there for winter, and the two after that. There’s nothing like a Maine winter to make you wish for sun-kissed foreign vistas. I spent a lot of money at the video store borrowing more and more films to transport myself to someplace else. Even soggy British countrysides were an improvement. That dream of the perfect place and the perfect life was still there. I felt like I needed a more realistic goal though, and that’s how the graduate school idea took hold.

“Oh, but dreams have a knack of just not coming true.” I finally made it to graduate school, in the middle of nowhere in mid-west Wales, and the professor who taught a course about film adaptations was on sabbatical for the year. Foiled again.

 

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.