College

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.

Let’s Go Crazy

Prince – Let’s Go Crazy (by way of Hamilton)

The videos are not online. Or, if they are, they won’t be there for long. It was a strange mourning, to be at work and wanting to listen to the songs that we all knew but knowing that they wouldn’t be available to illustrate the shared grief. Luckily I had a meeting that afternoon in a room at the library. I did a quick catalog search and wrote down the call numbers and headed over to the meeting a few minutes early so I had time to stop in the music collection.

I grabbed Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, and Sign O’ the Times. I really wanted 1999 but they didn’t have it. I was not a huge Prince fan but I turned 13 in 1980. That means the entirety of my teenage years occurred during Prince’s biggest decade. If you can remember the videos, I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that Prince was responsible for kick starting a lot of teenagers’ sexual awareness back then. Let’s not forget it was Prince’s “Darling Nikki” that shocked Tipper Gore into founding the PMRC.

I still didn’t listen to the CDs when I got back from my meeting, I saved them for the car ride home. I decided Purple Rain should come first. When “Let’s Go Crazy” started, and those lyrics I hadn’t paid much attention to came on, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…” I lost it. Then the drums kicked in, and he was talking about the afterworld, and I cranked that song up so loud I thought my rear windshield was going to shatter. I pulled out of the parking lot and into traffic and I didn’t worry about anyone seeing an errant tear falling down my cheek because I was sure everyone else would hear the music and feel the same.

It surprised me that I reacted so strongly. Of course I knew all of these songs. Of course they were a part of my life, but it wasn’t music that I had felt especially tied to or even thought about frequently. I respected Prince and I acknowledged the huge role he had played and the love a lot of my friends had for him but I wasn’t among the truly devoted. I even tried following him on Twitter just two weeks ago or so and gave up after a day because I couldn’t make sense of his tweets. As I drove home and listened to all of Purple Rain and then started it over again, I teared up again.

I spent last night watching news come in of late night block parties in Brooklyn and an all night dance party at First Avenue in Minneapolis, and watching all the cities turn their lights to purple. Because none of his music is available online (come on, do you know anyone with a TIDAL subscription?) the legions of his faithful fans had to physically come together, turn on the radio, bring out their albums, just like we used to do. Hell, even MTV was relevant again. Back in January we took to our computers to reach out to friends when David Bowie died, to share obscure videos and pictures, favorite songs, memories. We met there. It helped us all to feel less alone and isolated in our shock and grief. This time it wasn’t enough.

The video above is from the curtain call of Hamilton on Broadway the night that Prince died. I saw it come up on Twitter and I blinked away tears again. I think what moved me so much was watching how people had to be together. These songs were so much a part of our formative years, so much a celebration of living, dancing, sex, love. Even if I never thought about those songs as having special meaning for me, when I listened to them in the car I realized that they are a part of me. And I don’t feel old enough for this piece to be over.

 

 

 

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.

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.