College

Still Ill

The Smiths – Still Ill

Next up on my concert calendar is Johnny Marr. I never posted an entry about the time I saw him 4 1/2 years ago but I did write it down and I’m just so excited about the show, that tonight I went back and reread it. I don’t want to post the whole thing because that feels weird this much later but the concert exceeded my expectations last time and let’s just be honest, it’s because of all the Smiths songs he played. I like his solo material and if he didn’t bust out any Smiths songs, it would still be a good show. However, those songs, they are not just songs.

One of the things that strikes me as I read what I wrote, my emotions were on full display at that show and I just let it happen. I think I was caught off guard. When he played Panic as the second song, I was really not ready. It came so early! The crowd responded with cheers and dancing, and everyone sang along. I am normally not someone who condones audience members joining in for anything but the most obvious of performer encouraged participation, but you didn’t know how badly you wanted to be in a room full of people singing, “Burn down the disco, hang the blessed dj, because the music they constantly play, it says nothing to me about my life…” until you were doing it. Likewise with Headmaster Ritual and Bigmouth Strikes Again.

Since The Smiths broke up while I was in college, it’s not like there are albums from my early adult years to muddy the waters. All of their songs are a perfect little time capsule of those mid-80s, highly angst-ridden and lovelorn years. And so it was when I finally got to hear songs like Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, or How Soon is Now, I was overcome by a wave of feelings that I hadn’t felt in decades. When he played Still Ill, I’m here to tell you that it was like the old days and that night, the body definitely ruled the mind as tears and sweat dripped down my face in equal measure while I danced the same way I used to in my dorm room. The last song of the night? There is a Light That Never Goes Out. I was toast.

So this time, I am aware. I won’t say I’m prepared because those songs, and the memories and emotions that are tied to them, are strong enough to knock me off my feet. In a good way. Now. I like going to shows and having my breath taken away. I love to be reminded of the power of music and to feel it, truly, physically feel it. Maybe he won’t play that many of the old songs and it’ll just be a show. Or maybe he’ll play Ask and Half a Person or The Boy with the Thorn in His Side, and I’ll be toast all over again.

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.

Crazy (live)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campus

Vampire Weekend – Campus

Today my daughter and I toured another college campus. She’s a senior in high school and while we visited a bunch back in April, I had felt there was plenty of time to do schools in New England when we both had more time in the fall.

There is never more time in the fall, I don’t know what I was thinking. But summer isn’t really a good time since many college campuses don’t have much going on and work was super busy for me, she also had a summer job, so here we are.

I’m sure you all remember that I was not enamored with my college experience. While I have tried really hard not to make this whole process be some kind of attempt to re-do my own college search, I think I have some valuable knowledge and if I can help my kids have good options available to them, then I’m going to do what I can to make that happen.

I was talking with my mom this evening about the campus we toured today and she surprised me by saying that she feels badly now that she didn’t take me around to look at schools. I told her she shouldn’t feel that way because how could she have taken me anywhere, when we were living in Maine and I was determined to go south of the Mason-Dixon line. Plus, my junior year grades were, shall we say, not my best work so it probably would have just made my disappointment greater when I got all those rejection letters. Besides, with my oldest sisters at Yale, and my mother’s job at a small liberal arts college, it’s not like I didn’t already have an image in mind of what college should be like. Therein lies the problem; nowhere I could have gotten in was ever going to match up to my expectations.

My daughter is less specific about where she wants to go. I think it still feels so far in the future to her that she hasn’t been able to put herself in the mindset of being done with high school and away from home. Going on campus tours definitely helps. With the deadline to get her applications finished looming, I thought reminding her about the end goal might motivate her a little. If that backfires, I’m moving on to bribes.

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.

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 pored 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.