Growing up

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.

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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.

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.

Personality Crisis

New York Dolls – Personality Crisis

My local record store is a tiny cramped space, even if you’re the only customer in there. Today there were a couple of people in there when I arrived and more came when they left so it felt particularly tight. The guy who works there said there were several bins of records that they hadn’t had a chance to price yet, a big collection that they’d bought, but they were all for sale so feel free to dig through the milk crates.

While the owner does get in new records, re-issues as well as new releases, he mostly sells used stuff. New vinyl is generally too expensive for me so I stick to the used bins and hope that he has something different in stock. That new collection had some interesting records but most of them were in kind of iffy shape. Missing inner sleeves, worn out covers, some scratches on the vinyl. I passed on a number of albums that I might have thought about buying if they’d looked a little less worn out.

After flipping through seven or so dusty bins, in the last box of records, I found an original copy of the first New York Dolls album. The cover was coming apart at the seams, as was the inner sleeve, but the record itself was in good condition. Such a classic. My brother used to play it all the time when he was in high school. I think he probably still has his copy, and given how meticulous he has always been about his stuff, I’m sure it’s in excellent shape. I only have a tape that my brother made me with this album on one side and Lou Reed on the other. I decided it was worth taking a chance with this copy since I’ve never come across it (in recent years – oh if only someone would have told me to grab a bunch more records back in the day).

I paid a little more for it than I thought it was worth really, given the sorry state of the cover and sleeve, but the guy cleaned it for me and I brought it home and ordered everyone else in the house to sit still while I put the needle down. This song came screaming out through the speakers and I got a huge grin on my face. It sounded great. It looked great too, nice and flat. Not bad at all for a 42-year-old record.

U.S. Blues

Grateful Dead – U.S. Blues

I had a really hard time picking one Dead song for today but hey, it’s the 4th of July weekend so this one, with its bicentennial video, seemed appropriate. Plus it’s one with Jerry Garcia on vocals and as tonight is the first of the three 50th anniversary Grateful Dead concerts in Chicago – which are also commemorating 20 years since they played their last shows before Jerry died – I thought it was fitting.

My oldest sister was (is still) a Deadhead. I don’t remember not having the Dead playing around the house as a kid. She put a “Honk if you like the Grateful Dead” bumper sticker on our family station wagon and much of the time it would be my mom driving around with a bunch of us littler kids in the back. She went off to college in 1979 and my next oldest sister and brother carried the torch for a while too but never to the same extent. I’m sure she toured as much as her money and available transportation allowed but it wasn’t like she ever dropped out and followed the band exclusively.

When we moved up to Maine, lots of the kids in my class were Deadheads. I was instantly welcomed by them as I knew all the songs and could sing the higher vocals in their basement jam sessions. And when a friend found himself with an extra ticket for the second show at the Augusta Civic Center in October of our senior year, he offered it to me. I was sure my mom would let me go, even though I was asking about going just hours before the show. To be honest, I didn’t have any of their albums myself and I was more interested in newer music but there’s no denying that the Grateful Dead helped shape my tastes, and I felt like one ought to go a Dead show at least once in life.

I can’t say I remember a whole lot about the show, not because I was high (although is it possible to not have at least a contact high at a Dead show?) but just because it’s been 31 years. I remember it being an unseasonably warm, sunny day and wandering around the parking lot before the show to buy a t-shirt to change into since I hadn’t had time to go home and change and my yellow and white striped button-down shirt really made me stand out. For all the concerts I have attended over the years though, this may be the one at which I saw more people just totally into being there. Completely immersed in the experience. It’s almost impossible to imagine a concert in 2015 that would have people that dialed in to a collective musical event.

My oldest sister lives in San Francisco now and she just went to the two shows in Santa Clara. Trey Anastasio is filling the Jerry Garcia role for these shows and even though I’m not a Phish fan, I can’t help but marvel at the way this has come full circle. One of those guys I was friends with in high school, went off to college where he became an early Phish fan, and subsequently became their manager. Small world.

Happy 4th of July and Happy 50th Birthday to the Grateful Dead!

Modern Love

David Bowie – Modern Love

My brother was a huge David Bowie fan and my mother hated David Bowie. But my mother also worked full-time so my brother took advantage of her not being home in the afternoons and my other two sisters and I received a daily education in all of David Bowie’s great achievements. We were schooled on Ziggy Stardust, we looked at the cover of Diamond Dogs unsure of what to make of it, we sang along to “Queen Bitch”, I did a report for 9th grade English class on “Kooks.”

My brother went off to college in 1982. In 1983 David Bowie released Let’s Dance. This was not my brother’s David Bowie. This was more like my older sister’s David Bowie. In fact, the cassette I listened to in the car today is the original 1983 copy that my sister bought, complete with a little sticker with her initials on it to identify it as hers in her college dorm room. This was dance-y Bowie, and not in a “John, I’m Only Dancing” way. It was produced with Nile Rodgers, after all. For my brother, worshipper of punk, hater of disco, this was a step too far.

Listening to it now, some of the songs are not really that far of a departure from some of his previous work, but the hits were really big hits. If you’ve been a fan of a band or musician when they’ve been less adored by the general public and then they suddenly become everyone’s favorite, especially if the album they’re now getting all the attention for is one you don’t like, it puts a real strain on your relationship with that band. I know a little something about that. So in hindsight, I’m sympathetic to my brother’s plight. At the time, though, we little sisters thought it was pretty cool that David Bowie had made an album you could dance to with your friends.

Last week was David Bowie’s birthday and I presume my brother has long since forgiven the now 68-year-old for Let’s Dance, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to know that he doesn’t own it. Judging by the fact that this tape was abandoned by everyone and found by me in my mother’s basement when we were there recently, I’d say it’s no one’s favorite. That and no one has a tape deck anymore. Long live my car’s tape deck and Tape Deck Tuesday for these trips down memory lane!

 

Could You

TV on the Radio – Could You

For New Year’s Eve, I took the kids down to Brooklyn because my sister was having a party. Two of my other sisters would be there and my nieces and nephew, so there would be lots of family hang time, even if it was a big, noisy party that went on until 4 a.m.

My nieces were having their friends over as well so there was a pretty good sized teenage contingent at the party. Some of the kids were the children of my sister’s friends and in some cases both the kids and the parents are friends. One of my niece’s friends, a 13-year-old boy I’ll call Joe, arrived with his parents and quickly disappeared with my niece and her other friends. My sister had been telling us that just before school let out for the Christmas break, Joe had come out to his parents and his friends. It seems like they all suspected as much already and having it out in the open was a relief. The big news was that he had also let another guy in their class know, and told him that he was interested in him. Much to everyone’s great delight, the other boy had written YES on a sign and was waiting outside of school for Joe at the end of the day.

My daughter (also 13) said that at midnight, Joe got a text from his new boyfriend and everyone was so happy for him. I spent some time talking with Joe’s parents that night and started 2015 off feeling good about people and about the next generation. No one would have been open about being gay when I was in eighth grade. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was someone’s beard for about two weeks back then. Here, not only was Joe confident and comfortable about coming out, it was practically just a formality, and the one relationship that changed because he did so, was one that changed in his favor.

I know this is far from everyone’s reality. I’m just glad for Joe that it is his. And I’m glad to be a part of a community with people like Joe’s parents and my niece and my sister and her other friends. I’m glad that my kids are growing up among people who are accepting of differences and that they are modeling that behavior themselves.

One of my Christmas presents from my mother was a gift card to the record store where I once worked after college. I picked up Seeds by TV on the Radio and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. I highly recommend the whole album.

Synchronicity II

http://vimeo.com/62530159#t=9s

The Police – Synchronicity II

For Christmas, my younger sister put out a request for some music for her 14-year-old son. You see, though she was exposed to a wide variety of music as a young child and tween, by the time she hit high school, the rest of us were all out of the house. She played the piano and she liked to sing and she was good at both so my mother got her involved in the youth orchestra and some choral groups. I would make her tapes to try to keep her informed about new music that wouldn’t get air play on the local radio but the pull of her everyday music was strong. She spent so much time practicing that she didn’t have much time to listen to other stuff. By the time she got to college she was an early music voice major and it was all over. She met her future husband at the Gilbert & Sullivan society on campus and that was about as modern as her music collection got. Those grade school years spent singing along to I Wanna Be Sedated were all but forgotten.

As a toddler, my nephew could identify all the classical composers that were in constant rotation in their house. And I do mean constant. They have one of those multi-disc players and from the moment my brother-in-law comes down in the morning until they go up to bed at night, some kind of (usually choral) classical music is playing.

As her kids have gotten older, they’ve expressed an interest in listening to the top 40 stations in the car and she’s obliged. I think she’s hoping to make sure they fit in with their peers but it’s not usually music she completely endorses. And especially for a 14-year-old boy, she knows there’s better stuff out there, she just doesn’t know what it is. So she appealed to her older siblings to help out. She was thinking about what was playing in the house when she was young; David Bowie, The Police, Talking Heads but modern stuff was fine too.

I split the difference. I ordered a Kishi Bashi CD, thinking that might interest my cello playing nephew who has been immersed in classical music his entire life, since he puts a new twist on what you expect from a classically trained violinist. Then I made him a CD with a couple of Ramones songs, some Clash, The Police, Talking Heads, and Elvis Costello. I have to say, it’s pretty good. It’s skimming the surface to be sure but I tried to keep my quirky nephew in mind and picked songs that I think he might like. It has the bonus feature of being all songs my little sister will instantly recognize and shock her kids by being able to sing along, and, dare I say it, rock out? If my nephew doesn’t like it, I think she will at least.

Blur the Line

The Meeting Places – Blur the Line

We are not Black Friday shoppers. For one thing, we’re not morning people. Being in line at 6am to go shopping sounds like a nightmare to me. It’s also pretty rare that I’m in the market for anything that might be on one of those big sales. Plus the crowds, the short tempers, really, there’s just no appeal.

I know the day after Thanksgiving has long been the unofficial start of the Christmas season, or at least the shopping season, but I don’t like the way it’s been creeping in sooner every year. I noticed several stores that made a point of opening at 6pm on Thanksgiving day. How shitty would that be for the people working there? I guess they would at least get paid double time but I would sure feel cheated if it were me.

When I was growing up we would all go to my grandparents’ in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. My mom’s from a big family too and there would be lots of uncles and aunts and cousins. I remember years when we had the grown-ups table, the kids table, and the spill-over table when there wasn’t enough room at either to fit everyone. The day after was always time to hang with the family members you didn’t see often and play with the weird old toys at grandma’s house.

Perhaps if we’d stayed home for Thanksgiving, and the day after was just us in our own house, shopping would have become something that made sense when you had a day off anyway. But that was never our custom and I like having a little buffer between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I like taking the time to just enjoy it before rushing onto the next holiday.

Cuyahoga

R.E.M. – Cuyahoga

I didn’t post yesterday. I had been thinking of a post in my head during the day but by the time I got home from work, we’d put the kids to bed, I talked with my mother about Thanksgiving travel plans, and I finally could get a chance to write, I felt I had nothing to say. I was disgusted by the grand jury decision in Missouri yet anything I thought of to write felt like too little too late. I stayed up late reading articles and watching Twitter and kept coming up short when I tried to find the right words.

The post I had been mulling over during the day yesterday came to me courtesy of driving my daughter to school again. It was raining heavily and I decided I could just as easily drop her off and spare her the wait for the school bus in the rain. She started telling me about a project they are doing in school. They have been divvied up into groups and each group has to start its own country. It’s an interdisciplinary project so all of her classes were taking part. In math they discussed different monetary and economic systems, in science they had debates about the impacts of genetic modification and from there, whether or not the countries they were building should allow it. In social studies they discussed different forms of government, laws, and rights.

I started singing this song then said they should use it for their country. No, she said, they had to write their own anthem, both the music and the lyrics, for the music part of the project. I wondered to myself if the social studies teacher, who organized this whole assignment, is an R.E.M. fan. In any case, I feel like congratulating him. We don’t really get to start a new country up but getting the kids to put their heads together and think about it, and understand how many different elements there are, what the ramifications of different decisions will be, I hope it will be a lesson they can take with them.

It could be a lesson for us as well. It’s clear that our system is not just flawed but skewed heavily in favor of those in power remaining in power. By any means necessary, it sometimes seems. Is this a government of the people, for the people, by the people? A police force so heavily armed it looks like it belongs on a battlefield instead of a city street?

When I was a kid we had School House Rock on Saturday mornings in between cartoons. I grew up absorbing those little history and civics lessons to catchy tunes and believing that’s how our country really worked. I can recite (or sing) the preamble to the Constitution because of it. Sing along. “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility…” Where is the justice? How can the police insure domestic tranquility when they are dressed for war?

So I go back to we the people, in order to form a more perfect union. I know it sounds sappy and simplistic but if we are ever going to achieve justice, it is going to be a lot of hard work. A lot of putting our heads together and thinking about the end results. There are no quick fixes. We need to work on the more perfect. A union that incorporates the view points of those who were left out of it when our father’s father’s father tried would be a good start. This can’t just be something we tell our kids to do for a school project. It has to be what engaged citizens just do because this land is the land of ours.