High school

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

Don’t You (Forget About Me)

Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)

On Saturday, my high school class in New York held their 30th reunion. I wasn’t there, we were up in Maine for Thanksgiving with my mother. One of my former classmates had added me to the Facebook group earlier in the fall and I was halfway tempted to go but logistically, it just didn’t make sense. Plus, I didn’t graduate from there, as we moved the summer after 10th grade, and I’m not at all sure people that hadn’t also been in elementary school with me would have remembered me.

Today there have been lots of pictures from the reunion posted to the FB group. I am silently sitting here looking at them all and wishing someone would get busy tagging everyone because, hey, not everyone looks the same as they did 30 years ago. To be sure, some people I could easily identify and for the most part, everyone looks really great for our age. They fared much better than the Maine high school reunion pictures I saw from their get together this summer.

I could have attended either or both of those reunions but one of the consequences of having split my high school years between two places is that I didn’t have enough time in either to really have a close group of friends. Typically after you graduate from high school and people go off to college in different places, you at least see your old friends when you’re all home for summer or Christmas. We did go back to New York a lot that first year but even then I could already see that the dynamics of the social scene in my class were shifting and I wasn’t going to be a part of it. It’s hard to know if we hadn’t moved if I would have been hanging with the cool kids or not. I’d like to think so but I remember feeling like I was losing my friends to the other kids who were still there. The only way for me to keep in touch was through writing letters (because long-distance phone calls were really expensive) and how many teenagers are going to do that? Not many, I can tell you. Out of sight, out of mind.

As I drive my daughter to her high school every morning, I sometimes get a little peak into what her life is like. She’ll tell me she’s got a quiz in a class that day or she’ll see someone she knows as we wait in the drop off line and tell me a little something about them. One morning she complained that high school wasn’t what she expected it to be and that “all the movies lied” because she felt they hadn’t portrayed the reality of what a slog it was. I told her she had just been watching the wrong movies because all of the high school movies from my teenage years were 100% accurate. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (’82), Sixteen Candles (’84), The Breakfast Club (’85). Am I right? Anyone? Anyone?

I think a John Hughes marathon may be in order. Which one do you think I should have her watch her first?

Ohm

Yo La Tengo – Ohm

My daughter asked me to help her with her math homework tonight. I’m sure I learned what she’s studying at some point but I have only the faintest clue how to go about solving these equations and the way I was taught is probably not how they teach it now.

It’s hard to counsel kids about advanced math subjects when you have forgotten all of it yourself. I often think it’s sending the wrong message for me to even try because I run the risk of admitting that it’s something I had to memorize for a test, promptly forgot, and have never needed again. This kind of math problem is more my speed.

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.

Shellshock

New Order – Shellshock

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks, big projects at work that kept me late, family visiting at the end of the summer, and finally, the start of the school year.

Sometime in there I was also added to the Facebook group for the 30th reunion for the high school class that I attended up through 10th grade. Even though we moved away for my last two years of high school, I had spent all of my earlier school years with those same kids and had a number of friends that I’d reconnected with on Facebook. People started posting old pictures from high school to the group. I even spotted myself in the class picture they posted as the cover photo for the group. It’s funny because I never would have remembered the event but then when I saw the picture, it came back to me.

With all of these images from 30 years ago fresh in my mind, my daughter started high school. I was definitely more nervous about it all than she was. I tried to hide that but I’m not really sure how successful I was. She has had a good start and seems to have adjusted pretty well. I, on the other hand…

First of all, the school bus goes past our house at a completely ridiculous hour so for years I had told my daughter I would drive her so she didn’t have to wake up before 6 a.m. Instead we both wake up by 6:15 and then sleepily shuffle through the bare minimum to get ourselves out the door by 7. As we sit in the drop off line, I watch all the teenagers pile out of cars and into the school. Even in my pre-coffee state I can see history repeating itself.

Last night was the Open House. There was precious little information about what that entailed but I knew we were supposed to get our child’s schedule and then follow through their classes for brief introductions from the teachers. Where to go inside the building, how long it would last, where all the classrooms are, were all things they just expected you to know. There weren’t any special signs just for the night to help out the freshman parents. The announcements on the PA were barely audible, the building has a confusing layout so the main entrance on ground level is actually considered the second floor. Not that it says that anywhere.

I wandered through the hallways alone, feeling very small and totally lost. I saw some people I knew but nearly all of them were breezing through the place like old pros and they seemed not to recognize me from elementary school events three years ago. I’m sure it’s partly a question of logistics that they have us all follow our kids’ schedules but I also think they are trying to give you an idea of what your kid’s day actually looks like. French class in this hall then race over to that wing for math, all the way to the far corner for gym class (led by Mr. Clean’s twin brother), up to the third floor for history.

It was just as awful as I remembered high school being 30 years ago. The walls of lockers, the tight staircases, the buzzing bell telling you to change classes, the smell of an old, sweaty gym, the cliques (yes, even as parents) you aren’t part of clustering in the hallways; all of it unchanged. I was walking around growing increasingly haunted by flashbacks. This was not helped by the presence of cheerleaders in high ponytails with heaps of baby blue sparkly eye shadow. I really don’t think it was the school’s intention to make my palm’s sweat but I’ll give them extra credit for recreating that authentic experience for me.

I can’t remember what I dreamed about last night but I woke up this morning with this song stuck in my head. When I went to find the video this morning, I realized there was a shorter edit of this song in the John Hughes movie, Pretty in Pink. The subconscious works in mysterious ways.

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!