Parenting

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.

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.

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.

Flesh Without Blood

Grimes – Flesh Without Blood

New release Friday (still not used to that). Though this track was released about two weeks ahead of the album, Art Angels came out today. I have made peace with my streaming app for the car, after all it lets me listen to things like the newest releases on my way to work on a Friday morning and I’m paying $10 a month so I might as well use it.

I don’t think I could ever be a music critic because I need more time with albums before I can deliver an opinion and even then I’m more inclined to think my views are just mine, extremely subjective, and I don’t feel I have the musical knowledge to deconstruct songs the way reviewers always seem to.

I do know that this song sounded great in the car driving home in the dark this evening. Really loud. It made me want to drive much faster than is both legal and safe. In lieu of that, after everyone else went upstairs, I had a dance party by myself in the dining room. Come on over.

Sometimes I marvel at how people who are young can be so self-assured. When I think about what I was doing and how I felt about myself and my place in the world when I was the age Claire Boucher is now … well, I’d rather not. There are plenty of days where I still feel like I’m going to get caught impersonating an adult. Not that I feel childish but wasn’t there supposed to be some watershed moment that marked my passage from youth to full-fledged grown-up? You’d think marriage or having kids would have flipped that switch but in fact I think having kids just exacerbated my feeling like an impostor. I’m somebody’s mom?! Shit! I know how it happened but, how did that happen?

Is the kind of vision and will that Grimes has innate or did her parents have some really incredible skills and traits that they passed down to her? Even if her music isn’t your thing, you have to acknowledge that she’s managed to carve out a chunk of the music world and put her stamp on it. What’s the secret?

Zooropa

U2 – Zooropa

The other day my daughter asked me what people wore in the 90s since it’s school spirit week and her class is supposed to dress in that style for one day. I looked at her in jeans, a plaid button down shirt over a t-shirt, and a pair of Chuck’s, and said, “like that only, baggy.” We sure didn’t go for skinny jeans back then. I tried to think of other looks that she might be able to scrounge together. There was the baby doll dress with the clunky black shoes but she turned up her nose at the couple of flowery short dresses I found in storage.

I pulled up some videos hoping for inspiration. We checked out a couple of Nirvana videos, Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill (thinking she might fancy a riot grrrl look), L7. She wasn’t biting. I found a couple of Lush videos, maybe she would favor a more British take on things. The only thing she took away was a whole lot of black eye makeup.

The more I thought about it, the more I had a hard time putting my finger on a 90s look. Personally, I went from being an occasionally employed college grad who sported thrift store chic, to someone hoping to be hip while working at a museum in DC, then a cubicle farm at an insurance company up in Maine (ever the home of function over form), a year as a grad student overseas, and I closed it out working on the 30th floor at a publishing company in midtown Manhattan. Not a lot of crossover.

After looking at the videos, I hauled out some CDs to see if the cover art and liner notes might be of more help. My daughter lost interest and settled on her usual clothes; she’d just try to do something different with her hair. But once I started flipping through my music I got sucked in. I picked up a tape I’d made and was transported back to the early 90s.

Perhaps surprisingly, I went through a small U2 phase back then. Let’s call it their Berlin period. It’s a little strange that the height of their fame would be the moment when I would sit up and take notice, especially since I’d had friends that were on board from day one who had tried repeatedly to get me to fall for them and I had always remained more of a casual observer. It wasn’t that I disliked them, I just felt like they didn’t need me as a fan.

They certainly didn’t need me in the early 90s either as Achtung Baby took over the world. Blame it on Berlin. I’d been so swept up in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the huge and swift changes that took place all over eastern Europe in its wake. I also had it bad for the Wim Wenders film, Until the End of the World. I saw it in the movie theater four or five times and had the soundtrack on regular rotation. In that context, the U2 song became a favorite and I wanted more. I bought Achtung Baby and listened to it almost in secret. Of course I was going to love “Zoo Station.” Berlin. Trains. What’s not to love? But I found myself liking most of the album, in spite of the radio saturation.

We had an intern at work who came from Berlin. I rented old Wim Wenders films and peppered him with questions. 1993 brought Zooropa from U2 and Faraway, So Close! from Wim Wenders. By that time, living in DC and my job were starting to get to me. I wanted a big change. I decided I was going to quit my job and go to Europe. Though my plan was to make it to Prague and try to find a job (something that didn’t seem that far-fetched at the time), I was going to start my trip in Berlin. Before I could do it though, I needed to save up money so I got a second job working part-time at a bakery and I tried to cut down on costs wherever I could.

Riding my bike to work was something I did a fair amount but once it got dark and cold, I generally took the Metro. I decided I could at least walk home from the museum job if I didn’t have to be at the bakery right after and not spend as much on fare cards. I needed music for the walk though so I made a U2 tape with what I had available; Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and I borrowed The Joshua Tree from one of my housemates. I wanted the songs that made that Berlin connection but I also wanted it to be a companion once I was over there. If my plan worked and I’d stayed over there, I was going to just have the handful of tapes I’d managed to bring with me for who knew how long. I brought it along in the car today with my Walkman/FM transmitter combo for a rare Tape Deck Tuesday appearance.

Side A:
Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
In God’s Country
Some Days Are Better Than Others
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Where the Streets Have No Name
Mysterious Ways
Lemon
Running to Stand Still

Side B:
Zooropa
Zoo Station
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Until the End of the World
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
So Cruel
Re Hill Mining Town
One
With or Without You
One Tree Hill

I took the tape with me when I finally made it to Berlin in February of 1994. Listening to it is a little bit of time travel for me.

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.

Crystal Ball

Keane – Crystal Ball

I follow the blog One Week//One Band where a featured writer gets to spend a week going into as much detail as they want about their favorite band. It can be a lot to get through and I don’t always read all the entries but I appreciate the passion that people bring to the game.

This week the band is Keane, written by Mary Chang. Here’s a band that I was aware of but really didn’t know any of their work beyond the couple of songs that got radio airplay. I would lump them in with other bands from the UK of their vintage and not really pay much attention. But if you play the video, you’ll see that they are playing a big ass stadium show that is totally packed.

They are still a band I don’t know a lot about but I do know a little more than I used to and I’ve been kind of waiting to see what songs she would highlight. Today I read the entry about the song that has become the song I associate with Keane, Crystal Ball.

About six years ago, the woman who held the VP position that my department reported to, died after a relatively short but brutal battle with brain cancer. There was a memorial service held for her at the church where she and her husband had gotten married and it was standing room only with people from all different periods of her life in attendance.

The first person to speak was the headmistress of a school where the VP had worked for many years before she took the VP job. Second was the president of our company, lastly, one of her brothers-in-law. The headmistress painted a picture of a woman who was half the person I knew but half some other person I never met. Someone who threw great parties, loved music and especially dancing. Our president got up and talked about the person I knew. Then her brother-in-law got up and spoke about the person I never met. Again, talking about her love of music, that she did musical theater in college and more about her dancing. Really talked at some length, describing the way she danced and the joy you could see in her when she was dancing. About how she had turned them all on to the Cure during college and then in more recent years, the band Keane.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. There was nothing in her day-to-day office demeanor that would have clued me in about this aspect of her at all. I wasn’t really close to her but she was only 46 when she died, she had two young girls, maybe 11 and 12 years old at the time, and finding out this news about her liking the Cure and dancing up a storm at parties, I suddenly felt like, this could be me. The president played something on the organ during the service, maybe there had been some other music earlier, I don’t really remember. But when the formal part of the service was over, they played “Crystal Ball” as her husband and daughters and the rest of the family made their way down the aisle. The song sounded huge in the church and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It gave me goosebumps.

In the weeks that followed I spent a lot of time refining my funeral set list. I first started keeping a mental note of songs I would want to have played at a memorial service for me back in college but being in that church made me realize that I needed to get it into some kind of usable format. The VP had written down what she wanted the service to be like, which is how the Keane song wound up there. It dawned on me that no one in my family would know I had this list of songs and, coming from a large, Catholic family, if I didn’t leave some directions then it would never happen. Even worse, there would probably be some church service with prayers and hymns and it wouldn’t convey the person I am at all.

Despite not knowing any of those details about our VP before the service, now when I hear this song I can picture her spinning around and singing along, embarrassing her kids, loving life. That’s what I want people to take away from my funeral setlist too. The music I love is so much more than just nice background noise, it explains me. If you’re listening, and you’re wired this way too, you will understand. Because of this Keane song I found out too late that someone I knew was like me. Life can be short. Don’t wait. It’s hard to be open, really hard, and I don’t do it well in person. But through sharing songs on this blog I am able to reach out to like-minded people and say, this is me.

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.

Nothing More

Alternate Routes – Nothing More

It has been two years to the day since the school shooting in Newtown, CT. This song was written to support the organization Newtown Kindness, which was founded by the parents of one of the children who was killed that day.

I live in a town very much like Newtown. These horrible events always seem like they’re happening somewhere else, someplace not like where you live or happening to people not like you. But not on that day.

To tell you the truth, I cry every time I hear this song, only takes about 30 seconds in.