Parenting

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

Messy Enough

The Radio Dept. – Messy Enough

Some people are weekend warriors, getting up and out early on Saturdays, taking the kids to soccer or swim lessons or karate, getting their grocery shopping out of the way, etc. That’s not us. When Saturday rolls around we all like to have slow, leisurely breakfasts at whatever time it is when we come down stairs, catch up on some reading, just take it easy. What’s the rush? To me Saturdays are like summer vacations; you have to appreciate them while you have them because they’re gone before you’re ready. Slow it down. The dishes can wait.