Poi Dog Pondering

Ain’t No Stopping Us Now

Poi Dog Pondering – Ain’t No Stopping Us Now*

Not for the first time I have discovered myself in a video at a Poi show. I like to think I’m a good dancer. The video evidence suggests that may not be true. It doesn’t stop me from dancing, in fact I’m one of the people usually leading the charge. They’ve even created a new ticket category at the venue where Poi has been playing the last few years just for dancing. Only for their show. I checked the whole calendar and none of the other concerts had a dancing/standing ticket. I am pretty sure I have played a role in that.

*Original by McFadden & Whitehead

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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.

Rise Up and Walk

Poi Dog Pondering – Rise Up and Walk

My Election Day playlist is nearly ready. I’ve been testing it out on the commute and I’m pretty happy with it but it might need one more song.

Since there isn’t a video for this song, I really hope you have Spotify and are logged in when you press play because it’s important to hear the song from the beginning, and stick with it to the end, even if it doesn’t feel like your jam. It really sets the tone for the rest of the playlist.

It also reflects my saving grace of this past week. I was added to a secret Facebook group on Wednesday last week and quickly became addicted to it. I stopped checking Twitter, I didn’t bother to read the onslaught of articles my friends posted on their accounts because I couldn’t take any more bad news. Enter Pantsuit Nation.

Even someone like me, a former Bernie voter, couldn’t help but get swept up in how incredibly good it felt to read all of these positive feelings about voting for Hillary and celebrating nasty women and bad hombres. It was contagious. Because the group is secret, people felt free to unburden themselves with their enthusiasm for Hillary. I remember during the primaries a few women friends of mine said they’d voted for Hillary but said so defensively and hadn’t wanted to be very public about it. You opened yourself up to a heaping of shit from the other side if you did. To be fair, you could get it from the left too. But in Pantsuit Nation, people know they are among friends and post story after story about why they are”with her” without worrying they’ll be shouted down.

When I was added I think there were about 80,000 members. Soon it had ballooned to 400,000, then 750,000. The growth was explosive and over the weekend it hit 1,000,000, then yesterday 1.5 million. Today it hit 2 million members all of whom had been added by friends so there are no trolls. The closest thing I’ve encountered to it is the Humans of New York on Facebook.

It has been the most refreshing thing after the trauma that has been this election season. It’s people of every stripe; life-long Republicans who won’t dare say they’re voting for her but who are actually relieved to have a candidate who is smart and experienced that they can vote for. Women in their 90s and even a couple over 100 who have proudly gone to the polls to cast a vote for a woman, which they never thought they’d live to see. Every category of person that Trump has insulted is represented and they are enthusiastically behind Hillary. No lesser of two evils, no vote against Trump, all firmly FOR Hillary. In the process of just finally being able to say why they’re happy to choose Hillary, they have also rounded out a picture of who she is for those of us who only got the soundbites.

My playlist reflects my mood thanks to Pantsuit Nation. It’s a party guaranteed to get your grandma out on the dance floor. I may be living in a blue bubble and I may have my head in the sand along with two million of my newest close friends, but it’s beautiful here and I’m ready for Election Day.

Natural Thing

Poi Dog Pondering – Natural Thing

This past weekend I was down in New York for a pair of Poi Dog Pondering shows at the City Winery. I’d never been there before but I knew that the floor plan is pretty tightly packed tables and chairs. This sounds great for quiet, intimate performers, less of an ideal fit for a band that can swell up to a dozen musicians and usually has everyone dancing.

It had been so long since they’d had a concert near us that I was a little worried the first night. What if it wasn’t as great as it used to be? If this was my last chance, would it be the kind of show I’d be happy to have as my last memory of them live? I mean, we’re all getting older, you know? The last time they were on the east coast (six years ago) they did an acoustic five-piece show and played in some unlikely places so I figured that was probably more the model we would get. I am happy to report that they were seven people strong, just about all of my favorite band members were there, and they brought along all the necessary instruments to rock the house.

We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of the setlist since they’re working on a new album but it’s not out yet. They started out with some of their oldest songs which are more conducive to that seated environment. We were right up front, as is our preference whenever possible (when you’re short, this is pretty important), and you really couldn’t move your chair at all. The pace picked up with each song and I was dying to get up and dance . But when the band got to this song, and the line, “everybody stand up!” I felt like they were issuing a call to action. I couldn’t sit still any longer. I freed my chair from the next person’s chair leg and joined the growing crowd of people dancing in the aisle. Ah, much better.

The second night we were packed in tight again but this time I had my dance spot staked out ahead of time. I found out later that after Friday’s show, the wait staff were told on Saturday to make sure not to get in the way of people who were dancing. Pretty cool stance for the venue to take, considering we were dancing in the only area where they could move around carrying bottles and glasses of wine.

On Saturday I brought my sister along with me. The woman sitting to my sister’s left introduced herself and said she came from an extended family of Poi fans and they’d all flown in from across the country for this show. She proceeded to tell us that her brother had passed away about two years ago and they had hired Frank (Orrall, leader of the band) to come and play on their deck as a kind of memorial service. She introduced us to her husband, then her brother who’d come from Los Angeles, a sister up from Georgia, another sister from I don’t remember where, her parents were a few tables over and her brother’s widow was with them. She’d come down from upstate New York. Aside from Frank playing on their deck, this was her first real Poi show.

I have to say, I got choked up about this whole scene before the show even began. There are several songs that Frank has written that address death and dying, but always in a positive light somehow. It didn’t surprise me that they had asked Frank to come and play for them; my funeral playlist starts with a Poi song too. But it’s more than that. He has this magnetic quality, this positive energy that creates the kind of devotion that brings people in from all over for a Poi show. That keeps us coming back two or three nights in a row, even after six or seven year absences. It’s not readily captured in video or audio because it’s missing the interaction with the other band members and the audience. In real life however, on several occasions, I’ve watched people at their first Poi show just fall under the spell that’s been cast in the room. It isn’t like you’re blown away, it’s more like you’re lifted up. You feel lighter.

wpid-wp-1425401204988.jpeg

L-R, Ron Hall, Frank Orrall, John Nelson, Susan Voelz.

One of the woman’s party said Frank knew they were all there. Shortly after that the band came on stage and Frank said, “This is for our brother, Jamie,” the woman’s brother, and they played that same song that leads off my funeral playlist. It’s a lovely, quiet instrumental song and, this family, I really couldn’t look at them or I was going to lose it.

The setlist varied, though they started off in a similar older to newer, slower to faster song progression. This time I didn’t wait as long to move to my dance spot. More people were already up dancing than the previous night. The woman we’d been talking to came over and joined me. Then my sister and her sisters. At one point my sister asked to borrow my phone to take a picture, not of the band but of the audience up dancing. She said she’d been to the City Winery a dozen times before and had never seen that many people up dancing. By the end of the night the whole place was up dancing. It was a first for the City Winery.

I couldn’t have been happier. I was happy for them that the shows were such a success. I was happy for the woman and her family who so clearly enjoyed the show and I know just the kind of cathartic release this was for them. I was happy that I’d been able to see one of my favorite live bands and dance and bask in that glow after so many years.

Last week I remembered that the Amazon music app on my phone has any CD I ever purchased through the site available to stream for free. I’d bought their album “7” when it came out in 2008 through Amazon so I fired up my phone-Bluetooth-radio set up in the car and hit play. As I drove home it started to snow, and I didn’t even care. Nothing was going to wipe that smile off my face.

Jack Ass Ginger

Poi Dog Pondering – Jack Ass Ginger*

#WhereILivedWednesday – Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.

This is part of a series about places where you’ve lived, started by Ann Imig of Ann’s Rants. I highly recommend checking out her site for more people’s stories.

For two years in the early 90s I lived in what was commonly called a group house in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C. My three housemates were like me, young women with jobs that didn’t pay all that well but that looked great on your résumé. D.C. was full of young people and it was an exciting time to be there, the end of the Reagan/Bush era and the start of the Clinton years.

Our house was a row house with four bedrooms and only one full bathroom upstairs, then a kitchen, dining room, living room, and a tiny little half bath on the first floor. A back deck no one ever used, just like the front porch, and a basement where the laundry machines were. The neighborhood was pretty mixed, some group houses, some old timers, some new young families, some of the houses had been fixed up, others were sagging a bit around the edges. Mt. Pleasant backs up to the National Zoo and Rock Creek Park on the western edge, Columbia Heights to the east, Adams Morgan is to its south, and sort of nothing to the north. Back then, the Green line of the Metro stopped at 14th and U St. and that wasn’t a neighborhood where you really wanted to spend much time (my how things have changed), so we generally walked across the park and caught the Red line from Cleveland Park.

Mt. Pleasant didn’t really have many stores that sold stuff you actually needed. There was a 7-11, where I would go for my Ben & Jerry’s fix during that period of time when I had my pint-a-day habit. It was summer and we didn’t really have air conditioning. It was too hot to cook anything and invariably I’d suggest to one of my housemates that we hit up the 7-11 for something cold. I admit, I was addicted to Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. You know how when you dig in, there are these chunks of cookie dough, and then when you get down near the bottom, you think, well, I’ll just get that little chunk there. But when you move that one out of the way, a new little chunk would be revealed and eventually there wasn’t really enough to bother putting it back in the freezer so you might as well just polish it off. That was my dinner for a good three weeks straight. It worked out all right though since I rode my bike to work down at the Smithsonian and in that heat I easily burned off all the calories.

Mt. Pleasant wasn’t a great neighborhood but it felt moderately safe, especially when you consider D.C. had the reputation at the time of being the murder capital of the country. It had been the scene of the Cinco de Mayo riots in 1991 (and the anniversary mini-riots in 1992) and we jokingly called it Mt. Unpleasant. It was certainly better than Columbia Heights but if you were sensible you could get off the bus on 16th street and walk home without trouble.

That all changed though on the night of St. Patrick’s Day in 1993. Three of us were home, I was up, the other two were already asleep, and our fourth housemate, who had a car, had double parked to unload stuff and then went back out to try and find a parking spot. Shortly after she left I heard a loud bang and a car screeching off. I looked out the window but couldn’t really see anything. I told myself that screeching car must have backfired. But she didn’t come back, and it shouldn’t take that long to park the car. Then I saw flashing police and ambulance lights. I was too scared to move. One of my other housemates woke up to use the bathroom so I ran up and told her what was going on and convinced her to walk down the street with me to see what was happening.

A small crowd had gathered down the street where police had blocked off an area with crime scene tape. The ambulance had already left and after determining no one had seen anything, the cops tried to get people to leave. The crime scene tape was encircling her car and the sidewalk leading up to a neighbor’s house. Feeling like I was about to faint, I stepped forward and told one of the officers that it was my housemate’s car.

She had been shot in the head by an insane person with a shotgun, driving around our neighborhood looking for people walking alone. As we later learned, there had been previous victims but as they were men of color and those incidents had happened closer to the eastern edge of the neighborhood, they didn’t see any connection. They wanted to know if she did drugs or had an abusive boyfriend. No and no.

She lost an eye but otherwise pulled through amazingly well. Her father came down from NY and we moved my bed down to the dining room of the house where he lived for the next six weeks. I borrowed a foam fold out sofa from a friend and had that in my room. It seemed like the least I could do. Her mother had died only a year or so beforehand and her brother also lived in the area so their dad wanted (and needed) to be there.

A week after our housemate was shot, a white woman was killed by the same shooter about a block away while she was out walking her dog. Only then did they piece it all together and a curfew was imposed on our neighborhood. You had to be inside your house by dark. Things were bleak. I spent a lot of time holed up in my room listening to music. I was outraged about the cops just dismissing the first shootings as symptomatic of the area. I was worried about my housemate, and I hated being cooped up in the house. Headphones on. “Breathe deep, fill up with relief…”

I forget now how long this all lasted. It felt endless while we were living through it. Sometime in the spring she sent her dad back home and told us she wanted to move across town to be nearer to her friends and her brother. The rest of us didn’t really want to be there anymore either, even though the shooter had been caught. While I have fond memories of my years in D.C. and of all the things I did and people I knew, I can’t say I miss that house.

*This video is from a live show in 2006 but this song comes from their 1992 album and I saw them a lot back then and this song kicks ass live.