Music to eat turkey by

I’m taking things a little slow with the blog this week. I’m about to begin a four-day sojourn into the hectic world of holiday cooking and baking, starting tonight with a from-scratch pumpkin pie. This will be followed tomorrow by corn pudding for a potluck, a pumpkin cheesecake on Friday for my husband’s birthday, a full Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, and putting up Christmas lights on Sunday. Whew! I’m going to be very busy! Restful weekend? Ha!

But I couldn’t take a guilt-free holiday break without leaving you with something amusing. I’ll admit it. I have several years’ worth of ideas for blog posts on Christmas music, but I don’t really associate Thanksgiving with anything musically in particular. Certainly not with anything of a traditional nature. I had to really rack my brains on this one, but then in a flash (a true eureka moment) it hit me!

The Addams Family!

I’m sure this is the point at which any readers still floating around out there are truly beginning to question my sanity. But I’m being absolutely serious. The Addams Family, specifically the second movie, 1993’s Addams Family Values, is just the perfect thing to inspire a… festive(?)… Thanksgiving song. While at the yuppie summer camp for annoyingly rich blonde children, Wednesday and Pugsley are forced (along with a whole slew of minority and/or disabled campers) to play the Native Americans in a musical re-telling of the first Thanksgiving. As is their want, Wednesday and Pugsley quickly take over and reshape (read: destroy) the director’s vision and warp it to suit their own creepy and slightly disturbing purposes. Hey, what is Thanksgiving without hints of cannibalism, threats of scalping, and a burning village? It may even have converted a few people to vegetarianism…

So many great actors in this movie. Be on the look out for Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski as the perky (and bigoted) camp owners, as well as a young David Krumholtz as Wednesday’s Gomez-in-waiting.

Anyway, here it is now for your holiday listening pleasure and turkey-eating accompaniment. Enjoy and have a wonderful holiday!

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Why don’t you make like a tree and leave (NSFW)

Tonight’s title probably sounds a little cryptic, but it will all make sense soon (plus, it made me chuckle). Honestly, I had to really stretch for a title this time, but thankfully Biff from the Back to the Future trilogy saved the day again (you’d be surprised how often that happens). I promise that this is not another one of my crackpot theories about music. (Really! I mean it!) What I wish to speak to you about in this week’s little lecture is well… how can I put this delicately? My subject is songs that lyrically tell someone to take a long walk off a short pier, but with a great beat you can dance to. In short, the cheerful fuck-off song (well… so much for putting it delicately). There is a real plethora of songs out there that fit this bill. Death metal has by no means cornered the pissed-off music market. Pop, rock, and even punk are chock full of amazing songs that can inspire bouncing around in your socks in the living room or dancing in your chair at work (I, of course, would never ever do anything so undignified). Sometimes when listening to this type of song you can be having such a great time that you forget how serious or angry or jaded the lyrics really are. The joyful energy of the music can have a masking effect, shielding the listener from the sometimes blunt anguish of the singer. But I find that the combination of lyrics and music often intensifies the experience and can be a great way to work off the negative vibes that accumulate throughout the day. And I’ve assembled a short list of examples here. Feeling stressed? Want to tell someone to go suck on a lemon? Well then let’s get started!

My first example is a no-brainer: 1982’s Goodbye to You by Scandal, a New York-based pop and rock band fronted by Patty Smyth in the early 1980s. ’80s pop is one of my biggest guilty pleasures (I’ll admit it) and this song makes me incredibly giddy whenever it comes on. With its great guitar riffs, manic electric keyboard solo, and Smyth’s smoldering delivery about a love that has sickened, it easily earns it’s place on this list. I’ll warn you though that the video is a little odd. Either someone didn’t quite master their lip-syncing skills or the video producer didn’t bother to match up the recording with the performance. It’s so close, but just enough off that there is almost an uncanny valley effect. Also, whoever thought random freeze-frame close-ups of the band members’ faces was a good idea probably had been smoking something that day. Oh well, here it is in all its slightly unsettling glory:

Next on the list is a song that might seem a little far-fetched at first, but bear with me. I speak of none other than Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 classic Go Your Own Way. True, it lacks the pure pop joy of Scandal, but this song more than earns its place here. The driving beat, the vocal harmonies on the chorus, the amazing bass lines of John McVie, and the plaintive voice of Lindsay Buckingham all add to the energy of the song and build something greater than the sum of its parts. Need to work off some steam really quickly? Take a power walk with this one in your headphones and you’ll be beat by the time the last guitar wail fades. I guarantee it! The lyrics are almost shocking when you stop and analyze them–essentially calling Stevie Nicks out on the carpet and branding her as an ungrateful slut! But the rocking tenor of the song softens the blow to the point that you walk away thinking only, “Wow. That relationship was a bit of a mess, wasn’t it?” It took me years (and a Fleetwood Mac Behind the Music special) to finally catch the true meaning of what he was saying. This time I’ve procured for you a video clip from their 1997 MTV televised reunion, responsible for generating a whole new chapter in the band’s lengthy collective career. As a bonus, you get to chuckle at the antics of drummer Mic Fleetwood. (By the way, I love Nicks and think that Buckingham probably could have handled the break-up better… certainly, he could have done it more discreetly.)

The third example in my little presentation is going to be really obvious. If you are compiling a non-soul crushing soundtrack for telling someone to drop dead, you would be horribly remiss to leave out Cee Lo Green. Let’s face it, his 2010 hit would make this list on the title alone. With a name like Fuck You he’s not exactly beating around the bush, now is he? And this song (and the accompanying video) have so much going on that they could easily merit their very own blog entry. Green is an amazing artist in his own right, but he has this great talent for imitating other singers. And in this song he is channeling Stevie Wonder like you would not believe. He even has a bunch of back-up singers who immediately put me in mind of The Pips (as in Gladys and). In the video we follow the growing pains of young Green, played by actors who do a kick-ass job lip-syncing, as he tries and ultimately fails in his attempts to win the girl of his dreams. It’s highly entertaining and is one of those videos that will give you a major case of the warm fuzzies–at least that’s what happens to me. I don’t know how you could have avoided seeing this video some time in the last year or so, but just in case here’s the uncensored version (NSFW!):

My last offering tonight is a song called Lemonade by Tsunami Bomb, a lesser know punk band from the Bay Area who broke up in 2005. The song was released in 2001, but I first discovered this band around 2002 or 2003 through a now infamous file sharing program called KaZaA (yes the spelling is accurate). Around that time I was seriously craving harder rocking bands that actually featured a female singer, but in those days your choices were either Christina Aguilera or Sarah McLachlan. Nothing particularly wrong with either choice or the genres they represent, but being a huge punk-rock fan I wanted something edgier. And the beauty of music sharing, although obviously illegal, was that you could expose yourself to music you often couldn’t find elsewhere. Tsunami Bomb didn’t always stick to strictly punk, often ranging along both the softer and heavier ends of the spectrum. But this song runs right down the middle. It is raucous and raw with exaggerated drums, the best bass line ever, and lead singer Emily Whitehurst’s surprisingly potty mouth lyrics. Even after all these years–and a couple cart loads of baggage connecting the song to someone I used to know–this song still hits a satisfying chord inside me. My list could never be complete if I left it out. (Sorry for the Powerpoint slide show for a video, but they never made an official video for this one and good live performances on YouTube are apparently in short supply.)

This is just 4 songs and I’m willing to bet that it is just the tip of the iceberg. What’s your favorite cheerful fuck-off song?

Simon, Garfunkel, and homesickness

It has been an unexpectedly hard week around here… really hard… and it has got me thinking along darker lines than usual. In this case about an undercurrent in my life that (when I’m being honest with myself) never really goes away. It is always there. And it has now been there long enough that most of the time my mind relegates it to a mere peripheral. It is like a constant frequency just below the range of hearing, a kind of white noise that most of the time I can completely ignore. But it doesn’t fade, not really. And sometimes, as in the case of these past few days, it comes crashing to the forefront of my perception and no matter what I do, where I am, what I am doing, or who I am with, I can not shut it out.

What I am talking about, in my own round about way, is homesickness. Sounds benign enough, doesn’t it? Well, to many people I know it is only a (perhaps) bittersweet fondness for a place you once knew, but one which you have left behind. It is the past. It is an idea. But it has never been that way for me. I stayed in one place too long for that, and as a result change is hard for me. My family moved only once when I was almost 10-years-old and it was a traumatic experience. Spurred on by the addition of a third child and a suddenly much smaller house, my parents bought a bigger place in a different part of town. They saw it as moving up, but to their eldest child it was a very different story. 10-year-old me–for the sake of convenience let’s nickname this anthropomorphic inner-child “10”–saw it as a new school, a new school bus, and a new set of bullies. Meaner bullies. It was one of the worst years of my life, certainly the worst year I had before adolescence. And the older I get, the more I see how my experiences and choices from those childhood days influence how I react to and deal with things now as an adult.

Since leaving the Southwest about 4 1/2 years ago to move to the East Coast, 10 has had a hold on me. That little inner-child is perpetually homesick and she just won’t let it go. Most of the time I’m here and I’m fine. I have a good life here in Charm City with a comfortable home, colleagues, friends, and a purpose. I also have a loving husband who may not fully understand my longing for a place I used to know, but who seems to have accepted (read: resigned himself to) its presence in my life. It is easy to convince myself that it is okay to be 2,319 miles from the city I was born and grew up in. I can focus on my love for fall colors, four actual seasons, and the fact that I do not miss the unavoidable dry heat of a desert summer. And I can tell myself that Facebook and the occasional phone call to a friend or family member is enough.

Yet even in the best of times when I am not feeling stressed, little things can set me to brooding and briefly put 10 back in charge: the annoying lack of decent Sonoran-style Mexican food in this half of the county, a travel program showing images of Saguaro cacti and craggy mountains, or even the Arizona Highways calendars I ask for every single year for Christmas (like a good little glutton for punishment). Generally, the mood passes quickly. I get nostalgic, mope quietly for a few minutes, and then get on with my life. When I’m feeling romantic and slightly melodramatic, I liken it to the immigrants coming to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who revered and longed for their abandoned home, constantly looking for ways to recreate it in a new place. When I’m feeling cynical and a bit of self-loathing, I tell myself I am being childish. Either way, there is that same muted feeling of distance and longing.

But every time something major happens back home, my first thought is always a wicked curse for being so far away. Suddenly I feel every single one of those two thousand plus miles and I venomously scold myself for choosing to pursue an education and career on the far end of the country. Charm City becomes unbearable to me, work a chore, and local connections seem both fragile and tenuous. The memory of my hometown and the life I led there becomes filtered through the rose-colored glasses of 10 and nothing I have achieved in the past four years feels worth the sacrifice… I not only long for home, I indulge in the dull ache of the distance, like poking a bruise to see if it still hurts.

And when this awful (and frankly unhealthy) homesickness overtakes me, there can be no better reflection of my emotional state than Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 classic, Homeward Bound. It seems that so many of Paul Simon’s songs during his association with Art Garfunkel are poignant and poetically riddled with the blackest despair. Don’t believe me? Have you ever heard the song I Am A Rock? Give it a listen sometime and get back to me. Now not all of their music is so dark, some of it is down right cheerful, but they really were known for two things: their astounding talent and their rocky musical relationship. Maybe that tension is reflected in their songs? It can hardly be denied that Paul Simon’s solo work tended more to the contemplative than the neurotic. Who knows? But while even the most depressing songs in their shared catalog are extremely well done and artfully complex (and let’s not forget infinitely listenable), they can often make a bad mood worse. I tend to avoid them on down days. But this has been an especially bad week and the damn thing just keeps popping back into my head! So now it is my musical treat for you. I even found their performance from the infamous Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, where they are introduced by none other than John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go have a little talk with 10…

A desert rat’s lament

I love fall on the East Coast (love it). I’m enthralled by the riotous and outrageous displays of color on the trees. I’m totally behind the easing off of summer’s heat. And I’m delighted that my early October birthday actually feels like the season it supposedly occurs in. I love fall. It is my favorite time of year… That being said though, I despise winter. I loath winter with the passion of a thousand burning suns, which sadly is never enough to thaw me out. I guess it is a by-product of growing up in the blast furnace that is Southern Arizona. Snow fills me with an unspecified dread. The prospect of frost makes me incredibly grouchy, and don’t even get me started on ice. Blech!

But my adoration of autumn and my disgruntlement with winter put me in a rather sticky situation when it comes to the weather. I start looking forward to fall right about mid May (another by-product of my childhood climate means that summer and I are barely on speaking terms, despite the fact that it is drastically different when experienced here in Charm City). I spend the summer watching intently for that first stray golden leaf, and I do feel quite pleased with myself when I eventually spot it in late September… for about 5 minutes. It is usually around that time that it hits me that this means winter is next in line and my good fall mood dies prematurely.

This year I was actually holding up pretty well. I did my usual summer slog (26 years in an oven is kind of hard to override), but when the temperature began to get milder and the leave started to turn, I managed to focus on the panoply of the season and not on the impending sense of doom. I told myself that it was pointless to get all worked up about the weather since there was little I could do to change it. I think I also mumbled something about the cycle of life and the noble beauty of the natural world… whatever it was I’m sure it was suitably vague and pretentious.

But it was all for naught! Last Friday the weather reports were all kicking up a fuss about the Nor’easter that was barreling down upon the region and was expected to drop several inches of snow on Charm City! And just like that my peaceful acceptance of the changing season and its “noble beauty” curled up and died. My hatred of all things winter steamrolled in and I made my husband go buy a new snow shovel and an electric blanket. Well, unlike much of the northeastern portion of the country, we ended up getting no snow at all. This was good and appeased my grumpiness a little. But we did get our first hard frost to serve as a little reminder of what is lurking just around the bend. And now my feet are cold, my hands are chapped and cracking, and my winter angst is festering deep inside me.

Which reminds me that I discovered Joni Mitchell during my time in Boston. (Yes, this is related to my seasonal griping. Just trust me.) During the summer of 2008 I happened to pick up a copy of Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon–and the Journey of a Generation at the library and was madly tearing through it to avoid incurring late fees (it’s a bit of a tome). It is an amazing book that fuses together music, feminism, and American culture and history and then wraps them around the intersecting and intertwining lives of three very different women. I really recommend it (go read it now!). Inspired by the book and eager to know more about the music of these now infamous musicians, I sought out some of their albums. I kinda chickened out when it came to Joni Mitchell, her being the one I was least familiar with, and settled for buying one of her greatest hits collections. Who knew I’d be so ensnared so quickly? Anyone familiar with her work knows that it is intensely poetic and achingly honest. Mitchell had/has a reputation for being fiercely independent and artistically eccentric. And her love life was turbulent, involving some of the biggest names from the music charts during the 1970s, including the likes of Graham Nash and Jackson Browne.

I have developed a real fondness for her, I must say. I think everyone needs a songwriter like her in their collection. She was the first in a line of many, all of them trying to fill that niche–though I’m willing to wager none of them intentionally. Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and Regina Spektor all fall into this category and are each amazing in their own right. But I’ve made my choice. And I have to admit that part of that is because deep down it turns out that she was a bit of a desert rat, too! Now you may ask how I have come to this conclusion. And that is a valid question. Well, it isn’t because she grew up in the frigid plains of Saskatchewan. It isn’t because she fled south and has spent the majority of her long career singing the praises of California (it gets mentioned in a lot of her songs). It’s because of one of her early compositions, 1965’s Urge For Going, perfectly reflects my feelings towards winter.

It’s a tragic song with a bitter tinge. Winter is painted as a true villain who chases both lovers and a personified spirit of spring away. And to be honest, I think she got it just about right.