Pennsylvania Recharge

Continuing with this year’s theme, my life is a freaking whirlwind. So much to do and never enough time to do it in. For that matter, so much to write about and even less time to sit down at the computer. It’s the same old excuses with me these days, my poor neglected readers. But it hasn’t been all bad and I promise I’ll fill you in on some of my recent adventures… eventually.

For the moment though, I am carefully blocking it all out in favor of my impending journey into the backwoods (relatively speaking) of Pennsylvania. My husband and I are heading up there for a little unofficial grad school reunion with some dear friends. It’s going to be a positively jam-packed weekend of sleeping in, cooking, watching movies, talking until we can’t talk anymore, and (most importantly) laughing. Who knows what kind of shenanigans we might get up to? Oh yes, dear readers, it’s going to be nothing but non-stop action. Hell, we might even go to a bar!

And you have no idea how much I am looking forward to this. I can’t even put into words how much I need this. These are some of my favorite people in the world, who for all intents and purposes became my family while I trudged my way through grad school in the frozen wilds of downtown Boston. It’s going to be glorious and it is putting me in mind of some party music. As you would expect, I am the defacto DJ at these shindigs and I am already combing my collection for appropriate tunes to share.

In that vein, I leave you tonight with Polite Dance Song by The Bird and the Bee. This lovely little California synthpop duo really knows how to pour on the irony. I particularly love the contrast between the lyrics and subdued sound of Inara George’s vocals. This is a band that I really love and honestly they deserve far better treatment from the likes of me. But while you’re waiting for me to write something more substantial on this pair (good luck with that by the way), why don’t you check out this video?

Polite Dance Song by the Bird and the Bee

Confessions of a music snob 2

Sometimes it seems like you really can’t outrun the mistakes of your youth. You change, you grow, and you look back and think, “Wow! Look how far I have come.” Then one day you have a conversation with someone who apparently knows you better than you know yourself. And you realize that the only thing that has changed is the date on the calendar…

A couple of weeks ago, my husband–who is affectionately nicknamed Monkey–and I were driving out to this amazing German restaurant about an hour away from Charm City. I was having a lovely time watching the green summer scenery going by and listening to the radio with my favorite companion. Somewhere along the road I began talking about the songs we were hearing. Now anyone who hangs around me for more than 20 minutes or so knows that this is quite normal for me. Most people just nod and smile until I have finished my piece and then the conversation moves on to another topic. They quickly come to realize that music is a big deal for me and they generally deal with me accordingly. But on this particular occasion, I guess I really got into serious music mode. In addition to becoming quite the critic lately, I am an avid trivia hound. So when I get going not only will I tell you why I like or dislike a particular song, I’ll also give you the artist’s entire biography (or at least as much of it as I know) and I’ll top it off with whatever memories or emotions I associate with their work. And on this night I was in fine form. After about 15 or 20 minutes of this (I wish I were kidding), my husband suddenly got really quiet. Then he looked over at me in the passenger seat and we had the following conversation (more or less):

Monkey: You know, I think you’ve gone back to the music person you were when I first met you.

Me: Aw, really? I lost some of it over the last few years? [Shock and a little sadness for losing touch with something I care so much about.]

Monkey: Yeah, but you’ve changed since starting the blog.

Me:  …So I’ve gotten it back now? [Warm fuzzies over this unexpected side effect of my creative endeavor.] That’s a good thing, right?

Monkey: [silence]

Me: Right..?

Monkey: [more silence]

Me: What’s wrong with becoming a bigger music fan again?

Monkey: [another pause, avoiding my shocked stare… or possibly just watching the road] Well, you keep talking over the music. You never actually let me just listen to it.

Me: [Stunned] Aw crap! You mean I’ve been acting like a music snob again? Why? Because of the blog?

Monkey: Honey, you blog about music. Doesn’t that automatically make you a music snob?

Me: Crap!

So there it is. My past rushing to keep up with me even after all these years. All through high school and into parts of undergrad, I was known (affectionately enough) as a music snob. I had a reputation for talking too much about what I liked (to the point of sometimes derailing conversations), making a general nuisance of myself when forced to listen to songs I didn’t like, and being… well, obsessed is a bit too strong, but something close to it. The moniker was rarely trotted out by friends, but it was made clear to me on more than one occasion that people felt it was well-deserved. It was almost an in-joke, for goodness sake! I despised this title whole-heartedly–still do, truth be told. And for the last several years, I thought I had escaped it. I grew a thicker skin, stopped making faces when country music was playing, learned to appreciate the wider and more eclectic world of music, and mastered the art of agreeing to disagree (or so I thought). I still got carried away occasionally with my little monologues, but on the whole I was a lot more easy-going and less annoying when it came to music. Well, it appears that I was only distracted by school, work, and a committed relationship. Once I got to work on this blog, I started slipping. (You can read about one of my previous lapses here.)

Not to get all whiny on you, but this is frustrating to say the least. The whole point of this blog is to explore my creative side in ways that I haven’t had the luxury to indulge in for the last several years. It’s supposed to give me a place to tell my little stories, without interrupting people or talking over the music, and (hopefully) avoid channeling the dreaded snob of my youth. Apparently I’ve still got some work to do on that count… and maybe the Internet is not the best place to avoid pretension… Crap!

Well, I refuse to give up the franchise here. I enjoy writing and can’t really imagine writing about something else with as much passion. But I do sincerely wish to be a better spokesperson for the musically-engrossed.  And there is no better time to start. They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step towards beating it. So here goes.

Hi, my name is Anna. And I am a music snob.

One of my first goals is to listen more and to let others listen as well. So now with no story, no agenda, no excuses, or explanations, here is a song I love. Just because. Enjoy (but don’t get too used to it)!

Sick of Myself by Matthew Sweet

The start of something good

Yesterday was my 8th wedding anniversary, so please excuse me for entertaining a little nostalgia trip (I promise I’ll keep the mushiness to a minimum). Somehow it doesn’t feel possible for this much time to have passed since my husband and I tied the knot (I think we both agreed it feels more like 5 years–how’s that for abstract?), but this is probably a good sign for relationship longevity. We’ve been through a lot as a couple. Over the years, we’ve transitioned from friends to friends with benefits, significant others, roommates, fiances, and finally to husband and wife. We’ve lived in 7 apartments and 1 uncle’s basement in 3 different states. We’ve survived undergrad, grad, employment, underemployment, and unemployment–with all the usual associated states of financial (in)stability. Our lives have changed greatly since we decided to make it official. Now we’re both a bit older–although perhaps not wiser–and a whole lot more comfortable with both ourselves and with each other. But we’re still having a grand old-time driving each other nuts and from my vantage point, it looks like we’ll be making mischief together for a very long time to come.

I have to admit that there was a time (as in all significant relationships, really) when it wasn’t so certain that we’d end up together. I watched him on stage with the local cast of the Rocky Horror Picture Show for about 2 years before I ever said my first nervous hello to him. I thought he was dashing as the Criminologist in his old Coast Guard dress jacket and downright adorable running around the stage in his underwear as Brad. I was a shy, sheltered college student who quietly indulged in a little crush every few months when I had time to attend a show. I never expected anything to come of it and I’m pretty sure that nothing would have come of it if a bad break-up and a suddenly empty summer hadn’t emboldened me to join the cast as a tech person. Suddenly I was crossing paths with that cute guy all over the place, but my shyness was the thickness and consistency of a cinder block wall. I could walk up to him and say hello, but I could never seem to figure out what to say next. Sadly (or possibly thankfully now), these pitiful attempts to strike up a conversation barely registered with him. I think it was mainly that my timing was bad and that mousey tech chicks don’t tend to stand out much when surrounded by rainbow bustiers, filmy white slips, and french maid costumes.

And things would have ended there if it weren’t for the swift thinking of a mutual friend/cast mate who swung into action when half of the expected attendees to my 21st birthday party didn’t show up. Hoping to stave off my impending birthday disappointment, she immediately hopped on her phone and rounded up several cast members to fill out the room. And lo and behold, one of the people was him! (Years later he claimed that he had no idea who I was at the time but that he came because of the promise of ice cream. Moral of the story, folks: Never doubt the power of ice cream.) But thanks to my friend’s quick dialing, the miraculous hand of chaos, and some heretofore unknown inner courage, I ended up having my first real conversation with the guy I was smitten with. The path from that first real conversation to a wedding ceremony is long and winding with many stops along the way, bits of which may be end up in this blog some day. But that night I had no clue what was in store for me, I was just proud of myself for finally daring to make an impression.

After the party ended, I went home and opened the new cd given to me by that same lovely friend with the quick dialing skills. It was Fountains of Wayne’s under appreciated master work, 1999’s Utopia Parkway. Their special brand of nerdy power pop and quirky lyrics were just the thing to appeal to the angsty late bloomer that I was. And in the years that have passed since that night, there is one song in particular that has stuck with me. Every time I hear it, I am transported back to the days when I acutely wanted to be liked by someone I believed was out of my league… the man I have now had the supreme luck to have spent the last 10 years with.

So here it is, the very first song I ever associated with my wonderful husband: Fountains of Wayne’s Red Dragon Tattoo. Enjoy!

I love you, Monkey!

One last thing: My husband and I have been contemplating getting matching tattoos for the last few years. Completely independent of my love of this song and its association with my husband, he suggested we get the constellation Draco, which is his Chinese zodiac sign. How’s that for ironic? Thinking of making mine red…

For my mother

I think it is safe to say that my mother is directly responsible for my life-long obsession with music. Unlike my father, who I came to find musical common ground with in my late teens, my mother and I were on the same page from Day One. My earliest memory of my mom is 2-year-old me getting the brilliant idea to sit on my feet while she is trying to put on my shoes on and thinking how funny this game is until she gets annoyed and pulls my feet out from under my butt (who knew she’d look for them there?). My second earliest memory of her (and years of memories after) is driving around town in the back of her car and listening to her sing along with the radio. When I was little Mom was the stay-at-home type, which made her the first line of defense against a child with ideas. Five-year-old me tended to associate her with unwanted complications to my little life like nap times, the giving and taking of TV privileges, eating vegetables, and not drawing with markers on the couch (the only time I was ever officially grounded). By default (i.e. because he wasn’t home for eight hours a day), I was a devoted daddy’s girl when I was small. Now I look back on this with the eyes of an adult and feel that this was horribly unfair to the woman who made my mac’n’cheese, took me to swim lessons, and walked home everyday from kindergarten with me. But what can you expect from a 5-year-old who knew the power of a good pout?

However, everything would quickly change when she strapped me into the back seat to trundle down the road on one errand or another and unruly child would morph into listening child and later into singing child. On these excursions the radio dial was always tuned to the Oldies Station. As a result my primal musical influences growing up were my mother’s–namely Motown, the British Invasion, Psychedelia, and Surf Rock. To this day I can’t hear the Everly Brothers’ Wake Up Little Susie or Neil Diamond’s Cherry Cherry without remembering our vehicular singalongs. You could always tell if my mother liked a song by the volume of the radio and of her voice. My mother is a born blaster, to be sure. And hopefully when she sees what I’ve dug up for her, she’ll attempt to burn out the speakers on Dad’s laptop.

But the best thing about my mother and music is that she always encouraged me to seek out the songs that sounded good to me. As I got older and began to develop my own tastes, she was always willing to give something new a listen, be it Save Ferris, NIN, or Duran Duran. She never once tried to censor or disparage my inclinations. And she was my first willing audience when I began my transformation into the music edition of Trivial Pursuit. For this, I am eternally grateful.

So now in honor of Mother’s Day and her birthday (which fell on the same day this year), here are a few of the songs that I associate with my mother and elevated volumes. Crank it up to 11, Mom! I love you!

Green Tambourine by the Lemon Pipers

To Love Somebody by the Bee Gees

Wild Thing by the Troggs – An undeniable favorite that could easily have led to scratchy speakers in more than one mini-van.

This magic moment

Picture if you will, a standing-room only club circa 2005. The walls are painted black, the house lights are up, the shadowy stage is empty except for a collection of glittering instruments resting on music stands, and the room is packed to the gills with anxious spectators all waiting for their free rock show to begin. The crowd is restless from standing outside in the pleasant Arizona spring for the last several hours, jockeying for line position and waiting for the doors to open. The buzz of not-so-hushed conversation fills the air. As the clock ticks its way past 7pm, the noise level rises.

No longer content to stand and wait for the opening act to take the stage, the questions begin to circulate. When are they starting? What’s the hold up? (It is amazing how impatient people can be when waiting for something they didn’t pay a cent for.) Everyone is tired and bored and ready to get the show on the road. But there are no answers from their fellow concert-goers, the occasional roadie strolling across the platform, or even from the disembodied soothing voice of a tech over the house speakers. So the assembled mass continues to stand, fidget, and stew.

Suddenly, the house lights lower and a previously unnoticed bank of televisions on the wall behind the stage dimly blinks to life. There is a sudden hush as every head turns expectantly and the whispering begins. Something is happening! Is that supposed to happen? Is this part of the show? But no… It is only a parade of music videos meant to sooth the impatient room. A collective sigh is issued and for a time it seems like this gesture of generosity on the part of the venue will fall on deaf ears.

And this, of course, is when it happens. The opening scenes of a familiar music video appear, multiplied in miniature across the many screens of the massive wall. The first acoustic guitar chords echo throughout the suddenly quiet nightclub. The first verse begins and the transfixed crowd watches the screens as if in a dream. It begins almost haphazardly, a few mumbled words here, a line hesitantly finished there. And within moments, without prompting, without orchestration, without even conscious thought, the whole room begins to sing.

Maybe it is the familiarity of a song released 9 years before? Perhaps it is the bittersweet loss of a talented singer before his genius was fully appreciated? The cause of this spontaneous musical interlude may never be explained, but no one in the crowd seems concerned. As the song progresses, the voices get louder, until the whole building echoes with a chorus 150 strong. After a few minutes, the song comes to its inevitable end and the room reverberates with a mighty cheer. Goths, punks, and even emo kids grin widely at each other. High-fives are exchanged and the overwhelming pretentiousness in the room takes a nose-dive. Peace and goodwill bubble up and overflow, leaving the room awash in positive energy. In time the opening act comes on and while they do their best to wow the room, they do not receive even half the enthusiasm inspired by this unscheduled sing-along.

Fatigued by the long hours of waiting and feeling like the headliner–a newly emerged group by the name of The Bravery–is not important enough to wait another hour for, my sister and I head towards the exit. Walking out into the cooling desert air, we take with us the memory of one musical, magical moment.

Though it does little to replicate that amazing, impromptu experience, here is the song that so inspired the crowd and myself that evening: Santeria by Sublime.

Confessions of a music snob

Have you ever had one of those moments where you unexpectedly get a good hard look at yourself? I mean a really candid look, without all those barriers and filters that we all put up each and every day between our inner selves and the outside world. Now, don’t play innocent with me. You know exactly what I’m talking about here. The kind of barriers that keep us from yelling at the barista who got our order wrong, from telling our boss what we really think of him, and from lecturing our friends on why they should convert to one of our chosen philosophies. Some may call it conscience, others may call it politeness, but it’s a survival tactic really. You know, the stuff that keeps us from being boorish and makes us suitable for civilized company. We all put up these walls, although not always consciously (and there are a few people out there who could stand to add a couple more coats of varnish to theirs–you know who you are). However, because the placement and use of these mental screens is not always premeditated, we can sometimes be shocked at what we see when they are casually swept to the side. It usually happens in an off moment, directly after you’ve opened your mouth about something. You give your opinion to your audience  and then a little voice in your head pops in and asks, “Do you really mean that?” And your answer may catch you off guard.

Today I amazed myself by having one of these moments of sudden and brutal clarity. How did I pull off such a feat, you say? Well, this morning I got the sudden urge to text an old friend and ask what her top 5 bands are right now. We live across the country from each other, are at different points in our lives, and have very different beliefs–things that in this day of rabid partisanship have been known to tear friendships apart. We have weathered a lot over the years and still share one of those close bonds that time and circumstance do not seen to touch. But lately our conversations haven’t progressed much beyond how-are-yous, happy-birthdays, and condolences. Not from lack of affection, more from lack of time. And I realized that I had no idea what she was into these days. This seemed simple enough to remedy, so I thought I’d find out. What followed was a lovely and long conversation about what she is listening to now. She dropped names, some I knew and some I did not. But on the whole, there was much we had in common and I even got a few names of artists who–from the sound of it–I should know (something I am working on rectifying, let me assure you).

I was impressed and pleased that we had so much in common musically but still had new songs to share with each other. I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter what religion she prescribes to or that she is a member of  the other political party, her music taste passes muster and that is what really matters.

That’s when it happened. That little voice in my head popped up and said, “Do you really mean that?” And I stopped… and I realized that yes, I really did mean it. And then I groaned!

When I was a teenager, I was accused by several friends of being a music snob. For me there was no worse insult, even then, but I admit now that I more than earned the title. I’ve talked about it before in previous posts, how I used to whine and moan and grimace when music I didn’t like was played in my presence. I was an awful little pain and I thought I had grown out of it. I truly did… but it seems that I was wrong. At best, I am a recovering music snob who happens to relapse every now and then. Apparently today was a relapse day. It appears that sometimes when those internal barriers come down, we find out that there was actually a second layer shielding us from ourselves.

On the bright side, I also reaffirmed that I do not need to be in the same ideological boat with someone to be their friend. I may be a music snob, but I guess it could be worse. And now while I go do some research on 12 step programs for the musically pompous, you get to see an amusing video from one of my friend’s current music picks: The Walk by Mayer Hawthorne (NSFW).

Wishes for 2012

The last two weeks have been absolutely wonderful and just a little bit insane. Between family coming to visit (including cousins, a sister, and a 4-year-old ball of pure energy called a child), multiple tattoo shop visits, and that whole holiday thing, I’m feeling a little ambivalent. I’m feeling physically drained, yet emotionally recharged. As a result, I’ve decided to count this as a win, even though I’m still catching up on sleep and my shoulder is still healing from my little self-inflicted art project. But with all the excitement lately, updating the blog just kept getting pushed farther and farther down my to-do list. So I decided to take a little unscheduled holiday hiatus from writing. Plus, I figured that 2 Christmas themed entries from me was more than enough for one year. And since I’m still not quite back to the usual grind, I’m going to keep this short. But I plan to begin posting regularly again starting next week. A little New Year’s resolution, if you will.

But with the advent of 2012 now whizzing past us, I still feel the need to at least comment. 2011 was a complex year for me, to say the least. A lot happened and I’m still trying to total up both the good and the bad columns in my 2011 ledger. It was a bad year for pets and an even worse year for some people I care very deeply about. I traveled more than expected, but most of it for work. I was officially asked to stay on in my grant-funded position and ever since I have been trying to come to grips with the idea of living in Charm City (or at least this state) on a more permanent basis. My husband got hired by the company he was contracting at and started talking about buying a house. I experienced my first earthquake and dealt with an unexpectedly strong case of seasonal depression (apparently, Winter #5 is a doozy). I spent some extra time quality with family and had one of those significant (as in permanent) bonding experiences with my youngest sister. And (quite momentous for me, if for no one else) I started this blog in an effort to bring some creativity to my life. It has been a crazy time and for the most part, I am glad to put 2011 behind me–even though I do believe that all-in-all it wasn’t a bad year. I still hope that 2012 is a better year for me, or else I may lose what little is left of my sanity.

And as for you, I wish you immeasurable happiness. I hope you hear from an old friend. I hope you find that $20 you squirreled away in a forgotten hiding place. I hope you read your favorite book (again). I hope you watch a gorgeous sunset painted across a desert sky. And I hope you hear a new (to you) song that literally stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away with its power and beauty.

To possibly help you achieve that last one, here is Energy by The Apples in Stereo. A beautiful song that makes me feel like the whole world is goodness and light, with a slide guitar solo that somehow always brings tears to my eyes. Enjoy and have a very Happy New Year!