I ain’t dead yet

**To everyone who reads this post who is over 32-years-old, I apologize in advance.**

Sadly part of growing up is growing older. Even though the generational lines have been getting down-right blurry lately with adults continuing to act like kids well into their thirties (or forties… or even fifties), sometimes you have to admit that your body is getting older–even if the rest of you doesn’t feel like it.

This dichotomy has become somewhat more apparent to me during the last few weeks. Between the college students storming back into town (some of them are setting off fireworks in the street as I speak) and a carpal tunnel issue with my left hand (argh!), I have been feeling a little bit used up. Mentally, I feel like I am at least 10 years younger than I really am. Emotionally it is more like 15, thanks to a bit of pre-seasonal depression angst (I think). And lately it seems like I have the sense of humor of a 14-year-old boy (i.e., lots of snarky laughter at things that would have appalled me as a girl at that age). But my body tells a different story. And it annoys me. *sigh*

Thankfully, tonight I was reminded that I am not dead yet. I may be old enough to curse my aching hand, as well as the maniac students on the roads and in the streets. But I am not too old to roll down the windows on a cool Saturday night, crank the stereo all the way up, and cruise down a winding city road.

And what was I so happily blasting for one and all to hear? The wonders of shuffle mode once again served me up a song that felt just right for a night like this. With blaring horns, harmonious voices, and subtle, yet ultimately uplifting lyrics, it was Santa Fe from Beirut’s 2011 album The RipTide. Zach Condon’s brand of folksy, almost Mariachi-reminiscent indie rock (Do not let that stop you from listening to this! Live a little! Sheesh!) was just what I needed to soothe my soul and indulge in my remaining youth.

So please give this one a try. I promise you won’t regret it. And go ahead and crank it up a bit. If the neighbors complain, you can always blame it on the students. *smirks*

Santa Fe by Beirut

I’m in a relationship with the sun and it is complicated

For the past week or so, Charm City has been hit by the same heat wave that has been terrorizing a huge chunk of the country. With highs in the upper 90s, heat indexes of 105 or higher, and relative humidities of 60, 70, 80%, it has been absolutely miserable here. And despite working in an office that seems to get colder the hotter it is outside, I have been hard pressed to keep from flashing back to the alarmingly large part of my childhood that was spent heat sick in Southern Arizona.

It is ironic now to see me shunning sunlight in the middle of July when I would practically kill to get some of it’s warmth and Vitamin D in the pit of January. Readers in the know are well acquainted with my dislike for weather most of the year. It’s safe to say that if you can name a season, I can probably regale you with several reasons why I dislike it. Even the times of year I actually look forward to are tainted by their proximity to the seasons I despise. I long for fall color in July, but then spend all my time walking through October’s red and yellow drifts of leaves preemptively shivering over the February winds to come. Since moving to the East Coast six years ago, I have learned to fear and loath Winter with a fiery passion that is the only thing that can keep me warm in the depths of its icy grip.

But nothing, nothing can erase my in-grown, nurtured-from-birth, unholy hatred of summer. It doesn’t even matter that the heat wave currently holding my current city of residence captive will roll away on the crest of low pressure system within the next few days. Or that for the most part summer in Charm City hardly even be compared to August in the Old Pueblo. It is hot and humid here now, therefore a little voice at the back of my head is constantly screaming doom and gloom to the rest of my psyche. It is unreasonable. It is silly and childish. And ultimately my struggle against an entire season is futile. I know this. But I just can’t shake that icky feeling of resentment for a climate that includes things like heat indexes, code orange air pollution warnings, and the dreaded beast known as humidity.

All last fall and winter, I kept focusing on the sun. I posted pictures of sunlight filtering through leafy trees and pushed myself to walk outside in freezing weather to soak up every little bit of goodness from the sun’s weak rays. I truly longed for sunny days and warm weather and I have tried to keep that feeling foremost in my mind. It is unhealthy to make yourself crazy all the time. Constantly longing for something else instead of appreciating what you have is the best way to live an unhappy life. And I think I was actually doing pretty well this year. I even survived a week in the suffocatingly humid blanket that is Orlando in July without throwing a hissy fit about it. But this week has sorely been trying my patience.

And to top it all off, I have once again discovered that my subconscious is a bastard with a wicked sense of humor because I keep finding myself humming It Must Be Summer by Fountains of Wayne. Go figure.

No one understands me quite like the Go-Go’s

I can’t quite believe that so much time has passed since my last entry. The last thing I knew April was quietly meandering along, minding its own business. Now July is bearing down on me like a freight train and I find myself blinking in the blinding head lights of summer. Six years of living on the East Coast has not cured me of my reflexive dislike of the warmer months. I spent too many summers sick with the heat in the Sonoran Desert to ever truly be rid of it. No matter how nice summers can sometimes be here in Charm City. But my seemingly year-round struggle with low-level seasonal depression issues are fodder for another entry…

For those just tuning in, the majority of my blog probably sounds more like an apology than a place to vent my music-obsessed mind. But I truly don’t know why I maintained radio silence so long this time. Probably because life is good right now. Furiously, amazingly, surprisingly, insanely busy, but good nonetheless. So what has had me so distracted lately? Well, a large chunk of it is work, which I won’t go into here. The rest of it is that my husband and I kind of fell into a social circle and sank in up to our noses. And we’ve been enjoying every minute of it.

It seems like after nearly four years here, life here in Charm City is finally falling into place. And a city that seemed obstinately foreign–only associated with endless work and endless commuting–has transformed into a wild mess of foody explorations, geeky trivia in an “Irish” bar, and weekly brunches at a charming cafe just down the street. There are people in our lives again. Strange, varied, and wonderful people! And a whole part of my psyche that was constantly restless has unexpectedly calmed. My life is still insane and often stressful. But there is depth and breadth and a whole new level of geeky joy that does both my heart and brain good.

Right now it is especially crazy though, as I prepare myself for a week of work at my employer’s annual convention in Florida. The last three weeks have taken on new levels of madness in the preparations for some major work responsibilities. This has been topped by the now usual round of social engagements, with the addition of throwing a highly successful backyard BBQ, staying up way up past my bedtime for a spectacular concert (more on that later), and hosting my lovely sister-in-law and her husband the last 3 days. All of it great fun, but man am I beat now!

Today is my one and only quiet day, which will involve a lot of last minute packing and if I have anything to say about it (which I do!) this will be accompanied by many episodes of Star Trek (a.k.a. my other obsession).

I am sitting smack dab in the eye of the hurricane right now. The calm before life speeds back up to that break-neck pace again. And in the serendipity that is sometimes shuffle mode, my player dished this one up to me this morning. (I knew the universe had a quirky sense of humor.)

Yes, only Kathy Valentine and Charlotte Caffey really know how I am feeling right now. Who better than two veteran Go-Go’s–infamous for their wild and crazy touring days–would understand the chaos that has become my summer? And thanks to the rest of the gals in this classic New Wave venture, it has the cheery (slightly frenzied) upbeat feel that will hopefully keep me going until I hop on my plane tomorrow morning. If your life is feeling a bit upside down these days, give this one a listen and you’ll know exactly what I mean. From 1984’s album Talk Show, here is the Go-Go’s iconic Head Over Heels.

Your welcome.

Pay Attention Now

The last few months have felt pretty bland for me musically speaking. I’ve listened to a lot and acquired several albums that, while each good in their own ways, all failed to live up to the high expectations that I placed upon them. Each was purchased on the strength of a single song that hinted at the possibility of a wider, more innovative album. And each has left me feeling unsatisfied. Nothing has moved me. Nothing has… wowed me. And unlike the teenager I used to be, these days I really want to be wowed.

But I am excited to report that I have recently found two new artists who have not only wowed me, they have literally blown me away. Both are fairly new artists–one of them literally just released his first album last week–who employ layered/altered vocals; beats that change unexpectedly and often during the course of a single song; some rather inspired drumming; electronic influences; and well… Let’s just say that these two are kinda hard to define. They genre-bend like mad and the result in each case is something truly intriguing. Despite their similarities, their sounds are worlds away, yet both fall under what is currently called indie music–whatever that means these days. And most importantly, each of them literally had me itching to visit every record store in town until I could get my grimy little hands on their albums. You have no idea how wonderful it feels for me to be this excited about a new artist after this awful dry spell. There honestly are no words. But who, you may ask, has inspired me to such a frenzy with such a long introduction? Once again, dear readers, you ask a great question. So let’s get to it.

Artist you should absolutely know about #1: Tune-Yards.

This New England project is led by the crazy-talented Merrill Garbus, who literally records and loops vocals and drum tracks on the fly during live performances!!! (Yes, she totally earns those 3 exclamation marks.) Pulling in electronica, Afro-beat, R&B, and something affectionately called “wonky pop”, Garbus and her small band of experimentalists create some really interesting soundscapes. And her voice? Holy crap! Don’t even get me started. I literally had to hunt down a live performance for you because you will not believe that this voice can come out of one little white girl otherwise. I highly encourage you to check out some of their other songs, but for now here’s an in-studio version of Gangsta from their 2011 album Whokill. (Pro tip: Stick around at the end for a short interview. Highly informative.)

Artist you should absolutely know about #2: Robert DeLong.

This guy is so new that, despite having already started to gather acclaim, he doesn’t even have his own article on Wikipedia yet, but I’m sure that will change soon. There is something really fascinating about his sound, which is created through the use of a whole host of different drums and electronic devices, not the least of which is a Wii-remote. Aside from sporting a smooth voice, some major lyrical chops, and an obvious talent at drumming, DeLong manages to fill his songs with a sense of youthfulness that is invigorating and a philosophical world view that feels ageless.  His first single, Global Concepts, is a great example of this. Listen to him wax existential as he wanders through a variety of electronic flourishes, pounding drum beats, and changing time signatures. Suitable for black light raves, massive arena shows, and maybe even a mosh pit (do people even do that anymore?), this is one not to be missed. The video pays tribute to both his talent and his creativity by showcasing his many instruments, along with an impressive use of light tubes and some frenzied dancers. Expect to hear a lot about this guy in the coming months, both from me and from the wider music industry. I predict that Robert DeLong will be a name everyone will know soon. And if you didn’t already know about him, brace yourself and hit play. You can thank me later.

Winter malaise

It is time to face the facts. I have been suffering from a major outbreak of writer’s block, the worst case I think I have had since starting this blog. And it is almost comical because I didn’t even realize that I had writer’s block until I mentioned the blog to someone else at lunch today. I’ve been in a bit of a funk for the last several weeks and I wasn’t aware of how bad it was getting. I was starting to think that maybe I had lost interest in writing, but that is clearly not the case. Writing here has been on my mind almost constantly–ideas floating in, ideas floating back out–but every time I started to contemplate even outlining a new post, my mind would veer off in a different direction. Invariably, some small task, the furthest thing on my mind and way at the bottom of my to-do list, would suddenly take on significance of epic proportions and I’d run off to fold the laundry or wash that dish (or re-watch that episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation that I’ve seen 5 times) instead. Then I thought it was because I wasn’t hearing any post-worthy music lately, that maybe I was just bored with the scene. But my list of music to buy is growing by leaps and bounds, while my list of entry ideas is keeping pace. So that couldn’t be it either.

So what could possibly be keeping me in such a state of frustrated suspended animation? And when I said it out loud today without thinking, the answer became so clear: writer’s block. A textbook case to boot, magnified by a resurge in the seasonal blues. And for the last week or so, it has been getting worse. It seems like writing has been all I can think about, a constant dialogue in my head between my creativity and my apathy, the former desperately trying to get something done in the face of the latter’s soul-crushing indifference. I want to write, I need to write, but the thought of actually writing makes me feel panicked and a little helpless. [Would you believe that my New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to work on the blog more? Ha! One month down with barely a peep, only eleven more months to go. Sigh.]

Well, there is only way to deal with writer’s block and that is to put something (anything) down, save it, walk away, and try not to worry too much about the details. So here goes…

Charm City’s temperature has been all over the map lately, but the last several days have been the most bitterly cold we’ve had all season, and that mean old imp known as Snow and his little toady Sleet have been making less than minor nuisances of themselves. Winter and I never do seem to get along together, dessert rat that I am. Even at the best of times, it seems like we are only able to call an uneasy truce. And despite a period of détente, our current cease-fire is wearing thin.

But there is still a lot of brilliant music associated with this season–much of it stark, cold, and depressing–but beautiful none the less. So in honor of this, here’s my top 5 picks of the best songs for this most frosty (read: dreary) of seasons.

To start things off right is the Pixies and their classic cover of Neil Young’s bittersweet ballad, Winterlong. I first became familiar with this version and was kinda blown away to learn it is actually a Young original. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The Pixies pay this song some serious tribute, but the lyrics feature a sweetness and almost innocent longing that is not usually a characteristic of Black Francis or Kim Deal’s styles–as much as I love them.

Next up is Winter Winds by Mumford & Sons. Gorgeous vocals, layered acoustics, and a sense of the ethereal tempered with a healthy dose of cynicism, this band never fails to deliver. I know that they are hot to the point of being overblown (I hate to admit it, but I’ve been avoiding their new album because of burnout), but they are really talented guys. And in every live performance I have found of them, they are spot on.

Moving on, we come to the deceptively cheerful White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes. I know that I have ragged on these guys before, but their style has grown on me over the last year. What once seemed too avant-garde for comfort, now feels clever and rings of craftsmanship. Beautiful, polished, and harmonious, often with just a touch of the sinister, this band keeps popping up on my radar and despite my initial hesitation, they have earned my praise. This song, in particular, really appeals to me. To the casual listener, and without the visuals of the video, it seems sweet and upbeat, but a closer listen reveals much and the video truly showcases the darker themes of the lyrics.

The fourth entry in my winter list is the Bangles’ rock-out cover of Simon and Garfunkels’ Hazy Shade of Winter. Retaining the bleak cynicism of Paul Simon’s lyrics, while adding some feminine four-part harmony and a searing guitar line, the girls produce the goods. And a little bit of 80’s flamboyance never hurts.

And the last, and perhaps my favorite, entry on this list is the haunting Winter Time by Steve Miller Band. I have loved this song since long before I knew what love, longing, or winter really were. And now that I am a bit older and more knowledgable (if not wiser), I love this song even more. Perhaps the saddest piece I know of from this band, it lacks the pomp and bombast that featured so heavily in the 1970’s classic rock scene. No winter mix can do without this one.

Crossing the Stone Wall

Highway to Mt. Lemmon

The winding road up…

Way back in October–which strangely enough feels like it was two years ago instead of only two months–my husband and I went home to the desert to watch my sister-in-law get married to a great guy (an upcoming post, which I promise will be worth a read). Being in town for only a few days, and maneuvering our schedule to include some down time, we found ourselves with a (mostly) open Friday afternoon. Racking our brains for something to do, I got the bright idea that we should drive up nearby Mt. Lemmon. My husband was game, so we jumped in the rental and off we went. Little did I know the adventure before me.

As we drove up Catalina Highway towards the foothills, I snapped pictures on my phone, almost compulsively. One of the things I miss the most about the desert is the mountains. My hometown is bordered by four different ranges that align pretty closely with the cardinal directions, so no matter where you look or where you are in town, the mountains are an ever-present feature on the horizon. I must say that this is something that is severely lacking in the harbor of Charm City. As a result, the prospect of actually being on a mountain was more than a little exciting to me.

Sonoran Desert vista

Desert vista seen from the foothills of Mt. Lemmon, AZ.

It was a gorgeous October day, with clear skies and surprisingly cool temperatures for the area. As we began to climb in altitude, I was enthralled by the towering saguaro cacti, the brushy creosote, the spiky palo verde trees, and the sweeping rocky hills. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the desert is without its beauty. It is a rugged place and every single plant and animal, of which there are many, is there because evolution has engineered them to survive in that environment.  Sometimes stark, it is none the less gorgeous. And it is more colorful than most would imagine. They’d had a pretty good monsoon season this past summer and I was amazed by how green everything looked.

Dead saguaro cactus

The still-standing ribs of a dead saguaro cactus.

After a brief stop for pictures of the view back towards town and of the impressive cacti in the foothills, we climbed back in the car and headed towards Windy Point. Now I’d been to Windy Point many times since I was a child. There is a parking pull-off there with an amazing view and there is a long  and wide rocky outcropping that extends far beyond the low rock wall meant to keep tourists from falling off the edge.

I had been past this wall before when my husband and I were dating, almost a decade ago now. We made a similar mountain pilgrimage together and let me tell you, I was petrified. Every step past that little wall, no matter how stable and secure, was met with shuffling feet, strong feelings of vertigo, and a bit of terror in my heart. It was a miracle that I got any distance past that wall–mostly due to my husband obliviously striding along the edges with a firm grip on my hand. That was my experience ten years ago, but on this day it was the last thing on my mind as we climbed out of our car and crossed the road to the stone wall.

Man climbing over rugged terrain.

Climbing the outcropping at Windy Point.

Taking care placing my feet, I continued to snap photos like a stereotypical Japanese tourist. But my hands weren’t shaking and my breath wasn’t shallow. Not yet conscious of the change in my reactions I forged onward, capturing some wonderful pictures of my husband as he climbed ahead of me.

mountain vista

Impressive view as we move towards the edge.

As we neared the edge, it finally occurred to me how much this sort of thing used to freak me out. And like Wile E. Coyote realizing he is walking on thin air, a little of that old fear started to come back to me. But I had been doing so well, so my husband came back and took my hand.

Crossing the crevice

My brave husband crosses a deep crevice.

He led me gently to the closest edge, I squeezed his hand and looked down… and down… and down… a long way down. I was nervous and a bit shaky, but I gave that drop a good hard look and then we cautiously stepped back. Then he went back to his impression of a mountain goat and I made the startling realization that my breathing was… well, normal.

I looked back to the stone wall and realize how far away it was. It was like something changed in me. I was cautious and vividly aware of my surroundings, but I wasn’t afraid. I was a little bit amazed at myself, but I tucked that realization and the feelings associated with it into my back pocket, and continued my exploration of the outcropping.

Rocky terrain with a low stone wall in the distance.

Looking back towards the stone wall.

If anything I became more adventurous after this, climbing higher and higher and further from that silly wall. I began getting closer to the edges and soon, I was leading my husband, instead of the other way around. And it was… exhilarating? Fantastic? Empowering? All of these words would apply, but none of them truly capture the way that I felt. It has been a hard year, one that would get a lot harder only a few days after these pictures were taken. But this day burned into my memory bright sunshine, rushing wind, a mountain under my feet, and the best day I think I have had for a very long time now.

Looking down without fear.

Looking down without fear.

I’ve been saving this song for months now, waiting for a little personal victory that I could crow about. But every time that I thought to myself, if this pans out I’ll put this song up, things would always fall through. And I’ll admit that during my mountain climbing this song–or any song–never entered my mind. I was too caught up in the moment, which is really saying something for me. But looking back on the experience, I’d say it is the only song that fits.

The song I am referring to is Walk the Moon’s I Can Lift A Car. It is a the story about discovering that the life you once knew is ending, but then finding out that there is another part just waiting to begin. The singer is uplifted and empowered and finds that he is capable of things that he never knew were possible. The imagery in this song is truly commanding. I especially love the way the vocals in the chorus are divided between the four band members. The effect is more echo than call and answer, but there is something about it that is simply wonderful. It is infectiously uplifting and I am convinced that this song is the perfect encore material. It just begs for audience participation.

Just the thing for rediscovering yourself on the edge of a windy cliff.

I Can Lift A Car by Walk the Moon

(All photos in this blog entry are property of Anna Kresmer and subject to the same Creative Commons license as the text of this blog.)

Perspective

I don’t even know where to begin. The last two weeks have been my best and worst weeks of 2012–specifically in that order. I got to spend several days in my hometown, watching people I love get married, bonding with my family, and climbing mountains (literally!). It was the best, most gratifying, and least dramatic visit home I have had since leaving the desert in 2007. And it was all shot to hell within an hour of landing back in Charm City… the less said about it the better, but practically everyone I know in this town is currently trying to get their feet back under them again–a process which is still in progress. (How’s that for vaguely ominous? Pretty good, huh?)

Well since the bomb dropped, I’ve been trying to collect my brain cells while watching the dust settle. Things will get better, I know they will. It’s just that sometimes it feels like the extreme juxtaposition of wonderful and devastating has made this new reality that much harder for me to take.  But–as I’ve been repeating to myself a lot lately–it is what it is.

So I’ve been spending the last several days striving  to keep my perspective in all of this. It hasn’t been particularly easy, but (as usual) it got a bit easier when I stumbled upon my current theme song. If you’ve been around the last year and have been paying attention, you know that I change them quite often. And my latest addition to that illustrious list is It’s Nice to be Alive by Ball Park Music. Courtesy of this adorable little indie rock group from Brisbane, Australia, with a lead singer who looks remarkably like a teenaged David Tennant, the song shows a refreshingly innocent sense of humor in both the video and their lyrics. Somehow they manage to keep things light in what could have been a rather existential song, proclaiming “You are alive! Isn’t that great?!”

So here’s your daily dose of perspective, folks. Please enjoy!

It’s Nice to be Alive by Ball Park Music