Tag Archives: music

Beginnings of a solar system magnum opus

We’ve had a concert here all morning yesterday. It featured extended thoughts about all the planets in our solar system, but we had to listen to it through the bedroom door. Somebody gets self-conscious while performing in front of his parents.

I did manage to get him to tell me some of the words, which I wrote down:

“Song about Jupiter with Clouds… about Jupiter”*

One little place with a Halloween cloud
It’s a place with the place with a birth it’s Jupiter
Boing ba ba boing ba ba boing boing boing

It’s the place with the clouds that will make you look scary
Make you look scary make you look like a berry
Boing ba ba boing ba ba boing boing boing

“Earth Song”
Earth song from Tracy on Vimeo.

(He’s been singing this for days, although I had no idea until today that it was supposed to be about Earth. How unsettling.)

*Copyright Declan 2009

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My brain hurts

Last night, Dan and I went out to see Citizen Cope. Since we were told (on what we thought was good authority) when the show would start, we thought we had everything taken care of for our first time out alone together to see live music in ages.

We arrived to a nightclub door still sealed over an hour after it was supposed to be opened, froze in line a for several minutes behind a smoking guy and a spitting guy. (What gives, spitting guy? You didn’t seem to be chewing tobacco, just spitting every 45 seconds.) We got in and looked around at the crowd. Five years ago, at a show like this, we would have known gobs of people. This time, it was two people. We just stared at boys in knit hats and the $70(!) sweatshirts for sale and the malingering guy with the Lowe’s race car jacket. We leaned on the embossed, cracked, gold-painted plaster behind us and shaded our eyes from the illuminated advertisements all over the room.

About an hour and forty minutes later than we were told the show would start, it started. So we stayed for about forty-five minutes and left, having heard several songs we like, save one (sun is misspelled on the playlist – it’s meant to be son):

The bass was too loud. The neighbors were nice enough to babysit, but they have jobs & can’t stay up all night on a Sunday. I know there are people who could tell us stories about the times that shows didn’t start when they expected at my old man’s old live music joint, but he would have apologized. Mostly, I’m old.

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Bruce Springsteen reminded me that I’m patriotic

I haven’t done a lot of jumping up and down and screaming at concerts in my adult life. Dancing? Yes. Yelling and applauding appreciatively? Absolutely. Taking notes to review the show for the paper? Check. But jumping up and down like a 14-year-old, waving my arms, mentally projecting look at me, in the striped shirt, I’m from Jersey! That’s something I reserve for a Bruce Springsteen show.

Thankfully, the free show he did to campaign for Obama and registration/early voting in Ohio yesterday was acoustic, and most of us spent our time in the mellow, perfect sunlight yelling for the candidate (who was elsewhere) as much as for the Boss. Before he closed his set, he spoke a few words about his vision of America, of Obama’s and what he hears from nations outside of ours today.

I am a sap for the Constitution. I am a sap for Woody Guthrie and American literature and the Asbury Park boardwalk and muy macho guys like Springsteen who are tough with a gentle spirit and a soft underbelly, so the words he said made me cry. They reminded me of my patriotism — of what I believe patriotism is in America. So I thought I’d share it. It sure beats the nasty turn in the rhetoric this week.

None of the videos that I found of Ohio’s show had the complete speech, so I’m lifting this from his appearance in Philly, where he gave virtually the same remarks. He starts speaking just before the one-minute mark:


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Stephen Colbert called, my husband had already answered

Last week, Stephen Colbert asked Crosby, Stills & Nash why they couldn’t write a “more positive” political song, called something like, say…. “The Surge Is Working.”

In fact, Dan wrote a song by just that title earlier this year. He and his Wahoo bandmates recorded it this weekend. Enjoy:

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Comfest diary

I was 15 or 16 years old the first time that I went to Comfest. It was the Reagan ’80s, in a town perceived to be middling-to-conservative, in a generation that wasn’t supposed to care about anything. And yet here was a place where, for one weekend, you could find all kinds of politics and countercultures and live music and radical buttered corn and people who delighted in being odd. It was beautiful. It still is… now with value-added naked painted breasts!

Last year, Comfest was emotional and strange for me. It was the year when people approached me gingerly to ask me how my husband was doing in the final days before he was to close his business of nearly 20 years. The festival gave him its first “Patron of the Arts” medal for his many years of giving local musicians a stage. I got my brain picked by some gossips and some voyeurs and some armchair concert promoters who figured his club’s closing was always coming because they felt they understood his business better than he did all along. (Truly, he might as well have been working in politics, because there is at least one Bill O’Reilly/Keith Olberman-style pundit of music promotion for every square block of this city.)

But there were also people who came to me with tears in their eyes, sorry for our loss, sorry for the community’s loss and concerned for our family. And then there were a few who came to Dan directly when I was with him to say thank you and I’m sorry, whose faces puzzled as they met Declan and I and realized that Dan wasn’t walking off into some rock-and-roll bachelor’s retirement, but an uncertain future with a wife and two-year-old.

This past year has been hard. We moved to a part of town where we don’t know many people, a few months before the nexus of our social lives was cut away – some elements of our social lives had already peeled off as we eliminated alcohol from our menus and became parents . Dan jokes that we’ve been in the witness relocation program.

Who still calls and who doesn’t has been illuminating, now that there are no gigs or free concert tickets or drinks on the house that may result from friendship with us. Once you get past the sadness of that, it’s kind of liberating. Our lives aren’t any more certain now, but I do think that we’ve become more comfortable with uncertainty.

Comfest has this reunion quality for those of us who have lived in the local counterculture for a long time, and this weekend, it’s reminded me how lucky we are. I’ve watched my son worship and be adored by several of Dan’s closest friends. They are an oddball bunch. Less the cynics and know-it-alls so closely associated with the image the club had than men and women who do T’ai Chi and watch sports and read and play brilliant music and meditate and dance like maniacs and laugh really loud and have a soul love of music and volunteering and Declan. As he splashed through mud puddles and danced, they praised his spirit and his smoochable, nom-able cheeks.

And then there are the new vistas that this blog has opened up for me. On Friday, I found and met Amy of Dooblehvay selling her elegantly crafted and playful wares in the street fair. I also connected with his family for a few sweet moments on the street. They are longtime friends of ours (his wife worked for Dan for many years) and their daughter Sophie is awesomely fun. I love that being online lets us better keep up with their lives.

And while Friday was a little rough on us because Declan didn’t get the nap he clearly needed, we had a few wonderful moments. He sat in his stroller and ate fruit and I sat on the curb facing him as he gesticulated and said “now.. how can I explain the Big Bang? Well…” Later, he nestled his face through tree leaves as he talked to the sweetest grandmother and granddaughter, who were dressed in matching fairy outfits, carrying anti-war canvas bags.

Our arrival yesterday was peculiar, as I found a sharp knife sticking in the ground near the pond that I picked up and gave to a volunteer to dispose of. That alarming discovery was quickly brushed off by a welcome from a large group of young and old people greeting festival-goers with handmade signs that said “Free Hugs,” so Declan and I each took one. This year, there seem to be a few families freestyling the message and spirit of the festival in increasingly adorable ways. (This year, the shirts say “Be the change.”)

A major storm hit by Dan’s third song with his band The Wahoos, but they played right through it, to an enthusiastic group of puddle-splashing dancers. Luckily for Declan, they performed his two space-themed songs first. In the aftermath of the rain, Declan splashed about with a group of fun kids during the Mendelsonics‘ set, and we had to drag him, literally kicking and screaming and unbelievably muddy, back home. And while the time once was that we’d be there until the park closed, moving on to Dan’s club afterwards, it felt good to leave as the drunkenness ramped up and come home to clean up and settle down together.

This morning, Declan told me that he caught a rainbow between his fingers. (It was the city’s Pride celebratio
n yesterday too, so rainbows have been everywhere.) He put in his hair, then mine, then daddy’s. And it stormed for a few moments this morning, but the sun seems to be out for now, and so, as crispy as we are, we’re getting ready to go for the last day, where we’ll see a little of them, and a lot of her, among other things. If it rains, we’ll probably just get wet.

Dan will be on Curt Schieber’s Invisible Hits Hour on CD101 from the site at 9 p.m. as it closes (Dan’s been his traditional Comfest wrap-up guest for the past few years).

Happy Comfest.

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Estrogen, euphony and domestic ennui

I have been slowly dragging music off my CD shelves and into my iPod for the past couple of weeks. Between my past (and future) life as a music reviewer and Dan’s history as a music promoter, this process is bound to take awhile.

As I made tall stacks of favorite CDs yesterday, I began to realize that the percentage of recordings I grabbed made by women was significantly smaller than I imagined. That’s strange because I think we listen to more music by women in this house than many families do. It’s also strange because for the years that I regularly wrote CD reviews, I was one of the only female music writers in town, and assigned a disproportionate number of albums by women. I didn’t mind this for two reasons – I felt it was important that a wider number of female musicians got some press exposure, and it just so happens that solid, worthwhile female songwriters and performers have been coming out of the woodwork for the last 15 years.

As I listen, I’m amazed that while some of these women are still thriving (or struggling) in the music game, a few have fallen off the map entirely. I’ve scraped together a few links of songs I find worthwhile by the critically acclaimed and the obscure for your listening and viewing pleasure. There are 30 second samples on iTunes, full videos on YouTube and a free little playlist with the same title as this post that I may grow as I can (although getting my first song choice isn’t always feasible). The process has made me consider podcasting, but we’ll see.

My rule as a reviewer has always been to listen to a recording three times. Sometimes I’ve fallen in love with records I hated the first time through, other times things that I liked on the first listen bored me to tears by the third. I hope you enjoy these:

Sam Phillips
One of my favorite songwriters and performers, period. Although her lighter stuff had its ultimate life on the TV show “The Gilmore Girls,” her records are dark, Gothic and gorgeous.
A Boot and a Shoe, “Reflecting Light”: Sam Phillips - A Boot and a Shoe - Reflecting Light (Or “I Need Love” on YouTube)

Amy Rigby
Known as the “Mod Housewife” with pigtail braids and striped stockings back in the when, a lot of her songs are domestic ennui personified. She’s now living in France.
Diary of a Mod Housewife, “We’re Stronger Than That”: Amy Rigby - Diary of a Mod Housewife - We're Stronger Than That

Angela McCluskey
I just like this woman’s voice. She has also apparently expatriated to France, where she sings with a band called Telepopmusik.
The Things We Do
, “It’s Been Done”: YouTube video, Angela McCluskey - The Things We Do - It's Been Done

Caitlin Cary

A member of alt country band Whiskeytown, her bandmate Ryan Adams went on to bigger fame, while she’s cut a few fairly well-received records.
I’m Staying Out, “Empty Rooms”: Caitlin Cary - I'm Staying Out - Empty Rooms

Rosanne Cash

I realize that she’s part of a major musical dynasty, but the emotional catharses she she shared on Rules of Travel and Black Cadillac about life, illness and death are just timeless.
Rules of Travel, “Beautiful Pain”: Rosanne Cash - Rules of Travel - Beautiful Pain
(Or, from the same record, the haunting duet with her father, “September When It Comes” on YouTube.)

Iris DeMent

I didn’t like her old-timey voice at first, but it grew on me and I love her songwriting.
The Way I Should, “The Way I Should”: Iris DeMent - The Way I Should - The Way I Should
(Or DeMent’s video on YouTube of Let the Mystery Be.)

And here is a woman who was in alt country band The Blood Oranges and had a solo record called “The Northeast Kingdom” that I adore, but it’s nowhere on iTunes or any playlist I can find. Sadly (for us anyway, probably happily for her)
, I understand that she’s making soap and raising flowers in New England, far from the turmoil of the music industry. Her name is Cheri Knight:


Here’s another woman who did some interesting things by blending music and slam poetry. She went for some easy laughs, but when I saw her live, I found her to be better than a novelty. She’s dropped of the map, but of you ever watched MTV when they actually played music, you may remember this video: Maggie Estep’s “Hey Baby“.

And here’s the playlist, with the songs I could find from these and some other artists:

What female artists do you love or feel haven’t gotten enough exposure?

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Things to do on a Friday (or Saturday) night, Part One

Last summer, I briefly heralded my family’s new found normality (after lo, these many years of my husband’s reign as a local independent impresario) in a post called “What we do on a Friday night these days.” It wasn’t a very exciting read, but posting it was sort of… illuminating.

To this day, handfuls to dozens of people still visit that post every week, and it’s not because they think my Cosmic playlist is brilliant. It’s because, come Friday, a number of people from all over the world apparently go to the search engine of their choice and type “things to do on a Friday night,” hoping the bots will show them the way to a good time. Somehow, they end up here instead, tripping the light fantastic through my domestic burbles.

If you are one of those souls meandering through cyberspace, looking for weekend inspiration, I actually can help you. It just so happens that despite of the fact that I am kind of a shut-in these days, I am still something of an expert about things that people can do on a Friday or Saturday night. Over the course of my career, the two jobs I actually had to go into an office to complete involved localizing a well-known national chain of websites and writing for a local alternative weekly – both publications were deeply involved in informing people about the myriad ways they might spend their free time.

I also waited until my mid-30s to become a parent, so that I could enjoy many years of going out on Friday and Saturday nights before giving them up to drool and intergalactic renditions of “The Farmer in the Dell.” I’ve seen enough that I’m not so worried about what I might be missing these days.

My unsolicited advice
For starters, if you are one of those people who lives in a mid-sized-to-major city and scrunches up their nose in confusion or non-recognition when I mention the name of a local free alternative weekly newspaper, you probably aren’t well-enough informed about what your city has to offer to viably complain that there isn’t anything to do. Start there – look for the free rags in the foyers of restaurants, coffee shops, libraries and bookstores, or search for “free weekly + (name of your town)” online. Hunt through their calendar listings and see what you’ve been missing, then consider going someplace you’ve never heard of. If the unknown scares you, pack hand sanitizer and low expectations.

Otherwise, here is my all-purpose, non-geographically specific list of suggestions about things you can do on a Friday or Saturday night.

Part One – Going Out
Gallery openings
I weep when I consider the uneaten cheese cubes cast into garbage cans when an artist loads up a snack table, hangs his or her work for all to see and no one comes.

Actually, in my town, I’ve found that it’s rare that no one comes, even if it’s just people questing for free cheese cubes. Whatever your motivation, it would behoove you to become one of those people. Don’t think that you have to know what you’re looking at. It’s better that you come with questions.

See live, original music in a smaller venue
I obviously have my biases when it comes to this one, but I would be remiss if I didn’t evangelize a little about live music. The fact is, if you love music, and haven’t ever seen it live, in an intimate venue, your relationship with it is effectively stuck at second base.

While it’s true that if you are anywhere between 35 and 65 years old, you can probably have a fairly intimate experience with some band that specializes in covering all the music you sang in the shower when you were twelve, that is not the same as seeing an original act. Connecting with a bunch of people through drunken nostalgia can be fun, but connecting with something new and stirring can actually be transcendent. (Don’t expect that at your first show, but believe me, it happens.) It also makes you smarter and better looking.

I haven’t gone to them as often, but all the same concepts may apply to theater, dance and other live performances.

Go to the drive-in or an independent movie theater
I’ve found the cost of mainstream Hollywood movies offensive in recent years, especially given their soggy quality. I don’t know if exorbitant numbers of writers, directors or film editors are snorting bleach these days, but an awful lot of big-budget films seem to be about 20 minutes longer than they should be. This makes entertaining movies mediocre and mediocre movies excruciating.

The fact that my city still has a drive-in has made many a burdensome movie almost bearable. (I’m talking to you, Titanic.) I can sit there and groan over the scenes that ought to be deleted and only annoy my husband. Because drive-ins now send audio through your car radio signal instead of on those old window speakers, you can still be moderately awed by the actions of magical creatures and things blowing up on the screen, and also have the steering wheel conveniently handy to bang your head against during inexplicable jumps in plot and/or dialog.

And yes, supporting independent films (or at least independent theaters) is healthy for you and me. Although I’ve been disappointed in several indie movies lately because they too often seem like shallow vanity projects for award-seeking stars, when they are good, they are really good. And worth seeing on the big screen.

Do guerrilla theater
Why are you hellbent on being entertained when you could be the one doing the entertaining? You don’t have to have an agent or a cause. Join or look to these people for inspiration. (I’m especially fond of their freeze series. Another great one is Look Up More.) Going to public places in full costume when it’s nowhere near Halloween is also a good idea. Consider it an anthropological investigation.

My brother had a few of these inspired moments in his youth. Like the time he and a friend made up fake fliers in support of building a canal in the center of Broad Street here in Columbus. The kicker was the suggestion that our city’s replica of the Santa
be floated down the middle of the canal as an innovative form of public transportation.

To be continued next week, with suggestions about what to do if you’re staying in.

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Across the Universe Day

Today at 7 p.m. EST, NASA is beaming the Beatles song “Across the Universe” toward Polaris, the North Star. Apparently, the moment is the exact time the song was recorded 40 years ago, and meant to be a “cheerier” greeting to aliens than the usual Morse code we routinely transmit into space. This event is also apparently part of NASA’s 50th anniversary celebration.

According to the Bad Astronomer, Polaris is far from the best star choice if the objective is to greet distant life forms, but it is one of the few stars that large numbers of humans know by name (outside of the sun).

Organizers are encouraging people to listen to the song at the same moment all around the world. There is more information about it here. The event will also be broadcast on NASA TV online.

For today, we’ve put the song at the top of our Cosmic playlist:

P.S. Declan doesn’t believe me that this is a Martian crater because it isn’t red.

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I was a teenage music store employee

When I was 15, I had an ambitious 17-year-old friend who decided to jump on the forward car of the digital bandwagon and open the city’s second CD-only music store. It was a shotgun of a place in a shiny new strip mall on the north side of town. And it had the word “jungle” in its title because the owner’s sister worked for the zoo. We had baby wild animals in the store more than once. I have a specific memory of holding a baby lion in my left arm while searching for a Bartok disc for a customer.

Outside of the owner, there were two other store employees. He hired a manager who was a man-babe, by Columbus’ circa-1985 beauty standards (think Euro-mullet) and 15-year-old music-obsessed me. There were some awful things about this job. When the store crowded with new digital types, we were instructed to put on odd new age releases, Kenny G and other relative crapola designed to make people ooh and aah over the hyper-clarity of the recording and want to buy it immediately to show off their new technology. And I was never so keenly aware of the fact that the music industry was a man’s game. Over the three years that I worked there, I was the only female employee. The record label charlatans were all men. The customers were mostly men.

But there were also wonderful things. Like the boxes of import CDs that we would get and could sneak a listen to before shrink-wrapping them and putting them on the shelves. This was the time when everything was on vinyl, but record companies hadn’t put their catalogs out on CD yet. I could indulge my every curiosity: “Why do so many people want My Baby Just Cares for Me by Nina Simone?” “Are these men buying Blind Faith for the creepy cover or the music?” “Why do people talk about Patti Smith like she’s a deity?” “Did the two Hollands and Dozier really write all of these?”

As much as I knew the radio hits and a record here or there by the Beatles or David Bowie, it didn’t compare with the experience of seeing their catalogs come out and hearing the reasons that customers were anticipating one record over another.

As the store branched out to three locations, I gained more cool music guy co-workers who were at least glad I was there to answer questions about early ’80s pop radio. Because, when a customer asked which Hall and Oates record had “Kiss on My List” on it, I, of course, knew. In return, they pulled me out of a mid-’80s musical adolescence where new video idols danced like living pool noodles and synthesized keyboards were the shoulder pads of radio hits.

Instead, they would convince me, probably as much for their own sanity as anything else, to spend those hours restocking shelves and sitting behind the cash register listening to The Replacements, Koko Taylor, Gustav Mahler, the Grateful Dead , Ornette Coleman. Granted, I came to the store open-minded, with a childhood of country, classical, folk, Motown, doo wop, rockabilly and disco, but they still basically cracked my world wide open. How else would I have ended up here?

Life soundtrack: The Replacements, Let It Be, “I Will Dare”
The Replacements - Let It Be - I Will Dare
Nina Simone, Little Girl Blue, “My Baby Just Cares for Me”
Nina Simone - Little Girl Blue - My Baby Just Cares for Me

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