Tuesday, August 29, 2006

heavy

This is the Damon family. My friend, Hildi (right) married the sweet and dutiful brainiac, Pat, 19 years ago. Their daughter, Mikayla is 14, and their son, Jan-Christian is 12. This picture was taken the day that Pat was deployed to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard in January. Hildi'd sent me this picture along with five others, all of the kids being alternately goofy and pensive. As you might imagine, everyone was sad to see him go.

I just found out today that Pat died in Afghanistan. And every time I think of any aspect of the situation, I literally shake my head in a combination of utter disbelief and a gargantuan lack of comprehension. I can't fathom how or why it happened. I couldn't possibly begin to know what Hildi, Mikayla, and Jan-Christian are going through. And although it doesn't surprise me that Hildi effected a meeting with the President and that during that meeting she spoke the hard truth to him, I simply don't know from where she gets the strength and courage to do it. I just don't. Can't. Anything.

Hildi and Pat took me into their home for a little while before I moved to Seattle. The lease on my apartment was up before my job was over, and they were kind enough to let me pitch camp in their guest bedroom. If fish and houseguests smell after three days, I must have been rank (there nearly a month). They were only ever good friends and gracious hosts.

Pat seemed quiet around people who didn't know him, but he was an excited and unending source of information (and a bit of a ham) to those of us who did. And all I can do is shake my head and offer well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful condolences to my widowed friend and her fatherless children.

I also found out today that my friend, Michelle, and her entire community have had a jarring loss. Two women were killed and two others wounded by a man who entered an elementary school and started shooting people. Today is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and it's shocking how much has not been done there since. My friend, Donna, is boarded into her home in Florida waiting for Ernesto to show up. The news tells mind-boggling stories about one man pretending he killed a little girl and another man arrested for setting up marriages between little girls and older men. Some days, it's too much to absorb.

The world aside, my thoughts keep coming back to Hildi. And Essex, Vermont. And a naive wish that I could recapture the innocence of youth and spread it like peanut butter over everyone's wounds.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

exploring nutmeg

Too frequently, the one day a week we both have off is occupied with a variety of chores. It is rare that we spend that day without a list, a schedule, a project, a visit, or a plan. Yesterday -- although prompted by a chore -- we decided to have such a day.

Our first stop was the Tanger Outlets in Westbrook to buy a couple new pairs of pants for Ted. That chore completed, we wandered around the Borders outlet, procuring four books between the two of us (that's 3 for Ted, 1 for me). From there, we hit the first matinee of Little Miss Sunshine. Were it not for us laughing and Typhoid Mary in the front row coughing violently, the theater would have been silent. Of course, there were only about 12 people there. Irrespective of the surroundings, I really enjoyed the movie. Along with the laugh-out-loud funny parts, there were at least three tears-streaming-down-my-face crying parts, too.

From the theater, we went on a search for a place to have lunch. After escaping Westbrook (where we'd been told there was a muster that day and parts of town were closed off), we headed for Clinton, but didn't stop until Madison where we found Lenny and Joe's Fish Tale. The place was hopping, the fried clams were good, and there was a small carousel. It was fun to watch the kids spinning around on giant frogs and cats while grabbing rings (although the rings were plentiful and not brass, so neither much of a challenge nor particularly special).

We decided to stay off the highway, wandering down Route 1. We made a spontaneous stop at Bishop's Orchards in Guilford, sniffing our way through the fresh produce. They had the biggest basil plants I've ever seen, and so aromatic! We bought apricots and limes, and wandered around looking for the animals. We found a few goats hanging out in a pen in the distance, but nothing else.

Even with the occasional rain shower, it was a nice day -- a cool and pleasant relief from the recent heat wave and perfect for driving with all the windows open. We stayed on Route 1 until we lost it somewhere in New Haven. Yes, we lost a road while we were driving on it. Go figure. Anyway, an opportunity to rejoin the highway presented itself, and so we abandoned the search for Route 1 and took the speedy way home. There, we caught up on some TiVo, napped, enjoyed a simple dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and called it a day.

We've complained a lot about living in Connecticut. Too expensive. Too stressful. Too everything. But it was nice to roam through the towns along the shore and enjoy the scenery.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

there she goes

It's time for Aunt Kelly to mist again. Tomorrow, Caitlin heads to college. I've just started my round of the correspondence book we've been circulating since February 24, 2003. She writes a letter, I write a letter, she writes a letter, etc.

We usually make a CD for each other. Her most recent contained Ben Lee, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Justin Timberlake, AFI, Switchfoot, Dashboard Confessional, Fort Minor, DecembeRadio, The New Amsterdams, simple plan, Dierks Bentley, Something Corporate, and the ultra-catchy "Getcha Head in the Game" from High School Musical. Very eclectic. I'm so proud.

I've been collecting songs for a while to create the CDs (yes, plural) to go with my turn of the book. There's one song in particular that is just the most amazingly catchy pop song I've heard in a long time. I won't mention it here (don't want to ruin the surprise in case Ms. Cait wanders over to the blog while unpacking her dorm room), but I'll post again once the package is sent. This song is too good not to share with the world..

I don't have any good insight to share here. Just the continued disbelief that the young ones in my life are reaching, approaching, and eyeing adulthood rapidfire.

By the way, in the photo above, notice Caitlin's early adoption of the "hook 'em horns" hand gesture, best used for rock concerts and sporting events. Also, the little arm flung over Caitlin's shoulder is that of Andrew, who starts his sophomore year of college next week, too.

::sniff, sniff::

Saturday, August 19, 2006

unearthed

A few weekends ago, I drove to my parents' house and spent two days clearing out the large closet of the very small bedroom I last occupied around 1984. Three siblings, two nephews, and a niece also pitched in. I'd stored my record collection and some other memorabilia in there when I moved to Seattle in 1991. It's been there ever since, despite the fact that I moved back to New England nearly seven years ago. So, my brother has been helping our folks get organized this summer, and when he happened across said closet, I was called into action.

Somehow, a great of deal additional stuff managed to accumulate on top of my stash. To top it all off, because the closet had been so full when the professional animal control company came to block off all possible mouse, squirrel, skunk, and raccoon entrances into the old farmhouse, it was the one place they couldn't access. Therefore, about a million happy little mice have made quite a comfortable home in there over the years. There was plenty of chewed cardboard and fabric to show for it, though the more dire consequence of all that eating (ahem) was quite distressing. We did lots of cleaning -- ourselves and the house.

The little buggers nibbled through the spines of about 100 albums that were stored in crates. Argh! Thankfully, the remaining records (approximately 1200 albums and 12" singles, and 1000 45s) were all safely secured in boxes that the mice apparently found too daunting to chew. Everything is now safely in brand new, climate controlled, and pest-protected storage. Moving all that vinyl caused me to contemplate a couple things.

First, records are really heavy! I moved those things twice a year, every year, for all four years of college. Each trip, the number accumulating. I moved them three more times to each place I lived in Maine before their final move into Mom and Dad's house when I headed West. I'd nearly forgotten how much they weigh in large groups.

Second, I'm really looking forward to listening to this stuff again. Although I have replaced some of it on CD or MP3, I own a treasure trove of music that has never been released digitally. I'm going to have to set my computer up to capture the stuff and make my iTunes library more representative of my whole collection. That sounds interesting, but I still haven't even come close to getting my CD collection (which numbers approximately 1500) into iTunes yet.

That weekend was the start of a trend for me. I'm cleaning out. Decluttering our space. Lightening the load. Taking inspiration from Mom & Dad's house, and one of my favorite home shows. Upon opening a mysterious file box, I discovered a notebook I'd written when I was first living in Seattle. It includes the last of a series of lists that I created annually highlighting my favorite music released during the year.

Here is my 1992 Best of Albums list:
  1. Alice in Chains "Dirt"
  2. k.d. lang "Ingenue"
  3. Pearl Jam "Ten"
  4. Thomas Dolby "Astronauts & Heretics"
  5. Enya "Shepherd Moons"
  6. Matthew Sweet "Girlfriend"
  7. Arrested Development "3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of..."
  8. Annie Lennox "Diva"
  9. "The Commitments" soundtrack
  10. Bobby McFerrin & Chick Corea "Play"
  11. Bobby McFerrin & Yo Yo Ma "Hush"
  12. Madonna "Erotica"
  13. Alison Moyet "Hoodoo"
  14. Ephraim Lewis "Skin"
  15. CeCe Peniston "Finally"
  16. Michael Penn "Free-For-All"
  17. Prince & New Power Generation "[the symbol that later became his name]"
  18. Queen Latifah "The Nature of a Sista"
  19. Shakespeare's Sister "Hormonally Yours"
  20. Go West "Indian Summer"
I have a couple observations about this grouping. First, it was my requirement the list could only be comprised of records I actually owned. It being my first year after arriving in Seattle, I had precious little money to spend on music (as mentioned in a recent post), and so my choices were limited. Second, I'm fascinated to see how I have become more appreciative of some of the "lower" ranked records since 1992. Ephraim Lewis is a great example. At a modest #14 here, I might well place it at the same rank or even higher of my all-time favorites (a list I've threatened to create but have never actually done). It comes close to being a perfect album.

But wait, there's more! My 1992 Best of Songs list (alphabetical, not enumerated):
  • Beastie Boys "So What Cha Want"
  • Mary J. Blige "Real Love"
  • Brand New Heavies "Never Stop"
  • Chesney Hawkes "The One and Only"
  • Cowboy Junkies "Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park"
  • En Vogue "My Lovin' (Never Gonna' Get It)"
  • Extreme "Rest in Peace"
  • Live "Operation Spirit"
  • The KLF with Tammy Wynette "Justified and Ancient"
  • King Missile "Detachable Penis"
  • L7 "Pretend That We're Dead"
  • The La's "There She Goes"
  • L.A. Style "James Brown is Dead"
  • Lush "For Love"
  • Madonna "Deeper and Deeper"
  • George Michael "Too Funky"
  • Public Enemy "Can't Truss It"
  • Screaming Trees "Nearly Lost You"
  • John Secada "Just Another Day"
  • Sting with Eric Clapton "It's Probably Me"
  • Sugarcubes "Hit"
  • Sundays "Love"
  • Tears For Fears "Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)"
  • They Might Be Giants "Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal"
Even though there is definitely some diversity in the group, it feels so narrow now. I suppose that makes sense given the volume of new (and old) music I've enjoyed and/or procured since 1992.

Here's an example. I just bought a new album (the entire thing digitally... I've evolved to the point where I no longer need physical evidence) that is rapidly growing on me. It is "Dreaming Through the Noise" by Vienna Teng. This is not her first album, but I am just now learning about her. Wonderful music.

Friday, August 18, 2006

art imitating real life

To make an incredibly long story as short as possible, my family drove some 13,000 miles on a 'cross country vacation in 1973. Our Volkswagen bus was filled above the brim. Mom and Dad alternated driver's seat and shotgun. Eldest brother, Gerry, had the most space in the 2/3 middle seat. Brothers, Chris and Sean, shared the back seat. And my sister, Cathy, and I made a little fortress out of the "wayfarback." All of our clothes, food, and sleeping bags were packed in two massive, silver fiberglass cubes secured to the full-size roof rack. We must have been a sight to behold.

Despite the fact that I was only seven years old at the time, I remember a good deal of this trip. Some things stand out -- riding a cable car in San Francisco and better still driving the bus down Lombard Street, fog and chipmunks (but no giant stone presidents) at Mt. Rushmore, red mud flooding into our tent at the Badlands, the "four knuckle knocker" scaring the pants off Sean who was sleeping in the bus, waking up with the bus parked inches from a cliff at the Pacific Ocean in California, eating a very late dinner at a place I'd never seen before called "Taco Bell" and not understanding why I couldn't get a hot dog. I remember a lot of games played in the car. I remember every minute of a whole day at Disneyland.

One memory is partial but permanent. It goes like this. We were in the desert Southwest somewhere (give me a break, I was 7). We'd stopped at a gas station for refueling and a bathroom break, and then headed back out on the road.

This is the part I don't remember, so I have to retell it as my Mom tells it. We were about half an hour past the gas station when a little voice in the back (that would be me) said, "Where's Cathy?"

Oops. We'd left one behind.

This is the part I do remember. My father drove faster than I'd ever seen him drive to get back to the gas station. And when we arrived, Cathy was standing in front of the huge plate glass window -- her long, brown hair braided, her arms folded tightly across her chest, her face twisted in anger, and her foot tapping impatiently. She scolded us, hopped back on the bus, and off we went. Again. With all present and accounted for.

Now, I can't speak for Cathy. I can't imagine how she must have felt. We had a plan in case anyone got lost on the trip (everyone was to call my father's secretary, and she would coordinate a location to reunite). My sister had followed the rules and called Diane. But there hadn't been any phones in the half hour trip past the gas station for us to use, as well. Remember, 1973. So, my poor sister had to wait almost an hour for us to come back.

In hindsight and for me (the one who didn't have to go through this), it's kinda' humorous. You know, one of those stories she can tell her grandchildren. She doesn't need to tell her children, because our mother's been doing that for years.

So when I saw the trailer for the new movie, Little Miss Sunshine, I laughed more loudly than I have in a long time, and with such force that I cried. I immediately called Cathy. I hope the past 33 years have created enough of a buffer for her that she might be able to laugh at it, too.

I think Fox Searchlight should pay my sister a royalty.



Cool to catch a Sufjan Stevens song in there, too.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

untitled

Last night, I watched the director's cut of Almost Famous after attempting to view a horribly hacked version on network television last weekend. Amazing, the stuff they edited. Like William's mother telling the man painting a store window that "Xmas" is not a word in the English language.

"It's either 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays.'"

Although the removal of some R-rated segments was appropriate, given the medium, I suspect they edited so many non-offensive bits simply to reduce overall playing time. Obviously, these editors were not emotionally invested in this movie, and therefore didn't understand that each component is critical to the story.

It is a love letter to rock 'n roll. It speaks to me in a way few others have done. Cameron Crowe is a genius. I recognize myself all over this movie. Not so much in the sequence of events (obviously -- although I did write record reviews and articles for an indie magazine called FACE), but in the overwhelming love of music.

I've only met one semi-famous rock band, and it was an unfortunate encounter with Slaughter during a record signing when I managed a record store in 1990. And I never hung out by the back door a la Penny Lane and her Band-Aids, hoping to meet (and perhaps do unsavory things with) the any of the bands I saw in concert.

Crowe perfectly captures the essence of teenage absorption, not just into music, into everything. The melodrama that is being 15 years old. The big difference is that our protagonist gets the joy ride of a lifetime while waging the battle between teen innocence and angst.

Though it may be obvious to say, the soundtrack is stunning. Crowe uses a brilliant combination of easily recognizable hits and deep tracks from seminal if not popular albums. And there are dozens of songs. Some are featured like Tiny Dancer, and some mere snippets. My favorite is My Cherie Amour playing while William is watching Penny Lane get her stomach pumped.

I would recommend this movie for everyone. I realize that art is made meaningful only by the context in which the audience views it. Not everyone will like this movie, and fewer still will feel as connected to it as I do. That said, give it a try. You might be surprised what you get out of it.

"So Russell, what do you love about music?"

"To begin with... everything."
A note. Elaine (William's mother) encourages Russell to do his job well by saying, "Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid." She attributes the quote to Goethe, although by all accounts, it was Basil King who uttered the words.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

woeful

I just read an article on MSNBC that indicates WIC (Women, Infants, and Children program that provides a small stipend for food) will expand the list of foods it covers to include... fruits and vegetables.

Are you kidding me? This program -- which has existed since the 70s and now serves more than 8 million people -- has never allowed the recipients to purchase fruits and vegetables? Does it strike anyone else as INSANE that a program geared to improving the health of poor women and children doesn't provide for some of the most critical foods that would help to that end?

Since 1980, foods that were allowed included milk, eggs, and cheese. OK, I get the protein angle. It also allowed for juice, a natural for many kids. And carrots (hey, one vegetable!) and canned tuna for women (but not for kids?!?).

But heck, even I as a young lass in the 70s knew that vegetables and fruits are the most healthy foods to eat. I knew this because every year, my mother planted, tended, and harvested a vegetable garden nearly half the size of our considerable side yard. We lived on fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, corn, lettuce, zucchini, cauliflower, bok choi, chives, pumpkins, etc., etc., etc. We didn't grow fruit, but we were regular customers at the local farms and farm stands, where we could pick our own strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and buy other fruit like melons and peaches and such.

OK, that was fun remembering all that fresh produce. I remember Dad renting the Roto-tiller to plow the garden in preparation for planting. I remember helping Mom weeding and picking (although she did the vast majority of the work). I remember picking tomatoes and eating them fresh off the vine like apples. Mmmmm. Thanks, Mom.

I'm just agape that WIC is just now getting around to adding these necessary ingredients to their program. At least they're doing it now. Wow.

a timeless topic

It was only a couple months ago that the NY Times ran a piece about a son and his father. Today, there is a new one by Kevin Brockmeier that is very compelling. I find this dynamic intriguing to read, even though my involvement can only ever be peripheral. I don't have a son to closely witness any such relationship, and my connection to my own father is more of the Daddy's Little Girl sort ("little" being a reminiscent term of endearment). I do get to see my brothers with their sons, and it is a fascinating thing to behold. Sometimes, they seem torn between the oversized love they have for their baby boys and the overwhelming sense of duty to raise them to become responsible men. I think mothers have a similar conundrum, although it seems to tip in the direction of spoiling children (of both genders).

Of course, all of this is theoretical: I have no children. And perhaps it is a tribute to Mr. Brockmeier and Mr. Hendrickson that they wrote their stories well enough to provoke such thoughts in someone who has so little to do with the concept.

Note: This picture is of a mural created completely of corn, and can be found on this year's Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. I visited the Corn Palace in 1991 on my drive 'cross country. Excepting a 3-day visit at my brother's place in Long Beach, South Dakota was the only state where I stayed more than a day (or even a few hours). If I hadn't been on a planned trek to Seattle, I might well have stayed in the least populated state in the nation. It is beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

radio musicola

I'm on the brink of getting my "new" computer, I can just feel it. OK, so I had to ship it back for a fourth time (this time, it appears to be a bad video card), but I just know that when I get it back next week, it's going to be perfect. In anticipation of that momentous occasion, I've been prepping my music and other files for the transfer. This required the acquisition of a 600GB Maxtor external hard drive (naturally).

An aside. I paid way less than this link suggests because I bought it through my favorite retail outlet in the whole world.

With the decent size hard drive on the new computer, I'll clock in just below a terabyte of storage space. I love being an amateur geek. So, I've been futzing around with my music, reorganizing, adding, etc. In the process, I ended up at the Lollapalooza website (ok, so maybe that step was a tangent). I discovered that Ween is playing this year. This made me think of the first Lollapalooza I attended in 1993. It was also the last Lollapalooza I'll ever attend. What a nightmare. But that's a story for a different day.

So, it wasn't that Ween played the 1993 Lollapalooza show. I don't think they did. There were only about 30 acts on a mere two stages all in one day then (there are about 150 acts on nine stages over three days now). I was only able to spy parts of Fishbone, Alice in Chains, Arrested Development, Primus, and Rage Against the Machine. Anyway, it was that the radio station I listened to had started playing a Ween song around that time, and I connected the two. I never did buy the album (I was young and broke and bought music sparingly for a few years there), but I did record it from the radio station onto a cassette. Ah, technology.

Having made this connection today, I promptly bought the song on iTunes and by happenstance found the video on YouTube. And so it is with much fanfare and extraneous story-telling that I present to you, Push Th' Little Daisies by Ween.



Here's an interesting thing I discovered today. One of the things that I always liked about this song is the seemingly random insertion of a James Brown-style "aaaooowww!" as voiced by Prince. In fact, I'm fairly certain that this "aaaooowww!" is from the song Alphabet Street, but that's just a guess. Anyway, when I listened to the version I bought, it was missing. In its place a straightforward curse of the sh*t variety sung in the same tone as the rest of the song. But when I watched the video, Prince emerged howling. I presume this was their way of making the song censor-friendly. Learn something new every day.

And so to end this random, music-themed entry, here is a sample of my iTunes playlist that I listened to today. The appearance of Ween so soon after its addition to my library is due to the fact that I refreshed my party shuffle afterwards.

This grouping started out as The World Women's Music Playlist. Sometimes I think Apple made this technology smart.

Babooshka
Kate Bush

Aganj├║
Bebel Gilberto

Save Me
k.d. lang

Galbi
Ofra Haza

Beat Surrender
The Jam

The Nightfly
Donald Fagen

The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)
Missy Elliott

Sometimes It Snows in April
Prince & the Revolution

This Love
Maroon 5

Some Other Time
Ross Traut / Steve Rodby

Let's Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don’t Think They Heard It All the Way Out In Bushnell
Sufjan Stevens

Monkey Gone to Heaven
Pixies

Not Alone
Soulstice

Magic Mind
Earth Wind & Fire

Where You Are
Marc Broussard

Push Th' Little Daisies
Ween

Living Water
Ryan Farish

Steal My Sunshine
Len

Where Do The Children Play?
Take 6

Questions
Jack Johnson

Out of Reach
Cities of Foam

Future Love Paradise
Seal

Slip & Sliding
Matt Bianco

I Put Myself Together
Charles Brown


I'm so looking forward to the day when I get my entire collection digitized (oh that won't take too long), and then the eclectic nature of my taste will be even more apparent by these lists. By the way, the title of this entry is a Nik Kershaw song from long ago.