12 Albums that Have Stayed with Me

My friend, Beth Gallaway, tagged me in a post yesterday to remark upon twelve albums that have made an impact on my life. I thought instead of just listing them I’d write a blog post about them and tell you what they mean to me. Here they are in no particular (or chronological order):

Don Quixote by Gordon Lightfoot

don quixoteAs a kid, my family always took a two-week camping trip in the summers. We would get the car ready the night before and Dad would be itching to get going at oh, 4 am or some ungodly hour. This being back in the 70’s and 80’s we had lots of cassette tapes we listened to. Mom had her favorites and Dad had his. But one thing they always agreed upon was Gordon Lightfoot. A Canadian folksinger, he seemed to have the right feel and fit to our road trips. When I was in college I rediscovered him and bought nearly all of his albums–they are that good. This particular album has a favorite of all of us: “Alberta Bound.” It was the perfect thing to hear while driving across the plains of the Midwest, anticipating that first hazy outline of a mountain range rising in the distance.

Favorite track: Christian Island


Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses

appetite for destructionI know, I know. Axl Rose is a misogynist with tremendous Mommy issues. But this was a tremendous album when I was in high school and the anger and rebellion contained in this album greatly identified with my angsty, teenage self. Of course, I was a total introvert nerd who didn’t do drugs, or even drink. But we all find trouble if we go looking for it, right? Even so, I can’t attach any bad memories to these songs. This was the first album that made me feel like a badass. And a little badass never hurt anyone.

Favorite track: Paradise City


The Distance to Here by Live

distance to hereThis album saved me when I was going through a very painful breakup in 2000. I listened to this album over and over. It is full of aching, longing, but also love and hope. My anthem from this album is “Run to the Water” where the chorus goes: Run to the water and find me there / Burnt to the core but not broken.” It gave me the strength to be the phoenix and rise from the ashes. I got to see them in concert once. (Ha, I saw Live live.) However, it wasn’t the transcendent experience for which I’d been hoping. After a spring and summer of internalizing this album and making each song my own I was a little startled when I got to the venue and realized these songs weren’t mine. They didn’t belong to me anymore than any other fan in the audience. This is what happens when you live in your head too much.  Still, a great album.

Favorite Track: Run to the Water


The Bends by Radiohead

bendsWhere Live is a band that raises great emotion in me, I feel Radiohead is their intellectual counterpart. True, the lyrics are often cryptic and dreamy, but there is something very cerebral about Radiohead to me. I also feel this is as near perfect an album as one can get. Fake Plastic Trees? High and Dry? Black Star? Planet Telex? I dare you to name one song on this album that isn’t amazing. I feel Thom Yorke went on from here to be too cryptic and experimental. This album has the perfect balance of accessibility and weirdness that combine to something truly great.

Favorite Track: Fake Plastic Trees


Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar

enigma variationsThis piece of music is intertwined with a first date I had in my early thirties.  I had invited him over for dinner and he played this for me on the stereo. I liked classical music but didn’t  know much about it at the time. I listened to Mozart and Beethoven but had never heard of Elgar before. Of course, we all know one of his compositions, Pomp and Circumstance, which has been played at every graduation since its creation.  This particular piece is a series of variations on a theme, but what that theme was no one knows until this day. The particular variation we heard that night was Nimrod, or The Hunter. It is such an achingly beautiful piece that I got a little teary listening to it. Perhaps knowing that guy had such a sensitive soul is what caused me to kiss him later that night. It was later the prelude at our wedding.

Favorite Track: Nimrod


Enema of the State by Blink-182

enema of the stateI was first introduced to Blink-182 by my cousin Paul at a family reunion in 2001. When I got home I bought Enema of the State and listened to it over and over again. I think it is clear by now that I like crunching guitars and raucous music. Blink-182 were kind of immature, but they were funny and had catchy tunes, and boy could they rock. Hard and fast, each song is like a punch in the gut, but in the best possible way. I used to listen to music a lot in the car, and this was one of my favorites for freeway driving. I love all of their music, and love to see the way they matured in their sound through subsequent albums.

Favorite Track: All the Small Things


Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

Soul-Asylum-Grave-Dancers-UnionI already told you about my love for this album in a previous postIt comes directly from my freshman year of college and it was my soundtrack to that year. It didn’t hurt that Soul Asylum was a band from Minneapolis, my hometown, where Dave Pirner was a god in the early 90’s. I still love this album from the first track to the last. There are some excellent deep cuts from this album: April Fool, New World, and 99%. It’s a wonderful gift to go back and discover new things about an old favorite that you haven’t heard in a while.

Favorite Track: Without a Trace


Rainy Day Music by The Jayhawks

rainy day musicAnother band from Minneapolis, but I didn’t really get into them until I moved away to New Hampshire. I was homesick, didn’t know anyone and was looking for something to feel better. Enter Gary Louris and Mark Olson, the co-frontmen of the best harmonizing, poetical, folksy band since Simon and Garfunkel. This album got into my skin, brought me home, and made me remember home without feeling queasy. All of their albums are terrific, but this one holds a special place in my heart.

Favorite Track: Angelyne


Merry Christmas by Bing Crosby

merry christmasGood Lord, this is the best Christmas album ever! Of course, it holds strong memories of childhood as this was in heavy rotation on first the record player then the tape player. The first side is serious and solemn, the flip side fun and jazzy. Of course throughout are the lovely rich pipes of Mr. Bing Crosby.  My favorite Christmas movie of all time is Holiday Inn, the film that gave us White Christmas. My family and I watch it every year during the Christmas season and have many, many inside jokes and one-liners from it. Bing Crosby is in it, naturally, as is Fred Astaire. Sorry this got hijacked. I really do love the album. Especially how I can sing the harmony on “Silver Bells” because Carol Richards, who sings with him, is an alto.

Favorite Track: Mele Kalikimaka


Symphony #3 for Organ by Camille Saint-Saens

symphony #3I was first introduced to this particular piece of music by the film in the French Pavilion at EPCOT. It has the big boom boom organ that you hear at the end while the film cuts through vista after vista of gorgeous scenery, ending with the Eiffel Tower. I had downloaded the compiled musical score of French composers from iTunes, but I didn’t know my Saint-Saens from my Debussy at the time. Fortunately my then-boyfriend (who became my husband) told me exactly from whence that organ music came. Then he had me listen to the symphony, which is incredible. We even got to see it performed live last year at a church with a huge pipe organ. I nearly burst into tears and burst through the ceiling I was so moved by the great finish. Only listen if you want to be inspired, blown away, and ready to enact your plan for world domination.

Favorite Track: All of it.


The Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

sounds of silenceAnother influence of my parents. Of course I love the title track (and have you heard Disturbed’s cover? Amazing!), but I love this whole album, front to back. The poetry of Paul Simon, the haunting voice of Art Garfunkel, and the simple acoustic arrangements are sweet perfection. Of all their albums, this one is my favorite and I can listen to it again and again.

Favorite Track: April, Come She Will


 

There you have it: a small glimpse into my musical tastes. I find the longer I am alive  the harder it is to find new music I enjoy. I suppose that happens to all of us, though I don’t like it one bit. It makes me feel old. If you actually read this far and want to share new music with me, I’m all ears. Drop me a comment.

What I Did for Love

This story starts way back here:

Mom and me at about 4 years old

Mom and me at about 4 years old

My mom and I have had a very close relationship for my whole life, and I know how lucky I am in this. She and I have been good friends for as long as I can remember. My Mom is one of the sweetest ladies on this earth (besides her mother). Don’t get me wrong, she can be salty and curse if the need warrants. But to me she is soft, loving, and a super cuddler.

Mom has had some health problems in the past few years that has left her unable to drive, walk very far, and otherwise do a lot of stuff she used to do herself. But she keeps on going, a tough woman for sure–especially after all she’s had to endure.

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow

When I was young (still in a car seat) Mom took me everywhere with her–shopping, to see my cousins, and to preschool. And all the time I was strapped into that car seat I was listening to the tapes she played of her favorite music. This was the late 70s folks, and that includes Billy Joel, Rita Coolidge, Crystal Gayle, and her all-time favorite: Barry Manilow.

As a teenager I got into heavy metal and hard rock and shunned and teased my mother for her musical tastes. (What can I say? Sometimes teenagers can be assholes.) As I grew up I didn’t bug her about it so much but I never saw the attraction.

Fast forward to this Christmas this year. I heard Barry was coming to town on his final tour. The man is 72 after all.  And as easy it would have been to buy my mom “stuff” for Christmas, I think you can imagine where this is headed. I opted to give my mom the experience of one final Barry Manilow concert. With me.

barry manilow one last timeShe was rendered speechless when she opened her gift. Not that my mother is a constant talker (I’m married to that) but it was wonderful to see her so excited.

The concert was this last Monday, February 1 at the Germain Arena in Estero. And if you think Barry Manilow isn’t popular, think again. They actually added a second show this Saturday to accommodate the call for tickets in the Southwest Florida area.

The traffic was a nightmare getting in. I certainly hadn’t anticipated the amount of cars once we got off the freeway. Usually it would take five minutes to get to Germain Arena but it took us nearly forty minutes that night. And there was no handicapped parking left, so I had to park out in the sticks. Mom can’t walk very far so we used her wheelchair, thank goodness. It was a hike into the venue.

2016-02-01 19.52.38

Let it go, let it go…

Our seats were great. We were up on the top right next to the box suites and had a terrific view of the stage. As we came in the opening act, Dave Koz was wailing on his saxophone. Playing “Let it Go,” I might add.

Waiting for the main event!

Waiting for the main event!

All right, so let me be the first to admit it. Barry Manilow puts on a pretty good show. I can’t believe the pipes on this guy, and his energy levels.

2016-02-01 20.25.30

It’s a miracle… A true blue spectacle.

Have you ever heard that your brain stores the memories of all the moments of your entire life? It’s your recall that isn’t quite as developed. Well let me tell you that all of those songs I was forced to listen to at a tender age came back to me. I was astonished to realize I knew almost all the words to all the songs. There were only a couple I didn’t know.

2016-02-01 21.43.34

I think the most amazing thing about Barry Manilow is his enthusiasm. He really REALLY loves performing and it shines through in each moment. And seeing Mom so happy made it very easy to sit through the concert and even (gasp!) enjoy it.

I’m not a convert, sorry. My musical tastes have not changed. But I can say that I can appreciate why so many people love this guy. He may write the songs that make the whole world sing, corny as some may think they are, but his appeal lies in his positivity, his love of what he does, and his lovely voice.

When my husband reads this he’ll think I’ve gone over to the dark side. But he didn’t get to see the look on my mom’s face when she clasped her hands and sang along to “Weekend in New England.” Sometimes we do things we don’t necessarily like to do for the ones we love. I surprised myself. I had a good time.

My mom did tell me that the concert tickets were the best Christmas present she’d ever received. I think that’s a win for all of us.  As far as I know, she’s still basking in the Maniglow.

Music and Writing

Music and writing copy

Last week I wrote about my writing process but  I neglected to mention the type of environment in which I like to write best. In our library at home (yes, we have a library) we have a blue Queen Anne chair that is also a recliner. I like to sit in that with my feet up with my laptop and and tap tap tap away.

I also require total silence. An sculptor friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day and he says he needs silence too. He pointed to his head and said, “This is all the noise you need right here.” I totally agree.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is an intersection of inspiration between music and words as both are different mediums in storytelling. I can’t tell you how many short stories or vignettes I’ve written based on songs. I don’t know the way your brain works, but I think for a lot of people listening to music conjures pictures in their heads.  And words can do the same thing.

And it can work in the opposite direction too. Lots of songwriters have based songs on stories they’ve read. On The Sounds of Silence album by Simon and Garfunkel Paul Simon wrote the song “Richard Cory” based on the poem by E.A. Robinson of the same name. There are countless examples of artists taking inspiration from each other to create something new and that’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s even more amazing when it happens to you.

The current novel on which I am working has a soundtrack, for sure. I just can’t listen to it while I’m pounding out the words on the computer. But I did put a playlist together and I listen to it whenever I can. It’s amazing how listening to a particular song and thinking about a particular character can give me an idea on how to fix a problem with a plot point, or how to add a new facet to their personality.

When I was constructing this playlist I first started out with my characters and tried to find a song that best fit their personality. Some are bang on, some I am still searching for the perfect anthem. But then after the “character sketch” songs, I put in songs that represent scenes or events I know are going to be in the story. And it isn’t a rigid playlist at all. As I’m listening and something doesn’t feel right, I’ll take it out and put something new in to try it out.  It’s always evolving and growing along with the story in my head.

Here is the current playlist with which I am working:

  1. “Lightning Crashes” by Live (Throwing Copper)
  2. “Homesick” by Soul Asylum (Grave Dancer’s Union)
  3. “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing)
  4. “The World I Know” by Collective Soul (Collective Soul)
  5. “Easy Target” by Blink-182 (Blink-182)
  6. “Creep” by Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
  7. “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake (Motorcade of Generosity)
  8. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry (One of the Boys)
  9. “What is Love” by Haddaway (What is Love)
  10. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Metallica)
  11. “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Immortalized)
  12. “My Immortal” by Evanescence (Fallen)
  13. “Song 2” by Blur (Blur)
  14. “Pain” by Jimmy Eat World (Futures)
  15. “Starlight” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  16. “She Loves You” by the Beatles (1)
  17. “Invincible” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  18. “Run to the Water” by Live (The Distance to Here)
  19. “Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge over Troubled Water)
  20. “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons (Babel)

Tracks 1-6 are character sketches. Everything else is situational. While I know you can’t deduce my story from these songs, you can’t deny there is a story in each one of them. There is a little movie in your head when you listen. When I put it all together that little movie becomes the novel I am writing.

Soundtrack to a New Year

Soul-Asylum-Grave-Dancers-UnionIf you’ve been reading my blog at all, you know I have earworm disease. But sometimes this is a good thing. Like this weekend. I don’t know what triggered it, but I caught a Soul Asylum song in my head.  So while I was cleaning out a closet I plugged in my earbuds and called up Grave Dancer’s Union.  Listening, I had forgotten how very much I love this whole album. Most of you who were around and listening to music in 1992-93 probably remember the hits of that record: “Somebody to Shove,” “Black Gold,” and “Runaway Train.” My favorite songs are deeper cuts from this album, and as I listened, I could hear a lot of the things I wrote in my New Year’s post echoed back to me. Let’s take a look:


Track 4: Keep It Up

Though the rain weighs down your wings
Still the caged bird’s got to sing
Singing “Na na na na na na na na na”

Message: Don’t fucking give up.

Track 6: Get on Out

I gotta get on
I gotta get on out
All these worried troubled thoughts gotta get on out of my head
Gotta get on out of my head.

Message: Kick the anxiety out of the car at 80 mph.

Track 7: New World

And the fields burns away
The sky breathes it in
So why sit and wait
For the new world to begin

Message: Get off your ass and do stuff.

Track 9: Without a Trace

Standing in the sun with a Popsicle
Everything is possible
With a lot of luck and a pretty face
And some time to waste

Message: Pretty face aside, your life’s possibilites are endless.

So that’s my soundtrack for life this week. I hope it inspires you the way it does me. Or that you can find your own, whether it’s new to you or your heart’s old favorite. Music has the power to transport us, and we might as well go somewhere fun, right?

 

Shrieking Ear Worms

I’ve always had music running through my head, regardless of whether the radio was on or not. I never realized that some people (probably the majority of the sane ones) don’t have this problem. It finally dawned on me when I was in my late 20’s. For some reason I kept asking the same friend, “What song do you have stuck in your head?” To which the reply would come, “I don’t. Freak.” Actually, she didn’t call me a freak. But it was totally implied in her tone.

It was a stunning revelation to me. What do you hear in your head then? Surely not SILENCE? That would be…well holy cow, that would be refreshing.

But this, sadly, will never be. My brain is wired to have a constant soundtrack running from the moment I wake up until the moment I sleep again. Sometimes it even carries over into my dreams. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Sometimes it is, but to be honest I mostly don’t even notice it. Usually I can tune my inner DJ to what I like. But there are a few special songs (and by “special” I mean “from hell”) that can make me weep because they just won’t leave me alone.

The Top Ten Worst Songs to Ever Be Stuck in My Head

And I hope you appreciate the considerable risk I am taking with my sanity by listing them all here together for you. I also hope you appreciate what a dinosaur I am by hardly listing any music from this century. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Any of the Music from Les Miserables

lesmiserablesWhen I was 20 I went on a study abroad tour. While in London my friends and I saw the stage production of the musical Les Miserables. I bought the double disc original cast recording and listened to it a lot over the next few years. It was especially good for that three and a half hour drive between college and home. I could listen to the whole thing without interruptions, and really belt it out in what I am sure was a total crackballs voice. I was in concert choir in high school but I have one of those voices that is good in a group but should never ever solo. Ever.

A few years ago when the movie version of the musical came out I took my mother to see it, and the music all came back to me. And then it lived in my head for, I kid you not, a fucking month and a half. There was so much of it that my brain could jump around from song to song, motif to motif, and never, never, ever stop. And the volume and intensity kept gaining over that month and a half until I was sure everyone could hear it blasting through my brain case at top volume. In Spinal Tap terms I was at 11.


2. “Alcohol” by Barenaked Ladies

stuntThe Barenaked Ladies are true bubblegum – poppy, quirky, and often humorous. But every band writes a clunker once in awhile, and this one was a massive, steaming dump left in the middle of their album Stunt. When you think about it, it is really difficult to write a terrible song. Mediocre is easy, but to truly descend into song hell you have to strive for it. Mission accomplished: it has that perfect balance of an inane, repetitive tune paired with banal lyrics about drunks. Yippee. Let’s get that one on the hamster wheel, shall we?


3. “Dead Horse” by Guns ‘N’ Roses

use your illusionsSometimes (sometimes???) my brain does a funny thing: It will take the musical bridge in a song and then segues into what it considers a similar bridge so the earworm is segmented. (Like an earthworm, but more disgusting.) It starts you out with one song and then seamlessly blends into another, so you don’t even realize you began with Barenaked Ladies “Alcohol,” and end up with Guns N’ Roses “Dead Horse.” Sound impossibly incongruous to you? Not for this wing nut.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse,

And I don’t know why you’ve been bringing me down…”

Preach.


4. “Santeria” by Sublime

sublimeThis one has truly driven me to the brink. I wasn’t all that fond of it when I first heard it back in my college days, and when it started to burrow, I realized I grew anxious listening to the radio, as even the first few notes of the intro could embed itself, boring holes in my gray matter until I was a screaming, frothing wreck. The worst part is that I can’t even understand what the song is about. Bradley Nowell, (who died of a heroin overdose in 1997) wrote the lyrics deliberately cryptic. I fucking hate cryptic. Just say what mean, asshat. It doesn’t make you deep, or clever, or mysterious, or sexy, or more interesting when I can’t understand you. It just makes you an asshat.

Don’t do heroin, kids.


5. The Mexican Hat Dance

mexican hat danceDa-DUM, Da-DUM, Da-DUM… such a simple little tune, just a few notes. Sometimes these are the worst because they are so perceptively small. The tiniest of earworms, no bigger than a dust mite when it goes into your head, and feeds on your sanity until there is nothing left in your skull but an engorged, twenty-foot long behemoth that weighs forty pounds and burps wetly as it digests what was once your brain. Soon to be worm poo.


6. “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago

chicago 17Anyone who knows me understands that I loathe bloodless music. Sappy lyrics, trite sentiment, and wimpy orchestration leaves me wanting to slit my wrists. During Desert Storm they blasted Poison over loudspeakers at the enemy to drive them crazy. Chicago, John Tesh, or Air Supply would make me surrender unconditionally just to Make. It. Stop.

I wasn’t even sure what the trigger was at first, but I knew I had it in my head after every phone conversation. What the hell was that about? Then it hit me: my ringtone! Ringtones, as you can imagine are the bane of my existence – a soundbite of music on repeat, a ready-made device of torture. I thought I had circumvented that problem by not using actual music for my ringtone: wind chimes. Great idea, right? But what if the first six random notes struck by those chimes sound almost exactly like the guitar intro to “You’re the Inspiration”? One wouldn’t necessarily notice, given the different mediums (chimes vs. guitar) or the key change. I’m still looking for a non-obnoxious, non-musical ringtone. If you have any suggestions, please let me know, but for God’s sake, text me, will you?


7. “Hey Ya” by Outkast

speakerboxxxI don’t even have to explain this one.

 

 

 


8. “The Hook” by Blues Traveler

fourOne interesting thing about me (I’ll tell you the other one at a later date) is that I married a man eighteen years my senior. We are disgustingly compatible except in two areas: politics and music. As far as music is concerned he is a snob that only listens to Classical. I admit this has been a very good thing for me–I have become acquainted with Brahms, Bizet, Smetana, Elgar, St. Saens, just to name a few favorites. But when it comes to me sharing music with him, he is totally uninterested. I can probably count on one hand the times he has actually listened to a song that I chose.

One of these instances happened just last week on vacation. We were talking about writing and the art of hooking a reader in the first few pages. This made me think of pop songs and the hook all the successful (earworms) have. Which obviously, brings me to Blues Traveler. Their song is ironic and funny, and goddammit, I haven’t been able to shake it since.

The worst part is that I don’t actually know all the words and my brain is making up placeholders. For example, in the middle of this particular song is the line:

“I’ll do as I’ll decide and let it ride till until I’ve died”

which I can’t quite seem to remember and my brain makes it:

“I’ll do and I’ll sigh and let it rot until I die.”

And then, the HOOK BRINGS ME BACK. I ain’t tellin’ you no lie.


9. “Spiderwebs” by No Doubt

tragic kingdomI don’t mind No Doubt or Gwen Stefani all that much. But this song in particular is one that can be stuck for days, and usually not the lyrics… just the peppy little ska intro. Just that little bit. On continuous loop. All my waking hours. For days on end. Kill me.

 


10. “Telstar” by the Tornados

And finally, a completely instrumental song. The Tornados recorded Telstar in 1962.  I must have been in elementary school when I first heard it, and I thought it was about the coolest thing ever. It sounded like a Disney-fied version of what outer space should be.

To be honest, I forgot about it for decades. And then… my husband and I were binge watching Mad Men, and one of the episodes (Season 2, Episode 10, “The Inheritence”) closes with this song. While I still totally dig this song, after being set on repeat for, oh, 500 hours, it wears a little thin. Still, I’d take it over any of these others.


So there you have it. You now have the ultimate power to send me to the loony bin if you choose. There are some less than kind people out there who find my earworm affliction entertaining. I have actually had people try to plant things in my head for their own amusement. Those people are now dead.

You’ve been warned.