I’m Listening…

I have a strange relationship with music. At least, I think I do. It’s possible you’re all like me but I’ve never really discussed this in depth with anyone except for my husband and he has a strange relationship with music so I can’t compare.

Music is amazing, isn’t it? Melodies and harmonies, all tangled with poetry to make something that speaks to us on an elemental level. It spans the breadth of human emotion from our fist-pumping highs of pure elation, to the kind of despair where you sit in the closet eating your hair, weeping softly.

That’s pretty normal, right? What’s so weird about me then?

For instance, I can’t stand live shows. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Live shows can be awesome, but the stir up an odd and uncomfortable feeling in me. When I really love a band or an album and listen to it obsessively it synthesizes into my very personality. It’s like I have an inside track to the songwriter’s intimate inner world. And then when I see the band perform live I am struck by how so many other people are intruding on that intimacy. Like I’m standing there naked and exposed. And the reality that it’s all in my head comes crashing down on me and I’m devastated.

I told Kosta about this and he paused and then said, “Yeah, that’s weird.”

Last September I went to Universal Studios in Orlando. They have a roller coaster there called the Rip Ride Rockit. It’s not for the faint of heart. The highest drop is 167 feet and it is more than straight down. But the brilliant part is you can pick your own heart-stopping song to be piped into your headrest and have a uniquely terrifying experience. It’s awesome.

I’ve only ridden it once. I listened to “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Cruë. Don’t judge me. I grew up in the 80’s and developed a taste for hair bands in my teens. (I never claimed it was good taste.) The combination of the roller coaster and the song was epic. The thudding of the drums beating in staccato time with my heart, the anticipation of the crunch of the guitars kicking in and finally that drop timed perfectly with Vince Neil’s first wail all worked together to give me a breathless almost two minutes of clean exhilaration that I have not experienced since.

That doesn’t sound so weird, does it? It’s not, since everyone who dares can experience it and have it suited to their own musical taste. Kind of genius, really.

But I have an on-again, off-again relationship with music. When I was in my teens and twenties, music was a huge part of my everyday life for one reason: the car. I would listen to the radio (when there was a station available that I like), I would listen to tapes and later CDs. When I was a senior in high school I listened to Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusions I&II over and over, almost exclusively. And at top volume. But then teenagers have that affinity for loud music because of their own adolescent howl that is tucked behind their breastbones.

The car sustained me through my twenties and thirties as well, although when I moved to Florida I was suddenly bereft of any radio station that suited my tastes. And I admit that was when music fell away from me. I listened to old stuff but did not seek any new, and worse yet, I listened to NPR like an old fuddy-duddy.

And after I got married and we shared a car the CDs left me too. My lifestyle changed to one that was a desiccated wasteland where no music was ever played. And I let it happen without thinking about it much. Did I miss it? Not at the time, but I can tell you it has made in impact on my life because of that loss.

Until I went to the gym and realized that working out to a beat was way better than huffing along to the rhythm of my thoughts. (Trust me, the brain train jumps the track all the time and never in time.) I pulled up my iTunes and made a playlist of 90’s hard rock to take to my workouts. It did the trick for a long time until suddenly I was thoroughly sick of The Offspring and Blink-182.

Since I now have access to things like Apple Music and Amazon Prime I have whole catalogs at my disposal and I’m afraid I’m a little overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin or who to listen to. I’m not afraid of new music, but so much of what’s popular today really hasn’t changed from the pop I listened to when I was twelve. It’s a lot of bad poetry set to mediocre melodies that all sound too similar.

As Pink Floyd sang: “Hey you, out there on the road, always doing that you’re told, can you help me?

I feel it’s time. I want to bring music back to life in my soul. It’s been thirsty for a long time and I need your help. Since mixtapes are no longer a thing (and I am sad this is the case. I adored the hand written track lists that made them so unique), build me a playlist of three songs that have meant something to you in the last year. It can be any genre, it doesn’t have to be something you think I would like.  In fact, I’m more than ready to be open to new experiences.

Thanks in advance. I also wouldn’t object to carefully curated playlists complete with liner notes and cover art. (Oh, the tragedy of that disappearance!) But I understand that’s a labor of love and some of you might not love me… yet.

Hit me with your best shot. I’m listening.

Change your tune

As Tom Petty once sang, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.” And when you are waiting for something, be it doctor’s tests or whether or not you got the job, it is the hardest part. Even when you are pretty sure of a good outcome, there is still that tinge of dread that things could go this way:

Usually, however, there is no battle with a lion following. (Although I’d take Russell Crowe in a gladiator’s kilt any day.)

Why is waiting so hard? Obviously it is because we generally have no control over outcomes and that makes us anxious. The unknown sits like a vague shadow just out of our reach. Does it have fangs or is it smiling? Or, God forbid, both?

I am a champion worrier. You give me a topic and I can winkle anxiety from it with little effort. I can conjure entire conversations, scenario after scenario of how things can go wrong and hardly break a sweat. It is no small thing.

But what does it get me? A big fat load of anxiety, and time still marches on and events unfold like they were always going to. Except I’ve just given myself a headache from clenching my teeth in my sleep.

I once saw a meme on Pinterest of a monk sitting on a rock in the middle of a lake. Underneath it were the words: Relax. Nothing is under control. And as hokey as that might sound, it is wisdom I try to take to heart. Most situations in life are out of our control and there is very little we can do except change how we react to it.

Back to Tom Petty. You all know I am prone to ear worms. The last few days I’ve been replaying “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.” And while that isn’t a bad tune to have stuck in your head it is making me fret. Every time I reach the the chorus I feel the spring coil a little tighter.

But then this morning I had a flash of brilliance. In high school I was a big fan of Guns N’ Roses. And while most of their music palls to an enlightened feminist such as myself, there is one song that could effectively supplant Tom Petty’s voice in my head.

“Said woman, take it slow

And things’ll be just fine.

You and I’ll just use a little patience.”

Sing it, sir.

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.

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.