Thursday this and that

I woke up with this song in my head, the original version, but the Mel Tormé recording always pops into my head when I'm thinking about it. 

When I was little, and older vocalists who sang "standards" would try to score with pop hits, it made me so uncomfortable. Now I understand they were just trying to stay relevant in a world that no longer had teams of songwriters churning out [music by/lyrics by] for singers to eventually take and make their own. Little wonder they hated early rock and roll; it must have seemed so silly and ephemeral (as it largely was,) but later pop hits seemed like fair game at first, only they weren't. Even singing a banal Carpenters song took a certain light youthful touch most of them didn't have.

It feels sorta sad to realize that now. Most of those people were relegated to singing the same old thing they'd started with, to ever aging and shrinking crowds and during guest appearances on afternoon talk shows, prime time variety shows, and The Love Boat. And then all of that went away, too. 

Only a few of them lived long enough to see their music revived and appreciated again during the file-sharing years and nascence of YouTube. But here we are, fighting over the original goods at estate sales alongside west coast jazz and classic rock collectors. And we have room in our hearts for many more different styles of music than previous recent generations did.

this is too long. but I really appreciate the slow, slow tense build-up. eight minutes will do, though, to love humans for awhile.


Here is a conversation I had with someone my age about his first complete viewing of The Lion King. Of course if I'd realized he wouldn't have checked the connections before asking about the problem, most of it would be unnecessary. But then I was thinking this is something else we need to do a lot less often these days, and he just took his setup for granted. It's funny or alarming or I don't know, how quickly our patterns change. Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 9.16.41 AM

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The Lion King is pretty epic, and it has sumptuous sounds and visual artistry, and I'm mildly disappointed in his reaction to it. Oh, well. I wonder what he would think of Marvel's live version of African landscape? He'd notice you enter Wakanda from it in a similar manner to entering Themyscira from the sea, but hopefully he wouldn't pick up on that note so singularly as to lay down the rest. 


Next, here is a blog post I wrote just about nine years ago. Gosh, nine years ago me was so young. And comparatively full of mental energy. It's incredible how much has changed since then. My sons are grown up, the daughter mentioned in it has her own family now, and that New Jersey garden is hundreds of miles away. But it was a sweet though brief time in my life. I will probably share some other posts like this one now and then for awhile.


Do you watch The Orville? It's one of a handful of current TV shows I am very happy with. People sometimes complain that all the nostalgia and pop culture knowledge in it is from mid-late 20th century U.S.A. I think that's a hilarious conceit, personally, but I also wonder if some specific future era will look back at our youth and find that time one of the most appealing, the way people are currently fascinated with (a highly fictionalized version of) 15th century Europe? It could happen. 


Hmm, not wanting to end this post on what is essentially a commercial, let me just say that I'm still thinking over what the space is best suited for these days, however, I like having it as a collection container for whatever happens to be on my mind, and can only hope a few other people like seeing what's there, as well. Let's find a photo in the Bussard Collector to finish the page! (Probably the whole blog could just be devoted to whatever I have saved on my hard drive over the past few years, tbh.)Addio-a-Gabriele-FerzettiThis is Gabriele Ferzetti. Wasn't he dreamy? Click on the photo to see a film clip featuring him with Monica Vitti; you see mostly her face rather than his, but, well. And then so. You should just watch this whole movie, L'Avventura, if you've never seen it. 


They're playing my song again

I was thinking about the nature of pop music and how it changes a lot from time to time, by which I don’t mean instrumental trends, or what kind of beat or who’s laying it down, but the formula itself, which changes less often than those little details. 

Bearing in mind it hasn’t been my primary form of music since I was a child, I still think, looking back over it all, that what I did sing along with in the 70s was not materially different than what my oldest daughter (again, briefly,) sang along with in the mid-late 90s. But when I overhear a “top pop” song lately, it’s something else altogether. I first noticed it when the neighbor next door would have on what seemed like a station that played only Disney Channel interstitials, while the kids were in the pool. The formula was even more basic and narrower in scope, and super artificial.

I would have accepted this:
 
But what they played is what kids around my youngest son’s age (20) on down to around 10 will have adapted their ears to, unless they grow up, as he did, never really hearing it at all. At least there’s a lot more variety for their parents to share with them and for them to discover on their own through the internet. Some will develop broad tastes swiftly, others wlll settle into one thing or another and stay there, at least for awhile. My son listens to: Radiohead, Interpol, David Bowie, and some classical music. But he’s pretty young, and might add in another band some day.

When a song comes along like “Funk You Up” did a few years back, everyone pays attention because they got it just right, combining new and old elements that most of us respond to; in this case it was nostalgic with a contemporary edge. But that isn’t happening very often lately. I don’t think that means it won’t anymore; this era is just not one of the…better ones for it.

My middle son listens to current alternative music and that has recently taken a rather banal turn, to my ears. (Sorry, Brendon.) That waxes and wanes, though. The youngest millennials, like him, probably take comfort in it. I’m waiting it out. 

Back to me! I listened to pop music most heavily from ages 3-13, and you know, during one of the best eras for it; 1968-1978. It would be silly for anyone to dispute that, so we won’t try. It had everything pop music was meant to have, and the best examples of it are still good to listen to now. The novelty songs from that time haven’t aged so well, of course, nor the ones meant for what were then called “teenyboppers.” I liked some of those at the time, because I was a child. They weren’t the ones I obsessed over, though. 

Here are some songs that I either craved hearing as much as possible, or that I did own and so I would put the record on and let it repeat for an hour or more, with brief explanations as I remember them now. Laugh as much as you like.

"Reuben, Reuben," by whoever…(but this is a hilarious version featuring Patsy Cline)

When I was 7, my grandma gave me a record player for my birthday, with a box of children’s records. It was a green and white carrying case, and you opened the lid to set it up to play records. I had it til I was 16. I adored the song "Reuben, Reuben," and played it over and over again. Also, "Buffalo Gals." Such fun to sing along to.

"Brandy," by Looking Glass (turns out the lead singer would have been cute if he got a proper haircut)
I think this is one of those deals wherein the band played something different from their usual repertoire, it hit big, and they had to suffer with it thereafter. Too bad. I related hardcore to this song at age 7 or 8, and pretty much all along for years afterwards. If I confess I also had a thing for "Delta Dawn," you might just feel sorry for me or think I was a strange child, and as that was established long ago, let’s leave it.* 

I grew up thinking I would wear a braided silver chain and mourn happily for the man who loved me briefly and then went away. I just now realized I’ve sort of written it into my NaNoWriMo stories about Lena Spano and Lily Palm. Hmm. Well, anyway.

"On and On," by Stephen Bishop (this was an okay haircut for back then; at least it framed the face well)

I had the album containing this song when I was about 12. But mainly I played this one song on an endless loop while lying on my white ruffled organdy canopy bed, thinking about what it would be like to go somewhere with a beach and be very alone and sad, alone in the middle of a vast space with an atmosphere that seemed just right for it. Also, it made me Sinatra-curious. It's a more clever song than you might have noticed.

You Should Be Dancing (live) by the Bee Gees (this is not the same recording, which was better; is contained in link below)
The live version from Here At Last…the Bee Gees Live, which I played while dancing on the stair landing in our house, with my neon disco light flashing that I earned through the junior high magazine (or maybe the wrapping paper) sales they forced us to do. The stair landing was about four or five feet square, so, you know, about the size of a real disco floor in some places, and it was my special spot. I snuck down to it to watch Carol Burnett when I was supposed to be in bed when I was 8 or 9, and it’s where I fell asleep with the new puppy, Monty Python, when we first brought him home when I was 11, and where I answered the phone when I won tickets to a Royals game from a radio station, which started me and Mom going to games regularly for about three years starting when I was 13. It’s likely I was listening to this song when I took the call, but I did love a lot of the album, and learned to love the rest of it later on.

"Anybody Wanna Party?" by Gloria Gaynor

I was about 14, and played this for an hour at a time on my parents’ cheap stereo in the living room, until my mom asked me to stop for awhile. It was the 12 inch “disco version,” and I’d dance to it at first, then lie under the speakers and just let it move through me. 

 

There’ve been other songs I obsessed over since then, but the last pop hit that caused "emotions" was about 20 years ago. I listened to it when I was alone in the car, and sang along until I was sobbing.
But now I’m back to thinking about what kind of man I’d enjoy loving from a distance while wearing my cool silver chain with the locket and serving up drinks to a mostly faceless crowd. I suppose it’s who I was always meant to be, at least until we get to have androids made to order. 

 

 *What in the...ugh, ew. Don't ruin this for me. Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 11.00.03 AM


All Skate

The other day I was listening to my iPod and “Stuff Like That” started playing, and I started thinking about things and reminiscing, which got me to marveling, as I always have, at the divine voice of Nickolas Ashford. Not to say Valerie Simpson and Chaka Khan were not the vocal key to the awesomeness of that particular song. How cool is Quincy Jones? The coolest

So, thinking about the wonder of Nick Ashford's vocals, and that time period in general, I was going to make a Super Sexy Seventies playlist, but the fact is, I don’t own a whole lot of music I’d add to it, and so I’ll need to make an online sort of playlist, which is more work and thus less fun to me. When I was a kid, I didn’t go in much for love stuff, especially if it was slow. I didn’t understand why any kid would, but of course, some of them did. People, you know, and their different ways. Thus, what I've collected in my iPod memory bank mostly reflects my tastes at that time.

I didn’t like much sentimentality unless it was accompanied by (really, secondary to) a strong bass line and a good beat, or maybe an adorable hook; if it was good for harmonizing to or dancing to, etc. Gosh, if I’d been a child in the 90s, listening to yodeling “divas” on the radio, I’d have lurched even more swiftly into the past, or whatever I could find as alternative. Anyway, so the songs I liked back then that we’d think of as sexy still mostly “had a beat and I could dance to it.”

Where was I? Somehow I found myself thinking next about the music played at the skating rink on Friday nights. Everyone went to the Friday night skate for awhile, at Landmark Skate Center on the outskirts of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. It’s still there! But no longer outskirts, I guess. I loved skating nights, though I was never part of a crowd of kids. It was nice, people were mostly nice, and having fun, and skating was one thing I could do reasonably well, having learned it for a Girl Scout badge. 46277258_K2w5uvy1uUwY7OvK6sEMOd6kS-Xrz99_9zksowfthIY

I was never great at it, because I feared falling down. Some years later, I took a tae kwon do class at the church, for some exercise and social time, but he could never get me to practice falling the way everyone else seemed able to do. My brain says, “No, falling is a bad thing. Don’t pretend to do that.” So I didn’t master much tae kwon do, or skating backwards, though I could manage it if necessary. (About like driving a manual transmission: only if an absolute must. Car transmissions have advanced pretty far, you anachronistic driving elitists.) 

But we’d skate around and around, and people who could do fancy things stayed in the middle, and sometimes we’d do the Hokey Pokey or the Limbo. Mostly I was there for the adrenaline and the fun music, and to feel like I was a part of things, which is something I rarely felt. Now and then, the DJ would call for a “couples skate,” and we’d have to sit down while a boring song played and people skated while clutching each other, though a few always put on a nice dance-skate show.
this is the epitome of a 1978 couples skate song. i'm sharing it because the video shows us everything we wish to forget about that period of time. 

All the girls wanted a boy to ask her to couples skate, so I did, too, but also did not. First, no boy would ever have asked me, anyway, so why pine too much for it? I was repulsive to boys who had just discovered girls.* Second, I’d have had to skate backwards more than I’d like. Third, the music was, you know, love stuff. So during couples skates, we’d go to the refreshment stand for a drink we called “Suicide.” It was three kinds of soda mixed together. I’ve never been a great fan of sweet soda, but the Suicide was the drink to order, and so I did.

And then a cool song would start again and we’d all rush back onto the rink. I decided to collect the ones I remembered hearing during that time into a playlist, limited by what I already own on my iPod, and factoring in the other place I went to sometimes on Saturday nights, Skateland USA in nearby Grandview. They had a slightly broader crowd, and slightly broader music. Skateland closed about ten years ago, it seems, because it was drawing a rough crowd, causing area problems, and driving away the family friendly appeal. But I liked going there now and then when I was in 8th grade. 5565bd06409915002d730551dfc33d17

In junior high I became very fashion-forward. And in 8th grade, narrow jeans came in style, finally, and I had them before or as early as anyone else. My mom converted the dumb flares to them, and I got a pair of Levis I just worshipped. But when a woman ran into me on the skating rink I did nearly the splits trying not to fall, and though I weighed nearly nothing back then, maybe 100 lbs, I tore those pants open! Yes, in back! So I had to sit at a table the whole rest of the night until my friend’s mom arrived to bring us home. I had people to talk with sometimes, and was happy to laugh at myself about it, for some reason? But it grew boring and frustrating. I think maybe that was the last time I was at that skating rink. And then in high school, I stopped going skating altogether. Still, when I hear certain songs, I tend to think of them as “skate songs.”
i don't know if this was a skate song where i lived. it would have been one in the city. you know, how things were/are. but I played it some evenings at home for an hour at a time and so it should count. 

So I made a list of top skating songs that I own and remember (I’m sure my memory is the faultiest aspect of it,) and put it in a Google spreadsheet with links. I thought of making it a YouTube playlist, and maybe I still will, but I like spreadsheets. I’m going to add more notes and more alternative recordings, but it’s otherwise complete for now, and you can access it here, if you care to.


*I think I’ll cover this soon. Who would be a kid in the early teens again—anyone? It’s the worst, even for the people who looked to everyone else like they had it easy. Thirteen(this was not my bedroom, which was at all times both very cute and even messier than my brother's.) 


It keeps me stable for days

The song “Cars” by Gary Numan changed everything for me. At least, that’s how I tell it in my head, looking back over the years. Like everything stopped, looked up, and gasped, and then nothing was quite the same as before, and never would be again. The first time I heard it was a pivotal moment, akin to the first time I walked up the steps at Penn Station and stepped out into the filtered sunlight of 7th Avenue, where the air felt charged with life and possibility to such an overwhelming degree, I needed to stop on the sidewalk to gulp it in and let it begin to settle over my skin.

Okay, to be fair, when I got home later, I did feel I needed to shower away the light filmy grime of the city, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to go back and experience it all over again, as soon as possible. I was a slightly different person forever after that, or just a little more of who I already was, perhaps.

The song gripped me cleanly, but otherwise much the same way. Still after all these years, I hear it each time as though I’m opening a gift. I can’t describe the gift in concrete terms, though. It just somehow made a lot of things okay, made me know I was okay, and as my son so eloquently puts it, “This song sounds like the theme to a 1980’s Chinese movie action montage, and that is a wonderful thing.”

On the more linear track briefly, it’s funny how many young people don’t even bother to drive cars now. We cloistered ourselves in them for decades, for good and for ill, and now they are cloistered in their bedrooms with a phone or a tablet, instead, the world at their fingertips, to both experience and to shun. Me, I still like to drive, my car is still my tiny kingdom. I’m no more or less alone than I ever was, wherever I am.

The movie Blade Runner 2049 addresses that to a degree. One thing that struck me about it was the profound loneliness of every character. And the replicants who were inadvertently made to feel special through true memory enhancement were a great parallel to a growing segment of our current society, and our increasingly internal natures.

I’ve always been alone, even in tiny crowds of my own delightful offspring, and so I’ve rarely thought about loneliness. I think maybe it requires a desire for something on the outside that could repair something on the inside. But I’ve never really liked having other people meddle with my design.

Anyway, it’s not as deep as all that. It was just new music, for my new generation, and the electronic tune and rhythm runs through my blood like fuel created specifically for my operating system. It’s not a complex composition; I just feel more alive when I hear it.

Have you ever heard this particular remix? It's sort of my favorite, though my brain tends to not let me have those, and Numan himself has recorded it a dozen different ways. It's perfect driving music.

PS: in case anyone reads this who feels like a deep sort of person. I like pretty much everything he's ever recorded for release. But part of me will always be 14, and I hope the same is true for you.

Goes Ding When There's Stuff

It’s because it’s Mother’s Day and Bobby Darin’s birthday, and my oldest daughter, a new mother, I swear if you hear her voice without seeing her face, you think my mother has come back to life. Jazzy mezzo-soprano: strong-minded, filled with dry humor, and... tinkly. Anyway. My timey-wimey detector went off today.

But I don’t know quite where I want to begin except you should know that no one sang “Lazy River” better than my mother. I never heard anyone else do it well, until I got a Bobby Darin record when I was about 17, and that was the B side.

Before Bobby Darin and later Frank Sinatra records, my knowledge of vocal standards came from a) what my mom might have sung, though she was way more into 50s rock and roll, early Motown and disco, and b) whatever happened to be floating around on TV variety shows that I didn’t pay much attention to. They were just kind of there.

Anyway. I heard “Mack the Knife,” and then I heard “Beyond the Sea,” and I realized this guy, who I thought sang only dumb pop tunes, sang all this other much better stuff, and made it interesting. And what he did with “Lazy River,” which starts slowly and simply, and gradually builds, well, Mom did that, too. As I said, did it better, but that’s another track for another day. Mom had a few Saturday morning lessons at the Met when she was a child, so she knew better what to do with her voice than most people.

This is meant to be about firsts, and kind of about lasts, I guess. Circles, maybe. The last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom was when my oldest daughter was two, and we went to that restaurant in Martin City, you know the one, except of course you don’t, but if you were there then, you would and still do.

Now my daughter is thirty, and she has a teeny tiny baby, and when she speaks, my mother’s voice comes out of her mouth. It was similar before, but has become downright astonishing. It’s pretty fantastic. She has the same hair, too, actually. Some of these things skip a generation, I guess.

So Bobby Darin introduced me to the understanding of how people took vocal standards and made them their own. Then around ten years later, when I was in the hospital with our first child, my husband brought me a Frank Sinatra cassette tape, Reprise: The Very Good Years. And around five years after that, I bought Mack the Knife: The Best of Bobby Darin Volume Two. (sound off for All Music reviews; they auto-play ads and won't show you the page if you adblock.) Those two albums were my Bible testaments for what a singer could do with good songs. I learned from them like I was learning a language. It took me awhile to adapt to all the songs on the Bobby Darin compilation. I wasn’t used to the slow stuff. But they captured me eventually and held onto me, note by note. I can recall each note in each song, in both that album and the Sinatra one, because they both mastered every syllable they sang, and I drank it all in, over and over again.

Darin had a better voice, considerably. But what Sinatra could do with a song made up for that, and then some. I tend to think of Darin as my young love, and Sinatra as my more mature one. That's probably a subject to take up and examine another time.

Next there was Limewire. I remember spending hours looking up the names of all the albums a former in-law stole from me and finding copies to download. I had a conscience about this; I didn’t want to take anything I hadn’t already paid for. Only at some point I realized there was also a lot of music being shared that literally could not be purchased in any format except through foreign sales, and a certain amount of happenstance. And I decided to see what other Bobby Darin music I’d never heard.

Do you remember that just 15 years ago and more, we couldn’t hear just anything at all we felt like hearing? It’s true, children. We didn’t even have YouTube yet. The world wide web was expanding rapidly—like the Old West, lawless and free—but very limited in scope compared to what we have now if we’re willing to concede personal ownership…

I remember the light in the room and the temperature of the air the day I ran across Bobby Darin’s version of “Call Me Irresponsible.”

It changed the way I hear music, the way I listen. I was so young, how old was I? 36, 37? Darin was 37 when he died. I was just getting started. I’m still just getting started. I hope. But that song, this song:


arrested me. Sinatra’s award-winning recording is nicely crafted and touching. It fits the movie, I suppose, though it was written for Fred Astaire, and wouldn't he have put a marvelous spin on it? This recording, though, is something else altogether. It’s something I wanted to know, as intimately as it could be known. I hope you really listen to it, at least once, please.

So, 15 years have passed, size 4 is a tender memory, there’s a lot of grey in my hair to cover, and I have really the most splendid grandchild to be had, that is, until my second daughter produces her first child later this year.  

And today people were sharing pictures of time spent with their moms. Most years I really enjoy seeing that, but this year it felt kind of painful. I can’t quite say why. I am tired of the internet telling me relentlessly for an entire month each year that I should think of Mom, when I’ve been one longer than I had one. But the same was true last year, so I can’t say why this one felt different.

My youngest son came home from work with these two ragged tomato plants and said, “You better plant these before they die. I got this kind because I like how yellow tomatoes taste.”

He’d never gotten me a Mother’s Day gift before, but was told at work this is a thing to do. So downstairs waiting for me as well, was a nice hanging planter of miniature petunias. I trimmed the tomato plants, gave them a good root soaking, and set them on the counter. They’re lovely now, and ready for a planting in the morning. (He was told to give me a card, too, but his reply was, "I think she'd be confused and wonder why I was giving her a card." He's right.) Also, I received a big lovely bouquet of lilies via Federal Express from one daughter, and a fun pair of shoes in the mail from another. I felt loved.

I read earlier the reminder that the original intention of Mother’s Day was for women to support each other as needed. Women should do that, should lift each other up whenever and wherever possible. But honoring our own mothers as we each do is a lovely tradition, as well. And so, this is how I am honoring mine, twenty-eight years gone now. She gave me “Lazy River,” and thus, Bobby Darin, and thus, so much more, and I pass it all along in my own way, and I guess it’s all energy that changes form now and then but never really disappears, like "a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey ... stuff.”

 


Who the Cap Fit

At the beginning of Chemistry class one day toward the end of my sophomore school year, I tripped over someone’s bag on the floor, and tipped my desk over. Mr. Bobbitt, that exemplification of sound mental health, had one hard and fast rule; tipping over your desk means going to the principal. I expect he turned on his pink elephant playing the drums toy as I left. So I trudged back to the other building, told the secretary what happened, and she didn’t quite believe me, but sent me into the vice-principal. He told me he knew all about that rule, and also that he knew I wasn’t a troublemaker, mumbling something about “retiring soon,” and sent me to the library.

No one was in the library, not even the librarian. So I sat down to look at a book and she came in a minute later all red-faced. She saw me and cried out (honest,) “Did you hear? Bob Marley’s dead!” And she sobbed a little. I said some vague too bad things, I suppose, and the dam was broken open. She told me what she knew about it, brain cancer, and also told me a lot of things about how bad it is to shoot syringes into your temples? As I recall. (Actually, he died of a rare type of melanoma which spread to his brain.) And about how the world couldn’t be the same without him. So I was shocked along with her, and we talked about a lot of things, possibly the assassination attempt on the president a few weeks earlier, which is linked to this in my head, and about Mr. Bobbitt. And then I went to my next class and went home, and heard no one else talking about Bob Marley, except for a brief mention on the news.

Looking back, I quite like knowing there was a school librarian in Lee’s Summit in 1981 who revered and mourned Bob Marley.

And the moral of this tale is that you simply never know, about people. It’s a good idea not to assume you do.