Archive for the 'Listening' Category

Mothers Day

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Did you think Mothers Day was invented by Hallmark? It’s been around for longer than that. Some research dates it back to Cybele (pronounced with a hard C, short Y and long E at the end: KIH-buh-Lee) worship in ancient Greece. The American version is largely based on a post-Civil War peace manifesto. The English version, Mothering Sunday, was reportedly begun so working class domestics could have at least one Sunday off a year to visit their mums, and so the mums could have off to receive the visits. Whatever the origin, though, there’s little disagreement that mothering is a tough gig, and few begrudge moms the day as tribute to that.

Some very good news for moms: the Mommy War is more a media invention than an accurate portrait of reality:

Most women today have to work: it’s the only way their families are going to be fed, housed and educated. A new college-educated generation takes it for granted that women will both work and care for their families — and that men must be an integral part of their children’s lives. It’s a generation that understands that stay-at-home moms and working mothers aren’t firmly opposing philosophical stances but the same women in different life phases, moving in and out of the part-time and full-time workforce for the few years while their children are young.

In this week leading up to Mothers Day in America, think about the mothers in your life. Not just your mom, or your spouse’s mom, but all the mothers: friends, siblings, co-workers, neighbors. Give a mom a break this week. If you hear a screaming kid and judgment flashes through your brain, offer help instead. And think of pretty, comforting things, big or small, that might make a mom’s day a bit brighter:

Card Papyrus carries, and Marcel Shurman makes, lovely ones.

Flowers I love yellow roses and dislike lilies. Do your loved one a favor. Ask what she likes, and avoid carnations, daisies, baby’s breath, and alstroemeria, unless specifially requested. Gerbera daisies are an exception.

Chocolate Twin Citian’s are fortunate to have both B.T. McElrath (I love the passionfruit and dark chocolate truffles) and Legacy Chocolates (Potion No. 9) readily available.

Accessories Little blue box or big orange box, brand recognition can be a lovely thing. I love the blue/green En Duo ribbon pattern.

I recently recommended Jill Murphy’s Five Minutes’ Peace and Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Both take wry looks at the mundane reality of mothering small children, though Atkinson’s book is both funny and tragic. For self-examination and spiritual growth, I recommend Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gift cards for, Barnes and Noble, Border’s, or your local book shop are always good ideas.

Ice Cream Did you know that you can get Graeter’s ice cream shipped? Now you do. The chocolate chip flavors are stunning.

Ice Cream, Again Twin Citians, you’ve got a lot to love.

Fancy Dinner at the best restaurant in your city. Twin Citians, this is ours.

Music Fun and Booty-Shakin’ (Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/Lovesounds), Local (new Low album!), Singer/Songwriter male (Rufus Wainwright’s Release the Stars), Singer/Songwriter female (Patti Griffin’s Children Running Through), Sophomore effort (Arctic Monkeys’ Favourite Worst Nightmare)

Movies Go out to a theater that serves good popcorn with real butter (Heights, Riverview, or GTI Roseville in the Twin Cities), or stay in and watch the vastly underrated Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron’s chilling look at a future without mothers.

If you have other ideas, email me and I’ll post them, too.

My unexpected gift, today? That baby Guppy is still napping, which has allowed me the time I needed for this link-a-palooza.

And if you were bothered by my lack of apostrophe in Mothers Day, get over it. Apostrophes are one of the most misused and unnecessary pieces of punctuation. Here’s a long explanation of why I can leave them out. But do you get what I mean when I say Mothers Day? Then you see my point.

People Whose Voices I Can’t Stand

Friday, April 20th, 2007

A few people’s voices inspire in me a strong, visceral negative reaction; I can’t get beyond the sound to what they are saying. My antipathy to their voices is immediate, and causes me to leap across rooms or lunge into front seats to change the CD or the radio station. I am thankful that these aren’t frequent.

1. The Sugarcubes/Bjork. A boss of mine used to play this when we had to go on business road trips. She also liked the Sundays, and both bands plus Bjork got jumbled together into one unhappy sound memory.

2. Joey Lauren Adams in Chasing Amy. I liked the movie. I hated that Adams, who was dating director Kevin Smith at the time, was given ridiculously long, talk-y speeches. Her voice should be used sparingly, not in Smith-ish talkfests. May she never do a Tarantino movie.

3. Garrison Keillor. I call him the bad man. His creepy baritone scares me.

4. Mazzy Star, Fade into Me. Unfortunately, this is one of those 90’s hits that gets replayed all the time. The drawn out music plus the whiny vocals are like fingernails down a chalkboard.

One More Thing on Justin Timberlake

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

“Sexyback”’s lyrics begin

I’m bringin’ sexy back
Them other boys they don’t know how to act

The first time I heard it, I thought it was “The motherboys”.

I wonder if Justin was an Arrested Development fan?

Guilty Pleasure

Monday, March 5th, 2007

Since I’m admitting embarrassing things, I might as well admit that I borrowed the new Justin Timberlake CD, FutureSex/LoveSounds, from the libary, based on a rave review I read somewhere. To my surprise, I liked it. Really liked it, in fact. The album in general (and the track SexyBack in particular) is catchy, and reminded me (in a good way) of listening to pre-weird Michael Jackson’s Thriller, oh-so many years ago.

Buyer’s Remorse

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am that I bought Merry Christmas from the Chipmunks last year. I had a fit of nostalgia, and wanted to share something from my childhood with Drake. He ignored it. Until this year, when he plays it over and over again.

The Chipmunks do not get funnier, or less annoying, with repeated listenings. Mommy madness, indeed.

Christmas Carols vs. Holiday Songs

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

To me, a Christmas carol is something from a hymnal. This is in contrast to a holiday song, like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Jingle Bells”. My husband G. Grod wonders if those might be carols, though, because they’re sung by carolers. He suggests that “Santa Baby” is a holiday song, but “Silver Bells” is a carol. I still think that a proper carol is religious, and about the birth of Jesus. I think it’s interesting whenever I see interviews asking people what their favorite holiday music is. Few name carols; most name songs.

I think my favorite Christmas carol is “Gabriel’s Message“. I also like “The Coventry Carol“, (coincidence only that both are covered on A Very Special Christmas) and the alternate tunes for “Away in a Manger” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

My favorite Christmas song, though, is a guilty pleasure that reminds me of the big hair and bad fashion of the 80s–”Do They Know It’s Christmas”. I bought the LP for my sister as a gift that year.

Drake is enamored of our library copy of Tomie DePaola’s Book of Christmas Carols, which I was sad to learn was out of print. It has many carols, lovely illustrations, and music as well. Drake’s favorites, thus far, are the first two in the book, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “The First Noel”. He has been delighting relatives by singing these over the phone.

Justin Roberts, Cedar Cultural Center 12/02/06

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Children’s singer Justin Roberts was in town on a recent weekend, and I took my 3yo son, Drake. We knew some of Justin’s songs, but I thought that would be enough to engage Drake. It was, sort of. Drake listened, and enjoyed, but he also insisted on wandering to the lobby, and dancing by himself out there. Justin and his band are energetic performers. They gave suggested hand, finger or body motions for many of the refrains of his songs. I knew that enthusiastically doing the motions was a good example not just for my kid, but also for others. It does signal a kind of death of dignity, though. Any vestige of my teenaged self who was snotty and above all that just packed up and left for good. Drake didn’t feel compelled to follow the body motions, so I felt extra goofy doing them on my own. What he did feel a strong draw to, though, was the green room. He kept sneaking, running, or otherwise sidling back to it and trying to get in. At first, I wondered if it might be an omen that he’d be in a band. Then I realized it was behavior more characteristic of a groupie.

Thankfully, Drake has continued to sing the songs after the show, so the groupie thing wasn’t my final impression. Drake named his toy whale Willy today. And I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of the refrain of “No” from “Doctor Doctor”, attempting to dispel tension when Drake is being “oppositional”.

More Soul-Soothing Music

Monday, November 13th, 2006

When I wrote about panacea songs, I forgot to mention George Winston’s December. Years ago, when I lived in Philly, my girlfriends and I would go for sushi at Genji when we needed to talk or build up emotional reserves. December was often playing in the background, and it will always remind me of good sushi and supportive friendships.

Panacea Songs

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

My musical horizon, never particularly broad, expanded a bit during my last semester of college. I met new friends who had different musical tastes, and I began to listen to an “alternative” radio station, WHFS. I’d previously leaned more toward classic rock. One of the first CDs I bought was the Indigo Girls. I liked the whole album, but “Closer to Fine” was a particular favorite. A friend of mine joked that it was my panacea song, one I played whenever I felt anxious or blue. When that song’s appeal faded, I moved on to a succession of others, such as Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. (Hey, I never professed to be cool. I leave that to my friends like Rock Hack and her husband.)

Over the past year or so, my panacea CD has been Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. It was the CD we played in the car as my husband and I drove to the hospital for baby Guppy’s birth, and it’s been the CD in most frequent rotation in our car ever since.

Even three-year-old Drake likes it, and asks for it by name. Some of its power to calm is lost, though, when Drake shouts “Pink Moon” repeatedly until we put it in. Also, Drake is more enamored of the numeric display than he is with the songs, so he keeps insisting that we replay song one over and over. For now, that’s OK. But it’s a good thing we don’t use the car often, and then only for short trips. I sense that our Pink Moon phase will be over soon.

What’s That Song?

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

I was driving the other week and a song came on that made me vow to check the Current’s website when I got home. Of course I forgot until two days later. Then I heard the song on a commercial for the US Open, and did rather more googling than I thought I’d have to do. It’s by KT Tunstall, from Eye of the Telescope, called “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”. Woo. Catchy as all get out.

Two Theories on Garrison Keillor

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

I once had a friend from NYC who loved A Prairie Home Companion. I gave a listen, and was bored by its content and physically repulsed by Keillor’s voice. I talked with other friends about it, and formed my first theory, which is that non-Midwesterners like APHC, but people who actually grew up in the midwest (or close to it, as I did in central Ohio) are immune to its purported charm.

Then I moved to Minnesota, and found that plenty of people who live here (and who aren’t transplants, like me) like Keillor and his radio show. So that theory went bust.

I also found that living in Minnesota made it much more dangerous for me to listen to the radio. If I scanned channels, I might come across APHC. “Bad man! Bad man!” I would holler, not unlike a toddler, as I lunged for the button to make GK’s distinctive, smarmy baritone go away.

Then a friend of mine got a job working on APHC. I would occasionally listen because my friend, a nice person and very funny guy, was writing some of the jokes. But they were still told in that same creepy voice, so in spite of my best efforts, I could never listen for long. Eventually my friend and the show parted ways, so I no longer had any reason to hide how much I disliked it.

The reviews of the new film APHC have been mixed, but not in the middle. They tend to be polarized. Critics who like the radio show like the film, and vice versa. Ebert and Roeper did a polar split in their reviews. Since I’m not a GK and APHC fan, I’m not going to see the film even though Altman is one of my favorite directors.

From this, I have conceived a new theory on GK and APHC. It’s love or hate, perhaps because of some genetic, physical predisposition, like this. Some people love it. But many, many people don’t. There’s no middle ground.

Songs for the 20th High School Reunion

Monday, June 5th, 2006

Some friends started a CD of the month club–each month, one family makes a mix CD and sends it to the other members. My 20th year high school reunion is this summer, so for our mix I decided I wanted songs from 1982 to 1986. I soon realized we didn’t have our favorite 80s albums on CD. We had them on vinyl or cassette; or we had a greatest hits CD, which often didn’t include the less popular tracks.

I began to doubt. Was there a need for an 80s mix CD? Between VH1 and radio, the 80s have been flogged to death. Can there be nostalgia for music that’s played all the time? How should I limit the songs? Did I want stuff I listened to then, or stuff I learned to like later?

I obsessed as nerdishly as I could with a new baby, but as our month wore on (and on, and ended) decisions had to be made. I used CDs we owned or could borrow quickly, started with songs I listened to then that I’m not ashamed to listen to now, and picked tracks not in heavy rotation now. G. Grod decided to forgo (or at least delay) a CD of songs I learned to like later. Here was the final tracklist. My sister Sydney helped with some of the track selections; I also took some inspiration from my friend Rock Hack’s birthday list.

1. 1999 - Prince [1999] (1983)

2. Would I Lie to You? - Eurythmics [Be Yourself Tonight] (1985)

3. Stay Up Late - Talking Heads. [Little Creatures] (1983)

4. Black Coffee in Bed - Squeeze [Sweets from a Stranger] (1982)

5. Twisting by the Pool - Dire Straits [ExtendedancEP] (1982)

6. Driver 8 - R.E.M. [Fables of the Reconstruction] (1985)

7. Kiss Off - Violent Femmes [Violent Femmes] (1982)

8. Borderline - Madonna [Madonna] (1983)

9. King of Pain - The Police [Synchronicity] (1983)

10. Foolin’ - Def Leppard [Pyromania] (1983)

11. Don’t Change - INXS [Shabooh Shoobah] (1982)

12. More Than This - Roxy Music [Avalon] (1982)

13. Slave to Love - Bryan Ferry [Boys and Girls] (1985)

14. Blue Jean - David Bowie [Tonight] (1984)

15. Love My Way - The Psychedelic Furs [Forever Now] (1982)

16. Save it for Later - English Beat [Special Beat Service] (1983)

17. Bad - U2 [The Unforgettable Fire] (1984)

18. The Chauffeur - Duran Duran [Rio] (1982)

Song Books

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Lately Drake insists that every book is what he calls a song book–one that contains something that can be sung. Some of his regular books fall into this category, like Sandra Boynton’s Snoozers, and They Might Be Giants Bed, Bed, Bed. Now, though, he’ll pick up my copy of Kathryn Davis’s The Thin Place, open it and sing Frere Jacques. He’ll pick up G. Grod’s book on Texas h01d-em p0ker (trying to avoid increasing my spam hits) and start singing along, pointing to the pictures of cards as if he’s pointing to musical notes in a hymnal. He’s also continuing to sing entire songs by himself. Interestingly, though, he likes to be sung to, but refuses to sing along, either when I sing to him, or in music class. I think he might be shaping up to be a diva.

Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

#20 in my book challenge for the year, Fall on Your Knees has been on my shelf since 1998. It was a recommendation from my friend Queenie, whose past picks (Alias Grace, Bee Season, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, The Intuitionist, Plainsong, among others) were both intelligent and entertaining. At 500+ densely printed pages in trade paperback, though, its size put me off. But since part of this year’s book challenge is to read those poor souls gathering dust unread on the shelf, I finally gave it my time. This is a big, juicy novel with lots of characters and time shifts and a secret that took me by surprise. I especially loved two characters–Materia and her daughter Frances–and couldn’t quite bring myself to hate some others, no matter how nastily they behaved. There’s lots of painful stuff, but there’s also lots of joy, and I enjoyed the time I spent with the Cape Breton family, and am now off to dig up my Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac CDs.

Mixmaster Drake

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

When my two-year-old son Drake woke from his nap this afternoon, I heard him whimpering, with distress in his voice, “Where’s ’something unintelligible that might have been Mom’?” I rushed up to get him out of bed, and found what he was crying for was his new favorite item, the remote control.

We began to let Drake have the remote for the CD changer, and we may have created a monster. When he wakes in the morning or from his nap, he either demands the remote control or to hear his favorite song, which he calls “Hop-Hop”, more accurately The Hoppity Song by John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, off Drake’s favorite CD For the Kids. Drake has memorized the number of each track of this CD, and has learned how to locate this CD in the changer, as long as we leave it in slot #3. If we ask him to put in a certain song, he can program it. If song number X comes up on another CD, he’ll remark sadly, “Not the X song,” meaning not that song number from For the Kids. When we read Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton the other day, not only was he naming the numbers, but he recited the name of the corresponding For the Kids song. Also, he’s picking up the names of the other artists we have in our changer, so he’ll announce excitedly with a lisp, “It’s DJ Shadow!”, “It’s Bob Mould!”, “It’s Christmas!”, or “It’s Dog Train!”, which is the new book/CD by Sandra Boynton and friends.

While this is adorable, there is one major problem. Drake does not feel compelled to listen to the entire song, and will often play a song’s first few seconds over and over. I found this particularly distressing on a Christmas mix CD from a friend. I wanted to hear Low’s Just Like Christmas. Drake, however, would only listen to the first 15 seconds before re-starting the song or switching to another one. Over and again I’d hear, “On our way from Stockholm….” and then no more. So we’re encouraging Drake to listen to the entire song, with only sporadic luck thus far.

Mary Gauthier and Eliza Gilkyson, The Cedar, 11-18-05

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Good Music; Bad Fashion At the urging of a local music critic, I went to see Mary Gauthier and Eliza Gilkyson at the Cedar Cultural Center last month. I’d heard both of them on The Current, but had not listened to either of them in depth. My friend Queenie and I left the kids with the husbands and had a moms night out. I’d forgotten what a civilized venue the Cedar is. It’s open seating, but we arrived within half an hour of the show and still had great seats near the stage. (My strategy for movie seating worked well–buck traffic and go to the sides. Everyone goes up the center.) It was strange being 37 at a concert and still among the younger members of the audience. I saw my future as a middle-aged Minnesotan. It was politically liberal, earnest, and having a good time, but not particularly well-dressed.

Two of the worst glamour don’ts were on the stage, though. Gauthier had on a pair of nice, well-fitting leather pants but her floral jacket had a large skull and Native American headdress on the back. Gilkyson, in her fifties, nonetheless has the arms to be able to go sleeveless without shame, but her tank was over a floaty skirt that was over a pair of tie-dyed pants. Fortunately, both women could sing and play guitar so well that their dubious fashion choices were not distracting for long.

Both had arresting voices, moving songs, and great guitar skills. Each also was accompanied by a different talented guy on guitar. The crowd kept to their seats except to demand encores of both performers. I’m abashed that a small quiet show is now the kind I enjoy, but it was so nice just to sit and listen to some really good singer/songwriter/musicians.

A Few Music-related Pet Peeves

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

1. Hidden Cd tracks (Kings of Leon Youth and Young Manhood)

2. Not printing the song list on the Cd case (Bright Eyes Fever and Mirrors, Lua, Lifted)

3. Not printing the title and artist on the Cd itself

Things that make me lunge for the Forward or Off button:

1. Tracks that feature, in whole or in part, conversations or clips from radio, television or answering machines. (Bright Eyes Fever and Mirrors and Letting Off the Happiness, some Guster EP that I have). Get over yourself and sing, already.

2. “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star

3. Garrison Keillor’s voice

Auditory Impressions

Friday, May 13th, 2005

I am not a careful music listener. Instead, I listen to Cd’s over and over till they build an impression. Since my husband G. Grod got laid off from his job last fall, I have curtailed purchases of Cd’s and have instead been getting them from our library. While the wait for certain popular titles can be long, I have a few Cd’s at any given time, and can keep them for three weeks.

There are several benefits to the library option. I can try before I decide to buy. I have checked out several Cd’s that I am glad I didn’t spend money on, and a few that confirmed my desire to track them down. The downside to my listening plan is that pop music, which is engineered to be more immediately like-able, floats to the top of my list faster than do other, more carefully crafted Cd’s. A concentrated three-week span of listening, though, is usually enough for non-poppy music to make a favorable impression. Often, three weeks is sufficient to return something I like and not feel I need to own it. Here is a list of some of the recent things that have cycled through, and what impressions they left.

No impression after multiple listens:

Patty Griffin, 1000 Kisses and Impossible Dream
My Morning Jacket, At Dawn–like Neil Young playing in the room next door
Jayhawks, Tomorrow the Green Grass

Grew on me, but I don’t need to own

Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights
Bright Eyes, Letting off the Happiness–uneven
Jeff Buckley, Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk

Just don’t get

Jeff Buckley, Mystery White Boy, Live–so much yowling
Jeff Buckley, Grace–less, but still too much, yowling

Not as good as their last one

Thrills, Let’s Bottle Bohemia


O.C. Mixes 1 and 2
For the Kids 1
Kings of Leon, Youth and Young Manhood
Bright Eyes, Lifted

Substantively good

Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left–Dreamy
Low, Great Destroyer
Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love

The Problem with Pretension

Sunday, March 27th, 2005

Lots of folks were picking what I thought of as smarty-pants, hyperliterate stuff. I kinda shook my head. I mean, what’s the point of trying to write a short story based on a Dylan song? (I always thought Dylan songs were short stories, only better.) Anyway, for me, “Rio” came up right away. For one, I fucking love the song, it usually makes people smile, even if they’re shaking their heads in the process. I sort of think you can divide the world into people who appreciate Duran Duran, and people who don’t, and I’d rather vacation with the people who do. To me, Duran Duran in general, and “Rio” in particular, shimmer with the absolute brain-freeze purity of pop-rock’s trascendent ridiculousness, whatever that means. And I like the drums and guitar. And, good Lord, the lyrics, to “Rio” especially, are an L.A. sunset, a hot breath of everything and nothing all at once. I love shit like that.

Duff sent me a copy of Lit Riffs, a collection of short stories based on songs. This is exactly the kind of book you want to be lent; it’s got some great things, but it’s wildly uneven. The above quote is by Zev Borow. I think it encapsulates a lot of what’s wrong with most of the stories in the collection, but also with short stories in general, and perhaps even with pretentious people at large.

Lit Riffs First, about Lit Riffs. It opens with a “lost” story by Lester Bangs. We’re all less fortunate for its having been found. As with many collections, reading the more famous name authors isn’t the best strategy. I was disappointed by Jonathan Lethem’s piece, and didn’t even bother to finish Aimee Bender’s. I did, however, enjoy Neal Pollack’s “Death in the Alt Country,” which reminded me of Robbie Fulks’s “Roots Rock Weirdos”, Heidi Julavits’s “The Eternal Helen”, Judy Budnitz’s “The System, and Borow’s “Rio”. While I’d heard of all the artists whose songs were chosen as inspiration, and even own CDs by most of them, I found most of the chosen lyrics to be obscure, and the stories based on them to be even more tenuously connected. Borow’s was the refreshing exception to this.

I once had a friend who was a fierce champion of short stories. I could never echo his appetite for them. Too often, I felt short story authors were trying to out-creepify each other. Thom Jones’s “I Want to Live!” exemplified this for me, and I found some of this tendency in Julavits’s story, though it had a self-aware humor that transcended the creep factor.

This creepification implies that art should be separate from enjoyment. I attended a class with the film director Peter Greenaway once, and he made an interesting distinction between enjoyment and pleasure. Enjoyment, he said, was simple fun. Pleasure, though, was more complicated, even didactic. Too often, I think, short story writers and other people of so-called taste valorize works of art that are complex over those that are fun. But either extreme would be unhealthy. Too much enjoyment produces vapidity, yet too much complicated pleasure leads to pretension. A balance of both, however, allows for learning and humor. I think Borow’s story and endnote capture this perfectly.

O.C. Mix 1 As an example of a non-pretentious, highly enjoyable collection of pop music, I highly recommend Music from The O.C. Mix 1, especially track 9, “We Used to Be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols. Brain-freeze purity, indeed.

Low’s The Great Destroyer

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

Great Destroyer is the only CD from the library I have liked so well that I intend to purchase it. Low, a trio from Duluth, has traditionally had a sleepy sound. Not anymore. Destroyer sounds like the band members have woken up, and boy, are they angry. Mesmerizing.