25 Songs, Day 7: Of Battles and Beautiful Banality

(Part seven of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 7: A song that reminds you of the past summer

Since we are are still in the midst of summer 2014, I began thinking about this prompt by casting my mind back to the summer of 2013, even looking up a couple of those “songs of the summer” lists. And there were a few titles that jumped out at me. Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive playing into the closing credits for season 6 of True Blood, as a group of Hep-V vamps closed in on Merlotte’s to attack it. The mini-kerfuffle around Daft Punk backing out of their appearance on the Colbert Report, and the brilliant dance video Colbert and friends concocted in response to the “crisis”:

But when I really thought back on my summer, it became very clear to me that my song choice needed to go in a different direction:

Obviously, I’ve mentioned here and there about our move from Philly to Boston, but I don’t think I’ve talked in detail about how things unfolded. I came up first, in March, signing a short-term lease on an apartment so I could start the new job that was precipitating our whole New England adventure. Meanwhile, Mr. Mezzo stayed behind to put our house on the market and start his own job search.

And we have much to be grateful for around this, because things went about as smoothly as you could possibly hope for. The Philly house sold within a couple months, Mr. Mezzo had a job offer in the same couple weeks we were executing the house sale paperwork, and he and all our worldly goods were up in Massachusetts come late-July.

All told, we were only apart for about 4, 4-and-a-half months: a much shorter time than it could have been, and a much shorter time than we’d feared it might be.

Still. I don’t recommend it, and it was NOT fun. So we tried to be very intentional about doing things to stay connected to one another, even while living apart. And one of those things was our weekly Game of Thrones date night.

Even though most of our TV-watching is done via the commercial-forwarding magic of the DVR, we made the commitment to watch each new episode during its first telecast. (A commitment easier to keep by HBO’s lack of commercials and the knowledge that real-time viewing was going to be the only way to stay ahead of the water cooler recaps in our separate offices come Monday morning.) Then, as soon as the final credits and “exciting scenes from next week” had concluded, one of us would call the other and we’d talk and compare notes. What scenes we’d enjoyed, what we thought would happen next, what plot twists had surprised and shocked us. (I’m sure you can imagine our conversation after the Red Wedding episode…)

It was a completely everyday, frivolous, fun sort of conversation. And that’s what made it so wonderful. Amidst all the other things we were needing to talk about — contract this, inspection that, employment status here and there — having this weekly ritual helped us stay connected with the sort of everyday, seemingly-banal sort of contacts that are such an essential part of weaving the tapestry of a shared life together.

So, thank you, George R.R. Martin. You may be a murderous bastard who kills off everyone I most love in Westeros, but you gave Mr. Mezzo and me the gift of connection during a tough time. Honor and gratitude.

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Image credit:

25 Songs, Day 6: You’re My Best Friend

(Part six of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 6: A song that reminds you of a best friend

True confession: as soon as I read this prompt, Queen’s You’re My Best Friend lodged itself in my memory and it won’t let go. (Talk about an earworm…)

There’s multiple layers to my association, here. First is the literal content of the song, of course.

You’re the best friend
that I ever had
I’ve been with you such a long time
You’re my sunshine
And I want you to know
That my feelings are true
I really love you
You’re my best friend

(AZLyrics)

The song is all about “best friends,” of course. Which is probably why the song was featured in the Kenneth Branagh-directed film, Peter’s Friends, back in the early 90’s. I can’t find the exact clip on YouTube, but here’s the film’s trailer, which also features Queen’s song prominently.

The film is centered on a New Year’s Eve gathering of a group of besties in college, gathering ten years later. Various cracks in connection emerge, showing ways folks have changed and drifted apart, at least to some degree.  Yet there are stunning moments of connection, both in a nostalgic way…

…and also at the film’s conclusion — which I am not linking here on the odd chance that someone who hasn’t yet seen the film would want to do so. As such, I won’t reveal any spoilers about how things unfold, but I don’t think anyone will be especially surprised to hear that by the end of the film, the old friendships have been re-established — yes, evolved and transmuted from years of growth and change, but the connections remain sound.

best-friends-iAnd that’s the kind of thing that’s a total mystery to me. I feel as if I never quite got the hang of sustaining long-term friendships. What with my innate shyness and the frequency we moved during my childhood, it seemed as if I’d make a group of friends, and then lose touch with everyone when the family and I were yet again displaced.*

Facebook has helped me re-establish some soft connections with folks from my middle school, high school, and college days. And I truly, truly appreciate having that small chance to have a window into people’s lives, and to be able to make small pieces of contact — a “like” here, a brief comment conversation there. But I’ve not yet felt a deep enough level of comfort to really re-connect. Would I invite someone our for coffee, or even send a real personal letter or email? No, that would feel too invasive. Not really sure if that’s an accurate read on the situation, or if it’s my old habits of self-isolating coming into high gear.

So, despite my jaunty image, above, I kinda sorta feel as if I might suck as a friend. Which is probably why it’s easier for me to respond to this prompt with a memory of someone else’s fictional best friends than any songs connected to my own friendships.

* Have I talked about this before? I think I’ve talked about this before. Too strapped for time to go check.

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Image credit: http://didthatjusthappenblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/i-have-the-best-friends/

25 Songs, Day 5: The Dreaded Earworm

(Part five of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 5: A song that is often stuck in your head

Ah yes, the dreaded earworm. The song that infects the aural passages and the bloodstream, often causing physical pain and existential crisis akin to that once faced by Anton Chekhov a long time ago in a future inhabited by Ricardo Montalban:

ear_worms_ear_budsI have a strangely high tolerance for earworms. For me, they impact the same part of my brain where my affection for guilty pleasures and things delightfully kitschy resides, so even if the pleasure of said ear worm is of a different flavor than, say, my love for the Gayatri Mantra, I do often find a sincere sort of pleasure in hearing the “ear worm song.”

So I was incredibly puzzled as to what song to write about tonight. Old classics from my formative years, like It’s a Small World or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

Entries from my young adulthood like Macarena, Mambo No. 5, or Lambada? Why are all of these Latinate one-hit wonders? Only Gaia knows… Also, is there anyone else out there who immediately spotted the Kaoma sample when JLo came out with her Pitbull collab, On the Floor? Just me, then.

Perhaps I should feature recent ear worms that are imprinted on my mind’s eye as much as anywhere else — I think of the Olympic swim team and Call Me Maybe, Lara Spencer dancing Gangnam Style on the set of GMA, or that wacky moment where I was just slightly ahead of the coolness curve when Ylvis’ The Fox went supernova-viral

But ultimately, I cast back into the early 80’s for this ditty from my early teen years: Toto’s Africa.

There’s a few reasons this bubbled to the top of the pile. First, is its innate infectiousness. Second, is the fact that we sang an arrangement of it in high school chorus, meaning I will never ever ever get those “Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo”s out of my head.

Third is the way it has spawned other infectious ditties, such as Straight No Chaser’s arrangement of 12 Days of Christmas:

Fourth and finally, is this brilliant deconstruction of the song, by author Steve Almond:

Rather than expose us to the hard-won truth of individual experience, the song immerses us in the Karo syrup of an entire culture’s mass delusion. It is the love child of imperialism and muzak.

Almond’s spoken essay makes me both hate the song and love it all the more. And hate myself a little for loving it. Which is the quintessential definition of a guilty pleasure, if not of an ear worm.

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Image credit: http://mcphee.com/shop/ear-worms-ear-buds.html

 

25 Songs, Day 4: In Praise of the Divine

(Part four of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 4: A song that calms you down

I am not really much of a meditator. You might think, what with all the ways I talk about my consciousness work and my striving for spiritual awakening, that I’d be exactly the kind of person who had a regular meditation/mindfulness practice — but that’s not the case.

Well, that’s partly the case. If there is a type of person to have a meditation practice, I daresay I would be that type. I understand the value of such a practice, and I sometimes give thought to the question of how best to establish a regular sitting practice. But right now, for better or for worse, my regular reflective practice is my morning journal-writing

Even though it’s not a regular practice for me right now, I have had a sitting practice for short stretches of time during the last 6 or 7 years. During those times, I was much better able to focus my attention using mantra meditation and chanting than with silent meditation. Which brings me to today’s song: the Gayatri Mantra as sung by Deva Premal.

essence_180I believe I came across Premal’s work early in my attempt to learn more about Eastern religions, about meditation and about chant. I’d started with Krishna Das and the Ravi Shankar/George Harrison collaboration Chants of India. Wonderful, uplifting, heart-centered works, all of them, but as I listened, I was aware of a deep longing to hear a female voice to model my own baby-bird chant-croakings after.

So I bought Premal’s album, The Essence. And when I put it into ye olde CD player and started the first track, her singing of the Gayatri Mantra entered my heart and soul.

Om bhur bhuvaha svaha
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yonah prachodayat

Praise to the source of all things.
It is due to you that we attain true happiness on the planes of earth, astral, causal.
It is due to your transcendent nature that you are worthy of being worshiped and adored.
Ignite us with your all pervading light.

I still listen to this mantra now and again. At work or at home, as a centering background in the midst of some stressful task or another. Every so often, to sing and chant along with Premal. Sometimes I listen just because it’s beautiful and I love it so.

———-

It wasn’t until I went to the CD booklet to type the lyrics and translation into this post that I was reminded that the Gayatri Mantra has a deep, personal connection for Premal as well. This page paraphrases the story told there:

My father has been on the spiritual path since the 50’s. . . . He taught himself Sanskrit and began chanting mantras. When my mother was pregnant with me, their welcome was to sing the Gayatri Mantra throughout the pregnancy. . . . As I grew up we continued to chant the Gayatri Mantra together regularly before sleep. I didn’t really know what I was singing… and why. I just did it because I was told to. It wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate these precious times. . . .

One day I heard the Gayatri Mantra being sung by a friend in England. It was a different version to the one I had grown up with, and knowing the text so well, I was touched and excited by what I heard. I felt re-connected. This time I could feel the power of the mantra as never before, the strong effect it had on me, and the sacredness of it.

We began featuring it in our concerts. At last I had found my song! I had found something that felt like ‘mine.’ I felt at home with it, and I watched as it touched people night after night. I began searching out more mantras and before I knew it, I soon had enough for my first album! We recorded it in my mother’s flat–the same one I was born in, where the Gayatri Mantra had been sung to me all those years before.

The page ends with a shot postscript describing the death of Premal’s father in 2005:

I feel so grateful that I could be there until the moment of his death. We were singing the Gayatri Mantra to him until the end and so the circle is complete: He accompanied the beginning of my life with it and I the ending of his. I am also very touched by my family…how they were all joining Miten and I with the singing for him and how we are totally in tune with each other about how to deal with everything now…

I am deeply moved to discover the depth of authentic feeling Premal has for this mantra. I am sure that authenticity has imbued the recording, and that it is part of why this recording of the song has come to be so precious to me.

Not only does it calm my restless spirit: it opens my heart.

———-

Image credit: http://www.devapremalmiten.com/deva-premal-and-miten-information/articles/my-journey-with-the-gayatri-mantra

 

 

 

25 Songs, Day 3: In Praise of Denim

(Part three of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 3: A song that reminds you of one or both of your parents

Obviously, both of my parents were part of the story back for Song #1 when I was discussing ABBA. But let’s be real: even though ABBA was on the list of music we all could tolerate, between my two parents, my mom was much more of an ABBA fan than my dad was.

Dad was a Neil Diamond fan. And his favorite of all of Neil’s songs was Forever in Blue Jeans:

Money talks
But it don’t sing and dance
And it don’t walk
And long as I can have you
Here with me, I’d much rather be
Forever in blue jeans

Honey’s sweet
But it ain’t nothin’ next to baby’s treat
And if you pardon me
I’d like to say
We’ll do okay
Forever in blue jeans

(AZLyrics)

There’s lots of ways Dad was the example of that old Horatio Alger ideal. He grew up in a Pennsylvania steel town; both his parents died before he was out of high school, so he went into the Air Force and then used his GI Bill benefits to get the college degree that helped him start the business career that would (pretty quickly) allow Mom, my sister and me to live in the comfort and middle-class privilege that I remember from my childhood.

jeans-iconThere was one time when I was a little girl that he first shared a compliment with me — with all of us? I can’t quite recall. A co-worker or a boss had said something to him about how he “was as comfortable with a Big Mac as a filet mignon.” That praise meant a lot to Dad. I think it told him he’d managed to “better himself”* without becoming a snob.

And even though I’ve taking things in a much more intellectual and politicized direction, I wonder about the ways that my desire for social justice, and my ongoing practice in unpacking and understanding my privilege is a different flavor of that ideal. From a spiritual perspective, I wonder about the links between Dad’s (admittedly imperfect) egalitarianism and my desire to find compassion within myself  for people and my (hugely imperfect) practice towards the sort of acceptance that would allow me to open-heartedly “meet folks where they are.”

Maybe those are stretched connections. Maybe not.

What I know for sure: I still smile and think of Dad whenever I hear a Neil Diamond song.** And since this summer trip is an itinerary he wanted to bring the family on — we just didn’t have the chance to do it before he died — I might just be thinking of Dad a lot during this stretch of days.

Maybe I’ll load a Neil Diamond playlist on the iPod before I go.

* I know, I know: that’s an incredibly loaded and problematic way to put it. But I do think it kinda captured his perspective on the distinction between his childhood experiences and the middle-class life he was able to build for us.

** Except when I’m tearing up. Even five years later, grief can be a tricky tricky thing.

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Image credit: http://fashiontribes.typepad.com/main/2007/06/forever_in_blue.html

 

25 Songs, Day 2: The Boulevard of Ex-Boyfriends

(Part two of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day Song 2: A song that reminds you of your most recent ex

Okay, here’s where I think that I am perhaps not really in the planned demographic for this challenge? Mr. Mezzo and I coming up on our fourth wedding anniversary, and we’ve been together for more than a decade. And then, to make things even more interesting hopelessly banal, I might as well cop to the fact that I’d taken myself “off the market” for about 4-5 years prior to meeting my Mr. (Long story not worth the telling: basically I realized around the age of 30 that I really needed to get right with myself before trying the relationship thing again. So, you see? Sometimes that old saying is true: love does come along when you least expect it!)

Anyhow, whichever way you slice it, it’s kind of been a long time since I had any sort of ex, so memorializing some fairly-insignificant romance with a song here just feels kind of — odd.

Word Cloud Boulevard of broken dreams

Instead, a brief recollection. When I was in grad school at UPenn, there were two main geographic areas where I and all my social circle lived. There were those of us who had chosen to use the Schuylkill River as symbolic boundary between work life and home and lived in a vaguely Center City/Rittenhouse Square(ish) locale. And then there was everyone living out west of campus and past 44th street.

So, one evening, some few years after I’d left school and started my non-profit career, I was driving up Pine Street, en route to hang out with a friend of mine at her apartment. And this song came on the radio:

Green Day, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I was at that precise moment driving along a two-block stretch that had housed the apartments of not one, not two, but three grad school ex-boyfriends. I’d lost touch with all of them by that point, so had no way of knowing if any or all of them had moved on to different addresses (towns? countries?). Didn’t really matter. The energetic signature of that song, playing at that moment, at that specific location, was just richer than rich.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone

I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of broken dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one and I walk alone

(Metrolyrics)

For the entire rest of my time in Philadelphia, I thought of that little stretch of west Philadelphia as the “boulevard of ex-boyfriends.”

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Image credit: http://cchcamilo.blogspot.com/2010/05/boulevard-of-broken-dreams.html

25 Songs, Day 1: Music to Wash Dishes By

(Part one of my exploration of the 25 songs in 25 slightly-more days blogging challenge — a way to bank and pre-schedule a few posts for JALC while I’m off a-travelling.)

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Day 1: A song from your childhood

I guess I’m like lots of folks in that I have tons of music memories from my childhood. Sesame Street 8-tracks in the car on long car trips, immersing myself in my mom’s copy of Sgt. Pepper at around the age of 8, watching my parents and their friends try to learn the Hustle in our Sao Paolo living room. But the song I’m choosing today is Dancing Queen, by ABBA.

I’m sure they’re especially front-of-mind right now because we have tickets to go see the ABBA Museum when we’re in Stockholm. But it’s also true that we listened to them a bunch during my childhood and tween years.

abbapicOne of the traditions we had up at the lake house during the summer was that whoever was washing the dinner dishes got to choose the music the house would listen to during that chore. On a nice night, most everyone would be out on the screened porch while the “KP crew” washed and dried and put away, but the cottage is small enough that any music being played loudly enough to reach the kitchen is also going to reach that porch and its occupants.

Clearly, the most liberal interpretation of this tradition hypothetically allowed the KP crew to “inflict” music that the rest of the family hated upon them, but there was also nothing that barred the inflict-ee from complaining vociferously about a particularly-hated music selection. So, during my tween years, I recall some small music wars, broken along generational lines, of course. My sister and me in one camp, our parents in another.

And ultimately, after a few small skirmishes, we all fell into a more nuanced expression of this tradition. For the most part we tried to choose things that maybe one side of the generation gap liked better than the other, but it would be music that we all enjoyed at least to some degree.

And that’s where ABBA came in. One of us would start the tape recording of Arrival while the other began to run the water and fill the dish basin with soap suds. By the time When I Kissed the Teacher was over, we’d be ready to wash. That evening’s DJ would crank up the volume, shimmy over to the kitchen as the opening piano glissando and ah-ah-ahs of Dancing Queen rang out into the air. And away we’d go, singing along as the dishes were done.

I enjoy a lot of ABBA’s songs, and know a surprising number of them by heart. (Even the minor hits and obscurities like When I Kissed the Teacher.) Since my fondness for the oeuvre is so wide-ranging, I almost chose Mamma Mia as my example song. After all, it and its original video have become so darn iconic, so fully representative of the Abba phenomenon:

That’s the song that became the title for the Broadway and movie musicals, and that’s the song that (to my awareness), has has been recreated in any number of endearing fashions, including this twofer from Down Under:

(Yes, Muriel’s Wedding used a different song, but those costumes! The camera angels! Those head turns! That’s a Waterloo/Mamma Mia cross-pollinated homage if I ever saw one! And Priscilla‘s just plain fun.)

But when I think back to my tween and teen years on the KP crew, it’s Dancing Queen that first rings in my head. (Now that our ABBA listening is the iTunes playlist derived from ABBA Gold, that sense of Dancing Queen as the lead-off track has only been intensified.)

Back during those fractious, difficult years, I remember our ABBA dishwashing nights as a small reminder that we all did have some threads of connection and commonality in our family: sister to sister, child to parent. I think that emotional resonance is one of the reasons I still have such fondness for ABBA’s Scandinavian disco fabulousness, and one of the reasons I’m very much looking forward to my ABBA pilgrimage in Stockholm.

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Image credit: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-boland/abba-went-badly-dressed-get-tax-deduction