Voices from the Past

One the fascinating (to me) pieces of this “alphabetic CD tour” I do every few years is how many of these 1300-or-so albums still hold a place in my heart and my affections. I have different reasons for liking different things, but considering I started collecting CDs back in 1989 or so, it’s kind of surprising to me how infrequently I listen to a long-forgotten/rediscovered album and say to myself.

Eh. No longer my bag.

Given that, it’s kind of notable that in the last 2 weeks, I’ve come across not one, but two different artists/albums I’m thinking of adding to the Goodwill pile.

Continue reading “Voices from the Past”

Sacred Song

On today’s commute, my “Alphabet Stew” playlist served up some Michael Bublé(1), including the It’s Time album, which was what first brought him onto my radar.

As the tracks spooled out, one song played that I had simultaneously completely forgotten about while also having it indelibly etched in my memory.

How are both of those things possible? Come : join me below the jump and let me explain.

Continue reading “Sacred Song”

Knock on Wood

In addition to lots of laundry and lots of sleep, one other thing I’ve been doing since getting back home from The Trip is catching up on the video lectures and quizzes for the Coursera course I’m taking about the Beatles.*

In a lot of ways this is a “gimme” course: I’ve watched, listened and read enough about the band and its members to be reasonably well-informed from the get-go. Still, it’s fun to hear this professor’s take on things, and I have learned a new thing or two along the way.

Like the full story embedded in the lyrics to Norwegian Wood.

In the song, a young mad is “had” — i.e., fooled — by a comely lass when he accompanies her to her (pretentiously under-furnished) apartment expecting sexytimes, only to be rebuffed when she says she needs to get a good night’s sleep prior to the next workday.

That much I’d understood. But this next part was the part I’d missed: when he wakes up the next morning alone, the song’s narrator sets the girl’s apartment on fire in revenge for the (so-called) cock-blocking.

To quote Paul McCartney (the co-lyricist), looking back at many years’ distance:

[A] lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It was pine really, cheap pine. But it’s not as good a title, Cheap Pine, baby…

So she makes him sleep in the bath and then finally in the last verse I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as revenge, so we did it very tongue in cheek. She led him on, then said, ‘You’d better sleep in the bath’. In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge. It could have meant I lit a fire to keep myself warm, and wasn’t the decor of her house wonderful? But it didn’t, it meant I burned the fucking place down as an act of revenge, and then we left it there and went into the instrumental.

He sets her apartment on fucking fire. (Who knew? Okay, bad question: evidently everyone in the world knew but me.)

Norwegian_wood__by_CyberfishTalk about a disproportional response to sexual rejection. In his discussion of this song and the story its lyrics tell, the professor said something mild about how the song could be seen as “sort of misogynistic,” and I found myself spluttering at the computer screen, “you think?!?”

I kind of get why the professor chose not to open up the topic for much further exploration. Although some elements of historical and cultural context are inevitably coming into the discussion, his chosen approach is primarily to be taking a musicological quasi-close-reading approach to the stylistic features of the songs and albums — melody, harmonics, orchestration, lyrical complexity, etc. At some level, I suppose I could be thankful he at least called out the misogyny of the scenario, rather than allowing the song’s portrayal of sexual entitlement to remain normalized.

Still, I am so wishing I had magic access to Paul McCartney right now to ask some follow up questions. When you decided that in the song’s world, this guy deserved his revenge, did you mean to portray that as a reasonable response, or an UNreasonable one? You were about 23 when you wrote the song — do you think you’d want to tell a similar or different sort of story if you were writing about sexual miscommunication and rejection today? What acts of friendliness are permitted between two individuals before one is seen as “leading the other on”?

Alas, my press pass is expired (on account of me never having one), and I still haven’t made an appointment with Mr. Ollivander to collect my magic wand. So my curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied.

By the way? Check here for a handy-dandy chart that’s been making the rounds to let you know when a woman owes her partner sex. And despite the geneder-specificity of the graphic, it really cuts both (all?) ways: no individual (gender-inclusive) ever owes another individual (again, gender-inclusive) sex.


Image credit: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Isn-t-it-good-Norwegian-wood-165422713

* Yes. I am an epic nerd. I’m okay with that.

25 Songs in Slightly-More Days

I mentioned in passing that we have a bit of a family trip coming up in July: Mr. Mezzo and I will be cruising the Baltic on one of those once-in-a-lifetime before the kids grow up and leave us in the dust trips. (My sister’s kids, not mine.)

OUAT-my-feelsAs much as there is part of me that would want to try and keep up with my posting and with current events while we are a-travelling — so many news stories! so many feels about those news stories! —

In the mature part of my heart and brain, I know that to try and do that would quite simply be bananas. Although I think we’ll be able to find some sort of “Internet cafe” on the boat, I don’t want to count on a robust enough wifi connection to sustain my long-windedness. Besides, this truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’d like to give myself the chance to really experience it, rather than be devoting my energy to surfing the news sites and waxing loquacious about what I find. Slate, Salon and HuffPo will all still be going strong when I get back stateside…

But I also don’t want to leave JALC completely shuttered for the time we’re a-sea. So, I’m going to start (slowly!) taking on a “25 songs in 25 days” blog challenge I stumbled across.


It seemed one of those challenges that was tailor-made for me. After all, when asked to write about only three songs back during the Writing 101 experience, I was kind of jammed up by needing to reduce all my passion for music into only three pieces. (And even then, I stretched it to four songs, rather than three. *grin*)

I also like how instead of just asking something banally impossible like “What’s your favorite song?” — favorite for what purpose? in what context? current favorite or for-the-most-of-my-life favorite? — these questions are asked from very specific lenses. I think it’ll be fun to see where these different angles of inquiry take me.

So here’s the plan. During this holiday weekend, alongside of the packing, the Wimbeldon-watching, the last-minute shopping and the job-work I need to do, I’ll be responding to the first however-many of the prompts on this list: as many as I’m able to, but you can see that I do have a few other things on the to-do list. So I’ll just have to see how many I get written.

Whatever that number is, I’ll use the handy scheduling feature (thank you, WordPress!) to scatter those song posts semi-evenly throughout the time we’re away. That way, there’s at least a little bit of activity on JALC, and it’ll also be a cool chance for me to talk about something — music — that has always been an important part of my life.

I’ll chip my way through the remainder of the 25 songs list once I’m back in the States. So it’ll definitely take me more than 25 days, but it’ll still be a fun project.


Jukebox Memories

[Set-up] Okay, the Writing 101 folks are definitely on a roll with their advocacy of free-writing. Today’s prompt (Day 3!) is partly about a topic, but it’s mostly about committing yourself to a daily, full-out free-writing practice, a la Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones — no stopping, no editing, just allowing yourself to lose control and get beyond the self-censoring into the marrow of things.

Now, I don’t necessarily have a complaint against this notion in the abstract (says she with the daily morning pages/soul writing practice). I’m less convinced about my willingness to post that level of unexpurgated free-write out for all to see. For me, the thing about free-writing is exactly the way it functions as a safe space to be messy and uncontrolled and just blurt out every molecule, knowing that you can then build on the raw passion and bring in craft and shape and structure. (Do you know how hard Kerouac worked to craft that “spontaneous voice” in On the Road?!?)

But anyhow, I’m going to play the good student, set my timer for 15 minutes and type like a madwoman (in the attic?) on the topic at hand. After that, I’ll decide whether to hit “publish” or to save the free-write content as a private artifact while shaping a public blog-post.

Oh, and the topic? “Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?” [/Set-up]

musicThis is as unfair a question as you could possibly ask. Only three? You have got to be kidding me. With as important as music has been in my life, the idea of narrowing my life down to a jukebox with only three 45s in it is simply ludicrous.

But here’s a first thought. “Carol of the Birds” — French, maybe 14th or 15th century? It was the first time I sang a solo in a choir/stage performance. 3rd grade (we were Brasil at the time, not that that’s a pertinent detail), preparing for the Christmas concert. This was back in the days that schools still had music programs, so a Christmas concert was a regular kind of event. And the full “choir” — elementary classes — sang verses 1 and 3, with then little old me singing verse two. I honestly can’t remember at this distance whether there was an audition, whether I was just selected, whether I shared the solo with another girl. I just remember it being the first chance I really sang on my own in a public performance, and, for better and for worse, that was the start of the many years of singing and performing I have had to this day. With the love of music and expression and also all the greedy ego-desire for the spotlight and for acknowledgement. It’s such an obscure little carol that I have at least one CD in my holiday music collection that I keep primarily because it has a version of that carol on it. (Not that the rest of the CD sucks, it’s just a generally unexceptional playlist and performance style. But then this one song with all the depth of personal meaning and memory it inspires for me.)

During all my reading around the Isla Vista murders, I somehow stumbled across an article about Tori Amos and her song “Me and a Gun,” and the way it’s served as a galvanizing inspiration for women to share their own stories of sexual assault and sexual violence. Having said that and implied I might be writing my own similar thing, I’m actually going to take a slight left turn and say that the Tori Amos song that’s ringing in my head since that story is actually “Silent all These Years.” It has some of the same tone of surviving past traumas and finding one’s voice. Which are both things that speak pretty deeply to me. Thinking of the ways I’ve talked, at least obliquely, at some of my past patterns of keeping myself contained and hidden, and the stumbling efforts I take now and again to find ways to speak the truth. (I hate saying the phrase “my truth” because it has a bit of self-indulgent “new age” tone to it. Like, let me inform you about MY truth and therefore ignore your lived experience and perspective.  Though saying some thing is baldly THE truth doesn’t really do any better at ALL to ease the idea of denying other perspectives and experiences.) Anyhow, “I’ve been here, silent all these years” is ringing in my mind’s ear. I was here all along. Keeping silent, but I was here all along.

And why don’t I go the somewhat cliched route and talk about a wedding song? Our first dance was to Jason Mraz’s — what the hell is the title? this is fucking embarrassing. I can hear the tune in my head.

Okay shift. Let’s think about “Here Comes the Sun” — the James Taylor/Yo-Yo Ma arrangement that was the inspiration for our wedding musicians (flute and guitar) for a key moment in the ceremony: taking two roses from separate vases and then putting them in a vase together to signifying the joining and interweaving of two lives into one. Simple and somewhat cliche, and at some level you’d kind of expect it to be a little silly, since we’d been living together for 5 years or so by the time the wedding day rolled around. And yet this simple piece of ritual was incredibly moving and meaningful, and then as we stood holding each other’s hands and there was still a whole lot of song left to listen two, both Mr. Mezzo and I came close to finally losing our cool and becoming soggy weeping-with-joy sorts of messes.

And that’s a good stall tactic, but I still can’t remember the Mraz song.

Oh you done done  me [. . . ] so hot that I melted.”  Trying frantically to come up with more of the lyrics so I could maybe get my way to the title. This is really embarrassing. Anyhow, whenever we hear the song come on the radio, we normally dance for a t least a few seconds’ time. We’ve done that in grocery stores, in the middle of cooking, all kinds of unexpected moments and places. So I guess it’s not the title or the words that are most important to me. It’s that feeling of hearing the particular lilt of rhythm and melody and then celebrating.


[Post mortem] I am constitutionally unable to send this out into the world without at least correcting the spelling errors — because otherwise, I’m not so sure this would even be intelligible as English. Beyond that, I’m going to let this go up as-is, not especially ‘cos I’m thrilled about it but because it’s an insanely busy week at work. Started editing at 4 AM this morning, will have to do the same tomorrow, so there’s just not enough awake minutes left in my system for me to come up with a better alternative.

Oh? And here’s the song I blanked on. Unsurprisingly, the title came back to me within 90 seconds of that damn buzzer ringing….

[/Post mortem]


Image credit: http://wantoncreation.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/my-top-ten-bands-music-monday-3/

organ pipes, close-up

Respect or Complicity?

organ pipes, close-upThe concert went well. My packing tape hem didn’t deconstruct itself, the choir kept itself together and stayed attentive to our conductor, the soloists were fantastic, and we all muddled through some, er, “imperfections” in how the organist handled her duties.

After we were done singing and we’re listening to the Widor Toccatta that closed out today’s program,* I found myself reflecting on the many ways that involvement with classical choral music so often creates some tight interweaves with the Christian church tradition. After all, so much of the repertory, even up into the 20th century, was written to be a part of the church music tradition. And then there’s all the times community choirs use churches and cathedrals as concert locations.

This was all very present to me as I sat in a pew after singing an oratorio depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, standing on a choral riser right next to a big wooden cross adorned with a crown of thorns and a white linen cloth.**

I am not a Christian. If I had to name my spirituality, I think the closest I could come right now would be to call myself a “UU Buddhist witch.” And yet, here I am, reclaiming my place as part of a musical tradition that is very much Christian.

Not all of it, of course. This particular choir I chose to join caught my eye because they’d programmed a setting of Mary Oliver’s poems by a composer whose e.e. cummings settings I have performed and deeply admired in the past. That greater breadth in programming is one of the things I look for in a choir. But even in a group that looks to widen its programming choices, there’s no escaping a heavy dose of Christianity in the music programming.

And I am so of mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand, much of this repertory is what I “cut my teeth” on since I began training my voice at the age of 9. There’s memory and affection tied up in here. And a lot of it is legitimately beautiful and moving — showing once again how something rooted in authentic creativity can often cross boundaries of historical, national or ideological separation.

And yet. I remain deeply concerned at the ways the narrative of Christianity is still so predominant in the USA. Just a couple of days ago, Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice declared that the First Amendment of the Constitution only protects Christians, because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures.” Now, this is, obviously, both a legal and a historical fallacy, but I find it rather terrifying that a state supreme court justice (chief justice, no less!) would take such an ignorant and narrow-minded position publicly. (And without any negative repercussions, so far. That detail alone should be enough to show the ongoing cultural hegemony of Christianity in the states, today.)

So, in re-engaging with the classical choral tradition, to what degree am I re-opening to my own creativity and expression? To what degree am I showing respect to past composers and their creations, understanding the historical moments and context in which they worked?

And to what degree am I simply complicit in reinforcing the suppressive nature of dominant cultural structures, rather than engaging in resistance or offering counter-narratives?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I think I’ll be studying them for some time now. There’ll be another choral season starting in September, and in the meantime, I’m considering trying out for a local music theater production next month.

If I choose to do that (and if I were to get a part), there will be the chance for a whole new study around cultural narratives of gender, love and marriage.

* This organ piece went fine. The bitchy Mezzo in me wonders if the organist spent more time preparing her “spotlight” piece than her accompaniment for our oratorio.

** The crown of thorns I get, but I gotta admit, I’m rather clueless about why the white cloth gets draped there. The shroud he left behind in the tomb?


Image credit: http://www.transformingeveryguest.com/2012/09/sermon-work-in-progress.html