Sometimes I Go To Extremes

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I went to work yesterday morning at 7:10am, left at 3:45, went home and slept for two and a half hours, then worked from 11pm last night to 6pm tonight. I feel oddly fine, but that could just be the psychosis setting in. After all, on the walk home tonight, singing along to Billy Joel’s 11th album (which I just discovered, since I am nothing if not a super-duper late bloomer in all things…and the reason I’m not including the album title is because Googling it brings up a white supremacist group, which I just do not have the mental capacity to handle at this precise second), I spent at least 30 seconds marveling that I’ve been too tired to feel anxious or depressed for the last two weeks. (Did anyone else get the joke-not-joke here?)

Anyway, this lack of life outside of work and sleep is a drag, but I’m resolved to see it through as I pay off my credit card debt once and for all, opening up a world of possibility. You know, possibilities like owning more than one pair of work pants, or maybe affording to go to a proper laundromat instead of washing my towels by hand in a large stewpot in my bathtub. I’m actually not sure what the possibilities are, because I just don’t have any of those particular brain cells – the ones that fly me into flights of fancy – available right now. I think they’ve all been sleeping out of self defense since around noon today.

Anyway, today’s Daily Post prompt is “natty,” and I figured it would be fun to explore word associations using this thoroughly work-pickled brain. What was the first thing you thought when you read “natty”? I thought about Daniel Day Lewis as Natty Bumppo, and how the actor is actually quite the natty dresser in real life. Did you know he’s a cobbler? Like, he has the ability to craft shoes of fine Italian leather. I’m very picky about needing comfortable shoes, but I don’t think I’d say no to a pair of sensible heels made by President Lincoln.

Talking about shoes, the second I think of a handsome hunk of man holding a gorgeous chocolate leather spectator pump in his strong, yet elegant, hands, I head straight off to a scene in one of my all-time favorite movies, Only You, staring Robert Downey, Jr. and Marisa Tomei (and of course we can’t forget the inimitable Bonnie Hunt, or Billy Zane playing at playing the best douche-nozzle west of the Apennines). Downey plays a shoe salesman on holiday in Italy, and Tomei is the high school teacher/dreamer he runs into by accident, in a great scene that involves him running after her, holding a shoe, shouting “Signora, la tua scarpa!” There’s a great scene later in the film that apparently doesn’t exist on YouTube (bet you’re breathing a sigh of relief, but you won’t be for long, HAHA!) where Marisa Tomei is getting dressed in this bone-colored jumpsuit thing that only she could ever have worn, and she’s looking all dreamy and 90’s and European, and she’s heading out to FINALLY meet the man of her destiny. Or so she thinks.

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But anyway, there’s Robert Downey, Jr., in love with her and still helping her get ready for her date, doing that nonchalant kicked puppy thing he does so well. She’s in the bathroom getting changed, so you don’t see her. You’re watching him talk to her through the closed door, idly walking around the room and picking out the things that she’ll need to complete the ensemble – scarf, shoes, jewelry – so she can go out on a date with this other man. And it’s so intimate, the way he’s casually thumbing through her jewelry pile to find the right earrings. Of course, there’s a duplicitousness to the scene and the emotions he’s giving off, but but that little, stupid task he’s completing is one of the most romantic motions I’ve ever seen. Anyway, I bet now you wish I could have found the stupid clip, but whatever you do, don’t watch the movie trailer. It’s a terrible, terrible trailer. Just the worst. It’s almost as jarring as the first notes of Andrew Powell/Alan Parsons score for Ladyhawke, but nowhere near as satisfying. It’s just a silly romantic comedy, but the trailer makes it look even dumber than it is. You lose sight of all the tender moments that make it great. Plus, there’s Italy. Just – Italy.

And talking about Italy, you know what I just thought of? This mummy I ran across by accident at that little church in Murano a few years back. By now y’all have to know that I love saints and religious relics/reliquaries, but I don’t always search them out when I’m traveling. Most of the time, they find me. I suppose I should be thinking about that next time I’m pondering big, blinking signs from the cosmos. But as cool as this particular preserved dude was, I didn’t catch his name and have had no luck finding him online. I remember feeling sorry for him, because he was German, and stuck on a tiny island in Italy, so far from home. On the other hand, I did have luck finding another pair of dressed martyr skeletons whom I’ve visited a few times now, at Peterskirche in Vienna, Austria. Talk about natty dressers! They’re just loaded with jewelry and perfectly tailored gold duds. Here’s a great Smithsonian article about similarly dressed holy skeletons across Europe.

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Click here to find Horny Goat Brewing Co.’s fine beverages at a shop near you!

Back when one of my best friends lived in Vienna, also when we were young and had strong constitutions, we spent a fair amount of time there drinking beer (mostly Stiegl, as it was local and cheap). A few months back, I tried Stiegl again for old time’s sake, and though it’s not the worst thing ever, I just can’t get excited about anything lighter than a porter these days. My taste buds always insist that anything lighter tastes about as delicious as that gold standard of swill, Natty Light. Every time someone tells me that I just need to try this IPA/APA/Cream Ale/Fruit Beer/Wheat Beer/insert beer type here, I give it a go and end up sad that now I’ve got to finish this thing before I can go back to a drink that I enjoy. It turns out that I prefer malty or nutty flavors, and can’t stand hoppy beers. I’m not one of those snobs who’s going to insist that there’s not a single hoppy beer that would suit me, and I’m not going to turn down a free beer if someone’s been nice enough to invest in changing my mind, but I’m never going to waste my money trying to find the one magical beer out there that will get hoppy beer pushers to lay off and let me enjoy my own damn drink. My latest favorite find is the Peanut Butter Chocolate Porter, by Horny Goat Brewery.

If goats attract gnats, does that make them gnatty?

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Guys. Guys. GUYS! This goat got arrested, y’all. This is a picture of a goat in a cop car. Holy crap, this might be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in the last five minutes as I’ve struggled to finish this blog post and just go to bed, already. Also, “therapy goats in cruisers” – I think I love this cop just a little bit more than is wise at this junction.

Also, I just got curious about Daniel Day Lewis maybe owning goats and making goat cheese, since that would obviously push him firmly into the “sexiest man alive” category for me (nope, not stopping to explain this, you’re just gonna have to go with whatever’s happening in the old brainpan) and found out that GOAT is an acronym meaning Greatest Of All Time. Who knew? Apparently lots of people, but let’s just ignore that for a minute. Those people clearly aren’t fantasizing about men who know their way around a foot massage AND can whip up a mean goat milk ricotta, but do think that no one can beat Daniel Day Lewis. You know, except for Amsterdam Vallon.

Sidenote: I’m sure if I scrolled down, I’d found out that GOAT is also an acronym for other, less savory things, as that’s the way of the interwebz. Thus, I will not. I will stay safely in my snug cocoon of film references and cute goat memes, oh, and cats, of course. Interwebz made me think of Ceiling Cat and Basement Kitty. Still the best interpretation of the bible, IMO.

Who are you guys, really? Why is it so weird up in this joint? Where’s the DJ, and why does he keep playing the Eric Prydz “Call On Me” remix on repeat? Wait, does this one have slightly more bass? I’m not saying this is the worst dance party I’ve ever been to, but I certainly am not a fan of the lighting in here. I think I’ll just close my eyes for a bit…

 

QOTD: “It’s Got Nothing to Do with You”

It's got nothing to do with you if one can grasp it.

Here’s a confession for you: I’ve never been huge David Bowie fan. Shocking, right? Of course, he was my first sex symbol. I remember watching him (and those leather pants) in Labyrinth at around 5 years old, turning to my mother, and asking “Is that what sexy means?” Don’t remember her reaction, but if she was anything like she is now, I’m sure she blushed furiously and wished she could melt into the carpet. Seriously, though, how does anyone not fall in love with Jareth at first site?

Other than that, though, my only real exposure to Bowie was through the radio hits, which, for the most part, I could take or leave. Sounded good, had great lyrics, just missed whatever that certain something is that reaches out and snags your heart strings. Yeah, I’m a heathen, I know. Don’t write me off entirely, though, because I’m about to tell you something important: I’ve recently discovered a Bowie song that means something to me. One that I play over and over, and listen to when I need an emotional boost (which is all the time, lately, it seems).

The song is “Up the Hill Backwards,” from the 1980 Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) album (which also features “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion”). The song was released as the 4th and final single from the album, hitting the radio in March of 1981. The song did not receive critical success, only reaching 32 on the chart in the UK, and not making a splash at all in the US.

At late bloomer, as always, I first heard the song about a month ago, at the end of the movie Adult Beginners, which tells the story of a 35-ish guy who loses a tech fortune and moves in with his sister’s family, acting as a nanny while he gets his life figured out. The movie rang some bells for me, but it really hit home when music started playing over the last scene, and Bowie’s voice told me, “It’s got nothing to do with you, if one can grasp it.” To be honest, it felt like a home-based Camino moment. I instantly started crying, and then spent the next hour listening to the song on repeat.

I’m working the morning shift at the hotel today, and on my walk to work, I was thinking over some current life issues – work, relationship, self-worth, future adventures, that kind of thing. It occurred to me that there’s so much that’s out of my hands. I can’t control how others feel about me, or if they care about my ideas or feelings. I can’t control how others live their lives. I can’t control the weather, or housing prices, or the stock market. The world goes round. Shit happens – but beauty happens, too. Pushing back against the Universe causes undue stress. It’s time to realize that, while I can be a force of good in the world, and that I can effect change by doing my best, the things that I worry about, that my vanity and pride hone in on and stress over for far too long – these are the things that have nothing to do with me.

In life, as on the Camino, it is my job to breathe deeply, think kindly, and keep moving forward. In this way, and only this way, will I truly be at peace with myself, and an example to others.

 

The Sound Of Rebellion

People always remember Chicago as a 1980's soundtrack band, but there's more to the story.

People I meet always seem to think of Chicago as a 1980’s soundtrack band, but there’s more to the story.

Dear Chicago,

I still remember the first time I heard you guys play. I was 15, and my father and I were on a mission to avoid my grandmother for as long as possible. When I was growing up, on the day after Christmas, the whole family – Mum and Daddy and I – would drive the two and a half hours from Belhaven to Newport to visit with Mum’s parents. They didn’t like my father, and at the time they didn’t seem to be that keen on me, either, so generally Daddy and I would leave at some point in the visit to go make our rounds of the local thrift stores and pawn shops. We’ve always bonded over bargain shopping opportunities.

At the first pawn shop, I bought two CDs – two compilations of 60’s & 70’s pop hits that get light radio play. We hopped back into Daddy’s truck to drive to the next shop, and I gleefully examined the CDs, imagining what the songs would sound like. I still have both compilations today – songs include Green Tambourine (The Lemon Pipers), Laugh Laugh (The Beau Brummels), Hello Hello (Sopwith Camel), Stoned Soul Picnic (The Fifth Dimension), Do You Believe in Magic (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Brandy (Looking Glass), Mama Told Me Not to Come (Three Dog Night), and a lot more. It was a great day for me, musically.

As I gloated over my excellent purchases, my father popped a cassette into the truck’s tape deck. The first notes hit. I was confused. I’d never heard anything like it before. Rich background vocals, soulful lyrics, great horn section, and a tune that I wanted to immediately sing along to. We stopped in at a few more pawn shops that afternoon, but between each, the tape continued. By the time we got back to my grandparents’ house, I was hooked. My dad never got to keep that tape – I took it home to my stereo, and played it on repeat until I found the vinyl version.

That cassette was Chicago 19, and it opened up a new world to me. Sure, it’s a world that no one my age seems to understand. Yes, I tend to get confused stares when I tell people I really like Chicago, and go on to explain that it’s not an ironic infatuation. I genuinely like music that features a big brass section (even though 19 is notorious for having a much lighter horn section than their other albums), and I love a lot of your lyrics. Most people only know the overplayed radio greats, but there are other great tunes that never get radio play. My favorite off of Chicago 19 is Victorious, and I’ve never heard it on FM. It’s one of my favorite romantic songs; for a long time, I had this silly thought that I’d know my future husband because he’d play me Victorious without ever knowing I liked it. I guess maybe my level of optimism is just about perfect to be a diehard Chicago fan in today’s cynical age.

Not long after discovering the band, I raided my dad’s record collection and found out that he had a few earlier records from the late 60s and early 70s. That’s how I found out that most of your albums are branded, almost like magazine covers. Not that you need to see it, but Album Cover Gallery has a great post that compares images of all of the albums. For instance, Chicago II, which is my favorite (and the first created after you changed your name from Chicago Transit Authority to Chicago), looks like brushed sheet metal, maybe meant to be the close up of a high hat cymbal, I’ve never been completely sure. Other album covers are wood grain, or an unwrapped bar of chocolate. I fell in love with the branding, and started to collect them for the covers, as well.

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Chicago II was one of my teenage rebellion albums. When I’d get supremely pissed at my parents, I’d run to my room, throw the record on, and blast it. My parents never told me to turn my music down, but it’s probably because from the other end of the house, they were probably enjoying listening to the same tunes. I wasn’t very good at being rebellious, I guess, but to this day, the album helps me blow off steam when I’m angry. I used to sing along to the horn parts, which in retrospect was probably great preparation for singing a cappella in college.

Anyway, Chicago, I know I’m probably boring you, but I just wanted to let you know that you’re important to me. I’m keeping the love alive. I’ve always wanted to see you in concert, and hopefully one day I’ll get the opportunity. Back in college, you once played in New Orleans on my birthday. It would have been the perfect time to go, but I didn’t have money for the ticket. Last year, you played Gretna Fest, a music festival just 20 minutes down the road, and I didn’t find out that you were in town until the day after the event; I was heartbroken. But one day I’ll be in the crowd, singing along (even when there aren’t lyrics). In the mean time, thanks for nurturing my inner sap, and for rocking the hell out of those horns all these years.

Yours truly,

Anna

Alarms In The Heart

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Last week, I went to one of the best concerts of my life. As far as stage presence and sound quality go, I’m putting it in my personal Top 5, along with Neutral Milk Hotel (NOLA – Feb 2014), The Flaming Lips (NOLA – Oct 2009), Gogol Bordello (NOLA – Apr 2011), and Ben Folds (NOLA – Oct 2002). Garbage, Ween, No Doubt, Tears for Fears, and Mouse On Mars (at the Chelsea, in Vienna – talk about great acoustics) get honorable mention.

This new addition to my “holy shit, that concert blew my mind” is a band called Dry The River, out of London. I was introduced to them back in March, and fell in love within a few lines of the first song (if you’re interested, it’s called “No Rest”). So when I heard they were going to be playing in Chicago on the US leg of their tour, I immediately snagged a couple of tickets.

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The show was in a small venue called Schuba’s. They’re known for having intimate shows and great sound quality. Nothing about the space is too fancy – it’s just a solid little theater, perfect for getting to watch your favorite performers on stage. For certain songs, the sound was so on-point that it felt like standing inside of a record, somehow. I’m still impressed that I got to see what’s turning out to be my favorite band in such a tiny music club, because it feels like they’re going to get huge. So glad that this time I got to chat with them at the merch table after hearing/singing along to an incredibly emotional set.

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Ever since the show, the title track off of their new album, “Alarms In The Heart,” keeps going through my mind. When I was stuck in the airport the next night – Halloween – for about 8 hours longer than I should have been, the song kept me from losing my mind completely. The lyrics in the chorus are particularly catchy:

“Half the town is underground,
and half are halfway there,
and we’re the only good ones left.

If there’s a tremor in earth, love
a ripple in the water,
come back to haunt you,
keeping you awake,
I heard it before now,
that we don’t listen very much,
to alarms in the heart, love.”

Give them a listen. They’ll haunt you (in a good way).

Nerd Girl Meets Bad Boy (aka. Closing Time)

This is the second installment of a series I’m calling “Nerd Girl Meets…”. Two of the biggest themes in my life thus far have been the seemingly endless search for romantic companionship and the definitely endless search for great music. Love and music tend to go together in my life, for better or worse. Almost every person I’ve cared for has had a song that is forever etched in my memory, either as a defining factor of the person or a thematic element of the relationship. I want to share some of those relationships and their songs here, as a way of examining the moments that have made me, as well as a way of celebrating the soundtrack of my life. Even if it hasn’t been exactly perfect, it’s still mine.

Junior year in high school was a breakout year for me. I came into my own when I turned 16, and though I wasn’t one of the popular crowd, I was cute, geeky, and weird enough to catch peoples’ interest. There were plenty of girlfriends to pass notes and gossip with, and suddenly it wasn’t looking all that difficult to find boyfriends, either. There was one particular guy that really held my attention; always one for the bad boy, I’d singled out a dude named Henry who met all of my requirements. He had big, rough hands, spoke in innuendo, loved to make me laugh, and was just as keen as I to make out in the back hall by shop class when no one was looking. During the few months we were hanging out, I’d often sneak downstairs after my parents had gone to sleep just to call him up and talk for hours.

It wasn’t a great relationship, though, and that’s mostly because it wasn’t a relationship, at all. In the time-honored tradition of being an absolute jerk, Henry was gaming the system. I didn’t know it, of course. I didn’t even know he had other love interests, though there were rumors that he’d dated a particularly needy and possibly psychotic girl in the grade below ours, and that the breakup was dramatic and ongoing. The rumor mill was churning out all kinds of juicy gossip on Henry’s ex, including the fact that she’d threatened other girls to stay away from him in the past, and that she’d even talked about getting pregnant to force him to stay with her. At the time, I didn’t believe a word of it, but soon I started to wonder if I should.

Henry shied away from being seen with me at school. There was no explanation of why, and in my naive way, I just assumed that he wasn’t into PDA. He was cute, and I was really into him, so I just let him call the shots. We exchanged notes, snuck kisses, went on dates, and spent countless hours on the phone, but at his request, I didn’t tell anyone about him. Then, one afternoon after school, I got a phone call from the crazy ex. Surprisingly, crazy ex sounded kind of sane, and wanted to be friends. We’d never even talked before. Alarm bells (finally) started going off. I extricated myself from the phone call as soon as possible, and started reassessing my interest in this guy.

That weekend, I went out with Henry on a date. There was only one real option for a proper date within an hour radius of my hometown (for those of us with 10pm curfews, anyway) – quick dinner and a movie, 15 to 30 minutes of making out in the Walmart parking lot, then home again, home again, jiggity jig. In keeping with the tradition, we’d watched a movie, and were in the middle of making out in Henry’s truck outside of Walmart when “Closing Time” by Semisonic came on.

He was starting to get too handsy, and I wasn’t comfortable with doing anything but kissing, so I calmly disengaged. When he pulled away from me, for just a second I glimpsed anger in his eyes. He smothered it, but not before I saw that he was hiding himself from me. That was the moment that everything just clicked. I suddenly knew what was going on. Things weren’t over with his ex. He wasn’t willing to throw away his sure thing, a girl who would sleep with him, for a girl with no plans of losing her virginity. In the space of the song’s chorus, I suddenly understood everything I needed to know to get me through the shittiest parts of interacting with men for the next 15+ years. I also had a good feeling that I’d never go after another bad boy (at least on purpose).

Henry drove me home, dropped me off, and then never spoke to me again. There were no harsh words spoken, and no inklings of a breakup. He avoided me in the halls for a week or two, and I got the hint. Not long after, I heard that he and his ex were once again an item. For awhile, she kept up her weird habit of calling me up once a week to pretend that we were friends, so she could gloat about how much fun she and her boyfriend were having now that they were back together again. But it wasn’t long before those phone calls stopped, too.

I’ve never really enjoyed “Closing Time,” even though Semisonic is one of my favorite 90’s bands (in fact, “FNT” and “Secret Smile” are two of my all-time top songs). The song doesn’t give me bad memories, or make me feel bitter. Instead, it feels like flipping through the channels and suddenly running across a movie that you had to watch for a class project. Part of you recognizes that it’s a good movie, but the rest of you can only think of how this movie was once school work, and since school work is tedious, by extension the movie must be, too. The first chords make me groan internally. I’m immediately annoyed at this unfair ending. Or maybe I’m just annoyed at the 16 year old who was already going for losers in what was basically an attempt to not be the last one sitting at the bar when last call comes around. But hey, we were all there once. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Nerd Girl Meets Geek Boy – Take 1 (aka. Let Me Love You To Death)

When I was 15, I met a guy at summer camp. It wasn’t just any summer camp; at the time, I was enrolled in Air Force JROTC at my school, and during the summers I attended a special officer’s training camp at Fort Bragg. The week-long camp acted a little like a mini bootcamp. We slept in barracks, woke up at 5am to attend PT, slept/ate/drilled/etc. with our flights (groups of about 25 kids), and did all sorts of training exercises, like rappelling, doing a ropes course, crawling through the mud under barbed wire, running until we puked, that kind of thing. It was mostly pretty fun.

There were around 20 flights, named alphabetically; I was part of Bravo Flight. Weird to remember that, considering that it was almost 20 years ago. Even though there were teenage cadre who ostensibly held the reins for each flight, each group also had an adult advisor to make sure we didn’t go all Lord of the Flies out there in the summer heat. Ours was this really nice Senior Master Sergeant whose name I’ve long ago forgotten. Early on, he suggested that we all pick nicknames. There was Eggs, my best girlfriend at the camp. Before bed, she wore a beautiful red corduroy bath robe with a black velvet collar, and once she told us that she could squash a watermelon between her thighs. The SMSgt. started calling her Eggs after she puked during our post-breakfast drill exercise on the second morning of camp. Maverick was my camp crush – he even felt me up on the bus once. He had named himself after Top Gun, but I didn’t get the movie reference. At the time, I thought he’d named himself after the TV show character played by James Garner, and later I thought he might have been referencing that sweet early 70’s car, the Ford Maverick. I didn’t get the Top Gun thing until maybe five years ago. I used to be so blindly hopeful that other people I met might have imaginations.

My name was Flower Child. In early high school, I was really into everything 1960’s, but mostly mod/British invasion culture and fashion (you know, like Mary Quant, Twiggy, definitely crazy about anything Beatles-related and everything that Pattie Boyd wore during the Beatles’ stay in India…blah, blah, blah). But by the time I got to summer camp, I was also embracing Woodstock, Vietnam news coverage, the peace movement, anti-war protest art, everything Haight Ashbury, and of course, all things psychedelic. Almost all of my school outfits were deconstructed vintage 1960s and early 1970s fancy dress gowns – lots of floor length dresses in man-made fabrics, with flowing sleeves and floral motifs, which I then ripped up and sewed back together in weird ways. Still, I wouldn’t have voluntarily called myself a flower child, but the SMSgt. gave me my title, too.

He also named my other camp friend, Jody. Over the years, I’ve conveniently forgotten Jody’s real name, mostly because I was afraid that one day he’d turn into a stalker and kill me. (Which is still probably a possibility, and also a great reason to actually remember someone’s name, now that I’m thinking about it.) Jody had come to camp equipped with a book of marching songs called jody calls, and he took it upon himself to teach our flight a few of them to make running and marching easier. In particular, he taught us one that I still sing to myself when I’m running and feel like dying. It goes like this:

Call: “We like to party!”
Response: (We like to party!)
Call: “Party hearty!”
Response: (Party hearty!)
Call: “And when we like to party -”
Response: (And when we like to party -)
Call: “- we like to party all night long!”
Response: (- we like to party all night long!)
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Get on down!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Get on down!”
Everyone: “Get on back, get out of our face, Bravo Flight’s gonna rock this place!”

Sounds complicated, but actually super easy and really fun to yell together. Anyway, Jody taught us a few jody calls to keep us going, and it really did help unite us as a group. I’m just now realizing that it might have been my first experience in seeing how instrumental teamwork is to making music with feeling – even if it is just a silly marching song. During camp, I got to make out with Maverick a couple of times, but Jody was the one I kept in touch with. He was a geeky little skater kid, rather anxious and seriously smart. I hadn’t ever met a guy I could geek out with about books and poetry, plus there’s something kind of romantic about meeting a boy at summer camp and exchanging letters for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, over the next year, things got weird. (Seriously, did you not expect them to? Do you even KNOW me?)

Jody lived in a small city about two hours away from me. For much of the next year, I sent him poetry and letters, and he wrote me back in short stories and plans for the future. We were both in JROTC for the sole purpose of having the military eventually pay for college. We both hated high school, wanted to see the world, wished people could understand us. But where my yearning to be heard expressed itself through 60s pop music and fantasy novels, his was darker, more primal, possibly just more male. I was yearning to open like a flower (and looking forward to the day when I’d subsequently be deflowered), and he was looking to jump into the ring swinging. When he found me, that frustration and anger underwent a softening and was redirected at me as a form of near-obsession. Pretty much every guy I’ve met since then who was hopelessly nerdy and ignored in high school went through something like this phase (whether the girl was real or not), so now it doesn’t freak me out so much. Then, though…eek. What really put it over the edge for me, however, was a mix tape.

During high school, “normal” for me was a mix of too many overlapping activities with which I still somehow managed to be bored and under stimulated. In the Fall, this meant performing in the color guard team at every home football game and attending every drill team competition within a 200 mile radius from my home town. In the Winter, there were color guard and drill performances during basketball games. Every weekend that I wasn’t attending a Quiz Bowl competition, I could be found doing something drill or color guard related with my other Air Force wannabe buddies. Eventually, at the end of my Junior year, my school hosted our own drill competition. Jody showed up with his school’s team. I was pleased to see him, if shy. He brought his skateboard, so he could show me some tricks he was learning. He also brought me a pair of green corduroy JNCOs that he’d outgrown and knew I’d dig, and the mix tape. I gave him one of my prom pictures, and at the end of the day, a kiss.

Once home, I put the tape into my tape deck, expecting music I’d heard before, or maybe even music that I hadn’t heard before but that I’d still find a way to like. Out of the speakers came this creepy gothic sound that built with intensity until it turned into harsh, wailing guitars and throbbing base. The lyrics were insane. It was obviously demonic in nature. The lead singer was talking about sweaty breasts, candlelight, sex, death. I listened to the song again, my trepidation building. My penpal was a psychopath, out for blood. He wanted to kill me, and just today I’d kissed him! What was I thinking?

Things did not go well from there. I wrote to tell him that we couldn’t be friends anymore, and through a series of letters and phone calls, eventually he came to terms with the fact that I was scared of him. We didn’t talk again for years, until he found me on MySpace when I was just finishing up with undergrad, and he was coming to the end of his first enlistment period in the Air Force. Conversation remained scarily obsessive on his part, and eventually I gracefully retreated.

But surprise! This post isn’t how a hippie nerd girl meets a goth geek boy and breaks his heart. It’s about how a hippie nerd girl finds out that she’s actually a witchy nerd girl, then goes on to fall in love with Type O Negative. Oh, and later find out that the goth geek boy she thought might kill her in high school turned into a legitimately creepy 20-something guy.

After ending my weird friendship with Jody the first time, I went on to have a pretty normal summer. I’d totalled my car in May, so from June through August, I rebuilt it from the ground up, with my grandfather and uncles overseeing my progress. In July, I met a boy and got kinda serious. In October, my grandfather died and I got drunk for the first time. In the following months, my family dynamic shifted considerably, I decided I definitely wouldn’t be going into the Air Force, and, oh yeah, I went full fledged skater goth. No skateboard, though – there weren’t any paved roads for me to practice on near my house. No, I’m not shitting you. Sometime in that transition to black lipstick and combat boots, that mix tape resurfaced and started to make sense. I suddenly understood that the words “let me love you to death” are about a deeply sensual moment, not about being ripped apart by a vampire during sex. Which still sounds kind of interesting. But not really. But maybe. I dunno. As I was saying…

Over the years, I eventually started adore Type O Negative. As I’ve gotten older, their lyrics have made more and more sense to me, and have grown to encompass layered meanings – for me, the sign of truly powerful songwriting, even if it is kind of cheesy in its own way. Today, when I hear Love You To Death, I see the story of a man who’s fallen in love with a powerful woman. He loves that power, and is drawn to it, but not weakened by it. He finds comfort in how well he knows her body, and how confidently she inhabits her skin. But he also wants to build on to what they’ve achieved together, to strengthen their emotional bond through physical action. He’s not saying that he literally wants to fuck her until she dies. He’s talking about the joining of life forces, dying together and rising anew. It’s gorgeous. It’s seriously romantic, and by that I mean romantic in a very serious way. Definitely not something you put on a mix tape for your long distance crush at 16, though what 16 year old could possibly come to terms with their first love not being as real as it seems at that precise moment?

Wherever he is, I hope Jody’s found his dream nerd girl. I’ve been through a few more geek boys, myself, but you know what they say: You’ve got to kiss a lot of geeks before you get to love one to death. Or something like that 🙂

My Heart Is A Drum

Anna Singing, by Crista Rock

Singing with my last band.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my passions lately. It’s gradually been dawning on me that I never do any of the things I love most, and I’m trying to figure out why that is. First and foremost on my list is making music, followed closely by writing, with watercolor painting and paper crafting following immediately behind. Dancing and running fall in there somewhere, though I can’t figure out if I like either more or less than origami. The hitch is that I do none of these on a regular basis. Why? My fear of failure, which at this point is appearing to be near-crippling, if I’m forcing myself to look at all of the things I avoid doing just because I don’t think I’ll excel at them.

I’ve taken lessons in piano, guitar, conga and basic percussion, as well as many years of voice. Not much ended up sticking with me; in fact, the only music I still make on a fairly frequent basis is a karaoke night. I love to sing. I want to do it professionally – always have. But I can’t read music (after multiple music theory classes – the terminology has never made enough sense to get stuck in my brain in a way that I can regurgitate it at will) and that makes it almost impossible to create music with other musicians who “get” the terminology required. I only know what sounds good, and can generally learn/remember an entire tune and cadence within a couple of attempts, then move on to harmony, so working in a band has been easy-ish, but not easy enough. I’m also scared of being on stage, so that doesn’t help. It’s not stage fright, exactly – once I’m up there, it’s generally OK. It’s just that I don’t know what to do with myself when all eyes are on me, and if I start thinking about it too much, it’s like when you’re driving and suddenly think about what your feet are doing. If you’ve never done that, try not to – at least once each road trip, I think about which pedal does what and almost kill myself in the process.

The other musical thing I love, and have always wanted to do, is play percussion. I used to have a djembe that I adored, but couldn’t ever find a suitable place to practice without annoying the neighbors. I’ve taken hand drumming lessons, but only one session – just enough to learn to love it but not get good. I’ve always wanted a set of congas, but sometimes I think that I’m getting too old to start something that takes so many years to master. But maybe one day I’ll get rich and have time, and I’ll hire a conga instructor to teach me. I’d also be excited to learn the bodhran (a traditional Irish hand drum), or maybe the tabla (small Indian drums that make this wonderfully deep water-dropping “wub-wub” sound). My favorite instrument, though? The clave, a set of two sticks that you beat together for Latin music in 3/2 or 2/3 time. Simple, yet effective. Plus, I love 3/2 time. It’s what my feet would sing if they could 🙂

It’s time to start trying. I don’t know how just yet, but I do know that I’ve always had a deep interest in making magick when I sing, or with singing. So maybe I’ll tackle this from that angle. I can never be “wrong” if I’m doing it for the right reason – even if it’s just for myself at first (as all things must be, were I to be thinking about this logically). And of course, percussion is central to shamanic tradition, something that has long felt like my natural path. I’m starting to cry, a sure sign that I’m vibrating close to the right frequency right now. I’ve found my answer. Thanks for listening, constant readers. Much love.

 

The Breakfast Soundtrack

AlbumCovers-BeachBoys-EndlessSummer(1974)FullAlbumCover

I’m an introverted only child, born to an sweet, oddball mother and a studious, slightly wacky father. For my entire life until I went away to college in 1999, we operated as a pretty tight family unit with lots of unwritten, albeit strongly adhered-to, rules. One of those rules was Sunday morning breakfast.

Mum is a late riser – 10:30am at the very earliest. Daddy, on the other hand, is habitually early to rise. Like 6am early; it’s sick. I was never that great at waking up, even as a kid, but on Sundays, he’d always get me out of bed around 9am. Then we’d go downstairs and start cooking.

Breakfast started a little differently in our household. When I was very little, say 5 or so, my primary duty for Sunday breakfast prep was to pick a record for us to listen to while Daddy cooked. Almost every Sunday, I picked the same record to start the morning: The Beach Boys’ “Endless Summer”. I loved the album cover art so much, and can remember tracing the lines around their faces and hair with my chubby little fingers.

As eggs were being beaten and bacon fried, I’d take my place in the living room, doing a weird speed-walking/dance routine thing around the border of our fake Persian rug. I loved walking in circles (and turning in circles, and thinking in circles…whoops), and would literally do the same thing for the entire time Daddy was cooking – 45 minutes or more. Today I’d probably be diagnosed with some disorder, but I was zoning to the music, enjoying staying between the lines in the decorative rug border, and loving the smell of bacon and French toast that filled our house.

Once he had finished cooking, Daddy would ask me to change the record. Our special in-joke was that the “finale” of breakfast prep was always heralded by the same song. Daddy would turn the speakers so that they were pointing towards the master bedroom, where my sainted mother still slept peacefully. Then he’d turn the volume all the way up, and let me place the needle at around minute 11 of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (with Cannons). Horrible? Yes. Worth it? Also yes.

Just after Tchaikovsky had had his say, if Mum was being stubborn and staying in bed in protest (yes, I’m definitely this woman’s child), I’d get to take her breakfast up to her on a tray. Even if she was a little perturbed, she’d always be so sweet and sleepy, and happy to see both me and her breakfast. I’d crawl in bed with her and watch her eat her French toast, and hopefully get a snuggle in before it was time to go do other Sunday things, like maybe go to the movies, or to the flea market.

Eventually, our Sunday breakfasts became a little looser, and sadly less musical. When I got older, I’d help Daddy make breakfast and we’d normally watch TV while things were cooking. The record player moved into my bedroom around the time I turned 13, where it enjoyed Donovan, The Beatles, Chicago and Aretha Franklin on heavy rotation. The Beach Boys didn’t make it out to play that often, but I never forgot them.

In 2009, I ran the Chicago Marathon – 26.2 miles of streetscape winding through a decent handful of Chicago’s neighborhoods. “Endless Summer” got me through a few months of training, and a huge portion of that day’s run. I wouldn’t call it a favorite album, by any means, but it’s the perfect cadence for a plodder such as myself. More importantly, it’s perfect for zoning out as you run in a circle, dreaming of your next encounter with a huge plate of home-cooked breakfast.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light

Third Eye Blind, 12/1/13 New Orleans

Though all of my friends started going to concerts when they were pretty young – 12 or 13 years old – I wasn’t allowed out of the house without adult supervision until I reached 16. It was a little longer before I finally managed to convince my mom that live music would not get me pregnant or make me a drug addict, so when the day came that I was allowed out to see my very first concert, you can only imagine how ecstatic I was! On June 6, 1999, I had just finished my senior year of high school, and since I guess my parents realized they couldn’t lock me up forever, I had my day in the sun at the Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, NC, to the tunes of Third Eye Blind, Collective Soul & (my favorite of the three) Eve 6.

Luckily, I’ve built up my street cred with much cooler concerts in the years since. But when a friend of mine offered me a free ticket a couple of weeks ago to Third Eye Blind’s 20 Year Anniversary show at the House of Blues in New Orleans, I couldn’t say no. Sure, I felt like I was too old to go gaga over a pop rock band from the 90’s, but you’ve got to enjoy the nostalgia when you can. The concert was last night, and it was AMAZING. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but it was seriously good time, complete with a great light show, surprisingly coherent and tuneful live vocals, and plenty of feeling. By the end of the night, the crowd was seriously worked up – and I was making a mental note to buy their new album. This shot was taken last night during their rendition of “Never Let You Go.”

I Got The Bass For Your Face

mc chris!

mc chris!

The remix of mc chris’s Older Crowd by Optimiss (click through to listen) is one of my favorite songs, so I was glad when it happened to pop up in my playlist this morning on my walk to work. Today’s Daily Post prompt asks us to post the third line of the last song we heard today, but “These kids are such a disgrace” has a negative ring to it, and today’s been a good day so far. Plus, I remembered this morning that I forgot to tell you guys all about going to the mc chris show last week, so that’s what we’re going to do right now!

First, a little background, since lately it seems that no one I know has an idea of who mc chris is. mc, if you’re reading this, don’t be discouraged, it’s not you. I just don’t have a ton of truly nerdy friends.

mc chris is a nerdcore rapper that first popped up on my radar around 2002/2003. I was seeing this guy who was pretty much the first hipster I’d ever met, though back in those days, “hipster” meant something cool, not trite. Anyway, we spent a lot of time watching Adult Swim cartoons, including (of course) Aqua Teen Hunger Force. There was one episode in particular that made me die laughing every time. It had a giant evil spider who masqueraded as a tiny African American baby rapper who sang about candy. It doesn’t have to make sense, just go with it. Anyway, the rapper’s name was MC Pee Pants, and he was voiced by mc chris. I fell in love.

A short guy with a high-pitched voice that some might call annoying, mc chris raps about all kinds of geeky shit, like Star Wars and comic book heroes. In between songs he just talks about whatever’s on his mind. He’s one of those guys who’s just clever and makes people laugh during the course of a natural conversation, and for me, the in-between moments are the best part of the show.

His fans are the kind of people who cosplay, wear t-shirts with in-jokes about software coding, and spend their down time gaming or creating improved cuts of popular sci-fi films. There’s this incredible sense of community and geeky solidarity, and I’m always surprised at how easy it is to fall into an amazing conversation with kids I’ve never met before. For instance, during a break between sets I went downstairs with my friend so he could smoke a cigarette, and pretty much instantly got pulled into a conversation with two strangers about Ben Affleck in the new Batman film (the horror!).

I went to the show with my friend Wheels, a guy I met back in 2006 when we were both waiting tables at a local pizza place. We have the same birthday, and share a love of sci-fi films, Guinness, and mc chris. We try to spend our birthday together whenever we’re both in the same town, but I won’t be in New Orleans this year to celebrate. Luckily, this was a great way to party pre-birthday, and was actually our second mc chris concert together. We went to our first one back in 2006.

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Wheels & Anna. Yes, we call ourselves “birthday buddies.” So what?

All in all, it was a great show. The opening acts, Jesse Dangerously and Dr. Awkward (and effing amazing!) got us pumped up for a night of geeky fun. Even though mc chris didn’t rap any of my favorite songs, he did rap everyone else’s faves, like Fett’s Vette and The Tussin. I had an awesome time hanging out with Wheels and his friend Doug, who works the door at House of Blues and luckily got off of his shift somewhere around the middle of the mc chris set.

Best of all, at the end of the show I got mc chris to sign my iPhone case, and had a second to chat with him about what’s going on in his life. It was pretty sweet, since last time I stood in line for his signature, I had nothing of relevance to say to him. Seven years down the line, though, and I had a little something to say. Not even fan crap, either (go me!). It was a nice moment of getting to connect with a regular dude who just happens to be my favorite nerdcore rapper. Before knowing that his fiance was the woman behind the merch table, I’d noticed her early on in the show looking up at the stage with this overwhelming glow of love/adoration in her eyes. It was beautiful. Later in the show, he pointed her out and mentioned their relationship, and I felt so happy for him, especially knowing what I’d seen. Since I was the very last person in line for an autograph, and the tiniest bit drunk, I took the time to tell him about it and wish them luck together. I’d like to think that I brought a moment of sincere happiness to them both at the end of what had been a very long day. Otherwise, I made them laugh about it later, and that’s still OK in my book 🙂