What I Have To Show For It

Remember when I started a blog?

I know, it's been a while. In fact, it's been a while since I wrote as regularly as I determined to when I set off into the "blogosphere" (who came up with that word? that word is ridiculous). In terms of "sorry", I do not regret the other things I have done in lieu of upkeep my poor little page. But I do apologize if you were waiting for something and it never came.

Here it is!

I've been very busy with my real writing project. It has swollen to enormous proportions since I grafted the original draft to the current draft. In fact, it's almost long enough to be classified as a novel. But there is still so much work to be done on it that I'm slightly staggered. So tonight I'm here, treading water, writing without actually drafting. That is how I tend to handle things by which I feel overwhelmed: do something- anything- else until you can't live with yourself unless you tackle your project. I read it a couple of passages out loud to some family and family friends while I was on vacation a few weeks ago, and it seemed to go over well. Maybe I'll take a page from  copy what my novelist friend Leri Lake did at the beginning of the year on her blog, and take a page from (nope, couldn't resist after all) my own manuscript to show you. Might be good luck.

I think I have a new working title. Well, subtitle really, and that leaves us with a novel in progress tentatively titled: The Book of John: The Battle Hymn.

I can't stop thinking about it. I'm trying to see the end before I think about the aftermath. It's so important for me to do this one thing that all other things are on hold until I get it finished. My routine is so precarious- every day feels like all-or-nothing. Either I hit all the marks I wanted to: exercise, dinner, writing, time with Bryson, or I totally surrender and watch Netflix on my iPad all evening. But everywhere I turn I'm reminded of what I should be doing. Like now, with Spotify on while I scrape for anything else to muse about with you, all I want to hear is my soundtrack playlists.

Aren't you glad you tuned in for this?

I am. It means a lot that you're here. It means a lot that you are still listening, still waiting. I'm grateful.

In fact... here. Here's a scene that might possibly (anything could go on the chopping block come the third revision, but I like how this goes for now) be found near the beginning of the book. Lucy, my protagonist, is on her way to join her friends, including her boyfriend Earl, at band practice when a stranger stops her to ask a few questions and then says something that really gets her attention:

[H]is eyes met mine again. “You’re a special sort, I can tell, my dear. Be aware of what truly defines you, in this cacophonous world. Other people will try to substitute their image for yours. Don’t let them.”

At this point my latent weird-ometer began to read positive, so I smiled and told him well, thank you for that thought, you have a nice day now. He gave me a smile. It was like a baby’s smile, absolutely pure and fond and full of goodwill. He gave a short bow, thanked me for my time, and we mutually turned from each other.
Then, I thought I heard him say “Good luck, Lucy.”

“I’m sorry-?” I began as I turned once more.

But he was gone. I mean, gone. My stomach dropped a little and my skin prickled. I must have imagined… what? That a stranger had said my name? That a stranger had been talking to me a moment ago, and then vanished?

My cell phone vibrated. I pulled it from my back pocket. It was Earl. I picked up.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he replied accordingly. “Are you on your way?”

“Yeah,” I said, still a little dazed. “Just stopped for a minute to get a snack. I’ll be there in a few.”

“Okay. Are you alright?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You sound a little… I dunno, not alright?”

With the phone to my ear, I shook my head and blinked several times, hard. “I’m fine. I just- something weird just happened. I think. I’m not actually sure. If it’s still bothering me by the time practice gets over, we can talk about it.”

...By the time I got to the Jukebox, I had forgotten most of the details of the incident. I knew there was a man but I couldn’t say what he looked like. I knew he'd asked how to get to the church, and that I told him. And that was all I remembered about it for a long, long time.

There, what do you think? 
No? Not enough? Okay, you glutton. I'll throw ya one more bone. 

Dad asked me to find him three songs that would take you to heaven or raise hell played in tip-top stereo sound in the great big musical box that used to be the truck I drove to school. Here ya go (warning, they will sound considerably less epic on your computer speakers):

Old School:
1) "Second Home By the Sea" by Genesis
2) "2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx" by Rush
3) "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin 
OR 3) "'Heroes'" by David Bowie (duh)

New School (AKA The Ones Dad Might Not Like, But I'd Love To Hear Them Properly):
1) "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk (yes, really)
2) "'Til The End" by Yann Tiersen
3) "Aya" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Top Track: "Make Me A Bird"

I was watching something the other day and something happened that doesn't happen very often these days.

I heard something I had to hear again, immediately. 

I nearly forgot to pay attention to the show, I was so busy trying to listen to the music. But the scene itself did in fact strike me as pretty interesting.

A lanky blonde Swedish kid with lips like Angelina reclines in a chair on the bottom of the vast, white basin of an empty indoor pool, lit from above by a single broad beam of bluish light. It's that lighting reserved for classic interrogation scenes, the kind that obscures everything not directly beneath it. He's brooding (which is typical of this particular character) and sulky (also pretty typical) and by now I'd say he has pretty good reason. He's working on a dark bottle of something, and a cigarette. There's a small stereo next to him, blasting out this song. 

And I just imagined the weird and fabulous acoustics of an indoor pool, and I thought to myself, if I were in that position, I'd probably play this song exactly. It reminds me of everything I like about the Donnie Darko soundtrack. It's like The Smiths, it's like Skream. I'm probably going to need to check out a little more of Elektrik People. 

One of those rare moments when the context and the content fit perfectly.

Don't you love it when that happens? Nothing at all could come of the spark of interest, or it could become the flavor of the month, or your new favorite band, but it doesn't really matter because you got what you didn't know you were looking for? 

It made me so happy. I'm going to listen to this song all by myself with my headphones on tonight, and shake my head in time when it says "beyond the comforts of the sick, sick game". 

Dedication: To My Dad (and all other dads who love Led Zeppelin)

My dad, very famously, hung onto his bell-bottom pants well into the Eighties. He once explained to me that he realized the whole bell-bottoms movement illustrated to him that Fashion was fickle, and the rules change on an unfair dime, so wear what you want whether it's trendy or not ("There was an Alice Cooper album that came out around that time called 'Flush the Fashion'... I took it to heart." -Dad). When bell-bottoms returned to the mode, he triumphantly held it over my mom ("See? Everything cycles back." -Dad) who had made him get rid of them, at some point ("Yeah, but never exactly the same way." -Mom).

Well, like father like daughter. I still internally mourn the return of skinny jeans because I love living in "flares". I got my first pair when I was twelve, I think, and fact: I still own a pair, purchased new in the last 9 months. I was a little more sensitive about my clothes when I was a middle-schooler, before I realized I could always just Flush the Fashion. A boy in my seventh grade once said to me, "Hey, Brooke! The Seventies called. They want their clothes back."

I took this arrow to the heart and laid bare my hurt (and confusion) to my father that night, who said "Well, you just tell him, 'Hey Trey, Led Zeppelin called. They said they like my clothes.'" 

Since we all know comebacks are a dish best served cold (right? oh, wait), I did tell that to Trey, the next day. He made a surprised face and said, "Your dad likes Led Zeppelin?" (In retrospect, since I was a bespectacled twelve-year-old grammar nazi with tucked-in t-shirts, he probably figured my dad was essentially pre-time-travel-encounter George McFly .)

I know it might seem that way, but I've inherited a lot more from my father than my passion for music. I look just like him, for starters. I have my dad's face, transposed onto a girl's body, with a reasonable filter of Mom. We've got the same green eyes and skinny, tan-resistant legs (by the way, thanks again to Trey for the comment "Day-um, girl, you got some white legs," which signified the end of my wearing shorts for the next seven years). We both are good listeners. We both have weird senses of humor. Neither of us have much use for the insincere. We both have warm hearts and we both love the Gospel. We both have testimonies of the good that comes from sharing it, he from his mission, me from my missionary experiences. I hope when I grow up I also develop his patience, his determination, his aptitude toward forgiveness, and his love for his children.

He doesn't always say the right thing, but when it matters most, I can always count on him for sage advice. He's a wise man, longstanding affection for bell bottoms notwithstanding. I thank my mom for taking a chance on the bachelor whose silverware was rusted together from disuse, who bought dog food weekly from a convenience store, and who unceremoniously dumped crumbled Doritos on top of the first meal she ever cooked for him. And I thank my dad for being the guy he is, because it definitely helped to make me the girl I am.

Yes, my dad likes Led Zeppelin. In fact, I think all dads like Led Zeppelin, and definitely, all dads who like Led Zeppelin should make it part of their child's education and upbringing. The future will probably be a little more secure if the upcoming generations know the virtues of Led Zeppelin. And friends, I am here to report it is capable hands.

As evidence, I submit Rigby, heretofore known as "The Boy" on the Internet. Named by his bodaciously cool parents, Adam and Lydia, after a Beatles song, Rigby charmed me into oblivion one of the first times I met him. We had a conversation a few months later that went something like this:

Me: (fiddling with the music) How about this band?
Rigby: (listens for a moment; lights up) Yeah! Led Zeppelin!
Me: Led Zeppelin? Why are they your favorite?
Rigby: (grinning) Because of "Black Dog".
Me: "Black Dog"? Is that your favorite Led Zeppelin song? Will ya sing it with me later?
Rigby: (nods, plays with Gameboy Color)
Me: When do you like to listen to Led Zeppelin?
Rigby: When I'm with my dad in the car.
Me: Do you sing real loud with it in the car?
Rigby: (flops his head in an emphatic nod, smiling) Yeeeeaaah.
Me: Any other songs you like?
Rigby: "Rock 'n Roll". (EDIT: He is also known to cite, among others, "The Rain Song" and... "Going to California" if I'm not mistaken?)
Me: What would you say to a friend who said he didn't like Led Zeppelin?
Rigby: (stumped, avoids the question by further playing with Gameboy Color)
Me: You probably wouldn't have a friend like that, huh. We don't associate with those kinds of people.

Then we put on "Black Dog" and had ourselves a good old time. Watch an earlier "Black Dog" jam sesh here.

Yes, thank heaven, stairway included, for Led Zeppelin. And bell bottoms. And especially, for good dads.

Since Spotify does not have Led Zeppelin (boo!), I have put together a makeshift (very makeshift) list, similar to the one for Mother's Day, that further represents me and my papa bear. You will find it here: Dad

For Your Playlist: Side A
1. "Be Free" by Loggins & Messina
2. "Far Cry" by Rush (live 2008 version)
3. "The Pretender" by Jackson Browne
4. "John, I'm Only Dancing" by David Bowie
5. "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates
6. "Cosmik Debris" by Frank Zappa
7. "Mistral Wind" by Heart

For Your Playlist: Side B
1. "Harvest Moon" by Neil Young
2. "Pancho and Lefty" by Merle Haggard
3. "Victim of Changes" by Judas Priest
4. "Enter Sandman" by Metallica
5. "Shape of My Heart" by Sting
6. "Dogs" (live version) by Roger Waters

"I have no time for your cynic's mind": Mumford & Sons (Concert Post)

So, how was Mumford and Sons round two?

Everybody who's known me longer than a year or two (or knows me really well) knows I saw Mumford and Sons in 2011 when they last came to Arizona, for their Railroad Revival Tour. It was one of the best concert experiences I have ever had, although about 90% of the rest of the attendees would disagree. I got lucky and wriggled to the front long before the Gentlemen of the Road took the stage- I'm not one of those jerks who lunge through the crowd at the last minute, drunk and/or toting a girlfriend who whined about not being able to see. (Obviously I wouldn't be toting a girlfriend in any condition, but you know the front-row usurpers I mean.) Short people  single girls have it easy at general admission shows. Look up (way up) from under your lashes at just the right tall wifebeater-clad bro guys and you practically part the red sea, because you take up so little space that nobody minds if you stand in front of them, and they like to feel gallant. Mumford & Sons held their last Arizona show in a parking lot between some apartment complexes and the railroad tracks- and they probably oversold it just a little. I hear the people in the latter half couldn't see a darned thing.

But I was there, all by myself, and by the time the first two acts- the fabulous Old Crow Medicine Show and the breathtaking Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros- finished, I was about three or four "rows" back. Alex from ESMZ even hopped over the fence to fraternize with us and I gave him something like a slow motion rapturous high-five. (Side note, I still don't listen to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros very much but they blew my mind with their live show.) We'd been standing for at least three hours by the time Mumford & Sons took the stage but the moment they did, a kind of euphoria swept the crowd. 

They were a much younger band, then. I know it was only two years, but it makes a big difference in band years. Musically speaking, they were not so good as they were on Wednesday, I think. Not that they were bad, mind. Not even close to bad. But I was still in shock of the Edward Sharpe business and the thought crossed my mind that they were good in concert, but not maybe great. But the spirit of the audience rose and rose, and we sang along, every word we knew. In fact, so many voices joined in the singing that more than once the audience drowned out the band. Yes. Just like how it happened according to Beatles lore, with screaming overpowering the amplifiers, only this audience was singing. 

A girl a few paces from me actually cried. I watched her passionately beat her fists in the air and bawl out the lyrics to "Winter Winds" as tears fell from her eyes. I've never seen that before.

Nor have I ever seen, before or since (although this is very circumstantial), how a crowd of people actually formed on the rooftops of the aforementioned apartments throughout the night. It gave one a feeling of being completely and utterly surrounded by music lovers, and that can really go a long way to connecting you to the music. 

The boys debuted "Lover's Eyes" that night, which would appear on Babel and it was so wonderful I paused to make a note of the lyrics. "Lord, forget all of my sins/Or let me die where I lie/Beneath the curse of my lover's eyes." Quintessential Mumford. Ok, so they never deviate from their favorite rhyme scheme. Ok, so sometimes they wax a little cheesy. But the lyrics (and the banjo/mandolin usage, and the fact that Marcus plays the drums and sings at the same time) are my favorite part of the Mumford and Sons act. I love, and always have loved, the way they capture what you might call big little moments. 

I've read criticism of Babel that complained that it was still playing the same everyman archtype- an average man's interactions with God and love, more melodramatic than momentous- that Sigh No More did. I think that if you've ever felt how big small moments can be, you know how much they resonate. Some people do not understand how strong such a frail thing as faith can feel, when you exercise it. That is what M&S's more spiritual songs make me think of: that moment when you discover, or rediscover, the power of small and simple truths. I can't even tell you how it felt, in my personal experience, to have left a bishop's office with a temple recommend in my hand after several years without. But the boys captured it to a degree when they wrote "The Cave". To most people, it was a little moment. To me, it was huge, swelling: "'Cos I need freedom now/and I need to know how/to live my life as it's meant to be." Mumford & Sons is, to me, the soundtrack to both struggles and, more importantly, second chances.

Anyway, the best part of the entire evening in April 2011, the night before my epistemology final, was the very end, when everyone on the train- all three bands, families, crew, everyone- got onstage together to sing a couple of songs, including "This Train Is Bound for Glory" by Woody Guthrie. The song lasted about eight minutes and it blew my mind. It was so genuine. Even the children up there with their parents were singing and wriggling with camaraderie. This, I remember thinking, was how music should always feel. Like being together joyfully with your loved ones. Oh, and the bearded, strumming ghosts of the folk singers who came before you. 

There was no such grand finale to the show on Wednesday. But that was ok- after a dynamite closing number ("Dust Bowl Dance") the encore was 2/3 acoustic (an intimate cover of "I'm on Fire" by Springsteen, & "Reminder", plus a full-throttle rendition of "The Cave"). I wasn't in the front- I was in the back, on the lawn, where the dust and grass and marijuana smoke were tickling my allergies. But that was ok too- I was with my irrepressible husband, and my friend Caitlin and her sister Tory. The unified crowd did not overpower the band this time. But that was ok too- it let their musicianship really show through, and I was proud that they, like me, had grown into themselves since the first time we met. I still thrilled and my heart felt full to bursting. What more could you ask from a band, or from a show, than to be sorry when it's over? 

In answer to your question, the second time was still really awesome. But I'm glad I've seen them twice.

If you've never heard Mumford & Sons (where have you been?) here's my favorite picks, even though they only have 2 albums and an EP or two's worth of material available. No Time For Cynics is the name of the Spotify playlist, and these are the tracks:

For Your Playlist: Side A
1. "I Will Wait" from Babel (I was disappointed with it as a single but it grew on me in a big way)
2. "The Cave" from Sigh No More
3. "Roll Away Your Stone" from Sigh No More
4. "Below My Feet" from Babel (My favorite)
5. "Dust Bowl Dance" from Sigh No More 

For Your Playlist: Side B
1. "Awake, My Soul" from Sigh No More 
2. "Lover's Eyes" from Babel
3. "Not With Haste" from Babel
4. "Devil's Spoke/Sneh Ko Marg" from the Dharohar Project EP with Laura Marling, & Dharohar Project
I actually wanted to make it "To Darkness" which is the early version of what became "Broken Crown" on Babel but Spotify's copy is missing the last half of the song... :(
Bonus tracks:
5. "Janglin'" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
6. "James River Blues" by the Old Crow Medicine Show
7. "I Will Wait" cover by Gavin Mikhail
Covers are a good way to tell if you like the song itself- more on that in another post. I thought this was a beautiful cover of a beautiful song.

My prince & me, 6 months 
"Now you can have butterfly shoes AND go to Mumford & Sons."

Dedication: To My Mom (Or Why A Rock & Roll Baby Has Country Roots)

Saturday mornings at 2045 N. 63rd Place.When my siblings and I had squeezed all the possible life and enjoyment out of non-cable kid-oriented programming, it was time for chores. We'd shuffle and lollygag like any children might, I guess, but eventually (around 10:15, maybe) we'd find ourselves with our little shoulders to the wheel.

I can't recall anybody having specific, regular chores we did every week. But I remember feeling like I did a lot of dishes. Standing on a wooden stool, up to my elbows in soap suds, and with the belly of my shirt getting progressively wetter, I usually passed the time imagining myself horribly misused, like some nine-year-old Cinderella. The kitchen faced eastward, toward the back yard, where four citrus trees- tangelo, lemon, tangerine, grapefruit- stood in a row along the cinderblock wall on the other side of the lawn (and in the summertime, the above-ground pool), punctuated by a sandbox and swingset on one end, by a trampoline on the other. My parents basically built the landscape, front and back, up from the wild wild western nothing, and the backyard was everywhere to me- it was Africa, it was Floren, it was the doomed Titanic, it was New York City... and it shimmered and mocked me behind the window where I was slaving away over dirty dishes.

My fantasies and daydreams had to fight through one significant distraction: Mom's music. The stereo supported six CDs and I do believe we listened to the same handful of albums every week (except at Christmastime) for seven or eight years. Creedence Clearwater RevivalVan MorrisonSheryl CrowStingChris Isaak, and Lyle Lovett were the voices of Saturday. This was before I even liked music, much less knew the difference between thumbs up and thumbs down over it. And they also had to fight over the sound of the vacuum, or over the sound of Mom singing along.

There are minutiae-sized holes in the tapestry of the memory that bother me, like what all was on the windowsill of that kitchen window, or what kind of dishes I was washing, or what anybody else was doing (although I can tell you we preferred sectional couches in the family room- first a smushy second-hand brown one, then a mottled multicolor/green one). But all I really need to remember is the most poignant part of Saturday morning chores: Mom.

Sometimes she'd stop whatever she was doing and shout for us all to come join her, and she'd turn up the stereo and sing and dance to "Brown-Eyed Girl". Being old enough for this moment to brand itself into my memory, I was definitely old enough to think I was too cool for dancing in the family room with my family. I was still young enough to not notice that Mom doesn't really sing that well, though- a nonjudgment that persisted with me for a long time. After all, what child, having been born of goodly parents, does not think of being sung to by Mom as a distinct pleasure in life?

Anyway, I think usually I stayed right where I was at the sink, imagining myself the only one who did any work around here, while my hoodlum family played and frolicked (and maybe half an hour later I'd be done with the dishes). I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd gone running to Mom then as I did to Dad when he came home and showed her I loved her by dancing with her and singing out loud too. At risk of waxing sentimental, I wonder if she didn't stand at the selfsame kitchen window more often than we were aware, watching over us through our treacherous journeys through Wonderland or Oz or wherever the backyard was that day.

I can say this: my mother's everyday efforts made my childhood idyllic, safe, and happy. She taught me, she loved me. If I didn't know it then, I know it now. To this day when I do dishes, by myself, I sing "Brown-Eyed Girl" and hope that someday I will have a household just as warm, lively, and rich with love of the Lord and of each other.

It was both Mother's Day and my mom's birthday this month, and though it's late, I hope you don't mind the proverbial trip down memory lane, but this merited a double LP-style list called M<3M.

Side A: Our Old Playlist (Sounds of Saturday Morning)
1-3. Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Susie Q", "Lookin' Out My Back Door", "Hey Tonight"
4-6. Van Morrison: "And It Stoned Me", "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You", "Brown-Eyed Girl"
7-9. Sheryl Crow: "If It Makes You Happy", "Maybe Angels", "A Change Would Do You Good"
10-11. Lyle Lovett: "Don't Touch My Hat", "Fiona"
12: Sting: "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You"

Side B: Our Karaoke Music (Sounds of Sharing Music with Mom)
13. "Delta Dawn" by Tanya Tucker
14. "I'm Trying To Be Like Jesus" by Janice Kapp Perry
Ok, so we didn't hear this one on the radio but this is one song I loved to hear Mom sing to me.
15. "Sold [The Grundy County Auction Incident]" by John Michael Montgomery
16. "XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)" by Trisha Yearwood
17. "Real World" by Matchbox Twenty
18. "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)" by Sun Tan
19. "Lucky Denver Mint" by Jimmy Eat World
20. "Bring Me To Life" by Evanescence
21. "Bubble Toes" by Jack Johnson
22. "The First Single" by The Format
23. "Pepper" by a band with a distasteful name (sorry guys. that's what you get)
24. "Selfish Man" by Flogging Molly
25. "Life Less Ordinary" by Carbon Leaf
26. "Mama, I'm Coming Home" by the Vitamin String Quartet

"Who needs to be cool? Life's amazing.": Ozzy Osbourne

After having finally gotten my fill of the new Bowie album, I transitioned into a Rush CD, then to the Killers, then to The Paper Route, and then, out of nowhere, I popped in Ozzy Osbourne's 2010 effort, Scream. Because, after all, it is now the Merry Metal Month of May.

I say "effort" with a little smugness. Most of it comes from having seen Ozzy on the tour for this album and being actually disappointed- the first time that's ever happened to me. Anybody who's talked with me about live acts knows how dissatisfied that show left me. He spent more time trying to rile up the audience than trying to entertain us, and this I could tell from even my nosebleed seat. He was audibly off-target too. I mean, I noticed. I know enough about art to understand that sometimes it's not until the last five minutes that everything comes together. I am patient enough to wait and see, try to connect and get into it, if I don't jive with the project right away. Not this time. "War Pigs" turned out pretty good, and "Shot in the Dark", I think it was, was not dismal. "Bark at the Moon" wallowed at the other end of the spectrum, where most of the rest of the show hung out.

Guys. He led his own encore chant from backstage. Seriously. Empty stage, mumble of crowd, and then his voice on the microphone: "Come on, everybody: Oz-ZY, oz-ZY..." And he wouldn't come back out til everyone was playing along.

To be fair, the band was tight. Slash was promoting a solo album at the time and he was awesome as an opener.

I felt bad about it. I wanted that show to be good. I sent all the positive vibes I could, which usually works when I'm not sure I'm tuning in to the musician's station just right. Not even the power of positive thinking could change that show into a great, or even a good, show for me.

So, I'm sorry, Ozzy. I once waited about six hours in line to get your signature in your autobiography. I was about your three thousandth signature that day, I think, and someone told you "This is the last book," and you looked up with a glimmer of hope on your face. Then you realized there were two hundred more people behind me, with vouchers to be signed because the physical copies of the books were sold out, the last one to me. And you said nothing. You looked down and kept on signing. I felt bad for you then, too, but in a different way. A full day of book-signing is no place for a mighty rock star. After all, I like you. I even slipped "Mama, I'm Coming Home" on a mix CD I made for my mom when I left for college, even though she'd banned you from the house. I taped a radio interview you did for Nights with Alice Cooper, once:

ALICE: So, you're not really the Antichrist, then.
OZZY: Me? I thought you were.
ALICE: Well, I figured it was either you or Bono.
OZZY: [laughs]
ALICE: If Bono becomes President of the World Bank, he's definitely the Antichrist.

Don't tell me there's no love here.

When I was in high school, one of my best friends really dug Ozzy & Black Sabbath. Ozzy was his Bowie. (Which also makes me feel sort of smug, since Bowie is Ozzy's Bowie, along with John Lennon, I am told.) This is the same music-loving friend who gave me Pink Floyd, and Johnny Cash, and Jim Croce, and Cream. It was back when we first met, at that same table in the back of Spanish class. Mid-semester, probably. We'd finished our stuff for the day and were goofing off as was our wont (he more conspicuously than prim freshman Sandra-Dee me), talking about music. He asked me if I liked metal. I told him (primly) that I hadn't much experience with it. He asked me if I liked Ozzy. I said again, I hadn't had much contact but I knew his reputation from the TV show.

With the air of a doctor prescribing something to a particularly sensitive patient, he pulled out his discman (this was before iPods, but he was one of the first to get one, BTW) and handed me his headphones. And he put on "Dreamer".

O my little brother, you never could quite get the hang of me, could you? I never did make it easy and I certainly never made it fair, but I told you I liked Judas Priest! You thought "Dreamer" was all I could handle? We're not friends anymore by any long shot or definition, but there are times when I rerun those memories in my mind like episodes of Firefly. There is such a dense concentration of change and growth and self-realization in those memories and others like them that it is hard to look upon them, even the painful ones, without appreciation and fondness. Wherever you are, I wish you well.

So, this week I'm revisiting Scream, burned for me by a former boss with whom music was the only thing I had in common. (Amazing what music can do for people who otherwise maybe wouldn't be very friendly.)

There are some really fun things about this album and there are some really forgettable things. I can listen to the first four tracks ad nauseam and totally leave the rest. You, however, don't have to leave the rest. You can just have the good stuff, and here it is, with the tragic Spotify exclusion of a cover of the BeeGee's "Stayin' Alive" featuring Dweezil Zappa (sold separately here.): Life's Amazing: Ozzy Osbourne

For Your Playlist: Side A
1. "Desire" from No More Tears
2. "Let It Die" from Scream
3. "All the Young Dudes" from Under Cover
4. "See You on the Other Side" from Ozzmosis
5. "Rock & Roll Rebel" from Bark at the Moon

For Your Playlist: Side B
6. "Centre of Eternity" from Bark at the Moon
7. "Fire in the Sky" from No Rest for the Wicked
8. "Breakin' All the Rules" from No Rest for the Wicked
9. "Dreamer" from Prince of Darkness

No, I never really did take to Black Sabbath, although I love their name.

Top Track: "Roadhouse Blues"

I'm working on the novel tonight.

It all started with a memory. It's a memory I knew would be useful even as it happened. So I cast it in bronze and ran my fingers over it for years, waiting for it to tell me why. It's beautiful, not so much because of who was there, but because of who I was then. I won't tell you what it looks like, or it won't be new when you read it in its new fabricated context. But because I am there tonight, I will take you there, if you close your eyes and promise not to peek.

You'd feel the heat of mid-summer. You'd smell the musts and secret smells of a worn old building. You'd feel short carpet worn to felt beneath your fingers if you sat on the floor. If you hugged the same person I did that day, their hair against your cheek is damp from a recent shower, and smelling of a familiar drugstore shampoo. You'd have a smile on your face because nothing existed outside of this moment, past or future. You are heedless of anything sad or scary or uncomfortable that lurks only about half a month away. Right now, you feel like Henry David Thoreau, sucking the marrow of life.

And best of all, you're hearing this: The Doors: "Roadhouse Blues"

It might be the first time in your life you've ever heard The Doors and liked it. And you'll never forget it.

I think this song is off the chain. "Roadhouse Blues", that is. And in typical non-musical fangirl fashion, I cannot articulate why. It could be the piano, rolling along nonchalantly with an occasional high-five to the harmonica. It could be the way my head wants to nod with the jaunty rhythm. It could be that raspy screech so unlike anything else in the song: "SAVE MY CITY!" or it could be the quintessential bluesy structure of the lyrics, repeats and rhymes- so simple but somehow profound. More likely it's the sum of all these parts that makes this song into one of those songs that to me, is so satisfyingly classic rock 'n roll, I could listen to it on repeat a dozen times at least.

That's the kind of passion I'm trying to recreate in my own way. That's the kind of richness I want to share, the way I feel about music, almost as if it really COULD "save your mortal soul". It's hard, like catching the proverbial lightning in a bottle. But if I can do it, it will be worth it.

Incidentally, I still do not habitually listen to The Doors. My knowledge of them is quite cursory. My favorite time to hear them is under the summer sun, on my parents' boat, smelling like sunscreen, and sitting contentedly on damp towels while we eat lunch. But they are growing on me.

I had the day off yesterday and found this little jewel in my feed on Twitter. Enjoy.
Jim Morrison on Why Fat Is Beautiful

"Open Up My Eager Eyes": The Killers

My first apartment, the one I moved into in fall of 2009 (oh strange year), spent several months in bleak sparsity. I guess when your life is complicated you can't even unpack your heart in your own space. But eventually, and with a giant push from my amazing mom, it came to look, feel, and be livable. I couldn't paint them (though I know from creepy peering from the sidewalk as I pass by that tenants since me, did) but the walls did get a kiss of me as I resurfaced.

Of course there were the albums, one Flogging Molly and two Bowie, on the south wall of the living room, and I think it was Bowie too, in poster form, on the wall opposite ("It's 1986 David Bowie from the movie Labyrinth, Brett.") The east wall was mostly window, but the west wall, right next to the niche where my stereo sat, I put up The Killers

No, there is no significance to the fact that it was the west wall. I'm just giving you a little sense of perspective. :) I bought it at their show at Comerica Theater (FKA The Dodge) in Phoenix in October 2009, along with a gray (how original!) tour shirt that I still wear on the regular. A word about the show: the crowd sucked, the band was all swagger and effort, and I sang my heart out.

I once read a critic's highly memorable quip that The Killers are not nearly as important a band as they think they are, and that is what makes them so lovable.It's true, nobody does bombast like The Killers. Remember that boy-band smack-talk battle they had with The Bravery back in 2005? Barely one album out and they thought they were legitimate enough to have a Vs., like Rolling Stones Vs. Beatles or Judas Priest Vs. Iron Maiden or any other contemporaries with overzealous fanbases. The magazines laughed, and so did I... (incidentally, I think The Killers unquestionably came off conqueror). But I like the Killers, a lot. Even if they have a track that made last week's reflection on filler songs.

I passed on the solo project by Brandon Flowers, which was hailed as "Sam's Town Part II: This Time Without the Hits" by another critic- dang, they love to rag on these guys. Gotta be tough to be The Killers, that's for sure. And I didn't ever buy into 2007's Sawdust, a compilation of B-sides and off-cuts. But I do own, one way or another, all the remaining releases. High school would simply have not been the same without that debut album, Hot Fuss on everyone's minds. Sam's Town never grabbed me til later, but my most-played album of the bizarre winter of 2008 was easily Day & Age. And yes, even though it sounds like Killers-do-Springsteen-in-Las-Vegas, I enjoy Battle Born. In fact, it's how much I am enjoying listening to Battle Born the last few days that makes me post tonight on The Killers, when I have accolades for new Hall of Fame members RUSH, and a truly delightful "guest post" on Led Zeppelin. 

I don't think I know of any other bands that are so exquisitely fun to sing along to in the car, for one thing. Brandon Flowers' voice sometimes bawls and sometimes trembles, and yet it is a pretty voice, and I LOVE singing along. I surprise myself by knowing all the words to all the songs. Windows up or windows down, it's me and The Killers, live for one rush hour only. 

But I think in the end, I love them because we've gone through a lot together. We both take ourselves too seriously, both like to contemplate dark subjects (sometimes things outside of our own experiences), both love David Bowie and the Smiths and other New Wave pioneers. (And, at least in the case of Brandon Flowers, we're both Mormon! See Exhibit A.) Since their emergence I have in some respects carried them with me through everything I've done and seen. The "keep on going, you are awesome" sort of songs critics disdain as self-indulgence, I have always taken to heart as a pep-talk, from the Killers to me.

It's breaking my heart that I didn't realize they were going to be in Tucson so soon (May 4). I could have made arrangements for that, if I'd known even a month ago. Such tragedy! Well, I am hopeful that they will outlast their internal conflicts long enough to make one more lap of the US. I'll be there next time. 

And I do not know why I pay so much attention to what the press says about The Killers. Of course in the end it's your ears that form your opinion, no matter what critics have to say, and that is true on many fronts. I would like to submit, though, something that a cranky old blogger that I follow has been known to reiterate from time to time: when they heckle and criticize and talk... you know you've made it. Congratulations, guys. You made it. ^_^

This playlist is sort of unique. It is made of both favorites and significant songs. Not all of these selections are "the best" Killers tracks, but the ones that aren't are still the ones that call to me because they mean the most, for whatever reason. Here you go: My Eager Eyes: The Killers 

For Your Playlist: Side A
1. "Mr. Brightside" from Hot Fuss
2. "Sam's Town" from Sam's Town
3. "This Is Your Life" from Day & Age
4. "Miss Atomic Bomb" from Battle Born

For Your Playlist: Side B
1. "A Dustland Fairytale" from Day & Age
2. "Bones" from Sam's Town
3. "The Rising Tide" from Battle Born
4. "On Top" from Hot Fuss

Bonus tracks: "Tranquilize" (featuring Lou Reed) from Sawdust, & "Crossfire" from Flamingo by Brandon Flowers. In keeping with my penchant for songs that mention heaven, hell, devils, angels, etc., "Crossfire" filled me with joy the first time I heard it, which was on the way back from the gym late one night, after stopping on a bench to look for a fresh soundtrack for the walk home.

And if you have time for just a little more Killers, (which might make you a bona fide Victim) I suggest listening to this fabulous cover of an excellent Bright Eyes song, and watching the video that started it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGdGFtwCNBE

Turn That Darned Thing Down, Part Two: Filler Tracks

Yes, this is a filler post. Another one. You can always tell the filler tracks. These are different from the excellent tracks that couldn't fly on the radio. These are the songs nobody plays live if there is enough material to go without them. Sometimes it means they're trying to keep you interested just long enough to get to something really great, and it can be better than nothing.

I'm flinging you filler because I'm working on something really great, when I'm writing and not writing blog posts. It's a story several years in the formation and I'm trying to make this year MY YEAR, the one in which I finally wrestle the sprawling story out and make it into something beautiful. Since starting writing here, it's been rather as though I think somehow that this, spitting out a few hundred words every week here in cyberspace, is going to get that story written. It won't. It helps. But the bottom line is that no amount of blogging is going to write my novel. Not this one, anyway.

So tonight, even though I owe you a post (or two?! time flies) I am going to have to insert a filler track while I tackle the bigger project. I'd like to mention that you can get a taste of said project by visiting the playlists I call The Book of John on my Spotify page. But that's all I will say about it right now.

If that isn't a great demonstration of what it's like to get a filler track when you're listening to an album that's otherwise pretty solid, here are a few more examples (and, as my sister and I determined years ago, they are debatable). I've called the list Polyfil after the coarse polyester mock cloud that I put in stuffed animals. It's cheap and hypoallergenic, like filler tracks.

For Your Playlist: Side C
1. "Andy, You're A Star" by the Killers
Yes, I love the Killers. And not everybody debates the merits of this song, as evidenced by the kind of cool bluegrass cover attached to the end of the playlist.

2. "Slow Down" by Ozzy Osbourne
Albums in the Eighties, especially by metal bands, are absolutely rife with filler. In fact, it may be argued, that in the Eighties, especially from some metal bands, you got entire albums made of filler. (Alice Cooper, I am looking at you. Lovingly.) Just goes to show you, it's important to try to stay relevant.

3. "Valle Mistico (Ruben Song)" by Conor Oberst
I'm sure Conor Oberst himself wouldn't consider this filler. I'm sure to him it has some higher purpose. All I hear is three inept horn blasts.

4. "Swollen Summer" by The Bravery
... I wouldn't underscore such lyrical brilliance as "Feels like a swollen summer, feel like I'm getting dumber" by making it the chorus of a song I was working hard on.

5. "Riding on the Wind" by Judas Priest
It's easy to pick on the Eighties metal. And I love Judas Priest, and Ozzy Osbourne, and Alice Cooper. But Screaming for Vengeance was such a sweet album and this is the track that struck a false note, to me. Formulaic, and hypermasculine. Le sigh.

6. Any song besides this one on the album it came from, which was 1987's Whenever You Need Somebody
See what I did there?

Until next time, turn it up to eleven. There IS some good stuff around the corner, so stay tuned.

Getting Lucky

Facebook already knows this, but last week my Prince Genuine, AKA Bryson, set his mind to it and got us tickets to the Mumford & Sons gig in June. That is to say, he called a radio station 26 times to become Caller Number 8 and thereby score a couple of tickets. What a stud! He told the DJ, "My wife will be so happy!"

I am so happy. We had just been talking the night before about how, as much as we would like to go, neither of us were comfortable spending so much on one evening's entertainment. I told him wistfully that I would rather have Mumford & Sons tickets than butterfly shoes. But I understood if it couldn't happen.

Well, he wasn't about to give up without a fight. We got lucky this time.

More than lucky, I feel blessed to have a man who takes time out of his day (especially these busy days with precious little time) to make me happy. Blessed to be married to a man to whom I am not just "enough", but "everything".

On the one hand, I went through a ton of frogs (and toads, and newts, for that matter) before I found my Prince Genuine. You might say that he is a reward for persevering. On the other, if you know me in person, you may know that I seemed to deliberately seek frogs and toads and newts, so any misery I experienced as a result was self-inflicted. Then you might say he's a reward for breaking the routine of looking for a mate in the swamp. Either way, he is a reward, and reward means BLESSING.

I hope I never forget, even for a day, or for a moment, that he is a great blessing to me, warts and all. :)

He hasn't been to that many concerts. Mumford & Sons will be our second together. I am pretty stoked about that. I hope it's as great a show as the one in 2011.

His birthday is coming up at the end of the month. What do you get the man who called from the parking garage at work to say "I won us the tickets to Mumford & Sons; I guess you get your butterfly shoes after all"?

If you are looking for a new original playlist tonight, you should go to my blog-friend Jen's page, where I am guest-posting (thanks for the opportunity!!) this evening while she is on "maternity leave." (Personally I suspect the baby is waiting to be born so I can finish the toy I am making for her- she's a few days overdue.) Or you can skip to the nursery-themed list Babycakes.

If, however, you want to hear the happiest thoughts I had in 2009, I have drafted a slightly-revised (track 1 & 7) version of an enduring mix I made on this day that year. It was a really hard year in many ways, but Stir-Fry and Cult Films (April 2009) was one of the easy days: laboring over a clumsy stir-fry supper, talking about music and midnight movies (most especially Harold & Maude) with a new friend. I still listen to this mix. it's one of the rare occasions when I think I got just the right balance and just the right mood, with only the positive memories framed in it. Enjoy!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

"Hallelujah, lock and load!": My Chemical Romance

"Bad news from the Zone, tumbleweeds."

News broke last week, I think it was, about the disbanding of My Chemical Romance. I did not cry, and it did not ruin my day, but it did give me a kind of saggy feeling in my heart, and I had to text a few people to spread the news.

Yes. This may discredit absolutely everything I have said so far but I am about to tell you the truth: I thought My Chemical Romance was pretty awesome.

There are a lot of elements I like about their music. But I think it's something about Gerard Way's vocals that especially engage me. In my private mental world, when I close my eyes and pretend I'm a rock star on a big stage, strutting and sneering and crowing, he is what I sound like. He's my secret alter-ego. Eyeliner, gothy rendition of a Sgt. Pepper uniform, and that sharp voice- like crossing Brian Molko's pipes with a cheese grater and a jet pack. (I know, this fantasy might sound weirdly anticlimactic. Kind of like if you found out that Rob Zombie wears footy pajamas. Of course, you might think that would be awesome. In which case, I will imagine you in the audience next time I imagine I am Gerard Way.)

It definitely happened slowly. I really rather liked "Helena" from Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, which was arguably their breakout song from their unarguably breakout album. I was crazy about the video. (It was that one and The Killers' "Mr. Brightside" that I ended up buying- when you love something, you'll pay for it even if you could get it for free on YouTube.) But even now I'm not sure I'd like, heartily recommend Three Cheers. It's very.... Oh, yes. Emo. That is the word. The ugly word that turns every thinking person off of a band. But honestly, what else could you call an album that has songs like "It's Not A Fashion Statement, It's A Deathwish" or "Thank You For the Venom"... which is our title track tonight, by the way, and also a decent tune. It's a good example of its kind, though, for what it's worth.

I think what clung to me about that album, besides the aforementioned video, was a track called "Ghost of You" that I really liked, without even knowing the artist. I remember waking up from a dream the morning after my eighteenth birthday with that song in my head. I asked my sister if she knew it and I hummed a few bars. She raised an eyebrow and said "That's MCR."


"My Chemical Romance."

Oh. Tres embarrassing. I wasn't an emo kid. I didn't like that stuff. I decided to tell no one.

But that kept happening. Every time I heard an MCR song I always found myself going "This ain't half bad" and then groaning when I found out the artist. So at last I caved and bought The Black Parade.

Which is a very different animal from Three Cheers.

The Black Parade is a cool little gem. It moved away from the melodrama on the previous album and moved more toward a concept album, lyrically. (I heard of a critic saying Roger Waters should sue for the story rights.) And it moved away from definitive "emo" and leaned toward glam rock, sonically. Don't get me wrong, it's still rough and punky but there's some extra swagger in there and it's great. Inexplicably great.

After I quietly came to the realization that I may in fact, LIKE My Chemical Romance, I confided this to my friend Alex, who has excellent and eclectic taste of his own. I knew he wouldn't judge me, see. In fact, he went out and listened to the album and came back as favorably impressed as I had. That made 2 of us, secret fans of the former emo band My Chemical Romance.

And then came Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Which, I think, was even better than Black Parade. The whole album I love unabashedly. But if you don't believe me, listen to "S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W" which sounds a little like a nursery rhyme from the dystopian post-apocalyptic future... Which is the setting of the album, by the way. This album also contains the unexpectedly beautiful "Sing" which that abomination Glee took and made into a super hit. (It's ok, I guess. You gotta sell out sometime, huh, guys? "Gimme gimme some of that vampire money, c'mon!")

The handfuls of music they released last year lean toward the earlier stuff, which as I mentioned, leaves me kinda cold compared to the concept albums. For being a return to that form, I'd venture to say it's better than the older work- they've learned a few tricks in the last few years. But it's too late for me, I'm already their fan. I would have borne with whatever they flung me, and given it a fair chance to grow on me.

And now they are no more. Yes, it's over. And I am sad. Maybe most sad that I didn't run off impetuously to Los Angeles to see them the last time their tour brought them close to me, which was for Danger Days. Alex and I toyed with the idea but ultimately we didn't. And now, there is nothing else to do but step up and say yes, I liked that band. I liked them a lot. I genuinely hope that we have not heard the last of these guys.

"Keep your boots tight, keep your gun close, and die with your mask on if you's got to."

Their body of work is available to hear on Spotify, with the exception of what came before Three Cheers (an album called I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love).

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Next Day Revisited

David Bowie sat on the passenger's side and the two of us reveled in his latest album all the way home and then some. It finally arrived, you see. A solid three weeks of extra waiting was well worth it.

I think I waited because it would mean just a little more. If The Next Day ended up being his real final album, for some reason (and anything seems possible now), I would want it to be the one I bought fresh off the presses, as it were. (Which cliche led me to a quick YouTube education in how a vinyl record is made. It's pretty cool.) In that way, I feel like I have participated in my favorite artist's legacy just like his first fans, people who were teenagers before my own father was born, did. I went down to the record store the day it came out, with all my heart and all my change, and bought the big beautiful double vinyl with my name on it to mark it as a pre-order. David Sedaris mentions in his story "The Smoking Section" that if he'd had his way as a kid, his room would have smelled like a newly-unwrapped vinyl records: "that is to say, like anticipation." Bearing this in mind, when I got back to the car, I slit the plastic wrap and put my nose close and breathed deeply... yup, that's anticipation. That's Charlie Bucket using every other sensory organ to enjoy his yearly chocolate bar before giving it over to his taste buds.

It came with a CD version, which was pretty nice. And so it was that the big beautiful double vinyl with a large white square over Bowie's 1979 face, rode a contented shotgun to me as we wheeled around the neighborhood. The music on the record sang vicariously through the digital incarnation, louder than my gruff diesel engine. And this is how it went:

1. "The Next Day"
blasts fearlessly, charging, stomping. I love how the words you hear the most clearly at first are "Listen" and "Here I am". This is a great opening track. But it doesn't make sense as a single. (Basically none of them do.)

2. "Dirty Boys"
versed in burlesque horns, choruses with more melody. Couplet-rhymed verses. Parallel-structured chorus. Half sleazy and half hopeful. Another song that I'm increasingly loving with every listen.

3. "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)"
makes sense now. Somehow, contextually, this song packs a fiercer punch. Sounds darker, more desperate, more cynical. Also I notice for the first time with a chill the line "but they know just what we do when we toss and turn at night". Ew. That's actually a really creepy thought.

4. "Love Is Lost"
smolders. This is the point where I turn it up a little to snuggle deeper into the music. The second verse mystifies me, but it's the rising finish that gets me. The repeated chorus: "What have you done? O what have you done?"

5. "Where Are We Now?"
has also found power it lacked before in context. After the intensity of the previous track, the softer vocals feel balmy. This is still not the strongest track of the bunch but it works so much better alongside its fellows.

6. "Valentine's Day"
sounds much better the second listen-through. One of the most obvious allusions to real life social events, this song chronicles a high school gunman. The guitar on this one sounds lush and conversational to me, somewhat incongruous with the dark lyrics.

7. "If You Can See Me"
was labeled by another reviewer as "interesting but un-listenable". I disagree. It is almost tuneless and the vocals skitter without range. But the lyrics are really fascinating. The result is a kind of discordant, urgent tangle not unlike some parts of Earthling's "Dead Man Walking", with what might be a slam poet's rant for lyrics. Honestly, I like it.

8. "I'd Rather Be High"
sounds as psychedelic as the title might imply, melodically. Initially I was not that stoked about it, but it's rapidly growing on me, and I love this: "I stumble to the graveyard and I lay down by parents, whisper 'Just remember, duckies, everybody gets got.'"

9. "Boss of Me"
swings, lazily but resolutely. It reminds me of "I've Been Waiting for You", the Neil Young cover on Heathen only more... Bowie. I dunno. I like this song more each time I hear it, too, but I'm still figuring it out.

10. "Dancing Out in Space"
has a beautiful melody. Yearning, but not sluggish. The rhythm of the vocals in the chorus contrasts sharply with that of the verses, rather like in "Dirty Boys" and I think it's a good effect in both cases. If I picked one word out as David Bowie's favorite, it's "star" or "stars" and this song with its astral setting and mood doesn't deviate.

11. "How Does the Grass Grow?"
remains sort of inaccessible to me. This is the only track I can say I like about as much as I did the first time, when everything was a happy wash and only a few things stood out in bolded caps. This isn't one of them.

12. "(You Will) Set the World on Fire"
... no words. Just a huge smile on my face and my heart skips a beat. This is what the kitschy song "New York's in Love" from Never Let Me Down meant to be. "I can hear the nation, I can hear the nation cry..." I'm adopting this as my secret theme song. (Don't judge me. You know you have one.)

13. "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die"
takes the mood abruptly very low. Might check the liner notes to make sure this wasn't penned by Morrissey. And yet, is that a little bit of snark I'm detecting? Can't quite tell if he's joking with me yet, with the melodramatic title and doo-wop ooohing and ahhhing. I confess, I can't spend much time on this song because the next one blows my mind.

14. "Heat"
closes the album with a slow, ominous heartbeat. At once I am reminded of Heathen and Outside and yet, it would be out of place on either one of these. Brooding. Haunting. Dark. But beautiful, especially when the violins start in as the pressure builds. The fact that there are bonus tracks is almost disappointing because I'd be glad to let the phrase "my father ran the prison" echo in my brain for a while.

Bonus tracks:
15. "So She" -charming and kind of cartoony. I can tell why this is an outtake or bonus. This isn't what we've just been hearing. A cousin, maybe, but not a first cousin.
16. "Plan"- instrumental echoing the mood of "Heat", which isn't a bad thing. Like other reviewers I felt this one suffered from being too short!
17. "I'll Take You There"- See, now this one sounds like a single to me. Politically-charged much? Yes. Unless my powers of interpretation are radically failing me, it's about illegal immigration, from the immigrant's perspective. But it's punchy and appealing. I'm not sure why this one didn't make the regular track cut. The smoky lyrical mood and fierce music fit with the rest, in my opinion.

So. Now it's been a few weeks and a few listens. The shock and thrill of a broken silence is abated (a little ^_^) and you know what I think? I think it's a great album. I think it's better, richer, than Reality and more realized than Heathen, both of which I love. It reminds me of my favorite album, Lodger, with its varied musical influences plain as genetics on a face. It reminds me of Scary Monsters because it has so much to say and it will take a long time to digest all of it. Most of all, I love it because it's classic Bowie. To explain further, I'd probably need to be able to play an instrument. But if, by chance, you are a Bowie fan too, then I wouldn't have to explain. We could just look at each other and go "I knooooowwww...."

You can listen to the album in full on Spotify, of course. I won't bother linking to it. You know where to find it. And you should find it. Tell me what you think, especially if you are predisposed to liking/loving Bowie.

Easter Thoughts- A Spiritual Post

One of the reasons other people blog is to keep a journal online. This isn't really my purpose on here. I'm here to talk about music and hopefully connect with some cool people who want to talk with me about it. But there is something on my mind today. 

So, I made a playlist. 

It's Easter Sunday. My sweet Prince Genuine and I had our hands full with a few sugar-addled four-year-old's in Primary today. Although they ran slightly amok in class (I told them we could play duck-duck-goose on the condition we did it in slow motion; turns out nobody could agree on the rules) they were mostly quiet for Sharing Time. That may have been because the Presidency brought in some guest speakers with hand towels and robes on, and held a mock hearing with the speakers acting as witnesses of the Living Christ. We heard from Mary Magdalene (I would love to name a daughter "Magdalene"), Peter, "Abner A. Nephite" (SPOILER ALERT: I'm MORMON! ^_^), fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith Jr., and Thomas. 

I listened and for the first time in a long time it really really hit me: exactly what we mean when we celebrate Easter. 

There's been a lot of unrest in my social networks this last week. And it is really weird to find myself on what looks like the unpopular side of a fierce quasi-political argument. A debate of sorts broke out in the comment section of one of my posts on the subject. (A post I made, by the way, after deciding that representing my convictions was worth the risk of strangers arguing up my newsfeed. Bear with me here, I'm not going to talk about that subject. Just something else I noticed through it.) I realized how utterly uncomfortable I am actually debating. I realized I have a lot of friends whose intellects I respect, even if their perspectives and beliefs are quite different from mine, and I realized I am simply not equipped to "back it up" if I try to approach it from a logical standpoint. I may have studied logic and philosophy but I am truly humbled by the ability some people have to rationalize and debate. My thinking cap goes off to those people.

And so today, listening to our volunteer "witnesses" repeat over and over again that they had seen Him, I thought about that. I thought about how truly strange it is that I profess to believe that a person half a world away was killed, and three days later rose from the dead. Suspend for a moment everything else associated with Christ, and boil it down to that one statement and let it alone sink in: I believe that a man laid down his mortal body and raised it up again three days afterward. 

There, I said it. 

I am a thinking, sentient creature. I have no problem acknowledging a strong argument even if I disagree with the conclusion, just like I don't mind dismissing a weak argument even if I favor the conclusion. Intellectual integrity, I once heard this called, and there are not very many phrases that give me more satisfaction. I am not the smartest person I know, but the cogs between my ears grind and click just fine. And yes, I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. We are separated by just under two thousand years. Even most of His contemporaries didn't believe it. But I believe it.

MORE than that. I believe that He rose from the dead, and that He is the Son of God. I believe He is as real as I am, or as my husband across the room. I believe that He was born to a mortal mother to walk with us and show us how to serve, that He was perfect in His obedience. I believe that because perfect obedience is the only thing that could justify imperfection, He atoned for me, and you, and all of us, in a garden, knowing that some people would reject this freely-offered gift even as they rejected His messages or friendship in the flesh. And I believe those witnesses, both ancient and modern, who saw Him. I believe I owe Him my very best self, and I have promised to do my very best each day to be like Him, even though sometimes my best is no more than a couple of mites. 

Crazy? Sounds like it. Outdated? Sounds like it. Impossible? Not to me. And not to my Savior.

All that use of "belief"- suffer me now to say instead that I know. I know. I know He lives, and I know that without His tender mercies my life could have ended there, somewhere in the midnight years between adolescence and a year ago. And it brings me an indescribable peace to know that I don't have to defend this to myself. This is not opinion, to me. I do not need great powers of debate, rationalization, statistics, skepticism, cynicism to proclaim that this is what I believe. I could not defend it with such powers if I had them, and to do so would be a disservice to the art and act of faith. 

And so, it is to anyone else who opines that the human brain knows but little, and the heart perhaps knows even less, but what the heart knows is indubitably truer than what the brain knows... and to anyone who is celebrating Easter because it means He rose again and that He will come again someday... I dedicate the playlist Isaiah 54: 4-5

Conor Oberst Part II: A Concert & a Kiss

The short hipster guy in a button-down shirt seemed disappointed when I turned down his invitation to come back to the hotel where he and his friends were staying. I told him I had people I was with but it had been nice talking to him. If only he'd known what a real fan's after-party consists of. Me, I know the secret:

If the venue is small and the crowd is fervent, there is a possibility that after the show is over, the artist will come 'round the back or side to mingle for a few minutes. This trick I learned from the same ex-boyfriend who, incidentally, introduced me to this artist's music originally. (Our lives have diverged for good, now, but I will be grateful to him for several things, this among the more frivolous ones.)

I will admit, there was no way to be sure that Conor Oberst would do that. He has a reputation for being surly and detached from fans. He hates it when people sing along at shows, so to be contrary he alters the words a bit for live performances. He shuns the laud and hullabaloo of being an icon, so he only releases albums under the name "Bright Eyes". And he never smiles onstage.

Well, this was 2008, and he'd done the first thing, releasing a "solo" and eponymous album that I really really liked, earlier that year, so put one tally under "Never Say Never". This was a warm night in Tucson, AZ, at a pretty venue called The Joint, and he had not only smiled, he'd been so stumbling drunk, he looked like he was having fun. He didn't even seem to mind when those of us who didn't know better (like me) unfolded our arms to sing along with whatever songs we knew. So now all bets were off.

The show was rock-solid. Conor Oberst, who I'd never really cottoned to until I heard this album made with "The Mystic Valley Band", delivered. He passionately bellowed into the microphone and strummed away on his guitar like the chords could bring world peace if he just hit them hard enough. He tried a few times to stand up on an amplifier, alarming us a little with the way he wobbled and swayed in his alcohol-fueled exuberance. But what should have been a slightly disturbing spectacle starring an artist who sometimes gives too much fuel to his inner demons, was instead almost transcendent. It was beautiful. With his eyes closed and a hint of a blissful smile as he sang "Danny Callahan", he was beautiful, and it moved me deeply.

So I, the undeserving fan-initiate, stood pressed against the ropes under the watchful eye of a few security guards after the show, eyes trained on the back door of the venue with absolute precision. Sure enough, he came stumbling out and the crowd (mostly female) of superfans around me erupted in a cooing euphony like so many happy pigeons. "Connor, Connor, Connor" they murmured, and sure enough again, he moved toward us. Hands thrust in his direction and he took them and shook them and muttered generally good-natured responses. It was pretty clear he was still very disoriented. It may have been my idea but I pulled out my ticket stub (thank goodness I found a pen, after fishing around in my purse for a moment longer) and held it toward him.

He moved toward me, as if nothing would please him more than to sign my scrap of paper. The pen nearly didn't work but after a moment of confusion it did and he handed back the ticket. I touched his hand and leaned close over the rising swell of fangirl voices, and told him the only thing I really felt like I had of value. The only thing any of us, really, have the right to say to a stranger who has impressed us.

"Conor, you did really great tonight. I mean it, you were great. That was a wonderful show."

Our proximity turned into a hug at that moment. I felt his cheek, bizarrely soft and smooth, brush mine as he told me, "Thank you, thank you. You're a sweet, sweet lady." And then he kissed me on the cheek, as his bodyguards pulled him away from me.

I think for a moment I blacked out. But I was taking up space now that I'd had my turn, and I didn't want to get jumped and have my cheek torn from my face as the girls near me took up the incredulous cry of "He kissed her!" So I fled, to the car where my sister, mother, sister's then-boyfriend, etc, were waiting. I was dizzied with the impact of being starstruck. "He kissed me!" I said breathlessly, grinning, and flashing my signed ticket.

My sister's face broke like I'd dropped something made of porcelain and dreams. She'd been toward the back of the throng and hadn't even gotten close enough to look into his face. The triumphant feeling drained from me instantly, and I gave her my lasting prize, the ticket I didn't deserve to have signed. If I could have transferred the kiss from his lips to her face too, I would have done that, because no matter what, I love my sister more.

We saw Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band again in the spring, in Tempe, but things were different this time. He looked healthier, to his credit, (much more sober and characteristically grim) and performed a good set, but the magic was comparatively absent. I felt torn, glad for his sake that he was in better physical form and mental state, and favorably impressed with the new material performed that night, but sad that something had to be missing.

Conor Oberst, wherever you are, and in whatever incarnation you are right now (Bright Eyes, Mystic Valley Boy, Monster of Folk, or Desaparacido), hi. I hope you are well. You don't remember me but I remember you. I didn't deserve to be the one you kissed, like Arizona doesn't deserve to be a state you shun (most of the people who rabidly adore you are on your side about the whole immigration business- why are you punishing them?). But I'm really glad it happened, like I'm glad you brought the magic to the stage that night. I still listen to the Mystic Valley Albums when it's springtime and when it's autumn, especially, and my friend Rob called the MoF album the best one he'd heard in 2010. And with the sincerity of someone who you only managed to win over by being yourself, rather than Bright Eyes, I'll stand by what I said then: you do a great job doing what you do. "I don't wanna dream if it won't come true."

"Nikorette" by Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band

Guest Post: Allex shares Bright Eyes (AKA Conor Oberst Part I)

Welcome back, everybody. Or, shall I say, welcome me back, everybody. Last week got away from me so consider it my Spring Break (haha) or like those times when you were a kid, tuned into PBS only to see that they are running a telethon and disrupting regularly scheduled quality programming.

Fortunately, to make up for it, I have a treat for you. I give you now the gift of hearing from my own dear sister, the indefatigable Allex Adams. Our music collections, not unlike our earth-suits, share a lot of basic genetic material, but the results are still very different to the eye and to the ear (see this year's Valentine's Post). She's passionate about art and music, and that is why I asked her to post on the subject of Bright Eyes.

To be fair, it was I who brought the first pinch of it into the house. It was "Bowl of Oranges", and a recommendation from a high school boyfriend with impeccable music taste of his own. I liked the song but I didn't really take it and run. To this day, I prefer the solo work of Conor Oberst, the driving force behind the machine known as Bright Eyes. The exception is Cassadaga, and I will probably cover that by itself in a later post. But I wanted a fresh voice to help me ring in the artist, and there is nobody better qualified to talk about it than my sister. So, without further ado, I present...

Here is a list of criticisms about Bright Eyes that I won't hear, and won't respond to:

"I can't stand his voice!"

"It's way too depressing!"

"Conor Oberst writes girl music."


Now, I'm not ignoring the early Bright Eyes canon- rough, ratty, and reeking of horrors most prepubescent... but paddle past the year 2000, and here is the awakening spirit of discovery and disappointment, the kind that defines love itself. That's my message to the critics. Listen to Bright Eyes the way you fall in love, not the way you sense sound. For me, Bright Eyes adoration didn't really begin until I met a boy; soon, a thirst first whet by a song or two over the course of a year or so would be quenched.

One year- one year!- passed since first asking him- him, the tall dark handsome Rivers Cuomo-tribute type!!- for a Bright Eyes education. But finally Sean handed me that holey, holy plastic bag of CDs. He loaned me every single one he owned AT THE SAME TIME, under the assumption that I would upload them all to my digital library at home, return them to him at school the next day, and then I could pick at what I wanted, when I wanted. In retrospect, that would have been very considerate of me...

But that is not what I did!

Instead, I allowed the unexpected downpour of Sean's music to fill a baptismal font of Conor Oberst's grey matter, immersing myself deep into each album individually with the volume at 11 and the liner notes always open. I drowned, promptly. Bright Eyes was heaven's big church band conducted by the new president of the Lonely Hearts Club; the lyrics so true they hurt. I had inherited six Bright Eyes albums all at once, and I couldn't breathe until I knew every single word by heart. 

When I came up for air five months later, my hair had grown long, and my lender's opinion of my borrowing skills was irreparable. But the love between Bright Eyes and I is the kind you take a few losses for.

If I get to pick a few songs, it'd be these, and in this order: (Listen along at The Moon Forces Metal: Bright Eyes)

For Your Playlist: Side A
1. "An Attempt to Tip the Scales" from Fevers and Mirrors
2. "From a Balance Beam" from LIFTED: Or, The Story Is in the Soil; Keep Your Ear To The Ground
3. "First Day of My Life" from I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
4. "Theme from Pinata" from Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
5. "Happy Birthday To Me (Feb. 15)" from Noise Floor: Rarities

For Your Playlist: Side B (chosen by your humble hostess from a mix CD Allex made me in 2008)
1. "Method Acting" from LIFTED (warning: some strong language in this one)
2. "Landlocked Blues" from Motion Sickness: Live Recordings
3. "Down in a Rabbit Hole" from Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
4. "No One Would Riot for Less" from Cassadaga
5. Bonus Selection: "From A Balance Beam" by the Vitamin String Quartet's Tribute to Bright Eyes

A big vote of thanks to my talented sister, I think, is here due. You may pause the music to applaud... and now resume. Til next time, happy listening! Speaking of next time, get ready to hear my take on the talent behind Bright Eyes in the next post.

Sounds Like Spring 2013

I thought I'd do something a little different tonight and talk a little about life and what's happening, and then what I want it to sound like.

So, as of today, my wonderful Prince Genuine and I have been married 3 months. It's pretty amazing so far. I do believe I've never been so humbled to live with someone. Sometimes I think he shines so bright with kindness and goodness all my flaws are lit up like in the most brutal cosmetics mirror. And sometimes I think he got pretty lucky, too. (He tells me so regularly.)

He recently got a new job at a a prestigious financial advising institution, which was well deserved and hard-earned. I am 100% proud of him. It does require him to commute to north Scottsdale on the daily, though, which is sort of problematic. We will likely need to relocate ourselves when our lease here in Mesa is up. I for one am excited about this on several levels. I'm ready to try something new. He's ready to be done with school and moving on with his career.

We got called in our ward (local church unit) to teach the 4-year-olds. It is unlike anything either of us have done before but it's a great time. We have 5 kids: Sydney, Danielle, Kaylie, Rian (boy) and Rigby. I love them all equally but I love one Rigby more equally than the rest. The kid is a hoot. I hope I get one just like him, when it's my turn. He will be guest-blogging with me in a month or so, with his mama's permission.

The novel is hibernating. I was doing a little studying in a neat little book on character development (context: writing fiction) by the revered Orson Scott Card, and I realized my first draft had it only half right. So I've cracked a new notebook and there are a few hundred words. I think about it in my spare time but I concentrate a lot of energy here on this blog. Thank you for reading it.

Speaking of blogs, here is the point where I will pay my dues and respects to the Blogger Meetup I attended last month. It made me feel so legitimate on one hand, and so inexperienced on the other: out loud, "Look, I'm a blogger! I go to blogger things and network with other bloggers and talk about blog stuff!" versus inner "You've been blogging since 2002?! I've had mine since, um... mid-January? Should I even be here?" It was really fun, though, to hear from other people like myself who want to scrawl on their wall of cyberspace. Ladies, I admire and salute you all. This blog is not a "lifestyle" blog, we're just moonlighting as one tonight, so please forgive me for not listing each of you or putting up pictures. My time is running short and I have one more pressing thing to cover. But I am really looking forward to seeing you all again, and I have some ideas how to give you the shoutout you each deserve. Rock on.

Springtime has historically produced my best playlists. I'll post a few of the venerable ones next month, because it's April seems to spawn them prettiest, but here's one I've made for this new season, which has arrived in a very very sunny burst of heat.

You can find it on Spotify here: Sounds Like Spring 2013

For your playlist:
1. "Blue on Black" by Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Heard this song for the first time in 2007 and never could part with it.
2. "Desolation Row" by My Chemical Romance
The best part of The Watchmen was the end credits: a) because the movie was over, b) because of this song
3. "Guns and Horses" by Ellie Goulding
I don't know why I like Ellie Goulding so much. I think the vox here are really good. Don't love her new album, though.
4. "I Love To Boogie" by T. Rex
T. Rex is the only band in my arsenal allowed to say the word "boogie" besides David Bowie in "Starman".
5. "Born on the Bayou" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
CCR is the backbone of my subteen childhood. It's good for the soul.
6. "Velvet Goldmine" by David Bowie
This is a c-side from Ziggy Stardust. Not included in the release.
7. "Wildflowers" by Dolly Parton featuring Linda Ronstadt
Love the lyrics here. Not a huge Dolly fan but a spring playlist needs a feminine folk song.
8. "Beat the Devil's Tattoo" by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
This is where it gets dark. Hey, it rains in the springtime too.
9. "Too Many Angels" by Jackson Browne
I subconsciously collected a large number of songs with lyrical motifs of heaven/hell/angels/devils.
10. "If You Could Hie To Kolob" by the Lower Lights
If you haven't heard of the Lower Lights, you should. Go find more.
11. "One Day" by Matisyahu
Springtime means positive thinking. So does Matisyahu. I don't know if this guy can write a dark song.
12. "Going to California" by the Vitamin String Quartet (in lieu of having any Led Zeppelin on Spotify)
One of my favorite Zep songs (some foreshadowing here). VSQ does a pretty nice job of it, though.

Next week: guest post by my sister, the lovely and cunning Miss Allex. Stay tuned!

The Next Day, circa today

So, it finally came. The official page on Facebook has been blowing up my newsfeed with updates (dare I call it "hype"?) about the album, and photos of covers across Europe being graced by Bowie in anticipation of a "comeback".

But I have to confess, after hearing that first song, "Where Are We Now?" I was a little nervous. It was a baffling choice for a lead single. Then came "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" and that one had a livelier pulse, but still seemed stiff. I was a little tiny bit nervous that this album would perhaps fall short of the breath of fresh air we have been waiting for.

David, David, what shall I do? I was a bit of teenage wildlife! You shouldn't mess with me. Do I need a friend? Well, we need one now. All the "heroes" of my age crumble, like kings of oblivion. They only could dream of the empire you built and then ahhh, you were gone- did you think we'd blow our minds? We counted the years, singing "Will you rock and roll with me?... It's time we should be going." (Number of song references just made: 10)

Well, I am sorry I doubted you.

It will take a few weeks for the dust to settle and then we will see what we really have here, but my initial impression is one of great positivity. The singles, which seemed odd and in some ways laughable on their own, are actually part of a coherent and fascinating whole.

I lay on my bed, perfectly still but for breathing, just listening, while my husband sat by, studying. We jumped into the car to go get a bite to eat afterward and I had to have him turn off the radio. I wanted to keep what I had been hearing in my head awhile longer. Some things, sometimes, will do that to you. Or at least to me. There is a lot to process on this record, though.

I held out to buy the vinyl album, which will arrive in a couple of weeks, at which time I will break it down more methodically and objectively. Until then, let's use but one standard by which to measure an album: if you are sorry when it's over and you can't wait to start it over again, there was some definite success there for the artist. I am eager to have another listen. You can join me in doing so on Spotify.

Welcome back, Mr. Jones.

I would ask what took you so long, but I think it's pretty obvious.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Fashion vs. the Devotee: Why I Still Rock the Band Shirt

So, I didn't mention it, but I turned 24 years old a couple of weeks ago. Twenty-four. That's older than I have ever been before, on the outside. And I look almost the same as I did when I was sixteen.

That isn't because I haven't grown in ten years. It isn't because I've cycled through all the hair colors from dark brown to blonde to lavender & peroxide to dark brown again, or even because I've gotten back into bangs like when I was a sophomore/junior in high school. It's because on my days off, in my natural habitat, I still dress like I did then. Or, less kindly, like a thirteen year old boy.

BAND SHIRTS! Despite my best efforts, they still dominate my wardrobe. And I'd like to take a moment to honor the fallen warriors, the ones I finally forced myself to get rid of, because the ratio of band shirts to grown up clothes. Gone but not forgotten are: my very first Bowie shirt, Shins shirt with the squid on it, the Morrissey shirt, the Dirty Diamonds tour shirt from the Alice Cooper concert of 2005, my Flogging Molly shirt from '07, the Snakes and Arrows tour shirt from the Rush concert of 2007 (I really regret getting rid of that one), the Hot Hot Heat shirt from the concert I never went to, two Jimmy Eat World shirts ('02 and '08), the Ozzy Osbourne shirt claimed in '11, and the Roger Waters tour shirt from 2006, although technically that one was simply returned to its rightful owner (my dad), and the purple-themed Apocalyptica shirt that I lovingly shredded and made into a hardcore swimsuit cover-up.

But these are the minority. For every one I got rid of, another remains. I get them at concerts, mostly. I used to joke that I only shop at merch stands. Dad taught me that if you don't get a shirt with dates on it, you might as well have just bought it in a store. If you want to prove you were there, you need the hard data, because they don't (usually) sell tour shirts in stores. I subscribe to this, as my wardrobe resolutely declares. Unfortunately for me, not much looks sloppier on my fun-sized frame than unisex T-shirts, and guess what? They pretty much don't make girly-fit tees with tour dates on them. I cringe at myself in the mirror sometimes.

Still, on my days off you'll still see me in my ragged, cozy, sometimes oversized band shirts. It's entirely silly on a 24-year old who has a job and a husband and a class of 4-year-olds to teach on Sunday. Sometimes I wish I liked the benign, expensive pretties at Anthropologie like my friend Caitlin. Sometimes I wish I could get into scarves like my friend Francesca, or wear tutus and bomber jackets like my eccentrically-clad cosmetolog(art)ist sister Allex. But I can't. I cling to my band shirts in a way most of them (the M's, L's, and XL's I had to buy because the XS/S were sold out already) never will cling to me in return. I'm not a celebrity so it's not cool, I'm just a twenty-something in a baggy Mago de Oz shirt, and eventually it will look like I never bothered to look around and see what responsible adults are wearing and follow suit. Sometimes this bugs me. And sometimes, I think:

Whatever. That's fine.

My husband thinks I'm cute, and I know when to reach for Ralph Lauren over Rolling Stones, or the Killers over Calvin Klein, so it's no-harm-no-foul til I get sick of wearing them when I'm pregnant. I love my band shirts because most of them have stories. I snagged the last one at a show held in a parking lot between a street and a train track, or I watched the mailbox for two weeks while it shipped from Finland. They mean something to me. I love my band shirts because I love the bands, and I'm okay with postponing looking like the style magazine with which I amused myself at work today. It may not be popular, it may not be stylish, but I can live with that, because my bands are in my heart and I'll wear them on my sleeve. Being a musician may mean you set trends in fashion, or at least rock them, but being a fan just means loving that musician enough to give them the space across your chest or back.

So, if you're too old for your band shirts, seize the day. Reach into the back of your closet, where you know you stashed that one you cannot bear to part with. Love what you see, and love what you heard. Find your tour date and smile. And Judas Priest, comrade, put it on!

"Friends, they may think it's a movement. And that's what it is."

The epitome of the band shirt. This is a shirt my dad bought when he saw the Rolling Stones in '81, when he was younger than I am now. Pretty well preserved, isn't it? I wore this shirt to Scottsdale Fashion Square and got kudos from someone in the Bulgari store. Boo-yah.