Part II

In 1994, the very first CD I purchased was Green Day’s “Dookie.” I carried it everywhere with me, much the same way my contemporaries carried around tubes of pogs (the essential but pointless mid-90s trend-game). This was unusual for a couple of reasons. For one, I was a girl. For another, I was 10 years old. Most cars that were more than a few years old at that point still only had tape decks, so I listened to it on my CD “Walkman” (heh…remember those?) without much fear of my mom realizing that the F-word and “masturbation” appeared in one of the hit singles off that album. Not that it was something new to me. Just a year prior, when Nine Inch Nails’ first release in five years, “The Downward Spiral” began receiving radio play, I learned to use the “last” button on our TV remote. That way, I could snap back and forth as needed between something family friendly like “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” and the “Closer” video that was practically playing on a loop on MTV. It wasn’t even that I liked the harsh, totally-inappropriate-for-a-fourth-grader-to-be-listening-to chorus of “I wanna f— you like an animal.” That was SO bad, and I knew it, but the music itself had this gritty, abrasive quality that I absolutely loved. And the imagery of the video was out-of-this-world dark and weird, themes that I was finding didn’t scare me much, at a point when most of my friends still wore pink and shopped at Limited Too (another blast from the past).

Man, I think I just realized that if you’re reading this at work and they block YouTube, you are going to haaaaaaaaaaaaate me. Sorry?

It was the first time I realized that maybe I wasn’t really going to make much sense. I knew it was weird for an all-American, religious, caucasian, suburban girl to be that into the rebellious, dark, shocking music that presented the even weirder themes in these songs. Let’s see: BDSM…drug abuse…disjointedness from the normal world at large…anxiety…solitude. I mean the list pretty much could go on and on and never get any less worrisome. But here’s the ray of sunshine: It really wasn’t about the dirty themes. This was before I became a lyrics-focused listener. This was when it was just about the elementary awesomeness of a certain guitar riff, or the way the music came together in layers over a pair of new headphones. I guess I just needed something more complex than whatever was playing on the local country or Top 40 stations. But whatever that “something” was would not be satisfied by a mere foray into the hip-hop music my mother so deeply detested. Nope. I was skipping straight past that.

***

Before I had a son named Russ, I think I knew a few different people named Russell. A couple of guys I worked with, maybe one guy from my college Anatomy lab, and this guy from way back in middle school. Russ is not actually named after any of them, but rather because I always liked the name and really needed something that started with an R in order for him to have the same initials as me and my late grandfather. But that guy from middle school? It’s actually kind of a funny story.

Rusty was this guy I had a huge crush on. Actually, come to think of it, he’s on my Facebook and there is a pretty good chance he’s going to read this, so let me just say “Sorry, dude.” It’s all in the interest of my musical autobiography, right? Moving on…so I had a crush. I mean, really, a HUGE crush. But naturally, he didn’t know I was alive. Until this one day – and I cannot remember how it all happened – he somehow got my number and called me. I literally cannot remember if I gave it to him (which would’ve required ginormous lady-balls that I really didn’t have back then) or if someone jokingly gave him my number because they thought it was funny how pathetic I was (a much more likely scenario). But anyways, he called me one night and I sat and twirled my hair and giggled while he gushed about his favorite band, Smashing Pumpkins. This is literally the highlight of that conversation. A band synonymous with mindlessly destroying gourds. But as many 7th grade girls would do in such a situation, I decided I simply had to check out these Smashing Pumpkins people. All I knew about them was “1979,” which was on pretty heavy radio rotation at the time – but clearly there had to be more, considering I also had about 20 (older, cooler, wiser 15-year old) friends who were constantly blathering on about the greatness of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

I’m fairly certain after that single phone conversation I pretty much never heard from Rusty again. Wait, that is until sometime in 1999, when he showed up with the guy I was (by then) crushing on, at my house, following a hurricane, to go “surfing” in my flooded front yard. I think he also got whacked in the head by the seat of the rope swing in our backyard (gravity is a helluva thing). It’s a random life. Oh, and then there was this other time in my early 20s when I was sitting in a cubicle, at my job, at an engineering firm, all the way across the freaking state, and up walks guess who? Too strange for words. The worst part? I may have actually said to him “Oh my gosh, you’re the Smashing Pumpkins guy!” So yeah. Yeup. Did that.

Anyway, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I don’t care what my self-assured college boyfriend had to say about Billy Corgan’s voice, or even the fact that Corgan later hooked up with Jessica Simpson after her split from Nick Lachey (really, probably the weirdest part of this entire story). Why don’t I care? Because MCATIS is just freaking amazing. No, not every song (I hate the James Iha ones, I’m sorry – James, I tried, I just can’t get into it, but I do dig your haircut). But I love the “balls out” quality of the whole thing, for starters. It’s 28 songs, in dual CDs, with an uber-dramatic celestial theme, packaged up with all the self-assurance and conviction that they are creating art for the ages (even if its just poppy rock). But really, the marketing and packaging means nothing.

I won’t pay much attention to all the stuff you heard on the radio from this album (“Zero,” “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “1979,” etc.). You’ve heard all those. It’s all about the stuff that you only heard when you went to Kmart and begged your mom for the album (that totally didn’t happen), took it home, popped it in that stupid CD Walkman (the second of ten you wore out before MP3 players were invented). It’s the stuff you picked up falling asleep to this album, long after you stopped waiting for silly ol’ whats-his-face to call. One of my favorite songs of all time is a mostly unknown little gem from the album called “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” (from the Dawn to Dusk side). Porcelina is representative of the album as a whole, I think. It’s grandiose, with a two minute intro to a song that lasts a total of 8.5 minutes. It is rambling and overly emotional and sexy and desperate and weird – a pretty heady combination. It was recorded in segments, all at different times, using different instruments and recording setups (okay, I stole that from Wikipedia). It’s basically what happens when one part garage band jam session is combined with two parts whiskey, one part nasty cocaine habit, and three parts heartbreak. It’s flipping amazing.

Another one I really loved was “By Starlight” (from the Twilight to Starlight side). I remember sitting and damn near crying tears of joy (and estrogen) while nine months pregnant with Russ, when I stumbled across the “Rockabye Baby” line of modern rock songs converted into lullabies for babies – and there was “By Starlight.” Downloaded that mess faster than you can say “Time to push.” Oh, and I loved “Where Boys Fear to Tread.” Oh hell, I loved pretty much all of them. Except Iha’s stuff. Sorry, Iha.

Alan Moulder, one of the producers on this album, has worked with Trent Reznor on a variety of projects including (but not limited to) Nine Inch Nails. Oh, and Foo Fighters. And about 15 other meccas of awesomeness. So not a coincidence. And even though I usually say “The Grammys can suck it!” I will say that this album won 7 of those suckers, back before they started giving them to people like Nelly (Ugh…*shivers*).

Even as recently as this spring, I was using songs from this album for sprints in the gym. And please listen to this album in its entirety and tell me that you don’t have mad respect for the drumming excellence that is Jimmy Chamberlin. He really is amazing. It’s too bad that Smashing Pumpkins has had so much drama fueled by drug addiction and band discord over the years, but then again that may be the very root of how they are able to produce such tortured, angsty music. This album, for me, is middle school in a nutshell (and granted, middle school was gawdawful). But more importantly, it captures the desperation of youth, the confusion and frustration of it, the rage that you can’t explain at times, and the desire to just tell everyone to go screw themselves. So it’s one of those things that even now, years later, still resonates with me. ‘Cause don’t we all have days like that?

***

A Musical Autobiography + Part I

So I’ve been kicking around this idea, and I think I’m just going to go ahead and do it. For awhile now (specifically, since late July or early August), I have been pretty much silent (for me, anyway). My mind has been focused on a lot of other stuff, and for the first time in my life, the idea of writing about everything felt like overexposure. It’s something I’m not predisposed to at all, something totally new to me, but I’m feeling this need to get back to broader topics. And I can’t think of anything broader and deeper than music.

(A note: This is going to get weird. Just go ahead and get your helmet, because it’s going to get weird. Like you’re going to feel like you really know me after this series of posts concludes, and also, I’m probably going to ruin some songs for you. Or at least make you Google a few lyrics.)

(Another note: If you take nothing else – NOTHING ELSE – from this series of posts, you should take it as a sign that I have a bottomless pit of memory for songs, random facts, and completely unimportant dates in history. And yet I cannot memorize my husband’s social security number to save my life.)

Last week, I landed an interview for a job that is, by all measurements, pretty much my dream job. This is not in terms of pay or clout or stature or any of that stuff. It’s just a job where I know that, in perhaps the highest concentrations in my post-collegiate life, I’m probably going to be really happy. And the interview went really well. In fact, there’s a good possibility my future boss(es) will read this at some point, so HI, GUYS! 😉 It’s okay, I’ve met them, they’re all super cool, chill people. I can’t really say how excited I am to be working with these folks.

I read somewhere the other day that a person’s music can pretty much tell you more about them than they ever could, and I think that’s probably about as true a statement as I’ve heard lately. Beyond all the B.S., the posturing and pretending that we do in our lives, music points straight to the soul. Some people say that the eyes are the window to the soul, but sometimes a person’s eyes are like windows with dark curtains pulled tightly shut. I squint and squint, and yet I see almost nothing. No truth, no indication of what stirs the soul within. But the music they listen to? Oh, give me a moment with Google and some lyric analysis, and it’s on.

And then this weird (but not shocking, because almost nothing is anymore) thing happened during my interview with the head of a radio station last week. He looked at me as I described the Birdy version of “1901” (only the Phoenix version is getting any real airplay right now, but the Birdy cover is legitimately good). Caution: There is too much hipster in this video for most people to even be able to breathe, but suck it up and try.

I thought it best to break out my weirdness DURING the job interview. I think the conversation went something like this…

“It’s not like the Phoenix one, which clearly has the broadest market appeal,” I rambled. “But it’s more like Ellie Goulding, stripped down to an acoustic, piano-driven, airy thing…almost like a touch of Heather Nova, but without the weird cracky vocals. And without an ounce of Lana Del Rey (who I f-ing refuse to link – you can Google that crap yourself), thank GOD.” His eyebrows jumped a little and I realized that – as I am inclined to do – I’d run off on a tangent.

“Wow,” he said, deadpanning in my direction.

“I’m sorry?”

“You, my dear, are a music junkie,” he smiled. “Why haven’t you been working in radio – or a record store – already?”

It was probably one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received.

So in a very Forest Gump-y sort of way, here’s my musical history. Now, obviously I’m not some sprightly teenager with only about five years of listening experience that extends beyond the realm of “Hannah Montana”…so this might take a few installments to complete. Considering I haven’t really known what else to write about lately, I’m happy with this temporary wealth of content. Because seriously – regardless of how many installments there are – I could always write a hundred more.

***

My dad plays the guitar, and I grew up singing along with him. This is where I learned to pick up harmonies, since Dad’s voice is Jim Croche with a touch of Don McLean and the jubilee quotient of the late Brad Delp of Boston (because admit it, you’ve had amazing Boston singalongs on road trips, just like I have). I was probably just four or five when I realized that it sounded better if I picked a harmony to a song and sang that instead of trying to be in the exact same key as dad. It probably sounds freakish and morbid, but my dad and I have long since discussed and practically finalized his funeral playlist. Creepy, right? Not to us. We’re just cut from the same off-beat cloth, I think.

When I think about my dad, I think about his Army stories – like the one where he was skydiving and landed in a pile of horse shit, breaking his leg. You can’t make this stuff up. And it’s always accompanied by a cacophony of mid-to-late 70s rock, like Boston’s “Don’t Look Back” or Croche’s “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” My dad could’ve told me stories all day long, he could’ve shown me pictures from his time at West Point and his glory days playing rugby and jumping out of planes. But without the songs, the “hero” image would’ve stumbled a little. These songs are what gave the image of the “hero” all of his swagger, his rhythm, his power. Life is basically a music video on mute – most of the time, anyway. Try it sometime, I guarantee it: Ladies, if you’re feeling kind of down about yourself, get your ass in the gym and crank “Paris” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. You will be blazing a trail of your own awesomeness across that place within about 45 seconds. Also, tell me if she’s not just about the hottest live female performer this side of Lzzy Hale (who is also especially helpful for swagger provision).

(Token Tangent: I met Lzzy and the rest of Halestorm outside after their show at the Handlebar in April ’09, before they made it super big…NICE folks, really liked them. You could tell they were really having fun and that they didn’t have a concept of their own pending celebrity at all. Now, the guys from Red? Especially the twins? Not big talkers. But still, an awesome show.)

So, I’ve pretty much told Dad his funeral playlist is a done deal. And his response made me laugh, because it’s just so Dad:

“Sweetie, I’m not having a funeral. Just cremate me and go stick me in the lake, I’ll be happy with that.” Again, I realize this probably sounds really morbid, but in our family, it’s just something to giggle at. He’s going to outlive basically everyone reading this anyway, stubborn ol’ juggernaut that he is.

An aside: Like any person with an overawareness of their own mortality would, I have also given some thought to how my funeral should go in the event of my ultimate demise. My friend Liz Pardue-Schultz (who is amazing in every way imaginable, not all of which I’ve personally experienced, but hey – I have faith) has already been made aware of a pretty ridiculous request. In the event that she outlives me, she is to do an interpretive dance at my funeral, in FULL bee costume, to Blind Melon’s “No Rain” – and she happily, graciously agreed. I’m telling you: in my life, if you’re not a little weird, a little off-kilter, get the fudge out. But if you want to know a song that makes me simultaneously tear up, giggle, and smile from ear to ear, it’s “No Rain.” I heard it for the first time while riding a Tilt-A-Whirl at a local fair. I think it was 1992, and so I was 8 years old. I was sitting next to my friend Amber Valley (she moved up North a few months later and I haven’t seen her since), watching the lights flash around me, and I thought “Oh God, this song is for me.” The music has such a peppy, upbeat, optimistic tone, but then the lyrics point to someone who really struggles to keep it together – and that’s me. It still makes me squeal whenever I hear the initial, watery strains of the distorted hook. I freaking love that song.

***

That time I stopped giving a crap about politics

It must’ve been sometime in August – when a lot of upheaval was already taking place in my life – when I stopped giving a crap about politics. We’re talking, just stopped caring at all. Maybe it’s that I realized that the world isn’t going to just up and end because a candidate I’m not super pumped about wins. Maybe it’s that I realize that, at this point, our congress is so irretrievably broken that it really isn’t going to matter who wins the Oval Office, unless the first thing that person does is sign an executive order firing every last one of those ass clowns. Ass clowns, you say? Let me explain, with a bit of help from UrbanDictionary.com.

ass clown 1589 up449 down
1. One whose stupidity and/or ineptitude exceeds the descriptive potential of both the terms ass and clown in isolation, and in so doing demands to be referred to as the conjugate of the two.
Ass clown 2694 up612 down
ass clown (ás kloun) n.:

one, who, through the fault of his parents conception, is a skid mark in society’s collective underwear.

Now I’m really sorry if the word “ass” offends you, but honestly, it’s in the Bible, so I doubt God cares half as much as you do. Heck, it’s even used in some pseudo-modern context in there (No, I don’t have a verse to “prove it” to you. If you’re that bothered, you can look it up yourself – go ahead, I dare you.) I’m going with it.

Anyhow, most of our congressional representatives are total, complete, certified ass clowns. Not only are they ass clowns who make exorbitant amounts of money on being almost counter-productive to achieving whatever goals this nation might have (especially when it comes to bringing down the deficit and the national debt), but they are ass clowns who will continue to receive pay, pension, and benefits for the rest of their lives after they retire from their ass clownery. All this while veterans struggle to make ends meet and to deal with the results of their service because frankly, the system is overloaded at this point.

No, our legislature is just one big ass clown circus. And yes, I’m talking about almost ALL of them. They could not be less capable of forming one intelligent point of thought if their freaking lives depended on it. They’re all basically bags of flesh, sitting pretentiously upon the perch of their own self-importance, where they either bellow in each other’s faces about issues (Mitch McConnell) or struggle to make normal facial expressions after an unfortunate bout of Botox (Nancy Pelosi, I’m talking to you – don’t even play). And they are the lawmakers who really effect change (for the good or bad, but usually for the bad) in the lives of real Americans. And while we b**ch each other out over whether one guy in an overpriced suit and a White House will make ALL THE DIFFERENCE in our lives, the reality is this: there’s a system of checks and balances in this country, and the legislature is and has been broken for a long time. And in a nation where relatively intelligent, somewhat balanced folks like Orrin Hatch (R-UT) get far, far less media attention and vocal voter support than batsh!t crazy islamophobes like Michele Bachmann (Alien-MN)…well, let’s just say I’m not surprised that this election cycle has made the year 2000 look like, uh, the year 2000. God, I miss the year 2000 – back when our biggest problems were “Can we get home in time for TRL?” and “Will the Y2K bug wipe out our new AOL accounts?” Whatever happened to AOL?

I could go on with more explanation and pontification on all the things plaguing our political system and the mentality of voters themselves. But frankly, I hear the lines at the poll I’m about to go to are hella long, and I have a hair appointment at noon. So basically, I’m going to now hand it over to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. Matt Taibbi has written what has to be the most eloquently and appropriately (but not too over the top) nihilistic piece of election commentary ever (that purple highlighted text means click the link, friends). And geez, the guy works for Rolling Freakin’ Stone. And I don’t. So there you have it. He wins.

Read on, my friends, read on (Now seriously, CLICK THE LINK. Don’t be coming up to me later, all “Oh, I didn’t really agree with your post…” and I’m all “Did you read the page I linked?” and you’re all “No, I didn’t really…*SLAP!*” That’ll happen.)

On an ending note, I just want to say that while everyone on my Facebook is shouting each other down over opposing political views, I’m instead going to say a prayer for all my friends who serve in the Armed Forces of this country, and who gladly put their safety on the line in the defense of rights we probably don’t appreciate enough. Part of the reason they do what they do is to protect peoples’ rights to spew whatever political crap they want to say – whether it’s right, left, intelligent, remotely coherent. Those are pretty big shoes to fill, and I dare say many of us wouldn’t be able to cut it (no matter how much Call of Duty: Black Ops you play). So just keep that in mind when you start a poorly informed political debate with someone on a message board. And then go outside and do something productive…like come help me rake all these friggin’ leaves in my yard.