High, Low and In Between: The Multiplying Gift of Music

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Capping off a week in which I was obsessed with thinking about, talking about and listening to music, I finished the work week (almost – still have Friday to get through) watching the film Les choristes. A perfect finale.

I thought about and discussed genius songwriters this week – focusing in mostly on the late, great Townes van Zandt and to a lesser degree, Robyn Hitchcock (whose duet of van Zandt’s well-known “Poncho and Lefty” with Grant-Lee Phillips I stumbled upon the previous week).

I met someone who has placed van Zandt (rightly) on a songwriting pedestal. A songwriter’s songwriter. The striking thing, for me, though, was in exploring how each of us – and by extension, how anyone – discovers music. Discoverability is a lot easier these days – easy to spread and share. Not quite so much in the “old days”. This led me to thinking about the web music weaves – the intricate web, unique to each of us – making up the soundtrack of our lives. The web also has a kind of reach – one piece of music or musician leads us to their influences or contemporaries. It was in this way that I discovered Townes van Zandt myself back in 1990.

I had fallen under the dreamy spell of the Cowboy Junkies’ album The Trinity Sessions and, being too young, could not attend their first show in Seattle. When they came back in early June 1990 (hear me let out a sigh here – I am 26 years removed from this – “who knows where the time goes?”), I begged my parents let me attend (luckily they did). The Junkies were touring with Townes van Zandt – my first introduction to him. Since then I’ve devoured his discography, and have seen its presence proliferate in film and TV soundtracks ever since.

The woven web was taking on new parts – the initial discovery of the Cowboy Junkies had first led me to the Velvet Underground (as the Junkies gained their biggest ‘fame’ from their remake of “Sweet Jane”). I had known of Lou Reed earlier, but mostly only having heard “Walk on the Wild Side” a few times and seen him a few times on a brief and more mainstream path in the 80s. And from the Junkies, things moved on to Townes.

Thinking about all of this, I reflected, and wrote to an acquaintance that “one of the most beautiful things about music is its ability to not just endure and bring people together or even its transformative power but its “introductory” powers. That is, you hear something that means something to you… but it does not stop there”. In fact, it never stops. The web continues to multiply.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Master of None

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Where can you hear Townes van Zandt, Bobby McFerrin, Lou Reed, “Cool It Now” from New Edition, Father John Misty, a Chinese song “Yue yuan hua hao“, Bollywood “Jap Chaye” and about a thousand other eclectic, off-the-wall, past and present hits and obscurities? Including “Africa” by Toto, which seems to be the anthem of millennial bar-goers – they freaking go nuts over this song (on TV and in real). Hmm.

Aziz Ansari‘s ace Master of None on Netflix. I am not sure I have ever experienced such a diverse and rich soundtrack in any TV show. Who is responsible for this magic?

And maybe the only TV show I’ve watched in which they mention boba/bubble tea! Haha.

I could ramble about how the show is slightly genius in its random observations and is also really funny, sweet and pleasant. I’ve loved it, even down to the background music.

Good Good of Random Gum – Year-End Soundtrack 2013

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The Good Goo of Year-End – Queen Bee in the Hornet’s Nest
Random Gum / Year-End 2013

Complete playlist on Spotify.

1. SONIC CONTROL – “Broken Television on a Neukölln Street”
“I’m a broken television on a Neukölln street/that dog over there just pissed on me/my screen is cracked, my transformers are gone/I was state of the art until it all went wrong…” The dogs of corporate life. Thanks, ML and MS

2. Ladytron – “Mirage” …You don’t listen,/You do not exist…
“Happy not to notice/The room retracts the focus/Where you cannot see/Reflections from within”

3. Elton John – “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” …live for each second, without hesitation…
Song is a sad reminder of childhood & early years of music videos. “I simply love you more than I love life itself”

4. John Grant – “Leopard and Lamb” …Like learning how to crawl across a floor that’s covered with glass/Like learning how to look away and never to look back…
“Watch The Simpsons to remember how you’d laugh…”. For Ph. Friendship ending always hurts more than love

5. Ulali – “Mahk Jchi”
This is like being back in college again. Upon reflection, the most awkward, misguided time of my whole life

6. Royal Headache – “Distant and Vague”
One for wandering central Göteborg. And the title/theme… what/who isn’t “distant and vague”?

7. TV-Resistori – “Koputan puuta”
FUNland! ”But Ginsberg, my balls hurt!” Finnish music that sounds almost Japanese. Music for throwing away perfectly good shoes. For Naomi and ML.

8. Pepe Deluxé – “Lucky the Blind vs. Vacuum Cleaning Monster”
Thinking about Lóa, who loves vacuum cleaners.

9. Les Sans Culottes – “Tout va bien
All the French – Aurélien, Bruno, Tristan, Thierry, Valérie – and so on. All the cool people.

10. Cepia – “Ithaca”
Anything Ithaca, as much horror as it might give her, is for Jill.

11. John Grant – “I Hate This Town”
But then again you always made it clear/That you do not care either way/Which begs the question/How can I still claim to love you/You told me time and time again/That you don’t lose you always win/And that to make an effort would just be beneath you”. John Grant – hands down, one of my favorites

12. Throwing Muses – “Mexican Women” …love becomes a foreign substance…
For Martina and her reflections on Mexican women making piñatas that will just be destroyed – the fleeting nature of beauty. “Up yours, Bruno!” Also, I might as well be a man – I open doors for and bring flowers to women friends. What woman wouldn’t want to marry me? Hahaha. Pachanga! Free fika cake!

13. Yo La Tengo – “Nowhere Near” …everyone is here/but you’re nowhere near…
I have always loved this song, but love resurged when it appeared in the final episode of the US version of The Bridge this year.

14. Marianne Faithfull – “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” …at the age of 37, she realized she’d never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair…
For a variety of reasons, I really dislike the name Lucy (cue up whiny, snotty British accent for starters). I am sure I had heard this song before (Lee Hazlewood version?) and even think I knew it was written by Shel Silverstein, but it appeared in the Dusan Makavejev film Montenegro, which I only saw recently despite its being made in 1980. I had no idea it was set in Stockholm (you’d never guess from the film’s title!), the dubious heroine a resident of posh island “suburb”, Lidingö. In the early 2000s I went to a film festival in Reykjavik at which Makavejev was the guest – they screened two of his weirder films (they’re all weird)… oh memories. For Leifur.

15. The National – “About Today” …you just walked away/and I just watched you…
What more can really be said about The National? “How close am I to losing you?”

16. The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy for the Devil”
Horrifying memories of hordes of Australians on bus trip; a memory of coming home from kindergarten. My dad was playing this, and it is the only time I remember him choosing willingly to play a record on his own. I was a bit scared/very intrigued by this song because of the title and the drum beat.

17. Martha Wainwright – “Matapedia” …I could not slow down/I was not afraid…
Martha doing one of her mother, Kate McGarrigle’s (RIP) songs – really lovely.

18. Kishi Bashi – “I Am the Antichrist to You” …I was always quick to admit defeat…
“And my heart it shook with fear/I’m a coward behind a shield and spear”

19. The Bee-Gees – “Stayin Alive”
A few years ago when Robin Gibb died, I could not bring myself to include a Bee-Gees song on my mix and instead chose “It Was Disco but Now It’s Over…”. Thanks to TV’s Sherlock and its use of “Stayin Alive”, its worming its way into my brain and all the back and forth with people about disco, Tony Manero (the Saturday Night Fever character and title character of eponymous Chilean film) AND learning that the song provides the right tempo for performing CPR, I could hardly not include it. For Elisa S, Krista H, Adrian K

20. Animotion – “Obsession”
Oh, the 80s. Makes me feel old but brings to mind obsessive statements à la “Nobody has driven me crazy like this for such a long time. Never.” For JKL

21. Run DMC/Aerosmith – “Walk This Way”
Thanks to Jill for the reminder of this song, which I like much better now than in the old days. Late-night, loud rain dance praying with love for Annette.

22. Lia Ices – “Little Marriage”
This song was included on another mix but it’s too beautiful not to use again. It inspires such emotion, bringing an emptiness that longs to be filled to the surface. With love for Jane as always.

23. Jean-Louis Murat – “Colin-Maillard” …Tu traverses le miroir/Ton désir ne veut plus patienter…
Another previous inclusion… the sound and the voice fills me with a kind of melancholy.

24. My Bloody Valentine – “Feed Me with Your Kiss”
MBV released their first album in 20+ years but I select a song from an old album. Nostalgia?

25. The Smiths – “A Rush and a Push”
“Let’s talk about poetry.” The seductive power of knowing a poem or two… stealing things from others’ imaginations.

26. OutKast – “Hey Ya!” …don’t try to fight the feeling/cause the thought alone is killing me right now…
To the joy of knowing Jill: “My baby don’t mess around”

27. Lay Low – “Last Time Around”
Something nice from Iceland, thinking of all my friends there (Alfa, Jane, Lóa, and so on…)

28. Iron & Wine – “Jesus the Mexican Boy”
One of the songs in a playlist I made chronicling dogs, dog and pony shows and Mexicans. For Martina.

29. Belle & Sebastian – “Legal Man” …L-O-V-E – it’s coming back, it’s coming back…
One to lose one’s mind dancing to. “Get out of the city/and into the sunshine/get out of the office/and into the springtime…”

30. Serge Gainsbourg – “Les Sucettes” …Elle est au paradis…
For Jean, who taught me so much, and for JKL, who makes plans he will never keep

31. New Order – “Love Vigilantes”
The confusion of mixing up conversations that started about rotten chuck roast and what I thought was “dal” (as in Indian food) but was actually “dal” as in “valley” (Norwegian). I was wondering, “Since when does dal have chuck roast in it?” But the conversation was really referring to Malala from that “dal” (Swat Valley). J Love my vigilante friend, Annette. And, for Naomi – “O blessed be – my favorite dal of all the dals!”

32. The Bee-Gees – “Night Fever”
Taken aback by the rampant popularity of Daft Punk’s latest offer – it’s good, but in light of the backlash against the Bee-Gees and their sound in the late 70s – it is interesting to hear these sounds make a resurgence.

33. Human League – “Don’t You Want Me?”
Neverending back & forth with ML, who never knows what he wants – just knows it’s whatever he doesn’t have

34. Don Dixon – “Praying Mantis”
For Naomi and the happiness of driving around in a different car.

35. Darker My Love – “Talking Words”
Sitting in the autumn-dark parking lot observing OCD-afflicted people check their doors five or six times

36. Lush – “For Love”
Another song that transports me to an exact time, feeling – making me want to run back to the present

37. Camera Obscura – “Anti-Western” …you’re too good looking, I’m always gonna put up a fight…
Anthem to those stunning but ultimately false moments when you believe (stupidly!) that interest is actually real. How eager even the cynic is to believe sometimes. Thanks to Jill as always.

38. Erasure – “Oh L’Amour”
This will always remind me of the late 80s, very late-night phone calls with JBB – alternate realities that allowed for the most complete and unfiltered feeling I can ever remember feeling

39. Cinerama – “Heels” …you crushed him with your heels/and I know exactly how he feels…
For Mathieu. “I don’t really care that you found another lover/cause I know he’ll be gone the moment that you get bored…”

40. Secret Machines – “Atomic Heels” …uncover your eyes/they’re bloodied in love/who’s staring back at yours, honey what have you missed?…

41. Ladytron – “Seventeen” …they only want you when you’re 17, when you’re 21, you’re no fun…
How to feel old…

42. Lana Del Ray – “Blue Jeans (RAC Mix)” …I will love you til the end of time…
Dislike Lana Del Ray but for some reason like this mix – here’s to new cars and departed Greek dentists.

43. Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman” …I need you more than want you
For Naomi – another sort of stalker song.

44. The Bee-Gees – “To Love Somebody”
I put the Roberta Flack version of this on the other part of this mix and knew it had sounded familiar but did not put two and two together until I reheard this version in the film 50/50. The Bee-Gees’ music (as done by other artists) is everywhere. It’s got a sad sort of feel – we’ve all been there, but the “you don’t know what it’s like” also sounds like the condescending sorts who rub your being alone in your face, “You just don’t know what it’s like to be in love…”

45. Blondie – “Faces”
I listened to this – and the whole Autoamerican album – over and over when I was five. No wonder I am so fucked. 🙂 “Rapture” does at least reference Subaru! Memories of Thanksgiving with Lóa (2013)

46. Lou Reed – “Satellite of Love”
Rest in peace and bon voyage.

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What does it take to be fearless and loving? Loving people requires a certain risk-taking fearlessness that I have never really embraced. When I say never, I mean never. But kindness – that can substitute.

I take a lot of risks and make a lot of changes but am still fearful of a lot of things. Perhaps I need to focus on these things before running off on another adventure undertaken for the sake of “change”.

Sudden, unexpected loss everywhere this year – there is no time like the present to do what one needs to do to feel healthy and happy. Happiest new year wishes, as arbitrary as that really is.

It is only too late if you are dead

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“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”
― Doris Lessing

Nobel laureate Doris Lessing and creative pioneer Lou Reed both died recently. I think of this Lessing quote and the way Reed lived his life – unapologetically, his own way – and continue to realize the value of doing whatever it is you want to, are meant to, dream of doing – right now – regardless of whether the circumstances are ideal. (They never are, really. Meaning they always are. Any time is as good as any other.) We can make excuses forever – excuses will stop us in our tracks, hold us back, but all that happens is a life of regret about the things we never dared to try. That’s not to say I have always been completely faithful to the idea of jumping when the urge struck.  I am as cautious and fearful as anyone else – just about different things.

People tell me all the time that they wanted to do X or Y but that “now it’s too late” – followed by a litany of other reasons why. “I’m too old.” “It will take too long.” “I am working all day.” “It’s too far away.” “I am not smart enough.” But this idea that just because something was not done and completed at a specific point in time, like it is now out of reach forever, is complete bullshit. Nothing is too late. It is only too late if you are dead.

That is not to say it (whatever “it” is) won’t be the most difficult thing you ever did or tried to do. Even if you give this nebulous “it” your all, there is no guarantee of success. Obviously if you are 45 and think you can compete in the Olympics against 20-year-old athletes, maybe you are deluded – but does that mean you should not strive for that goal anyway just to push yourself to see how far you can go, even if you don’t compete in the Olympics? This is an extreme example. Most of us are not setting our sights on such accomplishments. Most of us are wishing for a new job, a promotion, a different educational experience, a move abroad, learning a language… and none of these things is anywhere near impossible.

It is a story I have told and written about before but choose to repeat to make a point. Around the time I had decided to move to Iceland, I found myself sometimes racked with doubt. I did not really have a plan – was I making a big mistake? As the day of my move drew nearer, though, I grew surer that I would hate myself if I did not at least try. One afternoon, I ran into a man (a former colleague with whom both my dad and I had worked when we were colleagues) I had known. I knew, via my dad, that this man had recently been diagnosed with fairly advanced cancer for which there were very few treatment options. When I had seen this many only a matter of months earlier, he had been vibrant and alive, and suddenly here he was before me, a shell of his former physical self. In that moment, it struck me vividly – he had talked almost daily at the office about his retirement countdown, looking forward to sailing around the world (his big retirement plan). Everything hinged on this magic number, magic day, “When I retire…”. Now he was not even going to make it to retirement. That encounter cemented my decision for me – it is not possible to live in this “I will do X when…” way. Yes, sometimes real, tangible circumstances delay our plans, but for the most part, when you have your moment, as frightening as it is, what is more frightening than not taking the risk? What is the alternative? Everything is a risk, and life continually postponed and planned out is not living. A more “convenient time” and “the right moment” may not come to pass.

This year, having seen so much loss, especially in very unexpected places, it hit home for me again. Plans, to some extent, mock us. When confronted by loss, even the loss of people in the periphery with whom we are not directly close, it can shock us and create emotional turmoil by stirring up so much self-reflection that normal daily life does not provoke. It reminds us both to hold on to what we have and let go of limitations simultaneously.

Worry overtakes

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I had one of those days recently that just made everything seem so hopeless. Such days happen. I want to give them a name. Like “Snickerdoodle Days” – harkening back to the days when all I had to think about was passing my driver’s licensing test, school and listening to new music with friends. And baking snickerdoodles every weekend, of course. Back in the end of the 1980s or the early 1990s. Listening to “Harold and Joe” in the tail-end of the goodness of The Cure’s musical career. I reminisce clearly about this song, playing on a mix tape from my friend Gary as I crossed the field from the main campus to the “vocational building” for my ill-fated drafting class. Or just, in general, “…it was acceptable in the 80s… it was acceptable at the time…” (Calvin Harris).

Sometimes, if I have a drink – since I don’t drink – I become quite emotional. Feelings wash over me in a way that convinces me that I would be one of those “sad drunks”.

I am thinking of the verb “to miss” – against the term “to be missing”. I read something that stated “I am just missing Bob in Skype”, which was unclear. We’re back to the challenge of how to phrase it when you want to state that you miss someone versus what you should state when you want to say that something is missing/not there/lacking. Does “I am just missing Bob in Skype” mean that he is not signed in (and you miss talking to him)? Or is this missing him in the sense that he is missing, e.g. he never subscribed to Skype and you are missing him from your contact list? Like a missing child, a missing puzzle piece – something that is not there versus something that you have a sentimental sense of loss for. The sense of loss and the idea of losing people and of murder – I recently published the recipe for some vanilla cupcakes filled with cherry “blood” filling and some candy knives as decoration – this rushes to mind. All the loss, untimely and senseless, as described below, or the ideas of murder – e.g, a former colleague who was accused of murdering a neighbor in their common parking garage. I don’t ultimately know what happened there, but it is still the loss of a life – both the victim and potentially that of the former colleague.

I have recently moved my blog to a new platform (the brilliant WordPress). I had been using MyOpera because it was handy – I worked at Opera for so long, it seemed like a smart idea to just use the community blog… but I always had the nagging feeling in my mind that it would one day meet its demise. Like most things – it was too altruistic an effort – and a real effort – to maintain such a community – for a company that is increasingly profit obsessed. I moved the whole thing over, but I don’t know that I love the layout/theme I chose. But it will do for now. Ideally I would get the whole thing set up and designed for my own domains, but I am just time-challenged. MyOpera was never ideal – quite ugly and no one had ever heard of it. My new choice is still a wee bit ugly, but at least WordPress is hardly going to collapse. Either way, my choice is a little bit ugly. Not unlike the whole Wolf Eel idea.

This year has been such an empty, gray space. It started with major change, but has just felt like a daily grind, churning through the abyss of dull daily life with the accompanying annoyances – but they have been frequent. Since the start of the year, there have been so many deaths, illnesses, big changes – so much unexpected and unpleasant change. I go through so much of my own completely ON my own – and then become so completely overwhelmed by the issues affecting other people – the suicide of a young former colleague (a new mother), the death of a friend’s young wife, the death of a former colleague’s young child – and then the catastrophic illness of another former colleague and an accident that nearly took the life of a family friend (he fell off a ladder when he was home alone). Or the murder accusation about the former colleague, mentioned in an earlier post about cupcakes. “Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park” by the Cowboy Junkies springs to mind, only it’s murder tonight in the parking lot, not trailer park, in this case. And then I think further on loss – not personal but to the artistic community – the recent death of Lou Reed. And I think then of how much of an impact Lou Reed and his creativity had, how much they contributed. Stream of consciousness.

Not to add the upcoming, somewhat sudden, voluntary deployment abroad of my brother – military. Worry.

The nature of worry springs to mind. Worry overtakes me so easily.