Thank you, Prince

How is it that losing a physical embodiment of your memories, even if you never were in his presence, makes you so sad?

The death of a musician for a fan always interrupts their day with a mix of disbelief, nostalgia and poignancy. You want to post their music on your Facebook page for commiseration or stream them on Spotify as a personal memorial. (With Prince, your opportunities for this are extremely limited, but I help you out below.) But some artists are more than just great to listen to. Some have woven their music into your very life in a way that makes you unable to separate it from who you are and what you became.

For many GenXers, Prince is probably one of those artists. He was our very own virtuoso rock star. Our very own James Dean riding on his motorcycle in Purple Rain. Our very own taboo-breaking icon.

Prince was pop and funk and rock and psychedelic and blues and soul and even a bit of metal — everything that had taken hold in the modern era of popular music. He transcended each genre to create a sound that was uniquely Prince. Anytime another artist covered one of his songs, even if it was the first time you heard it, you knew it was his — and not just because of the way the title was written.

It was hard to wrap your head around Prince. One year you are turning the volume down on “Darling Nikki” so that your parents don’t hear it belting from your room. Then years later you find out Prince has become a Jehovah’s Witness.

He’s Prince, then a symbol, then Prince again.

He emerges from years away from Top 40 radio to single-handedly kick the most ass ever (and probably forever) in the rain at the 2007 Super Bowl halftime performance.

Then he saunters out to present a Grammy in 2015 in a Dreamsicle-colored chemise stating that albums still matter — and that black lives matter. And you imagine if anyone could crystallize that truth, it would be him.

It’s hard to wrap my head around Prince’s death. His music makes me remember moments that otherwise would have disintegrated into forgotten personal history. His songs are like glue that holds together the narrative of a certain time in my life. With his death, those years are just a bit further away from me.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Classic Rock

Life's encyclopedia.

Life’s encyclopedia.

If you celebrate enough birthdays (even if you are “forever 39”), you learn a few things. But where did all this wisdom come from? Turns out there is a fourth R — Reading, wRiting, aRithmatic and Rock.

Turns out all I really need to know I learned from classic rock.

If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.
(Hold On Loosely, .38 Special)

Better recognize your brothers, everyone you meet.
(Instant Karma, John Lennon)

Hold on to 16 as long as you can. Changes come around real soon make us women and men.
(Jack and Diane, John Mellancamp)

The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.
(Subdivisions, Rush)

Maybe it’s not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate.
(Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne)

The love you take is equal to the love you make.
(The End, The Beatles)

And it came to pass that rock-n-roll was born.
(Let There Be Rock, AC/DC)

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.
(Dust In The Wind, Kansas)

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
(Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell)

Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me.
(Time Waits For No One, The Rolling Stones)

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed, now. It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.
(Stairway to Heaven, Led Zepplin)

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.
(War, Edwin Star)

I hope the Russians love their children too.
(Russians, Sting)

It doesn’t really matter which side you’re on. You’re walking away, and they’re talking behind you.
(New Kid In Town, The Eagles)

The problem is all inside your head.
(50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon)

Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.
(Just A Song Before I Go, Crosby, Stills & Nash)

I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
(Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen)

Send it off in a letter to yourself.
(Rikky Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan)

There’s too many places I’ve got to see.
(Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd)

There ain’t no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
(Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Meat Loaf)

So teach your children well, GenX, and keep that throwback rock station on the presets. It’s called classic for a reason.

 

Photo credit — http://www.freeimages.com/Andras Unger

RIP, Glenn Frey

Life's wisdom on the dial.

Life’s wisdom on the dial.

The people of my generation were not just raised by our families and our communities. We were raised by the radio, the people who chose the songs and the artists who created them.

This past week has been a tough one for those of us who learned about the world through rock’s classic years, with the loss of Bowie last Monday and Glenn Frey today. Though I would say that I am more of a Bowie fan, it’s Frey’s passing that makes me uneasy.

Bowie was ethereal, singing about worlds that exist at the edges of our minds, giving us an escape from the everyday, even if it wasn’t always a pleasant journey. The Eagles taught me more about the world I was living in and would inhabit — the common experiences, the pain, the complexity that comes with just living a life.

A few years back at a party I was asked to advocate in favor of the Eagles during a marital disagreement about the band. My best argument was this — they are among rock’s greatest story-tellers.

And they are the writers behind one of my very favorite songs of all time. I am grateful that their music played a role in shaping my view of the world.

 

Photo credit — Adrian Keith/freeimages.com

Is this a good guy with a gun, Mom?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

If you send a child to school in this decade, you know the feeling that creeps up on you. Will my reality be shattered by another — the fact that this country offers little protection against someone breaking into my kids’ school and firing off multiple rounds of ammunition with the intention of killing as many people as possible?

This is one of those things you simultaneously try to bury in your subconscious to protect your sanity and emotional fortitude to send your child to school and also keep top-of-mind so that you can do your civic duty of participating in a collective force against the gun lobby.

Maybe you don’t want to believe that guns are the problem. Maybe your political and social views have had you favoring lawmakers who happen to support your values but also are funded by gun manufacturers through the NRA. Maybe you are beginning to understand that conflict of interests. My guess is that you still feel the same fear most parents these days do. If this is the case, I am still talking to you. In fact, I am especially talking to you.

We’ve seen many articles and opinion pieces — lockdown drills have been added to the fire and tornado drills we grew up with. Kids shouldn’t have to know how to barricade themselves in a closet because someone armed like a terrorist has come to kill them. Teachers shouldn’t have to devise way to squeeze 20 little kindergarteners into a cubby space to hide them from a disturbed individual with dozens of rounds of ammo. Armed combat should not be part of the requirements for being an educator of children.

Today I saw something just as unsettling — a photo of a man exercising his open carry rights in a donut shop, taken from the perspective of a family sitting 20 or so feet away.

It didn’t appear that this man was participating in a staged protest. He was simply buying a donut, or some coffee, and he happened to have a sizable weapon sticking out of his pocket.

In the foreground of the photo is a child. I think about what this looks like to him.

If I was sitting at that donut shop, what would I have done?

The gun lobby protests that in a world where there are so many guns, more guns are needed — that to be armed is to be safe, that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to be a good guy with a gun. But research shows that this is very, very rarely the case.

Look at the photo. What do you see? If you love guns, you might see a piece of gear you admire. If you want responsible gun control, you see someone whose mind you want to change. If you are the NRA, you see dollar signs.

Do you see a good guy with a gun?

I don’t know this man, as is the case for the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who will see him on social media in the coming weeks. I have no idea if he has any intention of harm. He could simply be a misguided individual who is otherwise kind and thoughtful — a real good guy.

But if you are a child drilled in the art of hiding from people with guns, I think what you might see is the monster who, rather than hiding in your bedroom closet, lurks outside the door to your school. And now he’s in the donut shop. Is it time to hide under the table? Can you barricade yourself in the restroom before he opens fire?

If you are a parent, how likely is it that you will stick around to find out?

I don’t want to demonize this man. It has been my policy to avoid name-calling and assumptions about people who own guns, because I believe that putting people on the defensive won’t support change. This image isn’t about this man. It’s about the gun, and what it represents to our children.

The gun lobby may find reassurance in this scene, but my guess is that most people don’t — especially our kids. Isn’t it time that we make guns less a part of their lives?

Suggestive song lyrics — yesterday and today

car stereo dialIt’s not easy being a GenX parent. So much has changed from the decades dominated by the free-range parenting style. I even had the idea to start a special feature about how much harder it is for parents these days, and I get ideas all the time. I’ve just been too lazy to put them into thoughtful posts.

Take for example song lyrics. Considering that music-oriented pop culture is introduced at younger ages these days, and that Miley Cyrus seems to have no limit to what she is willing to do onstage or say in interviews, one might suggest that this is another way in which GenX parents have been burdened with yet another hazard to circumvent.

I’m not sure this is true. As a kid, I heard an ample number of suggestive songs on the pop music stations of my ultra-conservative hometown. (I lived in one of the markets where George Michael’s late-80s hit was, “I Want Your Love.”)

Let’s take a look at yesterday and today through the lens of risqué lyrics.

Today: “Get Lucky” — Daft Punk
Yesterday: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” — Rod Stewart

It’s a lot easier to tell your kids “Get Lucky” is about visiting casinos in Monte Carlo than trying to explain the concept of sexy and how Rod Stewart could be considered as such. Throw in a rumor about what was found when Rod’s stomach was pumped, and out through the school bus window goes your 10-year-old’s innocence.

Today: “Can’t Feel My Face” — The Weekend
Yesterday: “Cocaine” — Eric Clapton

I am ready with my explanation. If they ask, I will tell my kids that The Weekend is talking about vampires. My supporting evidence is the line, At least we’ll both be beautiful and stay forever young. This may not be the most comforting interpretation, but it beats telling my kids the real story. I’d like to see a parent concoct an alternate meaning for what Clapton sang about.


Today: “Teenage Dream” — Katy Perry
Yesterday: “Afternoon Delight” — Starland Vocal Band

Eventually your kid is going to understand, Let’s go all the way tonight. No regrets, just love. But you can pretty much ignore it until that time. “Afternoon Delight,” though; it’s just so forthright in its ickiness. This song still makes me uncomfortable and embarrassed and all those things you feel when you finally realize what those feminine protection commercials are about. I seriously wonder if this song put a damper on daytime “escapades,” rather than encouraged them. My kids hate it when I sing along to, “Can’t Feel My Face.” They have no idea what my generation suffered hearing our moms singing “Afternoon Delight.”

Today: “Cool for the Summer” — Demi Lovato
Yesterday: “Like a Virgin” — Madonna

“Cool for the Summer” is stuffed with more innuendo than it takes to make Paul Stanley blush. But until kids have already been introduced to these concepts otherwise, the lyrics are explainable. (Really you should turn the song off due to extremely low artistic merit.) “Like a Virgin” has no innuendo. Madonna just puts it all out there. And you can’t turn the station when Madge is on.


Today: “Animals” — Maroon 5
Yesterday: “Sexual Healing” — Marvin Gaye

So the same hometown stations that refused to play “I Want Your Sex,” had no problem putting “Sexual Healing” into heavy rotation. That aside, it’s hard to come up with an innocent twist on a line like, Let’s make love tonight. Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up. ‘Cause you do it right. The most egregious of lines from “Animals” can’t compare.

One question about Ahmed and his clock

Good for Ahmed! But we still have problems.

Good for Ahmed! But we still have problems.

Last week 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a clock, because the circumstances of the situation led those in charge to believe that it might be a bomb.

It looks like it’s going to be a better Monday for Ahmed this week, but I still have a question:

Are we really living in an era where a home-made clock created by a high school student with a passion for inventing has no place at a school?

The home-made clock

I’m not sure if in the history of our public education system there has been a more confused time for striking the right balance of quantifiable measurement and intuitive teaching, standards and freedom to explore, serving the gifted and addressing the challenged and giving the best opportunities to everyone else, and providing the right learning environment for kids who have abundant resources and those who are simply just hungry. Perhaps my teacher friends can confirm or deny this, but judging from all that is said and written about education today, we are faced with a crushing number of issues. Many of our educators disagree with how political leaders are addressing them.

Thanks to my teacher friends and family, I read a lot about how standards impact those who have a hard time in the classroom, whether due to abilities, home environment, racism or otherwise. But I also see how creating a narrow channel for our teachers to draw from debilitates kids who aren’t fully served by what happens in the classroom.

Should we expect someone like Ahmed Mohamed to stifle his excitement for what he discovers, what he can do, and not share it with his teacher because it is atypical?

Has our educational system has become so rigid that kids are no longer expected (or welcome) to “color outside the lines”?

This boy, like other “maker” kids, goes beyond the standards to take ownership of his learning experiences.

Some might call it inspired.

The student

Ahmed Mohamed is Muslim. He lives in a community where the mayor has had a strained relationship with the Muslim community. Some of the things that were said to him when questioned indicate that his religion had some influence on how the situation was being treated.

My son attends an enrichment program for kids who like to and have the talent to invent, run by one of this country’s most prestigious universities. The requirements to attend are fairly narrow, so I can’t say it is a diverse group on the whole. But when I show up to drop him off and pick him up from his classes, the kids, parents and teachers I see have different skin colors. The groups are not fully representative of all the major world races and ethnicities, but there are kids there who look like Ahmed Mohamed and others who do not look like my white son.

It’s not the perfect picture of diversity, but isn’t this the kind of direction we want head toward for our kids?

The school

What shouldn’t have a place in school are the hard decisions administrators have to make about how to keep their students safe. Obviously in some places they need more guidance on what should be perceived as a threat. A simple home-made clock lands a kid in police questioning, but in some states his father wouldn’t have to leave his gun in the car to come in and pick him up from the principal’s office. We need another phrase to describe this inconsistency of logic, because “messed up” is inadequate.

Shouldn’t we be more afraid of people who have made it easier to bring weapons into schools than adolescents who like to tinker with circuit boards and digital displays?

Ahmed’s story has a fortunate ending. But even after he gets back from the White House and Facebook headquarters, the factors that influenced what happened will still be the same. Looks like this incident will turn out fine for him. And like so many others, #IStandWithAhmed. But we all know that there will be other kids like Ahmed who won’t be so lucky.

What are we going to do about that?

Midlife crisis averted courtesy of AC/DC

IMG_3263

Photo: Paul Failla

Thank you AC/DC for stepping in front of the train that is the midlife crisis and bringing it to a halt, because it was about to roll right over me.

Last night the band played at Wrigley Field — a show that completely and utterly rocked, and not only entertained me but also brought a bit of the fountain of youth back to seeing live music.

Lately, seeing bands has not been so good for my fragile midlife state.

First there was the Phish show where my husband had to hold me back from telling a collection of 17-year-old boys smoking way too many bowls that their mamas were waiting at home, hoping they’d come back in one piece, so please just stop. My latest midlife angst was brought on full-scale earlier this year by seeing Van Halen perform… on Ellen… playing “Jump.” Our vow to no longer pay money to see old 60s artists perform occured after seeing far less of Crosby, Stills & Nash than we should have due to all the Baby Boomers getting up to use the bathroom.

After a quick text conference with my husband and the luck of finding a sitter to watch our kids (who are more B-96 than WLUP) we headed to Wrigley to get some tickets. (Bargain shoppers would be impressed by how much we paid.)

After passing up the $10 light-up devil horns to get our $11 drinks, we found ourselves right on time to not hear the opening song so well (public service — don’t get 300-level tix for guitar-based music at Wrigley) but moved toward our section (500 level, up high but great sound) for the second, “Shoot to Thrill.” It just got better from there.

The people-watching was superior. The diversity of generations was surprising, and for once we might have been older than the average age. There were plenty of the expected rock dudes and guys formerly known as such. But there were also“kids” in their 20s and old rockers in their 60s. We saw middle-age moms wearing the devil horns with their middle-school sons. We saw college girls humoring their moms who were dancing in the aisle to every single song. There were clusters of GenX chicks throwing from their elegant wrists some of the daintiest horns I’ve ever seen, their diamond-y watches flashing from 10 rows down.

These folks sound like cliches, but how many of us appear our unique selves to the outside world? Didn’t matter. Everything about that AC/DC show was about rock-n-roll. Everyone in that stadium (except for maybe the worried-looking woman in front of us) was enthralled with the spectacle that it was.

The highlight of the show was the closing song before the encore — “Let There Be Rock,” the song that inspired my fingertips to text our sitter and see if she was free that evening. Until that point the walkway that extended from the main stage and ended at a smaller circular stage in the crowd had been unused. At the end of the song Angus Young played his way to that circle to launch a God-knows-how-long solo. When he got to the center, he flopped on his back as ticker tape exploded from all around the stage lit like fireworks from the lights. I don’t care how Spinal Tap such antics might seem, it was awesome!

And he kept playing, making his was back to the main stage. Everything went dark, but you could still hear him playing guitar. When the single spotlight came up a few minutes later, he was on top of his wall of amps, the single shadow of his school-boy-uniform figure on the giant black curtain. It was exactly what I needed to see.

Witnessing this, I might have been envious of his energy or felt old because I don’t have it. I might have imagined with regret a younger me climbing on my husband’s shoulders in the first row. Instead Angus invited me in, like he did for every other person in that stadium. For my place and time, there was nothing better to remind me of who I used to be and actually still am.

Thanks again, AC/DC. This one might last me until I turn 50.