Grammy Nominees Now & Then

Grammy LogoI checked out the list of Grammy nominees a little later than usual this year, which, I guess, is indicative of one’s world at midlife. When I was much younger, it mattered to me if my music was nominated, so I kept tabs on nominations and shared my opinion freely to anyone who would listen. Lately, I haven’t had as much to say — I’m not as thoroughly versed in the nominees as I once was, and I care less about what the Grammys have to say about the music I like.

This year, I am in luck, as some of my favorite artists/songs of the year are represented. There must be some strange ripple in the middle-age dimension to make this happen, because it seems less likely that a midlifer would be pleased with Grammy nominees in the year 2013 than in 80s, when Boomer tastes dominated. But it has happened, and I’m not talking about Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.

So I decided to look back at the year 1983 and see what was nominated in some of the most popular categories. Here’s what I found for Record of the Year:

Beat It — Michael Jackson
What a Feeling/Flashdance — Irene Cara
All Night Long — Lionel Richie
Maniac/Flashdance — Michael Sembello
Every Breath You Take — The Police

Not as bad as I expected, though Whitney Houston dominance was yet a few years away.

This year’s Record of the Year nominations seem a bit more exciting even in context of the current world of music.

Get Lucky — Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
Radioactive — Imagine Dragons
Royals — Lorde
Locked Out of Heaven — Bruno Mars
Blurred Lines — Robin Thicke featuring TI & Pharrell

I am a midlifer, so I’m sure there’s a 16-year-old out there ready to school me on how inadequate this list is, but it seems more interesting than the one from 1983. Daft Punk managed to record one of the most omnipresent songs of the last who-knows-how-many years, which remains a thoroughly enjoyable listen after probably hundreds of plays on my iPod. I’m not so sure what’s going on in the minds of the Academy with “Blurred Lines”. It’s a great groove but gratuitously borrowed from Marvin Gaye, and the subject matter is dicey even by today’s standards.

But speaking of what wouldn’t have happened 30 years ago — a song like “Same Love”. This one by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis is nominated for Song of the Year. This essay to rhythm about gay rights and gay marriage is honest and soulful and deserves the nomination on its musical merits alone. And its nomination shows how far we’ve come.

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Nearly 8 Ways This GenXer Felt Old This Week

Nevermind Baby Grown UpYou may have seen this photo on various sites in the past week or so. The phrase, “A picture says a thousand words,” comes to mind. But, in this case, the image needs only three to get its message across — “You are old.”

Those of us who remember the release of “Nevermind” or the demise of Nirvana’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, are supposed to feel their age when shown this image. But I was already feeling that way this week due to a variety of other harbingers of maturity.

A department head named Dakota.

I was reading a trade publication for work the other day and came to the section where they announce promotions, new positions, etc. There was a listing for a woman named Dakota who had just joined a company as director of one of their departments.

Disclaimer — I am not one of those people who thinks that a guy named Buck can’t be a sommelier or a woman named Ginger won’t land a “serious” job. But the fact that kids born in the era of Montana and Sierra are now leading groups of people in manufacturing companies made me realize that quite a bit of time has passed since the Heathers and Dawns of GenX entered the workforce.

Not a single person in my writing class understood my cultural reference to Rob Lowe.

In the GenX female dictionary, look up the definition of “hot,” and you will find the words “Rob Lowe.” So in the spirit of “show-don’t-tell,” I described a character as looking like Sodapop from The Outsiders. No one understood the reference. It was so off that many of them actually called it out in the notes they wrote for my workshop. When a classroom full of mostly adult women does not totally get Sodapop, you know that you’ve crossed the threshold of time. It makes me wonder if they even know C. Thomas Howell!

The contents of my purse.

I’ve been known to say that the size of a woman’s purse indicates her age. In college, we didn’t even carry purses out to bars, because the possibility of losing them in all the excitement that a $3-pitcher establishment offered was so great. As a female acquires more responsibility, the bag she totes around gains more stuff.

This week, though, it was not the size of my bag but what I found in it that made me feel my age. If the contents of one’s purse reflect that person’s life, I think that a child’s molar, reading glasses and a tube of Motrin for my pending fourth root canal sums it up tidily.

The fact that I went to college when pitchers cost $3.

Granted, it wasn’t the kind of place I seek out these days. But still…

Frances Bean is not a baby.

If the dude from the Nirvana cover is 22, then Frances Bean, Kurt and Courtney’s daughter, must be legal drinking age as well, or at least close. I could google this, but I’d rather retain the small measure of doubt that this is true.

I referred to a portable CD player as “obsolete.”

My daughter received a clock-radio-iPod docker for her birthday, so I removed the CD-player-radio combo we got from my FIL from her room, saying these words as I picked it up and put it on top of the whites load in the laundry basket to be carried to the basement. And while I realized how weird it was to call such a thing “obsolete,” I noted how she had never used it… of course because she has never owned a CD.

I realized I don’t have a Pintrest account.

Wait, scratch that. If I am a 40-something woman, I’m supposed to have a Pintrest account. How GenX of me to reject the mainstream 🙂

Beyond Billboard’s Halloween Top 10

Rockin' All Hallow's Eve

Rockin’ All Hallow’s Eve

Billboard released a top 10 list of Halloween songs filled with the expected and adequate, songs that performed well on the charts and have an obvious connection to the  holiday.

But composing a playlist is a subtle art. It’s always best to have a few surprises… songs that make certain parts of your listeners’ brains wake from a long sleep like zombies from a cemetery. (Don’t worry… nary a B-side here, and no rap.) Plus, if you are creating a compilation for a Halloween party or to blast tunes from your porch while you pass out candy (because you can’t leave that big bin out front unattended anymore due to the Candy Heist of 2011 that sent your husband racing down the street after a group of teenagers), you are going to need more than 10 songs.

With a little help from my friends, here’s what’s missing from Billboard’s list of Halloween tunes.

“The Devil Went Down to Georgia”

The night of the Halloween Candy Heist of 2011, I was attending a party, and the host had this song on the playlist. I was so jealous! I wanted to be the first person I knew who played this song on Halloween. But since we had yet to host a Halloween party, chances were that someone would beat us to it. I’m a good sport, so I congratulated him on his choice.

“Everyday Is Halloween”

My friend Sue pointed out Billboard’s oversight on this one. Halloween is in the title, so the only thing I can imagine that caused its omission is that Billboard covers the charts. Though popular at fraternity parties in the 80s, it’s likely not going to hit the Neilsen radar.

“Devil Woman”

If you’re going to include “Witchy Woman,” why not “Devil Woman”? It’s probably because they did include Witchy Woman. This is a great alternative, especially considering the possibility that you may be suffering from a lifetime overdose of the Eagles. But if you must indulge in Henley & Frey, “Hotel California” might be a better choice.

“Stairway to Heaven”

Come on! How many times did I hear this song played backwards on our local AOR station around Halloween when I was young? Not only does this song reference death, it also has gives us urban legend about devil worship.

“People Are Strange”

It’s unlikely that most of us have been stalked, escaped from a murderous raisin-like character in our nightmares or even met a vampire. But most of us have experienced being the stranger… the one who is not the same as the others. And if you haven’t, this song title can serve as commentary on the various Halloween costumes you’ll see that night.

“Space Oddity”

Mix it up a bit with some spookiness of the sci-fi variety. Besides, a nod to Bowie is totally appropriate — he’s must be the world’s greatest consumer of Halloween costumes.

“I Will Possess Your Heart”

The bass line is ominous. The instrumental crescendo at the beginning of the song tells you something is going to happen. Then it falls away with the opening lines — How I wish you could see the potential… the potential of you and me. It’s like a book elegantly bound, but in a language that you can’t read… just yet.” Creepy, don’t you think?

“The Lighthouse”

This song about a lighthouse keeper who commits suicide after witnessing the demise by sea of his young bride calls for a classic Halloween ending. And though the lighthouse has long since been shuttered, sometimes, when the fog is thick, you can see a mysterious light shining and hear the wails of a man falling to his death.

“Dead Man’s Party”

This is, first and foremost, a party song. You have to mix the light with the dark, and this one will get bodies bouncing.

What’s missing? Feel free to add your comments about what you’d include on your Halloween playlist.

Elvis from a different angle

-Elvis-elvis-presley-30741633-440-619My first memory of Elvis is not a song. It’s an image of a him wearing a jumpsuit on stage with his band in the 70s, looking a bit sweaty and performing songs that had become so woven into pop culture that they blended into the background. I did not understand why the grown-ups gave him so much credit.

After seeing Donny Osmond sing “Are You Lonesome Tonight” on The Donny & Marie Show, I added one track to the Elvis log in my brain. Eventually songs like “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Jailhouse Rock” joined the list. “In the Ghetto” was kind of interesting, because it seemed socially conscious. But, to me, nothing stood out as any reason for this guy to be any different from the one who sang the theme song to Happy Days.

As a music fan, I have a basic understanding of the role Elvis played in the emergence of rock music in popular culture. I know a handful of people my age who actually do consider him “The King.” I know that many of the 60s artists that I admire were big fans of Elvis and that meeting him was a highlight of many of their careers. But his music had never elicited more than a shrug from me.

It wasn’t until I caught a few moments of a PBS show on Elvis’ gospel roots that I got it, at least on some level. Elvis wasn’t really about “Suspicious Minds” and “Love Me Tender”. He was about the energy he brought to the music… the sense that before the words passed through his mouth they started the trip deep in his soul. My husband recently said that what makes a singer good is their commitment to the lyrics. This is where it all clicked for me with Elvis.

This past weekend, my husband and I were sitting on our front porch listening to music on YouTube. This is where we go when we want something different from the thousands of songs in our iTunes account. I’ve been on a 70s light rock kick for about a year now, so I was playing things like Pablo Cruise and Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, and he asked to hear some Elvis (which, of course, is where he’d want to go after “Don’t Pull Your Love“). I avoided the typical and found some gems from early in his career.

There are other artists out there who are known for work that doesn’t capture their true essence, unfortunately. Consider Heart and “Alone” vs. “Magic Man.” God forbid they are remembered for their 80s hits over their contributions in the 70s, but I have a feeling it happens. Some would call it selling out, but I think it’s more complicated than that. “Heartbreak Hotel” might sound trite to people who’ve heard it 100 times over the grocery store sound system (let alone the dozens of other places it’s played), but the swing of his cadence and deep reach of his voice probably sounded amazing to the people who first heard it.

There are probably other artists people believe are misrepresented in their popularity. Feel free to add some more. In the meantime, enjoy this one from Elvis. (Hang in there… he doesn’t start until about 20 seconds in or so.)

Rockin’ summer like it’s 1977

I wonder if the winner of Shaun's shirt still has it or if she sold it at a garage sale to get the money for a Duran Duran pin.

I wonder if the winner of Shaun’s shirt still has it or if she sold it at a garage sale to get the money for an Adam & The Ants pin.

There’s a preteen in my life, and it isn’t the eternally embarrassed 12-year-old who surfaces from my subconscious for random visits.

She is the 10-year-old who is completely into the Disney Channel sitcom, “Good Luck Charlie,” and the music of its star, Bridget Mendler. At some point within the past year, my daughter has turned into someone very similar to the preteen from the late-70s who also was obsessed with another actor with a budding musical career.

At least she hasn’t chosen Justin Bieber or Big Time Rush. My mother couldn’t say the same thing for me, though. I was fully committed to the teen idol du jour of 1977 — Shaun Cassidy.

Life around here is like a mirror between the decades. It occurs to me to compare and contrast teen idoldom of the times.

My daughter asks me to download a bunch of Bridgit Mendler songs to iTunes (unaware that they often come in a collection called an “album”). I received the gift of “Da Doo Ron Ron” as a single and on Shaun’s self-titled debut album (baffled that my mom didn’t understand why I wanted both). A true fan would be embarrassed not to hear him at 45 and 33 rpm.

My daughter asks me who my favorite singer is, hoping that I’ll say Brigit Mendler. (For the record, I pulled the following names off the top of my head — Morton Harket of A-ha, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode and Paul McCartney.) In the summer of 1977, I posed this question to my mom every 10 minutes, “Who’s better? Parker Stevenson or Shaun Cassidy?” For some crazy reason, my mom preferred Parker Stevenson.

No, Mom, Shaun Cassidy is cuter!

No, Mom, Shaun Cassidy is cuter!

My daughter researches the cast of Good Luck Charlie online and finds out that Eric Allen Kramer used to have a pony tail (which my husband confirmed after watching a rerun of Frasier). I learned all about Shaun Cassidy’s birthday, favorite color and what he wanted in a girlfriend in Teen Beat magazine.

Bridget Mendler launched her musical career with the support of the Disney hit factory. Shaun Cassidy began his with the help of reliable covers.

But in 2013, the world has changed, and there are differences for today’s young fans.

Back in 1977, not all teen idols were multimedia. If you were a fan of Leif Garrett or Andy Gibb, you didn’t get to see them on television every week. Your only chance was an occasional appearance on American Bandstand, and you had to keep on top of the TV Guide listings to know when that was happening. If you loved Ralph Macchio or Scott Baio, you didn’t get to hear them on the radio or, better yet, 37 times a day on your stereo. You were limited to their weekly show and print media like Tiger Beat and its ilk.

Fast-forward three-and-a-half decades and we’ve gone well beyond multimedia to mass merchandizing. Not only can today’s preteens see and hear their idols anywhere and as often as they’d like, they can bask in them with head-to-toe fan gear. Bieber Fever even extends to oral hygiene. The lucrative boundaries of fandemonium hadn’t been explored fully in the 70s.

So, let me stop and be thankful again that it isn’t Justin Bieber. At least the actors on Good Luck Charlie aren’t featured on toothbrushes or floss.

Rock biographies… the ultimate beach read.

reading-on-beach-03

The holiday week has me in a beach state of mind, especially as the weather has recently turned from cool and rainy to hot and bake-y. But the tepid weather helped me catch up on my magazines, and I finally read the recent Jimmy Page interview in Rolling Stone. The interviewer references some of the “legend” surrounding the band. Page refused to get sucked in, saying that if it weren’t for their music, no one would be interested the debris of their personal lives.

But, would they? I think Hammer of the Gods is a wild ride of a book, even if you don’t know much about Led Zepplin’s music . In fact, I loaned it a couple of years ago to a book club friend of mine who read it simply for the juicy bits. Granted, the band’s fame, fueled by their talent, changes the context of their crazy antics. But, there’s still conflict, characters (in some cases ones in whom we already have an emotional investment), plot and story arc — all the makings of a good tale, and considering the content, an excellent beach read.

If you’re unfamiliar with what makes a book a beach read, specifically, think about what you’d like to read in the midst of blue skies, white sands and whispy, lofty clouds. You want something not too deep, not too depressing, easy to read and maybe even a bit trashy. Romances are often cited as classic beach books. Rock biographies can fit the description too.

Not every rock biography is suited for the sand-in-your-toes reading occasion, though. Dream Brother is a deep and satisfying story about the short life of Jeff Buckley, but it is more suited to gray skies and crashing surf viewed from the dry side of a rain speckled window. Reading about the Doors and Hendrix is too dark, in my opinion, as their stories are closely tied to premature death. So, if you want an easy read that packs in drama, exotic locales, flamboyant personalities and the jet-set lifestyle that doesn’t destroy you beach vibe, here are some recommendations.

Hammer coverHammer of the Gods. Brace yourself from some gratuitous, deviant and reckless behavior in this tell-all by rock journalist Steven Davis, who takes a lot of what is included from Richard Cole, Zepplin’s tour manager. The band’s and its inner circle’s shameless behavior endears them to few, but reading about their antics is pure guilty pleasure. It is a glimpse of what happens when decadence is afforded to young men who aren’t quite ready to handle the Pandora’s box of fame.

True Adventures coverThe True Adventures of the Rolling Stones. I’ve read Keith Richards’ autobiography and other books about the Stones. Richards’ maintains an element of lightness even as he describes his multiple cold-turkey episodes, but his account of the band’s career also includes a very long passage about an early love of the blues, which exists in much the same form in every biography of a sixties British Invasion musician. This is way too boring for the beach. Stanley Booth, on the other hand, spins a tale of life in the late-60s and early-70s hanging with the band at the creative height of their careers. You get the escapades, drugs, parties, wives and girlfriends along with the music. Booth writes in a way that makes you feel you were riding shotgun the whole time. It remains a classic among rock biographies, even today.

I'm With The Band coverI’m With The Band. The trend here is that rock biographies covering the 70s provide the best beach reads, and this one by one of music’s most famous groupies is no exception. Pamela Des Barres delivers on all levels when it comes to the details you want most from someone with her unique perspective into the rock-n-roll lifestyle. Many rock biographies give a nod to the role of the groupie back in the industry’s heyday, but Des Barres gives you the real inside scoop in a voice that is as unapologetic as it is authentic. It’s hard to put this one down without liking her at least a little bit.

Into the Pleasure Groove coverIn the Pleasure Groove. How often do you see a man on the beach reading a book (or a Kindle)? Beach reads are almost always in the hands of women, so it makes sense to include this autobiography of John Taylor from Duran Duran. But, it’s not its appeal to the ladies that makes it fitting for sun and sand. (It did, after all, receive a very favorable review in the New York Times.) This book more than any other I have read gives an honest account of how fame and the lifestyle of a rock star can make what should be the highlight of one’s life a tortuous struggle. Many musicians have written about their addictions, but few have been able to tap into their vulnerability for readers in the way that JT does. Fans of our hero should get ready to swoon all over again.

Feel free to share your suggestions, as there is plenty of summer left to indulge!

One man’s treasure…

1274861955_96210201_1-Pictures-of--Trophies-made-of-fiberglass-1274861955It was about three years ago that my father-in-law passed away, the first of my husband’s and my parents. Anyone who has been involved in the process of taking, giving, selling and/or donating after someone’s death knows that it’s difficult to predict how people will react when faced with an entire house worth of stuff. There are things you know you’ll treasure, but there are also odd little scraps of that person’s life or your relationship that will emerge in the form of an old dishtowel or a worn VHS tape of their favorite movie. (My grandma’s copy of The Way We Were is one of the few things I took when she passed.)

My father-in-law had loads of trophies from various teams he was on when he was a younger adult. About two-thirds were lined up on shelves in his office, part of a shrine to sports, which included a Wheaties box with his photo and other autographed items from pro athletes. The kids toys were in there too, and the wall was kind of “just there,” among the objects of his current life.

After his death, we had to find something to do with them. Parting with the physical remnants of accomplishments is tough, and they sat in our basement for more than a year while we considered the options. It seemed so sad to let them go, and we didn’t want them to end up in a landfill. My husband took photos of each one and asked me to record them in a spreadsheet. We kept some and donated many on craigslist.

As I typed in the details, I could picture him in his basketball tournaments and bowling leagues. When I first met him, he was still active, but not like he was in his 30s and 40s. My husband told stories of being at his softball games, but they were about running around and being a kid. Even with dozens of trophies on display and others in boxes in his garage, I never took note of what it meant… a source of passion and pride. Witnessing my father-in-law’s possessions outside of the context of his daily life gave me a deeper understanding of him.

One of my father-in-law’s teams was called Bad Company. If I have the story right, he used to play the song of the same name on the way to games. This song is something else to remember him by.

Land of confusion

Lately, the song “Land of Confusion” by Genesis has been in my head. Trapped between political leaders who refuse to set policies that most people support and the lunatics who make it their mission to kill and injure innocent people, I disagree with only one line in this song. There is much love to go around.

There are more of us than there are of them.

Let’s not forget that.

Where would I be without the Columbia House Record Club?

In the 80s, Columbia House Record Club was God’s gift to young music fans interested in building their libraries. I remember those card stock ads falling out of our weekly TV Guide and bothering my mom to let me spend my babysitting money on signing up for those 12 albums for a penny plus a bonus. All I had to do was purchase a certain number of additional albums over the course of 12 or 24 months, and I would fulfill my contractual obligation and pack my record collection full of the day’s favorites.

Some summer during junior high, I wore her down and received her permission to sign myself up. It was one of the headiest days of my life.

I had never paid close attention to what was offered by Columbia House, so filling out that first form was difficult. The Club offered mostly selections from the Top 40 lists of recent years, like Air Supply and Carly Simon. But there were enough gems in there to satisfy my taste for new music and add to my collection of the classics.

Prince CharmingOne of those was Adam & The Ants’ Prince Charming. It was the first album I opened on that auspicious day of my inaugural delivery. I can still remember Stuart peering at me all war-painted wearing pseudo-military garb in ruffles and the flashiest colors imaginable. The band was absent from the cover. Didn’t matter… Adam was the man. “Don’t you ever stop being dandy, showing me your handsome.” INDEED!

It didn’t take long for the needle to hit the record and blast those tribal beats out of the speakers my dad constructed to match with my hot pink and French Provincial décor. I wonder if my mother regretted her decision to let me join the club as much as I doubted my sanity for downloading Katy Perry’s “Firework” onto my kids’ iPods. But that album, and the dozens of others that followed, brought me tremendous pleasure for years to come. I still own all of them. (It took two weeks for my kids to dismiss Katy Perry.)

A couple of years ago, we had guests over for an impromptu “afterparty,” and I boasted that I could offer our guests anything they wanted to hear. One of them thought he was putting me to the test when he asked for Adam & The Ants. Of course, I delivered …as did Adam & The Ants …as did the Columbia House Record Club.

The Columbia House Record Club is a dinosaur now, distinct for more than a decade and probably irrelevant long before it folded. I was still a member in the early 90s when CDs replaced albums and cassettes. I’ve got to say that I prefer the immediacy of the iTunes world. How else could I download Andy Gibb for an instant New Year’s Eve devotion? But I will always have fond memories of Columbia House and the joy of getting all that great music for the price of a few albums and a penny.

Backstage Pass Gone Bad

Behold!

Behold!

When I was a teenager, there was no greater testament to a guitar player’s skill than the following statement, “He can play ‘Eruption’!” (Yes, it was always a he.)

When Van Halen came to my hometown in 1984, it was a colossal event. My friend’s older brother was allowed to stay overnight in line at the venue to score tickets. We got one for everyone, except the guy I had decided to date just because he wore the same hat John Taylor did in the “Hungry Like The Wolf” era. Although he was a drummer, he didn’t care for Van Halen. But, he ended up buying a ticket from a scalper for a lot more money simply because he want to tag along.

On the afternoon of the show, Mr. John Taylor Hat was working his usual job as an usher at the movie theater.  He was sent in to take care of some loud viewers on whom the rest of the crowd’s pleas for quiet had no impact.  Alex Van Halen was one of the offenders.  They talked about the concert that night, and my date mentioned that he was taking me.  Alex handed him two backstage passes and told him to come by after the show.

After a great performance that was not hindered by my very grumpy seat-mate, we walked to the backstage area to see how well the passes worked.  The opportunity to meet Eddie Van Halen was worth having to hear my date heckling David Lee Roth throughout the show. Among the girls I knew, few understood the magic of “Eruption,” so with that and  a story about meeting Eddie, no one would dare question my right for a seat at the rock-and-roll table (the one that dudes sit around posing questions like who’s the greatest guitarist or who’s the best drummer, etc.)

As we walked through the threshold, no one seemed to notice us, so I said to my companion, “Let’s just be casual and walk around like we belong here.  No need to get the passes out unless they ask, right?”  But he seemed determined to ruin everything.  He said, “No, we need to wear these,” pulling one out of his pocket and putting it around his neck.  Within two seconds, a very large security professional escorted us out the door.

The minute we were out of earshot, I started yelling at him for blowing our chance.  Two guys from my high school were lurking around the area and heard us arguing.  They offered to take the passes off our hands… for $100 each.  My soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend moaned in disgust at the whole incident and wouldn’t let the passes go.  Tragedy was a great motivator for his art, and this was the best that our short relationship had delivered.  He shook his head, slumped his shoulders and dragged his feet toward the parking lot.  Only because I needed a ride home did I follow him.  (If only texting existed in 1984!) We never went out again.

Years later, I’ve seen Van Halen two more times with my husband who is as appreciative of the band as anyone I’ve ever met. I can’t say that he could play “Eruption”… at least I’ve been told not to.