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.

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The Song That Changed Everything

Venus and Mars were all right that night.

Venus and Mars were all right that night.

In July of 1994, I was a young lady in the latter half of her 20s building a career, hanging out with friends, playing volleyball at North Avenue Beach and packing up her apartment to move across the alley from a studio to a one-bedroom.

One Friday evening that month, I took a break from the boxes and newspaper to meet a friend whose friend’s band was playing at a bar two blocks away. Something felt very different about that evening. I told myself it was buzz about the move.

At the bar, I was introduced to a guy who was cute, seemed nice and was a friend of a friend of a friend, which was considered something along the lines of an endorsement. We struck up a conversation that was very much like many others I’d had in bars on Friday nights… until a song came on that I would never expect to hear in a crowded Halsted Street drinking establishment, “Listen To What The Man Said,” by Paul McCartney.

In that moment, when the bouncy beat launched into, “Anytime, any day, you can hear the people say,” something changed. We were no longer two kids in a bar in Lincoln Park having a superficial conversation about how much we liked the Bulls. We connected on a deeper level.

I felt safe revealing my music nerd self and told him how much I loved Paul McCartney. He said that although he wasn’t a Beatles fan (I made sure that changed), he did like songs from Wings because they reminded him of his childhood. Was this love at first sight?

Maybe it was love at first discussion about rock music, a pastime that continues to this day. One of my favorite things is to talk about music with my husband. It probably always will be. The other day I asked if I was really going to be 72 years old sitting around listening to 1984 and talking to him about Van Halen. He confirm that, yeah, I probably would.

When we married three years later, we actually chose different McCartney songs for our first and final dances. This one was too tied to the magic of that first chance meeting. There was something so spontaneous about how it happened, and it is at its most perfect left as the song that brought us together.

My Walkman, Eurail Pass and Depeche Mode

The soundtrack for GenXineurope.

The soundtrack for GenXineurope.

I did a study abroad semester while in college with old friends and new, but my constant companion that term was a cassette tape I picked up in Cambridge, England, that featured two albums by Depeche Mode… Black Celebration and Music for the Masses. Not everyone is moved by such a thing, but I couldn’t imagine a more amazing possibility – one cassette, two albums. It was maximum use of Walkman capacity in an era when all my possessions needed to fit into a backpack light enough to drag around the Continent for a month.

Music for the Masses was a very big release at the time, and the songs seemed to be everywhere inside and outside of my headphones. It was played often at the pub where we hung out, and I sometimes can taste the combination of salt & vinegar crisps with lager & lime when I hear “Never Let Me Down”. We all have those albums that serve as a soundtrack for a time in our lives, and this was it for my first stint in Europe. I spent a lot of time on trains and buses that term, and I never left our house without my Walkman and Depeche Mode. It was essential as bringing your own sheet to the youth hostel and wearing comfortable shoes.

At one point during the semester, I was in Paris. It was a week of emotional ups and downs. I was staying with my “French brother,” the exchange student our family had hosted just a few years before with whom I was close. I was also waiting for a letter that never came from my boyfriend at the time. A trip to Brugge was in order.

As my train pulled out of Gard du Nord, a man sat next to me who looked and smelled like he spent most of his time in places far less luxurious than Paris’ least glamorous train station. The stench was overwhelming. On my Walkman, “Black Celebration” began. I stifled tears.

By the time we rolled into Brugge, the man had been ushered along, and things were looking better. I met a fellow American (he spotted my shoes), and we spent the afternoon and evening comparing notes on our study abroad experiences. I missed my hostel’s curfew and ended up throwing stones at the window for someone to come down and let me in. It was an interesting evening.

One of my favorite things in the world is the idea of music as a time machine. Those two albums definitely bring me back to 1989. But the timeless quality that is woven into just about anything Depeche Mode does keeps them as two of my favorite albums to listen to anytime.

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.

My once and future favorites

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

I knew lyrics to Beatles songs before I could understand them. When I was three years old, I was weaned on a steady musical diet of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs on this album are the soundtrack of some of my life’s first memories (along with “I Think I Love You” and “Sugar, Sugar”), and I believe that my views of the world were formed, in part, by what I heard in the music and lyrics.

I distinctly remember being three or four and cycling the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home” through my mind, which was not at all prepared to understand the meaning of the song. I stumbled over the line, “She breaks down and cries to her husband, ‘Daddy, our baby’s gone.’” I wondered what in the world a husband-daddy was, and when it became too complex to imagine, I gave up and just sang along. I was probably ten before I reconsidered those words and then understood. That was about the time my interest in The Beatles was reignited and being mature enough to comprehend what they were saying was akin to finding hidden treasure under my swing set… it was always there but just waiting for the right moment.

The Beatles exposed my young mind to all kinds of other questions, such as:

  • Why would a banker wear a guy named Mac when it rains?
  • What spooky things were going on at that benefit for Mr. Kite?
  • Why did Eleanor Rigby wear a mask? I muddled this with Halloween and trick-or-treating and came up with a very odd image that perhaps I’ll share with Tim Burton if I ever meet him.

Early exposure to The Beatles is a beautiful thing. I can think of no collection of modern artists more appropriate to provide a lifelong love of popular music. When my children were born, I picked songs for each of them from the Lennon & McCartney collection, In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere”.

They will always be my favorite band.

In the beginning, there was a kid, a Classic and Croce

This week I step further into the mysterious world of midlife. And to celebrate, each day, I will post a song that holds significance from my past.

Let’s start with my first love song… Time In A Bottle by Jim Croce

I first learned the true meaning of love in the back seat of a Malibu Classic.

I was five years old, a passenger on the weekly journey to the A&P and Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime, along with my younger brothers.  My mom, who patiently endured the back-of-the-car antics of the five-and-under crowd, always had the radio on.  Time In A Bottle was in heavy rotation on our town’s biggest AM radio station, and just hearing the song in my head brings back the sensation of looking out the window watching life go by at 30 miles per hour.

I can’t remember what intersection we were at, but I can picture the stop sign, the crossroad and the overgrown grass around the old bungalow that occupied the corner lot amid the new houses surrounding it.  The theme from M.A.S.H. was ending and Time In A Bottle began.  By the closing notes of the song, I realized that love was more than just a word.

If I could make days last forever… if words could make wishes come true… I’d save every day like a treasure and then, again, I would spend them with you.

It dawned on me… each moment that passed, I was getting older.  Each moment that I aged, my parents were aging too.  I panicked at the thought – kids make parents grow old.  By having us, they were committing to a life limited by the passing of time.

So, for the next several months, I thought about how I could stop myself from growing up.  By doing so, I would keep my parents young.  But despite actually thinking something as crazy as being childless would stop time for them, I knew that not growing up, for a child at least, was impossible.  These were the sands of time, slipping out of my desperate little hands, and I was helpless to stop them.

And I have never been able to listen to Time In A Bottle without feeling the twinge of regret I knew as a small child.

Ironically, Jim Croce died shortly after releasing this song.   I knew this as a child, because the DJ often said, “That was the late Jim Croce…”  His death brought even more meaning to the lyrics.  It was a reminder that I would not be the five-year-old in the back seat of the Malibu Classic forever, just like Jim Croce wasn’t a recording artist forever.

Now, I realize that my reaction to this song was right in many ways, aside from the idea that people won’t age if they don’t have children.  Parenting is a sacrifice. Moms and dads commit their lives to their children.  Raising a child speeds up time immensely.  Jim Croce was right that there never seems to be enough time.

Years later, I have kids of my own.  My youngest is seven, and he has inherited my sensitivity to sad songs.  Even those that don’t have heartbreaking lyrics speak to him with their melancholy melodies.

I told my son this story about Jim Croce’s song.  I laughed when I told him about my strange first reaction to the lyrics, hoping that he would find this silly.  Like many children, he says he wants to stay with me forever. But I know that I will hang on to him much longer than he will need me.  He and his older sister will never fathom how much I love them until they become parents themselves.

There is something about the vulnerability of love, whatever form it takes or relationships it creates, that ties back to Time In A Bottle.  Love can be sad, like the melody.  It can be sweet, like the lyrics.  It can last forever and not long enough.

A couple of months ago, I heard the chiming first notes of Time In A Bottle while switching radio stations in the car.  In the back seat of our MDX, my son listened for a bit, frowned and, in a sad voice, asked me to turn off the song.  Then, he turned toward the window and watched the world go by at 30 miles per hour.

Thankful that you never stop growing

Every once in a while, I consider if I am at midlife the person I expected to be when I was younger. Prior to my twenties, I didn’t imagine much past 28. It’s not that 28 was some sort of deadline, but it was an age that resonated in my head when I thought about the future.

In many ways, I’ve fulfilled the visions of my youth, but given that I didn’t consider life past my late-20s, I can’t say that I am who I reckoned I’d be. I had few expectations.

But one thing I imagined about midlife in the generic sense was that people settle into a loop that plays over and again as they head toward their golden years. Don’t think that by “loop” I mean “rut,” because I choose that word very specifically. A rut is like that saying about the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. My dependence on sweets is rut. A loop is more like a routine, I imagined, though not in the strict sense of a schedule. It’s that point that one gets to when they have established a rhythm in their life, a collection of interests and responsibilities, and a community. Together these elements comprise their world.

To my great delight, this loop doesn’t exist, even when interests, responsibilities and community have a solid role in one’s life. The number of changes I made between my high schools years and 28 do not compare to what I have done between 28 and now. Though I haven’t earned any diplomas or degrees during this time, I’ve had an education that has been just as valuable as the one that comes with a transcript. I still like to learn. In fact, I may enjoy it more now than I did then. My desire to succeed remains. But my definition of success is more complex.

I am settled in ways that I wasn’t at 28. I don’t move apartments every year as a result of salary increases. My responsibilities now include lives other than my own. But, I probably embrace new things more easily than I did then. I am more open-minded. I have greater expectations of what life should deliver.

I find that in midlife, I am in less of a loop than I was at 28. It’s exhausting sometimes. And it’s easy to blame that fatigue on age. I didn’t test myself in this way as a younger person, though, so I can only assume that I have less energy. Maybe I just know how to drain the cup and ask for a refill now.

Thankful for those quirky little treasures

This morning a friend and former co-worker of mine posted a YouTube video that reminded the old account team of a project we did back in our quick-service-restaurant promoting days. We created this contest called Wendy’s Search for Sizzlin’ Sounds, asking musically inclined hamburger lovers to put together tuneful odes to the American classic. It was a fun project and definitely ahead of its time (several years before YouTube, Glee and American Idol existed). And, apparently, it is a gift that continues to give, because seeing this video about one woman’s passion for fried chicken has been a highlight of my day.

Thanks to social media, I have many bright spots brought to me by total strangers who put a little piece of themselves on the interweb for all to enjoy. Blogs are definitely a part of that, but I am not sure I could pull off anything as rich as this. Not only does this woman have an awesome voice, she has crafted a heartfelt dedication to something that apparently means the world to her. After all, as you will learn in the song, she is such a good customer at her local fried chicken eatery that the manager opens up the drive-thru window at her request after it had closed. She even goes so far as to add a benediction thanking Jesus for all manner of chicken-related blessings, asking Him to pass the butter and praying to Him to not die skinny. She also claims that the chicken died so that she might live.

Maybe this was tongue-in-cheek. I don’t know. But it is precious and has provided me with a bright spot, especially this evening after addressing a 15-towel plumbing accident. If I had such a gospel song in me as this woman does, I’d sing one equally as devoted to quirky internet finds as she has to poultry. Though I am chicken-adverse, I am waiting for the karaoke version. Enjoy!

Thankful for change

Photo Credit: Steven Friedman

This morning our garage roof was covered with a barely perceptible dusting of snow.  Upon seeing it, my daughter yelled, “Mom, it snowed last night! It snowed!” Though the winter boots were unnecessary, out came the warmest of our cold-weather gear, piled on top of lighter jackets, sweatshirts and vests that we wore over the weekend. Our coat hooks are a mound of confusion.

Change has come to our lovely gray and russet fall, bringing the sting of frost and the residue of frozen precipitation that is the harbinger of winter. And though winter is a season I want to spend as little time as possible in, during this month of thanks, I must give credit to something that I think is very important in life — change.

Some people love change, and I am definitely one of them. I have a restless mind, and change keeps me grounded in ways that people who don’t like change probably never would understand. The best way to describe it is that old saying, “Only change is constant.” I can count on it. It reminds me that nothing is forever, so savor the good while it lasts and know that the bad will wane.

Change isn’t always easy. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, creating obstacles to your well-considered plans and surprising you with its unexpected outcomes. You may stay a step ahead of it by initiating it yourself, but that doesn’t mean you can control it. And occasionally the change delivered by fate is the best kind.

Right now, there is a rep from our HVAC company looking at our furnace. I am hoping that this visit doesn’t result in a significant change to our bank account balance. I haven’t yet determined how paying for a new furnace will enlighten me, though I have found that even the change I don’t want teaches me something.