It’s Harder To Be A Gen-X Parent Than To Parent A Gen-Xer: Reason #1, Standardized Testing

Where are all the students? At the computer lab taking the PARCC test.

Where are all the students? At the computer lab taking the PARCC test.

My mother-in-law has said more than once that being a parent today is so much more difficult than it used to be. I think she might be right, so I am launching a series here to invite commiseration, which I am calling, It’s Harder to Be a Gen-X Parent Than to Parent a Gen-Xer.

Let’s start with the topic of the moment, standardized testing. I am not an educator, so the only true experience I have is having taken standardized tests, reviewed my kids’ test results, and prepared my kids to take theirs — you know, things like making sure they have snacks in the backpack, get a good night’s rest, don’t get sick, have some protein at breakfast, avoid stressors within 5 days before or following the tests, don’t get itchy, wear their preferred turtleneck, feel great about themselves and their capabilities so they can do their best all within the context of don’t worry, you’ll do great.

But even with my limited perspective, the message from educators and parents is clear to me — kids of my children’s generation undergo far more scrutiny by testing than I did back in the day, and it’s interrupting their education.

When my parents were parents, I don’t remember standardized testing being that much of an issue. Once a year, maybe less often, your mom gave you some extra no. 2 pencils to take to school, mentioning that oh, by the way, you were going to have some tests that week, no big deal. There were no snacks, nothing special aside from the fact that you got a break from the usual routine. A few weeks later, your scores showed up, and you weren’t entirely sure what they meant, and they had no relevance to your life (until high school). They also had much less influence on your teacher’s performance reviews or salary, if any.

In March and May of this year, many (or most) of the schools in Illinois (where I live) will administer something called the PARCC test. I can be relieved that my kids do not attend public school and therefore don’t have to take this test (this year, at least), because this thing appears to be a disaster-in-waiting. In the city of Chicago, there is a movement for parents to refuse the test. These people aren’t just trying to rock the boat because they like waves. Apparently of the 26 states that originally intended to administer the test, only 10 are going through with it. Even school administrators are speaking out, according to this piece in the Washington Post about a superintendent in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka who “warns” parents about the downsides of the test.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at the practice test for fourth-grade math. I’ve had two kids in the fourth-grade who have been taught with two separate (though similar) curricula, so I feel that I am pretty familiar with what fourth-graders are expected to know. My kids’ school sets the bar pretty high. It’s a Blue Ribbon school, so my assumption is that the teaching is strong enough for my assessment to be valid.

Here’s what I found. The first screen was a set of instructions that I hope teachers are walking through, as they are somewhat convoluted if you have the attention span of a nine-year-old. This is not a straight-forward fill-in-the-bubble deal or even pick the right answer. Some questions will have more than one answer, and you have to do this. Others will have only one right answer, and you have to do that. Fortunately, it was far more intuitive when I got to the questions, but what a way to elevate the nerves before the kids even get to the first question.

The first two problems were pretty straight-forward, though not necessarily easy. One on place value was, “The value of the digit 4 in the number 42,780 is 10 times the value of digit 4 in which number?” The test-taker has four numbers to choose from all with the number four somewhere in them. A kid may know place value when asked, “What is the place value of 4 in the number 42,780?” but this question requires them to use place value in an additional way by working in the 10-times-the-value part. I can’t say this is beyond what’s expected of a fourth-grader, but they aren’t factoring in any warm-up here, are they?

The third question was interesting. It involved adding three multi-digit numbers from a chart to get a total number of reports for a science fair, then figuring out how many tables would be needed to fit the reports, working with two different size tables, one size of which was available in a fixed amount. Once you used up all those tables, how many of the other size would you need at minimum?

Then there was a part two that asked a similar sort of question. And I might actually be wording this question better. (If you want to check it out, it’s the Computer-Based Practice Test under PBA Practice tests at this link.)

Granted, every step of that question is acceptable for a fourth-grader. They need to be able to read from a chart, add multi-digit numbers and multiply. But there is a certain amount of mental endurance necessary for answering questions that have multiple layers.

My son recently had a similar, though less complicated, question for extra credit on a test. He ran out of time, so we went over it at home. I know adults who opted for liberal arts majors in college just to avoid this kind of math. (Granted, one could argue that math avoidance didn’t help us compete with educational systems around the world, but my guess is that the problems we expect teachers to solve have little to do with an overabundance of English and history majors.)

Full disclosure — I am not one of those parents who doesn’t like Common Core math. Actually, the way that it has been taught to my children, I think it’s an improvement over how I learned. My issue with these tests is whether or not they align with how the kids are learning in the classroom.

This PARCC test and others like it seem a lot like veneer, the idea that problems will be solved by the introduction of more (and more complicated) testing. Standards will be followed. Students can be evaluated. Teachers can be told to raise their scores or else.

What about the learning, or, even more important, the desire to learn? Are these kids going to school to gain knowledge and explore the world, or are they showing up so they can be measured and make a few people who guide educational policy feel better about this country’s performance compared to Korea and Finland? This seems like a ridiculous question, but how close does this recent article in The Onion feel to reality?

They say in carpentry, “Measure twice and cut once.” Maybe in education the new saying could be, “Measure, measure, measure and measure again. And then measure some more.”

 

Grammy Highs, Lows, Questions and Folly

Grammy AwardOh, the Grammys. Yes, I know they don’t necessarily award the best in music. Yes, I suspect that they plant certain nominations to raise their television ratings. But yes, I am loyal, as often the Grammys deliver on something interesting to see, even if it’s a train wreck.

As the saying goes, “if you can’t say anything nice…” But I can say something nice, so I’ll start with that.

Beck had a big night — two awards and a great performance with Chris Martin of Coldplay. His award was announced by Prince, and even Kanye graced him with attention.

Thumbs up to the Grammy broadcast producers, too, for pairing Sam Smith and Mary J. Blige. His earnestness and her passion were a good combination, not to mention how well their voices sound together. I was getting a little tired of that song by the end of the night, but that was only because the clip was played those zillions of times Smith walked on stage to collect yet another award.

Lady Gaga proved herself to be a master of reinvention, and she didn’t even wait for her AARP card to show off her chops with the standards.

AC/DC? It’s been a tough year for these guys. Their opener dragged a bit, but they redeemed themselves with “Highway to Hell.” (The devil horns in the audience, though, didn’t help.) It was a female country artist who really rocked it — Miranda Lambert with “Little Red Wagon.” She was even bleeped.

And Annie Lennox. If you didn’t see it, I hope you have it DVRd.

But the Grammys always leave me with questions and curiosities and deliver more than a hint of folly, especially when Kanye West is around. Here are a few I had last night.

Since when are novelty songs nominated for Record of the Year? “How was it that “All About That Bass” was treated as a serious contender? It’s not as if this subject hasn’t been covered before. Off the top of my head Sir Mix-a-Lot and Queen come to mind as having honored the more robust female physique decades ago. Of course, that was a case of men, not women, sexualizing more ample female bodies. Perhaps that’s why those songs tend to elicit snickers and not Grammy nominations.

What are the folks behind the Grammys broadcast going to say about the problem with McCartney’s microphone? I can’t wait to hear the excuses. Maybe they’ll just ignore it, hoping it goes away, like that disastrous performance when they paired Taylor Swift with Stevie Nicks in 2010 for “Rhiannon.” Who knows. But McCartney handled it like a pro. I can’t imagine what kind of tantrum Kanye West would have thrown had his mic been silenced. (We might look to the toy aisles at Target for an answer to that question.)

Speaking of looks, what do you think Prince’s expression was when Kanye indulged himself in a flashback moment and began to take the stage when Beck won Album of the Year? We couldn’t see behind his shades.

Maybe it was just more of this.

Prince

 

 

 

Also, do we need to stop referring to him as the Purple One and begin calling him Orange Julius?

Why was Best Rock Performance not televised? Every artist in that category is well-known, and there is a whole lot more creativity going on among them than the Record of the Year or Song of the Year nominees. (It might have been nice for one of those songs to have been included in these cross-genre categories… break the cycle of “girl power” anthems.)

Maybe these guys just weren’t interested in showing up. Can you blame them? The 2015 Grammys may have been a lot of things, but it wasn’t rockin’ (Miranda Lambert excepted).

 

Songs That Make Life Better

IMG_2005

Yes, I have a copy of the soundtrack to “Times Square” on vinyl!

There’s this great post over at 500 Reasons Why The 80s Didn’t Suck on 52 songs you could not live without. (Truthful blog title, by they way. Eighties music doesn’t suck, and I’m happy to debate the point with anyone.) This is great inspiration for Songs That Shaped A Life, because… how could I live without my songs?

I’m going to put a little twist on this. Thinking of 52 songs I can’t live without leaves 100s alone and unmentioned. So, this list is 25 songs that make my life better. Call it my birthday mix tape. It may not look the same next year, but for now, here goes…

“Maiden Chant,” Liz Story
“Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul McCartney
“Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” Night Ranger
“Shake the Disease,” Depeche Mode
“Panama,” Van Halen
“Supermassive Black Hole,” Muse
“I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab for Cutie
“You Don’t Have To Cry,” Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Cowboys and Angels,” George Michael
“Song for the Dead,” Queens of the Stone Age
“New Kid In Town,” The Eagles
“Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” The Smiths
“Blue Monday,” New Order
“Green and Gray,” Nickel Creek
“Dream Brother,” Jeff Buckley
“Magic Man,” Heart
“To Live and Die in LA,” Wang Chung
“Love Is The Answer,” England Dan & John Ford Coley
“Here Comes The Rain Again,” Eurythmics
“Madonna of the Wasps,” Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians
“Eyes of the World,” The Grateful Dead
“You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” Gladys Night & The Pips
“The Killing Moon,” Echo & The Bunnymen
“Champagne Supernova,” Oasis
“Gymnopedies,” Erik Satie, composer

Why these? I recall that each of these had me within the first verse, sometimes just with the opening notes. There are plenty more, though, so I’m not sure why I am even attempting such a list.

Feel free to comment with any of your own. You’ll probably remind me of number 26, number 27…

What They Play When You’re Gone

It’s “Songs That Shaped a Life” week, that time of year when I get even more self-indulgent than just writing a blog and devote my posts to songs that were instrumental (get it? ha-ha!) in some aspect of my past.

Late in 2014 my Uncle Gary passed away less than a year after being diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. Instead of a formal funeral, we held a memorial service that my parents, aunts and uncles planned. My mother asked me to handle the music, including selecting songs to open and close the service.

This wasn’t an easy task. There are plenty of go-to choices for such an occasion. But this “last dance,” if you will — the final event where everyone gathers to wrap up your life and send your soul along to whatever is next — is one of those times where you don’t get to pick the music. You have to trust that whoever is handling it has the where-with-all to represent you.

Uncle Gary loved his music, and when we were kids, he shared mostly upbeat Motown songs. Those, along with several other of Gary’s favorites, were on a video that played during the visitation. For this, we needed something more reflective, something that honored the sadness we all felt without crushing us under it.

There were two things everyone knew about Uncle Gary. One was that he was a walking Academy Awards encyclopedia all the way back to the Hollywood Golden Age he so loved. The other was that he was one of the best teachers you’d ever meet. His commitment to his students was so strong that you probably don’t even need all ten fingers to count the number of people who match it.

The closing song had to be “Over the Rainbow,” his preferred version from Judy Garland. It was one of his favorite songs and conveyed the right mood for that ceremonial first step of moving on.

About a dozen songs came to mind for the opener, like Warren Zevon’s “Keep My In Your Heart,” Evanescence’s “My Immortal,” The Alarm’s “Walk Forever By My Side,” Elton John’s “Empty Garden.” These were all fitting, but none of them had a particular connection to who my Uncle Gary was.

I don’t know how the opening song came to me, but it was like a muse dropped it onto my head as I was sitting in my office. It represented his love of childhood and mirrored the closer — “Rainbow Connection.” Many of the versions I first found featured odd vocals in the spirit of its most famous performer, Kermit the Frog. After digging, I discovered this one by Peter Cincotti. I knew the moment I heard it that he would be happy with me for choosing it.

 

 

I Am Not Not Charlie (Sharestentialism Part 2)

Blank feedLast week’s social media response to the killings at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris reminded me that sometimes I don’t really have a lot of guts when it comes to speaking up. As the “I am Charlie” meme spread across Facebook and Twitter feeds like a match dropped in a hayloft, I didn’t post a thing… not a single thing about the atrocity.

My reaction to the news was sadness for the victims, for their families, for the relentlessness of extremists. I was sad for the concept of freedom of speech. As a big fan of satire, I was sad for the risks those who engage in it take.

But I posted nothing. And as I watched my feed fill up with the bloody pen, I felt really awkward. I couldn’t bring myself to post anything about Charlie Hebdo on my timeline because “Je ne suis pas Charlie.” I’m not. I don’t possess the courage those artists at Charlie Hebdo had. I don’t have the talent. And before this terrible incident, I didn’t even know what Charlie Hebdo was.

I wanted to say this at the time, but I didn’t have the courage to do even that. What if I offended someone who did post the bloody pen to their page?* What kind of supporter of the free press would I look like if I posted such a thing?

In this act of not posting, I was proving my point, I guess. I really am not Charlie.

But then along came a real journalist — one even who writes for the Financial Times — pointing out that, yes, guess what, we’re not Charlie. Other real journalists followed. It wasn’t backlash. Rather, it was honesty. And it was something I could have posted the moment I thought about it.

But I didn’t. I am not even “not Charlie,” apparently. It seems my ideas need the approval of legitimate press, even when I’m pretty sure they aren’t original.

Sharestentialism is my term for the idea that you are what you share. But like the concept of white space, how does it relate to what you don’t share? By not sharing that I’m not Charlie, I was sharing that I have no guts, at least to myself (and my husband in whom I confided my mixed emotions.) I wondered, too, if the absence of “I am Charlie,” from my status update indicated a lack of concern.

Can the image we portray through social media be defined as much by our “silence” as it is by what we share? If the assumption that we are judged (at least sometimes) by what we post on social media is true, then what about what we don’t?

 

* I feel I must apologize to anyone who posted the bloody pen, and also isn’t Charlie. I know you were doing it out of solidarity.

Thursday Is The New Friday Awards

Anti-black Friday guy

Another treasure from Facebook.

Black Friday has never been my thing. I’m not an early riser. There is no thrill of the hunt for me. I’m never organized enough for the December holidays to even know what I should put on a list. And nothing I want (or want brought into my house) is a Doorbuster anyway.

I’m afraid though that I am outnumbered in my generation, because it is during the GenX transition to adulthood that America has seen the rise of Black Friday and the emergence of what I am calling Even Blacker Thursday.

Nigel Tufnel said, “It’s like, how much more black could this be?” referring to an album cover, of course. But it also could be applied to what has become of Black Friday. And the answer is, “How much blacker would you like it to be?”

There’s a piece showing up in my Facebook feed from the Huffington Post on stores that will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, including quotes from the retailers justifying their decisions. They may be in a heated race to attract shoppers, but I had a little fun thinking about how they compete on their key messages.

Heaviest on Marketing-Speak Award — Kohl’s

“Kohl’s will be the most compelling shopping destination for the entire family this holiday season with our strong portfolio of sought-after national and private brands, our extensive online assortment and a deep list of exciting products that are new to Kohl’s this year.”

Did this guy lift this right from his presentation in the C-suite? I especially love the phrase “most compelling shopping destination,” and the idea that Kohl’s consumers would consider a store’s “portfolio of sought-after national and private brands,” when planning their post-dinner pursuits.

Most Like an Onion Article Award — JC Penney

“In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, we have many exciting activities and giveaways planned to show just how much we appreciate the hard work and dedication of our associates. Activities and giveaways include swag bags full of goodies, round-the-clock food to keep associates fueled for delivering excellent customer service, pep rallies to drive excitement and energy through the early morning hours of Black Friday, and drawings for fun prizes.”

Wow! I wonder if there is a line of people forming at the service desk to apply for the Thanksgiving shift. Swag bags? All-you-can-eat buffets? Pep rallies? I guess we should assume that cots in the break room aren’t part of the plan. With all that excitement, there’s no way anyone would want to sleep anyway, let alone enjoy Thanksgiving with their family and friends.

Most Honest Award — Radio Shack

“Given the customer demand for store hours on Thanksgiving last year, we made the decision to open on Thanksgiving. It gives us the opportunity to stay competitive.”

If you’re going to disregard an American original, at least be honest about it, right?

Most Prophetic — Big Lots

“Big Lots listens to its customers, and based on their feedback, Big Lots stores have been open on Thanksgiving for over 20 years. This year is no different.”

Not only does Big Lots pat themselves on the back for their open ear policy regarding customers, they trump all other retailers in their prophecy made two decades ago that America would come to this.

Thursday-Is-The-New-Friday Award — Walmart

“Black Friday is no longer an event for customers who wake up at the crack of dawn to get good deals.”

Get with it, people. Black Friday hasn’t begun in the wee hours of the morning for a while now. If you want to roll back the prices on your shopping list, you’d better get on board with a new concept of time. Geez!

Vicious Cycle Award — Macy’s

“We work diligently to staff Thanksgiving with associates who volunteer to work and doing so means that our people are able to make their own decisions about how they contribute to our most important and busiest weekend of the year. We also heard last year from many associates who appreciated the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving so they could have time off on Black Friday. Additionally, associates who work an opening shift on Thanksgiving will be compensated with incentive pay.”

How kind of them to make it possible for their employees to shop Black Friday by working on Thanksgiving. You can at least say that Macy’s isn’t biting the hand that feeds.

Best Opening Lines

guitarnotepadEarlier this year I collected from a broad cross-section of my music-loving friends a list of rock/pop’s best opening lines.

I was motivated by this post from vh1.com. My feedback to them — it is hyperbole to say that your intern has identified the 40 greatest opening lines in music history. Your list includes too many that don’t measure up and omits too many that deserve the props. More than a handful are obvious, in an obligatory way. If anything, your list is a reminder that there are many more than 40!

So what makes a great opening line? I’m not sure what the criteria was for my friends — all great choices by the way — but for me it’s imagery. Does the first line set the scene? It’s energy. Some lyrics pull you right in. One I chose for its cleverness. Does it compel you to sing along?

At any rate, I felt that my sound posse could put more genuine consideration into this topic. I’m sure no one thinks their list is exhaustive, but we’ve got everything from Jethro Tull to Robbie Williams, and even two each from Death Cab and Prince, so that counts for something, right?

From GenXatmidlife, who takes this kind of stuff very seriously…

Buckley– “Love, let me sleep tonight on your couch.” So Real, Jeff Buckley

– “Instant karma’s gonna get you… gonna knock you right on the head.” Instant Karma, John Lennon

– “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.” I Will Possess Your Heart, Death Cab for Cutie

– “That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane, and Lenny Bruce is not afraid,” It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, R.E.M.

– “Cold late night so long ago, when I was not so strong you know… pretty man came to me, never seen eyes so blue.” Magic Man, Heart

 

From Paul, who forces me to admit that, yes, Rush is a pretty good band…

led-zeppelin“Hey, hey mama, said the way you move… gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” Black Dog, Led Zepplin

“You know that it would be untrue. You know that I would be a liar. If I were to say to you, ‘Girl we couldn’t get much higher.'” Light My Fire, The Doors

“I once had a girl… or should I say… she once had me.” Norwegian Wood, The Beatles

“The sky is burnin’. I believe my soul’s on fire. You are… I’m learnin’… the key to my desire.” Burnin’ Sky, Bad Company

“I was born in a crossfire hurricane. And I howled at my ma in the driving rain.” Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones

 

Tom-Petty-ww04From Amy, who is Tom Petty’s girl (really, check out her post)…

– “She grew up in an Indiana town. Had a good-lookin’ mama who never was around. But she grew up tall and she grew up right with them Indiana boys on them Indiana nights.” Last Dance With Mary Jane, Tom Petty

– “Psychic spies from China try to steal your mind’s elation. Little girls from Sweden dream of silver screen quotations. And if you want these kind of dreams, it’s Californication.” Californication, Red Hot Chili Peppers

– “Love of mine, some day you will die, but I’ll be close behind. I’ll follow you into the dark… no blinding light or tunnels to gates of white… just our hands clasped so tight waiting for the hint of a spark. I Will Follow You Into The Dark, Death Cab for Cutie

– “I want love to: roll me over slowly, stick a knife inside me, and twist it all around. I want love to: grab my fingers gently, slam them in a doorway, put my face into the ground.” Love Interruption, Jack White

– “I guess I should’ve known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last. See, you’re the kinda person that believes in makin’ out once love ’em and leave ’em fast.” Little Red Corvette, Prince

 

american_pie1From Sue, who introduced me to the genius of Morrissey…
– “A long, long time ago I can still remember how that music used to make me smile. And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance, and maybe they’d be happy for a while.” American Pie, Don McClean

– “I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you, that I almost believe that they’re real. I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you, that I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel.” Pictures of You, The Cure

– “I am the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar. I am the son and heir of nothing in particular.” How Soon Is Now, The Smiths

– “It’s been seven hours and fifteen days, since u took your love away. I go out every night and sleep all day, since u took your love away.” Nothing Compares 2 U, Prince

– “I sit and wait. Does an angel contemplate my fate? And do they know the places where we go when we’re grey and old?” Angels, Robbie Williams

 

queen-band-i14From Dave, who made country the majority shareholder of his musical tastes this past summer…
– “She keeps the Moet Chandon in a pretty cabinet. Let them eat cake, she says, just like Marie Antoinette.” Killer Queen, Queen

– “Suckers walk! Money talks! But it can’t touch my three-lock box.” Three-Lock Box, Sammy Hagar

– “In the twilight glow, I see blue eyes crying in the rain.” Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, Willie Nelson

– “I bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste, a flannel for my face, pajamas, a hair brush, new shoes and a case. I said to my reflection let’s get out of this place.” Tempted, Squeeze

– “The only two things in life that make it worth livin’ is good tuned guitars and firm feelin’ women.” Luckenbach, Texas, Merle Haggard

 

lita-ford-liveFrom Jill, the source of all things pop culture, including the VH-1 list…
– “I went to a party last Saturday night, didn’t get laid, got in a fight.” Kiss Me Deadly, Lita Ford

– “He said the way my blue eyes shined put those Georgia stars to shame that night. I said, that’s a lie.” Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift

– “I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone. I recommend walking around naked in your living room.” You Learn, Alanis Morrisette

– “Come on, Virginia, don’t let me wait. You Catholic girls start much to late.” Only The Good Die Young, Billy Joel

– “You walked into the party, like you were walking onto a yacht. Your hat strategically dipped below one eye. Your scarf it was apricot.” You’re So Vain, Carly Simon

 

albertking580From Mara, whose has seen everyone from Paul McCartney to Ricky Martin to the Black Keys…

– “Born under a bad sign, been down since I began to crawl. If it wasn’t for bad luck, wouldn’t have no luck at all.” Born Under a Bad Sign, Albert King and others

– “Sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent.” Aqualung, Jethro Tull

– “Purple haze was in my brain… lately things don’t seem the same. Acting funny but I don’t know why. ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix

– “She loves you… yeah, yeah, yeah.” She Loves You, The Beatles

– “There must be some kind of way out of here, said the joker to the thief.” All Along The Watchtower, Bob Dylan

Gimme some feedback. What did we miss? Please leave your comments below.

Meeting the Beatles for the Non-Believer

The Beatles Later YearsAnyone interested in parting with roughly $190 US for the new Oasis deluxe box set? Me neither. Nor is my fellow blogger at everyrecordtellsastory.com. He has issued a Vinyl Challenge to see how else he might spend the equivalent in British pounds. He’s set out to build the best record collection he can for a friend who needs to get hooked on vinyl. Check out his last few posts to see how he’s accomplishing this. If you haven’t shopped for vinyl in a while — or say 20 years — you’ll be surprised at how things have changed.

Every Record Tells a Story has inspired me. I’m not in the market for an Oasis deluxe box set, either, so I’ve thought about what else I could do with the money… some way that I could help out a friend… some way that I could build a package of the best the world of music has to offer. And, coincidentally, you could say it was inspired by Oasis in reverse.

But really it was motivated by an incident that took place a few weeks ago at a party we hosted. There I learned that one of our guests does not like the Beatles. Like most people who say this, he seemed to imply that the band is overrated.

A shrug for the Beatles? This is quite curable.

With people one knows well, the remedy can be achieved over time and a paced series of recommendations. But in the case of a person one sees occasionally and at social events that primarily revolve around their children’s school, it’s a bit trickier as people aren’t so receptive when one dominates the conversation with talk about bands. (Trust me, I’ve been down that road before.)

So the challenge I have undertaken is this — find a way to budget the $190.00 to develop my own “box set” that provides the critical education necessary for enlightenment and enhanced musical pleasure, because, after all, life is so much better when you have the Beatles around to enjoy.

You might ask, “Can’t you just download some hits from iTunes and be done with it?”

The key here, though, is context. My friend probably has already heard most, if not all, of the Beatles chart-toppers and a handful of B-sides. Somewhere along the line, their brilliance was not absorbed. (In fact, I argue that the prevalence of things like The Beatles 1, etc., does more to inhibit understanding of the Beatles than develop it.)

Like the Oasis box set, my collection includes more than just music. In order to appreciate the Beatles, a person needs to understand their role in the development of the rock and popular music canon, how they transcended boundaries — the disappearance of which we take for granted, and the foundation they established for the artists who emerged with them and afterwards.

I don’t know said friend well enough to spend $190 on him, regardless of how life-changing this gift would be, so this is fact-based but fictitious. So, let me introduce to you…

THE GENXATMIDLIFE.COM BEATLES ENLIGHTENMENT BOX SET

IMG_2083Hard Days Write ($9.98 at Barnes & Noble) — The Beatles were prolific. Maybe it was the 10,000 hours of practice, the intensity of Hamburg, the early years spent in hotel rooms sheltered from mobs of teenage girls bent on plucking the hairs from their growth follicles — but few bands (or none) have produced so much, so good in such a limited amount of time. It probably helped that they didn’t tour after 1965 — more time for songwriting and working in the studio.

This book does a great job of illustrating the bridge between the Beatles’ early years — simpler songs, “innocent” subjects — and the more sophisticated compositions of their later years. These guys could write about anything… from pets to prostitutes… and make it awesome. In fact, if they were sitting in my house right now, they could probably craft a Top 10 hit about how much I’d like new granite in my kitchen.


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Rubber Soul ($19.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($19.99 on amazon.com) on vinyl. Post Hard Days Night the title for “the Beatles’ Best Album” is up for grabs. Is there really a consensus? Each has it merits, but in my opinion, these two are the most important for the non-believer, as they are likely the ones they don’t know that well. (This observation is based only on conversations I’ve had with said people and is in no way quantifiable or scientific.)

You can’t have one without the other. The transition began before Rubber Soul, but it’s at this point that it is fully emerged. With Revolver, it is fully realized, and there is no turning back (even with the stripped-down efforts of Let It Be). By this time, the Beatles had obviously matured significantly as musicians, songwriters and observers of the world.

This is one case where I insist on vinyl. There is something about the act of placing the needle on the record, the shiny outer strip that marks the anticipation of the first notes, that prepares the listener for the power of what they are about to hear. It’s like a ritual, paying homage to those first listeners who slid the vinyl disc from its dust cover, delicately securing its edges between the pads of their middle fingers and thumbs, placing the hole on the center spindle, setting the speed to 33 1/3 and switching on the turntable. If my friend is going to really listen to these albums for the first time, this is how it needs to be done. (And if they don’t have a working turntable, they can come to our house where we will be happy to provide educational commentary between sides.)

Rubber Soul ($12.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($13.88 on amazon.com) on CD. For practical reasons.

Let It Be RooftopAbbey Road ($12.99), Let It Be ($16.29), The White Album ($19.88), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ($13.88), Magical Mystery Tour($13.88), Help! ($16.29) on CD from amazon.com*. Why CDs and not iTunes? Each of these need to be understood as a collection. On iTunes, it is too easy to perceive each song as a single, and that is no way to consider the works of the Beatles. You need to hear “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” roll into “A Day in the Life. You need to witness the range of “Rocky Racoon,” “Glass Onion” and “Julia” within a single (double) album. Worst of all is how iTunes severs The Medley.

With a CD, you can open the jewel case, check out the cover, hold the evolution in your hand. On iTunes, it’s too easy for very special music to get lost among the shuffle of Ratt’s first album, the Timberlake stuff you have for parties and that Edwin McCain song you downloaded for your friend at 12:03 a.m. last Saturday night after that second appletini.

If I had more money to work with — or was a better bargain shopper — I’d buy all the way back to Meet the Beatles. But given the limitations of my imaginary budget and, most likely, my friend’s willingness to listen, I can’t push it. Anyway, I want to leave something for the “new” Beatles fan to discover, so they can come back to me again and again and tell me how right I was.

IMG_2089Hard Days Night” DVD ($18.99 at Laurie’s Planet of Sound) — It’s easy to think of a band that recorded, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” as dismissible in the post-60s musical era. In fact, this is the song people (though they are few) bring up when I express my shock that they don’t care for the Beatles. These people need to be reminded that the Beatles had a lot of work to do before they could unleash “A Day in the Life,” and even “Help,” on the world. They had to chip away at the barriers of convention that dominated popular music.

In the movie, “A Hard Days Night,” the world was introduced to four young men from Liverpool, of all places, whom you could see right away had a kind of humor and humanity that gave hint to their staying power. After seeing this, how would anyone be able to resist?

Without tax*, I have spent $189.03, just shy of my $190.00 goal. Converting a non-believer for less than $200.00? As Master Card would say — Priceless.

* I know that shopping at markets and independent record stores is much more fun. But with Amazon Prime, shipping is free, it comes in two days and I don’t pay tax, which I have conveniently left off the B&N and Laurie’s “purchases.” Plus, it’s a bit cheaper than our local indy shop.

9-11 in one word

???????????????????????????????Yesterday my daughter had an assignment for social studies… to come home and ask a parent to describe 9-11 in one word. It was hard to think of one that would offer more meaning than horrible, scary or sad. It is all of these, but as we are distanced from the events by time, there are other words that come to mind. After writing down several, the one I chose was “end.” The moments before I got the phone call from my husband telling me to turn on the TV represented a different world, one that hadn’t yet revealed the bad side of possibility. For many of us, the violence of severe political, religious, etc. conflict was at a substantial distance. The destruction of the Twin Towers put it right in front of us.

Optimism is not gone, nor is faith or hope — all those things that help a community or nation recover from such a thing. We have witnessed that life goes on — 13 years of it, in fact — and we see those things reflected in our remembrances. But I imagine that for most of us, those concepts are tainted a bit by that day.

GenXers were getting a foothold on their adult lives when 9-11 took place. The oldest of us were just reaching our mid-30s. That day was devastating for so many people across generations. For us, it might be considered a loss of innocence, that time when our invincibility was called into question.

I told my kids yesterday that I once had a key card to a hotel room near the Twin Towers that had to be torn down due to the destruction. It was from a trip my husband and I took there only a few months before 9-11. The kids asked why I kept it. I didn’t have an answer, but maybe it was because it was a piece of the world that existed before.

6 Things Only a GenXer Would Find in The Basement

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Who knew that cleaning out a basement would provide so much material for a blog? Well, I kind of did, but I had no idea what little treasures I’d find back in dusty corners among 30+ cans of left-over paint (not our fault — previous owners were ridiculous about keeping them), garbage bags filled with concert t-shirts, and countless bins of toys illustrating consumer culture gone berserk (actually, I made the kids reduce this by 50 percent last summer).

If you are a GenXer and you’ve made it to midlife, you’ll appreciate the following… and you might even have similar sorts of things in your own basement.

A library of mixed tapes. When I say “library,” I imply that it has been catalogued… curated, if you will, to include the very best music of my time. But to say such things about my collection of mixed tapes is misleading. As I read the card inserts of the cassette cases, it became clear that the music I felt worthy of transferring from one tape to another (or record off of WVUR) was disappointingly limited. How many mix tapes should I really have created including The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now” and When In Rome’s “The Promise”? I am a good 20-plus years past my youthful prime, and I have more diverse single playlists on my iPod than what remained of my entire collection of mix tapes.

Actually, this box represents only a fraction of the mix tapes I found. It was filled to the top. For the record, the Rush and Anthrax belong to my husband (or one of his former roommates). Those are his toes too.

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Other relics of modern technology. Cassettes were to music in the 80s what CDs were to encyclopedias in the 90s — a brief interlude of technology that put what used to take up so much space (10-inch vinyl, a bookcase full of texts) on something much smaller and more portable. Now you can get much of what was previously available on these formats on the internet — for free or a small fee. But for a short period of time, the idea that you could take a 32-volume behemoth and capture it on a thin round piece of plastic was so revolutionary, even Microsoft got into the act.

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Fashion history. You knew it was coming, didn’t you? You thought, “Is it possible that these people have a pair of parachute pants in their basement?”

Yes, when everyone else dropped theirs off at the Goodwill in 1985, someone from my family kept his in a pile of clothes that, while reduced to only a few garments by now, still contains this pair in cement gray.

But does he still fit into them? That’s an answer that will remain unpublished.

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No young man circa 1984 would feel completely dressed without a matching Members Only jacket. But this one is even better — it’s a vest. And it’s a coordinating shade a gray, making it the perfect piece for the monochrome look. BONUS — it still fits!! Back in the day, if this dude had walked into my hometown’s teen disco, The Casbah, I would have faced some tough competition!

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Religion notebook doodles only a student in the 80s would make. My husband received As in Religion (Catholic school), but you wouldn’t know it from the cover of his notebook. Perhaps he was trying to hide the secret to his success behind these stylized band logos. Either that or, Dude, Jesus must have totally rocked in the 80s.

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And if Hubby was hiding A-worthy notes behind the cover, could this be his visual interpretation of the Crusades?

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I didn’t attend Catholic school, so I am not one to judge. But I wonder what Sister Mary Joseph made of this art.

The glory of 80s hair. Okay 80s hair band fans, check this out — a 1987 copy of Hit Parader. This magazine was first published back in the 40s, but it peaked in the 80s, and I think you can see why.

In my teen years, Hit Parader was the alternative to Rolling Stone that my mom would let me buy due to RS’s “mature” content, though I’m not sure how she came to this conclusion. The artists always looked much less stoned on the cover of RS than mags like Creem and Hit Parader.

This particular issue features Jon Bon Jovi on the cover (yes, it says “Too hot to handle” just below his name), with the promise of updates on other bands like Def Leppard and Poison, along with a Cinderella centerfold. (I’ve gotta ask, did people really tape Cinderella to their wall?) The neon pink masthead is a nice touch too. I wonder if they did that because they had a heartthrob on the cover.

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Don’t hate me because I have a Weeble. Not only do I have one of these in my basement, I have a whole Weebles Treasure Island Set! Of all the things that I found in our basement, this Weeble is probably the one thing that elicits the most envy.

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