My Old Friend, Boston’s First Album

Boston's first album

It’s my birthday week again and time for more Songs That Shaped A Life. (Funny how quickly 365 days go by.)

I have a memory from when I was young of an album cover propped up against the paneled wall of my aunt’s bedroom — Boston’s first. At the time, I was a kid with limited musical tastes and experience. None of the songs on the album were familiar to me, but the visual was like a crack in a door to a room filled with the privileges of teen-hood. My aunt was just five years older than me, and I couldn’t wait for someday when I would be as cool as the older kids whose record collections expanded with the addition of such eye candy.

Sometime between then and my freshman year in college, I became more familiar with the songs on that first album. But the buzz about Boston faded with their second album, and in the midst of MTV, Michael Jackson and the 80s British Invasion, there were few opportunities to get to know the music of a band whose sound became written off as “corporate rock.” You could hear them only on AOR and, eventually, the classic rock stations that emerged when the spread between Poison and Zepplin became a divide too large to cross at one point on the dial.

A couple of weekends after I arrived at college, one of my new friends suggested we visit an old friend of hers who was living in a fraternity house off campus. He happened to be roommates with someone I knew from high school, and we ended up being there a couple of times a week. Blasting from the stereo in any number of rooms was the debut album by Boston.

It was a strange choice for a bunch of 20-year-olds in the late-80s. But it was in this building that I learned the words to “Peace of Mind” and “Hitch A Ride,” and began to appreciate the music. The evenings would begin with the relatively tame “More Than A Feeling,” and by the time it got to “Rock-n-Roll Band,” the party was in full swing, peaking with “Smokin,” then settling into “Let Me Take You Home Tonight”. Whoever organized that track list understood the principles of climax and denouement.

Instead of becomimg more rigid about music as I aged, I actually expanded my knowledge. Over the years, I learned more about Boston and came to understand why this album was so significant and how talented they were. It’s funny that this album once meant something entirely different to me, but that in a strange way it has been with me at various points in my life. Right now, I think it’s in slot one in my car’s CD player. If you roll up next to me at a stoplight and are crazy enough to open your window in a Chicago January, you’ll hear it drowning out my very bad interpretation of Brad Delp.


Cruising Tunes

cassette in recently did a survey on best and worst driving songs, and when I got over my jealousy of the marketing team who worked on that program, I thought about the general subject of listening to music in the car. The number one pick was “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, which actually makes sense to me, though one might think something like “Drive My Car” or “Radar Love” would take the top spot.

When I was in college, my friends and I would enjoy what we called a “campus cruise.” We would pile into someone’s car and drive around the campus and adjacent student-housing areas just to see if we could catch anything interesting in action. Two gentlemen a few ladies in my group were interested in lived (or hung out at, I can’t remember) the same house, so it was convenient to drive around that block a couple of times. But mostly we meandered with no specific destination in mind. While the idea of this now is probably incredibly offensive to young folks, this was the 80s, and Ronald Reagan had been assuring us for years that it was our God-given American right to not deprive ourselves of any pleasure, as the world — and everything in it — was ours for the taking, especially petroleum products.

So, after plopping out of bed well after the sun rose and devouring a lukewarm pizza from the student union, we’d hop in someone’s car, roll out of the parking lot and pop in one very special cassette — Kick by INXS.

There is nothing on Kick about driving. “Don’t Stop Believing” isn’t about cruising either, but you can imagine why it was the top choice. It’s a turn-up-the-volume-and-belt-it-out anthem that transports you to a place where you are unashamed of who you are, what you want and what’s happened to you. For whatever reason, it seems like when we are behind the wheel of our car, we are in a place that is both public and private. We can sing out loud… to whatever we want… even if it’s Steve Perry and we have no chance of hitting more than four of the notes he does.

We didn’t sing to Kick. We generally ignored or fast-forwarded through the opening song, “Guns in the Sky,” but we did rap along to “Mediate”. We thought we were totally cool to “Devil Inside”. We imagined someone singing “Need You Tonight” to us, maybe even Michael Hutchence himself. Why not? We were in the car. Your imagination can take you anywhere when you’re in the car.

Kick was an obvious choice in the late-80s for a group of gals, but there is something very open-road-freeing about that album for most people, I think. It’s actually one of my husband’s favorites — a guilty pleasure for him, because his standards for musicianship at the time were so high it was surprising Kick even was a blip on his radar. The music is punchy and celebratory, like sticking your arm out the open window on the highway… before you became aware of the rare possibility that a pebble or some other small object could pop up from under the wheel of the car in front of you and puncture your skin and, in turn, starting telling your kids to keep their hands and arms in the car until you got to the last block before home.

The more I write about this, the more I miss it, and its context. A song like “Mediate” told us that the world really wasn’t all right, and several of us had already caught on to the false prophecy of the Reagan years. But we weren’t quite ready for reality. We knew it was coming, but it was our time to savor the last bits of youth.

A wedding gift

I am beginning this post with a glass of wine to my left, from a bottle my very good friend featured at her wine-country dream wedding last September. She was not a young bride, but her evening was filled with the joy we associate with youth, yet that is often better savored by people with more experience.

Late this afternoon, the snow started to fall. It was that sparkly type that comes when the temps are so low you wonder how people made it through winter before insulation and North Face. As the sky dimmed to evening, it took on that sepia cast that makes the gray less steely, though not quite golden. I thought about another friend who is getting married in midlife, this coming Friday.

A couple of months ago, she and I were at a girls’ weekend with about 16 other people, and we had a small celebration for her — the forty-something version of a bachelorette party. We started off with the topic of what’s sexy at 40, and there were plenty of hilarious responses. But there was a marked difference how she — not yet knowing we were honoring her upcoming marriage — described it. In her, I saw something that I’ve associated with youthfulness as my own marriage has matured. But I realized that night that it isn’t. When relationships take root, really begin to blossom, it doesn’t matter how old or experienced you are. That energy of beginnings might be even more beautiful with age.

I don’t know if long-term relationships ever see that point again — that giddiness and excitement. It’s not necessary because of the richness that they do bring. But it is wonderful to know that starting a life together holds the same spirit no matter what age it comes to you.

To my friend, best wishes on your big day and the decades that await! For you, one of the most beautiful wedding songs I know.

When you send a mom an email (or the wisdom of Sting).

Stressed outWhen you send a mom an email, she might volunteer to provide treats for her child’s holiday party.

When she realizes she’s run out of cupcake papers, she might add that to her list for the store.

When she gets to the store and fills her cart, someone might tell her that, no, they do not carry cupcake papers.

When she goes to yet another store and buys those cupcake papers (but not Dixie cups because they didn’t have any), she might think she’s done shopping.

When she then leaves the store to pick up her kids, she might see a sign on the school door that reminds her of the pajama drive and say to herself, “*&%$, I forgot about that!”

When she goes to yet ANOTHER store to buy the pajamas, she might realize she could have just gotten everything there.

When she comes home from that last store (with plenty of other items), she might realize that she could also have picked up Dixie cups at the last store.

When she washes her hands and finds that the liquid soap pump sprays foam all over her sweater because it has more air than soap in it, she might add that she could have bought the hand soap she keeps forgetting at that last store too.

When she puts her headphones on to take a break finally, she might hear the song, “Wrapped Around Your Finger.”

When she listens to the line, “Then you’ll find your servant is your master,” she might think that this sums up her relationship with the American retail industry precisely.

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.

Thinking of Sandy Hook

I almost didn’t write this post. The act of clicking the Publish button makes me uncertain. I have no claim to the tragedy that happened a year ago in Sandy Hook, beyond being a parent… a citizen of this country… another human being. What happened in that school has so many layers, and it seems artificial to write about it given the depths of its consequences for the families who lost children and loved ones that day.

There is no doubt to me that millions of people will remember this day, and it will bring despair to hearts and tears to eyes, even among people with no personal connection to those involved. But like so many other horrible events, we’ll catalogue it among the other great massacres of our generation, like 9-11 and the tsunami in Asia, and in the company of similar events, like Columbine and Virginia Tech.

“Where were you when…?” is a question people ask once a major tragedy like this is a safe enough distance away to begin thinking of it as a marker. Maybe people are already beginning to ask this about Sandy Hook. My question this year is where are we now.

I imagine most of us are bewildered, still, that something so horrible could have happened.  Some of us have those scars that form when you see what kind of pain people can inflict on each other and how inhumane our political system can be when it comes to protecting the interests of people vs. sources of funding. Many of us are disappointed that we couldn’t move the needle on an issue that — if you look at statistics — actually unites vs. divides us in one of the most polarized states our nation has ever been in.

By the time one makes it into their forties, there is that understanding that life offers no guarantees. Safety is a relative and unreliable concept, something that slips into our minds when, perhaps, we are boarding a plane. Should we really feel that way when we drop our children off at school? We do now, even if it’s fleeting and blocked from our conscious mind by some sort of mental self-preservation. If we really thought about how vulnerable we all are, we’d probably go crazy.

Certainly, there are tragedies where far more people suffer, places in the world where children die in great numbers. And something like this can’t be judged by numbers. Loss of even a single child’s life is very sad. What makes this one stand out, for me at least, is how those children were supposed to be in one of the safest environments available to them. They were learning to read or add or maybe just enjoying story time. It’s such an innocent world inside a first-grade classroom… rather, it should be.

A year later, I  sit on the couch helping my son study his spelling words. Looking out the window, I become aware that I’m the parent who gets to do this. Those parents do not. I’m checking the closet taking inventory of what Christmas presents have been delivered. For those folks, there will always be an empty space where gifts would have been.

There is no yardstick for that kind of pain. It’s unknown to the rest of us. One year later, it still seems unbelievable. I can’t image how it feels for the families and friends of Sandy Hook.

What we all want

Pope Francis with disfigured manThis picture of the Pope blessing a man with severe disfigurement stopped me today. The rush of my own life, the noises from outside, the shadow of the dancing leaves on my coffee cup –all these things that delight and vex me — came to a halt when I absorbed image.

Some people are born into this world with extraordinarily challenging circumstances. Their lives, from start to finish, are marked by difficulty that most of us will never experience. Think about it — this man gets up every morning and faces the day with his situation. He never gets a break. This is what he lives from start to finish.

Seeing this man with Pope Francis reminds me what it means to be a human being. We cannot be defined by appearance, good health, wealth, power or any of the other things that distract us as we take whatever path we choose through life. I’ve not met a single person yet who hasn’t slipped to allow vanity to color their actions or opinions. (For a good portion of us, those self- or societally inflicted trappings are our greatest burden.)

When I saw this photo, it reminded me that inside of every living body is a soul who wants what I think we all do — to know that we matter. Like food and shelter, it’s a common denominator need. We do things every day to prove that we matter to ourselves. In the middle of drafting this post, I went upstairs and put on eyeliner to attend my children’s school conference, because I wanted to look a certain way. To be honest, the fact that I write in this blog is a way to make myself matter. I think that’s the case of anyone compelled to do anything. We want to be a part of our world. We want to have an impact.

Our world makes it hard sometimes to not question people’s motivations. The desire to matter can become unhealthy when it drives people to do things that harm (or not do things that will bring about good). But regardless of how you feel about organized religion, when this man stepped up to Pope Francis, from one human being to another, he was told that he matters.

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.

Gen X as slacker parents — not so much.

Does this look like the child of a slacker?

Does this look like the child of a slacker?

This morning, I was watching a segment on The Today Show featuring Jessica Lahey, an education and parenting writer, and Wendy Mogel, a family psychologist and author, on the importance of creativity. One of the guests commented on how offering creativity boosters like free play goes against the current trend of days filled with structured activities.

How ironic — the generation known for being slackers is raising its children with an intensity that appears to be unparalleled by previous generations.

As soon as Gen Y graduated into an awful economy, they became the hopeless unemployed basement dwellers who feasted off their parents’ generosity. But let’s not forget our roots. We were the original lazy generation, though no one accused us of being coddled by the latch-key lifestyle of many of our formative years. Yet, I’m sure the phrase, “They aren’t willing to put in the hard work,” has been uttered about every generation when they entered the workforce, especially those gifted with poor job prospects.

Research does show us, though, that each generation has some defining characteristics, and Gen X is supposed to be filled with free thinkers who value family and personal time. And I know that as we matured into our parenting years concepts like “free range parenting” and the like gained notice (though maybe not popularity). But so has the “helicopter parent.” So what’s behind the intensity of the current parenting generation’s practices?

Not only are our kids over-scheduled (which, in turn, suffocates our families and ourselves with commitments), but we do things like put them in sports leagues that require incredible amounts of practice time, increasing their risk of injury to growing bones and joints, or sign them up for other endeavors meant to help them stand out among their peers. I used to work with an orthopedic surgeon who said he does procedures on teenagers that were previously only done on ex-athletes whose joints wore out in middle age. Where I live (and I think it’s the same in other major urban school districts), kids test into the good public high schools, which means that they spend their middle school years being tutored on top of their normal academics and have to hope that they won’t get an A- in gym, which would sink their GPA too low to compete. This kind of thing is only good if you are in the business of test prep or treating anxiety disorders.

Some of this is forced upon us, such as the choice between spending the equivalent of a college education on a private high school or tutoring and test-prepping your child for a shot at a good free education (something most of us were raised to expect in this country). Work schedules make it tough for some people to offer blocks of free time in one’s bedroom or backyard, and many schools have addressed the need for after-school supervision with structured programs.

This problem has been chronicled over the past several years, and Wendy Mogel isn’t the first child expert to warn us against neglecting free play. Why does it seem that we are still heading in the wrong direction?

I can admit that some of the intensity that taints my parenting is self-inflicted. When my child wants to do everything, it’s hard for me to say no. I listen to parents “lament” their weekends dominated by their children’s schedules, and I detect an air of superiority in their “Oh, we’re just so busy,” that has me questioning how productive my family’s weekends are. When I see my kids’ toy room and could submit a photo of it to The Weather Channel as a post-disaster scene, I wonder if they have too much free time on their hands.

But Wendy Mogel said on The Today Show that mess is the work of creativity, so we have that going for us. Perhaps next time I feel belittled by a fellow parent’s weekend field-to-course-to-court odyssey, I can sigh and talk about how da Vinci’s parents must have had to live through such assaults on their household order as we do.

Apparently those sacrifices we make with our feet when we try to cross through the land of 10,000 Legos are, in fact, part of the formula for future success. I heard only the end of this part of the segment, but experts have determined that creativity is a key trait of business leaders. While I have issues with guiding a child through life with only the goal of a well-paying job in mind (see We Are More Than Our Metrics), perhaps this will get more people on board with the idea that we Gen Xer parents should chill out a bit.