Thank you, Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Classic Rock

Life's encyclopedia.

Life’s encyclopedia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Suggestive song lyrics — yesterday and today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Midlife crisis averted courtesy of AC/DC

IMG_3263

Photo: Paul Failla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

6 Things Only a GenXer Would Find in The Basement

IMG_1997

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.

IMG_1995

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.

IMG_2013

 

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.

IMG_2001

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!

IMG_1998

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.

IMG_1989

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

IMG_1990

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.

IMG_2045

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.

IMG_1844

 

A Black Celebration for Valentine’s Day

Flaming HeartsA couple decades or so back in time, my friends and I celebrated Valentine’s Day in a way that was freeing in both its interpretation of the holiday and its obligations. We organized a Black Valentine’s Day party and invited everyone we knew to attend (not a big crowd, as we were on an overseas study program). The only requirement was that one dress in black and not hijack the event with their own romantic notions.

This kind of celebration was a relief to most of us, including me. After graduating from valentine collection boxes wrapped in red and pink construction paper, I spent Valentine’s Day in some interesting ways, including almost getting hit by a car on an icy highway, receiving flowers from a boyfriend a few days after we broke up (he had already ordered them), and receiving flowers from a stranger who had the same name as another “friend,” who awkwardly confessed to me that he didn’t send them when I called to thank him. (Months later I found out that the sender was some random guy from a party I attended who sent them on a whim.)

Armed with our party parameters, a boom box, and some lager, wine and junk food, we took over a big common room and threw one of the best Valentine’s Day parties we’d ever attended since the days of drinking Hawaiian Punch from Dixie Cups in grade school. I have a few incriminating photos of people breaking the “no romance” rule, but that was after a beverage or two, so it was possible that it had little to do with Cupid.

I would bet just about any amount of money that our playlist for that evening included New Order, Depeche Mode, U2 and Terence Trent D’Arby, among others. We popped cassettes in and out of the boom box all night long, yelling, “Wait a second,” while we fast-forwarded and rewound to our selections, the gap between songs filled by the clinking of bottles and glasses and the chatter of 30 or so people who were united by a common goal — to leave Valentine’s Day with a lighter heart.

If you were to put such a playlist together today, what would you include? Let me offer you some inspiration with something from that original Black Valentine’s Day celebration.