Midlife crisis averted courtesy of AC/DC

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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.

Chicago woman has mixed feelings upon hearing B96 blasting from child’s room

A Lincoln Square mom reported today that she was both horrified and heartened that her 10-year-old son was cranking B96, a station heavy on artists like 5 Seconds of Summer and Ariana Grande, on his clock radio.

“At first I wondered if it was some car rolling by, but then I realized that the sound of auto-tune was coming from upstairs,” she said. “When I opened my son’s door, I found him lounging on his left side propped up on his elbow, reading Minecraft: The Essential Handbook and tapping his foot every-so-slightly to a salsa beat.”

Though her son told her he was listening specifically for “Blame” by Calvin Harris because the station was known to play it on an hourly basis, the middle-aged woman, who prefers to the term “midlife,” suspected peer influence. According to her, B96, which she vaguely remembers being called “Party Radio” a few decades back, has never been included on their car’s radio presets.

Son with Little Martin.

Three chords and beyond…

The 40-something GenXer says that she has spent years preparing her son to study rock’s canon as a teenager, fully expecting him to develop an interest in Radiohead or even Rush at some point in his adolescence. Already he showed promise by regularly differentiating between Paul McCartney, after whom he was named, and John Lennon, and correctly identifying the masterful guitar work of Eddie Van Halen. Every once in a while he hums the opening notes of “The Immigrant Song.” She had recently introduced Prince to his educational repertoire.

But the rock-obsessed mom admits to going through a “Killer B phase” when she attended college in Northwest Indiana and was exposed to Chicago’s diverse radio market.

“Sure, back when they were playing ‘Rhythm Nation’ and Dead or Alive, I listened,” she said. “I guess I should be happy that he is recognizing the current trend of producers taking the credit for songs, because being able to hear a producer’s touch is a pretty advanced listening skill.”

She added that maybe it’s time to teach him about the influence of Mutt Lange through his work with AC/DC and Rick Rubin’s ground-breaking cross-genre vision on the landmark Run-DMC album “Raisin’ Hell,” which she notes she owns on vinyl and CD.

“Do not get me started on the Aerosmith vs. Run-DMC ‘Walk This Way’ thing unless you have a half an hour at least to talk,” said the self-proclaimed amateur rock music analyst whose husband has shared his differing opinion on the topic. “We are never coming to an agreement on that around here. But at least we can present both sides to our son and let him make his own decision, which I know if he’s listening to me will be the right one.”

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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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.

1984 Never Ends

1984It’s a sweltering August evening. I’m in the front passenger seat of a sleek black sports car listening to music at high volume in a parking lot somewhere in Northeast Indiana. It’s 1984.

Not the year 1984… rather, the CD my husband and I were cranking after coming from an anniversary dinner to the resort where we were married.

But it could easily have been 1984 in the same vicinity, in the same month, on a similar hot night, in a (much likely) less impressive car with the same CD playing. In fact, that anniversary evening, I had that sensation that is not quite deja vu and not quite flashback, a cocktail of past and present that reminds you that some moments line up on a parallel. There are things in your life that don’t just remain the same… they keep popping in at various points, layering on new meaning each time.

I remember the weeks before 1984 was released. There was all manner of speculation about what the album would be. It was a bold statement to name the album after the year, as if it would be the artistic statement that summed up the era. I would be surprised if that was the band’s intention. The real big news was that Eddie played keyboards on it.

When I first saw the video for “Jump” on MTV, it was actually kind of disappointing, because I listened (and still do) to Van Halen for a harder, more swinging sound. But as soon as I heard the rest of the album, I could overlook it. The one thing it did was open the band up to broader air play, which used to be a much more important thing for a fan than it is now.

There’s something about Van Halen, and especially 1984, that reminds me of being young, more than any other music from that time. In a way it enables me to experience that feeling even now. So, while listening to 1984 might not seem an obvious choice for celebrating a wedding anniversary, it was perfect for my husband and me.

Coincidentally, today is Eddie Van Halen’s birthday. It’s a fitting way to wrap up my week of birthday blog posts on songs that shaped my life.

My Old Friend, Boston’s First Album

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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.

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.