My Walkman, Eurail Pass and Depeche Mode

The soundtrack for GenXineurope.

The soundtrack for GenXineurope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where would I be without the Columbia House Record Club?

In the 80s, Columbia House Record Club was God’s gift to young music fans interested in building their libraries. I remember those card stock ads falling out of our weekly TV Guide and bothering my mom to let me spend my babysitting money on signing up for those 12 albums for a penny plus a bonus. All I had to do was purchase a certain number of additional albums over the course of 12 or 24 months, and I would fulfill my contractual obligation and pack my record collection full of the day’s favorites.

Some summer during junior high, I wore her down and received her permission to sign myself up. It was one of the headiest days of my life.

I had never paid close attention to what was offered by Columbia House, so filling out that first form was difficult. The Club offered mostly selections from the Top 40 lists of recent years, like Air Supply and Carly Simon. But there were enough gems in there to satisfy my taste for new music and add to my collection of the classics.

Prince CharmingOne of those was Adam & The Ants’ Prince Charming. It was the first album I opened on that auspicious day of my inaugural delivery. I can still remember Stuart peering at me all war-painted wearing pseudo-military garb in ruffles and the flashiest colors imaginable. The band was absent from the cover. Didn’t matter… Adam was the man. “Don’t you ever stop being dandy, showing me your handsome.” INDEED!

It didn’t take long for the needle to hit the record and blast those tribal beats out of the speakers my dad constructed to match with my hot pink and French Provincial décor. I wonder if my mother regretted her decision to let me join the club as much as I doubted my sanity for downloading Katy Perry’s “Firework” onto my kids’ iPods. But that album, and the dozens of others that followed, brought me tremendous pleasure for years to come. I still own all of them. (It took two weeks for my kids to dismiss Katy Perry.)

A couple of years ago, we had guests over for an impromptu “afterparty,” and I boasted that I could offer our guests anything they wanted to hear. One of them thought he was putting me to the test when he asked for Adam & The Ants. Of course, I delivered …as did Adam & The Ants …as did the Columbia House Record Club.

The Columbia House Record Club is a dinosaur now, distinct for more than a decade and probably irrelevant long before it folded. I was still a member in the early 90s when CDs replaced albums and cassettes. I’ve got to say that I prefer the immediacy of the iTunes world. How else could I download Andy Gibb for an instant New Year’s Eve devotion? But I will always have fond memories of Columbia House and the joy of getting all that great music for the price of a few albums and a penny.

Backstage Pass Gone Bad

Behold!

Behold!

When I was a teenager, there was no greater testament to a guitar player’s skill than the following statement, “He can play ‘Eruption’!” (Yes, it was always a he.)

When Van Halen came to my hometown in 1984, it was a colossal event. My friend’s older brother was allowed to stay overnight in line at the venue to score tickets. We got one for everyone, except the guy I had decided to date just because he wore the same hat John Taylor did in the “Hungry Like The Wolf” era. Although he was a drummer, he didn’t care for Van Halen. But, he ended up buying a ticket from a scalper for a lot more money simply because he want to tag along.

On the afternoon of the show, Mr. John Taylor Hat was working his usual job as an usher at the movie theater.  He was sent in to take care of some loud viewers on whom the rest of the crowd’s pleas for quiet had no impact.  Alex Van Halen was one of the offenders.  They talked about the concert that night, and my date mentioned that he was taking me.  Alex handed him two backstage passes and told him to come by after the show.

After a great performance that was not hindered by my very grumpy seat-mate, we walked to the backstage area to see how well the passes worked.  The opportunity to meet Eddie Van Halen was worth having to hear my date heckling David Lee Roth throughout the show. Among the girls I knew, few understood the magic of “Eruption,” so with that and  a story about meeting Eddie, no one would dare question my right for a seat at the rock-and-roll table (the one that dudes sit around posing questions like who’s the greatest guitarist or who’s the best drummer, etc.)

As we walked through the threshold, no one seemed to notice us, so I said to my companion, “Let’s just be casual and walk around like we belong here.  No need to get the passes out unless they ask, right?”  But he seemed determined to ruin everything.  He said, “No, we need to wear these,” pulling one out of his pocket and putting it around his neck.  Within two seconds, a very large security professional escorted us out the door.

The minute we were out of earshot, I started yelling at him for blowing our chance.  Two guys from my high school were lurking around the area and heard us arguing.  They offered to take the passes off our hands… for $100 each.  My soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend moaned in disgust at the whole incident and wouldn’t let the passes go.  Tragedy was a great motivator for his art, and this was the best that our short relationship had delivered.  He shook his head, slumped his shoulders and dragged his feet toward the parking lot.  Only because I needed a ride home did I follow him.  (If only texting existed in 1984!) We never went out again.

Years later, I’ve seen Van Halen two more times with my husband who is as appreciative of the band as anyone I’ve ever met. I can’t say that he could play “Eruption”… at least I’ve been told not to.

My once and future favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They will always be my favorite band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know how I got here, but now what?

40 sign

The number may change but the forces of change do not.

This general topic has been in my head for about a week, and I wanted to write about it but couldn’t find an anchor for the concept. There’s that great line from the Talking Heads song that goes, “How did I get here?” But what I’m experiencing is slightly different from that.

Today I saw this piece in the New York Times about the difference in how people remember themselves from the past and how they perceive their future selves. It’s interesting, though probably not surprising, that studies show that people tend to have a better handle on who they used to be versus the person they will be. The gist is that people underestimate how much they’ll change over the course of a decade, even into their 60s, after they’ve had several decades of experience as an evolving adult.

Here I am at midlife, and I’m a bit baffled by the idea that, like I did when I was nearing my twenties, I need to consider what I want my future to entail. When I was decades younger, I didn’t really think much about being in my 40s, but when the fleeting thought did pass through my mind, I pictured a fairly static and stable lifestyle that I could ride out through my remaining years. Now I realize that this isn’t the case.

For example, as a 40-something, I need to think about my lifestyle (career, educating kids, geography and a whole bunch of other stuff) and how I want to guide it as I become more “mature.” There is the whole retirement thing, but there is also the idea that perhaps I don’t need to be tethered to a particular market (or climate). My concept of the best kind of lifestyle has changed as I’ve worked a family into the mix and developed richer personal interests. My values have also changed, and I want those to be reflected in my life’s work, both the paid and unpaid.

I had a similar decision to make when I chose a college major, and my parameters were different… and so were my influences. I had fewer responsibilities to others, but I also came of age in the 80s, when opportunity had a different ring to it. My parents played a big role in guiding me, and their own experiences colored their perception. Like many people, if I was sitting in front of that book of majors right now, I’d probably make different choices. But given the input I had back then – from myself, my family and the world around me – I can see how I came up with what I did.

One of the points people make in the comments following the New York Times piece is how personality doesn’t change over time. How does that account for the development that takes place in people over time? I think it’s all about context. The core of my values were the same, but how they manifest themselves in my life has changed over time. So, it’s possible that I am made of the same “raw materials,” but time puts us in different situations, teaches us, provides us with different experiences and brings different influences into our lives.

Thankful that you never stop growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankful for a song

I’m thankful for “Ordinary World” by Duran Duran. Actually, I’m thankful for any song that affects me like this one does.

If you’ve seen my previous posts, you are aware of my appreciation of Duran Duran. But, lately it’s been more about their music than ever. And as I’ve brought together the teenager and midlifer in me, I’ve been paying more attention.

When this song came out nearly 20 years ago, I was in my twenties.  Although I bought the CD, I didn’t notice the song all that much.  Ubiquitous radio airplay and maturity beyond my Tiger Beat perspective left me less interested in the band in general. “Ordinary World” was a ballad. I assumed it was about failed romance, and at that age this kind of song elicited a shrug and a nod, but no more.

After reading John Taylor’s biography, I learned that this song was inspired by Simon LeBon’s feelings at the loss of a friend to suicide. Maybe you knew this before, but I didn’t. Listen to the lyrics. You can really feel it. And you can hear the sadness in the music. It’s textured and beautiful, and I can’t imagine it done any better.

Songs like this arrest me. I’m convinced that if I am ever in a car accident caused by my own inattention, it won’t be because of my cell phone. It will be because of a song. When I hear things like this, I am cocooned from the world. I am enveloped in a silken sheet that folds me into the music. I am drowning in the song. Nothing else exists for those few moments. It’s like meditation, though my mind isn’t empty. It’s saturated. To me, Heaven would be songs like this on continuous play.

I am sorry that such a gorgeous thing began from sadness. I am thankful that artists have the courage to share.

A time to blog about gratitude

I’m taking a page from Paige (Paige Worthy, her real name) and hopping on the NaBloPoMo bandwagon, shooting for a blog post every day.  For the uninitiated, NaBloPoMo stands for National Blog Posting Month and is a take on NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month.  I should be doing NaNoWriMo, but I am opting for NaBloPoMo for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here.

Furthermore, I will continue the copycat trend by blogging about thankfulness.  It’s the season of gratitude, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  This is the perfect recipe (I hope) for getting me into the habit of posting more often.

I sat here for ten minutes trying to cook up an idea on thankfulness.  My mind was blank.  I got up to make dinner while thinking about what I am most thankful for… family, friends, health.  But it seemed a gross understatement to blog about being grateful for those things.  I think we need an entirely new word for that.

Then I looked at those three words and saw instantly a common thread — time.  None of these things can be appreciated in the absence of time.  Can you give and receive love from your family without committing time to them?  No. Can you appreciate the support and company of friends without spending time with them?  No. Can you enjoy good health without putting the time in to maintain it?  Not if you’re a midlifer, at least.

The more I age, the more precious time becomes in my life.  I can remember slow-moving Sunday afternoons in my twenties when there seemed to be just enough time… and maybe a bit too much… to enjoy the day.  It has been so long since I haven’t felt the window of time closing on one activity to move on to the next.  The pace of my life is frequently abrupt, and I cannot picture it going any faster than it does now.  Even when I am waiting impatiently, I think about how my time could be spent doing something else, and I feel the lost opportunity as the minutes pass.  When time walks out the door, it’s over.  It never comes back.

So, I am launching this month with my thanks for time.  I wish I spent it more wisely.  Every day I recognize that I don’t manage it as well as I would like or always use it in ways that are productive.  But I am very grateful for all that it has given me.

The fourteen-year-old forty-something finally lives her teenage dream.

Today is the day.  Thirty years ago, I wouldn’t even have dared to wish it, the prospect was so fantastic.  But it is actually happening this evening.  I will meet John Taylor of Duran Duran.

And I have to say that the sensation is not the elation and thrill that I would have had thirty years ago.  It’s actually quite odd.  It’s the feeling that I am taking my daughter to meet Justin Bieber… only the mother and the child both reside in me.

Two friends and I are attending a book signing event for John’s just-released autobiography In The Pleasure Groove.  I finished the book yesterday and definitely recommend it to Duranies and fans of 80s music.  It’s also a good read if you like biographies of musicians.  The book is more honest and intimate than many in its recollection of the rise and fall of fame and addiction.

My expectation, since he’ll be signing books, is that each of us will have our 30 seconds (or less) to exchange conversation.  And I have no idea what I am going to say.

The preparations for this were all about giddiness, recapturing that feeling of 14 so that I could maximize this opportunity, because it never would have happened thirty years ago.  The heady excitement suits the occasion. But, the thing is, I am more the mom now than the girl.  And the mom has spent this day with a very bad cold, schlepping through Costco for Halloween preparations, loading and unloading washers and dryers, and still needs to figure out something to say that won’t embarrass her or the 14-year-old she used to be.  That girl, though hidden under layers of midlife wrinkles, etc., is still present on some level, and she would be mortified enough for both of us if I said something trite, stupid or obvious.

My husband says I should make him laugh, relieve the banality of signing book after book to a bunch of midlife female fans.  The specifics of his suggestion are a little odd, as they have to do with an unusual comment one of our male friends made about him a few years back.  I’m not sure I’m that brave.

I’ve thought about commenting on the book or asking how Nick Rhodes is doing (as I was a ticket-holder for one of the cancelled tour dates in August).  I’m probably going to wing it, my two friends in within earshot and the 14-year-old me peaking out from my eyes hoping that I don’t completely embarrass her.  It will be interesting to see what I come up with.