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.

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You know you are old when Maggie May is younger than you

The other day I was shopping at Trader Joe’s.  As I entered, they were playing Duran Duran (yea!).  As I exited, they were playing “Maggie May,” and one of the lines stuck in my head as I pushed my cart out the door toward my grocery-getter.  “The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.”

And that’s when I realized… I am older than Maggie May.

I don’t know this for certain.  Though I have read numerous biographies of rock musicians and digested the entire VH-1 Behind the Music series, I know relatively little about Rod Stewart and his music.  I know that “Maggie May” is about a young(er) man’s relationship with an older woman.  But, I am surmising that Maggie May is probably something like 30.  My guess is that she isn’t in her 40s.  I don’t get the impression it’s a Mrs. Robinson thing.  My take is that she is an older hot chick who gives the guy an opportunity to put some things on hold in his life so that he can just embrace being a young adult or avoid growing up.  And, as things like this typically transpire, it doesn’t end well.

My first thought was, “My God.  I never thought I’d ever be older than Maggie May!”

Rod Stewart was involved in several situations in my life when I became aware of things for the first time, and among them was the idea that this kind of thing with the young guy and the older woman can happen.  It wasn’t shocking to me, but I had never really thought of things that way.  And because I was a dutiful teenager, I was mystified that this guy would leave school to hang out with an older woman.  And what was this 30-year-old doing with a kid?  I thought, “Who’d want to be a part of that scene?”

I see the story through a different lens now.  To midlife me, the guy is just a boy… as confused as anyone is in their very early-20s, and I have sympathy for him.  Maggie is scrambling to hang on to that last shred of youth, and I can appreciate the angst when the years force you forward, even when you don’t want to go there.

Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about Maggie’s age.  It might be a bit of relief to know that I have a few more years before I pass her.  But, I know it’s inevitable.

(This YouTube still includes a cool little intro to the song that we don’t get to hear on the radio or grocery story sound systems.  Check it out.)

Sometimes you’ve gotta go home

My midlife crisis is in full swing.  It wouldn’t take more than three minutes for my husband to convince me to pack up what I could in an hour, hit the road and leave everything behind (aside from the kids, who’d come with us).

But, I’m unlikely to find myself in that situation.  I’m not a flight risk as long as he and the kids are here with me.  But, I imagine the wheels rolling down Lake Shore Drive, the four of us taking off in the pursuit of the ultimate freedom.  Better yet, because I don’t like long car rides, we’d be on Amtrak, pulling out of Union Station on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

When I get in these moods, I find myself reaching back instead of forward.  The future is an unknown.  And for a person who doesn’t feel the need to be rooted (an Aquarian trait, I suppose), it’s ironic that what soothes me are songs that have no other place in my life than in my youth.  I picture my childhood bedroom or riding in my electric blue Dodge Colt.  I can only return to these places in my mind.  My parents sold the house years ago, and the Colt’s metal probably has been recycled 20 times by now.  So it’s inside those songs that I go to relive where I’ve been before.

Thanks to SongPop, the greatest thing to happen to Facebook ever, tonight it’s this one… (click on the photo to hear the song).

Treasure lies in wait in my basement

Remember this?  It’s a 45… a single… a record.  I found a pile of them in my basement shoved in a milk crate packed too full with my father-in-law’s albums.  I was thrilled to be reunited with my old friends.

The time I spend in my basement is a disproportionate pie chart with very large slices being served for laundry, sweeping up sawdust and sighing about the number of unused “items” that create a continually narrowing path past the treadmill on which we park our bikes through to the storage room where 40 gallons of the previous owner’s paint waits for the trip to the recycling bin.  There are mini morsels for being the singer in our basement band and finding cool stuff that I had forgotten about.

Like my 45 collection that used to reside in a vessel that looked like this…


And there were loads of them.  They were the fruits of my labor, purchased with allowance money or birthday funds.  Sometimes I received them as gifts.  I can’t remember all that I had.  Now, the pile includes about 10 or so, all from 1979 through 1983, including “My Sharona” from The Knack and “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club.  These songs are on my iTunes now, but I love that I still have them on 45s.

I wish I could remember my first 45, but it was likely some well-crafted pop masterpiece by The Partridge Family (I started young) or the Jackson 5.  Whatever it was, it is long gone.  I probably sold it for ten cents at a garage sale ages ago.  Perhaps it’s in some record bin in an antique store right now.  Apparently, when I was 11, I had no idea that finding these bits of treasure would make my night in my 40s.

Record Store Day — Something I Can Get Behind

How many of you feel sorry for the younger generations — and even the youngest of GenX — because they did not partake in the pleasure of purchasing their music on vinyl?  …I thought so.  I know there are still some very cool record stores around, but it’s not the pastime that it once was for pre-digital generations.  Record stores evoke a different experience now, I think, though I continue to enjoy a good browse through them.

In my current town, Laurie’s Planet of Sound exists today.  In my hometown, the Wooden Nickel comes to mind.  These places existed all over the country.  These places were the destination point where fans connected with their favorite artists, discovered new music, and flipped through the albums, posters, rock magazines and other assorted record store goods for sometimes hours.  The dudes behind the counter (almost always dudes) were either totally into almost any artist you came in to find, or they completely minded their own business and kept their nose out of yours.  Either way, I didn’t mind.

Recently I found a website for Record Store Day.  I had heard about this last year, but after the fact because I am completely middle age and don’t hear about cool stuff like this before it happens anymore.  (Renewing our subscription to Rolling Stone has helped only slightly.  I retain more from the political/social/cultural features than anything else.)  I stumbled across it again this year, and although I do not anticipate recognizing any of the artists slated for the new releases, I do know their ambassador (Iggy Pop), so I feel relatively welcome to engage.

The thing is, I spent hours upon hours in my town’s local record stores.  I was a record store snob.  I rarely visited the chain stores in the mall, and when I did, I often made comments about their poor (or non-existent) selection of Gang of Four or early-career Depeche Mode.  (I often hear my teen self laughing at my midlife self when I download music from iTunes now.)

Kids these days — there, I said it — have no idea how indulgent it is to commune among the album bins with a BFF or boyfriend on a Saturday afternoon under the somewhat watchful eye of a record store employee.  Recently, a friend of mine talked about a record store her mom owned, recalling the massive cardboard ham and eggs that dangled from the ceiling during the release of Supertramp’s Breakfast In America.  I totally remembered those promos!  I can see them hanging in my favorite record store.  I could probably even give you the dimensions if I thought hard enough.  When I think about it, the hilarity brings forth a chuckle — giant ham and eggs to sell an album?  It was all so innocent.

There is a lot to be said about the experience of listening to music on vinyl (another post, another time), but my memories of record stores also bring back that bittersweet feeling of desperation when a new album was on the verge of selling out.  Yes, albums could sell out.  The store could be out of stock with no hope of replenishment for a month.  Four weeks was way too long to wait for a beloved new release!  I remember hiding the last copy of John Lennon’s Double Fantasy at my local record store, hoping that the next potential purchasor would walk away without a thorough search in the artists nearby, but the record store dude must have watched me place it among the Ms.  Not ten feet from me as I pretended to peruse the A and B artists, he pulled it out and handed it to the man.  (Fortunately, my parents had already secured a copy for Christmas morning.)

I still have that album, along with hundreds of others comprised of my husband’s hefty collection, many of his dad’s old jazz records and a handful of albums I’ve bought at garage sales and antique stores.  Last year, a friend of ours put me to the test.  When I asked what he wanted to hear, he said, “Do you have any Adam & The Ants?”  Maybe he really wanted to hear them.  Maybe he thought I couldn’t deliver.  But I did — both in digital form and on vinyl.  I can picture that album, Prince Charming, sitting among the very few Ants albums our record store had… “Adam” with his war paint and pirate-inspired ensemble.  I can remember my thumb nail cutting into the shrink wrap that encased the cover when I got it home.

I don’t remember the specific occasion of every album I purchased, but I do recall more than I probably should.  How about you?

No record contract for Morrissey? What is up with that?

I was driving around today listening to WXRT when I heard an unfamiliar song that I just knew had to be Morrissey.  Not only did I recognize his voice, but the lyrics about a broken back or something instilled a brief auditory flashback of the song, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.  At the end of the song, Terri Hemmert devulged that Morrissey is currently without a record contract.  What?  No label representing Morrissey?

When I got home, I did a little research.  I found out that this is old news, but it is still “news” because it is still going on!  (And, this also was re-affirmation that I am, in fact, midlife, because this information came to me months after it was initially revealed.  So much for my young-life self’s declaration that I would never lose touch with what is going on in the music business.)  Why would such a thing happen?  Apparently, Morrissey has an album ready to go.  Has he misbehaved in a way that offends record companies?  Morrissey himself has a few theories.

I can’t imagine that this will go on much longer.  Morrissey is still a relevant and influential artist, both a cult figure and accepted by the mainstream.  In my opinion, Morrissey belongs to GenX.  In our bedrooms, friends’ basements and dorm rooms across the country (and the world, for that matter), we indulged in Morrissey’s and The Smiths’ angst while forming our musical tastes for the lifetime ahead of us.  To a certain extent, we made him and he defined us.

The glimmer of hope is this…  With all the buzz generated by this story, perhaps some record company influential will realize the value of all this publicity (at the very least, putting Morrissey back on the radar of lifelong music consumers) and will get Morrissey a contract just in time for the release of his autobiography coming later this year.

Completely fascinated by Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”

Is anyone else completely fascinated by Rumours?  Get a few drinks in me — or just get me started on my tangent — and I will talk your ear off about this subject.

I was sitting around with a bunch of friends the other night, all of whom emphatically expressed their admiration of Fleetwood Mac, but what songs did they mention?  Nothing released post-Rumours.

Here’s how I see it, and I may suffer from false information or perception, so those with true knowledge can correct me if I’m wrong.  In the late-60s/early-70s, Fleetwood Mac was a “muscian’s band,” in the sense that other musicians appreciated their music, but they had limited, if any, commercial success.  When Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined, they were considered more like add-ons versus future stars of the group.  But their talent was fueled by their faltering romance, and Fleetwood Mac completed a HUGE masterpiece that they were never able to come close to replicating again, despite the competency of all involved.  Certainly, the other members of the band — Mick Fleetwood and Christie and John McVie added their own “spice of life” into the mix.

This story never fails to absorb my mind when I consider it.  Think about Tusk, think about the solo careers, think about “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies…”.  This stuff is nothing compared to the solid rock hits they nailed on Rumours.  Not only are the songs tight and terrific, you can actually hear the angst that fuels the power in tracks like “You Can Go Your Own Way” or “The Chain”.  Talk about what the anguish of failed relationships and hedonistic behavior can do for a band’s ability to create universally adored music!

Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album.  Fleetwood Mac before it also featured the Buckingham/Nicks line-up, but neither in the years before nor the years after did they do anything even close to this.  This album reportedly sold over 40 million copies.  This album is probably in your big brothers’ (or your own) record collection.  You might even have it on vinyl.  The intern at your office might even have it on iTunes.  This is a piece of work that truly stands on its merits, because it wouldn’t have this kind of staying power if it didn’t.

The case I am trying to make is that you can be a great songwriter, musician and performer and never reach this level of accomplishment.  That’s a total understatement… of course that happens.  But, if it hadn’t been for all that the band had been going through, would they have pulled off something like Rumours at all?