Tag Archives: music

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day four.

The album art, especially the lyrics, for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road because Grooving Is Fundamental.

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In my seven-year old opinion the finest turntable that folded out of a wall was made by NuTone Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Only the truly civilized had turntables that folded out of a paneled wall. The first time I saw a turntable that just sat on a shelf, doing nothing, I was confused.

Strathmore was the eighteenth subdivision built by Levitt & Sons on Long Island. Situated on 677 acres on both sides of Exit 50, Bagatelle Road, in Dix Hills, they built 560 homes on large lots with no sidewalks. To get to the subdivision’s pool, you had to cross over the Long Island Expressway.

Most of my world consisted of one of four colonial-adjacent floor plans: the Endicott, the Fairfield, the Judson ranch, and ours, the five-bedroom Valbrook. Neighbors my parents did not know were referred to as “Y’know, the Judson up by Bagatelle. Those people.” A life lived in one of four plans —maybe six if you included school and the mall —got old very quickly. I needed more.

Luckily, I knew where in each of the four floor plans you could find the NuTone Intercom System with its fold-out turntable. It was always on the wall of the family room, nearest the kitchen. The fold-out NuTone was my sidewalk; it went places.

If you stood on the part of the sofa where your mom usually sat when she actually sat, you could easily reach the handle and pull down the turntable. Drop a record, hit start. The NuTone did the rest. It knew where the record started. Music just happened, which is the best thing for music to do. From there you could send music into every room, even your own bedroom, where you could let the sound from the three-inch plastic-mounted speaker wash over you in all its monaural splendor. 

Or you could just dance in the family room.

When you were done dancing because you’ve banged yourself into the fireplace and have sit down, you can occupy yourself by reading the lyrics of whichever one of your older sisters’ albums you were listening to.

Back then, there was an ad for Reading Is Fundamental that played constantly between cartoons. A city kid meanders sadly through the rubble of a bombed-out Lower East Side, brand new Twin Towers in the background. He is sad because he has nothing to read, no escape from his humdrum existence.

[No, I did not understand the difference between inner-city poverty and prepubescent suburban ennui.]

rif kidThen he spies the RIF bookmobile and runs to join the one-of-each diverse line waiting to get in. Once among the books, he picks a large one called I Am Somebody. He bounds joyfully to a quiet perch on the edge of the East River. The cruel city melted away.

This is how I felt when I opened up an album sleeve and settled down on the couch in the place where my mother sat but rarely sat. I would follow along with the words to each song. I was going places in my head. I was somebody.

And the place I went to the most was somewhere beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I strapped on my ruby red platforms and stepped thru an album cover shaped poster into what I assumed was Oz. Or at least somewhere Oz-adjacent.

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I was very familiar with The Wizard of Oz. It was always a special occasion when CBS ran it. Once my parents insisted that I watch it on the black and white tv upstairs. No! “Then how am I supposed to enjoy when it turns to color? You have to let me watch the beginning in the family room. I will go upstairs when it switches to color.” They agreed to that, probably because they could see my face was turning a bright Technicolor as I continued to argue that a black and white to color switch in only black and white was a metaphor for my miserable life.

And if The Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color, what did it look like BEYOND color after you said goodbye?

Turns out it’s sort of pastel and involves ALL the fonts.

Second grade was the year my teacher put a note on my final report card saying that I needed to lighten up. It was when I started getting bored and feeling different. At school I would try to be interesting. Interesting doesn’t go over well in the second grade. People let you know.

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But when I unfolded Goodbye Yellow Brick Road I went to complicated places where being merely interesting just wouldn’t cut it. You had to be really fucking interesting to merit a mention in this world.

But before you could meet these people, you had to journey thru what you were sure was the longest piece of music every written, “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” Eleven minutes, six seconds.

It just builds and builds as Dix Hills and the fake brick in the family room recede. You’re moving thru Oz. You will only emerge beyond Oz when Elton finally lets you know that the roses in the window box have tilted to one side. 

“The roses in the window box have tilted to one side” may be the greatest flower-related opening line in all of art this side of “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

People did shit in this Oz-adjacent world. Shit that tilted the very ground.

They confronted death… “Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934),” “Candle in the Wind

They had drinking problems… “Social Disease,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

They owned clothes a bit better than my Toughskins. I mean I felt I was close to Bennie sartorially because I had my “Monday” Toughskins jeans with the shiny tic-tac-toe boards bedazzled on the ass cheeks. [“Because it’s Monday, Mom!”] But she had shoes that were electric and suits made from mole hair —here abbreviated as “mohair” to fit the meter… “Bennie and the Jets

There were women just like those next to Dad’s office in Times Square that you went to every Jewish holiday who were dressed up “because they’re on their way to work, son.” This was not a lie. [“Ron! Why do you have to point that stuff out to him?”]… “Sweet Painted Lady,” “Dirty Little Girl,” “All the Young Girls Love Alice

Don’t miss the hardcore girl-on-girl action! Have fun watching your sister Kallen dodge your questions about the lyrical contradictions you’ve noticed pertaining to perceived notions of gender and sexuality… “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” see above

There’s mystery! Seals turn into birds for some reason not apparent in the lyrics… “Grey Seal

Seriously, what the fuck do seals have to do with birds? Why can’t everything be in the text?

Because sometimes you have to do the work yourself.

So I did the work. Each song became a little movie. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing backstories on each character based upon Elton’s hints. From the album artwork I learned that the stories we get to hear are only a part of a character’s life.

To this day, it’s the lyrics of a song that gets me going. Beats come and beats go, but lyrics are forever. Any idiot can dance to a beat; a true connoisseur mouths along to the lyrics like they’re living it. I dance to a song because, in that moment, I am sure that I am the subject of the song. 

One must bounce around to honor that feeling.

Reading the colorful, ALL the fonts lyrics to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road made me love music. And music makes me interesting.

At least to me.

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That tocking metronome

I live roughly eleven inches from the practice field for the Bishop Watterson Marching Eagles. All that stands between us is my front yard, the alley that passes as our street, backyards, a row of houses, a proper street, a small parking lot, and the practicing Eagles football team. See, eleven inches.

2016-02-01-om-43-mark-abel-52360The Marching Eagles practice with a monstrous, heavily-amplified metronome. It just tocks away there, forcing glockenspiels into line. I don’t mind the band itself; if the wind is right –and they’ve been practicing –I can make out what the song is. Apparently Katy Perry’s Roar has become a marching band staple. But beneath that all is the metronome drilling down. I never got to the point in my musical career where a metronome was needed, or deemed expendable enough. My theory on how they work is that they emit a noxious tock that will burrow right through the eardrum down to the spinal cord and then out to every last nerve… The only way to rid your body of this marauder is to do its bidding: You must toot, bang, or glocken that thing you’re holding. Do it now! Do it correctly, and the tock will seem like it’s not there. At least for that round.

Block out enough tocks for enough hours, and you’re a musician. I guess that’s how it works. Continue reading That tocking metronome

Choosing songs for your Dismal Day: A countdown.

Go ahead and admit it, you’re really feeling down today. Just let it wash over you. Go with it. There’s no shame in having a little free-floating depression. I know… I been blessed with a brain that cycles in and out of an unmoored depression on a daily basis.

I want to help you with your Dismal Day. My advice for you is to listen to some music. “Wow, what a facile suggestion, Chris. Gee, thanks,” you’re saying now as you put your ear buds in.

Stop before you hit random and sink into the couch.

You can’t just hit random.

At least not right off the bat. Curating a depression playlist is one of the most important tasks to make the most of your Dismal Day. I know for me that listening to music is, on some of the worst days, all I have. Choosing those songs not only occupies my brain away from the dark thoughts, the songs themselves can focus my attention away from “What’s the fuck with your life, Chris?” to “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?”

Or any other of the billions of questions that song lyrics bring up. That’s my universal bit of advice. Find something with lyrics. Listening closely and actively to the lyrics is the best medicine for shutting down that little hamster on a Mobius Strip that your brain’s become today.

I’m not going to offer up specific songs except by means of example. My taste in music is not going to match up with yours. Do what you will with the specific examples I’m tossing off below –focus instead on the wayfinding aspects. I guarantee you that, while curated music may not lift you out, it’ll stop you from sinking deeper.

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Songs that take you back to a specific time and place. It goes without saying that this place should be a happy place, a place you felt welcome. Try to choose as specific a memory as possible, one not saddled with a lot of baggage. I would steer away from the song you danced to at your prom if, let’s say, she ripped your heart out later. So “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger is off my list.

But… “You Got Another Thing Comin’” by Judas Priest does the trick because I have this very pleasant memory snippet of dancing with Amy Burns to it at a post-game sock-hop junior year of high school. After two years at this school, I had finally worked up the nerve to attend a game and a sock-hop. We were just bopping on the dance floor, and, when we got to the chorus, Amy screamed it at the top of her lungs, poking her finger into my chest to the beat. Weird yes, but I finally felt I belonged at Dublin High.

Or maybe you remember the first time you heard the song. My favorite pop song of all time, and one that I always turn to when I’m down, is “Bad Time” by Grand Funk Railroad. This is not because it’s the “best” pop song ever. It’s because the first time I heard it I was curled up in the back seat of my parents car driving back to our house on Long Island after a fun day in Manhattan. We had seen Grease on Broadway and eaten in fancy French restaurant where I serenaded the table by playing the crystal water glasses. As the notes poured out of WABC-77AM, I felt safe, warm, and, most of all, sophisticated. It’s that feeling I return to whenever I hear “Bad Time.”

#4

Songs from when you first realized you were “different.” Yes, as shown above, some songs can engender a warm, fuzzy sense of belonging. However, if you’re compiling a playlist to listen to on a Dismal Day, chances are you’re not feeling like you belong anywhere. So why not drill down into that feeling of alienation with some selections from when you first felt like you didn’t belong. We all had that time, usually around the age of 12 or 13, when we first turned to music to express our butt-hurt at the horrible, epoch-shattering injustices that were being heaped upon us. Today’s problems may seem insurmountable, but 12 year old you’s problems got solved. Go back to what got you through that.

I repeatedly choose “The Logical Song” by Supertramp. My mom and dad had “tricked” me into going to a private school just as I was starting to settle in, after three years, into the public school where I was. “Just take the entrance exam. If you pass it, we’ll know you’re getting a good education in the Virginia Beach Schools.” How could I have fallen for that? It’s not the angriest sounding song, but, again, listen to the lyrics and imagine how deep and angsty they sounded to a 12 year old in my situation.

#3

In for a penny, in for a pound: Really, really depressing songs. Just go for it. You’re depressed today. Embrace it. Wallow in it. Spread it all over you like off-brand suntan lotion from the Family Dollar.

Now this requires a little pre-planning. Have a few of these types of songs ready to cue up before the day gets dark. You definitely don’t want to be digging around trying to find sad songs when you’re already sad. It’s the emotional equivalent of hunting for a flashlight in the basement after the lights go out and the ice weasels come.

“I’ve Been Destroyed” by Mantler (or Marker Starling). You’ve never heard this song before, but it’s a doozy.

“Alone Again, Naturally” by Gilbert O’ Sullivan. Sadness doesn’t need to be obscure: Number one for six weeks in 1972. Fifth most popular song of the 1970s.

Remember, a song doesn’t have to sound sad to be sad. Perhaps the artist met an untimely fate. “Valerie Loves Me” by Material Issue sounds upbeat… until you find out that the lead singer took his own life five years after this song came out, reportedly over a relationship gone bad. This song now serves to remind me that I will not go down this path. Dig out your favorite rock n roll cautionary tale and give it a spin; it’ll do more than you think.

#2

Find some well-curated nostalgia. By now you’ve figure out that I’m not a big fan of discovering new music when you’re depressed. That new song will cuneiform onto your brain in this delicate state, and when you hear it at a future date, it will bring you back to this Dismal Day. Instead, take advantage of the amazing streaming universe in which we now live.

  • Remember an old peppy song, search for it on YouTube, and, when you find the video, click on the “Mix” choice. It works surprisingly well, and as a bonus, you occasionally get amazing videos to watch. I’ve been feeding off of “Heavenly Pop Hit” by the New Zealand pop band The Chills for three days now.
  • Your iTunes still has a mess of streaming radio stations. They never took those away thru the various iterations of the platform. There are literally hundreds of stations that play nothing but songs from the 1960s/70s/80s/90s. That should come as no surprise. But today, why not mix it up a bit? Shift a decade out of your comfort zone. Or maybe listen to a station from Germany or France. After all, there’s only so many times you can hear “Come On Eileen.”
  • I’m a complete chart nerd, and I listen old recordings of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 each weekend morning, the times I’m most likely to wake up depressed –one from the 80s on Saturday morning and one from the 70s on Sundays. Casey was a treasure, and I’m not ashamed to say I cried a few years ago when he passed away (and his wife stole his corpse) (Links to an external site.). Casey should appeal to two aspects of your Dismal Day: First, a sense of order. You need order today to keep your mind occupied. Second, Casey doesn’t judge. All songs are equal in his velvety voice; he only cares about the numbers and the trivia. You can find old broadcasts of AT40 by downloading either the TuneIn or iHeartRadio apps and searching for “American Top 40 the 70s [or 80s].” Furthermore, the iHeartRadio app has a dedicated station that plays nothing but AT40s.

#1

Pretend you’re singing. I know it’s too much to ask that one ask you to sing, much less dance, when you’re this depressed. But maybe you can pretend to sing. Find some songs that you’ve always pictured yourself singing. I don’t mean in the shower; I mean singing instead of the artist who does it now. For example, whenever I hear Oasis’ “Morning Glory” it’s not Liam Gallagher singing it’s me. And you know what? I rock.

I also rock when I’m Billy Ocean…

And when I’m Paul McCartney…

So now, go inside, curl up, and find some music because you know what, too?

You rock.

Phil Collins needs a hug… and I’m the guy to give it to him.

The Facebook message from my friend, and fellow chart nerd, Martin read, “This anti-Phil Collins shit pisses me off.” Another friend had posted a link to a petition site that was running one entitled “We demand that Phil Collins stay retired…”

Yes, after a decade of physical and emotional misery that would crush a lesser man, Phil Collins wants to come out of retirement and record and tour again. According to Rolling Stone Phil says “The horse is out of the stable and I’m raring to go.”

This is awesome news!

But this cretinous petition goes on, “We think that there’s enough misery and depression in the world, and now is not the time to threaten anyone’s mental well being…”

First of all… the only person allowed to misuse ellipses like that is myself… Continue reading Phil Collins needs a hug… and I’m the guy to give it to him.

Last 1973 a D.J. Saved My Life. [Part #1: Introduction; Dad]

Recently I made what I trust is a correct decision and opted against that suicide I was planning. [Don’t worry; everything’s great now, even if everything still sucks.] I cannot possibly overstate to you one factor in my decision: I have serious reservations about the availability of popular music in the afterlife, be it as cherub or as wormfood. I would miss music too much.

This close call has led me to think a lot of grateful thoughts about how music got to be such an integral part of my life.

It always knocks me slightly off kilter to walk into someone’s place and not hear music. Why don’t they have music on? They’re just walking around their apartment in silence? Is their version of silence actually silent? They have to have voices like everyone else, right? I would kill to swap the voices in my head with the voices in their head for five minutes. How can these people walk around not wanting to have the voices in their heads silenced? Do their voices tell them things like “You’re lookin’ swell today, Greg! Keep up the good work!”? When they close their eyes do they see one of those old Successories™ posters from the 90s? Do they recite to themselves that “Footprints in the Sand” tale?

My voices say things like, “You know you’ll be first on the conveyor belt when they start up the Soylent Green factories. Let better people snack on you.” I could try to drown that out with “Footprints in the Sand,” but that story just reminds me that the middle toe on my left foot has been hurting for weeks now. I assume it will need to be amputated. That’s why I always have music on whenever I can help it. Right now it’s the “Mellow New Years” playlist and The Posies’ version of “O-o-h Child.”

As a lot of bipolar folks will tell you, our minds tend to wander. Music is a low fence that keeps me from sauntering out of the yard and into dark traffic. Eventually I get back to the task at hand.

As soon as I got a radio in my room around the age of 8 or so, it went on, and it stayed on. The only reason I ever turned it off was I was leaving the room, and I only did that grudgingly because President Ford told us to. I would lay awake at night tuning in far away AM stations, feeling an electricity whenever I tuned in a station that began not with a boring W, but with the exotic K or even the weird-tingly-feeling causing C. Even in far away Canada they listen to the same music we do. Somewhere, some other kid was listening to “Kung Fu Fighting” at the exact same time. I’ll take connection where I can get it. Continue reading Last 1973 a D.J. Saved My Life. [Part #1: Introduction; Dad]