Year in Review — More Music 2014

I’m sorry, I can’t let the year end without mentioning these artists and sharing one more video.

Warpaint, Warpaint
Jeff Tweedy, Sukirae (such a pretty little album!)
Supernova, Ray LaMontagne
Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould
Damian Rice, My Favorite Faded Fantasy (should’ve been in my top 10, but I misplaced that list)

And finally, a fun little LP from Jack Antonoff of fun. fame: Bleachers, Strange Desire. I believe I called their single “I Wanna Get Better” the 2014 summer anthem for the dysfunctional. The video bears me out.

Memory Lane: 1991, the Grunge Era

I met Pearl Jam.

Live, in person!

I actually hung out with Jeff Ament and Mike McCready for part of a day when they were in Pittsburgh. I have the clip from my college newspaper to prove it.

Of course, this all took place 20 years ago — 20 YEARS AGO — and I’m sure none of the Pearl Jam boys recall spending time with a college newspaper writer chickie from Pittsburgh when they were first starting out.

But I remember it.

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In 1991 I was bored with college music. I had eschewed Top 40 radio for years already, and I was never a huge “classic rock” fan — I mean, I like me some Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, but in Pittsburgh? You hear — still, to this day — the same classic rock songs over and over and over again.

*yawn*

I was continually looking for something new to listen to (a trait I clearly still have), and I hadn’t heard anything that had turned me on in a couple of years. I was faithful to the B-52s and Depeche Mode and The Cure (gosh remember when those bands were college alternative bands? No? Get off my lawn!), but I was bored.

Then a friend of mine, Ro, became the Sony record label college rep, and started receiving all kinds of swag. I was writing for The Duquesne Duke, eventually becoming Features editor, and, in 1991, editor in chief.

One day Ro handed me a cassette tape (remember cassette tapes?). “Check this out,” she said. “You might like these guys.”

So began my love affair with grunge music in general, and Pearl Jam (and not too much later, Nirvana) specifically.

Ten, Pearl Jam’s debut album, lit me on fire. I couldn’t stop listening to it. Something about the driving guitars combined with Eddie Vedder’s vocal growl immediately and viscerally captivated me. See also: the bass line on “Why Go”.

And just like that, I was excited by music again.

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Ament, McCready, and I kind of wandered around downtown Pittsburgh and Duquesne’s campus talking about Pearl Jam (original name, anyone? Without looking it up?), Seattle, Pittsburgh, music in general, and basketball (the Pearl Jam guys were basketball FREAKS). I told them how much I was really liking Ten, and they told me some about making the album, meeting Vedder, and how much they were enjoying being out on the road playing live.

Later that night, I saw Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, and Red Hot Chili Peppers in concert.

God, remember Smashing Pumpkins?

Pearl Jam opened the concert, and, as Ro and Sony’s guest, and as a writer for the college paper, I got to go backstage afterward and meet the rest of the band (Stone Gossard — HAWT — and Dave Abbruzzese). I got their autographs — er, on the jean shorts I was wearing at the time — but I didn’t get to meet Eddie Vedder. He was busy harassing Billy Corgan by dancing on stage during the Pumpkins’ set. I believe either Flea or Anthony Kiedis was out there with him. They were wearing tutus if memory serves. (And, no, Corgan was not a good sport.)

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And here we are — here they are — 20 years later, with a Cameron Crowe documentary about to screen, re-releases and live albums dropping, and the same line up of guys (except for the revolving door drummer thing).

I have been listening for 20 years, but it’s been awhile since I got to see them live. Gonna have to fix that soon. Lollapalooza at Starlake (circa 1993?) is still one of my favorite concerts of all time. Each of their albums (with the exception of Binaural; I never really got into that one) was better than the last.

They are, and their music is, still exciting me.

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What have you been listening to for 20 years? What do you think you’ll be listening to the next 20?

A Good Date

Aside from being completely underwhelmed by the Grille on Seventh (I’ve never said this about a restaurant meal before, but the food was boring; it made me think that old people must dine there a lot: very bland), Dan and I had a great night. Our seats for Ben Folds with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) were perfect (on the floor, right of the stage, about eight rows back). We could see him perfectly.

The highlight (for me) was when he brought out a tenor to accompany him on “Narcolepsy”. I was going along enjoying myself, digging Folds’ piano chops, and the PSO, and thinking that Folds has a pretty nice voice to go along with everything. And then the tenor opened his mouth, and I was blown away.

I should try to catch some opera sometime.

Anyway, the audience participation (de riguer) and the rousing “Army” that closed the show, pretty much sealed the deal.

This song always reminds me of finding and marrying Dan. Hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

What I Am: Thematic Indulgence

Theme for the month: Spooky

The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love
Colin Meloy is either brilliant or really, really creepy. Probably a little bit of both. But if you want a soundtrack to October or just the week or two before Halloween, you would do well to listen to the latest from The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love.

It’s got everything: an overbearing mother, a rake, a rape, dead babies, ghosts of dead babies, pining, lust, revenge, and a wicked guitar part. I cannot wait to see this thing staged as a rock opera, ala Tommy by The Who.

The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
I found the movie version of this book to be fantastic — an ending I didn’t see coming, plus Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale (and Michael Caine and David Bowie). Oh, my. And they ACT.

The book is even better, albeit different. The ending is much, much spookier. I am still getting chills thinking about it, two days after finishing it. Very satisfying.

The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks
I should not read zombie books. I simply should not. (Or see zombie movies.)

My mind churns into overdrive. I wonder if I could survive a zombie attack; I wonder how I will (WILL, mind you) protect my daughters. I think about stocking up on water, canned goods, and toilet paper (Kate is going to have to get potty trained, and fast), and consider what kind of gun or guns I am going to buy.

I despair a little bit. My basement is barely defensible — and Brooks says to forget about the basement in any case; go upstairs and destroy the staircase. I do have a machete, although it’s not very sharp. My pantry is stocked with lots of soap, paper towels, and lunch snacks. (And about 24 cans of chicken-type soups for Dan. When the zombies come, we will no longer be vegetarians I guess. And we will have very clean hands.) It’s been some years since I used a gun.

In other words, I turn into a crazed, militant-minded nut job. What the government is to a guy in a militia, zombies are to me. To my credit, I don’t own a gun (yet). (As far as you know.)

Reading The Zombie Survival Guide, most of me recognizes that it is satire. Yet it is so well done, that part of me — the militant minded, “this could really happen” part of my brain or gut — thinks, “I gotta go get me one of those. And learn how to use it. Because WHAT IF.” The tone is serious; the tips are practical; and Brooks peppers his advice with just enough “real-life” examples and scenarios, that I think, “See, now, that’s good to know.”

I am seriously considering ordering this book. In hard cover. And learning how to shoot flaming arrows.

Because, WHAT IF?

The Wonder of It All

Due to Day School policy, I had to keep Bun home on Wednesday, too. Since we were both cabin feverish, I decided to take her down to the Three Rivers Arts Festival for a picnic. We’d get outside, but still have minimal person-to-person contact.

I parked over in the lot across from Station Square, and we took the T downtown. It was the best $2.50 I ever spent (when did transfers become a $1??). I thought Bun would be a little frightened; she’s not crazy about loud noises. But she was captivated. She looked at all the people; she stared out the window. When we went underground, she goggled. “Tunnel, mama?” she asked.

We picked a place to picnic on the lawn in Point State Park. Bun looked all around, and when the band started, she moved closer, pb&j firmly in hand. She stared at that stage as if she had to memorize it.




NOMAD is not the type of music I usually listen to, but they certainly were an enjoyable live band at a noon on a Wednesday. And, hey, one of their covers was Keith Urban, but another was Crowded House. So that was just fine.

It did finally get too loud — I’ve noticed Bun is far more sensitive to noise since ear tubes.



We wandered down to the fountain at the Point. We didn’t get as far as the confluence spot where DearDR proposed, though. Bun was distracted by the sprinklers first, then the ducks.



We took the T back to Station Square. I wish I had the image of the look on her face when the trolley emerged from underground: all round eyes and ‘o’ mouth. “It’s daytime!” she exclaimed.

It was tough being a SAHM again, even briefly. But that T ride with Bun made it worthwhile.

What I Am: In Brief

I finished Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Very satisfying, and well set up for the final book in the trilogy. Now I am stuck for a book until I order Inkspell from Amazon. I think I will try to time that so it arrives before our Cape Cod vacation. In the meantime, I’m open to book suggestions again.

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I had to choose between Green Day and the Decemberists as my concert for the year. (Hey, I get to actually go to one this year, so I figure I’m ahead of the game.) I decided on Green Day, primarily because I harbor inside of me (and always will) my black-leather-jacket-and-mini-skirt-wearing 22-year-old self.

I’m very fond of my younger, punker, rock chick persona. I’d love to go tell her a few things — like leaving well enough alone after the first breakup with the Ex — but all-in-all, we survived the 20s. And we ended up in a really good place.

In preparation for the upcoming concert in July, I downloaded the new album 21st Century Breakdown. I haven’t listened to it in depth, but my cursory review would be: Lives up to the promise of American Idiot. Green Day is moving toward more of a power pop/punk sound. When I give it a few more spins (can I still say that??), I’ll have more to add.

Also, when I told DearDR I had thought about buying Decemberists tickets instead (I believe I mentioned it at the Black Keys show), he said, “You made the right choice. I wouldn’t have gone to the Decemberists with you.”

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Finally, after several days with sick children, and playing the role of SAHM again, I have declared Friday RPM’s day off. I will be out and about in the Robinson area, and if you care to join me, I will be watching the Pens game at a fine establishment later that evening. Go, Pens!

Six Years Out: Birth Day

We went to the cemetery yesterday, a day earlier than usual. The girls ran among the grave stones and picked flowers for DearDR and me. We left them by Gabriel’s marker, along with the lillies I had bought.

I watched the their heads flashing in the sun, and I was sad that I didn’t know what my son looked like as a boy. I suspect he would look very much like Monkey: dark hair and blue eyes, tall. After she was born I marveled how much she looked like her brother, only, you know, alive.

If you have ever held a dead baby — and I hope you have not — the experience of holding a live baby is something you will never take for granted again. Even infants, newborns in their “potted plant” stage, thrum with vitality, weight.

I wasn’t all that grief-stricken as we sat in the grass in the cemetery. When the girls ran to us, I asked Monkey if she knew why we were there. “Mommy had a baby before you,” I told her, as I’ve told her before. “Where is he?” she asked. “He’s in heaven,” DearDR answered. “Oh, man,” she said, downcast.

As we left, I asked DearDR, “Is it less sad, or is it just different?” “It’s just different,” he said, pretty much confirming the way I felt.

I was okay (i.e. not crying) until we were pulling out of the cemetery entrance and Monkey said, “I hope he’s not lonely. I wish he could come home with us.”

Yeah, Monkey, me too.

The song “Will I See You in Heaven” by the Jayhawks was released in 2003. Such a pretty song. I can almost listen to it without weeping.

What I Am: Listening to This Week

M.I.A., Kala (2007) and Arular (2005)

I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and I am always trying to discover more and new bands, musicians, sounds.

I don’t play an instrument — I can’t play an instrument. I’m utterly tone deaf. I used to play piano, but I don’t remember how to read the left hand music any more, so it doesn’t count.

I can’t make music; I don’t know a lot of technical details about how music is made. I’m not 100% sure what a producer does.

I consider myself a pure music fan — maybe not even a fan insofar as that is short for “fanatic”. I don’t know what some of my favorite bands or musicians do when they are not making music. I don’t know who’s going with whom (although I did hear something about John Mayer and Jennifer Aniston. Is that still on?) There are times — and I’m not proud of this — that I am not even sure where some of my favorite bands or musicians hail from. (I look it up on Wikipedia if I’m not sure.)

I like music. I like music that makes me react viscerally — after it catches my ear, it catches at my heart or my brain or my emotions. Or all of them. It moves me or makes me move. I like a good catchy pop tune with bleak lyrics or a droning musical odyssey or fast & furious punk rock. I’m like those people who say about art, “I don’t know much about it, but I know what I like.”

Granted this also may not make me the most qualified music critic in the world, either. I know a lot about the history of music, especially the types of music I like; I know a lot about influences, inspirations.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying: I have discovered M.I.A., and she is good.

iTunes calls her sound Dance/Electronica; I guess I’ll go with that. It’s beat-based, world rap. M.I.A. isn’t just a pretty face; she has something strong to say. I especially admire her for her sampling/mash ups: you’ll find The Clash, the Pixies, New Order, plus a host of guest DJs/rappers.

The other notable thing about M.I.A. is that Bun turned me onto her. We were flipping around on the radio and came across World Cafe on WYEP; M.I.A. was the featured artist. Bun was transfixed. She stood in front of the stereo for an entire song — stood, stock still. Bun never stands still.

When the song was over, Bun turned to me and demanded: “More.” Another M.I.A. song came on.

I’ll have to make her a little mix of “age appropriate” M.I.A. songs. She’s gonna dig it.

rpm choice cut: Paper Planes.