27 February, 2009

Me Music Part II

Having had my eyes opened by The Dead and how much fun really great, live music can be, the next summer I joined my friends in getting tickets to see the Jamband heir apparent, Phish for one show at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. We had all been listening to Phish for a few years thanks to the intriguing cover art on Rift, but most of us hadn?t yet seen them live and I wanted to have an experience like the one I?d had with the Dead at Soldier Field.

Alpine Valley is a ski slope in the winter and the trek between the parking lot and pavilion seats is steep ? down into the show, back up at the end when your energy has been completely drained from dancing through two sets. My friend and I were just leaving the beer platform at the border of lawn and pavilion seating when the band took the stage, and I have the most wonderfully vivid memories of taking long, smooth strides down the steep slope to our seats to the beginning notes of My Friend, My Friend.

At the end of the night, after having had the single best time to that point in my life, I realized that the Grateful Dead was just a very wonderful warm-up act for me. I came home from the concert completely rejuvenated and ready to hop on tour.

At the time, I lived in a three-bedroom with three friends from college, one of whom has a fascination with all things shaman. He had a set of animal medicine cards and profiled each of us with them, much as a Tarot reader profiles a client.

I don?t recall each of the individual animals that made up my profile ? perhaps *pt* does? ? but the reading as a whole was pretty spot-on in many ways and my totem animal, the Lizard, was damn accurate for who I was at that time. The card reads as such:


Lizard sat lolling in the shadow of a big rock, shading himself from the desert sun. Snake crawled by, looking for some shadow to coil up in and rest. Snake watched Lizard for awhile as Lizard's eyeballs went side to side behind his enormous closed lids. Snake hissed to get Lizard's attention. Slowly Lizard's dreaming eyes opened and he saw Snake.
"Snake! You scared me! What do you want?" Lizard cried.
Snake spit his answer from his forked tongue. "Lizard, you are always getting the best shadow spots in the heat of the day. This is the only big rock for miles. Why don't you share your shade with me?"
Lizard thought for a moment, then agreed. "Snake, you can share my shade spot, but you have to go to the other side of the rock and you must promise not to interrupt me."
Snake was getting annoyed. He hissed, "How could I bother you Lizard? All you are doing is sleeping."
Lizard smiled knowingly. "Oh Snake, you are such a silly serpent. I'm not sleeping. I'm dreaming."
Snake wanted to know what the difference was, so Lizard explained. "Dreaming is going into the future, Snake. I go to where future lives. You see, that is why I know you won't eat me today. I dreamed you and I know you're full of mouse."
Snake was taken aback. "Why Lizard, you're exactly right. I wondered why you said you would share your rock."
Lizard laughed to himself. "Snake," he said, "you are looking for shade and I am looking for shadow. Shadow is where the dreams live."
Lizard medicine is the shadow side of reality where your dreams are reviewed before you decide to manifest them physically. Lizard could have created getting eaten by Snake if he had so desired.

Lizard is the medicine of dreamers. Whether dreamers smoke you or dream you, dreamers can always help you see the shadow. This shadow can be your fears, your hopes, or the very thing you are resisting, but it is always following you around like an obedient dog.

Not long after the Phish concert at Alpine Valley, during the days of my roommate T blasting Phish everyday for a couple of hours after work, I first heard the song The Lizards. This was one of the songs comprising Gamehenge, a rock epic written by the lead guitarist for his college thesis.

Not surprisingly, given the elevated levels of my ego, I quickly adopted this song as My Song. Of course, in doing so, I had to ignore lines such as:

The Lizards were a race of people
Practically extinct from doing things
Smart people don?t do

Which isn?t at all difficult to do when the band stops singing and starts into the melody of the last third of the song. Like Harry Hood, like Divided Sky, like so many other songs they have written that don?t depend on the 3-refrain formula, the melody makes the entire song. Whereas the Dead excelled in poetry, Trey Anastasio?s gift is clearly in the notes between the poetry.

I have the most amazing time behind closed eyes at those moments.

The song is one of the rarer songs to catch at a show but I have lucked out and caught it twice, once at a show I brought my Mom to, which I thought was very nice of them. While I don?t feel much like a Lizard anymore, I still feel like the song is My Song and if they were to bust it out at the upcoming Hampton shows next weekend (starting a week from today EEEEEEEEEEEE), I would count myself even luckier than I already am.

26 February, 2009

Me Music Part I

I don't know if this is something unique to me and my overwhelming narcissism or if most people think about themselves this much, but I have a tendency to adopt songs that speak to me, that mean Me to me. They are my identity songs.

Throughout high school and into college, my identity pretty much escaped me. I adopted songs but they merely defined the amorphous shadow that teenagers still in flux tend to be. From Bruce Springsteen to The Beatles to Depeche Mode, I found plenty of songs I identified with, but no songs that necessarily identified me.

Once my identity really started to solidify and I looked more and more like the person I have eventually become, a completely different kind of music than I had previously enjoyed stepped forward and actually has taken quite a predominant role in molding my adulthood. Thus, no surprise, many of the songs of this genre have become the music I want to walk down the street to.

If I had to choose one definitive action that turned my ears to this other sound, I would have to choose my ill-fated membership to Columbia Records. Don't laugh, this is real, and you know you had the same ill-fated membership!

After college, I moved back to San Francisco and in with my Mom. Most of my college friends had moved on to Chicago but I wanted to finally live in San Francisco as a sentient being, having been whisked away to Tulsa, OK in the middle of the night when I was a mere four months old. Okay, maybe whisked is a little dramatic and perhaps it was in broad daylight, but the fact of the matter is, my whole childhood in Tulsa was spent yearning to be in San Francisco. And after college, I had my chance and I took it.

I quickly became seduced by repeated tear-outs in magazines and newspapers offering 13 CDs for a penny. A Penny! Good lord, do you KNOW how valuable an offer that is?! I was on my own (separated from my peers) and bereft of their combined music collections and had spent my teenage years becoming dulled to my Mom's music collection. God damn, I needed fresh blood! So I sent in the card with 13 CDs checked off and anxiously awaited the new infusion of tunes.

When choosing my 13 CDs, I ran out of must-haves around #10 and began just picking things that seemed like they might have promise. Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead was one such choice. I hadn't been a Grateful Dead fan at all; I strongly dislike the song Truckin' which of course is one of the few Dead songs that made it to radio. I was generally meh about Touch of Grey when I saw the video on MTV. I had nothing really pulling me toward the Dead other than a need to fill out my 13 CDs for a penny, so I checked it off.

Most of the CDs I received in that shipment are gone now: given away or traded for better ones. Deadicated, The Smiths' Greatest Hits and the Indigo Girls' self-titled album are the only three that remain. Oddly enough, The Dead and The Girls are two that were throw-away choices for me - I really wanted The Smiths' album because it reminded me of high school.

Turns out, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Deadicated CD and gained a healthy new respect for the band. The one song that stood out to me, the one I fell in love with before ever even hearing The Dead sing it, is Cassidy. The poetry in Cassidy simply knocks me over.


I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream
I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream
Oh, child of countless trees
Oh, child of boundless seas
What you are and what you're meant to be
Speaks his name, though you were born to be
Born to me, Cassidy

Lost now on a country mile in his Cadillac
I can tell by the way you smile he is rolling back
Come wash the night time clean
Come grow the scorched ground green
Blow the horn and tap the tambourine
Close the gap on the dark years in between
You and me, Cassidy

Quick beats of an icy heart
Catch-cold draws a coffin cart
There he goes and now here she starts
Hear her cry

Flight of the seabirds
Scattered like lost words
Wheel to the storm and fly

Faring you well now
Let your life proceed by its own design
Nothing can tell now
Let your words be yours, I'm done with mine

Flight of the seabirds
Scattered like lost words
Wheel to the storm and fly

The song is about Neal Cassady who was on his way out of this world ("There he goes...") and Cassidy Law, the newborn daughter of one of the Merry Pranksters, on her way in ("...and now here she starts") and is absolutely brilliant poetry that just makes my head and heart soar like the seabirds.

The irony is, of course, that this throw-away CD choice put a musical fork in the road that I have followed wholeheartedly ever since. Two months after I moved to Chicago, after two years in San Francisco (I whisked myself away, this time), I went to my first Dead concert: 7/9/1995. When tickets went on sale, I hadn't yet found a job and the money I'd moved out there with was dwindling away much faster than I had expected, so of course I made the extremely logical decision to buy a ticket and join my friend who had jobs. I'm nothing if not logical.

After the amazing concert, I experienced a flood of understanding that in this universe music would be enormously significant to me and that this band was The One and I should endeavor to see them as much as humanly and financially possible. Unfortunately, my first Dead show was the last Dead show with Jerry. I had a job by this point, less than a month later, and I remember leaving for the day and walking home crying to So Many Roads playing on repeat.

I have only heard Cassidy live one time, despite the number of Dead and Dead side project shows I've seen. For our wedding party, my husband asked the two guitarists/singers entertaining everyone if they would learn to play Cassidy for me. They played a wonderful rendition that brought happy tears to my eyes and loved the song so much, they continued to play it for themselves at future shows.

(to be continued ...)

23 February, 2009

My Soundtrack: The College Years

It just so happened that the transition from high school to college for me and my classmates paralleled the end-transition from the 1980s to the last decade of the millennium: from glam to grunge. The hair bands stopped teasing their bleach-blond tresses and let them tangle and return to their natural color. I contemplated attending class in my pajamas. I love how the world imitates my life.

This is not to say that as the 80s turned into the 90s, I caught up to the music of the age ... that didn't happen till the 2000s and I haven't gotten there yet.

The soundtrack of my college years was greatly influenced by my friends and my weekly attendance at various fraternity parties across campus. Though I surrounded myself with people who had similar backgrounds and experiences, the collection of music that came to that collaborative table could not have been more varied despite the fact that it consisted of at least 98% rock and 2% everything else. From one end of the group, we had an obsession with U2 & REM while another person built their collection around Men Without Hats and Pet Shop Boys. Add to it my 60s retro collection-slash-Bruce-slash some few 80s MTV gems and throw in a few (several) drunken frat parties blaring dance classics such as Joy and Pain and Baby Got Back.

The songs that take me back to those days, like Joy and Pain, each have their individual memories attached so that when I hear the songs, I can propel backwards to that moment, that person, that time. I actually only own one of these songs, relying otherwise on the radio to transport me randomly.

I am not a Led Zeppelin fan. Chalk it up to being inundated with Stairway to Heaven throughout most of my high school years. I have a teeth-clenching reaction to that song and will leap tall buildings to turn off a radio when I hear those first few notes. Given this extreme reaction, I expected that I disliked all of Led Zeppelin and never bothered to buy any of their records. Until TKE.

TKE, Tau Kappa Epsilon, was a favorite frat of mine at Knox. I had been involved with TKE since freshman year when I in my yellow VW Rabbit helped kidnap 8 naked pledges and a shoe. Did I mention the yellow VW Rabbit? ... that comfortably held 3?

TKE wasn't as famous for their parties as, say, the Phi Delts were, but I enjoyed them ever so much more; I attended as many as I could which, to tell the truth, was probably all of them. At a Phi Delt party, you would hear Joy and Pain and be crushed on the dance floor while trying to keep the beer in your cup. At a TKE party, you would hear Misty Mountain Hop as you strolled through the empty dance floor from one conversation to the next, upstairs through the various rooms and eventually settle into an Indian squat up on the top floor bobbing your head the entire time.

In my opinion, Misty Mountain Hop is the finest of the Led Zeppelin catalog. Yes, the bulk of this reason is because it takes me back to TKE. That's what art is. It takes you back to something you fondly remember because you spend all of your time moving forward and you need something to take you back every now and then.

When Misty Mountain Hop comes on the radio, I am back to being 20 years old with schoolgirl crushes and little responsibility (honestly, looking back, I could have taken a little more responsibility but that's not the kind of taking me back art does for me) and a Saturday night that could go all weekend. These days, by Saturday night and the weekend being half over, I'm already anticipating Monday but back then, Monday was a million beers away.

College wasn't all classes and frat parties. Often, my friends and I would congregate in a room or a suite (or an apartment Senior year) and talk, nurse beers, listen to someone's CDs. Two separate friends owned the Billy Joel Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 CDs. Often, these CDs would be in the carousel.

Coming into college, I knew Billy Joel for Piano Man, a song I don't like much more than Stairway to Heaven for the same reasons, some poppy 80s tunes he wrote after Christie Brinkley actually fell in love with him (oh to be an unattractive, wealthy man), a few songs I like very much such as Pressure and Allentown and not much else.

A favorite song on these CDs for many of us was Captain Jack. While not my favorite on the CDs - that would be Scenes From an Italian Restaurant - this is the song that takes me back to those conversations and relaxations so long ago. I was told the song is about cocaine and the lyrics bear that out. Perhaps in college, that was more akin to our lives though none of us ever strolled down that road. But the nihilism that is suggested by heavy cocaine use isn't rare among late teens/early 20s kids and with or without the expensive habit, that nihilism is what always attracted me to the song and still makes me smile when I hear it now, when I am far less self-absorbed. I enjoy remembering the carefree parts of college most, I think. And if I were ever to have a kid, which is not in the plans but God has a funny sense of humor sometimes, I would insist s/he have a few of those years themselves.

The one song that I expect will always draw me back to college and I hope we play every time we reunite is Layla by Derek and the Dominoes.

Speaking of self-absorbed - we suspected, while in college and I think not entirely jokingly, that our group, self-titled Idiots, was being filmed as a reality show by aliens. Now, this seems like less of a leap these days in which 60% of the shows on TV are reality shows but back in 1992-1993, the only reality show on TV was MTV's The Real World and none of us really watched it ... television in college is both a luxury and a waste of time; I didn't own one and rarely watched until Senior year when Jen Clark moved into my room with her TV and all I remember watching is the Waco showdown.

But we were half-convinced in our narcissistic group-think that we were so fascinating, we must be television fodder to someone, somewhere. Thus, The Idiots. Thus, the theme music, Layla. Not the whole song, just the instrumental portion that is also in the Goodfellas scene where all the bodies of Jimmy Conway's former colleagues are turning up. I've always enjoyed that irony, by the way.

What that piece of music has always meant to me (besides dead mobsters in pink Cadillacs and freezer trucks) is friendship. I had some of the greatest friends in college and while there were plenty of bad times with them, I couldn't have had good times without them. Paraphrasing Aristotle, one cannot have the good without the bad and vice versa. Without bad, it is impossible to discern or define good and good relationships need bad times to be really and truly good. That pretty well sums up my college friendships and even after. And I cherish them more for it. It has been an honor to see these friends grow and learn and love and live. Layla reminds me of that every time I hear it and inevitably puts a smile on my face. And inevitably makes me sit up straighter and smooth my hair ? just in case the aliens are still watching.

20 February, 2009

Okay, so apparently that worked

Google has provided me a way to blog from work without being blocked at work (stealthy iGoogle, how I love you!)

Of course, I still have to worry about people walking up behind me (stupid cubicle, how I hate you!) so I can't exactly posit out the meaning of life but hey, beggars can't be choosers, now can they!

I will get back to the ultimate soundtrack, I swear.