Entries in The Food of Love (36)

Tuesday
Dec042007

My Essential Christmas Albums

True confession: I own over forty Christmas CDs. That may seem excessive to some; this I acknowledge. Whenever I feel tempted to judge someone for his/her shoe fetish or other acquisitive hobby, I remember my drawer of Christmas CDs and realize that I live in a glass house. I'd be hard pressed to give up any of my CDs, but if forced at knife point, I would whittle the collection down to the following ten (not in any particular order).

Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas
No, Mariah's not my favorite person; I wouldn't want to be her pen pal, or anything. But this album is genius. Brace yourself: I can only abide the songs "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" as sung by two people; Mariah is one of them. (Who is the other? Read on.) I defy you to be in a bad mood after listening to "Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child."

Black Christmas: Spirituals in the African-American Tradition
This album would still be worth its weight in gold if it boasted only the four tracks sung by Thomas Young. His butter-rich tenor voice on "Rise Up, Shepherd" and "Sister Mary Had-a But One Child" gives me chills each and every time.

Handel's Messiah--Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Choir
After many long years, my quest for the perfect recording of Messiah has ended. For a time The Academy of Ancient Music's version worked okay, and Leonard Bernstein's recording with the New York Philharmonic has considerable (if quirky) charm.

But these days I'm blessed to be friends with a member of the Grammy-winning Oregon Bach Choir, and she gave me this CD a couple of years ago. Rilling is a stickler for diction and precision; his discernment and discipline serve the intricate counterpoint of Handel's masterpiece beautifully. Thomas Quasthoff, one of my favorite singers in all the world, is the glorious bass. And soprano Sibylla Rubens's cadenza at the end of "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth": unqualified perfection.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Hodie/Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Oh, how I love my Ralph. He is to Christmas music what Dickens is to Christmas literature.

Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols
Otherworldly. Transfixing. Gorgeous.

Stephen Cleobury and The Choir of King's College, Cambridge: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
There is nothing more satisfying to my rampant anglophilia than this double CD. Highlights include "Riu, Riu Chiu," Thomas Adès's "The Fayrfax Carol," Boris Ord's "Adam Lay Ybounden," and David Humphries's reading of The Fourth Lesson.

Ella Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas
Though at times I enjoy me some Bing and Nat, some Donny and some Harry, I'm not really much for secular Christmas songs in general. This album is an exception; Lady Ella can do no wrong. The purity of her tone, her flawless style: she slays me. I can only hope that if I'm very, very good, in the next life I'll be able to sing like Ella Fitzgerald.

John Denver: Rocky Mountain Christmas
I've loved this album since I was about ten. John Denver's crystal-clear voice and gentle guitar arrangements are infinitely soothing. He's the only other person who, when he sings "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night," makes the experience enjoyable rather than mind-rendingly torturous for me.

The John Rutter Christmas Album
John Rutter has been writing and arranging brilliant Christmas carols for decades; he is surely one of Britain's national treasures. He conducts The Cambridge Singers and The City of London Sinfonia on this CD, a compilation of many of his best-known compositions. A favorite of all in this house is "The Donkey Carol," written in 5/4 time to symbolize Mary's bumpy ride to Bethlehem.

Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort: The Promise of Ages
Andrew Parrott rocks my world. Who else could weave together an album of carols spanning 600 years into a cohesive whole? The Consort goes from ethereal to rollicking with nary a blink. Favorites include "I Wonder as I Wander," "Staines Morris," and "Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending." Can't get enough.

Here's my Christmas wish: for Brian Stokes Mitchell to release a Christmas album next year. I actually just went to his website and sent him an email with that very request. Just color me fannish, 'cause I'm crazy like that.

Wednesday
Nov282007

Over the Hills Where the Spirits Fly

Today, Jhianna wants me to write about a song that has significance for me. Anyone who has seen my crazy eclectic profile might wonder how I could pick just one.

Should I go with Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, the piece that introduced me to the ineffable joys of Bach when I was in eighth grade Orchestra?

Or Symphony no. 5, which Patrick and I first heard on the radio as we were planning our wedding, and which began my 18-year, still-going-strong love affair with British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams?

Or maybe I should reminisce about the first time I heard Thomas Tallis's Lamentations of Jeremiah sung at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, when the voices of the choir seemed to wind round one another in gorgeous and mysterious patterns as they ascended into the nave during the service of Tenebrae.

I might explore the above options in the future; Soccer Mom in Denial has just started Music Mondays, and I've got fodder for at least the next ten years. Today I'll go in a different direction: Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop."

It's mid-November, 1978. I have just turned twelve, and I am deeply in love with Ian Richardson, a lanky, black-haired, blue-eyed boy with a sharp mind and a sardonic sense of humor. We have several classes together; there is only one Gifted & Talented track in Albert Einstein Jr. High's eighth grade program.

Though I am a mere girl, Ian is willing to be friends with me because we have one huge thing in common other than our schedule: we are both obsessed with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It's not just that we've read the trilogy several times; we have taught ourselves to write in Dwarvish runes and have absorbed every bit of dry backstory we could winkle out of The Silmarillion.

Despite his inner geek, Ian is a clown, making him immensely popular with students and (oddly) teachers alike. Since my nerdiness has never known the bounds of any closet, I am fully aware how privileged I am that Ian even takes notice of me. Of course, I want more; I hope that Ian and I will eventually get married and raise a passel of kids with names like Galadriel and Faramir. But I wisely keep this to myself.

One day, as Ian and I are discussing whether the soon-to-open Ralph Bakshi adaptation of LOTR will be any good, he says something that gets my attention. "I know this band that does some songs about Middle-Earth."

Really? I must know more.

(At this point, I own exactly two records, both soundtracks: Grease and Saturday Night Fever. I'm not completely culturally illiterate; my parents are huge Beatles and Beach Boys fans, and I listen to the same top-40 radio station as most other kids my age, grooving to timeless classics by Hall & Oates and Earth, Wind & Fire.)

Ian makes me a cassette tape that includes Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop," "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp," and "The Battle of Evermore." I am instantly hypnotized by this strange new music, and my life is changed forever.

I'm not being dramatic. I set aside my quest to learn Quenya and let my obsessiveness autodidactism follow a new muse. Soon I've spent all my babysitting money acquiring Led Zeppelin's first four albums and subscribing to Rolling Stone magazine.

A single year later, with a little help from my friends Rolling Stone and the radio station KZAP, I've branched out into all kinds of hard and progressive rock: The Who, Boston, Yes, Foghat, Genesis, Rush, Jethro Tull, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I've worked my way backwards to fill in the gap left after the Beatles' break-up: The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and The Doors.

Led Zep's heavy blues influence also leads me in that fabulous direction: B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble, then somehow to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Which means when we move from Rancho Cordova (generic suburb of Sacramento) to Truckee (last bastion of Lake Tahoe ski bum hippiedom) in the middle of ninth grade, I hook up with a whole different crowd. I've gone from this (eighth grade, and picture the gaucho pants and knee socks that complete this particular ensemble):

to this (ninth grade).Way cooler, yes? Led Zeppelin: better than What Not to Wear. Who knew?

Has my post given you a hankering for more Middle-Earth? Here are two gems not to be missed:

1) Recent discovery Phil's live-blog of his experience watching the Peter Jackson trilogy in one marathon session. Love it; can't get enough.

2) More compelling than a train wreck: Leonard Nimoy sings his "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins." As Spock would say, "Fascinating."

Thursday
Aug302007

Magic Power

Recently I heard a song on the car radio that I had forgotten even existed. However, I could immediately sing along with its every word.

She's young now, she's wild now, she wants to be free;
She gets the magic power of the music from me...

Ah, yes. The Canadian power trio Triumph accurately captured me in lyric form back in 1983. I was 16 and graduating from high school. I had a great boyfriend, a regular D&D group, attention-getting hair, a library card, and a functional stereo. I had my whole life in front of me. What more did I need? Life was good.

Fast forward 24 years to the other day. Even as I belted out "Magic Power" along with Rik Emmet, I laughed at the incongruity I have become: a 40-year-old woman driving a mom-style vehicle complete with two car seats in the back, with XM Radio's Big Tracks channel blasting so loud that people in other cars look over at us involuntarily at stoplights. Am I now ridiculous? I wonder.

Only my mother terms me 'young' anymore, and this knitting, pie-baking, classics-loving, church-going woman I've become is not anyone's definition of 'wild.' And would I want to be free of my hot spouse, my fun kids, or my weed-infested garden? Not on your life. On the surface, I've become the epitome of The Establishment against which rockers have been railing for decades.

Yet loud rock music continues to be a joyful indulgence of mine on a daily basis, Sabbaths excepted. My kids love singing along to songs they've learned at my knee; it warms my heart to hear their clear voices joining in on "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Baba O'Riley" or "Roxanne." Rock is somewhat of a family affair; we had a great time exploring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago, admiring relics like John Lennon's report card, the pieces of Paul Simonon's smashed bass guitar, and Jim Morrison's Cub Scout uniform.

My love affair with rock is not limited to the music of my (or my parents') youth. Through friends and the sorcery that is iTunes, I've discovered new treasures like Foo Fighters, The Fratellis, and Coldplay. But would The Veronicas or The Arctic Monkeys be happy to witness me, someone old enough to be their mother, dancing around my kitchen to their latest hits? Or would they run, screaming in terror? I rather suspect the latter.

Here's a highlight from my trip to Utah last week. I sat reading in my hotel room after attending the first day of a mission conference. Suddenly I heard music I recognized coming in through the large plate glass windows that overlooked downtown Salt Lake City's Gallivan Square. I opened the drapes to see a huge crowd gathered around the amphitheater ten floors below. I quickly did a web search on 'Utah Free Concerts,' which confirmed that I wasn't dreaming: Calexico was playing. I opened the metal window louvers so that I could hear well, ordered some Room Service nachos, and sat back in my private sky box seat to listen to one of my favorite new(-er) bands. I reveled in my good fortune, and couldn't wait to tell my kids that the group was even better live than on recordings.

Will it always be this way? I have a vision of myself as a 90-year-old great-grandma, driving a powder-blue Lincoln Town Car with the bench seat scooted way up, and The Raconteurs or Great Big Sea roaring through the sound system at a decibel level high enough to compensate for my faulty hearing aids. And maybe then, if Triumph comes on the radio again, I'll let my quavery, old-lady soprano soar along to celebrate that I am young at heart, wild about life, and free from any concern of what others think about my long-standing affection for the magic power of rock and roll.

Saturday
Aug182007

Cleveland rocks!


Oh, we had such a FABULOUS trip to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The museum is amazing; all the kids loved it. I'm sure I'll work many choice anecdotes from the trip into future posts; I'll give you just one tidbit, since I'm pressed for time.

We bought Daniel a little stuffed plush guitar at the gift shop. As we were leaving the museum, he kept singing the opening of "Smoke on the Water" ("New, new NEW, new new NA-NEW!")over and over, to the great amusement of fellow museum-goers all around us. Then he'd whisper-scream, "Are you ready to ROCK? Let's get rockin'!"
It's hilarious every time. I haven't gotten tired of it yet; I don't see how I ever could.

Thursday
Apr122007

It's a gray day for the green queen.*

So I thought I'd cheer myself up and play a fun game I saw over at The Electronic Replicant. It involves mucho technology, and you all know that I, like Kip Dynamite, love technology.

Here's how to play, according to Erik: "If you load your music player with your entire collection, then set it for random play, it will somehow predict the soundtrack for an imaginary upcoming film about your life."

Well, my entire collection won't fit on my iPod, so I went with what was there. (Note to self: it's probably time for some purging in that arena.)

I find the results of this little experiment very interesting--some might say spooky. I don't think I would say that. But some might.

Opening Credits: Renee Fleming, "Ombra mai fu" from Handel's Xerxes
Hmm, yes, suitably somber and ethereal for an aerial shot of our darling little village nestled on the edge of the mighty Hudson. It's good that nothing a cappella-boys' choirish came up first, because then we'd know it was going to be a horror flick.

Waking Up: London Symphony Orchestra, Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia on Christmas Carols"
Oh, goody! It's going to be a Christmas movie! If you set at least part of your film at Christmastime (The Family Man, It's a Wonderful Life), you pretty much guarantee that I'll like it. And no movie of my life would be complete without a little RVW.

First Day of School: Queen, "Somebody to Love"
Pretty perfect for summing up not just my first day of school, but also my entire school experience. Melodramatic, yet with a strong 6/8 beat; that call-and-response bridge full of irony. Yes. We can work with this.

Falling in Love: Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, "Heartbreakin' Old Achin' Blues"
This plucky bluegrass ditty is a perfect foil for all the bitter, unrequited crushes of teenagerdom.

First Song: The Police, "Message in a Bottle"
My iPod is a mind-reading genius. More irony, folks.

The first time I saw the Police in concert (CA State Fair at CalExpo, 1982), I was 15. My boyfriend David held me on his shoulders so that I could have an unobstructed view of my tripartite obsession: Andy, Stewart, and the lovely Sting. Heavenly memory, marred only by this: on the way home, we got into a fight because David was jealous of Sting. I rubbed salt in his wound by laughing incredulously when he admitted this fact and saying something like, "Dude, that's like a streetlight being jealous of the moon--totally pointless." We broke up pretty soon after that.

Anything by the Police also serves well to underscore the crucial scene in the movie where, bored out of my mind in Senior Civics class, I indulge in an endless daydream about flying to Montserrat so that I can more efficiently stalk said Sting.

Breaking Up: Rush, "Closer to the Heart"
Uncanny, since the above-mentioned David was obsessed with Rush.

Prom: Bryn Terfel, "Younger than Springtime"
Ahhh, Bryn. Would that you had been my prom date. If you had, perhaps I wouldn't have had that nearly fatal asthma attack that landed me in the emergency room for the better part of the night. The incredibly kind male nurse pinned my gardenia corsage to my hospital gown. Come to think of it, he looked a bit like you, Bryn, though he had neither your darling Welsh accent nor your swoonworthy baritone voice. Ironic coincidence: that night was the first time I'd ever heard The Police's song "Every Breath You Take."

Driving: Sister Sledge, "We Are Family"
Baby, not only do I have this song on my iPod, it's the extended play version--what we used to call a 12-Inch Disco Mix. It's a good driving song, especially because many of my best road trips have been either with my fab sisters or with really good girlfriends. Love it.

Flashback: Mariah Carey, "Joy to the World"
Poor Mariah. Such gifts, yet such a mess. But she does know how to put together a darn fine Christmas album. This is a great one to put on when doing Christmas party prep chores. The brilliance of pairing this standard carol with the chorus of "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog" is alone worth the price of the CD.

Starting a New Relationship: Natasha Bedingfield, "Unwritten"
My dear sis Steph introduced me to this fine pop anthem on a recent road trip. Can't get enough of it. It's a perfect metaphor for shaking off the chains of old hurts and being willing to jump into love again--of course this time (in the movie, as in life) with my peerless husband.

Wedding: Ben Harper, "Church House Steps"
Hmm. Though I adore that delicious Ben Harper, at first listen this would appear to be a bad omen foreshadowing problems for our young couple. But when the Blind Boys of Alabama start crooning the bridge, "If these wings should fail me/Meet me with another pair," I take it to mean that the young lovers will triumph over any challenges by meeting them together, clear-eyed and hand in hand.

Birth of a Child: "In the Merry Old Land of Oz"
"Ha, ha, ha; ho, ho, ho/And a couple of tra-la-las...." All that false joviality rising to an unbearable crescendo, only to be interrupted by the Wicked Witch of the West sky-writing "Surrender, Dorothy" in the air above the Emerald City--what portent can this hold for the poor new baby?

Final Battle: Hem, "Betting on Trains"
It's good to have some Hem in my movie. Because when Hem goes to see it, they'll realize that as lovely and talented as Sally Ellyson is, I should really be their lead singer instead.

This song works for a battle scene only if it's one ripped off from the end of The House of Flying Daggers. Come to think of it, I should have been in that movie, too. Maybe the American remake is in my future....

Death Scene: The Wailin' Jennys, "Firecracker"
Oh, so perfect. Those Jennys, with their tight harmonies and artless melancholy. The lyrics work, too: "It's late night getting into morning...." Come to the light, baby.

Funeral Song: Alison Krauss and Union Station, "The Road is a Lover"
And we restate the trope of bouncy bluegrass as counterpoint to deep mourning. Symmetry: me likey.

End Credits: Willie Nelson, "Shall We Gather at the River"
Good, good. Contemplative, but not beating us over the head with it. If I had been in charge instead of Apple's random number selection subroutine, I would have chosen Michael Andrews's cover of "Mad World." Oh, wait--that's Donnie Darko, not my movie.

Well, random is as random does. I was disappointed when none of my beloved uber-geeks (They Might Be Giants, Cake, Elvis Costello) made the cut. Same goes for those obscure Celtic folk (Niamh Parsons, Danu) I love, and for all the punk/metal/Goth I have in running mixes with titles like "T-Shirt of Pain" and "Endorphin Junkies." But no movie can be an accurate portrait; they always have to leave some stuff out. And you can't expect decent coverage when you are looking at 16 songs out of 2,060.

Thanks, Erik! I'm feeling much better about my day now.

*We do love Nick Sharratt at our house.