Entries in The Food of Love (35)

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.

Thursday
Feb082007

Variation and Interpretation


Last Friday night I was driving home from Book Group. It was late and it had been snowing for several hours. I love being alone in a black night with snow; it always reminds me of one of my favorite paragraphs in the world, the last sentences of James Joyce’s The Dead:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Karen, Melissa, and I had carpooled to Book Group over at Camilla's house in Golden’s Bridge, chatting the entire time. On the way home, after I dropped off my two friends, I turned on the radio. I had for company someone playing the piano. I half-recognized the piece, but there was something so different about what I was hearing that I didn’t make the connection for a minute or two. Then it hit me with a flash: it was Bach’s Goldberg Variations. And played on the piano, not the harpsichord—but it didn’t sound like Glenn Gould.

I find it particularly appropriate to listen to this piece of music when the rest of the world is asleep. Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations for a Count who struggled with insomnia; the Count had asked Bach to write some clavier exercises to be played in the middle of the night, something to soothe and cheer him through long, sleepless hours. The Variations are named after the Count’s talented young harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg; I imagine the poor young man being roused from slumber on any given night to play for his patron, because the Count apparently never tired of hearing them.

The Variations were published in Bach’s lifetime, but for many years afterward were regarded as dry, rather difficult pieces to be played on the harpsichord. In the middle of the 20th century, however, a brilliant young pianist changed popular opinion of Bach’s piece forever.

I know Gould’s landmark 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations as well as I know any piece of music. I’ve listened to it hundreds, maybe thousands of times. It has been a great friend to me, as the Variations were for the Count who commissioned them. But what I was hearing Friday night was so alien: haunting, personal, almost painful in its execution, where the version I know—lively, technically flawless—evokes a detached, peaceful mood.

Puzzled, I drove on and thought about our meeting earlier. We had had a intelligent and compassionate dicussion of a modern classic: Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner. Its main character, Susan Burling Ward, has chronic myopia when it comes to the life she has chosen; throughout her life, she compares her situation unfavorably to that of her best friend, Augusta. She doesn’t realize that she has within her grasp all the ingredients for a wonderful existence. Her interpretation of herself, the reader easily sees, is faulty. She has, in fact, married the better man; her life of ‘exile,’ as she terms it, has defined and refined her work as an artist, not limited it.

One woman in our group raised a question: How do you know when to be content? In other words, when you are in the middle of living one of life’s countless challenges, how do you stop looking over the fence at seemingly greener grass? It’s a good question, and an old one, one that has given philosophers pause for centuries. After a lot of thought on the topic myself, I think the secret lies in our interpretation of what we’ve been given.

Happiness is a choice; for some it’s a harder choice than for others, but it is there all the same. One need look no further than Victor Frankl for proof of this truth. I myself have been given all the components for a perfect life: good health, every temporal comfort, lovely friends and children, meaningful work, and a dear man who loves me.

But if I’m not careful, I can take the route Stegner’s heroine takes. I can focus exclusively on what I see as being wrong: my weight; brain chemistry that defaults to a baseline level of melancholia; the current state of our yard; the child who is misbehaving on any given day: the list could go on for quite a while, if I let it. But that interpretation of my life is a sure path to misery; I believe this is one of the points Stegner is making in his beautiful book.

Once home, I sat in my dark car in the driveway for few minutes so that I could discover the identity of my mystery musician. At the stroke of midnight, after the last few notes of the Aria died away, Bill McGlaughlin came on the air and informed me that it was, indeed, Glenn Gould playing the Variations—but that this was a performance recorded shortly before Gould’s death in 1982.

This was the same music played by the same artist I thought I knew so well. But the interpretation was so different that it changed the piece completely. Older, wiser, at the end of his life, Gould let his life inform his art and transform it; he put himself wholly into his work, and both were changed thereby.


Stop looking over the fence and start doing all you can to green up what you’ve got. Take plenty of time to rejoice in its verdure, and take plenty of time pay respects to the Source of all that is good and green. It is simpler to write than it is to live, but the secret to happiness is in the interpretation.

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7