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Straddling the seasons

MI0003718298Every now and again, I hear a song in the summer that makes me think of fall or winter.  Occasionally it’s vice versa, but mostly, it ends up being a song that has a chill running through it that really makes me pine for the crisp, cool days of October.  But the rarest bird of them all is the song that evokes the end of summer and the beginning of fall – a song that straddles the season, so-to-speak.  Well, I think I’ve found one in The Secret Sisters’ “Rattle My Bones.”

I discovered “Rattle My Bones” on an Americana Spotify playlist – one that also featured First Aid Kit, a fact that made me laugh considering First Aid Kit is made up of two Swedish sisters.  I don’t know much about them, but I was instantly drawn to the hooky chorus and the two part female harmony.  It has a fun summer vibe, but as is true with most Americana type music, it has a bit of a chill to it as well. They also filmed a cute video for the song which is a rarity nowadays.

I bought “Rattle My Bones” tonight and have been giving their album a try on Spotify to see if it sticks.  So far so good, although not all of it is for me.  Another standout is “Iuka” as in Iuka, Mississippi.  And here I thought it was going to be a cover of a Suzanne Vega song.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Music

 

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Be good to yourself

There have been a boatload of words written about Robin Williams this week.  I have to say that I was only a casual fan of Williams’ work – he was frequently too frenetic and intense for me to really appreciate – but I was still saddened by his death. The thing that impressed me the most this week was how Twitter really served as a communal grief center. It seemed that this particular celebrity death hit many people very, very hard.  This was undoubtedly compounded by the fact that Williams died by his own hand.  How do we reconcile the funny man that everyone saw with the act of suicide?  It’s tough, but not so tough when you think about it.

Williams’ death has also brought an amazing number people out of the mental health closet.  The famous and the not-so-famous are all writing their own bits on dealing with mental illness of many different types.  Not surprisingly, depression has been the most common one that I’ve seen written about.  My wife wrote this piece on her blog in the immediate aftermath of Williams’ death and mentioned me  in it, as well as our daughter.  After years of hiding it and not wanting to admit to it, I now make no secret about my struggles with depression and anxiety throughout most of my life.  The benefit of hindsight has led me to realize that depression was really a minor component, the bigger culprit being a crippling anxiety that left me believing every thought that came through my head.  Admittedly, depression and anxiety are a bit yin and yang, can’t have one without the other, so it’s hard to separate them. I spent years trying to change my brain, trying to reprogram it to not do that any more.  I have seen multiple therapists throughout the years, almost all of whom were convinced that I could be fixed if only I could correct my errors in thinking.  Even my wife tried to fix me early in our marriage, only to realize that she was as powerless as all those therapists were.

Well, as those of you who know me well know, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that all thoughts and feelings are errors.  They can’t be trusted.  Feelings aren’t facts.  Emotions are just emotions – they aren’t right or wrong. They are not things to feel shame over.  You can’t even trust the good feelings because, being feelings, they still aren’t facts, regardless of how much we want them to be.  The trick lies in how we react to those feelings that are going to come no matter how hard we try.  I spent the first 30+ years of my life completely fused with my thoughts and feelings, and it took a self described “old, Jewish, hippie” therapist to finally help me realize that.  I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  One of my common refrains comes from the end of Stevie Nicks’ song “Bella Donna”it’s just a feeling.

But there’s more to it than that.  You can recognize that feelings aren’t facts and you can work actively (because it does take actual WORK) to not fuse with them.  But there’s one more part, and it definitely crossed my mind when I thought about Williams’ suicide.  You have to be good to yourself.  It really made me wonder if Williams had been being good to himself in the last weeks of his life.  I have no way of knowing this, but since this is the thing that I’m actively working on right now, it naturally crossed my mind.  Historically, I have been quite bad at being good to myself. When my brain wasn’t filled with negative self-talk fueling anxious feelings that I fused with to create more negative self-talk, I was mostly too tired to make sure that I was taking care of me.  Many times, I wanted other people to do it and while that’s nice and all, it really isn’t all that helpful.  Because you see, I’ve found that only when you are good to yourself does it really count.  Anything else is just a hit of the affirmation drug that just leads you heading back for a bigger hit a day later because you can’t hang on to what you go the day before.  It’s the only type that I can truly count on – it’s not subject to anyone else.

That doesn’t mean others can’t help – my wife is a terrible wonderful enabler.  Case in point – when she was in the hospital following her recent hysterectomy, I ran all over kingdom come attending to her every need.  I knew that this would happen because hello, she just had surgery. I brought her gluten free breakfast when the hospital’s choices were less than stellar.  I grocery shopped pretty much every day catering to whatever whim she might have.  I slept on the pull out bed in her hospital room both nights so that she didn’t have to be there alone.

During this whole time, I was pining for this unofficial clear vinyl of the Madonna album, True Blue.  I couldn’t justify it because it was something like 90 bucks and that was a lot of money to spend on a record (never mind I spent almost double on that on a vinyl copy of The Immaculate Collection.)  From her hospital bed the day after surgery, Heidi pretty much ordered me to buy it.  I was headed to a therapy appointment that morning (my new therapist, not the old, Jewish hippie) and he’s been really holding my feet to the fire as far as self-care goes.  As soon as I left the appointment, I went home and ordered the album.  I recognized that it was important to me taking care of myself and if I am not taking care of myself, I was going to be in no position to be taking care of my wife as she recovered from major abdominal surgery.

It doesn’t have to be $90 records though.  Self-care for me is as simple as recognizing my limitations and not overpromising.  It is not overfunctioning in my job to try to lessen my anxiety.  It is getting ready just a little bit earlier in the morning so I can sit in my chair in my office and listen to one side of a record before I head out to work. It’s making sure I sleep when I need to.  Basically, self-care are all the things that I need to do to make sure that I have what it takes to keep fighting the onslaught of feelings that demand to be taken as facts, even when we know they aren’t.  When I don’t do well with self-care (working overnights is a time that I tend to not take very good care of myself is all I do is sleep, eat and go to work), I don’t do well in general.  It’s not selfish.  Being good to myself makes me a more present member of my family, a more active father and husband, a better employee and an overall better person.  When I am not good to myself, I generally deteriorate into an anxious, neurotic version of myself, doubting everything and everyone.  It makes me hypervigilant which is exhausting because half the things I’m hypervigilant about have next to zero chance of happening anyway.

This has been the next step for me in dealing with my own inner demons.  Figuring out that feelings aren’t facts was a game-changer in my life.  Realizing that being good to yourself was not selfish but essential for good mental health was also a revelation.  My next move is to work on sitting with anxiety and not automatically trying to fix it by using some coping mechanism that, at best, only partially works – overfunctioning in particular.

Like I said, I have no idea the specifics of what Williams was going through at the end of his life.  Maybe my way of dealing with things wouldn’t have worked for him.  But I know that at my most anxious, I have believed every thought my brain offered up as if it were Gospel and was not doing a good job of making sure my needs were met.  And sometimes, even when we know that’s what we should be doing, we lack the wherewithal to do it.  As my former therapist always said, when we’re tired, lonely, scared or hungry we don’t always make the best decisions.  And suicide is the ultimate in a bad decision – one that thankfully I have never really been close to, but I can see how someone could get to that point better than some.

So my advice to everyone today – be good to yourself.  It doesn’t have to look like this, but for me, it doesn’t hurt.

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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Serious thoughts

 

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Candy says

The photo of Candy Darling on her death bed has always haunted me.

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I think the first time I ever saw it was when it served as the cover for Antony & The Johnson’s album I Am A Bird Now – too bad I didn’t like the music much (I just can’t do his voice at all.)  There is something so eerily calm about the photo, yet it is also terrifying.

220px-Beautiful_DarlingYesterday when I was looking for something to watch on Netflix I came across the documentary Beautiful Darling which chronicles Candy Darling’s life from the perspective of her friend Jeremiah Newton.  Candy Darling was one of Andy Warhol’s Superstars.  She was also biologically a he, born James Slattery in 1944.  When Candy came to New York in the 1960s, a man could be arrested for wearing a dress in public as a “female impersonation” law existed on the books.  It was a completely different world – yet, it was the logical place that for LGBT people to go when trying to escape their small towns.  This was all pre-Stonewall – differences were not appreciated.

While the focus of the documentary was on Darling’s time in New York working out of Warhol’s Factory, I found the look back to her childhood to be the most poignant.  I cannot imagine how she must have felt as a young man growing up on Long Island in the 50s, knowing that something just wasn’t right. As society moves toward the next-next civil rights movement – applying the rights won by gays and lesbians to trans people – I wonder what Darling would think were she alive today.  To be having a conversation about this on a national level, even if it is in its infancy, would seem to be almost unthinkable to her.

I was also, as expected, totally drawn in by New York in the 60s and 70s.  It is a grittier, dirtier New York than the sanitized one we get today.  It was probably quite a bit more dangerous as well so perhaps my glamorizing of it is not quite in line with the reality.  I don’t know tons about Andy Warhol and The Factory, and it was interesting to get a mini-education on where that fits in the pop culture.

But mostly, I felt bad for Candy.  She developed lymphoma – most likely from the estrogens she took – and died at the age of 29.  According to the documentary, Candy was extremely sick when the famous photo of her on her death bed was taken.  It’s almost as if she had already died when the photo was taken.

She was never really all that famous in her own right and she certainly was not wealthy, but her story is nonetheless fascinating.  She may have been the first stop toward bringing drag culture out of the closet.  The movie is a bit of a hard watch sometimes, but ultimately worth it.  Beautiful Darling is streaming on Netflix now so you have no excuse to not watch it.

 

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Movies

 

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My top 20 Madonna songs

A while back, my friend Matt – who is a fellow Fleetwood Mac fan – challenged me to rank my top 20 favorite Fleetwood Mac songs, in order.  The experience was excruciating, but the results were interesting, to say the least.  We were saying how fun it would be to do that again, but alas, Fleetwood Mac is the extent of our musical overlap.  There are a ton of artists I could do this with and there were an equal number he could do but Fleetwood Mac would be the only one that we could do together.  This got me to thinking about how I would rank the songs of my most beloved artists and how it could be a fun challenge, even if I was just doing this by myself.  I figured I might as well jump in with both feet and try to rank my top 20 Madge songs.

This was both easier and harder than I thought.  It is easy to instantly place all her biggest, most recognizable hits on the list, but when I got to thinking about it, is “Like A Virgin” really one of my top 20 favorite Madonna songs?  It’s probably in the top 50, but it doesn’t even come close to the top 20.  In fact, it didn’t even make my first cut of around 40 songs.  So many songs that you’d think would be right up there in the top 10 didn’t and some surprisingly underplayed songs in my library did end up not only surviving the cut, but placing higher than I would have otherwise thought.

I had a few criteria – only official studio recordings were allowed.  Also no live versions – otherwise the Confessions Tour version of “Erotica” would have undoubtedly placed on this list.  I also eliminated demos and leaked tracks.

The final cuts were the hardest to make – how could I possibly cut “Crazy For You”?  It seems unspeakable, but I did it.  It came in at number 21, if that’s any consolation.

Here’s the list, screen captured straight from iTunes.  You may need to click it to make it bigger – that’s as big as I could make it in the post. Caution: heresy, dead ahead.

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A few thoughts:

  • For those that know me, #1 should be no surprise to anyone. “Borderline” has long been my favorite Madonna song – a perfect pop song that has been with me for as long as I’ve been a Madonna fan. It seems a bit crazy to rank it before “Vogue” or “Like A Prayer” but it’s my damn list and I say #1 is “Borderline.”  It also has the best fade-out of any song ever recorded.
  • I feel like I owe an apology to every song that didn’t make this list because “Revolver” made this list.  I can’t help it, I really do love that damn song.  I chalk it up to the awesome live performance of “Revolver” at the MDNA Tour and Heidi playing it constantly when she was writing Double Blind.  It turned what I initially called a Britney Spears reject into one of my favorite Madonna songs.  It still uses too much autotune, but you can’t win ‘em all.
  • “Don’t Tell Me” is one of Madonna’s smartest singles.  It is so unlike anything she’s done before or since.  Expect it on the next tour – we’re about due.
  • Erotica is one of my favorite Madonna albums, yet only “Deeper and Deeper” ended up on this list.  That was the song that jumped out at me when I first heard the album.  In all honesty, it probably should have been the lead single vs. “Erotica.”  I wonder if things would have gone differently for that album with just that small change.
  • There’s a paucity of Ray of Light on this list, with only “Nothing Really Matters” sneaking in at #19.  “Frozen” was probably #23 or #24, but “Nothing Really Matters” is still my favorite track off of Ray of Light. I remember thinking back then about how Madonna didn’t seem as “fun” during the ROL years, but whenever I thought she’d lost her touch, I’d listen to “Nothing Really Matters” and my faith would be restored.
  • “Oh Father” is the highest ranking ballad on this list and is, quite simply, the best ballad she’s ever done.  Criminally underappreciated, I love it even though it was the song that broke her streak of 17 consecutive Top 10 singles by stalling out at #20.  I think it’s one of her most personal songs and the top notch video by David Fincher is one of her best.
  • I’m amazed at how well “Like A Prayer” holds up after all these years.  I remember hearing it initially and being taken aback by the odd song structure, but her voice is so strong and of course, there’s the unforgettable visuals that are impossible to separate from the song.  I feel that “Like A Prayer” will be one of those classic songs that people talk about 30 years from now, even as we’re 25 years out from it now.
  • I can hear the peanut gallery now. HOW did “Girl Gone Wild” make it to the Top 10?  What can I say? There’s nothing that should make me like this song any more or less than some of her other disposable latter day “hits.”  It was probably the MDNA Tour that did it – it was a perfect show opener.  It’s also just plain fun.  Heidi said once that she wasn’t sure how she felt about a 55 year old woman being a “girl gone wild” but I’m kind of whatever works.  I think this is a great great Madonna song not in terms of lyrics or originality, but it sounds amazing when you play it loud.  Sometimes, we just want to have fun.
  • My friend Jeff will surely die when he sees “Human Nature” on this list.  I’m not sorry that it’s there.  May she continue to perform it on tour because it’s the Madonna songs that addresses the Madonna experience more than any other.
  • Madonna fans seem to be divided into Team This Used To Be My Playground and Team I’ll Remember.  I am firmly Team I’ll Remember.  It came out at a critical time in my life and spoke to a lot of struggles I was facing at the time. “Playground” can die in a fire.

It feels wrong to put this out there, because I’m sure it will change, but it reflects what 30 years of Madonna fandom hath wrought.  You can also listen to and/or subscribe to this playlist on Spotify if you’re the Spotifying type.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2014 in Madonna, Music, Random thoughts

 

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That was not fun while it lasted

The other night, I got it in my head that I was going to try to find a vinyl copy of Crowded House’s 1991 album Woodface.  It’s one of those albums, like so many 90s albums, that is not easy to find on vinyl since by that point, most labels weren’t bothering to produce vinyl copies of albums any longer.  It’s insanely expensive on Amazon ($125) and only slightly less expensive on Discogs ($68, but you have to pay to ship it from Spain, which practically doubles the price of the album.)  So I went looking where I hardly ever look – eBay.

I used to be a big eBay guy back in the late 90s, back when it was loaded with bootleg CDs by my favorite artists. But then along came Napster and the bottom fell out of the bootleg market and I mostly abandoned eBay. Even if it hadn’t been that, I was pretty close to quitting eBay altogether because I hate the concept of an auction. The bidding war frenzy of an auction’s final moments drove me to drink and really, how many of those times was it the seller’s friends trying to artificially drive the price up?  I lost so many auctions in the last seconds that I found myself more frustrated than anything.  I’d actually rather pay a little bit more for something and buy it outright rather than dealing with that foolishness.

When I went to eBay, I saw Woodface for $8.99, and only $4 shipping.  I couldn’t resist.

I originally put in a max bid of $30, but then Heidi told me that I should go with what you’d be willing to pay + about $5 so that when it sailed past that point, you didn’t feel the need to go and rebid over and over until you’re so much higher than you ever expected to be.  You have to balance what you’re willing to pay with paying just slightly more than what would make you sick.  So I upped my max bid to $45.

It only took about a half hour for this to happen.

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It was at this point that I was reminded all over again why I hate eBay.

I just checked and it’s still stuck at $46, but I’m not going to bid anymore.  There’s a buy-it-now copy for about $49, but it’s in the UK, so it’ll cost around $22 to ship.

Buying vinyl online is easy for the most part, but nothing beats digging through crates trying to find stuff. And I almost hope that’s how I find Woodface – some random afternoon when I’m totally not expecting to find it.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Music

 

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What’s up?

It always bothered me that the name of that 4 Non Blondes song is “What’s Up?” and not “What’s Goin’ On?”  Do they actually say “what’s up?” at any point in the song.  Anyway, here’s what’s been going on with me these days.

  • Got back from a trip to Washington, D.C. this week. I finally met up with the always fantastic @xolondon while I was there after 7 years of e-mails and Twitter exchanges.  He holds the honor of being the one to really break me on Hard Candy.  Henceforth, it shall be known as the Stale Candy.  We hit many monuments and museums and did A LOT of walking.  According to the pedometer app on my phone, I walked 50 miles during the time I was there – 10.2 miles on the first day alone! My parents came along as well and that was fun, and it was especially fun to take Anna to D.C. when she was old enough to appreciate it but before she was old enough to turn up the exasperation to 10 and say “ugh, family vacation!”  This was my favorite photo I took while there.  It was at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall.  My dad found the names of several friends that died in Vietnam, and Anna helped him out.

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  • We lost our cat of nearly 10 years, Sidney, this week to the trifecta of cardiomegaly, hyperthyroidism and end stage renal disease. It was sad to let him go – he was a cat that loved to be spanked and never missed a basket of unfolded laundry.  Under normal circumstances, we probably would have a new cat already since our house abhors a cat vacuum (and only in our house can there be 3 cats in a cat vacuum), but that’s just not in the cards this week because …
  • Heidi heads under the knife next week – total abdominal hysterectomy and salpingo-oopherectomy, as well as the excision of a large amount of endometrial tissue – and while she will take a while recovering from that, we are cautiously optimistic that this may very well be the answer to health questions that have plagued her for nearly a decade.  Tonight while I was doing the dishes, the Tracey Thorn song “Hormones” came on. It always gets me whenever I listen to it – I’m hard pressed to think of a better song about parenting a teenage girl than that one, but it has extra meaning with Heidi’s upcoming surgery.
  • The title may be the most pretentious thing I’ve heard in forever, but Me…I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse contains not one but TWO great Mariah songs.  This is great Mariah songs than there have been in the last several years.  Check out “Meteorite” and “You Don’t Know What To Do.”  The latter would be better without the rapper, but Mariah is always ruining her songs with dumb rappers.
  • For some reason, I’m 42 years old and I’m breaking out like I’m in high school.  This graphic I saw online summed up my feelings perfectly.2nd-puberty

That’s about all I have. I have some ideas for upcoming posts.  Let’s see if my life cooperates.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2014 in update

 

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Too much new Kylie?

Kylie-Minogue-Crystallize-2014I’ll admit that I don’t think Kylie Minogue has a clue what she’s doing with the promo for her latest record, Kiss Me Once.  It all started out rather traditionally, with lead single “Into The Blue” and its accompanying video.  But then it seemed to go off the rails a bit with a video for non-single “Sexercise” followed by a truly abysmal video for actual single “I Was Gonna Cancel.”  Also, gone is the Kylie from 2010 that was performing “Get Outta My Way” on any American TV show that would have her.  The lack of promo for the album is just stunning.  It’s almost as if she’s taking a page from Madonna’s book and counting on the tour to be promo enough for the album. She may want to ask Madonna how that worked out for MDNA (although I highly doubt Madonna cares as she is rolling in dough from that tour regardless of how poorly the album sold.)  It’s too bad because the album, while certainly no Aphrodite, is more than capable. It’s a bit more slipshod of an affair, lacking in focus, but there’s still plenty of Kylie fun to be had.

And then, as if we weren’t confused enough, she goes and releases a non-album charity single “Crystallize.”


Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t really a complaint. I’m always glad when there’s new Kylie, regardless of the circumstances. It’s just that she seems to be quite unfocused in her promotion right now, as if the album is played out even though the tour doesn’t start till late summer. It’s also not a complaint because honestly, “Crystallize” is probably better than 80% of Kiss Me Once.  It is almost guaranteed a place on my year-end list.  At once classic Kylie as well as a Kylie for 2014, it does everything right. It gets in and out in just over 3 minutes, has a hooky pop chorus and is swirly Kylie awesomeness.  I wonder how different the Kiss Me Once campaign would have played out with “Crystallize” as the first single.

This is clearly a first world problem as there is no such thing as too much Kylie. Her music makes me happy like few other artists, because she seems so genuine. Whereas an artist like Madonna seems a bit begrudging in her fame, Kylie still seems to be a bit flummoxed by the fact that people like her music, even all these years later.  She was a truly gracious live performer, and one with a much stronger live voice than I expected.

Still, I think a little more focus and a little less judging on The Voice would go a long way.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Music

 

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