Mix CD Redux: There and back again – A 21st Century Hobbit’s Tale

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a trip I took back in 2003 to Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m not sure why it’s been on my mind so much these days, but it has been. The trip was a Christmas gift from my wife to see a friend who lived there – a friend who, at the time, I knew only from online interactions and phone conversations. A friend I met on a men’s e-mail list (and it wasn’t one of those awful men’s rights activists lists either) who helped me soldier through a really bad spat with depression. I went by Amtrak, from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa to Chicago and then overnight from Chicago to Cincinnati. Me being me, I had to a make a mix CD just for the trip, and it had to have a theme.  Here’s the cover of the mix CD that I made for the trip.

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Important to know is that this was the first solo trip I had ever made in my adult life. I was 30 years old and had never spent a night away from home without Heidi. I did feel a bit like Frodo carrying the One Ring to Mt. Doom, although the analogy breaks down because Cincinnati and seeing my friend were certainly not analogous to Mordor. Anyway, it was a Big Deal™ for me to be going away. I also had a just over a year-old daughter I was leaving behind for that short period of time. I was nervous, but also excited to be doing something completely on my own. I’d taken Amtrak before so that was fine but going to visit a friend – especially one that I had never actually met in person before – was a big step outside of my comfort zone.

I needn’t have worried because the trip was very good. I harbor some regrets that I was not in tip-top health either physically or mentally when I was there so that colored the experience in ways I’d rather not remember. When I got home, it turned out I had a full-blown ear infection. But it was a good chance to see someone who had become very important to me – a Sam to my Frodo in many ways (we always used to say that) – and to do something on my own for once. We’ve drifted in and out of each others lives over the years, but if there is anything I can say with certainty, it’s that I would not be the man I am today if not for his influence. He was the one who taught me that finding friends is a numbers game, and the more you try, the more you are likely to make a connection. That always used to piss me off, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that it is gospel truth and following that advice has netted me some exceptional friends.

But about the music…

  • This was clearly a CD that I didn’t put a terrible amount of thought into. I can tell by looking at the track listing that it was merely a collection of some of my favorite songs at the time.
  • Naturally, I bookended the mix with songs that reference Ohio. The theme to “WKRP in Cincinnati” is actually a very catchy earworm, so much so that it’s been stuck in my head all day today. It was actually a minor chart hit back in the early 80s and the version on here is the full single version, not just the 1 minute theme from the TV show. “Love Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players proved to be a less inspired choice, but served the purpose.
  • “Xanadu (2000 Remix)” is a track lost to time. It is not in my iTunes library and when I went to pull the CD out to rip the track so I could truly replicate the CD as an iTunes playlist, it was not there! So instead, I just put the regular version of “Xanadu” in the playlist. It was probably a shitty fan remix anyway.
  • A couple Cher songs on here – a classic Metro Mix of “Song For the Lonely” and a deep cut off her not.com.mercial album, “Fit To Fly.”  Both of these are tracks I had nearly completely forgotten about so I’m glad I dug this out.
  • No mix CD I made ever would be complete without a Madonna track, and this one is a fan remix of “Deeper and Deeper.” Unlike most fan remixes, this one actually is does not suck. Quite the opposite, it’s almost better than most of the official “Deeper and Deeper” remixes. I don’t quite remember how I stumbled across it, probably via Audioscrobbler or something, because by 2002, Napster was a thing of the past.
  • Whitney was probably an incurable coke head when she sang “Love That Man,” but there’s no denying that it is A JAM.

I think the Shania Twain song on here sums up my feelings on this mix – it don’t impress me much. I can’t imagine listening to it a whole lot. But last night when I was listening to it on my iPod in bed, I had little twinges of memory of trying to sleep on a train to Cincinnati just over 15 years ago, so I guess the mix did it’s job and preserved some of the feel of the time in which it was assembled. And that’s all it really needed to do.

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What might tempt me

I’ve made a pretty big deal about not going to any live shows this year. As we speak, Bananarama are in San Francisco. I have a friend going to the Toronto show and a couple of friends going to the New York show. I really have no regrets over not going, mostly because 1) I really don’t have the money, 2) the weather has been shit and flying in the winter makes me anxious and 3) the mere thought of organizing myself for a trip to a major city right now makes me want to be ill. So it’s best that I didn’t go. I passed on Diana Krall and I am pretty sure that there won’t be any temptation.

Unless Mary Chapin Carpenter comes to Des Moines.

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I’ve been listening to a ton of Mary Chapin Carpenter these days. It is not surprising. The cloud of depression is really lifting lately, I’ve had three really good days in a row at work and it’s a four day week for me so if I can put every day in the win column I will be so happy. I don’t know what it is about her music and my mood, but she is kind of a go to when I am feeling down and depressed, not because her music is depressing in general (there are some songs, though), but because the act of listening to them can be so cathartic.  She has a new record, Sometimes Just The Sky, coming out at the end of March which consists of rerecordings of one song from each of her 12 studio albums plus one new song. And she’s touring, of course, to support it. A few dates have been announced, but more are sure to be scheduled in the weeks to come.

I saw Mary Chapin Carpenter in concert in Minneapolis in 2015 and honestly, I left a little disappointed. Most of that was not her fault, although it was an acoustic set so it was, by nature, a somber affair. I knew all the songs, but most of them were slow and even songs that had been upbeat in their original arrangements were slowed down. What REALLY ruined the experience for me was the guy sitting next to me that insisted on vocalizing how disappointed he was in her performance. Song after song, he said things like “that’s not how you originally did it” and “pick up the speed a little, will ya?”  Here I was, finally getting to see this performer that defined so many of the experiences of my early 20s and I was, frankly, not having a very good time. I tried to focus on the positive, but between my own disappointment in the performance and the asshat sitting next to me, it was easily the least enjoyable concert of the year. Not “I’m sorry I went” level of unenjoyable, but probably “I’m sorry I traveled to Minneapolis for this” level of unenjoyable.

So why would I want to go again? I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s because I’m a few years older and so is she and I know she won’t be around forever and I want to try to erase the bad memories of that show. So I decided tonight while I was doing the dishes (all of my best ideas come when I’m doing dishes), that if she came to Des Moines, I would go. I won’t travel to Minneapolis or Kansas City for it, but I will go to Des Moines. She’s played Hoyt Sherman twice in the last few years – one time being an add-on date for the show that I went to Minneapolis to see. The last time, I really wish I had gone because it was a full band show and it sounded much more upbeat than the one I saw.

So we’ll see. Even if I have to go by myself, I will go if she comes to Des Moines – or maybe even Iowa City because that’s not really traveling for a show either. I just really want another shot at seeing this artist who shaped so much of my young adulthood and continues to speak to me on a spiritual level. I don’t think that’s too much to ask and I’m willing to eat a little bit of crow if I get that chance.

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Alone With You / Revolution

I’ve kind of been wanting to blog about these songs for a while now, but never could really make a significant post about them. On my 50 song Loved Tracks playlist in iTunes, they are the only two Madonna songs right now. You’d think that someone who is as big of a fan as I am would have more, but no. These are it.

Rebel Heart was plagued with problems. The entire album leaked months prior to its actual release, and what was worse, demos of songs that didn’t make the album were also leaked. When the final product was officially released in March of 2015, most of the fans had already been listening to it for months and also had better ideas than Madonna about what songs should have been included on the album. It made the entire release a bit underwhelming, to say the least.

For what it’s worth, I would have included both of these songs – “Alone With You” and “Revolution” – on the album and jettisoned both “S-E-X” and probably “Inside Out” or even (sacrilege) “Bitch I’m Madonna.”  I think she could rerecord both of these and release them as a digital one-off single and even though it would probably not shake the sales chart much, it would placate fans and also pave the way for some kind of small tour without having to do a full proper album. “Revolution” would even be appropriate for how she is likely feeling about events in the U.S. right now, although she always talks about her revolution being a revolution of love, which makes me happier than it should.

But knowing that Madonna is not one to look backward, only ahead, this is unlikely to happen. And really, the fans will want new music and she does owe Interscope one more album. They probably want her to put it out, get her ass back on the road and then be done with her since she is, even by this Madonna fans admission, way past her prime. She will never sell like she did ever again, and as long as she insists on trying to keep up with the kids, she’ll continue to tarnish her rather impressive legacy. Both of these songs sound more “Madonna” than much of what was on Rebel Heart.

We all armchair quarterback Madonna, and we know she doesn’t give a shit. And we love her anyway – sometimes because of it, sometimes in spite of it.

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The sine wave

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I went to see my psych doctor the other day – it was time and considering how I had been not coping very well with life lately, it was timely indeed. I went into it convinced that he was going to swap my antidepressant for something else, after having been on Effexor for as long as I can remember. I had read that some people just “burn out” on their antidepressant and have to try something different. The pharmacist in me did not really believe that, but the person on antidepressants that was struggling with depression wanted to believe that was the answer.

So I asked him if he thought that people could “burn out” on an antidepressant – be on it so long that it’s no longer effective. His answer was a categorical NO. His exact words were “people don’t become immune to them.” This surprised me because, as I said, I was really prepared for him to say that it was time to try something different. Personally, I was dreading the Effexor taper, full of head shocks and dizziness, but thankfully, I don’t have to go through that.

What he did mention was the interesting dichotomy of people that come in and don’t want to go on meds because they don’t want to be a robot. They eventually acquiesce and go on meds and then are surprised when they still have the ups and downs, i.e. they don’t turn into a robot. It was something I’d forgotten about the medication side of the of depression and anxiety. The drugs work, but they only do so much. Life is a sine wave of ups and downs, and the best drugs can do is hopefully flatten the sine wave out a little bit.  To make it a straight line is unrealistic and also not a desirable outcome. Really, the best you can expect of any mental health treatment is to make the lows not quite so low, because the lows are still going to happen, much like they have been happening to me lately.

I walked out of the office with no med changes at all. I felt really good about it, too. But I was also a little bit bummed out by it. Even though I knew better, I was kind of hoping for a magic bullet to stop me from feeling like I’ve been feeling the last few weeks. The only real answer is to do the damn work that you have to do. Control what you can, let go of what you can’t. Take care of yourself. Be good to yourself. All things that sound easy but when you’re mired in depressive and anxious thoughts and feelings, it’s anything but easy.

So I feel pretty empowered right now, remembering that life is a rollercoaster and, as a former therapist once told me, we can either ride it or watch it from a distance and say “wow, isn’t that interesting?”  Feelings aren’t facts and fusing with them is almost always a mistake. This time of year is also hard – everything is cold and wet and dirty. Vehicles are filthy and you rub up against them and get dirt on your pants and there you go. And that’s just in the first five minutes of leaving the house.

Here’s to better days ahead!

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Sixteen years

student loan.pngTonight, while looking into seeing how much better of a rate SoFi could give me on my student loans than what I’m currently getting, I found out that my student loans will be paid off – at my current interest rate and rate of payment – on March 7, 2034. That seems like a ridiculously long time, but I suppose I have been paying on them for around 15 years now and they are a lot like a 30-year mortgage, but still.

For some reason, that makes me feel like a failure. Granted, that’s kind of been my general state of emotion the last few weeks, but that hit me harder than I expected. What could I have done differently? There is the matter of the years 2004 and 2005 when, for 18 months, I deferred my student loans because I was paying two house payments due to my inability to unload my old house in small-town Iowa after moving to where we live now. We’re far enough removed from that situation now that I don’t feel like we can blame things on that situation any longer, but as you can see, we still feel the ripples.

I don’t regret borrowing the money to fund my education, nor do I regret the money Heidi had to borrow for hers. We never would have survived me getting my PharmD without it. But I am a little embarrassed that I’m still paying on my loans. I don’t owe even half as much as some of my fellow pharmacists, but it still seems like something I should have had made history a long time ago.

I also don’t expect someone to wave a pen and magically make them disappear. I signed on the line, I’m responsible for them. It would make life a lot simpler, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be fair to the millions who HAVE paid their loans in full.

Money is such a trigger for me -it’s why I’m not going to concerts this year (well, that and I am over crowds of people bumping into me.) I did get a new phone which I don’t regret at all – I just will back off on buying records. I get to have a few nice things, regardless of what people say. But finding that out tonight makes me want to put every spare dime onto my student loans so that I’m not 62 when I get them paid off.

Incidentally SoFi was able to beat the interest rate by 1.6% for a 10 year payback.  Granted, it raises our payment. A 15 year payback would lower our payment and if we kept paying the same payment we are making now, we’d pay it off quicker than we would through the government. I’ll probably refinance them, but certainly not at 9:20pm on a Tuesday night when my brain is shot.

But it’s reinforced one thing in my mind – my daughter is going to graduate from college debt free.

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Things not meant to be

This came up in my Timehop today.

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Unlike a lot of things that come up in my Timehop, I remember the exact circumstances surrounding this tweet. It was after I had met a guy that I had known semi-socially for coffee. We had things in common, were roughly the same age, and it just seemed like it should work. When I read this today, it made me a little bit sad because ultimately, this potential new friend did not become a friend in the traditional sense at all. We are friendly and certainly get along, but I would not classify us as friends in the classic sense of the word.

In the ensuing weeks after I tweeted this, I tried to engage with this person, but it didn’t really work in the way I was used to it working. I chalk it up to life being busy and since that initial coffee “date” so-to-speak, we haven’t gotten together socially. It’s sad because I think so many men in their middle age are really very lonely and afraid to show just that shade of vulnerability that is needed to not be lonely. Me, I have that vulnerability in spades, and it’s part of the reason that I truly am not lonely in my middle age. Many men have only one friend – their wife – and I really feel for those men. They are missing out on something that can only be had by dropping the macho facade for two seconds and realizing that we need more than that. After all, it’s not fair to expect our wives to meet every single need. It’s not fair to ask that of anyone when you get right down to it.

For a while, I thought it must be me. Something about me was repulsive and that’s why this particular new friendship didn’t take, whereas others had not. But with the help of another friend, to whom I confessed this story, I realized that sometimes things just aren’t meant to be. That helped me a lot because I really had laid the failure of the friendship at my feet. With his help, I was able to unburden myself with that falsehood and settle into the fact that there are levels of friendship, and not every single one is going to get to the level of some of my closest friends.

But just because this specific instance didn’t work doesn’t mean I’ll stop being me and sticking my neck out when I feel like it might be worth it. I like to say that I lead by example when it comes to this kind of thing. I have plenty of friends, but even with that, I’m not impervious to loneliness. And who among us can’t use another friend, especially one willing to be vulnerable enough to push through the macho bullshit?

So when I think about this person, who I don’t have reason to cross paths with terribly often, I just think that it was a missed opportunity. And if there’s anything I’m good at, it’s making opportunities.

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Priorities

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So I’m signed up for the Diana Krall mailing list, something I did back when I was a bigger fan of hers than I probably am now, and I got word that she will be bringing her Turn Up The Quiet tour to Des Moines the weekend of my birthday. Now here’s the deal – I had kind of decided that 2018 would be the year I just laid off the live shows with no regret (unless Madonna tours in which case all bets are off.)  But I will admit that this tempted me.

I plugged in the presale code and saw that (naturally) all the best seats were already spoken for and the general on-sale hasn’t even started yet. There will probably be more seats for sale during after tomorrow but still, you know those went to the bots and secondary resellers (read: scalpers.) I hovered over a couple of seats and saw that tickets were $137 for the first few rows, $102 for the floor, and $72 for the balcony. Normally that wouldn’t have been a problem – as a veteran Madonna concert-goer, I’ve spent a hell of a lot more on a show than that before. But for some reason, I balked.

I think it has something to do with the fact that I haven’t purchased a Diana Krall album in 12 years and I’m just not as much of a fan as I once was. Her music just got boring to me. So I’m not willing to cough up $102 + another 30% of that in fees and convenience charges to see her live. Plus that weekend is the weekend of Des Moines Pride and there might be some washed up 80s star that I want to see more – although admittedly that would be the night before.

It did prompt me to listen to her latest album, Turn Up The Quiet, on Spotify. I’ll have to admit that I did like it more than I have liked her albums in the last decade or so. I may have to get the vinyl.

Heidi asked me if I would regret it and to that I replied I don’t think so. I’d rather have the $100 Kylie deluxe set and the $60 Belinda Carlisle colored vinyl set.  I can enjoy those in the comfort of my own home and don’t have to go somewhere and be packed in a crowded concert hall with strangers. And maybe, just maybe, because I’m foregoing Diana Krall, I’ll finally splurge on this record (which costs about as much as the Diana Krall ticket.)

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