Don’t fence me in

Sometimes I don’t know myself. [Make that most times, but you know what I mean.]

For instance, ask me what type of music I love, and I’ll give you a tidy list that includes American and British folk and folk-rock; jangly-guitar alternative; Motown and the Philadelphia sound; traditional country (Patsy Cline, I’m talking about you); and the grand embarrassment that is 70s top 40. All of these make sense to me: they sketch the edges of who I think I am, who I imagine myself to be (blue jean wearing, animal loving, rural living child of the 60s).

But it’s not so easy to pin anyone down by the music they love (or the books they read or the foods they eat or the company they keep). And if I reach further I find out that I love, among other things, Italian cafe music, Afro-Cuban music, salsa, R&B, the blues, The Moody Blues, and, yes, even a smattering of blue-eyed soul  (I blame Simply Red).

Which brings me today’s song (thanks to H, who introduced it to me a month or two ago and so now it’s in my head most every day) by Pentatonix, a five-member a capella group (Penta, get it?).

I can’t stop listening to it. There, I said it. It’s playing on repeat as I write this. I’m doing that chair dance thing again. I’m impressed that it’s a capella, but that doesn’t enter into the fact that it sticks like honey to my brain.

That’s the thing about music love. There’s no explaining it. You love it or you don’t. It’s beyond words. It’s what’s on your lips when you wake up even in the dark, and it helps ignite the light of the day.

p.s. If you want more Pentatonix, you can’t go wrong with their covers of Hallelujah, Jolene (with Dolly Parton), and the wonderful Winter Hymnal.

A tune in my heart

Our excellent friend Kevin writes about all sorts of interesting things on his blog, Keeping Score. He’s a terrific writer, smart and with a generous heart. I enjoy reading whatever he writes, but I particularly love his end-of-year posts, where he shares his favorite music from the concluding year. He doesn’t just list and link the tunes, he gives us a little bit of insight into what he loves about each song, and that just makes each choice a bit sweeter.

Inspired by Kevin, and by the ongoing dreariness of the overcast weather and my generally overcast temperament this time of year, I’ve decided to post a song here each day from now until the new year.

They won’t all be new songs; in fact most of them will probably be old, but I’ll try not to bore you with too many repetitions, and I’ll do my best to follow Kevin’s lead and let you in on why I’ve shared each song.

Today’s song, for instance, “Call Off Your Dogs” by Lake Street Drive.

I heard it for the first time last night on my drive in to town to attend my monthly book group meeting (our next book is Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, if you want to read along).

I had the car radio on with no particular expectations because we have very poor radio choices around here, but two seconds into this song I was hooked. It was obvious why: it hearkens back to the music of my youth, with a frothy 70s groove. It reminds me, maybe, of E.L.O and long, carefree summers. It’s the kind of song that begs to be turned up loud and danced to.

I cranked it as I drove along the river in the drizzle. I couldn’t open the windows, but if you passed me you’d have seen my head bopping and my smile huge, all thoughts of rain and darkness banished for three minutes and 29 carefree seconds.

Here and elsewhere

Here and elsewhere

A Sunday in late winter.

Just at that point in the season where, if you put a certain album on the stereo, settle yourself into the chair by the window, tilt your face up to the strengthening sunlight, close your eyes and ignore the wind outside and the eight-foot pile of snow that’s accumulated on the porch and the rug that’s covered with splinters from the firewood… for a few minutes anyway, it doesn’t matter where your body is, because you’re swaying gently to a rhythm that’s never heard of winter, that doesn’t know from ice and snow, that delivers you the tonic of a warm sea breeze rustling through palm fronds, a strumming that assures you that summer’s still there, out over the ocean, coming this way on steadily beating wings.

Just wait.

Audio visual

Eye contact

The better to see and hear you with, my dear…

A couple weeks ago, we got TV. That is, we got reception via a satellite dish bolted to the side of our house. We’ve had the actual TV set for years and have watched our share of VHS and DVD programs and, more recently, streamed movies from the internet gods.

But now, after a twenty-year television break (aside from vacation binges in anonymous hotel rooms and our families’ homes), the TV programs come to us. Also the commercials. Oy, the commercials. If it were not for the beautiful little DVR box that arrived with the satellite dish that allows us to record live TV and then skip over the commercials, I don’t think I could stand it.

The reason we got TV is these two gentlemen.

Sherlock and Doctor Who

Well, perhaps not the whole reason, but let’s say you live with a fourteen-year-old girl who’s CRAZY about the BBC Sherlock and Doctor Who TV shows and has been patient for years to let everyone else on the planet watch the episodes when they’re new while she waits a year for the episodes to be available on DVD.

Unless you’re a cold-hearted monster, you eventually take pity.

Cynical, skeptical, and reluctant to let the world into our living room we may be. Cold-hearted we are not.

Coincidentally, as if to balance all the shiny newness of the TV and DVR, the CD player took ill and, while we’ve shipped it off for repair, we’ve returned to listening to albums (yes, vinyl record albums) on the turntable.

We’ve started browsing used record stores again, after all these years (and kicking ourselves for the hundreds of albums we sold before we moved here, unwilling to pack and move them all another time). M and I gave each other used records for Hanukkah.

Nick Drake, The Guess Who, Warren Zevon, Jethro Tull, Neil Young, Nick Lowe, Schubert, Monteverdi, Callas. Old favorites and new-to-us albums.

No matter how many years it’s been, it turns out you never forget how to slide that album out of the liner, balancing it on your hand with one finger on the paper label and your thumb steadying the edge of the disc; gently placing the tone arm down just before the first song; reading the liner notes, in print so generously sized you don’t have to reach for the reading glasses.

It’s been like turning back a clock.

In the living room, after homework is done, the TV comes on. We’re sort of surprised that it’s not always playing actual TV programs these days. She mostly returns to her favorite DVDs, though it’s nice to have the option when the new episodes and specials are broadcasted.

And in the other room, the ell, M and I are on the sofa, the lights low, the fire ticking along in the wood stove, taking turns flipping the records over (do you remember how quickly an album side is over? how did anyone get anything done?).

It’s a mixed media world, and I’m all for it.

If you want to sing out, sing out

70 songs seemed like plenty of room for all the great ones. Turns out, it’s not nearly enough.*

I started listing all the songs I loved — songs from deep childhood, through teenagerhood, young-adulthood, adulthood, love, marriage, motherhood.

I easily got to 100.

Then M and I started to talk about his list. Dang! More great songs I’d forgotten about. Then I took a tour through our iTunes library. Rats! Even more songs. Now I had 140. Prune prune prune.

I gave myself a rule: only one song per artist, no matter how much I love that artist (Gordon Lightfoot and Nick Lowe, I’m looking at you… Richard Thompson, you seem to be an exception because you had the foresight to sing so many duets). I thought, at least, that would let me have one song from every artist I love. No such luck (Hello, Bob Marley? Where you at?!).

What I ended up with, though, works. I took it for a test drive today in the form of a playlist on my iPod while I walked the dog. I put the playlist on shuffle and started walking. I only got through 12 songs, but at each one, I thought, “I LOVE that song!” That’ll do. I cannot WAIT to put this on in the car and sing my way through it. In the end, for most of these songs, that’s what matters: does it make me want to SING?

Without any further ado, for what it’s worth, here is my list of 70 songs in honor of Desert Island Disc’s 70th anniversary. Now, won’t you please tell me some of your Desert Island Discs?!

p.s. A book? The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Volumes 1 & 2). A luxury? My bed.

American Tune | Paul Simon
Anchorage | Michelle Shocked
Ashokan Farewell | Jay Ungar
Beg Steal or Borrow | Ray LaMontagne
Betting on Trains | Hem
Big Yellow Taxi | Joni Mitchell
Black Boys on Mopeds | Sinead O’Connor
Blackbird | The Beatles
Blow Away | George Harrison
Bows of London | Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick
BulletProof | La Roux
Careless | Paul Kelly & The Messengers
Chan Chan | Buena Vista Social Club
Cico Buff | Cocteau Twins
Concerto for Violin and orchestra in D (mov 1) (mov 2) (mov 3) | Perlman: Beethoven
Crazy | Gnarls Barkley
Cruel To Be Kind | Nick Lowe
Driving Home | Cheryl Wheeler
Farewell, Farewell | Fairport Convention
Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall | Simon & Garfunkel
For Your Babies | Simply Red
Girl From the North Country | Bob Dylan
Good Morning Starshine | Oliver
Guilty By Association | Vic Chesnutt
Hello Stranger | Barbara Lewis
Hotel California | The Eagles
If I Was a Blackbird | Silly Wizard
Late Winter, Early Spring (When Everybody Goes to Mexico) | John Denver
Let the Mystery Be | Iris Dement
Madame George | Marianne Faithfull
Maracaibera | Quinteto Contrapunto
Nessun Dorma | Placido Domingo
Nights on Broadway | The Bee Gees
Persuasion | Richard Thompson and Teddy Thompson
Pour me rapprocher de Marie | Juan Diego Florez
Quitting Time | The Roches
Raindrops | Dee Clark
Rainy Night in Georgia | Brook Benton
Rock Your Baby | George McCrae
Sandy River Belle | Sharon Shannon
(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay | Otis Reading
Smalltown Boy | Bronski Beat
Someday, Someway | Marshall Crenshaw
Song For a Winter’s Night | Gordon Lightfoot
Stand Tall | Burton Cummings
Stay With Me | Lorraine Ellison
Stornelli Amorisi | Claudio Villa
Sweet City Woman | The Stampeders
Sweet Jane | The Cowboy Junkies
Sweet Talkin’ Woman | E.L.O.
Sweetest Decline | Beth Orton
The Ladies Who Lunch | Elaine Stritch
The World Turned Upside Down | Dick Gaughan
Thunderstorms and Neon Signs | Wayne Hancock
Tiny Sparrow | Peter, Paul, and Mary
Trouble | Cat Stevens
TVC 15 | David Bowie
Urge For Going | Tom Rush
Walk on By | Dionne Warwick
Walking on a Wire | Linda Thompson & Richard Thompson
When First I Came to Caledonia | Norma Waterson & Martin Carthy
When Harpo Played His Harp | Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers
When I’m At Your House | Loudon Wainright III
When Two and Two Are Five | The Story
When Ye Go Away | The Waterboys
Who Knows Where the Time Goes? | Sandy Denny
Wonder | Colin Meloy
You Are the Everything | R.E.M.
You Don’t Know Me | Ray Charles
1952 Vincent Black Lightning | Richard Thompson

*If you don’t know what this post is all about, look here.

The songs in our hearts

In an effort to bump that self-portrait down the page a bit, I give you three bits of music-related news.

First, on Monday, the cast list for the spring musical at H’s school was sent out, and H was happy to find that she is cast in the role she was hoping to get: “Soupy Sue.”

What? You don’t remember Soupy Sue from Fiddler on the Roof? Or Oklahoma? Or Cats? Me neither.

The musical is Urinetown, a show about which we know little, but we’re learning. I guess when you’re the Oldest Secondary School in Vermont, you’ve put on all the obvious productions already…

In any case, it’s very exciting to get a named character role when you’re just a seventh grader, up against high school students, so we’re all happy. We’re also happy because the name “Soupy Sue” reminds us of the song “Soupy George”, so now we wake up singing “Soupy Sue with the soup on her head” every morning.

How long we’ll remain happy having that song running through our heads is anyone’s guess.

Second, M says my self-portrait reminds him of Leonard Cohen. I thought maybe it was because he had L.C. on his mind because of the new album just out today, but… you know, he might have a point. You be the judge.

Also, my mother’s family name is Cohen. So, there you go.

Finally, you know the terrific BBC radio program, Desert Island Discs, right? You know, the interview program where the guest chooses the eight discs (songs or pieces of music) that she or he would want with them if left stranded on a desert island?

Well, the program has just celebrated its 70th birthday and, in honor of that, we thought we’d challenge ourselves and anyone who wants to join us to compile a list of 70 songs or albums that they’d take to their desert island hideaway.

Are you game?

70 songs. Or 70 albums. Or a combination of both. It’s your choice.

Music you love. Or music that evokes a strong memory. Music that you just couldn’t live without.

If you’re willing, here’s the deal:

  • Submit a comment to this post or send me an email (see the About page) to let us know that you’re joining us.
  • Compile your list by February 14 (Valentine’s Day).
  • We’ll figure out a way to share lists (check back here for news on that).

For bonus points, also name a book and a luxury you’d want to take with you (Desert Island Discs “gives you” the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible for free, so your book can be something other than those).

Break out the sunscreen and hand me one of those drinks with the little umbrella, would you please?