Musical AIn’t

Boston Ballet’s Paulo Arrais and Kathleen Breen Combes. The Nutcracker!

“Okay, Alexa, play The Nutcracker Suite.”

Alexa has been really pulling out all the Christmas music options. I found this by accident. 

Alexa, my kitchen cylinder speaker, functions primarily as my DJ who takes requests. I say, “Alexa, play Erykah Badu.” And she does. (Yes, I know I said she and not it. JSYK, I’m very aware that it’s a machine, okay??!) Or I say, “Alexa, please play The Hamilton soundtrack,” and she plays it without missing her shot. 

So, how smart is this stupid cylinder? She has artists and albums down. So I tried, “Alexa, play Aretha Franklin radio,” and she did. And it was good. No. It was very good. 

I asked for Ella Fitzgerald radio, less good, but Duke Ellington radio? Most excellent. She played a great mix from the prompt Mumford and Sons radio. One of my favorites, “Alexa, play nineties music.” I got grunge and gangsta with some pop to fill the gaps. Eclectic and what I needed. 

So, after Thanksgiving–I wait until then out of a sense of decorum and because I don’t need two months of Christmas, but that’s another post–I took a chance and said, “Alexa, play Christmas music.” And I’ll be damned, but she did. 

Right out of the gate, it was Bing Crosby. She played the music I wanted. I was overwhelmed and impressed, like when the 20 questions orb got my answer right. It was magic. Beautiful and surprising magic. 

The next day, I requested Christmas music and I got “Country Christmas.” I like pretty much any kind of music. Except country. It’s not fair, I know, but I’ve tried. I get Johnny Cash, but not that guy who buys himself a whiskey and his horse a beer. But that’s not my point. 

The magic was gone. 

I thought the metal machine knew me. It didn’t. It couldn’t apply the right logic to its wrong behavior. Air was leaking out of my balloon. I coreected her, “Alexa, play classic Christmas music.”

Crap. She played classical Christmas music instead. And there were weird interloping versions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that missed my mark of specifically Christmas music. I wanted Winter Wonderland and Nat King Cole singing Adestes Fideles. This was quickly remedied by a slight syntax adjustment, asking for “Christmas classics.” Boom, Bing. But the shine was off the penny. Maybe she’ll learn. 

I’d asked my techno DJ to play The Nutcracker. She complied with the correctly ordered ballet in full. Another day, I thought the suite would make a great dinner soundtrack. And it did. For a while. 

“Wait. What’s that?”

“Whuh?” responded The Spouse. 

We both listened harder. It was definitely Tchaikovsky. It was a famous ballet. But this was the swan one, not the Christmas fantasy. 

Close, Alexa. You got that artificial down, but keep working the intelligence part. 

“Alexa, next song.” Sigh. 

Bing Bells

Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas album cover.

The baritone of Bing brings Christmas to my house. Every year, for as long as I can remember, he croons Christmas to me as I string the lights and find the exact right ornament placements on my WTF-themed Tannenbaum.

My mom had what might have been an original press of the 1955 12-inch LP. It definitely was before my time. It always was in our house. Mom said that when we were little, she’d start playing Christmas music in October so we’d know all the words to the songs by the time the tree went up after Thanksgiving. There were other Christmas albums–that Sing Along with Mitch with the printouts of lyrics we’d pass around, a jazzy compilation headed by Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack and, of course, Elvis. Her technique worked. We knew all the words.

I didn’t know that the Bing was my favorite, though, until I left home and put up my first tree in my college dorm. I went out to buy my own copy of the album. I couldn’t feel Christmas until he sang Silver Bells. I remember walking across campus at dusk with the first real December snowflakes, city sidewalks dressed in holiday style the internal soundtrack to my first adult holidays.

I bought this album first on vinyl, then on cassette tape so I could listen in the car. We added it to our old reel to reel Christmas party tape. And, a decade or more ago, I purchased it again, this time on CD. My next car didn’t have a tape player. I ripped the CD, so I had digital files first for my iPod and now on my phone.

Tonight, I asked my new friend Alexa to play it for me from Amazon Prime. She went to the depths of her collection and served up Bing and the Andrew Sisters (theirs is the only version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town that beats The E Street Band‘s). I mumbled and stumbled along to the second and third verses of a Latin hymn. I was good, as usual, on the first. And, like I have since I was a teeny-tiny tot, imagined the holidays from Irish blarney to Hawaiian greetings. I remember that year I realized that you could have Christmas without snow. I thought that all your Christmases would be white. Wouldn’t Santa be too hot? And the reindeer? Mind blown.

I’ve infected or inoculated–maybe both?–the Boyz with this set of holiday tunes. Even the Spouse adds his baritone to our home choir that accompanies Bing. Turns out this was his dad’s favorite Christmas record, too.

I was going to rant a bit about owning music, since it doesn’t seem that I can actually own it, even though I buy it. I was gong to get righteous about buying multiple soon-to-be-obsolete media just to feed my fix. And then, I realized that I don’t even feel ripped off. Now that’s some charitable Christmas spirit there.

Mele Kalikimaka, y’all.

Dub Squad

Empty swings in the schoolyard. At least it's a sunny morning.

Zoe had been hoping that her orthodontist appointment would last longer. Or that it would start late. Or that the dentist office would catch fire. Anything to delay or, even better, avoid going to school. Mom wasn’t having any of it.

But Mom was being selfish. Said she had to get back to work. Zoe felt very strongly that it would be better if they had lunch together, then maybe go shopping. She made her case smartly and forcefully. Mom was having none of it. Stupid office.

Things didn’t go so well at the end of yesterday. Somehow the day got out of hand. It was that idiot project. She was working with Emily and Emma, like they almost always did. They were all in the gifted and talented program. They were all in the orchestra. She and Emily played flute. Emma played the violin. They were all on the same soccer team. Emily’s dad coached. They were called the Purple Reign because their uniforms were violet and they loved to sing “Let’s Go Crazy” on the sidelines. It psyched them up. They all had iPhones and sent each other the most hysterical emoji messages ever. Their moms couldn’t decipher their code.

They stopped singing the songs from Frozen this year. They switched over to binge watching The Hunger Games trilogy. Katniss was more relatable than the cartoon Elsa. The archer’s moodiness was more like they sometimes felt. Alone together. They were growing up.

Yesterday was ridiculous, though. They were close to being finished with their presentation. They worked in Justin Bieber’s Sorry from YouTube. The project was on language and the concept just worked. They agreed that the dancing would be a great way to finish off. Creativity points and maybe some cool points, too. Somehow, though, everything went south.

Emily started by saying that she didn’t think they should spend so much time with a dance video. It made them seem less serious. Zoe felt stung. She was working on their choreography. It was actually her major contribution. She made different signs for them to hold and swap as they were dancing. Using the classroom speakers and a YouTube video was uncharted for the students. She had to get Ms. Waldorf’s permission. Zoe explained how they were integrating a pop video into their research. She was pretty proud of her negotiating.

Before Zoe could respond, Emma piped in her agreement. She said it in a thoughtful way, like, “I hear what you’re saying, Emily. That makes sense.” But she said it as soon as Emily finished her sentence. As if they had discussed it before. Zoe felt a bitter taste in her mouth. She took a big breath through her nose. She blinked her eyes quickly to quell the rising salt water. She exhaled and then took another deep breath.

Emma’s left eye narrowed just a bit and the one side of her mouth turned down. She was thinking for real this time. “But maybe we can keep it and just only do it for half of the time.” It was Emily’s turn to stiffen a little.

“If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine,” Zoe said with a bit more force on the fine than she was intending.

“No, no, no. I’m okay with Emma’s idea. Let’s just cut the dancing short.”

There was a bit of shortness in Emily’s response. All three girls were feeling edgy. Zoe quickly packed her notebook and markers in her backpack. She put her half-eaten Lara Bar that fell out of it’s wrapper in there, too. She didn’t care that it would be gross. She was ready to go. She needed to go.

“Okay. I just remembered I needed to see Mr. Ripley. See you guys tomorrow.” She stood up and shook her stuff to the bottom of her bag, awkwardly zipping it as she walked away. She hoped that they didn’t see the back of her hand run across her eyes. Her last few steps out the door were a sprint.

She was quiet at dinner. She couldn’t stop replaying the conspiracy in her head. Why were they ganging up on her? They had been working on this plan for weeks and this was the first she heard about “too much music.” When she thought the words “too much music” she thought them in a sarcastic baby voice.

And this was after she cleared it with the teacher. After she made the signs. After she figured out how they would use them to “convey their educational messages in an authentic fashion to their peers.” Those words got her the approval. A flare of pride pushed away her gloom.

Were Emily and Emma mad at her? Did she do something to make them mad? Why were they rejecting her? She started to feel a tennis ball sized mass in the middle of her chest rise to the back of her throat. She swallowed it back down before it reached her eyes. Mom started to ask her something but her brother and his friend came home and the dog went off.

Zoe put her plate and silverware in the dishwasher and decided to call it a night. She walked upstairs. She stared at the foam from the toothpaste leaking from the edges of her mouth. Like a sad clown face. She felt a little sorry for the girl in the mirror. She downed a glass of water and watched a little water drip down her chin. It spotted her t-shirt. She pulled on her favorite nightshirt and curled in bed with an unopened book. She gazed absently at the ceiling, her hand resting on the cover of her book, her mind spinning through the end of the school day and cycling through emotions of confusion, anger, sadness and doubt.

Now she had to go back to school and she didn’t know if her friends were her friends. She made herself stop. Mom pulled in front of the school. If Zoe looked at her, she would have seen her mother’s head tilted to one side, studying her daughter with pronounced lines on her forehead. But Zoe had the car door slammed behind her–not slammed hard but with a little extra force–before her mother could finish her assessment.

Crap. It was lunchtime. Everyone would be in the cafeteria. She didn’t want to go in there, but after she checked in with the school secretary, she had no where else to go. She grabbed a tray and kept her head down as she approached the food kiosk.

She put her tray down on a table and felt someone sticking an earphone in her ear. She heard the tinny sound of a song. Emily was attached to the end of the white wire and held the other bud next to her own ear. She looked at Zoe all wild-eyed and crooned, “Is it too late now to say sorry?” Emma was horse stomping her right foot in rhythm to the song. She finished with her best Michael Jackson flourish, which meant she lost her balance. While she did stagger, she stayed standing. The three of them doubled over. Zoe’s snort was followed by another round of shrieks.

Those two Ems knew her well. And, they were exactly right about cutting some of the music at the end. In fact, all was right.

Roux the Day

A worn wooden spoon on a worn wooden cutting board.

She stood over the stove stirring. Stirring, stirring, stirring. She wasn’t giving up.

She was learning to cook. It was a grownup thing to do, and she was ready to be a grownup. She outfitted her kitchen with a few pieces of mid-priced cookware to join the battered pots that had been her stepmom’s. She was addicted to cooking shows and studied the mis en place and vino in mano of her favorite chefs on her favorite shows.

Between HGTV, YouTube and prodigious brunches around town she was growing her skills, her palette and her repertoire. She fancied herself the foodie friend. She had started inviting friends to stand up cocktails with cute things on skewers and bites on those silly appetizer spoons. She graduated to hosting her own brunches filled with fancy french toasts, egg custards, salads and mimosas. Last year she did Thanksgiving for the friends who couldn’t get home. The boxed wines she served were the good ones. Everyone said she did great.

She was ready to cross into new territory. The turkey dinner was a win, but she was ready for something from her own inspiration. She decided that she’d host her alumni squad for a fun dinner party after the game. Her solution? Gumbo.

Gumbo was like chili only more exotic. Like chili, it could make ahead of time, it didn’t need extensive staging and it was hearty. She figured she’d serve gumbo, a goat cheese and pear salad with candied pecans that Giada makes and a baguette from the local bakery. She’d lay out some of Emeril’s “kicked up” olives, that fancy cheese with honey, breadsticks and beers to hold her guests while she warmed up the stew. She was hoping to remind people of New Orleans. Her idea was to have a party that was theme-y without really having a theme. She expected maybe ten or so.

She hadn’t made gumbo before, but didn’t consider it beyond her domain. The ingredients weren’t unusual–save the okra, but okra is a vegetable. She hadn’t been challenged by a vegetable yet. She felt confident. She got up early.

First up, the roux, the key to an authentic gumbo. Ingredient-wise it’s just oil and flour. Not too complicated. All she had to do was heat it and stir it until it was a deep chocolate brown. It seemed triflingly simple. Stand and stir. And stir.

After about five minutes she could see the color change. She nodded to herself. Something was happening. She figured a few more minutes. All she could hear was the spoon on the pan. Her phone should be charged by now. She grabbed it off the charger in her bedroom. She swiped around until she found an appropriate Spotify list–1,600 songs from New Orleans. That was good for mood setting.

She walked back into the kitchen to a scorched pan. The roux was burned. She had stepped away for two minutes, okay, maybe five or six, but it’s supposed to cook for like fifteen. Crap! She only had one big pot. She had to wait for it to cool before she could clean it out.

She fiddled with her playlist and made sure that her phone was connected to the speaker before she started again. She was glad she started early. She smiled and thought if it were later she’d have some cooking wine. Maybe it was better to be stone cold sober. She filled up her coffee mug, swirling in some of that hazelnut creamer. She dried the pan with a dish towel and put it on the burner to remove the last traces of water. She was ready.

Roux take two.

She measured out the oil and the flour and began the stirring process. She knew now that this concoction was a demanding master. She kept her spoon moving through the flour and the oil. It swelled and bubbled a little. She kept stirring. It went from vanilla to beige. More stirring as it passed from beige to taupe. It started to smell a little nutty. That was a good sign according to her recipe. She stirred and stirred. She swept the spoon in figure eights. She squiggled it through the mixture. She sipped her coffee from the cup held in her left hand as her right hand pushed the the darkening roux back and forth. She wasn’t stopping this time.

She had massaged the stuff in the pan for fifteen minutes. It seemed stalled. It wasn’t getting darker. It was stuck on caramel colored but she needed dark chocolate cake batter colored. She turned the heat up to make something happen. And it did. It went from a nutty smell to the stench of old fire pit. A few curse words sputtered from her lips.

Ruined roux number two.

She inhaled long. She exhaled from her nose and mouth at the same time. She needed to get this done and cooked before she left for the game, so she didn’t have time to get frustrated. She waited, again, for the pot to cool. It was a good thing, because she needed to cool, too.

She looked at the clock. She was running low on time. She googled “roux” and looked through a few of the entries. She found one from a site called BlueBayouCrazyCajunCooking that said it takes a half hour to get the right shade of chocolate and to lower the heat toward the end to avoid burning.

Well, she definitely knew how to burn it. She had two techniques for that. She shook her shoulders out and switched her coffee out for a coke. She measured out the flour and the oil and began the process again, hoping that the third time was the charm.


Old Road is Rapidly Ageing

OMG! Is that Diana Ross singing

It was an enormous party. It was part celebration and part catharsis. Ingredients for a good soiree. After twelve years wandering, wondering and wallowing, they had won.

I sat there on the heavy blanket, one of the carpets leftover from The Spouse’s single days when a housemate tried to conjure rent money by selling the junk blankets from his ancestral home to yuppies in the upscale markets. He did alright. 

The blanket was a critical barrier against the cold January sod. It was both a tablecloth and a canvas to arrange the Cheerios in my pocket–and those in my bag and in the sandwich bag and in the other pockets–in different puzzles to keep the bitty boy entertained. And snacked up. A full child is a content child. 

We were surrounded by hippies that hadn’t quite aged out. Okay, they aged out, but Baby Boomers would never admit to that. For evidence note that they still sing the self-hating anthem in which they “hope to die before they got old.” They are old. They’re not jumping on ice flows. Seems like some cognitive dissonance on fleek. 

Why don’t you all fffffffffffffff-ade away?

I think that that stutter was for a very different eff-word. But I digress. Back to the show.

The stage was the Lincoln Memorial. An oversized stone-faced icon sat staid, unmoved and unmovable behind the performers. The disciples that had come out of the desert lined the ledges of the reflecting pool and fanned out to the hinter roads.

Some had been there the day that Dr. King exhorted us to be our best selves. Many others wished that they had been, but were grown and prosperous enough to make sure they didn’t miss out this time. That cohort was checking off an item on their political-moral-ceremonial bucket list. Only the left would do this, the privileged left that benefitted from education and draft deferments. And then without any apparent irony sang that they wished they were dead. Baby boomers. Ugh. 

Of course there was a brave left that were once peaceniks, activists and, some, hippies. Then there was the more populous faction who wished that they were hippies–and even had imagineered stories to support that narrative. But the reality was that at the time they were worried about their futures. No tattoos, no extra piercings, no inhaling, no arrests. People who wanted nothing on their permanent record. Go ask Alice, when she was just small.

Michael Bolton sang his blue-eyed soul, and Kenny G blew his little soulless whistle. The crowd went wild over those curly coiffed stars of that time. Me? I rearranged the Cheerios for another round of war. I was waiting for something better and had a bitty boy to entertain. Then it happened.

It was the Queen. The Queen of Soul, Aretha, entered stage left and saved the day. As she does. She brought her authentic self. I stood up with the bitty boy in my arms and taught him to spell. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. She sang from my hometown, from Motown. She brought church and people of color and working people to the Mall. And it was good. I could have gone home then.

It was chilly and I snuggled up next to the bitty boy. He snuggled back and I pulled out the secret sandwiches. Rule one of successful parenting at an event or trip? Hold back some surprises. Hold them back so tightly that you sometimes bring them home. Keep your powder dry until you are on the precipice of too late. 

Then they all rose, as one. As if at church. And I covered my ears with my hands as a reedy phlegmatic voice pierced the January afternoon. I turned to the standing Spouse. “Who’s that?” He looked at me incredulous. It was Dylan.

I stayed seated on our blanket, divvying out a quarter of a PPJ on wheat bread and a small handful of goldfish crackers to the bitty boy. I punctured the top of a juice box. The Spouse may have been a bit embarrassed at my nonchalance, but I didn’t care about that artist. He was not from my time. 

But the crowd was awed to take in his poetry and mouth harp. I didn’t know his music, except when Jimmy covered it, so I don’t know what he sang. But me and the bitty boy didn’t spell have anything to spell. 

That’s my Bob Dylan story. I remembered it because he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature and doesn’t have enough manners to return the awards Committee’s invitation. 

You know, Aretha would. 

Later on we walked into one of the many entertainment tents erected on the field on the mall. The tempo was up and the guitars were prodigious. In the center, surrounded by the mariachi band was a woman circled by colorful rings down to the floor on her traditional skirt. It was Linda Rondstat, who had found herself after a career of starvation and exploitation that brought her fame and financial success. This afternoon she was singing most beautifully. She channeled memories of music from her childhood. And it was authentic. And it was good.

She would be polite, too. 

Dylan’s biggest sin wasn’t going electric. It was going full hubris. It’s not cool to be rude. Especially if someone is giving you snaps. 

But ultimately, I didn’t care then and I don’t really care now. And I’m going to find Rondstat’s catalog for streaming. Respect. 

Feed Your Head

Guitar playing at a party. It was fun.

Oh jeez. It was the damn Olds again.

They’re the ones that throw the parties. They have the green. They cater the pulled pork and brisket and whatever else their food intolerant old friends require. But back to the pork and brisket. There’s coleslaw and super bacon-ey baked beans and the most decadent macaroni and cheese that was drawn from a secret pond by nymphs who loved butter and eggs and noodles and cheese and more cheese. And a bit more cheese.

There was salad, too, with ranch dressing and a gross mistake of a vinaigrette. The latter was only drizzled on the greens by the aforementioned food intolerant old friends of the Olds or by those who were late and found no ranch dressing left. But the latecomers didn’t really care. They may have been high.

The Olds relived their youths a bit by bringing on a keg or two. There was a half-barrel of Bud and a quarter-barrel of some fancy beer that tasted of tar and citrus rinds. Youth friends were grateful for the former. Olds’ friends were impressed by the latter but drank the former. It was lite.

Except for the females Olds. They drank “wine.” But it was so gross. It tasted of a time in a frigid midwestern winter when your tongue got stuck on the metal swingset or like a big bowl of berries that went bad and were tossed into a pile of loose tobacco or like something that tasted sweet going down but after a few too many clear plastic cupfuls came back up full of bitter bile.

Under the wooden beamed canopy at the party section of the state park, seated on the picnic table facing out, and with sneakers or work boots tapping on the concrete slab defining the social space, sat the uncle. Skinny and scraggly with black-rimmed glasses that would be considered hipster on a younger man and a camo colored trucker hat with a commercial symbol that none of the youths recognized, he had his guitar on his knee. He picked it fiercely and expertly, his thinning ponytail switching back and forth in time. His baby brother sat next to him.

The “baby” was almost six inches taller and was holding on to his hair. So far. His mustache was an impressive, slightly abbreviated, horseshoe. His guitar was on his knee. He hung back. His brother took the lead. Big brother leaned over to help his middle-aged sibling get his chords right. Honestly he had it, but his big brother always made him nervous. He could play much better without him, but his brother also made him play better.

It was a family event with live music. The music was played more for the sake of nostalgia, of the times when their entire family would pull out all types of instruments for the funnest jam session. Today, the draw of Dixie Chicken, Give Me Three Steps and Ring of Fire drew some of the guests like bugs swirling around a lamp. Not many, but those who fondly remembered the live music of their own juvenescence. They grinned, swigged from their solo cups and sang, too.

The Youths were doing their youthful things. Shotgunning beers, sneaking to the outskirts to smoke, eating more BBQ, throwing a sports ball and flirting.

The Olds continued to play.

The big baby brother shouted for his daughter. “We’re doing your song next.” Her mother skitted off to go find her. She was on the swingset. She was flirting. “Dad says your song is coming next.”

There was a worry, like it was live TV and they had to get another segment in before the commercial break. It was driven by the baby brother’s deference. His brother was the band leader, and he called the next song. Outsiders would not understand his anxiety. He really didn’t either, but he felt it.

She hurried but was not hurried as she grabbed her guitar case from underneath the picnic table. The “band” was on break, so she had enough time to fiddle with the knobs on the neck of her guitar. She handed the instrument to him. She could tune it, but he had the experience. After he was done, he double checked with his brother. No sour notes.

The skinny, scraggly man nodded then tapped his foot one, two, three, four and strummed the intro with a 4/4 beat. Three fingers, three strings along two frets. Fingers shifted for the next chord, and they were all in time. The leader looked up and signaled another round of intro and the dad translated the signal into words for his daughter. He didn’t need to, she knew to follow the band leader.

The brothers had been singing together for forty some years. They naturally harmonized, their intonations in sync. She brought a richness to the chorus with her strong alto. She weaved her voice in and around her father’s and then her uncle’s, holding her notes and joining their nasal twang as they drew out the words.

There was a baby in a stroller who clapped and gurgled along, his mother swaying back and forth, peaking into the pram and making big eyes and forming her mouth like a life saver. That was meant to encourage the baby. Grandma came and released the baby. She twirled him around. It was his first dance to live music.

The boy who was flirting with the daughter at the swingset sat on the top of a picnic table, keeping her in sight. The rest of the youths found themselves with fresh beers, singing along and throwing out requests to the “band.” And so the party tradition passed to another generation. Score one for the Olds. And the Youths.

You Don’t Really Care For Music

I like music. Sometimes I sing along. Sometimes I listen. Sometimes I think. Sometimes I escape. Frequently it’s a combo box.

I like pop music. I like hip hop. I like many jazz styles. I like rock, gospel and classical (including opera). There’s even metal I like. I like zydeco, Irish, polka and other traditional music. I like Bollywood tracks and Broadway musicals. I like rhyme and rhythm and stories.

I don’t like all of it. But I like a lot of it.

I like it because it has a crazy hook that I am programmed to sing along. I like it because it tells me about someone’s life. I like it because I can relate to that life, or because I can’t. I like it because it makes me dance. I like it because it makes me feel something–joy, loss, sadness, hope. And, like I said, not all of these likes at the same time.

I know that there is an industry built around music. That folks make money off my likes. This doesn’t mean that it’s not art. It also doesn’t mean that it is. This doesn’t mean it is worthy. Or unworthy. You decide.

There are pieces that make up music. There are the lyrics, the melody, the instruments, the beat, the vocal, the backup vocal, and effects. Effects that make echos, that cut the music to drive it, that make some instruments louder and others recede.

Leonard Cohen wrote a beautiful song, Hallelujah. It is such a beautiful song that even when I sing it it sounds alright. From the lips of Jeff Buckley, though, especially as accompanied by his weeping electric guitar, it is the human experience. It is full of spirituality, of sadness and despair and, somehow, of hope. From the first intake and exhale of breath to the final sweet ooooh and guitar chord, it is art. It is Buckley adding his art to the art of the composer. It is good.

There are 240 words in the song. I didn’t count every hallelujah for this exercise, although each one is important and right for the piece. But for the purpose today, it wouldn’t be fair.

“What purpose is that?” you ask.

There is another song, one that is not as moving but is a better than decent club song. This Is What You Came For is a producer’s song. It’s the beat, the tempo the mix. The vocals are used as an instrument, so the lyrics are a tool for the singer to perform. There are sixty words to this song, not including all the You, oh, oh, you, oh, oh‘s of which there may be dozens.

The lyrics aren’t awful, just not interesting. I mean, if you want awful, try and make it through Juicy J— but I gotta give it to that rapper, he spits over some great beats.

My point? In some tunes, the vocals recede like a rhythm guitar or the sound of a beeper in Where It’s At. The words are not what makes the music. They are a part of the whole that the producer weaves into a mix designed, in this case, to get you to the dance floor for some writhing. This Is What You Came For does that, propelled by the vocals of Rihanna looping again and again over the electronic house beat. It’s made for dancing. Any singing along is more akin to dancing with your mouth. It’s dance music.

My real point? Shut up Taylor Swift. You’re 60 word contribution was noted. You are no Leonard Cohen in this instance. So just shut up. And cash your check.

Sweet, Sour & Hot Sauce

Beyonce fooled you again. (from Telephone video)

Ring the alarm! Beyoncé is black!

It’s been creeping up on white people for a while, but they can no longer deny.

Sure, there were early signs, but many white people refused to acknowledge them until it was too late. [I see YOU Piers Morgan.] They bought her music on CDs and iTunes and just added a Tidal subscription to their bills, bills, bills for her newest visual album.

But in people’s sweet dreams, Beyoncé is simply an American sweetheart. We might have a black president, but a black America’s sweetheart? Her white fans had their flawless evidence.

Single ladies, put a ring on it.

For example, in her Dreamgirls role, she famously starved herself, erasing her beautiful, bootylicious curves to portray a teen diva. She was just like a waif-like Audrey Hepburn, right? Also, isn’t she crowned by a halo of blonde hair? And isn’t she besties with whitest and most clueless diva ever, Gwyneth P? They were even sighted at a Coldplay show together. That’s super white.

Hot sauce?  Hot sauce looked like a total false alarm when Hillary Clinton–with her awkward inability to say her name–also claimed to never leave home without it. That could be dismissed as a Southern thing. Guess I missed the image of Scarlett and Melanie as single ladies hoisting bottles of Tabasco out of their bags before the burning of Atlanta.

Beyonce? She Flawless!Her shocked white fans started on their path to resentment when Bey called herself a feminist, like she runs the world? But as long as she was a naughty girl riding her surfboard–a definite white Beach Boys’ reference, right?–and writhed drunk in love on the floor her agency as an independent woman could be dismissed, too.

Beyonce flips out.Then, out of the blue, she drops her new album. While there is definitely universality in her countdown of shared human experiences of intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope, redemption, she also excludes.

She might tell a different story if she were a boy, but she focuses on her own experience as a woman. She is a mother to a daughter. She is a daughter to a mother who, too, was a survivor of marital infidelity. She works words and music along her journey beyond the poison of resentment that many women have faced. But she goes further into her own experience–that of a black woman, in formation with other black women and their unique experiences of love, loss and tenacity. And, white America, you aren’t with that because that message is not for you. It is for her and her sisters. You feel left out.
Foxy Cleopatra throwing some shade.

Oh, that sneaky Beyoncé. She made you all crazy in love with her because of her talent and hard work–and because she didn’t talk too much. You liked that she was empowering but not scary. And now, after sucking you in, she goes ahead and scares the living shit out of you. She is provocatively political. She made you look when you weren’t intending.  Don’t hurt yourself, but listen. Move your body and embrace what makes these women beautiful.

Beyonce telling us.You go, Beyoncé. That’s a tall, sweet glass of lemonade I see you sipping. I know you weren’t intending for the white folk to be all sour and salty, but it’s up to them to make their own lemonade this time. XO
Beyonce runs this world as an independent woman.

Tomorrow’s news: the irreplaceable Prince rocking an Afro? Yeah, déjà vu, he’s black, too.

Bam Ba Lam

Old lady singing into a large microphone

“Oh, God!” said my high-school boyfriend.

Me: What?
HSBF: You know that song, ‘bam ba lam’?
Me: Yeah?
HSBF: It came on the radio today and MY MOM WAS SINGING IT!!!

Oh. The, Horror.

It was a little funny, except that I never met his mom. So I didn’t have much perspective. Come to think about it, I never met his dad. Or his brothers. In 30ish months of “going together,” with our ancestral homes separated by about a mile, I never met his people.

My mom introduced me to the Beatles. She would play Meet the Beatles and Introducing The Beatles. She had a bunch of old records we’d listen to, like Limbo Rock. I grew up with people listening to music. People had records and also listened to music on the radio. And sang along.

My folks gave me my first AM radio when I was about seven. I used to listen to CKLW [the motor ciiitttttyyy] like church. Detroit radio introduced me to the Stones, Supremes, Little Stevie, Smokey, Aretha, Clapton/Cream/Stevie W/Traffic, Zeppelin, The Who, Kiss, Prince, George Clinton and GrandMaster Flash.

When I was ten, I got my first turntable. It also had a radio that included FM! I bought my first LP–Elton John’s Greatest Hits. In high school I had a job in a record store. I always had music on–in the house, in the car, via my portable FM radio and eventually on my boombox.

On school mornings, I’d get up, pad into the kitchen and turn on the radio to eat breakfast. We’d listen to the AOR station (I’ll be the roundabout). I guess my Mom listened. She didn’t turn it off or tell us to turn it down. She’d be in the room, so I guess she listened or at least heard.

So, like who cares that your mom knows your song?

Maybe that’s why I didn’t know his mom and family. He cared that his mom knew his song. As if only we teens owned the public airwaves. As if it was unacceptable that his mom was part of that public. What if he was embarassed of his family? I didn’t know them so maybe they were embarrassing. That said, they couldn’t be much worse than mine, and he was over our house all the time. What if WE were the embarrassing ones–lacking even the most basic self-awareness that we were embarrassing?

I know that I resemble an embarrassment to my spawn. Rolling into the Boys and Girls Club after summer camp with Get Low blasting from the minivan is certainly cringe-worthy. Or when a millennial colleague caught me on my headphones and asked me what I was listening to. Don’t judge an old book by it’s cover, I say.

So I’m thinking about HSBF’s mom, enjoying music. And hope that she looked like this:

And for the record, these Black Betty induced memories were triggered as the Big Guy blared it from his phone, followed by some Creedence. He ain’t no fortunate son. He came by it honest.

Bang a Gong

big ole gong

There is ritual at the chemo bar. Like any neighborhood joint.

You heard about the place. It has it’s own je ne sais quoi. The first time you walk in there are a bunch of regulars. You think they are looking at you, especially since you are obviously–in your mind–new. Do you go up to the bar? Sit down? It’s not a really big deal, but you hesitate.

Then someone always takes care of you, and you get an idea of the rhythm.

No idiots. No bombs. No shooters. No specials. No politics.
Relax. Drink. Be cool. Behave.

My chemo bar is full of alot of regulars, but the bartenders nurses do their best to make you at home.

There is never any rush at the chemo bar. You choose your seat and someone brings your specialty mix. People are lined up around the perimeter in their heated chairs, some with companions, some alone. Some come in to get a shots or advice. Those are the seats away from the windows.

At first, it seems like a melancholy joint. There’s sick people getting sicker to get better. (Yes, chemo is like being hit by a truck.) And while this is an exclusive guest list, nobody wanted to be waived in.

You wonder if you’re supposed to make eye contact? Nod? So you try it. You start to recognize other folks who recognize you. People nod back. Some smile. You see how the bartenders nurses not only support the patients, but each other. Folks cut up. A little. Okay, some folks cut up.

When you have your last chemo infusion at my chemo bar you can bang the gong. I have seen it done. There is a sense of #winning when someone who has been through grueling treatment is done. Some people are there every week for a few months. Many of them following surgery and maybe radiation.

My last of three chemo treatments was Monday. My former Vegas EMT and current biker chick bartender nurse said I could bang the gong. But I have surgery next. I am not done yet. I didn’t want to make the gods angry by taking an early victory lap.

But, I am glad to have the infusions behind me. I’ll be back for bloodwork for the next few weeks. But under my breath so as not to offend the powers, I will be singing this, since it somehow makes sense.

Well you’re dirty and sweet, clad in black
Don’t look back and I love you
You’re dirty and sweet, oh yeah
Well you’re slim and you’re weak
You’ve got the teeth of a hydra upon you
You’re dirty sweet and you’re my girl.

Yeah. Teeth of a hydra. Bring it on. Bang a gong.