Hilton Als, in the December 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine, offers up “I am Your Conscious, Your Love: A Paean to Prince”. The article navigates the dynamic between adoring writer and iconoclastic performer as both grow and respond to the demands of the world(s) around them. The article both educates about Prince and helps to (re)-create the world in which Prince was received and enjoyed.
Now, before I get to the article you might be wondering why I am reading Harper’s . If you don’t know the periodical, you should try it out (and if you do, you’re probably not wondering why…). It is easily one of the best written, best edited and most contemplative mainstream publications in the English language.
But, as always, my reading of this (probably elitist and left-leaning) monthly has deep roots in personal history (perhaps also anticipating my openness to this particular article). Our late father was a voracious reader. We always had subscriptions to weekly news magazines that my father referred to as rags with terrible writing, good for pictures and browsing at best. He extended this snobbery to newspapers. The local daily was rubbish. The closest acceptable newspaper was the Boston Globe.
(That still didn’t stop my father from getting in a car accident while attempting to negotiate cigarette, coffee and the local daily at an intersection. He also feared not having something to read so much that we used to get into terrible fights over merely possessing Newsweek. Eventually, we actually had to get two subscriptions.)
I never really thought much about this video. The song? Can’t forget it
So, a few months back the Family J moved from one city to another in our gargantuan state. It wasn’t as much of a life change as one might think since I had been commuting between the cities and basically existing part time in each place. Now the wife and I work in the same city and spend (relatively) less time in automobiles.
I still drive around a lot with our offspring; and they still love music. In our old town, the local alt-rock station was my go-to choice every time we got in the car. In this city, the FM dial is dominated by bad hip-hop stations, country, Christian stations, Spanish-language radio and JACK FM. The radio landscape is so barren that I cannot even choose six stations available for my pre-set dial (I can’t even conceive of filling the FM2 list as well).
There is one notable exception to this wasteland. There is a local, listener supported jazz station that plays the best selection of jazz I have ever found in one location. The programming ranges from early be-bop well through modern fusion and afro-cuban jazz. I can’t get enough of this station.
I don’t really ever write about jazz because I find myself to be so ignorant about so much of it. Liking jazz is kind of like having a taste for scotch: you can know some specific preferences and dislikes, but just when you think you have a handle on the issue, you see a scotch menu and 95% of the entries are a mystery to you.
As we move into the end of November, we approach one of the most complex, over-determined, and potentially disappointing times of the year. The holiday season. What other period packs three major holidays, constant excuses for indulgences of all kinds, and some of the most memorable and execrable music of the year into 45 days?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a total curmudgeon or a Grinch. (Well, I may be a little bit of a Grinch. But I am not a Scrooge.) There are things I completely adore about the holiday season. Reuniting with family and friends is nice (even if at times stressful). Eating and drinking too much is not hard for me. But there are a few things about this time of year that drive me crazy.
Songs of the Year: “Yellow” Coldplay; “The Next Episode” Dr. Dre
Runners-Up: “Get Off”, The Dandy Warhols; “The Real Slim Shady” Eminem
Honorable Mentions: “Boyz N’ the Hood”, Dynamite Hack
The year with big releases by Radiohead and Greenday as well as by tertiary punk bands like Blink-182, Sum 41 and Good Charlotte saw the charts dominated by acts from the 1980s (U2, Bon Jovi and Madonna) even as other bands released exciting albums ( Bright Eyes’ Fever and Mirrors, The White Stripes’ De Stijl, Coldplay’s Parachute, The Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving, WyClef’s mediocre Ecleftic, The Dandy Warhols’ Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia and Outkast’s Stankonia).
The only people who influenced my musical knowledge and appreciation more than my parents and my brother were my hippie neighbors. Until recently, the house the Elder J and I grew up in was the only house in the midst of a few thousand acres of old logging land that had largely grown back. Now, there are some encroaching neighbors along the road and elsewhere but until about 8 years ago, this was our domain. It was so private, that not only did my father routinely walk the dog in his underwear when we ere very young, I also used to shoot cans with my .22 from my bedroom window.
As I was walking my dog during an unseasonably warm November afternoon, a song came on my iPod that brought me back in time for about two years. It was a song that was introduced to me by a smartass tattooed felon who thought he was far more badass than he actually was. I started thinking about my previous job and the people I encountered, which then led me to think of songs that reminded me of them. With a long story before the songs, here it is:
After I graduated from law school and passed the bar exam, I started my professional career in the same cowboy town in the desert of western Colorado where I did a summer internship between my second and third years of law school.
I was both happy and frustrated to be returning to this place–the only semi-civilized area between Denver and Salt Lake City (each 4 hours away in opposite directions.) I knew my then-boyfriend (now-husband) wouldn’t be able to be successful employment-wise in the area, so I was hesitant to return. This was a place where if people were lucky, they had a GED. However, I knew I could get some great experience and I was heading back to a place I was semi-familiar with having spent 3 months there. I convinced the guy that it was a great career move for me, he agreed and away we went. When I arrived, I joined a group of attorneys who lived to fight the Man and spent countless hours representing the (wrongly) accused poor folks of the dusty, deserty town, for nothing but a mere pittance.
Tom Brady is now is his 13th year in the NFL. I worry about every change in his offensive line. I watch every scramble for a sign of weakness. When the Patriots lose, I wonder if this is the game that heralds the beginning of the end. I fret over him as I do not even for myself. And, I know I am not alone in this.
We are all young. For a time.
But when Tom Brady was young, there was magic in the air. It almost seemed like the sudden excellence of the Patriots raised the tenor of the entire region. The Red Sox were transformed and it even looked for a moment that we would have a president from Massachusetts in 2004. Of course, most of this was simple escapism—I had my head in the sand to avoid the terrible truth of two wars, a nation speeding off into some of its worst inequalities in its history and a graduate career that at times seemed stalled and going nowhere.