Written (Better) Elsewhere: Prince in Harper’s

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

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On the Radio: Jazz

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.

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Thanksgiving Songs ?

Not me, exactly

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.

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Songs of the Year—2000 How I learned to stop worrying and love Hip-Hop

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).

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My Musical Mentors: Hippie Neighbor # 1


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.

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Songs for the Indigent Accused

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.

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Growing Up and Growing Old With Tom Brady, Part 2

(This post is an insane continuation of part 1…)

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.

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Growing Up and Growing Old With Tom Brady, Part 1

Note: We take a break this weekend from political posts, apocalyptic visions, earthquakes, and Marriage Equality, to consider another personal passion (sports). Part 2 will be posted on Sunday.

Even they might be giants love Bobby Orr

People who aren’t from New England often don’t understand the peculiar madness and fierce loyalty that infects us—even those of us in exile—when it comes not just to our sports teams but to our sports figures. We live and breathe the Celtics, Bruins, Sox and Patriots (and hey, some people even pay attention to the Revolution); and we fall desperately in love with their leading figures and the unlikely heroes that sports seasons create. (Mark Bellhorn, anyone?)

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On the Radio: Grouplove

This song has been invading my ears all summer on my battery operated FM radio that I use to listen to the local alternative station at work. I was indifferent at first, as I often can be when I hear something really catchy that doesn’t seem right off have substance. At this point, I  really like this song and the band themselves seem like free loving hippie types whose goal is more to have a good time than to change the world. After what seemed like an eternity of political ads and other propaganda, this seems even better in the post election glow.

The lyrics remind me of high school and that first girl you meet with whom you are so enamored that you can barely talk  unless you are on drugs as the video for “Tongue Tied” implies. Even today, I will occasionally meet a girl who turns my normal well spoken self into a blubbering idiot who can barely construct one cohesive sentence and will either talk too much or not at all.

The first lyrics of “Take me to your best friend’s house, drive around the round about” literally flash me back to parties when parents were out of town and somebody got a couple thirty racks of Bud Light with everyone throwing up at some point. Drunken debauchery right in the middle of suburbia.  As irresponsible and downright stupid as these events could get, I feel a little nostalgia towards the naivety of youth. Am I getting old? At least we never had dub step music.

Grouplove is a young band out of Manhattan and Los Angeles, formed when the members all met each other at an artist’s retreat in Crete. It took another year but they eventually got together and played. Their drummer, Ryan Rabin, had access to a recording studio out in L.A. so the rest of the band trooped out there and recorded some music. Now here is the funny connection.

Rabin more than likely has access to a studio because his father is Trevor Rabin who was the guitarist for Yes in the 80’s and wrote their massive radio hit “Owner of  Lonely Heart”. It’s well known that I love Yes, albeit I’m not crazy about that song or that era because I am a devout fan of the 70’s progressive grandeur. I do like the connection though and even if it’s not their best song, it’s still Yes.

Grouplove is a band of dirty fun loving hippies who can party, according to the DJ on the local alt station anyway. I mostly like them because they sound different and have an offbeat look. They have a sort of jangly alt rock sound that really appeals to me.  I am sort of seeking out newer tunes as of late because a friend brought it to my attention that I listen to almost zero modern music. There must be a way to strike a balance between the old music I love and new music being put out.

Grouplove just put out another single that I really like called “Itching on A Photograph”. Sometimes in the car, I can actually sing and hit the repeating title phrase and it really makes me stoked as I am trying to learn to sing to do back-ups for the band. Grouplove keeps making these songs that evoke high school feelings for me and for the first time in my life, they are not negative ones. Maybe my growing older is a good thing? Anyway, I hope you enjoy these songs if you haven’t heard them and you will be hearing from the Brothers J again real soon.

Some more Political Songs

The Personal is Political, said Carol Hanisch. The guys in Fugazi know that

After I read my brother’s post about political songs, I knew that I couldn’t be silent. It is not that I do not like his list; in fact, I like it a whole lot. What I cannot leave untouched is his sense of disenchantment.  I think it is terrible that he feels so apolitical. I would call it tragic if it were not so common.

See, I feel  apolitical too. We live under a political system that is at best a plutocratic oligarchy where corporations are citizens. Our elections are so corrupted by money that we spend the GDP of some nations on elections. Even English speaking allies like the Canadians and British think our system is ridiculous.

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