Songs of the Year—1995

Must’ve been mid-afternoon
I could tell by how far the child’s shadow stretched out and
he walked with a purpose
in his sneakers, down the street
he had, many questions
like children often do
–Dishwalla

Songs of the Year: “Hell”, Squirrel Nut Zippers; “Counting Blue Cars”, Dishwalla

Runners-up: “Friends of P”, The Rentals; “Lump”, Presidents of the United States of America

Honorable Mentions: “Good”, Better than Ezra; “You Oughta Know” Alanis Morrissette

Not every year is dominated by songs that came out in that year; in the same way, the memory of a year will rarely be dictated by the songs you would like to have listened to or even the albums you actually bought. 1995 was still the year of Alanis (before she felt the need to thank India); none of us cared that she didn’t seem to understand irony or why one hand was in her pocket.

(Best suggestions from my friends at the time: (1) she’s hiding a roach; (2) sex toy in her hand; (3) she has an old woman’s hand and if it sees the light of day she’ll suddenly become an octogenarian; (4) she doesn’t have a hand!)

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The Shows We’ll Never See

The Younger J and I are true believers in the live show—when it is possible nothing matches the experience of seeing a band perform. Now, while at times the experience is sublime, at other times, it can also have a deleterious effect on your view of a band. Despite the outcome, however, the experience of witnessing a musical performance and, more importantly, absorbing the reaction of other audience members as well, alters your relationship with the music irrevocably.

(I was not a Bare Naked Ladies fan (back in the Gordon days) until I saw them live; their energy and improvisation made me respect a band I would have otherwise ignored. Conversely, my heart was broken at a Dandy Warhols show, but that is a story for another time…)

These days, I leave most of the concert going to my brother. I am old an ornery: most good shows start after my bedtime . (Old, Old Man.) But I do have some experience to draw on: my first show ever was Jerry Garcia; my last concert was the Austin City Limits. There are many and varied acts between.

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New Music: Saintseneca, “Happy Alone”

“He who can talk to himself, will have no need of another’s conversation”
qui secum loqui poterit, sermonem alterius non requiret
Marcus Tullius Cicero

 

A few days ago, my phone pinged, I looked down and I received the following tweet from my old college friend and our sometime contributor, Another J.

 

 

Another J has known me just slightly longer than my wife has and since we were in a band together and have shared music for over a decade, he knows my tastes pretty well.  He nailed it with this one. I hear some Rogue Wave in the vocals, some Typhoon in the song structure, and some wild vowels that remind me of Frightened Rabbit.  There are male and female vocals. They use acoustic guitars in angry ways. There are backing vocals that go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and they use a banjo in a non-abusive way (unlike, say, Mumford and Sons).

 

Here’s the lead single from the album:

 

 

The only problem is that the album comes out April 1st. I want it now! I listened to the whole album through NPR’s First Listen and I don’t think that this is the best track. It is actually a little conventional–in the way the Decemberists are in the song “July, July”, which is a great song, but rather poppy in comparison to the rest of their ouvre.  Here’s another Saintseneca track with an acoustic bass and some strangeness that reminds me again of some odd combination of the Decemberists and the early days of Arcade Fire (if they unplugged).

 

“Uppercutter”

The facial hair kind of kills me. I don’t feel hip enough to pre-order this album, but screw it. I’ll do it anyway.

 

Also coming in April: some new and fresh posts. I promise.

Luck of the Irish…Music?

 

I realize I’m several days past St Patrick’s day but I really wasn’t inspired to write this post until this past weekend. On Friday evening, my husband and I bought a pizza for our daughter and her babysitter, drove 45 minutes to our state capital and attended a concert given by the Irish Rovers.

Earlier this month I heard on our local NPR station that they’d be stopping in our small New England state during the “farewell to rovin” tour. I decided I would buy tickets for us to attend the show as my husband grew up listening to their music and he has been singing the same songs to our little one since she joined us in this world nearly 2 years ago. Prior to the concert, to fully embrace our first date night in months, we went to a bar that I hadn’t been to since my days in law school. We had a couple beers, smoked some cigarettes (gasp!) and met several people who were also attending the show. (Most of whom were decades older than us.).It was fun to talk to other folks as excited about the show as we were.

The concert was wonderful, the group played for about 2 hours. The band formed in the early 1960s and has changed over the years and replaced members who have moved on to greener pastures or to the great pub in the sky, but the current accordion player is one of the original rovers. They played new songs and old songs, well known hits and less known drogues. People of all ages enjoyed the show, multiple generations were in attendance.

When it was all over, the band sat in the lobby to do a meet and greet. We were lucky to speak to all of the members of the group and we bought a compilation of their greatest hits and they all signed the CD cover. (What’s worth noting here is that neither my husband nor myself could remember the last time we bought an actual CD!!!!) My husband told the lead singer how much it meant to him that he saw them play, as their music had come full circle in his life with his father singing their songs to him and he now sings them to our child. The lead singer seemed very flattered and moved by this comment and took a few minutes to chat with us which really was nice.
It was great to hear some live Irish music again. I have had the opportunity to travel to been to Ireland a couple of times as a good friend of mine from college pursued her PhD in Dublin so I had a free place to stay and an insider to show me the city. On each of my trips we frequented many pubs and I got to hear a lot of real authentic Irish music which was a real treat. So anyway, on our drive home from the Irish Rovers show that evening (around 11pm–the latest we’d been out in years!!!) I got to thinking about bands from Ireland and wanted to write a post about them. Groups like U2 and the Cranberries came to mind (those are the obvious ones), but I did a little bit of research as to other Irish bands. I’ll use the most well known songs of the Irish groups I chose just to make the list more familiar and thus maybe more enjoyable. Let’s get started.

U2: “Where the Streets Have no Name”

So clearly we can’t discuss bands from Ireland without mentioning the powerhouse of U2. The Joshua Tree is in my top 3 favorite albums ever and would be one of the CDs I bring to the desert island should I ever become stranded! This is one of U2’s most famous songs and is the first track on The Joshua Tree. The song was released in 1987 and has been used frequently in sports, including on a commercial for the 2010 World Cup and as the entrance song for the Baltimore Ravens football team and the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. I have never been lucky enough to see U2 in concert, but apparently the band still plays this song during nearly every performance.
Snow Patrol: “Chasing Cars”


This song was very popular during my first year of law school. It is on Snow Patrol’s 4th album and to be honest, I never even heard of Snow Patrol until I heard this song. I actually purchased the album, “Eyes Open” but wasn’t too impressed with the rest of the tracks. Other popular songs by Snow Patrol include “Signal Fire” (featured on the Spider-man 3 sound track) and “Run” (from their 3rd album).

The Cranberries: “Linger”

The Cranberries have also been around forever and are one of the better known groups from Ireland. I remember them most well from the early 90s, when their album Everyone Else is Doing It so Why Not me? was released. They reigned the alternative music world for several years and in 2003 decided to separate and pursue individual careers. The band reunited in 2009. I picked “Linger” as the song to feature here because it was one of the first songs released in the United States and it’s the one I like best.
VAN Morrison: “Brown-eyed Girl”

Here’s a really well-known song by an Irishman! Van Morrison wrote this song in 1967 but he started his career in the late 1950s. This song has been covered by countless groups, including the elderJ’s high school band, whose version of course is my all-time favorite. Great fact about Van Morrison: He’s known as “the Belfast Cowboy.”
The Irish Rovers: “Drunken Sailor”


This is an old favorite of mine. My parents also used to sing it often. This song has been performed by several artists in addition to the Irish Rovers, including Pete Seeger. The Rovers play this song as their encore song in their shows and it calls for some pretty fun audience participation. We heard this song at the show last Friday, participated when they asked and sang along with the group. It was a lot of fun and the audience was lively and excited!
Seeing the Irish Rovers was a great experience and I am happy that I felt inspired to write this after thinking about Irish music and artists on our drive home that evening. Brothers, friends and random readers, feel free to add your thoughts or songs to this list!

I can’t Dance.

The Foo Fighters was the first cd I bought but I think this Genesis album was the first cassette tape I purchased on my own. I’d imagine a big part of my choice was due to this video which I found really funny then and still, although for probably different reasons because now it just is goofy.

I’ve never been a good dancer, regardless of how much beer I’ve consumed. It’s always been something I’ve observed at bars, parties, concerts, and really anywhere. I am jealous of people who can actually dance because I feel pretty inadequate while trying to shake a leg next to them. Granted, I think that dancing is good for you regardless of your skill level because you take a few minutes to forget the stress of the world while having some fun  and burning some calories. Who knows, maybe you will slide onto a dance floor somewhere and have similar moves to your one true mate in the world. Doubtful, but possible.

Dwight Yoakam is slowly becoming one of my favorite country artists because of the type of music he was playing in the time period, the 1980’s, when country was really in a terrible place.

This post came to me because of a show my band played on Saturday night in the same coastal tourist town my brother had one of his first jobs at a gas station, probably about the same time he drove the Ford LTD Wagon.  We had done a show the night before in Portland, Maine at a hipster bowling alley that had gone fairly well, except for the fact that the opening band played longer than we did because of scheduling SNAFUs.

Our expectations were pretty low for a beach town in mid-March with two feet of snow on the ground, but strange things do happen. A sight-seeing trolley, whose existence in these conditions is a mystery in itself, dropped fifty people off so we switched our faster second set with our slower first set and a bonafide dance party ensued. Literally, a conga line formed during “As Fast as You”, which was something we’d never seen before and never will again most likely.

I went to a lot of jam band shows in college and there was a lot of hippie dancing.

The rest of the show was great and we got paid extra because we kept the dance floor doing all night, even to Pink Floyd’s “Money” which is pretty hard to dance to due to its odd 7/8 time signature. It got me thinking about the different way people dance, the various skill levels, and why we dance at all. At our shows, you see a lot of older folks doing a similar dance where they stick their butt out and wave it around while waving their arms out a little. It’s sort of similar to the typical hippie dance where you spin around in a circle with your arms out like a bird or a 747 like my brother compared it to once when we were imitating it in a subway in NYC.

White people dancing to hip hop has always been  source of amusement to me. I don’t want to make it a race thing, but from my observation, black people are far better dancers than their white brothers. There are exceptions of course.

I have been to a few hip hop shows, most notably Wu Tang Clan, and most of the people in the crowd do a similar dance. You know the dance, where you jump up and down and occasionally put your arms up and fan the air like you are trying to put out a fire when actually you just are feeling the vibes of the beat. I’ve seen this at parties from high school up to the present time and it feels great. We all do it, even those who detest hip hop, because it’s fun and puts you into party mode. Probably the best part of dancing is the amount of time you spend not thinking about anything except the music, moving, and having a good time. Like the LCD Soundsystem song, you can dance yourself clean.

Music can truly help you dance yourself into feeling fresh and new, or  even clean. Of course, when you are all sweaty after, you could actually clean up.

I think if the only thing you get out of dancing is a short vacation from reality, then that’s a good thing. I have read many rock and roll biographies in the last few years and I just finished Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman which details a lot of drug abuse and poor treatment of those around him. The most salient point is that nowadays, if all Gregg can do is give his still numerous concert goers a few hours where they don’t think about the problems in their lives, then he considers it a job well done. Regardless of the complexity of music, isn’t this what we are all looking for in our music? A distraction from the rigors of daily life?

The slam dancing of Primus shows back in the day has given away to much more hippie dancing as they have moved into jammier tunes, but there was a brief time when I enjoyed the mosh pits. Even Les doesn’t like them anymore and calls people out on the mike when they get too rowdy during their current shows.

So I will probably never be a good dancer, but that will not stop me from trying. Whether it be old person dancing, hippie dancing, rap dancing, or even light moshing, it’s fun for everyone involved. Don’t worry if you can’t dance, Phil Collins probably can’t either and that hasn’t stopped him from becoming super famous.

The Death of a Cat

Note: Last week, my brother had to say goodbye to his dog. My sister has already finely eulogized him.  The pain was especially sharp since the dog was our father’s dog.  After our father passed away, Remy was a symbol of our grief and a daily reminder of the basic visceral nature of loss: he awaited our father’s return every day and never seemed quite to adjust to his absence.

I can’t claim by any measure that my response has been empathetic or emphatic enough. Our family has a long history with pets–our lives have in large part been defined and periodized by our animals. Animals, paradoxically, teach us how to be more human. They teach us how to feel fully, to love selfishly and selflessly, and how, finally, to die. For Remy, the case was even more tortured: he died from complications of a lung ailment three years after our father died of pneumonia. know that this is coincidence, but we cannot help but see some twisted meaning, some correlation in the living of lives and the coming of death.

And this too teaches us about the differences between animal and man. We create meanings for the world rather than just inhabit it. We memorialize pain and loss and by doing so cherish it and the passing of time. But I was estranged from this animal and this passing by space and time. But my story too is bound up like my siblings’ and parents’ in the joy and loss of cats and dogs. So, here it is:

Two years ago I had to have my cat put to sleep—she had a thyroid problem and her body was shutting down. The end rapidly approached as she retained more and more fluid and it became harder for her to breathe. I held her as the doctor administered the medicine; it seemed quick and painless. For the following few days, I lived one of those interminable moments waiting for feeling either to come back or to stop completely.

This may seem more than a bit dramatic, but I have a complicated history with cats. The Family J didn’t always have cats—our mother was allergic and both parents were dedicated dog people. When I was in fifth grade, however, a young kitten showed up on our doorstep. That cute, furry thing was the beginning of trouble. We all fell in love with her. We fed her milk, lavished attention upon her, and begged to bring her inside. When she was still at our house after two days, our mother gave in.

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Tribute to a Friend

My brother and mother experienced a devastating loss today. They had to say goodbye to a dear member of the family, the loyal golden retriever Remy. Remy was my father’s best friend and when our father passed away, Remy became the younger J’s dog. I like to think that the spirit of our father lived on through Remy.

He was a good dog, very faithful and loving. He was always patient and was great with people of all ages. He tolerated my daughter pulling his tail and chasing him screaming “DOGGIE!” over and over and he didn’t flinch when my niece repeatedly asked “Pet Doggie???” one Thanksgiving, and then ran away after a second-long pat on his body, only to start the whole process over again. Remy was well-known throughout the town; my mother’s and brother’s friends and neighbors would frequently play with him on their visits and would even dog-sit if his owners went out of town.

Remy sleeping with The Sister's dog Morgan

Remy sleeping with The Sister’s dog Morgan

I think that several folks will be affected by the loss of our good friend Remy. The loss was sudden and was a tough blow, but we can take comfort in the fact that he lived a great life. The dog lived days full of love and provided warmth and joy to my brother and mother daily. Some people don’t have the connection to their pets as others do, and to many, a dog is simply an animal. But Remy truly was a member of the family, an important member of the pack and he will be remembered forever.

I wanted to write a tribute for Remy to help my brother and mother remember the good times and know that folks everywhere are thinking of them and Remy. So here are some songs to get it started…most are silly, and I do this intentionally to try and keep the mood light in a tough time…there are plenty of sad songs out there about dogs, mostly country, and I tried to stay far away from those.

Cat Stevens: I love my dog

The lyrics in this song are a little silly but I think they hold true. Remy was deeply loved and was always there when you needed a smile.

The Beatles: Martha My Dear

This is a song about Paul McCartney’s pet sheepdog. This song is also a little bit silly, but it’s appropriate here for a couple of reasons. First of all, Paul clearly loves his dog dearly, just like my mother and brother loved Remy. Plus, Mom and the younger both like the Beatles, so why not include this?

Elvis Presley: Hound Dog

So Remy was not exactly a hound dog…he didn’t have the greatest sense of smell and certainly didn’t bark all that much, but when he did, he made it known that he wanted something! I wanted to include this song because how can someone really write a post about dogs and NOT include it?

George Clinton: Atomic Dog

Up there in doggie heaven, our boy Remy will spend a lot of time with dancin’ dogs, countin’ dogs and funky dogs. Hopefully he isn’t exposed to too many “nasty dogs.”

Norman Greenbaum: Spirit in the Sky

Not a song about a dog…but this is appropriate given the fact that our boy Remy is joining our father in the afterlife. Plus our dad loved this song probably as much as he loved Remy.

So there you go, brother. Feel free to list other songs about dogs. Listen to these songs and think about Remy, know he is in a place where there are unlimited treats, leash-less walks and lots of dog toys. He’s out there somewhere, keeping our dad company.  I’ll close with a quote, and I think this sums him up:

To call him a dog hardly seems to do him justice,
though inasmuch as he had four legs, a tail, and barked,
I admit he was, to all outward appearances. But to those who
knew him well, he was a perfect gentleman.

-Hermione Gingold