Watch my Garden Grow

In a post not-too-long ago, my brother compiled a song-list for gardening. I think a lot of us have such informal sound tracks—sometimes we make them on purpose with iTunes playlists, or, in the old days, a mix-tape. Music is so elemental and visceral that it easily cleaves to our daily lives; in addition, our steady modern diet of television and movies all set to finely selected soundtracks conditions us to hear musical accompaniment for everything.

Or something like that.

The reason my brother’s post is worth going back to (other than the fact that it is fascinating and his list is pretty great) is also connected to what music does for us and to us: it makes us remember. But the kind of memory my brother talked about doesn’t come from music alone, it comes from working the land where my father put his hands, from turning the soil my father toiled over, and from tending the plants my father left behind him.

See, my post is about how my brother’s relationship to the land my father left us is a metaphor for his grief and the way he is honoring my father’s memory. My gardening music and my abandonment of the land is equally metaphorical. We have both been set adrift by our grief; our reactions have trapped us in turn. I’ll have a list of gardening music too.

Song 1: Rogue Wave: “Publish My Love”—a song I could not get enough of when I first got my own property. I can still recall pulling weeds in the rain with my headphones tucked under a hooded sweatshirt.

Let’s start with something unnerving. A few months before my father died, he gave a group of books to his only grandchild at the time, my daughter. Among them was a book entitled The Farmer, perhaps selected in remembrance of a book I loved when I was a toddler called Farmer Jones. Inside the book, my father wrote “You come from farmers. And always remember—you sow what you reap. Sow what you reap.”

What my father wrote

I didn’t find this epigraph until my father was a year gone. And when I did, I immediately started weeping. Never mind that we have long been crap farmers or that my father mysteriously  (or mistakenly) reversed the phrase “reap what you sow”. All I could think of was what he was thinking when he wrote that less than two months before he died. Did he have regrets? Did he know more than we did?

Song 2: Feist, “Mushaboom”—another song that I brought with me from NYC. I always loved the simple life evoked by the singer, the small house, children, the quiet. My wife and I bought and gutted a foreclosed house and did everything we could together from painting, to tile, to refinishing cabinets. The outside was mine alone.

My father and mother bought several acres of mixed woods—white pine, some scotch pine, birches in the front, a sprinkling of old apple trees, lilac bushes and some poplars near the road—and spent years taming it and creating a lawn. While he left most of the trees, my father was tireless in clearing scrub and fashioning gardens at my mother’s whims. His creations weren’t perfect, but they absorbed his sweat, his energy, his life.

When I was young, my father and mother grew vegetables in the back yard of our old house.  I still remember picking green beans from the garden and shelling peas. To this day I cannot snap into a fresh green bean without remembering the walk up the hill, the smell of the old Irish setter, and the cold, dark colors of my family’s first home.

Song 3: John Denver’s rendition of “The Garden Song”. I think I learned this song from my mother; I know I sang it in kindergarten and I am pretty sure my father knew the words. I often sing the first few lines for my children now. My eyes never fail to water.

I live in one of those ridiculous suburbs that have green lawn rules and where the local HOA can fine you if your yard is not up to community standards. The threat of fines wasn’t what made me want to make my yard look good, however.  Every time I looked at my lawn, I could hear my father telling me to take pride in what I owned. I knew how to plant, water, weed, prune, build stone walls, care for trees, prepare garden beds from scratch—I knew all these things because I had done them with my father.

Even during the summer my daughter was born, I was out in triple-digit temperatures mowing, edging, weeding and watering my lawn because I knew when my father came to visit he’d tell me where I needed to re-seed, where I needed to aerate, because he’d tell me to take pride in what I own. Now, let me be clear, even if I had let it all go to weeds, my father would merely make a joke of it. But he took yardwork so seriously that I couldn’t imagine not doing so.

Song 4: Bon Iver, “Skinny Love”—in my last year of serious yardwork, I fell in love with this song. It’s haunting falsetto vocals, and distancing, alienating feel, almost made me feel cool under the hot sun.

The summer after my father died was the driest in generations. It cost more to water the lawn than it did to pay HOA fines. But this is not why I stopped working on the yard. I couldn’t handle it. When the lawnmower wouldn’t work, I fixed it the way my father would; when the soil needed aeration, I tried to do it myself and failed, unlike my father. Every time I put on the gardening shoes and looked at the dry dirt edged with green and browns that only comes from long afternoons in the garden, I thought of those afternoons I spent as a child watching my father in the yard and then, later, helping him.

And I couldn’t handle it. I selfishly thought of all the hours he spent in the yard and not with his children. Then, I thought of all the energy he expelled for something that suddenly seemed to superficial and silly. I told my wife that I had too much work to do; I told my neighbors that it was unethical to water in a drought; I told myself I had to spend more time with my daughter before a new child arrived.

But the truth was, I think I only worked on my yard because I wanted my father to be proud of me.

And now? My brother lightly (and not so lightly) mocks me because I have hired someone to do it for me. We live in a different house in another community with an evil HOA and I refuse even to buy a lawnmower. Unlike my father, I don’t get any pleasure from working this land.It is dry, it is barren, and the work seems a performance for others, not a search for a deeper understanding of self. Even though I own it, I feel like a temporary visitor. I know I will sell this property; I will never leave it to my children.

This place, and this world, I am just passing through. I cannot bear to garden here, because every plant that dies and every one that blooms reminds me of what is coming and what has gone. I cannot garden anymore, for now, because my father’s voice still echoes.

Sow what you reap?

Song 5: Micah P. Hinson “Yard of Blonde Girls”—imagine if people grew like flowers? This song has one of the best ‘builds’ of any song I have heard in a while. Hinson knows his crescendo.

My brother tends the land my father works and it is both a statement of his love for my parents and a metaphor for how we tend the memory of those we lose. He tries to keep everything my father planted, but time changes it—what he can, he makes better; what he cannot improve, he casts aside.

I ignore the land I own because my father never touched it. I tend his memories elsewhere, trying like my brother to cast aside what is of no use, and to bring to health whatever my father planted—my brother, myself, my sister, my children.

Inch by inch, row by row. My father made his garden grow.

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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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Smooth Sailing into Springtime

Queens of the Stone Age’s new album is awesome and apparently it’s their first number one album. This song actually popped up as a commercial and I was incredibly stoked because this band has not always been so popular. This song has a sweet groove to it and the video itself  has a story of a night of debauchery with the lead singer Josh Homme (pronounced like mommy) and some Asian businessmen. I didn’t even know people still made music videos for their songs

 The long winter is finally ending and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a terrible one and I hope to soon forget it. Like every other season in Maine, we appreciate the nice ones because the bad ones are so extreme. Come to think of it, just winter sucks because some of the best weather I’ve experienced anywhere is during spring, summer or fall. Like the Bob Dylan song says, “they say the darkest hour is right before the dawn”, which aptly describes everyone about two weeks ago as winter seemed to stagger into April.

Now we’ve had a solid week run of good weather and everyone’s faces seem to have lightened up from the permanent frozen scowl so recently prevalent. I took the initiative  and started listening to a lot of reggae and other happy music towards the end of the coldest/snowiest winter in a hundred years in hopes that it would lift my spirits after losing my best friend, human or non.

My good friend Scott has been back in Maine for a few months after being down in Key West for most of the last few years working on various types of boats. Many moons ago, say circa 2002, I got him into Bob Marley and maybe a little Toots Hibbert.  Since then, he has spent considerable time getting into reggae and I now get to reap the rewards of exposing him to it so many years ago. I love this song and have listened to it at least thrice daily for the last few weeks. Also, when one of my students gets angry and almost to the point of throwing a chair at someone, I have her go to another room and take deep breaths. After about five minutes, I go in and play reggae from my computer while reading emails and it continually calms her down. 

In a blog where we have covered Elliott Smith and talked of the therapeutic powers of blues at length, it has taken me a long time to fully embrace the idea of listening to music that is antithetical to what I am feeling as a means to improve my mental state. It’s clear to anyone who has read this blog that we really try to share the ups and downs of existence and how music consumption is inextricably intertwined so it sort of seems like “duh” to write that it took me almost 29 years to realize it’s better to listen to happy music when you are sad because it may improve that situation. A case in point is the continual mourning process for my dog, which is clearly linked to the same process of mourning for our Father, which I have assisted as of late with lots of bouncy reggae and sunshine laced pop hits of the 1960’s.

Easter morning this year was fairly arduous as I had a show an hour south that ended at one so I didn’t get home until almost three with an added stop for a haddock burger at an all night fry spot on the ride home. That, coupled with one more beer than I should have had, made waking up at 9 to go to church a real treat. I know basically everything I know about pop music of this era from riding around as a kid in whatever shit-box vehicle my Dad had running with the golden oldie’s radio station blaring. It amazes me how I knew most of the lyrics to this song after not hearing it for a solid ten years, clearly do to dozens of listens as a youngster.

It does seem obvious to not continuing your misery by listening to sad songs when you are sad, but it is some weird tenant of our Northern upbringing and Scandinavian blood lines where what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or has the Maine vernacular goes, ” the more times you hit a pig’s snout, the tougher it gets”. Although these philosophies are both useful for overcoming adversity,  sometimes it helps to foster your own happiness and one way I can do this is flooding my ears with happy tunes.

My aforementioned old friend Scott has kept me swimming in new roots reggae while also motivating me to clean out my garage where my Father’s abundant wood working tools have collected dust for the last three years. I never actively made the choice to stay out of that building, I just did it without thinking and two months turned into three years. In the same vein, Scott says he wants to use the tools for his own projects and to help me with some of our own, but he let slip that this place was my Father’s favorite to be and we ought to honor his memory by utilizing these tools.

I love the dance hall vibes here, I totally am getting back into this music that I have stayed away from for some time. Bring on the reggae.

Mainers are not ones to talk about feelings and the like, instead letting their actions make these statements for them. Scott comes from a family that  has been in the area for damn near 300 years, a very old school clan whose Fourth of July party is the only one I know of that doesn’t serve alcohol due to old school Quaker values. They are not touchy feely and work through difficult times by hard work and determination which brings me to my next point, of the power of staying busy to overcome whatever problem comes your way. Besides positive music, the best way to get through any type of adversity is this method and I’ve been pretty steadfast in this, except for writing this blog the last few weeks which I won’t make any excuses for and will just put up more posts. Actions speak louder than words.

I can actually hit these notes now after a month of bronchitis-like symptoms and years of singing poorly. I have posted this song before but it’s been a boon to my psyche as of late and another song that I often heard in the car with my old man. I love childhood memories that keep coming back and are enriching to the life I live now. Lastly, we are playing a retirement party for an old school teacher and we just may try to pull this one off.

Spring time sure helps kick the blues too, probably above all else, because those months lacking sunlight sure are a bitch. My band is getting pretty busy again, school is winding up as we come closer to the end of the year, the time of gardening is near, I need to write more for this blog as we may expand into a new venture next summer and there’s almost never a reason not to be outside. I am continuing to pump happy jams whenever need be and it’s really looking like smooth sailing into spring time.

Obviously, a sweet Toots Hibbert song covered by my favorite slide guitarist Derek Trucks. This version of this song pulled me out of a 102 degree fever in Paris, France once.

The Worst Concert Ever

“Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.” Michael Bolton (Office Space)


While many of our comments on and anecdotes about music have to do with music merely as sound, as the score for charged moments in our lives or the cue to dial up vivid memories, music also surrounds us in tactile and physical ways. The Younger J and I have, at different points in our lives, attended many and varied concerts (and too few together). Seeing an artist live and as part of a community of listeners can drastically change the way you engage with music. The live performance returns music to the breathing pulse of the living from the frozen state of recorded sound.

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Songs of the Year—1999

You start a conversation you can’t even finish it.
You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?
–The Talking Heads

Songs of the Year: “Either Way”, Guster; “Psycho Killer”, The Talking Heads

Runners-up: “Steal my Sunshine”, Len

Honorable Mentions: “Thank You” Dido

At the beginning of the year, if I remember correctly, Conan O’Brien attempted to outlaw all soundings of Prince’s “1999” for 12 short months. 1999 was the year of the Y2K panic. It was the year that boy bands were triumphant and when Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera ruled the world. Back then, Carson Daly was on MTV and American Idol was still three years away.

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Is it the end of AC/DC?

I’ve always said to my friends that this sounds a lot like ZZ Top’s song “Jesus just left Chicago” which I just found out came out two years earlier than this AC/DC jam. They probably drew some influence from the song, but let’s face it, both songs are awesome and are milestones in the Pantheon of Rock and Roll. 

I’ve made a few fuck-ups in my life…..ok, quite a few but who is counting? A major one just revealed itself in that it appears Malcolm Young from AC/DC  has had a stroke and although it’s not clear yet, it sounds like they will hang up their rock and roll spurs. I never saw the band live and this is seriously depressing. If you don’t like them, you should. Only the the Rolling Stones match them in longevity and in the pure essence of everything that is rock and roll. If this rumor is true, it is truly a sad day not only for rock and roll, but for existence itself. I sure hope they ride on. 

“It’s a Long Way to the top” is one of the finest rock songs ever and it sets the whole pace for the band on this title track to their seminal album of the 70’s.

Apparently, they are just taking a break and the AC/DC camp will not confirm or deny that it was in fact  a medical reason that has derailed the band. This is understandable, they have always been a very private band that has never aired their personal problems for the public to scrutinize. I have a good feeling that this is the end though and as much as I love the band and still want to see them, it might be time. As anyone reading this could see, I am mostly playing videos with the original lead singer, the immortal Bon Scott. He died in 1980 and the band soldiered on with about the only man in the world who could attempt to fill those shoes, Brian Johnson. They say they will not continue if Malcolm can’t come back into the fold and I see this is a matter of integrity, not copping out,

I far prefer Bon Scott era AC/DC to Brian Johnson era because I received my first AC/DC album as a sophomore in high school and it was the international release High Voltage which began with “It’s a Long Way to the Top”. This album blew my mind and still does to this day. The straight forward rock and roll that remains simple yet refined will never lose it’s mass appeal. It’s a wonder to me why anyone would not like AC/DC , but one person told me it’s because of their high pitched vocals. I feel bad for them.

It is a profound statement that the band got big right after Bon died from misadventure, with Back In Black being their biggest album ever and Bon’s contributions figuring into the mix.  They kept going in 1980 because they had yet to find global success even though the Young brothers joining with Bon Scott is what made the original band. Since then, they have maintained that if either one of the Youngs cannot perform, then the band is done. In the era of the Rolling Stones STILL performing and bands claiming they are doing a final tour and then coming back three years later because they are broke, it’s nice to see someone who maintains integrity and bow out gracefully. I love the Stones as I’ve professed many times, but it’s probably time they move on with their lives because the last few dates did not sound great from the recordings I heard and Keith looks like hell.

This relates so what I was just saying in two ways. First, this was one of the last songs Bon wrote and recorded with the band as well as one of the most well known.  Second, Keith Richards looks like hell so perhaps he is well along that road. Even though I’ve heard this song one million times, I still turn it up whenever I hear it in the car.

Oddly enough, prior to me getting that first AC/DC album, my major aural interaction with the band was through the wonderfully bad Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive. It is about a meteor that passes within Earth’s orbit that somehow causes all mechanical things from trucks to electric carving knives to lawn mowers to come alive with a homicidal streak. Emilio Estavez stars as a tough truck stop cook who ends up saving the day. AC/DC did all of the soundtrack and “Who made Who” was written for this flick. It works well and besides the comically bad acting/special effects, it really made the movie.

This actually has scenes from the movie! I apologize for the ads but I wanted this video specifically.

I mentioned briefly why someone wouldn’t like the band conceivably, the vary high pitched. I could see why someone who is into complicated music like progressive rock would see this music is overly simple and why women could see some of the songs as being chauvinistic. Regardless of all these nuances, AC/DC remains one of the last straight forward rock bands in the land. They haven’t changed much in their almost 40 year reign and right now could be the death knell. Maybe it’s fine and my memory of the band will be listening to the first track I played at high volume while drinking Natural Ice in my freshmen year of college or showing a new girlfriend how amazing Bon Scott was in his prime. AC/DC represents a desire we all have for a simple time when rock was basically one speed, only a few topics that included women and rocking, and guitar solos were concise. We will all grieve the loss of the band even if we don’t realize it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Musical Treasure Trove

So, I have been thinking a bit about re-reruns (prompted, I must admit by a This American Life episode about re-runs). This thinking has dove-tailed with some of my thoughts about the repeatability of the cover song and the tension between one ‘performance’ and another. Part of this thinking is a tortured attempt to try to justify what I am about to do today: repeat one of our posts. What happens when you repeat a repetition?

Like my brother, I have found that the busyness of normal life (whatever that means) has gotten to be a bit overwhelming. The end of the semester has brought me a pile of grading, a CV-length of promised articles, and two children who are growing faster than I can imagine. This has kept me (guiltily) from having the time to write a quality post while also making me wonder whether or not this blog is doing what it should.

See, it has been suggested that the posts are too long and too discursive–and, as readership has ebbed and flowed, I have wondered what the worth is. This contemplation lasts a few minutes because, when it comes down to it, I enjoy writing this blog even if the act is entirely masturbatory.

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