The only constant is Change: Responding to the Elder

The Elder J and I have always loved this song and I obviously stole his copy of the  CD as a young man. As much as we clash  all the time, we are similar in a lot of ways and I hope to draw some helpful conclusions by the end of the this post. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’ll make things worse or have no effect at all. Hopefully, at least I’ll feel better or maybe understand each other and our lives a shade more.

My brother decided, after a long while of contemplation I’m sure, that he doesn’t want to write for the blog he created. He told me around Christmas but I clearly either didn’t hear him or take him seriously. I want to say “we” created because I wish that was true, but he was the one who had the idea and reading his post the other day is the first I have ever heard of my late Father’s distressful call/e-mail about my depressive behavior following grad school and my first serious break-up. I don’t blame him, it was necessary and having this outlet to write was something I always wanted and certainly would not have done it on my own. It helped me when I needed help and although I continue to procrastinate, I will also continue to write because I enjoy doing this.

You never know how you look through someone else’s eyes and even when you do share a lot on common, intentions and messages can become convoluted to the point where no one is on the same page.

As much as the Elder and I do share in common, we are also incredibly different and a good metaphor for this is the blog we have written together for three years now. He seems to want people to know who he is while I prefer to remain anonymous because I teach at a school where I live and also I don’t want to mention a friend who is then offended by something I wrote. I also don’t care how many people read this, how far our reach is, or how deep the posts are philosophically or otherwise. My favorites to write are amusing ways certain songs relate to my life and maybe to the readers as well as trying to share new music that could further enrich yours and my own musical experience. I agree with my brother that it can seem like a chore with so much going on in our lives and I barely know because he’s always written more and kept up on it better as well as leading a completely different life than I do.

Brother to brother relations are at an all time low right now. I’d like to blame the Elder completely but that wouldn’t be true. We’ve grown apart because of distance in geography, philosophy and general life style. I’m busy with everything from my band to my garden to my teaching to trying to date like an adult as I quickly approach the age of 30 to my multiple activities with many close friends in the area to trying to help the Mother J through a very hard time.  The Elder raises his two kids, runs his wife’s dentist office, teaches at a university, writes both this blog and written work in his field, runs marathons which he trains daily for and tries to help as much as he can with our mom. He ain’t heavy, he’s just my brother, and someday we will heal the wounds between us.

One thing I do agree with him on, at least in the last few weeks, is whenever I tried to sit down and write this post I felt an extreme anger to the point where I had to walk away. I think he said dread but you get the point.  When I was a young man, I had a real problem with controlling my anger and put a lot of holes into doors and walls. I grew out of it, but it scared me how strong it came back while trying to write this. I began it the day the Elder posted about Rachel which coincided with our mom having a pretty serious medical episode that has been pretty encompassing the past few weeks. She is much better but helping her get better has involved a lot of time and patience on my part. Two days after that, a childhood friend from childhood was in a motorcycle accident which killed him a week later after being in a coma. That, also with the typical last days of school which always equal crazy while spending all the free time I had in school where I used to write recruiting and organizing our class of students for next year. This sounds like the it somewhat approaches the level of activity the Elder has been dealing with all along so I understand his position more than ever.

I also find this very relaxing, like hip hop a few months ago. I loved Easy Star All-Stars even if it was considered lame by my peers in college. I need to make better use of my time. I’m busier than I have ever been but I still have time so I need to set a certain time to write on a daily basis which is what the soon to be mentioned retiring teacher does with his blog. It will probably never be what it was when the Elder did it with me, or did it pretty much for me rather, but it will be what it is and the best I can do is continue writing. I never was involved as much as I should have been, but like I keep telling my mom and student, actions speak louder than words. Best thing I can do is write, not feel guilty about what I should have done.

Another thing I’ve been into is that I was appointed to be the band leader for the  retirement party for the longest running teacher at our school, his career clocking in at 41.5 years! That’s 12 plus years longer than I’ve been alive. It took a lot of time the last few months as I had to gather many teachers together who play music with varying skill levels, pick out a set list, practice with the frenzied schedule of everyone, figure out logistics for the venue and generally try to keep my head from twisting off with everything going on. I listened to his retirement speech and the salient points I got out of it were that teaching at any level is one of the last noble ventures, make lots of good friends and find something passionate to do in your free time that connects back to your teaching. Make it part of your life and you will earn the respect of  teachers to students to administrators parents. Judging from the response from the show I put together, I think I’m on this path.

Jerry Garcia plays steel guitar on this and it’s one of the best teacher songs ever. We totally opened with it Saturday night and there was some beautiful saxophone and keyboard work, my first time performing with either one of those instruments. 

I’ve been able to use music in my class all the time, from developing a Great Depression assignment having my students write their own blues songs to actually playing during our structured hobby time on a daily basis. I like my job and where my career seems to be heading, both in teaching and in actually playing with my band which is getting a lot of new and different gigs. Life is good in a lot of ways and I need to keep pushing myself. It’s not as easy without the big brother who was my main motivator for so many years, but everyone has to fly on their own sometime.

I learned this song once to play for a girl I really liked and I never got a chance to show her cause we stopped talking before I got the chance. I include it here because it’s a beautiful song with a powerful message of how living the real and righteous way is to fly. Yeah, I’ve wasted a lot of time in my almost thirty years, but I’m not gonna be depressed about it. I’m going to keep trying to fly.

The Elder was right in that we have spent a lot of time talking about our Father in this blog. The most recent post was one I don’t think should have been shared, but this is not my decision to make. His point seems to be that we remember him in a rosy light a lot and not enough do we remember the bad things about him which could doom us to repeat some of his mistakes. While I agree that the best way to honor our late father is to try to push ourselves to our fullest extent, I don’t agree we need to air our dirty laundry to the world even if this blog is anonymous. What’s done is done and we have to move on. I want to do better in everything in life from my music to my teaching to being a solid family member to writing this blog. I owe to myself more than anyone else. Please keep reading and to the Elder J, I owe you more than you will ever know.

Payback to myself.

 

 

 

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Songs of the Year – 1993


Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special
–Radiohead

Songs of the Year: “Creep”, Radiohead; “No Rain ”, Blind Melon

Runners-Up: “Cannonball”, The Breeders; “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, Pixies (DQ’d for year)
Honorable Mention: “Nothin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog

While 1993 was a year when I definitely started thinking more deeply about music and about why I liked what I liked, it was also a year when I started to display my most common (and annoying) characteristics: contrarianism and, for lack of a better term, obscuricism.

So, it is easy for me to list the major artists from this year that I didn’t get into. I ignored The Smashing Pumpkins; I was dismissive of middle of the road alt-rock bands like Gin Blossoms, Candlebox, and the Counting Crows. I got on the tailend of bands like James. I didn’t care a bit for Nirvana’s In Utero. I bought Pearl Jam’s Vs. the day it came out but only listened to it a few times. Strangely enough, bands like The Crash Test Dummies caught my attention.

Now while music history shows look back to this period with unmeasured bliss, we shouldn’t forget how much crap there still was: “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill was a top hit; Bon Jovi somehow got away with “Bed of Roses”; and we all had to wonder what Meatloaf wouldn’t do for love. Nevertheless, in comparison to earlier years, there was some great music on the radio.

I tried to stay true to the music I had learned to love the year before. But, betrayed by U2’s almost unconscionable Zooropa, I went back in time to bands I had missed out on when I was too busy loving NKOTB and M. C. Hammer. 1993 is when I bought and consumed Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. I immediately fell in love with the Breeders’ Cannonball. But the two songs that best encapsulate 1993 for me  are “No Rain” by Blind Melon and Radiohead’s “Creep”.

I first heard these songs while riding home in a friend’s minivan from theater practice. My best friend—the previously mentioned Lead Singer—and I were immediately floored. I can think of the road we were on, the yellow color of a dusty dusk, and the smell of the river approaching.  We demanded more. We surfed the radio for hours. We called into to various stations. We waited and were consumed.

Now, my native cynicism should have braced me against the commercial push behind these artists; I should have rebelled against their constant play on MTV; my contrary nature should have rejected songs that were so unequivocally embraced, but I seem to have been defenseless against these tracks. I cannot think of a time when two songs that were so different simultaneously gripped my attention so forcibly.

Where “No Rain” is bright, brassy, and optimistic, “Creep” is self-deprecating, dark and unclear. One is hard to sing; the other is easy to imitate but hard to sing truly. One invites harmonizing; but the other invites a ghoulish singalong. The video of the former was playful and memorable; the latter was of a simple performance (although I can still see Tom Yorke’s scowl from the video). Whatever the reason, I bought both albums after hearing the singles once. And, most surprisingly, both albums turned out to be really good.

(Pablo Honey is a phenomenal alt-rock album; “Been Thinkin’ About You” is Radiohead’s best (and only?) love song; I have not really liked a Radiohead album since (I know, heresy). Blind Melon is one of the better hard rock albums of the 1990’s; “Change” is one of the best rock songs of the decade. I don’t know why it was never released as a single).

Best Radiohead album (of the year)

While the sonic field and feeling of these songs are different, the schizophrenia of my love is best illustrated through the lyrics. Where Shannon Hoon croons “I just want someone to say to me  / I’ll always be there when you wake” he evokes the simple and optimistic dream that I think most of us share at some level. The dancing electric lead over the acoustic rhythm leaves you to believe that this is far from too much to ask. But Yorke’s self-deprecating “When you were here before / couldn’t look you in the eye” speaks to the lie of Blind Melon’s promise.

These two songs, along with being musical complements, exhibit complementary sentiments. They are each one half of the one reality that is and was the state of being in an uncertain place, of being uncomfortable, of being in-between. In 1993, there were moments when it was bright, when I was, in some figurative way, dancing in a field and hopeful that someday I wouldn’t be alone. But there were also nights when I was sure I wasn’t good enough, or just not fucking special. Radiohead may have been satirizing such sentiments. Blind Melon may not have believed what they were singing. But I did. Sometimes.

Now, brother: I know you must remember something of this year. I read the entire Dune series while listening to these two albums, over and over and over and….

Scourges of the year: Ace of Base’s “The Sign” tortured me. Billy Joel’s ‘River of Dreams” proved he still didn’t know what decade it was and Michael Bolton was still releasing singles. I also used to torture my siblings by singing the 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up” using my best Axl Rose voice.

Missing Maine in Autumn: Some songs about Home

When the fall hits, I feel homesick. (And, with the Red Sox back in the playoffs, I keep thinking of New England even more.) I left my home state for college in 1997 and have only been back for short stretches of time since 1999 when I stayed for an entire summer. There are many things about my home state that make this necessary–the economy is rough, there are few schools where I could teach, and the remoteness is a bit tough on people who didn’t grow up in it (like my wife).

I never quite understood why this and not “Change” was the second single from this album. Nevertheless, I loved this song when I lived in Maine.

So, I’ve spent most of my adulthood as an exile. The longer I stay away, the less likely it is that I will ever return and the less true it is that Maine is my home. And, yet, the paradox is that the twin forces of nostalgia and childhood identity formation make me identify with being a Mainer even more strongly. I know that I don’t really miss two standing feet of snow. I know, even more, that the Maine I miss is not only no longer there but may never have been there; but that doesn’t make me miss it any less.

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Songs of the Year 1993

Songs of the Year—1993

Songs of the Year: 4 Non Blondes “Whats up?”, Blind Melon “No rain”, and Radiohead “Creep”
Honorable Mention” Meat Loaf “I would do anything for love (But I won’t do that)”

I started writing these songs of the year entries backwards from 1995 and found that this year is when my remembrances begin to wane (but I can jog them via Wikipedia). This is the year that Prince became a symbol which I remember coming on the nightly news. I had no idea who Prince was anyway at age 9 so I don’t remember being too bothered by it.

Continue reading

Songs of the Year – 1993


Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special
–Radiohead

Songs of the Year: “Creep”, Radiohead; “No Rain ”, Blind Melon

Runners-Up: “Cannonball”, The Breeders; “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, Pixies (DQ’d for year)
Honorable Mention: “Nothin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog

While 1993 was a year when I definitely started thinking more deeply about music and about why I liked what I liked, it was also a year when I started to display my most common (and annoying) characteristics: contrarianism and, for lack of a better term, obscuricism.

So, it is easy for me to list the major artists from this year that I didn’t get into. I ignored The Smashing Pumpkins; I was dismissive of middle of the road alt-rock bands like Gin Blossoms, Candlebox, and the Counting Crows. I got on the tailend of bands like James. I didn’t care a bit for Nirvana’s In Utero. I bought Pearl Jam’s Vs. the day it came out but only listened to it a few times. Strangely enough, bands like The Crash Test Dummies caught my attention.

Now while music history shows look back to this period with unmeasured bliss, we shouldn’t forget how much crap there still was: “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill was a top hit; Bon Jovi somehow got away with “Bed of Roses”; and we all had to wonder what Meatloaf wouldn’t do for love. Nevertheless, in comparison to earlier years, there was some great music on the radio.

I tried to stay true to the music I had learned to love the year before. But, betrayed by U2’s almost unconscionable Zooropa, I went back in time to bands I had missed out on when I was too busy loving NKOTB and M. C. Hammer. 1993 is when I bought and consumed Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. I immediately fell in love with the Breeders’ Cannonball. But the two songs that best encapsulate 1993 for me  are “No Rain” by Blind Melon and Radiohead’s “Creep”.

I first heard these songs while riding home in a friend’s minivan from theater practice. My best friend—the previously mentioned Lead Singer—and I were immediately floored. I can think of the road we were on, the yellow color of a dusty dusk, and the smell of the river approaching.  We demanded more. We surfed the radio for hours. We called into to various stations. We waited and were consumed.

Now, my native cynicism should have braced me against the commercial push behind these artists; I should have rebelled against their constant play on MTV; my contrary nature should have rejected songs that were so unequivocally embraced, but I seem to have been defenseless against these tracks. I cannot think of a time when two songs that were so different simultaneously gripped my attention so forcibly.

Where “No Rain” is bright, brassy, and optimistic, “Creep” is self-deprecating, dark and unclear. One is hard to sing; the other is easy to imitate but hard to sing truly. One invites harmonizing; but the other invites a ghoulish singalong. The video of the former was playful and memorable; the latter was of a simple performance (although I can still see Tom Yorke’s scowl from the video). Whatever the reason, I bought both albums after hearing the singles once. And, most surprisingly, both albums turned out to be really good.

(Pablo Honey is a phenomenal alt-rock album; “Been Thinkin’ About You” is Radiohead’s best (and only?) love song; I have not really liked a Radiohead album since (I know, heresy). Blind Melon is one of the better hard rock albums of the 1990’s; “Change” is one of the best rock songs of the decade. I don’t know why it was never released as a single).

Best Radiohead album (of the year)

While the sonic field and feeling of these songs are different, the schizophrenia of my love is best illustrated through the lyrics. Where Shannon Hoon croons “I just want someone to say to me  / I’ll always be there when you wake” he evokes the simple and optimistic dream that I think most of us share at some level. The dancing electric lead over the acoustic rhythm leaves you to believe that this is far from too much to ask. But Yorke’s self-deprecating “When you were here before / couldn’t look you in the eye” speaks to the lie of Blind Melon’s promise.

These two songs, along with being musical complements, exhibit complementary sentiments. They are each one half of the one reality that is and was the state of being in an uncertain place, of being uncomfortable, of being in-between. In 1993, there were moments when it was bright, when I was, in some figurative way, dancing in a field and hopeful that someday I wouldn’t be alone. But there were also nights when I was sure I wasn’t good enough, or just not fucking special. Radiohead may have been satirizing such sentiments. Blind Melon may not have believed what they were singing. But I did. Sometimes.

Now, brother: I know you must remember something of this year. I read the entire Dune series while listening to these two albums, over and over and over and….

Scourges of the year: Ace of Base’s “The Sign” tortured me. Billy Joel’s ‘River of Dreams” proved he still didn’t know what decade it was and Michael Bolton was still releasing singles. I also used to torture my siblings by singing the 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up” using my best Axl Rose voice.