New Car, New Sound System, New Music: Tennis, “Marathon”

Recently, my wife decided that she needed a new vehicle. And not just any new vehicle: she decided that with two kids it was time for something other than a sedan. So, at the beginning of the new year, it was minivan or SUV or bust. And none of this made either of us too happy.

Anyone who has read much of this blog has witnessed my brother or I mention cars–the Ford LTD station-wagon or Tempo, my lovely Buick LeSabre, the hellbeast Chevy Caprice and stereotypical blue Toyota Prius, for me and my brother’s love/hate for his Impala and irrational exuberance for his Subaru. Like many Americans, we have led lives that make cars necessary and whose necessities are translated into a commercialized communication of class and value. To say that we weigh down cars with overdetermined meaning would be an understatement. In our lives growing up, a person’s car was an immediate snapshot of their entire person.

Again, then, it would be an understatement to say that car buying is hard for me before I even leave the houseNot only do I worry what the car I drive communicates to absolute strangers, but I get almost dyspeptic with anxiety about the implied if unspoken judgments from friends and family. To say that my wife and my current relative financial stability (if not good fortune) makes me uncomfortable is merely to restate the definition of the word. And, of course, my wife’s feelings about cars are completely the opposite.

Add in to this mix the horrors of car dealerships, model varieties and salespeople and you’ve got a potentially toxic year-destroying brew. So my wife and I negotiated: no more then three weekends. No more than five test-drives. We individually read ratings, compared lists, enlisted the help of a car-fanatic friend and quickly decided against the middle-aged surrender of a minivan. My wife’s car–a Honda Civic hybrid, possibly the worst car Honda ever made–left her desiring something better, both mechanically and aesthetically.

She bought an SUV. And a nice one. It is not a vehicle I can drive comfortably–given my deep-seated class issues–but the first time I drove it alone with the kids and got to test the sound system for real (my wife likes he music too soft for my taste) I fell in love with the Bose speakers. This car has beautiful sound. As with many new cars, it came equipped with XM Radio. I flipped the dial and heard the song “Marathon” by Tennis:

This had to be one of those moments of obscene serendipity. It was a Saturday morning, we were all mellow, and the sun was blazing in the way that the winter sun will. The chill in the air felt a little less sharp with the background of this piece, a solo-performance built on a classic 50s/60s doo-wop progression with some surf-rock licks. The some doesn’t grow quickly, but it lingers and fills the space until it ends and it feels strange that it is gone.  The ethereal vocals were a bright and nice complement to the brittle sun and suddenly everything just felt, well, right.

The lyrics of the first verse are about surprise and foreboding:

Coconut Grove
Is a very small cove
separated from the sea
by a shifting shore
we didn’t realize that
we had arrived
at high tide, high tide
barely made it out alive

When I read them now it seems obvious that the tension between the anodyne simplicity of the music and the menace of the lyrics should unsettle me–but the fact is that it doesn’t.  I am used to tension; I am accustomed to paradox; and I have no problem with the compromises and inconsistencies that over time make us all hypocritical versions of our earlier selves.

I don’t know if I will love my wife’s car but it doesn’t matter. Life–in all of its tension and insistence–has been good to us of late. I’ll just be happy with the music that comes on the radio when these speakers sound so damn good.

Sounds and Silence: Listening (Alone)

My brother recently posted about many of the advantages of playing music on a record player instead of one of the many other forms available. Among those he listed that you have probably heard before is that vinyl records provide a superior sound quality to ever other form. Now, that may sound pretentious and it may remind you of many a record store denizen who looks down his nose at the kids buying Lady Gaga CDs, but the fact is that analog recordings are superior in many ways as long as the playback device is of high enough quality to allow the listener to tell the difference.

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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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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.

On the Radio (Flashback): Spacehog

While writing posts about songs on the radio that stick with me but do not compel me to purchase them (or their albums), I have been thinking about how many songs used to enter my life that way. Before songs could be easily shared, before a single song could be downloaded, if you liked a song, but didn’t love it, and you didn’t have a lot of money, you only heard it on the radio.

And, as I have made clear in earlier posts, some songs are only ok until you hear them 100 times. Then, suddenly, you like them. They become part of your life’s sound track. And, if you spend a lot of time driving and listen only to one radio station (because those were primitive times and cars only had radios, no tape decks or cd players), even songs you only liked a little became a part of your life.

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On the Radio: Trustifarians

Once I took over control of my car’s radio from my toddler, infant and wife, I returned to the comforting embrace of alt-rock radio. Because I haven’t listened to the radio in some time, there are artists who just haven’t been on my radar. Now as the good Historian and my brother will attest, I am usually resistant to new music. I like to find things to dislike, that’s just me.

So I was a little surprised when I seemed to like everything I heard by a band I knew nothing about. Immediately upon hearing Mumford and Sons “The Cave” I was intrigued. The lead singer’s voice is on the softer side of the vocalist from the Decembrists and Neutral Milk Hotel; the banjo is nice; I am a sucker for big, broad open chords on an acoustic guitar.  I get weak at the knees when vocalists harmonize across major scales in choruses (especially when they don’t sing the same words). And, hey, there’s an accordion! Sign me up.

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On The Radio (Flashback) PJ Harvey

I have been posting lately about the intense and temporary relationship often caused by hearing songs on the radio. While some of these posts have been in response to new songs, I also realized that I hadn’t been completely aware of how deeply songs I had completely forgotten had affected me

Something else I had missed was the place a radio station can occupy in your life.  A good radio station, or even a mediocre one, can function as a point of content, as a common experience, for people of a region and, frequently, people of the same age group. Part of the loss of the corporatization of radio is that many stations have lost their local feel in exchange for brands like “magic”, “kiss”, and the new bot-radios, Jack and Bob.

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The Foo Fighters….how they went from my first favorite band to my least favorite band

I wrote a while back about how my first cd which was the first Foo Fighters  album, the self titled one with the weird ray gun on the cover. I remember going into Best Buy and buying the cd with my own money so it probably was  not my first cd…..just the one I first actively purchased. I supposed all my cds before were presents or lifted from my brother. And, contrary to my earlier stated distaste for Whitney Houston, I did have the soundtrack to The Bodyguard in my room for one summer and for some reason listening to it to fall asleep. But, I digress…and the concept of my finding Whitney soothing is positively bone chilling. I loved this cd and it hurts me to say so, but I now hate this band and not because they suck. They don’t suck per se, although I do think many of their songs sound the same. I hate them because they are relentlessly and unmercifully played on alternative  rock stations across the country.

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Airline Music

I hate flying. I really do. There’s something wholly unnatural and weird about being in a pressurized tube at 38, 000 feet that occasionally shakes everywhere when you hit turbulence. I know I have mentioned multiple times that the Elder J and I grew up in the sticks, but this doesn’t mean I haven’t traveled. I have flown all over the country and to Europe, semi-regularly since I was very young but I still hate flying. It never changes.

Once I turned 21, I would get drunk when I flew to numb the stress I felt but I quickly learned that this also is not the best plan. Well, its fun for a little bit, but hangovers seem to hasten at high altitudes or I spend way too much money on Jim Beam Black nips and snack plates as free food on a flight has gone the way of the dodo.

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On the Radio:

Earlier I posted about how my daughter’s music tastes have forced me to break my standing radio embargo. Part of the torture is that she prefers top 40’s stations; the second part of this is that if we don’t listen to these stations there is a significant chance that she won’t eat. So, my choice is to let my daughter go malnourished or listen to soul-killing, ear-mauling, corporate-sponsored trash.

(Ok, that last bit might have been a little harsh. But still.)

Over the last year one of the songs that has tortured me (in addition to “Move Like Jagger”) starts with the following lyrics:

Summer after high school when we first met

We made out in your Mustang to Radiohead

And on my 18th Birthday

We got matching tattoos

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