Tag Archives: music

A short story about Luther Vandross

My best friend from Ireland got married in Italy a week ago and I’m so glad that I was there to see it.

People I met at the wedding were asking how I knew her, as people do at weddings, and there’s no short answer. “Friend of the family” is sort of true because our dads worked together. “Childhood friend” doesn’t quite cut it, since we grew closer as we left childhood behind. We did a J1 summer in San Francisco together – a formative experience indeed – and we went to London together (and with a bunch of her college-mates) the summer after that. We did the same one-year post-grad course and shared a flat as adults. She was my only bridesmaid. She’d have been my firstborn’s godmother only we didn’t do the church thing. She’s basically been the closest thing I’ve had to a sister.

The wedding was just as beautiful, well-planned, thoughtfully put together and utterly perfect as I knew it would be. No need was left uncatered to, no want unanticipated, and if some of us only just squeaked into the ceremony with a minute to spare, that was nobody’s fault but our own for each assuming someone else knew exactly where the church was.

There was a tree in the area where we all milled around before and after dinner that they’d decorated with old family photos from both sides – pictures of the bride and groom as babies and children, of their parents as young adults and their parents’ weddings. There I was too in one of the photos, in all my metal-mouth, terrible hair, twelve-year-old glory. It made me feel like one of the family. I barely restrained myself from dragging all the new friends I’d just made during dinner over to show them.

After the amazing dinner, the even more amazing desserts, the cocktails and the conversation, after the most excellent swing band had played the first dance and all the dances that followed, there was a DJ. I made friends with the DJ.

If you’ve ever gone dancing with me, you may know that this is a thing I used to do, in my wild and shameless youth. I would always endeavour to “make friends” with the DJ – i.e. go up and talk to him, maybe make eyes a little, you know how it is, and ask him to play something good for dancing. Maybe ask him to play something “not crap.” DJs love that. It always works. Ahem.

But this time I actually did make friends with the DJ, because I met him in the queue for the loo. We exchanged a couple of sentences, and I was a little confused because he was dressed like a waiter (black trousers, white shirt) but seemed to have an Irish accent, like the guests. All was explained a few minutes later when I went back outside to find a tiny DJ station had been set up and my new buddy was standing beside it working the turntables.
“Are you the DJ?” I asked, putting my staggering intellect to good use.
“Yep.”
“So . . . are you Irish?”
“Yeah, I’m Irish, but I was born in Rome,” he said. (When I recounted this to some of the other guests they shook their heads as if to say “Well then, he’s not Irish”, but evidently I’ve lived in America for too long because it made perfect sense to me. Maybe his parents are both Irish.) Anyway, he’d spent a fair few formative years in Ireland and now he lives back in Rome again.

And he didn’t have a playlist, just a vague instruction to play songs from the 60s to the 90s. He would welcome requests, he said. You don’t have to ask me twice. What an opportunity.

I pretty much squandered it because after “Love Cats” and “Kiss” I ran out of things I could remember I liked to dance to, but several other guests took up the cause and we ended up with a great selection of dancing tunes. There came a moment when I was bopping half-heartedly to something someone else had requested. I told her apologetically, “It’s a bit… Luther Vandross-y for me.” Even as I said it I thought to myself that that was a weirdly specific allusion that would probably be lost on her, as she was definitely younger than me, and I wondered why on earth that particular musician had come to mind just then.

“It IS Luther Vandross,” she said.

I was impressed by my astuteness. Is Luther Vandross back in the charts? I still don’t quite know how that happened.

 

Playlist of my Life

Another linky, but this time I’m partaking, not starting. Nicola at Simply Homemade wrote a totally irresistable post – I actually had to trawl my archives to make sure I hadn’t done this already, because it seemed so much like something I’d do. (I have a lot of archives. If I didn’t tag it properly I might never find it.)

The concept is simple: a list of the songs that have been meaningful through your life. The execution… this is going to take a LOT of thinking.

Nicola already used Boney M’s by the River of Babylon, which is one of the first songs I remember, so I’ll have to pick one of the others. I could choose Brown Girl in the Ring, which I certainly remember twirling around to while it played on the radio, but I think I’ll pick this one, which is possibly the cutest song ever (listen for the plot twist at verse three) and very very redolent of my young childood. I was three the year this was the UK Eurovision entry.

Oh good lord, I’ve just realised that I could do this whole thing through meaningful Eurovision entries. I’ll try not to, but I can’t make any promises.

Honorable mention for this one, from a few years later – 1980 when I was 7. I was just a smidge young for disco dancing to this (ahem), but it’s absolutely iconic.

I have this weird random memory of being in a department-store shoe shop in London where this song was playing. (We would have been visiting my English relatives at Easter, probably.) It got under my skin and I found myself humming it for years afterwards, able to conjure up that exact moment with the chorus. I would have been 10 or 11, assuming it was playing on the radio as a new release. (This memory might be totally wrong. Maybe it was Switzers in Dublin.)

Honestly, I was never very much into music as a teen. I didn’t know where to find music, I had no older siblings to influence me, I went along with my friends’ obsessions but didn’t really find them hitting me as hard as they did them. My best friend loved A-Ha and Wet Wet Wet – I remember her playing a new album to me, me thinking it was okay but were we just going to sit around listening to it all afternoon? She also played me this old one, that her dad the Mary Black fan had introduced her to – and again, it’s a moment that has stuck in my mind, sitting on the floor in her darkened living room (curtains never to be opened for fear of fading the carpet) with the purple velvet sofa, trying hard but not quite managing to be moved by this. Apparently I had no soul.

I’ll spare you the songs I did gym routines to (though I can still name them); but I one of the first tapes I owned was Now Thats What I Call Music 10, which I played over and over. Really, though, it was a gem. At least, tape 2 was. At least, some parts of it were. This one: this one I liked a lot.

I really feel like I’ve written this post before. I bet it’s in here somewhere … anyway. One more from the school years, I think, before we go crazy at college. I could put in Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, because that was our Sixth Year song, or The Boxer, which we also sang at school, or all of Handel’s Messiah for that matter, but instead I’ll take you to the Gaeltacht where the Honours Irish class spent a weekend honing our conversational Irish before the oral exams. We went to Peig-land (i.e. the environs of Dingle) and stayed in self-catering cottages where we had a stereo on the mantelpiece and a constant argument about what music to put on. Mary Black and my George Michael album were about the only things everyone was okay with. I was very proud to be so generally acceptable.

I think we can move on up to the disco-attending years now. I should say nightclub, of course, because a disco is very naff and we were sophisticated young adults who could legally drink (at 18 in Ireland, Americans) and who went to nightclubs. I wasn’t a big drinker and I didn’t have much money, but Hollies was free for members on Wednesdays and Sundays, you could even take the Dart to Blackrock where there’d be nobody on duty to check for a ticket and walk up the long road to the Stillorgan Park Hotel, and four in a taxi back to Dalkey split up pretty cheaply. I wasn’t there for the shifting (generally speaking) or the drink, I was mostly there for the dancing. Sometimes we went to Stradbrook, and that was a rugby club disco, but you could walk home if you were really desperate and you were in a big group.

This one, which I had a lot of trouble finding because I call it The Elephant Song – for reasons that are lost in the mists of my brain – always says Stradbrook to me. And I like it better than the other absolute staple of those years, Right On Time.

I spent an Erasmus year in Spain – ’93 to ’94 – and I should probably illustrate that with The Macarena, but I’m definitely not going to do that. Let’s have some nice Crooded Hoosie (as the Spanish DJs called them) because I liked them then.

Sorry, I’ve just been lost in reverie for a while. There are an awful lot of songs I could put here for Spain – I suppose I met a lot of new people and was exposed to a lot of new-to-me, not to the world, music in that year – Neil Young, James Taylor, Pink Floyd … hmm. It was an interesting time.

I’ll put a song in here for the time when I was a young upwardly mobile professional in Dublin, during the Celtic Tiger years when all we had to spend our money on was dinners out in fancy restaurants and too much wine. And when we threw dinner parties we put on songs like this one:

B and I put together an entire CD of songs to be our wedding favors, so picking just one to stand for our relationship is tricky. I’ll go for this, which still manages to remind me of the cold-glistening Atlantic ocean off Lisbon, a mere week-long blip in our very very long-drawn-out courtship.

And, if you’ll humour me with another, our first-dance song:

Then came the extended new-music drought when I had small children and just wanted to listen to glorious silence in the rare moments when nobody was wailing or fighting, and when they would immediately yell at me to turn off the horrible music if I tried to play anything at all in the car. (The classical station got some airplay for quite a while.) These years are marked by songs we sang, in vain, to try to soothe the furious beasts. Like this one.

And gradually we emerged from that, all of us together, listening to the oldies station and the not-quite-such oldies station on the radio in the car, belatedly discovering the mainstream likes of Katy Perry and Adele, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 along with the much-overplayed soundtrack to Frozen and the odd other thing – Dash was obsessed with Steely Dan’s Haitian Divorce for a while back there. So I’ll pick the Cups Song – one of the first, and one we all still like.

I hope you got a nostalgia kick from a few of those. Now head over to Nicola’s and see what everyone else has chosen.

Soundtrack of my life

Mabel came with us on Dash’s school run this morning, because I was taking her to the doctor straight afterwards (to ascertain that her ongoing sniffles-and-cough-and-ear thing is probably two colds back to back rather than anything worse, like maybe a sinus infection; doctor said if she’s not over it in another week she’ll call in a prescription for us; AANYWAY). Usually, Dash’s traffic-clogged trip to school has the soothing soundtrack of NPR talk radio, but Mabel hates NPR. She wanted the crappy music stations; more specifically, not any songs but preferably the ads. She likes the ads. Why would anyone like the ads? (I like the crappy music stations too, I hasten to clarify, but I like the songs, not the ads.)

So I put on the classical music station and told the kids it was a compromise: a compromise is when nobody gets what they want. In retaliation, Dash started to sing his favourite dirge from music class, which is a two line hum where half the class sings a low monotonous wail and the other half sings a high chirpy incredibly irritating tiddly bit. Maybe it sounds good when they put it all together in music class, but one part at a time sung by Mr I-never-get -bored-of-the-same-line-over-and-over does not. Mabel started to build an imaginary brick wall to shut herself off from him. I glanced back to see her happily spreading invisible mortar and placing invisible bricks. Once her wall was done, she sang her own song: a brief and whiny rendition of Dash’s nemesis in tune form, ‘Shake It Off’. He protested. She said he couldn’t hear her because of her brick wall. I listened really hard to Mozart.

But because it was morning, and we’re all well-rested and not yet grumpy, things didn’t turn ugly, as they easily could have later in the day. Instead of screams and kicks and threats of turning someone out on the Beltway (where quite honestly they would probably get there quicker walking, but also probably flatter), they joined forces. Dash started humming the theme tune to Star Wars, and Mabel joined in, but singing the words ‘Let it Go’ to the melody. (They both hate ‘Let It Go’, which they view as horribly babyish and something they only liked as their immature three-years-ago selves. This about-face happened just after I bought Frozen on DVD.) They happily worked themselves through the themes to Indiana Jones and Harry Potter this way, and finally moved on to a rousing chorus of ‘Shut Up and Dance’.

I was not allowed to join in.

(And now I have remembered this post, from a million years ago, which was mostly inspired by me and B in the car singing along to whatever it was we were listening to, and thinking we needed some underlings to teach to sing along too, before they decided that we were uncool and so were our tastes in music. I think we’ve managed that, though it maybe didn’t turn out exactly as I envisaged. When does it ever, though? We did pretty well.)

Mabel sitting on Dash, on the sofa, sort of.

A sibling moment, but at least not in the car.

Just a note

I heard part of an interview with Paul Simon on the radio today. I had to get out of the car to pump my gas/petrol just when it was getting interesting, but when I got back in he said this, and I really liked it:

“I’d rather take the dark subject and touch on it and then say something funny or, you know, back away from it. When you really get into tender areas in people’s lives, you don’t have to, you know, put a stick in it. You just – if you just touch it gently, it hurts enough. And then you move away and – just to indicate that you have some compassion for how tough it is for just about everybody to make it through this life.”

(You can read the whole interview here.)

He was talking about how he approaches sad events or tragedy in his songs. I think it’s a perfect rule of thumb for any writing – no reader wants to be made miserable (Cormac McCarthy, I’m looking at you). I’d much rather tell a story and let people find the little points of parallel for themselves.

The sea at Dublin Bay

Here’s a picture. Imagine it portrays pain, but just a little.

 

Atheist children and deep thoughts about George Michael

I have to admit it’s nice to live in a secular country where I can get stuff done on Good Friday instead of hiding out being bugged by the children (or going to an interminable stations of the cross service, which we would obviously never dream of doing with the children even if we were still church-going Catholics). Today we went to the thrift store, went out to lunch (what I saved on baseball pants I spent on a high-class fish burger), popped into the library, and finally got some vitals at the supermarket, including a bottle of red for dinner. Catch anyone doing that on Good Friday in Ireland.

The children are on spring break, as of yesterday afternoon. That’s why all this productivity is notable, because they were with me. These days, when I’m so hedonistically child-free for six hours daily from Monday to Friday, I can usually do most of those things without either of them cramping my style. Though I suppose lunch wouldn’t have been so much fun without my two french-fry munchers, who were very good while I insisted on telling them why fish was traditional for this particular day of the year.

It’s so funny raising atheists. I mean, “sin” was a new word to them very recently, that needed to be explained, all theoretically, of course. I love that, I can’t lie. (That would be a sin, after all.) How will they do without all that vital Catholic guilt weighing them down? It’s going to be interesting to find out.

I had this epiphany about George Michael’s lyrics on our way home from New York as we delved our iPod’s back catalogue for some good 80s/90s road-trip music. There was George writing all these songs and making videos with beautiful women in them, and there we all were, us girls, imagining that George wanted to be our lover – and all the time he was probably having a great time thinking what eejits we were because every single song was about gay relationships. Of course. Which are just the same as straight ones in so many ways. Very subversive. Anarchic, practically.

Happy Easter. I changed my header for you – more seasonal, don’t you think?

PInk fuzzy blossoms

More of the same

 

Questionable moments in parenting #267

Lately Dash has been doing his reading with music in the background. It was a suggestion somebody came up with to help him relax while he reads, thus leading, hopefully, to more fluency and swifter reading with no loss of comprehension. I have no idea whether it’s working, to be honest, because he reads in his room nowadays, but he’s really liking the music. He’s becoming quite the mini-authority on Bach and Handel, actually.

As a result of which, I thought it would be good to get him a music player of some sort for Christmas. Something hefty in size and old-school in style: a CD player boombox, in fact. (It has a bluetooth capability to play mp3’s too, if we want to use that.) He loves it. Of course, Santa also had to bring him a CD, so I thought I’d pander to his inner tweenybopper and get a Kidsbop CD. It’s just like the MiniPops of old, if you remember the MiniPops (OMG now I’m having flashbacks of Hey Mickey and Bucks Fizz rendered by 10 year olds*), only more professional sounding. I’m pretty sure when they say “sung by kids” they only mean the backing vocals. Anyway, the one I got (no. 25, Gawd help us) has a fair selection of songs he already knew (Cups, Roar, Royals) and several that are now his new favourites, educating the rest of us in One Direction and Miley Cyrus all the while.

Which brings me to my most recent moment of questionable parenting. He wanted to hear the originals, so I showed him how to search for them on YouTube on my computer while I was making mince pies for the party we were throwing (wildly! with abandon!) yesterday. So I was standing right there telling him which option to select when he looked up Wrecking Ball. And I even thought that this might be a little PG rated as videos go, but I didn’t have the presence of mind, apparently, to nudge the pointer in the direction of the boring lyrics-on-screen version instead, oh no I didn’t.

So then we stood there, he and his little sister and I, watching Miley cavort salaciously with a sledgehammer in her undies (“That must taste yucky,” I said) and ride the eponymous ball and chain with nothing at all on but her rather nice doc martins. “That’s so funny,” said Mabel, “She’s naked!” “Ooh, she must be very cold,” said I, invoking my mother, and all sensible mothers before me, wondering just what this experience was doing to their tender psyches and how long they’d have to be in therapy before this moment was finally exposed as the root of all their troubled lives.

We should maybe stick to Beethoven and his ilk a while longer.

*You’ll be devastated to hear that I can’t find either of these on YouTube to share with you. But there is lots of other MiniPops goodness there. I just can’t decide which one to link to.

Dinner music

An unforeseen side-effect of dinner-at-the-table has been dinner conversation. I had vaguely wondered if I’d need to make a list of topics to discuss or something, but I had banked without the rest of my family members, who of course are far less reticent than I.

Mabel has taken it upon herself to play gameshow host at dinnertime, and plies us each with a question. Sometimes it’s “What’s your favourite colour?” but last night it was a real doozie: “What’s your favourite song?”

To a five-year-old, that’s a pretty easy one. Hers is “Of course I want to build a snowman,” a lesser-known imaginary-response version of the song from Frozen, sung from Elsa’s point of view. Her brother didn’t have much trouble deciding that his (right now) is “Beat it.” Can’t fault Michael Jackson, I suppose. Better than One Direction.

But her father and I were stumped. We spent the rest of the evening taking turns to play our contenders, just a few of them, on the iPod. If you could break it down to favourite song by a certain artist, or in a genre, or in one period of your life … but favourite song? Just one? Ever? Impossible. I’m still trying to come up with my definitive list.

Do you have one? What’s your favourite song?

Children wearing headphones

Choonz

Concerted effort

My favourite Christmas carol is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, because as an alto I can’t get up high enough for all the other ones.

I used to sing in choirs. I don’t have a particularly good voice, or a particularly strong voice, and I can only stay in tune when surrounded by a group of people also singing the same thing, but I enjoyed it and I can read music decently enough not to go horribly noticeably wrong. I also showed up for practice, which is always a bonus from a director’s point of view.

My husband has also sung in choirs for many years. He’s much better at it than I am, being what you might call legitimately musical and with a nice voice to boot. He’ll even sing alone in front of other people, if you ply him with a drink or three. And it will sound good.

At Christmas, the Messiah is what we should be singing. I sang in the Messiah several times, in school and college and afterwards too. I could probably still get a fairish proportion of the alto line right, if given a score and placed right in the middle of all the other altos. Some day, I’ll go to a singalong Messiah and do that, I hope.

For years, the choir concert was part of the beginning of Christmas. Long black skirt, black long-sleeved top, putting on my makeup in the bathrooms in the Science building of UCD, or the ones Dramsoc used in the LGs of the Arts block. Waiting upstairs in the O’Reilly Hall, going through those last few bits where I still went wrong, marking them with a pencil so at least I’d know where to stop singing for two or three notes rather than mess it up. The sound of an orchestra tuning up; it’s like the clinking of ropes on masts in the harbour on a breezy summer’s day. Sometimes I was in the orchestra instead – third clarinet or something like that. Again, not very good, but a show-er-up.

I love the anticipation, the lights, being on stage, being important but camouflaged as one of many. Not being the one who faints, that’s vital; there’s always one. Watching the conductor, trying not to giggle, turning pages silently. Looking out for parents, friends, whoever you could strongarm to come along. Smiling keeps you in tune. File out row by row, one by one.

On the whole, I enjoy a concert a lot more when I’m part of it than when I’m just watching. But we should find a concert to go to, because it’s not Christmas without one.

Under a rock

Can we just talk about how far under a rock I have lived for the past several years? Because it’s a long way. The trouble with living under a rock is that you don’t know you’re there because if you knew about the popular culture things you’d missed, well, you wouldn’t have missed them. To put things in perspective, I still think Adele is new and trendy, and I’ve heard of Scissor Sisters but I don’t think I’ve ever heard them. It was sheer luck last year that I ever managed to know about Gangnam Style and Gotye and Call me maybe.

But still. There was the Miley Cyrus thing, which I heard about because it was all over my Twitter and my Facebook feeds, but I’d never heard of this other person in the striped suit that she was lap-dancing all over (much more briefly, in fact, when I finally watched the clip today, than it was made out to be by all the scandalized media outlets). And then I found out his name was Robin Thicke and that he used to go by the stagename Thicke, which I dunno maybe I’m old but that just sounds like a terrible name to me.

So I’d seen reference to his song, called Blurred Lines, which sounded to me like something ponderous and worthy like Tubular Bells (not that I’ve heard that either, to my knowledge, but it’s all instrumental, right? Not right?). And I saw the lyrics to it somewhere and it was all terribly misogynistic and horrible and not something any right-minded feminist could condone.

Then a couple of days ago in the car, completely unrelatedly, I happened to swing by a radio station that was neither Classic Rock nor Classical NPR, and I heard an eminently summery catchy tune. I tried to remember the words so I could maybe find it again, but they seemed to be something awfully generic about a “good day” and “having fun” or whatever. I was afraid I’d never manage to remember, and, as predicted, by the time I was home I had no idea what I’d heard.

You can see where this is going. On a whim this afternoon I put “Blurred Lines” into You Tube and discovered that the nasty lyrics and the catchy tune went together like carrots and peas. And then I watched the video and was duly apalled by all those women cavorting in flesh-toned dental floss without a single underwire between the lot of them, while Mr Thicke remained fully clad, letting us know exactly what he thinks a good girl does. Gross. I feel yucky.

The thing is, if you watch the Jimmy Fallon version, the lyrics aren’t nearly so egregious. Could we all just agree to do that, and maybe Thicko (as he’d be known in Dublin) will learn the error of his ways?