Archive for the ‘My Life’s Rich Pageant’ Category

My reading calendar has been consciously in place longer than my music one, which is still driven only by feeling until maybe my last post, where I codified my feelings, for better or for worse.

I’m not sure how it started, but it must have been feelings like my music ones, and then a decade or so ago I looked at all the books on my shelf and decided to enjoy the carousel that was my mind, for once. Some of these monthly selections arose very naturally, long before I was conscious of anything, some came when I saw I had a mess of worthy books that were not being read. 

You might wonder where the nature books are; well they have been declared an ongoing concern, with readings in that vein taken up throughout the seasons. 


Russian, or Continental, fiction. This clearly arose from my working world days, taking the train to work in bitter weather and enjoying soaking up every phantasmagoric page of bedraggled, disgruntled, gauche civil servant fiction.


Brit hist, Vicky, Boney, Scots, &c. This started in an era of a lot of reading of the eras and lives of Napoleon and Queen Victoria, branching into general British history, including and especially the more alienated nations, plus the rest of Europe. The 19th century doesn’t loom as large as it once did, although it is still immense.


Presidential bios/U.S. history. Having collected two sets of presidential biographies, this seemed requisite. One president a year in at least one short book, and history related to his era.


International history (non-U.S., non-European). Adventures in my smattering of history books set in Asia, Africa, South America, Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East, the Pacific, the Arctic, Siberia &c.


Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series. In order written, as series should be read. We’ll see if I live long enough. I have a couple of translations of some of the books and have enjoyed comparing them to the originals when selecting.


Children’s fiction, Very Short Introductions. Summer away from school, why not read the old favorites? I have pairs of Oxford’s “Very Short Introductions” books and this an opportune time for summer study fun!


Thick novel. Sometimes not so thick. Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.


Music, art. A small group of classical music books (scores, lives), plus a lot of books about 19th-centure painters, mostly. 


Greek, Classical World, ancient, Louis MacNeice. A return to my heady first year of college where I delightedly delved into Classics. Greek Epics, plays, and poems, maybe history and art, what have you. Other ancients have been added to the mix. I began reading my collected Louis MacNeice (born on a date near mine) poems whose publication dates matched my age. I abandoned this habit several years ago, but am rectifying that this catch-up year.


Poetry, ghost stories, Irving-Chew. More loving return to schooldays, and what other month could be most poetic of the year, Keats’ birth month? On his birthday I read Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” annually for a decade or so. This gave way to Ruth Chew books about witches and magic. I also read a biography of A. C. Swinburne this month a while back. I never liked his poetry, but dug his life, and decided he’d make the ideal Hallowe’en persona if I ever put a lot of effort into ever wearing a costume again. 


Philosophy, religion. November weather must make me think, or want to. Paving the way for celebration and change?


Mystery, comics, roleplaying game rules/worlds. This started with reading a volume of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books per December along with Wodehouse or something akin. Now I have some comic book collections and roleplaying game guides lying around, so might add those. We’ll see.  


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My Music Calendar

Turn, turn, turn, spin, spin, spin.

Certain music comes to mind at certain times of year, which is no surprise for a merry-go-round mind like mine. I am glad it is in tune with the seasons and not just completely random. Several years ago I noticed similar inclinations for the types of books I want to read at certain times of year, so I made a “book type of the month” that has gone well since then. Maybe I’ll make another post sharing that sometime.

This will be updated from time to time.


Shelleyan Orphan, We Have Everything We Need, spring awakens this their last album continues to grow on me.


Split Enz, the romance begins afresh


The Church, Uninvited, Like The Clouds, loud spring torrents and freshets

The Jesus & Mary Chain, Darklands, april skies, yes i’m happy when it rains



Shelleyan Orphan, Century Flower, a contender for first album I associate with a season, summer flies buzzin’ bees, heavenly.

The Trash Can Sinatras

Split Enz, Bic Runga, The Go-Betweens, the romance continued so long ago now…

Sly & The Family Stone, there’s a riot goin’ on! Never more true.


The Smiths

Morrissey, Viva Hate

The Church, priest=aura



The Zombies, Odessey & Oracle, see my previous post for the history of this.


Shelleyan Orphan, Humroot, quiet, close autumnal beauty


The Church, Seance, the Beardsley-esque cover image, it must be autumn soon


The Church, Untitled #23, as we near the end

R.E.M.’s Murmur took hold this year, as it often does in hazy, witching days in fall or late summer.

Herman’s Hermits Blaze, too, hit the spot with its rich music and blots of yellow gold and raw gray-green turf on its cover.

Sixpence None The Richer, Sixpence None The Richer, like clockwork every most beautiful month of the year


Echo & The Bunnymen, cool, slicing apocalypse

The Sundays, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, gray on grey on grey on gray


The Ocean Blue, The Ocean Blue, this may be the first album that always kept popping up at this time of year. When streets are ice crystalled after fallen snow, that is the time I think of this. Really frigid winter days.

Babacar, Babacar, a little slip of this Caroline Crawley free-form before we slip into…

Shelleyan Orphan, Helleborine, a summer holler in winter, ending in crystal Shelley


The Cure, I have vague memories that I listened to The Cure in winter first, on those cold cold days just before Christmas on tapes given to me by my sister and her friend, also informed by another friend for whom The Cure was her fave. All cozy and cats and poetry and cold and blankets.

Ian McCulloch, Candleland

Der Bingle



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No Doubt: Return of Saturn

An album listen. A rough record of my thoughts while listening.

Ex-Girlfriend: Guitar strings, then a driving beat. Smart, sharp, but romantic and vulnerable. So this album begins, with its mysteries to me when I first listened to it, a decade after it had come out. But it brought me back to when it came out, when Gwen Stefani and I (of similar age) were similarly looking at our futures. She had plans, me I had never really paid much attention to nailing things downand I suppose that’s what this album and lead-off song are all about, one person with a clear wish for settling down, the other not feeling as much urgency despite wanting the same thing. Here’s the bridge, a little of the whine of Tragic Kingdom when she’d enamored me with “I’m Just a Girl” and “Spiderwebs” in the mid-90s, just five years before this leap.

Simple Kind of Life: Super transition to this crunchy song. This is a new No Doubt and the band is going along with her lyrics, not ska-ing it up constantly, which made Tragic Kingdom a hit or miss. Gwen at her most vulnerable and honest. Who wouldn’t want just the simple kind of life? If we’d opted for that, would we be happier now, would we have been happier then? “I’m covered in shells,” I love that cryptic image. “Oh, I always was the one with all the love, you came along, I’m hunting you down / Like a sick domestic abuser looking for a fight,” I love those lines. She understands young love in its all its aspects. I love how she adds that “oh” between lines. Gorgeous layers of sound, drum fills, her voice at its finest. It’s all really simple enough, this song, but No Doubt had and never has surpassed it. How she turns over different modulations of the refrain at the end, “A simple kind of life….”

Bathwater: Notwithstanding the performance that brought me this song, cue up Sanjaya on AI, this one hangs with the previous two in a gorgeous hat trick. Comical, music hall, yet still touching and effective for all its ooky, okay gross, chorus image. Yes, we do really feel that way when in lovewe’d wash in their bathwater. In fact that may be the clearest sign of love, being more than willing to more than tolerate others’ bodily functions and fluids. Gwen is once again led down the primrose path, not thinking about the future, thinking through what dating this person would be like, would it come to anything, would it just work out somehow despite everything? The comical girl voice at the bridge, it’s junior high all over again. She’s almost tripping over the complex alliteration here, but it’s working as the song traipses to its final chorus. The little girl voice returns again as she relishes her wash in nostalgic disregard, like a kid with a serious crush.

Six Feet Under: The hat trick that starts the album ends, and this song’s alright, but nothing special, a return to the old No Doubt. Good beat, the melody and lyrics not quite up to the previous three. Would the album return to form or is this another case of a 50/50 album like Tragic Kingdom50/50 being what I call an album that is half great, half virtually skippable. There are a fair number of these even in the albums I’ve kept, and it shows how hard it is to make a great cover to cover album.

Magic’s In The Makeup: An instant return to the first three super songs, amazing! Her voice pretty again, sentiment open, vulnerable, trying to overcome her girlhood ways. “I’m a chameleon,” how fun to sing along with that. “Makeup’s all off, who am I, the magic’s in the make up, who am I?” What a chorus, what a chorus! (I always thought she was saying, “Makeup’s all wrong,” also good) The magic in the makeup on her face, the making stuff up in her mind about who she really is and what she really wants. What is her true make-up? Again, amazingly touching, and the chorus and voice and accompaniment all work together startlingly well. Lovely modulations of the lyrics and melody. “I wanna be the real thing,” and she wants the real thing when it comes to love and relation to the world as well.

Artificial Sweetener: Sister of the previous, a little more aggressive, more sexual. “The return of Saturn,” amazing to sing along with. The mystery of the phrase before I learned what it referred to. Still, not knowing exactly what it meant, there was a menace to it, fitting for the raw assessment of her life, the “second guessing,” and the artificiality of all she does and has done. “I’m only sure that I’m not sure.”

Marry Me: Another contemplative little tune, confessing again her humble, conventional side. I had this too, I have it, I never cried out to be an artist, but here I am in my current situation with those writerly dreams at least half my humble ambitions. Echoing her earlier self, teasing to remind us of her first hit song, beginning a verse singing “A girl in the world…” Echoing when she wasn’t thinking who would be the one to marry her, but proclaiming her grrrring independence in that song that grabbed me: “I’m Just a Girl.” Nothing wrong with wanting a conventional life and still freedom to choose our way, independent identity even in a close relationship. She is both the woman of “Marry Me” and “I’m Just A Girl,” and maybe that’s why everything seems askew in her experience of this world.

New: Immediately catchy, starting with the chorus. Caught up in the immediate rush of “different than the former,” has she abandoned the wishes of the previous slew of songs or is this new guy the one who will fix up the mess of wishes that has become her life?

Too Late: Churning guitar, then back to the wistful, whimsical Gwen, wanting to parade her new love from the previous song (apparently about her Bushy future and now past husbandthis song fittingly begins like a famous Bush song). Again “Fulfillment just adds fuel to the blaze,” hard to pick out, fun to sing, more alliteration. Her wordiness is fun on this album and she had it in Tragic Kingdom too. The butterfly lines, gorgeously described. Is it another relationship that will end without marriage, in sheer disappointment after initial fervor? She can’t get past the indifference that can come after lust is sated. It seems so. :(

Comforting Lie: Another wonderful melody for her to play her voice on. Great, frantic chorus. So fun to sing along with “Oh build a bomb and blow it away blow it away ” ending with a lovely guitar bit back to the verses. On and on and I would love it. And it seems the reationship of the previous few songs is gone in dramatic fashion, with a joy in blowing it up. Sort it out, toss it away, just give up, but she can’t decide…. “I’m feeling weak, yeah……” Amazing how the album keeps yielding such precious moments to feel and sing and revel in.

Suspension Without Suspense: Clever title and wonderful working through of the chorus, the story of her life and this album as she wrestles with finding what she really wants and falling into traps along the way. I’ve had a relationship or two or like this: “We get so far and then it just starts rewinding, and the same old song we’re playing it again, suspension without suspense, intention without intent.” I find myself singing this couplet often. We can’t get any further in this relationship, it’s stuck, it cannot build any higher, but I don’t want to lose it, why can’t things stay the same?

Staring Problem: Instant turn-off once one starts to notice it, and maybe starts skipping it, but why skip a weak tune on a top-tier album? I got over skipping it and kinda like it now. It has a goofy fun to it, especially with her little piped-in voice in the background of the break, itching to fight saying crazy stuff and that little girl voice joining her in the chorus, and then the shouts at the end. “Predisposed cat fighter.” Seems shorter than its 2:44 and the gamelan ending way cool, shades of my 1998 first experience of that music, not long before this album came out!

Home Now: Jam-type (well, Style Council and Crowded House too) beginning with station waiting room announcement voices, maybe she is hitting the road. Seems like the final song of the album, but it’s not. Only downside is the intervening of the old No Doubt and its a-melodic ska stuff in the break. It’s catchy and weird here, a semi-weakness of an awesome song. These last two songs again somehow return this album to genius. so well over half of the songs are top top tier with nearly all the others good to very good. “What you givin’ up for me, what shall I give up for you? I love the “shall.” Wondrous chorus, delayed: “If you lived here you’d be home now.” Sweet voice, driving chorus to the extreme with the layering and keyboard stabs, guitar lacing around the affair. Horns, “casual light days, part of the furniture,” guitar lacing again. Could go on another ten minutes musically, with more chorus please please.

Dark Blue: Enticing title and use of “dark blue” in the lyrics, giving a cosmic tone to Return of Saturn. Cool harpsichord, it’s too bad you’re so sad, “Unlike you I had it easy, you’re dark blue.” I never did catch that first phrase; I thought it was a garbled “moonlight blue.” Suburban, nice family me and Gwen vs. whoever she’s with and his dark blue past. Wanting to heal her loved one. So much love to give and no one to give to…

Piano Coda, Too Late: The Cardigans did this, Madness too in a way, but not so affecting as here. But here it lets her be alone with her thoughts, and I’m alone with mine.

As I said before, nothing else captures the feel of that time for me even though I didn’t know the album then. The late 90s, when I wound down grad school and found new work and then struggled subconsciously to settle down, trying to get over and get started with things that didn’t work out. Truly staggering. Time travel through one of the most important albums of my life.


Saturn from 1996 to 2000, by NASA Hubble








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I remember you by

thunderclap in the sky

The feelings that surge in this one, more than any of our previous five Post-its. A certain M introduced me to Split Enz on those two celebrated mix tapes, and a certain L will forever come to mind first when I hear this group sing, as they do here more than almost anywhere else.

If you’re wondering what this is all about.

This is the most visceral of my Post-its, thunderclap in the sky, for me, someone who celebrates rainstorms, and used to thrill over being caught in them in grad school in Virginia, leaving the library as they moved in, being drenched while walking, then simply changing clothes when I got back to my apartment. Another time there, one struck at 8 or 9 pm and I dodged lightning bolts escaping my office with a female colleague of mine, we two laughing it up under a small wooden pavilion when we needed a break. Then there’s the morning thunderstorm when I was drawn to driving out to a great marsh and watching nature take its course seemingly ignoring the weather in what many imperceptive humans would describe as hell all round.

And then there’s that Louis MacNeice poem that led to a story with the same title.

Some memories of storms, and though I am more conscious now, sadly, of the chance of being struck by lightning, I still hope to be caught in them despite my mutated self. This song invariably brings me to L. The thunderclap of the lyric makes me think of her every time, so, it’s the lyric, the song, that brings her to me, not an actual thunder. It’s all the sameshe reappears to me in moments to treasure. The venture I took to go out and see her: tyranny of distance didn’t stop the cavalier.

* * *

This song is part of what I call a “hat trick.” This is a misnomer, but trifecta sounds too cheap, trilogy to lumbering. In hockey, not that I am a fan of that either, a hat trick is three goals scored in one game by the same player. I have co-opted the phrase to mean a span on an album where three songs in a row sustain a rarefied air, something well above and beyond, ten minutes of bliss. Why this matters I am not sure, but it’s hard to sustain such excellence and I make mental notes whenever I notice one. One the brain’s many parlour games. Time to share.

The practice started with Split Enz’ first album, Mental Notes, where three songs near the album’s end reach that peak, one I’m not sure has ever been matched. The hat trick we’re talking about today is not as intense, but the song “Six Months In A Leaky Boat” was prefaced by an instrumental called “Pioneer” on the Split Enz collection where I first heard it; and this was as it was on the Time and Tide album release. “Pioneer” sets the stage with smooth, swirling synth zest for “Six Months” and its video which has a touching, albeit outdated, nostalgia to it, bringing to mind initial contact and lost love.

The song is followed on Time and Tide by the first Split Enz I ever heard, “Haul Away.” This was on the mix tape M made for me, the one that introduced me to so much music of my future and present. So from “Pioneer” to “Six Months” to “Haul Away” it is a fantastic, very personal hat trick, even a triptych. (Maybe I should be calling these triptychs, but triptych implies a feature piece flanked by two lesser.) How the songs fold into one another: the instrumental setting the stage, the big impact of the main song, then the jaunty jig of a “nervous breakdown” ending things. More than ever, I feel the “lapping at my heels,” “love goes all wrong,” “it’s all we can do to carry on.” Listening to them all again yesterday, it’s amazing all the loving detail that goes into music, all eventually swept away by Time and Tide as the world stops listening and moves on to something new.

(Maybe I should go with three hares instead of hat trick. I am reading Watership Down for my big summer novel this year. That is a more circular symbol, though. But maybe that’s fitting for someone like me whose internal life is like being on a merry-go-round.)

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The Go-Betweens, another group I could write a volume on, or at least threaten to. Links to a handful of people in my life, with initials like M, J, S, A, L, R.

Your hair frames

the perfect face…

It seems it is actually “a” perfect face, but “the” is more unique, is it not? And that’s how I heard it. Another beautiful thought and image, matching the freshness, almost naiveté amid the sad experience, of the Go-Betweens last two albums, Tallulah and 16 Lovers Lane, where romance and diminishing romance shared the space with four of the band members. I always pictured this face as almost literally framed by the bobbed or flipped hair I admired from my 1920s phase that I’m not sure has ended.

“You Tell Me” has those rare, ethereal high harmonies of Waterloo Sunset. And, the beauty, the confidence of the woman being sung about: “Then you tell me, I have a choice, you you, you you.” The album is named after herTallulah.

And I remember one of those afore-initialed people in my life telling me her favorite line in the songcan you guess it? There was the drive to a wine-tasting that took place under a tent in summer rain with a shaggy dog dashing around the grounds and a little jazz combo. Many many little Go-Betweens memories.

Too bad to some now it’s a textbook, with a cool cover at least. Feeling the songs naturally as they came along into my life, that was remarkable and why they’ve had such an impact.

Driving one recent day, thinking about these associations, another interfered when “Brown Eyed Girl” came on the radio. I think we all know that gorgeous masterpiece, still strong although I’d heard it multiple times nightly for a solid year blaring outside a bar across a creek from a grad school apartment. It brought to mind the person I got to know then, enriching and ruining my life in equal dose. Yes, the past is quite dead to those who don’t remember it, and how many have I forgotten about or have forgetten about me! But when it lives, whether it’s healthy or not, it can be good company.

One more to go.


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More than a decade ago, I scribbled a few song lyrics on Post-it notes and strew them around my room; they are now stacked in a cabinet. There are six, and I thought it would be fun to take a look at each one and see what they dredge up. I recently re-listened to a John Betjeman interview where he likened pop stars to poets for our times, and these six quotations I wrote down were poetry to me.

Telephone rings,

someone speaks —

She would very much

Like to go — out to a show…

I remember being excited by these words, the idea of a woman who would call me out of the blue and invite me out. This Post-it gave a tiny sketch of an ideal woman, an ideal experience and situation. Wistfulness, a longing, a something lost in the past these are part of the Post-it sextet, but there’s more to it as well. The song is called “Paintbox,” and its lyrics and music bring a bunch of images to my mind I won’t get into here.

This Post-it has a line of tape across the top of it, so I had it taped onto something at some point. Could it have been a telephone?

Featured too often on t-shirts and other cultural utterances as a kid, I avoided Pink Floyd (and Led Zeppelin) for a long time (I have still successfully avoided Led Zeppelin). One day I got hold of Relics, a grab-bag compilation of their early stuff came my way, and that along with a bit of knowledge of the oddity of Syd Barrett got me to listen.

Composed by their keyboardist, Rick Wright, “Paintbox” has a pressing, percussion-driven beat from the drums and piano. Other than the romantic moment I’d latched onto, its theme is more of desire to escape from pounding social pressures. The singer wants to be rid of fools, rules, ‘their’ friends, the game, the scene, traffic, she. “I open the door to an empty room / Then I forget.” When the girl telephones, the singer isn’t sure what to do, but she sees through him, and the outing is planned and some comical stress and anger ensue.

A wonderful mix of music and words and themes from, as the 45s below call them, The Pink Floyd. One of their best songs, and it’s the b-side of a single, something not so unusual when you get to know a group well. 


We’ll see what’s next in our Post-it sextet soon.

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As I look at my lists⁠—lists of favorite books, games, favorite movies and shows, movies and shows to see, careers, what to do today, what I want to do with my life in writing, nature studies, and learning the didgeridoo⁠—I sometimes think of what has been lost, how life was long before these lists really took hold and established what seems to be a permanence.

When I was young, I didn’t think about or try to plan which way my mind would go, and accomplished seemingly all sorts of things, including a few fun lists, of course, from the World Almanac, an Estes model rocket catalogue, or whatever else was in my hands; but they were never lists that pressured me into the future. You never know, and more importantly it never seems to matter, which way the mind will go when untutored, unstudied, left to its own devices, un-self-conscious. What projects, pursuits, and pitfalls it will fall into and just as easily slip out of. If there is an inherent energy, a lot will be done, possibly even accomplished.

A couple of writers come to mind who wrote in this way⁠—Lord Byron and H.G. Wells. Byron was an endless fount of poetry for a lot of his life, and was tired by his editors, but kept composing and wasn’t given to too much polishing. Wells pursued his writing objectives, completed them, and then moved on. He did not dwell upon his novels in the aesthetic revision sense. John Keats could sit under a plum tree, scribble up an ode and leave it thrust into some books, to be scooped up by Charles Armitage Brown and later published as a masterpiece.

There is something to working randomly that the burden of age, conscience, time pressures, or simple change has robbed me of. But, contrariwise, there is something to that final polishing and publishing that takes conscientiousness and follow thru. The fine art of acting in the moment and then taking the steps to preserve what is worthwhile out of it.


This tidbit came to mind amidst this crisis and all of this almost lecherous turning out of doors and socializing in larger and larger groups: “I am perfectly fine with many things being put on hold. When you’re on crutches you can’t play soccer for a while⁠—do something else. I don’t know why many in our society don’t draw that same conclusion.” My married, but otherwise bordering-on-hermit friend concurred, adding a few choice words about sheep, well here they are: “Maybe I’m full of myself but I think many in our society don’t have the capacity to draw the same conclusion. People work their jobs, watch television. They aren’t critical thinkers. They aren’t learners. They’re sheep. Sitting at home all day, they don’t know what to do with themselves. When you have a narrow identity and that identity is taken away, they don’t see anything other than getting that identity back. I don’t know. It’s a theory.”


And then this exercise from an old junior high friend who posted the idea online: favorite songs of yours as a kid, from tenderest babe up to early junior high. I copped out a bit on this, not digging into the deeper reaches of my memory. Maybe I was a little afraid to probe into the pre- and early elementary school daze, but what I came up with was something at least. Just way too many songs passing into my brain in the 70s. I fondly remember playing the song “I Can’t Stand It” from a neighbor’s Donny Osmond album at speed 78, ca. 1977, and I know that wasn’t because we liked the song. 

So, restricting myself to early ’45s I bought that I still have and sometimes play: “Come on Eileen” Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Rock of Ages” Def Leppard, “Cum on Feel the Noize” Quiet Riot, “Electric Avenue” Eddy Grant, “Abracadabra” Steve Miller Band, “Even the Nights Are Better” Air Supply, “One Thing Leads to Another” The Fixx, “The Safety Dance” Men Without Hats, “Keep Feelin’ Fascination” The Human League, “I Feel for You” Chaka Khan, “Stray Cat Strut” The Stray Cats, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” Taco, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Bonnie Tyler. Not so bad, actually!

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After a harrowing walk among the fair weather hordes Friday near midday, I stayed in Saturday, and left the apartment by 6 am on Sunday, the time rabbits still nibble on grasses with little wariness and squirrels just begin to scamper.

A warm day already, so it was clear people would be abroad in force, but from 6 to 7, sheer heaven for the solitary walker. Very few people to pass, and very few cars to interfere with walking in the middle of the road anyway. I walked the back and side streets, then up one of the usually busier but now deserted shop streets all with the same bliss.


Morning light.

The air was warming and the birds were quietly going about their business, apart from a couple of Ring-billed Gulls that stood on the edge of usually crowded street lustily disputing a roll of bread. Chimney Swifts silently soared way above, but wait, those must be their chitters I hear, littering the air. A couple of Mourning Doves shot by, a Starling browsing an alley, House Sparrows up to their usual noise and springtime strutting, Pigeons aflutter, ubiquitous Robins seeking their breakfasts on the bits of grass and mud.

Unknown warblers sang above, requiring much patience and binoculars, the latter of which I certainly did not have. But the feeling of spring pervaded thanks to this and all the green and warmth and anticipation in the early morning air. Undercurrent to it, I kept thinking of Rebels & Redcoats, an old historical board game I used to play.


Maybe it was on warm spring like this, I used to go a suburb or two away, to Prosek’s greenhouse and game shop, once I was an older kid and could drive and the shops at the mall Kroch’s and Brentano’s and Hobbytown (or whatever it was called) dried up for board wargames. My mind’s turn to it made me wonder if it was a hint, that that time was the summit of my experience, quietly and excitedly browsing through all of the shrinkwrapped games with their historical enticements and images of maps and tiny square cardboard pieces representing the violent valor of ages past. Despite the mundaneness and evil of war, had there really ever been anything better than the imagination stirred by this intent browsing? I think of a René Magritte painting, Homesickness, when I think of the pride and futility of so much of what humans get up to, and how our better natures turn our backs on such things, but there was still that pull from Rebels & Redcoats and that shop in those early days of my life and that hobby.

I live now in a neighborhood with its own lovely garden center, complete with greenhouse for that luxurious smell of peat and loam or whatever it is, and an appended shop, in this case more a fancy gift shop than wargame and miniatures shop with a war vet guy sitting at the counter wearing a plaid shirt and breathing through tubes attached to an oxygen machine. I remember him telling me he’d game in the evenings, miniature soldiers laid out on lush green tables full of terrain, re-enacting Borodino, Gettysburg, The Bulgethe three battles he said any wargamer worth their salt had simulated.

As I walked down my street home, I found myself singing the chorus of De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson’s “Thank Your Father,” a female Cardinal perused a space of sidewalk, and quite surprising, a pair of Blue Jays with their whistling noise dashed high overhead. I can’t remember seeing Blue Jays around here.


Corot sky and trees, with that lovely sfumato.

When I got to my side street, where my car resides, another toss of a peanut, and a Crow welcoming and taking. Later that day, peering into the garden next door now and then, and the next morning walking out again, Common Yellowthroat, Hermit Thrush, Chickadee singing loudly, House Wren tittering it up and finally being spied when it flew across the street to another shrub. So many, the various summits of our experience.


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Well, it happened, and it had been such a long time since it had happened.

A couple of weeks ago, our current malaise brought me out into Google street views to walk around old neighborhoods I’d lived in and visitedincluding Australia, where I once took a fateful trip. Although there was a lot of nostalgia in the air during all of those virtual street visits, the feeling didn’t come to me with full force at that time.

The other day, though, I put on Temple of Low Men by Crowded House, and lay down to stretch, or was I standing to play air guitar? “I could feel you underneath my skin / as the wind rushed in, / sent the kitchen table crashing / she said nobody move.”


But it happened. “I Feel Possessed” came on, its pulsing, quavering opening. And by the time I got to the third song, “Into Temptation,” the feeling had settled in and stayed with me for the whole album. Images from my trip to Oz, with my special welcoming committee of one “crazy Aussie/Indo rep” waiting the other side of the customs gauntlet. I’ve never felt that way before or since; no poems written since the aftermath of that era played itself out.


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It might have been, “You opened up your door / I couldn’t believe my luck / you in your new blue dress / taking away my breath” that really drove it home, zapped me from above and within. “Into your wide open arms  / no way to break this spell.” The warmth I felt then from her, and the warmth I gave her.


Lying back listening, standing up singing along, my mind drifting during the lesser songs that make the excellence of the album even greater sometimes. As it played, there were a bunch of thoughts and feelings, but what predominates is loveit was a pure feeling of love for this person and that time, all happening to me at that moment, and that’s not a bad thing. “Not asking for anything / I just want to be there when it happens again.”


“As I turn to go / you looked at me for half a second.”

More photos here.

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These days, the mind has time to range every which way in time, and my thoughts recently turned to those who influenced my taste in music. Here are the major ones, all well before I graduated from college.

First must be my dad, who used to strum his acoustic guitar and sing for us from his Sing Out! magazines of folk music. “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “Reuben James,” “The Wabash Cannonball,” “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream,” and all of that great stuff. He also spun a lot of Beatles records and turned us on to classical music.

sing out reprints

My elementary school music teacher, Mrs. H, with her wide eyes, also stirred classical imaginings in us. Portraits of the great composers graced the wall she stood in front of while she taught us to play “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder and xylophone, or guided us on the most atmospheric of experiences, the “Danse Macabre” of Saint-Saëns, which we played out every Halloween.

There were her Christmas/Holiday Programs, where each class took their turn on the risers performing a holiday classic, or something new. We sang “Winter Wonderland,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” complete with top hats and white gloves. And in 5th grade, we sang an original composition that started with, “The little lord Jesus asleep on the hay…”. There were feature songs where my clarinet-ing was even allowed; they conjured up images of winter and Hanukkah. After each class performed their song, they filed over to the holiday tree and placed ornaments we’d made in Mrs. S’s art class. Oh the glitter and the glue!

We had songs in our textbooks too, going back to first and second grades, “I’m gonna put put put on my walking shoes / I’m gonna but but button up my coat / I’m gonna walk right across the land there’s lots of things to see / And if you want to you can walk with me / Walk with me, walk with me, walk with………me!”

Classical also benefitted from the Hooked on Classics record series. I had no idea this guy was the conductor and arranger for ELO’s orchestral elements! Melodies still pop into my head and segue into the melodies they segued into on those records, often having no idea what the pieces are. They’re just stamped on my brain.

My mom had her share of influence too, driving us as the did on various errands throughout the day. It was 70s and early 80s radioCarly Simon, Kool & The Gang, Ambrosia, &c.that was soundtrack to trips to soccer and tennis lessons, Jewel-Osco, Nichols Library, the Y. Imagine something like this.

We’d stay at my grandparents’ in Ohio, and eventually one got to spinning the records stored indoors or in my grandpa’s workshop attached to the garage. My grandpa might have suggested Louis Armstrong, and he had a few brittle Big Band 78s I still possess, but it was more the records left behind by my aunt and unclesChad & Jeremy, Marianne Faithfull, Paul Mauriat, The Kingston Trio that scintillated my ears.


Beautiful cover from the U.S. release of her first album (from discogs.com)

There was also a great double album Glenn Miller memorial collection, opening the way for Big Band music galore a little down the road.

Somehow or another I got to buying 45s and LP records too, gleaned from radio listening. I remember mowing the lawn with my Walkman headphones on my ears, listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown. Early MTV had its place too. 104.3 and its oldies; 94.3 and its even olders. The cassettes I recorded direct from radio with songs like “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs and “Cinnamon” by Derek!

Just as important, my friends BB and DH, who got me into rap in a big way. That first tentative buy of Raising Hell by Run-DMC, the sophomoric sonic boom of License To Ill, scouring record shops for discs by spray-paint-scrawl Techno Hop records and the endless appreciation for record scratching, including trying to imitate it. Cool creations by Mantronix. Public Enemy. Some conventionality arose as well, as someone kept playing Milli Vanilli and such things.


One of a few great Techno Hop records (from discogs.com)

Later, as high school ended, a new awakening. Alternative music groups too many to even begin naming. Two seminal, immortal “miscellany” tapes from MD, different schools of thought embodied by EJ, RJ, GU, and the rest. My sister’s equally immortal mix tapes, she and her best friend lending me tapes, copying music for me.


A smattering of tapes from the time

What heady Curefriend days those were! This carried forward into college, accentuated by school breaks and dozens of letters and little packages sent back and forth. And I can’t forget the colorful reference books I inhaled, on British beat groups of the 60s, on alternative rock. I’d just roll the names of the groups and songs over in my head time and again, and sometime was even able to listen to the actual music. A trek to Woodfield Mall to buy (and hear) my first Jam album was one such incident.

What a wonderful time. No wonder my heart and mind still return to it, and all of those that went before.

Oh, and have you voted in the Signac puzzle piece poll yet?

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