Posts Tagged ‘family / friends / personal’

Just over a year ago, he was sick and just lying around; finding food he’d want to eat was not easy. He kept going, though, and we even thought he might recover and keep living in his senior state for a good while longer. It didn’t happen, though, and I came home a year and a day ago for his final moments.

This is one of the songs I was listening to yesterday, one that I was listening to a year ago. It’s all out of context from their original intention, but the lyrics here still make me think of him lying there, and thinking he might turn around. I hadn’t said goodbye, but the pain and doubt and wondering if this was the end or if he’d recover made me feel these words:

Don’t even say you’re turning around again
Don’t try to walk back into my life
I fall for it every time, I fall for it every time

I lose my will
I turn toward you still
It’s a bad dream where I
Can’t raise my hand to wave goodbye

Don’t even say you’re turning around again
Don’t try to walk back into my life
I fall for it every time, I fall for it every time

Springtime Carnivore, “Bad Dream Baby”

Yes, it makes little sense, but what really does?


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Applying my movie list idea to TV shows before the movie list is even released! One show for each year of my life. Unlike movies, there have only been a few years of my life sans much television. Those busy times were great, and so were the dinners mixed with TV and bits of family conversation from the 70s to present. Here, a nod to different program genres so as not to overwhelm or monotonize the brain. Roughly, the first twenty-five were viewed in my younger years, the second group viewed in my older, more adult years.

I’ll add a new one every year and maybe tinker by adding links and other stuff as the weeks pass.

Newhart: My favorite show as a kid, especially the first few seasons before the characters descended into parody as happens to all shows when ideas don’t fly as thick as before. Besides Bob Newhart, one of many highlights was two seasons of Steven Kampmann as Kirk Devane.

Romper Room: An early memory with Do-Bee and a magic mirror and earnest regard by motherly figures of an era that was ending.

Captain Kangaroo: Another show from another era with great puppets and people.

Ray Rayner and His Friends / The Bozo Show: Chicago magic. I’ll never forget Ray and his writing (in chalk) weather reports on the wooden frame of the chalkboard and the many joys of Bozo and his friends and games.

Gigglesnort Hotel: More Chicago magic with a most memorable dragon. One of a handful of shows enjoyed on Sunday mornings when it is assumed many were in church, and the likes of The Magic Door and The New Zoo Revue took over.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Celebrated for the man himself, his home, and his Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Endlessly wonderful.

Sesame Street: One of the great highlights of childhood. Countless great characters and memories that can never be driven from the brain even if I wanted to. And, if Elmo’s fraught relationship with Rocco is any indication, still going strong at least now and then.

Wild Kingdom: Specific memories are dim, but fondness for the adventures of Marlon Perkins, Mutual of Omaha, and put-upon man in the field “Jim” will never die. Landmark, along with Jacques Cousteau’s specials.

All in the Family: Limited and even slight in some ways now, but it and what it spawned was greatness and very funny.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Wears ever so well upon re-reviewing. This along with the above were the two staples of the ’70s and I’m happy I got to see many of their episodes in original broadcast!

Alice: Among a ton of other sitcoms of the era, this one stands out for surprisingly snappy jokes.

The Brady Bunch: For me all re-runs, but each episode seemingly stamped line-for-line in my brain. Thankfully one can live with this as it was a good show for all its silliness.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Speaking of silliness. Worshiped by me and many of my peers. Gold standard TV.

Saturday Night Live: Despite a lot, lot of awfulness, it’s accumulated an amazing amount of still-standing hilarity, not to mention launching many careers good for a follow-up or two.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle & Rocky Show: Big brother to another great show, George of the Jungle/Super Chicken/etc. This and all its featured cartoons were excellent.

Gumby: Adorable weirdness from another era and dimension all its own. Catchy theme too.

Peanuts specials: The ’60s and ’70s was full of them. Christmas rules, with Halloween a close second (“I got a rock”), but many golden moments throughout them. And don’t forget their first couple of films.

Rankin-Bass specials: Just as emblazoned on the mind as anything else listed above. Rudolph is the best, but then there’s misters Snow and Heat Miser, Nestor the Donkey, The Little Drummer Boy, and on and on.

Star Trek: Captured the imagination way back when and still a model for thoughtful, less action-heavy adventure drama.

The PBS NewsHour: JIm Lehrer, Robin MacNeil, and the great big gang of excellent journalists. A staple throughout my life, although there are periods where one just gets sick of the news!

The McLaughlin Group: My relatives enjoyed this one too, and despite all the shouting there was humor and something to be learned from watching this one.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse: Madness.

The Simpsons: Streotypes, yes, but also an unmatched investigation of American culture of the 80s and 90s. Stopped watching after that.

Fawlty Towers: Short-lived but oh so sweet.

Law & Order: Beats all the other old dramas I used to watch, hands down. A formula that worked splendidly despite cast changes, plus a “fun” way to see NYC.

Al TV: Occasionally, “Weird Al” took over MTV, much to its improvement, commenting on videos (thank you, Madonna) and other frazzled, madcap stuff he did, per usual. Just Say Julie was good too, as were 120 Minutes and Yo! MTV Raps, of course.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: In the vein of the above, but full-blown and exceptionally funny. Ridiculous old movies commented upon, with sketches galore between. A study in allusion and parody.

Seinfeld: My family could all quote this one extensively. A true landmark in entertainment history, plus that NY feel of the time.

Friends: Fewer iconic moments than Seinfeld, but a bumper crop of them, thanks especially to Ross and Rachel. Phoebe grew on me too, the second time around. Actually, I watched most of this one in reruns before the show wrapped up. An activity: keep stats on which character makes you laugh the most—could be applied to Seinfeld and other great comedies as well.

Clarissa Explains It All: Inventive escapism for someone in their 20s remembering their teens.

Are You Being Served? + Are You Being Served? Again! (aka Grace & Favour): Ridiculous in oh so many ways, but endearing and a laugh riot. Once told by a British professor that I would likely not appreciate it. He was wrong.

The Thin Blue Line: Matches Fawlty for hilarity in a short-run comedy.

As Time Goes By: A comic drama I guess, with a lot of heart and laughs. Another one that my family all enjoyed, which adds some charm to it.

Keeping Up Appearances: Formulaic to the extreme, but always generating laughs.

Prime Minister’s Questions: See above entry. Highlight: the Tony Blair vs. John Major years, with credit to Blair and William Hague for carrying forth most of that energy when Labour took over.

Joan of Arcadia: One of two shows from the time that employed “One of Us” by Joan Osborne to good effect, this one quite literally. The other was the also notable Homicide: Life on the Street.

Ballykissangel: A little hand-wringing perhaps, but a good portrait of small town life with a nice dose of British Isles atmosphere and more than a smidgeon of institutional skepticism.

Zoboomafoo: The first of a trio of PBS kids’ shows that kept me company while making dinner after work. Zoboo—both live and filmed—is hard to resist, as is the Kratt enthusiasm. You won’t believe your mind.

Arthur: Kind of a Simpsons for little kids with a lot of parody, dredging up childhood conflicts, and not unacceptable lessons.

Odd Squad: Makes me snicker more than I should admit.

Parks & Recreation: A comedy that turned into a drama, you started to care about the characters that much. Another good look at civic life with a lot of interesting cast members, both regular and guest.

The Office: Lasted much too long, but many, many moments make it one of the century’s best and Steve Carell tolerable despite his character being the opposite.

Big Brother: Shallow, sophomoric, and prone to at least a couple of -ists, but also one of the purer, cynical mind/power politics games out there.

Pureheart 19 / Soonjung 19: Whatever you call it, the finest vehicle for learning some Korean culture and language while laughing and having the heartstrings tugged a bit. Also had an interesting Roomba-type character.

Arrested Development: The first three seasons bear repeated study, unfolding layers with each newly-deciphered mumble or background action. A show where one would like to see all of the cut scenes spliced in for the grandest of comedy spectacles.

The New Adventures of Old Christine: You feel the angst (or agony?) of the main character, painfully, almost every minute of the show. Quite an achievement for something so funny and clever.

Extras: Has some of the funniest TV moments committed to film. Doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Wallander: The atmosphere was palpable, and the character’s mental plight inspired me to find and upload a replica of his ringtone, which was specially composed for the series.

Broadchurch: Just compelling, with the two leads acting up a storm.

Death in Paradise: The funnest mystery show I know, with ups and downs depending on cast changes. The “importing a white male English detective inspector” element is awful, but everything else compensates for it.

*New for 2023*
Jonathan Creek: Recently re-watched the earlier seasons and it’s just as good if not better than it once was; thank you Alan Davies and Caroline Quentin. Although everyone involved is sent up over the course of an episode, the downside is a certain amorality and sexism that very occasionally creep into the plots and jokes, most of which I attribute to the “male gaze” and Creek’s “chaotic good” nature. The specials add to the heft. And adding Season Four stamps the show’s immortality for certain, thanks to the inimitable Carla Borrego, played by the splendid Julia Sawalha.

What will be next? One of a couple shows currently running, or something else dredged from the past.

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Caroline Crawley, Beamheart

“Crawley recalls how during recording of the plaintive ‘I May Never,’ she burst into tears during one take, while during the second one the studio engineer did exactly the same.” A quote from an affectionate article in The Guardian on Shelleyan Orphan, the undertones (overtones? both?) of my musical back and forths between the city and suburbs, each of their four albums accompanying me for their assigned seasonal three-month span each year. My sister and I both played reed instruments, and the oboe and bassoon add the right touches to Shelleyan Orphan songs, especially here.

The song perfectly encapsulates the heaven-sent and now to-heaven-returned voice of Caroline Crawley.

I may never see your face again
Rabbit’s down a hole, he’s already gone
Life came between us and just for a day
You’re the one who was standing in the door
I will love you, no matter even what you say or do
I will call your name out loud
I will love you, no matter even what you say or do
I will call your name.

So, this morning is the last I might see him. Yesterday I knelt by his big bed as he half-dozed, luxuriating in a head and ear rub while I cradled his tiny, scraggled head in my palm. This morning he was cleaning his paws sputtering a little as he did so, cheeks puffing out, then walking a little, went out and made the perfect poop, even ate half a carrot stick. Every snort and snore from him reminds me of all his little ways, many so lost now.

“I May Never” followed by “Beamheart,” the perfect finish to a career, perfect tones for a finish to a life that I can keep in my head while I think over the seventeen years of wonderful memories.

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Bits of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “My Kingdom” looping in my mind while a sequence of overbearing buzzes, alarms, whirrs, and beeps, reminiscent of 1980s Atari games—the Combat cartridge springs to mind—take their turn. It ends with mighty, stabbed organ chords that are really impressive and appealing. It’s my right hip MRI, the quest for diagnosis making headway.

Afterwards, I played the rest of the Cure tape my sister had given me long ago by way of introduction to the group, over 30 years ago, driving down Ogden past vacant stores now torn down replaced by vacant lots bringing who knows what. It’s much-changed, even Ogden Avenue. Other than the familiar looping of the street, parts are becoming unrecognizable even though I traverse it often. At least I know where I am going even if there’s few places I want to stop along the way.

I head directly to the snowscape of Arrowhead Park, home to park district soccer games as a kid. I park with windows all down slightly to hear any birds. No sound, just the empty snowy field and hill and creek, with what looks like a raft of flood ice in the distance. Now I see it’s traversed by two sleek, bundled up figures. No sound, but my head pictures my sister and her best friend as those two out on the icy snowfield. The latter lived a block away from this park, and she’s the reason my sister can’t return here when I want to walk it for bird and nostalgia. How has 30 years passed? The breeze blows into the rolled-down window, I view the field through a snag of hair the color of the gray sky and think of that time, their friendship, what they might have been talking about. I drive home to “The Perfect Girl.”

A week later, back for the left hip MRI, this time spent singing the guitar lines of Will Sergeant and insistent, urgent, defiant choruses of Ian McCulloch in my head—”Over The Wall,” “Show of Strength”—thinking of just re-viewed Donnie Darko and a more than pleasant dream I had of a friend. And back to Arrowhead, with one finch sweetly singing somewhere in the trees behind where I parked, the ones you see below.

But this blog is called Music and More, so I will get back to music soon. More music, less more: A Promise.

Arrowhead: A Week Later

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This past year, for me, has been a year defined by pain: physical pain that has nothing to do with the pandemic. 

I had become used to mental pain, emotional pain, heart pain, and I had like anyone suffered bouts of malady- and injury-induced pain. The pandemic did, with my life compressed in one place, bring concern for scratches and other tiny injuries to occasional hypochondriacal levels, but this year’s claim is seven months of chronic physical pain only speculatively diagnosed, one that would heal some and then lapse, would be treated to no effect, with inconclusive tests, irresolute specialists, and still no resolution—if any resolution is to come.

The mental and emotional pain I feel have been mellowing, numbing maybe, fading, and they are always there, just usually suppressed beyond registering, infrequent in rearing of head. Lost loves, friends, places, times, ambitions. My expectations mostly dashed in that realm as layers of life situations go unchanged. But, as I declared last year at this time, this has only led me to embrace myself and original activities, not dependent on others, and there is much delight in that.

And this past year has added the layer of physical pain; I don’t heal like I used to and maybe some of this will never heal. I’ve come to realize that this physical pain is also just part of things, always somewhere. But it can be alleviated and its limiting influences embraced. As my athletic endeavors (such as they were) and ability to lift things for gardening and other household activities have been curtailed, and even walks now have become something I pay for afterwards, I am fortunate when I can push past the pain, look at it, embrace it.

Wisdom in pain.— There is as much wisdom in pain as there is in pleasure: both belong among the factors that contribute the most to the preservation of the species. If pain did not, it would have perished long ago; that it hurts is no argument against it but its essence. (Niet. p. 252)

I think of Christina Rossetti in torment, screaming through nights in cancer’s throes, the agony of intense pain and the accompanying mental unhinging caused by its treatment with opium. I am thankful mine is not so acute, more one to wear me down, force me—if I am to accomplish anything—to overlook it when I can, or look at it with toleration and a Charlie Brown, scraggle smile when it won’t go unnoticed. Not to worry that no one seems to be able to define or remedy it, not worry what’s causing it, not worry if it will ever go away. Just accept it and keep going. Sometimes I can do this.

One of my favorite groups put out a new song not long ago, “Ways,” and it happens to ring with as fitting a lyric as any for my year: “Aren’t you afraid of eternal Hell? Well, it’s not the end of the world” … “I can’t find any ways to change the pain to something else,” Frank sings. I admit that one of my primary goals for this year is to get rid of this pain. But if it can’t be diagnosed, or can be diagnosed, but simply won’t go away, I am creeping towards an acceptance of that, layered atop the other pains I’ve managed to set aside.

To Consider
Double pain is easier to bear
Than single pain: Will you so dare?
(Niet. p. 49)

Concluding ridiculous postscript.
Distraction has been one of any alleviations of this year’s pain. The sweeter pain of nostalgia. I got into an exchange with my sister and others about old favorite lost or utterly changed businesses of our hometown: Sports Bowl, Graham Crackers, Cee Bee’s, The Mole Hole, The Chocolate Key, Alton Drugs, Cock Robin, Tong Inn, Someplace Else, Old Peking, that old sports card shop run by Ernie.

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As a kid I played the standard football, baseball, and basketball with my friends on the block, and was in the local soccer league through the park district, complete with reversible shirt, allowing us to be the yellow or blue team as needed. Gym class, a tiny bit of track, tennis lessons, and then softball and misc in college and after. Most of what I played in did not attract a crowd.

My parents I am sure did a great job cheering me on, and my dad certainly ran to my rescue when I was kicked in the jaw by my own teammate, but I can only think of two occasions when I noticed being cheered for while playing.

The first was in junior high, a day when for some reason we had to run laps around the school—state fitness standards or track tryouts? A certain tall, curly-haired KJ made a point of yelling my name and encouraging me, something immensely more inspiring than the binomial equation she wrote when she signed my yearbook. It must have been our Project Idea ties and general camaraderie in sharing a bunch of classes throughout our careers. I hope I cheered her on when she was similary forced to lap the school.

The second, still more treasured, a certain blonde-haired and blue-eyed BD in college cheering me on by name from the sidelines in an intramural basketball game. (Not the greatest basketball player, but I had my strengths.) We were most likely playing the fraternity whose members she hung around with, so her mentioning me from the sidelines was especially exciting and inspiring for me. Thank you, B.

What effect it can have when someone on the sidelines is there for you, especially unexpectedly. BD also majored in English, but, not surprisingly, we didn’t see much of each other as I seldom saw much of English majors and there was no apparatus tying such majors together.

Such tiny slices of memory taking on such a relatively large shape. The mind and heart are amazing. I could catalogue moments like these.

* Musical Interlude *

Two trios of songs joined me yesterday.

The first started with me listeining to Document after ages away from it. R.E.M.’s “Central America Triptych” has some of their best music and more intriguing lyrics and concepts, all seemingly inspired by Noam Chomsky’s Turning The Tide and the general 1980s anti-Reagan vibe I remember fondly.

Document offered “Welcome To The Occupation,” with “The Flowers of Guatemala” and “Green Grow The Rushes” from their previous two albums. The third has quite possibly my favorite R.E.M. guitar hook, the second a rousing solo, and the “Welcome…” just an all-around vibe and melody that easily lands it on my best of R.E.M. which should one day exist. Until yesterday I’d barely connected any of them to 1980s U.S. intervention in Central America. Oh well. Layers of meaning?

In the evening I played Dionne Warwick and pleasantly remembered she had recorded the Bacharach-David “This Empty Place.” Is it somehow only my third favorite version of this excellent song? I think so. I first heard it by The Searchers as an extremely catchy album track, backed up with their smoothly great instrumentation. Then, it came again later as a highlight album track for Swingin’ Cilla Black who has a way with the drama and nearly veering out of control, and this song is no exception. Her version’s modeled on Dionne’s and I can only say, woo-weee!

Think pink cover from Cilla’s 1965 U.S. album. (from Discogs.com)

Some old Sandie Shaw stuff is next.
We’ll see how that goes!
Long long live love.

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I used to read Louis MacNeice in my birthday month, tracking his published poems with my age. I gave it up several years ago, but decided this year to catch up, starting with reviewing some poems MacNeice published in his late 30s and early 40s. In a couple of years, we’ll meet in age again as I catch up.

I’m not sure why I stopped with the annual reading of him. Maybe I got bored; more likely poetryboth writing and reading itwas lost in pain to me. But now maybe I have found the strength of sane return in my late 40s while MacNeice found it in his late 20s. 

Before I turned to catch up with my reading with the poem “Plurality,” I took up Louis MacNeice’s pinnacle, “Sunlight on the Garden” and “June Thunder,” poems I remember from the old Norton anthology, my Oxford anthology, and now my worn Faber Collected Poems.

Set amid some poems with a similar theme, this is MacNeice at age 29 or 30, ushering in a new era of his life, with looks to nostalgia, loneliness, and how youth experience the world, turning to experience the world in a new phase of maturity. “Taken for Granted” and “The Brandy Glass,” are two other excellent poems in his 1938 collection, The Earth Compels, capped off with “Bagpipe Music.” (I notice I pencilled in that 1939 was his annus mirabilis, but 1937 makes a good case at quick glance.)

“Sunlight on the Garden” has the hard coziness, sunlight on pavement, that characterize this time in MacNeice’s poetry. Read it on renowned poet W. S. Merwin’s (palm tree forest) conservancy page. It’s a poem of maturity, a reconciliation to death’s more tangible reality, a relishing of beauty through a new lens: “And not expecting pardon, Hardened in heart anew, But glad to have sat under / Thunder and rain with you.”

June Thunder” too, a return to a place not in thought alone. He returns to the old fields, his old room, a “cleansing downpour / Breaking the blossoms of our overdated fantasies.” But in this poem he is alone, not sharing the garden with someone: “If only now you would come I should be happy / Now if now only.”  

It’s wonderful to experience these poems again, reaching a deeper delight in them at an age much more advanced than MacNeice’s when he wrote them. And I have not experienced a good thunderstorm in some time, either, maybe because the seed took hold that being out in thunderstorms might get me struck dead by lightning, plus the fact there is no one to run around with in the weather with anymore. (More here.

Here’s a lesser-known poem of the same time, directly following “June Thunder” in my Faber book, a fading echo of the previous poem:


The heated minutes

The heated minutes climb

The anxious hill,

The tills fill up with cash,

The tiny hammers chime

The bells of good and ill,

And the world piles with ash

From fingers killing time.


If you were only here

Among these rocks,

I should not feel the dull

The taut and ticking fear

That hides in all the clocks

And creeps inside the skull

If you were here, my dear.


I usually don’t have anyone specific in mind anymore to think of as “my dear,” but the sentiment still exists. I wrote a short story based on “June Thunder”; I wonder if I have the daring to turn to look at it.


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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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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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