Two musical worlds (2013)

If you were to ask me what kind of music I like, I would say “yes”.

I was brought up on rock ‘n’ roll, but gradually I added classical to the mix. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but my exposure to classical music began with Stanley Kubrick and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Say what you will about ELP, but I built a pretty nice collection based on the music they ripped off.

These days when I am in a rock mood I go back to 80s bands: Talking Heads, U2, Simple Minds, Let’s Active, the dB’s. U2 is the only band I have continuously followed.

Who do I like in the classics? Bach, Vivaldi, Schubert, Stravinsky. (I was recently lucky enough to see the North Carolina Symphony perform The Rite of Spring. It was shattering and wonderful.) I like Beethoven once in a while–he’s a little bombastic for my taste.

I have a large niche for modern composers such as Reich, Glass, Adams, and Part. Minimalism excites me; those years of listening to repetitive pop music primed me for it.

It’s nice having two musical worlds to explore. I recommend it to anyone.


Where I would go on vacation… (2013)

If I had oodles of money (an oodle is close to a bazillion) I would first travel west, to the Painted Desert of Utah and Arizona. I went there in ’99 and was transformed by the beauty of the landscape and that big sky. The distances involved amazed me. I am used to North Carolina, where there’s always another locality just around the bend. I would pack a new Nikon DSLR and have a fine old time with it.

Then I would head east to Scotland, rent a car, and drive around on the wrong side of the road. I have been there before, and still remember the quiet-but-astonishing gorgeousness of the glens. I would drink in the thinner, purer air (at least purer outside the cities).

Then with more of my oodles I would rent a seat on Richard Branson’s suborbital spaceships. I have a feeling there is a long reservation list for it. I would be torn between floating around and staying put long enough to take pictures.

Ooh, I have oodles left over! Time to travel south to Cape Canaveral, where I could see the Space Shuttle and watch rockets launch.

And then, home. To rest, and edit my pictures. And give away a few oodles to friends…

Spose-ta (2013)

You know what a “spose-ta” is, right? You’ve heard them all your life. As in, “I’m spose-ta wash the dishes.” Or: “You’re spose-ta clean up your room.” Spose-ta’s often involve doing household chores, it seems.

Now, some spose-ta’s are good for society. “You’re spose-ta obey the law.” “You’re not spose-ta play with fire.”

Too often, though, spose-ta’s are needlessly damaging. I have spent years getting out from under such spose-ta’s as:

–be rich

–be cool

–be anger-free

Well. I am pretty sure it’s too late for me to be rich. Being cool means being not so hot. Being anger-free is a denial of human nature.

Dear readers: what is your least favorite spose-ta?

Motivation, moi? (2013)

I smile when I think of myself as a motivated person. Images come to mind of excited, dynamic speakers who have a carefully calibrated message.

I’d rather keep it simple and personal: if I want something, I have to do something to get it. This often involves praying for it first. (I believe in a giving God, but I still have to do the footwork.)

If I want the rewards of having a job, I have to work to specification. If I want the rewards of having a cat, I have to feed and clean up after her. I have to keep my motivational thinking at a simple level, because I can complicate the hell out of anything. This generally involves the negative what-if game: what if I fail miserably, endure public embarrassment, and have my human being license revoked?

As you can see, my negativity has a good imagination. Maybe I should develop as active an imagination for my positivity.

What a concept!

Imagine my surprise (2013)

Continuing on the radio theme… One of my pleasures in short-wave listening was hearing the theme song used by the BBC World Service. It was a memorable tune, bouncing along ironically just before the BBC news readers presented the day’s awful stories.

Years later, when Stanley Kubrick made Barry Lyndon, I heard that very tune on the soundtrack. Its name was Lillibullero. I just Wikipedia’d it and found a fascinating history, too long to repeat here.

I enjoy little discoveries like this, especially if the reference borders on the obscure. When I first heard “Birdhouse in Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants, I was tickled by the lyrical mention of the Longines Symphonette. (Cue Wikipedia again.)

When I was a kid, the Longines Symphonette sent a salesman to my house. He proceeded to sell us a stereo phonograph and a boxed set of LPs that featured old-time radio programs. It was our family’s first piece of electronic equipment other than the TV and me and my brother’s radios.

In addition to the standard 33 and 45 speeds, the turntable had 16 and 78. I later learned that 16 was for playing records for people with visual impairment. My bro and I loved to take our albums and play them at half speed. Just call us hooligans…

I promise (2013)

This is the first–and last–time you will see the word “iconic” in this space.

Nor shall I use “fail” as a noun. However, I reserve the right to use “reveal” as a noun.

I am glad I got that off my chest. Thank you for your support.

What I am grateful for (2013)

To lift my mood I make gratitude lists, like so:

1.  I am alive and mostly sane.

2. I am clean.

3. My cat did her tail-flips again.

4. I went outside this morning and it was actually chilly.

5. The shadows are growing longer. Elongated shadows make you look slim.

6. I feel a little freer than I did earlier in the week.

7. I had a little Dr. Pepper left over from yesterday. Dr. Pepper is my liquid vice.

8. My computer still works. (It is getting sluggish, though.)

9. I have money in the bank and food in the larder.

Airwaves (2013)

When I was a kid radio thrilled me. The idea that invisible electromagnetic waves would bring people and music to a little box amazed me. It still does–I am easily impressed.

Radio formed my taste in music. I remember vividly the pop music from 1964 and 1965–the Beatles, the Stones, the Supremes, and many more, tumbling out of the static on WKIX 850. That was when AM was still king, despite all the static. (Whenever a thunderstorm passed overhead, the lightning strokes blasted the airwaves. It was cool!)

I loved to listen at night as I drifted off to sleep. I could pull in distant stations like WCAU in Philadelphia with Sol Weinstein, WOWO in Ohio, and many others. Sometimes I could hear the Mexican stations. Their sounds all jumbled in the air. Digital tuning had yet to arrive, so I had to change stations very carefully above 1200 kHz.

I was an early news junkie. The other major station in town, WPTF 680, was even then a news and talk operation. On weekends they broadcast NBC’s Monitor program, which many consider the precursor to NPR. In between songs they ran the news and feature reports. Their signature was the Monitor Beacon, hard to describe but hard to forget. It was electronic music before Keith Emerson.

As I grew older, I turned from top 40 to progressive rock. The music was fine, but it wasn’t the same. I grew up on the 3-minute tune, and playing entire album sides usually left a lot of filler–I’m looking at you, Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

I shifted to records–no commercials and complete freedom of choice. I could calibrate my (drug-induced) moods by flipping one of those wonderful black disks.

Today, radio is again pre-eminent in my listening, thanks to NPR. Programs such as This American Life conjure up images like my young days in the dark. Scott Simon warms my ears, as does Laksmi Singh.

Sometimes in the storm season the National Weather Service radiates its warning tones. The synthesized voice lurches word to word of oncoming danger… and once again, radio becomes a mystery to a little bookish kid. A soothing counterpoint to childish woes and arguing parents. All brought to me free of charge in a little plastic box.

Twelve years ago (2013)

There are now millions of children who were unborn when 9-11 happened; it is now the stuff of history for them.

Here is my personal history of 9-11. I was working as a telephone researcher on that day. I was in the process of logging in to the computer when someone said that a light plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Instantly I was reminded that in World War II a bomber flew into the Empire State Building. People died, but the building stayed intact.

Several co-workers had accessed the news media websites. Soon I knew the truth. It began to dawn on me that history was taking a catastrophic turn, right here in supposedly indestructible America.

One of the supervisors was crying. She had family in New York and could not reach them. It seemed a good time to pray for her family and mine.  I had abandoned all thought of working. No one wanted to be on the phone doing a survey.

I took an excused absence at 10:30, after finally getting through to my Dad on a landline. He was as shocked as me, as he told me the Pentagon had also taken a hit. It all reminded him of Pearl Harbor. As I left, the receptionist said, “the second tower just fell.”

We’re at war, I thought.

I caught up on details while listening to NPR as I drove home. I dreaded what I would see on my TV, but I knew I had to watch.

The first scene I saw was the smoke cloud over Washington. Then came the plane, hitting the second tower. I felt I had been punched in the gut when it struck; I let out  a loud, sharp groan.

I spent the rest of the day, like most of America, watching the aftermath unfold. The dust hung over lower Manhattan like a thundercloud come to earth.

The news media said the President’s whereabouts were unknown; I found that profoundly unsettling.

Years later, I had a dream in which the airliners were like toys in a video arcade. I could twist a knob and divert the planes, which crashed, one at street level and one in the Hudson. I remember I was weeping in the dream because I could not save everyone.

Little facts of no consequence (2013)

1. Some truck drivers miss the little signs that tell you how much clearance you have (or don’t) under a bridge. There’s a YouTube video that I guiltily find funny.

2. My cat likes to jump to and run on the counter when I am unloading her food into the bowl. She doesn’t try to eat on the counter but drops to the floor, where I have placed her bowl. This is her way of having fun.

3. I know where Syria is on the map and I can spell it, too.

4. That same cat is sleeping in my nearly-empty laundry basket. Too cute!

5. I was in fourth grade when our gym teacher lined us up at the foul line and told us to make a free throw. Not being athletic, I figured I would fail at this as I did at other games. Instead, on my first try, the ball went perfectly into the hoop. The other boys, who teased me regularly, were dumbfounded. As was I. Sadly, it was the only shot I made all day. I guess you could call this peaking too early.

6. My first kiss lasted 45 minutes.

7. I don’t care how many people like them, I can’t stand mushrooms. Or oysters. Squid is borderline tolerable.