Sunday Shuffle [2.0]

I got my first CD player the summer between 11th and 12th grade. I was doing an internship, making my own money for once, and when that first paycheck came in I felt RICH. I don’t even remember how much it was now, but I was decidedly not rich. I just felt like it in the moment, the way you do when your mom’s still paying for everything so you can focus specifically on your wants.

That was me.

And what I wanted was a CD player. I already had some CD’s, one I won from a radio station contest, and another couple I bought in anticipation of the CD player. It was the early ’90s, so tapes were still very much in vogue, at least where I came from. If you had CD’s you were on the cutting edge of tomorrow. I wanted to be on that edge, but I would have to be able to play them.

So I went to Sears and picked one out. It was a single disc player. I mean, I was suddenly rich, but I wasn’t so rich my eyes weren’t bugged out by the prices of the multi-disc changers. Besides, I thought eventually I would trade in my single for a multi, so why not start small? Continue reading “Sunday Shuffle [2.0]”

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The Man With the Plan and the Pocket Comb

“You could hardly even see him in all of that chrome — the man with the plan and the pocket comb. And every night it carried him home.” ~Marc Cohn

MI0001708224I stood outside the record store at ten minutes to midnight, the year was 1998, and I think some Jay-Z album was being released. I know there was a host of people waiting there with me, blasting lyrics from the man himself, so I guess I just assumed. I wasn’t there to get anything from Jay-Z. It was way past my bedtime, and I had other things in mind. Because one of my favorite singers had a new album coming out, and I promised myself I would be the first to hear it.

Fast forward 20 years, and I was once again waiting, but this time it was outside of the Palace Theatre in Syracuse, with a bunch of old white folks. Sure, 20 years had gone by, but I was still as fascinated by the man who sang “Walking in Memphis,” the man whose voice speaks to me so personally, on every level. I pinched myself, the classic technique, because I had just heard him deliver a passionate concert, an intimate retrospective of his material that didn’t miss a note. And I was about to meet him. Continue reading “The Man With the Plan and the Pocket Comb”

300 Writing Prompts: #145

“What was the first thing you ever saved up your money to purchase?”

My first real job was at a travel agency. I know what you’re going to say. It was just an internship, but it counted. Besides, it was a paid internship, so it really counted in every way that mattered. For the first time in my life I was getting a steady paycheck, even if it was only for a summer, and I worked hard to make sure that money got spent.

I’m sure you can imagine. I never shoveled driveways for neighbors. I never got an allowance. I never really had a chance to get some solid money for myself until the Rosenbluth Travel Agency, and I had a list of items I wanted. First, there was a CD player that I had my eye on. Before the CD player all I had was a Walkman and the family stereo, which featured dual tape decks (snazzy) so I could tape the radio. But a CD player would put me in a whole new echelon.

I also wanted a VCR, so I could tape my shows (the two principal of which were Days of Our Lives and Beverly Hills 90210). I was addicted to Tori Spelling, but my mom wouldn’t let me stay up late enough to watch the show. And of course I was at work (and later in school) when Days came on, so I needed a way to tape both shows to watch when I had free time on the weekends. I swear I invented binge watching because I would sit there on my bed with popcorn catching up on all the goings on in Salem. Continue reading “300 Writing Prompts: #145”

That ’76 Sound

“I spent many a summer early morning with the radio very low, half sleeping and half listening.” ~Frankie Valli

There’s a space between being fully asleep and being fully awake where the awesome feeling of weightlessness, of carelessness, of being completely outside of ourselves and looking down on our world with wonder, takes over. It’s warm there, like being in utero, like hugging your knees to your chest and drifting away. All the love, and all the joy, and all the excitement in the world all come together under a brilliant light that imbues heat, and love, and joy, and excitement. But then we are awake, or we are asleep, and it’s gone.

For me it’s that ’76 sound, that radio on low that vibrates through my soul, because while I don’t remember anything before I was born, I imagine it was like that in my cocoon, safe, and incredible, and all too brief. For two thirds of 1976 I was in the womb. From April until December of that glorious bicentennial year I was biding my time, lost in a world that would both define me and be extraneous to me, hugging my knees to my chest and listening to those outside sounds, muffled and out of tune. For two thirds of that glorious bicentennial year I was a hesitation mark, waiting to be fully realized, basking in the sounds of love, and hope, and possibility.

In 1776 the so-called Founding Fathers were desperately fighting for freedom against long odds, against a system that was vast, that was massively overwhelming, but they had a vision and a tenacity that eventually won them their war. Their battle cries could be heard from hill to hill, from town to town, and from forest to forest, as they found a liberation that had long been lost. That sound has reverberated down through the years in anthems, in chants, in speeches oft repeated down the line. It resonates with me in a profound way because sounds bring with them memories and a connection that cannot be achieved any other way.

One hundred years later newly freed slaves were making their way North with no real plans except getting themselves and their families away from the plantations that had stolen their identities. They had no jobs, no job prospects, and were facing a world that was still highly segregated and discriminatory, even in the north. These slaves had one thing that kept them striving, that kept them moving up the path, and it was embedded deeply in the fabric of their negro spirituals, in the hymns sacred to them by way of religion, and of shared experience, and of shared loss. These hymns became their own war cries, their own way to define themselves in a world that left them undefined, that left them as less than human.

By 1976 the world had changed immeasurably, but we all know that with any change comes a consistency of experience that doesn’t change. From the rudimentary lyrics of William Shakespeare, back in 1576, to the burning down of the Jamestown colony in 1676, to the revolutionary verve, to the determination of the newly freed slaves, down to my own birth, when Rod Stewart’s “Tonite’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)” was the top song in America, that ’76 sound just keeps on playing. But it’s not on repeat. It picks up more verses as the years, as the decades, as the centuries go on, becoming more nuanced, creating more melodies and harmonies that we can all share. That ’76 sound is an all-encompassing reminder that we are all connected in some way, shape, or form.

I spent 1976 becoming me, and the time since has all been spent, looking backward, and looking forward, trying to understand who that is, with my headphones on, checking out that ’76 sound. And I’m still waking up.

Sam

Green Light & Dancing Man

“Dance, or fade out.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, this waiting at a green light. And for what? I craned my neck to see around the SUV ahead of me, but I had nothing on which to focus my anger. I was just about to lay on my horn with gusto when I saw a man. It must have been like when the Jews saw Jesus walking on the water, except this man was in the middle of an intersection, and he certainly wasn’t Jesus. Oh, and he was dancing.

Earbuds in, swaying to the beat that only he could hear, he wore a leather jacket in 60 degree heat, oblivious to the elements. Oblivious also to the hard stares from the motorists who waited with hands raised above horns, with epithets painting the corners of our lips. We had places to go and things to do, and this man… well, he was standing there dancing.

I love to dance, to sway my hips to a particular beat, usually in the comfort of my own home, but this wasn’t the comfort of his own home. This was the streets of Utica, NY. This was rush hour traffic. Honestly, I’m surprised no one ran him over. If my kids weren’t in the car with me maybe I would have given him a nudge. Okay, I wouldn’t have. And he was an interpretive dancer too, the kind I usually like, but there’s a time and place for everything.

It wasn’t like this was some one man flash mob or something. It wasn’t like this was 2005 or something. A dancing man in the middle of the street against a green light for traffic… it’s just not done. At least not socially anyway. So we sat there waiting for him to shimmy along to what I could only surmise was a Gwen Stefani song, to reach the island in the middle of the street so we could safely pass and flip him off in the process. 

Except no one flipped him off, this dancing man. Maybe because we saw in him a little of our own self-restricted selves, begging to slip free.

And dance. 

Sam

That R.E.M. Song

“…and that R.E.M. song was playing in my mind. Three and a half minutes. Felt like a lifetime.” ~Better Than Ezra

remsplitI always wondered what “that R.E.M. song” was, which one from their vast catalog made such an impression on a young Kevin Griffin (lead singer of Better Than Ezra) that he immortalized it in his own song. The song is about the death of a young friend, who after graduation had a car wreck and died, the lyrics a poignant reminder of the brevity of life, and how quickly it can be taken from any of us.

With that in mind, I began to dig deep into what could possibly be the mystery R.E.M. song from the lyrics. It’s a good thing, then, that I own the entire R.E.M. catalogue, because it would take a hell of a lot of digging to arrive at the ultimate truth. For starters, here is the full list of the band’s songs that hit 3:26 – 3:34 on the scale (prior to 2001, when the Better Than Ezra song was written)…

Gardening At Night (3:30)
Disturbance At the Heron House (3:34)
Romance (3:27)
Good Advices (3:30)
Begin the Begin (3:28)
What If We Give It Away? (3:34)
I Don’t Sleep, I Dream (3:28)
Let Me In (3:28)
Moral Kiosk (3:31)
Perfect Circle (3:30)
Departure (3:30)
Low Desert (3:32)
Half a World Away (3:28)
Time After Time (3:34)

That’s an awful lot of songs, so I tried to break them down by lyrics, by which ones might be depressing. I realized as I was doing this that most of R.E.M.’s catalogue is full of depressing, sad songs. Kevin Griffin literally had his choice of songs to complement his own, just by the sheer volume of sad songs to choose from, even from this relatively small list.

For a very long time I thought the song he referenced was “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream,” from the Monster record. It fit nearly every aspect of a depressing song that would hearken back to a premature death. “I’m looking for an interruption. Do you believe? Some medicine for my headache. Hooray.” The only thing that didn’t fit was the length of the song, because while I thought my range was pretty good, the lyric of the song was “Three and a half minutes,” and if I was being literal that one would not fit.

In fact, the more I thought about it the more I thought the song I was looking for was exactly 3 minutes and 30 seconds, which left me with Departure, Perfect Circle, Good Advices, and my personal favorite, Gardening At Night. In fact, the lyrics of “Gardening At Night” are very compelling. “We fell up, not to see the sun. Gardening at night just didn’t grow. I see your money on the floor. I felt the pocket change. Though all the feelings that broke down that door just didn’t seem to be too real.” Something about the shifting reality, the yearning to do something that seems right but doesn’t have positive consequences, it clicked in me.

But that wasn’t it. Here is the full lyric of the verse from the Better Than Ezra song from earlier…

“And I know I wasn’t right, but it felt so good
And your mother didn’t mind, like I thought she would
And that R.E.M. song was playing in my mind
Three and a half minutes, felt like a lifetime.”

5b8a1cb234e9b2d7ba2ad332ab262588That part of the song has always hit me like a hammer to the gut, the idea of something feeling so good but not being right, of approval out of nowhere, not for the means to an end, but for the end itself. It’s almost like it is a eulogy, not for the person who has died, but instead for the enterprise itself, for being adventurous. That R.E.M. song felt like a lifetime because when it ends the glory of a life lived for adventure ends as well.

The song was “Perfect Circle,” by the way, the idea that life is indeed this circle. We are born to die, but in the space between the wails of birth and the silence of death we either truly live or we go through the motions. “Perfect Circle” is all about truly living, taking the moment and wringing every ounce of glory from it so we can live on the nostalgia of that moment for years to come.

“Pull your dress on and stay real close. Who might leave you where I left off? A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends…”

Three and a half minutes. Felt like a lifetime.

Sam

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