The Lyrics That Mattered Most

I keep meeting folks who are writing their memoirs. Guess it’s something about getting Up There, years-wise. Writing a memoir never interested me — until I thought to write my life story using only the song lyrics that most profoundly affected me. The result is Self, Sampled

This was lots of fun to do, and taught me stuff about myself in the process. I recommend the exercise! I’ll understand if you don’t make it far through this memoir, though. The impact of a lyric is such a personal matter.

A few take-aways:
+ damn am I white;
lyrics really really matter to me…
+ … and yet, some of my favorite musicians never wrote or sang lyrics that snagged me like these;
+ I bet I would have turned out different if I hadn’t listened to so much Leonard Cohen during my formative years.

Maybe I’ll make a Spotify playlist of my memoir.

My Novels Now Have Playlists on Spotify

No question that writing is my calling, but if I had my druthers (or any talent), I’d be a musician. I missed my chance during the punk era, when ability was optional.

Music is exceedingly important to my writing – and the rest of my life. I can’t write while listening to music, yet music dictates the shape and feel of every page.

I’ve now got playlists on Spotify (a digital music service). These playlists summarize the music that constructed my latest novels, Scar Jewelry and Nica of Los Angeles. I put these playlists together after the fact, and they each hold a couple hours of music. Spotify compiled some of the album covers:

Print

If you’d like to hear both these playlists, take out a free membership on Spotify, then follow scperryz. Or you can listen to the playlist for Nica of Los Angeles. Or the playlist for Scar Jewelry. (I’ve provided browser links but most folks prefer the phone app.)

I’ve got a still-evolving playlist for the still-being-written, second book in the FRAMES series, Nica of XXX. (Nica’s location in the second book is currently embargoed.) Today the new playlist is 9.5 hours long… I suppose that only the music I listen to repeatedly should survive to the final playlist. Anyway, here’s the Spotify thumbnail of the playlist for the new Nica:

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 10.29.34 PM

Let me close with a few digressions. (Bookmark this page! Digression on this blog – a first!)

Digression #1. Looking at these album covers, I am reminded that, on the whole, musicians are way cooler than writers. Which sets me to wondering. Do people become musicians because they are that cool, or is it the playing of music that makes them cool?

Digression #2. Spotify is an amazing invention and it rules my version of consumer heaven, along with the automobile seat warmer and the iPad. Driving to a concert recently, Spotify let me listen to nearly an hour’s worth of different versions of Moonshiner. Who knew so many existed? (Verdict: several otherwise-lackluster bands have excellent covers of this song; however, the various cheery Irish versions are creepy. This ain’t no happy drinking song.)

Digression #3. Who wrote Moonshiner? When? No one knows for sure. There is even debate about whether it originated in the U.S. or Ireland. Typically when great art generates immortality, it is not anonymous immortality. To me this adds bittersweetness to one of the saddest songs I know.

My personal favorite Moonshiner isn’t on Spotify because Kelly Joe Phelps hasn’t recorded it (yet?). Fortunately YouTube, bless its digital heart, has a live version:

The Art of Letting Go

My son and daughter have grown up. They are 20 now (yep, twins), and launched on their personal trajectories – to what heights and distances, none of us can yet say. I am in awe of the people they have become, so clever and kind, funny and wise. I love spending time with them, and am all too aware that I do so in an extended magic moment, before they settle into the careers and families that will take them farther from my own orbit.

My daughter’s university is a two hour drive away, and a couple times each term I drive up to spend the day with her. We’ve developed a routine: we go out for a meal, we share a long walk and talk on the beach, and then I buy her some groceries. Most recently, we saw this sunset together:

Sunset at East Beach, Santa Barbara, January, 2014.

Sunset at East Beach, Santa Barbara, January, 2014.

My son – and daughter, when she is home – enjoy a lot of live music together. Their musical interests are broader and deeper than mine, but we have many overlaps and intersections, and have each shared great finds with the others.

Still can’t decide whether this is a good mom or bad mom anecdote: The first time I took them to a concert, they were 12 or 13, and we went to see one of my favorite bands from the old days, X. The band had recently reformed to do the occasional “oldies” show, and they were as good as ever.

Here is what X were like back when they were not much older than my kids are now.

In the old days, I hated the crowd at X shows –  slamming, spitting, too much intrusion of personal space and sharing of bodily fluids for me! But at the new shows the mosh pit was small and friendly, and many of the attendees were clearly there with their kids – or grandkids.  So I brought my kids to a show in Orange County. Well, apparently that is where all the nasty fans went to die, or beget new generations. The music was awesome but the room was filled with disgusting drunks (vomiting on themselves without realizing it, that kind of thing). Oops. My kids loved the music but my son still complains that I wouldn’t let him enter the mosh pit, and my daughter still gets grossed out by the smell of beer.

Here is what X looked like last week, when my son and I went to see them at a Whisky-a-Go-Go 50th anniversary celebration:

X at the Whiskey on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, January, 2014.

X at the Whisky on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, January, 2014.

We don’t usually attend “oldies” shows – we’d rather hear something new – but we’ll keep going to X shows as long as there are X shows. Don’t know how long that may be – serious health problems in the band – which adds bittersweet  to each performance.

When my children were growing up, my most debilitating parental fear was that someday, they would spend time with their mother strictly to fulfill obligations. As is typical with all my free-floating worries, this one consumed much psychic energy for no good reason. At last I might be sort of, kind of, sometimes learning to cease all that worrying. Which leaves me more open to appreciate my moments with my kids right now.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge topic is family.)

The Lyrics That Live With Me

When Lou Reed died, there was some great news coverage, such as the NY Times obituary, and much absurdity – which I guess could be predicted. My local news stations struggled to explain him to those who’d never heard of him. Here and there a reporter would add personal viewpoint (“He singlehandedly invented alt rock!”) to the obit pablum. Pablum. Does anyone still know what pablum is?

Not for the first time, I was grateful and impressed with how social media responded. Facebook, for example, didn’t just spread the news of his death, but also filled with tributes from people to whom Reed had mattered. Many simply quoted song lyrics that were important to them, which started conversational riffs that were moving and healing. I wish social media had been available when we lost Lennon! Or Strummer!

All of which got me thinking about what song lyric I would quote if another of my musicians dies before I do. There are certain songwriters who have been so important at some point in my life – so transformative – that their deaths would leave permanent holes. Even if I haven’t listened to (or thought about) some of them for decades, I need them to be in the world.

Below are the lyrics I might post. Although who knows what might instead occur at the time. When Alex Chilton died it wasn’t Chilton’s words or Big Star’s lyrics that surfaced, but Westerberg’s tribute song, Alex Chilton.

I’m in love, what was that song? 

Here is one of my lists. What would yours be?

 Leonard Cohen

 I have tried in my way to be free.

Elvis Costello
(note: the link has lyrics altered for TV!)

And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
trying to anesthetize the way that you feel.

John Doe

You are the lump in my throat
I am the aching in your heart.

Bob Dylan

I can’t help it if I’m lucky.
Okay here is where I acknowledge what a silly exercise this is.
The proper Dylan lyric changes hourly.

Exene & John Doe

She had to get out. Get out. Get out. Get out.

Patti Smith

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

Bruce Springsteen

The dogs on Main Street howl because they understand
If I could take one moment into my hand

Graham Parker

Life isn’t good enough. Music makes it good enough.
(Actually that quintessential Parker line
comes from an interview not a lyric.)

Kelly Joe Phelps

like a shine-eyed Mr. Zen
actually I’d probably use the lyrics that Corinne West
surely wrote for him in “Whiskey Poet“,
You took some chances
now the silence is your friend
As will I be in the end

Chris Thile

I’d probably quote his stage observation
that he lives vicariously through his own songs.

Paul Westerberg
(Live video without image.
Song that truncates unexpectedly.
Yup. Those were our ‘Mats.)

Look me in the eye and tell me I’m satisfied.

Neil Young

I am just a dreamer but you are just a dream.

This post responds to a recent WordPress weekly writing challenge about music that matters.)

Concert Review: Chris Thile and the Largo-at-the-Coronet, Summer 2011

Yes, this concert was a long time ago.  (And why do I write concert reviews, anyhow? My readers probably don’t have a time machine so can’t attend. ) (Well, Sue, I write concert reviews in hopes of sharing awareness about the musicians.) (If anybody out there does have a time machine, be sure to let me know!  There are many concerts I wish to revisit and this one tops the list.)

One sentence post. Five sentences digression. A new record?

Which adds three sentences to the digression tally.

ANYWAY.

This concert changed my life. In just a scant few hours, I discovered two of my all-time favorites: one a musician, the other a venue. Chris Thile, the Largo at the Coronet.

I went to the show without knowing Thile’s music. I was ignorant of then-adolescent-Thile’s famous, defunct, alt-bluegrass band, Nickel Creek. I went to the show because I was on the Punch Brothers email list-serv. Thile is a Punch Brother, and that list-serv announced Thile’s show near me, and I figured what the hey At that time, I didn’t really know the Punch Brothers’ music, either. As serendipity would have it, I had recently been in New York for work, had a few hours between meetings, happened to get a ticket to a David Letterman show taping. The musical guest happened to be the Punch Brothers. They played one song and it was awesome, so I found their list-serv. But I hadn’t gotten around to listening to them. (P.S. Turns out they are awesome all the time.)

Thile is a miracle, one of a kind. If you don’t believe me, maybe it will help to learn that T-Bone Burnett calls him a once-in-a-century musician; Yo Yo Ma raves about him. Even more persuasive, perhaps: my teenagers, who I basically forced to attend this concert with me, spent the entire 45-minute drive home thanking me for forcing them. Also, Thile recently won a MacArthur (“Genius”) award, although he doesn’t talk about it much.

Thile primarily plays mandolin. That first concert, he mostly played bluegrass, and Appalachian music, to which I had no aversion but also no previous affinity. He threw in some Radiohead and Shins. Oh, and Bach. Oh, and the Pink Elephants song from DumboIn fact, strands of Pink Elephants kept winding their way into the middle of other tunes, which became laughoutloud funny.

I love good stage patter and Thile had great patter that night. He’s witty, sarcastic, friendly, and smart. Turns out he used to be a regular at the Largo, before he moved to Brooklyn. So there was a warm, homey air in the theater.

Largo at the Coronet Marquee (from coolspotters.com)

Largo at the Coronet Marquee (from coolspotters.com)

Turns out there is always a warm, homey air at the Largo at the Coronet, a 300 seat theater with great sound, painful seats and an incredible vibe. The instant I first walked into the courtyard I felt right, being there. I’ve become a regular.  In fact, the Largo has ruined me for other venues. Sadly, I missed out on the original Largo, a tiny bar down the road a piece. When the Largo relocated, it took over the Coronet, which was once a legit theater. Buster Keaton played there. Bertolt Brecht directed Charles Laughton there. Like I said, an incredible vibe.

Largo shows feature a collection of regulars, as well as newcomers. There are comedians and musicians who perform there every month and hang out there the rest of the time. That first night, three other regulars joined Thile on stage. So not only did we discover Thile and the Largo, we also got blown away by Fiona Apple (a modern chanteuse and unique songwriter) and Jon Brion (a musical encyclopedia and champion, maybe not in that order) and Sean Watkins (a wonderful songwriter, guitar player and dry humorist who was in Nickel Creek with Thile).

Now that you have read about the Largo, please forget about it. 300 seats sell fast, I don’t need more purchasing competition.

If Thile ever plays anywhere remotely near where you are – Go. Just go. Don’t miss that show for any reason.

There are many splendid Thile videos on YouTube. Below are a few.

Thile on different musical genres and fans:

Typical improv, this time with bluegrass hero Michael Daves:

Straight-up Bach:

Covering Elliott Smith at the New York installment of No Name #1, a tribute concert:

Short interview with brief snippets of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers:

The WordPress Daily Prompt inquires about firsts.

New Music: China Rats – N.O.M.O.N.E.Y.

What a great video for a catchy old school punk tune. (I won’t feel bad that I hadn’t heard of this band, given that they are unsigned and in Leeds.) I can always count on the blog Backseat Mafia to introduce me to new music.

Backseat Mafia

china rats2

I don’t know about you, but I seem to have spent most of my life broke. My student days were a haze, it’s true, but largely funded by the bank, who no doubt knew they had me for life as long as they kept lending. They probably miss-sold me various things as well judging by how many times I get rung up by various companies of ill repute every week. Even whey student days were over, my i distance on buying records has meant that there’s never any spare cash around, along with the mortgage, the children’s piano lessons, and countless other things.

We like China Rats here on Backseat Mafia. They make this fantastic sneering, punky indie-rock, that we cannot help but fall in love with. The currently unsigned Leeds band return to action with their new single, N.O.M.O.N.E.Y. from their upcoming EP, Don’t play with fire’. In keeping…

View original post 116 more words

Certain Songs I Can’t Ignore

There are some songs that are so captivating that whatever my mood, whatever else is going on, they grab and elevate. Below are three of my all-time top endorphinators. What are yours?

At their peak -which is saying something! – here are Sly and The Family Stone, “Dance to the Music”.

In the mid 1970s Ireland produced a splendid pop band called The Undertones. Apparently they are back together and touring and their Youtube performance videos are good but lack the magic of the original recording when they were babies. This is “Get Over You”.

If you are a Replacements fan, I don’t have to tell you how special this band was. Everybody else, you might get a chance to see them. Tommy and Paul – half of ’em – have reunited. I avoid most reunions because the old days can’t be resurrected, but there are exceptions (X shows are as good as ever!) and it sounds like the Mats will be one of those. Here is  “Favorite Thing” from Riot Fest in Toronto. The sound is murky. It’s the Mats.

This fourth tune is fairly new so I don’t yet know whether it will remain potent over decades as the others have. It’s a Sara Watkins fiddle tune, here played with her brother Sean.