I Went to a U2 Concert

U2 Cell Phone Lights

Last Sunday, I realized a dream I’ve had for a long time and went to a U2 concert with my family. They are touring in honor of the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, which is a really important album for me. I can well remember watching MTV when that album had been released and seeing the now iconic video for “With or Without You.”

But even further back, I can recall being wowed by their video for “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” as it was shot at Red Rocks. Growing up in the Denver area, I had been to Red Rocks, though not for a concert, and it impressed me to see a music video shot in a place I had actually been.

In the late 1990’s, when I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree after taking three years off when my then husband was in the Coast Guard, I listened to The Joshua Tree on repeat in the car. I think it was at that time that “Red Hill Mining Town,” a song U2 never played live until this tour, became my favorite. I have a deep affection for that song, still, even if I recognize on a more objective level that it’s not even what I would consider their best song. It just means something to me.

U2 Concert

I thought hearing “Red Hill Mining Town” would be the moment that did me in during the concert, but it wasn’t. It was actually when U2 played “Beautiful Day,” another favorite of mine, and the Edge brought out that old Gibson Explorer of his. He has had that guitar a very long time. He describes the moment when he bought it in New York in the late 1970’s in the movie It Might Get Loud.

Knowing how long he has had it and what it means and thinking of the history of that guitar just reduced me to to tears when he started playing the opening notes of “Beautiful Day.” Such an amazing song and instrument, too. I have never cried at a concert before.

Speaking of It Might Get Loud, it was that movie that turned me into a Jack White fan. I admit to not having listened to his music much until that film, and I was already a big fan of both Jimmy Page and the Edge. It bothers me that a lot of people argue Edge doesn’t deserve a place in that film. If you ask me, it’s his presence in the film that makes it because he is so different from the other two. He doesn’t bother with the affectations that Jack White puts on (the fake child version of himself that he coaches along). He brings a lot of humility and self-deprecation to the storytelling in that film that the other two don’t necessarily bring. There is an honesty to the story he tells that is certainly missing from Jack White’s story, and is obscured under so many layers in Jimmy Page’s story—Jimmy Page always seems to keep at a distance when he’s being interviewed. The only time he really seems more or less open is when he is talking with the Edge and Jack White. The film is one of my favorites, actually.

Of course, U2 is a political band, and they always have been. People complaining about their politics obviously haven’t been listening to them or it wouldn’t still be a contentious issue. They’ve been openly political since at least War—you could even argue since Boy—so I’m not sure where these people have been. What I really loved about the concert I attended is that the band didn’t shy away from being political, but they were respectful and positive in the way they presented their views. It was clear to me that the band has a great deal of love and respect for America, and I’ll go on the record as saying they get too much crap for their earnestness and their politics. I suppose some people think it’s insincere, and others think they shouldn’t hold political opinions. I disagree on both counts, but even if they are not sincere, they’ve still done a lot of good in the world.

Another thing that struck me was just how good they are. Bono’s voice is great, and it’s clear he takes good care of it. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say he avoids smoking, drinking, and bad vocal habits. The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. are all still playing excellent music as well. We saw them at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, which is where the New England Patriots play, and it’s a huge stadium, if you’ve never seen it. We weren’t at the very top, but we were fairly far away. The sound was good, even though everyone in the stadium was singing along. It was a little hard to hear what Bono said sometimes, which other people who were at the concert also complained about. I think the sound system probably wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.

It was really special to hear one of my favorite albums played in its entirety. Of course they didn’t play every song I wanted to hear. If they had, we might still be at the concert. I have a lot of favorites. But they played “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “Bad,” (which is always awesome in concert—I actually own two live versions of that song already), “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Miss Sarajevo” (interesting choice, but it made a lot sense in the context of the show), “Elevation,” “Vertigo,” “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)” (with a moving tribute to women), “One,” and a new one, “The Little Things that Give You Away,” which will be on Songs of Experience when it’s released, in addition to the entire Joshua Tree album and “Beautiful Day,” which I had previously mentioned. Not a bad setlist at all. I gather that they are doing “A Sort of Homecoming” at some of the shows on this tour.

I mentioned owning two live versions of “Bad.” The one from the Wide Awake in America EP is transcendent. I actually have quite a lot (comparatively speaking) of live U2 music, and I also frequently watch their live performances on YouTube. They are a rare band in that so much of their music sounds as good if not better live than on a recording. Frankly, a lot of great musicians are studio musicians, and there is nothing wrong with that, but their live performances disappoint. Eric Clapton, for instance, is kind of boring live (at least he was when I saw him). On the other hand, Tom Petty is awesome, and so are Counting Crows. Both of those groups surprised me with how good they were live. I would say this concert was the best one I attended, though I haven’t gone to nearly as many as I would have liked to have gone to. I hope I will be able to see them perform live again. It was an incredible experience, and all the more so because my family enjoyed it so much, too.

Several of the concert-goers put the show up on YouTube. It’s nice to have this reminder of the concert I attended. I don’t think U2 are terribly fussy about people putting their shows up. There are some really old live clips online that have been on YouTube for years. I made a playlist of some of the video others took at the concert. I only had my iPhone with me, and I wanted to concentrate on enjoying the concert instead of capturing it. Sound and video quality varies, and I put several videos of the same song(s) in the playlist in an attempt to capture the show from multiple points of view.

 

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Music: True Love Lasts a Lifetime

music photo
Photo by Neo Love

I don’t write much about my story as a musician and music lover. I was doing that Facebook meme that’s going around with the top ten high school albums, and it made me feel all nostalgic, and nostalgic for more than just the albums themselves, but the cassettes and the sort of cruddy boom box I had in my room. I remember taping the radio. I think a lot of us did that. By the time I was a teenager, vinyl was on the way out, and in any case, I didn’t have a stereo with a turntable, though my dad did, and it was so much more convenient to listen to cassettes with Walkmans as ubiquitous back then as iPhones are today for listening. I remember going to bed listening to my Walkman, which wasn’t a real Sony kind (though I think most of us called those cassette players Walkmans, regardless of the brand, sort of like Kleenex). Mine had an auto-reverse feature, so I would have the music playing all night, and as long as the batteries held out, it would be playing in the morning when I woke up, too. I remember sometimes the players would try to eat the tapes, and the tape would crinkle up like an accordion. The only way to fix it was to gently pull the tape out and use a pencil or pen to wind it back around the cassette spools. Sometimes, the tape would break, and you could fix it with Scotch tape, but afterwards it would always have a place that would skip.

Once I went to college, I got a real CD player, and I used to go to downtown Athens, GA, where I went to college, and look for used CD’s I could add to my collection. There used to be two really good music stories downtown. I am not sure if they’re still there; I haven’t been to Athens in a long time. I was really trying to figure out who I was back in those days, and I listened to a lot of different kinds of music. I had a roommate who played bass, and I pilfered her music collection and combined it with my own by making mix tapes. I loved making mix tapes, and I was told more than once that I was pretty good at it. Composing the correct order of songs and stretching to the end of the tape was an art of sorts.

In those days, music seemed like it was everything, and I still listen to some of the things I listened to back then. When I was in high school, I started playing guitar and took guitar class. I loved picking up instruments and seeing if I could play them. My sister starting playing clarinet, and I picked it up and worked my way through beginner exercises in her lesson book. The neighbor boy picked up the violin, so I borrowed it and tried a few of the exercises in his lesson book as well. When I was in eighth grade, I found a French horn tucked away among the school instruments. My eighth grade band was pitifully small, so my director was glad to let me take it home and see if I could make it work. I did. I played it most of that year, along with the flute, which was my first instrument, and I even had a solo in one of our concerts. I botched it, unfortunately, out of nerves. I never really liked being on display as a musician, and it’s probably that feeling, as much as anything, that prevented me from ever making a real go of playing music. I liked to blend into a large band. Anytime I had a solo or had to play in a small enough group that my contributions would be noticed, I hated it. But there was still something in me that wanted to be a good musician, even if just for myself. I bought myself an electric guitar for Christmas last year. I had wanted one forever. I immediately signed up for a guitar course—which turned out to be a really great course—through Berklee College of Music on Coursera. I love taking the odd online course here and there. So much fun to learn. And most of the courses I have taken have been music courses. I took a two-part introduction to the History of Rock, a Beatles course, and a Rolling Stones course. The guitar course was the first course I took that involved actually playing, and it could be brutal. I had to record myself doing exercises set by the instructor, and I was graded by my peers. If what I turned in didn’t sound good enough, my peers didn’t pass me, and that did happen. I could re-record the lesson and try again, which I also did. I learned more about music theory and good musicianship in that course than I did in seven years of band classes and two years of guitar classes in school. The band instructor at the school where I teach is a fine guitarist himself and has offered me lessons. I need to take him up on it! He said he would give me enough material in a single lesson to keep me busy for a month.

Like a lot of people, I really found music an escape when I was in high school, and it was then that I really started listening to it a lot. Around my mid-thirties, I started realizing I was disconnected from what was happening in music at that time. I think that happens to most people, but most people are okay with it and continue to enjoy the music they liked in their formative years in high school and their twenties. I wasn’t having it, though. I made myself listen to the music that was out there, and I found a new connection to music that I had come pretty close to losing. I discovered artists I had missed out on, like Jeff Buckley. I rediscovered my old loves. I found new favorites, like Jack White and his work with the White Stripes and the Raconteurs.

I am really glad I did wake up, if that’s what you want to call it, and return to that love of music. I’d like to think I will be the kind of person who tries to keep an ear to the ground and listen for new artists. One line I just love from Love Actually is a response of Karen’s after her husband Harry asks her what she’s listening to and seems surprised she still listens to Joni Mitchell: “I love her. And true love lasts a lifetime.” Of course, perhaps neither of them realize that they are also sort of discussing their marriage. But I think Karen is right about true music love, too. I do have some true music loves. True loves that have lasted a lifetime.

Here is a randomized list of 100 of my favorite songs, and when I say random, I mean it. I used a randomizer website to shuffle the order. So not carefully ordered like my old mix tapes, but still something of the flavor of those carefully curated music collections. All of these songs mean something to me, and many are old favorites, going back to childhood.

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Review: Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly, narrated by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering

I believe I’ve just finished reading my last book of 2015, and it was a re-read of one of my favorites, Jennifer Donnelly’s novel Revolution. This time, I listened to the audio book. I have this book in hardcover, Kindle, and audio book, but I hadn’t listened to it until this week. It was even better on a re-read than it was the first time I read it.

Since I reviewed the book last time I read it, this time, I really want to mention a couple of things that struck me. First, this book is tightly written. It all works. I picked up on so many things I missed on a first reading. The sections of Dante’s poetry correspond well to Andi’s descent into darkness and her literal descent into hell in the catacombs, where she is, naturally, accompanied by Virgil. I was so swept away with the plot the first time I read that I missed some of the artistry of the writing. Equally impressive is Donnelly’s research. She fictionalizes some details. Andi’s thesis focus, the composer Amadé Mahlerbeau, is fictional, as are her Nobel-prize winning father and his historian friend G. However, they all have their basis in historical or contemporary figures who do similar work. Another thing I noticed about Donnelly’s writing is that she allows the reader to be creative and connect the dots. She doesn’t knock you over the head with the connections. She wants you to do the work. She wants you to do some digging and find out what she has learned.

I also noticed how well Donnelly pulls off the twinning. Maximilien Robespierre and the schizophrenic Maximilien R. Peters, who is responsible for the death of Andi’s brother Truman, work very well in a pair and serve as an interesting symbol of the brutality and stupidity of the world and the cyclical nature of history’s desperate individuals. It’s almost not too hard to believe that Alex might reach across history, 200 years in the future, to save Andi and let her know that just because the world goes on, stupid and brutal, it doesn’t mean that she has to—she can be a positive force for good in the world. She can make people happy. The world can be a scary, crazy place. Particularly today, we see a lot of stories in the news that make us despair and make us want to give up. Perhaps in the end, all we have left to do is to do the good that we can. We don’t have to participate in the world’s brutality and stupidity.

Donnelly said in an interview that “a good story with a compelling character that’s well written should appeal to anybody.” I think that’s why this book is so good. Andi may be a teenager, but the fact that she is a young protagonist doesn’t make her story any less applicable or interesting. This book really makes me want to write, and that’s always the sign of a really good book to me—the ones that make me want to write.

Emily Janice Card narrated most of the book, while Emma Bering narrated Alex’s diary entries. Both narrators were brilliant. Card especially does a brilliant job bringing Andi’s sarcastic and hard edge to life. You can hear the chip on her shoulder. Card happens to be the daughter of Orson Scott Card. I read that she was named for two of my favorite writers (and Orson Scott Card’s, apparently): Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë. I really didn’t want to stop listening to this book. I have to be doing something mindless while I listen to audio books or else I get distracted from the story. When I didn’t have anything mindless to occupy me while listening to this book, I pulled my hardcover off the shelf and read along with the narrators. I need to go back and re-read a few favorite passages.

Last time I read this book, I was craving more books just like it, but I’m afraid there probably aren’t any. It’s brilliant.

Keep scrolling for the book’s playlist. You don’t want to miss it.

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

The playlist for this particular book is massive and varied, as Andi is one of those folks who loves music. All kinds. I suspect it needs a bit of revision because there are musical references on just about every page of the book. That’s another thing I love about it. The music.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Books I’d Give a Theme Song To

Top Ten TuesdayThis is an interesting topic. I’ll try to do it justice.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link], F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette. This is perhaps kind of an odd choice, given the song has no connection to the 1920’s or jazz, but if you listen to the lyrics, they essentially describe how Daisy seems to feel about Gatsby.
  2. [amazon_link id=”1456364278″ target=”_blank” ]Heart of Darkness[/amazon_link], Joseph Conrad: “Head Like a Hole” by NIN. OK, this song is really aggressive and may not jump out at you when you think of Heart of Darkness, but again, the lyrics seem to speak to the book’s themes. My favorite is comparing Kurtz’s last words, “The horror!” to the last line of the song, “You know what you are.” Isn’t that the horror Kurtz was talking about? The horror of realizing what he was? Of course that line is whispered on the recording, and I didn’t hear it in this video. But still.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0385737645″ target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link], Jennifer Donnelly: “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd. I chose this song mainly because it is a motif in the story itself. The song becomes important to Andi both for its message and music.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQYaVb4px7U
  4. [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link], Ransom Riggs: “People are Strange” by The Doors. I am not a huge fan of The Doors. I liked them a lot more when I was in high school. However, I can’t deny there are some strange people in Riggs’s book.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1400031702″ target=”_blank” ]The Secret History[/amazon_link], Donna Tartt: “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen. Any list like this is better for an Echo and the Bunnymen song. Plus I think the sort of gothic nature of the song (and the fact that it was recently featured in a commercial with vampires) goes with the book’s atmosphere. “Fate… up against your will” describes Richard Papen’s complicated feelings about Bunny’s murder. Plus, “killing.”
  6. [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link], Emily Brontë: “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush. Kind of a no-brainer. This video is nearly as weird as Catherine Earnshaw.
  7. [amazon_link id=”0743482751″ target=”_blank” ]Much Ado About Nothing[/amazon_link], William Shakespeare: “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons. Maybe because the song just alludes to a song in the play and quotes pieces of the play, but it fits anyway.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0393320979″ target=”_blank” ]Beowulf[/amazon_link], Anonymous: “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. Because VIKINGS! That’s why.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBmueYJ0VhA
  9. [amazon_link id=”0345409647″ target=”_blank” ]Interview with the Vampire[/amazon_link], Anne Rice: “Moon Over Bourbon Street” by Sting. Yes, he actually was inspired to write the song because of Rice’s book. Fitting.
  10. [amazon_link id=”0316769177″ target=”_blank” ]The Catcher in the Rye[/amazon_link], J. D. Salinger: “How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths. The song’s narrator is an angry, misunderstood loner, just like Holden Caulfield. And honestly, I think what Holden really does want is to be loved. Just like everybody else does.

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Sunday Salon—October 16, 2011

:: آخر لقانا في الخريف..تذكّر الثوب الخفيف ::

It’s been pretty and cool today. Perfect tea weather. I finished up reading [amazon_link id=”1466273089″ target=”_blank” ]The Man with Two Left Feet[/amazon_link] by P. G. Wodehouse via DailyLit last night (review). I started up with [amazon_link id=”1439169462″ target=”_blank” ]Anna Karenina[/amazon_link] by Leo Tolstoy. I’m not going to be able to finish it for the read-a-long at Unputdownables, but it seems like an appropriate time to finally read. Come on Russians: don’t disappoint me this time. Anna Karenina is yet another classic I’m not sure I’d pick up if not for DailyLit.

I’m still reading [amazon_link id=”0385534639″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link] by Erin Morgenstern. You might recall my daughter and I were arguing over it. My daughter won, mainly because I downloaded the iBook sample that Starbucks provided as their first e-book Pick of the Week. I was able to read up to about page 91, so it’s a pretty substantial sample. If you can’t tell that far in whether to continue or not, then the sample size just doesn’t matter.

I’m still listening to Juliet Stevenson’s recording of [amazon_link id=”9626343613″ target=”_blank” ]Sense and Sensibility[/amazon_link] by Jane Austen. My poll results indicate that both of the two people who voted think I should read [amazon_link id=”140222267X” target=”_blank” ]Willoughby’s Return[/amazon_link] by Jane Odiwe for my other book for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. Only problem is I don’t have it. Yet. The wait list for it on PaperBackSwap is long, too.

This Sunday I also watched the final episode of season 3 of [amazon_link id=”B001AQR3LC” target=”_blank” ]The Tudors[/amazon_link]. Did they ever cast a perfect vapid teenager for Catherine Howard, or what? I find it hard to believe Joss Stone as a “Flanders mare,” though.

I’ve been listening to this Austin City Limits playlist (Facebook app) that’s available for free on iTunes. It’s a great playlist. My favorites are “You Are Not Alone” by Mavis Staples, “Devil Knows You’re Dead” by Delta Spirit, “Don’t Gotta Work it Out” by Fitz and the Tantrums, and “Lost in My Mind” by The Head and the Heart. I have say that “WHALE” by Yellow Ostrich is pretty catchy once it gets going, though I thought it was kind of odd at the start. I’ve actually been listening to Spotify quite a bit and made this playlist full of great women artists.

We saw [amazon_link id=”B00275EHJG” target=”_blank” ]Toy Story 3[/amazon_link] at movie night at my kids’ school on Friday. Dylan was especially entranced. My favorite comment? When Dylan said Ken’s hair looked like Justin Bieber’s. He so rarely makes references to pop culture, and we don’t often get such a window into what he’s thinking. Saturday was the Taste of Roswell in the town square. We ate lots of great food, and the weather was gorgeous. The music was too loud. I think I’d be just as happy if the organizers left music out of the event altogether. Last night I stayed up too late watching [amazon_link id=”B000UJCALI” target=”_blank” ]The Shining[/amazon_link], which was dumb because that movie scares the bejesus out of me, and then I was the only one awake and scared in the dark. All told, we’ve had a great weekend. I’m not ready for it to be over. Unfortunately, today means laundry and getting ready for the week ahead. It’s my last short week due to Jewish holidays, but I’m going to a conference on Tuesday and Wednesday that I’m not thrilled about attending.

photo credit: » Zitona «

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Music

Clave de sol

I was going to do Musing Mondays, but this meme Jenners wrote about piqued my interest a little bit more today.

  1. What’s the most annoying song in the world?
    Probably the “It’s a Small World” song that you hear on the theme park ride. Man I have annoyed my parents with that tune.
  2. What’s the saddest song in the world?
    This is a little obscure, but I think it’s a piece by Aram Khachaturian that appears in [amazon_link id=”B00005ASUM” target=”_blank” ]2001: A Space Odyssey[/amazon_link]. It’s the Adagio from Gayane. The violins are inexpressibly sad.
  3. What’s the sexiest song in the world?
    Perhaps “Europa” by Carlos Santana. I think a lot of babies have been made to that song. Weirdly enough, I think “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent is a close second, but not because of the lyrics, which are decidedly un-sexy.
  4. Name a new to you band or music artist you can’t get enough of.
    Jack White. No contest. I saw him in [amazon_link id=”B002RVZV9K” target=”_blank” ]It Might Get Loud[/amazon_link], mainly because I’m a huge fan of Led Zeppelin and U2 and Jimmy Page and the Edge were in that flick. Well, it made me a Jack White fan, too. I love this video of him making a guitar out of odds and ends. A still from this scene is currently my desktop.
  5. Have you met any famous musicians?
    I had to think about this. Not really, but sort of. I went to high school with Tony Kanal, and I have a vague memory that he interviewed me for an article in the school paper (he was the editor of our school paper), but does it count if he wasn’t famous yet? He was two years ahead of me at Anaheim High school. If you don’t know who he is—he plays bass for No Doubt.
  6. What song best describes your life?
    I cannot pick one. I will say “Marble Halls,” which is an old song most recently (as far as I know) recorded by Enya. To me, it’s about a dreamer who loves someone very much.
  7. How important is your partner’s taste in music to you?
    It’s pretty important. We don’t have to like all the same stuff, but it’s important that we have some interests in common. I have to be able to talk about music with my partner. I have actually dated guys because we liked the same music. It’s not enough to sustain a relationship on, but it’s a start.
  8. Do you sing in the shower?
    Not really, but I do sing in the car.
  9. What was the last live music show you attended? Did you buy a tee-shirt?
    If operas count, then it was the Atlanta Opera Company’s production of Madama Butterfly, which my husband sang in. You knew he is a tenor, right? He was in the chorus and also sang a line as Butterfly’s drunken uncle. If you are asking about a rock concert (or other form of popular music), it was actually quite a long time ago, and it was the Wallflowers and Counting Crows. That had to be something like 1996 or 1997 though. I think I bought a shirt. I don’t have it anymore if I did.
  10. What’s the sweetest song in the world?
    OK, I am either stealing Jenners’s response of “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison or else “Lips Like Sugar” by Echo and the Bunnymen.
  11. Can you play a musical instrument?
    Actually, yes. I have picked up several instruments and made noise with them that resembles music. I could probably still play flute and guitar, though I’m out of practice. In the past, I’ve picked up French horn, violin, and clarinet. Piccolo, but that’s just a small flute. I was in band and guitar classes in high school. I also played classical guitar some in college. I have a guitar, but I haven’t played it in a long time.
  12. Are you in a band or are you a performing solo music artist?  If yes, what kind of music do you play?
    Nope. At least not anymore. I have been. I haven’t ever been in a rock band, though, which is a regret.
  13. Have you ever dated a musician?
    Yes, actually, every guy I have dated has been a musician. I know, I know. See number 14. But! There is a pretty cool bonus: songs about me may have been written.
  14. Are you a groupie?
    No, I’m a Band Aid! And if you get that, you’re probably my kind of person. In all seriousness, every guy I have ever dated or had a serious crush on in high school and college has been a musician. And they’re the worst! Ugh. I wish they weren’t so damned attractive.

Bonus: If you listen to the radio, what station and type of music are you tuned to the most?
Probably a rock station, though I haven’t listened to the radio for music in a long time. I usually use Spotify or Pandora. I create stations or playlists based on whatever I feel like listening to.

photo credit: wakalani

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Crazy Week

Fall Sampler

I didn’t post much this week. I didn’t read much, even though I am enjoying the book I am reading—[amazon_link id=”0312558171″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley[/amazon_link] by Sharon McCrumb. The prompts from some of the weekly memes I usually participate in didn’t appeal me much last week, and I didn’t write about today’s Musing Monday because I recently wrote on the topic already.

Another reason for the silence is that I commute to work on the bus, and Wednesday afternoon, a pedestrian was killed on my bus route. I didn’t see it happen, but I did see the police clean up afterward. It was horrible. I had some trouble concentrating on reading for a couple of days afterward, and I still keep thinking about his poor family. The driver who hit the pedestrian was not at fault, but we all make stupid mistakes, and it is a pity when we have to pay with our lives. He was just eighteen years old.

I spent the weekend making playlists in Spotify. If you have Spotify (and it’s now open for signups with no invitations necessary), then feel free to subscribe to them. They are all classical music. I decided to disconnect my Spotify account from Facebook because I don’t really want everyone knowing everything I’m listening to. Besides, isn’t it annoying to receive updates for each song someone listens to in your Facebook feed? Anyway, my Spotify profile is here, so feel free to connect to me (if you can figure out how to do that).

I am so glad fall is coming at last. The leaves are beginning to turn here in Georgia, so I imagine they are really pretty up north right now.

Update: I put the Fall Classical list on Ping, too. You have to buy the music on iTunes, but if that’s your preference over Spotify, then you can check it out there, too.

photo credit: *Micky

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The Songcatcher, Sharyn McCrumb

[amazon_image id=”0451202503″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Songcatcher[/amazon_image]Sharyn McCrumb’s novel [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] is part of her series of ballad novels, based on Appalachian ballads (which I still maintain is one of the cleverest ideas I’ve ever heard of). The novel is the story of a family who settles in the mountain border of North Carolina and Tennessee and passes down an old Scottish ballad through the family from the eighteenth century to the modern day. The story begins as Lark McCourry, a country music singer born Linda Walker, tries to recall an old song she heard relatives sing at a gathering when she was young. John Walker, her elderly father, with whom she has a contentious relationship, becomes sick and is expected to die soon, so his housekeeper and surrogate daughter Becky Tilden calls Lark home. The story flashes back through some of Lark and John’s ancestors, starting with Malcolm McCourry, who was kidnapped and conscripted by a sailing ship at the age of nine, never to see his home on the Isle of Islay in Scotland again. Once he nears the age of twenty, he apprentices to a lawyer in Morristown, NJ. Many years later, he abandons his family and heads south with his daughter Jane and her husband to settle in the North Carolina mountains, where he establishes a second family. Before the end of the novel, Malcolm’s great-grandson Pinckney McCourry, a prisoner of war during the Civil War; Pinckney’s nephew Zebulon, an orphaned boy; Ellender McCourry, Zebulon’s daughter; and John Walker, Lark’s father and Ellender’s son, all have the opportunity to tell a part of their story and to explain how they received their family’s ballad, “The Rowan Stave.”

I absolutely adored this book from start to finish. It was so good that I didn’t want it to end. I loved Sharyn Crumb’s characters, most of whom are based on her own ancestors and retain their own names. Zebulon McCourry was her real great-grandfather, and Malcolm McCourry was her real four-times great grandfather. One of the things I loved best about this novel is the way it tackled the issue of northerners and other outsiders coming into Appalachia and making all sorts of erroneous assumptions about the intellect, culture, and beliefs of the people who settled there. McCrumb manages to touch on everything from why the Civil War led to feuds, such as the Hatfield and McCoy feud, all the way to how songcatchers came through Appalachia and took advantage of the people by collecting their folk songs, then copyrighting them for profit. Some of the writing is quite lyrical, and it is clear that McCrumb hails from a long line of born storytellers. I particularly liked Malcolm McCourry, though his decision to abandon his family in New Jersey caused friction and hurt his older children, particularly when he married a second time and supplanted his new family for his first one. I absolutely loved Zebulon’s story of tangling with a couple of condescending women from Boston. Pinckney was an intriguing figure, too. I also liked Baird Christopher, owner of a hostel in the mountains, especially as he explains how to pronounce Appalachia to a New Yorker.

The ballad itself is catchy, and it would be interesting to hear the tune, which McCrumb says in her Afterword was set to music by Shelley Stevens. It looks like you can purchase it from her website. It is the story of the mother of the Brahan seer, and explains how she found a stone that gave her son the Sight—a worthy old Scottish story.

The respect that McCrumb shows for Appalachia is, unfortunately, rare and is perfectly rendered through various encounters her characters have with outsiders. The book could, in many ways, be considered a love letter to that region and to the stories that are passed down through the generations. I am very interested in my own family history (some of which does have roots in Appalachia), so I found that element of the book particularly fascinating. Our ancestors anchor us in the world, I believe. They show us how we fit into this great chain of being and give us a sense of belonging and, in some ways, importance, which is another element McCrumb touches on when one of her characters describes the slim chance that brings any one of us into existence. If you really think about how close you have come to not ever being, your head will spin. I know I can’t help but feel grateful to my ancestors for all the choices they made that ensured I could be born one day.

If you are interested in family history, you will surely find this book as captivating as I did. Even if you aren’t interested in that sort of thing, The Songcatcher is an intriguing read and manages to maintain the feel of a mystery even without being a mystery proper. It’s a truly wonderful read. It may be hard to find, but you can order new or used copies from Amazon through associated sellers. I obtained my copy via PaperBackSwap.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Music and Reading

Clave de sol

This week’s Booking Through Thursday prompt asked about music—”What, if any, kind of music do you listen to when you’re reading? (Given a choice, of course!).”

I missed writing about it on Thursday because I posted a review of The Paris Wife, and I didn’t want to post twice that day, but I’ve been thinking about it since then and decided I still want to write about it, even if I’m late to the party.

Music is really important to me—as important as books are. I love music, all kinds. I have been a musician, but it is true that I haven’t picked up an instrument in years. Picking up instruments usually wasn’t too hard for me, but I never became a master at any of them. The two I played most were flute and guitar, but I tried out French horn, clarinet, and violin.

This topic is kind of timely for me. I have always been a music fan, and I will not say I am always on the cutting edge. I have pretty much always “discovered” artists long after their bands have broken up, or at least long after they started making music. So I cannot claim to have any sort of pulse on the modern music industry. However, I did recently go through a dry spell, listening to the same stuff I had listened to forever, it seems. I hadn’t listened to anything new, and I had decided that it was my age—I’ll be 40 in September—and that after a certain point, pretty much everyone just stops seeking out new music. I never thought I would do it, but I did. I was even listening more to podcasts or books than music when I drove. Then I watched [amazon_link id=”B002RVZV9K” target=”_blank” ]It Might Get Loud[/amazon_link], mainly because I am huge fan of Led Zeppelin and U2. But the movie opens like this:

Which made me a fan of Jack White. I have been discovering his catalogue, which has prompted me to listen to other artists like him. Pandora Radio is great for discovering new artists. Through my Jack White Pandora station, I’ve discovered the Black Keys, Patrick Sweany, and many others. I rediscovered Leo Kottke; my guitar teacher used to play his song “Vaseline Machine Gun” and would teach it to you if you would sit with him and watch, but I had trouble learning music that way—I needed either tablature or sheet music.

My point in bringing all of this up is that I might have answered the prompt differently a few months ago, but I’m listening to music again after not doing it as much for quite a while, and I’m listening to it while I read (sometimes). The answer to what I listen to is that it depends. Sometimes I just let Pandora take care of it for me. Other times, I listen to whatever is in my iTunes. Lately, that mostly means Jack White, but I do get in moods for other things, such as St. Vincent or T. Rex or Led Zeppelin, or the Black Crowes.

Another impetus for all the new music in my life was Jennifer Donnelly’s book [amazon_link id=”0385737637″ target=”_blank” ]Revolution[/amazon_link] (review). Andi, one of the protagonists, is a music omnivore. She loves everything. All the music references prompted me to check out some of Andi’s favorite music. And Donnelly was kind enough to share Andi’s playlist on her website.

When I study, which I haven’t had to do since I graduated from VA Tech (master’s in Instructional Technology last December), I listen to classical music, like Mozart. I actually downloaded this album (iTunes link) for the purpose of studying. It may have been psychosomatic, but it seemed to work.

I’m always listening to a lot of music as I write, which is really something I’ve always done, but the soundtrack has changed a bit. It’s a lot of fun to feel like I at least have an idea about modern music, which isn’t something I’ve felt for a while.

Some things never change, though. I still don’t care much for pop music (such as Lady Gaga, although she’s a shrewd marketer, and I do admire that about her). I think music was constantly going in my teenage years, and it’s fun to feel that I am in some way recapturing that. I missed it.

photo credit: wakalani

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GarageBand.com

So I may be one of the last people on the Web to discover GarageBand.com.  On the off chance that you are, too, I decided to share it with you.  It is a great place to discover new artists and music you likely would never have heard about otherwise.  You will find music in all types of genres from all over the world.  You can search by artist, location, or musical sub-genre.

I have only been poking around the site for a couple of days.  I initially found it through the Facebook application iLike.   When you activate that application on your Facebook profile, you can choose to display short clips from your favorite musical artists.  I happened to select Kelly Richey as one of mine.  If you select an artist that has mp3’s available for download at GarageBand.com, a button appears on the application that allows you to download the song.  I clicked through to discover the site.

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Now playing: Driftwood Groove – Old Susquehanna
via FoxyTunes

[tags]garageband.com, iLike, facebook[/tags]

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