Music: True Love Lasts a Lifetime

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: If I Stay, Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman’s novel If I Stay is the story of Mia, an accomplished cellist and senior in high school. Mia lives in Oregon, and when the schools close for a snow day (“I think the county overreacted,” Mia says), the family decides to make a day of it and visit friends, family, and the bookstore. In a split second, Mia’s entire life is shattered when her family’s car is hit by a pickup truck. Mia finds herself outside her body, watching as the ambulance arrives, watching as she is taken to Portland by medivac, and watching as she lies in a coma in the ICU. Mia realizes that she must make the decision: “I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard” (175).

I’m a little late with If I Stay. I think a lot of folks have read it already, so it might not be new to you. In fact, it’s been on my TBR list for years. This is exactly the kind of book I’d have been in love with as a teenager. I must have re-read Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes countless times. In many ways, Mia reminds me a bit of Davey in Blume’s book, though the tragedy she must cope with is much larger in scope and also involves her own personal fight for recovery. I think if this book had existed when I was in high school, I’d have re-read it as much as I re-read Tiger Eyes, and I can’t praise it much more highly than that. Adam is definitely the kind of boyfriend I’d have wanted in high school. Like Mia, I was a musician in high school with some starry-eyed dreams of actually being good enough to go to Juilliard. Unlike Mia, I knew I didn’t have the talent it would take to do it. The cello is, in fact, one of my favorite instruments, and my daughter played it in school. I think I would really have connected to this story if I’d read it in high school.

So what about adult me? Well, at this stage of my life, I recognize Adam is NOT the kind of guy I’d want to be with (nice enough, but the rock musician types are more cool on paper). I consider music important, but it doesn’t consume me as much as it did when I was in high school, and perhaps that is my loss. I have really wanted to get back into playing either the flute or the guitar (or both) again. I’m in a different place, which is as it should be, and it makes me a little sad this book wasn’t around when I was in high school (but I think Gayle Forman was probably in high school right then as well). It’s a great book. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve considered how much more I might have liked a book if I’d read it at a different time. As it is, it was well-written, but some of the cracks showed a bit more to adult me. They wouldn’t have bothered teenager me at all. In fact, I might not have seen them as cracks at all.

Still, I really enjoyed the book, and as for grabbing and keeping my attention, it absolutely did. I definitely want to read the sequel.

Rating: ★★★★½

I found this blog post on hosting the ultimate book group party for this book (very cool ideas). I also found an interesting Bustle post about the fictional band in the movie soundtrack. Speaking of the movie, some liberties were taken with the story, but f you have Amazon Prime, it’s free to watch with your membership. It wasn’t bad.

I made a Spotify playlist based on the music mentioned in the book, on Gayle Forman’s website, and the movie. Caveat: I couldn’t bring myself to include Bette Midler’s song “The Wind Beneath My Wings” (though it’s mentioned in the book), and I cut Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” as well. I don’t hate that song, but it doesn’t fit well with the rest of the punk/indie and classical tracks in the playlist. I guess Frank Sinatra doesn’t either, but he stayed in.

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Sunday Post #18: Sundays in Spring

Sunday PostI am not sure it gets a whole lot better than Sundays in spring unless it’s Sundays in fall (which is actually my favorite season).

School is winding down. I have one more day of regular classes, then it’s final exams. I only have one final exam this year. I hope not to have any next year. I’m not sure such exams are the best way to assess learning in English classes.

The end of the school year is always so busy right up until final exams, and then it seems to relax. I have had a really good school year—perhaps the best one of my teaching career. I am really happy with some of the things I tried this year, and I think the students did some great work for me. I have wonderful students.

I got up early this morning (for me), and made a batch of Heavenly Honeysuckle soap. I don’t always post my soap pictures here because I have another blog for that, but I really love the colors. Honeysuckle is one of my absolute favorite scents.

It should be ready to cut tomorrow and ready to use in about four weeks.

I didn’t finish any books this week or really write on the blog, but I did keep listening to The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. That’s the only book I’ve made any real progress on this week. I haven’t done a lot of reading, but I did finish watching several episodes of Doctor Who—I’ve had that DVD from Netflix for about a month, so it’s time to send it back already. It’s not the longest I’ve kept a DVD. Though I didn’t do much reading, I did add some more books to my TBR pile.

 

I am especially excited for Circling the Sun. I really enjoyed The Paris Wife. This new book by Paula McLain looks fascinating.

Sometimes I think my TBR pile is just a lovely collection of pretty covers of books I’ll never get to read. I keep telling myself I will someday.

I’ve been listening to my classical Spotify playlists today. I thought you might enjoy the Spring Classical playlist on this lovely spring day.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Review: This Song Will Save Your Life, Leila Sales

This Song Will Save Your LifeI picked up Leila Sales’s novel This Song Will Save Your Life because it was recommended to folks who liked Eleanor & Park. It was a great little book, and I think especially music lovers would enjoy it.

This Song Will Save Your Life is the story of fifteen-year-old Elise Dembowski, a misfit who has never fit in at school. Her parents have been divorced for a long time, and she divides her time between her single father and her re-married mother and blended family. At the beginning of the school year, she cuts herself, not completely sure if she wants to commit suicide or not, and calls one of her classmates, who calls 911. After she returns to school, she finds it hard to sleep some nights, so she sneaks out of her house and walks the streets. By happenstance, one Thursday night she comes across a house party called Start. She becomes interested in learning to DJ (and in the DJ himself), and discovers a talent she didn’t know she had.

I found Elise’s character charming and winsome. I had a hard time understanding why it was hard for her to make friends. I’d have wanted to be her friend in a heartbeat. High school is really rough for some folks, however, and I don’t exclude myself from that description. In some ways, this book tackles bullying in high school almost as well as Judy Blume’s Blubber does for elementary school. Nowadays, kids cannot escape it even at home, and Elise becomes the target of a cyberbully who creates a blog using Elise’s name. However, when she goes to Start, she can be herself, and she makes friends who like her for who she is.

I enjoyed Elise’s voice in this story. She reminds me a bit of Holden Caulfield in the way in which her voice is captured, but I would say she has a higher probability of turning out all right, especially given she has a caring family. As a bonus, the book has a recommended listening list. However, not everything on the list appears in the story and not everything in the story is on the list, so you might want to take notes as you go. I have the beginnings of a Spotify playlist with all the songs and/or bands mentioned in the book.

Rating: ★★★★½

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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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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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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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It Might Get Loud

It Might Get LoudI know I usually limit my discussion on this blog to books, but I watched It Might Get Loud yesterday and absolutely loved it. Of course, it’s not a new film, and if you’re a fan of any of the guitarists featured, you’ve probably already seen it. If you haven’t seen it, though, it’s a documentary by David Guggenheim about the guitar, and it features three virtuoso guitarists from different generations: Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White. All three are on Rolling Stone‘s list of the greatest guitarists of all time, although I’m not sure I necessarily agree with their placements on the list. Both Jimmy Page and the Edge should be higher up, in my opinion.

I love the way film opens as Jack White makes a guitar out of not much more than a few pieces of wood, nails, and a Coke bottle. It was interesting to learn about the Edge’s use of effects. Jimmy Page’s reflections on recording Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange were not necessarily new to me, but were still interesting to watch. I have been a fan of Jimmy Page’s for about 23 years when I discovered Led Zeppelin shortly before my sixteenth birthday. My Bon Jovi posters pretty much came down and were replaced with Led Zeppelin ones. Of course, that was also right about the time that Rattle & Hum was out, and I really enjoyed The Joshua Tree. As I’ve aged, my appreciation for both Led Zeppelin and U2 has only deepened. The guy I was not as familiar with was Jack White, and I have to say I really enjoyed learning about him and came away with a notion of buying some more of his music. I just sounded really old right there. Once there was a time when I knew what was going on in music, but that pretty much stopped about 10 years ago. I never would have believed you when I was a teenager if you had told me that day would come. New music just about needs to be put right in my face for me to notice it now.

My favorite part of the whole documentary came near the end when the three guitarists played “In My Time of Dying,” during which I picked out strains of “With or Without You,” and if Jack White contributed something original, I am afraid I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to recognize it. It was a great documentary, though, and it reminded me again why I love music.

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