Sunday, March 29, 2009

Get Out There and ....

Busy crazy weekend after a strange and busy week, which ended with a thud as poor Son of Mando contracted The Crud. He is still illin' with a fever and a head cold to beat the band. I'm hoping to hold it off at least a week so I can listen while Yarn Slut and her Pizzie take their vows beside the Gulf. None of us can quite believe the time is here!

But if The Crud catches up with me, I guess I'll just do what I gotta do to do what I gotta do. At some point, we all gotta Get Out There and Dance, just like Tim says in this wonderful little tune from his latest effort, Chameleon. Dancing to this one with Daughter at Tim's solo Wheeling Jamboree appearance last October, watching as she made up her own steps and at how she glowed and giggled for days after she met Tim is what I'll think of when I listen to this song.

Why can't we just all live lightly and see things like an 8 year old kid listening to someone sing a song like it's just for her? Nobody's watchin, nobody cares. Live your life, step by step, to whatever sweet little tune makes you groove.

Get Out There And Dance

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pickin' On A Big Ol Jet Airliner

I had intended to wind down my Pickin’ On week with a Steve Miller tune oft performed by my beloved Dixie Bee Liners. (This just in, new to me—the Bees will be at The Ark on June 3 and right here in Cleveland at the Beachland on June 4.) Such an MP3 does not yet exist, and so I intended to substitute this rendition by the Sawtooth Bluegrass Band, which just isn't the same.

But nothing beats the original. No, not Miller, but Paul Pena, the man who wrote the tune Jet Airliner. Here’s a ‘Tube of Pena performing the tune live. Incredible. Pena was born in Massachusetts, nearly blind at a young age but born a musician through and through. Before his death in 2005 after a long battle with a pancreatic illness, Pena left a musical legacy of extraordinary depth and reach.

Some of this music journey for me the last five or six years has brought some interesting discoveries and grateful lessons like this. Exploring American music uncovers a lot of untold stories, like the man who wrote Jet Airliner who was also the subject of a documentary film about his journey to Tuva. That film won a Sundance Film Festival award and an Oscar nomination. But that was probably the most recognition he ever received, and even then he was just a character in his own story.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pickin on the Music In My Life (So Far)

A friend of mine introduced me to this exquisite ukelele artist over the weekend. I had heard his work here and there but never just sat, and took it in.

I don't imagine many of us are accustomed to thinking about ukelele quite the way Jake Shimabukuro plays it. But actually it figures pretty heavily in the string bands of the Ragtime era, so it's not quite as far flung from bluegrass music as one might be tempted to think. It's a handy little instrument with a sweet sound not too unlike the mando.

Today brought a lot of kerfluffle and the temptation to deviate from living and enjoying my life. I'm still not sure how I'll be moving ahead but I don't have to decide today. For the moment it's best to just acknowledge the first 43 years and the many people and experiences who have been a part of the journey. Every single encounter has taught me something in one way or another. Most of what I know sure didn't come from my expensive Denison education. But that's ok. That era was important too, it brought a number of important people into my life and in a roundabout way, my children.

There is a lot in the news right now about how so many people are deciding to recreate themselves. It's unfortunate that this is treated most of the time as a negative, probably because of the stress related with having to do it in the worst economy since FDR was our POTUS. But my guess is that many people will find new meaning in working, new ways to be creative, new opportunities to put otherwise unused talents to use, and new networks and social groups to bring their passions and interests alive. When we are open to even the most daunting changes, life has a way of working out.

Of all the things that bother me, change really isn't one of them. My mother was one who seemed to roll with the punches and although she was less flexible and more hardened later in her life, she always believed that things happen for a reason. Even though I've abandoned pretty much anything else that suggests we're not entirely responsible for our own actions, I will always feel there's a little truth in that mantra of hers.

Before life brings you more daunting changes, take a moment to enjoy young Mr. Shimabukuro perform this instrumental. I know a few of my friends from The Martins Ferry Beatles Years and beyond will appreciate this little tribute to long evenings at my mother's house talking with June Anne and listening to the Beatles. Those were pretty neat times. It's good to know that some of the best things in my life were in some of your lives, too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pickin' on WHO?

In the spirit of my Pickin' On theme this week I thought I'd throw this one out. Readers and listeners will recognize it as one of the main themes in the Ken Russell movie, Tommy featuring Roger Daltry and the music of The Who.

I'll be in Florida the weekend the Rock Hall induction here in Cleveland. I have to say it's an impressive and well-curated place, but I'm glad to be making the journey away for the weekend, or I might be tempted to go down to E 9th and gawk. When I worked downtown, we'd wander over to Tower City and run into famous folks all the time. It was kind of fun but also a little odd. Our world must have seemed strange to them, too.

I have lots of fun memories of watching and deconstructing this movie with my good friends. And it's hard to beat the Who, even the bluegrass version. I don't know what Ann Margaret is doing these days, but my guess is, she's not a big bluegrass fan, like a lot of people. More for us!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Nothin' But Flowers (And Bluegrass!)

I had the most interesting experience over the weekend. The episode of bringing my son together with Jim Morrison kind of kicked it off. The rest of the weekend I just kind of spent poking around in my musical attic and remembering joyfully all the good stuff I used to listen to, and kind of amused at how eventually it all makes sense.

Part of my musical flingfest has to do with the fact that in a couple of weeks a number of us will be heading to Florida for the wedding of a very good friend. This is a wonderful couple of people. I've known the bride for just over 20 years now. She was there when my babies came into the world and for at least one of the ones that got away during one of my miscarriages. The day before my daughter was born she walked and walked and walked with me around the block because I knew something was up (now we call that, "labor"). She got up in the middle of the night and brought my son to the hospital when my daughter was about to be born. On the flip side, I kept her company through a hernia surgery or two and at least one of those laser eye thingies: I even got to gawk as they sliced and lifted up a little piece of her eye and put it back. We both lost our mothers in the last few years. We've certainly had our ups and downs -- for most of the time we've known each other to this point, we had been in-laws, and had entertained a few family dramas sandwiched in among the lilies -- but it is a privilege and a joy to have the chance to be there with her while she takes the biggest step of her life so far, marrying a smart, funny, creative wonderful man we all like more every minute.

So needless to say there's a lot of celebrating going on in the midst of taxes and worrying about the economy and all that stuff. In times like these it's critical to be able to laugh, to embrace the journey and say, "Feh, damn the rest of it. THIS is what matters."

That might be what put the little spring in my step on Sunday morning, when I decided I needed desperately to track down some Talking Heads. (I know...Doors....Talking Heads....what next??) Which, I did. My niece had played this tune, Nothing But Flowers, on her Pittsburgh radio show and for some reason I woke up with it in my head yesterday morning. It's impossible to restrain yourself when you hear it, you just have to wiggle at least a little. So it led me to wonder, if there are bluegrass versions of Doors tunes, I'm sure there are bluegrass versions of Talking Heads tunes.

I didn't find a purely Bluegrass Byrne tune, but, I learned that David Byrne is one of the headliners at the formidable TELLURIDE BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL in June.

How crazy serendipitous and cool is that, and so lovely to see that other people see music the way I do. Byrne will be joined by Elvis Costello at THE premiere "green" bluegrass festival in the country, celebrating the summer solstice. It's on my bucket list.

To honor Byrne, and flowers, and crazy welcome springs in steps, here's Moonshine Still with their rendition of Nothin' But Flowers. Gives me a reason to pull out my mando again, it does, and if that doesn't work, I'll throw my hands up and dance.

You got it. You got it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Light My Bluegrass Fire

Well, it looks like I’m not going to get the Mother of the Year award, but I did have a fun week, and am crazy happy about all kinds of things like the fact that it’s Friday, I’m getting a haircut tomorrow, I don’t owe the Feds OR the State anything this year, and the high school band is doing a Doors medley.

Yes, a Doors medley. Never mind that there are probably PARENTS who don’t get the Doors.

I spent a lot of time talking on the last post about my younger kid, but my older kid is pretty awesome himself. He’s always got the keenest observations, the most thought provoking questions, and the smart-assest comebacks. He’s not afraid to talk about anything. This makes hanging out with him a pretty interesting activity. Our main event of the week was watching “Hotel Rwanda” – he had seen it at school and really wanted us to watch it so we rented it from the library. His observations were quite astute for his age. He’s a lot of fun but he’s a deep cat, too.

He also loves to play the sax. He’s in the concert band at the high school. In the somewhat typical random fashion our conversations follow, as we were throwing dinner together Thursday night he posed the question: “Do you know the song, ‘Touch Me’?”

My eyes lit up, and my head spun around. I suddenly found that I had in fact turned into Tina Fey right there in my kitchen as I rendered each of the songs in the Doors medley being tackled by the high school band. My son appeared both mortified, and relieved that this music might actually be pretty cool.

The band director had asked the kids to listen to the songs. So, in keeping with my poor parenting choices, we pulled down YouTube videos of Jim Morrison and his crew doing several of the numbers. (One of them was a Smothers Brothers show—those guys were so ahead of their time and SO COOL!) What better way to expand your child’s musical horizons? Sure, Jim Morrison died of a heroin overdose, but what the heck, he was a great poet. And kids like that he’s buried in Paris. Buried in Paris is kind of cool.

In honor of the Twinsburg High School band’s brave Doors endeavor, I share this magical bluegrass version of “Light My Fire.” If this doesn’t get my kids taken away from me, I guess we’ll be good for a while!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

BooBoo with the Windy Yellow (Ok, Mostly Brown) Hair

My daughter is the best surprise trick anyone ever played on me. (I guess, technically, I played it on myself.) Although she sometimes drives me to distraction with her willfulness and yes, occasionally, even whining, I would not trade her for all the wide world, not even for a second. I adore both my children, and everyone who knows me at all knows that I am devoted to them irrevocably. I relate to each of them differently. They’re also fairly far apart in age so my daughter is still quite young despite her tenacity.

In the last week I was sideways accused of paying “too much attention” to her. Now, if I even knew what that meant, it’s still the dumbest and most offensive thing anyone has said to me in a long, long time. My kids spend every other week with me. She gets a bit of one-on-one time with me in the mornings before school, although usually I’m working or doing chores while we get ready for the day. In the evenings, my son will hang out with me for a while after my daughter goes to bed, time he uses either to try to convince me to buy a PS3 or elicit any evidence that my views on the afterlife or some ancient civilization have changed. Other than that, they have school and their activities and I have meetings and other goings-on, and most of the time just getting through the day catastrophe-free is something of an accomplishment. Though I think about them on the weeks they are not staying with me, I don’t call them or interfere with their time with their other family unless there is a logistical issue or a family emergency of some kind.

This isn’t boot camp, it’s a family. I’m not The Great Santini, I’m a mom – and a really good one. While keeping my home and having a job is up there right now, nothing is more important to me than to see that these two young people are healthy in every way, and that they get the love and attention and opportunity they deserve for my having brought them into this mess of a world in the first place. I don’t take this job lightly, and I don’t put it back on my kids to raise themselves. If some folks feel that’s too much attention, that’s really too damn bad.

We are a throw-away society. Despite all the warning signs and the many horrible stories we see in the news about children in despair or getting into trouble, we still parent based on convenience rather than meeting kids where they are, being there for them. Not a week has gone by in the last seven or eight years that I haven’t felt I should go back to school. Because of the kind of work I do, I would love to get a nonprofit masters degree, and more than one person has suggested law school. The problem is I don’t have anyone to raise my kids while I do that, so I choose not to right now. It’s not brain surgery. This isn’t a lack of ambition, or laziness. It’s a conscious choice to be whereI believe my eight year old needs me now, and for that matter, my 14 year old, too.

Yesterday, I learned about a horrible thing that happened to a little girl outside of Cincinnati. This past Saturday afternoon during our bout of warm weather, young Esme Kenney left for an afternoon jog and never came home. Her body was found in the woods about a block from her house at around 3 a.m. Sunday morning. She was the friend of a little girl whose mother is a friend of mine and a fellow former La Leche League leader-- and one of the people who supported me both as I got my credentials to help other moms and as I evolved into a mom myself. She is devastated.

No doubt the man who killed Esme Kenney was thrown away at a young age. He probably didn’t do well in school. He probably didn’t have anyone to redirect him, or get him the help he cried out for with every expression of his self-loathing and turmoil. Someone probably just told him to “get over it” and figured he would. And he didn’t, and now Esme is the latest casualty in the perpetrator’s war against himself.

I recently stumbled across a Peter, Paul and Mary concert in which Mary performed this beautiful piece, which sums up the way I feel about my daughter perfectly. It’s a joyful reflection on motherhood. My daughter spins and flips and argues and sings and dances and runs to her own beat, but her little hand still finds mine when we are walking, and she still needs a song now and then before she falls asleep. I will always be happy to oblige.

Here’s Poem for Erika/For Baby. I dedicate it to all the amazing, fearless, loving women in my life who are mothers of daughters, and a good many friends and family who may not be mothers but who are loving aunts who share a special love with other people’s daughters.

Poem for Erika/For Baby

Monday, March 02, 2009

Putting the " ' " in O'Bama

Friday night after the kids and I watched a movie (Princess Bride, for those who care), I flipped on PBS which was running the last third of the Gershwin Prize show and presentation at The White House. As I sat back and enjoyed the lineup of performers delivering their renditions of favorite Stevie Wonder tunes, I felt so glad to have a POTUS again with a soul, and some groove to boot. On Saturday I got an email from my friend Earl of Ohio announcing the AMAZING news that John Doyle and Liz Carroll will be performing at The White House on March 17.

Green is cool.