And Another Thing About Music

A few of the WordPress bloggers I follow post everyday. That will never be me. I have way too many other daily routines vying for my time like, hair removal, staring into space and Konmaring my house. Speaking of Maria Kondo, y’all know that in a year we won’t remember her, right? It’ll be Maria who? But she won’t care because she’ll be sitting in her joyful L.A. home with her two adorable daughters tranquil in the knowledge that messy people around the world have already paid for their college educations. But this post isn’t about her.

No, I don’t have it in me to blog everyday but fellow blogger Hanspostcard’s Song of the Day has motivated me to write in my journal daily about music. I call it Kat’s Bewildering Morning Song. I realized a couple of months ago that most mornings I wake up with a random song going through my head. And when I say random, I mean random. Why Elmo’s ring bearer song from Maria and Luis’ 1980s Sesame St. wedding? Why? “Don’t drop the ring Elmo, don’t drop the ring…” It’s not the same as ear worm songs because as far as I can tell, nothing prompts it. You’re probably thinking, she’s hearing those songs sometime during the day before and just doesn’t know it. I can guarantee you that I did not hear Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel at the supermarket yesterday so I don’t understand why it was the soundtrack served up with my breakfast.

I have a theory. What if the random playlist is my brain’s way of choosing songs to dump. What if it’s like, “Ok, you want to remember those Kendrick Lamar lyrics? Well then to make room, Twelfth of Never by Johnny Mathis has to go. So here it is for the last time unless you stubble on the one Pandora station that plays it.”

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It makes sense right? At this age I’ve filled up a lot of my memory. Many times I feel as though I’ve forgotten more than I remember. Sometimes while reading on a subject I want to know about I’ll find myself thinking, wait, did I know this before. Unfortunately, I can’t prove my theory because if my brain is jettisoning songs from my memory, how would I know? I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten. And if I do hear that song on Pandora, will I remember hearing it before or that I’d forgotten it? What did I forget to make room for the Leon Bridges album? Of course there is some music I’ll never forget even if Apple took it from my iTunes.

Right now I’m just waiting to hear what  will come up this morning. Will it be Umbrella by Rhianna or High Hopes by Frank Sinatra. I never know. How about you? Can you stop the music if you want to? When you walk down memory lane do the songs come up or do you have to google the year to remind yourself of what they were? What goes through your heads, musically speaking?

I’d forgotten about this song until I wrote this post.

And thanks for reading.

Sooner or Later We Have to Face Before

You’re probably aware of the sudden controversy over the lyrics to the song  “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. What’s funny to me is that I thought about the creepiness of the song a couple of years ago.  I also wrote the piece below, which is along the same lines, a few of months ago. I decided not to post it because I didn’t want to upset anyone in this #MeToo moment. But now, I think maybe we can talk about it.

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I was listening to a Larry Graham tune the other day. He’s very talented and he was at the height of his career during my salad days. He was one of the original members of Sly and the Family Stone. He also had his own group for a minute, Graham Central Station, and a successful solo career. Some of you probably remember him for his song, “One in a Million”. (That was played one and a million times at weddings back in the day.) I used to dance to his music and he was one of my faves. A couple of his songs still loop in my head. I was thinking about one of the ones that comes up occasionally in my mind’s playlist. The song is Sooner or Later, from the album of the same name. Graham is a bass player with an beautiful deep, sexy voice. I was enjoying the memory of his voice on that particular song when it hit me that the lyrics sound strange in 2018.  I don’t know why I didn’t notice before. Like a lot of folks, I guess I’m more aware and sensitive these days.

The lyrics start out all right, your basic “I love you” tune. But a while into it, it starts to feel uncomfortable.
“You can’t run away from me. Oh baby, sooner or later I’m gonna make your mine…I know it’s just a matter of time.”
What? Umm…that’s vaguely intimidating. He goes on to say that the girl’s the sweetest in the world and he,
“just can’t let you go. Oh, oh you can’t run away from me.”
Ok, if a woman heard someone say that today it’d be a red flag, right? He starts riffing toward the end,
“You’re gonna be my darlin baby, ain’t no maybe…I’m gonna make you mine forever…”
What does that mean? Will there be ropes and duct tape involved?
“… we’ll be together…Although it might take time I’m gonna make you mine.
C’mon now, that doesn’t sound slightly threatening? Right now, it sounds like he’s planning on stalking.

Obviously, I’m not taking the song too seriously. But when I think of the number of times I sang along to Sooner or Later back then and wished my boyfriend (my husband three years later) would say those things to me, I gotta admit I’m a little embarrassed. I know the song is a product of its time. It was 1982. Tootsie and Victor/Victorious were in theaters so we had at least started to think outside the traditional lines of sex and gender roles but on the other hand Richard Dawson was still kissing the female contestants of Family Feud on the lips. I also know that when I was young, women my age didn’t think so much about the ramifications of men’s attention. We didn’t analyze the positive or negative connotations of that attention. We were more inclined to ask, “Why isn’t he giving me attention?” than “What does his attention mean?” I’m glad young women ask now. And if that questioning means we have to re-examine beloved chestnuts like “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, maybe that’s a good thing. We can think about it while still listening and enjoying.  I’m going to continue listening to Graham’s song cuz I like it. Maybe I just won’t sing along.

 

 

 

1968 Part II

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The Washington Post September, 2018

First,  an update on my post Why Did They Take My Music…(March 2018): They took away my Aretha!

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Miss Aretha Franklin’s funeral was today. Rest in peace, Queen. Miss Aretha had 2 big albums with some of her greatness hits (although by no means all) in 1968. The albums were Lady Soul and Aretha Now.

I wrote about 1968 in April and shared a part of my novel about that year. A couple of weeks ago I went to the National Portrait Gallery exhibit, 1968 One Year, An American Odyssey. It’s a great exhibit. If you’re in the D.C. area, I recommend going to see it. I went with a friend who hadn’t been born yet in 1968 and who is from another country. As I expanded on the written narratives for her and tried to explain how significant the events were,  the exhibit brought up memories that I’d forgotten…

It’s 1968 and I’m sitting at the kitchen dining table with my family. My mother and step-father are discussing the news over dinner. (It’s understood that my younger sister and I don’t have the gravitas to add anything important to the conversation so we sit and eat without talking. Sometimes we shrug.) There are riots going on in various U.S. cities and my mother isn’t happy about it. She’s supportive of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s agenda of resistance and reform through nonviolence but she feels that the primary goal of Blacks should be the “uplift” of the race a la W.E.B. Dubois. She believes black power is the improvement of our social condition through our own achievements. She isn’t  feelin’ the Black Panther’s message of speaking truth to power or their riff on Malcolm’s pronouncement of “by any means necessary. Those messages penetrate my mother’s well crafted narrative and float around in my head. I’m not yet a teen-ager, I won’t start high school for a few months. But I read, I watch and I listen. I’m confused now by all the opinions and perspectives. I know what I’m supposed to believe but I’m not sure I do believe it.

I looked at the exhibit photos of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and remembered that the music of that year both scared and soothed me. It continued my introduction to alternative ways of looking at things, challenging what I was being taught at home. But I also remembered the songs I listened to on AM radio late at night. I liked to lie in bed with the lights turned off, staring at the green glow of the radio dial.  I would drift off, lulled by the stylings of artists like Miss Aretha singing “I Say a Little Prayer, Sergio Mendes doing “Fool On the Hill” and the Temptations soon to be classic “I Wish it Would Rain”.

My mother preferred Della Reese to Aretha Franklin. I loved them both.

Why Did They Take My Music Away?

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So some time ago, I updated my iTunes. I don’t remember how many versions ago it was because I haven’t updated it since. The experience caused havoc and a paralyzing fear of “improved” apps .

I know I sound dramatic but I lovingly and carefully curated my music library over a lot of years. (Yeah, it began with vinyl but we’re talk about my age later.) It started with Solomon Burke and ended with Kendrick Lamar. The bits and pieces in between told my story through artists inspired by a universal vibe. There were songs that represented every journey I’ve been on in that library. Most of that’s gone now. When I ran the update, almost half of my favorite songs disappeared. Where was my Taj Mahal, Van Morrison, Wu Man and Soweto Gospel Choir? Bambino, Buckwheat Zydeco, Yo-Yo Ma and Miriam Makeba were all missing. It took away my beloved Curtis Mayfield. And the song I associate with my husband’s passing was deleted. “…It’s so strange but true, can’t believe I’m still in love with you…” Yup, iTunes even took my James Hunter…So, I asked my audio engineer son to explain what happened. Here’s what he told me:

“with the release of Apple Music, (deliberately or not…) Apple made the access of traditional iTunes Music collections burdensome. While they shifted the focus of their platform to streaming, many users reported major glitches and missing music (they have never confirmed or denied this). In addition, many users had to re-download entire music libraries from difficult to find iTunes Music backup files to restore their original music collections.”

BURDENSOME? For real. I had to download my entire collection from an old laptop to a hard drive. Now I have the music but can’t transfer it to my phone from the drive. Oh sure, I can plug the drive into the cheap laptop I have now but the library won’t download (error message) and the speakers are shit  inadequate. And forget “difficult to find…backup files.” If I needed to call someone to explain what happened, I definitely don’t understand enough to re-install it.

My love of music started in childhood.  In church, even if the service bored me, the choir could make me both cry and shout for joy. I begged my mother to buy gospel records. Later, my music kept me company as I contemplated the context and complexities of my youth. (I’m looking at you Santana.) And then I danced to favorite songs with my children as I taught them to dance on the beat.

I get it. All the music services have changed the delivery model and they know some of us are slow (or old) so they’re prodding us along. But here’s the bottom line, the best of my music is gone.  I have the music that iTunes left me, the music I bought from them but resent because what’s left is their choice. And I will not pay for Apple Music because I resent that it feels like they’re trying to force me to opt in. I’m not going to re-buy music I legitimately owned but don’t have because I didn’t buy it from them. That only leaves me with free but commercial laden streaming services and radio.

I try to stay current and update devices to keep them and myself up to date. But c’mon, I’m not young and I’m not savvy so I can’t play these digital games. It’s okay because I’m grateful to still be in a position to take advantage of the benefits of modern times. I need to finish my life’s soundtrack though, so I wish I had my music.

String Theory

Wikimedia Commons

What music are you listening to today?

I was listening to The Goat Rodeo Sessions during my walk this morning. I really love that CD and I’ve written about it here before. A quartet of players make magic by strumming, plucking and stringing us along. The ringleader is Yo-Yo Ma.

Wikimedia Commons

Wu Man was one of Yo-Yo Ma’s ensemble members on the incredible Silk Road Project. She is a virtuoso pipa player who wrote and recorded a solo piece called Dancing that I listen to frequently. When I close my eyes and listen I can see people from many different cultures…dancing together. I see Polynesian warrior dancers, S. African Zulu dancers and Australian aboriginal dancers. I see American western barn dancers in addition to Chinese folk and Japanese dancers. And in the middle of the them is Ms. Wu playing the pipa, the beautiful Chinese string instrument. I thought about the images that Dancing evokes when I read this quote from Yo Yo Ma:

“. . .Nothing great was ever produced in isolation.” Ma says his study of history at Harvard University led him to realize that Eastern and Western cultures are not self-contained, but have mixed since at least the time of Alexander the Great. “Even something as basic as our Western major and minor keys may have originally come from the amazingly complex modes of classical Persian music…”And there’s a continual tradition in the West of incorporating music from other parts of the world.” The pattern continues with instruments, too, he said. “The guitar and the sitar are obviously related — even linguistically. The oud moves west from Persia to become the lute; it moves east to become the pipa. And a European hears an erhu and says it’s purely Chinese, a Chinese violin, but in Chinese the word ‘erhu’ means ‘two-stringed foreign instrument,’ ” Ma said.”  (AP 4/9/07)

Isn’t that a wonderful observation? Culture is fluid, so why do we remain committed to the confines of the concept of “tribes”? We can draw lines in the sand and make claims in the name of “our people” but all it takes is losing ourselves in something as universal as music to see the truth of human connectedness. I can ponder that truth as quantum physics or I can think about it in philosophical terms but what I really like to do is close my eyes and listen to the strings. 

In the Dead of Winter

I mentioned in my previous post that I have persistent thoughts of death in the winter. I don’t mind because I think it’s natural. Historically winter has universally been interpreted as the dead time of the year.

Every year I contemplate the lack of plant life and the hibernation of animals at this time, but more than that I think about human death. I tend to focus on loved ones who have passed on and re-mourn their loss. I would say that my definition of ghosts is the occurrence of re-experiencing someone or something that is gone so as to feel as though they are still present and further to feel the absence as a presence itself. To me ghosts are our own feelings. That’s why I think those ghost hunting shows are hilarious. Why hunt our own feelings? (Although a lot of us spend time doing it in therapy). And as an aside, how would the dead, who have moved on to a totally new reality, spend time here. Can you or I go back in time?

Anyway, I think about that every time I look at pictures or movies of people who are gone. I know they are gone yet it feels to me; it registers on my emotional scale as though they are still here. I couldn’t watch any of my favorite old movies if I viewed the actors as a bunch of corpses or ghosts. I was thinking about it today while I was listening to one of my favorite Curtis Mayfield songs. I could hear him inhale in the recording and yet he was not inhaling. The time of the recordings are “ghosts” themselves. That particular time of that song being sung that particular way is gone yet I am experiencing it now. Just as the plant life and animal life appear to be gone at this time of year yet we experience them anew but what feels like again in the spring, are we humans ever really gone as long as someone can re-experience us in some way? Ghosts, ghost images, ghost songs, ghost feelings. .. Ahh, but spring is less than a month away (March 20th).  The full snow moon is behind us and sunsets happen later now. As always, the added light prompts in me thoughts of new life. I hope it does in you as well.

This Month’s Stop

I’m not perfect and other people aren’t either. When my judgment reflex kicks in, I’d like to flip it to compassion by staying mindful of the state of imperfection in which we all reside. I was taught to compare myself to others in order to judge their shortcomings. But comparison doesn’t have to be criticism; it can serve as the path to compassion for others and myself.

Order isn’t perfection. Sometimes it’s just the opposite and sometimes disorder is perfection. I was watching a piece on TV about Bernard Madoff. In it his daughter-in-law revealed that he is obsessed with order. That man is someone very far from perfection. Then I was reading about one of my favorite CDs “The Goat Rodeo Sessions”. Apparently, the definition of “Goat Rodeo” is basically discordance that becomes a whole. When I’m listening to the CD the music seems ‘pret near perfection.  I really like order but I’ve come to realize that it’s not perfection.

To possess is not the same as to value. I may decide in my heart that it’s better to let go of a possession but find it hard because of my perception of it’s value. Maybe it comes down to how I have been defining value. Maybe I’ve been defining it as how anything relate to ME. I almost took a picture of a beautiful tree. I was thinking that when the leaves fell it wouldn’t be as beautiful and that I should take the picture and make it my Facebook profile picture.  But, that tree’s beauty doesn’t depend on me or whether it graces my Facebook page. It was itself before I saw it and remained so after I’d walked away. It will be exactly as it is for someone else to see as beautiful when they walk by.

Sometimes the value of something can be intangible. I’ve learned about the value of compassion and imperfect perfection. I think I get it.

Summer Meditation

I read “The Bow” this morning (please see 1st post 12/25/10) and then went for a walk. I just got back. It was wonderful and I want to share my thoughts without my usual two-day  editing process. So here goes…

Starting out with newly downloaded music dictating my stride.”Tinariwen” singing from “Water is Life”.

It’s the kind of July morning I wait for all year. The cloudless blue sky, the sun hot on my shoulders until I wipe them with dew from heavy, ivy leaves that cling to stone walls. What’s Nicki saying? “I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.”

Smiling at the bunny gazing at a front yard garden contemplating “what to have, what to have….? Sharing the bunny smile with passing drivers who smile back. And sharing those smiles with dog walkers who really do look like their dogs. “I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.”

Reaching the cemetery I feel the pain it takes to put loved ones to rest and the love that remains.  Grief is the place in our hearts where those loved ones live and it’s good to know where that is. “I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.” 

Geese fly low overhead and I suddenly realize, this is Yoga! I’m so grateful for this breathe. I’m grateful for all of it. I’m grateful that I continue the 20 year walk away from my demons. “I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.” 

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And now a note about the music mentioned in this post. I enjoy exploring “world music”. Among many other great finds, this year I was introduced to the music of the Tuareg people of the Sahara. Tinariwen is a Tuareg band. (There is a song on my “I Saw God” playlist titled “Ansari”. It’s by the group Tartit. They are also a Tuareg band.) I strongly recommend checking the music out. It’s a great genre with a very interesting history. Although I was familiar with the music, I found out about Tinariwen through the organization “Playing for Change”. Their stated mission is “Connecting The World Through Music”. Please check the website, http://playingforchange.com. You’ll be amazed at the music you’ll discover. National Geographic also has a place on their website entirely dedicated to world music. The web address is worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com. Lastly, for those of you who haven’t already figured it out, the Nicki I refer to is Nicki Minaj, rapper extraordinaire, the song , “Moment 4 Life”.  The details on both references is on my Music page.

Peace and Love.

Spring Meditation

   Ok, this is my planned “Easter piece”. (Please see previous post.) I actually wrote it a while ago and waited for this time of year to post it. I know it sounds like I wrote it standing on a soap box and I promise not to preach again if you forgive me this one time. I’ll write for this blog “in the now” from now on but I can’t let all that planning go to waste!

Get It Together*

    I probably read more into song lyrics I than I should or the writers intended. I admit that sometimes I can’t tell the difference between love songs and hymns. But this particular song overtly speaks to spirituality. If you listen to the song I think you’ll agree.

“Now’s the time for stepping out of place. Get up on your feet and give account of your faith. Pray to God or something or whatever you do.”

The British singer Seal co-wrote the song “Get It Together”. I have often wondered if he realizes that the song is divinely inspired. Ironically, it’s on the same CD as his famous song “Love’s Divine”.

   The words of this song are so powerful; that’s why I included them in my prayer. The first line, “Now’s the time…”. Wow! It puts out there the profound concept of all of us, whatever the form of our faith, addressing our collective spirituality, together. “Now’s the time for stepping out of place.” Now’s the time. If ever there was a time we needed to get over ourselves enough to step out of places in time, with our involvement in what wants to be a holy war, this is the time. For what is extremism at either end except being locked in place? “Get up on your feet and give account of your faith.” I try to imagine if I had to account for my faith. Could I do it? Notice the song doesn’t say, “give account of someone else’s faith” because that would be my first inclination. As in ‘I don’t know how so and so can give account since they have the wrong faith.’ Or ‘so and so isn’t doing right by our faith, they don’t do this and they don’t do that.’ Or how about a two-fer, which goes something like, ‘What kind of values was that child raised with?’ With that one I get to account for the child and the parent.

   Imagine if we all had to give account whatever our faith is. If we all had to step up and say ‘This is what I believe, this is why I believe it and this is how I live it.’ Do you know what would happen? Besides those who try to use the term “faith” to wrongly justify violence, what would happen is….we would be giving the same accounts. We would be expressing the same things no matter how we expressed them. Seal gets to the point in the next line. “Pray to God or something or whatever you do.” Or something. So he’s saying it’s not so important how we account but that we stand up together and account, again in our collective spirituality. He goes on to say, “What I see can make me stop and stare but who am I to judge the color of your hair.”  So when I see someone who makes me stop in my tracks and think ‘WTF?’, let me remember to give account only of my own faith.

   “We’ve got to keep this world together, got to keep it moving straight. Love like we need forever, so that people can relate.”  The only way we can keep this world together is together. And with the lyric “love like we need forever” the songwriter is beating us over the head with his point. He’s saying that together we need to love one another in a deep way, in the true way that comes after we give account of our faith. That’s the meaning of the Christian concept of Agape love, isn’t it? It’s compassionate love that comes from faith in love as a manifestation of the divine. If we can love each other like that then, once again, it doesn’t matter how we express it. We can be together and relate to one another in love. As in the song line “so that people can relate”.

   The next line is the one I adapted for my prayer. “If you’re rolling to the left, don’t forget I’m on the right.” I interpret those words to mean that no matter what position I take I have to consider the ‘other’ position with compassion and love if not agreement. Next comes the big payoff of this stanza, “Trust and forgive each other.” After I have accounted for my own faith and therefore opened my heart to the love I want and need forever then maybe I can trust and forgive. Trust and forgiveness are clearly not new ideas in faith traditions but they are two of the biggest obstacles to Agape love.  In order for me to trust and forgive I have to get over myself. I don’t mean get over my traditions but get over past ideas of group or tribal righteousness that prevent me from trusting. I must accept that the values of “the other” are as valid in God’s sight as my own, and then I can trust. And forgiveness is even harder. On more than one occasion I have convinced myself that I have been forgiving only to find myself hanging on to my own sense in my heart.  When I tell myself that I will forgive but not forget it’s just a ruse I use to disguise my lack of forgiveness. To forgive is to forget and let it go completely. The greatest and holiest of those among us throughout history have all stressed the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness through compassion is a fundamental in our traditions.

    In the next stanza the songs says, “Thinking of the troubles of today is it easier to put that gun away or is it difficult to stop and show you care.” Yeah it’s difficult! It’s a lot easier to put flag decals on my car than it is to step outside my comfort zone for the sake of others. I know that often I’ll feel the desire in my heart to show I care but then my mind gets started and I’ll think ‘If I get involved it might take to much of my time or I’ll have to take up someone else’s burden and I’ve got enough of my own. Or I might get hurt.’ But if I listen to my heart sense instead of my head sense I know that what is really important is that I show that I care.

   The next line is the most profound to me. “Everything and everyone we know is beautiful.” Amen to that! The words go on to say, “Surely you will be the guide in light to see us all. Maybe we can be the vision of a perfect man’s dream.” The words are so optimistic and hopeful. When I hear them I envision the songwriter in a kind of rapture. What do you see when you think of those words? Maybe we can discuss that goal, together. Any contemplation of collective spirituality is vital in today’s world. Now’s the time.

(Track from Seal’s CD “Seal IV”, 2003, Warner Bros. Records)