Tuesday, April 18, 2006

No Sugar Tonight

What does it mean that the first rock song that I ever really realized was something different than whatever played on the AM radio ("Windy" or "Take a Letter, Maria" or "Last Train to Clarksville", etc...) was a song not by Brits or Americans, but by a Canadian group? I can clearly remember the day that this realization broke on me. It was springtime of 1970 and I had gotten a little transistor radio with a dial on it. The only station that came in well inside the house was a easy-listening
station, but it was warm enough that my antennae and I could go outside and sit on the swing. If you pointed your
body towards Detroit, you could pick up a pop station and so I remember hoping to hear something by Jackson 5
or Sly and the Family Stone (because, after all, the station was catering to a Motown-loving audience) and instead,
I got this great "na na na na na na na na na na" in Burton Cummings' raspy growl. Aow! What the hell was this
and where had it been all my young life?

My brother is nearly twelve years older than me. He loves rock and pop with a passion and was building an enormous
record collection during my infancy and childhood. Not just the Beatles and the Stones and the Who, but
hundreds of LPs with one worthwhile song apiece just because he always had a band and needed to learn the chords
for the covers. So we had plenty of disposable pop, from Herman's Hermits to Paul Revere and the Raiders ("Kicks"
was the first song I ever saw him perform, complete with the tire-pump leg action familiar to people who saw PRR
play live...) and it was all very pleasant. My parents continued to take us to see the big touring country acts of
the day -- Porter and Tammy, Buck Owens, Carl Smith (who was a foul-mouthed drunk the night we saw him) -- and
I took it all in, not discriminating between genres other than by the clothes that the singers wore. (Porter
Wagoner wouldn't be caught dead in a Righteous Brothers or Beach Boys-style cardigan, even if the hairstyles were
eerily similar.)

The Guess Who was my first clue that something was up. (My brother didn't like the Kinks, so I guess I hadn't
heard the guitars in "You Really Got Me.") It was about that point, sonically speaking, that we became a house
divided. My father hated Iron Butterfly and Zep, thought Joplin was a fat sloppy braless "lezzie," (whatever that
was...that was the sole reference to the existence of homosexuality in my house until I went to college -- though
surely my mom must have been strangling on her silence during my enthusiasm for watching disco
dance shows on which the Village People featured prominently).

As for me, the louder, fuzzier, and drummier the better. I read everything about rock I could get my hands on, even
at a very early age. My brother was among the original subscribers to Rolling Stone. He would take me to the
library to read what I guess must have been the Village Voice, although I don't think I knew where the Village
was. Anyhow, I became a pint-sized Lester Bangs, the kind only 1960s blue-collar Cleveland could produce.
My parents had some "Jesus in the temple" moments with me when I'd wander off into the crowd wherever
my brother played and hang out with the bigger kids, swapping insights into who was deriving what riff
from the B side of what obscure import and politely declining the joint as it passed. (C'mon. I was only
6 or 7!) My head is still filled with rhythm and lyrics, obscure facts (such as....did you know that "Can't
Explain" was produced by the manager of the Kinks, which might account for the similarities between
it and "Really Got Me"?) and radio call numbers, on-air jingles (I can still sing the CKLW call letters...
hey, maybe *that's* why I heard so much Canadian rock-and-roll, because of listening to the Windsor
superstation as it bounced its signal across Lake Erie!). These tumble out at awkward times, making
my freakish enthusiasm for rock and pop obvious. And I went completely off the deep end (predictably)
for punk and wave, without which I could not have matured into a sane human being. Elvis Costello
alone gave me reason to live when nothing else could sustain me. (You think I exaggerate.
I assure you, I do not. I literally decided that despite all evidence to the contrary, the world who
had created such an artist was good or at least benign and I had to make it until his next album. Which,
luckily, was a good one.)

There are big gaps in my knowledge. I'm sound on funk, soul, and R & B, but I'm touch-and-go on rap.
Some rap artists made hardly a ripple, especially in the pre-video age, whereas others
like LL Cool J and the Sugarhill Gang are part of my sonic landscape. I checked out for a while
during grunge/grad school/early motherhood. The more punk the current alt-pop scene becomes, however, the more
I'm tuning in again. Stripes, Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys. I find that I have the
tastes of an 18-year-old punk boy.

Today, I heard the Guess Who on the radio. And I still got that thrill.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

One year ago...

As a few of you remember, one year ago today my father died. I am still inarticulate when it comes to describing most of the
emotional work of grieving. It's both too personal and too complex to wrap words around. However, I have been
surprised over and over by both the intensity and durability of love (especially given that my dad and I had a pretty
operatically loud and acrimonious relationship for a while in my youth). Now that the redbuds have again bloomed, I
am reminded that life goes on. My mother's very cautiously moving into a new relationship (so far, it's amounted
to a couple of nights of dancing and a short ride on the back of his Harley) and building a life of her own. I can listen
to almost any George Jones song without breaking down. My husband can open a milk carton and extract the sealing
ring without misting up about my dad's habit of "getting engaged" to my mom every time a new milk carton was opened.
And we're all learning to live with the very complicated, all too human, difficult love that we're left holding and passing

At my mother's church, the priest is saying the Easter Vigil mass in Dad's honor. He would be astonished to discover
that the most "pull out all the stops" Mass of the year is dedicated to him, a late convert and not a particularly by the
book sort of a guy. He knew what he knew, telling the priest who came to baptize him on one of those
dozens of trips to the hospital in the last 15 years that "if we can do this without putting me through all the
bullshit, I'd be happy to join." He had raised two children in the Catholic church, married a Catholic woman, lived
in the parish community all his life -- to him, that was sufficient time to figure out what Catholics believed by watching
what they did. I doubt he ever said the Rosary all the way through, probably didn't bother
with the fine points of transubstantiation or the Trinity, and carried a lot of his original training from the
Holyroller Freewillers right on with him to the grave. But he believed. He believed in A Way. He believed in
A Truth. And he believed ever so strongly in a life after this one, where the hurts and imperfections, the hard knocks and
mistakes would be healed and every tear wiped away. I don't know that he was right, but I think that he got
the essence of what is required by Christianity. We diverged widely on religion as we did in almost everything
else, but I am still gratified that the Mass dedicated to the glorification of the resurrected Christ goes to
a humble man who simply believed.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Day off...

I suppose you are wondering where I went.


I mean it. I've been right here in front of a computer, or in front of a classroom, or in front of an audience of my peers pretty much every day since March 1st. I had two days off (meaning didn't have to go to school, but still with work responsibilities) during our mid-winter break; that was also the last time that my husband will be home until the end of May. In the time you haven't heard from me, I've won another small grant, finagled another course reduction (meaning I am going to be teaching a 3:2 load, so now I'll be teaching what my peers at research institutions will be teaching and hopefully finally have more time to think and write), got another research assistant, helped hire two new members of my department, attended countless committee meetings, lost twenty pounds, gave two interviews to the student newspaper and one to the alumni magazine about the new Big Important Grant, wrote a dozen recommendation letters for seniors who are emerging into the post-collegiate world, counseled students who were breaking up, cracking up, dealing with rapes and miscarriages and flunks-in-progress, helped a student win a national fellowship, graded 300 or so student essays (not counting the mark-up of first drafts), prepped 50 class meetings (about half of them new lectures or activities), and inducted a new batch of honors students into our national honorary chapter on campus.

And then I came home and parented. I've read volumes 2, 3, and 4 of Harry Potter aloud, attended three birthday parties (and acquired/wrapped the presents), and volunteered twice at the school because they were doing something that I know something about. Moreover, Kid has entered into the tremendously exciting world of dance competitions and
although I am utterly opposed to the whole "eating disorders dressed up in spangles" pageanty aspect of this, she's
having a fine time and is largely unaffected by what I think is unhealthy attitude of some of the adults. As it turns out,
she's quite good for her age and she is happy to meet other dancers and doesn't get either freaked out or spoiled
by the attention. (Then again, she's never come in anywhere but first place. It's easy to feel happy when you win everything
you touch. ) Dance has been chewing up my weekends, my energy, and all my extra money. I am pleased to report,
however, that the reign of the thumping bassline is nearly at an end.

And then there's all the normal stuff. Grocery shopping. Laundry. Cooking. Bills. It all adds up. I've had time to
drop in your blogs and I've enjoyed them all immensely as my only contact with real adults talking about stuff
outside of work. I haven't really had time to blog anything myself, though. So thanks for playing your part in keeping me sane during this intense time.

Tomorrow is my first real day off. I have only 28 papers to grade before next Wednesday, so I'm going to go completely
off-line and sit numbly in the bright spring sunshine, watching the forsythia and daffodils bloom in my backyard and
listening to the drowse of bees pollenating the bright scarlet maple budlets. I might watch the dust spin lazily through
a sunbeam or listen to my Big Band 78s or write a love letter or paint my toenails...hell, I might just sleep. Whatever it is,
though, it won't be because I have a deadline to meet or miss driving me forward.

I really can't wait.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I promise, I'll get to three, two, and one sometime...

But not right now. Instead, I'll respond to a fun meme that Neal tagged me with as a means of getting back on the blog wagon.

Jobs I've had (out of the two dozen or so jobs I've had in the last twenty years):
1- Haunted House operator
2- Dishwasher
3- Art gallery guard
4- legal editor

Movies I could watch over and over:
1- American in Paris
2- It Happened One Night
3- Raising Arizona
4- My Man Godfrey

Places I've Lived:
1- Avon, Ohio (farm town)
2- Chicago's Gold Coast (high rise)
3- Coralville, Iowa (suburbs of a college town)
4 - Albany, NY (state capitol, metro)

Shows I love:
1- Great Performances
2- American Idol (or as I call it "Not so great Performances")
3- Sex and the City
4- The History Detectives

Places I've vacationed:
1- Coralville, Iowa
2- Dyersville, Iowa
3- Davenport, Iowa
4- Fairfield, Iowa

Favorite dishes:

1 - Pasta and marinara with a green salad, crusty bread, and a bottle of good red wine by candlelight
2 - Roast beef sandwich with lemon garlic butter and fresh tomatoes, outside, on a fine summer night
3 - Hot dog with coney sauce and finely minced onion, fries, black raspberry milkshake sitting on the trunk of my car in the sunshine
4 - Denver omelette, toast, home fries, hot coffee with cream served in bed by a smiling barefoot man in a bathrobe

Who am I tagging?? You, silly.