I’ve been thinking about writing all week and not writing as much as I should have been, given how much I’ve been thinking about it. A handful of days ago it was my birthday, a double number this year, not significant really in any way but I’ve had a strangely extended celebration as if it were.
First off was last weekend’s NYC Popfest. I went to Friday night (The Monochrome Set!) and Sunday night (Close Lobsters!) and still didn’t even see 50% of the bands playing. But it was fantastic nonetheless — lots of great folks in town to hang out with plus good music. I finally saw Math & Physics Club (who were great even when felled by laryngitis), and saw the wonderful Orange Peels for the first time in a million years. And was introduced to the new to me Cassolette, a delightful band of popkids from Florida who drove all the way up the East Coast with their 1 yr old for the show. They’re jangly and sort of Velocity Girl-y and truly lovely, all 10 songs of them. It’s funny that I interact with music so differently now than I used to, but they brought me back to earlier days: heard them at the show first, then started listening to their records. Of course now that we’ve got the superfast internetz I didn’t have to worry about not having a chance to buy any merch at the show, so that’s a big change.
There are other interesting differences between now and the Twee/Popfests of yore (where “yore” = 1995-1997). My feet get sore by the end of the night. Earplugs help my ears but make the music sound muddier. All of the shows are in Brooklyn. And so many beards, why do all young men have beards these days? Oh yeah, I’m much more tired, too. Going to 2 shows with 1 night between was like a self-experiment. The differences between the two nights were mostly related to alcohol and lateness (Monday was much easier than Saturday), but it’s a true fact that the 10 hrs of sleep I had on the 1 night between was the saving grace.
There was also Commencement this week, indulgent in its own way. I love Commencement; whatever tiredness I feel listening to speeches during the ceremony is washed completely away by the cheers and smiles of the graduating students and their families. And this year there were confetti cannons at the end! I happened to be seated right behind the speakers’ podium on the stage (where faculty sit) and my suspicion that I was visible in the corner of the jumbo screens was confirmed by an email from a former student who was graduating. It was fantastic to run into her after the ceremony (and after lunch with some of my favorite colleagues) — it’s unbelievably gratifying to hear that former students enjoyed and got a lot out of your class.
And the presents, Kyle, there were also the presents. A coupleof books. A buncha CDs, including the last 3 Orbital CDs I didn’t own (so now I can finish the book, yay!). Then I treated myself to the Cassolette releases as well as twobooks for our book, both of which I’ve already read but recently decided I needed to own, as I contemplated interlibrary loaning them *again*.
And my mom coming for the weekend. And a video of my sister and niece and nephews singing Happy Birthday. And a lovely dinner (black-eyed pea salad + pork chops, yum) and *two* desserts (berry cake and brownies) courtesy of my sweetie. And a handmade Buttercup card.
It’s hard for me to fathom that the fall semester ended yesterday. Ended? Hadn’t it just started? (Tho I’m of course pleased that the world didn’t end, no thanks to you, ancient Mayans). This semester has been strange and odd and speedy in so many ways; even before the hurricane it seemed like everyone I ran into was just a tad crazed, a little more stressed than usual. For us it was settling into the new middle school schedule in September, the usual collision of lots of work stuff in October (getting into the busiest time for instruction, plus Open Access Week), then the hurricane, which knocked me for a loop in more ways than I expected. The week off for Gus and almost-week for City Tech made the rest of the semester run slightly off the rails: it seemed like homework was just piled on for Gus, and plans at work slightly skew and thus more difficult. There was travel — to an old pal’s wedding in October, to a conference upstate in November, to Delaware for Thanksgiving — and there were visitors — another old pal for the weekend and my brother the following weekend, both in December. The terrible tragedy in Newtown, about which I still don’t know what to say (and there’s plenty already being said so I’ll leave it at that). The holidays approach(ed) ever more rapidly with their associated planning and preparations.
All of this has left me feeling a bit more… not even sure of the right word here…blurgh? than usual for this time of year. Perhaps tired (well, certainly tired), but also quiet and reflective. I didn’t blog much this semester, either here or on the other spaces where I write. Part of the reason for that is the book, which continues to chug along at a semi-respectable pace. AcWriMo ended in a similar place to its midpoint: while I did achieve my overall time goal, I feel like I could have written more. But not to beat myself up too much: Chapters 1 and 3 (of 10, we think) are completely finished, Chapter 2 is a complete shitty first draft, and by the time I go to sleep on xmas eve Chapter 4 will be too (she typed confidently). Which is nothing to sneeze at, for sure.
Still, I feel the ghosts of unwritten blog posts hovering over me a bit. I started something on the train up to Saratoga Springs for the conference in November that I haven’t had a chance to finish. I have a photo of a game that I’ve intended to blog about, and brief notes on a handful of other more academic-y posts. Giving all of my writing energy to the book means that our project website has been dormant. I wrote and rewrote a post in my head about music several times this fall, starting with a love letter to Heavenly, one of my favorite bands, and Tender Trap, whose record I bought right away after reading my friend Steve’s review in the Guardian and which made me listen to Heavenly (and Tender Trap, though sometimes their kids singing at the end of “Love is Hard Enough” makes me tear up a bit) nearly nonstop this semester (when I wasn’t writing to Orbital), and ending earlier this month with a complete Talulah Gosh immersion because of the Guardian article that refers to them as overachievers. I must’ve listened to Rock Legends: Volume 69 about a hundred times this month, and every time it still surprises me that “My Best Friend” isn’t followed by Felt’s “The Day the Rain Came Down” (which it was on an old mixtape I made in the early ’90s).
Now I’ve got ten (10!) days off in a row, which seems slightly unreal, how is that even possible? And not that there’s nothing to do in those 10 days, there sure is (especially the next 3). But I’m giving myself a whole week off from the book, so I hope that things get a little more active in these non-book writing spaces, too.
I don’t need to listen to music every time I’m writing, but if I’m writing anything long form I definitely need music. Lately the only writing music I can listen to is Orbital. The mostly instrumental, techno dance music thing keeps me moving when I slow down, and seems to give my brain just enough to chew on to keep distraction at bay (most of the time).
I first started listening to Orbital when I was writing my dissertation. They quickly took their place within the regular rotation alongside the Beastie Boys and other 90s dance staples like Muziq and the Chemical Brothers. While the Beasties were a huge help with motivation, I was surprised to find that the instrumental techno music also had a pretty enormous impact on my productivity. The samples are clever but not so overwhelming that my brain needs to think about where they came from, which happens with some music (Girl Talk, for example). The melodies are mostly upbeat, which is important when you’re facing a mountain of writing. I often found myself listening to the same Orbital record on repeat for hours as I trucked through loads of descriptive text about the numbers and kinds of animal bones we found on site and what they could mean.
Since then, Orbital’s In Sides and The Middle of Nowhere have been my go-to records for getting writing done. But when I started on the book I’m writing with my research partner at the beginning of the summer, it was clear that I’d need more, more, more! I bought a couple additional mp3 albums with an iTunes card my sister gave me for my birthday (thanks Kie!), though sadly they were the only 2 records available on iTunes that we don’t have yet. The problem with the ability to buy records instantly online is that you get used to it, and it’s easy to get all annoyed an ungrateful when the exact record you want isn’t available.
Still, 2 new albums and 2 that we already had but I forgot about should take me pretty far in writing this book. And if not, there are still 3 more to go.
The semester’s been over for a few weeks now, though things are still busy with library projects and the college grant I work on and my own research. I’m not sure that I’m ready to write about the long of it yet, but the short of it is that I piled way way way too much on my plate this past year, and ended up somewhere on the spectrum of crispy, singed, fried, burned out, feel free to use whatever flame-based descriptor you like best.
Key to a successful summer for me, I think, will be having a bunch of non-work-related projects to chew on. Dare I call them leisure goals? I do dare. I like projects; projects provide a good framework for me to muck around in. Here are my summer project thoughts, in no particular order:
1. The Great Vinyl Digitization Project
Oh yeah, I got records: 12″, 7″, even a couple of 10″ EPs, some in fun, transparent colors. I’ve had a USB turntable for a while now but hadn’t made much headway on ripping the records to MP3. It was somewhat onerous and required me to push a button to break the digital file into individual songs. There’s also not really any way to speed it up the way that ripping a CD can happen at a faster speed than the recording — you just have to listen to the entire record. But I downloaded some new software that does a reasonably decent job of sensing the track breaks and cuts down the time considerably, so I’ve been hauling my laptop out to the living room each weekend to rip a few records.
It’s funny to listen to my records again. I bought most of them in high school before my family or I had a CD player, so there’s lots of 80s pop and new wave. Then there’s another segment from college, when I was either too stingy to shell out the extra cash for a CD or wanted something on vinyl only — that group includes lots of Wax Trax/industrial stuff (hey, it was Chicago in the late 80s, what can I say?). Finally there’re the mostly 7″s from my big indiepop buying days, the mid-to-late 90s. Some of this music has aged well, and some not so much.
First ripped this time around? Psychocandy by Jesus and the Mary Chain, because for some reason the song was stuck in my head and I kept having to listen to The Hardest Walk by watching the video on YouTube.
2. Buffy Rewatch
A couple of weeks ago something intriguing came through my Twitter stream: a website called NoWhiteNoise was organizing a Buffy Rewatch, in which fans watch the entire TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (either on DVD or on Netflix or websites) at the same time on Mondays throughout the summer. It’s been ages since we’ve watched them so we thought what the hell, we’ll bite (ha!).
If you had asked me before this whether watching the same episode of BTVS and live-tweeting about it with a bunch of people you don’t know was fun, I’d probably have given you a puzzled face. But you know, it’s actually surprisingly enjoyable. There are lots of younger folks who didn’t watch the show live like us oldsters, and there’s an incredible amount of foreshadowing that I of course hadn’t caught the first time around. And it’s just such a fantastic show, really, like catching up with old friends.
The only problem is the time: the Rewatch starts at 9:30pm on Mondays and includes 3 episodes @ 45 minutes each, which runs a little late for us on a school night. Once we make the transition from school to camp in a week or so things should get easier.
Wow, I have totally run out of steam, probably the 100 million degree heat is to blame (happy summer, ugh.). Stay tuned for leisure goals 3, 4, 5, and maybe 6, coming soon to this very blag!
Gosh, last week was headspinny. I took the day off on May Day so I could go to The Free University of NYC (more on that soon), which was a blast. Then there was a giant leak in the room outside of my office, with associated custodial activities. Then I came home Friday evening — after a day of meetings with no time for Twitter — to the news that Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, had died of the cancer he’d been fighting for a couple of years. I guess I hadn’t been paying much attention lately, though I did note that someone on my Twitter stream said he’d skipped the Beasties’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last month, and I wondered whether that was a bad sign. Which it was.
I have a lot of other things I should probably be writing right now, but I’ve found myself unable to stop thinking about writing a post about MCA. I love the Beasties, always have, and I’ve found myself oddly affected by this news all weekend. Maybe it’s because I never found the chance to see them play live, despite their long career. Maybe it’s because I’m not that much younger than MCA was, and my (only) kid’s not that much younger than his (only) kid. Maybe all of that.
It’s totally cliche, but the Beastie Boys were my first introduction to rap, as I’m sure was true for lots of other white kids in the suburbs in the ‘80s. In high school my musical tastes had evolved from a serious Duran Duran crush into the typical late teens mopey Cure/Siouxsie/Smiths/New Order kind of thing, with a smattering of punk rock/hardcore on the side. Not Top 40 radio but nothing too out of the ordinary (and I hadn’t yet gotten the mixtape from my English cousin that would push me over the cliff into indiepopland).
Then the Beasties came along with their white boy rap about NYC and White Castle and booze and girls and it was so different and weird and awesome. None of my friends really liked them; looking back now I’m not sure why I did, either, especially in those very sexist early days. But the fact remains that I did, and to this day I can still recite many of the songs on Licensed to Ill from memory. And, not that I’m a huge rap fan or anything, but they were certainly my gateway to rap, the reason I have the first Public Enemy record, for sure.
When we first moved to NYC we lived just across Houston Street from the Def Jam Records office on Elizabeth, and we would sometimes see a Beastie or two in the neighborhood. I followed along as they continued to release records and move into their more enlightened and less sexist phase. MCA’s usually linked most closely to that; he’s the one with the line in Sure Shot about respecting women which has been oft-repeated in the past few days. And along the way I still never managed to see the Beasties play live. Most of my friends weren’t really all that into them, if at all, and I don’t like going to shows alone, so I went to lots of indiepop shows (and a reasonable amount of more mainstream pop kinds of shows, too).
We grew up more and moved to Brooklyn (no sleep til). Sounds of Science, the Beasties’ double-CD hits record, was among the few records I could listen to while writing my dissertation, and pretty much the only non-instrumental music (because you can’t, you won’t, and you don’t stop). Sure Shot is still a go-to inspirational song for me, as I’m sure it is for lots of folks: the music and lyrics are a perfect fit, and it never ceases to make me feel like I can do something I don’t want to do (lately that’s mostly exercising). Last night we watched the video for Sabotage with Gus, who thought it was hilarious.
Spring Break is late ’round these parts — my university follows the public school schedule and while the alignment is super-convenient it does mean that the semester’s usually at least 2/3 gone by the time the break happens, and everyone’s feeling a little frayed. This year wasn’t as late or frayed as last year, but we were all looking forward to a couple of days away. We’d planned to visit my family in Delaware and also spend a couple of days in Baltimore ogling the octopus and chambered nautilus at the aquarium and swimming in the hotel pool, still a huge draw for Gus.
But it was not to be. Late last week the cat got sick (not that one, the other one), and one of the awesome side effects was that he started peeing all over the house. Yay! We took him to the vet and they fixed him up, but they left us with liquid meds to be given twice/day and the warning that it might take a few days for the cat to get completely back to normal.
So Jonathan stayed home with the cats, and I went to Delaware with Gus, and we canceled the trip to Baltimore. I definitely got the better end of the deal — while it’s not exactly restful hanging out with my 5 nieces and nephews, we hadn’t visited since xmas and it was lovely to see everyone. And I didn’t even have to mop the floor once! While Gus was disappointed to miss seeing his favorite marine invertebrates, we’re already scheming plans for a quick trip to Baltimore sometime in the not-too-distant future.
By the time I got back on Tuesday evening I hadn’t really shed the frayed feeling I’d left with. But luckily one part of our original plan still held: for Gus to spend the rest of the week in Delaware with my family, and for my mom to drive him back on Friday. I could have caught up on all kinds of things on Wednesday, but instead I took a vacation day. We went to a new place in our neighborhood for lunch and ate fresh donuts. Then we walked through the Botanic Gardens, where the cherry trees are almost there, lilacs are starting, and no bluebells yet (phew!).
Then on Wednesday night we went to a show! Like young’uns! The Chickfactor 20th anniversary show. It was a 3 night fiesta but even with Gus out of town I knew I could only handle one late night in the middle of the week. We picked night #2, which with the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group and Pipas was the best venn diagram of my and Jonathan’s favorite music of the shows. I ended up wishing I could mix-n-match a bit: I’d take Small Factory from night 1, Honey Bunch from night 3, and while we’re at it, Lilys from the Arlington shows earlier in the week.
The show was amazing, with the Ledge and Pipas as charming and incredible as ever. I’m sure every single person on the Indiepop List has written a better review than I can write, so you should go there to read them. There were lots of folks there from out of town (and from in town) who I hadn’t seen in somewhere around 10 years, perhaps a bit more or less, though I was sad to miss a couple of folks who only went to nights 1 or 3 (I’m looking at you: Kat, Maura, and Kardyhm). There was this moment soon after the Ledge started playing when I looked around to find myself standing next to Jen, Ed, Keith, and Jonathan, and it was the purest essence of nostalgia: suddenly 1996 all over again. I still haven’t quite been able to process those emotions, but I have found myself with the Ledge on repeat in my brain since then, so there you go.
Okay, the train was kind of a bust on the way home last weekend: we had some mechanical problems, were stuck in Philly for 90 minutes, and ended up having to transfer to another train for the rest of the trip. It was kind of comical actually: on the first train I was in the quiet car and had no seat neighbor, which was brilliant, while on the second train I was on a crowded noisy car. Oh well, them’s the breaks.
I discovered on last weekend’s trip that Amor de Dias is the most perfect train music ever. It’s Lupe from Pipas (a band I lovelovelove) and Alasdair from The Clientele (a band I’m kind of meh about). They are poptastic: quiet and dreamy and just perfect for watching the scenery slip by and relaxing your brain and feeling a little sad about Baltimore but also a little happy about the little bit of snow and the waning afternoon light. Go to their website and listen to Late Mornings right now! (Esp. the ‘oooohs’ that start around 0:57 — so dreamy.)
Today is the first day of the semester. It’s been a long month full of deadlines and much, much busier than a January *should* be, I think. Of course there are always deadlines but I think the busiest bit is past, which seems funny to say on the first day of the semester. But I’m optimistic, and thinking of that train ride makes me evermoreso.
The Breeders’ song “When I Was A Painter” has been in and out of my head for a while now, and so this morning I finally fired up Pod on my computer as I worked, only to end up listening to the entire record on repeat all day. It was a quiet day at the library today — despite the fact that today was New Year’s Day (Observed), the college was open, perhaps because the winter session begins tomorrow? Whatever the reason, the library was all but deserted, as was the college, neighborhood, and subway. A low-key way to start the year and ease back into the swing of things.
The summer that record was released Jonathan was living with a college friend of ours and the college friend’s high school friend in DC. I spent part of that summer at field school in northern Spain and part at home in Delaware. It was hot, and my old car would overheat if I ran the a/c so I drove from Delaware to DC with the windows open. It was even hotter in DC and I don’t remember there being any a/c in the house where they were all staying, either.
I remember trying to convince our college friend to give the Breeders a listen. He was a big Pixies fan but kept saying, “no, I can’t listen to that, I don’t like Throwing Muses.” (I know, how unpossible is that?!) I eventually forgave him for not liking Throwing Muses, and I think he eventually listened to the Breeders, but maybe not until their next record.
I’m trying not to make many resolutions this year. They are always the same, anyway (read, write, exercise, meditate), and I always have mixed success in keeping them. So this year I will just make one: I’m going to try to get enough sleep so I can wear my contact lenses regularly again. Modest, right? Perhaps deceptively so. But it’s a goal, and a good one.
I am utterly behind on the New Yorker, as usual, but yesterday I flipped through this week’s issue. Only to see that I am missing the reunited partial Chameleons, now touring as Chameleons Vox, playing a couple of times over the next few days in NYC + environs.
I loved loved loved the Chameleons in high school and college. Loved them. Not sure how I even learned about them in the first place — they’re British and were far less popular here than some of the other guitary mopey bands in the early-to-mid-80s. I still listen to them on occasion and they’ve held up well. Lots of layery guitars and, it occurs to me now, sort of pre-shoegazey. They’d work well on a mixtape with Lush, for sure.
They broke up in 1987 and I never saw them play live. I remember there was a farewell tour that came through Philadelphia (we lived in Delaware at the time). They were set to play at Revival, a club on South St. I was 16 and looked far too underage to even attempt to go to the show. But I pleaded with my dad ’til he agreed to chaperone me. And then I called Revival and OF COURSE they couldn’t make an exception for an underage nerd with her dad, why would you think that?
Grrrr…even as an old lady I still think 21+ shows suck.