Monday, May 27, 2013

An Anthem for Memorial Day (Redux)

[First posted on 5/31/2010]

The video in this post features Josh Groban performing an operatic version of one of my favorite tunes: "Anthem." The song comes from the 1980s musical, CHESS, by Tim Rice, Björn Ulvaeus, and Benny Andersson. Although the show is very much about the board game of chess, it is even more about the politics of relationships ... and nations.
In the storyline, "Anthem" is performed by a Russian chess player -- a champion -- on the occasion of his defection from the U.S.S.R., but there is nothing in it to make it specific of any particular nation. I, therefore, find it very inspirational and appropriate for Memorial Day. For it is the love of our nation that our veterans served in the armed forces. It is for the love of this land that so many soldiers laid down their lives.

Check out the lyrics:
No man, no madness
Though their sad power may prevail
Can possess, conquer, my country's heart
They rise to fail
She is eternal
Long before nations' lines were drawn
When no flags flew, when no armies stood
My land was born
And you ask me why I love her
Through wars, death and despair
She is the constant
We who don't care
And you wonder will I leave her -- but how?
I cross over borders but I'm still there now
How can I leave her?
Where would I start?
Let man's petty nations tear themselves apart
My land's only borders lie around my heart

See also: Memorial Day themed Friday 80s Flashback for 5/25/2012 post.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True MemoirLet's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have both the hardcover and audible versions of this book. I listened to Jenny read her book (is there anything better than an author SINGING chapter titles?) while driving to and from visiting my father in Select Specialty Hospital in Johnstown, PA ... and I finished the book as I drove home after his funeral. If that sounds depressing, it is nothing compared to what Jenny had to go through to have her daughter. Now, don't get me wrong (and I'm trying to avoid spoilers here), but there is only one seriously depressing chapter in the whole book, and Jenny even warns you so you can skip it if you want. And while it might sound as though I should not have been in the mood for Jenny's stories, they were EXACTLY what I needed on those 5 hour road trips. So, the best review I can give this book is that it distracted me when I needed it most. But not just any old distraction would have done. It is a testament to Jenny's prowess as a storyteller -- or, perhaps, as a vocalist -- that I was pulled into her world and did not want to leave it. Even if there was a slight chance I might end up elbow deep in a cow's vagina. (OK, that might have been a slight spoiler there). Thank you, Jenny. Now, where is volume 2?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday 80s Flashback for May 24, 2013

[No Joy, Just Division] -- If you want some 80s tunes appropriate for Memorial Day Weekend, I direct you to my Flashback post from May 27, 2011. Of course, I also hope you'll check out this new post.

I'm a big New Order fan. Like many -- but not all -- of their fans, I discovered the band well after their days as Joy Division. I have previously, albeit briefly, written about the transition from Joy Division to New Order (see the first Flashback tune in my Second Acts post (Friday 80s Flashback for November 19, 2010). But it is good to return to this idea so that there can be no illusions that 80s music formed fully on its own in a vacuum. The music we love owes a debt to preceding decades. And this became all the clearer to me as I recently listened to New Order/Joy Division bassist Peter Hook interviewed on Sound Opinions. He knows, I mean really knows, there would have been no New Order if not for Joy Division. (And there may have been no Joy Division if not for the Sex Pistols). Lets face it: New Order started out as pretty much Joy Division (1976 - 1980) without founder/singer Ian Curtis. Even New Order's first album included songs written by Joy Division. However, whereas Joy Division was formed as a response to the Sex Pistols ("We just wanted to be punks!" says Peter Hook in the Sound Opinions interview), New Order evolved from their dark and melodic origins to become something of an alternative dance / new wave band for the post punk generation. In the Sound Opinions interview, bassist Peter Hook says he believes Joy Division would have eventually reached the place that New Order did, but I'm not so sure. I mean, I do agree that Ian Curtis' songwriting would have evolved, but I'm not so sure he would have embraced synthpop as much as his former bandmates. I just don't think it would have been in his nature.

Today's theme comes from the fact that New Order is in a bit of a feud -- the latest incarnation of the band did not invite Peter Hook to join them. However, as bitter as the feelings are over the business of New Order, it is refreshing that Hook says he would still relish the opportunity to play with his old bandmates once again.

Check out the interview using the embedded widget below. And if you want to hear a few New Order tracks in their entirety, you can read and hear more after the break.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday 80s Flashback for May 17, 2013

Earth from Mars by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

[Lost but Not Lost] -- I lost my father two weeks ago today (refer to the Friday 80s Flashback for May 3, 2013, and A Eulogy for My Father). As it is all still fairly fresh for me, I find I'm still trying to learn how to navigate in -- what I perceive to be -- a new world. My moorings feel slightly loose, and sometimes I'm not sure where I am. I mean, sure I know where I am physically from one moment to the next. It's just that on a different, more ephemeral level, I sometimes feel lost. So this week's songs have been selected because they reflect, either directly or implied, the aspects of confusion, loss, and fumbling to make my way forward. Fear not, there are some toe-tapping tunes if you care to follow me on my latest venture. Just read and hear more after the break.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Friday 80s Flashback (on a Saturday) for May 10, 2013

[Word to the Mothers - Redux] -- I am re-running my Mother's Day post from May 11, 2012.

This weekend we in the U.S. observe Mother's Day. I don't know if you've ever looked for "mother" songs before, but there are many, many songs with some variation of "mother" in the title or lyrics (mother, mama, mom, etc.). However, the subject matter of the vast majority of those tunes, particularly in the 80s, was not exactly fodder for Hallmark. And, on top of that challenge, two songs that I thought were perfect for the holiday were not recorded or released in the 80s. They both came out in 1991. So, I've been scrambling to fill out this week's playlist. I think I have successfully crafted a flashback set that honors mothers, recognizes folks who have less-than-perfect relationships with their mothers, and gives a nod to something that most mothers believe about their offspring at one time or another. So don't just sit there and wonder what three songs I have for you this week. Read and hear more after the break!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Eulogy for My Father

My father crossed over at 3:07am on Friday, May 3, 2013. This morning, I delivered the eulogy at his funeral (or, more accurately, his Mass of Christian Burial). I spent the last few days writing this, and I still modified it on the fly this morning. But what I have posted below is pretty much what I said for him.

* * * 
I don’t think I’m leaking any state secrets when I tell you I grew up a little afraid of my father. In the last few months, however, I simply feared losing him. When I was a kid, I once overheard Mom describe Dad to a new neighbor as “the big, mean-looking one.” I’m fairly certain other neighborhood kids also feared him, at least a little. My being so different from Dad probably didn’t help our early relationship either – I was a brainy kid, prone to daydreaming; Dad was practical, down-to-earth, and had a way with motors and machines. I don’t ever recall seeing Dad cry; I’ve been crying since last Wednesday. 
But over the years Dad and I were able to bridge the gap between us. Perhaps we each relaxed our expectations of the other. Perhaps we merely bonded over shared loves of music (not that we always loved the same music), film (particularly old movies), sci-fi (he got me into Star Trek, Space 1999, and other shows), gadgetry (he helped me with tools and I helped him program his stereo receiver or change memory in his computer), and, of course, we both loved the Calvin & Hobbes comic and The Big Bang Theory TV show. Or, perhaps, the gap narrowed once he accepted there was no way I was going to walk directly in his footsteps; he could be proud he raised me to be who I was going to be. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

Friday 80s Flashback for May 3, 2013

[Goodbye Dad] -- There was no Flashback post last week, and there isn't a proper one this week. Last week, I rushed to my Dad's bedside because his condition had worsened and the prevailing wisdom was that he was close to leaving us. He actually improved slightly, but not enough to really merit a celebration. It was simply a postponement of the grief to come.

Dad's condition continued to decline into the beginning of this week. There was an unidentifiable (yet treatable) infection, fluid continued to build up around and in his lung, and his liver was failing. As it turns out, the only diagnosis that could be made was that he was rejecting the transplant (bone marrow and stem cells) from 2010. Or, more technically accurate, the transplant was rejecting him. So, I picked a few songs to work through what we need to work through. If you care to join me, you can read and hear more after the break.