Song of the month: March 2017. “Mississippi” by John Phillips

2016 was the year I started square dancing.  The Rosetown Ramblers had been on my radar for a few years.  I saw a poster advertising their lessons on Wednesday nights.  At the time, I had yoga, so couldn’t commit, but I hoped to be able to in the future.

When the gym closed, yoga went away.  A year passed, and then an article about the club was published in the newspaper.  I emailed indicating my interest and was told that there would be a special summer session for lessons.

Square dancing hits a lot of my pleasure centers. One is that it has dancing, but with rules.  There are levels to square dancing, where you learn specific calls.  Once you know those calls, you can go “anywhere in the world and dance” as square dancing people are fond of saying. Over the summer, we learned the Basic calls and when official lessons started in the fall we learned the Mainstream calls.  You can keep dancing at the mainstream level, or you can move on to Plus, and then Advanced (2 levels) followed by Challenge (three levels).

Our class graduated in February, and in March the official report from the president of the club outlined the steep decline in membership over the past two years and his recommendation that if we don’t find and retain eight dancers in the fall, that the club disband.

There are other clubs in the area I can join, but Rosetown Ramblers is the only Portland LGBT club.

Square dancing is full of things that will cause it to wither away.  You have to learn a skill, for one.  Attending weekly lessons takes dedication and practice.  Of our summer crew of dancers, half came weekly with half coming now and again, which made it hard for them to progress. And then you have to go through that stage of being bad at something, which is hard, even when people are cheering you on.

And when you start square dancing, you join a club.  Paying for the first series of lessons got me the learning, but I felt the pressure to join the club, as low-key and friendly as it was.  There are many things I love about Generation X and Millennials, but we are not joiners. You can see it at the dances.  There are bunch of people retired or nearing retirement, and not many people younger than that.

There’s also the outfits.  Personally, I’ve lusted after those floofy skirts since I was a little girl watching the square dancers on flatbed trucks in parades.  But I recognize how ridiculous they look.  The advantage of LBGT clubs is that people don’t wear the fluffy skirts, but my observation of other clubs is that nearly every woman does have a square dancing outfit.  That’s another thing people born after 1962 are not good at:  being told what to wear. Or, as my friend put it, “I’m not at the stage in my life when I want to dance in costume.”

So I’ve been mourning the loss of something great I just discovered.  And this was driven home when our caller didn’t show up to call at a dance because he was in the hospital.  He’d had a heart attack.

Ian Craig is the caller who taught me how to dance.  He’s a good teacher, knows how to do all the good teacher things: keep the students engaged, review material, introduce new things, make learning fun.  My mind boggles at his knowledge and skill.  Callers have to move couples through a series of moves that switches them up, keeps time to the music and is fun.  They have to maneuver those couples right back to where they started, which I still marvel that they have the ability to do this.  And they have to sing.

Singing calls were my big surprise about square dancing.  I knew about the caller calling. But at my first lesson, when Ian sang a song and called, I had no idea it was coming.  Singing calls give callers room to use modern music.  They alternate singing and calling.  Here’s an example:

Note that this is a pretty good example of what square dancing looks like.  Age, costume, level of raucous are about what you see.  My club is a little louder.  The call Allemand Left/Weave the Ring would be followed by the dancers yelling, “5, 6, 7, 8!” and then doing a more complex version of Weave the Ring.  These are good dancers, dancing at the Plus level.  There are few mistakes.

Ian’s last singing call at lessons on Wednesday was “Mississippi” by John Phillips.  I’d never heard this song before, not at square dancing, not out in the world.  Ian’s arrangement has a killer opening bass line, which is not present here.  But the rest of the song is very fun.

I think I will be able to square dance for a long time to come.  It will be dancing through the downward slide to oblivion, though.  Clubs will probably disband again and again as people get too old to dance, and callers die.  I missed square dancing’s heyday by 60 years, and I missed gay square dancing’s heyday by 25.  It’s a joyous thing, square dancing, and I do my best not to think about the time when I will have to stop dancing.

Random Song: “Tiny Dancer” Elton John

September 2000.  The new millennium hasn’t gone so well. I spent the first half of the year working for Census 2000 in Boston and then there was a period with no job and rapidly dwindling savings.  I’d just started a position as an accounting assistant, but money was still tight.  It was the first time I learned that when your money gets to a very low level, it takes time to pull yourself back into financial stability, even if there are paychecks coming in.

Cameron Crowe’s new movie was coming out soon.  There was a time when a new Cameron Crowe movie was a big deal, and this movie, Almost Famous, promised to be a really great movie.

Its release date coincided with a trip home for a friend-of-family wedding.  I didn’t really have the money for a weekend trip home, but had already bought my ticket, so I skipped paying for some other things and headed off to Boise.

I would have been better off staying home.  The wedding was nice, but my divorced parents freezing each other out at the reception was not enjoyable.  There was drama around meeting up with an ex-boyfriend, I completely dissed another friend, and then suffered through a night of not-dancing at a dance club with yet another friend who, I realized around hour two of watching her have fun with other people, had grown very distant.

Almost Famous was my vacation reward.  I was going to see that movie on opening weekend, because I suspected I was going to love it.  It was about the life I thought I wanted when I was in high school.  I was going to be a roadie, touring with the band, music surrounding me.

Almost Famous wasn’t playing in Boise that weekend.  It opened three weeks later.

I returned to Boston, beat up from the changing friendships, and with no extra money for movies.  I headed off to work as usual, girding myself for the day.  This job didn’t have enough for me to do and pretending to be busy for hours on end gave me a lot of time to mull over the sorry state of my life.

I can’t remember exactly when I finally watched Almost Famous, but I know it was a “screw it, I’m gonna see this damn film” moment. I’m pretty sure it was after work on a weeknight. I worked in Harvard Square in Cambridge and one night, instead of going home, I went to the theater after work.

I did love that movie.  I loved it from the first frame to the last one.  I watched the story of a time when music was changing at the same time my life had shifted so abruptly and that film imprinted itself on me. I hoped for a transformative cinema experience and I got one.  And I didn’t anticipate how funny it was going to be.

There are quotes from that movie that run through my head.*  Aside from being transformative, and having a really great soundtrack, this movie also rehabilitated my opinion of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” with one scene.

After a fight between band members, William Miller has just spent the night at a party in Topeka, Kansas with Russell Hammond.  The bus comes to collect them, and everyone’s mad.  Russell sits alone in the front seat and as they leave Topeka, “Tiny Dancer” plays.  Tension dissipates as people start to sing along, until the whole bus joins in for the chorus.

It’s shoddy storytelling, fixing an argument through a sing-along.  But it totally works.  Before this movie I thought Elton John’s song was kind of silly, seeing members of a touring band love the song so much made me love it too.

 

*The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when your uncool.

Song of the Month: February 2017

“I Don’t Want to be Funny Anymore” Lucy Dacus

This song is thanks to Jan, who recommended it after (I think) the AWOLNation debacle in September.

I love the driving guitar sound, and her voice is so incredibly cool.  It’s a great song of surrender.

I do not love reading the YouTube comments.  Jesus.  How female musicians survive in this world is beyond me.

Song of the Month January 2017

There’s been a slight Avett Brother’s obsession happening this month, and strangely, it was brought on by videos, not radio.

Granted, I first heard “Ain’t No Man” on the radio, the Avett Brothers being a KINK favorite.  I put the video on while I was folding laundry and half-watched it.

I liked the journey to the airport, which took them to another airport, a van and then into a studio.  The video ends with the three of them sitting in chairs.  The side bar of YouTube showed me that there was another Avett Brothers video with them also sitting in chairs.  As a person who likes to put things in order, I appreciated the flow to the second video.

Though I think they might be a little young for an end-of-life song (both brothers are younger than me), I enjoy such songs.  But what makes this a very good video is the flickering back to their younger selves. (Favorites: 1:08 skateboarding; 1:48 grinning; 2:10 90’s rocker look)  As the video continues, the flickers transition into their young musician days, then their established musician days, then pictures of them with their children.

It’s the last bit of footage that keeps me coming back.  The two of them, one still a child, one working on being grown. The arm easily slung around the shoulder. “There’s Scott causing trouble with Seth.”

These songs together, I feel like they can be taken a couple of ways.  The most generous way is the way I think they are intended to be taken.  “Ain’t No Man” is an upbeat affirmation of their confidence in themselves.  “No Hard Feelings” is a reminder to let things go and focus on the good things.

However, the success of the Avett Brothers means I am more likely to interpret these songs in a less generous fashion.  Through that lens, “Ain’t No Man” feels like the winner bragging how great he is.  “No Hard Feelings” is a song about someone who has enough currency that he believes that him not having hard feelings means that no one has any negative feelings of him, so much so that he has no enemies.  The line “I have no enemies” is repeated three times to end the song.  It’s the kind of line that has me wondering how fast I can find some enemies of the Avett Brothers.  Not just people who don’t like their music, people who know them and don’t like them.  Ex-wife?  Former drummer? I think they’re out there, those enemies.  You can’t be that successful of a band without dragging some grudges behind you.

From that viewpoint, these two songs present life philosophy that seems more douch-baggery than laid-back good guy.  It the song of a person who can sing that no one can change them, and that they have no hard feelings and also no enemies.  That sounds like someone fairly confident of their own actions, and fairly clueless of the reactions of the people around them.  They’re good looking men, they grew up in a prosperous family and Rolling Stone tells me that their dad was friends with fingerpicking master Doc Watson.  I’m sure life hasn’t been completely easy for them, but it doesn’t look like it’s been very hard, either.

This slots these songs into the Conflicted Music category. I like them, I will probably continue liking them, but I don’t think they are as true as the people who sing them think they are.

Song of the month December 2016

Waste a Moment–Kings of Leon

Hoo-boy this song is all over the radio this month.  I like it, and because I’m usually driving when I’m listening to music on the radio, I can’t Shazaam songs.  So I do my best to remember a line or two and then google later.  The line I chose to remember was “she’s a live wire.”  This isn’t even the correct lyric, it’s “HE’S a live wire.”  But it didn’t work to google it, because you have no idea how many songs have the phrase “live wire” in them.  It’s enough that someone has complied a list.  I had to wait to hear the song again and try for a different phrase.

Video=film school attempt at deep meaning

All We Ever Knew–The Head and the Heart

Aside from the fact that there are three separate parts to this song (intro, regular part, super cool break) I just love how earnest this is.  The super cool break (feeling low, feeling high, feeling down, why isn’t this enough?) feels like 70s soft rock in all the right ways.  It’s also a sad song that sounds happy, which is an 80s thing I always enjoy encountering.

The video includes the classic tropes of “band plays in a cool location” interspersed with lots of slow-mo (walking, throwing feathers from a pillow, etc.)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.

We cashed in our first round of Cosmic Tripster reward concert tickets to see Mr. Rateliff and his Nightsweats at the Crystal Ballroom.

We got there very soon after the doors opened as the mostly empty venue behind us can attest.  (What’s with the photobombing couple behind us?  They look like they are quite happy to be talking with each other.)

I liked the opening band, the Domestics, Matt thought they were too hipster. Between sets, I had fun watching this guy sell drinks to the crowd at the rail.  The Crystal Ballroom is an all-ages venue.  They segregate the drinkers by dividing the ballroom floor diagonally.  We were on the all-ages side.  It’s nice to be near the rail, as you get to watch the all-access traffic flowing back and forth.

I wonder if this guy every thought he would be the guy with the drink cart between sets?  I wonder who had the brilliant idea to have a drink cart between sets?  This guy struck me as incredibly rock and roll.

Nathaniel Rateliff

We had a good view of the Nightsweats playing keyboards and the trumpet.  The keyboard guy had great hair for flipping around enthusiastically while singing and playing.

I watched these bouncers a bit too. Earlier in the show one of the security guys (the same guy we saw working the Cosmic Tripster party) took out a guy who was pretty out of it.  I’m always impressed by people who can handle drunk people.

I’m much too old for a show on a school night, but this was fun, regardless.

Song of the Month November 2016

Shortly after the election, I concluded that it might be best for my psyche to take a break from the news, and also social media.  I stopped checking Facebook, put the newspaper in the recycle bin the moment I took out out of its plastic bag and I turned the radio from NPR to KINK, one of our local radio stations.

It wasn’t peaceful exactly, but it was less anxiety producing than staying informed.

No news meant more music and thus, this month we have a lot of selections for Song of the month.

Also!  New rule!  If I like a song by a woman, from now on, I’m buying the entire album.  Women don’t get much support in the music world and I’d like to do the tiniest bit to offset that.

Wish I knew you–The Revivalists
My notes for this song say “groove.”  And that is why I like it.  I’m not much of a get-up-and-dance person, but this song makes me want to do that.  I also think this band that was coming through town, so KINK played this song a lot.

Found it in the drawer–Band of Horses
This song was on the radio a lot, and it got stuck it my head.  But in a pleasing way, not a way of torture.  The video is good too.  Nicely done, Band of Horses.

Margaret Glaspy–Emotions & Math

One morning KINK played a song by a woman.  The song ended and I had the good luck of the DJ telling me the name of the singer and the song title. I only caught part of each, but I figured the magic of the internet could help me find the song.  Sadly, both the bits of song title and the person’s name were common enough that I could not locate the song.  In the process, though, I found this song, thus proving the existence of serendipity.  I love her voice, and this song is just cool.  Also, while I’m usually happy for Matt to go out of town, (introvert) I have noticed that my systems start breaking down after a few days.  It’s always nice to have him come back.

Fight Song
Rachel Platten

I’m not buying this song, because I suspect I will soon tire of it, but it’s on the radio a lot and I always sing along.  I like how Platten’s voice is wispy and small at the beginning and end and the song powers up in other parts.  Overall, I think it’s not a fabulous song.  The whole chorus drags in a way that makes me want to be more talented at music than I am so I could do a different arrangement.  The lyrics could use a rewrite, especially the verses.  It’s kind of plod-dy for an anthem.  Though I’m quite happy for Ms. Platten to find strength in her song.

Song of the month October 2016: Cleopatra by the Lumineers

The Lumineers “Cleopatra”

I’m a sucker for a song that tells a story, and if it’s a thwarted love story, all the better.  With this song, I marvel at how so much story is stuffed into relatively few lines.

There’s something delightful about the way Westley Schultz spreads out the word Cleopatra.  And I like the urgency of the music, paired with the stripped down chorus.

Also, as opposed to last month’s, video, this is really well done.  One comment was something along the lines of “crying in the corner now.”

Also enjoyable this month is a song that was highlighted on Friend Jan’s blog in August. “Something More Than Free” Jason Isbell.  It tells a story, it makes me want to thank God for the work, though I actually don’t.  Jan writes good things about it, which you can read here.

Song of the month September 2016

AWOLNATION “Woman, Woman”

This is one of those songs that gets a lot of radio play and I don’t switch the station.   I could never decide if he was saying, “You made me a natural woman,” or “You may be a natural woman.” (It was the latter, as that is the lyric that makes the most sense. The former is the lyric that’s more fun.) I also liked the reputation of “woman woman”.

But I’ve just watched the video and I feel very conflicted.

The use of attractive women recalls Robert Plant’s [by which I mean Robert Palmer] “Simply Irresistible” and “Addicted to Love.” And they’re naked.  I get it.  “Natural woman” in the AWOLNATION world equals “naked woman.”  I watched the entire video cringing.  Yes, it looks like they are all having great fun pretending to play (or perhaps actually playing–they could be musicians) and singing this song.  Googling “AWOLNATION Woman Woman commentary” gets me this link which says the video is “a hymn to celebrate all females in their natural glory.” Which is a nice sentiment, though to me the video seems to celebrate “women of a specific age (their 20s) who are mostly of the properly accepted weight aesthetic and are nicely diverse in race/ethnicity.”

This is one of those things that purports to celebrate women, while exploiting them.  A group of naked women who look like they are having fun is actually a specifically chosen–probably by a man–group of women who are paid to take off their clothes and look like they are having fun, mostly so a certain population can watch the video and think, “boobs!”

That the whole thing is carried off without an internet peep (googling “AWOLNATION Woman Woman controversy” got me nothing) shows me just how far from gender equality we are.  I want girls to grow up in a world where they think they can make music, not be the people paid to take off their clothes and pretend to make music.  I want boys to grow up in a world where girls are not just something to look at, but are people who can start bands, conceive and direct videos, and do more than be objects.

(I just wanted to download a song and write a quick bit about why I like it.  Thanks AWOLNATION, for complicating my blogging time.)

Song of the month: August 2016


Bright Eyes “First Day of My Life”
This came about because it was the background to a book trailer (story trailer?) for one of the One Teen Story publications.  It’s one of those songs that captures one of those magic moments that changes everything.  It hits all the pleasure centers for me.


“Trouble”
Cage the Elephant
Currently, this is a song that is playing on many of the radio stations I scroll through and I give a squeal when I come across it.  Unlike many songs, which I love for their lyrics first and music second, I love those arpeggio things that happen before the chorus.  The drummer has just the right amount of drag going on too.  Also, I appreciate it’s a song without a lot of lyrics (like many songs today) and yet it doesn’t feel repetitive.  Also, the singer’s range in this song is crazy big.  He runs from too low for my range at the beginning right up to too high for my range with those oo-ooo, oo-oo’s.

Note:  I have no time to watch these vidoes.  I have no comment on them, but I really liked the start of the Bright Eyes one. And  The Cage the Elephant one looks like it might tell a story!

Watching videos feels like one of those things I could do when I was teenager, but who has time now?