Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Ambition Was to Live Like Music

[picture/lyric concept forthcoming has been shamelessly co-opted from my cryptic friend Juan at Achtung Baby!, who I interviewed tonight because I wanted to, 'cause it was related to what I write about here. I'll put up the brief q&a tomorrow on autostraddle, first q at this post's end.]

[I thought I was gonna have time to edit this today but then all this stuff happened. So I hope it's okay. I guess it's like a blog, so there are no rules, just right.]

I started with music like everything, like girls: it was on and I was there. I loved it from where I stood but I couldn't get close, so I mouthed the words while everyone else sang.

I was one of the only girls I knew/know who couldn't sing or dance or play an instrument, and I was jealous of the girls who could. That was one reason I never felt like a girl but more like this half-breed androgyne child on the outside of things girls could do. All I was sure of -- I mean unsure -- was girls and music.

I started this blog for a girl. Girls are a lot like music, I think that's why my favorite love songs are written for girls. Lesbians specialize in achy raw gutted acoustic love songs [songs you either ADORE or completely despise because they annoy you] and gay boys put out the best pure happy thumping pop songs you'll ever hear. Because when girls make music for girls there's so much room for drowning, it's bottomless ... and a man can write a song for a girl that splits your heart right open. But it won't climb inside your heart and claw at the inside of your gut with a guitar string like a girl-for-girl song will. Girs-for-girls can be wide open and not worry about losing political capital in the process. They can just wail wide open.

But I think I grew up listening mostly to boys. I liked my parents' big record albums, heavy things, but I couldn't make the record play myself. I had a portable cassette player I'd carry around with me so I could listen to the right music all the time, record things, or, later, provide a soundtrack to our music videos. Just because.

On Saturday mornings we had Carole King and french toast with Shabbat dinner's leftover challah. It sounds so fucking cutesy now, like it's about music AND food, like the Jews with the hippie music and flat, sweet slices of bread. The sun shining on us like dust.

James Taylor. The Who. Pink Floyd. The Beach Boys. The Allman Brothers. Some big brassy showtunes, like Gypsy. Mostly though I loved The Beatles. That was where music began for me. There was The Beatles, and then there was other music, and all other music was considered as it related to or differentiated from The Beatles.

The Beatles sang songs about boys -- about what it was like to be boys who liked girls, but it was more about the liking itself than the object of their liking -- and so I grew up listening to these songs about boys sung by boys, their yearning animal mouths almost kissing the round bulbs of their microphones. There was a period where The Beatles started writing songs about teenagers and sometimes songs about men who were dying, but you could still hear the Boy in it. After The Beatles I had a phase of The Bangles and Paula Abdul and Debbie Gibson. Then The Police and INXS and Phil Collins, and then junk throaway pop like New Kids on the Block. Then a period of love songs -- big uncomplicated love songs with simple names sung by women who knew a few things about life like I Will Always Love You and Total Eclipse of the Heart and Save the Best for Last and Now & Forever. The first cassette tape I ever bought was Madonna's "Like a Virgin."

But I grew up with The Beatles. We listened to children's music too -- Raffi, Free to be You and Me, The Gemini Brothers, The Song Sisters, Really Rosie, alleged recordings of muppets singing. Those gigantic records were bigger than my head. We had every Beatles record.

I remember the wild trippy colors and pictures on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band cover. I wanted to memorize it, and then later announce it to a room like I was just guessing. A lot of growing up is finding places where you can just memorize something instead of doing too much work.

Then it's nearly the mid-nineties, and I move on from the uncomplicated by-women-for-men love songs to songs by men about misery and being scared about the increasing distance from being a boy. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails. Then we got softer as the decade itself soothed out. The Lemonheads, The Fugees, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, the Grateful Dead, and the first threads I ever heard of Ani DiFranco. Then onto mostly Billie Holiday and Gorecki and musicals, just music too fantastic to not be theater.

Then I just listened to music made by my friends, or soft poppy girl-boys singing about cartoons, like Belle & Sebastian, The Sea & Cake and Heavenly. From there it's been all over the map. Every year I have at least one period of Just Hip-Hop Hop Hop Just Hip Hop and at least one period of Ani & Chris Pureka & Melissa Ferrick and at least one period of dying men like Jeff Buckley, Martin Sexton, Rufus Wainwright.

My relationship to the girl-on-girl music is more private than the other songs. We just can't belt Fiona Apple together, that feels lonely, you can only belt it alone. But there's other music I feel safe belting in the car - I was remembering earlier about the night we drove home listening to The Killers and I knew you'd tell me later that you felt infinite and then you did and I thought then we were safe for some reason. But that was just girls and music and the drunk airless night.

Thanks for telling me about your favorite songs last week.

Some time later, a Beatles-themed restaurant came to Ann Arbor called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club. They randomly booked good shows at night, all the good indie bands. The catch is you had to play a Beatles song. These bands -- mostly boys singing about girls or girlish boys -- skinny/fat boys with bangs on purpose and so many feelings -- always chose Hey Jude. They liked it's mournful, young thudding spirit. My friends' band did something else. Twist and Shout, maybe.

Stef is at SXSW. I went last year with Crystal, Cait and Tara, which feels a lot like yesterday even though clearly -- look at us -- it isn't. Cait & I were dedicated to the "Uh Huh Her - and - Uh Huh Her - only" Project and Crystal & Tara got out and saw lots of bands including a band called "The LK" 'cause of the name and it turned out to be really good.

Even though I've never known how to do music, I've always ended up with musical people, good dancers or musicians. Except Chris. I'm remembering a bar on the main road in Ypsilanti -- which I remember as always gray, rainy -- Theo's? Cheap, with red lights, Hey Ma and Ludacris's Growing Pains and Jay-Z's booming swagger got inside these kids like hormones themselves -- something untouchable, something they could never shout that loud themselves -- this desperate sex filled the air. It was gross power; the kind that felt right at the time.

I'm not noble, there's always a girl or music or both. I think one of the first songs I ever really knew was "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."

I'm glad I was raised on The Beatles because it made me hopeful, because I think their music was inherently likeable & pleasant. Their music even at its trippiest or most indulgent was an earnest beating thing you wanted to bop about to. You kinda want to french kiss The Beatles. Hard! "I Saw Her Standing There" was my favorite. What magic -- the way she looked was way beyond compare. Way beyond compare!

Because music is more real than anything else, it's like it doesn't exist 'til you turn it on.

But now that you know so much of my fact, it seems even more naked to dare to write fiction, or to write like music. Fiction which I hold so dear. Which come to think of it was probably also for a girl, to some degree, and because of music. I don't trust writers who don't have music happening all the time in their head, like in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter [quoted in that picture -- "All the time -- no mattter what ..."] and I don't trust musicians who don't read. I trust nearly everyone, because Paul McCartney told me I was way beyond compare.

Do you remember when you were first allowed to pick your own music? Or girl? Even if you've already made a choice, the permission is rich, as endless as music.

Question #1 from my Exclusive Interivew with Luna Dot Typepad Dot Com . He's in Austin, Texas right now too but he always is.

Q: "I thought you were a female lesbian or bisexual when I first read your blog. Does this surprise you? Why or why not?"

A: "It did not surprise me because for some reason since around a year into the blog's existence, I started to get emails from some people assuming I was a girl. When it first happened I was surprised because I could not step away from the source and inspiration of my posts and think of it in any other way than a guy writing about a girl. If I read it objectively I can now see how it could appear as a female lesbian. With one objection though: Leonard Cohen worships women but in my mind his point of view is distinctively heterosexual so I would expect quotes from him ( and Charles Bukowski or Bono among others) to lean more towards the fact that a guy was writing the blog."
[the rest of this Q&A will be on autostraddle "tomorrow"* with maybe some other stuff about gender/art.**]

[he picked: Love is a Battlefield ]
[I picked: a catalog of increasing disasters, sex for depressives, the art of losing -- god! I'm morbid tonight!]

There's a lot of blogosphere people at SXSW. I hope you're all about to have a kickass time. If you're there or not you can answer a question: what's something you want someone to say to you tomorrow? Or you can just say something else. Or music.

*I have a very loosely defined concept of "time."
**Usually when I split posts up, it's to make all the comments in one spot on one blog or the other, but this time it's 'cause I genuinely wanna add some stuff to it before I put the rest up "tomorrow," it's not like a gimmick.*
***FYI we made Advice Vlog #35 !!


Elizabeth said...

Most of the time when I drive, I stop and think about the song that is playing and I wonder if it's fitting, like if my life where Truman Show, is that the song they would be playing for the viewers?

Raffi. Raffi, esp Baby Beluga, makes me think of my little brother Jeffrey. We use to listen to Raffi and Teddy Ruxpin tapes on his little Fisher Price tape recorder. Next week he will be gone 5 years. My brother, not Raffi or Teddy Ruxpin. I get a strange feeling now when I think about it. Not sad or empty anymore. I can't name it.

My dad used to sing us Don't Worry, Be Happy.

Vashti said...

Ummm, so I grew up listening to The Beatles. Records, cds, morning radio shows. If their songs were playing, my mom and I were listening to them. Then there was all the 90s alternative music. I was listening to Nirvana, Everclear, Nine Inch Nails, etc. with my mom every time we drove somewhere. Then when we'd drive up to Minnesota, it was always country music once we reached northern Wisconsin.
I think the very first cd I ever bought was Beatles For Sale. Then Hanson's Middle of Nowhere, 'N Sync, B*Witched, stuff like that. The soundtracks to Anastasia and Space Jam also made their way into my collection.
My music has always been all over the place. But that's just the way I was raised. Oldies, alt rock, country, pop. Now it's whatever sounds good. Who cares if the artists are sell outs or all over the tabloids? For me, only the music that matters. I just want to dance and sing and feel.

There are so many things I wish someone would say to me.

Anonymous said...

i loved this entry.

music has always been an incredibly powerful force over my life and my mood. In fact, i can think of a time when music pulled me out of a terrible depression and away from suicidal thoughts.

when i was a child i practically grew up on a mix of various types of salsa music and classical music. Almost exclusively that. And i loved it... i would complete puzzles on my dinner table at 5 years old as Beethoven played in the background and i would "help" my mom dust the house as Celia Cruz blared across our apartment.

I know every song ive listened to has shaped me to be everything i am now.

Anonymous said...

I related to this post well. I listen to EVERYTHING.. except country. I loooove love songs. I love love. Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday. I love when listening to lyrics and wondering if this person really felt that way about someone, and if so I want that.

I guess you could imagine what I want someone to say to me.

Vikki said...

My mom listened to old school country...Johnny Cash, Willie and Waylon, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette. She lived like the songs they sang. Sometimes, music can tell your story better than you can tell it yourself - it's like the soul's short hand.

I started playing guitar when I was 8. Life was crazy for me growing up and music got me doubt in my mind. I wouldn't want to live without it now either.

Elizabeth - I had totally forgotten about Teddy Ruxpin. That bear was freaky and fabulous.

Battlestar Luna said...

"what's something you want someone to say to you tomorrow?"

I'll settle for "hi". I'm shy. Alone in a crowd as they say.

Haviland Stillwell said...

I like this, Riese. What do I want someone to say to me tomorrow?


.elida. said...

loved this post! i am OBSESSED with music. i will stop absolutely everything i am doing if the right song comes on. and then i swim around inside the song for a while. people get really annoyed if it happens mid-conversation.

the first time i chose my own music, i chose a cassette tape of mariah carey. i thought her voice was beautiful and i had feelings for her that i was not yet ready to process.

i was basically raised on show tunes, country, christian rock, elton john and queen. how i ended up in an acoustic band is beyond me. oh, and guess which of those musical influences came my father?

ps: i hate country music now. like, a lot. i think it's the twang.

laura said...

the first concert i ever went to was raffi; i went with my grandma and we ate orange tic tacs. my uncle used to play beatles and simon and garfunkle songs for us on his guitar, which i thought was the best thing ever. and re: the killers, i love mr. brightside in a weirdo way [it's so good to listen to loud loud in the car because it's devastating. or something].

OMGZFKFG&AI2#KR!@MG my word verification was rieses.

saint modesto said...

I remember standing around with about 15 friends and "I Believe" comes on this mixtape we have and we all just start singing, like it was a movie or something. That's what music does; it brings people together.

I hope someone tells me they understand tomorrow.

Sherri said...

I love this post. It's nice to know other people love music as much as I do. I like when people can tell the story of their lives with music. My childhood was spent listening to stuff my mom liked: old country music, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, Rod Stewart and a mix tape of her favorites which included "Crocodile Rock," "Danny's Song," and "Fooled Around and Fell in Love." For about five zealous-mom years we were only allowed Christian rock, then I started high school and listened to whatever I wanted. From then on, most of my music was associated with one girl or another. Most were just friends, some I loved.

Anonymous said...

My first concert was Raffi as well, my mom took us and I think I cried when he sang "down by the bay".

Is today the tomorrow you mentioned? I'd like someone to say "it's going to be ok" because lately, it doesn't feel like it will.

Anonymous said...

i love the beatles. i also love how mentioned cassette tapes. that's so much fun. i think i still have a couple but not too many. its too bad that you didn't talk about elvis but i forgive you. talk about food tomorrow. you can never go wrong with that topic.

MoonKiller said...

It's funny how we both grew up listening to James Taylor, The Beatles and Carole King ever though we grew up a decade apart or different continents. My favourite Beatles song is 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window'.

I just had a period of Just Hip Hop Just Hip Hop not too long agong, Tupac's Changes was on repeat a lot. Now I'm onto my Nirvana, Smashing Pumpins, Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails period.

The first cassette I bought was the sondtrack to Casper the Friendly Ghost and the first CD I bought was a S Club Seven one.

Like Vashti, there are so many things I wish someone would to say to me tomorrow, no one's thanked me for anything lately so I think maybe one of those would be nice.

Duck said...

"Because music is more real than anything else, it's like it doesn't exist 'til you turn it on."

What I want someone to say to me tomorrow: "You're my music, and I don't have to turn you on for you to be real."

Beatiful as always.

Anonymous said...

I think you forgot a Boyz to Men phase ...

Loved the topic though ... felt like a walk down memory lane.

Crystal said...

Some time later, a Beatles-themed restaurant came to Ann Arbor called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club.

That sounds amazing. Do you know if it is still there?

I remember my Dad's favourite record was St Peppers. I still listen to it every day, it never gets old.

Tomorrow I'd like someone to tell me that I did okay.

autumn m said...

I like music a lot. I uh......I collect vinyl records. Is that weird?? Like I have a billion records. Like 45s and 10" and 12". All different types of music. One of my favorite to listen to is the Beach Boys. Is that lame??? Sometimes I sit and organize them. Seriously, it’s a bit of an obsession.

I actually just bought two new ones. Steve Miller Band Greatest Hits 1974-1978....and the Eagles Hotel California.

I have a few that have never actually been opened. Like with the original plastic cover sleeve unopened. but I really don’t like buying those cause a) they are kind of expensive and b) I actually like to listen to them. Like one of the unopened records I have is The Who; Who's Next Album. I have no idea where I got that one.

I kind of get pissed when people don’t know how to/ or are unwilling to learn how to work a record player. Or don’t know what a record insert aka 'spider insert' is. Or how to adjust the speed on a 33 1/3 rpm record player so it can play a 45.

Uh that was a lot of over sharing, sorry…. but uh…I like music. Yay for music.

riese said...

elizabeth: I often think of my life as truman show too. I never had a Teddy Ruxpin but I wanted one. Sometimes I think sad or empty just becomes a pit, it's like a little sad stone that won't ever move. I think one of its most definite qualities is "permanent."

Vashti: How old are your parents? I wonder if they could be the same age as my parents. I remember driving to Ohio or up north it was always all country music. I feel like anyplace we ever drove through we had to drive through country music and more country music and one station playing rap and pop.

Karmen: Personally I like music to enhance my suicidal depression. I loved classical music too, and the puzzles. I liked listening to Mozart the most because I'd think about how young he was and someday I would also be young and brilliant.

Frequent Reader: I am very suspcious of your intentions here.

Anonymous: I bet if you love love that much there are a lot of people that love you back.

Vikki: My Dad really loved Patsy Cline. We went to the grand ole opry and had a grand ole time. I liked to bang on the guitar but I never made music. I would've envied you.

Battlestar Luna: Hi!! I'm shy and antisocial, so probably I would need someone to say: "Hi, here's a vodka," and then wait for me to drink it and then say "Hi!" again.

Haviland Stillwell: Tomorrow you should ask me if I want you to book me a room at the Chateau Marmontipilierwhathoozit for Dinah Shore and a private jet. Or if I want like world peace or something blablaa.

.elida I loved Mariah Carey actually too I admit, I liked hero, I liked the casette where she had curly hair, and it was brown and white sort of in tone, and there was a video where she was prancing around in the flowers or something. I've never been able to get into contry either.

laura: Are you supposed to eat tic-tacs like normal candy? I remember seeing a play once where we were eating Necco Wafers and wishing I hadn't. I forgot about simon & garfunkel we listened to them.

your word verif wins the golden ticket, i don't know what that is yet, probs though it's awesome.

saint modesto: Absolutely just like the piano man said, that he knows that it's me you've been coming to see to forget about life for a while.

Sherri: Everyone loves music they have to. I liked Crocodile Rock, they sshould have that on Guitar Hero, I would ace that shit. I sort of love the sentence "Most were just friends, some I loved."

Anonymous: So many elementary Raffi experiences here. I wish I was one of the people who you need to tell you that everything's gonna be okay, because if I was, then I would.

EliseRose: Me too I like the size and shape of them. Haviland doens't like it when I talk about food.

MoonKiller: Maybe your parents are secretly the same age as mine too. I think if my Dad was still alive he would be like 53? I think my Mom is 50. Maybe you have old parents. Or maybe just really cool parents. I think i'll raise my kids on the beatles, james taylor and carole king too for good measure.

There are some Nine Inch Nails songs I love but their albums I can't get throgh. Thank you for this lovely comment.

Duck: Did someone tell you that? I feel like probably someone did in so many words.

Anonymous: Did I not say Boyz II Men? It must have been a late take-down. Shit, I missed the opportunity to use Cooleyhighharmony in a sentence.

Crystal No it shut down, that restaurant. It was so weird, and tacky, I don't know. I don't know if I ever ate there. It was like a little joke, and then theserandom good shows.
You did okay. You're the first person who I've known for sure I know that it's true.

autumn m: Where do you get the old records in kansas? that is awesome, i would love to see my mom's old record collecton, i worry that she tossed it.
omg, my dad loved the eagles but he called them "the iggles." So do you listen to them more or try to keep them really nice? that's a really rad thing to correct, i'm jealous.

Jezzica said...

Girls who have spent time in eating disorder clinics together can be seen belting out Fiona Apple...together! It's quite a sight. And an earful. A meaningfully tragicomic duet of "Paper Bag" should never be done in mixed company, of course, but among knowing and adoring friends it has its own charm.

riese said...

Jezzica: Hunger hurts but starving works ... often in my head ... Natalie and I actually used to belt out paper bag all the time. it was that song that got me into fiona apple a few years after everyone else was. We'd play it in her room, and dance around, and then sing "I thought you were a man but you were just a little boy!" .... so I guess I was a liar when I said girls don't belt out Fiona Apple Together. I could hear it through her wall and she could hear it through my wall, and then I'd come over so we could listen to it together, and louder.

MoonKiller said...

My parents are both 53 this year, so that makes sense. I'm going to name my children Dylan and Cash and raise them listening to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.

I think I could just listen to NIN 'Hurt' on repeat forever and feel eternally sad.

And you are so very welcome :)

autumn m said...

uh i get records at the same places other people might. its not like i live on a farm in the middle of nowhere. you get them at thrift stores, flee markets, 2nd hand shops, music stores, but mostly garage/yard sales.

and it is possible to keep them nice and also listen to them. you just have to know how to take care of them. also they are alot more durable than cds. but i love love love love listening to them. it makes me happy. today, i listened to Linda Ronstadt, the Doors Live album, and Rick Springfield.

i feel like you should start buying records. i mean, just thinking about how many record stores are in NYC kinda makes my heart happy. i have an extra Michael Jackson Thriller album if you want it. just saying...

it makes me really really happy that someone thinks its cool. everyone i know thinks its mildly lame. hence why i dont really talk about it. its a secret. only a few of my friends know about it. so shhhhh.......

Anonymous said...

It is neat to think of all the different generations that grew up listening to the Beatles. My current favorite is "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away".

I was a kid in the sixties, and the first album I bought was by the Fifth Dimension. As I got older, I realized the reason that I liked that group so much was because they sang all those glorious Laura Nyro soul songs, like Stoned Soul Picnic.

My latest new musical favorite is Feist. Beautiful.

- Maureen57