Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What's on my iPod? Just what you'd expect -- weird stuff.

One night shortly after we were married my wife and I were watching a musical performance on TV with my mother-in-law, a music teacher. “That’s not music,” she sneered, as the performer – someone my Sinatra-loving MIL considered outlandish like Elton John or Lionel Ritchie – did his thing. My bride and I exchanged amused glances.

Fast forward 40 years. I’d be hard pressed to name a song recorded this millennia other than that God-awful “Hello” by Adele that played constantly around the pool of the Mexican resort we stayed at earlier this month. It made me want to dive in and slash my wrists every time I heard it.

So what, you ask, is on my iPod?

Good question. I probably have one of the weirdest collections of songs of anyone, anywhere. Here are ten that came up randomly when I hit “shuffle” yesterday. Naturally, there’s a story attached to each and it’s the memories these songs evoke rather than the music itself that gives me the most pleasure.

Song by a Nobel Laureate

Blowin’ in the Wind, by Peter Paul & Mary: Bob Dylan wrote and recorded it, but c’mon folks, we all know he can’t carry a tune. But Peter, Paul and, especially, Mary can. Make that could. Mary Travers, my favorite singer who possessed a voice so singular, so pure, that no one will ever come close, is gone – she died in 2009 after a struggle with leukemia. As a kid, I spent hours mooning over Mary’s photo on the cover of PP&M’s first album my hippie sister played endlessly, thinking she had to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Years later, Mary lived one town over from us in Connecticut and I kept hoping to run into her at the supermarket or hardware store but never did. A friend did, however, and said she was just as sweet in person as she appeared to be on stage. “Blowin’s” message is timeless and somewhere, some good-hearted soul will be singing it in some Greenwich Village rathskeller when the bomb goes off that ends it all.

Evocative Song

A Moment Like This by Kelly Clarkson: Like most Americans, I was hooked on the first season of American Idol. Who would win -- fresh-faced waitress Kelly Clarkson or Brillo-haired Justin Guarini? For the finale, Kelly and Justin each performed this song. To my surprise, I heard Kelly's (winning) version a week later in a bar overlooking a perfectly smooth ice-blue glacial lake snuggled against the Andes in Puerto Varas, Chile. It was a sublime moment, a moment I’ll never forget that comes back to me in a rush whenever I hear it.

Christmas Song

Hark the Herald Angles Sing by Amy Grant: Euclid, the father of geometry (damn him), would have loved it but, alas, the above title is a typo. It’s actually “Angels” but it said “Angles” on the promotional CD entitled “Happy Holidays, Vol. 28” I purchased for $1 at my local True Value store 25 or so years ago and digitally transferred into my iTunes collection. I was always on the lookout for Christmas music back then because we needed lots of it. When I was growing up, my family spent, tops, 15 minutes opening gifts Christmas morning. My wife’s family spent most of the day, a tradition she insisted we follow, for which we naturally needed lots of background music. This rendition of “Angles,” also featured on Grant’s Christmas Collection album where it is spelled correctly, starts off, as Tina Turner says at the beginning of Proud Mary, nice and easy, but finishes as an orchestral extravaganza featuring an amazing string performance. 

Romantic Song
Country Roads by John Denver: Little matter that I’ve spent, at most, 20 minutes in West Virginia and that I don’t particularly like country music or even John Denver, this is the song I’ll forever associate with my wife. We sang along to it one night shortly after we started dating when it came on the radio of my orange Pinto and we both harmonized in the same spot (“The radio reminds me of my home far away”) and I looked over at her and thought, “I like this girl. A lot. In fact, I think I more than like her.” Still do.

Energetic Song 
I’m So Excited, The Pointer Sisters: We saw the sisters when they played a limited engagement on Broadway in the early 1980s – might have been the late 1970s –and this is my favorite song of theirs not only for the incredible energy but for the astonishing Scott Joplin-esque piano solo by John Barnes. It’s my go-to song whenever I need a shot of adrenaline.

Obscure Irish Ballad
Summer in Dublin by Bagatelle: The summer of 1980 my wife and I drove around Ireland in a rented Russian Lada that was, literally, falling apart – the rear-view and both outside mirrors kept falling off along with the driver door handle. The radio worked, however, and this song, by an Irish group, about a guy who couldn’t make a commitment, kept playing constantly. Its austere, at times cruel, lyrics contrasted with the sensitively orchestrated piano and violin arrangements and it should, by most standards, have been a huge international hit. We kept waiting for it to arrive on the charts here in the states but it never did. It did make it, barely, to the U.K. charts and, nearly 40 years later, is recognized by rock historians for what it is – an undiscovered gem. If you’re gonna click on any of the youtube videos in this post, click here. You’ll be blown away. (And you can download the song on iTunes.)

Classical Song
Pachalbel’s Canon in D Major: As you would expect from a person with some fucking class, I have a fair amount of classical music on my iPod – Beethoven, Sibelius and Saint-Saens. I don’t pretend to understand it all but it will make me look intelligent if I’m ever run over by a bus and whoever finds me gives my iPod to my doctor who goes through it trying to find out what kind of person I am so he’ll realize he needs to do his best to save me because I’m so high-brow I might question and/or sue him if I wake up in less than perfect condition but I digress. My fave classical song, hands-down, is Pachalbel’s Canon in D Major. Like the very best things in life, it’s so, so simple – a basic melody, played as a round, then as a counter round, over and over. Some say it’s the basis of all rock music. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I just know I never tire of it. Robert Redford used it as the theme for my favorite movie, Ordinary People. Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore and Judd Hirsch got cheated out of acting Oscars but, again, I digress.

Teddy Bears’ Picnic by Val Rosing: I downloaded this song the day my grandson Teddy was born in March, 2014, thinking I might need a lullaby someday. I listened to lots of versions by everyone from Rosemary Clooney to Jerry Garcia and finally settled on one from 1930s British crooner Val Rosing. The few times I played it to soothe Teddy it didn’t work, but it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy whenever it pops on unexpectedly when I’m at the gym. Teddy’s brother, born two years and one day later, is named Isaac. The only song I can find about someone named Isaac is by Leonard Cohen, and is based on the Biblical story of Abraham whom God ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac as an offering. Abe had just laid Isaac at the altar and was about to plunge a dagger into his throat when God said, “Just joshin!” I’m not about to play that for the kid – he’d be screwed up forever. Maybe I ought to write my own song for Isaac.

First Record I Ever Bought
I Know I’ll Never Find Another You By The Seekers: In the summer of 1965 when I was 13, I took the Northeast Missouri Transit bus from my hometown of Auxvasse to Mexico, Mo. There I proceeded to the record store to purchase my first 45, a song by an Aussie group that was #1 on KAAY (Tune 1090, Little Rock), the station I listened to every night while holed up in my room. I was never one for the Beatles or Rolling Stones but was, and am still, a Seekers fan. Maybe that’s because I was and am still seeking something. One thing I was seeking back then was revenge on my sister who was away at college. She had forbidden me from using her stereo, warning me that playing 45s would ruin it. I played that Seekers record until I wore it out (the record, not the stereo), payback for her telling me I was adopted, a tale I had believed until recently. Maybe I was seeking my real family. I was stunned when my mother showed me my birth certificate to learn I was actually related to those people.

Dumb Song But Hey, It Was Free 
Atlantis, by Donovan: I downloaded this idiotic song about the mythical continent where the “beautiful sailors” journeyed from a web site that offered five free songs. I couldn’t find a fifth one I wanted so I chose this one, which was a worldwide hit my senior year of high school, for yuk value. Donovan had to be stoned out of his mind not only when he wrote it but performed it. Reminds me of how silly the sixties were every time it plays and that’s not a bad thing in these wound-up tense times, which, come to think of it, the sixties were too.

There are 435 other songs on my iPod but, in the interest of preserving bandwidth, I'll spare you the details.