Tag Archives: throwbacks

Throwback Thursday: Campfire Songs and Evening Rituals

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These last two weeks have been hard. Really, really hard.

I know they say that the hard days and weeks are the ones that build character, but how can you build anything when it gets so bad you can hardly think straight?

It’s moments like these that get me thinking about simpler times. Maybe they weren’t necessarily happier times, but they were definitely times of greater stamina. More optimism. A greater inclination to get right back up when I was down and to push through the tough and the difficult. Moments when I felt like– when I knew– I was in control.

Moments like those evenings at camp where after a long day of activities, meals, and other moments of mostly-organized chaos, we would get our bunk ready for bed. Once they’d all showered, brushed their teeth, and used the leftover time for some of the loudest most rambunctious games of go fish I’ve ever witnessed, we’d somehow get all 12 of our overactive 9 and 10 year old boys quieting down in their own beds.

I’d pull out my guitar, we’d turn out the lights, and, regardless of how long the day felt or however many fire drills big or small we had to take care of, my co-counselor would have the kids go around and share one thing that went well that day and one thing they’d like to do better tomorrow while I started to strum a soft tune. The day’s hardships and difficulties would begin to melt away as kids talked sleepily but excitedly about ice cream pops at lunch and extra pool time during elective hour or their want to have more time at the archery range and a chance at waterskiing. Simple though these items may have seemed, there was infinite depth to these happy thoughts shared so earnestly and honestly.

Then I’d let the music build and swell and play a nice song or two to end the evening. One song would always be some pop song or old favorite that I’d reimagined in its softest, most lullaby-appropriate state, but the other would always be James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. Here was a song that was meant to be played at day’s end to calm the wild beasts of our racing, leaping imaginations and to keep the scarier more menacing things at bay for at least another evening or two.

No matter how weary, weather worn, drooped, or down we felt,  somehow these songs always made us feel more at ease.

These days may be hard as may be the ones after that, but it won’t be like this forever. There’s good and bad in everything. I just have to look for it– both parts– and then think on it, smile at it– and then let it go. Then I’ll sit down in a comfy spot, turn the lights down a bit, and play a soft song, and get ready for my chance at tomorrow.

Monday Mixtape: 5 from 2005

remembering old songs is like remembering old loves

Before we get started, on Friday I was informed that a previous Monday Mixtape post of mine was selected by Blog Better Boston’s monthly themed {hub}LINKS roundup. This month the topic was Winter in Boston, and this post was selected.  Here’s the list of the other Boston Bloggers whose work was selected. Be sure to show them some love!

  • Styled By Jess shows us a recipe to make the most delicious, gooey S’Mores hot chocolate!
  • Country Design Home shares a DIY tutorial on painting snowflakes on vintage blocks.
  • Start planning your next vacation to get rid of those winter blues! Start here with Take Time Away‘s top travel apps.
  • Union Jack Creative looks at a craft cocktail book, and a hand-lettered cocktail recipe.
  • Trends and Tolstoy shares a few tips to keep you stylish during the frigid New England winter.

Now on to your regularly scheduled programming.

2005 was a damn good year for music and a damn gooder year for music discovery. College’ll do that for you, particularly if you’re the type of person who associates with the college radio scene.

The question is whether the music so cherished during one particular moment in life will stand the test of time and endure through the ages. Music tastes evolve and mature (or so I’d like to believe), and the right songs have the ability to evolve and mature with us, while others fade into nostalgia and insignificance.

Let’s see how these former heavy rotation contenders have held up in the intervening years.

1. Hot Hot Heat – Goodnight Goodnight

Then: Energetic, grippy, undeniably catchy tune. The story of the bitter, dejected lover that supplies the fuel to this punchy  2-minute parcel conveys a level of angst I never had the pleasure of experiencing personally. But what does it matter– this thing rocks. Lock and load it, wind it up and let it go.

Now: The beats goes on and the words resonate a little more too, but it does seem to fall short of being a song for the ages. But again, who cares? This song was never meant to be anything more a charged farewell to bad love, written and rendered in driving, anthemic style. Fire it off at will and you’ll still feel that inescapable charge.

2. The Killers – Change Your Mind

Then: An oft overlooked track from the debut album of a band that had a bang-up 2005. Compared to other much loved tracks on the album (Mr. Brightside and Somebody Told Me among them), this one feels more subdued and more sincere even as it totes much of the same pomp and flourish of the rest of the album. It was the one track on the album that seemed to fit any moment of any day.

Now: Without a doubt it’s still a great track and one that, upon revisiting, feels immediately fresh and new. I’m less certain of the subtleties I once thought I saw in it though, and there’s a definite whimsy bordering on silliness to the lyrics that I hadn’t noticed before (“the sun is gone / before it shines”).

Sun or no sun, at the end of the day it’s still a song that carries with it the endearing theme of second chances and putting it all on the line for the ones we love: “If the answer is no, can I change your mind?”  How about it?

3. The Strokes – Is This It

Then: The spark that set on a musical obsession that included bands like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs, and a whole host of other “The” named bands. An understated way to open an album that really rocked and could easily be listened to on repeat without losing its momentum or shine.

Now: It’s still a killer track, and I still love this band even as I refuse to accept that this band ever moved on to bigger, better, more experimental sonic waters. This band will always be stuck in the early aughts to me. I’m not ready to let go yet.

4. Regina Spektor – Raindrops

Then: Simple, lovely, and poetic. Discovering her style of song craft was akin to finding an oasis in a sea of rowdy, rambunctious, and otherwise noisy fodder. She wasn’t above experimenting with strange chord progressions, dark subject matter, or avant garde structures either, which always kept it interesting. This little b-side that could  made it on to no fewer than 10 mixes made for friends that year.

Now: Simple, lovely, and poetic. Somethings never change and that’s all right with me.

5. Guster – Diane

Then: This one always struck me as the perfect soundtrack for the first kiss scene in a romantic comedy. They’d start it off at a fair volume immediately as their lips meet and then back it off slightly, continuing in the background as the two newly stricken lovers trade happy, knowing looks, and sweet, blissful words of good night. The music then swells to a fever pitch to match the euphoria of the male lead as he walks back to his apartment. The song embodied the feeling of deepening jubilant satisfaction and the promise of good things to come.

Now: Much like the tune before it, this one holds up well. It’s lovely and endearing and perfectly wonderful, even as I’ve realized that the lyrics don’t match up as nicely with the scenario I originally had in my head.

“We lie together and we say it’s love / Who were you just thinking of Diane?”

And there it is: the pesky, persistent sound of relationship insecurity. Are they two people who think they’re in love? Is he all alone in these feelings? What could she possibly be thinking about?

Still, it doesn’t really change the tone of the song completely. It just gives it additional depth and complexity. Just like a song, properly aged and vetted, should.

photo by NeverendingStomp

Throwback Thursday: The Basement Tapes

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My sister and I were beside ourselves with delight: our parents had bought us a karaoke machine for Chanukah. Although I was only in the third grade and my sister had just started elementary school we’d already had a considerable amount of performance experience. We loved being in front of a camera– any camera– and often regaled all who would pay attention with our rousing renditions of the greats like Disney and Raffi, Mister Rogers and We Sing Kids.  Even if it wasn’t immediately clear what we were really supposed to do with the thing, we knew it was something special and exciting to be sure.

The karaoke machine was a tall, cumbersome box thing with sleek lines, professional-looking audio mixing knobs, and dual cassette and state-of-the-art single CD playback and recording spaces. Also included were two microphones, a starter CD, and an accompanying VHS tape that featured a smattering of full and karaokefied renditions of the day’s top hits (most notably Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Billy Ray Cryus’s “Achy Breaky Heart”). Instant holiday cheer. We were instantly enamored.

We thanked our parents profusely as they led us downstairs to set up the device in the basement. While they began to set it up, plugging it in, switching on the microphones, and giving them the standard sound check test phrases and whistles, our minds raced with wonder and delight at the possibilities. Gone were the days of using wimpy single-cassette recorders or trusting the shaky handling and spotty direction of our parent’s video camera to record our star quality. Not only that, but here was an opportunity to bring our talents to the masses!

Setting the demo VHS in the small TV nearby and the demo CD on track 1, they stepped back and let the twangy, country charm of young Billy Ray wash over the room. Lyrics began to scroll across the bottom of the screen in their predetermined rhythm and colors and actors danced about behind them, carrying out the song’s narrative in faithful pantomime.

Once everything seemed well in hand, our parents left the room, leaving us alone with the machine, our own dreams, and our creative devices.

Quickly adopting a mantra of “out with the old and in with the new,” we immediately cast cast aside both CD and accompanying visual aid, and instead focused our energies on recording originals. It wasn’t much really– some word association, simple rhyming couplets, or even mindless jibber jabber– but it didn’t matter as long as we were making something. Anything. And recording it. All that mattered was recording and, from time to time, playing it all back just to hear what it sounded like all to the delight of no one but ourselves.

Perhaps the novelty wore off, or maybe it was boredom setting in, or maybe it was what I would now define as “artistic differences” but what my sister would have then called my “being annoying and hogging it all,” but a few days of this routine my sister left for higher ground and greener pastures, leaving me alone, presumably to “pick up the pieces.”

Though I might have been sad to see my sister go, there was now an opening for a new DJ in this studio. A new DJ meant a new partnership, and a new partnership meant the chance to explore a new format– all of which sounded like a win-win to me. I quickly enlisted my friend Jason to fill the space, and no sooner had we sat down at the mic than the concept of the new format became apparent: the bawdy mid-afternoon talk-show.

We modeled our program after the ones our dads would often listen to on their afternoon commutes home from work, offering commentary on the issues of the day in a light-hearted, playful way. We had everything: “real” celebrity impersonators, “fake” celebrity impersonators, other miscellaneous live callers, even commercial breaks and all done in house by us.

(Given that we were only 7 or 8 years old at the time, our understand of the phrase “issues of the day” was limited to topics like a) what we’d had for breakfast that morning or b) the dreams of the Lego characters we’d played with the other day. Thus, even if everything was modeled in the style of, say, The Don and Mike Show, it all had a markedly younger, more innocent soul).

Another noteworthy feature of our program was the distinct profile of the ever topical and ever poignant music that we used to usher us both in and out of each segment. I refer of course to the timeless sounds of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album and Endless Summer by The Beach Boys. As polar opposite as these selections may seem now– and likely even then– these two albums were as much a part of the Jason and Nick Show as smart and witty personalities themselves.

For a kid who didn’t fit in so well at school, having this creative outlet was a huge release. The basement  was a safe space for creativity and exploration and the karaoke machine a tool for broadcasting that journey. On the microphone in the basement there was no pressure to conform or fit in, only the freedom to do and to express, to be as goofy and irreverent as one could hope to be. The music as well, strange a pairing as it was, were also a testament to the freedom granted here: Be yourself. You can be both– you can like both. Because why not? Because who cares?

The sort of kid I was at age 7 or 8 had no idea of these emotional implications as he was making them, and at most he knew that it was fun, enjoyable, and filled with hours of endless entertainment. But that’s all that really mattered: the fun, the excitement, and the creative potential.

And in those moments nothing else mattered. We had the time, we had the talent, and now– we had our outlet. It was time to rock and time to create.

By the end of our initial session we knew we’d stumbled upon something special. When the outside world felt unfriendly and inattentive, even if we were only really entertaining the carpet squares and the dust mites, we truly felt we were the coolest thing to be heard on basement airwaves since air conditioning vents. And that was pretty cool indeed.

*Artwork by Insert-Username-Here

eyes on the prize. photo c/o M. Vinokur

Throwback Thursday: Keeping Both Eyes Open

I had just started playing guitar earlier that year, and now here I was learning how to take what little I had internalized and share it with the adoring public as a graduate of our camp song leader program. In this case, “what little I had internalized” was only a “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” “Hotel California,” a few assorted Adam Sandler tunes, and a handful of simple Jewish folk tunes, and my “adoring public” was a camp of 300 of my peers.

Nothing major.

In spite of these uncomplimentary elements, I was confident. I wasn’t altogether out of my depth either, having always taken delight in– and never missing an opportunity for– performing in front of people. Only now I was developing skills that those people might willingly like to be subjected to. Not to mention I only had to learn to present one measly song by the end of camp.

It was still a new skill, however, and “raw talent” alone was not going to get the job done. I needed some practice. Lucky for me, camp was full of opportunities for practice time. Continue reading Throwback Thursday: Keeping Both Eyes Open

Sunday Drive (by http://www.rednecklatte.com/)

Sunday Mornings with Dad and Casey Kasem

My favorite collection of memories are the ones of Sunday mornings when my dad and I would take long car rides around the Washington D.C. area. On these particular Sundays I’d find myself awake around 7am, sleep instantly having vanished from my eyes the moment they were opened. Making the most of it, I’d amble down the stairs into the kitchen, lured by the smell of fresh coffee, to find my dad thumbing through the Sunday classifieds over three pieces of toast, dressed in his off-day bagel shop owner attire (jeans and a dark polo), presumably searching for his next business venture.

By the time I’d have entered the kitchen he’d already have a few destinations in mind, himself having been up since 4 (the fate of many a restaurateur on his day off). Ordinarily these places would be located in two very different parts of the D.C. metro area. This always added to the sense of adventure.

As I’d approach the kitchen table, he’d look up, smile a warm “good morning,” and nudge the plate of toast toward as I sat down.

“Want to go for a ride?”

“Sure.”

“Great. Get something to eat and then get dressed.”

I don’t remember much about the places we’d see on these morning drives. There were the occasional trips through White’s Ferry at Point of Rocks to get from Maryland to Virginia, the winding roads in the northern and western parts of the area, the actual destinations themselves of course, and of course the weekly stop at Montgomery Donuts for a bear claw or apple fritter.

What I remember best of all is Casey Kasem counting’em down on the radio each week. Continue reading Sunday Mornings with Dad and Casey Kasem