Category Archives: Music

I Missed You So So Bad!

The rule is simple, and clear. I am allowed to sing, in the car. That’s it. Step outside of the vehicle and my lips better seal. Sweets negotiated that deal to protect herself from the embarrassment of public parental crooning. She knew just what she was doing, too. I’ll sing about anything at the drop of a hat.

Related minor rules include the following: Dad does not dance in public, nor skip. She treads lightly there. She’s seen my personal version of a Monty Python “Silly Walk”. I think she knows she’s better off. At home, I’ll dance to some of the songs on Glee, too (I worked on these simple steps for a while). As long as I stand behind her, I’m okay. Now you know the reason why we don’t watch “Dancing with the Stars” or “So You Think You Can Dance” in my house. It’s not that I think I can dance, it’s that I keep trying.

Every once in a while, an allowance is made. Tonight was one of those nights. I was permitted to indulge in various renditions of Carly Rae Jepsen’s number one hit “Call Me Maybe” for close to an hour. Yes! It wasn’t an early Father’s Day gift, no. I just couldn’t get the lyrics right. We must have listened to various versions of the song, twenty different times on YouTube. The Harvard Baseball Team lip-synced cover. The dubbed Obama spoof. Assorted lyrics-on-the-screen videos. I even tried using the Suzuki method! It didn’t matter. I’d play a section, pause, and botch the lyric. Sweets thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen. I haven’t seen her laugh that hard since she last watched the Mirror Scene in Duck Soup.

The first part of the song I got right, is the bridge where Jepsen sings:

Before you came into my life
I missed you so bad
I missed you so bad
I missed you so so bad!

I think the truth those words express about love, is perfect. As I sang the bridge, I was tickling Sweets. The words brought tears to my eyes. They capture my experience of having kids. When you’re welcoming a birth, and you feel a child’s first kick, it’s hard to deny that his/her presence in your life is filling a space you didn’t know existed. I think that’s what it’s like when a heart discovers true love.

Jepsen captures perfectly the sense true love gives that “I always needed you.” It’s not because I was lacking and the child, or lover completed me, no, not that. For me, the words aren’t those of adolescent pining. They belong to an adult heart, proclaiming the life-giving essence of true love. It’s the fundamental realization that the presence of this person in your life is helping you become more than you were, and more of who you already are.

Before your true loves come into your life, you have no idea life can be richer, or more real than it is. After they do, you can’t imagine living without them in it. If you have to? There’s sadness, and thanksgiving. They may be gone, but the richness they helped you discover, remains.

The next time you hear this song, why don’t you call them to mind, and join me in proclaiming this truth:

Before you came into my life
I missed you so bad
I missed you so bad
I missed you so so bad!

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It’s A Wonderful Life!

Since 2006 the Pittsburgh Filmakers have shown the film “It’s A Wonderful Life” in one of their theaters during the holiday season. For the last three years, the price of admission has been covered by the donation of a canned or non-perishable food item. It’s collected as part of a food drive supporting the East End Cooperative Ministry. This year I waited to see a showing of this, my favorite holiday film, until the end of the run.

As I approached the door, I was informed that every seat in the theater was taken. The film, though free, was “sold out.” The fellow working the door reminded me that I could return the next night. The showings would continue for one more day. “I can’t,” I said. “I have choir practice. Here, take this.” I handed him my bag of cans. “Thanks” he said, and “Sorry.” He smiled politely. I turned and began walking to my car. I imagined the headline, “Film in 65th year still sells out!” and laughed quietly. I wondered too, how this happened. I had been looking forward to seeing this film for weeks.

Just as I started thinking, I realized the obvious. I was ten minutes late. Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time. And, I know the first ten minutes of this film by heart. Still, tonight, that was late enough. Why was I late? I’d come to the theater from Sweets’ Chorus concert at her Elementary school. The concert had ended early enough, but I’d stuck around afterwards to talk with other parents, teachers, and to congratulate the students that had performed.

I walk Sweets to school almost every day. One of the gifts of that, and of volunteering to chaperone various events, is that I’ve come know the children in her class, by name. There are many more students that I don’t know by name. Many of them, however, know me. When they see me in the morning, they smile, raise their hand for a high five, to wave, or give me a fist bump. One boy, the child of a friend, likes to channel a Star Wars Jedi and use “The Force” against me. The Force is powerful with him. He likes to use it to throw me against the wall. I indulge him. The greetings are part of their morning routine as they walk to class. They’re part of mine, too.

After the concert, I congratulated the students I saw and circled back with their teachers. The ones present had worked a twelve hour day. I wanted to acknowledge their commitment, and thank them for the good work they do. Next year, budget cuts in the school district may mean that some of them lose their jobs. No one knows exactly what that will look like. The staff is working under a cloud. I know what that feels like. It’s not fun. More than ever, they need to be lifted up. I’m good at lifting people up.

Earlier in the day, I’d approached one teacher as she walked down the hall. She was, as she almost always is, wearing a smile. I said, “I can’t tell you what a joy it is to see you wearing a smile at the beginning and at the end of your day.” For a moment, her smile, widened. “You’ve got have your game face on,” she said matter-of-factly. “Well. You forget I’ve seen you teach. I know it’s not just a ‘game face.’ You love what you do, and it shows. I’m a long way away from elementary school. Still, seeing your enthusiasm, often makes my day!” She thanked me. She’s an excellent teacher, and beloved by my Sweets.

That night, I saw many friends, and congratulated them on their son and/or daughter’s performance. To one couple, I spoke of my plan to see the movie that evening. I was speaking with enough enthusiasm that one of them stopped me mid-sentence, saying, “I can tell you’re excited, but you’re not going to convince us to go with you.” His spouse looked at him and smiled the way spouses do, with love. Then she told him “not to be a Grinch.” “Oh no,” I said. “I’m not trying to convince you. I’m just excited.” I’m a cheerleader. Apparently, I even do it when I’m not trying!

Seeing that the post-concert reception was winding down, I walked into the auditorium to see if any help was needed putting things away. As I walked out I noticed two students waiting. I had not seen their parents that evening. I offered them a ride home. They called home to see if their mom was already on her way. She wasn’t. They let her know I’d offered to give them a ride. I took them home. As I dropped them off, I confirmed Christmas Eve plans with their parents. Only then did I head to the theater. You know what happened then.

At this point the reason why I missed the film may be obvious. I didn’t fully understand until the next morning, as I found myself sharing a long hug with a substitute teacher. We were saying goodbye. She’s a great lady, and she’s landed a job in Virginia. She starts after the new year. Now, who gets to know a substitute teacher? Who hugs one even? I mean, really.

In a year and a half, we’d never shared a conversation that lasted longer than two minutes. Most of them were a lot shorter than that. Most of them consisted of a “good morning” greeting, or a “nice to see you back” welcome. Small moments really. The thing is, life is made of small moments. That’s what happened. A few of those little conversations were very very real. As we shared a second hug, this woman whose first name I didn’t even know, thanked me for my support. That’s when I realized how it was that I missed the movie.

I missed it, because this thing I’m living? Well, it’s a wonderful life.

Merry Christmas!

We Had Him

We Had Him
by Maya Angelou

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing
Now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind
Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace
Sing our songs among the stars and and walk our dances across the face of the moon
In the instant we learn that Michael is gone we know nothing
No clocks can tell our time and no oceans can rush our tides
With the abrupt absence of our treasure
Though we our many, each of us is achingly alone
Piercingly alone
Only when we confess our confusion can we remember that he was a gift to us and we did have him
He came to us from the Creator, trailing creativity in abundance
Despite the anguish of life he was sheathed in mother love and family love and survived and did not more than that
He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style
We had him
Whether we knew who he was or did not know, he was our’s and we were his
We had him
Beautiful, delighting our eyes
He raked his hat slant over his brow and took a pose on his toes for all of us and we laughed and stomped our feet for him
We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing
He gave us all he had been given
Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana’s Blackstar Square, in Johannesburg, in Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama and Birmingham England, we are missing Michael Jackson
But we do know that we had him
And we are the world.


Read by Queen Latifah at Michael Jackson’s memorial service.

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My Favorite Music, 2008.

Growing up I always thought that music from the 50’s sounded so foreign. Some of it was good–meaning I liked it–but what stood out most was it’s “ancient” quality. Today, the musical period it parallels is the mid-80’s, somewhere around the time of the birth of music videos. That was a time when I’d willingly watch the same video every two hours as it repeated because the limited number of available videos required it.

A friend I grew up with holds a daily lyric quiz on her facebook page. She chooses a lot of songs from the mid-seventies to late-eighties. It’s the music I grew up with. The facility with which I recognize some of the songs dates me. I wonder, does this music have that same ancient quality to youth today?

I used to pride myself on being an early adopter of new music that pushed boundaries or had a fresh sound. Sometimes I wonder if passing on a seeing a new band in concert in 1980 spurred that desire to explore and discover. It was the first concert in the U.S. by a band named after a spy plane. Why would anyone name a band after a spy plane?

In the early 90’s hosting a segment of a new music show on npr affiliate WYSO kept me abreast of everything new in multiple genres. Since then, it’s become harder to keep track of new bands, artists, etc. Time was when the local record shop was my first stop on payday. Now listening to 30 second snippets on iTunes and at Amazon is often as far as I get. Subscriptions to CMJ magazine and Paste carried me through to the new century, but I am aware that those publications were a lifeline as much as a filter.

At npr’s website, there’s a listener’s poll of the best records of 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98092448 Visiting the site, I am reminded, that while I am out of touch, I’m not dead (yet). Then again, I fit in with their demographic.

That said, in no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite albums from 2008 (including one I picked up as the year began from 2007).

1. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
2. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever ago
3. Adele: 19
4. Los Aterciopelados: Rio
5. Carrie Newcomer: Geography of Light
6. The Hold Steady: Stay Positive
7. Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue
8. Tim O’Brien: Chameleon
9. Sia: Some People Have Real Problems
10. Missy Higgins: On a Clear Night (2007)

Moving On

I’ve been catching up on old issues of The New Yorker. John Colapinto wrote a nice piece on Paul McCartney in the June 4, 2007 issue. McCartney turned 65 last year. That’s one year past his wondering if we would still love him. Colapinto writes, “it’s a milestone he finds difficult to contemplate. “The thought is somewhat horrifying,” he told me. “It’s like, ‘Well no, this can’t be me.'”” I can’t believe it either. How did this happen? How is it also that my hippest cousins are his senior?

I understand something of Woody Allen’s obsession with death and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I have witnessed wonderfully vibrant souls die and realized again and again, that when someone dies, it’s before their time. Even when you can say it was time or they tell you they are ready, you’re not. There is always loss.

The deaths of three public figures touched my heart last year and two recent ones are front of mind in 2008.

Phil Rizzuto, August 13, 2007.
Growing up, I remember the shortstop pitching for “The Money Store” on WPIX in New York. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDQHQkuv9l0. The commercials aired late at night and in between innings of Yankee games. Broadcasting was Rizzuto’s second career, where he was at different times paired with Frank Messer, Bill White and Fran Healy. He always called them by their last name. “Holy cow!” was his signature cry signaling a Yankee hit or rally. But what sticks in my mind are memories of the small things he talked about during games that reminded you he was a person and not just someone with a function. Whether he was talking about Cannoli, his need to “get over the bridge” (GW) or his fear of lightning, he let the broadcaster’s veil fall. On the periphery were lessons that life is bigger than the job you do.

Luciano Pavarotti, September 6, 2007.
His rendition of Nessun Dorma was his trademark. Say what you want about his career or talent, his voice had a special quality, an ability to bear and hold emotion like few others. I was listening to a podcast of the WBUR show, “On Point” the day he died and a caller to the show, identified only as David from Hoptkington, said it better than I can.

“Pavarotti was one of those people who as a human being could produce a single tone, a single tonality of such amazing power and grace, that you don’t have to understand the language, you don’t even have to hear much of what’s coming before then. But when that note strikes you it’s like, um, well it’s, in Pete Townshend’s words it’s “there once was a note pure and easy playing so free as a breath rippling by, the note is eternal it hears me, I hear it, it sees me, forever we’re blended, for ever we die” and as a singer I’ve always looked in my own part to achieve that single note that for me would be like, sort of like the true voice of God coming through a human being. And I’ve never seen Pavarotti, I’ve never really paid a lot of attention to opera, but when I hear those notes, it literally brings me to tears. So this morning I’m driving to work and I’m sitting there and bang, with no other prompting it was just–it’s just that powerful.”

The lyrics to that song are as beautiful as the melody itself:

No one sleeps! / No one sleeps! / Even you, oh princess, / in your cold room, / look at the stars / that tremble with love / and hope!
But my mystery / it is locked in me. / And my name, / no one will know! / No, no!
On your mouth / I will say it, / when the light / will shine!
And my kiss will break the silence, / that makes you mine!
choir:
His name no one will know… / And we shall have, alas, to die, to die…!
Disperse, o night! / Vanish, oh stars! / Vanish, oh stars!
At daybreak, I will win! / I will win! / I will win!

Joe Zawinul, September 11, 2007.
I saw him in concert in 1978 or 1979 with his band Weather Report. As with Pavarotti and Nessun Dorma, there is something wonderful about Zawinul’s music. A stillness that reminds me of the importance of pausing and giving witness to the moment. A Remark You Made is a tender tune of his from Weather Report’s 1978 album Mr. Gone.

Jim McKay, June 7, 2008.
I grew up listening to him as he hosted ABC’s Wide World of Sports and the Olympics. In 1972 I didn’t understand what was happening at the games in Munich. They were an Olympics of Frank Shorter, Steve Prefontaine, Mark Spitz and Olga Korbut. They were an Olympics of terror. McKay reported the news of the hostage-taking as well as event results. The gravity and tragedy of those games came through in the negative contrast of his reporting. Here’s a video that will give you a sense of McKay at those games:

More than two decades later his voice cracks as he recounts the tragedy at Munich. That’s his heart. He pulls us together as he shares it, in the way people are brought together through their own woundedness.

Randy Pausch, June 25, 2008.
His “Last Lecture” message for his children went viral. I missed it early on and only caught up with it in April. This message has a richness that compares to Pavrotti’s singing and Zawinul’s compositions. He speaks plainly like Rizzuto and from the heart like McKay. So much so that when I heard it I was convinced that I’d met him here in Pittsburgh. It’s that honest and plain. It’s mystical. Here’s the Carnegie Mellon University news story: http://www.cmu.edu/homepage/beyond/2008/summer/an-enduring-legacy.shtml. There is a link to the last lecture at the bottom of the page.

At my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary party in June, the love in the room was palpable. I’m not just talking about my parents. The grace of marriage is carried through friends and family. Those that gather to witness two people proclaim their love for each other and those who enter their lives after. These all commit to accompanying the couple on their journey wherever it might lead. I think that happens whether they know it or not. Fifty people joined my parents at their party. Hundreds if not thousands more shared in the journey.

During the party I found myself looking for people who weren’t there. People who I grew up with. People who helped raise me simply by loving my parents. Some had schedule conflicts or couldn’t come. Others would only attend in our memories. They’d moved on.

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