Musing about George Harrison

by Lorin Michel Monday, September 7, 2015 8:40 PM

The other day, Kevin and I got into a discussion about the solo careers of the Beatles. We decided that the most successful had been Paul McCartney. It was the obvious choice. I am not a fan of Paul McCartney. He hasn’t made anything interesting, in my humble opinion, since 1973’s Band on the Run which remains a personal favorite. I think he succumbed to the pop, the bubblegum, the ordinary. I know that’s sacrilege in many circles but since this is my blog, I can say it. I think Paul McCartney is talented. I think he sold-out.

John Lennon could have had an interesting extended solo career but he was a strange duck, perhaps the definition of the tortured genius. I was never a fan but I appreciated his focus on inequality and the ridiculous chest-beating that goes on amongst our leaders. He died too soon and so we never got to know what he was truly capable of as a solo artist. We can only imagine.

I don’t know much about Ringo Starr other than his one, maybe two hits and the fact that he’s married to Barbara Bach and has been for a very long time. I remember her vaguely as a Bond Girl when Roger Moore was Bond, James Bond. I think it was The Spy Who Loved Me. I remember seeing that when I was freshman in high school. I went with my friend Carol and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It’s the first Bond film I’d ever seen. It wouldn’t be the last. Carol and I also saw Rocky that year. It was and remains a wonderful film. It holds up and makes you actually like Sylvester Stallone.

I digress.

This morning, I was listening to internet radio as I often do. We had speakers put into the wall in the great room as well as the ceiling there and in the kitchen. We’re also wired to have speakers on the deck ceiling and master bathroom ceiling. We actually have the speakers. Kevin just needs to put them in. Again, I digress.

My Sweet Lord came on the radio. I’ve never particularly liked the song but for some reason I was paying attention to it this morning. Not the lyrics so much because they’re kind of trivial, but rather the arrangement and production of it. The heart and soul of it. And it was interesting. It made me think that perhaps George Harrison, who was always relatively low-key, was perhaps one of the more interesting Beatles. He didn’t get the accolades that were afforded to Lennon-McCartney. Ringo was always a little flamboyant. But Harrison, who also died too young, of cancer in 2001, tinged his music with soulful guitar and sitar, an instrument introduced to him by Ravi Shankhar.

I didn’t realize that Harrison had written Something and the prophetic While my guitar gently weeps. I confess I have never been a particularly rabid Beatles fan. I appreciate them and the music; I know most of the songs and the albums. My husband loves them. I listen occasionally but rarely by choice.

But hearing George Harrison today made me wish for more. I may have to download All things must pass, a collection of songs he released that had originally been written for the Beatles and for whatever reason, and probably because of Lennon and McCartney, were never recorded. According to Rolling Stone, the three-record set was a number 1 album and became his masterwork.

He was a spiritual man, a practitioner of Hinduism, by all accounts, very reflective, soulful and quiet. A man who celebrated life. I may have to rethink my idea of who the most prolific Beatle was after all.

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live out loud

a bunch of fun lovin’ sweet tea sippin’ Jesus believin’ bible readin’ country music listenin’ boot stompin’ truck ridin’ hard workin’ rebel flag flyin’ home cookin’ garden growin’ farmin’ hey y’all’in southerners

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 19, 2015 8:50 PM

If memory serves, and it doesn’t always, my friend Connie was a big Garth Brooks fan once upon a time. I say this because I think it was her who introduced me to his music and I became a fan, too. Not a huge fan, but a fan who eventually purchased at least four CDs. I grew to like his type of country music which wasn’t too twangy, or too my-girlfriend-left-me-so-now-I-only-have-my-dog-and-this-beer. Eventually my like of this more modern brand of country music grew to include Faith Hill, though not her husband Tim McGraw, and Trisha Yearwood, now Mrs. Brooks.

Prior to listening to Garth Brooks I always equated country music to a different, redneck mentality. A redneck is defined as a “person who lives in a small town or somewhere out in the country, especially in the southern U.S. who typically has a working-class job, and who is seen by others as being uneducated and having opinions and attitudes that are offensive” to others. That’s from Merriam-Webster. It’s a bit offensive as a description especially since the ‘having opinions and attitudes that are offensive” would apply to someone like me in the eyes of a conservative. I think the true mentality is closer to this: a bunch of fun lovin’ sweet tea sippin’ Jesus believin’ bible readin’ country music listenin’ boot stompin’ truck ridin’ hard workin’ rebel flag flyin’ home cookin’ garden growin’ farmin’ hey y’all’in southerners.

I found that on yahoo.

Regardless, when someone says redneck, they think of the guys in Deliverance.

Post Garth Brooks, I’ve come to equate country music with Nashville, both the city for obvious reasons, and the television show which Kevin and I love. I realize that we’re about the only four people on the planet who enjoy watching the escapades of Rayna and the girls, of Deacon and irritating Scarlette, of gay-pretending-to-be-cowboy-straight Will, trashy Juliette and her absolutely wonderful producer husband Avery, underbiting Gunnar, and the rest of the characters. It’s a soap opera, which makes sense since country music – at its most heartfelt – is about the story, about broken hearts and crushed dreams. And the songs on this show are one of the reasons we just love it.

We admit it. We’ve become closet country music fans. The show does all of the music live, much like          did years ago (when we also became bigger fans of New Orleans jazz) and the actors do their own singing. Some are actually pretty good; others, like Connie Briton, are merely sufficient. But the soapy, sappiness of the show brings us back every week.

There is some of that homespun redneck mentality present, but very little. There are, naturally, no people of color. The one person they had, Scarlette’s friend Zoey who became Scarlette’s ex-friend Zoey when she hooked up with Scarlette’s ex-boyfriend Gunnar, was on for a while and then she left.

We’re hooked on all of its country twang soapiness because of the music. Nashville the city is known as the home of country music. The big four recording labels – Sony, Universal, EMI and Warner – are there, along with a number of smaller labels, in the area known as music row. Nashville is actually the second largest recording center in the country, behind New York. Gibson guitars is headquartered there. I’ve never been to Tennessee, and have never had much desire. I get to see it every week, when I visit Nashville. It might be the best way to spend time with a bunch of fun lovin’ sweet tea sippin’ Jesus believin’ bible readin’ country music listenin’ boot stompin’ truck ridin’ hard workin’ rebel flag flyin’ home cookin’ garden growin’ farmin’ hey y’all’in southerners, singin’ it out loud and proud.

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It was the best of years, it was the worst of years

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 27, 2014 8:32 PM

I love music from the 1970s. Not all of it; you can keep just about all things disco. But the 1970s were a transitional time for music. The radically strong, acid rock that proliferated in the late 1960s oozed into the 70s and gave us several artists that are still making music today. The Rolling Stones and Elton John to name a few. The 1970s also gave rise to influential artists like Heart and Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, America, James Taylor and Carol King. King’s Tapestry, one of the first albums I owned and still one of the top sellers of all time, was released in 1971. I still own that vinyl copy and play it every once in a while.

Over the last few years, I’ve gravitated back to a lot of the music I first heard back then. Perhaps it was because the 1970s were when I started to know about music; perhaps it’s because I’m getting older. I find it makes me smile. I don’t ever remember there being a tremendous amount of music played in our house. My parents, though relatively young when I was born (my mom was 20, my dad 23), never seemed to be into music and certainly not the music of the 1960s. The only thing I remember my mom listening to on a regular basis was Barbra Streisand. I’ve said before that I grew up on Streisand and I still like a great deal of her music.

In the early 70s, I discovered Elton John and the aforementioned Carol King, thanks to my slightly older cousin who was already in her teens at that point. Teenagers always know the best music of the time. She had Tapestry as well as Tumbleweed Connection.

I also discovered Springsteen via 1975’s Born to Run, the first official rock album I owned. I discovered Paul McCartney and Wings. I was too young to really know The Beatles and to this day, while I know most of their songs as well as anyone and can sing along, I don’t consider myself a Beatles fan.

Band on the Run, released in 1973, is still a great album. I was introduced to it by a childhood friend named Steve Paine. He was a year older, and when I was visiting one afternoon, he played it.

I discovered the Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, Peter Frampton as well as Aerosmith and Genesis.

I still have many of the albums I purchased during the 70s. Occasionally I listen to them. What I tend to do more often is to pull up a 70s channel on Live365 and pump it through the stereo. In many ways it takes me back to that time. Sometimes a song will remind me of being in a particular place. Anything by the Little River Band will remind me of working at Unfinished Furniture in Bedford. Steely Dan’s Aja reminds me of one of my first boyfriends. His name was Bob and he was a huge Steely Dan fan.

I know most of the music that plays and more often than not find myself singing along. There are, however, certain songs that I hated then and still hate now. Evidently I’m not alone.

According to CNN, some of the worst songs ever recorded and released to become hits were from 1974. I was intrigued enough to click and I laughed because I concurred wholeheartedly. Songs like Terry Jack’s Seasons in the Sun and Paul Anka’s Having my Baby. I literally said that about the latter about a week ago. The most condescending, irritating, sexist song I can remember.

The CNN article attributed the surplus of bad songs for that year to the strife of the times. There was the Nixon thing, and the Vietnam thing, and the oil embargo thing. I also think disco had something to do with it being the best of times in music as well as the worst. For every Terry Jack’s there was Joni Mitchell, who released her phenomenal Court and Spark that year. For every Paul Anka, there was Elton John, who released Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Incidentally, CNN listed the worst song ever as Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey. I heartily concur. Luckily for 1974, that horror was released in 1968 and I was much too young to be following any kind of music other than Babs.

And they smile because of life

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 1, 2014 9:33 PM

Tinney Davidson is 84 years old and lives alone in the home she moved into in 2007. Her husband, Ken, passed away several years ago but she is carrying on a tradition they started together: waving.

The sitting room of the house, like so many modest homes, is in the front, with a big window looking out onto the world. A world not so far away from the house and one filled with the daily travels of kids going to and coming from the local school. It’s a world many of us inhabit, whether we live in a small town or a larger city. It’s different in big cities because of high rises and apartments, but wherever there are homes, there are picture windows with curtains or blinds and comfortably stuffed chairs on the other side.

Tinney’s world is in Comox, British Columbia not far from a high school, or what the Canadian’s call a secondary school. Tinney sits in the overchair in front of her window and watches the kids as they walk to school, to lunch and back home again. She does it with a huge smile on her face, her hand and arm moving with such enthusiasm even teenagers can’t help but smile. Granted they thought it was weird at first because teenagers think all people older than them are weird and someone of Tinney’s age must be downright senile.

But gradually the teens have grown to appreciate the waves throughout the day. They automatically look toward the little white house as they walk by and they wave back, not as enthusiastically of course because that wouldn’t be cool. But they wave. And they smile.

Even better, they appreciate the little old lady in the white house, so much so that this past Valentine’s Day, they invited Tinney to join them at the school for lunch. An unsuspecting Tinney was escorted into the cafeteria where she got a rock star welcome. Cheers, clapping, and the presentation of handmade Valentine’s from the student body. It was their way of thanking her for the smiles.

Tinney said: "I’m overwhelmed, happy and grateful. My happiness is having children wave at me."

I came across this story today, several weeks after the fact, and it brought tears to my eyes. I know I’ve become a bit of a softie as I get older but usually the tears are reserved for videos, pictures and stories involving dogs. This one reaffirmed my belief in basic human goodness, even in teenagers.

I also came across a story about another elderly woman, the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust, who recently passed away at 110 having long survived her husband who died in Dachau and her son Stephan who survived Theresienstadt with her. Her name was Alice Herz-Sommer and she was able to stay at what the Nazi’s called their “model” camp because she was a concert pianist and the SS liked to hear her play.

Liberated from the camp by the Soviet Army in May of 1945, she immigrated first to Jerusalem in 1949 where she taught at the Conservatory until 1986 when she moved to London with her son who took the name Raphael after the war. He became a concert cellist but died of a brain aneurysm in 2001 at the age of the 64.

Up until the time she died, she played the piano, Bach, Beethoven, and her wartime favorite, Chopin. Born in Prague in 1903, she started playing piano at age five. One of her mother’s friends was Franz Kafka who would tell Alice stories, which she forgot as she grew older. She married in 1931 and became a concert pianist. She was sent to Theresienstadt in 1943.

After the war, Alice could have chosen to live in bitterness. Instead, she chose to live in joy. A filmmaker, Malcolm Clarke, captured that joy in a film called The Lady in Number 6: Music saved my life. It’s a 38-minute documentary, nominated for an Oscar tomorrow night. It’s a surprisingly uplifting film about a woman who lived through a horrific experience and transcended it; who lived her life in happiness with music and smiles.

She says in the film: “Sometimes it happens that I am thankful to have been there,” of her time at the camp, “because this gave me a … I am richer than other people. When I hear them saying, oh, this is terrible—no, it is not so terrible.”

Two different women, both considered old, but possessing such a youthful and amazing spirit. Such joy. I am awed. I am chastened. I am celebrating Tinney and Alice, two women of different backgrounds, in two different parts of the world with the same attitude: Smile and the world smiles with you. 

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Happiness is

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 16, 2014 9:28 PM

My dog’s nose, cold and wet and pushing against my hand for a piece of cheese.

A warm day in the desert.

Rain.

Sometimes snow, when it’s just getting started, and the day turns lushly quiet and peaceful; before the snowplows and the dirty.

Sunsets in the west when there are just a few wispy clouds making the sky catch fire as it descends into the ocean.

The darkness that comes immediately after.

The middle of the night when even the owls have ceased to speak.

Wind.

Hearing my mom say “hi, honey” as she recognizes my voice on the other end of the phone.

My sister’s laugh.

Listening to Justin talk about lighting and design and history, and realizing that he’s very, very smart; perhaps smarter than his parents.

Remembering my dad’s laugh and the twinkle in his eye when he was being mischievous, making jokes and simply enjoying life.

Watching a great football game when it’s my team winning or a really great football game especially when I don’t care who wins.

A deep, dark, inky syrah that paints the glass in equally lush, inky, transparent tones.

Twice baked potatoes.

Music and especially great jazz that fills the space perfectly, leaving no corner untouched by sound.

Reading.

Writing.

Not arithmetic.

Remembering family members past, like my grandmothers, both of them, so different from one another, sharing only a generation and our family; Aunt Beryl who just passed away this past summer, with her whirlwind mind and encyclopedic memory of things both mundane and profound.

Happiness is things that don’t matter and those life-changingly important. It’s a hot cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, a decision to build a house, the loss of someone loved, watching the sunrise and set again; a thunderstorm.

Tonight, it’s having my son home and having him and his girlfriend prepare us dinner while we sit sipping wine. I’m not sure it gets better than this, not on this Sunday in February.

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Soul lifting

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, January 8, 2014 11:27 PM

I was listening to some jazz this morning as I often do when I’m readying myself for the onslaught of the day. The Mac fires up and springs to life quickly. I open a browser to Live365, pick a station to suit my mood and the weather, and then go about the business of preparing. Armed with coffee, I start the PC as that takes much longer to come up. As music drifts around me from the speakers strategically positioned on my desk, I check email (I currently have four accounts), briefly peruse Facebook to see if there’s anyone doing anything I need to know about, or pictures I want to see. I check the news. I listen to the music.

I love all kinds of jazz, from smoky blues jazz to sultry standards to some of the more recent fusion and new age. Again it all depends on my mood. I’m not big on hokey jazz like Kenny G, though I get the attraction. I’m more interested in nuance, in things I haven’t heard before; pieces that intrigue me enough to look them up.

As I was warming my hands on my coffee cup and checking delete to a great many emails, a song began that flowed through and around, misting across the desk and the keyboard, a joy filled ode to the day that made me sit back in my chair and just listen for a minute. It was mainly guitar, electric but with an acoustic sound. It was free, it was happy and filled me with a sense of optimism for the day. I pulled up Live365 to see who and what it was. Najite. The song: Soul lifting.

Najite is actually Kelvin Najite Ikpeni, a jazz, gospel, R & B, fusion and contemporary guitarist from Nigeria. He’s been in the United States since 2005 when he moved to pursue his dream to make music and become a professional jazz musician. In his native land he played in a number of churches, alongside such renown musicians as Lionel Peterson, Ron Kenoly, Bishop TD Jakes, Donnie McClurkin, Cindy Trimm, Alvin Slaughter and Marvin Winans. I admit that I’m not familiar with any of those musicians. It’s possible I’ve heard their music on the internet jazz stations I listen to almost daily. In this land, he’s playing for himself.

According to the one bio I could find, his style is a cross between George Benson, Jonathan Butler, Earl Klugh, Norman Brown and Kunie Ayo. I’ve heard of many of those; I own albums and CDs of several.

I heard this musician today, Najite, a guitarist and jazz recording artist who plays his own style called neo life groove. That coupled with the name of the piece that so intrigued me made me smile all over again. The neo life groove of soul lifting.

To lift the soul is to rise above. To lift the soul with music is to take flight, to soar.

I love discovering something new and someone new. I love especially that his type of music is the ultimate fusion of thought, feelings, ideas, genres. That he is creating a new life in this country – a neo life groove – residing in Laurel, Maryland, and that he himself seems fill with the joy of each note resonates with me, and within me. That’s worth celebrating. That’s living it out loud. 

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The horror of music

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 5, 2013 9:00 PM

I love the sound of music, but I have never been a fan of The Sound of Music. I realize that’s considered sacrilege in certain circles, even among my closest friends. I’m actually not a fan of movie musicals in general. I don’t like My Fair Lady either; and I really don’t like The Wizard of Oz. I despise Mary Poppins. Kevin talks about The Sound of Music being the first movie he saw in the theatre when he was a kid. I was still little when it was originally released in 1965. I have no idea if my mother saw it though I suspect she did. I saw it later, when it was re-released in the early 1970s. 1973 to be exact. I don’t remember if that was before or after we actually saw the real Maria Von Trapp pumping gas into her pickup truck in Stowe, Vermont where the Von Trapp’s eventually settled after fleeing the Nazis.

Film musicals always seemed like they were just wrong. I realize film in general is about suspending belief, that it’s about filming a story. Real life isn’t that interesting, or at least it didn’t used to be. Now with reality TV, I guess it’s more interesting for some people. My life as a reality show would be excruciatingly boring. Watching someone sitting at her desk all day long, typing for a living, would not make for very good entertainment.

In real life, people rarely burst into song in the middle of a discussion. Nor do they decide to sing and dance along with their song. The only musicals I’ve ever liked are some of the Disney animated films, with Beauty and the Beast leading the way. It seems logical somehow that cartoon characters sing, since they also speak and hold jobs.

I never particularly cared for Julie Andrews; I’ve come to like Christopher Plummer but not as Captain Von Trapp. I had no use for any of the Von Trapp children. They seemed irritating, especially Angela Cartwright who went on to be equally irritating in one of my favorite childhood shows, Lost in Space. That’s fodder for another blog.

While I believe that the entire Von Trap family sang in Austria during the reign of the Third Reich, the way it was portrayed in the movie was just hokey, as was the entire film. Minority opinion I know. The Hollywood Bowl has done a sing-a-long in years past, which was and is probably a riot because it’s campy. It turns The Sound of Music in Rocky Horror Picture Show. I also know that tonight, NBC is broadcasting a live-event with Carrie Underwood in the Maria Von Trapp/Julie Andrews role. I have to admit to being moderately interested, not because I think I’ll like the story any more or because I like Carrie Underwood. I still don’t like that she replaced Faith Hill on Sunday Night Football. But I am always fascinated with live performances and the idea of performers putting themselves out there without the safety net of another take and the edit room is pretty awesome. I’m also curious as to whether or not Carrie Underwood has any acting chops at all. I suspect no.

Still, it’s The Sound of Music. Rodgers and Hammerstein. A musical. A little too lofty and feel good, even with Nazis. I much prefer to think of The Sound of Music as it was meant to be, a horror movie.

Now that would be something to watch.

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Sweet emotion

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:09 PM

Occasionally I have to leave my office during the day for a work-related event like a meeting. Today was such a day. I am working with a fairly big hospital down in Santa Monica to craft several microsites for three of their cancer centers of distinction, and I had a meeting with the director of their breast cancer center. I purposely set the meeting for 3 pm so I could have my entire morning to work. I arrived at about 2:50 and found a place to park. It was cold and cloudy on the West Side, a gentle mist was blowing in from the ocean, just 22 blocks away. I walked into the John Wayne Cancer Institute and disappeared for the next hour and a half.

After, when the meeting was done, and I had retrieved my car, I decided to drive home via the beach. It was 4:30, the sun was peaking through the clouds to the west. I knew it would be sparkling on the Pacific, the light bouncing and giggling in the waves, dodging the afternoon surfers who would, no doubt, be sitting on their boards, feet dangling in the cool water, shark bait, waiting for a 2 foot wave to come along.

I had listened to NPR on the way to the meeting; I like to stay informed about what’s happening in the world. But on the way home, I needed something to make me dance. I wanted the car to vibrate with the sound of some good old fashioned classic vinyl rock. I cranked up the satellite, channel 26, and Elton John’s Take Me to the Pilot flowed out of the car’s 13 speakers. I love old Elton John, especially anything from Honky Chateau and Tumbleweed Connection. This particular song was from his self-titled album released in 1970. It’s raw and wicked and splendid. The piano rocks. I was playing air keyboards on the steering wheel as I shot down the California Incline toward Pacific Coast Highway, rounded the corner north and hit the brakes. In addition to the sea to my left, all gray, blue and white in the late afternoon, a sea of red rectangles and spheres greeted me dead ahead.

No worries. I just turned up the Harman Kardon stereo and smiled as Reeling in the Years by Steely Dan began. “Are you reelin’ in the years Stowin’ away the time Are you gatherin’ up the tears Have you had enough of mine.”

The guitar riff started. I had forgotten how wonderfully spectacular it is. In typical Steely Dan fashion, it is rich and loose and crisp and fluid all at once. Da da da dun du Da da da dun du Da da du dun du du du du du du du du dun da.

Volume up to 17. The traffic began to break up a bit, the red lights all turned off, and we were moving forward, up PCH, with the cliffs to the right, houses above, the sun mirroring in their windows; to the left, all of the houses that line the highway and sit on the sand. The backs, all garages and parked cars. The fronts face the water.

“The trip we made in Hollywood Is etched upon my mind.”

Then The Doors The End. “Ride the King’s highway, baby Weird scenes inside the gold mine, Ride the highway west, baby.” I was; I was.

I’m not a Doors fan. There are only a couple of songs that I can stand to even listen to from start to end. I like Riders on the Storm, LA Woman, and Light My Fire, though I prefer the Jose Feliciano version. But this song, cranking over the speakers in the Range Rover as I sped north west, into the sun, seemed strangely prolific.

The west is the best
The west is the best

Listening to this song, I imagined that this must be what it was like to be on acid, only I’ve never been on acid. See previous post regarding my total lack of desire to be altered. I’m pretty sure an ibuprofen trip wouldn’t be quite the same.

Still, listening to the Doors and Van Halen and Styxx and Fleetwood Mac and more on classic vinyl was making me cruise. The sky was still white and gray, though the mist had lifted and the sun was peering out. The temperature was a cool 63º. The cars were five wide, three lanes going north, two going south, all moving at 50 mph. George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun started and while I’ve never particularly liked the song, it did have a certain synergy with the day. It had started out sunny, then gotten cloudy and was once again drenched with cool solar rays.

By now, I had journeyed from Santa Monica to Malibu, turned inland and was jetting along Malibu Canyon, having beaten a Smart Car off the line at Pepperdine. The familiar guitar chords of a song from when I was in high school started then. Twang, twang. Almost a country rock riff of Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith

‘Cause the backstage boogie set your pants on fire

I was feeling good, I was feeling happy. On this Tuesday, after a good meeting and a day that had gone from pretty to cold to gorgeous, my emotions were sweet indeed. I was living it out loud, with classic rock music on PCH and Malibu Canyon, and feeling on fire. 

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Treme in the OP

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, January 1, 2013 7:34 PM

Last night was fairly uneventful here in Oak Park. We don’t go out on New Year’s Eve, haven’t in years. We used to get together with Roy and Bobbi, especially when Justin was little. Often we’d have lobster, but that got expensive and messy, and I hated having Roy and Bobbi out driving during what is traditionally a not-good-night to drive. People are a tiny bit more responsible, perhaps, than they used to be when it comes to drinking and driving, but why put yourself in that position if you don’t need to?

For several years now, probably since Justin went away to college and maybe even before that, we all prefer to hang in our respective houses; last night was no different. Kevin and I walked Cooper early. The evening was cool, pillow-top clouds dotted the darkening sky, lit from below by the setting sun. It was just about 5 pm and the temperature was dropping. Another cold night was ahead. I thought briefly about all of the people camped along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, saving their piece of sidewalk for a perfect view of the Rose Bowl Parade in the morning. It’s a tradition, to sleep on the cement and freeze, wake up at dawn to see your breath crystallize in the air, and then have to hunt for a bathroom and an egg mcmuffin. I’ve never been to the parade; have absolutely no desire. Kevin and I don’t even watch it on television. But people come from all over the country and it’s a very big deal. Clouds or not, it wasn’t going to rain. It never rains on the Rose Bowl Parade. It simply isn’t allowed.

Cooper was his usual semi-manic self as we cruised through the neighborhood. He is wonderful in the house, gentle and mellow, but the minute we pull out his leash he turns into Crazed Puppy. We’re thinking of having a cape made. He acts like he’s never been for a walk in his life and he’s very very very excited and did he tell you how much he likes to walk and oh-boy we might see other dogs and I can’t wait can’t wait can’t wait can we go go go go NOW?!!!!!

We’re exhausted by the time we leave the house. And this is actually better than he used to be. When he first came to live with us, he was … what’s the word I’m looking for? I know it; it’s right on the tip of my tongue. Horrible. That’s it. He. Was. Horrible. He pulled, he lunged, he strained his collar or his harness so much he choked himself. I called a friend of ours, a dog trainer, who lives up in Washington State. Here was our conversation:

“Deb? He’s a nut.”

Deb: “We can fix this. You won’t believe how easy it is.”

“You’re right. I won’t. Because he’s a nut-bag. A total and complete bag of nuts and when he sees another dog, he’s like a freakin’ kite. We’re walking along and suddenly the dog is airborne.”

Deb: “He’ll be fine. Let me tell you what to do.”

I listened. I took notes. I asked questions. I relayed the information to Kevin. We tried it. He was still sort of a kite, but moderately better. We finally got a pinch collar, and he’s actually a lot better. Now he at least keeps his feet, all four of them, on the ground.

We do this walking thing twice a day, and each time the reaction is the same. OMG, a walk! A walk! A WALK!

Last night, as with so many nights, by the time we started back toward the house, he had calmed down. His gait was a bit slower; there was a little slack in the leash. As we ambled down the sidewalk, under the now darker and purple clouds, we could hear music. We paused, listening. It sounded like it was outside but we couldn’t see anything or anyone and it seemed to be too cold to be playing outside. Then we saw them, on the sidewalk, just rounding out of the cul de sac near the house. A guy sitting cross-legged with his guitar; a girl with her knees bent under her so she was just above him, playing the violin.

We stopped to listen. They didn’t see us. They didn’t seem to care that there were people out, walking, seeing them, hearing them play. They were in their own world, entertaining themselves, even as they actually entertained others. The music was good, not great, but the fact that these two kids, maybe in the early stages of high school were sitting outside in the cold, in the dusk, playing live music, was astonishing.

I don’t know what the song was. It didn’t matter. As we continued on, with Kevin holding Cooper’s leash, and me walking next to my two boys, Kevin chuckled quietly:

“What?” I asked.

“It’s a little like Treme right here in the OP,” he said.

The music filled the cold night air and the sun finally dipped down. The clouds disappeared into darkness and so did the music. We went into the house to celebrate New Year’s Eve. But outside, in the OP, some live music was playing. What a spectacular way to say hello and welcome to 2013. 

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live out loud

What is it about the standards?

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 11, 2012 12:45 AM

I know I’ve talked a bit about this in the past but I have become completely enamored with much of the music known as “the standards.” Old-fashioned music some would call it. Wonderful, I call it. Music that started right around World War I and oozed its way into the 1950s. Cole Porter, the big bands of Tommy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Count Basie. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and more.

About five years or so ago, I started developing a real appreciation for the music of the industrial revolution. I have no idea why. I suspect it has something to do with getting older and appreciating history. When I was young, like most youngsters, I figured the older generation didn’t know anything. I was convinced that my parents were complete idiots until I got out of college. Then, as the saying goes, I was surprised and thrilled to discover how much they’d learned in a relatively short span of time.  

It wasn’t because of my parents listened to a lot of standards. I don’t remember my parents listening to a lot of music at all. My dad was born in the late 1930s, my mother in the early 1940s. They were both fairly young when I was born in the 1960s, just as the British invasion was taking over the world. I don’t remember anyone ever talking about the Beatles. Or any of the other British rockers that defined that era. The Rolling Stones and The Who come to mind. My parents were definitely not rockers. I don’t think they even liked Elvis Presley; I’m not sure they knew much of his music. They knew the bebop stuff of the 50s since they were both in high school at that time. But the only thing I remember my mother listening to was Barbra Streisand, Nancy Wilson, Lena Horne and Johnny Mathis (my husband calls him Johnny Mattress; he’s not a fan). I almost remember other LPs of Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet, maybe some Andy Williams and Ray Conniff at Christmas, perhaps some Perry Como.

That was the type of music that played from the big turntable-radio console that we had in the living room. One end was the record player which was stackable and had an arm that held up to six records in place. As one side of one record would finish, it would kick down the next in the stack. We also had the ability to listen to the radio. At the other end was storage for all of the records. It was quite the piece of furniture. I have no doubt it was fairly hi-tech for the day.

As I grew up, I gravitated to rock. The first true rock and roll album I ever bought – and still have – was Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. I also have several Elton John albums from that time as well as Carol King and Peter Frampton, Heart and Fleetwood Mac. Then I started listening to the Doobie Brothers and Bob Seger and Jackson Browne. My mother was not a fan and that was fine with me. She had her music; I had the better music.

But then, a funny thing happened on the way to being old. I started developing a true taste for the old standards. I don’t think it had anything to do with nostalgia, largely because I had no nostalgia to remember. I didn’t live when these songs were first popular so I had and have no sense of loss for a time that I didn’t live through. I suspect it was simple appreciation for the purity of the sound, the rawness of some of the singing, the joy of many of the lyrics; the loss, the heartbreak, the celebration, the revelation that there is another life, and more importantly, another love. One For My Baby; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; How Do You Keep The Music Playing; Stranger in Paradise; The Way You Look Tonight; It Had To Be You; and my all time favorite, Fly Me To the Moon.

Lately I have found myself purchasing CDs with music by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett as well as CDs by more contemporary artists who are singing standards. Rod Stewart, Steve Tyrell, Michael Bublé, Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall. It seems to me that if so many people are still singing these songs, there must be something truly timeless about them.

That, I believe, is at the core of my love of the standards. Yes, they were originally popular once upon a time, but they’re still popular because they transcend trend. They’re sexy and powerful, awash in the deep melancholy of blues and the smoky reality of jazz. There are strings, clarinets, brass instruments like the trumpet and trombone. There is always a haunting piano and the lazy beat of a snare drum.

You can sway to this music, dream to it. I like to put it on the iPad, pumped through Live365.com and our big Infinity speakers and let it fill the room. It makes me feel. Sometimes good, sometimes sad, but always a depth of emotion that I don’t get from most of today’s contemporary music, no matter how much I like some of it.

I wonder if this happens to everyone as they get into their 40s. They start to appreciate the classics. Cars, music, people. All I know is that I love the music, the style and the singing of that era. It’s what living it out loud, set to music, was – and is ­– all about.

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