Category Archives: Music

My Favorite Things

There are five general categories of things that I love more than anything else in this life:

No. 1 – My kid. While she’s certainly not perfect and even drives me a little crazy sometimes, I will always be her biggest fan.  I made her, after all, baked her in my body like it was an Easy-Bake Oven and she was a tiny angel food cake.

Second only to my kid I love my family and friends, and goodness knows I’ve been fortunate to have some really special people in my life – including my sister and my niece, and my first cousins on my mother’s side:  one is a podcaster extraordinaire (check out his podcast “Meanwhile at the Podcast”, described as “a show about pop culture, fandom, and the fun stories of everyday life” [http://meanwhileatthepodcast.libsyn.com]) and the other is a dad of two kids, the younger of whom I only know from Facebook (but I already adore her) and the elder I last met when he was barely walking.  I miss my cousins.

When we were growing up, and especially when my grandparents still lived in New York, we saw them a lot, and always spent holidays together.  I remember vividly the night before my cousin George was born.  Much of my extended family had gathered in the basement of my grandmother’s house in Queens Village to celebrate the 90th birthday of my great-grandmother, which included the whole panoply of second cousins and first cousins once removed.  My aunt hadn’t come to the festivities, however, due to the fact that she was ready to give birth, and in fact she did the following morning – on Christmas Eve of 1967.

But now my cousins live in the D.C. area and, while we follow each other on social media, we haven’t seen each other in years, which is really a shame.

Some of my closest friends, too – people I love like they’re actual family – are long-distance and visited much too infrequently.  One of the things I’m most looking forward to for my retirement is being close to one or more of them so that we can hang out on a regular basis. They are fun and fascinating to be around, and I cherish the time spent together, especially given that it’s so infrequent.

No. 2 – Music of all kinds (as long as there’s a melody). I’ve been accumulating my collection since I was four years old, although I had a devastating loss following Superstorm Sandy in 2012 when all my best LPs – hundreds of them – were warped and waterlogged and lost forever.  (I lost a lot of unreproducible cassette mix tapes, too.)  I’m still kind of old-school when it comes to my current collection, although I’m not a vinyl collector (I do have a few remaining second-tier albums and also took a box of my soon-to-be-ex-brother-in-law’s albums that he was going to just THROW OUT (the horror!), including a stash of Pink Floyd LPs that I’m very excited about).  Streaming music just doesn’t do it for me, although I certainly appreciate the variety.  I mean, I listen to the radio – WFUV, 90.7 on the terrestrial radio dial – all day, every weekday while I’m working from home, and in the car on local drives.  But I want to OWN my music, to be able to listen to it on demand, in my own flow and combinations, wherever I might be located (as long as there’s a listening device).  My classic iPod is battered and suffers glitches such as songs that end prematurely, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the greatest musical storage invention of all time, and incredibly portable.  I still buy CDs when I have Amazon gift cards, not to mention thousands of downloaded iTunes, which I then back up on recorded “mix tape” CDs with names like “The Never-Ending Collection” and “Nan’s Favorite Gift Is Always Music” (a not-so-subtle message to anyone who is thinking of buying me a present for my birthday or some other gift-giving occasion), which I catalog in a Mix CD inventory so I know exactly where to find any single song in my miscellany at any given time.  I’m kind of obsessive about it and only regret that I don’t have more time to enjoy the full variety of my music (basically only on weekends and long drives).

I also regret that I no longer have any good buddies in close proximity with whom to share my music.  Back in the day, communal music listening was a huge part of my life, but no longer.  I haven’t found any new friends who love musical exploration as much as I do.  There is a lovely couple I’ve become friendly with lately – I went to high school with the husband, who is a guitarist in a really entertaining CSNY cover band named Four Way Street, for which I’ve turned into quite the little groupie, and I also really like his wife; we all share political leanings as well as a love of music – but unfortunately they live miles away and we haven’t reached the point of socializing outside of band performances, where it’s not always so easy to communicate amidst the noise and crowds.

In any event, music for me has always been somewhat of a solitary pursuit, but one that I take a great deal of pride in sharing with like-minded, open-minded folks.

No. 3 – Animals, especially cats, and especially kittens. There is nothing cuter.

My daily involvement as a volunteer with the local animal shelter / rescue organization Posh Pets and being the foster parent of over 30 creatures over the past few years is a testament to that love.  Even though the never-ending clean-up of poo and pee and vomit can be exhausting, the incessant barking gives me frequent headaches and the cost of pet food (and wee-wee pads and paper towels) is bank-breaking, I get a warm feeling inside when one of my fosters goes to a permanent home where they will be loved and doted on.  When I pet my cat Savannah, or cuddle a puppy, or a kitten makes biscuits on my belly, or on quiet afternoons when all the dogs and cats are in their respective beds enjoying a siesta, it’s the pinnacle for me of peacefulness and joy.  Companion animals are deserving of better than we give them.  They trust us; they depend on us; we are their world.

No. 4 – Hockey, especially New York Rangers hockey. Such an exciting game – there’s no greater value for your entertainment dollar, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m far from a stats wonk, and I have no interest in assembling a fantasy league team.  I just like to watch the games, and I really only follow the Rangers.  Once the Rangers get eliminated in – or prior to – the playoffs (which has sadly happened every year since the blessed year of our Messier, 1994), I just immerse myself nightly in the glorious spectacle that is playoff hockey and perhaps a favorite will emerge over the course of no less than four grueling best-of-seven series that I think is deserving of the ultimate team prize, the Stanley Cup.

I appreciate the personalities of hockey players and enjoy watching their reactions to things happening on the ice, and I’m also fascinated by what they do for fun off the ice.  (One of the best things I ever watched on TV was the HBO Series “24/7” that followed the Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers in the days leading up to the NHL Winter Classic in 2011.  Uncensored and hysterical, it was a coveted insider look at what hockey players say and do during games and at home.)  Hockey is an incredibly human game.  Hockey players come in all sizes, from 5’6” mini-mighties like Mats Zuccarrello and Marty St. Louis, and the prototypical tiny tough guy, Theo Fleury, to giants like the 6’9” “Big Z” Zdeno Chara or the man-mountain goalie for the Dallas Stars, 6’7” Ben Bishop.  Even though, as a general matter, the players seem to be getting bigger and younger, there’s still room in the game for small and old(er).

I feel sad when the Rangers lose a lot, and I get frustrated when they don’t SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK, especially when they’re on a power play.  If I were a coach, I would preach the following:  Get the puck out of your zone, then get it deep into theirs.  Think shot first, always.  You can’t score if you don’t shoot.  I’m not as clear on defensive strategy, but that would be my simple but effective offensive game plan every time.

I spent my youth talking hockey with my dad, and my college years being a valued member of the Trinity College hockey coaching brain trust, as team statistician.  (A precursor to today’s “video coach,” I had the best overview of the action from my perch on the highest bleacher seat at center ice, and I memorialized every shot, goal and penalty in my trusty spiral-bound book, which we analyzed after every game.)  The players undoubtedly wondered about my motives for spending so many winters hours traveling with the team, but Coach John Dunham knew the real reason I was there was a pure love of the game, and he was the only one whose opinion mattered.

As a college graduate, I was certain I would have a career in the sports world (well, hockey was the dream, but I would have settled for any pro sport in those early days).  Thanks to an unfortunate life path divergence I’ll expand upon in some future post, it was a dream deferred and, ultimately, denied, because it’s way too late in life now.  In law school I seriously considered pursuing a career as an entertainment lawyer, and my Sports Law professor (who gave me an A) was a former trustee of the New York Islanders so I might have had an “in”, but it wasn’t meant to be, and I ended up as a summer associate at the firm where I’ve been ever since, dealing with aviation finance transactions rather than rinks and stats and sticks and pucks.

Even if it’s not my career, I can (and do) still love hockey from the confines of my own couch and occasionally even decent (but never great, which is always a huge disappointment ) seats at Madison Square Garden.  For a few years I even had the income to be a proud partial-season plan owner, with all the perks that came with it, such as an outing at Bowlmore Lanes in NYC with my kid, where we literally rubbed elbows with Brandon Prust (her favorite player at the time) and Rangers’ TV color man Joe Micheletti.

(An aside:  My kid also counts among her favorite things in life items 2, 3 and 4 above, but not so much item 5.  Which is  . . . )

No. 5 – The written word – both to read and to write. Right now I literally have four books going, from Rachel Maddow’s Blowout to James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to read any of them to the end and will in all likelihood have to return one or more of them prematurely to the library, to be re-borrowed to finish at some future date.  I am so jealous of a recently retired friend of mine who just published on Facebook his 10 favorite books of the year.  (Obama, too, always brags about his prolific reading lists.  How does he find the time??)

As for the writing part?  Well, here I am . . . staying up past my bedtime while trying to keep up with my weekly posts for this re-boot of “Life Considered”.  I maintain my dream of a wider readership (when I actually write something worthy of wider reading, that is).  And one of these days – probably in connection with my next residential move, which will involve considerable down-sizing – I’m going to have to cull through the decades of blathering journals I’ve been hoarding to see if I can find a nugget or two or three that might be the genesis of something publishable.

You know what I’ve concluded as a consequence of this analysis of my favorite things?  I NEED TO RETIRE.  Because once I do, I can indulge more deeply in all these things I love.

                     Some adorable kittens.  (Impossible to get them all to stay still!)

Some Thoughts about Immigrants and Real Live Music Revisited

The United States is and always has been a country of immigrants.  Unless you’re an indigenous person (whose birthright was stolen from them by the original immigrants to this land) or an African-American descended from slaves (who were brought here against their will), all of our ancestors came here, by choice or desperation, to escape turmoil in their native lands or to take advantage of American opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families.

And yet, subsequent waves of immigrants are inevitably vilified by the ones who came before, like somehow the new immigrants are not as good or worthwhile or deserving as the old immigrants.  Why begrudge them this?  Why not help the newbies?  Are they deemed such a threat to the inroads their forerunners have made?  This nation’s geography is certainly large enough to accommodate more.

Just consider what immigrants bring to America when they come:  talent, labor, FLAVOR. Think of the awesome array of food choices in a place like New York City, with every conceivable culture represented and available for the comestible enjoyment of one and all – not just the denizens of the country or culture from which it came.  What about music, and art, and literature?  I always loved “International Nights” at school, where every kid represented a culture (either their own or an acquired favorite) and they brought a special dish and told a traditional story and drew a colorful flag and learned a little history.  Through those “International Nights” (and parents would also come, some of whom were still learning English as THEIR second language), the intention was to gain an appreciation of our differences rather than to judge and denigrate them.

I’ve always had an interest in doing Ancestry.com and/or DNA research to see what my genes reveal about my make-up.  I know on my mother’s side that we’re Italian, and I can even trace back through my great-grandparents their arrival (or their parents’ arrival) at Ellis Island.  My maternal grandmother’s mother, Petronella, came to New York as a young child from a place my family always called “Fooj” but I have so far been unable to find it on a map.  She never did learn to speak English; I remember teasing her (she passed away in 1990 at the age of 102, and I was the oldest great-grandchild, so I was fortunate to be able to know her pretty well when I was a kid) for the way she said “pock-a-book” and “ice-a-box”.  (I also remember, with vivid clarity, spending an afternoon in the Bensonhurst apartment she shared with my bachelor Uncle Frank, and drawing a picture of her – I must have been no more than 4 – that she tore up in anger because I put in too many wrinkles.  It damaged my artistic confidence for life!!)

But my father’s side is awash in mystery.  My paternal grandmother, Mary Weiss (or perhaps it was Weitz),  was Hungarian.  I think I remember that she and her two sisters came over as children, but I may be confusing the reality with a photo I saw of three Hungarian sisters, shell-shocked and sad-faced, with their battered suitcase on the docks of New York City.  My father’s father, and his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father before him, all died before the age of 50 (as did my father), so their genealogy has been difficult to trace.  They might have come from Austria or somewhere in Germany, and their last name was almost certainly NOT “Lucas”.  My father always used to joke that he was Romany – a gypsy – and had magical powers of clairvoyance and the ability to curse people who did him wrong, but I’ll probably never know for sure.

But my point is this:  BASICALLY ALL AMERICANS ARE IMMIGRANTS.  And every new wave of immigrants brings something unique and interesting to the fabric of American life.  Although their reasons for coming may be diverse, there is one thing they all have in common:  They believe that life will be better here, that there will be opportunity for growth and prosperity here, for their children and their children’s children.  Immigrants generally don’t come here with the intention of going back to where they came from, and some of them are physically unable to do so.  But all this anti-immigrant sentiment, fomented by Trump and his supporters, is ridiculous and, frankly, anti-American.  As the Sam Cooke song goes, “Don’t know much about history,” but I do know this:  Immigrants have always been, and should always be, a vital and valued part of this nation, which in this regard, at least, is already pretty great.  Our forebears came here with the same hopes and dreams, whether one or two or ten generations ago.

* * *

My good friend Sue ruins things for me.  By virtue of her thoughtful and extremely generous gift-giving, she has destroyed Broadway musicals (thanks to a third-row seat to see “Tommy”, where we were so close we were peppered with flecks of Michael Cerveris’ spittle) and Rangers games at Madison Square Garden (where not only did we sit in the first row behind the penalty boxes but we also witnessed the most exciting game I’ve ever seen in person, with the Rangers coming from four goals down to win in overtime).  And now she has ruined music concerts (although, as you may recall, I already have mixed feelings about live music:  see “Real Live Music”, 3/16/16).

For my most recent birthday, she got us tickets to see ’80s goth icon Peter Murphy at City Winery.  The concert was this past Sunday night, and it was remarkable, and I will never EVER be able to enjoy a live music venue again unless I am sitting as close, and unless I have the level of interaction with the artist, as I did for the Peter Murphy show.

First we had a yummy dinner at Tinys and the Bar Upstairs (of which King Henrik Lundqvist is part-owner), and then we walked through Tribeca in a light first-of-the-season snowfall to get to City Winery in Soho.  I had never been to City Winery before, although Sue had, so I had no idea what to expect.  Long rows of tables radiated out from the small stage, the height of which was basically at the top of the tables.  The host took us to our seats – one four-man table in from the stage!!  Literally the width of two large humans away!!  It was like we were practically on the stage.  We saw everything in fine detail:  Murphy himself, thin and regal, high cheekbones in shadowed relief, stalking the proscenium – almost stumbling a couple of times over various pieces of audio equipment  – and leaning out over the edge of the stage.  His bassist/electric violinist, Emilio “Zef” China, all in black, his face outlined by sinewy strands of hair escaping from his man bun, kept up a masterful drone; his guitarist, John Andrews, with his wide bandanna and samurai-style ponytail, effortlessly provided the lead.

The sound level was a tad loud, being that close, but we soon became accustomed to it.  At the tail end of a long worldwide tour, Murphy’s deep golden baritone was a little raw at times, but he still sounded fantastic, especially on the bone-buzzing low notes.  But the absolute highlight – maybe of my musical life – came when he was singing a shimmering acoustic song, stripped of any ambient sound other than Murphy’s and John Andrews’ guitars, with which I was not familiar called “Strange Kind of Love”.  While he was singing the dreamy lyrics (including “Perfect taste choice and meaning/A look into your eyes”), I was absolutely mesmerized, but then I could swear he started looking RIGHT AT ME.  You know that sensation?  You can FEEL it – it almost makes you a little giddy – when someone looks straight at you like that.  At first I thought he must be looking at the woman behind me, who had earlier called out some semi-inappropriate and slightly suggestive exclamations; while I didn’t get a good look at her I knew she was wearing a spaghetti-strap top and leather pants and without a doubt was more attractive than I am.  But because I had that feeling that it was actually ME he was looking at, I smiled.  AND HE SMILED BACK.  I felt a little shiver but kind of shrugged it off.  Why would he be looking at ME?

A few moments later, he looked at me again, longer this time, and I cracked another smile, and he smiled back again.  At that point, I KNEW he had been looking at me all along.  The second smile in particular was quite charming and made me feel all warm inside.  I also realized that other people must have seen him looking at me (well, at SOMEONE), too.  When I asked Sue about it afterward, she said it seemed like he had been looking at me, although the girl behind me was probably equally certain that he had been looking at HER, but it was quite clear that he had been engaging with SOMEONE in the near audience.  When I explained to her about my smile test, she had to agree that, yes, indeed, it must have been me to whom he was singing that glorious song.

Perhaps he was thinking, “Let me mess with that chubby girl with the man hair and glasses sitting down front.  I bet she’s a little freaked out that I’m looking at her.”  Or maybe he just appreciated my rapturous expression while I was enjoying his gorgeous song in such close proximity to the artist.  Whatever it was, it was certainly a pinnacle of my musical lifetime experiences.

Of course I downloaded the song as soon as I got home (the studio version, although the live version was available – I wanted to best capture his impossibly pristine voice) and then I found the video, during which he stares intently into the camera with his piercing and colorized “indigo eyes,” right into your (MY) soul.  I must have watched it twenty times since Sunday night.

So of course I am wrecked for any future musical act, unless, of course, we can get the same (or dare I say even better?) seats and a dreamy singer decides to give me a thrill!!  THANKS A LOT, SUE!!  I can’t wait to see what other entertainment experience you can ruin for me!!

Brain Salad

There are too many jumbled thoughts running through my brain this week, so I’ll just chop them up like vegetables and serve them in a salad.

* * *

I think I may have come up with a (regrettably late) solution to the noise problem in my apartment:  rubber tile mats, 2-foot squares like puzzle pieces that I can mix and match and make into whatever configuration I need for this oddly shaped apartment.  It only cost me $100 and I can actually re-use them once I’m out of here and back in my own house.

There’s been progress on that front as well:  My house was lowered onto the foundation today!  There is an enormous amount of work still to be done – in fact, the entire back third of my house, including the roof, have to be rebuilt from scratch.  The floor supports for the surviving section of the house were like spaghetti, going in every direction, so the contractor has to make everything more uniform and up to code.  They’ll hopefully start the framing this week.  They keep telling me that, now that the house is down, “it moves fast” (an actual quote from my contractor today).  This remains to be seen.

img_0790

The house is down!

It also remains to be seen if I’ll have the money to cover it all before getting my final payment from the New York State grant, which won’t come until after the work is completed and inspected.  My financial advisor has loosened up some funds from “65-year-old Nancy” (as he refers to my retirement account), because getting my house in livable, FEMA-compliant and partially brand new condition is an investment that 65-year-old Nancy will surely benefit from in the end.

* * *

Talking about money always makes me a little sick to my stomach.  Speaking of which, my gut was in knots watching that debate on Sunday night.  Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth, I want to vomit.  And what comes out of his mouth is nothing but word diarrhea, empty drivel, meaningless, unsupported bullshit (excuse my French).  And yet an inordinate number of people – well, the media, anyway – came out of that debate saying that Trump had held his own, or stopped the bleeding, or actually “won” the first 30 minutes (which is also what they said after the first debate).  I DID NOT SEE IT.  True, I am predisposed to think of him as an ignoramus and anything he says as nonsense, but even reading the transcripts afterward, I could not get over the fact that (a) the man cannot put together a full sentence, (b) he repeats himself incessantly (how many times did he call something a “disaster”?) and, worst of all, (c) he makes statements as if they were true and fellow idiots immediately believe him, despite most of what he says being “fact-checked” into oblivion.  He’s a vainglorious, narcissistic, entitled pig man, and how ANYONE could want him to be the foremost face of our country is utterly beyond me.

This becomes especially apparent after reading an article entitled “The way ahead” in The Economist earlier this week written by our current president, the polar opposite of Donald Trump in every way.  [Barack Obama, “The way ahead”, The Economist, 10/8/16, http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21708216-americas-president-writes-us-about-four-crucial-areas-unfinished-business-economic ].  I’ve spoken in this blog before about my admiration for President Obama, and I continue to believe that he has been the greatest president in my lifetime.  [See “OK POLITICS”, 6/30/15.]  A fantastic quote from this impressive piece:  “America’s political system can be frustrating.  Believe me, I know,” which is a really polite way to say he has done everything in his power to rise above the obstructionist Congress that has made its prime objective to reject everything the President – OUR President – proposes, to the point where they are not doing the jobs for which they were elected and entrusted by the public to do.  And despite that, gains have undoubtedly been made over the past eight years in our evolution as a nation and as a species.  We certainly don’t want to start going backwards now.

The other thing that really troubles me about this election, though, is how vilified Hillary has been.  This is a woman who has devoted her LIFE to public service, who puts herself out there to be slammed and insulted on a daily basis because she wants to make a positive difference in the world.  She may be politically ambitious, but what’s wrong with that, really?  Such ambition would be – and usually is – lauded in a man candidate.  She may have learned, through her decades on the fringes and later at the epicenter of the political world, how to spin her statements so that they sway folks her way – again, as all politicians worth their salt do.  And yet she is portrayed as a liar and a sneak and a crook.  She is a flawed human being, as are we all, but she deserves more respect than she is given.  It boggles my mind when I hear people say that they equally abhor BOTH candidates.  No matter how much you may dislike Hillary, she is the only QUALIFIED candidate in the race, and that alone should be enough to elect her over her opponent. And right now, they’re the only two choices we have (apologies to Jill Stein and Gary Johnson).

I personally believe she will make a good first woman president (and I’ve said so before; see “I Don’t Know If I Can Take Five More Months of This”, 6/1/16).  And you know what else?  In a weird way, I actually think Ivanka Trump, after going through this whole maelstrom with her father, might make a very good future candidate for president, once Hillary opens that door for her and every other female for whom the loftiest of political goals will now be achievable.  I wonder if Ivanka’s good looks would help or hurt her, though.  I suspect it would be the former, given that we are a sexist society that objectifies and belittles women and doesn’t give them the credit they deserve (although one can only hope that will continue to change – I mean, women couldn’t even VOTE a mere hundred years ago).  For instance, consider House Speaker Paul Ryan’s response to Trump’s rude comments about the females he has man-handled:  He said women are to be “championed and revered”.  Well, that’s all well and good, but how about A FEMALE HUMAN BEING SHOULD BE TREATED WITH THE SAME RESPECT AS A MALE HUMAN BEING, NOTHING MORE AND NOTHING LESS?  That might have worked a little better, Paul.

* * *

Last night I had some weird physical feelings that propelled me into a “fear of dying” cycle.  In this instance, it was a severe lower backache, tummy troubles and a head full of cotton batting.  Flu?  Nah, I had a shot.  Sinus?  That would account for the fuzzy head, but not the back or the tummy.  New medication?  I was warned that it might cause stomach upset, so that could be the cause of that particular symptom.  Backache?  I went to the chiropractor on Saturday and have been sitting at my desk ever since – maybe something is out of alignment?  When I turned off the light to go to sleep, all these thoughts – and worse – swept through my head.  I woke up at 5 a.m. with a raging headache and required another visit to the porcelain throne, but by the time 9 a.m. rolled around, I was able to get out of bed reasonably pain free.  My back has started hurting again tonight (again, after spending most of my day at my computer), but my other ailments seem to have dissipated.

Whenever I have a pain or a weird bodily sensation, I feel a little like Dr. Gregory House, inventorying a whole litany of explanations (as evidenced by my thought process last night/this morning).  The thing I fear the most, though, is a heart attack, given that my father was killed by his sixth or seventh heart attack, on a racquetball court, at age 48, an age which I have long passed myself.  I also have chronic costochondritis, which starts in my back but radiates around to my front left rib cage, and of course my first thought is always, “This is it.”  I start having thoughts like, “When would I ever reach the point where I felt like I had to call 911 for myself?  Would I even be able to?  What would happen if I just died and no one found me for days?”  I heard last week about an ex-partner at my law firm, a woman in her mid-60s, a heavy smoker and alcoholic, who passed away alone in her apartment and wasn’t found for days.  I don’t want that to be me.  I really enjoy living on my own, but the one thing that scares me about it is dying alone and no one knowing about it.  I want to die in a hospital or hospice, in my 90s, surrounded by family and friends (and maybe a cat).

* * *

The title of this week’s post puts me in mind of a seminal ‘70s album in my collection, Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake & Palmer (which actually survived the flood).  The LP — with distinctive cover art by H.R. Giger – came with a tri-fold poster of handsome head shots of the three band members, and I cut it up and hung them on the wall of my college dorm, among the black-and-white photos of football, hockey and lacrosse players from the Trinity College teams that I nicked from the Trinity Tripod office.  They all looked great in those (pre-Photoshop) photos, but my favorite was Greg Lake.  (I even once hooked up with a guy solely because of his resemblance to Greg Lake.)  His former band, King Crimson, was also a constant presence on my college turntable.  So, in honor of Greg Lake, I give you my Top Ten Favorite Rock Guitarists.  (You might notice the absence of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, both of whom are inarguably virtuosos.  But they are not in MY top ten.  I tend to prefer a guitarist who makes the guitar sound like a voice singing, although I will acknowledge that Clapton played with George Harrison on the ultimate singing-guitar song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.)

In no particular order (apart from the top three):

  1. David Gilmour
  2. The late, great Randy Rhoads, stolen from us too soon (by his own recklessness, sadly)
  3. Mark Knopfler
  4. George Harrison
  5. Tony Iommi
  6. Brian May
  7. Mick Ronson
  8. Greg Lake
  9. Ritchie Blackmore
  10. Steve Miller

Honorable Mention:   Angus Young

This list is COMPLETELY personal to me, so I’d like to hear some other people’s favorites.  Leave them in the comments!!

Punk Thoughts

I finally finished reading an article in Rolling Stone about the Ramones that I started back in April in my dentist’s office.  [Mikal Gilmore, “The Curse of the Ramones”, Rolling Stone, April 21, 2016; the same issue also featured a list of “The 40 Greatest Punk Albums of All Times”, compiled by the RS staff, and number one was, of course, Ramones, by the Ramones (issued 1976)].  Coming from New York, I like to believe that I was one of the first kids to bring punk to the masses at preppy Trinity College.  That iconic Ramones album was pretty much ever-present on my turntable (along with Electric Warrior by T.Rex, which was always the first record I put on upon arriving back on campus).

IMG_0638

I loved those grungy kids from Forest Hills who played and sang genius three-chord, two-minute gems, highest possible energy from start to finish.  “Beat on the Brat” was one of my favorites (for the uninitiated, the lyrics are pretty much just, “Beat on the brat/Beat on the brat/Beat on the brat/With a baseball bat/Oh yeah”).  Joey Ramone sang with this weird and inimitable fake British accent and his voice would hitch on his “ohs” so they would come out like “uh-uh-oh”.  Back in New York for the summer, I actually caught them live a couple of times, including by myself at the Pastimes Pub, which was conveniently located across the street from the bar where I worked (the Copper Fox, which used to be the Witches’ Brew, which was where Ronald DeFeo, Jr., the infamous Amityville Horror murderer, used to hang out WAY before my time).  While I later gravitated more toward British punks like the Clash and the Sex Pistols, the Ramones were always my first punk loves (and, in fact, together with the New York Dolls, were heroes to many of the Brits who came soon afterward).  According to the article, and also Johnny Ramone’s autobiography, Commando – I haven’t yet read the bios of Dee Dee, Tommy or Joey, but I will – the band that came together as a literal (albeit mock) family of true misfits, that traveled and played together for decades, pretty much despised one another the whole damn time.

[An aside:  These days I find that I gravitate toward the biography section when I go to the library, and I’ve actually read some great music memoirs in the past year:  Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless:  My Life as a Pretender; Girl in a Band by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon; Anger Is An Energy by John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten).  I always love to read bios of creative folks, to learn about the “tipping point” when they went from struggling (punk) kid to successful (punk) artist.]

My second punk discovery phase occurred during my East Village days, when my new young boyfriend (21 at the time, despite my friend Wendy’s emphatically doubting statement, “He’s 21??  No one is really 21!!”) moved into my basement apartment with his extensive punk vinyl collection, ranging from British squads (I loved GBH most of all but was also fond of the Exploited) to Southern California punks (D.I. and D.R.I., Bad Brains, Black Flag, the Milkmen and the Circle Jerks, precursors of Green Day and Offspring and Rancid to follow).  I preferred the more melodic stuff, like the Buzzcocks and Bad Religion; Ian favored the thrash.  So when he announced he was starting a band (with an actually pretty clever name, the Diabolix), I strongly suggested that, given he didn’t know how to play the guitar AT ALL (although he managed to teach himself some basic chords), and his singing voice was, well, NOT a singing voice, he should follow the model of the Ramones and some of his more straight-ahead punk favorites – three chords, play them fast, sing loud, don’t worry about the monotone.  But Ian and his bandmates – a ragtag group that featured a loony man child named Lance on drums (with built-in groupies, his girlfriend Annette and her friend Harriet, who were big Robert Smith fans); a crazy guy named Tony on vocals following an experiment with a stinky kid with a righteous Mohawk whose name escapes me, who certainly looked (and smelled) the part but never showed up to rehearsals so he had to be replaced (and who Ian let sleep on my couch one weekend when I was away, which couch had to be sprayed and fumigated in the aftermath); a bass player named (I think) Larry who, in retrospect, reminds me now of a cross between Nick Jonas and Kyle Mooney from SNL, who actually had the most musical talent of them all; and a big moody ginger lead guitarist named Eric – were a tad more ambitious.  They attempted to write more sophisticated music rather than taking my advice to keep it simple, and actually built up a repertoire of about 5-7 songs.  They even managed to play a couple of gigs (including at CBGB).  Despite their initial enthusiasm, they were simply not cohesive enough to survive beyond a few months.

Recently, Ian was going through some old photos and posted a few Diabolix shots on Facebook.  These are from my personal collection.  The first was taken in my basement apartment on East 1st Street in front of a floor-to-ceiling OMNI Magazine poster I’d stolen from work.  And the other one is Ian and Tony, I believe on the stage at CBGB.  If nothing else in life, at least Ian can say he actually played on the stage at CBs!!

IMG_0631 (1)

Ian & Tony at CBGB

I often describe myself as an “old school punk”, and people seem to immediately know what I mean by that even if it’s less clear to me – I’ve just been saying it so long, it must mean SOMETHING!  Maybe it’s the tattoos or the fact that I dress and look out of the norm for a woman, especially a woman my age.  Maybe it’s because my background lacks a solid career path despite years and years of education.  I didn’t follow the road more traveled, not out of college and not since.  And yet mine is a quiet rebellion, unlike many punk icons who are loud to the point of unintelligibility.  I may not follow the piper, but I don’t make a big fuss about it.

Some of the punks I love have surprising depths.  Take, for example, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Tim Armstrong of Rancid, who are remarkably not related, even though they’re both from the Bay Area and they’re both amazing songwriters of the punk pantheon and beyond.  Billie Joe, of course, who grew up proudly singing show tunes, went on to write the Broadway musical “American Idiot”, which I never saw due to my dislike of ANY kind of Broadway show, but I might have actually tolerated that one because the music was so very good.  Tim Armstrong is a bit rougher around the edges, with his gravelly voice like he’s got a mouth full of broken teeth, but he too is a sought-after songwriter for artists as diverse as Pink and Jimmy Cliff (both of whom earned a Grammy performing his songs).  Dexter Holland, lead singer of the Offspring, is actually a doctoral student in molecular biology.  Henry Rollins is a brilliant poet, actor, activist and intense man of many opinions.  And all of them continue to thrive and serve as role models to the next generation of punks (because, inevitably, there will ALWAYS be punks).

Sadly, all of the Ramones are gone before their time, the epitome of “hope I die before I get old”, unlike Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, proto-punks of the highest order, who actually wrote and sang those words but who are still very much alive and kicking and who actually put on one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows in recent memory in 2010.

You can’t always tell a punk by its cover!

Semi-Genius

One of the favorite periods of my life was when I was in my late twenties.  I had just moved into Manhattan from Long Island, just returned to work at OMNI Magazine – more accurately, the fledgling OMNI Book Division – after my failed attempt at being a public school teacher, and I felt like my REAL life was just beginning.  So I needed to be in the place where everything was happening, to live on the edge of coolness, in this next phase of self-discovery.

My first year in NYC was spent in a two-bedroom sublet apartment on East 21st Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, next door to the NYPD 13th Precinct with its constant beeping of backing-up police vehicles.  I even had a view of the Empire State Building if you stood at just the right angle in front of my living room window.  I had also inherited a cat, Livvie, who was my first “pet project”.  Livvie lived on a table and two shelves in the kitchen and was petrified of most people.  She had been left behind by her unfeeling owner (a nonfiction writer of some repute who was a co-worker at OMNI) and had allegedly watched her sister jump (or be pushed?) to her death out the kitchen window, not to mention that my two cats also mercilessly tormented her from the moment we had moved in.  (Another story for another day.)  After that first year was up, I had to get a place of my own, so I found a basement studio on East 1st Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues.  I had started spending quite a bit of time in the East Village during my year on 21st Street, primarily with a diminutive Englishman named Clive, or perhaps Lane, or some other entirely different name – he was a bit of an enigma and fodder for a blog post all his own, but today is not the day for a blog post about Clive.  Today is the day for a blog post about another fellow I met during my years in the East Village who was the lead singer, songwriter and all-around creative force behind seminal Oi! band (more on that in a moment) The Press named André Schlesinger.

I always likened André’s physique to a turtle, hunchbacked with his neck slightly retracted, usually scowling, pale and freckled and gingery, although he always kept his hair close-cropped.  He was, in fact, the local figurehead of the East Village chapter of S.H.A.R.P. – Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.  Back in the ’80s, there was a cohort of kids who shared the look of the right-wing, Nazi-influenced British and American skinheads, with their Doc Martens and Fred Perry shirts and suspenders, but didn’t brook with the hard right politics – ergo, S.H.A.R.P.  In fact, these anti-skinhead skinheads felt strongly that it was THEIR look and music that had been appropriated by the racist skinheads.  The genre of music they favored was commonly called “Oi!”, after the mostly British (but American commandeered) all-purpose exclamation, “Oi!” as derived from footie fan chants in the U.K.  As André himself described it, “Oi! shares many similarities with folk music, besides its often simple musical structure; quaint in some respects and crude in others, not to mention brutally honest, it usually tells a story based in truth.”  [quoted in Wikipedia entry for “Oi!” from Ian Glasper, Burning Britain (London: Cherry Red, (2004)), p. 282.] [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oi!]

André always used to say he wore his musical influences on his sleeve, and those were easy to identify:  the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Blitz, Cock Sparrer, the Four Skins, Cockney Rejects, etc.  And the Press’ songs, while certainly catchy, were a tad derivative.  His lyrics, though, were sharper than most, and he always carried around a beat-up composition notebook full of sketches and bits of brutal, beautiful poetry.  One of my favorite lines comes from a song called “Just Another Warning” that actually appeared on a compilation album featuring NYC punk and ska bands:  “You never have an answer/But you’ve always got something to say.” Perfect, right?  We all know someone like that.  His words were angry and sardonic and yet smart and funny at the same time.  I called him a semi-genius, a moniker he pooh-poohed but secretly liked.  I always imagined that he would be famous.  In fact, Boston punks the Dropkick Murphys did cover one of his more iconic songs, “21 Guitar Salute”.

André was such a presence in my East Village years.  So many heated conversations about music and politics, spiritualism and art!  André had many opinions, but as a conversationalist he was either silent and seething, hunched antisocially over a domestic beer in a corner of the bar in one of his regular haunts, Downtown Beirut or the Horseshoe Bar (aka Vazacs) at the corner of East 7th Street and Avenue  B, or impossibly garrulous.  I relished those nights when he was on one of his rants; I was transfixed and amused.  And there were so many Press shows, where I would get as close to the front of the stage as I could, often narrowly avoiding getting smacked in the head when he swung his microphone like a lasso, one of his few on-stage mannerisms together with his patter, alternating gracious thanks with “screw you” growls toward “you know who you are”s in the audience.

Someday I hope to write about those years in the Village in the late ‘80s, around the time of the Tompkins Square riots, when the area was gentrifying at a dizzying pace and the cachet of the neighborhood as the birthplace of punk, with CBGB at its epicenter, had long faded, leaving nothing there but wannabes (even though it was rumored that Joey Ramone maintained an apartment in the Christodora House on Avenue B, and he often popped up at local clubs, but I never managed to see him).  André was kind of a victim of that shift:  He was talented, without a doubt, with a significant following (not just the S.H.A.R.P. boys), but the record companies weren’t scouring the bars and clubs of the East Village for the “next big thing” anymore.  By that time, at the end of the 1980s, the “next big thing” interest had already shifted to the West Coast, from Green Day and the Offspring in Southern California to Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the Pacific Northwest (and their respective ilk).  Fortunately, my journals from that time are pretty intact (although I did lose a few to the flood), so my memories may yet see the light of day, especially now that I’ve begun loosening up my writing muscles via this blog.

So, sadly, The Press never became the “it” band to make it out of the East Village, much like the Strokes did about a decade later, when NYC was hip again and the East Village had morphed into the Lower East Side (and the TRULY hip were leaving for Williamsburg and Greenpoint).  André descended into darkness – literally.  He became a reverend in the Church of Satan, but much like his ironic appropriation of skinhead style in an anti-racist role, so was his Satanism never meant to harm but only to view life from a different, more authentic perspective than the tenets offered by organized (and oppressive) Christianity.  (Well, that’s not ENTIRELY true – much of his motivation was to cause harm to those who had done him wrong, I’m not gonna lie.)  But in general, his was a kinder, gentler Satan worship, more along the lines of Aleister Crowley, Satanist to the Stars back in his day.

A few weeks ago my ex (for whom André had a deep fondness, like a little brother) said that he had seen something online that made him think that André had died.  Ian and I both followed the FaceBook page of his current band, Maninblack, and I had even downloaded a couple of his recent singles – “Two Thousand Fifteen” (“There is no scene in 20-15”) and a paean to his home called “The NYC (There Will Always Be”), which featured a recording of actual NYC subway announcements – but there hadn’t been much new activity, so it kind of made sense.  It took me a while, but I finally did some Googling and, sure enough, André had passed away in February of 2016.  As described in an “in memoriam” piece by one of his friends, Peter H. Gilmore, self-described High Priest of the Church of Satan,  “The quintessential curmudgeon, the ultra-meanie of alt.satanism, the force behind The Press and MANINBLACK, Reverend André Peter Schlesinger of the Church of Satan was a man who lived life on his own terms, without compromise—ever.” [http://www.churchofsatan.com/in-memorium-reverend-andre-peter-schlesinger.php]  I also found a well-done article about André that even featured a video of a performance at Downtown Beirut II from around 1988-89 for which, in all likelihood, I was working behind the bar.  [Freddy Alva, “21-Guitar Salute:  André Schlesinger from The Press”, No Echo website, 2/17/16, http://www.noecho.net/features/21-guitar-salute-andre-schlesinger-from-the-press.%5D

I hadn’t seen the man in over a decade – I think the last time was way back in maybe 2000, before my friend Sue met her husband and got married.  The reason I remember the timing that way is because we had him do a Tarot reading for her at the West Village occult bookshop called the Magickal Childe where he was working at the time.  He was in a very rotund phase – he put me in mind of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now – but his steely blue eyes were still wounded, his scowl still intense.  In retrospect, his reading was surprisingly accurate:  He said she was going to meet and marry a man with two kids, which she eventually did, and, as I recall, he also said it would not end well, which remains to be seen.

But when I thought of him, when I saw someone who reminded me of him or one of his songs came on my iPod, I always liked to think he was out there somewhere, still creating his clever, angry music and writing his tortured poetry, lusting after a whole new generation of Christina Applegate-lookalikes.  André always loved Christina Applegate, circa “Married With Children” era.  I was just wondering the other day whatever happened to her – I think she struggled with cancer a couple of years ago – and then this week, as I was contemplating writing this post, she popped up on “Jimmy Kimmel”, sort of out of the blue.  I took it as yet another sign that it was time to honor my friend.  I hope you can rest in peace wherever you are, André, because you carried so much turmoil on this astral plane, although you managed to do it with just a touch of genius. 

Real Live Music

I have mixed feelings about live music versus studio albums.  Some live shows I’ve seen were memorable, but I could probably count those on one hand.  There was my favorite show EVER, which was at the Bitter End in NYC in 1995 to see Jeffrey Gaines with my friend Sue (who, not coincidentally, factors into many of my top music experiences, including a recent Squeeze acoustic show, where we kept getting whiffs of marijuana but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from because there didn’t seem to be any actual telltale SMOKE, and Nick Cave outdoors on a gorgeous summer evening in Prospect Park).  At the Bitter End, we had great seats, up near the stage.  I was about 8 months pregnant and, during his finale, a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, I openly wept, whether from the perfection of his voice and guitar, or the crowd gently singing the backing vocals, or raging hormones, but probably a combination of all of the above.

The last Bowie show I saw, a few summers ago at Nikon Theater at Jones Beach, was also an unforgettable one.  This amphitheater is in a completely unique location, on the shore of Zach’s Bay (“Field 5”, for all you Long Islanders), with the broad expanse of Jones Beach and the Atlantic Ocean in the background, going on seemingly forever.  There used to be an actual MOAT separating the stage and the audience, although in recent photos I’ve seen, it now appears to be covered over.  I remember when I was very young my family went to see a production of “The Sound of Music” there, and they would actually bring in actors and props on little barges via the moat.  On this particular summer’s day, it started out sunny and hot but just before Bowie took the stage, the gray clouds started moving in on the wide ocean horizon like churning waves, flecked by lightning strikes in the distance.  Then, inevitably, came the rain.  Bowie, ever the showman, was willing to continue, but for safety reasons the show was shut down two-thirds of the way through.

I’m pretty sure I remember seeing the Talking Heads and Graham Parker and Blondie (among others) at this airplane-hangar sized venue in Hartford when I was at Trinity College from 1977 through 1981, and Sue and I also saw “young” Squeeze at the Malibu nightclub here in Long Beach back in the early ‘80s.  We were at the Squeeze show so early that we actually chatted with Glenn Tillbrook, his mop of strawberry blonde hair hanging out the window of a car being driven around the empty parking lot hours before the doors opened for the show.  But aside from the historical significance of seeing early incarnations of now-classic artists (including my awe at seeing Tina Weymouth, pioneering chick bass player, kicking major rhythm section ass, especially on “Psycho Killer”), I don’t actually remember the concerts themselves.

We witnessed a ton of musical performances in the East Village circa 1990, because I was a bartender in a club, Downtown Beirut II on East Houston Street, that featured live music and was good friends with the guy who booked the gigs, Gene Perone.  Gene was the drummer in a band called Bad Tuna Experience that also featured our favorite green-haired bartender Caroline on lead vocals.  [An aside:  Gene was/is also a “personality” and comedian known as Buddy Flip, who I understand still tours and performs [http://www.buddyflip.com].  I did not know about his alter-ego when I, with my 3-year old daughter and future ex-husband, moved back to my mother’s house in Seaford, NY, from North Carolina in 1998.  One night I was watching TV and on came a commercial for a fun place to take the family out in Suffolk County, on Long Island, called White Post Farms.  It was an actual working farm, where you could pet and feed baby animals and go on hay rides, especially around Halloween.  The spokeperson on the commercial had a certain catchy patter, like, “Hey, kids, it’s your old pal Buddy Flip!”, and was wearing a cowboy hat and overalls, talking about all the fun you could have at White Post Farms.  I sensed something familiar about his voice, so I took a good look at the guy and shouted aloud, “THAT’S GENE!”  So of course I grabbed the closest 3-year-old and went to White Post Farms and there he was, standing on a stage getting ready to lead kids on a pumpkin hunt or some such activity.  We had a friendly little reunion, quickly realizing that we were already nearly ten years removed from our East Village heyday.  I’m glad to see he’s still doing his comedy thing.  I always found him to be a very entertaining and talented guy.]

CBGBs was experiencing the beginning of the end in those years, but as it was right around the corner from my basement apartment on East 1st Street, we went often and saw a wide range of musical acts, including my ex’s ragtag band, the Diabolix (not a particularly gifted bunch but I still think it was a pretty damn good band name) and my personal favorite band of the day, the Press, featuring Andre Schlesinger as the semi-dictatorial, semi-genius singer-songwriter.  Like Gene/Buddy, Andre is still following his muse as headman of ManinBlack [http://maninblack.org], producing typically dark and sardonic but also really clever and witty music.  I must say, though, one of my great disappointments is that we missed the prime creative years in the East Village.  During the time we lived there, the East Village and the Lower East Side were undergoing a gentrifying transition, and unfortunately there were no more Patti Smiths or David Johansens or even Ramones being discovered; out of all the bands we used to see during that time, no one ever made it big.  The music “scene” by then was shifting to the Pacific Northwest, where Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains and their grungy ilk would dominate the musical airwaves for the next decade.  We were, unfortunately, all gone by the time bands like the Strokes and Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made their appearances in the same LES vicinity later in the 1990s.

The East Village years could (and probably will) comprise an entire separate blog post, but my musical experiences there played a key role in my love/hate relationship with live music.  I was often able to get extremely up close and personal with the performers in those days in those hole-in-the-wall clubs, so now I’m ruined for huge crowds in large venues.  I just don’t see the appeal.  Of course tickets are obscenely expensive so my seats are usually not very good, and I’m short so there are always too many heads blocking my view.  The sound systems are also hit-or-miss:  They can be pristine (like at the Nick Cave show in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park that I heard but did not see thanks to the aforementioned heads) but more often than not they’re too loud and fuzzy and muddy.  (One time, back when I was in college, I went to a Ramones show and actually squeezed myself INTO the speaker, absorbing the sound – and Johnny Ramones’ sweat – like a sponge, after which I couldn’t hear for three days.)

Live concerts can certainly create a unique aural and visual atmosphere but, with very few exceptions, I rarely (if ever) listen to live albums.  I prefer a studio version of a song every time.  Although I can appreciate that there are emotional moments and vocal and instrumental nuances that create one-of-a-kind experiences at live shows, by definition, once that moment has been captured on video or audio, doesn’t it no longer qualify as one-of-a-kind?

But I’m such a music lover that there is nothing that gives me a thrill like being up close to musicians, hearing them sing without the use of the microphone and watching every pluck of the strings and bang on the drums (I confess, I’ve always had a thing for drummers).  So that is why I really enjoyed a performance last weekend of Four Way Street, a new CSNY cover band featuring a high school classmate of mine, Chris Cangeleri.  Chris also plays in a Bruce Springsteen cover band called Badlands, but I prefer CSNY to Springsteen so I saw Four Way Street first.  I may go to see Badlands next weekend, if I can manage to convince someone to come with me this time.  On this particular evening, I went to the Four-Way Street show alone, which didn’t bother me when the band was playing and I was actually able to stake out a prime viewing spot for myself.  But I felt a little awkward just standing around on my own when the band took a break after their first set, so I left early and missed their second set, during which I am sure they played my favorite song of theirs, “Wasted on the Way”.  But as evidenced in the photo below (I’m the little face in the glasses near the pillar to the left of the stage), a good, live musical performance can bring me great joy, even when I think no one is watching.

Nan transfixed by 4-Way Street

Tax-Inspired Stream of Consciousness (and Another Top Ten List)

Went to my accountant to figure out my 2015 taxes today.  I’m in a monetary quandary:  I make too much money to qualify for things like subsidies for my health insurance or financial aid for my daughter’s college tuition, and yet I don’t make enough to cover all the expenses that I have to pay.  This means that I put myself in debt every month just to make ends meet, believing that somehow I will manage to come up with the shortfall and catch up with myself.  I’m sure my situation is not unique – in fact, I would venture to guess that it’s quite common for anyone who’s not in the magical “one percent”.  Don’t get me wrong:  I am extremely grateful for my employment arrangement (which, admittedly, is pretty darn cushy), because it enables me to earn a decent salary. But being dissatisfied with so many aspects of the work that I do (this is a broken-record complaint of mine; see “The Blizzard of 2016 and Some Thoughts about My Job”, 1/27/16, among others), I dream of the day when I can do something else for a living. Unfortunately, even if I could figure out what that “something else” might be, I’m quite certain that “something else” will not pay me nearly as much as I make now.  My annual meeting with my trusted family accountant (who has been my accountant for nearly 20 years, to whom I have sent everyone in my immediate family, and who affectionately told me, as we looked through my 6-inch-thick file, that I have a lot of “oddities” where my financial situation is concerned) at tax time always brings this troubling fiscal reality into focus.  But surprisingly, I don’t hate taxes as much as other people do because in recent years I’ve tended to get a refund, which turns out to be a nice windfall that is almost always earmarked well in advance of actually receiving it.

This year’s earmark will probably be my daughter’s summer internship.  It looks like she’s going to South Africa.  For a person who has believed, almost her entire life, that she wants to work with endangered African animals, a trip to Africa to actually work with endangered African animals seems to be in order, if for nothing else than to confirm that this is what she really wants to do and not some romantic notion.  But – surprise! – providing unpaid labor for a wildlife rehabilitation center on the other side of the world will actually cost Mommy Dearest upwards of $1,600, which covers room and board but does not include the hefty airfare.  And now she has the nerve to whine about the 15-hour flight!  (“You can always work with endangered African animals at the Bronx Zoo,” I helpfully suggested, the response to which was less than enthusiastic.)

It’s just as well that she’ll be gone for three weeks over the summer because, if all goes according to slow-moving plan, the menagerie and I will be moving to temporary digs for about six months beginning in April.  As of today, I am waiting to hear back from the realtor, the project manager and the general contractor, which doesn’t bode well for the progress of this project if I’m chasing them already and the gig hasn’t even started yet.  I am not optimistic, but I’ll just have to stay patient.  Raising my house has become a necessity, and a grant from New York State is paying for the bulk of it, so a half-year of inconvenience will be worth it in the end (I hope).  The value of my home will increase, potential flood damage from any future storms will be mitigated, and my long parking nightmare will finally be over!  I’ll be able to leave my house on weekends and go to places beyond “biking distance”.  I may even be able to invite people to visit!!  A year from now, my life will (theoretically) have improved exponentially.

But make no mistake:  There’s still a long, potentially frustrating period of my life to get through in the months ahead.  Who knows what they’ll find when they get my house up in the air?  My architect said, upon initial inspection from my crawl space, the floor beams of my house “look like spaghetti”, going in every which way.  What if there’s previously undetected termite damage or mold?  My biggest nightmare by far is that the entire house will simply collapse in on itself as they’re lifting it.  I wish I could just blink like “I Dream of Jeannie” and have it all be over, with my cute little bungalow eight feet up and a double carport underneath.

* * *

On that happy note, it’s time for another Nan’s Top Ten list, and this one is especially close to my heart:  My Top Ten Favorite Singers.  See, once upon a time, I used to be a singer myself.  I actually still have nearly perfect pitch, but I have no range whatsoever.  I basically am a one-octave singer, somewhere in the tenor/contralto spectrum.  And it’s been years since I actually read music so I don’t know if I would even be able to anymore – it’s kind of like losing a language.  But you can still hear me unabashedly belting out tunes in my car, and every once in awhile, if I have a little alcohol in me and a good song comes on, I might even sing in public!

But enough about me:  Without further ado, here are the ten singers whose vocal gifts I hold in highest esteem and, as a singer myself, can only envy:

  1. Andy Bell of Erasure – His voice, especially when multi-tracked, sounds like a choir of angels. I love every note that comes out of his mouth.  His latest project (in addition to Erasure’s 30th anniversary) is the second iteration of his one-man show featuring alter-ego Torsten, the polyamorous libertine.  I heard the first single from the project, “My Precious One”, the other day and it was, of course, delicious.

 

  1. Ali Campbell of UB40 – Not a classically beautiful instrument, but his fine raspy tenor is so appealing to my ears. I especially love his tone on “Kingston Town”.

 

  1. Bowie – Much has been said on this blog already about Bowie’s genius as a songwriter, performer and icon, but his voice may not get the credit it deserves. It is as chameleonic as his persona:  Anthony Newley-esque British cabaret singer, rock wailer, soulful crooner, anthemic belter, plaintive whiner (listen to “Running Gun Blues” on The Man Who Sold the World and you’ll know exactly what I mean) – the man could do it all.

 

  1. Iggy Pop – I love Iggy’s voice, so deep and rich and raw, even now. Post Pop Depression, his new project with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, is so tantalizing, especially after hearing the first single, “Gardenia”.

 

  1. Midge Ure – An under-appreciated Eighties chanteur, Ure was the soaring lead singer of Ultravox and Visage and co‑writer of the seasonally ubiquitous “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”.

 

  1. Ann Wilson – Half of the Heart sisters, she was my vocal idol when I was in college and imagined that I might possibly be worthy of singing in a band (I was wrong, of course, mostly due to my being a complete coward).

 

  1. Annie Lennox – Her voice in the ‘80s was magical, but now it’s even more nuanced and textured. Listen to what she does with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You”.

 

  1. Glenn Tilbrook – Taken on its own, his distinctive voice touched something deep inside me from the moment I heard the opening notes of “If I Didn’t Love You” (from Squeeze’s breakthrough record, Argybargy) back in college, but if possible it was made even better when meshed with the depths of Chris Difford’s basso profundo.  My friend Sue treated me to an Acoustic Squeeze performance back in December, featuring a stripped down Glenn and Chris doing all their hits and some songs from their latest album, which I have not yet discovered but it’s certainly on my list.  They were in very good voice that night and they really seemed to enjoy themselves, as we in the audience did as well.

 

  1. Bryan Ferry – The man is panty-dampening smoothness personified. He could sing the phone book and make it sound sexy.

 

  1. Johnette Napolitano – The soul of Concrete Blonde, her range and tone (especially on the lowest notes) are epic. Where have you gone, Johnette Napolitano?  I miss your voice.

 

Honorable mention goes to three “newbies”, all of whom have supremely impressive and wholly singular instruments:  Pink, Adele and Adam Lambert.  Adam Lambert is pretty damn special, folks.  I wish he would find his niche because I want him to get the attention and fame he deserves.  He was actually able to follow in the footsteps of Freddie Mercury (a man with an incredible voice, but not one of my personal favorites – perhaps because his voice is almost too perfect?) as lead singer of Queen on a recent tour.

[Post-script on a prior top ten list:  My Top Ten Perfect Pop Songs list (“A Hodgepodge and My First Top Ten List”, 9/23/15) admittedly omitted quite a few excellent songs, some of which were pointed out by my friend Carol Constantine, including the fantastic “No Matter What” by Badfinger (OMG, I LOVE that song, and amazingly I do not own it!!)  But two that should have made my list (which I might have to expand to a Top 20 list) are “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s and Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”.]