Listen to the music: Are we wide awake

24 02 2016

So I can’t listen to Supertramp because it takes me back to high school and I don’t wanna go back, but sometimes I get pulled back and it’s. . . okay?

I am not the first to contradict myself.

Anyway, Charlie Pierce linked to Nena so yes I clicked on it and yes, I enjoyed it. And even felt a bit wistful (as opposed to dread-ful) while listen-/watching.

Then I looked for ‘Soviet Snow‘ (couldn’t remember that it was Shona Laing) and I watched and listened to that as well.  (The vid is bit crowded; better just to listen.)

Then I wondered: why don’t I mind going back with this and not that?

And then I figured: because this is not that.

Supertramp was a part of my coming-to-music, and while I did listen to it through college, it’s very much anchored in that transition to adolescence, to making my way into high school.

The other music—post-punk? New Wave?—hooked me later in high school and carried me out.

That’s a little too neat, but I think that’s what happened. If Supertramp was about going deep—into the music, into myself—the new stuff was about getting out. MTV hit Sheb Falls at some point in the early 1980s, and for the first time I was exposed to music which wasn’t either album-oriented rock (which was my thing) or Top 40 (which was not). There was the Eurythmics and The Police and the B-52’s and the Violent Femmes, the Call and the Fall and the Clash and the Jam and none of it sounded like home and all of it sounded like somewhere else.

And, oh, by mid-high school I was ready for somewhere else.

So here I am, decades older, and even if I have landed in my ultimate Somewhere Else, I am still restless, still wondering what else is out there.


This is ourselves

12 01 2016

I was never a huge fan of David Bowie’s.

I mean, I liked his music, had a few records, and generally enjoyed his work, but I was never a super-fan, and never had a full-on Bowie fever.

So why am I so sad today? And why can’t I stop reading about him?


David Bowie is actually associated with one of my worst memories from high school.

I wanted to be the yearbook editor my senior year. I’d started working on the yearbook staff when I was a freshman (which frosh usually didn’t do), was generally acknowledged to be ‘the writer’ in my class (not that hard, really, in a class of 150), and fully expected that the adviser, Ms. G., would appoint me.

She did not.*

L. and T. were appointed instead, and I’d be pissed about it to this today had they not a) put together a kick-ass yearbook; and b) treated me really, really well, allowing me to contribute in all kinds of way. They were champs.

Anyway, my idea was to create a yearbook around the lyrics to “Changes”—which is how Bowie gets dragged into this bad memory.

I have no idea whether or not this would have worked: it could have been amazing, it could have sucked, it could have been Eh.

Woulda liked the chance to have found out.

(*She had her reasons, which were legit. Still. . . .)


I’ve said “Under Pressure” is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, but today I’ve read all kinds of pieces holding that song out as some kind of genius.

I don’t think it’s genius, but yeah, it is a good pop song, undeserving of the guilty-pleasure label.


One good thing that’s come from all this reading today is that I found, courtesy of the Huffington Post, a couple of videos of Bowie playing with Arcade Fire.

First I saw this one, one of Bowie’s songs:

Then one of Arcade Fire’s:

I like Arcade Fire’s cds just fine, but watching them live, man, I realllly want to see them live.

What it would have been like to see them live with Bowie.


I think the main reason I considered “Under Pressure” a guilty pleasure is that every time I hear it I tear up.

I cannot handle my own tears, cannot handle that I am moved to tears.


It’s kind of astonishing how amazing a singer Bowie was, given that he didn’t have much of a voice.

He’s not like Leonard Cohen, who can’t sing at all, but if I were asked for the best straight-up voices in pop, I wouldn’t name Bowie.

But oh, could he sing, so many different types of songs, with so many different types of singers. Some of these collaborations (Arcade Fire) work better than others (Mick Jagger), it wasn’t down to him.

Something about that thin reed, stretched across the universe.


“Space Oddity” reminds me of John Lennon. I don’t know why. Maybe I heard it while thinking about Lennon’s death.

Or maybe it just reminds me of high school.

It’s not every time I hear the song I’m reeled back, but sometimes, sometimes I’m in the parking lot at Sheboygan Falls High School, Bowie on the car radio, singing And I’m sitting in my tin can. . . .


“Under Pressure” is about love, after all.

And love, I don’t know what to do with love.

Thus my chagrin over my tears, my chagrin over love.


And all of the work he’s done, all of the chances he took, all he gave and all he withheld, all he hid and all he revealed.

David Bowie, 1947-2016, was a Starman, a man who fell to earth, an alien, an artist, but most of all, most of all, David Bowie was a human being.

I’d like to stay and taste my first champagne

30 12 2010

The hills are quiet.

Agathe von Trapp, eldest daughter of George Ritter von Trapp, stepdaughter to Maria Augusta Kutschera, older sister to 9 siblings, companion to  Mary Louise Kane, died Tuesday at the age of 97.

Her alter ego, of course, was Liesl, memorably played by Charmian Carr from the 1965 version of The Sound of Music.

Here’s her signature scene from the movie (skip ahead to the :30 mark)

I never liked Rolf, even before I knew what Nazis were—he was a smug prig. And, of course, a Nazi. (I don’t even much like this scene—those lyrics!—but it would be a cheat not to show this.)

Agathe was not Liesl, and The Sound of Music was not a documentary; it also just possible that life was not as idyllic for the von Trapp children as was suggested by the movie.

I don’t care.

I love The Sound of Music. Love love love.

I saw it for the first time when I was around 6; it was playing at a cinema in Sheboygan, and my mom and grandma took my sister and me to see it. I was opposed going in—a musical? where they’ll be singing the whole time? how awful!—but boy oh boy was I a convert coming out.

Mountains! Singing! Adventure! A lake in the backyard! Julie Andrews! Bad guys! Escape from bad guys! Mountains!

Really, what’s not to love?

What cemented this adoration, however, was my role in my high school’s production of the musical. K. was Maria, M. was the Baroness, and I (eek!), I got my first speaking role as Brigitta, the daughter who makes her entrance reading a book.

(This matters because one night F. (Liesl) and T. (Louisa) and I went out for a little pre-rehearsal nip. By the time we made it to the auditorium, we we all roaring drunk—F., the driver, the drunkest of all. I was lucky in not having to march and march and march and hold the line, but even when I did finally make my entrance and take my place in line, I had difficulty (as did F. and T.) remaining erect. Some time later (and while rehearsing a different scene) F. was ordered off the stage by the D.-the-director, and when she refused to leave—screaming “I”m not drunk!”—D. high-heeled her way up to the stage and threw her off. T. and I thought it best to leave the auditorium at this point.)

I had a ball in this play, and not just because of the drinking. Play rehearsal was 6-10 MTTh, and after school until 6 on Wednesdays; as the opening approached, we had Friday night and Saturday rehearsals as well. All that time together, on stage and down front and in the green room and the wings and hallways and on the catwalk and in the way back of the auditorium, it was cozy and liberating all at the same time. The whole place was ours.

M. and I were already friends, but K. and I became quite close, as I did with F. and T. Since all of them were older than me, we didn’t have much to do with one another during the school-day, but the intimacy of the shared work remained. Almost all of us in the cast were theatre kids, weird, slightly disreputable (well, except for K., who was unimpeachable), and if we didn’t swagger like jocks, we did delight in our performing selves.

It was a wonderful time. Not perfect (see: F. getting tossed from the stage), and not without the drama of both adolescence and the high school theatre scene, but oh, we were all so alive, so willing to give ourselves wholly over to this production, and to one another.

I can’t live like that, not all the time, and maybe, now, not at all. But I’m glad I was there, I’m glad that it’s all still with me.

So Agathe, even though The Sound of Music was only barely your story, still, thank you, and rest in peace.

Fool’s overture

19 07 2010

Oh my god, is that who I think it is?

That stutter of chords, fanning out across the guitar strings, repeated, then a side-step into another flutter of chords. And now, that high reed of a voice. . . no.

A cover.

Strangely, I was disappointed. I didn’t particularly want to hear the song, but if Planet Fitness radio is going to play it, then play the real goddamned thing.

Faux Supertramp is unacceptable.

Not that I can listen to the real Supertramp, but at least with Roger and the boys, I know what I’m getting.

(I have no idea about the images, but this is the only actual Supertramp version I could find in my, uh, 3 minutes of searching YouTube.)

I sometimes listen to vids after I post them—I watched the Lena Horne interview a couple of times—but I won’t listen to this.

Takes me back. . . to where I don’t particularly care to go.

My older sister brought home Even in the Quietest Moments some time before I was in junior high, and by eighth grade I almost certainly listened to that album more than she did. ‘Give a Little Bit’ opened up side 1, and side 2 ended with the long mashup that is ‘Fool’s Overture’.

I loved it, beginning to end, unreservedly and unashamedly. When Breakfast in America and the double-live Paris came out I scooped those up, then went back and sussed out Crisis? What Crisis?, Crime of the Century, Indelibly Stamped, and their eponymous debut. (The latter two didn’t get much time on my turntable, and Stamped, which featured a naked woman’s tattooed torso embarrassed my teenaged self.) I stayed with them through Famous Last Words—Roger Hodgson’s last gig with the band, but didn’t let up until I was in college, and knew that Brother Where You Bound was the last Supertramp album I would ever buy.

Six years of intense devotion; it wasn’t a bad run.

I almost certainly still listened to them in college, but I don’t really remember that. And when I sold or gave away my albums prior to my 1993 desert sojourn, I knew that I would never own Supertramp in cd form.

I’m no longer embarrassed by women’s breasts (which, given my ownership of a pair, is probably a good thing), and even all these years later, when I don’t want to listen to one  Supertramp song and two is out of the question, I can’t quite be embarrassed by my former ardor, either.

I was just about to write something snarky about the band, but, honestly, I can’t. You can, if you like—there is much eye-rolling to be done when it comes to Supertramp—but given how much I loved them, how they carried me out of my childhood and angsted right along with me in my teenaged years, it seems like bad faith for me to slag on them now.

I don’t love them now, but I did, once, and even if—or, perhaps, because—I no longer love any band (or any thing) the way I loved Supertramp, it seems a kind of betrayal both to my young self and to that love to repudiate them.

They weren’t the only band I listened to, of course, and when MTV hit SmallTown in the early 80s, a whole genre of music which the album-oriented rock of the Milwaukee stations never played suddenly chipped its way into my consciousness: the Police, the B-52’s (back when they still had the apostrophe), the Eurythmics, the Call, the Fall, the Clash, the Jam and on and on. I didn’t like them all, but to have the world open beyond Kansas or Boston—well, MTV in the early days performed a public service to us SmallTown kids who didn’t live close enough to catch the college radio stations.

By the summer after my sophomore year I was slam-dancing to the Violent Femmes at the Peaches stage at Summerfest, and when the LP played their 3 song ‘alternative’ rotation of the B-52’s (Rock Lobster), the Femmes (Gone Daddy Gone) and Surf Punks (Shark Attack), I was out whipping my skinny little body around that almost-empty dance floor.

A slightly-older co-worker at the local health club introduced me to Pat Metheny, and my theatre buddies to Manhattan Transfer, Frank Sinatra, and anything else that wasn’t, well, album-oriented rock played out of the Milwaukee stations.

So while I took Supertramp with me to college, I was already heading away from the songs which cocooned me and toward those that smacked me in the face, upside the head, and out into the headwinds.

I haven’t missed them in the fifteen or twenty years since I stopped listening, and I don’t think I ever will.

But they were a part of me, and they’re at the heart of one of the best things anyone has ever done for me:

Supertramp’s final tour with Roger Hodgson stopped at Alpine Valley, a mass-seating concert venue somewhere west of Milwaukee. I couldn’t afford one of the few hundred reserved spots, but I damned sure made sure that we got as close in as general seating allowed.

(General seating: the stage at Alpine Valley was situated near the bottom of a hill; the reserved seats were covered, and rising behind them, a vast slope of green. You’d get to Alpine Valley early in the day, set out your blanket and cooler in line if wanted to be first-ish in, or just in the gravel parking lot if you wanted to, I don’t know, hang out near your car. At some point they’d announce they would shortly open the gates, at which point you grabbed your shit and scrambled up into the crowd—which would, inevitably, start mooing—and pressed and pressed until they opened the spigot and you popped through the turnstiles and ran as fast as you dared down the hill to claim a spot.)

We did pretty good getting far down the hill at the Supertramp show, but as I was as short then as I am now, when the crowd stood up for the first song, I couldn’t see a damned thing.

That’s when the best-thing happened: JK, who didn’t come with us and wasn’t a part of my regular crowd, came over to me. Get on my shoulders, she said.


I know you love Supertramp. Get on my shoulders.

JK was not a big girl, but she was strong, and she hoisted me up and bounced with me through that whole opening song.

What a magnificent thing to offer someone who’s not, really, even your friend.

I don’t remember what the opener was, and I haven’t seen JK since high school graduation, but as long as I can remember her I will.

So, you see, to turn my back on Supertramp is to turn my back on that passion and is to turn my back on this great, good deed that JK did for me.

She deserves better. And, what the hell, so do I.