Thursday, May 31, 2012

She Said Just Be Nice To The Gentlemen, Fancy, They'll Be Nice To You: Story Songs!

In continuing my recent efforts to turn outward, I have found myself attracted to the Story Song.

(you know, those with a defined setting and characters and a plot arc and [usually] an AWESOME narrator)

Here are two that satisfy these requirements in spades, particularly the AWESOME NARRATOR part.

sing along, pump your fist, rejoice at the triumphs of Patches and Fancy, forget your troubles in theirs

The song: Clarence Carter, "Patches"; 1970

The song: Reba McEntire, "Fancy"; 1990 (or listen to the 1969 Bobbie Gentry [also very good, a little lounge-ier, a little less heart-wrenching] original)

There are very few ills that that chk-chk-chk in "Patches", or Reba McEntire punching the line I may have been born just plain white trash, but Fancy was my NAME, can't cure.


Monday, May 28, 2012

It's Always Been the Same, Same Old Story: To the Revolution!

(Given the subject matter of this song and given that my parents just left from a weekend visit to my town, this might be taken as some kind of commentary on our relationship. But FEAR NOT, PARENTS. It is not.)

Here's why my parents shouldn't worry: I like this song because it doesn't reflect on my life in the slightest.

These past two weeks I have had somewhat of an excess of soul, soulfulness if you will, and have been actively trying not to let my thoughts turn to the subjects of love and romance.

The problem is this is nearly impossible to balance with a habit of pop music.

This song was originally written by Cat Stevens as part of a conceived musical called Revolussia (please believe me; I can't make this stuff up) to describe an argument between a father and a son wherein the son wants to go to fight in the Russian revolution and the father tries to convince him to stay.

The musical never got off the ground but this song was released as a single in the early days of Cat Stevens' fame, with him singing both parts of the duet and (I personally think) doing so with COMPLETE mastery.

But when you listen to the song you don't know that it is a duet until Stevens comes in on the second verse and the guitar picks up sharply; this moment gets me, has always gotten me, and has nothing to do with my own personal problems of love.

Pop music encourages the listener to turn inward. This can be productive. But occasionally turning inward leads to nothing but trouble, to obsession, and that's when -- I now realize, somewhat -- it's time to turn outward, to the things in this world that are beautiful and interesting and compelling and that are NOT you or anyone you will ever know.

The song: Cat Stevens,  "Father and Son"; 1970
The moment: 1:25

I am going to hand things over to YouTube commenter LeadMineGal to take us out:

It's almost like he can see inside my head and know my thoughts.

I've loved this song since the first time I heard it.

I don't care who he is or what he is into - he knows what it is to be truly HUMAN - and that's all it's ever really about, isn't it?

That's all it's ever really about, isn't it?


Saturday, May 19, 2012

You Cry And Moan And Say It Will Work Out But Honey Child I've Got My Doubts: Sentimental Reminiscence

I wrote a thesis.

I don't talk about it much.

It was a collection of short stories told from the alternating points of view of two women living in a town in Central Washington called Wenatchee.

I've never been to Wenatchee, never even been to Central Washington, but growing up in Oregon I spent a fair amount of time in both the Central and Eastern regions there and I loved it, I still do.

So when I happened to read about the place, a city surrounded by mountains on all sides and by things called "sagebrush steppes" and where there are blue skies 300 days a year but where it is still fertile enough to grow apples, to be rolling in them, to be called "the Apple Capital of the World"

it captured me, totally.

And it became this otherworldly place to me, but I knew there must be people living there who had lives and histories and it fascinated me to think of those people, to wonder if they themselves thought their town was extraordinary or if it was just the place where they lived.

And obviously then I came to realize that Wenatchee must mean different things to all of them and so the town slowly populated itself with women, mostley smart and mostly lonely and all with distinct patterns of movement to their lives,

but when I brought these stories in week after week to Warren Hecht, my writing teacher (who had the necessary quirks and the necessary charisma to be essentially a prophet in my eyes), what he said to me was

(Warren Hecht is a New York orthodox Jew-turned-hippie-turned-Catholic deacon, LL Bean turtleneck enthusiast, and watercolor artist who once when I asked him what he had done that weekend said i just went up to my cabin up north, man, and I just cooled out, painted a lot of watercolors, yknow I'm really interested in grey right now, man, like SHADES of GREY)

what he said was, what you're doing right now is writing a lot of stories, man, but what you need to be doing right now, right, is you need to be writing a thesis. so you just leave my office and come back when you have a thesis and then we'll talk about it.

So I left his office and then I went into hibernation and I wrote a thesis.

Of all the many fortunate things that have happened to me in my life, the fact that I knew Warren Hecht is probably my favorite. He was the best writing teacher I could ever have possibly had -- because he didn't teach me anything other than to read my stories out loud and edit the parts that sounded weird, because he didn't pretend there WAS anything to teach about how to write other than to try to live in a way that can give you something to reminisce about later.

I was in his introductory writing class when I wrote the very first story I was truly proud of, and I wrote it because in that session of his introductory writing class Warren Hecht did nothing but read a story very solemnly out loud. It was a story about peach trees.  He had a gravelly voice. And then when he finished he said "a lot of people think that for something to be a good story, something has to happen, right, like something really exciting. but a story can just be a sentimental reminiscence, you know, somebody telling you about something that just, you know, happened to them".

That first story I was proud of was called "Roll On, Columbia" and my thesis is called Northwest Passage.

I say these things right now not because they have anything to do with the song I am about to show you, but because I am beginning to have this feeling I need to get used to telling people things.


The song: The Stone Poneys, "Different Drum"; 1967

If you want to know what I think good writing is, I think this song is good writing. I wish I could quote every line and also I wish I could figure out how to write down the feeling Linda Ronstadt puts into that first "whooooooa".


Friday, May 18, 2012

Every Day is Feeling Like Friday, I'm Getting Paid And Doing It My Way: A Song For When

you just want to feel alive and thankful for the existence of good slow jams.

The song: John Legend, "Live It Up"; 2004

(Previous Legend: "Number One")


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Needle Has Landed Again: Let it Play

I am finally at an age and state of mental clarity wherein I feel like I am not living my life by blindly stumbling around in some kind of very large, very dark, very cluttered room.

(you know, one of the ones where you are almost guaranteed even under the best of circumstances to knock over some kind of rare porcelain music box or jam your toe into the impassive leg of a Very Old Very Heavy Piece of Furniture. like a grandma-place.)

So anyway, what I am saying is, I am sort of starting to feel like at least I might know where the major landmarks are, perhaps the larger bits of furniture, and maybe where the door is. Obviously there is still a lot to not knock over or stumble into, but I have a somewhat reasonable confidence that I will not cause grievous bodily harm to myself or to any other of my fellow occupants of this very large, very dark, very cluttered room of "life".

Well this metaphor is getting torturous. What I want to say is, at least now I know what I like.


I like steady and bright percussion, usually snare-y

I like voices that are expressive and bold and clear and beautiful

I like lyrics that address real human emotions without dipping into cliche or melodrama (or at least doing that dip well)

I like songs that use their own song-ness as a metaphor

I LOVE a good emotional crescendo

and I have loved this song since I first heard it when I was 18 and too dumb to know what "the needle" was:

The song: Neko Case, "The Needle Has Landed"; 2006
The moment: 0:59


Incidentally, I also love zeugma, which is a term I never would have learned if I had not dated a Classics major for a brief-but-painfully-bright time in my freshman year of college.

And what's crazy to me now is to think that I have loved Neko Case for so long that I loved her before I loved that guy, or any of the others.

That's what music does for people, it threads their life in an interesting fashion.

Let it play.


PS It is Tuesday and that means you can Turn It Up with me later this evening if you so choose. 3am-6am Eastern time, 88.3 FM or

Monday, May 14, 2012

They Say Losing Love Is Like A Window To Your Heart: I Got Out Of Bed And Onto Another Blog

Hello friends,

I am very pleased to say that today my writing can be found on the excellent blog of my friend Amy Sumerton and hopefully-soon-to-be-friend Annie Palmer. Mom and Not-Mom is a series of ruminations on life as a thirty-something woman by two very intelligent thirty-something women (which is to say, it is a worthwhile and edifying endeavor).

My piece concerns Paul Simon, Mother's Day, and the little pieces of life that may only seem meaningful in retrospect, and you can read it here: "On Going To Graceland"

Please enjoy.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Then I Won't Have To Be Playing Around: Quick Hits

Hit the first:

The Federal Trade Commission has strict rules for bloggers about disclosure and all that, so I must admit I've been remiss in that regard.

In Bed With Amy Wilson is brought to you with generous support from Amy Wilson's mom. In the form of an iTunes gift card and also, a pre-loved iPod that has become practically my closest friend.

In all cereal, I mention this not because the FTC cares (I am 100% sure they don't and that this doesn't actually count as a "sponsorship") but because TODAY, May 9, is Amy Wilson's mom's birthday. (Her actual name is Ronnie.)

Amy Wilson's mom is a wonderful lady who passed down to me many wonderful things, including the ability to tan easily, an affection for coffee-flavored anything, and a disposition toward 1960s folk music.

(And who would I be without those things??)

I love you Mom! Happy birthday!


Hit the second:

I played many songs last night on Turn It Up With Amy Wilson, most of them new to me! Although these had the racy zip of novelty, the one that has stuck with me through into today is a song I've known for a long time and never really appreciated until last night.

The song: Stevie Wonder, "If You Really Love Me"; 1971

Those tempo changes and his voice, man, they are getting me where I live today. Also, I don't know that I usually would turn to Stevie Wonder for life advice (but why not, now that I think about it), but I think this is almost certainly better life advice than in 95% of the love songs out there.

(Warning: this will probably get stuck in your head, in fact almost certainly, but it's not a bad day for that to happen.)


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Maybe I'm Headed Over The Hill, Maybe I've Set Myself Up For The Kill: Turn It Up With Amy Wilson

If you have enjoyed accompanying me these past few months on this ongoing odyssey of pop music and life,

I hope you will consider sometimes tuning in to my new radio show, Turn It Up With Amy Wilson, which is broadcast on WCBN-FM-Ann Arbor late Tuesday nights 3am-6am Eastern Daylight Time. You can listen to it at 88.3 FM with your old-fashioned radio or at with your new-fashioned radio.

Turn It Up with Amy Wilson has no particular theme or message, just the hope of sharing interesting music with anybody (un)fortunate enough to be awake at those unusual hours.


The song: Billy Joel, "I Go To Extremes"; 1989

Before I knew who Billy Joel was, before I knew who I was (these things are related somehow), I loved this song.

As an adult I understand that what Billy Joel finds "extreme" is probably, well, not. In another of this sub-genre, "You May Be Right", his examples of Extremely Crazy Behavior include walking to Bedford-Stuy alone and riding his motorcycle in the rain. (gasp!)

Because let's face it, Billy Joel is an anxious awkward Jewish nerd who wants to please almost as deeply as he wants to be taken seriously as a musician.

And what's remarkable to me about him is the lethal combination of his extraordinary clarity and honesty coupled with the lack of self-awareness that allows him to throw the full weight of pop music behind lines like "when you love someone, you're always insecure".

Obviously Billy Joel is one of those people for whom the world is just calibrated differently. And so when he says he goes to extremes, I believe him, although I know in reality his version of extreme is probably pretty moderate all things considered. His crazy is an anxious crazy, a self-directed crazy, a crazy that allows him to appear mostly normal but that obviously consumes him in some way.

But it just might be a lunatic you're looking for!


Turn It Up with Amy Wilson.

Because when it comes to music, the greatest endorsement we have as listeners is the volume knob. To turn it up is to say yes, I like this, I get this, I want to feel this more intensely. It's a compliment not only to the artist but to whoever you are physically with at the time--an invitation to abandon conversation and to share the visceral experience of good music.

The image that always comes to my mind is of a dive bar, a juke-box, and "Welcome To The Jungle" starts playing and some drunken asshole shouts "turn it UP!" and everyone rolls their eyes but they're secretly grateful because it's a dive bar, it's "Welcome to the Jungle", and it's probably more fun than whatever they were talking about at the time.

It's an excuse to enjoy. We probably shouldn't need that, but sometimes we do.

So I hope that sometime you will find yourself listening to my show. (It probably won't always be 3am-6am.) And I hope that if you like it, you will turn it up.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Sometimes the Rain, Groovin' When I Hear The Sound: Song and Sample

(hey there, no, I do not know how to parse that line in the title either.)

One of the great joys of living in our modern era is that it is a time of great musical experimentation and homage. Critics of modern pop music, particularly of hip-hop and R & B, will try to convince you that we've reached a totally unoriginal, soulless point in music because so many popular songs use samples of older songs. I disagree. Also I should note that by "critics of modern pop music" I mean "a random sample of YouTube commenters"--because I spend a fair amount of time on what one might call the "old music" YouTube circuit, I've noticed that infallibly at LEAST one person will feel compelled by whatever 70s jam we are watching to comment that music is SO crappy these days and THIS is real music.

The thing is, everybody feels that way about everything and has forever. That is one of the main lessons of history.

And music history in particular has so many loops and swirls and everyone influences each other and uses everyone else, but I think that is joyful because it is music, it is supposed to connect people across times and cultures.

LET's do it again. And again and again.


The song: The Staples Singers and Curtis Mayfield, "Let's Do It Again"; 1975

The song: John Legend ft Kanye West, "Number One" (samples "Let's Do It Again"); 2004

(On a lyrical note, how wonderful/awful is that song?? Do I agree with the moral component inherent in a song that is basically saying Yes I cheat on you baby, but I am really good at cheating on you baby? No. Obviously not. But damn it, this is pop music not church. And if we're talking about grand traditions in history, living vicariously through the dirty deeds of musicians is Right Up There.)


Friday, May 4, 2012

I Try To Be Hip And Think Like The Crowd But Even The Crowd Can't Help Me Now: Oh, GIRL.

I want to show you this song, which is too cheesy even for my sensibilities

 (in other words: eek!)

but which brings a fond smile to my face when I hear it.

The song: The Chi-Lites, "Oh Girl"; 1972

I can't make anybody do anything but I can highly recommend that you watch that video. (The Chi-Lites are a group of super-suave black dudes dressed in monochromatic neon-yellow doubloon-type outfits.)

(Also, electric harmonica.)

And then if that put you in the mood for a seventies-pop slow jam (wouldn't blame you in the slightest, that seems to be my default setting), might I recommend this?:

The song: Dusty Springfield, "Make It With You (Bread cover)"; recorded 1971

Please enjoy friends, isn't it starting to feel like summer might actually happen?