She's a Real Mother

Mutha's got eyes in the back of her head.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Band In Boston

Lucky enough to have heard many a great Boston band live and blessed enough to miss the likes of Peter Wolf, Aerosmith, the Cars, and -- of course -- Boston (sorry kids, I just ain't a fan) here's some space devoted to my favorites:

Mark Sandman was a very nice man -- one of the nicest men ever on the Boston (which means Cambridge as well) music scene. When he died suddenly, poetically, of a heart attack on stage (1999) people walked around town in a blur for months, illustration to the sense we had had for years that Mark and Morphine were a powerful presence, irreplaceable. Mark was nice but his music was naughty and original and soulful. Promise me, who ever you are, that if you have not heard this astounding blend of three string bass, two saxophones played at once by one man (Dana Calley, WTF!), and some of the sexiest drumming around from Billy Conway -- that you will go out of your way to right that wrong.

The Lemonheads
Evan Dando had a rep for being a whining jerk, but damn if those songs aren't as catchy as hell. And in their prime, the Lemonheads were a very good time in a small club. If you were lucky, you got to be at a show during the period when people threw boxes of the Lemonhead candy on stage. You get extra points if you were at a show when Evan got hit. And I will personally send you cash if you were the one that hit him. All that said, their special brand of pop and Evan's lyrics (which could be about a ship without a rudder, or his abandoned stove, or his pal Ray) were part of a fun time for the Boston sound.

The Pixies
I moved to Boston during that epic period known as "Before Grunge Hit". During that time there was no term for the Pixies. They simply fit no mold. They were a "garage band" or "new era punk". But, they included haunting lyrics, off-beat harmonies, and humor in a way that defied those half-assed tags. In the end, they were their own animal, although hindsight 20/20, they were one of the godparents to the sound that ended up defining the early 90s. And LIVE, they were a reason to believe in God.

I am a sucker for power trios, but female power trios are to die for. Quivvver (yes, no typo, three v's) made it their business to rock the house in thrift store get-ups (including an incredibly charismatic drummer who usually wore a wig and prom dress), and sing about off-beat things like mermaids unapologetically. I saw them play at the Middle East (not the war-torn region, but a great bar/restaurant/venue in Cambridge, MA) the night OJ Simpson was being chased by the LAPD on TV. When the room showed signs of filling slowly, the band acknowledged that OJ might be keeping people in front of the tube. Kristina (the already mentioned drummer) announced that she wasn't gonna let a wife-beater screw up her night and they proceeded to kick the crap out of their set. I miss you girls!

The Del Fuegos
During their touring days this band was notoriously hit or miss. Get them on a night all were in synch with their tempers and substance use and you were in for an incredible treat. Other times, not so much. In fact, at that time that I loved to hear them play, a friend started calling them the "Del Fuckheads" because of how verbally abusive they had been to their fans during a recent show. Now that's rock-n-roll.

Machinery Hall
Another power trio that won my heart with their original line-up during years of playing locally. They were followed by an incredibly loyal fan base whom they never seemed to let down. Lead-singer/guitarist, chief song writer Mark Nelson could both croon and yell, unspooling emotional, intelligent lyrics against driving rock that could edge on speed-metal. One thing I found very endearing at live shows was that Mark would warn the moshers to "Watch out for the girls" in the crowd. I would smile to myself and then scream, "We can take care of ourselves! Why don't you shut up and play!" Aaah memories. And play they did.

And "Guilty by Association": Scarce
Scarce was actually out of Rhode Island, but they played so much locally in the early 90s that they seemed to be adopted as home-grown. As wonderful as this band is recorded (and I strongly urge you to get a hold of a recording if you have not heard them) they were outrageously good live. The artistic tension created on stage between presence and sound gave birth to an energy I have felt very few times. One band member had a brain aneurysm, the band stayed together to welcome him back months later after a full recovery, only to set the stage for their break up. The stuff for Mexican soap operas and for a club-going-buzz-kill I have never completely forgiven them for.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood

I am old enough to have been amongst the first preschoolers to see Sesame Street. And while the show is still great, I've got to point out that it is no where as cool as that first incarnation. It had a groovy, authentic, late 60's, power-to-the people, urban vibe. And Gordon was a hip, skinny guy who looked something like Sly from the Family Stone (sans platform boots).

Back then the show offered cartoons in Spanish, the rockin muppet Roosevelt Franklin ("Yeah, yeah, yeah!"), the English neighbor from the Jefferson's who painted numbers randomly on stuff, and the guy who announced a pile of desserts only to slip down a flight of stairs and crash, ending in a whip-cream-covered heap. Pure gold to any four year old.

Another thing they did back then that has since gone the way of the dinosaur was a song that went, "Who are the people in your neighborhood?" Each time, they would go on to sing about a different profession, pointing out what each contributed to the community, inviting kids to imagine what it might be like to do that job.

Well, apparently it had an effect on me because it is something I am still interested in to this day. And I've found that people, even strangers, are often eager to respond to, "Tell me about what you do." So, here is a reocurring spot to share these conversations in an effort to try on a different profession for a little while. Maybe even thank God we picked the job we did.

#1: Obstetrician
When I was fifteen, I was a stock girl in a women's clothing store. The job was a tedious waste of my Saturdays for sure, but what made me quit was the ever-repeating loop of music. I had the misfortune of holding the job when "Ebony and Ivory" was all the rage -- and I heard it every forty-five minutes. I couldn't hack it. Little did I know this was the first sign that I was ill-suited to becoming an obstetrician.

Music is important to me, so when I was figuring what I might need in order to successfully give birth to a human child my thoughts went immediately to the power of truly motivational tunes. My husband had a hard time with the regular coach-as-breath-instructor-bit, but came through magnificently as DJ. During both of my labors nurses asked, "What are we listeing to?": Jeff Buckley, Aretha Franklin, U2 --and, in the case of the drug-free transition stage, only the Velvet Underground's 1969 would do. Then, right after my first son was born, the obstetrician told me that he was the first baby she had ever delivered to the Beatles (Revolver, to be specific). I asked what women usually listened to and she told me, with a sober expression: Enya.

Enya! Shit. When I think of taking on that profession, I think of blood and screaming, tears, long hours, the god-like heroics that would make anyone's head spin. But no. Come to find that you go through countless years of training waiting to be the hands through which human life enters the world and you end up putting up with mind-numbingly repetitive new age crap like Enya. No way. Hands of life or not, you couldn't pay me enough.

Monday, February 13, 2006

In the Hands of the Man in Charge

Pitchers and catchers report in four days.

If you don't know what that means, you might think twice about reading on -- because this piece is about being a baseball fan. For those people who are not into baseball, fans are beyond a little strange -- after all, when you find the game up there with watching paint dry, how easy would it be to relate to someone who goes out of their way to catch the process? Who even have their own favorite colors of paint.

So beyond a favorite team (a Red Sox fan since I was ten and my mother informed me that the women in the family were obliged to cheer for the underdogs, "And there ain't no underdogs like the Sox."), and favorite players (two of which are Trot Nixon and Mike Timlin), I also have a favorite position.

I have a thing for catchers.

Growing up, my brother idolized Johnny Bench and this was the first time I was introduced to the notion that catchers might be cool. He taught me that although the pitcher gets all the glory (or blame) the catcher is actually the guy in control of the entire team, the manager's presence on the field, the man at the apex of the diamond. And he is expected to do it with as little attention to himself as possible. Who ever heard of a flamboyant or diva catcher? So, here he is: the strong silent type, the one that chases down the batter when he goes after the pitcher, who is just daring you to try and steal so he can fire that gun of an arm and smoke you, the one that's sneakin a sign -- always between his thighs. Geez Louise. What's not hot about that?

On Opening Day in Boston last spring, I passed a family lucky enough to be on their way to Fenway. Chatting up the little boy of the group, I asked if he would cheer for my very favorite player in my absence. He agreed, but when I told him my favorite player was Jason Varitek, his father piped up, "Jesus! What is it with Varitek and the women?" His wife laughed and gushed, "Oh my God those catchers! Don't ya just love 'em?"

I told the guy that the truth was I had a crush on Varitek to begin with, but then he had to go and shove his mitt in Arod's face -- and well, after that it was love. The guy busted out in a big grin. "That was gorgeous," he admitted.

And so right around Valentine's Day each year, I know we are getting close. Just as I get into some serious jonesing for baseball, catchers all over the country start getting ready to do their thing. Bring it on Jason! I'm waiting.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sandbox Confessional

Seven or so years ago, when my first child was a baby, I used to frequent a playground in my Somerville, Massachusetts neighborhood. The parents in this neighborhood included working class natives, but the renters (of which I was one) tended to be artsy types and quasi-intellectuals who did not have enough money to rent in near-by Cambridge. To some, this made us cooler still, true artsy types and quasi-intellectuals, not these candy-ass trust fund folks down the road. In any case, this demographic phenomenon made for an interesting mix of conversations around the sandbox.

One day, three moms I saw their regularly became engaged in a conversation about television viewing.

"We never watch any more," said one thirty-ish white woman, committed to staying home for the first three years of her daughter's life. "The news, some PBS and that's all. But, ofcourse, never with the Annie around."

"Oh, we don't even watch that much," said a woman who had recently moved to the US from Germany. "This compulsion with CNN is very American. No, my children will not have any television."

"We put our TV in the basement when Peter was born." This, ofcourse, was from the bossy mom who had said she had no plans to return to work because children always need their mothers, not just babies.

As the adult who had not weighed in, the three women turned to look at me. Being the only mom present who worked, I was already an outlaw. And yet, I still thought about giving a "no comment" shrug, maybe even altering my answer slightly. But instead, I went for broke.
"I love TV," I reported. "I would watch more if I could."

Their collective slack-jawed response gave me a feeling of power: I was the bad-ass mom, the dangerous one who let her baby stare into that horrible brain sucker. I was not afraid to admit that I turned to Teletubbies on purpose every day and my poor child even liked it.

Years later, when that same baby was about to go to kindergarten, an adult friend came to me with an interesting request. It seemed that after a recent conversation in which my child pointed out that billiards and pool where actually two different words for the same game, my friend felt the need to not only comment on how smart my little boy seemed to be -- but to register his concern that the child had never watched Sponge Bob. When I confessed that I had never seen Sponge Bob and asked why my soon-to-be-kindergartener should, my friend pointed out, "He needs something to talk to other kids about, and billiards ain't gonna do it."

Bravo. Sponge Bob it is.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

One Mutha of a Film Festival, Day 2

As mentioned in an earlier post (See "One Mutha of a Film Festival") I have been thinking about which movies I might pick to show if given the chance. Night one was a kind of can't live without 'em group. Day 2 is devoted to MEN. It features five movies in which male characters are putting their own special stamp on what it is to be a man, and being all sorts of hot while doing it.

Tha Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
I'm not a very big John Wayne fan (although The Quiet Man could also make it on this list), but he is great in this story about how men sort out their use of violence as a means of power. Did you know he had such a pinko plot in him? Yeah, all this and Jimmy Stewart too.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Who knew cowboys and outlaws had such an effect on me? Ah Well, there is something about how they squint into the wind. Any who: I would watch this movie with the sound off, simply to oggle Redford and Newman as the true eye-candy they could be. That is, if they weren't such damned good actors. The story has a great blend of light-handed comedy, amazing landscape, and a great chase (even if it does last the whole movie). A welcomed chance to root for the underdogs and pull for the banditos.

Citizen Kane
A classic of course, and something to love and admire for many reasons -- but I inlcude it here because it holds an haunting theme concerning the lengths a man might go to convince himself he has grabbed destiny by the balls. And Orson Wells is a heart-stopper. Although not really attractive in a conventional sense, lets just say I can see how he got a fox like Eartha Kitt.

The Graduate
Having a crush on Dustin Hoffman at 12 (when I first saw this movie) seemed to have left a mighty impression, and set a course towards all the anti-hero men I would be attracted to in this lifetime. There is legitimate heat between Hoffman and Bancroft as well, which makes everything cook along, inside and out. The "grown-ups" are all mean or dumb in this one and somehow, Hoffman's discomfort with the world around him manages to transcend its sixties context. What could end up dated at this point, still speaks to the larger questions every boy has to ask in order to figure out the kind of man he wants to be.

West Side Story
Handsome, misunderstood hoodlums. What's not to love? Along side the musical score, (which is, of course, flawless), and a plot that can still make me cry, there is the incredibly beautiful, incredibly sexy Jerome Robbins' choreography. Because, what is more killer than tough young men? Tough young men who can dance.