Sunday, April 19, 2009

Music and Me

I love music; I think music defines my life, in a variety of ways.  I can measure my growth—both musical and literal—by the music I’ve listened to (and depended on) throughout my life.  I look back on the concerts I’ve attended and they reflect who I was at the time, where I was emotionally, and what I was looking for, in terms of music and my life in general.  Whether I was walking the frigid, quaint streets of Ann Arbor with my yellow Sony walkman, negotiating subways and NYC streets with a Discman while commuting to my first job as an adult, driving around the Hamptons with the salty sea air flowing through my Ford Explorer or now, listening to my IPod every time I exit my apartment, music has been and continues to be a part of my daily existence, my passage through life.  The Indigo Girls concert I saw last week got me thinking about the concerts I’ve attended over the years; herewith, for whoever reads my website blogs and my FB Notes, is a list of my favorites:

Sting, Nassau Coliseum, L.I., March 1991.  I liked Sting, but I liked the opening band, Concrete Blonde, a lot more.

Spin Doctors, Wetlands, NYC, June 1991.  Anyone remember Wetlands? It was the funkiest club in TriBeCa, on Hudson Street.  We always got lost driving there.  The Spin Doctors were really cool, before they became popular and started to suck.  This was a great show—I think I went with Tara and Bryan, friends from high school.

Grateful Dead, Giants Stadium, NJ, June 1991, with Dana, Ryan, Tara and Bryan, from high school.  My first Dead show—it sounds so cliché, but my life was forever changed. 

Grateful Dead, Giants Stadium, NJ, June 1992, with my pals from freshman year: Dana, Melissa and Jon.  We had floor seats.  I heard my favorite song, “Shakedown Street,” and they closed with “Baba O'Riley.”  Bruce Hornsby was on drums.  This concert blew my mind—I can still picture myself dancing like a maniac.

The Black Crowes, Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI, March 1993.  I loved them at the time—their first album was so damn good. Despite the lame name, Hill Auditorium is among the Top 10 acoustics in the country (or was at the time).  Balcony seats, damn fine concert (it was Dana’s birthday; I think she and Melissa left early to start a dorm party while Melanie and I rocked out.)

PHISH, Michigan Theatre, Ann Arbor, MI, April 1993.  Tickets were $15.50 for students!  I had tix for two nights.  I missed the concert on the 17th because I fainted on the way in to the concert.  The concert on the 18th was terrific—non-stop set list.

Grateful Dead, Buckeye Lake, OH, June 1993.  I still smile when I think of this concert.  Road trip from Ann Arbor to Ohio, with Dana, Melanie, Melissa, Danielle B, Stacey W and Stacy S.  I flew in from my summer internship in D.C., ate a chipati, and we took off.  Cheap motel, beautiful weather, the entire day outside.  I remember we created our own bathroom by strategically opening side-by-side car doors. I also remember watching a stranger suck down a huge whip-it, then fall over like a tree (never understood the whip-it thing).  The Dead were amazing that night.  It took us five hours to drive out of the parking lot.  Yes, it’s vaguely fictionalized in my novel.

Peter Gabriel, Capital Centre, June 1993.  Incredible, life-altering concert.

The Allman Brothers, Beacon Theater, March 1996.  Ah, the Allmans, live.  I danced for 2 hours.  Fantastic.

Indigo Girls, June 1997, Sony Studios, NYC, my first IGs concert.  Steven and I scored tickets to a Hard Rock Live taping through the agency at which we worked. Stood on line for two hours, but then sat on the stage, two feet from Amy & Emily.  I became a fan for life; this was the first of many concerts with Steven.

Natalie Merchant, June 1997, Town Hall, NYC.  My sister got tickets at the last minute to a private, law-related benefit concert.  Town Hall is beautiful, and the acoustics are outstanding.  I loved Natalie at the time—this was an unbelievable, life-altering concert.

Natalie Merchant, The Supper Club, NYC, June 1998.  I loved her.  No one else could go.  I went by myself.  It was awesome.

James Taylor, Tanglewood, MA, August, 1997.  If you’ve never seen JT under the stars at Tanglewood, you’re missing out.

John Mellencamp, Mercury Lounge, NYC, 1999.  I actually went to see The Paul Rudderman Band—he was a guy who went to U-M, had a great band and was the opening act.  The whole night was so cool; Mercury Lounge is small but not in a sweaty, claustrophobic way. John played every song we wanted to hear; it was like having him in my living room.

Indigo Girls, Central Park Summerstage, June NYC, 2000.  My first Summerstage concert, with Steven, Nick, Aaron and Jessica.  They played “Romeo and Juliet,” under a blanket of stars on a perfect June night.  I think I cried.

Elton John, MSG, NYC, November 2001.  My mother loves Elton, so starting in the late 1990s, whenever he came to town we’d get tickets and go as a family, including my brother-in-law.  This was two months after 9/11; you could still hear the ambulance sirens as they traveled from downtown to the morgue on 1st Avenue, near my old apartment.  Flags everywhere, “Missing” photos everywhere.  No one has performed more concerts in NYC than Elton John (this is a fact—you can look it up), all of them at MSG.  He hit the stage, announced that he, too, was devastated, but he wanted to lighten our load for a few hours—he proceeded to play the most incredible, life-affirming concert I’ve ever witnessed.  He started with “Funeral for a Friend” and by the time he started “Philadelphia Freedom” three songs later, MSG was shaking—the building itself was trembling.  He played “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” a love song to NYC and my favorite song of his; I cried, everyone cried.  He played 28 songs.  Life-altering concert.

Madonna, MSG, NYC, 2001.  Her “Drowned World Tour,” and my first Madonna concert, with Ali and David.  In junior high I was busy resisting anything mainstream, and in high school I was busy being a Deadhead (and playing tennis).  It wasn’t until I saw her documentary Truth or Dare in college that I realized she wasn’t mainstream at all—she was the leader of her own brilliant rebellion. 

Melissa Etheridge, Jones Beach, L.I., June 2002.  My first Melissa concert (I was late to appreciate/love her), with Steven, tenth row seats, with the sea air whipping around us—she was f*#*ing unbelievable.  The guitar, the voice—I was blown away. Her chords reverberated in my chest for days.

Bob Dylan, Southampton College, L.I., August 2002.  This was an outdoor concert, a fundraiser; I knew the person producing the event.  VIP all the way—parking, food/drinks, seating, port-o-potty (always nice to have a clean, air-conditioned bathroom at an outdoor concert!)—the only time I’ve been a VIP.  I was accompanied by two awesome friends, Debbie and Angela, and  stood 10 feet from Dylan!  He played “All Along the Watchtower,” one of the greatest songs ever written, and “Tangled Up in Blue,” one of my all-time favorite songs.  Perfect evening.

Indigo Girls, Central Park Summerstage, NYC, October 2003.  This show was re-scheduled from August 14; the night of the blackout.  Angela got a ticket at the last minute, since she was visiting me, and we went with Nick and Steven.  They played “Mystery” and “Virginia Woolf” and “The Times They Are A Changin” (a Dylan song).  It was ridiculously great.

Madonna, MSG, NYC, June 2004.  Her “Re-Invention Tour,” with Steven.  I’ve seen a lot of concerts, as evidenced by this list, which is just my favorite concerts, not all the concerts I’ve seen. When it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, Madonna is it; her concerts are expensive, but she keeps four of your five senses invigorated for two hours.  A Madonna concert is a journey, to paraphrase her words.  And I’m not just writing this because I think she’s brilliant and she has maintained her artistic integrity throughout her career and she is possibly the most motivated person on the planet.  She performs—she doesn’t just sing.  She performs songs she has written (lyrics and music) and she never lip syncs.  Her concerts are electrifying.

Madonna, MSG, NYC, July 2006, on her “Confessions Tour,” with Ali, David and Jenn.  Crappy seats, fabulous show.  New versions of “Let It Will Be” and “Erotica;” if those two songs don’t make you want to dance, nothing will.  The 1-2-3 punch of “Let It Will Be” into “Music Inferno” into “Erotica” is fifteen minutes of sexy, stimulating dance music created by someone who understands the importance of sexy, stimulating dance music.

Natalie Merchant, Hiro Ballroom, March 2008, with Steven and Jason (my ticket was a birthday present from Steven).  It was so cool to see Natalie after so many years, and she was terrific.  It felt like the completion of something in my life (not sure what, but felt good).

Madonna, Roseland Ballroom, NYC, April 30, 2008, two hours after my second niece, Charlotte, was born.  This was a “Hard Candy Promo Show”—no tickets were sold.  Steven won tickets from Verizon Wireless—Roseland was full of crazy Madonna fans like us.  Judge me if you will, but this concert was the best 26 minutes of my life (platonic minutes).  I was on a natural high for a week, and a year later, I still tingle a bit when I hear the opening bars of “Candy Shop.”

Madonna, MSG, October 6 & 7, 2008, for her “Sticky & Sweet Tour.”  Yes, I went both nights—the first with David and the second with Stacey, Nick and Steven.  Her new version of “Borderline” was f*#*ing unreal, and “Like A Prayer” had me dancing and singing like a teenager.  This was my favorite Madonna tour.

Indigo Girls, Highline Ballroom, April 15, 2009, with Steven and Nick.  See blog below.  We were ten feet away; the set list was fantastic.  Can’t wait to see them this summer at Central Park Summerstage…


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Musical Transcendence

[NOTE: Google now owns Blogger, so if you have a Gmail address, you can sign in with your Gmail username & leave comments. Fast & easy!]

There are three things in life that inspire complete happiness in my soul. One is reading someone else’s words—whether in the form of a novel, essay, poem or story—and feeling the landscape of my life shift as those words penetrate, affect, impress or change me. Another is seeing and hearing live music, being in the presence of a singer or group whose music improves my life. Last night I went to the Indigo Girls concert at Highline Ballroom; I’ve seen the Indigo Girls about a dozen times, and I’ve attended each of those concerts with Steven and Nick—we are the ultimate Indigo Girls fans triumvirate. Sometimes others join us—I remember a Central Park Summerstage concert with Aaron and Jessica, and another NYC concert with Nicole, and a Radio City Music Hall concert with Aaron, and The Bardovan concert with my ex—but the three of us have yet to waver. The IGs release a new album about every two years, but they are quite cognizant that while fans embrace their new songs, they also feel attached to older ones; thus, their concerts are an excellent combination of new and familiar songs. Their current tour is an acoustic one, and their new album, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, is great. For some reason we didn’t see the IGs the last time they were in NYC (I think it’s actually Madonna’s fault, since we spent a fortune on good seats for her concert), so I was really craving this concert. The IGs typically play Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater or, in warm weather, Central Park Summerstage when they hit NYC. The Highline Ballroom is a new venue for them—and it’s a fantastic venue! It’s small but comfortable, General Admission, with a bar and clean bathrooms. We stood maybe 10 feet from the IGs (Amy and Emily), and I had a clear view for the entire concert (rare for my 5’2” self).

I’ve heard/read many musicians state that NYC is their favorite city in which to play concerts, and the IGs clearly agree. They seemed to be having a blast onstage, which only added to the buzzing energy in the room. Their set list was loaded with the best songs from the new album as well as amazing older songs. Part of why I love seeing the Indigo Girls is because their repertoire is fairly huge, and it’s always such fun to guess a song from the first few notes, and then predict the next song . It reminds me of seeing the Grateful Dead—I experience that same unfettered, joyful vibe whenever I’m at an Indigo Girls concert. I love their music, too (except for the occasional Emily song that’s just too namby-pamby for me), and I admire not only their tenacity but their independence—they’ve never sold out in any manner, and they consistently encourage their audiences to participate in life, whether environmentally, socially, politically or culturally. They are responsible for launching many independent singer-songwriters—opening for the IGs on tour is essentially a seal of approval from two of the music industry’s most benevolent arbiters of indie talent (check out Girlyman or Brandi Carlisle). They also invite non-profit groups on tour with them, to help raise awareness and visibility, which I love. And, of course, the IGs have fought long and hard for GLBT rights, loudly and consistently, not only through their lyrics but also their actions.

This was also the first concert after my novel, CLOSER TO FINE, was published last July. Yes, the title was inspired by what is probably the most well-known of the Indigo Girls’ songs. Since titles cannot be copyrighted, I didn’t need their permission, but as a writer and therefore a fellow artist, I wasn’t comfortable using the words they had created without letting them know. So I asked my publisher to send them a copy of the manuscript—officially I was requesting a blurb from one or both of them, but unofficially I just sought their blessing to name my novel CLOSER TO FINE. What I received, less than a month later, stunned me: an email from Emily, raving about how she loved reading my novel, she inhaled it in two sittings, and wished me the best of luck with CLOSER TO FINE. It is, by far, the coolest email I have ever received! So to hear the song “Closer to Fine,” ten months after the publication of my debut novel and one month before the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony (my book is nominated in the Debut Novel category), was f*#*ing cool!

But my favorite part of the concert—it’s always my favorite part—was singing and dancing and screaming and smiling with my friends Nick and Steven. Last night reminded me that often, it’s the simplest, purest experiences that elevate us—emotionally, physically, spiritually—and remind us to enjoy the extraordinary moments life offers.

Indigo Girls Highline Ballroom 4/15/09

Thoughts to follow later in the day, but here's the set list for last night's amazing Indigo Girls concert at Highline Ballroom, NYC.

Love of Our Lives
Sugar Tongue
Fill It Up Again
Power of Two
Driver Education
What Are You Like
Guest Performance/Song by The Roaches
Digging for your Dream
Heartache for Everyone
Get Out the Map
Shame On You
Fleet of Hope
Ghost of the Gang
Jonas & Ezekial
I'll Change
Land of Canaan
Closer to Fine
Second Time Around

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Can't Reach R.E.M.

It’s 4:42 AM and I am wide-awake, again.  This keeps happening—I fall asleep, and then wake up 3 or 4 or sometimes even 2 hours later, and I’m up, regardless of what time it is.  It’s dark outside; the world outside my windows is quiet, yet I am awake.  I’ve had spates—and one serious phase—of insomnia in the past, but this is absurd, and I’m not sure it qualifies as insomnia if I actually do fall asleep.  It’s not really the act of falling asleep that’s the problem—it’s staying asleep!  Even with assistance (prescribed by a medical professional), I cannot sleep through the night.  And it’s not as if I’m not tired; I’m not the type of person who can function on 3 or 4 hours of sleep several times a week (plus I interact with students all day long, and I often advise them in regard to their classes, so focusing is important).  I should stop drinking liquids at 10 PM so I don’t have to wake up to pee.  I’m not even eating dinner (or snacks) late.  [TMI?]

The oddest part is that in the past, my insomnia (or just poor sleeping patterns in general) was an indication of internal strife; however, I am the happiest and calmest I have been in a very long time.  I love my new apartment and my new neighborhood; in 6 weeks the spring semester will end and a summer full of quiet/fun/personally productive work days will begin; over the summer, I’ll take at least 5 of my 6 weeks of vacation; spring will be here any minute now, which leads to summer (my favorite season); CLOSER TO FINE has been nominated for a national literary award; and I’ve started outlining/preparing to start a new novel.  So why can’t I sleep for more than 4 consecutive hours?  Any ideas? Advice? I’ll try anything (except warm milk, or any milk-related cures).

Now it’s 5:10 (I spent ten minutes staring into space, petting a cat, reading a friend’s blog).  The sun will be up in an hour, and the big question looms: sleep away half of a sunny Sunday, or get up, work out, take a walk down Amsterdam to see all the people decked out in their Easter best, then come home and take a nap, because by then I will be t-i-r-e-d.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Henna Update & Word of the Day

So after enduring two hours of a sweaty mess, the dark brown henna didn't change a thing; my hair is pretty much the same color it was before I loaded a pound of messy mud on my head (see blog below). I'll get it done professionally after all.

Word of the Day:
algid (adj): cold, chilly.
Never heard of it. You?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Short but Sweet

I have no idea if anyone except my Canadian friend reads my blogs, but I’m going to continue posting, with my usual irregularity.  I’m sitting at my laptop with a plastic bag on my head; underneath said plastic bag are layers of saran wrap.  Underneath the saran wrap is my hair, coated and clumped with thick, heavy henna.  I typically have my hair colored a few times a year, because my color is just bland, and it bores me.  Usually I lean toward auburn, but my life has been so full of changes this year that I decided my hair color should echo, and celebrate, these changes.  So I bought some dark brown henna, trying to respect the recession by coloring my own hair.  I’d done it once before, when I lived in Hampton Bays, and though I remember a bit of a mess, I don’t think I recalled it accurately: this stuff makes a f*%#ing mess.  And it’s a serious burden on my head—imagine balancing a pound of mud on your head.  Plus, I’m hot—my head is wrapped in layers of plastic!  This is the last piece of evidence I need—I’m just not the Do-It-Yourself kind of person.  Whether it’s putting furniture together, installing WiFi or dyeing my hair, I’d rather just hire someone to do it for me, honestly. It’s not that I’m lazy—I clean like a pro and actually (usually) enjoy it.  I like being part of DIY projects—I’m just not good at executing them.  I blame it all on my abhorrence and fear of math—all that measuring, tinkering, drilling, wiring—it reminds me of math (don’t ask how I’m connecting math to henna, just go with my flow here).  Now when the other side of the brain is needed—like for editing an admissions essay, doing a crossword puzzle, proofreading absolutely anything, writing a novel—then I’m the one you call.  Words stimulate me; numbers unsettle me.

 I am almost settled in my new apartment, back in the city at last (just a few more shelves, and artwork, need to go up; fortunately I possess fantastic friends who don’t mind drilling and hammering on my behalf).  I love my apartment—it’s in a cool old building that isn’t too old but isn’t rows of box apartments on top of one another.  My apartment is newly renovated—it’s a studio, but a big, L-shaped studio with a generous entryway and large bathroom.  I love my neighborhood, too; it’s full of professionals, students and families and, best of all, lots of dogs.  The architecture is stunning—I’ve decided I live on one of the prettiest blocks in the city, architecturally-speaking.  The details are amazing—it’s incredible how much more pride people took in their work 50 years ago.  And they had less machinery but still managed to create gorgeous columns, ledges, balconies and other architectural aspects I don’t know the names of.  I’m quite close to Riverside Park, and there’s a small but pretty park on my block, hidden by a colossal wall covered in vines.  I’m near everything I need—subway, restaurants, bodegas, stores—but my block is really quiet.  Perfect combination!  I’m never moving.  Really, I’ve moved more this year than most people do in ten years.  If I lean toward the “everything happens for a reason” credo, I guess I had to endure the journey to enjoy the reward.  And things right now are terrific—I’m even outlining, researching and naming characters for my new novel, and almost ready to send out the TV scripts a friend and I have written—and I’m happily embracing all life offers me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Book Talk Reading

On Wednesday, March 25th, I was the featured author at Book Talk, sponsored by The College of New Rochelle, School of New Resources.  It was held at the John Cardinal O'Connor (JOC) campus, where I am the Co-Chair of the Letters Department (and teach two classes).

The reading went really well, with over 40 students and 20 Faculty/Administration members present.  All 25 books were sold.  The Q&A was lively, interesting and fun (I really like Q&A sessions when they're about CLOSER TO FINE!).

This is a link to a posting on the CNR regarding the event: