life list: funk yes

This is a little story about goals, serendipity, and the difference between wishing and doing.

A month ago, I listed my personal top 40, and on that list was P-Funk’s Give Up the Funk. After a few weeks of listening to those songs over and over, there are some I would drop and some I love even more. “Give Up the Funk” falls into the “even more” category, or the “more and more and more and more!” category.

For reasons I still can’t explain, in late May I was suddenly, strongly, irresistibly seized with the desire to see P-Funk in concert. I’d heard from friends that George Clinton et al provide a fantastic live show; for a few of my friends, it’s been transformative, transcendent. At the very least, it’s full-on funk and fun. I wanted to see it first-hand. I immediately added “See P-Funk live” to my life list.

And — here’s the thing — I also immediately started checking out options. I thought “Gee, maybe they’ll tour sometime in the next year or two, and maybe they’ll come to Boston.” Is it worth a four-hour round-trip to do fulfill a life-list goal? Sure it is!

But it isn’t necessary. I hopped onto George Clinton’s site and discovered to my amazement that
A) P-Funk is currently touring;
B) they’re playing my small city, at a venue walking distance from my home;
C) the show was two weeks away and tickets were still available.

That’s right: because I didn’t spend time wishing and wondering, because I jumped in and started doing, tonight I’m checking an item off my life list: See P-Funk in concert. Oh, funk yes. That’s a little lesson for me: less wishing, more doing.

Smithsonian urges Clinton: “Give up the funk. We want the funk.”

It’s official: Parliament-Funkadelic’s Mothership, the transporter of funk, will be the central feature of a permanent musical exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture (scheduled to open in 2015).

Presumably, in order to fit the immense metal Mothership into the newly built museum structure, the curators will have to tear the roof off the sucker.

personal top 40

One of my online friends on another site challenged us to come up with our own personal top 40 songs. I hesitated, then decided that such a ranking is necessarily shifting and impermanent, which removed a lot of the pressure. The task proved both instructive and startling: I found an unsuspected folky streak in myself, and I’m surprised at how many of my favorite artists got edged out by songs that just make me feel good.

These aren’t the best songs by the respective artists, or even the most personally meaningful, but they are the songs that I would stop everything to listen to, that I would hear in my head all day, all week. These are songs I croon absentmindedly, songs I belt out alone or with friends, or songs I play when I want to feel the most like myself.

This exercise drove home something I’ve been thinking already: I need to find a way to get more music into my daily life. I need to get better speakers for the laptop, buy a cheapie iPod and fill it, move the stereo (which is now in a little-used corner) or maybe just move the speakers.

These are in no particular order, except that I put the one long note first.

1. Picture in a Frame – Tom Waits (I coulda picked any of a dozen Waits songs, but this one is special: I pitched hard for this to be the first song at our wedding. The Fella, who loves Tom Waits even more than I do, nixed it, though I’ve never understood why. C’mon: “I’m gonna love you ’til the wheels come off”? Every time I hear it, I get all teary-eyed.)
2. No One Will Ever Love You Honestly – Magnetic Fields
3. A Town Called Malice – The Jam
4. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – Richard Thompson
5. Baby’s On Fire – Brian Eno
6. I’d Like That – XTC
7. Is She Really Going Out with Him?– Joe Jackson
8. Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
9. Los Angeles – X
10. Jezebel – Iron & Wine
11. My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone
12. Suffragette City – David Bowie.
13. Wicked Little Town from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
14. That’s When I Reach for my Revolver – Mission of Burma.
15. The KKK Took My Baby Away – The Ramones
16. Elvis Costello — like with Tom Waits, I could’ve chosen almost any song at random, but I actually gave it some thought and came up with I’m Not Angry, one of those rare songs that still sounds as amazing to me as it did when I 30 years ago.
17. Girl – Beck.
18. Love Will Tear Us Apart Again – Joy Division
19. I Don’t Love Anyone – Belle and Sebastian
20. Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love) – Ella Fitzgerald
21. Sway. I just love the song, not a particular version — but I first noticed the song while watching “Dark City,” so I’ll link that version.
22. Who Loves the Sun – Velvet Underground
23. Life During Wartime – Talking Heads
24. I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles
25. A Day in the Life – The Beatles
26. When You’re Next to Me – “Mitch & Mickey” (Eugene Levy & Catherine O’Hara)
27. Working in a Coalmine – Devo
28. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker) – Parliament Funkadelic
29. Llorando – Delores del Rio a cappella [Note 1: warning! Mulholland Dr. spoiler in that clip! Note 2: oddly enough, I don’t care for Roy Orbison’s English-language version at all.
30. I Hear the Rain – Violent Femmes
31. Driver 8 – R.E.M.
32. Why Don’t You Do Right – Peggy Lee (more recently made famous by Jessica Rabbit)
33. the abysmally depressing My Man – Billie Holiday
34. Lithium – Nirvana
35. Bye Bye Blackbird – I don’t have a favorite version, but I’ve linked to one by Diana Krall that approximates what I hear in my head when I sing it. (What comes out of my mouth is almost certainly quite different.)
36. Brick House – The Commodores
37. Bear Necessities – Phil Harris (The Jungle Book soundtrack)
38. If I Should Fall from Grace with God – The Pogues
39. All Day and All of the Night – The Kinks
40. (You will think I’m kidding but I’m not.) How High the Mountain (Y’all Are Brutalizin’ Me) – Ronnie Dobbs (David Cross)

I know there will be a handful of songs I CANNOT BELIEVE I left off this list, but for the moment, this feels pretty solid. “That one’ll do.” “Let’s go have us a champagne jam.”

A Mighty Wind

Do you remember the breathtaking moment in 1984′s This Is Spınal Tap when the founding members perform a lovely a cappela version of “All the Way Home,” a skiffle song from their early days? A Mighty Wind captures that sweetness and wraps it up in satire.

This 2003 mockumentary from Christopher Guest purports to tell the story of three once-prominent folk groups now gathering to memorialize their late mentor and producer. The characterizations and songs are eerily well-drawn. Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Guest himself (the trio made famous as Spinal Tap) appear as The Folksmen, a fictional fusion of folk groups like The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Jane Lynch and John Michael Higgins head the New Main Street Singers, a second-generation pop-folk neuf-tette that make their bread & butter playing to bored crowds at amusement parks. Mitch and Mickie (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) are the sweethearts of the folk world, once madly in love but now face to face for the first time in decades.

Here, Guest manages the delicate balance that characterizes the finest satire: he knows his subject inside-out and understands what makes it great as well as what makes it absurd. We’re treated to a loving send-up of folk excesses, all swaddled sweetly in the lovely music (much of it written by the cast). Mitch & Mickey’ beautiful theme “A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow” received an Academy nomination for Best Song — and deservedly so — but I’d argue that there are even finer songs in this film.

A particularly fine example is The Folksmen’s “Never Did No Wanderin’.” At first listen, it’s a perfect piece of folk music: haunting, mournful, potent, stirring. But then the lyrics sink in and it reveals itself as a deliciously witty indictment of folk’s cozy niche in the hearts of comfortable well-heeled suburbanites. It’s a wicked bite of parody and a fantastic song all rolled up together, indivisible.


I’ve discovered an unexpected side effect of watching The Karate Kid for the first time in my 40s. For the past few weeks, any time I have to push myself or offer a little self-encouragement, I hear a little internal soundtrack:

Sometimes that soundtrack gets externalized in the form of me singing the chorus — and only the chorus — in a strained whisper-yell as I putter around the house. It’s fitting when I’m lifting weights for my physical therapy or doing crunches for core strength… but even I admit that it’s a little funnier when I’m rolling out pastry dough.

It also intersects oddly with a standard household compliment peculiar to us; we routinely tell each other “Aw, you’re the best girl.”* The conflation leads to exchanges like this morning’s:

Elsa: No hurry! We’ve got plenty of time to get everything done. We’re the best! arou-ound!
The Fella: You are the best.
The Fella: I know! You’re the best girl.
Elsa: [punching the air] And nuthin’s gonna EVER KEEP ME DOWN!

*You read that right.


updated to add: Even better than the Ode to Joy clip (at the end of this entry) is Beaker’s Habanera with The Swedish Chef and Animal. Enjoy!

Students at Danvers High School in Massachusetts are forbidden to utter the nonsense word meep.


Evidently, the students have appropriated Beaker’s all-purpose word for their own constant use, to the annoyance of the faculty and administrators. The principal’s balanced, sensible response, which was not at all silly, misguided, or destined for spectacular failure: he prohibited students from uttering the sound meep. Well, that oughta do it.

Two aspects of this story puzzle me, to startlingly different degrees.

First, the minor puzzle: since when has “meep” been an expression belonging only to younguns? I’m old enough to have watched the original broadcasts of The Muppet Show, and whenever I’ve had occasion to utter a tiny meep! of dismay or alarm, no one has seemed too terribly perplexed by it.

Second, the major puzzle: has this principal or any member of his administration ever, I dunno, met any high school students? Barring that, have they ever interacted with any group of humans? Have they any basic understanding of human psychology?

A quote from the second link:

“It has nothing to do with the word,” [Danvers H.S. principal Thomas] Murray said. “It has to do with the conduct of the students. We wouldn’t just ban a word just to ban a word.”

No, because banning a word will not work, and in fact will be counter-productive. The administration has now identified the word as a guaranteed provocation and enshrined it in legend.

In solidarity with the Danvers High students and for the sheer delight of it, I offer you: Ode to Joy, performed by Beaker.

sticky Valentines

I recently spent an afternoon flipping through CDs and websites looking for a first dance song that would suit both our tastes. It’s turning out to be tricky, especially since most of our favorite music is better suited to a divorce proceeding than to a wedding.

After a few hours, I has a “well, duh!” moment and turned to Google. Ach, my eyes! Ze google does nuzzing! Well, nuzzing except remind me why I have assiduously avoided The Knot: The Knot’s first pick for hip first dance songs is Elvis Costello’s “Alison.”


Now, I was eight when “Elvis Costello released My Aim is True. “Alison” is probably the first Elvis Costello song I knew word-for-word all the way through, probably the first Elvis Costello song I sang in the shower, probably the first Elvis Costello song that spurred me to buy an Elvis Costello album as I crept toward my teens. This is a song I loved long before I could really get it. This song twangs a string deep inside my chest.

And even as a kid, I understood that “Alison” is not a song about finding your true love and life companion.

No, really. The lyrics to “Alison,” listed by the official Elvis Costello website and fan club, emphasis mine:

Oh it’s so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl.
And with the way you look I understand
that you were not impressed
But I heard you let that little friend of mine
take off your party dress
I’m not going to get too sentimental
like those other sticky valentines,
’cause I don’t know if you’ve been loving some body.
I only know it isn’t mine
Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
Well I see you’ve got a husband now.
Did he leave your pretty fingers lying
in the wedding cake?
You used to hold him right in your hand.
I’ll bet he took all he could take.
Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking
when I hear the silly things that you say.
I think somebody better put out the big light,
cause I can’t stand to see you this way.
Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
My aim is true.

an inescapable conclusion

Yesterday, Gaoo had us over for our wedding cake tasting. The Fella and I sat in her pretty front room, the sun warming our backs. We paged through her albums of gorgeous cakes and batted around ideas the way kittens bat around colorful balls of yarn, all while we ate dainty slices of cake and tiny chocolate cups filled with frosting off a delicate floral porcelain plate.

(Gaoo’s an artist and a genius, incidentally. I already knew that in an abstract way, but I understood it viscerally last week when she glanced at my preliminary sketch and immediately added a whole new dimension that blew my mind.)

As I ran errands after the tasting, I discovered that a local housewares boutique sells the exact jars I wanted for our (non-floral, non-perishable) centerpieces. The owner, who knows me by sight, generously offered a ridiculously sweet deal on a dozen. (Buy local, kids!) Her offer changed “Hey, that’s a great idea! Now how can I do it cheaper?” to “Hey, that’s a great idea! Let’s do it!” So, more than four months before the wedding, we already have our very simple table decor lined up.

invitdryingAnd we finished the invitations!

The completion of these first few gewgaws and trinkets nudges me toward an inescapable conclusion: holy cats, we’re having a wedding. That must mean we’re getting married.


And Yippee!

A few more details remain, of course. For example, we haven’t settled on a first dance song. So far, we’ve eliminated:
Yakkety Sax
The Final Countdown
– The Futurama remix of Rocketship.
So, three songs down, eleventy billion to go.