Monday, April 18, 2011

Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What

I've been wondering what it would take to cause me to post here. Turns out, it was a simple request to share my impressions of a new piece of music. That's a request I rarely decline. 
Simon's new disc dropped on Tuesday; he's had a string of kind of "meh" recordings following his really awful production for stage (The Capeman) in the mid-1990's. The pre-release hype for SBoSW was impressive: things like "...his best since Graceland...". Well, if you're talking to me, that's one hell of an assertion. 

I wouldn't ever really commit to the notion that any recording could be the best in the whole world so I'm not saying that exactly. Primarily because I'd have to listen to every bit of recorded music to have any credibility and beyond having the time to do that, some music is just shit and I won't listen to it. And who am I to tell anyone what has the most merit? Art is all about the personal experience of an offering so by definition a given piece of art will be different for each person who takes it in (caveat: not all music is artistic). BUT for my money, time and taste there are two albums that run neck and neck for favorite (and I rarely even commit to personal favorites when it comes to music): Carol King's Tapestry and Paul Simon's Graceland.  So that's one thing to be considered. Another is that Simon's follow-up to Graceland was another exceptional album: Rhythm of the Saints. Finally, no one should ever forget that IMO, the funniest music video ever is You Can Call Me Al --- and that tune came to us from Graceland. So, for me, from 1986 to 1990, Paul Simon was just on fire.  Could this new disc measure up to that level?  I'm a little skeptical.

So in determining whether or not this latest disc is Mr. Simon's best since Graceland (or even if its just good) I had to, at long last, try to sum up why Rhythm of the Saints was never an album that I could listen to over and over and over as I have (and do) Graceland. I listened to it today for the first time in maybe 10 years. I was pleasantly reminded that there are some excellent songs there, a couple which are really beautiful.  

Paul Simon makes some remarks in the "making of..." DVD that accompanies SBoSW about whether or not the pop/rock album remains a viable art form. A very good question, too, because we don't find much of it in popular music. Jazz still finds value in albums.  Those often come together by some theme: the echoes/repetition of rhythmic patterns, similar key or time progressions or extended efforts to capture an experience in sound, like Brad Mehldau's Highway Rider. 

Graceland hung together via the inclusion of several different forms of "world music" the likes of which had never been taken on at such a large scale, and similarity of a few lyrical themes. It's a freaking GREAT album. Rhythm of the Saints took the same approach and the music was good, interesting, fresh. But you know what?  I think there was too much thematic similarity in both the music and the lyrics. And I'm sorry to say it but I think the music overpowered the vocals a good bit. It's almost as though Paul Simon and his producers forgot that his fans love his gift of lyrics, we love his voice singing them. I love his insight into the human condition, the foibles of individuals and nations. And those things were easily missed on RotS (unfortunate initials).  

So: is the new disc better than RotS, not quite so good as Graceland?  You know what? I do think so!  How great is that?  It's not as overtly exotic as either of them but it sounds fresh in its cross-cultural infusions, its harmonies and instrumentation.   

How does it stand up on its own, separate from other Simon efforts? I've only listened through 3 times but it seems there are provocative social ideas and some love-your-life-as-it-is kind of songs that we've come to look to Paul Simon for. Spesh K, I hope I've told you enough about how I sized the album up and what I think of it as part of Simon's catalogue. I think It's the best thing he's done since Graceland and that's one hell of an assertion!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

If you can't say anything nice...

so I haven't been saying much.  Not that I'm upset or bothered by anything its just that life has been overwhelming lately and kinda dull to read about.  I thought I'd wrap up the woes and miseries of 2010 today and perhaps tomorrow or the next day everything will seem brighter.

MIL remains ... not well?  I'm not sure what there is to say, she's not actually sick but a lot of things are not right.  She has that chronic obliterating pneumonia that's being held in check a bit by high dose steroids, her kidneys are failing: so badly that she mostly can't feel one foot at all from all the edema in her lower leg and feet and she also can't walk.  At all.  So she's been in a rehab place forever trying to maintain some strength and figure out how to walk should her edema ever get better.  She's unhappy and half-crazy so you can imagine that creates challenging interactions.  We are presently preparing for her to come home as she is no longer benefitting from PT but she won't agree to the changes that need to be made to her apartment before she can be there safely.  Tomorrow Rob and I are going to lay all the cards on the table and see if she changes her tune: she can't come home until she agrees to the installation and use of a chair lift in her stairway. If she's discharged from the Rehab place before that happens she'll have to be placed elsewhere.  Not really looking forward to that visit.

That Other Thing (TOT) continues to challenge us with her trifecta of diabetes/celiac and Hashimoto's.  Her blood glucose management is awful: there has been a LOT of covert eating.  According to data from her continuous glucose monitor, her bg has been in range only 30% of the time in the last two months.  She's  mostly extremely high...a clear waste of insulin and worry.  I'm a little uncertain what to do: I don't want to get all controlling with food and create the kinds of issues that typically brings.  I don't know how or where but she's also getting gluten somehow in her food: her tummy is all distended again.  I'm thinking maybe we need the help of a therapist.

But Christmas was nice.  We spent Christmas Eve in a winter wonderland over at the newly developed National Harbor   As lovely as some moments were, it reminded me of why I rarely go to places like museums....people always push themselves to the front, stand in the way, exhibit all kinds of entitlement behavior that really annoys me.  Christmas Day, MIL was able to spend at home with us and that was very nice.  Lovely gifts, good food, plenty to be happy about.

Two-thousand and ten, I would like to say that it's been a tough year: far too tough.  I won't miss you at all.  Not even the blissful days I spent on the beach with my kiddies in August.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Long Time, no post: Holiday Edition

So---its been busy. Same old thing, where's the fun in that? My Dad had gallbladder surgery and he's doing fine but that's been the only diversion lately.

The holidays are sincerely right around the corner. Am I ready? No. Don't make me laugh. This year I'm less prepared than ever. IDGAS, really, although I must get the tree up soon. In light of the frenetic last four months we've opted out of Mullen Movie Night which is perhaps the one thing I regret most about the changes we'll make to accommodate our situations (well, also the Snickerdoodles).

Holiday music, though, that's the easy, sure-fire part. It seems to me in all of the years of collective blogging most of us haven't talked a heck of a lot about our favorites. Let me put that in order now:

1. All-time favorite traditional and serious Christmas song?
No question: O Holy Night. I prefer it sung solo by a strong tenor with great swelling orchestration but I'll take it pretty much any way.
2. That one song that says, unequivocally, that the holidays have arrived?
"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Springsteen and The E-Street Band. I am a product of my generation.
3. Favorite Contemporary Carol and/or favorite contemporary cover of a traditional holiday tune?
This is tough and I'm leaning toward The Eagles' "Please Come Home for Christmas". There's no shortage of good candidates and I'm eager to hear from anyone who'd like to say. I do have a real fascination with Straight No Chaser's verion/mashup of "Twelve Days of Christmas" ("I miss the rains down in Africa....).
4. Carol that most reminds you of your holidays as a younger person?
Again, no problem on this one for me. My high school band played "Sleigh Ride" at every Winter show. It abolutely transports me and I even know all the words...
5. Favorite version of "Baby, it's Cold Outside"
This is a classic feel-good holiday tune and its been done over and over, mostly universally well. I'm gonna go old-school on this with Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting but I must give a nod to Zooey Deschnnel's duo with Leon Redbone from the "Elf" soundtrack. Zooey Deschanel's performance was PERFECT.
6. Finally, Your all time favorite disc--aka, if you could have only one holiday music disc, what would it be? I feel only slightly torn about this one. I would choose Aaron Neville's "Soulful Christmas". Yes: its that good. And I would definitely miss my Canadian Brass recordings.

So....get to work. Share, people, share.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When Nothing is Fun(ny)

so...funny is like gold to me. A smart, funny man (to be my favorite kind of funny requires wicked smarts) who can play guitar could put me in a great many compromising situations. In these days when very few things are funny and I don't have much time to chat with Rob (boy cracks me up), I rely on a few web comics to get my giggle on.

Most of you already read XKCD . My friend pointed out Hyperbole and a Half a few months ago. Here's a favorite from that author; but really, they're all priceless. Gets kids and parents dead right all the time; pets, too. I can't believe I almost forgot Indexed! Mostly super smart and very frequently ironic...

How about you guys? What are your fave web funnies?

I should point out that the biggest laughs I've had recently came from Public Speaking (boy is she a force to be reckoned with...) and the beginnings of a friend's NaNoWriMo effort. Friend is posting his No bits on his blog which also includes some other creative writing. He's a silly, smart guy; writes very well.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving

is coming! Yay!

We're going totally scaled back: a bird and three sides, a store bought dessert. That's right, you heard me: no gluttony. Also, no achey back, no terribly messy kitchen, no cooking all day and then not eating 'cuz you're just over it.

Good thing, too. Its been the kind of year where I need some extra time to come up with my list of things for which to give thanks. I know at least one: I won't be bushed when dinner begins and my husband won't have to spend all night at the sink.

What about you guys?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Unbelievable

which is to say even I don't believe this and yet...'tis true. Seriously: sit down for this.

We've taken TOT out of her public school pending resolution of complaints we have regarding accommodation of her diabetes related academic needs. Situation is getting ugly, we know that we'll never be comfortable with her there under the current leadership so whatever may come of our official (and copious) complaints, she will never attend school there again. We've asked for her to be placed in the other elementary school that serves our community (Thing 1 and Thing 2 attended there before it became overcrowded and they split the boundary and built this new school). But until we know how our request will be resolved--what are we doing?

Frack. I'm home-schooling her.

I KNOW. I can hear you bristle, see you make that lolo gesture with your finger by the side of your skull...and really, why wouldn't you?

We talked a lot about this issue and the possibility of this solution last year when the school wasn't responding as we wished to her needs and my husband was keen to pull her out but I was not so keen to be a teacher, much less a teacher of my own daughter in my house. Its something of a statement that taking this route now is the very best of our limited options.

In our home county, a family that elects to home school must either submit to portfolio reviews of the curriculum being used or hitch their wagon to a state-certified home schooling program; most of those organizations are church based and cater to a curriculum that is much heavier in religious content than we could tolerate. Luckily, for less than a thousand dollars we found a GREAT, sincerely great, curriculum and all associated lesson plans and materials. Classroom in a box.

It has been WONDERFUL so far. The materials are fantastic and although I always have a lot of previewing to do to prepare a day's lessons we are doing so well and really enjoying it. A "school day" is mostly about 4.5 or 5 hours with only one student and a rookie teacher so we're able to accommodate the ups and downs of her blood glucose levels and the challenges they bring to concentration with breaks and distractions---and overall, its just a lot less difficult for her in terms of the time demand and the one-on-one interaction.

Its kind of like playing school but with really cool props. And its a huge relief from the constant struggles we were having with the Administration at her school.

I wouldn't want to point out in such an upbeat post about the timing being kinda challenging for initiating this effort.... life does keep rolling on, doesn't it? And let us not forget this: being a parent will lead you into positions you never imagined.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

In a Hospital Room

She: (feeling her pulse points repeatedly) "I can't find my pulse!"
I: (not looking up from my book) "It's in there."
She: "How can you be so sure?"
I: *Stunned silence* ?
I: "Self-report of clinically significant impalpable pulse is notoriously unreliable."
She: (rolls eyes) "You really are insufferable sometimes."
I: (with sarcastic glee) "I'm quite sure this is not one of those times."

The Sweetness
We have had more than a few nasty disagreements over the years. She loves me, I know. But we'd both admit in each other's presence that we've often not liked the other. We've spent a lot of time one-on-one in the last couple of months. I am able to comfort her when she's at her most agitated. I'm glad of that.

She's not well. She might not leave us next week or next month but I'll bet she won't be here next Thanksgiving. She has talked about my daughters during our hours in the rooms, about how she has loved them so completely and delighted in caring for them as wee ones when I went to work.

I knew in those days how lucky I was to leave my children in the care of their loving grandmother, even if she rarely did things as I wished, if she undid every ounce of discipline and orderliness I'd tried to instill in them. Even if she sometimes overstepped my "Momma Grizzly" boundaries. Even if she perpetuated bottle nipple rejection of precious pumped breast milk by dribbling it on their lips from her fingertips.

I think in these last few days I've for the first time really appreciated the gift she gave to me and to my children -- not the savings, the safety, the convenience, the freedom from infection. The real gift: the family joined over three generations, all of us caring for our others. I've finally felt truly connected to her as we shared our recollections of each daughter in their early months and years. I inadvertently called her "Mom" once...it just fell out of my mouth. This is something I've never, ever done, even when my teen friends would do so. I have one mother: she gave birth to me and no matter how much I might have felt comfort or love from friends' mothers, I never even considered diminishing my mother's efforts by calling someone else by her name.

I love what Mary M. has shown to my daughters about family connections. I certainly loved my grandparents just as I know my girls love my own parents but it is an entirely different family model. I hope my children will let me play the same part in their family lives.

Sisters
After she'd had her xanax this evening and settled down, the room grew quiet. I looked at a crack in the pink paint over the doorway. I had my first sad moment of the Bethy Blue season that is knocking on my door. Just as I thought of the many hospital rooms I sat in with Beth, she said, "and what an awful time of year it is for all of this to be happening..." Asked to clarify she said, "well, its very close now to Beth's anniversary..." And I swear--- we hadn't been talking about the holiday approaching or its' sad memories.

A few more hours passed and it was time for her night meds: steroids for the pneumonia, colace for its usual purpose, vitamin K to coagulate the blood they'd been thinning for her embolisms (until she nearly bled to death), oxycontin for pain. I read as she watched the silent television. She asked, "has Kathy planned any hikes with Shane?". I said I was confused; I don't know anyone named Shane. Perhaps she was confusing me for someone else? "No," she replied, "your daughter's golden retriever. Are they planning any mountain hikes?" "My daughters, your granddaughters, have a golden doodle named Noodle, a shih tzu named Otis. Maybe you're thinking I'm your sister, Dorothy?"

She said no and closed her eyes, exasperated with me. Then opening one eye only, she studied my face. "You're right. I thought you were Dorothy." I thanked her; her sister is lovely in face and character; they love each other well.

I wonder if she's going now to be with my sister. Over the rainbow, maybe.

[Note: This exasperation on her part that I would not be who she thought I was reminded me much of my Uncle Don Walker's insistence that a nurse on his floor of his nursing home was my Mom. I love that when my Mom did actually visit him, after a period of some length insisting this nurse was his niece (there's a limerick in there, I just know it...), she said, "Uncle Don! It's me: Mary Frances!" And he said, "Well, its about time you admitted it!"]