Tag Archives: music

“Dreams do come true in New Orleans”

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“I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place.  Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short.  It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of South Louisiana in words and try to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.  It is home.”  –Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

There is a magic to New Orleans that cannot be put down in words–it must be lived.  On Saturday, R and I woke up a little later than planned and got dressed to go see the mythic French Quarter.  As we walked down the street to catch the Street Car, the sun was warm and a cool breeze sifted through our hair.  We climbed onto the full car and rattled down St. Charles.  As my curls tangled through the open window, whipped in the sun, I drank in more of the beautiful architecture.  R, being the girl she is, struck up a conversation with a lost couple next to us.  They asked where to get off for Lafayette Square and she directed them, asking what they were up to.  They told us there was a festival, so we decided to get off with them and see what was out there.  We wandered through booths and heard a little music.  R told me “I love a good festival!” and that summarizes New Orleans well.  We got breakfast–a beer for R and the best pina colada on earth for me–and walked on.  (One of the strangest, and most enjoyable aspects of New Orleans was the ability to drink on the streets.  It never felt normal to get a drink to go, but it was wonderful!)

R wanted me to see a Second Line, so we walked to City Hall for the Occupy NOLA protest, listening for the band.  As we sipped and watched, R saw some of her friends from school, who stopped to chat for a moment.  They told us that the band could not be booked, and no Second Line was coming, but they were heading our direction, so we joined them.  We were accidental protestors.  “This is what happens when you fly by the seat of your pants!” she said with a wide grin.  Walking with the protestors was surreal and we were glad to have alcohol on our side.  A young girl rode on her parent’s shoulders on the outskirts, taking in the scene.  Signs were everywhere, all angry about something different.  A woman marched in front of us with a sign on her backpack reading, “3 degrees, 2 jobs, and I can’t sell my house.  I’m tired and angry.”  A drummer walked next to us for a block, flanked by a saxophone player, as people shouted “This is what democracy looks like.”  As we entered the Quarter, we broke free and left behind the shouts of unrest.

We stopped in a stately hotel, cool behind its white pillars, and glimpsed the slowly turning Carousel that made up the bar.  After the pit stop, we strolled the streets, passing galleries and shops and a cat in a window.  We wandered the historic streets, older than the stars and stripes.  The corners bore tiled signs, proclaiming the names the streets were known as under Spanish rule.  Stone and brick sidewalks turn into cobbled alleys, old shuttered doors bright and warm.  We wound down to Jackson Square, arriving just as horns began to echo.  We were surprised by a Second Line!  We stopped to watch, as the band approached, and clapped as the bride and groom followed.  We walked past the artists, work strewn on tables and pinned on fence bars, and the fortune tellers, browning in the autumn sun.  Skinny streets with beautifully old names crisscrossed through history and we wound up next to the mule-drawn carriages.  Promised a cheap ride if we joined strangers, we toured the Quarter by carriage, listening to tidbits of history and lore, seeing the oldest bar in America (Jean Lafittes Black Smith Shop), the only business open during Katrina (Johnny White’s), and an elementary school just off Bourbon Street.  Back at Jackson Square, we admired Saint Louis Cathedral, popping in for a look around and a homily about economic justice.  We walked back past the art vendors, enamored with a collection of bird paintings, and then headed for lunch.

We entered an almost empty dining room at the Gumbo Shop, which I would have walked right past if R hadn’t stopped me.  We entered the cool restaurant, seated next to the window where we watched a large woman, dressed all in red, clean up her keyboard and seat for the day.  R ordered gumbo and I enjoyed my first po’ boy after we shared an order of alligator sausage.  It was all new, steps away from all that I know and have ever experienced, and it was delicious–just like the city itself.  Full, hydrated, and content, we left our first real meal of the day for more walking.  Our feet had grown tired and we had not drunk nearly enough for a day in the Quarter, so we made our way down Bourbon in and into Pat O’Brien’s, where we would stay for much longer than we intended.

In the dark, smoky piano bar, we found an empty table near the stage and sat down with my first hurricane.  Sipping and singing, we watched tables fill and empty and fill again.  We heard some songs three or four times, and grew excited when a new one was requested.  We were mesmerized by their fingers, pounding and flying, effortlessly creating every song we threw at them.  The players cycled through, as did our drinks, and we sang on.  Finally R’s roommate joined us, which called for another round of drinks, and shouted our day’s journey to her over the music.  Eventually we tottered our way out, squeezing between crowded tables, and found that it had grown dark outside as well.  We walked to the car, taking Bourbon just to say that I did, and slowly drove away from the Quarter, just beginning to pick up for the night.  We listened to her roommate’s day, filled in details of ours, and decided some food was in order.  We drove through Rally’s, another new taste, though much more familiar than alligator.  We limped home, tired and hungry, and snuggled in for a little television before sleep.

At the end of the day, it felt like we had live a week.  It felt forever ago that we climbed onto the Street Car, and we crammed as much into a day in the French Quarter as possible.  I got to see and taste the city, breathe in the pounding heart of New Orleans.  It is a place of history, rich in humanity.  The streets ring, sing right along with the brass bands marching.  People come to perform, to dance and play, to paint and predict.  People come to where the life is.  For one day, I was one of the people who came to the Quarter, one of the pulses creating the beat of the street.

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands.  Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.”  –John Updike

“You gotta hear this one song, it’ll change your life…”

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As I mentioned before, I am not a “music person.”  I am enjoying music more and more as I get older, and I am finding more value in it, but I’m still not that person.  A friend asked me this week to make a list of ten or fifteen songs that have made me who I am, that I couldn’t live without.  There are few songs that I would go crazy if I were deprived of, but there are more than I realized that have shaped and changed me.  At the very least, they make up a soundtrack, marking important times and moments in my life.  Interestingly, as I started thinking about them, a number are linked to movies that I love.  Picking movies that change me or that I couldn’t give up is much harder because I have a much stronger connection to some of them.  Go figure that their songs are on my list.

So here is some of my list.  This is not concrete and will undoubtedly change over time, if not immediately.  These are my songs:

*”Slip Sliding Away,” Paul Simon: My father sang this song to me as a child when he put me to bed.  There were others that he sang, others that I listened to on my cassette player, but this is my bedtime song.  I know it in no other context.  It will always be my dad’s song.  The lyrics are so sorrowful, so beautiful.  I wonder, looking back, if it was just a song that he loved, or one that epitomized those nights.  Was it just another song, or a reminder to savor the warm nights before homework, television, sleepovers and moving out?

*”Faith,” Limp Bizkit: I vividly remember this cover from my junior high days.  It was a time when my parents forbid MTV and VH1, when I snuck home with my best friend and watched TRL in my room.  It was harsh and slightly vulgar, it was nothing that I had ever listened to before and the first time I really understood music as rebellion. 

*”Fix You,” Coldplay: I gave a presentation in college about Jesus healing out biggest, most paralyzing wounds.  It was about complete healing and the invitation to be made whole.  It was a talk that was a profound learning experience for me and a revelation about God’s relationship with His children.  It touched a lot of people and really was an important message.  The talk concluded with this song, begging the question of allowing ourselves to be fixed.  It was so unexpected and so powerful that, no matter how many times I hear it or in what context, I’m brought back to that night and invitation to know wholeness. 

*”We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Billy Joel: The song, in and of itself, is fascinating and full of energy.  Why this song really stays with me, and gives me chills, has more to do with seeing it live.  The first musical I saw was Movin’ Out, which sparked a love for broadway and musical theater.  This song comes near the midpoint of the play, but the theatrics of it were amazing.  The lights flashing and the representation of war on stage was like nothing I had seen.  It was a visceral example of the power of music, the story it tells. 

*”24,” Switchfoot: Without question, this is my favorite band.  There are so many of their songs that have touched me, challenged me, opened my eyes, and brought me joy.  I choose this one for its simplicity and beauty.  While it is not their most famous, it is one of the most personal. 

*”Part of Your World,” The Little Mermaid: I am not sure how many times I have watched this film.  I cannot even estimate how many times my parents watched me stand on our hearth and sing this at the top of my lungs.  I sometimes operate under the dillusion that I can sing.  I took voice lessons in junior high school that ended with me refusing to learn piano scales and quitting.  This song stands out as one that, as early as I can remember, instilled a love of singing.  Now it’s only in my car or shower, but singing brings out something joyful, something alive in me that I love. 

“The News,” Jack Johnson: Here is another beloved artist whose songs could fill this entire list.  I love his work and could choose any one, but this song sticks with me for a few reasons.  Aside from his lullaby voice and beautiful guitar, this song is haunting.  The images of death being ignored, of flippant disregard for the tragedy of everyday life are chilling.  I have heard the protest songs of the sixties, the music of social change.  I do not intend to take anything away from those, but they are too far removed from my time to really hit me hard.  This one, a song for my media-saturated generation, makes such a plea for empathy and humanity.

“The Luckiest,” Ben Folds: I first heard this song my freshman year in college.  My RA played it for me and I fell in love.  It is such a sweet, pure love song.  The music is beautiful and the images are unique.  While I am a sucker for love songs of almost any kind, this was refreshing.  It strayed from clichés and reached to find the words to describe a unique bond.  As a writer, I admire it.

*”Time of Your Life,” Green Day: As over-played as this song is come graduation, I will never tire of it.  Aside from being background music for the Seinfeld finale, which was and is my favorite show, it marked one of my hardest goodbyes.  The night before I left home for college, one my best friends came over to say goodbye.  We stood on my front porch talking for a minute and just as he was ready to leave, a car pulled up across the street and opened its door.  Blaring from the speaker was this song.  It was right out of a movie and made everything a little harder and a little easier.  It was meant to be, but it was meant to be special.

Because this is getting to be quite a long process, here are a few current favorites, simply for listening pleasure: “Konstantine,” Something Corporate, “Ungodly Hour,” The Fray, “Hey Soul Sister,” Train, and “Beautiful Mess,” Jason Mraz.  Even as I think about these songs, they seem incomplete.  There are so many others that I love, that bring up important memories.  I realize that a number of them are, as I said, songs tied to movies or other things, not songs standing on their own.  I don’t really think that lessens their importance.  I also realize that this list is very heavy on male artists.  This is a relatively recent development, and it does not mean that there aren’t songs by women that are important to me or that are enjoyable.  It just means that right now, in this moment, these are my list.  When I wake up tomorrow, I’m sure it will have changed.  It’s an interesting challenge, though, to make your own list.  It may prove that we’re all more “music people” than we may think. 

“All deep things are song.  It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls!”  –Thomas Carlyle

“You’ve got us feeling alright”

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Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.  –Berthold Auerbach

Last week was not particularly noteworthy.  Nothing exceptional happened to me.  I worked too few hours, spent too much time alone and did not do anything that really qualifies as remarkable.

I am prefacing this post with the admission that I am not a “music person.”  A music person knows all about the up and coming artists, rattling off names and bands that most people won’t hear of for months.  They actually spend money on music, make playlists on their iPods, and go to concerts.  I’ve always been a movie or tv person.  I’m becoming more of a music person, but if I am at home, the tv will be on as white noise long before music.  In my own defense, it is rare that music is not an integral part of film or television, and I can’t live without a radio or cd in my car.  However, I would never claim the title of “music person.”

Now, despite my lackluster week, I was a part of something special involving music.  A friend of mine,  Trent, is an incredibly talented musician (check him out at www.myspace.com/trent.hancock !).  Essentially a human jukebox, he can play almost anything on the guitar and sing right along, as well as write his own music.  As someone with no musical talent and only a few failed singing lessons in my past, I have high respect for the dedication and talent involved in creating music.  I appreciate the passion involved in playing and the world that is created with notes and chords.  

Trent plays at different places around the city all week and, as he is moving on to bigger things and places, last week was a lot of lasts for him.  I joined a couple of friends at a small dive bar for one of his farewells after a difficult day at work.  I hesitated going, considering how comfortable my pajamas looked and preferring solitude, but went out.  I had spent the day over-analyzing something a friend had said, which is not a new thing for me.  I had thought myself down, let something small upset me, and was ready to just hide away in my self-pity.  However, in a rare move, I decided to be social and go out despite my blue mood.  It was one of the best choices I’ve made in a long time.

As I walked into the packed bar, I regretted my choice.  I’m not a huge drinker and not especially outgoing, so a room full of drunk strangers was not inviting in my sobriety.  I sat down as he began to play and talked with my friend a bit, but it was too loud to really have a conversation.  As he continued to play, something interesting happened.  The crowd was amazing and a mixture of people who love him and were there to see a friend and those who had heard him play and love his music.  It was such a welcoming, enthusiastic room, filled with people who simply wanted to celebrate someone they had come to call friend.  And then everyone began to sing along. 

Plenty of people were singing from the beginning, but once everyone else was going, my self-consciousness eased and I joined too.  For an introvert, it was an amazing moment.  As sad and introspective as I was feeling, I completely lost myself in people and music.  As much as I wanted to be alone, I loved being wedged in between strangers.  The singing drowned the insecurities in my head and all of my thoughts disappeared.  It was the most wonderful feeling to simply lose myself in something bigger than my mind.  This is not the first time that this has happened, and I’m really not the hermit I seem, but it was such an awesome feeling.  My words do not do jutice to the freedom I felt that night.  It was so nice, in a world of twitter and facebook and (yes, I see the irony) blogs, to be in such a physical, visceral place.  Every last sense was stimulated and involved and set free the moment I let myself stop being so internal. 

It was a fantastic send-off for Trent.  I hope he enjoyed himself, because if he had half as much fun as the rest of us, it was a successful night.  For someone who will probably never be a “music person,” it was a moment of clarity of what it is that makes music people. 

“And the manager gives me a smile/ ‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see/ To forget about life for a while” –Billy Joel