Must…Kill…Worm…


Dear Readers,

Please, please help me! I am in a desperate situation. Desperate, I tell ya. DESPERATE.

I don’t know what to do, or where to turn.  I can’t take it any more, and things are looking very very grim.

Please help me.

I must find a way to rid myself of the most dreaded ear worm in the history of hearing.

Here is my sad, sad story.

“I’m Elsa! You’re Anna!”



I am, you see, the caregiver and loving Nonni of a three year old girl. This means that I spend a lot of time brushing hair, making cookies, hugging, blah, blah, blah.

But here’s the problem: I spend WAYYYYYYY more time acting out the part of either Elsa or Anna from the Disney blockbuster “Frozen”.  You know the one I mean. The one with all the lovely visual images, the sweet story of true love between sisters, the adorable reindeer, and all that other crap.

You know this story.

It’s the one with the epic song “Let It Go!” Which ranks right up there in the pantheon of brain stickiness with “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” ‘

After roughly 12 straight weeks of watching “Frozen” every damn day, I am now about 4 seconds away from complete insanity.

Here, dear sympathetic readers, is a typical day in the life of Anna/Nonni:

Wake up at midnight from a little back pain. “Mmmm….comfy position….mmmmmm….”Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back any more-or-or….” NOOOOOOOO!!!! Eyes snap open, heart rate increases…..”NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” Clamp eyes shut, start internal singing of the alto parts in Handel’s Messiah….fall asleep……                                              Wake up at 6 AM. “H’m….today is Monday, so today we need to…’Let it go!!!! Let it go!!!!!!”  Roll over, shove pillow over head and into left ear…moan pitifully…Begin to sing “Born to Run” right out loud. Take shower while singing “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” at the top of my lungs…..step out of shower…..”Do you wanna build a snowman????”

This goes on All. Day. 

These songs are relentless. They have embedded themselves into my auditory system, where they are slowly chomping their way toward my cortex. They plan to overpower me. I feel it.

I feel the advance of the Frozen Earworm. I feel it! It’s coming for my soul!!! I don’t know where to turn!!!

But today, at last, I thought I might get a brief reprieve.

Today was the first day of our big bathroom renovation, and the house was full of big burly men with muscles and baseball caps and huge Dunkin Donuts coffee cups. 

“Huh”, I thought to myself. “They will probably have a radio! It will probably be playing old Bon Jovi songs.”  I smiled a little. I felt safe. These were obviously NOT Disney Princess types.

I let the men in with a sigh of relief, and got ready for the kids to arrive.

When Ellie and Johnny came in for the day, I introduced them to the big, manly builder people. I felt so….protected…you know?  All was well. I felt almost smug in my sense of safety.

After breakfast, Ellie naturally asked to put on her blue Elsa dress and wanted to watch ‘the movie’. “Sure!” I said happily. “I’ll put it on!”

I still assumed that the manly men would be playing classic rock songs to  scrub Disney right outta my cerebral neurons.

Hahahahahaha.

I’m an idiot.

Because here’s what actually happened.

Movie starts. Ellie begins to dance around in her blue Elsa dress, belting out the lyrics to every song.

Burly man #1: “Oh, so cute! Look at her! I have a six year old daughter and she loves this movie!”

Bulky muscle man #2: “I have two daughters! One is 13 and one is 11. Oh, I miss the days when they used to dance around in their Elsa dresses!” This one started to hum along with the music. I started to hyperventilate.

Manly worker dude #3: ” I have five kids! But only one daughter. This music really grabs you, doesn’t it?”

I was horrified. I felt so betrayed!

The music played. My earworm dug in even deeper. I am pretty sure I started to twitch.

I tried to relax. I started to hum Barley, by Birds of Chicago. I hummed really really loud. I stuck a finger in each ear and hummed some more. 

When my heart rate returned to normal, I slowly withdrew my shaking fingers.

And this is what I heard, in three part dissonance from the men tearing apart my bathroom:

“Let the storm rage onnnnnn!!!!! The cold never bothered me anyway!!!!!”

You can’t count on anyone any more.

Please help.

I am desperate. 

And for the record, the cold ALWAYS bugs the hell out of me!!!!!

How I Became One of the Cool Kids


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Upstate Rubdown. The actual cool kids.

I think I was about 10 when I realized that the world is made up of those who are cool and those who want to be.

I wanted to be cool.

I wasn’t.

I tried to be less of a nerd, but I was known as one of those kids who would sneak a good novel into my desk during math class.

Fashion seemed like the obvious way to become cool, but by the time I realized that hiphuggers were in, they weren’t any more. Nehru jackets in the late 60’s? Yup. I got mine in 1971.

Epically uncool.

But there was ONE thing I did manage to do in my life that shot me straight into the cool kid stratosphere. I discovered some really great musicians before they became huge.

So cool! The coolest!

Nothing turns a nerd cool faster than being ahead of the musical curve, you know what I mean?  Imagine having someone put on a CD of their new favorite band and being able to say, “Pshaw. I’ve been seeing them for years!” Coolness, hipness and general superiority come flooding right down over your nerdy little head.

Well, my friends, this is YOUR chance to become almost as cool as Momshieb.

Because I have a tip that you honestly can’t ignore.

Introducing “Upstate Rubdown,” my new musical obsession!  We first heard them two years ago on the advice of our already musically cool sons. Both Paul and I fell in love with the harmonies, the energy, the uniqueness of their music.

We have seen them about a dozen times since then and we listen to their first album so often that my 2 year old granddaughter can sing every word.

You need to listen to Upstate Rubdown. You owe it to your former nerdy self! You owe it to your musical self. You can find them on Facebook and on YouTube. Go!

But then come right back, because this is the coolest part. Upstate is working on a new album! For reasons that defy comprehension, they have not yet been signed by a record company. So they are funding it through a Kickstarter campaign.

You need to click right HERE so that you can send them some money, preorder the album, and insure your place forever in the pantheon of cool kids.

How can you say no?

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It doesn’t get much cooler than this.

To be completely truthful (“in the interest of transparency”) I have to tell you that both of our sons fell in love with the music, too. Then one of them fell in love with one of the beautiful singers.

That means that we know these young people. We are big time fans (just ask them how goofy we look singing along at their shows). But we also know that this band is the real deal. They are hardworking, smart, kind and so talented that I constantly have to fight the urge to ask for their autographs.

Go listen. I’m not kidding. You will NOT be sorry.

Boomerfest


 

I have a wicked good idea.

My husband and I just came home from a three day bluegrass and roots music festival in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of North Adams, Massachusetts. It was so much fun!

We were surrounded by an incredible amount of talent performing on four stages and in various spots around the MassMoca art museum. We danced more than we have in what feels like forever! There was also a ton of delicious and varied foods, from pizza to maple donuts to vegan tacos and gourmet grilled cheese.

And so much good beer, wine and all that mood altering deliciousness.

Wow.

This means, of course, that I am writing this blog at 8 pm on Sunday from under the covers of my bed. My sore legs and feet are propped up, there’s an ice pack on my knee, and I’ve taken my Tums and my ibuprofin. My 61 year old body feels like I’ve been in a prize fight.

Music festivals are not for sissies.

So I was thinking.

Given the fact that the original rock and roll generation is getting pretty long in the tooth, maybe these festivals should be geared more for older patrons. I mean, extra spicy bloody Marys are all well and good for all the millennials in the crowd at the Fresh Grass Festival, but what about the rest of us?

So I’ve been thinking. I have decided to put on my own music festival just for us mature types. I shall call it “BOOMERFEST”.

These are my plans so far.

Food:

Last night I got hungry for a little nosh, and I went to one of the food courts. I thought my blood sugar might have been a little low, you know? Just needed a little something to take the edge off and give me energy.

I ended up with an entire plate of sweet potato fries.

At Boomerfest, we’ll still have the pizza, the home made ice cream and the dumplings, but we’ll also offer nice fresh choices. Just to lower the likelihood of one of us keeling over from a heart attack.

Boomerfest will feature an entire food court devoted to fruits, veggies and whole grains! Of course, all the vegetables will be cooked. Raw veggies give us gas.

We’ll have a Tea Truck, too. Some of us like a little mid afternoon pick-me-up. Maybe some nice decaf tea with those little arrowroot cookies. Or some seltzer and a few crackers.

Drink:

We are keeping the Bloody Marys, the mango Mimosas and all the local beers and great wines. We are old, but we are not stupid. Why do you think they call it a “festival”?

So while we’ll have plenty of high quality hooch, we’ll also offer healthier options. I haven’t perfected the prune juice martini yet, but I think it has potential.

Health/First Aide

This is an important topic. Fresh Grass had a big first aid tent and I’m sure it had lots of logical supplies like bandages and ice packs and Narcan, but our place will be a little different.

In addition to the usual supplies, we’re going to stock antacids, laxatives (we’re away from home), denture adhesives and those little pads you can stick on your corns and bunions. We don’t need anything to get in the way of us dancing till we fall over!

Patrons will be encouraged to come in and take a few breaths if they’ve they’ve gotten too close to the stage and all those hot young musicians. Can’t be too careful.

Finally, you know how festivals often set up a fan in front of a hose, so you can get sprayed and cooled off as you go buy? Well, I’m going to set up a device that sprays sun screen down on people from above.

Older women often have thinner hair than they realize. I have had first-hand experience forgetting about my old-lady head on a sunny day and waking up the next morning to Scorched Scalp Syndrome.

And need I mention the older guys who hear one riff of an electric guitars and suddenly forget they aren’t 20 any more? The ones wearing hats won’t even notice the sunscreen spray, but it will save the baldys with the scraggly gray ponytails a boatload of pain on Monday morning.

What do you think?

Anyone want to come to my festival next summer? In the comments below, please leave your suggestions for how to make Boomerfest a safe and exciting time for everyone.

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Sure, these two are young. I gave birth to both of them.

 

Touching My Soul


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When I was a self conscious college student, I spent way too much time discussing questions like, “What is art?”

I never really understood. I read classic literature, but I was the kid in the back of the class on “Anna Karenina” who couldn’t get past the mother walking out on her kid. I remember an hour long discussion of how Tolstoi used the symbol of the rowan tree in his work. I squirmed. I wiggled. I finally blurted out, “Oh, my God! It’s just a tree! He just put it in there because they were in a forest!”

I was not the best student at interpreting artistic metaphor.

I have tried to look at contemporary and abstract art. Honestly, most of it just looks to me as if a bunch of kids walked through spilled paint and did the happy dance on a canvas.

Art?

I dunno.

But last night I think I finally figure out what “art” is to me.

Last night Paul and I and some of old friends went to see a performance by Rhiannon Giddens. I have been listening to this woman’s music for the past nine or ten months. But seeing her live?

Oh. Dear Lord.

I finally know what art is.

Art reaches way way inside of you. It pokes you, not so gently, and it makes you look at yourself. Hard.

Ms. Giddens is, as far as I am concerned, the embodiment of the Goddess.

As I listened to the sound of indescribably gorgeous, rich voice, and as I watched her move with grace around the stage, I imagined myself describing her to my granddaughter, Ellie.

I have to tell you that Ellie already loves Rhiannon’s music. She comes into my house and chooses her music every day. It is usually either  “Melanie” of Upstate Rubdown, “Allie” of Birds of Chicago, or “Annon” of “Rhiannon Giddens.”

The child knows good music when she hears it.

But last night, seeing Rhiannon Giddens on stage, moving, smiling, playing, singing, I kept trying to capture the words to describe the experience to Ellie.

“Rhiannon is….” I don’t want to say ‘beautiful’, although she surely is. I don’t want to reduce her to another lovely face.  I don’t want Ellie to think that beauty is the standard to be most admired.

No. There are so many more substantial words to describe her, and to describe the meaning of “art”.

Art hits you hard. It rocks you.

Art doesn’t apologize.

It makes you look at your real self. It makes you want to be better than you were just a moment before.

Now I think that art makes you question yourself in the best ways. It challenges you to grow.

Rhiannon Giddens is an artist. Last night her music made me cry. It made me question my role in the life of my country and of the world.

This is what I will tell Ellie.

I admire Rhiannon Giddens and love her music because of the woman that she is.

She is powerful. She is strong. She doesn’t apologize for her views or her reactions. She is tall, and dark and loud and glorious. She sings like a sweet angel. She sings like an avenging angel.

She is my understanding of art. She’s my challenge going forward.

Wow.

What a concert.

If by chance you do not know the music of this woman, you owe it to yourself to listen to her.

Rhiannon Giddons/TED

 

Hope


In a world filled with war and anger and violence, hope is becoming so hard to find.

People yell and argue and struggle and sneer. You start to wonder where it will end. You start to wonder if there’s any hope.

Then you go away fro a couple of days. You go to a struggling little working class city where the old red brick mills are being turned into art galleries. You go to hear music.

At first you think the ticket price is too much, but you grudgingly give in. After all, the real reason for your trip is that your sons live in that small city. They love music. They make music of their own. You think its sweet to hear them sing, but you don’t think of them as “real” musicians. You just want to go for the weekend to be near them.

They are just your “boys.”

You buy the tickets. You make the drive out to the Berkshires in Western Mass. You listen to the radio on the way, even though you know that hearing Donald Trump lie and lie and argue and lie again will only make you lose that last tiny thread of hope.

You get to the festival. You walk into the sprawling brick building that once housed a textile mill, but which is now home to the famous Mass Museum of Contemporary Art. You hear fiddle music. People are streaming in, smiling, humming. So many of them carry instruments.

You walk through the lobby, out into the courtyard of the museum. You are surrounded by families, laughing and talking. There are three stages, in three sizes, and from each one you hear the sounds of fiddles and mandolins and guitars. You hear voices harmonizing and feet stomping.

This is the “Fresh Grass” Music festival that happens in the small city of North Adams, Mass, every September.

The air is full of the delicious smells of food, beer, herbal smokes.

Every part of the Fresh Grass Festival is wonderful. Inspiring, encouraging, rejuvenating.

Children dance, parents laugh, there is music around every corner.

And there are particular moments that bring hope back into your heart.

One of those moments happened on Saturday morning. Our sons, our baby boys, were playing music with some friends at one of the “pop up” stages at the festival. Now, let’s be clear. “Pop up” means “You aren’t on one of the big stages and people will either wander by and hear you, or they won’t.” It is strictly for Newbies in the business, but even that is pretty damn special. Some of the headliners at this festival are major talents. Music is their career and they are starts.

Our boys make music for the joy of it.

The space where they performed was a long, rectangular room with lofty ceilings. The acoustics were amazing. Almost like being in a church. The boys and their three friends had acoustic instruments and they started to play to a basically empty gallery. Little by little, though, the soaring harmonies and ringing strings brought people in.

It was the strangest thing for me. People who didn’t know any of us were simply entering the room, having paid good money to hear live music. They stood, they listened, they smiled, clapped, danced. Some asked “Who are you guys?” They talked to each other about how much they were enjoying the sound.

And I was standing there, thinking. “Wait. Those are my baby boys! How did they learn to sing like that?” I can’t describe it.

It wasn’t only pride that I was feeling.It was also a kind of loss.  It was a sense of just how far my children have come, and how they little they need us now. I was as amazed by their talent as the rest of the room was, and that feeling brought me to tears.

And the setting made it special, too.

My beautiful sons and their talented young friends were creating a gorgeous harmony in the big gallery. A gallery that was dedicated to images of atomic bomb tests and explosions.

At one point, a family came in to listen. Two little sisters, aged about 5 and 7, sat on a bench in front of the band. They had flaxen braids, bright blue eyes, and pink and cream skin. They wore matching pink dresses. They were incredibly beautiful. They sat on the bench, each with her mouth slightly open as they nodded along to the music. They were watching the boys. I was watching them.

Beyond them, on the gallery wall, the brightly colored images of death and destruction had been reduced to simple art.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, I had hope again.

Two beautiful children were ignoring the images of war as they took in the sounds of blended voices and instruments.

Maybe they were making some dreams of their own. Maybe they’d want to grow up to make music. They were thinking of those dreams, and not of the mushroom clouds in framed glass beyond where they sat.

That is hope.

 

Music Can Break Your Heart


Ah, today our past is right there in front of us.  We can’t escape it.

Today the images of our fashion faux pas are right there on Google Images. I can no longer deny that in 1978 the love of my life took me to the prom in a mint green tux because I told him that it matched his eyes.

There was a time, I’m sure, when people of my age could pretend that they never wore those outdated clothes or clunky shoes.

Not now, though. With the internet, we can find 1,000 awkward photos from our youth.

But the hardest part, for me, is the fact that YouTube has every single sappy, beautiful, compelling, heart wrenching song from my most tender years.

There was a time, long ago, when I sang in a small folk group at a weekly church basement “CoffeeHouse”.  Yes, I did think of myself as a young Joan Baez.  I did. We gathered in the church once a week to rehearse, the green grass outside the door smelling so sweet. And once a week, in the evening, we sang for a small audience. I remember sitting on the edge of a small stage, the lights bright on our faces.  I remember the sound of our harmonies.

I sang with my more talented friends, who played guitar as we performed.  I harmonized with them, working out our own special chords to “Suzanne” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”  I felt so incredibly accomplished as I made my voice blend with theirs.

I remember singing with my friends in their basements, too. Harmonizing to Crosby, Still and Nash. Who would do the lowest part? Me!!!! Let me!  We sounded amazing to ourselves as we hiked in the mountains, singing. Or as we sat in the cafeteria of our High School, singing.  We loved each other, so we made music that filled our hearts.

I remember those times.

So tonight, when I looked up an old song on YouTube, I ended up in tears. My whole musical youth, right there for me to relive and cherish.

Peter, Paul and Mary…..Joan Baez…..Judy Collins…..Crosby, Stills and Nash.

It was only a few weeks ago, wasn’t it, when I sang these songs with Cindy and Mo and Doris and Chris and John?  When our dear Steve tried and failed to hold the tune?

It was just the other day when Sue and I discovered “Where do you go to, my lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt. We were so sure that we were unique in our love of this sophisticated moving song.

It just happened. It was just the other day.  I’m sure of it.

Ah, how music can break your heart.

 

 

A Curiously Circular Experience


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Live music in the Berkshires.

Oh, this evening was one of those curiously circular experiences that I seem to keep noticing lately.  One of those moments when I feel all of the key points in my life passing each other as they circle around and come back into sync with each other for brief moments.

Tonight I talked Paul into making the 2 hour drive out to the Berkshires for some live music.

Oh, not Tanglewood!  Nope, not for us.

We were headed for an outdoor concert on the shores of a small pond in the tiny Berkshire town where our two sons now live.  It’s kind of a cool story, really.  Our boys used to play music together when they were in Middle School and High School. One of them is the bass player, one the drummer.  We were lucky enough, as the parents of the drummer, to host the band in our basement for 6 very interesting years. We went through a lot of musical growth together, including a somewhat challenging “MetalHead” phase.

But eventually, everyone grew up, and the boys moved out.  The music was gone from our house. The nest was empty.

Now, five years later, our boys have come together again. Laughing together. Living together. Sharing a fabulous friendship with a truly amazing group of friends in the old city of North Adams, Mass, in the gorgeous Berkshire Mountains.  And making music together again.

Our boys, along with several friends, were playing a free concert sponsored by the City of North Adams. “Flannel Dan and the Panhandle Band” were the featured band tonight.  We were pretty excited!

So we packed a delicious picnic, loaded up our lawn chairs, and headed out to the shores of lovely Windsor Lake in North Adams.   The sun was setting, and the golden light covered the lake and the trees.  There was a sweet, cool breeze blowing over the people who were scattered across the lawn.  We broke out our cheese and crackers, our salsa and chips while we waited for the band to begin playing.

We looked around at the rest of the audience, which was made up of surprisingly “mature” people. Most were white haired (like us!), but there were also a few clusters of young families, as well as several groups of twenty somethings who were mostly friends of the musicians.

I found myself looking with some longing at one young Momma with a tiny boy in her arms, wrapped in one of the silky baby carrier wraps that I recognized from my own daughter.  I approached her to admire the baby, and found that he was exactly 4 days younger than my new granddaughter.  He was just beautiful!  I wanted to hold him (I really, really, really wanted to hold him!) but I reigned myself in.  I introduced myself to his pretty young Mom, who turned out to be a friend of our sons.  I admired the little one, and went back to my picnic and to “Grampa”.

The music was really wonderful; we haven’t heard our boys perform with a full band for years now. We were both amazed at the professionalism and the ease of the performance.

But I was distracted.  I have to admit it.  I was distracted by the beauty of the sky, and the lake and late summer scents.

And I was distracted by the antics of a tiny golden haired boy, about a year old, who wandered away from his Dad to cross behind the band.  His huge, serious eyes and the way that he kept looking behind him to make sure that his Daddy was following reminded me so much of my Matt, the bass player, when he was that age.   Wanting to explore, needing to be safe.

I was distracted, too, by the energy and joyful clowning of the three year old boy whose Mom sat on a blanket next to ours, eating her picnic sandwich and trying to entice her child to share.  He, however, could not be bothered with mere food. He was too busy racing around in circles, dancing with both hands held to the sky, and hurling himself onto the blanket in a tangle of legs, flailing arms and bright red sneakers.

He could have been my Tim, the drummer, at the very same age.  The sparkle of mischief in his eyes had tears coming to mine.

I sat back in my camp chair. I held Paul’s hand and let the rich harmonies of our sons’ voices swirl around us.  I was so happy to see the strong, talented, happy young men that they have become. I looked at them, smiling at the beards, the height, the muscles in their arms.

I looked around me, saw the dancing little boy, the carefully exploring little boy.  I let my eyes rest on the sweet face of the newborn son in his Momma’s arms.

Every moment, every sweet memory of my years with my boys, went spinning and swirling and circling through my brain.

The music washed over me.  The sound of little boys giggling filled my heart.

It was a beautiful, harmonious, circular evening in the Berkshires tonight.   Life is a beautiful gift. It brings us new ways to love our children as they grow.  It shows us new ways to admire and appreciate them with every step that they take.

And sometimes life gives us an evening full of music and harmonies and perfect rhythms that are accompanied by the sounds of a baby’s cry, a toddler’s laugh, a little boy’s joyful shout as he dances to the ringing of the guitars.