Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Running for Sanity: Original Pirate Material

The following post was from August of last year. For obvious reasons I was not timely about posting it, and for not so obvious reasons I am finally getting around to finishing it up. Luckily I never did have to go for a run again in those early months.
My listening has been on hiatus for four weeks now. Maybe it's because four weeks ago we welcomed the newest member of our family, a baby girl. This should be a post about how wonderful and adorable she is (and she is) or how overjoyed I am to have completed my little family of four (my heart sometimes feels like it going to burst with thankfulness and joy). But this isn't that post. That post needs to come, but this is a post about running and escaping.

Last night I went for my first voluntary run, not including pickup basketball, since April of 2010. That's a long streak of no running, considering I have to pass a physical test twice a year.
But last night I ran. I ran until my chest felt like it would tear in half. I ran until my gut ached. I burst out the door and tore down the street like I was running from a horde of zombies (I've been catching up on a lot of the walking dead during my nearly sleepless nights) or like I was running down anyone who would hurt my family (my fatherly instincts are on high alert these days). I ran until I was spitting bile. I ran until the dry heaves forced me to the curb doubled over. Then I straightened up and ran some more. I felt miserable when I got home and wandered around my yard in the dark trying to keep down the contents of my stomach. For an hour I sweat and my head spun. But then I finally settled and all the intensity of the day finally melted away.
I needed to escape. Screaming baby, crying toddler, stressed out wife; the family I live for and have spent my life dreaming of finally having, was driving me crazy. There's a great song by Kathleen Edwards called "Run" that captures the feeling perfectly. But when I told my wife I needed to go for a run, a statement met with a look of shock, I threw on my shoes and earbuds, and put my iPod on random. The first track was The Streets "Turn the Page." Perfect.

Artist: The Streets
Recording: Original Pirate Material
Recording #50ish
The strings rise, pulsating, endlessly. Then that off-kilter drum beat, and more strings. "That's it, turn the page on the day, walk away." Mike Skinner's nasally voice needles its way into my brain. The night is warm, and my legs feel like nothing. The misdirected anger is boiling inside me. I know there is no one to blame for my frustration, that it's just part of the job description of "parent." But it just makes me angrier that I have no one to pin it on. I run harder. Other songs come on, but I don't remember them. I just remember that eventually I started to think less about my life and more about how my body was starting to hurt. I was happy about that. I punished my body by pushing it harder instead of slowing down. It paid me back when I got home, but in the end it paid off and I came home ready to try again at being a dad and husband.
The rest of Original Pirate Material is still great running music, by the way, but not for angry running. Skinner's unconventional rap style is too distracting to sound angry, and most of the songs focus more on his happy stoner demeanor than any sort of violence. I remember the first time I heard The Streets was back in the summer of 2002 when I was home from college. My music guru John put on "The Irony of it All" and I was hooked. Before I went back to school I had bought the album and listened to it daily. The lazy sounding production, the most awkward rhymes imaginable, and the head nodding beats were perfect for long nights of studying, or avoiding studying. I had a radio show where I played The Streets as much as I could get away with (and actually once got a request for more). Even more than a decade later nothing sounds quite like it. The follow-up, A Grand Don't Come for Free is nearly as good, and the story cycle of the concept album means I can't ever listen to just one song. There were highlights on the recordings that followed, but none matched the debut. Check it out on Spotify here.

Check out Tom Moons entry here.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Covers: Songs That Shouldn't Work

Here's a link to a great post at Cover Me where we answered the question "What cover song shouldn't work as well as it does?" The list is pretty great, and has an amazing number of 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die songs and artists, including:

Yes covering Simon and Garfunkle's "America"
Mariachi el Bronx covering "I Would Die 4 U" off Prince's Purple Rain
Dolly Parton covering Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," featured on How the West was Won
Sam Cooke covering Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind"
Richard Thompson covering Britney Spears's "Oops, I Did it Again"
Miley Cyrus covering Outkast's "Hey Ya"
and Bill Cosby covering the Beatles's title track from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Transition: There's No Place Like America Today

The last time I posted was May of 2013. A lot has happened in nine months. I've added a second child, I left the Navy after nine years of service (as I mentioned before, it's the only real job I've ever had), I searched for and eventually found a job, and I moved the whole family across the country. As I'm writing this, our household goods are in storage and we're all staying in a hotel waiting to move into a new house, and I'm waiting to start my first civilian job. So much has changed I can't really process it all.

All of that is to say two things: First, I haven't stopped listening to new music. I've only heard about 40 entries in the last nine months, but I'm still taking notes (and trying to keep up on Twitter). And next, I am hoping to get back to this site and write more often. I actually have a couple of entries banked that I wrote soon after my daughter was born that I never got around to posting. I'll be posting those soon, as well as a conclusion to my well over a year-old Grunge Project.

Looking back on everything that's happened and browsing the book, Curtis Mayfield's There's No Place Like America Today jumped out as the right fit for this post.

Artist: Curtis Mayfield
Album: There's No Place Like America Today
Recording #557

Anyone who has ever looked for a job or taken care of a newborn in the middle of the night can attest to the stress of both; I was doing them at the same time. Moving 1000 miles with two kids under the age of four was no picnic either. As my buddy, another soon to be veteran, has said many times over the last few months, "transition sucks." But that's only half of the story. I'm super excited about the new job. I'm relieved to be done with the uncertainty of the military. I'm overwhelmed by the joy my children bring me every day.

I think the duality of those feelings of joy and stress have been weighing on me for months. I had one job offer that cost me (and my wife) a week of sleep. And we were already getting just a few hours a night. I was so happy to have an offer, and so many things about it were great, but the stress of the uncertainty in the details of this particular job, as well as the travel involved, was killing me.

Mayfield's album is full of duality as well: the album cover features a billboard boasting the title behind a line of flood victims. Some days I'm in agreement with that irony, and other days I believe in the words as they're written. If you read the lyrics to this album, it's a powerful and depressing statement on inequality and violence, but the songs are delivered so sweetly that it's a pleasure to listen to. Songs like "Hard Times" (which I first heard covered by Baby Huey) and "Billy Jack" are clearly heavy-hitters, and on my down days they feel right. On the other hand, "When Seasons Change" and "Jesus" sound uplifting, even when the words don't match the music.

If you need a starting point for soul, you can't beat this (and if you liked Baby Huey, this is a necessity). If you're going through a change, this should be on heavy rotation.

Stream the album here on Spotify.
Read Tom Moon's entry here.