My life with music – Kashmir by Led Zeppelin

This may or may not be the first of a continuing series of posts about songs that hold meaning in my life. (Like the noncommittal-ness of that statement?) The idea here is that music has always been a significant part of my life. I’m not a musician beyond a bit of high school choir and the like, but I’ve always felt a serious bond with music nonetheless. Songs can move me, lift me and even drive me to dance around (to the vast embarrassment of my children and probably the cats). Because this blog is all about me and mine – one of the few things in my life that truly is such a thing – I like to write about the things that interest, amuse or have importance in my life. So far, that’s been a lot of kids, dogs and cat stuff. I’m going to take a crack at another life totem (wooooo – fancy word that, eh?) and see how it goes. Okay, enough disclaimers and set up!

When I was a kid – and I’m talking elementary school here – I listened to the basic pop of the day. Whatever came up on the radio (shout out here to the long-gone CKLW) and whatever my parents happened to have on the hi-fi. Lots of Neil Diamond, Carole King, Monkees, etc. The basic 70’s AM radio fodder. One day, that changed.

Jack Black intros Led Zep at the Kennedy HonorsIn fifth grade, I had a teacher who allowed us to bring in records (yeah, old school vinyl 45’s) and would play them during our reading periods. One girl – her name was Sheryl, I think, brought in an album with no name on it – just a photo of a bent-over old man with a pile of sticks tied on his back. As I remember, Sheryl was pretty cool. Different from the other kids in that she didn’t try to conform to any ideals or popularity dictums – she dressed a bit more hippy than the other kids, had long wavy hair that never saw braids or pig-tails; she just had what seemed like a sophisticated air, at least to the 11 year old me. Anyways, reading time came and Sheryl handed over her album and asked the teacher to play side 1, track 4. We sat back and listened as the first strains of guitar started to play and I was transfixed. The song, of course, was Stairway to Heaven and I was hooked. This was so very different from the stuff I was raised on. I didn’t know quite was to make of it – and neither did many of my classmates. Most were either bored or generally unimpressed, I think. I liked it, felt vaguely uncomfortable at the foreign feel of the whole thing but was moved – as moved as a generally shy and fairly gawky fifth grader could be, at any rate.

Jack Black intros Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy HonorsFast-forward through my early adolescence and here I am in junior high. Still very shy, still very gawky – did I mention that by fourth grade I was wearing bi-focal glasses? This was an incredibly difficult and painful time for me. I was bullied by the tough kids and ignored by the popular kids. I had a few friends who were there for me but for the most part, it was a time of feeling very apart from, and not particularly valued by, the world. (side note: this whole era of being bullied had and still has a big impact on my life – I may need to explore this topic a bit further at some point.) Music, though, that was always there. That fifth grade experience didn’t result in an immediate departure into the world of Led Zep. As an 11 year old, I didn’t have a whole lot of disposable income so I was largely limited to radio and parental choices still. But now at 14, this was changing. I had an allowance that let me save up and purchase my very own vinyl – I could now experiment with what I liked and wanted and began to build my collection. Yeah, there was still some Diamond in there, but there was also Queen and Nazareth and a bit of Janis. And there was Led Zeppelin. My obsession with the band truly kicked off right about then.

Jack Black intros Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy HonorsAt the end of my junior high years – that would have been ninth grade in the old structure – my parents decided that the local public school hadn’t done me any favors and the high school wouldn’t be any better. I was informed that it was going to be private school for me so before I knew it, I was plucked out of the public school system and enrolled in a local private academy called Kingswood. (Part of Cranbrook, for those Eminem/8 Mile fans who might remember the reference.) I no longer felt fear for my life and limb but the whole duck-out-of-water thing was still in play – I was surrounded by a bunch of kids who’d done this whole private education thing for some time. They all knew each other and seemed just so damned sure of themselves. I had finally ditched the glasses for contacts but still had the wrong hair, wrong clothing, wrong everything. Yes, again, I made friends. Some of whom are still in my life today – thank goodness – and just as important as they were back then. But inside, I knew I didn’t quite fit. (again – there’s a whole transition story we may have to look at a later date, dear readers.)

Led Zep intro'd by Jack Black at the Kennedy HonorsMusic saved my life. Seems like a rather fanciful or dramatic thing to say but it’s true. It helped me escape from the pain I felt just being me. It was a common bond with friends when I felt so insecure I didn’t have much else to offer. Listening saved me.

One of the most important songs at that time of my life was Kashmir by Zep. Kashmir is, as many of you know, loosely based on the band’s trip to Morocco. (yeah, I know, Kashmir in the Himalayas – this is called artistic license, kids). The music felt so different and magical. The lyrics spoke of things this suburban Detroit white kid had never experienced. I mean, let’s get real here – I am not the adventurous type. Taco Bell was ethnic food for me back then. But that didn’t matter a whit. It all spoke, at least to me, of escape – of living a dream that was completely different to the life I had. I needed that escape desperately and found it in this song.

Oh let the sun beat down upon my face,
stars to fill my dreams
I am a traveler of both time and space
to be where I have been…

Great stuff, that. Especially to my then 16 year old self, dying to be anyone else than who I was. It sounded exotic, exciting and a lot of other adjectives that didn’t apply to my fairly boring life back then. To this day, it’s a song filled with promise and hope. And it still lifts me up when I need to be lifted.

My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon
I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high in June
When movin’ through Kashmir.

Well, this whole exercise got a bit deeper than I originally intended. If you’re still with me, thanks for sticking around! If you liked this, let me know and I’ll do a few more. Lots of songs out there that mean the world to me. What are yours and why?

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What makes a redhead a redhead? My adventures in haircolor.

So, I’m a redhead.  I wasn’t born this way but I consider myself a redhead nonetheless. I’ve had my hair some shade of red, from strawberry to deep russet, for well over 20 years now, which should give me at least honorary entre to the club by now, I would think.

I wasn’t always a redhead, of course. I was born a blonde, that kind of super-fine blonde hair that is destined to darken over time. And darken it did, leaving me a dishwater brown by my teen years, a color I found most undistinguished.  Let the color experimentation begin!

Sun-in hair color

Sun in promised so much more than it delivered

My initial attempts at livening my tresses began, as with many other teenagers in the ’70s, with that amazing product “Sun-In”.  It was simple – you sprayed the magic potion through your hair, went out in the sun and bingo, your hair turned blonde. In actuality, it was simply a high-powered peroxide mixed with a conditioner and a bit of scent. Like Axe for boys, Sun-In brought with it dreams of sun-kissed locks and hunky boys eager to run their fingers through them. For most girls, this product produced a color closer to screaming yellow-orange than sun-bleached surfer hair but I was lucky and managed to get a yellowy sort of color that approximated the typical ‘suicide blonde’ of that era.

My first experience with the stuff came during a family trip to Hilton Head Island over spring break in 8th grade. I had it all planned out: I’d head out of town for the week and use my time constructively – lay in the sun, get a bitchin’ tan and blonde hair and come back transformed. Life would be changed (bifocal glasses and tendency towards geekyiness aside, this was sure to work.) Naturally, if a little Sun In was good – a lot of Sun In was better. I sprayed the hell out of that shit every day and quickly went from my mousy brown to screaming-yellow-zonker yellow.  Top that off with a QT-based tan (my Irish skin just isn’t capable of the bronze I had in mind) and I arrived back in Michigan looking much like a straw-headed Oompa-Loompa.

Let’s pause here a moment and imagine the bemused expressions on my parent’s faces when they’d see me off to the pool each morning and I’d come back in yellower and oranger each afternoon.  Okay, that’s done.

Back at school, my sense of triumph and glamour lasted till exactly second hour, when I ran into my friend Josie, who had spent her vacation in Florida with her family.  She was an authentic shade of deep bronze and her hair – much darker than mine – was lightened ever-so-slightly by the sun, streaking her dark locks with shimmers of deep red.  And the boys were hovering like flies.  *Sigh*  I did have one moment of triumph, however, when I ran into another friend, Sandy, who exclaimed how jealous she was that Sun In “worked” on me – she’ d had an unfortunate bout with orange herself the summer before.

A few weeks later, the other side effect of Sun In became apparent: roots!  But that’s a story we all know well.

 

That's me on the left, pearls and all, with my 80s partner-in-crime Lynn on the right.

That’s me on the left, pearls and all, with my 80s partner-in-crime Lynn on the right.

The years flew by and I continued to play with my hair.  Merely flirtations, mind you: a few streaks here, a bit of lemon juice there.  Nothing serious, nothing too committed.  This all ended, of course, with the convergence of two big events: my enrollment in beauty school and the arrival of the New Wave era.  Right around when I found myself with access to many chemicals and surrounded by folks just dying to play with them, the culture around me encouraged such experimentation.  I flirted with frosts, colors and the rest before finally throwing up my hands and going full-on platinum.  Now I’d found what I was looking for!  It was attention-getting, looked fine with my white skin and Souixsie Souix eye-liner and damaged my fine hair just enough so it would do most anything I wanted it to.  The 80s were my time.

My time in platinum far-outlived the 1980s, truth be told. I wore this style long into the early 90s, sometimes accentuating with streaks of pink, blue or burgundy.  Well, I did have a 1 month period where I decided a deep brunet would be nifty – but the dark hair and my pale skin had folks asking me if I felt okay allt he time and my mother shipping me off to the doc for blood tests, sure I was anemic. A month later, I as back to blonde.  My constant goal during this time was the extermination of every bit of yellow that might show up on my head. This meant shampooing most days with a special purple concoction that neutralized yellow into the whitest-white (or sometimes, the faintest silvery-lavender).   How I kept a single hair on my head with all of the constant (every three weeks!) bleaching, I’ll never know.

Finally, I got sick of the whole thing.  The constant root vigilance! The money spent on bleach, toners, conditioners (to keep my hair from breaking)!  I was over it and ready for something with less maintenance.  But what to do?

Well, here’s the thing.  I may not have bona fide red hair but I do come from good redhaired stock.  My mom was a natural red.  Thick, curly, gorgeous auburn red.  Everything I didn’t have, dammit.  While I couldn’t get the thick or the truly natural waves but, thanks to our good friends at Clairol, I could approximate a lovely ginger.  Took a bit of doing at first – red doesn’t stick so well on bleached out hair but eventually the bleached bits grew out and some semblance of a uniform color came back to my head.  I flipped back and forth between red and blonde for a few years before finally settling down in the red zone right around 1992, when I met my husband.  Strange to think he’s never known me as anything but a ginger.

So here’s my question:  is a bottle redhead really a redhead?  I come from redhead stock, it’s true, but my color is not my own by any stretch.  It is however, a big part of my identity after all these years.  My husband has long referred to me as “the redhead” – as in, “you’ll have to ask the redhead if we’re free Saturday”.  My children have always known me in this color.  Most of the people in my life now have also always, or at least for a very long time, known me in red.  I feel like a redhead.  There was this one guy I used to work with who, even though I quite liked him most of the time, had this irritating habit of pointing out, usually in front of others, that “it’s not like you’re a *real* redhead, Teri”.  Not sure why this was important for him to point out, but he did.  But this guy notwithstanding, I feel like a redhead, ergo, I am red.  As I get older, I’ll likely have to fade back to a graceful strawberry but for the time being, I’m rocking the ginger and loving it.

My burmese cat coco enjoying life from her favorite POV

My burmese cat coco enjoying life from her favorite POV

What about you?  Tell me about YOUR hair.

Fear and loathing at solo and ensemble: the viola diaries

viola01

This is a long one, folks.  Might want to grab a snack…

My daughter plays the viola.  I may have mentioned this in the past.  She’s a junior in high school and has played since fifth grade – much of that with a private teacher in addition to school.  She’s a good musician – not Carnegie Hall-bound but she makes sounds that are lovely to hear and enjoys what she does and that’s enough for both of us.

Being a part of the school orchestra has been an integral part of her education.  In many ways, I think it makes high school survivable for her and many of these kids.  Her orchestra director handles both the middle school and her high school so she’s been playing for him and with many of the same kids since 6th grade.  It’s a lot easier walking into high school when you have a place you belong and a group that knows and accepts you, not to mention upperclassmen who have your back.  I hear it every year at the spring banquet when the seniors give their farewell speeches, they all (well, mostly the girls -they’re more highly evolved, as we all know, and able to express a feeling or two) express how wonderful it was knowing they had a safe, welcoming place to go every day.  So all that acceptance AND a musical education? Hard to beat.

this crazy-looking thing is an alto clef.

this crazy-looking thing is an alto clef.

However, along with all of this educational and peer-acceptance goodness comes a price.  For some, it’s giving up an elective every term. For others, it’s juggling practice and sports commitments.  For my daughter, that price is called “Solo & Ensemble”.  This is a yearly event where students are forced have the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of a piece of music for the four horsemen of the apocalypse a certified judge, who rates and critics their performance.  Students are graded on a 5 point scale, with 1 being the best, 5 the worst and a 3 considered average.  Students can play solo or in a group of 2-5 (hence, “ensemble).  Students that get a 1 rating can move on to the state competition, with the best demonstrating their chops at a big event at Western Michigan University.  It’s a pretty big deal, so I hear.

For many students, it’s an opportunity to hone their skills and rack up some nice entries for future college applications.  For my daughter, it’s sheer torture.  Her first year, it wasn’t too bad. She’d never been so didn’t really know what to expect.  She did her thing and came away with a 2 rating.  She was thrilled, wore her medal daily for a bit and time marched on.  The next year, she signed up again, but this time with more trepidation.  See, in the year since the first go-round, she’d discovered that many of her classmates scored 1’s.  She started to get nervous about the whole solo-for-a-judge-for-a-rating format.  Instead of throwing herself into practicing in order to be as prepared as possible – as her long-suffering parents were urging – she actually balked at practicing at all. The closer we got to The Day, the harder it was to get her to practice; And because she felt unprepared because she wasn’t practicing, her nerves grew worse by the day.  This is not a good scenario for anyone involved.  The Day arrived and things went much as expected: she worked herself into a pretty good froth by the time her turn came around. A few moments later, she came out in tears.  She’d lost her way part way through her piece, froze and had to start over.  The judge still gave her a 2 because the portions she played, she did well.  This was no consolation to my daughter – she didn’t want her medal but instead hustled me out the door as quickly as possible.  She not only felt she was given the 2 because the judge felt sorry for her (not likely – they are tough creatures) but she also knew her classmates would likely walk in with their 1 medals come Monday morning.

The next year came and went without S&E – she’d decided not to enter that year (big surprise).  This year, however, she’d moved up to the top level orchestra at school.  This was a move she really wanted but with entree to the Symphony came a dreaded required appearance at S&E.  We all agreed that this year would be different.  We’d begin prepping earlier this year; plenty of time to practice and master the piece, plenty of time to feel better about the whole thing.  Yep, we were really going to lick this thing this year, my husband and I agreed.  Unfortunately, the girl wasn’t so much on board.  She was already convinced that doom was imminent and there was nothing to be done about it.  As with the previous time, the more we urged her to practice, the harder she fought it.  She spent the time instead, I think, creating a big, scary phantom in her head that told her how poorly she was going to do and how nothing was going to make a difference in this outcome.

The big day came.  She was largely subdued for the morning, practicing quietly when prompted.  Right around the time I suggested she get herself dressed and ready to go (it was an hour drive to the location), the wheels came off the bus.  My daughter largely collapsed, sobbing, begging me not to make her go.  It’s parenting moment-of-truth time, folks.  Do I prop her up, bundle her into the car and push her through the experience, safe within the Nietzche-ian truth that getting through this experience and coming out the other side still alive will make her stronger or do I back down, understand that the trauma being brought on by this experience, as my daughter sobbed, physically sick with fear, was more damaging than building?  I tried the peptalk thing to no avail, all while texting her dad, who was out of town for work to fill him and and get his take.  I was really torn – I didn’t want to hurt her but I’m so aware of the fears I harbor because I was allowed to walk away from anything I found too challenging.  Luckily, my husband could see things a bit more clearly, and perhaps less emotionally, (not having the sobbing girl in his lap) and called a halt.  This was doing her more harm than good.  A very relieved girl soon fell asleep, exhausted from all the to-do.  I notified her accompanist and wrote to her orchestra teacher to explain the situation. (He was lovely about the whole thing)

It’s been a week now since this happened.  I spent a day or so questioning whether we made the right call and then let it go.  We’ve spoken to her teacher, who had many good suggestions to get her through the next time and will work with her private instructor as well.  She has a recital coming up in June. I’m hopeful – I have to be – that this one will go better.  The most important thing to us is that her fear of occasions such as this don’t take the joy out of making music.

I’d love to hear from others, though.  How have you helped your child through a fear like this?

It might get loud

We live in a quad-level home in suburban Detroit.  The kid’s rooms, much to their dismay, are both clustered right by ours on the top floor.  My son is directly across the hall.  Needless to say, I hear a lot of his friends saying “what?!?” when he’s whispering into Skype, trying not to be overheard.

Generally, there’s much to be overheard.  My kids are both musicians.  My son’s room is a crazy, overloaded space with a desk, two computers, a keyboard (he’s teaching himself), his bed, a full drum kit and all of the various sticks, pads and stray cowbells that seem to follow drummers around.  It’s not a big room and it would make me crazy to feel that crowded but he loves it.  If the clothes are mainly off the floor and there’s no odd smells of old food or overripe socks, we’re mostly okay with it all.

With the good comes the bad, though.  Musician children are great.  Sons that play drums, daughters that play viola: awesome.  Sons learning keyboards, also awesome.  Son learning keyboard by playing the opening piano sequence from Coldplay’s Viva La Vida over and over and over and over, well…

And over and over and over.

At the same time, I really admire it.  I don’t play an instrument.  Never had the patience or the drive – something I’ll always regret, I think.  So while the repetition of this particular bit of Coldplay can get old pretty quickly, the fact he’s willing to keep at it until he’s got it down means the world to me.  He’ll get it at some point and move on to the next one and the next one.  I can only sit back in wonder that this kid is mine ( and hope the next one isn’t Coldplay.)

The Night Chicago Died (and other guilty pleasures)

We all have them.  Songs hidden deep within our iPods.  Songs that make us happy – that perhaps carry a memory or two – but that don’t quite fit into the musical personality we like to project to the world.  So we keep them hidden away, only to come out when alone – in the car, over the headphones, alone at home.  Then we blast, dance and sing – but only if there’s no one looking.  Over time, certain formerly hidden songs or artists can take on a new, almost hipster appeal.  Back in the mid-80’s, many a punker had a bit of Patsy Cline sprinkled into their mix tapes, for example.  Sometimes it’s a cultural cue that make’s a formerly embarrassing song take on a new life; the movie 500 Days of Summer did just that for a certain Hall and Oates song.

Truth be told, I don’t really hide from these songs anymore.  I have a pretty eclectic collection and taste in music and at the ripe old age of 51, I’m secure enough to let that freak flag fly all it wants.  These songs bring me pleasure but I’ve left the guilt behind.  You’ll excuse me if I don’t dance in front of you, though – I do have a few shreds of dignity left to hang on to!

Without further ado, here’s a few not-so-guilty pleasures* from my current playlist:

What’s hiding on YOUR playlist?

*not to be confused with the “embarrass your children” songs, which include a few by Justin Bieber.  Handy to pull out when giving rides to said child and group of friends. <grin>