Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Provisional License.

I remember one of the first times I discovered a musical artist without the use of a radio or a television. I was at Union Square Station in Washington, D.C., waiting for a train to New York in the mid-90s. I stood at a listening station at some now-defunct CD store there, and I heard Ben Folds Five for the first time.

The method of discovery was not only a departure for me, but so was the music: I was into Mary J. Blige, Prince and Jodeci, so a white college-rock band was, like, "experimental" for me. Ooh boy was I hip.

These days I use TV shows, blogz, radio and magazines to procure my music interests. Lame as it is to say, I actually work at finding new music, even though (and because) it's more accessible than ever. I wasn't cool when I was 22, and I'm still not cool now, but I want to know what the kids are listening to. I still want to fall in love with songs and musicians, because it's the only way left to really fall in pure, helpless love when you're an adult.

However, I am losing something, and it bothers me. I am losing the experience of living with an album. I am forgetting what it feels like to give an album a provisional license, thinking you kinda like it, and then finding that it has somehow totally taken over your soul (e.g. Who Is Jill Scott?).

This kind of love starts only after you have listened to an entire album, straight through, for about the fifth time. It happens when you get to know the album well enough to know its faults, but to appreciate it anyway. It happens when you know every track, and you have had affairs and conversations and partnerships with each one. It happens when you feel as though you could continue on with that album -- the whole thing, not just a single -- for the rest of your life.

Who does that these days? Certainly not me. I am too busy pulling up MySpace for the newest ear candy. I download a song, fall in love a little bit, and it's over (or I'm frustrated, because there's no label release yet). I'm looking for an album I can really date long-term. Does anyone have suggestions?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Belated Holiday Post.

This year's Christmas went much like the previous 30-odd years I can remember: a tree with colored lights, topped by an angel made of cardboard and plastic; decorations more sentimental than aesthetically correct; an eyebrow-raising sea of presents emanating from the tree's trunk; an orgy of wrapping paper, bows, toys, ham and my aunts' shrill laughter at the dinner table.

We have some new players -- kids and spouses -- but things in my family remain mostly the same. The unadulterated consumerist approach to the holiday, for us, remains untainted by religion, earnestness or aging. The only spiritual element involves watching A Christmas Story, which we started doing every Christmas Eve, way before TBS started running marathons. In adulthood, I added the tradition of watching It's a Wonderful Life at some point, usually alone and always crying.

We all wake up to stockings filled with magazines and drugstore merch including, thanks to an in-joke with my Dad, Ban Roll-On for me. A horse-trading approach is taken with gift lists; e-mail and Amazon have become indispensable.

Put simply, our Christmas has always been more about the wonder of Santa Claus than of Jesus Christ. Historically, I have not had a problem with this. As kids, we made our lists and left out cookies and sat on laps at the shopping mall and even, for a time, made phone calls to the big man (or, if you prefer, my Dad's office). I always felt fortunate, not only for my family and the gifts, but also for the freedom from religious ritual.

I did not abandon the notion of Santa until I was nine years old. Of course, I knew -- but I didn't want to know. By that age, I had developed enough reasoning power to know that Santa didn't exist, but I did not like the idea of finding out. Finally, I willed myself to ask my mom. She was standing in the bathroom, getting ready to go out. "Mom?" I said, approaching her. "Santa doesn't exist, does he." My mom was applying makeup and looking in the mirror, with me reflected behind her. "Well, the spirit of Santa always exists," she said, or something like that. "What matters is if you believe." I knew enough about my Mom to parse the truth of her diplomatic response. A phase of my life quietly ended there.

This year, I felt like a new unpleasant realization struck, and it happened while I was contemplating the recycling bins sitting out on the driveways of my parents' suburban Washington neighborhood on the day after Christmas. I knew, but I didn't want to know. I knew that the holiday always meant several toys and electronics cut out of their impossibly hermetic plastic casings, untold amounts of paper, not a few batteries, a good amount of cardboard and plenty of media that could have been bought used.

I knew that we were just like millions of Americans on Christmas, using the holiday as a time to express our gratitude via credit card. I knew that it was environmentally and financially excessive -- it was harder still to admit that it was not even particularly satisfying. I don't know if the change was an abrupt one in me, or a slow one in our house, but it felt as if the focus on distributing gifts actually took away from my experience of my family. I would have been happy with half the presents and twice the connection.

I like to think that I still believe in the spirit of Santa, as my Mom encouraged -- but I both want and fear a different incarnation.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Life of the Nightmare.

About once every six months or so, I dream that I have committed a murder. The victim is usually unknown to me, invented and extinguished in my mind. The method and motive vary -- in fact, sometimes there is no discernible motive. Sometimes I have accomplices, sometimes not. No matter the circumstance, two things always occur: one, an incredible paranoia and detailed attempt to cover up the crime and two, the devastating realization that I will have to live with this unspeakable deed for the rest of my life.

Then I wake up, with a new lease on life. I have not killed anyone! I have nothing so horrible on my conscience! Boy, what a great day it's going to be, knowing that I am not a murderer after all!

Other types of dreams are more difficult to recover from. This morning I had a bad fight with M., in my sleep. I woke up and there he was, being as sweet and pleasant as ever, but still I had the feeling that we had to make up. I have had this dream about family members too, feeling inexplicably out of sorts with them because of some stupid dream.

Of course, if I really wanted to delve into my psyche, I'm sure I could uncover in any fight dream a real issue needing attention. But hey, I don't really want to delve into my psyche. I just want to get on with my day and only address the arguments that happen in real life.

As my midday brain catches up to reality, I am unexpectedly grateful for today's hidden blessings: harmony with those around me, a conflict-free morning and a clean record with the police department.