Tag Archives: Music

Throwback Thursday: Memories as clear as smudge

In honor of Ash Wednesday this week, I’m dredging up this semi-entertaining entry first published Feb. 22, 2012. Seven years ago? Only? If you’d like to read the original entry, complete with an image of my ash-strewn forehead, click here.

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Music is a powerful catalyst to evoking a memory.

Someday, when I’m 102 and sitting around the social hall at the nursing home, some old fogey who’s retired and out volunteering but not yet old enough for my chair will come in with an antique electric guitar and start playing “Beth” by Kiss, and I’ll start chattering on and on about some short boy named Chris and how I slow-danced with him while he stood on a chair in the junior high cafeteria during a Friday night dance in seventh grade. “Where’s Chris? I don’t want to dance with a short boy. And why are the lights on? Turn off the lights!” And then I’ll start singing along: “Beth, I hear you calling but I can’t come home right now. …”

And the nurse’s aides, who are 20something and standing around eldersitting us, will roll their genetically engineered eyes and text to each other, “God, I hate it when we play the oldies around here and the old ladies just won’t shut up.”

Something like that anyway.

While I was sitting in Ash Wednesday service tonight, we sang “Just As I Am, Without One Plea” and I was suddenly struck with thoughts of my sister. Not sure why that hymn reminds me of my sister who I would describe as a God-loving Christian who is, at best, lukewarm about going to church.

I think she had to learn that hymn as a child for some public event having to do with church or school, and she wandered around the house for weeks singing those lyrics. I called her to get the 411 (“Good for you for going to church,” she said), and she can’t remember either, but she immediately started reciting the lyrics.

Music is like that. I can remember all 50 U.S. states because of a song. I know the words to 1 John 4: 7-8 because I learned the verses set to music at Lutheran Island Camp when I was 12. And I think of a freakishly short kid named Chris when I hear Kiss.

At least I think his name was Chris.

crater lake without one plea

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

~ Charlotte Eliot

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In observance of Ash Wednesday, I’m asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, a celebration of a life.

Girl, put your records on, tell me your favorite song

Ever notice how Pandora internet radio plays the same 10 songs by Sting over and over or how Maroon 5 eventually appears on every playlist?

You might not get irritated by Pandora’s lack of variety if you’re an infrequent listener, but this lowest-common-denominator approach to deejaying becomes apparent on a long road trip.

That’s when you’re grateful for having had to clean out your entire house and rid yourself of a decade’s worth of detritus. Or at least consolidate like items together and make neat piles. I know exactly where to find every single fingernail clipper I own, for example. And every single music CD.

Whatever cassette tapes I might have accumulated in the ’80s are long gone, but my Beloved and I invested in a couple hundred CDs in the 2000s that we couldn’t bear to shed when digital music came along. There were a few in my car, a whole bunch in my office, a stack in Tyler’s office and a couple more stashed in various cupboards and drawers around the house. They’re all in one place now — the pickup truck cab, and we’re working our way through the pile during long days of driving.

After enduring an earworm of Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On,” I was sadly disappointed to find the jewel case with her smiling mug empty. Her CD was not stashed in someone else’s case either, so that means it’s gone and the earworm’s two lines of lyrics continue to ring. But they also make a great title for a blog post.

Today’s treasure trove of music CDs purchased and loved a decade or more ago offered up an eclectric music mix: Sonya Kitchell, Marvin Gaye, Five For Fighting, Train, Stone Temple Pilots and The Who. Oh, and the soundtrack for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” I skipped over a custom-burned CD lettered with my Beloved’s distinctive script as “Trip 1.” There’s also a “Trip 2” and “Trip 3.” Some other day.

But I popped in a sparsely labeled disc with what I believed was code for something even he had surely forgotten: “S.R.V. In the Beginning.”

Before the first note even played, he smiled at the road ahead and said, “Stevie Ray Vaughan.” He hadn’t forgotten. One of his favorites. An hour’s worth of incomprehensible guitar proceeded to fill the cab of the truck while we drove past mile after mile of small mountain ranges and semiarid climate.

Not my first choice. But better than Maroon 5.

1984 memories of Prince

September 1984

Remembering a show: Purple Rain with Prince — wow!

The Dear Diary I kept through high school was created by author Judy Blume. At the end of every month, the pre-printed book prompted me to reflect on the best and worst of the month and to remember a book, a show and a feeling. In September 1984, the show I remembered with a “wow” was Purple Rain.

I saw it with my on-and-off boyfriend whom I’ll call The Dentist’s Son on a Wednesday night, September 5. I was 17.

“Prince is so neat,” I wrote. Ah, the descriptive abilities of a teenager.

We got back together for the umpteenth time after the movie, an event which got more attention in Dear Diary:

I said, “I guess I shouldn’t assume anything. I guess I shouldn’t assume that you’re going to take me back.” We were driving around after the movie, and he screeched to a halt and kissed me. He did want me back!

I wasn’t going to write a tribute to Prince because I wasn’t sure I had all that much to add, and to be truthful, I don’t have much to say about his towering talent other than what I described so succinctly in my diary in 1984: Wow. Still, I have strong feelings of nostalgia for Prince, and his passing makes me sad. The songs from his Purple Rain album never fail to bring me back to memories of high school and The Dentist’s Son so Prince’s impact on my echoic memory is strong.

That’s echoic memory, not erotic memory, but in this case, I probably mean both. Echoic memory, as in echo, is a very brief sensory memory of some auditory stimuli. “When Doves Cry” instantly carries me back to the couch in my parents’ living room where I enjoyed long, mostly first-base make-out sessions with The Dentist’s Son.

(There are songs like that for several of the boys I loved as a teenager.The Church Drummer is “Jack & Diane” by John Cougar (later John Mellencamp). The National Merit Semi-Finalist With the Snake is “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. The Two-Timing Pianist is “One More Night” by Phil Collins; I wore out Collins’ album No Jacket Required on my Walkman while pining for that guy. But I digress.)

It is Prince’s music that echoes as most sensual to me. Which I’m sure he intended (among other things; Prince was nothing if not deep). Wasn’t that the whole point of “Darling Nikki” (he said “masturbating,” heh, heh, heh)? It took me years to understand the double-entrendres of “Little Red Corvette.” Now I comprehend the musicality of Prince’s work (and the lyrics), but in the ’80s all I understood was the raw eroticism.

Quite a feat for a man who called the Twin Cities home. His last name, Nelson, couldn’t be more quintessentially Minnesotan. But most of us natives would rather choke on a hunk of lutefisk than say “masturbating.” Let alone sing it.

Not Prince. A man who liked wearing ruffles and looked sexy doing it. He was an original. And with his death, I mourn for him. And for my sweet youth.

Take me back

Recent events evoked vivid memories.

A visit to the Hofbrauhas restaurant reminded me of many great meals I enjoyed while visiting Munich for business a decade ago. I traveled with a woman of good taste who patiently translated many German menus for me. I still remember my shock at learning steak tartare was raw hamburger.

The opportunity to see The Who in concert (yes, they’re still around and still performing “Who Are You?”) evoked memories of my first concert (not rock, exactly, but more like a rock concert than, say, a band concert). By virtue of my job as entertainment reporter for the Middletown Journal in 1993, I enjoyed complementary tickets to an M.C. Hammer concert which was more parachute pants and dancing than rapping: “Hammer Time.”

My Beloved bought me a pint of Rum Raisin Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and I instantly thought of my mother’s sour cream raisin pie, which I haven’t eaten in decades. Do you still make meringue, Mom?



This monument of classical Greek columns, supporting nothing but the sky, rises out of nowhere in the middle of the Florida Everglades as a tribute to Barron Collier, a New York City advertising mogul and real estate developer.

Collier, namesake of the county in which this monument stands, moved into Southwest Florida a century ago and built the Tamiami Trail, an alligator-infested highway that crosses the expansive wetlands that comprise the southern half of the state.

The iconic, perfectly symmetrical architecture is juxtaposed with the surrounding wilderness of mangroves, palm trees and saw grass. I caught a glimpse of it today when I attended the Jammin’ in the Hammock Bluegrass Festival.

A hammock, in ecological terms as it is surely defined here, is a stand of hardwood trees in the midst of a wetlands. Bluegrass and the music for which it is named, as defined here, is native to Kentucky and Appalachia.

All these things — a New York real estate mogul, Greek architecture, bluegrass music and the Everglades — came together under sunny skies this afternoon.

The seasons come, the seasons go.
We get a little sunshine, rain and snow.
Just a way that it was planned to be.

Music with a message

“Now every one of us was made to suffer.
Every one of us was made to weep.
But we’ve been hurting one another,
And now the pain has cut too deep.
So take me from the wreckage,
Save me from the blast.
Lift me up and take me back.
Don’t let me keep on walking,
Walking on broken glass.”

Oh, Annie Lennox put words to my angst earlier this month when I caught her belting out “Walking on Broken Glass” on xM Radio’s ’80s channel.

That song told my story that day. I began conjuring up other fragments of pop music that tell stories — not in only bits and pieces, but throughout the song. I wished for a Pandora channel that categorized storytelling lyrics instead of genres. Here’s the short list I developed of popular music that tells stories:

  • “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band.
  • “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes
  • “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot
  • “Cat’s In the Cradle” by Harry Chapin (a favorite of my Beloved’s)
  • “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Folgelberg
  • “Delta Dawn” by Helen Reddy (this might be a little bit of a stretch because we never find out what happens to Delta).

I thought for sure Phil Collins told some song stories on “No Jacket Required,” a tape (yes, tape) I wore out, I played it so often on my Walkman in 1985. But no. Like a typical percussionist, his lyrics are more rhythmic than narrative.

I could say the same for Jack Johnson. Like “No Jacket Required,” “In Between Dreams” only felt like it told a story because it was the soundtrack to a personal soap opera.

I am reminded of a fragment of a Natasha Bedingfield song I took as a personal anthem when it came out in 2006:

“Today is where your book begins;
The rest is still unwritten.”

We all have stories. Sometimes, they’re best told with a little tune.

Back when disco and radios and albums were big

“I’m Casey Kasem, and this is American Top 40.”

Back in the dinosaur age, when kids listened to radios (instead of iPods), I was a kid who listened to the radio as she fell asleep. It had a sleep timer. Remember those?

On Sunday nights, the local KWAD radio station played American Top 40 with Casey Kasem.

This was 1979 when disco was still big. “My Sharona,” anyone?

One Sunday, KWAD did a call-in contest. The prize? The Top 40.

I vaguely remember dialing frantically (ha! dialing!), but I’m not sure I was frantic to win or frantic to avoid getting caught. As I recall, the Top 40 played until 10, which would have been after my bedtime.

In any case, I won.

So I walked down to KWAD’s radio station the next day to pick up my prize, and they handed me a pile of albums.

Shocking, I know. In an age when everything now is digital, it’s hard to imagine American Top 40 recorded the show on albums and shipped the albums to radio stations.

But they did. I got four albums. Forty hit songs. With Casey Kasem’s voice woven between.

As I recall, sisters played a big role in that week’s hits. Pointer Sisters? Sisters Sledge? I can’t remember.

In any case, it was a totally bitchin’ “Boogie Wonderland.”

KWAD’s Top 40 giveaway lasted about three weeks because I think this was actually illegal to, ahem, giveaway music this way.

Every time I heard Casey Kasem in the years that followed, I thought of this amazing cache of disco that I won. Including today. When I heard 82-year-old Casey Kasem had died.

Rest in peace, Casey Kasem. This is my long-distance dedication to you.

Has it really been 30 years?

Some pieces of music are like scents to me: Evocative.

You’ve heard how scent is a powerful memory trigger, right? A whiff of Love’s Baby Soft, and I’m back in the ’70s. But certain music is like that, too.

I heard on some morning show the other day this year is the 30th anniversary of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Instantly, I was making out with my first boyfriend on my parents’ sofa. The Purple One is full of raw passion anyway, but “When Doves Cry” with its wild guitar, heartbeat drum track and Prince’s singing screams is sensuality set to music. Lyrics like “sweat of your body,” “animals” and trembling stomachs of tied-up butterflies add to the heat.

An instant later, I just felt really old, but that first instant was a good memory.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain” with Prince (“wow!” I wrote of it later), I’m sharing a diary entry from the night I saw the movie:

Wednesday, Sept. 5, 1984

Dear Diary,

Shawn and I went to “Purple Rain” tonight. Prince is so neat. And so is Shawn. And I told him tonight that I want him back. That I wasn’t going to date Brent anymore. He wasn’t reacting so I said, “I guess I shouldn’t assume anything. I guess I shouldn’t assume that you’re going to take me back.” We were driving around after the movie and he screeched to a halt and kissed me. He did want me back.

A glimpse into my mind: Here on the left, we see Macabre Square

ma·ca·bre \mə-ˈkä-brə\ adj  1 : having death as a subject  2 : dwelling on the gruesome  3 : tending to produce horror in a beholder  syn see GHASTLY

When I played piano decades ago, I once performed a rudimentary piano arrangement of “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saëns. Thinking of it even now, my fingers remember some of the notable moves, though I no longer have a piano on which to practice it.

Why did this piece of music reenter my consciousness today? Memories and language are strange creatures, difficult to pin down. They convey details, if inexactly.

This lovely piece, heard more often around Halloween than the Fourth of July, brings to my mind dancing skeletons. [Listen to a far more musical rendition of it than I ever played here.] I thought of it when I had the occasion to use “macabre” in note to a friend about a piece of art.

At first I wondered if I was using the word accurately, and then I wondered why a distinctive bit of piano music had become an earworm. Despite the dour meaning of macabre, I think of the word as being pretty and cheerful (like Saint-Saëns’ piece, a dance). The word and the composer are both French, too, which brings to my mind elegance. Morticia Addams would the personification of the word for me.

So in Minnesota Transplant’s world, the word macabre is musical and sombre, though tinklingly light like clanking bones, and sophisticated.

How strange to plumb these depths.

“How ghastly for her, people actually thinking, with their brains, and right next door. Oh, the travesty of it all.” 

~ Gail Carriger, author of Soulless


Everyone knows: Meatballs and sneezes don’t mix

Homemade meatballs over quinoa spaghetti noodles (infinitely better than those rice or corn gluten-free substitutes). All covered with cheese. Alas, the garlic bread is made of wheat.

Homemade meatballs over quinoa spaghetti noodles (infinitely better than those rice or corn gluten-free substitutes). All covered with cheese. Alas, the garlic bread is made of wheat.

The meatball song has been repeating in my head for two days.

Don’t know the meatball song?

On top of spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball
When somebody sneezed.

That one?

Well, when I was a kid walking uphill to school both ways, it was popular.

I made meatballs on Sunday and served them on Monday, so it’s been the background music in my subconscious for two days.

It’s a parody of “On Top of Old Smoky,” a traditional folk song once recorded by The Weavers about lost love. “I lost my true lover, for courtin’ too slow…” Apparently Tom Glazer created a hit with “On Top of Spaghetti” in 1963. Perhaps hip parents in the ’60s sang it to their toddlers when serving meatballs. Not sure how I heard it so much, I can still repeat the stanzas up to the mushy demise of said meatball. But so you don’t have to wonder whatever happens to the tasty ball of meat on its sneeze-induced journey, here are all the words:

It rolled off the table
And onto the floor,
And then my poor meatball
Rolled out of the door.

It rolled into the garden
And under a bush,
And then my poor meatball
Was nothing but mush.

Oh, the mush was as tasty
As tasty could be,
And early next summer
It grew into a tree.

The tree was all covered
With beautiful moss.
It grew lovely meatballs
And tomato sauce.

So if you eat spaghetti
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball
And don’t ever sneeze.