Sunday, April 18, 2010

Terrible Tilly and some less terrible things

Does this not look like the best spot for a ghost story? Tillamook Lighthouse (aka Terrible Tilly) sits isolated and abandoned, perched upon a rock a mile offshore. The lighthouse dates back to 1887 and wasn't exactly built under the best working conditions (dangerous, crashing waves, flying debris, etc.). While it operated for 70 years, it was never open to the public. There are legends about a child's grave left by an early keeper, a grey lady, a former keeper who loved the lighthouse so much that his ghost roams the structure, and Native American stories about the haunting of nearby underwater tunnels. Even without ghosts, it wasn't always the safest workplace. Being closed and essentially inaccessible just makes the place all the more intriguing, which is always good for the imagination.

Seeing it last weekend made me want to dig out the beachy ghost story I started a few years ago as part of a failed NaNoWriMo attempt. These days I don't seem to make a lot of time for writing anymore. The truth is that it's only through a hastily made gentlewoman's agreement under the thrall of the road and sea air that I have recently even resurrected the idea of updating this blog more often. At this point, doing so still feels a little creaky and awkward, but having the deadline of five posts a week helps me in the same way that my past January blogstravaganza project did. It even has a bonus in that the agreed upon "five posts a week" sounds far less daunting than blogstravaganza's "every day" did. Even God took a day to rest and we all know that I am WAY lazier than God ever was!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bug-eyed Azaleas

I found this poem by Dorothea Grossman today as I was tripping about the Internets, looking for spring poems to inspire me. I like it, don't you?

by Dorothea Grossman
clr gif

The murderer,
on his way to work,
stops to admire the wisteria
framing his doorway,
and waves
to the bug-eyed azaleas.

I've no plans to murder anyone, but I there is a particularly attractive purple azalea in my yard (and a half-dead wisteria, but we won't talk about that). The weather here in the NW has been gloriously springy these past couple weekends, prompting beach trips and garden center purchases. It's the perfect weather for sitting outside, listening to Pandora while my godson builds a tent city of boxes and old sheets on the lawn. One tent is apparently not enough for the child. He is intent on erecting a whole housing development. If you're going to dream, dream big, I guess.

P.s. The Pandora playlist you get when you put in "Thao & the Get Down Stay Down" has a lot of good stuff on it. I'm particularly fond of Miniature Tigers' Tell it to the Volcano.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This is a test from my new droid

I'll take "Breakup Songs that make me happy" for $1000

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down - When We Swam

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

W.S. Merwin

Because April is National Poetry month, I've been reading and researching, W.S. Merwin. He won his second Pulitzer Prize for The Shadow of Sirius last year. Hearing him read from it at one of last years Wordstock events was one of the highlights of the festival, especially because Merwin himself comes across as such a lovely human being. It is always disappointing when someone one admires turns out to be arrogant or unpleasant, so it was doubly rewarding to have it confirmed that Merwin is neither.

I first came in contact with Merwin in grad school via his translations of Pablo Neruda. As a student of language and dabbler in translation, I admired his facility with language and ability to create translations that captured not only meaning but spirit and emotion. Literal translation is easy, but it is not such an easy thing to convey the feel of the original. Good translation is a fine art unto itself.

For a long time, I went along blithely unaware that Merwin was a gifted poet in its own right. It was only many years later that I ran into one of his poems, fell in love, then realized that it was my old friend. For a great piece on him (including some examples of his poetry) from Bill Moyers Journal, click here.

"The Nomad Flute."
W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius

You that sang to me once sing to me now
let me hear your long lifted note
survive with me
the star is fading
I can think farther than that but I forget
do you hear me

do you still hear me
does your air
remember you
o breath of morning
night song morning song
I have with me
all that I do not know
I have lost none of it

but I know better now
than to ask you
where you learned that music
where any of it came from
once there were lions in China

I will listen until the flute stops
and the light is old again

Sunday, April 11, 2010

As road tripping season begins, so do the road mixes. With mp3 players and Pandora and all the technology that exists, I suppose they aren't really that necessary, but there's something really pleasing about putting them together. Back when I was growing up (and walking up hill to schools both ways in the snow, even in summer), I remember creating mix tapes from the radio. You old people know what I'm talking about. You'd sit in front of the radio, fingers poised over the record button, waiting for the song to come on so you could get it on a cassette tape. And once you got it, it mostly didn't matter that you weren't quite fast enough to catch the beginning or that dipshit DJ talked over the first 1/4 of the song, because you had captured it and sweet, sweet victory was yours!

Now, with iTunes, it is all so much easier. You can get exactly what you want and they are fun to put together. I love it when friends give me their mixes. Each song is like a little surprise. Will I like it? Will I not like it? Will the next song be something new and exciting? Something familiar, but well loved? So much anticipation!

My friend, Jen, makes awesome mixes. I am always delighted at the stuff she manages to find. So, with a mini-motor to the coast with her on the horizon, I decided to re-purpose the birthday mix I'd made into a beach trip mix. I think I might still make a few changes to it (maybe replace some of the stuff that was put on for my godson who was supposed to accompany me on my birthday outing), but was over all pretty pleased with the results:

1. We've Got Scurvy - P!nk. This is from Spongebob's Greatest Hits. While I am now going to tell you that it was put on for my godson's entertainment, the truth is that I like it. I mean, it's a song about scruvy, for pete's sake! Plus, it has pirates in it and P!nk. What's not to like?

2. Eight Miles Wide - Storm Large. Silly, yes, but fun to belt while you're driving down the highway, because you can be a kickass bruiser and be feminine (and it makes me laugh to think of myself as a kickass bruiser...I can't even kill a spider). I also like the message of being big (in personality) and unapologetic about owning who you are. I don't know about you, but it's something I could be better about. It also doesn't hurt that Ms. Large actually has a really good voice. It's funny, I wasn't that into her when she was on Rock Star, but she's really grown on me in the ensuing years and now I think she is pretty awesome.

3. Sunshine Song (Live) - Jason Mraz. I really like Jason Mraz's voice (if not all his music...he has one song on his most recent offering that really annoys me). He has such easy control over his vocals. He has his own, unique intonation and it never sounds forced or strained. I love this song for its bouncy, happy melody and I love that someone is described as "cerulean". I would take it as a compliment if someone described me as such!

4. This Little Light of Mine - James Horner & Sweet Honey in the Rock. For someone who does not think of herself as particularly religious and has limited experience with any non-reserved protestant kind of church experience, I have always had a weird affinity for big-voiced black women singing gospel. This version is just so joyful and happy that it's hard to listen to and not be in a good mood.

5. How Do You Do? - Mouth & MacNeil. Is this the greatest song ever written? No. Is it even what could be called "good"? Not really, BUT this song cracks me all the way up, because it was (along with Bad, Bad Leroy Brown) the first song I remember really digging when I was a kid. It also cracks me up, because I can totally see it being performed by The Electric Mayhem on The Muppet Show. I think it was actually recorded even a few years before my time, so you know it's old! The thing is, I can totally remember being three or four in the back seat of my dad's GTO and getting excited when it came on. Why the radio was on any station that would play it is beyond me, because this was so NOT my father's kind of music. He was all about country and blues, so I can only assume that he had it on to entertain me. "And then we can nananana just like we did before" indeed!

6. Ride a White Swan - T. Rex. Again, I love this because it is fun and happy and quirky. Marc Bolan had a kind of odd quiver to his voice sometimes, but it is the kind of thing that grows on me. The song makes me want to take his advice and wear a tall hat and tattooed gown and run around with a cat on my shoulder like the people of the Beltaine (which is coming up, by the way!) It also makes me wonder where I can find a swan to ride and whether swans are traditionally ridden bareback or if one needs a saddle to do so. Is there licensing required or can one just take to the waterways? Could the cat and the swan live peaceably or would there be friction? So many questions. Oh why, Marc Bolan, can we not all just get along? Bonus aside: I read somewhere once that Marc Bolan never learned to drive, because he feared dying prematurely in an automobile accident. And guess how he died? Car crash. I wonder if it's really true that he was so prescient or if it's just a good story?

7. Me and Bobby McGee - Crystal Bowersox. American Idol and I have a weird relationship. I watch it, despite thinking it generally sucks the artistry out of any unique contestants, and (barring a couple Kelly Clarkson downloads) don't ever purchase anything they release after it's over. That said, I think Crystal Bowersox has a pretty amazing voice and I love that she (so far, the high heel episode excluded) remains mostly unstyled. This song has been covered a million times, but I think this version is pretty great and I hope she does well.

8. That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings. Again it's not the most brilliant song ever written, but it's fun and the boy LOVES it (as he loves anything rhythmic and drum heavy). If you have never ridden in a car with a four year old boy sing-screaming "That's not my name" at the top of his lungs, well, then you haven't lived.

9. Take a Chance on Me - Abba. This went on my birthday mix, because I totally remember having an Abba's Greatest hits 8-track when I was a kid and Take a Chance on Me was my favorite song on it. I would hole up in my room for hours watching the disco lights on stereo (that's right, it had disco lights!) and rehearsing my stage show.

10. I Think I Need a New Heart - The Magnetic Fields. I love the contrast between the light, bouncy arrangement of this song in combination with Stephin Merrit's deep, almost ascerbic singing voice and slightly testy personality. Seeing him in concert for the first time not too long ago somehow cemented in my mind this image of him as a besweatered (but weirdly lovable) curmudgeon. I know that doesn't sound so complimentary, but I respect a good curmudgeon and really do like him, because 69 Love Songs is one of my favorite cds ever.

11. The Way I am - Ingrid Michaelson. Remember when the sweater song was all over the place because of those t.v. commercials? It almost got played too much, but I still really love it, because it is just so sweet.

12. Cupid (Live) - Sam Cooke. I don't even have adjectives to describe how much I love Sam Cooke. He is a silver voiced god. It is so sad to me to think of all he could have done had he not been taken so early, because the catalog for the time he lived is pretty amazing. I love this version of Cupid, because it's just a little raw and shows a different side of Sam's voice.

13. A Little Bit of Riddim - Michael Franti & Spearhead. It's a little repetitive, but, oh man, does this song make me butt dance in the car whenever I hear it. Franti is another one who got some airplay because of one song that got picked up by pop stations, but actually has a catalog and established following. I downloaded their whole cd from iTunes on a whim, because I liked Say Hey when I heard it on the radio and ended up liking the whole thing for its socially conscious lyrics. It shows that popular music can be fun without being stupid (says the woman who likes "That's Not My Name").

14. I Love Rock n Roll - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. If you want to talk about badass, that was Joan Jett in the early 80's. Jen and I talked on the way to the beach about how this song totally screams things about our teen years and roller skating rinks whenever we hear it, which is pretty funny, considering we both grew up on opposite ends of the country and I totally remember skating to this at Skate World.

15. Suddenly ... (I Miss Carpaty) - Gogol Bordello. There is so much that I love about Gogol Bordello. Their violinist is amazing, but I've talked so much about them the I feel I should probably just cool it, but they are a quirky mix of gypsy folk and punk and so awesome that I almost can't stand it.

16. The Story - Brandi Carlile. I love the notion that the lines on our faces (well, those of us who aren't botoxed beyond recognition, anyway) are a map of our experiences and I love the lyrics in general, especially the part about how "friends think that I'm blessed but they don't know my head is a mess", which speaks so accurately to the crazy I (mostly) keep just below the surface. Preach on, my whackadoo sister, preach on!

17. Pretty Flowers - Steve Martin.
This is such a sweet little love song. Even though Steve Martin wrote it, it sounds like something you'd hear in The Songcatcher or find in an anthology of folk tunes. It's just so authentic and unassuming, pretty and unexpected from someone who built is early career dressing up like King Tut and wearing an arrow through his head. Hooray for Steve!

18. Drunkard's Waltz - Joel Savoy.
If I could have a theme song, this would be the melody. It skips along so happily and free of care that I think it would please me for people to think of me when they heard it. We've have to do something about the name, though.

19. Cajun Song - Gin Blossoms.
I have had the cd this came from since grad school. I received it as a gift and think I've probably listened to the full thing a grand total of once. Still, I've always loved this song, because as a companion piece to my old school gospel affinity, I have an inexplicable affinity for Cajun and Zydeco music. How some 1/2 German kid growing up in the NW with no ties to the bayou developed a fondness for this kind of stuff or why the Gin Blossoms were singing in the height of the grunge years it will always be beyond me.

20. The Lonely Goatherd - Julie Andrews.
I don't know what is up with my goatherd fetish lately, but I love singing this song, because of the part at the end where I get to really ham it up, but that will just remain our little secret, Internets. I'm trusting you with this information, so please don't tell anyone!