Media miscellany

* If you prefer your movies with more conversation and less leaping off tall buildings, do yourself a favor and see Before Midnight, the third in the Ethan Hawke / Julie Delpy trilogy of romantic 20-somethings who meet traveling through Europe in Before Sunrise and then meet up nine years later in Before Sunset. That second one has one of the best endings as movies go. In Before Midnight it’s another nine years later and the couple is married with twin girls. Life interrupts as it does for married couples with kids who can no longer pick up and go to Europe, except that they are in Greece, actually, so life isn’t so bad. The film comprises just a handful of scenes, all long and intimate and believable given the natural dialogue. Find some cool indie theater that’s playing all three. And expect After Midnight in another ten years with that Eric Clapton song playing in the background as the pair meanders down some cobblestone street in Venice.

* I’m re-watching all eight hours of The Thorn Birds, which is exactly the kind of melodrama needed to kick off summer: a hot, windy Australia setting; forbidden love; priest passion. It has it all. Rumor has it there’s also a “Lost Years” episode, which I will be devouring like Richard Chamberlain devours Rachel Ward in the classic scene on the beach. Where else can you get a line like “I never felt such ecstasy in God’s presence as I felt with her”? The Bridges of Madison County, I guess.

The Thorn Birds

* Do you remember Valotte, the album (and I mean album) by Julian Lennon from 19 freakin’ 84? I LOVED that man and his soft brown eyes and flowy hair, sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar, which only now strikes me as strange. A pebble is very small and uncomfortable. Should have been rock, though I guess that was only one syllable. I see your problem, Julian. “Boulder” could have worked. Call me. But I digress, the Hey Jude dude came out with a new album this summer!! I’ve only been waiting nearly three decades. I sort of gave up on you, man. And that’s saying something because I bought your second album (possibly a tape, by then) called The Secret Value of Daydreaming. And let’s face it, Help Yourself in 1991 didn’t really count. Your new release Everything Changes is so long in coming that you bypassed the entire CD era and will go straight to digital and into my playlist titled “Music no one else buys.” Oh, who am I kidding; all my music is stuff no one else buys–and I  don’t mean that in some hipster way.

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Barnaby Bright

I’m at the Me & Thee Coffeehouse in Marblehead—the longest-running coffeehouse in a UU church on tiny Mugford Street, the host likes to call it, when a cute-as-a-button couple takes the stage—he with fuzzy hair and a guitar, she with a killer smile and a squeezebox—and harmonizes like nobody’s business. The ballads of Barnaby Bright (Nathan and Becky Bliss) are haunting and beautiful, but it’s the way they look at each other that gets you. You know they’re thinking, How lucky are we to be married and singing every night together? You hear “Brooklyn” and think, hipsters. But they grew up in Kansas, moved to Brooklyn, and are now back in Kansas, and you realize they’re the real deal, not a handlebar moustache in sight.

I haven’t been to this coffeehouse in years since I had a boyfriend who liked folk and we’d make pilgrimages to this small town on the coast to hear Ellis Paul or The Nields. Now I live 10 minutes away and am reminded how music is magical when played on the altar of a church—and even better when the theme is about sex or politics and sung at full volume from the pulpit.

The desecration of a library

I’m all about the ports lately. Last week was Westport, CT for the birthday. This week was Freeport, ME to see Martin Sexton at LL Bean’s Discovery Park, a free outdoor concert series that would make me like the Bean, if I were on Facebook. Anyway, the “sex” in Martin’s name is no mistake; he’s one sexy folk singer. Just look at that swoop of hair and the way he sings, eyes closed in ecstasy. Lullaby, please.

Other than sexy Sexton and the campus that is LL Bean, complete with boot mobile, there’s not a lot to Freeport. A handful of outlets would disappointment me, if I were a tourist. But strolling down Main Street, my friend Kim and I, not tourists, just naive New Englanders, encountered this sweet brick library. She snapped a picture while I pointed out its quaintness—red and solid and stout amid the trees. A classic.

The chiseled bare-chested man peering at us from just inside the door did seem an incongruous entry to the little library, but who am I to judge Down Easters? Perhaps the image helps uh, circulation.

An art exhibit, I thought, puzzled. Until my friend pointed out the sign, in alarm, confirming the desecration of a most sacred space. Freeport, if it takes me 20 years, I will strike out your entry in all guide books from Fodor’s to Frommer’s.

Jesus loves punk music

I’m seeing my friend off after an especially good beach day (80+ degrees on Memorial Day weekend in New England, hello) that we’ve stretched into sunset and beyond when we hear the faint notes of “Pretty in Pink” coming from across the cemetery. But it’s not on the radio.

I remember now that my neighbor I bought a jacket from after sifting through her eclectic collection of CDs mentioned that the Psychedelic Furs would be playing in Salem this weekend in a venue neither of us had heard of: The Salem Performing Arts at the Catholic Center. Huh? Beyond the obvious delight of picturing the punk band from the 80s playing at a Catholic Center, I couldn’t get past the fact that this community hall was where I cast my votes in elections.

Right now, I hear the throb of the center as the band belts out “Love my Way,” one of those songs you don’t know you know, and I’m waiting for the rainbow Mohawks to stream by reminiscing about when skinny jeans were popular the first time and punk was king.

Despite years of refusal, Morrissey needs your love

What’s up, Morrissey? I get the sense you’re feeling unloved. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but your lyrics are sad, man. Sad. True, it’s nothing new, but I thought by now you might have cheered up a smidge. You say some provocative things that can make a girl worry, like when you sing about throwing your arms around Paris because “only stone and steel accept my love” and later in that same song, this refrain:

Nobody wants my love
Nobody needs my love
Nobody wants my love

Oh dear.

In the unexpectedly lilting, “Something is Squeezing My Skull” there’s this little gem: 

Oh, something is squeezing my skull
Something I cannot describe
There is no hope in modern life.

Come, now. Is it really that dire? I’ll give you this: modern life is a bitch; but I just want you to have some hope and find love. But then you go and kill the dream in “That’s How People Grow Up”:

I was wasting my time
Trying to fall in love
Disappointment came to me and
Booted me and bruised and hurt me

No kidding, my friend, love does that. 

One sad man

One sad man

 

In “I’m OK by Myself,” you’re cheeky about your unlovability. 

Is this an arm around my waist?
Well, surely the hand contains a knife?

Clever, but still sad. Maybe I’m just reading between the lines or you know, reading the lines, but I think you’re unhappy. Your CD though—all those unhappy tunes— makes me happy, so it doesn’t matter if you’re at the edge of a precipice; it’s working for you.

Say yes

Despite my disastrous stab at drumming, I was still itching to play, but when I got an email about an outdoor drumming circle this weekend, I thought of a bunch of reasons not to go: I didn’t have a drum, I’d melt in the sun, I would be hopelessly lost as a beginner, I needed a chair…Sticking to your comfort zone and routine is tempting, but it was too beautiful not to go. I borrowed my friend’s drum, grabbed a beach chair, slathered on the sunscreen, and prepared to have fun despite my lame reservations.

And, like most things we resist, there was nothing to fear. Turned out, in fact, to be the highlight of my weekend. The group met by the Charles River in perfect sunshine (with extra drums and chairs on hand, incidentally) and was led by a teacher who was kind and patient, not at all concerned that beginners were busting in to his legendary circle. If you get lost, he told us, just chill out and appreciate that we’re outside on a beautiful day drumming by the river. Just the perspective I needed.

Everyone caught onto the rhythms, creating a great energy and sound (some boaters passing by even applauded our efforts and requested a Santana tune); the people were warm and friendly, and the atmosphere lulled me into feeling more like an intermediate than a beginner, a cool trick of the sun. I met a nice guy too who was even more of a beginner but came because it sounded like fun—a good attitude to cultivate, I thought. Saying no yields nothing; but saying yes almost always leads to adventures in serendipity.

I’m so bad at that…and that…and that…

Every year, I like to take a class in something that sounds like fun, but that I know I’ll find impossible to master. A couple of years ago, it was pottery. The first time I tried throwing on a wheel, I made the most perfectly round bowl. Everyone oohed and aahed and I couldn’t help but wonder what everyone found so difficult. When I tried again, I wasn’t so successful and the “bowl” collapsed into a heap; in fact I couldn’t replicate anything resembling a bowl again and was only ever able to make imperfect, wobbly objects covered in layers of sparkly glaze to distract the viewer. I love their handmade quality though, even if they look like something a first grader would bring home.

Last year, I tried watercolor painting. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I just couldn’t get it. The instructor, who had an intimidating Russian accent, barked directions at me that were useless: “You yust have to veel it,” he’d say. Yeah, what I needed was more instruction. How much water am I supposed to splash around here? And oh, how do I draw things? He was a terrible teacher, but then I was a poor student.

This month, it’s hand drumming. I’m not at all musical, so I thought this would be the perfect complement to pottery and painting. At least I’d get to beat something. Turns out, I’m a terrible drummer too. Simple rhythms we’re meant to memorize and play repeatedly elude me. I’ll be fine for a turn or too and then things fall apart and I feel like I’m learning Russian, which would have been helpful in say, my watercolor class, but is useless when learning African rhythms. 

 

Drumming on a djembe

Drumming on a djembe

 

Despite my failures, the subjects are fun, and I’m a firm believer that trying things we might not be good at is a healthy endeavor. Sure, it makes you feel inadequate, but it opens you up in some strange way and makes you remember what it’s like to learn something, to struggle. A little humility is a good thing.

One word recommendations

I’ve enjoyed a spate of good books and movies lately, so let me summarize them with one word recommendations.

Unaccustomed Earth written by Jhumpa Lahiri: brilliant

Vicky Cristina Barcelona directed by Woody Allen: Javier

 

Javier Bardem

Javier Bardem

 

 

Oatmeal (I hadn’t tried it until this weekend): blah

Cost written by Roxana Robinson: exquisite

Lizz Wright’s song My Heart: sultry

There. Go forth and consume (just not the oatmeal).

Colin Hay: troubadour from Down Under, kind of

I don’t know about you, but I always thought Colin Hay, the singer/songwriter who headed up Men at Work, actually came from the land Down Under—the land where women glow and men plunder and eat Vegemite sandwiches. Turns out he’s Scottish, but he moved to Melbourne when he was 14 where, he reports, his friend’s mothers were much hotter. He cleared this up when he I saw him play last night in Natick—a show that was half song, half hysterical. The guy is so funny, he could go on the road without his guitar.

He’s been mistaken for a lot of people over the years: one of the Village People, Sting, and Al Bundy.

“Sting,” he scoffed. “Oh, look at my yoga shoulders. He’s done a lot of Down Dog, that one has.”

It’d be a shame though if he went on tour without the guitar, funny as he is, because his reincarnation as an acoustic singer has yielded some beautiful, tender songs about love, longing, and cold places like Glasgow.

When his record company dropped him 20 years ago, he went the acoustic route as an interim gig. “Yeah, and here we are,” he said.

Hay’s a masterful songwriter who packs his songs with dense lyrics and simple rhymes that tell sweet stories of people and places. The song “Overkill” made a resurgence with his appearance in a Scrubs episode awhile back in which he follows J.D. around strumming the guitar, a twist that highlighted the music that’s usually relegated to the background. Very postmodern, that.

Hay described how a guy at a show once came up and said, “Just play the song about the goats, mate.” Hay thought it over and launched into “Overkill” which includes the line: “Ghosts appear and fade away.” “The guy thought it was about goats,” Hay said, shaking his head. “It never occurred to him to question it.”

He sang brilliant scaled-down versions of “Who Can it Be Now?” and “Down Under” blending in his new stuff like the mournful “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You,” featured on the Garden State soundtrack. He’ll be touring with Ringo this summer (“a step up from my minivan tour”) trying to recapture the heights he reached with Men at Work, but he’s clearly at his best in an intimate venue with a guitar and his charm.

iPodless

I suspect I’m the only person around who doesn’t own an iPod. Does that make me weird? Thanks to the clever marketing, catchy Apple commercials, and their wee precious size, I do kind of want one, I do. However, I don’t need one. No one really needs one, of course, but I can see its appeal. Wanting and needing is an important distinction when it comes to pricey purchases, and while I think it would be great to be able to download tracks to play in obsessive rotation, the idea of researching the right model, the cost, the fact that I have a PC at home and am not technologically-savvy (I know, it’s supposed to be foolproof, but trust me), and the array of accessories I’d feel compelled to buy have so far discouraged me from joining the cool kids.

I love music, but really, am I going to be able to find obscure songs from my favorite local singer-songwriters? I’ve thought about when I’d use it too. I walk every morning, but I can’t give up my ritual of listening to Matty in the Morning on Kiss 108. I suppose I could use it on the subway, but I’m hesitant to participate in the private bubble culture that’s emerged in which we’ve all become so insular (though don’t get me wrong, I don’t really want to talk to you on the T). I can’t use it at work because it gets in the way of talking to students and co-workers, not to mention actual work. Driving, well, you’d just look silly, and I love listening to the radio in the car and at home. At the gym, I watch TV to distract me. It might come in handy while traveling, but I don’t travel enough to justify it. So, I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m not a gadget person, even if I think the Nano is quite possibly a tiny box of magic. I don’t know; even dogs are getting in on the trend. Maybe I should reconsider…

I love the Stray Cats...

Falling in love at a coffee shop

I wish.

Have you noticed how many singer-songwriters and indie bands have rocketed to fame recently thanks to commercials? Apple excels at pairing their products with songs that are catchy and simple. Feist’s “1-2-3-4” comes to mind and the new one for MacBook Air sung by Yael Naim called “New Soul.” Naim croons in French, English, and Hebrew on her latest CD, by the way, just to make you mono- or bilingual self feel inferior.

One of my recent favorites though comes from the generally sappy genre of diamond commercials.

Landon Pigg sings the tune, “Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop,” which 92.5 The River (a great station) has been playing for all those romantics out there. The soft-spoken hipster played a free show in Boston last night at Trident Booksellers & Cafe where my co-worker declared him the next John Mayer and promptly blushed when he came over to chat. His lanky, shaggy look reminds me a bit of James Blunt, but he’s from Nashville, so no British accent—maybe a hint of a Southern one.

“What did the ladies in the front row think?” he asked.

We fawned. I told him we found his Santa socks endearing.

“Bye, ladies,” he said on the way out as we smiled and waved. Then in a moment straight out of a diamond is forever commercial, he added, “If you haven’t found that good kind of love yet, I hope you find it.”

High tide: 2 p.m.

My favorite radio station, WMVY, broadcasts from the island of Martha’s Vineyard and I listen to it streaming live on my own little island—a cubicle in Boston. The music is folksy and cool (RayLaMontagne, Lyle Lovett, Martin Sexton), but it’s when they break for the news that I’m all ears. There are the usual encapsulated headline stories, but they’re followed by ferry schedules and tide reports—typical fare to islanders, but tidbits that transport me to summer in the Cape, if only for a moment. A booming steamship blast signals the noon hour and in moments you’ll know if the seas are choppy or if there’s a standby line for vehicles on the ferry. The sound of a buoy clanging is beautiful music.

In the winter, the ferry info calls to mind a quiet, tourist-free island; in the summer the beach report is painful if I’m at my desk but exhilarating if I’m heading to the beach, finally close enough to tune the station in on the car radio for real.