Friday, October 30, 2009

Buffy 1st Halloween or “How We Robbed Buffy Of Her Dignity”

Teachers often say that if you don’t find kids entertaining you shouldn't be a teacher. The same thing applies to dogs. If you don’t’ find the everyday things that dogs do hilarious, you really shouldn't have a dog.

Now there are different categories of things that dogs do that are entertaining. There are the natural things that they do independently that are cute. These are things like yawning, rolling over, chasing their tails, stretching and all that other cute stuff. Then there are the things that we enjoy through interacting with them like going on walks, rubbing their tummies and playing fetch.

Then there’s the things that we make our dogs do that they really don’t enjoy all that much that we find awesome. Now there’s a line between teasing and tormenting dogs. In no way do I think it’s funny to do mean things to dogs. I wouldn’t find something entertaining that truly distressed my puppy Buffy, but making her a little annoy for our entertainment is relatively harmless.

Things like moving furniture to freak her out . . .

. . . or putting a blanket over Buffy’s head . . .

And then there's the ultimate in doing stuff to dogs that they get no joy out of but we do anyways because it’s cute and entertaining: dressing up dogs for Halloween.

Unlike other over commercialized holidays, Halloween has absolutely no pretense of its original meaning any more. What does dressing up like Hannah Montana or scantily clad flight attendant and begging for candy have to do with the Christian day of All Saints, celebrating the harvest or scaring away evil spirits? I’m not trying to hate on Halloween. If you get into it and have a great time, it’s all good. God knows towards the end of October we need something to lift our spirits.

I don’t personally like dressing up for Halloween but parties are fun, so why can’t the dog join in? Well, I told myself I wasn’t going to be “one of those” dog owners who dressed up their dogs, but that was before I actually got Buffy.

Let me backtrack a second. When we were deciding whether we would get a dog, any concerns we had would be answered with “but she’ll be really cute.” For example, “what are we going to do when we go on vacation? That might get tricky,” and my wife would respond “but she’ll be really cute.” The thing is that Buffy is really cute and honestly part of me kind of becoming “one of those” dog owners in relating to dog cute-ness levels and when you got a puppy that’s as cute as Buffy, you got dress them up at least once.

Does Buffy like wearing a costume? No, does any dog enjoy wearing costumes? I don’t really think so. Part of me thinks all those dogs in costumes who look happy are photoshopped. Oh wait THERE ARE NO PICTURES OF DOGS WHO ARE HAPPY IN COSUTME!!

So after visiting a couple different stores (yes it not only took multiple stores but multiple nights to find Buffy a costume) we decided on getting Buffy a Tigger costume from Winnie The Pooh. Yeah, it wasn't exactly a piece of cake to put the costume on her:

But eventually I got it on her:

The best part is how it look like Tigger is trying to eat Buffy. And really, look how happy she looks!!

Okay, Buffy looks like she wants to die. But c'mon, this is really cute. The original plan was for Buffy to dress up like cat and this is pretty close to that and lately she has been bouncing around a lot.

Am I mean owner trying to torture my puppy? Maybe a little . . . Look Buffy has a great life. She gets plenty of walks, gets a lot of attention and has a more active social life then I do. I thinks he can withstand a little humiliation for my own entertainment well and for yours.

Happy Halloween everybody!!

. . . mebbe if I luk pathetic enough, him will taek dis fin of uv meh . . .

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Downtown Train by Tom Waits/Rod Stewart

Tom Waits is one of music’s greatest song writers, and you've probably never heard of him. A true artists’ artist, Waits has been producing music since the 1970s and has released over 20 albums. Many artists have covered his songs and the most famous is Rod Stewart's version of “Downtown Train.”

One of Rod Stewart's biggest hits, “Downtown Train” perfectly fits Stewart’s soulful delivery. Now if you thought that Stewart has a gravely voice, check out Waits singing his own composition.

Waits sounds like Louis Armstrong, horribly aged 20 years, smoking cigarettes non-stop, soaked in bourbon. Gravely doesn’t even begin to describe the grit in this man’s voice and the crazy thing is that his recording of “Downtown Train” sounds angelic compared to other performances. Check out this recording of “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” of my personal favorites.

Once you get past the initial surprise, listen, really listen. It’s the male equivalent of Janis Joplin. This is expression pure and true. There is nothing holding back this voice. Waits could not be singing any harder or with any more soul. In the musical and lyrical world of Tom Waits, his voice truly is the main character walking down dark rain-soaked streets.

Rod Stewart's enters Wait’s world and adds a shimmer. Stewart sings with energy as he almost swings through the lyrics. The groove is reminiscent of the time when it was recorded, synthesized and bright. There is hope and light in this recording so much that you believe that Stewart will actually see the girl that he longs for at the end of it all.

As Waits methodically moves the lyrics, the dirty and gritty background instruments plod along mysteriously. There is something spiteful in Waits’ voice, a little sarcastic and angry. While Stewart pours on the emotion during the chorus Waits almost seems to hold back throwing away the ends of the lines like a man tired of asking the same questions.

The imagery in this song is simple but powerful: “Outside another yellow has punched a hole in the night time mist.” Wait paints a picture of emotions using few words and subtle symbolism. Even though you may not understand exactly what he is saying the emotion his is expressing is crystal clear.

My brother introduced me to the Rod Stewart version first and I’ve always loved that version. When I found Waits original at first it sounded awkward and lacking in any real passion. But more and more I find myself coming back to Waits version because there is something so primal and exposed about his voice that it draws me in.

Whichever one you prefer, it’s undeniable the greatness of this song. The lyrics are incredible, the simple verse melody is intimate and the chorus is beautiful rising and falling like a wolf howling at a full moon.

If you’re not a Tom Waits fan, give his version a try. You may be surprised how much you like it even after initially being turned away from the ugliness of his voice. If you’re not a Rod Stewart fan, give him a chance. It's blue-eyed soul at its best.

Either way, take a minute to jump into the world of Tom Waits whether it be through his voice or Stewart's. It's dark and a little scary, but there's magic there in the moonlight, the empty streets and the memories that keeps hope alive.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Father's Gun by Elton John

When I was in elementary school life was simple. There were good guys and there were bad guys. It until late in middle school that shades of grey entered my mind as the true depth of human conflicts began to reveal itself to me.

My understanding of history reflected this naivety and with the American Civil War it was pretty cut and dry. The South used African Americans as slaves. Slavery was evil, so therefore the South, the grey coats were the bad guys. The North, who believed slavery was bad were freedom fighters and they were the good guys. As in every human conflict that I had studied, the good guys won, slavery was abolished and racial harmony ensued immediately after the war.

My firm grasp on the American Civil War soon started to fall apart when I was told the there were other reasons in additional to slavery that were issues, however this idea that the South were the bad guys persisted.

I’m from the Northwest born and was raised in Mercer Island which is a suburb just east of Seattle, Washington. Growing up, something I was very conscious of was not only a social stereotype of southern people (Jeff Foxworthy was just breaking into the pop culture when I was in middle school) but also the culture. It seemed that nobody listened to country music around and no one ate southern food.

When I went to Chicago for college I entered a city that owes much of its cultural roots to the south. I ate southern food for the first time and loved it. Began listening to country music and fell in love with the spirit and soul of the music. And it was in college when I finally watched Gone With The Wind one of my mom’s favorite films of all time and the grandeur and majesty of southern culture came to life.

During my time in college I was just discovering Elton John’s music beyond his greatest hits albums. So when I saw this extended trailer for I was floored.

I had no idea what the song was about when I bought Elton John’s 1970 album Tumbleweed Connection, I just knew I had to get a copy of this song after the chorus had been haunting me for a week.

To my surprise, as I began listening this song, I realized it was a song about a son who lost his dad in the Civil War fighting for the south, swearing revenge on the North. Rather than portraying the south as the enemy, the song takes the side of the south and offers a heartfelt and powerful expression of what this war meant to the south.

The first verse talks about laying his father to rest and burying him. The mournful melody is filled with grief. Elton injects a little bit more energy and motion in his voice in the second verse when the song vows to “wear the colors of the greys." He swears to keep his father’s gun, memory and spirit with him until he dies.

The chorus begins with a question “I’d Like to know where the riverboat sails tonight.” The next line is a response to someone who explains to him where it goes, “To New Orleans well that’s just fine alright.” He continues to tell us “‘cause there’s fighting there and the company needs men, so slip us a rope and sail on round the bend.” He’s not even sure where exactly he’s going or how to get there, but he knows that he has to do something.

The last verse doesn’t sound like the words of an evil slave owner but rather of a freedom fighter.

As soon as this is over we'll go home
To plant the seeds of justice in our bones
To watch the children growing and see the women sewing
There'll be laughter when the bells of freedom ring.

Justice, freedom, slavery?!? If you were raised being taught that the sky was red and then all the sudden someone comes and tells you that it’s actually blue, whose fault is it that you had it wrong? This son was raised believing that what is just is to have the right to own slaves and that freedom is not having the tyranny of the federal government telling you what to do. Freedom and justice are what we define them to be and if someone has a different sense of these things, that doesn’t necessarily make them evil Do I think slavery is wrong? Yes, of course, but do I also understand and on some level sympathize with our protagonist? Very much so.

For the last half of the song, Elton John sings the chorus six times. In some ways it is excessively repetitive but it also gives the opportunity for Elton to express to us the inner conflict within the son, unsure about his actions, in pain from missing his dad and committing to joining a fight that may lead to his own death.

It took two British guys Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin with an epic and beautiful song to show me that there weren’t good guys or bad guys fighting in the American Civil War, there were simply Americans, fighting for what they believed in and honoring their families.

. . . so slip us a rope and sail on down the bend . . .

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fix You by Coldplay

“Thanks for supporting us through thick and thin and taking all the “shi**” for being a Coldplay fan.”


At the close of a concert in Toronto, Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay thanked the audience for their support and acknowledge the fact that like Coldplay has a certain stigma.

Through first hand experience, I know how much fun it is to make fun of Coldplay fans. I spent years mocking them. When a band reaches the popularity and has the cultural impact that Coldplay has there is bound to be backlash. And really once you marry someone like Gwyneth Paltrow, a beautiful and talented actress, it’s hard to buy Chris Marin singing about longing and loneliness.

Then came “Viva La Vida.”

In this earlier post, I discussed the power of this song, the incredible instrumentation and inventive lyrics. This song tells the story of a king who had lost his kingdom, and incredibly, Coldplay was about to make this story relate to our own memories and dreams.

As I’ve explored the world of Coldplay, I’ve found that many of their songs exist in the world of fantasy exploring different realities and dimensions, exploring science fictions stories, using metaphors and symbolism to reflect the human experience whether it be “Clocks” or “The Speed Of Sound.”

One of Coldplay’s most interesting and loved songs in “fix You,” which is perhaps their most direct and intimate song. In contrast to songs like “Viva La Vida,” “Fix You” doesn’t tell a story and isn’t self-reflective, instead, it’s a direct message of friendship of love.

In the first two verses, Martin sings about trying and painful situations. The first line, “ when you try your best and you don’t succeed,” speaks to the loss of idealism, the realization that what you’ve been told as a child is not true. Other lines speak to the pain, the tears, and asks “could it be worse?”

The chorus replies that “light will guide you home, and ignite your bones and I will try to fix you.” The beauty in this statement is that Martin is reassuring us that something somewhere, a light, a power or force will help us out and fill us up with energy, with hope. Through all of this, a friend will try to help us out. The reality of a situation is that sometimes our friends can’t fix our lives for us, but it’s a powerful statement of devotion when they promise that they will try.

As the song builds up out of the simple organ accompaniment relating us back to the intimacy and safety of church, there is a celebratory glory behind the words “tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace.” Instead of shying away from bad feeling and pain, Coldplay embraces these feelings reflecting something that Coldplay expresses in their music: an understanding of the beauty of emotion not only in the happiness but in the entire spectrum of the human experience.

At the end of the song, Chris Martin, drops from his falsetto, down an octave into his chest voice. In this moment, he changes from a rock superstar to a friend. This promise isn’t being sung to a stadium of fans but directly to us. In the depth of his voice, this final reiteration of support is venerable, honest, daring and true.

“Fix You” is what we need to hear other people say to us to get through the challenges in life and it is also what we would like to promise to the people we love in our lives. It is everything we need. It's everything we long to be. And it's simply one of the greatest rock songs in recent memory.

Coldplay fans, you were right. You don't deserve all the crap you've gotten through the years. I apologize.

Now if someone could explain Chris Martin's fascination with colored electric tape. I mean, seriously man, what's up with that?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Northwestern University Hymn (Alma Mater)

As Homecoming weekend at Northwestern University approaches, memories of my time on campus have been rushing back. There was that time we decided that we should move a couch into our fraternity bathroom, the lecture in my music history class that made me fall in love with opera and the time in the cafeteria when we decided to use a chocolate doughnut to make a breakfast sandwich resulting in the "Bacon McDoughnut."

Then there's the music. The fight song, “Go U, Northwestern” which I analyzed in this earlier post and of course the “Northwestern University Hymn” more commonly reffered to as the "Alma Mater." I love "Go U, Northwestern." I've performed that song more than any other song in my life, but there's something different about the "Northwestern University Hymn," something more profound.

As a member of the Northwestern University Marching Band (NUMB), I had the honor of performing this song for the university community however it was the times after games when NUMB would sing this song a cappella in a circle, arms around that this song represented what it meant to be at Northwestern.

It was a feeling of being at home, having a family, and being connected to something bigger than me. Often when we would sing the “Alma Mater” people in NUMB would be crying. I can’t explain why it meant so much, but it did. Every time I hear this melody it brings me back to this feeling and every time I think of Northwestern, the "Alma Mater" is echoing in the background.

The first version of Northwestern’s hymn was arranged by the first dean of the school of music Peter Christian Lutkin in 1907. J. Scott Clark, an English professor, arranged the lyrics in Latin which were based on the University’s motto from Philippians 4:8.

Whatsoever things are true,
Whatsoever things are honest,
Whatsoever things are just,
Whatsoever things are pure,
Whatsoever things are lovely,
Whatsoever things are of good report,
If there be any virtue and if there be any praise,
Think on these things

This motto is used to this day in university ceremonies and the first line in Latin "Quacumque Sunt Vera,” adorns the university seal. The music that Lutkin chose for these lyrics was “St. Anthony’s Chorale” which is attributed to Frank Joseph Haydn. This tune was relatively obscures until Brahms arranged a set of variation on this melody.

There is debate whether Haydn actually wrote this melody, however it is indisputable that Brahms arrangement cemented this melody as one of the most recognizable melodies in classical music.

The “University Chant,” as Lutkin titled it, was performed by university choirs and the students body. The combination of the Latin, which was part of every student’s academic studies at the time and this beautiful classical tune embodied the academic standards and values of the university.

Peter Christian Lutkin & his original arrangement of the "University Chant."

As Northwestern University changed, so did the student body and by the 1950s the respect and enthusiasm for the “University Chant” diminished and it fell into obscurity. In 1954, in an effort to revive the song, Thomas Tyra, a School of Music Alumni wrote English lyrics. He moved away from the university motto and instead wrote English lyrics expressing devotion to Northwestern.

Hail to Alma Mater
We will sing thy praise forever
All thy sons and daughters
Pledge thee victory and honor
Alma Mater Praise be thine
May thy name forever shine
Hail to purple
Hail to white
Hail to thee Northwestern

While many argued that the English lyrics would take away from the song's original meaning, these new less esoteric lyrics connected with the student body. Four years later, John Paynter, Northwestern's legendary band director, arranged the “University Chant” for band. Along with the English lyrics, the "chant" was retitled “University Hymn.”

Paynter’s arrangement starts off like most hymns with the last four measures of the melody used as an introduction. The band plays through the first two phrase in a straight-forward but artfully arranged four-part harmony. Like many devotion hymns, the arrangement is simple to focus not on performers but the university.

In a stunning musical development, the whole band instead of accompanying the audience sings the last half of the melody. Starting in unison, as one voice, the harmony slowly unfolds into four parts representing the singularity of values at Northwestern that expands into countless possibilities.

Paynter provides a moment of reflection for the audience as the band repeats the last half of the melody, starting with a single trumpet, which is joined by a euphonium. The rest of the band enters softly, rising to a climax, glorious but reverent and majestic while humble.

One of my greatest honors was to be the conductor of the “Alma Mater” as the music director of Phi Mu Alpha. Our fraternity hosted parties and at midnight we would gather in the living room of our house to sing fraternity songs. We would end every performance with the “Alma Mater.” Everyone in the audience would join in a circle and we would sing about how much we loved our university.

Standing in the center surrounded by friends, molding the music with my hands is one of the most magical feelings in my life. Singing this song in NUMB was different, we were in uniform, part of the ritual of the football game. However, in my fraternity house we were in the middle of a party. People would stop whatever games they were playing, put down whatever they were drinking and join us to share a moment together.

For my friends, pride in Northwestern wasn’t just about winning football games, it was something different and real. It wasn’t dorky, or forced, it was simply how we felt.

Hail to thee Northwestern
May thy name forever shine

Welcome home.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pork And Beans by Weezer

The turth is that sometimes I feel pretty insecure. I like to tell myself that I don’t care what other people think. I reassure friends that their decisions are their own and that they are the only person who really have to live with their own decisions.

I tell people that others who comment about their lives really don’t know them so their thoughts are invalid and in reality no one really cares about things that people do nearly as much as people think. And I reassure my students that the most important person to respect and to love is himself or herself because there is so much inside each and every one of us to love.

But right now I feel like a hypocrite, because I’m not as together as I like people to think. Internal motivation is not nearly enough to keep me going every day, I worry about what people will think about my decisions, I doubt myself and my own abilities and at times I do things to just to prove things to others.

On the spectrum of insecurity I’m not like all the way in the negatives, in general I feel pretty about myself, don’t get me wrong. There are just moments when life begins to feel overwhelming and its petrfying. When it all piles up, the mountain of life can be quite daunting.

How do you get going? The first step is always the hardest. As much as I tell other people things about self-confidence and all that jazz, when you tell yourself those things, it really doesn’t have the same effect. Sitting here, writing this, right now, I’m feeling quite overwhelmed by life, and I’m feeling pretty unable to do anything productive (well, besides laundry), but “Pork And Beans” is helping.

I’ve never been a big Weezer fan. I love “Buddy Holly” which I wrote an earlier post as well as “Keep Fishin’” which has an awesome music video featuring the Muppets. My friends who I carpool with likes Weezer so the other day I got a bunch of their songs and listening through them, “Pork And Beans” stuck out.

Inspired by a meeting with records executives who asked Weezer to make more commercial music, Weezer responded with “Pork And Beans." It’s a simple song about being happy with yourself, not caring what other people think and being proud to do what you love to do even if it’s eating candy with pork and beans.

There’s something a little elementary school about this song with the “pork and beans” idea which is reminiscent of “green eggs and ham.” The song is shamelessly catchy dropping names like Timbaland and Oakley. But it’s general upbeat feeling and “I don’t care” swagger that is infectious and I can’t really listen to this song, without nodding my head to the beat and feeling a little better about life.

Weezer’s music has always expressed a level of optimism, looking at the worlds troubles with ironic humor and catchy melodies. “Pork And Beans” feels like a friend, standing by you, reminding you to declare, “I don’t care” to the world and how good it feels to be “fine and dandy with the me inside.”

Yeah, I have no idea how I’m going to get all the stuff done this weekend that I’d like to finish, but you know that I really don’t have anything to prove to anyone else. There’s nothing I can confess that will make the people around me love me less.

At the end of the day, everything is going to be okay.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers

So many love songs sound schmaltzy. Sometimes they are so bad that even our grandparents find them cheesy. We listen to love songs to relate to feel a part of that magic that brings us close to the ones that we love, but more often than not love songs fail to effect us in a genuine and intimate way.

Among a glut of slow tempo ballads, a couple songs rise above, redefine the genre of the love song and remind us not only how good love songs can be but also what it means to be in love. “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers is one such song.

In an earlier post, I discussed the “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and the blue eyed soul of the Righteous Brothers. While that song featured baritone, Bill Medley, “Unchained Melody” features the other member of this duet, Bobby Hatfield in a career defining performance.

Alex North and Hy Zaret composed “Unchained Melody” for the 1955 prison film Unchained. The film follows Steve Davitt, debating whether he should finish his sentence and see his family or escape from prison, gaining freedom but losing his family in the process.

As with many popular songs of the time, numerous people recorded the song. Following the original recording by Todd Duncan, others artist released their own version including the Lennon Sisters version. This recording is stylistically representative of the many versions of this song that artists recorded before the Righteous Brothers.

Listening to this performance on the Lawrence Welk Show, it’s hard to imagine how Phil Spector in 1965 decided to push the Righteous Brothers, a soul duo to perform such a traditional and conservative ballad.

Spector moernized "Unchained Melody" by slowing the song down and creating a huge dramatic arc with the instrumentation, starting with a light drum set, bass and guitar, and slowly adding instruments until at the end, a full orchestra and choir swell into a heart wrenching climax. Spector’s production skills and his signature “wall of sound” made the music sound big and bold with an amazing transparency that allowed listeners to hear every instrument that was playing in the rich texture.

While Spector’s instrumentation modernized the song, Hatfield’s transformed this song into a soulful and spiritual declaration of love. A soul singer at heart, Hatfield gently scoops into notes reaching peaks of melodies and slowly quivering down like in the opening line. Hatfield’s voice is a perfect tenor blend never sounding thin or weak.

If there was ever a doubt whether or not this white boy had soul, all you had to do was hear his high note on “are you still mine” in the second verse. He rises up to it effortlessly and collapses down the notes like a person drained from emotional pain.

In the final chorus, Hatfield takes us to church, singing like a preacher. He doesn’t so much sing but confesses. He hesitates on notes and digs in on the word “hunger.” There is something both beautiful and painful in his voice. Only someone who is missing his or her true love could be in the pain that Hatfield expresses at the end of the song when he opens up to his heavenly falsetto pleading, “I need your love.”

There is nothing schmaltzy about The Righteous Brothers version of the song. Even though it was recorded in 1965, it doesn’t sound dated. Yes, the melody is beautifully crafted and the lyrics are perfect. However, it’s the musical landscape created by Spector, and Hatfield’s dramatic performance that brings forth the soul of this song: a longing for the ultimate in human connection and the magic that can only be described as true love.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Leaving Buffy Behind

[the following are my thoughts while away on a weekend trip]

Buffy had no idea that we were leaving her.

The only thing that she was focused on was the fact that I was taking her crate away as she barked and whined frantically. Diana and I took Buffy to the car with us, so she could see where her crate was going, but this really didn’t calm her down all that much.

We were going out of town for the weekend and she was going to stay with my in-laws. Buffy spends a couple days a week at their house when Diana and I are at work. She loves it there. Diana and I are lucky to have the support of her parents with this puppy adventure. They’ve been a huge help and its nice knowing that she always has a place to go when Diana and I need to be away.

The plan was to leave Friday afternoon, so we had to get all of Buffy’s stuff ready to take over my in-laws house in the morning. I was stressed and so was Diana. Buffy sensed this that morning as I tried to get ready for work and help with Buffy’s things all at the same time.

After helping Diana move her crate it was time to head to work, and I didn’t really say goodbye to Buffy as I planned to see her later. The plan was to head to my place after work, do some last minute backing, go over to the in-laws house, say by to Buffy and get Diana.

Things didn’t go exactly as planned.

After work, I rushed home, finished packing and when I was done to my dismay it was almost 4pm. I needed to leave from Diana’s house a little after 4 and I had planned to make it there around 3:30 to see to Buffy, but time had moved quicker than I had anticipated. By the time, I got to Diana’s parent’s house, I had about 10 seconds to say goodbye to my little girl.

Standing in the rain in my in-laws driveway, my mother-in-law handed Buffy to me. Cradling, her I gently rubber her stomach, leaned in close and told her to be a girl. In response, Buffy looked up to me and licked my nose. Then it was time to go.

I’ve seen Buffy every day since we first got her. For the first month and a half I spent literally all day with her since I was on summer break. When I went back to work it was weird being away from Buffy but as the school year progressed and I became more engaged with my students, Buffy moved from being at the center of my thoughts to be becoming another facet of my life.

Now after my first full day away from Buffy, the thing I missed the most was saying goodnight to her and seeing her first thing in the morning. My wife goes to work later than I do, so she usually puts Buffy to bed and I take her out for her first walk in the morning. When I say goodnight to Buffy, she’s usually cuddled in the corner of the coach. I pet the scruff of her neck, lean in so she can say goodnight by touching her nose against mine.

In the morning, I find Buffy curled up in a ball of fluff in her crate.

I reach in and pet her and half awake, she licks my hand. I pick her up, careful to keep her in her "ball form" and put her in my lap as I put her leash on. She yawns, and snuggles up into a tighter ball, often trying to fall back asleep. It’s usually not until we are outside that she remembers that she actually really needs to do her business and becomes excited for the upcoming day. There really isn’t a better way to start the day.

Am I wreck away from Buffy? Not really. While I don’t worry about her 24/7, I can’t help but be a little worried. Most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing my girly.

One of the things I miss from the early dating days with Diana is seeing her when I’d return to college after visiting my family in Seattle. When Diana would see me, she would literally run up to me (ala romantic movie cliché). With the most radiant smile on her face, Diana would hug me like she would never let me go. While I don’t miss spending time away from my wife, I do miss that feeling of relief and joy of being reunited with Diana.

I imagine seeing Buffy when I get home will be similar except there will be more tail wagging and face licking.

Miss you girl, can’t wait to see you.

[This is Buffy saying hello to Diana after work, it was pretty much like this when Diana and I saw her when we got home.]

Monday, October 12, 2009

Redemption Song by Bob Marley

Diagnosed with cancer, in pain and facing his own mortality, Bob Marley wrote “Redemption Song” in 1979. Marley had already changed the way the world viewed Reggae music, Jamaica and the Rastafari movement.

With insightful lyrics and a sound that popular culture had never heard before, Bob Marley penetrated deep into the American consciousness, which is evident in his greatest hits album, Legend selling over ten million copies in the United States.

Unlike earlier songs, which featured his band The Wailers, Marley recorded “Redemption Song,” recorded for his seventh album Uprising with a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment. It’s simple presentations echoes back to American folk singers and early works by Bob Dylan filled with social commentary and powerful imagery. There’s something about redemption song that is unique, not only in the protest music but in Bob Marley. Earlier Marley had called out to the world to “Get Up Stand Up” but in “Redemption Song” there was a softer tone, a more personal statement.

Inspired by a speech by Marcus Garvey, urging people to emancipate themselves from mental slavery, Marley composed a song of freedom, a song of hope. He begins in the first verse singing about pirates taking him into physical slavery but “the hand of the almighty” keeping him strong as hi moves forward in his generation. He invites us to sing in his song of freedom because he states “all I ever have, redemption songs.

In the second verse, Marley urges us to free ourselves from a different kind of slavery to free our minds from “mental slavery.” He redirects our fear of atomic energy as they can’t stop who we are and asks us “how long shall they kill our prophet, while we stand aside and look.”

Marley is asking is how we can stand by and watch the things that mean most to us be killed. Instead of focusing on outward fears of nuclear energy, Marley is telling us to look for our spiritual larders, protect what is most important. At the end of the verse Marley states that other people say that we simply have a role to “fulfill the book.” All we are doing is playing falling into place with what others have planned. In this way we truly are slaves and its up to us to free ourselves for this new kind of slavery.

Marley sings that all he ever has is “redemption songs” but “Redemption Song” isn’t one of them. The redemption that Marley asks us to seek is not found in the words and melody of this song, they are found within ourselves. When we finally get there, we can join Marley but until then what we have is this call to freedom.

As the final song on his last album, “Redemption Song” is a powerful statement of the nature of change. Marley can’t make the world change, he can only invite us to think about our lives and do something different. Many people have answered to call to help him sing with him and maybe that’s all we need to do to change the world not through a grandiose speech but through a simple song of freedom.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bobby Jean by Bruce Springsteen

One of my first interactions with Susan was during a marching band rehearsal. We were marching in a grid form and she was right in front of me. As we were marching I noticed that Susan was doing something wrong, it was a either a misstep or something wrong with her posture. It’s been too long for me to remember exactly what I said, but the way I said it had enough sarcasm or harshness to make Susan quit marching band that very day.

Now I wasn’t exclusive reasons that Susan quit band that year but I was the straw that broke the camels back. Honestly, I only vaguely recall this happening and it wasn’t until Susan brought this up years later that I remembered this instance at all.

Even with this rocky beginning to our friendship, Susan looked past this and we starting talking Susan in the dorm cafeteria and during social activities at her sorority and my fraternity. We were in the same social group and before long we became close friends.

I loved Susan’s enthusiasm, honesty and most of all her genuine belief in the goodness of the world. Even when she was sad or complaining about something in her life, there was always a spark, a light in her eyes that made me feel better and more hopeful about the world around me.

Then I met Diana, who soon joined the sorority that Susan was a member of. Both of them were active in the leadership of the house however, they disagreed on certain issues which caused tension between them (Diana and Susan have long sense reconciled these differences). Diana confided in me her frustrations with Susan and asked me to talk to Susan about their disagreement.

Instead of talking to Susan on Diana’s behalf, I found myself talking to Susan less and not hanging out with her as much. It was still early in my relationship with Diana and I felt this was a way I could take Diana’s side without betraying my friendship with Susan. Now I don’t know if I acted correctly, I’m not sure if I should have intervened in Diana’s behalf and I don’t know if it was fair to Susan to dissolve our friendship like that. I did the best I knew how to at the time but I never felt like I did enough.

By the end of the school year, there was a space between Susan and I felt like I wanted to say something to her. I wrote her a letter because there were things I wanted to tell her that I didn’t feel like I could say to her face. I also made her a mix CD of music that reminded me of her.

When I found her in her room packing up a couple days before graduation, it felt like months since we last talked. I awkwardly gave her the note and the mix CD and left her room. About halfway down the stairs I realized that Susan deserved more than me just dropping off a letter, she needed to her what I had to say, not from my letter but from me. I turned around knocked on the door and found her about to open the letters.

I sat down and read the letter to her. I remember looking down at the words I had written and never once looking up to Susan afraid of how she would react to everything I had written. Through the letter, I told her how much I enjoyed the moments we shared and how much I wished that things could have been different. I didn't tell her all of these things to change her mind about the situation or to bring her back to being a friend. I just wanted her to know that I missed her and I cared about her.

After I was done reading the letter I looked up and saw Susan crying, which in turn caused me to tear up. I don’t remember any words that we said at that moment but I do remember standing up, Susan and I sharing a hug and Susan gently kissing me on the cheek. In that moment, after months of thinking about Susan with regret and fearing what she thought of me, I knew it was okay.

There were many songs on the mix CD but the one that encapsulated everything I felt, everything I wanted to say was “Bobby Jean.” Springsteen tells a girl how much she meant to him after a break-up not in an attempt to get her back but to let her know how much he will alway cares about her. Back then, whenever I heard this song I thought of all I wanted to say to her, everything that I feared I could never make Susan understand.

Years later when I hear this song I simply think of the light in Susan’s eyes and I find myself smiling at the thought of my friend.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jeremy by Pearl Jam

Violence in schools sadly seems like a commonplace occurrence in our society. Not just in America but across the world stories of students acting out in unimaginable ways seems to emerge every couple months. While there are many more people in this world who are killed in horrific battles in war-torn countries, they don’t get to me in the same way. I don’t work in a war-torn environment. I work in a school and every time I hear of a school shooting, I feel physically sick.

“Jeremy” is a nightmare. It’s horrific and scary on a visceral level. Is it beautiful? That depends on your definitions of beauty. However, what is indisputable is that “Jeremy” expresses darkness in the human heart that is uncomfortable but very real.

“Jeremy” is an amalgamation of two true stories: Jeremy Wade Delle, a 15 year old who committed suicide in front of his English class and a shooting at a school that lead singer Eddie Vedder attended. The lyrics tell about a boy at home drawing disturbing images of death with parents who don’t seem to care.

The second verse is the narrator telling about how he used to pick on Jeremy and later realizes “we unleashed a lion." Between the verse the haunting line, “Jeremy spoke in class today." While the lyrics never explicitly say that Jeremy got up in front of the class and committed suicide. Most people know the story from the controversial music video.

After watching the video, you realize that Jeremy “speaking” is not so much a reflection on something he said but on what he did. Even if you’ve never seen the video, there is something unhinged about the way that Eddie Vedder sings the chorus that foreshadows a tragic ending.

The words “Jeremy spoken” rise up and down in a smooth contour but the words “in class today” are awkwardly crammed together. Vedder dips into a full baritone for this line with singing it like a man possessed. You can see a young boys hands shaking in anger in the uncomfortable intensity of Vedder’s voice.

Pearl Jam, thought initially characterized s a grunge/alternative rock group, arranges their music with a clarity and intricacy that transcends the distorted punk chords that characterize most grunge music. The melodic bass line in the beginning, the slick use of vocal overdubs to create a schizophrenic feeling are advanced music devices that add to the feverish energy that permeates this song.

I don’t get any joy from listening to “Jeremy.” I somehow feel hurt, sad and at a loss when this song is over. I don't understand why I feel this way. I don’t understand how someone could feel this alone, this hurt and this angry. I don’t know how someone could contemplate let alone act in such violence.

We fear what we don’t understand, and I am afraid of "Jeremy."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Buffy Graduates!!!

Buffy graduated from Puppy Class !!!

She demonstrated three different commands without using food as a lure and completed the course. It’s official, there’s even a certificate (however we are still waiting for the transcript request to go through).

When Diana first brought up the idea of taking Buffy to a puppy class, it seemed like a great idea. Buffy can learn some tricks, get to know some other dogs and a good time would be had by all.

Once class got started, the story was a little different. First off, Buffy didn’t have a spectacular first class (which I wrote about in this post). As much fun as it was, it was a lot of work, not only for Buffy but for Diana and I. There was homework, assessment by our instructor and an organized and structured class. All of this to help teach our dog how to follow a couple commands, really?

Here’s the thing, teaching your dog commands is so much than a party trick. The main reason to take your puppy to class and learn how to train your dog is to raise a dog that you enjoy living with. No one likes to walk into a friends house and be attacked by his or her dogs. No one enjoys being pulled down the street when walking a dog and no one enjoys having their house be chewed up or worse covered in dog poo. Training can solve all of these things.

Yes, dogs have unique individual personalities and you can’t train the personality out of a dog. However, most dogs, regardless of how timid or crazy they are can be trained to be a dog that’s a pleasure to live with and not a nuisance. While having a dog that doesn’t do things that you don’t want it to do is a nice practical bonus, it’s really not the most meaningful thing you get from learning how to train your dog.

Buffy talks to Diana and I all the time. It’s not just barking, but it’s in her groans, whines, and little squeaks. She’s almost sounds like R2-D2 sometimes when she’s trying to communicate to us. Even though we are getting better at recognizing what she is saying with her sounds at this point, it’s still pretty much guessing. And as much as Diana and I talk to Buffy, she has no idea what we are talking about most of the time. However, when I command Buffy to sit and she sits, we are having a conversation.

It’s an amazing feeling with a simple command to realize that you don’t need a common spoken language to communicate. For a split second, Buffy knows exactly what I’m saying and she’s letting me know that she understands.

More often that not I’m guessing what Buffy needs and she’ trying to figure out what I‘m talking about (which really isn’t all that different than the way most of my friends interact with me). It’s funny but it keeps us at a distance. Nothing in relationships separates people more than a lack of communications. On the other hand, nothing brings people together like being able to understand each other.

Every time I give a command to Buffy and she does what I ask, I feel like I’m getting just a little bit closer to my little girl. Sometimes it’s not the content of a conversation but simply spending the time to talk that shows how much you care. Hopefully Buffy understands how much I care about her, because she continues to tell me with every look, chirp and sit how much she cares about me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Walking In Memphis by Marc Cohn

Matt, what are you listening to?!?

Last Tuesday, I put my car into the shop for a scheduled maintenance so my father-in-law let me borrow one of his cars for the day. The only drawback to my father-in-laws car is the fact that it doesn’t have an ipod hookup in its stereo system (though it does have an audio cassette player, which I doubt has ever been used). In my car, I have an ipod hook up so I’m usually listening to mixes that I make or podcast on the way to work.

As I’m driving to work with a friend I carpool with, we are listening to what happened to be in the CD player which was Taylor Swift's first album. My brother-in-law Matt used this car all summer to get to work, so I knew it was his CD. He was the one who introduced me to Taylor Swift. I swooned over how great “Love Story” is in a previous post but I’m not as big a fan of the first album (though I find “Picture To Burn” hilarious) and anyways my friend in the car isn’t that into her.

The only other CD we could find in this car was a burned mix that was labeled illegibly, the best I could make out was “Scoone 2 + Mix.” Matt introduced me to Taylor, loved that stuff, so I figured I’d check out this other CD he left in the car. We put it in and we find it’s rave music. I’ve never been to a rave, I don’t know anything about rave culture of rave music except for the fact that sometimes glow stick are involved.

My friend and I are giving each song about 30 seconds and finding one dance song after another, sometimes we can decipher what song is being remixed other times we have no idea. I'm not a big fan of this style of music, don’t hate it, just not that into it, especially during an early morning commute. Then we got to a track that had the piano track to “Let It Be.” We both exhaled and relaxed ready to enjoy one the greatest rock songs of all time, and then instead of hearing Paul McCartney's voice enter, we hear Shaggy.

“It Wasn’t Me” mashed up with “Let It Be.” What in God’s name are you listening to Matt?!? My head can’t even begin to explain what is so wrong about this mix. The juxtapositions of these two songs while inventive is just plain wrong. I need a whole post dedicated to this mix to wrap my brain around it.

We can only stand listening to this mix for about 40 seconds and then we move on. What I hear a couple tracks later is the opening piano line to “Walking In Memphis.” Last week, I downloaded “Walking In Memphis” by Marc Cohn off of itunes. I planned to do an analysis of this song that I've found that many people love and connect with. Even though it’s a little adult contemporary, it paints a beautiful picture with cultural references that echo back to songs like “American Pie” capturing a time and place in a unique and unforgettable way.

Instead of Marc Cohn there's a European guy singing about getting prepared to go raving. Instead of singing “walking in Memphis” he sang, “I’m raving, I’m raving.”

As my friend sat in disbelief, I actually started enjoying this song. It was kind of making fun of raving and utilizing the nostalgia of “Walking In Memphis” to comment on the fun of going to a rave in a mocking almost Saturday Night Live kind of way.

Then after the first chorus, to my utter shock and disbelief, “Scotland The Brave” enters.

Probably the most famous Scottish bagpipe song beside “Amazing Grace,” “Scottish the Brave” in a patriotic song and rousing melody that exemplifies the spirit of Scottish music.

Okay, let me try to wrap my brain around this one. Here’s a song based on “Walking In Memphis” a song about an American city, used to sing about raving, a dance almost trance-like experience paired with a Scottish pipe tune. Maybe, Scooter the German band that did this remix, um, didn’t want to seem too American, so they threw in a little dash of Scottish to balance out the Elvis references.

Arrgh, my brain can’t handle this. Too many cultural implications, crashing together.

Matt, what's going on? How are you listening to this stuff? It's not so much that this is "bad" music, but rather it's baffling. You're my brother-in-law and the longer I know you the more I simply think of you as a brother, but really Matt? "Put on my raving shoes?" Are you kidding?


Honestly, this Mix CD made me laugh out loud which I really needed heading back to work after a long weekend. Thanks for leaving that CD in the car. It totally made my day.