Still in Rotation: Crossing Muddy Waters (John Hiatt)

Still in Rotation is a guest post feature in which talented writers tell Midlife Mixtape readers about an album they discovered years ago that’s still in heavy rotation, and why it has such staying power.

crossing muddy waters

Peyton Price is known around the Interwebs as the genius behind the Twitter handle Suburban Haiku, a poetess who wrangles the existential angst of suburban life into 17 neat syllables across three short lines. (For example: Good pumping, baby. No, don’t stop! Keep it going! Moms near the swing set.) Today’s she’s unshackled, syllabically speaking, and talking about the man who saw her across the divide into her present day life.

Crossing Muddy Waters (2000)

by Peyton Price

In the early 2000s, I was a working mom with two little kids in two different child care locations, and an hour commute each way. Those two hours were glorious because they were the absolutely only time I wasn’t responsible for anyone but myself. Those two hours were also the most panicky and stressful—maybe in my life—because I wasn’t where I needed to be and I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get there on time.

GETTOWORKGETTOWORKGETTOWORK

GETTHEKIDSGETTHEKIDSGETHEKIDS

I had a couple of albums on regular rotation in the CD-changer, but the one that cut through the buzz in my head was John Hiatt’s Crossing Muddy Waters. I didn’t realize at the time—in fact, I didn’t realize until much later when my well meaning husband took me to a concert—that the album was a departure from John Hiatt’s style. He’s written songs you know, like “Thing Called Love,” made famous by Bonnie Raitt and “Have a Little Faith in Me,” a Joe Cocker classic.

But Crossing Muddy Waters is sort of a concept album. It’s an acoustic story of yearning and loss told through songs—a series of vignettes really—in which the hurt is crystal clear but the details are hazy. A man is abandoned by his lover, left with their baby daughter. A couple wakes up the morning after a car accident. A husband and wife debate whether to fight for their relationship.

John Hiatt gives an incredible vocal performance with his strangely affecting regular guy voice, accompanied simply with only a couple of instruments. He sounds like an open wound.

Lyle Lovett is beside the point.

Do you remember Holly Hunter’s character in the movie Broadcast News? She schedules a daily cry into her routine. Tears on. Tears off. Looking back, I was doing the same thing with Crossing Muddy Waters: fitting a catharsis into a logistical nightmare of a day that I had little control over. I had one hour to get to my next shift and before I parked the car I needed to experience my own humanity. Releasing the valve meant I could show up—all the way up—for work and kids. POW. I’m here. What do you need? I’m on it.

***

Eventually I wanted to get off it. I became an at-home mom. I listened to other people’s music, never for more than a song or two at a time. Little people have short attention spans. The years passed.

Last summer, I had a new commute, driving my teenage son back and forth to day camp. A half hour drive seemed reasonable when we registered, but when camp started I realized I had to drive there and back and there and back. Two hours. I went digging for my CDs and found my old friend John Hiatt.

Listening to the album again, driving back and forth again, I was as absorbed in the music as I had been 14 years earlier. But this time I was surprised at how catchy the songs were, how smart and funny the lyrics—how had I missed these clever rhymes and turns of phrase? From “Only the Song Survives,” that song about the couple who’d been in an accident:

She said, well don’t you remember they put a patch on your eye?
Like Dread Pirate Roberts, you looked so unplanned.
They cut off my wedding ring and you started to cry,
a one-eyed Niagara Falls man
.

Or in “Take it Back”:

Take back all those kisses that you stole from me.
Take back “Mister and Mrs.” to your family.
Can’t take broken dishes when we fight all day, hey!
Take back all best wishes, did I hear you say.

And John Hiatt’s voice, still evoking real loss, somehow also sounded rascally and free.

Which I suppose is a fair description of how I felt about myself all those years later, with the time and inclination to drive my teenage son to a fancy camp. There was no boss waiting on the other side of this commute to serve me a steaming hot plate of urgent. No babies crying at the sight of me because I was too early or too late to pick them up. Only work I wanted to do and people I wanted to be with.

Doesn’t that mandolin sound sweet?

 ♪♪♪

Peyton Price is usually much more concise. She’s the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind The Picket Fence and the proprietor of suburbanhaiku.com. You can find her complaining about the good life on Twitter and Facebook.

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Concert Review: Lord Huron

lh cover

The Band: Lord Huron, May 15 2015. Lord Huron is a band based in LA that originally started as a solo project for lead singer Ben Schneider, and has slowly expanded to include five members on this tour. Their music is indie-folk-western-Eastern, combining cowboy sensibilities with unusual grace notes like Indonesian gamelan instruments. They’ve just released their second full-length album, Strange Trails, and it continues where Lonesome Dreams left off: moody, heartbreakingly romantic, and ethereal. Which is why it’s a little surprising how hard their live shows rock.

The Venue: The Fox Theater, Oakland. One of the nicest things about going to your hometown theater is who you’ll run into: in this case, my daughters’ beloved second grade teacher and her little boy, who was attending his first concert. I told them how, when I took my youngest to her first show, she wanted to leave after Teddy Thompson’s opening act because she didn’t know the headliner- that obscure Canadian chanteuse, kd lang. Turns out Mrs. Green’s son didn’t even make it through the whole opening act – I saw them leaving as Family of the Year was still on stage. To be fair, there was a Warriors game on and her son was decked out in Warriors gear from head to toe, so he may just have wanted to catch the final quarter.

The Company: Maria, my concert-going buddy since ’84. Coincidentally, the same year that Lord Huron founder Ben Schneider was born.

The Crowd: Young. Young. Youngy McYoungerson. There was one guy who I thought was in his fifties and then I realized he just had a peroxide dye job badly in need of a deep conditioner. There was also weed smoking and vaping that I’d qualify as Willie Nelson Level.

For being so young, though, I must say that the crowd kept the concert filming to a minimum (and props to the Fox security guards who actually ask filmers to lower their phones after a few moments. THANK YOU.)

I’m going to say it: I think the pendulum is swinging the other way on Millennial beards. There were actually a few bare 20-something male chins in the house. Maybe they read this article. (Or maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part.)

Age Humiliation Factor: Saved the drama for the mamas

Maria and I stood in our traditional Fox spot, at the railing that overlooks the GA floor closest to the stage, and it was from this vantage point that we watched a young man drag his passing-out girlfriend to the corner directly in front of us. As Maria pointed out later, in any other setting, the sight of a woman slumped to the ground and a man clearly in need of help would have engendered help from people passing by, the calling of an ambulance, SOMETHING. In this case, people moved aside, but barely, then went back to dancing to “Fool for Love.”

So the moms took over. Because of the railing, we couldn’t reach the girl from where we were standing.  But it was the perfect elevation from which to bark out orders.

Maria ran and hailed a security guard, while I leaned forward and tapped a guy with a Warriors t-shirt on and said, “HELP THIS MAN WITH THIS WOMAN, HE CAN’T LIFT HER BY HIMSELF.” When Maria’s security guard was slow in coming, I tapped another woman in front of us and yelled, “Go get one of the security guards in front of the stage. GO! ” While we waited for help I said to the young man, who looked terrified, “she’s going to be fine, you’re doing the right thing, it’s going to be okay.” When the young woman behind us made a crack about the woman “potato-sackin’ it” I swiveled around and gave her my best “you-keep-quiet” Mom glare. Meanwhile everyone else kept dancing to “Fool for Love” which started to feel like the longest song in history. (Also my favorite song on the new album so, if I’m honest, I danced a little too. But in a vigilant way.)

Finally some medics came and helped the couple out. Afterward I saw one of the security guards and asked if the young woman was alright. He said, “Yeah, she was able to throw up so she was okay after that.” All I can say is it’s good she waited to throw up until she was away from Maria and me, because then there would have been three women slumped on the ground.

Opening Band: Family of the Year

family of the year

If you saw Boyhood you know Family of the Year – they sing the song “Hero” that figured in it so predominantly. They’re a four-piece LA based indie band and are cut from a similar cloth as Lord Huron – big sound, bit of a country tinge, loads of guitar, and lots of harmony. Their set was uniformly strong beyond “Hero” – as Maria said, for an opening band we definitely lucked out.

Cool Factor: Hella Tight

I’ll just quote the impossibly young and beautiful Christina Schroeter, vocalist with Family of the Year, who observed: “Oakland is tight. Bit of a smell of the ganj.” You come out of a Fox show these days and you’re immediately dumped into a hipster weed-scented street party that runs from Café Van Kleef on up past the Lost & Found biergarten and beyond.

Worth Hiring the Sitter? Get on the trail

Maybe because I’m writing this the day after running a post on The Songs That Made Me, I’m trying to figure out where Lord Huron fits into the list of Best Live Performances I’ve Seen. Neil Finn owns the top slot, followed within a hairs’ breadth by Bruce Springsteen. But Lord Huron definitely sits in the Top 5. There’s something about the way their live sound wraps around you that blows the limits off their studio albums. Maria hadn’t seen them play before and thinks they need to release a live album to showcase their power, stat.

I was blown away by Miguel Briseño, who switched from bass to keys to weird percussion instruments that seemed to operate purely by hand-waving – does anyone know what that white thing on a stick was called, anyway? And then he trotted next door to The Den at the Fox to do a free DJ set with his leftover energy.

I love Lord Huron’s quieter moments, too. “The Night We Met” was a standout for me, containing as it does the most tragic, concise story of breakup and regret ever written:

“I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you,

Take me back to night we met.”

 

 I have a feeling this is that rare band that will stand the test of time and not even make me long for the night we met.

Next concert on the calendar: Jenny Lewis, also at the Fox, May 28

 lh 2015

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The Songs That Made Me

tapes

This week’s Rolling Stone has a cover story called “The Songs That Made Me” in which artists share six or eight songs that had outsize influence in their lives. They’re not always what you’d expect – Marilyn Manson with “Cry Me A River” by Justin Timberlake? I loved the little window into the artist’s soul, and as a writing prompt you can’t ask for much better. So here are the Songs That Made Me.

1. Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys. (Willie Nelson) The soundtrack of my childhood home had a particularly country and western bent, and the hokier the song, the better. If you can’t sing along to this one, you’re probably taking yourself a little too seriously and seriously is not how we Davises roll.

2. I Got You (Split Enz.) Yes, Neil Finn, you did, from the first time I saw this video on MTV. The song that sparked a thirty-years-and- counting run of fan devotion.

3. Love Vigilantes (New Order) I try very hard not to cling to the music of my college years and insist it was better than any music before or since, but if I had to make the argument this is the song I’d offer as proof. Everything that makes it ’80s is what makes it great: the melodica, the synths, the guitars, the hours and hours spent dancing to it in the clubs wearing big shoulder pads back in the day.

4. In Your Eyes (Peter Gabriel) I didn’t ask for much when I set out into the world as a young woman looking for lasting love. Just a guy who could see the light of a thousand churches in my ocular orbits. No big deal.

5. Like a Prayer (Madonna) I had been living in Munich after college for a couple of years and this song gave me a slap upside the head to go back to America. Where the cool music is made.

6. Rollin’ with Kid N’ Play (Kid N’ Play) On my first date with my husband, we left a concert early to go back to his place to watch a movie with his roommate and a bunch of friends. “House Party” was the movie the guys wanted to watch and it made me think ok, I’m not sure he sees the light of a thousand churches in my eyes. But he will DEFINITELY make me laugh. Plus he can roll with my love of old school hip hop. This could totally work.

7. The Hardest Thing (Poi Dog Pondering.) The first dance at my wedding. Actually the first dance was a Cole Porter song, but this is the first song that we DANCED to. My new aunt-by-marriage took me aside afterward and said, “Now that I’ve seen you dance together, you two make sense to me.”

8. Paper in My Shoe (Boozoo Chavis) My husband and I used to go to JazzFest in New Orleans before we had the girls, and I fell hard – HARD – for zydeco. One night at the New Orleans Rock ‘N Bowl we got to see Boozoo Chavis do musical battle with Beau Jocque to see who was the real King of Zydeco, and that was A Night That Made Me. It’s been 17 years since we last went to JazzFest but in my heart, I’m back there every April. With some paper in my shoe.

9. Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Israel kamakawiwo’ole) Kindergarten graduation for both girls involved a sign language performance of this song by twenty-five five year olds, and fifty weeping parents. Even if my girls are teens now, this is the song that grabs me by the throat and reminds me that they’re growing up way too fast.

10. Whatever song I just downloaded from a new band. Because it’s proof that I’m not stagnating, and at my age I’ll take all the proof I can get. (The song happens to be “Coming Home” by Leon Bridges, who I’ll see Friday night when he opens for Lord Huron at the Fox!)

I asked some blogging buddies how they’d answer the question – links to their fab posts below. I’d love it if you’d share the songs that made YOU. You can leave them in the comments or, if you’re a blogger and want me to link up, email me your post to dj@midlifemixtape.com and I’ll add them here.

The Songs That Made:

Up Popped a Fox

When Did I Get Like This?

I Miss You When I Blink

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

Butterfly Confessions

Good Day, Regular People

Smacksy

Arnebya

The Flying Chalupa

Elizabeth McGuire

Elleroy Was Here

And some inspired additions from:

Fine Tuning

Auditory Memory

Alone With My Thoughts

The Prodigal Son’s Mother

Charlene Ross

Walk In Silence

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Neighborhood Listserv Lament

I was reading a collection of John Cheever short stories the other day – what’s that you say? You don’t sit and read John Cheever short stories like “The Swimmer”? (Well, maybe that’s because your teenage daughter didn’t invite you to come to see the San Francisco Ballet’s world premiere of a new ballet based on “The Swimmer,” and you didn’t say, “I LOVE that story!” and then realize that you don’t remember any details of the story, so you had to quickly speed re-read it an hour before you left for the ballet and, even so, couldn’t quite understand the ballet but hey man, it sure was pretty to watch. Scroll to 1:15 to see a snippet.)

Anyway, there I was reading John Cheever short stories, as you do, and came across one called “The Enormous Radio.” The story is set in whatever era it was that that a young, happy married couple would be just gollywhomped or flabbergasted or bees-kneed to have a giant new wireless radio installed in their apartment, an ugly gumwood radio that requires the help of paid technicians to set up. Pretty soon, the dark underbelly of the fancy new radio is exposed: it’s so sensitive that it picks up the voices of the people in the apartments all around the young couple, and while her husband is off at work each day, the young wife is driven almost to madness as she hears the innermost thoughts and conflicts of her neighbors broadcast into her living room. She doesn’t want to know their stories, but is powerless to turn away.

If Cheever were to write it today, he’d call it “The Enormous Neighborhood Listserv.”

Do you have one of those where you live? An email list where anyone can post the latest doings and have it sent out to all the other presumably geographically connected members of the list? We have not one but two lists that cover our household, and sometimes I think I am sitting in the Venn diagram intersection of TMI and Who Are These People?

The email comes in twice a day. “51 New Messages from Your Neighbors Today.” Sure, there are the reasonable messages like “just saw a lost dog, a yellow lab, red collar running down Lincoln,” or “does anyone have a good recommendation for a roofer?” But from there it’s a descent into madness, and I can’t help wondering who the people in my neighborhood are who have sent these messages.

neigh listserv

As I walk my daughter to her bus stop and cars pass me heading for work in the city, I must glance at each driver and wonder: are you the person who is too lazy to compost? “Free half eaten jar of peanut butter!” “Free Reddi Whip, still sealed!” “Who wants loquats?” “Help us get rid of some leftover turked!” I hope you mean turkey, and I wonder why you don’t just make a sandwich and help yourself.

Then I stroll past a couple working in their garden and think, are you the ones living in 1982 and are trying to make the slow, hard climb out? “Anyone want VHS tape cassette of Rolling Stone shows? I think we have some Mr. Bean in there too!”

I’ve started lowering our window blinds in the living room, thanks to the messages of this ilk: “Anyone have a free couch?” “Are you finished with your crib and crib mattress? We’ll take it!” I see you walking your dog past our driveway and staring down into our house, sizing up my furniture with your eyes. I know it’s a good love seat. AND I’M KEEPING IT.

I hope never to run into the “Toppers” –the people who take one simple question – “Can anyone identify this plant growing in my yard from the attached picture?” and turn it into an opportunity to showcase their deep, deep knowledge base. That question about the weed (turned out to be Nasturtium) was, at last check, completely hijacked by two people who are peony experts: one who says they will NOT grow in this climate, and another insisting that they do, and I’m pretty sure that after another 100 or so messages they’ll settle it with a duel at the corner of Carter and Bywood.

And always, always there are chickens. We want some. We don’t want some. We need a coop. Please, take the coop off our hands. The black market chicken trade market is thriving here in the Oakland hills, I assure you.

I know I could probably unsubscribe. I think about it almost every day – like just now when I got a message with the subject line, “74 New Messages from Your Neighbors Today.” But I scanned today’s message quickly before hitting delete, and someone is getting rid of their vinyl collection and has left it all on the curb down the street.

I guess there are worse things than letting people wonder who the woman is who posted “Do you have any more ’80s vinyl? Maybe some Wham? I’ll take it!”

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Money Making Mamas

phoenecian

Last week I attended Mom2.0 Summit, a blogging conference that is unashamedly about linking (mostly) mom bloggers with brands in pursuit of mutually beneficial revenue opportunities. As you may be able to tell by the ad-free sidebars and general lack of snazzy sponsored posts on Midlife Mixtape, I’ve always thought of this blog as being about my Capital-W-Writing, close aspiring cousin to Capital-L-Literature. (Notable exception: free music books. I will hound a publisher to distraction to give me a review copy and a giveaway copy of any book that mentions MTV and/or olden days music media.)

There’s a bit of snobbery involved, too; I don’t want to sell my artistic soul for a free case of toothpaste. Because I earn money writing for other outlets, I have chosen to keep this site ad-free. But unless I can start paying bills by enclosing printouts of my blog posts instead of checks, I have to acknowledge and admire the moxie of savvy-bloggers-turned-media-companies who generate enough revenue to employ staff and still have extra left to pay for the kids’ orthodontia. Those are the kinds of ladies who go to Mom 2.0, and I wanted to rub up against them for a few days in Scottsdale to see what it’s like to actually earn a living from the thing I spend an inordinately large proportion of my day doing for free.

The heavy hitters were there, for sure. At one point as my friend Liz and I walked to breakfast at the Phoenician resort, we passed five women on their way in to sit in on a panel together. “We just walked past $3 million of blogger revenue,” I told Liz, mentally calculating what I’d read each of them had earned from selling their sites to bigger media companies. Brands dismiss the reach and influence of these women at their own peril.

Of course the brands who generously co-sponsor Mom2.0 get it. They bent over backwards to connect and impress, from Kia giving free rides from the airport, to Vanity Fair giving out bras in their lounge and doing a 1:1 donation too “Dress for Success,” to the open bins of Legos that encouraged the moms, for once, to get in there and play. My highest praise goes to Mom2.0 Summit host Dove, who created an always-open champagne and frosted-Dove-cookies lounge, plus a wall of professional hair and makeup people just waiting to get their hands on us. I was in the Dove Lounge more than I was in my hotel room. Thank you, generous Dove people, and talented frosted Dove cookie bakers.

I kept waiting to feel slimy from the emphasis on commerce, but never did. Because at the end of the day, what’s wrong with using your talents to make money to support your family? Especially if you go beyond the paycheck to give a helping hand to other bloggers trying to find their way, and use your platform to create big change. Jill Smokler of Scary Mommy was there; she was one of the first people to accept a guest post from me and someone who has always used her blog, wit, and energy to do good for others. Witness her Thanksgiving Project that pairs needy families with members of her “Scary Mommy Nation” so that everyone gets a holiday meal. Luvvie Ajayi of Awesomely Luvvie has similarly taken the loyalty and generosity of her readers and channeled it toward her Red Pump Project which raises awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS  on women and girls. The ONE organization was there, connecting with bloggers who can help in their mission to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. (My buddy Wendi Aarons leaves for Malawi with ONE today; if you’re not already following her on Twitter, now’s the time to start.) Women understand that there’s a level of respect that enters the equation when you introduce money into it, and respect is the first step toward real power. These ladies know that one of the best ways of proving your value is by demanding it.

I was going to look for a female vocalist singing this but realized that using the Bruce version is an appropriate nod to the Dad bloggers who were in full effect at Mom2.0.

Naturally, because I was there to gather ideas about generating revenue, I gravitated toward events where it wasn’t discussed. One was a panel about incorporating diversity into our worldview and our work that turned into a giant support circle of women talking about the challenges, the missteps, the fears that keep us from having more public conversations on race and gender inequality. The other was a reading for the Listen To Your Mother book, at which I got to hear contributors Lisa Rosenberg, Taya Dunn Johnson, Vikki Reich, and Ann Imig read their essays from aloud – what a treat. I love how when I sign this anthology, the first thing people do is tell me about their “Other Mothers” or alternatively, the “Other Kids” with whom they have that special bond.

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The fact that those two events were my favorite of the weekend (well, besides the impromptu gymnastics meet/foot race that broke out in the space formerly occupied by the Dove lounge, late on the last night) is proof that I’m still only blog-revenue-generating-adjacent. I still don’t see myself writing a sponsored post about toothpaste anytime soon, although I have renewed admiration for the mom bloggers who do that with integrity and make it entertaining in the process. I do think I could write a sonnet about the Dove frosted cookies.

lobby collateral damage
When bloggers do gymnastics in formal wear

Given that we’re about to spend Sunday celebrating everything that’s wonderful about moms, I want to stand up in respect for the mom bloggers who’ve forged a path into commerce and are encouraging the rest of us along for the ride.

***

On the topic of Mother’s Day – a month ago I asked you guys for the songs that say “Mother’s Day” to you. I had a mission: to create a playlist for the lobby of Listen To Your Mother show in San Francisco, which is tomorrow night. I’ve posted it on Spotify if you want to listen and share. Thanks for the great suggestions – come back here and let me know what you think!

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Seeing Live Music in Your 40s: Hurts So Good

Circle your arm to the floor, like you're 104.
Circle your arm to the floor, like you’re 104.

This piece ran last week on a website called The Mid, which is about “celebrating life in the messy middle.” Hope you can’t relate to this one.

For the past four years I’ve written a blog that allows me to share stories about my passion—attending live music concerts by emerging artists, something I’ve been doing for more than three decades since I saw my first show at age 14. The blog’s tagline, “For the years between being hip and breaking one,” should give you an idea that it’s not always an easy fit to be older than the lead singer’s mother and still standing on the General Admission floor. But I have persisted with concert-going through the awkwardness, precisely because the excitement I have about hearing live music hasn’t changed since 1980. It’s nice to remind myself that while I may not still got IT, I’ve still got THAT. I frequently exhort my fellow Gen-X readers to get out there, see a show, claim their spot on the floor and at the festival. Don’t relinquish all the musical fun to the Millennials just yet.

There is now going to be a renewed sense of urgency with which I send that message to Xers younger than I am, which is most of them since I was born in the first few years of the demographic wave that separates us from the Boomers. Because I have reached that vaunted stage of life where it actually hurts to be at a show.

I had a hint of this about six years ago, when a dull ache in my right foot turned into a raging pain that was diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. No particular injury caused it; I just woke up one day to find that my body had rebelled against itself. There would be no more wearing of chic heeled boots to shows, no more cute feminine flats. From that point forward, it was heel stretches, custom made inserts and sensible clogs with arch support. I consoled myself that if the music is good, no one is looking at my feet anyway, strapped on some black orthopedic monstrosities and got back to rockin’ (note, not “rocking” like rocking chair. Not yet.). I could still shake it to a Black Keys stadium show, a Book of Love reunion tour at a dark club, the second encore of a Lord Huron show at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Maybe the foot problems were as bad as it would get for me.

But my aging body wasn’t about to give up on the self-sabotage that easily. A minor strain in my right shoulder last year, from throwing a pinecone for my dog to chase (critique from my athletic husband: “Yeah, I’ve seen your throwing mechanics, that was probably inevitable”), turned a degree more painful as the months passed, then a little worse after that, and finally transformed into full blown capsulitis, aka Frozen Shoulder syndrome. We’re not talking about the fun Disney Frozen™ shoulder that comes dressed in princess sparkles and exhorts everyone to let it go. This is the kind of frozen shoulder where I can’t raise my right arm past my ribcage, or reach behind me to zipper a dress, or lift anything heavier than a soup can.

Most critically: I can no longer wave my hands in the air like I just don’t care. I care very, very much because doing so gives me a shooting pain up the front of my right shoulder. There was an incident at a party recently, dancing to “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes—you know, the part where you explode out of the whispered verse to scream “Let me go out! Like a blister in the sun!” at the top of your lungs?—when the shoulder movement I made while demonstrating how a blister in the sun might go out caused such pain that I had to actually take a knee.


The shoulder specialist who diagnosed it said, “This is the most frequent ailment I treat for women between 40 and 60.” My hairdresser said, “I had it. Menopause is next.” I assume the invitation to join the AARP, surely already in the mail, will come in an envelope marked “EZ 2 Open for Frozen Shoulder Sufferers!” as well.

In the next six weeks I’m scheduled to see five concerts, from The Replacements to Jenny Lewis to a house concert by a folk singer named Robby Hecht. Am I excited? So excited. Am I already strategizing where I can stand at each venue to prevent people from brushing into my right shoulder? Affirmative. Also I may have practiced a couple of dance moves in front of the mirror and during kitchen cleanup that involve keeping my hands no higher than waist level.

The frozen shoulder is bad, but what hurts worse is the realization that at some future date, I’ll be looking back on it like the good old days. “Remember when I didn’t trip over my walker trying to get to the front of the stage? Remember when I could hear the band without double hearing aids?” (Although if the hearing aids happen, they will probably be linked to too many concerts, so there’s some justice.)

So my message to thirty-something music lovers who think they are too busy with kids and school open houses and work and soccer practice: this is why God created babysitters and microwave dinners. Make use of them liberally. Enjoy seeing shows while you still can.

The day will come when you’re at a live show and the lead singer belts out a love song lyric about being in pain, and you’ll be able to relate only too well.

© 2015 Nancy Davis Kho, as first published on The Mid

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Story of My Decade

In exactly 366 days I turn fifty. I think that makes me a Centurionette, which sounds like a Centurion in a skirt. It definitely makes me middle aged.

I like the idea that the milestone birthday celebration sets the stage for the decade to come. I can’t remember my 20th birthday, probably testament that I did it right. My 30th was a surprise potluck thrown by my husband and a bunch of friends, and its happy chaos was a harbinger of the era of starting a family and balancing a career  and being surprised at every turn at what the hell I’d gotten myself into.

When I turned forty, my sister and I went to Cowgirl Camp on a dude ranch in Arizona. Thanks to the summer camp I attended growing up, I’d been a fearless horseback rider all through my teens and twenties, cantering bareback and riding horses into lakes and barrel racing. I’d fall off, brush the dust off my butt and get back on, once even after a horse had clipped the skin on my chin open with his hoof as I slid beneath him in the corral. But after I became a mom I suddenly lost my nerve. I kept picturing myself having horseback accidents and my husband having to explain to motherless girls that my need for equine speed had deprived them of a parent. It kept me on the wrong side of the corral fence for almost ten years.

So at forty, when the girls were older and I was feeling less fragile about everything, Cowgirl Camp seemed like a good way to get my mojo back. My sister (who has always been a more fearless and talented rider than me anyway) and I had a blast at the dude ranch outside of Tuscon. The four days culminated in a team cattle penning competition where she and I had to cut three longhorn cows away from the herd and drive them into a small pen; by the time it was our turn to ride out, my horseback riding fears were so far in the rear view mirror that I plunged straight into the herd and their sharp, pointed horns, yanking and kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs until the job was done. During the barrel racing competition, I beat my sister’s time by about a half second. Though the judges gave her the 1st place ribbon made of hand-tooled leather. And if you think we’re not still discussing that a decade later, you don’t have siblings.

 lazyk corral

In retrospect, Facing My Fears was exactly the right way to celebrate, ten years ago. I’d just had my first few essays published and was girding my loins to step away from corporate work and hang a shingle as a writer. It was a scary time – was I any good or were those essays a fluke? How would I earn a living? Remembering how it felt to sit on the back of a beautiful horse again, more satisfying than any fear could sabotage, helped me take the plunge.

So what’s the right theme for celebrating my 50th next year? I think it’s going to be A Long, Long Walk In Another Part of the World. It ties in two things that I sense will be important for the next decade: trying to keep my aging body from hitting the skids too quickly, and having a new time consuming hobby to distract me from the kids being gone.

When my husband turned 50, he started planning a super-challenging bike trip in Italy with his buddies, to take place a year later. That was a good twelve months for him: he was riding like a madman, researching fancy bike parts, preparing with his buddies. The actual trip was only 10 days long but it kept him busy for a full year. And even though he sent me a postcard from atop a punishing mountain climb that said, “If I ever say I’m going to do something like this again, tell me no,” he was rightfully proud that even if his fifth decade, he could take on something physically challenging, and conquer it. I’m a solid daily 4 mile hiker now, but I figure if I start adding miles incrementally over the next 12 months, I’ll be ready to handle the fourteen-miles-between-really-fancy-inns experience I’m aiming for to kick off my second half-century.

And there is no end to the places you can go on a hiking trip. In four short years, this nest will be empty. I don’t want to stick around it any more than I have to, for fear of catching a glimpse of an unslept-upon bed that will make me cry. I want to stay on the move, and if those moves can be made in lovely parts of the world, so much the better. If the hikes have to start from my front door, I’m fine with that too.

My sister and I have started researching self-guided hiking trips through Scotland. We’ve never been there and even if I can’t stand drinking Scotch, I love bagpipes and Scottish accents something awful. This time around, we’re trying to convince our brother to come. His schedule makes it tricky; then again, he just forwarded me an article about a Scottish hotel that wants to have beer taps in every room, so maybe he’s leaning yes.

All I know is if there is a speed-walking competition at any point on the journey, I’m taking home the 1st place ribbon in my suitcase.

Can you imagine? When I looked for “Story of My Life” on YouTube, the top result was the song of the same name by OneDirection. As if.

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Still in Rotation: Sea Change (Beck)

Still in Rotation is a guest post feature in which talented writers tell Midlife Mixtape readers about an album they discovered years ago that’s still in heavy rotation, and why it has such staying power.

Jon Chaisson and I have never met each other: our friendship is purely digital. We first crossed paths, in a binary fashion of course, when we were both tweeting the same Peter Hook book reading back in 2013, and since then I’ve come to rely on him for music book recs on Goodreads, thoughtful commentaries on new music releases, and general social media/music tomfoolery. I love this guest post about the motivational power of music for writers.

Sea change

Sea Change (2002)

by Jon Chaisson

Beck’s Sea Change came out on 24 September of 2002, but I suppose I can be forgiven for missing out on it originally, since it was also the release day of the long-awaited In Absentia by Porcupine Tree, one of my favorite bands. I was up in the air about Beck; I’d loved Odelay and felt so-so about Mutations, but 1999’s Midnite Vultures left me cold. It wasn’t until a month or so later when I finally broke down to get it after hearing so many positive reviews.

Nearly every night in the early 2000s was spent in my parents’ basement in central Massachusetts, bashing away on the keyboard at my writing nook. I was working on my most ambitious project yet, a science fiction trilogy based on my recent studies of spiritualism. I had the perfect schedule: leaving work at 2pm, a few hours of rest and relaxation, dinner with the family, then a good solid three hours of writing work from 7pm to 10pm.

I always had music going during these sessions. On Wednesdays after work I’d drive over to the center of Amherst for my weekly comic book and new cd run at Newbury Comics. I’d listen to them all, but a select few would end up on continual rotation as writing soundtracks. Sea Change was one of them.

It’s Beck’s break-up album, written after the dissolution of a nine-year relationship. It contains some of his most serious and straightforward lyrics to that date, an album of introspection. It’s not a primal scream at all, however…it’s about coming out of a bad situation and taking a good long emotional and spiritual look at oneself. There’s desolation and pain, but there’s also healing and acceptance, such as in “Guess I’m Doing Fine”.

I, on the other hand, hadn’t been in a relationship since about 1996, so it wasn’t the theme that drew me to it, but the sound and the mood…it was produced by the excellent Nigel Godrich, one of my favorite producers whose work always evokes a deeply personal mood. [Travis’ The Man Who, Radiohead’s OK Computer and Air’s Talkie Walkie all have that same mood despite wildly differing sounds, and all ended up being heavy rotation writing soundtracks during that time.] Maybe I’m a sucker for an album with dark ambience; not necessarily brooding, but add a bit of reverb and moodiness and I’m all over it.

Come late 2004, my trilogy had stalled. I’d focused too much on hitting word count and making a quick turnaround for book three — I’d written book two in exactly one year and wanted to hit that same goal — and in the process I’d lost the plot and the drive. I grew increasingly frustrated with myself for that, though I let it pass due to other more important personal events that would take place the following year, including getting married and moving across the country. I tinkered with it as a backburner project while I started others, but it wasn’t until around 2009 that I finally returned to it.

Sea Change was right there when I’d decided to finally finish it. It was a chance hearing of “Little One” on my mp3 player that brought the specific mood back for me: the mood of the music I listened to during those writing sessions five years earlier, and the mood of the story itself. Somehow I’d caught that moment perfectly, understood exactly what I needed to do, and I knew I could do it this time.

It’s now 2015. The trilogy was completed in 2010, and I spent an additional five years revising and making it the best damn thing I’ve written. I’m currently shopping around for agents and publishers, though at this point I’ve also added the possibility of indie publishing into the mix.

Just last month I started a new story in the same universe. Sea Change, now along with its spiritual kin, 2014’s Morning Phase (my pick for last year’s best album), have returned to heavy rotation, and I don’t think they’re going to leave any time soon.

  ♪♪♪

Jon Chaisson owns way too many mp3s, and he’s not the least bit embarrassed about that. In fact, he’ll probably start talking to you about some obscure music factoid or his latest album obsession if you’re willing to listen. He even goes on about it at his blog, Walk in Silence (http://jonchaisson.com). He’s also a writer, and he goes on about that too, at Welcome to Bridgetown (http://welcometobridgetown.com).

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Our New Normal

When our dog had a seizure at the foot of our bed in the wee hours of last Tuesday morning, our first reaction was to yell at him.

Normally Achilles starts the evening sleeping on our younger daughter’s bed, then at some point migrates into our bedroom, where his double-decker dog bed sits on the floor in the corner (he’s like the Princess and the Pea, one mattress would never suffice.) Sometimes he dreams pretty hard and pumps his legs and yelps, reliving, no doubt, his real-life hard charging romps in the Oakland hills. I imagine in the dreams he actually catches the squirrels. When this happens, we wake up and hiss, “Achilles, it’s a dream, stop it,” and all of us go back to sleep.

So on Tuesday when we heard a ruckus from his spot in the corner, we both awoke and yelled, “Achilles, stop it!” It didn’t stop. “STOP IT!” then “Achilles, what the hell,we’re trying to sleep! SHUT UP!”

Because that’s something really nice you should say to a confused, terrified dog who is having a seizure for the first time in his ten healthy, energetic years of life.

Finally we flipped on a light and realized what was happening. I will spare you further details except to say that it happened again, an hour later – this time with my horrified younger daughter as witness – and my husband carried the dog out into the starlit night and placed him gently into the back of the station wagon. The dog could barely walk, but before I could even put the key in the ignition, Achilles managed to flop himself from the way back, to the back seat, to the passenger seat, and finally into my lap in the driver’s seat, all 57 pounds of him. I’m not sure if the length of time we sat like that, my arms wrapped around him and my face in his warm furry neck, was more for his sake or for mine. Finally I nudged him back to the passenger seat and kept a hand on him there while I raced across town to Berkeley’s emergency pet hospital.

Thirty hours and a raft of tests later, I was able to pick him up and bring him home. As of right now, there is still no diagnosis; looks like there are more vet appointments and tests in his future.

The good news is that the anti-seizure medication seems to be working. They’ve made him so lethargic – he doesn’t even bark when someone rings the doorbell – and he is wobbly on his feet. We’re keeping a hand on his collar going up and downstairs just in case he needs an assist. I told my husband it seemed like he went to bed a superathlete, albeit a middle aged one, on Monday night and emerged from the pet hospital Wednesday morning as a frail old man. I tell my kids, whose suffering during the time Achilles was hospitalized was almost unbearable to me, “This is our new normal. We just need to adjust.”

our new normal

Mostly it feels like we have been given a second chance to be nice to this dog on a scale that will still be dwarfed by the devotion he has always shown us. Everyone has heard stories of dogs who worship their owners; ours is no different. There are only three things that Achilles has ever needed: food, a romp in the park, and affection from and proximity to us. Frankly, I think he’d dispense with the first two in favor of the third, if a choice had to be made.

And we have always taken that for granted. Of course he’s excited when I wake up every morning. Of course he’s turning in circles from delirious joy when I come home from a trip. Of course his eyes brighten up and his tail starts thumping against the floor, just because I walked into the room. It’s no big deal. It’s always like that.

Since last Tuesday morning, not anymore.

The girls rush into the house from school and head straight for his side, asking me how he’s done today. “Any twitches? Did he eat? Did you walk him – how did he do?” I get up periodically from my desk and just sit on the floor with him in my office, stroking his ears and reminding him what a good dog he is. My husband pets him every single time they pass. Achilles stole a stick of butter off the countertop on Thursday and no one even cared. Eat butter, dude. You deserve it.

Part of me hopes that, with these meds controlling his symptoms, we’ll return to the casual coexistence we had before. That a return to the taking for granted would be a sign that this week was just a blip, some bad luck that we’ve put behind us. You don’t have to treat someone like a superstar when you are assured that they are going to be around forever.

But realistically, I think this is a kick in our collective pants. The 36 hours that the dog spent in the hospital were simply agonizing. Did Achilles know how much we loved him, when we dropped him off? What was the last thing I said to him before I realized he was sick?

I told him to shut up.

But now he’s home, and we’ve had a stark reminder that everyone we love – human, canine, feline, lapine , equine, porcine, and whatever-else-ine– has to leave us eventually. Or, as Bob Schneider sees it, rather darkly: God will destroy everything you love, if you live long enough.

It’s yet another gift that a pet gives to its family: practice in saying goodbye. You don’t get to have the grand entrance of love into your life without setting yourself up for the grand exit. The only thing we can control is our ability to show our loved ones, right now, this second, all the ways we cherish them.

There is not a safe butter stick in this house.

 ***

Bay Area readers: hope you join me on Friday night 4/24, 7 pm, at Great Good Place for Books in Oakland for a reading of  the newly released Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now anthology, alongside Michelle Cruz Gonzales, LTYM SF 2014 alum Risa Nye, and Listen To Your Mother SF 2015 co-director Janine Kovac!

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Midlife Mixtape Concert Review: The Replacements

 mats

The Band: The Replacements, April 13 2015. Post-punk rockers from Minneapolis, The Replacements provided the soundtrack to every male quarter-life crisis in the 1980s. The original lineup featuring lead singer and guitarist Paul Westerberg, guitarist Bob Stinson, bass player Tommy Stinson, and Chris Mars on drums only made it as far as 1991, not surprising given the level of intraband ruckus. For this long-overdue reunion tour, Paul and Tommy are joined by Dave Minehan and Josh Freese, who’ve played with Westerberg on his solo stuff. I saw some online griping about this being a money-driven faux reunion but you know what? I don’t even care. Never saw them play before and I wasn’t about to miss this chance to see the ‘Mats.

The Venue: The Nob Hill Masonic Center. How have I lived in the Bay Area for 17 years and never been here? As suggested by the name there’s some intriguing and vaguely unsettling symbolism in the lobby, but once you’re inside it’s pretty non-Illuminati and with great acoustics to boot. Its location at the tip-top of Nob Hill was not lost on the band. Westerberg said he pulled his hammies from walking to it, while Stinson said his calves were burning from walking back and forth to get a coffee. The Masonic: The Healthy Rock Star’s Workout Secret!

masonic window

The Crowd: You know that dad from school who cuffs his dark wash jeans and wears cool sneakers? He was there. So was that other dad, the good looking 50-something man who covers his bald spot with a tweed cap. And that guy you know with the salt and pepper beard and the Buddy Holly glasses? He was there too. All those dudes were there. Times 400. Sorry about your bathroom wait line, fellas, hahahahah no I’m not.

masonic interior

As for the ladies, the one I want to commend was sitting two seats away from me, with her eleven year old son Jack in tow. I asked him if he was a big ‘Mats fan and he rolled his eyes, pointed to his mother, and said, “SHE makes me listen to them all the time.” Shout out to my new mom friend who is raising her boy right.

And I’ll tell you who was NOT in the crowd: any black people. It’s like The Replacements send out a sonar wave painful to the ears of black music lovers. It was remarkable. Can anyone enlighten me?

The Company: My husband, the good looking 50-something guy who cuffs his dark wash jeans and has salt and pepper hair and cool glasses.

The Opening Band: John Doe, founder of punk band X. Backed by a full band, I was expecting a punk onslaught but he delved much more into rock, country, and folk sounds. Really great opening set and now I’m keeping him on my Songkick list so I can see him play a full show.

Age Humiliation Factor: Count the rings around my eyes.

The vibe at this show was totally “25th – 30th College Reunion.” There were few if any hipsters in the crowd; just a huge number of smiling, happy people within a few years of my age on either side. Overheard at the hoity-toity burger joint down the street from the show: “I guess this is what punks look like when they get old.”

Cool Factor: Let it be

There’s just something about the ‘Mats that is so “screw what everyone thinks, this is who we are” that was inspiring when I was 25, even more so now. Yeah, we’re closer to 60 than 30 but we still  feel like “the sons of no one, bastards of young.” Which is probably why that song turned into a huge audience singalong.

mats merch

Worth Hiring the Sitter? You can’t hardly wait.

Admittedly, I never saw the Replacements before, so I can’t compare this to their earlier performances. All I can say is that they were on fuego at the Masonic, ripping through songs, sometimes with the right lyrics, sometimes not so much, but precision was never a particular hallmark of the Replacements’ charm. I was particularly thrilled by a run of songs that included “I Will Dare” then “Kiss Me On the Bus” then “Nobody.” They introduced “Within Your Reach” as a song we’d never heard before, and then “Alex Chilton” at the finale was rip-roaring.

There was a tent on stage, a tent that you’d take camping. I’m not sure why. Sometimes Westerberg went into it. At the end of the show that’s where the band retreated to, rather than the green room. So that was interesting.

tent city

One of these days I will totally remember to bring earplugs to a show like this, but Monday was not one of those days. I probably blew another 10% of my hearing thanks to the Masonic acoustics.

We got home at midnight and had a trip to the emergency room with our dog a few hours later (blog post for another time) so I ended up sleeping for 90 minutes between the Replacements show and Tuesday morning. The fact that I managed my day anyway is 100% due to the lingering thrill of seeing the ‘Mats at the Masonic.

Next show on the calendar: Notes and Words, April 25, Paramount Theater

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