Friday, September 30, 2011

Name That Tune

It is the first anniversary of my mother's death. Her material bequest to me is a few pieces of 50s furniture that Himself hates and a mountain of ephemera I culled down to a couple boxes of correspondence and photos strongboxed in the garage. I am finishing a manuscript about my childhood and this is what I consider my mother's true legacy to me. Mom doesn't come off too well sometimes in my description of my life before college and a lot of the response I've gotten to the writing is of the “Gosh, I never knew you had it so hard” variety. For me, with the telling of the story, it has become way less hard to think about those years and also clearer that my mother loved me fiercely.

Mom never really knew what it was she wanted or how to go about getting what she thought she wanted. She yearned to be admired and resented that her beauty was not the key to the kingdom. Some of her conduct was so outrageous that it's laughable and there are parts of the book she definitely wouldn't like very much. But I think too that she would glean from between the lines my gratitude at having had a mother who was able to fend off mortal blows by cracking wise. Having inherited Mom's mordant humor, I take delicious delight in chronicling her bad behavior. Throughout my life my mother was bitter that she wasn't a fairy princess and this was exacerbated by my own lack of the characteristics that she thought would insure me a life of ease. My failure to fulfill her archaic expectations broke her heart but she never gave up on me and scrupulously saved every word I wrote to her and many boxes of my childhood artifacts.

Joe College came home the first few weekends to assuage his culture shock. I think now he would be fine spending a weekend on campus but there are holidays and social obligations that will require his presence home just about every weekend for the next few months. This coming and going is hard on me as it seems like every Monday I have to get used to him being gone all over again. Again, I remember how clueless my own parents usually were to what made me tick, but his transition to college isn't, from my own vantage point, what I'd anticipated. I'd expected, after attending small charter schools that sometimes weren't as challenging as they could have been, that he might find the coursework a bit overwhelming but it seems that he is stimulated, working hard and doing well. I'd also assumed that having been a popular, outgoing theater kid for as long as he can remember that he'd immediately ferret out suitable friend candidates and be surrounded by a genial posse as he's been at home. He has reports about interesting students but doesn't seem to have really clicked with anyone yet.

I floundered myself the first year and pretty much felt like a loser but I pretty much was a loser when I arrived at college and my son has always been more adept at forging and nurturing friendships. After barely seeing him for five minutes the whole summer he calls frequently now about inconsequential things and I don't think I'm imagining a neediness. Part of me wants to say, “We were wrong. You aren't ready for this. I'm not ready for this. Come home.” But, when he is at home there is a maturity and reasonableness about him and I guess, unlike his mother, he is realistic in knowing that starting college is inevitably a challenging transition and he's confident that he will get through it.

I take the boys and their friend who persists in calling me “Mrs. Murphy” even though I've told him that this is kiss-ass, to the Hollywood Bowl for a five band concert featuring TV on the Radio. I fancy myself the hip parent at these things but there are a number of soul patched, balding dads in Hawaiian shirts. One of the rare moms sports a spray-on tan, ratted hair and a ripply butt crammed in Forever 21 leggings. I suppose my gray frizz and $7 prescription glasses make my own oldness just as conspicuous. The opening band, Smith Western plays pleasant Beatlesque tunes. They are very young and the Bowl is nearly empty for their set but they play earnestly and energetically. The next band, Warpaint, is the revelation of the evening. I presumed that the all female band was British because they remind me of another sophisticated girl band “Electrelene” but it turns out they're from L.A. It pains me, that while there female classical performers, women are under-represented in rock'n'roll. The members of Electrelene are all trained classical musicians and it shows in rock that has a discipline, elegance and is distinctly feminine. Testosterone seems to be a key ingredient in “below the waist”music and I guess it's tougher to tap the feminine counterpart. Warpoint isn't sugary but a satisfying sweetness rises from the darkness they fearlessly embrace.

The next act is Panda Bear—Noah Lennox, also a founder of Animal Collective. The sound is sacred/ electronic-meandering but intense. The yearning in Lennox's voice is raw and moving. Half of the crowd is entranced and the other half are waiting for the Arctic Monkeys. This hugely successful British band is the odd man out of this lineup and disruptive to the flow. In Britain people of all ages dance in pubs to pleasant but non-edgy pop like Elton John and Rod Stewart. The Arctic Monkeys are a good workaday and dance in the pub band but seem outclassed by the other acts. The portion of the crowd that is there only to see the Arctic Monkeys grow frenzied, evoking comparisons to Beatle and Biebermania, and then leave en masse after the set. The band is tight but the songs are predictable and the affected pugnacity of the lead singer is grating.

Tunde Adebimpe, the front man of TV on the Radio was born in Nigeria but raised near Pittsburgh. He worked as an animator at MTV and acted and sang in the film Rachel Getting Married. Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel are obvious influences but the layered music is a hybrid born of lots of eclectic listening and not public radio bland eclectic. The best songs have a driving urgency that builds you up to near bursting. I am very self conscious about embarrassing my children when I appear with them in public so I have always refrained from dancing at concerts but the boys leap out of their seats for the particularly infectious song “Wolf Like Me” and soon we are all moving with the music and there are no dirty looks.

Emboldened by having danced without incurring censure or vomit I start a conversation with strangers which is usually even more taboo than sending food back at a restaurant. We are filing out of the Bowl and there is a promo for an upcoming Bob Mould tribute and a cute girl asks her friend who Bob Mould is and I snap “Husker Du! Seminal punk band,” and some wiseguy behind me corrects my use of a short “u” in Husker. Spuds does admit subsequently to being the pedant who corrected my pronunciation of Husker Du. I blame his father. The girls are sweet, adorable and say they loved the show but that they thought the Arctic Monkeys played too long and I say that any Arctic Monkeys are too many in my book and they interrogate me about what I do like. Mr. College, instead of finding a rock to crawl under joins in the conversation and doesn't even give me the stinkeye when I ask their ages. They are 28 and too old for the boy but both weigh in positively as to his cuteness. I realize that now I am really able only to accurately estimate the age of people who are my age or older. The girls tell my sons their mom is cool and my jaw drops when the boys agree. One girl reports that her mom listens to the Mamas and the Papas. I proffer that I'm sure she has other good qualities and bask in a rare moment when my own kids recognize one of mine.

Spud's father will read here for the first time that in the anxiety of the big school change, Spud's IPod Nano-the size of a postage stamp-has gone missing. Fortunately a bit of manipulation of cell phone upgrade eligibility and some financial contributions by wage earner Spuds will rectify the problem when the new IPhone model is released in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, we make the long drive to Pasadena with my Droid and we take turns choosing tunes. He shares the upbeat electronica of Biblio and I play him some Sparklehorse and we are stunned by the shimmering beauty of the music, even more poignant as frontman Mark Linkous took his own life last year.

I've saved a small box of the kids artwork and letters but I am nowhere near the archivist my own mother was. I figure that an edited collection of well chosen items will suffice. I think the kids will be glad I'm not leaving them a mountain of crap to sort through like my mom left me. After I'm gone I'm sure they'll tell funny stories about my myriad neuroses that I wouldn't find particularly amusing but I know too that every so often they'll hear a glimmer of some music that we shared and be reminded for a moment of their mother's fierce love.

Shabbat Shalom and L'Shana Tova


FionnchĂș said...

Well, even misogynistic me admits Electrelane can rock, so I may check out Warpaint, although the name makes me wonder if they're a band of cholas. As for Spuds and the music maker, I guess his birthday present's well timed? I bet he can hardly wait to clamp back the earbuds, like his brother, when we're at the wheel. Still, as with Leo now and then, I bet Niall will learn to navigate the road while sharing some of his musical finds with us.

Glad you were able to prove your hip credentials; hard to believe any woman still with working ovaries (as of a few decades ago even) could count Mamas & Papas as a favorite inspiration. I'm glad also you found better ones, despite some LPs in the garage sale that attest to dodgy choices. Tell the kids that Henry Rollins praised Joni Mitchell in his latest column. Speaking of that medium, it's been 23 years this week, more or less. xxx me

harry said...

Sweet. We heard Warpaint at Henry Miller Library last year. Spacious and intense music. I didn't think they were cholas, but rather W Holly friends of Red Hot C Peppers(Flea was there dancing with an infant... I mean really an infant baby). We didn't talk to strangers. That was always one of your gifts.