Friday, July 25, 2014

(Re)Move My Head

This is how my brain works:

I reserved a few CDs from the ones I've had to pack recently to play in the wheeled stereo system that is my car (and the boom box in my kitchen), among them the Old 97s' The Grand Theater Vol. 2, which I hadn't listened to in over a year. I threw on the album in the car and itched to listen to the song that first introduced me to the band, the legendary-in-the-now, "Mannish Boy" on alt-country-tinged "Won't Be Home" that was on heavy rotation on WFUV in New York City when I lived in Queens. It wasn't enough to hear it on the internet, because I haven't found a way to hook up my smartphone to my car stereo (it's an iPhone-biased system, it seems, and I have a Droid). I headed to a local shop to see if I could find Drag It Up, struck out, then came across an album while browsing that rang a bell visually for me…

Our recent travels up through the Midwest to Iowa for Dan's band performance had us stopping in Chicago for a few days and nights to visit with Dan's old college buddies and their families while taking in a bit of the town. An underground walk through the inner city's downtown had us cropping up near the Chicago River Museum and glimpsing the base of some unusual-looking towers by the water, cars poking out from the kernels of what Dan quickly yet reverently referred to as the "corncob towers" before steering us to the museum. Those same towers poked out of the cover of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album of which the only thing I knew about up to last week was what Greg Kot wrote about it in Ripped, his book about how the digital revolution and the internets were changing the music industry: the account of how Wilco bought its masters of the album from Reprise Records after the company refused to release it as it was and streamed the album away for free via the band's website kicks off his book (understandable since Kot had written a biography of Wilco before Ripped, but Kot's takes on Napster, Radiohead's approach to their music distribution, and Prince leaving Warner Records are interesting and informative). I grabbed YHT and made for the register. I just removed the CD from my car's player, it having been in there all this week.

It only took me twelve-plus years to finally listen to it, but it's a powerful piece of work, even if a listener doesn't know a damned thing about Wilco. The timing of its release to the public - digitally, then by more traditional means when the band worked out a deal with Nonesuch Records - probably associates it in more knowledgeable people's minds with the political atmosphere in this country just after 9/11, but it's about far more than that, and I got caught up in it to the point where someone took a good, hard look at me this past Thursday and told me what, deep down, I already knew: I was in mourning. YHT taps into my current uncertainties, my fumbling for what in the hell I'm going to do when I fully join my husband in suburbia after all this moving prep, how I'll be able to negotiate in person the culture shock he's currently suffering that certainly lies in wait for me, the realities of a life we both grew up in and pretty successfully evaded up 'til now. This move, more than any other I've been through to date, is scaring me, and I stumbled upon the soundtrack.

This is not to say that we're not a resilient bunch. We will find some way through this, like we always have. I think I now have some inkling, however, of how tied to one place a person can get and of how such bonds bring a body to the edge of where an uprooting could easily lead to heartbreak. I'm not sure, personally, how much more of this I can take, but it is quite likely that this is what it is to live in the world at this time and I'll just have to get used to it, suck it up and carry on, with my sole anchors being those of love and compassion. That is what I responded to in Wilco's music.

I got some Old 97s albums yesterday, not the ones I wanted, but they'll tide me over for a while. Most Messed Up is currently the one blasting on my car stereo. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot makes two albums I've got to put away for at least a few weeks (here's the first one if you missed it). Just can't afford to wallow too much when my life is either being donated, tossed out, or boxed up.

Such is the nature of any move.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When It Hit…

I was determined. Dan was going to drive into Houston the next day, I'd slept all morning, successfully snoozing away the remains of a headache that had begun the night before, and I was primed to take the wheel and drive us from West Plains, Missouri, all the way back home if I had to be pried out of the car at the end of the trip…which I did, with the help of many music CDs I whipped in and out of my car's player while navigating highway 63's hairpin curves through the Ozarks and cruising down I-55's mostly newly paved lanes.

We've road tripped a lot, Dan and I, and I tend to treat the car as though it's a stereo on wheels. Occasionally, Dan will ask me about a particular band or musician whose album I play, and when he does, it's usually followed by a brief criticism. On this trip to and from his band concert in Iowa, The White Stripes' Icky Thump was "pretentious," we both recoiled at the dull lifelessness of Lucinda Williams' West, and Ray LaMontagne's Supernova got some queries about what exactly the man was singing. "Now he sounds like he's singing 'drive-in movies.'"

"That's exactly what he's singing."

"Oh, well then."

As I drove over the Mississippi border into Louisiana, I fumbled with the CD carrier in the dark, placing the Daptone Gold album back in and pulling out what I thought was Liz Phair. Instead of "Chopsticks" on Whip-Smart, however, I got "Door-Poppin'," the first song off John Boutté's Good Neighbor.

Hey, it's Louisiana already, what the hell, I thought, settling in with songs I realized I hadn't listened to in possibly a year or two. At one time, Good Neighbor had been a constant listen for me, but it sat in the carrier for quite a while before unfolding for me on the road over Manchac Pass.

I took in song after song, the ones made famous by HBO's Treme, the plaintive strength of Boutté's take on "Southern Man," the heartbreak of "Showing Up For The Party" that makes "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" sound cheery in comparison, Boutté singing about his sisters, his experiences as a barber and a soldier…but we were over the Bonnet Carré Spillway when these particular lyrics from his sweet, soulful version of Iris DeMent's "My Life" hit me:

But I gave joy to my mother.
And I made my lover smile.
And I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting.
And I can make it seem better for a while.

We're moving away once we get back to New Orleans. It's really happening.

The thought nearly floored me.

Eight years on this go-round in a place I loved and how had I spent my time? Did I do all I could do, all I wanted to do, all that I should have done? Would we ever return for more than occasional visits? The strains of Boutté's duet with Paul Sanchez answered back, a laid-back, swinging "Accentuate The Positive" that closed out the album and what had become an emotional experience for me. Never had passing through Metairie made me so farklempt. There was no more music that could be played after that.

The homestretch of packing begins tomorrow. My final drive out of New Orleans is in two weeks. I'm thinking of going to take in John Boutté at d.b.a. on his regular night if he's there…

…but I'll give Good Neighbor a rest. Save it for a time when I'm not driving.