Home / Posts tagged "Music"

My Whitney Houston: A Remembrance in Three Songs

Whitney Houston sang a lot of memorable songs. The one that always comes to my mind first is “I wanna dance with somebody (who loves me),” which was the first track of her second album, “Whitney.” Everything about that song screams ’80s. It has a frothy beat and silly lyrics, it features a synthesizer and there are parentheses in the title. If this song were a color, it would be some combination of pastel and neon—not unlike the eye shadow Whitney is wearing in the video.

Whenever I hear the song or am reminded of it, I picture myself, 9 years old, in my pajamas, with my friends Trilbey, Kate and Kim, dancing around and trying to do headstands. Or I picture myself alone, standing in front of a mirror, hair brush microphone in hand. Both memories make me smile. You could say it’s because those were simpler times, and that would be true. But mainly, it’s because there’s no cynicism in those moments because there was no cynicism in the song or in any of Whitney’s music. “I wanna dance with somebody” is just a bright confection that has no business being good or memorable, but it is both because Whitney sang it. Her voice elevated everything. If you look at her first two self-titled albums, there’s no song in either that isn’t maudlin or cheesy or just plain silly. But she performed them with such vibrancy and sincerity that you couldn’t help but be moved by them—moved to dance, moved to sing along, moved, sometimes, to tears.
Continue reading

One good Pearl, and then another

When I was in high school, a friend of mine once referred to Garth Brooks as “country’s Pearl Jam.” The implication was that pretty much everyone—at least within the genre of country music—liked Garth Brooks, just like everyone liked the band Pearl Jam. This would have been in 9th, maybe 10th grade, a year or two after the release of the band’s debut, Ten. It was one of the first albums I bought on CD, after mom bought me my first CD player in 8th grade, a lunky boom box with detachable speakers that seems positively prehistoric when I consider my first iPod (also a gift from mom). There was no sleek maneuverability, no simple, sophisticated design. It was all awkward functionality with no style, which, oddly enough, also describes me during that era. I was one of the masses who liked Pearl Jam (as well as Eddie Vedder’s remarkable voice and cheekbones).

I’ve been thinking about Pearl Jam since watching Pearl Jam 20, the documentary about the band’s two decades of making music, directed by Cameron Crowe, a favorite around here. As always, it’s hard to separate my thoughts of the movie from my emotional reaction to it. First, there’s the obvious “I’m getting old” feeling that comes with seeing a span of time within your own life being depicted as a piece of history, with nostalgia usually reserved for periods long before you were born. Then there’s the music itself, the memories it evokes and the strange satisfaction that comes from having been there at the beginning of something that has endured at least this long, something authentic.

The documentary itself is a straight-up bio: the story of how the members found each other, found their sound and evolved over their many years together. It doesn’t really try to reveal any universal truths about music or the “grunge” scene or the 90s, nor about the motivations of Generation X back then or the suburban ennui that alternative music of that era was supposedly raging against (although there are two funny clips in the movie of the recently deceased Andy Rooney, RIP, doing his best curmudgeon, complaining about how the kids need to get over themselves because they really have nothing to complain about). This is the movie’s strength, that it is primarily about the band and their music. And yet while I watched I found myself thinking about the kid I was and the desire to be careless and do stupid things, however clichéd the desire and despite there being nothing in particular at that time for me or anyone to rebel against.

I was not one to act on this desire, certainly not in the way it is illustrated in the movie, with band members jumping headfirst into the teeming mosh pits that were their audiences to crowd surf. Still, I related to it. And it was oddly comforting to be reminded of myself as a teenager, perfectly capable of being rash and taking myself and my very tame version of adolescent irrationality very seriously. It was also comforting to be reminded that the pipers of this era of my life turned out to be fairly well adjusted people too, which kind of explains why they made it this far and why they and their music are just as interesting and entertaining now as they were back then.

* * *

When hubby and I sat down to watch Pearl Jam 20 on October 21, the birth of our daughter was still days away. So our conversation after the movie ended eventually turned, as most of our conversations did in the previous months, to our daughter and, among other things, just what we were going to name her. I noted that if we had a boy in the future, I kind of liked the name Stone, like Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard. He said Stone made him think of Stone Phillips, who is not nearly as cool. Then he suggested Pearl as a complement to Sofia, long the first name frontrunner. We noted that we lived in the neighborhood of the Old South Pearl business district (and we love it here) and that pearl is my birthstone. We didn’t settle on it right then, but when we saw her face for the first time a few days later, Sofia Pearl seemed like the perfect fit. She’s our little precious stone. I wonder if she’ll like her name, and more so I wonder what she’ll think of her parents’ music.

5 things in no particular order

1) Dreaming of a White Christmas

I grew up in a tropical climate, so the concept of a white Christmas was totally foreign to me until mom and I moved from Colombia to upstate New York. Snow was, indeed, a wondrous thing to a 9-year-old who had never seen it before. We also discovered, though, that however prettily it settles on the Christmas pines, snow can also be kind of a pain in the ass. For the latest proof see this week’s travel news out of the East Coast. Still, when you don’t have to fear its effects on your holiday itinerary, snow does add a certain charm to the season. Few things compare to burrowing yourself in a warm blanket, Christmas lights flickering, mug of hot chocolate in hand, as winter does its thing outside.

There was no such picture in our house this year. Denver weather, fickle mistress that she is, teased us with a cold spell early this month before temperatures settled into the 40s and 50s over Christmas, showing few signs of fluxuating too drastically before the calendar turns. Not that I’m complaining. I still get chills when I think about the winters hubby and I endured during our adventure in Chicago. There is cold, and then there is winter in the Midwest. Denver winters are much milder in comparison. That can be hard for some who don’t live here to believe since blizzards and bone-chilling temperatures have a reliable tendency to make an appearance when the Broncos are on Monday Night Football or the Rockies are playing October baseball and the rest of the country happens to be looking our way.

So a white Christmas is not exactly rare here, but it’s also never a guarantee. That I’ve come to expect, even wish, for one every year is a product of the very cold places I’ve lived since moving to the United States, but also an inclination that runs contrary to the Christmases of my early childhood in Latin America. I guess at this point in my life, I’ve spent more Christmases in cold weather so warmth feels like a novelty. Of course, when the cold does come around and I’m wrapping myself in several fleece blankets trying to keep my feet from feeling like icicles, I remember that my mind may have come to terms with weather above the Tropic of Cancer but my body still lives at the Equator.
Continue reading