How I Learned to Stop Worrying (and Love the Pop)

I didn’t mean to become a hipster [I know, I know, that’s just what a hipster would say]. But it’s true. It happened so gradually, I hardly noticed. Part of it is being a Nashville Native. When every third friend of yours is in a Band You’ve Probably Never Heard of, but Omigod, They’re Seriously Amazing, then that’s the kind of music you listen to most. When you don’t have cable because it’s too expensive, you don’t watch cable. When your friends work at the local radio station, you listen to the locals. Never mind the fact that there really are scarves made to be worn when it’s not cold out, and that skinny jeans actually flatter your [chicken-y] legs. It’s too late: your friends already think you smoke locally grown tobacco out of a corn cob pipe and drink only from Mason Jars.

how-many-hipsters-does-it-take-to-screw-in-a-lightbulb-probably-some-obscure-number-youve-never-hear

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being seen as out-of-touch-in-the-cool-and-mysterious-way most of the time, but there was one time that being hip was a big mistake.

Several years ago, Justin Timberlake, the Dapper Dan of Pop, came to our fair city to promote his astronomically popular Futuresex/Lovesound album [Sorry, Mom. That’s just what it’s called. I can’t help that]. And I didn’t go. Not because I was busy. Not because I didn’t love the album [I both owned it and knew all the words to the Three-Six Mafia guest track]. I didn’t go because I decided JT was pop. And since I listened to NPR, ate granola, owned a record player, and shopped at thrift stores, pop wasn’t my thing.

Though I felt a pang of guilt every time I listened to “Sexyback” after that, it has taken me years to realize why: not going to a pop concert didn’t mean I was cool. It meant I was insecure. It meant I was a stick in the mud. It meant I didn’t get to see Justin Timberlake [worst part. I mean, hello?!]. And it meant I was being a giant doofus.

images

This? I could have seen this? Yeah. I’m an idiot.

This year, Justin has released two albums with the help of his band, The Tennessee Kids. They are ubiquitous, unapologetic, dance-y, pop masterpieces. They have each been in my CD player since I bought them, and I all but sing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror when they play.

So, when Mr. T [can I call him that?] announced his triumphant return to the Music City, I was among the elated throng who immediately bought a ticket. Yes, it cost about as much as my whole life, but it will be oh-so worth it.

It’ll be worth it because it will be more fun than I or anyone else can shake a stick at, because I know JT will be happy to see me [obviously], and because I like the music. I listen to a lot of music that makes me feel and think. But sometimes, you just need to dance now, think later.

I’ve realized that for me, pop music is dessert. It’s candy. It’s a day off. Too much dessert without anything substantial does tend to make one a little woozy. But sometimes, at the end of a long, terrible week, you inhale a chocolate bar thinking it will make things better. And in some small way, it does.

I still buy organic sugar for my locally roasted coffee, and I’m still planning my Halloween costume around my favorite Wes Anderson movie. I’m just happier now.  I’m not worried if some American-Spirit-smoker at the 5 Spot will think I’m cool anymore. I’m only hip when I want to be, and that’s the way I like it.

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(w)hereabouts

You know those parts in movies where you just know the Couple is Breaking Up, and then one looks melodramatically into the eyes/soul of the other and half-whispers, “I’m not giving up on you.” My relationship with blogging is nearly identical.

In fact, to take the creepy analogy a step further, “You could say I’ve been here all along.”

I have.

Recent Projects:

  • A guest post for my friend Kimmie’s fantastic blog, That Girl in the Wheelchair. You can read my post, “You’re So Brave and Other Assumptions” right about here.
  • Submissions for two successive issues of local literary magazine, Art House Nashville. [As soon as I have  a link to order copies available, I will post it on the ICFUS Facebook Page]. I have plans to be a regular contributor to this magazine, and am honored to be able to do so.

Please-God-Let-This-Happen Project:

Submitted an article for the Huffington Post based on all my Faith Healing shenanigans.

Waiting to hear back.

Hoping for the best.

Current/Forthcoming Projects

Album Reviews for Very Dear Friends:

just a bunch of kooks

You have probably seen these people before, and are aware of the significance of this photo in the world[s] of music and pop culture.

See the guy over there on the sidewalk, just behind that chap in the white? That’s Paul Cole. He is now 92-years-old, is still living in England, and has never listened to Abbey Road. When asked about the day this picture was taken, Cole said he thought the pack of guys repeatedly crossing the road was “just a bunch of  kooks”. As the article below explains,  he does know about the Beatles, and has heard a few of their songs. He “simply prefers classical music”.

I have to state the obvious: I just love this story. Not only do I find Paul Cole and his simplicity endearing, the whole thing makes me think about things [and not just things like how you could go your entire life without listening to musical genius the likes of Abbey Road].

It reminds me to pay attention. Because I never know who might cross my path, where I might be able to go, or what I might be able to do when I get there.

It reminds me to be present. I might not have to do some big, incredible thing to be remembered. I may just be able to sit where I am and be who I am. In fact, most of the time, I think that’s the whole idea.

And it reminds me I need perspective.  It’s all in how you look at it. Whether it’s others, my experience, or my self, how I choose to see things really does color my experience.

I may be a kook, or I may be rock n’ roll.

Take Five: an interview with Gregg Breinberg

If you were given a group of 70 fifth-graders-from an array of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds-how would you get them to work together? What would you use to forge unity? How could you get that many kids-who are that different-learn to work as a team and actually enjoy doing so?

If you happen to be Gregg Breinberg, a teacher at PS-22 in Staten Island, you use music.

Formed in 2000 by Breinberg, the PS-22 Chorus started to become an online sensation in 2006, after he shared some of their videos with members of a Tori Amos message board. Not long after, the Chorus was caught the eye of celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton. They were soon being asked to collaborate with everyone from Stevie Nicks to Passion Pit. The Chorus has been featured in all types of news and media: viewers of Good Morning America, NPR listeners, and the First Family have all been entertained by the Chorus.

One of my best friends introduced me to the Chorus a couple of years ago, during an A Cappella phase I seemed to be going through at the time [which has not necessarily ended, by the way]. Their effect was immediate. I was hooked. I began to watch as many of their videos as I could find.

Over the years, though its members have changed, the unique style of the chorus remains a constant. With energy that I wish could be bottled and sold, the Chorus performs songs from any genre you could dream up: spirituals and traditional songs, classics, modern pop, breakout hits by alternative and indie artists, and original songs written by their director. Breinberg arranges each song the Chorus performs, and he can be seen in most of their videos accompanying his students on acoustic guitar or piano.

In each performance, the Chorus commands my attention. Not only are their voices beautiful; they are a delight to watch. Every single member of the Chorus  dances and smiles, clapping their hands; their enthusiasm is reckless and palpable. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. In addition to the television, print media, and radio appearances made by the Chorus,  they continue to build and maintain their strong presence online. Their YouTube videos have over 27,000,000 views to date.

As someone passionate creative expression, whether mine or that of others, PS-22 Chorus inspires me. They are artists. They are completely engaged in their performances. And their cooperative spirit and unabashed joy is something we could all use.

It’s no secret that Breinberg loves his job. I contacted him for an interview on a whim, my curiosity about his work with the Chorus [and his obvious affinity for music and songwriting] finally getting the better of me. And- as a huge fan of the Chorus- I couldn’t wait to share his thoughts with you. For his “Take Five”, Breinberg picked questions that highlight his perspective on his teaching, his personal taste in music, and his preferences related to superheroes.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your students?

My students have taught me to smile through the tough stuff.  So many of these kids have been through more than you can ever imagine, and yet they come into the auditorium to sing their hearts out.   When they’re making music, nothing else matters.  It’s so important to these kids in their education and that is the lesson we should all take away.  Perhaps most personally significant, they’ve taught me the greatest lesson of all — what’s special aboutmyself and what I have to offer this world.  Every teacher hopes to do just that for his students, and here they are doing that for me.

What are 5 [or 6] of the most played songs in your iTunes?

  1. “Dragon” by Tori Amos
  2. “On Nature” by Matisyahu (with PS22 Chorus, live at 92nd Street Y)
  3. “Little Secrets” by Passion Pit (with PS22 Chorus)
  4. “If I Ever Feel Better” by Phoenix
  5. “Poses” by Rufus Wainwright
  6. “Un Sospiro” by Franz Liszt

Who have been some of your favorite celebrity collaborators? [And who did the kids love working with the most?

Honestly, all of our collaborations have been rather amazing, each for their own respective reasons, so it’s hard to choose.  The  92nd Street Y performance with Matisyahu stands out to me musically, and I’m thrilled that they allowed us to post that.  We were originally set just to do “One Day” which the kids had previously covered.  At the last minute before we rehearsed with Matis the afternoon of the show, I taught the kids the chorus of “On Nature.”  We all practically improvised our entire way through it but Matis liked it enough to want to include it in the setlist for the Y.  Undeniable magic happened there on the stage that night, on that song particularly.

“You Raise Me Up” with Celtic Woman at Radio City is another memorable performance, though I prefer the acoustic rehearsal version we did in the auditorium.  That too is a must-see.

Personally speaking, team-teaching and performing “Father’s Son” with Tori Amos and the kids in May of 2007 was the dream-come-true moment of my career.  Tori has been my personal favorite ever since I came upon her music way back in 1992.   Seeing her live for the first time was more like a spiritual awakening than a concert.   So when the PS22 Chorus got to sing her song “Dragon” for her, turning around just in time to catch her wipe away a tear was a feeling beyond words.  To inspire one’s inspiration — there is no prouder feeling.   That’s the experience I wish I could relive.

As far as the kids are concerned, I think they were particularly impressed by fellow YouTube sensation, Greyson Chance.  We surprised them with the visit, and their reaction was priceless!  The girls practically trampled the poor kid on his way out the door….

Who is better: Batman or Superman? [Explain.]

Wolverine.  I’m more of a Marvel dork myself.

What are you passionate about, and how has working with PS-22 Chorus helped you realize your passions?

I think our videos capture my two greatest passions, music and teaching.

These kids are a constant source of inspiration.  They’re funny, pure, and even profound at times.  I thoroughly enjoy the process of arranging a song for them.  Part of my passion comes from primarily working with music that I love and respect.  The kids have sunk their teeth into some of my favorite songs, “Liztomania” by Phoenix, “A Winter’s Carol” by Tori Amos, “Kids” by MGMT [above] , “Joga” by Bjork, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” by The Talking Heads — and the list goes on.

I find the kids’ versions bring an entirely new dimension to my connection with these songs.  There’s an indescribable feeling to making music, and when it actually takes shape into something as beautiful as it does inside that humble school auditorium, it’s really an exciting thing to be a part of.  The kids continually surprise and impress me.  So yeah, it’s pretty easy for me to bring passion to the job.

– January 2011

For More on Breinberg and the PS-22 Chorus:

YouTube [click here for their alternate channel]

Wiki

PS-22 Blog [by Gregg Breinberg]

[25] things you should do.

As of today, I have been on this planet for twenty-five [25] whole, entire years. However, I am no priest, rabbi, or Dalai Lama. I make no attempt to present 25 sage lessons, wise quotes, or life-altering, exemplary anecdotes.

I do things. Some of them are fun, enjoyable things. Some of them are necessary things. Some of them are regular things. I have compiled 25 of my favorite things to do- one for each year. These are things that I think everyone should do at some point in time.

In no particular order, here they are!

1. Give more hugs. Psychology tells us we need 8-10 meaningful touches a day to stay emotionally healthy. Hugs count.

2. Drink coffee or tea. Sure, there are antioxidants, and all kinds of other good health benefits, associated with moderate amounts of tea or coffee. But the most important thing is sharing it with friends. And the caffeine doesn’t hurt, either. [Whenever possible, drink fair trade.]

3. Go on road trips. My suggestions for a successful road trip: pick someone you mesh well with, find a good way to split responsibility and cost, and bring an audiobook. You will learn a ton about the other person, and about the perils of the average American truck stop.

4. Tell your friends you are thankful for them. Don’t wait for a birthday, major holiday, or an argument to try to get things on the table. If it is hard for you to talk about feelings, thank your friend(s) for a specific thing(s) that has been done for you. A good way to do that is “Thank you for [thing you did for me]. I really appreciate you.” It is simple, but can make a world of difference for the person, and for your friendship.

5. Buy clothes and shoes consignment. I started doing this a couple years ago, because I realized how much cheaper it is than buying new. But it can also be fun to look for finds with friends, or to create your own ensembles. Keep at it if you don’t find something right away. There is something out there for everyone. Also: no one has ever ‘spotted’ anything I own as being secondhand, so you can go ahead and dispense of worrying about what others think.

6. Pet dogs. They are cute. They are awesome. They are always happy to see you. They rule. They make you smile. Of course, avoid the ones that are snarling and foaming at the mouth. Otherwise, acknowledging someone has a cute dog and asking to greet it can often be a great conversation starter. And you are making a puppy happy. Win-win.

7. Watch classic movies. There are so many great movies out there that do not star Miley Cyrus or Johnny Knoxville. It is amazing to see what actors, producers, and directors were capable of before CG, insane special effects, and auto-tune. AMC is a great channel for good movies, if you are unsure where to start.

8. Have the donuts at the Patterson House. Because deep-frying bread and covering it with an inch-deep layer of cinnamon sugar is way underrated.

9. Bank and pay bills online. Very easy; saves a tree; makes one feel like a marginally more responsible adult.

10. Be friends with someone who isn’t like you. Not trying to sound like an after-school special. This is a great way to broaden your horizons, and to learn how to communicate better. Some of my most rewarding friendships are with people I appear to have nothing in common with. In a world where people are so quick to make judgements, this is a sure-fire way to make sure we keep our prejudices in check.

11. Find out the story behind an interesting tattoo. Obviously, tact is in order here. The reason behind their tattoos may be a sensitive subject for some people. But it is a great conversation to have when you feel comfortable doing so. It gives you insight into something another person finds beautiful or meaningful, whether you’re a needlephobe or not.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

12. Read at least one new book a year. Good books abound. They have been around for millenia. And there are plenty of used bookstores where you can get a bundle of them for super cheap. Let those brain cells do some jumping jacks. And remember: reading makes you better looking.

13. Exchange letters. With stamps and everything. Engaging in the lost art of letter-writing gives you something to look forward to. . . not to mention it is a handy way to encourage creativity, and to boost your vocabulary. A good way to get yourself inspired to write letters is to pick out some neat cards or stationary, and decide on a friend to send them to. . . nothing compares to the simple joy of opening a piece of mail that isn’t an ad. . . or a bill.

14. Travel abroad. This is something that requires  some advance planning and money saving, but it is well worth it. Recommendations are the same as for the road trip entry. Just replace “bring an audiobook” with “watch the occasional in-flight movie”. A good way to start is finding out what kind of discounts you might be eligible for, and by looking for package deals.

15. Watch a movie, listen to an artist, or read a book, based on the recommendation of a friend. This has introduced me to the vast majority of musicians I love, and to a host of favorite books as well. It is another interesting way to connect with another human being, and a way to try something new that doesn’t involve eating bugs or being on a bizarre Japanese stunt show.

With Brett Dennen

16. See at least one of your favorite bands or artists in concert. Seeing a live performance of an artist you admire is a sure way to make you smile. Almost all the time, a live performance is better than a record, in that you get to make a living, human connection with a person; rather than just identifying with a song, a beat, or an idea. And you never know: you may get a hug out of it.

17. Go camping. I suggest going to a campground, with people who have been camping before. It is a blast. But make sure you bring pre-cooked food, just in case your homemade breakfast is sub-par, hypothetically speaking.

18. Pray for others. This is a must to remind me of the blessings I have been given, and of how I can serve someone else, even if I cannot “fix” their problem or situation directly. And if you’re not the praying kind, just listen, or ask if there is anything you can do to help.

Friends Forever

19. Stay up all night talking with a friend. This doesn’t have to be an every day practice. But there is no other catharsis quite like talking the ears right off one another every once and a while. Just make sure you don’t have anything planned the next day but a pot of coffee and a big brunch.

20. Take photos. Losing my camera was a big pain. It made me realize just how precious photographs can be. Not that it is as-good-as-the-real thing. But taking photos is great for those of us with the most terrible short term memories of all time.

21. Buy yourself a present every now and again. This year, I got myself a robot bracelet. It’s not about being selfish. It’s about reminding yourself that you are special and loved and worth investing in. . .

22. Keep at least one box of “kid cereal” around. Just make sure you don’t contract a case of Count Choculitis.

23. Own a Beatles album. Seriously. Pick one. They have influenced so much music after them. And in them, you can hear bits of the music that shaped who they are. I can honestly say that owning one of their discs had a profound effect on my life. They helped me to love music, and to find little bits of happiness and optimism all over the place.

24. Be still from time to time. A couple of years ago, I spent 2 days in silence at a retreat. It was such an inspiring and challenging time for my spirit. I don’t go on talking strikes or anything, but it is good for me to remember that if I give the opportunity for G*d to speak, he usually finds a creative way to do so.

25. Support a local writer. Congratulations. One thing-to-do down. Only 24 more to go! Hope this has sparked some ideas for happy-inducing activities. Thanks for the gift of your support. You’ve all made it a wonderful birthday!

if you were here today: remembering John Lennon

It was 30 years ago today. . .

Lennon Headline

I bet the title of this post seems a bit of a misnomer. How do you remember someone you never met? How are you friends with a stranger? How do you grieve the loss of something you never had?

Anyone who knows me knows that I love liberally, but not lightly. And this holds true for most all areas of my life. . .  so if I ‘love’ a musician or band, then I make a true emotional connection with them. Something about them relates to me, resonates, lingers.

The Beatles and their music have followed me through life, nearly from the beginning. Before I had a crush on any boy I knew, there was George Harrison and Paul McCartney, respectively [I finally decided Paul and I connected the most.  But George remains a very close second].

There were themed birthday parties, every imaginable poster and knick-knack, and collectible.  And the Rock Band and iTunes franchises have made sure the Boys remain by my side in quarterlife.

John was never a  “favorite Beatle” of mine. His persona and manner of self-expression, and some of the choices he made in his family life, clashed with my ideals. But he was one of the Four, part of the whole.

In life, John was a reminder of the importance- and the price- of speaking out. His ‘countercultural’ sentiments, and vocal opinions put him under investigation by the FBI. His seeming off-the-wall artistic undertakings with Yoko Ono raised  many eyebrows. But he never seemed the type to back down from being wholly himself.

sniffing Coke

The most tragic thing the loss of any life to violence is that it is unexpected, an interruption of a unique existence, a robbing of human potential. I often think about John as a songwriter and performer, and as a person, like any of us. And I wonder about the songs he could have written for us; the performances we could have witnessed, the opportunities he could have had to mend relationships with his friends and family that had been strained by dysfunction and dispute.

John is remembered these days for all the remarkable contributions he made to songwriting, music, pop culture, and the cause of Pacifism in popular media. Musicians, poets, and visitors to the Imagine Circle, his memorial in New York City, offer him countless tributes.

But I have one favorite.


This song was released in 1982. Two years after the loss of his friend, Paul McCartney shares with him feelings of grief and loss, of love and hope. I have heard Paul perform this song a few times, and it never ceases to move me.

Whether in the life of John, the legacy of his music, or the tribute of his friends, I hope we are all reminded today of the fragile and beautiful nature of life. . . and the redemptive power of true friendship.


coming attractions: {a.k.a. super-awesome video announcement!]

Cue the fanfare.

Or the green-screen with the rating-box thingy.

Because I have for you a preview, a taste, nay, a sampling, of delights soon to come to our humble little nook of Cyberspace. This announcement is so big, and so awesome, and so super-great, that I have to tell you in person. So I bring you. A Vlog [coincidentally, the only word geekier sounding than Blog]:

Are you barely able to sit still? Can you hardly contain your giggles of excitement?

You are in good company.