Music, Seen Differently

July 20, 2013

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post over on Elephants about a few books that I felt I had misjudged when I initially read them. A friend then suggested that I do one for music, so here it is.

Music is a bit different, though. The thing about an album is that it’s easier to listen to it half a dozen times than it is to read a book half a dozen times, so those kinds of gross misjudgment are, I think, a little bit harder. That said, there are a few names I can come up with and here they are:

Paul Simon – Until a few years ago, if you’d asked me what I thought of Paul Simon as a solo artist, I would have told you I thought he was fine. I knew a bit of his stuff, but not a ton of it. I liked Simon & Garfunkel, but as a solo artist, he seemed very ’80s. Sure, “Call Me Al” is fun, but you know, it’s one song and it’s kind of silly.

But Cate liked Paul Simon and we, at some point, started listening more, and boy, he’s a genius. Graceland is a perfect pop album and his most recent recordings are masterful, especially for someone who’s getting up there. Paul Simon gets played around our house a lot now, and it’s a good thing.

Bruce Springsteen – For a long time, I hated Bruce Springsteen. Hated him. I was a kid when Born in the USA came out and that album was everywhere (it produced 7 top-10 singles). And, to me, that was what Springsteen was for a long time. Eventually, someone introduced me to his wider catalog and I saw how spectacular much of his stuff is, especially from the first decade of his career. He’s a fantastic songwriter, and it’s just a bad coincidence that one of my least favorite Springsteen albums is the one that was the most successful.

In the other direction, I will admit that for a long time, I overrated a lot of Eric Clapton. Clapton’s music is what really set me off on the guitar playing path and for a long time he could do no wrong. However, having grown up a bit and widened my palate, it’s easy to see that he has a lot of weak periods, especially the 1980s.

Otherwise, it’s hard to pick out much. I mean, there was absolutely some stuff I listened to as a teenager that I think is terrible now, but that’s true for most everyone, I think.

In the interest of keeping myself accountable, I thought it would be good to update my stated summer goals, which were:

Write 60,000 words of fiction.
Read 20 books
Play guitar a lot/learn Beeswing

I have read 10 books since the beginning of June and something close to 20 is more or less a foregone conclusion.

I have played a lot of guitar and I’m at least sort of getting there on Beeswing, which is a pretty tough song to get down.

The writing is another story. I’m probably not going to get to 60,000 words, which I knew was ambitious. I’m sitting on about 14,000 right now (50ish pages), but that number is a little misleading as I wasn’t able to write for about half of June (vacation + Cate getting REALLY sick). As it stands 40-45,000 is probably my new realistic goal, though if 60,000 wants to make itself happen, I’m more than willing.

And speaking of writing, here’s some of what I’ve been working on…

Two car doors slam. thuk, thuk. The engine, aging and poorly cared for rumbles to a start, sputtering uncertainly until placed in gear and allowed to accelerate. The car belongs to Jacob, though belong is a fuzzy word in this instance. He marooned the car years ago when he went away to college, using it only during his sporadic visits, never having the title transferred over. His parents, however, insist it is his, and while they refuse to get rid of it, they also refuse to care for it, deeming it his responsibility. He knows one day it will fail and leave him stranded on the side of the road or in the driveway. He does not care. For now it runs, if only barely.

For a few minutes, there is no sound beyond the progression of roads: the gravel crunch of a driveway is followed by the potholed and patched stutter of a country road is followed by the smooth curves and yellow lines of the well-maintained state highway. The silence bears the kind of tension that only a family can place on a new but serious couple. Look at you young lady, she feels it say, you are not from here. You are not of this place. It will never belong to you. You don’t want to be involved with someone who comes from this. But she says back, I am not so young. I have a place that belongs to me already. Though buried deeper, is a part of her that fears the tension is correct.


July 3, 2013

For ages, I have been primarily concerned with making sure Simone is comfortable being who she is and knows she is allowed to like whatever she wants. I believe we’ve been doing a good job of this and take as evidence that she recently came home from a birthday-money spending trip with both a very scary dinosaur and a fairy princess.

But we don’t just have a daughter. We also have this very sweet little boy, James, who has recently figured out how to climb on everything. In fact, he is climbing on me as I write this. That isn’t the point of this post, though. The point of this post is that during the aforementioned shopping trip, I realized just how hard parenting a boy is going to be.

You see, it’s been relatively hidden until now because people don’t bombard you with horribly sexist language when you have a boy like they do when you have a girl. With Simone, people started implying that her value was tied up in her virginity almost before she was home. That didn’t happen with James.

But when we were at the store yesterday, it was impossible to ignore the gendering of the toys. It always is. Before, I’d always viewed it from a girls perspective and spent my time trying to encourage Simone to look at everything and decide what she liked. This time, I found myself thinking about how all the “boy” toys are built around notions of superiority and dominance. There are swords and guns and big, big muscles. Nearly everything associated with building is targeted at boys. Even the once gender-neutral Legos are now clearly tilted toward boys. Most of the minifigures are obviously male and only the condescending “friends” line gives a nod to girls. I found it disconcerting.

But what really alarmed me was realizing how attractive that must be for boys. Everything about a toy store. Everything about being a boy in America is designed to tell them that they are better – higher, somehow – than girls. Obviously, I’m still a beginner at all this stuff, but it seems to me that a lot of parenting girls has to do with convincing them that they deserve more than they get from society. That’s an easier task than convincing boys that other deserve just as much as them. It’s human nature to want more, and current marketing toward boys only reenforces that.

I also worry what will happen to him if James likes stereotypically girly things. If girls like boy things, they are celebrated as tomboys. Certainly, that idea has issues, but it doesn’t subject you to the kinds of taunts and abuses boys can get for so much as wearing pink. We’ll accept him, of course, but I hope the world isn’t too hard on him.

So, in short, I suppose the conundrum is this… with Simone I am desperately worried about making sure she knows she can be herself, but with James I’m worried both the he knows he can be himself and that this goes for others around him. Even girls like his older sister.