Tag Archives: Tennessee

5 Amazing Songs

As per request (and writing prompt) from one of my dear readers and a fellow music devouter, I’d like to share 5 amazing songs that build up emotion in my chest, take me to happy and far away places, or just leave me whirlishly dancing on the chipped-tiled kitchen floor.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds

This song of course is married to the ever-universal teen angst classic The Breakfast Club, making it even that much more endearing. That last scene when the song smacks in and John Bender gives a requited fist pump in a freeze frame forever is one of the best movie endings.

Don’t You Forget About Me reminds me of precious 80’s nostalgia, the innocence and simplicity there regarding music and hand-written letters and Walkmans and trips to the mall sans security personnel.

And the meaning: Don’t you forget about me. We all want to be remembered. We cannot let time or circumstance or distance allow the brain to turn us into static and the heart unforgiving or worse, ignored.

This one is for belting out fearlessly and dancing feverishly.  My students have seen me do this. On my fortieth birthday this is the song I boldly requested at the skating rink among all the preteens and their Taylor Swift enthusiasm. I’ll be singing and dancing to this one when I’m an old, old lady.

Don’t you forget about me. I’ll be alone, dancing, you know it, baby…

 

Us and Them by Pink Floyd

I listened to The Dark Side of the Moon on a constant loop along with The Cure’s Disintegration on a summer stint in Italy in my early teens. I know Roger Waters was talking about war in his lyrics but to me the “us” and “them” represented both the subtle and not-so-subtle differences I experienced between Americans and Italians. We spoke different languages, ate at different times of the day, looked different, but in the way we were different we were also the same. Just people trying to make it in the world, experience life, try not to trip on pebbles.

To this day, every time I hear that keyboard intro I feel the welling up in my chest. I am completely transported back to that balcony in Sardinia, back to that innocent 15 year old taking in everything never witnessed back in Antioch, Tennessee. I’m reminded of all the people I met and their cultural and nurturing influence on me.

Us, and them. And after all, we’re only ordinary men…

 

The Fool on the Hill by The Beatles

The Beatles were a big part of my growing up. They were not forced on me but rather gently introduced as my parent’s record collections included many Beatles albums and 45s. My brother and I would sit on the shaggy carpeted floor of our basement-turned-playroom and listen to them on our Fisher-price turntable. We fashioned ourselves as rock singers, belting out tunes as the grated vinyl spun round and round.

But when Fool on the Hill rolled along and into the tiny speaker, we would quietly sing together. Never looking up, frozen in that moment with lyrics and melody I swear brought welling up in my goofy sibling’s eyes.

That is one of my strongest and most fond memories of us together as children. Later in our teens we traveled to Lexington, Kentucky with a group of like-minded friends to see Paul McCartney in concert. I was enthralled to be in the presence of a Great. And to enjoy it with my bro at my side.

But the fool on the hill, sees the sun going down, and the eyes in his head, see the world spinning round…

 

A Forest by The Cure

This haunting song is one of the reasons I will forever be a Cure fan and Classic Alternative junkie. I was first introduced to the Cure when Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me came out. During this era I was blown away by this sound which at the time never reached the local radio airwaves.

A Forest mirrored my teen angst, depression, and need for creative inspiration as sheets of rain seemed to fall endlessly in the grey, Tennessee winter. This dirge didn’t exasperate my feelings as my parents agonized. Instead it encapsulated and provided solace. I wasn’t alone in my fervor.

And just the word forest. It conjures images of lush foliage where mystery hides and escape is possible.

A few summers ago I was driving alone in North Florida on a windy road away from friends and family with whom I’d just spent an unforgettable week. As soon as I entered Tate’s Hell State Forest, an unforgiving ominous expanse of swampy woodland, my GPS fell silent and A Forest shuffled on my auxiliary. I don’t know if there’s ever been more perfect timing between song and circumstance.

Come closer and see, see into the trees…

 

The Dead Heart by Midnight Oil

I could write an entire blog post about songs by Midnight Oil but for the purpose of not turning this into a biography I’ll sample this one.

I was introduced to Midnight Oil via the video for Bed’s Are Burning, seen on MTV’s Friday Night Videos. This unique sound from Australia fronted by a bald, passionate giant literally left me gasping in its strum guitar and water tank drum beats. I was instantly transformed. Life would never be the same. And then began a life-long love and adoration for the band, their extensive collection of songs throughout the decades, and their messages about equality and the environment.

The Dead Heart evokes singing and whirling, and to the tune of aboriginal rights in Australia. It’s as serious as it is heartfelt and in the end a hopeful dance. The Oils do a fantastic job of informing while entertaining and this song is no exception. When I hear it I’m in the Outback as well as on my old friend’s balcony (what’s with me and balconies) back in ’87 when all this alternative rock hoopla began voluntarily infiltrating my soul.

Midnight Oil will forever be my favorite band of all time. And The Dead Heart is just one of many that fill me with emotion, the need to research, to help bring about change, and yes, to belt it out and move.

These 5 songs helped shape who I am. What are yours?

 

 

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I Feel Strongly About Saturn

I’ve always been a proponent of vacations. Every vacation I ever took left me with a newfound sense of zen, an inspiration to tweak things in my life, and an altered way of looking at my surroundings.

I just got back from a three week road trip (tour de South) with the boy, who is twelve years old- that splendid minute between childhood and adolescence. He still sleeps with his stuffed animal Snuggles yet he forgot I existed once on our trip when a fellow 21 Pilots fan with long dark hair and a braided choker necklace entered his world.

Besides my glorious trips overseas in my teens and twenties I have not been away from home for this length of time. I can be a cave-dweller. When not at work or grocery shopping at Walmart I stick to my minute radius, often ignoring the slight nag to interact with humanity on a physical level.

Vacations pluck you out of your comfort zone, plop you into the unknown, and enlighten your sense of self. I learned I can keep up with preteens on a floating obstacle course (although I could barely lift my arms the next day). I realized I am pretty good at being a chameleon when it comes to cohabitating with various families and groups of people (although I had to slink away at small intervals to get away from the tiresome chatter I’d rather replace with a good book or staring at the tops of the trees).

I urinated in several outdoor locations without soaking my feet. I got lost in the banjo-echoed boonies without becoming completely inconsolable. I drove through thunderstorms and along winding mountain roads and alongside Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss.

I sang aloud to Boz Scaggs and Jimmy Hendrix and Weezer. I sipped coffee with my brother. I read fairy tales to my nephew. I poured my grandmother a glass of milk. I floated down rivers with friends I hope I have forever.

And all this with my son.

When we pulled into our driveway I was a bit dejected. Reality. Chores. Bills. Work. Homework. But if I can tackle these things with the zen I felt on the mountain, the freedom I felt on the open road, the happiness I felt surrounded by friends and family, then maybe these mundane tasks won’t be so stressful.

“I feel strongly about Saturn” was written in marker on a wooden bed in a cabin in the north Florida woods. It made me think of all the travelers who came there before me. And the dreams of stellar travels to come.

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Oranges, Sage, Sand and Time

Yesterday while stepping outside the office to the parking lot I caught a whiff of some kind of dry brush percolating its arid scent in the late spring warmth. It immediately transported me back to 1989. To a sandy and rooted path towards the Mediterranean sea. I looked down at my feet and couldn’t believe I had really gone on that trip all those years ago. Seems like an eternity. The girl who traveled there had freckles and bushy brown hair and a wondering mind. I still have the freckles and a matured version of that mind so it must have been me.

I love how smells take you to places and evoke memories in an instant. In the midst of everyday life we step back and take a deep inhale through the honker and relive a moment as if it were right at our feet.

Take oranges for another example. That smell of freshly sliced citrus transports me back to an even earlier time. To childhood and the kitchen counter and the oranges stacked in a bowl during Christmastime. It is always Christmas when I smell an orange. And now the citrus fruits lining my lanai swell and ripen in wintertime.

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Fresh cut grass reminds me of Tennessee summers and my dad and my brother and the aggravation then prideful relief when the yard work was finished.

Decaying leaves and burning wood always remind me of fall and Halloween. The beginning of school days. Trick-or-treating. Playing in piles of orange and red and brown fallen oak and maple. Writing somber poetry.

Curry and coriander bring forth memories of Christmas Eve and our now decade-long family tradition of enjoying an Indian feast before driving around to see all the neighborhood holiday lights.

Instant coffee and tobacco– my grandparent’s house. Powder soap and crayons– elementary school. Soft, sweet Petunia– my mother’s garden. Aveeno Eczema Therapy lotion– my son’s infancy. Rain– lazy summer days and escaping to shelter. Cinnamon– all the good memories ever all wrapped into one.

Last night I stared down at my feet after a good jog on the causeway. The terrain underneath reminded me of that path to the Mediterranean sea and the desert of the Australian Outback and all the places I’ve been and seen and experienced. It’s still a bit of a shock how much I’ve done. The smell of the salty, shelly gulf wafted around me and I smelled not a memory but a presence. I was home. And alive in the present with all the memories of the past in my brain waiting for the frontal lobe to spark the temporal and let me relive them again, if only for a time.

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January, at its Best

How many cold, winter nights
have we sat by the window of some smoky place
and contemplated the state of things
or nothing at all
And how such a winter's night
could be so mild
'tis a strange thing but all the same
Fine by me for bitter winds
only add to the shame of man
For no man has not a care in the world
lest he have not a mind or soul
Would that I could take things like
that soulless man
My existence would not have reason
And my mind would think silly thoughts
through the window of murky winter.

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Written when the Tennessee winter was more than I could bear.
The endless days and weeks of cloudy skies, barren tree limbs, and freezing temperatures took its toll.

It robbed the best of me, leaving a fallen, desperate shell.
Now my Floridian January is a celebration.

The cool winds keep the warmth from stagnating.
And I am smiling as the vivid colors of a blue sky backdrop promise me sunshine and breezes
and greenery.

And birds gracefully gliding in their sunny winter dance.

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My Couple-Skate Partner

Couple skateI’ve been taking my nine-year-old to the skating rink for several years now.  It always brings back memories from when I used to skate at the Hickory Hollow roller rink in Tennessee in the ’80’s.  My son has let me couple-skate with him maybe three or four times.  Now you can forget about it.  But I’m glad we had that short time on the parquet flooring.  He was my second couple-skate partner.

The first, well I can’t tell you his exact name, but for early memory-loss purposes we’ll call him David.  He was of average height, maybe an inch taller than me, and super skinny.  His mom probably bought his Sears Toughskins in slim.  I noticed him on the playground with the other 2nd graders.  I think he was hanging around the monkey bars where me and my girlfriends were reenacting the movie Annie scene by scene.  His dark hair tousled by the wind, he was alone, and seemed half content and half uneasy in his alabaster skin.  I was immediately intrigued.

Skating rink PatternSince he wasn’t in my class I had to steal glances of him whenever all the second graders converged—story time at the library, where I think I saw him checking out a sci-fi book, in the cafeteria, where he slowly savored his PB & J sandwiches from home, or at recess where he might be found alone or with another “mediocre on the food chain” elementary school boy.

I don’t think he noticed me.  Or at least he wasn’t looking at me when I was looking at him.  I distinctly remember one day when it was pouring rain. Since there was no gymnasium we had our recess in a blue-carpeted double classroom.  Written on the giant chalkboard was “Jumping Contest”.  A long pole was set up lengthwise in the center.  I was no athletic Einstein for sure, but I prided myself on my jumping abilities, which were acquired in the backyard with my more-than-athletically capable younger brother.

SkatesWhen David’s class entered my heart skipped a beat.  He leaned against the chalkboard, patiently waiting his turn as the contest began.  One by one each of us jumped over the thigh-high pole, and one by one, kids were eliminated as the coach raised the pole higher and higher.  David was a fair jumper, sitting down somewhere in the middle of the eliminations.  Each time I jumped I was proud yet slightly amazed I had gone on to be one of the last four.  As the clock ticked closer to the end of recess, the pole was raised to meet my chest.  I took a confident running start and made the jump without knocking over the bar! Smiling within, I hoped David was as impressed as I was.

A couple weeks later I went to the skating rink for kid’s skate night.  There was something special about the skating rink—the smell of popcorn and worn, rented skates, the neon lights illuminating the slick, wooden floor, the blinking lights of the video arcade games, and the promise of finding someone to couple-skate with.

Arcade gamesI was well-versed in skating at a decent clip to Michael Jackson, Van Halen, and Midnight Starr.  But in all the days and nights I went to that rink I never did a couple-skate.  No one ever asked me.

While sitting near the concession stand for a snack break, I noticed my crush-from-afar, skating awkwardly in time to that early-80’s rap beat.  Excitement and nervousness set in my freckled body.  His skates magnified his long, lanky limbs, and turned his slim jeans into high-waters.  But there was something about him, the way he seemed content with being alone, yet slightly lost in the shuffle.  I anxiously made my way to the floor to see if he would notice me.

PopcornEvery time I passed him my stomach would flutter.  Even back then I wondered what I looked like from behind as he surely caught a glimpse of my little round rump as I rolled by.  After a few rounds the DJ announced it was time for “Couple Skate Only” so I returned to the snack bar to find my mom for money to play Pac Man.  As she handed me a quarter, I felt a hesitant tap on my shoulder.  I turned around to see David, my exquisitely gawky David, who quietly but fervently asked if I would like to couple skate.  “Yes,” I replied non-reluctantly, and he clasped my hand in his.

Disco ballWe revolved carefully in clunky rhythm, our hair blowing and our mouths curled up in nervous smiles of relief.  We made small talk.  We tried not to fall.  As far as I was concerned we were the only kids on the rink.  When the song was over we thanked each other then he scooted away to leave for the night.

The rest of the school year when I saw him from time to time, we would smile at each other.  I never saw him with any other girls, and I don’t think he came back to our school the following year.

I could say I picked him up like a stray, an unwieldy boy who needed someone to cling to, if only for a moment.  Although I might have had the upper hand when it came to quiet confidence and certain physical skills, I think it was me who received that small rescue.

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Left-hand Turns and other Driving Displeasures

Our family car in the mid '80's. Why am I the only one NOT wearing flip flops?

Our family car in the mid ’80’s. Why am I the only one NOT wearing flip flops?

From the backseat of our car the other day my nine-year-old son loudly stated, “You’re becoming your mother.”  I knew exactly what he was talking about.  We were trying to make a left-hand turn into non-stop traffic as a line of cars behind us became increasingly impatient.  “I hate these left-hand turns!” I cried out before my son made his unquestionable statement.  These were the words I heard repeatedly from my mother in the 80’s and 90’s, although she said it with a bit more exasperation and defeat.  “Oh I HATE these left-hand tuuurns! I’m NEVER gonna get outta heeeeere!” It used to annoy the crap out of me because she was so dramatic and aggravated about it.  But now that I’m older and an experienced driver, I completely understand.

Mom's preferred place in the car-- the passenger's seat.

Mom’s preferred place in the car– the passenger’s seat.

My brother and I would make fun of her, and to this day it is an ongoing joke.  We mimic that sentence that is still lingering somewhere over the streets of Antioch, Tennessee.  Even she laughs about it now.  It’s become one of those family inside-jokes that’s still alive with the next generation.  So when my son hears me say those exact words in a real-life situation, well he is smart enough to know it resembles the frustrated expression of Grandma.

Another thing that annoyed my mom on the road was the incompetence of drivers from a certain county.  Anytime a driver did something idiotic, like pull in front of us, or slam on brakes, or stop in the middle of the road for no apparent reason, my mom got a good look at the license plate.  And lo and behold, they were always from the same county.  “Rutherford County, I knew it!” She screamed in annoyed confidence.  They did seem to be the worst drivers on the street.  That was also the county were my mom was born and raised.

The only "vehicle" my Granny drives. Notice my parent's Lucerne in the background.

The only “vehicle” my granny drives. Notice my parent’s Lucerne in the background.

I don’t notice any particular county in The Tampa Bay area of Florida (where I reside now) that fosters incompetent drivers, although if you see a Toyota Camry or Buick Lucerne swerving about, pulling out into oncoming traffic, or going 10 miles an hour, you can bet the driver is at least 75 years old. And when this does happen you will hear me say, “Great-grandma Myrtle—I knew it!”

My grandma (born, raised, and still living in Rutherford County) has never driven a day in her life.  My mom won’t drive on interstates.  I’ve taken 600 mile road trips by myself on several occasions.  So with each generation comes more driving confidence.  But when I start getting cocky my mom always reminds me of the time I was just learning to drive and nearly crashed our minivan into a median.

My first car. Zero accidents. One break down. Two speeding tickets.

My first car. Zero accidents. One break down. Two speeding tickets.

I yelled through hormonal teenage tears, “I’m never driving again!”  My mom sternly looked me in the eyes and said, “Yes you will, Jenifer!  You have to.”  In her own shaky driving self-confidence she knew her daughter could not be scared like her or her own mother.  And I’m glad she said that to me that day.  Because I might not have had the displeasure of hating left-hand turns just like her.

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