Fixing to Roar

 

A century ago, the years of the 1920s roared in and started becoming memorable for flourishing innovations in art, fashion, and style. The era became so deeply influenced by a musical style that it is memorialized in name by that great American invention, Jazz. Just like the Jazz Age a century ago, our 20s have the opportunity to roar instead of bore. It is exciting thinking of what might be next.

So, the new decade has arrived, and before looking fully forward, a little glance backward. Hopefully the music (and this page!) will flourish and roar with wonderful treats for our ears in the 2020s. First though, a little look back at the final year of the teens. I can recommend some great music, and also a couple of worthwhile books that I read in 2019, that both share music as their threads.

Please pick up the beautiful, fascinating, messy 590 page sprawl known as Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz (2018 Spiegel & Grau.)

Beastie Boys Book

This is a graphic, photographic, and wordy treasure for fans of the Beastie Boys, (an all time favorite,) yet I also encourage casual readers to treat themselves here. This book is a feast of information, storytelling, and fun visuals. It’s like a little microcosm of what Beastie Boys did so well for so long: they took existing forms of music and remade them into awesome new forms. And they sounded unlike anyone else. So it is with Beastie Boys Book, familiar in its form, (oh, it’s a book alright,) yet so unlike any other book I have ever seen.

They have documented their backgrounds and beginnings, their fame, their influence and their debts, their foibles, their times, and their fuck-ups in glorious detail. The book is also a love letter to their dear friend, beautiful soul, and fellow Beastie, Adam Yauch, who died in 2012. Even just flipping through Beastie Boys Book is entertaining.

Another good music read is Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019 Ballantine Books, 355 pages.) The book is set up like an oral history of the swift rise and blazing success of a (fictional) group of rock musicians who come together to form a legendary band in California in the 1970s. The interview/oral history format works well as a pacing device, (the book really moves along,) and the format is effective for getting the multiple perspectives, opinions, and egos of the vibrant characters involved with the band.

Reid really captures the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll indulgences of times. She also grounds readers in that golden age of California rock that took over the world. And maybe her best trick is making us think of the fictional Daisy Jones and The Six as being as iconic as actual bands and performers like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.

The book is being turned into a 12 part TV series, (it would not be a surprise to learn that the rights were sold before the book was even published,) and I will be tuning in.

And here are a dozen recommendations for listening from 2019, in case you missed them.

Swim Team – EP by Christelle Bofale.

The Age of Immunology by Vanishing Twin.

Placeholder by Hand Habits.

U.F.O.F. by Big Thief.

Deceiver by DIIV.

SPECIAL ATTENTION:

Quiet Signs by Jessica Pratt (Mexican Summer Records.) Pure witchy magic. Casual, almost effortless-sounding, Pratt mixes her distinctive vocals with folk guitar. Try: This Time Around

SASAMI by Sasami (Domino Records.) Shoegazey at times, great 60-s influences of jazz and pop. Try: Morning Comes

Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend (Columbia.) Brilliantly varied. Masterful. Try: Sympathy

Chastity Belt by Chastity Belt (Hardly Art.) These pretty songs probably logged more time playing in my headphones this year than any others. This group provides superbly laid back, slightly shaggy guitar rock with lovely lyrical self-reflection. Try: It Takes Time

FAVORITES — TWO artists at their individual PEAKS:

Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Rey. Nearly perfect in capturing it’s weedy southern-California vibe. Her singular lyrical abilities and the production set her apart from the rest of the pack. Just listen to the whole darn thing, ok?

All Mirrors by Angel Olsen (Jagjaguwar.) It has been critically noted that some of Angel Olsen’s songs sound as if they have always existed. Here, she is so confident, so big, and so, so beautiful. Try: All Mirrors

Finally, I wish to introduce readers to Thundercat, our new family member, and probably a regularly featured beast on this page for the future. Meow meow. Ciao ciao.

1 January 2020

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Judy’s 2019 wrap-up

J writes…

I was somewhat of a light leisure reader this year, and a lighter, yet, blogger. So, I thought I’d write an end-of-year list of some of the books I read in 2019 to catch you up. It’s not an exhaustive list. I did not include the ones I already wrote to you about. And I didn’t include ones I read because I read about them here. (Circe was helluva enjoyable read, though, wasn’t it!).  And I also didn’t include the very few that I didn’t like but finished anyway. What would be the point? So, here’s a partial list of the meager dent I made in the lists and lists of books I wish to read some day

Not bad:

Good Riddance by Eleanor Lipman was a nice light read. Daphne’s mother, a teacher, held dear a yearbook that was dedicated to her in her early years of teaching. She attended every class reunion for that class following graduation and made updated notations in the yearbook. The yearbook is such a treasured possession that her mom bequeaths it to Daphne after her death. However, Daphne holds no ties to the yearbook or people in it, so she heaves it in the trash bin. She does not expect her documentary film-making neighbor to dumpster dive it and use it as material for her next project. This ignites a new interest in the old annual and creates a series of plot events that kept me turning the pages.

 

Ready player One, by Ernest Cline, is not a typical doomsday apocalyptic tale. It is a story about virtual reality taking over real life in an inventive sci-fi/buddy thriller. If the 80s were part of your formative years, this book is for you. The me-decade references are endless and span the media continuum from TV, video, books, music, movies, magazines, advertising, sports, politics …etc. It’s a fun read, and also one to follow-up with a not great, but totally watchable movie.

 

I listened to The Fishermen by Chigozie Obiama. It made a literary splash back in 2015 and was a big deal here because Obiama is a writing professor at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. The book is about a family in a small town in Nigeria. Two working parents and three smart and rambunctious boys. It has all the epic literary themes – father/son, mother/son, brother/brother relationships; good versus evil; crime and punishment; religion and demons and mental illness.  This is a big work. It’s good. Meaty. If you are in the mood for a literary novel to chew on, consider this one.

Readable recommendations:

Eric Buchanan recommended Hondo to me. I had never read it or any of the other 100 novels written by Louis Lamour. Nor I had never seen the John Wayne version of the movie. I gotta say, this was one good Western. Published in 1953, this book has a female character that will make today’s “nasty women” swell with pride. A follow-up with the movie after the book, will only enhance your enjoyment. I’ll set Hondo in my top westerns list.

Eric also gave me a copy of The Cuban Affair – a Nelson DeMille. I read it one weekend during the summer, when it was hot as could be outside. I wasn’t on a summer vacation, but this book made me feel like I was. Suave, witty, dry-humored detective, reluctantly getting into a dangerous adventure with a beautiful lady. Page-turning fun.

Speaking of reading on vacation:

 

We were getting an early start in August, on the way to a Missouri, for a get-away at The Elms Hotel and Spa right outside of Kansas City (recommended, by the way). So, we decided to stop at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Trails and Visitor Center in Nebraska City. L&CIT&VC is one of those interactive centers with installations (e.g. a replica of the L&C keelboat, lists and samples of all the specimens they brought back to Washington DC after their journey, a taxidermy buffalo…etc.). It’s well done. It will keep a kid interested, including this big kid. With the food provisions and the medical practices alone, it is a wonder they all survived (except for poor Mr. Floyd who died of appendicitis, unrelated to the trip). I bought a version of the Lewis and Clark Journals before we left the center, and read it on our long weekend get-away. Looking at this exploration from the perspective of the time in which it took place (setting current-day politics aside), it really was an extraordinary expedition.  And it makes a pretty exciting read.

Seaman and his crew

Long ones:

Killing the Commentadore is a fan’s Haruki Murakami story. It includes all the Murakami themes and elements – solitude, journeys both geographical and of the mind, color and design, music, and  of course, alternate worlds. In this case, the alternate world is a painting, or perhaps the painting is just the conduit to another time and place. Regardless, a bossy tiny soldier – the Commentadore –  is set free from a painting and serves as a link between what might be simply the past, an evil universe, or the tormented memories of the painting’s creator. I liked this book. It is slow and you can feel the give and take, ease and tension, between every character. Each chapter brings a new plot twist and it kept me reading. But I’m not sure it would keep everyone reading. It’s 700+ pages – a tome. And honestly, there is not a huge pay-off at the end. If you’ve never read a Haruki Murakami book, I’ll suggest Kafka on the Shore. If you have, then you know his style, and be warned, this one is a slow mover.

So many words

Years ago, I loved a book by Elizabeth McCracken. I haven’t kept up on her writing much. So, this year I was excited to lean that Bowlaway was coming out. A story about a town, its people, and the bowling alley that was a part of all their lives. Sounded like just the unconventional type of story I remember in The Giant’s House. And much of it was lovable. But also…as Dr. Dan would say… it had a lot of words.  I read them, and there were a lot.

So many words

More Books from 2019:

Women Rowing North by, Mary Pipher, is about women approaching, in, and beyond their 60s. Non-fiction is not usually my cup of tea.  I liked this book though. Mary, from Lincoln NE, follows a few women and their unique stories and how they unfold over a period of time. She focuses on how they adapt and change as each woman’s life moves from one stage to another. It was a nice read, humorous at times, and very positive.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides was a best seller this year. Intriguing and mysterious. I kept turning pages and didn’t guess the end until I was supposed to, I think.  Good one.

In West Mills by DeShawn Charles Winslow, was one of this year’s literary dears. It’s about a community of friends in North Carolina from the 1940s through the 80s. They revolve around one character, Azalea “Knot” Centre.  Even her name indicates she is the center of all the action and ties them all together.  Family, chosen or inherited, is the main theme throughout. It’s a well written good read.

I always look forward to the next book by Anne Patchett. The Dutch House came out this year and did not disappoint. It’s the story of a brother and sister, Maeve and Danny, and their house. The Dutch House is a stately mansion in a suburb of Philadelphia. Their father bought the house as a symbol of his prestige. Their mother could not square the house with her socialist tendencies. And without saying more, readers,  the House becomes a character throughout the course of Maeve and Danny’s lives. All the characters read true as we see them at each stage of their lives. I really liked

I picked up another book that came out this year simply based on its name and cover. The Grammarians. I didn’t know until I read the inside pages that the author, Cathleen Schine, wrote a book I gushed about in these pages a couple of years back called Fin and Lady. I should be paying more attention. Schine, is a big deal.  The Grammarians is wonderful. Two twins who start out alienating (and charming) their parents with their own language, grow up to be two equally famous writers. And as much as their words tie them together when they are young, words  and language come between them as adults, as the writers publicly and famously feud. This book is charming, and smart and witty. You’ll stop to appreciate Schine’s words and sentences and to read them over and again. It’s a lovely book. Put this one on your to-read pile.

I’ve never written here about Rainbow Rowell. I should. She’s a Nebraskan. She wrote for the Daily Nebraskan (the DN) in the late 80s when going to college here. Then she was a columnist for the Omaha World Herald.  And then she started publishing YA books. She’s a good writer, both critics and teenagers agree. But so do lots of adult readers who appreciate good stories. Her stories move along, her characters are likeable and real (even her fantasy fiction characters). Out this year, I read Carry On, which is about a vampire and a wizard she created as fan fiction for another story called Fan Girl. I would recommend starting with Eleanor and Park or Fan Girl if you’re new to her books. If you don’t move on from there, fine, but you won’t have wasted your time.  If you’re from Nebraska, especially Lincoln or Omaha, you will enjoy when Love Library, East Campus, Highway Diner, the Old Market, and other landmarks make the scene.

Local Hero – Rainbow has a strong message for young women – Education is everything.

Famous People by Justin Kuritzkes is written first person as if it is the voice-journal of a Justin Bieber-like celebrity, who became famous at 12 and is now a 19 or 20-year-old multi-billionaire. He writes in the language of the day throwing in “LOLs” “bro” “dope. “ as if is one of today’s teenage YouTube Stars giving a shout-out to his fans. But the message and content are far deeper than the words. Kuritzkes’ narrator clearly has a grasp on how fame and fortune has changed him and those around him, and has a sense of his global outreach. He registers some responsibility for his brand. This book makes you consider the notion that not all of the 20-year-olds are idiots, though there are some of those characters in this tory too.  LOL. A little over a couple hundred pages, I read this on a work-trip, and it was refreshing and entertaining.

That’s it.

Happy New Year Scramblers.

 

 

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Reading Alaska

I have a dear cousin who grew up in Cordova, Alaska which is a land-locked fishing village on Prince William Sound. Her father kidnapped her and her two sisters from their mother in Florida when she was just two and then he stashed all three sisters in an apartment in Cordova while he moved in with his girlfriend up the road. The oldest sister, who was then just 8 years old, was put in charge of caring for the two younger ones. The girls had an open account at the grocery store, bought and made their own food, kept up the apartment, and walked to school on their own, even during the treacherous winter months. Everyone in the village knew about their living situation but it was never questioned, even as the girls entertained themselves by firing guns from their deck, aiming at seagulls in flight.

Looking down on the Cordova Harbor from Ski Hill.

Over the years my cousin has enchanted me with ‘My Life in Alaska’ stories and I came to understand that Alaska had a culture like no other state. My desire to visit the modern frontier was always on a low-level burn but I never got around to learning much about the state other than what I gathered from my cousin’s stories. That is, not until I landed in the Anchorage airport in August. And it took just one look at the Chugach mountains looming through the gate windows to make me feel small and realize how unprepared I was for a visit.

“You can only make one mistake in Alaska”, my cousin had warned me. (The ‘otherwise’ part of that sentence hangs in the air and is unspoken, which makes a person imagine the worst, and that of course turns out to be the right way to think about it.)

I bought books about Alaska in the airport about 10 minutes after landing and several more in Anchorage at a well-stocked local bookstore named Title Wave.

Here are a few of the Alaska books I read this summer:

Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A true story about innocence and madness on the Alaskan Frontier by Tom Izzia.

One review summarized this book as, Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter. And I probably shouldn’t write more than that, because it is a perfect summary.

This true story takes place in a remote outpost called McCarthy. It’s difficult to travel to McCarthy and there are only about 29 people to greet visitors when/if visitors finally get there. But if you want to understand how the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act impacted the local homesteaders’ mental state -which was likely, for many, already fairly disturbed- this is a good book to pick up.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is about Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and their fifteen children who came to McCarthy to squat on land the government had recently brought under their control. Initially the 20 or so McCarthy residents felt that the Pilgrims were a shining example of homespun Christian life and welcomed the family into their community. The McCarthy community held other internal conversations about continued community support as long as the clan could show they were able to fend for themselves through long winters. The citizens were true to their word, they supported the Pilgrim’s illegal behavior and squared off with the government for a while, backing the Pilgrim’s criminal actions, which included squatting and disturbing public land.

McCarthy, Alaska. Main Street.

But not a surprise, behind all the Pilgrim’s piety and old-timey family singing the author uncovered the Pilgrim’s backstory that was steeped in religious creepiness and criminal behavior in other states.  Izzia is a crafty story teller and slowly reveals the early years of the Pilgrim’s weird and illegal actions while interspersing the present-day story of the escalating war with the Park Service.

Papa Pilgrim’s actions not only sparked multiple confrontations with the National Park Service but also divided McCarthy on the topic of where citizens’ rights end and where the government’s powers start. It is likely a similar topic would pop up if you talk to local Alaskans on a visit. And if it does, you’ll hear words like ‘over-reach’ and ‘my gun’ more than a few times.

As events escalated in McCarthy we also read about the abuse Papa Pilgrim’s children were enduring at home. Rescue was required.

Izzia had extensive access to Papa Pilgrim as he gathered material for this book and the story is enriched because of it. This is a page-turner that captures the ways in which some Alaskans interact with and talk about their land, the government, and one another.

The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert

When I finished reading this book, I was so inspired I wanted to take out on a real crazy adventure.

The Sun is a Compass begins as Van Hemert is finishing a graduate degree in ornithology. And as grad school can do, the day-to-day grind led her to reexamine her life choices. She wasn’t happy with lab work or her research or the prospect of living her professional life in academia.

Van Hemert grew up in Alaska with parents who were peak baggers and naturalists. So it makes sense that Van Hemert took a step back into her past idyllic environs to reflect on her future.

Van Hemert paddling part of her 4,000 mile trek.

Most of us who endured grad school had our break-down moments. Here’s what I did for mine: I stayed home and watched MTV for a week straight and smoked a lot of cigarettes. Here’s how Van Hemert handled her grad school breakdown: she and her husband Pat decided they would take a 4,000-mile trek from Washington state to northwest Alaska, traveling entirely under their own power.

Their adventure begins in sea-worthy rowboats that Pat built in the garage. The initial leg of Van Hemert’s grad school re-consideration started with a 1,200 mile row from Bellingham, Washington to Haines, Alaska. Then after the long row (and numerous close calls) they switched to skis and headed into the mountains between Alaska and the Yukon. In this leg they faced avalanches, lurking crevasses, and unstable weather. Then Van Hemert and Pat hiked and skied a few more thousand miles and used inflatable pack rafts when they needed to cross rivers and lakes.

This is an amazing story filled with close calls, life-impacting revelations, and up-close interactions with nature to a degree that few people will experience. Van Hemert is a great writer and she has a wonderful thrill-ride to share. It’s good to know she and Pat are still at it, the New York Times recently ran an article about the couple and their children who were all taking an Inside Passage sail.

Spoiler alert: Van Hemert did not pick academia.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone. Glacier outside of Cordova.

My cousin recommended this book as one of the few fiction books she feels accurately captures what it was like to grow up in Alaska in the late 20th century. Hannah has Alaska cred too, in the 1980’s her parents co-founded the Great Adventure Lodge in Sterling, Alaska.

The novel begins in 1974 when a Vietnam vet, Ernt Allbright, suffering from PTSD discovers he has inherited a cabin and 40 acres outside of Homer. The inheritance is good timing, Ernt is recently unemployed and not for the first time; he also can’t manage his drinking. Believing the inheritance is a good omen he moves his wife and young daughter, Leni, into the wilderness outside of Homer into a falling-down cabin. This is done with a promise to his wife and daughter that he will ‘get better’.  Sure.

This is no fairy tale and life doesn’t get better for Ernt. His drinking escalates, and he befriends Mad Earl who is the local white supremist. Mad Earl is not the influencer Ernt needed in his life but Ernt is incapable of appreciating the good people of the community. In the meantime, Ernt’s daughter, Leni, grows up in Alaska’s wild splendor – long before it was ruined by cruise ships and roads that lead to actual places- and she thrives as her father twists into alcoholic violence.

There is more to the book, like Hannah’s description of the caring and accepting community that helps the Allbrights prep for their first winter and Hannah also shows the other side of that same community, the one that stands aloof as it witnesses Ernt’s increasing violence against his family. And there are eccentric and heroic Alaskan characters throughout the book and the handsome son of the town rich guy, who can’t help but notice the bright and capable Leni. And in the end, there is that ‘one mistake’ plus one more that my cousin warned about, which ruins Leni’s dreams.

I raced through this story. It is dramatic, filled with eccentrics, heroes, and villains and loving descriptions of Alaska’s natural beauty. The books reads a little like a YA novel, but Alaska has that vibe as well. I trust my cousin on this one. If you want to get a feel for what it was like to grow up as a young girl in Alaska in the 1970’s and 80’s, this is the book to pick up.

 

 

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Genius Steals

Possibly attributable to the great thief and aphorist Oscar Wilde:

“Talent borrows – genius steals.”

It is sometimes surprising when something can trip our tastes and tip the scales of our opinions. What if that something is stolen?

Angel Olsen

If you’ve liked but not loved Angel Olsen, and you are a wild fan Annie Lennox and her work in the duo Eurythmics with Dave Stewart, prepare for a tripping and a tipping. Olsen’s lovely new work, consciously or not, reaches into the past for a Lennox-y vibe that embodies both nimbleness and strength. Her new album is due this week.

Olsen’s newest singles, Lark, along with the title track, All Mirrors, are already available to listen to. The pairing of her exquisite singing with the huge sweep of cinematic production on the latter song is thrilling.

I love what Sam Sodomsky wrote about Olsen in his Pitchfork review of the song All Mirrors: “Some of Olsen’s songs feel like they’ve always existed—lost country standards or themes from old romantic films…” That seems just right – and in addition to reminders of Annie Lennox in All Mirrors, think of the best James Bond film themes like Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever.

This is so confident, so big, and so beautiful.

All Mirrors by Angel Olsen from All Mirrors out 4 October (2019 Jagjaguwar).

This staggering song of deep longing and the willingness to risk everything to make a human connection will celebrate its 35thanniversary in November. Wow–I love it beyond description.

Annie Lennox

For the Love of Big Brother by Eurythmics from 1984 (For the Love Of Big Brother) music from the motion picture Nineteen Eighty-four (1984 Virgin).

Another track that is available to hear and also feels like it has existed forever is Haim’s Summer Girl. At first, it seemed like a guilty pleasure pop song, and on repeated listens it revealed itself as a genius reworking of elements from a couple of masterful mega-pop songs: Annie Lennox’s Why, and Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed. There is the propulsive trap and bass line essentially lifted from Reed’s song and modified to move us along. Summer Girl even features a rework of Reed’s signature “doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo” Also, there are the horns and strings that are mixed in David Bowie’s production of Reed’s song. Near Summer Girl’s end, there is an elegantly rapped set of lyrics that are inflected and driving the song in the way Lennox rapped/sang the insistent, familiar pleas of Why.

Summer Girl by Haim (2019 Polydor).

Why by the brilliantAnnie Lennox from Diva (1992 RCA/Arista).

Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed from Transformer (1972 RCA).

1 Oct 2019

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Transformations

Sights, scents, and even slants of light can send us straight to our memories. I am transformed, taken to different times in my life, by seeing certain cuts of shadow and light in the sky — the way a low-slung sun shines, fervently tilting its beams through trees, early on a warm, blue summer morning, eager to spread its heat.

Nearly all of us can be taken back in time by delicious kitchen aromas, sprightly perfume or dankly scented oils, or even the mustiness of a summertime basement. Suddenly, through a breath, you are rushed back into a pleasing or wistful memory.

As I get older, sound, and most especially musical sound, is a memory conjurer.

Two homes in my neighborhood, both large by the standard of houses built in their 1930s vintage, are undergoing total transformations. Both are made of red brick that had been at some time painted white. Now, the paint from each has been mostly sandblasted giving each house a new appearance, pleasantly weathered. The houses sit about four blocks from each other, and I like walking past them often to watch the progress and note the different philosophies being used for renovation.

As I approached one house on a recent walk, there were workmen breaking up a large old concrete and stone patio. The work was done “old school,” with sledges and chisels. I saw a man wheel barrowing away debris, but I didn’t hear jackhammering.

Instead, I heard music. I heard a violin concerto.

One expects to hear music playing from construction areas. Usually through a beat-up black and yellow Dewalt work-site radio — tinny pop, or super-trebly classic rock, or Regional Mexican music like Mariachi, Norteña, Ranchera, or Tejano. But here, on this work site radio, was Mendelssohn, loud enough to hear clearly from the street as I passed by.

Not what one would expect…

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. Violinist Ray Chen with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Kent Nagano.

In this case, that unexpected music shot me through with a memory of a morning in 1987.

I started piecing the day together – it was over thirty years ago. Was it windy and gray on that day? Or was the sun’s light bending through leaves in the way it was on my neighborhood walk? Was it late September or the first part of October? I couldn’t remember. I thought it probably was cool and overcast, but no matter the weather on that long ago day — it was the hushed and steady determination of the workers, and especially the music, that brought my mind to my mother and a morning when she and I worked together gardening.

O Mums.

Early October 1987. Together, my mother and I pruned plants and cleaned up flowerbeds around my parent’s house. We transplanted chrysanthemums from pots into the ground. We delicately spread thick, fresh mulch around roses. On the porch attached to a short brown extension cord was a portable Sony “boom box” that I had brought outside and set up. And then I remembered clearly, that morning was gray and windy – it was cool, too. Autumn was settling early.

On that 1987 morning she would have been pretty close in years to my current age. And although the song swirling on our portable player was not the same – Bach, not Mendelssohn, the memory surged. There I was in my head, transformed, a young man gardening with his mother – a cello, violins, a viola, and a harpsichord flowing through the winter-promising breeze.

We worked together without rushing. We worked together simply and quietly enjoying our tasks. And here is the most important part of the memory — we worked together and communicated with almost no talking.

In addition to communicating silently about our gardening chores, we were also communicating about this: Pure Uncertainty. I had finished college that spring and had spent the summer pretty actively not planning for any kind of post-college life. I had worked most of the summer while living at home. I had been away from family and friends, and uncommunicative, on a trip to Italy during August and September. I was going to be moving away from Nebraska to Boston in a few days and had no real idea about what I would be doing there – not even about where I might live. Most punishing for her — my father’s health was poor. She was filled with well-founded apprehension, and I was filled with eagerness and anxiety.

Many questions – scant inklings of any answers.

It all worked out. In the way that gardens need attention, or the way that homes need attention, need periodic transformation — their shutters removed, their paint sandblasted, their patios broken up and carted away – our lives get shaken up and we metamorphose. And it all works out.

In 1987 I was 22. This is a photo of my mother at 22.

I am grateful to have had this memory, spurred by the sounds of stunning classical music emanating into the open summer air from inelegant speakers. Most of my recent memories of my mother have come from her in her later, end years, when she was confused and so frail. But I got a lucky picture in my mind of my 1987 mother — her friendly ghost. I began to imagine her at different ages. She was younger, surer, sound, and healthy. And I got a clear glimpse of a morning from my past when my mother and I found several calm moments together, quietly connecting, each forgiving the other of our fleeting fears while our lives underwent their separate violent evolutions.

It all worked out.

J. S. Bach. Harpsichord Concerto in f minor. BWV 1056 (II y III) (Larghetto & Allegro). Ímpetus Madrid Baroque Ensemble Yago Mahugo, Harpsichord / Conductor.

21 August 2019

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