Posts Tagged ‘Music


Bring your Jukebox Money

an old favorite

It’s amazing the way music will follow us wherever we go. Certain songs will continue to appear in different contexts throughout your life, and in doing so will add to the catalogue of emotions and moments that will forever be attached to them. I encountered some such songs while out last night with my new Danish friend, Anne.

We first sampled the Mediterranean cuisine at a delightfully garish and kitschy restaurant in the Pijp neighborhood, moving on to drinks at a nearby bar and then some live music at Bourbon Street, a popular venue off Leidsplein.

The act of the night was a various collection of Europeans covering a various collection of popular American songs. Anne and I bopped along in appreciation with the rest of the crowd, but when the drummer kicked off with that familiar beginning to “Love Shack” by the B-52’s, I was immediately transported back to a Livermore High School dance.

This was one of those token numbers we could always count on, one that every Bay Area DJ hired by LHS would throw into the playlist. (Other dependable selections were “California Love” by 2Pac and Dr Dre, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain, and Garth Brook’s ever-popular “Friends in Low Places.” Did I mention our mascot was the cowboy?) But “Love Shack”… this was a sure-fire crowd-pleaser. There was something strangely exhilarating about showing off our much practiced hormone-charged moves under the green and purple lights of the gym to a song that you might hear on your mom’s favorite radio station.

So I am standing there in this bar in Holland, Grolsch in hand and staring up at the “Bourbon Street: Amsterdam” painted on the stage upon which performs a band called GSI: Groove Scene Investigation (no, I did not make that up), but in my mind I am 15, enthusiastically thumping my hips in the air and flailing my arms about, eyes closed tight as I sing along, “everybody’s movin’ everybody’s groovin’ baby.”

When they play “Billy Jean” I am suddenly sitting on my knees on the floor of the multi-purpose room at Arroyo Seco Elementary School during the talent show. A boy in my grade—4th or 5th at this time, I can’t remember—is dancing on stage to the Michael Jackson hit. His name is Chris Walker. He’s black and lanky with a shaved head, everybody loves him, and he is hitting every Jackson move dead on. Myself and the other girls in our grade have rushed the stage as though witnessing a celebrity, and we squeal in admiration at every flick of his wrist, our eyelashes fluttering and our bony, tennis-ball knees growing red on the cold linoleum.

But I am actually standing in this crowded European bar, my feet growing sore in my leather boots as Anne and l subtly moving to the beat as we watch one of the band members move his fingers over his keyboard the way those of a monkey move over a soggy piece of fruit.

Later they play Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” I instantly recall sitting at our Dell family computer, a 12-year-old who has recently discovered Limewire—the free music-downloading program. I play Madonna’s powerful pop-gospel track over and over and over again, and in between AOL Instant Messenger conversations, my bare feet pound on our thick brown carpet as I sing as loud as my lungs can manage, eyes closed and with more emotion than I knew I had.

This emotion continues to materialize every time I hear “Like a Prayer” thereafter, including this summer when I rode in the passenger seat of my friend Sara’s car—full of recently graduated girls ready for a night on the town. We had our makeup on and our top buttons undone and Madonna and her choir rang out from the car stereo as we sped over the 110, the downtown LA lights rising and sparkling before us, full of glamor and promise. I danced and moved and shook and rocked as much as can be done while strapped in by a seatbelt. My ponytail and huge round earrings whipped about as I grew euphorically dizzy from the rocking movement of the car, the fast LA freeway traffic, and the sheer volume of our excitement.

And now here I stand, the neck of my Grolsch warming in my grip as I watch the fat singer on stage, probably Eastern European, with massive sideburns and a greasy ponytail, as a V of sweat develops on his olive-green polo shirt between his soft man-boobs and he shrieks out (rather well, actually) the high-pitched choir part that brings home the end of Madonna’s song.

As I watch the performance, I string these recollections along like beads on a necklace. And as each one fades as the music slows, I wonder: how did I end up here, now? It’s impossible to imagine where you’ll be, who you’ll be with and what you’ll be doing later in life, especially when you get so caught up in certain moments that you feel you may have actually stirred up your brains, but it’s nice to know that wherever you go, you can always revisit the places you’ve been with just a little reminder.

Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there
Just like a muse to me, you are a mystery
Just like a dream, you are not what you seem
Just like a prayer, no choice your voice can take me there


A Sweeter Song

Last weekend I took a trip to Idaho to visit a friend, and I had the good fortune of making a new one before I’d even boarded my plane in Oakland. It was an early flight, and I sat at the gate in between two empty chairs trying to stay awake when a big group of fly-lookin’ gentlemen strolled up. They were about to sit on either side of me so I offered to move over and give them at least two adjacent seats. I dropped my iPod and a member of the group reached down to grab it, saying “well thank you, pretty lady” as he took the chair next to mine. He then asked how I was doing, where I was going, and told me I was a “wonderful person” for  paying a visit to a friend. Of course I liked him already.

I don’t always enjoy conversations with strangers in airports or on planes; needless to say, some of the people I meet are rather annoying. Nonetheless, I try to be polite and at least exchange niceties – and although I’m aware of the risk of cornering myself in an awkward (or worse, boring) conversation, I’m always willing to see if it might turn into a pleasant chat. The risk is worth the possible payoff that you might get lucky and meet someone interesting.

And last Friday morning, I struck gold. This fellow was pretty charismatic for a man in his sixties making an early connecting flight, but I suppose I should have guessed based on the big diamond rocks in his ears and black and yellow sunglasses that matched his outfit. He had it goin’ on. When he mentioned that he was also going to Boise to play a show before moving on to the next city, I asked him sweetly what kind of show. “Oh we’re playing the state fair out there,” he said, then paused for a second and turned to me, looked over the rim of his glasses and added, “We’re The Temptations.”

I reacted accordingly, and quickly realized I couldn’t let this conversation die. We talked for about 20 minutes until it was time to board the plane, covering the following topics: Idaho, Los Angeles (where he’s lived for over 30 years), the hot weather in Texas (where he was born), Detroit (including Motown and the riots), the Olympics, Michael Phelps, Shawn Johnson (whom he adores), travel in general, his favorite places to perform (Rio, London, Paris, Hawaii), Amsterdam, drugs, my tan, my job as a swim instructor and whether I wear a bikini while teaching, my biceps (which he felt), and what it takes to throw a good punch.

My favorite story was what he told me about his first time in Amsterdam. Their host greeted them when they arrived for a performance in the early ’70s, and took them to see a “movie.” He thought this was weird, and I guessed right that it was actually a live sex show. “Yep!” he said, “They were on stage makin’ love to one of our hits!”

Yes, this was a charismatic individual. I imagine it’s a prerequisite to be a part of the Temptations. About midway through our conversation, he started pointing out his fellow band members, one he called “Old Man River,” one he told me to watch out for, and he raised his voice to say “Hey guys, this is Shannon.” Of course I liked this too. Then my new friend turned to me, offered his hand like a gentleman, and said in a sweet, sonorous voice, “Otis Williams, nice to meet ya.” I could just barely see his eyes through his sunglasses, but they certainly had the wisdom, charm and sparkle of a man who’s been singing love and soul to the world for 47 years.

So, I offer this advice to myself and others: talk to strangers in airports, because one of them might just turn out to be a living legend singing a sweeter song than the birds in the trees.

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
February 2019
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