A Word or Three About Prince

Prince was almost beyond description and yet utterly American. He transcended musical genres and even gender; he was a consummate musician and unabashed showman. He was a (teeny tiny) straight black man from Minnesota who basically took over popular music 30 years ago. More prolific than Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson and Madonna–and with a storied vault that promises even more unreleased material–he influenced everyone from R & B artists to mainstream icons. He was ferociously protective about his work in terms of his relationships with producers and record labels, but was unfailingly generous with fellow artists, everyone from Stevie Knicks to Erykah Badu. His style was impossible to pinpoint but unmistakably his own.

What I admire most about Prince was that he didn’t care what people thought of him. He was unrepentant and unremorseful. He changed his name to a symbol; he went public with his battles against his record companies.

Not a lot of his work is online (again, he was pretty adamant about that), but here are some videos I’ve been watching on repeat since I learned about his death.

Here he is showing a bunch of white men, every single one of them a rock legend in his own right, how to shred a guitar on a George Harrison cover:


Arguably the best Superbowl halftime show ever, with nothing but a backing band, two backup dancers, electric guitars and a do rag during a torrential downpour:

And finally, celebrating the beauty of all women:

A Word or Three About Prince

Old Dog, New Tricks

Besides informing me on an almost weekly basis that I have no sense of humor, my father regularly tells me he wished he’d had my sisters and me study a musical instrument. Quite honestly, I don’t know where we would have fit in time to practice. We all played sports nearly year-round and by the time I was in high school, I was involved in quite a few extracurricular activities, besides carrying a pretty challenging academic load.

A few years ago, my mother-in-law was downsizing and we had an upright piano that my husband had practiced on when he was young shipped up to us. My daughter began lessons that fall, and my son started a year later. Their piano teacher is kind, clever and generous. a close childhood friend of mine had taken lessons in elementary school; the teacher was a nun and my friend would dutifully go to the convent every week and to reinforce the correct hand positioning, would dig her hands and nails over my friend’s. My kids’ piano teacher doesn’t even raise her voice, and let me tell you, there have been times where I’ve had to end lessons early or take a kid out and sit in the car because of tantrums and tears. 

So when the teacher shared that she’d be offering lessons to adults, I got really excited. I’d tried to follow along with my kids’ piano books but it became cumbersome, and I was too focused on the child who wasn’t taking lessons to pay attention. I enrolled in a seven-week course and I’m in a class with three other ladies. Here’s my book:

The first class went great and I totally let it get to my head. I had visions of being able to play most of Tapestry, Carole King’s seminal album, by mid-summer. (Selections from the book include Scarborough Fair and Walk the Line. I didn’t think Where You Lead was that much of a stretch.) Then during the second class we had to play Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof and Amazing Grace, using only black keys, and then I got a clear picture of just how difficult this was going to be.

As the teacher explained, there are different layers of knowledge required to understand and play music: hand positioning, the musical notes and the rhythm. For someone like me,  who has no musical knowledge whatsoever, assimilating these layers–even two of them, I don’t know notes yet–is extraordinarily difficult. That my children were able to do this (on a rudimentary basis) in a few months was amazing to me.

I have to practice much, much longer than they do, even though I’m not sitting for exams or participating in a recital. After 40 minutes last night trying to master Amazing Grace, my daughter wordlessly came into the room, deposited our family’s swear jar on the piano, and walked back out. (To my credit, I only say shit. But I said it loudly. And often. During a religious song. The nun from the convent would have kicked me out.)

I eventually was able to play through twice with no mistakes, but here is what the swear jar looks like now: 


Old Dog, New Tricks

Some Videos That Restore My Faith in Humanity

While I was at my daughter’s softball practice this evening, I read this gem of an article about Aretha Franklin. The whole piece is worth your time, but the reason it was written in the first place was because of Franklin’s thunderous performance at the Kennedy Center Honors in tribute to songwriter Carole King. David Remnick, the author of the article and editor-in-chief of the New Yorker, argues that watching the video improves your life by at least 47 percent.

When I’m in a rut, there are always a few videos, besides the one above, I seek out to help get my mind back in order.

Sir Nicholas Winton reunited with some of the nearly 700 children he saved from the Holocaust:

The Bat Kid, San Francisco Make-A-Wish recipient:

Author Doris Lessing on learning she’s won the Nobel Prize for literature:

The late, great Harry Kalas making the call as the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series:

Some Videos That Restore My Faith in Humanity

Silver Springs

I love a good breakup album, and Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours might just top them all.

However, my favorite Fleetwood Mac song written during that time, Silver Springs, never made it to the album. I first learned of it when the band reunited for Bill Clinton’s inauguration its comeback tour in 1997, The Dance.

(I was reminded of it this morning when I came across a stellar cover of Silver Springs by Florence + The Machine.)

Stevie Nicks wrote the song as her relationship with guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was ending. (Simultaneously, as the group was recording Rumours, bandmates Christie and John McVie were divorcing.)


Silver Springs is beautiful, both lyrically and musically; the song actually sounds like a river flowing by, with a woman wailing to her lover from an underground cavern beneath. I wonder if he banished her or if she sent herself there, forcing herself to watch him and his new paramour through the crystal clear water.

Despite it not being on Rumours, Silver Springs was included on Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain box set in 1992 and on their 2002 Greatest Hits album. In the late 1970s, it was a B side to Don’t Stop and Lindsey Buckingham’s massively popular response to Silver Springs, Go Your Own Way.

Silver Springs

Sometimes Reading Good Literature Is Like Taking Vitamins

I mentioned a few posts back that I’m a sucker for a BBC-produced costume period drama, and War & Peace has been in our DVR queue, unwatched, while I plow through the book.

No one does drama like the Russians. My in-laws visited Russia a couple years ago, and they told me that for a lot of Russian people, their identity is wrapped up in suffering and struggle, like they’ve recognized their lot in life and try to succumb nobly to their fate. (Also, vodka.) Yes, their government is corrupt and the weather is awful and communism can be soul-sucking but man, can they do drama.

I like to think Tolstoy (War & Peace and Anna Karenina) treated literature as a catch-all profession. Everything is in these books. Philosophy, society, fashion, agriculture, treason, redemption, religion. Everything.

It’s taking me forever to get through War & Peace. I think it took me three weeks to finish Anna Karenina, but even though it’s just as long as War & Peace, there was a desperation to Anna’s story that kept me going. The “war” part of War & Peace is painstakingly descriptive war reporting. (Aside: I took Latin in high school and we had to translate a lot of Julius Caesar, who also was a big fan of writing about war; in particular, all the different people he conquered and then subjugated.) What’s a lot more interesting is how the men behave when they come back from the army on leave; how the Russian army is fragmented because certain generals are more interested in personal glory than overall victory against Napoleon and in doing so, sabotage other regiments; how women are supposed to remain true to their soldiers but it’s OK that they mess around. There is great stuff there, but I have to get through the war stuff.

So it’s a good story, and I’m roughly 400 pages in, but it takes me a long time to get in the mood to read it. I know it’s going to be good for me, but sometimes I consider War & Peace to be one big pile of kale with vitamins on top. I know it’s going to be good for me, but I dread the process.

Related: My favorite radio station played side one of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot this afternoon when I was chauffeuring my daughter around town. I owned the CD (back before digital music was readily available, kids!) and like reading War & Peace, listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was a lot like taking vitamins. The possible exception might be the track “Heavy Metal Drummer,” which was easily the album’s most radio-friendly song.


Sometimes Reading Good Literature Is Like Taking Vitamins

Now That’s What I Call A Snow Day! Vol. 2

It’s wintertime and the little snow angels are home once more! Kick back with these killer jams while you wait for the plow to get to your cul-de-sac before you shovel your driveway. Again.

Track List

We Can’t Reschedule All These Fundraisers by Panic! At the PTO

Drinks on You, Channel 2 by My Facebook Friend Who Believed A Meteorologist Whose Forecast Only Called For Flurries

What’s a Shovel by All the Kids in My Neighborhood

Four-Day Weekend Coming Up, Suckers! by Teachers Everywhere

You Can’t Use My Snowblower Again by My Cranky Neighbor

Go Sled on Mr. Cranky’s Lawn! by Online Offal featuring Online Offal’s Offspring

Save Some Space (By Your Mailbox For My Truck) by My Mail Carrier

Early Dismissal Shuffle by My Local School District

Don’t Break My Stride (I’ve Got Four-Wheel Drive) by My Husband

Formation by BeyoncĂ© 

Now That’s What I Call A Snow Day! Vol. 2

Super Bowl Saturday

I planned a really righteously indignant post today about American football.

I was going to write how I was indifferent about it until I went to college in Pittsburgh and became an obnoxious Steelers fan, complete with a Terrible Towel of my very own. It is very, very hard to live in Pittsburgh and not be a Steelers fan.

I was going to discuss at length the NFL and CTE; the NFL and domestic violence in the context of Ray Rice; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and arbitrary punishment; how the Rams’ move to Los Angeles reveals an egregious level of corporate welfare, with the taxpayers being on the hook for infrastructure costs yet receiving little to no revenue from team profits; and then throw in some thoughts about the commercials being available for viewing even before the event.

Then halftime co-performer Beyonce dropped Formation a few hours ago, and it’s such a brilliant move on so many levels that I really have nothing left to say.

Super Bowl Saturday

Happy Australia Day!


I’d put these guys on a stamp if I could.

Watching this video took me through an Internet wormhole for an hour. I learned:

  • The actress in the video is married to the guitarist, Graham Russell, to this day. THEY LITERALLY MADE LOVE OUT OF NOTHING AT ALL.
  • The singer’s name is Russell Hitchcock. The band members share a name. I don’t know how the band name doesn’t include Russell.
  • I love how Russell Hitchcock is jamming out on stage like he is singing “Stairway to Heaven.”
  • I really want to know what he and the other band members were singing on the plane while Graham Russell was sulking.
  • “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” was included on Air Supply’s greatest hits album and was written by Jim Steinman, who also wrote songs for Meatloaf and Celine Dion. Graham Russell is the group’s primary songwriter.
  • Air Supply groupies are known as Air Heads. I love how Russell Hitchcock just walks by the groupies in the video.
  • I love everything that Russell Hitchcock does in this video.
  • The group still tours and marked their 40th anniversary in 2015.
Happy Australia Day!