Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's in my honey, it's in my milk

I've been thinking a lot about words lately; the power they have in general and the power they hold for me, in particular. It's no secret that I love music. It's true that certain progressions of notes, a certain guitar chord, a certain rhythm, can soothe me or make me feel happy or sad (in a good way), and any number of other emotions. But what really move me are words.

It's not only music, but poetry and prose. When something resonates, I want to simultaneously collect it - take it in, hold it close, carry it with me - and also share it with others. I want others to recognize what I did; to feel the same way. Realizing that words don't do the same thing to everyone doesn't change the impulse. Some people horde material things. I horde words. It's less apparent, and I hope it's more constructive, but I don't know if it would make a difference either way. It is what it is. It is me.

For the past couple of days, this beautiful sad song has been in my head.  It was written about depression, but like any good song or poem, it fits what you need it to fit. Right now, it's doing a good job of summing up pervasive sadness.

Sorrow found me when I was young
Sorrow waited, sorrow won
Sorrow they put me on the pill
It's in my honey, it's in my milk
Don't leave my hyper heart alone 
on the water
Cover me in rag and bone sympathy
Cause I don't want to get over you
I don't want to get over you

Sorrow's my body on the waves
Sorrow's a girl inside my cave
I live in a city sorrow built
It's in my honey, it's in my milk
Don't leave my hyper heart alone
on the water
Cover me in rag and bone sympathy
Cause I don't want to get over you
I don't want to get over you

The National

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rivers and roads

 I know my blogging has been sporadic in the past year or so, and I'm not sure there's a great explanation for it. I'm on the computer for a large part of the day every day - it's my job, for one thing - and I have a Facebook account, an Instagram account, a Twitter account, a Flickr account, and email. That's a lot of online stuff to keep up, and the avenues of more immediate communication tend to win out over the blog. I don't see the tide turning anytime soon. I'll write from time to time when the mood strikes, but if you're so inclined, you can find me on Twitter @BeeeKay - yep, three E's - and/or Instagram where I'm beeekay1. Flickr is linked from the blog already.

Since I am writing, what's been going on in the last couple of months? I'm working on a totally new project with different people in a new office at work, so that's been quite interesting. I went to the Hideout Block Party in Chicago a couple weekends ago, and saw and heard some bands - the Waco Brothers, Kelly Hogan, Wye Oak, and Wilco among them. I spent much of the day at the merch tent, where my friends were volunteering, and it was a good vantage from which to enjoy the block party's relaxed vibe. Performers and their families are able to walk around without hassle: mingling with friends, stopping over to get change from their merchandise sales, etc.  I watched Wilco's set from the sound booth, a fun perspective at a festival. It was interesting to see the lighting adjusted in real time and the video screen of the stage projections. Many of them I never would have guessed, especially not from up front.

This past Wednesday, I saw Andrew Bird in Madison with Tamala and Rob. Andrew rarely disappoints, and his set at the Overture was different from the one I saw at a ballpark in Geneva, and also from the last time I saw him play a theater in Milwaukee. The band played new songs from the upcoming Hands of Glory, including one freshly written in August. They did four or five acoustic songs around the old-timey microphone. Included were a Handsome Family cover I hadn't seen from them before ("When That Helicopter Comes"), and a Townes Van Zandt cover in the first encore. There were only a handful of songs from anything earlier than the most recent two albums (and the future album). One of the older songs was "Don't Be Scared," one of my all-time faves. And another Handsome Family song, come to think of it. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the lighting and projections at the show were superb. So beautiful. Patterns and shadows were manipulated to great effect using the spinning horn sculptures hanging above the stage. I didn't take any photos, but the ones in the linked article are excellent.

Last night I saw The Head and the Heart and Blitzen Trapper at the sold-out Capitol Theater with some friends from work. I'd never seen either band before, and enjoyed the show very much. I was happy (if not surprised) to hear my favorite Blitzen Trapper song, "Furr." The headlining Head and the Heart came out firing on all cylinders. They mentioned they've been touring on their self-titled album for more than two years now, and it showed - it seems they have all the song performances down to a science. Which is not to say that things seemed stale, because they definitely did not. The crowd on the floor fed off the band's energy, dancing and bouncing and clapping during the faster songs. To flesh out the setlist, the band also played a handful of newer songs, including a solo tune during the encore that Josiah Johnson said he'd never played at a show.


And today, Saturday, seemed like a perfect day to enjoy the fall foliage in Wisconsin. I took a drive up to Taliesin, home of Frank Lloyd Wright. I'm an admirer of architecture in general and the Prairie style in particular, so I'm not sure why I've lived an hour away from Taliesin for years and never made the trip before. I decided on the house and garden tour, which was great (if expensive). Today's weather was perfect, and I find it hard to imagine how the landscape at any other time of year could compare to a sunny day on the cusp of October. After Taliesin I had lunch in downtown Spring Green and then took "Scenic Byway" 60 east for about thirty miles to enjoy the rolling hills, multicolored trees, and Wisconsin River before cutting back down south for home. Central Wisconsin may not be Maine when it comes to the autumn landscape, but it is jaw-droppingly beautiful in places - especially the Driftless Region where the glaciers never intruded on the hills.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer vacation

Brooklyn did indeed take me in when I left Maryland, and was my home for three days. This was enough time to enjoy Park Slope’s culinary offerings in the German and bagel departments, and take in two Celebrate Brooklyn concerts in Prospect Park by Wilco and two Lees (Fields and Ranaldo). I was also thrilled to get some quality hangout time with Allison and her family, and of course my gracious hosts Kristina and fam. As an extra special bonus, each family includes one of the most adorable babies of all time.  

The concerts were everything I’d hoped for. A rainstorm on Night One couldn’t dampen (har har) the crowd’s enthusiasm, and my friends and I lucked out in our positioning: we were just under the edge of the stage overhang. Night Two had better weather, though it was still hot. Both shows sounded excellent, and the crowd was in top form – as a sea of fans clapped along for the intro to “Monday,” Jeff claimed this was what he dreamed about. “I’m going to cry.” As si typical for a multi-night run of shows in the same city, the first night’s setlist was more familiar than the second, which contained more surprises. I’ll bet you can guess which I prefer. 

I should also mention that the catering for the Celebrate Brooklyn shows was superb: affordable small dishes from The Farm on Adderley. It’s not every day that you get to stand in front of a big concert stage and scarf up grilled eggplant sliders, truffle fries, a bowl of creamy polenta with slow-cooked beef, or a kale salad. The food prep area was close to the stage, leading to some distractingly tasty aromas during the show. Jeff announced that it was the most like bacon things had ever smelled during one of their shows. 

After the second Brooklyn show, some friends and I headed to the bar at the McKittrick Hotel for a late-night Autumn Defense performance. The full Autumn Defense band was in the house, which is always a plus. In such an intimate venue it’s hard not to run into people and start chatting, but we eventually made it out for a late late meal and back home.

I decided to forego the third Wilco show in NYC – a late addition at Terminal 5. Though missing the last show of any multi-night stand is kind of a cardinal sin (and I did feel a little pain when I saw the setlist), the sacrifice was more than worth it for four days in upstate NY and Vermont. Allison and I began our road trip driving from NYC to Malone – getting mistaken for college students along the way! – with a brief pit stop at Lake George.

Why Malone, you ask? Well, that’s easy. Malone is where Farmer Boy grew up! The childhood farm and homestead of Almanzo Wilder (husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder) is in Malone, and it offers tours to visitors. When Allison came across this information earlier in the year, we knew it was only a matter of time before we made a pilgrimage. Who knew the opportunity would arise so soon?

The Wilder Farm tour was great, led by a local high school girl who grew up on a farm nearby. We were shown all of Father’s innovations in the barns, admired Mother’s weaving loom, saw the actual spot on the parlor wall – and photographic evidence from the restoration – where Almanzo threw the blacking brush at Eliza Jane (!!!) and were set free to wander the grounds and eat the Wilder blueberries after the tour was finished. 

 Malone wasn’t just about the Wilders, though – okay, it mostly was, but there were a few other things to do. We went antiquing, toured the town Historical Society, went out to dinner with one of our fellow B&B guests, and explored the B&B itself. The original owners of the home left their entire library – they were mystery fans. Our bedroom upstairs was cozy and quaint, and I’d nearly forgotten what it was like to have windows and shades open at night and not have light flooding in. Ah, Adirondacks.

From Malone, Al and I drove and ferried to Vermont, where our first order of business was Shelburne Museum. Ever since my first Shelburne visit five years ago, I’ve looked forward to returning. We had a gorgeous day to wander the museum, and made the best of our time: we managed to hit almost every building on the grounds before closing. My one disappointment was that the 1950 House – one of my favorite exhibits – is no more. However, we still saw the Circus Building, the train car, the steamboat, the apothecary and general store, and the print shop! The guy manning the print shop gave us free letter press posters, featuring molds he carved himself, so SCORE. The changing exhibits were interesting, and included a selection of super creepy dolls (this wasn’t the actual theme of the exhibit, but they were), a bunch of quilts made by men dating back as far as the Civil War, and a collection of robots and steam punk art. They even provided steam punk dress-up clothes.

We didn’t have lots of time in Burlington, but made it to a fine farm-to-table restaurant on Friday evening and strolled the ped mall by night. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if the guy juggling fire on the street would bust out a tightrope and unicycle. On Saturday morning we hit the downtown farmer’s market and craft fair. The Madison farmer’s market is about ten times the size of Burlington’s, but for all that, Burlington had a far more eclectic selection of food vendors. We sampled cider, mint and maple lemonade, and could have chosen from all manner of ethnic culinary delights. I made a few craft purchases, and discovered that the woman who made my dress pattern wallet – which I still love dearly – has given up crafting for med school.  

After a leisurely walk and lunch on the shore of Lake Champlain, it was time to head out. By evening I was in my hotel room in Hartford, and flew out Sunday morning. It was an excellent trip, with wonderful friends, and I can’t wait for the next one. The next one isn’t scheduled yet, but it’s only a matter of time. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in

I'm on summer vacation! Here is my view while writing, from the lovely home (deep in the ILC) of H&R:

I've so far dined on delicious steamed crabs, laughed so hard my stomach hurt, and seen two concerts. The Lower Dens at the Rock and Roll Hotel in D.C. ("voted the worst-sounding small venue!") played a loud, atmospheric show to the nearly-home-town crowd. Their closing song included a guest who stationed himself front and center on stage and performed yoga, which was something I'd never seen at a show before. He was certainly limber!

Last night I saw part of the Xponential fest in Camden (second-most-dangerous city in the U.S., and they just laid off half the police force!) which was a lot of fun. Philadelphia-based Dr. Dog was the first band on the night's bill, and also playing to a nearly-home-town audience. Second up were the Avett Brothers, whose incredible energy spilled out into the crowd. Seth's voice was sounding a bit ragged, but he still gave it his all. As their set ended I wished they could play another hour or two, but there was still one more band left to play.

I didn't actually mind, because that band was Wilco. As headliners they got a whopping extra fifteen minutes over the other bands. As expected for a short festival set, most of the setlist was culled from the major crowd-pleasers played on a regular basis. They did play "She's A Jar," however, which was a welcome surprise. I could listen to "Laminated Cat" any night of the week, and "Box Full of Letters" also sounded particularly sweet on Saturday. A late-night cheese steak in downtown Philly was the capper on the evening.

In a few hours I'm off to Brooklyn. I'll see more friends, see some more music ... and then we are headed north.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

C is for Cookie

C is for cookie, and this may not be a book cover, but it still follows the pattern. What are Cookie's other favorite songs? Maybe he had a secret soft spot for love ballads, or calypso. Or hair bands. In college, when we lived in the dorms together, my friend Anya and I listened to "Me Lost Me Cookie At the Disco" all the time. It was a great song to get psyched up for going out. (Which may give you more insight into our personalities than I had intended.) It was also good for a study break. Or any time, really. A quick YouTube search turned up a video featuring Cookie Monster in a glittery bow tie and bracelets, at the disco, with female Muppet backup singers. Check it out!

In 2006, at our second basement show, Mart played "C is for Cookie" for a friend's young son. He added a few lyrics, including "B is for bookie." Gotta give it a little Jersey style. The night also featured covers of Burt and Ernie songs, as well as SpongeBob SquarePants. I have a recording of the set (which did also feature plenty of songs not specially aimed at toddlers) and it remains one of my favorite things to listen to.

I sold Girl Scout cookies as a little girl. Chocolate Chippers (recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, ca. 1960) were my favorite thing to bake with my mom. It was 107 degrees here yesterday, so baking cookies isn't high on my list of things to do at the moment, but in autumn and winter they're the best. As a child I owned Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys & Girls, and read it over and over with something close to obsession. I also loved my mother's series of Southern Living cookbooks, and the desserts volume had some great recipes. (More specifically, great-looking photos, because that's what I really cared about.) I was particularly fixated on the orange-lime cookies, which were absolutely enchanting to my five-year-old self. They were half green and half orange! How much cooler could they be? The recipe involved grating oranges and limes for their zest, and my mom was definitely not into it, but I bugged her enough that she eventually relented. I brought them to kindergarten as a treat (birthday or scheduled snack, I no longer recall), and I remember the other kids being as enamored as I was.

Tomorrow I head to a minor league baseball stadium in Illinois. Hopefully, it will not be hot enough to bake cookies on the ground.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

B is for Beer

B is for beer, and for "bad at blogging." This idea clearly hasn't inspired me to update as much as I'd hoped, but at least it's there for backup. (B is for Beer is also, it seems, a novel by Tom Robbins. Authors really like this title conceit.)

So ... beer. I am not much of a fan. Like any good Wisconsinite, I enjoy beer cheese soup (in small doses) and appreciate a good beer-boiled bratwurst. When it comes to cans or bottles of the stuff, however, I'd just as soon pass. I can choke it down if incredibly thirsty - the lighter and fruitier the better - but for me it's like soda: I simply can't understand why people choose to drink it if there are other options. Such as water. (Yes, I said "like soda." Clearly, I am the anomaly here.)

I do have positive associations with beer, for the most part. Beer reminds me of summer, of parties, of baseball games. Does anybody else remember when part of downtown Milwaukee was constantly enveloped in the aroma of beer from the factories? You couldn't drive through on the highway without being overwhelmed by the smell of malted hops and barley.

Basically, any warm-weather outdoor activity doesn't seem complete without coolers of beer. We had some last weekend in Colorado, hanging out at the awesome (in every sense) Red Rocks park. Cold beverages of all kinds were vital, because the temperature hovered around 100 degrees both days. We were outdoors for more than twenty-four of those hours altogether. Our reward was two days in the company of excellent people, great music from Wilco, Dr. Dog, and the Punch Brothers, and jaw-dropping views like this.

Photo by Double_Nickel
I wish I were fonder of beer, because buying beer is so much fun. I'm not talking about six-packs of Schlitz, but the dizzying array of specialty microbrews available at a decent liquor store. The limited editions, the seasonal varieties, the stuff you can only buy regionally. I try to imagine that instead of beer, it's endless varieties of artisanal iced tea. And that insufferable tea nerds brew their own batches of tea and spend hours talking about it. That is something I could definitely get behind.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A is for Alibi

In an attempt to kick-start my blogging and produce more than an entry or two per month, I've decided to try a new writing gimmick. I've seen others use the alphabet for inspiration, and it seemed like a good idea, but I needed an angle. For that angle, I am turning to my friend Google. For each letter of the alphabet, I'm going to type the phrase "[letter] is for " into Google. I'll write an entry about (spoiler alert!) the first match in the drop-down list from the Google search box. Every once in awhile, I assume, this will be interrupted by actual things to write about.

If you type "A is for " into the Google search box, the first match is alibi. A is for Alibi seems to be the first book in a series by Sue Grafton, which I have not read, so I've got nothing there. It did, however, start me thinking about the word alibi. What are its origins? It doesn't sound like most English words. At first I wondered if we stole it from Arabic, but then I realized I was just conflating alibi and Ali Baba. Yes. Let's find out the real story! Back to Google!

Aha: alibi is from Latin. In Latin it means "elsewhere." Perfect. Its use as a noun in English dates from the late 18th century, so I guess before then people didn't have alibis. Perhaps they had excuses or justifications.

I don't think I have any personal alibi anecdotes. Not being involved with the justice system, the word just makes me think of books, TV, and movies. A thousand Law and Order episodes, detective dramas, you name it. Oh, that does remind me that I've been catching up on the BBC series Sherlock lately. I'm almost through Series 2, which isn't that difficult because each series is three episodes long. Benedict Cumberbatch: best name ever? He's a definite contender. My favorite detective series ever, though, was Veronica Mars. I wish I could watch the first season of that show all over again for the first time. Sigh.

Okay! I think we have plenty of evidence now that my experience with alibis comes from television and not real-life adventure. And that I'm the kind of person who looks up word origins. What will the letter B bring? Stay tuned! (Actually, it's pretty easy to find out what the letter B will bring. But not what I'll say about it!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


It's been almost eleven years since my trip to Siberia - we returned less than a month before 9/11/01. Recently, I found a photo CD containing some pictures from that trip. Pictures originally taken with real film! Here are a few of them.

Our gang in front of Ivolginsky Datsan, the most important Buddhist monastery in Russia

Cow drinking from Lake Baikal

Taking a break on the shores of Baikal. The guy on the left is our driver, Sergei.

Grazing horse near the lake

Adorable toddlers at the Sotnekova Orphanage

Jenny in front of some intense artwork at Dom Rebenka. Is that fox making off with a child?
There are many photos that haven't make it to digital format (yet), including the world's largest Lenin head statue in Ulan-Ude. Maybe I'll get those scanned sometime soon! Must. Continue. Organizing...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

If you're trying to paint a picture

Jeff Tweedy Basement Show, year eight! It's hard to believe we have been doing this for eight years. Each time it doesn't seem like very long since the last time, but somehow they add up.

2012 did mark a milestone: the first time our show has switched basements. We moved from Hotel SnS to the newly christened Casa K&A, home of Kris and Alison. Luckily they have a sunken basement, so the show's private nomenclature remains intact.

If you want to consider it another milestone of sorts, 2012 was also the first year that we didn't commission a professional poster. This wasn't completely intentional, but it ended up spawning one of the most entertaining parts of the afternoon: a DIY poster studio. When it became clear that a premade poster wasn't going to materialize, I bought some poster board and sifted markers, crayons, and stickers from the dregs of my old art supplies. With marker and pencil additions from Alison and Tamala, the stage was set. Originally I envisioned this as something of a lark, but people really got into it! We ended up with a lot of great, creative, hilarious posters that everyone enjoyed showing off to each other ... and to our guests of honor after the show.

Ah, the show. Jeff played everyone's requests (a few people had to make alternate choices) and we even got a preview of the upcoming Mavis record. After striking out on my first try last year, my request for "Dark Neon" was granted! I've been wanting to hear it live since it came out, so that was exciting. Paul's request of "Give Back The Key To My Heart" inspired some talk of Doug Sahm, and Rob's "You Are Not Alone" led to some of the funniest stories of the night. "I Shall Be Released" was poignant so soon after Levon Helm's passing - something a smaller group of us also observed in the wee hours of the morning with a singalong to "The Weight." Long after Jeff, Susan, and Mark went home, we were still singing and dancing and snacking on the remnants of our yearly potluck. After a year's hiatus it was great to have Patti and Mart back, with Mart's considerable musical chops elevating our late night jam session to the next level.

Every additional year we're able to make this show happen at this point is icing on the cake. Will there be even more icing? Stay tuned in 2013 to find out.

Also see 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter roundup

Easter 1981
My, but I am bad at blogging lately. To catch up, here's the best friend of lazy bloggers everywhere (followed closely by the every-popular all-photo post): bullet points!
  • Last weekend were the benefit shows Jeff Tweedy plays each year at the Vic in Chicago. Always a great time, with friends coming from afar, and the chance request songs - provided you're in line early enough. This year I opted for new and old: "Art of Almost" and "Watch Me Fall." I was also able to lend a hand in the collection of requests on Saturday, a privilege that I did not abuse. What do you take me for? The weekend also included a trip to Hot Doug's. Oh, Hot Doug's.
  • The excavation of old photos and other artifacts at my parents' house continues. I was in Kenosha for Easter, and today's haul included a trove of early 1940's birthday, Valentine, Christmas, and (appropriately) Easter cards received by my mother. They've survived over sixty years in bright, primary color. I didn't bring any home with me, but at some point I'd expect a showcase of the best cards to appear here.
  • I'm mulling sabbatical destinations. Final contenders include the Greek Islands and Argentina. Greece beckons me a little louder, but god, I can't even read the alphabet without confusing it with Russian. Not that I'm a fluent speaker of Spanish by any stretch of the imagination, but compared to my Greek skills I might as well be. I think the trip, whatever it is, will probably take place next spring. Meanwhile, a jaunt to Colorado is in the works for this summer. I still have my eye on those last four U.S. states, too. 
  • Netflix has been a blessing and a curse in terms of letting me catch the entire run of now-finished TV shows. Shows I never watched while they were on, that is. In the past five or six years I've worked my way through Buffy (that took over a year), Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, and The Wire. Right now I'm deep into Season 4 of The West Wing. No spoilers!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Weather systems

Andrew Bird setlist 3/24/12 Milwaukee

It's been a gorgeous month of March in Wisconsin, which has put me in an excellent mood. Perhaps nature is trying to make up for the crappy spring weather we had in 2011. I'll admit that mid-March temps in the low 80's are taking things a little too far, but mostly it's been a delight.

Besides the good weather, I had additional reasons to be in a good mood this weekend. Friday night I saw The Hunger Games, which - despite not being as good as the book, as is almost always the case - I enjoyed. The costumes and makeup get a thumbs up from me, the Reaping scene was excellent, and so was the large African-American man in the audience dressed up as Effie Trinket.

Saturday morning I went out for blueberry pancakes with some friends and their adorable baby, and Saturday night I went to Milwaukee to see Andrew Bird at the Riverside. It's been a couple years since I caught an Andrew Bird show (though I did see his exhibit at the Chicago MCA in 2011), which made this concert especially enjoyable. Andrew and his band played many songs from the new album, Break it Yourself, which was included as a free download with every concert ticket purchased for this tour. Kudos, Mr. Bird. The three non-percussionists also gathered around a single microphone at the front of the stage for a total of five songs, something that Andrew seemed to indicate they'd only done at the Ryman - but they wanted to try it out in Milwaukee because the Riverside sounds so good. The versions of "Effigy" and the Handsome Family's "So Much Wine" they played in that configuration were my favorite parts of the show.

After staying out far too late in Milwaukee, I am enjoying a leisurely Sunday in preparation for ... the two-hour season premiere of Mad Men!!! Not that I'm excited about its return or anything.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Five things: kitchen

It's been over half a year since my first five things post (living room) ... so I figured it was time for another one. Here are five things I like in my kitchen:

1. Wine rack. I can't remember exactly where I found it, but I know Paul and I were walking around a strange city (strange as in "neither of us lived there," not strange as in "weird") and saw it sitting out on the curb waiting for a trash pickup. I'd just realized that I was in need of a small wine rack, so I picked it up instead. Wherever this was, I had to take a plane to get home but Paul did not. So it happened that months later, during a visit to Wisconsin, after I'd all but forgotten about the wine rack, he delivered it to me. Thanks, P!

2. Le Creuset tea kettle. It's actually embarrassing how rarely I make use of it these days, but it's a nice, ornamental red. It lives on the stove.

3. Food-related wall art. I picked these three postcards up separately, not intending to put them together in any way. But at some point my new condo's kitchen needed decorating, and the theme suggested itself. I believe the three-part frame came from Target. Voila!

4. Vintage aluminum pitcher and cups. The fact that they're up on top of a shelf probably indicates how often I use these, but I love seeing them up there. I should make iced tea this summer and serve it from this set. And brew the tea in my kettle! It's all coming together.

5. MirĂ³ magnet. I bought this at a museum in Madrid, probably the Thyssen-Bornemisza. It was a museum that had some MirĂ³ paintings, some of which featured stars. Hence, the magnet. Ha ha. I can't pass the magnet on the fridge without saying the phrase out loud, always trying to perfect my accent on "las estrellas."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bad neighbor

I live in a townhouse-style condo. Each building is made up of four units. We each have our own driveways, garages, upstairs, downstairs, and basements, but four condos - two on each side - face each other across a larger, common driveway.  There are a total of four buildings.

I'm not a bad neighbor in the obnoxious sense. I don't bang things or blast music at odd hours. I don't have a barking dog or loud children. But I have lived here over four years, and from a lineup I could pick out ... maybe five of the people who live in those twelve units. Total. Probably tell you their first names. And I was the condo association secretary for three years.

My next door neighbor has owned her condo for about a year. Once she stopped by while looking for her cat and we introduced ourselves, but I can't remember her name. I know she has two daughters. One of my across-the-driveway neighbors is - I think - a single young woman ... but maybe her boyfriend lives with her too? Maybe he's even her husband? She or they have been here for about six months. Next door to her is another woman with a live-in boyfriend and two sons. I do know her name and her boyfriend's name, but they've lived here as long as I have.

We all wave or smile and sometimes say hi if we pass each other outside, but that's it. I have no clue who lives in the condo that shares a back wall with mine. I never formally welcomed the newcomers. Does this make me a bad person? I think about my neighborhood growing up, and we kids were out playing with the neighbor kids all the time. All of the parents knew each other, and the non-parents, too. My mom and dad still exchange Christmas cards with most of them. Were they just friendlier than me, or have times changed? If I'm guilty of being a bad neighbor, then I suppose my neighbors are just as guilty.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I won't ever forget how

Southwest in the air

Over the last two weeks of January, I did something I hadn't done since early 2010: attended more than a couple Wilco shows in a row. (That weren't held a short drive from my home, that is.) This was an old-school rock tourism run - seven concerts plus a couple of bonus appearances. Admittedly, it was easier than most, since those two weeks were based in exactly two places: a friend's home in Los Angeles and a friend's home in San Francisco. (Based for me, that is. Not the band.) Still, seven shows over nine days takes energy and commitment ... especially when so many are general admission and involve waiting in line for the privilege (and it is) of standing near the front of a theater for five hours. I did manage to do other things besides concerts - we had two weeks in California, after all - but I'll concentrate on the shows here.

On Monday, January 23rd, my friends and I saw Wilco tape an episode of Conan. Later that night, we fulfilled a longstanding dream of seeing Jeff Tweedy at Largo at the Coronet. Perhaps "nearly fulfilled" is a more accurate description, since Jeff didn't actually play any songs. He and Jeff Garlin had a two-and-a-half-hour conversation on stage instead. (This was supposed to happen.) However, after years of a certain friend campaigning on Largo's behalf, it still felt like a big victory. Most importantly, the seeds have now been sown and watered. We can only sit back and wait to see what else might come up.

Hollywood Palladium marquee

Tuesday was our first proper show, at the Palladium in Hollywood. The venue reminded me of an elegant old roller rink, if such a thing exists. The show was heavy on the rock, and although the sound wasn't the best, we had a great view. Everyone seemed to be in a fine mood, and I got my first good look at Mikael's "Walt Disney" mustache. Hmm. And as befitted a Hollywood show, we had some good celeb sightings. (Jasons Bateman and Sudeikis.)

Wiltern marquee, Wilco

Wednesday at the Wiltern in L.A. will probably go down as one of my least-favorite show memories, through no fault of the band's. The corporate greed of Live Nation once again reared its ugly head, with venue lackeys coming out an hour before doors to charge folks $20 for the chance to keep their spots in line. Don't want to pay? Anyone who does pay gets to go inside before you. I've heard of similar programs before, and paid a small fee up front to avoid being screwed, but a surcharge of more than 2/3 the ticket price right before the show? No. Plenty of people capitulated, but we metaphorically told Live Nation and the Wiltern to suck a dick ... even though it meant losing our places in line. Our spots inside weren't bad, if you had no idea what had transpired, but the show was tainted by the whole experience. Nevertheless, once my wrath had mostly subsided (a good version of "Misunderstood" can do wonders), I was able to appreciate the finer points of the show. An all-electric version of "Laminated Cat," for one.

LA Theater lobby ceiling

Friday was the last of the Los Angeles shows, at the LA Theater downtown. It's a lovely, ornate old building (the bathrooms are amazing!) and apparently is rarely open. Exactly how Wilco got booked there is a mystery, but it certainly was an experience. We learned, among other things, that Albert Einstein was in the audience for the first-ever performance at the theater. The stage was low, which lent an interesting vibe to a reserved show. The crowd seemed divided in terms of standing versus sitting, until Jeff made a comment that got everyone on their feet. ("I'm not wading into that debate. You know where I stand.") "Less Than You Think" opened the show. It may be my favorite lyrical turn from Jeff, which is saying a lot. (It's almost gone / the night is dissolving / in a cup God lifts to toast the lightning ... sigh.) The acoustic arrangement of "Spiders" was also a welcome addition.

Saturday we were off to the Bay Area and San Jose Civic Auditorium. It was fun being introduced to U's old stomping grounds, even if we didn't have time for pho at the homestead. In SJ I met a couple of Seattle ladies who became fast friends over the next two days. Plus, a reunion with the Sisters McC! Amidst all the friend action was a fun, energetic concert. We benefited from a speaker on the stage in front of us, so openers White Denim came through better than ever. Coincidentally, their set in San Jose was my favorite of those I saw. The sound for Wilco was also crystal clear, all the better to hear Jeff's jokes about the crowd's preshow wine tweets. At the end of the show we learned that Jane Smiley - and her boyfriend - had been in attendance.

Warfield marquee, Wilco

Sunday's concert was at the Warfield in San Francisco. Despite sketchy neighborhood surroundings, it was my favorite line wait of the trip. The day was sunny, there were plenty of shops and restaurants nearby, friends were out in force, and the Seattle girls raided Walgreens' supply of colorful camp chairs. If only the neon nipples on the gentleman's club sign behind us had lit up in the dark, the setting would have been perfect. During the show, the band unveiled "Either Way" for the first time in awhile - I'd like to think it was in honor of our SF hostess. The band seemed to be in a playful mood, at least for the second half of the show. Jeff nearly tripped on the guitar cord at the end of "Handshake Drugs." Nels got a brief shoulder massage at the end of "The Lonely 1." Our Sunday night ended quite a bit later, after a visit to a karaoke bar, but some details are better left unreported.

Fox Theater, Oakland

Tuesday found us in Oakland at the Fox Theater. If Sunday was our most pleasant line wait, Tuesday was the chilliest. As luck would have it, there were record high temperatures in Wisconsin that day ... at times it was literally warmer in Madison than it was in Oakland. It was another loose (mood-wise) show, including an synth injection for "Can't Stand It," and tech Josh reprising his centaur-esque shirtless cowbell dance for "Hoodoo Voodoo." A flipping-the-bird incident from LA was revisited, and Jeff had the house lights brought up so that the whole crowd could give the band the finger - captured on film and at least one iPhone from the stage.

Last came Davis, on Wednesday. A seated show at the posh Mondavi Center, which actually sold wine glasses and cheese boards at its gift shop. This was Wilco's first concert in Davis, with what appeared to be a rookie crowd. I can't account for acoustic nuances, but I didn't hear much singing along from my seat. Jeff seemed to be in a baiting mood, not saying anything for almost an hour and then proceeding to rib audience members for a variety of things. (Leaving the front row for the restroom, having the most pens he'd ever seen in one pocket, sitting down, taking pictures in spite of the no-camera policy, not knowing when to clap at the end of "Capitol City," yelling out for "Freebird.") The comments didn't seem to come from a truly angry place - there were also a lot of grins on stage - but a little frustration? Perhaps. About two thirds of the way through the show, the needling finally got the crowd on its feet - where most people remained for the rest of the night - and the mood improved. Davis was the end of the line for me this time. I flew home on Thursday.

After a break of more than two years, was I still up for a multi-show run? The answer is yes. Perhaps I felt the fatigue a bit more than I used to, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet. I've realized something else, though: I'd never do this kind of thing if it weren't in the company of good friends. See you next time!

The Donut Hole, La Puente

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Off to California

Off to California
Mom and friend, 1956

Mulling over my next trip to California, I realized something surprising. Though our Dairy State roots stretch back for generations, my family has been sending shoots into the Golden State for nearly as long.

My grandpa's older brother, Pete, was the first to heed the Western call. He and his wife headed to Crescent City in the 1940's, and lived the rest of their lives there near the redwoods.

Uncle Pete on the right
Uncle Pete on the right. One of my grandma's sisters with the baseball bat.

Most of my dad's siblings would grow up and leave for California as well, at least for a time. My uncle Chuck moved to San Francisco. My aunt Kathy joined him for awhile, and my cousin Michelle was born there. My aunt Judy and her husband lived in Poway for decades. My cousin John is a firefighter in San Diego. My cousin Tracy and her family live there, too. When the Air Force returned my uncle John and his wife to the U.S. from Iceland, California was the first place they were stationed.

Judy and baby Tracy
Aunt Judy and baby Tracy at home

Grandpa and Grandma, California
Grandpa and Grandma visiting San Francisco (I think?)

Toward the end of her high school career, my mom's best friend Karen moved to Canoga Park. For the next six years, until she got married, Mom spent six or seven weeks each summer visiting Karen. They went to the beach, Catalina Island, Tijuana, Disneyland, and saw shows at Whisky a Go Go. Mom spend more time in the Los Angeles of the 1960's than I've spent in any one place away from home. When I watch "Mad Men" episodes set in California, I can't help imagining Mom and her friends passing through the scenes.

Mom and Pooh

Top: Mom and Pooh, Disneyland. Bottom: Don Draper in California (photo from AMC)

When my dad joined the Marine Corps in 1960, he trained at Twenty-Nine Palms. He brought the family back in 1984, during our California vacation. Any real memories I had have long since been supplanted by a few minutes of "movie camera" footage Dad captured from our rental car: Marines marching in the distance, quietly (or so it is on the tape) chanting in their familiar cadence.

Dad, loafers
Dad, Marine Corps era

That 1984 trip was my first vacation outside Wisconsin. Dad attended a business conference in San Francisco - I recall silent film of Alcatraz from the same home movie reel - and the rest of us flew out to join him. First we stayed with Karen, who was married to an actor and living in Agoura Hills. They had a stable on their land, and their daughter - a year older than I - had an honest-to-god pony. On a swing set near the edge of the hilltop property, I felt as if I were flying out over the valley below with each upswing.

We proceeded to a hotel in Costa Mesa whose most salient feature to a four-year-old was the huge pool. Then we visited my aunt and uncle and cousins in Poway. They also had a pool, kidney-shaped, in which my sisters gave me "swimming lessons." In other words, they removed my water wings and repeatedly staged the pool equivalent of Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football.

Niki and the pool, 1984
One of my sisters, 15, by the pool. No idea how they convinced her to pose for this.

My aunt and uncle also had lemon trees, which, to a small child from Wisconsin, seemed like something that should not exist in real life. We went to the ocean, to Disneyland, to Universal Studios, to Knott's Berry Farm. Those were fun, but the kidney-shaped pool and the pampering from my supercool, sunshine-blonde, 14-year-old cousin were the best. I wanted to stay.

C3PO's footprints
Me, standing in C3PO's footprints

I was not allowed to stay. But I have returned to California more times than I can count. Visiting family has turned into visiting friends, and even a few business trips of my own. I have favorite haunts in Los Angeles these days. More than any other state outside Wisconsin, California pops up in my family's history ... and in our current lives. No wonder I find myself drawn back again and again.

Oakville skyline
Across from Oakville Grocery, 2005