Tuneful Tuesday: The Mellow Zone

mushroomI had the opportunity to eat lunch at the Mellow Mushroom in Nashville on Father’s Day. I would highly recommend it. They have some really awesome pizzas there, and the service was great, too. Lots of music stuff inside, which is right up my alley, of course. Just an overall pleasant experience.

It’s been a while since I’ve actually focused much on the music playing inside a restaurant I was eating at. There are usually so many other distractions around, particularly now that every restaurant seems to have at least five different televisions all playing five different things at the same time.

(Pet peeve: Why do restaurants put a television on a sitcom or newscast or something, turn the volume all the way down, and not turn on the closed captions? You’ve reduced the viewing experience to basically watching mimes.)

For some reason, though, on this particular day, I was listening to the songs being played with some degree of attention. As a string of ’90s alternative tunes reeled off, I had a realization: Even though some of those songs came out during really difficult periods of my life, when my depression was at some of its lowest points, I smiled after the first few notes of each of them played. It was like I was running into a bunch of old friends again.

With iPods and digital music, I think we’ve sort of lost the value of hearing a song from long ago played over a distantblur speaker. We can put our whole libraries on something the size of a notepad (or smaller). There are still those moments, though, when the past comes creeping in and taps you on the shoulder, just as it did for me Sunday. Counting Crows’ album Recovering the Satellites was like a depression soundtrack for me, but I sang nearly all the words to “Angels of the Silences” when I heard them. I don’t know what I was doing when Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Zoot Suit Riot” came out, but I know I was diggin’ it Sunday. And even though I only know two words of Blur’s “Song 2” (“woo” and “hoo”), the energy of it made me sit up and take notice.

There may have been songs that took us to the depths of despair, but, man, aren’t we glad later on they were there? They came through when the happy, poppy stuff didn’t, then they came back years later to share war stories. Sad songs don’t always have to make you cry; sometimes they can make you smile because you’re not in the place you first heard them anymore.

That, my friends, is a pretty mellow trip, indeed.

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I Can’t

Words cannot express how loathe I am to sit here and write this tonight. This is Tuesday. This is the day when I’m supposed to write a little something about a song that has meant something to me and get to bed earlier. I already took a nap this afternoon. This is the day that what I do here is supposed to be largely devoid of any type of controversy or dispute or weirdness. This is supposed to be the easy post.

After sitting here for the last 30 minutes trying to get around it, though, I’m finally giving in. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I have to get it out before I go to sleep tonight.

I do not get this whole Bruce Jenner thing.

I couldn’t scroll down my Facebook feed for 30 seconds today without either seeing the Vanity Fair with “Caitlyn” bruce-caitlyn-jenner-vanity-fair-coverJenner’s photo on the cover or someone posting a link to a blog or website discussing Jenner’s attempt to reclassify his gender. Depending on what you’re reading, Jenner is either a hero or a lunatic, someone exhibiting extreme bravery or someone who has lost his marbles. Whatever the opinion, that freaking picture is everywhere today.

I don’t really like to court controversy anymore. Maybe when I was younger and more assured of how correct I was about every situation, I would have embraced the chance to dive head-first into a topic such as this. As I sit here at this keyboard tonight, though, all I really want to do is get a few thoughts off my chest about how utterly confusing it is to try to wrap my head around this utterly baffling situation.

If I walked into work tomorrow and asked everyone there to start calling me “Debbie,” I would probably get some strange looks. Actually, I would get more than that. I would get a whole bunch of people telling me to knock it off. I’m a man, so it wouldn’t make much sense for me to suddenly demand that I be addressed by a woman’s name. Johnny Cash once sang about how “life ain’t easy for a boy named ‘Sue’,” and despite shifting attitudes on sexuality, it would probably still be pretty tough today. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it’s just weird.

I am struggling to understand why, then, if I were to begin wearing female clothing and makeup, taking hormone therapy to change my biochemistry, and undergoing surgical procedures to alter my genitalia, I would be lauded as a “hero.” To me, these are much more radical steps than simply changing my name. Not only did Jenner change his name, though, he posed as a woman on the cover of a national publication which will grace magazine racks in everything from Walmarts to library shelves to gas stations across the country.

patinkinI also don’t think we’re using the term “hero” correctly anymore. In the words of the great Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In my mind, “heroes” are firefighters who rush into burning buildings to save children or police officers who leap in front of bullets to protect innocent bystanders or soldiers fighting on the front lines on foreign soil. To me, Jenner was more of a hero when he was winning gold medals for America than he is for wearing a dress in public these days.

Believe it or not, I understand what it’s like to not exactly be sure of your identity and to feel trapped by who people think you are. After years of living under the haze of depression, I felt a wave of new emotions and perspectives flooding over me once I got into counseling. There were some things I always thought I wanted that I suddenly didn’t want anymore. There were some things I used to do that I didn’t want to do anymore. People had a difficult time understanding that. The process of figuring out who I am and what I want is still ongoing, and I’m not always sure where it is going.

I don’t know Bruce Jenner, and I’ve always believed that in order to truly hate a person, you have to know them personally. I only say that because I’m sure someone reading this believes I hate Bruce Jenner and/or transsexuals. I really don’t. At the same time, though, I really don’t understand them, and I believe the path they are setting themselves on is not a wise one. In my case, even though I feel like I’m changing, the challenge is still to learn to live inside my own skin. What Jenner is doing feels like an attempt to escape that skin and become something different entirely. Unfortunately, what is in his core will always be there, no matter what his outer shell suggests.

Finally, it’s just strange to see the man who graced the front of Wheaties boxes when I was a kid decked out in a dress and sprawled out across a couch these days. Regardless of how I feel about Jenner’s current course of action, there’s no getting around the oddity of the situation. That’s why I’m not writing about music and iPods and things like that tonight. Some things just can’t be ignored, no matter how we try to.

The Year I Got Old

I turned 40 last year. To be honest, the whole experience was far less traumatic than I thought it would be. No black balloons, no aches and pains, no feeling that my life was ending. I ate Chinese food and went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The whole experience was nothing like I had pictured in my mind.

I felt like a relatively young 40. I was still in good health. I wasn’t on any major medications of any kind. I was physically active. I had a pretty decent idea of what was popular in the culture, so I was able to fit in fairly well with younger people. The only tip-off might have been the white hairs in my beard, but I thought those actually looked kind of cool, so I didn’t mind so much.

keep-calm-you-re-getting-old-4Something changed this year, though. There was something about passing 40 that seemed nearly more dreadful than reaching it. That wasn’t all, though. While I stayed physically active and maintained a good weight, my body was occasionally hinting that it might need more care than I was giving it. I found out I had some bone spurs in my lower back, which meant returning to the chiropractor on a regular basis. I would still occasionally feel pain in my quads, which I injured playing softball a few years ago. I would get shin splints if I tried jogging. I wasn’t falling apart by any means, but chinks in the armor were beginning to show.

I also noticed I was having to explain my references to the younger people I work with more often. On the flipside, they were mentioning more things I had never heard of. In my estimation, this kind of thing shouldn’t be happening quite yet. More and more of my stories were beginning with the words “Back when…”, and most of the people I was talking to weren’t even old enough to have a “back when.” As hard as I tried to stay on top of what was new musically, I found myself turning more and more to my iPod, which is largely filled with songs from the 1990s. I would see “celebrities” on television and wonder who the heck they were.

Most of all, though, I began to notice a lack of enthusiasm for certain things. Granted, part of this could have been caused by my depression and attempting to regulate my medication for it, but I felt a certain tiredness setting in. For the first time I can remember, I looked out the window this spring and didn’t want to go out and mow the yard. That chore is usually like a fortress of solitude for me. As much as I enjoyed getting my bicycle out and riding it again, I nearly had to drag myself out the door to do it. I found myself having to be more and more diligent to keep myself from sliding into the cold, gray area of just not caring that much about anything.

That is a part of getting older, though, isn’t it? You have to work a little harder to maintain things. You have to adapt to your surroundings a bit more. You have to adjust for limitations. You have to become comfortable with the fact that you don’t know the name of every member of every new band or have never watched the most popular video on YouTube. You have to realize that sometimes not caring can actually be a good thing. Yes, you get old, but you somehow learn to do it gracefully.

So I will mark this down as the year I got old. Somehow, though, that doesn’t sound so scary to me now. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And that may not be such a bad thing after all.

What’s On Your Playlist?

“Don’t you like anything happy?”

I remember having that question posed to me several years ago regarding my music collection. This was before the days of mp3 players, so all I could really do to figure out an answer was to look at my collection of CD’s. Now, though, all I have to do is plug in my iPod and peruse the list of songs that pops up before me.

Apple_MC293LL_A_650131This will sound sort of silly, but getting a 160GB iPod for Christmas a few years ago pretty much changed how I collect songs these days. Whereas I was once miserly with the 16GB of memory on my previous iPod, I suddenly realized one day that I would have to just go completely crazy to fill up 160GB of memory. As a result, I began grabbing any song that was even remotely appealing to me and adding them to my collection.

As evidenced by the “Tuneful Tuesday” posts I write here, my collection of somewhat morose music is still quite impressive. Let me just hit a few of the highlights right now…

– Johnny Cash, “Hurt”

– King’s X, “Dogman”

– Duran Duran, “Ordinary World”

– Echosmith, “Cool Kids”

– Elvis Costello, “All This Useless Beauty”

– Eminem (featuring Rihanna), “The Monster”

– Eric Clapton, “Tears In Heaven”

– Hootie & the Blowfish, “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You”

– John Hiatt, “Crossing Muddy Waters”

– Kansas, “Dust In The Wind”

– The Gaslight Anthem, “Break Your Heart”

I could go on and on, but you get the point. There’s a lot of less-than-happy stuff on there. As someone who has struggled with depression, however, I think I almost felt like that was the kind of music I should be drawn to. If I’m in a down mood, I should listen to down songs, right? At least, that was my reasoning.

Without realizing what I was doing, though, I gradually began to debunk that theory. Sure, there are certainly times when I just want to listen to something I can wallow in, but for the most part, I’m beginning to find that songs that are more upbeat in nature have a tendency to make me more upbeat as well. (I’m sure about half of you just smacked your foreheads and said “Duh” to that last statement.)

With that in mind, here are some of the more unexpected songs that have their way onto my iPod recently and managed to bring a smile to my face…

– DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, “Boom! Shake The Room”

– Katy Perry, “Roar”

– Mark Ronson (featuring Bruno Mars), “Uptown Funk”

– Asia, “Days Like These”

– Beastie Boys, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right To Party”

– Blackalicious, “Alphabet Aerobics”

– Bobby Brown, “My Prerogative”

– Carbon Leaf, “Life Less Ordinary”

– Georgia Satellites, “Keep Your Hands To Yourself”

– Jet, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”

– MC Hammer, “U Can’t Touch This”

You’re probably getting the picture by now. One, my musical tastes are extremely eclectic. Two, for some reason, rap and hip-hop songs seem to be amusing to me. And, three, I probably have too much time on my hands. Nevertheless, not counting several Hozier songs I downloaded recently, I have noticed at least a slight uptick in the number of more lighthearted songs on my iPod.

Now, do I think a person’s playlist defines who they are? Certainly not. Some of the happiest people I know enjoy some of the saddest songs ever written. If you’re noticing a distinct lack of levity on your mp3 player, though, you might want to consider freshening up your library a bit. Music is there to help us grieve, but it is also there to help us celebrate. Like all things in life, striking the right balance is the key.

Tuneful Tuesday: I Like What?

So, the other day, I’m driving home from work and I hear this song on the radio that I kind of like. Now, you have to remember, I don’t listen to the radio all that much. When I do, it’s sort of a forced behavior, because I know if I don’t keep up with what’s current I’m going to become one of those old guys who doesn’t know any music past whenever he started having children. Plus, I work at a radio station, so actually listening to the radio is one of the last things I want to do when I leave for the day.

Anyway, I didn’t know what this song was, and I didn’t get to the SoundHound app on my phone quick enough to check what it was, so I sort of logged it away in my brain to check on later. Then, because I forget everything these days, I didn’t think about it again. This pattern of curiosity, interest, intent, forgetfulness, and inaction is fairly common with me.

The next day, I was talking with a friend, and she mentioned this song by One Direction that she liked. Now, when I hear the words “One Direction,” I think “modern-day New Kids on the Block.” That’s not meant as a compliment. There’s a store in a nearby mall called Claire’s that’s filled with One Direction merchandise. To put this into perspective, the rest of the store is filled with Hello Kitty, Disney’s Frozen, and virtually ever other brand that would snag the attention of a 12-year-old girl.

I told my friend that I don’t like One Direction, and I proceeded to mock her for even bringing them up. Then she began describing the new song of theirs that she liked … and it was the song I had heard on the radio. So I looked it up on the internet, and, much to my chagrin, I still kind of liked it. It’s apparently called “Night Changes.” It even has this sort of cheesily endearing video.

Of course, my initial reaction to realizing I actually found a One Direction song even remotely appealing was one of shock and horror. I’m not supposed to like this kind of music. I’m supposed to thumb my adult and sophisticated (and twice-broken) nose at this kind of thing. The more I thought about it, though, it actually did have a nice melody to it. And it wasn’t some dopey dance track. And it did fool me on the radio, so…

I have a One Direction song on my iPod now.

I remember in a counseling session one time telling my counselor how it concerned me that I wasn’t focused on enough “adult” things. He proceeded to tell me how, as a young man in his early- to mid-20s, he liked to get home from work in the afternoon and watch cartoons. I’ll never forget his words: “I’m a grown damn man, and I can watch cartoons if I want to.”

So if I want to like a One Direction song, hey, it’s just a song. I was out the other day and heard REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and thought to myself, “You know, I kind of like this song.” It took me a minute to push past worrying about people today thinking it’s kind of cheesy. I can like what I want to. I’m not saying I’m going to be downloading the entire One Direction catalog, but if I decide to, that’s my prerogative. Ooh, speaking of a song I like…

Tuneful Tuesday: Um…

One of the reasons I began writing the “Tuneful Tuesday” feature on this blog was to set up one day of the week that would be easy for me. Pick out a song I like, grab a video link, bang out a few paragraphs, publish, good night. Sometimes, though, as we all know, even the easy things in life can get complicated.

I feel as if I’ve written ad nauseum about being sick recently, so I don’t see any point in rehashing how that has disrupted the past week for me. Probably a bigger hurdle to getting this post written has been the sudden strange behavior of the radio in my truck. Basically, all of the buttons on the faceplate stopped working one day, meaning if I used my mp3 player, well, I had to listen to whatever was playing, not necessarily what I wanted to listen to at the time. This condition persisted until a few days ago, when I dropped the faceplate in the floor of the truck and somehow magically restored its abilities. Reminded me of that line from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: “She falls down a well, her eyes go cross. She gets kicked by a mule, they go back. I don’t know.”

So, a few minutes ago, I began randomly scrolling through my iPod to find something, anything, I could use for this week, and I came across a song I hadn’t thought about in quite some time. Back in 1989, when I was still firmly entrenched in my worship of all things hair metal, I fell in love with the Scotish band Del Amitri. Their album Waking Hours is still probably one of my favorite albums of all time. While most people are probably more familiar with the album’s first single, “Kiss This Thing Goodbye,” it was the song “Stone Cold Sober” that I always loved.

I felt so bad for the band later on when they became one of those acts whose greatest success would also lead to their downfall. I’m referring, of course, to “Roll To Me,” which would turn out to be Del Amitri’s biggest hit in the U.S. and also the song that would make many people despise them for life. It’s actually not a bad song at all, but it was so incredibly overplayed you couldn’t help but get sick of it after a while. The real shame is that this band produced some really, really good music that was unfairly overlooked.

I suppose this song is melancholy enough to have some sort of depression connection, but I’m not really sure what it is. All I want to do right now is maybe introduce you all to some great music you never heard before. Hey, that makes people happy. Right?

Tuneful Tuesday: Hit And Miss

I have made a concerted effort lately to listen to the radio more often. I went through a phase where I just wasn’t that interested in any of the music I was hearing, so I retreated into my iPod and the vast amount of music from the 1980s and 1990s it contained. Occasionally something new might catch my ear, but for the most part I stuck with what I knew.

As a result, I’ve been discovering lots of music that is new to me but isn’t exactly “new” music. One of those songs recently has been “Some Nights,” by fun. The song was released in 2012, and the only knowledge I really had of it was the fact the group put a period at the end of its name and a column in a Christian magazine I was reading labeling it as an indicator of how confused the current generation is regarding its place in this world.

Lyrically, the song actually does sort of jump around all over the place. I mean, the guy is obviously distressed about something, but I’m not exactly sure what it is. On the other hand, sometimes that’s what depression feels like; you’re upset about something, but you can’t exactly put your finger on what it is. And then there’s the loneliness, which is captured pretty well with lines like “I try twice as hard, and I’m half as liked” and “I could use some friends for a change.”

The real kicker of the song, though, bursts forth in a couple of lines near the end. “Man, you wouldn’t believe the most amazing things that can come from some terrible nights.” It takes a long time to grasp that perspective. In this case, it takes a look into a young boy’s eyes to make the realization. It’s different for everyone, though. The rest of the song may wander a bit, but this bit of wisdom is spot-on.

It seems as if a lot of artists these days are tapping into some very profound truths about depression and being able to manage it. Maybe the radio is worth listening to after all.

The Sacred And The Profane

I tried to be good. I really, really did. I white-knuckled the bar until I thought I would bend it in half. I looked around, formed an interpretation of the standard, and did my best to live by it.

And now I’m kind of tired.

rules-for-allBefore anyone gets alarmed, this is not one of those “Here’s Why I Left Christianity” posts. I am still very much a Christian. I still believe Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he died on a cross and was raised from the dead three days later. I believe his blood washed away my sins and that he has made me a new creation. I believe the Bible is the holy word of God and that it contains the words of wisdom needed to live a joyful and fulfilling life. As the late Rich Mullins once sang, “I believe what I believe.”

The older I get, though, I’m beginning to realize the very real danger of turning Christianity into such a rigid, unyielding, methodical set of rules that it somehow ceases to be transforming, redemptive, or powerful. Such an emphasis can be put on “doing the right thing” that we begin to run the risk of never know exactly what we should be doing. Following the script becomes the most important thing, and the specter of self-condemnation is ever at the door. It’s not so much a falling from grace as it is simply giving it up in favor of an impossible standard.

I lived a lot of years around people who abused the concept of grace. They basically turned it into a license to treat people however they wanted and then turn the other person’s hurt back on them by accusing them on not extending grace to them. It was messed up, but it made me rigid as far as the rules were concerned. I sure didn’t want to be like that, so I adopted the hard line. The only problem was, I still sinned, and since I was so bent on keeping the rules, I beat the crap out of myself every time I broke one. That’s what the serious Christians did, I told myself.

I have literally lost track of how many times I have cleaned out all my “secular” music, only to replenish all of it within a couple of years. I purged all my movies I deemed unacceptable, but, you know, Marvel’s The Avengers was pretty cool, so… I stopped cursing … well, except for when I got really mad or when I wanted to make a point or when I was alone in the car or…

And I felt very, very guilty about all this for a very, very long time. No, actually, I felt ashamed of all this. Guilt would describe how I felt about committing these heinous infractions; shame would describe the loathing of who I was as a person who couldn’t seem to get it right.

I still believe grace can be carried too far, but I’m also beginning to believe the leash may be a little longer than I thought it was. I let a word go ron burgundyhere and there, sometimes accidentally, sometimes not. I have the dialog from a large chunk of the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy memorized. “The Humpty Dance,” by Digital Underground, is on my iPod. Do all these items added up sound like a formula for biblical wisdom? Possibly not. Do I get a certain level of enjoyment out of them, though? Um, yeah. Yeah, I do. More joy than I got out of attempting to live like a pharisee, that’s for sure.

The question becomes, then, where to draw the line? Is this all a sign that I’m loosening up and living a little or am I gradually sliding toward oblivion? I’d like to think it’s the former more than the latter. One of the effects of depression is how it can paralyze your decision-making abilities, and two stone tablets carved full of rules on your shoulders doesn’t help this any. As someone recently said to me, whatever decision you make is yours. Whether it’s good or bad, you have to live with the consequences. But, in the end, it’s yours.

I am not a thrill-seeker. I’m not looking for danger. I’m generally a nice guy. I want to be a good Christian and a good parent and a good husband. I would like to do all that while I’m alive, though, and not some hollow shell that’s forgotten how to experience the joy of life. It’s a process I’m still walking out, trying to determine the line between the sacred and the profane. It’s probably a line more people are walking than would care to admit.

Tuneful Tuesdays: Life Or Love

Between this week being our annual on-air fund-raiser at the radio station I work for and reading through a book on self-esteem that’s basically stirring up every emotion I’ve ever experienced in my entire life, I’ve been having a little trouble focusing on blogging recently. Since I already skipped yesterday, though, I figured I should at least hit the usual Tuesday feature. (Just a note: There is a really rambling, messy draft of something I was working on last night saved on WordPress, but it won’t see the light of day today – if ever. I know that seems like a tease, but I feel the need to let everyone know I at least tried to get something together yesterday. There, I feel better.)

If you haven’t noticed from reading “Tuneful Tuesdays,” I listen to lots of different types of music. I can’t say I’m a hardcore fan, but I even like the occasional bluegrass tune every now and then, which used to earn me all kinds of ridicule from my metal-loving friends. (True story: I actually had a friend refuse to eat at a Logan’s Roadhouse one night because they, in his opinion, played too much country music there.) The older I get, though, the less I seem to care about what other people think about what I listen to, which means I can have B.oB. (I just discovered “Airplanes” last week. Where have I been?) mingling comfortably with Willie Nelson on my iPod these days.

A few years back, I stumbled upon a song by Bradley Walker called “Life or Love.” It’s on a project titled Highway of Dreams, released in 2006 on Rounder Records. Walker was born with muscular dystrophy and has spent his whole life in a wheelchair, so the fact that he walked away with the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year award in 2007 was no small feat. The song I’m referring to was written by Harley Allen and Gary Cotton, two songwriters I know absolutely nothing about but apparently have enough in common with that they wrote a set of lyrics describing the mindset I have on many days nearly perfectly.

Instead of psychoanalyzing this poor tune to death, I’m just going to throw the lyrics out there, embed the video, and see if any of you have ever felt the same way. Sorry for the not-so-great video, but it’s all I could find.

I tried to stay on the straight and narrow
But I’ve walked a crooked path
And I’ve felt worthy of forgiveness
And deservin’ Heaven’s wrath

Right on the money and off by a mile
Ahead of my time and way out of style

But I’m hangin’ tough, I ain’t had enough
I ain’t givin’ up on life or love

Well, I try to stay away from the bottle
But I’ve reached out for the glass
I’ve try to pull back on the throttle
But I still run out of gas

I’ve been an angel, but never a saint
Hung with the devil, don’t nobody faint

‘Cause I’m hangin’ tough, I ain’t had enough
I ain’t givin’ up on life or love

Yesterday’s history, today is a chance
Tomorrow is a mystery so I’m makin’ plans

To keep hangin’ tough, I ain’t had enough
I ain’t givin’ up on life or love
I keep hangin’ tough, I ain’t had enough
I ain’t givin’ up on life or love
Life or love

Missed It Again

Another week, another missed “Tuneful Tuesdays.” Sigh…

Is there any more perfect music video in existence than R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”? I don’t think so. I don’t even like the song all that much, but when you match it with the images in the video it takes on a whole other dimension. I actually have the song on my iPod strictly because of how much I liked the video. It’s beautiful.

If you haven’t seen it before, watch it now.