Monica didn’t include links so I shall here. Connect. Listen. Enjoy. OK…Everything else is Monica. Thank you, Monica, for sharing your life in music.
Trio of Aweshum on NEXT http://allthingsnext.com/2018/10/24/next-week-652-full-show-10_24_18/ and Our Notable Songs of 2018 http://allthingsnext.com/2018/12/26/next-week-661-our-notable-songs-of-2018-show-3-of-5/
There is a story that I probably got back-asswards through the years but it goes something like this… a fidgety grasshopper enviously watches the graceful caterpillar undulating along the branch and asks “how do you move so beautifully”. The caterpillar stops to think about it and suddenly can’t move. The point being that it is so innate for the caterpillar to walk the way it walks, that to put this into a conscious thought suddenly paralyzes the caterpillar; its graceful glide defies conscious actions and decisions. So it is with the question of the role of music in my life. I actually felt paralyzed for weeks trying to sort my thoughts and put words together. And then I realized this is because music is innately who I am and how I see the world, and therefore could only manage a blank stare.
After dislodging some gears back into motion, I’ve compiled my response into a few categories that barely covers the spectrum, but here goes…
What Is This Sorcery Called Radio and How Did They Travel So Fast To So Many Stations in One Day…? Music was very much a part of my growing up; but in a Korean household that meant Mozart or Bach that you learn to play on the piano with the primary aim of technical precision. Other genres and artists were discovered piecemeal and each new introduction blew my mind as if they remade the film Groundhog Day using fire and the caveman as the plot. And so it went with the “discovery” of “radio”, this medium to transmit an infinite number of songs that were not Mozart and Bach. And with the level of gullibility and naivete that rivaled Mork from Ork (RIP Robin Williams…), I actually thought the bands were performing this live. So imagine my wide-eyed astonishment when I would turn the station and the very song I just heard on one station (“Ebony & Ivory”) was now playing on another station. Needless to say I am now familiar with the concept of “recordings” as the superior substitutes for the live performance in broadcasting and therefore even simultaneous broadcasts of the same song was possible. (Am I going to regret putting this on record… in my defense I was very very very young and my immigrant parents were still trying to figure out how to order at McDonald’s…).
Dancing – it’s obvious to me now that I am a poet and songwriter. But growing up, I wanted to be a dancer. I danced all day in troupes and musicals that would have me, I danced all weekend in city nightclubs that we could get into. I felt like a dolphin in water. So my first inextricable connection with music was the fact that it literally moved me. My dance track list would be encyclopedic but that period in my life was clearly marked by tunes like “Blue Monday” and “Melt With You” for clubbing and songs like “Take The Money and Run”, “Taking Care of Business” for half-time routines as a pom-pon girl. (If it weren’t for a late life onset of chronic vertigo, I probably would still be dancing and perhaps forever diverted from songwriting)
Soundtracks – then there are moments in which a song or album is so intertwined in a moment that the memories of one instantly ride side-saddle with the other. A trailer montage from a hypothetical biographical movie might look something like this –
Childhood: “Tom Sawyer” by Rush – one of the boys in my class walked in one day (who I may or may not have had a small crush on at the time …) and started singing “Tom Sawyer” to me. I can still see him mumbling the words and bopping his head as he sat down next to me. I was so intrigued by both this quizzical action and the song. Exit Stage Left was one of the first vinyls I bought with my own money and one of the first albums I would listen to incessantly from start to finish. (I still don’t know what the band looks like.)
NY or Bust: Reality Bites Soundtrack – wanderlust hit me big time after I started my first job after college in Chicago and I knew I had to bust out of this going-nowhere-small-town (I think any town would have felt claustrophobic in that phase of my life). I was in an entry level corporate job that was choking me. I watched the film Reality Bites which probably sealed my fate to leave, bought the soundtrack CD and took long drives along Lake Shore Drive towards N Wacker Drive north of Millennium Park that was undeveloped at the time with a surreal view of the lake and the city. (I may or may not have smoked a few cigarettes in my reverie.) I cannot single out any song off this album – it was the most perfectly curated soundtracked I had heard to date and probably still may be. It introduced me to certain iconic artists and songs I had missed in my earlier oblivious years in music. If I had to pick a song, I might as well choose “Stay” by Lisa Loeb given the additional backstory, that of an unknown trying to make it in the big city who happened to be neighbors of Ethan Hawke and got her big break by being featured on the album. The song itself was endearing and quirky. I saw her at CB’s Gallery when I first moved to NY – her voice was so clear and entrancing. Subconsciously I must have seen my yet unidentified music journey in her.
Getting Through The Grind: I continued to hold corporate jobs once I got to NY since it turned out I was a better accountant than waitress, especially in NYC (I was fired a month after I started waiting tables at a 57th street restaurant but was nearly hired on the spot for every accounting job I interviewed for). So there I was working long hours staring at spreadsheets and the only thread of sanity was provided by listening on repeat Counting Crows, Garbage, Oasis, amongst others. Whenever I listen to any of these songs, I can still feel the looming shadow of the cubicle walls and that particular strain in your eyes from being holed up in an artificially lit office for 12+ hrs straight…
If These Gallery Walls Could Speak: “Not Dark Yet” by Bob Dylan, “Gimme Shelter” by Rolling Stones. – during one of my sabbaticals from corporate existence, I worked at a Soho art gallery called The Time Is Always Now when the resident artist was Peter Beard on Wooster Street. It was a gloriously cavernous space with these large chaotic mixed media collages in sepia prints of scenes of Africa with smeared dried blood and other flotsam/jetsam of the desert and scribbled quotes and ripped photos… the artwork was gorgeously raw and unhinged. The scale and boldness of everything inside swallowed you up; it was the kind of space that transported you to somewhere that couldn’t be described but unmistakeable in its transformation of your psyche. And imagine listening to the low rumbling percussion and electric guitar trills of “Not Dark Yet” from Dylan or the echoing intro of the background vocals and guitar riffs from “Gimme Shelter” from the Stones while drifting between corners. The same dozen or so songs played every day over and over and yet I never tired of them. They were hard-wired into the very walls and artwork, as if they were their voices. No matter where I am when I listen to these songs today, I always hear it filtered through the Alice-in-Wonderland type of fantastical gallery walls of this space that has since vanished…
Inspirations & Aspirations – I listened to music most of my life as a consumer and as an adjunct to a broader experience. But it would be inevitable once I came out as a songwriter that I would be drawn to the artistry of songwriting and music as an art form that I could learn from. As with everything else, I was a latecomer in the knowledge of iconic songwriters that seemed so obvious to everyone else. I have to thank my husband for being the one to open my eyes to the likes of Lyle Lovett and John Prine – writers who are so witty and deceptively simple in their craft. Consider “Illegal Smile” by John Prine – “a bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down – and won”; or “If I Were The Man You Wanted” by Lyle Lovett “If I were the man you wanted, I would not be the man that I am”. Poignancy at its best. Then there’s the instant heartbreak that comes from everything Tom Waits… I watched another singer songwriter at the delightfully grungy Spiral Cafe in the East Village who covered “Ol’ 55” and that was my ‘holy cow’ introduction to the world of Tom Waits. There are definitely others, but thought I’d reaffirm the impact these tried and true artists had on me. While working on the album “Cowboys&Aliens” in early 2018, there wasn’t any particular sound we were going for. So its hard to say how or if any of these or other artists had a heavy hand in the ultimate album. However, when it came time for final mastering, the producer Joe DiGiorgi asked me to find him some mastering references e.g. what albums have the overall production quality I like, not necessarily which albums I like musically. In the process, I stumbled upon other more current songwriting heroes such as Josh Ritter and Brandi Carlile. Production wise, their albums were rooted in analog, which was a requirement for “Cowboys&Aliens”; to feel like you were in the room every time you heard the song. As singer-songwriters, they seemed like truth-seekers to me. I recall walking the long tunnel at the north end of the Metro North station at Grand Central listening to “Henrietta, Indiana”; the imagery and the unfolding of the plot was so palpable. Josh Ritter has so many other wonderful songs such as “Girl In the War” (straight to the gut, man…) and “Getting Ready To Get Down”; but “Henrietta, Indiana” had a special hold on me – not a type of song I usually would pick. Brandi Carlile’s “Turpentine” represents what makes her so masterful – “it’s 6 am and I’m all messed up” – pull no punches bleeding heart on the sleeve confessions, vocal expressions that leave you spent, and serpentine melodies.
Foo Fighters. I just love the Foo Fighters. Partly because of songs like “Learn to Fly” (the cover by the Rockin1000 in Cesena Italy certainly didn’t hurt the timeless wow factor). Partly because David Grohl is quintessential legit dad rock cool and happily puts in the hard work. Partly because of how his docu-series “Sonic Highways” had a huge impact on my recent return to music, and gave me permission to keep at music just for the love of it, and because music is my life. Foo Fighters.
Actually I could have shortened this article by just mentioning Foo Fighters.
So, this entire article in one tweet: “My Life In Music? #FooFighters”.