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Category Archives: listening

bluegrass blues


It’s Monday night, October 3, 2011. The bluegrass band at Amnesia, Random Canyon Growlers, opens with a song about feeling sad and lonely. The lead singer looks right at me. I have had two Amnesiac cosmos at this point so I can’t be sure and I am probably not the only one here connecting to the song.

Welcome to the lounge culture of The Mission, a tradition that can pull you out of you’re misery without your permission.

The narrative structure of the lyrics is compelling. I hear the words clearly and watch the band members from a vantage point of a few feet. I hear the waving in and out of the stand up base, the mandolin, the guitar, and the banjo. The music lulls me out of my slightly sad mood as I easily devote myself to the bluegrass sounds.

Later, the music changes tempo. Some people dance on the small floor in front of the musicians. I move in place in my corner of the “dance” floor.

After a while, the sound becomes too repetitive. I have an early meeting on Tuesday morning. I walk away with a tiny smile curling around my lips.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in bluegrass, listening, lyrics, song

 

while the Sitar gently sings


A Sitar conjures up childhood memories of living-room soirées in India where someone would play to an entranced audience of family and friends. At the time I did not know that this ancient Indian instrument had already been introduced by George Harrison of The Beatles to a huge rock-n-roll fan base in the West.

My family moved to the US in the late 70s. I’ve heard the solemn riffs of The Sitar in many popular Western songs and attended classical Indian concerts where the Sitar played a key role. Last Friday, however, when Rob Myers of the Thievery Corporation plucked the strings at a live concert in Oakland, I felt an unanticipated resonance. Listening to the sounds at a rock concert connected me back to the childhood memories and to the distance I have traveled literally and figuratively.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in 60s music, classical, listening, memory, Sitar, sound

 

Violin Revolution


A man with gray hair looks at me as I walk by. Near him a group of young men stand around talking-nodding-smiling. The air is brisk and cold. It’s 10:30pm on a Monday, August in San Francisco. I plan to turn around soon and walk home.

As I pass by Revolution Cafe, I encounter the crowd spilling out on the sidewalk and the usual smell of cannabis. But there’s also a sharp and haunting sound which pierces through and rouses my curiosity. I walk up to the open door of the cafe where a packed room of people are concentrating on a group of musicians who are seated in the middle of the crowd: three men on violin, one man playing a base guitar and a fifth on clarinet.

Tempted by the music, I squeeze past the crowd to buy a sangria and find my way back again near the door. After playing musical chairs for about ten minutes, I find myself seated a foot away from one of the violin players. His hands move horizontally in a a wide arc. He’s half seated and half standing and moves his legs up and down as he plays. I keep an eye on his movements to make sure that I stay out of his way.

I can see the music sheets and the complex arrangement of music makes my head swim. I don’t recognize the music. It could be something by Beethoven. The adagio, a style of playing music slowly, soothes and relaxes.

I had decided to go on a walk to relax my agitated mind. The walk was good but the music adds a touch of enchantment that I carry with me as I leave after 3-4 more sets. I fall asleep easily when I come home to my bed.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in adagio, classical, listening, sound, violin

 

Where is the jazz?


A lone man stands against the wall, one foot up on the wall, knees supporting the saxophone in his arms. The next instant, a haunting sound floats out of the instrument.

The scene is so common in New Orleans that it has become one of the cliche images that represents New Orleans jazz in illustrations, paintings, and movies. It was a new experience, however, when I first encountered the sound as a 16-yr-old. I lived less than ten miles away in a suburb but New Orleans was a different world. The sax, the man, and the sound pervaded my senses and became my first memory of this city.

Jazz was also a different world. I filed away the man and his music until college where I briefly dated a trombone player who played in a jazz band, I went to all the touristy jazz places in the city with my fellow students at Tulane University in New Orleans, and attended sporadic live jazz and blues concerts. Yet, the spirit of jazz did not enter my music consciousness. I was obsessed with the poetry and angst of The Smiths, the danceability of New Order, the artistry of Laurie Anderson, the craziness of the Talking Heads, the other-worldliness of Cocteau Twins…

Over the years, I continued to participate in jazz but only as a social activity, never with any authentic passion. Recently, I was listening to a jazz orchestra at Yerba Buena Park in San Francisco. The music reminded me of New Orleans and brought back memories that I had not realized I had collected. I find myself intrigued, finally, by the sounds that blossomed only ten miles away from my childhood home but did not find a place in my heart.

Thus, I’m exploring jazz here for the next few weeks and approaching it with a beginner’s mind…

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in jazz, listening, memory, New Orleans, sound

 

roll me in designer sheets…


Colour me your colour, baby
Colour me your car
Colour me your colour, darling
I know who you are
Come up off your colour chart
I know where you’re coming from
Call me on the line
Call me call me any anytime
Call me my love you can call me any day or night
Call me
Cover me with kisses, baby
Cover me with love
Roll me in designer sheets
I’ll never get enough…

I have been singing this song incorrectly for the past 20+ years. I realized my error recently when my boyfriend downloaded a karaoke software to help me practice singing Call Me by Blondie for an upcoming karaoke gathering.The first few lines of the lyrics were a surprise to both of us. I no longer recall how I previously sang these lines but I do know that the word “colour” (or “color”) did not exist in my version.

Something similar happened at the karaoke. The bar did not have the songs I had practiced so I sang Red Red Wine by UB40 and noticed that in addition to being a reggae song, it encompasses some rap rhythms.

Later that night, when a friend asked me to join her in singing Tempted by Squeeze, I was astonished that I knew most of the lyrics and the tune to a song that I had not heard since the 90s!

The unheard lyrics and the heard ones… both a surprise… amusing side effects of singing rather than simply listening.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in karaoke, listening, lyrics, memory, singing, song