Nana (October 2010)

Note: my wonderful Nana, Florence, passed away October 2010, at the age of 98.  She was too amazing, as you’ll see.  I wanted to write something and read it at her funeral, but my sister convinced me that it’d be too long and nobody would want to sit through it.  

I’m not sure I could’ve gotten through it myself.  But here it is, in the extended version.

A few years ago I wrote a story in which the beloved Nana of a main character died.  My character was a journalist, and so her Nana wisely chose her to deliver the eulogy.  What I wrote was simple and, I thought, moving.  In fact, a writer friend of mine asked for permission to use parts of it when she killed off her main character in an epic story she was writing.  Of course, it’s a different business when it’s your loved one who’s passing or passed away.

These last few months, my Nana’s been on my mind almost constantly.  I’ve been trying to think of a single word that would characterize her.  And I finally came up with one.  I know maybe the great-grandchildren won’t agree with me on this one, but the word is ENERGY.

How else can you describe a woman who gave so much to her family for so very long?  She got married in her mid-20s and was a mom within two years.  Then her two oldest daughters got married in their mid-20s, and became moms within a year.  So, by the time she was fifty, she was a grandma four times over, that fourth time on her own 50th birthday.  By contrast, I’m forty-nine now, and my girls are just 16 and 10.  Imagine how much energy you’d have if you were a grandparent at just fifty, knowing that your kids had grown up, married, and settled down; and you could enjoy that next generation…then send them home when they got to be too much for you.  I can’t do that.

When the four of us, my sister and I, and my cousins Scott and Cheryl, were born, it was the 1960’s.  The 60’s were maybe the last decade when women either wanted to, or were expected to, or could afford to, stay home with their kids.  My dad worked, and so my own mom was what used to be called a housewife, and my sister and I did our best to drive her nuts.  I’m sure we succeeded on more than one occasion.  But I’m sure mom also knew that help wasn’t too far away; once we moved from my folks’ original apartment in north Jersey, we got a house within walking distance from where Nana and Pappa lived.  Even when we moved to Howell Court, we were still just a five-minute drive away.

My Aunt Mar and Uncle Dave, on the other hand, both had jobs that meant they were out of their home all day.  In those pre-daycare days, what would you do?  I mean, nobody would turn their kids over to strangers to be fed, burped and cleaned, right?  Even leaving out the potential cost, who could do such a thing?  It was almost unheard of.  Our family had a secret weapon: Nana.  She practically raised Scott and Cheryl, and later, our younger cousin, Nick.  I recall spending many a preschool weekday at her house myself.

I have to tell you, I was jealous of Cheryl and Scott, because even though we saw Nana often, they got to be with her ALL THE TIME when they were little, and beyond—even when they started school, they often spent afternoons there too. (No after-school programs that I knew of, back then.)  They were SO lucky!  But I knew by then that I was fortunate too.  Not only did I have a full set of grandparents in those early years, but mine lived just down the road, not in another state, or even another city.  Why would your grandparents live somewhere else where you couldn’t see them all the time?  What was that about?

When I was little, Nana constantly amazed me.  Unlike my own mom’s, and, I admit, my own, her handbag was a marvel of organization.  She always knew where everything was, and if a child needed a tissue or a stick of gum while in church, or anywhere else, she could find it immediately, with no digging.   Nana was a buffer between siblings while in quieter places, making sure we failed yet again to fight and/or kill each other.

She was a wonderful caregiver, and an excellent cook.  She may not have taught me to cook, but I still use some of her recipes, which she was kind enough to give me some years ago, after I got married.

I always tell my kids about her potato and tomato salad, the taste which I’ve never been able to duplicate.  I console myself with the thought that it must be the lack of Jersey tomatoes where I live that causes this issue.  She used to fry us hamburgers in her little skillet, and serve them to us on Wonder Bread with the crusts cut off—a messy dish, sure, on that very soft bread, but one we loved.  Her white metal pantry cabinets always held candy for us kids, usually Baby Ruths or whatever our Pappa liked.  For him, when he was home for lunch or dinner, she used to make a dish that still grosses me out—a mixture of meat, eggs and escarole she called giumbaut (not sure about the spelling).  And, of course, all the other wonderful Italian dishes in her repertoire.

Family holiday dinners at her little house were absolutely crazy.  The adults ate in the living room.  I always seem to remember that we’d bring in the picnic table from outside for that purpose.  Us kids, just the four oldest cousins at the time, got to eat at the little kitchen table, closest to where the food was prepared.  It was loud to all of us, but for Nana, who was raised with I-still-can’t-remember-how-many siblings, it probably seemed a lot quieter.   She’d grown up surrounded by family; we were lucky enough to carry on that tradition for her and with her.  I remember her telling me that in the early 1930s, in the depths of the Great Depression, that all of her siblings of working age had jobs, so money was never a difficulty at that time.  She told me she wasn’t even AWARE of the Depression till she got married and it was just the two of them, with one income.

Nana had originally planned to be trained as a dietician, but those plans were abandoned in favor of her husband and kids.  I loved hearing her stories about her family, especially her oldest brother Jim, who at a certain point was estranged from the family and was never really seen by them after that.  I wish I could remember if she told me why that happened.  She told me about her mom and dad and how they met; the mysterious origins of her father and how the woman who raised him wasn’t his mother, or even a blood relation, but who had given him her last name, De Marco.

She told us about the scandal in her family when her oldest sister, Mary, and another sister, Anna, both married men literally old enough to be their father; and how, in the 1940s, an oppressively Catholic time, one of her sisters wasn’t even allowed to have a non-Catholic in her bridal party.  Many of these things were shocking to me at the time she told me, but what I didn’t understand at first was that she was from a different time, and even a much different world, where things that seem small now could tear a family apart.  I know she never wanted that for us.

She met our Pappa, Nick, when she was 19, married him 5 years later, and lost him 35 years after that, when the four oldest cousins were in grade school, and when his namesake, Nicky, was a toddler. We were heartbroken, all of us, but none of us the way Nana surely was.  I didn’t go to the funeral, since I was just 11, but I’ll never forget my big, strong Uncle Dave coming back to the house in tears afterwards.   That, more than anything, was a sign of how final that event was.  I didn’t even see my Nana cry until several days later.

I’ve forgotten to mention her sense of humor, which could be a little bawdy at times.  She referred to her lady parts as her “cookie,” and once actually I saw her hold a platter near her lower abdomen, stating she was “putting her cookie on a plate.”  (Yeah, and I’m really not kidding.  I almost wish I was.)  Anytime we received a money gift in her presence, she’d claim that the recipient owed her those funds.  And let’s not forget what she tried to pull over on her married granddaughters: patting her lap and beckoning our husbands to her, insisting she loved them more than their wives did.  Sometimes they took the bait and pretended to be tempted.  She was hilarious; we all loved it.

Nana was amazing in a different way, too.  She was what I liked to call the psychic in our family (I maintain that each Italian family has just one at a time).  She told me about the various superstitions she’d grown up with as the child of two immigrants, and the ways they might affect your life.  Also, she was able to predict the gender of all six grandchildren, and about half her great-granchildren as well.  The exception was my cousin Scott, who’d moved out-of-state, and whose wife was unavailable for Nana’s personal service.

Her method was simple: when I was pregnant with my first child, I stood near her, and she put one hand on my belly, and the other on my butt.  In short order, she proclaimed I was having a girl.  My doctor was amazed by this non-invasive procedure when I told him about it, and said he “could sure use someone like that here.”  After my daughter was born, Nana looked at the way her hair grew on top of her head, and told me the next time, I would again have a girl.  My sister, on the other hand, has two sons; she consulted Nana when they were considering baby #3.  Nana told her she could hope for a girl, but she would undoubtedly have another boy.  So this is why I have two nephews on that side instead of three.

Even though she never really asked us for anything in celebration of her birthdays, or Christmas, we tried over the years to get her great gifts, ones that we hoped would be able to convey how much we loved and appreciated her.  At first, the grandchildren gave her little knickknacks, like tiny ceramic figurines that bore legends like “I Love You This Much”.  I do seem to recall one memorable Christmas when my aunt, uncle and cousins bought her a padded toliet seat.  As silly as that sounds, she loved it.  It was crazy.  We’d send her flowers, but she told us she didn’t like them because “flowers die.”  One of my cousins then had the bright idea of replacing flowers with balloons; that too was a big hit.  Most recently, I’d send her a mini Christmas tree, with its own set of ornaments and lights, to commemorate all the Christmases I’d spent at her house, in her fortunate company.

She really didn’t like the idea of us having parties for her; yet, under the guise of a graduation party for me, we managed to fool her into attending her own 70th birthday party at my folks’ house.  In fact, her younger sister Margie even stayed at her house, cooking for days the food meant to be served at “my” party.  Many years later, after I was married and living a thousand miles away, the rest of the family lured her to another celebration: her 90th.  She may not have been thrilled about the whole idea at first, but she was by all accounts delighted with that surprise.  I was sorry my husband, kids and I had to miss it.  Lucky for me, both those occasions were documented and turned into photo albums, which were always kept out for anyone to peruse and smile over.

Her house wasn’t the largest or the fanciest.  Good Lord, she had furniture that was probably thirty years old when she passed away; the paintings on the walls never changed; and the carpet, if I recall correctly, was still orange.  She refused to have anyone come in to replace it and make it less ugly.  But the smallish entertainment center held many pictures of us, so many that new ones had to be placed in the front of each frame, covering up the older photos.  There was even one of all the grandchildren with our respective spouses or fiances, taken a month or two before my wedding specially for Nana.  And I haven’t even mentioned the photo collages in the hall, all of which assured Nana of familiar, beloved faces within her sight almost all the time.

This last bears out the one really true thing I wrote in my fictional eulogy: that all Nana ever wanted was to be surrounded by those she loved.  On Christmas Eve, just before the traditional fish dinner, we’d all get up and walk around, hugging and kissing and wishing each other a Merry Christmas.  All except Nana, that is; as the matriarch of our little clan, she simply sat in the dining room in sort of a place of honor.  She accepted our wishes and returned them to us, along with the kisses and love we always knew we could count on from her.  We may have tried to protect her feelings over the years, glossing over or omitting things that we felt could hurt her, but she was always most concerned about how we felt.  She accepted all from those she loved, without judging harshly, always loving us back.

We were fortunate to have known her, to have had her love for so many years.  And so we gather one last time around her, so that she might feel our love again, and remember it always, as will we.

2015: The Most Punk-Rock Year of my Life, Part 4

AM! 7-3-15

It’s kind of funny that after so many years of not seeing punk shows, that I went to so many in 2015.  The next concert adventure of the year was in Madison, Wisconsin–a city I’d literally only visited once before in my lifetime, over 30 years prior, when I was still in college.  Some shows stand out more than others, and this show was to be one of those.

In our quest to see Frank Iero once more in our home state, my daughters and I were oh so fortunate that his band hooked up with Gainesville, Florida’s Against Me! for their summer tour.  (It was a sacrifice we were willing to make.)  Tickets were crazy reasonable, so we booked a hotel room just west of Madison and planned our trip.

Against Me! with openers Annie Girl and the Flight, plus Frank Iero and the Cellabration, July 3rd, Majestic Theatre, Madison, WI

I was jumpy before we left Milwaukee, the way I always am before a show trip; and since my older daughter assured me that traffic in Madison was nuts, I was acutely aware of the timing so we could deal with checking into the hotel, having dinner, etc.  What I hadn’t counted on was that Madison, our capital city, would be almost deserted traffic-and people-wise just before the July 4th holiday.  So we arrived pretty early–too early, in fact–without much to do but walk around and try to amuse ourselves before showtime.  (We did spot Frank outside the backstage door of the venue while looking for somewhere to park, so that was something.)

To pass the time, we walked along the beautiful waterfront plaza that overlooks Lake Monona; we window-shopped closed storefronts; and we discussed where to eat, and what would be the best time to join the line.  At last, the three of us agreed on a restaurant almost across the street from the Majestic, and had a nice meal outside on their patio.  It was an especially good location, because we could totally keep an eye on the line.

With an hour or so to spare, the girls and I took our places and watched the line grow behind us.  None of us had ever seen Against Me!, and my friend Deb had alerted me that the pit would probably be crazy; I planned to be nearby, but not in it if possible.  I’m sure my kids had other ideas.  Once inside, we checked out the merch table, saving it for later.  The Majestic is a rather small, older theatre, the kind that should always be treasured and maintained.  I thought maybe the floor space was a little smaller than at Reggie’s Rock Club, but my older daughter seemed to think it was about the same.  The main difference was that rather than just an open-floor plan, there were “tiers” to the floor–large, oversized steps that could hold several rows of concertgoers (and would hold chairs and tables for other kinds of events).  Each of these had a railing to lean on.  (One of them held the sound board, and a merch area for the first opener.)  10/10, would go again.

I decided to hang out on the left side of the floor, behind one of the railings.  The girls went to get a little closer.  Not too long before the show, three recent arrivals came to stand in front of my spot–two guys and a trans woman named Leah.  I was chatting with all three of them.  One guy was hilarious, with a serious Spanish accent that I originally pegged as Cuban.  He turned out to be from Peru, and I never did get his name.  He didn’t quite make it through the show; he left after Frank’s set because it was so loud, Leah told me.  The other guy was American, and I know he gave me his name at some point, but I have no idea what it was.  We bonded briefly at the bar over our mutual love of The Killers.  Overall, the crowd was genial and my view was excellent.

Before the first opener came on, the audience got an unexpected treat.  Evelyn, the young daughter of Against Me’s frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, was blowing bubbles backstage.  She eventually came out onstage a little further, and people were cheering her as she continued.  She was adorable.  Eventually, from my vantage point I saw Laura leaning forward from her backstage seat, and beckon to her daughter to come back near her.  It was very sweet.

Annie Girl and the Flight (here on soundcloud) took the stage not long after Evelyn had vacated it, and they were awesome.  They kind of reminded me of a punk-rock version of the progressive rock group Renaissance (their female lead singer had a similar voice).  I really enjoyed them.  Shortly thereafter, Frank Iero and the Cellabration played a slightly shorter set than at their headlining gig in March.  Neither group engaged in a lot of between-song talk, but that was okay.  Both did an amazing job.

After Frank’s set, I wandered a little and wound up back further in the crowd than I had been.  Following a brief wait, Against Me! took the stage.  Wow.  The crowd was enthusiastic, to say the least (pretty sure I was one of the oldest people there).  In case you don’t keep up with such things, I should note that Laura is a trans woman who was born Tom Gabel.  This was most important for a number of reasons, chief of which was that it felt like those in the crowd who were trans, or gender fluid, felt a lot safer at this show than they might have at similar punk shows.  Laura played to this strength, wearing her now-famous “Gender Is Over” shirt onstage.  There was very little between-song patter, but that wasn’t important; just as they should, the songs did most of the talking.

Set List:

  • Unconditional Love
  • Walking Is Still Honest
  • Cliché Guevara
  • You Look Like I Need a Drink
  • New Wave
  • FuckMyLife666
  • White Crosses
  • Spanish Moss
  • Bamboo Bones
  • Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ (featuring Frank Iero on guitar)
  • Dead Friend
  • T. S.R. (This Shit Rules)
  • The Ocean
  • Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  • Song played from tape (Because of the Shame)
  • Thrash Unreal (1st verse and chorus)
  • True Trans Soul Rebel
  • Black Me Out
  • I Was a Teenage Anarchist

Encores:

  • Tonight We’re Gonna Give it 35%
  • (acoustic) Androgynous
  • (The Replacements cover)
  • Pints of Guinness Make You Strong
  • Sink, Florida, Sink

I didn’t keep any notes at this show, either, but from what I recall, this setlist (again, from setlist.fm) looks pretty complete to me.  The audience was wild (for me): there was a ton of crowd-surfing, as well as a couple of brave souls who jumped onstage.  In fact, one sang along briefly with Laura, and then did a stage dive back into the crowd.  Props to the security folks (on the floor and on/near the stage) for not just grabbing people and tossing them back.  People were nearby and ready to “protect” the band, but protection turned out to be unnecessary on that night.

 After my kids and I finally found each other (they were in back of me a few rows, and could see me, but I didn’t see them until we were right on top of each other), we hit up the merch line.  The girls told me they’d been close to the pit, but once things started getting crazy, they’d sensibly moved back a little.  Then we waited outside the venue until about 1 AM, hoping to see Laura and/or Frank.  First out were Annie Girl and the Flight, who loaded their gear into a van, crammed themselves in right afterwards, and took off into the night.  Then, Laura came out to say hello.  She bummed a cigarette and took a few deep puffs.  Fans milling around had albums and other items to be signed.  A few took selfies, of course.  Then I said thanks to Laura and shook her hand, and put my arms out for a hug.  She was kind enough to oblige.

A minute later, we realized that Frank was sitting on a nearby corner to meet his fans.  We ambled over to say hi, and waited in the (now very short) line to see him.  We all shook his hand, and the girls told him we’d already been to see him in Chicago.  (Me: “Hello again.” Frank [giggling]: “Hello again.”)  As usual, he was very nice and super patient, even though it was getting to be almost 2 AM.  I was annoyed, though, because I was stupid enough to let my camera battery run down, and was unable to take a photo of this meeting.  Finally we got back to our car and drove to our hotel.

Ticket 7-3-15
Among my souvenirs: can someone please tell me WHY I didn’t think to ask to have this signed??

Postscript: The next day, of course, was the 4th of July, and a Saturday.  I needed to get my older daughter back to Milwaukee in time for a barbeque with her housemates.  We stopped off to get some food to contribute, and had a great time with them.  Then my younger daughter and I drove back to Green Bay so that she could hook up with a friend to see our downtown fireworks.  So I went from headbanging one night, to amazing fireworks on the next.  Not a bad weekend at all, I’d say.

 

Friendship and Poetry

To the few folks who actually read this blog: Did you know I have (had?) another blog, on Google?  True story: about 5 years ago, I was ranting on a different site.  Those posts were done off the cuff, as spontaneously as possible; spontaneity is in short supply these days, I fear.  But on the upside, on Wordpress it seems like I’ve been able to pull my thoughts together better than I used to.  (There are still a few good ideas still dangling out in my former blogosphere; I may yet dredge them up and complete them here.  Don’t judge me; it could happen.)

Today is my younger daughter’s 16th birthday, the fact of which blows my mind.  Seems like just yesterday she was a tiny little scrap of a thing (the only one in our family who needed to wear preemie clothes) in my arms, wailing and puking…yadda yadda yadda, am I right?  She’s so lovely and hilariously funny now, with all the teenaged nonsense that accompanies that age.  Sometimes I wonder how she turned out so well.  It certainly had little to do with me.

But this blog isn’t about her.  It has to do with something I published on this day, on that other site, five years ago (another mind-blowing fact.  It’s amazing there are any brain cells left).  It’s a poem that I wrote and dedicated to two of my dearest friends.

You know, or maybe you don’t, that friends are a precious commodity. They become even more precious the older I get, as family members fall into ill health or pass away; as marriages start and end; as children are born or go off on their own as best they can.  They also get more difficult to find as we move away from where we grew up, and of course, aren’t in school anymore, with loads of people one’s own age milling around.

Lucky for me, the Internet has brought me at least two wonderful grown-up friends, who are honored in the verse below.  I re-read it yesterday, and I could still bear to read it, so I’m going to say it holds up.  Enjoy.

Wild (for the friends I wish I’d had long ago)

In a different lifetime

I would’ve been your best friend

Running through summer fields

Ponytailed and mosquitobitten

Shrieking, avoiding the bees

Rolling on grass

Gathering all the flowers we could hold

Under tents of bedsheets

Sharing secrets of the day, the minute, my life, your life

Watching your blonde hair and my dark

Flow wild as we run.

 

In less than half a decade

I would’ve been your best friend

But we would’ve lied and told everyone we were sisters

And that your blue eyes and my brown

Were perfectly normal in our family

Giggling, crazy, wild nights in Asbury and beyond

Sneaking what we could

Blue eyeshadow worn with our Levi’s

(not that you needed it)

Getting in trouble, oh yeah

Never telling anyone

Secrets of my life, your life, the minute, the day

Anything at all

Wild as we run.

 

And when I see you now

Whenever that is

We get to pick up where we might’ve left off

When time and school and families

Pull us apart, unwilling, never really letting go

Each one always keeping one end of the thread

Be it shoelaces, phone cords, guitar strings

Never really letting go

Always wanting more but never getting

Time slips on

But the echo of your laugh, your voice

The memory of your face, your eyes

Keeps me holding on

Sustains me when I can’t,

Just can’t, and nobody else knows or understands.

2015: The Most Punk-Rock Year of My Life, Part 3

Just a couple of weeks after my solo adventure to see Gerard Way, I was in Milwaukee with a carful of passengers…sort of.  My younger daughter had tickets to see her favorite band, pop-punk princes All Time Low; and my older daughter and I were excited to see a band we’ve liked for quite some time, Murder by Death.  By luck, both shows were just one day apart in Milwaukee.

My older girl had discovered MBD on the internet in 2006-2007, and played me their video for “Brother” multiple times.  They were different from the other bands she fancied at that time (MCR, Panic! At the Disco and Arctic Monkeys): they used many acoustic instruments and had a cellist.  Their songs and sound varied, too.  If you were to pick a genre, I guess the best description of their sound would be alt-country.  (NB: I hate labels.)  MBD specializes in pretty dark subject matter, including what you could call murder ballads.

My older girl and I had seen MBD once before, in Milwaukee back in 2009, when they opened for The Gaslight Anthem.  My husband, recently  returned to us after 19 months at Fort Dix, NJ, was along for the ride that time, with our then 9-year-old in tow.  Sadly, due to my negligence, we’d missed the other two openers that night: Frank Turner (*throws hands up in despair!*), and The Loved Ones.  Once we finally made it to Turner Hall, after trooping all over the downtown area, The Loved Ones were playing their last song, and Mom was ready for a drink.    I remember watching a group of people set up for MBD who were wearing regular clothes; I figured they were the band’s roadies.  Then Adam Turla, the lead singer, leaned into his mic and said, “Hi, we’re Murder by Death, from Indiana.”

Wow…that was unexpected.  And they were great.  I still recall their amazing and terrifying rendition of the old Sonny and Cher hit “Bang Bang”.  Fast-forward to the end of 2014, when we found out they’d be playing in Milwaukee.  I asked my daughter, who now lives there, to please get us some tickets, and planned to crash at her apartment.

Murder by Death, Turner Hall, Milwaukee, May 28

Since we’d last seen them live, Murder by Death had released at least three more albums.  They’re one of many bands that have embraced the new model for releasing their music: they do it on their own.  Their latest album, Big Dark Love, was financed via a Kickstarter campaign.  I’d gotten a vinyl copy for my daughter as a Christmas present, and it came with downloads for the music, plus a bonus album’s worth of fan-chosen cover songs.  (Note: I suck at downloads; I forget about them all the time, and they expire when they’re included with an album.  I’m so old that I prefer to have physical copies of as much of my music collection as possible.)

Turner Hall is an interesting and historic venue.   The whole building used to house a recreation complex used by German immigrants in Milwaukee in the mid-19th century.  The ballroom is upstairs; the lower part of the building is now a restaurant.   The wooden floor (which was the upstairs gymnasium) is uneven from so many years of use; you sometimes have to watch where you’re going.  Apparently that’s not the hall’s only quirk: at a They Might Be Giants show a couple of years ago, I heard one of the lead singers remark that the stage slopes downward towards the audience.  Which is very weird, if it’s true.  In all, though, it’s a great place to see a band: just a big open room with a bar at the back.  The sound is actually pretty good, and the sightlines are excellent.  8/10, would go again (and probably will; this was my third visit).

When it came time to leave, my daughter and I decided not to rush over to the show.  We weren’t familiar with the opening band, and we knew it would be a little later till the headliner was on, so we had dinner with her younger sister and took our time.  We got to the Turner Hall just as the first band was playing their last song, and enjoyed a drink together (she’d turned 21 earlier in 2015).

Murder by Death are not the kind of band that attract very young fans, though my daughter was in her teens when she discovered them.  (She has excellent taste.)  Their audience is a little older–drinking age and older.  So sometimes you get assholes who think it’s okay to act weird (drunk), and we saw a little of that.  And the crowd is mostly guys (but not all), so it skews differently from many of last year’s shows.  Also, since the music is compelling, but with dark subject matter, the fans are not a headbanging bunch. It’s also not a flashy show.  The band members tend to stay in place, rather than running all over the stage.  It’s not really dance music, but people do sway and sing along.

And so we did.

I’m sorry that I can’t supply you with more details; youtube footage of this show is kind of spotty.  Yes, it’s been nearly a year, and yes, I may have forgotten the details; but I love this band, and I know they put on a great show for a bunch of devoted fans, myself included.

The list below I found on setlist.fm, and with just 19 songs total, I’m not convinced it’s complete.  (I should have written that shit down.)  In the days after this show, my daughter and I were texting each other: “I just remembered, they played this song!” “They played that song too!”  “Oh my God, that means they played like 22-23 songs!”  We couldn’t believe how far-reaching their setlist is; they’ll pull from pretty much all of their albums in the course of an evening.

Set List:

  • I Came Around
  • Ball and Chain
  • A Master’s in Reverse Psychology
  • The Curse of Elkhart
  • Strange Eyes
  • Big Dark Love
  • Lost River
  • Hard World
  • Send Me Home
  • Steal Away
  • Foxglove
  • I Shot An Arrow
  • Three Men Hanging
  • Dynamite Mine
  • A Second Opinion
  • Until Morale Improves, the Beatings Will Continue
  • Comin’ Home

Encore:

  • Spring Break 1899
  • Fuego!

I do recall one particular moment (other than when two young guys sort of jumped in front of us, then drunkenly apologized): before playing “Spring Break 1899,” Adam Turla announced that one of their crew was having a birthday that night, and that the song was dedicated to him.

Sadly, we didn’t have the chance to meet the band members after this particular show, but we did spend some quality time at the merch table.  It turns out that the DIY model of putting out music is a very good thing indeed: all of MBD’s albums, including their rarely-heard debut, Like the Exorcist, but More Break-Dancing, are available at their shows, most of them on cd and vinyl.  I was delighted to score a special blue-green vinyl copy of Big Dark Love, the same one I’d gotten for my daughter as a Kickstarter pledge. It was money well spent.  And so was the show.

MBD May 2015
The one photo I got that night. It turned out pretty well.

2015: The Most Punk-Rock Year of My Life, Part 2

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One of the things that made 2015 such a great year, other than the sheer volume of shows, was the fact that they were at smaller venues than others I’ve been to.  I mean, my very first concert was Elton John at Madison Square Garden during his “Louder than Concorde, But Not Quite as Pretty” tour in 1976.  (For those doing the math, I was 15.)

Not so with this next show (or any of the shows this year):

Gerard Way, May 15, First Avenue Club, Minneapolis, MN; opener Nuns

The former lead singer of My Chemical Romance had released his first solo album, Hesitant Alien, in the fall of 2014, and started touring almost immediately after that.  Conspicuously absent on the US tour map was, you guessed it, pretty much anywhere in the Midwest.  I was bummed, but a friend with “inside” information urged me to be patient.  And so my patience was rewarded! 

This was truly a long-distance trip, and I made it alone.  I hadn’t been to the Twin Cities since…oh God, I have no idea.  I’d wanted to go to the Chicago date, which was the following night, but it sold out before I could get a ticket.  Plus, I probably would’ve had one or both daughters along for the ride.  This would have been more expensive, of course, but the company would have been nice.  The main reason I didn’t have my kids along is that this show was on a Friday.  The trip was so long that I decided to leave Thursday evening and stop over in Wausau, Wisconsin.  After an uneventful night in a bargain motel (and a McDonald’s breakfast when the motel food was spotty), I got on 29 west to Minnesota.

Notes on traveling in western Wisconsin: the scenery is gorgeous, but the radio stations get weirder as you get closer to the Mississippi.  They either had oldies playing, or preachers preaching–almost nothing in-between. And so, thank the Lord for CDs and a car stereo that mostly behaved.  My driving-in-Minneapolis music was Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues.  It’s only a half hour long, and was very helpful as I negotiated my way around a city I probably hadn’t visited for the better part of a decade.  Finally I rolled up to my hotel, a gorgeous new Hampton Inn about a block and a half from the First Avenue.  There was parking right across the street, which meant I could walk everywhere I’d need to go on my very short trip.

I walked to the club before dinner, and as I’d thought, there was a line.  But–dinner.  I ate a terrific Italian meal outside in the unseasonably mild weather, just across the street from the flagship Target store.  Then I suited up at the hotel and went back to stand in the (noticeably longer) line.  The day was sunny, a treat for mid-May.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really make any line friends, aside from the young ladies who held my place in line when I realized that I’d forgotten my earplugs. However, the Minneapolis line had a brief visit from Lola–a large pink monkey sort of figure who figures large in the Hesitant Alien universe, and who sported white Converse on his/her feet.  (Still some question as to who was wearing the costume.)  I managed a poorly-executed selfie (the only kind I seem to be able to produce)with Lola, so I had that at least.

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The First Avenue is probably the most well-established venue I went to all last year.  According to the slides flashing on the screen in front of the stage while we waited, the club was celebrating its 45th anniversary.  If you’ve seen the movie Purple Rain with Prince, you’ve seen the inside of the First Avenue.  There are likely hundreds of Instagram photos of the club’s exterior, painted black with white stars listing all (?) the acts who’ve played there over the decades. It looks like I’m sitting right under the star that says “Buckcherry”.  10/10, would go again; extra points for historical significance of club, despite the long drive.

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(I warned you that I suck at selfies.)

Doors were at 6, and were opened relatively promptly.  It took a little while to get inside; my place in line was around the corner from the entrance.  Of course, that meant I was way far back from the younger fans, who quickly took their places as close to the stage as possible.  I hung around the main floor briefly, comparing notes with a few other moms who’d  come with their kids.  One lady had driven with her daughter from Alabama, I think, which is a pretty fierce display of affection.  This is the type of devotion shared by so many people who are still fans of My Chemical Romance, and by extension, its individual members and their solo projects.  I decided that rather than get crushed by other folks in the pit (or the very real chance of having someone taller stand right in front of me just before showtime), I would hang out upstairs.

The opening band was Nuns (not to be confused with the 80s punk group the Nuns), a foursome from Oklahoma.  They were terrific.  My notes state that I especially enjoyed the interplay between the singer and the drummer.  I found out later that they’re brother and sister.  (And yes, I took a notebook; one of the conditions of my attendance was that I’d write a review of the show for my husband.  I always used to take a notebook when I went to Peter Himmelman shows, though.  You see, Peter always plays without a set list, and his fans always want to know.)  I can’t give you Nuns’ set list, because I’d never heard them before, but they do have a website and an album out already: Opportunities on bandcamp.

After a brief interlude, the lights went down, and the folks in the pit below jogged forward (the better to see the man of the hour).  Strains of “The Bureau” rang out, and Gerard Way took the stage.  I hadn’t seen him perform in person for quite a while, and I forgot what a compelling stage presence he has.  That whole jogging-forward thing?  I witnessed that phenomenon in 2011 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, and it was damn scary.  Though I love being close to the music, I was kind of glad to have a good vantage point far from the madding crowd.  (I’m a coward; I admit it.)

Gerard was, as always, engaging and emotional, and in great voice.  He mentioned his upcoming Russian tour after the first song, and the crowd hollered its appreciation when he said that afterwards, he and his band would be recording more music.  (Yes, we are greedy little fuckers, to be sure.)  He sometimes goes off on weird tangents, like reflecting on what he called the “bozo matrix” after singing “Juarez”.  Then he talked about how “Drugstore Perfume” was about feeling trapped and suffocated in your hometown.  Before launching into “Television All The Time”, an unreleased track from the Hesitant Alien sessions, Gerard reminded everyone how difficult life is for transgendered people, saying, “It’s hard to be yourself, and it’s harder for them, and they need your support.”

Of course, pretty much anything he said was met with cheers and applause.  Maybe the biggest reaction was when he mentioned former MCR guitarist Ray Toro, who’d come to visit his former lead singer not long before the tour had begun.  Throughout, Gerard continued to thank the audience, telling them they were awesome, and how much he loves performing.  His stage persona is a little less flamboyant than it used to be, but that’s okay.  His band, the Hormones, is a terrific unit, but since he’s now a solo artist, there’s less interplay with them than there was with the members of MCR.

Set List:

  • The Bureau
  • Action Cat
  • Zero Zero
  • Millions
  • Juarez
  • Drugstore Perfume
  • Television All the Time
  • Piano Jam (Ambulance)/Brother
  • Get the Gang Together
  • How It’s Going to Be
  • Maya the Psychic
  • No Shows
  • Cover song: Snakedriver
  • Encore: Don’t Try

I’d hoped the set list would stray a little more from what it had been for most of this album cycle, but to be fair, it’s a lot of touring behind just one record.  However…after the show is when the fun really amped up for me.  Gerard had tweeted afterwards that he might be coming out to meet and sign for us.  In less time than it takes to write this, a very long line of eager fans had stretched around the corner, leading back to the stage door at the First Avenue.  There were no pictures allowed, since we would have kept Gerard there all night, but he would sign, shake hands, and hug his fans.  (Spoiler alert: I didn’t get a hug.)

This is where I made a bunch of line friends: girls who were jealous because I’d gone to see Frank Iero in March; others who were stunned that I had the Hesitant Alien ‘zine (which came with my vinyl pre-order); a woman about my age who was just as excited as I was to be at the show (and who’d driven just about as far); two sisters, the younger of whom kept proclaiming that MCR’s music had saved her life when she was thirteen; and finally, a mom and her daughter (whose names I didn’t get) who were celebrating the mom’s birthday.  They were all kind of in a daze at the prospect of meeting someone who’d been so important to them for such a long time.  (Me too.)  Everyone’s time with Gerard was brief out of necessity, but I know I was thrilled that he took the time to meet everyone and at least say hello.  I FORGOT: I’d picked up a copy of a Supergrass 7″ vinyl during Record Store Day, and was able to give it to Gerard when I met him.  He seemed pleased, and exclaimed that he’d “just gotten a record player!”

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Among my souvenirs: the Hesitant Alien ‘zine, signed by the author.  What a great night!

The next morning I took advantage of the hotel’s amazing breakfast, and started chatting with another mom at the next table.  She casually mentioned “the show last night” and it turned out that she (Josie) and her daughter (Shay), who’d driven from Duluth, MN, were also at Gerard’s performance.  Our hotel was the closest one to the First Avenue, and they’d been pleased to have a room so close by.  Me too.

Overall, this was a great experience, but a little lonely due to my daughters not being able to come along.  Thank goodness for Gerard’s fans being so open to talk to strangers due to our mutual love for his music.  And thank goodness for cool moms like Josie who understand that love.

This blog entry would not have been possible without the help of the youtube channels of imshychey Grant and YouAreMySenpie.  Their video footage allowed me to recall many details I would otherwise have forgotten, and made me smile as well.  Thanks, ladies!

2015: The Most Punk-Rock Year of My Life, Part 1

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That sounds weird, right?  Especially for someone “my age” (I’m 54) to be saying?

Well, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I don’t really give a shit about my chronological age.  Aside from the occasional tug in my back, my weight gain, and the inability (on weeknights) to stay up past 11, I don’t really feel 54.  For quite some time, when I was about 30 lbs lighter, I apparently had the enviable ability to look quite a bit younger than I really am; which to be quite honest, was nice.  In my current state, almost nobody would say to me now, “Really?  No…!” when I tell them my age.  (NB: if someone tells you they’re not vain about that shit, call them on it; they’re lying.)

Ah well.  Youth isn’t meant to last forever…on the outside, at least.  But the inside…now, that’s a different story altogether.  On the inside, I am somewhere between 19 and 22.  On the inside, I am just as crazy a music fan as anyone under the age of 30…maybe even more so.  On the inside…I am, to quote my friend Deb, “the world’s oldest fangirl.”  And I don’t see anything wrong with it.  But as usual, I digress.

As mentioned in a previous post, I no longer send holiday cards, and so no longer regale my friends and relatives with concert-going news as part of the yearly roundup.  In 2015, my kids and I saw more shows than I think I have been to since I was single.  Which is a lot.  I mean, once upon a time, my cousin Cheryl and I were seeing bands almost on a weekly basis, sometimes more often.  Best time ever: on one memorable weekend (not sure which year; 1987? 88?) we saw the Smithereens on Friday night at the Stone Pony (Asbury Park); the Bongos Saturday night at the Green Parrot (Neptune); and La Bamba and the Hubcaps Sunday afternoon at Bar Anticipation (Belmar).  Those were the days!

 Anyway, getting married and moving away from the New Jersey of my misspent youth meant, well, different forms of entertainment on the horizon (my first Wisconsin wedding, woo-hoo!).  Since I now live somewhere that artists don’t normally visit, seeing live music has been more difficult, with much longer car rides.  Especially when my oldest was into various bands, we’d travel to the Chicago area with alarming frequency.  (It got us out of the house and gave us something constructive to do while my husband was out of state.)  We’ve tried to keep the show attendance to a low roar, but 2015 saw so many people I love getting their acts together and taking them on the road…well, it got harder and harder to say no.

So we didn’t say no…a LOT.

This was going to be one long post, but it would have taken me years to complete.  So herewith is the first date of 2015:

Frank Iero and the Cellabration, March 1, Reggie’s Rock Club, Chicago, IL; openers Modern Chemistry and The Homeless Gospel Choir  

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In case you’ve been living under a rock, Frank Iero was one of two guitarists in My Chemical Romance, who called it quits in 2013.  I’d gotten his solo album, Stomachaches, a few months prior to the show, and I loved it more than I ever thought I would.  Before I got it, I guess that, being a “singer” person, I always thought Frank’s voice was a little too rough and untrained.  However, as I’ve had to remind myself time and again, roughness in a singing voice doesn’t mean that person isn’t a good (or great) singer, or that said voice doesn’t exactly fit the song being sung.  Also, Frank had admitted recently in interviews that he wasn’t too keen on becoming the center of attention; but there he was, out on a headlining tour after being support for Taking Back Sunday.  And doing a great job.

This show was a family affair: my two girls and I, plus my niece Jenna, all traveled to Chicago on a chilly Sunday.  The club was right near Chicago’s Chinatown, so we walked around in the snow in our Converse and got something to eat.  Then we hoofed it to Reggie’s, just a couple of blocks from the restaurant.  Then we stood out in the snow and damn near froze our fucking feet off waiting for the doors to open.  (We did have a little comic relief, though, listening to a girl spouting MCR “trivia” that was so off-base and just so wrong that it cracked us up–when we weren’t muttering about shutting her the hell up.)

At last the doors opened, and we crowded in with everyone else.  (Did you know your feet hurt while they’re warming up after being frozen into numbness?  True story.)  Reggie’s is a relatively new enterprise; they apparently have several businesses, including a pub-type eatery and a record store.  The place has great sightlines, a coat check on the upper level, and clean bathrooms.  Plus their DJ was spinning some amazing shit while we waited for the show to begin.  9.5/10, would definitely go again (points lost for trying to freeze their patrons to death when they didn’t open the doors on time).

Modern Chemistry was the first opener, and my older girl really loved them.  “I think I found my new favorite band,” she told me after their set.  While we waited for the second opener, I decamped to the ladies’; when I came out, The Homeless Gospel Choir–otherwise known as Pittsburgh native Derek Zanetti–was commanding the stage with just himself and a guitar.  And he was great.  He kept making us laugh with the proclamation “This is a protest song” (in his great Pennsylvania drawl) before pretty much every song.  He played for quite some time; I think he sang every song on his latest album.  (I got his latest vinyl shortly thereafter.)

Then we waited for Frank and his band–brother-in-law Evan Nestor on guitar, Rob Hughes on bass, and Matt Olsson on drums.  Suddenly the lights went down a bit, and there was a little screaming from the crowd.  Then a recording of a song in French came over the sound system, melting into “All I Want Is Nothing”, the lead track on Stomachaches and the first song of the night.  I didn’t want to get crushed (having survived a few MCR shows), so I stayed on the stairs, back from where my girls were.  Soon, however, I saw the crowd was behaving pretty well, so I found my little crew and we hung out for the rest of the night.  The band was amazing–really tight–and Frank was a joy to watch.  He kept the between-song chatter to a minimum, but looked like he was having a pretty good time.  Derek got up on stage about mid-set to sing a Jawbreaker song with Frank (I don’t know their music, but it got a great response).

I would give you a set list, but I wasn’t making notes, and I can’t find one online–je regrette.  I will tell you what happened after the show was finally over.  When the lights came up, there was some buzz about whether or not we’d be meeting the musicians afterwards, so people were lined up.  I did see quite a few stern-looking (or bewildered) parents standing around with unhappy looks on their faces, waiting impatiently for their offspring to get the hell out of here, you have school in the morning!  I was glad not to have to be one of them, though I was getting tired (and was also surely one of the oldest people in the room at that point).  But we stuck it out, and then heard the announcement that we’d be meeting the bands.  The caveat was “one picture only per person, and have your camera ready” and “no weird shit!”  While we waited, Evan and Rob came to the front of the stage and chatted with us while they were packing up their gear.  Evan told a hilarious story about the filming of the “Joyriding” video, which starts with the band all in white, and ends with them drenched in (fake) blood: “We were standing outside, freezing, getting hosed off in Frank’s back yard!”

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Eventually our line led to all the musicians, who shook hands and signed whatever we asked.  My niece Jenna had a pair of hand-painted shoes she’d made herself, and so she had all the guys sign them.  I got a handshake and a picture of myself with Frank, which, despite how terrible I think I look, was a definite highlight of the night.

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Correction: I look just as awful as I thought.  But oh, whatever: I am standing next to Frank!

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Among my souvenirs: Detail of signed poster from this show. Awesome.

And I should give props to Frank, et al, for not only putting on a great show, but hanging out for hours afterward to meet anyone who could stay.  Which was most of the crowd.

What an amazing and gracious bunch of people in those bands.  They helped make so many fans happy that night, our little group among them.

Next installment: May 15, Gerard Way, First Avenue, Minneapolis.

Roast Chicken & Potatoes

Holy crap, was this good.  I posted a FB picture and people are asking for the recipe.  Thanks to Cook’s Country, here it is.

Serves 4

Use uniform, medium potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 (4-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, ends squared off, and sliced into 1-inch-thick rounds

Instructions

1.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine 2 tablespoons oil, thyme, paprika, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in bowl. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and use your fingers or handle of wooden spoon to carefully separate skin from breast. Rub oil mixture all over chicken and underneath skin of breast. Tie legs together with kitchen twine and tuck wingtips behind back.

2. Toss potatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Arrange potatoes, flat sides down, in single layer in 12-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet. Place skillet over medium heat and cook potatoes, without moving them, until brown on bottom, 7 to 9 minutes (do not flip).

3. Place chicken, breast side up, on top of potatoes and transfer skillet to oven. Roast until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cover skillet, return potatoes to oven, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Carve chicken and serve with potatoes and lemon wedges.