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Entries in music (117)


Summer Is Ready When You Are


"I see all these, like, sixteen year olds, and I'm, like, you have NO IDEA. This is the soundtrack of my FRESHMAN YEAR DORM ROOM."

We're at The Breeders show in Newport, KY, a "hometown" warmup gig for LSXX: their Last Splash 20th anniversary tour. A girl who appears to be in her early twenties leans shy against the sink in a blue skirt, out of the way of the woman dismissing clueless sixteen year olds. 

"I cried, like, three times during Drivin' on 9." In one of the stalls, someone had written they lyrics to Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" on the wall in cursive with a Sharpie. "Like, what would these kids know?"

"We're so OLD!"

"I'm 36, I got you."


"You're all so young with the threes in your ages. I've got a four." And back on stage in the old church, prepping for their encore, the Deal sisters & co., with fives now in their ages, transcended all of those expectations that come with numbers.

I'm with these women who by shouting out numbers stake their claim on having "been there" way back when, and yet I'm not: last night I realized what feelings are wasted on us when we're 17. I don't think I was ready for this album back then. I wasn't there. Twenty years later, I had finally arrived to the point where I was ready, just in time. I finally got it, for the first time. 


The picture I took at The Breeders show last night: Kelley smiling, Jo posing, Kim obscured from view by a pole and Jim by the drum kit, Carrie fiddling, Mike (Kelley's partner in the amazing R.Ring) taking it all in from the wings.

A second later I was asked by a staff member to put my camera away: the band asked that there be no photography without a pass, which I didn't realize when I took the picture, so I won't post it here. (Future advice: add "NO PHOTOGRAPHY" to your "NO AUDIO/VIDEO RECORDING" sign and your staff won't have to spend the night getting people to put away their camera phones. Which should be kept in pockets anyway; it was a great show without those glowing interferences. I normally allow myself three photos at the beginning before enjoying the rest of the show. But I digress.)

In lieu of photographic adornments I'll say this: wow. Like, WOW. Seeing The Breeders live again for the first time since 1994 reminded me what musically creative women those are up there on that stage. They had always been female icons to me; I wouldn't have been in a band in college if it weren't for Kim Deal (and certainly we never would have covered "Caribou" if it weren't for her). But their creativity was something I hadn't fully grasped, or wasn't yet ready to grasp, until I saw the whole album played through live like that. You don't hear this stuff come out of just anyone. Go and listen to Last Splash again, all the way through: it's sonically unpredictable and beautiful. It's hard and soft, it's country and it's rock. It's Ohio and England and '90s and now and feminist and still transcendent of gender and time and place.

And all of it up on that stage last night was in its right place, and executed really, really well. And I was finally in my right place. 

Leaning up against a wall of an old church with a beer in one hand, watching the crowd of Daytonites and Cincinnatians and Kentuckians FULLY into it, feeling seventeen again, feeling all of nearly thirty-seven, and this line from "Saints" finally made real sense to me: Summer is ready when you are.

(cross-posted from Tumblr)

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.


Here's To Conformity


I have a newfound appreciation for conformity. Predictability. Matching. Major chords. Sports and sporting events, where everyone is wearing exactly the same thing. A sea of red: and me all red amongst them. "You've become such a meathead," said Jim. Rightly so. I have become a meathead. A conformist. Heck yeah, I'm into that thing that everyone else is into. And I couldn't be happier about it.

I don't know how it was for you, but I grew up trained to criticize the trends, to react, to place myself in opposition. We were supposed to hate the athletes and the mainstream and the cleancut look. The bullies in the 80s films, with their feathered hair and karate chops and khakis. The girls with their pegged jeans who listened to hip-hop and dated football players. Everyone wearing white socks and white sneakers. They represented conformity, eeeevil conformity, until Doc Martens started to represent conformity, then liking Arcade Fire, and so on and so forth. Every step of the way, I knew I was supposed to react, to jump to the other side, define myself through opposition. (MTV & Daria told me to! Winona Ryder told me to! Sassy told me to! Zines told me to! Oh the irony...) I must be a non-conformist! Because conformity is death! The norm is THE END of the life of the individual as we know it! And back and forth and back and forth I leapt. All of that leaping made me tired.

Then the other day I woke up and realized that it's much, much easier to sit still and find what you love in the stillness.

At the Bunbury Music Festival this weekend, I found myself in that stillness. Literally: I was sitting in a chair almost all weekend manning the box office, selling tickets, checking people off guest lists, people watching and listening to the main stage acts as their amplification pumped their sound across Yeatman's Cove.

As I sat there, I watched young girls swan by looking all alike in their flowing skirts like retired Boca Raton fortune tellers, boys with little tank tops the colors of California, and rather than feeling the need to make fun of them for the fact that they all more or less looked like one another (apart from a noticing tweet), for whatever it was I couldn't understand in their style, I fell in love with all of them. I applauded their excitement for bands that seemed a heck of a lot like other bands, where years ago I would have rolled my eyes and said "god, why do they all have to look and sound the same?" 

Far from wanting to roll my eyes, I wanted to run around going "Yay! Yay! Yay!" and high-fiving everyone. Because what I was able to see in the stillness of sitting perfectly still, not jumping into opposition mode, was that the only thing that was exactly alike about them was their happiness. They were all so happy that it made me happy. Dude is happy in his Forever 21 muscle shirt? Good for him. You're all very super-psyched about Gaslight Anthem? Fantastic. That gaggle of girls swaying to City and Colour in their identical neon mom jean cutoffs? Super. As long as we're all aware that there are other options, and this is what we choose; as long as we aren't hurting anyone else in the process, who is anyone to judge? These kids rocked. They were happy, they were enjoying themselves, they were nice, and their matching non-matching clothes (see visual representation at top) were no different than everyone wearing red to a Reds game. And the very next night they might go to a Reds game.

Who is anyone to judge if we suddenly change our minds about who we are today?

* * *

One of the bands that played this past weekend was a British band called A Silent Film. Like most of the bands in the lineup, they were a band I'd never heard of, but a band that is apparently pretty popular in certain circles. I've always tiptoed around the edges of these circles — not my place, not my thing — and this weekend, seated in the box office on the other side of the main stage, I listened, and stepped into the circle. After the festival was over, I put together a Spotify list of the bands I'd heard at the festival that were mostly new to me, the ones who made the best impression. A Silent Film was one of the bands I ended up listening to the whole album, lapping it up, hitting repeat more than once on a song that pulled the right strings. 

The music is, in a way, the sonic equivalent of Lea Thompson in Some Kind Of Wonderful. Not the cool Mary Stuart Masterson, not a total hard-edged jerk like Hardy, but both popular and sensitive, accessible. The more I listened to the songs on the album, the more I could hear them in the background of Grey's Anatomy, in the scene where they lose a life or fall in love or some other predictably emotional moment. If you heard them from a distance, you wouldn't be faulted if you mistook them for Coldplay. Uplifting and satisfying. Inoffensive and nearly perfect. I should have hated it. What happened to you, punk rock Zan? What happened to loving the imperfect, the wounded, the quirk? But it made me so happy. Not just the music itself: but the idea of letting go of some expectation of what the music I loved should be. Or what it shouldn't be. It wasn't The Pixies or My Bloody Valentine; it wasn't rough-edged and sour. It just was. And it felt good.

I've written about all this before, the whole "like what you like and be done with it" thing, but the longer I've lived in Ohio, the more I've had a chance to think about what this means for how we define ourselves in relation to those around us — selves both past and present. This city gives me permission to conform (it's okay to like sports here, even if you have wacky facial hair!), but also offers up constant reminders of what it was like to grow up here in opposition to everything. It's weird to grow up as a teenager who dismissed the very image of the jock, only to find yourself at 36 suddenly writing poetic appreciations of said jock. It used to be that you either had to place yourself in the crowd, or speak up against the crowd. But now, and maybe this is just age, I don't think this is an either/or game.

In the struggle against conformity, we always claimed to be individuals. And individuals will change, won't they? And individuals will love what they love and be done with it, even if it's exactly what someone else loves? And individuals in the same circle can disagree with each other, can't they? Conform in ways that make us happy, and rebel in ways we believe in? Individuals, certainly, can even disagree with their former selves, yes?

I'm going to let myself sit still for a while longer, and see what else washes over me: music that might please me when I least expect it to, those dresses that are short in front and long in the back that everyone seems to be wearing, someone I can high five for loving what they love, too, even if I don't love it myself.

Because, really, what's so wrong with allowing yourself to conform to your own happiness?

(Big thanks to the Bunbury Music Festival, where in trying to get to see bands I knew, I'd pass bands I didn't know, and hear something new to me. And to the crowds and artists and vendors and and volunteers and organizers: you were SO awesome. Fellow staff: you're all nuts, but we had a great time.)

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.


Goodbye, Sweet Dreams.

Friday. We arrived at the Nelsonville Music Festival at the exact same time as Kurt Vile. We know this because we saw him pulling his van full of Violators into the artist area as we walked up to get our wristbands. We waved and J shouted WELCOME! through the windshield and we marveled that Kurt Vile drives his own van and I said now that Kurt Vile's here the festival has STARTED. We saw Kurt Vile a lot that day — at a booth flipping through records, at the Porch Stage watching Michael Hurley — and considered the sight of him a good omen. 


Just before Guided By Voices, we saw Kurt again, and I went up to say hello. I told him we saw him open for Big Star at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, and how that night we became a fan and found out about the festival because of them. Kurt asked how the show was; I told him they'd done a great job. (They had: "Freak Train" was a festival highlight for me, and I'm glad the organizers let them come back on stage to do it.)

"What's your name?"


"That's my wife's name. She's Suzanne, but I call her Zan."

"No way, I'm a Suzanne/Zan, too."

I told him to enjoy Guided By Voices (he was excited to see them because they were only there for a night, and GBV had been added last minute when Bad Brains had to cancel), and walked back to J. "His wife is a Zan, too," I said. Another good omen.

Somewhere between "I Am A Scientist" and "Game Of Pricks," Kurt Vile walked off into the night. 


* * *

There were sunhats, backpacks, and hula hoops. People applied face paint and sunscreen in equal measure. Children poured out of camper vans, a school bus rigged up with a luggage rack and a retractable shade. There were fires burning across the field, blankets spread out in the shade near the porch stage. Wagons filled with distractions for the littlest festival-goers. A man with a hat in the shape of a hot dog attempted to dunk a man in a tie at the dunking booth. The placement of chairs was decided by the sun's arch; as day turned to night, the chairs fanned out in the field until the sky was completely dark and the chairs stretched to the bleachers on the other side. At noon, the line for ice cream was the longest, followed by the line for beer. A woman in a hippie skirt breastfed her baby in the shade of a sycamore tree. There were herons and sparrows, vultures circled the campsite to see if we were napping or dead.

* * *

Saturday. The vultures must think I'm dead. I was curled up in a ball on a tablecloth between the tent and the car, wishing away my cramps and alternating water and beer: hydration, numbification. A car pulled up in the field next to us; I heard J walk over and start talking to two men who were hoping to set up camp.

Half an hour and one missing pole later, I stood up, and saw them folding the tent back into the car. "No luck?" Colby had a GG Allin tatoo on his right arm and carried a book of Roky Erickson's lyrics in his left. Matt, his salt-and-pepper bearded friend, had just bought a 2012 Subaru and wouldn't let Colby eat or drink anything in it on the whole drive up from West Virginia, so we let them sit in our camp chairs while they drank a few beers. They offered a leaving neighbor $7,000 for their tent, but their offer was rejected. It didn't matter that they might not have anywhere to sleep that night; they were there to see Roky. They threw on flannel shirts and headed to the festival. 

You know Roky Erickson: the singer from the 13th Floor Elevators, wild man of the sixties, influencer of Janis Joplin, Big Star, Patti Smith, Yo La Tengo, Butthole Surfers, and REM. If you don't know what happened to him between then and now (last year he released an album with Okkervil River as his backing band), I won't spoil the story: seek out the 2005 documentary You're Gonna Miss MeHis story is one you should know.

Once you know the story, though, you know how amazing it is to see him up on the stage performing again. Not just the old stuff, but the new: "Goodbye Sweet Dreams" was probably the best song I heard at Nelsonville. Maybe it's something about the time of day, the moment the sun is below the tree line, when the stage is a silhouette and the sky is still blue, but our two favorite performances at this year's festival happened in that magical hour between 8:30 and 9:30: on Friday, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires took us to church; on Saturday, Roky Erickson reminded us that it's possible to see the devil and make it out okay.


After those performances, the rest — Guided By Voices with their dangling cigarettes and tequila shots, Andrew Bird with his pedals and violin, Iron & Wine with beards that rivaled J's, even Lee Perry with candle wax dripping down his back — were just icing.

* * *

Sunday. The next morning I lay in my sleeping bag, zipping and unzipping the tent to let in some air, determined to stick it out until Lee Ranaldo's 6:15 performance. Even though some dude in a scissor-eviscerated shirt had kept me awake half the night shout-talking over a campfire next to his Laredo trailer (long after the hootenany had wrapped up on the other side of our tent), I wasn't going to wuss out on the last day.

But to not wuss out would require standing up.

As soon as I tumbled out of the tent and attempted to stand, I found that my feet were clenched like fists. I inched my way to the port-a-johns, ouching each step, and decided that Lee Ranaldo would have to wait for another time. Walking around in the hot sun all day feeling like this was just not going to happen. I stood in line, in my pajamas, waiting for the sea-foam cubicles to empty out. "It's like Whack-A-Mole," said the guy in front of me, crossing his arms while I crossed my legs. 

I could tell you that I found myself inside a port-a-john feeling my age, realizing how dumb I'd been to wear my thin socks with my cowboy boots on the second day instead of my thick ones. I could tell you how clean those port-a-johns were. I could tell you that their cleanliness made me change my my mind. But it didn't. My feet were still fists, we'd seen some amazing music, and it was time to go home. We packed up the tent and headed back to Cincinnati. 

What I will tell you is this: we will go again. That thought came to me on the very first day and stayed with me the entire time, right up to that moment in the port-a-john when my feet were fists, thinking of every great encounter we'd had throughout the weekend: Colby and Matt, Kurt "Good Omen" Vile, R. Ring, our friend Meredith and her friends in Old Hundred, the kind family next to us who had driven up from Indiana without even knowing who was playing, the Jeni's ice cream guy who complimented my choice of flavor combination, and all the smiling volunteers pouring beers, guiding us into the campsite, checking our wristbands and telling us to have a great time.

We did have a great time, Nelsonville. (And the port-a-johns were so clean!) We will go again.






(The rest of my Nelsonville photos are over on Flickr.)

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.


Farthest Field

A bit of calm before the storm of the weekend...

On Tuesday I went to Shake It to see Sub Pop's Daniel Martin Moore and Joan Shelley perform in-store for the release of their collaborative album, Farthest Field, the fifth album to come out from DMM's own label, Ol Kentuck. I'll let the beauty of their music speak for itself; you can listen to the whole album on the Ol Kentuck site. (Ol Kentuck also released Joan Shelley's solo album, Ginko, earlier this spring.)

When you're done listening to Farthest Field, give a listen to Vashti Bunyan, whom DMM & Joan Shelley credit for inspiring their collaborative album. 

(The DMM/Joan Shelley video was recorded at the beautiful Emery Theatre — not far from where I grabbed this shot — by photographer Michael Wilson.)


Driving Around With The Windows Rolled Down: Three Songs and a Coda

1. Sara
I'd just been visiting family when I got a text from my friend Sara. "Do u have time for a visit?" There were tree frogs singing in my parents' yard as I hopped into my car to head over to Sara's house. The Sound of Summer, like the summers we used to spend in cut-off denim and cotton tank tops, driving along cornfields with the windows rolled down, listening to Patsy Cline, dangling forbidden cigarettes out the window.

She was putting her kids to bed when I arrived; she offered me watermelon and sunflower seeds and a beer she'd been chilling in the freezer. We sat at the kitchen table and talked about things, about writing and relationships, about our parents getting older, about the fear of death. We apologized for not having anything new to report from our lives in the last week, and then laughed and realized that not having anything new to report was what let us talk about the bigger things. 

When I was tired and ready to drive home, I got in the car and flipped to a random radio station ("FLY 92.9: we'll play ANYTHING") and just past the bend near Shady Nook, Fleetwood Mac's "Sara" came on. You're the poet in my heart. I started singing and at the same time I started getting weepy thinking about how good it is to have Saras. Or Sarahs. They often go by other names entirely, too; but I'm glad I've got poets like them in my heart.

(And then I told myself, shut up, you sound like a frickin' yoghurt commercial.)

2. Gold Soundz (August, 1995)
pulled up to K Food Stores and looked at Teen mags as Karen chatted up the tattooed shaggy black-haired cashier. Brandon hobbled around on a sore knee looking at the lunch meats and Poppie guzzled a Mountain Dew. Karen left a flyer for the Muzzies show with the guy at the counter, Brandon bought Doritos, and we sat outside in the lot as they finished their cigarettes.

I sat on top of the Razmobile with my legs dangling through the sun roof as the cops pulled over a speeding 15 year old. We decided to get home.

drove home with the windows down and Pavement on the stereo. the moment we had walked out of Canal St. Tavern, we all saw a shooting star.

3. Gold Soundz (May, 2012)
It's horribly unenvironmental of me to love driving my car, but I do. Fortunately for the planet, working from home, we don't actually drive that much, and it's never just for the sake of going for a drive. But when I do... I love singing in my car, I love driving with the windows rolled down*, even on highways, I love the moment at the stop light when my Gerry Rafferty blends seamlessly with the Young Jeezy coming from the car next to me.**

Like Maria Wyeth, without all the breakdowns.

I do yoga in an old church. When I say "I do yoga" I mean once every few months I decide my body needs a stretch and I go to the most passive yoga class possible. I'm not very good at (as evidenced by the instructor's need to whisper-shout "RELAX" when he does his adjustments), and yet I still come out of it feeling warm and relaxed and open to the world. No longer averse to feeling like a total hippie. Last night, as I left the old church feeling like a total hippie, I rolled down the windows, watching the sun setting over manicured lawns, and "Gold Soundz" came on the stereo (stereo-oh). I pulled up to a stop light, and damned if my music didn't blend just right with the guy who had his windows rolled down next to me.

Bikers have this thing they do when they pass each other on the road, a gesture of solidarity where they stick out their arm closest to the other rider at a 45-degree angle from their body, like a contactless high five. J and I call it the biker low five; we see it a lot on warm days. 

Yesterday, when the music was right and the grass was green and the breeze was perfect and I was there in my car feeling like a total hippie, I wanted to biker low five the whole world. 

**I know, I know: noise pollution. My grandpa already scolded me on Facebook for my contribution to it when I first mentioned this on Twitter. But the volume only goes up when it's really good. Though I realize this probably makes me just as reprehensible as the thirty-something dude I rolled my eyes at the other day for pumping his gas while blasting Phoenix.

Coda: Sabotage
This post was (mostly carelessly) written and headed for (probably still unadvisable) publication when I read the sad news of Adam Yauch's passing. And I couldn't leave it like it was, not without mentioning the man who helped bring us "Sabotage," which, in the 90s, was the unofficial anthem of driving around with the windows rolled down, feeling like a bad ass in your '86 Scirocco.

Damn, this one just sucks. As Alex Navarro said on Twitter: "I don't know if I want to live in a world where a Beastie Boy can die." Or as they say in yoga: नमस्ते, MCA.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.