IMO: The Guitar

Dear Son,

I saw the movie Coco the other day, and a major theme of the movie was remembering your dead loved-ones so they wouldn’t be forgotten. While driving home alone, it was dark and the vivid stars flickered. I imagined the people I had loved and lost throughout my life were the brightest ones saying hello. I began with the first person I had lost, my best friend way back when I was seventeen, and I remembered the special days and the unremarkable ones. I recalled his goofiness, his serious expressions as his fingers tapped on the piano keys, and I thanked his star for introducing me to classical music. Then I recalled the next deceased person in my history and the next. I recalled their faces and told their stars what I had loved best about them until your Dad was next. Do I remember the bad or the good?

For years in my mind, it was too easy to recall the ugly times and feel righteous for my decision to divorce him. I see now, decades later, that it was an attempt to ease my guilt for the breakup of the family. In the beginning, when we loved each other, during our happiest times, it was so because of music. After a shift of work, we’d sit at the table playing a board game that simulated a baseball season while we listened to new artists.  He’d sing the lyrics he memorized with a clear pitch. We’d listen with speakers loud, and I remember dancing around the room to Genesis’s “Turn it on Again.” I always think of your Dad when that song comes on. We were stationed in Scotland at the time and visited the record store frequently. Every paycheck he’d pick out a new album to buy. We studied the groups he was obsessed with like The Beatles, Yes, and The Who. We both discovered new groups together and bought their albums as soon as they were released. Groups like: Tears for Fears, U2, the Police, Dire Straits, Depeche Mode, and a hundred others. His tastes were all over the place. I thought that was one of his best traits. That he shared his passion for music with me was the best gift of our marriage.

When you were a teenager and back from the military school, Lincoln’s Challenge, you sat up in your bedroom with your GED waiting for your friends to graduate high school. I’m so glad cell phones weren’t omnipresent then or the stimulation of social media that steals our time today. In the quiet, up in your room, you taught yourself how to play the guitar.  If there was a silver lining during the dark days of your teenage years, I’d say that was it. In college, you played your guitar and sang the songs you wrote and your album for your senior project reflected your ingenuity. How proud I was to listen to your songs. I still pull out the CD and listen to it from time to time. When you performed during your twenties and your guitar chords were precise and your voice conveyed feeling, and the audience clapped for you—did you feel that was the apex of your musical relationship with the guitar?

You are thirty-something now with responsibilities and different passions. A life to share with Laura. A new degree almost completed. Hopes and dreams for a better job. Children soon. I couldn’t be happier for you! I know making ends meet is difficult and the many moves and transitions precipitated your decision to part with your acoustic guitar a few years ago. This year, you did not want me to get you a birthday present because you have everything you need. However, I hope you will accept the guitar I sent you, even though I know it was a selfish move on my part. You see, when I think about your Dad’s love for music, I think of you, because you inherited that passion. As mother and son, we talk about music and share new groups and songs. I still have the many CDs you burned for me, and I listen to the bands you recommended. When you played the guitar at Thanksgiving because I insisted, it made me happier than I anticipated.

I am not suggesting you perform or record or do anything purposeful with the gift that is yours other than to play the guitar as a part of your life. It makes people happy. It is that unique, interesting side of your personality. Play to your family and friends and spread the love of music to the next generation, on behalf of your Dad, and on behalf of me, please, play. Happy Birthday.

L13FC: The Music in Animated Films

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. Traditionally, a co-host joins me, and we approach a topic of the film industry and talk to visitors all day on the thirteenth of the month. It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea: 

For the last four years, I’ve been reintroduced to animation after a twenty-odd year hiatus. That was the time frame from when my kids were too old to watch animated films to when it took them to have kids of their own. Then I became a grandmother and started revisiting old favorites like Pinocchio (1940) and The Jungle Book (1967) and tried to catch up on the newer ones like the Toy Story set or Shrek. In fact, I watch more animated films than I do adult films these days. For example, I know every line in Frozen and Moana and Trolls is fast approaching the how-many-times-can-one-possibly-watch-a-film?

I’d like to introduce to you my co-host, Milly, who is the orchestrator of entertainment when we are together. While her articulation skills are developing, she has definite opinions about animation in films.

Shooting a bow and arrow after watching Mulan. Again.

Milly’s thoughts:

Grandma, Walt Disney cartoon movies are musicals and I like to sing. How can I sing the songs to you in the car if I don’t watch them over and over? They make me happy and you are my best friend like Pumba and Timon when they sing “Hakuna Matata”. I am Elsa because I wear my Elsa dress all day long. For two years and counting. I have magical powers. For example, I can sing all the words of “Your Welcome” in Moana. Not bad for a four-year-old girl. All the songs in Trolls are fun to dance in my socks. But Bridget the scullery maid cries because she loves King Gristle and he doesn’t love her yet, so not that one. Grandma, I know you would rather watch other cartoon movies, but they don’t have much singing. And you cry at the sad parts. I don’t like to see you cry, so let’s watch the ones I want. Over and Over. I will love them forever.

Grandma’s thoughts:

Some animation films these days are just too loud and silly for my liking. While Disney’s Cinderella is my all-time favorite princess, I like to remind Milly when she’s acting more like the step-sister Drisella, and she giggles at the thought. I must admit, some recent animated films have moved me to tears. I don’t mind watching them over and over.

Let’s talk about the two music styles in animated films. There are the Shrek films that have a great time with pop music, but I find I appreciate animated films that take advantage of creating a mood with orchestral scores like John Powell‘s How to Train Your Dragon 

and Michael Giacchino who has racked up beautiful scores for UP, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.

Proportionally, I don’t hear sophisticated scores in adult films as I do in animated films, and that seems ironic that I have come to rely on a Pixar film take me away on a magical adventure or exotic location with music.

Do you like your animation with songs, or do you like your animation with a solid score? 


The view from our seats.

U2 played last night at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Yesterday, my son called me up late in the morning and asked me, “You wanna go to see U2 tonight?”

In 1984, Bill and I was stationed in Northern Scotland at a communication station at Thurso. That was a momentous year. We married. I gave birth to my first child, Steven, and we discovered the Irish rock band, U2. Bill was an avid record collector, and we frequented the local record shop weekly to hear what was new, finger through the rows of albums for sale, and listen to the newly released albums. It was a social event for us; how strange times have changed!

The owner showed us the new U2 album, The Unforgettable Fire. Back then, I remember listening to UK albums, flying home to the States for leave, and the new rave in the UK hadn’t been released yet in the USA. Vice versa. There always seemed to be a six-month lag. Once we heard The Unforgettable Fire, we researched and found three previous albums and connected the dots. “Oh, yeah, that song. That’s U2? Let’s buy the album.”

So we gobbled up Boy (1980), October (1981), and  War (1983). The happiest times of our marriage was going home after a shift and listening to albums while we drank, played cards, and memorized all the songs. When Steven was born, I refrained from drinking and smoking, and U2 was in the background while I fed the boy, changed him, and thought about my future. I was only twenty-one years old. I didn’t have a clue how to be a mother and no family around to lend support. A friend sent me a baby book in the mail, and I was glad she did, for I felt inept.

The concert last night was a greatest-hits concert. 50,000 people in the stadium sang along to the top twenty hit repertoire. Steve didn’t know “Pride” was about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I was in third grade, I think. I didn’t know about the lyrics.”  Each song conjured a different memory from my past. “I Will Follow” from Boy made me remember when I worked out to get back in shape after my son’s birth. I still see myself jumping up and down working up a sweat. From The Joshua Tree (1987), arguably their best album and the namesake of this tour, thirty years later–really?– I was getting ready to have my last child, my daughter. My marriage to Bill was suffering, and the melancholy songs resonated with me, especially “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.  

During the 1990s, I was divorced, a driven student, and hungry to learn. I remained in school for seventeen years while I started teaching in 1999 and continued on with graduate school. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000) reminded me of my commuting time as a non-traditional student. How many times did I listen to that album? “It’s a Beautiful Day” was an anthem song. During sad moments, I sang it loud to lift my spirits. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb(2004) was the last album (CD) I bought. I was in my early forties and so busy with teenagers and school, I listened to music on the radio, but didn’t choose to buy anything.

Eye level seats. They were perfect.

So yesterday, when Steve called me up and asked me to go to the U2 concert with his wife Tabitha and him, I jumped at the chance. The last time I went to a rock concert was in the late 1980s when I saw Paul McCartney and Wings at Madison Square Garden. I was long overdue.

The songs were played loudly, and that baby from 1984 is strong today despite whatever ineptness I imagined as a new mother. While you may not care one iota about U2, to me, they have been a part of my life for almost thirty-three years. I had always heard what outstanding performers they were over the years. I just thought before I died, it would be great to see the band that had somehow sewn their songs into my heart.

U2 is unique. Who else but they could sing rock songs about getting the girl and God in the same song? There’s something spiritual about Bono. He’s a minister who tries to change the world in a positive way with his belief in the power of love and the power of the people. Looking at Bono’s wrinkled face during the close-ups made me smile. We both have been through a lot. Sharing the concert with my son brought me back to my days of naiveté. It seemed fitting that I would watch the concert with Steve. U2 has accompanied me all of my adult life, and I am the better for it.

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