Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why we never graduate from the classics

As far as I know, my parents never laced headphones over my mom's pregnant belly, so that my little fetus self could rock out to Tchaikovsky or something else that's supposedly helpful for prenatal development.

But based on the number of ticket stubs in my scrapbook, I'd believe them if they said they did.

My father did pick me up from YMCA summer camp blasting either Tank or Edgar Winter Group (I can't recall which exactly), and we rode home with the windows of our Toyota Previa rolled down as I covered my ears, catching my smirk in the side mirror, pleased in spite of myself to have such a crazy parent who wasn't afraid to fly his freak flag, ever paving the way for me to fly my own.

Mom, who has less in her musical library filed under "Eccentric" or, let's just say "Loud," wore out her Pachelbel Canon cassette tape in the Camry as she drove me along quiet Kansas highways, having her own, equally powerful influence on me, even though this has always been less obvious to the outside world.

When home improvement projects were on the weekend schedule in Dad's already busy, full-time-engineer-father-of-four life, he made the job go faster by filling our space with what me and my siblings call "house painting music": that of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dire Straits, and company.

This is beside the point, but he did his house painting work in cut off jean shorts and a paper -- as in, literally made from paper -- cap.

My brothers and I watched VH1's Top Ten video countdown before school and during our summer vacations. Memorable songs of the early to mid-90s include Meatloaf's "I Would do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)," Seal's "Kiss from a Rose," Blues Traveler's "Runaround," and TLC's "Waterfalls."

As soon as I had the proper technology, I dubbed from my brothers' CDs onto blank tapes: Tom Petty, Lauryn Hill, DC Talk, The Beatles, They Might Be Giants, and Weird Al, among many others.

To this day, I can't hear the Beach Boys sing "Don't Worry Baby" and not become a 9-year-old version of myself, facing the front mountain range in Colorado, on my floral pastel comforter that really didn't fit my personality, feeling romance bubble through my excited veins in the way it could only feel before I had fallen in love, when it was still untouched, innocent, a dream. In that way, the song "Don't Worry Baby" is almost a dream in itself to me now, today.


Despite the constant loop of music that has clearly run through my entire life (to be real, I've spent much time being afraid of pure silence), it took a long time for me to recognize myself as the music connoisseur that I actually am.

I don't know what caused me one day to go to the Internet in search of concert dates, but in a serendipitous moment with the universe, I discovered a few years back that an artist by the name of Rachael Yamagata would be playing a show in Chicago while I would be there watching my dad run a marathon and subsequently visiting my friends Nick and Michelle. The price was right, so I asked Nick if he was game, he was, so I went for it and bought us two tickets.

At the time I was only familiar with a few of Rachael's songs, most notably the song that arguably put her on the map, "Be Be Your Love," plus some others I had heard on her Pandora station. I had first discovered her and "Be Be" via the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

I was in an excellent mood that night I saw Rachael. I surprised my dad at the train station, who didn't know I was flying in from LA for his big race, and he, my mom and Nick, one of my oldest and dearest friends, went to dinner and drank wine and we were all bubbles of happy. Nick and I parted ways with my 'rents to see them the next day, and headed to our show.

When Rachael took the stage after her openers, she yelled at the crowd, "It's Saturday night!"

It was Friday.

Catching her mistake in response to the crowd's laughter, she laughed at herself and immediately won us over.

And then she started singing.

And then, I became a lifelong, I Will Always Attend A Rachael Show When She Is In My City Fangirl.

(Following Rachael's show, I bought a ticket to see Tegan and Sara the next month in Los Angeles. I went by myself and had an excellent time. Since then, I have been to probably 30-40 concerts and stand up comedy shows in the last three years. I truly have become a live music junkie. It is a true joy for me.)

Rachael, with her vulnerability, her humor, her authenticity, and um, HELLO, her VOICE, blew me away. She is legitimately in my top 10 of all-time favorite musicians, and probably top 5. It should be noted that the top 5 list includes Celine.



Last night I got to meet Rachael.

We showed each other pictures of our cats, so I think it qualifies as a legit bonding experience.

Also, I don't think she was faking it when she acted like Office Max was so cute. I mean, look at him. How could she be faking it?:

Also, Ms. Yamagata, if you're reading this -- my boyfriend, Alex, thought after our meeting last night that I should have shown you this picture of Max instead, because it's funnier than the sleepy one above. So here you go:

Thank you for being lovely and gracious. We really enjoyed chatting with you and loved your performance as we always, always do. Can't wait to see the next show. 


Now one more thing and then I'll let y'all go become Rachael fangirls yourselves. Pandora/Spotify, here you betcha come!!!!!

I think it will be a long time before I ever see a show in which Rachael doesn't perform her hit "Be Be Your Love." She may never not perform it (though I did see Springsteen and he didn't sing "Born in the USA" in the entirety of a three hour show, so...).

Last night she opened with "Be Be," in her amazing acoustic version.

Usually she teases the crowd a little bit, makes us wait for it, but I guess she was feeling generous and just ready to go for the classics and hey I'm not complaining.

Last night as she sang "Be Be" and it was time to raise our voices and really sing along for the final chorus, I prompted Alex, "Are ya ready?!" and I realized, "Wow, I really haven't gotten over this song."

We have these songs that introduce us to the artists we love, and then we get to know the musicians more deeply through new albums, their other work. We hear, and sing along, via our own heartbreak and celebration and confusion and bliss, with other masterpieces in their repertoire, and we move along from the place where we started from, from our training wheel songs.

We overplay "Be Be Your Love" and Alicia Keys' "Fallen" and Sarah McLachlan's "Building a Mystery" and we think we've matured, we've graduated into these other songs of these artists we love; not because there's anything wrong with the original hits but because we think that we've moved on as people and because we think our brains and our ears and our hearts have been supersaturated with the same sound and at a point they can't be affected in the same way they once were when we hear something so familiar.

And to a point maybe this is true.

(Also I think a large reason I go after live music so much is because, for whatever indiscernible reason, hearing music in person makes it extra emotional again, in a way that it felt the way I first heard an album or an artist. This is one of life's greatest phenomena, and one of the only ones I'm willing to go into debt over.)

But I think I learned last night, and I think I re-learn every time Rachael breaks out the opening chords to "Be Be," that I'll never graduate from a song about wanting to be in love. I'll never graduate from love. I'll never graduate from music.

Sure, every time Rachael starts to sing "You Won't Let Me," I turn around and tell Alex, "This is my favorite!" and I get really caught up in that, but I still catch myself in my car getting really riled up in "Be Be" sometimes still, too.

I know obviously that I'm in love with Alex, but I'm not always in a state of swoon. But there are moments where I'm like, "Oh my goodness, that face! Would I just look at that darling, perfect, chiseled just for me face!" and all of a sudden in an ordinary moment he doesn't even know it but I am overcome.

I may mature in areas of life, and even love and relationships. I may learn to forgive, and say I'm sorry. I may attend life's classes and do the homework. I may even show up to the graduation ceremony, in my gown.

But when they play Pomp and Circumstance, you bet anything I'm getting choked up. And even though graduation ceremonies are unbearably long, and admittedly bear a trace of melancholy, I'll secretly love that the band will play the song on repeat, because I never want music to end.

So when I toss my cap into the air at the school of Music or Love or Life or Whatever, I expect my mortar board to get frozen up there, tassels slowly waggling in the fog from whatever club I'm at that night: the Fonda, the Wiltern, the Palladium. Because this girl ai'nt never gonna leave school when love is the curriculum and tunes are on the syllabus.

Especially when professors like Rachael are educating the crowd. 


  1. I <3 this post! I didn't grow up listening to very much -- I liked oldies because I watched The Wonder Years, and my mom listened to a lot of R&B which I found very whiney -- but in the last ten years or so I've had a real hunger for new music. Rachel Yamagata's 'I Love You' has been in my big 'Everything I Like' Spotify playlist for a long time now.

    1. Thanks! Well if you need any recommendations for new tunes, I'm happy to give you some! Lately I've been listening to Gabrielle Aplin. I also love Garrison Starr, Jennifer Knapp, and I've been enjoying Tom Petty's classic "Wildflowers" post. :)

    2. "Wildflowers" album, not post...

    3. Why thank you! I DO in fact always need recommendations, or else I'd spend all day sitting at a laptop blogging in silence. Imagine the horror!

      I have been subscribing to a music website ( that suddenly stopped updating last month. My days haven't been the same since.