Sunday, April 28, 2013

The 4 Ingredients That Will Always Make Me Fall in Love with a Piece of Music

All of my favorite music has at least one of these four ingredients.

1. Lyrics that tell a story.
I think the best songs have some point to them besides being catchy. Don't give me a cheesy love song (or if you're going to, at least make me laugh). Sing me a story with characters, plots, and messages.

I look for lyrics that illuminate my own feelings. I'll award bonus points to songs that rally me, inspire me, pull me up, dust me off or convince me that I'm going to be okay.

When my (lousy) boyfriend of 11 years moved out, I felt confused and conflicted, but I played the subtly happy song "Tears Dry on Their Own" and wrote a music video in my head, starring me twirling around in my newly empty, sun-kissed apartment, finally unburdened with all the cobwebs of our misspent decade.  I appreciated how Amy Winehouse gave a name to the feeling of "inevitable withdrawal." I didn't love my ex anymore, but I still had to bear the withdrawal of our breakup as I learned how to be alone for the first time as an adult.

When Amy sings, "He walks away; the sun goes down," I don't picture darkness but rather the glorious glow of a blazing sunset.

Another example: One of the greatest stories I know is about a human being who is Given to Fly.  Here's what Eddie Vedder says about that beautiful song:

"[I imagined the song as] a 20-page cardboard children's book with a line on each page and a picture to go with it. It's a fable, that's all. The music almost gives you this feeling of flight, and I really love singing the part at the end, which is all about rising above anybody's comments about what you do and still giving your love away. You know? Not becoming bitter and reclusive, not condemning the whole world because of the actions of a few."

2. Grungy guitars that rock out.
I can't resist them. I feel them in my belly. They make me want to burst into a run. They make me want to shrug off my last board meeting and my last deadline and joyfully headbang like the mammal I am.  I can appreciate the perfectly-executed licks of a classical guitar song, but I'm not sure how long I could sit and watch someone coax them out. I want to watch a person grab their guitar and shred it like they're purging the demons within.

I know it's been overplayed, but to this day, I can't fathom how someone can hear the opening chords of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and not emphatically agree that the song is a cosmic gift from the universe. It's just perfect. Whether they were ready for it or not, something otherworldly just clicked the day Nirvana came up with that one.

Same thing, right here:

3. Beautiful vocals.
This one seems too easy but, oh well. I'll bliss out to Rob Zombie for Reason #2 but give me Eddie Vedder's soaring, honeyed baritone to soothe my troubled heart. It hits me like a Klonopin right in my soul.

4. Music that has heart.
I need to feel like music is sincere, like it was born because the artist had to write it whether anyone would like it or not. I like music that is confessed. I like songs that purge anguish as a means to finding light.

I think that's why I like Jill Sobule so much. I go see her every time she comes to town, and Jill has a way of making the entire room fall in love with her. She's cute and funny, yes, but also, Jill's heart is present in every one of her songs.

I always felt like Kurt Cobain's lyrics, as flippant and bitter as they seemed on the surface, were painfully self-aware and of brimming with heart.


A piece of music doesn't have to have all of these ingredients, but if I love it, chances are it will have at least one.

Pearl Jam corners the market with all four, which is why seeing them live takes me to staggering heights of sheer bliss.

I'm going to close with a song that has Ingredients #1, #3 and #4. This is a song that put four whole years into perspective for me, and makes me cry every single time.

And Then My Dog Showed Up

(I wrote this one for Animal Friends.)

I adopted a dog this year.

It’s not a big deal, I know. Especially because I work at Animal Friends. You’d think I’d be tempted to adopt dogs every day.

But I wasn’t tempted, because I know that our dogs go into wonderful homes. And because I live with a cat, and we have a cute, quiet routine. For the past 14 years, my cat has been my sweet sidekick. That seemed like enough.

But then Animal Friends’ Humane Officers rescued Porter, a sad, sick little Beagle. I met him, and it hit me—I could feel it with my whole heart.

Porter was my dog.

I wasn’t expecting a dog to show up in my life, and I didn’t even think my urban apartment was ready for a Beagle. I’ve worked at Animal Friends for a decade now, and watched thousands of adorable dogs go home. I'd had plenty of favorites among them. But one thing was certain: if I let Porter leave with someone else, I’d be making a huge mistake. I would lose my dog forever.

So I adopted Porter, and now our lives will never be the same. I get to take care of him every day, and I hope I get to watch my little guy grow old and gray. 

But the best part is watching him become who he is. Porter spent his first four years in an abusive home. When I met him, he was shy, tentative and wouldn’t look me in the eye. Over time, he has learned to trust me and has gained more confidence. Now he has a personality, goofy habits, and even (I think) a sense of humor.

And when I look at the photos I took of him when we first met, he looks like a different dog to me. Because he wasn’t Porter yet. He was just a neglected, insecure little soul—an empty vessel, of sorts. 

But every day, he settles into his routine and his innocent, sincere personality. He discovers things that he likes and he develops preferences. He’s learning how to behave, and why. He’s learning what it’s like to be loved. And he loves me back...that I can tell.

He’s Porter now.

Lucky, lucky me!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What Weekends are For

All week, every week, I notice my pet-hair covered floors and think, "I will run the vacuum this weekend." Or I decide, "I will definitely scrub the bottom of my bath tub this weekend." It always seems like "Sunday will be a great day to clear through all those papers that have been piling up!"

But weekends are a terrible time for all of those things.

Weekends are when I take longer dog walks, invite my friends over for sleepovers, steep coffee in the French press, pull my mosaic table onto the balcony and sit at it while I write.

Weekends are a great time to look at flowers, paint your toenails and eat pancakes in the middle of the day with your best friend.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Here's Where I've Been!

I'm - just temporarily- neglecting this blog to write this one:

One Girl and One Beagle's Scheibler Treasure Hunt

My objective is to walk my Beagle to every building by architect Frederick G. Scheibler, Jr. in Pittsburgh, photograph it, and blog it here.

You can read it here: