This month was my 40th birthday. There's a lot of cultural garbage attached to that event in a person's life. A lot of it, I think, tied to a bygone age when people lived shorter lives and looked toward retirement at age 65 as a fixed landmark. Considering I don't feel like I've even found my right job yet, the idea of retiring at 65 seems slightly absurd. My hope, really, is to have found my right calling by then (or earlier, fingers crossed), and ride that out until the end. I suppose it all depends on how you define retirement. My dad retired from his job teaching, and now works his butt off playing music, a thing he loves.
Obviously, it's impossible to say how long I'll live. But, considering my relative good health and some decent odds in the genetic sweepstakes, I think (hope) that 80 seems within reason. Leading up to my birthday, my friend Robb jokingly told me I was "halfway to 80." I think it was partly meant as a needle, but it has actually served as a pretty great way to put everything in perspective. 40 suddenly doesn't seem so tragic when you think about having another 40 to go. I mean, that is a hell of a lot of time.
This isn't to say I didn't experience my own version of a crisis about turning halfway to eighty. It gnawed on me pretty good, in ways that have taken me a while to unravel. It wasn't really the "over the hill" thing, which I equate with anxiety about death. In reality, the event served as a magnifier for the things I'm wrestling with anyway -- feeling like I haven't found my groove, like I'm not doing what I'm meant to be doing. A lot of that comes down to disappointment with the relatively small part that creativity fills in my life right now. Some of my amped up feelings about turning 40 were, I think, subconsciously manufactured in the hope that a "mid-life" crisis might be the thing to magically inspire me to radically change my orientation, to bust me out of my rut, and change my life for the better like turning on a light bulb.
Well, of course that's not how life works. Especially when there are so many things about my life that are fantastic, that I've worked really hard to get and don't want to sacrifice. Now that day has come and gone, the party has been partied, and the 40 candles (which is a lot of candles!) have been blown out, it really is just a number. As my doctor told me, "You don't feel any different when you turn 40." My response to that was, "So, what you're saying is that at this point the decline is slow enough that it's hard to notice?" "Exactly."
The one thing that remains constant for me is music, even if it is more listening than making at this particular point. And having the chance to share it. Thank god for blogs, right?
The Roots - Sacrifice My favorite song from my favorite record from one of my favorite bands. The message seems particularly trenchant.
Paul Simon - Rewrite Anyone know of a nice car wash looking for an old guy?
White Denim - Holda You (I'm Psycho) Good old Stevie Rocketship has lately been lamenting the downward slide of his favorite band, precipitated by the departure of two central members. Seeing as how White Denim has become the band we agree to disagree on, it's only natural that the album he sees as the signal of their decline is the first one I kind of like. Stripped, for whatever reason, of their most egregious jam band wankery, White Denim makes a pretty compelling '70's rawk racket, which I can definitely get with (it's my home decade, don't forget). Oh well, one man's pudding is another man's mud, or something like that.
Fine Young Cannibals - She Drives Me Crazy She does. She really, really does.
Har Mar Superstar - It Was Only Dancing (Sex) It struck me recently that a lot of my favorite concert memories are from my time in Tucson, almost all at Club Congress, in the historic Hotel Congress, where I worked for a while and spent a lot of time. I'm sure I saw underwhelming shows there, but the small size of the room, great sound, and what I imagine to be the low stakes of performing in Tucson, made for some serious magic. Subsequent shows in other cities by bands I saw there are inevitably disappointing. TV on the Radio blew me away. The Sleepy Jackson left everything on the stage. Gogol Bordello, wow. I saw Har Mar Superstar there on tour behind his album You Can Feel Me. The show started with him in a three-piece suit and ended with him in his tighty-whiteys, walking among the crowd proving that "You Can Feel Me" was not just the title of a song. Whenever I hear people denigrate a singer getting onstage and plugging in an iPod with pre-recorded music, I think about how Har Mar put on an incredible show with just that set up.
Back then, Har Mar's vibe was slathered in schtick. And, while that worked, it's also fun to see a little bit more sincerity (both lyrically and musically) in his new album, produced by The Strokes' Julian Casablancas. Obviously, from this track, there's still plenty of humor, but he is using his formidable vocal chops to find little nooks and crannies of real emotion, not just to make jokes.
INXS - I Need You Tonight Not a lot to say about this one. Just a favorite from my childhood that remains a favorite at 40.
Bee Gees - Jive Talkin' Intending to honor my birthday, I was planning on including the song that was at the top of the charts when I was born. Unfortunately, the #1 song that day was the unforgivably schmaltzy and terrible "Silly Love Songs," by Wings. Oh, Paul. Luckily, sitting quite comfortably at #2 was this gem of disco deliciousness. Not only is it way groovier, inventive, and fun, but seems like a more appropriate representation of what was happening musically in 1976.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - Nobody Dies Much to my delight, my best gal pal Helean Lee fell head over heels for the Merrill Garbus-produced new album from Thao. A kind of cathartic theme album about her dad, who left her family when she was a kid, it's full of heartbreaking moments, self-righteous rage, and a lot of appealingly loose grooves. At my birthday party, much of which took place on an idyllic beach in Michigan, Helean applied her DJ skills and played this album on her little speaker. It's a nice association, that I'll probably always have, despite having nothing to do with the music itself. I asked Helean which song from the album she thought I should put on the list ("Meticulous Bird"), then promptly chose a different one. Sorry, Helean! Maybe it'll make it up when I encourage everyone to check out her newly regular show on CHIRP radio, from 6am-9am on Saturday mornings. You guys are up then, right?
Martina Topley-Bird, Mark Lanegan, & Warpaint - Crystalised I'm a huge Martina Topley-Bird fan, starting with Tricky's Maxinquaye, which I think is as much her album as his. The sad part is that her catalogue is depressingly small. Do people not think she's a brilliant singer? Is she too busy doing other things to make music? The world may never know. In a moment of distracted curiosity at work one day I popped over to her Spotify page and was delighted to find this great cover of the xx song. Plus, Mark Lanegan!? I mean... This is breathy singer heaven! Supposedly, it was meant for an xx cover compilation that never materialized. Oh well. The video's pretty great, too.
Radiohead - Burn the Witch The news came down the wire one day at work - "New Radiohead song! New Radiohead song! Read all about it!" The strings are a nice move, serving as an answer to my griping about being sick of the twitchy electronic thing already. I'm sure that's what inspired them.
ANOHNI - Drone Bomb Me A new electronic-centric album the singer formerly known as Antony. Same unmistakable voice, but this time employed in the service of a kind of desperate political despair. Under a more naïve singer, "Drone Bomb Me" sounds like it could be the world's most unfortunate metaphor, but the overall protesty theme of the record makes it clear that she is actually talking (albeit obliquely) about drone bombs.
Discohen - Like A Virgin "Disco classics the way Leonard Cohen would perform them. Relaxed and sexy... but never corny." From the Netherlands, I believe.
Anna Meredith - R-Type At work one day I was investigating the Kronos Quartet's ambitious "50 for the Future" project, in which they will commission 50 composers (25 men, 25 women) to compose new pieces that will be premiered by Kronos, but which are ultimately meant to become a "learning repertoire" to be used by music students. As one might expect from the iconoclastic Kronos, the list of composers zips all across the globe and crosses all kinds of genre lines, with people not typically associated with classical music. While a few of the names were familiar to me, most were not. I randomly landed on Anna Meredith and was pleasantly surprised to find something new. Working as a more traditional "composer" in England for several years, Meredith branched over into electronics and began performing herself. The new album ranges from pretty straightforward songs (with singing!) to electronic workouts like this one.