Friday, March 16, 2012

My Life As A Playlist

When I was a little girl, I used to listen to my grandparents, fascinated, as they would tell stories about what their lives were like growing up in the early 1900's.  My grandfather told me tales of how we were part Cherokee Indian on his mother's side, but we weren't on the Indian Roles because his grandfather killed his own brother and then disappeared into Indian Country to evade capture. He told me about all the famous Texas gunslingers in the family (John Wesley Hardin on my grandmother's side, and on his, the really crazy badass Hillary Webb (better known by his psudonymn Tom Ross). A serious interest in genealogy developed later within me, and to this day I am still searching for more evidence of my great great great great great grandfather Thomas Ing, who came to America from England around 1800, founding Ingtown, Ohio (known today as Kingston, but Ing Street runs through the middle of town in his honor).

As a young adult, when macular degeneration caused my grandfather's eyesight to fail, I would sit with him for hours, mining him for more information, more to pass the time and keep his mind sharp than for anything else. I only believed about half of what he told me, thinking all those wild gunslinging stories couldn't be true. But I dutifully took notes, and would save them, sticking them in my purse or between the pages of whatever book I was reading at the time. Years later, after my grandfather had passed at the age of 92, and the internet started its quest to take over the world, I gathered all those notes and began to connect online with other researchers. I found that every single story he ever told me was true. I'm so thankful for the many years I had with him, and that I paid attention to his stories, because it's been immensely satisfying to share these stories with other distant family members, comparing notes with them and hearing their own stories to flesh out a more thorough understanding of our ancestors. If only I had a window into their lives, or could go back in time like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris to experience those stories firsthand. Wouldn't that be something.

Meanwhile, my dad has been bugging me for about 20 years now to start writing my novel. He's a novelist, by the way, even made it onto the NY Times Bestseller list once. So of course he'd like to see his daughter take after her dad. While I've been known to spin a few good yarns myself, I just don't think I've got the time or the good ideas that it would take to write a great fiction novel. In fact, I just don't really have the time to write my own real life story, although I've had some fascinating adventures. I'm just not really sure that any of these adventures would be interesting to anyone outside of my immediate circle of friends. But maybe I'll get to writing them down, if only for the benefit of my future great grandchildren, to save them the time of trying to pick the fuzzy brain of their nana and decipher real life adventures from make believe.

Fortunately, Kerri Schuette just made my job a whole lot easier. She was tapped recently to capture my story for a piece in the April edition of Enjoy Magazine. Check it out for the story and for the amazing photography of Tommy Corey (who made his mark on the world with the Self Worth Project). What an honor to have two great artists come together to help tell that story. Perhaps someday 50 years into the far off future, one of my descendants will do their own genealogy research, and come across a musty edition of Enjoy in a foot trunk in the attic, and find that all my stories were true as well. From the tales I told of being in a punk rock band in high school, then sailing off to a Greek island the day after graduating from college, to the years I lived on another island in Alaska, where the bath water came from a spring and was heated with an oil stove. Where once a year my friends and I dressed up as Vikings and Valkyries in furs and metal helmets and boarded the Alaska Airlines jet and took actual prisoners. And then my serendipitous return to the lower 48 to help restore the Cascade Theatre, where I ate dinner with the Manhattan Transfer, Bobby McFerrin sang with my daughter, and Pink Martini asked me onstage to perform their encore with them. Great Grandma wasn't crazy (well, at least she wasn't delusional). All those things really happened.

Kerri also came up with a great idea, something she kind of tossed out, almost as an afterthought after our interview. She suggested that I come up with a playlist of my life, a list of songs that would serve as an autobiographical journey of sorts through my life to accompany the article. So I did. And while it's there in black and white in the pages of Enjoy, today you can listen to the actual playlist right here on A News Cafe, and take a little trip with me back to the very beginning of my life. Maybe in my golden years, when I finally pack away the magazine for a future generation to discover, I'll include a cd with all the songs so they can spend an hour listening to the music that shaped my life. But do you think 50 years in the future they'll even have cd players?

  Valerie by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Valerie - Amy Winehouse - Well, if this is all about me, I might as well start off by stamping my name right on it, eh?
  2. 2.     The Journey – by Fatboy Slim featuring Lateef    My life really has been a journey with musical accompaniment right from the very beginning, in 1966, when I was born in San Jose, CA.
    3.     Waters of March – Sergio Mendes featuring Lidisi   My parents introduced me to the Bossa Nova sounds of Sergio Mendes before I could walk, with my dad playing the conga drum to his LPs. This is an updated version of my favorite Brazil 66 song.
    4.     Five Bottles of Mambo – Yma Sumac   My dad (a novelist), used to regale my sister and I with bedtime stories about little girls who’d survive being lost in the woods. He also showed us these weird musicals set in the Incas starring the mysterious Yma Sumac, telling us stories about how some people thought her name was really Amy Camus. Man, she could sing.
    5.     Joy To The World – Three Dog Night   This was my very first favorite song. I think I was 5, and we were living in Eugene, Oregon by this time.
    6.     Good Times – Chic    A few years later I was hanging out at the roller rink, wearing feathered hair and a satin jacket, begging my parents to let me stay after, when everyone took off their skates and danced to disco music.
    7.     Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson   Yes, I’m secure enough in my musicality to admit that there was a time when I really like Michael Jackson. The first two record albums I ever put on my Christmas wish list were the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall.
    8.     You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC   Then in the 9th grade (around the time my boyfriend and I started dating the first time around), I discovered Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Queen and AC/DC.
    9.     Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles   I remember it well. We had moved to Ashland. I was visiting my cousin for the summer, bored out of my skull, flipping through the channels trying to find a re-run of The Monkees, when I came upon an astronaut planting a flag on the moon, followed by this video. I was actually watching the birth of MTV. Thank goodness it didn’t really kill radio. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual music video on MTV.
    10.  Planet Claire – The B-52s   I was 15, babysitting, and doing what I always do: combing through the family record collection. I found this crazy record with the most wonderfully bizarre music. Turns out that the album had been a gag gift to the parents, and they gladly parted with it when I asked them about it. My life changed overnight.
    11.  Message To You Rudy – The Specials   I quickly became introduced to New Wave, Ska and Punk, and soon found my tribe. I started collecting music (The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Circlejerks, BowWowWow), going to concerts, found my tribe, starting my own band and finally putting on concerts.
    12.  Troublemaker – Weezer   It was hard for me to choose between 3 great songs that together perfectly describe the next few years of my life. This one, David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”, and Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation. I spent a lot of time in the Vice Principal’s office. But I did graduate!
    13.  Yo Deejay! – Jah Sound   I even went on to college, at Southern Oregon, and this when I found my calling. I was on the staff of the college newspaper, did an internship at a local TV station, but became a volunteer at Jefferson Public Radio, and I knew this was where I belonged.
    14.  Great DJ – The Ting Tings   I also began working weekends at commercial radio stations in the Rogue Valley, doing stints in country, adult contemporary and hard rock. Life was great.
    15.  Theme to Zorba The Greek – Mikis Theodorakis   The day after graduating, I flew to a Greek island and lived there for the summer. I learned how to speak Greek with a hick country accent, and made a lot of orange juice while working in a bar in the town of Paleochora.
    16.  North To Alaska – Johnny Horton   I left Greece only because I was offered a job as a news reporter in a small fishing village in Alaska. I ended up marrying the first man I met there, and stayed for 13 years.
    17.  Then She Appeared – XTC   In 1997, Sophia appeared. Being a mother has definitely been the most important and challenging job that I have ever taken on. 
    18.  Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps – Doris Day  Wondering what I’m singing into that microphone in the photo by the incredible Tommy Corey? It’s this song. If I ever realize my fantasy of having a nightclub act, this would be my signature song.
    19.  Hey Eugene – Pink Martini    Or possibly this one. My favorite band, hands down. I still can’t quite believe I was able to not only introduce them at the Cascade Theatre a few years ago, but got to perform their encore with them as well.
    20.  She Loves & She Confesses – The Dowland Project  Ten years ago, JPR offered me the opportunity to come back to work for them to manage their Redding studios, but part of the job was quite a departure from the rest of my musical life – hosting a daily classical music program. This song represents some of the beautiful gems I’ve come across while exploring the classical music library.
    21.  The Way I Am – Ingrid Michaelson   27 years after the first time we dated, my junior high school boyfriend hunted me down again. He’s a slightly crazy alpha male rebel, and he takes me the way I am. I guess that makes him the perfect kind of guy for me.   
    22.  Good Feeling – FloRida   No matter where we are or what we’re doing, if someone puts this song over the speakers, the entire family starts singing and dancing. It’s part of the soundtrack to pretty much everything we do these days, so it deserves a special spot at the end of the current playlist of my life.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pinch Me, I'm American

I just discovered that my daughter dislikes St. Patrick's Day almost as much as I did as a kid, and for the same reason. The dreaded pinch. It was the fear that I'd forget to wear green on the designated day, and end up getting pinched from mean spirited kids until I was covered in black and blue marks.

I was fortunate that I grew up in Southern Oregon. There's always a hefty amount of green in the wardrobe of anyone south of Corvallis, so usually I lucked out. But still, there were days when I ended up running from other kids, screaming, "I'm wearing green underwear!" trying to avoid that pinch.
I laid heavy curses upon the Irish person with the sadistic streak that I imagined must've conjured up this ridiculous tradition. And then there's the rest of the way the holiday is spent: drinking copious amounts of green beer, eating corned beef & cabbage, and paying homage to 4-leaf clovers and leprechauns.

That is, until I once asked an actual Irish citizen why they weren't wearing green on the most holy of all Irish holidays. He looked at me funny, like he had no idea what I was talking about. I said, "Aren't you afraid you'll get pinched?" Another funny look. He honestly had no idea what I was talking about, and I was floored.

Turns out that in Ireland, they don't do that.

We do that.

Or rather, they didn't do that at the time, and if they do it now, they probably got the idea from us.

A little St. Patrick's Day history
St. Paddy's Day has been around since the 1700's, when the Knights of St. Patrick wanted to honor the country's most recognizable patron saint who brought Christianity to the celts and converted the Irish to Roman Catholicism. So the main idea behind this holiday - in the place where it all began - is going to church (and I don't mean getting so drunk that you end up praying to the porcelain god).

Restrictions on drinking alcohol for Lent are lifted at this time, so it's understandable that there are some overindulgences taking place not just in Ireland but all over the world on this day. But over the long run, drinking was probably been a more minor part of the celebration in Ireland than in any of the other countries that recognize St. Paddy's. In fact, for many years, pubs and bars were legally ordered to close on March 17th in Ireland (simply to keep the drinking from getting out of control), although that practice stopped in the 1970's.

The Color Green
There is a lot of green to be worn. But just like with any Oregon Ducks fan, I imagine much of the Irish population could be found wearing green on any given day in the year. But other than that the day was traditionally recognized by attending church services, not running around pinching people for not wearing green.

Other Random St. Patrick's Day Trivia
St. Patrick's Day has only been a national holiday in Ireland since 1903, but it wasn't until 16 years ago that Ireland began a campaign to capitalize on St. Patrick's Day to celebrate Irish culture with a huge festival encompassing lavish parades (which supposedly they also got from us), fireworks and concerts. So today it is more of a secular holiday, although church leaders are less than impressed that leprechauns and shamrocks are getting all the credit instead of a 4th century priest who watches over engineers, Boston, New York City, Nigeria and (of course) Ireland.
There's a good chance that the following assertions I'm about to make are full of blarney, because my source is a couple of spurious sites on the great world wide web. But I've heard that while we traditionally eat corned beef & cabbage, the dish of choice on March 17th in Ireland is Irish bacon and cabbage. Turning the water green? That started in Chicago in 1962. Turning the beer green? That started here too. In Ireland they'd rather drink it black (as in Guinness).
I've also heard that leprechauns were not used as a symbol of St. Patrick's Day until the Disney film "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" was released, and probably made even more popular with "Finian's Rainbow."

And.....To Wrap It Up
Well my fellow pinchaphobics (I made that up. Can you believe that there is not a scientific term for the fear of being pinched? Preposterous), what it comes down to is that we created this monster, not the Irish. I don't know how to go about undoing the horrible thing we've done to our nation's children by basically bullying them into wearing a certain color on March 17th or suffer the slightly painful consequences. Can we slowly undo this tradition that's popped up in the past 50 years or so? I don't know. But instead of wearing green this year, I think I'll just throw a pinch of salt over my shoulder and hope for a little bit of Irish luck instead. In the meantime, enjoy today's playlist, a mixture of songs about all things green or Irish, and there's even a bit of Gaelic sprinkled in. Éirinn go Brách!

Check out the Grooveshark Playlist

Kiss Me, I'm Irish by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark