Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ode To California

Have you ever had that moment when a song is speaking directly to you so completely that it makes the hair stand on your arms and brings tears to your eyes? That happened to me on December 26, 2001.

There we were, coming down over the pass and heading south on I-5, a little family on winter vacation. Four year old Sophia was in her car seat, playing with her new Leap Pad, a Christmas gift she'd received the day before. I had just been told that a job offer at Jefferson Public Radio was going to be made, but I wasn't told what position, wasn't told where. Only that I would have to wait until the State of Oregon had worked out its 2001 budget woes and lifted the moratorium on hiring within the university system (it was another 4 months before that happened). In the meantime, we decided to head down to the coast, to check out the Monterey aquarium, and head up through Humboldt before making our way back to Alaska for another wet and cold January.

A funny couple of things happened after we crossed Lake Shasta and headed down into the Sacramento Valley. The temperature went up about 15 degrees. Sophia looked out the window and read her first sign out loud all on her own after spending two hours with the Leap Pad: Supermarket, and then another: Motel 6. We were crossing the Sacramento River when a song came on the radio by Mason Jennings called "California, Part Two." He sang about throwing all his stuff into his truck and heading to Cali, north of the bay where there was cleaner air. Where he could buy an old house to work on, never mow the lawn and grow a garden.

Right then, I knew I was moving to Shasta County. Knew I'd be doing all those things Mason Jennings was singing to me about. I was going back to California for the second time around, for my "Part Two." You see, I was born in California, a bit further south. I lived in San Jose for the first three years of my life before becoming an Oregonian. I never dreamed I'd return. But when that Mason Jennings song hit me like a ton of bricks, I knew it. Knew it with every part of me. The Golden State would be my new home.

And here I am, almost a decade and a half later. Doing exactly what Mason Jennings said I would. I own that old house, I'm growing bell peppers and tomatoes in that garden, and true to the tune, I have never had to mow a lawn (but I am handy with the leaf blower, I have photographic evidence to prove it).

I've got fresh mint and basil, and beautiful flowers on my back deck. I've got mockingbirds for an alarm clock. I have hummingbirds in the backyard, a little fountain in the front. A hot tub that's hot in the winter, and cold-ish in the summer. I don't make a lot of money, but I get by. It's a pretty wonderful situation to be in. And nearby I've got the lakes and the mountains. I've got the river, the orchards and the coast isn't that far away (although it's not near enough, my only real complaint).

We're pretty lucky to live in this beautiful place.

I have been reminding myself that a lot recently, because it's been a little bit more difficult to keep the love alive for the Northstate as the impact of the nation's recession has had some pretty obvious impacts locally. Businesses failing, carjackings, high speed chases and stabbings have become every day news, and the numbers of panhandlers in grocery store parking lots seems to be greatly increasing. So it's a little tarnished, I have to admit, my love affair with Redding. But I believe you have to work hard to keep the love alive, right? That's the key to a long lasting loving and solid relationship, is it not? So I'm doing my part today with a Spotify playlist of love songs dedicated to the Golden State, to my beloved home of California, starting off with the song that told me this would be the place I call home.

  1. California, Pt. 2 - Mason Jennings
  2. Queen of California - John Mayer
  3. California Girls - The Beach Boys
  4. California Girls - Katy Perry
  5. When It Was Wrong - California Honey Drops
  6. California - Joni Mitchell
  7. California - Rufus Wainwright
  8. California Sun - Gin Blossoms
  9. California - Savage Garden
  10. Hotel California - Gipsy Kings
  11. Going to California - Led Zeppelin
  12. California Dreamin' - The Mamas & The Papas
  13. California - Melissa Etheridge
  14. California - Josh Ritter
  15. California King Bed - Rihanna
  16. More Bounce in California - Soul Kid
  17. Take California - Propellerheads
  18. California - Electro Deluxe
  19. Dani California - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  20. California Sun - The Ramonds

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Don't Walk On The Grass

People ask me from time to time if there's one genre of music that I just can't stomach. My answer is, and I'm being completely honest with you here, nope. I like it all. I can even name a few speed metal songs that have wormed their ways into my brain.
But when I was a teenager, I thought I hated bluegrass. That twangy, banjo pickin', mandolin strumming nasal countrier-than-country sound just totally turned me off. Or so I thought. In fact, when my rebellious anti-establishment cohorts and I started a punk band in high school, we did some country tunes as a joke.
Funny thing about that now.
The more we made fun of country music by playing it, the more fun we were having, and the more I found I kinda liked it. In fact, when I listen to all of the songs we recorded on a little boombox in the spare bedroom of my boyfriend's apartment above Chateaulin Restaurant in downtown Ashland (a belated apology to all those Shakespeare Festival attending diners who had to put up with some crazy drumming and bad singing coming from above!!!), it's the remake of Loretta Lynn's "Rocky Top" that's still my favorite 30 years later.
Then in the 80's I got my first gig at a commercial radio station, at 58 Country in Medford. Yup. Minimum wage spinning Eddie Rabbit, Kathy Mattea and Ferlin Husky 45s on Saturday & Sunday afternoons. It wasn't a bad gig, although when I was offered a 15 cent an hour raise to do nights at the hard rock station KBOY, I jumped at the chance. I went from Johnny Horton and The Judds to Def Leppard and Guns 'N Roses, which I thought was a big step up at the time.
Fast forward to a few days ago, as I chatted with my across the street neighbor, Mike, about Lucinda Williams, and how hard it is to classify her music. She is, as my buddy Jon Lewis says, a shot of Louisiana Hot Sauce. Let me go a step further. She's a chocolate covered cherry dipped in Louisiana Hot Sauce and covered in metal spikes and tiger growls. She's the ultimate soft & chewy in the center but rough and tuff on the outside. Mike and I were talking about how everyone who used to be punk rock back in the 80's, like Dave Alvin and John Doe, has now turned to a twangier sound (which they've finally come up with a name for...Americana). And then we started talking about our guilty little pleasure....popular rock songs done bluegrass style. He's a fan of the Austin Lounge Lizards, I've got a fondness for Run C&W, which has violated a number of my favorite Motown songs with banjos.
Since I'm no longer afraid to admit that I actually like bluegrass, I'm okay with letting you know that today's playlist makes me smile, makes me giggle, makes me sing along (in fact my friend/housekeeper Roberta just walked into the room moments ago carrying a toilet brush and asked if we were having Karaoke Thursday at my house because my daughter and I were singing Guns 'N Roses' "Paradise City" as done by a bluegrass band at the top of our lungs. It doesn't get much better than this.

Grass by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. The Grass Cats - Let My Love Open The Door Originally done by Pete Townsend
  2. Run C&W - Walkin' The Dog Originally done by Rufus Thomas and covered by everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Flamin' Groovies and even Green Day. But this has always been my favorite.
  3. Pickin' On Zeppelin - Dyer Maker My favorite Led Zep song
  4. John Hartford - Piece Of My Heart Janis Joplin's masterpiece ala banjo
  5. Doug Dillard Band - Heartbreak Hotel Elvis comes alive in a way you never expected
  6. IIIrd Tyme Out - Only You One of my favorite 50's doo-wop songs, made popular by The Platters
  7. Dale Ann Bradley - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For Recognize this U2 classic?
  8. Old & In The Way - Wild Horses The Rolling Stones made this famous in 1971
  9. Austin Lounge Lizards - Brain Damage If Pink Floyd were a person, he'd be rolling over in his grave
  10. The Charles River Valley Boys - Yellow Submarine Well, to be more accurate, "Yeller Submarine."
  11. Pickin' On Zeppelin - Going To California
  12. David Grisman - Hot For Teacher Does anyone here remember when Van Halen played at the Cascade Theatre? I wonder if they did this song. I'm sure it didn't sound like this.
  13. Iron Horse - Paradise City Yes. I sang this Guns 'N Roses song at the top of my lungs just moments ago, and I'm not ashamed about it.
  14. Iron Horse - Enter Sandman Metallica's 1991 hit done in a way I'm sure they never thought was possible.
  15. Iron Horse - One I am actually in a slight state of shock that a bluegrass band found a way to make more than one Metallica song accessible to the world through banjos and mandolins and fiddles, so I've got to give them another slot on today's playlist. Please forgive me.
  16. New Grass Revival - Great Balls Of Fire This isn't actually all that far off from the kind of music people expected Jerry Lee Lewis to perform instead of his crazy, hair flinging antics. I think he might be a little disappointed to hear his music toned down this way. C'est La Vie.
  17. The Raconteurs - Old Enough This one is a little different, because it's a Raconteurs song covered bluegrass style by the group that originally did it, but with the addition of Tennessee singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe and bluegrass icon Ricky Skaggs. Gives Jack White a whole new sound. He never ceases to amaze me.
  18. The Charles River Valley Boys - Norwegian Wood Another great Beatles song
  19. Moody Bluegrass - Nights In White Satin The entire Moody Blues album has been done in a bluegrass style, and some day you really should make time in your schedule to check the whole thing out start to finish. 
  20. Loretta Lynn - Rocky Top I thought it would be appropriate to end with an authentic bluegrass song by the original gal who inspired me to find an appreciation for this type of music. The very song my punk band covered back in 1983. And if you find yourself appreciating this daughter of a coal miner's music, you've got an opportunity to see her perform live in Redding at the Cascade Theatre later this year. JPR brings Loretta Lynn to the stage October 23rd. Want tickets? Get 'em here