Paul O'Brian writes about Watchmen, trivia, albums, interactive fiction, and more.

Tag: stevie nicks

Scattered Thoughts From a Fleetwood Mac Concert

I saw Fleetwood Mac in Denver on Wednesday night, April 1. It was actually their second Denver stop on the same tour. This is the “On With The Show” tour, in which Christine McVie has rejoined the group and is touring with them again, something I never thought I’d see happen. They came here initially in December, and the cool thing about them coming back just 4 months later is that demand was greatly attenuated by the first show, and consequently I was able to get much better tickets — 10th row!

Now, normally at a concert I’m pretty absorbed by the music, but even so there’s some part of my head that occasionally perks up and writes out a little post, live-tweeting its comments back to me. Here are some of the things it had to say this time:

  • Before the show — somebody behind me just said, “Oh my god these seats are so close! THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE!” Heh. It feels pretty good when somebody behind you is super-excited about their seats.
  • I’ve had this thought at pretty much every Fleetwood Mac show for the last 20 years: I can’t believe these guys are still doing this and still sound so good.
  • Christine, until you came back, I never realized just how much I’d missed you.
  • This is the exact same show I saw in December, and not just the same set list, but the very same between-songs patter.
  • Lady to my right: No matter how many times you insist to your two friends that they are about to start “Black Magic Woman”, they are never about to start “Black Magic Woman”, and they never will be about to start “Black Magic Woman.”
  • There are all these graphics that show up behind the different songs, and I don’t object to them. In fact, some of them (like the ones for “Rhiannon” and “Tusk”) I quite like. But the giant Lindsey-head that floats above the group during “I Know I’m Not Wrong” is both super-weird and super-freaky.
  • Lindsey's floating head

    Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz!


  • Okay, man and two women to my right. Think about this. In the middle of a huge arena, with a rock and roll band playing fifty feet away from you, has got to be one of the hardest places in all of Denver at this moment to carry on a conversation. And yet, you persist in trying to have one, which means you are SCREAMING at each other through many songs. Did you seriously pay gobs of money to do this? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable outside?
  • GOD I love hearing “Sisters Of The Moon”. Even though Stevie can’t hit the high note on it anymore, it is still so good.
  • And now: Deep Thoughts, with Lindsey Buckingham.
  • Oh my god you three to my right! It was one thing when you were shouting shit to each other during “Everywhere”, but do you have to do it during the quietest moments of “Landslide” and “Never Going Back Again”? I feel like saying to you, “Hey, I’m having trouble hearing you over the music, can you speak up?” But because I do not want to get into a conflict and thereby miss even more of the show, I will just seethe over here and write nasty things in my head about you.
  • Stevie tells a story before “Gypsy” that is way longer than anything Lindsey says, but while I’m tired of hearing Lindsey talk before he’s even done, I could hear Stevie tell this same story over and over again and still be rapt. I know, because this is the second time I’ve heard it, and I love it just as much as the first time. Plus, afterward she sings “Gypsy”!
  • Christine: Still Perfect. Stevie: Still Spellbinding. Lindsey: Still Soloing.
  • Oh, I see, lady to my right. You meant “Gold Dust Woman” the entire time. While I will grant you that they are both Fleetwood Mac songs, they are so not at all the same song. Plus, I’ll bet you don’t even know that “Black Magic Woman” started out as a Fleetwood Mac song.
  • The thing Stevie does on this tour during “Gold Dust Woman”, where it is as if she is possessed by all the dysfunction of the worst versions of herself, is so theatrical, so disconcerting, and so awesome.
  • “World Turning”: Hooray! 10-minute session of Mick playing drum solos and grunting into his head-mic: Boo! This is such a buzzkill, and I have never seen Fleetwood Mac leave it out. At least he’s not getting up in front of the stage and tapping electronic drums built into his clothes anymore.
  • Woman in front of me, you have seriously had that Fleetwood Mac tote bag over your shoulder for the entire show. Wow. That is some serious dedication to your pre-show merch purchase.
  • “Don’t Stop” is so much better now that Christine is back.
  • It’s amazing how Stevie and Lindsey can still summon the drama for “Silver Springs”. Boy, it must really suck to have an ex as a lifelong co-worker.
  • Ahhh, final encore. “Songbird.” Except… where’s the baby grand? And why is Mick coming back out? Oh no, he’s launching into his same-as-ever show-closing monologue! But what about “Songbird”? Noooooo!!! Oh man, what an anticlimactic disappointment at the end of a show that actually has Christine in it.

    [I researched this later and learned that they dropped it from the set list about a month ago, and that Christine is thought to be nursing a hand injury. I wonder if she has some kind of repetitive-stress thing? Even so, I wish she would just come out and sing it with Brett Tuggle on piano, but I think that kind of solo spotlight is not her cup of tea.]

It’s Never Over

It’s another year of music from me, and this year I think a little bit of a theme emerged in a few songs: saving people. If there’s one overriding neurosis in my life, it’s my desire to rescue the people I care about from the danger they’re in, at least as I perceive it. Or sometimes even people I’ve just met, or never met. I could blame it on too many superhero comics, but I suspect the cause and effect goes the other direction. In any case, this is not the worst personality flaw in the world, and in fact I think it has some pretty positive aspects, but I do have to watch it, lest it override my better judgment. For instance, it drew me into and kept me trapped in a very toxic relationship when I was in college, and has sometimes prompted me to lead with my emotions at work rather than my rational brain — not always the most productive approach. So I maintain awareness, and do a reality check every so often, but it’s no surprise that I find myself drawn to songs about transcendence, or pulling people out of the dark. This is not a “concept mix” by any means (except for the usual concept: songs I listened to and loved in the last year), but I find this theme recurring in several of the songs that compelled me.

1. Melissa EtheridgeEnough Rain
Case in point. Melissa came out with 4th Street Feeling in the fall of 2012, but in my typically belated fashion, I listened to it in early 2014. I don’t think it’s one of her stronger works, but it’s flawed in some interesting ways. Like this song, where the speaker is reaching out to a troubled friend. “Haven’t you had enough rain?” she asks, implying that the subject wallows in misery, but the metaphor is telling. Somebody who is suffering from a mental or physical illness (or a spicy combo plate of both) can no more shut off their suffering than somebody who’s sick of bad weather can say, “Okay, I’ve had enough rain.” Well, I guess they can say it, but that doesn’t make the rain stop. A close friend of mine went through a lot of trouble with a sleep disorder this year, so the line “Don’t go back to sleep” hit home with me. But when it’s raining, it’s raining.

2. Arcade FireIt’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)
Here’s the rescue-iest song of all the rescue-y songs. I reviewed an IF game that invokes the Orpheus myth, and part of what I wrote is pertinent here, so let me quote myself: “I identify very strongly with the Orpheus myth. There have been various times in my life… when I find myself questing about desperately to find the magic that will retrieve a loved one from the underworld into which they have descended. And even when it seems like I’ve succeeded, it is very difficult to maintain a belief in that success.” This song speaks directly to that experience, making the point that unlike finding your way out of Hades, when it comes to ongoing relationships, there is no finish line. Crises come and they pass, and they do the damage they do, some of which might even be averted by great effort on everyone’s part, but there’s no crisis that we can call final, save of course for the end of life itself. Because I’m in the midst of an ongoing Watchmen analysis project, I’m strongly reminded of Dr. Manhattan’s final words to Adrian Veidt: “‘In the end?’ Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.” Needless to say, I love this song. It’s probably the thesis statement of the whole mix, and hence its title.

3. The CureThe Hanging Garden
As Arcade Fire emerges from the underworld, The Cure dives deep into it. I revisited their album Pornography this year, and my GOD is it dismal. I don’t mean it’s bad — it’s excellent — but it is just the pits of depression. Even for The Cure, it’s a depressing album, and that is saying an awful lot. But this song has always stood out to me. There’s a reason why it was the single. Where the other songs are dirgelike, it is propulsive, and angry where the other songs are helpless. I mean, yes, the animals are still screaming and dying, but those drums carry me through.

4. David GilmourMurder
Robert Smith and Roger Waters know how to be depressed. David Gilmour, on the other hand, never quite got the knack. Even this song, meant to be an angry cri de coeur, tends to feel mostly mellow. But I absolutely love Gilmour’s voice, and his guitar playing evokes emotion from me like no other guitar player I have ever heard. Gilmour and Waters needed each other, and on their own neither one ever reached anywhere near the heights of Pink Floyd’s best work. But after they split, I was never able to tolerate a Roger Waters solo album, whereas I could listen to Gilmour’s over and over, which I did again this year. This is a little odd for me — I always think of myself as a lyric person first, with music a distant second. But with Gilmour, the music makes up for even the most labored lines. The sweeping crescendos in this song get me every time.

5. Death Cab For CutieWhy You’d Want To Live Here
I embraced Death Cab a few years ago, and since then I’ve been slowly making my way through their catalog. This year I spent a little time with The Photo Album, and this song jumped out at me. It’s a scathing anti-L.A. track, and while I’m no L.A.-hater, Ben Gibbard does a fabulous job of making me want to hate it. A great riff, a great melody, and most especially great lyrics sung in Gibbard’s sweet-angry voice, with (again) a giant sweep into a bridge full of spitting venom, make me put this song on repeat.

6. Stevie Ray VaughanWall Of Denial
Less a song about saving somebody else than saving yourself, Stevie Ray wrote this song (and many others on the In Step album) to document his own recovery from alcoholism. By coincidence, I happened to be listening to this album when a friend of mine disclosed that he had finally faced and surrendered to the reality of a lifelong addiction that had controlled him for decades, and entered a 12-step program. As I talked with him, these lyrics kept ringing in my head, so much so that I was practically reciting them by the end of the conversation. I’ll always associate this song with that day in 2014.

7. Cocteau TwinsHeaven Or Las Vegas
Rememember when I characterized myself as somebody who cares about lyrics much more than music? I still believe it’s true, so how is it that I have always been utterly enchanted and fascinated by The Cocteau Twins, who are notorious for having absolutely incomprehensible lyrics? I tried to learn any of the lyrics to their Heaven or Las Vegas album, only to find that they almost never print their lyrics, and even their most ardent fans, who put together encyclopedic web sites full of lyrics, tend to say stuff like “These lyrics transcriptions are almost purely hypothetical… what you see is what I imagine them to be, or what I have managed to piece together from my own ideas and those of others.” Nevertheless, I can’t get over how gorgeous this gibberish sounds. Apparently I am large and contain multitudes. Also, I had a stroke of amazing luck when I was in Vegas for a conference in 2014, so that’s why I picked this song in particular.

8. PinkWicked Game (live in Melbourne)
I finally got to see Pink this year, and while my seat wasn’t the greatest, I still had a great time. Being up in the rafters isn’t so bad when an artist can fly. 🙂 She played lots of hits, and lots of tracks from her latest album — there’s some crossover between these categories. But for me the most memorable moment was when she played this cover. First, I love it when an artist does the unexpected in concert, either a surprise cover or an album track you’d never expect to hear. Second, in keeping with this song’s sexy image, the staging for this tune involved Pink doing various trust falls and being caught by a cadre of men, then hoisted, passed around, flung, etc. Whew! It was a whole thing. Here, it looked like this. Kinda stuck with me.

9. The Alan Parsons ProjectGames People Play
I am a fan of The Alan Parsons Project. In fact, the first CD I ever bought was their Best Of album, partly because their sound is so clean and full at the same time — that was the first digital music I wanted to hear coming out of my own speakers. After spending time with both “Best Of” volumes, I dove deeper into their albums, mostly on cassette at the time. I’ve been slowly replacing those, going digital with them once again, and this year I spent some time with their Turn Of A Friendly Card album. They did such a beautiful job of braiding some of the very disparate strands of music from their time — progressive rock, California harmonies, disco, funk, soul. Soul and prog are not normally heard in the same sentence, let alone the same song, but many Alan Parsons songs, especially those with Lenny Zakatek on vocals, marry them effortlessly. “Games People Play” is a perfect example, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

10. Jonathan CoultonYou Ruined Everything
When Jonathan Coulton’s daughter was born, he quit his job as a computer programmer to become a full-time musician, figuring that if he didn’t go for his dreams immediately, he’d never have the courage to do so at all. Besides, he wanted to set a good example for her, trying for the brass ring. I just read an Alan Moore biography that says he did pretty much the same thing — quit his day job as soon as his first child was born. I am risk-averse, and cannot relate to these people, but I do relate to this song. It’s a love song Coulton wrote to his daughter, about how a kid changes everything, into something often even better than before.

11. The Magnetic FieldsGoin’ Back To The Country
The Magnetic Fields’ album Love At The Bottom Of The Sea is 15 tracks of typical Stephin Merritt cleverness. I spent some time with it this year and this song called out to me. Merritt is a modern-day Cole Porter to me, with rhymes so literate and clever that they’re the intellectual version of fireworks. “Let Laramie take care of me til they bury me.” I also love Shirley Simms’ voice on this and all Magnetic Fields songs she sings.

12. RodriguezCan’t Get Away
I had a long journey with this song. I saw Searching For Sugar Man in late summer of 2012, and wrote about it here (well, back when “here” was LiveJournal) a couple of weeks later. I was surprised and honored to get a response from Eva Rodriguez, the artist’s own daughter, who shows up quite a bit in the film. I enjoyed the music too, so put the soundtrack on my wish list. By the time I’d gotten it and worked through the backlog in front of it, 2014 had arrived. There are quite a few songs on that soundtrack that really resonated with me, so it was a bit of a toss-up to decide which one to put on this mix. The melody of this one hooked into me, and I found myself singing it at odd times throughout the day. I love the sense of foreboding and doom in the lyrics, the sense that when something is ingrained in you, it doesn’t matter how far you run.

13. “Sirvana”Cut Me Some Slack
Dave Grohl’s documentary film Sound City is about the studio where dozens of classic albums were recorded, including parts of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. It’s got tons of great commentary by Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Trent Reznor, Paul McCartney, and a bunch of others. Of course I was going to love it. The other part of the plot, though, was that Grohl recovered the Sound City’s big mixing board after the studio went under, and recorded an album’s worth of new music with his various guests, using that board. Consequently, the Sound City soundtrack has some pretty special moments, including a new Stevie song that doesn’t appear anywhere else. However, this song stands out for me, even above the Stevie tune. It’s Paul McCartney basically taking Kurt Cobain’s place in Nirvana — Grohl on drums and Krist Novoselic on bass. That sludgy Nirvana sound, with the rockin’-est possible version of Paul Freaking McCartney singing lead, is AMAZING. To me. I didn’t even know that version of Paul still existed. I love the way he sounds on this track.

14. TotoRosanna
Toto was one of the first bands I ever got into — their Toto IV album was huge in 1982, when I was 12 years old and just starting to tap into popular music in any kind of attentive way. I played that LP over and over, starting with “Rosanna” and going through to “Africa“. I wasn’t terribly taken with the music they made after Toto IV, but I never stopped liking that album. Still, I hadn’t heard it for quite a while when I started learning a little more about Jeff Porcaro, their drummer. My friend Trish’s son is a drummer, and through him I learned that Porcaro is seen as a virtuoso, a genius among drummers. It’s not the sort of thing I have an ear for, but when I watched a video about how he created the Rosanna beat, I was able to get the sense of why he’s so revered, and why that beat is seen as such a challenge. Last year, my Sony credit card rewards people ran a deal that essentially resulted in me getting a bunch of free CD’s from them, including “The Essential Toto.” I listened to that CD this year, and heard the song with new ears.

15. Thompson TwinsIf You Were Here
I think the Thompson Twins are a pretty underrated band, and this is definitely one of their most underrated songs. Its music feels intimate and romantic in an 80’s, 16-Candles-Soundtrack kind of way, but its lyrics are just the opposite — detached, depressed, uncertain. I burned a CD of soundtrack songs this year, and this was the one that jumped out at me. Its contradictions hook me.

16. Florence And The MachineShake It Out
And now, a return to transcendence. Florence Welch’s voice is perfect for this song, gathering in power (and multi-tracked) as the synths swell, the drums kick, the choir bursts free. I never fail to get gooseflesh at “tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground” — such an incredible image. I want nothing more than to pull that devil off people’s backs, but Florence acknowledges the truth, and ownership, of that situation: “Looking for heaven / found the devil in me / Well what the hell / I’m gonna let it happen to me”. I can’t hope to keep up with this song vocally, but I love to sing along — it feels like flying.

17. The Beach BoysDon’t Worry Baby
So, on one level, this song is about racing cars, male competition, and teenage insecurity. But after those opening lines, nothing else matters. “Well, it’s been building up inside of me for oh, I don’t know how long / I don’t know why but I keep thinking something’s bound to go wrong.” Who can’t relate to that? Plus, it’s just one of the most beautiful damn melodies ever, matched with a perfect vocal.

18. StingSomeone To Watch Over Me
I first learned this song through Sting’s version, and it wasn’t until I heard Ella Fitzgerald’s that I understood how Sting’s gender-flipping of the song did some damage to it. It was originally written to be sung by a woman, which is how it got internal rhymes like “a certain lad I’ve had in mind.” Somehow “a certain girl I’ve had in mind” doesn’t quite have the same snap. But in another way, the flip is rather subversive. “I’d like to add her initial to my monogram,” Sting sings. How often do we hear that sentiment from a man? In any case, I love this song, whoever is singing it. And I feel it too — each of us needs someone to watch over us, even those of us who are self-appointed guardians ourselves.

This Promise Of Paradise

Another year, another music mix. I’m a little later with the liner notes this year — sorry about that. For the past few months I’ve found myself with a whole bunch of short-term, unduckable, hard-deadline projects. (Christmas counts as one of these. :)) My time is opening up a bit more now, so I’m finally able to get to these notes! This year’s mix is heavy on the Neko Case, a singer/songwriter I’ve loved for a few years but really dug deeper into during 2013. It’s also got plenty of the usual suspects (Folds, Nicks, Beatles) and some other stuff that grabbed me this year for a variety of specific reasons.

1. Ben Folds FiveHouse
I got hold of Ben’s box set in 2012, but it didn’t reach the front of the queue until early 2013. The discs are themed — rarities, live stuff, and “greatest hits.” He also got back together for a few tracks with the other two guys in Ben Folds Five (the Five was always a trio), and the hits disc has a couple of new songs from the band, including this one. I loved this song almost immediately. It reminds me of people I’ve known who have been traumatized in a family setting and then left the house behind. Maya Angelou talks about leaving her childhood home of Stamps, Arkansas — not just the place but “the condition that was Stamps, Arkansas.” The places where you go through great pain live inside your head themselves, and even if you can’t burn the house down, you can certainly choose never to re-enter that condition again.

2. Neko CaseAt Last
Oh Neko. Her songs are mostly short but I find them so electrifying. First, there’s her lyrics, elliptical and evocative in that Stevie Nicks way, but with an earthy, bloody touch that gives them a different tang in the brain. Then there’s the music, spooky melodies on country instruments, folk rock with the occasional jagged edge. And finally, the voice oh my god the voice. Neko has one of my favorite voices of anyone, ever. It is almost literally intoxicating to me — I can feel my nervous system lighting up like fireworks when I hear it — my breath gets short and my pulse gets quick. This song has a Dickinsonian quality to it as well, contemplating death with equanimity even as it embraces and longs for life.

3. Neko CaseRed Tide
One reason I dove depeer into Neko’s work last year is that I bought a ticket to see her sing in September, and wanted to know her ouevre a little better before I saw the show. As it turned out, she was sick for the concert, so although she still sounded PERFECT her energy was muted. I think my favorite performance was of this song, which is from the first album of hers I really got to know, a record called Middle Cyclone. Like many of her songs, it is compelling, immediate, and vivid to me. She sings it with this incredible full-throated authority, and again, it makes my brain buzz and my whole body want to be alive.

4. Johnny CashFolsom Prison Blues
I keep falling farther and farther behind on current music, because I find myself fascinated by filling the gaps in the knowledge I grew up with. Johnny Cash was one of those gaps. I’m not usually a country guy, but Cash to me transcends genre. He’s another one with an unforgettable voice, though in a whole different way than Case. (Hm, one letter difference. How about that?) But I only ever knew the barest outline of his work, so I got hold of an “essential” collection for him and added to my repertoire. This song is one of his most iconic, and for good reason. It’s got the great storytelling of folk music, delivered in a way that’s solemn, knowing, and a bit playful all at once. And he performs it *at the prison*. It’s a stunt, but what a stunt. (Apparently the cheers for “I shot a man in Reno” were added in post-production. Cheating!)

5. Ben Folds FiveAway When You Were Here
The BFF experiment on the box set was so successful that the band decided to get together for a whole new album, released in fall of 2012. My musical shelf being what it is, I didn’t listen to it until 2013. It’s very typical of their work, which is to say it is part rockin’, part silly, part thrilling, and part heartbreaking. This song falls into that latter category. I just love his lyrics, the way he can capture the interior experience with an image — “Sometimes a phrase or a manner that’s you / Comes through me and goes in a flash” — and then enact that image by paralleling “You seemed lost in clouds” and “When I’m lost in clouds.” God, that’s good.

6. R.E.M.The One I Love
In February 2013 I went once again to Austin, Texas, to compete in a big trivia contest called the Geek Bowl. That was the second time I’d gone, and as we’d done the first time, some teammates and I went to a great record store there called Waterloo Records. There among the incoming used CDs was R.E.M.’s Document, an album I’d always had on cassette but never had a digital copy of. So I snagged it for some low low price and revisited it later that year. It’s funny to come back to albums that came out when I was in my teens. (Document came out in 1987, when I was 17 years old.) I remember at the time wondering what it would have been like to be alive and aware when something like Sgt. Pepper, or Pearl, or Surrealistic Pillow was released. Well, now I know, and it’s lovely to get the same pleasure now that I got from the album 25 years ago. It felt like a classic at the time, because it was.

7. Glen HansardLies
I saw the movie Once when it was in the theaters — in fact, I didn’t know this at the time but the showing I saw was the very last movie shown at the movie theater on 30th and Pearl in Boulder, before they tore it down to build a Barnes & Noble. (Boulder used to have at least 4 different movie theaters — now it has one. Apparently the town can’t support that many movies?) I really liked the movie at the time, especially the music, so I put the soundtrack on my wish list some time later, and finally got it in time to listen in 2013. It’s hard to pick a song from this album, but this one seemed quite emblematic of the angst, longing, and fierceness that runs through the film and its music.

8. Lindsey BuckinghamThis Nearly Was Mine (instrumental)
I get impatient with a lot of Lindsey’s solo work lately, all breathy vocals and superfast virtuoso picking. It’s fine, but it gets pretty samey, especially compared with the record I see as his masterpiece, 1992’s Out Of The Cradle. That collection had some of his picking and sing-talking, but it also had fantastic pop songs like “Countdown” and “Don’t Look Down”, lovely ballads like “Surrender The Rain” and “All My Sorrows”, and beautiful instrumental passages like this one. I got the mp3 album from Amazon, burned it to CD last year, and spent some time reacquainting myself with it. “This Nearly Was Mine” is actually a Rodgers & Hammerstein tune, from South Pacific — it was a favorite of Lindsey’s dad, so it got included here as a kind of tribute. Lindsey’s treatment of it is uncharacteristically gentle — even his softest songs tend to have an aggressive edge to them, but not here. (Though the only link I can find is to a live version where he can’t help himself from slipping into virtuoso mode at one point.) He brings out the poignancy of the melody so much that I had to look up the lyrics, and having done so I decided to quote them for the title of this collection, promises of paradise kept, broken, and found at last.

9. The BeatlesHow Do You Do It?
Most of my Beatles Anthology listening was in 2012, but a bit spilled over into 2013. This is from the first one, which had lots of very early stuff from their formative days. That has limited appeal for me, but this tune I found fascinating. I’m used to stories of Lennon-McCartney compositions not recorded by the Beatles but made famous by other artists (e.g. The Rolling Stones having one of their first hits with “I Wanna Be Your Man”, which the Beatles only recorded later.) This song, though, wasn’t by Lennon-McCartney, but fits that early Beatles sound nicely. They recorded it but didn’t release it, and then Gerry & The Pacemakers took it to a giant number one. Great going, Beatles. Of course, they had their revenge when “From Me To You” knocked it off the charts. 🙂

10. Steven WrightCross Country
For Christmas 2011 I made my sister some comedy mix CDs, which allowed me to go out and collect lots of comedy I didn’t have digital copies of before. Steven Wright’s I Have A Pony was one of these. Picking a favorite Steven Wright joke is like picking a favorite Far Side cartoon, but one I’ve always loved is: “Last summer I drove cross country with a friend of mine… The whole way across we only had one cassette tape to listen to. I can’t remember what it was.” Seems like a fine inclusion for a music mix.

11. Iggy PopLust For Life
I’ve been doing an independent learning/writing project revolving around Alan Moore’s Watchmen, pursuing all the cultural texts it references (or is said to reference by fans.) There’s a panel in Watchmen that quotes Iggy’s “Neighborhood Threat”, which led to me getting the Lust For Life album and reading a biography of him. (I wrote up the Iggy/Watchmen connection here.) There are plenty of great songs on that album, but this one is just so magnetic to me, even after it’s been worn smooth by Trainspotting and endlessly repeated cruise commercials. I learned that Iggy actually improvised all the lyrics to this on the first take. Wow! Though I suppose it does explain the “hypnotizing chickens” and “had it in the ear before” parts better than anything else can…

12. Greg WellsDisarm
Okay, so here’s an odd one. This guy Greg Wells? He played a big part in my life recently — he hired me into my current job. Though an IT guy by day, Greg’s true passions are music and photography. He’s a talented musician with a home studio, and during my first couple of years on the job he was developing his most recent album, which is mostly covers with a couple of originals thrown in. He plays all the instruments on all the songs. Greg knew I was a music guy, so he’d periodically bring in draft copies of the album for me to listen to and give feedback on, which was a lot of fun. I ended up really liking this Smashing Pumpkins cover. I think his phrasing is actually better than Billy Corgan’s. I owe Greg a lot — he helped me out of a really bad work situation into something much better — but I’d enjoy this even if I didn’t know him.

13. Ben Folds FiveThe Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
I couldn’t restrict myself to just one song from this album. Nick Hornby wrote the lyrics for this one, as he did for Ben’s previous album Lonely Avenue. I absolutely love the Taupin-John thing those two guys do, and this time Hornby’s lyrics seemed to tap into Folds iconography, recalling the bright but dissatisfied Sara (spelled without an h) from “Zak And Sara.” I have a special affection for people with noisy brains, and I just adore the portrait of how disconnecting it can be to live among people who engage life on a different level, as well as how profoundly satisfying it is to find the life of the mind at last. Plus, this song rocks like a mother.

14. Ben FoldsNot The Same (live)
One more tune from the box set. I got introduced to Ben’s music when I saw him open for Tori Amos at Red Rocks. He played this song at that show, and he did the thing you can hear on this recording, introducing the harmonies to the audience so that they could sing them when the time came. At the end of the song, he climbed on top of his piano and conducted 9,000 singers. Our voices rang off the rocks, in three-part harmony, and I knew I had to find out more about this guy.

15. Neko CaseThe Pharoahs
This is another song from Middle Cyclone. It came very close to being included in the mix from a few years ago, when I was listening heavily to that CD, but in the end it didn’t quite make the cut. I decided to resurrect it since I was doing so much Neko this year — I’d always regretted just a little bit my decision to leave it out. I find the melody so hypnotic and elevating, along with the fucking brilliant imagery — “I listened in when you thought you were alone / Calling the sphinx on a tornado’s phone.” It’s such a perfect vignette of a young crush, that moment of growing up when “the wanting in the movies and the hymns” crashes up against the facts of real life and real people. And my GOD, that voice.

16. Stevie NicksBattle Of The Dragon
This song and the next one are from the same source: a Christmas 2012 mix CD I made for my sister called “Good Songs Bad Movies.” This pensive Stevie rarity is from the perfectly awful movie American Anthem, a starring vehicle for Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord. Mitch plays a guy who, uh, wants to be a gymnast. Anyway, this is pure 80s Stevie, a picture of a complicated and vexing relationship, played over sparkling, chiming synths. It deserved a better fate than exile to the American Anthem soundtrack.

17. EvanescenceBring Me To Life
Then there’s this song, which appeared on the Daredevil soundtrack. I’m a big fan of the character and I really, really wanted to like the movie, but I just couldn’t, which should tell you something about how bad it is. The song, on the other hand, I absolutely love. Amy Lee is like a heavy-metal Stevie herself, and this is my favorite thing she ever did — I always have to turn it up loud whenever I hear it. I relate to the lyrics probably more than I should. What I mean by that is they tap into that part of me that wants to save the people I love from their misery and pain. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I always have to keep an eye on how much it drives me, because it can lead to distorted decision-making. It’s really the perfect song for superhero movie, as it addresses the part of the superhero metaphor that I’ve imprinted upon very deeply. Too bad it couldn’t have come with a better movie.

18. AdeleHe Won’t Go
Speaking of rescues, this song is very personal to me. A major feature of my 2013 was watching a close friend spin into an extended crisis, which actually just hit its peak (Jesus, I hope so anyway) a couple of weeks ago. As I watched him go through cycles of recovering and relapsing, I worked hard to blunt the edges coming at him, to ensure he wouldn’t lose everything to a force he couldn’t control. I don’t know how much of that was being a loving friend and how much was my rescuer complex, but I think I did some good things in the end. So when Adele says, “If this ain’t love, then what is? / I’m willing to take the risk,” I hear it right down to my core.

19. Thompson TwinsLay Your Hands On Me
One more song about love and healing. I always thought the Thompson Twins were underrated, and this song is probably tied with “Hold Me Now” for my favorite of theirs. I was listening to a greatest hits collection last year, and this one jumped out at me for reasons similar to the Adele song above.

20. Bob MarleyHigh Tide Or Low Tide
Okay, perhaps more than I realized, the theme of this past year for me has been loyalty and dedication in love. Funny how you don’t always know what something’s about until you make it. I saw the movie Marley in 2012, and listened to the soundtrack in 2013. Bob Marley has always been a greatest hits artist for me, and he still is, but I really enjoyed digging a little deeper into his catalog. This is a gem that was overlooked until the movie featured it prominently — I don’t think it was even on any of Bob’s albums, though as I said I’m not an expert. In any case, it fit perfectly into my year.

21. The BeatlesThe Long And Winding Road
Yes, this song continues the love and loyalty theme, but the reason it featured in 2013 for me was that I finally got around to acquiring Let It Be… Naked, the version of Let It Be without all the Phil Spector overdubs and instrumentation. The biggest difference was on this song, stripped of the choir and orchestra that Spector layered onto the original version. I loved the original, but I think I like this one a little more. It is more powerful in its simplicity.

22. Neko CaseI Wish I Was The Moon
I close with one more from Neko, a piercing melancholy ache. I think I want to let this song speak for itself. “How will you know when you’ve found me at last? / Cos I’ll be the one, be the one, be the one / With my heart in my lap / I’m so tired, I’m so tired / And I wish I was the moon tonight.”

Ice Slowly Melting

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my annual Christmas traditions with my friends Siân and Kelly, a mix CD of songs I’ve been listening to that year. The songs generally reflect a little something about my life in one way or another, though not perfectly so — sometimes they’re just songs I’ve imprinted on for some reason. The liner notes tradition has continued as well, but I didn’t post the notes from 2010. See, 2010 was a terrible, terrible year. Professionally, it was by far the unhappiest I’d ever been in my job, and personally, my marriage tailspun into a major crisis right at the same time we moved into a new house and my work life was at peak misery. It was very difficult, and painful, and I withdrew from many things and people.

Then came 2011. In January, I started a new job, thank god. I am in a much healthier atmosphere now, and am much, much happier at work. Laura and I finally found the right counselor in the spring, and have healed a lot of things. By the time November rolled around, I had started to emerge from a fair amount of depression, and it was in that mood that I made this year’s CD. I feel really happy with the collection, both as a musical collage and as a reflection of my year.

1. DEAR PRUDENCESiouxsie and the Banshees
Siouxsie Sioux was always in the back of my mind as somebody I wanted to learn more about, so last year I procured a greatest hits album. I liked it, though I don’t think I’ll go much deeper than that. I quite enjoy her voice, especially on this cover. It was a pretty Beatles-y year for me, so this was a fitting choice for that, but even more so for the lyrics and tone of the song itself. To me, this is about emerging, after being shrouded in protection. That’s pretty much what happened with me this year. I can hardly measure how much better things are now, both at home and at work, compared to this time last year. Not that everything is magically perfect — there’s still a lot of work to do — but the skies are a lot sunnier now.

2. ALL THIS BEAUTYThe Weepies
And what do we see when we come out to play? This was a year of The Weepies for me. They’re a married couple of singer-songwriters, Deb Talan and Steve Tannen, who started out as fans of each other’s solo work, and then literally began to make beautiful music together. Their harmonies are lovely, and their songs are just killer. I absolutely fell in love with their album Hideaway, from which this track is taken. That was the launching pad for my Weepies infatuation, and this was one of the songs that made me want to buy the album. (Thanks to the Internet radio station for bringing them to my attention.) It’s hard to pick just one song from that album, but this one fit my mindset a lot, or at least a part of it. (Lucky for me, there are other Weepies songs to fit other parts. 🙂 It’s about remembering to be amazed — there is so much beauty in this world, and sometimes it’s easier to see it if you close your eyes, then slowly open wide.

3. HERE COMES THE SUNPaul Simon with David Crosby and Graham Nash
Speaking of lovely harmonies. I saw Paul on tour this fall, and he completely surprised me by singing this song as part of his set. It’s such a beautiful song anyway, and it fits his voice perfectly. After a little research, I found that he actually has a long history with the song — he sang it with George on an SNL episode way back in 1976, and various times in his career after that. I’m a lifelong Paul Simon fan, but I had no idea about this connection. It was a high point of the concert for me, and those always find their way to these end-of-year compilations. Not only that, it resonates with one of the most beautiful moments from the Love show I saw this year (more about that later), and perfectly encapsulates the theme of the year. Hence my title. I had a little trouble finding a good recording of him singing it solo, so I went with this one, from the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame’s 25th anniversary concerts.

4. TRUE FAITHNew Order
Sometimes focus falls on something one year because it belonged to a project from the previous year. So it was with this song. My Christmas gift for my sister in 2010 had a Guns ‘n’ Roses theme, since that’s one of her favorite bands. I decided to follow up on that with her birthday gift (not much of a reach, since her birthday is on New Year’s Eve.) Our tradition is some kind of themed CD as her birthday gift from me, so last year I decided to make her 3 volumes of songs from 1987, the year G+R’s first album came out. I love a lot of the music from that year — it’s probably not coincidental that I was 17 at the time, and just fully embracing music as a part of my identity for the first time. I’m sure plenty of people find much of their favorite music rooted in their late teens. This song appeared on that collection — it’s one of two New Order songs written that year to be bonus tracks on their greatest hits collection Substance. I find the music both hypnotic and uplifting, and the lyrics fit in well with the previous song — “my morning sun is a drug that brings me here.”

5. SECRET LOVEStevie Nicks
Why yes, Stevie Nicks did come out with a new album this year! 🙂 In Your Dreams was her first release in 10 years, and I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that several songs from it would appear on this compilation. This one was the advance single, and the record company offered a download of it with pre-orders of the album. It’s based an a demo I’d been listening to for years. Stevie has tons and tons of these unrecorded demos that have circulated amongst fans forever, and it’s an incredible thrill when she finishes one up with a proper studio version and releases it. Sometimes these actually turn out to be a little less satisfying than the demo — a couple of songs from the 2003 Fleetwood Mac album are like that — but often they are wonderful realizations of a rough outline. That was the case with this song. I got a full-body rush when listening to it for the first time. I think Dave Stewart does a fantastic job of production, Stevie’s vocals sound great, and it got me very excited for the album.

6. MOONLIGHT (A VAMPIRE’S DREAM)Stevie Nicks
Here’s one of my favorite tracks from that album, and one of the standouts from her wonderful concert this summer. Again it’s based on a demo, but in a peculiar way. The demo that fans have been calling “Lady From The Mountain” has the beginning verses and piano part, but the more driving music that kicks in on the lyric “Strange, she runs with the one she can’t keep up with” is all new. Apparently Stevie was inspired by the first Twilight movie — she says it reminded her of an experience she had, though she coyly never reveals what that was. I’ve never read or seen any Twilight anything. All I know is that this song charges me full of energy every time I hear it. I love what it does with “Lady From The Mountain”, marrying its fragility to a smooth, powerful backbone.

7. GERM FREE ADOLESCENTSX-Ray Spex
This song begins what I think of as the “Thank You Siân” section — all artists I’ve learned to love because of her influence. Laura was friends with Siân first — they were in CU‘s English Literature PhD program together. That’s how I met Laura too, except that I was doing my M.A. Siân wrote her dissertation on punk rock. I remember her telling me about X-Ray Spex back when she lived in Colorado — in fact, now that I look at the dissertation, its very title is an X-Ray Spex reference. So I filed that away but rarely thought of it again until she mailed me a couple of CDs of punk songs from the Sunday Times. This song appeared on that CD, and I liked it enough to seek out a compilation. The songs in that collection made X-Ray Spex one of my favorite punk bands — “Identity”, “Art-I-Ficial”, “I Am A Cliche”, “Let’s Submerge”, “Age”… I’ll stop before I list out all their songs. They’re all great, but this was the one that lit the way, and there’s still something special about it.

8. SHOOT THE MOONHugh Blumenfeld
Yeah, here’s another guy I wouldn’t be listening to if not for Siân. Hugh is actually a friend of hers, and she’s put various songs of his on mixes she’s made for me over the years, and I eventually became a fan. She and Kelly visited us in August of 2010, and she brought me four of his CDs at that time. My backlog being what it is, I ended up listening to them in November, which marks the beginning of this music-listening year for me. There were many songs I enjoyed from those CDs — I picked this one both because it reminded me of Dante and because it happened to have a wonderful resonance with another much-loved song from another much-loved Siân Mile artist…

9. THE SPACE RACE IS OVERBilly Bragg
I think Bragg is Siân’s favorite artist overall, and another one I adopted because she passed some of his best stuff along to me. I’ve been buying more things in MP3 form in the past few years, to feed and fill the iPod’s sacred shuffle, but that’s meant that I don’t listen to them as closely as I do my CDs. Therefore, I periodically burn a batch to CD, and so it was with one CD from a Billy Bragg box set I’d downloaded a couple of years ago. It’s a fine collection — some songs I knew and liked because Siân had included them on various compilations, while others I heard for the first time and learned to love on my own. This was one of the latter. I think my jaw literally dropped when I heard him sing, “I watched the Eagle landing on a night when the moon was full / And as it tugged at the tides I knew that deep inside / I too could feel its pull.” What an incredibly gorgeous lyric. I love the way this song summons an elegiac and wistful tone for the bright future that might have been. I think it’s better than the Blumenfeld song, though that’s hardly a fair comparison, and they do pair so nicely.

10. PICTURE WINDOWBen Folds and Nick Hornby
This is from the album Lonely Avenue, in which Ben Folds and Nick Hornby do their version of an Elton John/Bernie Taupin partnership — Hornby wrote the lyrics and Folds wrote and performed all the music. It is a gorgeous album, and while it’s hard to pick a favorite song on it, this one emerged from the pack for a couple of reasons. First, I think it’s just heart-rendingly poignant; it’s easily the most moving song on the record. Second, it reminds me strongly of an experience that made a major impression on me this year. A very close friend of mine went through a horrible hospital experience this summer — her 12-year-old son went into the hospital as a result of multiple health issues crashing into each other. I visited them frequently during this period — her son loves comics and music, so I was able to relate to him and bring him some things to make him happy in that difficult hospital environment. I watched him suffer awful, awful mental and physical anguish, and I watched her agonize every day over him, playing the very difficult role of protector and intermediary between him and the institutional realities. There was a series of horrible situations produced by a combination of organizational dysfunction, misjudgements, parental personalities, and the nature of his issues, which weren’t easily pigeonholed. After several weeks of hell, he finally got some treatment that, although rather invasive, began to turn things around. They were in there for a couple of months total, and they’re still recovering. Watching your child suffer like that day after day is one of the worst things I can think of.

11. HELPLESSk.d. lang
About 5 years ago I saw a movie called Away From Her, about a woman (played by Julie Christie) whose mind is slowly disintegrating from Alzheimer’s. It made a huge impression on me, and this song played over the credits of that movie. It blew my mind. lang’s incredible voice brings out a power I’d never heard in this song before, and every time I hear it, I feel this thick blanket of emotion settling over me. Eventually I sought out the album it came from — Hymns Of The 49th Parallel, in which lang covers all Canadian artists — and listened to it this year. Covers are definitely her metier, I think — her own material (with the exception of Ingenue) tends to fall flat for me. Whereas when she gets a hold of something that’s already really strong, like this song, she can make it profoundly affecting.

12. LIVING IN TWILIGHTThe Weepies
Remember when I said the skies are sunnier now? I know that’s true because we spent much of the earlier part of the year in the twilight this song so perfectly describes. Parts of my life this year were like one of those movies all scored by one artist (Magnolia, Harold & Maude, Good Will Hunting). The Weepies sang the soundtrack of my movie.

13. THE SOUND OF SETTLINGDeath Cab For Cutie
Last year, Pink was the artist I discovered 10 years later than everyone else. This year, it was Death Cab For Cutie. I think I listened to their album Transatlanticism for about 3 weeks straight in September. It is just amazing. I knew I’d be picking a song from it for this compilation, and the choice was so difficult I just randomized it. Fittingly, this was one of the Death Cab songs that made me decide I needed to go out and buy their albums. I find the first lyric especially arresting: “I’ve got a hunger / twisting my stomach into knots / that my tongue has tied off.” Wow! I just love that.

14. YOU JUST HAVEN’T EARNED IT YET, BABYKirsty MacColl
There is one reason that things are better between Laura and I, and that reason is that we have worked our asses off this year to get to where we are. We have both been very committed to learning new ways of relating, and putting our new knowledge into practice. As a consequence, our conflicts are fewer, less frightening, and more quickly resolved. I don’t mean to make it sound like we’re finished working, but we’re closer than we’ve been in years, and we’ve earned it, baby. I’ve loved this song ever since hearing it on the She’s Having A Baby soundtrack in high school. I’ve never been much of a Smiths person — I like Johnny Marr well enough, but with a few big exceptions I just find Morrissey too grating. However, I do have strong affection for some Smiths covers, and this one tops the list. I adore Kirsty’s voice, and the production is gorgeous and uplifting. I can’t get enough of it.

15. ON SUNDAY‘Til Tuesday
‘Til Tuesday’s Welcome Home was another of those CDs I burned from downloaded MP3s. I’ve been a Mann fan for years, but never went beyond the “greatest hits” level with her old band. I like this song a lot, and it fit my life since part of my commitment with Laura was to do a regularly scheduled session of emotional/relationship work on Sundays when we didn’t have a couples therapy appointment. “Why spend your sadness now? / Save it up for me, on Sunday.”

16. ROCKS AND WATER (LIVE AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011-08-27)The Weepies
As a part of my Weepy year, I saw them on tour at the Chautauqua Music Hall. It was a wonderful concert, everything I’d hoped it would be and more. The “more” was composed of a few things. One of these was actually the amazing set and lighting. They had this stylized miniature city set up on one side of the stage, and then kind of a forest glade on the other, and throughout the show, the lighting would change on various things to highlight different parts. At one point, a previously unseen river gets lit up, running through the city and the woods. You can get a little flavor of it from this photo, though obviously that doesn’t get at the different lighting changes. One of the other great parts was the new songs they played — well, new to me anyway. I have their albums, but forgot all about the fact that they had solo careers before they got together! This is a song from one of Deb’s solo records, and I just adored it the first time I heard it. As soon as I came home, I downloaded both her version and one that they did in an iTunes exclusive concert. However, neither version captivated me the way the concert version had. Lucky for me, some bright soul put up a bunch of clips from the concert on YouTube, so I used my handy-dandy DownloadHelper and turned the audio from that clip into an mp3. God bless the internet.

17. SEA AND SANDThe Who
Three things about this song. 1) I listened to Quadrophenia more intently this year than I had ever done before. For reasons “I Can’t Explain”, Quad was kind of a passed-over Who album from my youth, so I ended up really appreciating it much later than most of the rest of their material. 2) This song is a major standout from that album for me. It’s one of the most perfect Who songs to me, flawlessly blending Pete’s fantastic lyrics and storytelling with the immense power of the band. 3) Given that “Sea and Sand” was already on my list, how could I resist pairing it with “Rocks And Water”?

18. HERE COMES THE SUN/THE INNER LIGHT [TRANSITION]The Beatles
I went to Las Vegas for a trivia convention this summer — a great experience. While I was there, I saw the Cirque Du Soleil show of The Beatles Love — an utterly transcendent experience. I’ve already written about how I spent most of the show with tears streaming down my face, so I won’t rehash all that. I just new that I needed to pick a song for this compilation to represent that experience. It was very hard to choose. I settled on this one both for the reasons I mentioned in the Paul Simon entry, and because this part of the show remains absolutely indelible for me. It wasn’t the yoga poses and the trapeze artists, though those were certainly eye-popping. Instead, it was the massive ball of candles, glowing warmly and rising from the center of the stage, as robed children sit on the edge, radiating joy from meditative poses.

19. ADD MY EFFORTThe Weepies
Yep, one more Weepies song. This one returns to the theme touched on earlier in the MacColl and ‘Til Tuesday songs. It’s about loving someone who frequently lives in darkness — really loving them. I was always adding my effort, but without understanding, that effort can be fruitless or even counterproductive. However, when understanding is there, effort can be enough.

20. CHEAPER THAN FREE (FEATURING DAVE STEWART)Stevie Nicks
Yep, one more Stevie Nicks song. This the closer for In Your Dreams, and it felt like a perfect closer for this collection as well. It is a pure love song, and for me, purely magical. “What’s cheaper than free? You and me. What’s better than alone? Going home. What does money not buy? You and I. What’s not to feel, when love is real?”

Until next year…

Syllabus: The Allusive Stevie Nicks

I got both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English Literature, and for quite a while there I thought I was going to become an English professor, one of those new media and popular culture types combined with a wide swath of 19th century novels and poetry. Then I watched Laura go through her Ph.D. process, and thought, “There have to be less excruciating paths to travel — maybe I’ll pursue this computer thing.”

I don’t regret for a second my decision to abandon academia, but sometimes my brain starts to spark, and I think of the classes that might have been. Recent such sparkage has been inspired by Stevie Nicks’ new album, which I’ve been listening to many times over (as should surprise few who know me.) I’ve been wanting to write about all these flying thoughts, and suddenly I realized the perfect form. It allows me to gesture grandly towards a bunch of broad themes, without having to apply any actual rigor to discussing them. Hooray! Plus, since it’s imaginary, I don’t have to try to engage with some of the more irritating (to me) aspects of what the field has become, or rather what it was 17 years ago, the last time I read a syllabus. It’s my party, and I don’t have to invite Julia Kristeva if I don’t want to…

In Her Dreams: The Allusive Stevie Nicks

DESCRIPTION
Stevie Nicks’ 2011 album In Your Dreams serves as a capstone to her 35-year career as a singer/songwriter. Its songs both build upon and comment upon many of the themes, poetic modes, and even specific lyrics that emerge from her considerable body of work. Beyond that, they draw from a rich variety of sources — literary, cinematic, musical, autobiographical, and more. As is typical of Nicks, their meanings are layered and their referents not always clear. This class will explore issues of allusion, intertextuality, and influence both external and internal, using the work of Stevie Nicks as a lens and the structure of In Your Dreams as a frame.

COURSE PLAN
We will meet once per week, with each session dedicated to exploring a different aspect of Nicks’ work, as highlighted by a particular song or songs from In Your Dreams. Naturally, these themes enrich each other, so we’ll bring them together more and more as the class goes on, with a couple of sessions at the end devoted to synthesizing what we’ve learned. Class sessions will be focused on discussion, and participation will comprise a key part of the course grade. The other elements of the grade are a final paper and two Chain Links projects, explained below in the Grading section. For each class session, course material will be assigned along with supplementary reading, viewing, or listening of interviews and documentary programs.

GRADING PLAN
Your grade will be based on the following components:

1) Regular attendance and active, engaged participation in class discussions. Students are expected to have paid careful attention to that week’s assigned material, be it words, music, or video, and to arrive in class having already thought through some of its implications and interconnections. I encourage you to do further reading and listening beyond what’s assigned — the more you know, the better you’ll be able to recognize important connections.

2) Two Chain Links projects. As we’ll see in this course, Nicks’ work is deeply engaged with a panoply of sources, works that resonate and harmonize with each other. Together, these works form a web of influence, “the web that is my own” as she sings in “Edge of Seventeen.” The purpose of Chain Links projects is to add to this web. The nature of what you create can be fairly free-form: songs, films, essays, stories, poems, paintings, plays, and computer games are all examples of viable projects. However, while their form is flexible, their content must meet some specific requirements. First, all Chain Links projects must be engaged with Nicks’ work, either directly or on a clear thematic level. Secondly, all Chain Links projects must be approved by me in advance. Meetings will be scheduled during my office hours for these approvals. I also strongly recommend that you bring works in progress to me for coaching sessions, to ensure that you’re on the right track. Because of the flexible nature of these assignments, grading is highly subjective — let’s be sure we’re on the same page.

3) A final research paper, 12-15 pages in length. This is a thesis-driven paper on a topic of your choice, due at the final exam session for the course. As with the Chain Links projects, you are required to discuss your topic with me before turning in your final paper. I expect a research paper to be original in its conception, rigorous in its argument, and polished in its execution. Remember, an “A” paper is one that teaches me something.

Final evaluation components are weighted as follows:
20%: Participation
20%: First Chain Links project
20%: Second Chain Links project
40%: Final paper

ASSIGNED READING
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Fleetwood: My Life And Adventures In Fleetwood Mac, Mick Fleetwood
Storms: My Life With Lindsey Buckingham And Fleetwood Mac, Carol Ann Harris
Complete Stories And Poems, Edgar Allan Poe
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
Interview With The Vampire, Anne Rice
The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice
Reading Packet: Selected articles and interviews

ASSIGNED VIEWING
New Moon, Chris Weitz
The Dance, Fleetwood Mac
Selected interviews and program excerpts

ASSIGNED LISTENING
Fleetwood Mac – “Angel” [Tusk]
Fleetwood Mac – “Destiny Rules” [Say You Will]
Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams” [Rumours]
Fleetwood Mac – “Everybody Finds Out” [Say You Will]
Fleetwood Mac – “Eyes Of The World” [Mirage]
Fleetwood Mac – “Freedom” [Behind The Mask]
Fleetwood Mac – “Gypsy” [Mirage]
Fleetwood Mac – “Illume (9/11)” [Say You Will]
Fleetwood Mac – “I’m So Afraid” [Fleetwood Mac]
Fleetwood Mac – “Not Make Believe” [mp3 provided]
Fleetwood Mac – “Silver Springs” (1997 live version) [The Dance]
Fleetwood Mac – “Sisters Of The Moon” [Tusk]
Fleetwood Mac – “Storms” [Tusk]
Fleetwood Mac – “Sweet Girl” [The Dance]
Fleetwood Mac – “That’s Alright” [Mirage]
Stevie Nicks – In Your Dreams [full album]
Stevie Nicks – “After The Glitter Fades” [Bella Donna]
Stevie Nicks – “Battle Of The Dragon” [Enchanted]
Stevie Nicks – “Bella Donna” [Bella Donna]
Stevie Nicks – “Candlebright” [Trouble In Shangri-La]
Stevie Nicks – “Desert Angel” [Timespace]
Stevie Nicks – “Edge Of Seventeen” [Bella Donna]
Stevie Nicks – “Enchanted” [The Wild Heart]
Stevie Nicks – “Fire Burning” [The Other Side Of The Mirror]
Stevie Nicks – “Ghosts” [The Other Side Of The Mirror]
Stevie Nicks – “Have No Heart” (demo) [mp3 provided]
Stevie Nicks – “I Can’t Wait” [Rock A Little]
Stevie Nicks – “If Anyone Falls…” [The Wild Heart]
Stevie Nicks – “Lady From The Mountain” (demo) [mp3 provided]
Stevie Nicks – “Leather And Lace” [Bella Donna]
Stevie Nicks – “Long Way To Go” [The Other Side Of The Mirror]
Stevie Nicks – “Love Is” [Trouble In Shangri-La]
Stevie Nicks – “No Spoken Word” [Rock A Little]
Stevie Nicks – “Rooms On Fire” [The Other Side Of The Mirror]
Stevie Nicks – “Rose Garden” [Street Angel]
Stevie Nicks – “Secret Love” (demo) [mp3 provided]
Stevie Nicks – “Sleeping Angel” [Enchanted]
Stevie Nicks – “Sorcerer” [Trouble In Shangri-La]
Stevie Nicks – “Stand Back” [The Wild Heart]
Stevie Nicks – “Street Angel” [Street Angel]
Stevie Nicks – “Touched By An Angel” [Sweet November Soundtrack]
Stevie Nicks – “The Wild Heart” [The Wild Heart]
Selected interviews

CALENDAR
Supplemental interviews and articles will be assigned each week along with the scheduled reading, listening, and viewing.

Week 1: Introduction — A brief history of Stevie
In-class listening: “The Chain”, “Dreams”, “Go Your Own Way”

Week 2: “Must secret loves secretly die?” — Clandestine romance and veiled autobiography
Reading due: Fleetwood: My Life And Adventures In Fleetwood Mac
Listening due: “Secret Love”, “Stand Back”, “Everybody Finds Out”, “Secret Love” (demo)

Week 3: “Part of a great romance” — Retrospection and introspection
Reading due: Storms: My Life With Lindsey Buckingham And Fleetwood Mac
Listening due: “For What It’s Worth”, “Rose Garden”, “Love Is”, “Sweet Girl”

Week 4: “Always in and out of your light” — Power struggles and regrets
Reading due: Jane Eyre
Listening due: “In Your Dreams”, “Dreams”, “Silver Springs”, “Bella Donna”
Viewing due: The Dance

Week 5: “In the smoke and the fire” — Fiction and reality
First Chain Links project due
Reading due: Wide Sargasso Sea
Listening due: “Wide Sargasso Sea”, “Fire Burning”, “I Can’t Wait”, “No Spoken Word”

Week 6: “I stare at my city” — Permeable roles and the general maternal
Reading due: Interview With The Vampire
Listening due: “New Orleans”, “Illume (9/11)”, “Ghosts”

Week 7: “The candle burns bright” — Rock and roll vampires
Reading due: The Vampire Lestat
Listening due: “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)”, “Candlebright”, “Lady From The Mountain” (demo), “Sorcerer”
Viewing due: New Moon

Week 8: “The moon never beams without bringing me dreams” — American gothicism
Reading due: Selections from Edgar Allan Poe
Listening due: “Annabel Lee”, “Gypsy”, “Have No Heart” (demo), “Storms”, “Edge Of Seventeen”

Week 9: “I am a soldier’s mother” — Permeable roles and the specific maternal
Listening due: “Soldier’s Angel”, “Desert Angel”, “Eyes Of The World”, “Battle Of The Dragon”, “Freedom”

Week 10: “But you’re so alone” — Isolation within adulation
Second Chain Links project due
Listening due: “Everybody Loves You”, “Sisters Of The Moon”, “Not Make Believe”, “Enchanted”

Week 11: “Like a ghost through the fog” — Closures and hauntings
Listening due: “Ghosts Are Gone”, “Angel”, “Long Way To Go”
Listening to revisit: “Sweet Girl”, “Silver Springs”, “Ghosts”

Week 12: “Love was everywhere, you just had to fall” — Storybook romance
Listening due: “Italian Summer”, “The Wild Heart”, “If Anyone Falls…”, “Destiny Rules”, “Rooms On Fire”

Week 13: “I used to dream that you were an angel” — Resonance of recurring themes
Listening due: “You May Be The One”, “Sleeping Angel”, “Touched By An Angel”, “Street Angel”, “I’m So Afraid”

Week 14: “Deeper than a deep well” — Country music and love songs
Listening due: “Cheaper Than Free”, “Leather And Lace”, “After The Glitter Fades”, “That’s Alright”

PAX East Part 4: Saturday They’ll All Be Back Again

Compared to Friday, Saturday was pretty low-key. Then again, it’s not fair to compare anything to Friday. I let my exhausted self sleep in, then showered, packed up, etc. I met my friend Ruth Atherton for lunch, along with her partner Yigal and their adorable boy Natan. I’ve known Ruth since our freshman year of college at NYU — over 20 years ago now! — and it was wonderful to spend some time with her again.

Ruth dropped me at the Hilton, and I stopped into the IF Suite, where the PAX SpeedIF efforts were well underway. I opted out, given that 1) I didn’t bring my laptop to the suite, 2) it’s been years since I actually wrote any IF code, and 3) I didn’t want to spend my PAX time heads-down coding anyway. So it was off to the convention center, where I undertook my next mission: a present for Dante! I checked out a Boston souvenir store in the Prudential Center and picked up a cute little Boston ball, to use as a backup if I couldn’t find anything in PAX itself. But I did — his own bag of dice. He’s often wanting to play with my dice, so now he’s got his own. (He was quite delighted with these gifts when I brought them home, and as he often does, he immediately turned it around on me. “Pretend that you are Dante and I am Daddy! Dante, I brought you some presents! A Boston ball, and your very own bag of dice!”)

After a quick trip to Trader Joe’s for some trail mix and water, I took the time to explore the rest of PAX, but between the incredible crowds and my own lack of motivation, I didn’t really hook into anything. I wasn’t up for boardgaming with strangers, nor did I fancy standing in line for a chance at console, PC, or handheld games. And of course the panels were out of the question — you had to arrive at least 30 minutes early to have a crack at getting into any panel, and none of the panels at that time were terribly interesting to me anyway.

So back to the IF suite I went. I hung out and chatted with various people, and even skipped dinner so that I could spend more time in the ambiance. (That’s where the trail mix comes in.) There were a few people I missed — I would have loved to hang out with Stephen and Rob a bit more, for instance — but I really enjoyed the various people I talked to. I think part of the connection-missing may have had to do with the fact that while I have a cell phone, it is a creaky 2005 pay-as-you-go model with no internet access and the clunkiest of texting capabilities. Normally, this does not bother me at all, but sometimes during PAX weekend I felt like an timebound mortal in a Kage Baker Company novel, looking on in blissful ignorance while all around me the immortals communicate telepathically. It probably also wouldn’t hurt to hang out on ifMUD more than once every two years.

All part of the thawing process, I suppose. While I wasn’t musing on that, I also kept an eye out for newbies and visitors. I hooked several people up with IF swag and talked to them about the medium and the community, which felt great. Extended social exertion like that is a bit out of my comfort zone — I’m an introvert by nature — but I liked helping with the IF outreach mission.

That mission was the subject of the informal panel at 7:00. That panel featured Andrew Plotkin, Jason McIntosh (aka jmac), Chris Dahlen (gaming journalist), and John Bardinelli (of JayIsGames). It was moderated, in an endearingly prolix style, by Harry Kaplan. (I should mention here that Harry was quite helpful in getting me connected with the pre-PAX discussion, and was particularly welcoming to me in the suite. Also, he’s apparently the cousin of Paul Fishkin, who founded Stevie Nicks’ record company! Remote brush with fame!) Harry would make a discursive, intentionally provocative statement, and ask the panel to respond, offering the lead to a different panelist for each question. The discussion often expanded beyond the panel and into the room, which was great, because the room was packed (seriously, packed) with very smart people.

I am terrible at reconstructing discussions, so I’m not going to try to do it here. Much. I will say that I was particularly struck by the way Emily framed the problem of IF’s learning curve. The parser, she said, makes a false promise, strongly implying by its openness that it is able to handle anything the player throws at it, which is simply not true. Lots of people would like to see IF respond by expanding the range of actions and phrasings that the parser can understand, but Emily disagrees. She could do a much better job than I of articulating this, and probably does so somewhere, but essentially she argues that expanding the parser is a blind alley, because it never eliminates the false promise issue, and creates a ridiculous implementation headache. Even if the game could legitimately understand a much wider range of commands, coding meaningful responses to that radically expanded command set is a misuse of our energies. Instead, she suggests that we embrace IFese while finding ways to help games gently nudge players in the right direction when it seems that they’re struggling to speak IFese to the parser. She did some work toward this in City Of Secrets, and Aaron Reed apparently does even more in Blue Lacuna. She points to Façade as a cautionary example of what happens when you try to go the other direction.

After the panel, there was a bit more chatter, and then it was time to for SpeedIF contestants to turn in their games. I had no laptop, but Juhana Leinonen very kindly let me use his to play Sarah Morayati’s Queuelty, which I found quite enjoyable.

More chatting, more hanging out, but eventually, sadly, it was time for me to go. There would be more events on Sunday, but my flight left early Sunday morning — I hadn’t wanted to take undue advantage of Laura’s generosity with the childcare, so I kept my trip to two days. I’m sorry to have missed Sunday, though. From what I read, it was great.

The rest is uninteresting travel details, except for this revelation, which traveled home with me: it has become painfully, unmistakably clear that working every night and weekend is ruining my life and blocking me from doing the things that actually make me happy. The truth is that nobody ever told me to do that (well, with some exceptions) — it’s just that I’m so overwhelmed all the time, so behind all the time, that I feel like I have to do that in order to have a remote chance of success at work. But keeping my head above water there has come at the cost of drowning the parts of myself I treasure more. So I’m going to stop doing that.

I’m going to try, anyway. It’s rather shockingly hard to draw firm boundaries around work when they’ve been obliterated for so long. I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m on Day 6 now, and even in the last week I’ve been able to produce these blog entries, which would have seemed ridiculously out of reach a few weeks ago. That makes me happier than I’ve been in quite a while.

Stevie Nicks Live At Red Rocks

When I was 16, I saw Stevie Nicks perform live at a place called Red Rocks, a gorgeous venue carved out of a natural amphitheater in the Colorado mountains. It wasn’t my first concert. It wasn’t even my first Red Rocks concert, though I think it was the first concert where I was at all close to the stage (I was probably in the 5th row or so.) It was, however, the first show that affected me deeply. In fact, I’d even say it changed my life.

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