Review: Good Times!

30 May, 2016
Rat Fink

As I write this, I’m listening to the Monkees’ new album. Do you believe that? After 50 years, the Monkees are still relevant (as of today, the album is #1 on Amazon). Stream-of-consciousness reactions:

  1. Good Times! The subject is typically Monkees: Music everywhere, dancing in the streets, etc. Vocally, there’s a lot of trying really hard — especially from the surprising inclusion of Harry Nilsson’s original vocal track from 1968. Micky adds good harmony, but it sounds dated (because it is). Just not sure how the decidedly 1960s lyric There’s a good time comin’ on; I can feel it in my bones resonates with today’s listeners — even old ones like me. Minimal groove. Meh. I do get why Micky wanted to keep Nilsson’s voice on the track, though; they were close friends for many years.
  2. You Bring the Summer. Total 90s feelgood jangly happiness. It’s probably partially due to studio sweetening, but Micky sounds very much like he did 50 years ago. Can I just say how much I hate this? I know, sour grapes so get over it. The tune ends with a repeated, hooky riff with what sounds like backmasked guitar. Why I immediately thought of the Partridge Family, I don’t know. Listen to it and see if you know what I mean.
  3. She Makes Me Laugh. I like the hook on the chorus. More 90s feel (the track was written by the guy from Weezer, after all, and Andy Partridge wrote track 2). It still blows me away that Micky is popping off high G-sharps full voice at 71 years old.
  4. Our Own World. Easy shuffle on the opening, strangely reminiscent of the themes from Welcome Back, Kotter and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Short, cute, well done. That Micky tho…
  5. Gotta Give it Time. The first dog. Goes nowhere, but again, Micky’s vocals save it from crashing, giving a definite nod to “Words” and “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone.” You know, the barky-shouty. Harmonically drab “bridge” tune to get us to the second half.
  6. Me & Magdalena. Oh, my. Now you’re talking. Vintage, priceless Nesmith and his countrified lilt, with beautiful consonant harmonies. My sis Mavis will love this one. …And everything lost will be recovered, when we drift into the arms of the undiscovered. Unmistakably Mike, and a total treat.
  7. Whatever’s Right. It wouldn’t be a Monkees album without Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart (Monkees theme, Last Train to Clarksville, She, Steppin’ Stone). Predictable but zippy, this one, written many years ago and unearthed by Hart for this album, brings back some of the original flavor of their biggest hits.
  8. Love to Love. Minor key intro in basic heavy 4, complete with “I’m a Believer”-style Vox organ…pretty predictable, until you’re stopped dead by the voice of Davy Jones. Written by Neil Diamond and recorded in 1967, it got caught up in the middle of the Monkees’ break with Don Kirschner, when the boys insisted on being allowed to write and record their own music and play their own instruments. I’m glad they found the song and retained Davy’s original vocal track.
  9. Little Girl. OK, so let’s get this out of the way. I have never really loved Peter Tork. It’s not his voice, either; it’s him. He’s just too…I dunno…odd. And not odd in the hippy sort of “I’m my own man, man” way, but odd in the “gee, that’s not really funny” way. His band, the groaningly punny-named Shoe Suede Blues (eye roll), has been working for many years, so he’s no stranger to the studio or making full time music, but his voice — usually very lyrical — just sounds like an accountant on karaoke night. And the strangeness of the minor-key waltz with its many modal shifts and unpredictable chord progressions (come on, Pete, you have to give us something), not to mention bizarre off-accents on syllables…it’s just a jangled mess that sounds like it was written in 1967 after an all-nighter of ganja and sangria and esoterica. Which it probably was.
  10. Birth of an Accidental Hipster. I suppose they had to have a Sergeant Pepper-like anthem, with changing tempos and tonal centers, and the obligatory riff outro with no vocals. Still, Mike and Micky take really good turns at singing lead. They truly have lost very little, and I hope it’s real, because if they tour…
  11. Wasn’t Born to Follow. A winner. Totally love the groove. A remake of the Byrds hit from ’68, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, the song here makes a total departure from the original 2-beat feel, going instead for a heavy acoustic 4 that instantly locks in. It’s the kind of song I want to get my guitar and play along with. Pete completely redeems himself on this one.
  12. I Know What I Know. Pretty much aimless in its harmonic progression (yes, diminished chords are spooky cool, but seriously, let’s move on) yet still pleasant, the piano-and-strings-only love ballad written and sung by Mike hits its mark simply: He basically says “I love you” a dozen different ways over the span of three and a half minutes. I can’t decide if the four straight measures of nothing but repeated major thirds at the beginning and the end are relaxing or infuriating. Still, the fact that a 73-year-old man pulls off a pretty challenging melody with minimal strain is very impressive, and I like so much of his other stuff — Nez gets a free pass on this one.
  13. I Was There (And I’m Told I Had a Good Time). The title was familiar to me instantly, because in his memoir, Micky mentions something to this effect. Silly and fun and clanky, it features some of the funny studio chatter that often made it onto later Beatles albums.

I deliberately did not read any other reviews of this record until I’d done mine. Surprising how my critique differs so completely from others’. I guess that’s why I teach music instead of criticism. However, I’m willing to wager that many of today’s music critics weren’t even born yet when my sister and I and our friends were listening to Monkees music and watching their TV show religiously every Monday night. I was young, but I had an undeniable connection with them in their famous years. I bought the 45s, and I knew all the words to their songs. As a 4th grader. So there.

My overall impression is that this project was just plain fun for the three surviving Monkees, now all in their 70s; kind of a final bow before they hang it up for good. The voices are still wonderful to listen to, although the songs definitely reflect their individual writers’ famous styles. I like that, actually. It wasn’t formulaic or uninteresting, and besides, you don’t have to love every tune to love the album as a whole. And I do.

Favorites: #1, Me & Magdalena. #2, Wasn’t Born to Follow.

Gimme the beat, boys…

15 May, 2016
Rat Fink

Me, after graduation ceremonies on the 29th.

Mama Fink needs to drift away.

Guess how many days are left this school year? Eleven (11) days remain, that’s how many. The 2015-16 year has been at the same time one of the most beautiful and most unpleasant of my 24 years as a public school teacher. Let’s just leave it at that. My students continue to make me proud, and I love our parents and community; that’s the most important thing.

Of course, it ain’t over till, well, the gigs are done. I have one on the 25th and one on the 29th, with a couple end-of-year ceremonies thrown into the mix, so we’re definitely approaching the checkered flag, which makes me (and everyone around me, trust me) happy.

Then I have a little time to breathe before the next wave. First on my mind is helping the Thriller plan our 2016 Odyssey. We’re super excited about getting away, and we have some fun activities to decide upon. If memory serves, we didn’t even do a mental-health weekender this whole school year. Not a single one. Nearly every one of my weekends was spent catching up on school work, looking at houses, spending the occasional overnighter with grandsons, preparing for contract negotiations, dealing with other Association matters, and basically just recovering from the week. No wonder I’m ready to jump off a bridge.

But hey, I’m no different than anyone trying to make a living in this world. I’m sure every one of the 130 people worldwide who read RtB can relate to or surpass my situation. I’m delighted to have a job I love and teachers who are a joy to work with and have as friends. I ain’t no malcontent, but I do have to admit it’s nice to have this personal space to air some select laundry.

Round about this time of year, I like to find out what everyone’s doing for the summer. Any special plans, fiends? Of course, I will blather on about our latest Odyssey, but what about you? Anything fun? Please don’t make me hate you by having to read that you’re going to France. That is #1 on my croak list, and I fear I’ll never get to go back. Ah, très triste. 

For now, it’s back to work on issues at hand, not the least of which is finishing negotiations and getting through the last two gigs of the year. Allez!

Sleep, schmeep.

5 April, 2016
Rat Fink

Hey, since I’m up, let’s chat.

It’s been a while, for sure, fiend. I’ve thought about writing to you — every day, in fact — but doesn’t “stuff” just get in the way? As with working out, cleaning closets, starting that novel…it’s easier to push things to tomorrow. And tomorrow, and tomorrow.

To say that life in the Rat race has been uninteresting would be untrue. This school year has been one of the most surprising for me. One learns much when one is placed in a position of leadership. When I consented to be president of my teachers’ association, I really didn’t know what to expect. I spent a good deal of my summer reading about labor law, but I must say it didn’t prepare me for all I have experienced this year. Of course, I can’t speak in specifics, but oh my, what I lack in book smarts I continue to learn by immersion. If they asked me, I could write a book.

Not all of it’s been bad, either. I work with a fine group of smart, fun, dedicated teachers, who are willing to do what’s necessary to fight for kids in an atmosphere of great uncertainty, given our present insane and inane climate of education “reform.” I’m keeping hope alive.

It seems like the year has flown by. Two major shows done, and now I’m looking at final exams, spring concerts and graduation. Forty days remain, and year 24 is in the books. I’m looking forward to some time with family and friends this summer. With the big Coldwell Banker sign in our front yard, the DC Odyssey is on hold for the moment, so there’s some uncertainty there, but no biggy.

We’ve had several people look at the house, and while they’ve all liked it, each has had a reason to not pull the trigger (they don’t want “that much house,” the kitchen’s too small, there’s no bathroom without navigating steps, etc.). Open house is this Saturday noon, put on by our realtor. So I’ll be spending my Friday evening and Saturday morning helping to get the space back to museum quality. It’s a waiting game for sure, but I’m not as stressed about it as I thought I’d be, or as I was at the outset. If it sells, we look for another place, and if we can’t find one we like right away, we store our stuff and look for a smaller place to rent until Dream House makes its appearance. I’m learning to not stress about every little thing. Que será, será. 

I don’t like this one-post-per-month thing; need to give my little world here some serious TLC. And I totally spaced off RtB’s 8th birthday! Back on 22 February, I passed the eight year milestone and neglected to post about it. I love this little place, truly. But lately, it’s been like Route 66 when they built I-40:  kind of left by the wayside to fend for itself while other, more shiny things took precedence. Time for an overhaul; maybe redecorate? New theme? Hmmm. Fortunately, in 40 days, I’ll have time to think about it.

But for today, as you know, it’s the shower, the road, and the schoolhouse. Happy Tunesday. :-)

FO

Epic, man.

7 March, 2016
Rat Fink

I saw an article in the New Yorker yesterday, about how “elite brospeak” has pretty much chewed up the scenery with regard to Americans’ somewhat recent propensity to use great big dramatic words and hip lingo to describe standard, everyday things.

Where has this taken us, lexicologically? If one uses the word “incredible” to describe the new pancakes at IHOP, what will he use to describe witnessing the Aurora Borealis, or the Grand Canyon, or the birth of his child? If making the “my head just exploded” gesture is warranted by comparing two cell phone company prices and discovering one is lower, what gesture will suffice at seeing this?

To me, no episode of Pretty Little Liars can be “amazing.” Now thisThis can be amazing.

I admit to delivering the dreaded “awesome” or “outrageous” or “beyond [state of being]” one too many times, perhaps.  And some of the phrases I’ve used were fine once upon a time, but are now ruined — kind of like hearing a good song so many times, it’s no longer good (“Happy,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Gangnam Style,” “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and others come to mind). They just outlive their usefulness.

But there are some tired old jack mules I can no longer read without twitching a bit on the inside:

  1. #soblessed
  2. I love you to the moon and back
  3. Amazeballs
  4. Butt-hurt
  5. My amazing boyfriend
  6. The struggle is real
  7. The best ____ ever
  8. Break (or broke) the Internet
  9. Fascist and Socialist (written/spoken by people who have no idea what they mean)
  10. That’s so ironic (don’t get me started)

However, I think it’s not at all hyperbolic to say that the Thriller and I are experiencing mild trepidation about the house going up for sale tomorrow when we have no other place picked out to live. After looking at our 14th house yesterday, we’ve been a) less than enthused about either the house or the land it sits on, b) unable to afford the price, or c) outbid. Still, we’ll continue to strive to just tell folks like it is, as opposed to using temperance drama gestures or diabolically hip brospeak to convey that the pressure wash guy didn’t call us back yet.

That said, I think Donald Trump is hella bootsy, yo?

Going to school

13 February, 2016
Rat Fink

Over the last few months, I have learned much.

Without trying to sound vague (and now I will be completely vague), I will say that you’re never too old to learn new things about things, and about people. You know:  what stuff and folks are made of. Since Christmas, I’ve seen the good and the bad, and came away having gotten an education.

The first lessons came via a bunch of smart, level-headed, dedicated colleagues on my negotiations team, who make it look like I marginally know what I’m doing. I’ve learned gobs from all of them, and also from Mick, our labor relations consultant. Such cool people.

I’ve learned who I can really trust, and who’s just in it for the gimmes; who I can safely confide in, and when to completely limit the discussion topics to weather and sports. And if that ain’t a life lesson, fiends, I don’t know what is. Choose your confidantes carefully.

I’ve learned it was OK to let go of the house I so desperately wanted because the Thriller finally got it through my cement skull that there were too many problems with the foundation and electrical system that apparently were going to be frightfully expensive to fix if they went south. I need to move on, and it’s OK that someone else will get that house eventually. I’m all right with it, seriously. There will be other houses, so it’s good. I mean it. Really.

I sense you don’t believe me.

Finally — and this is a lesson in progress — I’m learning that it’ll all get done. It doesn’t have to be shiny and presentation-ready all at once. It can wait until after you have dinner or go to the grocery, or have a meal with your grandchildren. Or after you write a long-overdue blog post. Hey, speekina…someone is celebrating her eighth birthday soon. Whaaaaa?