Musical Autobiography

This semester I’m taking a MEGA-RAD class called The History of Rock and R&B. It’s everything it sounds like, including weekly viewing sessions, a class Spotify account, and this first assignment! It was painful to realize how much I’d have to leave out if I wanted to write this in two pages or less, and as it’s ungraded, not try that hard so I could siphon my effort into other, more pressing tasks (like a real-life job interview, waddup.) However, I couldn’t help but make it snazzy. Here it is.

(Ok wait, a note: I’m rueful that I didn’t mention my family’s jukebox machine. Among thousands of other anecdotes… oh!)

Much of my confidence can be attributed to early exposure to The Queen of Soul, who encouraged me to demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T around the same time I was learning to write in cursive. Listening to “Pet Sounds” during Sunday morning board game sessions primed me for a deep appreciation for revolutionary harmonies while innumerable listens to The White Album led me to impersonate John Lennon for a sixth grade biography project. Records were constantly spinning in my house growing up, and since coming to college, music has remained a large part of my life. Over time I’ve changed roles from classical clarinetist to a klezmer frelyekh fanatic, exchanged my Coldplay poster for one featuring Simon & Garfunkel, and moved from car radio DJ to avid harmonizer. However, I believe that the reasoning behind my high school superlative of “Most Musical” will be remaining solid for a long time to come.

I began exploring my infantile musical potential through Kindermusik. Learning to clap along with rudimentary rhythms and sway to the beat served me quite well in the decades following that formative experience. After graduating, the piano became my next challenge. Like many kids, I loathed the weekly lessons and oversized musical notation of the Alfred book series. In retrospect, it was valuable for learning the basics of how to read and play music. A brief third grade stint with the recorder led to the adoption of the viola for a year (too much arm strength required) and finally to my current instrumental sweetheart: the clarinet. We’ve been together for about 12 years, participating in everything from school bands to NYSSMA to Area All State festivals to pit orchestras to Veeblefetzer, Wesleyan’s premier klezmer band. I also enjoy eking out songs by ear, my favorites being those by CSNY, Disney, the Beatles, and even top 40 hits.

My ears have heard more than I could ever identify, let alone write about. I feel very fortunate to have grown up with a constant stream of 60’s and 70’s music illuminating the house. When I received my first iPod nano as a gift in sixth grade, Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Greatest Hits were the first to be uploaded. The first song I ever bought on iTunes was Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”. Middle school brought several sticky-sweet pop artists such as Mariah Carey and Katy Perry but they were tempered with fresh first tastes of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Around this time, my interest in Broadway musicals was taking off, with my repertoire including shows such as Wicked, The Lion King, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and the Fantasticks. Later, Spring Awakening and In the Heights would be the productions that topped Sophie’s top ten albums list before years of post-high school showtune drought set in.

Just as I entered ninth grade, Coldplay became a huge new musical realm to explore. Ingrid Michaelson’s lyrics prevailed over geometry vocabulary in my memory after discovering her flawless catalogue. Although any mention of it now makes me groan, an intense interest in the then-mesmerizing television show “Glee” introduced me to hundreds of classic hits such as “Like a Prayer” and “Losing My Religion” through their a cappella covers. I began attending concerts near (at Saratoga’s wonderful outdoor amphitheater, SPAC) and far (journeying to Boston, New York, and beyond.) Listening to Regina Spektor delicately catapult her balm-like yet piercing songs of Russian childhood and modern love made a formidable impact. Reveling in the deliciously melancholy sounds of Of Monsters and Men in a mediocre Albany bar was also a milestone that capped senior year.

Since coming to Wesleyan, I’ve explored as much music as I had throughout the previous eighteen years of life. Just a few artists I’ve fallen in love with include James Taylor, CSNY, Bon Iver, The Staves, Van Morrison, and Paul Simon, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended performances of the latter four in London within the last year. During sophomore year, I began an insurmountable project to listen to Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, which has brought both great joy (finding Albert King, Manu Chao, and finally being able to relate to my parents’ undying devotion for The Boss) and a disappointing lack of understanding about the greatness of others (Steve Earle, Merle Haggard). Meeting a lovable, certified musicophile in September also greatly increased my passion for music. In addition to introducing me to a more holistic way of embracing music, from singers to record labels to producers, he’s helped train my ear to be more patient by experimenting with new genres and sounds. Now, as a student in the History of Rock and R&B, I’m thrilled to see what the next chapter in my musical autobiography will bring!

Strangers

With my parents fresh off the plane to Scotland for their well-deserved vacation, I woke up this morning feeling hungover from work. No, not the alcohol-related sort; the kind that results after a night of racing around a two-story restaurant for over six hours, doing a job meant for two highly motivated workers, my mental to-do list being rewritten every six minutes. I felt like a player in “Waiting for Godot” while waiting 30 minutes for my tips, exhausted to the point of delirious. Needless to say, my morning necessitated taking care of myself before embarking on my only day off in a span of ten consecutive eight-hour workdays. And, with my parents on the other side of the world, it also involved household chores and creating a plan to feed myself for a week. And knowing me, a simple trip to the grocery store would not suffice: to feel physically and mentally satisfied, I’d need to think up my week’s meals, their ingredients, and then turn the kitchen into a manufacturing tornado until I’d concocted my refrigerator beets, lentil salad, bulgur, hummus, and hard-boiled eggs by hand. So anyway,

Here I was, disheveled in body and mind on a Sunday morning.

However, what I want to arrive at is the underappreciated beauty in kindness by strangers.

As living in London for five months showed me, people who know nothing about you except what they assume from your looks hold unprecedented power in shocking you with the blunt force of their (amazing) character in tiny time spans. When I began bussing at the restaurant four years ago, I was bowled over by the generosity and kindness of the owners. On my first day of bussing for a mellow brunch shift, they embraced me and my first-day nerves, instructing me to pause polishing silverware and partake in a beautiful plate of eggs benedict on a copper table next to the window. Their warmth has only continued over the past four years, delivering me to a place of busser veteranship where the chefs respect me, the owners smile and ask how I’m doing, the patrons extend humbling appreciation for my efforts. The waitstaff recognizes my meticulous nature and rewards me with unbelievably loving coworkers who tell me stories of their lives, listen to my jokes, constantly thank me for being me. The tips are usually great, too. And of course there are points of frustration- there are at every job- but I’m thankful that they are relatively sparse. There’s no way I could work in a restaurant for the rest of my life, but as a summer job, I can’t imagine a better opportunity than the one I have.

The restaurant is a committed to farm-to-table establishment, supporting local agriculture while offering incredible organic, local, grass-fed, etc. food to its customers. So, today at the market, I encountered the family who grows the spirited onions, robust peppers, and altogether lovely veggies for the restaurant. After buying some celery and turnips, I mentioned how wonderfully their produce is received at the restaurant and the 20-year-old bilingual merchant perked up. Enthusiasm spilled out of her, along with wishes to return for a shirley temple at the bar and check out the restaurant’s picture of her family posing with their mountains of veggies at the market. As I thanked her for the groceries, she relayed the conversation’s main points to her mother in Spanish and rushed to present me with a free ear of corn.

Now, it’s not like 500 extra kernels of corn will sustain me for very long. However, this token of friendship blew me away. Don’t even get me started about comparing this to a friend request on Facebook. I don’t think I’m going to forget that ear of corn for a long time.

What’s more, this is what markets are all about: getting to know your community members and support one another both economically and socially. It’s something I haven’t been able to fully understand until now, when I am the one with choices to make about how to live my life in a way that optimally benefits myself and the communities near and far from me. Of course, you don’t have to buy everything from a market; some products are less expensive or more widely available at stores. However, maintaining a habit of buying local food and wares is dear to my heart and I can’t wait to nurture this habit throughout my life.

I really don’t know life at all.

This summer, I’ve developed greater appreciation for folk music icons like Joni Mitchell, this blog’s namesake. I’ve also been looking for a new home to deposit the massive list of perspectives and observations I regularly encounter. Finally, I’d like to posit this platform as a resource for future retrospection when I’m older and yearn to remember how it feels to be 21. So, to sum it up, this new blog is functioning as:

1. A typical log of my big ideas and opinions: Who’s inspiring me at the moment; Current dreams and aspirations; Current ratio of nostalgia and inpatience for college; Current method of eating cucumbers (cut up? Whole? With dip? It matters!)

2. A storehouse for lists I’d never write down but hope to remember (and never do), including “Things that cheer me up”, “favorite greeting card ideas”, “favorite movies” and so forth. That’s a quirk about me- I can never remember my favorite things.

3. A sort of “time capsule” with which I’ll try to secure some memories, feelings, and general reminders about what it’s like to be a young adult. I fear losing that power to relate to people of past ages. I hope this will help as well as provide triggers to vicariously guide me through these years again and again when I can only revisit them from a distance.