25 February 2010

I called this number three times already today.

"I called this number three times already today, but I got scared, I put it back in place, I put my phone back in place. I still don't know if I should have called up. Look, just tell me why don't you if I'm out of place. 'Cause here's your chance to make me feel awkward and wish that I had never called up this place."

-Modern Lovers

After much deliberation, I can't quite pin down exactly which song I first heard by the Modern Lovers. I know it must have been 1996. I remember listening to it in my dorm room. I remember hearing a band cover "Roadrunner" at a high school in Boone, North Carolina. I remember thinking I had called a number three times and most certainly felt awkward about it.

The first time I saw Jonathan Richman play was in Chapel Hill at Cats Cradle. It was packed. It must have been right after the movie, Something About Mary- and all the college kids came to see that weird fella that was singing in the tree. It was fantastic.

That being said, it was a true joy to have the opportunity to see him in Nashville on Thursday night. Going to the show reinforced what I already suspected- I have an entirely skewed view about music. Obviously, I interpret through my own lens, but I thought Richman playing at 5 Spot in Nashville, a very small club, would mean I'd need to arrive early and would potentially have to wait in line. Not the case. I can't say that I was displeased, but there is something odd to me about the fact that I have trouble navigating the landscape of 5 Spot on Soul Night (when two fellas with computers play Motown), but not on the night when Jonathan Richman played. I digress. And I refuse to get into a "these kids these days" sort of refrain.

I suppose I place Jonathan Richman in my own personal canon. He ranks pretty high on my list of troubadours, particularly troubadours that make me feel star struck. So, yes, while I had hoped that more folks would be there to support him, I was also pleased that I actually had the opportunity to hear and see him without all the distraction of too many East Nashville-ites.

It was a wonderful show. While I had hoped I might have the opportunity to hear Richman belt out some of my old favorites, I was mesmerized by him. He was odd. He was funny. He was a great dancer. He was endearing.

By the end of the show, Richman was out on the floor talking to his audience. And it crossed my mind that I should thank him for the performance. I'm usually not keen on doing this, because well, I mean, I can only imagine how many times hearing "Great show" one person can take. But then I thought, "Fuck, Jonathan Richman is a few feet away from me. I should at least talk to him." And then, Becky and Brian cheered me on.

Before I knew it, I was grabbing a business card out of my wallet and walking towards him. I know, I know...but I've learned the habit of handing out my fancy Vanderbilt cards to anyone available and willing after my most recent trip to Puerto Rico. So, I did it. I thanked him for the show. I told him about the blog. I told him about the book project of music and memory. And almost as if I had planned it, I told him I'd love to interview him for it. And it wasn't a lie. He was on my original list of potential interviewees.

I think I expected, as most folks do, he would take the card quickly and the interaction would be over. Instead, he told me he would love to talk to me about the book and asked me if I could write something on the front of the card to remind him about the book idea. Jeez, as if I wasn't already freaked out enough shaking his hand and talking to him. With shaky hands (and thanks to Becky and Brian for the pen), I wrote the information down and returned the card to him.

While I recognize realistically, this "interview" may or may not take place. I found myself experiencing sheer joy in having the opportunity to meet him personally.

It was a lovely night. And I'll always remember dancing with Becky atop chairs in the back of the 5 Spot.

Enjoy the videos. I think one of the things I'd admire the most about Richman is that he sang about half of his songs in either Spanish or French. He commented they just made more sense that way....and I agree.

07 February 2010

Seventeen Years...with Jennie Ann

It is difficult to recall the first day that I met Jennie Ann, but I do remember us being bound to one another by feeling that we were "on the margins" in high school- even among the eclectic group of friends we both had in common. We had commonalities-music, bad habits, and a penchant for living as if "we were burning the candle at both ends." Trust me, that sounds much more wild than it really was...

I do remember what we later decided to consider our "anniversary." At the time I was dating a young man in a band. His band was scheduled to play at a fraternity party at a local college. I was looking for someone to join me and Jennie Ann willingly accepted. Of course, this also meant we'd have to concoct a story to tell her mother about why she was spending the night with me and what we were planning to do with that evening. When I picked Jennie Ann from her house that evening, we told her mother, what we thought was a great fib about the evening. We were going to The Milestone. My boyfriend's band was playing there. We'd be back home by midnight. I said goodbye to Jennie Ann's mother.

By the time we arrived back at my house, my mother greeted us on the porch. She told us, "You've been busted. Jennie Ann's mom is on her way her to pick her up."

And that is how it all began.

Seventeen years later, we are still best friends. While I thought about crafting a blog that traversed through our memories...I decided instead (damn, graduate school responsibilities!) to post some pictures from those first few years. Though I did spend most of today thinking about our friendship. And I've realized that it is rather rare to have someone in your life for this many years- as a constant. Through the ups and downs, the miles that have separated us, the misunderstandings and tears, and the cackling laughter that most folks can barely fathom to hear...Jennie Ann has always been there.

And so I give you this, a poem Jennie Ann wrote me when we were oh, so very young.

"If you were a mosquito bite, I would itch you (but not too hard),
If you were my socks, I would never change them,
If you were a cuss word, I would use it in every sentence,
If you were a movie I would buy it and watch it all the time,
If I were a sailor, I'd name my boat after you,
If you were in Phish, I'd buy the tape anyway,
If you were a drug, I'd establish a habit,
but since you're a human, I'm glad to say you're my best friend."

This must have been written around 1994. Pure poetry.

Happy Anniversary, best friend. Thank you for being there through it all. And here is to many more...(Don't forget, we are celebrating Year 20 in Costa Rica, finally.)

05 February 2010

Grapes, pears, and a great loss.

Several years ago, while teaching in Myrtle Beach, I made the decision to write a book on music and memory. I had decided that despite being associated with a formal research institution, I would become an independent scholar. While writing the book, I began to download countless sociological articles about music. During these searches, I noticed the same name appearing over and over again- R.A. Peterson.

It would be several months later that I would apply to graduate school at Vanderbilt, and while I hate to admit it- I was ignorant to the relationship between R.A. Peterson and Vanderbilt.

During the first month of school, I remember sitting down with one of my new professors, Jennifer Lena, to discuss my research interests. As I stumbled through my vague ideas for research on music- she inquired if I knew about the work of Richard ("Pete") Peterson. It was at that moment that all the pieces came together and I realized that I was at the same university where this R.A. Peterson was located.

While I did not have the opportunity to converse with Pete during the first official gathering of the department, I was overwhelmed with joy when I received an invitation for dinner at his home. Apparently, Pete and his wife, Claire, always invited the new cohort of students over for a welcoming dinner. My excitement quickly gave way to nervousness, as I thought about the implications of having dinner with someone I considered to be one of the greatest scholars in the field.

I know that none of us will ever forget that dinner. Whether it was the awkward first moments with the block of cheese, the conversation about Riot Grrls, or the simple and clear advice that Pete gave us about being graduate students. I can't remember the exact line now, but I remember Pete reiterating to us that if this wasn't something we loved, we were in the wrong line of work. I also remember him telling us to take our summer to travel, to explore.

When the next year of incoming students arrived, I remember telling them with excitement about how they would have the opportunity to also visit with Pete and Claire. Unfortunately, due to Pete's health, they were unable to visit- which saddened me.

I would luckily have the opportunity to spend several opportunities with Pete in this last year.

Last semester, Pete offered to provide feedback on papers that a handful of us were writing for a course on cultural production. Again, the excitement- and then the nervousness. The afternoon that we (Becky, Carly and I) spent with Pete was fantastic. He gave us a tour of his office, showing us books and pictures he had collected. He told us about his most recent project, which involved hearing many personal stories that he was reflecting on in his life. And then, he proceeded to tear through our papers providing incredible insight and suggestions for the way we had approached the field. While I recognize that only a handful of you might realize the grandiosity of writing a paper for a course in cultural production and having Pete provide you with feedback on a draft, I know that there are those within the field that can understand exactly what this meant.

More recently, I had the chance to visit with Pete on less academic terms. As his health waned, I had offered to provide any kind of assistance to both Pete and Claire. On a Saturday, while reading through Swidler's "tool-kit" piece, I was asked if I might be able to help with some grocery shopping for Pete. As I glanced over at the articles that I had left to read, I realized that reading these articles was far eclipsed by not only helping Pete, but having the opportunity to sit and talk with him more.

Arriving at Pete's house, we sat and talked for almost an hour before the grocery list was introduced into the conversation. We talked about Swidler. We talked about his research on omnivorousness. We talked about cooking shows. At one moment, Pete asked if I was in a rush. When I replied that I wasn't, he remarked that it made him feel better just to see me. I recognize that it wasn't "me," but rather that Pete truly loved sitting and talking to someone that day.

And then there was the grocery list. We discussed each item on the list. What I remember the most was Pete asking for a certain type of pear, of which he had forgotten the name, and seedless red grapes. He said to me that I would need to taste the grapes. He told me not to buy them if they did not "explode in your mouth." They should be crunchy. Wait, I don't like grapes, I thought to myself.

As I left for the grocery store, Pete grabbed my hand to thank me. This is a moment I will never forget. Not that he was simply a person in need, but rather that he was the R.A. Peterson from all those years ago- and his work had become overwhelmingly important in my life in the last few years.

In the grocery store, I picked up the bag of grapes. And I knew, that I would have to test them. While searching for other items, I grabbed a grape and tested it. It exploded into sweetness, exactly what he asked for.

In the last few weeks, I've kept up with Pete's health through Jenn, getting updates on his status. On Wednesday, I went grocery shopping for myself. While walking through the produce section, I found myself buying the same pears Pete had asked for-and then I grabbed some grapes. I took one from the bag and tested it. A simple explosion. These were keepers.

While it may seem silly, when I received the news that Pete has passed away on Thursday, I thought of those pears and grapes.

The loss of Pete weighed heavy on me today, while I sat through class and walked the halls of Garland. While I led a class discussion on cultural production and social movements, I couldn't help but think of the incredible debt that we owe him- both as a person and as a scholar. He will be missed.

And here are a couple of other postings from folks that knew Pete better than me....

Jenn's post about Pete

and Omar Lizardo's posting.

And because for some reason when I experience loss, I often turn to this...

If I had one wish, I would have interviewed Pete about his memories of music.