Negative Zone

Music, Books, Time Travel, and other ramblings...

Category: Music

Amanda Palmer & Alternate Realities

It’s always interesting to look back at life choices and decisions, both big and small, that map out the course of your life.  I’m going to be 43 years old this year and sometimes I wonder how I’m where I am, how I made it this long in life, and how after everything I’m happier now than I ever was before.

A lot of times my mind reverts back to how life would be if I hadn’t been raised in an ultra strict “religion”.  In school, I wasn’t supposed to hang out with the other kids because they weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses like me.   I still did find a few friends, thankfully my parents looked the other way on that one as long as I was behaving.  The friends I found were more of the computer geek persuasion, they were non threatening and I think that’s all my sheltered brain could handle.  Don’t get me wrong, most of them were really good people and I enjoyed their company.  But I wonder who I would have hung out with had I been a little more free thinking.  I always felt drawn to the mysterious, weird, artsy, musical, alternative, different, or some amalgam of all of that.

I grew up in Waltham, MA and went to high school in Newton, MA.  Newton North definitely had a few alternative type kids (whatever the hell that means), and I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had befriended them instead.  Some cooler music and some more interesting fun would have been in store, I suppose.  Who knows.

I heard The Dresden Dolls in the 2000’s while I was still in the religion.  For some reason I keep coming back to them when I remember the mental gymnastics I was going through at the time in order to avoid sinking into crippling depression instead of the general unhappiness and uneasiness I enjoyed.  Dresden Dolls’ music was fascinating to me, I really felt drawn to it yet I was very scared of it.

I’m not sure where I heard this, or got the idea in my head, but I thought the band had some sort of occult ties and was part of that growing list of music I couldn’t listen to as a good little religious boy.  I feel like someone said something to me about them in a negative light, but I can’t remember for sure.  Maybe it was the phrase “dark cabaret”, because we all know dark = Satan, right?  Anyway, I didn’t listen to them and in fact told myself and others I didn’t like the band.  “Something about them doesn’t sit right”, and all that.

Something about them, though.  Something about them really drew me in, as did Amanda Palmer (one half of the duo along with Brian Viglione).  Once I left the religion, I didn’t go crazy with drugs and orgies and all that other fun stuff some people do.  But I did start doing other things I used to have restrictions on.  I started examining those things I used to think were bad, and figure out if I really didn’t like it or if I had conditioned myself to avoid these things because of the religion.  I started reading books I’d avoided, watching movies I wouldn’t have seen before, and listening to bands I had previously condemned.  Like The Dresden Dolls.

I realized that Amanda Palmer had grown up a few miles away from me and was just a year younger than me.  How insane, I thought.  I started imagining a life where I met her while I was in high school.  I’d still be awkward and nerdy, but in this alternate reality I would be open about the things I was drawn to.  I would be friends with the art & drama & musical kids, and go hang out with amazingly weird and interesting people, walk around Harvard Square and enjoy the strange.  I would meet Amanda and we would be great friends, we would talk about life and love and sadness and music.  I would be a more confident person, have more self respect, have friends that didn’t decide to never speak to me again because I chose to leave my parent’s religion.  I would have gone to college (because in my real life you’re a bad person if you want to get secondary education) and have a degree but at the very least had that life experience.  Eventually, I’d even get to hang out with Neil Gaiman – another person I avoided in my original reality because he wrote about gods and demons and fantastic things that would probably have turned me to the dark side.  I would have started writing as a young man, I would have…I would have…I would have…

It can be a fun activity to think of your alternate realities, but it can also sink you into an endless loop of looking back at the past and feeling sorry for yourself instead of living life now.

If I had lived that alternate reality, I would probably be a very different person.  I am sure I wouldn’t have met my amazing wife.  My wife inspires and encourages me to take everything I went through, all the good and bad and shameful and wonderful things, and use them to make my dreams come true.  I want to use all the happiness and pain and be creative, to leave something in the world that says I made some sort of contribution and made someone happy.

My past is my past, and I can’t change it.  I can use it, though.  And I can make sure my next 40-something years builds and improves upon my last 40-something.  I’m sure we would have been great friends, Amanda…but I’ll stick with the life I have.

Stevie Nicks

I heard someone say that people who like Fleetwood Mac don’t appreciate good music.  Are they considered a guilty pleasure?  I never realized that.  Then again, I’ve always had a fondness for “yacht rock” so I guess I’m biased, not that Fleetwood Mac is necessarily yacht rock type music.

Anyway, I’m listening to Stevie Nicks’ “Bella Donna” this morning as I do some research for something I’m working on.   I was listening to Kind of Woman and realizing just how much I adore her.  Not that this is her best song or anything, but it made me remember that I love listening to her songs whether they were solo released or as part of FM.

Something definitely drew me to the way she presents herself to the world, that essence of the spiritual or mystical.   I find it a little ironic that I was drawn to that even as a young person, back when I was in a strict religion that forbade me from reading or listening to anything that may be “pagan”.

Now, when I listen to her music and think about it, I don’t just enjoy the music for the music’s sake.  I always feel like somehow it represents having an open mind, to realize that  we  don’t  fully understand everything  about the universe and the possibilities of what is out there, of the true magic in the world.

Too much for a lazy Sunday, maybe.  I should go back to research and enjoy the music.

Chicago, and Changing Who You Are

I believe my love of music comes from my dad.  Looking at his stacks of albums, staring at the album covers, they seemed like such an adult mystery to me as a child.  I clearly remember being mesmerized by Kate Bush album covers, but that’s for another post.

Chicago is one of my father’s favorite bands, and so I listened to them a lot as a young kid.  70’s Chicago though, not what they became in the years in which I grew up.

“Make Me Smile” was released on the Chicago II album in 1970, and I believe it encompasses the spirit of Chicago in the beginning.  Amazing vocals by Terry Kath, a founding member of the band and lead guitarist.  This is what I think of when I think of the band.  In January 1978, Kath was fooling around with some guns.  Not realizing there was a round in the chamber of his 9-mm, he died when he rested the gun against his temple and pulled the trigger.

The band, after wanting to disband, stayed together.  Now I don’t know the actual history of Chicago and what kind of internal politics were at play, but my perception is that the music shifted at that point.  Again, I’m no historian on the band of music in general, but the first album after Kath’s death was the first Chicago album not to be numbered (previous albums were Chicago II, Chicago III, Chicago IV, you get the drift). The music was…disco? Pop? Different.  And just look at what may be one of the goofiest album covers of all time.

Look at that smug Peter Cetera’s face looking like “yeah, I’m taking this band over!”  I’m kidding!

Most people know Chicago as releasing music like the following:

I forgot about that video…aww, 80’s punk love.  Music is completely different in the 1980’s as compared to the previous decade.  Sounded to me like a different band.


So what about people? How often does something “die” within us that we completely change who we are?  Or is it that this new person was buried deep down within us since we were born, and something changed to where we were finally comfortable allowing it to surface?  I know it’s popular to say “People don’t change”, but is that really accurate?

I’m not talking about a movie or novel where the villain in the beginning turns out to be a hero, but in real life how often does this happen?

From my experience in seeing people grow up in a strict religious environment, and then escaping said environment, I can say I’ve see people change completely.  But is this really a change?  I feel like it’s more of the case where a person’s inner self was so buried, so hidden even from themselves, and when they finally realize it’s safe to be who you are it seems as if they have become a different person.  Really, how they previously acted was not a true representation.

In a minor way we change.  Someone who hated green beans at the age of 10 now loves a good green bean casserole at the age of 30.  Another person hated opera at the age of 21 but now weeps while listening to Un bel di vedremo.  Is this changing who we are at the core though? Isn’t this just the refining of tastes and growing as a human?

What about a person who has a wonderful family life, grows up as a kind and caring person, but in their later years show themselves to be bitter and angry and full of rage.  Did they always hate people, or did something happen to them to kill the joy they had in life and replace it with fear?

I really don’t know.  I don’t even know why I’m thinking about these things.  We are, we act, we live.  Sometimes we start off as 1970’s Chicago, and become 1980’s Chicago.  Go listen to some music and think about who you were and who you are.

Joni Mitchell

I’m sitting in the Minneapolis airport waiting for my flight and listening to “Blue” by Joni Mitchell.  “My Old Man” is playing right now.  This week I’ve been listening to a lot of her stuff, and yet I still wouldn’t be able to answer any  trivia questions about her songs.  I did read an enjoyable article about her though, by Lindsay Zoladz on The Ringer:

I’m really not sure what it is about listening to her stuff…her voice? The lyrics? The way she plays guitar?  Probably all of it.  I have a few musical regrets, and not seeing her live is one of them.

There’s just something about her that makes me feel warm and sad, warm and happy, sometimes both.

Anyway, read the article because it’s really good. Then listen to some of the music (I guess suggesting the album “Blue” is cliche but that’s for a reason).


Perfect Sense

Last night we watched “Perfect Sense”, a 2011 sci-fi movie that bordered on horror starring Ewan McGregor and Eva Green.

If you haven’t seen the movie, SPOILER ALERT! I’m saying this even though the only people reading this blog are the ones I invent in my head.

Ok, so this not a horror movie, but let me explain my thought process after watching.  The plot essentially portrays a world where people in the world slowly lose all of their senses, beginning with taste and rolling on down the line.  It was more a romance story than anything, but I would recommend it as a very interesting concept.

If I had to choose to lose one of my five (major) senses, which would I choose? This is actually a question I had before ever seeing this movie.  Thinking about the terrifying possibilities of losing all senses, the idea of losing just one loses some of it’s fright.

If forced to choose out of the five major ones, I decided I’d choose touch. Now I know this would create a whole set of problems, most of which I can’t even imagine until it’s something I lost.  I’m sure I would deal with it and work around it as needed. The scary part was thinking about losing my sense of sight or sound.

Music and reading are the two things that have always been with me, since I was a nerdy kid who was nervous around people. I could lose myself in books and not have to worry about reality, about fitting in. As I got older, music became an easier way to zone out and improve my mood, allowing me to wallow in misery or lift me up out of it. Music even became a passageway into great friendships, helping me to break out of the quiet and shy cocoon and have experiences I probably wouldn’t have  otherwise enjoyed.

I’m sorry hands…stay away from hot stoves or wear oven mitts more often. I need my eyes and ears to work.

Yacht Rock

The sun in your eyes made some of your lies worth believing:

I remember listening to this song on the radio as a young kid and being captivated by it. Something about it just sounded completely different to me and to this day when I hear it come on randomly it makes me happy.  I didn’t start really listening to Prog Rock bands until much later, but this was one of my earliest introductions. Yet apparently the song qualifies as Yacht Rock as well.

So when did “Yacht Rock” become a thing? Apparently the term itself was coined in 1990 by Dave Larsen, a music critic for the Dayton Daily News, when he was describing a Jimmy Buffett concert. (This info is from Wikipedia, where they are legally bound never to lie so feel free to trust this information).

I’m definitely not a Buffett fan, although I can stomach “Come Monday”. But something about that Yacht Rock era, mid 70’s to early 80’s mellow rock, always gets me.

My biggest influence in music was my dad. We listened to a lot of different music in our house. My earliest memories of my mom listening to music was Billy Joel. But my dad? Stevie Wonder, Chicago, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Heart, Kate Bush, CSNY…but the band that stuck with me the most was Steely Dan. For whatever reason their music struck a chord and has always stayed with me. Aja is perhaps my favorite album of all time. And supposedly, Steely Dan is the gateway drug to Yacht Rock. Now, my love for this band requires a whole separate post at a different time. And while there’s a lot of great choices for classic Yacht Rock songs, a couple pop up immediately.

I wanna make you understand, I’m talking about a lifetime plan:

This song by Little River Band is pretty catchy, and to me it’s a great representation of what Yacht Rock is. I remember seeing them in concert in Boston, opening for Chicago. I loved seeing all the older couples in the audience jump up to dance to this song. When I hear this on the radio, it makes me smile and I just have to sing along.

I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become:

Another classic 80’s song; I saw Toto recently when they toured with Yes (or what remains of the band). The song may be cheesy but it’s great Yacht Rock. It brings back fond flashbacks of my youth when I’d have my tape deck ready to press record for a great song on the radio, pretending I was a DJ. I did get annoyed when this song began at their concert, only because it seemed every person around me had been waiting only for this one song. The out of tune singing surrounding me took away from the start of this song, but I powered through and finally tuned them out to enjoy the real thing. Also, it made me realize I was singing out loud too. Hypocrite!

Anyway, I encourage you to seek out your favorite corny Yacht Rock songs…sip a margarita and enjoy your own flashbacks.

Appreciating Artists

2016 has been a rough year as far as death in the music world. Maurice White…Merle Haggard…Glenn Frey…Paul Kantner…Prince…Bowie…

Obviously any death is sad and hits people to different degrees, but the love of music has played such an important part of my life that these in particular hit me hard. I’m not saying that it sends me spiraling into a deep depression, but I feel a loss as if they were personal friends. It makes me want to listen to their music again as if for the first time. And the typical response is to immediately post a favorite song to social media, or perhaps put on a favorite album and listen to it with your friends or family.

When David Bowie died, I listened to almost all his albums from start to finish. He was one of the artists I really grew up listening to and appreciating once I started choosing my own preferences and realizing what I liked.

This post, though, is about those still living. I feel like a poser going back to listen to an artist I hadn’t listened to in months or more just because they were no longer with us. So I’d like to try posting some songs now and then by artists that are still around, to appreciate them now while I can still say thank you.

An artist who resonated with me from the time that I first heard him with Crowded House, one of my favorite musicians and song writers of all time, is Neil Finn. I won’t spend a whole post on a biography, you can Wikipedia him if you’d like ( or visit his website (

Here I just wanted to play a few songs I love and hopefully let other people appreciate his talent.

Sinner (Try Whistling This/1998) is possibly my favorite song on his first solo album:

Only Talking Sense (Finn/1995) was an amazing song on my most played CD back in ’95. Neil and his brother Tim put out an album together, loved seeing them tour for this back then:

Four Seasons In One Day (Woodface/1991) was my favorite song on my favorite Crowded House album. This was also written by Tim & Neil, and it was around that time I felt this song writing duo could do no wrong. They’re a great team, and I wish they would tour together again:

So, hopefully you enjoyed. And the point of this is to keep you digging down that rabbit hole of music to find something you love. Or at least appreciate.

Let me know what you think!

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