Christmas Tunes

If you’re like me, you typically don’t listen to, or like, the Christmas music on the radio this time of year. I will admit, however, I enjoy the Indie Christmas Pandora station on occasion. You probably listen to Pantera while wrapping gifts–now there’s a funny image; you try headbanging without ripping the wrapping paper. Just watch out for the scissors, please.

I tend to enjoy the oldies, even Elvis’s “Blue Christmas.” I love Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” around this time of year. But I have something so “un-rock ‘n roll” to share with you guys. My favorite Christmas pastime…(big deep breath):

Kenny and Dolly’s Christmas album. Yes, it’s true. First, Dolly Parton is a songwriting machine and I will always respect her. Second, I grew up wrapping presents and decorating the tree to this music, so it will always have a special place in my heart. Mom and I could be found decorating the tree, passing lights back and forth and pausing to have a song outburst at the climaxes or whenever we saw fit, which was usually at the same time, knowing us.

There was a time Mom had a very “country” boyfriend. I was around the ages of 7-9 in my CMT country phase. I still do have fondness for some of those songs, and especially for the girl who loved them. Then, I “met” Pearl Jam. I thought I had to renounce all things country to not “stain” my rock ‘n roll heart. But I later realized that we are the sum of all of our parts–even the ones who loved (cough) NKOTB.

So, my Christmas music challenge to you is this: find a new Christmas song you DO like or delve into those old favorites with NO SHAME and SING AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS.

Stay Safe and Rock On,

Rachael

P.S. I still have the original cassette of Kenny and Dolly, and later bought the CD. I’d take it on vinyl, too. šŸ™‚

I’m the Girl in the Box…

Today, I was cleaning and organizing and emptying boxes. And when I found them, I screamed in delight. I thought that these treasured mementos had gotten lost in the moves of adulthood. No. There he was–Eddie. There they were: Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden–the pillars of my youth. Posters I hadn’t framed but was careful to put ring protectors around each thumbtack so they wouldn’t rip or fray. Original Rolling Stone magazines with Blind Melon, Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers…and the ones memorializing Jerry Garcia, Layne Stayley, and Kurt Cobain. The originals, in mint condition. I’m so excited, I can barely type.

I can’t tell you how these visages guided me, comforted me, excited me. Yes, I even have the larger-than-life-sized one of Eddie Vedder–one I loved so much, I mentioned in my memoir. The girl inside me danced and screamed and grooved out as I carefully parted the posters fold-outs from various magazines. I found one called Grunge Magazine that I had purchased two copies of, just to be sure I’d never lose it because it had my fab five on it. I’m sure you’ve guess that’s Pearl Jam by now.

Have you ever loved something more than the air that goes into your lungs? Well of course, because a lot of us take that simple act for granted. One thing that has been missing in life during this global pandemic is live music. That feeling of aspirating with tens of thousands of people–singing in unison, swaying like a big wave in an ocean, being a part of a larger collective. For us music lovers, it’s almost painful to be away from live music for so long. When I opened that box, I found the girl I was–the girl I still am–and it brought me all the joy that it did when I would gaze upon those images as I listened to their music over and over.

What’s your musical joy? Share in the comments and go enjoy it right now!

Rock on,

Rachael

By Far…One of the Best Albums of All-Time

Recently, a friend of mine was (sniff) giving away her CDs. She let me go through them all first. As we looked through them, documenting them or discussing them, R.E.M.’s Monster came up. My eyes got wide. “THIS,” I began, as she began to smile, “is one of THE. BEST. ALBUMS. OF. ALL. TIME.” She couldn’t disagree. If you don’t own this one, go get it. Give it an old-school spin on the record player, CD player, or, if you must, on a digital device somehow. You’ve read my past rants on R.E.M. genius. Or maybe you haven’t. Either way, they are one of my favorite bands of all time. I owned Out of Time when I was ten. It was the cassette, which shows my age a little, but hey, it was 1991.

This album is definitely included in my Top 100 albums of all time. What is it that we admire about R.E.M. so much? Is it that they got their name with a random finger-point to the dictionary? Is it the sugary croon of Stipe’s voice? The unique riffs? Maybe we won’t know, no matter how we ponder, but one this is for sure: this is one of the albums that really illustrates the band’s greatness. No offense to the other amazing albums. I have yet to uncover an R.E.M. track, or record, for that matter, that I don’t NOT like.

But enough of my obfuscating. Let’s get down to it. If you were a “radio listener” (gold star for that reference origin), then you probably heard and adored “Crush (with eyeliner).” Of course, the most played track from this album was undoubtedly, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” But little known to most, “Let Me In” was a song written in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and dedicated to his memory. When I learned of this and really gave it a new listen, I wept. Such raw emotion in the lilting “heyyyyyy yeah yeah…let me in” of Stipe’s voice. Distorted guitar and organ music keyboard bliss. Give it a listen when you’re alone and have an undistracted moment to yourself. What are those? Find them again. Let them in.

While the entire album reigns brilliance, my high point tracks are, in no particular order:
“Crush (with eyeliner)”
“Let Me In”
“Strange Currencies”
“I Don’t Sleep, I Dream.”

But the entire album is genius. Go on and take a listen.

Be well and Rock on,

Rachael

Unsung Hero

I always think of Helmet when I write the word “unsung” and my blog is all about those things unsaid that burn inside me–mostly about my life’s favorite elixir–music. That being said, I never thought I’d love a radio station like I love SiriusXM’s Pearl Jam radio. There is a man I spend less time with than Eddie and the boys–and interestingly even more time with than my husband–and that is the host and diehard fan, Rob Bleetstein. So today’s post goes out to him.

I try to listen to other favorites. I love 90s alternative, and everything from Johnny Cash to the Grateful Dead to Moonsorrow and Tool and back again–but I always end up back on Channel 22 because Pearl Jam is “my blood” and I “walk the long road” with them everyday. Consequently, I travel this road with millions of other Pearl Jam fans–a family I have stood singing my lungs out with but never really convened with–and Rob makes that all possible. He’s my co-pilot on bad days or good days or melancholy days in-between. His voice has become a familiar groove in my life and I get into my car expecting to hear the welcoming baritone pendulum swing me into and back out of my days.

Myself, I worked in radio in college and I miss it. One of my happiest moments lately was being a guest DJ for Pearl Jam radio-something I look forward to doing again…and again. Maybe I can apply if Rob ever retires. But knowing the intent and passion of a Pearl Jam fan, something tells me that will likely never happen. It’s okay; we’ll walk the long road faithfully together.

Thanks, Rob, for being so awesome. Learn more about Rob here: https://artistwaves.com/rob-bleetstein-my-journey-and-career-in-radio/

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

It’s not enough

There’s a reason I called this blog “unsung throes.” There’s a reason that my handle is “kindalikeapoet.” I’ve recently been reading Maynard’s bio–a very well-written account of his life by a close friend–and good writer. It came up in therapy today that I want to be a lyricist. That I’ve always been a songwriter. It comes very naturally to me, just like Maynard’s talents did to him–only he didn’t realize it until way later on because no one ever gave him the positive reinforcement about them. He knew he was talented, sure–but he didn’t realize the extent to which he was talented, nor the power that it held for both him and his audiences.

I chose “kinda like a poet” for my handle because of The Replacements’ “Achin’ to Be.” I’ve always seemed to be achin’ to be. Even in this blog. I started it so people would reach out and understand me musically. At the time, I was single and hoped to get that guy who understood me musically. The subject of the song is a girl who wishes she could be all that she wants to be creatively–so much so she aches for it–and doesn’t realize she’s already doing it. I’ve always wanted to be a successful music writer. I’m a writer and a damn good one. I’ve always wanted to be in the music field. I’m a songwriter, but, like the girl in the song, I’ve never really “unleashed” per se, like Maynard finally did. I’ve never given myself the seriousness needed for the writing.

Further, I chose “unsung throes” for a number of reasons. It’s for all the things I’ve said but never shared about music and my passion for it. For the song “unsung” by Helmet, because, well, Helmet kicks ass, and “unsung” is a totally bitchin’ name and idea for a song and thought. To be unsung is like being unseen, unheard, “un” validated. And that’s how I’ve felt most of my creative life.

But for as long as I can remember, I’ve been writing songs, re-writing songs, and singing them, if for no one else, myself. And now’s the time to make it really happen. What came up in therapy today is that–I knew I wasn’t going to get into Berklee School of Music by way of electric bass. I made the mistake of trying to major in Music at a teaching school over and over again. And when I said it today, it made today sense. “I should have been going to Berklee College of Music for SONGWRITING.” I’d still do it. But I don’t need an expensive degree (another one) to do this thing I do so well anyway. I just need a band and a connection to people who need songwriters.

So, hey, if you’re out there, and you’re down, let me know. But this is for you, all of you who have dreams that are unsung. The time is now to sing them.

Sing on. Sing loud.

Rachael

When you know it, you know it…

I have one of those little marquis boards I got in the dollar section of Michael’s. It tends to lend itself to Led Zeppelin lyrics. One of the first I put down was Robert Plant’s “Shine it all around.” Then, “Over the Hills and Far Away.” After a long period (probably all of this quarantine) I had Tool’s “Bless this Immunity” up. Until one day I needed some hope and change.

What better lyrics to put up (and I had enough letters): It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.

My husband looked at it. “Where’s that from?”

“Stairway, duh.”

“Well, yeah, but where did they get it from? Didn’t it come from a book or something?”

“While a lot of Zep’s lyrics are inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, this was uniquely theirs.”

I don’t know why he kept on, but we ended up doing some research and found some pretty interesting things. The gist of it is that “if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now; it’s just a spring clean for the May Queen” meaning this time of year, people are busy “bustling” and cleaning to bring in the spring wonders. At least, that’s my writer’s take on it. We found some other pretty funny interpretations (gotta love http://www.urbandictionary.com) that, no surprise, turned things sexual, but I’ll let you look that up.

The deal is this: you can always question my musical knowledge. I don’t claim to always be right. But I’m right about this. I know my Zeppelin. Thanks to my Robert-Plant-loving sister-in-spirit, Stephanie.

Be well and rock on as you go over the hills and onto your couch. Or whatever you might be doing in our quarantine. And as always, thanks for reading!

Rachael

Pass the Mayonaise…

Yesterday, I wrote about an album that helped redeem me. Today, I was feeling listless, frustrated, and blocked in my writing. Later in the day, after my calming tea and CBD supplement (magic to those of us with anxiety), I was singing “LET ME OUT!” from “Cherub Rock” by Smashing Pumpkins. (I’ve heard they don’t want the “The”). I got to thinking about how EPIC that album still is.

Then, it occurred to me that Billy wrote the entire album while going through a rough period of suicidal ideations and general melancholy. To me, track 9, “Mayonaise” with one n, yes, not like the food, is my saving grace, too.Ā  I can’t tell you why he named the song as such, though I’m very good with backstory and music trivia that no one else cares about. Well, not “no one.” You do. Thank you.

The sounding refrain for this one is “I just want to be ME; and when I can, I will.” But I’m also drawn to the other lyrics as well. “Cool enough to almost be it; fool enough to not quite see it.” Sounds like my plight my whole life. I know that I can be an extremely successful music writer/songwriter/creative writer of almost anything…but I’ve always felt “stuck.” And I’m probably the one “sticking” myself. Wow. Okay, that sentence was terrific. Take it as you will.

Back to the song. What an amazingly slow opener that makes the electric guitar hum into every crevice of your synapses. Do synapses even have crevices? Mine are rocking out so hard right now, they probably made their own. “Mayonaise” on headphones, cat in lap, Rachael writing. There could be almost NO other joy like this. “All our time can’t be given back.” enJOY it.

And when I can, I will, as soon as IĀ “SHUT MY MOUTH and STRIKE THE DEMONS!” I’ve been thinking sometimes that “words defy the plans.” Okay, I’ll stop.

“NO MORE PROMISE NO MORE SORROW NO LONGER WILL I FOLLOW Can anybody hear me? I just want to beeeeeee ME. And try to understand that when I can, I will.”

I didn’t realize I’d get so personal here, but music has a way of doing that to us. And I want to be personal with you, because you’re my readers, and undoubtedly, you saw some merit in my writing, or you enjoyed the same bands as I do, and you thought you’d give me a chance. Well, thanks again.

I think the reason I love this entire song is because of how raw and real it is for me. Depression says that. “When I can, I will.” And sometimes we never do. And then we beat ourselves up about it. Even if it was something we really didn’t want to do anyway. Or we’re really hard on ourselves for not doing something we love, or punish ourselves with the dance of regret over and over again. “I shouldn’t have left France so early,” I often say. People have asked me why I did. Why ON EARTH would you LEAVE FRANCE????? That’s what I ask. But my answer, after all these years, is a regret-singed, “Because I had untreated clinical depression and I felt lost and alone and inadequate even though I was the most fluent one there in my group, save the professor and his son.” FOOL ENOUGH TO NOT QUITE SEE IT.

BUT BUT BUT. Billy instructs to “SHUT (MY) MOUTH AND STRIKE THE DEMONS!” And we constantly do that when we confront the doubt that cripples us. Sometimes, I write a blog and proof it and change it and wonder if I should have added more or less or more or less or…

I’m getting better at letting it be a natural first draft. I just now critiqued that I should have organized the blog by the lyrics as subheaders. And then I said, “No. Stop. They’ve read this far, so it’s okay.”

Whatever your doubts are, strike ’em. Be yourself. That burn in your soul that can’t be ignored? Stop ignoring it. Stop pulling up the blanket of depression to smother the embers. Let it roar.

Because “life’s a bummer, when you’re a hummer. Life’s a draaaaag…” but that’s another song for another blog.

Be well, be safe, and rock the fuck out.

Rachael

Someone Saved My Life Tonight…

So, the subject line is Elton John, who no doubt deserves every accolade he’s ever been given, or hasn’t yet. The title came to me as I was listening to a particular album today while running errands.

Has an album ever redeemed you? Has it changed your perspective? Saved your life? I bet y’all think I’m going to mention Pearl Jam again, but this answer might surprise you. The album is 13th Step by A Perfect Circle. It takes no genius to guess that Maynard and Eddie are the fruits of my soul (no offense to my husband!)–creative masterminds that weave together the very fabric of my soul–so my answer isn’t so surprising.

I put this album on today, and I’m not even sure why. I probably had a track from it stuck on my head and decided to give it a listen. Or maybe it’s because I’m reading Maynard’s biography. So far, I’ve learned he loved Mountain Dew, Twizzlers, and Snickers bars. And a lot of other stuff about how he could sing (duh), run cross country like no other, and was a visual artist. None of that will surprise you.

But to say an album “saved (your) life,” is a huge admission. First, it’s admitting that you’ve been so down, you may have considered suicide–or you may have just been so low, it was hard for you to get out of bed. There was a time in my life where nothing made sense. It was a time I was mentally ill, but didn’t know it–really–and didn’t know how to deal with it–and was unmedicated. Decades later, we’d discover that I had bipolar depression.

I still have regret about the things I did or didn’t do during my college years–those years that should have been incredible, but those days were each a struggle for me. Had it not been for my friends, real and musical, I may not have been sitting here typing this to you now. And Maynard and Co. is counted among them.

In listless frustration and darkness, I would drive around listening to Thirteenth Step on CD. There’s a dark edge to that album that reached out to me and made me feel like I wasn’t so lost or forsaken. There was a light when I heard it, turned on for me and for many. So much of our music can do that for us.

And there you have it. I want you to know, putting this out here publicly is a risk, but it’s one I’m willing to take. I’m trying to get a Creative Writing professorship. When they ask the disability question, I never know what to do. My conditions are on there, but I always feel it will disqualify me to answer yes. But I’m always honest. And maybe that’s why I don’t have a professorship yet. Or maybe I’m just supposed to get paid to write and to write about music. I still haven’t got that answer. Time will tell. Maybe I just need to take the 13th step…

So, tell me, what’s your “salvation” album?

Be well, be kinder than necessary, and rock on,

Rachael

What’s Your Go-To?

What’s your go-to album for…driving? Housecleaning? Just because you feel like it?

It’s impossible to decide, I know. But here’s a few from my collection:

Driving? Mother Love Bone’sĀ AppleĀ or Smashing Pumpkins’Ā Siamese Dream

Housecleaning? Motley Crue’sĀ Dr. Feelgood and/or Poison’sĀ Flesh & Blood

Just because? Pearl Jam’sĀ Ten, and I’m sure none of you are surprised.

It’s proven that certain music from our youth will actually stimulate the serotonin in our brains, if not bring back pleasant feelings from hearing it so much. I guess I cleaned a lot of house to Motley Crue. The other day, my husband and I listened to the album, shamelessly about sex and drugs in rock ‘n roll…and I mused on the fact that 12-year-old Rachael hopped away in her room to these blatant tracks about such matters. But then, it was an understandable graduation from ten years old and Guns ‘N Roses, so who minds?

Mother Love Bone’sĀ AppleĀ has all the right grooves for a road trip, no matter how short. Even the slower, more solemn tracks keep the white lines or yellow lines ticking by.

Siamese Dream I chose because my brother and I listened to it all the time when he and mom and I were on our way to see my grandparents. I think we started every trip off with that one. It’s also a good introspective one if you’re by yourself, especially in the fall.

And last but never least, Pearl Jam. Go figure. But how can an album so chock full of wonderful nuggets not be perfect for any occasion?

So tell me, what are some of yours?

Be well, stay well, and rock on,

Rachael

Appetite for Discussion…

G’NR, baby. Let me explain. Once, there was a ten-year-old girl who hated to be moved a town away from her friends and her life at the same time she discovered rock music and its salvation. She saved up her allowance and boughtĀ Appetite For DestructionĀ on cassette. It still works, 28 years later. The cassette and the music.

Don’t get me wrong, I know Axl is a misogynist and a whole slew of other things a young girl shouldn’t immortalize–but the rebellion–the whine–the content. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll…and the only thing she could have was the last one–and it’s all she’s ever needed.

So did I feel guilty when I rose up inside myself and fist-pumped with a “fuck yeah!” in my room that young? No. And I still don’t. My husband and I have a shared playlist we’ve been listening to since we’ve both been home. It helps me from going insane to the sounds of power metal (can’t stand it, sorry) and power tools. It helps him use the power tools and kick ass on the house-building. Axl and Co. have frequented that list a lot lately. I found myself wandering around a post-apocalyptic Walmart singing, “everybody’s there…but you don’t seem to care…in the garden…” Truth is, the Corporate Overlord was jammed-packed the Saturday before Easter Sunday and it sucked because everyone was wearing masks or not–and getting in the way and not keeping their distance, but that’s a different blog.

Let’s talk about Guns ‘n fuckin’ Roses, as Axl and Duff so often say on live tracks. A few of my favorites lately are “The Garden” “Estranged” and the Dylan cover, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Axl’s whine almost outshines Dylan’s mumble on this one. In fact, I just talked to my stepsons the other day about how I got into a lot of older bands, especially the Beatles, because of Guns ‘N Roses and other contemporaries that would do covers. I’ve never liked covers better than when Pearl Jam or Guns ‘N Roses does them. And most of all, Johnny Cash. That man could redo and outdo anyone’s original. Check out “Hurt” and American IV. “Won’t Back Down” is a great one.

Little Rachael proudly wore a tee with guns and bleeding roses on it to her first day of 5th grade in a new school. Needless to say, she went home crying that day, not realizing the other ten-year-olds were probably afraid to talk to her. Mind you, this was also back in a time where it was completely innocent “I’m fuckin’ innocent!”–to wear a shirt with such regalia on it to school.

Before Pearl Jam, Def Leppard, Guns ‘N Roses, Skid Row, Slaughter, Firehouse (yes, Firehouse), Tesla, and Metallica had my ears. The rest is kinda history, which, kind reader, you’re learning about as you read me. Thanks for doing so. So, what are your thoughts on Axl & Co.? What’s your favorite G’NR track?

Be well, stay safe, and rock on and out and on and on,

Rachael (aka Pearl Jam Girl)