Endless summer soundtrack

dusk

It’s mid-September in Los Angeles, but I’d be oblivious to the impending official end of summer if it weren’t for the sky that darkens just a little earlier each day and the Facebook posts from everyone back home about the fall-like weather (and subsequent pumpkin spice lattes). Usually by this time of year, my tan has already faded, and I’m wishing for just a few extra weeks of a sweaty Maryland summer. I always did have just a touch of seasonal depression, no matter how much I enjoyed football, beef stew, and fall fashion.

But this September, I’m not putting away the sundresses. I’m as tan as I would be if I spent a solid week at the beach. And even being very much in back-to-school mode, I don’t have the same blues I’ve always associated with it. It truly feels like the Endless Summer.

That’s not to say that life is perfect in Los Angeles. Every day has its own struggles. Being away from family isn’t easy, but at least I got to watch my sister open presents on her 12th birthday via FaceTime. The continuous search for employment can be a serious source of anxiety at times, but I know we’ll find work eventually; in the meantime, I’m just happy to be spending so much time with John. Whenever petty worries about cars, phones, or bills arise, some tragic news story pops up and gives us a heavy dose of perspective. By comparison, we’re living the dream. And in a lot of ways, we really are.

The following playlist is a culmination of memories and feelings associated with this summer of anticipation, exploration, and arrival. Most of these songs played through the car speakers more than once as we leisurely made our way across the country, and they’ll forever be ingrained in my mind as the soundtrack of an epic, endless summer.

So here’s to bathing suits, gas money, sunglasses, water jugs, pit stops, motel sheets, coffee shops, photo ops, Google maps, guitar pics, campfires, bike rides, time zones, calls home, L.A. traffic, and living to tell the tale. And wherever you are, may your summer be as endless as mine.

Tracklist: John Mancini Band – Shangri-la | Allah Las – Busman’s Holiday | The Band – Don’t Do It |Charles Bradley – Why Is It So Hard | Neil Young – Cinnamon Girl | Sam Phillips – Signal | White Denim – Burnished | Dire Straits – Wild West End

I’m with the band

John Mancini Band Shangri-la

You know those people who seem to have endless creative talent? The ones who seem to dabble in everything and do it really well?

I like to surround myself with those people in hopes that their talent will rub off on me. John is one such person. If you’ve been reading long enough, you know that my boyfriend is a musician and writer. And this musician/writer boyfriend of mine is always working on something, it seems. This week, John released his fourth album, and he did all of the songwriting, guitar & vocals, countless other instruments, and editing himself. He also enlisted the talents of a few others, and I got to be one of them.

I have always loved to sing. It’s a fun thing to do whether you do it well or not. (Though I imagine the better you are at singing, the more fun it is.) In high school, I sang and played guitar with friends in talent shows and open mic nights—always envisioning myself as a guitar goddess rockstar lady and ending up forgetting to breathe and not knowing what to do with my hands, but making it through each performance well enough. Still, I had this weird mental block when it came to singing in front of other people, especially in more intimate settings. It was one thing to do it in front of the whole school when the stage lights were blinding and I couldn’t see the audience. But in an intimate group of friends? Terrifying. To me, it was the most vulnerable way you could possibly expose yourself, and that scared the shit out of me. Because of that, I’ve always made an obnoxious point of singing really badly, really loudly. Ask my sisters. It’s my favorite way to torture them. (4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” is my go-to tune.)

Despite not singing a whole lot (at least well) around others, John knew I had a real voice in me. And the gorgeous songs he’d written for his latest release, Shangri-la, were in need of some female harmonies, according to him. Would I sing with him? Well, I’d always secretly wanted to. Of course I would.

Shangri-la consists of 8 songs that span several of John’s songwriting years, the title track being the oldest (and one of my favorites). It’s a concept album, meaning there’s an overarching theme, and listening straight through from beginning to end is recommended for the full experience. It’s a nod to a lot of the more traditional songwriters of the past, much of the instrumentation reminding me of Tom Waits and the vocals, Bob Dylan. (Yes, I just compared my boyfriend to Bob Dylan.) Band members from earlier albums make appearances on Shangri-la, including founding JMB member Tom Haller on drums, and Jessie Firey (of the JMB side project, Ancient Americans) singing lead female vocal on “The End of All Things.” A couple of John’s talented musician friends also make guest appearances, and the lady harmonies/vocals you hear on tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 are yours truly. The coolest part of recording? Getting over myself and just having fun doing it, like you’re supposed to.

So here’s hoping more of John’s talent rubs off on me, but I can say for sure I’ve got the music bug. I miss playing guitar. I want to learn piano. And damnit, I want to sing! I may not have Beyoncé’s range (oh, Bey), but I’ve got a good tone and an ear for harmonies. The confidence part is coming slowly but surely.

If you want to check out the album, it’s available on iTunes, and the hard copy—featuring my photography as the cover art—is available at CDBaby. (Anyone else still jamming out to CDs like me?) I recommend checking out the other albums while you’re at it. Sun King is pure musical genius. If you can spare a “like,” follow John Mancini Band on Facebook for updates. Witty Title Here AND John Mancini Band are going west. And we’ll be writing and singing about it along the way.

Marching band music

I’ve been looking forward to my next guest post for awhile, because this talented writer holds a special place in my heart. Though it took lots of reminding (i.e. nagging), I’m psyched to finally share my boyfriend John’s work with you. I typically refrain from getting mushy here on the blog, but I must say – I like him a lot. Read on and you’ll see why.

witty title here guest post

john mancini

Laughter is the flipside of crying – neither being genuine emotions but rather reactions we hurl against experiences we don’t understand. So keeping it close to the vest may be some evolutionary strategy worth considering. If you’ve ever thought you were going to laugh but cried instead, or laughed at the wrong time, like say, at a funeral, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s not supposed to be funny, but then, it is.

Down here on my level, I’m still laughing and crying at just about everything life has to offer. Because life is absurd. Because change and loss are absurd, and some moments have the potential to crack us up. I’ve come to expect such moments in the fall. Autumn has always ushered in the big changes.

Two Octobers ago, on Cassie’s birthday, we attended a festival on Baltimore’s waterfront. While the Ravens played football on a large outdoor projection screen, we made our way from stand to stand with tiny thimble-sized plastic mugs, sampling local brews and enjoying the unseasonably mild weather. The wind was brisk that day, and the sun cut a low angle over the water. The air felt good and crisp.

I missed the first couple of phone calls telling me that my father had had a heart attack. The drive to the hospital was a blur. Later, as he underwent preparation for surgery, I stood outside the emergency room’s glass doors and stared up at the tall bricked smokestack that stood next to the parking lot. I was just trying to keep my emotions in check, to keep them from overwhelming rational thought and crippling my ability to deal with this situation reasonably. I focused on that smokestack, and I remember it clearly: the last of the sunlight was sharp against the red bricks, creating long individual shadows for each one. The red of the bricks was striking, and it stood out against the blue sky. I stared at it for what seemed like a very long time and kind of got lost. The wind was blowing the yellow leaves across the parking lot, and I realized – fall is here. It was terrible.

In the distance I could hear the music of a marching band on a nearby college campus. They were practicing their drills. My father has always been a trumpet player, and hearing that music reminded me of how when I was younger I had often been able to hear the local high school marching band playing two miles away from our house. My dad had pointed that out to me, and I had been surprised by how far music could travel.

The waiting was very difficult, but finally, before his big moment, I was able to see him again. The doctor came in to explain things. His hands were smooth and shiny like the hands of a much younger man, but they seemed capable, and he seemed confident. Not that we had any choice. My dad’s life was now being placed in these hands. The doctor told my dad that if he had not exercised as often as he had, then the heart attack may have happened in his thirties rather than his sixties. He looked at me when he made this point. I laughed. Then I looked down at the floor and studied the tile.

It’s hard to accept the fact that we can’t necessarily maintain the same lifestyles we grew accustomed to when we were younger.  Some of the most challenging moments come when faced with potential change and loss, but also when having to meet the demands of a shifting biology and culture, a continuous unfolding of conflict and resolution on which we have little influence. The result is tension, growth if you’re lucky. A good laugh maybe.

The three stents the doctor placed in my dad’s arteries should last another twenty years, but the act of saying goodbye hasn’t gotten any easier, and I doubt that it ever will. Without change and loss, life would probably be uninteresting. Some people are inclined to look for meaning in these sorts of experiences – as if something should be gained, some significance gleaned, a mystery solved, but I have to embrace the absurd because maybe there’s nothing to learn besides the obvious: life is short.

When you’re truly listening, music can seem to last forever, but really, the sound only goes on for a little while before dissipating in the air, and the band goes marching down the street. Still, I’ve always loved the sound of brass in the distance. I feel drawn to it. I want to find out where that sound is coming from and join the parade. Because life is like a procession of happy-sad drinking songs, and loss is just the price of admission.

Final_MusicZeitgeistPicJohn Mancini has published his thoughts on other sites almost as cool as this one but currently spends most of his time putting those thoughts to music. He will release his fourth album of new songs this spring. Follow his music updates on Facebook.