Enthusiasm, Nostalgia, and The Bangles
**I’m reposting this, because although I took it down for feeling like it was too personal, I loved Kim’s post on a similar subject earlier this week**
I haven’t posted anything here for awhile. March was a bad month, and it had the effect of generating some new directions for me, and of inspiring this post.
As far as middle-class, white, Canadian lives go, yes, my month was bad, but I say that with as much awareness of the potential alternatives as I am able to conjure up. Anyone who reads this doesn’t care about the details, but I’ll at least summarize before I go on to my other points, for some context: I did virtually nothing but work and get sick and sleep (where I could fit it in); I barely held on to my personal/family relationships (see work responsibilities, above); and, among other issues too private to put online, perhaps most significantly, a project that I’ve put eight months of hope and work into died a slow, quiet death. The reason it now has closure is because I forced myself to drop it, as it was contingent on people and things beyond my control and I had to stop thinking about it.
I’m not an idiot (well, ok, I am), so I’m aware that none of these things (and certainly not the way I describe them) are deserving of sympathy. I bring them up because in the bleak, never ending month that is March, I not only reached an emotional low, but any sense of creativity I had vanished. Despite the fact that I work in music, the music aspect of it did nothing for me. Music became a cause of my stress, rather than a reliever of it. I turned in many directions, not knowing what step to take next.
I know you’re now wondering what on earth this post has to do with The Bangles. I’ll get to that.
Anyway, then, several things happened: 1) I took time off on Friday, a whole 26 hours or so, and started to feel human again.
2) On Monday morning, I loaded The Bangles Greatest Hits and some other albums onto my mp3 player and left for work with “Eternal Flame” and, yes, “Manic Monday” in my ears.
More importantly, 3) I held two classes on Monday, and as I do at the end of every semester, I had students sign up to perform for their peers. I work in a subsection of a philosophy department at a university that doesn’t have a music degree, so we don’t have students studying music full-time. Every year, I’m shocked at the talent that I find hiding in my students who are studying nursing, engineering, or journalism.
On Monday, what I always hope for in a performance class actually happened. The volunteers got up one by one and played and sang: classical, jazz, show tunes, punk, singer-songwriter. And then the other students got into it, started borrowing guitars and going up to play, even though they hadn’t planned on it. Then the first students came back to play more. Everyone in the audience clapped, asked them questions, cheered when they recognized songs. It was nice to see, after a long time of feeling annoyed at the music industry and the people in it. Excuse my momentary sappiness, but it’s a lovely thing to witness young, cheerful, uninhibited music making.
When I started up the mp3 player again, “In Your Room” was on. I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard this song for 20 years, but I knew all the words. I’m also pretty sure I had no clue what it was about when I first learned those words. I probably thought it was about best friends as I rollerskated around my best friend’s basement while it played on her jukebox (she was lucky).
After that song, and when it flipped back to “Eternal Flame” (which I also know all the words to), I started feeling enthusiastic about music again. I haven’t for a long time, thanks to listening ruts and my player functioning more like a block against other people’s conversations on the subway than as a stereo. One of the first cassette tapes I ever got as a kid was called Lady Power, a collection of songs by (then) contemporary female artists. The Bangles were on there and I listened to “Eternal Flame” constantly, rewinding it again and again on my walkman; practicing singing along in my room. That song, more than anything, taught me what a good melody is.
I didn’t care about the words, what mattered to me was whether I could imitate Susanna Hoffs’s voice, or if I could add some harmonies to her melody. I loved the way the melody wasn’t entirely predictable – would she go up or down at the end of the phrase? – and that the final notes were tough to reach, but satisfying if you could.
It’s easy to get caught up in nostalgia for your childhood and construct an idea of what you like from what most remains in your memory. For the longest time, I thought I was made up of equal parts Rick Astley, Richard Marx, Cyndi Lauper, and Corey Hart, completely forgetting how much The Bangles were a central part of my soundtrack. I may have liked other artists, but I think I really learned what made music interesting and fun from The Bangles.
I guess there’s been some controversy recently over this year’s inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Guns n’Roses, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Beastie Boys were all chosen over solid female contenders like Joan Jett, Heart, and Donna Summer. Although Laura Nyro was chosen, why were these other women ignored? Worse, why is it that we’re still having this conversation about “women” vs. “normal” musicians?
The thing is, I never thought much about women occupying a different place in the music business because I grew up seeing girls like The Bangles rocking it out like it was no big deal. I mean, listen to the riff at the beginning of “Hazy Shade of Winter” or to any of their songs for Debbi Peterson’s kick-ass drumming that can fill the whole track. But there was a time when that serious female rock playing wasn’t the norm, and apparently now, we’re still living out the after effects of a perspective that doesn’t align musicians like these women with the canon of rock.
I’m not saying that the Hall of Fame is the best marker of what we should believe is “good music” (but still, it is a hall of fame), and I’m straying from my point, if I do indeed have one here. I think I ended up on this weird two-day journey that reignited my enthusiasm for good music, and that enthusiasm came from unexpected sources.
And so, I’m walking away from my disappointing project, realizing that I was probably seeing it more as a source of income than as something that really held my attention, and I’m moving on to things that truly get me excited. I don’t expect anyone out there cares about my decision, but may I put it to you to do the same? Whether you’re revisiting The Bangles or listening to your kids play tunes, or taking an hour to do something you like instead of something you’re obligated to do, I mean, it’s spring after all.
Maybe, finally, my hazy shade of winter is disappearing. (I know, come on, but I had to finish with it, didn’t I?)