Mr. Lenz Says You Might As Well Jump

We had a teacher at our high school who used to blast music from his classroom so loud that the entire quad could hear it. The bell would ring, you would shuffle from your Pre-Calculus class to World History, belly rumbling from that teenage hunger that never seemed to be satiated, mind racing with spaced out hormonal rage and lust, back hunched from $500 worth of hard bound books. Angry. Tired. Confused. And then you would hear the opening riff to “Jump” and you would smile. 

"WTF? Who is playing Van Halen at 10 AM at a public high school?"  

Or later, after you met the man, the myth, the legend that is Mr. Lenz, you’d think, “Mr. Lenz is insane.” 

And he is. He governed the class by giving out millions of points (like, you would take a test in his class and it would be worth 10 million points, or if you were 5 minutes late he would charge you 2 millions points). And the “Bell Work” (the short piece of work you do right when the bell rings) would be to write down all the lyrics to The Doors or The Beatles or some other song as it played. What a way to start a class! 

He loved music, and even taught a music appreciation class (that I took), and he played us many, many songs in class. But between classes, when he pumped up the volume and turned the knob to 11, he only played two songs: 

"Jump" and "Panama" by Van Halen, both songs on the seminal 1984 album that turns 30 today. He played them with bravado and chutzpah, rebelling both against the kids who thought Van Halen was music your dad listened to, and the administration who disagreed with his party animal antics (he would later be relegated by his puritanical academic foes to a portable classroom on the edge of the campus, playing Van Halen tunes mainly only heard by the nearby Frisbee Golf course, a more appropriate audience I suppose, consisting of middle aged men drinking 12 packs in the middle of a weekday while shooting discs into baskets). I was disappointed when he went to the outskirts of Del Campo High School, but he wasn’t. It’s hard to be disappointed when you have a daily dose of David Lee.

I often wondered why he only played those songs only between classes. Clearly he liked a lot of other stuff, but I think maybe to him, they are the only songs that matter. And maybe they really are?  

That’s my 1984 story. This guy from the Village Voice’s write up is even better:

225 Thousand Hours

Too $hort’s insistence on telling us on every song exactly how many albums, songs and raps he has made may be the most consistent musical leitmotif of our generation. Rarely do artists keep such diligent track of their time and careers - and share those numbers - so religiously. Talk about running one’s career like a business: this is one data driven dude. He’s like the fucking Count von Count of rap. 

(Side note: Is anyone fact checking these numbers?)

We’ve grown up knowing exactly what album he’s on. One of the most popular from when we were teenagers is actually titled “Gettin It (Album Number 10).” As of a few years ago, as noted in “Blow the Whi$stle” (his usage of $ instead of S is also consistent, though one could argue it’s kinda rippin off Prince), he was on 16 albums and I think that came out in like 2006? So is he up to 20 yet? I hope not - there needs to be a big party or something. 

The popularity of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, and it’s assertion that you need 10,000 hours of doing something to be a master at it, has been used a lot recently to discuss all kinds of things. I feel like Gladwell missed a real opportunity to talk about Too $hort’s career. According to him, he’s rapped “225 thousand hours / Get it calculated do the math,” and he “made 1,000 songs that made you move your ass.” (Thank you, BTW).

Interesting, I wonder how many months that took to accomplish?

Oh shit, he’ll tell us! “And for the last 300 months / I made 16 albums with me on the front and they bump.”

Next time someone asks me what my goals in life are, I’m going to say “To live long enough to hear Too $hort say on Album 30 that he’s on his millionth beeeyatch.”

Miso Lady

My sister Rosemary is only a year younger than me, so there were only 4 years when we weren’t in school together: when I was in Kindegarten and she was too little for school, when I was in Middle School at Barrett and she was still in elementary, when I was a Freshman and she was still at Barrett, and when she was a Senior and I was gone.

I would like to tell you a story about a mysterious activity my sister was partaking in during one of those years - 1994 - the year of Kurt Cobain’s death, the Nancy Kerrigan / Tanya Harding showdown, and the white Bronco chase. 

I was all alone without my Rosie child for really the first time in Middle School, and it was kind of scary so I started wearing a lot of black eyeliner, sagging my pants and basically became a 12-year old gangster (that’s a whole nother story).

But more than anything, I was worried about Rose. What was it like for her, riding her bike alone to 6th grade without me? Was she scared? Lonely?

It turns out she was doing just fine, carving out her own little adventures. 

See, my school got out at 2:10, and her’s at 3:15, so what I perceived as lonely time, Rose had grasped as newfound freedom. She had no big sister telling her what to do and where to go. She had a bicycle and independence. I didn’t know where she went after school, but she normally spent an hour or so outside of the house before getting home. I thought nothing of it.

One Saturday we are out and about with our mom, and mom decides to get some teriyaki bowls at this “new Japanese place on the corner.” I am game, but tall, skinny little freckle-faced Rose is squirming in the backseat saying she doesn’t want to eat there, and not giving a particularly good reason.

My mom has never been one to give in to the poorly outlined arguments of a child, so we mosey in, Rose behind us kind of hanging her head.

The kind Japanese woman behind the counter curiously starts smiling, trying to get a look at my sister’s hidden face, and says, “Is that you???? Miso lady?!?!”

My mom looks back at her 11 year old daughter, and then the Japanese lady (who’s name turned out to be Jenny), bewildered and potentially a bit accusatory like, “Why the hell is this stranger calling you by a special name?”

Turns out, Rose had been hoarding my mom’s change and going for hot miso everyday after school. While I was listening to Bone Thugs N Harmony in my room ordering BMG CDs that I am still unsure if I ever paid for, Rose was making friends with Jenny and sipping soup. Which was a strange thing for an 11-year old to do, though clearly the proprietor thought it was cute, hence her moniker of “Miso Lady.”

I had miso alone today, and no one knew where I was. I thought of this story and giggled. Rose, and her clandestine miso soup. I get it, Rose. I get it.

Car Chase

Children love finding things. It’s why they play hide-and-seek, why we set up Easter Egg hunts, why kids are so useful and enthusiastic to help mommy find her keys, and why this new Christmas tradition Elf on the Shelf is so popular.

Maybe it’s because everyday of a child’s life is already filled with finding things, because so many thing are still so new. These games just allow them a chance to involve their adult overlords in the games they’re already playing? Wonder and amazement are kind of existential hide-and-seek, right? New shit - things, ideas, people - are out there in the world hiding, and everyday kids get to seek it.

At a certain point, finding things becomes the opposite of fun. It’s a fucking chore, and we avoid misplacing things because it is so irritating having to look for things. 

Since I moved to my new place in SF (where unlike my old pad in Noe Valley, I don’t have a garage) I have to move my car pretty much everyday. I have a system that I won’t bore you with, but it is complex and involves my car being parked - at any one given time - up to a mile from my house. 

Maybe I am fucking insane, but it has become my favorite part of my day. 

In the morning, after getting ready and gathering my belongings, the quest begins. 

"Where is my car?" (…Dude?). Is it parked illegally, and if so, are we talkin’ "tow away zone" illegally, or "you’re gonna get a ticket for sure" illegally, or "roll the dice, meter maid doesn’t really patrol" illegally. These questions determine how early the car needs to get moved, if at all.

Then I move it somewhere it can sit all day while I am in Mountain View. I try to park it near the shuttle I take to work, most days around Alamo Square park. I have to watch out for furtive red zones, temporary construction zones, quarter-fed meters, hidden bus stops, tiny little driveways and street sweeping days.

Even when I am sure I am parked legally, I am never 100%. So, when I get home from work, I get to play my adult hide-and-seek again. But with the new excitement of just seeing if the car is still even there! Because if you’ve ever had your car towed by the man, you know the feeling of seeing what was once there, now vanished. It makes your gut sink the way Sally Field’s must have in Not Without My Daughter when she realizes her child has been kidnapped to the Middle East. 

Joy and glee fill my heart once a day when I see my ‘94 Subaru in all her glory awaiting me where I left her. I am proud of myself the way a child is when they find the Elf on the Shelf in the morning, and not even for a split second am I worrying about the next days new quest. Maybe having some mundane hide-n-seek game that has a $600 fee for losing allows me to be in the moment better somehow? All my cares and worries are wiped away nightly when I realize my car didn’t get towed?

Who knows, whatever gets you through the night, I guess. And in my case it’s San Francisco Municipal Transportation District! Thanks for the zen, dudes!

Could you be? The Most Beautiful Girl in the World?

I have been thinking about 1995 a lot, and today I had a pretty funny thought about how Prince changed his name to a symbol and put out that song “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” but I was only 12 or 13 and I didn’t really know who Prince was, so the song, name change and his whole look was SO weird to me at the time because I had literally no context for it. It’s like if someone showed you an episode of Dr. Who midseason without any understanding of British history, the history of the show or Sci-Fi. 

I realized today that it’s actually a great song, in the sexy way that a lot of Prince songs are. He actually understands what women want to hear. So, I was getting ready to just listen to the entire album and really get deep on it, when I realized that it is literally inaccessable on the internet.

If you love Prince, you probably already know that his people at UMPG Publishing are the most diligent YouTube screeners on the planet. The average lifespan of a illegally uploaded Prince video is like 2 hours. Also, the album (The Gold Experience) is not on Spotify. So, like any good musical citizen, I approached iTunes and was ready to pony up and just buy the damn thing (especially after last week’s big internet to-do over 21 year old NPR All Songs Considered intern Emily White’s admission that she has never bought any music). But iTunes doesn’t have it. So I think I may go to Amoeba for the second time in a week and buy it in the only format other than digital that I currently have an appliance to play it on: a cassette tape.

Wish me luck.

Happy Birthday, Baby Sister.

What they don’t tell you about the children you help rear is that very early into their adulthood they will inspire you in profound ways that make you realize that not only is the adult/child paradigm whisked out of that relationship, but perhaps that was always a much too simple way of viewing the relationship in the first place.

My youngest sister turns 19 today. For many years she has sat beside me in the passenger seat of my car and listened to me as I pontificated and lectured and waxed poetic, sometimes obnoxiously and always well intentioned, trying to siphon every last ounce of knowledge and wisdom I have received or developed from my head and heart into her fertile young mind. Music, boys, politics, sports, reality TV, philosophy, car repair, family dynamics, the internet: no question has ever been off topic, and I have never lied to her, even when she was a little girl and the questions were a bit risque (getting to keep it real is one the joys of getting to be a older sister and not a parent, I suppose).

Something changed this year. She moved to San Francisco to go to SFSU, and when she sits next to me she gets the mic and a lot of air time. And I am floored by her thoughts, her perspective, and most inspiringly, her braveness about entering the world. I am 30, and I have NEVER walked into new adventures and places with the same levelheaded confidence that this girl does. She is absolutely fearless, without even trying. I find myself regularly channeling her courage when feeling doubt.

I expect to see you running the world in 10 years, Aymie Donovan. Though if you change your mind along the way, I’m on board for whatever - just keep being strong and good things will continue to follow. I love you very, very much, lil’ Doodle. Happy Birthday, beautiful baby.

70’s at 7

Driving up from the Peninsula last night, despite being stuck in the fifth circle of hell we call Highway 101 traffic, I was as carefree as Chrissy Snow posted up at the Regal Beagle thanks to the 103.7 FM program “70’s at 7.”

I will say, all decades have some goofy ass music, but the seventies are certainly shooting high for the top spot. They played Mac Davis, “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” which may be the prettiest diss song ever, and is so mired in it’s time! This song has to be on the short list of things that inspired Ron Burgundy from Anchorman’s character. The only people these days who make the “Don’t fall in love with me, I’m only in it for the sex” songs anymore are rappers! I can actually imagine Mac with his bad ass mustache and denim shirt saying “Girl you’re gettin’ that look in your eyes, and it’s starting to worry me. I ain’t ready for no family ties, nobody’s gonna hurry me,” and then later in the chorus just straight up admitting “I’ll only use you”!!! This guy is such a pimp! 

They also played the fairly terrible “Lonely Boy” by Andrew Gold and “Don’t Give Up on Us Baby” by David Soul, which is such sacharine sweet desperate crooning that one could argue it is the polar opposite of Mac Davis’ tune. But I guess when it’s 1977 and you are David Soul, riding high as Hutch in Starksky and Hutch, the panties were dropping without you even trying so you could sing as silly a love song as you wanted and you could “still come through.” Hutch’s sweet ass mustache is also worth noting here. 

Then they played “Midnight at the Oasis,” which really snapped me out of my ecstatic seventies fugue state. Even as someone who tries pretty hard to appreciate the mediocre and goofy, this song is awful. 

So just as I am starting to reflect on how bad so much seventies music is, Fleetwood Mac “Dreams” comes on - and within the first 10 seconds it just sounds just so much better, different and more relevant than everything else that had been on the program (even the less goofy stuff like “Sweet Emotion”). That perfect greasy drum fill in front of a smooth sexy bass line, Lindsey’s plaintive slide guitar and Stevie’s opening little kitten purr whisper come in. Despite having heard that song since I was 5 years old sitting in my mom’s car, it still gave me a little chill.

You Might Just Make it After All

Just booked my flight from SFO to SYD. I fly in to Sydney at 6:45 AM on a Sunday morning in late June and will be living there for 3 months. I imagine myself walking out of the airport with the sun coming up - my first sunrise south of the equator - utterly alone, far from all I know, with something perfect and peaceful and driving with a little edge playing in my ear buds…maybe “Soul Love” off Ziggy Stardust. I will be investing in some far more cosmopolitan, large sunglasses and may don a floppy hat since there is so much less ozone down under, plus I will need a hat as swollen as my heart will be at that moment. My mom calls these my Mary Tyler Moore moments, where I need a hat to throw into the sky in a joyful declaration of female independence like Mary does during the opening credits. As a lover of people and culture who has managed to allude international travel for 30 years, I am basking in the possibilities for what 3 months abroad will do for my quotidian, and hoping that seeing a little bit of new dirt will help permanently plaster a smile as big as Mary’s on my face.

For Joe, Forever Ago

In the summer of 1996 I was lounging at home idling the summer hours away on the couch, eating Bagel Bites and Mexican Pizzas, drinking full flavored Coke, dusting my face with Cover Girl Clean compact powder (you know, the one with the Mint Green case), spraying myself with Bath and Body Works Freesia Body Spray, watching “You’re Making Me High,” “Wannabe” and Tha Crossroads” (see Blog Post #1) as I flipped between MTV and VH1. The days never seemed to end, and who cared if they did, I was headed into High School and things were about to get even better.

I fell in love that summer; Cyber love. I had an internet boyfriend - Joe. He lived in New Jersey, worked at Sears, loved Gangster movies. We met playing music trivia in some AOL game room. Years later I would confess my digital tryst to my sister, explaining that our love was the reason I was so edgy and weird when she would hover near the computer.

He never saw me in person or on web cam. Though the internet at that point was advanced enough to enable Music Trivia games and chat rooms (A/S/L, anyone?), it was not prepared for video conferencing or media sharing, and certainly had not even begun to envision Social. Netscape reigned supreme, and the only thing keeping me from my love was 3,000 miles or if my dad needed to use the phone.

He saw me in one picture. I rode my bike to Kinko’s and paid what seemed to be a lot of money at the time to have a picture of me in a gold dress from a Jr. High School dance scanned and put on a disc.

I tell you these things for no reason other than nostalgia. Ironically, I was never able to track him down in any social media venue. It was truly a Web 1.0 love story.

Things that seem like alcohol was involved during their inception #1: “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” duet

An anomaly of a song - one of the stranger (no pun intended) duets of all time.

The song doesn’t even sound that good - but what we are hearing is a meeting of the playboy mind: the cowboy and the Latin lover. That is really all these two have in common. Perpetual bachelors, in the end even singing “To all the girls WE have loved before.” As if they are a partnership. (Tag Team? Train?)

Best line: “To all the girls who shared my life /Who now are someone else’s wives.” No sadness or melancholy over it. They were around for a minute, they could have been my wife, but they arn’t.