Tag Archive | music

If Loving Willie Nelson Makes Me a Redneck, Then Pass The Canned Meat

Willie Nelson photographed for Rolling Stone, in his main building ... I think they call it the saloon, outside of Austin TX on November 4, 2013 Display or On Page credit: Photograph by LeAnn Mueller CAPITAL 'A' in LeAnn

Willie Nelson photographed for Rolling Stone, in his main building … I think they call it the saloon, outside of Austin TX on November 4, 2013
Display or On Page credit: Photograph by LeAnn Mueller
CAPITAL ‘A’ in LeAnn

Last month I was at a swanky luncheon for a birthday party.  Never very good at small talk, I leaned over to a virtual stranger and posed this question: “Does having an obsession with Willie Nelson make me white trash?”  To her credit, she blinked only once and gave me an emphatic, ” ‘Fraid so.” She wasn’t kidding.  She’s also ten years my junior and a thousand times hipper (like I’m pretty sure she doesn’t drive a mini-van or turn in at 9:30 at night), so I know she was telling the truth.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  My friend Robert has been referring for years to the “redneck Willie Nelson thing” I do.

At summer camp one year we had a white trash day (is that racist? tasteless?) and I remember lots of jokes about canned meat, like Vienna sausages, and marrying family members with no teeth.  If that’s what people think of when they think of Willie and his music, well, I can’t stop ’em.

But let me say this:

It’s not easy being a fan of an 82-year-old country music legend.

First, people assume I like country music.  For the record, I hate country music.  Hate. It.  I’m serious.  As a genre it ranks just after Gregorian chant and only slightly above Yo Gabba Gabba.  I really only like Willie.  I can tolerate Johnny Cash.  Waylon Jennings is alright.  I enjoy Kris Kristofferson, but he’s a Rhodes scholar who studied literature at Oxford, and he has a gorgeous head of hair to boot.  There’s nothing trash about that.

But contemporary country.  Yuck.  I have no opinion on Miranda Lambert and that tall guy she’s married to.  Or Eric Church.  I’ll cop to a soft spot for all Texas-born musicians, which is roughly 4/5 of them, but I don’t want to listen to them.  I will also declare my undying devotion to Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, but they’re not country. They’re “singer songwriters.”

Wait. I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, I’m a Dolly Parton fan, but that’s technically blue grass, so fuck off.

My point is that 99% of country music can go have a cocktail with Bill Cosby for all I care.

Second, and way worse than being mistaken for a country music fan (*shudder*), is that octogenarians who tour sometimes have to cancel their shows.  Like last Friday, when Willie’s undisclosed health issue forced him to cancel a show in Hammon, Indiana.  I had second row (center) seats for that show at the Horseshoe Casino.  (Classy, thy name is Christie.)

I got the email about the cancellation in the middle of the work day.  I pounded on my desk so hard and let out a barbaric yawp so loud and pathetic that my next-door neighbor coworker ran into my office to check on me.

It’s pretty amazing to tell someone who thinks you just erased a day’s worth of work or blew a court-ordered deadline that, no, you’re just having a conniption fit because Willie Nelson canceled his show. (God, just writing that sentence makes me well up.)

“Hi, coworker who is still trying to decide if I’m cool, don’t mind me having a complete episode of decompensation over the status of Willie Nelson’s health.  Move along.”

I moped around all night, then crawled into bed to read his just-released memoir It’s A Long Story.  I find comfort where I can get it.

There is hope: the show’s been rescheduled to September.  I’m saying the rosary every night that Willie is healthy and strong enough to play that night.   In the meantime, I’m picking up the pieces and moving on the best I can, but not eating potted meats or listening to twangy, Nashville country “music.”



Forget the First Tooth: These Are the New Milestones


As a parent, I love milestones.  First tooth.  First steps.  First day without diapers.  Marking those life moments is just part of what parents do.  Isn’t that what those baby books are all about?

Here’s my question: why do the big milestones stop after the first year? Have you ever tried to find a commemorative book to celebrate the major life moments after the first year?  Sure, it’s fun when your baby stops doing that awkward army crawl thing to actually take a few steps, but what about that moment when your kid learns a word you don’t know? Or when you understand that your kid has more social skills than you’ll ever have?

I live for those moments, and even if the makers of baby books don’t memorialize them, I’ma celebrate them here.  (Confidential to Hallmark: Call me. Let’s work up a business plan for baby books for toddlers and school-aged kids.)

Here are my top 5 milestones that no one else has ever mentioned:

  1. Siblings playing together.  The date was June 8, 2013.  The sun was gleaming through our kitchen window highlighting the crumbs on the floor, and Sadie and Simon started playing some game involving an empty water bottle, a skillet, and a Big Bird “action” figure.  I watched the clock — 5 and then 10 and then 15 minutes went by and they were still playing in their own little world.  They didn’t involve me or ask me to referee any squabbles. It’s as if I wasn’t there, and it was total bliss– like zero calorie free range chocolate covered Doritos bliss.  It lasted for 37 minutes.  To celebrate, I chopped an onion uninterrupted and then went pee pee solo.  It was a perfect milestone.
  2. First joke.  Any of us could be raising the next Seinfeld (without the horrible taste in clothes; see black jeans and white sneakers), so why not celebrate what might be the birth of your child’s comedic genius?  This milestone was one of my favorite: Sadie made a joke, and she knew it. And it was actually funny.  It was more shocking than that day I looked at her little belly and saw that her umbilical cord had fallen off.  The joke? I can’t remember, but trust me, she’s the next Tina Fey.
  3. Sartorial mastery.  What about the day your daughter learns that wearing a skirt with a dress is not the best use of clothing?  What about the day she looks at you and says, “Maybe I won’t change my clothes seven times before dinner? Maybe just three times.”  What about the first time your son lets you dress him in any old shirt and doesn’t clamor for something with Spiderman on it?  There are so many milestones around clothing that I need a whole separate book for this category.  But my all-time favorite milestone around clothing was when Sadie recognized Ann Taylor Loft from the highway.
  4. Music to my ears. I’ll admit it, I cried real tears during these two special moments.  In the span of one week, both of my kids hit musical milestones that are still hard to talk about without choking up.  On Monday, October 7, 2012 Sadie yelled, “I see Willie Nelson!” as we drove by a bus stop.  Was it really the Red Headed Stranger from Abbott, Texas? No, but it was his doppelgänger– a man with two gray braids and a red bandana was waiting for the bus.  It’s super hard not to brag about this.  Then, three days later, we were listening to my new Johnny Cash-Willie Nelson album and Simon proved he knew the difference between Johnny and Willie.  He summed up his opinion thusly: “Johnny is boring. I only like Willie.”  I pulled the car over and gave him a hug and a lollipop.
  5. Gratitude: Lots of parents, including myself, chafe at the lack of gratitude for the hours we put in to the hard work of raising kids.  Sure, I’ve taught my kids to say “please” and “thank you,” and roughly 15% of the time they actually do, but the evening that Sadie sat down at the dinner table and said, “Mom, thank you for this delicious dinner,” I almost fainted in my nachos.  I mean, you hope you raise a child that understands the value of a dinner consisting of grated cheese over tortilla chips, but it may take years to know if you have.  Again, I hate to brag, but I’m totally raising a little foodie who is not afraid to express praise and gratitude for my hard work (I mean, that cheese doesn’t melt itself and those chips don’t magically appear in a beautiful pinwheel pattern on a microwave-safe plate.)

What milestones are you celebrating?

Work it, Girl

Because I love you, I collected some of my favorite posts about work I read this week.  These ladies each articulate something hilarious, heartbreaking, and ultimately powerful about work.  I am inspired by their stories as I work my way through my own.  I am also thinking of all the songs I know about work– 9 to 5, Take This Job and Shove It, Woman’s Work (sniff, sniff), I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.  How come songs about work aren’t happier?  Notwithstanding, of course, the dwarves’ classic Whistle While You Work, which I actually do, even though a co-worker somewhat subtly suggested I STOP WHISTLING BECAUSE IT’S ANNOYING.


Image credit: milana.com

Image credit: milana.com

What’s your favorite work ditty?  Let’s make a mix.

And don’t forget to read this great posts that examine a slice of working life!

How about a job delivering phone books? Read here.

Ever bribed your kids so you could attend a conference call on a Sunday night?  Read here.

Do you remember the day your career really started?  Read here.

Making The Perfect Running Mix

The first rule to Making the Perfect Running mix: you do not talk about Making The Perfect Running Mix.

The second rule of Making the Perfect Running Mix: don’t quote stupid fucking movies– just make a mix.

For you young readers, this is what  a tape looks like.

For you young readers, this is what a tape looks like.

(Yes, we all know that’s it’s really a “playlist” in popular parlance, but I won’t be hamstrung by your politically correct nomenclature. It’s a mix and it always will be.)

I’ve given this subject a lot of thought this summer because over 75% of my runs have sucked so bad I almost took up Zumba.   I blamed the weather.  Then it cooled off, so I blamed my uterine lining.  Other culprits: gas, grief, El Nino, Congress, imaginary cancers eating my  muscles, early on-set Ebola virus.

Then it hit me.  My music sucked.  I was running to the same playlist (composed in August 2012) every single time, which might work for individuals who more highly prize routines and predictability, but it was not working for me.

Of course you have to update your music– just like you’re supposed to retire your shoes after 500 miles (which may be a conspiracy on the part of shoe makers to get us to buy more).  If you’ve listened to Fun. for over 300 miles, it’s time to visit your local iTunes account and make yourself some new magic.

I spruced up my music and now I’m running better.  Faster.  Longer. No more daydreaming about how I probably have a rare strain of chronic functional abdominal pain or an undiagnosed tumor that manifests as a side stitch and a bad attitude.  Now, I’m running like the goddamned wind.

So to anyone suffering from shitty music syndrome, here’s some tips for Making the Perfect Running Mix.

  1. Don’t Try To Be Cool.  Look, it’s your playlist. It’s private, like your sex log or your scab collection.  No one’s gonna see it so don’t include music you think will impress others.
  2. Sentimental favorites.  You loved the Wham Rap? Milli Vanilli? Carly Simon?  Old school MJ? Put it in there, because the combination of nostalgia and endorphins will get your higher than a funny mushroom you can buy from that greasy guy who lives behind your cousin’s garage.  Tony Bennett reminds you of your parents slow dancing in the living room? RuPaul reminds you of losing your virginity on Shenandoah Lane in Highland Park? What are you waiting for? Put it on there because you may need it at mile 3 when your fatigue hits.
  3. Rebellious Anthems.  Let’s see: Maybe you teach feminist theory at the local college, but you love Blurred Lines, even though it suggests that (1) good girls don’t like sex and (2) that “girls” are animals that need to be domesticated.  Or maybe you are an officer of the law but you love cop killer gangsta rap.  Maybe you are a homophobic right-wing preacher but you love Cher in that forbidden fruit kind of way.  PUT THOSE SONGS ON YOUR MIX.  The thrill of rebelling against who the world thinks you are as you run with the music piped into your ears will help you cover many a mile.
  4. Cheese Out.  When all else fails, add in some Chariots of Fire or that Natalie Merchant song where she’s all “thank you, thank you” for being Kind and Generous.  Maybe some Whitney singing about the children or Elton John singing to the gone-too-soon Princess Diana.  You’ll be surprised how a little schmaltz will send you flying to the finish line.

Looking For Inspiration For Your Novel? Make a Mix Tape For Your Characters

I’ve been feeling stuck in the revisions of my novel. The second half of the book feels shallow, partly because I’ve been too scared to go all the way to my core to bring out the story that’s buried there.  It’s like a fossil that’s only partially revealed.

Image Credit

If I slow down, maybe I can get the whole thing out.Image Credit

There’s one scene that has me particularly stuck.  I tried coming at it from several angles: her point of view, his point of view, with a kiss, without a kiss.  Each version felt mostly true but something was missing. Soul. Passion. Depth. Gravitas. Mess.  I’ve been trying to keep the mess off the page, even though real life is messy and love certainly is one of the messiest ventures I’ve ever undertaken.

I decided to put aside the question of whether I have the chops to pull this off– that whole line of inquiry has been tabled.  Maybe (hopefully?) forever.

But the question that has consumed me was what did I need to go deeper?

Alas, there were two things that brought me closer to the bone. One of them involves a therapy session which will be the subject of another post when I have the guts to tell you about.  In the meantime, let’s talk about the other road to depth.

I made a mix tape.  For my characters. It’s the soundtrack of my book. I tried to find help in those plot books, but they scared me so badly I never cracked them open. Ever.

But music?  Music hits me on a cellular level– hell, way down into my double helix.  Maybe I just needed another art form to help me access something for my book. Nothing whips me to butter like a great song.

Now when I write, I play the songs that evokes the emotion for that moment. Over and over.

Since it’s a love story, it’s not hard to find songs for the trajectory of the story.  Extra bonus: if it ever becomes a major motion picture, I’ve got the soundtrack already worked out.

Here’s the playlist–

Dogs in the Yard, Fame Soundtrack

Something in the Way She Moves, James Taylor

Then Came Lo Mein, Robert Earl Keen & Margo Timmins

You’re Still Standing There, Lucinda Williams & Steve Earle

Bullet & A Target, Citizen Cope

Missing you, Chicago

Anything Could Happen, Elllie Goulding

Sleeping To Dream, Jason Mraz

Bleed to Love Her, Fleetwood Mac

Both Hands, Ani DiFranco

Selfless, Cold, & Composed, Ben Folds Five

Til It Shines, Keb Mo & Lyle Lovett

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack

Now, I crank up the tunes, get into my guts and out of my chattery, obstructionist brain, and I let it rip.

Something tells me that if I am willing to slow down and let the excavation take place– shovel full by shovel full– I may end up with a story that I love and will stand behind no matter what happens.

Inspiration. I’ll take it wherever it comes and today it comes via earbud and iPod.

When I’m Alone With My Thoughts, Crazy Happens

Something so awful happened to me yesterday. I can hardly talk about it. But I can definitely blog about it.

I was all set for my run home from work. I was pumped– I had my best sports bra on, I’d hydrated all afternoon and my shoes were laced up.  The spring evening beckoned me.  This is gonna best run in the history of recreational running.

I flicked off the light and grabbed my phone and queued up my best playlist.  My stride was loose and confident.  I dodged the commuters taking the train (lazy asses) and made my way to Milwaukee Avenue.


Oh, sweet tea on a window sill, y’all, my battery went dead. D-E-A-D.  I had the phone by the charger for the previous 9 hours, but didn’t take that final– and crucial– step of plugging it in.

You know what that means? I was alone with my thoughts for the rest of the run.  37 minutes of “me” time totally fucked up by the stream of chatter in my head.

I stopped at a red light.  I said to myself, “Christie Prefontaine, You’ve gotta get a grip.  You can’t be alone with your thoughts or the sound of your thighs rubbing together during the rest of this run.  Think of something else.  Invent something. Cure something. Draft a constitution for a small island nation. GIVE YOUR BRAIN AN ASSIGNMENT.”

When I get all yell-y like that I tend to do what that voice is saying.  I pouted for a few more blocks and considered stealing this short woman’s iPhone as she plodded along in front of me.

Then, it hit me.  I would think of ways to make some money.

Here’s my best idea:  I rent Oprah’s old studio and host a talk show.  My style would be something like Gordon Ramsey meets Suze Orman.  Confrontational. No nonsense. Savvy.  Other than having to get a shorter, blonder hair style, it’s pretty much just me.

My first guests would be Adele and Governor Chris Christie.  I’d be en fuego that first night. My house band would be bluegrass-and-MC-Hammer mash-ups. It’d be confusing but it would also sort of work.

When Adele comes out, I’d be all Where have you been? You drop the hottest album ever in the history of vocal cords and then you disappear?  I’d be hostile in a tough love-y sort of way.  I would get up in her face.  She’d try to talk in that adorable English accent and I’d be out of my chair screaming, “DON’T TELL ME MOTHERHOOD HAS YOU BUSY! That’s crap.  Get to your next album, you British millennial.”  But then I’d turn all sweet like Ellen DeGeneres and ask her questions about her eye make up and why Boden clothes don’t fit ladies with big breasts.  We’d end on a high note and she’d love my “brash American style.”

Image credit: Emile Warnsteker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gov. Christie Image credit: Emile Warnsteker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

With Governor Christie I could be more ruthless.  Let’s face it, if he’s had gastric by-pass he can handle me.  I’d be all up in this face, asking the hard questions that the American people– my viewers– want to know.  “Gastric bypass? What ever happened to healthy living? Can poor people get gastric bypass? Do you support healthcare that would allow poor people who similarly suffer from obesity to have the surgery? Why was it a secret?”

My tag line would be “GIVE ME ANSWERS!”

If my run had been longer, I would have more sample guest scenarios for you.  You should thank your stars I only have the lung capacity for 4.5 miles.

The key takeaway from this whole situation: Always charge your phone so you don’t have to resort to your own thoughts during a run.

I’m Not In 7th Grade Anymore: Time to Say Goodbye To Whitney Houston

You good people made amazing suggestions (here) for me in my quest to spruce up my musical taste.  I have dipped my toe into the warm pool of your favorites, and I’m liking what I am hearing.  A lot.

But I had an unfinished piece of business.  I’d done my work around Michael Jackson– I’d made peace with the Man In The Mirror and the Smooth Criminal.  It was hard work– deep work– but I needed to close that chapter before I could move on.

When I found myself resisting new music, I looked deeper.  In a quiet corner of my soul I saw the image of Whitney Houston– her memory was begging to be released.  She wanted me to move on.  But how?  Her death felt like Fate had jammed its fat hand into my jam box, ripped out  my favorite Whitney mix tape, and smashed it to smithereens on my parents’ linoleum floor.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Outlaw Mama’s coming of age soundtrack Image credit: Wikipedia

But it’s been almost 14 months since her death, and it was time. I downloaded her entire collection and started listening. I spent the weekend in a somewhat regressed state, her music having transported me back to 7th grade when her debut album exploded on the scene.  How many hours did I sit on my bed listening to her soulful ballads and praying that my braces would come off before high school?

It wasn’t easy to listen to music on repeat in the mid-80’s.  I had to get up off the bed, go over to my portable radio and rewind the tape. Manually.  That’s commitment, kids.

Didn’t We Almost Have It All? was my song for the young man who didn’t appear to know that asking me to borrow a pencil in 7th grade math would lead me to believe that he and I came so close— I mean, we almost had it all.  Once you share a pencil in math class, you’re practically ready for joint tenancy and a standing date night.

I know she had gigantic hits, but I favored the B sides.  They were sadder. More codependent.  I loved lines like “I have nothing, NOTHING, NOTHING, if I don’t have you.”  That line of thinking was my middle grade self’s bread and butter. I loved the black & whiteness of the chorus.

Many an hour I spent listening to Whitney and Jermaine Jackson singing If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful, thinking about all the wonderful middle school guys who would definitely sing that with me, if only they would look deep into my chocolate-colored eyes.  I could cry on command– what more could a teenage boy want?

The only reason I watched the 1988 Olympics was because of her song One Moment in Time.

I was fully saturated in her discography for several years.

I know what you are thinking. Where were her parents? Who let’s a 12-year old dive into love-sick ballads unsupervised? Don’t judge them, they did they best they could.  Back then, we didn’t know the effect of super-sappy music on the young female psyche.

I still love Whitney, and I’ll always love her (though I will forever prefer Dolly Parton’s version of the hit that line recalls).  I hope she’s found peace at last– far away from Bobby Brown and whatever other demons she tried to snort away.

But, honestly it’s ok with me if my kids gravitate to music that’s infused with a little more self-esteem.  They probably won’t find music from a greater talent, but maybe something with a touch less I’m-a-broken-shell-of-nothingness-without-your-love.

Guess that means I have to take country music off the shelf.