Thursday, December 30, 2010

Belle Weather and the Backstreet Boys

Two things:

1.  Yesterday my Grandma Swearingen and my cousin Melissa stopped by my parents' house, picked me up, and drove me "into town" (the nearest city to my parents, Bloomington-Normal, which has always been "town" to everyone I know here) to a lovely Chinese restaurant for lunch. We met my uncle Bob and aunt Lisa there, and I want you to know, when you don't feel very well that noodle soup with chicken from Mandarin Garden? Really hits the spot.

After that, Grandma and I broke off on our own to do a bit of shopping. We ended up at the Barnes & Noble in town, where Grandma and I had some coffee (they still had pumpkin spice! I cannot tell you how happy this makes me, that I was able to have my venti-triple-pumpkin-spice!) and chatted for a while in the cafe. I have to say; I haven't spent a ton of time alone with my Grandma Swearingen in quite a while, and I had a blast.

However, the point I am getting to is this: I discovered a woman in Barnes & Noble. She is hilarious.

She is Celia Rivenbark.



Now, I must admit that I have only just discovered her. I can't speak for her earlier books; I haven't bought them yet. Buying her other books is pretty much my first order of business upon making it home. But while in Barnes & Noble, looking for something light and fluffy to read on the plane, I picked up her newest book, You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning, as well as a slightly older book, Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny with a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits.


Celia Rivenbark lives in North Carolina and is a Southern mama, and she lets you know it everywhere throughout her writing. Her writing involves a lot of stories about just what that means and observations on life as a mama, as a wife, and as a writer. She describes herself as a "slightly tarnished southern belle".

One thing is that, being a Yankee born-and-bred only recently transplanted to South Carolina, I don't quite grasp every in-joke. I started with Belle Weather at about three p.m. yesterday afternoon, and I finished it at roughly midnight. I meant to go to bed at 10, but once I got up there I just kept reading until I was done.

They are breezy, easy reads, the kind that keep you smiling, chuckling, and occasionally laughing out loud, causing confused stares from those around or nearby.

She is opinionated and she lets you know it, but always with a wink and a smile.

Her newest book, You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning, is the other book I bought. Once I'm through with that, I'm going to have to go look up the other three. Yes, three.

Once I find a writer I really like, I latch on to whatever they've got to give to me. I am probably a royalty check's dream that way. 

2.  While driving to pick up a few last-minute supplies for the dinner I'm making for family tonight (recreating my Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese, wish me luck) and listening to NPR, something occurred to me.

Music is a funny thing, isn't it?

My first recollection of "music" that I liked, as it were, is a mix of Sesame Street and Whatever-My-Parents-Listened-To-In-The-Car (generally country). I have a soft spot for the Garth Brooks who sang "Friends in Low Places" (which I am not ashamed to admit I have belted out at the top of my lungs while driving somewhere) and Lorrie Morgan's entire War Paint album which exists on a cassette tape somewhere in my parents' house.

(It's worth noting that since I just kept the cassette tape out, no case, I have never seen the actual cover-image for this cd before. My impression: that is a very brave lady wearing a very brave dress.)

After that, it went to Amy Grant when she sang about romantic love rather than religious love, also on cassette. Somewhere after Amy Grant things get fuzzy, and then Jewel came into the picture, then the Backstreet Boys, that earnest five-some who wanted it "that way", although what "it" was or what direction "that way" was located in is something they never did explain to us. Somewhere in here I began to officially "loathe" country music, very loudly and whenever in my parents' presence, although I still had my cap set for some of the old country-western and of course Johnny Cash.

A side note: Johnny Cash is his own genre of music, related to country but not of country. I think most fans of his music will agree with me here. He generally gets labeled country because music stores feel it would be wasting space to have a whole section just listed as "Johnny Cash" in genre and radio stations get very confused. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Country-western is also different from "country". Country is Taylor Swift crooning about bleachers and high heels or Faith Hill and Shania Twain gettin' wronged by their men (or never getting wronged ever, depending on your song). Country-western, however, is Hank Williams and "Riders in the Sky", the kind of stuff my father used to listen to on our boom box in the evenings when he did dishes, songs that my mind immediately places next to an image of John Wayne in a neckerchief and manly squint.

Yes, that's right; our boom box. I don't want any sassback about this; I wasn't born in 1986 just to start calling them "portable stereos" or some nonesense.

Johnny Cash was a constant, but the Backstreet Boys were replaced by D.C. Talk and the Newsboys, those equally-earnest Christian Rock boy bands that wanted me to just cry out loud that I was a "Jesus Freak". Which I did. Perhaps too loudly. Alanis Morisette's angry-lady howl took over Jewel's delicate bird-song of a voice.

Somewhere between 8th grade and sophomore year in high school I realized I didn't like that music as much anymore. Although I kept all my Jewel CD's, the stuff I actually listened to had been replaced by old-school punk bands like the Clash, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols. Anything noisy and arhythmic had found its number-one fan in me. Powerman 5000 appears at this time, as does H.E.D., the Offspring, Green Day (yes, my taste in music never did quite leave the nineties, did it?). My high school boyfriend burned me piles of CD's from Rage Against the Machine, Weezer, and all those bands he loved that I found I was falling in love with, too.

Overtime, emo bands came into the picture, emo bands and nineties female singer-songwriters, bands like Taking Back Sunday and Fall Out Boy were my best friends in college. Perfect music for breakups and romantic complications, which I was having a lot of at the time. I felt a lot of things very keenly, and there was a lot of talking on those records, and that talking really spoke to me, man, you know? Also Johnny Cash. I never left Johnny Cash behind... that would have been a sin against my nature.

Now we're on this: listening to classical music on NPR and humming along with the songs I know. Stumbling onto the quiet British folk-singer Laura Marling and falling utterly in love with her spare, pretty compositions and clever wordplay, bands like the Toadies that I missed out on the first time around or Aimee Mann's beauitful deep alto voice and calm, spare-no-honesty songwriting. Dancing like only a white girl with no rhythm can to Rage Against the Machine (oh what, did you think I left my old music behind? Heavens no, it just moved down some on the increasingly bizarre rotation). Vienna Teng's soaring piano melodies. Buddy Miller's mellow not-quite-countrified jammin'. My Chemical Romance going off the rails in a very melodic fashion.

It makes me wonder if I'll ever circle back to country... but I don't think so. Much of what is playing on country stations these days makes me grit my teeth and long for the days when Garth Brooks had something to say about thunder rollin' and Reba McIntire's hair was bigger than the rest of her head combined. I want to go back to overwhelming steel guitars and none of this "country-pop" stuff.

Or maybe I'm just turning into one of those "in the good old days we went uphill both ways for our authentic music" types, and we all know that's not true. There are no hills where I grew up!

Okay, there's one. It's quite a ways away and people go sledding on it when there's snow. But that's not the point.

I forget the point.

Something about kids these days and their loud music and get offa my lawn, I suppose.

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