Simple [Hu]Man

Sometimes I feel that I write these posts as advice I wish I had given my kids. You see, I had my first baby at age nineteen and my second at barely twenty-two. Looking back, I was so young and dumb, and my mother’s guilt would tell you, “I wish I had parented better.”

Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.

I don’t beat myself up over this anymore, but my former self was super hard on me. Now I let the past stay there, and I understand that all of my past lives have shaped me into my current self. I did the best I could at the time, I loved those babies hard, and I still love these adults fiercely.

I suppose all this draws me to the lyrics of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 “Simple Man.”

My mama told me when I was young
Said, sit beside me my only son [baby girl, too]
And listen closely to what I say
And if you do this it'll help you some sunny day…

Oh, take your time, don't live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass
You'll find a woman [or a man] and you'll find love
And don't forget that there is a someone up above [SO IMPORTANT!!!]

And be a simple kind of [hu]man 
And be something you'll love and understand

Allow me to introduce the lovely Sierra Eagleson. I think she’s twenty-four. I feel her stripped down strength and believe you’ll love and understand.

Photo by MIRTO KON on Pexels.com

For Remake Monday today, I think I’ll try to keep it simple and love and understand and remember that troubles will pass.

Crazy

“I remember when…I lost my mind. There was something so pleasant about that place…your emotions have an echo in so much space…

And when you’re out there, without care, yeah I was out of touch, but it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough. I just knew too much. Does that make me crazy?

Does that make me crazy?

Does that make me crazy? Possibly…

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb, and all I remember is thinking I wanna be like them…”**

This is danceable.

American soul duo Gnarls Barkley released “Crazy” in 2006. The song always spoke to me, but years later the same words through Angela Ricci’s lips mesmerized me. No surprise that Nina Simone and Ray Charles influenced her jazz and blues sound, and Ricci’s voice echoes inside my head today because I’ve made a decision to do something crazy. I hate to be a vague-poster, but I’m waiting on an official word before I make any sort of announcement. Fingers crossed.

Is she gorgeous, or what?

Until then, know that I’ve lost my mind, and there’s something so pleasant about that place. My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb, and I want to be like them. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe you’re crazy. Maybe we’re crazy. Probably.

**Songwriters: Brian Burton, Gianfranco Reverberi, Thomas Callaway

When life gives you cray cray, re-make it in a good way.

Rocket Man Is a Woman

 

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time/’Till touch down brings me round again to find/I’m not the [wo]man they think I am at home/Oh no no no I’m a rocket [wo]man…”

Today, I hear Elton John’s “Rocketman” in my head. As I launch into a new semester, I know I’ll be spending a long, long time—not in outer space—but in that space between my ears. It’s weird. To think how often I feel a disconnect between the person I am outside of my head and the person I am inside my head, or even a difference between the person I am outside of my home and the person I am inside my home. All I know for sure is that I’m on a journey to be—my best me. That’s my goal. And each day I just try to be better than the person I was yesterday. So I’m a student, with a May 2021 graduation date, advancing confidently in the direction of my dreams, endeavoring to live the life I have imagined for myself, and meeting with a success unexpected in common hours. Thanks for the inspiration, Henry David.

Speaking of inspiration, did you know that Ray Bradbury’s 1950s short story “The Rocket Man” inspired the lyrics of Elton John’s 1970s song? Both are stories of an astronaut torn between his family and his mission into space. I just love how creativity sparks creativity. How a story can be re-made into a song, which can be re-made into another song. How a person’s story can morph from elements of doubt to faith, ingratitude to thankfulness, anxiety to peace, despair to hope, selfishness to generosity, ignorance to knowledge, weakness to strength, anger to kindness, grudges to forgiveness, sadness to joy, hate to love. Need I go on? Isn’t that amazing? How we can re-make it all!!

Speaking of re-makes, here’s a fun 2013 bluegrass cover by Iron Man with some pretty awesome banjo!

Enjoy another blastoff, my friends!

Feeling Good

“Today, I want you to compare the tone of Nina Simone’s 1965 song ‘Feeling Good’ and Michael Bublé’s 2010 version,” I say. I stand at the front of my classroom, in between the projector screen with frozen images of the two artists and my computer where I have sound files cued up and ready.

(I’m thinking of my fellow educators here as the school year begins once more. I’ve used this lesson in my high school English classrooms, and I must credit Ms. Sandra Effinger for the original plan. I start with a National Public Radio segment called “Vocal Impressions: Hearing Voices” from All Things Considered. First, we discuss tone, and Ms. Effie has some nice handouts with lists of tone words. We also discuss NPR—like “Who can tell me what NPR stands for?”)

“NPR invited listeners to take part in an originality experiment to describe how different voices sound. I’m inviting you to take part in that experiment. I’ll play a clip, and you write down whatever words or phrases come to mind, and then we’ll compare yours to the NPR Responses. This first voice belongs to Morgan Freeman. Talk to people near you about who Morgan Freeman is and then raise your hand if you can tell me something about him.”

Class continues in the way. In addition to Freeman, students listen to the voices of Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote, and Patsy Cline. With each new voice, we compare student descriptions to the NPR audience responses. The class works to top their previous originality with each round.

“Great, you guys!” I say, “Now, we’re ready for Nina Simone. Do you know her? She’s a black American woman who first recorded this song in 1965. Think about her style, her tempo, and what she repeats. List words and phrases that convey her attitude. Here’s a copy you can write on. Michael Bublé’s version is on the other side.” And I press play.

Feeling Good

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me yeah

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
Ouh
And I’m feeling good

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River running free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all havin’ fun, you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done, that’s what I mean
And this old world, is a new world
And a bold world for me

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me

And I’m feeling good

It’s fun to watch their little faces light up when the horns start. Afterward, we share some words. “The blues…strength…painful…broken…sadness,” they say.

“Okay, same thing for Michael Bublé. What do you know about him?” I say, and then we discuss some obvious and not so obvious differences. “He’s Canadian, and this is 2010.”

“Let’s hear some of your words,” I say.

They say, “Positive…inspired…optimistic…upbeat…smooth like silk.”

“Okay, now I want you to take your lists and combine your words into an adjective-noun phrase. You might have to play with the parts of speech to make it work. For example, optimistic and upbeat are both adjectives. How do we make optimistic a noun?”

They raise their hands. “Optimist…optimism,” they say.

“Perfect, now add upbeat to that. Upbeat optimism. That sounds sophisticated, right? Now do the same thing for Nina Simone. Do you need to hear it again?” I say.

It’s always a unanimous “YES!” They don’t even realize they’re learning. Ha! And the beauty is, this game could go on and on. Every Monday could be “Remake Monday,” and we can always start with music, and we can always think about “Feeling Good” no matter our circumstances. There is so much power in choosing our attitudes. What I’ve always loved about teaching English is the inherent opportunity to teach psychology. And they don’t even realize. Ha! (I take that back. Some do catch on when they start to know me.)

Eventually, we make it to something like the example below (which may have been written by a teacher), but then the next time around, maybe they work with a partner, and then the next time they’re on their own. After twenty years in the classroom, I’ve discovered kids need this sort of gradual release when trying something new or even when revisiting skills after a long summer. Oh, and I might have a great handout for Verbs to Use When Writing about Literature.

“Feeling Good” with Simone and Bublé

With virtually identical lyrics, Michael Bublé’s performance of “Feeling Good” conjures inspired positivity while Nina Simone’s rendition portrays bluesy strength. Elements of nature relate to each artist. Bublé sings of birds, the sun, fish, and the river knowing “how [he] feel[s]” as well as the dragonfly and butterflies knowing “what [he] mean[s].” The natural world not only influences his mood but identifies with Bublé’s upbeat optimism of each new day.

The racial injustice that ignited the civil rights movement in the U.S. underscores Simone’s broken tone. Her tangible sadness stands in stark contrast to Bublé’s zeal. Her heart-rending tenor conveys that nature knows and empathizes with her woes. When Simone sings, “It’s a new dawn/It’s a new day/It’s a new life/For me/And I’m feeling good,” her tone reveals both her suppressed pain and her resolute strength. Not only does her “new life” imply that she will overcome the past, but she “feel[s] good” and determined for a better tomorrow.

Tainted Love

 

love your life clipboard decor
Photo by Natasha Fernandez on Pexels.com

It was deep autumn of 1988, my first semester away at college, when I popped some ecstasy and danced my ass off to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” The pill-popping wasn’t a habit, just an experience. I don’t say this to be cool or convey shame. Our pasts do not define us. I often think how the sum of our parts makes up the whole of our being and how life is one continual remake. All of this goes through my mind when I hear this song. Life is tainted. No one is perfect. Everyday is a brand new start, and I just try to be better than I was yesterday.

In the ‘80s, I had no clue the song was a remake. News to me in recent years, Gloria Jones first recorded “Tainted Love” in 1964. 

 

 

The English synthesizer and vocal duo Soft Cell slowed the “Tainted Love” tempo in 1981 and made it famous. It was the bestselling single in the UK that year, and the song spent a record-breaking 43 weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100. But, oh my, this video. So ’80s.

There are quite a few versions out there, like the notable Marilyn Manson’s take in 2001 and Imelda May’s twist in 2010. My personal favorite is the 2008 remake by My Brightest Diamond, a project of singer-songwriter-instrumentalist and University of North Texas alumna Shara Nova. 

 

And sometimes I still dance my ass off. (Re)make it a fantastic (Mon)day, everybody!

Hotel California

 

the beverly hills building
Photo by Erica Zhao on Pexels.com

My sister Liz loves “Hotel California” and the Eagles, and my bro-in-law loves her. So much that he flew her to the Big Apple last Valentine’s Day to see the Eagles at Madison Square Garden. How romantic is that?

A collaboration of all five Eagles of that era: Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, and Randy Meisner, The Hotel California album was released on Christmas day in 1976 and became one of the biggest selling of all time. Texas vocalist Don Henley said of the song writing process, “We were getting an extensive education, in life, in love, in business. Beverly Hills was still a mythical place to us. In that sense it became something of a symbol, and the ‘Hotel’ the locus of all that LA had come to mean for us. In a sentence, I’d sum it up as the end of innocence, round one.”

Liz, if you’re reading, I dedicate this iconic classic to you.

Although the Gipsy Kings released their Spanish flamenco version back in 1990, I probably heard theirs for the first time in The Big Lebowski Jesus scene, sometime after 1998 (click the link for purple polyester poetry in motion). When not touring, The Gipsy Kings founding members, Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo, live with their families in the south of France.

Today will be fabulous.