As with many of these musings, this one begins with a dream and a musical earworm. I dreamed that my family (a mixed lot of from throughout time and some people strictly from my imagination) moved into a house, an old, blue-painted, farmhouse in need of a lot of work but with some great features, and before even unpacking, my dream father-figure (one of the imaginary dream characters, oddly resembling the writer Michael Chabon) decided we were selling the house and moving. There was much interaction with realtors, cleaning up of the farmhouse, etc.

Author Michael Chabon.

Moving has been a recurring theme in my life from the age of 10 through my adolescence and adulthood until I met Bob, who’s comfortingly happy in one place.

Home is where the heart is.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve moved over the years. If my tally is correct, I moved 25 times between the years 1972 (Atlanta to Sacramento) and 2006 (from Napa to Oakland). Locations in between included Ashland, Oregon; Ankara, Turkey; Chico, California; and a long tour of Davis, California at 5 different addresses. I’m sure family and friends gave up trying to keep up with my changes of mailing address along the way.

demonic U-Haul
Demonic U-Haul, drawing by headexplodie.

Which brings me to the earworm, David Bowie’s 1972 song Changes. I was never a huge Bowie fan when he was alive, sad to say, but I’ve come to appreciate his work more in the last few years.



Most of us want change at some point in our lives, whether to escape boredom or troubles, to challenge ourselves, to not be stagnant. In recovery circles, it’s called “doing a geographic”, and is not always the best approach. Such as in those 25 moves over 34 years–some were for good reasons (new jobs) and some were for the wrong reasons (unresolved unhappiness). My mother’s second husband put us through a few moves, usually for financial reasons (downward, not upward) and in one case, to escape creditors in one state by fleeing to another on short notice.

Then I went off to college and met a boy, and set off on a whirlwind of moves myself. My now ex-husband seemed to think the cure for any unhappiness or restlessness was to do a geographic. Rather than addressing the real problems in our lives, we had the thought that going to a new place would make everything better. Unlike smaller changes we make, like a new haircut that can put a spring in your step and make you feel sassy and fun, moving is itself stressful. And your friends get really sick of being asked to help.


Some changes, like I say, are great. I went from vegetarian to vegan in the spring of 2015 and although I am not a perfect vegan, I am a happy one.


I remember visiting my paternal grandparents in about 1971, and thinking how cool and modern their house was. I revisited years later and nothing had changed. It made me sad. It seemed old and faded and no longer cool but fusty. I look around our house now and long for new furniture, partly because the cats have destroyed most of our upholstered furniture, and partly because I don’t want that unchanging, old-person fustiness to envelop me. Unless fringed furniture becomes stylish, in which case my cats are trend-setters.

The fringed look is great for dresses and jackets, not so much for furniture.
Kitten scratching fabric sofa
Interior designer cat. Image from

Haircuts and hairstyles and fashion are like that too. We change with the times. And if we don’t, we can hope that what’s old comes back in style and is new again. That 1980s mullet hopefully never comes back in style! Please, never.

The classic mullet on Billy Ray Cyrus.
Clooney mullet
Even young George Clooney looks silly with a mullet.

My hair has changed many times over the years, long to short and back again. It’s also changed as I’ve gotten older, from thick and wavy to neither of those things.

Gen and Ellen
Me on the left with a lot of hair, my equally thick-haired sister Ellen on the right, circa 1988. My hair, sadly, is not thick and wavy anymore. The things they don’t tell you about getting older!
1975 hair
Circa 1975.
1985 hair
Mom on the left, me with 80s hair on the right. Circa 1985.
2015 hair
Fast forward to 2015.
2017 hair
Getting longer, 2017. I call this my moody rock album cover photo.
today in 2018
Today in hair, March 13, 2018.

Rather than moving, when I am hit with those “doing a geographic” urges, I go back to school. School is my comfort zone, my safe place, the place I feel like I belong much of the time. I’ve been back to school several times over the years, and now with online education, I can be a life-long learner from the comfort of my own home, changing mailing address or not. Someday I’ll finish this Ph.D. I’ve embarked upon, and then I’ll maybe go to sewing school or goat-herding school or who knows what.

goat herding

Another change I go through admittedly more than I’d really like is jobs, which is what really brings up the whole Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes song for me.  I’ve had jobs I loved–working as a museum technician for California State Parks in Sonoma, as Assistant Registrar in the art exhibitions department at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa. I’ve had jobs that I disliked–my first job after I finished my Bachelor’s degree in design, working as a “scientific illustrator” for an unnamed company in Sacramento. I’ve had jobs that I was mostly “meh” about–the 11 years I spent as the Assistant Registrar at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.


Because I was “meh” about that job, I spent a long time looking for and interviewing for other jobs. I thought I landed my dream job when I was hired by the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis in late 2015. I love UC Davis and I love the city of Davis. I was sure that was the job I would retire from. Maybe it’s true that you can’t go home again, though I don’t really believe that. Maybe my clue should have been my start day on Pearl Harbor Day–December 7. Or on my second day of work when my car broke down and I was 3 hours late getting there.


Needless to say, it didn’t work out and in the summer of 2016 I found myself unemployed. Yippee!

I felt unappreciated at first, then I tried to be positive and think of it as a learning experience.

(From the Travelling Squid)


A career change, that’s what I needed. I wanted to do something to make a difference in the world. Another version of doing a geographic, maybe, but in my case, it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I applied for jobs at every animal shelter and rescue group I could think of, and landed at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in August of 2016. I couldn’t have been luckier. Or happier.



Best job ever!

I spent a wonderful year and a half there.  I fell in love with the dogs and cats there everyday, and couldn’t ask for better colleagues or volunteers to spend my days with. I traded down in terms of a paycheck, but seriously up in terms of satisfaction and mental rewards. Like David Bowie sings, “Don’t want to be a richer man…” (woman), just a more fulfilled one. I wasn’t looking for a change.

So I applied for a job at the East Bay SPCA.


I’m still not sure why. Needing a personal challenge? A shorter commute? Trying to go home again (I volunteered there from 2009 to 2016)? I was offered the job. I spent 5 days agonizing over what to do. I accepted the job. And here I go again, starting anew. Which starts my ear worm transition to Here You Come Again, by Dolly Parton (1977) (“…here you come again and here I go…”).


I hope I made the right decision. Admittedly, I miss my friends at ARF. But I seriously hope I spend the rest of this career in animal welfare with the East Bay SPCA (assuming I do a good job and get to stay). I’d like to stay put in one house and one job for a while. I can keep changing my hair. Maybe we’ll get new furniture and miraculously the cats won’t destroy it. (Do they make stainless steel living room furniture? And how uncomfortable is it?)

Cat proof?

Before you know it, it will be time to make a big change and retire. Then maybe we’ll sell the house, move to the country, rescue some goats…

Leanne Lauricella, one of my heroes, is the founder of the goat rescue and sanctuary Goats of Anarchy.

Keep learning, keep happy, and stay motivated to make a difference. You can change the world.


Troubadours and Storytellers

For many years, I have been intrigued by the designations troubadour and storyteller. There is a very long tradition of both throughout history. What’s the difference? The word troubadour is from the French and was used to refer to medieval lyric poets, often concentrating on the theme of courtly love, with verses written to music. A poet musician is how I think of it. In more modern times, troubadours have been folk singers in particular.


Scheherazade spins tales about Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad the Sailor over One Thousand and One Nights, enthralling her murderous husband King Shahryar, who postpones her execution night after night in order to hear another story. Stories are that powerful.



Storytelling goes much further back, when histories were passed down in the oral tradition rather than the written. Oral storytelling remains central in some cultures today.

storyteller 1

Still from the documentary Al-Halqa–In the Storyteller’s Circle (2010, Thomas Ladenburger).


The storyteller figures above were made by Cochiti Pueblo potter Helen Cordero (1915-1994), who based some of her work on the “singing mother” motif and others on memories of her grandfather. Her figures are storytellers and she herself became a storyteller through their creation.

Storytelling clearly doesn’t have to involve words, as seen by Helen Cordero’s work. Images tell wonderful stories. Think of ancient cave paintings, some over 35,000 years old. In the January 2016 issue of Smithsonian, Jo Marchant and Justin Mott explored the cave paintings on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, thought to be the oldest cave paintings thus far discovered.


Scattered on the walls are stencils, human hands outlined against a background of red paint. Though faded, they are stark and evocative, a thrilling message from the distant past. My companion, Maxime Aubert, directs me to a narrow semicircular alcove, like the apse of a cathedral, and I crane my neck to a spot near the ceiling a few feet above my head. Just visible on darkened grayish rock is a seemingly abstract pattern of red lines.

Then my eyes focus and the lines coalesce into a figure, an animal with a large, bulbous body, stick legs and a diminutive head: a babirusa, or pig-deer, once common in these valleys. Aubert points out its neatly sketched features in admiration. “Look, there’s a line to represent the ground,” he says. “There are no tusks—it’s female. And there’s a curly tail at the back.”

Humans making figurative art, using imagination and symbolism–truly a remarkable development. Previous to the discovery of the paintings on Sulawesi, the oldest cave paintings were thought to be the famous Chauvet Cave paintings in France, made a World Heritage site in 2014. You can see an online exhibition of them through the Bradshaw Foundation.


I come to write about this through my love of singer/songwriters. Preferably menlacholy ones. Or romantic. Or romantically melancholy. As I have written about before, I have really weird and vivid dreams. Last week, I had several dreams in which Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot (as a young man, not the close to 80-year old he is now) was wandering through the action, playing his guitar and singing.

As I have also written, I am highly susceptible to ear worms. So for days now, Lightfoot’s song “If You Could Read My Mind” has been on an endless loop in my head. The song is about the breakup of his first marriage. Hauntingly beautiful but unbearably sad.


Sigh. Of course, there are many wonderful examples of troubadours: Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, David Wilcox, Kelly Joe Phelps. I heard Kelly Joe Phelps describe how when he’s performing a song, he sees it as a movie playing in his mind. Storytelling, yes indeed.

Pete Seeger (1919-2014)


Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) and his son Arlo Guthrie (b. 1947)


Bob Dylan (b. 1941)


Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)



David Wilcox (left), Kelly Joe Phelps (right)


Lest I leave out women, I’ll add Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Emmylou Harris. I consider Natalie Merchant to be in this group of female troubadours and storytellers. I could go on and on.


And this is only a very narrow sampling from North American, white culture. There is such an array to choose from; the African American blues tradition, for example, with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter…


Writers are, by nature, storytellers, but I consider some to be more in THE storyteller tradition than others. For example, Irish writer Frank Delaney (1942-2017), a novelist, journalist, and broadcaster, is best known in the United States for his book Ireland, a many-layered and rich story of storytellers. Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

In the winter of 1951, a storyteller, the last practitioner of an honored, centuries-old tradition, arrives at the home of nine-year-old Ronan O’Mara in the Irish countryside. For three wonderful evenings, the old gentleman enthralls his assembled local audience with narratives of foolish kings, fabled saints, and Ireland’s enduring accomplishments before moving on. But these nights change young Ronan forever, setting him on a years-long pursuit of the elusive, itinerant storyteller and the glorious tales that are no less than the saga of his tenacious and extraordinary isle. 

It’s probably not okay to bring up now-disgraced storyteller Garrison Keillor, but for many years, before the sexual misconduct allegations, he created a wonderful world of characters and stories with his radio program and books about the fictional Lake Wobegon. There, I brought him up anyway.


One of my personal favorites is Eudora Welty, author of one of my all-time favorite short stories, Why I Live at the P.O.

Eudora Welty.

Following in her footsteps and the tradition of female Southern writers is my mother’s favorite, Fannie Flagg.


Mom made a point of making sure each of her children had a copy of A Redbird Christmas, which I’ve reread over several holiday seasons, and also listened to the audiobook, read by Ms. Flagg herself.


You might be more familiar with her work from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, based on her book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.


Filmmakers are certainly storytellers, whether it is in telling a hardhitting true story through documentaries, like Michael Moore, or whimsical fictional stories along the line of Tim Burton or Wes Anderson.


There’s a novel I am going to write someday. I know what it’s about, but it’s a long way off, and will require much research on my part. (I think I’ll complete the Ph.D. first.) I already have a vision for what the film version will look like, and Wes Anderson is my first choice for director. I see something in the spirit of his The Grand Budapest Hotel. I hope your curiosity is piqued so that you will read my novel. When I write it. When it’s published. By then, I’ll be old enough for the large print edition myself.


I could go on and on, but I will end with an art exhibition here where I am now at the Saybrook University Residential Conference, being held at the Hyatt Regency Monterey. Photographer and filmmaker Randy Bacon has compiled a work entitled The Road I Call Home, featuring portraits and films of people who are homeless telling their stories. The project is presented by Gathering Friends for the Homeless in conjunction with 7 Billion Ones. I have been gazing at the portraits as I travel the conference center today, but only just started reading the stories they tell. Everyone has a story to tell, and deserves the chance to tell it. Here are a few of the portraits.


It’s late now and time for me to sleep, perchance to dream. And perhaps hear a little Gordon Lightfoot.

Sweet dreams to all.


If I could talk to the animals (oh wait, I do that)

Yes, I talk to animals. I can’t say that they listen to or understand me, and they don’t talk back to me in a language that is clear, like with Doctor John Dolittle in the children’s books from the 1920s by civil engineer Hugh Lofting (born in 1886 in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England).

hugh lofting
Hugh Lofting

Lofting died in 1947, so any Doctor Dolittle shenanigans after that point are not his fault. The original stories are set in Victorian England in the fictional village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, a place I wanted desperately to live when I read my mother’s old copies of the books in the 1960s. To tell the truth, I still want to live there.

I’ve written about perfect moments.  In  my memories, reading Doctor Dolittle as a child, curled up in my pajamas in the comfy chair with the nubby green upholstery, the sun shining through a window of the den on a cold day and dust just visible floating in the stream of sunlight, smelling the old-paper smell of the books my mother had also read as a child–that’s a perfect moment.



The movie version I am familiar with is the 1967 musical with Rex Harrison as the doctor, and also starring Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley, and Richard Attenborough.


movie poster 1967.jpg


It was, surprisingly in retrospect, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture that year, and won the Oscars for Best Original Song (for Talk to the Animals) and Best Original Effects. Of course, I at age 6, loved the movie, but I don’t think it was actually very good. I mostly remember Anthony Newley singing (not necessarily in a good way) and the voyage in the Giant Pink Sea Snail.



It never occured to me as a child to ask why, if the Giant Pink Sea Snail is a living creature, it has no insides and the humans can live in its (his? her?) hollow shell without problems. When you are 6 you go with your imagination and don’t question these things.


I have never seen the Eddie Murphy version of Doctor Dolittle (1998) and have no intention of ever seeing it. Sorry, Mr. Murphy, but in my mind Doctor Dolittle will always be English, Victorian, and Rex Harrison-ish, although I applaud the concept of introducing said doctor to a new generation and a diverse audience. Plus, I don’t think fart jokes are all that funny and just have no place in my world of Doctor Dolittle and Puddleby-on-the Marsh. And neither does a PG rating.



But as usual I digress. I talk to the animals. Frequently. And I talk for them. I have voices I use for the animals who live with me, and they often are very sassy when speaking through me. We sing, too. Each animal has a story and a song, and there are songs that go with different ocassions, like meals and bedtime.

This version of Talk to the Animals by Sammy Davis Jr. makes me happy in some way I can’t explain. Sammy always reminds me of my mother’s second husband, Van, who was extremely thin and liked to dance and had a style a lot like Sammy’s when he was in happy drunk mode. That was less frequent than mean drunk mode, but we don’t need to go into that here.


And before you think you need to have me committed, let me tell you that I know I am not alone in the world. I know very rational people who sing and talk to animals, and have voices and special songs assigned to particular animals. Maybe it’s a little quirky, but it’s fun and harmless. I have no illusions that the animals are actually listening to, understanding, or responding to me. I think my marbles are all still with me.



Each of my resident companion animals has a special song. For Sara, it’s obviously Sara Smile (1976) by Hall and Oates. I’ve had Sara (brown tabby) since she was a newborn kitten, and I sang that to her when I bottle-fed her. She’s 19 years old now, and it’s still her song. Her brother Ben (orange tabby), who passed away at 15, was subjected to me singing the Michael Jackson song Ben from the horror movie Ben (1971), sequel to Willard. Yes, it’s about a rat, but it’s still a good song. I’ll spare you my singing and go right to the sources.



Misty, who I sometimes call Mystical, gets to hear me warble on with The Beatle’s song Magical Mystery Tour (1967) with the lyrics changed to “She’s the magical mystical cat, she’s going to eat your face…” She won’t really eat your face, but she on the moody side, shall we say.


Here is the song performed by Sir Paul McCartney:


Alternatively, Misty also gets Windy, the 1967 hit by The Association, alltered to “Everyone knows it’s Misty…And Misty has stormy eyes…”


Marble, lively young lad, I decided gets the the old Ballad of Davy Crockett (1955), with the line changed to “Marby, Marby Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier”. It suits him, can’t explain why. I won’t make you listen to it. You’re welcome.





Einstein is the odd one out, the only dog. He feels misunderstood and put upon by all of the cat activity in the house. Middle child syndrome, in a way. I don’t know why I started singing Petula Clark’s Downtown (1964) to him. Maybe because it’s fun to say Einstein to the “downtown” spots, and I make the main line “Einstein, everyone’s waiting for Einstein…” And he does look a little like Petula Clark, now that I think about it.



And then we have songs to mark times of day. From A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) comes Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time is Here, changed to “Breakfast time is here” or “Dinner time is here”, depending. Breakfast can also be signified by changing It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (1951) to “It’s beginning to look a lot like breakfast”.


I won’t go into all of the songs I’ve sung to different foster kittens. But I could use suggestions for foster #56, Dapper. He’s a very affectionate 1-year old boy. I’ve been calling him Dapper Dan in honor of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000) and George Clooney’s character Ulysses Everett McGill’s obssession with Dapper Dan hair pomade.


I’ll have to listen to the movie soundtrack and pick out a song. They do sing You Are My Sunshine in the movie. Sounds like I’ve found a winner!


Peace and hugs, and keep singing! I’ll be out there looking for that magical place, Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. Maybe I’ll see you there.


Yes, I Was a Fanilow (Kelly, this one’s for you)

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 6.06.47 AM

I first heard the term “Fanilow” from the 2003 Will & Grace television episode in which Will tries to hide from his friends while he stands in line for tickets to a Barry Manilow Christmas concert.


I hadn’t thought about Barry Manilow in years. I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to the Will & Grace episode either, except my sister Ellen called me to tell me she thought I’d get a kick out of the episode.

Why? Because I must confess, I was at one time a Fanilow. A devoted one. Okay, I was a teenager in the 70s. It’s somewhat explainable, but I don’t talk about it unless someone else brings it up. And now it’s out in the open.

Bob and I are in beautiful downtown Burbank, California for a couple of days.

laugh in


My “bestest ever” friend from high school, Kelly, lives down here. We don’t get to see each other very often, so I welcomed the chance to hitch a ride down I-5 to spend a day with her. At dinner with Bob she happened to say, innocently enough, “Did Gen tell you about how much she loved Barry Manilow?” I looked down. Bob looked at me with an amused expression. And my secret was revealed.

keep calm


It started with Mandy. It’s pretty much always been about Mandy. I didn’t even kow until I started writing this, Barry didn’t even write Mandy! I was so sure he had. Illusion destroyed. I listened to that song on the 8-track tape player in our living room in the house we lived in then in Gardnerville, Nevada, in the Carson Valley, over and over.


Carson Valley, Nevada


Oh, how I loved that song. I sang my heart out. I can still belt out those lyrics from memory.


Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 5.58.57 AM


Tell all, you say. The ultimate story takes place in March of 1977. Newly popular comedian Billy Crystal, made famous from the spoof television show Soap, was Barry’s opening act for a show at the Sahara Tahoe resort and casino. I HAD to go.




Seriously. I HAD to go. I would DIE if I didn’t go. South Lake Tahoe is not far from Gardnerville, but it seemed worlds away at that time when I was pining for a chance to go to the show.



Remember, I hadn’t yet turned 16, I didn’t drive, I didn’t have money, and it seemed IMPOSSIBLE that I would get to go. I pinned a picture of Barry on my wall and moped. If you have ever been or raised a teenaged girl, you know how expertly they pine and mope.

I don’t know what my mother did, but she did what it took, and lo and behold, we were going to the show. Five of us, in fact: my mother and her husband Van, me, and my friends Kelly and Michelle.

The only transportation we had was Van’s tiny Datsun pickup truck. I don’t use the term tiny lightly. Two people could “comfortably” ride in the cab of that truck. Not 5. Somehow we did it. It was very crowded, dangerous, and I am sure illegal. But we were determined.



My mother made my dress. It looked something like the dress here in the lower left. This was a special occasion, remember. It was March in Tahoe; I was very cold.

super 70s

We went to the dinner show, seated at a table in the very back. I am sure Mom and Van smoked the entire time. They could do that legally then. There were maybe 3 dinner options; we all chose the least expensive–Salisbury steak. Salisbury steak is not steak. Nothing near being steak. It’s basically a hamburger patty in mushroom gravy. Chefs at fine restaurants do not make Salisbury steak. I knew it from frozen TV dinners.


A girl we knew in school, a girl from a family with money, arrived at the show with her friends. They had a table up front. They more than likely ordered something other than Salisbury steak. I didn’t care. Van probably had a few drinks (and then drove the overcrowded little truck back down the mountain to Gardnerville). I don’t remember how bad the food or how scary the ride. This was about Barry.

barry at piano

Bily Crystal was, to me then, surprisingly vulgar. Lots of jokes about feminine hygiene products. Not funny. Just get him off the stage and on to Barry, people! It was wonderful, all a blur to me now. But I was happy. We made it home. I switched my crush over to Andy Gibb eventually. And then Daryl Hall, who I still have a thing for.

Andy Gibb
Daryl Hall

Life went on. The 70s moved on to the 80s, etc. Barry is 73 now, married to his long-secret love of 39 years, his manager Garry Kief.


barry and hubby


Now that he’s publicly out, I don’t think anyone is at all surprised. Even me, his former Number 1 Fan.

number 1 fan.gif


But some things never change, like the wonderful feeling of being the company of a good friend. This time with Kelly has been the best; it’s just like we are those 15 year old girls all of those years ago, getting ready to go to a show. True friends are really what it’s all about.


Love you, Kelly.



So Far Away (I love you, Carole King)

Not so long ago, I went with my buddy Debra to watch the recent film of Carole King performing her groundbreaking Tapestry album at Hyde Park in London in 2016.

movie flyer

Tapestry (1971) was on repeat play on the turntable in my sisters’ room when we were growing up. I have strong and fond memories of the music.


Debra, inviting me to go, remarked that I seemed like the type who would love Carole King. She was right.

The Hyde Park concert was amazing enough to watch as a film. It must have been magical to be there. First of all, Hyde Park in London. I’ve never been but it looks lovely in photos.

hyde park photo
Hyde Park, London

A huge and congenial crowd is in attendance, singing along with Carole and clearly connecting to her music, whether as a remembrance of a time past or as younger, newer listeners struck by the emotion and angst of the songs.

Tapestry itself is such a classic, every song a gem (except maybe Smackwater Jack, but I loved it when I was 10 and I still like to sing along with it). This is the list of songs on Tapestry:

  • I Feel the Earth Move
  • So Far Away
  • It’s Too Late
  • Home Again
  • Beautiful
  • Way Over Yonder
  • You’ve Got a Friend
  • Where You Lead
  • Will You Love Me Tomorrow
  • Smackwater Jack
  • Tapestry
  • Natural Woman

You’ve heard them all. I’ve sung them all. It’s a legendary work of art. But what I’ve noticed a month after seeing the film is that the one song that won’t leave me is So Far Away.


There’s so much about this song that keeps it on my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and prone to nostalgia. The lyrics themselves provoke a sense of loneliness, time slipping away, a need for connection and love and friendship.

so far away


I’ve been thinking of the notion of far away. It can be distance, it can be time, it can be a mental state. My sisters and my brothers are distance away–3,000 miles give or take. That’s far. Too far. My mother is time away; when I say time I mean earlier days and memories, not a discrete amount of time that can be traversed. She died in August, 2009. But I dream of her frequently and miss her every day. And then someone can be sitting right next to you and be far away, lost in thought, in another world, with you but not with you. I am sometimes that person who is far away, dreamy and distant.

lyric graphic

I wake up with So Far Away playing in my head. I will be listening to my audiobook of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and up will pop So Far Away. That is fitting in its way. If you know Anna’s story, she was ostracized by friends and family and the larger society, not allowed to see her beloved son. She was right there, but made to seem far away, even to herself. Spoiler alert–Anna’s story doesn’t end well. We need family, friends, connection.


“One more song about moving along the highway can’t say much of anything that’s new.” So true. And it’s predominantly men who sing those moving on down the highway songs. The Allman Brothers and Ramblin’ Man as well as Midnight Rider. The Grateful Dead and Truckin’.  Ricky Nelson and Travelin’ Man. (And what’s with the dropped letter g, by the way?) Steve Miller took it to the skies with Jet Airliner. Steppenwolf and Born to be Wild. Pretty much anything from Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska (which I love).



Was it a coincidence that about 95% of the audience in the movie theater the night we went was female, of a certain age, and we all sang along? But it was So Far Away that had me wiping a tear from my eye. I can think of one other song that has this effect on me–James Taylor’s Shower the People (1976).


Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 5.15.01 PM


Letting the people that you love know that you love them–it seems so simple yet it can be so difficult. It’s the subject of many a novel, play, movie. We carry such inner turmoil around showing love. Yet we crave love ourselves. James Taylor is a guy that gets it.

Again, not a coincidence that James Taylor and Carole King have a history going back more than 40 years, including him performing backing vocals on Tapestry. In addition to his own songs, he’s performed (and made famous) many of King’s songs, such as You’ve Got a Friend.


James has his own Highway Song; it seems to be a male rite of passage. Women want to seek out and befriend, men want to get moving along/away.


When I was younger, my ex-husband’s response to strife was to suggest we move. During our 20+ years of marriage, we lived in too many apartments and houses to count in several different towns, including Ashland, Oregon; Ankara, Turkey; Chico, Vacaville, Winters, Sacramento, Davis, Fairfield, and Napa in California. I think what he really wanted was to move on without me. Now, with Bob, we’ve lived in this same house for the 13 years we’ve been together. It’s a nice feeling to be at home! Yes, he travels, but I always know he’ll be back, and be happy to be back. He’s never so far away that I can’t reach him.

Come visit us sometime; it would be so fine to see your face at our door. As long as you aren’t allergic to dogs and cats. They help make this place home, too.



The comfort of sad songs

I used to be a very moody person. Tempered by age, a lot of hard work, the love and patience of my nearest and dearest, a major career change, and the pharmaceutical industry (hey, don’t knock it; Prozac changed my life), I am a fairly happy, easy to get along with person.


We all have bad days, but I handle roadblocks much better than I used to, and little things don’t trip me up as much. I still have bouts of anxiety. I’ll always hate parties.

me at parties


introvert party 3


My ideal party is me, cats, a hot beverage, and books, or a good cooking competition on television. And Bob. Bob can attend. And Einstein, the dog. He can come too.


Party time.jpg


But I still love sad songs and melancholy singer-songwriters. Why? There’s something about singing along with a sad song and getting a little teary eyed; there’s no feeling like it that I can describe.

I was reminded of this at a party (by which I mean, eating dinner in front of television with Bob and the animals). We were watching season 3 episode 4 of the HBO series The Leftovers.

leftovers logo.png


This season (the final) has been mind blowing. The writing, acting, the crazy plot turns, the unpredictability, and the use of music all leave me feeling stunned at the end of each episode. The series is based on the book of the same name by Tom Perrotta, published in 2011, chronicling life for the surviors, or leftovers, after a rapture-like event takes some (referred to as The Departed) and leaves others behind.


The opening music is different each episode, and sets the tone for the show to come. Episode 4, entitled “G’day Melbourne”, has Kevin and Nora travelling to Australia. The song that plays over the opening credits is a sad song, “This Love is  Over” by Ray LaMontagne.


I got a bad feeling about where this was headed!

Here is Ray LaMontagne performing the song with the Pariah Dogs.


And I was right. The episode ends with Nora sitting alone in a burning hotel room while the fire sprinklers rain on her, to the seemingly odd strains of “Take On Me” by A-HA (there’s a story to the choice of music here too but I digress).



In my head, the Ray LaMontagne song took over, combined with the imagery of Nora with water dripping from her profile. The song obsessed me. A giant ear worm ate my brain. I have a thing with ear worms. They keep me awake at night and I start to think I am going crazy. Ray LaMontagne is now on an endless repeat loop on my iPhone music and in my head.

What is it about sad songs and heartbreak that consume me, an otherwise happy person? Richard Thompson, another notable sad song guy, said “It’s fun to sing sad songs. And it’s fun to listen to sad songs. Enjoyable. Satisfying. Something.”



“Even when I’m in quite a happy state of mind, I like writing really sad songs. I think a lot of people do.” This is from Ellie Goulding, a singer I never heard of until I started working on this post. But she apparently is into sad songs.



Natalie Imbruglia: “I like singer-songwriters, and I find sad songs comforting rather than depressing. It makes you realise you’re not alone in the world.



So it’s not just me. And it’s not just songs. It’s books and movies, too. Happy endings are great, believe me. I’ve admitted my love of Hallmark Channel movies. But I love a good cry too. West Side Story. I’ve seen it so many times, the film and staged versions. I cry every time. I hope that the ending will be different every time. But it never is. Chino still shoots Tony and Tony still dies in Maria’s arms. And I watch it again. And cry.



All you have to do is mention the movie title All Mine to Give (1957) to my sister Ellen, and she will start to tear up. I think the only explanation needed is that the British title is The Day They Gave Babies Away.


A book title that will do the same to me is Child of My Heart (2002), about 15-year old Theresa and her younger cousin Daisy, who is 8 and ill. It’s a lovely book. I rarely use the word poignant, but I will here for Child of My Heart.


Opera is always tragic. NPR, in their 2006 April Fools Day story, did a piece on making opera happy (One Man’s Sad Goal? Make Opera Happy). I still remember sitting in my car listening to an interview with a (fictional) Hamilton Banks, who wants to rewrite operas so that Madame Butterfly doesn’t kill herself, Mimi is cured of TB in La Bohème, Don Juan is born again and repents. It took me a minute or two to realize this was a joke story. But it just wouldn’t be the same, opera with happy endings, would it?

According to Paul Thagard in Psychology Today

On reflection, I realized that the emotional impact of music does not come from imparting particular emotions, but rather from being emotionally engaging in general. Sometimes sad songs do you make you feel bad if they revive memories of your own tragic times, but more often they engage your interest because they describe or convey important events in the lives of others. Such emotional engagement is also important in other forms of art, including tragic drama such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, stirring paintings such as Picasso’s Guernica, and thrilling movies…

All of these songs combine original music, appropriate lyrics, and superb performances to evoke intense emotions. So it does not matter whether a song is happy or sad, only whether it has an emotional impact on the listeners. People are happy to like sad songs, just not boring ones.

Then there is the theory of downward social comparison (you know, that thought that as bad as things are, there’s someone out there worse off than you). This is from David Nield of Science Alert:

In terms of social psychology, one way of thinking about this is that we feel better about ourselves if we focus on someone who’s doing even worse, a well-known process known as downward social comparison. Everything’s going to be okay, because Thom Yorke is having an even worse day than you are.

I don’t know who Thom Yorke is, but I feel bad for him! Thagard goes on to describe the neuroscience theory as well:

Some scientists think melancholy music is linked to the hormone prolactin, a chemical which helps to curb grief. The body is essentially preparing itself to adapt to a traumatic event, and when that event doesn’t happen, the body is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere else to go.

Thanks to brain scans, we know that listening to music releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with food, sex, and drugs – at certain emotional peaks, and it’s also possible that this is where we get the pleasure from listening to sad tunes.

My favorite resource for these things, The Greater Good Science Center, also published an article on this phenomenon, and they connect it to both empathy and brain chemistry.

Tear-jerkers such as Adele’s Someone Like You frequently top the charts these days, while gloomy classical compositions like Mozart’s Requiem have moved people for centuries. Both portray and bring about a strong sense of loss and sadness. But our enjoyment of sad music is paradoxical—we go out of our way to avoid sadness in our daily lives. So why is it that, in the arts, themes such as loss can be safely experienced, profoundly enjoyed, and even celebrated?

The research adds to a body of work suggesting that music appreciation involves social cognition. People sensitive and willing to empathize with the misfortune of another person—in this case represented by the sad music—are somehow rewarded by the process. There are a number of theories about why that is.

The reward could be purely biochemical. We have all experienced the feeling of relief and serenity after a good cry. This is due to a cocktail of chemicals triggered by crying. A recent theory proposes that even a fictional sadness is enough to fool our body to trigger such an endocrine response, intended to soften the mental pain involved in real loss. This response is driven by hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin, which actually induce the feelings of comfort, warmth and mild pleasure in us. This mix of hormones is probably particularly potent when you take the actual loss and sadness out of the equation—which you can often do in music-induced sadness.

It is also possible that the effect is mainly psychological, where those who allow themselves to be emotionally immersed in the sad music are simply exercising their full emotional repertoire in a way that is inherently rewarding. The capacity to understand the emotions of others is crucial for navigating the social world we live in, and therefore exercising such an ability is likely to be rewarding—due to its evolutionary significance.

They used the phrase that so often comes to mind in this regard–a good cry. There is a Yiddish proberb “A good cry lightens the heart.”

The round transparent drop of water

There are lots of articles on why crying is good for you, emotionally and physically.



cleanse the heart


Check out Aging Care on why it’s good for you to cry:

  1. It Relieves Stress
    Because unalleviated stress can increase our risk for heart attack and damage certain areas of our brain, humans’ ability to cry has survival value, Frey says.
  2. Crying Lowers Blood Pressure
    Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and raged.
  3. Tears Remove Toxins
    In addition, Frey says tears actually remove toxins from the body. Tears help humans remove chemicals that build up during emotional stress.
  4. It Reduces Manganese
    The simple act of crying also reduces the body’s manganese level, a mineral which affects mood and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood serum.
  5. Emotional Crying Means You’re Human
    While the eyes of all mammals are moistened and soothed by tears, only human beings shed tears in response to emotional stress. Emotional expression acknowledges the feelings you’re having. Emotions motivate us to empathize, coordinate and work as a unit to best survive.

Good news for women, and bad for men: on average, women cry 47 times per year and men only 7. Hey guys, instead of that action flick, try watching Steel Magnolias. It’ll be good for you!


And now I am wondering about the whole “tears of joy” thing; why do we cry when we are happy? But I don’t have time for that now. I have a party to go to, with Child of My Heart, Ray LaMontagne on my playlist, a cat, a cup of tea, and a box of tissues.

Have a good cry!

P.S. If you haven’t seen The Leftovers season 3 episode 5, “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”, OMG! There’s the whole Frasier the Lion thing that is based on a real story. I am still reeling over the episode (a lion eats a man claiming to be God; I mean, this is serious stuff). And there is a song, lyrics by Johnny Mercer and sung by Sarah Vaughan, to go with it. In the words of Bob’s mother, “It’s a weirdy!”


And that reminds me of another sad song, Tears for Fears’ 1982 “Mad World”, as covered  by Gary Jules for the film Donnie Darko (2001). Sigh, I am in a never-ending loop here and I only have so many tissues. G’bye!


The banjo moves up on my life list

I hate the term bucket list. You might as well say, “I’m going to die any day now. What to do?” I’d rather say, “Life is a mystery. What would I like to do?” Bucket list sounds so final. Life list sounds open and celebratory.


For the longest time, going up in a hot air balloon was a feature on my list. I lived for a while in Napa, where hot air ballooning is a major activity. But no one I know would go up with me. I know too many people who are afraid of heights. And I was afraid of going alone. So I still haven’t done it. I would hear that sound of the air whoshing up into the balloons as they drifted over my house near the Napa River. Taking my coffee out on the deck, I’d stand in my pajamas and wave longingly at the tourists in the balloons as they drifted by.


I signed up for a watercolor painting class and the first thing I painted was a hot air balloon.

balloon painting

I’ve read Around the World in 80 Days more than once. Of course, there isn’t a hot air balloon in the book, but thanks to the film version, I can’t think of the story without a hot air balloon.





I still have hot air balloon dreams. Maybe over Paris! Paris was also a long-time life list item. And in 2014 I finally got there! Was it everything I dreamed it would be? Mais oui! Certainement! I’ll brush up my bad high school French and go back anytime. Given my name and French heritage, you’d think I’d have speaking French in the bag, but alas, languages don’t necessarily pass down in families once they assimilate to the United States. So I was really An American in Paris:


For a few years now, I’ve said I want to learn to play the banjo. I see banjos at the Alameda Point Antiques Fair (the flea market) now and again, but they always look pretty beat up, and I never have the courage to haggle with the dealers since I know absolutely nothing about banjos.


I don’t know why I love them, but I do. Recently, we went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. What a beautiful place! I worked for years in museums, and I was quite impressed with the displays, collections, volunteers, everything! They even have a conservation lab, which was my first foray into museum work.



Some of my favorite displays at the museum were the Americana, Bluegrass, and Banjo sections. Banjos! In a museum! I felt vindicated in my banjo love.

Since, I have come to find out there is an American Banjo Museum and American Banjo Hall of Fame. Woo hoo! Now I have a reason to go to Oklahoma City. Some of the illustrious inductees include Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Roy Clark, and Steve Martin. There are women in the hall of fame too: Debbie Schreyer, Helen Baker, Georgette Twain (love that name) among others.


Last night, in one of my weird, mixed up dreams, I bought a banjo. The main theme of the dream was that I was trying to board a ferry into San Francisco. It was an ordeal. I had to go through a labyrinthian mall to buy a ticket. And while wandering lost through the mall, I saw the world’s most beautiful banjo. I had to have it. I bought it. And in nonsensical dream style, instead of putting the banjo in a case for me, the salesclerk carefully and elaborately wrapped it in brown paper and string, like the gorgeous and mysterious Christmas present.

The dream banjo didn’t look like this; not quite so fancy. More Danish Modern meets banjo. This is Gibson’s Earl Scruggs Golden Deluxe.

The banjo often doesn’t get a lot of respect. Mark Twain (any relation to Georgette?) said something about a true gentleman is one who knows how to play the banjo and doesn’t. But I don’t care. I’ve had a crush on Steve Martin since the 1970s. Then, when I was in high school, the banjo was part of his comedy schtick. Now he’s a respected, Grammy winning musician with his band, The Steep Canyon Rangers. And he’s still funny.




Can I learn to play this late in life? The question is more, will I follow my dream. There’s even a Dummies book for me.

banjo for dummies


I challenge myself to follow this one. I made it to Paris. Maybe soon you’ll see me in the sky, in a hot air balloon, picking on a banjo and having a great old time.



Once upon a time…

Ah, another sleepless night. Hello insomnia, my old friend. Often when I can’t sleep, my brain takes a nostalgic turn, so here I am listening to the dog snore and dredging up childhood memories again (see Be It Ever So Humble…). This happens more often than I’d like these days. Is this what my golden years are going to be like? And by golden years, I mean the “I am getting old” kind, not the cool David Bowie song kind.


This isn’t really a new phenomenon in my life. I remember lots of sleepless nights. Often I would lie awake in the dark on the nights before a big day at school: the first day of the new school year, the day I had to do anything in front of the class (my biggest dread), if I had a really awesome new outfit to wear or new haircut, if I thought I might see whichever cute boy I had a crush on, all kinds of triggers.

It goes back even earlier. When I was a little one at Bassett Kindergarten in Decatur, Georgia, there was the worst time of the day–nap time. We’d roll out our mats, the teacher would turn out the lights, and while all the other kids drifted off to sleep, I’d lie there in the darkened room wishing it would be over or that I could have a book to look at. I do not nap.

Kindergarten Gen - Version 2
Kindergarten, 1960-something. I’m in the lower right in the stylish red knee socks. I still love colorful legwear.

Sleeplessness didn’t look so bad on me then. Now, I can use some beauty sleep.

sleepless in Oakland
Sleepless in Oakland.
Sleepless in Surry.

Sometimes I think I was a cat in a previous life. I like curling up in sunny spots, I prefer to be alone, I hate the wind and dislike riding in cars. But there are 2 ways I could never be a cat–I don’t eat meat and I have trouble sleeping. Cats don’t have trouble sleeping.

Some of my sleepless childhood nights have a soundtrack. I was afraid to sleep in my own room. There was a weird gleam off of the fence post outside of my window that made me think of eyes watching me. Even with the shade pulled down, I knew it was out there. So I sometimes acted true to the pesky baby sister stereotype and camped in my teenaged sisters’ bedroom, which in my mind was huge and fun and full of cool things (a television, a phone, inscrutable hair and make-up products, high school text books). They had a record player, and often put a stack of albums on to play through the night to lull them to sleep. So dark sleepless nights came with the sounds of their favorite music: Carole King, Barbra Streisand, popular movie soundtracks.


There was a jeweled beetle pin that Cathy and Ellen would place on top of the stack of records for extra weight. Not sure why. Or was it on the needle to keep it from skipping?

Maybe to get me to sleep in my own room, I was given my own record player, a cute little portable in a red box.

red record player

I got to pick out my own records! I loved playing my mother’s old 45 of the Mills Brothers singing Glow Worm (1957).

Like my sisters, I loved a good movie soundtrack, but in my case, it was mostly a Disney-leaning collection.

Peter and the Wolf

My first attempt at coolness was when I bought the 45 of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away in 1973, leaving Disney behind. Here is a 1992 performance:

We also had a record player (aka, a turntable) in the den. I have so many memories of that room! Mostly around either reading in the green arm chair or watching the miracle of color television (we had color, but this was before remotes or cable, children). I was not an active child, clearly. I seem to remember a Danish Modern stereo cabinet with a vertical filing section for the albums.

Perhaps something like this.

But I don’t remember what records were stored in there! I know my mother loved the singer John Gary, so I’m sure there were a few of his albums. And I know we had the Andy Williams Christmas album, a classic and well-loved in the Cottraux home.


John Gary (1932-1998) is probably someone not many people are familiar with anymore, but he was quite popular in the 1960s, known for songs like Catch a Falling Star and So Tenderly.

The song I remember is Once Upon a Time, written by Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics), from the 1962 musical All American.

all american

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 9.00.10 AM

It was performed by many artists, including Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and apparently, Tom Jones (if you trust Wikipedia). I have to find this recording, if it exists; I love Tom Jones! I did find a version of Bob Dylan singing it at a Tony Bennett 90th birthday tribute.

But the version I know is John Gary’s. And it’s beautiful. And I will always think of my mother when I hear it.

In my imagination, then and now,  it was my late father, who died young and tragically in 1962, singing to my mother from heaven (see Nancy and Pete: A Love Story). I was a romantic even then.

One of the few pictures I have of my father.

As I write this, I wonder how accurate my childhood memories mwight be. According to some scientists, not very! Our brains are susceptible to false childhood memories. I’m not sure I want to know, but if you do, read this! Yes, human memory is fallible. But I like the bubble I live in just fine.

The Swiss-designed Cocoon I. I want one. Now.

When my mother got her first and only CD player, my sister Cathy sent her a CD of John Gary songs. I thought maybe I had it in my CD cabinet, but if I do, I couldn’t find it. I might have a degree in library and information science, but I can never find anything on my book or music shelves. Like the cobbler’s children have no shoes, the librarian’s books have no order.


If John Gary is in here, I don’t see him.

'Where in the world did I put the book, 'How to Organize Your Home Library'?'

I think I’ll add home library organization of things to do in my golden years. Unless I am too busy catching up on my sleep.


Peace and hugs. And sweet dreams.

Making a kitten video becomes a music appreciation lesson

Smart phones and social media have made it possible for me to indulge myself in my fantasy world of talking animals that I so believed in as a child. I was a shy, quiet, bookish girl, lost in my stories of animals and little people like The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers (see Some of the books that made me a life-long reader). If I had access to video and the internet in the 1960s, I am sure I would have been unbearable, dressing the family pets in clothes and making them act in weddings and other such human activities. But I can have my second childhood now and let my mind go back to that precious place.


Today was the day that the most recent family of foster kittens left our care to return to the shelter for their next steps in the adoption process. So the 10-year old that lives in my head decided we needed to make a graduation ceremony video. My cameraman (cough, cough, Robert Ward) kept getting his hand in the picture, but we are still working on our technique.


You can’t have a graduation without playing Pomp and Circumstance.


Which is where the story takes a turn from kittens to musicians. As we were driving the kittens to the East Bay SPCA, Bob, who happens to be a classical musician, said, “Elgar is the James Taylor of classical music.” Um, what? This required some explanation.

NPG x11894; Sir Edward Elgar, Bt by Charles Frederick Grindrod
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
James Taylor (born 1948)

James Taylor has a way of creating a sentimental, nostalgic, introspective mood that often seems to look back on better days and times.


Matthew Riley wrote an entire book on Edward Elgar and the Nostalgic Imagination (2007, Cambridge University Press). He uses terms like vanished greatness, a lament for times past, childhood and the countryside of an old England as musical subject matter. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th were times of great change, and Elgar’s music was a look at times past, not a look forward to the future. Arguably, the same can be said for James Taylor reflecting on the late 20th century/early 21st century.

While driving me and the kittens (I see a new story called Driving Miss Crazy Cat Lady in here somewhere), Bob put the car audio system on Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor. It’s quite lovely. Here it is performed at the North York Moors Festival in 2013.


It was suggested by my instructor that I might like the Enigma Variations as well. I do have a taste for both nostagia and melancholy, but I usually lean toward sad and folky singer/songwriters since I am still fairly ignorant of the classical music world after all these years (sorry Bob).


The Enigma Variations (1898-1899) comprise 14 variations on an original theme, each variation being a musical sketch of a loved one or close acquaintance. I won’t post all 14, but here is a selection, Nimrod, the 9th variation and tribute to Elgar’s great friend Augustus Jaeger, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor Daniel Barenboim in 1997.


Music editor Augustus Jaeger (1860-1909).

Another singer/songwriter in the musical world I inhabit is Natalie Merchant.

Natalie Merchant (born 1963).

Whenever I take a foster cat family back to the shelter, saying goodbye to them always makes me think of the song Break Your Heart.


Did Sir Elgar like animals? I have no idea. I assume Natalie Merchant does, although I couldn’t find an image of her with any. She did allow the use of her song My Skin on one of those heart-breaking and tear-inducing ASPCA ads, which is too hard to watch so I am not showing it here. But this is the song:


I know James Taylor likes animals. His cat, Ray Taylor, is often featured in JT’s social media.


James and Ray Taylor.

Now that we’ve come full circle back to cats (I knew I could do it), I will leave you with this. Please consider fostering for your local shelter. It will add joy to your life, and help the shelter save more lives. You might even meet your new best friend, like Marble here, who entered our lives as a foster and now is a member of our furry family (see The one that didn’t get away).


Peace and hugs.

I’m a Believer, It’s the End of the World As We Know It, and Here Comes the Sun

I’m in a covers mood. After being plagued by earworms (Is there a cure for earworms?Or, Help! I Need Somebody…) I started thinking about the earworms I was suffering from that happened to be cover versions of songs. I was in Atlanta (Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said) visiting, and my sister Ellen keeps the radio on stations of music from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

It just happened to be Ellen’s birthday while I was in Atlanta.

I was born in 1961, so my sweet spot is pretty much music from the mid 1970s. Maybe not the best era for pop music, but we are teenagers when we are teenagers. C’est la vie. I seem to have been living under a rock, since my list of original versions of songs tapers off in the 1990s (with one most beautiful entry from Lou Reed in 2008). The covers, however, span the years, showing that a good pop song is timeless.

Ellen and I started a handwritten chart, which quickly got out of control!

It’s a work in progress.
Just a couple of pop divas hanging out.

I have cleaned up the list to make it legible. I do not expect anyone to agree with me on the choice of cover versions; a good song (and even some bad ones) has a lot of covers and our tastes differ. It would be a boring world if we all liked the same things!

I should get a juke box and put all of these on it. Please forgive typos and misspelled names.

I am not going to post each and every song and its cover(s) on the list, as much as I would like to. Here are a few of my favorites, or if not my favorites, at least memorable versions of these songs. I am sure each and every one of you can add so many titles to this list. Feel free to add yours in the comments!

On my birthday, in 1992, there just happened to be an amazing tribute to Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden. The moment I remember most clearly is Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready performing Dylan’s 1963 Masters of War. It’s pretty intense.


A song that I played over and over again during a certain sad period in my life: Alison Krauss & Union Station’s 1995 version of Baby, Now That I’ve Found You. It’s much more melancholy than the original to me. And despite the cheerful face I generally show to the world, I love a good melancholy, make-me-cry, song.


Stevie Nicks’s song Landslide also serves the “I’m sad and I’m going to listen to this song over and over” purpose.


Ellen’s request for the list: Ewan McGregor singing Elton John’s Your Song  (1970) to Nicole Kidman in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge.


For my own selfish ends, I have to get some Hall & Oates in here somewhere! So here they are covering The Spinners 1972 hit I’ll Be Around.


I’m sticking with the original on this one; I’ve been singing this one in the car all week now so I have to post it to get it out of my system!


This one cracks me up. I love R.E.M., and It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine), is a good song. I will not brook argument on this one. I’m posting the original and the cover, which I first heard as filler music on NPR. It made me laugh, and we need more laughter in the world.


In the songs-that-make-me-cry category is Eva Cassidy covering Sting’s Fields of Gold. I remember the first time I heard it. It was a Sunday, I was driving to my job in Benicia from Davis, listening to Acoustic Sunrise on KFOG radio. Heart-breakingly beautiful.


Ellen keeps up with current pop music better than I do, so this is her pick: Sam Smith covering Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. I’d never heard of Sam Smith before (I mentioned that rock I live under), but I approve.


I can’t not post the awesomeness that is Richie Havens performing Here Comes the Sun.


In case you’ve never hear Peter Gabriel’s 2010 cover of Lou Reed’s 2008 song The Power of the Heart, I hope you love it as much as I do.


I think I’ll leave you with something to cheer you up and make you dance. If this doesn’t make you dance, I give up!