The kids at the shows will have kids of their own

Dec 17

you gotta stay positiveEarlier this month, I went out to Brooklyn to see three nights of The Hold Steady’s four-night run celebrating the tenth anniversary of their album Boys and Girls in America—their best-known album.  Today I updated my Google document in which I track shows dating back to around 2008 (it is a very imprecise list, especially for pre-2013 or so), and observe that the band is tied with Quiet Company for most shows in that period — 14 total.

I am, more or less precisely, The Hold Steady’s core demographic.  I’m 45 (same age as Craig), I grew up in the St. Paul suburbs (he grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs), I grew up listening to bands like the Replacements and the Suburbs and Arcwelder and so on.  And looking around the venue, there sure were a lot of folks like me—and a lot of guys (first show in ages where the men’s room line was much longer than the women’s).  The shows were (per usual) great, and I got to see friends (old and new!).

My first rock show in a club was The Suburbs at First Avenue circa 1987, the first of a number of “farewell” shows (that “farewell” thing never stuck; I in fact saw them this last summer at Taste of Minnesota).  Ella’s first rock show in a club was The Hold Steady at the Iron Horse in 2012, just before our move here.

For both of us, those introductions to club shows are almost not fair.  I’d put late ’80s shows from The Suburbs and any era Hold Steady show in my top ten live acts—maybe top three or four, honestly.  (This history with the ‘Burbs and other Twin Cities bands is part of why I am so utterly delighted to have a New Standards song on Let All The Children Boogie, incidentally.)

She’s gotten to see some amazing acts since then, too, including THS one or two more times, Quiet Company a ton, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, TMBG many times, Matt & Kim, and countless acts at ACL, Fun Fun Fun, and Sound on Sound Fest.  We went and saw Hamilton in January, which, while not technically a concert, was similarly transporting.  She’s doing dishes now, listening to Thao cranked up.  I’m guessing Lizzo will be next on the playlist.

I think it’s safe to say she loves music and specifically live music—that photo to the left is from Quiet Company’s run at Holy Mountain (RIP), and watching her be transported was a lovely moment.  As I remember saying at the time, there are no doubt more important parenting goals than having kids who like to go see great music performed well, but I’m still glad to have achieved it.

Anyway.  She’s going to go off to college next year.

This is not a surprising fact; she’s that age and she’s always had college in her plans.  She’ll end up somewhere great (hopefully with a good college radio station!) and she’ll do well, I’m confident.

I sure hope she also keeps seeing great live music and finding new great bands.  (I keep looking at the venues in the places she’s considering, hoping they’ve got a good talent buyer.)  And I hope she goes and sees a band that becomes for her what The Hold Steady and The Suburbs and Quiet Company and Mates of State and Fishbone and The Thermals and Michael Franti and Sharon Jones and so many more bands have been for me.

We’ve been doing this radio show thing for kids and families for over eleven years now (and have no plans to stop any time soon).  Lots of our early listeners are in the same situation we are, or will be soon.

My hope is that at least for some of your kids, the show has been an introduction not just to great music for kids, but as the first step for your kids finding music that moves and engages them the way these bands have done for me.  Get out to the shows with your kids, even as they get older; you might have to take a nap before hand (Uncle Rock has a whole song about that), but it’ll be worth it.  I’ll be out at the Against Me! show with Ella at the Mohawk in a few months and hopefully a lot more before she heads on the road.

At almost every Hold Steady show, Craig Finn declares, “There is so much joy in what we do up here,” and it’s palpably true.  That joy comes from every person in the venue, and it is shared with every person in the venue.  Help your kids find the band who brings the joy for them like that.  Maybe it’s a band you like, maybe it isn’t; be excited about it either way.

(Also: Buy music.  Buy merch.  Tip well.  Sing along, even if you don’t sing.  Support the bands.)

There’s gonna come a time when the true scene leaders
Forget where they differ and get big picture
‘Cause the kids at the shows, they’ll have kids of their own
The sing-along songs will be our scriptures

–The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

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“I want to stay connected to everyone.”

Mar 03

Tomorrow is Liam’s 14th birthday. It’s also the anniversary of the day that last year, Eric made the decision to remove his ventilator. Because this year I’m hoping to focus on the former, I’m writing some words now about the latter, looking through my Facebook messages and emails with Eric from the time.

ericbaseballA few days earlier, the subjects of our messages were mundane (though of course we all knew things were going downhill). I’d gotten a message from him asking if we’d sent a Bite Squad gift certificate.  We had, but it apparently arrived with no indication of its source. (Confidential to Bite Squad: Maybe tell recipients the name of the folks from whom they’re receiving a gift certificate!)

And then, on March 3, Eric must have posted something suggesting that the end was near, as I asked him if he was “heading into, I don’t know the right word, the final run.”

(Scrolling through Eric’s Facebook page to find what he posted, it is a hell of a challenge to get through the March 11-12 posts without just weeping.)

Aha! Found it. He posted a link to a column entitled “Death, the New Normal,” which discussed the process of getting used to death as one gets older. The column closed with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music,” a poem I also quoted in a piece I wrote during the process and, if memory serves, in the eulogy I gave at his funeral. The poem ends, famously, with “But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.”

Deep down in the comments thread, after friends noted their own refusal to approve or be resigned, Eric wrote: “On the other hand, resignation must come, eventually.” He was ahead of the rest of us. Honestly, he’s still ahead of me; I am still pretty damn far from approving.

(As an aside, as an epidemiology dork, I love that the fact that the previous post from him was a link to a story about a psychology journal banning the use of p-values.)

Anyway, so, I wrote to him on the 3rd asking if I was reading his post correctly. He agreed that he did feel he was getting through the end: “I’m so tired all the time and I sleep a ton. My only desire is to stay connected until the time comes.” And: “I’m thinking of working with hospice on stopping the vent, a matter of weeks. All I need from you is to stay connected.”

I asked about the alternative to removing the ventilator; he responded: “The alternative is to sleep more and more as things progress. It seems I could shorten that and be more aware when I pass.” In response to my question about whether awareness was a goal: “Since I want to stay connected to everyone I want to stay aware rather than fade away, although fading away may be more peaceful.”

My response: “I can see how having some measure of control could be appealing and a way to make it your process rather than the disease’s or a machine’s, if that makes sense. It also must be difficult to plan your own end, though once you’ve accepted it I assume it is easier.”

Eric responded without dancing around it: “Picking a day is really freaky. I’m still looking for some wide advice from hospice.” I said I hoped they had some wise advice, since I sure didn’t. His arms were tiring out, he wrote, but he said he wished he could have a time frame so he could plan. Without any firm predictions, he made his own plan and chose a date (March 12). A few days later, we talked about the process; he was frustrated that there were still details to be set up (I learned later that the IV provider was hesitant to let the doctor prescribe IV pain meds, fearing it was too close to assisted suicide, so they ended up with patches, I believe). “Once all of that is set, it will go better,” he wrote.

battleThen the day before, we messaged some more about logistics, and I sent him a photo of the setup that our friend Paul Hagstrom set up for digitizing some old Battle of the Band videotapes; he was glad his kids would see it eventually. He wrote me after he got back from getting the IV line done: “I got to experience some spring like weather on the way [home], which was nice. See you tomorrow.”

Around the same time, my mom was sending him daily—lovely—emails, with stories about me, about grandkids, about goats—about what Eric called “regular things.”

Her, on March 10: “I have no words of wisdom. I will just observe that you are living until you die, as you intended, and I admire you immensely. You are teaching again.” Eric responded: “It’s funny, I think a lot about my maternal grandmother lately, who had a long slow death from cancer. I have a funny feeling she’s helping me get through this. She handled her death with a lot of grace.”

He continued: “I don’t need words of wisdom, I just like hearing from people. My days are full of sleep. Let’s hope tonight is too. We talked to the girls about the fact that my vent won’t last much longer and we grieved together. I’m getting a large IV at the hospital tomorrow because the nurse couldn’t do it at home, but then I’ll be coming back home. That’s how they will administer the sedatives on Thursday. I feel 90% peaceful about it, and 10% nervous, which I think is reasonable.”

Actually, you know, another quote from my mom’s emails feels about right—something I’d forgotten until going back through my emails tonight. She told him a story about a conversation she and I had when I took a semester off to work on Paul Wellstone’s first Senate campaign, and finished it: “You know that your girls are going to be remembering what you taught them. They may not be dropping out of college to work on somebody’s Senate campaign, but the things they have learned, and are learning, from you are settled into their bones, and will serve them well.”

She was right. A couple of days later, Eric died, on as close to his own terms as could be achieved with ALS, teaching all of us around him until the end. And staying connected to everyone. I’ve written about it before, but the extended periods of eye contact he made—with every single person in the room, and, I firmly believe, with so many more people by extension—made it so Eric fulfilled his fundamental goal:

“I want to stay connected to everyone.”

Still connected.

Still miss the hell out of him.

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Best of 2015

Oct 28

treesSometimes I post my whole Fids & Kamily ballot; this year I just love all of my top ten (and beyond!) so much that I don’t want to do that, other than saying that the best family record of the year for me was Molly Ledford & Billy Kelly’s Trees.  Funny, sweet, catchy, sometimes a little melancholy, smart: it’s so darn good.

Here’s the rest of the list, in alphabetical order (in the way that iTunes does it):

  • Alastair Moock & Friends – All Kinds of You And Me
  • Gustafer Yellowgold – Wisdom Tooth of Wisdom
  • Jazzy Ash – Bon Voyage
  • Lori Henriques – How Great Can This Day Be
  • Lucky Diaz & the Family Jam Band – Adelante
  • Red Yarn & Friends – Deep Woods Revival
  • Renee & Friends – Simpatico
  • Suz Slezak – Watching the Nighttime Come
  • Tim Kubart – Home

Records that came really close:

  • The Bazillions – On the Bright Side
  • Bunnyclogs – Whales Can’t Whistle
  • Cat Doorman – Calling All the Kids to the Yard
  • Lloyd H. Miller – Sing-a-Long History Vol. 1: Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
  • Pointed Man Band – Flight of the Blue Whale
  • The Pop Ups – Great Pretenders Club
  • Turkey Andersen – s/t
  • Vered – Hello My Baby

And way more.  It was a good year.  Go buy some music.

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Some Numbers

Oct 10

47: The (approximate) number of folks we’ve had come by the studio since we moved to Austin just over three years ago.

28: The (approximate) number of acts I’ve booked for shows in Austin since moving here (doesn’t include The River’s Family Music Meltdown & Book Bash back in Northampton).


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The Voicemail.

Jul 14

A few months ago, motivational speaker Tony Robbins managed to get two out of three right on Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.  Normally this would be of passing interest at most, but he happened to be playing for “Bill Childs of Austin, Texas.”

Hey, that’s me!

Well, today I got the voicemail message from Carl Kasell.  I also got a special treat for listeners of the radio show — but you’ll have to wait until this weekend’s show to hear that.  But you can hear the message that callers to my cell phone now hear, featuring him reciting, beautifully, some of the lyrics to They Might Be Giants’s “Dr. Worm”:

(Click to the left of “00:00” if you don’t see a play button there.)

Huge thanks to Carl and the nice folks at Wait Wait.  It’s a total delight.

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Jun 19

We’re traveling and so we recorded a few shows ahead of time.  So I can’t do anything on the radio about Charleston, and I don’t know that I would or should anyway.

But I do want to write a little bit here before our day in London starts.

When a person of color, or a person of a non-Christian faith, does something horrific, the narrative is about the group or groups to which they belong.  And just as often, when a white or (nominally) Christian person does a similar act, the narrative shifts to being about mental illness, and how surprising the act was.

Of course we have to talk about mental illness, and of course a fully healthy person doesn’t do these things (though lets steer clear of making this yet another chance to stigmatize those with mental illness).

But we can’t end the conversation there.  I think we have to think about how children are raised — with love or with hate, and with active conversations about race and class and differences and privilege.  And about guns.  When those conversations are not part of our culture, it’s not at all surprising that these killings keep happening.

I don’t know anything about the Charleston killer’s childhood beyond what has been reported, and I don’t know if that’s all been accurate. I’m not saying a thing about his parents.

But I do know that he walked into a place that welcomed him and sat down next to people who were raised to welcome visitors with open arms and open hearts and open minds.  He at least pretended to pray with these loving people, and then he stood up, looked around at them, these people who had welcomed him and prayed with him, and he shot them to death.  With a gun given to him by his parents.

It’s reasonable to ask why I’m posting about this on the website for a children’s radio show.  Jessica Luther, an Austin mom, posted this on Twitter yesterday:

“A 5yo black girl survived last night by playing dead. Surely my 6yo white son can survive a conversation about why she matters.”

Maybe naively, I think part of that conversation can be started and facilitated through music.  Music that celebrates love and difference and play and fun and history and the future.  Music that gets kids dancing together, spinning together, singing together, holding hands together.  Music that asks interesting questions and hopefully gives parents a chance to talk about some possible answers.

So, put on some music, hold your kids, and, if the time is right, have a hard conversation about what happened.  It can only help.

Love you all.

As usual, Elizabeth Mitchell (here with Dan Zanes) is a great place to start.  Hopefully the embedding will work:

P.S. Please don’t make the narrative be just about the South, either. South Carolina has some amazingly wonderful and loving people, and every state has its problems. Certainly there are regional issues but these are not issues unique to anyone or any state.



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