Asking for Books

For my 30th birthday, I asked my parents for their favorite books. They chose two each, and over lunch at the Olive Garden, shared the stories behind their choices—when and how they first came to read them, what they love so much about them.

Combined, these 4 books span 3000 pages, 106 publishing years, and decades of two readers’ lives. They are my parents’ favorite books. They are pieces of my parents. I am pieces of my parents.

I’m keeping the titles close, but I want to pass on the idea, because I’m so glad we did it. Days like this are too few, when we really share ourselves with each other. Maybe we just need to ask more often.


photo by Al Janicek

Sound Desire

photo by Tonya Vachirasomboon

photo by Tonya Vachirasomboon

I don’t know a better word than “lust” to describe the pull of experiencing great music from the audience. There’s such an ache to be on the other side of the sound, to have honed and crafted, to be the one climbing inside the notes and riding them out, cresting over and with the phrases—coming to a finish, alone, before snapping back into the room around you. I don’t know anything more mindful.

I’m getting better at it – at listening. At being in the audience. The hole in me is deep; I can’t fill it with a few stage-side concerts alone, so I go and I watch and I listen. It’s a different beast. You’re not in the music so much as following its hem. Try to linger, to turn it around and absorb its itness, and you’re already missing out. It’s already, always, a moment ahead of you.

It’s an exercise in acceptance, I think. Want the music hard enough, fight against its fleetingness, and it’ll burn you up like an adolescent.

But let that desire rip through you and set you back down, and you can start to ride it like the performer rides the sound itself. Still, it will always suspend you in the tension of a beautiful thing:

You cannot keep it.

Music is for Everone – Why I love Banjos

Most people like music. But most people don’t do music. I hope I’m not stereotyping the whole of American society here, but whether the suburbs did it or the Internet did it or whatever it was did it – we’ve lost a lot of the shared experience of doing music together and are pretty much exclusive consumers of the stuff.

Think about the times that “non-musical” people do sing in public just for fun. They are almost always drinking or in junior high. In either case, they’re tapped further into their true messy humanity than the rest of us, and they are having a wonderful time. But we’re afraid to do this ‘in real life’ because A) someone might judge us and B) we at some point collectively decided that singing songs with friends or family is a stupid way to spend free time.

Folk music means music of folk, music of the people. But when we say it now, we usually refer to a specific kind of music associated with a specific group of people or a specific period of time. When we think of American folk music, we’re thinking of something very particular, and even though it’s pretty cool, most of us see it as a novelty or as a hobby of those in that particular musical scene.

But we like it.

Note the recent rock(ish) renaissance of the banjo. I don’t think it’s only because of hipsters (though they’ve surely helped). I think it’s because the banjo lets us access access a musical feeling that we don’t touch anywhere else (maybe some churches, but then you have to be on good behavior).

The banjo is approachable, inviting, humble, democratic. Would this happen with an electric guitar or anything autotuned?

Look how happy that crowd is! They are having a fantastic time. This is folk music not because of the instrument but because of the crowd. It does not matter at ALL how good of a singer you are. And I want more of it.

I want to revive folk music. Real folk music. I don’t care if it’s Seeger or Gaga – if you’re singing it in your house or your yard with people you know and like, then it is folk music and it is awesome.