Ears Open


  • Ode to a Saturday Night (10/22/2017)

    By Narcissa Lyons


    Been silent for a little too long, forgive this writer her lapses, but Hello and Hail regardless. Thought I’d send a reminder on the importance of going out for night life as regularly as you can, because I went to a bad ass band performance the other night, a musical, scintillating, almost mystical one.  I realize this is not earth-shattering or a noble proclamation by any definition, but sometimes, particularly as we get older, we become too much of a home body.  There is something exquisite and comforting about staying at home on occasion, but it is still living a little less if you do it too much. If you get complacent in your complacency.

    Walking into the establishment I did not expect mundane, because even bad music never gets you a mundane crowd unless it is really mellow and really bad.  I also did not expect what I walked into.  We went with another set of hockey parents with whom we have become close.   I think most people are aware of what it means to be “hockey parents” or “soccer parents”, etc.  As it happens, we ventured out because another friend, also a former hockey parent, is the drummer of the band in question, and we’d for a few years been promising to see his band play.  Some friendships remain and sometimes reblossom just by a run-in, and sometimes totally disappear because that is what life is.  You appreciate life, the very cool beings you get to meet and party with, but then there are fading relationships as well, particularly if you have children whose interest/talents meander from the original path.  The memories of these great people (and I suppose also the assholes) embed themselves in your brain and enhance your perception of the world, educate you in subtle and sometimes important ways.

    By no means can I define normalcy, and one day when I am older and ideally less vulnerable, I will chat on that line, but for the sake of my happy observation last week and the drug-like good music, I’ll leave that alone.  But it was not a normal Saturday night.  We went to Waxy O’Connors in Woburn, MA, because the band “Totally Inappropriate” (who should modify that name to “Totes Inappropes” with a valley accent per me), was playing.  As I mentioned, we had kept intending to go see them, but like everything in life, something got in the way, or we got lazy, or the shower soothed us to the PJ path.  I think you know what I mean.

    PJs didn’t happen, lipstick smacked, cologne slapped on and a bit of snazz put on all around. We got as hip as we could, and met our Saturday night with the avarice we felt and it deserved.  I can’t tell you exactly why this band-at-a-bar Saturday night was better than most, and maybe the fact I don’t go out as much romanticizes it, but I have a skinny feeling that isn’t it.  It was wall to wall, not a frown to be found, and as usual, when everyone has a slight tingle from whatever elixir embraces their ice cubes, it was mesmerizing brief friendships.

    And the music. How can I now only start the main reason for the success of that evening?  The music, performed 98% on key, was acutely perfect in its reverence for the evening, and the fact it was not professional, was get-down-dirty-fun-to-perform-to- people-I-love-and-people-who-just-happened-to-walk-in–was ecstasy.  I saw women acting like teen-agers and looking like teenagers because of the unbound happiness  and loss of reality thoughts.  I saw young men laughing and smoking and drinking too much, and interacting with the rest of them.  I saw slightly older men, one in particular sitting stoically as if a shade too cool for this foolishness, while who might have been his wife danced him into a sitting reverie of appreciation of her and the rest of the loons she provoked.  I saw bartenders bending rules and spectacled onlookers loosen ties and begin to sweat to things they only started to realize they recalled.  I think I might have seen everything.  OK, exaggeration, but it felt like I saw everything, that’s how well it hummed.

    I am not your biggest country fan, but Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” came on and the place went a shade maniacal. A big part of the success was just how broad the spectrum of music they played was.  From a few Tom Petty hits, of course,  to “Billie Jean” to the Violent Femme’s “Blister in the Sun”to Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” to The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and it goes on.  Part of being a sought-to-see cover band is playing familiar songs, but too often they are TOO familiar and become background instead of what T.I. performed.…which is the buzzy shit that gets people up and thrilled to move with others on a too crowded dance-floor.

    Sure, you can say, it was just a Saturday night. Sure, you can think, that happens all over the place, and sure–you would be right.  But it was here, and it was lit up electrification (redundancy I know), and the way skirts flounced or rose, the way men bowed and shook their heads, was not any ol’ Saturday night.  Or it was and I’d just forgotten.  PJs are comfortable, and watching movies or binge watching an exceptional series is a calm sweetness on its own, and I don’t advocate its erasure.   But I do advocate getting the hell out there on a Saturday Night as often as you can.  Life is short.  Take all the music and dance that you can afford and muster.



  • One of the Two (6/12/2017)

    By Narcissa Lyons

    Here is my first musical performance review so forgive any mishaps if that even applies given it’s all opinion anyway.   I will be attending more concerts–maybe not as many as I did in my teens and twenties, but I need to get back out in that world.  There is a lot of good music right now, a lot of young, scratchy bands and the live show has always been and will always be where it’s at.  Having said that, my first review covers an artist from the long long ago.  He may still write music, and I know he is coming out with a book in September because he kept telling us as much, but he is a musical icon—I give you none other than Art Garfunkel, one half of the world famous, and world loved Simon & Garfunkel.  Their list of contributions over the 60s, 70s and 80s is immense, breathtaking, made so many people happy, singing and dancing for so long, and still it carries on.  Since this is a review about the recent performance of only half that reverie, I’ll not go into detail about the cataclysmic Concert in Central Park show I was lucky enough to attend, but it was well worth skipping school, hopping on the train and carousing with 500,000 other people.  Not to mention it marked the beginning of this listener’s love affair with the duo’s music.

    I don’t have a lot of solo Art Garfunkel albums. Actually only one, Angel Clare, but his voice just shatters me, solo or with Simon–so resonant and pure, with a low hypnotic timbre that sends you.  My assumption the night we visited The Cabot Theatre in Beverly, MA on May 19th was he’d play mostly Simon and Garfunkel pieces, but we got to hear a nice mixture.   When we got to hear him sing, that is.

    I’m a little bitter. Which is stupid, since I knew going into it that the man is 75.  The show was dubbed as “An Evening with Art Garfunkel” so to be fair, that ended up being accurate.  We were with him from the beginning at 8 to the precise ending at 10, and he with us, so the incorrect assumption on our part was that he would be singing most of that duration.  He sang some of the classics, some of them even from beginning to end, and they were beautiful, moved all of us, closed our eyes and sang along when you’d expect.  But he also read an inordinate amount of poetry from his upcoming book.  Is he a bad poet? No.  Is he a good poet?  Sometimes.  But about 40% of the show was comprised of reading that poetry between songs, or providing somewhat amusing anecdotes about his life, bragging about who he knows (like I give a shit he hangs around with Jack Nicolson or Ann Margaret), and more than a few times patting himself on the back—or should I say throat—about how it has been essential to the world of music he contributed his voice.  He is right but gimme a break.  “When you have a bird in your throat you have to sing for others, the world”.

    Initially I was baffled by the inclusion of this type of performance, but then I realized and told my husband at intermission that he was doing it all to rest his voice.  He couldn’t sing for two hours straight so rested and used other filler.  Patter.  I get that, but I didn’t like it.  I did not attend the show to feel somewhat sorry for a musical legend with fading vocal chords while he occasionally sang well (and apologized/admitted he would not be able to hit the climactic notes at the end of Bridge Over Troubled Water).

    And it also ended my theory up until then that Paul Simon’s ego is what has addled their relationship since many a year ago.   Mr. Garfunkel is no shrinking violet either.  That may be evident having read the previous paragraphs, but the show lent clarity to a long held and obviously undeserved position on my part.  Sorry Mr. Simon.  Don’t get me wrong.  The Sound of Silence alone contributed life-defining moments to many the world over.  What they have together given our world of music is unstoppably large and brilliantly genius (redundant in any other case but this), but that kind of talent is often not free, and in their case the cost was jealousy, peevishness and likely missed musical creations (real horror, that).

    The show started out well. Art G. is a funny guy when he leaves out all the self praise.  He opened with a stunning and perfect “April She Will Come”,” but I got a foreboding of the rest of the show with the next piece.  The only song I HAD to hear, was praying in advance he would play and chances were good since it is a fairly well known song of his, was “All I Know”.  The notes for the opening of that lovely tune were what immediately followed the first song, crystal and sweetly flowing from the piano, and I looked over at my husband with that half-crazed happy look you get when something is going smashingly right.   “This is it!  YAY!” is what that expression urgently conveyed.  But the music was never joined by Garfunkel’s voice.  With growing dread I listened to the exceptionally long piano intro to the song, instinctively aware of the robbery that was taking place.   What naught!  What blasphemy!  To be cast to the top of joy and just as callously flung to the pit of dismay!  One big Phooey and you can possibly understand how the rest of the show was cast in shadow while I got over that frowning disappointment.

    Would I still have gone had I known the outcome? No matter what, the answer is absolutely yes.  The deep talent and still resonant voice of the man was worth the moderate torture.  The audience, more tolerant and amused than I during the speechifying, was reverent during the music, and so was I.  Of particular note other than what I have listed, was his “99 Miles From LA”, a piece I had not heard and promptly downloaded—breathtaking in delivery, and haunting as it crescendo-ed.   For Emily Wherever I May Find Her”, a song that makes one’s eyes glisten, impacted that much more emotionally live.  I was thankful for that moment and even also for his touching “Now I lay me down to sleep” closing song.  By ten O’clock I had lost the miffed feeling from a few hours earlier, and was glad I had gotten to know Art Garfunkel a little more personally, glad I got to see him in this venue and reminisce about excellent things in life to the lilt of his voice.  And no matter what, he loves to sing, entertain, create, and he strives to keep re-capturing the millions of hearts already won.

  • When the Chimes End (10/1/2016)

    By Narcissa Lyons


    Man walks into a bar.

    A tall but feminine cowboy shot my brother right in front of me.

    She took off her brassiere very slowly in front of the alien.

    Above statements are pretty great openers  for whatever subject they would be introducing.  I am not getting the vibe or the dazzle that I’d want to convey for one of the best things in life–Music, dear music, our necessary and attentive lover.    Never-the-less I will try to pay tribute as best as I can to this resoundingly large dimension.  The magnitude of its effect on the majority of living souls is not quantifiable, and while I can’t prove it yet, I know it also  affects the many souls no longer on this planet.  From the beginning of this life including conception there is music, or at the very least tuneful sound.  Even if you don’t hear seductive swanky jazz while your mother and father are distractedly creating you, very soon you are entranced with the tones of your mother’s womb–the jostle of your container, the voices of people talking to your mother’s belly, and this begins to form who you are and what you will love to hear.  And we’ve all read about the positive effects of music played loudly enough for an unborn child to hear it, that playing classical music will in fact enhance the brain of that child.

    But I am not talking about how it is possible to affect intelligence, or the science of music.  Sure, music can be cerebral, but far more grand and beautiful and historic is what it makes us feel, how it makes us move and how it moves us.

    I grew up playing the piano and listening to classical.  Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius, and many others in the same gang would play on our parents’ record player on most weekends, maybe even for cocktail hour if they had one.  We lived on five acres in New York and the living room window on the back of our house overlooked our very own little lake that had eight willows surrounding it, an island in the middle and three red bridges, one going to the island and the other two crossing outgoing streams.   It was environmental music I suppose, and it was a paradise for children.  Many a day I would look out the window as the classical played and imagine stories unfolding in the branches of those trees, of faeries swinging off and dancing on the surface of the lake, and possible kind witches watching from the shore (listen to Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2  and you will see something similar yourself).  Sometimes it would be darker stories–particularly with Tchaikovsky or Sibelius–since the willow at the far side of the property was a riotous king, and he was not a benevolent tree, was not a tree that appreciated dancing faeries anyway. The windows were large, and if the weather was tempestuousness combined with what played in the background, it was a spell unmatched.

    Anyway, we grew up with music, and then around age 11 began to listen to the radio and play other styles of music.  Since technology back then was lacking at best, in order to capture a song we liked without purchasing a 45  (no, not the gun), we’d have to request the song on a radio station, pray they played it, and then wait and try to catch it from the beginning with a tape recorder.  Or that’s what we did since we had nothing else.  That sort of dependence on others to play what you wanted could lead to some weary days, and dejected youths.  But you learned who your favorite DJs were.  We’d even on occasion record a scene from a movie or show, but since the sound quality of the play-back was worse than awful it had to be one hell of a piece.

    Then things got easier and we started to appreciate albums, and the splendor of going to concerts.   Of sitting in your room with a few friends just listening to the way Pink Floyd could take you away on anything from The Wall or “Shine on You Crazy Diamond off Wish You Were Here with or without mind altering ingredients.  The hypnotic and trancelike intro of Supertramp’s “Child of Vision”.  Standing around a fire in a forbidden section of woods listening to extremely loud music, and sometimes that was even what made the night.  Sometimes just being loud was good enough for young, rebelling ears. We didn’t have to talk all the time, but stood appreciating the sound, occasionally looking at one another and smiling or just holding our own.  Even our own self-deemed wisdom wasn’t enough to quite say what we were feeling and how incredible it  was.

    Riding in cars and dancing in bars, mesmerized moving and dancing with those who are  worth it who are with us as we love this drug, this companion (David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, what a multi-generation shaker).  It is for all of us, many of us, for just us two, for lonesome walk by the brook me.  Regardless the location or head count, if only to hear a melody or a haunting voice or blasting, lasting drums and the cadence that on your own you can rock back and forth to is half a perfect world. (maybe the best for a drum solo like this  I’ve heard is Kings of Leon’s “Knocked Up”).    I like to watch instrumentalists or singers as they display their respective talents to create their own companion that is music.  Not all concerts are intimate, but in many you are able to grasp the depth to which a performer goes into themselves, enjoying playing what we hear at least as much as we enjoy hearing it.  I saw Andre Boccelli perform about six years ago and it was shattering in the best of every way.  His softly strong and resonating voice caressed  his audience as many of us wept at the intensity of the beauty he was gifting us.  They are sweeping themselves away while we go with them.  How is that not magic?

    Hearing beauty is more affecting than seeing beauty–I am willing to bet only a few will say otherwise.   It’s partly unfair of course.   We cannot take many beautiful sights with us as we go about our days and this makes visuals far more fleeting.  What we hear travels  with us most of the time when we press play or PLAY IT LOUDER.  It gets to our very core.  It enhances that which is already beautiful to a point the listener cannot sometimes fathom that a moment is right then magnificence itself.  It’s true that sometimes other things are happening—a touching scene in a movie well scored, a drive on your own or with others on a breezy day, a vision over-looking wild willows unfolding before a child’s eye–but it is the very music that made such events memorable.   It takes us to a sensory dimension we almost don’t know how to handle, and we are stunned, enraptured and even enslaved.  To not want the moment to end.

    Melody enhances that which is already glorious or a gladified mood, but it exaggerates every mood so that the feeling, regardless of what it is, intensifies to levels that make us keep coming back.  A horror movie director depends on it.  Because it can make the sun shine brighter, the ocean waves more serene, but music also brings fear and darkness to a precipitous height.  The dismal, the dreary, the brilliant, the eerie — all of it more pronounced with given compositions.  Not to be trite, but how many times do we play a sad piece when we’ve been broken inside, not just because we love the song, but because it gets us more quickly to the center of heart break.  And in some ways the listening is a catharsis, gets us to the devastation more quickly so we can get back to happier notes sooner.  Maybe.  But it does lend beauty to any particular tragedy.   Comes to mind one catastrophic music video.  I have not heard this song since then and I  know exactly why.  Live’s song “Overcome”  played to footage of 9-11  that aired almost immediately following that bedlam.  It is horrific.  And it is beautiful.  We all remember clearly what we were doing that day, and even the days and weeks following.   I remember sitting on the couch for days watching this piece every time it played, the repetition of which did not soften the damage of the disaster, but still somehow helped with the grief.  The marrying of the terror to that haunting song simultaneously doomed and immortalized it.

    A little earlier I mentioned recording music off the TV occasionally when we were younger.  Miraculously, while I was in the process of writing this article unbeknownst to her, my sister accidentally found and sent me a link to one of the best music-to-movie moments I have ever seen – and it is one that I taped off the TV–the magical sounds of a pocket watch chime and ensuing orchestral music to the beginning of a the final gun duel in the Clint Eastwood movie, “For a Few Dollars More”.  I had only ever heard the sweet music .  What she sent me was a link to the very orchestra being directed to the scene in the background (Here).  It might be a little worn from time, but in its own way  is a synopsis of everything I have here written and have attempted to convey.  It is musicians playing to and with their talent, the composer/magician steering them to create the spellbinding audio we are blessed enough to hear.  If you read the commentary below, it is continued iteration of the power of music and how much it interweaves our lives and even partly defines us.  The character, El Indio, says to Colonel Douglas Mortimer “When the chimes end, try and shoot me Colonel.  Just Try.”  If you only look at one link, look at that one.  We rely on the chimes.  May they never end.

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