Thursday, August 30, 2012

summer songs, volume 4: the beach boys.

Our family grew up driving a remarkable number of sketchy cars. This is remarkable because in every other respect, my parents were so fastidious and so safety-conscious. Don't get me wrong--I know most parents are pretty committed to not killing or maiming their kids, but with mine it was always a really pronounced effort. Obviously this commitment ended just shy of where the rubber hit the road, and as a result my brother and I spent a lot of years rattling around the back seats of ancient Volkswagens, not-so-gently-used Civics, and one truly incredible powder-blue Buick Regal, inherited from a dearly departed relative. Many years and countless Honda leases later, this fleet of doom seems like a distant and impossible dream.

We didn't have a proper car stereo for a long, long time. Until we got the old Civic hatchback, we didn't have so much as a tape player. After the hatchback came the most ballin' whip the Fralicks would ever know: the Ford Aerostar minivan, which featured headphone jacks in every row (maddeningly frivolous, when you think about it, given that each set of headphones would just be plugged into the same stereo you'd be able to hear without them anyway). The jewel in the Aerostar's crown, though, was that my brother and I each got our own motherfuckin' ROW in that van. It was Family Road Trip Xanadu.

But that's not the story I'm telling right now. The story I'm telling is about the days before the minivan, the days when Noah and I would be jammed into the back seat with the cooler sandwiched between us, the days when we made up for the absent stereo by playing our tapes on Dad's portable tape recorder. Mostly I remember us listening to the Beach Boys. Occasionally I forced of my New Kids on the Block tapes in there. But not often. When we were growing up, my brother loved the Beach Boys. We taped their reunion concert off of PBS and watched it a dozen times on a scratchy VHS cassette. We listened to that Surf's Up! tape till it nearly wore out, windows down (our cars never had air conditioning), hot breeze in our faces. The song I remember most, for whatever reason, is All Summer Long. I loved it when I was younger. The xylophone in the opener, the tight harmonies, the perfect picture it paints of a gal and a guy driving around town and playing mini putt in their t-shirts and cutoffs. There's also something a little bit ominous about the line, "Won't be long till summertime is through." Enjoy yourself; it's later than you think. Even as a child I had a healthy taste for the grim detail.

Years later, the song was featured over the closing credits of one of my favourite ever Simpsons episode, the season finale where they all go to Flanders' cottage and Lisa decides to give up her yearbook committee-running, grammar rodeo buckaroo, nerdish leanings and reinvent herself as a hip dudette with a tie-dye shirt. She joins a group of a bunch of cool kids, drama ensues, and eventually she learns that the most important thing in life is to be yourself. (If you want, you could come over to my place and I could recite the entire script of the episode for you and also tell you everything about it that is great, but maybe we'll save that for another day.) Anyway, the episode ends with Homer tossing a beer can out the window of his car, at which point a hermit crab makes its home in it. As the beer crab skulks away, that xylophone kicks in, and the rest writes itself. As a teenager (and who are we kidding, as an adult too), I was a complete geek for both music and television. Watching that episode for the first time, I can't even put into words for you how excited it made me to hear one of my favourite songs on my favourite show. It felt like a sign. It was going to be a great summer. It had better be a great summer, because soon enough it would be over.

And as I write this, the summer is, in fact, nearly through. One more golden weekend and we'll creep on into September, seasons spinning around again. This summer went by in the blink of an eye. They always do. At times it felt like I was moving backwards instead of forwards as I found myself in places and with faces that meant so much to me so long ago. At times I felt like a much younger version of myself, doing and saying the kind of things I've spent years convincing myself I was too old for. It was a good feeling for a girl like me who lives in a perpetual state of nostalgic overload.

I don't mind the summer's end. Not really. Indian summer's always been my jam--the chilly evenings, the pleasant surprise of an unusually warm day, the early harvest, the sleepiness of autumn setting in. Yeah, I'm ready for that. Just give me a couple more nights of t-shirts and cutoffs and hearing my song on the radio, and I'll be good to go.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

urge for going.

I'm not much of a traveler. Don't get me wrong: I love going places. I love exploring uncharted waters (both literal and physical). I love scaring myself, getting out of my comfort zone. My problem, however, is that I never know that I love these things till I'm done doing them. It's the return that I jones for, the coming home, the relief of getting back, of telling the story of the journey. That's the part I love.

But I'm not much of a traveler. When I'm away, I'd rather stay with friends than in a hostel. I'd rather land in one place for a couple of weeks and just be there, settle in, put down whatever spindly roots I can in the short time I have there. This is why I am also an excellent companion on road trips: I plant myself in the car. Ten years ago or so, my then-boyfriend and I drove out to the East Coast together, and we made my parents' little red Civic our home on the open highway. We spread out like goldfish who grow to the size of their bowl; at the end of two weeks the car was littered with lighters, CDs, lists of our desert island albums (and oh my lord how we fought over which CDs to bring for the road in those crowded days before portable music libraries), half-eaten Cadbury bars. We settled in as we headed out. It's a nice combination.

All of which is to say, I'm about to embark on my favourite kind of journey--a trip to a home away from home. On Sunday I'll fly to Vancouver, the city that saw me through some of the weirdest, hardest years of my life, the city I fell in love with everytime I looked out the window of my apartment on Arbutus and saw those giant mountains, the city I debated losing myself in when my little life Back East fell apart. My Best West Coast Friend Tara's picking me up at the airport. I think it'll be the first time anyone's ever met me at that airport. When I lived there, and would fly back in there, it was always just me, alone at the taxi stand. It's a good feeling, the safety that someone's going to be there when you arrive.

But first, I am, as the old song says, Alberta Bound. Tonight I fly to Calgary, where my parents will collect me. It's a comfort to know your family's already waiting for you somewhere.

Last night I packed my carry-on bag. There's something really reassuring about packing a proper carry-on. A tiny friend of mine who's flying on a plane for the first time pretty soon was recently telling my mother about what she's putting in her carry-on; her list includes a Band-Aid and Chapstick. My list included oregano oil, a book by Kate Atkinson, mixed nuts, Chapstick (the kid's got a good point), an iPod newly stocked with the kind of soulful folk rock I love, and The New Yorker. Following my mother's advice I always put a pair of underpants in my carry-on too, just in case. I like knowing I have everything I need right under the seat in front of me. It makes me realize how little it actually takes to find true contentment. A little music, a few words, an open sky. A mini bottle of Gallo Brothers Merlot on the seat-back tray table doesn't hurt either. It's a lucky life.

See y'all in a week or two.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

90210 redux.

Don't worry, guys--I've been watching 90210 again so you don't have to. Watching it on DVD is an even more absurd experience than watching it the first/second/third time on actual network television, partly because DVD-watching is intentional. I keep having these epiphanous moments where I realize that I actually chose to put myself through this.  Also, clearly very few of the songs featured in the original series were actually approved for syndication rights, so a lot of the "action" scenes (the frosh week pool party, the night club visits, even the Peach Pit breakfasts) are soundtracked by the worst kind of stock songs.  This bummed me out in the second season, when during the scene in which Steve gets on a Greyhound bound to find his birth mother on Christmas Eve, they replace The Pretenders' "He's Gone" with a horrifying songwriter's nightmare about hittin' the road on Christmas Eve. Now that I'm on to season 4 I'm trying to appreciate the absurdity of it. I look forward to the season when Jamie Walters comes on the scene as struggling musician Ray Pruitt--I seriously hope they just dub over all his vocals for "How Do You Talk To An Angel" with a really bad song about beating up your girlfriend, just for the sake of total plot transparency.

Anyway, the last time I wrote about 90210, I was pretty analytical. In my defense, I was also pretty stoned on cold medication, and it was so hot outside. I think I spent an entire weekend in a cold bathtub last July, pounding back episodes like my life depended on it. This year, though, I don't have quite as much energy for analysis. Instead I'm just gonna catalogue a few of the best lines, okay? Okay.

"I can't have you as my teacher in the English class and my lover in the dorms." God, how many times did I utter that same phrase during my first degree.

"It just figures that the night I break up with Dylan is the same night he gets carjacked." Such universal truths. Such gravitas.

"Do you have any plans for the rest of the week? How about for the rest of your life?" I love that Brenda accepts this question as adorable and goes on to date Stuart for at least a few episodes, rather than run screaming from him. 

"You have two of the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. And I would like to see them again." This comes from the eloquent mouth of Jesse, the bartender-turned-Andrea-babydaddy. If she'd had three of the most beautiful eyes I don't know if he'd've been as forthcoming.

"You're so much more intuitive and sensitive than the girls I meet in college." Kelly's super-psycho bro boyfriend, John Sears, is such a gross manipulator. 

And speaking of super psychos...

Another great thing about Season 4 is the well-crafted villain character arc. John Sears' true psychological asshattery takes about five episodes to reveal itself; they really let things develop from a nice little romance story to CAMPUS HORROR.  This season is where 90210 comes into its own as far as plot and character development (I really mean this. How am I actually saying this). They've perfected the sinister stranger narrative since honing it on the Emily Valentine plot in Season 2. In fact, there's even an incredible Very Special Thanksgiving Episode where the two CalU sororities/frats, Keg House and Alpha House, are cooking dinner at a home for troubled girls, and John Sears goes all sexual predator on a headcase teen (played by the chick who played Rayanne Graf on My So-Called Life. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!); at the same time, Brandon hits the open road to find Emily Valentine. In a great example of parallel plotting, Emily gets more and more virtuous (instead of setting fire to homecoming floats, she's now going to study marine biology at the Cousteau Institute), John Sears gets more and more badass. It doesn't get any better than this, friends.

In conclusion, I am so glad I paid attention to my drama professors' lectures on dramatic development and symmetrical storylines and stage timelines and timing, because now I can identify it in a TV series from the mid-90s. And they say there's no value in a liberal arts education.