On Air Mix Tape

January 24, 2019

download-7First, we’ll get a little business out of the way. If you’re reading this and it’s still January of 2019, you’re in luck. A few weeks ago, my brother Kevin and I went to my favorite radio station, WUMB, and recorded an hour-long radio show, “Guest Mix,” that will air this Saturday, January 26 at 1 p.m. If you’re so inclined, please listen! We promise a magical mystery tour that will not disappoint. . .

Kevin would insist on saying the song choices are mine (he does have a reputation to protect), but he does have to acknowledge he is the reason I love and listen to radio in the first place. In middle school, Kevin was the one who figured out how to connect our TV antenna to the radio so we could listen to the infamous Charles Laquidara on Boston’s WBCN and Dr. Demento on Portland’s WBLM even though we lived in the New Hampshire hinterlands.


Kev also made mixed tapes with clips from these radio shows plus tracks from his collection of Columbia House and RCA Record club albums, and he’d play them on the bus for away basketball games where it seemed universally accepted by all of us he was in charge of the entertainment. When Kevin became a DJ in college, I followed him into the broadcast booth, literally paging through the list of what he’d played to get ideas of how to set up my own show the following day.


But other than music and a mutual love for our mom’s mac and cheese, Kevin and I have never had a whole lot in common. We chose different paths almost from the beginning, and I think even we are a little surprised we live only a couple hours rather than a few thousand miles away from each other now.


But music continues to connect us, whether we’re talking about what’s new or getting nostalgic for what’s not. Kevin and I still listen to radio too, though his favorite station is WERS from Emerson College, and mine is UMass Boston’s WUMB, the station where our show will air.


So thanks to WUMB, especially DJ and musician Brendan Hogan who was a great tour guide for this trip. While I won’t divulge the playlist (you need to tune in for that), you can have an idea of what we chose from the breadcrumb trail of album covers I’ve scattered throughout the post. I encourage guesses for the tracks we played!

And if you haven’t listened to WUMB (or Kev’s favorite WERS for that matter), check them out. There is still great radio even without a satellite feed, and if you’re worried about your smart speaker listening in, just know Big Brother might learn a thing or two by getting an earful of Steve Earle, Richie Havens, Ani DiFranco, Emmylou Harris, and all the other rabble rousers always on the airwaves of the stations that still matter.


Kev and me with Brendan Hogan. If I look slightly overwhelmed, it’s because I was thinking of all the amazing musicians that have played in this very studio. Jayhawks, Richard Thompson, Alison Krauss, and more. Truly hallowed ground!

Recycled Record Art

November 24, 2018


If you are just now discovering that I love both music and record art, pleased to meet you! My name is Kate Flaherty. . . . Seriously, most of you know I have been collecting records ever since I have been buying records, way back when I was in the single digits. I am most enamored of the humble 45  not just for its nostalgic import, but also for the delightful decorative surprise it can add to almost any aesthetic. I initially created this post to sell the records, and most have been re-homed or re-hung, but I still love the pics!




STRAND #1: Love ‘em or leave ‘em classics 

“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” Meat LoafIMG_2612

“You Give Love a Bad Name,” Bon Jovi

“Urgent,” Foreigner

“Heartache Tonight,” Eagles

“White Room,” Cream

“Start Me Up,” Rolling Stones

“Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” Motley Crue

“Can’t Stand It No More,” Peter Frampton

“Jeopardy,” Greg Kihn Band


STRAND #2: ‘80s Post Punk New Wave

“If You Leave,” Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark

“White Wedding,” Billy Idol

“House We Used to Live In,” SmithereensIMG_2605

“Poison Arrow,” ABC

“Saved by Zero,” The Fixx

“Every Breath You Take,” The Police

“White Punks on Dope,” The Tubes

“Dreaming,” Blondie

“Beds Are Burning,” Midnight Oil


STRAND #3: Kick-ass Chicks

“Harper Valley PTA,” Jeannie C. Riley

“Mr. Sandman,” Chordettes

“Shop Around,” Captain & Tennille

“The Loco-Motion,” Little Eva

“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” Roberta Flack

“Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” Petula Clark

“Rambler Gambler,” Linda Ronstadt

“Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” Paper Lace

“Wishin’ and Hopin’” Dusty Springfield


STRAND #4: AM Radio Oldies

“My Little Town,” Simon & Garfunkel

“Hurdy Gurdy Man,” DonovanIMG_2609

“Happy Jack,” The Who

“Face in the Crowd,” Little River Band

“Your Song,” Elton John

“Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Vanilla Fudge

“No Time,” Guess Who

“Summer in the City,” Lovin’ Spoonful

“While You See a Chance,” Steve Winwood


STRAND #5: I Want My MTV

“Cars” Gary Numan

“Don’t You Want Me,” Human League

“Need You Tonight,” INXS

“Is She Really Going Out With Him?” Joe Jackson

“Best Friend’s Girl,” The CarsIMG_2600.jpg

“Can’t Stand Losing You,” The Police

“Get it On,” Power Station

“Relax,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood

“One Thing Leads to Another,” The Fixx


STRAND #6: Ladies of the ‘80s

“Tide is High,” Blondie

“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” Stevie Nicks w/Tom Petty

“Morning Train,” Sheena EastonIMG_2598

“Magic Man,” Heart

“Voices Carry,” Til Tuesday

“Mickey,” Toni Basil

“Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler

“Nadia’s Theme (theme to Young and the Restless)

“Xanadu” Olivia Newton-John w/ ELO (this 45 has a label that is slightly water stained–see pic)IMG_2621


STRAND #7: Cheez-tastic

“Missing You,” John Waite

“Fernando,” ABBA

“Babe,” STYX

“Sister Christian,” Night Ranger

“Just Called to Say I Love You,” Stevie Wonder

“Making Love (out of nothing at all),” Air Supply — don’t you sometimes get nostalgic for those song titles with more song titles in parentheses?IMG_2599.jpg

“Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” Milli Vanilli

“Soldier of Love,” Billy Burnette

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” Hall & Oates


STRAND #8: I Love the Oldies, Pt 2

“Johnny B. Goode,” Chuck Berry (looks cool but not valuable–a 1974 reprint on Chess Records)

“Wild Thing,” The Troggs

“If Loving You is Wrong (I don’t wanna be right),” Luther Vandross

“Summer in the City,” Lovin’ Spoonful

“Dead Man’s Curve,” Jan & Dean

“Stoned Soul Picnic,” 5th DimensionIMG_2597

“Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” The Heywoods

“I Think We’re Alone Now,” Tommy James & The Shondelles

“Get Together,” Youngbloods

*Note: If you should want Strand #8 to go with Strands #1 and/or #3, I know there are duplicates. However, in this case I do have some similar stock and WILL substitute for the duplicates if you like!


Please message me or comment below if you have questions or requests! I will end with a 45 I don’t have, but I wish I did! Stephen Read brought this in to play during “break time” in grade 3 or 4 probably. Blew my mind, Steve.

IMG_1139The entryway to our apartment in Helsinki has a plaque to the left of the door, which reads:

Blueslengenda Eddie Boyd

asui ässä talossa

vuosina 1971-1994

(Blues legend Eddie Boyd lived in this house from 1971-1994)

At first I confused Boyd in my head with Eddie Floyd, who sang one of my favorite soul tunes from the sixties, “Big Bird,” but Eddie Boyd was a Mississippi bluesman signed with the famous Chicago Chess Records who played with Chess greats Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson, and who later toured with Waters, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and the early, more bluesy, incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (thanks YouTube and Wiki).

downloadWhy move to Finland? Any American who reveres the blues knows that however dedicated we are to this music, Europeans have proven more dedicated, particularly with their wallets, and particularly when it comes to African-American blues artists. Boyd’s move to Finland in 1971 was in part financial—he could make a living as an artist—but he also said he moved to escape the racism of America. A shameful truth. And while there is audio of Boyd playing his hit, most YouTube versions are from Eric Clapton, John Mayer, et al.


I admit to feeling a collective guilt that Boyd had to move to Finland for respect and income, but I also feel staying where he lived was an auspicious beginning to the trip, reinforced by the fun and fantastic music I’ve heard from the apartment window since we arrived. There are two charming and different bars within earshot, and they both represent just some of the musical delights Finland has to offer.

The first is Tenho, a low-key and classy club, and second is Tennka, a dive karaoke bar. Both are directly across the street from the apartment, separated only by an Alko shop, the state-owned liquor store. This means there’s almost always activity inside and also outside, with people openly drinking from pints of vodka or very large cans of beer (here they’re called long drinks instead of tall boys).

The first night, I heard the most amazing music coming from Tenho. I’d seen the band unloading their gear from a taxi the afternoon we arrived and I was intrigued. Keyboard, drums, trumpet, gargantuan bass. What were they up to? Unable to sleep, I was transfixed by the Chet Baker infused jazz that came through my window later that night. The horn was so amazing, I looked them up the next day. Kudos to trumpeter Mikko Karjalainen and the Gunu Jazz Quartet.

IMG_1121The next night? Classic rock karaoke from Tennka, where I listened from my window and played name that tune to a group of guys singing at the top of their lungs. Karaoke is super popular in Finland, not just in bars throughout the country, but even some libraries as well.  From across the street I could easily make out an eclectic set list: “Born To Be Wild,” “Let The Sun Shine In,” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” The Finns have a reputation for being even more reserved than us folks from New Hampshire, and that’s definitely been my experience thus far, but just like the Northeast, you give us a beer or three and some good tunes and we can let loose.

But it’s not just the sing-a-long that’s huge here–Helsinki really takes music to the next level. Just within a few blocks of the apartment I’ve come across no less than five used record and CD shops, two large shops selling instruments and sheet music, and one shop that specializes in custom-built amplifiers.

However, the most terrific music discovery I made came from TV; the apartment has the Finnish version of basic cable, which basically means there’s a lot of American and British and Finnish reality TV, Scandinavian crime shows, and then a weird hodgepodge of old movies, music, and documentaries. After a show that I’m pretty sure was about Finnish furniture design, then a documentary on British band The Jam, I came across an open-air concert of the Ricky-Tick Big Band, a Finnish group that plays a crazy wonderful mix of hip-hop jazz that completely took me by storm. Holy Moly these guys are fun. I think Eddie Boyd (and for that matter Eddie Floyd) would approve.

My latest blog for Ploughshares:


We all do “do, re, mi,” but you have got to find the other notes yourself.
—Louis Armstrong

A teacher hands out tools—pencils or paintbrushes or musical instruments—and immediately begins instructing students in the art of imitation. Children copy letters and paint by numbers and squeak out Beethoven’s Ninth  on cheap plastic recorders, and through these acts of reproduction the growth of the artist begins.Unknown

Every artist essentially begins as a cover artist. We learn the rules of the color wheel, the narrative arc, how to count in 4/4 time—and then we take what we’ve learned and create, convincing ourselves that despite all the artists who’ve come before we’re making something fresh.

The first song I remember hearing on the radio—I must have been three or four—was “Please Mister Postman.” The song remains a favorite, reminding me of the good ole days of grilled cheese sandwiches and hanging with mom at home listening to AM radio, yet I’m not sure which version of the song I first heard. Was it the Marvelettes? The Supremes? The Beatles? I only know it couldn’t be The Carpenters because their version didn’t come out ‘til I was seven, by which point I’d been listening to the radio for ages.

Click here to read the rest . . . 

Eulogy for the Phoenix

April 23, 2013

In my latest blog for Ploughshares, I write about the demise of the Boston Phoenix. . .


If you don’t live within spitting distance of Boston, maybe you missed the sad news that the Boston Phoenix abruptly quit publication last month. This alternative newsweekly began in the heyday of the sixties, and quickly became the go-to source for more than just the other side of the story, spawning dozens of nationally recognized writers and critics along the way. For decades the Phoenixhad the best and most comprehensive arts and entertainment reporting in Boston—even according to the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, who poached many Phoenix writers over the years. The Phoenix also had a pit bull approach to reporting that’s required when you’re breaking stories like the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal.  This foundation of excellent and intelligent reportage and writing was made possible in large part because—in addition to their desire to get to the heart of every story they published—the Phoenix had a paid staff.

Click here to read the rest. . .

Another blog of mine up on Ploughshares begins thus:

There’s truth in patterns of nature that endlessly replicate, like the Fibonacci spiral, the syntax of language, the simple act of sexual reproduction. With so many recurring patterns in our world, only a lack of overlap, or coincidence, would be remarkable. The best overlap occurs when artists translate the invisible—pain, joy, loneliness—into a book or song or film. We take that art, superimpose it on ourselves, and suddenly it belongs to us.

0Here is a scene: a girl, 16, lies on her bed, eyes closed, in a house alone. Music plays at an ear-splittingly high volume on her brother’s stereo. She gets up only when the needle scratches the center. When the song ends, she plays it again. When it ends, she plays it again.

A good question to spring on friends is this: at 16, what was your song—the one you listened to lying on your bed, eyes closed? The one you blasted when it came on the radio while you drove aimlessly through the night? It’s a knee-jerk kind of question—instantly everyone has an answer.

Want to read the rest? Click on the link below:

I Am Not the Actor; This Can’t Be the Scene: Quadrophenia b/w Nick Flynn’s The Reenactments.

The Who, 1982

February 24, 2013

Unknown-1Because I’m going to see the Who tonight (or, Who’s left, as I now refer to them while saying a quiet little prayer for John and Keith), I wanted to post this snippet from an essay I published in Prairie Schooner.

The piece is about how I was an actress in high school, both on and off the stage, just like we all learn to be one way or another. As children, we’re often told the importance of “being ourselves,” but truthfully most of what we learn is how we’re supposed to act–what we’re supposed to show on the surface, and everything else we’re supposed to hide. And in high school when there’s a constant mix of hormones and yearning running through our thoughts, playing to a background of rock music that only amplifies those feelings, it’s amazing that any of us survived all the battle wounds we both suffered and inflicted as we learned exactly how to “act.”

The essay ends with the story of two boys from my school who went to see the Who in their first “last tour” almost thirty years ago. I suppose they were friends with each other because they had a lot in common, including a love of music. They also shared the distinction of being ex-boyfriends of mine–here I’ll remind you that I’m from a small town where, if you don’t date boys who are friends with each other, you run out of boys pretty quickly. I had coldly dispatched them, one after the other, in large part because I hadn’t yet learned how to act and so I gave into a human’s most primal instinct to flee in the face of danger (or love, which often amounts to the same thing).

And maybe I love the Who because Pete writes songs that express that mix of loneliness and love and terror in a way that keeps me connected to those feelings, I’m not sure. Anyhow, here’s the clip, from my essay “Method Acting”:

That December, Troy and Jeff became the toast of the school—or at least the toast of the drama geek/gear head/band nerd contingent—when the two of them somehow made up a plausible story for their moms about why they’d be gone all night on a Saturday and hopped on a Greyhound bus to Worcester, Massachusetts to see the Who on their last tour (their first of many last tours but no one knew that then). They had a hundred dollars between them plus a few dozen T-shirts Troy had silkscreened with the classic Maximum R&B image of Pete Townshend in all his windmill splendor, and they traded everything for tickets in the nosebleed section.

The real adventure began after the concert, when they had to spend the rest of the night outside a gas station as they waited for the 5 a.m. bus back to New Hampshire. Because it was December of course there was a blizzard and because they were self-respecting New Hampshire high school boys of course they were without hats or gloves or boots, and they probably barely escaped freezing to death in the cold. Following their triumphant return they told and retold the story to everyone who asked; my version came from Jeff who I ran into a week later outside the band room.

I remember asking Jeff what it was like watching Roger Daltry toss his microphone twenty feet in the air and if he really caught it every time, and asking what John Entwhistle’s bass solo sounded like in “My Generation” and if he had his water bottles lined up in front of him like we’d seen in photos from Rolling Stone, and I remember asking how many times Pete did that lead guitar windmill, how many times he recreated the classic picture from the Maximum R&B poster that Troy silkscreened on those T-shirts that got them in the door in the first place. And Jeff answered all of my questions, giving me more details than I thought anyone could possibly remember, especially when I finally asked what everything was like when it was real and large and loud and right before you instead of frozen in a picture from a magazine or T-shirt. But I didn’t ask Jeff the one thing I really wanted to know, the one thing I hoped he’d be able to share.

I didn’t ask Jeff what you talk about with someone when you’re on a Greyhound Bus for three hours to Worcester and three hours back, what you say when you stand all night in a blizzard as the minutes tick slowly by wondering if you’re going to make it through the night. I could see Jeff and Troy in my head—those two skinny bespectacled boys, those two boys I’d walked away from—huddled together in their jeans and sneakers and their coats far too thin for winter. While I knew they hadn’t talked about me, or if they had they’d never say, I did wish they had saved at least part of that long night figuring out how on earth I could fix what was wrong inside of me. I wished they had come back from that infamous odyssey with some answers we all could use.


I also wanted to post photos of an air band contest from back in 1985 when my brother Kevin dressed as Pete Townshend and his best friend Scott was Roger Daltry (I’m pretty sure they got second place but I could be wrong about that) in part because Kevin is who I’ll be with tonight, just like Kevin is the first person I watched Quadrophenia with way back when. Lucky for him, I can’t find them, but maybe one day. . .

After I take my pumpkin pie out of the oven and before I dive into solving the equation of x = y x 15 (+/- 30)–where y = weight in pounds and x equals total minutes in oven and (+/- 30) is the time it takes for any turkey to either come out absolutely perfect or, alternately, pink in the middle and black on the outside leading to a Thanksgiving where mashed potatoes will serve as the main course–I will take one of those minutes to reflect on my favorite Thanksgiving Day movie.

 Thirty-five years ago, The Band decided to throw a little concert on Thanksgiving to commemorate the end of an era spent on the road. They opened up the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, served up a few thousand turkey dinners, and then played music all night with a bunch of their friends. And since one of their friends is Martin Scorsese, we all have the privilege of watching the night play out in the film, The Last Waltz.

The boys play nice on stage, which is just one reason The Last Waltz is one of the greatest concert films ever—fantastic for its footage of all these terrific musicians playing at their peak. But backstage it’s just another classic Thanksgiving, full of all the love and bitterness and age-old grievances that every family has after so many years stuck together.

Robbie Robertson is the big mouth, commandeering every conversation and taking credit for whatever he can, while Levon Helm sits and smokes, interjecting wry comments in a slow, careful drawl, barely containing the loathing for his blowhard brother behind a polite, Southern smile. Rick Danko is your happy-go-lucky ameliorator—the middle kid I guess—who drinks too much and plays the sad clown, wishing everyone could just get along, and Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson are your classic bachelor brothers, shy and eccentric and in the shadows.

Every other guy in the concert is a cousin or long-lost uncle—from Ronnie Hawkins and Dr. John to Neil Young and Van Morrison—and every other girl is singing backup or hiding out in the kitchen (except for Joni Mitchell, who of course is the exotic, astonishing aunt that everyone’s a little in awe of). Neil Diamond is there just so everyone can whisper “Who invited that guy?” before Bob Dylan comes out to lead a heartfelt and satisfying sing-along before we all escape back home.

So if you’re looking for reasons to slip away from your own family for a few moments today, or if you’re on your own this holiday, waxing nostalgic (or not) for Thanksgivings gone by, take a minute for The Last Waltz. Thanks to You Tube you can watch pretty much the entire movie in a series of three-minute clips, so I’ll leave you with my favorite for today—in memory of Rick Danko and Richard Manuel—because every Thanksgiving should begin with a moment of silence for those who won’t be pulling up a chair to the table.

Happy Thanksgiving.



While I was entrenched in myriad everyday tasks having absolutely nothing to do with writing, a copy of the Fall 2010 Louisville Review arrived in my mailbox and reminded me that there are delights in the world other than the daily chores of living and making sure I get enough fiber in my diet.

This issue of Louisville Review includes Chapter 7 of My Brief History of Sex Education, which I cleverly re-titled “The Integrity Test,” and of course I won’t let on what happens in this excerpt other than saying there is such a thing as an Integrity Test with multiple choice questions you answer by filling in dots with a No. 2 pencil and I did have to take one way back when. Whether I passed or not is for you to discover on your own. (FYI, the Vegas oddsmakers put my chances at 6 to 1 against).

While it may seem odd for me to publish chapters here and there before publishing the book itself, it’s actually pretty standard in the small world of literary publishing and it also worked pretty well for Charles Dickens a long time ago so I figure it’s okay. Not that I’m comparing myself to Charles Dickens, if only because my entire book is about the length of one chapter in David Copperfield and I don’t have nearly as many cliff-hanger endings. 

But seeing another portion of the book published made me feel a little better about my chances at getting the entire manuscript in print all at once, and it also put me in the mind of how often we only remember the bits and pieces of things rather than remembering the whole.

When my friend Holly read a chapter I’d published in the magazine Prairie Schooner, “Method Acting,” she remarked that it was amazing I’d remembered so much because her memories of high school were “sketchy at best.” But aren’t all of our memories sketchy and it’s just that I remember sketches she’d forgotten? I might remember school plays and band concerts and first dates gone horribly awry because I was intimately involved, but don’t ask me if or when the basketball team went to the state championships or who any of the prom queens were or what the art or home ec or history teachers were like because I flat out cannot tell you. And it’s not because I don’t think that stuff is important, because I know that in high school everything is important to someone, even if what was important for someone else was spending as little time as possible in school and being done with it as soon as possible. Memories aren’t always good.

Sculpture by my friend Reynard Rochon–he calls it “Alone in My Room.” I call it “How Memory Becomes Art.”

But back to the bits and pieces—isn’t that how our memories are formed in the first place? Except for frat boys knowing verbatim all the words to Animal House and Caddyshack, don’t most of us remember only parts of what we wholly love? We remember scenes from movies, images from books, how a painting makes us feel rather than each individual brush stroke. And it’s the whole, complete feelings that those individual details leave us with that is so important, isn’t it? So below I will honor the memorable sections of songs, in part because music is the undercurrent running through My Brief History of Sex Education, and in part because I suspect music is the undercurrent of life (or perhaps the big raging river) for most all of us.

And since I think we all know and love the obvious—like the bottom end of White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” or the Emergency Broadcast System intro for the Breeders’ “Last Splash” or the first pounding piano chords of the Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall that told you not only was the incomparable Nicky Hopkins still alive but that real rock and roll might have survived the eighties after all–here are some that might be new for you. And yes all of these are relatively old songs, but if I used current ones how would that really test the theory that they’re memorable? Give me a little credit.

The Pretenders, “Middle of the Road”

The 5-second vicious purr Chryssie Hynde spurts out before her harmonica solo (3:21). And yes, she can do it live too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsnMFfMmV8I

ELO, “Do Ya” 

You’d think Jeff Lynne, with all his over-the-top orchestrations, might be a sedate guy, but there’s a lot of great growl in ELO songs, and my favorite part of my favorite ELO song is where he sings “Aw. . . look out. . . ” (3:25) and so the song ends. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bci283mfNs

Steve Miller Band, “Take the Money and Run”

The handclaps (0:35 and 1:16). I am a big fan of the use of handclaps, and these are my favorite post-Motown, post-Beatle, but I’d love more input if you have suggestions!


Crosby Stills & Nash “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” 

Where Stephen Stills sings “Can I tell it like it is. . .” (at 3:40). The song is so long, there’s no way you’d keep on listening if he didn’t break it open halfway through and he sure does it well.


Maria McKee, “Sweet Relief”

The crystal-clear “wooo” Maria McKee sings at the end of this great Victoria Williams song (2:26). Maria can do joy like no one else.


Harry Nilsson, “Jump Into the Fire” 

As you may already know, as a young child I imprinted on Harry Nilsson like a baby duck to its mama, so he has to be here—beginning with the drum solo, a bass line that digs so low I’m pretty sure only elephants can hear the rumble, and then, um yeah, everything else that follows (3:58) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySsnE3aB36I

I’d love to hear your own suggestions of what I’m sure I’ve missed. . . and in the meantime go way, way, way down to the bottom of my blog and subscribe. Facebook is becoming passé and it’s the only way I reach most of you; trust me when I say you don’t want to miss a thing.

My ticket along with my daughter Emily’s sketches of Ringo that she made during the concert.

I have been a little depressed about the progress of the revisions for my memoir, A Brief History of Sex Education, mainly because I haven’t done much of anything except change the title to My Brief History of Sex Education, and that revision wasn’t even my idea but was instead suggested by a friend of mine who, as an editor, is right in predicting that the old title would cause too many people to think the book is a manual of some sort with ink-drawn diagrams and footnotes. Caught as I am in the malaise of the work I have yet to begin, I headed out to the Hatch Shell in Boston last night to see Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band so as to cheer myself up. I confess Ringo is not my favorite Beatle (and yes I think it’s important to have a favorite Beatle just like I think it’s important to admit which character from Peanuts you most identify with and whether you fall into the creamy peanut butter camp or the crunchy). Though I did play Snoopy in my middle school production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, my brain works more like Linus, I’d rather eat creamed spinach and jam on toast than touch my lips to crunchy pb, and my heart has always belonged to George Harrison.

I could write volumes about why, but what’s more important is that just like some of my best friends have been Lucys and Snoopys and Charlie Browns, of course I have a soft spot for all Beatles, particularly Ringo. Let’s be honest—is there anyone who dislikes Ringo? Is that even possible? And particularly when you’re a little depressed, George “While-My-Guitar-Gently-Weeps” Harrison is not necessarily where you should turn for a pick-me-up. Ringo Starr on the other hand? The perfect natural Prozac.

For those who’ve never seen Ringo in this incarnation, his All Starr Band is an ever-changing hodgepodge collection of musicians and singer-songwriters who all have had some form of a heydey sometime over the past several decades. The concert is made up of a mix of Ringo’s Beatles songs, Ringo’s own songs, and a few of the hit songs pulled from the grab bag each band member brings with him into the mix.

Ringo at the Hatch Shell, June 29, 2010

I saw the concert as a rock and pop memoir of sorts, a mixed-tape of music in which I saw my own life and my own history, a history in which music has played an integral part. And isn’t music the soundtrack for all of us? Everywhere we go—bar, supermarket, home, car—I suspect most of you will connect with this playlist as well, in some form or other.

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, Hatch Shell (Bank of America Pavilion),Boston, MA, June 29, 2010

Stage 1: the early years

“Boys” from the Beatles’ first album Please Please Me

When Ringo began singing all I could think was I was seeing a Beatle! And he was singing a Beatles song! The Beatles were the first band I remember hearing on the radio; I was four and my family had just moved into a little house tucked behind Christmas Island Resort on Weirs Boulevard in Laconia, NH. My mother cleaned rooms at Christmas Island to help pay the rent and I spent days with her as she worked either at Christmas Island or at home, listening to WEMJ all day—1490 on your AM dial. It was in the midst of hearing the Beatles sing “Please Mr. Postman” that it clicked—those words they sang were telling me a story, and I began to understand every pop song told a story if you just listened hard enough. Last night, when the band laid into those first jangly chords of “Boys,” and I thought of all those mono AM pop songs mom basically raised me on, I almost burst into tears. If I’d had on a sleeveless Jackie O. dress, my hair teased into a bouffant, I could have fit right into the audience of the Ed Sullivan show way back in ’64.

Stage 2: adolescence

“Rock and Roll Hootchie Coo,” Rick Derringer

“Frankenstein,” Edgar Winter

“Free Ride” Winter and Derringer both

In middle school I owned few record albums and so gave a good part of my adolescent angst over to Manchester’s radio station Rock 101 and their weekend rock blocks. I rarely knew who any of these bands were, but they all provided the essential element of music that adolescence requires—intense and throbbing bass and drums layered beneath a primal scream of vocals and lead guitar—which must, absolutely must, be played so loudly that you feel as if the music is actually coming from inside your body, from the depths of your brain, because your brain and body, like the music, is also thrumming with yearning, confusion, and nameless desire. How do I recall these feelings so clearly? Rick Derringer and Edgar Winter reminded me of them just last night when they ripped into “Frankenstein” “Free Ride” and “Rock and Roll Hootchie Coo” (a song you can sing just from reading this title I’m sure).

Stage 3: high school

“Kyrie” and “Broken Wings,” Richard Page of Mr. Mister

I went to high school in the eighties, and I loved to hate bands like Mr. Mister, I loved to hate Phil Collins, and I loved, loved, loved to hate Madonna. I skipped from classic rock straight to punk and alternative and I was an insufferable snob. . . I have all the record reviews I wrote for the high school newspaper to prove it. But secretly I was a sucker for a good pop song with soaring vocals or at the very least a beat that was easy to dance to—I may have hated Mr. Mister and Madonna but you can be sure I got up to dance whenever I heard them over the sound system during teen nights at the Station in  Meredith and Club 777 in Manchester. (Though to this day I am still amazed I used to drive an hour to Club 777 in Manchester so my friends and I could dance in that tiny, smelly club and ignore getting hit on by boys who were way too old for us—were we having fun? I honestly don’t know). But I give kudos to Richard Page, not only for writing those classic Mr. Mister songs but also for being in excellent voice last night as he sang them with the band. “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings” are not songs that would be kind to any vocalist not on the top of his game, and Page sounded great. I’m sure I sounded almost as good as I sang along, because despite my snobbery I knew every word.

Stage 4: college

“What I Like About You” Wally Palmer of the Romantics

“Dream Weaver” Gary Wright

In college I worked four years as a DJ for my school’s radio station where I lost a great deal of the snobbery mentioned above, if only because playing for (and pleasing) a crowd larger than the one in your own bedroom involved a bit of give and take, especially if the radio station encourages the granting of requests. This also helped when I became the roommate responsible for making mixed tapes for parties. My favorite tape included “What I Like About You,” and it never failed to produce an instantaneous (and only slightly alcohol-fueled) cheer as well as spontaneous pogo-dancing, especially during Palmer’s knock-yer-socks-off harmonica solo, which he admirably performed last night. And yes, last night I did do the pogo. . .

All I can say about “Dream Weaver” is that every time I hear it, I think “Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World,” because “Dream Weaver” is what Garth hears in his head when he sees the beautiful waitress at Stan Mikita’s donut shop. That probably sounds kind of mean, but I bet it doesn’t bother Gary Wright at all. It’s still a beautiful song and whenever Gary Wright hears “Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World,” I bet the next thing he thinks is “Ka-ching, Ka-ching.”

Gary Wright, we are not worthy, but you are welcome anyway.

Stage 5:  the here and now of singing out of tune, dancing out of time, living life as it is


“With a Little Help from My Friends”

When Ringo came down to center stage to sing “A Little Help from My Friends” and “Photograph” (one of my absolute favorite Beatle songs, and not just because he cowrote it with my favorite Mr. Harrison) what can I say that I haven’t already said? Music is stronger at triggering memories than even the taste of Proust’s madeleines, the scent of the ocean, a picture posted on Facebook of an old grade school friend. The musicians themselves—Ringo and his charmingly out-of-tune vocals and that strange inability to dance that is the curse of all rock n’ roll drummers, plus all of those hitmakers he assembled whose sunglasses could only hide so much how slightly aged and bedraggled they were—still could speak to us and speak for us, or rather sing in a most delightful way. It’s a day later, and I’m still stymied by my manuscript—work is hard, especially the kind that involves a very delayed gratification—but  even though George remains my favorite Beatle, I’ll take some inspiration from Ringo. I too plan to spend more time singing just a little out of tune and dancing with complete abandon to my own random and haphazard beat, because I believe, like he does, that you can get by with all that help from your friends.