“holiday rap” – m.c. miker ‘g’ & deejay sven (1986)

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Later today, I will be going on a much needed vacation.  I’ve been busy with life stuff lately and I think I have earned some time to get away.  I just recently moved and spent time and money on that.  Plus, work has been busy.  Now, it is time to relax, enjoy my time away, and disconnect.

I haven’t been out of the country in almost 14 years.  The last time I ventured off American soil was to visit Montreal.  My dad had recently remarried and we were up there visiting my stepmom’s family in Plattsburgh, New York.  Since Quebec was close, that made sense.  I had a good time.  We went to the biodome in Montreal and ate at a Canadian restaurant named Moe’s (I just learned today it closed last year).  I was 14 or so and enjoyed the trip and the novelty of things like putting a caramel sauce on French fries.  It blew my mind.

Growing up in a military family, I moved around a lot.  I remember quite a bit about the places and they all offered something unique in my childhood development.  Since I was born into that world of relocating to different bases and such, it sort of became the norm.  Then, when I started high school and my dad retired from the Navy, things became a little more consistent.

I spent all four years of high school and college in Kentucky.  After college, I went to work in Alaska for 8 months.  The was fun, but I had lived there before and the magic of it being new had long faded.  In 2011, I had moved to Chicago.  That was incredibly fun, new, and exciting.  It was quite an adventure to get settled, meet people, find a job, and make my own way.  I was excited about my future and what I could do with it.

For my first three years in Chicago, things were tough.  I did have fun, meet interesting people, and have a lot of great experiences, but it was also very hard.  I had spent my first three years working at a non-profit that kept me working for nearly 70 hours a week.  I had very little free time and due to the demands of my employer, it was even difficult to make plans for holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.  I spent a few of those holidays alone because of my intense work schedule.  It would be five years before I even made my way back to Alaska because of the work schedule, let alone go anyplace new.

When I left that job two years ago, I was determined to take control of my life because I felt as though I didn’t have control for a long time.  I had some other personal things happen including the ending of a long-term relationship and inconsistent temp work.  The goal was keep things together and weather the storm.  It was going to take a lot of hard work and time to get to a point where I felt in control and had the freedom to live my life the way I want.  Before I got the job I have now, I saved as much as I could when I was going from temp job to temp job.  I found ways to stay active and meet new people by volunteering at various organizations.  I wanted to get out, be active, and enjoy life without having my job be the center of my life.  A job is meant to be a way to make a living that takes care of your necessities.  A job isn’t meant to define you or make it seem that your life on the outside is a privilege.  We all have a right to happiness and I didn’t want my job to tell when I could be happy.

As I was saving money, volunteering, and making new friends, I began to analyze what exactly I needed to feel in control again.  I needed an apartment with a space that made me feel comfortable; I got that.  I needed to use my time to learn something new; I picked up guitar classes as a hobby.  I needed to focus on what was going into my body as much as I focused on what to do with it; I started cooking more and getting creative with heathy foods.  And most importantly, I needed to travel.

As I mentioned earlier, travelling by way of moving a lot became the norm to me.  I wasn’t aware when I was 14 that I wouldn’t again leave the country until I was 28.  I assumed that I would have a lot of opportunities to travel abroad.  At times, the possibility of it would surface but then would fizzle out.  And then when I moved to Chicago, I was bogged down with the jobs and had to work towards the balance between time and money that afforded me the opportunity to travel.

I am now at that point.  I’m taking my first vacation abroad today.  I am flying solo to London, Rome, and Amsterdam.  I will be staying in hostels and making around the city on my own.  I haven’t been so excited and so nervous as this in a long time.  As someone who never half asses anything, I gave it my all to plan this trip.  Every piece of work ethic, time management, and planning ability that I had went into designing a 12-day itinerary that suited my interest while allowing some wiggle room to adventure.  I financed it myself 100% and earned the time off work to take vacation days.  I feel I have earned this trip as a result of a lot of hard to reign in chaos.

I was really “travel envious” for a while.  This means that whenever I saw people travelling on Facebook, I felt a little jealous.  I realize that was my problem and not theirs.  Social media has a weird ability to amplify already existing negative emotions until they can get a little overwhelming.  We’re all guilty of that.  That is how social is designed: to show off the positive and happy aspects of our lives.  I know that any envy I had was a manifestation of my own unhappiness dealing with a shitty job that was affecting me a lot of different ways.  And as soon as I was able to take off for a vacation in Europe, I did that.  No questions, no waiting.  I did not know when my next chance would be, so I had to take the chance I had now.  Opportunities don’t wait around.

Now, I’m not a naïve person.  I know we cannot have complete control over everything all the time.  I get that.  You have to be flexible and have the ability to deal with change.  Sometimes, even good change can be difficult to get accustomed to.  But considering that bad change is what usually throws our lives off balance, it is exceptionally important to know what to do and commit to it.  When you lose a job, for example, cut unnecessary expenses and live simply.  Live in the moment and make the best of the situation.  It is hard for me to remember sometimes, but I try when I can.

The song I’ve been listening on repeat that has been getting me hyped is “Holiday Rap” by Euro-house duo M.C. Miker ‘G’ & Deejay Sven (see the European connection?).  I was introduced to this track back in college and it stuck with me ever since.  Released in 1986, the song is a Euro-house, disco track that sample Madonna’s single “Holiday” and features the fun rap stylings of Miker ‘G’ and Deejay Sven.  In the song, the duo is rapping about their summer holiday, having fun, and being in control of their own lives.   And being that the rappers are European, they proclaim that they gotta have their 7-week holiday (Wow.  Europe sounds better by the minute).

This song typically makes it on my summer playlists because it is a fun song for sun and warm weather.  I’m not going on a summer holiday like the rap duo.  My holiday is a fall one.  That is by design because of the timing, plus I didn’t want to go during peak tourist season.  Regardless, the message is loud and clear to me.

Control equates to simplicity for me.  That’s why I work towards having it.  I can organize my life based on current situations and have it provide me with the best possible outcome (sometimes).  I won’t always be in control because there are things that happen in life that you cannot control.  However, I believe that while you cannot control what happens to you, you can control how you handle the situation.  I recognized what I needed to make my life better.  In some ways, I made those changes.  In other ways, it is a work in progress.  While I may not have traveled as much as friends or colleagues, I don’t need to feel envious anymore because I have been gifted an opportunity to make it happen for myself.  This trip means so much more to me than just two weeks of fun and getting away from work.  It means something much bigger.  It means freedom and freedom is something I never want to take for granted.

“not gonna kill you” – angel olsen (2016)

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I am in my late 20s and still fairly hip to things.  However, that is going to end at some point.  It seems that the older I get, the harder it is to have the time, patience, and drive to seek new music.  The reason for this is a combination of several things.  For one, I am getting increasingly comfortable with what I already know.  That happens.  You get into a groove that gets deeper and it gets harder and harder to get out of it.  Secondly, time is a big issue.  I’m not in college anymore.  I have a job, volunteer commitments, and hobbies that don’t center around music.  My time is precious.  And finally, finding new and hip outlets that I can trust for great new music gets harder and more limited.

All of that makes me sound old and like a fuddy duddy.  Sometimes it may appear that way, but it really isn’t the truth.  The fact of the matter is that I love new music.  The problem being is that there is just so much coming out right now and I need time to sift through it.  Most of it will eventually make their way to my ears and then I can decide if I want to explore those sounds further or cast them aside.   I may hear a new indie band’s album the day or even week of release, but I will eventually.

Also, there is just so much music out there in general.  And the only constant truth in music is that there will always be more old music than new music.  One of my volunteer gigs is working the music library of a non-profit music school.  They have over 20,000 records, CDs, and books.  They have an impressive collection of rare material.  The selection of material within the last decade may be sparse, but there are hidden treasures waiting to be rediscovered.  And that is an exciting hunt that new releases can’t compete with.

Despite my active interest in exploring older music and lack of time, I still manage stay connected with the tastemakers and hipsters that are keen on every single new release.  I volunteer with a local non-profit radio station in Chicago.  They play an exciting blend of local and indie music that is fresh and exciting.  While I may not be as well-versed in those areas as my colleagues, I sample what I like.  Social media is also great as well.  Facebook posts from friends and my Twitter feed help keep me informed on latest trends.

However, my favorite way to discover new music is through podcasts.  And my favorite music podcast is WBEZ’s very own Sound OpinionsSound Opinions is hosted by rock critics Greg Kot (Chicago Tribune) and Jim DeRogatis (Chicago Sun-Times).  Now, these guys have several decades on me but they get paid to explore their passion.  However, that didn’t come from nowhere.  Getting there took years of hard work and dedication.  And after all these years, they really excel at tuning in to what is happening in music.  So, what’s my excuse?

Sound Opinions offers a great blend from classic album dissections, themed playlists that bring in the old and the new, and band interviews anywhere from hall of fame legends to the latest up-and-comer.  In most episodes, they review a new album towards the end of the show.  They introduce the album, play a song, and then rate it on a system encouraging listeners to buy it, try it, or trash it.  The rapport between the hosts is great and I like the eclectic nature of the program.  It perfectly suits my music sensibilities.

I listened to their most recent episode while unpacking my new apartment.  In this episode, they were discussing songs that, for them, signified the end of summer.  It felt like a great soundtrack to the transition I’ve been in on making my new living space a home.

At the end, they reviewed the fourth studio album by Angel Olsen.  Entitled My Woman, Jim and Greg outlined Olsen’s music history that included travelling across the country and trying out different styles that defied typical pop music.  For this latest record, Olsen teamed up with a producer more known for producing typical pop hits.  The track they featured was “Not Gonna Kill You,” and it was the jolt I needed.  I was absolutely floored when I heard this track.  It has everything.  Engaging and impassioned vocals.  Reverb gracefully and tactfully implemented.  A considerable range of styles and experimentation.  It is grunge, folk, indie, shoegaze, and pop wrapped together.  It is Mazzy Star with a punky energy.

New music is great, but not all new music.  As cynical as I can be about seeking it out and enjoying it, the truth is that it gets harder.  I can always try to be a little cooler than square adults around me in the officer, but I’ll never be as cool or in tune as I was when I was younger.  The best advice I can give is to try to make an effort and put your pulse on what is happening.  Maybe you’ll find a pleasing note amongst the static.