Posts Tagged ‘piano’

Human Again, Indeed

February 29, 2012 - 5:22 pm No Comments

I’ve got my Ingrid Michaelson back.

I was not first on the Ingrid Michaelson boat. I was probably towards the very end, coming just before the people who recognized her as the singer on the apple juice commercial. But from the very moment I heard her music, her voice, her quirky piano riffs, I fell in love.

Ingrid Michaelson writes music which, at first, seems like it’s going to be piano-pop nonsense. It’s about love, it’s silly, it’s fun and upbeat. At first. But Ingrid doesn’t shy away from the gritty, shitty parts of life. Some of her songs, or even snatches of lyrics in otherwise typical songs, are totally out of the realm of traditional, flighty, girly piano-rock. A song from her self-released debut album Slow the Rain comes to mind. The song is called Porcelain Fists, and not only are the piano melodies incredibly dark, the lyrics are painful to hear:

“Locked in the bathroom stall/Your back against the wall/Cold tiles beneath your knees/Your body broke your fall/Spitting into your own reflection gazing back/Inside your porcelain fists, your palms begin to crack.”

The first time I heard that, I was won over. Everything I’d heard of Michaelson’s music up to that point was whatever Pandora had selected for me, and until I sought out her earlier music on my own, I would never have expected a lyric like that from what had initially seemed like songs that I would listen to, shall we say, in good fun.

So with tears in my eyes and my hands folded together, each hugging the other tightly, I declared myself an Ingrid fan and dove into her music head first.

Things were really good between Ingrid and I. I got to see one of her shows, for free, at that, when she performed at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival, and Be OK had some real gems on it.

Then, just a few days after my birthday in 2009, Ingrid released Everybody.

I’m gonna be really harsh here for a moment, okay?

I felt betrayed. I’d never heard a more wishy-washy, boring, flat album in my life. I didn’t know what had happened. We’d been through good times and bad, Ingrid and me, we’d talked about everything, no matter how embarrassing or pointless. We were going to buy everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance.

When I got to “The Chain,” I knew I’d found an album I really, really didn’t like. “The Chain,” when it was live on Be OK, was so blisteringly powerful I would put it on repeat and sob. It was that beautiful, that painful, that absolutely touching. But this new studio version on Everybody… It was limp. There was nothing to it. It wasn’t hand-crafted, it was machined. There are about four songs on Everybody I’ll even deign to listen to at this point (“Everybody,” “Soldier,” “Locked Up,” and “Maybe,” if you must know, which are incidentally the first two and last two songs on the album, which means, yes, I don’t listen to the entire middle of the album).

So when I heard Ingrid was in the studio again, I have to admit, I was… tentative. I followed her faithfully on Twitter and Tumblr, keeping up with the progress of the album, and reading her mailing list to see if she was playing any shows near me. But I held my breath.

On January 24th, 2012, Human Again was released.

I rejoiced.

The album is funny and smart, the 17 songs (the last four from the deluxe edition) borrow from just about as many genres, and there are those familiar touches of darkness that anyone who really wants to talk about life can’t shy away from. But it was that same, familiar, girly piano-pop, that same heavy lightness Ingrid had brought to me years before.

“Keep Warm” has got to be my favorite song from this album. It’s happy. It’s relateable. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel safe. Other notable tracks, at least to me, are the peppy “Blood Brothers,” and the heart-wrenching, bittersweet “I’m Through,” which was the first track I’d heard from the album, and the first time I knew everything would, pardon the expression, be okay.

Human Again screams Ingrid Michaelson. Though it’s got touches of rock, country, jazz, folk, it couldn’t be more original, more true to the woman that I slowly became familiar with through three albums three years ago. I wonder if the title speaks to that, a sort of coming back to herself, or if it’s just happy coincidence.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What matters is I’ve got my Ingrid Michaelson back.

“To be well-remembered is a gift.”

June 29, 2010 - 11:12 am 11 Comments

              A woman, who has been a gift, told me that this morning.

              I am remembering, and remembering well.

              When I was a child, I had a piano, and not just any piano: I had an upright Steinway grand.  It had to be a hundred and twenty-five years old, and it was stellar.  I spent time with it every day.  I was small, maybe five or six, hardly more, but I loved that piano, and even then, I knew it was worth more than the emotions I alone imparted upon it; I knew it was worth more than the ridiculous sum of money I thought it was worth (despite it having been free in the Pennysaver from someone who probably just needed it to be gone).  I knew it was important.  It was music, and it was history, and it was love.

              But it was also old, and each time it was played, it sounded worse and worse.  My mother had it looked at to see what, if anything, could be done, but after so much time, it was fragile; the once straight, silver strings within the piano were warped and would have to be replaced, the worn-out hammers refitted.  We were living on food stamps then; we couldn’t afford cable TV or a Nintendo, let alone refitting an antique piano.  So, instead, I watched PBS and I read, and my mother and I would play our hearts out on the old, warped piano, and we didn’t care that our favorite tunes from Jesus Christ Superstar didn’t sound much like the album anymore.  She played and I sang and after a while I played, too, despite the tone-deaf Steinway.

              Then came the time when we, too, had to move, and once more, the piano had a family that needed the instrument to be gone.  So my father (a fine musician himself, but with a more easily-restrung instrument, the guitar), perhaps not wanting to see music be forgotten or left to strangers who, upon moving in, would not know its worth, would not care about its past, or perhaps just wanting to give it to someone who he knew would and could use it, gave the piano to a good friend of his called Jay, who had a son who could learn to play too, in time; a friend who maybe could restore it, or maybe not, but at least it would not be gone or forgotten.

              I went and visited my piano a few times with my father, but I then grew up and got too busy, forgot to visit, and after a while, the memory of my beloved piano faded away until I was old enough to really care to remember it and take care in remembering it: to research it, to find out the monetary cost of such an experienced instrument, and the historical value.  As it turned out, it had earned a lot of both.  I remembered my warped piano then, and I was angry: angry that I had had to give my treasure away; angry that I no longer even possessed a real piano; angry, too, at the less-than-stellar keyboard to which I’d since been demoted, which was born of plastics and would age far worse than my sturdy, cherished Steinway.

              But my anger would burn out; I knew the piano was in good hands, even if those hands had painted on the keys an acrylic rainbow to make the notes, the warped sounds the piano produced, easier to remember. Of those hands, I have a memory.

              Jay’s son and I would play the piano, when I did visit its new home.  Later in the evening, I would sit on the wooden piano bench and my father’s friend would tell me about the universe, about space and time.  He had a pocket watch on a chain.  Jay would take the silver chain and fold it over on itself, and he would explain to me that the universe: its buoyant, bright stars and super-massive black holes; its huge, nebulous gasses where stellar bodies were born and tiny, rocky planets where human bodies were too, folded on itself as well; that time warped space and space warped time, and that space and time were one, together; that time, like space, could be shaped, and he would say all of this with the watch on the end of the chain, the clock hanging limply at the edge of space in a small, silver universe, and it would tick away the time quietly in the background of my impromptu astro-quantum-physics class, never interrupting, but persistent.  Even at six, at seven years old, I came to understand that this was the important part of the lesson.  At the forefront of my brain, I wanted to be a physicist.  At the back, I was aware that time stretched on, fused with space as it was, and even if I missed something that Jay had said on those nights, I am forever glad I did not entirely skip the lecture.

              Last night, I mentioned my piano to a good friend while we talked, and the evening passed.

              This morning, I was told that Jay had passed last night.

              Though I have grown up, and had only visited a few times, I do miss him.

              “To be well-remembered is a gift,” a cherished woman told me this morning.  I believe her, and I believe, in time, I will remember her well.

              I also still believe in physics, and maybe now I believe in a little of the metaphysical.  I believe that time warps space and space warps time and that the two will never be parted.  I believe all of us affect and are affected by space and time, since, in the words of another man from my childhood who is also now gone and missed, “We are star-stuff.

              I know that being well-remembered does not allow us to interrupt the persistently short time we are given, as the ticking watch at the end of a small, silver, chain-link universe always knew, but I believe that it can be warped into the best shape that our stellar masses and minds can form, if we remember, and remember well, for as another man who affected my youth but was gone long before I could miss him had said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

              I have decided to remember the time, and time, remember well, because that same, stellar woman also told me this morning, “Those that are remembered, are never really gone.”

              ~*~

              Below the cut are (perhaps selfish) dedications and thank yous for the creation and exponential, infinite expansion of my mind and self: things I have wanted to say, things I should have said already, and things I say too much.

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