Is This What it Sounds Like When Doves Cry?

when-doves-cryPrince died today. He wasn’t my favorite artist nor did I ever have the chance to see him perform. But he was certainly a touchstone for a time in my life that was peppered with equal measures of excitement, angst and emotional upheaval.

That time was the 1980s. I was at UCLA and life seemed to be spread out before me like a banquet, ripe for the tasting. You didn’t escape Prince on the radio or on the newly-launched MTV back then whether it was “Little Red Corvette”, “Controversy”, “1999” or his masterpiece, “Purple Rain”. In the early 1980s, when I turned my borderline obsession-compulsion with going to aerobics classes into a part-time job, Prince’s “I Would Die for You” was featured on my very first aerobics tape (that’s right: cassette tape). It was a fun time to be young. I think Prince knew that.

This isn’t just about Prince, though. It’s about David Bowie, Glenn Frey or any of the many talented musicians out there that bring us joy, pain and sorrow through their art. And it’s about the actors, writers, painters, athletes that are all part of the fabric of our lives and to which we form an attachment. It’s about emotional investment.

Some people call me “passionate”. I am ultra-aware that I am often too emotionally-invested in things that bring me pleasure, but in equal measures, pain. It’s why I am an easy target for taunting when my Los Angeles Kings or UCLA Bruins lose. It’s why in my work life, I often follow my clients to their next job and their next, and why I sometimes go to bat beyond the point of reason for a decision I disagree with. It’s why I cried when David Bowie died. And again when I heard about Glenn Frey. And again, today, for Prince.

Partially, it’s about feeling your own mortality. If Bowie and Frey and Prince are gone at ages that are now not too far from my own, I am suddenly cognizant of how fast time is moving and how little time might be left. In part, it’s the reminder of people I used to know, places I used to go, things I loved and lost, memories that are stored away but brought quickly to the surface just by hearing a few notes. I’ll never hear “Young Americans” and not remember a particular summer between junior and senior year of college when two of my friends – one, a summer love – painted my Mom’s living room in exchange for beer and that song blared from the speakers. I’ll never hear “I Can’t Tell You Why” and not think of my college roommate who loved – and actually possessed the vocal chops – to sing it around our apartment on Gayley Avenue. I’ll never hear “Baby I’m a Star” and not think of the little aerobics studio in La Jolla where I first started teaching and where my summer was a blur of teaching classes, riding my bike to the beach and drinking margaritas at Jose’s Cantina.

Certainly, it begs the question: is such a fervent emotional investment worth it?  My girls sometimes make fun of my intensity watching hockey games or my excitement at a concert. Or wonder why I would cry over the death of someone I never knew personally. I tell them it’s not just about the game or the team or the artist or the song. It’s about what it all represents. And it’s simply inevitable that anything that gives you so much happiness when it’s all going well, is going to bring you sorrow when it doesn’t.

Is it worth it? As I listen to “Purple Rain”, feeling a familiar pang as the memories shelved long ago flood over me, I want to say no, but I know that’s not true. For me, the answer can only be yes. A resounding and emphatic yes.

If Money Didn’t Matter…Turning a School Project into Real Life Advice

This week was Back-to-School night at my younger daughter’s high school. Walking around campus, I was painfully aware that all of the fresh-faced parents I’ve known since our teens were just tots in elementary school have become, well, to put it mildly, older.  And that if I’m calling them “older”, I have to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I’m there, too. I was also mindful of the fact that this was the second-to-last time I would ever go to a back-to-school night. EVER.

My daughter had told me ahead of time that her history teacher was one of her favorites and that he coincidentally had a great deal in common with me (UCLA grad, fan of music) and her Dad (back-packed through Europe in his younger days). As expected, his classroom was my favorite: as we walked in, we could smell fresh-brewed coffee, the lights had been dimmed and the John Mayer Pandora station played in the background. His presentation did not disappoint and the parents were given one of the same assignments he’d given to the students that week: to watch a popular, short video making the rounds on YouTube and social media called “If Money Was No Object” and write a response to the video focusing on advice, hopes and dreams for our student’s future.

Naturally, my engineering/math-brained husband looked in my direction and my eyes lit up at the prospect of a creative writing assignment.  I’m not sure if I was the first parent to turn in their paper the next day….but it’s very possible.

I don’t know if youth is truly wasted on the young, but I certainly felt a small pang of longing when I read my own words and realized that I could have been better at taking my own advice, say, 35 years ago. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d like to believe that there are still a few nuggets here that apply to us older and wiser folks.  In case I’m right, here are a few excerpts from my response to “If Money Was No Object”. These were the pieces of advice I crafted for my daughter, with a little commentary plugged in for us older folk…

  • Explore your options now, while you’re young. While I don’t regret the path I took, I do have the “what ifs” from time to time. What if I’d gone back to school right away and pursued an MFA in creative writing? What if I’d studied a semester abroad and done more traveling? What if I’d parlayed my college tutoring job into a teaching job or, early in my career, moved from marketing and PR in the technology realm into an area I was more passionate about like music or sports? Explore the things you are passionate about now, while you’re in high school and for as long as you can in college and early in your career. It’s hard to change direction when you’re 40 or 50.

Ok, so for those of us who are getting up there in age, admittedly, it is hard to change direction entirely. But not impossible. And if you can sprinkle just a little of what you love or do just one thing each day that keeps you in touch with those earlier passions, you’ll still be exploring those options, if not making a radical move towards them.

  • Find ways to travel early on. See the big, wide world. Look for opportunities to study abroad in school. If you’re a dual citizen, as my kids are fortunate enough to be, go to school or work abroad. Grab the opportunity and see what’s out there.

Great advice for the young, but of course, easier said than done once you are settled into a career (unless it happens to involve world travel) and have a mortgage and college tuition to pay for. But when those opportunities arise, take them.  Add a few days onto that business trip and see the city you’re working in.  Plan to use that bonus money for a weekend somewhere you’ve never been instead of upgrading those bathroom floors. I truly believe that travel is the best education there is. I can’t tell you how many people make comments about Sweden, its culture and system of government to me and my Swedish-born and raised husband without ever having stepped foot in that country. Not surprisingly, they are usually all wrong. Go, see, and learn for yourself – there’s nothing like it.

Quick illustrative story: I was once on a press tour in New York City with the CEO of a start-up I was working with. He told me that he’d been to New York numerous times in his career but had never been to the top of the Empire State building or seen a Broadway show. I asked him why not and he couldn’t answer, but for some reason, on this trip, he decided to change all of that. We went to the top of the Empire State building after our meetings and looked at the glorious view. We saw not one, but TWO Broadway shoes on that business trip!  A few months later, he passed away unexpectedly; while on his regular, early morning walk/run with his dogs, he had a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a wife and two young kids. I felt fortunate that I got to accompany him on that very special trip to New York.

  • Rekindle and/or nurture your love for reading. Reading expands your mind, opens new doors, and teaches you empathy. Beyond that, as I advised my daughter, reading improves all of those great communications skills you need in virtually every college class you’ll take and every job you’ll ever have.

This is advice that applies to anyone, at any age. There is always time to read a book, just like there is always time to fit in a workout – you just have to want to find that time. 10 minutes here and there – waiting in the car to pick your child up from school, while dinner is in the oven, on your lunch break from work, 10 minutes before turning out the light at night.  I truly believe that reading is the single easiest thing to do to keep your mind active, continue learning, expand your horizons and visit new places virtually. Bonus: it’s enjoyable and relieves stress!

  • Remember that there are trade-offs. This is where we have to acknowledge that money does matter and that means there are compromises and trade-offs to be made. If you’re passionate about traveling, find a job that allows for it, or be prepared that you’ll be backpacking through Europe and sleeping in youth hostels, not four-star resorts. Living in this area and having so much, our children sometimes get the message that having the latest iPhone or the coolest car are things that matter more than what you spend time doing each day. Some jobs don’t come with a big paycheck, but my message would be, try it when you’re young. If you truly love it, it will be worth the trade-offs.

As adults, we are always making trade-offs.  The hope is that when you’re in the rocking chair at 80, looking back on your life, you’ve made the right ones. I live in an area where people seem to “have it all”. They don’t have to decide between that expensive vacation, redoing their kitchen and paying for private college tuition. That doesn’t mean they haven’t made trade-offs. To afford that lifestyle, one or both parents may not be spending as much time with their families as they’d like.  Maybe the wife gave up a great career that she misses to stay home so her husband could have a job that involves a great deal of travel. Or maybe they are both working at jobs they really don’t love just to keep the wheel spinning. We all make trade-offs and compromises. The key is to figure out which ones you can live with.

  • What will your verse be? The famous line from Whitman’s poem and the words that Robin Williams famously spoke in “Dead Poet’s Society” are words that haunt me a bit every day. Make sure that something you do in life makes you feel that you’re contributing, giving back, adding something to your community, to society, to the world at large. Find something that has meaning not just to you, but to others.

While I haven’t figured this one out completely, I’ve taken little steps here and there to be sure I’m moving in the right direction. Is there a specific cause or issue you believe in passionately? Give your money and more importantly, your time to it.  Write about it.  Or to come full circle to the assignment and “If Money Was No Object”, make a video about it and share it with the world. Someone might listen and be inspired.

What advice would you share with your kids in response to “If Money Didn’t Matter”?  And do you think that advice is helpful for all ages for just for those of a certain, youthful age?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

New Year’s Resolutions for Even the Most Non-Resolute

imagesI’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve always thought that if you really want to do something in life, make time for or accomplish something, you’ll eventually (to coin a Nike marketing phrase) just do it. There’s no time like the present and New Year’s Day or not, if you truly want to do something, you’ll do it and if not, well, maybe you don’t want it as badly as you’d originally thought. That said, there’s something about a new year, a fresh start, a clean white board, that gives one a tiny bit more motivation, that extra push to get a long languishing project moving.

In goal-setting, it’s always important to break big goals into smaller, more realistic steps and the same holds true for resolutions. You could resolve to be a better person….but specifically, how? You could resolve to be more organized, but what steps can you take to get there?

Pushing aside the notion that resolutions need to be daunting tasks that can only be thought of once a year, I’ve made a small, starting list for myself that I hope will have some impact.

1) I resolve that each time I want to curse silently – or not so silently – at an impolite or even dangerous driver on the road, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that they win when I feel stress.

2) I resolve that every time I think about calling, emailing, texting or otherwise reaching out to a friend or loved one I haven’t connected with in awhile that instead of saying I’ll do it later when I’m not busy (as if!), I will take five minutes to actually reach out or, at the very least, I will put it on the to-do list with an actual deadline so it becomes a priority.

3) I resolve to focus more and multi-task less.  The phone doesn’t need to be constantly in hand, the texts can wait and no reason to try to “save time” by responding to emails while on conference calls. Constant multi-tasking creates more stress and even more work. Better to focus on one thing at a time…unless of course it’s folding laundry while watching TV!

4) I resolve to walk past the mess and clutter in the house at least once a week without stressing out, picking it up or yelling at someone about it.  Life’s too short, right?!

5) I resolve to have books, music, writing, exercising and conversation add up to more hours each day than any time spent on social media. I’m talking to you, new Pinterest addiction!

6) I resolve to put forth energy and action for at least one cause I believe in, rather than just ranting about it or reposting rants on Facebook and Twitter. Action speaks louder than words.

Are you making any resolutions this year? Do you think it’s a useful practice. Happy New Year and all the best to you and yours in 2013!

Is “Follow Your Dream” Good Advice?

“Follow your dream.” Maybe your parents gave you that advice when you were in school. Or maybe you read it in a self-help book along the way. Following your dream is certainly a deeply rooted idea in American culture – the idea that if we just do what we love, we’ll be rewarded – if not with riches, than with self-satisfaction and happiness.  Think of Olympians who say that their parents always supported their dream or Broadway stars who say that living just barely above the poverty line for many years was all worth it because they were following their dream.

When I was little I was convinced that my dream was to be a writer. I had a romanticized view of what that might entail and like most kids had no idea what the day-to-day reality of being a writer might really be, how difficult it was to be published and obtain some level of success at writing. Economic realities meant that I always had a job during my college years, seemed to always owe someone money and upon graduation with a Bachelor’s in English, was faced with the same question repeatedly from well-intentioned friends and family: “What kind of job can you get with an English major?”

Turns out, there are many jobs out there for good communicators, but the one I dreamed about, penning the great American novel, seemed awfully naive in the face of mounting bills and debt. After taking the summer to go home to San Diego and think about what I should do, I resolved to return to L.A., resume my part-time job of English tutoring at UCLA and search for “real” jobs.

After a couple of months of interviewing, I was rewarded with a job offer that I thought wouldn’t entirely compromise my dreams. A technology company wanted to hire me – an English major with no technical background – to write their user manuals. How bad could that be? I would be paid to write, albeit, about the ins and outs of test equipment and communications protocols. I was thrilled that I could pay my bills, pay off my debt and enter the real, working world. My writing dream wasn’t completely sacrificed, I thought.

But writing user manuals became tedious and un-fulfilling, to say the least. Fortunately for me, the head of the marketing department noticed my writing skills, my youthful enthusiasm and my desire to be more involved in the external-facing aspects of the company and offered me a job where I could apply my skills to public relations, event management, advertising, collateral and many other aspects of marketing communications. 25 years later, I’m still working in technology PR and marketing, but for myself and from the comfort of my home, with my own consulting practice that I’ve built over the past 19 years.

Did I follow my dream? Not exactly. When people ask me if I like my job, I always say that every job has good days and bad days, fun parts and frankly, soul-sucking parts. There is the reality: 25 years later I have a mortgage, one child in college and one heading there in a few years and a lifestyle that requires both my spouse and I to contribute. There is also another reality: I’ve quietly pursued my original dream, fiction writing, on the side and discovered something important – while I still love to write, I am probably not cut out for the life of a full-time writer. The reality is that even my so-called dream job has good days and bad days, enjoyable activities and those that are painful.

So what do you do when you discover that your dream isn’t truly what you had in mind? You move on. There are parts of my day job that I still enjoy and parts that I don’t, but all in all, it continues to reward me both financially and intellectually. Separately, I continue to pursue the parts of my childhood dream that fulfill me – taking classes to improve my creative writing skills, penning the occasional short story, continuing to work here and there on the novel I “finished’ a few years ago, when the mood strikes me, and writing this blog.  Outside of work and writing, there are other passion-fueling activities: family and friends, music, sports, great books, food and wine, watching my daughters imagine, explore and wrestle with their own dreams.  Some might say I didn’t follow my dream and I guess I didn’t follow the track exactly. Still, I can’t help but wake up some mornings feeling blessed and lucky, that despite it all, I am living the dream – maybe not the one I’d imagined, but one that fulfills me, nonetheless.

How about you? Did you follow your dream?  Or find another along the way? Do you encourage your kids to follow their dreams? How do you support them in their quest to pursue a dream while still preparing them for the realities of the world?

Getting Used to the Big Numbers…or 50 Things I’m Grateful For

At the end of this year, I will have to face a large number, a number that means I have reached five decades of existence. Why is this so difficult? After all, they say 50 is the new 30, a milestone, to be sure, but certainly not considered old age anymore. And as my husband is fond of saying, “it beats the alternative”. Maybe I fear it because I never imagined getting to this number. Like all kids, I couldn’t wait to be 16 so I could drive a car, 18 so I could go to college, become an adult and vote, and 21 so I could drink (ummm…legally). While I wasn’t anxious to reach the age of 30, I imagined where I would be and what I would be doing at that age (the year my first child was born, as it turned out –didn’t figure that!) and I could even see beyond that horizon to where I might be at 40. But 50? That’s just not a number I ever imagined.

So I’ve decided in an attempt to get used to that frightening number that I ought to start making lists of 50 that are not so scary. Like 50 things I’m grateful for, 50 things I’ve accomplished, 50 things I have yet to do, that I’m looking forward to doing some day.  50 places I’ve traveled and 50 I have yet to visit, 50 great novels (definitely won’t be including 50 Shades of Grey), 50 songs I can’t live without (maybe “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” should be on there), and maybe 50 posts I want to write. By making these lists maybe I’ll become accustomed to that scary-looking number by the time I get there….or maybe I’ll just have to drink a lot to hide the pain.

My inaugural list is 50 things I’m grateful for. Here goes:

1)   My health and that of my loved ones.

2)   My husband and the fact that his personality is the opposite of mine.

3)   My daughters.

4)   My Mom and Dad.

5)   My friends who are still my friends.

6)   My friends who are no longer my friends, but who helped shape me.

7)   The people who loaned me money in college.

8)   Every teacher who told me I could do “it”, whatever “it” was.

9)   My first love.

10) Being able to attend, and graduate from, UCLA.

11) Working from home for almost 19 years now.

12)  When I was still commuting to work every day, getting to drive down PCH every morning.

13)  All the clients who have hired me, those who have referred me and most especially, those who have hired me repeatedly to do work for them.

14) A good night’s sleep, when I get it.

15) The fact that my husband likes to cook.

16) The fact that one of my daughters has already taken after him in the cooking department.

17) The unconditional love of dogs.

18) Getting to spend part of my childhood in La Jolla.

19)  Music, music, music.

20) Books, books, books.

21) Daffodils in the spring.

22) Good wine.

23) Good, strong coffee.

24) Mint chip ice cream.

25) The scent of fresh lemon.

26) Pilates, without which I would be an injured, aching mess.

27)  Nordstrom’s customer service – can you beat it?

28) Getting to sit in the front row of the David Cassidy concert when I was 9 years old.

29) Getting to sit third row and front-row, center, respectively, at two Dave Matthews concerts as an adult and experience it with each of my daughters.

30) Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.

31) The beach.

32) Sunsets, especially at the beach.

33) Bangs…without them I might have to resort to Botox.

34) Online shopping.

35) Being able to live in California.

36) Not having to live in Texas.

37) Watching sports on a big screen TV.

38) Sunday’s Los Angeles Times…in print

39) The trip to England, Scotland and France I took with my best friend for high school graduation.

40) The opportunity to spend time in my husband’s native Sweden.

41) Dishwashers.

42) The advice of friends and colleagues who experienced things before me and shared their wisdom.

43) Clothes that don’t wrinkle.

44) The iPhone.

45) Summer.

46)  The Hollywood Bowl.

47) Writers.

48) Getting to watch my older daughter swim at Olympic Trials.

49) Friday evenings.

50) Getting to watch both my girls mature, follow their passions, learn from their failures and enjoy their successes.

Saying Goodbye to Who We Used to Be

This weekend, my former writing instructor, Tod Goldberg, wrote a tribute to Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys, who passed away last Friday. Tod wrote eloquently about what The Beasties’ music meant to him. One line of his tribute really stuck with me:

…you begin to recognize that the sadness you feel isn’t just about the loss of that person’s life, but also the recognition that who you were when you met that person is long gone, too.

This simple truth helped me understand why we can be so overwhelmed with sadness at the passing of someone we’ve never even met. After all, while we might feel like we knew Adam Yauch or Clarence Clemons or Whitney Houston or any of the countless others who we’ve lost recently through their public personas, most of us have never met, much less been a part of these people’s lives. What is it then, that causes the heart-wrenching void we feel when a favorite musician, actor, novelist or other public person dies?

As Tod so perfectly articulates, it’s the knowledge that who we once were, at a certain place, in a certain time, is gone forever. The young child, sitting in a mother’s lap, listening to a beloved story, the awkward pre-teen dressed to impress at a first dance, the college student, cramming for finals in a dorm room, the young parents trying to quiet a restless newborn in the wee hours of the morning. We recognize in the passing of the people who formed the backdrop to our lives that we can never again be who we were then – that a certain part of us has disappeared forever. It’s bittersweet, the acknowledgement that we’ve matured and grown, left behind pieces of ourselves in the process that only seem more dear to us with the passage of time.  Through the faded lens of nostalgia, even the bad morphs into good and we long for the feeling of being in that place and time again.

The loss of who we were seems to hit especially hard at this time of year, with Spring turning into Summer, the time of graduations and moving on. At this time last year, I was planning my older daughter’s high school graduation. Amid the excitement of parties and celebrations and orientation for her new life on a university campus, came the sad acknowledgement that things in our house would never again be the same, that a special period in our lives was about to depart from us forever and that we would all be changed. Walking her new campus during orientation, I was struck with nostalgia for my own college days, so much so that even the tough times began to seem perfect and magical.  It wasn’t simply my youth that I missed. It was the person I was in those days – the person I was before launching headlong into adulthood and the working world and before becoming a wife and mother. It was a time when I wasn’t even aware of all the milestones I was checking off – milestones I now realize are all in my rear-view mirror.

Ahead of me lies one daughter’s middle school graduation, the other daughter’s completion of her freshman year in college, our first summer without two children at home, and at the end of the year, a significant birthday that marks the passage of way more time than I’d like to admit.  I don’t mean to seem so morose – I embrace the future and look forward to all that is new. But I can’t help missing those people, places and times now departed. Because after all, their loss means saying goodbye to who I was when I encountered them – a part of me that I have to let go.

Ten Albums to Help you Escape Suburban Gloom

You give up a lot of things when you settle in suburbia and start a family.  The ability to make a spur-of-the-moment dinner date at a hot new restaurant in the city. Meeting friends after work for drinks. Deciding to go dancing all night at a club you’ve just read about.  Taking off work to stand in line all day for tickets to a favorite band’s concert.

Oh wait – did I admit that last one out loud?  Yeah, I did that.  It was 1985 and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were coming to Dodger Stadium for the “Born in the USA” tour.  In those days, we’d line up in front of the Tower Records in Westwood (yes, there still WAS a Tower Records in Westwood back then) and wristbands would be dispersed.  Your wristband was the key to purchasing actual concert tickets.

While I can’t say I miss the standing in line part, I do miss Tower Records, not to mention the idea of buying and listening to an entire album.  But my passion and love for music has never disappeared.  While I might have lived the past twenty years of my life in suburbia, I’ve never given up on music’s ability to stir the soul, to conjure up all of our hopes and dreams, the promise and the heartbreak. Music can make you feel simultaneously young and old, ecstatic and despondent, motivated and apathetic, driven to tears, to desire, to desperation. And most of all, music is the background of our lives, the way in which one song can suddenly transport us to another time and place, reminding us of who we were, who we are and who we could be.

Full disclosure: I sometimes feel that Cameron Crowe is living the perfect life.  Almost Famous is my favorite movie. I don’t consider it summer unless I’ve attended at least two outdoor concerts. I probably have more songs on my iPhone than photos, contacts and emails combined.

I decided it was time for a more lighthearted post and hence, prepared this list of the top ten albums that can help you recapture your soul in the midst of suburbia. I know there’s an inherent problem with lists. Everyone’s will be different. Everyone will complain that you’ve left their favorite artist/album/song off the list.  The number ten is random and limited. But I love music and I love lists and therefore, I love lists about music. So while certainly not even close to definitive, here are my picks – a short list of some amazing records that can get you through just about any dull or uninspired day. Some are old, some are new and the genres are all over the place since I like all kinds of music (save hard-core country/western – sorry, just can’t do it).  Also, these are in no particular order and I’ve included some links to give you a sample of what you might expect on each album.

1) Adele’s 21:  Much has been said and written about Adele and this album. She has won numerous awards and accolades, so it’s probably not a surprise to see this album on anyone’s list. But truly, 21 lives up to the hype. 21 struck a chord with teens, tweens, young adults, middle-aged men, senior women, hipsters, rappers – basically, anyone with ears. I can’t think of any other artist with such broad crossover appeal.  Adele’s pure and soulful voice is just that good and the songs – an amazing amalgam of pop, jazz, R&B and rock – transcend genre. I’m thankful Adele came to popularity in the U.K. Had she been born in the U.S., I fear the music industry would have told her to lose 50lbs, pick a specific genre, and sing more “radio-pleasing pop songs.” Thank goodness she didn’t do any of these things. When I listen to her, I wonder if she can hear, herself, how truly good she is. If I were Adele, I’d probably just sit in my room and sing to myself all day.

2) U2’s Achtung Baby: Ok, let’s just all agree up front that U2 is awesome.  And if you’re not willing to agree to that, just skip to #3 on the list. I think I recall that at one point in the band’s early days, lead singer, Bono, was quoted as saying that U2 wanted to be bigger than The Beatles and everyone laughed at his hubris. U2 may never quite fill those shoes, but is anyone still laughing? U2’s brilliant songwriting, impassioned performances and now-proven longevity, have put them right up there with the best. I could have picked almost any album from their catalog to put on this list (except maybe Pop — hey, every great band has to overreach sometimes when trying to be creative). But Achtung Baby stands out to me because every single song is a gem. Everyone knows the anthem, “One”, and has probably rocked out to “Mysterious Ways”, but even the lesser known “Acrobat” and “Ultraviolet”, are worthy of admiration.  As complete albums go, this one is flawlessly executed with masterful songwriting, soulful vocals and the perfection that comes when a group of musicians know who they are and love making music together.

3) Dave Matthews Band’s Crash: You either love Dave Matthews or hate him and if you love him, you love him passionately. I’ve never met anyone who said they were “sort of” a DMB fan, or that they “kinda like” Dave Matthews. There is no in-between and Dave is on the list because, well, I love him. It’s ok, my husband knows about my somewhat obsessive fandom and has also become a DMB fan. So do both of my kids who I’ve somehow, miraculously and possibly through continual over-exposure to DMB music, converted into Dave fans, as well. To be completely honest, both the Under the Table and Dreaming and Big Whisky and the GrooGrux King albums are probably better overall records than Crash. But the title song was the first Dave song I ever heard and began my 10+ year love affair with this band, my very favorite Dave song, “#41” is on this album and my husband’s favorite song, “Two Step”, is also on this album (yes, he has a favorite song – I’ve converted him!). So, in short, there was no way this album wasn’t going to make my list. It’s true that you probably need to see DMB live to truly appreciate them, but give this album a listen and you might see why it’s one of my picks for lifting you out of the doldrums.

4) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn The Torpedoes:  This album instantly grabs you with the opening chords of “Refugee” and never let’s you go. It’s one of those albums I will never grow tired of hearing, one that always brings me back to exactly where I was when I first heard it and one that will always remind me of some supremely good and equally bad times.  My personal favorite track is “Even the Losers” and I fondly remember singing (loudly and badly) to it, on many a night with my college roommates, feeling like Tom Petty must have written it just for me. Tom Petty put it all out there in every song and made you feel that he knew just what you were going through. Petty has always been a quintessential California artist, even though he rarely gets mentioned in those California-specific music lists.  There’s the ode to “Century City” on Damn the Torpedoes, and I’ll never forget hearing the plaintive opening chords of “Free Fallin’“(though not on this album) when I was living in Dallas for one, long, miserable year and feeling so homesick for Los Angeles and “all the vampires, livin’ in the Valley”, that I could cry. If you have no history with Tom Petty and this album, I can’t guarantee you’ll feel the same way, but I bet you’ll like it, just the same.

5) The Beatles’ Abbey Road:  The Beatles are revered the world over and are certainly not a surprise on anyone’s list of best, greatest, favorite, etc…. I could have easily chosen Sgt Pepper because it’s the album I most associate with my childhood, having heard it on constant repeat in my house for years – not to mention, Rolling Stone chose Sgt Pepper as #1 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. I could have picked Revolver or The White Album which some think were more creative and boundary-pushing. But at the end of the day, I love Abbey Road the best – and not just for the iconic album cover.  It’s just a perfect mix of the genius of Lennon (“Come Together”), the beauty of Harrison (“Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” – perhaps, my favorite Beatles song of all time), the signature sound of Sir Paul (“Oh! Darling”) and yes, even the quirky contributions of Ringo (“Octopus’ Garden”). And how can you dislike an album that ends with this simple and beautiful adage: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love…you make”. It’s sheer Beatle brilliance, reminding you why no one comes close to The Beatles’ singular place in music history.

6) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s Born to Run:  As with U2 and The Beatles, it’s pretty tough to choose just one Springsteen album, but if I had to recommend one to someone who had been living in a cave and had never heard of Bruce Springsteen, this would be it. First off, it contains “Thunder Road”, a song that has caused some to call Springsteen the Shakespeare of rock music.  Rolling Stone listed Thunder Road as #86 on its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and it’s no wonder – you don’t have to be New Jersey born and bred to relate to Springsteen’s desire to “trade in these wings for some wheels.”  It’s a universal song of youth, the desire to escape the everyday, the feeling that something waits for you beyond your front doorstep, if you can just get out.  If Thunder Road has never spoken to you, you should probably check your pulse…just sayin’. Beyond that, there is, of course, the title track, which is quintessential Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out”, which is guaranteed to make you miss Mr. Clemons, and the superb, nine minute plus “Jungleland”. All I can say is…BRUUUUUUCE!

7) Green Day‘s American Idiot: In making a list about lifting one out of suburbia, one must consider an album that contains a song called “Jesus of Suburbia”, right?  Beyond that, I told my husband that I think American Idiot is the “definitive rock opera” made by a band that had a grandiose idea that actually paid off. When I said this, he raised his eyebrows and reminded me of all the great rock operas that came before like The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and many more. Yeah, he’s right. I overstated the case. However, I put this album on when I want to be reminded of the punk spirit that lives somewhere inside all of us and how a band can take an idea and create a whole series of moving songs, one flowing into the other, that tell a story. I also love that everyone had written these guys off as punk wannabes who made trivial songs about apathy…until this. I recently saw American Idiot, the musical based on the album and while it didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had, the actual music still stood out as a testament to this band’s creativity and raw talent.  The progression on side one of “Jesus of Suburbia” into “Holiday” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is epic and moving. If you still need another reason to listen, how about because, quite simply, it totally rocks.

8) Coldplay’s Mylo Zyloto:  Coldplay has yet to prove they have the longevity of U2, despite the comparisons they made to their Irish counterparts early on. But they are establishing an impressive body of work that is bringing them closer to the mark. While previous albums like A Rush of Blood to the Head contained some of their best songs like “The Scientist” and “Clocks”, their newest album, Mylo Zyloto, is my favorite and the one that I listen to all the way through, almost every time I start it.  The joyful opening chords of the title track and world-music vibe of “Hurts Like Heaven” are guaranteed to make you smile and “Paradise” is a brilliant mix of layered choral vocals and booming guitar and synth sounds. I’m seeing them live in May at the Hollywood Bowl and I cannot wait. Maybe Rihanna will make a guest appearance for their collaboration on “Princess of China”, a dark and powerful ballad about break-ups. A girl can hope!

9) Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road:  Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the first album I ever bought with my own money. I will never forget taking the bus to the mall, walking into the Wherehouse and handing over my hard-earned babysitting money for the plastic-wrapped, colorful, animated package that was this double album. I went straight home, closed the door to my room, put that record on and probably didn’t stop playing it for the next two weeks.  I poured over the lyrics and the album artwork – always a revelation with an Elton album – and learned every word to every song.  But I have to believe that even if this album didn’t hold that special place in my own personal memory, it would still be on the list  – a wild combination of beautifully executed tunes – each one a story, each one different than the one before. From the creepy-sad opening of “Funeral for a Friend” to the futuristic sounding beats of “Bennie and the Jets”, this album was never dull, always offering something new every time you listened to it. I bow to you Sir Elton.

10) Bob Marley‘s Legend:  While I typically think it’s a cop-out to put a greatest hits compilation on any kind of best/greatest/favorite albums list, I will make an exception for Legend (and I’m not alone – Rolling Stone ranked it #46 on the 500 Greatest Album list). It is not summer for me until I hear the reggae sounds of “Jamming” escaping from our stereo, no matter what the calendar says, how much sunshine is filtering through the blinds or how many margaritas I’ve had.  This album equals summer for me, although, clearly, Marley had a bit more in mind than a lazy, mellow summer day when he wrote these songs. Despite the deceptively cool reggae beat, Marley certainly had more important things to communicate when he wrote “Buffalo Soldier”, “Get Up Stand Up” and “No Woman, No Cry”. That’s probably the genius of Marley – that he could trick you into listening about revolution and social injustice by infusing it with Jamaican spirituality and a laid-back vibe.  Plus “Redemption Song”, with the plea to “emancipate yourself from mental slavery” is one of the best songs ever written, IMHO.

So that’s ten and it was mighty hard to come by. I guess I have to qualify this with a list of honorable mentions, albums I also love dearly that didn’t, but could have easily, made the list: Peter Gabriel’s So, Steely Dan’s Aja, The Police’s Sychronicity, Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles, Eminem’s Recovery, Counting Crows’ August & Everything, Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Carol King’s Tapestry, Van Halen’s, Van Halen, Billy Joel’s The Stranger, The Eagle’s Hotel California, Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, Alicia Keys’ Songs in A Minor, Queen’s The Game, Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings, The Clash’s London Calling, Nirvana’s Nevermind, REM’s Out of Time, James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, The Killers’ Hot Fuss, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and In Through the Out Door and nearly every album ever made by The Beatles, U2 and one of the most obvious omissions, The Rolling Stones. And lest anyone ask why Bob Dylan is not on the list, ok, here’s the thing – as lyrics go, Dylan is a brilliant poet. But I have just never been able to listen to that voice for the course of an entire album. Sorry. I know. I’m a heathen.

Alright, open the floodgates for comments. I know all you folks out there have opinions on this one – and I want to hear them!  Which choices do you love or hate? What did I leave out that one must own and listen to when stuck in suburbia?

Introducing Suburban Dirt

Welcome to Suburban Dirt, a blog about the trials, tribulations and perspectives of a working mom in suburbia. With this blog, I hope to share my unique views on a number of topics including the challenges of parenting in today’s modern, suburban world.

I’m a PR/marketing professional by trade, a writer and mother of two teen-aged girls, 19 and nearly 14. Though born and raised here in the U.S.,  I’ve been married to a Swede for more than 25 years and therefore, have developed a love of green marzipan frosting, Akvavit and free healthcare (although still not an Abba fan).

My day job for the past 20 years has involved developing corporate communications programs for technology companies like Cisco, IBM, Boeing and start-ups too numerous to count.  I like my day job and it certainly pays the bills — not to mention, keeps me up-to-date on the latest technological innovations – a very important factor in parenting today’s tech savvy kids. That said, my true passions are fiction writing, literature and music.  I was also a fitness instructor for 20+ years and if my poor, aging hips and back had cooperated, I might still be barking orders from a step or spin bike. Instead, I placate myself with weekly Pilates sessions and walking around my beautiful, Southern California suburb with our German Shepard puppy.

I’m a fan of college sports (UCLA and anyone playing USC), swimming (sport of choice for my girls), The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, movies and Dave Matthews Band concerts, and I’m a bit of a political junkie. So fair warning that all these topics and more may arise in my blog posts from time to time. I’m also a published short story author and an aspiring novelist, so this blog is definitely another outlet for a mind that has a bit more creativity than can be expressed in a standard product press release.

I hope you enjoy my perspectives, musings and, yes, occasional rants.