Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bleezer's Ice Cream

Bleezer's Ice Cream (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Jack Prelutsky)

I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
I run BLEEZER’S ICE-CREAM STORE,
there are flavors in my freezer
you have never seen before,
twenty-eight divine creations
too delicious to resist,
why not do yourself a favor,
try the flavors on my list:
COCOA MOCHA MACARONI
TAPIOCA SMOKED BOLONEY
CHECKERBERRY CHEDDAR CHEW
CHICKEN CHERRY HONEYDEW
TUTTI-FRUTTI STEWED TOMATO
TUNA TACO BAKED POTATO
LOBSTER LITCHI LIMA BEAN
MOZZARELLA MANGOSTEEN
ALMOND HAM MERINGUE SALAMI
YAM ANCHOVY PRUNE PASTRAMI
SASSAFRAS SOUVLAKI HASH
SUKIYAKI SUCCOTASH
BUTTER BRICKLE PEPPER PICKLE
POMEGRANATE PUMPERNICKEL
PEACH PIMENTO PIZZA PLUM
PEANUT PUMPKIN BUBBLEGUM
AVOCADO BRUSSELS SPROUT
PERIWINKLE SAUERKRAUT
BROCCOLI BANANA BLUSTER
CHOCOLATE CHOP SUEY CLUSTER
COTTON CANDY CARROT CUSTARD
CAULIFLOWER COLA MUSTARD
ONION DUMPLING DOUBLE DIP
TURNIP TRUFFLE TRIPLE FLIP
GARLIC GUMBO GRAVY GUAVA
LENTIL LEMON LIVER LAVA
ORANGE OLIVE BAGEL BEET
WATERMELON WAFFLE WHEAT
I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
I run BLEEZER’S ICE-CREAM STORE,
taste a flavor from my freezer,
you will surely ask for more.
twenty-eight divine creations
too delicious to resist,
come on, do yourself a favor,
try the flavors on my list.



Terry Gross, host of NPR's Fresh Air, is widely regarded as one of the greatest radio journalists of all-time. There are several reasons for this. First of all, she's extremely intelligent and it comes through in every carefully measured word she says. Her questions are well-thought out, but she's also flexible enough to go with the flow of the interview and ask meaningful questions on the fly. Her words and her tone of voice convey genuine interest in the people she is interviewing, be they actors, musicians, writers or politicians. She's tough but kind, calling people on the carpet and at the same time going out of her way to give her interviewees a chance to be as understood as they want to be.

In other words, she's the Natalie Merchant of Public Radio.

Needless to say, I quite admire her for all of the reasons stated above, but the thing I respect most about Terry Gross, and the thing that she is most renowned for, is the research she does in preparation for each interview. When you listen to her interviews, she leaves no doubt that she has listened to the album, seen the movie, or read the book of whomever she is interviewing. She has something to bring to the conversation. Even the most media-wary guests seem to warm up to her and even feel genuinely privileged to be on her show.

Well, friends, I am no Terry Gross. For one thing, I do not have a glass-smooth speaking voice. I usually fail to choose my words carefully. I have a difficult time balancing the tough and the gentle. And, of course, there is that little detail about how I have never interviewed anyone. Ever.

However...there is one thing that I can do like Terry Gross. I can research. I love research. And when one is presented with the task of reviewing the song Bleezer's Ice Cream, the only proper way to do research on the subject is to eat a lot of ice cream. Not just any ice cream, mind you. Bleezer's ice cream. I have to at least sample some of those 28 divine creations if I'm going to even attempt to get immersed in the song. Impossible, you say. Bleezer's Ice Cream is fictional; it doesn't really exist.

Or does it?

In the Mission district of San Francisco, California, you will find a rather nondescript building with a perpetual line of people waiting outside the entrance. The only clue as to what's inside is written on the awning outside: ice cream.



It's true. Bleezer's Ice Cream is not a real place. But I believe I found the next best thing: Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream. A quick perusal of the menu on the Humphry Slocombe website will reveal flavor combinations that will make your eyes bulge: Peanut Butter Curry, McEvoy Olive Oil, Golden Beet Saffron, Cucumber Ice Milk, Kumquat Poppy Seed, Cayenne Cantaloupe, Carrot Mango, Guinness Gingerbread, Foie Gras, Sweet Summer Corn, Strawberry Candied Jalapeno, Strawberry Black Olive, Sour Cream, Boccalone Prosciutto, Balsamic Caramel and of course, that childhood favorite - Government Cheese.

Are the flavors at Humphry Slocombe's as wild as those of Ebenezer Bleezer? Not quite, but I defy you to find anyone who comes closer. I love ice cream just as much as the next guy, but when I saw the Humphry Slocombe's menu, my intestines skipped a beat. I wanted to recoil, but then I thought of Terry Gross. Terry Gross would eat the ice cream and she would get the grossest possible flavors. So I sucked it up, figuratively and literally, and made a trip into the city.

The variety of flavors at Humphry Slocombe's is huge (what I listed above is just scratching the surface.) Every day a selection of 10-12 flavors are available. On the day I visited, some of the wilder flavors were unavailable, something I was both disappointed in and slightly grateful for. While some of the more tame flavors sounded quite delectable, I stuck to my plan. My companion and I ordered 6 small scoops between us and chose the strangest flavors available.



Here is what we ordered: Red Hot Banana (banana ice cream mixed with cinnamon candy), Secret Breakfast (bourbon ice cream mixed with Corn Flakes), Hibiscus Beet, Jesus Juice (red wine and cola flavors), Honey Thyme, and Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee.

The coffee flavor was the least exciting; although tasty it was pretty much like any other coffee ice cream I've ever had. The booze flavored ice creams nearly did me in. I don't drink and have never found the concept of alcohol-flavored anything to be particularly appealing. Secret Breakfast displeased me, but Jesus Juice, with its red wine and cola combo nearly made me spew. (For the record, my ice cream eating companion enjoyed both of these flavors thoroughly. But between you and me, I think he might have a drinking problem.)

The Honey Thyme ice cream was oddly appealing. While I never imagined that one day I'd be eating ice cream with fresh herbs in it, the flavor combination worked quite well. Even more enjoyable was the Red Hot Banana. I'm not a big fan of banana-flavored food, so it was a surprise that this turned out to be my favorite flavor of the day. Last but not least was Hibiscus Beet, the flavor that most sounded like it could've come off of Bleezer's menu. How can I describe Hibiscus Beet? Well, it wasn't bad. It was more...disturbing. There was a certain earthiness to it that made me feel as if I was eating ice cream scooped directly from the ground. (My companion really liked this one, too. An alcoholic and a dirt-eater.)

When it was all said and done I can tell you that eating ice cream at Humphry Slocombe's is quite a treat, a genuine experience unto itself. If you find yourself near San Francisco anytime soon, I recommend you make time for a visit. I definitely plan to go back again soon.

Anyone care for some Fetal Kitten soup?

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete (and Terry Gross certainly would not approve) if I didn't talk at least briefly about the song that inspired this little adventure. I love Bleezer's Ice Cream. It's impossible and unnecessary to say anything wordy about it. It's just fun, simple as that. To me, it's one of those songs that I just can't imagine anyone not loving. Basically, if you don't love Bleezer's Ice Cream, I am forced to question whether or not you really have the ability to love.

Regarding the transformation from poem to song, Natalie had this to say:

"(Bleezer's) got a happen' joint, so I took him down to New Orleans. It's just how I thought of him. (Jack Prelutsky) never envisioned Ebenezer this way, but he loved the song."*

(Jack Prelutsky has the ability to love.)

When it's all said and done, I have to say, eating ice cream is not a bad way to do research. I looked forward to it much more than the research I have planned for The Blind Men and the Elephant, for which I plan to both blindfold myself and then find an unsuspecting elephant to grope (what could possibly go wrong?) Don't even get me started on the moral and legal challenges of getting myself wrongly accused of murder when I start working on I'm Not the Man. A Blogger's work never ends.

Before I leave you this week, a question: If you had to eat one of Ebenezer Bleezer's ice cream flavors, which would you choose? I'm going with Watermelon Waffle Wheat or Peanut Pumpkin Bubblegum. Any takers for Lobster Litchi Lima Bean? Leave your comments below or e-mail me at nmcompendium@yahoo.com.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Download Bleezer's Ice Cream from Itunes - Bleezer's Ice-Cream - Leave Your Sleep

*Tampabay.com - August 2010

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just Can't Last / Not In This Life / Effigy

Just Can't Last (from the album Motherland)

I swear I know your face,
I wish I knew your name
I wish I could take you by the hand
If I could name it
If I could just explain it
If I could only help you,
help you understand

I can see that you're hurting
weighed down like a beast of burden
about to break your back.
God only knows that you're human
So what are they trying to do then
Believe me, they don't understand
that you have the weight of the world today
It's on your back
A heavy load like that is gonna hold you back
It's gonna drag you down
You know it just can't last, just can't
You know it just can't last

They thought they could use you
Push you down and abuse you
And what's so sad is you've decided to hide
all your feelings
Got more pain than you can deal with
but ask yourself how can this last

I know you have the weight of the world today
It's on your back
A heavy load like that is gonna hold you back
It's gonna drag you down
You know it just can't last, just can't
You know it just can't last

_______________________________________________

Not In This Life (from the album Motherland)

Lately I've been walking all alone
through the wind and through the rain
been walking through the streets
finding sweet relief in knowing that it won't be long

Lately it's occurred to me
that I've had enough of that
and lately I've been satisfied by simple things
like breathing in and breathing out

Never again, not in this life
will I be taken twice
never again, not on your life
will I make that same mistake
I can't make it twice

Lately it's occurred to me
exactly what went wrong
I realized I compromised, I sacrificed
far too much for far too long

Never again, not in this life
will I be taken twice
never again, not on your life
will I make that same mistake
I can't make it twice

Starting out from here today
swear I'm gonna change my ways
once mistaken in this life
but never twice

Never again, not in this life
will I be taken twice
never again, not on your life
will I make that same mistake
never again, not on your life
will I make that same mistake
can't make it twice

Starting out from here today…


_____________________________________________

Effigy (from the album Ophelia)

I'm an effigy
A parody of
Who I appear to be
Put your flaming torches under me

I'm an effigy
A parody of
Who I appear to be
Put your flaming torches under me

I'm an effigy
A parody of
Who I appear to be
Put your flaming torches under me

Endless so far in myself, follow me



People crave a little friction in their relationships. Sure, there are a lot of books and talk shows filled with advice on how to keep harmony and happiness in our relationships, romantic or otherwise. Most people would say without hesitation that they want peaceful relationships, that they are trying to reduce discord. But the truth is many people, perhaps secretly, like to have a little bit of conflict in their lives from time to time.

For instance, look no further than the world of fiction, be it stage, screen or novel. Romantic story lines rarely differ from this general formula: 1) Boy Meets Girl. 2) Obstacles Arise. 3) Happily Ever After (or everyone dies, one of those two.) Can you imagine how dreadfully boring it would be to sit in a movie theater for 2 hours watching two people just...be in love? One happy scene of romantic bliss after another? Blech.

No, we want drama for our characters. We want a challenge for them to overcome. We want Montagues and Capulets. We just can't help ourselves. Obviously, we don't want the same exact brand of conflict in our own relationships, but we do occasionally court a little bit of mild drama in our love lives. It keeps things interesting. Passionate arguments are evidence that we are still passionate people. No matter how much they bicker, and really, because of all that bickering, we know Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn will always end up together in the end, Happily Ever After.

Let's face it, this blog has been a whole lotta Boy Meets Girl and Happily Ever After lately. How many times in the past several weeks have I said, "I love this song"? Too many! How many times have I said, "This is one of my top ten favorite Natalie Merchant songs"? Probably fifteen times, which is both annoying and a flagrant violation of mathematical law. Well friends, today we are going a different direction. Today it's time to face the obstacles head on. Today it is time to face the dark truth...There are some Natalie Merchant songs that I just don't like. So buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy blog.

Let's start with two songs from Motherland, an album I consider to be generally exceptional. In the last several weeks, I've talked about Natalie's gift for writing (and interpreting) songs that comfort and console. There is no denying her outstanding gift for writing songs that soothe. Just Can't Last is a song in this same vein. It's filled with heartfelt sympathy for...

There is my problem. I know what Wonder is about, I know the audience Natalie is singing to/for. Even Break Your Heart, which is more general, gives you some specifics. What are we being comforted over? Disillusionment, despair, the selfish attitudes of others, bad luck. We are admonished to fight against giving into these dark emotions and negative behaviors. But Just Can't Last is so much more bland. "I know things are bad, but it won't last forever, The End." Just Can't Last feels a little like a cheap knock-off of a more authentic style of song.

I'm literally cringing as I write these words. It feels a little absurd to dislike a song that is genuinely thoughtful. It's like saying, "I hate love songs." Why would you waste such a powerful emotion as hate on such a beautiful thing as love? The truth is, I do actually hate a lot of love songs. (But I loooove hate songs!) I have no defense for this. For another thing, the words of Thumper's mother are ringing loudly in my ears: "If you don't have anything nice to say..."

No! Enough of that! Back to today's theme: Friction! Conflict! Discord! On with the show...

Not In This Life is a very simple song. What is it about? It seems to be about feeling down, deciding not to feel down anymore, being resolved to move forward. I guess these are common themes in music and themes that often work wonderfully, but I just find myself feeling uninspired by this song. As in the case of Just Can't Last, I feel like Not In This Life is a little dull.

My guilt is starting to creep in again. Maybe this will be one of those cases where I will find a quote from Natalie where she will say she doesn't really like these songs either and then I will feel justified. Here's what she has said about Not In This Life:

"Not In This Life is one of the great sleepers in my catalogue."

Uh oh...

"The record company began to run out of steam when it was time for this third single from Motherland. I really enjoy the interplay between my voice and Erik (Della Penna)'s lead guitar line that's woven throughout the song. The ad-lib section and the improvised jam toward the end are unusual for a song of mine, and I enjoy both."*

Did you catch that part about the record company running out of steam? That's me now, isn't it? I'm nearly half way through this blog project and I'm starting to falter. I'm the record company. I'm the enemy! You never suspect that the villain is you.

Alas, there is one more song for me to diss on this post. And I already feel myself sinking into a boiling vat of hot water. You know why? Because people love them some Ophelia. Even a song that is less loved on Ophelia is more loved than the most popular song on almost any other Natalie album. So what am I going to say about Effigy?

I'm going to say that I have very little good reason to dislike this song. Actually, I don't really dislike any of this week's songs. I just don't love them. And when it comes to Natalie Merchant's music, that doesn't happen to me very often. Effigy has haunting lyrics and interesting music. There are times I think this song is beautiful. But as much as I have embraced the darkness that often displays itself in Natalie's music, this song is simply too dark for me. And it has to be said that any song on what is essentially a pop music album that just repeats the same couple of somber lines over and over again, AND which includes backing vocals by a Tibetan devotional singer (even one with a voice as beautiful as Yungchen Lhamo), is going to challenge the listener.

And it is with this crucial point that today's story ends. Writing about Effigy did not make me like the song more. But it did remind me of something I truly appreciate about Natalie Merchant's music: She trusts the musical intelligence of her listeners enough to include a song like Effigy in her catalogue. It would've been an easy song to hide away. But she had faith in us. And I'm very grateful that she's willing to challenge me, even if I sometimes fail the test.

So when it's all said and done, when I've spewed all my negativity, when I have spat upon the music of my most beloved musical artist, we still come to a happy ending after all.

What else did you expect?

******

That's all for this week from me. However, I know that many of you who are reading today's post are going to emphatically agree or (more likely) emphatically disagree with my crotchety old opinions about these songs. Feel free to share your opinions via the comment section below or e-mail. Put me in my place (kindly, though - Bloggers have feelings too. Oh who am I kidding, no they don't.)

Click here to watch the music video for Just Can't Last. Even the video for this song seems like a lazy reinterpretation of the Wonder video. Here I go again...

Download Just Can't Last from Itunes - Just Can't Last - Motherland

Download Not In This Life from Itunes - Not In This Life - Motherland

Download Effigy from Itunes - Effigy - Ophelia

*Retrospective Album Liner Notes

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring and Fall: To A Young Child

Spring and Fall: To A Young Child (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.



When I first heard that Natalie Merchant's new album would be called Leave Your Sleep, I was deeply offended. I felt personally insulted, cruelly and ironically mocked. How dare she say that to me! How could she?!

There is an explanation for this irrational (read: insane) behavior. Sleep has not always come easy for me. In recent years I have gone through some severe bouts of insomnia that frequently rendered me mentally and physically useless. Going for weeks on end with less than an hour of sleep per night can turn you into a deranged human being.

In the midst of one of these long and miserable bouts of sleeplessness, I was supposed to go attend to a particular work-related obligation, along with my spouse. But when the day came, I had not only run into the wall, I was sliding down it slowly. When we arrived at our destination, I told my husband that I just couldn't do it. I told him to go ahead without me, to give me just 45 minutes to sleep in the car and then come back and get me and I would be good as new. I rolled down the windows to cope with the searing mid-summer heat and put the seat back as far as it would go. Within minutes I was out cold.

But before long I heard footsteps coming up to the window and stopping. I couldn't believe 45 minutes could possibly go by so quickly. I hoped that my husband, seeing me sleeping so peacefully, would have pity on me and just let me go for a little while longer. But instead I felt his hand gently stroking my cheek and then cupping my face. There was a part of me that appreciated the tenderness of this gesture, but the part that was appreciative was overtaken by the part that was sleep-deprived and raging. I couldn't open my eyes and I couldn't even speak coherently. I wanted to say, "I'm not ready, 15 more minutes." What came out was something like this, "Ehhhhhh!!!" The same high-pitched, squealing noise you make when you are a kid and your mom is trying to wake you up. It was out-and-out refusal on my part, expressed with not a little annoyance. He took the hint. After a few moments, he gently slid his hand off my face and I heard his footsteps go back slowly in the opposite direction.

It was too late, though. Now I was awake and quickly filling with guilt about my refusal to get with the program. I forced my eyes open and dragged my dizzy, weary body to the building I was intended to be in. When I went inside, I found my husband and apologized for being immovable and hateful. I told him I just couldn't believe it had been 45 minutes already. He looked at me with a puzzled expression. "It hasn't been 45 minutes. It's only been 15 minutes." My rage came back quickly. "WHAT??? Then WHY did you wake me up?!?!" He said, "I didn't." I said, "Well, then, who was stroking my cheek?" We looked at each other silently for a few moments and then I said, "Oh."

"Ohhhhhh..."

For weeks after this event, I would tell this story to my friends and when it came to the punchline, their reactions were always the same. They howled with laughter - laughter that was mixed with more than a little disgust. They re-told the story to their own friends, so that in time people I hardly knew were coming up to me and asking about the cheek-stroker story. They would create all kinds of scenarios about what kind of weirdo had been touching my face. They were inclined to point out any odd-looking character on the street and exclaim, "There he is! Annie's face-toucher!" I enjoyed how much fun they were having and I participated too, sharing my own ideas about the Toucher's true identity.

But there is something I never told them about this story. Something that I thought might take the fun out of it for them. The truth is, there was genuine warmth in that touch. I didn't feel then and I don't feel now that the Toucher was some sort of pervert. (Let's be honest here...if it was a pervert, would they have really gone for my face? Doubtful.) I was in such a miserable state at the time and that simple touch, even though I didn't particularly appreciate it in the moment, felt like the hand of a comforter. My mental image of the Toucher has always been the same - an old, frail, European-looking woman with a few gold teeth, wearing a long dress and a babushka. This is not totally random. When we left that day and walked back out to the car, I saw several people outside and one of them looked like the woman I just described. She didn't acknowledge me, but I just know it was her. I just know it.

Spring and Fall has come to feel a lot like that touch to me. It makes me feel like someone very old, from very far away, is reaching out from the past and trying to console me. But it took me some time to fully come around to this song. Even now, when I read the words of this poem, it feels a bit impenetrable. The first several times I listened to the song, I remember thinking that the music was beautiful but that I couldn't fully wrap my mind around the words. It wasn't until I saw Natalie perform the song live that it started to open up to me.

Natalie mentioned during her concert that the poet who wrote Spring and Fall, Gerard Manley Hopkins, said that this poem was meant to explain death to a child and that it was not directed to any particular child, even though he addresses Margaret at the beginning and end of the poem. I found that last part to be a little disappointing. I want Margaret to have been a real little girl, not just a representation. Nonetheless, the poet's choice to address his words to a specific, if fictional child, is very moving. Here is a quote from Natalie about the song (it's rather lengthy but so eloquently expressed that I couldn't bear to cut it down):

"I found a recurrent theme in poetry with loss of innocence and I started to see that in my child too. Even at a young age there's a deflowering that happens, an awakening to some of the harsh realities of life. And rather than pretend they don't exist, I think it's better, once they're exposed to it, to have a conversation and say it's a beautiful, terrible place we live in. And people can be evil and they can be good and I know this affects you. And that's why I started seeking out poems of lost innocence like the Charles Causley and the Robert Louis Stevenson, and definitely the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Spring Fall, which is the ultimate knife to the chest for a child - the question of why does everything have to die."*

The last line, "It is Margaret that you mourn for," is the most powerful part of the poem/song. I guess my first impression of what this meant was that when we grieve, we aren't really grieving for the person who we've lost, but for ourselves. The person we lost is not suffering, but we are left with the pain of their absence. But...I'm really dense about poetry (among other things.) Here are Natalie's thoughts about this line:

“When you see the death of anything, you see the death of everything. And you see the death of yourself."**

That makes a lot more sense. It makes me feel a little dumb and a lot grateful for people who are much more insightful than I could ever be. Which leads me to this request: I'm always curious about your thoughts on each song I cover on this blog, but I must say I am particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on this song. Do you find it moving? Too somber? Enlightening? Confusing? I really would like to know.

In closing, I have to say that as I write about this song I can't help but think of the song I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Break Your Heart. Obviously these songs are very different, but I find it interesting that as I think and write about each of these songs, the word "comfort" keeps coming up. Even though at first listen Leave Your Sleep might sound like a big departure from an album like Ophelia, it seems that whether she writes the words herself or borrows them from the past, Natalie Merchant always finds a way to comfort through her music. I'm truly grateful. And I'm sleeping better now than I used to.

Please feel free to comment below or to email me at nmcompendium@yahoo.com. Thanks for reading!

Click here to see a video of Natalie performing Spring and Fall

Download Spring and Fall at Itunes - Spring and Fall: to a Young Child - Leave Your Sleep

*Music OMH, April 2010
**NPR Morning Edition, April 2010

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Like the Weather

Like the Weather (from the 10,000 Maniacs album In My Tribe)

The color of the sky as far as I can see is coal gray
lift my head from the pillow and then fall again
with a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather
a quiver in my lips as if I might cry

Well by the force of will my lungs are filled and so I breathe
lately it seems this big bed is where I never leave
shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather
quiver in my voice as I cry

What a cold and rainy day
where on earth is the sun hid away?

I hear the sound of a noon bell chime, I'm far behind
you've put in 'bout half a day while here I lie
with a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather
a quiver in my lip as if I might cry

What a cold and rainy day
where on earth is the sun hid away?

Do I need someone
here to scold me or do I need someone
who'll grab and pull me
out of this four poster dull torpor
pulling downward

It is such a long time since my better days
I say my prayers nightly this will pass away

The color of the sky is gray as I can see through the blinds
lift my head from the pillow and then fall again
with a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather
a quiver in my voice as I cry

What a cold and rainy day
where on earth is the sun hid away?
I shiver, quiver, and try to wake



Well, it's happened again. April is here. The sun is shining. Flowers are blooming. Dogs are being walked, children are playing in their yards, and average people are starting to quote poetry. In other words, Spring has sprung.

I'm so depressed.

For as long as I can remember, I've looked forward to only one season every year - one solitary three-month block of time in which I would feel the most invigorated, the most inspired, the most...myself. I like to call that season winter. Because...that's what it's called.

I'm well-aware that my love of perhaps the most universally despised season puts me at odds with virtually every "normal" human being. When I openly express my adoration for the joys of wintertime, I am met with looks of pity, disbelief and, occasionally, rage. While everyone else is in the doldrums, it is the one time of year that I can truly be called cheerful.

My love of winter expresses itself in certain rituals. For instance, the first real rainy day of winter requires me to play my rainy day music. There are several songs in the rotation, but the first one I play is always the same - Isn't It a Lovely Day by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. For me, it is the perfect start to wintertime.

I've tried to argue my case and win people over to my side of the winter vs. every other season debate, but I rarely come off the victor. (And by rarely, I mean never.) I once tried to explain to a friend that my love of winter had to do with the fact that I find it to be the most introspective of all the seasons. Not missing a beat, she said, "As if you need an excuse to be more introspective." Well...she got me there. But I stand by my point. The dark, gray skies, the rain and the fog, all of these things give us permission to withdraw into our homes a bit more and thus, naturally, into ourselves a bit more. In short, winter is introvert heaven!

So before I launch into my thoughts on this week's song, I just want to apologize to you lovers of spring. I know you were expecting These Are Days or something more appropriate to this most "glorious" time of year, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I need to revel in wintertime just a little while longer.

Now before the irony is too much for you to bear, I would like to acknowledge right off the bat that Like the Weather is in no way a celebration of winter. It's quite the opposite. Like the Weather speaks of the misery that many people feel during the cold and rainy days of winter. It's become an anthem for seasonal depression. I get it. But I like the song anyways. I like it a lot.

One of the joys of music, of just about any art form, is that you can take what you want from it. What one person finds uplifting, another person finds sobering. What one person finds ghastly, another person finds beautiful. Like the Weather is on my wintertime music playlist. It's on there because when I listen to it, I hear exactly what I want to hear. Shivering bones and quivering lips don't even come up on my radar. Instead, I revel in the coal-gray sky and the hiding sun. The upbeat style of the music makes it easy for me to lie to myself about the song's meaning.

"There's always been a balance in our work, between something very joyous, which is the sound of the music, and the lyrics, which can have a real sense of foreboding, even melancholy."*

This quote from Natalie well describes the 10,000 Maniacs musical trademark. Like the Weather is perhaps the quintessential example of their style - jaunty music matched with disquieting words. It's one of the most upbeat Maniacs songs ever recorded and I find the tune quite irresistible.

I've read old reviews of In My Tribe where reviewers tried to paint Like the Weather as a song about depression the same way What's the Matter Here is about child abuse and Cherry Tree is about illiteracy. Understandably, some people who have suffered from serious depression have connected with the words of this song on a deep level, but in general I don't think Like the Weather is meant to be a song about the misery of deep, chronic depression. I think it's more about being bummed out (or at least that's how I excuse my extreme joy when I listen to it.) Here's another quote from Natalie about the song, several years after it was written:

"Like the Weather is a silly song about - I remember I wrote that on a Farfisa organ so it had sort of a silly origin. It's just about not wanting to get up out of bed because it's raining."**

Notice the use of the word "silly" here? While I've never heard her say outright that she dislikes the song, every time I've heard or read Natalie talk about Like the Weather she refers to it as being "silly" and generally seems to be unimpressed with it. This is just plain stick-in-the-mud-ery and I won't stand for it! Alright, technically, I have no choice but to stand for it and given that she wrote the song, I suppose she has the right to pooh-pooh it. I also suppose that compared to her many songs of a more serious nature, Like the Weather is a bit silly. But I like silly. I find it refreshing. And fun! And to date, I have never heard another pop song (or any song for that matter) that uses the word "torpor." Pop music that prompts you to open your dictionary? Loving it.

So in closing I will wish all of you conventional, spring-loving readers a delightful season. I hope it warms your heart, delights your soul and brings you closer to nature. You know...if you're into that kind of thing. And to my lovely Winter - I bid you a fond adieu. Rest assured, I will be counting the days until we are reunited.

That's all for this week. If any fellow winter-lovers would like to post or e-mail messages of solidarity, I will receive them gladly. For winter haters, I promise a change of season for next week's post.

Click here to watch 10,000 Maniacs perform Like the Weather live

Download the Unplugged version of Like the Weather on Itunes - Like the Weather (Live) - MTV Unplugged: 10,000 Maniacs

*Record Collector - October 1992
**The Performing Songwriter - May/June 1996