Tag Archives: elvis costello

the name game

last week i had a house guest – my friend jennifer left her chihuahua, waffle, with me while she headed south because of a family emergency.

waffle really is this cute.

yep, waffle really is this cute.

on thursday night, i left waffle in charge of things at my apartment and met up with friends for our weekly cards against humanity game. i was telling andrea, the executive director of heartland (our local humane society), about some of my experiences out walking with waffle. lots of folks can’t pass up petting her, which usually meant that they chatted with me for a bit. when i was asked where her name came from, i improvised this story, and stuck with it – she was left outside the humane society in a cardboard box, and there was a frozen waffle (for food?) inside the box with her. i told andrea that i was jealous of the heartland staff and volunteers who get to name the animals that pass through the shelter.

i was only half-joking when i said that i wanted to make a donation to the shelter in exchange for the right to name the next X animals that came into the shelter. i’d probably do battlestar galactica characters or ELO songs.

later that night i was telling my friend james about my idea, and we got into a conversation about naming things. it seems to me that we don’t get to name things very often, so i’ve tried to be clever about my pets’ names so that i’m not wasting those opportunities. james hadn’t thought about that before, but he could see my point.

me. james.

me. james.

here’s some background:

when i was a kid, we brought home two chickens, and my parents let me name them. the first one out of the bag i named lucy, after lucille ball. i was still pretty upset that my parents wouldn’t hire her as my babysitter, so having her in chicken form was the next best thing. the other chicken in the bag was making a ton of noise, so i named her cluck. cluck and lucy.


i can’t find a picture of cluck & lucy, so here’s louie

moving out of the humboldt state university dorms and into a rental house with friends afforded lots of opportunities for naming pets. hethir brought home a kitten we named vegas-bagheera. our next cat, a grumpy manx we got from the humboldt county humane society, we named king louie, in keeping with the jungle book theme and because i love louis prima (the voice of king louie in the movie). then my friend ashley brought us two tiny abandoned kittens who we bottle-fed and named paris munchkin (middle names double your naming opportunities) and disco inferno. the ladies at our vet were always glad when disco needed shots.

me with paris and disco

me with paris and disco

our four cats, armed with the confidence that comes from well-selected names, ruled our neighborhood and cruised around about a 4-block area. our neighbor’s cat, with a forgettable name, used to follow our cats around, usually about ten feet behind the cat gang. they barely tolerated her.

when that forgotten cat had kittens a year or two later, i took one. he was arguably my best-named pet. paul shaffer. known as shaffer to we who loved him, he was a fantastic cat. my dad, who knows a good cat when he sees one, once tried to win him from me in a game of tripoley. shaffer stuck around for 6 or 7 years, as i made the transition from college student to elementary school teacher. when he never came back from one of his frequent multi-night adventures, i was crushed. i still miss that cat.



during the last term of my BA, i took an intro to astronomy class. the only problem was that it was taught by a professor who kept forgetting that we were undergraduates taking a required lower-division class, not astronomy grad students. I just barely passed the class, which meant that i could graduate. to celebrate, i got myself a puppy and named her rigel after the brightest star in the constellation orion.

i started teaching 4th grade in loleta, and i passed the humboldt county humane society on my drive to and from from work. i stopped in every once in a while, hoping to find a young dog to be rigel’s sidekick. once there was an awesome dog i was really drawn to. he had been turned in as a stray and had been living by wandering through neighborhoods eating out of garbage cans. he was a sweet guy. the problem was that i couldn’t think of a good name for him. i got in my car and headed towards home. a few minutes later the perfect name for him came to me – elvis costello. i turned around and went back to the humane society and brought elvis home with me. he turned out to be a fantastic dog.

rigel and elvis

rigel and elvis

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/17586580]

one of my 4th grade students, blake, gave me an orange tabby kitten that i named harvey, and here’s why: my parents have always called me pooka, which means a large imaginary animal, like harvey in the jimmy stewart movie. stewart died just before i got the kitten, so it seemed like a good time for an homage.



my fourth grade class got a pet rat. we’d read roald dahl’s “the BFG” (which stands for big friendly giant). the class decided to name the rat LFR (little friendly rat). one of my students kept telling his military mom about LFR. after many weeks, his mom saw the name written on paper. all that time she thought that he was saying the arabic word for rat, which is something very similar. we thought that it was a good sign.

my foster daughter, karla, wanted a pet rat for her birthday. over the years i had told her about how all of my pets had been named, and shared with her my belief that because naming opportunities don’t come around very often you should use them well. but she still wanted to name her brown rat “brownie.” come on. she was a voracious reader and i tried talking her into using a name from a book she loved – so many clever names out there. but she stuck with brownie.

when my grandma betty moved to corvallis from las vegas, she really wanted a black pug. karla and i took her to see some senior dogs who were available for adoption. we walked through the door and sitting there was an adorable black pug, his tongue hanging out of his mouth. now betty’s a crier, and she burst into hysterical sobbing when she saw this dog waiting there for her. karla wisely took off to go look at something in the store, leaving me to try to convince the shelter volunteers that betty wasn’t crazy. we were able to calm her down enough to start the adoption process. on the drive back to betty’s place, she said that she was going to name him “blackie.” ack. for karla’s sake i did some modeling of how to choose a good name. i suggested that betty pick a name that would be an homage to her beloved las vegas. her favorite entertainer, as she calls them, was a guy named earl turner. so i said, “how about turner?” she went for it. crisis averted.

betty's dog, turner

betty’s dog, turner

turner passed away a few months ago. he was an old dog and he went quickly while my grandma was out of town. it was all for the best. the woman who ran the place where he was boarded had an adult siamese cat who needed a home, and she offered her to betty. what betty missed about turner was that he spent hours sitting on her lap while she knitted and watched tv. what she didn’t miss was having to take him out on walks (she doesn’t have a fenced yard). so a cat was a perfect pet for her. she decided to name the cat “sweetie” (some people never learn). sweetie is pretty shy, and when she got to betty’s house she went right for the space behind the couch, and even months later she still spends most of her time there. i would too if my name was sweetie.

when we were chatting about names, james told me that his friend nell has done graduate-level research into cultural naming practices. nell is fun to have at parties because she always has interesting things to talk about. what with people having names and all.

i have never gotten to name a child, and i never will. my only regret about that is that i have a great baby name – declan. that’s elvis costello’s real first name. i think it works for a boy or a girl. “dex” would be a cool nickname. if any of you come upon a baby needing a name, feel free to use that.

at the moment, i am happily pet-less. should i ever own another pet, i have a few cool potential pet names. i love big cats, and i’d name mine fezzik after andre the giant’s character in “the princess bride.” i would like to have a pet cow – i would call her henrietta, the name of the street i grew up on. i’d name two corgis woodrow call and augustus mccrae from “lonesome dove.”

augustus and woodrow

augustus and woodrow

the only problem i have with this shelter animals naming rights idea is that it needs of a good name. if you come up with one, you can have the spot in line behind me. i have dibs on the first guest namer gig.


listen ~ my 2014 soundtrack

over winter break i did a major revision to my yearly soundtrack. it was time – they’ve stayed pretty much the same in the decade i’ve been making them. i can see now how much this revision was influenced by the fact that i drive again after about 4 years as a passenger – i almost never have music on in my apartment, but i love to listen to music in my car. and this soundtrack is just what i need for 2014. it’s getting the job done.

and what is the job of a personal soundtrack, you might ask? good question. i think it depends. i tend to make soundtracks to set the tone for my year. it’s the music i hear when i’m cruising around in my life. heavily influenced by wes anderson movies: and this scene from i’m gonna git you sucka:

when i listen to friends’ soundtracks, i wonder about the reasons a particular song made the cut. it has to fit on one CD, so time is valuable. one friend’s soundtrack has more than one cher song on it – why? another friend’s is so much more tender and sweet that i would have imagined – it makes me look at her differently, in a good way. zari, co-founder of the soundtrack project, was a teen when she made her first first soundtrack, and now it seems so earnest and adorable. supposedly she’s working on a new one; it’ll be interesting to compare the two.

i named my soundtrack “listen” because that’s my theme word for the year.

here are the cliffsnotes for my 2014 soundtrack:

track 1 ~ “alive” by the beastie boys

“i have never been more ready in my entire life to do this right now. never.” it’s no accident that these are the first words spoken on my soundtrack. “alive” is from the beastie boys’ anthology, “the sounds of science.” it came out in 1999 and in my mind is when they started to make growing up cool. it replaced “so what’cha want,” which had been in the opening tracks since my original soundtrack. i think a lot about adam yauch, and i wanted to a song that represents the cool world citizens that those men became as they matured. and you know what? i have to agree with them. it is nice to be alive. and it helps to have mike d to remind me that i’m ready.


track 2 ~ “the greatest thing” by elvis costello

“i hope you’re happy now” has been my lead-off song since my original soundtrack. but for 2014 i wanted something a little more sincere and less snarky, to go with the mature beasties. so “the greatest thing” works for me in this spot. it’s zippy, but not sappy. here it is in case you want to practice your EC karaoke.


ok. for these a few of these next ones you should keep this in mind:

me and my civic


track 3 ~ “me myself and i” by de la soul

i listened to my tape of “three feet high and rising” while i drove that ’85 honda civic all over southern california, so this song is part of my return to the driver’s seat. it sounds just as good in a subaru.


track 4 ~ “jelly man kelly” by james taylor

one thing that was missing from my previous soundtracks was room 5 – the classroom of first, second, and third graders where i spent some of the finest days of my life. i had a student whose parents were always late to pick her up. while we waited for them, we’d draw with sidewalk chalk and sometimes she’d lay down in my lap and i’d sing her this song. it was the most important thing i could have been doing after school.


track 5 ~ “livin’ thing” by elo

man, i love jeff lynne. i got pretty obsessed with elo in the first year or two of my recovery. this is the song that emerged as my second “rally song” – i’d listen to it to motivate myself to get up off the security of my couch and go practice one-hand walking with my quad cane. my fabulous physical therapist brian told me that walking to music would help me even out my wonky gait – to this day i have a pavlovian reaction to this song. please don’t use that against me.

it also became the music for a digital story i made around that time.


track 6 ~ “feelin’ stronger every day” by chicago

legend has it that when i was in the hospital, my nurse brian told my mom that i was feelin’ stronger every day. my mom used that as the subject line of one of her email updates to our friends and family. my friend michelle read it and posted this video on my facebook page, and it became my first rally song. after i was transferred from the hospital to a nursing home, i’d watch the video over and over to motivate myself to get into my wheelchair and head downstairs to physical therapy. a few little things that made an enormous difference.


track 7 ~ “papa gene’s blues” by the monkees

quick – who’s your favorite monkee? mike nesmith? mine too. and this is my favorite mike nesmith song.


track 8 ~ “paradise city” by guns n’ roses

when i listen to this song it might look like i’m 41 and driving a subaru forester on highway 34, but i’m actually 16 and driving a honda civic on the 210.


track 9 ~ “be my angel” by mazzy star

my senior year of high school i was IN LOVE with my boyfriend, in that way that seventeen year-olds are. joel wilson. he was an older man – he’d graduated from my high school two years earlier and was a sophomore at northwestern. when he broke my heart, i spent my first year of college listening to the tape he had made me of this mazzy star album, “she hangs brightly.” when i hear this song i can still feel it in that spot between my collar bones.


track 10 ~ “bagheera” by blues traveler

joel was the one who introduced me to blues traveler. i went to five or six of their shows when i was in college. my blues traveler obsession died down around the time i graduated from humboldt state – good thing i never got that tattoo of a cat wearing shades and smokin’ a joint. fast forward to 2010 – my long-lost buddy from elementary school, kristin, makes a soundtrack with blues traveler on it, specifically this song:

leading me to realize that i really should have some BT on my soundtrack.


track 11 ~ “lost without each other” by hanson

this song was on zari’s original soundtrack, and it eventually made its way onto mine. i know, hanson is the macauley culkin of sibling rock bands. but give it a chance – those brothers know a lot about life. and if you watch the video until the end you’ll be rewarded with a piano going up in flames.


track 12 ~ “so lonely” by the police

so i think that this is how it goes. back in the early days of music uploading, i borrowed “outlandos d’amour” from the humboldt country library and this song went into heavy rotation. it’s the happiest little song (and video) about being lonely. and it’s a good reminder that sting has been cool for a long, long time.


track 13 ~ “my little blue window” by elvis costello

take a moment and listen to the loveliness of this song.

yeah, i love this song. when i moved to oregon, the farmhouse i rented had a closet that i turned into a reading nook, complete with my little blue window.

my little blue window

in the last few years i’ve realized that my ideal man is a combination of the fonz, han solo, and elvis costello. my lovely hooligan. even though i don’t live in that house anymore, i still have a little blue window.


track 14 ~ “say hey (i love you)” by michael franti & spearhead

i have nothing against michael franti, but this song is on my soundtrack entirely because of craig ferguson.

that guy uses his powers for good. makes his own fun.

my last year teaching elementary school was a tough one. i’d listen to this song over and over on my drive to work, thinking about how damn happy craig ferguson is in this video. it helped me start my work day on a positive note.


track 15 ~ “see you” by foo fighters

“the colour and the shape” is one of my desert island albums – it’s one of those that i listened to over and over, all the way through. and i just think that this is a lovely song.


track 16 ~ “bron-y-aur stomp” by led zeppelin

in room 5 i always read out loud after lunch recess. i started playing a song to measure the time the kids had to get settled in with drawing paper and crayons and all that jazz. i had fun putting together a mix of songs for that specific purpose. this ended up on it, and became one of our favorites. a lovely song about a man and his dog.


track 17 ~ “solace of you” by living colour

“time’s up” came out in 1990 and it’s another one of those tapes in frequent rotation in the honda civic. and “solace of you” is just one of the loveliest love songs i know.


track 18 ~ “walt whitman’s niece” by billy bragg and wilco

for christmas one year, my ex-boyfriend tom and i decided that we would makeover my foster daughter karla’s bathroom while she was at school, like those “while you were out” design shows. we got the paint and towels and i made curtains, and when karla left for school on the friday before christmas break, we launched into action.


tom is a big wilco fan, and that day we listened to “walt whitman’s niece” many times. it was a pretty cool day.

the bathroom looked great, and karla was really surprised.



track 19 ~ “brass monkey” by the beastie boys

I think that my friend jamie put it best. she’d had my soundtrack for a while, and one day she texted me: “brass monkey making my day.” it always makes my day, too. the beasties needed to make another appearance, and this song at track 19 turned out to be just right.


track 20 ~ “cotton fields” by creedence clearwater revival

in my early twenties i went deep into a CCR phase. around that time i was working at an infant/toddler daycare center, which meant that i frequently had to put small children down for their naps. cotton fields was my go-to lullaby. it’s a good one – try it.


track 21 ~ “gone” by ben folds

zari got me into rufus wainwright, who gave up his spot on my 2014 soundtrack to make room for guns n’roses and de la soul and some of those other folks. soon after i moved to oregon, rufus was playing in portland and i got a few tickets in the hopes that z could come up from northern california to go with me. but she couldn’t. so i took jaqui and rachel from the school where i taught. rufus was on tour with ben folds, who i knew nothing about. after rufus’ dreamy set, the crew rolled his enormous piano off stage and rolled another one on. we thought that was strange, until ben folds started his set. the guy plays the piano like it’s a flying v electric guitar. he kicks the shit out of it – i wouldn’t share a piano with him either. ben folds is a total nerd and a rock star all at once. and he does great covers, too. on that tour he and rufus ended up covering careless whisper, and it’s pretty damn great.

after the show i really got into ben fold’s album “rockin’ the suburbs,” and “gone” just kills me. i like what it’s doing here as the penultimate track.


track 22 ~ “end of the line” by traveling wilburys

speaking of ultimate tracks, this is the best possible song for mine. jeff lynne! and good ol’ george harrison! and tom petty says it best: “i’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive.”

growing up is cool

beastie boy adam yauch died 2 days before my 39th birthday. i was on the way from durham, north carolina, to the outer banks when i heard the news from my friend bucko, who had started getting into the beastie boys recently. he’s older than i am, so they were never really on his radar. they pretty much were my radar, so he decided to figure out why i was always talking about those guys. he wasn’t disappointed. other than that with adam yauch’s death, he joins the group of folks who are sad that there won’t be more from him.

bucko’s facebook post, breaking the news to me: “i just saw the news about adam of the beasties. i know you must be very sad about this. not sure what to say. i was just getting to know their music & learning to really enjoy it. what a loss.”

adam yauch 1964-2012

i’ve written about the beastie boys here a few times before. i wrote about my realization a year ago that i wouldn’t hear their new album in stereo, and then it was the first thing i listened to after i got my hearing aid. i also referred to them as pros when it comes to making your own fun. exhibit A:

yesterday a friend posted a link to an article about MCA’s death. it’s titled “MCA, kid forever: how the beastie boys united us by never growing up” and i think that it does a good job of looking at what the beastie boys mean to a lot of folks of my generation. the link in the article is to the video of my favorite beastie boys song – it’s always in position 2 on my personal soundtrack.

but i disagree with the premise of the article, that the beastie boys never grew up. i think that they actually modeled how to grow up, and that that’s a key to the reason that they stayed relevant. the beastie boys from my teen years wouldn’t have held my attention in my 30’s.

teen years beasties:

30’s beasties:

not surprisingly, teen years beasties were mainly concerned with partying. post-911 beasties said things like, “i’m getting kind of tired of the situation, the US attacking other nations.” i don’t think that they were being preachy – i think that they were talking about things that mattered to them as adults. there aren’t many references to the iran-contra affair in “licensed to ill” – makes sense because they were in their early twenties when that album came out.

another sign of maturity: when they got a little older and wiser they started changing one piece of the lyrics to “paul revere” (a song from their first album) that they decided was too offensive. there’s a lot of irresponsible teen-partying-type stuff on that album, but they were able to discern what needed a revision. they left the irresponsible stuff alone – they didn’t scrub that album clean. they changed a bit they they couldn’t in good conscience keep saying in light of the knowledge they’d gained as they got older.

ok, how’s this for maturity – i remember watching the MTV video music awards live back in 1998 when the beastie boys were presented with a video vanguard award. when it was MCA’s turn to speak, he used his time to talk about racism towards middle-easterners and the dangers of retaliation in the war on terrorism. it’s certainly worth a watch all the way through.

the atlantic article about MCA’s death said that the beastie boys made it cool to be white. i think that the beastie boys made it cool to grow up. they showed that growing up doesn’t mean that you have to give up having fun. growing up means that the ways you have fun are different – i think specifically that the fun grown-ups have shouldn’t be at the expense of other folks. i’ve always gotten the feeling that the beastie boys put a really high priority on doing things that amused themselves. a few examples:

and of course, possibly the coolest video over made:

it has always given me a smug sense of satisfaction that two of my favorite folks – elvis costello and david letterman – are big fans of the beastie boys. it seems like the boys always went the extra mile when they were on the late show. here’s an example:

and an amazing thing that happened on the SNL 25th anniversary show:

adam yauch was 47 when he passed away. part of his legacy was the example he gave of how to have fun and still be responsible in your forties. i’ll be there in less than a year, and i hope i can do as good of a job of it as he did. i’m sad that he won’t be leading the way into the fifties, but i’m looking forward to seeing how adam horovitz and mike diamond do it, if we’re all fortunate enough to get there.

i should also mention that nathaniel hörnblowér passed away this week.

here’s a rare interview with mike, adam, and mr. hörnblowér:

“i’m glad to know that all the love that yauch has put out into the world is coming right back at him.” ~adam horovitz

the soundtrack project

i think that it was my friend zari who brought the soundtrack project into my life. but she thinks that i brought it into her life. cat’s game.

me and zari way back. this year i got to see her graduate from college.

7 or 8 years ago, we made personal soundtracks and exchanged them. these are the soundtracks if there were movies made of our lives (we’re both wes anderson fans, so i’m guessing that his movies were the inspiration). not necessarily our favorite songs, but songs that are meaningful to us for whatever reason. it had to all fit on one cd. we made them and exchanged them.

zari's first soundtrack - she was in high school when she made this.

it occurred to me that it would be a good exercise for the new year. so the first new year after my medical drama (2010) i invited some folks to join me in the soundtrack project. i ended up with quite a few soundtracks, and i’ve enjoyed getting to know my friends a little bit better through their musical selections. i never fail to be surprised by a song or two that i find on there.

last year, kristin and i were struggling with putting together our soundtracks for 2011.

kristin and kriste working on their 1979 soundtracks.

both of us were trying to wrestle with our love of elvis costello – he was occupying a lot of disc space. we decided to make and exchange all-elvis soundtracks. i found out that kristin’s more of the ballad elvis fan, whereas my elvis taste leans more towards the kick-you-in-the-teeth 3-minute miracles. we even got to go together to see him play in 2011 – i credit the good elvis soundtrack vibes.

kriste and kristin many years later.

elvis costello, soundtrack hog

this year i’ll be spending some of the time between christmas and new year’s eve finishing up my soundtrack for 2012. i have a really great soundtrack for this year to build on. the basics will mainly stay the same, but as new songs come, others have to go to make room. that’s the only rule – it has to fit on one cd. it should matter to you – this isn’t the soundtrack to anyone else’s movie. if you love hanson then they better be on your soundtrack. the order of the songs matters. and you have to actually burn the cd – no links to playlists allowed. ok. i guess that’s more than one rule.

i highly recommend that you give the soundtrack project a try. it’s a very cool way to make a musical inventory of your life – it can take a pretty amazing amount of self-reflection, and it’s an interesting way to get to know someone. recruit a few of your friends and swap ’em. and let me know if you want to trade with me.

i’m currently listening to zari’s first soundtrack. and wondering what has survived the years and will be on her 2012 soundtrack.