Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia: A Mini-Review

In his earliest memories he was sitting on the floor in the family room, in front of the giant stereo his parents had bought themselves as a wedding present, his face pressed into the padded fabric of one speaker.  The fabric was prickly against his forehead but his nose fit perfectly into a little groove, and he could feel music spilling like molten gold through his entire body.  He’d sit back on his heels when the song was over and his father, an accountant and amateur drummer whose (still-unrealized) dream was to open a jazz club and coffee house, would say, “Order up!” and put another record on the turntable.  His favorite albums were by Earth, Wind, & Fire (syncopation made his brain feel like it was laughing) and Also sprach Zarathustra, its opening rumbling like an earthquake…For six month in 1984, he had asked his parents to play “Stairway to Heaven” instead of a bedtime story.

Kate Racculia’s Bellweather Rhapsody is a quirky little gem of a novel.  I had put this on my TBR when it came out in 2014, but it soon got buried under an avalanche of other titles and I kind of forgot about it.  Then Gin Jenny of Reading the End wrote a post about it a few weeks ago, and likened it to my favorite childhood novel, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. That was all it took – I instantly perked up and ordered it from another library branch.18263667

I say this is a quirky novel because it’s kind of hard to categorize.  It’s part mystery, part meditation on the power of music, part moving story about loneliness and finding connection, between siblings and between strangers.  The main action takes place over a long weekend at a high school music festival at the Shining-esque Bellweather Hotel in Upstate New York.  It’s told from multiple perspectives, including Harold Hastings, the long-time concierge of the hotel, who’s emotionally and physically stuck in place and time, and Minnie Graves, who is returning to the Bellweather to face a horrible past incident she witnessed there when she was a little girl.  We also meet twins Bert (Rabbit) and Alice Hatmaker, who are participants in the music festival and who are about to graduate high school and face college, perhaps apart for the first time in their lives.  The storylines of these and other characters converge in really satisfying and intricate ways, and everyone is sort of connected to one another even if they don’t realize it.  There’s a creepy mystery that kept me turning the pages involving Alice’s roommate for the weekend turning up missing (and perhaps dead?) and some really sweet stories of characters searching for meaning and fulfillment after years of self-sabotage.  Racculia’s lovely writing about the beauty and power of music also touched me.  I love stories like this, that are all kinds of different things at once.  And it did really feel Westing Game-esque (good job, Jenny!)  This was just a really nice surprise – a fun, endearing novel.

So what are some of your favorite hard-to-categorize, quirky books?  Tell me your picks in the comments.

 

Mourning and Celebrating: What Prince Meant to Me

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I was at work Thursday, about to go to lunch, perusing the internet during a down moment at the desk, when I read that Prince was dead.  I gasped, I got chills, and I said to my co-worker in disbelief, “Prince is dead.”  I immediately started to cry.  I had to go into the break room.  I cried for a few minutes, trying to get a grip on myself, and then I went ahead and took my lunch.  I couldn’t eat or read for half of my lunch break, I just cried.  I could feel that my co-worker didn’t get my reaction.  It’s okay that she didn’t feel strongly one way or the other about Prince’s music.  I’m sure there are some of you reading this that didn’t feel much about his death beyond the normal (one hopes) human response of sympathy for the passing of another human being.  It’s totally cool.  There are so many awesome musicians and artists in the world that it’s hard to listen to everyone, and people like what they like.  Timing also plays a huge part in one’s musical taste.  I was a child in the 1980’s, a teenager in the 1990’s.  The music from those decades molded me, shaped me, stayed with me as I became an adult.

Prince was a huge part of my musical landscape.  From the moment I heard “Little Red Corvette” on the radio (I was about 6 years old) I was a fan.  I didn’t see Purple Rain in the theater, I was too young.  But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it on DVD over the years.  (Despite its heavy moments, there is so much humor in that movie!  Prince could be marvelously funny!)  One of my best friends in middle school and high school and I went through an intense Prince/The Time/Purple Rain/Graffiti Bridge phase, and my memories of the movies and the music are all tied up with my memories of our particular friendship.  I remember listening to Purple Rain‘s soundtrack in another friend’s parents’ basement, and as a matter of fact, the compact disc I still have has his name on it.  He gave it to me when he was digitizing his collection, I think.  In college, all of my friends were into Prince, and it seemed that no house or room party was complete without playing his songs:  “Kiss,” “SexyMF,” and “Gett Off” were in heavy rotation on the dance floor.

I was lucky enough to see him play live once, in my hometown, in 2004 on the Musicology tour.  It was a long set full of hits.  He was masterful and playful and soulful and deeply funky.  He was fully engaged with us and we were awestruck by him.

In recent years I didn’t listen to him much.  Sometimes you take your favorite musicians for granted, you know?  I tend to seek out new songs now, inspired by the AltNation station on my Sirius/XM radio.  But I did have “Little Red Corvette” on my phone prior to Thursday.  It’s still a favorite.

I have read many beautiful tributes to Prince in the last couple of days.  It makes me feel less alone to participate in this mass outpouring of love and celebration and grief online.  I needed to be a part of that on Twitter and Facebook, to know that I wasn’t crazy in my inability to stop crying, in my need to listen to his music, to watch his performances on YouTube, to remember.  Justin Timberlake’s heartfelt post on Facebook made me cry. There’s a good piece from the L.A. Times by Marc Bernardin about how Prince gave black kids permission to be “weird.”  Roxane Gay and others on Twitter have made similar comments.  I’m not black but I always appreciated the way in which Prince owned his fashion, his style, his diminutive physical size, his sexuality.  He encompassed so many different things all at once – man/woman, black/white, God/sex, all the supposed dichotomies all rolled together into one sly, brilliant, talented package.  He was truly a musical genius.  And he never apologized for who he was.

The takeaway for me from the past two days is this:  Appreciate your favorite musicians while they’re still here.  Go see them play live, no matter how much money you have to spend or how many days you have to take off work.  I will never regret one dime of the money I have spent seeing my favorites in concert.  Not even back when I didn’t have any money  and I put it all on credit cards that I had to pay off years later.  If we are lucky, we are on the planet at the same time with our favorite artists.  We need to remember to stop and appreciate that fact.  I am guilty being “too busy” to listen to music, of neglecting my favorites.  But they are my favorites for deeply held, deeply felt reasons, bordering on the spiritual.  Music matters.  Art matters.  Our personal connections to it shape and define us in ways we may not be able to feel until we are much older.

I hope that Prince knew how much we loved him.  I think he probably did.  I consciously didn’t realize how much he meant to me until he was gone.  There’s a lesson in that too, right?  Thursday night I listened to “Purple Rain” and cried and cried.  But now I think I am ready to listen to his music and watch his movies again and celebrate  – and dance.

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books About Music on my TBR

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is a music-themed freebie.  This one was an easy list for me to compile, as I’m a huge music fan, and enjoy biographies and non-fiction.  There are many artists I’d like to read about, so here are my musical picks on my Goodreads TBR list.

  1. Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick.  Sam Cooke has one of my top ten male voices, and I really don’t know much about his life, but I’d like to. Guralnick is a respected music writer.99414
  2. Songbook by Nick Hornby.  High Fidelity is a favorite, and I adored Hornby’s essays on books and reading collected in Ten Years in the Tub.  I’m eager to take another essay trip with him.
  3. Bruce by Peter James Carlin.  After trying and not finishing another Springsteen biography recently, I’m desperate to read a good one.  This one has good ratings on Goodreads.
  4. 18 And Life on Skid Row by Sebastian Bach.  Ahem.  Yes.  I am a big fan of late 80’s/early 90s glam metal.  (Guilty pleasure?  Maybe.)  Skid Row was one of my favorite bands from that era.  This one is slated for April publication.
  5. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein.  Sleater-Kinney rocks.  And how cool to get a female perspective in rock and roll.
  6. Just Kids by Patti Smith.  I should have read this already.  It was a book club pick and I skipped that month.  (I blame it on my kid, ha ha.)25065629
  7. Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick. AND…
  8. Careless Love by Peter Guralnick.  These are supposed to be the definitive Elvis Presley biographies.
  9. Driving the King by Ravi Howard.  This is a novel but it sounds amazing.  Nat King Cole is back in Montgomery, Alabama for a peformance, and his childhood friend, Nat Weary, is in the audience.  When a white supremacist tries to attack Cole, Weary defends his friend and lands in jail.  After he gets out, Cole hires him as his driver in L.A.  I love Nat King Cole, and the plot of this one sounds so interesting.
  10. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.  I FREAKED OUT when I found out last week that The Boss is writing his own memoir, coming out in September.  I will be buying this one in hardcover.

So have you read any of the titles on my list?  Have you got any favorite books about music you think I should check out?