Love’s been good to me

Of all the childhood memories I have, some of the happiest ones are from afternoons when my mom would put a cassette in our old black Sony music player while she cooked dinner. I would play around, sometimes do my homework, sometimes hang out and talk to her, and she would explain the songs to me, since I wanted to understand what the lyrics were saying. In exchange, I would change the tape over for her.

We listened to a lot of French songs, and Jacques Brel. At some point, my mom went over the song Ne Me Quitte Pas line by line with me. I don’t remember exactly if that was an inevitable part of my French education (my mom’s a French teacher), or if I was so annoying asking for translation (“But mom, what does it meeean”), that she thought, “You want some conditionnel passé before dinner? Here you go.”

I have this vivid memory of wanting to know exactly what des mots insensé means. I wanted examples of words that are considered insensé. But why is that a crazy word? And how do you invent them? And what’s the meaning of rain coming from countries where it doesn’t rain? Grown-ups say the weirdest things.

Years and years passed. I’ve moved on to find my own afternoon music mix, without needing to change the cassette tape over to the other side.

Recently, I discovered Aaron Freman and his new album, Marvelous Clouds, covering the music and poetry of Rod McKuen. “Who is this Rod McKuen chap?” Turns out, it’s none other than the translator of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas into the English version, If You Go Away, along with being an Oscar- and Pulitzer-nominated composer/singer/songwriter/poet (total Beat poet slacker, basically).

This connection to Jacques Brel brought back floods and floods of memories, not just from my childhood, but also from my time studying in France, when we had to learn La Valse à Mille Temps, a song with a ridiculously impossible tempo with all sorts of puns and tongue twisters. I’m pretty sure it was both punishment and praise from the French teachers to us unsuspecting foreign exchange kids who would endure the sick torture that is French conjugation.

Back to Rob McKuen, I’ve been really digging Aaron Freeman’s version of Love’s Been Good to Me. (Guitar chords and lyrics if you wanna play along.)

I’ve been a rover
I have walked alone
Hiked a hundred highways
Never found a home

Still in all I’m happy
The reason is, you see
Once in a while along the way
Love’s been good to me

The Clock is Tickin’

I’ve been playing Brandon Flowers’ CD Flamingo over and over and over, and then over again, every day for the past… however many days it’s been since it came out.

I like a lot of the songs on the album, and I go through phases with my favorite. My current one is “The Clock Was Tickin'” (it was Magdalena for two weeks before that). The beat’s not bad, but what I really dig is the lyrics.

And the weeks fly by and the years roll on
They say patience is a virtue but the doctor says she don’t have long
You stood up and tried your damndest not to listen
But that clock up on the wall was tickin’

When they told you to clear the room, that’s when it hit you
You watched as the caravan took your sweetheart away
The arguments and fights and money troubles seem so worthless
As the kids throw yellow roses on her grave

And the weeks fly by and the years roll on
The house is quiet now and everything inside it seems to know she’s gone
There’s a picture of you both sixteen years old just kissing
And that clock up on the wall was tickin’ – Brandon Flowers

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the time I have, specifically the time I have with my parents. Some time last week I had the thought that I need to record down everything about my parents, who they are, what they did, and what their dreams were before they had me. What were they like? When my parents are gone, how will I keep the link with my roots? I wonder if that’s the question children of immigrants face at some point?

Mike Hawley once commented to me, “You’re as American as apple pie.” That may be so, but a part of me is still as Vietnamese as… um… pho bo vien? Anyway, as I get older, I want to get to know my parents more, not as the archetype of father and mother, but for who they are.

I’ve also had a lot of thoughts about the pace of my life and the time that I spend with my parents. I would say that I’m a recovering type A, but I haven’t recovered enough. I don’t know if I would call myself “overworked”, per se. I love what I do, and I’ve got an obsessive personality type to throw myself at things, sometimes to my own demise, like staying up too late, waking up too early, and overcommitting. I want to do it all.

I read somewhere about “the rocker test”, where, when making a decision, think about when you’re 80 and sitting on your rocker on your porch, what will you regret the most? I liked the rocker test concept when I read about it, but I admit, I liked it as a mere intellectual concept to entertain.

I suspect if I were to put it to the test, I would have to give up a couple (a lot) of things I’ve already built up the habit for, and maybe I just don’t have the guts to admit it to myself yet, because I would have to come clean with myself. Being honest with oneself is the hardest.

Anyway, I’ve gotten off track. The point is, today, I spent a good chunk of it with my parents, and I’m grateful that they’re still healthy and able to enjoy a gorgeous Autumn day with me.

My parents and me, October 2010.