WeWriWa—The best Christmas present of all

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

My Christmas snippets this year come from my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up, the third book in my contemporary historical family saga of the Troy family. It’s set from 1979–84, and is a modern retelling of sorts of Margaret Sydney’s 1897 book Phronsie Pepper.

Baby sister Justine is now a college student and dating longtime family friend David Ryan, but her many older siblings and David’s older sister Deirdre can’t stop thinking of her as a little girl. They also can’t understand the almost-five-year age difference between Justine and David has now leveled off.

It’s Christmas 1979, and Justine is now reading the note David wrapped up with an aquamarine necklace. Cuisle mo chroí (KOOSH-la ma KREE) means “pulse of my heart” in Irish, and is David’s chosen term of endearment for Justine.

My sweet Justine Anastasie, cuisle mo chroí,

Please accept my humble Xmas gifts as tokens of the deep feelings I have for you. Every day I like you more than the day before. Growing up, you were so much younger than me, and I never dreamt one day I’d think about you in that way. Color me surprised you were thinking of me like that long before I even considered you a date possibility.

Will you please make me even happier by doing me the honor of being my official girlfriend and being exclusive with me? I can’t imagine ever liking any girl as much as I like you.

Very truly yours,

David Edgar Ryan

“Of course I’ll be your girlfriend! I’ve been waiting for you to finally ask me!”

The ten lines end here. A few more to complete the scene follow.

“So if Aunt Justine is your girlfriend now, does that mean you’re finally gonna kiss her?” Robbie asks as he plays with his new clown doll.

“Not in fronta all you people,” David says. “That’s something you need a special time for, not something you do ‘cause people think you’re supposed to do it.”

WeWriWa—Justine’s stocking

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

My Christmas snippets this year come from my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up, the third book in my contemporary historical family saga of the Troy family. It’s set from 1979–84, and is a modern retelling of sorts of Margaret Sydney’s 1897 book Phronsie Pepper.

Baby sister Justine is now a college student and dating longtime family friend David Ryan, but her many older siblings and David’s older sister Deirdre can’t stop thinking of her as a little girl. They also can’t understand the almost-five-year age difference between Justine and David has now leveled off.

It’s Christmas 1979, and the Troys and Ryans are shaking out the contents of their stockings after unwrapping presents.

Justine shakes out a huge green, red, and white candy cane, multiple types of chocolate, a bag of jellybeans, a bag of gumdrops, a bag of candied fruit slices, and several small wrapped packages. She saves the one from David for last and first unwraps the other three. She finds dangly pineapple earrings from Aoife, a fancy pen from Adicia, and a snowflake pin from Lucine.

“Would you like to open your last gift now?” David asks.

“What exactly have you given my baby sister?” Adicia asks. “This better not be the most expensive gift of all.”

Justine finds a medium-blue teardrop-shaped gemstone on a delicate silver necklace. “This is so pretty! What did I do to deserve this?”

“Just by being such a nice girl,” David says with a big smile.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“It’s aquamarine, the modern March birthstone. The ancient birthstones, bloodstone and jasper, seemed a bit mismatched for fine jewelry. Would you like me to fasten it on you?”

“Sure.” Justine holds up her hair. Her body tingles at feeling his hands on the back of her neck.

“Did you see the note under it?”

“You wrote a note too?” Deirdre asks. “This better not be as creepy as the note from András.”

“My note is only meant for Justine’s eyes. Don’t you have a wife to occupy yourself with? You’ve never been so concerned with my relationships before.”

Synopsis for Justine Grown Up:

Justine’s jealous feelings at the birth of Julie’s first child are quickly turned around when she reconnects with David, now twenty-five and a Ph.D. student. Unfortunately, her older siblings and their friends have a hard time seeing her, after years of being the precious family baby, as a grownup woman who’s old enough for marriage, motherhood, and moving out with her new family. But then, when her young nieces become Duranies, an unexpected opportunity opens up for Justine to finally prove once and for all to her family that she’s a responsible, capable, mature adult.

Happy 50th birthday, Plastic Ono Band!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

Released 11 December 1970, Plastic Ono Band was John Lennon’s first proper solo album. While he’d done four prior solo albums, they were all collaborations with Yoko Ono, not 100% his own songs.

There were also two Plastic Ono Band albums released that day, with slightly different covers, though most people are only familiar with John’s album of that name. Yoko’s POB only reached #182 on the U.S. Billboard chart, and none of the six songs became singles.

John’s POB was the very first solo album by him I got, in January 2002. At the time, John was still my favorite Beatle, so it made sense to start my journey into the band’s solo work through him.

These songs are so raw and emotional, strongly influenced by the Primal Scream therapy John had recently undergone with Arthur Janov. He’s laying his heart, soul, and mind bare for the world to see, exposing these deep pains and traumas which had stalked him for so many years.

The first time I heard the opening track “Mother,” maybe two years before I got the album, I deeply sobbed through almost the entire song. That was one of the most emotional listening experiences I’ve ever had.

Penultimate track “God” is also one of the three songs which always gives me full-body goosebumps, getting stronger and stronger with each “I don’t believe in…” declaration. (The other two are The Monkees’ “Zor and Zam” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Seven o’Clock News/Silent Night.”)

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks. (Though it just seems wrong for there to be any bonus tracks! The album was already perfect as-is.)

“Mother” (#3 in Switzerland, #9 in Austria, #10 in The Netherlands, #12 in Canada, #26 in West Germany, #30 in Japan, #43 in the U.S., #57 in Australia)
“Hold On” (includes John’s impression of Cookie Monster)
“I Found Out” (he so gives the finger to everyone in this song!)
“Working Class Hero”
“Isolation”
“Remember” (ends with a reference to Guy Fawkes Night and the sound of an explosion)
“Love”
“Well Well Well”
“Look at Me”
“God”
“My Mummy’s Dead” (only 49 seconds long)
“Power to the People”*
“Do the Oz”*

My favorite tracks are “God,” “Love,” “I Found Out,” “Mother,” and “Working Class Hero.”

The album reached #1 in Canada and The Netherlands, #3 in Australia, #4 in Norway, #5 in Japan, #6 in the U.S., #8 in the U.K. and Sweden, and #39 in West Germany.

POB is widely considered John’s greatest solo album by far, and it’s always been my personal favorite as well. Many of those incessant best-of lists rank it quite highly.

It goes without saying that I highly, highly, highly recommend this album!

My Quadrophenia story, twenty years later

Though I first listened to Quadrophenia on 18 November 2000, my history with the album truly began in 1993. I’d been looking at my parents’ fairly paltry vinyl collection since I was a kid, but I wasn’t drawn back to it till I was thirteen and getting into classic rock and pop. Since we no longer had a record player, I had to make do with reading the story booklet and looking at the photos.

Being that classic kid who read too much and understood too little yet again, I twisted myself in knots trying to figure out just what the title meant. I thought it was a real word whose definition eluded me!

A certain lyric in “Doctor Jimmy” also greatly unsettled me for years. When you only read lyrics instead of hearing them actually sung, let alone in the context of a complex story being told through a rock opera, you tend to miss a lot of important details.

Jimmy isn’t really saying he plans to rape a virgin. He’s reached the end of his rope and isn’t thinking straight by a long shot. There’s so much clutter swirling in his head, with the four warring parts of his personality. Jimmy’s angry, confused, a hot mess who needs help.

That lyric is also nothing next to some of the jaw-dropping awfulness featured on The Rap Critic’s Worst Lyrics episodes. The all-time worst I’ve heard is the Lil Wayne guest verse in “Karate Chop,” comparing rough sex to the beating of Emmett Till.

17–19 November 2000 was my very first weekend staying on campus at UMass instead of obediently going home to Pittsfield like an overgrown little kid with no life. It’s no fun being a victim of learnt helplessness, even if in my case it wasn’t the result of deliberately malicious intentions. I also only transferred after two years of community college. While that saved lots of money, it didn’t do my emotional, psychological, or mental maturity any favors!

That Saturday afternoon, I walked into town and went to Mystery Train Records. What luck, I found Quad in the used CD section for only $16! I was hungry for a third Who album after Tommy and Who’s Next, and had heard so many people on my lists highly recommending it as one of the best albums to get early in one’s fandom journey.

Was I blown away when I got back to my single dorm room on the first floor of Chadbourne! I loved Quad so much, I played it twice that day, and many more times in the coming weeks. Love at first listen. When I finally quit trying to overanalyze the story and title, and just listened without prejudice, I got Quad.

This album would’ve meant so much to me during junior high. It’s a story just about every adolescent who’s ever lived can deeply relate to—not fitting in, being different from the others, feeling alienated from everyone around oneself, not getting along with parents, being bullied, feeling on the verge of cracking up if one more straw hits the camel’s back.

Each of the four bandmembers is represented by one of the warring aspects of Jimmy’s psyche. Roger’s theme is “Helpless Dancer” (a screen name I’ve used at a few message boards), Keith’s theme is “Bell Boy,” John’s theme is “Doctor Jimmy,” and Pete’s theme is “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The themes appear as instrumentals in the title track and “The Rock.”

In “Quadrophenia,” they’re played separately, signifying how fractured Jimmy’s state of mind is, at war with himself, wanting and trying to be so many disparate things to so many different people.

In “The Rock,” they initially appear individually, but gradually start merging, faster and faster, until finally they emerge as one and Jimmy makes peace with himself in “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

Twenty years later, Quad is still an emotional tour de force every single time. It’s been with me through half of my life and counting, and never lets me down. Words shall never express my deep love and gratitude to this wonderful band and all they’ve meant to me for so long.

Happy 45th birthday to The Who by Numbers!

Released 3 October 1975 in the U.K. and 25 October in the U.S., The Who by Numbers was the band’s seventh studio album, and my tenth Who album. I bought it together with Who Are You at Newbury Comics on Amherst’s Main Street, 15 March 2001. Being only 21 at the time, the album didn’t resonate with me on the same deep, personal level it does now (though I still loved it).

WBN has been called a musical suicide note (which thankfully was averted!), written when Pete was on the cusp of his 30th birthday and feeling really alienated from the current musical climate. This was also the guy who famously wrote the line, “Hope I die before I get old.” He really meant it. That wasn’t a mere metaphor, but the genuine wish of a 20-year-old who didn’t want to become old, boring, and irrelevant.

The songs of WBN aren’t the kinds of songs that could’ve been written in Pete’s early twenties. By the time he began writing material for this album, he’d gone through more of life and was now facing down the sobering, depressing reality of hitting middle age.

Pete has said he felt empty and was crying his eyes out when he wrote those songs, “detached from my own work and from the whole project.”

The band took turns designing their covers, and WBN was John’s turn. His artwork cost all of £32 to make, in contrast to the exorbitant £16,000 of the previous cover on Quadrophenia. Probably unsurprisingly, Pete chose the Quad cover!

WBN reached #8 in the U.S., #7 in the U.K., and #29 in New Zealand.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Slip Kid” (released as a U.S. single but didn’t chart)
“However Much I Booze”
“Squeeze Box” (retch) (#1 in Canada, #2 in Ireland, #10 in the U.K., #11 and #16 on two U.S. charts, #26 in New Zealand, #45 in Australia)
“Dreaming from the Waist” (the B-side of “Slip Kid,” one of Pete’s least-fave songs to perform, and one of John’s fave songs to perform)
“Imagine a Man”
“Success Story” (John’s song)
“They Are All in Love”
“Blue, Red, and Grey” (sung by Pete)
“How Many Friends”
“In a Hand or a Face”
“Squeeze Box” (live at Swansea, 12 June 1975)*
“Behind Blue Eyes” (ibid.)*
“Dreaming from the Waist” (ibid.)*

My fave tracks are “Slip Kid,” “Dreaming from the Waist,” “How Many Friends,” “Success Story” (full of John’s trademark dark, quirky humour), and “Imagine a Man.”