Years ago, my mother adopted the American May Day tradition of leaving May Baskets filled with flowers on the doorsteps of her close friends to celebrate the blossoming of spring and the coming of summer. I’m sure today was no different and she has likely been up since before dawn delivering her wonderful baskets.
Note: I recently found this story buried in an old hard drive. I assume it was written some time in 2009 which is when the parking to which it refers was completed. I do remember the day it took place, but was surprised to read how deeply I seem to have been affected by the event. -TM
The strangest things will break your heart.
I’m walking south from the post office down Fifth Avenue toward the library. To my right, just after the bus station is the new parking lot where the old YMCA used to be. It’s a blank space in this town, a void. Once there was a tall building, an embassy for the homeless, a civic center for fitness, a ramshackle and quirky old place. Now there is a flat black parking lot where its footprint used to be.
I am always disturbed when I notice the absence of a building and can’t remember what had once been there. This was not the case with the YMCA. It was a slow process. The arrival of demolition equipment, the fencing off of its perimeter and the rescheduling of neighboring bus routes all heralded its demise. I am an almost daily patron of the downtown library across the street and would frequently walk by the old Y. I suppose many considered it an eyesore, but to me it seemed like part of the fabric of downtown Ann Arbor.
The new parking lot has appeared to be finished for weeks. The asphalt has been laid, the automated payment box has been installed. Only the curious orange cones at each entrance have prevented residents from enjoying prime downtown parking. I wonder what it’s like to be the first person to drive into a new city parking lot? Is there a small thrill to pull into a virgin space knowing you were the first in your city to do so? A kind of urban frontier that will never be conquered again?
On this day as I walk toward the library I notice a small open sign at the parking lot’s Fifth Avenue entrance. The cones are missing and there are three balloons tied to the top of the yellow entrance box. Like my mother’s hand on my shoulder or the appearance of a stray cat rubbing against my leg, my heart suddenly breaks into pieces. It’s a nice gentle break, though. A soft, dull and wistful hurt. Three balloons announcing the quiet arrival of a new parking lot.
I wonder who’s job it was to get the balloons and where you can still buy balloons downtown. Was it an afterthought to put them there? Were they a sincere gesture? I picture someone in a blue city-issued uniform asking for a few balloons, maybe from a florist or a dollar store. Just something to light up a drab corner where there once was something and now is nothing. Maybe as a tribute to the old YMCA, a brief memorial.
At that moment, all of the bad things I’ve felt and done are washed away and I remember that there is good in the everyday world and I’ve been blind not to see it. I make vows to be more observant and follow my heart and search for truth. I want to be more spontaneous and give money to people in the street. I want to leave gifts at strangers’ doors. I want to visit my parents and buy flowers for my girlfriend all because someone thought it would be nice to let people know they can finally park at the new lot on Fifth and announced it with some bright balloons.
I walk into the library and search for some recorded books to help ease my boredom while working at the violin shop. I linger too long and it drags me back down to the earth I’m more familiar with. The one filled with tasks and distractions. I leave the library and hardly glance at the balloons. It is Tuesday.
My friend and fellow songwriter Patrick Herek is opening up his home for a new monthly house concert series called The Midwestern Living Room in Northville, Michigan. He and I will be playing the inaugural show together on Saturday, January 26th. Space is limited, so if you’d like to attend, please RSVP to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pat is one of my oldest friends and favorite musical collaborators. We began performing together at age 13 and he is still one of the most impressive musicians I’ve ever heard. Over the years we have appeared on each other’s albums, played in each other’s bands and shared our musical visions together whenever possible. This show in the intimate setting of his living room will draw on material from our individual and collective careers.
I made a considered effort to seek out as much new music in 2012 as I could. There were plenty of highly anticipated new releases by longtime favorite acts, some worthy and some disappointing. I read blogs, listened to Spotify, borrowed CD’s from the local library and looked for new releases by friends. I enjoyed trawling the depths of Bandcamp and Soundcloud for some low exposure gems occasionally discovering that they were made just 20 miles away from my home! When I really enjoyed something, I did my best to buy a physical copy from a local store or from the artist.
It’s an interesting time to be making and discovering music. There is just so much being released and so many ways to find it that it’s easy to become fatigued. The vistas are so broad in scope that it’s difficult to pin down trends which I don’t really mind. But I’m pleased that I made the effort and found quite a bit to be happy about.
Here are some of my favorite albums and tracks from a variety of genres that were released in the past year. As always, I enjoy reading others year end lists to discover all of the wonderful music I missed. Enjoy!
Django Django - Django Django South South Million - Wind Hand Caught In the Door Father John Misty - Fear Fun The Futureheads - Rant A.C. Newman - Shut Down the Streets Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Here Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel… Bill Fay - Life Is People Men Without Hats - Love In the Age of War Shearwater - Animal Joy M. Ward - A Wasteland Companion Matt Jones and the Reconstruction - Half Poison, Half Pure Aaron Dilloway - Modern Jester Efterklang - Pirimada Alt J - An Awesome Wave Hot Chip - In Our Heads Emily Loizeau - Mothers and Tygers Ken Stringfellow - Danzig in the Moonlight Get Well Soon - The Scarlet Beast O’ Seven Heads
Super 700 - “21st Century Girl” Django Django - “Default” Matt Jones and the Reconstruction - “Special Forces” Stew and the Negro Problem - “Suzy Wong” A.C. Newman - “I’m Not Talking” Eugene McGuinness - “Thunderbolt” The Futureheads - “Beeswing” The Shins - “Simple Song” Choir of Young Believers - “Nye Nummer Et” Roberto Rodriguez - “Try (How Am I Supposed To)” Johnny Headband - “Hot Button Topic” Alt J - “Dissolve Me” Josh Malerman - “Pumpkinhead” Bruce Springsteen - “Death To My Hometown” Mika - “Origin of Love” Scissor Sisters - “Keep Your Shoes” Cate le Bon - “Fold the Cloth” Dry the River - “New Ceremony” Smoke Fairies - “Awake” Andrew Bird - “Danse Carribe” Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - “Man on Fire” Ken Stringfellow - “History Buffs” Fun. - “Carry On” PreciseHero - “Caterpillar” Lord Huron - “The Man Who Lives Forever” The Beach Boys - “That’s Why God Made the Radio” Andy Prieboy - “All Hail the Corporation” The Darkness - “Love Is Not the Answer” Jake Bugg - “Lightning Bolt” Father John Misty - “Fun Times in Babylon” First Aid Kit - “Emmylou” M. Ward - “Primitive Girl” Shearwater - “An Animal Life” Santigold - “Disparate Youth” Beagles - “Naya and Cake”