Like To Get To Know You Well (once I’m done sobbing)


Despite having an entire website devoted to my 13-year-old self, I am actually more emotionally connected to 15-year-old Lisa.

15. That’s such a tender age, too. At 15, I was still figuring out where I belonged. I’d found what would turn out to be my lifelong “tribe,” as it were, but I was standing right at the edge of that circle, not quite confident enough to fully participate. I was watching, and learning, and praying I wouldn’t be rejected.

My 15-year-old heart was evenly divided among three people. One was a boy in the aforementioned “tribe,” but I couldn’t muster the bravery to approach him and tell him I liked him “that way” (as it turned out, that boy would become my bandmate some 25 years later, but this was something I couldn’t know or even dare to imagine back then). Second was Neil Finn. And the third was Howard Jones.

He was ebullient. His music was ebullient. There was an impishness beneath that outstanding hairdo. I bought the “Things Can Only Get Better” 45 and played it incessantly. The sound of the needle hitting the record, the second or two of popping and crackling, and the staggered synth opening of the song was like being embraced in a warm, friendly hug. Every time. Of course I learned to love the rest of his work, but even to this day, hearing the beginning of that song takes me back to that hug.

So when I heard several weeks ago that he’d playing at a club that I myself had played a number of times, I was thrilled. Seeing him in such an intimate setting, and knowing that we’d both been on that VERY SAME STAGE? Plus the very real possibility of actually getting to TALK TO HIM and tell him alllllll of this? My God.

It was such a good show. Just him and a piano. His voice is just as sonorous and clear and heartbreaking as it was then. And he’s so funny and charming. I sat there and beamed. And in my purse was that very same 45 of “Things Can Only Get Better.” I was so looking forward to having him sign it and getting to express to him all the things his music has meant to me. It was going to be the perfect ending to a magical night. So I got in line after the performance and waited for him to emerge from backstage.

Now, understand – I’ve been a huge fan of this guy for 30 years. I spent a not-insignificant amount of time over those years rehearsing the witty banter I’d exchange with him when we finally got to meet. I would talk to him with the respect he deserved, yet with the confidence stemming from my own experience as a musician and writer. I would be reverent, yet poised. Giddy, yet clever.

Here is the transcript of the conversation that actually transpired between myself and Howard Jones:

Me: “Oh! I, um, brought a Sharpie because I didn’t know if you’d have one.”
HJ: “No, I’ve got this one; it’s very good.”
Me: “Ehhhh heh heh heh hehhh.”

12122884_10156276851565085_8306004423572650459_nI think I stammered some kind of thank you while my husband stepped in and attempted damage control by complimenting him on the show. I just stood there looking like one of those sucker fish, or like Winona Ryder in every scene where she’s supposed to be verklempt. You know what I’m talking about.

PicMonkey CollageAnyway – then I burst into tears. I slumped into a booth behind the merch table and bawled as one of our companions went to the bar and grabbed me a bunch of napkins for me to snuffle piteously into. Meanwhile, his manager kept looking over at me as if he wasn’t sure whether to comfort me or GET ME THE HELL AWAY FROM HOWARD.

indexIt was, bar none, my worst performance since the time I was in Annie Get Your Gun when I was like 18 and suddenly forgot the entire second verse of “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun” and just kind of stomped around onstage in my fake buckskins with a rictus of startled alarm glued to my face.

So, Howard, if for some reason you find yourself reading this – I’m really not (that) insane. Thank you for coming to Johnny D’s to play, and for signing my record, and posing for a picture with me. And for everything, really.


You can feel the cushion but you can’t have a seat…



My 25th high school reunion is this coming weekend, and I’m not going.

I am feeling very torn and somewhat uncomfortable about this.

I’m not going, mainly because of “scheduling.” We are at the point in our caretaking journey where we simply cannot leave my mother-in-law unattended for any significant period of time. It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and securing some kind of care is going to be nigh on impossible.

A high school friend has gone so far as to offer to COME GET ME, and let me stay at her house, just so I can be there and offer my particular brand of Snarky Running Commentary™ on the whole shebang. But I don’t feel right about leaving Kevin by himself while I’m off at some waterfront shindig with a bunch of people who probably don’t remember me, while all the while I’m worrying whether or not my upper arms look fat. Good times, right?

So I’m not going, and I’m feeling about it the way I felt 25 years ago, when I didn’t go to my prom. Am I missing something? Am I going to be denied some poignant moment of connection because I’m staying home? For years, my friends from high school have been telling me that I Really Didn’t Miss Anything™ by not going to the prom. I don’t believe them. I am certain that if someone had asked me, and I’d accepted, it would’ve been the crucial turning point of my teen years. I’m not sure exactly what would have transpired to achieve this, but I KNOW it would’ve been crucial, okay? I just know.

And now I’ve up and convinced myself that THIS reunion, unlike the previous two reunions I’ve attended, is going to be similarly, er, crucial. And the thing is, history has shown that while I’ve had a pleasant enough time at these functions, I typically tend to stick with the people that I’ve been in touch with the whole time, which to me sort of defeats the purpose of a “reunion.” I lack the balls to go up to someone who wouldn’t have given me the time of day 25 years ago, because even though I am now in my forties, and have survived everything from mental illness to cellulite in the years since I trotted across the stage wearing a giant picture of Elvis on my mortarboard (because why not?), those social constructs are still hard-wired into my brain.

I went to my 20th. I had several people tell me they recognized me because my hair is still the same (short, spiky, dyed to within an inch of its life). I stuck close to my friends from the Drama Club and the Math Team. I DID make a fairly profound connection that year. I got reacquainted with my friend Drew, someone who traveled in similar circles back then, although we never really hung out one-on-one. I wound up realizing that Drew and I have, and had, LOADS in common, and we have remained in touch. So that was nice. Nice enough that I think, “Well, if THAT happened, then what’s going to happen THIS TIME?”

And that, I think, sort of captures my alcoholism (or my “addictive personality,” if you prefer) perfectly. I live in a sort of perpetual state of expectation, and subsequent disappointment. It’s not enough that I’ve managed to maintain solid, quality friendships with so many of my high school classmates (to the point where they’re offering to put me up so I can go to this fakakta reunion). I want more, and I don’t even know exactly what it is I want MORE of. Throw in my OTHER mental health issues and I can work myself into quite an impressive lather of MORE. More memories, more connections, more of something that I can obsess over, or cultivate, depending on my state of mind.

I didn’t go to my prom, but I survived. Maybe I haven’t quite gotten over that, but I’m here. Likewise, I’ll get over not being at this reunion.

Anyway, there’s going to be a DJ. Since at least a couple of my friends from high school read this, have him or her play this one for me, ‘kay? Thanks.

Things Can Only Get Better…


I was hanging out the other evening with a handful of some of my favorite people, among them my friends Jon and Craig.  They’ve been together – oh lord – for YEARS now…I think almost as long as Coombsie and I have been married.

I don’t even remember how this came up, exactly, but Craig and I were on the couch, and Jon was in our Big Fancy Grownup Mission-Style Leather Recliner™, when Craig said to me, “You know, 80s music is really like Prozac for Jon.”

“Oh, it’s true,” Jon piped up from the recliner, “Like this morning, I was in SUCH A BAD MOOD, and Craig knew to put on some Howard Jones and within an hour I was just DANCING AROUND THE HOUSE.”

I sat on this for a minute.  “My God.  You are SO RIGHT.  Because it’s TRUE.  At the end of a particularly trying day, I have to tell Coombsie, ‘No…NO…I CANNOT listen to college radio on the way home.  I cannot listen to the latest hipster music, or avant klezmer zydeco, or whatever they are playing on the college radio station right now.  I have had a DAY, Coombsie, and I need to listen to SOMETHING I KNOW.'”

When I was a kid, I liked listening to “oldies.”  I liked sitting in the back seat of my mom’s Pinto and grilling her on whatever song was playing.  Because it was the Seventies, and in the Seventies, everyone was obsessed with the Fifties, and I had done the math and realized that my parents were ALIVE BACK THEN.  So I was naturally curious if they sipped on milkshakes at Formica-topped counters while Elvis crooned in the background, like they showed on “Happy Days.”

My mom studied me in the rearview mirror.  “You want to hear my Elvis story?  Here’s my Elvis story.  It was around Christmas, and your dad and I were at some shitty bar, and the jukebox was stuck on ONE SONG.  ONE SONG, and that was ‘Blue Christmas.’  OVER AND OVER AGAIN.  Those whiny backing vocals.  JESUS CHRIST.  There was not enough liquor IN THE WORLD to make that song bearable.”

Still, I wondered about what I’d consider “oldies” when I was my mother’s age.  Already I had a sense of borrowed nostalgia, and the idea that certain songs could be comforting in some way.  And now I’m at the age where records I remember going out and buying for myself are being played on “oldies” stations.

And Craig is right.  He’s absolutely right.  That stuff soothes me like nothing else.

If you could pack this stuff into pill form, it would work wonders for some of us.  I mean, I’m not going to stop taking what I actually do have to take in pill form to keep me from doing something completely inappropriate in ANY context.  Let’s say that it’s part of a mental health regimen that’s just better for everyone involved.

…and we’re ALL safer for it.