Me Vs. Music

The collected version of the Me Vs. Music Column that I wrote for 3 years at LEO Weekly

She’s So Raven

Me Vs. Music

Let’s have a round for these freaks and these soldiers
A round for these friends of mine
Let’s have another round for the bright red devil
Who keeps me in this tourist town.

—Joni Mitchell, “Carey”

In case you hadn’t guessed, I have some residual dorkiness held over from my youth. I’ve done some things that are entirely too embarrassing to admit … but because I trust you, reader, I’m going to share.

Imagine: the late 1980s, the neon cocaine years fading. Hammer pants were on the rise. A high school sophomore is about to start a new school and, with it, a new life. Being a fan of all things metal, I was planning for the future. My dream was to be a rock writer of the Metal Edge/Circus ilk. I was clearly not sophisticated enough to dream of writing for Rolling Stone or some credible music magazine, so I low-balled it.

To prepare for my life as a rock writer, I decided I needed a few new things: longer and darker hair (easy enough), black lipstick (strategically paired with a Cosby sweater) and a new name.

Perhaps now it’s obvious that this scenario is not going to end well.

My first day of homeroom: The teacher was going through the roll, making notes as each kid answered. The instructions were to answer when you heard your name and indicate what you preferred to be called. This was my big chance. I’d thought about it all summer, and now I would come out of my cocoon a butterfly.

John wanted to be called Bradley, and Mary Sue wanted to be called Joann. Nice choices. Probably family names. Finally, it was my turn. The teacher stopped and looked at my name on her list.

“Erica Rucker,” she said.

I raised my hand. “Present.”

“What do you want to be called?”

Here is where my story goes awry. To this day, I have been ashamed to admit this part of my life, but in order to finally give peace to creative kids everywhere, especially those who were spooky before “goth” became popular, my tale must be shared.

I looked up at the teacher through my now chin-length bangs and said, “You can call me Raven.”

As a kid, you rarely understand the consequences of making such a drastic decision. Only now, as an adult, do I understand that years of shame and better taste in music make the “Raven” story hilarious. If a kid finds identity somewhere, we should encourage it, right? I wanted to be Raven because, after being teased throughout middle school and feeling like an outcast, I had decided I liked music and art better than the mall, Guess jeans and Tretorn sneakers. I wanted the message about who I was to be clear. According to British scholar David Hesmondhalgh, “Music … represents a remarkable meeting point of the private and public realms, providing encounters of self-identity (this is who I am, this is who I’m not) with collective identity (this is who we are, this is who we’re not).”

“Raven” was my intersection with identity. It was my chance to assign myself somewhere. I wasn’t sure, at 15, that I could remain Erica, given how much I loved music and Edgar Allan Poe, another deep obsession. I wanted to position myself in the atmosphere of my writing fantasy and prepare for a life of rabble-rousing with rockers all over the world.

I have always been an immersive sort of person, believing that if you’re going to do something, there is absolutely no reason not to do it with all you’ve got. That includes telling an entire city you were a creative (albeit socially challenged) kid. There are many of us, and I feel a duty to my fellows. As I’m older and much more socially adept now, it is empowering to be able to say these things. Music has had profound effects on the formation of my self. I think it’s important to realize the way music forms us, good or bad. It’s important to realize the roots of our own identities, or, as The Boy often says, “How I got this way.”


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American Idle


October 5, 2011

Me Vs. Music

American Idle

I like to sing. My sister also likes to sing. If you knew us well, you would know this. There are a couple of reasons you should be aware of our singing behaviors. One: If you decide to take a road trip or participate in any other vehicular transportation with us, know that there will be singing. Two: If you don’t realize that riding with us means singing, chances are you will begin to talk while we’re riding and have to listen to the same song repeated ad nauseam, because you were yapping during our favorite verse of the song. (Pay closest attention to reason No. 2.) It is a serious pet peeve to both of us if, during one of our most stunning car performances, complete with the “Jesus, help me with this note” finger in the sky, you decide to tell us about work, politics or anything that’s not integral to what we’re doing at that very moment. I tell you this because I care about you, and if you happen to be riding with us, I want you to experience a variety of our best renditions without unnecessary repetitions. Ask The Boy — he’s been riding with me for years and has experienced many a song repeat. This isn’t a joke. Don’t test me.

There is another thing you should know about this habit of ours. If you think that changing the station or music genre mid-ride will save you … tsk tsk. You will be sad to know we are competent in our craft, fool. We can rip into Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn something fierce. Don’t let the skin mislead you. We were raised on this stuff. We had country cousins and city cousins. Our experience bridged the gap from our early years of ’70s Stevie Wonder funk to our ’80s metal obsession to an all-around deep fall into country, world music and anything and everything we could wrap our brains around.

You probably can get us slightly quiet with a raï tune, but usually only because we are not fluent speakers of Arabic. Don’t let us find a lyric sheet or fall asleep and learn the lyrics via osmosis. If that happens — it’s on! I have learned many a Bollywood lyric in my sleep. Language won’t stop us!

Our father was a singer. Well, let me back that up. Our father could sing. He learned well how to imitate the singers he admired and could carry a song if he needed to. Our father was also a stand-up comedian. We were encouraged from a young age to sing; we were also encouraged to act silly enough or crack crazy enough jokes so that no one noticed our failings in the vocal-stylings department. We learned early to compensate for things we were not always successful at by developing another skill.

I think we learned the compensation skill too well. We are perhaps overly adaptive, rapidly changing before we’ve given ourselves a chance to fully develop a skill — except singing, and that’s what I’m talking about here. Singing is the one skill my sis and I have never thought to surrender, no matter how good we are (or aren’t) becoming. To us, our “Mariah Scary” dreams are complete when we’re singing.

The car is a major point of reference because there are several performance options: windows up, windows down, moving on the expressway or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic and singing to the car of teens next to you. These kids should know who the hell Rod Stewart is! The car provides a moving stage and the opportunity to do dances you could never recreate on a dance floor or an actual stage.

I challenge you to pack up your favorite CDs, learn the lyrics and pull up in your broke-down college ride, or your fancy BMW, and sing to the person in the car next to you. Here’s the thing, folks: We have lots of time to spend in our cars now. If you live or work in Indiana, you are used to long delays due to the bridge closure, so why not make it fun? Sing to someone today and make his or her traffic wait more fun.

Erica Rucker is a freelance weirdo, writer and professional wedding/portrait photographer at eElaine Photography.

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Lift me like an olive branch

This was my first article for LEO–little bit about life, a little bit about music.


June 8, 2011

Me Vs. Music

‘Lift Me Like an Olive Branch’


Listening to Leonard Cohen on a Saturday evening, sipping (OK, gulping) red zinfandel, my dreadlocked head swirls about music and having to write this column. At present, the world is supposed to be gone, ended. Like every other predicted apocalypse, nothing’s happened; but surely it has happened for someone. For me, the end always seems to mean the beginning. Furthermore, it always seems to begin with music, and this time I have a fast-approaching deadline. From my greatest joy to my deepest trouble, music has etched deep marks on my spirit. The last few months, my life has undergone some major emotional changes. I lost my very sectarian job yet gained a path back to my soul. I recognized that at every major junction in my life, I return to a few themes: writing, photography and — the reason you are reading — music.

Shortly after I left my job in April, the LEO music editor called to gauge my interest in writing a column, and it was a moment not unlike those in movies when the heavens part and beams of light shine down. A blessed event — sacred in the way religion is to its followers. It could simply have been the fact that it was one of the few days it wasn’t raining in April.
This column will be a conversation between music and me.

My relationship with music has been complicated. At times, it’s been soothing, recalling those idyllic 1970s, snuggling with my radio years, listening to Dan Fogelberg (yes, I said it) or watching the first snow of Y2K fall on my father’s casket, lulled by Sade’s “By Your Side” repeating in my head. At other periods, it has been an adversarial relationship, like my first punk show after the dark ages of Hair Metal. It left me sick to my stomach, yet itching for the next show.

You see, I have long accepted that as a black woman, my aural tastes are atypical, and, since it was clear I was too shy to be a singer and too impatient to learn an instrument, I took to my notebooks — first writing trashy rock fiction for my high school friends, then turning to legitimate music writing. My most challenging association with music would be a few years down the road.

It began with a brief stint writing online music reviews for the Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine and a conversation betwixt my fiancé and me wondering how we could see the Norwegian band Motorpsycho. I’m pretty sure we were drinking something that I’m also pretty sure was laced with something else that made us briefly mad; our conversation snowballed into me writing a letter to Terrascope’s editor inquiring about the possibility of hosting their Terrastock Festival in Louisville. This was the grand scheme The Boy and I concocted to see the band. Expecting a “Forget it, kid” from the editor and not considering a potential “Forget it” from Motorpsycho, I was given a dossier on how to host an international rock festival that (and, again, I’m blaming substances) I naively didn’t see as intimidating. Ultimately, The Boy and I executed Terrastock 7 — 39 bands over four days — with some pain but mostly joy. The payoff for us was meeting Motorpsycho and realizing that, “Holy fuck, Norwegians are HUGE!”

I’m positive at this point you might be wondering why I took the time to tell you all of this. I think there are several reasons. One, music is a shared experience. We fight about it with friends, go in flocks to see it, sleep to it, eat to it, and create life accompanied by it. The fact is, it is stuffed into every part of our lives. When you read my later pieces, I hope you’ll understand me and how I think about it. Finally, we may not always agree. You may find my opinions unpopular, but know I’m a reasonable person and never claim moral superiority. I just claim that, in my relationship to music, sometimes I own it and sometimes it owns me. I prefer the submissive role, to be transported and moved, but am never just along for the ride. I hope you’ll read and maybe begin your own conversations with music.

Seriously, though, Scandinavians are a giant people.



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