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"Jesus houdt van u" is Dutch for "Jesus loves you"
Or, That Tower of Babel is a bitch

I was a volunteer summer Sunday School teacher for the high school Formation class yesterday. They're doing a series where each week they examine and discuss a tough question of faith. My question was, "How do I know if God exists?" I'm just glad I didn't get the "For how many years will Dan Brown burn in hell for writing The da Vinci Code?" question. No, actually this looks like a very well-thought-out series. And I had a revelation. Part of the discussion had us read John 1:1-5 (In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...) and all of a sudden it all clicked. If God is word, it only makes sense that there are several interpretations of God around this world. When you hear a sound, it means nothing to you until you can attach some kind of meaning that you're already familiar with. In the same vein, how can each individual's interpretation of God be exactly the same? Seriously.

While we're talking church...
The lovely older woman who often sits behind me in the sanctuary turned to me at the end of the service a few weeks back and told me that she loved listening to me sing. I didn't have the heart to tell her she must have heard the woman sitting next to me, because I sing in just one key, and that's the key of OFF. But then the next week she said the same thing. It must mean just one thing: I have to find more hearing aids like hers and hand them out to the rest of my pewmates.


Evolution of a Music Enthusiast, side A, unfinished

Summer 2000 Nick, Brian and I spend a week volunteering at camp, reviving some of our old favorite songs. Vanilla Ice makes a comeback as we rap, “Alright stop! Collaborate and listen! Ice is back with a brand new invention. Something grabs a hold of me tightly. Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly. Will it ever stop? Yo! I don’t know. Turn off the lights, and I glow. To the extreme, I rock the mic like a vandal. Light up the stage and wax a chump like a candle…” Word to your mother.

Fall 2000 I fall for the cute blond guitar player down the hall in the dorm and simultaneously fall into the trap of trying to match my interests to his (see: 1996 and "Rebecca Lynn"). I ask him to introduce me to “good” music, and he lends me his Radiohead, Weezer, REM and Jeff Buckley CDs. I get into Weezer, REM and Buckley (especially REM), but have a hard time connecting with Radiohead; it’s a bit too weird for me. A month later he starts dating another girl (they met at a Weezer concert, but of course...if only I'd gone to that concert!), and I’m inspired to write really bad poetry. I read one of the poems, inspired by “Fake Plastic Trees,” at a FARC Spotlight open mic night.

Winter 2000 A boy makes me my first mix CD as a Christmas present. It takes me nearly two months to realize that meant something more than just wanting to give me some fun new songs to listen to. Oops.

2001 An ex-boyfriend and I had bonded over U2 before our inevitable breakup. It’s the fall of 2001, and he’s dating a new girl, but he, Erin and I head to St. Louis for a U2 concert. In my devious mind, I kinda see this as him cheating on her with me, even though our seats are actually in totally different parts of the arena; “I win,” I think in my darkest of thoughts, even though by now I’m pretty sure I’m not that interested in the prize anyway. The concert is post-9/11. I hadn’t felt personally affected by the disastrous events that September, but during the concert, when they scroll through the names of the people who had died in the planes, the towers and the Pentagon, the music swells around and into me, and I cry for the first time.

2002 I begrudgingly give into Pat’s invitation to join him and friends for a Ben Folds concert. I only know Ben to be “that guy who sings the song about abortion.” Over the next two years I will see Ben in concert three times.

Spring 2003 Traveling through Europe, my flatmates and I spend our first night in a hostel in Rome. I can usually sleep anywhere, but have the hardest time here because I feel lonely and out of place in our trio. I rely on the calming melodies of Coldplay sifting through my headphones to soothe me to sleep. Parachutes becomes my security blanket in foreign lands.

Spring 2003, continued Against my better judgment I fall for British Pop Idol Gareth Gates and his sitar-infused rendition of “Spirit in the Sky" for no reason except Indian-infused pop music is a fascinating novelty (plus he's just so cute!).

Summer 2003 Sarah hooks me on Guster during our Stateside reunion in Clear Lake, Iowa. “Come Downstairs and Say Hello” becomes the defining song for my senior year: “Dorothy moves to click her ruby shoes / Right in tune to Dark Side of the Moon / … / By this time next year I won’t be here” seems to sum it all up.

Fall 2004 My favorite new artists are on-a-whim purchases: The Postal Service, and The Format; I'd never heard the songs on Give Up or Interventions and Lullabies before purchasing the albums on the same day. Because The Format is a Peoria, Ariz., band, I feel totally hip to the local music scene.

Fall 2004, continued I finally see Garden State in the second-run theater nearby, and the personal connection I feel with the movie leads me to download the soundtrack from iTunes. This is my first iTunes purchase, a momentous occasion, for sure.

2005-2006 My musical tastes continued to be heavily influenced by my close friends. Sarah hooks me on Belle & Sebastian, and Megan tips me off on the fabulous Imogen Heap. Both musical talents quickly rise to the top of my These People Totally Rock list. I also spend an inordinant amount of time listening to the aforementioned Virgin Radio via iTunes, which means that I have England's World Cup battle call, "The People's Anthem," constantly ringing in my ears (and poor Jana's as well).

Fall 2006-2009 Currently in the studio. Will include new, innovative songs and probably a few remastered and rediscovered classics.


Chuck Klosterman An' Erica
(Get it? It's like his Esquire column, "Chuck Klosterman's America.) Last night my favorite bookstore hosted Chuck Klosterman at a local bar to read from his recent book, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story (book purchase count within the past two weeks is now up to 7. I told you, just slap the lable on me and cart me off to biblioholics annonymous). He was funny and witty and quite insightful, and nothing I had imagined him to be. I mean, I'd known from his columns, articles and books that he was funny and witty and quite insightful, but I'd always imagined him as being a funny, witty, insightful, dark-haired, wisened-yet-hip 40-ish-year-old man. It's amazing what images our minds will conjure with no physical descriptors to predicate our imaginations.

Anyways. I asked him what he thought about people who had once championed a small band whom they then talk down once the band "makes it big". The whole, "Death Cab for Cutie's work was really good five years ago, but then the O.C. played their music and all the overemotional teeny-boppers who want to starve themselves to be like Mischa Barton started listening to Death Cab and now their music is only a shadow of what they were" mentality. He said that he used to hate those people, because it showed that it wasn't really the music that these people championed, but the experience of liking a band they could call their own. (Warning: the following statement is a paraphrase and probably an amalgamation of several quotable insights from the night and is influenced by the single Fat Tire I consumed during the evening.)

"But then I realized that's the whole point of music. It's not just the music or lyrics themselves, but the whole experience. We listen to a Wilco album, and we like to say we enjoy it because Jeff Tweedy is such a brilliant lyricist, but really we're fusing everything we've experienced with music and Wilco and just our entire lives with the moment we hear Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the first time and all that combines to influence our experience of the album and causes us to identify with a song or album. It's like how in the 80s I loved metal rock and then Metallica came along and all of a sudden everyone loved Metallica, and you'd ask why they liked Metallica, and they'd say, 'Well, they wear jeans.' But what does wearing jeans have anything to do with the band's musical talents? Nothing really. It's the experience of Metallica that attracted people. And if people liked Metallica because of their jeans, who am I to say that's not valid? And if these people are looking to identify with a little-known band because it makes them feel like it's their 'own' band, and then the band makes it huge, that experience is taken away from them. And really, who am I to hate them because they feel robbed of their experice? I can say they're idiots because obviously the music itself doesn't mean shit to them, but the music isn't as important to people as the experience of the music. So yeah, that's what I think about that."

You have to imagine him saying all this in a slightly high-pitched male voice with a hint of a lisp while holding a plastic cup of water as he sort of dances/shifts his weight from left to right and moves his hands all around like my mom does when she talks on the phone. He was brilliant, really.

You know what else is brilliant? The book store owner announced that none other than Mr. Jonathan Safran Foer will be coming in the fall. AND David Sedaris. AND Barack Obama. Are you starting to see why I love this place?


Evolution of a Music Enthusiast, the B Side
Or, a timeline set the soundtrack of my life, the 90s (and before)

1988 I make my first call in to a radio station (Q103.5 before it went country) to request a song. This is a big deal. I’ve never called someone outside of family or friends. I practice what I’m going to say to the DJ, and my mom makes me write down “Opposites Attract by Paula Abdul” on a pad of paper by the phone so I won’t forget the reason I called in the first place. I spell it “Apasits Atract.” I listen all night, but they never play my song.

1990 My friend Jennifer gives me The Immaculate Collection for my eighth birthday. My mom is not impressed with titles such as “Like a Virgin” and “Papa Don’t Preach” and makes me exchange it. I choose MC Hammer’s Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em instead, but hold a grudge until college, when I finally buy Madonna’s iconoclastic album for myself.

1991 I’m introduced to the concept of cussing when I hear my first swear words in “Ice, Ice Baby.” My aunt and her boyfriend buy me a New Kids on the Block poster for my birthday. It’s my first poster of a band, but I’m embarrassed, because NKB’s popularity is waning, and my friends will all think I’m so uncool for putting up a poster of the band that was so last year. We exchange the poster for a Vanilla Ice sweatshirt (in April), which I wear about three times in the fall because by then Vanilla Ice’s career has melted.

1992 The Brooks family buys a new van. It has a CD player rather than a tape player. We call it our CD player on wheels, since it’s the only place we can play the three new CDs we have: the Beatles’ Revolver, Hooked on a Beatles Tribute (a Beatles cover group), and the sample disk that came with the vehicle to explain how a CD player works. That summer we drive out to California from Kansas, listening to Beatles the whole way, and changing the lyrics of “Yellow Submarine” to “We all live in a green minivan…”

1994 My new church camp friends and I sing Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around” non-stop all week, and I realize for the first time that the songs my friends and I listen to in Manhattan are also being played on the airwaves across Kansas and Missouri. I don’t know why this wasn’t more obvious before.

1995 I realize the power of lyrics to move the soul for the first time when I hear TLC’s “Waterfalls.” With the earnestness only a teenager can exude, I plead with my mom to appreciate the potent message in the lines, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to.” She’s unfazed, and I just can’t understand why she doesn’t see the beauty in the message TLC is singing. I must be blessed with a higher appreciation of music.

1996 I learn that my middle school crush listens to country, and now the only station I tune my radio to is B104.7. I latch onto the song “Rebecca Lynn” because it mentions his name. I quickly grow tired of the music, but it takes me a little longer to grow tired of the boy. I realize that liking his music isn’t going to make him like me—a lesson I’ll have to learn several times.

1997 I quit piano lessons because my new teacher wants me only to concentrate proper Classical piano music, but all I really want to learn is Pachelbel’s Canon in D. She says that Canon in D was written for strings, and that I will be playing piano music. I respond by saying, “Wrong, I don’t be playing any music.”

1999 My first boyfriend mentions that he thinks I’m cuter than Christina Aguilera (this is during her “Genie in a Bottle” phase). Part of me doesn’t believe him, but another part of me will always feel an edge over the platinum blonde pop star.

1999-2000 I supplement my nighttime chats on AIM with friends (my parents let me stay up late to play on the internet!) with monitoring the radio station through my dad’s huge stereo. When I hear the telltale notes of a favorite song, I race to the stereo to press record and add to one of my mix tapes. I feel particularly cool when the Prom Queen and I drive off campus for lunch one day, the mix playing Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” followed by Eve 6’s “Inside Out” and she tells me what a great mix tape I’ve put together.

The second installment of "Evolution of a Music Enthustiast" to come soon.


I listened to the world end in London yesterday
Or, Cue R.E.M.

I've taken to listening to Virgin Radio via iTunes at work. I know, I'm a sucker for those sexy Anglo accents and references to U.K. locales (DJ: "Where are you calling from tonight, Arthur?" ARTHUR: "I'm out in Hammersmith." ME: "Oooh! Just a couple stops from Earl's Court on the Picadilly line!"). Most days it's the Geoff Show that's on air while I'm at work, and yesterday Geoff was counting down to midnight when it would become 6/6/06. Obviously that meant the day of the Devil was at hand and the end of the world would strike us all. So I waited, enraptured (hehe) as the clock turned 4 p.m. here in Arizona. The air went dead.

And then "It's the End of the World (As We Know It)" came to life. And all was still safe in good ol' Londontown. Whew. That was a close one.


I can check another lifetime goal off my list
I met Rick Reilly tonight. You may recall that Sports Illustrated's back page columnist is my favorite sports writer. He did a book talk and signing at Changing Hands (are we seeing a theme here?) and of course I was there with my cutest $4 Target shirt on (the man is newly divorced, you know). His talk (more like a stand-up schtick) covered everything from Charles Barkley's bald head to Lance Armstrong's lone nut, to the fact that Pistons fans write their hate mail in crayon "because that's all they have access to in the home." We also got him to promise to strip naked, bathe himself in tuna fish and jump in Shamu's tank, should the Arizona Cardinals make it to even one playoff game this season.

My mom was in front of me in line to have him sign her book, and when I stepped forward to hand him my book, she told him, "This is my daughter and she's grown up reading you. She's a writer, too!" Telling Rick Reilly that I was a writer was like telling Paul McCartney that I won a song-writing contest in third grade. I wanted to die. And then I felt about 13 years old for being embarrassed because of something my mother said. But I am NOT a writer! It may have been what pulled me into journalism, but writing is what nearly drove me out of journalism. (Writing for the blog is different...way different. I don't have to interview people or fact-chect — I mean, you all know that 74.6% of what you find on the Internet is untrue anyway, right?) I design. It's what I do, it's what I love and it's what kept me in journalism. I may not get a byline beside each page I lay out, and most people think of far-out illustrations when they see my business card calling me a "graphic designer," but I'm getting used to the fact that what I do is often misinterpreted. Just don't call me a writer.