Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Do you hear what I hear?

Home for Thanksgiving this week. To celebrate our joyous reunion, my sister and I ventured out to the mall for some shopping patriotic stimulation of the economy. Upon exiting one store, I turned to my sister and asked:

"Would it be too nanny-state of me if I wanted to make a law prohibiting all Christmas music until after Thanksgiving?"

I get why they do it, these stores. It's pure classical conditioning. They provide the stimulus (happy Christmas music), and we're supposed to produce the response (buy buy buy). Retail's only means of survival is to make money, so you can hardly blame them if this tactic works. But ... why does it work? I've met maybe two people in my life who like Christmas music. Everyone else finds it annoying. And I suspect that even those who enjoy it eventually burn out on it after having it shoved down their throats earlier and earlier each year.

Do you like hearing Christmas music? Do you like it before Thanksgiving? Does it inspire you to shop more?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gulf War Syndrome is real

A congressionally mandated report has concluded that Gulf War syndrome is a legitimate physiological illness, and NOT just a symptom of psychological distress.

According to a Reuters article, the panel found two possible causes: pills given to troops as a vaccination against nerve gas, and pesticides used heavily during the war.

This is great news for veterans who have been struggling to get treatment since 1991. Only took 17 years.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Music: good for what ails you

Interesting gig this afternoon. Javalinas Coffee and Friends hosted an event called Music and Your Health, which they described as "a unique lecture and musical therapy experience." The lineup consisted of three doctors, two of whom made up a duo; a nutrition consultant; an author of two books on nutrition; and us. The doctors dispensed health-related information between songs, including connections between music and brain waves. The nutrition experts briefly talked about their experience in the field.

We were invited because of "Everybody Knows About Me," our song about living with undiagnosed myalgic encephalomyelitis, and I gave a slightly longer introduction than usual to that song before we played it. Other than that, the only thing we had to say regarding music and health came from a couple of studies I happened to read about. (See here and here.)
Me: "According to recent research, music you like can actually lower your blood pressure. They also found that music you don't like can raise your blood pressure, so ..."

Ron: "Wow, I really hope you like us."

Me: "Yeah, I hope we don't suck."
Going by the audience's response, I'm happy to report that Cinder Bridge had a positive effect on blood vessel function today.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

More musical grocery store revelations

While pushing my cart through Sunflower Market this afternoon, a familiar song made its way through the intercom. The singer, female, had a polished coffeehouse style:
Every time I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
I knew right away that this was a cover of a song I'd heard many times before, but it took a few more lines before I identified it as "Dream On," originally by Aerosmith.

Funny thing was, the lyrics seemed so much more profound in this dialed-down, folksy version. I found myself nodding along with those first lines, thinking, yes, "All these lines on my face getting clearer" is a poetic way of describing the observation of one's own aging. I'd never really noticed any of the words in Aerosmith's version, aside from the refrain.

Why? Part of it was just that the chick singer enunciated the lyrics much more clearly than Steven Tyler did. Another part of it was pure classical conditioning: if it's slow and folksy, the words will be thoughtful and meaningful; if it's hard-driving, kick-ass rock 'n' roll, the lyrics probably don't matter that much.

It's all in the presentation.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Grocery store serenader

I have a habit of singing along to the background music when I go grocery shopping. If I'm especially in the mood, I'll do this even if I don't like whatever it is they're piping through the sound system.

For some reason, the Albertson's I shopped at today didn't have any music on. Without thinking about it, I compensated by singing snatches of an old Status Quo song that happened to be going through my head at the moment.

"Piiiictures of matchstick men and you ... Images of matchstick men and you ..."

I was just loud enough to wake up my normally lethargic internal censor.

"Hey," said my internal censor. "This isn't one of your gigs. No one wants to hear you sing. You're annoying people. Quit it."

I quit it.

Maybe half a minute later, some guy walked past, singing. Not loud enough to have interrupted conversations around him if there had been any, but definitely audible. He was smiling. Totally unselfconscious.

And it occurred to me: He wasn't annoying. Not at all.

"Images of matchstick men and you ... All I ever see is them and you ..."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A pessimist's optimism

I know.

I know he's not the messiah. He won't be able to do all of the things he's promised. He'll have to prioritize, compromise.

He's a politician.

He'll disappoint us. Piss us off.

He'll take actions that make us shake our heads and feel foolish about how, when he gave his acceptance speech, we believed every word.

I know.

And I don't care. Because if he means half of what he says, can live up to even a tiny percentage of his hype, then things are about to change for the better.

Anything has to be better than the past eight years.

So as cynical as I've become, as cautious as my optimism is, I'm really happy tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some confetti to throw.

Oh, and also ...


Twitter demographics

I noticed something interesting a few weeks after I got a Twitter account.

(For the uninitiated, Twitter works like this: You pick a handle [I'm cinderkeys], create a brief, searchable profile, then write posts describing what you're doing in 140 characters or less. It's possible to view the posts of everyone on Twitter, but to make it more manageable and fun, you can choose specific users whose updates you want to follow.)

Based on my own interests, I've been following Tucson music fans, music reviewers, and people with invisible illnesses like ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, and lupus. Though I have definite political leanings, however, it's never occurred to me to follow people because of their political affiliations.

And? Of all the political tweets I've seen from the 70+ people I'm following, all have been pro-Obama. There's not a McCain supporter in the bunch.

Without meaning to, I've hit a demographic. I guess it makes sense in the case of the invisible illness crowd. If no one wants to insure you, and you're possibly too sick to work and get insurance through an employer, then you're going to root for the guy who has any interest at all in health care.

That doesn't explain the music fans, though.

So ... Why are you voting for who you're voting for?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fanfare for the common cold

I'm nostalgic for the days when getting sick wasn't such a big deal, when I didn't feel the need to avoid contagious people. My philosophy was, if everybody's getting it, then staying away from one or two culprits isn't going to help me. I'll get it or I won't. And if I do, I'll survive.

Those days are gone, for two reasons. First, I spend a lot of time with The Guy Who Inspired "Everybody Knows About Me." (I promise we'll think of a good alias for him soon. It's getting awkward to keep referring to him as The Guy Who Inspired "Everybody Knows About Me.") He has myalgic encephalomyelitis and, as a result, a highly compromised immune system. If he catches my cold, it will be severe, and it will last for months.

Second, I sing, sometimes in front of people. When my throat is gunked up and possibly inflamed, I can't do this very well.

So my attitude has done a complete 180. Now I ask coworkers if they're coming down with something every time they sneeze. I wash my hands constantly when I suspect someone contagious might be touching things I'm touching. I freak out when I start to get the sniffles. In short, I've become annoying.

And the worst part? None of my precautions matter. Our gig today, another airport performance, was cancelled due to illness -- mine. I caught the cold that's been going around, and everyone involved decided it would be best to reschedule. I'm still capable of singing, mind you, but the results aren't anything you'd want to hear, much less pay for.

How do professional rock-'n'-rollers deal with this? If you're KT Tunstall or Elton John, you have to cancel if you have, say, laryngitis, but you can't bow out every time you get a little bug.