Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Winter: Valley Winter Song

Fountains of Wayne: Valley Winter Song

Last week, in writing about Dough, I compared them to Fountains of Wayne, who are, in my opinion, among the best writers of intelligent pop songs. As a non-musician, the ability to write songs is, to me, a nearly miraculous talent, and the ability to write a perfect pop song makes me genuflect.

“Valley Winter Song” was written by Chris Collingwood, one of the two principal songwriters of Fountains of Wayne, and it is a gentle ballad that he wrote for his wife about the winters in Western Massachusetts, being stuck in the house and suffering from seasonal affective disorder. I do love living in the northeast, but sometimes during the winter I question my sanity. Nevertheless, when the snow is falling down, and you can stay in your house, or go out and cavort in the white powder, or just stay on the couch drinking hot cocoa, it is actually kind of nice.

In the song, Collingwood refers to “our New England town,” and some quick research uncovers that he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, one of the more interesting and tolerant communities around. It is also the home of Smith College, an amazing place that also happens to be the alma mater of my wife, and where my daughter currently attends college. Since my daughter has been in Northampton, she has been pretty lucky—the weather hasn’t been brutally cold, and the snow has come only in isolated spurts. They did get nailed pretty badly during the northeaster (I’m not a pirate, so I refuse to use “nor’easter”) on Halloween 2011 and lost power for a while. Of course, they are now calling for a pretty bad storm this weekend, so we shall see. It’s all probably a result of climate change, which has resulted in warmer winters and more violent storms in our part of the world. One of the great things about being at college during a storm like that is that you have the infrastructure and resources available to mitigate the hardships, and you are surrounded by friends. And you don’t have to shovel.

Last Sunday, I woke up in New York with a dusting of snow on the ground, which didn’t stop me and my wife from driving the two plus hours up to Northampton for the Silver Chord Bowl, an a cappella concert held on Smith’s campus. It sold out the 2,000 seat hall, and we were on line an hour early to get good seats. Although my musical tastes are pretty varied, I’ve never been a fan of a cappella music—I made it through 4 years at Princeton, which has a long and proud tradition of such music basically avoiding it, except when the singers blocked an archway I needed to get through (I apologize now to my friends who were in any of the singing groups that I callously ignored—I think I have grown a little in the past 35 years).

Of course, the apparently omnipotent gods of harmony singing have had their revenge—my son’s college percussion group performed each parent’s weekend in a long showcase show featuring many, many a cappella groups, and he is now dating an a cappella singer. My daughter is a member of the Smithereens, the fourth oldest women’s group in the country (not the more recently formed and excellent rock band of the same name) who performed in the Silver Chord Bowl, thus explaining why I left my cozy house on a snowy winter day to sit through what turned out to be a very entertaining show. Oh, and it was Super Bowl Sunday, a winter ritual that transcends the game itself (my daughter said that a friend asked why they were playing football at a Beyoncé concert). It is only because I am just that good a father that I would miss the first quarter of the big game (not to mention the commercials) to see her perform. The Smithereens were great, by the way.

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