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Seasonal Disorder

Sensory experiences and memories of autumn

By Mike Breen · September 16th, 2009 · Music


It all starts with the smell.

Every year we blurredly get spun around like we’re playing a game of pin the tail on the donkey and stumble from summer into fall. It’s an emotional time. Kids are angered or scared about having to go back to school. We will soon go from sunshine and warmth to grey skies and a chill. Things are literally changing all around you.

Every September, there comes a point when you walk out the front door and that first whiff of fall gives you a little jolt. And then the feelings of all falls past come back.

The odor is a chilled, piney mist with a kiss of burning wood — kind of like really good Scotch. And the moods recreated are usually a mix of excitement and pure dread. I hated school since I started it; it made me cripplingly anxious and essentially a nervous wreck on legs for most of the school year.

At the same time I had the distraction of a Labor Day holiday birthday, which allowed me to pretend the fireworks display on the Ohio River was for me. I found a morsel of joy in the realization that I was another year closer to being out of school. OK, when I turned 10, I was probably thinking, “I’m going to eat the shit out of that cake.” But later it was an extra day of reflection and tentative musings/ worries about what was coming next.

I am a fan of big emotion. I like the highs and lows. It makes me feel human. That’s why fall is my favorite time of year: The blast of melancholy, hopefulness and fear that comes with that first smell is always epiphanic and stirring. I relish the feeling for reasons similar to why I love horror movies — they are practically sensory experiences. Scary films are creative pieces of work that can make you physically lurch while you experience it — what more could an artist want?

My ears also get a good workout during the autumn months. Clinging to music as an almost “invisible friend,” I always went to it a bit more often during that summer/fall crossover period. And it always seemed to match the mood — U2’s The Unforgettable Fire has a foggy, blurred blend of earth colors that evoke the shades of leaves after they’ve changed. R.E.M.’s first two albums or bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and The Church reflect the shifts in weather and a mood associated with the fall months, reinterpreting similar emotions into music. That “fall feel” applies to them because they emit a melancholy that matches the autumnal vibe.

Going back to high school was often tough, but there were the backyard parties.

This is where I first experienced a band performing at eye level with me. The closeness of the performers and the actual sound gave me a whole new way to become immersed in music. The cover bands, rather surprisingly at first, played the same kind of music that my antisocial friends and I loved. I think it was my first glimpse of the “Alternative Music Revolution” in full upswing and ready to explode.

Live music would prove to be somewhat therapeutic for me during this weird seasonal changeover. Strangely, two of my clearest concert memories take place in the fall and involve Cincinnati Reds history.

I will always remember that when Pete Rose broke the hit record I was watching Sting at Riverbend and he announced it on the stage wearing on a Reds hat. And after going to see Public Enemy play at what turned out to be the Central State University homecoming party, we heard on the radio that the team had won the World Series, so we drove downtown and ran around like idiots. That fall chill somehow made the air sparkle.

These days, MidPoint Music Festival usually dominates my early fall activities, putting in a lot of work on coverage, coming close to a nervous breakdown and then having it all absolved by the experience of running around downtown on a beautifully fall-like night and chancing in on something really interesting and moving. It’s the kind of thing I live for.

I have mostly positive memories that I associate immediately with fall. But you can’t win them all.

I have managed to find myself in soul-crushingheartbreak situations a couple of times in the last five years, and both happened during that transitional time between summer and fall. The first time, I found myself out with my then 3-year-old daughter over Labor Day weekend and watching the fireworks from a hill in Clifton overlooking the back of the downtown skyline. We were surrounded by people and she was kind of clinging to my leg. I was hyper-emotional but holding it together. I began to squat down to her level so she wouldn’t feel so lost in the forest of legs.

Suddenly, she just wrapped her arms around me and gave me a bear hug. Despite my hiding, she had clearly sensed that something really hard was going on. And then, in that sweet warble that is a 3-year-old’s voice, she began to sing.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey …”

If there’s one moment in my life that I hope I never forget, it’s that one. The Hank Williams song immediately shot to No. 1 on my charts. And that nip of cool air and burnt aroma that I’ll inevitably feel just thinking about it will always remind me that it happened in early fall, when change proved to me that it didn’t have to be a bad thing.

Music Events This Fall

Midpoint music festival, Sept. 24-26 on 23 stages The season’s “can’t miss” event.

Westbound Train with locals The Pinstripes and Duppy a Jamba, Oct. 5 at the Southgate House If you think Ska is dead, don’t tell the 500 or so people who will pack this show.

Christian Howes Quartet, Oct. 8 at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club Witness the man who the late Les Paul called the best Jazz violinist he had ever seen.

Dr. Dog, Oct. 15 at The Mad Hatter Eccentric Philly Indie band turns the Covington venue into a psychedelic Moon Jump carnival ride for one night.

The Chocolate Horse vinyl-album release show, Oct. 16 at the Northside Tavern This imaginative, organic Indie squad stays true to wax as it releases its new full-length, We Don’t Stand on Ceremony.

World Music Fest, Oct. 17 at seven venues in Covington The young fest that spotlights performers who play music originating from around the globe moves to an all-day, multi-venue format

The Mars Volta, Oct. 17 at Bogart’s Modern Prog superstars will mess with your mind and have your head spinning with their dynamic, high-power show.

Gold Shoes and Small Time Crooks EP Release Party, Oct. 30 at The Mad Hatter The fun local Hip Hop-flavored bands celebrate a split-EP release.

The Tempers CD release party, Oct. 30 at The Redmoor Singer/songwriter Maurice Mattei and his band celebrate a new release of smart, poetic Rock & Roll.

Mount Eerie, No Kids and Tara Jane O’Neil, Nov. 4 at Art Damage Lodge Three popular, adventurous acts make for a dizzying, unpredictable night of sound exploration.

Eleventh Annual Blues & Boogie Piano Summit, Nov. 7 at the Southgate House Boogie Woogie piano master Ricky Nye again brings to town fellow Boogiers from around the globe.



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