Mistress of the Mix: My Life As A Playlist

When I was a little girl, I used to listen to my grandparents, fascinated, as they would tell stories about what their lives were like growing up in the early 1900s.  My grandfather told me tales of how we were part Cherokee Indian on his mother’s side, but we weren’t on the Indian Roles because his grandfather killed his own brother and then disappeared into Indian Country to evade capture. He told me about all the famous Texas gunslingers in the family (John Wesley Hardin on my grandmother’s side, and on his, the really crazy badass Hillary Webb (better known by his psudonymn Tom Ross).

A serious interest in genealogy developed later within me, and to this day I am still searching for more evidence of my great great great great great grandfather Thomas Ing, who came to America from England around 1800, founding Ingtown, Ohio (known today as Kingston, but Ing Street runs through the middle of town in his honor).

As a young adult, when macular degeneration caused my grandfather’s eyesight to fail, I would sit with him for hours, mining him for more information, more to pass the time and keep his mind sharp than for anything else. I only believed about half of what he told me, thinking all those wild gunslinging stories couldn’t be true. But I dutifully took notes, and would save them, sticking them in my purse or between the pages of whatever book I was reading at the time. Years later, after my grandfather had passed at the age of 92, and the internet started its quest to take over the world, I gathered all those notes and began to connect online with other researchers. I found that every single story he ever told me was true. I’m so thankful for the many years I had with him, and that I paid attention to his stories, because it’s been immensely satisfying to share these stories with other distant family members, comparing notes with them and hearing their own stories to flesh out a more thorough understanding of our ancestors. If only I had a window into their lives, or could go back in time like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris to experience those stories firsthand. Wouldn’t that be something.

Meanwhile, my dad has been bugging me for about 20 years now to start writing my novel. He’s a novelist, by the way, even made it onto the NY Times Bestseller list once. So of course he’d like to see his daughter take after her dad. While I’ve been known to spin a few good yarns myself, I just don’t think I’ve got the time or the good ideas that it would take to write a great fiction novel. In fact, I just don’t really have the time to write my own real life story, although I’ve had some fascinating adventures. I’m just not really sure that any of these adventures would be interesting to anyone outside of my immediate circle of friends. But maybe I’ll get to writing them down, if only for the benefit of my future great grandchildren, to save them the time of trying to pick the fuzzy brain of their nana and decipher real life adventures from make believe.

Fortunately, Kerri Regan just made my job a whole lot easier. She was tapped recently to capture my story for a piece in the April edition of Enjoy Magazine. Check it out for the story and for the amazing photography of Tommy Corey (who made his mark on the world with the Self Worth Project).

What an honor to have two great artists come together to help tell that story. Perhaps someday 50 years into the far off future, one of my descendants will do their own genealogy research, and come across a musty edition of Enjoy in a foot trunk in the attic, and find that all my stories were true as well.

From the tales I told of being in a punk rock band in high school, then sailing off to a Greek island the day after graduating from college, to the years I lived on another island in Alaska, where the bath water came from a spring and was heated with an oil stove. Where once a year my friends and I dressed up as Vikings and Valkyries in furs and metal helmets and boarded the Alaska Airlines jet and took actual prisoners. And then my serendipitous return to the lower 48 to help restore the Cascade Theatre, where I ate dinner with the Manhattan Transfer, Bobby McFerrin sang with my daughter, and Pink Martini asked me onstage to perform their encore with them. Great Grandma wasn’t crazy (well, at least she wasn’t delusional). All those things really happened.

Kerri also came up with a great idea, something she kind of tossed out, almost as an afterthought after our interview. She suggested that I come up with a playlist of my life, a list of songs that would serve as an autobiographical journey of sorts through my life to accompany the article. So I did. And while it’s there in black and white in the pages of Enjoy, today you can listen to the actual playlist right here on A News Cafe, and take a little trip with me back to the very beginning of my life.

In fact, the list here on A News Cafe has at least 5 or 6 bonus tracks, because I had to edit my list a little bit (it’s a damn good thing I get paid to talk, because I can go on and on and on…..)! Maybe in my golden years, when I finally pack away the magazine for a future generation to discover, I’ll include a cd with all the songs so they can spend an hour listening to the music that shaped my life. But do you think 50 years in the future they’ll even have CD players?

5. Joy To The World – Three Dog Night – This was my very first favorite song. I think I was 5, and we were living in Eugene, Oregon by this time.

6. Good Times – Chic – A few years later I was hanging out at the roller rink, wearing feathered hair and a satin jacket, begging my parents to let me stay after, when everyone took off their skates and danced to disco music.

7. Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson – Yes, I’m secure enough in my musicality to admit that there was a time when I really like Michael Jackson. The first two record albums I ever put on my Christmas wish list were the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall.

8. You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC – Then in the 9th grade (around the time my boyfriend and I started dating the first time around), I discovered Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Queen and AC/DC.

9. Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles – I remember it well. We had moved to Ashland. I was visiting my cousin for the summer, bored out of my skull, flipping through the channels trying to find a re-run of The Monkees, when I came upon an astronaut planting a flag on the moon, followed by this video. I was actually watching the birth of MTV. Thank goodness it didn’t really kill radio. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual music video on MTV.

10. Planet Claire – The B-52s – I was 15, babysitting, and doing what I always do: combing through the family record collection. I found this crazy record with the most wonderfully bizarre music. Turns out that the album had been a gag gift to the parents, and they gladly parted with it when I asked them about it. My life changed overnight.

11. Message To You Rudy – The Specials – I quickly became introduced to New Wave, Ska and Punk, and soon found my tribe. I started collecting music (The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Circlejerks, BowWowWow), going to concerts, found my tribe, starting my own band and finally putting on concerts.

12. Troublemaker – Weezer – It was hard for me to choose between 3 great songs that together perfectly describe the next few years of my life. This one, David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”, and Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation. I spent a lot of time in the Vice Principal’s office. But I did graduate!

13. Yo Deejay! – Jah – Sound I even went on to college, at Southern Oregon, and this when I found my calling. I was on the staff of the college newspaper, did an internship at a local TV station, but became a volunteer at Jefferson Public Radio, and I knew this was where I belonged.

14. Great DJ – The Ting Tings – I also began working weekends at commercial radio stations in the Rogue Valley, doing stints in country, adult contemporary and hard rock. Life was great.

15. Theme to Zorba The Greek – Mikis Theodorakis – The day after graduating, I flew to a Greek island and lived there for the summer. I learned how to speak Greek with a hick country accent, and made a lot of orange juice while working in a bar in the town of Paleochora.

16. North To Alaska – Johnny Horton – I left Greece only because I was offered a job as a news reporter in a small fishing village in Alaska. I ended up marrying the first man I met there, and stayed for 13 years.

17. Then She Appeared – XTC – In 1997, Sophia appeared. Being a mother has definitely been the most important and challenging job that I have ever taken on.

18. Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps – Doris Day – Wondering what I’m singing into that microphone in the photo by the incredible Tommy Corey? It’s this song. If I ever realize my fantasy of having a nightclub act, this would be my signature song.

19. Hey Eugene – Pink Martini – Or possibly this one. My favorite band, hands down. I still can’t quite believe I was able to not only introduce them at the Cascade Theatre a few years ago, but got to perform their encore with them as well.

20. She Loves & She Confesses – The Dowland Project – Ten years ago, JPR offered me the opportunity to come back to work for them to manage their Redding studios, but part of the job was quite a departure from the rest of my musical life – hosting a daily classical music program. This song represents some of the beautiful gems I’ve come across while exploring the classical music library.

21. The Way I Am – Ingrid Michaelson – 27 years after the first time we dated, my junior high school boyfriend hunted me down again. He’s a slightly crazy alpha male rebel, and he takes me the way I am. I guess that makes him the perfect kind of guy for me.

22. Good Feeling – FloRida – No matter where we are or what we’re doing, if someone puts this song over the speakers, the entire family starts singing and dancing. It’s part of the soundtrack to pretty much everything we do these days, so it deserves a special spot at the end of the current playlist of my life.

Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for nine years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She’s the mother of a teenage daughter and a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier, and can’t imagine life without them or music. Valerie wakes up with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Valerie Ing
Valerie Ing has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Ginny says:

    Yma Sumac. I have my husband's album collection, still. Included is a Yma Sumac recording. I believe it was just Hi Fi not Stero. Would you be interested in the recording?

    Just ask Doni to give you my email address.

    Thanks for the story of your life! And, do write a novel on your life. Maybe not more than a million people would be interested, but heck, that wouldn't be bad. Remember a recorder works well, plus someone else can transcribe. Do what I suggested Doni do: Go for it!

    • Valerie Ing-Miller Valerie Ing-Miller says:

      Thanks, Ginny! I think my dad actually still has all those Yma Sumac records! I gave him one of those turntables with a USB connector so that he could put his vinyl on cds for Christmas a few years ago. Not that he's used it…and my dad will be so happy to hear that you're jumping on the bandwagon with him, trying to get me to write that novel!

  2. Avatar AJ says:

    Kinda along the same lines, when kids used to complain because EVERYTHING that happened reminded me of one song or another, I'd say, "My life is a song and I must sing it!" I'm glad to know that I have company out there in song-ville! I never thought of it as autobiographical, but what a great idea. Thank you for sharing!!

    And what a treat for you to work with two of my favorite former students.

  3. Avatar Dean Ing says:

    It's a smile-provoker that when you do sing, it's in a voice so gently melodious for such an in-our-Facebook rebel. BTW, a memoir doesn't have to be a novel; you get to choose! As for your playlist, it might grow to the number of your years, each addition appropriate to any milestone you nominate.

  4. Avatar Max Walter says:

    Great article, Valerie. I loved reading of your memories and adventures.

    I, too, hope you write that novel. The reasons you listed above seem like really high-quality ones to me. And, considering your gift for writing, it's entirely possible your father would have company on that best-seller list. Rock on, Val!

  5. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    This article could be on the cover of the book you could write! All of this and a beautiful voice on the radio.

    Yma Sumac…..so I'm not the only one who ever heard and loved her voice.

    I love your articles.

  6. Oh my gosh, I just realized that I made a huge fauxpas with this week's playlist! All this talk of Yma Sumac, and I just noticed that I left her off the streaming list and instead put on Elvis Costello singing "Radio Radio"! I'm taking care of that situation immediately. Sorry folks, especially those of you who've never heard the incredible range of Sumac's voice.

  7. Avatar AJ says:

    Yma Sumac . . . I can still see that orange cover with her dressed in some sort of Inca-esk outfit. And I had never heard of reversing her name , That sounds like a likely Hollywood ploy. Purportedly a four octave range. Mariah, eat your heart out!!!

  8. Avatar ianbalentine says:

    Valerie –

    What a fantastic playlist. Never thought I'd see mention of XTC and the Specials here on ANC! You are indeed a great addition. Looking forward to more.

    Uncle E