Tag: 2009 February
I didn’t want to play commercial music. Like actual songs for commercials. It’s not what I got into music for. - I got sick of being in bands with flakes. You work your ass off on rehearsing a band and then someone quits or just stops showing up. - All of the drama around working with other people. - The work of getting a band on stage is exhausting. Even when it’s going well, you still have to get up in the morning and go to work. - And right now I can tell you, I hate this entry. There’s so much I love about music, but my actual pursuit of music has made me feel terrible about myself. Some of my internal chatter around musical pursuits is almost debilitating. Why did I spend all of that money on music school? I’m not that good. What a waste of time! I am not consistent enough to actually put together a real effort. I’m not good or could be better at promoting myself.
And really with what I am doing right now, it would be easy to say to myself that I was just pursuing the wrong thing. I seem to be doing the right thing by writing about music rather than playing music. And it certainly would put a nice bookend on a lot of creative suffering. “Ohhhh… I was a writer. Not a musician.”
But let me tell you, I have been here before. I have written so much on so many different subjects with different styles and different voices. I have written poetry, tried freelance journalism, short fiction, essays and political commentary. Some of it was pretty good. Some of my music is pretty good. I love creating. I love moving people. I love knowing that I have touched people in some way. And you don’t have to be a prodigy to reach people with music or writing. There is some kind of spiritual synergy around breathing life into art that can’t be taught. And when you hit it, you know you’ve hit it.
“Put your hands together and we’ll pray.”
And I have written and performed music, when I wasn’t very good at singing or playing the guitar, that moved people. Just before moving to Boston, I played regularly at Downtown Grounds in Houston. We played there the night it opened. A lot of the time I was playing there just to fill time. The owner often didn’t have anyone to play. Sometimes bands would cancel. I always had my guitar with me. Sometimes we would just start playing if no one else was. There were a couple songs that people started requesting. Sometimes people would call me when there was no one playing and request a set.
“Memories coiled tight to spring.”
There is a mythology in our culture around music. That somehow you put together a band and develop a following, and then a major label notices you. Then you are a rock star. And perhaps that translates into many different forms of art. Visual, writing, music, drama… We have merely to have some talent and ‘go get em’ bravado to get on our path to the stars. This mythology is so strong that if you work your ass off and fail, most people will believe it is something about you that is the cause of your failure. No one will believe this more strongly than you.
“And make you sing.”
But I think perhaps that this a mythology that is everywhere in our culture. You went to school for what? Why aren’t you doing that? Oh you must just be lazy. You are a musician? Oh why aren’t you famous? You aren’t happy? Well you know maybe you should just decide to be happy. There’s not very many people I know that are satisfied with where they ended up personally or professionally. That’s why a song like this speaks to me.
“Such a simple sickly thought of mine.”
There’s a vision of the world that’s encouraged when we are children, and the reality of even the simplest childhood dream is so far removed from the fantasy that’s encouraged. If we aren’t supposed to reach for these larger than life realities, then why do they exist as ideals? And I mean the simple child like ideals. You want to be an architect? I can see you building great buildings. We conjure images of I.M. Pei and the seeds of the mythology of greatness are planted. Of course, the alternative is ghastly. I don’t think it would be a good idea to limit our children’s expectations by telling them about the realities of CAD drafting electrical conduits.
“I’ll always be a loser but in time.”
The Sleepover Disaster has been doing what they do for a long time. They are really good at it. I am always impressed when a band has been together for so long. But I love the whole idea and the giant sound of the guitars, the plodding beat and the patience with the arrangement. The emotional impact is timed well throughout. I obviously feel deeply about the message. There are a lot of disappointments in life. But it’s a really great accomplishment to be able to move people. What else do we have to live for? Our connections to each other and our world, our universe should be emphasized more in our daily life. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to reach you. I want to reach myself. I want to reach a group of musicians like The Sleepover Disaster who have been working their asses off for longer than I was able to handle it to let them know – I heard you! We heard you!
“I’ll make you sing!”
We didn’t expect to become adults just so our passion for life could be killed. We didn’t dream about what we would do with our lives just to grow up to be disappointed with ourselves. I didn’t spend thousands of hours alone honing my craft to have someone off-handedly tell me that I needed to be able to promote myself better. That I needed a more corporate sound in my music. A more marketable message with my writing. We have become a culture of critics in the worst sense. We all have an opinion about the apparent failure of some peers and a ready excuse for the dizzying success of others.
I’m not saying that we should all be rock stars. I’m not saying that anything should change. And some of my failures, and the failures of others, have everything to do with a half ass effort. But I think we would all be better served to spend a lot more time consuming the creativity of those around us. We are all Indie artists. And there’s no reason to try to break each other down because we are at the bottom of the ladder. Can you make me sing? Are you afraid to try? Are you afraid of failing over and over again? I know I am.
“You’ll learn to love yourself if you just kill your pride.”
Hell yeah! In idolizing the fantastically successful. In putting aside the creativity to focus on the impossible puzzle of self-promotion, I forget why I wrote anything to begin with. I forget why I love music so much. Music made me want to live when there was no other reason for me to live. It’s the connection to creativity. The connection we have with life. The connection we have to our children’s passion for living and growing up with hope. For learning and teaching. For being able to articulate what is going on with us in such a way that…
“I’ll make you sing.”
That I make you sing.
The Kinks are one of those bands that I could sit around all night fighting with myself about which song to write about. It kills me in a way. Because when I look at the reams of music that they have in my head, I wonder how it is that it has been at least 20 years since I owned anything by The Kinks. It’s like 30 years of music that has some enormous influence on who I am. Which song do you choose out of all of that?
“They put a parking lot on a piece of land.”
I can remember about a dozen stories before I moved from NJ when I was 12 that involved a Kinks song. And for some reason I remember very clearly a girl in 7th grade that used to sing Destroyer all of the time. The late 70′s hard rock era of The Kinks was how I first got to know The Kinks. It seems unfathomable now to think that I hardly knew anything about The Kinks before Give the People What They Want. And how the hell does a band stay so relevant and obscure at the same time?
“Where the supermarket used to stand.”
There are all of these Kinks songs that were popular in the 60′s. Then they were covered by bands in the 70′s and the performances were so iconic that these are the performances we remember like You Really Got Me when Van Halen covered it. And it’s funny because I was just sort of drifting toward sleep a little while ago. My brain started toying with what I was going to write about and Come Dancing just popped into my head.
“Before that they put up a bowling alley.”
Now here’s what really got me writing about this song from this perspective. You Really Got Me came out in 1964. In 1978, Van Halen did their cover version. In 1983 at 13 years old, I had no idea that You Really Got Me was written 20 years earlier. I thought it was a Van Halen song. So sometime in 1983 I was living in Houston and bought State of Confusion with Destroyer in mind. I was surprised at its lack of hard rock edge, but I was into it anyway. And I played Come Dancing over and over again. The video machine wasn’t as polished in the early 80′s, so I didn’t see the video for months. It took me a few more years to make the connection between the string of 60′s hits and The Kinks of the 80′s and the Van Halen version of You Really Got Me.
“On the site that used to be the local Pally.”
And why was Come Dancing carving a place out in my head? I wondered at this even then. I was really into a fantasy life at the time being that my connection with the real world was intensely depressing. I couldn’t connect to anything or anyone in any meaningful way. But I had no connection to the nostalgia that he was singing about. I didn’t even like dancing. And I remember wondering how he had any connection to what seemed like 50′s bands. Certainly he wasn’t that old.
“That’s where the big bands used to come and play.”
And thinking about that now makes me nostalgic and seems kind of funny in a normal way. I loved The Kinks and thought of them as somehow relevant to my time as a teenager. Like Van Halen and The Kinks were the same age. And maybe that’s something that I forget a lot of the time when I am telling stories about my misspent or misguided youth. Some of the events were significant and sometimes disturbing in an adult way. But I was a child. Sometimes I forget that about myself. And this song makes me nostalgic for that.
“My sister went there on a Saturday.”
I love Ray Davies vocal style with a talking sing song approach and how it differed from other songs. For some reason on State of Confusion, his British accent was apparent on every song. His singing on so many earlier albums is actually singing and not a styling that often uses spoken word, so you can’t really hear the accent. But it seems intentional along with so many other things that The Kinks changed over and over again. The guitar sounds are so updated on State of Confusion, but that could be heard from album to album throughout their career. And then there’s this keyboard carrying the main hook, and the horns in the bridge. Obviously nostalgic for a simpler time in their own lives and a sister they missed. I think we all forget sometimes that we were children.
And maybe with so much to prove as adults we forget about the simplicity of the song. So concerned with the deeper significance of everything. And this isn’t altogether new for me. I needed songs like this at 13 years old to remind me that I needed to slow down. Sometimes the deeper significance is the simplicity itself. Sometimes it’s good to dance even when you generally don’t like to dance. Sometimes it’s good to refuse to worry even when there’s something to worry about.
“That’s how they did it when I was just a kid.”
Tomorrow is another day with a whole new list of problems.
“And when they said come dancing.”
Iggy’s sister dancing away in the womb. I guess we are all going to come dancing. Because you are rolling away in there. Hang on little Lucy. Hang on.
“My sister always did.”
Sometimes I might get caught up in my loftier goals with this blog. I have a very important point I am trying to make. I am actually being very anti-corporate and trying to make a pretty extended academic point about the ignorance in academia about Indie media and it’s importance. In the larger scheme of my approach to this, I don’t care if I make those points. I am really trying my best to give my very best appreciation of the artist. A work of art derived from the original work of art.
“People put pictures of places in frames.”
But right now, the side project of documenting some sort of anecdotal memoir is being sidetracked by the very large distraction of my wife being in the hospital. So the first thing I think about when I am trying to write about something is that my wife is in the hospital. It’s a little too relaxed to be sitting around with some kind of smug bull shit about “I remember when…” Great Larry. Maybe I can subscribe to your newsletter.
“I remember someone’s face but then I forget their names.”
So then there is this idea, and I should continue it, because truthfully I feel like it is that important. Maybe not for it’s original intention, but maybe for the idea that I seem to be reaching people. And maybe the first person that I seem to be reaching is me. I really believe in what I am doing for the first time in a very long time. Maybe for the first time in my life.
“I have a book for writing down who I meet and where I’m going to,”
And it may be that I am reaching one other person that it is critical to reach. My wife. She is in a hospital bed and completely isolated from the daily life that brings her comfort. From any feeling of connection and viability in her own family. The discussion of the daily difficulty of life is too stressful for her right now. She has to be quiet and meditative. Pulling energy and calm from the spiritual. Her quest has me as close as I get to not being an atheist. Without being able to discuss the daily stations of the cross, we are left with each other’s presence as comfort. But since I have so much to take care of to continue our daily lives, proximity is limited. The only way I can reach her is by creating.
“but my home is nowhere without you.”
I was a little hesitant to allow myself to like Herman Dune. And I have a problem. If I can’t write a dissertation or engage in a ranting monologue about why I think something is important, then I can’t really like it very much. So I was toying with the idea of continuing to listen to this music and never writing about it. But then it occurred to me that there is something very important happening here. Herman Dune is offering up a simplified style that gets deeper with each repetition. There’s this quality production style. And this laid back beach bum sound. And a strange French accent.
“There is nowhere like the ocean to breathe.”
David Ivar is a vocal stylist. It almost sounds like a way of saying, “The guy can’t sing but I like his music anyway.” But really there is something a little more complex to his rambling style than just a bizarre voice. It’s a really accessible metaphor for a deeper spiritual simplicity. I am not going to get into a whole lecture about other examples of vocal stylists. But there are plenty. And comparing them with David Ivar is going to cause an argument with myself. So I’m just going to have to agree to disagree with me.
“And the world is wonderful as it is.”
And on some level he reminds me of Jacob Holdt in the idea that he seems to be holding up a mirror as his only commentary. This sort of leaves a blank page where he should be. And just as I was about to dismiss him completely, I found My Home Is Nowhere Without You. It’s like he’s doing Tarot readings. He repeatedly offers the same cards in the deck. It’s almost a joke. We expect the fool. He appears to be offering what we expect. Then you look closer and it’s actually the hierophant. A hierophant styled as a fool with a mask on the back of his head. Suddenly there is a candid challenge to explain myself. Who are we and what is happening to us now?
“Now I might try to settle down on some beach in Malibu,”
And the action of time is being held at bay – the blacks and whites of negative space. I am a bolt of energy in a cross dimensional melodrama. The only importance in the narrative is my own emphasis. The tension hovers and breaks apart in an Ambien haze. The messages reach me from across the distance between us in the middle of the night. They are incomprehensible and completely clear at the same time. The hours of the night will inch toward dawn, and Herman Dune has thrown the dice into the future and the fool has returned with a reassuring answer that only the hierophant can interpret. Only time will tell.
“but my home is nowhere without you.”
And somehow this is all so necessary. There needed to be some ritual that ushered in a new era. An era in which Lucy could exist. Nothing could possibly be the same from this point forward. And we will climb the mountain and dance around the fire to prepare the way. To answer the call of the spirits. With all of the irony of the fool and the gravity of the hierophant we open our eyes in a liquid dreamworld and find the wide eyes of the hermit staring back at us.
“My home is nowhere without you.”
Herman Dune keeps throwing those cards at me.
There are miles and miles of concrete in Houston.
“It was a moment for the books.”
And while I just discovered Little Hands of Asphalt the other day, I was searching for a story in the past to write about. And I wondered why it was Oslo that was so gripping to me. It’s such an intimate story about a small city. I racked my brain for something to relate to the song out of Albuquerque. Some synonymous elements and regional contrasts and a clever spin on the story. Meanwhile I’m driving nearly 100 miles every day.
“The calendar looked”
My wife is in the hospital. The doctors are trying to keep her from giving birth early. No stone will be left unturned toward this end. It is a noble cause, but there are hospitals and shift nurses. A 6 year old in Kindergarten. Family and friends that need status updates. Errands to run. Homework to be done. Lives to be lived. After school programs to register for. Ash Wednesday to acknowledge.
“just like the novels we had only skimmed through.”
Daily rituals to adjust. Spirits to assuage. And all of this driving to be done. Space and time to massage until it’s putty in my hands. This is a story as important as any in my life. I am the reporter. Here is my live feed. And somehow a sentimental song about a small town is the soundtrack for the leap into light speed my life has taken. Somehow it seems appropriate. With all of this chaos, an environment of stillness has to be maintained. Lucy is after all, a baby.
“So I circled out the dates that I’ll skillfully waste.”
And I was searching and searching for the story that would bring this song home for me. Some clever segue into an existential experience. When I realized that I am here having a human experience right now. And there is nothing that has come as close to seeing into my heart as it is right now than Oslo.
“For now that’s going to have to do.”
And the miles of concrete become just sidewalks in a small town that I happen to be traversing at an enormous city pace. And thinking of how many experiences get us here. So many bridges that I thought were burnt.
“It was the brightest summer day, after we swam into the lake,”
In the past month, online social networking has brought all of these segments of my life back together. From elementary school to junior high to high school. All of these personas that I have presented throughout my life must be resolved. Maybe something I haven’t wanted to do. Maybe something I need to do before my daughter is born.
“that you told me our luck is gonna end.”
And the backdrop of this is a world in chaos. War, economic collapse, corruption, partisanship… People are angry beyond description. My existential tendencies might get me wondering why we are bringing another child into this world, but our personal circumstances won’t allow this. Our little crisis is the center of our world. Our love for each other in our corner of this troubled world trumps any global concerns. I’m going to have to plug back in later to see what happened out there.
“So we better be concerned. We’re where the subway turns.”
And then some part of me has to know. I have to have one foot in each concern. I have to provide, so I start a big job next week. My miles traverse the chasm between these worlds. There is electricity to deliver. Natural resources to plunder. Negotiations to extend. Somehow we must reach a truce by 5 o’clock. Live to fight another day. Then I cover another 50 miles making sure to transition my emotional state to one of caring parent and compassionate spouse.
“We need a camera and some cash to spend.”
And this baby delivered from the sea. Her brother delivered to the trees. The ashes of his prayers on our foreheads. We wait another day and experience the tiny miracle that is our love and peril. The phone calls from the concerned. The generosity of the able. And still show up to put ourselves down for the evening and nourish our souls. Each day a phenomenon in giving and a lesson in receiving.
“And our picturesque blame, we’ll put in Ikea frames.”
Somehow we will bundle the experience in some cohesive narrative that we can recall at dinner parties into the future. That I can somehow fit into a few hundred words in a blog. But each mile is a an experience. And this enormous city gets smaller and smaller each time I drive down its gaping freeways. The arteries pushing me like a blood cell with a payload of oxygen. Breathe in, I am home. Breathe out, I am in Fulshear. Breathe in, I am in the medical center. Breathe out, my son’s elementary school. The church. The freeway. Clear Lake. The grocery store.
“Up on the wall it looks profound.”
Little Hands of Asphalt is a new discovery for me. With a conversational style and a sentimental approach, this is some very thoughtful music. With impressive instrumental performances and measured vocals, all of their songs are so intimate and reach beyond their simple themes. Spit Back at the Rain is their EP that I have been listening to for a while, but Oslo is on a compilation from the Oslo, Norway Indie music scene called Oslo! And somehow the song has wormed its way into my present circumstances. Such a compassionate approach to the human condition. And a reminder to me to stay calm. I present the compassionate persona. I give the gifts of the magi. The scents of a king. The trappings of a queen. Hope is all we have. And the freeway gives and receives.
“and reminds us Oslo is a small, small town.”
Yeah Houston is a small, small town. Breathe…
My freshman year in high school, I had this advanced English class with a wonderful teacher. And I sat next to a girl named April. There really wasn’t anyone else in the class that either one of us could relate to. We were too smart for our cool friends and too cool for the smart kids in the class. It was so nice to have her there every day. I really have to say that I would not have gone to as many days of high school as I did if it had not been for her. I didn’t have anyone else in my life that reflected who I was. I don’t know if I had ever had anyone to provide this reflection in my life.
“Measuring a summer’s day.”
We never talked about music. We usually talked about books we had read. Considering that none of our cool friends read books and none of our geeky friends were interested in the books we read, we had a lot of ground to cover on this subject. But one day I saw her with Hammer of the Gods which is just a trashy gossip book about Led Zeppelin set chronologically. I asked her about it having only seen the title and not knowing that the book existed. She explained what it was and was sort of in awe about it. I was surprised that she was a Led Zeppelin fan. I was a nut job for Led Zeppelin. I have owned every one of the released records on cassette. Playing them so much that they wore out and snapped. I started playing guitar because of Led Zeppelin.
“I only find it slips away to gray.”
She had this amazing face with really defined cheekbones and red hair. I believe her eyes were blue but I could be wrong. She would draw all of these fashion pictures and wanted to be a fashion designer. Most of the faces looked like hers. The drawings were amazing. And I was always excited to see anything she drew.
“The hours they bring me pain.”
I feel that one of my rules about writing this blog is kind of unfair. The rule about only one song per artist. It’s my rule and I’m going to stick with it, but how do I choose one Led Zeppelin song. I know this might even come off as ridiculously uncool with as much street cred as I keep brandishing with my punk rock experience and my Indie music dedication. But it’s just the truth. I was just so into Led Zeppelin for so much of my childhood. So this entry might be dense. In fact, I was still really into Led Zeppelin when I was really into punk music. It was kind of sacriledge in both circles. You didn’t admit to the punks that you liked LZ, and you didn’t admit to the LZ people that you liked punk. Just another one of those dumb teenage clique rules.
I remember the day I heard Led Zeppelin IV for the first time. My brother had a new stereo. He might have had LZ IV for a while, but I remember when it broke into my consciousness. I was probably about 9 years old. I can see my brother starting the record. The automatic arm on the record player moving to the first song on the record. I can hear the static crackle as the stylus touched the record for the first time. And the opening Jimmy Paige softly on the distorted guitar. Then Robert Plant singing the opening line of Black Dog. Then the snarl of round mid range guitar and heavy bottom end explosions. My life changed. I don’t care what the hell anyone thinks. It was a life changing experience for me.
I didn’t do anything the same after that. I had a whole new soundtrack in my brain. I have always had a really good memory for sound. And I have a constant soundtrack in my head. A lot of it is stuff I have written. Then there is the writing process itself. Just making up sounds in my head and listening to the music. After listening to LZ IV over and over I had to find something else. Led Zeppeling III was next. LZ III is in general rotation in my head. Daily events can trigger parts of LZ III songs. The album is pretty obscure as far as LZ goes, and as far as their hits go, Gallows Pole and The Immigrant Song are some of their more obscure singles. And Tangerine is just out of character for even their other folk rock songs.
And whenever I hear Tangerine, I think of April. What a revelation it is to be so far removed from connecting with another human in this world, and then to find someone you can have a regular conversation with. I couldn’t even have a conversation about things that were important to me with anyone in my family. Truly, I believe they actually cared and still do care about me, but my thought process is just different. Perhaps different from most people. Really I have a whole existential mythology built up around Led Zeppelin III. If you think it’s weird that I can write 1000 words about a 3 minute song. Let me tell you that this is rushed. Given a week or two, I could probably write a book or two about Led Zeppelin III. This is one of the most important and understated records of the 20th century. And yes, I’m a freakin’ nutcase.
“Thinking of how it used to be.”
And so much of youth is rushed. I think we forget about the idea that we are only alive once. So much pressure to succeed. So much pressure to have a plan. To be moving from one thing to the next. So much of what is beautiful about life just moving on by in a blur. In most cases, the things we thought we were after are unsatisfying or we never attained the level of success we desired. Then it’s like looking through a telescope across the universe to try to capture some of the light of an event that happened ages ago asking ourselves how much we missed.
“Does she still remember times like these?”
I thought too much about the outcomes of any risk. I paralyzed myself with fear of making the wrong choice. The product of too much thought. Perhaps I still think too much. If I can get a book out of LZ III, I’m sure I do think too much. But I really can see so clearly how afraid I was of doing the wrong thing. But then I would just do the stupidest things in the world. Like develop a meth habit. April was so patient with my drugged out ramblings. Perhaps she was impressed, but I’m sure it was just annoying after awhile. Especially the class trip to the Museum of Fine Arts where I wandered around with her in a drugged out haze. But the biggest casualty of my drug habit was that it never let our friendship progress. I know now that I just didn’t want anyone in the way, but I made all kinds of hurtful excuses. What an asshole!
“And I do.”
Tangerine is a song that touches on regret. It is so lyrically sparse. And I have often thought that it was an afterthought. Some filler on a record that Jimmy Paige had left over from The Yardbirds. Perhaps it was. Perhaps its nostalgia and its emotional significance built up over the time between writing and recording it for release. But I can’t imagine anyone else singing it. That’s the beauty of an LZ song. Every part of it is essentially only a result of those present at the time of its recording. It may have been an older Jimmy Paige composition, but it’s a Led Zeppelin song. Iconic and yes, dated. So much of the sound that they helped create is iconic for its time, and the over-commercialization of that sound has taken a lot of the edge off of it making the sound impersonal. But the concepts are so intimate and sparse. And what’s so exciting to me as a teenager is how much is unsaid.
It always surprises me that more discussion isn’t generated about songs like this. These are essential human emotions. Chinese characters tend to have deeper significance than their literal Western translations. For instance, you could write a book in English about the character for sky. And I tend to think of music like this. There is so much waiting to be explored here. But it’s significance rushes past in a blur of current events. And then one day we find ourselves looking through a telescope at even the art that defined our time trying to determine its significance in our psyche. We seem to only find the art of other times significant. We miss all of the art right under our own noses in our own lives.
And April is as significant a person as has ever been in my life. Making possible the type of things that are possible in my life right now with my family. It’s funny how some things end up resembling other times and circumstances. And I have basically recreated that friendship over and over again.
“Living reflections from a dream.”
I have this type of friendship with my wife. We make up entire mythologies around nothing. Sort of evolving jokes and narratives that are blatantly farcicle. We have restless minds. And we overcome the monotony of daily life with a constant mutation of reality. The real hurdles in life are met with complex mythology and adaptations of cultural rituals.
“I was her love she was my queen.”
And it’s almost like Led Zeppelin is completely lost to me. I don’t sit around listening to Led Zeppelin records. They are just a piece of who I am. Although there is one story of how my son, Iggy, had to sit in the car seat a lot as an infant. He would get sick of it and throw a fit. But we could count on Ramble On from LZ II to put him to sleep every single time.
But it’s funny how one mythology derives from another. How significant and poignant certain events can be. How tangible and graphic a memory can be. I am here and there at the same time. I sometimes wonder how a conversation would go between us as adults. If it would be just one of those dumb uncomfortable conversations that you hoped would go much better. Who knows?
“And now a thousand years between.”
Written by Burt Bachrach with lyrics by Hal David.
Most of the time I have some story to tell centered around a song. But in this case, it’s just a bunch of impressions. I discovered this song through a girlfriend. I actually bought her a CD of Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits or something like that. I can’t remember how I knew that it would be a good gift, but before I bought the CD, I had no idea how much of my creative voice and my music consciousness were due to Dionne Warwick and Burt Bachrach.
“If you see me walking down the street,”
It’s cold and it’s November, and I have to work. The cold humidity seers through my jacket. The two cups of coffee warm my hands. The street is wet and dirty. The foot traffic is picking up. Everyone has their heads down. The sky is gray. I’m waiting on the corner of Commonwealth and Berkeley for the light to change. I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing, but it makes sense right now.
“and I start to cry each time we meet.”
I’m driving around the 610 loop in Houston. It’s one of the cold months. It’s around 3am. This is my third time around the loop. I don’t know why I’m doing this, but it feels right.
“Walk on by, walk on by.”
There’s a big window in the living room and it looks out over Commonwealth Avenue. It’s drizzling. The street is shiny in the street lights. The light on top of the Old Hancock tower is blinking red. I wonder about the architecture of the Prudential building. It’s very late and I’m tying my shoes. I’m going for a walk.
There’s a certain sadness to Walk on By that isn’t reached by other pop break up songs. And it’s the imagery that I’m left with. The impressions are always so solitary. It’s like there’s nothing else. And there is something in a big break up that is like this. A life completely centered around another person. All of the plans of a day and all thoughts of the future around this one person. And then we are supposed to become strangers. It’s tough on either side of a breakup like that.
“I just can’t get over losing you.”
And most of the time a breakup song is overly sentimental with declarations of independence meant to inspire and overcome. The solid reality of a breakup, the part where the only reason you talk to people about it is to fill the space in between the silence. The conversations that don’t really help anything. These are the moments represented here.
“So if I seem broken and blue.”
And maybe I’m just avoiding being specific because it seems so irrelevant and unreachable. And there’s something about this that is very specific. The arrangement only says what it has to say. And Dionne Warwick takes over the space with an understated performance. There is so much in the way of vocal acrobatics in new vocal divas. And I think most of the time this doesn’t serve the song or the vocal performance. Dionne Warwick sings this song and it lands right on my chest and works it’s way in. Many people did this song after her. And for some reason, she re-recorded the song several times as well.
But none of these performances matches this original 1964 recording. She’s very clean and understated with very little self serving vocal styling. I mean she’s Dionne Warwick, but in 1964, she wasn’t Dionne Warwick. She was a rising star with a lot to prove. I’m sure there was a lot of feedback from the other legends in the studio about just singing the song without a lot of ornamental phrasing, but that’s so hard to stick with. It’s some of the hardest advice to take everywhere in life. It’s such a temptation to attempt something extraordinary with every breath. Just sing the song.
“Foolish pride, that’s all that I have left.”
There’s the stark reality of a breakup song. The part of the breakup you don’t want to remember. The part your consciousness blocks out. The part where you wonder why you did it. It’s the part of a breakup you spend 700 words avoiding talking about because it’s too intense. No one wants to remember what that actually feels like. It’s not a Sex in the City episode where the pain is all wrapped up by the end of lunch, and we are planning our next encounter by the last 5 minutes. It’s the pain that makes the human race gravitate toward monogamy.
“So let me hide the tears and sadness you gave me…”
And then there’s this very subtle touch with the last time she hits this at the end. Just a hint of how much control she actually has.
“When you said goodbye.”
My final impression is the pictures left afterward. There are always fewer pictures than you remember there being. You can find one or two, but they don’t seem to say what you want them to say. You can’t reach what you know was there from the images. There’s never any real evidence of what the relationship meant at the time. And if you look at pictures like this for too long, it will make you crazy.
It’s a cruel song. Just crushed, missing and spent.
So I have known for a couple days what I would write about this song. And today it seems even so much more relevant than it did when I first had the thought. But now I think it’s important to relate how that happened. And to say that my wife is in the hospital right now because our daughter wants to be born early. So she is literally going to be in the hospital until our daughter is born. That might be weeks.
So about two weeks ago my wife sent me a link to this song. As soon as I heard the opening, I knew it was from Little Miss Sunshine and I knew I had to write about it. Obviously she knows me well enough to know that I would have to write about something like this. But I didn’t know what that might be. I just knew I had to. But two days later I was driving down the freeway, and as I listed to this song, this scene popped into my head. The scene from the movie where they are all running after the van that they just push started. I started crying. It just welled up out of me, and it was very surprising.
In 2003, when Iggy was born, we had a CD in the stereo of our car from Interpol. The song was the ’200 couches’ song and it became the soundtrack for Iggy’s birth. And there was a lot of relevance to what this meant to us. Iggy was born in the light from his planet in the obscure but poignant relevance of an Interpol song.
This last week, I took Justine to an appointment with the perinatal specialist and I played this for her. Before we got 30 second into the music, she started crying the same way that I had. Just a surprising well of sobs pushing out of her chest. She said that it was just as powerful as the Interpol song. That she wanted to listen to it on the way to give birth to Lucy. It didn’t occur to me to play the CD as we drove to the hospital just now, but she isn’t giving birth yet. She’s still incubating. She’s just on bedrest in the hospital now. And maybe she can listen to it online while reading this because she’s going to be there for a while. Because there’s something that feels so relevant to this birth. To Lucy’s anticipated arrival on this planet.
For so much of our lives, we are presented with lofty ideals and impossible aspirations. The world is filled with greatness. Or so it would seem. Men putting their boot prints on the moon. Prodigal musicians playing parts that only they can play. Politicians uniting people who only a day before seemed completely opposed to each other’s existence. Men and women of all races doing incredible things for the first. time. Discovering things that no one ever thought were possible. It would seem we have only to look to the sky to find an ambitious path to greatness laid out before us. It is only to be dreamed.
The reality of each day is so much different from this, and it makes me think a lot of the time that our best laid plans lead to far too much disappointment. Our aspirations are so beautiful. But our failures are so private and catastrophic. And really even the burden of greatness that we put on the truly great is too enormous even for an exceptional human being. We carry our own burdens in our dreams. Especially when the greatest thing we do on a daily basis is get out of bed.
It would seem to me, and this is what I am getting to as the essential emotion in this song, that for most of our lives, the drudgery is the average. The soul searching. The private struggles with mountains of inanity and cruel helplessness. And when we show ourselves all of this greatness, it feels like it should just be possible every day. Like we should just be able to pop out of bed every day and fly to the moon and plant our flag.
But there are 6 billion of us alive at any one time. All of our aspirations of flying to the moon are manifested in the dozen or so people who have actually done this. I’m not saying that we all aspire to this one feat. But I think we all aspire to some ideal that may or may not be possible. And I think that it’s not necessarily our fault that we do or don’t accomplish this. And I’m sure that it’s not our fault that we blame ourselves for not being able to achieve everything we set out to do.
I don’t know what it is about this piece that does all of this for me. I seems like it’s climbing toward something and falling down. But the attempt at scaling whatever harmonies are available with the adjusted melody is not interrupted by contemplation. They don’t even dust that melody off. They just toss it right back on the rhythm of the ostinado and ride it. We can reach that amazing place in the sun with the strings and the wind in our hair. The whole piece aspires to so much but is so close to our suffering. It’s down in the mud and up on the mountaintop at the same time. Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa use the instrumentation perfectly. The conversation that happens is so defined and contrasted. So freely giving room to what needs to be said.
But for some reason the sobs that welled up out of my chest when I listened to this song in the car that day had everything to do with finally being okay with not being great. Iggy and Lucy, I am not a great man. But I am a man. And I have lived in a time that is my time. And for a large majority of the 6 billion of us that are alive in our time, the most amazing thing we do in our lifetimes are like running to get in a van that shouldn’t be running to begin with. That we live in a house that shouldn’t be standing. That our house of cards doesn’t collapse when it rains. That we make it through the night when it rains and the wind blows. That we have extra food to give to our neighbors. That we are witnesses to other people’s tragedies. That we are witnesses to our own tragedies. That we raise and love our children and have compassion for one another. That this life happens at all is a miracle. And nothing is to be taken lightly. It’s a proud and beautiful thing to be a human being. And none of us agree on everything. And our wars and disagreements and threats are sad and unfortunate. And sometimes it feels like it’s not worth it to run and jump in that broken ass car but it’s an indescribable miracle and there is nothing more noble and worthwhile than getting up and trying again.
We are the sum of our attempts. Not the product of our accomplishments. It doesn’t mean you get a trophy in the end. It might just mean a lot of heartache. And this is important to note and the heart of everything that I am trying to say. Even the great aren’t great. Any great accomplishment is the sum of all of our attempts. We acknowledge the individual effort only because of the mountain of definitions that help us understand that a particular effort is noteworthy. And when I see my son in the morning or think of my future daughter and all of the effort that goes into making a single day happen. I think that is noteworthy. We are small. But our spirit is infinite and we stand together on this little ball of dirt and look to the sky. And everything is ours. All of it…
So I have been getting really worried about this blog. Did I bite off more than I can chew? How long can I keep up this type of creativity? What did I do to myself? I feel like I am writing into a pit. The feedback I get feels polite and dismissive even when I can tell it’s sincere and effusive. I really couldn’t ask for more. I am not fishing for compliments. I am just finding the breaking point where I always quit. The place where I get too paranoid to continue with whatever line of creativity I have begun. I start to feel obligated to giving up something for nothing when as recently as yesterday I couldn’t believe that I was doing something I loved this much. It’s all a tired and exhausting argument about circumstances that don’t exist.
“This is not the time. The time to start a new love.”
This is not the time to start a new blog. The song almost makes me anxious. I like it a lot. And I understand it’s perspective. Perhaps a little too well. It’s about the burden of communication under the astrological idiom of Mercury being in ‘retrograde’. An overall time of pitfalls in communication. But there is this overall frenetic energy around miscommunication and anxiety in the song. A perpetual state of misunderstanding and fear of misunderstanding.
“This is not the time. The time to sign a lease.”
I feel like I have gotten away from the original intent which was to express an appreciation for the music. In trying to express that I really appreciate the efforts of the artists with a derived artistic expression of my own, I feel like I have marginalized the actual music in my writing. I have gone from being generous to being selfish. Then full circle to completely self-centered. My blog has re-arrived at my efforts at trying to be cool.
“Trying not to worry about what’s forgotten.”
I stand tortured by my second guessing. Am I doing anything? Is it right to do what I am doing? Is anyone reading? Does it matter? Am I still enjoying what I am doing? Is it important to be enjoying what I am doing? Is it more important that I am just creating again? Is the rich vein that I tapped in the beginning tapped out? Do I have anything left in me?
“Trying not worry about what’s being missed.”
I have to think that it’s okay to be doing this. That I am doing more than serving my own ego. I know more than ever tonight that I am doing the right thing because of how uncomfortable listening to and writing about this song is making me. I have been listening to the song all week. And it has been stuck in my head. But when I think about writing about the song, I want to turn it off. And that’s the nature of what I am talking about.
“Scars on my shins and scars on my knuckles.”
There is this terrible fight going on inside of me because I am reaching beyond my comfort zone. I could just do what I had been doing before two months ago. Get home from work. Hang out with the family while polishing off most of a bottle of wine and putting the kid through the motions to go to sleep. Spending the better part of the latter half of the evening half drunk and watching sitcoms.
“I’m sitting in SOHO trying to stay drunk.”
This is the point where the defiance comes in. That terrific low end synthesizer in the choruses with this fabulously anxious and violent response to an internal struggle.
“Mercury’s in retrograde.”
Then that crazy bridge with a bunch of chromatic counterpoint and atonal harmonies. I have no bearing. I just write again. I defy the definition of the end with my means. I won’t let the end obstruct my means anymore. I won’t lose sight of the end with my means. And the end isn’t in sight. And it’s never out of my sight. It’s just a crazy frenetic loop starting over and over again. Which side will win. My fingers keep typing. I keep looking for the next song to write about. The next mythology to drive my passion.
“Bleeding gums and veins protruding.”
I have such a physical response to this song. On the one hand I want to dance. Then I want to run. Then I want to flounder for the off button like I am pushing the snooze button on the alarm.
“You’re starting to hate all of your clothes.”
Then when I remove the song from my immediate center of noise, it returns to my mental rotation. For as little time as I have been exposed to it, this song has made the general playlist pretty quickly. There are a lot of Bloc Party songs that I like and their early stuff kept making me think that they were an old band from the late 80′s or early 90′s, but they are 00′s. In some way, it’s the dedication to their sound that makes me think of them as an older band. They have something essential about them that is missing from a lot of new pop music in general. That’s something missing in general from pop culture right now. They sound bigger than their time. It doesn’t even feel like a compliment from me, because it just feels like an observation. I spend a lot of time listening to new music and trying to like it. I believe I have caught myself in every instance when I was about to write about something that I was trying to like. But I don’t think I even have to catch myself. I just can’t write about it.
“When I saw you last night, I wanted to say…”
What did I want to say? What is it I was trying to say? Did I say it? Did I move you? Do you exist out there? Does anyone read this thing? Are you more than a bunch of numbers in a mess of site statistics?
“‘Run away with me, away from these cynics.’”
But Bloc Party is maybe too big for their time. I hope that’s not true. I hope that their essential nature isn’t too big of a body of work for our dime store culture. I hope I don’t have too much to say. I hope I am not putting too much out there. I hope that my words add to something. That I am creating a voice worth hearing. My voice resonating low and constant in the din of corporate cynicism and pandering ephemera. I could easily dispose of myself in the heap of 5 minute pop nostalgia. It’s terrifying that I could just stop. That I could leave myself hanging.
“That this could be the start of something truly real.”
There’s an art scene story that goes like this: I run into a guy and he’s got a great project going on. He talks for two hours about it. He’s so excited I want to jump out of my seat and run to his studio and make coffee for him. We exchange numbers for the billionth time. He doesn’t return any phone calls. Three weeks later I run into him at a coffee shop and ask about the project. “Ahhhh man. That fell through. But I’ve got this other deal going on. It’s fucking hot.”
“But all that I could say was, ‘Hey.’”
Insomnia is not just a night that you can’t get to sleep. It’s a period of time that you can’t get to sleep. Like days. Or weeks. Or years. You still feel tired, but you just can’t sleep. When insomnia goes on long enough, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between sleeping and waking life. Everything occurs like a dream and sinks into the experience of memory as reality. So you could be at work and feel like you are dreaming. Or you could be asleep and feel like the dream is actually happening. Then remembering the dream as if it actually happened.
“You are the treacle in my pie.”
My first real bout with insomnia came when I was about 10 years old. At least the first one I can remember. The first few days I remember staring at the door as usual. But sleep never came. Failed starts at sleep built over the first week until I was crying in frustration. By the end of the second week, I was punching myself in the head.
“You are the splinter in my eye.”
I didn’t tell anyone about this because it doesn’t occur to a 10 year old to talk about problems with sleep. The most frustrating part of my insomnia is that I become uncontrollably sleepy right at dawn. Unfortunately, this is when the world insists on getting up. So right at the point where I am able to sleep, my opportunity for sleep is over. I have to get up with everyone else and flounder through my day. The edges of some other dream world barely visible in the corner of my eye all day long.
“You make the ice melt. The butter run.”
I had to conceive a mythology around my daily visions and glimpses of an alternate reality. I am convinced that it is always there. That we see it all right in front of us. But we train ourselves not to. It’s very much like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Much of life is an ethereal world with simple answers to plaguing problems easily within our grasp and largely and purposefully ignored and avoided.
“You are the ink stain. You are the one.”
And the biggest problem and the most enchanting part of living on the edge of this dreamworld is that time doesn’t function normally. My linear grasp on my own history is loose. I experience things out of order. And in order. I don’t know whether I have a premonition that it will happen or that it already happened or that it is happening right now. At the same time it’s a game I play with myself. I shouldn’t ever be taken too seriously where sleep is concerned. Sometimes I am unresponsive and it looks like I am asleep. But I am fully in my environment. Enjoying being awake has opened me up to the possibility that I am actually asleep which makes me feel more rested.
“I am the local. I am express.”
So in a dream and a reality occurring over the period of about 25 years, I met a girl. I had a conversation on the phone with her after our first date. We lit a candle together. Crazy saint candles from Fiesta. Mine was St. Michael. I have always felt reassured by the Archangel Michael with his glittering sword and his foot on the head of a demon. There is always a crossover as the sleep slips away. Who knows what is real.
“I am a tourist in a summer dress.”
But in this conversation she said that it was time for sleep. I told her that I couldn’t sleep. She said that she loved sleep. Like it was big fat pink baby. “Sleep is like candy.” And suddenly I was tired like I hadn’t ever been tired before. We ended our conversation. I slept like Adam and Eve experiencing sin for the first time. Tiredness washed over me like warm water. My dream world disappeared in a foggy misshapen cloud of real sleep. This sleep was like a new dimension between two worlds that I had made my home.
“I am the night nurse. I am the most.”
And now I always have periods of time that are like power sleep zones. In the early evening, I can lay down any time and have 45 minutes of the most refreshing and perfect sleep. It’s like a new ripple in an ever unfolding intersection of alternate realities. Since time is almost irrelevant, I remembered this mechanism into every other period of sleeplessness and the additional sleep corrected sequences and improved my handling of difficult situations. This resulted in a more well-adjusted now.
“I am the visitor, you are the host.”
The more well-adjusted me married that girl. And before that reality, I could never sleep with another person in the same building being awake. I would listen to them breathe on the other side of the house. I would listen to upstairs neighbors talking softly in their living rooms. Now as long as she is the one awake, most of the time I can still sleep. But I can also remember her in the room if she isn’t there. And this changes everything. Like Michael standing watch at the door of time.
“My lips are lipped.”
Dean and Britta are the candy of sleep. Easily digested and hard to harm. They have this way of slipping inside of me easily like they were there all along. Like a Burt Bachrach tune. How do you know the first time you heard it? At the first listening of a Dean and Britta song, I am humming along like I’ve been listening to it for decades. And I have a real affection that I have developed for them. Their intimacy so candid and thorough. Like I’ve known them for a long time. And maybe I have. Slipping between here and now. Between then and there.
“My lid is flipped.”
Their music is like the feeling right before you fall asleep. The place that I have spent so much of my time. On a wheel finding different perspectives on consciousness and motivation. Deprivation and fulfillment. Observing all of the metaphors in the in between. The places where it appears nothing is happening until you stare long enough to find something. There is always something new in their music. And it’s laid back enough that its message is flexible. Easily available to whatever dimension I happen to be roaming in any given time. I am here. I am listening to a Dean and Britta song.
“Sleep together in the Milky Way.”
There is some interesting candor in the slow march of time. And the lack of linearity of sleeplessness scoffs at revelation. Progress is always related to time. If it isn’t, then it can’t be measured. So perhaps if time isn’t a factor, all time is awash with light and dark tones and hints of subtlety and marked resilience. And sometimes the senseless march of words ends up like the last five sentences. Running concepts together with no regard for their meaning.
“Sleep forever and a day.”
The only real comfort is that sleep is like candy. And if I had never found sleep, where would I be. Stuck between two worlds. Clutching my belongings to my chest like a homeless man. Stooping under the burden of stupefying exhaustion. I am asleep and awake at the same time. I have 15 more life times. I am somewhere on my way and right next to you. I feel the warm water rise from my feet to my eyelids. I am a color tone in a changing tide.
“Lovely jewels in joy designed.”
Sleep is candy.
“La la la la…”
Mandy broke up with Justin at the prodding of Mark who had just moved out of Justin’s one bedroom apartment that he still shared with Dan who wouldn’t talk to Justin anymore. I had just talked to Justin and told him I would try to come over that night which I fully intended not to do. Justin had gone to a place that was too dark even for all of us. When he finally did use the shotgun on himself, a few hours after I talked to him, Dan was just falling asleep in the next room. Dan heard the sound but couldn’t make himself go into the living room to see what had happened. So he crawled out the window of the first floor apartment. He found a pay phone and called his psychiatrist.
“Aly, walk with me in the summer.”
I found out in the morning when Mark and Mandy woke me up at about 8am. I was sleeping on Darrell’s couch because I didn’t have a place to live. I don’t know how they knew where I was, but I remember their faces as I woke up very clearly. Mandy’s unruly mane of hair and worried smile and Mark’s common expression of indecipherable irony. My first questions were about how Dan was doing, but they assured me that he was okay. I wasn’t surprised in the least. I had fallen asleep knowing that I truly hoped that Justin would get it over with so that we could all get on with our lives.
“Aly, walk with me.”
Of course I felt guilty about hoping for this outcome in the morning. Of course all of us felt guilty in the morning. We all had some culpability in Justin’s emotional state. Justin got all of us didn’t he?
“Aly, walk with me in Portland.”
It’s amazing how far the ego will go to protect itself from admitting its own faults with denial and blame.
“Aly, walk with me.”
There was a lot of time between the act and the funeral. And I know I spent all of that time with Mark and Mandy. But I don’t know how many days that was. But we were never apart. I don’t remember eating or sleeping. I remember a deep feeling of anguish building inside me. I remember talking a lot about other things. I remember half hearted attempts by all of us to try to absolve each other of guilt.
“Aly, walk with me in my dreams.”
I also remember looking at Mandy and wondering where she went. And I also remember clearly answering myself. I didn’t want to know where she went. My guilt was enough. I didn’t want to know how she felt.
“So strange and true.”
As soon as I had these thoughts, I had to know where she was. I caught myself several times, in a quiet room with Mark and Mandy, not talking. I was just staring at Mandy who wasn’t seeing the room. She obviously wasn’t even in the room. I snapped myself out of my revery and turned to Mark. He was also staring at Mandy. He was obviously at the same level of worry. He noticed my attention, and we exchanged an understanding.
“Can I walk with you in Portland?”
This was something outside of either of our experience. And really there was no knowing what to do. We put off making any decisions.
“Walk next to you.”
The funeral was a farce. There were hundreds of people there. And while most of the people knew Justin, most of them had very little experience with being his friend outside of being in the same room with hundred of other people, and one party at Justin’s tiny apartment that was fun but only in the sense that it was concrete evidence of Justin’s mental illness.
“Aly, walk right out of my dreams…”
There was a letter. There’s always a letter. Even if there’s not a letter. I received a copy. Funeral attendees excitedly told me with a smile that I was mentioned extensively in the letter. I held the copy, absently looking at it.
“into my arms.”
The words on the page were not taking shape. The words of the people around me were not taking shape. There were black blotches of ink on the pages of the letter. Some of the blotches were covering words which made it hard to read. Then I realized that this was a copy and the blotches had originally been red.
“Aly, walk with me in the city.”
A man eulogized Justin as a Christian and a decent and generous person who was in the loving arms of God in heaven. I could hear Troy laughing somewhere. I could tell he wasn’t able to control himself. And I knew exactly why he was laughing. I might have had the same problem but I was too tired.
“Aly walk with me.”
The Raveonettes have this knack for evoking very clear imagery. The music. The lyrics. The vocals. I have yet to hear one of their songs that didn’t take me somewhere specific. This song specifically took me to this event. I immediately went to the next song because I didn’t want to think about this. I kept coming back to the song though. There’s a very specific distortion and a very specific clarity. A specific rhythm with a very specific emotional imbalance. They peak through the ether, appearing as darkened and sad angels, to tell your own stories to you for the first time. As if you didn’t know them. And maybe some stories need to be retold.
“Aly, step right out of my head.”
Mark and I could not leave Mandy alone. For days after the funeral we were always with her. She never closed her eyes. I slept and then Mark slept. We talked to each other but Mandy became more and more distant. We knew we had to get on with our lives and stop hiding in Mandy’s childhood room in her mother’s house, but we didn’t know what to do.
“And kiss me goodnight.”
Eventually, Mandy became completely unresponsive. So I started talking to her. Asking her questions. I just kept talking for hours, and I could tell that sometimes I got to her. I stopped talking and Mark kept going. We traded turns at this. We didn’t know what we were doing, but it seemed better than sitting there. Mandy’s mother tried to break into our circle, but we didn’t know how to receive her. We didn’t eat. We were running out of time on some clock that we could only barely perceive.
“Aly, walk with me in my dreams.”
I don’t know what it was that prodded her to speak, but her voice came from far away. “I am waiting for you guys to leave. And then I am going to wait for my mother to go to sleep. Then I’m going to walk down to his apartment and break in. Then I’m going to lay there… And wait for him.”
“All through the night.”
Somehow after this we were able to get her to take a shower and go to sleep. Then we called someone, a friend of ours and Mandy’s, who was familiar with interventions and all of the professionals that had to be involved in something like that. She took over. There was nothing more to be done.
I’m so sorry Mandy.