Wild Is the Wind – Nina Simone – 1966

written by Dimitri Tiomkin, Ned Washington 1957

Wild Is the Wind MP3

I hate that when I am listening to something like this, and I feel like I have to go back to look everything up.  “Who is playing the piano there?  Who is on the bass?  How did she feel about this song?  Who are Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington?  Did Johnny Mathis do it better in the original version?  What the hell did the David Bowie version sound like?”  Maybe it’s the music school in me, but every time I start listening to something with the kind of historical significance of Wild Is the Wind, I feel like I have to have a history book open.

No wonder I started getting turned off to jazz at Berklee.  And really, it wasn’t their fault.  I showed up with a profound lack of knowledge and respect for great American music.  It’s tough to grow up in the USA and not end up this way.  No wonder Berklee recruits so many foreign students.  Yes, it adds to the prestige of the school, but the foreign students would show up and be years ahead of us in every subject.  I remember sitting in Jazz History and the European students knew all the answers.  A lot of them would place in later classes beyond classes that I already had a hard time not failing.  The most frustrating part of this state of affairs is that the first thing I feel when trying to write about Wild Is the Wind as sung by Nina Simone is stupid.  But hell it wasn’t the foreign students’ fault that they knew their shit.

I was walking by 1B (a recital hall in one of the Berklee buildings) and heard a voice in a small ensemble.  Berklee was great for this.  In between classes, I might be making my way down the hall and I would hear something coming from a room.  I’d duck my head in the doorway to see what was going on.  In this case it was a tiny Japanese girl singing Wild Is the Wind.  She sounded just like Nina Simone.  Everyone in the room was sitting there mouths agape.  When the song was over she said “Thank you.” in a tiny Japanese voice with an embarrassed smile.  It took everyone a minute to remember to clap.

Love is impossible.  And love is more than impossible under bad circumstances.  It’s also all that you have sometimes.  And while I don’t think Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington meant for the song to have overtones of the civil rights movement, Nina Simone has all of that history in her voice.  The struggle of millions is this thick soup.  Her voice is plaintive without being sappy or overly sentimental.  It’s like the evidence of the dispossessed in the intimacy of real love.  Not the love that goes out to dinner and brings roses.  The love that has no idea what tomorrow will bring.

I don’t know if it’s possible for this kind of subtlety to occur from any contemporary musician.  To sing about love and everyone knows damn well that you are singing about the struggle for equality.  To be able to perform a song outside of its original context and make it mean something entirely new.  This kind of subtlety.  This kind of genuine melancholy is gone from popular culture almost entirely.

There is no way to look that up.  Nina Simone is like her own movement in history.  Somehow she was able to project this rich imagery with her voice.  A strong narrative that went beyond her technique and the mere lyrics of a song.  She went further into something deeper and personal.  An interpretation with significant moral and cultural overtones.  Wild Is the Wind indeed.

Soul Meets Body – Death Cab For Cutie – 2005

Soul Meets Body MP3

I used to sit in my room and listen to music for hours and hours.  I know this is not an uncommon story.  Teenagers sitting in their rooms listening to music and daydreaming.  It’s part of what makes music such an important part of the human condition.  There’s this really important step in our evolution where we are somewhere between the fog of childhood and the sentience of being adult.  I saw the world coming at me and felt the weight of what real responsibility was going to feel like.  I was not sure of what that really meant.  But the most important factor there is that I really still had a sense of wonder and music was magical.  And truly music is magical.  Don’t believe this?  Try to explain exactly what it is that makes a song good.

I think that all of the arts are like this, but music sort of holds this distinction that sets it apart.  It’s the only art that combines all of the factors of the other arts.  There’s a dramatic factor where everyone is playing a dramatic character.  The character may be the same for every song depending on the band, but it’s still there.  There’s a visual element.  Especially since video, but even without that, you eventually have to stand on stage and do something.  For writers, there’s the poetry.  Then there’s this additional element of being the only art that is defined by audio events arranged over a specific period of time.

I believe that musicians tend to be more dedicated to artistic integrity than any other art.  Part of this is that you have to live with songs forever.  As an actor, you can say, “Oh I’m older now.  I don’t like that movie (or play) anymore.”  An artist says, “Yeah I did that and so and so bought it.”  Or, “It hangs in such and such gallery and it is what it is.”  A writer says, “Yeah I wrote that and it stands for what it is in my time.”  In any other discipline, you might be interviewed or asked about a piece, but you aren’t asked to get up on stage and recreate the entire piece for the millionth time.  You write a piece when you are 18 and play it until people like it.  If at 25 years old you don’t like the song anymore, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be asked to perform it over and over again.

But there is also this element of 14 year olds sitting in their rooms listening to music.  And somehow you have to reach them.  Which means that you still have to somehow be connected to the magic that a teenager feels.  So to breathe life into 3 or 4 minutes of audio events is a tremendous challenge.  There has to be this sort of innocent approach to the fact that magic exists, but music also has to somehow give some room for the pain of letting that magic go.  So music is almost in a state of perpetual grief as we all grow up.  Simultaneously trying to hang onto our concept of the magical and trying to function in a world that categorically denies it’s existence.

One of the reasons I started this blog is that I started looking at music reviews online.  I have yet to find a blog post or magazine review of music that doesn’t leave itself entirely reviewing the music from the perspective of whether it’s “good” or “bad”.  There’s this whole “it” factor and whether an act has “it”.  Is so-and-so washed up on this record?  Maybe this other guy is set to make a comeback.  Or the I-don’t-like-this-song-because review.  Even if the review is good, it’s just another review that’s a bunch of words that have nothing to do with what someone really thinks or feels.  There’s no one out there doing deeply meaningful reviews of music.  The reviews all categorically deny the existence of magic.

I’m a singer/song writer as well.  I know that writing a song is deeply personal.  I also know that there is no other art where people can be so rejecting right off the bat.  If there is something wrong with a song, people will tell you about it right away.  They are not shy.  But even worse, when people like a song, they won’t tell you why.  To accomplish any sort of magic in a song, you have to give a lot.  You have to take a piece of yourself and put it out there for general consumption.  For better or worse.  I think if you are going to take the time to do a critique, you should have to get that personal about yourself.  In other words, the consumption of art should be an art.  Make yourself as vulnerable as the artist.

So I set out to do this.  A deeply personal blog entry for 365 songs.  I have to say this is incredibly difficult.  And finding a song that I can use to get in touch with something deeply personal on a daily basis has been nearly impossible.  But I keep thinking about what I want from consumers of my music.  I want them to be deeply affected by my music.  I want to know that I have not only rendered a change in their consciousness, but that I have actually gotten them in touch with their sense of wonder and an attachment to the magic that really exists all around us.

Soul Meets Body does this for me.  I am lying in bed staring at the ceiling and I’m 14.  Everything that I have been.  Every dream I have ever had.  Every crush I have ever had.  Every aspiration that I may never reach is terrifying and exhilarating.  Every idea that transcends the ordinary.  Every childish fear and every adult explanation.  I am found in being understood and understanding this music.  I am lost in the loneliness of my own pain and longing.  But I am filled with the magic of hope and transcendence “where soul meets body…”

“And I do believe it’s true
That there are roads left in both of our shoes
But if the silence takes you
Then I hope it takes me too
So brown eyes I hold you near
Cause you’re the only song I want to hear
A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere”

I want my words to be as meaningful to the musicians as the music has been to me.  Because I really want to know that I’ve reached someone.  Really touched them.  I think it is the aspiration of every musician.  Every human.  My offering at the altar of music.  I hope it is enough.

Deanna – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 1988

Deanna MP3

I’m driving a 1983 Mercury Grand Marquis.  It’s not mine.  I have a .380 under the seat and a lot of meth-amphetamines.  Those aren’t mine either I swear.  I’m driving to Houston from Lufkin and it’s a long drive.  I don’t give a single thought to the consequences of being pulled over with these things in the car.  It’s 11pm and I’ve been up for 3 days.  It’s raining like it can only rain in Southeast Texas.  I can’t see the lines on the road and I’m hallucinating.

I don’t know anything about Nick Cave’s anger.  But I do know that this song makes me think about how angry I was years ago.  I am so far from that anger now that I don’t know what it feels like.  Listening to this song is like watching a movie.  Watching a movie about someone I used to be.  And certainly it’s a work of fiction.  There are so many shades of reality that I have no idea which order anything came in.  I don’t know what’s true in its entirety.  Don’t ask me to testify under oath because I’ll only tell you what I believe happened.

From 8th grade all the way through high school, all I talked about was being a writer.  Even when I dropped out of high school, the first claim I made was that I was just going to write a book.  There won’t be one person I know from high school that didn’t know that about me.  No one would have guessed that I would have gone to a music school for college.  I played guitar and I played in punk bands and garage bands… I was really passionate about music.  But I knew I wanted to be a writer.  Teachers supported me in this aspiration.  I wrote well.  Although my mother’s first response was, “Well you better figure out a way to put bread on the table!”

All writers seem to have a need to write a coming of age story before they write anything else.  I have suffered over how I would approach this for years.  I don’t remember enough about what happened to create anything cohesive around a narrative.  It’s just a bunch of anecdotes.  And then a good deal of it I don’t believe and I can’t create characters that are dumb enough to live them.  The stories tend to be believable only in a truly anecdotal sense.  To tell the entire story of the weekend of New Year’s that I am leaving behind in Lufkin is ridiculously unbelievable.  But I do even have myself believing that I am driving home in the rain completely out of my mind 14 days before my 16th birthday.  So I guess I didn’t know this about this blog until just now, but I guess this is as close as I’ll ever come to that coming of age story.  And maybe I am only coming of age right now, 5 days before my 38th birthday.

I have figured out how to put bread on the table I guess.  I know a lot about the world that I was sure I wouldn’t live to learn.  I’ve done everything the hard way.  I can’t lean on any credentials.  I didn’t stick with a hip scene to back me up when my credibility comes into question.  And while Deanna won’t come out for two years after the anecdote in question, I feel like it tells the story of how I felt on New Year’s Day 1986 rather well.  I am angry.  I don’t know why.  And I will make up any reasons or surround myself with the craziest situations just to explain that anger.  Guns, drugs, money, cars, bizarre Texas towns, punk rock, skateboards, bikers, classic rock, music, weathermen, friends I call family, family I call enemies whether they are or not.  None of it is believable.  I don’t even ask myself to believe it.  Especially with who I am now.  It’s a work of fiction.  I have talked to some of the character actors in this film and they remember it differently.  They remember the normal days at my house with my consistent mother who worked her ass off.

“No carpet on the floor.  And the winding cloth holds many moths.”  I’m in a deranged 50’s do-whop song.  “Around your Ku Klux furniture.  I cum of death-head in your frock.”  I’ve told so many stories that the stories started telling me.  “We discuss the murder plan.  We discuss murder and the murder act.”  Am I real.  This was a life I cannot dream.  “Murder takes the wheel of your Cadillac.  And death climbs in the back.”  I really don’t know who I am anymore.  It’s like at some point I crossed over the line and became a human experience.  I should have gone the way of the dozens of senseless punk rock and classic rock biker deaths that surrounded us.

“We will eat out of their pantries
And their parlours
Ashy leaving in their beds
And we’ll unload into their heads”

Apparently Nick Cave should have gone there too.  This song must be his fiction.  His surrealist landscape.  There’s all that over the top energy.  He doesn’t want just acceptable.  He wants raw.  You wake up from 10 years of what really happened and this fiction seems way more believable than the truth.  You wish it were the truth.  You aren’t sure whether you should be grateful to be alive or just shoot yourself.  I often think about people that are in their 50’s or 60’s who clean up for the first time and they have 45 years of broken lives and burned bridges behind them, and I wonder what their fiction is that gets them through the day.  Because I wouldn’t wish that dawning sober realization on anyone.  My advice, out of compassion, would truly be: “Man.  Don’t do this to yourself.  Take it to the grave.”

“Our little crimeworn histories
Black and smoking christmas trees
And honey, it ain’t mystery
Why you’re a mystery to me”

So I’ll tell my coming of age story in the seams of the soundtrack.  Most of the soundtrack didn’t exist in my time, but it’s telling my story to me, because I don’t seem to be able to tell it properly.  I’m walking backward through the village.  My existence is questionable and my story is my truth whether it’s true of not.

I see the cop car behind me.  It takes me about 20 seconds, or longer, to convince myself that it’s really there.  I haven’t seen a car in an hour.  I pull over.  I am not panicked in this version of the story.  How could I know how I felt?  “And I ain’t down here for your money.”  I was so high, I couldn’t feel my face.  “I ain’t down here for your love.”  The cop pulls up alongside the driver’s side of the car and rolls the passenger window down.  “I ain’t down here for your love of money.”  I roll down the driver’s side window.  He yells to me over the storm, “Son I don’t want to get out and give you a ticket in this rain.  And I REALLY don’t want to be scraping your ass off the pavement in the morning.  So please.  Slow down.  I know it’s a highway, but 35 will do.”  I drive away.

“I’m down here for your soul.”

Club Foot – Kasabian – 2005

Club Foot MP3

I’m in a parking garage in downtown Houston in 1984.  I’m 14.  I’ve got a board with pitted wheels and rusted bearings.  I don’t know where I got it.  This is what we do.  Skate around town all day.  Maybe someone had a car.  Just as likely, we just skated in from Spring Branch and caught a bus for part of the way if the bus came or if we had money.  Who knows where we will sleep.  It’s as much a coming of age story as any childhood on a farm.  It’s not as urban as it sounds.  Houston in 1984 was still very much Texas.  Now there’s Houston and there’s Texas.  They are two different places now.  But we were at our post-apocalyptic best coming from punk and goth clubs that would let us in off the streets if we promised not to try to drink alcohol or worse.

I’m in the Edwards Marquee 23 parking garage at 3am.  It’s 2008.  Here are the skate kids.  Who knows how old they are.  Some are definitely young teens.  Who knows where their parents are.  Who knows what their existence means.  I am so glad to be here to see this.  I am so glad there are still kids skating parking garages at 3am.  The technology is different than when we were out here.  These kids have long boards with 75mm gummy wheels.  There’s one kid with a short board and ramp wheels and he is shredding 9 floors of parking garage while drinking beer.  There’s a tall skinny kid that somehow makes downhill turns on his back two wheels.  There’s a girl with blond hair flowing behind her in shorts that squats pulling the outside edge of the board up as she leans into the first corner.  I don’t know how fast they are going, but I have no desire to go that fast.  I’m not too old.  I just never could skate like that.

They are comic book characters.  They are so unreal I wish I had a video camera to shoot a documentary.  Everyone has a recent story about the police or an over-zealous security guard.  Some of them have stories of paying off cops in exchange for skipping the ride downtown.  Why am I so comforted by the idea that they are still here?  I know our existence was pretty miserable most of the time.  But we also had a lot of fun.

And a parking garage at 3am has a very post-apocalyptic feel to it.  You skate to the bottom and take the elevator or the stairs to the top.  You get a good view of the buildings from the top.  Especially in Greenspoint.  The medical center to the Southeast, the Galleria to the west, Downtown and Midtown to the northeast.  It’s a lot of light and a lot of activity.  But you still feel alone up there with a board and a bunch of kids.  Where the hell do we come from?  Where do all these at risk identities go as adults?  Are we really all of the failures that society believes us to be?  Or do we just fit somewhere else?  Is there some kind of thought process that is valuable to society that is born only in the freedom of high risk teenage years?

Post-apocalyptic urban skateboarding.  That’s what Club Foot does for me.  It makes me think of family that is really lost forever.  Dark parking garages.  Dirty, sweaty, stinky, parentless teenagers.  Misguided authority figures.  Road rash.  Leg cramps.  Urban skylines.  Blackened concrete.  Cold ass wind ripping us apart in January.  August nights that just wring you out and spit you up on a sticky dawn cherishing your discomfort on the long ride home.

What do you say about a song so unafraid of itself?  So sure about it’s original intent?  There’s nothing wrong with Club Foot.  It holds itself together from the beginning to the end.  I have listened to a bunch of live versions in mp3 and on youtube and they execute brilliantly on stage.  There’s not much drama in their stage persona, but who the hell needs drama when you are playing this song like that?  I challenge you to sit without moving some part of your body while listening to it.  I don’t think you can do it.

Quit Hiding – Radio 4 -2008

Quit Hiding MP3

For everyone who ever waited in a line outside a club while people that knew the bouncer skipped the line.  For everyone who spends another minute of their precious time waiting in traffic for god knows what.  Work.  Home.  Traffic bottlenecks.  People that don’t know where they are going.  Worrying about the home and the kids and a way into or out of the rat race.  For everyone waiting for the starting gun on life.  For everyone knocking back a few because you can’t find any answers, or to find answers, to your existential questions.

“Gather around the light post.  Everyone in line gets in.  Quit hiding hiding hiding hiding…”

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the new definition of punk around a song by It’s a Musical called The Music Makes Me Sick. Even more satisfying than finding out I don’t have to like stuff that sounds like traditional punk just because it’s punk is to find something that does sound like traditional punk that’s really good.  Granted, Radio 4 doesn’t really sound like traditional punk.  In fact, they are described as “danceable punk” by… um… somebody.  (I can’t find a reference for the quote.  So I heard it somewhere… Sue me!)  But the sound at least suggests a direct punk lineage to bands like The Clash and The Damned.

quithidingI think this is a large part of what I am missing about punk.  A sense of what suffering is.  Punk needs a release from something.  When it was just noise and angst, punk addressed a release from an idea that success and happiness in life was attained through some absurdly narrow path.  Punk said fear was not a path to success and happiness and that people living this lie were obviously not very successful or happy.  Even to play rock and roll in the 70’s, you were up against all of these legendary players.  Punk said you didn’t need to be Jimmy Page to play the guitar.  You could still express yourself by just grabbing the damn thing and choking it.  A lot of what punk is now just sort of needs a release from itself and some ear plugs.  But Radio 4 inspires me to write a post that contradicts myself, which I love.  I hope I never suggested that I would be consistent.

I think this “quit hiding” concept is this large contemporary metaphor.  Maybe it will sound dated, the way hard core punk sounds dated, in about 15 years.  Or maybe they hit on a universal truth.  So many people hiding in lines and cubicles and social etiquette and professional aspirations.  All of these things do produce satisfaction and results, and it’s not that there’s something missing.  It’s that there is something additional.  No one wants to wait in line for their turn to live.  And I don’t think the metaphor is about waiting behind other people with the same aspirations to be done with their turn.  It’s just that somehow we don’t allow ourselves to live now.  Waiting in line suggests some kind of delay.  But if I’m in the line and I feel connected to everyone around me.  If I feel satisfied with what I have in that line, then am I really waiting for anything?

“Restless days and shades of gray and muted sounds.  And cafe bars play songs no one can bear.”

Amen!  I can do without listening to James Taylor again while waiting for my cup of coffee.  Maybe he’s good, but that’s not the reason he was chosen to entertain you while you were waiting in line.  He was chosen to entertain you because he’s not offensive.  It’s a good business practice.  If I owned a coffee shop, I would make you listen to James Taylor too.

The point is that absent direct oppression from war and poverty (which is real in many parts of the world), we are really free to be oppressing ourselves and more often than not, I think we go ahead and do that.  Everything is about where we are going instead of where we are.

“Gather around the light post.  Everyone inside gets in.  Quit hiding hiding hiding hiding…”

I love this.  Later in the song the line changes.  It isn’t “in line”, it’s “inside”.  Look friend.  You are already inside and you still aren’t enjoying yourself.  Where are you?  I love the other very punk suggestion.  Are you waiting in line for paradise?  Maybe you are already there.  Maybe you are a legend.  Maybe you are looking at a pile of dog shit in a very large and beautiful field.

Open up your eyes.  You might have it bad in the affluent society sense of the word.  But you are what you are waiting for.  There’s nothing for you on the other side of that door that isn’t on this side of the door already.  Quit hiding.

Painted Word – Bettie Serveert – 2006

Painted Word MP3

A lot of singers attempt to get a sound that evokes Billie Holiday or Janis Joplin.  The effort usually dominates the attempt.  All you can hear is a singer trying to sound like a legendary singer.  I hear hints of Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin in Carol van Dyk’s voice in Painted Word.  It comes off so well that her voice carries the whole song.  There’s very little instrumentation in the song.  It’s all Carol van Dyk.  I don’t know how to describe what it is that is so rich and genuine about her voice.  The whole song is just really all her hanging it out there.  No vocal acrobatics.  Just her singing a song.

I have been trying to write all week about this song.  I have several woeful attempts at interpreting the lyrics where I get my filters all tangled up in her narrative.  I ended up like the kid with his fingers in the dike trying to plug up all of the holes in my spin.  I don’t know what keeps me going down this particular path.  I don’t know why it is so hard to write about.  I don’t know why I keep tying it all up in an interpretation of the lyrics.  There is so much there without getting hung up in her words.

The song starts with this bass drum and these pizzicato strings come in with her voice.  She sounds so relaxed and sultry.  Then there’s this clarinet or something that keeps playing with the perimeters of the sound.  There’s very little structure.  Just keeping time and moving through the chord progression.  Then this new world opens up with a new vocal that comes in over the tag line “the painted word”.  It’s just her voice and it’s not like she changed registers or her approach to the singing, but there is a shift in the energy of the entire song.  Nothing feels the same as it did in the beginning.  “Woke you up, 4am.  Said I wanted more here we go again.”  Where are we now.  Really I want to hear that moment in the song over and over again.  Then the end of the song has this strange playful thing happening between the pizzicato strings and the bass.

It’s all very dark and mysterious.  Maybe some lipstick, rumpled clothes, messed up hair, skirts, unmade beds.  It’s all very sexy.  There’s some kind of subtle narrative happening throughout the song but the plot is never handed over.  You have to fill in the blanks.  The blanks are enticing.  I want to be involved in that sound.  But my tendency is to take the sensual and make it barbaric.  I want to make the song darker than it is, because it makes me uncomfortable.  But the truth is, I want her to be singing about me.

It would have been so easy to overproduce this song.  To keep adding things to a good idea until it became very mediocre.  There are so many things that could have gone wrong with this, but Carol van Dyk comes off owning this sound like she invented it.

The Music Makes Me Sick – It’s a Musical – 2008

The Music Makes Me Sick MP3

I love this new definition of punk. The original definition of punk was generally a music and style that broke all of the rules. Now new stuff that sounds like old punk is stale. The fashion, the instrumentation, the concepts are all ridiculously overdone. So the new definition of punk is that you don’t have to adhere to the traditional rules of making music. So there is a lot of stuff that sounds unlike traditional punk, like The Music Makes Me Sick, that is listed as “alternative/punk”. The link to the mp3 actually shows that as the genre. The Music Makes Me Sick is definitely not old-school punk. I’m sure there are a lot of people that don’t need a lesson in the new definition of punk, but I have recently found it fascinating and liberating. I was certainly getting tired of trying to listen to new old school punk and trying to get into it. I was starting to feel old. “Am I supposed to like this?  Because I don’t.”

I just love the idea of laying critical concepts against light hearted musical landscapes.  I feel like I’m listening to an ABBA song and then I realize they really are saying, “The music makes me sick.  I stop to listen when you start to sing.”  I guess what I’m really saying is that Ella Blixt and Robert Kretzschmar gave me permission to reject the idea that punk has to sound like punk.

When I started this blog, I was sort of in this place with music that this song was written about.  Where is the good Indie music.  I wanted to do a blog where I reviewed a CD a week by an Indie band.  So I started looking for Indie Music.  I ran into a lot of crap in my initial searches.  And a lot of bitterness.  I kept finding posts by Indie musicians saying stuff like, “Why am I not making it?  I sound like those guys on the radio.”  Part of it truly was that they did not sound like what was on the radio.  It was terrible.  But I was really more bothered by the aspiration.  The stuff on the radio generally sounds like a million other things.  Very little originality.  And the repetition is agonizing.  Is this really the best we can do?  Diversity spread around the world in an instant via the internet.  The freedom of whatever we want to listen to and I was listening to a bunch of bad reproductions of top 40 hits and classic genres.

I don’t know if It’s a Musical is great.  Maybe.  Have you ever heard the Scorpions early stuff?  It’s a Musical sounds a million times better than that.  But I do know that this song had my attention from the beginning.  I suppose if a new old school punk band wrote these lyrics and set them to traditional hardcore punk and played their instruments as well as It’s a Musical, then it probably would be just as good.  But isn’t that it.  “It’s all been done yes.  We’ve heard it before.”  If all these factors came together in this hypothetical punk band, wouldn’t it occur to them that they were doing something that had been done before?  But setting this line to traditional hardcore punk would be outrageously funny: “Do you really think it sounds better when it is so loud?”  There is so much noise in a traditional punk song, you really can’t tell if anyone is screwing it up.

All that set aside, this song is infectiously happy.  It’s very satisfying in so many ways.  The instrumentation.  The lyrics.  An actual bridge.  I watched the video on their website and at first I was like, “What the hell is this?”  But by the end, I liked the video too.  The harmonies are awesome.  The sparse arrangement with very little noise to fall back on.  That’s a tough thing to do when you are going to really emphasize intimate harmonies.  If you can’t play, hear or keep time, it falls apart.  This doesn’t fall apart anywhere.

Holes in the Walls – Ponies in the Surf – 2008

Holes in the Walls MP3

Oh boy. “There we are! In the holes in the walls.”

It occurs to me that I might be happier if I just took my packaged dream and got over myself.  But there is something that tells all of us that our particular dream is original.  Even though there are 500 million people buying the same dream at the same time I like to think of myself as unique.

This is the point where the floor drops out from beneath my feet.  And really, this whole song is this sort of blissful floating in some sort of consumer void with a sort of maniacal early B-52’s/Violent Femmes soundtrack.  Everything is so shiny and packaged and we want it.  Don’t deny it.  You want it.  I want it.  I’m not turning down anything that gives me more consumer buying power.  Credit or cash, I don’t care.  If someone decides to give me millions of dollars I’m going to buy a glossy magazine life.  I have the cheap version right now.  It requires a lot more thought and strategy to get there, but I’m sold.

Every now and then I catch glimpses of myself that defy my firm alternative vision of myself.  Usually I see it in other people first.  Recently someone that I consider to be an idiot added that phrase that we all throw around to the punctuation of some antidote or conversation: “People are idiots.”  And I laughed.  And I guess I laughed on cue, because the laugh didn’t inspire any questions about what was so funny.  But it occurred to me that everyone is saying this.  So which people are the idiots?  Is it you?  Is it me?  Do I go through my whole life with the mistaken idea that I am one of the chosen intelligentsia?  I go to work every day and play my part in a system I despise and criticize whenever I get the chance.  I project myself into every situation and see myself running the show flawlessly.  Meanwhile my daily activity reveals gaping holes in my ideology.  I am the idiot.  I really am…

“There we are!  In the holes in the walls.”

holeswallsThis song sort of celebrates our idiocy.  Why not laugh madly as we browse the Ikea aisles?  What choice do we have?  Oh I guess we could go to Sears, but that’s just it.  Our options are only different aesthetically.  Even our option of not playing at all ends up being a play toward motivating others to keep playing.  One way or another, we are all playing.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s tattoos or towels, it’s all consumerism.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about how to get us off the grid.  You know.  Solar panels, wind turbines in the backyard, gray water, waterless toilets, rain water filtration systems, an organic vegetable garden…  There are whole product lines dedicated to this demographic.  The millions of us looking to escape the rat race.  Looking for ways to escape the idiots.  Ourselves.  I can’t wait until I can afford all of the beautiful new product lines available to escape the system.  Won’t that be wonderful?  I can see myself now with my iron fence around my yard, manufactured in Mexico.  I’ll be tending my organic vegetable garden, grown from seeds bought from a beautiful magazine that charged me more to guarantee that the seeds were harvested according to stringent organic guidelines.  My roof will be covered with solar panels that took me eight years to pay off.  The wind turbine on my roof might actually net me some money as it feeds electricity back to the grid.  And as people drive by on the street outside my fence, I will flip them off because they are such idiots.

This makes me think of Fight Club: “You’ll hunt elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center…”  Okay.  After that I’ll be exhausted and won’t want to cook.  So we better look up city search to find a place in the area to get cheeseburgers.  I’m not saying that there aren’t good messages there.  It’s just good for us to understand that it’s a movie marketed to millions of idiots that are slaves to the system.  That depend on the system to provide for our families.  In the end, the movie helped repackage Ikea for a demographic that is tough to market to.  The movie also helped create significant buying power for its creators.  Damn, I wish I had done that rather than just being one of the consumers.  I wish that Ponies in the Surf could write an alternative soundtrack to Fight Club.  That would be ridiculously funny.  Hell it might be ridiculously funny that I figured out a way to use Ponies in the Surf and Fight Club in the same sentence twice.

Our best efforts got us a system that we hate.  Who are the idiots?  Yes, people are idiots.  Last time I checked, I was a person.  I guess that’s me.  What this song did for me was make me laugh at myself about it.  Just remember this: “When it’s in your living room, it’s gone.”  And damn that’s so true.  Repeat it over and over like a mantra because that’s how true it is.  Harmonize it in about ten different ways with a partner.  This will make it even more true.  Then repackage it and sell it.

People are idiots!

Ego Blossoms – Samara Lubelski – 2007

Ego Blossoms MP3

I could listen to Ego Blossoms all day.

The first time it happened I was in elementary school.  I was sitting in class and there was a slight tickle near the top of my skull.  Suddenly everything cut into halftime.  I was looking at the teacher.  Her voice was still making sounds in real time, but everything she did seemed to be slowed down.  The sensual perspective was like an itch in my brain that I couldn’t scratch.  Like if I could reach up and scratch my brain about two inches from the crown of my skull, everything would right itself.  The mental equivalent of kicking the jukebox.  After a few eternities, it went away, and as surely as I wanted the feeling to go away when it first occurred, I immediately wanted the sensation to return.  I stared at the teacher trying to concentrate hard enough to make it happen again.  I wonder what the expression on my face might have been and what she might have though of me had she noticed.

Throughout my life, this happens a couple times a year.  Maybe it’s just a neat chemistry trick that my brain plays on me from time to time.  I have conducted my own chemistry experiments to simulate the experience, but it never really comes close to the natural sensation.  I have thousands of explanations involving a myriad of mystical variables that I like to try on as the truth.  I suppose any one of them is true at any given time.  It doesn’t really matter I guess.  But my ego likes to latch onto experiences like this and create giant structures and ideals that I am universally responsible for.  As I’ve gotten older, the sensation that I described becomes more of a burden as its familiarity signals new layers of responsibility that my consciousness will decide to take on.

egoblossom2Ego Blossoms is like standing on a street corner in Hong Kong and watching people for hours and wondering how all of this consciousness could exist simultaneously.  Everything I think and do is a universe of conflicting desires and contradictory needs.  I really never can tell what my true motivation is for anything.  When I dream, the universes multiply and die.  When I create things, I build a whole mythology around a thousand perspectives.  There is so much input inside my own thought process that accounting for billions of other voices outside my own head is completely out of the question.

But sometimes I can block my own thoughts out long enough to contemplate throngs of people in a crowded metropolitan setting.  Each person on each street, in every restaurant, in every office building and apartment building piled to the sky.  Each of them has a consciousness filled with unfathomable depth.  Each ego wants what it wants.  Each blossom of consciousness is staggering in its complexity and contradiction.  When each process decides what its motivation is, the carrier uses communication to add another layer of complexity to each consciousness that accepts its message.  The message is construed by all those filters and the meaning is changed until it is unrecognizable to the originator of the thought.

I can’t imagine how the barrier of self could possibly be overcome to eliminate conflict in the world.  The ego loves itself too much.  Consciousness creates elaborate hoaxes to overcome widespread solidarity.  There can no agreement with self, so there is definitely no way to even fabricate the appearance of agreement among large groups of people.

“Careful of the ego blossoms.  They eat up everything in sight.”

About the best we can do is observe.  To watch the ego grow itself into staggering structures that require resources and maintenance.  There is no fighting this.  It would be like trying to eliminate insects from the planet.  The only outcome would be our own demise, and still, some insect would survive on some floating rock in the asteroid belt.  The evidence of our ego would be all around.  Marching constantly upward like the music.  Plodding onward for the sake of self-perpetuation.  You feel the music drop away from time to time but it’s just the blossoms building another plateau for their gardens.

“Nothing changes.  Just another day.”

She visits this thought at the end of each chorus.  And she whispers it at the end.  You think the song is over and just fading out.  But you listen and she just dropped a couple of layers and says in a whisper, “Just another day.”  I immediately think of the underdogs from the beginning of the song.  “They don’t show their face here anymore.  I hear they’re doing fine.  In the mountains drinking wine.”  She wistfully repeats that too.  I understand why.  It sound so good in relation to the persistent manifestation of the ego blossoms.  “Drinking wine.”

And there it is.  I wish I could switch it off and on.  I reach up and push my right index finger through the top of my skull and find the switch that manifests itself as an itch that slows everything down.  I lightly scratch the place in my brain that complicates my life.  I turn it off.  And then I have a moment of peace “in the mountains drinking wine”.  Doesn’t that sound nice.  A season without ego blossoms eating “everything in sight”.  A vacation from my self.  I can feel the stress melting away.

Octet – Deerhunter – 2007

Octet MP3

Sometimes I get kind of panicked about how little of what I have wanted to do with my life I have actually done.  In that state, I can hardly take any action that gets me closer to doing the things that I want to do.  It’s sort of self perpetuating at that point, because then I get even more panicked that I haven’t done anything with my life and now I definitely can’t.  It’s sort of easy to sit at that point and wonder how the hell I am supposed to move forward.  I would guess that the most dismal failures of my life have been me sitting around wondering how to get out of this state of mind.  I have pissed away a lot of opportunities this way.

It’s kind of like Hamlet in a way.  I hate Hamlet.  Everyone knows what Hamlet should be doing next.  He is the only one suffering the indecision.  Everyone in the audience knows what he should be doing next.  But for whatever reason he is incapable of taking action.  Even if death is his fate, at least he would die having taken action.  But he just lets everything build until the whole thing just explodes on him.  I hate Hamlet because I have spent so much of my life being like him.

But this song isn’t about a character flaw or blown opportunities.  It’s about the actual panic.  The actual feeling that causes the inaction.  There I am sitting in some indescribable nothingness unable to hear my own thoughts.  If I could hear myself think, maybe I would actually get up and do something.

Ghosts sort of drift in and out of the room, each with their own motif.  They all have something interesting to say, and I am listening.  They speak in metaphors and puzzles and I am sure that I manufactured their thoughts in my own head.  But none of it sounds familiar.  I want to follow one and see where it goes but I am too afraid.  Their exits seems to suggest a very large population of their kind.  That’s too many metaphors and too many puzzles.

But still, I am fascinated by the idea of writing something that truly captures this state of being.  I could sit and contemplate it all day.  I thought I was always trying to escape the anxiety of my end, but it occurs to me that I am comforted by the presence of my own death imagined in thousands of original sequences. I want to fully contemplate each of them.  I want to savor every ounce of that panic.  I identify myself by this anxiety.  I count my heart beats and breath deeper.  Sounds more like satisfaction than desperation to me.  Most of what I know about myself has been discovered in my fear of death.

But ultimately, I am those ghosts.  “I was the corpse that spiraled out…  Into phantom hallways…”  The vocal is sort of woven into this tapestry of sound and it waves in the wind like a flag.  That voice never escapes itself.  It never knows that it is itself it is trying to escape.  The voice cries out of the smoky ripples on the surface of the seer’s cauldron.  It is paralyzing and fulfilling.  So powerless and ethereal and self-determining all at once.  There will be no disappointment here.  I will get exactly what I expect.

I find this feeling nearly impossible to write about, and I suppose that’s why it’s being said with music with hardly any lyrics.  Hell, I really don’t know that this is what the song is trying to express, but this is what it makes me think about.  Truly, Octet shouldn’t be removed from the concept album, Cryptograms, that it was created for.  Cryptograms is brilliant overall and maybe I should write a book about what Cryptograms means to me, but the song Octet makes me get up in the middle of the night and check all the doors and windows.

A Better Son/Daughter – Rilo Kiley – 2002

A Better Son/Daughter MP3

Houston, Winter 1997.  I’ve been staying at my mother’s house for a few months to get a job and an apartment in Houston.  I’m standing in the shower. The shower is one of those stand up things with no bathtub and it’s covered with rough beige one inch tiles.  I lean my forehead against the tile.  I lay in bed for 10 minutes every morning dreading this moment.  Sometimes longer.  Somehow I make myself get up and take this shower.  Now it’s time for the actual moment I’ve been dreading.  Turning off the water.  For some reason, this bout of depression manifests itself as physical pain when I turn the water off in the shower.  My skin feels like it’s being burned off.  I don’t really know what that feels like, but I’ve read about it.  This is how I imagine it feels.  Eventually, I reach up and turn the water off anyway.

Boston, Spring 1996.  I am walking up Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and I can see my girlfriend like a ghost through the second floor bay window smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.  There isn’t much light in the apartment, but I can see her just the same.  Maybe a lamp behind her in the living room.  She hasn’t left the apartment for days.  I have groceries and she will cook them.  The food will be good.  The conversation predictable.  About once a week she will call me at work and break up with me.  By the end of the day, she won’t be able to make it through the night without me.  I am required to enter her mental space a couple nights a week to draw her out.  Sometimes this is not pretty.  There are lots of tears.  Sometimes there is screaming.

I am thinner than I have ever been in my adult life.  During the week, I only eat the food that she cooks.  Sometimes I can make her get out of the house at midnight to walk across the street to buy cigarettes at the Ritz Carlton Courtesy Booth.  If there’s a holiday, we spend a week preparing her to go to her parents house, pummel her with wine through dinner and go home.  Sometimes on the weekends, we will go to my apartment that I keep for some ridiculous reason and watch football the whole weekend with my roommate.  He isn’t much better off.  We all ordered a pizza one night and when the pizza guy rang the doorbell, my roommate and my girlfriend both ran and hid.  At least we were able to laugh about that after I paid for the pizza.

Boston, Winter 1993.  I’m in the Charles River Park at midnight by myself.  I haven’t slept in about five days.  I work during the day at Blue Cross Blue Shield.  When I look at pictures of me from this period of time, I look older than I do now 15 years later.  I am unsure of what is real.  I really don’t remember how I got here.  It’s 20 degrees and the wind is blowing.  I have this crazy obsession at the moment with finding a green leaf.  I stand under a leafless tree with a wide canopy watching people (I can’t imagine they are actually there at midnight in 20 degree weather.) walking or running along the jogging trail.  I walk along muttering incoherently and crying from time to time.  I find myself facing a bush with one green leaf attached to it.

Every week on Tuesday, I go swimming with a recently divorced woman 14 years older than me at Simmons College.  We were introduced through a mutual friend.  We are close and should be dating but I am losing my shit.  I tell her about the one green leaf with a maniacal intensity, and then I pull this leaf out of my pocket.  After this, I never return her phone calls.

Houston, Summer 1989.  My friend Justin calls me for the 20th time in a month detailing how he is going to commit suicide as soon as we get off the phone.  I don’t have a car or I would go get him and take him to a meeting.  The trouble that he is using as an excuse for his despair seems so minor 20 years later.  He showed the police a fake insurance card after he got in a wreck.  This isn’t the first time all of us (Justin’s friends) have been through this.  We did this the previous year.  I can’t help but be a little impatient with him.  I half heartedly say that I will try to get a ride over to get him.  I make a few phone calls but everyone says that they have already talked to him.  They all feel the same way that I do.  You just wish that whatever was clinging to him doesn’t make it’s way onto you.  You want to help him, but he’s drowning and it’s definitely possible that he is going to drag you down with him.  I spent months almost as depressed in his apartment with two other friends eating frozen pizzas and watching movies (Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October) on the VCR and listening to Pink Floyd.  I don’t want to go anywhere near Justin, but I know he needs help.  I also know that I am incapable of helping him.

No one goes to get him and he shoots himself with a shotgun.  His roommate is in the next room.  He dies an accidental death 12 years later in his apartment from combining prescribed anti-depressants with probably 24 cans of beer.  The thing that keeps me trucking through all of my future bouts with depression is this one incident.  I may want to disappear.  I may want my life to be over.  I may want the pain to end.  But not at the expense of dozens of friends and family members.

“But you’ll fight and you’ll make it through.  You’ll fake it if you have to and you’ll show up for work with a smile.”

There is plenty that’s bad enough to make you want to end it.  There are fates worse than death.  One of those fates is suffering through a loved one’s suicide.

I love the march on the snare.  I love the plodding nature of the downbeat.  I love how the whole band builds into a crescendo of defiance toward the end.  The illustration about how sometimes you’re on.  Everyone sees glimpses of freedom and greatness in your depression.  Everyone can see you in your abyss.  They all want to reach down and pull you out, but it’s damn near impossible.  And then the energy dissipates in the end and the darkness engulfs you.  And as you descend into your darkness for another indefinite period of time, you invent things, like the sing song nursery rhyme Jenny Lewis sings at the end of the song, to build a fantasy about something to look forward to.  And you hang onto that for dear life.

I haven’t been depressed like this in a long time.  If you have never been depressed like this, thank whatever you believe in for that!  Because the truth is that for a good long time, there is no “…ship may be coming in…”  You’ll just sit there and wonder what the hell is happening.

Gold Lion – Yeah Yeah Yeahs – 2006

Gold Lion MP3

I have been struggling with what is so powerful about this song for a while now.  There’s something shamanistic and incurably psychedelic about Gold Lion.  My temptation is to say something narcissistic about knowing what Karen O is trying to tell us.  Those attempts at relating to her message come out something like this:

“Karen O what are you trying to tell me?  There’s only darkness and wind.  We have inherited this hopelessness.  We are the misunderstood.  Rejected even by ourselves.  Destined to be misrepresented in our every success and jeered in our failures.  Tempted to live our whole lives in disguise rather than approach true expression.  Dry, barren, cold or unbearably hot.  Gold Lion has a secret about where the light is.  But it seems so impossible.  I search the darkness.  Impenetrable…”

It’s so terrible it’s almost embarrassing.  I struggled around in this vein for a long time trying to get at the essence of the song.  Why do I feel so damn cool when that incredibly sparse drum beat begins?  And finally that question did it for me.

Gold Lion is so unbearably cool.  I want to be that cool.  I want to know what she’s saying.  I want to know every nuance of meaning behind those Karen O bangs.  I want to write 1000 words trotting out my punk street cred and why it’s me that knows what she’s saying.  I want to be elevated to the status of punk saint because of my understanding of the deeper cultural significance of the Gold Lion.  Then I’ll explain what the light is that the Gold Lion knows the location of.  I would trace this song’s origins backwards through all alternative and punk history.  I would be able to draw analogies that reference Sonic Youth and Iggy Pop and David Bowie and Johnny Rotten and Patti Smith and Nick Cave.  I’ll even make sure to spell the names right so you understand that I actually owned their records.

bayb-lionI can’t help but even fail at my self referential circle jerk.  Karen O is way cooler than I’ll ever be.  Brian Chase is so hip that I can’t even begin to understand what makes him think he can get away with so much space in his grooves.  Nick Zinner redefines guitar raunch with powerful riffs with enough space to drive a truck through.  Nick’s so cool that every sound that comes off his rig sounds like he meant it.  In Gold Lion, all of the ideas are simple.  All of the execution is monstrous.  I have no fucking idea what the song means, but every time the song comes on I feel my face changing shape.

This song makes me question everything I do.  Have I made a right choice about what to do with my life ever?  Isn’t there something else I should be doing?  Shouldn’t I just get up and walk out the door and never turn back?  Everything is so certain.  That drum beat is the right beat and no it doesn’t need to be embellished.  Gold Lion is going to tell her where the light is.  Those guitars come and go as they please. Now I know what makes a moon without a tide.  Cold desire.

I could go on but the song is over and I feel like throwing my guitar down and leaving the stage.  My life is so completely uncertain.  I want that kind of certainty.  Show me where the light is.

Baba O’Riley – The Who – 1971

Baba O’riley MP3

My life sometime around 1981.

“Out here in the fields…”

baba-orlyI’m walking out the back door of our house in Byram Township New Jersey.  I walk straight through the neighbor’s lawn behind our shed.  I move quickly because they don’t like it when I cut through.  The bushes are overgrown.  I have to rub my shoulder against the other neighbor’s wooden fence.  On the other side of that fence is a pool that I have spent much of my childhood in.  I pass from the darkness of the narrow alley on the side of the fence into the front yard.  I am mostly clear now.  I have come this way because I don’t want to see anyone I know.  My mother may have been just pulling into the driveway before I left.  I am not sure if this is true but I was suddenly struck with a very claustrophobic feeling and I had to leave.  I know where I’m going but I also don’t care where I’m going.  The air is crisp and clean.  I have an adult sized army shirt for a jacket and work boots.  I am maybe 10, 11, 12.  I am the loneliest kid on the planet.

“I farm for my meals…”

I walk quickly down the street.  I don’t want Mr. or Mrs Matulo (the neighbors with the pool) to drive up the street while I am here.  It’s not that I will be in any kind of trouble.  I am just ashamed.  I couldn’t tell you what I am ashamed of, but my whole life is filled with shame.  There are only a handful of people that I don’t feel ashamed around.  I’m on my way to see them.

“I get my back into my living…”

Sean’s house is at the end of the street I am on.  I am walking quickly and I stare at the ground.  I don’t want to see anyone I know.  Or more accuarately, I don’t want to make eye contact with anyone who knew me when I was 8.  I don’t know that person anymore.

“I don’t need to fight…”

I walk straight up Sean’s driveway without looking at the front door or the house.  When I reach the garage, I pass to the right of the house and follow a stone wall to the woods behind the house where I pick up a faint trail.  I haven’t slowed down once, but now I can breathe a little easier.

“To prove I’m right…”

The path emerges from the woods onto a steep slope where nothing grows.  It’s clay and top soil and rock mixed together and it’s treacherous.  I can see the backs of the buildings along 206 from here.  I walk straight down the slope without slowing down.  At the bottom of the slope, I am in a gravel parking lot and I walk to the front of the building.  A store front of some sort.  I can’t even visualize it.  I still don’t look up as I step into the busy traffic on 206.  I am not exactly reckless.  I can see the cars and I am timing it well.  But I don’t want to see anyone I know on 206.  It could be my mother.  Any one of my neighbors.  It could be any of the dozen friends I used to have before my parents split.

“I don’t need to be forgiven…Yeah yeah yeah…”

I am across 206 and walking through the parking lot of a bar whose name I can’t remember.  Now I am passing down a gravel driveway and I am hidden from 206.  I don’t care who sees me in West Brookwood.  I hardly know most of the people and most of them don’t know my family.  It’s the eyes in East Brookwood that I find oppressive.  I make my way through the streets of West Brookwood to the Wecht’s house.  It doesn’t matter who is home.  Jason or Jonathan will be somewhere.  I am free.

“Don’t cry… Don’t raise your eye…  It’s only teenage wasteland…”

There are no uncomfortable questions here.  I don’t care if I eat or do drugs or break into a bar.  I don’t care what we do.  If only one of the 5 other siblings is around, I will sit there with them until Jason or Jonathan show up.  If no one is home at all, which is damn near impossible, I will sit on the porch until someone shows up.  I don’t want to be anywhere else ever.

“Sally take my hand…”

My fantasy life is about someone that I have a crush on in school.  It doesn’t matter what name it is.  Melissa, Laura, Michelle, Patty…  The fantasy is about someone that doesn’t exist.  They are being abused and I save them and we run away.  I feel it like it’s real.  We escape into the night and don’t look back.

“We’ll travel south cross land…”

My life is so miserable and discontented, I would go anywhere and do anything other than be around my house.  There is nothing I can do at home that is satisfying.  There is no person I can see that I have known for years that won’t produce some kind of anxiety.  I don’t know how to answer the simplest question.  “What do you want to drink?”  “Would you like a hamburger?”  Can you imagine how the more invasive questions are handled?  “How are you feeling?”  I can remember not being able to speak.  Knowing it was my turn to speak and not being able to move my lips at all.

“Put out the fire and don’t look past my shoulder…”

I wanted to disappear.  I wanted to be completely annhilated from the list of my parents mistakes.  I wanted to be so high that I couldn’t think about anything.  I wanted to be around people that felt the same way that I did.  I wanted to be around a group of people that didn’t have adults.  No rules.  No judgement.  No real questions.

“The exodus is here…”

We truly didn’t have that many drugs.  We liked to think of ourselves as big into this kind of thing.  But truly we spent a lot time dreaming about what we would do if we had a lot of pot.  But we seldom had any.  Alcohol we would steal when we had the chance.  Most of our lives were defined by a lot of incoherent laughter about nothing.  A lot of aimless wandering that was deeply meaningful to us.

“The happy ones are near…”

I hated seeing my previous life so much that I would make this same trip every morning just to be on a different bus from the one I had been taking since Kindergarten.  When I made it to the bus stop, Jason, Jonathan, Laura and I would make a decision about whether we were going to school.  Obviously, often we didn’t go to school.  If I got up too late to walk across 206, I would wait until the bus was gone.  Then I would walk out the front door and go a different way through some yards and across a stream until I got in the woods.  Without a trail of any kind, I would make my way in a straight line to the school.  Maybe a 2 mile walk.

“Let’s get together before we get much older…”

I had no thought in my head about anything changing.  The only comfort I could comprehend was my friends.  We smoked cigarettes until our lungs hurt.  We broke into the storage shed for the bar on 206 multiple times.  We scrounged for money.  We asked each other how much money each of us had every day.

“Teenage wasteland…”

We crashed the older kids parties.  They tried to hide them from us but we always showed up.  Midnight parties at the older kid whose mother never left her bedroom.  The lean-to at the boy scout camp.  If the police showed up, we ran.  I wouldn’t come home on the weekends until 3 am or later, if at all.  No one ever seemed to notice.

“They’re all wasted!”

I hear this song and a desparate longing fills my chest.  There are times of my life that I have avoided listening to it.  Times when I was trying to build something else.  I have a fairly successful life now.  I have a son and a girl on the way that I hope never feel that rejected by everything around them.  But all of my fears and desires have their basis in that longing.  I can still see the looks on all of their faces the last time I saw them.  I lost some brothers and sisters 25 years ago.  Everyone cried a little.

My whole life has been about leaving little pieces of myself with different groups of people.  We were children.  And children move away.  And grief is a hard lesson to learn.  But I left a piece of myself with them.  They saved my life in ways they couldn’t possibly understand.  I don’t really understand it.  But every time this song comes on I can see Jonathan,  Jason and Laura on the last day I saw them in New Jersey.  It makes my heart hurt for all of the innocence we didn’t think we had left at that time.  It makes my heart hurt for everything I wasn’t able to share with them later.  But really, being able to feel something with this kind of intensity is what life’s all about.  And all of that intensity is tied up for me in this song and that narrow strip of Northern New Jersy that we stomped in our time.

Boston Community Theater

In Boston, when I was very active with music, which, to be honest, I wasn’t active the whole time. I used to do this community theater gig and it was really the most amazing gig I ever had. I was given complete artistic freedom and I could just come up with whatever I wanted.

The director and producer of the community theater was this Chemistry professor at MIT. He was very strange. And we clashed a lot. I was young and I didn’t care if he was paying me, which he was. If there was any one gig I would like to have. That was it.

I would be there for rehearsals from the beginning and develop themes for the characters. A couple of the plays were Ibsen’s The Master Builder and Chekhov’s The Seagull. All of the plays were classic plays. The director was a little inept sometimes but it was one of his dreams. He wanted his own Chemistry Lab (MIT) and he wanted run a community theater and he wanted to direct classic plays. He also wrote a song for each play. The songs were terrible.

So one of my jobs was to produce and record his song. Not only produce it, but score it, arrange it, find appropriate people to perform it including the singer and then somehow make the song recognizable to him while still making it sound good. I have a reel of 8 track tape in my box in the living room with The Seagull arrangement on it. I haven’t heard it in 20 years.

I also participated in blocking and the character’s motivation. Sort of just critiqued and helped him put on these plays. It was my first experience in drama and soundtracks of any sort. And it was really a great experience in producing stuff I didn’t like and making it sound as good as I could whether I liked the piece or not.

Here’s the Venue!

I’ve been listening to Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous. There are a couple songs that have really entered my head. And there are a couple of songs I really don’t like, and I don’t think it’s their best, but Portions for Foxes and A Man/Me/Then Jim are really great songs. And Jenny Lewis’ honesty I guess is the thing that always gets me going back to Rilo Kiley. I envy that. I don’t think I can see myself that clearly. Of course, maybe it’s all fiction and I just understand it as clear self-examination. I don’t know Jenny Lewis, so how could I know.

I’m sort of in this amateur bull shitting myself area with everything. I need lyrics but I don’t like anything that I’m thinking of. And then the Berklee teacher that told me, “Writer’s block is the luxury of amateurs!” pops into my head whenever I end up in the “I don’t know what to write about” corner. It’s all crap. The opening song of More Adventurous is It’s a Hit and I have added enough of my own experience to read the theme as being about writer’s block. But I don’t really think the lyrics point to that. It really is about the futility of trying to write a hit.

So I have sort of invented this excuse about writer’s block. It means nothing. If I don’t attempt to write a song then it won’t happen. If I don’t really do anything, what?. If I don’t have somewhere that I am a musician every day, then I am no longer a musician every day. Who am I talking to? Why would I write anything when there is no venue? And why am I apologizing first blog post? I wonder how long it will take before I just say what I think.

Portions for Foxes has really had me thinking for a long time about what’s left of us. I wonder at what point a person solidifies their view of the world. “We’re start out as suckers and end up as assholes.” – Beijing Rocks