Carrie had a boyfriend. Someone she knew from High School.
We never saw him, but we heard all about him.
Then, one night, she showed up crying. He'd dumped her by letter. Couldn't even wait until they saw each other. Couldn't call her (although it was before cell phones, back when long distance still meant anything).
She waved the letter and we looked at it. It was filled with typos and grammatical mistakes. Someone said "he's an illiterate dope, you're better off without him." This made Carrie cry even more.
I took her for a walk. We went down the hill. To the statehouse with the big fluffy lawn.
I made her roll downhill on the lawn. This momentarily made her feel better.
And we walked back up the hill.
"I never thought we'd be together forever," she said. "But I thought we'd make it to New Year's Eve."
And she started to cry again.
I wanted to hug her, but I didn't. Instead I distracted her with a story about a girl I knew in High School.
It was a funny story. And it made her laugh.
But she would have rather had the hug.
When we got back to the dorms, she thanked me for the walk. Then she hugged me.
"Maybe you and I should hang out later," Carrie said.
And I nodded. I wanted that too.
But I didn't want to swoop in after she'd been dumped.
And it was right before finals.
So I didn't do anything about it.
And then Carrie started dating this guy named Marc. And whenever she saw me, she'd give me a sad smile.
A smile that seemed to say "you should've hugged me."
A girl who lived in the Rockies and hated the lack of snow in New England my freshman year of college.
But then it snowed overnight. And that made her happier than I'd ever seen her.
"We should go sledding. Down that big hill near the sports center," she said.
But we were college freshmen and we didn't have sleds. Or anything that could pass for sleds.
Still, I wasn't about to let her go without sledding, especially since the idea made her light up so much (and since her lighting up made everyone we knew happy as well).
So I hatched a plan. (Okay, more of a scheme than a plan.)
We'd sneak hard-plastic cafeteria trays from the dining hall, use them as sleds, and return them later.
But it turns out the workers didn't want us taking the trays out of the dining hall.
So elaborate plans were drawn up.
Diversions were planned and executed.
Trays were tucked into backpacks and under shirts.
And our small group, 11 guilty-looking nerds and the girl who grew up in the Rockies, tried to hurry through the door and out into the fresh snow.
But just before we made it to freedom, the seemingly ancient woman who guarded the door called out: "Stop."
And we all stopped. We sheepishly turned back, prepared to give up the trays.
The girl from the Rockies stepped forward. She started to speak. I knew she'd take the blame for all of us.
But the seemingly ancient woman waved her off with one wrinkled hand. "Do you think I'm stupid?" she asked.
We shook our heads and shuffled our feet.
"Good," she said. "When you remember this, remember that I was nice to you."
We stood there, unsure what she meant until she added "You better bring all those trays back this evening."
And we did.
Years later, I remember the snowfall and the act of sneaking the trays out of the dining hall. I remember the girl from the Rockies. But as much as I search my memory, I can't recall the actual sledding.
But maybe that's okay.
Because right before we brought the trays back, she took me aside, and she kissed me and she thanked me for being the only one who understood what the snow meant to her.
And talking about poetry. The lines of a haiku. The imagery of the Beats. The way a stanza stretches and curves to accommodate the listener. The fragrant sultry popping of P words and the lush liquid sound of the Ls.
Long after she's gone, the conversation lingers.
And you sit in bed at night, listening to the world. Wondering if she's listening to or if she's at another party. Enchanting the guests with her talk of poetry, her poetry of talk.
Or is she obvlivious? Spreading her gospel of poetry, then moving on to the cool ascetic prose of a monastic life?
It's hard to know.
But not impossible.
Years later, I saw her at another party.
Talking sonnets to the hostess.
So I asked her about the poetry, about the effects on the other guests, about the ascetic prose.
And she swept up her hair, curled a long length behind her ear, and looked at me quizzically. "I just like poetry," she said. "There's nothing magical or amazing about it, I just like poetry."
And she turned back to the hostess. And I saw she was still wearing the knee-high boots.
And I knew she was wrong.
Which somehow, at that moment, was the most beautiful and sad poetry of all.
Late November Re-Run Edition, Originally from Last March
They arose, like a cold northern wind, chilling and overpowering.
Clearly, they were of the land - that isolated rock near the Arctic Circle -- but kept warm by the prevailing winds and waters.
A land dragged out of the agrarian age one short generation ago.
A place the size of England. But where England is home to nearly 50 million people, this place is home to about 300,000. And most of them live in the capital city... so when you venture outside, the country is nearly empty.
While... not quite empty. There's unspeakable beauty there. Beliefs as old as the ancient Gods. A place where you an literally go to the spot where America and Europe are pulling apart.
A place that looks like this:
A country that still reveres poets. And still eats hakarl (a dish of shark's head that's buried in sand for six months until it ferments and putrefies). And still believes in elves (even if they claim they only play that up for the tourists).
A country that puts on a massive music festival every October that culminates in a hangover party at the Blue Lagoon.
Four years ago, I discovered an Icelandic band called Soundspell. They were young (17 and 18) and had just won an Icelandic songwriting contest. It was clear that they'd listened to a lot of Sigur Ros and wore that influence on their sleeves.
They were so clearly Icelandic -- you could hear the strange wonders of the country in their songs and feel it in their performances.
But they were more rock-oriented than Sigur Ros... and sang in English.
So I made it my mission to talk them up to everyone I met for the better part of a year.
Soundspell made an album called An Ode to the Umbrella. It wasn't available in the U.S. and I couldn't find anywhere to buy it on the internet. On a whim, I found the email address of the (American) producer and wrote to him. Amazingly, he wrote back almost immediately.
I'd heard most of the songs on their MySpace page (yeah, I know, it was a long time ago). If Sigur Ros could break through, surely Soundspell would be the next big thing.
I wanted the album, but I couldn't find it anywhere. When I went back to Iceland the next year, I thought I could be it there.
The band said on their website that the CD was available at a chain record shop on the main shopping street. It wasn't in the racks, so I asked. And a typically gorgeous Icelandic woman went into the back and dug one out. The dollar was not doing well at the time and I mentally calculated how much I could afford to spend... then added 20%. But the actual price was 50% more than that.
So... reluctantly, I did not buy it.
It was cold in Iceland that Spring. There was snow. And wind.
And a car that was stuck in the snow for hours until someone came along and helped us push it to safety.
Over the next couple of years, the guys in Soundspell played a bunch of shows. The album never came out in the U.S. A few new songs snuck onto their MySpace page. Then their website disappeared. And they stopped updating their MySpace.
I wish I knew what happened. Maybe they're working on new material. Maybe they're in the studio. Or they broke up. Or they've just been busy studying, surviving, trying to figure out what to do with their lives.
I mean, they wouldn't have gone silent just because I didn't buy their album when I was in Iceland.
I was sick as a dog yesterday -- fever, aches, no energy to change the channel when Adam Sandler movies came on cable -- the whole bit.
Today's a lot better, but I'm not 100%. Click here to listen.
So instead of a story and complete write-up, I'll just offer the top ten reasons why the last 30 seconds of "Radio Bar" by Fountains of Wayne capture everything that's good and smart and hopeful about pop music:
10. "One night there was a girl there." Probably there were girls there before that night. Maybe that girl was there on some previous night. But all good pop songs begin with a girl (and in the logic of the pop song, time begins anew when a girl appears).
9. "For some reason, she..." Girls are strange and wondrous creatures. Men and boys will never understand them... We know that they have reasons for what they do, even if we'll never know or fully comprehend those reasons.
8. The way the horn parts echo and complement the vocals in the last verse. Yeah, this technically starts before the last 30 seconds, but it continues and intensifies as the song draws to a close.
7. Stretching out the first syllable of "somewhere" in the line "She said 'why don't we go somewhere?'" It would scan better not to stretch the syllable. It would match what went before. But when your entire life changes, everything suddenly seems different and when you look back, the moment of change elongates in your memory.
6. The internal rhyme of "So I passed her her coat, that was all that she wrote." Again, when your entire life changes, the rhymes can quicken. And once your life changes completely, what's the harm of adding an extra line or two to the verse?
5. "That was it for the radio bar." Because when your life suddenly changes and you have purpose, you no longer need to waste time childishly like you did before.
4. The false ending. Is there anything sweeter than a fake ending in a power pop song? (Please reference "No Matter What" in your answer.) The only thing that would have made this better would be a split-second of complete silence before the drums kick back in.
3. The joyful continuation of the song. Because even though the days of the Radio Bar are over, that doesn't mean you can't slam into the chorus one more time with all the gusto that encompassed every second you'd spent there over the years.
2. The percussion in the last chorus. Similar, but much more pronounced than what went before. Listen carefully and you can hear a prominent triangle.
1. A slight stretching of the last word. Not as big a stretch as "somewhere," but still enough to add another half- or three-quarters of a syllable to the word "bar." Because clearly, this is a place that was important -- not as important as the girl, of course, but important nonetheless.
25 years after their heyday was over (and 30 years after their third member left for a career making explicitly Christian music), America found an unlikely ally in Adam Schlessinger from Fountains of Wayne.
Schlessinger recorded some demos with Gerry Beckley and Sony signed America. Schlessinger and James Iha (from Smashing Pumpkins) produced America's underrated (and underheard) 2007 album Here and Now. To assure the interest of old-time America fans, the album came with a bonus live record consisting of live versions of every song from 1975's History: America's Greatest Hits.
So it seems oddly appropriate to hear America covering "A Road Song" (from the new Fountains of Wayne album) -- with a side-dish of "Sister Goldenhair":
From 1987 (and arguably better than anything he released in the late 80s) comes an unreleased gem from Sir Paul McCartney:
I wonder what made him shelve this? Fear that he'd be seen as dwelling on the past (or condemning the past)? A gut feeling that the lyrics weren't up to snuff? A deep-seated fear that the Blue Meanies know where he lives?
The new Fountains of Wayne album Sky Full of Holes is fantastic.
And there, buried in the second-to-last song (where it slid by unnoticed during my first few listens), is a reference to Totten Pond Road in Waltham, Mass.
The exact place where, more years ago than I care to admit, just off the highway and a short walk from the reservoir, I had my first job out of college.
The company's gone now -- after betting too much on government contracts that fundamentally made no sense, they pivoted ten years ago and tried to make consumer products. This required getting rid of almost all the people who worked on the government jobs -- because people will never tolerate in a consumer product the nonsense the government puts up with.
I don't remember what I worked on there and I only lasted a year before I moved on -- to a company where I worked on something else I can't remember.
But at Totten Pond Road there was a guy I'll call David (which I think was even his name) -- he seemed impossibly old at the time, but probably was only in his 50s.
I can't remember the organizational structure, but David was in charge of a significant part of our project. He had several people working for him and had a wry sense of humor.
He kept to himself, but so did a lot of people there.
Then, one Monday, he was gone.
The direct-deposit of his paycheck hit Saturday at 12:01 am. He emptied his bank account, left his wife, kids, house, and credit cards and took his car.
His wife was panicked, the cops were called, and everyone was hauled into a conference room to answer questions about whether he said anything that indicated he might do something like this.
No one had heard anything and David had been careful not to leave any hints about what he clearly had planned for some time.
A few months later, he called one of his colleagues. He'd moved halfway across the country, taken another job, and decided he needed to start again.
But the weird thing was that he'd done this exact thing before.
David had cleaned out his bank account and left a house and first wife in California to come to Totten Pond Road.
We all sometimes get that crazy dream that we just take off in the car. David did it -- at least twice.
And this morning, with fog rolling in from the coast in Los Angeles, I wondered where David wound up -- and whether he vanished a third time. (I hope he's still around, even though he'd certainly be a lot older now...)
Or just thought about it, then turned his car around and went home.
All of Chuck's Children Are Out There Playing His Licks
She said she was tired.
It was understandable. Between the job that stretched into the evenings and the kid who wouldn't sleep through the night, she had a lot going on.
Even when she could sleep, she'd find herself tossing and turning, wondering where all her energy had gone.
So when she complained over Facebook that she needed something to rejuvenate her, her friends all weighed in -- with most people urging her to take a long tropical vacation.
That wasn't in the cards.
But then her girlfriends urged her to go out with them one night. Like they used to.
To a club, where a band that the hipsters fawn over would play. A band they claimed would be household names within a few months. And here's a chance to hear them in a small club with a few dozen other people.
So she got a babysitter.
And she dressed up in the clothes she used to wear 15 pounds and 5 years earlier.
And she met her (still-single) friends. They refused to take her "Mom-car" and piled into the trendy sports car owned by her trendiest, hippest girlfriend.
And they paid $15 to park.
And $11 each to get into the show. And $17 for drinks. (Until some guys showed up and bought them a couple rounds.)
The next day, she took to Facebook to report on what happened.
The music was a lot louder than she remembered. And she forgot to bring earplugs.
The drinks were a lot more watered-down than they used to be. And the band was sloppier (or maybe the bands were always sloppy but she hadn't noticed when the drinks were stronger).
And at the end of the night, she was happy. But even more tired than she used to be.
While it may be true that Rock & Roll Never Forgets, I wouldn't necessarily trust its memory either.
...save every day like a treasure and then, again...
"It used to be better," she said.
I nodded. "Much better."
"I mean, they had to change the packaging and I really liked the old package."
"And the flavor. It tastes different now."
"Not as good."
I nodded again.
We were silent for a long time. Sitting on the big rock that balanced at the edge of the waterfall near the state park that we'd agreed had to be the most beautiful state park in the entire world.
"A lot of things used to be better," she said. "Not just the food."
And I looked around and thought of the many things in our hometown that used to be better and had changed. And the many things in art and music and movies and literature that were so much worse than what had come before.
And I had to agree with her.
We smiled, confident and comfortable in the fact that we alone had a handle on what was right and what had gone wrong.
It was that brief moment when we knew literally everything there was to know. When we had discovered the absolute and total truth.
We were 14 years old.
Soon, we'd be smart enough to realize how much we didn't know. But that one cloudy afternoon, we knew it all.
In the early 1970s, Paul McCartney was vilified for recording and releasing a series of wimpy songs (and insanely uneven albums).
During that same period, John Lennon struggled to find his own voice, careening from the stark primal scream of Plastic Ono Band to hopeful hippie anthems ("Happy Xmas"), unashamed rockers ("Instant Karma"), odd anthems ("Imagine"), and sappy mystic anthems ("#9 Dream"). Not to mention Sometime in New York City, about which the less said the better.
When the Beatles broke up, Lennon was freed from the need to compete with Paul McCartney for leadership of the biggest band in history. But he drifted, trying to find his voice (which, he famously tried to disguise in whatever way he could because he didn't like the sound of it).
So tonight, with wispy clouds passing overhead and a cool breeze blowing in off the water, I find myself thinking about a John Lennon song. It's not his best song, not his biggest hit, and not even a song he wrote.
But, somehow, while recording an album of oldies with Phil Spector, Lennon was able to shrug off the need to be the voice of his generation long enough to deliver his most relaxed and confident vocal performance since the Beatles broke up.
RIP Jerry Leiber, who wrote (with Mike Stoller) classic songs like "Kansas City," "Charlie Brown," "Ruby Baby," "Jailhouse Rock," "Searchin," "Love Potion #9," and of course "Stand By Me."
There's a bar outside of Boston I went to a few times.
They had a crappy beer selection, floors that hadn't been washed in decades, and three-dollar cheeseburgers that weren't so horrible if you had enough crappy beer.
And they had a jukebox.
Where every single record was by Bob Dylan.
"You wanna hear Hendrix do 'All Along the Watchtower' you go somewhere else," the bartender explained. "You wanna hear the Byrds sing Dylan? You go to Cambridge and go to one of them bars there. You wanna hear the classics -- this is your home."
His dad started the bar in the 50s, and he took over in the early 70s. "First thing I got was the jukebox," he said. "Some of the regulars moved on, but we got new regulars who kept coming back."
The bartender held court some nights at the bar. Entertaining us with stories of his travels, the women he'd met, and the jealous men who'd chased him out of more than a few towns.
One night, the bartender said, Dylan himself showed up. There's a photo of Dylan by the jukebox, he told me. But he never put the photo up.
As the years went by, the regulars got older. The late-night stories grew more infrequent. And the jukebox (still stocked with Dylan) was silent more often than not.
For years, I'd drop into the bar whenever I was in town just to see that nothing had changed (except the price for the cheeseburgers, which started to creep up).
Last time, I was there, the bar was gone. It was an Applebees now.
No jukebox, no stories.
And while there are Applebees all over the place, there's no Dylan in Applebees.
The Zombies were a great English band in the early to mid-60s. They had a couple of huge hit singles ("She's Not There" and "Tell Her No") and were pushed heavily as a singles band by their label Decca. But when other singles failed to perform, the record company lost interest.
Meanwhile, the band wrote and recorded an entire album that Decca rejected because they couldn't hear a single.
Eventually Decca let them go and they signed to Columbia, where they recorded Odessey and Oracle, then broke up before it could be released. The record was a baroque masterpiece anchored by "Time of the Season," a song so amazing it seems like it must have always existed (perhaps buried deep in the earth's magma and waiting for the right tool to free it and allow it to travel over the world).
Despite the record's success, the band had no interest in regrouping, so several different groups of Zombies were recruited to tour the U.S. and Europe.
Fast-forward 43 years and Melbourne-based singer/songwriter Ben Mason has recorded covers of every song on that record (calling his work The Odessey Odyssey). Mason says he did it to improve his recording techniques and teach himself to play piano.
And while there's no good reason for anyone to re-record a classic album (even as a one-man band exercise)... there's no good reason not to either.
Mason's versions are faithful to the originals, but not so slavish that his personality gets lost.
You can read Ben's notes about the process of making this record.
Take a listen here:
I don't know much about Ben Mason, but I know if I ever make it out to Melbourne I wanna buy him a beer!
This post was written in black & white... for artistic reasons
Delia worked at the small convenience store on the corner. They sold milk and stale sandwiches and overpriced deodorant sticks and razor blades. And troll dolls at the register.
Steve worked for an industry that would all but disappear in a few years, but he didn't know that. He knew that Delia worked at the store and that was enough for him.
Steve took to coming in several nights a week, making excuses to buy stuff he didn't really need and work up the courage to talk to Delia.
She'd sit behind the counter, reading the tabloids, glancing at her watch, counting the minutes until she'd get off work, get high, and go out dancing.
Steve didn't think she should go out dancing. He wanted to take her for long walks by the ocean. Even though the ocean was hundreds of miles away.
Delia noticed Steve, but didn't think much about him. She thought he dressed funny, not realizing that he would try on 6 or 7 shirts before deciding what he'd wear to go to the convenience store.
Delia would throw on whatever she touched first when she reached into her closet with her eyes closed.
One night, Steve had a few drinks before he went to the convenience store. He walked around the small space, gathering cans of whipped cream and packages of Polaroid film. He plunked them down on the counter and smiled.
"Big plans for the night?" Delia asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Yeah. With you," Steve blurted out before the thought was even fully formed.
"Thanks," Delia said. "But I'm busy."
Steve paid quickly and left. Embarrassed, he stayed away for weeks.
Finally, he found his way back to the convenience store. Delia was smiling and flirting with a customer. Steve watched her for a moment, then turned and walked away.
He stopped halfway down the block and turned back. He could do this. He could walk in and say something and make her love him. He could do it.
He took a few more steps, saw Delia look both ways, lean across the counter and give the customer a quick kiss.
And he stood on the sidewalk for a very long time.
Balancing his knowledge that surely Delia would be his if he said the right thing with the intense desire to slink down between cracks in the sidewalk and melt into the earth and down to the magma deep at its core.
Eventually a woman walking a small dog approached. The dog yapped and jumped up on Steve, bringing him back to reality. "Sorry," said the woman, pulling her dog away from Steve. Humiliated, Steve walked away and avoided going near the convenience store until he moved away.
Because of this, he never talked with the woman who was walking the dog... even though she was so taken with him that she returned, night after night for months, tying the dog up so she could go into the convenience store to buy whipped cream and Polaroid film from Delia, hoping she'd catch a glimpse of Steve and sure that he'd fall madly in love with her if she could just think of the right thing to say.
I'm pretty sure your SmartPhone is smarter than your dumb ass.
I was there to see the comedian, not watch your phone light up and buzz when your idiotic friends sent you texts. (And even though I can't imagine what inane crap you were discussing, I couldn't be bothered to lean over and try to read it because I couldn't look past your insanely hyperinflated sense of entitlement.)
You wanna send texts during a performance? Save it for the Harry Potter movie, shithead.
When you're in a comedy club, shut the fuck up and listen.
I don't even care that you were hot. I won't fuck people who are so disrespectful.
When Joe Strummer was buried, his friends put two bumper stickers on his coffin. One said "Vinyl Rules" and the other said "Question Authority."
Julie was cool. She had the first Clash album (the UK import, not the American version, which she said was inferior, thus winning instant punk cred with everyone she knew). She bought London Calling on the day it was released and is one of the only people I've ever known who owned Sandinista on vinyl (and regularly listened to all six sides). She saw the Clash live once and proudly argued with anyone who'd listen that they really were "the only band that matters." The politics went right over her head, but she tapped directly into the passion that exploded out of her speakers when she played their records and that was really all that mattered. (And she was so committed that you could overlook the absurdity of a suburban American blonde girl singing along to quintessentially English punk songs.)
Every March, Julie would celebrate the release of the Clash's first single ("White Riot") by skipping school (or later calling in sick to work) and watching her old VHS tape of the movie Rude Boy and listening to her old records (vinyl only, no CDs) for hours. That's what she did in March 1987, on the tenth anniversary of the Clash's first record being released. Then she went out driving in her beat-up (but still gorgeous) white convertible, top down despite the winter weather, her long hair buffeted by a cold wind, listening to this song, written and first recorded by Sonny Curtis -- now better known for writing "Love is All Around," the theme song for the Mary Tyler Moore Show (link for Gmail subscribers):
Now I'm not a physicist, but I'm pretty sure Sir Isaac Newton said something about how impossible it is to drive slowly when you hear songs like this. And Julie was flying. A State Trooper pulled her over and said he'd clocked her going 86 in a 60 zone. He asked why she was speeding. She's pretty enough to have gotten out of the ticket by flirting, but instead she explained she'd been listening to the Clash because it was the tenth anniversary of their first record coming out. The Trooper then told her about how he had discovered the Clash and how he'd seen them exactly once. As it turned out, they went to the same show. So he let her off with a warning.
Joe Strummer died before the Clash were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Later that year, there was a Clash tribute at the Grammy awards. It took Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Steve Van Zandt, and Elvis Costello to take Joe Strummer's place (link for Gmail subscribers):
Julie reminded me recently that, when Joe Strummer died (a few days before Christmas in 2002), she went driving again. Different car, this one not a convertible, her hair a little shorter and the heater blasting. Also blasting was "London Calling."
Again, impossible to drive slowly with a song like that.
So Julie was pulled over; this time clocked at 70 in a 55. When the cop asked why she was speeding, Julie explained that Joe Strummer of the Clash had died. She talked about the band, she talked about the show she'd seen, and she even mentioned that she had just listened to Sandinista on vinyl. All six sides.
The cop patiently listened to Julie's story, eyes hidden behind mirror sunglasses, face stripped of emotion. Finally Julie asked him what type of music he liked.
The cop thought for a minute, then said "Britney Spears."
The pictures are still on the wall. Taped. No one seemed to mind.
The postcards are all in a row. Also taped. Above the photos.
The window is open and the cleaning crew has come through.
Everything will be boxed and someone will come pick it up.
The word will spread out from this spot.
And the awareness floats upward. Freely.
The nurses talked for a few days. Then they moved on.
There were other people, other problems.
One of them wondered about the strange visitors, the phone calls, the people with accents.
But she didn't say anything. She just wondered.
Some immediately forgot how cranky he could be, how difficult. They only wanted to remember the positive. Which is nice, but it's not real life. In trying to be nice, they unwittingly diminish the humanity.
Meanwhile, doctors and administrators talked about the family and speculated why so few of them had come.
Many questions remained. Questions that would never be answered.
Still the palm trees waved in the gentle ocean breeze.
They know the answers -- but more than that, they know when it's time.
Thanks to the reader who pointed out that I had the old, wrong, dead link for Peter's Power Pop over there on the side -- it's fixed now. But speaking of which, go here and listen to Brian Hoffer, who humbly suggests maybe you just need psychoanalysis.
Hat tip to Whiteray over at Echoes in the Wind, who pointed me to The Goat 540, an album-rock Am station that streams on the web -- and might just represent the finest ideals of album rock, which I thought had died decades ago.
"Meet me at that place. Down the block. The one that shouldn't be open but is."
So I did. I drove there.
New to Los Angeles, not caring that no one thought my crappy French car was cool, not caring what trendy cars the bottled blondes drove.
On the street were six Suzuki Samurais, all driven by newly blonde actress wannabes carrying plastic water bottles and yoga mats.
Five years later, they'd be driving some other trendy car. Then another one. Then New Beetles and Mini Coopers.
At the place where we met, she ate something organic. I tried a bite. It was disgusting.
"Why aren't the streets glistening?" she asked. "They always glisten in the movies."
I looked down the hallway, which was painted to look like a Japanese Pagoda. Now it looked like a hallway with peeling Pagoda paint. The bored vaguely Asian waitstaff scurried about, heating sake for the exclusively White patrons.
"I don't know that they're always glistening," I said.
She smiled. "Always. There's never been a movie where it's not raining in Los Angeles."
She wanted me to argue, to be logical. But I didn't want to. I was tired.
"It's like someone waved a magic wand at Los Angeles and made it rain. But only in the movies." She looked far off into the distance. "I wish I could make it rain here."
She finished her meal. I couldn't stomach mine.
Then she asked if I wanted any gluten-free chocolate cake. I didn't. I was tired of trendy food. "I've got an idea," I said. "Let's go somewhere and have real chocolate cake. Made with sugar and flour and eggs and chocolate."
She scowled at me. "That's disgusting."
I shrugged as she poured water from the bottle into her glass.
"I just wanted something real."
She stared around the room at all the women with fake breasts and said nothing.
"You know," I said, "Evian spelled backwards is 'naive.'"
She shook her head, looked at me across the table, and said the words every man in Los Angeles hates to hear: "I signed up for an acting class."
We said nothing for a very long time.
The French car outlived the relationship, but not by much. I got an equally untrendy but more reliable car.
In the restaurant, the paint continued to peel. The fake breasted women pushed food around their plates and eventually left. The newly arrived blondes went off to yoga in their cute cars.
Some of the details changed (the make of the cute car, the container used for designer water, the hairstyle), but the essence was the same. The same old thing that you saw 12 seconds ago.
And certainly no one remembers why he's on horseback.
But late one night, Gina and I were walking on the lawn.
And we were talking about her problems. (She had a lot of problems, so this was not the first or the last time we talked about them.)
We stopped by the statue and I could sense that her personal cosmology and belief systems, which ebbed and flowed like mountain springs, were due for another radical change of course. "I'd die for you, you know," she said.
And I said something about how that would not be necessary. Because I didn't want the responsibility. Didn't want her even thinking that way.
And she bent down, picked up an empty bottle of beer someone had thrown onto the lawn.
She smiled. "It's not that big a deal. I've died a thousand times before. I've got a few thousand times to go still."
And she broke the bottle against the base of the statue.
I spun around, thinking someone would have heard us, somewhere security or the police, or a neighbor would come running out and we'd get in trouble.
But no one came.
"It's 3 am," Gina said as I turned back to face her. "No one cares. This is the one time of day when we can be honest with each other."
And she ran her finger across the jagged edges of the broken glass before continuing. "And I'm sure you'd die for me, too."
I looked deep into her eyes and realized this was no small request. She may not have wanted me to die right then and there, but she wanted to know that she could call on me to die whenever she chose.
I knew I wouldn't do that. Much as I cared for her, I wasn't going there. Not that night and not in the future.
I took the broken glass from her hand. And she must have seen the deep-seated fear in me, because she quickly backtracked, claiming she'd never hurt herself for anyone and would never want anyone else to die for her.
She laughed, insisted I'd misunderstood, and tried to play the whole thing off as a joke.
But I knew better.
And anyone else who'd been there knew better too.
But I had no one to share this insight with -- except for the statue. And he (like Gina) wasn't in the mood to listen.
Longtime readers may be interested to know that this song was always targeted for inclusion on my never-went-anywhere Codependency's Greatest Hits collection.
Interrupting the summer doldrums for two versions of a song I've always loved (which seems appropriate since today is Ringo Starr's birthday).
Come for the great horn arrangements (and instrumental tracks played by most of Badfinger), stay for the goofy scenes of pianos in the snow, Ringo skiing poorly, and several snowmachine accidents waiting to happen.
There were rumors from the beginning that Ringo could not have possibly written this song (a huge step up from his previous ditties like "Octopus's Garden"). Decades later, a demo version surfaced with a George Harrison guide vocal (as well as a few extraneous "Hari Krishnas" that were buried in the final mix), raising questions about exactly how much of the song Harrison had written himself.
But as cool as the Harrison version is, there's something I've always loved about Ringo's vocal that Harrison didn't quite match.
Note: I'm reasonably sure it's a coincidence that I kept thinking of the last song in this post after watching cable news coverage of politicians and political pundits...
Originally Published May 2009
After the Rutles album came out, there was a lot of talk about how similar the songs were to Beatles songs (including this article, which proves that scholarly study of humor will almost immediately spiral into self-parody).
Unfortunately, the owners of the Beatles publishing (but not the Beatles themselves) decided that the Rutle songs were too close to Beatle songs and sued. In the process, Innes lost all the publishing and songwriting royalties for all the songs from the first Rutles album (and was so disgusted with the music business that he dropped out of music for several years). Add in legal squabbling with Eric Idle about legal ownership of the idea of the Rutles, and you've got enough to make you want to smash everything in sight. (And blame it on society.)
But the universe does have a way of showing that there is such thing as Karma, even if it takes longer than we want. In the mid-1990s, Oasis, a band whose music is often ignored while people focus on their influences and frequent fistfights, released a song called "Whatever" which -- and I'm not sure how to put this delicately -- sounds exactly like the Neil Innes song "How Sweet to Be an Idiot."
And, perhaps in part to make up for mistreating him financially with the Rutles, the universe awarded Innes royalties and co-writing credit on "Whatever."
I got a call from a friend back East. He was baking. It was a million degrees. He wanted to hear about the lack of humidity. About the cool ocean breezes. About the way the sun didn't bake us here the same way it was baking them there.
So we talked about snow.
About the bone-chilling feeling of cold wet wind when the snow wouldn't stop falling.
About the feeling of wind chill on exposed skin, how it flowed through your core.
And about the feeling of shaking from the cold.
At the end of the call, I asked if it helped.
"Not really," he said. "But I'm going to go lie down in the bathtub for a while... and see if that helps."
The Weepies are two married singer/songwriters who had separate careers and met one night at a folk club in Cambridge, Mass.
They've had hundreds of songs placed in TV shows and movies, hitting the twee bullseye nearly every time.
"You're talking in circles. Sometimes I think you like talking in circles."
"No you're not talking in circles? Or no you don't like it?"
"That doesn't answer my question."
No. No it doesn't.
"You circle around the point without getting there."
Maybe that's the only way to get there.
"Another riddle. I'm tired of riddles."
And I'm just tired. Because the whole point isn't the answer to the riddles or the answer to the questions, but the space between the riddles. The space between that defines what we can't define in the circles. Or the riddles. Or the words.
Late at night, in a city that had gone downhill for decades. A city that would come back, but not until we were all long gone.
Down the hill to a deserted downtown area filled with bars we never went to and a couple of rock clubs we did.
Somersaulting on the lawn in front of the State House at 2 in the morning -- grass freshly mowed, security guards safely asleep inside the building.
Past buildings soon to be torched for insurance money -- allegedly, because nothing was ever proven.
Walking in packs, thinking we were safe from anything that could be thrown our way.
Ignoring each other's foibles, as if talking about what was wrong would make things worse.
Working during the day in jobs that would expire in a couple months. Saving a tiny bit of money so the ones who had cars could drive us to the Beach every other weekend.
When the news came years later, it seemed inevitable to everyone.
The sadness was not a relief. The sense of loss may have been more for ourselves than the ones who were finally, definitely gone.
The question about why we hadn't done more lingered in the air that day like the heat that still rises from the sidewalks in the summer. We appeared dressed in black suits and black dresses, older if not wiser. And we talked into the night, ties loosened, the good times seeping through holes in our memories while the ghosts of our younger selves passed by the outdoor cafes downtown searching for the dingy bars and rock clubs that closed up shop long ago.
I've got a great idea. Let's solve the problem of people not having jobs by cutting government programs, getting rid of pensions, destroying unions, and raising taxes and fees on people who can barely afford to live.
Oh, and let's let the insurance companies rack up record profits while we cut benefits to people who need them so that people who are unemployed literally cannot afford health care and decide that robbing a bank is a great way to get coveragesince our society has ruled that depriving prison inmates of health care is cruel and unusual punishment (but depriving the poor is just the American way).
And then let's give tax breaks to people who don't need it and companies that already pay little or no tax.
Because, if you listen to anyone on the Sunday Morning Talk Shows, that's the only way to get ourselves out of this economic mess.
Once he was the grinder, now he has to work for hire
"Your passive-aggressive mastery of the art of stealing office supplies does not make you James Bond," she said.
"Maybe not," he answered. "But I could kill you 16 different ways with a paper clip."
She nodded. "Fine talk from someone who doesn't even realize I've got your stapler."
He glanced down at her hands, distracted by the silver flash of the stapler, clearly marked "Property of Engineering Department - Do Not Remove." But here it was... in his apartment.
He began to sweat, wishing he'd worn something other than a white tuxedo.
"Do you expect me to talk?" he asked. "Do you want the launch codes? My secrets about the location of assets?"
She smiled and dropped the stapler. "No, Mr. Bond. I expect for you to go down to the casino, win thousands at baccarat, foil an evil scheme or two, and return to me."
He nodded. "I can do that."
But she was gone. Because he couldn't do that. Not in a hastily constructed cookie-cutter room above an Indian casino in the Midwest. Not when he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans instead of a tux and drinking vodka straight from the bottle.
And probably not even if he'd been in Monte Carlo and wasn't afraid to go into the casino.
Looking into the mirror, he realized that the dream he'd clung to since he was 8 in a darkened movie theater was slipping away.
Because he'd never be James Bond. No matter how many Uniball pens and sealed packets of Post-It notes he had hidden away in his closet at home.
Sometimes there are benefits (pun intended) to living in Los Angeles.
Last night I went to a benefit concert put on by Charles Fox for the Fulfillment Fund (a mentoring group for at-risk High School students).
The concert featured Jeff Barry (who wrote so many great songs with Ellie Greenwich), David Pack (from the band Ambrosia), Richard Marx, Felix Cavaliere (from the Rascals), Norman Gimbel (Fox's longtime songwriting partner), songwriter Allee Willis, and many others.
Fox has written a ton of songs you know (including lots of 70s TV theme songs -- "Love American Style," "Happy Days," etc., etc.), but my favorite song that he wrote was "I Got a Name," recorded by Jim Croce in the early 1970s.
Yeah, it's got the requisite cheesy 70s strings, but I keep thinking the time is right for a great indie-rock remake of this song.
And in the meantime... enjoy Jim Croce singing a classic song written by Gimbel & Fox: