Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Beyond the pale

You saw something.

You can't explain it.

So your mind works overtime. And you cling to something, anything.

Because you can't have it unexplained.

That way is madness. That way is horror. That way is terrifying.

Hundreds of years ago, this wouldn't have been a problem.

We knew there were a lot of things we didn't know. And yet our minds still spun in circles.

It's the explanations that were different. Otherworldly. Relying on magic and the supernatural to explain the most sublime of pleasures and the most terrifying of horrors.

We've turned away from that now.

Well, mostly.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Flags Over the Supermarket

Years Ago, We Watched the Flags

We stood in front of the supermarket. The one on the hill.

And there were flags on the roof. A dozen flags with the name of the supermarket.

No American flags. No state flags. Just the flags of the supermarket.

"Maybe the store is its own sovereign nation," I said.

And she thought for a second and shook her head. "I'm pretty sure we're still in California."

Years later, I stand in front of the same supermarket. On the same hill.

The name on the building has changed. One giant supermarket chain bought another one and rebranded all the locations.

And since I moved 3 miles away, I never go to the store on the hill anymore. The one that was "our" store, then "my" store.

The still have flags on top of the building, even if the name on the flags is different now.

I thought I heard her voice and turned. And she was standing there. Older.

"Isn't this the store you claimed was part of Nevada?" she asked.

And I smiled sadly. And shook my head, watching the flags flap in the ocean breeze.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Meanwhile, I'm Still Thinking

Peter Brown called to say you can make it okay...

Over on The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, Tred weighs in with one of the weirdest Beatle covers in history. Declaring "The Ballad of John & Yoko" as the world's first tweet (albeit in song form and with a lot more than 140 characters), Tred deconstructs the song.

He also claims it's the precursor of today's societal inability to distinguish between celebrity's private lives and their art.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Time and Again I Tell Myself...

Sordid details following...

In the black-light club, with the bass pounding, and the opening band screaming, she smiled.

And I thought again how beautiful she was when she smiled. How it was like a portal to another word.

And she did that thing girls do where they curl the hair in back of their ear. It's endearing as hell, especially if they can smile like the portal to another world.


The light flashed.

And I looked at her arm. And saw the scars.

"What are the scars from?" But she didn't want to talk about it.

And from then on, I was obsessed with those scars. In the light of day, they seemed to vanish. But I found myself sneaking glances at them.

Maybe it was nothing.

For a long while it seemed like nothing.

And then a few weeks later, the scars looked fresh.

"Why do you have those scars?" I asked again.

She turned away. Didn't want to talk about it.

But I grabbed her hand. And ran my fingers along the scars. The fresh scars.

"Okay," she said. "I don't want to do it."

And she took her hand back and pulled her sleeve down. "Every day I tell myself it will be better. And most days it is. But when it's not... it's really not."

And she smiled. A sad smile. Still the portal to another world.

But not a world she wanted to live in. And not even a world I wanted to visit.

No matter how endearing it is when she tucked her hair behind her ear.

David Bowie - Ashes To Ashes on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October Re-Run: The Waiting

Or, Why I Hate Rochester (originally published January 13, 2010)

She wanted me to come visit her.

So I did. I plopped down two weeks of pay for the plane ticket and went to see her over the three-day weekend.

In the days before cell phones and Skype, we talked twice a week that summer. We wrote actual letters. She proclaimed her love over and over. Said she couldn't live without me.

And I had a bad feeling, but I went. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

It was a horrible weekend.

She ignored me, was distant, and pretended not to know what I was talking about when I asked her what was wrong.

I kept thinking I shouldn't have come. I should have listened to the bad feeling.

I told her I was going to go back to the airport. Fly standby and go home.

Suddenly, she was all weepy. Crying and kissing me and telling me she couldn't live without me. Begging me to be patient with her.

And things almost seemed normal until I left.

Then she wasn't around when I called. She wouldn't call me back.

And I was stuck in another state doing a stupid summer job I hated, earning next to no money and living in a crappy sublet apartment with almost no furniture, a great stereo, and two crates full of records.

I met a girl I liked. She flirted with me shamelessly, but I didn't do anything. I had a girlfriend. Right?

And so I waited. I wrote her letters. I tried to call. I tried not to pay attention to the sinking feeling.

Two weeks later she finally called me back. When I asked what was wrong, she said "I thought we broke up two weeks ago."

As my world collapsed beneath my feet, I thought exactly three things:

1) It would have been nice for you to f*cking tell me.

2) Tom Petty was wrong. The Waiting wasn't the hardest part. Not by a long shot.

And 3) I am never going back to Rochester.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Dale Bumpers Post

A Story About A Story Explaining Nothing (and maybe everything)

When I was growing up, Senator Dale Bumpers from Arkansas ran for President. His campaign seemed to last for about five minutes (and couldn't have stretched beyond a few weeks).

These days with the Google and the Wikipedia, you can learn all about Dale Bumpers in a few clicks. But for many years, all I knew about Dale Bumpers was this:

When he was campaigning to be President, a reporter asked him why he was running for President. He paused, then told this story:

There was a guy who was infamous in my home county for being the best fisherman around. When others would come home empty-handed, he would always have fish.

One day, the local Fish & Game Warden decided to investigate. So he followed the Fisherman out to a local lake. As the Warden watched, the Fisherman reached into a bag, picked out a stick of dynamite, lit it, and threw it in the water. A second later the dynamite exploded and a bunch of dead fish floated to the surface. The Fisherman calmly scooped them up with a net.

The Fish & Game Warden ran up to him, sputtering and furious. "You can't do that," he bellowed. "It's against the law, it's fundamentally unfair to the fish, and it's just plain wrong."

The Fisherman nodded, reached into his bag, grabbed another stick of dynamite, lit it, and handed it to the Warden. "I just have one question," said the Fisherman. "Are you gonna talk or are you gonna fish?"

There's a lot that I love about that story -- it's folksy, it's colorful, it's memorable, and it shows a healthy disregard for authority. But the best thing about might be that in no way does the story come close to answering the question.

Still, there are times in life when you need to ask yourself if you're gonna talk or are you gonna fish?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Craigslist Ads and the New Wave Songs That Love Them #6

Number 6 -- now with added Ska

Missed Connections

You -- all jittery and paranoid, on a twitchy, coke-fueled bender that left your narcissism intact.

Me -- Looking for salvation for my past sins, wanting to explain the extenuating circumstances, knowing you'd listen if you could take your mind off yourself for two, maybe two and a half minutes.

You weren't hot enough to keep staring at yourself to the point where you didn't even notice me. Or were you staring at my reflection behind you?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

All the Debutantes in Houston, Baby

Dueling 70s Action in my Brain

I think I gotta get some more sleep.

For days now, I've had two songs dueling for attention in my brain. Both songs were big hits. Arguably one of the songs is some kind of classic. But both are ultimately insipid and have unspeakably stupid lyrics. And both feature a ridiculous use of the word "baby" in their lyrics, baby.

You can nearly hear the excess dripping out of the speakers when you listen to "The Long Run" by the Eagles. Nothing about the song seems finished -- the lyrics might have been dashed off in a coke-fueled 4am surge; the music never quite goes anywhere, and the groove isn't really that great. (The bass line, however, is pretty freaking great.) Joe Walsh's guitar playing is nearly great, but just a pale shadow of what he'd done before. And even if the harmonies are pretty, when you're repeating some of the more inane lyrics in rock, it's hard to be cool.

Maybe the problem was that, by 1979, the partying had become so much more important than the music that paid for the partying. But even the partying wasn't much fun and the band called it quits after the tour to promote this record -- although they did produce a live album with Glenn Frey and Don Henley mixing and doing overdubs 3000 miles apart form each other. (The credits for the live album include five different attorneys -- which is both hilarious and sad.) Listen here.

In another corner of my brain from the opposite end of the 70s is Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds. With another song filled with insipid lyrics.

Where the Eagles were largely a self-contained group of musicians, singers, and songwriters, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds were the last gasp of old-school pop (with music written by outside writers, shaped by producers, and made glossy with strings and horns). The band would have one more (even bigger) halfway through the decade (the far sappier "Falling in Love") -- and even though Reynolds had left the band and been replaced by Alan Dennison, the group retained the unfathomable name "Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds"

And while I never could figure out how big this band was (apparently it's a trio -- Hamilton and Reynolds are the last names of two of the members and Joe Frank is the first and middle name of the other one), the horn part in this song is one of those amazing hooks that is instantly identifiable.

I've always thought a slightly edgier version of this song that kept the amazing horn parts would be a huge hit. Listen here.