Friday, September 28, 2012

Playing I-IV-V Chords Like Good News

Not Star-Crossed Anymore

"That's epic," she said.

And then she kept talking. And I stopped listening. I didn't realize that until much later; but that's what happened.

And it's not her fault. She was just using a word. A word all her friends use.

A word that used to mean so much more.

"Epic" shouldn't be just good. It should be astonishing, awe-inducing. It should aim for something impossible. It should be less craft and more art.

It should be rare. Something to strive for.

And she kept talking. As I thought about epics.

The ones that still resonate. And the ones that failed.

Monumental failures. Embarrassing failures. And the failures that were interesting not for what they achieved, but for the way they couldn't quite hit the target they aimed for.

I thought about Apocalypse Now, a movie so deeply flawed and endlessly compelling. Not always for what it achieved, but for the intent that it couldn't realize.

And still she kept talking.

And I remembered Harry Chapin. His best songs were transcendent. His worst were cringe-worthy. Who seemed obsessed with making a Great American Statement through music -- but was putting out records in the 1970s when the best American Statements seemed far in the past. A guy who'll be remembered less for performing hundreds of benefit concerts per year and more for a catchy song with lyrics that read like a first draft.

And then she stopped talking.

And I stared at her.

"I don't think you know what that word really means," I said.

She smiled. Because that's what she does. "It doesn't matter if I use the wrong words, as long as you know what I meant."

And I nodded. I knew what she meant.

But it would never be epic.

Because she wasn't even trying for epic. She was trying for adequate.

And I was looking for something else.

Something that aimed for transcendence.

Even if it ultimately failed.

This song is 35 years old. Older than the 34 that caused the song's narrator to make the song's narrator feel old when he realized he'd lived longer than Jesus and Moses.

And even if the attempt to interweave the decline of the U.S. with the decline of the music business doesn't quite work... and even if the lyrics sometimes seem a little strained... and even if the entire exercise seems impossible... the attempt is nothing short of epic.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Mirror hopping days of coarse reaction...

Shouldn't you be helping?

It's not my deal. It's not what I do.

No. Maybe not. But they need you.

There's plenty of others who could do it.

True. But they're not--

I know. But I'm not either.

So you're going to let them be.

It's not my place.

And not your problem.

Exactly. It's not my problem.

You've done this before.

Yes. Once. And you know how that turned out.

I do. But those were different times. You were a different person.

We all were.

They need you. I'm just saying.

So I do what?


Monday, September 24, 2012

If You Feel There's Something Missing

I've Been Waiting All the Summer... Waiting For the Winter to Come

It's officially Fall.

And in Nome, Alaska it snowed this morning. (The snow started to accumulate, then the sun came out and melted it.)

Perhaps coincidentally, there are exactly 12 hours of daylight today in Nome.

They're losing 6 and a half minutes of light per day. It's a long way from the summer, when there was 24 hours of light (and almost 24 hours of sun) per day.

And it's a long way from the end of December, when the sun will peak out over the horizon, stay low in the sky for less than 4 hours, then slide down as if it's giving up.

Fall is a quick season in Alaska. The last gasps of summer soon give way to snow. And the cold that hung around for so long last year moves back into the landscape with a quickness that can be frightening.

And if the song above is too silly and nonsensical for you, if the summer already seems like a distant memory, I'd like to recommend a little of this:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

If That's What You Demand

More Utopia

Here's a weird little video I never knew existed until a reader (thanks Steph) mentioned it.

This was the closest Utopia ever got to a hit single, getting up to the high-30s on the Top 40 chart.

And it wasn't sung by Todd Rundgren, it was sung by bassist Kasim Sulton. With the rest of the band standing against greenscreens pretending to be newscasters.

Ah, the 80s.

(And am I the only one who feels weirdly nostalgic for news anchors who held actual sheets of paper, then placed them face-down on the desks in front of them?)

Friday, September 21, 2012


We're Going Crazy And We're Going Today

She hated this song.

She told me one night. Dressed in a flowing skirt and a t-shirt from a bar in what once was Yugoslavia.

We drank tea.

And talked about dreamcatchers.

And the streetlights in Prague.

And her friends in Munich.

And the close calls in Turkey. And London.

The long walks in New York. The work that took her all over the continent. (And my inability to remember now which continent it was.)

The insomnia in Tokyo. The insomnia in Chicago. The insomnia in Miami.

And I told her something sad.

And she reached out. For a second.

And held my hand.

And I knew I'd carry that touch with me always.

Even when she wandered. Off again.

Because that's what she did.

Because that's her life. As a Gypsy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Till Morning Brings You Light

Let 'em laugh -- they never knew

"You've still got all the old records. That should be enough."

And maybe it should be.

But it's not.

And on the cold nights when the wind whips past the buildings and the streets are relatively empty, the possibilities line up like aircraft circling above, waiting to land.

The weight of what might have been.

The static charge of electricity in the air.

Which almost glistens in the side of your consciousness.

And you look up. Suddenly transported. Transfixed.

By the glimmer. By the possibility.

Of something that never quite came together. But was always right there.

Something that always existed, waiting to be plucked from the ether and made real, brought into the lives and minds of millions.

And then...

... it just shimmers.

And is gone.


Contrails of an alternate future.

That never quite happened.

There's no stopping the daily rush forward. But every once in a while the past nips at your heels, makes you turn, and then laughs at you for seeking out things that never were.

Still, the old records ought to be enough.

Except for the longing for the newer old records -- the ones that never quite existed, but should have.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Busy Banging Out a Headache on the Kitchen Door

And All the While Graham Dreamed On...

Who couldn't use a little XTC for a Monday morning?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thank You For Being a Facebook Friend

Stranded Dirty & Branded

A couple of years ago, I became Facebook friends with Andrew Gold.

(I'd never met him, but one of my real-life friends was friends with him, so I sent him a request and a note about how much I always enjoyed his 1980 album Whirlwind. I guess people usually only talked to him about "Thank You For Being a Friend" or "Lonely Boy," so maybe whenever anyone knew anything else about him, he was thrilled. But really, his career was pretty deep. He played nearly all the instruments on Art Garfunkel's cover of "I Only Have Eyes for You" in 1975 and 4 years earlier, helped engineer Joni Mitchell's Blue. In any event, he accepted my friend request. He may even have written on my wall.)

And then, he died. A little over a year ago, in June. In his sleep, at age 59.

And a few weeks later, I logged onto Facebook. Which told me that 4 of my friends had a birthday. So I wrote messages on 3 walls.

But the 4th was Andrew Gold.

And I literally stopped still in my tracks, trying to figure out what the proper etiquette is for the Facebook wall of someone whose work you admired, who accepted your Facebook friend request (perhaps in a moment of weakness), but whom you never knew, and now he's dead.

It's a First-World problem for the digital age.

By 1980, Andrew Gold's days of being a chart-topping solo artist were pretty much over. He was invited to join 10cc, but couldn't for business reasons. So he later joined a group with Graham Gouldman of 10cc called Wax.

You could argue that Gold should have stayed with the soft-rock singer-songwriter stuff he was known for. You could say he should have just silently admired New Wave music without feeling he had to try the style himself.

You could say all that.

And you could be right.

Still, years later I heard this song. In the middle of the night. Playing on a college station. While I was driving through New Hampshire. And I found a phone, called the station, learned who it was, and hunted down the record.

Sure, the lyrics are a bit strained. And the production has that early 80s gloss that hasn't aged well.

But every time I hear it, I'm right back in New Hampshire. At 3:00am. Looking for a phone booth.

But Facebook has no emoticon for that...

(Bonus points for the loud needle drop and surface noise on this clip)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

More Than All the Derelict Cars

Somewhere in Grow-A-Mustache-Land

Paige played drums.

We were supposedly in love. (We didn't know what that meant -- we were 8.)

So we did what all eight-year-olds did. We started a band.

Paige would play drums, of course.

Danny would play bass. (I'm not sure why.)

I'd play guitar. Electric guitar.

There was someone else, but I don't remember who it was. (We were 8.) Or what they played. If anything.

Now, Danny didn't know how to play bass. Or even what a bass was.

And I certainly couldn't play the guitar. (Did I mention we were 8?) Even if I could play guitar, my parents never would've gotten me an electric guitar -- they barely let me turn lights on and off and would've convinced themselves I'd electrocute myself when I plugged in the amp.

But we had a name. It was a stupid name -- a pun on the name of the town we were from.

And we had a logo. Danny drew it and it looked really cool. (Well, cool for when you're 8, anyway.)

Paige wanted to paint the logo on her bass drum. But her Mom wouldn't let her.

She thought we should learn songs first. Or at least get instruments.

Her Mom was officially no fun.

More importantly, we were 8.

And who knew at age 8 where the hell you even go to get an electric guitar.

The band broke up the next year. Over artistic differences. (Paige decided she wasn't in love with me anymore. She was in love with Danny. Danny was in love with playing baseball.)

If only we'd stayed together, we would've been huge.

If we had instruments. And learned to play them. And were any good.

Huge. (Or whatever the 8-year-old equivalent is.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And Starring Martha as the Dog

Where the Holy Sheepdogs Go

Can't get this song out of my mind today:

This song always seemed unfinished to me. Great hook, but sections that he never bothered to flesh out.

Yet that song got released...

And this one stayed in the vaults:

Go figure.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Your Antidote to the Political Conventions

Whether you lean left or right, I hope you can rock this hard when you're 73:

(And judging from the synthesizer, I'm guessing Ian wants to pick Pete Townsend as his running mate...)

Monday, September 3, 2012