Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ride the Snake (God on Ice)

Handsome devil, isn't he? Look at that hair!

I'm re-re-re-reading (probably a couple more re's in there) The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. If I think about it, that book, next to Dale Pendell's Phamako/Poeia, is one of the most influential books on my life and way of thinking.

Sidebar: Scott's Honest List of Books that Influenced His Thoughts and Actions For Better or Worse
(in no particular order)
1. Dale Pendell - Pharmako/Poeia (introduced me to most of the drugs I have known and loved)
2. Roberto Calasso - The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (the past is not gone; in fact, it isn't even past)
3. Robert Anton Wilson - Prometheus Rising (what's your octave?)
4. J.R.R. Tolkien - The Lord of the Rings (heroism, sacrifice, romance, and other bad habits)
5. Hans Kung - On Being a Christian (introduced me to the process of thesis/antithesis/synthesis)
6. Idries Shah - Learning How to Learn (and others. Education in the care and maintenance of one's brain)
7. Mark Helprin - Winter's Tale (New York is a beautiful, magical place)
8. John Crowley - Little, Big (what makes us happy, makes us wise)

Anyway, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. Just got to the part where they talk about the hoax of Glycon the Snake God and Alexander the Charlatan. I remembered something about Alan Moore worshiping a snake headed deity. Being, in my most basic mental form, a literalist, and subsequently a skeptic (since I'm so gullible, I've developed a defensive reaction formation that makes sure I won't get fooled again, which of course means that I am sometimes too skeptical, and miss what's in front of me, which prompts me to try to be more open and accepting, which means I get fooled, etc. ad infinitum), I was delighted to think that I'd found a hole in my hero's belief system. His god wasn't real!

But of course Moore knew that his "god" was a hoax. In fact, having a god you know is a hoax is the best possible scenario, because if He gets out of line, and you need to put Him on ice for a bit, you can, because he isn't "real." The Catholics have it right on this one. Here's Moore on his snake-god:

When it comes to my spiritual beliefs that’s perhaps why I worship a second century human headed snake god called Glycon, who was exposed as a ventriloquist’s dummy nearly 2000 years ago. Famed throughout the Roman Empire, Glycon was the creation of an entrepreneur known as Alexander the false prophet, which is a terrible name to go into business under.”
A live, tame boa constrictor provided the puppet’s body, while its artificial head had heavy-lidded eyes and long blond hair. In many ways Glycon looked a bit like Paris Hilton, but perhaps more likeable and more biologically credible.
Looks aside, I’m interested in the snake god purely as a symbol, indeed one of humanity’s oldest symbols, which can stand for wisdom, for healing, or, according to etho-botanist Jeremy Narby, for our spiralling and snake-like DNA itself.
But I’m also interested in having a god who is demonstrably a ventriloquist’s dummy. After all, isn’t this the way we use most of our deities. We can look through our various sacred books and by choosing one ambiguous passage or one interpretation over another we can pretty much get our gods to justify our own current agendas. We can make them say what we want them to say.
The big advantage of worshiping an actual glove puppet of course is that if things start to get unruly or out of hand you can always put them back in the box. And you know, it doesn’t matter if they don’t want to go back in the box, they have to go back in the box.
Anyway, thank you very much for listening and from both me and Glycon, a very happy new year to you all.

God needs to chill out most of the time, anyway.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Gah! Not like this.

Woman on the train, tightly curly hair, high cheekbones, looked exactly a woman I did a disastrous play with in Cortland, NY. The woman with whom I worked, Victoria, was pretty and patrician, thin as a whip and entirely intimidating to me. We had exactly zero chemistry, mostly due to my inexplicable terror of her, and the play was the beginning of the end of my time in the theater.

And here she was! On my train! Except, looking closer, not. Not really. This woman was slightly broader in the face, shorter in statue, narrower eyes, darker hair. Still and all, though, she could have been Victoria's sister.

Now, there's a part of my brain which, in spite of my messy, free-wheeling persona, craves order, and finds it deeply comforting. People overuse the term "OCD," but I believe that there are fundamental, organic structures in the mind that love symmetry and balance. And what this part of my mind would really like would be to line people up, in, say, a flip book, and show the gradations of skin color and eye shape and brow shape and head shape and all the other variations, and in order, please. By order, I mean any arbitrary system that goes from, for example, thinner to fatter, darker to lighter, taller to shorter. I don't particularly care what the order is. I simply long to see the minute changes playing along a timeline, orderly and regular. It soothes some fundamental hunger in my soul.

I can see them, like the crayons in a box that I spent many blissful hours ordering and re-ordering,  gradually lightening in shade and in hue, from black to brown to red to orange to yellow to green to blue to purple. The ones left over were white (not "flesh," no longer a color, I believe), gold, and silver, which were grouped together at the end. The variations on themes, between periwinkle and cornflower, between rust and brick, are small, but would consume my time. I would experiment with the starting point, the order, and whether yellow green proceeded to blue through green or down through yellow to orange.

Perhaps there is some great lesson here in race relations, but I'm not so sure. Probably not.

Image: By Crayonsman (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 22, 2012

Decorative Gourd Season is for Children

The pumpkin carving is finished, and I'm sitting on the pavement outside the flower-shop-slash-tea-ceremony-spot where we came to turn gourds into grotesques as is traditional this season. It's sunny and cool. The proprietor's dog, a soft and well-mannered pekingese named Mickey, has decided that he would like a rest from his ambassadorship and has clambered into my lap yet again, where he sits, surveying the world with a look of pug-nosed satisfaction.

A little girl, with the encouragement of her parents, is having at a pumpkin with every color she can muster. The father rides herd on another child, a tow headed toddler who tries to touch everything he sees. Each handsy exploration is followed by a short pause, an inward gaze while he considers how each thing he touched made him feel. Seeing Mickey, the little boy's eyes light up, and he lurches over to us like a miniature drunk, ecstatic at his discovery. The dog endures the boy's uncoordinated but clearly loving open-handed pats for a moment, and then unhurriedly jumps down and makes his way back inside the shop.

But the little boy has already found a new game. In his fat little fist (all toddler hands are fat, eminently chewable) he holds a pebble, which he places in my hand. He then picks it up again, and puts it down, again, back in my hand. This time, however, I close my hand (my huge hand, bigger than his head, ridiculously large in context) around the pebble, and drop it back onto his palm. This variation on the game delights him, and he laughs open mouthed and loud.

He toddles around now, the slow, wobbling three-point turn of the new driver, and I expect him to walk back to daddy, but on the contrary, he tumbles backward, purposely half-sitting, half-falling into my lap. I look up at his dad, who is smiling benevolently down on the scene, and I laugh, too. 

"I guess I just have one of those laps," I say.


My recent forays back into playing the saxophone were encouraged when I met the great Mr. Donny McCaslin this weekend. His stuff is on Spotify, and I can highly recommend what I have listened to so far, without necessarily being able to speak all that intelligently about it. His earlier stuff reminded me of a less yearning Coltrane, if that makes sense. As a side note, me comparing every tenor player to Coltrane is a little like a guy who only occasionally listens to rock comparing every guitarist he's ever heard to Hendrix. I mean, yes, but.... 

Regardless, if that sounds like something you'd be interested in (and it should), go to, and visit his website at His new album, he informed me, has a much more electronic feel to it, and was influenced by Aphex Twin. I can't wait to hear it. Check him out.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Have the Touch

Peter gets it.

 - The woman behind me nudges me lightly with her bag. It feels like the soft nose of a dog in the small of my back. I turn to see if I'm crowding her, and she says, "Sorry." I nod, and shift to my left to give her some room.

- I look up from my book to find I'm being watched by a woman. She holds her own book in her hand. Like good New Yorkers, our gazes meet and slide away, so as not to intrude. 

- As I wait to get on the train, I turn my body sideways to let the passengers get off. Someone bumps into me from behind, impatient with my politeness. I don't even look.

- The train is crowded, and a person brushes my back to get past me to an open space. I have a vague impression of their mass, and then they are gone, and I go back to staring at the ad next to the transit map.

- Another woman looks me in the eye as I scan the train. There is only the slightest flicker of recognition that I am there, but I take it.

- At Grand Central Station, almost everybody is getting off. In adjusting my bag, I touch the sleeve of an older man's gray suit with my wrist. Neither he nor I react at all.

- On the platform, we all wait to ascend the stairs. A person comes a little too fast and bounces off my back. I have more mass, so I don't move, but I can feel their point of impact, a memory of motion. I feel solid like a tree, and I am secretly pleased to be so. 

Amidst the gentle collisions and jostlings of the commute, I am touched, spooned, butted, elbowed, pushed, shouldered, and looked at, and I do so in return. My boundaries are defined and rubbed smooth, like a stone in a river, and the world defines itself by being what I am not, and so on, energy exchanged and grounded and leaked and returned, until I arrive at work.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fall, Fallen

"Why am I restless?" he asked. "Why do I have this feeling in my blood?" 
 "Wait and see," she said mysteriously. "Tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after...." 
- T.H. White, The Once and Future King 

We passed beneath the thick overhanging urban arbors of Third Street, down-slope from the park. The sky was so blue as to almost pass into purple, and the wind carried the slight spice of browning leaves in its chill breeze. The streets were mostly weekend quiet, until we walked by a particularly noisy, bird-thronged tree that rattled with a riot of squawks and twitters. The whole block echoed with constant conversation, all the birds flitting back and forth, quarreling and laughing at one another, searching for their friends and flock-mates, making plans and executing complicated test flights above the brownstones. I could hear the restlessness in their voices, in the way they seemed to be gathering momentum for a great journey.

I could picture the moment, maybe not today, but tomorrow, perhaps the day after that, when they would rise up, without any one leader giving the signal or calling a vote. At first one at a time, then in groups, then, suddenly, en masse, up into the sky they'd go, impelled by something they did not know and could not understand, a giant cloud of them, all of one mind, heading south, fleeing the coming cold, knowing-without-knowing where they were going, turning the wheel of the seasons on into fall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reading on the Subway (and On Being an Occasionally Moody Fucker)

Found this neat little website of folks reading on the subway: Underground New York Public Library. I often think of how I am presenting myself with the books I read, which is pretty typical of the narcissism I hate in myself, but there we are.

I mean, I'm a big person (six foot four, two hundred pounds), so I know I'm tough to miss. I make it a point never to sit on the train during rush hour if it's very crowded, so there I am, taking up all that space like a giant, and I read big, chunky books that hurt my wrists somewhat. So I try to be inconspicuous in my mind, as if, through some sort of meekness transference, I can make all this mass invisible and unobtrusive. Even so, I still sometimes find myself wondering if anybody is looking at whatever I'm reading - if they've read it too, if they want to read it, if they'd like to talk about it, if they hated it and are judging me viciously for my perceived lack of taste. Most of the time, I'm sure, they don't think of me at all.

I recently started reading Wilhelm Reich's The Function of the Orgasm, mostly because an author I admire, Robert Anton Wilson, was a big fan. The book itself was dry and dull, pretty typical mid-Twentieth Century psychological text, but let me tell you, that is a title to carry around on the train. I found the woman seated in front of me while I read it glancing up furtively at the cover, tilting her head a little to try and read the blurb on the back. It's a pretty audacious title for such a dull book. I was a little embarrassed by her frank perusal and, worried I might accidentally meet her eyes, I lifted my book so I couldn't see her over it. 

I eventually got tired of reading it, though, so I recently switched to trying to read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle again. It's much easier going this time than the last, which is understandable, considering what a mess I was the first time I tried to read it (circa 2009, stopped using kratom, blah-blah-blah). I'm hoping that Murakami wins the Nobel Prize tomorrow, so that I can be reading a book by him when he wins. And then people can see me reading it, and know how cool I am (i.e. not at all).

This past weekend's writing came to a little under 10,000 words. Some of them were even pretty good. 

As you may or may not be able to tell from my writing style, I'm feeling a little under the weather today. I swam yesterday, and I may have overdone it. Oddly enough, my physical distress manifests itself in emotional issues. It only took me forty years to figure that little bit of information out. If I'd known in high school that when I'm sore and tired or hungry I get cranky, anxious and depressed, I imagine I might have been a little kinder to myself. Better late than never, I suppose.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Ideal Day

This morning, I got up, like I always do, at seven o'clock. The whiskey that I'd had at rehearsal with my friend Ray last night had a little something to say about the hour, but I'd been quite moderate in my imbibing, so I told it to shut the hell up. I kissed my wife on her sleeping shoulder, tried to get out of bed without disturbing the cat (who had been awake for hours (im)patiently awaiting my rising), and put both feet on the floor.

After feeding said cat, I took a shower, shaved, combed my hair, threw on some clothes, watched In the Papers (for you non-New Yorkers, a local anchor on the New York news channel reads the major articles in the dozens of newspapers from around the area. It sounds stupid, but trust me, it's awesome), ate some breakfast, kissed my wife one more time and headed out into the day.

That's where everything changed.

Because instead of turning left, walking to the subway, riding the train into work (reading my current book), sitting at my desk, and muddling my way through the next eight hours at a job that I don't hate, but certainly don't love, I turned right, and started down Seventh Avenue, walking in the morning cool.

That's right, kids. I'm not going to my day job today.

But I'm keeping most of my routines. I did my morning writing, I drank my morning tea (chamomile, thank you. Caffeine makes me jittery, then depressed. I know, very rock and roll of me) and am now sitting, looking with some trepidation at the outline for the novel. I'm sitting at a desk, much like if I went into my day job, but now it's my desk. My work that I gotta get through.

This is my ideal day. Later, I'm going to the library (for research), swimming, doing yoga, writing some more and playing some music. If I had my way, every day of my life would be like this. I would work on the things I love. Most of my life may not be like this, but for one day, I am getting what I think I want.

The thing is, I've realized that a good chunk of my ideal day involves work. Working towards my goals, making something, interacting with people, physical activity. And sometimes, no matter what your job is, work is stressful. I've spent a very large chunk of my life avoiding anything that would disturb my equilibrium, avoiding work that might "stress me out." I've ignored huge problems in my life, and pretended nothing's wrong. I've acted like I was happy doing things that I wasn't, and thought I was happy when really I was just numbing myself out.

Well, here's a different way of doing it. I'm gonna keep my routine. I'm gonna do my work. I'm gonna act like the things that I want in my life are important enough to do them all day, even if it's only for one day. And maybe, if I can string more and more of these types of days together, I can make the kind of life I've always dreamed of. Not a life of escape, not escaping from the day to day world, but making the day-to-day world my kind of world. One that I made. Let's see how it goes.

What's your ideal day look like?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kratom and PAWS, a follow up post

Update: The original post referenced in this post can be found here. Please check it out.

So, not to get too inside baseball on things, but the post on this blog that has received the most hits in the past year is a post I wrote back in November about getting off kratom. Mostly from people looking up information on how to use kratom to get over their own issues with Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. This suggests a couple of issues to me:
  1. People are doing a lot of drugs (duh)
  2. People are looking for information on what they assume is a slightly less dangerous substance to do some of the heavy lifting of recovery from arguably more dangerous substances (I'm guessing alcohol and opiates).
Now, anybody who knows me knows that people using plants (technically called ethnobotany) is a hobby of mine. I've done a lot of research, and at the risk of sounding like an idiot, I'd like to state something very clearly - kratom is a very temporary fix for opiate addiction maintenance. Please note that just because it's "natural" (e.g. less processed, closer to the original plant) doesn't mean that it's "safer." It can be just as addictive as anything processed.

Kratom is a very mild narcotic, and most people can do it with little to no problems. People have used it for hundreds of years to enrich their lives and make living on earth a little nicer. The plants are not the problem.

The problem is you.

By you, I mean the person that is looking for relief from the pain of withdrawal, which presupposes that you have already managed to addict yourself to something or other. If you are addictive, your relationship to plants with abuse potential is, let's say, problematic. Another good word is dangerous.

What all the convoluted logic above amounts to is this - if you're trying to get off opiates, be very careful doing kratom. It may temporarily relieve your depression and the physical symptoms of withdrawal, but ultimately it can flip on you, and you will be no better off than when you started. It is easy to develop tolerance to kratom, and there are new processing methods, including extractions and reinforced strains, that up the ante in a big way. It is less expensive, and the social stigma of stirring powder into juice or brewing a relatively inexpensive legal tea is a lot lower than trying to score pills or snorting heroin. I'm not saying it doesn't work. If you are only in mild trouble, you might be able to hang. I'm just saying that, instead of turning to another substance, you might want to address behavioral and chemical issues (i.e. your internal neurochemistry, depression, anxiety) that might be better taken care of by a doctor. If you're self medicating in this way, you risk addicting yourself to a different substance. 

This might leave you saying "Well, dammit, what am I supposed to do, here? I am in pain!" You need to do what keeps you from killing yourself. All I'm saying is that at some point, like with methadone, really you are just extending the amount of time that you will be kicking. It is a risk/benefit analysis. If you're here looking for advice, I don't have a lot to offer, except please, please talk to somebody who's smarter than me. Don't get your advice for getting off drugs from some random guy off the internet. Please take care of your self, and know that with help, you can get through this. Please don't try to do it by yourself.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Moving on up and getting things done

Got my first spam comment today. It's a small accomplishment, but we take our victories where we can find them around here.

My horoscope today said:

You may feel as if your world isn't able to contain you now because you're ready to shed anything that holds you back. Just as a snake outgrows its skin, you, too, have moved beyond your teacher, job or relationship that brought you this far. However, you can't escape before tying up loose ends. Give yourself a break and let your greater ambitions slide for a couple of days while you gain the closure you need.

So I went through a pile of old (first) wedding photos that had been in a box for the past six years. I'd been putting it off, and Katie had mentioned how it was starting to hurt her feelings. Six years is long enough, I figure.

I kept a few - pictures of old friends that I wanted to remember from that day, pictures of my remaining grandparents and uncles that are no longer alive. I set aside some pics for my ex-wife, Stephanie, too, pictures of her dad and mom and friends of hers I'll probably never see again. It was interesting, and a little exhausting. Memory lane always seems to take the wind out of me.

My dreams have been busy lately, too. I suppose that comes from reading Jung (I always have been a bit suggestible), but far from being archetypes from the depths of the collective unconscious, they've been remarkably specific to my life and concerns, if as convoluted in plot and imagery as ever.

Though I've often heard that other people's dreams are boring, this particular one might be of interest to those who are here, most of whom I consider to be my friends. In this dream, I watched a test flight of a new jet, and the launch was spectacular. The plane, a short, stubby little bullet-shaped thing, catapulted faster than the eye could see, up into the night sky on a brilliant arc of flame until it was almost out of sight. The trouble started when it was on its way back. They'd built it perfectly for take-off, but landing was another matter entirely. The ship had nothing in the way of wings or landing gear, and it could barely steer. The things that had made the beginning of its flight such a success now threatened to destroy it. It wobbled through the sky, narrowly avoiding crashing until it finally skidded to an ignominious halt after a very harrowing descent. I stood beneath a tree where I'd been watching the flight with the designers and cried, saying, "I don't know about anybody else, but that's one of the saddest things I've ever seen."

The meaning for my life, once I figured it out, seems obvious to me, but you might disagree. My life, in almost every endeavor, has been a series of good beginnings, strong progress and quick success, followed by stagnation and falling off. I have a strong will, a good focus and a lot of natural talent, but the coming back to earth, finishing the thing and bringing it home, has always been difficult for me. When I woke up from this dream I realized that I need to put better wings on my work. I need to use the circumstances around me to better advantage. And most of all, I need to plan for the finish. I have great ideas. Now, I just need to finish them off, and get them out into the world.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Checking in after checking out

I celebrated my two year anniversary (and they said it wouldn't last!) with Katie last week by going up to Vermont. It was lovely and fun and boring in all the right proportions, so that we were really happy to be hanging out, just the two of us, and had a great, relaxing time, and then were really glad to get back to the familiar environs of Brooklyn.

One thing I discovered, and I never thought I would say this, is that I think I've had enough of driving for a while. I can't say what changed, but the guy that was really into driving hundreds of miles when Katie and I met on that children's theater tour seems to have had his fill. I came back from the trip exhausted, enervated, and just sort of ready to walk places for a while. That was a week ago, and I feel like I'm just starting to recover.

Since my return I've been working on the novel, which I basically took apart and started over. The structure is profoundly different - to the better, I believe. I'm considering posting a sample chapter up here as it gets closer to finish. Anybody reading this? Feel free to voice your approval. Or disapproval. Or profound indifference.

The Brooklyn Book Festival was this weekend, and I got to meet an author I've been corresponding with on Twitter named J.R. Angelella. He wrote a book called Zombie which I highly recommend. It's pretty grim, and has fewer actual zombies in it than the title might suggest (i.e. none), but it's well written, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. On a personal note, he's been super encouraging of my writing, and I'd like everybody who reads this (you, especially. Yes, you.) to check out his work.

My currently reading project is The Essential Jung which I've owned for literally 15 years and never cracked, carrying it around with me from place to place. Well, I'm almost through it now, and I'll say this: I'm glad I'm reading it now, rather than when I was younger and expecting every goddamn book I read to somehow solve my life. It's interesting, complicated, dense, deep, and well-written, but I don't feel like it's really life-changing. This is a good thing. I'm a lot calmer now than I have been in a number of years. Maybe ever, and so there is a self, a boundaried I-ness that allows me to reflect on what I read and decide what I may eventually take in. Previously, any given book would be absorbed whole, and then, maybe, assimilated into a world view and behaviors. This was, you can imagine, rather destabilizing. So now I can read and enjoy and absorb without the ache of trying to fill some void inside me (hint: not possible, at least not with words, books, other people's world-views, drugs, sex, relationships, food, projects, art, beauty, poetry, magick, religion, or any of the million other ways that I've tried).

Regardless, I think it will inform a lot of my upcoming reading, which includes finally getting through The Golden Bough and Jaynes The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Don't worry, there's some fiction in there, too, including some more Murakami, and Brautigan. So there's that. Hope you're well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Carpenters - Ready to Die, Part 6: The End of the Show

The final chapter in a series on The Carpenters' A Song for You.
Part one here.
Part two here.
Part three here.
Part four here.
Part five here.
A Spotify songlist based on the track order for the cassette can be found here.
Just for the record - all sentiments expressed are speculation. Think of it as a pop-psychology fantasia on one of my favorite albums. Thanks for reading. 

Sometimes, in the unhappiness of the day-to-day, we retreat into art for solace. What if the art doesn't help anymore? What if art, the thing that gives us joy, and freedom, becomes just another thing that keeps everyone out, another thing hanging over us, another possibility for failure? The Carpenters worked hard for their success, but as the man says, nothing comes for free.

The Carpenters entry into the genre of “The Road is Fuckin’ Tough” songs came with the penultimate track, “Road Ode.” The narrative of this album has come full circle, with the curtain raising of the opening song echoed here. But where before we were her sole listener, now she acknowledges that we are one of many - the audience is legion, intruding and keeping her simultaneously isolated, and never alone. She makes a point of telling us that her smile, her “Top of The World” charm, is a lie. That we, even we, her confidants, are one of the many whose expectations and demands are destroying her. The bright, hip, choruses belie the bitter, lonely lyrics. She’s onstage forever, so sad, so alone....

….and the crowd fades away. We are back at the beginning, reprising “A Song for You.” At first heavily reverbed, as if from a long distance she comes into focus, singing, once again, singing just to you . Don’t be fooled, this you is still the “you” of fantasy, the “you” that she has imagined as a way out of her loneliness. There lies the problem - it’s all one “you.” “You” are both the beloved, and the taskmaster. “You” are the only one who understands her, and the one who is driving her to destruction. You’re her parents, and the one person who can rescue her from the life she has created to try and please them. But really, you can’t save her, and she knows it. You oughta feel bad about that, too, because remember, she has predicted her own death (“And when my life is over/Remember when we were together”). You should feel guilt, but she would never be so gauche as to inflict it upon you. She is dying, not to make you feel bad, but because she loves you so much. Listen to how much she wants to please you (“I know your image of me is what I hope to be/I’ve treated you unkindly, but darling can’t you see?”). She will die trying to be that image of her you want to see.

This album shows the true story of Karen Carpenter in perfect Pop fashion: the crushing expectations, the impossible hopes of rescue and release, the longing for acceptance and the willingness to twist oneself into any shape to get it, the wistful looks back at an idyllic childhood that never was. We all know the next part of this story, the part where she dies in her parents’ home after a series of failed relationships and the slow suicide that is anorexia. But really, it was all here, available for us to see, both past and future. The future, her future, was here, in this album, all questions answered. She showed us the whole bitter script, asking for a different ending, and we were too seduced by her voice, her talent, by what she gave us, to hear her cry for help.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. If you want a copy of the whole thing in one document, let me know, and I'll make a pdf available.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Carpenters - Ready to Die, Part 5: Misplaced Childhood

An ongoing series on The Carpenters' A Song for You.
Part one here.
Part two here.
Part three here.
Part four here.

A Spotify songlist based on the track order for the cassette can be found here.
Just for the record - all sentiments expressed are speculation. Think of it as a pop-psychology fantasia on one of my favorite albums. Thanks for reading.

Karen grew up in the town of Downey, California, in the County of Los Angeles. Her folks moved there in the 60's with her and her brother. She lived with them until she was 26 years old, and she moved back in towards the end of her life. It's a common enough story, especially these days, with confused and battered 20-somethings moving back in with their folks, thrown back by an economy that has no place for them.

The differences are pretty crucial here, though. Karen was incredibly successful when she moved back in. She was a celebrity, a pop star, gifted with one of the most beautiful voices of her time, beloved by millions. 

She was also anorexic, distraught over her divorce, and emotionally fragile. What was she looking for, moving back home shortly before she left therapy and died of heart failure? According to the myth of Karen's life, her parents were controlling and critical, and nothing she ever did was good enough, but it might be more complicated than that, and the album provides some interesting clues.

Again, we have the expert sequencing of this album coming into play with “Crystal Lullaby” up next. They know you’re a little raw, a little dicked in the head from the fighting and the confusion of the last song, and so they take you right back to childhood. This is regression at its finest, mommy and daddy coming in after the nightmare to soothe your brow. Richard (the nearest thing we have to an authority figure in this landscape of alternating pain and fantasy) sings the pre-chorus, his double-tracked vocals carrying you away, just like the lyric. This is probably the most sentimental and, superficially, the least interesting song on the album. 

A case could be made, however, that here the Carpenters were singing about an idealized childhood experience that neither of them had ever lived. The ache in Karen’s voice is like the ache of country music when some hat act sings about small towns and simple values (when you know they grew up in, like, Dallas). It’s nostalgia for the never-lived - like hipsters paying tribute to 80’s and 90’s fashions they were too young to have worn the first time around. In this case, however, it’s nostalgia for a healthy childhood and a supportive family life, and someone to sing you to sleep.

In the next tune, “It’s Going to Take Some Time,” Karen sings, once again, of lost love, a theme already explored at length on this album. Everybody knows this is nowhere, albeit with her putting on a brave face for us. They’re on that Fender Rhodes piano sound, again, double tracked with an acoustic piano, in a perfectly pleasurable melancholy. Kicking flute solo in the instrumental break, too.

Now, “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” though it might seem on first glance to be pretty tame, has an earnest passion that belies its simple subject matter. Karen’s voice on the chorus is so sincere, so as-close-to-full-throttle-as-The-Carpenters-get, that she sells it. “Light their way/When the darkness surrounds them,” she sings - a plea, a prayer, a hymn. There are a couple of songs about childhood on this album, and every one seems to be calling back to an unreclaimable past, begging for a do-over.

Karen never really felt like anything she did was good enough, never felt like she was good enough. This is not an attitude with which we come into the world - it's learned. Something was missing in her life - a sense of love and acceptance, and as hard as she worked to make herself worthy of those things, she never really felt truly loved or understood.

The only real solace she seemed to find was in music, but as the final songs on the album indicate, even in music there was no escape.

Come back tomorrow for the final part. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Carpenters - Ready to Die, Part 4: Love According to Karen

An ongoing series on The Carpenters' A Song for You.
Part one here.
Part two here.
Part three here.
A Spotify songlist based on the track order for the cassette can be found here.
Just for the record - all sentiments expressed are speculation. Think of it as a pop-psychology fantasia on one of my favorite albums. Thanks for reading.

Karen Carpenter dated. It's hard to imagine her dating, when you see videos of her from the mid to late-70's. She has a frailty that seems almost childlike, and all the sexiness of a wounded-bird. But apparently she dated some guys, including Tony Danza (!) and Mark Harmon. There isn't a lot of talk about those episodes. She married once, in 1980, and divorced two years later. All in all, with all the touring and working, there doesn't seem to have been a lot of room for romance in her life. Her deepest relationships seemed to have been with her family, and her music. So what did love look like to her? There are clues in the next songs.

After Richard has done his best to make nice in the previous couple of tunes, Karen eases us back into pathos with what at first plays like a declaration of love. On deeper listening, however, something less than healthy is revealed. In “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” we’re back in Phil Collins territory, with the pretty pretty music covering up some seriously disturbed sentiment. A mellow, syrupy-stringed bridge does not help to lighten up the line “When there’s no getting over that rainbow/When my smallest of dreams won’t come true.” There’s a resignation in this song that she can’t quite smile her way through. She’s singing to her lover, almost in gratitude, but this song sounds like if dude ever leaves her, the next time he sees her will be in a casket.

And the gold medal in the self-pity olympics is... the next song: “Goodbye to Love.” Speaking of darkness, speaking of resignation, we’ve got, as our opening gambit, “I’ll say goodbye to love/No one ever cared if I should live or die....” There’s quite a bit of this, and just when we’re about to give up and take a bath with a toaster, the guitars come in, and suddenly we’re rocking as hard as the Carpenters ever rock in the history of ever. It’s only a taste, though, and then we’re right back into the smooth vocal stylings, singing despair into the beautiful void.  After one more verse, the void itself seems to sing, heavenly “ah” vocals spinning sorrow into golden light. And over top of that comes, and you’ll just have to imagine this, but see, here descends Jesus, playing one of the most gorgeous guitar solos recorded by anyone. Seriously - go listen to it right now. It’s dirty, 
epically melodic, and somehow perfect for a song that makes a religion out of the phrase “Woe is me.”

“Hurting Each Other” is another example of this. Karen’s such a victim. As a child, listening on my parents stereo to this album, I found myself horrified and disturbed by this song. “Why would they hurt each other?” My only understanding of “hurt” was violence, and the thought of two people who obviously love each other (“No one in the world/ever had a love as sweet as my love/For nowhere in the world/Could there be a boy as true as you, love”) doing such violence seemed frightening. Ah, to always be so naive.This was the sound of a stomachache, red and black and grainy and angry and sad all at the same time. This was despair, smoothed until it shone, deep velvety darkness.

And there we have the three versions of the gospel according to Karen: 1. "I'm nothing without you;" 2. "Nobody loves me;" and 3. "I love you so much; why do you hurt me?" If anybody says any of these words to you, run, don't walk, and yet here we find one of the most beautiful voices of a generation singing all three within minutes of each other. I don't envision these as the sentiments of a mature heart and mind. 

Where does such arrested emotional development have its roots? How does one end up simultaneously at the top of the charts, and yet so seemingly disconnected? Could living at home with your parents until you're 26 have something to do with it?

Next: Visions of a childhood that never was.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Carpenters - Ready to Die, Part 3: Lighten Up, Richard

An ongoing series on The Carpenters' A Song for You.
Part one here.
Part two here.
A Spotify songlist based on the track order for the cassette can be found here.

A Song for You takes a turn midway through side one. Richard, the peacemaker, to some people the Machiavellian mastermind who drove Karen to an early grave, comes around to lighten things up a little.

He begins with “Piano Picker,” a bit of fluff about how he got to be such a great pianist, and Exhibit A on this album in the case brought by many against The Carpenters on the charge of rampant and egregious corniness. The song bounces and tap dances like something straight out of the music halls circa nineteen-aught. One can imagine him playing this, mugging and grinning, to cheer Karen up when she was blue, keeping her in the studio, keeping her working.

An open letter, as an aside: Dear Richard. I heard you got really mad after director Todd Haynes suggested in the movie “Superstar” that you might be gay. Now, it’s not right to stereotype, but with your lisp coming through in stereo, even a child can tell you might not be like the other boys. Let me tell you, you are beautiful, no matter what they say, but if you don’t want people to think you’re gay, you might want to rethink lines like “Now the other guys are out playing with their girlfriends, and I’m still banging on the keys.” It’s fine! I’m a musician myself! I understand not fitting in, staying inside on beautiful days to practice, thinking about all the shit you sacrificed to do something that most people think of as “entertainment.” I even and especially get folks thinking you’re gay. Ultimately, you just have to do you. Be proud of who you are. All am saying is, really, you sound a little defensive. Sincerely, etc.

The nice Manhattan Transfer-like section in the middle, jazzy and tight and totally superfluous, really shows off Richard’s arranging skills. His talents as a musician, and as an artist, are on full display here, and the song doesn't overstay its welcome. It's the musical equivalent of the breezy fellow who just came into the party, shook some hands, told a few jokes, and then split, leaving a warm feeling and mild sense of vacancy.

Next comes the instrumental “Flat Baroque.” To keep the gay theme going, I used this song my freshman year in high school to soundtrack a mime performance I did of a hairdresser screwing up a customer’s ‘do. I minced about and pretended to cut hair, and mimed falling asleep and accidentally shaving my customer’s head. Yes, bad Scott, I stereotyped gays as flamboyant, effeminate hairdressers. It was 1984, and I’m sorry about that. The other kids loved it, and I think I got an A, but no excuses.This song is another jazzy little ditty with some nods to classical. There’s a basson line counterpoint that is charming as hell in this song, a highlight in a song whose sole purpose seems to be to charm and divert.

Richard served a crucial role in The Carpenters. He seemed to act as an anchor, keeping Karen grounded and working. It's easy to forget that he was his own person, an accomplished musician and arranger in his own right, and someone who was, I'm sure, deeply hurt by the early death of his sister. As light as he tried to make things, though, with his wit and his friendly demeanor, he couldn't really keep the truth of his sister's sorrow at bay.

Next: Back into the darkness, but gently, gently.

Playlist for Carpenters' A Song for You

Here's the playlist for The Carpenters' A Song for You in the order that I'll be talking about the tracks. This is the order that the tracks appeared on the cassette, as opposed to the album (now CD) track order. Please feel free to listen and share! Thanks.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Carpenters - Ready to Die, part 2: Two Sides to the Same Story

Here's part two of my five-part essay on The Carpenters' A Song for You. Please note that the track listing I follow here is based on the cassette (if you don't remember cassettes, please leave the blog, you're too young to be here), and NOT the album. I've created a Spotify playlist you can follow here which has the songs in the order I grew up on. If you want to start from the beginning, you can read part one here.

In the age of digital, music functions differently. The age of album-long artistic statements (outside of hip-hop, which still has enough grandiosity left to believe that you will listen straight through forty-five minutes of music padded out to seventy-four minutes by mostly-not-funny sketches that serve as interstitial scene changes) is mostly behind us. We listen to our music in discrete bites, savoring this flavor or that.

But once, not so long ago, every album was it's own entity. We pressed play, strapped on the headphones, and settled into the world of the artist. The track order was set with care, with a fine eye toward a cumulative impact. In A Song for You, a seeming dichotomy between two very different styles of song tell a more compelling story than either would have alone.

“A Song for You” acts as overture. A burnt orange curtain (the color of the cover) rises on a black stage, and a single spot clicks on. She is on stage, alone, singing specifically to you, and you are the only person in the universe. She may have “acted out her love in stages” but she’s not acting now. This is the final plea of someone who is desperate to connect. She sings “When my life is over/Remember when we were together”. These are not romantic nothings; she’s at the end.

Yes, it’s a downer, but it is, above all, sincere. There’s a moment in the bridge, when she demands you “listen to the melody/‘cause my love is in there hiding,” where her passion (chaste though it may be, hot with chastity, panting with abstinence), banked until now, blossoms into flame. Cosmic “ooh’s” rise in light and fall back into darkness. A saxophone, not the cliche of the smoky sax solo, but the mold from which the cliche is created, blows through a chorus and dissipates. Then, the voices sing once again, an upwelling of emotion, feeling rising to plateau, back to the bridge, almost apologizing for how much she feels, climbing back up to climax - the angels ascend and dissolve in ecstasy into the firmament. One more repeat of the chorus, and the song fades to the black of the silence between tracks.

In "Top of the World," the sun comes up. Rainbow dirigibles float dreamily over a technicolor landscape. This is a sort of suburban psychedelia, a perma-grin that seems to permeate the world. Everything is colored so vividly as to have been dipped in day-glo. The steel guitar and Rhodes piano combination is inspired: two of the happiest sounds ever created dueting to make sure you know that things are really, really nice. The quick dip into and back out of a capella at the end is lovely, as well. This is a beautiful little slip of a song, and, in sequencing, a good call after the aching sadness of the opener. The mellowness of Karen’s voice takes the bite out of this trip - all of the edges have been sanded off, and John Denver himself would have been pleased as punch to settle down in a world this suffused with golden light.

In these two songs, the dichotomy of the album is set: heartfelt, painful confession set in opposition to an idealized, beautiful world view. Two stories, looking in different directions, trying to ignore each other. There's just one problem.

One of these stories is actually true.

Thanks for sticking with it. Come back tomorrow for part three!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Carpenters - Ready to Die: "A Song For You" as Suicide Note (part 1)

This is part 1 of a 5 part essay on The Carpenters' album A Song For You. I hope you like it!
(UPDATE: Looks like it'll be a bit more than 5! Check out subsequent days for further parts.)

Pop is the jester of modern music. While Rap is the new murder ballad and Dance is white noise for smoothing brain creases to blissful, oblivious ecstasy (Indie shuffles a few steps, shrugs, scribbles in its notebook, dreams of rocking hard), Pop can sneak in emotional truth under the radar. It makes no claims, no demands, promising only a smattering of pleasure for your three minutes investment. At the same time, it’s this very lack of pretense that allows Pop to do what many of the other genres are too cool to do - tell tales of obsession, madness, sorrow.

Karen Carpenter, along with her brother Richard as The Carpenters, made quintessential pop music of beauty and pain, smuggling in the angst under cover of precious arrangements, earworm hooks, and Karen’s silken voice. They made a career out of lovely, inconsequential, middle-of-the-road radio fodder, but they did one work of genius, an album that encapsulates a strange melding of pathos and prettiness: A Song for You.

This album, one of my parent’s favorite albums, the soundtrack to a hundred road trips in my youth, became almost an icon of pop music for me. The cover was simple - a silvery white heart, almost resembling a locket from a necklace, on a burnt orange field beneath the black Carpenters logo. Inside lay smooth, friendly, and, most of all, accessible music. But beneath the charming surfaces ran a river of reckless heartache, a pleasurable, almost luxuriant, wallowing in pain. It was seductive, and unsettling, and most of all, sad. Oceans of sad, a bummer the size of the world.

The delivery system for all this sorrow? That voice. Karen Carpenter’s contralto soothed and caressed. Yes, she sang of suffering, but it was a shared pain, and her voice ran its fingers through your hair and told you everything would be over soon. It was the seduction of no hope.

She sang from the bottom of a broken heart.

Oh, there were the funny songs, too, the songs that Richard sang, the clever little “Intermission" (“We’ll be right back/After we go/To the bathroom” all sung in a faux baroque that they must have thought was hilarious), but these were just interludes, a little wink to keep things light.

Pleasantries aside, this album, almost despite itself, told a story, and the story it inadvertently told was the story of a singer who knew she was going to die.

Come back tomorrow for part 2!

Monday, August 13, 2012

What I talk about when I talk about swimming

It starts the moment I step on deck: anticipation in the smell of chlorine, antiseptic and biting, the echoing of splash and slap of bare feet. My breathing slows, despite the slight sick pit of my stomach. I know it will hurt. Maybe I’ll just skip it today. But by the time I’m in the water, it’s too late. The rhythm of the workout is already marching lockstep across jagged brainwaves, smoothing out ragged peaks into slow, smooth curves. Stroke, stroke, breathe, easy and loose.

All my thoughts disappear. Long ruminations, sentences, paragraphs, truncate into mantras, repetitive phrases, snippets of songs. The ache of my shoulders, the burn in my legs, they sing to me, too, my whole body become a verb, a motion in the water. The black line in tile along the bottom of the pool is a road above which I fly, hardly conscious except of the water, and my cutting through it.

The water is silk, medium and vehicle, that which I move through and that which I use to move. I don’t feel like working out today? Bullshit. Workouts are like Christmas, or being stoned. They are their own time, each time continuous with the previous instance, so that they form a single timestream, independent of my daily life, waiting for me to come back. Suspended until next time I step out on the deck, the next shock of the cold water as I dive in and begin to swim, disappearing into that long blue space between words and silence.

I finish the workout, and climb out clean, nothing but white noise between my ears.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Blind Spot

XKCD is smarter than me. I can't speak for you.
I think I'm a pretty smart guy, an opinion which on more than one occasion has got me exactly what I had coming to me. This morning I read the above XKCD comic. So, being a fan of language and all that it entails (witness this blog) I Googled "formal languages." Hey, I like to be in on the joke! What I could glean from the rat king of a Wikipedia entry on Formal Languages was that formal languages are the structures of language stripped of meaning. 

This boggled me. I boggled.

I get that there is a point to analyzing the formal structures of language in order to...wait, what, again? There seems to be, in my head, a complete block on this one. I try to think about it or read about it, and my brain slides around it like a blind spot. I'd love some explanation of which I could make sense. Meaning seems to me to be of absolute necessity in language. Without meaning, the structure becomes useless. Since any given, functioning structure would do the trick for the communication of meaning, the structure seems to me a formality. If you don't have anything meaningful to communicate, then no structure will suffice to create that meaning. This may be a chicken and egg thing, and I freely admit to possibly missing the point.

This may be why I was never able to get my head around programming languages, though I loved the concept of futuristic machines that did our bidding. I was always better at story problems than solving formulas, better at playing music than taking tests on rules for composition, better at writing than memorizing rules of grammar and spelling. I'm sure I'm not unique in this. It may be simple laziness, a brain unused to a certain type of abstract thought unwilling to stretch at this late date.

Regardless, anybody who knows anything about this type of thing, anyone with a more scientific, abstract turn of mind, I'd love to hear from you. What do we do with Formal Languages? What are they for? What do they help us discover? And why, please God, why, is the above comic funny?

UPDATE: I think I get formal languages. The use of language when communicating with a computer obviates the expectation of meaning. In other words, when you're talking with people, you can speak about meaning. When you are sending commands to a computer that are undeniable, no meaning is needed or expected. The only pertinent question is whether the language is able to be parsed. Then structure becomes paramount. "Meaningful" means "able to be executed" and only language structured correctly becomes "meaningful." Structure becomes meaning.

Which still doesn't tell me why the comic is funny.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Weirdo - Astrology

When I was a kid, nine years old or so, I came down with an illness that kept me out of school for a while, maybe as long as a week. My mother, having nowhere else to put me, took me with her to the grocery store, where she told me I could get something to pass the time, a toy or the like. Being the fledgling nerd that I was, I made a beeline for the book section, such as it was at the time. Mostly it was made up of paperback bestsellers, Harlequin Romance novels, self-help books, and tabloid magazines. Amidst all that dross, however, I still somehow managed to find a book that, in all seriousness, changed my life in a way that few other books have.

The World Almanac Book of the Strange

I brought it too her, eager and probably still a little flushed from my fever. I remember her asking, a little concerned, if I was sure I wanted this book. It was thick, had very few pictures, a plain cover. I was sure. My love of fantasy and all things unusual drew me to it. The table of contents alone were enough to titillate: Strange People, Strange Places, Miracles, Strange Religions and half a dozen other seductive headings. Though the word "Strange" might seem pejorative, this was actually exactly what a burgeoning weirdo like myself was looking for. I'd been reading Tolkien for a couple of years at this point, and had recently started branching out into whatever science fiction I could get my hands on, so I was primed for this kind of esoteric craziness. I knew I wasn't like other kids; I felt strange, and I wanted strange.

My mother, bless her, believed that no knowledge was inherently bad, and that any curiosity should be encouraged. In the past she had actually worked with Swedenborgians, who believe, as part of the central tenets of their faith, that all knowledge was knowledge of God's creation, and therefore inherently holy, even the knowledge of "evil." Seems there might be a genetic component in attraction to weirdness....

So she bought me the book.

In my daily drives with my mother, long drives from our home to the pool where my swim team practiced, I took to discussing Aleister Crowley and the finer points of demonic possession, the Nazca lines and whether UFO's were real.  But the one thing I was really interested in was the section on palmistry, handwriting analysis, tarot, and my favorite of all: astrology.

Here was everything I was interested in.The positions of the stars and planets when you were born could tell you kind of person you were. Not only that, but astrology had insight into the seeming closed book of other people. I found people confusing, their actions and reactions baffling and frightening, but here was a key to understanding why they acted as they did. It also gave me insights into myself, another seemingly locked box that periodically spit out its own bizarre behaviors that I could not control or understand. I didn't know why I did the things I did. Now, something could tell me.

Another appeal was that the stars I dreamed about for so long were not just out there in the heavens, but part of us, affecting us, changing us and making us into what we are. I had just recently been informed that, due to my poor vision, it was unlikely that I would ever become the astronaut I'd wanted to be since kindergarten. Here was a way of interacting with the stars that I would never reach.

I learned about the different Elements and Qualities, the twelve signs and the ten planets (some of which were, you know, stars and moons, but whatever). I learned that Cancers love their mothers and Geminis can talk you into anything, that you should never cross a Scorpio, and that Tauruses can seem all easy going until you push them too far (later, of course, I learned that these things were necessarily contingent on mitigating factors). In a few short years I had a book with an ephemeris and was asking everyone I knew if I could do their charts. Almost everyone wanted to know more about themselves, and it was a good way to talk to girls.

To this day, I still am fascinated with astrology. People often ask me if I think it's true. I have a number of friends who are, let's say, "adamant" in their opposition to anything that smacks of hokum. They find anything non-scientific (religion, astrology, homeopathy and the like) positively affronting, and are very vocal in their debunking.

I feel like there's very little to contradict science in astrology. I know that's a bit of a strange statement, but the way I see it, and in answer to the earlier question, astrology is "true," but not in the sense that there are measurable influences beaming down on us from the stars that some how imprint upon us at the moment of our birth, molding the tabula rasa of our smooth souls into the persons we grow up to be.

A metaphor may be useful here. If we look at the star through a telescope, a certain amount of mental mapping is required to remember that the stars are not actually closer to us. We are seeing things that are not, literally, "there." The light is being refracted through a lens which allows us to see details we might not otherwise be able to see. Now, most of us do this mental mapping without thinking about it. The world is remade before our eyes, and we make the adjustments necessary to accommodate the new information.

Astrology is a psychological art, through which the personality is refracted, that we might see its component parts in a new way. The methods by which we refract are somewhat arbitrary, but because the world is fundamentally interconnected, any method of refraction will offer some insight, provided we have the tools to interpret it. Since it is an art, and not so much a science, there's a certain amount of ambiguity inherent. We have several thousand years of tradition through which to sift to find possible interpretation. So, again, astrology isn't "true" the way that cheeseburgers tend to go "splat" when you drop them. It's a way of looking at the wonder and mystery of personhood that allows one to learn something that maybe one didn't know before.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hello, little blog

I have not abandoned you. Right now I'm working on a post about the Carpenters (another currently underappreciated band, in my opinion). They went through a resurgence in popularity in the 90's (mostly because of 70's nostalgia freaks like myself) but have kind of faded in recent years. I still love them, and I'm still obsessed with "A Song for You," so that's what I'll be writing about.

I also probably need to review Tallulah Rising, the sequel to The Last Werewolf. Did it hold up? I'll let you know. (short answer: eh (shrugs shoulders))

In the meantime, here's a little something something from a band I'm enjoying right now - A Lull. They're playing tomorrow at Pianos, and I won't be able to see them, because I'm planning to watch the what-I'm-anticipating-will-be-a-shit-show-of-vast-proportions called the London Olympics Opening ceremonies. It'll be a party, and, if the rumors are correct, a really tacky one at that (the Olympics thing, I mean. I'm sure A Lull's show will be tasteful and decorous, given that the title of their EP is Meat Mountain).

So here's A Lull - Still Got Pull

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Another adventure in doin' it wrong.

Woman going up the stairs, bitching passive aggressively about the woman in front of her walking too slow: "Fucking oblivious morons." She sidles past and up.

Her bullying manner irks me. A stray thought wanders past. "I ought to teach her a lesson." I speed up to walk in front of her and then deliberately slow down.

"And here's another one!" she says "fucking oblivious morons!" She bumps me as she passes, barely.

"Have a nice day," I say.

Still not addressing me, she continues her tirade. "Have a nice day," I say again.

"You need to fucking pay attention," she says.

"Oh, I did it on purpose." I say. "Have a nice day."

"Then you're a bigger asshole than I thought!" she shouts as I walk away. "Ya doof!"

She's right. Should have left it alone.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A new year

I turned 41 on Saturday.

There's a tendency towards self-mythologizing on blogs. Online in general, really. Most people make a beautiful lie of their lives on Facebook, smoothing the rough edges of doubt and inconvenient unpleasantness until they've created a placid persona for public consumption. The poets and the dramatic go the other route, mythologizing their flaws and cruelties into a towering monstrosity, and they weep that they love no one enough to curb their narcissism. I'm guilty of both.

I also have a terrible tendency towards self-pity, and I've decided I'm tired of it. So, my "new year's" resolution, if you will, is that I will no longer indulge in that least pleasurable of all vices. So, to repeat, I turned 41, and let me tell you, without glossing over anything, that I am a lucky son of a bitch. I have somehow not managed to sabotage or destroy myself, despite my best efforts. I am better looking and healthier than I have in years. I am working towards the things that I love everyday, and I am still blessed by true friends and a wife whom I love and who loves me in return.

One of my blessings is this, right here: my first story publication in twenty years. It's at a lovely magazine called Devilfish Review. I'm really proud of the story, and if you haven't read it already, please go check it out, and then stick around and read the rest of the stories, because there are some quite good ones there. Thanks for reading, and if you've come here from Devilfish, welcome. Please stay awhile, and make yourself at home.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Presbyterian

My parents were anabaptists, that is, they didn't believe in infant baptism. This appalls my Catholic wife, but it perfectly suits my rather anti-authoritarian nature. Who gets to authorize the ultimate disposition of my soul - me or a guy in a white collar? I say it's me, and apparently so did my folks, which is why I found myself at the age of thirteen, kneeling at the altar of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church having a little bit of blessed water dripped on my head.

I haven't been to a Presbyterian Church since the age of majority, mostly since I find them a bit dour and conservative, but I have fond memories of that particular church. In addition, religion is a bit of a hobby for me, so I'll tell you for free what I know about Presbyterians in general.

1. Bi-partisan governance - elected groups of elders and deacons make up voting bodies that guide the church.
2. An unfortunate tendency towards Calvinism.
3. Tasty!

The third refers to the other Presbyterian, my current summer drink. My recipe for one goes like this:

2 ounces bourbon or scotch (I prefer Buffalo Trace, but Jim Beam is nice. So's Maker's, if you've got it)
4 ounces ginger ale
4 ounces club soda
twist of lime

Purists will tell you that the lime makes it a Mamie Taylor, and that Presbyterians are made with a twist of lemon. Also delicious, but I think the lime works better with the ginger ale. Mamie Taylors also forgo the club soda and use the much spicier ginger beer, which makes it an entirely different drink, in my opinion. More of a Dark and Stormy with whiskey. 

Regardless, the recipe above gives you a nice summer thirst quencher, lightly sweet with a little spice and a touch of the oakey-ness of the whiskey. They drink pretty easy, so resist the urge to quaff. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Phil Collins - An Appreciation

"Listen, guys," I said at the end of band practice last night. "I have a confession." The conversation had drifted, as usual, from music to other subjects, and we had been discussing the movie White Nights, and how recognizing that we liked that movie when it came out made us realize that we weren't like the other boys.

"Let me sit down," said Ray. He tends towards the dramatic. He mimed wiping his forehead, took a deep breath. "Okay, go."

"I fucking love Phil Collins," I said.

"Oooooh, damn!" Both Ray and Gerry reacted far more strongly than I expected. Sure, my love of Phil is a little unorthodox, but I wasn't expecting it to be all that controversial. He was, arguably, one of the most popular artists of the 80's. But I wasn't prepared for what came next.

Ray, with a pained look, raised his hand. "Me too." he said. Now Gerry edged toward the door, as if being in the same room with us might taint his punk-rock cred.  I waved him back into his seat.

"No. No, fucking listen to this. Seriously. Just listen." I was already up and putting the tune on the PA. I played them this:

The sound of a man celebrating his despair

A spontaneous dance party may or may not have broken out at this point. I'll never tell.

I told the story I'd read recently, how Phil had talked about killing himself, how he was tired of being the butt of jokes, how his musical legacy had faded, even though he's one of three artists who've sold over 100 million records (the other two? Oh, you know, some nobodies named Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney). I also found out that he can't play drums anymore, due to spinal surgery that left him unable to grip a drumstick. So the guy has been going through some stuff lately.

We decided that Phil needed to know how appreciated he was. I'm sure the man has more than enough money to use to wipe his tears away, but still, he's made my life better, and my music better, and nobody should go through life not knowing that they are loved.

He wrote songs about obsession, madness, despair, fear and loneliness, and then soundtracked them with poppy hooks and horn licks that cooked. He belted out songs of love and loss that, as Ray put it, "made me want to fall in love and then lose it, just so I could miss it. I didn't even know what love was!"  He sold tens of millions of records and sold out world tours, all while looking like Bob Hoskins's less attractive little brother. Sure, he might have diluted his talent a little by going after every single opportunity that came along, and with a catalog as broad as his, they can't all be great, but the hits were stellar.

He was, and is, awesome.