Monday, January 18, 2010

"Dancing With The Stars" variations

It should come as no surprise to anyone that such a popular show would have imitators. So far my two favorites have not made the primetime schedule yet, but are still being considered for production.

Dancing With SARS: A gaggle of B list celebrities and their dance trainer partners are infected with the SARS virus and set loose on the dance floor. The last couple standing wins. Created by Horace McCoy and Josef Mengele.

Dancing With The Czars: A succession of celebrity dance couples do routines of increasing opulence, decadence, and irresponsibility, until the finale when the audience rises up, takes the winners down to the basement, and shoots them.

Until those reach the air, hey, at least "Chuck" is back on.

PS: a big hello to Bruce Ray!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

post-breakfast quickie

Odd thoughts come to me at odd times, like this morning, putting my daughter's breakfast together. I found myself imagining a theme restaurant, the Wallace Stevens Diner. "Uh yeah...I'll start with Hearts of Palm at the End of the Mind order of Concupiscent Curds...and...I can get it later, but I'm gonna have some of that Emperor Ice Cream for dessert." This could extend outward to include franchise diners for all sorts of writers, maybe some musicians or composers. I'll get back to ya.

The Older You Get...

The More Dead People There Are To Dream About.

Seems like a truism and yet it's true and I should know. Tonight it was Geshe and Ellen and aunt Esther. Usually it's Dad and Cyndy, but...not tonight.

Cyndy was a vibrant and wonderful young woman who died at the age of 26. Cyndi and I were never intimate but I certainly cared for her deeply, and I doubt she ever knew the half of it. I wasn't in love with her, I just loved her. Good people. We worked together at an insurance job called Spectra. I don't know if Uri Geller got his powers from us, or if it was the Hoova company down the hall. We never tried to kill James Bond, as far as I know, although we did get a few of those calls and had to tell them sorry, wrong number. Anyway, we worked in the same department for a few years and got to be really tight.

I was no longer working there when she died. One of our co-workers- our ex-co-workers- called me very upset to give me the news. It hit me very hard, although true to form for a guy who needs not to feel a whole bunch, it manifested in subtle ways. My upper lip started to feel like it was in mid-spasm or mid-twitch, and this didn't go away until a long while later. I was depressed but the whole thing seemed both very heavy and encompassing, but at the same time very distant, as though it were casually happening to someone else. My world had taken a nice, swift kick.

Lots of people in my family had died when I was too young to really appreciate it; lots of people at my schools from kindergarten through 7th grade had died, but I wasn't close to any of them really and hey, like it or not that was just part of the environment there. At this point in my life she was the only good friend to have died, and done so very suddenly, without even a hint. Pretty jarring. I went about my business looking slightly subdued. A journal entry from shortly after she died gives an idea of what things were like under the surface. When I wrote it, I was in a dislocated, sort of trance-like state, and the connect between my rational brain and my writing had been pushed aside by something else. "My blood is all over me. How interesting it is that no on but I can see it. Well, not so surprising I suppose. After all, it is my blood..One gathers cuts over the years; some heal, others don't. They just keep bleeding."

Cyndy's funeral was an interesting experience. The twitching, eventually numb feeling in my upper lip had not gone away, and had in fact reached disturbing intensity. I half wondered if it was some kind of stroke. The casket was open, which I hadn't expected, especially considering the condition the body had been found in. Her mother had found her, asphyxiated and grossly discolored. She'd had a massive asthma attack in her sleep, not been able to rise fast enough to get her medicine, blacked out between the bed and wherever she'd been heading, and died. She used to get really bad headaches, and supposedly on that night, she had taken something to help her sleep through one.This slowed down her body's signaling of "danger" at the start of the attack, and by the time she woke up, she didn't have enough air to make it. This is what I remember, anyway. Her poor Mom was just a wreck. They'd been more than mother and daughter, they were best friends- vacationed together and everything. Her Mom needed to see Cyndy look like herself once more, or at least more like herself- hence the open casket. Nobody was prepared for it. Reactions ranged from casually disturbed to deeply shocked. How was I? Numb, as usual. Sporting sun glasses, as were many people. Tears ran freely from under every pair of shaded eyeware in the place, nobody was fooling anybody, but we all persisted wearing them for some reason. Her Mom asked me to be a pall bearer. "I know you really cared for Cyndy, would you please help lay my baby to rest?" I was honored; and had I the strength, I would have picked the coffin up myself, like Nosferatu, and carried her there, and laid her gently down. There was one other person there who really had a right to hold her and carry her, and I don't recall if he did. I think he did, I'm almost positive. But my memory is a bit foggy on this point.

I'm getting ahead though. Before that, there was a procession to view the corpse and say last goodbyes. One person we worked with, who had left the company long before, came with a picture of the two of them, and secretly stuffed it in the casket with the body. She showed me ahead of time, told me she was going to do it. OK, whatever. I was astounded by the level of drama and showy emotional displays put on by people. Some of them genuinely loved her, I know, so this was forgivable to me; but there were people who somehow needed to make it about them, put on a show, and this I found troubling and not a little reprehensible. Only one person got bad enough to say something to, but that was well after the funeral at the "after party", thankfully. One guy at the funeral who sticks out in my mind was a boyfriend of a friend of hers- can't remember who he "belonged to". He started talking to her, acting like he was out of his mind. I don't really think he was, and in fact there seemed to be more than a little "Look, I'm grieving, see?" in his response. That could easily be just my interpretation; ultimately it doesn't matter. He looked down at her and said "What are you doing down in there, girl? Get up! Come on! Come on baby, you got to get up! Come on!" Etc., until somebody moved him along. He continued to look back at her as he was led away. Interesting. My suspicion of him may seem unkind. But...My brother Jeff's 17 year old fiance' suddenly took ill and died from throat cancer. At her funeral he jumped in after the casket. Jeff doesn't give a rat's ass what anybody else thinks of him, as long as they think he's funny when he's trying to be funny. As far as stuff like this, he could care less. He never put on that kind of show for anybody. That was real, a product of complete despair. So...ah, who knows. None of my business I guess.

As for me, I walked up to her, mostly curious to see how much, or how little, she still looked like herself. To me, she looked like a propped-up waxwork that suggested the image of my friend but didn't really capture it. She was no longer in there and it was obvious. I tried thinking about her while I looked, all the while feeling the anxiousness of people in line behind me to get their turn, for whatever reason, to linger themselves or to get it over with. I could have stayed there longer if I'd wanted, after all, to hell with them, you only usually get one chance to say goodbye. But I couldn't belabor it because she wasn't there, and the waxy body on display was not helping me think of her, it was distracting. I moved on and thought of her when she was alive. And it was a lot easier to smile then.

After she was buried, after the after party, after everything, I went home and lay down on my bed, exhausted. That damned tingling and twitching in my upper lip was still going strong but at this point I didn't care; for all I cared I could have had a stroke and died right there, it would have been fine by me. As my body settled into a state of near sleep, and I was laying very still, I felt a slight but definite kiss on my lips, along with a sense that everything would be OK. And the tingling, twitching feeling disappeared then. I've felt it once or twice over the last couple of decades, at times of extreme stress; but never as strongly as when I'd felt it originally.

So that's Cyndy, or at least a little bit about her. Hard to believe she's been dead nearly 20 years. As for my Dad- well, lots to say there, but not necessarily here. He died in his mid-70s as the result of several illnesses, from which he'd suffered for a while. When the end came, four days after his last birthday, it was a relief for everyone, especially him. He was never going to get better and life had become awful for him long before he breathed his last. Needless to say he popped up in my dreams a lot after that too. It took a long time for him to show up looking healthy, before I could dream of him without his illnesses being dominant in my memory of him. Eventually though, he did show up looking like his old self, sharp-minded and smiling.

One dream that comes to mind had he, Cyndy and I at a bar. We'll get back there in a minute, but you should know that Cyndy popped up in my dreams a lot too. Usually there was some talk of how I thought she was dead, but it was a hoax perpetrated so she could get some space from everybody, or she'd moved and then moved back, had been on vacation, on retreat...Anyway, she'd come back, I'd spotted her; she was nervous to see me but accepting, and we would hang out a little before something weird would happen and I couldn't find my way back to her.

So this night, Cyndy and I and my Dad were at a bar. The only one this was in character for was Cyndy, who liked her occasional social drink, and whose liquored-up watermelons (made from miniature liquor bottles she'd saved from various flights to Cabo and the like) were legendary, eagerly awaited fare at the company picnics. My Dad just didn't drink. He wasn't an alcoholic, he simply did not like the stuff; it gave him a headache and nausea, and he never saw a reason to put up with that. He wasn't opposed to a little valium to steady his nerves, and back in the days when Vicks 44 cough syrup came over the counter laced with codeine, he was never without some. (He could justify this- not that he ever cared to, but he could- because his voice was like a deep-pitched dead-end kid, barking out of a gravel pit. This is what happens when you start chainsmoking at 10.) As for me, I drank, but not very often. A social setting like this wasn't completely out of character, I suppose; it just wouldn't have been common. But we were having a good time.

At one point, Cyndy gave me her keys and asked me to get her something from her apartment, which wasn't far away. My Dad said he'd come along too. Don't recall what Cyndy was up to, exactly. So there was this nice sense of cameraderie when my Dad and I went to her place. He was quiet and respectful, had some nice things to say about the apartment. But before we were to leave, I desperately had to pee; asked him to wait for me, told him what I had to do and that I'd be right back. He seemed a little disturbed and sad, which seemed slightly out of proportion to me for a response; but I didn't think too much about it and went down the hall towards the bathroom.

At that point all the lights in the place went out, like a blackout, but there was a little bit of light from streetlamps outside. I had this uncomfortable and immediate feeling that something besides the blackout was wrong, and then I remembered: Cyndy and Dad were dead. I tried to hold on to the dream, and made my way to the living room, trying to turn on the light in there, but Dad was gone, the place was empty, and he and Cyndy were really gone, not just out the door but dead.....I couldn't hold on any more and I woke up, goosebumps all up and down my arms, and yet sad, missing them both. Even so, it had been nice to see them, if only in my own head. Which I've never been entirely sure of, you know.

If there is contact with the dead, it has to come through our minds anyway, so...who knows. I don't, not for sure. I act and experience "as if", in the tradition of John Lilly. You suspend your disbelief and act within the logic of the situation, all the time knowing that it might not be real in the way that hitting your head against a wall is.

So many people have died since then. Some of them, like Cyndy, have been what seemed to me to be unreasonably young to be dead, as if there were reason to such a thing. Tom Shannon, Brigid Segal. Hard to get my head around those. I accept their deaths, overall; but can do so mostly by not thinking of that part, I think of them when they were alive. My Mom's third husband Jay, who went from having a backache to pancreatic cancer and was dead in a pretty short time; he wasn't that young but he wasn't that old, and for a multitude of reasons that one just seemed really wrong to me, and my response wasn't grief but anger. Anger at who, at what, there's no point in asking, anymore than there was in being angry, I suppose. I was likely to respond somehow, and that was it. Mom had already outlived two husbands, now she was going to outlive a third? Wrong. And thinking of Jay as not being there anymore- wrong, it just seemed very wrong to me. My Dad had been sick for a long time. Her second husband, Harold, had been nearly killed in battle a number of times (3 Purple Hearts and one congressional note; Guadalcanal survivor, Korean war vet, etc.). He'd been fighting major heart problems for a couple of years before they caught up to him. Jay had had a number of close calls too, but all before he'd met my mother; and nobody was expecting cancer. Does anybody ever? Maybe if you work too closely with radiactive materials. He did for a while, for the government, but not for many, many years. Anyway...

So tonight I had a dream where the dead folks in question didn't actually appear, but were being sought. My cousin Geshe, his wife Ellen, and my aunt Esther- all gone. I don't recall now why I was trying to find them- something to do with a concert, with babysitting, it's blurry. Other people were looking for them too. There was a heavy-set black girl in particular who couldn't understand why she couldn't find them, it was like they were suddenly gone with no trace, it was very upsetting to her. She had my old telephone book, the one held together with business
cards and scotch tape as replacement covers. It had fallen apart and she couldn't find the rest of it, and there was no one left in the neighborhood who remembered them or how to find them, and now she didn't know how to get hold of them or where to look or why this had happened seemingly so fast.

As the night has gone on, and I've been busy writing emails and writing this and making coffee and burning copies of "Wonder, Doubt And Curiosity" for Dave, the importance and the impact of the dream has faded very badly. But it got me to tell you a bit about Dad and Cyndy and a few other things, and I'm happy about that. If I see them at the bar again any time soon, I'll let you know how they're doing.

Monday, January 11, 2010


from technically proficient at making conventional music with conventional making music with raw and processed sound: the integration of both within an intentionally expressive context.

To eventually cover as many ways of producing sound as there are; to play instruments from each type, and in each way possible on that type; to finding new sounds from unconventional sources, to be used in all ways- textural, melodic and rythmic.

To be conversant with, and expressive in, as wide a range of styles as is truthful to my taste (no sellouts). From conscious pre-structure to "free form" expression.

To understand and be expressive in both electronic and acoustic methods of producing sound and music.

From boldness and even harshness to subtlety and mix these in ways still furthering both, to multiple levels.

To explore and become capable of intelligently using a range of ranges: old forms/new forms, short pieces and long pieces, quickness and slowness, spareness and lushness, forms and textures both coarse and refined. To be able to turn from one extreme to the next if desirable, and do so seamlessly; and to know how and when to use the range anywhere in between.

A harmony of elements, a rich education and hopefully a richer expression.

To extend and practice this understanding of range extremes to other art forms, and to everyday life. The abstract/diffuse to the plain/concrete; the complex to the simple. Understanding and creating the one within the other: the simple within the complex (sub-rhythms/forms; repetition/variation ala DNA) and the complex within the simple (multiple fields effected by seemingly simple or bold forms). And at the other side of this, strong expressions of only complexity or only simplicity.

To illustrate that all this is a matter of choice, and that rather than all colors blending to mud, all colors are available for every form, but that it is our responsibility to use what is available in an expressive way, to our best abilities. This gives all choice and only chosen restrictions.

To serve each piece and each project according to its needs, without recourse to systems, expectations common or uncommon, unless these are part of a piece's intrinsic nature. What needs to be said? What method/coloration/forms will best get this across?

I reject complete indeterminacy as a cop-out. In the first place, it's impossible; there is no removing the composer from the composed. So, the rejection and attempted removal of the composer's intent is fallacious. On some level, the composer has played god and handed out a set of variables. Even if, at a performance, the organization of variables reflects the player's sensibilites during the immediate experience; or it's more about the audience's sensibilities, or it's intended to be about both- the choice of variables hugely effects the whole, and so reflects the composer right into the proceedings. I can see no way out of this, nor do I see any further value in pursuing some more complete version. Tell someone to improvise for a set period of time, with no more instruction than that, and you'll have accomplished full indeterminacy. Which, to me, is a promoter's job, not a composer's.

I reject the composer's complete control over what a listener feels or thinks upon listening. Scores will be interpreted differently every time; recordings will sound different over every playback system. Lyrics have ever-changing multiple shades of meaning. Attempts at kinesthesic writing for an audience hit a dead end at the garbled bag of symbols within each listener's unconscious. The color white means something different to someone from the west than it does to someone from Cambodia or Africa. To us, it may symbolize purity, as it is often used; to a Cambodian or African, this is a color frequently associated with death and fear. Associations change meaning with geography, with time, with personal experience. In the present, in this part of the world, some are very obvious, such as minor key for sad, major key for happy, dissonance for confusion or terror. And yet in every case you can be sure of some historical, cultural instance or personal instance where the opposite is true. Generalities are the best that can be accomplished here, and as such they will be of limited range.

With both extremes of music, the music itself may be excellent. But there's wiggle room aplenty, and personality aplenty, and I see neither as bad, and in fact see those limitations as cause for excitement and celebration. It means ego can't go too far into people's business, and it can't disappear either. And why should it, in either case? Abuses of ego are no excuse for abdication or dictatorship. Ultimately you can't do either, and that to me is very good news. Instead, the artist just has to keep trying to communicate- in whatever fashion, and with whatever message. I like that. To me art is about communication, even if the message is meant to be that beauty and inspiration are everywhere, not just in the ego of the composer. In art as it is in life: too much control is the rigidity unto death, and too little control is the disintegration unto death. Each is an interesting experience, but repetition at the extremes gets old after a while, as extremes are likely to do. Combination and variation, that's the stuff.

GS, 1/9/10

Sunday, January 10, 2010

testes, 1, 2, 3: or, the swingin' dance of the polyorchid pawnbroker

Is this thing on? Welcome to the premiere posting for the Blog of the Phantom Airship. Expect the unexpected, until that in itself becomes expected, then...don't.

Here will be various thoughts of the man behind the curtain, er, Airship. The plan is to have a forum for all sorts of things, occasionally leavened with parentheticals of an obtuse and potentially humorous nature.

My odds for frequent updates are hideously poor. But the one variable in my favor is simply the lack of formality. Show up, improvise a post, piss off again. That ain't too tough, since I can type almost as fast I can talk. Sometimes faster. Definitely with bigger words.

This day in rock history: Keith Emerson premieres his touring version of Thaddeus Cahill's Tellharmonium. Promising "An ELP concert in every home", the plan at first is to send performances on the instrument through local phone lines during the concerts. The prospect of having lines blocked with extended versions of "Take A Pebble" and "Tarkus" makes the phone company uneasy, and this part of the plan is scrapped. The instrument is ultimately abandoned from touring after a few months because of its excessive weight (although at 200 tons, it is still lighter than Carl Palmer's stainless steel drum kit).

You see there are things that just don't fit the usual news and info section of the Airship site proper. What to do? Well, blog, for one. There must be a place for various types of expression, be it steam-valvedness, silliness, or even weighty ponderousness. Although that could easily go into the writings section. Whathaheck. Nice to have someplace less formal. Okey dokey?

I'm cheating when it comes to the next post: I wrote something this afternoon- uh, yesterday afternoon, since it's after midnight- that finally made me say OK to the blog idea. So that'll get posted soon. Be on the lookout!