Friday, January 31, 2014

Lulu Brings Back The '80s

As many of my hapless Facebook friends know, Lulu has taken to a couple of '80s music compilation CDs with a vengeance, and plays them daily. Certain tracks get played over and over and over and well you know.

It's been a mixed blessing for me. This is music I spent that decade trying to avoid. I was mostly successful. I was too busy making my own music to have to deal with much of it, I usually had command of the radio in my car, and when I couldn't keep it out, I would shiver and marvel in disgust. Why? A lot of it was the production. It's not reverse snobbery, honestly, the sound was just an instant turn off. Like biting on a saccharine tablet. To people who don't feel the same way, I have had a very difficult time explaining exactly what about it drove me up the wall. But it did. And I actually like some synthetic sounds. Wendy Carlos, Synergy, early Tangerine Dream, Bowie's Berlin trilogy, '80s King Crimson drum and guitar sounds, etc. But the majority of '80s pop stuff...uh uh. Perhaps it was the combination of production with a lot of insipid writing/marketing/image, etc. My opinions have mellowed, or my nerves have deadened (more likely the latter, but hopefully some of both). And I have actually found more to like. This is a good thing, or life around here recently would have been intolerable.

My FB friend Ric Parnell will be amused to know that one of the discs opens and closes with Toni Basil's "Mickey"- once in English, once in Spanish. (Ric played drums on this.) I have many alternate lyrics which I try to keep to myself, but as I tend to mutter under my breath and the girls have caught on to this, I am frequently unsuccessful at being discrete. One section suffers the most from a "fill in the blank" treatment: "You take me by the heart when you"
"take me by the gland"
"take me to Japan"
"call me Ray Milland"
That last is the only one that still makes me chuckle because it's completely absurd, but the other ones keep spilling out of my mouth out of decades of habit. Oops.

Each disc comes with a big fold out with a little picture of each band. Lulu keeps this open to learn more about each one. A huge favorite for the last few days has been Limahl's soundtrack tune, "The Neverending Story". (I told her the song was for a children's movie and she got even more excited.) She searched through and found Limahl's picture. She wanted to see more of him. I told her, "If you've seen one, you've seen Limahl". She didn't get it.

Back in the early'90s, the poet Vivian Wallick gave me a very cool blank book with a hand-decorated cover as a gift. Several years ago I started keeping prospective song titles in there. I've been keeping lists of these for years (as has Hyam Sosnow), and they do come in handy. The girls have been very good at bringing me funny titles like little gifts, sometimes intentionally, often not. Today Lux warped a title from one of the '80s songs, and "Living In A Box" became "Living In The Bobs". Yes! Grab that book! It's a done deal!

I was never a big Culture Club fan. Nothing to do with homophobia, I could care less about him being in drag. Just didn't really like the music. "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" would come on and I would shout "Yes!" at the radio. Which I didn't, but the song irritated me. There was one exception with them, "Church Of The Poison Mind". To me, that's a really good R 'n' B song, and the performances are wonderful. So I've been enjoying hearing that one again...and again...and again...well maybe I could have done with a few less repetitions. But I like it. Nonetheless my Norm Crosby gene snuck in, as it will do; and it became "Church Of The Poison Mime". Hmm. Interesting. Has possibilities. A mime as a sinister villain. Sure, why not? You know, the makeup, they don't talk, it's kind of creepy. But then I thought, no, a mime is bound to be ineffective as a predatory killer. They're always getting into problems with unseen forces. Here's your killer, he's stalking a frat girl or the guy who just screwed the frat girl or the mime who stole his act, whatever. And he's creeping up behind, creeping, creeping closer- and suddenly he's trapped in an invisible box! And the intended victim gets away, never knowing how close he was. Or he's coming up on someone, the knife gets raised- and suddenly he's stabbing against the wind! And he can't make it, he keeps getting blown back! It's sad, really. Pathos.

Finally, after ten reps of "Neverending Story" and another return visit to a hit by T'Pau, I'd had enough and told Lulu, "OK, daddy's turn, time to listen to something daddy wants". She protested loudly, demanded to know what I was going to put on, and I told her the truth- I didn't know but it wasn't going to be the other '80s disc. Eventually I found something that floated my boat and I put it on. "What is it, what is it?" I said, "Something I've been playing you off and on since you were a baby. I think you like this. Anyway I like it and I need something like this for a few minutes, you'll live, just listen." And then "Dance To The Music" came on and she said "I know this, what is this called?" Sly and the Family Stone's greatest hits dear. Enjoy. And she did! She wanted to take the cover and look at it, which she did; asked me who was who in the picture, which I told her to the best of my recollection; told her what the songs were called as they came on. The nicest surprise was Lux, who was sitting at the table with me, eating apple slices and goldfish crackers. She was DIGGING HARD on it! Closed her eyes and shook her head around blissfully and danced in her seat. Nice! As for me, some of those arrangements, 45 years later, still make the hairs on my arms and legs stand up. "Everybody Is A Star", "Hot Fun In The Summertime" Soul with a capital "S". Do I care that it doesn't sound like the '80s stuff? Yes! I care. I'm thankful.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ready or not! Here I come!

.....and that is why I am known to the Greeks as Testicles (TEST-ih-klees).


Oh hello! Look who's back after a year! Good to see you again. Glad you could join us. It's me who's been off galavanting. I have been spilling my thoughts on Facebook rather than here. Facebook has the advantage of a providing an extant dialogue platform, whereas this is more like a lecture. EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!

There are some things I'd like to write that don't lend themselves to a more or less short format like FB. I find it much too easy to abuse that forum when what I should be doing is writing such things here. It is both a disadvantage and an advantage to have a platform like this to turn to as an alternative; heaviest on the scale is that it is a courtesy to my friends not to swamp them with word tsunamis, when they may have come to FB for quick chats with as many people as possible. So the quandary ends and here I be, matey.

ONE: Same Old Blues

I want to write far more often than I get to. I am reminded of a woman I met when I lived in Los Angeles. She lived alone, had no phone, no television and no personal life. Why? Because she was a writer and did not want to be disturbed. I asked her if this was lonely and she said no, not most of the time. Her work was the most important thing in her life and if she was writing she was happy. Everything else to her was a distraction. I found her fascinating, and her intellect and devotion to her art were a major turn-on. But she wanted none of that, because it would interfere with her writing.
You would think my memory of her would be full of pity, or fear of ending up that way. But in fact I have often thought back on her with admiration and envy. What dedication. What strength. I have had long stretches of involuntary solitude at various points in my life, and have learned to not just make the best of such a situation, but to excel. Nonetheless I have friends and family and like it that way, hermit's life for me.

Nope! I have opted to try to have it all. If that sounds pretty much is. Time spent away from my creative work can be hellish, full of anxiety, compulsiveness,and strong feelings of deprivation and overload. However, time spent away from my girls gives me a feeling of sadness, of their short childhoods and sweet little selves slipping away from me. As if these two competing feelings weren't bad enough, my mother is aged and ill, my siblings are all nearing retirement age, my friends keep dying or developing disabilities that take them out of music, reminding me that time is slipping away for me too....You begin to lose track of how many directions you are pulled in.
My everyday life taking care of kids and household keeps me so busy that any activities outside the immediate require a bit of effort, and most likely, careful scheduling. I am lucky to have a spouse who is aware of all of this, and who does her best to help me with the juggling act. Nonetheless she is at least as busy as I am with domestic matters, and can only do as much as she can do. Most of the time for us, it's just a matter of keeping the ship running and seeing what's left of our energy and time when opportunities present themselves, or can somehow be made. 

I am told by many people that things like spare time will return, and I'll be glad I spent the time the way I did; and so it most likely will be. Still, most of us wag a finger at ourselves sometimes, with pretended wisdom about how we might have done things better. Perhaps, let's say, this would have been easier if I'd had children earlier. Then I might have felt less under pressure to produce creative work- before I found myself, through threat of age and/or infirmity, potentially unable to do so.

There are two problems with that idea.

One, I'd have been a crappy father if I'd been one earlier. I was not patient enough, I was not mature enough, and I'd have been hell to live with. It would have ended badly and no one would have benefitted.

Two, the spectre  of death has been standing by, drumming his fingers and pointing at his watch since I was born. Because of a birth defect, my parents were told that I might make it to six months; then I might make it to a year; then two years; then hopefully five; and that if I made it to ten, then it was anyone's guess. My parents being worriers, and my father being morbidly obsessed with his own mortality anyway, there was NEVER a time when I wasn't aware of life as something which could end quickly. Every day felt like living on borrowed time. As if to reinforce this, I went on to see examples of quick disability and mortality all around me during my first 12 years of life.

Everything has two sides. Being drilled with a sense of mortality from earliest memory has had advantages, among them having a natural sort of 'carpe diem' mentality. The down side is that it made the usual trappings of settling down seem like having a heavy wet blanket thrown over you shortly before you're shot. My view on this only changed when I was at an age where, presumably, I should have started "having a life"; and people my own age, who had done more in that direction than I had, started dying.

Now you see, I'm a contrary guy. If I have a guardian angel, it's certainly bald by now, having long ago torn out its hair in fits of frustration, given the thankless task of trying to steer me right.(I'm sure Chrissy feels this way with some degree of frequency.) But I eventually come around, if it seems to me there's something to come around to. I'd always wanted to be married. I'd always imagined that some day I might settle into my version of what settling down might be. And, surprise surprise, I'd harbored paternal urges for years. But for the reasons outlined above, I wasn't really keen on pushing too hard in that direction. Still, when the time came that I really felt it was imperitive that I do so, I did it with everything I had. The result is the life I have now, which, all told, is pretty amazing. But mind lodged in a meat bag is a limited reality, and there's only so much you can actually accomplish in the limited years you live, no matter what you think when you're younger. Some things are so demanding- rewarding too, but that's not the point- that they require large chunks of you for you to have them. They move in, they take up room on the pie chart, and other things must be moved, stored, or let go of. And that is rarely anything but painful. At first.

I don't believe in absolutes. I'm a 'percentages' kind of guy. I believe there's a really good chance I'll manage to do a decent job with all of the above, including the biggest longshot of all, keeping myself happy and not needing to bitch quite so much. And with that in mind, let's move on.

TWO: Where'd I go? Oh There I Am

Over the last few years, I've experienced a level of disinterest in a lot of my old favorite passtimes. It feels weird, but I know it's logical.

I used to love to hit used book stores. But for a number of reasons it's become pretty unimportant. For a start I have almost no time to read. Sad but true. Given that, I have a very large number of books. Some of the topics I used to collect are of less interest to me now. I have much less room than I used to. And I have a need for cash. So starting soon, I'll be whittling down the collection yet again to help me put some money towards musical endeavors.

When I go into thrift stores now- which isn't very often anymore- I am extremely conservative, and it's unusual for me to leave with much. I went through my phase of buying metal and wooden objects for percussion. I still check, but there's almost nothing to get that isn't in the same ballpark as what I already have. Unless it's really unusual sounding, which rarely happens, I leave it.

I don't buy videos or DVDs. I have no time to watch anything. Really.

I do have to stay away from "record" stores. It's the one habit that's still with me, or would be if I allowed it. Can't afford to, but the desire is still there. I have found a lot of new music through the library, and as of last year, Pandora. Used properly, online services can be a way to find a lot of new things that really float yer boat. This is good and bad. Now I want all the Broadcast CDs and all the Besnard Lakes CDs and a lot of Porcupine Tree and a fair amount of other things besides. Reissues with bonus tracks and boxed sets and....Oy. If I was plopped down at Music Millenium with a couple o' grand and told to spend every penny of it, there and nowhere else, there would be no problem. Not likely to happen but it's a nice fantasy. I will retain my composure while things are real and see what happens. The fact is this: the only time I manage to listen to anything is when I wash. Limited time equals limited use equals lower priority and so, less interest. But where this is concerned, still bubbling away on a back burner.

THREE: Do You Wanna Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star


I'm fifty. I've got a pretty obvious gut. My physical problems are worse than they were when I was in my twenties; no real surprise there. The part of me that wanted to travel and have adventures has gone the way of many other interests, swirling down the sucking drain of life. Meh. In its place, enjoying the forward position, my writerly, painterly, crafty side has settled hard into its seat and shows no signs of leaving anytime soon. That may sound boring, but I'm excited. I have so many ideas for projects of all kinds that I'm actually more afraid of not getting to do them than I am of being bored. Creating things, if even for the sake of it, is the breath of life for me. 

Also, in the decades I've been at it (or not), the nature of celebrity itself seems to have changed. I know that in the past, long before I was here, it wasn't unusual for the falsehoods, facades and expectations of stardom to drive many people who'd achieved it to despair. And yet the lack of rights of celebrities to be private people seems to have grown. The Altamont moment, for me, was the death of Princess Diana. Despite there being an outcry over paparazzi going too far, not much changed, and the vultures only became more bold and sure of their place in the food chain. "They wanted to be famous, they shouldn't complain." While given the types of things I do, I would most likely never have to worry about fame of that kind, I still am not interested in pushing it too awfully hard. American Idol doesn't want me and I don't want them. I want to make the kind of music and art and writing that I'm interested in, and then find a way to get it to people who like it. For what it's worth, I am reasonably sure such people exist. This way seems like the logical procedure to me, rather than not being myself in the hope of someday being myself, then hoping that the people who liked me for not being me will follow when I am. You know?  

FOUR: The Write Stuff Baby, The Write Stuff

I always enjoy writing, but there are some minor things and a couple of major things I am extremely keen to get working on. The problem of course is time. But perseverence and practice have helped me keep things moving on most fronts during this seemingly bench-warming time. I have not given up on the idea of possibly making some money off my writing. I have also not given up on the idea that for many projects, the ideas and execution follow the lines of imagination first, rather than commerce, and are presented for sale afterward. I don't believe that anything I have to offer as a writer is so far out or abstract that I will be writing only for myself and scholars of the unknown. It should all be mainstream enough. Then again, that's what I thought about "A Man Who Was Here". We who make things, don't always know.

Still to be written, or currently partially written: I have a dark Western; a futuristic/utopian/dystopian anthology with framework; lots of musically-based essays; and lots more besides, but those three seem to be the starting lineup. I figure I'd put 'em up for sale as e-books, or with companies who print to order. I'd be an idiot to bank on selling a whole bunch. But you never know, and I believe it's worth doing.

One of my concerns has been to not step on M.'s toes, or into his territory. He has been working on some writing for a while, and I believe he's pretty close to doing something with it. I've played with the idea of psuedonyms again, the most recent of which, Craig Segall, is a joke based on the most common mispronounciations of my names. But maybe we can be like the Brontes or the Huxleys or the Bensons or the Winters, etc. If it's all good- and I have reason to believe both parties would deliver the goods well- who cares? Good is good. Mark has a really distinct voice and approach as a writer, and despite similar interests our styles are easily told apart.

FIVE: Hmm, Very Nice. Are We Done Yet?

Just about. I would love to get back here before next year. If you like reading my stuff, hey- maybe we'll both get lucky. Salut!