BLOG THIS! Highly Suspect Wisdom for the Widely Disinterested Masses
I think it can be agreed Jazz Street is her finest work, but the early stuff is pretty killer too, especially:
“That Van Hasn’t Moved In Over A Month, Someone Must Be Living In It”
“No, I Will Not Take Down My McCain/Palin Lawn Sign”
“Jeffrey Keeps Looking In The Wilson Girl’s Bedroom Window, It Might Be Time To Forcibly Remove His Crayons”
"Sure, You Picked Up After Your Dog Today But What About Tomorrow?"
Got up way too early, went for an espresso, slipped the barista a $20 for having to work, lit the fire, got the tree and lights and music going, heated up someone's special frosting drenched spare-tire-sized cinnamon roll, brought someone else coffee in bed, wrapped a few last presents, tuned into the Banff Yule Log channel, gave the dog double morning treat, turned Santa Klaus up VERY LOUD, sunk back into the sectional, ready for the mayhem to ensue.
Merry Christmas, friends.
It is indeed a strange sensation to randomly come across the exact 1979 Gibson Les Paul "The Paul" you once owned for sale on Reverb for a cool $1,899, as if it were some sort of rare bird or desired commodity. How do I know for sure that's my former guitar? Well, I was there the day in 1985 when my boy Mike Nesi bought it from Russ at Music Guild on Main Street in Danbury. I was also there the day we took it to East Coast Sound and had those exact EMG pickups installed. The bearded tweaker tech guy kept saying, hands full of discarded Humbucker, "Oh yeah, these will give it that crunchy sound. You guys want that crunchy sound, right? I can tell you want that crunchy sound. Oh yeah, you do." I bought The Paul from Mike in San Francisco in 1992 for $180. Like a tool, I talked him down from his asking of $200. What, so I could buy five more burritos? To be fair, my bookstore job at the time paid $4.25 an hour. Even so, I still feel bad about it. I hammered away at The Paul for ten years, carried it around town in a green spray-painted case that had a single word stenciled across the front, can't remember what it was. Some Dadaist non-sequitor, like INTERROGATORY or DIFFIDENT or BOWDLERIZE. I plugged it in to crappy amps and cranked it through crappy covers of "Welcome To The Jungle" and "Bitchin' Camaro". I'll tell you what, that guitar was a commitment, a seriously heavy chunk of walnut to sling around your neck with it's too-wide fretboard and sludgy, Muscle Shoals sound. I eventually traded The Paul in 2002 for a Taylor 414CE, which I still have. In any case, it's like seeing an old friend again, one who disappeared on that European backpacking trip without a word, as if you woke up in a Copenhagen hostel one brisk Dane morning and your traveling companion was just gone.
And now here that friend is again, smiling, older, abashed, a bit of hard-won wisdom in their eyes. You want to ask, "Hey, pal, what you been up to the last couple decades?"
Yes, it is tempting to buy The Paul again, just for nostalgia's sake. I might even go up to $200 this time.
Today's FB memory: 1987 on the mean streets of Venice, Italy. What, you want a piece of this? My man Adam Sandone rocking the....lollipop stick. Even then he was smarter than the rest of us. I'm almost certain he was also wearing a Hoodoo Guru's shirt. I think right after this we went to a museum. Or paid .50 cents for a hostel shower. I might also have menaced someone out of a slice of extra-virgin bruschetta.
Oh, just that day eight years ago when we stopped at the pizza joint on the way home from school, our Friday tradition. Over many dozens of visits, she never once deviated from her standard order: two cheese slices, one chocolate milk. No oregano, no parsley, no parmesan. No toppings of any sort, ever. PLAIN. CHEESE. There were better and more convenient places around, less oily, more adventurous, thinner crust. But she liked this one. I never ordered anything myself, as a fatty grease bomb in any disguise --Quarter Pounder, Pad Thai, cheesesteak, pepperoni and onion, even if tasting good on the way down, always makes me slightly nauseated and needing to lie on the couch for an hour afterward. On this particular day I saw her staring at the poster on the wall above us, slice paused mid-shove, somewhere between intrigued and vaguely intruded upon.
"Know who that is?"
"He was in the Beatles."
"Kind of the most famous band of all time."
Chewing, glazing over.
"What's weird is, it may also be the dumbest band name of all time."
Looks up, slight interest at the coming slight.
"Because it's a pun. Not spelled Beetles, but BEAT-LES. Like, a musical beat? Rhythmic notation? We all grew up with them as a given, as ever-present, and so no one questions it. That's just their name. But if you think about it, "The Beatles" has zero nuance or even marginal coolness. It doesn't represent them or the breadth of their music in any way. Sure, there were the Eagles and Buddy Holly's Crickets. There were the Monkees and the Turtles, Camel and Whitesnake and all the other animal names. Then other dumb puns like Def Leppard and Led Zeppelin. And even your slightly clever ones like Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, Camper Van Beethoven and Dead Kennedys. I mean, they would have been better off as The Mop Tops. Or Paul McCartney And The Liverpool Three."
"He seems sad."
"Who, Lennon? Yeah."
"Well, probably because someone shot him."
"The world, little peanut, is a crazy place. Sometimes there are no real answers. Even to important questions."
"Take a picture of me."
She got up and stood next to The Man, uncannily approximated his expression.￼
“You have sauce on your face.”
I snapped the pic.
She nodded, satisfied, finished her milk.
We drove home.
Either music is one of the most essential components of what it is to be human, or it’s a complete con, a series of random tonal patterns with which we comfort ourselves, a false indicator of complexity to refute the meaninglessness of existence. After all, what is the history of human life but a generational document of trying to make life bearable? Drugs, food, art, meditation, theology, astronomy, willing denial, maximum risk, egregious consumption. In the end, we usually come back to music as the most pragmatic, sustainable, honest dose of Soma available. The question is, why does music even exist? Did it arise from the cadences of primitive language? Or did language arise from our proto-human ancestor’s first proto-rhythmic grunts? Is the desire to recognize the mathematical distance (intervals) between notes encoded in our neural framework, or is it learned? Can it just be a function of the evolutionary fortuity of having a particular kind of (auditory canal/ears) hearing apparatus? Many animals of course have far superior hearing, and advanced abilities like echolocation, but they do not have music. So why do we? In a larger sense, music is ultimately without significance in terms of survival, in the same way that athletics are pointless and full of manufactured import, but it’s hard to imagine enjoying life without either. Rhythm is elemental to every genre of music, including, and maybe especially, the intentionally arhythmic. It’s also elemental to athletics and many of the other things we value, from sex to dance, from coexisting in a city full of people to a simple daily grace. I’ve come to believe that the music I prefer expresses the truth of who I really am in ways that no words or paragraphs or endless manuscripts ever could. And often does so in a mere twelve measures, let alone a searing horn solo or three-minute radio-friendly tune. Why does music matter more or less to me than the person crossing the street in the other direction? And why does a very particular style of music speak to me on what feels like a molecular level? Did a particular set of intervals have meaning to my ancestors, carried down through countless generations, stored in the lizard brain and finally released during the moment-of-fertilization chemical wash that etched my helix with JAZZ like a cattle-brand? I wondered all this while singing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” in the shower this morning. All my best self-indulgent and faux-intellectual musings reveal themselves in the shower. Either way, Eddie V and Diamond Dave brought it all home before I was even towel-dry. Everything is random in polyrhythm. Nothing is random in 4/4 time.
Without being too overtly nostalgic or anti-technology, it is somewhat bizarre how easily and without complaint we've lost touch with a life that was once a great deal more in touch with its surroundings, if only by necessity. Or the subconscious desire for mystery. When all is accessible, all is to some degree diminished by ease. Flying to a new city, finding an apartment with roommates on an index card pinned to the corkboard of the hippie grocery store, getting lost in a car that frequently broke down on various exit ramps, walking to a payphone to call for a tow and having no change in your pockets, looking for jobs in thumb-stain classifieds, carrying a Moleskine notebook filled with bad lyrics and bad poems, addresses and phone numbers, a few quick-snatch snapshots of that girl or boy you desire or miss stuffed between pages. Answering the shared rotary in the hall, writing down a message for your roommate and taping it to their door. Going into a record store and finding a rare album for a few bucks because the owner's personal knowledge was their only resource to approximate worth. Really looking at the person across from you. Gazing out windows, undistracted. Never once saying "Can you put that down for a minute?" unless it referred to a well-thumbed but engrossing Genet or Lawrence Durrell. Creasing open a heavy envelope, a long letter on lined notebook paper nestled with portent. Three channels, plus PBS. Every Friday night at the art theater no matter what was playing. Sleeping more deeply, and longer. Not sure we were gods, but maybe the better cherubim of our natures?
Socrates said that the closer you get to the truth, the more likely you are to be executed. While the abundant evidence throughout history to support that conclusion has frightening implications for the future of humankind, I often think of it in terms of music. Truly profound, innovative, and uncompromising musicians have always been metaphorically sent to the gibbet for the crime of seeing the world through a distinct, sometimes disconcerting lens. Even in the jazz world, John Coltrane was often misunderstood, derided, critically and culturally dismissed. From the outside, especially late-career, he was seen as a madman. John Coltrane is by far my favorite musician. The four-suite ecstatic and quasi-religious devotion “A Love Supreme” might well be his greatest and most complete work. For sixty years there was only one recorded instance of him playing it live (1965, Antibes). Now there are two, as this newly discovered and released recording from Seattle attests. Socrates would be proud. This is as close to musical truth as it gets.
Sometimes while reading the news each morning I have a vision of a whole new wave of Retro-Idealists replacing this tired immediacy, gangly young men with Cardigans and Meerschaum pipes, trim-bearded intellectuals who race Moto Guzzis past sidewalk cafes and listen to the Everly Brothers and read Kant, packs of vibrant young women simply replacing the crone-ish rebuking-class, impossible heels and scarves draped over their heads during screenings of I Am Curious Yellow and A Clockwork Orange at the art theater in town, smoking Chesterfields at the diner until midnight, discussing the merits of backpacking to Prague or Quito or Burkina Faso, all of them exuberant with sheer possibility, without fear of the potential to misspeak or offend, impervious to the monotony of contemporary political stasis and its attendant ills, without a cellular Apple-umbilicus to constantly massage and feed. Then I flip to the next article.