Monday, December 12, 2011
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Kookie!, an album of almost music by Edd Byrnes, was actually released in 1959, but Byrnes' show, 77 Sunset Strip, ran until 1964. The entertainment, as it were, of a record like this, filled with anonymous studio rock 'n' roll of the period and the talk-singing of the Kookie character is pure hokum and innocence. Byrnes' street rapping hipster, whose innocence makes The Fonz seem like Tupac, splutters enough "babys," "daddy-os" and "like, wows" that I wondered how this was mistaken for edgy beatnik talk. Songs titled "Kookie's Mad Pad, "The Kookie Cha Cha Cha," and the boffo hit "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)" are sweet in their faux-cool. All is not as it seems in retrospect, we all know that, but somehow the kind of world that could produce an album like this made me long for a happier time.
That hackneyed time travel sentiment is the subject of many a Twilight Zone. I'd always wanted to see Season 4, the year CBS executives forced the creators into one-hour long episodes. Having now seen all 18, I can say that the doubly long programs have been unfairly maligned over the years. Everything I've read about the January - May 1963 run has damned them as too long and unable to hold the quality of the 30-minute versions. Not so. The weaknesses of the shows are similar to those of all lesser Zones. There are several purported comedies; Rod Serling never did funny very well (though "The Bard" is a hoot, highlighted by Burt Reynolds' spot-on Brando impersonation).
I've been working my way through Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, published in '64 but set in '63. Similar to Faulkner, Kesey jumps from first-person to first-person without a heads up. That's where the similarity ends. Notion is just alright. It's not particularly difficult, or interesting, but I'm only half way through and, perhaps, there's good stuff ahead. The novel was seen by some critics as a "work of new consciousness" and, perhaps it will be by the time I close the covers. So far, I don't see it. Kesey has his counter-culture cred intact with Cuckoo's Nest and the Merry Pranksters, and with that in mind, his story of The Stamper family's generational conflicts presages what lurks right around the corner, the schism of the second half of the decade.
"Passage on the Lady Anne" is the penultimate show of Twilight Zone Season 4. It centers around a young couple, probably in their late 20's, trying to save a rocky marriage. They're a typical pair of the time, young people who look, dress and act twice their age. What was it about 25-30 year olds of the mid-60's that made them so beaten up and overly mature? Was it the Mantovanni records? The couple is headed to England by cruise ship, a decrepit vessel populated by ancients on their last voyage. You can guess where this one goes.
Would Allan and Eileen even know what was waiting for them in 1963 Swinging London? Would they even guess that a band of four boys from Liverpool was driving the Old Sod insane? How could they know that in a mere few months The Beatles would hit America and change the world? 1963 was the last year before the culture cracked. It's been fun to visit.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Martin Scorsese's much anticipated documentary on George, Living in the Material World, presented itself as the same mixed bag that was the ex-Beatle. It was sloppy and acute, focused and chaotic, touching and superficial. All like the man himself. Scorsese, or his underlings, couldn't quite grasp the man they chose to exalt. In the early segments of Part 1, the film focused on John Lennon, who is hands down more funny and clever than his younger band mate. Still, that's not why we were all watching. And to have both of George's brothers wasted in a one-off snippet that told the story of John spilling beer on a wedding guest, well that was unforgivable. What a wasted resource.
Why tell the Beatles story at all? Scorsese goes on the assumption that most viewers know the details anyway, otherwise why mention Stu's death, without noting who he was, how he may have died (or did die) and why his demise was so devastating to John? True, Dhani Harrison reading his father's letters was a solid device to show how Hari was, even at the beginning, jaded by the mania. It's unfair to judge the movie on what I think it should have been, instead of what it was, but telling the tale from the breakup onward, with flashbacks to the few pertinent Beatley moments, would have made a more effective and sharply honed narrative of George's quest for spiritual growth in a perverted world.
Part 2, the 1970 and onward period, was better, though still scattered. It bounced from All Things Must Pass, to the ill-fated Dark Horse tour of 1974, to George's creation of Handmade Films, his obsession with racing, the Traveling Wilburys and, ultimately, the outrageous attack in his home and death. The clips from what seemed to be a film made during the tour, which found George with poor voice, bad judgment in song selection (changing lyrics to Beatle songs, putting Ravi Shankar on twice), and happily, for critics, the target of venom after his "do no wrong" run from his debut album, to Concert for Bangladesh and the album which gave Scorsese's film its name, were eye-opening. George sounded horrible at first, though in fine voice a bit later on. The behind the scenes moments with a wise-cracking, throat-gargling George made we wish for a revisit to this period. not a revision, per se, because I've heard the bootlegs and the music is pretty weak, but a deep look at an interesting moment in rock history. Drummer Jim Keltner's take, that George, though struggling, was "loved" by the crowd, was an insightful look from a participant.
But even Keltner's anecdote about George putting a plug for the Jim Keltner fan club on the back cover of Living in the Material World, was missing a key fact. It wasn't a funny poke at Keltner; it was a nasty rebuke of Paul McCartney, who had a tag for a Wings Fan Club in the same spot on Red Rose Speedway. Scorsese's film had room for George as curmudgeonly, but not for George as vicious and nasty, which he could very well be.
There are powerful moments sprinkled throughout. 1976 George watching a 1964 clip of The Fabs singing "This Boy" was worth the price of admission. Tom Petty's eyes-welling account of George's call to tell of the death of Roy Orbison was touching. Eric Clapton provided thoughtful commentary throughout. And when was the last time anyone saw real emotion out of Ringo? With all his "peace and love" superficiality, Ringo has made himself a self-parodying joke, but when he tells of his last visit with George, and begins to cry, well, it was beautiful. McCartney was, as always, a tad inscrutable. His tales of his youth with George, as two young mates, came across as genuine, but at other times, when he explains his late-period dictatorial ways, it was simply another edition of the last decade's "Paul Revisionary Tour." Macca is lucky to be the last one standing who can shape the tale of The Beatles. Ringo was never in the trenches in the same way as the other three.
Olivia Harrison provided depth, the sole person who was willing to delve into her husband's foibles, however briefly. And her account of the knife wielding madman who broke into Friar Park is harrowing. A short take of George mixing a Ringo song at his home studio is made touching by a lovely hug that Dhani gives his dad. There are more wonderful bits scattered over the 3 1/2 hours but, as a friend said "vignettes do not make up a narrative."
So, what are we left with at the end? A jumbled view of an interesting man, a film that felt both too long and too short, and the empty feeling of an underwhelming effort. The hardcover companion book does a much better job of fleshing out the man. Did I like it? I have a hard time criticizing The Beatles and their projects, though I do know when the product is weak. Living in the Material World is mediocre at best, but any time I can spend with George Harrison is time well spent. I'm hoping for really good bonus features when the DVD comes out.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
When I was a kid, my Dad would take us, usually once a year, to Shea Stadium for a Mets game. It was thrilling to be at the ballpark and, regardless of what was happening on the field, it was completely joyful. Even when I got pelted by a half-grapefruit thrown from the upper deck smack into the stomach area of my new Mets’ shirt, leaving pinkish citrus ooze, I was happy (once I got back the wind that had been knocked out of me).
Except if we went to Shea on a weekday. Then, no matter the score, we would leave. “It’s a work night,” my father would pronounce. Or, “It’s a school night.” Or both. It was eminently more important to out-exit the hordes and get home at a reasonable time. My collection of scorecards is marred by games that were left voluntarily, the results of the Mets-Astros game, at 2-2 going into the ninth, suspended by our departure. I’ve never forgotten that crushing, sinking feeling of being outside the park, the halo of lights behind and above me, hearing the roar of the crowd who either didn’t work, didn’t go to school, or had the proper sense of priority to realize that the rare game they got to see was worth a little less sleep. When I got older and had season tickets at Wrigley Field, I watched each game to its conclusion, and still managed to be a productive person the next day. It was false that beating the rush was important.
I swore I’d never do that to my kids, whether it was at a sports event, a concert, whatever. Joey wanted to see The Avett Brothers on Tuesday night. It was pouring. I mean buckets, but I wasn’t going to tell him no. Even my recent back surgery was no excuse, though Joey was sweetly solicitous. I had spent Monday night undergoing my first real test - an 8-hour Board of Trustees meeting. I was physically sore at the end, but, on the whole, in fine shape. Standing at a concert would be easier, I thought, and it was, though my feet hurt during the last hour.
Nicole Atkins was the first act and she was OK. Her lead guitarist, Irina Yalkowsky, was a stellar soloist. That girl knows the proper use of dynamics! Brandi Carlile was next. I don’t know. She’s pretty popular, but left me un-won over. There was something too stagy, too false, a bit overly enthusiastic for my taste. Atkins and Carlile share a vocal trait that I dislike, the sudden switch to upper register that always strikes me as affected and out of place. Anyway, the two lead-ins didn’t bother me. I was focused on the rain that never let up.
When Joey and I saw Wilco in June, he asked if we could be up front. I told him that nothing stops determined people from getting to the stage. The Avett crowd had scores of those types, healthy young college aged folks who strongly made their way wherever they wanted. It caused an occasional scene. Early in the Avett set, there was a lot of pushing. I held my ground for my own benefit, but also was keenly aware of where Joey was and what threats surrounded him. There was fun too, with much throwing of beer cups, one which ended up landing perfectly atop an umbrella
At one point, I overheard a guy yell “Joey Katz.” It turned out to be someone Joey worked with two years ago at The Hall of Fame. I listened in, especially when the guy’s girlfriend was talking to Joey. After a while, I heard Joey say to her, “I’m 15.” To that, the girl replied, “No way dude, I thought you were 21! I’m 21!”
I turned around at that point, and she said to me, “Are you his friend?” When I told her I was his father, she was dumbfounded and then began to heap praise upon the boy. It was pretty cool. By that time the crowd had settled into position, but there were some points of fun and violence to come.
In front of me stood a 20-something man who early on struck me as a douche, egging on a guy pissed off at someone trying to cut ahead of him. When the rain stopped for about 2 minutes, he began to elaborately disrobe, taking off his jacket, then his backpack. From his bag he brought out, and began to assemble, a pipe, a very long pipe. It was ridiculous. Pipe Guy grabbed some tobacco from a metallic pouch, bits sticking to his wet hand. He lit up, began puffing away like a 19th century burgomaster, and offered it around. I couldn’t believe Joey didn’t try some, and told him so, jokingly.
“What would you have done if I did?” I told him I probably wouldn’t have cared. Having shared a passed bottle of Jack Daniels at a Rolling Stones’ show in 1981, who was I to talk.
When a cowboy-hatted scruff-beard tried to make his way through the tightly packed audience, causing strife for some, Pipe Guy couldn’t quite get the negative vibes. I told him that perhaps not everyone had achieved the serenity he gained by taking up the pipe. He liked that.
The occasional rough stuff was a good thing for Joey to see. I told him that in packed concerts one had to be very vigilant and aware of what was happening around them. Soon after, a very out of it drunk or drugged dude came barreling through. The same person who had been taunted by Pipe Guy was not happy and viciously grabbed the intruder by the neck and literally threw him backward. Angry Guy was steaming, but Fucked Up Dude was unperturbed. He was so out of it that no signal would have been recognized.
I understood Angry Guy’s reaction but not his follow-up assault. Fucked Up Dude tried to bash through again, far from Angry Guy. FUD succeeded and was well past our area, when Angry Guy went deep into the crowd after him and pulled him back. “Why are you looking for a fight?” asked Joey’s former co-worker. It was odd.
The Avetts were truly spectacular. They seem a little mentally challenged to me, with their quirks and tics and verbal outbursts. All to good effect. Joe Qwan, their cellist, looks like an evil Mongol extra from a bad Genghis Khan movie. I was happy to have seen the show. Afterwards, the parking lot was a muddy morass and, to add squelching insult to the soggy injury of the evening, we got stuck. We weren’t alone. Happily, college kids are young, strong and willing to do goofy things for fun; packs of them were gleefully pushing cars out. We took full advantage of their services. The road never felt so good.
Was it worth it? I don't know. The headliners were terrific but standing for four plus hours in a monsoon, with painful feet and a soaked 1970's Atlanta Braves cap that became as heavy as a space helmet, made it memorable and that may be the better. We hung tough in miserable weather, Joey learned how passionate crowds operate, and we had awesome sugar waffles. We’ll be talking about this one for a long time.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
He's smart, capable of things his peers could never dream of, and he revels in his intelligence. When his homeland is threatened, he summons up great strength in its defense, though is filled with contrition when confronted with the fact that he may have crossed a line between protection and aggression.
This is a leader who understands his own, who realizes what they need to succeed and isn't afraid to fight for those beliefs. For those incapable of helping themselves, he's there for them, not in words but in deeds. His goals are achieved by the means suited for the particular situation: kindness, cleverness and, when necessary, a literal thump in the head. But it's all for the greater good and he knows it.
Even when he has nearly reached the mountaintop, has almost reached his goal, he doesn't gloat and wreak violent revenge on his defeated foes. Even among his enemies, he sees there are friends, good people who can be reached. Never, never does he rule out interaction with an entire class of people because of the mistakes of the few, even the vicious few who have mercilessly tortured his compatriots. That takes strength of character.
This is that leader:
Caesar: In Your Heart, You Know He's Right.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The first one was acceptably uncomfortable. Sliding into the chamber, I was given a mirror to see outside. I could also peek out on my own to see the ceiling. I’m not claustrophobic, and it was a reasonably short test. What I wasn’t prepared for was the loud clanging of the magnets, a sci-fi metallic banging that changed its rhythm when a different scan began. It was disconcerting, to say the least. The test was inconclusive and I was scheduled for another, a bit lower than the first brain scan. It was spinal time.
Number two seemed easy, until I was shoved in to the gaping maw of the machine and found I couldn’t see anything, nothing but the glowing white innards of that seemed pressed against my face. I freaked and pressed the panic button, signaling to the operators that I needed to get the hell out of there. I was a wreck, but they guilted me into going back in. “Sir, we really don’t want to have to reschedule.” I composed myself and was conveyor belted back inside. There, I occupied my time thinking of baseball, trying to name every Mets’ manager (I forgot about Art Howe).
They ask before the exam whether you have any metal in your eye. Seems like there was a case where someone had an industrial accident of some kind and the powerful magnets contained in the Magnetic Resonance Imaging device tore the metal shards from his or her eyes. I think that was later used in a Saw movie. I realized I had my wedding ring on, which didn’t count as dangerous metal, but I didn’t know that at the time and flung it across the room. It took a while to find it. That test was also without result.
Once more into the breach and this time it would be a double whammy: 90 minutes inside the giant tube. No way. I knew couldn’t hold out that long. Then a surgeon friend suggested Valium and, though I shy away from pills, I was eager to fill that prescription. The longest test went the easiest. I slept through most of it, and when I woke up I was calm, though extra-toasty. That thing heats up.
The results were definitive - cord compression, disc compression, and arthritic conditions up and down my spine. The solution was vaguer. I had back surgery scheduled, though the two neurosurgeons that looked at me had varying opinions. Eventually I backed out. I knew enough guys from the pits who had back surgery that ended up badly. One died, though, to be fair, it was in a car accident years later. But still.
Lately I’ve been feeling lousy, though my back pain is virtually gone due to weekly chiropractic work. I have what is called “All Shook Up” disease: my legs are shaky and my knees are weak, so weak that I have the occasional knee-buckle that leads to near-falls or completed falls. My legs are a constant combination of numbness and pain, like the tingling you get when you’re coming out of pins and needles. I deal with it but, when a doctor friend commented as he watched me walk, “Dude, you’re all fucked up.” Not much of a clinical diagnosis, but enough for me to act on. With much reservation, I went back last night for both thoracic and lumbar MRIs, a double whammy redux.
I left my wedding ring at home this time, but not my pills. I had my Valium in hand, and upon arrival one hour before the test, I was fairly relaxed. At 6:30 PM I downed my little round friend and watched Modern Times in the waiting room. I felt very much at peace. I was called in to change, and, upon lying down on the tongue of my old nemesis, began to sweat. I thought I’d be near-sleep by then. Instead I was near-panic, and very much concerned I couldn’t go through with it. Dan, who would administer the test, talked me through it before he sent me into the mouth of the machine with panic button in right hand, and wouldn’t leave until I said so. He’d given me earplugs which expanded and muffled him as he spoke, so I may have missed something.
To my surprise and joy, the white plastic roof above my head seemed much further from my face than I recalled. Maybe an inch or so away, but it felt downright spacious. The incessant banging of the magnets hammered their discordant melody. To occupy my mind, I visualized my future publishing success: the call from my agent telling me my proposal had been sold, the glowing reviews, my appearance on The Daily Show, the follow-up Maybe Baby book, and so on. I even had a new idea or two. Before I knew it I heard Dan announce that the first part was finished.
He put me further into the machine, where the white became beige and gave me even more room. I worried that this might put me in more confined space, but it felt like Howe Caverns compared to what I was expecting. When I was slid back I almost lost control of my distress button, but I quickly tightened my grasp.
There’s a bit of a pause when the imaging area changes. It’s short, but, for a moment, a gap struck me as far too long. The night before we had all watched Liam Neeson’s Unknown and there’s an MRI scene where Neeson’s character is on a gurney, a bit drugged, and in danger of his life. That was on my mind during the long silence. At first, I thought it unlikely that Dan had been murdered and I was in a perilous situation, but a terrible thought crossed my mind. He could have had a heart attack and died, leaving me bound in the machine, the buzzing of my signal screaming “let me out” left unheard. I wondered if I could squirm out, whether the strap that held my head down would prevent me from escape. The Valium helped lessen the growing stress, but, though I never thought I’d think it, I was relieved to hear the pounding of the magnets start up.
By then I wanted out, though not in a wild way. I’d had enough, it was getting warm, and I was running out of things to think about. Finally, I could feel the cool air from an opened door and then Dan’s presence. I was done.
Back home, the family gathered around to watch The Concert for Bangladesh, one day after its 40th anniversary. I needed the sound of “Awaiting on You All” to wash away the clanging of the MRI and the memories of an unpleasant 90 minutes. Thanks to George Harrison, all things passed.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I rail at this, but this Paul Revere horse has left the barn. There's no getting back to the idea that God Bless America is merely an Irving Berlin ditty, written for the Hit Parade. I tried explaining this at a recent Rotary meeting and was met with dagger stares. It's getting worse. Yesterday, Rotarians, haltingly at first, stood for the singing of America, the Beautiful. First, one, then two, then, guiltily, a few more, until the tide was irresistible. We all arose and I stewed. What can you do?
What's next? Should people stand when they hear Simon & Garfunkel's America? How about James Brown's Living in America? It has "America" in the title AND was featured in Rocky IV. What a red, white and blue juggernaut! And what about the songs from the group America? I won't stand up for A Horse with No Name, I assure you.
However, I could be convinced to rise for Sister Golden Hair.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
From, say, 1983-1993, I was 100% devoted to jazz. The managers of Slipped Disc Record Co-op at SUNY-Binghamton were given free records instead of a cash stipend. Some geniuses well before my time as General Manager devised a point system that maximized the amount of records we could take to gibe with the equivalent cash value of a similar campus job. After one year as GM, I had fairly well maxed out my pop and rock needs and, looking for a new musical outlet, I tried jazz, loved it, and that was that for the next decade.
Friday, July 8, 2011
It's ironic that we sat down last night to watch A Cry in the Dark, the 1988 Meryl Streep vehicle, made timeless by Elaine Benes' "Maybe the dingo ate your baby" line in Seinfeld. Robbie wanted to catch up on courtroom classics and this was one of them, and one of the few I've never seen.
Director Fred Schepisi does wonders weaving the mass reaction to Lindy and Michael Chamberlain's possible murdering of their baby girl Azaria. This true Australian crime story came to a head just months before the movie's release. It's both gripping and off-putting, much in the way that the main characters are. As parents they are a messed up pair of religious zealots and weirdos. Streep is top-notch, Sam Neill is too, and I learned that Ozzies of both sexes were very much into tube socks in the early '80's. This, more than anything, is what I'll take away from the movie.
The DVD we got from Netflix was cracked straight across from center to edge. I assumed it wouldn't play at all, yet it did, for over an hour. Then it stopped. We were left in limbo yesterday, not knowing the truth, the courtroom scene about to begin as the film froze. Now, we'll have to wait for another copy to see how it all played out, whether the parents were guilty or not. The verdict is still out, the result of a faulty piece of media.
How's that for symbolic resonance?
Sunday, July 3, 2011
There are couple of Coen specific touches - a camera pulling back from a desolate cabin, a bit of digit related violence - but, though I very much liked it, I couldn't see the point and forgot it quickly.
Let the Right One In was one of my favorite movies of 2008. A vampire movie that was more coming of age, Swedish mood piece, the performances were superior, the atmosphere depressing yet triumphant. Quite a great film. So why Let Me In? This 2010 Hollywood version is fine. It's a nearly identical remake (though not shot by shot like Gus van Sant's Psycho, which, though a piece of shit, had an artistic point of view). It's good, but, again, why, other than it's in English.
Is it so true that Americans can't handle a superior original in subtitles? Did Let Me In do better at the box office, considering its budget, than the original would have done in wider distribution? Doubtful. The effects are horribly fake and the setting of Los Alamos is a distraction, planting thoughts of nuclear fallout and radiation that have zero to do with what's onscreen. Weird.
Do yourself a favor - see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels in glorious Swedish before you're forced to see the Tinseltown takes. Not to say H'wood will do a bad job. They just won't do a better one.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Next up were The Handsome Family. I'd liked what I'd heard on line but they left me flat. I was disappointed and we didn't stay long, heading over to the train-converted-into-a-cramped-house exhibit and finding the samosa seller. A festival employee told us John Hodgman was spotted buying a falafel.
Liam Finn. What can I say about this musical Zach Galifianakis? Awesome energy, killer tunes and dynamic stage presence. The double drum gimmick was powerful, hearkening back to the old Thunder and Lightning duo of Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner. Things ramped up when Glenn Kotche of Wilco got behind one of the kits.
Joey and I played everything right. On Friday (we weren't there but heard the talk), there were massive storms that created havoc. Up to this point, we were bone dry. By heading to the inside comedy performances, we remained so, missing a downpour. Eugene Mirman, Wyatt Cenac and John Hodgman, with a guest appearance by Lewis Black, provided a pleasant break from the music.
We checked in with Thurston Moore, briefly. He usually leaves me cold. Instead we made yet one more stop at Euclid Records and bought The Sic Alps CD, two Wilco 45's on clear vinyl and T. Rex's The Slider. I was looking at the T. Rex albums and noticed Joey, eyes opened wide in expectation. I deferred to him and, though we both needed and wanted the record, like a good Dad I let him buy it. Then we were off to Joe’s Field, site of the headliners. (But first a burrito).
Syl Johnson, a soul-infused vision in red, rocked the crowd. Syl pushed his new box set with almost every song. "This is featured on my new box set, Complete Mythology." Over and over again. Favorite part - Johnson asking if we knew The Wu-Tang Clan, 'cuz they gave him lots of money when they sampled him on "Shame On a Nigga."
Liam Finn joined the band for "I’ll Fight" and Ms. Guthrie came out for the encore. There, in a "long overdue moment" according to Tweedy, Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter sang "California Stars" from Mermaid Ave, lyrics by her famous forefather. Special doesn't quite cut it.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I still dress the same. Jeans, shorts, T-shirts. There’s a certain immaturity to that, I know, but I simply don’t care about clothes. Never have, never will. However, I just had a moment that may change my ways.
There’s nothing more pathetic than a middle-aged person desperately trying to connect with teenagers. I don’t mean in a creepy way, but in a way that reeks of a “hey, I’m not that much older than you” vibe. I don’t go for that, but my music and movie tastes tend to bridge the generation gap. But I am older than these kids, 30 years older, and though we may share some likes, I’m finding it unhealthy to believe that, let’s face it, I’m very old in their eyes.
I’ve been thinking about who in my life was 48 when I was 18, and you know what, they were friggin’ old! Granted, they listened to Mantovani and watched Marcus Welby, MD, and that made them seem older still, but facts are facts. No matter how youthful my brain thinks it is, the rest of me isn’t.
So here’s what happened. I was wearing my T-shirt with Jeff Bridge’s giant Dude character, and my favorite quote from The Big Lebowski underneath: “Man, I hate the f***ing Eagles!” Robbie had borrowed it and worn it to school a couple of weeks ago and got into a bit of trouble over its slight offensives. I wore it last week, which was fine because, as usual, I was staying home. A call from Joey, “I forgot my French books,” precipitated a drive to school.
I didn’t think about the shirt until I got out of my car. Robbie and his classmates were hanging out for a creative writing class on the grassy circle in the parking lot. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I felt embarrassed about what I was wearing. True or not, I felt like an aging hipster; there’s nothing worse than that. When I dropped off Joey’s books at the front desk, I made sure to cover up as much of the risqué message. I got home and felt, for the first time in my life, that perhaps I should start acting my age.
I think it comes down to accepting that almost 50 is not the new 30. It’s the same old 50. Not that I want to do anything about it. The classic “middle age crisis” – divorce, young girlfriend, new car, second marriage, etc. – is completely perplexing to me, though I see it around me. All of that would only make a person feel older, right? Isn’t that the opposite of what’s being sought? And it’s not that I look back on the me of 20, 25, 30, and wish I were that guy again. Maybe no age fits me that well.
I’m not of the “hope I die before I get old” crowd; that ship has long sailed (though the thought of living close to the amount of years I’ve lived does not fill me with joy). Yet, I can say unequivocally, that even with all the good things that have come with age, getting old blows. And it’s only gonna get worse.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
October 23, 1981. The long drive from Binghamton to Philadelphia. No GPS, no cell phone, no dough. Smashing into another car in a diner parking lot and running scared. Thought I would heave when he strode on stage, breaking into “Gotta Serve Somebody” in the echoey Spectrum. Finding a 76er’s calendar in the bathroom. The dark and deer-observed roads heading back north.
Jul 16, 1986. Now engaged, almost married. The big Dylan/Petty tour and we were there at Madison Square Garden. Karen buying me a program, a luxury I never would have bestowed on myself, but am thankful to have this very day.
Nate, around 6 years old, somewhere in 1996-97. No music lover he, but from his bedroom CD player came Blonde on Blonde for weeks. He latched onto that for reasons unknown. A few weeks ago, “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” blaring from the computer and Nate, now 20, sitting next to me saying “Hey, I know that song.”
Moving to Cooperstown in June 2003 and one year later having Bob play down the block at Doubleday Field. Sitting in the first base bleachers with little Joey, Dylan in center field. Then, two years later, helping to bring him back home for an encore.
2008? Robbie immersed in five disc Genuine Basement Tapes, getting a crash course in Dylan humor and the joys of The Band. July 2009, sitting on the front porch with college pals, listening to Joey play “Desolation Row” on guitar.
Back in Binghamton, my old school, standing by the stage with Robbie and Joey in November 2010. Me and my boys, hanging onto the railing as Bob strutted, mugged and belted ‘em out, thinking back to when I first got to college and drove to Philly, never dreaming that 30 years later I’d be right back, with sons of my own, watching the great one in action. Robbie going nutty when Bob launched into the Lebowski-rejuvenated “The Man in Me.”
I find myself quoting Dylan often, his words affixed to every occasion. Like Muhammad Ali, Dylan has gone from revolutionary to revered, from living outside the law to loved like a crusty old uncle. He’s charted a new path, a path no other rock star has carved, producing some of his best albums in his last years.
You need something to open up a new door
Bob Dylan said that.
Thankfully he’s not dead or a-dyin’, in no need for us to see that his grave is kept clean. And on his 70th birthday, listening to his songs all day long, I’m grateful for his very existence and nervy persistence. Thanks Bob.
I said that.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Friday, April 1, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Since moving to Cooperstown almost eight years ago, and, in doing so, abdicating a regular job, I’ve had a lot of time to think about life; perhaps too much time. That’s how I spend my days, dwelling on the turns in my life, and, as I reconnect with old friends, thinking on the choices they made that affected the course of my personal history.
Looking back, at choices made, both rewarding and regretful, would I change anything? Would you? There is the Starfleet Prime Directive: no interference, as even the smallest change would affect time’s arrow. (That’s the whole point of Maybe Baby as well). Sure, I wonder what alternate paths could have occurred. Some may have been better, some worse, but all different. (I think often about a career path not taken in early 2000. It involved setting up my own trading group, trading NASDAQ options v. the individual stock options. I took the easy way out and went to work for someone else. I would have cleaned up on my proposed idea. So be it.) The thing is I’m very happy with where I am now and, as a result, every thread in the tapestry must remain in place.
When we came to Cooperstown in June of 2003, our friends and family told us how brave we were. I didn’t see it that way at the time. I do now. Thoughts on how I would make a living, what I would do if my job plans fell through, what such a dramatic move would hold for our entire family, well, I admit I had the blind confidence that it would all work out somehow.
Initially, I did have plans to trade and some ideas on working in conjunction with other trading groups, but I knew deep down my heart wasn’t in it. Once I put trading to bed, I knew I’d never return to it. The “Jeff Katz story” is something still talked about back in the Chicago trading pits among the people who knew me. Most guys I knew wanted to leave that business; few did, and many of those came back later on, somewhat sheepish and embarrassed by their inability to make a go of it elsewhere.
I was determined not to go backward, regardless. What would One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest be if, after the Chief throws the water fountain through the window and runs to freedom, urged on by the whoops of his fellow inmates, he came back a few weeks later? A bit of a letdown, right?
Choosing writing as a possible career came somewhat out of the blue. I always enjoyed the practice, but attempting to make money at it was a ridiculous conceit. It was a challenge I placed before myself: how does one write a book? Can I do it? The Kansas City A’s & The Wrong Half of The Yankees, my only published book (so far) is an interesting, though middle of the pack baseball book. It doesn’t reach the heights of Ball Four, but it’s also much better than the countless crappy sports books that permeate that market. My publisher, Maple Street Press, got me out there and, to my surprise, I found myself on NPR, WFAN and menitoned in The New York Post. It was an important start, a crucial decision that led me to now. Where is now? I can’t say, but, just maybe, I’m on the cusp of something big. Stay tuned. And as to that first book, I sold two copies yesterday to visiting researchers at the Baseball Hall of Fame!
Those other deep thinkers, The English Beat, sang “The only limits we set/what can we get away with?” Picking up and relocating to Cooperstown has resulted in amazing things, things that were inconceivable had I remained in Chicago and worked full-time. Seeing Nate’s growth, a direct result of controlling my own time, or reveling in Robbie’s selection as a Rotary Exchange Student to Brazil, or cheering as Joey won Battle of the Bands, or watching Karen’s Quirky Works Studio jewelry take off, or spending my days translating thoughts into writing, I get the feeling I’ve gotten away with a lot.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
Friday, February 4, 2011
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
These are not the words of a happy man, three years removed from the album that made him a mega-star and two years into a marriage with a proto-typical ‘80’s beauty. No, these are not the words of a happy man at the top. These are the words of Bruce Springsteen, the opening words to “Ain’t Got You,” the opening track to his greatest and most personal work, 1987’s Tunnel of Love.
Did I really write that, that Tunnel of Love is The Boss’ best work? Not Born to Run? Not Darkness? Yeah, I wrote that and there’s room for argument, I know. I’m content to back off from my claim, but I won’t retreat from this: Tunnel of Love is Springsteen’s truest record, the most personal in his canon.
The huge reaction to the stadium-filling Born in the USA album and tour garnered gold for Bruce, but also produced a crisis of conscience. When the anti-Vietnam War title track, perhaps the best bit of American soul-searching since Buffalo Springfield’s "For What It’s Worth," was co-opted by the Reagan administration, Springsteen’s initial fears that the lyrical importance of the songs on USA would be, at best, ignored, and, at worst, misconstrued when bathed in ‘80’s pop production, were proven dead right. After Bruce broke through to the record buying public with 1980’s The River, he consciously followed up with the brilliant, skeletal Nebraska. Similarly, Tunnel followed Born in the USA, but it is in no way as forced, in no way a “hey, there’s more to me than what you think.” Tunnel is adult, organic, real.
Caught in the spotlight, his profile never higher, Bruce went Hollywood. He met model/actress Julianne Phillips in late 1984, and they married the following year. Phillips was not of the “you ain’t a beauty but hey you’re all right” variety. She was a stunner, a prime example of the Kelly LeBrock/Rebecca DeMornay 1980’s era doll.
As Jimmy Cagney might say, Springsteen was at the “top of the world,” but that was clearly not the case. How clearly is demonstrated, track after track, on Tunnel of Love. Bruce may try to push through his old coarse sentimentality that worked so well in his first decade of recording, and he does in “Tougher than the Rest,” but it won’t wash this time. The jig is up for the working man loser persona, and what’s left is a troubled and confused 38-year-old man/child, at sea in a world of crossed signals and duplicity.
The songs of falseness, particularly “Brilliant Disguise” and “Two Faces,” are unsparing, throwing both husband Bruce and wife Julianne into the same muddy suspicion. “I’m just a lonely pilgrim/ I walk this world in wealth/I want to know if it's you I don't trust/ cause I damn sure don't trust myself” – we’re talking monumental stuff here, Plastic Ono Band raw without the screaming. Springsteen’s self-flagellation is as much a songwriting turnabout as the switch from the Dylan-esque wordplay of his early work to the straightforward approach that began with Born to Run. That’s not to say his character driven pieces are absent – “Spare Parts” and “Cautious Man” are classic Springsteen points of view. But the song after song accounts of car heisters, downtrodden working men looking to let it loose out on the street when the Friday whistle blows are replaced by self-analysis and introspection.
Even a time worn Springsteen theme, the battle between father and son, is handled differently in the deft, serious and sweet “Walk Like a Man.” Now as old as his father, Bruce has a sense of understanding that stretches far beyond the lunch pail, shift working two-dimensional figure of, say, “Factory.” You can see a wistful smile on Springsteen’s face as he sings, perhaps as he begins to realize how complex growing up can actually be.
The freak show of the tile track and “One Step Up” are expositions of a man lost, treading water and sinking at the same time. By album’s end, the killer one-two punch of “When You’re Alone” and “Valentine’s Day,” all is gone, but not lost. Bruce Springsteen found out that for all the trappings of success, money can’t buy him love. Even when he thinks it’s there, it’s not, a cruel magic trick that leaves him desolate though hopeful that love is out there to be regained.