Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not Wasted On the Young

Mentally I feel young. Not 18 young, but, say, 32 young. My interests are the same – books, music, movies – as they were when I was a teenager. Age has allowed me to read more, hear more and watch more. That’s the only difference.

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

Some Thoughts on Bobby Dylan

I think it was Freewheelin’. Yup, I’m sure it was Freewheelin’. That was my first Dylan album. I got it at Korvette’s and, I’ll admit with shame, that I was already 15 or 16. Those were the years I began buying albums in earnest. Before then it was the occasional Beatles, McCartney or Paul Simon record; I wasn’t too serious. From that moment on, I measured time through Bob Dylan.

Some markers:

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.

Talking about his hero, but meaning himself, from “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie”:

You need something to open up a new door

To show you something you seen before

But overlooked a hundred times or more

You need something to open your eyes

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

Rabbit Hole

I can't stop thinking about Rabbit Hole.

What I love about this film is it's complete adultness. Forget the tragic event that is at the core of the story. It's indisputable that loss of Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart's son is the driving force behind the drama. But, for me, it's not what makes the movie wrenching. What makes it unforgettable is that every turn in every reaction and every argument rings true. I don't want to give away much, but a few moments shine.

Eckhart's reaction to Kidman's messing with his cellphone is remarkably real. He is pissed off at her at a childlike level, and reacts with physical revulsion. She, in turn, is shocked at how he pulls away from her. There are many times in a marriage when one member acts out, or says something, that makes the other wonder who that person really is. It happens to the best of us. Eckhart's display and Kidman's reaction are almost too real, and uncomfortably beautiful to watch. Until Rabbit Hole, my favorite realistic marital argument in cinema was Julianne Moore's pants off fight with Matthew Modine in Robert Altman's Short Cuts.

There's a scene where Eckhart puts on the ipod and tries desperately to reconnect sexually with his wife. The ensuing argument about sex, seduction and Al Green hits every note perfectly. Though it springs from the couple's grief, it has little to do with that tragedy. Every married couple will see themselves in this scene, and almost every scene. The couple are seen as individuals trying in their own ways to cope with the worst thing that can happen to a parent; the death of a child. But Rabbit Hole is about how two separate people come together, and often fall apart, in their efforts to become one. It's a story of how deep love can be and how, even with that love apparent, difficult it can be to stay together.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Musical Closure

While the world was learning about the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden, I was undergoing my own bit of closure. As the big news was breaking, I was at the Oneonta Theatre watching John Sebastian open for Roger McGuinn.

Back in 1982, Sebastian opened for Rodney Dangerfield at the Binghamton Arena. Rodney was at the height of his popularity then, post-Caddyshack. Sebastian was a relic. His most recent hit had been "Welcome Back," the theme song for Gabe Kaplan's sitcom. Granted, it was number one in the spring of 1976, but six years later no one cared, not in the midst of New Wave and MTV. It was too early to appreciate how wonderful The Lovin' Spoonful were. In the early '80's, even the greatest acts of the sixties - Dylan, McCartney, et al - were finally hitting a tough patch of readjustment. Sebastian was a has-been, a goofy groovy artifact of a discredited generation.

There couldn't have been a worse match of audience and performer. That crowd was mostly college-aged kids looking for laughs, and the caustic comedy of Dangerfield. They were not receptive to a musician past his popularity and completely unaware of it. I'm sure Sebastian did his old hits; I clearly recall "Welcome Back" introduced with the complete certainty that it would please the crowd; it didn't.

There was much taunting levelled John's way, wry sarcastic cheering, but the worst was saved for a new song that Sebastian introduced playfully, or so he thought. In an attempt to revive the successful theme of The Spoonful's smash hit "Summer in the City," Sebastian explained how urban heatwaves lead to rooftop relief. The song was called "Tar Beach," and he asked the crowd to sing along with the chorus, which meant crooning "tar beach." No one did. As much as the former folk troubadour tried, he couldn't win over that crowd.

Later in the show, during another tune since faded from my memory, the crowd began to sing "tar beach." It was a complete mocking, embarrassing for the artist and, for me, cringe producing, though my discomfort didn't prevent me from joining in. I felt terrible for Sebastian, even worse when he tried to join the joke. It was sad and humiliating. I've never forgotten that moment and my complicity in it.

With that in mind, I dreaded seeing Sebastian last night. Would he suck? He wasn't very good 30 years ago though undeserving of such harsh treatment. How would he be now, his voice somewhat ravaged by time? I'm pleased to report that he put on a good show. See, these days The Lovin' Spoonful are legitimate Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and Sebastian has achieved legendary status. Nothing like a few decades to turn a washout into an icon.

Sebastian's voice was a bit croaky, but he generated much good will with his tales of growing up in Greenwich Villae and his sense of humor won over the older crowd. Sure, his recent songs are weak, and, though he was glib and funny, he had a healthy amount of curmudgeon in him. After chastising cell phones and auto-tune, he actually walked off stage, pissed off about someone behind the curtains listening to a device sans headphones. Johnny sucked all the energy out of the show with this prima donna move, but he regained his momentum. On the whole, he delivered and we all enjoyed his time onstage.

So, I feel better. Of course, there was nothing really that important that occurred on that Binghamton night thirty years ago when a bunch of college kids tortured a former superstar well past his prime , but it bothered me and stuck in my head. Now the harshness of that memory is gone and I'm glad.