Monday, November 29, 2004

Things I Like Vol. 2

Ten People/Places/Things, etc. That Rock My World

1) Philadelphia – the city, the bars, the restaurants, the people
2) Doctor Zhivago – film by David Lean
3) Claudette Colbert
4) Penfold’s Australian Shiraz
5) The Living Room, NY NY
6) The Shalitas – they know who they are!
7) John Fogerty
8) Pacifica Radio – WBAI- NY and WPFW – DC
9) C-SPAN – the place to find the unvarnished truth
10) – ditto

Hero of the Week:

-The people of the Ukraine who spoke out and demonstrated
against their phony election results

Villain of the Week:

-The people of the United States who failed to do so

Friday, November 26, 2004

I Have Found a Family

I have known and liked this band Marah for some time, but never quite “got” what it was about them that made people keep coming back. When I saw them live or listened to the recorded material, I saw and heard the talent, yet the attraction always seemed to elude me—they were a bit too unfocused, rowdy and rambling—they were always too loud, smoking too much, drinking too much. I would think, “those guys are really good--man if they ever focused they could be amazing.”

Well it has happened—they have and they are. They hit rock bottom, started from scratch, and came up with one of the best albums of 2004, work which rivals their masterwork “Kids in Philly.” Their shows are transcendent, mindboggling, hypnotic bursts of energy after which no one in the audience or onstage is left standing. And that is great, and that would be enough. But there’s more.

These people and their fans are—to risk descending into cliché—family. They accept you as one of their own whether you’ve seen them once or 50 times, whether you are a longtime fan or neophyte. Standing in the sweaty crowd at a Marah show, you are in a community of friends that welcomes you as though they’ve known you forever. These people don’t care if you don’t know this obscure b-side or that unreleased studio outtake. They love this music and these musicians so much that they are thrilled to find someone who cares about them as much as they do, who just flat out “gets it.” It’s as though every person whom they welcome into the fold of Marah reaffirms their belief not just in this band or this music but in the world at large. That somehow faith and hope survive in these chaotic times, and that the things we hold dear are still worth fighting for.

The generosity surrounding Marah extends beyond the fans to the band itself—when you are with them, you are welcomed as part of the family whether they are just meeting you or have known you for years. They want to make sure you had a good time at their show, and they mean it. They look you in the eye when they talk to you, and they really want to hear what you have to say—about music, about politics, about sports, about life. They will invite you out afterwards to have a beer or two (you will probably end up buying but you won’t even notice or care) and you will sit at the bar and just talk until you have lost all track of time. And you will forget that this is one of the guys who have just restored your faith in the power of rock’n’roll to save lives. He is just like you, just some person at the bar talking about life, trying to forget his problems for a while. And you leave shaking your head, thinking you have just found not just your new best friend(s) but your new family.

These guys are the real deal—they care about people and about the world around them. You hear it in their music, but more importantly, you see it in how they live their lives. You want to thank them somehow, but how? They have bestowed perhaps the best gift anyone could give to another human being in such times—they have given back your faith in others, have restored your belief that “the better angels of our nature” truly exist. Their fans, having long ago intuited this, keep coming back for more. They are loyal to a fault, and understandably so. So if you somehow still don’t quite understand what all the fuss is about even after having seen them perform, they will forgive you and then they will invite you back again. Because when you are in the community of Marah, either at a show or sharing beers in a dive bar in their beloved South Philadelphia, such things are unimportant—all that matters is that you are family and you are home.

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."---Robert Frost

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Boys With Guitars

What is the attraction? Why is it so easy to fall for the person as well as the music?

Well sometimes they just make it too easy with the trademark ragamuffin looks and the Sensitive, Wounded Nature. But with this one it was different—I felt a kinship from the start when I looked across the room and saw him standing there. It’s hopeless and it’s wrong, I thought, but I couldn’t help myself.

So let’s start from the beginning. How do I explain? Well, one day a couple years ago I heard this amazing music from this person and I thought, why do I know that name? And I thought about it some more and realized that of course it is that guy I know from a while back who used to have that band. And so I listen some more and am intrigued but there are no opportunities to meet or see a show or anything, and months pass.

A friend drags me out to see this person play at our favorite club, and I am of course blown away. It is the best thing I’ve seen in years, I can’t believe it. But I try and have a life, and continue on, listening to this record when I have a chance. More months pass.

Late summer rolls around and finally there is a chance to see this person again. We go to the same club again and I vividly remember the first time I saw this person walk in. Again, I can’t stop looking at him, there is this quality that I am drawn to which intrigues but scares me. I stand off to the side of the stage and wait for the show. I am drawn deeper and deeper into this person’s world through these songs, and they speak to me about being lonely and I realize, wow, I am lonely too, how is that possible when I have been in this relationship for so long? But something has clicked in my head and I can’t stop listening and watching, it’s scary and mesmerizing. The show goes on, and this amazing song is being played, I listen and it’s like, my life is being played out onstage, how is it possible that this person knows about this. And of course, that’s their job, they’re an artist, but it’s not just that because I look at this person and cannot stop looking, there is something familiar about it all. He looks like someone I’ve known in my life. The show ends, I have an overwhelming desire to meet this person and hug them and tell them it’s going to be ok but this feeling of connection is so powerful and I am terrified of it so instead I just leave.

I cannot let go of this person and the idea of meeting them. It is not an obsession, it is just that I feel a kindred spirit that I have connected with and must meet in person and help in some way. I can’t explain it any other way. So I think about how can I meet and talk to this person, and eventually I think of a way.

I see him and am again terrified and drawn in. How am I going to talk to this person and not lose my mind? But I gather myself and go upstairs to try and act like the professional writer that I am trying to be. So I sit down and talk, and before I know it half an hour has passed and he has revealed himself to me to an extent that I have not expected. There is a bond, and I know I have a new friend. And the best part is, he knows how to treat his friends, old or new, and hugs me goodbye and kisses me on the cheek and says thank you for coming to talk to me. This kind of treatment comes from no one else I know and I am again drawn in, flattered and terrified. I leave and am just realizing that something has changed in my life and I can’t explain it.

So I start thinking, how can I help this person out, knowing who I know and all. I contact my friend who knows the promoter of this event and I know all sorts of new people will see him. I know that on some level this is important and have a gut feeling something will happen if I put the right ingredients together. So I know from his smile that day that something good has happened, that things are somehow in motion. I am proud and happy because my friend is doing well and it means so much because I am in this club where so many wonderful things have happened to me over the years.

One more thing happens that day and that is that I am pulled backstage in this magical club past all my friends, into a room with all my musician friends past and present. It’s surreal, and my head is spinning but is begins to spin even more when my friend wants to know why I haven’t told him I’m married. It has never occurred to me to tell people and I am amazed that someone is thinking about me as an attractive woman. This has not been a big factor in my life—my significant other rarely tells me, and I certainly don’t think people are looking at me that way. So it is a pleasant shock to know that I am attracting attention from men in this way. A door in my mind opens and I start thinking of myself differently and it is exciting.

I think how can I reward this great person who has made me feel so good about myself, and I send a gift. One day the phone rings, and it is the news I have known I would hear from him all along, and I am so happy for him; I am thrilled that my friends will finally get to see what I have seen in this person. And I am so happy that in some small way I helped it to happen. It is the best feeling in the world, and I am so proud and happy that I feel like my heart is going to pop right out of my chest with joy.

Then it starts to get complicated. I begin to start thinking of him at odd moments of the day, and wonder to myself what is going on inside my head. I am caught with him in odd situations. This sort of thing does not happen to me, I am unaware of what is really happening…. I am all torn up inside because so much of me realizes that I wanted it to happen despite the effect it will no doubt have on our burgeoning friendship to say nothing of my life. It is indescribably arousing and complimentary to be thought of as attractive by this person. I am stunned because I wasn’t aware of this in myself—certainly never heard it elsewhere. I am suddenly, rudely aware of how unfulfilled I am in so many ways. It has been getting worse for some time, but suddenly the door has been kicked down. I am both grateful and heartbroken, because I know now that things are not going to be the same, and that there are problems in my life that need fixing and it will hurt like hell.

I am more and more drawn to this person who has made me feel so alive again, and it is wonderful and horrible at the same time. I am visibly upset in his presence but cannot stay away. It hurts to be around him because I am becoming increasingly physically attracted to him, emotionally drawn to him, and totally unable to express this because I know he does not like me in that way and I do not want to ruin the friendship. He makes me feel beautiful and alive and wanted and that is something I am getting nowhere else. But it hurts because I know my increasingly strong feelings are not and will not be returned—it is an impossible situation.

The night that it finally sinks in is so painful because he knows something is wrong and I can’t tell him except to say my marriage is not going well, which is true. And as I try to slip out the door before I start crying, he pulls me aside and tells me I am beautiful. I have to walk out immediately before I fall apart, and it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I walk out into the cold, snowy night and barely remember getting home because the complexity of emotions I feel is making my head spin and my chest ache.

After that night, I want to continue to be his friend but it is so hard to be around him because I want to be more than his friend too, and I know that I cannot. And things are just too complicated--I have a lot of things to sort out. But it hurts so much. I want to help in any way I can because I sense someone who is deeply wounded and needs someone around who understands that kind of pain without having to explain it. I want to be the person who can be turned to whenever and wherever needed. He has given me so much—has reawakened my confidence and belief in myself, and have made me want to give this love and joy and happiness back to the world...

So that is what these boys do. They pull our hearts out from our chests and stomp on them with big black boots. They say the right things at 4 o’clock in the morning, never meaning to hurt us, only to ease their own pain and loneliness for a night, but then wonder why it is we fall in love with them over and over. We are women and we are romantic and we love their music, and we can’t help ourselves. So we are destined to keep falling for those Boys With Guitars.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Letters Home

From my personal journal 11/13/04

I watched the documentary on the letters home from
Iraq last night-it was all I could do. It's such a
tragedy and such a waste. I know they are only selecting
certain letters, but why is it that the best, most
special people, are the ones to be sent to fight and
die needlessly? Why do we continue to waste the best
America has to offer in such a manner?

And it made me sad, seeing all those families. Cos I
don't have a family like that. I have wanted to have a
close-knit family to come home to ever since I saw
C's family. I suppose I never even missed it all
those years--you don't know what you've missed till
you recognize it elsewhere, I suppose--I wish I had a
warm, close group of people to feel sheltered by, to
come home to and feel a part of. Instead I have this
fractured, needy, wounded broken collection of messed
up souls. How nice it would have been if things had
been different...

Blindsided By a Boy From Queens

I wrote this back in March. I am not sure now how I feel about the person, but here is how I still feel about the music:


Why is it that this music we love invades our souls, that we let it break our hearts over and over again?

With the advent of corporate radio and the fragmentation of the music business, I thought there would never be that lightning bolt moment with a band ever again, had resigned myself to once in a generation talents such as Westerberg and Williams (Lucinda) never rising to the surface but instead existing in obscurity on satellite radio or eking out a living playing in cheap strip mall bars. You can't let this music inside you anymore, I thought, because it will just be taken away or destroyed.

And then along comes this person who makes me fall in love all over again, who adores everything I do about it: the romance, the passion, the intensity, the drama. Who understands and respects its history and traditions and carries them forward. Someone who's my age, who's been through the era of disco and divorce, of punk rock and Reagan. Someone who's felt the pain and anguish of being alone and misunderstood, of feeling trapped and helpless. And best of all, someone who expresses all these feelings with lyrics that tear your heart out and lovely, delicate melodies that seep into your consciousness and bury themselves there. He is a figure straight out of a Phil Spector song: tough streetwise exterior but underneath it all a romantic with a heart of gold.

His music makes you care again, takes you both outside and deep inside yourself, tears you down and leaves you broken. You understand the emotions in these songs intuitively you want to hug him and tell him it's going to be all right. This is music that kicks you in the gut - you know it will be unbearable to let yourself be drawn in, but like a grisly traffic accident, you can't turn away. It's music that makes you wish you'd never heard it because it hurts too much. It pulls your loneliness and sorrow out from where you've buried them - deep down so you can get through the day - and leaves you shattered. You are twelve again, and trying to drown out your parents yelling at each other with your Beatles records.

This music that I love with ever fiber of my being has broken my heart again. I swore I would not let this happen, but I have been blindsided by a boy from Queens.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Things I Like

On a more mundate note, I plan on submitting for your approval a weekly "top ten" list of things I like, as well as a Hero and Villain of the Week. Some weeks there may be more or less than ten, some weeks there may be only Villains (there seem to be a lot of them just now). But anyway, just because I (sometimes) have nothing better to do than think about these things, I will inflict my likes and dislikes upon you, the reading public. So here goes...

Ten People/Places/Things, etc. That Rock My World

1) The Ryman Auditorium, Nashville TN
2) 20,000 Streets Under the Sky - novel by Patrick Hamilton,
album by...
3) Marah
4) Driving through Kentucky horse country and actually seeing the bluegrass
6) Hot oatmeal on a cold rainy day
7) "Vertigo" - new single by U2
8) southern hospitality
9) Maker's and coke
10) Bob Dylan - the actor, the writer, the musician, the genius

Hero of the Week

Tie: -Former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, who resigned in protest and told the true story of the lies and incompetence surrounding the war in Iraq on national television ["60 Minutes" report].

-The former soldiers injured in Iraq who spoke up about their physical and mental injuries and about how, even if these injuries were received in a hostile war zone, they are not included in the "official" Pentagon casualty counts unless they are "the direct cause of combat." [also report on '60 Minutes"]

Villain of the Week

-Colin Powell - why didn't he speak up about the BS intelligence on Iraq when it could have done some actual good? Say, before the election? Why did he resign at the end of the "first term" instead of in protest at the folly in Iraq?

In the Presence of Genius

I had always had my doubts about Ryan Adams. Not about his genius, which is beyond question. He is an amazing songwriter, phenomenal singer, talented musician...all the ingredients are there. It's just that I had never seen or heard them come together all at once, either on stage or on disc. I began to wonder if I would ever have that experience, or whether I would just continue to buy the CDs and go to the shows, always waiting and hoping for that genius and never being blessed with its presence.

Well that all changed this weekend. I saw two shows that will live in my memory as being two of the most consistently brilliant performances I have ever seen by anyone. (And I have seen some performances in my day...) He was pulled together, focused, transcendent. He played two venues that could not have been more different--a dive bar in Cincinnati and the Mother Church of Country Music--and filled them both with magic. And this was not under normal circumstances--it was under the pressure of people in the audience hurling drunken comments, taunting him, wanting him to fail, expecting him to fall apart. Hardcore fans such as myself were holding our collective breath hoping nothing would break the spell, and nothing did. Not even at the Ryman, where one of his infamous meltdowns had occurred.

How does one explain the significance of the Ryman Auditorium in the world of music? To say that it is the Mother Church of Country Music is understatement. It is the place where Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, the Carter Family and other legends too numerous to count became stars. The place where you can walk into the dressing rooms and sit where Tammy Wynette did her hair. The place where you can actually stand in the spot where Hank friggin' Williams stood and look out into the pews (yes, the seating IS in pews), see the light filter in through stained glass windows, be in the presence of the gods not just of country music but of AMERICAN music. So there is significant pressure when musicians step on that stage, and they know it. (Well, most of them do.)

And Adams filled it with his own special light. His voice was at times otherworldly--there was a moment during “I See Monsters” when it was so quiet it seemed Hank himself could hear. The room was completely dark except for the string of white lights on Ryan’s mike stand, and there, silhouetted against the darkened stage, he truly had the voice of an angel. He sang with such quiet vulnerability, with such brave beauty—it was as though he were literally opening his body up and pulling out his heart, his guts, his soul right there on that Nashville stage.

How does one end such a performance? Adams chose to close the evening on acoustic guitar, again alone at the mike. Standing stage center in the dark, he gave a brief monologue on the why it is that musicians like himself find it hard to perform where the ghosts of Patsy and Jimmie stand next to you while you play. And then he concluded as any true fan of American music would: as he had throughout this tour, he performed the Man in Black’s “I Still Miss Someone,” this time dedicating it simply “to Johnny and June.” It was the perfect ending to a perfect night of music at the Ryman. Hank would have approved.

To paraphrase a famous quotation on another subject, it is difficult to put this kind of talent into words, but you know it when you hear/see/feel it. On Saturday November 20, 2004, I was truly in the presence of genius.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Déjà vu All Over Again

My friends keep telling me not to take it so personally, to move on, to get over it, to heal.

I don’t want to heal, I don’t think I can or should. Too much has gone wrong. I have a nagging feeling we have lost our way in this country, and I don’t know how we can find our way back. I could see the handwriting on the wall months and months ago. I still feel like I can see things others can’t, that things are happening that are larger than all of us, that they are evil and destructive, and that by the time this is recognized it will be too late.

There is a cloud of dread hanging over me. I have indeed lived through this before. I remember watching the evening news as a child and seeing the bodies being blown up, young children dying, kids losing their dads, wives losing their husbands.

Why is it happening again? What have we learned from the past? Are we doomed to repeat it endlessly like some Sisyphean nightmare?

There is just so much free-floating pain and heartache in the country. It is like an open, gaping, oozing wound that will not be healed. People keep telling me to let go. I can’t and I won’t. People won’t see what’s right in front of them. Without exaggerating, I can truly say that the great monster fascism has reared its ugly head and is busy entrenching itself into the American consciousness. “I didn’t speak …until they came for me” goes the caveat. It is so late. Don’t people realize how much has been lost already? That in the name of fear we have given up some of our most cherished freedoms?

People admonish me, tell me I should be quiet, that for my own sanity and well-being I should let things go. But I feel such strong physical pain because I love my country so much. Watching this happen, and feeling powerless to stop it, is like watching a loved one descend into drug addiction and death. For we are addicted—addicted to our own wealth and power. We don’t realize that it is all a façade…that all our wealth and influence can bring resentment and hatred as well as respect and admiration, that Wilson’s long-ago vision of a brotherhood of nations was not the delusion of a madman, but prophecy of a necessary truth that he saw years ahead of its time. That we live on a shrinking planet in which we must be part of a community-that we cannot exist in isolation.

Our strength as a nation has always come from being a force for good in the world, a moral beacon to which those less fortunate could look for inspiration. Now they gaze upon us with contempt as our sons and daughters come back maimed or dead, while the unknown sons daughters, fathers and mothers die needlessly as the result of a pack of lies with no end in sight. How can we fight a war against a tactic—terrorism—that will always be with us? We are truly engaged Orwell’s endless conflict : “War is Peace.”

How far away we are from the peaceful visions of John Lennon’s imagination, from Martin Luther King’s beloved community...

John Fogerty’s eerie words and melody—the song that he says came to him in a vision-- haunt me. I awake every day hoping it is all a dream, but instead I am confronted daily by a nightmare that has no end.