Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I have a cold

I have a cold. What I purchased to fix the cold is pictured above. I have no idea why these cold caplets bear the Mark of the Beast; they're not especially effective (as one would expect from a cold medicine recipe obtained by selling one's soul to the devil), nor do they take you on some wild hallucinogenic trip, a la Saturday Night Live's "Ride the Snake" weight-loss program.

Nevertheless, I have a cold and am taking them. They work okay.

Being sick is odd. It puts you in some sort of reverse-telescoped state, where all that exists is the moment you are currently in. I feel as if I've always been—and always will be—sick.

Which of course is ridiculous, and really I don't feel all that terrible. I just feel, as they say, "under the weather."

But the reverse-telescoped sick state is odd not only because of the way it makes you feel while you're inside it, but also because when you come out of it, it really feels like a rebirth, like emerging from a chrysalis, stronger, better, and cleaner. Coffee and cigarettes taste better; the air smells crisper ('specially in fall); you feel more alive to everything going on around you.

Which is all to say that, while I of course would rather not be sick in the first place, coming out of it ain't half bad.

Monday, September 25, 2006

FC is for Fortune Cookie

It is better to have beans and bacon in peace
than cakes and ale in fear.

This makes no sense. First of all, I resent the implication that cakes and ale are superior to beans and bacon; this is clearly anti-Southern prejudice at work.

Second, "beans and bacon" does not equal, part for part, "cakes and ale." Bacon is not something to drink! (Or could it be ...? Perhaps this deserves more research.)

Finally, cakes do not go with ale. Sweets in general do not go with ale, except if you are in Britain, where they buy both beer and chocolate from the bar, which is an abomination.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

In Arkansas

I'm in Camden, Arkansas, where my dad grew up, and where I spent many a week in the summer with my maw-maw, picking pine trees for pennies and collecting interesting rocks.

I'm here for a family reunion. I have been able to see and play with three babies this weekend, one from my friend Joe and his wife Holly, and two from my older sister and her husband.

It's humid here and all we do is eat and "visit." (Which is nice.) Also we watched a football game this afternoon. We (Arkansas) won, but just barely. Final score 24 to 23.

More TK.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Last

17. Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song)—Steve Earle

Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues - Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)

This last track of the Mixed Tape series, from Steve Earle’s 2000 album Transcendental Blues, ends with an execution. Mr. Earle sings:

The warden said he’d mail my letter
The chaplain’s waiting by the door
Tonight we’ll cross that yard together
Then they cain’t hurt me anymore

Long a staunch advocate for abolishing the death penalty, Mr. Earle, who spent some time in the hoosegow himself, in 1994, for drug possession, paints a picture here of an inmate who's made peace with himself and what he’s done, and is ready to die.

Here Mr. Earle is in minimalist mode, painting a quick but full picture with deliberate brushstrokes. Earle repeated the feat a few years later in his growled, droning “John Walker’s Blues,” about the “American Taliban” who was captured in Afghanistan by the CIA after the U.S. invasion of that country. In my opinion, it remains one of the best 9/11-related songs.

But so: even though “Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song)” ends with an execution, it also brings the Mixed Tape series to a close on a hopeful note. Mr. Earle keens, his voice rising to convey the spirit’s escape from its earthly prison (meaning both bars and body):

‘Cause I’m going over yonder
Where no ghost can follow me
There’s another place beyond here
Where I’ll be free, I believe

The harmonium hums, hymn-like; the mandolin’s plucked plaintively, and the song carries the album, and this Mixed Tape, to its end—which ends, like the classic prison movie The Shawshank Redemption, with a simple statement of hope: “I believe.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Penultimate

16. Please Stay—Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon - The Wind - Please Stay

If you’re on the way out, as Warren Zevon was when he recorded The Wind, the album from which this song is taken, and you’re singing songs about death and leaving, who better to duet with than Emmylou Harris?

In the previous “Anatomy” post, I said that Mr. Zevon had a sense of humor about life’s trials and tribulations. He does, and this album does, but not really this cut. This one’s more straight-ahead mournful. “Will you stay with me to the end?” he sings with Ms. Harris.

When there’s nothing left
But you and me and the wind
We’ll never know ‘til we try
To find the other side of goodbye

And then a throaty sax, like the guys playing under the tunnel walkways in Central Park, starts blowing, really (for me, at least, along with Ms. Harris’ voice) making the song.

A little while before he died, of inoperable lung cancer, Mr. Zevon appeared for a full hour on Letterman. I didn’t know who Mr. Zevon was at the time, but I was transfixed by the bearded, glasses-wearing, obviously worn-down man who, chatting with an at times visibly choked-up Letterman, still managed to be funny, generous, and wise in the face of his own imminent death. He was the only guest that night, and he played several songs in between talking to Dave, one of which, “Mutineer,” remains one of my favorites of Mr. Zevon’s.

But the thing that really struck me was one of the last things he said. Letterman asked him if, in light of his own mortality, he realized anything now about life that he hadn’t before. Mr. Zevon replied, “How much you’re supposed to enjoy every sandwich.”

I think that winking statement covers, in one fell swoop, a great deal of what one needs to know—and keep in mind when times are rough—about our all-too-brief time on this earth.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Yesternight It Happened

Yesterday I'd been waiting for some confluence; yesternight it happened. Exiting the train I saw a fella flipping shut Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, my favorite book.

I tapped him on the shoulder. "Are you liking it?" I asked.

He was. He said a friend and he had decided to read it together. He said it was hard to get into, but once you did you couldn't put it down. I'd done the former many times before, and agreed with the latter.

We talked, walking down the platform. "It's funny," he said, "just today I was listening to David Foster Wallace read a story he wrote about 9/11 ...."

I cut him off: "'The View from Mrs. Thompson's,' yes? That's so crazy: I was just this morning telling my friend at work about that story."

"That's right!" he said, amazed I'd known the exact thing about which he was talking.

"You know," I said, "that was originally published in Rolling Stone the week after 9/11. He was the only one that really got it right, because basically he just wrapped it up by throwing up his hands and saying, 'I don't fucking know why this had to happen or what this means either.' And if the smartest guy I've ever read feels helpless and baffled in the face of 9/11, well, it makes me feel like it's okay for me to feel that way as well."

"Exactly," my companion said. "The part I liked best was when he was frantically running around trying to find an American flag, and then someone gave him one and he just broke down and became really emotional."

We had been stumping up the steps to the street, Metropolitan Avenue, while the previous conversation occurred. When we got topwise we saw the Towers of Light west down Metro, framed by the buildings.

"I hear you used to be able to see the Towers right there," I said, "framed right in between like the Towers of Light are now."

"Really?" he said. We both stood and stared. The Towers of Light reached high, straight, and blue, occasionally brightly lighting up a low cloud.

"Well, take care, buddy," I said, as I moved to part ways.

"You too," he said. "Farewell."

I walked home and the hair on my arms stood on end; the Towers of Light flanked me to the west all the way home. I felt good.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

In Memoriam

To commemorate what happened five years ago today, I thought I'd post what I wrote in my journal that night, sitting in the cafe on Avenue A.

dark day

- today the twin towers came down. in the street i watched the first one fall and i thought i would be sick. it's so unreal to think of thousands dead - it's not something i can wrap my head around - maybe it's b/c i really haven't experienced death up close during my life - i don't have a one to multiply by a thousand. it seems wrong to write all these "i"s today.

- the tower coming down looked like fight club. and it just wasn't real. all i wanted to do was smoke and drink, & call all my friends and family & tell them I'm alright.

- i got so fucked-up earlier in the summer abt. that woman who killed her kids. That, that I could wrap my head around. That I could feel, that deep sadness.

"it's 71 and clear in New York City right now, as if anybody cares" - heard on the radio

"people are buying up stuff. people are buying up water." - radio, a woman

- i guess writing abt. this is my way of trying to feel, of trying to help others feel, b/c that's the way/medium/etc. i've always felt things most deeply.

- Gov. Pataki & Mayor Giuliani really did a good job today, I thought. made us feel like we're all in this together, here in the city and here in this country. they kind've made me feel like we gotta stick together, talk to each other in elevators more.

last summer was the summer
of mosquitoes, of money
this was the summer of fireflies, of fires
and falling towers

joe said,
"it's good to hear your voice."

i was in the shower
when the planes hit.

i might've been [blank]
hating [blank], who I dreamed about.
i told her i was alive via email
this morning and i didn't know
whether or not i should've

"disagreements? ... work 'em out ..." - Paul Simon

"i want to see you smile again
the day the banks collapse
zee vigilantes in the streets.
i want to see you smile again." - Radiohead shirt

everything feels like prophecy.

- walking out of the building
this beautiful morning
i saw the smoke
the fleets of screaming sirens
and i knew it was the towers

after, everyone seemed to carry
a dark secret in their eyes.
everyone's eyes seemed to plead/say
i know. i know.
i have been witness.

why is it that in times of tragedy
we always feel closest? connected.
b/c when the fragile daily things
that unite us are gone
we look for something more solid

the fire escape scared me.
i wondered, will this hold my weight?

communities are fragile buildings
and when our buildings are gone
we must try to build our communities

people are trapped
under the rubble
and their cellphone batteries
are dying

"brutally reshaped manhattan skyline" - the radio

- these two guys are just sitting in the middle of Ave. A, which is more or less deserted.

- it seems wrong to smile at times like this, wrong to find anything funny. but it also feels wrong to feel too serious, to get caught up in the grim excitement of it all.

- John and I started to get drunk this afternoon, but it started to feel wrong, so we sobered up and went to give blood.

That's the end of my entry for that day. The next week, The New Yorker published an issue. This poem, by Adam Zagajewski, was the final page of the magazine. It meant a lot to me then, about the day and what happened, and it means a lot to me now. Here it is. Be safe today and tell your family and friends that you love them. - HRS

Try to Praise the Mutilated World
by Adam Zagajewski (translated by Renata Gorczynski)

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Fifteenth

15. People Talkin’—Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears - People Talkin'

Lucinda Williams has been near and dear to my heart ever since her 1998 “breakthrough” album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Following that Ms. Williams released Essence in 2001 and World Without Tears, from which this song is taken, in 2003. Essence I never really got into, but World Without Tears is easily Car Wheels’s equal, albeit in a much different way: World is bruised, roughed-up and worn-out, while Car Wheels is full of vigor, feisty and fight-ready. Lucinda’s all yowl and holler on the earlier album, and all whiskey-scarred croon on the later—though still determined, as this song indicates:

Livin’ … is full of misery and pain
Somebody call you a dirty name
Keep on walkin’
Keep on walkin’

What the album is is mature, which is a rare thing in pop/rock music. (Or, more accurately, in life in general.) I’ve heard the like, maturity-wise, just a handful of times before, including Paul Simon’s wry, winking “Old,” from 2000’s You’re the One, and the whole of Warren Zevon’s swan song record The Wind, recorded and released in the year following his diagnosis with terminal cancer.

Having a sense of humor about the trials and tribulations that are an integral, inescapable part of life is a very important part of what being “mature” means. Ms. Williams notes “people talkin’,” along with “gossip and waggin’ tongues,” but concludes you gotta just “keep on walkin’”; Mr. Simon sings, “Down the decades every year /// Summer leaves and my birthday’s here /// And all my friends stand up and cheer /// And say, ‘Man, you’re old.’”; and Mr. Zevon, well … tune in tomorrow or thereabouts; same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Fourteenth

14. Denton Road—Michael Penn

Michael Penn - Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947 - Denton Road

As Randy Newman sang—though, apparently, satirically—I love L.A.

I don’t quite know why, as I really haven’t even spent much time there; pretty much a few weeks in a hostel on Venice Beach and a couple pass-throughs of LAX are all I’ve seen of the place. But I like it. And this record, Mr. Hollywood, 1947, makes me nostalgic for it, for the old L.A. of Bukowski’s poem “Pershing Square, Los Angeles, 1939,” of the movie (I know, it was a book before; I haven’t read it) L.A. Confidential … of the city that’s pronounced not “L.A.” but “Loss An-juh-leez.”

Mr. Penn is, as you might have guessed, the brother of Sean and the late Chris; he’s also the husband of Aimee Mann: a mini theme (which seems like it should be an anagram of Ms. Mann’s name, but isn’t) emerges. Also I’m a sucker for proper names in songs:

Goodbye Sally, Simi Valley,
Denton Road, The Roosevelt Hotel
For my own farewell
And if you don’t show, that’s fine.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Thirteenth

13. 4th of July—Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann - Whatever - 4th of July

As I noted earlier, in this post, later in the Mixed CD another Aimee Mann song, featuring the word “June,” would be reviewed. This is it.

There are actually two Aimee Mann songs I know of that include “June”; the one reviewed here, and “Ghost World,” from Bachelor No. 2. This song is from the same album on which “Stupid Thing” is, namely Whatever.

The song begins:

Today’s the Fourth of July
Another June has gone by

Junes go quick. Suddenly, somehow, it’s the Fourth again, year after year, in hot July, and you think, before the summer’s even over, “Where’d it go?” I have felt that way before about many Junes. As Chris Eigeman says as the character Max in Noah Baumbach’s film Kicking and Screaming (just released on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection):

I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I’ve begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I’m reminiscing this right now.

I know the feeling; the weight of all the days and people and places that have come before begins to stack up, to bear down on you, and it’s just enervating. Which is not how it is all the time; it’s rather a matter of perspective, a feeling that comes (and goes) from time to time, as Ms. Mann seems to acknowledge with the somewhat flippant summing-up line, “So that’s today’s memory lane.”