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Clarence

June 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I was born with an addictive personality. It happens. It leads you down some interesting roads, not all of which are bad by the way. Some are of course, but then that’s half the fun.

Music was always there. It still is. I fall asleep to it and I wake up to it. If I’m not listening to somebody else’s, I’m trying to create my own. I bang away at guitars and pianos and blow into harmonicas. My right leg started bouncing up and down the first time I heard John Lennon shredding his vocal chords on “Twist and Shout” and it hasn’t stopped moving since. It’s not “restless leg syndrome”. It’s rock and roll.

I wanted to be a rock and roll star, but I play air-guitar left-handed and real guitar right-handed so I knew it was never gonna work. Way too self-conscious when it’s more than the mirror looking back at me. Still, I’ll grab my acoustic guitar and play shows in smallish places. Stripped-down affairs that need as much silence as Townshend needs screeching feedback. But I’m a prisoner to the beat still, banging on the stage with my Doc Martens as I end my nights, inevitably, with Buddy Holly’s stomp “Not Fade Away”. It makes me feel young even though I’m not. It lifts me up when I’m feeling down. I’ve tried other stimulants. Nothing else comes close.

It started with vinyl. My 3 sister’s shared a bedroom and when they were out I’d sneak in there and start going through the stacks in the corner. I’d sneak “Darkness on the Edge of Town” into my room and play it on my little turn-table that I stored under the bed. The needle was so worn and frayed I taped a penny on the arm to try to grind through the scratches and skips. For 10 years an entire line of “Racing in the Streets” passed me by because of a skip I could not negotiate no matter how hard I pressed the needle down. “Born to Run” was the record with Springteen leaning on some huge black guy with a saxophone. I think I was 12 when I first heard the record. Even then I thought it odd. A black guy and a white guy. Together on the cover. In the same band. Playing rock and roll. I heard “Jungleland” and got completely freaked out. It was like a 9 minute Scorcese movie. And that sax solo sounded like somebody small time deciding he wasn’t gonna be small time anymore…..somebody intent on obliterating every awkward stereotype drilled into small minds. Like mine.

Whatever this was, I liked it.

I’ve never listened to music the same way again.

I’d like to think my mind isn’t so small anymore. Music has expanded it….no music more so than the sounds made by Springsteen and the E Street Band. And this was the mid-70s. You hear “Born and Run” or “Badlands” on the radio today and they still sound volcanic.  Imagine what that sound could do to a pre-teen who owned Styx and Kansas records?

It took a few days for it to sink in when I heard that Clarence Clemons had died. That cover of “Born to Run” may be etched in our memories. Surely it’s iconic, and maybe it’s the main reason we don’t really think of Bruce without Clarence. And we certainly don’t think of Clarence without Bruce. Springsteen is the boss after all, but it’s pretty clear that Clemons more than any other helped get him the promotion. But for me it’s the music they made together. I listen to “The River” today and I hear a master’s class in American music. Without Clarence, it falls short.

Clarence Clemons is front and center on Springsteen’s greatest songs. “Spirit in the Night”. “Thundercrack”. “Rosalita”. “Kitty’s Back”. “Born to Run”. “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”. “She’s the One”. “Thunder Road”. “Jungleland”. “Badlands”. “Promised Land”. “Prove it all Night”. “Independence Day”. “Ramrod”. “The Ties That Bind”. “Lonesome Day”. The resume is astounding. Rock and roll horn players should bow.

What about race? Well, what about it? Perhaps more strange than a large black man being out front with the biggest white rock and roll star of our generation is that nobody really noticed. I’m sure it mattered to Clarence….criss-crossing a nation in the 70s that in large part was still scarred by segregation. But somehow, to us in the seats, it’s didn’t matter worth a damn. For those 3 and 4 hours on-stage, the community was colorblind. Ultimately, this proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Rock and Roll to this day, despite being largely created by a black man (Chuck Berry) and a white man (Elvis Presley) everybody assumed was black…and derived almost entirely from black music (the blues, bits of gospel)….makes barely a ripple in the black community. A rock and roll concert audience is still as white as a Tea Party. I make no judgements….nor do I lose sleep over it. That’s for the sociologists. It’s simply a fact.

But it finally has sunk in the Clarence Clemons is gone. I wonder what’s next for Springsteen. He’s lost not only his good friend but his musical soul-mate, the one man “big” enough not to be dwarfed by Bruce’s talent and charisma. It’s gotta be lonely at the top. I imagine the room is even more empty now.

In a bit..

–tf

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New blog posts are up…

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Someday we’ll look back on all this and it will all seem funny. Or at least I hope so…

Political Polls?

The Melody of Summer?

In a bit…

tf

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And now for something completely different….

June 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m from NEPA. It doesn’t surprise me that our local politicians are corrupt. It seems a requirement for office in these parts. We almost revel in the slime of it all. It gives us something to talk about (and someday it may even get us a job). Seems like just last week a swath of Luzerne County judges got fitted for prison jumpers. Now, Lackwanna County gets her day in the sun.

And so 2 of our own are looking at about 500 years in a federal penitentiary. Still, actual accountability around here shocks me, if only because our “nudge-nudge wink-wink” form of local government has gone on for so long with so little of it. Faces change (well, sometimes at least), but the stench tends to remain….like the smell of that dead body in the trunk from “Godfellas”. But it always seemed in the past that these guys darted out of office like deer on a country road, as the law swerved to avoid the mess. A few headlines. A bit of public flogging. But not jail.

Not that these two don’t deserve what’s coming mind you. If Cordaro and Munchak are indeed guilty of only half the things they’ve been convicted of, they should serve at least half a millennium. Their grubby, tasteless greed is what gives places like Scranton its inferiority complex to begin with. Bribes, kickbacks, corruption….it’s all so unseemly and brutish. If you have the scruples of a pissing toad, at least set your sights a little higher than piles of 20 dollar bills passed along by a pack of low life bag-men who’ll roll over on you at first touch.

That’s what I think anyway. Have some panache. Be interesting.

But I guess if you had some panache you wouldn’t be a Lackawanna County Commissioner. Or at least wouldn’t want to be. It’s the first base coach of political hackery. A place to collect a $75k salary and get all your high-school drinking buddies on the country payroll while watching Scranton crumble from a 6th floor window. Pressing duties include cleaning up birdshit and holding a straight face when discussing the budget. I always got the feeling that Cordaro especially felt the job was beneath him…..that to not get what he could while he could get it was almost irrational (as for Munchak, I though him to be the only person polite enough to not turn purple and explode from playing second fiddle to Bob Cordaro. Plus Munchak wasn’t a coke fiend). And really….if when the county is dead broke and you’re still allowed to give Paul Sorvino a non-refundable check for a quarter of a million dollars so Sorvino’s daughter can make a movie that never actually gets made….can’t a guy be excused for thinking he’s entitled to some petty cash?

Ok, maybe not. But it is  interesting to ponder where hubris comes from…no?

Cordaro is a Dunmore guy. Like me. Like most folks from Dunmore I’m familiar with Bob Cordaro…at least enough to say hello and exchange some small talk. He went to school with my sister. And if you know him and never crossed him….he’s a really good guy. Gregarious, friendly, intelligent, witty, willing to buy a round. When he got into politics nobody was surprised. He already had the perfect excuse. He was wealthy. He didn’t need to work anymore….so why not? Show me a guy with money and time on his hands and I’ll show you a politician-in-waiting. And Cordaro had no ideology. He switched parties over and over again…..treating the political process like the captain of a debating team. Just give him an issue, and let him know what side the other guy was on. So what if Bob promised to cut taxes 25% in order to get in and ended up raising them 48% when he did get in. He could explain. And he could be as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

He also had the Nixonian ability to remember every little peasant who dared question his wisdom. And the willingness to tear them apart like a rabid Australian dingo on uppers. He never courted anybody. He expected to be courted. So when the press started to quibble with his performance, instead of turning on the charm, Cordaro called them jackals. Which may or may not be true, but that’s beside the point. The press don’t like to be called jackals. If you’re going to call them jackals you need to make sure the other newspaper in town thinks you’re swell and is willing to crank out the rebuttals. But Scranton doesn’t have “another newspaper in town”. If the Times doesn’t like you, you might as well start building outhouses in Peoiria.

But still, if you’re going to play the martyr, it’s probably a good idea to not be on the take. You know…the credibility gap and all that.

Credibility itself is something our political scene sorely lacks….but then it is us who keeps electing these people. So maybe we’re part of the problem?

Gee, there’s a thought.

In a bit..

–tf

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Father’s Day

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

The clock has turned over. It’s officially father’s day. Not many think on it at 1:30am but I can’t sleep so it seems the right thing to do.

I have two girls of my own now, both beautiful in so many ways that I lose count.  They are ages 9 and 13 and I see in them promise that I’ve never felt for myself. They’ve moved so far beyond me that all I want to do is watch and learn. They are not followers. They do not insist on being leaders either. They are willing to fill the gray area in-between, and will step up when the time comes and step down when the time goes away. They have no interest in grandstanding or any interest in mopping up somebody else’s mess. They act their respective ages and as a result have all the fun heaven will allow. But they can also discover me wavering over one of those life altering decisions….and lay the pros and cons out so coherently that I feel like the child…..and look to them as my (unpaid) advisors. I claim no special powers just because I’m an “adult”. It’s when I consciously try to act my age that bad things happen. Maybe not “bad things” per se. Perhaps unspeakable tedium would be a better way to put it. There is not much worse than a 44-year-old acting his age and still trying to have fun. He resembles nothing more than a man trying desperately not to vomit after 14 Budweiser’s in 90 minutes. Age and Fun beat on each other like gongs and before you know it both are bloodied and call a truce, and all that’s left is someone at the bar hoping he can navigate the 2 mile trip back home without getting his name in the paper for a DUI. Somebody who wants to show the audience what he could do back then and could still do now….but first needs to get some pills out of a baggie and visit the men’s room. Instant youth it’s been called….and it lasts until you wet the bed or win a karaoke contest. These days I take my fun in moderation. I read. I write. I wonder. And I watch my girls grow up.

I trust both my girls. They say what they mean and they mean what they say, at least at the moment they’re saying it. They realize their relative good fortune up till now, and they seem smart enough not to take anything for granted. They know if could all change in a matter of weeks or months. The Economy (with a capital “E”)  works that way. There is no such thing as security anymore. We go to work in the morning and hope the gates aren’t padlocked. The American Dream is a little different now than it used to be. Bush pegged it when he called it the “War on Terror”, although I’m not sure this is what he had in mind.

My girls. My wife. They are my life now. Everything else is just shadow puppets on the wall. I do my best and all too frequently I’m aware that my best us not very good. So I resolve to do better that next day. But I usually don’t. Love is strange to me, even though I’ve spent more than half my life chasing it. Part of me is still frightened by love, like a child scared of the dark. We’ve all got what Lincoln called “the tired spot” deep inside us, and love means letting others in to feel it too. Sometimes that’s when the wall comes up.

But to my girls, let me say that I love you more than words could possibly convey. All the poets of centuries past and present could try, but what they’d leave behind could only be comparative gibberish. A bit like the previous 600 words or so. But still, it’s always worth the effort.

Especially today. It’s Father’s Day. My day….but that’s not true of course. It belongs to you.

In a bit..

–tf

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A verbal frenzy…

June 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Trying to keep up with Stevens on our blog. A flurry of recent posts….all critical to our national security and all certain to go viral once we start spamming the email address lists that we stole….

Carnivals

Insomnia

Running (why I don’t do it but sorta wish I did)

Newspapers (why mine sucks)

Making fun of Stevens

Antiques

Hot nights in Georgia Motels

Just don’t want you to think I’m not….you know….working and stuff.

Oh yeah, I just finished a new play. It’s called “Maybe it’s True” and I’ll be talking more about it later.

In a bit…

tf

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Insomnia

June 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I have a hard time sleeping. During the day I feel like a zombie, but when it gets dark I receive a strange jolt of energy and start searching for ways to fill in the next….oh….6 hours or so.

It leads to very interesting places. Last night I watched 2 online documentaries….one on the 19th century Greely expedition in the Arctic. If a documentary is made about an Arctic expedition, you pretty much know how it ends up. They get stranded up there and guys start dropping one by one of starvation and are forced to eat each other. In this case, only 6 of the 25 men made it home alive and for the rest of their lives were tagged as cannibalistic ghouls.

After this I was ready for something a bit more upbeat (and it was only 1am), so I watched another online doc, this one about the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in the Village, and its patrons were constantly harassed by cops. One night the bar decided enough was enough and when 6 cops raided the place they were locked inside and the gays started kicking (and grabbing….as some gleefully remember) some ass. When blue reinforcements arrived the crowds outside had swelled, and the cops realized they had goose stepped their way into a trap…..they were now encircled by thousands of pissed off drag queens. Obviously this sort of thing wasn’t covered in the training manual. The end result was predictable enough. Cops don’t like it when their backs are up against the wall….so the nightsticks came out and heads were bashed and paddy wagons filled. They figured that was that.

Except it wasn’t. The crowd gathered the next night too….and it happened again. Night 2 was worse. More destruction. More beatings. More rage.

And to add a little spice to the story the Stonewall Inn was owned by the mob. Only in America.

Anyway, the end result was the beginning of the end of legal gay bashing…..and further proof that sometimes violence is the only way to force social change in this country. Not the kind of lesson they teach in schools probably, but the streets often don’t fit themselves neatly into textbooks.

My goodness, how did I get on this bit? We were talking about not being able to sleep, were we not? Somehow we’ve veered into cannibals and drag queens. But that’s the thing with insomnia. If you don’t fight it, it can lead you down some fascinating alleys. I don’t look at it as losing sleep. I look at it as gaining knowledge.

I tell this to people and they just look at me like I’m weird.

I’ll tinker a bit on the piano. I have to play really quiet so I don’t wake anybody up. Normal people are all sleeping. I can easily put away a 400 page book. I drink endless cans of Diet Coke (don’t say it). I’ll search for new music for my Ipod. Some nights I make proclamations to myself like…..”for the next week I’m going to do nothing but read books about Richard Nixon”. I’ll send texts to friends saying things like “while you were sleeping I learned the details of Donald Segretti’s involvement in Watergate. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

People worry about me.

It may be justified. But there’s not much I can do about it because I can’t sleep and I cannot endure boredom. I have to be feeding something in my head at all times or I feel like a sloth. Ironically, I do this type of mental work mostly lying prone on the couch….which people who can sleep think is slothful. I try to explain how hard I’m working but nobody believes me.

‘Tis a cruel world.

In a bit…

–tf

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