I visited my father’s grave last night. It’s a beautiful spot as these places go. Well maintained. Green. Trees providing comforting breezes and pleasant shade. It was early in the evening so the heat was dying down. The sun was dropping slowly behind the stones. It had the area mostly to myself. Kept company by the birds and the fresh flowers and the American flags on the graves of veterans. It’s a day/weekend to honor their sacrifice. For many it’s a facebook meme spouting a cliche. Facebook posts and Tweets have so sozzled our brains that after a while we actual think we’re being patriotic and clever. In the age of the soundbite it seems the best many, including Presidential candidates, can do…as if anything more than 140 characters would require a Doctorate degree and a year abroad.
Our area has annual parades every year. The one on St Patrick’s Day turns epic…a hilarious cheap-beer-fueled amateur orgy of short college-aged white guys punching each other in the face to honor the guy who supposedly chased snakes out of Ireland. Or something like that. It attracts crowds well into the 5 digits. The same for the St Ubaldo festival in Jessup this weekend, back and better than ever in the 2000s after being shut down for a few years due to a local beating a guy to death on a Jessup sidewalk because….well…..I’m sure he had a good reason. So goes the legend. Anyway, the cops have since cracked down and now you only risk being beaten to death inside the enclosed beer tent…..which this year featured a “no weapons allowed” sign, right next to a sign advertising “$2 Genessee Cream Ale 16oz cans”…..a drink so vile I assumed it was either made illegal or is what rednecks now use to shock their swimming pools. Think of Wal-Mart on check day….add beer, greasy food, outhouses, and $5 for a chance to win your girl a stuffed animal while being laughed at by a barely-legal carny who can’t speak English. Ubaldo is not exactly the valley’s finest hour, but it raises a pile of money for a local hose company, so at least some good comes out of it. Oh….and it’s religious-based too. Catholics know how to fucking party.
Where am I going with this? Well….our area also has one or two Veteran themed parades every year…where active and retired service men and women march down streets lined with their own family members and pretty much nobody else. Which is another way of saying that we don’t come close to honoring either our live or dead veterans, on Memorial or any other day. And that’s a damn shame…..and that’s what I was thinking about when I was visiting my father last night….all by myself with the birds and the flags while the rest of the valley was getting drunk on Genny Creme Ale and trying not to get beaten up by roaming toughs wearing wife-beaters stained with potato-pancake grease.
We live in interesting times.
We live in interesting places.
We’ve got a long way to go.
Sometimes we have no idea where we’re going.
In other words, we’re lost.
In a bit..
I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately. I’m damn near 50, so that might be why. But I think it’s actually more than that.
I don’t have enough of it to do the things I want to do. I spend too much of it doing things I don’t want to do. Of course this doesn’t make me any different than 96% of the people I know but I adore obsessing over things I have little control over. It’s one of my many charms.
Plus, I write.
I’m one of those people.
I don’t talk much. I’d rather listen and then regurgitate.
I write songs mostly. And plays. In my spare time. And therein lies the rub. Because as time passes “spare time” takes on a different meaning. In my early 20s a few free hours could turn into pretty girls and a 12 pack. Now I use the time to cut my relentlessly growing grass….or put on my Uber driving cap for my 2 kids….or run errands…..or to attend to 1000 things that need attending to because that’s the way life works for most of us. Living gets in the way of life…one of the world’s cruelest ironies.
I have a full time job, for which I’m grateful, but let’s face it. Unless your full time job entails doing what you love to do (does yours? No? Gee, really?), a full time job is pretty much a huge pain in the ass. We get up earlier than we want to and spend a third of our day with people we’d probably avoid in a Wal-Mart aisle. We make less than we should for the work we do and come home at the end of the day with way less brain cells than we had when the day started. It’s a ghastly cycle really, but going through it doesn’t make us special. It makes us normal. It allows me to pay the bank monthly rent for the house I pretend I own.
What’s not normal is the rare bird who can wake up and go to bed every day immersed in his or her passion. If I could wake up, ice up a case of Diet Coke, and go into a room with a guitar and a legal pad and a few condenser microphones, and emerge 16 hours later, day after day…..that would be just swell.
I could do this, of course. But I don’t like divorce lawyers and repo-men and threatening letters and phone calls from creditors. I also don’t like the idea of not having health insurance. That’s the sort of thing that can ruin your day and keep you up at night staring at the black ceiling.
So what’s a poor boy to do?
I’ve got so many talented friends. Musicians mostly. I’m talking guys and gals who can wail…who can play anything with strings or keys or that requires sticks and can sing the paint off the walls…all the while creating very impressive bar tabs. Rock and rollers as badass as anybody you can mention. And nobody knows who the fuck they are except for the locals. Maybe that’s as it should be. We all deserve our own rock stars. They’re way more interesting than the universal ones.
So yea….time. When I’m making music the clock moves like somebody is winding it forward. When I’m doing the 9-5 thing, it’s more like there’s a power outage and the clocks stop working entirely. So what does this mean, in practical terms?
And why do I feel like, despite having less and less time to write and make music, I’m actually getting better at it?
Gather round, children….and I’ll enlighten you. Like much enlightenment, it ain’t rocket science.
Knowing that I may only have, say, 2 hours in a week to creating something, when those 2 hours arrive I don’t fuck around. I focus and I work my ass off. If I’m in a recording studio, I don’t obsess over the drum sound. I deal with people who know how to make drums sound good and leave them to it. I make sure my guitar is in tune, count “1-2-3”, hope the bass player is sober, and we’re off. I don’t say “let’s try this and see if it works”…..I decide beforehand if it’s going to work, and then do it. Because in 2 hours I have to pick up my kid at the movies. If you think the song would sound better with a Hammond overdub…..have you come-to-Jesus moment before the clock starts running and your kid is standing on the curb waiting for your late ass.
Want to know why the Guns N’ Roses record “Chinese Democracy” record took 15 years to make? Because Axl Rose didn’t have a full time job and have to cut his own grass, that’s why. If he did, maybe it would have taken a week and not been a piece of pretentious gibberish. (As one critic wrote on the day the record was finally released…”If you purchased a kitten on the day that Use Your Illusion I & II arrived in stores, it’s probably dead by now….”)
Oh, and write a good song. I’ve written many un-good songs. If there is a good song in there ready to come out, it’s gonna come quickly. If it’s leaking out like the drip-drip of a faucet, it’s probably fighting to remain unheard for very good reasons. Have an idea. A title. A riff. Something. Then take it out for a spin and try not to drive into any walls.
Focus. Work smart and only waste time if you have it to waste, which most of us don’t. So, in short, don’t waste time.
Shortcuts for some are just a quaint change of scenery. For others it’s how we get home without running out of gas.
Oh, and it helps if you don’t need a lot of sleep because between midnight and 2am are excellent “free time”.
Thus endeth the lesson.
In a bit..
In a few months I’ll be 50 years old. Want some glorious alliteration? Ok, how’s this?
There are lots of roundabout ways of feeling old.
“Purple Rain” is 32 years old. At the time of Prince’s release, “Love Me Do” was 21 years old. Ponder that for a moment. “Purple Rain” is older now than “Love Me Do” was then.
The song “Wonderwall” is 21 years old. In 1995 the song “Kung Fu Fighting” was 21 years old. Doesn’t that make you think that you should have taken more drugs when you had the chance?
“Stairway to Heaven” was only 9 years old when drummer John Bonham died, and the song was already embedded in “classic rock” playlists, never to be dislodged. You know who had the top song in the nation 9 years ago? Something I never heard of by someone named Beyonce.
Isn’t that just……messed up?
One of the great rock and roll documentaries is”Hail Hail Rock and Roll”, a film wrapped around the great Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday celebration. Keith Richards helped roll Chuck out of mothballs to sing 30 year old songs to 40 and 50 year olds. Pure nostalgia. Chuck was 7 years younger then than Springsteen is now. Bruce is currently ending his shows promoting his 36 year old record “The River” with a roof rattling version of “Shout”, which most people know through the movie “Animal House”, which was released the same year as “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones…their attempt to ride the disco wave kick started by the Bee Gees and Vinnie Barbarino. By the way Chuck Berry is now 89 years old and playing gigs in his home state of Missouri….duckwalking through the same songs he wrote during the 1950s, a decade before I was born, and a mere decade after Truman dropped the bombs.
When Tom Petty had his first hit with “Breakdown”, Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong was 5 years old. Green Day’s “Dookie” is 22 years old, the same age as One Direction’s Harry Styles. “American Idiot” is 12 years old, older than the life of the Beatles.
My favorite REM album is “Fables of the Reconstruction”, released in 1985, the same year as the Live Aid concert, and the year Bruno Mars was born. I was 19 years old. That REM record is now 31 years old. In 1985, the song “Rock Around the Clock” was 31 years old.
Justin Bieber and Roger Daltrey share the same March 1st birthday, born 50 years apart. The length of my life thus far.
See how circular (and sad) this all is?
I bought my first CD (“Green Thoughts” by the Smithereens) 28 years ago, the year I graduated from a small college that is now a significantly larger university. That year Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never” was 28 years old. You know who else is 28 years old right now? Snooki.
Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is older than the combined ages of my teenage daughters.
And just to remind myself how broke I am and will continue to be….my parents bought their home for less than it cost me to put up a fence in my backyard. A entire year in college for me cost less than a single semester’s meal plan for a kid today. And so it goes. Time mocks me forever and ever.
I have to blame the death of Prince for all of this. I sorta built my own little world in between my stereo speakers….and in this world people like Prince aren’t supposed to die. Ever. Of course Elvis and Lennon and Cobain and Levon Helm weren’t supposed to die either. You’d think I’d learn but I never do. It’s like algebra class. You can sit my ass in there all you want, but I ain’t ever gonna get it.
And speaking of Prince….do you realize he started recording the year before Pink Floyd released the album “Animals”? I immediately thought of this when I saw David Gilmour’s glorious wordless tribute last week…..turning “Comfortably Numb” into “Purple Rain” and back again during a show in London, proving once again that the only music that isn’t timeless is music that sucks.
Of course this didn’t make me feel any less old…..to the contrary. But it did remind me that there are advantages to years, especially if you’re lucky enough to live at the same time as people like Prince and David Gilmour.
Comfortably numb indeed…
I don’t ever wanna get old. I might miss stuff like this.
In a bit..