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Music frames everything

March 29, 2018 Leave a comment

Writing about music is tricky because, honestly,  you shouldn’t be reading about rock and roll, you should be listening to rock and roll.

Music criticism is largely irrelevant, because we like what we like and that’s pretty much that. We may not want to admit that we like something, for fear of being ostracized by the cool kids, but c’mon, you think Barry Gibb is badass too.

walkMusic frames everything. All our memorable moments are defined by these songs. Our loves and losses, new roads taken and old ones abandoned…..all are accompanied by a soundtrack…..a transistor radio glued to the ear, or a boom box perched on a shoulder….AM and FM. Eight-track and mixed-tape cassettes. The at-the-time-glorious Walkman (I got paint splatter on mine…dropped it 100 times, still works). Our sister’s vinyl, and somehow being snookered into re-buying the lot of it on strange little discs that cost too much and sorta sounded worse. And now, entire collections in the palm of your hand. Or on some far-away cloud somewhere….hiding behind the sun for fear of having to pay songwriter royalties. But…well…never mind that for now.

Hearing those strange voices for the first time. Dylan….Neil Young. They sounded like they were from another fucking galaxy. But you’d cradle that cheap guitar in your hands, bleed your fingertips until they became manly, and, eventually, you realized that while what they were doing was magic, it wasn’t technically hard. I mean, anybody could play these songs. Even a rube like me could knock out the “Cinnamon Girl” solo. The trick of course was writing them. I later learned that Young wrote “Cinnamon Girl” while suffering from a very high fever….which somehow made it all sound even more exotic. And sorta explained the solo too.

My parents. Bless their gentle hearts. I asked my Dad to pick me up a Beatles record at Ralph’s Record City downtown on his way home from work, and he came home with some record by the “Beetles”, not understanding my pre-teen rage at all. “What’s the difference?” he said.

My Mom giving me spending money for a basketball trip we took in 8th grade, some tournament outside Philly, and me blowing it all on the first night buying Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” and Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes” at a local mall. She knew but pretended she didn’t.

Towards the end of his life one of my Dad’s favorite records was Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. The old bugger eventually learned the difference!

I miss them both dearly.

And speaking of the Brother’s Gibb…..I would sneak into my oldest sister’s room and listen to “New York Mining Disaster 1941” from the “Here at Last….Bee Gees Live” album and feel really bad about it. Then I’d do it again. Forbidden fruit. Strange days.

And the British of course. Speaking of high fevers, I first fell in love with the Beatles while lying on my couch down with one, listening to the “Red” album. I was probably 10 years old. A penny was taped to the arm of the needle in an attempt to alleviate the skips that I got so used to I just assumed George Martin placed them there. I must have dragged that needle across “Paperback Writer” 1000 times, no earthly idea what it was about but in love with that loopy guitar riff. One of the great songs to sing along to alone in the car, because you know you try to nail all 3 harmonies at the same time. Don’t lie to me.

The Stones. Even in the 1970s you were convinced Keith Richards was either going to die very soon….or that he would live forever. They were gone, and then “Some Girls” showed up and Mick sang that line about black girls that pissed Jesse Jackson off and it sorta warmed your rock and roll heart a bit. Maybe you could grow old and nasty doing this. Back then 30 was old…..Jagger famously saying that he wouldn’t be caught dead singing “Satisfaction” onstage at that horribly advanced age. Keith taught me the 5 string (remove the low E, critical) open G tuning and suddenly I was band-worthy. Sorta like not knowing how to drive but having keys.

It was Pete Townshend who showed me that the best way to get around walls was to knock them down……and so I’d lay on the floor in the middle of a circle of beer bottles and listen to “Quadrophenia” and feel like Jimmy on the rock in the middle of the sea….the desperate seeker. And then “Empty Glass”, sort of a loud nervous breakdown, showing what happens to real artists who lay themselves bare in front of their audience, haunted by the human wreckage they’ve managed to leave behind (like 11 dead kids in Cincinnati). It ain’t always pretty, but if it’s loud enough, it can be cathartic as hell. I was 16 years old when I caught Townshend-itis, and this many years later I’m still manically, happily ill. I trust it will kill me in the end.

And from Pete to Saint Joe Strummer….as obvious a connection as Dylan to Woody Guthrie. Incidentally, Strummer was born “John Mellor”, but before he became Joe Strummer, he insisted on being called “Woody” (So you see how all this fits together, right? ). I could smell London burning, and rarely left Dunmore. No mean feat, that. And to this day I’ll say that the one of the greatest 3 minutes of my life was hearing “Train in Vain” when I expected I had come to the end of “London Calling”.

Then I took a year off and immersed myself in all things Woody Guthrie…..and wrote a play about him. Because this is what he taught me….and Strummer and Dylan…

“A folk song is what’s wrong and how to fix it or it could be who’s hungry and where their mouth is or who’s out of work and where the job is or who’s broke and where the money is or who’s carrying a gun and where the peace is.”

–Woody Guthrie

….and for years after I wrote songs almost daily….learning, spewing, falling and getting back up, laughing and crying and preaching the gospel that if you ain’t in the arena you got no right to pass judgement on the bleeding.

And oh so many more random moments after and in-between. In college I’d thrust my Walkman blaring REM’s “Murmur” and “Reckoning” into unsuspecting ears…..not wanting to hog the divinity all to myself. I had no idea what Stipe was singing, but still it was like listening to Pavarotti sing some foreign libretto…..you just let the it wash all over you and bragged about being there. I’d drive for 2 hours and listen to nothing but “Sarah Smile” and “She’s Gone” from Hall & Oates on repeat….over and over again…..and be thrilled like it was some Groundhog Day. We’d moodily drink Rolling Rock in front of roaring fire with Springsteen’s “Nebraska” droning from the bed of a pick-up, waiting for the girls to come. When they did we’d switch to “The River”. I mean….we weren’t idiots.

I tracked down every Bodeans record there was, wondering why they weren’t as famous as the Everly Brothers, and never telling anyone that Kurt Neumann’s solo on “Fadeaway” from “Homebrewed: Live at the Pabst” is my second favorite in the world after Dave Davies on “All Day and All of the Night”. Until now. Thank you Kurt.

I could go on….forever. Jason Isbell and the Drive-by Truckers and Glen Hansard and James McMurtry and the Hold Steady and Slobberbone and the Smithereens and the Replacements and crying when Cobain died and finally learning that Bret Alexander wrote “…but I hate hitting the ground…” in “Fear of Falling” and not “….but I hate it on the ground…”

It’s the little things, Bubba.

Today I try to emulate a little bit of ALL those folks….and 100 more I haven’t mentioned…..with words and music and action and the 3 chords that I know….from a whisper to a scream…and back again….in an infinite loop…until death do us part.

In a bit..

–tf

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Categories: Uncategorized

The Kids Are Alright

March 25, 2018 Leave a comment

I have two daughters. One is 19 and a sophomore in college. One is 16 and a sophomore in high school. Both of them marched in Washington DC yesterday. They were 3 blocks away from each other, kept apart by how many hundreds of thousands of other kids. Yet still, they bonded. Sisters. Marching for their lives. And the lives of their generation.

When I tried to tell them how proud I was….my oldest, said “you don’t have to praise a fish for swimming.”

So there.

I’ll never stop learning from them.

My youngest told me that at one point her and her friends wanted to move closer towards the speakers. The adults in the crowd all parted like the red-sea, allowing them to pass over and over again, saying “we’re here for you today…..we’re here for you kids….go on….get closer.”

She told me this story when she got home last night. Excitement practically bounced in her eyes. I think she realized right then how powerful her generation is, and will continue to be. It was tangible now….she stood in the middle of it…feeling its peaceful energy.

These kids are direct descendants of the ghosts sitting at that Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter….and the marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge…..and the Memphis sanitation workers. They refuse to accept that their lives don’t matter. They instantly spot hypocrisy, and stomp all over it.

Anybody who thinks these kids aren’t gonna be marching to their respective ballot boxes when they’re old enough is deluded.

Sure, they’ll surely look to adults for guidance and leadership, but if the adults aren’t up to the job, these kids are gonna cut the line.

march-for-our-lives-emma-gonzalez-3-gty-jt-180324_hpMain_16x9_1600Where to start about what happened yesterday? The haters are out in full force today, but that’s to be expected. They’re loud, but do not mistake decibels for numbers. Silence does not equal acquiescence. Anybody who thinks this didn’t see Emma Gonzalez’s extraordinary call to action yesterday, putting herself on the line using only grief, tears and 6 minutes of bated breath

Hate is vastly outnumbered. Lashing out is all they’ve got left. So to those spending your day thumb-typing vitriol at grief-stricken children, please go fuck yourself with something pointy.

But I digress.

One of the Parkland massacre survivors was so overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment that she vomited during her speech. Samantha Fuentes regained her composure, shouted that “I just threw-up on national television, and it feels great!”, and soldiered on. You wanna tell me that kids like this are gonna be cowed by Twitter-bots, inane Facebook comments, and the fucking NRA? Bitch, please.

They watched their friends die. Face to face. Saw it. Smelled it. They’re woke. And they’ll never sleep again.

And so now they’re organized. They speak with one voice. They are growing more media-savvy by the day, out of necessity. And the walls of power are shuddering. Oh to be a fly on the wall inside the NRA PR war-room these days. “From my cold dead hands” is gonna lose its sting when the congressmen and senators they own are voted out of office by the kids they ruthlessly belittle. When blood-bribes aren’t accepted in the forest and the tree falls, does anybody hear the money falling to the ground?

(Be advised that the President of the United States ran to his Florida playhouse this weekend, and though he found the time to proclaim today “Greek Independence Day”, and bragged about how many lawyers are lining up to defend him against charges of Putin-fellatio, he has yet to address the million kids who marched past his DC residence calling shenanigans.)

I’m an old white dude. By default I’m cynical and pretty miserable most of the time. But I’ve always considered myself woke.

But my senses are in overdrive now. They’re tingling, Because of these kids.

And you know what? Maybe us parents are doing a better job than we think. Because each child marching yesterday learned the empathy they showed yesterday. From a Mom maybe? Or a Dad? They’re not as they are frequently portrayed. Self-absorbed. Narcissistic.

No, that’s not them.

That’s the adults.

The Kids Are Alright.

In a bit..

–tf

 

Categories: Uncategorized

So the kids are forced to become the adults…

March 17, 2018 Leave a comment

180314105327-07-school-walkout-0314-exlarge-169So the kids are forced to become the adults.

I’m down with that.

These kids are old enough to get shot. So they certainly feel like they have a right to try not getting shot. Seems pretty straightforward.

Cult45ers may think otherwise, but history has taken a dim view of those caught in the web of a cult of personality. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. But still…..these are persistent little buggers. Nothing fires up a Jesus-ian more than a late night anonymous computer screen and a daily dose of Fox & Friends. Human-bots may not be able to spell or form coherent sentences, but they can hate like a boss.

We’re living in strange times.

Lies are truth. Truth are lies. What’s real is fake, and what’s fake is real. Ignorance is prized. Intelligence is elitist. We climb mountains to punch echoes if they don’t share our ideology.

We hate with much more intensity than we love.

Our national IQ has plummeted faster than our national reputation.

We could blame Donald Trump for a lot of this. He’s a paint-by-numbers idiot and about as dumb as a mound of piss-yellow snow. But our nation pulled enough levers so that he’s now President of the United States, so we really need to look inward. How the fuck do we let this happen?

Shouldn’t this have been a done deal when he mocked the handicapped? When he attacked a POW? When he bragged about assaulting women? When he told his 1000th easily proven lie?

It matters little to his supporters that McDonald’s has a higher level of employee retention (46%) than the Trump administration (44%), despite the President’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric. This is blind partisan bullshit, hero worship on a Stalinesque level, which is the main reason our own children have been forced to stand up and say”no mas”. They don’t do partisan, and they don’t do hero worship, and of course they do not wish to be peppered with automatic gunfire. They see right-wingers jizzing all over the 2nd amendment, while completely ignoring the 1st one, for exactly what it is. Partisan bullshit. And dangerous. Because it ain’t Hannity getting his face shot off. It’s 7 year-olds in Connecticut. And 17 year-olds in Florida.

So what we have now is the last gasps of dumb, scared, angry white people. A change is gonna come bubba. You ready?

Obviously those hiding under the bed with their guns are not, but that’s irrelevant. It is coming….and you don’t have to like it. But you do have to come to terms with it….

Tyrants all fall. Demagogues all fall. If you don’t believe me, you can do like Casey Stengel and look it up.

Half our nation is  too dumb to realize what they really should be scared of, and too scared to realize that their fear is entirely based on their own ignorance. We’re lurching towards fascism and nationalism for the same reason other nations lurched towards fascism and nationalism. Because we’ve been conditioned to ignore the astoundingly rich men behind the curtain, and to cast blame instead on those different than we are. Different color. Different sexual orientation, Different religion. It’s not very subtle. Donald Trump is now our President. How fucking subtle can it possibly be? He writes and speaks at the level of the 4th grader. And 60 million people voted for him. Nearly as many who voted for the lady….but such is the fuzzy math of our electoral process.

Voted for his wall. And his racist dog-whistles. And his frighteningly simple message of division. He’s very uncomplicated. Most 4th graders are.

People voted for him because he wasn’t a woman. And he wasn’t a black fella. They won’t admit to thinking this way, of course. That’s only because to do so is admitting to being sort of a douche. But it is the case. And deep in their cups they know this. They voted because they hated. They didn’t vote for. They voted against.

Half of us get more pissed off at kids walking out of classrooms in protest than we do at kids being carried out of classrooms in body bags.

That’s where we’re at.

You can spin that any way you want. But you cannot deny it. If you trash these kids, that’s what you are saying. These kids do not wish to die, and all you’ve got to bludgeon them with is “from my cold-dead hands”?

You need to bring something a little stronger than that fool Charlton Heston waving a flintlock over his head. That’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight.

That’s an analogy you can grasp, no?

111011_CB_margolick_EX.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeSorry son. These kids are pissed off. And they’re calling you out on your bullshit. And soon they’ll be voting. And you’ll be on the wrong side of history. You’ll be that scowling white lady showering spittle on the black school girl in Little Rock, Arkansas.

You’ll be the obscenity in the face of ramrod-straight dignity. And deep down, you know it. That fact that you don’t yet care is why this wound has been allowed to fester in the first place.

Hate unchecked is like cancer. It kills. But here’s a reminder. No one here gets out alive. It’s all about the scenery on the trip….and how many you help up, not how many you keep down.

I alternate between feelings of dread and hope, and I think it’s because I spend my days with adults and my evenings with my children.

Kids don’t see color or religion of sexual orientation. Kids judge eye to eye. Adults who judge by the group are pea-wits….and kids have no patience for pea-wits.

So they walked out of class last week. And they’ll March in Washington next month. All in an attempt to shame the adults into acting like adults.

Or in acting like the kids.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized