Thursday, August 21, 2014

And so....

...the darkness claims another one...

I have to admit that, at my age, I've gotten used to hearing that someone has died. When I saw the headlines that Robin Williams had died, my reaction was "Damn, that's too bad. Hope it wasn't a lingering, painful illness...still, he wasn't that old..." but I wasn't too shook up over the news - I filed it under "shit happens to everyone, eventually - some sooner than others...".

When I heard how it had happened, however, things got dark, fairly quickly.

Now I admit, being the diligent movie-watcher that I am (your sarcasm detector should be going off like mad....) I have not seen any of his movies. I remember him from his HBO specials (yeah, that long ago...) and just random clips of him on different occasions. Hardly enough to have formed an opinion of someone, but on the other hand, I don't remember him playing a role - a scripted persona that he was trying to portray. I remember him....being himself.  His manic energy and the ability to pull from very disparate sources and synthesize something on the fly was amazing to me. (Well, that and the damned voices...) Yet, one thing I remember is that, even when he was parodying someone, it was never mean-spirited, for just as often as he lampooned someone else, he poked fun at himself. He just seemed so full of life, warmth and humor.

So, like everyone else, I was left going "How the fuck did this happen?".

I was dimly aware of his substance-abusing past, but wrote it off to "Hey, it was the '80's..." I thought he, like many of his contemporaries, had put that behind him. Not being too into Hollywood gossip. I wasn't aware of his struggles with Winston Churchill's "black dog".  In retrospect, it makes sense, I guess, for he was not the first (and sadly, won't be the last) to suffer the dichotomy of creativity/depression. I've often wondered why the two seem to be inextricably linked.

How can a person who has everything -fame, fortune, friends, family and a seeming joyous outlook on life- take the plunge off the abyss?

Maybe in humor, he found a way to hide his darkness, or perhaps, knowing what that blackness was like, he sought to provide joy to others that they would be spared that pain.

I've heard so many stories of his generosity -from being personable and gracious about autographs to the bicycle pizza delivery guy he quietly bought a new bike for* to picking up the tab for the medical bills that Christopher Reeve's insurance wouldn't cover. Maybe he gave so much to others that he had nothing left for himself? With empathic and generous people  when more people ask more of you, rather than shortchange someone else, you reduce your own share.

The only good I can see coming from this is that -at least for a few minutes- people are talking about depression, people are talking about suicide. The American people's attention span being what it is, I don't see this lasting....

Many, many people have walked to that cliff and looked over the edge, but walked away instead of taking that last step. Even among people who eventually do, there have been many times where they turned away from the edge. If we could only figure out what makes us turn around and go back to the light, we'd have taken a huge step toward understanding this affliction and how to combat it.

* He happened to be in a bike shop when a guy brought his bike in for a repair. They struck up an conversation and Robin commended the guy for all his hard work. When the guy went back to pick his repair up, there was a brand new bike and a note from Robin.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Unexpected Thrift Store Find

  Among the many items on my Saturday morning "to do" list was "Take bed frame to Rescue Mission Store @ landfill".

  Being in a hurry, I was just going to leave the frame and headboard on the dock and be on my way, but the sign said "See attendant when dropping off donations", so I decided to "follow procedure".

  When I opened the door, it was my intent to just tell the attendant what I was doing and be about my business, but she was arranging ceramic knick-knacks in a display for Easter, and something about the careful, Zen-like way she was doing it, made it seem wrong to interrupt. I downshifted my pace to hers and watched as she moved things here and there - often a very small amount - trying to find just the right place for the piece she held in her hand. Humming to herself as she worked, she finally got things "just so" and turned to me and said cheerily "Donation?"

  We unloaded the bed frame and I went on my way, but something about what I'd just seen stuck with me and made me think.

  I usually regard thrift stores as somewhat melancholy places full of cast-off things someone no longer wanted - and no one wants now - being pawed through by apathetic customers. Ceramic knick-knacks in particular have always made me think: "Who bought this cheesy thing in the first place….  and who the hell is going to buy it a second time??" And yet, here was this woman carefully arranging things - things I saw no interest, beauty or value in - and taking pride and finding delight in them. I'd be willing to bet she wasn't told to do that by her supervisor, she just took it upon herself because it brightened up the place. She took what I saw as a joyless job -babysitting a bunch of crap no one wants, in a store no one comes to - and found satisfaction and beauty in it. Even if no one noticed or cared about her Easter display, she did.

  I didn't buy anything, but I took something of value with me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Yes I Have To Say I Like My "Priv-a-see"

I was watching an interview with Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame)* and was a bit surprised to hear him say "I don't talk about my personal life" when the interviewer asked a question he perceived to be a little too personal. He wasn't a dick about it, he just politely but firmly drew a line. In this day and age of over-sharing (yes I'm looking at you, Ozzy Osborne) it was actually kind of refreshing.

It also started me thinking about how different things are now between an artist and their fans.

"Back in the day..." it used to be that artists were on a pedestal, locked away from all but the most determined fans and groupies. I suppose their mangers found it easier to maintain the mystique and control the image they desired to project. Somehow, I guess that reverence and awe was beneficial to the bottom line.

Now, with artists Facebooking, Twittering and blogging, a lot of barriers have been removed between "stars" and their adoring public. For the most part, this is a very positive development, perhaps somewhat necessitated by the changing business model of the music industry.

As a music fan, I really enjoy seeing an artist more as a whole person, rather than a cardboard cutout, like the fake people in the fake Rock Ridge in Blazing Saddles. I first became aware of this listening to the old "Rockline" radio show. It was refreshing and interesting to hear an artist interact, in real time, with fans. (I distinctly remember hearing Greg Allman and thinking "Damn this guy is a complete burnout..." and then being blown away as he did an acoustic cover of "Jessica"). Now, I don't know how knowing that Matthew Good enjoys riding horses in his "spare time" makes me appreciate his music more, but it I suppose it deepens the connection - and that's what I listen to music for, in the first place. I think maybe it helps fill in some of the gaps in the dialog, which is inherently one-sided.

As an artist, I would imagine it's better as well. There are far too many songs that reference the "bird in a gilded cage" metaphor. Having had the very disturbing feeling of feeling alone in a city crowded with people, I can understand what the latter part of "The Wall" was about - feeling completely alone on stage, in a packed arena. Electronic media lets you stay in touch and interact with your fans, without being overwhelmed. Back in the day, at best, there was the old standby "record store appearance", but even there, fans shuffled through the line, thrust out their album cover to be autographed and moved on.

No, I don't care what brand of toilet paper an artist uses, but somehow, I think the more modern model of the artist/listener relationship is more fulfilling for both.

*hence the lyric from PT's "Deadwing" -complete with faux English pronunciation- in the post title....

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Help Wanted: Lock Tender

...I doubt you'll see THAT on any time soon...

I was out chasing the ghost of the Black River Canal a couple of weeks ago, driving up NY 12, looking for remnants of the 109 locks that used to be. Just north of Boonville, "The Five Combines" -five locks all together, one right after the other- have been somewhat preserved.

There is a house of the appropriate vintage about halfway through the lock set, that I suspect was the lock tender's house.

When I visit historical sites, I try to visualize what it was like, in it's heyday. (The only problem is my visions always seem to be in sepia...) I tried to envision the lock tender going about his business, locking cargo boats through, with the skill and economy of movement that only comes from experience.

...and then wondered how he felt watching the canal slowly slide into irrelevance, thanks to the railroad.

How did he feel, knowing his occupation would fall by the wayside, as well?  How did he feel, knowing his skills, his knowledge and his experience - things that helped define who he was- were no longer of use to him? And no one seemed to care. Let's face it, it's not like there were other canals in town where he could earn a living. How did he feel, knowing he'd have to move, or learn a new trade? Did he feel uncertainty  about how he was going to feed his family? How did he feel, watching the world changing around him, coldly casting him aside?

Then it occurred to me I know how he felt.

Too well.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ev'ry Single Day...

 Buffalo-based singer/songwriter Davey O has a wonderful song called "Ev'ry Single Day". (Download it here.)  It's a song about about having a solid work ethic, inspired, he says, by watching his dad make it to work, every day, no matter what.

 It's been a favorite of mine, because I realized -to my surprise- it sort of applied to me. "Ev'ry Single Day" for the last 35 years, I have dragged my ass to work, and done what I was asked, no matter what. (Ok, so there were a few "mornings after" when I was in such a sorry state that I didn't last all day...)

 I look around, and all the things I have - decent house, car, toys - because "every single day, the work got done". No one gave me anything. Yeah, I was lucky to be born a white, middle class male in a great country,  but what I have is mine, because I've earned it. Huh. I never thought of myself as particularly responsible before.... Who knew?

 So where's the song about the flip side of that? The song about a guy who's done his job to the best of his ability and gets his picture plastered all over the company "telescreens" -with all the bosses smiling and congratulating him on his "35 Years of Service"- and then gets let go, a week later? (No, not me. As much as I'm sure they would have loved to have gotten rid of me - I think my file in HR says "Does not play well with others" across the top - I know stuff no one else does).

  I suppose there are plenty of songs about betrayal that could be adapted to this situation, but the most apropos one I could come up with was Flogging Molly's "Revolution":

I spent twenty-seven years in this factory
And the boss man says, 'hey you're not what we need'
The penguins in the suits they know nothing but greed
It's a solitary life when you've mouths to feed
But who cares about us?

 "Well...." you might say, "these things happen.." "Times are hard, when there's no work, or the company isn't making money, they have to cut back...." That's just the thing, though - we HAVE work and we ARE making money. The reason there was (about) a ten percent reduction was because we weren't making enough money. Someone, somewhere decided they wanted "more" and they wanted it now. "Penguins in suits who know nothing but greed" is a great way to describe them, but there's a much simpler term for someone who takes something from someone else.

 In an effort to understand, I said "Well they were "just following orders"..." and the blame shifted further up the food chain...but it has to stop somewhere. Someone, somewhere made the decision. Someone, somewhere decided to ignore the fact that those numbers on a spreadsheet were people.  As Seth Godin so eloquently points out, there's no such thing as "business ethics" only people can have ethics, but businesses are made up of....people.

 No matter where the blame lies, though it still makes me think "It must take a special breed of amoral asshole to be able to do that..." I know I couldn't.

 I guess that's why I'll never be a CEO or anything more than a blue collar mutant and I'm OK with that.  I'll continue to get mine the old-fashioned way, not by violating the Eighth Commandment.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Battle of the Bands: Big Slyde vs Bruce Springsteen

Should be a no-brainer, right? I mean,  "The Boss" - multi Grammy award winner, international superstar and rock legend- should handily defeat a small, regional artist you've probably never heard of, right?

Not so fast there, Grasshopper- it's not that simple.

A couple of weeks back, we went to see The Man hisself. I'm not a huge Springsteen fan, but really respect the man and his work. Besides, how often does a legend of his status play anywhere near here? This I gotta' see. Two hundred bucks notwithstanding, off we went.

I have never been so disappointed in a concert in my life . (And hope to never be again.) 

Now I understand that with someone of his stature (as a musician, not his height ) there's a metric shit-ton of people who want to see him, and they want to try an accommodate as many of them as possible, which necessitates the scale of the event we went to. The problem then becomes that the scale of the show feeds on itself. A beast of that magnitude requires a small army to put on and careful scripting to control. In order for a show of that size to be financially feasible, it behooves them to play as many places as they can....and managers and accountants suck the life out of the music once again... That was the first -and biggest- disappointment of the whole evening: The whole show was just so fucking scripted. I half expected Bruce to say "It's great to be back in Name of City Here...." It was just so canned, without even a hint of spontenaiety. I hate to use the adjective "insincere" but it really fits.

The audience itself was about as artificial as the show. I think many of them were there because, "well, dammit, we used to go to concerts all the time, back in the day....." I think some were there just so they can tell everyone they went. Some were there because they're sheeple and it was "the thing to do" - like the lady helping her friend pick out a shirt at the t-shirt booth: "Get the one with the ass on it....that's the best album - the one with the ass on it..." (Born in the USA). I can't think of anything more shallow and stupid than choosing a musician based on how their ass looks on the album cover. BUT, there were hordes of them there, drinking $8 cups of fizzy yellow pisswater that were being pawned off as "beer" and shouting along at the appropriate moments in the songs. It felt likely Disneyworld, where everything is cut, dried and sanitized for your protection - where they even tell you where to stand to take your keepsake photos.

Speaking of the songs, they were pretty lackluster, too. They were about 1/3 of the way into "Darkness on the Edge of Town" before I even recognized it. I like remixes and alternate versions as much as the next guy, but man, that was lame.

Since there were so many people, the only way anyone apart from the handful of people way in front could see anything was via the ginormous TV screens that flanked the stage...which showed, well, mostly just Bruce. At one point, I heard a violin and thought I could see a woman playing one, but because I had to look where I was "told to look", I couldn't be sure.

We didn't even stay for the whole show. As we walked out, Della Rose said to me "We just paid $200 to watch TV...."

Fast forward three days, and we're at the Nelson Odeon to see Big Slyde

It was night-and-day different. 

Now, I realize it's not fair to compare a show at the "Endormo-dome*" to a small venue like the Odeon, but I tried to give Bruce the benefit of the doubt and asked myself: "Self, what if we'd seen that show in a small club? Would that have been better?" I think it would have been much better, but it still would have been like comparing Olive Garden to my grandmother's veal cutlets: industrialized, focus-group surveyed and portion controlled vs....I dunno, that intangible something that says "genuine", "done with care, especially for you".

With Bruce, it was, at best, a journey through songs we've heard a brazillian times. (I blame radio for this, not Bruce). With Big Slyde, it was an unfolding, a journey through new songs and sounds that I'd not heard before, along with a few surprises. (Anyone who can cover a Jackson Five song that I absolutely loathed as a kid and turn it into something that delighted me earns huge kudos from me).

At the Odeon, I could actually see the facial expressions of the performers, I could focus on an interesting element that I was hearing, even if it wasn't the "focal point" of the song. (Nattily-attired Christina Grant left me with a new-found respect for the cello). 

When Bruce breaks a guitar string, an anonymous guitar tech immediately hands him another guitar from the wings, all tuned and ready to go. When Mikey Portal broke a string, he soldiered on through the rest of the song, then changed it himself - while the rest of the band made spontaneous chit chat with the audience. Spontaneity! What a concept!

I'm sure Bruce has about eighteen wardrobe people to keep his Armani "work shirts" all cleaned and pressed, but I'd be willing to bet that the Stihl cap that Sven Curth (special guest of Big Slyde) was wearing was one he got when he bought the chain saw.

Bruce is always referred to as a "working man", but let's face it, when was the last time he actually worked? Don't get me wrong, what he does is hard work, but when was the last time he had to deal with an asshole for a boss? When was the last time he dragged himself out of bed to go to a job he hated, because he had no choice? He could retire tomorrow and not have to live on cat food. John Doan has a day job as a music teacher.

The audience was much different, too. Where the folks at Vernon Downs followed their cue cards and shouted along and fist-pumped at the appropriate moments, the stomping and clapping of the Odeon audience during the encore was completely genuine - prompting Hannah Doan to say "Yeah...if you could keep that up, that would be great..."

As someone who brews his own beer, makes most of his own food from scratch, from the best ingredients, I guess that being "real" is very important to me.

One of those two shows was much more real than the other, and I think we have a clear-cut winner. a landslyde.....

*obligatory Spinal Tap reference

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thought for the day

“We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.”

-Orson Welles-