Monday, January 1, 2007

The Holidays (epilogue)

The silly season is over, having culminated with that most ho-hum of festivities, New Years Eve. Now the counter clicks over a year and the months start over. 1/1/2007 – whodathunkit?

For the first time in many years, we decided to go out on New Years Eve. We normally been content to stay at home and leave the partying to others. This year we stopped by a friend’s house for drinks. It was fun, but we were home by 11. Our neighbor across the street lit off several hundred dollars of fireworks at midnight. When the smoke cleared, we went to bed.

My sweetie and I spent most of today lounging about in the living room, each with a computer on our lap. We usually spend New Years Day quietly, talking about the last 12 months and planning at least some of the next. We’ve decided that at least on a personal level, 2006 was a fairly good year. We’re both healthy. Our current fiscal condition is okay. Both cars are running. 2007 looks to be promising as well. There are things we’d like to accomplish in the coming year, but we’re in a better place today than we were a year ago.

The world beyond my day-to-day looked pretty precarious in 2006. The military meat grinder in Iraq continued to churn out carnage. George Bush continued to demonstrate the only thing he is competent at – making messes for others to clean up. The amount of human misery created by this republican government is just staggering. It’s like they get up every morning thinking, “what can I fuck up today?” The state of the world is not better than it was a year ago.

I want to be hopeful about the coming year. As hopeful for the world as I am about my own day-to-day. There are new people in the government that may succeed in reigning in the stupidity. Perhaps a way will be found out of Iraq for the military. Perhaps saner heads will prevail and America can remember who we want to be. America doesn’t want to be a frightened, aggressive bully. And I say “America” like it’s a thing itself. America is not a thing, it's a thought. It boils down to people choosing to treat each other well. It comes down, ultimately, to me.

My resolution this year is to be my best self every chance I get.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hey Johnny

I was seven when the Beatles first played the Ed Sullivan Show during the winter of 1964. The performance was the talk of all the neighborhood kids. I remember being mesmerized and barely aware of my parents’ snide remarks about them, their hair, the screaming of the teenage girls in the audience. I watched carefully, my mind recording every detail – the guitars, Paul being left handed, Ringo grinning ecstatically behind his drums, John’s defiantly strong posture behind his mic. Mostly I remember the absolute joy on their faces as they played.

It wasn’t long after that I received my first guitar (a $15 plywood Silvertone that was close to unplayable) and not long after that that I was in my first band with three other guys in the neighborhood. We played Beatles’ songs, of course. Soon an electric guitar and a small amp replaced the Silvertone and band practices filled up after-school and weekend hours. On Saturdays we were allowed to set up in our drummer’s garage and we would play our ragged and out-of-tune versions of the Beatles’ catalog until a police car would roll up the driveway and an officer (always the same one) would inform us that there had been complaints and our concert needed to end.

As my music career advanced and I felt the influence of other musicians, learned new songs and playing styles, began writing my own songs to sing, I always felt the deepest resonance singing Beatles’ songs, particularly John Lennon’s. I loved the thoughtfulness of his lyrics, the passion in his voice as he sang. I could always find the inspiration to open my heart in song from the often pain filled sound of John’s open heart. I became less fearful of my own darkness because John showed me his and that singing though the darkness was an act of hopeful defiance.

The Vietnam War was the backdrop of my childhood and adolescence. I was 12 that awful summer of 1968 when the world just beyond my safe, suburban neighborhood seemed to be tearing itself apart. The killing of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the riots, the Democratic Convention in Chicago and of course the war cascaded across our television screen nightly. There was a revolution happening and the music I loved and was learning to play was the soundtrack for it.

Yet the summer before, it was John who reminded the world in the first worldwide television show that a revolution fueled by Love was a revolution that could actually bring real change.

The years passed and the sixties gave way to the seventies. The war finally ended, the Beatles disbanded and I began performing professionally in bands and solo. I learned some of the joys and frustrations of life and tried to convey all those through singing. John had been so visible and active, and then disappeared from view for a time. I kept singing – my songs, John’s songs and other songs that inspired me. John re-emerged after a few years with new songs that expressed hope and optimism that love was real and peace was attainable.

I was home alone on December 8, 1980 watching Monday Night Football when Howard Cosell informed me and the world that John had been shot and killed in front of his home in New York. I still ache remembering that cold evening and the days that followed as I tried to come to terms with the enormity of the loss. A man I had never met, yet felt I knew intimately, had been taken from this world. My last hero had been killed and it felt like the last of my innocence had been slain with the same bullets.

26 years – it seems like a lifetime ago and just yesterday. I’m ten years older than John was when he died. I wake each morning since then in that space we inhabit between joy and despair. I work. I sing. I try to remember at least three good things that happen every day. And I remember John, and others who have left me since, and the inspiration that seared my heart when I was a child.

All you really do need is love.


Sunday, December 3, 2006

Family Values

There were many people who saw the debacle in Iraq coming. I include myself in that group, although no one in the government listens to my counsel. Al Gore opposed attacking Iraq. Of course Al probably knew the WMD charges were bogus.

George H. W. Bush, our 41st Pres was curiously silent during the run up to the war in 2002. I guess he didn’t want to second guess Junior, but he had some pretty strong ideas about invading and occupying Iraq. He had his chance to conquer Iraq and declined. He pretty accurately predicted everything that has happened since his son decided he wanted to be a war president.

Excerpt from "Why We Didn't Remove Saddam" by George Bush [Sr.] and Brent Scowcroft, Time (2 March 1998):

While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome.

In other words, invade Iraq and you will be wading hip deep into a vat of shit, and taking the whole country with you.

It’s not surprising to me that Junior didn’t read Daddy’s article, and I guess Poppy Bush couldn’t bring himself to dope slap a sitting president, even if he was his idiot son. And it’s fairly easy to see Poppy’s fingerprints all over the Iraq Study Group headed by Bush family hatchet man, James Baker, but it appears that Junior is dismissing any suggestion of pulling American troops out, probably just to spite Daddy and his friends. “Nah, nah, I don’t have to do what you say ‘cause I’m president now. Nah, nah!”

George H.W. must be getting pretty embarrassed about how Junior is turning out as pres. While speaking in Abu Dhabi last month he was heckled by the audience, who basically told him that while they thought he was okay, they thought his son was a total and dangerous fuck up. On November 7 two thirds of the voters in this country basically said the same thing.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

First Lines

"The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami."

I'm a fan of first sentences. I love to open a book and read the opening sentence, close my eyes and savor the thoughts and feeling it generates. Often I will decide whether or not to continue reading based on my little meditation of the first sentence.

Above is the first sentence of Tom Robbins' first novel, Another Roadside Attraction. It's my favorite first line of any book I've ever read. I had to read it several times before I could continue with the story. It is vivid, surprising, mysterious and seductive. I laughed out loud, causing looks of consternation from the other patrons of the cafe I was sitting in.

I am more of a writer of songs than I am a writer of prose, although I am prolific at neither. I know many songwriters who can sit down at any time and create. They write and re-write and polish and spend days or weeks on a single song. I'm not like that. I cannot complete a song unless I get the right first line. I may have the musical structure and even a melody line, but without that perfect first line, it never becomes a song.

I've tried to work the other way. I've been to writing seminars and classes where I have been instructed to write on a given theme. I've never been very successful in those endeavors (success meaning that I'm pleased with my efforts and I'm willing to actually sing the song more than once). I guess I just don't have that kind of patience. If the first line isn't perfect, nothing that comes after will be either. I've thrown away many songs and essays, after struggling for hours or days with them. Stillborn children they seem to be, and no amount of resuscitation will re-animate them.

And yet, with a great first line, the rest of the writing flows with out any effort at all. Some of my best liked songs (by myself and others) took considerably less that an hour to compose. Once, while in college I wrote a 25 page essay on the Irish contribution to Roman Catholicism, with references and footnotes in an afternoon. All because of a great first line.