Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Big screen TVs were not that common in 1986. In fact I had never seen one bigger than maybe 24" prior to that year and most of those I had seen were in some dumb futuristic movie. So, when I first saw the monstrosity that was in my buddy Chris's basement it was like I had walked into the Playboy mansion except there were no half naked chicks or rampant drug use. That would come later.
The TV itself was an utter piece of shit. A gargantuan hunk of wood and metal, layered with some odd textured plastic at the front, that at best reproduced a picture that resembled what you'd see if you covered your eyeballs in Vaseline and dirt and were perpetually squinting. The sound was atrocious, the colors were so fucked up it looked like a moving Salvador Dali painting covered in sludge and it smelled. Yes, the TV smelled.
But I loved that thing like it was my child.
When I moved to Suffield in 1984 I had spent my previous years bouncing around from town to town with my mom and brother Geoff, usually with forty three dogs, a couple cats and a string of recalled adventures in tow. Most of those adventures involved me getting beat up by neighborhood kids because I a.) Had never really learned to fight at that point. b.) Seemed to encourage kids to want to punch me c.) Looked like Ronald McDonald but had no fries & d.) As ridiculous as I looked, I always made moves on chicks and this pissed off the locals. You know, the local 12 year old kids that don't like some new, strange red Afro sporting, K Mart fall line wearing, wise cracking shithead sneaking glances at their chicks asses. Every town has 'em. Suffield was a chance for me to have some "roots", and thanks to momma being willing to stay planted-and some coaching from my old man on how to not get the shit kicked out of me for sport and have a non-creepy conversation with a girl once in a while-the roots took hold.
When I met Chris it was actually at a football game in between Freshman and Sophmore year down at the Suffield Academy. I was a decent football player so I made an impression and ended up becoming friends with a number of guys I still talk to today. Incredibly, not my Ronald-fro nor tendency to crack wise angered them, and in fact in some ways endeared me to them...but it was Chris that I connected to most naturally, as he was a ball busting, clever, athletic little shit like me. Except he was good looking.
The first time I went into the basement of his old mans Condo-and saw that enormous fucking TV-the only thought I had was "Why does it smell like that Jamaican guy from Hartford that used to fix my dads shitty cars?" Yes, there was an olfactory party happening there, embedded deep in the DuPont shag carpet, and it was 90% Cannabis and 10% Drakkar Noir. I had smelled weed before but this was so enticing and intoxicating it's at that moment I knew I was headed for some real changes in my life. Changes that
meant I would likely be wearing ponchos made of hemp, possibly headbands, acid washed jeans and certainly expanding my musical catalog. I had a home on Mapleton Avenue, an idyllic one for the most part minus the random mushroom growing in the bathroom, but this place felt like the home of my soul. Where former adolescent loser dorks with massive feet come to escape their past and are reborn into slightly less douchey kids but with a couple joints on them at all times.
"The Basement" was where I watched a number of classic films, all on the screen of that hulking, blurry TV and through the bloodshot eyes of a lanky Ginger, but none were as memorable as Purple Rain. The movie itself was awful-laughable dialogue, poor acting, over zealous characters making inexplicable movements and commentary at strange times-but Prince man...and that music! The guy was a tiny, somewhat effeminate, Pirate shirt wearing, goofy ass motorcycle riding, girlfriend abusing shithead but when he got on stage the dude radiated sex like Beyonce being shot out of a Nuclear Submarine on a Torpedo made of Dildo! It was the music that was most captivating though, the way he poured every passionate notion, every fear, every ounce of jealousy or anger into his words. The music bled from his lips and guitar and on that big screen-even soaked in fuzzy confusion-it just captivated the senses of this and many other teenage minds.
From my recollection, Purple Rain was on 89% of the time I was in that basement, with the rest being rounded out by The Wall or the VHS of Nightmare on Elm St., which I have still failed to return to the Freshwater Video Store in Enfield CT. The movie was on so often that I swear the room started to develop a mild purple tint after a year or so. There's a slight possibility that had more to do with what I was inhaling vs. what I was viewing but I'll leave that for scientists to figure out, as I am just a simple man recalling his memories.
Purple Rain, in truth however, was nothing more than the enduring soundtrack to an indelible slice of my young life. There were more memories made in that basement, with countless friends and random acquaintances, than I could recall if I spent the better part of a week, though some are unforgettable. Twelve to fifteen boned out teenagers crammed in front of a shitty TV, silent and captivated, unaware the value and weight of the moment they are part of. Myself and Chris, he in his bed and me behind the shuttered door on a sleeping bag, each with our girlfriends, discussing why the other should actually get the last remaining condom (safety first!). It was like an intellectual chess match between an adolescent Cheech and Chong. The time where several of us friends listened to The Final Cut by Pink Floyd, all "enhanced" by earthly substance, and let the music become part of us and not just an external stimulant. There were sometimes words spoken harshly there, as there were tears openly spilled. Relationships began and ended there, and often the basement was a place of retreat from pain suffered in our other worlds. There were no rules, no boundaries really, and no closing time, 'cept for an occasional Dungeon Master who often appeared late in the am and demanded to know who ate his Chicken Cordon Blue. Though even he, in his later years and deeper wisdom, couldn't deny the magnetism of the basement, as he often chose to celebrate with us instead of rally against.
The Purple Reign didn't last forever, nor could it have. Time moves down its unburdened trail like a ball bouncing down a hill that falls off the Earth. Friends grow-and grow apart-and other lives blossom from the roots planted long ago. The magic of the basement and the music that served as its score was that it was a time in our life where, despite the fear and "awkward teenage blues" as Bob Seger so eloquently put it-that all that seemed to matter was the moment. That time of day or night where you sought out your friends and went to that place that was only yours and served as solace and stimulation and sanctuary from anything you needed it to be. It wasn't just the sex, drugs and rock and roll it was the collective energy of youth, angst, love, passion, fear, desire, anger, confusion and lust that made the time and place so relevant and lasting. Our lives are are filled with responsibility, order, necessity and commitment now whereas those years ago in that funky basement they were about nothing more than feeling. Experiencing. Living.
As an election year gains momentum and political differences and ideological beliefs become the language often spoken on social media and in the Starbucks and workplace and corner deli, I let my mind slip away to the basement and the opening strummed chords of Purple Rain. Prince is gone now, but his legacy and music will ring out for decades to come, just like the memories that accompanied my time watching the film of the same name in that damp, cool place. I don't see most of the friends that filled that space as often anymore but that's more a function of life getting in the way than anything else. Most of us have different views, different perspectives, misaligned goals, wants or needs though we all share a common experience from so many years ago. I, for one, haven't evolved much from the skinny Ginger punk I was all those years ago in the sense that I still will choose silly over serious almost every time. I would still always prefer to laugh than cry, though I'm not as afraid to do the latter anymore. I worship music more than I ever did then, though I like to think the locale as well as the company and soundtrack(s) helped forge my deep affinity. I know, as I did then, that I would do just about anything for someone I believe is a true friend, even if that means things that are unpopular or painful with the purpose of bringing peace or truth. I know that those years spent with Chris and so many others were priceless, permanent and will be recounted often, far into my final years.
Life has gone and gotten itself all kinds or serious and intense and grown up, and I am OK with that. I don't expect to be able to seek shelter in a basement playing Purple Rain or to smoke my cares away as I did so many years ago, without regret. However the life you live now is the same life-it's not someone else's life. If you find yourself waking up sometimes and pondering where that "kid I used to be" went, just look in the mirror. Yes, you were probably an asshole like me sometimes back then and smoked and drank too much and gave your parents acid reflux before anyone knew what that was-hell you probably still do-but that wasn't all there was to that kid. They probably had dreams and aspirations and talents that now lie dormant and haven't been nurtured in years. That kid probably had some questions about things they were told and yet didn't have the courage to inquire about and instead just let it go. They probably had a vision of themselves at your age now and it's likely a little different than what you see today. Instead of silencing that kid and continuing with the status quo, why don't you jump in the car-take your own kid or two if you have them-crank up Purple Rain and try to remember what it felt like to embrace their voice and not fear it.
If you really want to connect with the feeling I speak of, see if you can find a 200lb TV made out of lead, iron, plastic, oak, wires and shit and hook it up in your basement and watch the movie instead. Cannabis is optional, but creates a noticeable improvement in viewing clarity ;)
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
If David Gilmour, the now 70 year old lead guitarist and singer of the iconic Pink Floyd, were to sit on a tree stump and play a couple spoons while scatting I would likely be watching in awe, mouth agape and trembling. In my eyes he's not only the greatest living rock/blues guitarist but his soulful and unparalleled note bending is heroin for the years and I am a long time addict with no hope for recovery, and who'd want to be sober? Last night he brought his "Rattle That Lock" to Madison Square Garden and spoke poetry through his fingers on various Fender guitars as an audience of twenty thousand listened fervently for three hours.
When a legend like Gilmour-tied to one of the most popular and influential rock bands in history-goes on a solo tour, it's inevitable that a large portion of the audience is there to see the artist play the "hits" associated with that band. Last night was no exception, as I listened to a heavy set, Butterbean-esque dude at the urinal talking into his iPhone tell a pal "I'm just here for the Floyd shit, man. He's playing all that old, slow Gilmour stuff now, it's lame." It wasn't only his overly tight white button down shirt tucked into his way-the-fuck-too-tight grey pants that was wrong, but also his commentary on the Gilmour solo music playing in the background, unless you consider songs from a five year old release to be be "old stuff". Gilmour crafted his show into two sets (with a short break in between) into a Part 1 that included primarily tracks from his recent album, "Rattle That Lock" as well as one from the stellar "On An Island" in 2011. Yes, the music doesn't resonate the way Floyd era tracks do and they are mostly unfamiliar to the crowd but these are songs with depth, texture and drenched with the signature Gilmour note bends and tone-certainly not offerings that encourage trips to the soft Pretzel vendor. The first set also included classic Floyd tracks "Wish You Were Here", "Us & Them" and "Money" as well as a couple offerings from 1994's The Division Bell, "What Do You Want From me" and "High Hopes". While it's "Wish You Were Here" that seems to always get the most enthusiastic reaction from any former Floyd member when it's played, for me it was the woozy and hypnotic "Us & Them" from Dark Side of the Moon that captivated me most in David's first set last night. I have long adored the track, but hearing it live for the first time in well over twenty years renewed my affinity. Both Gilmour and Roger Waters always have exceptional female backing vocalists as part of their band when they tour but the ladies present last night night with Gilmour were sublime and helped songs like "US & Them" soar to new heights. Vocally, however, it's difficult for me to imagine anyone outshining Gilmour himself as he's one of the true greats, combining luscious tone and soul with great strength. Considering he is now a seventy year old man, the fact that his vocal range and tonality has barely suffered an audible decline is almost miraculous.
The second set opened with the Syd Barret era, "Astronomy Domine" from Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Part of the allure of any Floyd-related show is the visual stimulation, and per usual this Gilmour stage included a large circular screen and plenty of odd videography and intricate lighting displays, which were showcased with full force during the song. "Shine on You Crazy Diamond (I-V)" followed and sounded as flawless as I would imagine it had in the seventies in Wembly Stadium. "Fat Old Sun" from 1970's Atom heart Mother was next and closed with Gilmour doing his version of "shredding"-playing his ass off with the most intoxicating tone on Earth and note bends that probably made BB King wide eyed while he was alive. I saw Eric Clapton play with Steve Winwood at this same venue in 2008 and although I adore Clapton, and he too played his ass off that night, there is something communicated in Gilmour's fretting that no living guitarist that I have ever heard can convey.
My favorite post-Waters era Floyd track has always been "Coming Back to Life" from The Division Bell. Beyond the personal reasons I love the song, the track itself is just nearly perfect. It begins with haunting, bent, reverberated notes notes and wiggles it's way into a pleasing solo from Gilmour, then softly transitions into a beautiful, grieving solo vocal. What makes this such an exceptional song is the way it falls off into a slow, chugging piece that transitions from melancholy to hopeful in music and vocal simultaneously. It closes with lavish, signature Gilmour soloing and last night MSG was pulsating as he closed out the song in his signature manner.
A couple more tracks from the solo Rattle That Lock followed, including the sultry jazz infused "The Woman in the Yellow Dress", which has finally grown on me after numerous playings of the album. It's a decent enough song but misses a little for me as Gilmour's style and sound aren't an exact match. The intense "Sorrow" from A Momentary Lapse of Reason followed and David's playing was taken to new heights on this one. The tone he achieves on his Fender's is, to me, the best ever in Rock/Blues and it was in absolute top form on this song, tearing at the walls of MSG. The second set closed with "Run Like Hell" from The Wall and always whips an audience into a frenzy and last night was no exception. The scratchy echoing at the beginning and flickering colored lights sets the tone for the songs high pitched main riff that follows. Gilmour closed out the night on this very high note, no pun intended, and left a crowd of twenty thousand dizzy and shouting for more. When he and the band returned they opened with Dark Side of the Moon's "Time" which led into "Breathe", both of which sounded exceptional and again sounded as though they could have been in a time capsule from the early 70's.
No Gilmour or Roger Waters show would ever be complete without the iconic "Comfortably Numb" closing things out, and, coupled with the biggest reaction from the crowd, last night didn't buck the trend. David, and his Piano player (name escapes me) who handled the Waters parts, sounded immaculate and the green/red laser lighting added a common visual element so often present in live versions of the song. Gilmours solo at the end has long been on many fans top 10 solos list and I wouldn't imagine anyone who was present last night and would bump it down the list after hearing it ring out through MSG. David Gilmour is a artist of the highest order when it comes to the guitar and although there are a great deal of excellent players still around it's hard to imagine anyone claiming his throne on the very sad day when he eventually leaves this world.
Gilmour plays again tonight at MSG and then his tour heads overseas. As a longtime fan I can only hope he decides to extend it to stadiums and allows the momentum to keep driving forward because this is a talent that is still at the top of his game even as he's in his 71st year.
Setlist for Madison Square Garden - April 11th 2016
Rattle That Lock
Faces of Stone
Wish You Were Here
What Do You Want From Me
A Boat Lies Waiting
Us and Them
In Any Tongue
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (1-V)
Fat Old Sun
Coming Back To Life
The Girl In The Yellow Dress
Run Like Hell
Sunday, April 3, 2016
I have previously written about the joy of hitting my middle forties, and what a joy it is. My latest ailment is “Plantar Fasciitis”, which is best defined as an aching in your foot/heel lower leg when you wake up and turns into HOLY FUCK I CAN’T WALK WITHOUT FEELING LIKE I HAVE SEWING MACHINE STITCHING MY FEET AS I MOVE. The irony and insanity of the situation is that this affliction stems from me taking better care of myself by running semi-regularly, which has resulted in some sizable weight loss. So apparently I can be skinny and never walk again or chubby and be able to run, hop and jump like fuck all over the place; fantastic Sophie’s Choice there.
Getting older certainly presents its physical challenges, but that doesn’t mean it prevents us from taking risks and engaging in activities-both mental and physical-that we haven’t found time to begin in the past. Routinely I will hear people around me say, “Oh I am too old for that!” or “Can you believe they did that…at THEIR age?”, and I understand it’s a common reaction to scenarios like a ninety year old man skydiving or a senior citizen taking up auto racing or my mom talking about sexual positions but the fear or resistance to participating in anything based on one’s age is lunacy.
OK maybe there’s no actual science to what I’m saying other than that humans are living longer than we ever have. However, whenever you want to shut someone up in an argument it’s best to say, “because science, duh” or something to that effect because few people understand science and will just clam up when they hear that, in fear they may end up over their heads. In truth it has little to do with science and more to do with life itself.
Life is finite, as we know, and a decent chunk of it is spent on childhood first of course-a time when risk aversion is almost nil-and we are willing to dive into almost anything head first. When I was nine I let a neighborhood kid put me into a shopping cart and push me down a 30% grade hill, wearing no helmet, padding or protective gear, and at the end of the line when I hit the curbing and was tossed ten feet into the air and tumbled across the bumpy earth all I could think about was when it would be my turn again. Sometime around that same age myself and another friend took apart an electronic car racing set and hooked the wires and “trigger” mechanism that make the cars go up to a huge battery and then plugged in the primary power source to an outlet in his garage. We wanted to see if we could “blow up” the battery. Incredibly it only shorted out and aside from a bit of a scare and mild fireworks neither one of us ended up with 72 virgins. Children are reckless, insane, fearless fuckheads with a death wish-that’s understood. However as we get older we tend to become more conservative and begin to understand the concept of “consequence” so we become more risk averse and take less chances. This behavior isn’t just contained in the physical realm but extends to relationships, financial endeavors and even social behaviors. But why, exactly?
Fear. It’s always about fear.
When we’re young we seldom comprehend the consequences of our actions and that enables an environment of bravado that rarely extends to later life. Certainly there are exceptions among us-including myself-who will still dive head first into swamp to chase a three foot Snapping Turtle just for fun, but with age comes wisdom and the years we spend living this life teach us valuable lessons about the ramifications of foolish action. So we dial things back, take fewer chances, engage in less risky behavior and begin the process of letting fear guide our lives instead of that screaming hellion who lives in our soul and cries out to us to do a backflip off the deck into the swimming pool for absolutely no reason. We should be listening to “Fuckit”, as I call him, more and not less.
I could write a piece about the thousands of individuals whose risky choices and behaviors led to some of the greatest discoveries on this planet, and helped pave the way for innovation, industry, iconic businesses and most of us would nod our heads and say “Hmm, that’s true,” yet still continue living our lives the way we do until we die. I could tell tales of brave souls who risked their lives saving others in fiery buildings or raging waters and most of us would get the chills and admire their bravery yet we’d go to work Monday to a job we hate and still let that annoying coworker annoy the shit out of us. We know the benefits of taking risk, the reward of being brave, yet we so often choose the safety of the familiar and comfort of routine, foolishly. When I was eleven years old I was living in South Windsor, CT and I had a crush on a girl named Vikki Green. She was a dirty blonde, adorable, always smiling Aphrodite to my lanky, clown footed, red-afro sporting Ronald McDonald. When I saw her at my first school dance, radiating in the glow of a cascade of colored lights reflecting off a giant disco ball and shaking her hips to “Just What I needed” by the Cars, I felt like I had been injected with the blood of an early 80’s Ralph Macchio. I smiled at her and moved in for the behavioral version of the crane kick – asking her to dance. Incredibly she said yes, and those three and a half minutes I was moving around the floor with her, hands on her hips, eyes locked in stare, lasted what seemed to be an entire evening. Had I allowed my fears to dictate my choices that night I would have stayed on the sidelines with the chubby kid in glasses wearing a “Space Invaders” shirt and not had what was probably one of my best boners ever.
In the interest of journalistic fairness I will mention that my courage may have lead me to take too large a leap the following school day. I approached Vikki in the hall and, drunk on the power of having had her in my arms for less than four minutes, asked her if she would “go out” with me. She actually took a couple steps back, looked me up and down, turned to one of her 11 year old hot chick friend minions she kept in tow and then said “Umm, no. Sorry,” and then laughed and walked away. Apparently our brief romantic moment under the refracted rainbow lighting was just a charity move of some sort, and now I had to live with the scars of being rejected in front of a dozen or so kids in middle school. There were no cell phones or Snapchat or Facebook back then but it didn’t matter because by the afternoon the whole school knew the story, and just like a good game of Operator it had morphed into “She actually spit on him and then he started crying and ran into the nurse’s office! I think he killed himself!!!” So did Vikki’s annihilation of me in the halls have a major impact on me and my life going forward?
I started asking out every girl that would even look at me. I asked out nine and half’s when I was still barely a four. I told any girl I was interested in immediately and without filters how I felt and you know, a lot of times I was lit up like downtown Baghdad circa 2003 but sometimes I wasn’t…and I had girlfriends from an age and at a time in my physical development where anyone looking in would have serious questions. I put my balls out there-not literally until several years later-because I chose to have that traumatic event empower me instead of destroy me; I wasn’t about to let fear be the divining rod in my life.
This piece wasn’t supposed to be about my ability to fool chicks into thinking I was actually a catch but rather our resistance to engage in new things as we get older, so let me try to bring this all together. “The greatest risk is the one not taken”. Simple, poignant and very accurate. If we spend our lives worrying only about the potentially negative outcome of a choice then we risk more than had we just take the leap from the start. In how many films and great works of literature have we watched the protagonist or supporting characters talk of regret for having not taken action on endeavors they had long planned to? Have we ever witnessed someone we admire-real or imagined-who spoke on their deathbed of “being happy I played it safe all my life?”. Wow, sounds great.
It doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are, how big your family is, how famous you are, how much wealth you’ve accumulated, how much talent you have or what you do for a living-your life will end at some point and you’ll be remembered for your actions. Hopefully your life will end after you’ve had some time to reflect on your previous ninety plus years and as you do that, alone or with those you love around you, I believe you’d want it to be filled with as little regret as possible, no? If this is the only go around we get, this body, this mind, this soul, these friends and family and these experiences, why not dive into anything and everything you have ever dreamed of headfirst and fear not the consequence of failure.
Get in the car and drive across the country, take the kids if you have them, they will love it and so will you despite the smell and bickering about using the iPad. Go take the college course on Ancient Civilizations you’ve always wanted to, the actual class, sitting in a chair and not online. Talk to the person next to you and speak in front of the class and ask any and every question that comes to mind. Start writing that book you have always had in the back of your mind but never put into actual words. Write an hour a day every day-make the time as we all have the same twenty-four hours in a day- and keep writing even on those days you feel like it’s all shit. Go apologize to that person you hurt and that you know may not want to hear from you. Then go back again and again and make sure they know it’s sincere. Do it for you but mostly for them as they likely need it more. If you’re unhappy in that relationship, go. Leave, and do it respectfully if they have treated you with respect but just go. Life is not over when you’re middle aged or a senior citizen or anywhere in between and starting over can be scary but it’s also empowering. Quit that dead end job and start your own company finally. That voice has been in your head for years, begging you, pleading, and screaming at times. Answer it and stop making excuses. Get the fuck off the couch and stop feeling sorry for yourself and get healthy. It’s not your kids, your job, your family, your lover or your “genes” that are keeping you from taking care of yourself, it’s YOU. It’s hard work but it can be done and has been by lesser people than yourself so just make it happen. Get on that plane and fly to Whereverthefuck, USA or Cantfinditonamap, Earth and stop letting your fear of being 30,000 feet in the air dictate how much of the world you see. When it’s your time it will be your time but better to have laid eyes on all those places you’ve dreamed about rather than the same thirty mile radius from your house it’s been the last thirty years.
And go ask out your own Vikki Green. Start with a text or email or call if you must but then walk right up to him/her and tell them exactly why you can’t get them out of your head and what you feel. Yes, it may result in being eviscerated on the spot, possibly a restraining order or even a kick to a strategic body part but you’ll be a stronger person for having taking the risk. I can promise you the closure that comes from taking the chance will pay far more dividends than the anticipated comfort from having never made the move at all.
You’re not too old, so get off your ass and do something you’ve always wanted to. Your future self will thank you.
One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, i...
One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, i...
Recently I asked my youngest brother and mom if they'd be willing to write a short piece to be featured here on "What the greatest ...