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Thursday, October 9, 2014

John Lennon - the Skinny

Happy birthday, John Lennon. You would have been 74 years old today and that would have been a delight. At least I hope so. Little Paulie has had a couple of good moments since 1980,the year you died, though admittedly most of his greatest solo moments had come long before 1980, most notably "Band On the Run".  Ringo's last good album was 1973's "Ringo" (most imaginative album title ever), which contained some of the most impressive sales numbers of any of the post-Beatle Fabs and George only hit paydirt with The Traveling Wilburys in the mid-80's many years after his "All Things Must Pass" accolades the year after the Beatles called it quits.

This brings me to John Lennon's solo career. I was quite sad when Lennon died in December, 1980, along with a few billion other fans. We were indignant that our acerbic little Beatle had been taken from us in his prime, post-Beatles, eager to explore the musical harvest that was his to take.

That said, John Lennon's post-Beatle work had thus far proven inconsequential and of little excitement. "Imagine" had been a pretty song, relaying political catchphrases in a melodic manner that lulled us all into a giddy musical effervescence, thinking that perhaps the thoughts of peace might bring about a world of peace. A great 1971 hippie anthem. Nothing ever came of it, however, but John persevered with "Mind Games", shouting the "Mind Guerilla" from the mountaintops. Not a chart topper, but well-meaning, if lazy songwriting. Three chords, til death do us part... I personally enjoyed "#9 Dream" with its "ABOWAKOWA-POSE POSE" refrain but again, I could write a hit song if all that mattered was a melody and some mumbled Apache paraphrasing.

After a brief hiatus, John reemerged with "Walls and Bridges", which was also an exercise in medicocrity, save for "Whatever Gets You Through The Night", the sole chart breaking number, featuring the red-hot Elton John kicking the keys and providing the energy needed to propel this lively dirge to the top of the charts. At this point, we were so hungry for any new Lennon material, we would have sent "Oh, Yoko" to the top ten. (Just kidding!)

Lennon took a much-needed break after Walls and Bridges and spent the next five years raising his son Sean, baking bread and smoking French cigarettes. When he finally emerged from his seclusion in 1979 to record "Walls and Bridges", the world was once again eager and hungry for new Lennon material. He delivered a 50's retread in "(It's Just Like) Starting Over" and the ballad "Woman", a bit of treacle written for the shrew who had stolen been his muse since 1969.  We lapped it up greedily and all too soon thereafter, he was taken from us forever by a crazed douchebag who many wish would be set free on the streets for our own cathartic target practice.

I would like to think that Lennon's work would have matured and been an inspiration to us all and live up to the high praise that the artist, gunned down in prime has garnered. However, using a complicated math theorem and some calculus, paired with some kickass analog stereo gear and a set of vintage BOSS headphones, I have come to the conclusion that John, of all the Beatles, would have had the most disappointing solo career of all.

McCartney went on to produce "Band on the Run" and George became a spiritual icon, a humble rock and roll statesman admired by all, producing some great work as well as Monty Python's "Life of Brian", which gave him everlasting sainthood amongst those who cared. Ringo had his hits early and cashed out and at one point would be noted to being willing to "attend the opening of an envelope" for a free drink and a press clipping. Lennon, however burdened and martyred by the presence of Yoko Ono and four inopportune bullets, had never lived up to the potential of "I Am The Walrus", "Strawberry Fields Forever" or even "In My Life" and I see nothing in his solo work to indicate that he might have done so.

I am not saying that he was shot because of his lack of musical inspiration in his later days, but if I was the attorney for the dildo who shot him... Just sayin'. We'll never know. Happy birthday, John - I wish you'd been around for the ride.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sleeping Like A Baby - The Skinny

I used to envy folks who said they "sleep like a baby", until I realized that I, too sleep like a baby - nearly every night. Which means that I sleep like an actual baby, Tossing and turning and waking up every two hours crying, possibly wetting myself and in a real bad fit maybe even soiling up the place. I am normally awake at least two hours in the middle of the night, usually sometime between 2 and 3 until 4 or 5. It's a gift. A fucked up, useless gift, but a gift nonetheless. Like my overdeveloped sense of smell, it is another one of those things where I believe I got short shrift. These are probably two of the lousiest super-powers ever: I am able to smell the odd, sweet and disgusting from distances normally reserved for bloodhounds and delicately-calibrated, sensitive science equipment. That and the ability to wake up in a completely rested state in the middle of the night and solve many of the world's problems, write songs and stories and wrestle with the most complicated issues of our times. Useless.

When I eventually do fall asleep for the remainder of the cursed night, I awake in the morning feeling as if I have been beaten in the head with a burlap sack full of quarters and force-fed six quarts of Prohibition-Grade Bathtub Gin. I am growling, bestubbled zombie with bloodshot eyes and a disposition to match and do not usually fully gain consciousness until nearly noon most days. Except for weekends - I feel a little better about those and approach the tired mornings with a bit more zeal... Ironic, huh?

I should be severely disciplined for the way I treat my frazzled bedclothes. The sheets are usually wound and twisted as if I were taking part in a third-story prison escape and my pillows look like they have been put through a wood-chipper. I may even be trying to eat the Goddamned things - I have no idea. This type of behavior should not be tolerated and it might be a good idea if someone came over every night and darted me with a tranquilizer gun.

I sleep in five basic positions: 1) On my back. I don't know if this is good for me or bad, but it breaks up the monotony of the other positions. 2) On my left side, fetal position, right arm tucked under the pillow, left hand gather up some twisted sheets and shooting between my knees. 3) On my right side, same exact configuration, only reversed. 4) Face down, head left, left leg brought up at an angle so that my legs resemble the number 4. Right arm under pillow, left hand somehow supporting my head so it doesn't suffocate its stupid self. 5) Face down, head right, otherwise reversed. The legs now resemble the number 4 reversed. I don't know what any of this means, but I'm nearly certain it means something and even more certain that this something can't be good.

I have tried over-the-counter sleep aids - in fact, one package I bought was labeled simply "Nighttime Sleep Aid". Fair enough, I thought. Even though this particular brand boasted that it "DOES NOT CONTAIN PAIN RELIEVER", I figured I'd give it a shot. Pain reliever would have been a bonus - I usually have some sort of pain somewhere too, but beggars can't be choosers.

I took a few of the Nighttime Sleep Aid tablets - the instructions said to take two, but since there was no pain reliever and I had no Scotch, I upped the dosage to a more sensible level- it was just good science. After all, I was trying to combat a low-tier Super-Power. I fell asleep easily enough, which was misleading because I fall asleep easily enough every night. The real test was going to be when the bells chimed two.

I woke up sometime around the usual time - I couldn't be sure, since the Sleep Aids were trying to fight my late-night wakefulness. So I was awake and very drowsy. I could not solve the world's problems, nor was the late-night concerto I was working on given any real consideration. I just lay there awake and very drowsy. I mumbled some in a language that might have been picked up on a radio broadcast and somehow stored in the back of my mind for just such an occasion and might have laughed aloud at a joke I told in this foreign tongue that would have made no sense at all in our language. It is probably the same language that considered the reversed number 4 of my face down, head-right sleeping position an actual official number.

I am anxious to see how this all shakes out. I have heard that exercise might help me sleep, but the few times I have tried this, I have usually pulled something and wished for Sleep Aids with a generous dose of pain reliever included. I may try this again, but only as a last resort. I have heard of some exotic vegetables and the magical power of turkey's tryptophan. I may try the veggies, if they don't look too weird or taste bad and who doesn't love turkey?

My point is, if someone says they sleep like a baby, offer to dart them with a tranquilizer gun.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Discovering The Bear Ghost

I looked at the clock. It was 10:30pm. It was also Thursday – a school night. I shook my head, gathered up my car keys and headed to the car. It’s awfully late, I thought, but it was time to leave to go see the Bear Ghost and late was no longer relevant. I knew what I was in for – I would be the oldest guy in the place, sitting at a bar surrounded by hipster kids with tattoos and gauged earlobes who drank PBR from an oversized can. And since I was driving, I would myself be drinking soda instead of a Scotch/Rocks to take the edge off, which was a tragedy, plain and simple. You see, Bear Ghost is a terrific young band made up of twenty-somethings with a keen sound and an energetic act that makes you smile and tap your foot at the same time. I may be fifty-plus years-old, but I like to smile and my toes tap like a sonofabitch. So, off I went, just a tiny bit ashamed of myself.

Let me explain how it came to this.
I cannot possibly express the level of disappointment I felt when I learned that my beautiful, intelligent, witty, tattooed, gauged-earlobed daughter was dating a guitar-player. Karma, I sighed to myself, is one motherfucker. I didn’t meet the lad for a month or two, until I was bushwhacked at a gig I was playing myself, at a small local music venue called The Rogue, strumming my acoustic guitar and warbling tender, antiquated love songs to at least a half-dozen semi-interested patrons, who fiddled with their change and consumed well-drinks as quickly as their livers would allow.
“Hi Dad,” my daughter Logan said, coming out of nowhere as I headed toward the bar for a much-deserved well-drink that I wanted to consume as quickly as my liver would allow. “This is Ryan…” A thin, hyperkinetic young man with a smile that took up at least half of his face and a head of unruly hair thrust out his paw and I shook it. I was sweaty and still a little weepy from singing an Everly Brothers tune and was caught off-guard. “Hi,” I muttered, signaling the barkeep.
Ryan proceeded to gush enthusiastically about how much he enjoyed my warbling, then darted off, presumably moving on to spread a shitload of positive energy elsewhere. I watched him leave with a suspicious eye, then turned to my daughter. “Is that him?” I asked. “The guitar player?”
She nodded and smiled. “Isn’t he a dork?”
I nodded. “Devilishly handsome fellow.” I collected my drink, drank half and raised an eyebrow. “Was he pulling my chain?”
She shook her head. “No, he’s always like that… Disgusting, right?”
I nodded again. “Because I’ll kick the hell out of him if he was pulling my chain,” I added. Logan laughed.
A few months later, Logan gave me a CD put together by her boyfriend’s band, Bear Ghost. I smiled indulgently and promised I’d listen when I could, at the same time throwing out some witty retorts about the perceived value of a band called “Bear Ghost”.
Then I listened. And I enjoyed. And another few months later, I was cajoled and shamed into showing up at an all-ages show at a local music hall to hear the band live. An hour later, I had pushed my way to the front of the audience through the sea of 16 year-olds and was dancing with my hands over my head like a chubby, bald dancing bear. I was now officially a fan. What the hell - how did this happen? I asked myself. I shrugged to myself in answer and continued dancing like a foolish, retarded jester.
I saw them at a mall. And I dragged a friend – a musician, who was even older than me. I saw him smiling and tapping his foot. I nodded to myself – hooked, I thought. Well done, Bear Ghost.
I saw them at the same music venue again for the release of their CD “Your Parents are only marginally disappointed in your musical taste”. I dragged a couple of more oldster-friends long familiar with the local music scene, from back in the halcyon days of the 90’s. More smiling and toe-tapping. I grinned and sighed to myself. I was fighting the good fight.
Each show was equally-energetic and equally entertaining. Bear Ghost actually looked like they loved every minute they got to spend on stage. And the music was incredibly tight, with them pulling off the intricate songs from their CD as well as covers by Queen and The Tubes and a song from “The Jungle Book”. I knew how much hard work it was to sound that tight and to look like they were having so much fun. “Ryan’s band is really good!” I gushed to Logan. “I know,” she said.

Equally Energetic, Equally Entertaining
Now, here I was, a fifty-something year-old man, climbing into my car at 10:30 at night on a Thursday to drive to Scottsdale to see Bear Ghost at the Rogue, where I had first suspiciously eyed my daughter’s boyfriend. I stretched my tapping-toe in the car – it would be simply awful to pull a muscle tapping my toe at my advanced age – and I braced myself for the throng of smiling, toe-tapping hipsters.  It’s okay, I thought to myself. One day I’ll be able to say “I saw them at a mall…”
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