Thursday, July 7, 2016

#323 Ghost in the Machine - The Police

Starbucks saved my life on the morning of July 7, 2005 when I was eighteen, studying abroad in London.  If it wasn't for a shitty mocha or whatever it was I drank exactly eleven years ago today, I might have made it to South Kensington station that Thursday in time to be bombed in the Underground.  But no, I had to have my American materialist ritual- and thanks to the line, the whipped cream, the indecisive girl in the FCUK shirt with a nose ring who scratched her ass, bummed a fag from her boyfriend, twisted the filter back and forth between anxious fingers like a nipple while her boyfriend searched his pocket for the extra quid she needed- I didn't get to "play the part of a statistic on a government chart."

When we finally got to the South Kensington Station, armed Police were running out shoulder to shoulder and began to scream at people that there was an electrical problem and we had to keep walking.  And so we walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum.  We were having a class about the height of the British Empire, the great exhibition, the tea, the dresses, the artifacts raped from India, the revolts.

The construction was so loud that day - we never heard any of the bombs.  After taking notes in our journals and looking at tiny corsets for Victorian dresses we all went to the lobby for lunch.  A few people left but the rest of us stayed in the museum.  An employee with a megaphone got up on the desk in the lobby and begged everyone's attention.

He yelled, "BOMBS ARE GOING OFF ALL OVER LONDON.  NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO ENTER OR EXIT THE BUILDING."  I remember everything about that moment.  He was a black guy.  My stomach dropped.  My first thought was we are being held hostage.  One of the girls stole a water from the museum cafe.  She was the only one with an international cell phone plan.  She called her mom.  We all couldn't call our parents because the cell towers were overworked and we couldn't call out of the UK very well.  Busy Signal.  Busy Signal.  Busy Signal.  It was 4:00 am in New Jersey or something insane.  By the time her mom called my parents for me it was 5 or 6 am in Texas.  What if there is a bomb in the bathroom.  I have to pee.  Should I pee right now in my pants.  Am I going to die in the V&A.  I am going to die a week before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is released.  I am going to die without having read Proust or Faulkner.

But mostly we just sat in a circle.  And we talked about our all time favorite Christmas.  And if we were going to die in a group this wouldn't be that bad of a group to die with.  People of all different languages sat in circles in the lobby.  They all prayed in their own way.  Nobody charged for food at the cafe.  And we sat.  Rachel let me borrow her phone.  She snuck it to me and I went to the bathroom.  I checked behind the toilet to make sure there wasn't a bomb and I called my Dad on his office phone.  I don't remember what I said sitting on a toilet of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but I know I told him that if I die today I loved him.

Hours later we were let us out of the museum.  A policeman gave us a map on the roads we could walk on to get home.  We walked in a haze.  There was nobody on the streets.

One of the professors said, "If you have to get bombed at least you are in London.  They have a lot of experience being bombed."  We didn't think it was funny.  Not even in a Kurt Vonnegut kind of way.  Because we had to ask her to repeat what she said over all the sirens.

The sirens played all night.

I've wanted to write about this day for a long time and just never really did.  Someone else from our trip was asked to write it in some TCU magazine thing that I think you can still google; so I just never bothered.  One of the professors did too.

What I found so fascinating about the experience is everyone else who wasn't actually there while the city was being bombed seemed to know more about what was going on than I did.  All the news stations say their happy little morsels, interview grieving families, ramble off names and statistics.  Point fingers at brown people.  But as far as I am concerned, it was a ghost in the machine that did it. I never saw people with bombs.  I never heard bombs.  I never saw smoke or fire.  I didn't bleed.  If nobody told me about the bombs, I may not have known they even existed.

When I began to listen to this album, I wondered what The Police meant by the Ghost in the Machine.  Was he referring to Descartes' mind/body dualism?  Was he discussing the rise of technology in the 80s?  Referring to the soul extracted from the use of different electronic instruments needed to compose this album?  Or is the ghost in the machine something less tangible than all of that?  Was the ghost in the machine on the morning of July 7, 2005 the one who whispered, you are a white American girl, and you drink Starbucks because you have been programed that way.  It's ok, you need to be late for your lecture because you won't be allowed on the tube this morning.  You just have to buy a mocha.  Make your friends wait for you.  You do you, Katy Garrison.  Go individualize your coffee.

A&M, 1981
Here, the previously punkish trio added synth strings and politics, and blew up even further. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" is a pop smart bomb, and "Invisible Sun," about the violence in Northern Ireland, is genuinely moving.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

#313 Unplugged in New York - Nirvana

I woke up last September with a leash wrapped around my wrist standing in the middle of the street around midnight with this album on repeat shrieking through my veins.  I hate running; I hate it almost as much as airport security or when pimply teenagers try to hit on me at Jimmy Johns and I realize, with a jolt of left over high school insecurity, that I am old enough that they might just be making fun of me instead.

It was kind of like that, but there I was around midnight with a panting pomeranian and the two of us had just been running because I was drunk or something and creatively blocked and my grandfather had died and I was remembering earlier that summer when this calf died out in the field for my job. Rightfully, they don't allow firearms on location, and to put him out of his misery, the boss from our office was called to the sight to slit his throat open right there with a pocket knife.  Some idiot, probably texting, had hit the little thing with a work truck.  And they all stood around it and watched it suffer like cowards.  When the phone call came, he left the office went out there.  All the men just stood there, nobody admitting to driving a car.  Someone said, he is sick.  We found him like this, he's just sick, we didn't do nuthin.  When he came back, I could see it in his eyes.  That horrid act of God glistening like a drunken film after a night of beer.  A glassy spirit evaporating off the whites and into the sky.  

I thought about how the Victorians took pictures of Jack the Ripper's victims because they believed a photograph would show them a mirror reflection of who the killer was because photography was so new.  But they had it wrong.  It's in the other guy's eyes.

Weeks later someone brought a garden cantaloupe to the field office and he pulled out his pocket knife to cut it open.  It was so juicy it wept at the cut mark and someone told him he better wash that knife and he said, this knife has only been in good places.  Maybe that was true.

That sort of thing used to bring me to absolute furious tears not too long ago.  So maybe I was grieving for the cow, or grieving for the shaken man who came back upset to the right-of-way office with a linear/scatter plot spurt of blood up his shirt.  Or maybe I was grieving for the child who died in me several seasons ago, back when the zombies ate the first person on our squad and we couldn't get the image out of our heads.

But I'm not that person anymore.  I'm not a vegetarian anymore.  And cows fucking die, either at the hands of heroes or at the hands of idiots.  I sat on the curb with my dog and thought back to that incident, while "All Apologies" was playing.  I was astounded that I was free of the emotional torture I used to feel when animals died.  When I saw a picture of an animal dying, or a hunter's murdered beast, I could physically feel the animal's pain.  It would make me ill with overwhelming anger.  This fear and terror was based somewhere deeper than empathy.  It was based in my absolute fear of death and being alone.

Maybe the culmination of the amount of shock and symbolic death I have gone through in the last two years, the marriage I suicided, closing the door on the life I had created and built, the dreams that turned to nightmares before my eyes left me with empty pockets carrying no more fucks to give for a cow.

That's not entirely true.  But my relationship with the animal's death was a healthier one.  As Kurt screamed "Shiver- the whole night through."  My focus on death turned to his.  I began to walk home in the darkness, in lulu shorts, singing at the moon.  Perhaps souls are not the sum of their emotions, actions, or intentions.  Maybe they are simply the sum of their unbridled experiences set to return and know what it is like to be hunted if they were hunters.  To know what it is like to be in a freak accident.  To know what it is like to worry if you tell the truth about hitting a cow you will be sent back to Mexico.  

If Kurt went out with a bang, what did that mean?  Maybe the point, which seems like such an obvious one now after so many months - is that we all die; we have all died before; and we will all die again.  

So rather than be afraid of death - maybe the point of life is to make death afraid of you. As I walked gently, into that good night, with "About a Girl" beginning again, I thought: do not rage, rage, against the dying of the light.  Make that fucking light rage violently against you.

What Rolling Stone Mag had to say about this album:

Geffen, 1994
Nirvana shine brightly on this striking live set because the volume is turned down just low enough to let Kurt Cobain's tortured vulnerability glow. The powerful, reverent covers of Lead Belly, David Bowie and (three) Meat Puppets songs sum up Nirvana as a haunted, theatrical and, ultimately, truly raw band.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

#466 A Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay

In a yoga class, a block from the Alamo, my hardest position was to remain calm while Coldplay was playing and simply allow the sorrow of Chris Martin's haunting voice to enter my consciousness while not affecting me.  I kept trying to focus on the way my hands squished the green mat, the way my breath sounded in my face, the way the accelerated roar of the tour busses passing outside rattled the pipes of the old lofted studio.  I kept imagining an umbrella over my little rectangle of space like noise cancellation headphones for Coldplay.  And I failed miserably.  You see, I picked this album months ago to write about but for many reasons I couldn't bring myself to express any thoughts on it.  I would play portions of it and put it down because it resonated such pain like the band wasn't playing guitars--they were playing my heart strings instead.

While in downward facing dog, tears began to drop silently on my mat and rather than tuning it out, which was all I wanted in the world, I slowly allowed the inevitable to happen.  I leaned in unwillingly at first and opened up.  Purposefully, I agreed to feel every A minor chord and then the instructor's voice began to fade, the tour busses disappeared, the sound of my breath evaporated and there I was contemplating the death of relationships to the sound of Coldplay playing through my cells and bouncing through every neuron in my head, occupying the space between my fingers and the mat, the space between the touching soles of my feet, the space between my back and the ceiling and then there was something like resignation as I allowed all experiences triggered by my body and the music to bubble up with force and I watched them flash at me and pop as the next one appeared.  puppy breath.  A hair on my pillow in waking sunlight.  Explosions in the Sky Concert.  A Kaleidoscope of Monarch Butterflies.  The frying hair on the back of my neck in a hot air balloon.  Sweating summer leather seats.  Cold Concrete.  Red carpet. A mountain top.  Books.  The comforting smell of a fat grey cat rescued from the Cooke County Courthouse.  The vibration of the sound of the metal trim when the note D was played and knowing it must be tuned if the vibration was absent.  The fluttering of birds with a single step.  Smoke and Coughing and Coughing and Coughing.  Wiping away Fingerprints on a glass table.

I was constantly asked, all the time, what was I thinking.  It made me feel as powerless as the day I listened to Coldplay while practicing yoga.  Maybe thoughts occur differently to everyone.  I wonder if some people only see colors or smells or just perceive general feelings.  Some people can take thoughts and simply acknowledge them without judgment and watch them dissapate to the depths of consciousness.  Others allow thoughts to take control of their physicality and act out with impulsivity.  And some of us turn them into tears to water their yoga mat.

I guess we can all blame it on a rush of blood to the head.

The entire album seems to ask this question: At what point does attraction turn to love and love turn into possession and inevitably to loss?  In one inhale and exhale it is over and we are already looking back at the silent resentments that formed, the hatred created in a night of a perfect storm, the personal concessions, compromises, and sacrifices made for the sake of staying together and after a knock-down, drag-out hurricane one person still wants to "get back to the start."  To maintain the ideal and the fantasy of who each other were when first glances, first hand touches, first smells were appreciated more than breath itself.  But you've already shredded each other to puddles of nothingness to grasp at ghosts of feelings that were there only when you first noticed how beautiful one another was.  Noticed, but not touched.

Perhaps the only love stories are the ones that never happen.

This is the very reason I cannot stand being given flowers as a gesture of love.  Here are beautiful blooming life forms that I've killed and put in a vase for you to enjoy.  And when you've enjoyed all the remaining life out of them they become desiccated and withered and putrid.  And the receiver is left with just an empty vase to be either discarded or placed under the kitchen sink ready to be full of beautiful colorful quiet agony again.  Osho once said about love, "If you love a flower, don't pick it up.  Because if you pick it up, it dies and it ceases to be what you loved.  So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession.  Love is about appreciation."

When I left the yoga class, certain everyone had noticed my silent suffering - when in fact nobody had - I ran into two very good friends of mine here in San Antonio.  In their separate ways, they both push me to exceed the expectations I have for myself every week.  They have each made me a stronger more confident person.  After this emotional hour that felt like an exorcism, there they were at the foot of the stairs looking up at me not knowing that I appreciated them so much in that moment; not having a clue about the symbolic meaning their presence had to me in my private universe.  How very significant they were.  One of them has an eye for beauty and takes beautiful photographs, and through her free spirit and creativity turns everyone into works of art in photos and creates human sculptures with her students on their yoga mats.  The other is strong enough to hold the weight of the world on his shoulders without wavering and absorb the suffering through humor and light-heartedness and although I have lost my ego in front of him before - in the midst of working out so hard my whole body shakes uncontrollably- he still sees me as I am without judgment.  And I was so dumb-struck by their presence - In that moment I felt something like love and appreciation for them.  And after greetings and small talk were exchanged, I walked passed them and to my car in the same way I would walk by two beautiful flowers on a walking trail that I noticed and appreciated but didn't feel the need to pick.

Some of us make others stronger, some of us take photographs, some of us facilitate moments of quiet reflection on accident, some of us sing haunting music that trigger emotional responses, some of us cook, some of us think alone in a smokey garage...

And some of us write.

Ironically, what was written about this album made me laugh out loud.

Capitol, 2002
Coldplay churn out bighearted British guitar rock on their second album – what Chris Martin aptly called "emotion that can make you feel sad while you're moving your legs."

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

#372 Late for the Sky - Jackson Browne (now #375)

There are two mirrors in my place that face each other and when I stand in front of this domestic concept of infinity, I wonder how many other souls came before me to be vibrated between them like a ball on a never-ending ping pong table.  There I was this morning and tomorrow morning forever reflected, and forever forgotten in the bright moment when I simply step in and out of their battle field visions.

I walked on battle fields and my ancestors' cemetery in breathless fall in the deep south through a labyrinth of forgotten guts.  No music.  No cell phone.  Just the beat of my rapid heart and the thrumming hearts that once ago stopped all around me in another time.  Swirling mist raptured down the streets in cold blasts rolling over beds of crunching golden leaves, encasing the accidental pearls on spiderwebs beneath every rowed mailbox.  But all this was in silence.  It will happen next year, this rolling fog I've never seen before.  It happened decades ago before rowed mailboxes, where men poured out the blood that paved these streets in Civil War.  Some of that blood is mine.

As I stood in a very old family cemetery, I thought about how blood connects us, begins life, stops life, lets us know when new life doesn't exist inside us.  It's hot and sticky and smells like the iron skins of the earth we mine and is layered with carnal knowledge; it knows to return to earth when we die.

I went without music for months.  It is hard to clear one's mind when it is shrouded with distraction and the involuntary downpour of emotional turmoil music tangentially brings.  I had wandered into my own labyrinth encompassed with fog and it never occurred to me how deeply lost I was until I finally faced my largest fear and watched Stanley Kubrick's The Shining as an adult- the only movie that is a labyrinth inside a labyrinth of its own.  Not unlike every breathing individual.  I saw portions of this movie with my brother, accidentally - and without even understanding it, my precocious eight-year-old brain unconsciously understood that we are all incredibly alone, always.  And nobody, not even our parents can save us from the buried past karmically pulsating through our borrowed veins, the layered past in our minds from lifetimes ago, and the unbridled civil wars that rage ever on and on in the minds of the people we love and perceive to know.  And it took almost a decade for me to be able to sleep normally after my first encounter with Kubrick because of the amount of panic and cold sticky terror that hovered over my dark room at night as a child like the stale, incarnadine fog that rolled down Tennessee hills years after a raging war, this unconscious force of past and future, this crimson wave of death that flushed through the hotel in a movie and entered the audience - this ominous symbol begging itself from beyond eternity to imprint in my skulled labyrinth for future reference.  Your premonition.  My premonition.  Wake up.

How long have I been sleeping? 

Because it was the future for which I was afraid; although I couldn't yet know it.  Alas, forgotten.  Like an Indian Burial ground, or the murder of one's family with an ax, or a civil war battlefield where a Panera Bread now stands.  Doomed to be repeated.

We listen to albums, watch movies and read books because we identify with something sleeping just below the surface of us all; something encapsulated that exists within our beings rather than without.  The essential question of who am I and what am I doing here?  We search for guidance from beyond without knowing for which path we are to take, which direction do we turn, are we the hero this time, or the scoundrel?  Are we the child waiting for an abrupt rape of our innocence?  My experience of watching The Shining as an adult awoke something of clarity inside me.  For a movie that probably confuses everybody, it brought the taste of lucid, sweet sanity to my life.  Crisp and clear like the pearly dew-beads on spiders' webs, a life-force of water outlining a trap I should have seen.  I remembered the day I scrambled backwards up the stairs when I watched Wendy do the same as Jack screamed, "Do you have any idea what a moral and ethical principle is?!" I began to notice the ax that marked the exit to the room where mysterious tinkering happened into the night for no various purpose at all- "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."  And in that scene, suddenly the air around me became heavy and I could recognize the feelings of distrust and dislike for me or any new comer or anyone in the vicinity at all.  The paranoia that for some reason deserved reverence began to breathe down my spine.  Suddenly millions of eggshells appeared on cold concrete floors.  I could taste my constant feeling of dread and anxiety metallic like blood, and I remembered the countless dreams I would have about trying to scream but no sound would come out.  And the isolation, the isolation, the fucking isolation oppressive like quicksand.

I felt like Danny, standing in front of a mirror (or two) watching the blood of the past and the future fill up my house awakening in me the time I watched this movie as a child but couldn't yet understand.  Do we disobey and unlock the room 237 of our minds? Yes.  Break every egg shell; unlock every door; pry into the buried past; the burked future; and battle the proverbial minotaur, Jack, in the labyrinth of your archetypal journey.

And closer to Bluebeard's last wife than Browning's "Last Duchess" I left.  And started a new life.

I tried several albums for what I've been through but nothing seemed to fit.  Normally, I just randomly pick an album and allow it to be on in the background all month; but I couldn't do that this time because if I touched too deep a nerve, the volcano of emotion wouldn't be worth this project.  I tried to remember how I felt at the height of my alienation, but so much memory escaped me like water running through my fingertips.  Then I recalled this scene from Taxi Driver.  Where Robert de Niro holds a gun to his head as he watches a couple dance on screen.  I've felt that disconnect before.  What was that song, I thought.  It resonated something deep within my gut- the labyrinth within.  Whatever song that was would be the album for this piece.  When I found it and listened to "Late for the Sky" not a single other album would do.  I just had to wait for the right moment to let it hit me.

The album differs from other break up albums because it is so specific in the idea of feeling completely alienated from the other person.  There doesn't seem to be the same sort of denial, sorrow, anger, one gathers when they listen to Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, or Fleetwood Mac.  It jumps into moments that make you feel that two people are coexisting and yet living two completely different realities.  The individuals cannot comprehend, connect, or truly understand the other no matter how many times they discuss the issues.  The extreme disconnect and alienation resonates well with the Shining.  All these people coexist, yet are going crazy in their own way because of the concept of "pastness in general."

Such an empty surprise, to feel so alone. 

What Rolling Stone thought of Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky:

Asylum, 1974
On his dark third album, Browne explored, in the words of one Rolling Stone reviewer, the "romantic possibility in the shadow of an apocalypse." There's an undercurrent of dread on Late for the Sky, from "Before the Deluge" to "For a Dancer" – not to mention a lot of obvious songwriting genius.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

#491 All the Young Dudes -- Mott the Hoople (Now #484)

I've begun to think that each album is given to me at the appropriate time in my life by the grace of fate to help me understand, in a new way - if it is even possible, a meaning to this life I have been given.  What started off as a project to sort of "collect" a musical canon so that I would have a repertoire of knowledge about something I previously had almost no knowledge of, has turned into this bizarre way of life for me.  And considering I am only 56 posts in, this will be a lifetime achievement for me.  Spanning through my 30s and 40s, through deaths and births, and maybe when I am approximately 66, even if nobody actually reads this - I spent good creative energy on something that inspired me.  What might the Notorious BIG or Otis Redding mean to me when I am in my 60s vs. what they might mean when I get to them in another 17 months?  Who will I be in another decade?  My life will be measured out from album to album, for whatever that is worth.

Each month, a new album begins to blossom out to me to divulge some sort of knowledge of another time and place.  I anticipate these albums now, hoping to uncover some divine truth through this art, this energy, that was created for what seems like the culmination of only my enjoyment.  I wait and anticipate how this music is a medium for some larger purpose or knowledge spoken out through the creativity of the band and I'm overpowered by a sense that music can drastically alter a mood or force me to wallow in misery or lift me up to a height that I haven't felt in a long time if I let myself get lost in it- music takes you to feelings you didn't know could possibly exist - and I guess I knew that before this project, but I didn't really feel it the way I do now.

This month I picked All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople.  I had never heard of the band before, never had a clue what I was about to listen to, didn't know the genre or the era but I felt right at home and I laughed because I knew "Sweet Jane," because I love Lou Reed, and I could feel David Bowie's presence right away.  It gave me this crazy sense of connectedness - that once you know a few things, you begin to see and feel the patterns of influence across a genre of art.  And that this huge musical web isn't hard to navigate after even 56 albums under one's belt.

I usually do my very best not to look up background information on the band or the album before discussing it in this blog because I want an organic listening experience - music for music's sake.  But if I am being perfectly honest, I was having a hard time relating to the album on multiple levels even though I enjoyed the music.  In sticking with my newfound mantra that each one of these albums is here to present a truth to me, I had to wait until it was uncovered in some sort of way.  So I did a little bit of research and found out that this was the 5th studio album for this British band, and that they weren't selling many albums and were on the verge of breaking up before David Bowie stepped in and said, hang on - let me give you the song, "All the Young Dudes," which was originally meant for Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.  It saved the band and provided them a position on this list.  The song is pretty rad and will put you in a good mood even though it's about a group of young people who don't fit in.  The song has this feeling of being torn between a lament and an anthem of that "not fitting in" experience (imo).

But the whole album has this hopeful, transitional feeling as well - and I think that has more to do with Bowie's action than it does with the lyrics.  The music is upbeat throughout - but it's this background story that reminds listeners that it's always the darkest hour right before the dawn.  That right when we feel like life is hopeless, and we should give up, someone or something can step in and influence, give hope, save, and in some way provide the encouragement needed to continue on the path.  So, thanks Bowie, the unconventional savior for helping me hear this badass album and reminding me of this truth.

Rolling Stone had this to say:
Columbia, 1972
Mott were a hard-rock band with a Dylan fixation until David Bowie got ahold of them. He penned the androgyne title track and had them cover Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane." Mott would sound more soulful but never more sexy or glittery.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#4 Highway 61 Revisited -- Bob Dylan

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal
How does it feel?

It was not my intention to tackle Highway 61 Revisited this early in the project, but the unyielding tempestuous summer drove me to keep "Desolation Row" on repeat with such force, I felt like the stars had sufficiently aligned for this masterpiece's review.

Collapsed in summer grass, while surrendering my sweating ivory legs to bugs of all kinds who mercilessly chomped, I immersed myself in "Like a Rolling Stone," and voiced out into the oppressive sun that Bob Dylan had written this one, on behalf of everyone she unintentionally killed, for women like Helen of Troy.

My complexion she said is much too white

I feel for you, Robin Williams.  Robin, so many people can't understand how someone who makes everyone laugh would kill himself.  But I wasn't shocked by the manner of death you chose.  It's been one of those summers, you know?

When your gravity fails
and negativity don't pull you though

I also wasn't shocked by your ability to be a delightful genie in my childhood favorite, Aladdin, and then turn around and make the crassest of jokes in a standup act either.  It makes perfect sense.  

That you're tired of yourself and all of your creations

Comedians- those who have the uncanny ability to see into raw human conditions and reflect them back with irony, cruel sarcasm, or insight, can draw that thundering reaction as easily as breathing - because they know comedy's darkest secret.  Tears and laughter are intertwined; they are the same.  They come from the same place in the brain; we laugh to keep from crying.  Making people laugh keeps us far away from the raw terror of our own isolated sorrow.  Each joke is a secret selfish cry for help.  It's a basic ego mask.  Until you take it off and realize:

It Takes a lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry

And so for the first time, I watched Good Will Hunting in Robin Williams's honor last night.  When Mormon Face made the reference to Helen of Troy in his therapy session, I thought of "Like a Rolling Stone" having myself been marinated in weeks of Highway 61 Revisited burning through my brain- I daydreamed about what it would look like if Helen herself were sitting in with therapist Robin Williams.  Would he repeat, "It's not your fault?" over and over until she collapsed even though thousands died in her feckless wake?  Would she claim Daddy issues and plead that Zeus was an emotionally absent workaholic father?  Would she admit that she didn't--

have the strength to get up and take another shot?

Or would our beauty throw up Spartan gang signs and say, "not my fault I got 99,999 man problems" and defend herself saying that--

Everyone said they'd stand behind me when the game got rough but say she didn't think about what that might actually mean.

And although such a scenario might be amusing as a daydream, it reminds me that just like laughter and tears are the same,  Love and Hate come from the same place too.  The two conflicting emotions are so married, only a comedian could see it.

Everybody is making love or else expecting rain

And nobody knew these secret truths better than Bob Dylan.

That little bit of insight is what makes this album so utterly profound.  We are all on some sort of archetypal journey in each life and the next, and there are rare artists who understand this perfectly well.  Throughout this album, Bob Dylan- our gentle Virgil,  guides us through the Desolation Row of our brains.  We are all passengers on Highway 61.  And it will be revisited many times until we learn our lessons.

Many songs, academy award winning movies, and stories upon stories of embedded myths are so programmed into the human psyche that it takes an eternity to sort them all out.  But I cannot think of much art better than each song on this album.  Because each word is laced with applicable life, love, hate, laughter, tears, and putrid knowledge of surrender to something greater than yourself.

It might take you a road trip from Boston to Stanford, or the entirety of Highway 61, or depression behind a career of laughter with a belt and a chair, or a backyard surrender to the sun - but your story is written in his immortal words, somewhere.

All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, They're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
and give them all another name

Columbia, 1965
Bruce Springsteen described the beginning of "Like a Rolling Stone," the opening song on Highway 61 Revisited, as the "snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind." Folk singer Phil Ochs was even more rhapsodic about the LP: "It's impossibly good... How can a human mind do this?"
Recorded in a staggering six days, Highway 61 Revisited – named after the road that runs from Bob Dylan's home state of Minnesota down through the Mississippi Delta – is one of those albums that changed everything. In and of itself, "Like a Rolling Stone," rumored to be about Andy Warhol acolyte Edie Sedgwick, forever altered the landscape of popular music – its "vomitific" flow (Dylan's term), literary ambition and sheer length (6:13) shattered limitations of every kind. "Ballad of a Thin Man" delivered the definitive Sixties comment on the splintering hip-straight fault line: "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is/Do you, Mister Jones?" If anyone questioned whether or not Dylan had truly  "gone electric," the roaring rock & roll of  "From a Buick 6" and "Tombstone Blues" – powered by guitarist Mike Bloomfield – left no doubt.
The album ends with "Desolation Row," a surrealist night journey that runs 11 minutes. Dylan evokes a Hieronymus Bosch-like season in hell that seems to foretell all the Sixties cataclysms to come. "The Titanic sails at dawn," he sings wearily. "Everybody is shouting, 'Which side are you on?'" That "Desolation Row" is an all-acoustic track – a last-minute decision on Dylan's part – is one final stroke of genius: a spellbinding new vision of folk music to close the album that, for the time being at least, destroyed folk music.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

#395 Sound of Silver -- LCD Soundsystem

Sound of Silver explodes the senses in a frenzy of frantically organized mania.  Part Beck, part Talking Heads, a dash of Lou Reed and dripping with knife-edge truths about shattered dreams in a Sylvia Plath style confession bursting at the heart seams, it leaves you shaking and confused but dying to unlock another door to the inner workings of the creative spirit that spawned it.

Each song begins with a steady crescendo that unfolds something steadily miraculous before your eyes, like the moment a butterfly unfolds wet wings dripping with new, or the first cry of a child welcomed into the world -- and I got this crazy feeling as I fell under this album's spell that this creative expression was like the musical representation of watching a soul wake up before your eyes.

Like the time I snuck my adorable pomeranian as a four month old puppy into walmart and when I was at the cash register, the woman who barely looked up and repeated the same phrases to every person whose face she wouldn't remember suddenly burst out of her self and smiled.  Without caring that they have a no dog policy she reached out to pet the creature who wiggled with excitement because he was so elated that this stranger wanted to touch him. These moments when two souls collide, if ever so briefly, to light up like fireflies - are the moments we live for.  And this album reminds us that between the magic of the unique sound, it's different enough to jar you into constant present consciousness.

The song "All My Friends," is a lament and reminder of the fragility and brevity of life and human experience balled up in perfectly constructed chaos that will make you remember what it feels like to have those nights with your greatest friends, with people you fell in love with, when all senses are heightened either via substance or by sheer wonder and love for each other -- and to lose those moments sometime in your twenties when you succumb to the staggering loss of control by the destructive forces of responsibilities  even though you cannot see this because you are blinded by your individual marriages, children, job, and desire for self-worth and thusly you are distracted by those beautiful events as you watch the life you set up and thought you wanted slowly imprison you and before you know what is happening to you, you are sewn into submission.  And then one day you wake up.  That's how it starts.

When I finished that song, and repeated it over and over, I clutched my heaving chest because the welling of feeling was almost so overpowering to me.  Youth is indeed wasted on the young, and I thought back to all my friends and really wondered where they were at that moment.  What were they doing?  Are their lives full of excitement and moments of hope and joy?  Do they remember the night the TCU bookstore burned down?  Or the rugby party with jello wrestling when I brought my friend from Baylor who tried to have a philosophical discussion about metaphysics to look sober outside the building in front of flashing lights?  Or the time we thought it would be a great idea to have a foam party on a concrete floor?  Toga party?  That time in London when Rachel stole that guy's wallet because he slipped something in her drink?  Or the time in Ireland when we crept to the edge of the cliff on our bellies to hang our heads over the side of the Aran Islands to feel the sea air and watch the waves crash against the cliff?  Or in Scotland when we drank too much Vodka and puked in the street and a local asked what we had and we said Vodka and he said we shoulda had the scotch in a thick accent?  The white out party when Alana pretended to have just woken up and explained to the cops she didn't know any of these people and they should believe her because she was in pajamas?  Where are all of you - how are your children, your phds, what are your dinners like, who are you when nobody is around?  What songs do you sing when you get ready in the morning instead of getting ready to go out?  I miss you, all of you.  Where are you this Sunday night besides getting older?

This album reminds us to have more moments where we wake up and spark to life.  Because reality is such a drag, being a rat in a cage - pulling minimum wage.  Go outside and look at the sun, marvel at it.  Do yoga.  Call your best friends.  Fall in love.  Have experiences that are not normal and mundane.

Invigorate your soul by really hearing this album.

What RS had to say:

DFA/Capitol, 2007
New York electro-punk kingpin James Murphy makes his masterpiece: Every track sounds like a different band's greatest hit, from the political punk goof "North American Scum" to the elegiac synth-pop breakup lament "Someone Great." 

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#91 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John

Some days the lava lamp on my desk represents the expansion and contraction of the universe, the beginnings of single-celled life, raw fresh earth spewing out of the unknown depths beneath us, the ebb and flow of the ocean, the life force flowing through our lungs -- and other days it's just a blob of hot wax moving through water in an upside-down glass vase.

Both avenues of thought are true and co-exist in reality in the same way you and I are abundant miracles of endless consciousness, electric current, sacred vessels capable of heroic journeys, boundless love and the like.  But we are also blobs of wax, bobbing around pointlessly and bumping into other blobs of wax.  All for the amusement of an unknown creature some would venture to call God.  Or maybe not.

I stared at my lava lamp while Elton John sang "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (which was easily my favorite song on the whole album) and wondered what if each gene in our bodies represented a note on the piano- what would our individual songs sound like?  Then I wondered if this in any way influences people to write the kinds of music they do, and what makes them so original.  Maybe the sounds come from within the language of our genes.  I couldn't imagine Green Day or Elvis inventing Elton John songs, or vice versa.  There are only so many notes on the spectrum of sound that humans can hear, and yet endless combinations of songs.  Only so many genes, and yet endless combinations of humans.  All crafted with the same material, more or less, but brilliant in their own regard.

I cleaned out my closet this weekend and with a pang in my heart I uncovered a trash bag full of dead point shoes, tights, leotards, and a worn pair of ballet shoes.  My first inclination was to just put it back where it was in the depths of my closet, hidden out of sight.  But as Elton sang, I began to rummage and dump them all out on the floor.  Ribbons askew, old elastic stretched out and mealy.  It had already been a full decade since I wore any of these things.  I was a 17 year old person staring back at my face in the mirror and wondering who I was and why I was here at a different capacity for comprehending that question the last time I wore this stuff.

I found the hardest pair of shoes and put them on.  I didn't have gel pads, so I just put them on my feet without padding inside so I could feel the floor even more.  I wrapped the ribbons about my ankles unconsciously, like I had done it yesterday.  Then I said fuck it, and put on my favorite violet leotard and tights.  As Elton John blared through my ipod, I danced around in my bathroom-closet area, absorbing leather and satin and glue.  The smell of my teenage self through the fabric artifacts that could likely survive me.

I made body art in my bathroom and then it was washed away.  Like when I roll up my yoga mat or throw away a doodle, or stop playing the piano, turn off my lava lamp at the end of the work day, when buddhist monks wipe away a mandala, or when a person exhales for the last time.  It was gone as soon as it had come, this moment in time when I danced for nobody but myself to Elton John in a bathroom.

When I took them off, I remembered little things about that pair of shoes.  I had burned the ribbons with a blue lighter I borrowed from a friend while they were on my feet and realized for the first time how stupid that was as I shook my foot violently to put out the fire.  I also remember the argument with my mother that, yes, I was going to sew them with green dental floss because that worked better than thread.  Who cared if it matched?

The weirdest part about the experience was afterwards, I stared in my bathroom mirror at the moment Elton sang "Look in the mirror and stare at myself and wonder if that's really me on the shelf."

Would my DNA song be an Elton John song?  Probably not, I think I jive more with David Bowie or Lou Reed- but he held a moment for me worth writing about, already worth thinking back on, locked up in the same closet area I discovered the shoes that unlocked a buried lifetime.

Maybe that pair of shoes is just fabric, glue, and leather.  Or maybe something a little bit more.

Rolling Stone Mag:

Elton John compared this double album to the BeatlesWhite Album, and why not? By this point he was the most consistent hitmaker since the Fab Four, and soon enough he would be recording with John Lennon. Everything about Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is supersonically huge, from the Wagnerian-operalike combo of "Funeral for a Friend" and "Love Lies Bleeding" to the electric boots and mohair suit of "Bennie and the Jets." "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" is strutting rock & roll, "Candle in the Wind" pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe, and the title track harnesses the fantastic imagery of glam to a Gershwin-sweet melody.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

#30 Blue - Joni Mitchell

I am so bored with fiction.  

It dawned on me a few months ago that ever since we were very small children we wanted to know The Story; but every fiction book is the same story with endless variations and we are supposed to gain something insightful about the human condition through analysis/synthesis and maybe glimpse something divine about our own souls.  some sort of truth.  But we are looking outward; not inward; not presently.  The past and future are made up in our heads.  Our memories deceive us, always.  And with every conjuring of memory, we fabricate them unintentionally.  We are projecting ourselves, try as we might not to, onto the hero, the antihero, the archetype we are most alike to satisfy some obscure egoic need to live a better life, a more adventurous life, a more meaningful life than the one we have.  ex: "I am like Larry David because I have Larry David moments all the time."  It is frightening that we do this through all music too.  This is why we only care for music that reflect something about our past. Through Joni Mitchell, 99% of people relive some past encounter with a person who is no longer in our lives.  Not for Joni, although she might be appreciated, but it's an ego feed.  A self-identification that brings validation.

This revelation made me pause in the middle of my walk and clutch my chest while "Case of You" blared in my ears.  Like being unplugged from the ever present illusion I try to escape and realizing that its pervasiveness surrounds something I held so dear to my soul, my precious literature.  It was kind of like discovering that Victoria's actual Secret is that they don't make bras for people with large boobs, regardless of how tiny one's ribcage may be.

Or maybe it is because of my new yoga journey that I have started to think this way.  I am learning how to meditate and awaken the inward happiness we are born with, and I am reading the works of Osho and other unconventional great thinkers who have unintentionally made me feel like searching for meaning in fiction is a futile effort.  It feels almost silly to me now.  There is a quiet place between an inhale and an exhale where happiness and bliss wash over you in the present moment.  When you can shut off your mind, the way you can tell your leg not to move.  It was what I searched for when I escaped life to dive between pages of novels, but now those feelings exist within me at the pause after a breath.  And one must, as Yoda advised, learn to let go of all that you fear to lose (in each exhale).  Your illusioned and misguided goals, your silly desires, those you have left behind, those who left you behind, your memories, your wants, your attachments, your future.  And anxiety disappears, fear disappears.  It is like that amazing scene in "Gravity" when Sandra Bullock comes up for air out of what seems like a lifetime of terror and oppression. and I am beginning to realize that we were always here, will always be here, we will come back for another life or two probably with the same set of folks playing different roles in our lives, and only experience evolves the soul.  I feel prepared for a new level of consciousness; I am ready to leave this meatbag-shell of vibrating matter and try something out of my body.

I am so bored with fiction.

and now the discipline of yoga and Joni Mitchell.

These blissful thoughts and feelings, most ironically, came about while listening to Joni Mitchell's Blue album.  She didn't make me sad like I expected and dreaded, she made me fortified and resolved.  I couldn't really empathize with her like I could with others like Pink Floyd.  I had a different mind all those months ago.  It doesn't mean I didn't understand her; it doesn't mean I haven't felt like her before.  It means I don't want to dwell on past lives and wallow in sorrows of what happened or what could have been.  In order to achieve brilliant art like she created, she had to pull out parts of her soul through a trance and look upwards to grasp pieces of the collective unconscious to make it meaningful to others.  She succeeded.  I understand it, please don't misjudge me.  

But it felt like a turning point in my life absorbing this album I spent three months listening to.  It feels good to be cathartic, but then catharsis consumes you and you stir in it and stew in it and become all prunny fingered and wrinkled in it.  There is a time to let go.  Let go of all attachments.  She taught me a grand lesson.  I could appreciate her and not get sucked in with her howling regrets.  I was already learning to let go.

She is right that there are only pretty lies.  Your whole world is written and created around pretty lies.  Some you believe, some embolden you and feed your ego, others you disregard.  I walked my precious pomeranian through streets lined with Christmas lit homes, a frozen terrain from the wrath of Cleon, imagining a frozen river we were skating away on as "Case of you" followed in an ideal sequence.  It was a perfect moment.  And then it was no more.  The ice has since melted and we have breathed so many stillnesses since then.  And now my memory perceives it as a perfect moment.  Do you see?

Where do all those people go, these people who know intimate details about our souls but no longer have the right to?  Do they float away down Joni's river or are they all somewhere in between the fibers of a map of Canada?  

In yoga the other day, during the chanting after shavasana, a woman near me sounded like a wailing Joni Mitchell.  I smiled because I had been so infused in Joni it felt like the universe was joking with me.  Like energy was elbowing me in the side.  I was in a place of such peace and happiness that I have never found in this life until now, and here was this reminder of sadness.  It made me remember that tears and laughter start in the same place in the brain when we are babies.  But maybe that was a pretty lie I picked up somewhere.

And now for a new chapter in this fiction of life.  and the discipline of yoga.

The Mag says:
"The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals," Joni Mitchell told Rolling Stone in 1979. "At that period of my life, I had no persona defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world, and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy." With song after song of regrets and sorrow, this may be the ultimate breakup album. Its whispery minimalism is also Mitchell's greatest musical achievement. Stephen Stills and James Taylor lend an occasional hand, but in "California," "Carey," "This Flight Tonight" and the devastating title track, Mitchell sounds utterly alone in her melancholy, turning the sadness into tender, universally powerful art.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

#20 Thriller -- Michael Jackson

I love Michael Jackson's Thriller album the way I love Lisa Frank artwork and this cat shirt: in absolute secret even further buried behind gay west texas baptist boys under piles of dirty rainbow bright clothing in the back-most corner of the universal closet.

So I guess I'll go ahead and come out now to confess that Michael Jackson is sort of amazing.  If I hadn't grown up always knowing who he was, I would not have guessed, based on its voice, that the singer was male.  And I might not have guessed that he was black either, the opposite problem Van Morrison has.  And if you don't believe me about Van Morrison, one of the ways people find my blog is by googling "Is Van Morrison a black man?"  But all those jokes about MJ have been belabored to death. (for those of you who just googled 'Is Van Morrison a black man and were brought to my page the answer is no.  He's Scottish-ish, but born in Belfast, Ireland and shares Harry Potter's birthday- not that any of those things could make him un-black.)

I'm not interested in discussing whether or not Michael Jackson was killed by illuminati, obviously he was.  Nor do I want to discuss the accusations that he diddled children.  I doubt he did such a thing.  People hate minds they don't understand, and MJ's was a bit hard to comprehend.  Believe me, I am empathetic to children who have been molested, but it usually comes from sources people don't suspect (priests, everyone's favorite uncle, etc.) and sorry MJ, everyone suspected you because you went cray-cray the way Britney Spears and the recent Miley Cyrus alien did too; only you were a man, despite evidence to the contrary.

So, now that those unpleasantries are behind us, let's discuss the music in my own meandering way:  Once I asked the husband what the shampoo bottles do when we are not using them.  He responded that the whole purpose of said shampoo bottles was that it meet my needs as a tool and it was created specifically for my use and perhaps they don't actually exist when we are not using them.  Good answer, because I am a leo and everything revolves around me.  Then I added, "Just like Michael Jackson."  And explained that Michael Jackson might not exist if we've never met him.  To which the husband responded, "Every time me and MJ tried to get together he was always busy doing his thing and I was always busy doing mine."  I began to laugh my maniacal laugh and said, "Michael gets it.  You know, he's one of the only people who actually beat the system.  Everyone is laughing at him, but really he's laughing at everyone else.  He got to sing and dance and have a chimp and live in a theme park and doesn't have to answer to anyone.  And being a child forever would be amazing.  Totally above the sheeple."  And that thought made me wonder if we are the crazy ones, living totally normal lives trying to make ourselves feel better by making fun of celebrates. *Miley Cyrus, aside - she nasty.*

Anywho- Obviously the best songs on this album are Thriller, Beat it, and Billie Jean.  It wasn't until recently that the lyrics to Billie Jean were cleared up to me.  I used to think he was wailing, "But Lu Chan is not my son." and thought he just had a thing for Blasian women like everyone else.

As a part of this Michael Jackson week, I also watched countless youtube videos to learn how to dance Thriller.  Which I am proud to say I know the dance, but nobody can move like Michael and so I will not provide the video of my experiences here.

What Rolling Stone Mag had to say about Michael Jackson's Thriller Album:

Epic, 1982
Michael Jackson towered over the 1980s the way Elvis Presley dominated the 1950s, and here's why. On Thriller, the child R&B star ripened into a Technicolor soulman: a singer, dancer and songwriter with incomparable crossover instincts. He and producer Quincy Jones established the something-for-everyone template with 1979's Off the Wall, a crisp fusion of pop hooks and dance beats. On Thriller, the pair heighten the sheen ("The Girl Is Mine"), pump up the theater ("Thriller") and deepen the funk. But the most thrilling thing was the autobiography busting through the gloss: the hiss of denial on "Billie Jean"; the to-hell-with-haters strut of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." Jackson was at the peak of his art and adulthood.

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