Saturday, January 30, 2010
After the All-Star lineups were released, I looked around and realized that before my very own cliched eyes, the league that I love is suddenly full of high level talent again. I had the vague sensation that my wishful thinking was coming to reality, but this point was emphasized not just by the All-Star lineups, but also because in his column last week on ESPN.com, Bill Simmons praised Lebrown for his excellence in a "loaded league." And we all know that the man knows his basketball.
Now let's take a look at the lineups and each of their lines thus far this season:
MIN PPG REB AST FG %
G Allen Iverson 31.5 14.6 2.7 4.2 45.2
G Dwyane Wade 36.5 27.2 4.8 6.2 46.9
SF Lebron James 38.5 29.4 7.2 8.0 50.2
PF Kevin Garnett 30.8 14.7 7.3 2.5 53.7
C Dwight Howard 34.9 17.5 13.2 1.5 60.1
PF Chris Bosh 35.9 24.0 11.3 2.1 52.0
SF Paul Pierce 36.0 19.1 4.7 3.5 47.7
G Rajon Rondo 36.8 13.9 4.3 9.6 52.7
G Joe Johnson 37.7 21.4 4.8 4.7 45.7
C Al Horford 34.5 13.5 9.7 2.2 57.2
SF Gerald Wallace 42.0 18.8 11.0 1.9 48.0
G Derrick Rose 36.5 19.7 3.7 5.9 47.4
MIN PPG REB AST FG %
G Steve Nash 33.5 18.5 3.1 11.0 52.4
G Kobe Bryant 38.4 28.2 5.4 4.7 46.2
SF Carmelo Anthony 37.9 29.7 6.5 3.3 46.4
PF Tim Duncan 32.5 19.8 10.7 3.3 52.6
PF Amar’e Stoudemire 34.5 20.6 8.2 1.0 55.3
SF Kevin Durant 39.9 29.3 7.3 3.0 48.2
PF Zach Randolph 37.4 20.9 11.6 2.0 50.4
G Deron Williams 37.1 19.0 3.9 9.5 49.3
PF Dirk Nowitzki 37.9 25.1 7.8 2.5 47.6
G Brandon Roy 38.3 23.1 4.6 5.0 48.4
G Chris Paul 38.7 20.4 4.6 11.2 50.4
PF Pau Gasol 36.4 17.6 11.0 3.3 53.4
I look up and down each of these rosters and I don't see a weak spot. You may say Gerald Wallace is a bit of a fluke, but he is having a monster rebounding year and is always good for about 18 a game as you can see. Plus, with Stephen Jackson now in Charlotte, the Bobcats have even become a somewhat interesting team who could make some noise in the second half of the season and are about a piece away from being a playoff team, which would a quite a coup for that franchise.
Now, this year you might call Iverson a weak spot as well and as much as it pains me, you would be right. He is having his worst season as a pro and you can see him deteriorating each time you watch a Sixers game. To me, this has been one of the most painful aspects of this season. There was nothing like watching a young Iverson. He was the fastest player I will probably ever see and some of his off the dribble moves were just phenomenal. Plus, Iverson is listed at 6'0" - and that is a generous 6'0" - and he used to finish off alley-oops and dunks like he was 6'5" or 6'6". He was a freak of nature. Too talented and provocative to be understood by a league that was still fascinated by Jordan. Had he been embraced, they would have realized that he was made of the same stuff, except maybe he was a littler harder. But maybe that's what made him so interesting, that he wasn't loved. I'm not going to get into the psychology, but in any event, Iverson holds one of my two favorite bad ass moments in NBA history. The first is in the 1992 Eastern Conference seminals. Knicks vs. Bulls. Game 3. The Foul Game. Jordan and the Bulls are getting hammered by the Knicks in every direction. Riley is instructing Starks, Ewing, Oakley, Mason and McDaniel to take the Jordan Rules to the next level. Finally, in the third quarter, there is a loose ball at mid-court. Jordan picks up the ball and drives to the paint. Xavier McDaniel and Ewing jump to try knock him down, but Jordan evades, slides through them and lays the ball in as Ewing topples over into the photographers at courtside. As Ewing tries to get up, Jordan stands over him pointing his finger in his face and saying something along the lines of, "Yeah mother fucker. Don't ever try that." No technical foul.
The second belongs to Iverson. 2001 NBA Finals. Sixers vs. Lakers. Classic matchup, except the Lakers are juggarnaut defending champions and Iverson is the league MVP only because he dragged a bunch of marginal role players and Dikembe Mutumbo to the Finals on his hard work and prolific scoring. Anyway, the game is right and the Sixers are looking to steal the first game at the Forum. Tyronne Lue is guarding Iverson in the corner. Iverson makes a move to the baseline, crosses him in the despicable way that he could from 1995-2002. As he is crossing up, Iverson steps back, Lue moves to go with him, but can't keep up. He loses his balance and falls towards the Lakers bench. Iverson shoots as Lue falls, draining the shot. Seeing Lue on the ground, Iverson takes two big, deliberate steps over Lue, eying him intensely as he does so with a look that says, "don't ever try to guard me or get close to me again. You'll be out of this league in 4 or 5 years." Check it out. If you don't get chills, maybe sports aren't for you.
Anyway, back to the rosters. Just take a look at the starting fives for each side. Each is a Hall of Famer, save maybe, Amar'e Stoudemire. You can't deny Lebron is having another MVP year and he did trump Wade in their showdown last week, but Wade is still better than Lebron. You have Dwight Howard who is having a somewhat down year for him but who has been adding some significantly improved low-post moves to his game this year and of course, you have Garnett who is over the hill but still as smart a player as ever (if more hesistant than ever to go low post). Bosh is having a career year and he is a reserve! Rondo is maybe having the top year for a point guard (alright, alright I know that Nash and Paul are out there in the West). Have any of you been watching Rondo? Sure he still makes some stupid plays, but his palm the ball layups have become one of my favorite moves to watch. His hands are insane! Its like watching Jimi Hendrix hold the neck of a guitar. He now makes at least 4 or 5 plays a game on average that make you say, "Whoa, he's really getting it." Derrick Rose has had an under the radar year mostly because of early injury, but he has started to turn it on as of late and may lead the Bulls to another second half surge just like last year. Joe Johnson and Horford have both been solid for a suddenly imposing Hawks team that could have also sent Mike Bibby (resurgence) and Josh Smith (slightly dipped numbers). Pierce rounds it out and this year he's been the same as his whole career: tough, consistent, reliable, creative on the offensive end and a surprisingly tenacious defender. He is another Hall of Famer on the roster. The East could have also potentially sent the following: Ray Allen (Boston - always), Kendrick Perkins (Boston-underrated), David Lee (Knicks), Mo Williams (Cleveland), Stephen Jackson (Charlotte-switched conferences), and Danny Granger (Indiana - no room). Maybe I am being too generous, but you get the picture. We've got depth.
As I said earlier, the West is the same. Four Hall of Famers are starting (sorry Amar'e) with one sure Hall of Famer (Dirk) coming off the bench and five possible Hall of Famers - fingers crossed - in Paul, Durant, Roy, Williams and Gasol (Roy, Williams and Gasol may be stretches, but they are damn good). The weak spot here is Randolph who hasn't quite sold me with his inspired play this year - he's tricked us before - although, he has been a human double double and Memphis has been a terrific surprise and are continuing to surprise as we had into the All-Star break. Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo (both Memphis) both had first half performances that could have been All-Star caliber in a more diluted year. And Durant is bound to be battling Carmelo for years to come for the starting small forward spot, which could develop into an interesting rivalry over the years. I'm actually surprised that no one has mentioned that possible storyline yet. I'll pat myself on the back for that. Seriously, though, it is great to see a stand out college star like Durant developing into a stand out NBA star as expected. It is talent and potential realizing itself that perpetuates greatness, that sustains a league and holds the imagination.
On a final note - Kobe. He has really won me over this year. Not because he is playing up the "getting it with my teammates" angle like last year, but because he is playing hurt and playing tough. He has also really worked on his post-up moves and footwork and is playing like 1997 M.J. It's really quite striking.
So that's it. The 2010 NBA All-Star game is going to be exciting and I believe that it is going to be one that we remember and talk about for years to come as a great snapshot of where the league was and where it was going.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I am slowly but surely leaving my current employment situation so I will have more time to add and devote to my ideas as I begin to contemplate what the next step is in my entire life. I'll be working for three days a week from here on out and that will give me plenty of time to focus on my posts here and bring you better quality for your half-assed browsing and clicks. I'm just kidding, everything is full throttle. I know that the people who look at this blog are seriously devoted to browsing and interpretative arts and writing.
Progress is being made, though. Last weekend, the first video footage for the sketch series I have been talking about was shot. The sketches are going to be broken up by themes and then delivered in approximately 15 minute episodes a piece. The first episode is food themed. Some more footage for the second sketch in the episode will be shot this weekend. I think you will all be pleased with what you see. I am taking all kinds of suggestions, so please feel free to give a shout.
Progress is also being made. If you look on the side of my blog, where it has links, I have added two blogs by the names of Postres de Abuela y Torres De Caramelo and Gas Tank is Full. These are the blogs of two friends of mine from college. I recommend checking them out and following the exploits. That is if you are interested in interesting people and I mean you are looking at the blog of The World's Coolest Dude - 2007, so you gotta know your stuff.
Yet, again, the progression of progress. Additionally, on my sidebar of links, you may have seen an old link to the myspace page of The Sights. This is a gem of a band that has been defunct since their last album in 2005. They are releasing a new album in 2010 and are one of my favorites. They have some new tracks up on their myspace and will be touring the New York area in February. I will be there, most patiently, progressively, certainly waiting.
Concurrently, the presentation of progress:
1. 2010 NBA All-Star Roster Breakdown (1/28/10)
2. Review of the Gene Clark Album "No Other" (1/30 or 1/31)
3. Play by Play of the 1992 NBA All-Star Game (2/1)
4. Mid-Week Update of Projects both Stupid and Sincere (2/3)
5. Rant on the style of Thomas Wolfe and his first novel "Look Homeward Angel" (2/4 or 2/5)
6. Further: Reviews of the novels "Fan's Notes" and "Family Album" and review of The Sights' last album "The Sights" (Week of 2/8)
Finally, progress was prevented.
Now, the next installment of "From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt":
My sister is a pretty girl. She really is. Prettier than I ever was, then I ever hoped to be when I tried to make a statement by chopping my hair short in high school. She has this blondish hair that seems like it appeared out of nowhere. But there was a grandma or an aunt in there who had it. She wasn’t as beautiful as Liza. She steps alongside me. Her hands rise and fall in rhythm with her feet. Is that grace? Is grace in a motion or is it in her moving with this light? With the reflection that a still wet – drying – road can have. If I had my camera, is that picture graceful or is it grace? Where did Mary get off anyway?
That’s right, she didn’t. That was the whole thing. Is that where grace comes from? That little garden that’s supposed to grow between my legs?
“Are you still a virgin?” I ask. I ‘m tempted.
Liza turns towards me, a few strands of her hair streak across her face. She has to brush them.
“You know the question?”
“I know it, but since when – you’ve never asked me something like that before.”
I saw her born. I saw them wipe the blood off her. The afterbirth is the word for the nasty stuff, but for a poetic and meaningful word it still sounds pretty disgusting. I remember being embarassed of her. “Your parents still have sex?” But that look I saw in mom. I was old enough to see the change of face that a woman can have when she has a child. I was changing then too. I was starting to feel wombish, like we used to call it in college – like I feel now. But I was also changing in the fact that when I saw mom I wanted to do something that I couldn’t describe. I wanted to rage at the beauty of her look, of the beauty of the fact that my mother, who was mine, who I’d known so well, could look like that over another little girl. That want, that feeling turned into me and my lens.
Mom was full of grace and she spat out four kids.
“I think it’s overdue,” I say to her.
“Come on, Maggie.”
“Ah, that’s disgusting!”
She laughs as she says it. So I know she doesn’t care.
“We’re both adults here,” I say. I take a poke at her. She dodges.
“Fine.” We stop. We’re right at the corner of Ridgeway and our slope. I can feel the curve beginning under my feet.
“I’m not,” she says.
I smile. “Good for you.”
“I don’t regret it.”
“Neither do I.”
She nods, taking my abstract meaning. I only realize after the fact that its not pointed in the exact direction I want it to go, but who cares. I’ve never explained myself before. I let my pictures say what they had to say. I hope they will speak for themselves.
“No,” a beard was starting to grow in. He was unbuttoning his white shirt for work. “I really love them. I mean they are so humanistic.”
He laughed barechested. I liked the way his spare chest hair shaped his muscles. “There’s a pity in them. Look at the lines on the hands in that one. What I like is that these aren’t from some third world country, that they’re from a city that people hear about in the south of France being so glamorous, but at heart its really an ancient and medieval fishing city and these are our eternal signifiers of time never changing.”
I’m sprawled behind my photos on the bed. I had one hand propping me up.
“You know, some say pictures evoking pity are weak. That a good photo shouldn’t make the viewer feel a simple emotion like that, a base emotion.”
“Is pity base?”
“It’s pretty base.”
“Will you shave before we fuck?” I asked him.
He kept them coming as he pulled on his sweatshirt. He was becoming the boxer.
“Must you call it fucking, lover?”
I fell into the pillow. We’d just gotten over colds so the pillows were in two different cases. We had to change our germs. I fell into a faded purple flower pattern.
“You know I hate that.”
I looked up, my face feeling pillow flattened.
“You know why.”
He shook his head and leant over the photos. One hand touched my leg, petting it, the other fingers stretched out, their tips kissing the gloss. That was a picture, zoom and focus.
“No, I know about the lovers. Why about the pity?”
“Because it attaches you to the subject instead of removing you, instead of taking in the entire shape, the form, the light. High emotion comes from distance.”
He shook his head again. His hand stopped petting.
“I like pity. I like attachment. I like dirty hands.”
He looked up from the photos. He gave me his look of intent: lines above his nose between his eyebrows, his mouth straight, maybe upturned a bit but not as much as Mona Lisa’s. His cheekbones strong, standing on the sides of his face like satellites in space. They did mark out his face.
“There’s a light on,” Liza says as we come up to the house.
“I think James and Eve are feeling frisky.”
“Gross,” she says.
“What? I’ve heard them fuck.”
“Do you have to say it like that.”
We walk quietly through the gate. I enjoy the darkness of the lawn. Part of me wishes that we could sit out in this darkness forever. My sister and I. So far apart but made of the same stuff really. But just opening that door means that tomorrow will begin. How is that?
Liza leads the way up the front stones. She opens it. I can’t see her hand but I hear the doorpetal – that’s right! That’s what she used to call it! – click and light shed onto the dark of us. Eve happens to pass by.
“Ben’s dead drunk.”
“One of my old favorites,” I say. “Right up there with ‘Captain Jack.’”
Eve doesn’t react. She’s mad maybe at James. Good for her, she should be. I know she’s deep. I almost smile thinking of her anger. Dead drunk. Considering the circumstances, that’s pretty funny.
“What’s he doing?” Liza asks.
Eve steps back and starts touching the bannister. She hooks her model arms around one of the thin and sculpted posts.
“James found him asleep on the floor in his office. He tried to bring him upstairs, but he won’t budge. He keeps mumbling, ‘Let me stay and roll.’”
I shake my head.
“Where’s James?” Liza sounds concerned.
“He’s upstairs. He’s taking a break from trying to pull him up.”
“Is he drunk?” I say.
She bows a little – almost curtsies – and cuts in front of both of us. She goes up the stairs. Right before the ceiling I see her stoop down a little and use her hands to walk up.
“Come on, lover.” I walked on all fours up the stairs.
“I thought you hated that.”
“Not now when I’m in love with my lover.”
Jake laughed and followed me up. I sat on the top step. The bathroom door behind me was open and a wet breeze blew through. It was warm and not cool on my neck. One thing is not the other. Jake leaned over me. He was wearing a long sleeve shirt but I sould sense his muscles tighten as he held himself up in front of my face, just slightly above my nose.
“How come we came when everyone was away?”
“Just kiss me.”
Eve disappears. I look at Liza.
“Well, non-virgin sister. Let’s give the old man a pick-me-up. We’ve got a big terrible day tomorrow.”
Liza touches my hand. With her other she strokes the ends of her hair a little bit. Her whisps of hair that curl up and around her ear. Mine doesn’t do that.
“I love you," she says. "But there’s nothing funny about all this.”
“It’s not sad either.”
She pauses and takes her hand off of mine. Now she’s cross armed. I put my arm around her and start her walking down the hall.
“C'mon," I say. "He’s still alive.”
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Things will begin changing when I have more time to devote to this space as well as to making my videos. I had a brainstorming session today with my old college roommate and we were thinking that the web series may be a played out idea. The web sketch comedy show - not so much. We are going to mine that fertile comedy ore for all that its worth. Who knows, maybe if the right big wig catches one of my punch-lines then maybe they will be putting me in the 11:30 timeslot on NBC next.
I'm still spit-balling good column/post ideas to put up here over the weekend and next week for your reading pleasure. For the NBA fan out there, I think I will be doing a series of All-Star Game related posts coming up. The first one will be a play-by-play of the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, which I conveniently have on the flips side of my Magic Johnson DVD. Not the most competitive game, but my lord when you get a breakdown of the rosters - you will be salivating.
Anyway, more to come as always. Just stay loyal, stay with me and you will be repaid by my riches.
Now, the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt.
I saw the snow. The trees could’ve been birches, but they were white with snow so who would’ve known. I walked watching the tracks glow with small blue flame because a train had just passed by with its electricity. Tracks that run with fire. I stepped around them as I saw the train moving away to the station. My feet left marks, showing pebbles, gravel. I stepped over fire and down the slope. I almost slipped, seeing an odd root sticking above the white. The day was quiet, white and grey except for a crow. Where the hill dipped, when I looked straight – when you look straight – the sixteenth green rose up –rises up -, revealed wealth, revealed the summer golf and martini, the winter sled and promise of a kiss. Where the hill dipped – where it dips – there was the creek. I sloshed stepped in boots to the creek. Leaves below, leaves with snow. My soul was –is – a soul swooning in snow. My soul was a flake. The creak was frozen with black holes of water. I heard the train whistle. I thought of my boots on the blue and grey upholstery.
“Feet off the seat.”
“Switch at Huntington.”
The creek had black holes of water in it. The snow had leaves. White snow. White golf balls. Clear martinis. What color was a kiss? What color is a kiss?
“I’ll be right back,” Natalie says and slips back into her house. Correction, her parents house.
I sit and look out through the screen of the screened in porch. I put my boots up on one of the white curved legs of the table. I bet they bring this table in during the winter. I bet they store it up in the shed that is over there in the corner, where behind it there are bushes, shrubs, a small wood separating the homes. And maybe within that wood there is a fence separating yards. A dog barks – barked – and Natalie tries to catch the bus to school. I didn’t know this neighborhood so well. But I didn’t know other neighborhoods when I was a kid. I just knew mine, that corner with the cracked curb, where for one year I watched as James drove to school with his friends and laughed passing me by. I didn’t really care. That’s the way it worked. All younger brothers wanted to ride in cars like their older brothers. But I looked up at that tree across the street. The tree with the perfect piney branches to climb and I climbed it. And I was on top while the other kids tried to make fun of me. “What the fuck are you doing up there, retard?” And the two stoners smoked, crouching by the bushes. I was still on top when the bus came and I could see those two emergency escape hatches. Seeing them from the top of that tree was one of the best feelings I’ve ever known. When I climbed down I could still smell the exhaust, but it was mixed with the fresh pine stink of my shirt. I started walking towards Ridgeway when dad slowed by. I knew I’d get caught.
“How’s that English class, stranger?” He tipped an imaginary cowboy hat.
“Just mindin’ my A’s and B’s and C’s” I played along.
He tapped the wheel. “Get in, Thomas.”
Then we were off. I know I learned something when we got there.
I hear the gentle touch and swish of the rubber on the end of the door. Natalie is back. She carries out two thin cylinder glasses on a tray like she’s a waitress. I’m glad to see they’re filled with club soda.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she says.
“I figured this would be best.”
She sits down across from me. Then she nudges the chair so that it scrapes at the floor and she is closer to me. She crosses her legs with the sex and easiness that all girls seem to be able to do. If she were riding on a train with me I’d try to talk to her. I’d drop my Times, or maybe she’d drop hers.
“Are we old now?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I don’t think so.”
“Then we’re acting like rather sophisticated sad bastards aren’t we?’
I laugh. It hits me right in my chin and my cheeks respond.
“I guess we are.”
“But your mom just died so..”
She feels closer to me. And I think she is closer to me. I can smell her hair. It smells like shampoo, but not fruity or just clean. There is something else to it. Its feminine but not like perfume. It’s more natural and feminine than perfume would ever dream.
“Let me ask you something, Natalie?”
“Why weren’t we always like this?”
“What do you mean this?” She seems taken aback.
“I don’t know,” I look at the fizzing bubbles in my glass. The taste of opening air so refreshing. What did my escaping breaths look like from the black of the creek among the ice and the snow? That kid – Sirch was his last name – never told me. He’d just wave and smile at me whenever he saw me after that. Big as he was. So different from me. Strong, and me? Strange in loafers. Strange with messy hair. Strange like a saint or an old photograph from the 1920’s. If only a bubble could pop open and tell me an answer. Show me a picture of myself sitting here with this girl – a woman now maybe and I’m sure in many ways – two noses, one upturned, and let me know the truth. Let me know the inner light that two postures - making one together, one scene – have, let me know what they can reveal. Patron and paritioner summoning saint and saviour. The bubbles are rising, my drink is breathing. I am too.
“I mean how we are so cozy right now,” I say.
“I don’t know. But I do know what you mean. There is something strange going on between us right now. And I’ve never come out and said it when I’ve felt it before. I don’t know if I’ve felt something like this. I’ve usually just been kissed or tried to kiss. I’ve never sat with club soda in September.”
“You speak beautifully.”
“It is cozy, isn’t it?”
Our drinks explode at their surface in between us. The crickets are out there in the dark beyond the screen, they’re chirping. Everything – every creature, even me – is releasing a dew into the air. Did you plan this, mother? Are you breathing onto the world? Is this your soul revealed? Is this what they feel like and smell like and taste like? A soul: a club soda and a girl?
“Can I ask you something?” she says.
“I was hoping you would.”
“Can I come to the funeral tomorrow?”
I take a drink. There are no answers in the carbonation.
“Yes, I was hoping you would.”
She turns out towards the screens and the crickets. Her elbow is on the honeycombed glass. Her hand lays across her face, one finger draping the bridge of that nose.
“She was a sweet woman.”
She looks back to me. She wants to speak. She takes a drink first, admires it, or at least pretends to. Maybe she is regarding it. Maybe she wants this glass, this liquid to speak to her and show her something as much as I want it to, want anything to. Crucifix, club soda, cricket, lacrosse ball, Cutty Sark.
“How come you aren’t sadder?” she asks above her drink.
“I am,” I say. “I loved my mother. But there is a lot of life still out there. There’s my father, whose probably passed out on the floor. There’s me, the general mystery of myself. There’s you. There’s
crickets out there- a general strangeness of people.”
She raises her eyebrows and laughs. I feel my face getting red.
“You speak beautifully,” she says.
I’m going to kiss you now, I don’t say. I kiss her. I kiss her and I smell grass. I smell the freshness of the soda water. I can see James and myself as I feel her nose on my nose. I can see James wearing a red lacrosse jersey. He’s young, we’re both young. We’re wrestling on the grass. I was on top for a moment. I looked down at him. He was laughing. My brother was laughing hysterically. I stopped. The match was over. But he turned me on my back quick and then was on top. He was laughing and he wouldn’t stop until I started. The grass on his arms. I feel it on my cheek now as I feel her cheek. Then space. The night dewy like a soul. The crickets.
“What is this?” I ask.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Soon enough, too, my time at my current job will end. This is my last full week. So I've been busy wrapping much up there. I will get you all new, good posts very shortly. I'm trying to think of worthwhile things to put out there for you all. I may have to fall back on music once again and write about Gene Clark.
I'll also hopefully be doing some filming this weekend for sketches and other material so look for that.
To bring this full circle, a friend of mine works for the International Rescue Committe and if you do happen to pass this space frequently or at all, help Haiti and her organization out by texting HAITI to 25383 to donate $5 to help the IRC offer medical care, water and sanitation aid to Hatians.
That's all from me and my pedestal for now. We're getting there - soon.
Now, the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt.
“I’m sorry about that guy,” Maggie says to me.
“Mike,” I say.
She laughs, tilting her head back so that it brushes the top of the fence rail.
We’re sitting on the wood fence opposite the Checkmate. The wood is sturdy. What kind are these fences made of? Always thick and pointed at the ends to fit into the the slits of the posts. I look over to the historical building behind us. It’s painted green. I think it was some kind of school house during the colonies. What wood is it made of? It’s all slanted and I hated having to draw it in fourth grade.
“Why’d you want to sit out here Maggie?” I ask.
“I thought you said you didn’t mind.”
“No, I don’t.”
“I just wanted to take it in, take in the night.” She turns away. Her hair flipping almost violently. I follow her face. It’s dark and she looks angry. Ultimately, there is something appealing about my sister.
“Let’s just walk home,” I say. “Check on dad.”
“He doesn’t need any checking on.”
She’s terse and I’m hurt. She’s acting like a bitch and we’ve never even spent enough time in the same place together for her to treat me like that. We’re sisters, but who knew?
“No, you’re right.” She’s still looking back. Her hair has taken over her face so that it looks like I’m talking to this impossibly full mass.
“Alright, so let’s go.”
“I always loved this field.. It’s not big, but its got a few noticeable slumps, there are the thin woods and then the farm beyond. Have you seen it in the full moon?”
I shrugged. “I think so.”
“The way the light seems to come up from the grass, light given off by the earth and what that looks like.”
She’s bonding with me. Or she’s trying to. I think she’s going though something like I’m going through something. Our mother is dead. And I don’t know how it could get any more profound than that, but maybe mom being dead is only the beginning. I don’t know. I just started college.
“I think I know what you mean.”
“What about the fog? Have you seen it in the fog?”
“You can see and hear George Washington’s ghost,” she says, turning back. She’s excited now, her hair illustrates her emotions. “I walked home from my friend Jen’s house one night. I think it was midnight and I was only fourteen. I had one cigarette.”
“You got away with that?”
She nods but she’s continuing. “I was a little nervous being alone. But when I saw the fog I felt this great comfort. You’d think I’d be scared, but it made my heart throb in a way I hadn’t known. I mean, you know how boys make you feel then.”
I laugh and look down at my sneakers. “Nervous and on fire.”
She grabs my elbow so strongly that it hurts a little. “Right, and this was different. Seeing the grass, the fog swirling past that old house, and feeling slightly cool but warm – it was like tonight – my heart became something new to me.”
She turns towards me, her greenish eyes drawn. She’s not frowning I see now. She’s just concentrated. I think she’s expecting an answer as she’s looking. I don’t know if I have one. So I stay quiet.
“Have you learned to enjoy moments like that yet?”
That pisses me off because its like she’s speaking to a child and I’m not a child. I’m eighteen and I’m not a virgin. I let Shane fuck me in his TrailBlazer. I wanted to call it making love, but it wasn’t. I liked his short and thick black hair. I liked the little freckles on his nose, his body. And that we could laugh sometimes – him more than me. But I didn’t love him. It was something I did. That was a moment. There were colors, grey, blue, orange numbers from the radio, a smell of some kind of cologne. Even words. “I’m nervous.” “Don’t be. I won’t fuck you over.”
“I think I’m learning.”
We both sit silent. Maggie has moved forward and she now stands leaning back. Crickets are chirping and a bit of mist hovers on the grass. Drunken stumbles and talk still come from the Checkmate. Headlights turn on from the street and people drive away on these dark streets drunk.
Now I want to piss my sister off. Its not just pissing her off, I want to know something.
“What happened to Jake?”
She keeps her face forward and starts walking.
“Come on,” she says. “Lets go see Dad.”
Saturday, January 16, 2010
I've got my dog at my apartment until Tuesday so I've been having a good time taking care of him and getting increased excercise by trying to tire him out. I still have a lot of thoughts that were bouncing around in my head while I was writing the Veedon Fleece post and also after I re-read what I had written. I'm going to try and consolidate those and put them up in a post or try to incorporate them into future album reviews or musings.
What I'm planning coming up on the blog is a review of Gene Clark's No Other, ruminations from one of my writing journals, a breakdown of the NBA All Star Rosters once they are released, perhaps even some NBA All-Stat memories - you know, more of the usual stuff.
I also just got an HD Flip Camera so you will be seeing more video content on here. The video content will mainly be comic shorts that will hopefully be funny. Eventually, though, I would like to get my own web series up here, but I am going to need the help of my friends and also some more time to brainstorm plots and ideas.
So get excited for me to not let you down.
Now, the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt:
I come down the stairs and walk into the den. I see mom standing there with a baby on her shoulder.
“Hi, mom,” I say.
She looks over at me. I know she’s looking in my direction but it seems like she is staring past me. In any case the room is elongated.
“Oh. I’ll get a bottle.”
Mom smiles. “I have one.”
“Yes, she’s tired.”
“This is a beautiful boy.” She rocks back and forth. Her hips are swaying and so is her hair which seems much more vibrant than I ever remember. I walk closer to her. She sings into the baby’s ear.
“Who’s a little whosits? Whats a little whatsits?”
“That same little song,” I say.
She nods and looks down at the baby.
“You hold her, James.”
“You’re the father. Sing to your daughter.”
“What if I break her?”
“Don’t worry. He’ll be strong like the rest of us. Even Tom.”
My mother still exists even though she is dead.
“James? James?” A girlish lilt says.
I’m staring ahead at the contrast of the worn wood and the brightly flashing electronic jukebox. A picture of Toby Keith flashes up on the screen. It fades into one of the Rolling Stone album covers. They are young with unkempt Beatles haircuts, they look pockmarked and British. My eyes focus and unfocus.
I focus. I’m back from wherever I was. I need to get home. Eve is next to me, shoulder to shoulder. It’s Ariel talking .
“Oh, yeah,” I say.
“I was wondering the same thing myself,” Eve says.
Ariel looks at Eve. She laughs and it’s a forced laugh. One that I’ve known so well at bars, at work, at work bars, at work functions and luncheons. I don’t remember my mother doing it and I wonder if anyone else stops to think if their mother forced a laugh in her life or not.
“We’re going down Port,” she says. Now she’s just looking at me playing with her tanned leather bag on her shoulder. Her eyelashes playing too. “Do you want to come?” I’m drunk or fairly close to it, and if those small hairs would ever speak a music to me it would be now and yet I don’t care what they have to say. My lids are tired and my wife’s shoulder is touching my shoulder. My wife.
“No. I need to get home. We need to get home. Tomorrow is…”
Ariel nods. “I understand.” She hesitates. She takes a step toward me and then back, still with a hand on her bag. She wants to kiss me. “It was good to see you again, James. And it was nice to meet you Eve.”
Then I watch her as she leaves. Her hips – her ass – moving from side to side. Slim and round and not ready to give birth like Eve – my wife – will be doing in nine months. I look at Eve. I let my eyes wander down to her small breasts and then to her wider – not wide – waist. Above it her womb covered in a stylish dark dress that is soft and somehow casual. When I’m drunk I notice things more.
The people I know and who know me are leaving out the front door. I lock my fingers with Eve. She’s been quiet. I know I’ve been wrong. I’m an ass.
“Ben’s probably wiped out,” she says. She says it quietly. “Let’s go.”
“You’re right, honey.”
I take her whole form in again. Her body outline I know so well against the wood and the jukebox and the beer and toilet stink of this institution. Her against my home, her against the world.
“Lemme just finish my beer.”
I grab it and its slightly warm. Then her hand is on my wrist. It’s more than slightly warm.
“Better leave it.”
I move my mouth to begin a smile, but I see her eyes and I know she means it. She wants to go and I’m in trouble. I’ve been acting like an ass, yes I have. This whole being home has made me slip. I must smell like wet grass and the stale sweat of a lacrosse jersey. I’m melting backward into town. Melting backward into time. I leave the beer where its perched. I take her hand and she accepts it. My first move is a step towards the front door where I know Tom is sitting outside with that cute girl he was with – and good for him for that – but I hesitate crossing feet, then I pull my right back across with as much grace as I can and head for the back door. Eve is attached to me by the hand, a weight that is not burden but merely extension. And I feel this now with the light blurred and my mind moving fast as my father must have felt, and perhaps still feels, about a tall slowly glinting bottle.
Merely is not how I feel.
We pass the bar. Melky catches a pop up and the Yanks win 6-3. The news is already on the other TV so I don’t know if the Mets won or lost. Now out the back door the smell of exposed bark overtakes any lingering cigarette smoke. We – my handmeld with Eve – move through the wet grass, step over the slanted and falling wood fence that separates the bar from the neighbors, quickly hop through mulch and make it to the glowing street.
And Ridgeway is glowing, it isn’t slick, there are patches of grey, the drying. Her hands are slick. Not slick, but warm and moist – the clamminess I’ve always loved. If someone saw the two of us together, attached, maybe we’d still look like newlyweds, which I suppose we are. But the people who saw us in the bar knew. I tried my best to put Eve in the conversation, but I failed. It was never like that before, not with people from my past around and not with…not with the secrets and the growing form.
“I’m sorry about all that back there,” I say.
“It’s fine,” she says. “I know you’re grieving.”
I know she knows I’m grieving. I know its not fine and I know she knows that I know its not fine. But what am I going to do? I have to do something about it. That’s what I’ve been good at. Not that I ever had to stand up against such odds. My life has been free of tragedy. I just had to carve the turkey one Thanksgiving when Aunt Diane was too overbearing in her navy pant suit and dangling gold bracelets and Dad wouldn’t have any of it. He’d snuck a drink I think, but we’ll never be sure because he’d never say. The turkey was left there, a little gravy gelatin gathering on the skin. I cut it, releasing the heat into the kitchen. So much heat on a cold night that the sky lights were fogged – only blurred reflections of our family, pots, dishes of mashed potatoes.
“I’m a little drunk,” I say.
She stops and takes a good look at me. Her mouth is a little pursed, but still beautiful. She’d make faces like that with her small lips pinched together when we joked under the covers, or when I wore a pillow as a crown. What guy thinks he will come to that silliness? But now its different. This is real. Its all real.
“Now you sound like Ben.”
I’m looking at her stomach, still flat.
“You sound like the rest,” she continues.
“What do you mean?”
“Always writing things off to fate or heredity. That’s what I loved about you. That you were not just different from them, but from everyone. There was an accountability for things. Sure maybe a fate brought me to you, or you to me, but I knew at heart you always felt an accountability in love. Not just in love but in life.”
Now I’m the quiet one. The dynamics in this walk have shifted. We’re still holding hands but her fingers are higher up on my wrist, inching along the forearm. I don’t know what to say. I look through the trees, where front porch lanterns are shining and making the small shapes of leaves. The sand along the slightly raised side pavement is dark brown. I see a white house. One I have passed so many times walking, driving, running - a typical colonial of the town. Old and tested, regal, inviting on cold days, open and romantic during the summer. When I was younger and I looked at it, I felt those things. I thought who lived nearby. Did Chis Curtis live around here? That cute girl Elyse from my gym class? But now these cases have no meanings. Is there someway that the names can still grip me? If they can than these houses still can and I don’t want them to. I don’t want any of it to. All I want is the sweatiness from her palm. What does that mean?
We continue up Ridgeway’s long hill and turn onto our street. We walk, still quiet, listening to our footsteps. I kiss her neck. I kiss her cheek.
“I love the sound of echoing footsteps in a neighborbood,” she says. “It is joy.”
She smiles briefly. “For me I guess it’s the definition.”
The curve bends showing us long lawns. One of the street lights is out and there is a stretch of darkness. It seems long, but it isn’t so bad. We make it to the gate, still holding our hands. The cars are parked along the curb as we left them, as we’ve been used to. Whoever had to make the getaway was never blocking the others.
We enter through the black gate, I let Eve pass before me. In darkness we approach the shining light of the front porch. As we climb the finely done Latin American stone work - it looks like its from Montana - Eve stops me.
“Why did you act that way in the bar?”
“I’m feeling a bit…”
“No, I know its not that,” she takes my other hand. “Something is wrong.”
I can hear crickets. I hadn’t heard them earlier. Why can’t I stop looking at her womb? I know why of course.
“It’s my mom,” I say. “Its my dad. It’s everyone. They tear me up. They need me and they don’t need me – I need them.”
She pulls me closer. “I know.”
“I love you.”
“But its something else,” she says.
I look down at her. Its our first date filtered through a strange new light. Its off and maybe we’re not the same two fools.
“Do you want,” she pauses. “What do you want from me?”
I take her cheeks with my hand. I see her hair, shorter, longer, vibrant from the hairdresser, a mess after sex or after a Sunday when we slept until two just to sleep next to each other. Things pass but its all her. Where does this all come from? How is she my wife? How is she this to me?
“Nothing. Just you. The ways its always been.”
She purses again. I think she might want to say something, but instead she kisses me.
“You acted like a high school jerk tonight.”
“I’m sorry.” I kiss her.
We stand embracing in this strange September night. Husband and wife at the edge of a new decade. What do young married couples do to shirk responsibility? Young people act reckless, get drunk, travel, treat each other poorly. But not two people as normal in love as us. I’ve never acted reckless. And why do I want to now?
“I’m sorry too,” she says. “I’m asking and testing you on the night before your mother’s funeral.”
I pull her in closer. I’m standing with my wife, stooped under the overhead light that sits over the black door. The doorpetal is shining. Maybe I get a pass and maybe I deserve a pass. But I want to pass the tests. I really do. I want to be the best for everyone. I’m just.
“I know,” she says, “And I still can’t.”
A slight breeze picks up. I notice we are holding both of our hands together, pressed up near our chins. Its like we’re on the altar again. But its my front porch and this time the ceremony is something completely different.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
She grips my left hand firmly, but not my right.
“So where does this leave us?”
I see her in my apartment on our first date. She’s on the couch and I’m sitting on the floor. That small couch – more of a loveseat – and I couldn’t squish her on it, not on our first date. I held a glass of wine, a white that looked orange and pissy in the bad lighting of my place. I tried to explain the flavors, the bits I’d picked up from the guy in the store. She laughed. Turning her face up and not meaning to. Posing and not meaning to.
“You know nothing about wine, huh?”
I smiled, looking down at my shoes. “You don’t hold back on a guy on a first date.”
“Just play me some George Harrison and it’ll be alright.”
“What if the best I have is Pet Sounds?”
She rolled her eyes and smiled. “Pretentious. But it wouldn’t be the first time.”
“But I want to be.”
And then quiet. Bad lights. The wine suddenly smelling fragrant. Fruity, crisp, and strongly alcoholic. She and I looking – like the night we conceived.
“It leaves us in the same place.”
“Yes,” she says.
“Right on the doorstep.”
at 8:25 PM
Friday, January 15, 2010
“[it] is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend.”
That is Lester Bangs from his 1979 review of Astral Weeks. By just including that quote at the top of this post, I have committed – to my mind, at this time – the four cardinal sins of writing: starting with a quote, starting with someone else’s work, starting blatantly with someone else’s work, starting a music themed piece with a Lester Bangs quote.
The problem is, is that it wasn’t until I was rereading Lester Bang’s article in order to write this piece that I realized how poignant that quote is in general to life, let alone the work of Van Morrison, especially in his prolific 1968-1974 period. What Lester Bangs touches on in that quote is, at essence, what we look for in all the great works of art – the moment of epiphany, or recognition that this world is so big and that no matter how hard we try to control it or confine it with devices like art, it is ultimately made of concepts far bigger than us – love, chaos, death, nonhistory, nonexistence. Our great art simply points us to these words and concepts. Heidegger has explained it. Hart Crane has exhibited it. Joyce, Picasso and Jesus mastered it.
The Joyce line will have to be excused in the realm of this blog post because of the obvious Irish similarities between Van Morrison and because on Astral Weeks in the song “Madame George,” Van steals a line from the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses when he says, “the love that loves to love the love that loves to love.” However, Astral Weeks is the closest that music or the “song” has come to the epiphany, economy and poignancy of the short story and the epiphanies that occur in both Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece do contain the Joycean tone and vision.
We will start with vision, but in a different sense. My college roommate is the person who first directed me towards Veedon Fleece as he directs me towards so many musics, CDs, mp3s, .rar files, and iPods. This same roommate also made the declaration about Animal Collective that he didn’t like to listen to them with other people – he only liked to listen to them alone. I had written off this inclination for the most part. Admittedly, there are albums that we enjoy listening to alone. We are afraid to share our tastes or how they affect us with other people, just as we are afraid to share with other people the effects that other arts or objects in this world have on us. However – and this is not meant to cut these arts short – those albums, books, movies, plays don’t have the overall poignancy that a Veedon Fleece has. The reason why Veedon Fleece had me thinking about my old roommates musings on Animal Collective is because as I sunk into the album for the third time, I realized that it was opening up visions in me that were unwarranted: pictures of a dim lit room on a fall night, friends all around me enjoying the album, me and the girl I loved making small gestures of love to each other: the push back of hair, the caress of an ear, in rose-red light, the memories of family I knew passing me by in shades of sepia. However, these were just illusions, dim shades. And as these dim shades flickered before me, I tried to place something concrete upon them: the who, the what, the Dave Eggers. Yet, that was not possible, my heart or my mind would not stop on someone or something concrete that this music directed me to, it was all illusory, it was all the vanity of who I thought I knew.
The moment I am speaking of is the moment Lester Bangs is speaking of: the enormity of what we can comprehend. This music was bigger than me, it had textures and nuances that needed an understanding, just as the people who moved before me in shades were part of a bigger world and that no matter how much I loved them and thought that I could perceive their taste of enjoying this music, were part of something bigger and my devices, my artifices, my designs and images could not reign that in. The music pointed me to this revelation, unwittingly or not, deservedly or not. Now, the music is at the mercy of my medium and I will take the life out of it and wring it dry so that you all know what it speaks.
Astral Weeks took us to all the places that we knew, if perhaps more vividly than we had ever known them before. We’ve known our Cyprus Avenues, the places where we were conquered in a car seat without a thing left to do. Maybe you knew it as the Stop N’ Shop parking lot, or the hill at the center of your town, where you tried to take a girl, where you saw the damn creek that ran through your town and thought about how cold it got in winter and maybe, maybe you couldn’t even try to love this girl when there was something so cold sitting out there, waiting to take a hold of your soul. Astral Weeks reminded us of walks home from school in the cold, whether it was your elementary or high school where things were warm and safe and orange, or it was your upstate college where the streets were neat and the sidewalks had just the right cracks in them and April was moist enough and everything was warm and safe and brown and reminded you of a vinyl record and a used couch. In the end, Astral Weeks was like that description in “Cyprus Avenue” of that avenue of trees. No matter who you are or where you are from, there is a vision in your mind that flashes, that vision of youth, and there is the place and the light that you think of – almost nearly unexplainable. It is that sense memory that you chase after all your life, creating new memories and new senses, trying to understand what that brief flash was. But that flash wasn’t so brief, that flash was your youth, your life and it stretches on and creates colors and smells that remind you of how big things are and how good they can be. That tree-lined avenue is what makes you stay up at night and think of yourself as eccentric, hungry and adventurous. That is what Astral Weeks was. Poignant, ambitious, full of energy, beauty and hunger.
If, Astral Weeks, owned those adjectives and if it was full of want and strumming guitars of heartswell and heartache, then what does Veedon Fleece have for us? What is so damn good about this album, Domino, that you’re wasting all our time with it?
“Looking for the Veedon Fleece there.”
There is a lot on Veedon Fleece to waste your time with, but we can’t go song by song and try to wring the meaning out of it all that way. No, we’ll have to wring the meaning out of it in a whole different way. Starting with the centerpiece of the album, which is “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River.” This song is the centerpiece of the album because it is the most dramatic, the most moody and it contains the title within its lyrics. Critics and listeners have called Veedon Fleece Van Morrison’s tribute to Ireland, whether by feel or by lyrics. The album and the song “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River” both contain many literary references, which is one of the sticking points of pride in Ireland – most writers per capita. However, in this centerpiece song, we are talking about “William Blake and the Eternals standing with the Sisters of Mercy/Looking for the Veedon Fleece there” and “Goin’ as much with the river as not.” Of course, he is going to the West, which means going further into Irish tradition, but that’s not what I’m interested in. We’re interested in the Veedon Fleece, what he’s looking for, what we’re looking for. This is a song about looking for soul with the people in the country, the people of his country. However, heartfelt the delivery (and there is nothing short of heartfelt on this album), this seems like an extremely artificial pose. Going to the country to find the real soul? That is one 70’s platitude that was dragged kicking and screaming from the 60’s where it was misappropriated from the 50’s and now has become every person’s excuse to sound more considerate about life and its great mysteries than they really are. If Van was going west to seek out soul than he was full of it. What he was really looking for was that Veedon Fleece. But what the hell is it?
The album is filled with outcasts. Starting with the delicate piano of “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights” (one of Elvis Costello’s favorites and you can hear him sing it in that sickening whiny damn good voice of his), we are introduced to a character who loves the morning sun and that whiskey ran like water through veins and who loves to go to church on Sunday even though he’d been drinking. When men come from San Fran to kill him, he meets them first and kills them instead. However, he regrets it when he realizes that he loves the children of his town as if they were his own, and that it gets lonely when you’re living with a gun. This segues into the falsetto sung “Who Was That Masked Man,” which has the first lines “Oh ain’t it lonely/when you’re living with a gun.” What is Van doing singing about outlaws? These are outlaws who have soft spots for children and who are compared to fish bowls and who have ghosts that visit them at night, ghosts that teach them that there is good and evil in everyone. These two outlaw songs come after the idyllic sounding opener “Fair Play” and right before the outlaw-sounding “Streets of Arklow,” which has extremely Anglican and poetic lyrics. This brings up one of the best aspects of the album – the way that feel plays into such a big part of it. Even though I value words as much as anyone, when it comes to music, I don’t usually pay attention to them, I pay attention to feel. That is what much of Veedon Fleece is about. It’s the feel. It’s the feel of the songs and the delivery that should tell you what they’re about, not necessarily the lyrics. “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights” does the best job of matching lyrics to feel. It’s a simple tune about a simple man who likes to drink and there is something about that that makes him an outlaw, that makes him murder and regret it. Murder is a strong metaphor but who doesn’t end up screwing the simple things up. It all makes sense to drink and enjoy whiskey in the sun, just like it makes sense to go out west and look for the real soul, but we all mess that up and end up living with a gun. Living alone, living with those burdens that separate us and make us outlaws and outcasts, but which we can shed at some point, we can escape, because no matter what they tell you, there is good and evil in everyone. That’s why we’re looking for the Veedon Fleece.
The album is about people trying to find homes. The back to back songs of “Bulbs” and “Cul De Sac” could be part of a concept album of leaving Europe to come to America. In “Bulbs” we get a girl trying to come to America but ends up getting caught lost and thinks back to her brothers and sisters in her homeland and the old times they used to have drinking too much together at the bar. The narrator tells us how he hears hear lonely cry while she’s standing in the shadows down where the streetlights all turn blue. And meanwhile in “Cul De Sac” the narrator doesn’t care about who you know, but about who you are and the fact that anyone can double back to those cobblestones and end up in the quiet of the cul de sac. This is moving stuff to focus on. The fact that no matter how far you go, no matter the ambitions and illusions you have about who you know, you can always circle back to that cul de sac. The cul de sac is the same as the tree-lined avenue. Its that place that reminds you of comfort and of weakness. The places you can find solace in because you have found yourself under those shadows where the streetlights all turn blue and you cry out for loneliness because its all you’ve got trying to make it in the world. None of those comfortable drunken places of your mind exist anymore, they are part of your memory and this world can be too big for your memory, because while your memory is vivid, it doesn’t move. This world moves and so do you – those photographs of your friends, those still-lifes of their white wooden bookshelves with papers scattered in the air, the dry white linens, those images are foreign to you as you move away from one country to the next. But does it change what they mean? Does it change the love you have? Your assurance of yourself? You are looking for the Veedon Fleece there – letting out your lonely cry underneath the blue streetlights.
The best song of the album “Comfort You” is perhaps the simplest song on the album. This song is maybe the best song of all time, by the way. Simple in its lyrics and in its chord progression. It has maybe the best chord progression of all time as well. We don’t need to analyze lyrics and meaning in this song – the title says it all. If you listen to this song in the cold of winter walking on the streets, it will make you feel more alive than you have ever felt in your life. Your gloved hands will turn to fists and you will feel like you are leading those stuttering drum kicks and that your every move prompts the band and the rhythm. The lyrics become a mantra “I want to comfort you.” I don’t think there is anything else that can be said beside that. As Beach House so recently said about taking care of you, Van already had it beat back in ’74 with comforting you and letting your tears run wild like when you was a child down on “Cyprus Avenue where the childlike visions creep into view.”
“Looking for the Veedon Fleece there.”
So, what does the Veedon Fleece become then? Van said he just made it up. Is it as simple as youthful brio or hunger versus experience and maturation? No, I don’t think it is as simple as pitting those two things against each other, otherwise it wouldn’t be as interesting as it is. Force isn’t what makes this world perpetuate itself, its hunger and its love – although force does make for some good basketball rivalries, but that is really just love in the end, isn’t it? The Veedon Fleece that we’re looking for is that protection that Van first felt that he needed when he was singing Astral Weeks. There are obvious pains and realities in this world that we have to face in order to move forward. Not only the pains about the world at large, about the tragedies of fate and of the luck of the dice and how you can end up in Haiti or in New Orleans when it all comes down or avoid that kind of catastrophe for your entire life, like so many do. But also the pains about yourself, the shortcomings you have for your own ambitions and for what you can give or understand about the people you know and hope that you love. There are those moments when we are stunned by life, completely overwhelmed and they don’t just happen when you are young – they very often happen when you are older and can be even more devastating. However, what Veedon Fleece is trying to say, through its mood and its feeling and the control that it has over Astral Weeks’ catharsis is that maybe as you get older you have a better perspective to deal with those tragedies, because you’ve messed up the simple life with jealousy and envy, you’ve chosen your heartbreak, you’ve chosen to leave the easy life behind to cry out alone. Maybe you’ve seen your fate and chosen to live with a gun, whatever a gun may mean. I think “gun” means what Cheyenne said in Once Upon a Time in the West, when he said about Harmonica, “People like that have something inside... something to do with death.”
And that’s what it comes down to, that Veedon Fleece is what is going to protect us from that change from what once was to what is, to what we have to inevitably face. Being conquered in a car seat on “Cyprus Avenue” was one thing and we can’t keep those poses up our entire lives, we have to move forward and see those flashes of youth in our eyes and remember those scents and colors so vividly – the smell of saltwater, the sound of water on rock, the feel of someone’s hip and thigh, the light through trees in the summer. However, we can always go back into that eternity and look for the Veedon Fleece there, that protection that enables us to face the inevitability of the world, that meaning that pushes us on.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
No, tonight, I've just been listening to those Van Morrison albums and thinking about what I want to see. I keep getting visions of tree lined streets in the sun and street-lit fire smelling streets in the dark. It makes me want to write Wolfean eye-burning prose and then Joycean dewy-soul soft swooning prose afterwords.
In any event, I had to post another installment to share with you all - the void.
More to come this week.
I’m on the floor. I’m laying on my stomach on this soft carpet. It’s green and tan and brown. It has all sorts of patterns on it. I think they’re Indian – Native American. Or maybe they’re Spanish, or Indian – Far East – or African. Who knows, but to me it says ancient, some old world where people worshipped the sun and the air and made patterns to try and fill in the space of the unknowable.
I like lying on the floor. I feel like that’s where I always belong. I’m most comfortable there, its my cradle and my womb. And this carpet just makes me want to sleep. She picked it out of course. I think I’ll take it with me to the new house. Maybe I’ll get a dog who’ll roll around on it. A dog with white hair that will fall in tufts and collect on the edges. We never had time for a dog did we?
I prop myself up on my forearms and feel the strain, the lactic acid beginning to collect. I reach over and pick Cutty Sark up. I turn the top off and drink. Galup – the liquor drops down and makes waves upon the Hart Crane Sea , the East River. I put the bottle back down. I see it it on its side with the orange at an equilibrium. So I spin the wheel. The friction of the carpet keeps it slow and it slows to stop, pointing capwards toward the desk. I drop to the floor on my stomach and exhale. I kiss a stairway looking Aztec pattern and feel soft fabric on my lips. I close my eyes.
“Ben, it’s Erin.”
“Hello, Erin,” I said.
“I just want to say how sorry I am. How sorry we are for you.”
“Thank you. And tell my brother that too.”
“Of course,” she got quiet. Like she was thinking about Connor and I. “Is there anything we can do?”
The idea to sell the house came to me once I said outloud to myself, “My wife is dead.” And I’m stubborn and I’ll stick to an idea. So I said, “Yes. Any listings for a small place good for a bachelor.”
“You…you want to buy a place?”
“I want to get out.”
“I don’t think that’s something to think about now. I mean the kids and you. Rose is…”
“This would be best for all of us I think.”
“What about the…”
“You could sell it for me.”
“That would take time.”
“That’s all I’ve got now.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
And she did. God bless her. Sark bless her, she found me a place and I put the money down. My brother and I both married good women and if he comes tomorrow it will be because of her and not because of me or Rose. That makes me sad in a way but much happier, much much happier for him because I knew what that felt like.
I’ll go there on Monday. I’ll step around and sit by the water.
I open my eyes and can almost see myself on the floor.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
It's New Year's Day. I'm not headache hung-over but just bleary hung-over, tired, trying to gain motivation to do something worthwhile as the night begins to approach. As I'm recovering on the chair with my roommate and my friend by my side, we happen to stumble across The Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie on one of the HBOs. HBO-Z or HBO-C or something like that. Now, I had heard the legends of this movie before -"it's terrible," "the worst movie of its time," "the Gone With The Wind of its Generation," (that last one is actually from the Wikipedia page for the movie - its what it's producers expected the reaction to the movie to be) - but I had never managed to find it on TV or take the actual effort to try to rent it or buy it.
Before going any further, I have to say that I have a terrible taste in movies and terrible movie watching habits. When I say terrible, I mean that I don't usually seek out good movies to watch or take the time to sit down and watch a film. My main medium of watching a movie is something that I catch on cable with the commercials and everything. I went to the theatre to see that movie Moon this summer, but I fell asleep during it and I really just wanted a cold place to go to and also to eat popcorn and drink a large soda. I also just saw Up In The Air, which was a good, poignant movie. The movies I really thrive on are terrible movies, stupid movies - not Will Ferrell stupid, though; I just don't go that far.
Back to the movie:
The movie kicks off and we are introduced to a re-formed Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is comprised of the Bee Gees aka The Henderson brothers and Sgt. Pepper's grandson, Billy Shears (played by a skeletal and disturbing looking Peter Frampton). These guys live in Heartland, which is an idyllic country spot that Sgt. Pepper used to call home. Sgt. Pepper is long gone as the narrator, and apparent mayor of the town, Mr. Kite (played by the immortal George Burns) tells us. What has to be conveyed about the movie is that there are no speaking lines other than George Burns’ smoky narration. The flow of the movie is relayed through pantomimes from the actors (the Bee Gees really mail this in, I have seen animals that give off more of an impression or feeling than these guys do in this movie, although there is some kind of genius to such a bad performance) and having Beatles songs forced to propel the plot.
This re-formed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is pretty good and everyone in the town loves them, especially Billy Shears’ girlfriend, Strawberry Fields. However, like all of our secret favorite indie bands, the call of the music industry is too much and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club bands is soon called to L.A. by the mega record label BDM Records (Boogie Disco Music). So, the boys climb into their trusty hot air balloon and fly away to L.A., much to the chagrin of a very heartbroken and melancholy Strawberry Fields. The trip to L.A. begins to turn sour when, while floating in their hot air balloon, a plane flies by and sucks the balloon into its jets and puts the boys on a flight that touches down at an airport where they are greeted by the record hot shot B.D. Hoffler and his sexy chauffeur who tells the boys that she wants them, she wants them so bad, she wants them so bad, bad its driving her mad its driving her mad.
A quick side note, when a Beatles song is covered in this movie, there is always a funky late-70’s bass line played underneath it. No matter the tone or mood of the song. Just keep that in mind as you imagine the songs played to this enchanting story.
The band is taken to B.D. Hoffler’s Hollywood mansion where they are wined and dined and then drugged into signing a huge contract (literally, the contract is a ten foot long scroll). The contract-signing goes on while an orgy ensues around them and each of the band members presumably has sex with the chauffeur. The result of this party is that the boys are hung-over the next day as they are driven to their first recording session. They appear to have a lot to learn in order to make it in the music business and not blow the potential of their well-meaning music.
Meanwhile, in Heartland, Mean Mr. Mustard has been commissioned by the evil enterprise FVB to sabotage Heartland and bring decadence and corruption. Mr. Mustard uses his house-car, robots and his assistant Brute to steal Sgt. Pepper’s original instruments: the French horn, the tuba, and the drum. The French horn is taken to Dr. Maxwell’s, the tuba is taken to the “Sun King” Marvin Sunk, and the drum is hidden on his house-car. The loss of these instruments is devastating to Heartland. The town is soon overridden with mortgage companies, video arcades and whorehouses. The gazebo on the village green where Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band played so many concerts is turned into a giant cheeseburger. There is garbage everywhere, while Mean Mr. Mustard is raking in the cash. Strawberry Fields is devastated and scared and thinking of her boyfriend Billy Shears and what the band is up to.
The band are selling out venues and making recordings left and right. They have a tour set up where they play 46 shows in 26 days. Their records are going to the top of the charts and they are the biggest stars in the world. In fact, Billy Shears has even developed a relationship with the lead singer Lucy of the all-girl group on BDM Records, Lucy and The Diamonds. Lucy bears a striking resemblance to B.D. Hoffler’s chauffeur who all of the guys in the band slept with. Amid all this success, Billy and the Hendersons don’t realize what sort of decadence is destroying Heartland.
Mean Mr. Mustard is the kingpin of Heartland. He receives sensual massages from his robots and has a steady cash flow from his mortgage and arcade business. However, this sad state of affairs has become too much for Strawberry Fields as she decides to leave home and tell Billy and the Hendersons about what is happening to their fair town. What she doesn’t know is that Mean Mr. Mustard’s robots are watching her escape from their video surveillance system on the house-car. The robots narrate her escape and explain that she is leaving home, bye-bye. They alert Mean Mr. Mustard to Strawberry’s escape and he takes off in his house-car to catch her.
When Strawberry arrives in L.A., her paranoia begins to get the best of her and she imagines that she sees billboards of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Lucy and the Diamonds come alive. Billy and Lucy seem to be getting too close and Lucy is disheartened. She remembers that it is only her paranoia and remembers the task at hand and goes to the studio where Billy and the Hendersons are recording. She breaks up the recording session to tell them the terrible news of what is occurring in Heartland. Once the boys hear the news they decide they have to do something. So, they leave the studio and find Mr. Mustard’s house-car left unattended in the parking lot. They take the car and use its systems to find out about the evil plan of the hidden instruments. They follow FVB’s instructions and go to Dr. Maxwell’s to retrieve the French horn.
Dr. Maxwell (Steve Martin) is an eccentric doctor who turns people into younger, plastic versions of themselves. He puts them on a conveyor belt, transforms them and puts them into Boy Scout outfits. He also has a silver hammer that lights up like a laser. The band surprises Dr. Maxwell in his laboratory and he attacks them with his hammer. Billy is able to get another one of the hammers and a hammer-laser battle ensues. The rest of the band grabs the French horn while Billy and Dr. Maxwell duel. Strawberry knocks out Dr. Maxwell from behind, but not before Dr. Maxwell injures Billy with his hammer. The Hendersons and Strawberry rush Billy onto the house car. Strawberry Fields sings her song to Billy and cries that he may not awake. However, when her tears hit Billy he is awoken much to everyone’s delight, because they will need his help as they try to get the tuba back from “Sun King” Marvin Sunk.
Marvin Sunk (Alice Cooper) is brainwashing FVB’s army by repeating the FVB motto of “We Hate Love, We Hate Music, We Love Money.” His face then appears on screen and tells the army that because the sky is blue, it turns him on and that love is all, love is you. This is a confusing message, but the army is brainwashed into FVB’s service. However, Strawberry and the band arrive to take out Marvin Sunk. The band then finds the drum hidden on the house-car. All of the magical instruments have been retrieved.
Despite all of this, things are still not well in Heartland so the boys have to get back as soon as possible. They decide to have a benefit for Mr. Kite in order to turn things around. So, the boys enlist B.D. Hoffler to help them organize and promote the benefit. B.D. loves the idea and comes to Heartland with the band to set up the benefit and to have a parade. This benefit, mixed with the return of the magical instruments to Heartland begins to turn things around. During the benefit, Lucy and the boys’ manager Dougie find all of B.D Hoffler’s earnings and decide to try and take the money and drive away on Mr. Mustard’s house-car. While this is occurring, Earth Wind and Fire play “Got to Get You Into My Life,” to the packed crowd, which is distracting enough so that Mean Mr. Mustard can sneak back into town and kidnap Strawberry Fields. Mr. Mustard takes off on his house-car to bring Strawberry Fields to FVB headquarters. The band see the house-car take off and realize what has occurred. So, they set off to rescue Strawberry Fields.
At the FVB headquarters, we are introduced to FVB themselves – Future Villain Band. They are played by Aerosmith, who perform “Come Together” in a licentious manner in front of Strawberry Fields who has been bound and gagged. The band comes just in time to break up this vulgar performance. The Hendersons and Billy fight off Future Villain Band, but during the melee, Strawberry Fields is knocked off the performance area and crashes to a violent death.
Bill Shears is devastated as is the rest of Heartland. Strawberry Fields’ funeral is conducted at the town gazebo, which has been restored from a giant cheeseburger. Billy sings “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” as Strawberry’s glass coffin is carried through the town. “Everything was back to normal in Heartland,” Mr. Kite tells us, “but was it worth it?” Billy is distraught about what has occurred and walks along a dusty path up to Strawberry Fields’ old house, which has been deserted and emptied.
Meanwhile, the Hendersons are at the old family farm. They sing about a man who has killed himself in a car crash on the same day as Strawberry Fields’ funeral. This prompts them to reflect on their journey to the top of the music world. However, the boys look next door to Strawberry Fields’ old home and they see the distraught Billy Shears on the roof of the house. Billy can’t live without Strawberry so he is going to commit suicide by jumping to his death. Billy takes the leap and as he is falling, the weathervane on the roof of town hall spins and comes to life.
The weathervane was in the image of Sgt. Pepper who has come to life to save the life of his grandson. The black Sgt. Pepper shouts out “Get Back!” and shoots a laser at the white Billy, which stops him in mid-air. Sgt. Pepper then places him safely on the ground. Sgt. Pepper then flies down from the roof and tells everyone to “get back to where they once belonged.” Sgt. Pepper teaches Mean Mr. Mustard a lesson by zapping he and Brute into the pope’s garments. Sgt. Pepper does an intricate dance and zaps Strawberry Fields back to life. Strawberry and Billy are reunited. Sgt. Pepper’s job is done and so he flies back up to the top of the town hall and turns back into a weathervane, to watch over his grandson and Heartland.
Everyone in Heartland is overjoyed at this turn of events and the whole town comes out to sing. Led by Billy and the Hendersons the townspeople sing the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Song” and we get to see that Heartland is home to a variety of celebrities like Tina Turner, Curtis Mayfield, Sha-Na-Na, Dr. John, Heart, Wolfman Jack, Hank Williams Jr., Frankie Vallie and Donovan. The town finishes the song and the story of Billy Shears and his band is over.
As you can see this is one of the most entertaining and strange stories of all time. It is truly a singular viewing experience. My recommendation to you is, take a break from all those career and art aspirations, all of your little schemes to try and get laid and sit down with some friends, some beer and watch this movie and see how many great jokes you can make. That is the true reward and the true meaning of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band The Movie.
Next, my review of the Van Morrison album Veedon Fleece.
Now, the next installment of “From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt.”
Once a dick always a dick. I can’t believe I’m caught. I don’t think the term “red-handed” applies here, but we’re at the door – the portal of escape! – and of course I bump right into this guy and his gelled up pieces of jet black hair. I know Mike, I know what he likes and he’d like it if I got sassy; if I got high and mighty and pretentious. He has to know what I’ve been doing because even if you get away you can’t stop the local paper from sucking your parents for information so that they can print your name and recent accomplishments up in the Thursday Herald, next to pictures of the most recent wedding of high school sweethearts.
And with all of this, Liza and I are now holding dripping Bud Lights in our hands.
“Gee, thanks, Mike.”
“You never told me you had such a good looking younger sister, Maggie.”
Once a dick always a dick. I punch him on the arm. If I’m not careful he’ll think I’m flirting. Maybe I should do it once more; a little harder; just for the hell of it. No, I should try to keep some of my womanly manners. I think I’ve grown into some of those.
“That’s because she was like…” I look at Liza. She’s not blushing. She’s standing her ground, awkward as it might be. “How hold were you when we were in high school?”
“Two, I think? Three?”
“Yeah, that’s why,” I say and take a slug from the bottle.
Mike looks me up and down again. He has no shame. He can’t be real, he’s like a walking charicature. I’d give him more credit for his portrayal if he knew he were doing it, but I never was sure if he was. He’s still in shape, though – have to give him that. And he’s gotten a nice stubble. It sort of reminds me of…
“So,” he pauses deliberately. A bit of self-awareness. “I heard you just got back from Siberia.”
“That was almost two years ago actually.”
“Well, well. Who would’ve thought a stoner like you would become a world class jet setter.”
I give him an ironic smile. He enjoys this game. I know he likes to get a rise out of me and he always has. I should be able to help it. But something about its oldness – not its not familiarity, because I’ve become so foreign – the fact that it is stale and tired and grey makes me fall into it. Nevertheless I’m taking a big long gulp. I’ve finished. Time changes when you’re drinking with people you don’t want to.
“We should be going.”
“So soon, O’Donnell?”
“Yes, I’m not here to be out getting drunk. I’m here on family business.”
He stops for a second and eyes down the neck of his bottle. It’s like he tasted something wrong or felt a tingling in his throat and he’s looking for the insect, the tiny life mishap, that caused him discomfort.
“I know,” he says. He catches a glimpse of himself in the bar mirror. “That’s why I bought you the drink.”
Then I feel complete guilt. My pettyness after all this time to keep his character the same. To use the same lens, the same color and light to outline him. He’s not so bad and he’s probably just like me, looking for an answer to the youth that we don’t necessarily have anymore. Is he alone like me?
“Anyway,” he goes on. “I figured you’d be drinking this one down. Knowing your family and all.”
And it’s a dick thing to say, but it’s the truth in the same way that this town is the truth. He finishes his too.
I laugh and smile and I’ve got to give him one more punch right in the sweater. “Always a pleasure, Mikey. I mean it.”
He nods. “Nice to meet you…”
“Liza,” Liza says.
He takes her hand and holds it a little longer than I’d like. Finally – it seems like that – he releases and Liza and I begin back towards the door.
“Hey, Maggie,” Mike says.
I turn. “Yeah?”
“Didn’t you get married?”
I give him the finger and turn back. I hook Liza’s arm and we hit the door striding. And this time we make it out clear, we’re free to the street and the long sloping hill home.