6-8-04, 8:30 AM -
I really must apologize.
For the past couple of months, these letters have been a bit like battery acid: bitter and inadvisable for optimum health. I've been in a funk since March, which is unusual, since my yearly funk normally occurs from January to February. There are a number of factors which contributed to the funk, but it was a rather all-encompassing one this time, more comprehensive than I'm used to. It completely bowled me over with its intensity.
But as of Saturday night, the funk has lifted. For that you can thank my friend Shithead. For those who don't know, Shithead and I spent two very formative musical years together from 1993-1995 in the ill-fated Average Deep (which I've just constructed a page about, if you're interested). And at least once a year in the decade since, I've had occasion to talk him down off of the ledge, problem child that he is.
However, the tables were turned on Saturday, and this time it was your favorite honky who had to be talked down off of his ledge, wearing his big shirt and cradling his chapbook. Now, don't freak out, there haven't been any bulk sleeping pill purchases or anything. God, how I do loathe the Suicidal Poet genre. There's just been a dark flirtation with Mr. Holland's Opus and the whole should-I-have-a-backup-plan thing.
And the answer? No, I bloody well shouldn't.
Sometimes this city is tough, because you see the remains of so many artistic aspirations hauling their undead carcasses through the club doors, conspiring in coffeehouses to make their last, career-saving Hail Marys before daily life swallows them whole. I confess that I have seen my face, Darth Vader-like, in the eyes of those sullen wraiths, and it scared the living bejeezus out of me. But the reaper has not come. In fact, he's scarcely aware that I exist yet. I am so far down on the list that I may as well have just been born.
Which is precisely what was bothering me. Something in my psyche seeks large amounts of acknowledgement, either good or bad, and the paucity of it can drive me to believing that the jig is up, sorry, you're a ghost already, didn't I tell you? However, absence of acknowledgement can be attributed to two things: Passage or lack of arrival.
Look, I know I apologized earlier for providing two months worth of navel-gazing melancholy, and now here I am with an itemized analysis of same. I'm just trying to say that it's better now.
After all that, I cannot neglect to mention that one reason I feel better is a visit to the doctor regarding the recurring sinus/sore throat/flu crap that's been pounding me for months. Got the antibiotics in hand, and I can feel the germs in retreat. Away, you bastards!
Actually, reading the political boards today is reminding me of another factor that may have been pushing my morale into the crapper: Fear of another 4 years of Senor Buuush. Well, okay, there's only so much I can reasonably do, so once I've done that, I gotta back the truck up and concentrate on my own shit. Take that, latent selfless activism urge.
Again with the itemization. Ahem. Sorry.
1:13 PM -
It's a typical day here at Boulder Holders, Inc. Got this office to myself, which is nice. Out the 14th-floor window behind me, there's a fabulous view of the Chrysler Building. I get curious about what an office in the Chrysler Building must look like. I find that the outside of a building can sometimes be indicative of the interior, decor-wise. It's definitely true in the case of my office, a gray box inside a gray box.
I have a decent chair here, though, which is worth a lot in the office world. If I were more wily, I could bargain with some of the crappily-chaired locals and maybe score me a few bucks in a trade. Wouldn't be worth it, though. My back would protest.
All of the other backs here are carrying boulders, though none appear terribly cumbersome. You'd think that a bra manufacturer would have at least one buxom lass on their design staff, but no. Although I did meet a few on a trip down to the 6th floor the other day. That's where they assemble the samples before sending them off to Hong Kong to be reproduced in sweatshops.
The 6th floor is like the nicest sweatshop ever, row upon row of seamstresses hunched over their sewing machines, basking in the bright fluorescent bulbs and ample air conditioning. I was sent to the 6th floor to retrieve a package that was misdelivered. My boss, Josie, gives me the lowdown:
"Okay, so you have to get to the 6th floor."
"But to do that, you have to get off on the 11th floor."
"Then you'll get on a different elevator and go through the entrance that doesn't look like an entrance."
What is this, Skull & Bones? "Okay."
"Once you're there, you need to look for Edna."
"Where will she be?"
"Well, it's hard to describe...look for the oldest lady."
"Go down to 11, change elevators, go to 6, go through the hidden entrance and look for the oldest lady?"
Fine. God help me if I select the wrong one. "I'm sorry, you looked like the oldest..."
As it turned out, it wasn't really possible to mistake Edna. After going through the door that doesn't look like a door (it was a wall panel with a keycard-reader), I found myself in the aforementioned sea of seamstresses, all of which appeared foreign and most of which appeared buxom. So this is where they keep them.
At the back of the room, I spotted something that, to my eyes, looked like an old Jedi Master. A hump taller than her head, a loping gait that made one want to raise a wheelchair fund, the oldest lady on the 6th floor approached me laboriously. Wanting to save her any unnecessary broken bones, I quickly moved to shorten the distance between us.
"Hi, are you Edna?"
"Last time I looked."
Ah. "Well, Josie sent me to pick up a package."
"Pick up a package from who?"
Man. "From you."
"Oh. Did she say what it looked like?"
"She said you called her."
"Oh, goodness. Well, I'll have a look around..."
"Maybe I can look around for you," I suggested. Poor lady doesn't need to be digging through packages.
"Well, that's awfully nice of you. You say it's from Josie?"
"No, it's FOR Josie. She sent me to get it."
"What's the matter, her arms broken?"
"I don't think..."
"It doesn't stop me."
"I can lift a box, you know."
"I'm sure you can."
"That girl doesn't weigh any more than my handbag, you know."
"Yeah..." I'll just have a look around for my package and be on my way...
"You new here?"
"Yes, I'm temping for Josie."
"Oh, that's right. Well, they need a man on that floor."
"I mean, I can lift a box, but what can you do with a girl that size?"
"Riight. Okay, I think this is it..."
"Oh, THAT package! I remember now. That was the one for Josie."
"Yep. Okay, got it. Thanks so much!"
"Don't get lost, now. There's a door that doesn't look like a door."
Good old Edna.
3:27 PM -
Had to take a trip outside to get some fruit. I've picked up my fruit consumption of late, trying new things like mangoes & nectarines. Fruit's mighty good, mmm-hmm.
Problem is, every time I come into the building I have to flash my driver's license. Now this is just crap. Why does it make the security guard feel better to know that whatever mass murderer is walking past their post has a driver's license? And of course it's worse than that, because the guy's already seen my driver's license TWICE today. My guess is that there's a camera on him, and the boss is trying to catch him letting someone through without checking their documentation.
Got a message for the boss: ANYONE can get a driver's license. YOU'RE WASTING YOUR TIME.
6-8-03, 5:00 PM -
Once again I'm thrust into a parallel universe. The signs are in English, but are just the wrong color. Black is white, down is up, Superman is Lex Luthor...that's right, I'm riding New Jersey Transit. The PATH train, to be precise, which is technically a Port Authority operation, but everything here smells of Jersey.
an unclean errand that I set upon tonight, so unclean that I dare not speak
it. For to do so would awaken a sleeping anxiety, one which lurks just below
the surface of my cool exterior. But in order for these two paragraphs to
have any point whatsoever, I must utter it:
I'm looking for an apartment in the suburbs.
What? Who said that?
No one, brain. Now settle down and think of Central Park.
It probably shouldn't be as big a deal as my nerves are making it. Simple monetary economics mixed with the economy of space nets New Jersey a tick on the scorecard, so I must investigate. Since I've been doing a recent inventory of wants vs. fixed costs, it's become evident that something's gotta give.
Quiet, brain. You'll be but a train ride away. Quiet, I say.
5:25 PM -
Whoa, another alternate universe. I'm on the NJ Light Rail now, headed to Bayonne. Stopping at places with names like Harsimus Cove. Huh? Weeeird. Not promising, thus far. Lots of decrepit red brick buildings that look like they used to be something before ze Germans bombed the shit out of them.
A bit reminiscent of the DART light rail in Dallas, except that DART mostly ran through decent neighborhoods. Getting a little better, though. We just passed behind the bigass Colgate clock and I got a decent Manhattan skyline view. These trains are tinier than those of the DART rail, too, which is a bit odd. Just two cars long at rush hour. They're not too crowded either, which may mean that most New Jerseyites have information I don't. Or a car.
It's funny the difference a river makes. I mean, things are old & beat up in Manhattan, but somehow it doesn't seem as sad & pitiful as this. A lot more talking on the train than on the subway. I always notice that on above-ground transportation. Buses and above-ground trains, people talk. Subways, they don't. There's a psychology study in there somewhere, I know it.
6:53 PM -
Wow, cockamamie scheme time sure does show up quick. That neighborhood was actually decent. And easy to get to. And the place is dirt cheap. And there's a backyard, for Pete's sake. But what I really like is that no one's got bars on their windows. So either people in Bayonne are really stupid, or there's low crime.
But cockamamie scheme time must wait, for I'm only scouting at present. Can't throw the dice just yet, but it's good to keep in mind. Good for you, New Jersey.
6-10-04, 8:03 PM -
I was sitting at my desk doing nothing in particular, other than trying to avoid the weeklong rose-colored funeral of our dearly departed prop for third-world dictators, thinking about the obvious Pink Floyd tune:
"Take all your overgrown infants away somewhere
And build them a home, a little place of their own
The Fletcher Memorial Home for Incurable Tyrants and Kings
They could appear to themselves every day
On closed-circuit TV
To make sure they're still real
It's the only connection they feel
'Ladies and gentlemen, Reagan and Haig
Mr. Begin and friend, Mrs. Thatcher and Paisley
Mr. Brezhnev and party
The ghost of McCarthy
And the memories of Nixon
And now, adding colour, a group of anonymous Latin American meat-packing glitterati...'
Did they expect us to treat them with any respect
To polish their medals and sharpen their smiles
And amuse themselves playing games for a while
Boom-boom, bang-bang, lie down, you're dead
Safe in the permanent gaze of a cold glass eye
With their favorite toys
They'll be good girls and boys
In the Fletcher Memorial Home for Colonial Wasters of Life and Limb
Is everyone in?
Are you having a nice time?
Now the final solution can be applied..."
(The Fletcher Memorial Home, from The Final Cut)
But then I heard that Ray Charles had died.
The enormity of it took a moment to sink in. THE Ray Charles. To imagine the 20th century without Ronald Reagan is difficult enough, but to imagine it without Ray Charles...
The man threw down a path so wide that every artist since his heyday has only been able to tread one piece of it, if that.
I thought about the circumstances of each fallen man. Reagan, a lower middle class white child in the Midwest, Charles a blind, orphaned black child in rural Georgia. It's inarguable that they both did well for themselves, considering.
But RAY CHARLES.
In all my life I never heard him give one bad vocal performance. The power, presence, and simultaneous fragility he gave to every song he sang remains unmatched, by my reckoning. I remember "That Lucky Old Sun", the sound of a destitute and desperate man doing what he had to do and begging God to free him from a life of servitude and pain. You didn't need to read the bio to know that Ray knew that pain.
Honest, heartfelt emotion soaked the microphone and wouldn't let you go. When he hurt, you felt it. And when he was happy, there was no force on earth that could make him keep it inside. Charles was a man who FELT a song, and he made you feel it, too.
Like Reagan, he was not a saint. Far from it, in fact. When I was in college jazz band, one of Ray's occasional trombonists sat in with us and had some rather colorful tales to tell about his boss's shenanigans. But Charles was always ready to tell you all about it. Cheating, lying, drinking, fighting, nothing was so bad it didn't need singing about, and in fact, the worse it was, the more it needed singing. Ray Charles' voice was a conduit for his emotions.
But he was always in charge. That voice led the band, and never followed. This authority extended to the business end of his career, where he negotiated record deals with unprecedented artistic and legal rights control, making him one of music's greatest individualists. Particularly for a black artist, there could be no better example of breaking down walls by sheer force of will.
Chalk it up to his blindness if you must, but perhaps the greatest gift Ray Charles gave the music world was a catalog free of color walls. He saw the fallacy of splitting music into white & black, and would just as soon belt out an old timey country song as a dirty blues holler. As he once said to writer Peter Guralnick, "You take black music, you take country music, you got the same goddamn thing exactly."
Neither did he see any division between classical, jazz, and pop. It is impossible to imagine the later genre-bending of the Beatles without Charles' example.
It is impossible to imagine the course of 20th century music without Ray Charles, period. Think of a world without Stevie Wonder. Without Peter Gabriel. Without soul. Charles influenced everyone from Elvis to Aretha to...well, damn near everyone.
Now think of a world without the Christian Coalition. Not quite the same effect, is it?
So contrary to my earlier expectations, I will be mourning this weekend. When the names of the 20th century's politicians are long forgotten, the musical legacy of Ray Charles will continue to live in the hearts of musicians. Though they may not know who, they will know that someone, long ago, invented soul.
6-11-04, 3:20 PM -
Sittin' in the park. Summer hours are in effect, which means that though I come in an hour earlier every day, I get off early on Fridays. Most times it's not worth it, but today it is. A cool breeze wafts the smell of cart-borne kebabs over the bright green grass.
It occurs to me that last month marks the 10-year anniversary of my moving out of my parents' house and into my own apartment. This has the effect of making something else occur to me: I'm still poor.
I've always been poor, save for 5 months in 2000 when a promotion at doomed dot-com X bumped me up into the lower middle class, though truthfully nothing much changed besides lunch menus.
I and many of my income bracket are are fond of making mealy-mouthed assertions of poverty's value to one's character. The classic English "happy but poor" and all that. But despite such talk, you will not find a soul who would honestly dispute that it's better to have money than not.
To not be poor is to have no walls, no barriers. A choice of restaurant or apartment is one of taste, not of carefully measured consequences. There is nowhere you can go that will adversely affect your well-being for the following month.
This fact is made more stark here in New York, a land of walls and barriers built for the express purpose of keeping the poor, and many of the rich, out. It's not that I believe that there is some kind of golden paradise beyond the heavy oaken doors with the gold trim, but I can't help but think that it would be nice to think in terms of what I want to see, and not what I can afford to see.
The other day I was thinking about my first apartment, in west Fort Worth. 2 bedroom, 2 floor, $550 a month, split between 3 guys. I paid under $200 a month for my piece of that place. I marvel at such a prospect now, but of course I have to remember that I was often short of the rent. Bookseller wages, near-constant car repair, and gas to & from gigs all over the metroplex kept the piggybank rather lonely, and of course if excess cash did come along, it was spent on books, CD's, and late night buffets at Pancho's.
When one looks at it critically, I've had plenty of opportunities to not be poor. Not to get rich, mind you, but to set up fairly permanent shop in the lower-to-central middle class. The problem there, however, is the same problem with being poor: You make decisions based on what you have to do.
New locales and intriguing job descriptions are largely off your map, because the key to staying out of poverty, at least for the newly un-poor, is consistency.
But of course throughout the past 10 years, the assumption has been that the music will soon deliver the living. Nice assuming there, matthew.
For all of this whining, it must be said that there are people far poorer than me. Not everyone has a wife with a degree to keep the roof up between temp jobs. Or a roof at all.
But you see, today I don't care. Being poor sucks, and being rich doesn't. If you disagree, go fuck yourself and give me your money. Right now I'd like to get in a working car, get on the highway, and drive for two weeks, stopping in whatever town I ended up in at the end of the day, after which I'd spend the next month working on my new disc.
But I can't, because...well, you know the rest. Now go fuck yourself and give me your money.
6-12-04, 9:32 PM -
I just read the above entry. Shithead, you'd better call me back, it didn't take.