Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I came to an interesting realization a few mornings ago while at work. We usually have some satellite radio station or other on. Often there is current music playing by young bands, and I usually do not care for much of what is presented.  Oddly, I try to listen to plenty of new music, and I enjoy much of what I hear, but (my realization) I never hear any of it on these satellite radio stations. I never hear Wild Flag or Corin Tucker or the new Sophie B. Hawkins or the new Lindsey Buckingham. And I most definitely never hear the new Rush though they officially released a couple of singles from the newest album, Clockwork Angels . I am certain I will not hear the new Scott Walker or Swans or X-TG either singles or no. 

I always marvel that Nick Cave is not better known in North America. Nick Cave! Sure when I go to see him live with the Bad Seeds or Grinderman, the theater is always packed and feverish, but in my daily life about town (San Francisco no less), very few have even heard of him. And yes, I mentioned Lindsey Buckingham! He of Fleetwood Mac fame. Even he is fond of commenting on the dual life he leads. It is even the title of his latest DVD, 'Songs From The Small Machine'. Fleetwood Mac fans swarm the largest arenas in droves, but Buckingham alone can play to an intimate crowd of a few hundred in town after town. Why the disparity? This even happens from small machine to tiny machine in that Mick Harvey has released some brilliant albums (Sketches from the Book of the Dead is but the latest), and worked on other brilliant albums (PJ Harvey's 'Let England Shake"), but he is almost a complete unknown here if you are not a music dork such as myself though he played with Nick Cave for  35 years or so years. 

Of course, there is seemingly a unifying theme to much of this music, disparate as it all is. None of it panders to the masses, and none of it lowers itself to what a listener might like. While they are all fantastic to my ears, they are not always (that dreaded word)pleasing. Or easy. 

Scott Walker's newest disc, 'Bisch Bosch' will likely find itself on several year-end lists and rightfully so, but it is no easy listen. It is startlingly funny in places, and the listener never knows where the song will head next as sound textures shift under Walker's voice like massive techtonic plates drifting hither and yon. The average listener who craves a beat, always a beat, will give up. It is, happily, not very predictable tho' it is also not very happy. 

I suppose this is Lindsey Buckingham's problem too. He is a part of the group that spawned 'Rumours' in 1977. It sold millions and millions right away, and he immediately rebelled. 'Tusk' was the result. I still don't understand why the song is called Tusk. It is sprawling, and it has beautiful tunes and heartfelt sentiment alongside a snotty, punk rock edge that was everywhere in 1979 and found its way to Lindsey's heart as well. All one has to do is juxtapose Stevie Nicks' 'Beautiful Child' with Buckingham's 'Not That Funny' to feel the push and pull. 

Really, Lindsey Buckingham has that in him as well which is why it works. In a live show, he routinely goes from whisper to scream and back again within the span of a song as if he was wringing out every ounce of life from its fabric. For a society that seemingly wants a consistent beat, this is just too much. How dare you stretch a song into almost unrecognizability over and over!

Without beating a dead horse needlessly because no one needs that, predictability will be our downfall. So many people wish to stand on tradition as the foundation of all that is good saying here is all we need. Absurd. Sure, we need to learn from tradition. There are stories to keep and practices to discard, but ultimately, the best part of being able to climb high upon a peak standing on what came before is the opportunity to see to the horizons. It is the ability to look beyond our tiny corner of the globe. What is leaving from here and what is approaching that's new. 

One of my favorite bands now is Einst├╝rzende Neubauten.  I used to work with someone who had heard of them, but he said he could not listen because he would never be able to pronounce their name. I tried to explain that it is not that difficult to say, but no. He closed the door, without trying, to an entire part of the world because he cannot pronounce Einst├╝rzende.

Well this really happens alot even when there is no language barrier. Kristin Hersh has been writing music and growing as a writer since the mid 80's. Her lyrics are in English, but they often do not make an obvious sense right away. There is truly a sense of poetry to the words. They are truthful and universal. The listener may not exactly know what Hersh is on about in a song, but that only allows us, the listeners, to fill in those gaps with our own experiential understanding which can then reflect back upon the songwriter in unexpected ways. Her band 50 Foot Wave released an ep earlier this year entitled, 'Love from the Men's Room'. 

I know this disc basically rocks, and I know there is sort of an underlying darkness to it that I think I feel as a reflection of my own difficulties in 2012, but I am still not really sure I understand the lyrics per se. Well, and I don't really care. It moves me in a way that goes beyond mere understanding and into something more visceral. 

This is and can be the power of music. It can go beyond the obvious. It can speak beyond words, and it can certainly delve beyond the basic beat and baser needs. That is exactly what I need: something beyond. Something deep. Something real. Something difficult.

I lost my beautiful Grandmother this last July. She loved music, and I played her lots of the music she loved in her final hours as a balm. I feel I have her personality and disposition. Like her, I love symphonic music and opera and ballet and string quartets and piano sonatas. She often said music should reflect the beauty and joy of the world, but I always wondered how music should be constricted to only the beauty and joy. 

Often, I am at a loss for the immense ugliness of the actions of others, and music can often convey for me what words cannot. You can call it difficult listening if you wish, but that does not mean it should not be heard. We digest horrifying bits of televison everyday on the news and on tv programs, but they become disjointed images and soundbites easily removed from everyday life with a smile of the anchor and a quick transition to the weather, sports and traffic. It is all someone else's problem. 

Music can often say something ugly that simple words cannot convey, or words and music together can create an unholy whole. To listen to it is to surrender to it. You accept automatically that all is not well, or you go and listen to Fun.

I suppose this is ultimately why so many of us search for a meaning that explains everything.  They say there is someone above who can explain but won't because we're not ready. We just have to accept. But, of course we don't either. That is the hilarity. We have to accept what we don't understand. But only if we wish. You don't have to accept homosexuality if you don't understand, but why must you understand? You do not live it, you do not have to live with it. You simply need to let others live it for themselves if they choose. I thought that was the basic premise of these United States:  freedom to speak, act and practice as we choose as long as we do not hurt others. Well, hurting each other! This seems to be an odd occupation of a certain, rather large, segment of our population. 

If you feel misunderstood, try listening to some of these less popular voices. They have been where you are, and they were able to redirect their visions into other arenas. There is always hope until you decide there is no more hope. All the seeds are scattered upon the soil. Which will take? Who can know?
Who can say? What will grow?

A name for next time along these lines:

Karen Carpenter!

Merry Christmas, if you wish,
and a Happy New Year!



Monday, November 26, 2012

Well, the year marches ever onwards. There are potentially new and exciting things on the horizon beckoning me forward to the new year. I am not exactly excited about Christmas, but I am not quite as hopeless and cynical about it as I think I felt last year. I am in a new job environment, and I am meeting new people. Those doors I see before me do not feel locked against me.  I do not have all the answers, but do we ever? The journey really is about looking for the answers. Yet there are always, always more questions.  The point is which do we focus on, and which do we ignore because there are simply too many to handle in any one lifetime?

I have been listening to The Carpenters a lot lately. I cannot help but be moved by the sad story of Karen Carpenter. She experienced, with her brother, a brilliant burst of sensational popularity and celebrity that few experience. Yet it brought her precious little happiness in the end. Richard Carpenter was and is a brilliant piano/keyboard player/arranger with a somewhat schmaltzy taste in music. I do not think he meant to exploit his sister. He just wanted she and him to be as successful as possible. The success blinded him to what Karen needed, and the record company, of course, wanted hits, media and publicity. And she felt exploited anyway, in my humble opinion. Or at least, ignored.

She died at the age of 32 from complications to an eating disorder that left her body weak and confused. It does beg, for me, the question of responsibility we have as individuals, to try to help the others around us in their times of need and suffering. What can we do to see more clearly what goes on around us day to day. What can I learn from this struggle.

Plus, I do love much of the music. The albums, 'A Song For You' and 'Close To You' are amazing. And I really like 'Passage' from 1976. Those records really show their range and talents as individuals working towards a greater goal.

Yet and still, Karen thought of herself as a drummer first, and the album, 'Passage' has no drumwork from Karen at all. In the earliest days of the group, she played drums with Rich on keyboards and a bass/tuba player. Later, Karen added singing (from the drum kit). The earliest demos and the first album all feature Karen drumming and singing. Many speculate that her forced removal from the drum throne precipatated in her eating disorder and, eventually, slowly, painfully, her death.

So, I again wonder at the doors ahead of me. I had my difficulties growing up, but I was, for better or for worse, given great freedom to roam and explore. Maybe I am lucky I was born a man. Many women would agree! I do not forget the paths of humans who came before me as I forge ahead. I always try to honor the past while not clinging to erroneous tradition that clouds our judgements about the future.

Yet, I am hopeful and grateful. I enjoy what I enjoy from the past while looking towards what I might enjoy of what will not last.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It has been an interesting and intense year. I am astounded that next week is Thanksgiving; yet I am looking forward to this year being over. I'm ready for a new chapter, and 2013 seems as good a chapter break  as any.  I have been terrible at staying in touch with some good, old friends while trying to maintain some good ties with a few new friends. It isn't that I don't want to still seek out the old friends. There is a strong desire in me however to blaze a new trail forward, and change is really the only constant in life, in the end. Well, that and my cats.

I went through a severe depression early this year. There were days when I could not stop crying. I was at Trader Joe's, and I just started balling uncontrollably. I went to a supervisor to ask if I could just go home. He asked why, and I just burst into tears again. He let me go home.

My friend Josh, again who I don't talk to enough really, called me to talk because he saw my pain. I am so grateful. We talked on his lunch break. Beyond words. I was supposed to go to my other job, and I was not sure I would make it. I lay in my bed, on my back with my right hand on my chest. Funny what you remember! My cat, Cora, loves to lay on top of me, and she picked this moment to clamber on top of me. She used my hand as a pillow, and she began to purr. Loudly. I could feel her little breaths. In and Out through her nose. On my right hand. It calmed me down enough that I made it to the other job. I cried. I wondered.

I often wonder about, well everything. Life, love, happiness, contentment, depression.

I wonder at the fact that species as different as humans and cats can coexist.

Yet, we all carry on. We try to figure out a way to understand, but we don't always. So, the question really is. . . .  if we do not understand, can we at least accept that we do not understand everything?

Accept. This is a word that seems to elude humans. We all have ideas. We all have visions.  We all have wants and desires. When do we accept that it is ok to not always understand, as long as we accept it?

I certainly don't understand everyone, and I do not try, but it does not mean that I should not accept that we are not all the same. That of course does not mean that every behavior I do not understand should simply be accepted either. That, again, goes towards understanding. Just like the richter scale, there are degrees of separation and understanding that are simple and brutal and unknown.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

why do I love Vladimir Horowitz? many do. Some do not. It is his heart. Sure, he could be abrasive. He attacked the piano like a wild animal -  -- - - not to everybody's liking.

But here's the thing. He thought about music deeply and critically. In between performances, he thought deeply about the music. He memorized it and incorporated it into his being. both performances and the original notes on the page.

But, when he played, it all came from the heart and gut. Horowitz did not pretend to play the score. He had  his touch and his feel and his psyche. His playing was his own for better or for worse. you either liked it or you didn't. The true definition of an artist is that he or she performs an interpretation true to his or her own vision. Not all can pull this off. They think they can, but they cannot. They cannot. End/.
I have not written anything new in quite a long time but so much has happened in that time. Time stands still, and time marches on. It can feel so slow, and it can go so fast. confusing.

I have been composing and writing a lot. I think about recording a great deal, but the writing (and life itself) keeps getting in the way. I am sure i have at least two discs worth of music inside of me waiting to come out. Right now, I feel at a loss. I just lost my Nani (grandmother) last week, and I feel like something will come as a result of the loss. I loved her so much, and her love of her family was immense. She was often the foundation that kept this family sort of together during all the in fighting and back biting.

I want to write for her and to her when i can, but my emotions are tied down and convulsing, and i don't know if it is the right time or the best time. I wish for the best.

2012 has been a confusing year in many ways, and I feel I am at a crossroads to I do not know where. So I just keep listening and looking and, hopefully, learning. Forward is hard but backwards is harder and not desirable.

So I am looking forward by listening to Vladimir Horowitz in 1985. He constantly struggled with moving forward. He was world famous beyond belief, but he struggled with the idea that no one would remember him after a temporary retirement of a few years. Yet he came storming back, and he was broadcast around the world when he went back to Russia 60 years after leaving.

I am not so immense or so famous, or so fragile. I suppose I can come back in my small way too if I wish. If I wish.

So I go back to Nani. She was immense and tiny in her way in equal measure. She was a regular person who had to make extraordinary decisions. She saw war torn countries and tropical paradises. Her life well led is the envy of us all and beautiful. Extraordinary in all that word implies!