Summer Swam Fast

August 16, 2017


Summer swam fast this year

Now the house is dark and still

Each season gains strength and speed, it seems

Leaving voids to fill 

“Remember the good times,” they always say

But the good times never last

Life is but a ticking clock

‘Til all our time has lapsed. 

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Pollock’s Mural 

August 5, 2017


I was finally able to view a Jackson Pollock. Not just any Pollock, but arguably the greatest Pollock — Mural. Certainly the greatest in stature, at almost 9’x20′, if not the greatest artistically. And if not the “best,” it was at least a turning point when Pollock, who was commissioned by wealthy socialite Peggy Guggenheim to fill a wall in her townhouse, began painting large-scale works. 

Much has been written about the painting. Pollock, a relatively unknown artist at the time, was hired by Guggenheim in June of 1943. He received a $150 per month stipend (equal to about $2100 today) and was to have the work ready for a show in November of the same year. Legend has it that when November rolled around, the giant canvas remained untouched. Pollock claimed to have completed the painting during one creative outpouring sometime in late December (later testing proves the work was not entirely painted at one time, however), and said that the painting came from an inspirational vision the Wyoming native had. “(It was) a stampede…every animal in the American West, cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes. Everything is charging across that goddamn surface.” 

Standing alone on a hot summer day inside the cool halls of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO, where Mural is on loan from the University of Iowa, I was able to truly take in the artwork. While it isn’t my favorite painting, and Pollock isn’t my favorite artist, it is something to behold. I stood as far as possible and viewed the painting as a whole. I could visualize the stampede, yet was also able to let my eyes lose focus and get lost in the free-flowing, yet repetitive, form. In some way I felt as though I was being watched. It is intriguing and mysterious. 


I walked the length of the painting — back and forth — imagining how difficult it would be to keep the work consistent, yet maintain the subtle differences throughout. I stood with my face inches from the canvas, studying the lines, the splatters and perhaps unintentional drips (Mural was finished several years before Pollock started his drip paintings), the layers, the textures…and all the other tiny details hidden in the monstrous piece. 




I imagined Pollock’s studio — his apartment, which had to have a wall secretly removed in order for the canvas to fit —  and what it might have been like. The smell of paint and turpentine was undoubtedly and obnoxiously mixed with the cigarette smoke that hung in the air. Pollock’s thick, boozy breath clung to the wet paint, and his dripping sweat became forever a part of the artwork. Maybe a jazz record played in the background. Perhaps Pollock worked in silent solitude. What was going through his mind? Did he sit and eat a ham sandwich at some midway point, staring at the unfinished work and wondering what the hell to do next? Where were his first and last brush strokes? Was Pollock pleased with the completed work? 

While I’m a lover of art, I’m no historian or expert. I see what I like, and what I like makes me wonder. Art makes me think in ways that I don’t normally. I believe that’s why I’m drawn to it. Mural certainly made me wonder. It made me think. It drew me in. If you get the chance, I highly recommend viewing it. 

when love was banished 

June 24, 2017


when love was banished we had just fallen in love 

refusing to say goodbye we went on the run 

we hid on an island and played in the sun

the authorities found us and fired their guns

we died together that day…

but love won 

The City

June 1, 2017


Some people can’t wait to escape the city in their search for happiness

They drive some shiny SUV out to the countryside every weekend, breathing in the clean air, sitting alone in the warm sun, feeling the soft grass under their feet…pondering life’s meaning while staring into that vast, empty sky

That’s probably real nice and all, but many folks never get to leave the city — the bus simply doesn’t go that far 

Some of us learned to find refuge and joy right here

We weave in and out of the skyscrapers’ shadows, running our fingers over the corroding textures, counting the faded bricks placed one at a time by some tired man’s hands, nodding to the shop-keepers having a quick smoke on the sidewalk, drinking in the history…finding strange comfort in knowing that others walked these streets before us, and many more will do so long after our shoes have worn out

I guess — for some of us — pondering life seems less important than making sure to live it

Still, of course, I sometimes ponder… 

I, too, sing America.

When I was young I sang loudly.
I learned what they wanted, minded my manners, recited the pledge.
My white friends and I pedaled our bicycles through suburbia, swam the summer away, and sat in our air-conditioned homes watching MTV when the heat was simply too much to bear — sometimes it was so hot.
Just living the American dream…

Two decades passed and I wasn’t sure what had happened.
I had a wife and a mortgage, two kids and two cars.
My pockets were full but my stomach felt sick.
I was sleep-walking through life,
Just living the American dream…

Then, one day, I turned into the wind and woke with a start.
Dirt stung my face as I walked our gritty streets.
I saw people with dreams of their own —
Like living in that big house on the hill,
And driving that big fancy car,
And wearing those nice clothes that the pretty people wear in the magazines left in the trash cans.
Like finding a bite to eat and a way to make their children warm again — sometimes it gets so cold.
Yes, we all have an American dream…

So while I lost my faith, I found some purpose.
And tomorrow I will continue to trudge along, singing my song and trying to make some tiny difference.
Because I, too, sing America.
And I’m wide awake.

“None of us wanted to be the bass player. In our minds he was the fat guy who always played in the back.” – Paul McCartney

I’m no rock star, but I’m somewhat (or more) of a rock star wannabe. Yes, it’s true that I play in a local rock band. We play pretty hard, original rock ‘n’ roll. We rehearse once a week and get to hit the stage at some very cool venues around town at least a couple times each month. We have a fairly large and loyal following, and are considered to be one of the good bands in a town that has many good (and not so good) bands. We are fast-approaching middle age (I’m already there), yet we dance around like teenagers in our skinny jeans as we loudly bang on our instruments. It’s a lot of fun, and something I also take very seriously.

Still, I’m no rock star. Rock stars tend to be divorced and estranged from their children. I’m happily married and spend a ton of time with my kids. Rock stars party all night and sleep all day. If I’m up past 10:30 on a weeknight it’s probably because I got out of bed to pee or due to realizing that I forgot to take my multi-vitamin. Rock stars drink Budweiser in the morning, then wash down various drugs with jugs of whiskey at night. I enjoy a few craft beers on occasion. Rock stars are rich and have personal trainers, personal chefs, and personal assistants. They drive fast cars and jet-set around the world. They have mansions with mirrored ceilings, six-car garages, swimming pools, and hot-tubs.

Like I said, I’m no rock star — and I actually have no desire to lead that kind of lifestyle — but I do wish I could simply master the art of the “cool vibe” that we all see in our musical idols. You know, the cocky swagger of a lead singer belting out a scream as he simultaneously catches a woman’s bra being heaved onto the stage. The effortless drum solo that includes stick twirling and tossing, plenty of cowbell, two bass drums, and the thunderous hammering of a gong. The blistering guitar solo, perfectly executed as the shirtless virtuoso squints through the smoke coming from his dangling cigarette…and then, my favorite part, the flick of the guitar pick into the crowd. A mob dives after it like a foul ball in the seventh game of a World Series. These people define cool. These are the rock stars.

But there’s a problem. You see, I’m not lead singer, a drummer, or a guitarist. I’m just, well, I’m a bass player. That’s right, the guitar’s ugly, long-necked cousin. The instrument that most people can’t even pick out in a song. The member of the band who people can’t name and never seek autographs from. The guy who is usually mistaken for a fan or, if lucky, a roadie (probably because he is carrying the rest of the bands’ gear). Once a bassist proves to security that he is part of the band, he still may not be allowed backstage. The person who wasted groupies accidentally sleep with because they thought he was the guitarist. The butt of endless jokes:

How do you get a bass player off your front porch? Pay for the pizza.

Why don’t bass players play hide and seek? Because no one will look for them.

Why do bass players have trouble opening locked doors? They can never find the right key.

How many bass players does it take to change a light bulb? Never mind, the keyboard player will just do it with his left hand.

What do you call someone who is always trying to hang out with musicians? A bass player.

And so on… But enough bad jokes, how about some boring technical stuff.

There are generally two types of bass players — those who use a pick and those who use their fingers. A pick typically creates more volume, more “attack” (an edgier, grittier sound), and sometimes makes it a little easier to play faster. Playing with your fingers creates a smoother sound, a deeper thump, and makes it easier (in my opinion) to get into the groove and really feel the music. As a result, I’ve never been one to use a pick. However, my band recently added a new tune that just sounds better with a pick. It’s been fun for me because it’s a fresh, new approach to playing. But more importantly, playing with a pick gives me a chance to do something cool.

We debuted the song at a gig last week, and in the days leading up to the show I was incredibly excited about the rock star opportunity that had presented itself to me: throwing my pick into the audience when the song ended. I had played the scene over many times in my head — always in slow motion. As the last note of the song rings out, I loft my pick out over the crowd, all of whom (thousands it seems like) are jumping and stretching, eyes focused and mouths open in anticipation of grasping this $0.10 piece of plastic used by a guy they’ve never heard of. I knew it would be so awesome. When the time actually came, my heart was pounding. Don’t let the pick slip out of your hand, I kept thinking. The song ended and — trying to keep from smiling so I was sure to look even extra cool — I threw the pick…

Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite right. Rather than have the pick softly soar over the outstretched, screaming fans, it instead somehow took off like one of those old round plastic discs that were shot from toy guns in the 1980s. You know, those guns that were banned in most countries due to causing so many injuries to children. Yes, the pick became a dangerous projectile and struck some poor, unsuspecting dude square in the eye.

I’m not sure he ever saw it coming, although I saw the whole thing. After impact, he briefly lowered his head, then raised it so I could see his spastically blinking, red, watering eye. I was doing a frantic, awkward “I’m so sorry” wave/gesture thingy from the stage, but I don’t think he had regained enough focus to see me. Thankfully, he seemed to recover quickly and didn’t appear to be seriously injured. A woman next to him grabbed the pick off the floor and offered it to him, but he put his hands up and looked away, adamantly shaking his head no. The woman happily smiled as she looked at her souvenir. She must have thought our guitarist threw it. I tried to find the guy after the show to apologize, but he was gone. I can only hope he didn’t rush out to seek medical attention.

Yet another epic fail for the bass player. To the fellow I hit, I offer a sincere apology. I genuinely hope your retina is still attached. I vow to continue my quest for rock star coolness, but in as safe a way as possible. I may never quite get there, but I’ll at least be very happy making music with my friends, as I fight off getting old with all my weak bass player power. Here’s to realizing we are all as cool as we want to be — and maybe, just maybe, cooler than we think. Rock on, baby!

Cheers.

  
An interesting thing about musicians dying, for me anyway, is how it takes me back to a time in my life that I might never have thought about again were it not for the artist’s passing. I hope that doesn’t sound selfish, as I’m not trying to make it about me, but music is a very personal thing. I think most artists would be happy to have a legacy of creating unique memories and emotions for their fans.

I first heard Prince in ’84 or ’85 on my best friend Chris Eason’s boombox (meaning no harm and knowing no better, we called it a ghetto blaster), which he brought on the school bus most days. “When Doves Cry” was played over and over again for months, driving many of us crazy. I hated the song originally but, over the course of the school year, grew to like it quite a bit. In part because my buddy did, and in part perhaps because my subconscious convinced me that I might as well accept it. Three decades later, as a musician and music lover, I can truly appreciate the genius of Prince’s work, although I admit I was never a huge fan of his entire catalog, and haven’t really listened to him in a long time. Oddly, I still keep in touch with some of the people who were on that bus — people who were never really close friends — yet I haven’t talked to my pal Chris in well over 20 years. I wonder if Prince’s death made him think about those days on the bus so long ago. I hope so — or maybe it conjured up a different memory. Hopefully a good one.

Sadly, we are on the cusp of losing many of our beloved musicians. Prince went too early, but their are many brilliant, aging artists like Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, and Joni Mitchell, just to name a few, who are in the twilight of their careers and lives. They have created memories for multiple generations, and continue to do so today. When the time comes, I will remember them for their contributions to my life. How their music impacted me personally. How it got me through rough times, and also how it made good times better.

When we are young, many of us consider our favorite musicians to be immortal heroes. As we get older, we realize that musicians are very human. Maybe they are more talented and creative in some ways, but they have problems, the suffer, they hurt, and they die — just like the rest of us. The wonderful thing is that they leave something behind for us to enjoy, to remember them by, and to continue being a part of our personal soundtrack of life. 

There is an old saying that heroes get remembered, but legends never die. The truth is, though, that we are all just gathered here today to get through this thing called life, and that’s not always easy. May the heroes, the legends, and all the rest of us continue to rock on as long as possible. 

Cheers.