Monday, September 26, 2016

Happy Birthday, Pop

How old would you have been? I'm not even sure. 81? 82? Where were you? Your waning years were filled with invisible movement. You all but died in on me two years ago in that drab room. I drove down 14 hours straight to say stay, then when I saw you, to say goodbye. But you punked us, didn't you? I went back home and you got better. Lawns were mowed, meals half-eaten, cigarettes smoked end to end. But inside, only now, looking back, can I even begin to imagine the new struggle you had to take up. You smiled like never before, joked with all of us, you, weakened from climbing from your own grave.

There were many things I despised about you. I despised them in the way only a child who wants his father's approval can. I hated that you didn't understand me, and I felt less than for failing to understand you. Your ways seemed strong and right and solid, and they often fell at my feet, too heavy for me to lift. Your depression made you angry. I remember your deep voice at the breakfast table. I remember my mother's placating tones. Lying in that bed, I wracked my brain for what I must have done to make you so angry. I remember forgoing morning cartoons because I did not want to leave my room and face you. I had no desire to make myself a target. I already did that during the week at school. Later I would discover you had hit your thumb with a hammer; it had nothing to do with me. Your state of mind made silent mountains we all had to climb. Too often I saw you as a dark abyss where no one would want to be.

But I will always admire your spirit, Pop. When things were good, they were good. You shared things with me. I learned how to change the oil in our '73 Duster, the importance of spark plug gaps. Saying what you'll do and doing what you say. The best part of honor, you taught me. You provided, and we never went without. You didn't even get angry when Ken and I would lose our shit laughing every time you tried to read Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve like we were the Waltons or something. You pushed us and often just the right amount. Looking back, I now can appreciate the patience you had for the world that got stranger around you as you aged into its future. That strangeness, beginning in whispers from the city, then entering your own town, and finally infiltrating our own home through newspapers and television. In the end, even moving out into the country, you knew there was no escaping it. The future was inexorable, as were you. One of you had to go.

Happy birthday, Pop. I miss you, but you are never far. I carry you forward into this future that vexed you so. It's not so bad. Wish I could have shown you some of it.

Here's something from my time I think you would've liked. Hope you're somewhere good, listening, tapping your foot and grinning ear to ear.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Beginning of In the Beginning...

Enjoying the Labor Day of no labor. Sitting in a coffeehouse, drinking an expensive coffee, and listening to minimal ambient groove. I've been avoiding working on the memoir. It's a thing now. Over 100 pages. The most I have ever put into a single work. It's daunting and has grown strong enough to take from me what it wants. I'm working on our relationship. There's only so long you can bully your offspring before it calls you out and makes you show where things are. At some point a detente must be reached. I can't give up on it. A younger me would. No more excuses. I will do this, better or worse, and I will send it out into the world to fend for itself, its successes and failings always rippling back to the source. Pride or disgrace in the work of parenthood. And, of course, likely to be somewhere in the middle.

I'm working on a chapter about my love affair with sound...first music, then songwriting, then voice as the elemental that strikes me as the marriage of sound and meaning. I think it will be called "In the beginning was not the word." Wrestling with how much to include, trying to remember that this phase should be about including everything, leaving editing for later.

Here's an excerpt from the chapter in progress.

"When puberty sneaks in, music becomes a place to go, like the mall or the dam to drink, laugh, and discover the bliss of unrequited lust. For some it reveals a place to hide. Like the green hillsides and darkened woods in the Goodwill paintings my parents filled the living room with, melodies introduced themselves as portals. The days I spent staring, trying to wish myself into those infinite summers. 

I remember the Beach Boys’ idyllic portraits of some coast with souls and skin the perfect hue. I lay on my stomach, chin in hands in front of the dusty speaker trying like hell to make that place real in my head. Everyone seemed so well fed. If there were bullies, you were one of them, or at least invisible enough to find solace. Muscle cars meant no fear of bathrooms, third period, or vicious gymnasia designed to part wheat from chaff..."

Working on finding the proper balance of digging deep and grazing wide. No new struggle there, as those writers reading this would attest. The excavation is fascinating and sometimes painful. You come across pockets of gold but also raw nerves that may have been better left alone. But if you're going to tell your story, this is part of the work. Some tell it hard and straight, and some wax poetically until it's more about the present than the past. Some are minimal like the music around me and some leave in all Proustian loose threads and dusty baseboard scrabble. You decide where you fall and how it needs to be done. You listen to it as it is conjured, as much audience yourself and composer. Balance of power. Middle Way. Flowing with it so that music is made and, hopefully, not the sound of something breaking you want to remain whole.