Monthly Archives: January 2015

The March of Our Little Drummer Boys

Of all the romance languages, can anything touch music’s resonance? It’s weird familiarity and otherworld-liness?

What is it, if not a language? One that resides somewhere in all of us, usually as receptor, but sometimes as that rare transmitter.

And my god! the brilliance of those who can speak it. Even the burnouts and dummies. You’ve seen them. Dumb as rocks, handsome as bank thieves and driven by something that’s beautiful, primal.

“So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.”

Time, Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

Roger Waters was 26 years old when he wrote that. But how is that? How does a kid in his mid-20’s, rich, young and famous, have any inkling that deep — about time, no less. And he hardly stands alone. The British Invasion came on the shoulders of neophytes who somehow already knew to be mad at a world they didn’t yet know was maddening.

Yet that’s the genius of the language of rock (and, perhaps, bands): For some reason, that genre peaks in the young.

That’s not true for any other art forms. Da Vinci was 50 when he painted the Mona Lisa. Hemingway, 40 when he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. Artists tend to progress as age wizens our senses, widens our peripheral view.

But name one rock star (no less a band) that’s as good now as five years ago.

It used to madden me, why that was. Then I saw this, which puzzled me even more:

If that’s not one for the archeologists and paleontologists of future eons, I don’t know what will be. That this baby — who can know nothing of lyrics, meaning, fame, celebrity or the difference between Perrier and puddle water — can move, muscles in concert, as miniature maestro as a pop song upticks in tempo means something. It has to.

Mom used to tell the story of me as toddler when I heard the Frank Sinatra song “It Was a Very Good Year,” a song that got me so sad when I heard it I would eventually stop what I was doing to lay my head in mom’s lap. I never really believed it; it was written in 1961, four years before I was born. and I could barely balance, let alone decipher lyrics.

Yet I never forgot that story, and dedicated a playlist, “Break My Heart,” to that story. The playlist contains only songs that, if I sit long enough and listen to the lyrics, will make me cry.

I have dozens of playlists from more than 6,000 songs that soundtrack my life, that follow me from shower to car to bed and to shower again. The “Fuck You Motherfucker” is for songs that let me vent. “Shut Up And Listen” are instrumentals for writing. “Long Gone Daddy” are for soured relationships and road trips.

But it was always Frankie and Break My Heart that puzzled me most. I’ve come to love the depth music can take me, even the dark places. What other poetry takes you there? (Though there is one song, Colin Hay’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” that I dare not put on the playlist for fear of hearing its haunting truths too often). How many book passages can we quote? How many lines of poetry?

Now count how many albums.

But I may have lucked upon an answer, one at least that will stop this brain from imminently frying. I saw a documentary that passingly mentioned that the human auditory system is completely developed in the human fetus at 20 months.

Eureka! For four months, we have been listening to the world around us, aware that we are part of a choir, though we don’t yet know the chorus. But we still sing. Somehow, we know how this riff goes. It’s more than a catchy beat, a rousing crescendo, a stunning vibrato. It’s more than that. It’s something true.

It’s our native tongue.

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Oh Me! Oh Life! A Verse for the Powerful Play

 

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here, that life exists, and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

“Am I doing the right thing?”

Not before, nor since, have I asked that question aloud, posed 15 years ago today.

My organs were in. I was flying from New York, on the tick tock clock,  for my double transplant. The doctors prepped me: gown and gurney, hair net and thin blanket. Shivering, cold as hell. Now all that awaited were the new kidney and pancreas down the hall.

I had been waiting more than  year for this moment. A perfect genetic match. A chance. Yet I wasn’t sure that moment. Spencer and Michael had offered their kidneys. My god. Their kidneys. I never told them, but I got two calls that my donor pancreas was in. Tick tock. That we could move forward as soon as a volunteer was ready to be cut.

Twice I told them no. I told them I wanted to wait for the exact genetic match, for both organs, simultaneously. In truth, I was afraid. What if it didn’t work? What if I died on the table? What if Spencer or MIchael died? All because I was unable to deal with my demons?

I was a shitty diabetic. I chose to run from the disease I contracted when I was 14. I barely paid notice to my blood level unless it sank perilously low or soared dangerously high. I chewed sugared gum to fit in with the kids at the basketball court behind Pierce Middle School. They hit up the Good Humor truck every lunch period. I didn’t want to be that one kid who couldn’t chew goddamned bubblegum. I convinced myself that I was like any other kid, that nothing like juvenile diabetes, a disease I’d heard of until I got it, could conquer Ultraman.

Now I’m on the gurney, forced to face the cost of my flight.

“Am I doing the right thing?” I asked my ex-wife, Julie. In all my hubris, I needed reassurance.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But if you want to call this off, we can leave here right now.”

Now, I know. It is the right thing. Better to die on the table than of diabetes’ decay, I said, feigning bravery. The real reason I was ready: Finally, after so much running, I realized  I did not face this alone. Over the years, I’ve discovered, that’s the key to facing what appears so frightening, so insurmountable, so entrenched within. That there’s another option besides facing your demons, or not.

You can hunt them. Corner them. Force them into the light and make those motherfucker pay before you finish them off.

If you are afraid of love, love. If you fear faith, believe. If you are frightened of the dark, get up in the middle of night. Don’t turn on the light. Walk to the center of the room, the center of the dark, and challenge the spirits to show themselves, to take their best goddamn shot.

They won’t. That’s the thing about inner demons. They are crafty, malleable, terrific at making you believe they are actual. Undefeated on the field, they will say, and you are but grass to be mowed.

But that’s a lie. They are cowards.

I was a crime writer the first half of my professional career, and saw real monsters. Michael’s brain tumor. Ronald Gene Simmons, who killed 14 relatives over Christmas because he snooped a note that his wife was tired of the abuse and was going to leave for good. Those are monsters materialized. I cried when one took Michael, sighed relief to see the other executed.

Yet how often do we face such demons? How often do we instead convince ourselves that they’ve become so fierce that we’re not up to repelling them? That we…just…can’t.

We can. It is within us, because we created that darkness. Perhaps let it grow out of control until it appeared in control.

However.

Is this not of our own creation? Is it really that impossible to smite that enemy, god-like and vengeful? The bible loves to preach of demons and gods borne outside our world. Adam and Eve were fine until that nasty serpent pulled up in the fruit cart.

Fuck that. Maybe Adam was just jonesing for some fructose. Maybe if he’d faced his own demons instead of blaming one in a tree, we wouldn’t have ever had to say goodbye to Samuel Flegel. Instead, he rests inside me. I carry him, perhaps because of my own demons.

But, on this day every year, he taps me on the shoulder. He is a gentle but literal reminder. I do not walk among the night spirits alone. That he is here, bow at the ready. That my quiver is full, filled with arrows sharpened by Spencer and Michael and those who were always less fearful than I.

Let’s hunt.

 

 

 

 

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