Tuesday, December 18, 2007

dancing through midnight

Christmas approaches. Last year my snow-bubble-boy got a crack habit and a federal sentence. You can find it under the label, “short stories.” For Thanksgiving, I wrote a story for my twin, and gave it to her, unpublished. What shall we do for this holiday season? How about we start with some reflections? That seems pathetic enough …

I started the year in the classroom, having been newly de--- wait, I don’t talk about work, not directly at least. Music, that seems safe. Let’s talk about music.

I drifted back to my roots this year. Found Marc Bolan again. No surprise, perhaps. Subconsciously I must have known that the thirtieth anniversary of his fatal tree-eating scene was coming up in September. His music truly removes me from the present. It isn’t the overwhelming power of his lyrics, Did you ever see a woman coming out of New York City with a frog in her hand? Well, I did, don’t you know? And don’t it show?” (repeat five or six times, maybe seven, then fade out), or the (over)use of strings in the later albums. Rather it’s the time of life for me. I had to break out. I’d been accused and abused, and just needed to stop trying to conform. The contortions were no longer bending me, but breaking. Mascara and fingernail polish, long hair and drugs seemed to do the trick.

I could dance in private to Telegram Sam, Jeepster, and 20th Century Boy. I never ever did the stupid air guitar thing. How embarrassing. I was a lead singer sometimes, other times and mostly just in my own world: my space, my moves, my safety. My eyes were always closed. My door was always heavily blockaded (that’s much more secure that locked, at least psychologically). I was blissfully alone. No one could touch me no matter how much they tried. I was safe. Thirty-some years later, I can’t quite recapture that, but I can get an unfocused glimpse of it – and that is so very cool.

I found again Johnny Cash. I was ten or so when Folsom Prison Blues came out. I would walk into my father’s den with my head down, picturing myself hopelessly facing a 40-year sentence. I would move slowly and put the album on, and then sit on the floor cross-legged. I remember holding the album and staring into his eyes for long periods of time, trying to grasp his reality. I remember the sounds of the prisoners, seated or standing on either side and in front and back of me. I enjoyed their reaction as much as I did watching Johnny perform. I was quiet and alone in the room, but surrounded by the discarded. It was comforting in a deep way. I can’t trick myself like that anymore, but I remember the concept of being able to do it.

I discovered Blind Willie Johnson. What an amazing story. His father beat up his stepmom, so she threw lye into Willie’s 7-year old face and blinded him. He recorded just five sessions over four years, and only one photograph of him is known to exist. One of his songs, Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground, is just an incredibly mournful song without words – just moans – that is about the Crucifixion. It was included in the Voyager I recordings sent outside our solar system. All of his songs are gospels delivered in the most amazing delta blues fashion with a rough sandpaper voice. His wife sings in the background sometimes. He spent his last years playing on the streets for coin. When his house burned, he continued to live in the rubble. He died of pneumonia a short while later at age 47 or so. His music has been performed by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, the Dead … all sorts of folks. I just got The Complete Blind Willie Johnson, a two-CD set, yesterday. I am hearing a few songs for the first time. His music to me is the concept of the church I always wanted but never had.

I filled in a lot of The Beatles bootlegs this year. Found a few rich veins – so much, in fact, that I am nursing hard disk space until I expand soon. I focused a lot on George Harrison because of the large gaps. I am at the “completist” stage for John and George, close to there for The Beatles. Paul’s a long way off mainly because I am spotty on his music. Ringo will go from zip to complete in a day or two, so there’s no rush. Reflections? Not really. You can deconstruct January 1969 only so many ways. I find the musical evolution and studio talk interesting, I love hearing songs in infancy that weren’t published until their solo careers, John cracks me up as he makes fun of Paul’s songs (like singing Maxwell’s Silver Hammer), but I’m beyond reflections, I think. You could, however, close me safely in a room with an upper floor window open to catch a summer breeze, play Rocky Raccoon, and perhaps I could find my grandfather’s fields on those days when I knew no one was within seeing or screaming distance. The hay was always as high as my torso. I could see something in the distance running away only by watching the hay respond. The woods were so rich, so old.

I guess in a lot of ways music defined this year for me. That’s not a bad thing.

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