Friday, June 28, 2013

To Gain and to Lose Dimensions: Arguments for a Corny Superman

I wonder if we can stop "re-booting" things now.

I haven't seen the new Superman movie, yet. I love Superman, even though I was never a comic book kid. I had them, but everything but Superman seemed a waste of time.

I also got the treat of seeing Richard Donner's wonderful Superman: the Movie at the age of ten, in the theaters. I remember the advertisements on TV: "you'll believe a man can fly."

Christopher Reeve
What I saw onscreen was Superman as I had seen him defined in the comics and in the old reruns of the George Reeves series and in whatever cartoons had floated through my little head. He was honest; he represented "truth, justice and the American way."  He was a man, in that he could thump the bad guys (or, you know, pick up a train) but he would still stop to get a little girl's cat out of a tree. That's good stuff.

Strangely, I find myself getting emotional from time to time when I show my kids movies from my own past. When I put on Superman for my boys, I found myself getting choked up. I'm not sure what to make of this, really. It has a lot to do with just sharing something that was dear to me; it has a lot to do with the example of Superman in that film; it has a lot to do with John Williams's music (which, to me, is like water to the growing plants of my boys' young minds and hearts) but, I also think it has to do with the beautiful simplicity of the character.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Tortoise and the Care

Yesterday, I looked out the bathroom window and saw something crawling across the lawn, slowly and steadily. One of our increasingy frequent turtle visitors had come up from the not-so-big Big Timber Creek, below our back yard.

The dog went out and stumbled upon it, mid squat, and comically danced in circles around the now motionless shell. She threw a few bravado-driven barks over her shoulder as she retreated in fear.

Then, my boys went out to inspect.

They went, immediately, into salvation mode. We needed, they said, to do something to help the turtle -- take it in; make it a cardboard home; feed it; cuddle it.

A week before this, they had found another one back there and the -- we'll call him "precocious" -- kid from across the street claimed it and took it to his father (who, according to my son, is an absolute expert on turtles) and they discovered that that little green beast that they had origionally named "Sheldon" was really more of a "Loulou" -- or whatever it is they named her. She was, as they say, "with egg."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Steven Wilson's "Heartattack in a Layby:" Shades of Raymond Carver

When I was a kid, I was treated to more types of music than most. My father, a composer/arranger/trumpet-player and my mom, a singer, were both aficionados of American musical theater, so I had a good dose of Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, etc. (I liked  the music, not so much the shows. I still think Richard Rogers is one of the purest writers of melody in the history of music.) But what really grabbed me as a budding young composer/musician was French Impressionism, introduced to me by my dad. I ate, slept and breathed Ravel and Debussy for a large part of my adolescence.

At the same time, I was a writer, and I progressed from fantasy literature through realism, finally arriving at a real love and respect for American fiction. To this day, I think the fiction of Steinbeck, Andersen, John Updike and Raymond Carver -- especially Carver and Steinbeck -- is the greatest stuff ever written. But I have believed, for years, that no one has ever captured the excruciating drama of suburban existence like Raymond Carver.

In stories like "Cathedral" and "A Small, Good Thing," Carver captures reality and exposes its bare nerve ends to the cold air of truth. No writer has ever left me more chin-dropped than he.

As a natural extension of my exposure to French Impressionism, especially for a young drummer, I moved through a period of progressive or "art" rock, with the like of Yes, Genesis and Rush. Let's face it: these guys were doing with rock what Ravel and Debussy were doing with orchestral music -- painting long instrumental pictures. (No, I'm not comparing the quality of their composition with the two French greats -- that would be silly -- but their music is still exciting and ambitious.)

You might wonder where I am going with this. I don't blame you. Here it is:

Recently, I have discovered the music of one of my nearly exact contemporaries; a British composer/singer named Steven Wilson. He is known, primarily, for his work with Porcupine Tree, a kind of neo-progressive band. He writes "album-oriented" music, which is something I have always admired. (If songs on an album are not part of a bigger idea, why make it an album?) In his work, there are shades of the old Genesis/Yes stuff and it is these characteristics that originally attracted me to his work. We see eye-to-eye, where music is concerned, I think.

Recently, I got the Porcupine Tree album In Absentia. It is an outstanding piece of work, all-around. But the track "Heartattack in a Layby" is, simply, as outstanding a work of art as I have ever seen. In fact, I would call it the perfect example of balanced emotion in art -- the line between emotion and intellectualism is perfectly struck and there is no trace of sentimentality, whatsoever, in it. It brought me to tears through the sheer profundity of its intricate simplicity. The music is outstanding, but the lyrics immediately put me in mind of Raymond Carver.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Arteeste (A Parable)

As he sat in his modest home, the artist lifted a chipped coffee cup to his lips, sipped, and looked out the window as the late morning sun brought steam out of the road.

The audience, the night before, had been a good one. They had cheered. They had danced. He had had his hand clasped, enthusiastically. Various people had expressed their wish that they, themselves, had "stuck with" this instrument or that one. It always struck him as a kind of passive/aggressive thing when they praised his playing and then stated their own wishes to have continued on a musical journey, but, praise is praise, he supposed.

He was a writer, as well, this artist. And he could draw fair bit. All of his life, people had called him "talented." They had worn his acquaintance like a bit of a cultural badge. This, by no means, secured him invitations to the best parties, however.

A scholarly mutt of my acquaintance.
Girls liked it too, his artistic...ness. He wasn't the kind to crank out love poems or songs for his own carnal gain, but they (these young ladies) were often intrigued by his obsession with creativity; by his fanciful nature; by his unaffected artiness; that is, until they found someone easier to get a handle on. Someone more grounded.  Someone with more potential. Someone with a nice car. (Except one.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Media Sage Knows...

We all know how important perspective is. This importance, of course, has given birth to the all-too-often misused cliche, "perception is reality."

A few days ago, a friend on Facebook posted something to the effect of "we live in a sick world." I didn't pursue it, but I can only imagine this was a result of something she had read online or had seen on the news. When I saw this post, it occurred to me that, metaphorically, I think we all instinctively see the computer screen as a window to the world. But it is not a window. It is a magnifying glass.

Whatever my young friend (a former student) had seen, it was a story about something horrible -- about something someone did that was awful. Maybe a "news" story about a mother killing her child or something of the kind.

It seems obvious to say that one sick story doesn't make the world a sick place. But, when we see these stories, human nature seems to be magnified, for better or worse.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Touching Bases

Over the last three years of writing this blog, I have successfully and even intentionally -- nay, brazenly -- avoided posting holiday-related pieces and, although today is Father's Day, I contend that the only reason I am writing about fatherhood is as a result of a discussion with some friends last night over drinks.

So there.

Anyway, one of these friends -- a mother -- had mentioned her surprise that her son, soon to be in high school, had a little trouble when sent to a counter to pay for some goods at a store. He simply hadn't done it before, and he was a bit confused by the process. She was surprised by this and helped him through, to his visible relief.

I mentioned that we, as parents, tend to find ourselves in these situations: "Why didn't I teach him that?"

I think this stems from two places: 1) We sometimes forget, as adults, that we need to teach the things that are second-nature to us and 2) it is often easier to take care of certain procedures ourselves than to slow up the process by, say, sending our children to counters to pay for things.

It is good to be a person who constantly thinks in metaphors, sometimes...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Not Enough

Too much strategizing, not enough talking out of things.

Too much "living out loud," not enough quiet thought.

Too many "events" not enough "sales."

Too much stick-shoulder playing on open high hats and crash cymbals --

Not enough riding of delicate tings over arpeggios and synth pads --

Not enough peace.

Not enough peace.

Not enough peace.

Not enough silence.

Not enough

Winslow Homer

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Passing the Baton of Self Sacrifice

We seem to be moving farther and farther away from religion, but sticking with the same old notion that life is made for suffering. Don't you agree?

In some religions, especially the more stentorian ones, people were taught that our job on Earth is to suffer so that we may one day find Heaven. Most Christian religions have taught this in varying degrees. The only thing that was cool about this was that the payoff was an eternity of cloud-riding and harp-strumming. Sure, you would spend a brief lifetime wallowing in sorrow, but the rest of forever was your holy roller coaster ride.

Many, today, are sort of arrogantly writing off the possibility of God, but many of those same people still relegate themselves to suffering a lifetime of lameness -- even suffering. The downside is that they don't believe in the payoff.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Return to Crystal Spring

A few months ago, some of you might recall, I went on a local pilgrimage to one of Walt Whitman's favorite spots, Crystal Spring. I wrote about it (you might want to read that one first if you haven't), and mentioned that I had planned to go back when the leaves were back on the trees. It was January when I visited the first time. On my birthday, in fact.

It was indeed a different experience, this time. It's only a small place, this little spring. But there is certainly a peacefulness there that wasn't as rich in the winter. For one thing, it sounded more like a poet's retreat. (It was, in fact, a place where Whitman worked on Leaves of Grass.) While I was there, I did a little recording on my phone. Have listen as you read (you can hear the very spring Whitman heard). Reality does set in at the end as a truck passes on a nearby street:

Friday, June 7, 2013

What Nobody Wants You to Know About Everything

Take this literally, along with an afternoon nap. And don't call me when you wake up.

Wastes of time:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Football Playin' Sissies

This morning, because of the recent death of former NFL superstar Deacon Jones, the hosts of a radio show were referring to his appearance on the old show "The Brady Bunch."

In the episode, Peter is on both the football team and in the glee club at school. The football players make fun of him, calling him a "canary" and a "sissy" and Deacon chimes in and tells the kids that he and some other guys on his NFL team have a singing group and that they perform when they are not playing. "Am I a sissy"? Deacon says. The coach then refers to Rosie Greer, who also was a singer (and who was very tough on the football field; with a name like Rosie, I suppose he had to be).

Deacon the sissy with the boys.
One of the radio hosts said that this particular episode rarely airs now, because it is "politically incorrect." Presumably, this is because of the use of the word "sissy."

Am I the  only one who doesn't see the word "sissy" as a reference to being gay? I always saw a sissy as someone who can't stand up for himself; a wimp. As a quality of "sissiness," being gay never entered into my mind. I don't see all gay men as wimps. Never have.

And there is nothing in that episode that implies gayness in any way. The kids just believed that wimps sing and tough guys play football.

Monday, June 3, 2013

"Surrender, surrender but don't give yourself away."

When a pop/rock song is good, a pop/rock song is good. For me, the band Cheap Trick has a few of the best pop/rock tunes of all time. But, it's pop/rock. It ain't no musical revelation. Still, the other day...

[insert wiggly sit-com memory transition]

...I was driving, trying to figure out why in the name of Zeus's elbow I had just sat through an entire Judas Priest song (conclusion: same thing that drives us to "rubberneck" at car accidents) when the "Surrender" by Cheap Trick came on. I have always liked that song, so I cranked it.