Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hard Drive

My old computer gave me a little technological warning today… a massive system error and absolute refusal to start. After a few Hail Marys and Nam Myohos, it de-crashed and came back— a resurrection, a small miracle. Reminded me of mortality, of my need to back up the hard drive, make a will, call old friends.

Another guitar player I knew died Friday. This one a massive talent, maybe over-appreciated by some, undervalued by others. News travels quickly; ditto the rumors and the gossip-mongers. He had a small bout with cancer, but the wording of his death-notice left room to assume his old demons had surfaced and played a part in the mix. In a way this is as it should be… we all return to our ‘roots’ at the end, like a dog going off into the woods when it picks up its own scent.

But typical of the pettiness of some musicians… they all get sort of possessive of their memory. Everyone wants to perform at the benefit, everyone wants to claim their musical relic, their little piece. Like those endless Ovation channel documentaries: once the rockstar is dead, the legends begin. No one is there to tell it as it was, and half the time they were too fucked up for accurate recall, so unless a camera was rolling, there is no damage control.

As my past recedes, I can’t always distinguish between friends and ex-lovers either, no offense to those involved…but this guy… well, there was a month or two way back where I sat up with him, when he was trying to stay clean. We’d do laundry (a kind of metaphor)…watch Star Trek and Dick Van Dyke reruns in those innocent pre-cable nights… lie around and talk and laugh, talk and cry. Nothing musical.

So my own possessive claim to memory would like to sucker-punch some of the nasty bloggers who retro-diagnose and wag fingers. They weren’t fit to be on a stage with the guy who was generous and huge-spirited and hungry and maybe had a massive musical heart that many nights kept a lot of people up trying to plug its holes with music, love, pipes and whatever got him through. He bled for us all. Listen to his music. It’s the tip of the iceberg he was. Even when it sucks, it has soul and intelligence and a little genius which blurred color-lines and a sense of humor and maybe never took itself seriously enough, or the guy wouldn’t have made it to 52.

One thing I begin to realize: it’s the pure version of serious talent that kills. You have to dilute it with all that other stuff— politics, roadgigs, other people’s material— life, parties, hangovers and bad choices. Otherwise you’d be dead at 27. No starting back up in safe mode.

I salute you, HB. Rock on. Kiss the sky.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Trash Angels

Tuesday nights are the pick of the week for scavengers in my hood. Trash collection night. Townhoused streets are for a few rich hours lined with appliances, furniture, computers, TVs.. most of them not only usable but saleable for those who survive on the proceeds of their sidewalk stores. Sometimes you get libraries… because the new-age interior designers advise their clients to minimalize clutter. Clutter makes you look poor. Dated. Over is the day of glass menageries and china cabinets. These things are now hidden. Television screens are set into walls, lighting recessed, storage built-in to maximize the greatest symbol of status on Manhattan— space.

Ask any agent: really nothing presents as well as an empty loft, fitted only with finely sanded floors, stainless steel built-ins and polished glass. For the right to occupy a few thousand square feet of what is technically air-space, the rich and famous are bidding without reserve. A place to display their massive curious paintings, a place in which to entertain, to parade their fashion-forward suits for friends, to serve expensive wine, perhaps allow their children and expensive pets to run like young colts. A place in which to dream… or not.

In my place, the blank screen is the ceiling. Even there, my clever son has managed to leave his prints in the form of ballmarks. This took work. Anyway, I don’t spend a lot of time on my back these days. And I’ve noticed my neighbors with the huge open spaces feel just as claustrophobic on weekends as I do.

My garbage consists of cereal boxes and cans. A few empty milk containers. I don’t get many packages these days and I haven’t had a delivery in years—not in the budget. I’ve reduced my life to a level of little waste because there’s not much excess consumption. We reuse metrocards. We keep books. I rarely even change guitar strings lately…seems useless and I like the sound of vintage brass…it’s round and predictable. I no longer trust brand new things. I’m careful about my garbage.

What fascinates me is the endless supply of trash.. not just from the poor, which is of course plentiful….look on any ghetto street on a Tuesday night--- Kentucky Fried tubs and takeout containers alone make it look like the sidewalk of a mall. This is the treasure of rats. Not that they discriminate. But in my hood, the rats don’t waste time with private trash… they know the best restaurants. They ignore the nutrition-poor magical volume from these rich people whose enormous spaces betray little sign of life. I think this is what really keeps the homeless in New York City. Like a free perpetual lotto ticket. Sidewalk change and dropped bills have become scarce with the near-universal use of debit-cards. Hence the coveted treasure-chests for these modern street pirates who rip into black bags with the eagerness of children at Christmas wrapping, especially on these warm nights when time can bring unpleasant reactions. And the generosity of these rich people… Apple G-4s, 19-inch Trinitrons—in near-perfect order…because there is always a thinner and flatter version—even for the bedroom, which used to have slightly lower standards. Now even these are magazine-ready. Clutterless.

Do they worry about their identities? Of course their brokers and advisors shred and protect their financial information with the burden of liability. Their doormen and house-servants, as well. But there is a certain insouciance about waste which betrays the true ‘security’ of the rich. Who really gives a shit? Their bathrooms safely flush away anything truly embarrassing, their mistresses and assistants are hopefully paid to be silent about lumps and bumps. Things, however... are a nuisance...and dispensable. Plenty of money to buy new and better… Besides the massive space they occupy, their possessions and appliances are assuming more and more the preferred silhouette of the rich— powerful and thin.

So what fuels this… their insatiable secret consumption? Shopping bulimia? Multi-subscriptions of magazines which could burn and heat a large tenement for a week— and of course the auction catalogues which could fill a small library within months. And gifts, endless gifts—from benefits—thank-you presents, party favors, birthdays…. So many unopened because, really—it would be humiliating to be caught actually returning things. Or using them. It is of course politically correct to give clothing to Housing Works and other thrift shops. And the tax deduction is useful. But there again, one might be judged by one’s donations… so these must be only top quality. Things you actually bought--at retail. It would be-- well, petty-- to receive a deduction from something which was already a deduction...wouldn't it? Some of these people have husbands in public work; their every move is scrutinized. Private discretion is imperative. This of course includes what we discard.

So for us, so many ‘finds’ in the trash. I often eye these busy burrowing guys with a bit of envy. A Henry James novel calls out to me. A set of bentwood chairs —near-perfect. A vacuum. Clean. Expensive. Some things I cannot do, like annoy the local homeless by competing. They know me by my clothing, they know not to ask —that occasionally I give, and they see me carrying my bags of cheap generic groceries after midnight. They let me pass. They silently despise me.

Still, I like to walk, these steamy nights, among the trash-lined posh streets and scan the garbage, interpolate about the inhabitants of the summer-vacant houses that are still managing to produce, produce…like accrued interest. I think of the garbage as a sort of halo of their lives… a shining…something that remains, like a light from some kind of event that might have mattered. A token of unintended charity, maybe the only real charity in their lives, which resonates. So do not raise an eyebrow if a pungent fellow on a park bench is sporting a Rolex. In these days when some of us are struggling to afford eggs, there are slightly-used ipods for those who can disguise their pride on Tuesday nights. As for me, I’ll listen to my old cds, convince myself I pick up dimes and scorned pennies for luck, and fear the day dollar bills are likewise no longer worth retrieving.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hip-hop-cracy

Now that there’s a palpable chance we’ll have a dark-skinned president, apparently CNN is about to present a special on Being Black in America. Something on which I can’t claim personal expertise except by proximity in bands, on the road, in bed, by marriage. And hell, some anthropologists have been claiming we all have a little mixed blood. I’m certainly the family black sheep and anyway, I have a constitutional right to speak out.

We all get the fact that black people are dominating culturally since the 1990’s. Sports— besides skiing and tennis— have long been their domain. The empire of Hip Hop has now eclipsed any musical corporate success for what has been a contemporary dynasty-age. As in the 60’s…fashion, style, comedy— TV, film-- go right along. Every white kid in Manhattan goes through at least a phase of wearing the clothes, blasting the music, adopting the body language and ‘talking the talk’. Even Madonna had to have an NBA notch in her goddess-belt.

And it’s not like color tells the story. Imagine a documentary on being ‘white’ in America… this includes the immigrant children of more nations, more cultures than satellite channels. I hosted some reggae musicians in my home in the late 1970’s in Manhattan. Rockstars. But restaurants refused to serve us. Harlem restaurants. Indian restaurants. Cab drivers passed us by. Only in the 5th Ave. offices of the Geffens and Ertigans were they embraced, served fine wine and steak, although most of them were vegans. The kind of disrespect experienced by the geniuses of jazz—Thelonious, Bird… outside the safe realm of a cafĂ© or venue… makes our blood boil.

Which brings me to my current gripe. Jay-Z. How this no-talent pretentious thug became the Emperor of Black just pisses me off. My son told me he went to Harvard. Not true— unless Wikipedia is lying. Okay. We all know the Hip Hop music industry used the Gordon Gekko model of corporate protocol. That the Gotti family shenanigans look ‘campy’ when compared to these guys. Not all of them, but most of them. They have done more for the degradation of women— don’t get me started. The gilding of American values… murder, fraud, slander, libel—broad-scale money-laundering-- the shutting-up of the small voice--- the replacement of actual music with computer-generated beats all stolen from real drummers. And words— just words—without art, without ear— misused and forced into rhythmic slots to entice young kids into memorizing bullshit. Then they flash their diamond-studded smile as they emerge from Hummers wearing 6-figured watches and suits to match. They claim to be giving to the community and then charge exorbitant money for their clothing-lines (except you, Marbury!) and concerts. Sure, they give to hurricane relief and Darfur. The equivalent of you or I giving a few bucks. Too busy shopping, acquiring, merging. At least Gordon Gekko had the brains to stay out of music. But these guys? They are the new sheikhs of America.

The biggest King of Bullshit is this Jay-Z. No rhythm, no poetry. Just power. He even threatened to retire… but of course this was just a ruse. My son also told me he owned the Nets. Correction: 4.5 million out of a purchase price of $300,000,000. I own a few shares of Starbucks, I retort. I am not claiming to own. Maybe he owns Beyonce. She seemed like a good girl. I’ve heard rumors they’re both gay. Whatever. She is his temporary Queen. Of the harem. Looks over the golden cesspool of his King Midas life. In fact to me, seems the whitest black man since O.J. Can't dance...no groove. About as much soul as Cher. And about as real as her latest face.

I own an HP computer. Because it was given to me. I get nervous when I see those commercials. Guilt by association. I try to hate the Nets. Thank God I only have to hate 1.5% of them. The thing with sports is… you can’t achieve stardom unless you’ve earned something, you’ve paid a zillion hours of dues and sweat and tears and the hardest work there is. But music? Apparently you can walk out on a stage with nothing but attitude and the approval stamp of Mr. Jay-Z and clean up. Even if you’re lip-synching. Even if you’re deaf. Or def.

When is America going to wake up and realize the biggest BS story of all is this Jay-Zero. Like the reverse of the American Dream. The Milli-Vanilli of capitalist success. King of Balls. As long as his little posse is surrounding him. Because onstage? He comes off like a rhythm-challenged wimp. The sound of his voice is annoying. What were you thinking, Charlie Rose? I give to PBS. Has everyone fallen into this diamond-studded color trap?

I guess what prompted my July wrath is a little tidbit I heard on the news: that he has now claimed ownership of a color. Accumulating several millions from the use of ‘Black’ wasn’t enough. We now have to pay him royalties for the use of ‘Jay-Z blue’. I have an old guitar in precisely that shade—custom. Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit by and let him demand money for the use of lightwaves. In fact I think this is the biggest laugh of all. The bigger they come… don't get me started.

I wonder what Nelson Mandela thinks. The gigantic athletes of the past, whose rewards were like a drop in the bucket of these no-talent moguls. The countless runners in Africa who break records every day, who sing and play home-made instruments with finesse and grace and beauty… who struggle for food every day. Thelonious and Bird—all the nameless others-- if we could dig them up from their sad graves of tormented genius and under-rewarded lives. And not just the Bo Diddleys and John Lee Hookers… Muddy Waters and Robert Johnsons, Louis Armstrongs. I’ll even give a nod to Grandmaster Flash and some talented visionary rappers here. But I’m really talking about the ones who never made it to a stage. The ones who never will, because all the space is occupied by the gargantuan dark Satanic anti-genius shadow of Jay-Z. How many noble Black Americans are raped every day by the hideous obscene rewards for corporate-fueled musical mediocrity of the Roc-a- fella? I wonder if he pays royalties to the family of John D. and Nelson for this mockery. I am not laughing.

So if CNN gives you a nod in this documentary, shame on them. I despise everything about you and your BS fake larger-than life. Call me racist. I am not. This has nothing to do with your skin color. But the fact that you’ve used color, your bullshit ghetto-origin story to bilk your own people of all these millions and billions you use to build your pretentious empire of pompous empty Hummerdom. Give it back. Every undeserved diamond-studded penny. And especially the color blue which has been here for all universal time before it occurred to some asshole to put a name on it.

Crayola you, Mr. Jay-Zero.


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