Friday, July 26, 2013

Behind the Times


Early morning I listened to this sociological philosopher commenting on internet culture--- our habits, our lifestyle.  It used to be, via any Industrial Revolution, that the usefulness of technology was to relieve humans of the burden of constant work, to free us so that we could have the time to create, self-educate, invent-- and enhance our connection with the world around us.  Currently, people are ‘working’ more hours than ever—technology and web activity literally eat leisure time and blur boundaries between work and play.  It used to be considered rude not to look into the face of someone with whom you have a serious conversation: it was part of the process of face-to-face communication which had a place in the hierarchy of exchange.  Now, nearly everyone has their face perpetually in their mobile device—emailing, texting, image-capturing and posting, facebooking, comparing, researching... connecting, disconnecting...and it is not just socially but on-the-job acceptable behaviour.

I watched people on Sunday browsing an art auction--- they data-search each painting and judge its quality based on comparable values.  They pass on, they do not look; like a carefully built resume, there is so much competition, and so little time--- everything and everyone is now a kind of advertisement, a 'deal'.  It used to be, we received a telephone call--- it was a rather obvious event for anyone present--- they even left the room, to give the speaker privacy.  Your husband could call from anywhere and lie—no caller ID… just an opaque mysterious plastic that sat in its own corner, attached to a wall, and had the power to change your life with one ring. 

Last night a guitarist friend emailed me a plea from some fan who had apparently been to 60 of his shows, now has his own band, has played for 25 years, is even receiving some kind of award--- and wants to come ‘sit in’ with the guitarist's band.  It would be ‘meaningful’.  Does it matter that the guy is an absolute clueless internet-educated musician who feels entitled to play with Cream because he memorized the tab versions of all their songs?  But wasn’t it the current Metallica bassist who came from a tribute band and had played note for note each of their albums for years?  Does anyone know the difference?  Does anyone decipher ‘I read it on the internet’ from actual truth, actual history as it was lived by some old World War II vet whose version has undoubtedly been diluted or distorted as well?  How many versions--real or photoshopped-- of ‘me and Elvis’ or ‘me and the Beatles’ do we see now on the internet?  How many combinations of romantically involved people, celebrity bikini romps,  public displays of violence, black eyes, smashed cars, emergency room entrances and exits… whatever?

You can literally have the world in your phone now…you can get the accurate population to the minute of Auckland, or see if your make-up is smeared on facetime, without anyone knowing what you are doing. You can, as one of our mayoral candidates has shown, be sending photos of your penis and obscene messages while you are in meetings, running for office, or having dinner with your lovely wife who for the life of me I cannot fathom why persists in humiliating her lovely self by appearing with this creep of a version of husband.  Is that the message?  She is smart and dignified and lives with a mistake so we all should follow suit?  I don’t get it.

I’ve always, on the other hand, been a Spitzer-ite.  So what if he’s narcissistic and obnoxious?  He’s smart enough to know that any woman you consort with is going to cause a scandal in your life, so why not keep it purely business—no pregnancies, no blackmail, no policy leaks, no expensive dinners without happy bedtime endings, no trips to Harry Winston or whining--- just in and out.  Why was it all so newsworthy… because every heterosexual middle aged man was salivating?  And because Wall Street was trembling?  Steve Cohen is an innocent baby compared to the crimes being perpetrated by JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and our own fed.  Like disqualifying an athlete for an allergy pill—making it front page news when half the MLB is PED’d out of their minds and original bodies. 

100,000 now dead in the Syrian violence--- catastrophes all over the world… I can understand the fairytale appeal of the Royal baby--- but all this Drake vs. Chris Brown, Kanye and Kim (not easy to find a baby-Daddy with the right initial and a huge penis),  and goddamn Anthony Weiner all over it like rancid icing.  He needs to be—the ultimate punishment in this culture—‘ignored’. 

Back to music.  I’m not a huge Clapton fan, but admittedly Eric has paid some dues.  Still… I watched an amazing video of a Count Basie performance…man, these guys could play.  Every single one of them—with technique and style and precision and swing—and originality.  Do more than 800 people know all of their names? Did the guitarist get 600,000 for just one instrument at auction while he still has 400 at home and unlimited freebies?  These guys scarcely paid the basic bills.   Then the 60’s came, and there was for a brief moment some correlation between quality and success—even in jazz.  Now that concept is nearly extinct. 

But at least Eric Clapton doesn’t have to call up some asshole on craigslist and explain to him that his $300 guitar is not worth $800 because it has a badass bridge and heavy strings. In fact, because he is an asshole, it is worth maybe $270, but because yours needs a fret job that costs more than replacement, you need this and you need it now, and you may have to pay $350 which means no groceries, and he is comparing it on his iphone to all 30 which have come up on ebay in just the past 9 hours and none of them have actually sold except maybe one which was vintage—a prototype in beautiful wood, and untouched by human hands for 40 years… but he is an asshole—a Weiner, and you are without a mobile device and without the will to even speak to this guy who now says---‘okay. $400 if I can sit in with your band’ and you are absolutely going to walk out that door no matter how much you need this guitar for tomorrow.  

In the end it’s not about politics it’s about music and where does that leave the undead, impoverished, IT-deficient, IQ-endowed minority-even-in-my-own-home?  Without a working guitar while at any given moment about 766,000 are listed on ebay.  Another million or so on craigslist.  Another cool million in vaults and storage of billionaires (the good ones), another million smashed and burned on and offstage (the real ‘Guitar Heros’), another billion being misused and misplayed by assholes, and a few thousand singing in the hands of real players who do not look at a mobile device and really play at the same time.  Or write worthwhile music, and not the cut and paste kind we mostly hear these days.

I wish I could rest my case, but tonight I’m a trainwreck—yes, a terrible and inappropriate analogy today for which I apologize, but sometimes you crash and burn by failing to reach even the minimum speed limit.  



Friday, July 19, 2013

Blurred Lines


I’ve been thinking since Saturday about race.  About how perfect black men look in a white T-shirt.  About how people in Harlem wait patiently for long minutes for a bus to take them maybe 5 or 10 blocks.  About not really complaining about the heat the way white people do. About why I swipe in black teenagers at subway turnstiles because they don’t say thank you.  They don’t even look at you.  Gratitude in a situation like this is unbearable.  A deterrent.

Last night I was on a packed uptown 2 at midnight and a great looking black woman had her maybe 18-month-old kid in a stroller.  Big enough to know what he wants, but not to ask for it.  Still has that baby mouth pout.  No chance is she going to fold this thing up, as per regulations, nor is anyone going to ask her.  She has gang tattoos and her midsection is bare.  She is wearing short shorts and Nikes and is buff and sexy and tough and her kid is yelling his head off because it is claustrophobic and he is at knee-level, strapped in, surrounded by sweaty tall people.  She doesn’t even flinch.  I am waving and playing peek-a-boo with him, and he is trying hard, but he can’t help panicking.  After all, when you are 18 months old, every moment is permanent, for all you know.  No one is telling him it will get better at 125th Street; his mother is a tigress.  So this guy gets on the train… clean white wifebeater, tattoos, Daddy B shades… takes his earbuds out and puts them in the kids’ ear, hands over his iphone….finds some U.E.O.N.O….whatever… the kid is frozen… dead quiet.  No pacifier, no snow-cone or lollipop could do this.  3 stops later, he is getting off and takes back the iphone.  The mother?  She doesn’t flinch.  No eye-contact, no gratitude.  For me?  The good-hearted sympathetic middle-aged mothery white lady?  I get up and she gives me the smallest version of a smile…maybe not.  Anyway, I give one to her.  She is my idol of the moment.

Maybe it’s because I married a black man once---  but I don’t fear thugs.  I can’t get enough of them—the physical beauty, the style— what it represents-- -the ultimate tough soldier-macho thing… the obvious appeal Hip-Hop has for rich white kids.  No matter how much money they have, no matter how much power or success, how many women, how big their dick is--- white kids don’t walk in the hood alone after midnight.  But there is a certain safety that comes with middle age… no one is leering at me on trains, licking their lips in bad neighborhoods, touching and threatening.  I’m invisible. 

The young guys in my local Starbucks… sweet and attentive, hard-working and polite.  When I see them on the street, with their aprons off and their hoodies on—a different animal.  My husband pre-dated Hip-Hop.  Yes, he was a musician, and yes, white women threw themselves at him because he was dangerous.  Yes, he rocked my world literally.  Sometimes I could look at him objectively—after he went running with his dreadlocks and his glistening body—and I could appraise his physical power, his total composure and refusal to get upset or neurotic the way white men do.  Except when he played soccer, he slowed things down.  Easier to admire his wild and instinctual MO when I am not married to him, as these men in the white T-shirts, for the most part, do not seem like conventional good-husband material.  They seem unattached and unphased… life is there, in the moment. 

It took a bullying twisted cowardly asshole with a gun to get a child like Trayvon to scream.  And wasn’t that enough?  To get a scream out of him?  A little blood?  He didn’t run, that boy.  He fought the odds.  I can’t get it out of my head.  All the great sex he will not have—who knows what was on his mind before his life took that hellish turn and some sick perverted non-black man who knows he will never ‘get it’ decided the thrill of some primal hunt would ‘make his day’, would turn back a racial clock that didn’t need rewinding. 

Sunday evening I stopped by Union Square.  My demonstrating days are way over, and I can’t say I took any comfort in the company of a mixed crowd who were equally angry and sad.   Instead I took a train up to Harlem… walked around.  It felt calm and solid.  White people are guests there.  It is its own kind of gated community.  I actually stopped to watch a neighborhood basketball game in one of the community courts, with the blaring boombox and the Gatorade and the girls primping and laughing, just like Florida didn’t exist.  An outsider in the Projects.  At first I had a few stares—what the fuck was I doing, some white bleeding heart psycho… but it was too hot.  Some grandmother actually offered me  Kool-aid in a Dixie cup.  The game was fun… the boys had their shirts rolled up to cool off their great young abs and each and every player had their own style.  They were safe here.  Everyone seemed okay. Calm. 

I walked back thinking how some white people still fear black people.  Instinctively---are they taught this?  Like animals and their natural predators?  And black people embraced this, for a while… being perceived as the predator.  But now the President is black (well… almost)… and maybe Superman,  and some of the power-broker people in New York, and white rich kids of course take most of their fashion and music cues from uptown.  But most of all, I think the core of being cool is to not be afraid, and that’s what George Zimmerman will never admit, along with his primal murderous guilt: that any average black kid--- with his iphone and his body--- is cooler than he could ever be, and no violent victory or acquittal will ever make a champion out of a poor pathetic loser.  Don’t retract your words, Victor Cruz.  Your instinct was right.  Fierce you are.  Fierce you were, Trayvon.  Trayvon I was.   May you rest in oblivious peace but justice will at some point have to be done.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Clam I Am


 I woke up this morning with the sense of an ebbing anthology of dreams like an emotional tornado that reverse-spins and zaps itself out of your head leaving you sort of hung-over and used.  You try to catch them by the tail--- some of them are things you miss--- people you will never see again--- yourself as a young carefree girl, in your prime--- babies you will never have…and song--- there is often a soundtrack-- -sometimes symphonic and full and dramatic-- sometimes just lyrics--- things you are writing and they evaporate as you wake… you lose them… you, the composer--- the dream conductor… and you can’t find them…. They crash and burn into morning ash.

Today this annoying sort of Bobby McFerrin melody cycling--- ‘Hap-py as a clam…’..I lost the other lyrics but surely they were equally annoying and baffling… after all, what does a clam have to make them feel good?  It is like a bad cliche'd 70’s commercial theme song…and I wrote this thing-- or my subconscious did--- I keep searching for a meaning--- since it won't erase itself or dissolve like the others did--maybe an anagram… an irony… a reference to an ex-boyfriend or Louis Carroll…   or an old ghost haunting me with irony?

Irony—tonight I will want to play something Hooker or Wolf  like Smokestack Lightnin’ and then will remember half the audience hears this as a viagra commercial.  Why must they ruin these things?  Does anyone put Michelangelo on a box of condoms?  Actually they might have.  Why can’t they use Beyonce?  She is apparently a sexual catalyst--- although for me she is the musical version of the kind of  ‘hard-bang’ that is the very antithesis of sex.  Knock yourself out, Jay-Z, with your endorsements and commercials and your Baby Blue.  Isn’t your empire huge enough?  Does your wife now have to put her hip jerks on not just HM but a can of coke?  A symbol of ‘the people’…And HM…affordable fashion--  fashion McDonald’s servers can buy, can wear to The Club, although how minimum-wage earners afford a night out is beyond me.    I guess you need the extra income, Jay and B, for your 529.  How about 529 million?  And while we’re there, about the 529 million poor kids who are starving while they listen to your latest boring album?  Sorry.  The clam song is getting louder….

I’m not an old f--- .  I am totally enchanted by Rihanna—in all her flawed exquisite nudity and attitude.  I love her voice (I’ve yet to recall Beyonce’s?), her presence, her fearless performance.  I feel her—her Chris Brown distress, her wounded brave sexuality.  But I admit I am sick to death of sexual enhancement products mercilessly advertised on late-night TV….I mean, with all the uncensored videos, frank language and Victoria’s Secret-worthy popstars--- is America losing its mojo? 

My own son last night called me from a late-night food stop.  Jesus, he said--- there was this incredible girl next to me, totally flirting-- -and I couldn’t think of a thing to say… and there she goes, now.  Shit.  My own ex-bad-boy, teenage heartbreaker… I mean…with all the ultra-sexually charged music, all the popping and humping and the marijuana and club culture—unable to flirt? Back in my time…who thought of having something clever to say… or anything?  There was the vibe-- -and then there was—well.. there was before, during and after

How about this:  in my neighborhood--- where I often scan the street—the actual street--- for clues to finding the underlying poetry of my strange and diverse local culture…looking for a graffiti message, a pointing glove, deflated and useless Get Well balloons—trampled bouquets, a shining dime…something… not a single day goes by when I don’t see—lying in the road, along with the flattened rodents and unfortunate pigeons….a discarded condom or a used tampon.  What is the meaning of this? Who are these people?  Strangers who meet in a taxi and throw the evidence out the window?  My neighbors?  I mean, are they afraid the police will search the trash cans like on Law and Order? 

Okay…the clam song is getting louder.  I’ll keep my lips sealed tonight when the Times Square police search my guitar case because Jay Z has decided to occupy a midtown rooftop for yet another of his public extravaganzas which will gnarl traffic and feed his blue ego with thousands of greedy tons of caviar and Cristal while just a few blocks away I’ll be trying to drown out my Clam song with some actual blue blues for the 2-digit paycheck for which we real musicians play out our hearts. 

And I’ve just learned from Urban Dictionary that the unshortened expression is ‘happy as a clam at high tide’ because clams can only be harvested at low tide… so maybe the message is that it is enough for me to make it home unscathed, uncaptured, unraped, unmutilated, and undead on my hopefully running subway and crosstown bus, with my cold summer dinner in a foil container,  my old guitar, and my heart full of lyrics and dreams.