Sunday, June 29, 2014

24 Carrot Old

New York City absorbs summer like parched soil getting the first rain in months.  There's always a quick premature teaser--- and within a mere few days, we've got hoards of tourists in shorts and  outdoor concerts in every square, air conditioner exhaust, that sweet garbage smell… people letting it hang out.  Girls and boys baring skin… some of it pretty, some of it not.

On the upper east side women with hats, designer sunglasses, umbrellas to protect their dermatologist's hard work… and on the subways… you get it all.  Scars, bug bites, rashes.  A guy sitting across from me today on the C train-- some hideous disfiguring skin disorder everywhere… and he's just letting all his secrets out.  Contagious?  Who the fuck knows?  In a way, you have to admire the guy.  It's a kind of dare-- just the way these 2 giggling 19-year olds are giving me way more visual information about their their butts and waxing habits than I want.  And the way you see these guys with the quarter-sized holes in their ears, covered with tattoos and piercings, and bumps underneath that give me shivers… after all, once you have covered virtually all of your skin… what's next? Do they envy the natural amputees and the genetic oozers?

When you travel in poor countries you see plenty of disabilities and weeping sores.  Here in New York City the homeless occasionally flaunt their deformities.  People are sometimes more generous when you are a true untouchable.  Then again, some just cross the street and keep their nose in their phone.  There's plenty of hideous stuff going on underneath our clothing-- just some can afford plastic surgeons and some can't.  Some are just lucky.  In my day, beauty used to be a random event-- the luck of the draw-- look back through your old high school yearbook--- everyone looks a little funky-- 1 or 2 genetically fortunate-- the obvious king and queen of the prom.  Look through your kids' yearbook--- or even their Facebook pages… and everyone is airbrushed, altered, hair treated, nose fixed, teeth white and straight--- who are these people? 

People used to tell me I had perfect skin.  I had no idea what that meant.  As a teenager I actually wanted acne; I thought it would make me look older.   My hair was naturally long and smooth.  There was no cure for frizzy hair then.  No Pro-activ.  No one advertised anything on TV but aspirin or cough medicine and food and cars and cigarettes.  Soap and shampoo.  It's so complicated now.

My son lost his job.  Yes, one of those internet startups that dangle the carrot of phantom stock options and the prospect of a Facebook-scale payout at the end of a rainbow which is really a tunnel of 15-hour workdays without overtime, an occasional perk in the form of celebrity investor/visitors; but mostly they are sweatshops which squeeze the new-college-grad spirit and goodness until the next crop comes in, desperate for work, offering free time for the privilege of resume-affiliation with a 'cool' company.  And then there is the carrot, again--- this year's model.  Anyway, at some point, during one of those private pep-talks the well-paid bosses give the kids, one-on-one, to let them think they are special, that they are being taken into the inner inner circle--- my son met the boss's toddler boy, who loved trains.  Do not fall for this, I warn… he is just trying to get a 17-hour day for under-minimum wage.  This is a snake in Comme des Garcons T-shirt.  But my son boxed up our vintage, hand-made Brio set… the bridges and the tunnels and the switchers and the locomotives… collected over generations--- one by one, lovingly cleaned and drooled on and slept with-- for generations… and delivered to the executive office-- -the black room with the buffed matte $50,000 stainless steel desk… and nothing on it but an always-open macbook air.  I cried.

I want my trains back.  I am thinking about going up to his perfect office with all the beautiful 25 and under-year-olds at their perfect matte tables, with their noses in their phones and computers… and the circles under their eyes barely visible because they have perfect skin and the boys all have that unshaven look which is compulsory… and me, in my funky thrift shop jeans with a guitar strapped on..  
with my former perfect skin and my rock and roll ravaged dyed-black hair wearing all of the wounds and realtime life of generations, letting him know exactly what I think of this airbrushed sweatshop of perfect educated kids-- mostly rich, because who else can afford to work 80 hour weeks and weekends for this pittance-- so he can go home to his 20 million dollar condo with his trophy wife who may or not be a genetically natural beauty-- and tell his private sushi chef exactly what exotica his personal trainer will have for dinner.  

I am not buying.  Not their 'brand; not their bullshit.  I want the million hours back that enabled my son to incur more debt than he had before, and duped him into pouring his life and his heart and his unspoiled ambition and belief, like a slave with the prospect of freedom-- into this asshole with a phantom internet company concept--- an app, a hocus-pocus-- a spin artist of the heinous 21st century Wall Street variety who parties with rappers and has a bodyguard because he's weak.  Because this is what the American dream has become.  Not even a company that makes something you can drive or build your house with.  Another swindle.  Another IPO.  Another Nasdaq listing at $20 that gets pushed up by his 'boys' to $40 so he can cash out his options.  Maybe even a buyout.  

But I will look him in the eye because I am not afraid of this guy who is an asshole and I could take him on with my rock and roll energy.  I am going to forget about the cool Hess firetruck I let go for the toddler brat's birthday present.  But I am going to look him right in his eye and say 'Give me my trains'. 

Mybe I should make him deliver them.  But no---I might take a couple of Duane Reade bags in there and load them up.  I'm going to make a lot of noise.  Maybe I can get the guy with the hideous skin disease to come in with me and touch things.  In his boss's office.  Send him a few articles about those laid-off postal workers who come in with guns.  Anthrax envelopes.  I know for a fact the guy is a total germophobe.  He'll surely have his bodyguards remove me.   Besides, I'm not a vengeful person.  I write.  I want my trains.  4 words.  And the shopping bags.  Maybe one of the club bouncers--- the kind with the gold bulldog around their neck and the quarter-sized holes in their ears.  Go ghetto on him.

As for my son, he will not be willing to share my dinner of white rice and black coffee.  Regrettably at 24  he will have learned the harsh lesson that no one has your back.  Trains or no trains.  No one wants your pathetic sentimentality these days.  It's a disease.  Hopefully it's not genetic.  Hopefully he'll nip it in the bud because I don't see him staying up nights writing poems and channeling melodies from dreams.  He has near-perfect skin and just the right hair.  He'll get another job.  He'll learn to hate carrots.  He already does.  He knows now in the new version of the hare is always on top and there is no finish line.  It gets moved to wherever the hare is.  That is the new game, the new 'fair', the new internet-startup black.


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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Blurred and Muddy

Another Saturday post-gig late-night.  All musicians have these hours where you are wired and tired but never that good kind of closure-exhaustion like doctors have after a successful surgery.  It is we who feel cut open and badly sutured too often-- we are the operators, but we are also the patients; we suffer from our own performance-- we criticize and rehash and wonder how we ever got the idea of standing in front of a drinking crowd while we pour out our hearts and try to make our instruments speak our angst.  Why would anyone want to do such a thing-- public humiliation, emotional guillotines, our own version of original karaoke of ourselves without a prompt?

Nothing I can locate on the new Time Warner line-up.  Of course, once I get used to numbers and a system-- -they change it.  Nothing is ever familiar these days; even my dial-tone tonight seems wrong.  PBS is usually good for a 4 AM film--- but at the moment they are once again showing this Muddy Waters/Rolling Stones/Chicago from 1981.  I've seen this before--- several times, although somehow I've never been able to stay with it.  Tonight I'm a little desperate for distraction, can't face Facebook or my voicemail… tomorrow the gig won't be quite as raw as it seems in the immediate 'wake' hours; I need to feed the distance.  Suddenly 1981 seems kind of innocent.  Muddy is the young/old Muddy I remember meeting at the Bottom Line.  I sat on his lap that one night--- on his hard, trunk-like legs and felt his calloused rough hands.  I was kind of a girl.  Bob Dylan sat in, too, that night-- not on him but with him, although Muddy seemed to care little for Dylan who was in one of those periods where he'd lost a considerable amount of star power.  Hard to imagine.  

The Checkerboard 1981 seems like a hold-over of the 70's.  People were still badly dressed; Mick has on some kind of lame orange-colored v-neck track suit or sweat pants.  He is chewing gum while Keith swills his Jack and looks still like the old Keith in his white Oxford shirt.  Muddy seems not all that impressed by the Stones although he seems to enjoy repeating 'Mick Jagger' in that great Muddy accent which post-Adam Levine has new irony.  Mick is goofy and mugging for maybe some girl.  Of course the whole night is a set-up.  I read somewhere the Stones asked the club owner to let in mostly black people and he could only muster like 10.  They show the waitress numerous times… the whole table-seating thing is annoying and obtrusive.   Muddy is unflappable.  He is rough and raw and always the same--- just right--- never slick, always gets you.  All these forgettable rap lyrics we incessantly hear … all the Jay-Z dynasties and unbreakables and niggahs… and Muddy says You don't have to go and it is enough.  Mick mugs and imitates and even wails a little, but there is something silly and childish even with Keith and Ronnie licking out.  It was better before they got up there.  But it took all those people sitting in to make us realize how much better it was before they got there, even though no one would have filmed it.

There is something still innocent about these rockstars going to a small club, even with the film crew and the set-up and the girlfriends and the entourage and the bottles of Jack flowing and the bullshit.  There is still something innocent because the music is still live and no auto-correct or backing tracks and it's American black music from the time just before Hip-Hop and it feels rootsy and folksy and direct and important. This is a document-- not so much editing and we hear the music, we know the truth.  It is a truth that obsesses the Stones, and Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin, Clapton--- all the white rock stars.  And there is Muddy… same as he ever was, with his big face and big hands, and his You said you loved me baby…why don't you call me on the phone when people still had those big black receivers and curly cords and you had to be home when your baby called and it was important and magical.

1981---before AIDS was discovered-- people still had the 70's recklessness and the time factor in relationships because there was no email or texting and no overkill.  There was still the 'waiting'.   Songs and records and tapes and radio were important.  John Lennon had just been killed--- we were still in shock, but in a way that marked the end of the 1970's...   I remember that year so well--- as I entered Central Park today for my gig--- I thought about how none of that Strawberry Fields hype existed, none of the shitty folkies sitting around playing Lennon songs for tourists and cheap photo ops of the sundial with flowers and John and Yoko memorabilia.  John still wandered our streets and peeked into local bars and shops.

I had just moved into this model's apartment--- it felt like a palace-- it had double-height ceilings and a brick wall and a sleep loft and a tiny balcony.  I knew I'd be the happiest I'd ever be in that place, and I was.   Right at that moment when Mick was onstage at the Checkerboard, I had my appendix out and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were down the hall and we'd hang out on the hospital roof.  Everything was perfect.  My love affairs and my stray dog and my apartment and my new bass guitar and the gigs at CBGB's.

Tonight those PBS Stones (and I, too, for that matter) have all since finished with their future babies and those kids are grown, and except Keith, most of the wives and girlfriends have separate lives… they are gray and wrinkled and changed, and the money flows, the Jack Daniels has maybe stopped-- -the gum-chewing silliness.  Our Muddy is long gone, and only the memory of his wooden hands is with me… and the sameness of his performance--- always Muddy---hard again, hard always… just the recording quality changing… but the blues, despite the millions of bands who claim to own it and feel it and play it… the blues will always belong to Muddy…and John Lee… and Albert and Freddie and BB… like a primary color.  We pay tribute, we learn, we listen… but like the past we can't change what preceded us-- no surgery or remixes can alter what was, clear as clear, pure as pure.  Everything but muddy, no matter how we try or do not try to muck it all up.

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