Monday, December 5, 2016

Songs I Love in 88 Words or Less: '"Autumn Almanac"

"Autumn Almanac," The Kinks

Under tissue sky I
the end-of-the-season sale.

All the leaves, crackling bloodless arid,
you can fit in one paper bag.

A dozen seed pods--a bargain!--
everything within on chelonian lock-down.

Then by the river, so
foolish and tender,
a yellow rose I grab to hold in my hibernating

This song by the way is just Ray being Ray. And I suspect the caterpillar is buttoned up in a cardigan.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Songs I Love in 88 Words or Less: "Care of Cell 44"

"Care of Cell 44," The Zombies

When I graduated from college and moved to the city, I looked for jobs in the New York Times like everybody else. Only I  started my search under "P" --for Philosophy. Surely there was a job where I could make a difference by sharing the secret similarities between Russian Marxism and the Clash ("All Lost in the Supermarket," natch)! As my blush faded--color me Pink Pollyanna--I landed at Teddy Bear Review, editing classified ads peddling googly eyes and doll wigs.

I can't help but compare it to the Zombies, who pinned all their hopes for a big hit on this song. No surprise, it's beyond gorgeous.  If I were a piano, I''d want to play it at the thought and expression of every sunrise. Who knows for sure why, but it totally flopped. I'm theorizing people felt a disconnect, when there really isn't one, between the music and the lyrics. And the Zombies broke up.

Almost 50 years later, "Care of Cell 44" is finally recognized for the piece of art it is, and the remaining Zombies reunited and sometimes play it. So here's to late bloomers--'cause for me, I know now that your dreams can lead you to a prison or a key. And ain't no one locking us dreamers up except ourselves.

P.S. Ballerina Cow postcard copyright Barry Downard 200. I added the quote.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Songs I Love in 88 Words or Less: "Don't Stop"

"Don't Stop," Fleetwood Mac with the USC Marching Band

Say you’re a sound. Are you a fizz, a plop? A stop then a pop?

As for me, I’m honk-y. Born of horns that, in spite of their ability to go low and dark, ultimately want to bust out and fly skyward, taking everyone else along for the ride. If you know me, you know I’m a clapper. I spent most of my first half-marathon cheering on fellow Team ASPCA runners (yeah, that’s a little weird; screaming /shouting takes up a lot of energy, and most people would wisely save it for their own performances), and long ago I implemented the now-traditional practice in our dance class of applauding those who bust a move.

Pretty corny, for sure. But when the USC Marching Band brass section starts talking on this already way goopy song, it’s total magic. They sound so familial, like my sonic tribe has come to kick me in my sorry ass. They’re so freaking positive and encouraging, writing notes in bluebird-colored ink that they toss wildly yonder, all of them reading the same thing—“You can do it!”

My favorite horn moment on any song I’ve ever heard comes at 2:01-2:06.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wide Awake, Crescent-Shaped

I see the moon and the moon sees me
High up over the apple tree

I can still hear my mom and dad singing this to me,* and with it that vague, buttery feeling that all little kids should have that everything is good and everything is connected. Like, if you can see the man in the moon (and yes, you want to see him so bad when you're 3, so you do), you're pretty much set.

Here in New York City, I'm embarrassed to say I don't even know if the moon is supposed to be visible to telescope-less eyes every night.  It's like that in many other urban areas, where most of the time you can't see stars because of light pollution. The glare and clutter from street lamps and lights in and outside office buildings spills into the sky like frat boys at Santacon, peeing in the street and such.

It's not just that we can't see the night sky. it's that as a result, I think we're out of whack, oversolared and overexposed.  If you're like me, you'll feel especially overstimulated in summer, when the sun is biggest and loudest. A real scheister who won't get off the stage until gravity forces its departure, the Donald Trump of things-in-the-sky (HELLO, you shouldn't look at him directly either). Even the sidewalks glare at you, and riding the subway is like licking a moist underarm (Eeww! Sorry).

Fortunately, there is hope--and it's made of green cheese. Okay, it's actually more like rocks, but Ayurvedic experts and others recommend moonbathing as cooling and calming, a way to balance the sun's yang energy with some loony (as in lunar) yin. I found a blog post on this practice that blows my mind (and P.S. if you wanna dig a little deeper you can find the author's body and spirit analysis of various world leaders).

So this past summer I started watching the sky in earnest. At first, it was like some bad crush, with me practically salivating as  I'd catch a glimpse of the moon over the East River. I'd be close to panting as I'd get off the bus and throw my groceries or bag upstairs and run outside again, only to find the ghost of my beloved taunting me from behind a pack of dirty-tricking clouds. Some nights it would seem like the moon was tracking a cubist path, now a cut-out hanging atop a tree with Scotch tape, then minutes later a papery disc holy communioned between two apartment buildings.

But slowly, somehow my aim just got better, and me and the moon had some quality time. In Texas in September, she (she? Yeah, she's a she for sure in Texas) acted as a tour guide for a leg of our sunset cruise around Austin's Ladybird Lake, as a million bats emerged like butterfly shadows to greet her.

And these past few days, whoa…it's like the moon's on 'roids, swinging big and low and bulbous, precisely timing orbit and phase in order to be his biggest self. (Yeah, this Supermoon's a total shock jock). On Sunday night I turned off all the lights, opened the windows and did my before-bed meditating while gazing at the moon; I'd close my eyes and see the Kodachrome version like a glowy doorbell on my third eye, then woke up the next morning thinking, The moon is a prodigal sun.

On Monday night I had to lie on the living room floor to get a good view, Ira looming over me from the coffee table, a la Supermoon, Siamese Cat edition. I'd close my eyes and see the moon waning into tomorrows, then woke up this morning and knew, Love is the moon looking at the sun. Or, love is that which flows between the moon and the ocean.

I also knew, like it or not, this is the story I have already been and have to start telling over and over, no matter that others have already told it better, no matter what a crappy or not job I do of it. I tell mine with cats and girls, and moms and brothers, and sacred beings and freshwater pearls. I wish it were a little easier to tell, like the story of the first kitten to do a pirouette (that's still on my list!), but it's kinda the one thing that explains everything to me.

Love is the moon thinking about the sun.

* I didn't realize until this writing it's an actual song! One of family members must have changed the words from "down through the leaves of the old oak tree" to "high up over the apple tree," in homage to the tree outside my window. To this day no Macintosh has been able to raise the bar set by this tree.

And then there's this.

While writing this, my inner juke box cued up  and busted out "Sunrise, Sunset," and  I'm in the backseat of my family's light blue Caprice Classic again, forced to listen to this borderline creepy and way-too-depressing-for-a-kid song--sorry, Tony!--on 8-track.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Songs I Love in 88 Words or Less: "Oh My My"

"Oh My My," Ringo Starr

When you're a kid, Ringo's your Beatle. The name! The nose! The rings! Octopi and submarines!

When you're a kid, you also have questionable taste. I ate pats of butter and pink Betty Crocker icing by the spoonful. I liked Shaun Cassidy. I also loved this song, so I wasn't prepared for how freaking good it actually is when my 7-year-old self recently nudged me to listen in…

Billy Preston pounding on the keys like he's riding a unicorn with a rainbow mane. Ringo and the other drummer (they needed 2!), dancing bears doing the cha cha on the moon. And the saxophone, notes shooting out of my ears and riding the up elevator like a band of angels headed home...

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Songs I Love in 88 Words or Less: "Let It Bleed"

"Let It Bleed," Rolling Stones

 Keith Richards has said that he's still alive today because the heroin he used was always 100-percent pure, pharmaceutical-quality. Pristine chemicals lined up in perfect order, like choirboys about to perform a slippy, drippy, depraved song just like this one… Everything about it is just so lubricated, from the oily, oozy autoharp and Mick's vocals, round and smiley-ripe at the edge of rot, to that smack-talking, back-talking loose and juicy piano, strung out with bloodshot guitars that cut you off at the knees--yes, the position you secretly wanted to be in all along.

Seraphim or incubi? It's hard to tell who's playing. Better to just sit back, have a listen and add and/or subtract the bodily fluid of your choice. This is the good stuff.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Hang Ups and Tries Again

The universe has all sorts of crazy ways of keeping and marking time, and it's like we each get our own calendar of personalized holidays. A couple of mine: A week left of my freshman year in college, one of my dormmates ran up to me on the quad, lifted me up and swung me around, breaking several of my ribs. That same week a year later, our house president saw me on the front lawn during an ice cream sundae party, picked me up and squeezed me. An assortment of ribs cracked again. And for several years after I had surgery for an infection in my hand, my left index finger would feel funny on the April anniversary of its traumatic opening up and draining of whatever bad crap was in there.

Of course, they are not all somber anniversaries--some don't even get a whole day but slip echo-like through an hourglass, maybe words whispered when we made our way into this plane. Like on certain summer nights, a breeze will come through the window that I know I've felt before, like it traveled around the world and came back with stories of others in its path… It remembers me climbing out the back of a friend's car on a June night, barefoot on asphalt still warm from the day, backdrop lit with stars and fireflies…. After rehearsal for high school graduation, still in my cap and gown and flip flops as I lean over a fence to feed a friendly cow some greenage he couldn't reach…

So, with time tracked by a tricked-out rolodex remotely controlled by the moon, it shouldn't have come as a surprise when, on a run a couple of Mondays ago, I found a gold iPhone 6 on the ground by the East 6th Street footbridge--pretty much right where I lost my own gold iPhone six months prior.

I remember feeling so violated when I lost it. I'm not a big phone person--(1) you never really understand what someone wants/feels until you talk to them in person and 2) I had maybe 2 apps on there, which elicited big laughs from the nice Verizon Wireless guys who eventually programmed my replacement--but I took tons of photos for potential blogs, and a precious handful of images of high-octane moments, like my mom's hair when she was dying (it held this indescribable energy and beauty), like Ira when he was a baby and the love in Bing's eyes when he looked at me.

If this happens to you, immediately put your phone in Lost Mode using the Find My Phone app--locking it and enabling you to track it if it still is charged and online. Then you leave a special "I am lost"message on it displaying a number someone can call. I never got a call, but that day my little gold dream floated above the deep snow drifts of East River Park up to Bellevue Hospital and back to the Jacob Riis Houses, where it remained until it became untraceable.

During that time, I fantasized about going there and putting up signs, playing the sympathy card about the photos of my mom. I thought about how iPhones are quite a luxury--but are worth nothing if they can't be used. I felt like I was in a cosmic standoff with whomever stole it, because by this point, they'd crossed the line from finding to stealing. But worrying about two phones is like not knowing whether to shit or get off the pot, so, well, I let 'er rip, gradually accepting and absorbing the loss.

I hadn't thought about it much until this sweaty August morning, when I'm holding a lost phone with a clear pink cover and a Metro card tucked inside. I had just decided that I would bring it to the police station when it rang. I arranged with the caller--Rashan--to tell the phone's owner to meet me in front of the running track. As I waited, I noticed 2 cracks across the screen--could that have happened from a fall during a super-fast (for me) tempo run? Could this be my phone? My code was 4 digits, and not one of those easy ones (1234! 2222!), but no so hard that it couldn't be cracked if someone kept trying. It felt so familiar in my hand, in a way that the replacement never has…

And it rang again, and it was Rashan saying that he was coming himself. And within 30 seconds, I handed it off to a scrappy 12-year-old on a bike with a banana seat, so light in my hand and then just as tender gone, like a butterfly long free dreaming of being in her cocoon again… 

Could it have been my phone? The whole thing was choreographed so weirdly, it felt a little prankish, but I just didn't want to go there. And ultimately, it doesn't matter anyway, because I think this very personal marking of time is less about loss--save that for the big stuff!--and more about letting go.

I'm sure there are more to uncover, but some of the the things I learned while on Lost Phone holiday:

1. Don't get all testosteroned when you need to do anything faster--instead, go all loose and easy. If I hadn't been so tense during my speedwork, I may have  heard my phone hit the pavement, but no way it could compete with my pounding heart. As one of my favorite yoga teachers, Erich Schiffman, has said, everything is easier when you relax…and it's so true, especially the hard stuff!

2. Inspiration has a shelf life--and it's much better added to the recipe when first picked rather than squirreled away in the freezer for later. And you don't need to hoard it, because it will always be there. Otherwise interpreted as: Use those photos right away!

3. You don't need a photo to keep a memory alive. If it's important, it will always be inside you like a shy smile. (P.S. I've also taken the practical step of backing them up on iCloud.)

4. Declutter joyfully. There's really nothing but your soul and your heart you can't afford to lose.

What's in your datebook? Would love to hear what the universe has you celebrating/commemorating.

"People take pictures of each other
Just to prove that they really existed"