Wednesday, December 14, 2016
"Silent Night," as sung by my dad to my mom
When my mom was dying, something told me we had to decorate her hospital room. Even though she couldn't see it--she'd had a massive stroke and was unable to talk or open her eyes--I could feel she was so present, so with us. And something hit me as I was sitting there and crying and literally giving her grief... it was so selfish and controlling, like--and sorry I can't think of any prettier, less smellier way to say it--I was literally shitting all over her. There was too much of a contrast with the glorious outside (the most beautiful bird-loud August ever) and inside her room, tubes and plastic and beeping like some laboratory where bad things get invented because someone was careless. I didn't want that for her, my mom who still planned out theme birthday cakes for us way into adulthood, vanilla cats and baseball diamonds and rocket ships. I wanted us to give her a party with the moon and stars, the pink-laughing-with-yellow of a new day.
So I strung a string of butterflies across the window and played the songs on my iPod that seemed the most appropriate--I love loud guitars so there weren't too many, but I did have Burt Bacharach, The Carpenters, Vince Guaraldi's theme from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (it sounds great in the summer, by the way). Not sure if it was the combination of the decorations and the music, but for whatever reason my dad--brain shrinking from dementia, heart growing because the theory of relativity--started singing "Silent Night" to my mom. And we all joined in, my sisters and brother-in-law. I'm not sure how many times we covered the first verse, but it was just the right amount.
There are no stars in your eyes when they're closed
We stumble behind you, dim to your inner constellation,
singing you home
Monday, December 5, 2016
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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.