Wednesday, January 27, 2010

That's the way it is.

"If you believe in something your very belief renders you unqualified to do it. Your earnestness will come across. Your passion will show. Your enthusiasm will make everyone nervous. And your naivety will irritate. Which means that you will become suspect. Which means you will be prone to disillusionment. Which means that you will not be able to sustain your belief in the face of all the piranha fish which nibble away at your idea and your faith, 'till only the skeleton of your dream is left. Which means that you have to become a fanatic, a fool, a joke, an embarrassment. The world - which is to say the powers that be - would listen to your ardent ideas with a stiff smile on its face, then put up impossible obstacles, watch you finally give up your cherished idea, having mangled it beyond recognition, and after you slope away in profound discouragement it will take up your idea, dust it down, give it a new spin, and hand it over to someone who doesn't believe in it at all."
— Ben Okri

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We must love one another or die

….All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky;
There is no such thing as the State
And no-one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet dotted everywhere
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Thus spake W. H. Auden in the last two stanzas of his poem September 1, 1939. Eros and dust, negation and despair, ironic points of light…my god. I have no religion no faith to guide me, all I have are words. Ah, but with such words as these, I am comforted.

Even with the First World War as his template, Auden couldn’t know the depth of negation and despair that lay before him when he wrote these words. If he had foreseen the battlefields, the camps, the mushroom cloud, could he have spoken of an affirming flame? At what point is hope delusional?

I was wandering around YouTube the other night and found dozens of recordings of poets reading their own work – Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, Anne Sexton, Charles Bukowski, Stevie Smith, Philip Larkin, Edna St. Vincent fucking Millay baby, Auden reading September 1, 1938, Sylvia Plath reading Lady Lazurus (talk about creepy; the voice of a suicide reading an ode to her own death); Eliot reading The Waste Land. He thought April was the cruelest month, but I don’t know if I believe that any more. False hope is better than none at all.

Surrounded by plenty I am defined by lack. There is no treatment for disbelief.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Long Ago in a Galaxy Far Away

1977, late summer, but it felt like fall in San Francisco. I was 18 years old, out on my own with no clear definition of the word “limits.” Andy Warhol said, “in the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” I never got my 15 minutes of fame, but I was beautiful for about 15 minutes in the late 70s. Call it youth, health, confidence, I don’t know what it was and it didn’t last long, but for a short period of time, I was pretty. Being pretty, even briefly, had its advantages. I went out a lot with a lot of different people. I was taken places. I saw things. I attracted attention, although usually the wrong kind.

So, it was late summer in San Francisco in the seventies. I was young, beautiful and fearless; what could be bad, right? On the night in question, my journey began with me riding shotgun in a Chevy van while a half dozen of my partners in bad behavior rolled around in the back. The driver was my date, a young Asian-American guy whose name I can no longer recall. He wasn’t much to look at, but he always had lots of cocaine. I can’t remember who else was along for the ride, but I remember where we were going: The Great American Music Hall on O’Farrell Street to see David Grisman and Stephane Grappelli. Shortly after this performance, Grisman released Hot Dawg, which became the soundtrack of my misspent youth, but on the night in question I knew him and Grappelli both by reputation only.

We had, of course, done a few lines before heading across the bridge. It was the 70s people; no-one gave a second thought to driving under the influence. Of course I remember what I was wearing: baggy pants, a man’s white shirt, a skinny tie and my beloved Stetson fedora. Just enough coke on board to give everything that sharp, shiny edge, I was young, free and riding the wild energy of the nigth.

As we pulled up on O’Farrell Street, a line of people stretched around the club waiting to get in. That’s when the first miracle happened: I pointed my eyes at the curb and there, directly across the street, an open parking space appeared. “Pull in!” I shouted to the coke dealer, and he yanked the car into the space. As we crossed the street, the second miracle happened: I saw my friends Susan and Steven standing fifth in line, just back from the door. “Snuze!” I called and danced across the street to greet her, my posse trailing in my wake. That’s when the third miracle happened: just as I reached up to kiss her cheek, before the people standing behind her had a chance to react, the door opened and we were ushered in like Bianca Jagger at Studio 54. We took the front table, center stage. I sat in front, at the base of the microphones. The waitress took my order for a Becks Beer without batting an eye. The coke dealer paid.

The show opened with the Diz Disley trio, remarkably proficient purveyors of old jazz. Disley kept making eye contact with me, emmitting odd, guttural grunts of delight as he shredded like a motherfucker. After he left the stage and was standing off to the side, he raised a glass to me with a look of enquiry. “I think he wants to buy you a drink,” the coke dealer said, as he discretely passed me a hand mirror. I only smiled in return. I was happy where I was, holding court, the queen of the night.

The lights went down and the Grisman Quintet came on. Read it and weep music fans: David Grisman, Tony Rice, Darrol Anger, Todd Phillips, Bill Amatneek. I was young and dumb and had no idea that I was in the presence of greatness. I only knew that a torrent of notes, swing, soul and style was raining down my head like blessings from the gods. The majors, the minors, the diminished fifths and ninths, the sweet, long washes, the dancing 8ths and 16ths; I closed my eyes and let it enter me, fill me, change me.

Grappelli came onstage to thunderous approval and the energy twisted, turned, lifted to another level. He spoke for several minutes and I couldn’t understand a word he said, his accent thick, his manner mischievious. He opened with a Grisman composition (played with Grisman, of course) and with those first minor notes, the night filled with the past, the future, destiny, fate. Grappelli was rapturous when he played, his smile never left his face. His tone was like the sweet voice of a young mother singing to her child and I was that child, enveloped in the loving arms of his music. It was the sound of joy, of delicious delight. My life had led me to this brief, fleeting moment of unutterable perfection, never to be repeated.

Never to be repeated, friends, never again. Lightning like that only strikes once. I’ve heard many amazing performances by many incredible musicians, I’ve had some very fine times with some very fine folk, but this was the pinnacle. Nothing has ever come close. I stumbled out of that club transformed. Nothing would ever sound the same again.

Sweet Georgia Brown, was it really 32 years ago? Has it been that long since I was young, beautiful and very, very lucky? Care to hear how lucky? I recently found a recording of that very night on line:

Would those days could come again. They will, but not for me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The End of the Oughts

Greetings to my faithful blog-followers (you know who you are) and to those of you who visit occasionally. It has been quite awhile since I've posted. The holidays kicked my ass this year, but mostly in a good way. Our Christmas week started at Joe Porto's housewarming party. Joe hasn't moved, but he has rebuilt his house from the ground up. Only one wall of the original house remains, so technically the project was a "remodel," but in reality he's living in a brand new, beautiful home. To celebrate, he hosted a swank dress-up party, just like a real grown up.

The next morning, I was on the 6 am flight to New Orleans to visit Arly. It was my first trip to the city and I was completely enchanted. They value great music and great food, so you know it's my kind of town.

Among the many things we toured:
Tulane University Law School, where Arly studies.

Cemeteries and lots of them. Madame Laveaux may or may not be lying where her grave is marked, but I left an offering of money and made the mark of the Triple X just to be on the safe side.

Laura Plantation, where we got a tour from what looked like a 16-year old kid. I was fascinated by the slave quarters pictured here and appalled by their history. Intending to grow sugar but lacking the money to buy the full complement of slaves needed to work the operation, one of the ancestral owners purchased five women and two men and "bred up" her work force. Horrifying.

Oak Alley Plantation. Note the 300+ year old Spanish Oaks.

Sunset on the Mississippi

Christmas Eve bonfires on the Mississippi

The beautiful Garden District, where we had brunch at The Commander's Palace.

Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.

The sadly devastated Lower Ninth Ward and their new, weirdly anacronistic Brad Pitt houses. Many wrecked houses still have the codes spray painted by the first responders on the exterior. We saw one that said "Dead Body Inside." In my mind, the Bush Administration's response the the Katrina hurricane is one of the most shameful episodes in the last decade.

My beautiful, amazing family

And, so much more, too many images to post here. I've fallen madly in love with the city and can't wait to go back. Arly is thriving there, and no surprise.

The last decade has been a roller coaster, hasn't it? I'm calling them the "oughts" for the number zero ("aught") and for all the things that ought to have been and ought not to have happened. Bush anyone? 9/11? Iraq? Katrina? Ah, but this was also the decade when I launched my two daughters into adulthood. We also elected a thoughtful, pragmatic, intelligent African-American as president. The good and the bad, campers, the good and the bad.

This last year has been a particularly wild ride, with incredible highs and lows. I'm deeply grateful for my many blessings, chief among them my beloved Sequoia and my brave, bright, beautiful daughters. No more oughts my friends! As we move into the teens, I seek to quit "shoulding all over myself." Time to accept what I can't change and change what I can't accept.

Happy New Year all!