Tipping Over Rocks

As I watch middle age wind its way inevitably towards life’s downward slope, I ponder which part of my soul to put into words.  While we inevitably have some mid-life or existential crisis – though not nearly as grand as Don Draper’s – I never seem to find the words to process those events appropriately.  Instead, I find myself coming back to the common themes of food and literature.  But not today.

As the parking wars of Oakland ended with my career taking a twist, today I’ll travel the musical path and in doing so, perhaps raise a smile, give you a tune and reveal a bit too much.  Let’s find out.  I’ll take “Tipping Over Rocks” for $2000 Alex.

Nearly everyone my age loves Led Zeppelin. What’s not to love?  Bonham’s barely contained rage on drums, Jones’ arrangements and base, Page’s searing, inventive and hypnotic guitar and Plant’s vocals driving home the point.  And that well-worn spot on his jeans.  Yes, I know that you know he dresses left.  I fought embracing Zeppelin them in high school because everyone else did, but it all finally made sense to me around 1979.  I haven’t let go.

If you ask for a list of people’s favorite Led Zeppelin songs, you will inevitably get “Stairway to Heaven”, “Kashmir” or perhaps “Ramble on”.  While I do love “The Immigrant Song”, my favorite track is a little ditty on side 3 of Physical Graffiti, “The Wanton Song”.  Who doesn’t love a song about the rush and immediate need of sex?  I do.  But the song is about the hook.  This is my favorite hook in the music universe, with all apologies to Mike Campbell.  It rocks.  It rages.  And yet it radiates a progression and melody that echoes all the false promises of pop music.  It is meaty and it delivers.  It takes my seed from my shaking frame, and the wheel rolls on.

 

In the early 70’s no band was more theatrical than Genesis.  My love of the Peter Gabriel era Genesis records is well documented.  I’ve dragged Lambchop to more Musical Box schlong fests than she cares to recall.  And while such staples as “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, “The Musical Box” and “Supper’s Ready” are true favorites, I have a deep, carefully curated, soft spot for “Harold the Barrel”.

Harold is a man depressed, contemplating suicide, being encouraged by reporters and the crowd.  The song offsets the grim situation with a power pop melody and vocals reminiscent of happy children.  It’s a tough song to interpret as it is presented like an opera, but in Peter Gabriel’s singularly spectacular voice.  But without the liner notes showing the various parts, it can be tough to truly grasp the theatrics.  In the midst of such a crisis, Harold’s mother tries to talk him off the window ledge by telling him, “”Your shirt’s all dirty, there’s a man here from the B.B.C.”.  Some things are universal.

 

 

And then there is REM.  I first discovered REM with Life’s Rich Pageant.  That’s me, late to the game. But I went back and found the rest.  From 1986 – 1994 REM put out the soundtrack to my ascent into adulthood.  It might have been easy to point to “Texarkana”, “Can’t Get There From Here” or “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.” Instead I’ll point you to “A Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)”.

There is a manic, frantic quality to the song.  At once I want to dance and cry.  The beat grabs me by the collar and forces my attention.  Yet under the reaping wheel, a sadness and strange environment dominates the world around me and despair rises.    Don’t miss the train of woe; Boxcars are pulling a carnival of sorts, Out of town, out of town.

 

In early 1980, my friend Matt brought over a copy of London Calling.  The Clash was new to my consciousness and while the title track and “Train in Vain” were cool, it really wasn’t till I started college later in the year did I grasp the meaning and might of this band.  Let’s skip the obvious and jump to the meat.  As I’ve aged, when I listen to Strummer and Jones I always yearn for “Stay Free”.

Clearly, the tale of a friend who wound up in prison and then got out bears no relationship to my life.  But time passes and life’s choices often create distance between friends.  Relationships erode and yet, deep down, bonds never really break. I wonder what might have been, filling in an alternate history for my life.   I always tear when Mick sings “But go easy, step lightly, stay free”, my code for what never was, but could have been.

I’m sure your first exposure to the Pretenders was “Brass in Pocket”.  Perhaps you always loved “Back on the Chain Gang.”  I know Lambchop loves “Night In My Veins” and that special something dark and dirty about Chrissie’s nights.  I tend to prefer the darkness in “Up the Neck” and the raw, bleeding emotion of “The Wait.”    One brings the darkness of love gone violently wrong to the sweet melody of a strolling love song, while the other rages with pain dished out and taken.  When I heard the entire debut from the Pretenders, and my view women in rock had changed forever.

Bondage to lust, abuse of facility
Blackmailed emotions confuse the demon and devotee

Oh gonna hurt some, child, child, child, child, child
Gonna hurt some whoa my baby

Music changes us, rewriting our DNA in a way that we can’t comprehend until it’s finished.  The old cliché is that music, generally what we heard in high school  is the soundtrack to our lives.  Instead I find it to be the fabric on which we write our story, the texture to our soul.  And if you listen closely, you’ll hear echoes of my past, here under the rocks.

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Myriad Randomness: No Trump Edition

Is there anything more annoying than traffic?  As always, I drive for over an hour each morning and nearly 2 hours on my way home.  Today, several thoughts hit me.

  • This is California.  65 is a suggestion for the fast lane on uncrowded freeways.  You should consider visiting the slow lane if you believe 64 is a death sentence.
  • Is there anything worse than the indignant look of the driver doing 64 in the fast lane when you pass him (or her) on the right?  The shame they showered on me was, well, nonexistent.
  • Why no Ma’am, you your pristine white Kia Soul cannot simply bump that stalled truck out of the way.  I believe the word you are looking for is totaled.
  • I hate 880.  I will work hard to avoid it.  Sadly, on days like today when there are accidents up and down that stretch, everyone moves to my alternate routes.  Thank you for the extra 20 minutes of crawling.  My life is now approaching completion.

Eggplant, the poor misunderstood eggplant.  I think it is time we allow the purple globe to leave the island of misunderstood vegetables and live a happier, more fulfilling life.  I’ve been making versions of ratatouille and roasted vegetable, with the humble aubergine front and center.  Seriously delicious good eats those are.  Fuck.  When did I decide to eat healthier?  It must be time to put more pork on the smoker.  Don’t get your hopes up, I’m still not going anywhere near albacore — in or out of a can.

Normally we get nostalgic as we realize how far technology has brought us.  A TV antenna on a roter to watch slightly less blurry shows.  The rotary phone and the callus it created. The phone book.  A time before salmon roe foam.  I was listening to “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound Gang.   For those of you unfamiliar with the hook:

You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals
So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel

 How long has it been since there were shows about animal procreation on the discovery channel?  Now you get “Fat and Furious”, “Moonshiners” and “Pacific Warriors”.    I think the world was a kinder, gentler place when cable TV focused on Walrus sex, not deadly situations and careers.  And then I missed the X-Files.

If you aren’t watching “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” you are missing some fantastic comedic commentary on our world.  She and John Oliver are filling the void the left by Jon Stewart by expanding on the niche and adding to our conversations with thought provoking shows.  It is not too late to start catching up.

And please, enjoy your Passover.  Many Matzo sacrificed their balls for your soup.  If this multi-generational mutilation must continue, at least enjoy your soup. And thank your mother.