Loneliness is Crowded Room

Sometimes the universe sends us signals.  You know what I mean and you see it all the time.  There is that horrid Prius commercial that is so ubiquitous that I’m now nauseous when it airs.  Clearly it was that man’s time to buy a Prius and change his life.  Other times, the universe sends us false signals.  On one unnamed TV show, the lead sees the same number over and over and over.  Realizing it’s a sign, he engages is risky behavior centered on that number with disastrous results. (I’m sure many of you will binge the show later so I’ll keep the title covered.  Hint: it is not Firefly, Game of Thrones or Real Housewives of Atlanta.)

Similarly, I’ve been a bit of a funk for a while.  I’m not great at hiding that, and my four loyal readers know I often process my moods here.  And by often, I mean about 10% of the time that I start to.  I do edit myself a little and I really don’t want to turn this into a forum people avoid.  No, not you Sir. I know you are here for the Ashley bashing, that is located here.  But today, the fingers type, the words flow, and the Oxford Comma prevails.  What is going on around me?

The commute and the attitudes around me in the office weigh heavy on my generally happy soul.  For those of you that don’t know, I leave the house at 6am and return home generally after 6, too often towards 7.  That’s 75-90 minutes in the morning and 2 hours on the way home after spending day in a cube where there is limited human interaction and too much of it revolves around not meeting hidden expectations and the constant implication that no one is working enough hours.  Keep in mind that I am not a piecemeal factory worker or laborer (and both are fine, honorable jobs) – I think, I plan, I influence to gain results.  There is no clock measuring my thoughts thinking &  ideas.  When a thought hits me and I work on it, it can be driving, doing dishes or at 3am coming out of a dream.  I’m generally engaged 12-18 hours a day on what I work on.  So why the ridiculous obsession over time?

Just because I’m paid hourly doesn’t mean I don’t put in lots of time that is not technically on the clock.  Oh, and 40 hours a week is the absolute maximum.  I once made the mistake of working 2 hours on a Sunday, because something came to me late on Friday, which I would need to act on early the next Monday.  My hours didn’t exceed 40, but I was told in no uncertain terms that anything other than 8 per day, Monday through Friday would require advance approval.  I keep forgetting that not everyone sees me as the adult I believe I am.

Every day for the last week and way too much for way too often, I keep hearing the seminal hard rock anthem “Closing Time” by Semisonic.  (I looked for the sarcasm sans font, but couldn’t find it and I know WordPress does not feature it.)  As silly as the song is about the hook up life at 2am, one phrase stands out.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Is the universe trying to tell me to move on and find a new beginning, a new cubicle?  When do I become too old to be attractive in the new economy of disposable workers?  Are my experience and skills an unwanted commodity, the Filet-O-Fish of the work world?  How heavy is the baggage that is my gray hair and wrinkles?  Can I embrace the reality of my fading youth, yet still see that experience and wisdom are liabilities in my world?  What is my place?  Is there a new beginning to be sought?

And no, I’m not having a midlife crisis. But much weighs heavy.  And I consider the adage about the grass being greener elsewhere and see my lawn turning brown due to drought based water restrictions.  I’m not one to take the easy route. I’m not quitter.  Of course I think about it all the time, but in the end I do the right thing, even when it’s the more difficult, arduous path.  Maybe I should have been a mountain goat.

Today, I sat in traffic behind some unseen delay on the approach to the bridge.  Of course I heard the song about the “last call for alcohol”.  Seriously? People paid for that record?  But then I realized that it was part of a shock and awe bombardment of sad, aching songs.  Like a train wreck, I couldn’t turn away.  Horrified at the sonic sneak attack on my already fragile emotional state, I embraced the sadness.  For more than 30 minutes I sat, not hearing an uplifting note.  8 stations, making sure I paid attention.  Of course I skipped over the Eagles and Journey, it is in my DNA.

There were songs about the  break ups to come.  And then the actual breaking up and the aftermath that follows – longing, regret, and sadness.  Lonely sailors waiting for their bitter end, stranded on an island without Gilligan.  No wonder I spent my youth listening to mostly progressive rock, there are very few love songs and their opposite numbers.  And in those days I had nothing to measure songs of the heart against.  With age comes experience, and those experiences yield so many different yardsticks to use as needed.  I had several in use today.

I sit here, silent, typing, and reflecting on how I’ve been feeling; the loss of empowerment and the shrinking of my ego.  The sadness of the forgotten wrench in the bottom of the tool box, replaced by a shiny new tool straight from a well-produced Kickstarter campaign, left to rust in the dark.

Years ago, I was driving to pick up a date.  Yes, this was over 30 years ago.  One of my favorite songs came on the radio.  “Dance Away” by Roxy Music.  I always loved that song.  But in that instance, that song of finding solace in music and motion, became something different.  It became the manifestation of a rough break up a few months prior.  Tears flowed and I think I finished processing the pain I was holding.   Decades later, I still love that song and I still feel the emotions of that relationship ending. And sometimes I feel the relief of finally recognizing how to move on.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself, just musing aloud.  Much like music this morning, this silent, six by six cubicle is quite sad and lonely.  Perhaps I can figure out a way to make these days better and repurpose that discarded wrench.  Just typing this out helps.

Here are few songs to help you see the frame of my day.

Dance Away, Roxy Music

A Salty Dog, Procol Harum

Childhood’s End, Pink Floyd

Train in Vain, The Clash


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.


I drive to work; the train is no longer an option. Later, I drive home.  The round trip is at least 3 hours, often closer to 4.  It gives me time to listen to sports talk and generally the presidential debates. Satellite radio is a wondrous thing.  But my mood has shifted.  I am reverting back to listening to music.  My mind collapses around the sadness that is the 49ers.  The Warriors are a bright spot and the Giants exude yearly hope.

But then there is the election, still 8 months out.  Am I the only one that see’s Trump inciting violence?  I was appalled when he suggested that if he didn’t get the nomination with plurality votes, which he will surely have, the people might riot.  Might?  Isn’t he telling them to?  I took it as a signal.  A blatant call to arms.  And we wonder why he is compared to Fascists.  There are no good choices.  My politics lean liberal and as bad as Trump would be – and he would be—Cruz is worse.  The manipulation of the media for air time, the cultish feel of some candidates.  Wondering if Cruz would really like to start the end of days as his father suggests.  And then I’m reminded the next SCOTUS depends on how the NRA feels.  It all makes me weary.

And Brussels, following Paris.  Some days it is indeed too much.

So I move to music.  And the lift I’m looking for is nowhere to be found.  Sad songs.  Reminders that Bowie and Kantner passed on.  That Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin died too young.  That Duane Allman cut a swath through the south but left it searing and incomplete.  John had me imagining, but even that leads down dark hallways in this year’s context.

Today, there is no joy in Mudville.   I’m sorry I’ve neglected you, my 3 or 4 dedicated readers, but most things haven’t gotten past my filters.

Here’s a little spot of joy. Maybe it will help, at least for a moment.  Who doesn’t like power pop about teachers spiking the punch of wee ones?


Trouble Me (with appologies to 10,000 Maniacs)

My regular readers, as opposed to my irregular writing schedule, will know that commuting is a common topic.  And why not?  I do commute 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, more or less.  Today I got into my car and my chariot roared to life.  Soon the radio kicked in and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” changed my consciousness.  It was 1988 and I was joined by 50,000 of my closest fans watching the Amnesty International Benefit Concert.  Being over the hill, I also like harkening back to my 20s and a simpler time without as many worries.

It was a great show. Sting cancelled so Springsteen and E-Street Band and Peter Gabriel and to play longer sets, which was fantastic, because dreams of blue turtles bored me to tears.  I thought about being 15 and riding my bike to the record store to get Gabriel’s first solo album.  Yeah I was that cool.  So cool I didn’t have a girlfriend, but my music rocked.

As I was enjoying my groove, I came to the 4-way stop where I turn left.  Still, bopping a bit, I watched the car to my left move across the intersection and the SUV to my right turn right.  As the first car  passed me, I pulled out.  (Insert the sound of dishes breaking.)  So much for my groove.  The 2nd car to my left decided the stop sign didn’t apply to her.  She slammed on her breaks and glared at me as I deigned to follow the traffic laws that did not apply to her.

I gathered my wits in time for the SUV’s driver to decide that he was really a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos and the turn was a fake, moving in a pseudo U-turn to cut me off.  Clearly, starting a turn and finishing it is optional today.  I missed that memo.

I moved along my path, keeping in mind I’m only 4 blocks from home.  Ok, maybe 6.  Up ahead is a stop light, with a free right turn.  There are 3 lanes of traffic on the busy artery ahead, but the turn lane is generally pretty empty.  A head sat a car, frozen in terror because all 3 lanes weren’t clear.  You know the driver; he won’t turn right unless they can turn into the fast lane.  What ever happened to merging?  I’m pretty sure this is the same driver that enters the freeway at 30 miles per hour because the people in the slow lane go to fast and they believe NTSB has empowered them to make the world safer.

Before we can turn and I can continue my descent into madness, the song changes to Rainbow’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.”  I turned it up to 11.  Or 12.    The car blocking my progress finally turned and because the artery was open for ½ mile, I had no trouble gunning it and passing them within 50 yards.  The rocking sound track clearly helped push my adrenaline forward and my mood moved from Peter Gabriel inspired Romance to heartbreak’s rage.

Your poison letter, your telegram
Just goes to show you don’t give a damn

My mind often jumps from tangent to tangent.  You know who doesn’t give a damn?  The GOP. My mind is still overwhelmed by this week’s spin that the President decided to shut down the government.  Even after that bastion of integrity John Boehner, decided that previous budget and spending agreements in congress could be left on the side of the road like a hillbilly’s trash, because it was time “to take a stand.”  Seriously?  Politics is all about compromise and agreements.  By showing that previous agreements can easily be reneged on to achieve specious goals, we can only conclude that any future agreements will be as solid as tissue paper.

This entire government shutdown is ridiculous, and seems to be staged by the very conservative right.  Let me restate the facts as I know them.

  1. The GOP does not like the Affordable Care Act (ACA/ObamaCare)
  2. The ACA is the Worst Thing that has ever happened to this country (Noelle Nikpour GOP Strategist)
  3. It is worth defaulting on the national debt to stop the ACA
  4. The GOP agreed to a spending bill/debt ceiling increase then decided to hold the nation hostage
  5. The ACA is a law that was passed. (We all know how bills become laws from School House Rock, right?)
  6. The GOP wants smaller government, isn’t that what they’ve just achieved?
  7. For every action there is an equal, but opposite reaction

My outrage reached a boil as I saw Noelle Nikpour make that statement on TV about the ACA being the worst thing to happen to this country.  Slavery, the great depression, the civil war, the Viet Nam war, Prohibition, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy all pale compared to ObamaCare (they should trademark that name to make sure it is hated by all the people who still think our president is a Kenyan Muslim. Of course he’s neither.)  I am sure there was always an undercurrent of hate and prejudice within politics, but it has become hard to miss.

I’ve put it out there; either you agree with me or you don’t.  I’m not going to change your mind and I respect your right to your opinion, though I believe the conservative movement often wishes we liberals and moderates were not allowed to have opinions.  What I want to do is bring two significant points forward that mean quite a bit to me and probably should to you.

First, when the government defaults and that seems to be the ultimate goal of the Tea Party influenced GOP, you and I will be affected.  When the economy tanks, those of us over a certain age and having attained some success are deemed expendable.  We can be replaced at 70% efficiency at 75% of the cost.  Leadership, influence and helping other achieve more are less important than pure cost savings.  I have been let go too many times not to understand what happens.  Hero on Monday; too expensive on Friday.  We all can be replaced.   I have been.  You might too.  Lifetime employment ended in the 70’s we didn’t see that till the 90s.

Since the GOP has taken the government and legislative process hostage because they do not like a law that was passed, how long before the Democrats do the same thing?  What does this mean for our way of life and democracy as a whole?  This is the political equivalent of a spoiled child taking his ball and going home.  Eventually that child either grows up and learns or has no friends.  I’m not sure we have time for the GOP to lean that lesson.  They have already spent years shouting that they refuse to.

I’m more depressed than I am angry.  And I’m plenty angry.  All that’s left is for the evangelicals to remind us that this is the first stage of the rapture they want and the rest of us are going to hell.  I expect that message in the second half of October.


From the Platform to the Couch

Every morning workday morning as I stand on the platform and wait for the train, I perform a small, but significant ritual.  I reach into my left pocket and pull out my smart phone.  That statement in and of itself speaks to how my world has changed and that I recognized it.  Then I reach into my murse and pull out my headphones.  These day’s I use the yellow ones – I like how they fit my ears, but they are probably the least awesome pair have.  The jack slides in the top and I push the icon for the music to play.  I’m no longer another commuter with 200 others on a platform.  I’m in my own music booth, feeling the melodies, rhythms and emotions of any random 1 of the 1200 songs I have preloaded.

Each song brings with it its own set of emotions.  Sometimes, a stray tear finds my eye.  I have an emotional connection to many songs; “Dance Away” by Roxy Music always takes me back to my first real break up and I always sing “More Today Than Yesterday” by the Spiral Staircase to Lambchop.  Today my inner queen wanted to dance while I listened to the Tubes remake of Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time.”  In the 80s, The Tubes should have been bigger as dance band.  Maybe there were. I was a bit too cool for that in college. What is a blog if not for my Midnight Confessions?

What is always amazing to me is that my love of music was not learned.  I never played an instrument.  My parents did not particularly love music; the stereo console was more for looks than functionality.  My parents are young, contemporaries of the Fab Four.  One of my favorite party games is to ask my mother to name the Beatles.  She struggles for Ringo and then gives up.  I pull that out every 2 or 3 years to make my brother laugh.

My father was not better musically.  He had a copy of “Cheap Thrills” (Big Brother and Holding Company, but most of you are probably thinking Janis Joplin) and “Born on the Bayou” (The pride of El Cerrito, Creedence Clearwater Revival), probably because someone at work said he should get them.  I don’t recall my ever hearing my father play those albums, though I’m sure he did twice, just to justify the purchases.  I’m sure he identifies “Proud Mary” with CCR, but I am positive if I mention Big Brother and the Holding Company he won’t know what I’m talking about.  Nor will he think twice about the iconic R. Crumb cover of that album.  I knew all my album art backward and forward.  Yes, my dorm room was covered in Roger Dean art.

As I think back, I recall getting a cube of a clock radio when I was young.  I had it through high school, but I must have gotten it in 2nd or 3rd grade.  I remember listening to it at night, setting the sleep time for the full 60 minutes and listening to the local pop station.  Yeah, I really wasn’t that cool for a 4th grader.  But my growing up was probably a bit different from most of my peers.  My parents were young and ambitious and while we were undoubtedly loved, I don’t think any of us look back and think of them as nurturing.  Dad had a temper to be avoided and mom was always busy with charities or cleaning the house.  We had a black and white TV and it was not be our babysitter. I think we also watched what Dad wanted, but I could be wrong. I learned to enjoy reading.

I was never the most popular kid, but I was also not the weird kid, ostracized by others. By extension, while I often played with the kids in the neighborhood, I also found myself alone in my room, with my books. I read quite a bit and the backdrop was always music, never silence.  Music became part of my environment and 40 years later, I couldn’t be happier about it.  After my bar mitzvah, I added a small stereo to my room, thanks to my grandparents.  This allowed me the freedom to buy my own music – or more accurately have others buy it for me – and define my own tastes, far beyond the reaches of pop and bubblegum.  I think that junior high defined most of us.  I made new friends, my world expanded beyond the square half mile I lived in and I like what I saw.  I embraced these changes.

One of the first bands I grew to love was Genesis and by extension Peter Gabriel.  I didn’t discover them until after Peter Gabriel left the band, but nevertheless, I spent countless hours listening to “The Return of Giant Hogweed,” “The Musical Box,” “Supper’s Ready” and other jaunts into to fantasy and escape.  It should come as no surprise that I saw both Genesis and Peter Gabriel several times once I learned to drive.  I have great memories of those shows, but I haven’t wanted to see Genesis since they went pop and I haven’t seen Peter Gabriel since 88 or so.

Several months ago Lambchop announced that she’d never seen Peter Gabriel and she’d like to see him.  Seeing no reason to deny this wish — I mean I had made her seen UK and Marillion among others — I bought tickets and the seeing was scheduled for the large and anything but intimate Shark Tank in San Jose.  The first 2 times I had seen him at been at the San Jose Civic (1980) and The Greek Theater in Berkeley (1983) both fairly intimate (especially where I sat.)

Peter Gabriel’s first 3 albums are all entitled “Peter Gabriel.”  It makes it hard to keep them straight, but we fans manage. The third album (often called Melt), one of my favorites, is filled with songs about alienation (“Not One of Us” and “Intruder”), introspection (“Lead a Normal Life”)  and politics (“Biko” and “Games without Frontiers”.)  Delightful, no?

No Self Control” is about anxiety, introspection and an inability to solve ones issues.  Did we call it OCD then?

I know I’m gone too far
Much too far I gone this time
And I don’t want to think what I’ve done
I don’t know how to stop
No, I don’t know how to stop

Musically, it moves quickly and the song is urgent, pleading and self-aware.  There is no mistaking this as anything but straight ahead rock and roll, though I believe it was a bit boundary pushing for the time.  He recognizes his problems and won’t give into them.  The song is a metaphorical cleansing scream as he tries to figure out how to not give into his issues. Its powerful and bordering on anthemic.

Music, like people, changes over time.  I used to think of it as static, but music is organic; it grows and changes if you let it.  The Grateful Dead embody this philosophy.  We have all seen singing competitions on TV where one of the judges tells the contestant that they’ve brought nothing to the song.  Sometimes an artist brings new life to a song, with that one wrinkle that changes everything.  I saw that when we saw Peter Gabriel.

The original “No Self Control” was a rallying cry for change; an internal attempt to reboot.  32 years later, Peter Gabriel is no longer 30, his perspective has changed.  The song I heard that night was not purely rock and roll; it had been give what I perceived to be a jazz beat and rhythm.  The vocals were no long pleading, searching for solutions.  Sad, mournful resignation reigned over a devastated life.  There was no mistaking the change in perspective and meaning.

You know I hate to hurt you
I hate to see your pain
But I don’t know how to stop
No, I don’t know how to stop

The implied fist pounding for change was gone in this version.  This was not the apology it was meant to be in 1980.  It was despair.  It was powerful and hit me in the gut.  As I looked around the audience I’m not sure everyone got it.  This was reinforced later when the crowded cheered in the middle of another powerful song, not knowing there was a break and texture change at the emotional climax. It was so off it was wrong.

We get older; we are no longer what we were or have gotten to where wanted to be.  There comes a time where we need to accept what is and what we failed to achieve. It is easy to forget what we wanted long ago, the dreams and ambitions of youth.  I’m not going to be 30 again, but that does not mean I have to let go everything I believed in. It is still important to have dreams and goals; they’ve morphed but I still have them.  If this was intended as a wake-up call for the audience, I hope it worked, but the cynic in me doubts it.

A Musical Interlude

After the crowded halls of the Con and the crowded streets of Chicago, the walk down the platform from the train to the stairs is eerily empty.   Every 20 seconds or so an empty eyed urbanite wanders past me, unsure whether to wobble left or right as though they have never seen someone come into town.  As if all-knowing, the Genie in my iphone cued up one of my favorite songs.  It had been a while since I had heard it.

I pulled out the phone to look at the iconic cover.  I smiled even as the tune evoked sadness, but echoed hopeful strains.  I wandered to my favorite Peet’s, lost in the melodies, not the lyrics.  At various points in the song, hope is given over to despair.  Even with my caffeine fix in hand, the song resonated within.  And it struck home.

     You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
     You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older.

There is something about getting older that hits you at strange times.  I don’t feel 50, but I am.  That age when society starts thinking less of you.  We all joke about AARP and their invitations that start arriving shortly after your 49th birthday.  Life seems more about what I’ve done than what I can and will do.  That’s hard.  It takes a concerted effort to change those thoughts and subsequent actions.

A week ago I had a great exchange with a fellow Cal grad.  His eyes sparkled when I talked about being in Memorial Stadium on November 20th 1982.  That was the day that Cal held John Elway in check for 59:56 only to see him single-handedly take the Cardinal (who names their team a color? I think of them as the Robber Barons, which did win the student vote) to a seemingly game winning field goal.  Stanford 20, Cal 19.  Dismay reigned.  Once again the Cal team of my tenure grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.  What could happen in 4 seconds?

Quite a bit as turned out.  2 million people will probably tell you they were there.  I was one of the 60,000 or so in the stands, sitting in the middle of the Big C in the student section with my poker group, a junior among graduating seniors. It was about to be the saddest of the games I saw as student.  It was to be the last game I saw as a student.

4 seconds – a lifetime in slow motion. 5 laterals (one disputed, one blindly over a shoulder), a band on the field and crushed saxophone player later, Cal scored. I was in shock.  The stadium erupted.  My friends all ran down the bleachers to run on the field.  A bit shell-shocked, I sat there and guarded our belongings.  I know, even though you think of me as mischievous, I am generally the responsible one.

I’m talking to my fellow alum.  There is joy in my reminisces and his eyes light up a bit as I relate my memories.  It’s a important moment in our shared history. It’s a party and even I know I’m drunk and slurring just a bit.  That doesn’t mean my mind has seized up. Of course as I recreate this day to my new friend, I realize he was still in diapers as my 20 year old self sat in that stadium. The song is right, it’s getting harder; he’s not a kid.

     Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
     If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

Again, the lyrics echo where I’m at.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life and much to be thankful for.  There is a transition that has been going on for some time.  We spend our younger years working, striving, motivated to achieve.  As we grow older, especially past 40 and then 45, workers have become disposable as jobs are off-shored and employment for life becomes a distant memory.  I believe I understand why it’s called the rat race.  Malaise sets in as what we focused much of our efforts on previously, is no longer within our reach. Life becomes a cycle of paychecks and sustenance. Our egos and self-image need to find new things to hold on to, simpler achievements to find joy and continued rebirth in.  Perhaps that is why I spend so much time in my garden.  Even if my plants suffer, I can try again; the sun will rise, the plants will grow and there is no pink slip at the end of the rainbow.

At this point, I often feel as out of place as beast of burden in the industrial age.

Dogs – Waters and Gilmour

Animals. Pink Floyd, 1977

But destined to take the place of the mudshark in your Mythology

We all know that sex sells.  Humor is memorable and indirectly sells too.  Another key emotion that advertising pulls on is nostalgia.  On Mad Men, Don Draper is always pulling out concepts that bring back happy memories to induce consumers to the products he is marketing.  Music is one area where nostalgia has lived for a long time.

When I was young, I had thought “the Fool on the Hill” a Petula Clark song.  Please forgive me I was 6.  I’m over it.  But it was a Beatles cover.  More fool me.  That’s how I learned about cover songs.  Granted, it was long after the original.  When I was 16 there was a new band.  They did a cover of “You Really Got” by The Kinks.  Of course that was Van Halen in 1978.  At the time I thought it was clever that they picked such an old song; It was 14 years old at the time.  No one disputes Eddie Van Halen’s guitar chops, but I’m sure the exercise of remembering the original and contrasting it with the late 70s production and sound was part of the appeal.

I often wonder what would make a good cover.  I think about songs in the 10-15 year age range. Of course there was only 7 years between The Rolling Stone’s “Connection” and the Montrose cover (you are all closet Sammy Hagar fans, right?)   I realize that many songs I think of for covers are much older than that.  Closer to 20-25 years.  I think as rock and roll ages, it stays fresher longer.  The distance from the Kinks to Van Halen (or The Pretenders) might be larger than the distance from REM to Rise Against. I keep thinking it’s time for someone to cover “Me in Honey” or “Up in the Neck.”  I am sure I am alone in those thoughts.

Music does funny things to people.  As I was growing up, my parents often politely said, “Lee please turn your stereo down.”  I’m paraphrasing of course.  It was closer to, “Shut that Crap OFF!”  It didn’t matter if it was the majestic sounds of Rush, the heavy beat of Led Zeppelin, the driving urgency of UFO or the Baroque tone of Yes.  My parents hated it all, especially at the volumes I chose.  I think they would have been prouder had I adopted The Ray Conniff Singers as my teenage soundtrack.  In 1995 the old man bought season tickets to the Oakland Raiders.  I probably went to a game every year with him.  It was always amusing to me to see him “rocking out” to AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” when the team took the field.  Previously this was a band he hated when it came thumping through my bedroom door, but there he was bopping and cheering to the music.  Who knew?

The feelings evoked by music have long been an arrow in the quiver of advertizing firms.  I recall the row that erupted when Michael Jackson licensed The Beatles’ “Revolution” to Nike.  We often forget he had enough money to buy the rights to the Lennon-McCartney catalog.  A few years ago, Cadillac licensed Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” for their CTS commercials.  Call me silly, but I believed that was the 2nd sign of the apocalypse.   The men responsible for the Cry of the Mudshark lent their talents to sell rich old men luxury cars.  It was sad.  Of course “Rock and Roll” is the 2nd most overplayed Led Zeppelin song, so I had no trouble tuning it out when it came on the tube.

There was roughly 33 years between Led Zeppelin 4 (or Sticks or whatever you and your friends called it) and the Cadillac campaign.  This year, there is a movement afoot to tie late early 80s music to back to school sales and office (school) supplies.  First, we have Target with the Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat.”  Of course everyone loves the infectious nature of the song. Perfect for Miss Prissy Pants Teacher to be singing with cute kids.  Me?  I’m thinking about the song as a battle cry for Belinda and Jane to pick up make groupies to abuse.  You knew they made most male rockers look like altar boys right?  Now you do.  Think about that next time you see that commercial.  Changes things doesn’t it?

Staples decided to use Depeche Mode in their back to school sales ads.  When I think of Depeche Mode (and I’m not the world’s biggest DM fan) I think, “Electronica with thinly disguised BDSM themes.”  I don’t have a problem with that.  But I bet others will when they realize that their children are being seduced and tempted into the lurid world of “office supplies” where they “just can’t get enough.”  I know, like you needed me to point this out, but that’s my job.

The latest Target (I call it TAR-Jhzay) ad features Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science.”   Seriously?  It doesn’t matter what lyrics they’ve changed the ad to.  Everyone hears the original in their head – it’s the overwhelming familiarity and nostalgia that pulls at the strings of your emotions. Do you think Target means savings with these lyrics?

As deep as any ocean
As sweet as any harmony

I don’t’ think so either.  Perhaps next season someone will want to use Grace Jones’ “Warm Leatherette” or Khia’s “My Neck, My Back”  as their call to arms.  Maybe that will be Chick-Fil-A.

Myriad Randomness

Sour Notes
Every day, there is a different busker at the 12th Street BART station in Oakland.  Sadly, the only one worth listening to is the guy with pipes of Pan.  He must be one of those Peruvian musicians they featured on South Park.  Just thinking about it makes me throw up a little in the back of my mouth.  Today was the homeless drunk guy.  He was doing “She Loves You” (Lennon-McCartney) in a vaguely familiar strum on his guitar and a throaty “Please buy me an Olde English 800 40oz” voice.   It was seriously sickening.  If big brother was watching, he should have done something.  Something severe and final in the name of public safety.  My ears were violated and my tummy still hasn’t recovered.  Jello might be the only thing I can eat today.

Social Consciousness in the New Millennium
Remember when cities put up the “don’t block the box” signs?    I guess as a society we figured out that blocking an intersection was not a terribly bright idea.  Of course we needed legislation and penalties to help make the behavioral change.  I get coffee at Peet’s every morning.  They have their own version of an intersection.  The line goes out the door and the counter is awkward, making it often difficult for patrons to leave and the baristas to move to the floor from their works space.

I have figured out that if I stand just outside the door opening, I can leave enough space for the wondrous workers to go back and forth easily and the departing patrons have plenty of room.  I was waiting in this spot the other day, leaving copious room for traffic.  I was waiting for enough room on the far side of this retail grand canyon.  There were 5 or 6 people behind me.  The older Asian woman behind me tapped my shoulder and said “you can move up.”

I was writing an email on phone and demonstrated with my arm that I was leaving room for the staff to move through and the other patrons to leave.  As if on cue, my favorite barista walked by with an arm full of empty milk and cream dispensers.  I got a smile from the barista and  an “oh” of understanding from the woman behind me.  Perhaps I had made the point and made a small change in the world.  A moment later,  there was room to cross the aisle and be out of the way;  I moved forward, leaving room for others.    Then the older woman moved forward as did the rest of the line, forming a near impenetrable barrier. Why do I bother?

Brother can you spare a fish?
Lambchop and her family went deep sea fishing.  Of course I was invited and of course I said, “WTF? On the dock at 5:30am, sea sickness and fish guts?  I’m honored you thought of me, but I’ll be asleep.  Thank you kindly.”  Rational thought says I’d be asleep.  Reality, sadly, was different.  On those nights when you get up differently – Lambchop wouldn’t be gently waking me, there’d be an alarm – you rarely sleep soundly.  The whole night is spent on edge, trying not to oversleep.  Add in another waking up at 4:30 and no matter how hard they try to be quiet, sleep is vanquished.  At least a little.

So that didn’t go the way I planned.  And I got home from work to a sleeping princess, recovering from a long day of fishing and swaying.  And lots of fish.  Lambchop was a fishing star, catching almost twice the limit.  Some went back. Others went to the family to make their limits.  Rock Cod, Ling Cod and Red Snapper.  Last night I concocted a Thai inspired sauce for a large fillet of Ling Cod.   It was indeed, Spicy and delicious.  We’ll be eating fish at least once a week for a few months.  Just don’t ask me what kind. I don’t think the bags in the freezer were labeled prior to deposit.  But it will be fresh.  And you know what they say about fresh fish – it doesn’t taste like fish.

All the men, please take one step back.  You are excused.  For those of you left, have you read Fifty Shades of Gray?  Please, don’t lie to me.  Much better.  What is it with that book?  Suddenly everyone’s reading it.  As I understand it, it’s got as much to do with consensual kinky relationships as Rosie O’Donnell’s dominatrix in “Exit to Eden” had to do with any reality.  So why is everyone reading it?  I guess it takes fake BDSM to capture the mainstreams fantasies. (I only know what I read in EW.)

The other night in Costco, a woman that reminded me of my MieMaw (in her 70s or so) was so caught up in a book that she was oblivious to people walking by.   I saw it was a table of 400 copies of Fifty Shades Darker.  Really?  At Costco?  We all know – at least you should –that I am not a prude.  Do we really want our daughters picking up this book at Costco?  Shouldn’t our MieMaws be forced to at least go to Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com to pick up this titillation?  Its like breaking the fourth wall.  I don’t want to know.

I had the willies after seeing this.  What do you think Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh or  the Southern Baptist Convention would think of this scene? Has Fox News documented this wonderful new book for its female views?  I’m guessing a protest is coming to a Costco near you.  Maybe they could put the books by the pharmacy.  I don’t go to that section of the store.


For reference Sheldon Cooper calls his grandmother MieMaw.

The Musical Box

Sometimes my friends think I’m a sideshow freak or a savant.  I’m not sure which.  Inevitably when we play cards, once sports has ended, the host turns on a nondescript music channel on the TV.  I’m not allowed to look and I have to name the song and artist as quick as possible.  It’s no secret I love music.  Our house is decorated with vintage Fillmore posters – The Grateful Dead, The Who, The Doors — and some not so vintage ones like REM and Liz Phair. (Isn’t it time you listened to Whip-Smart again?) 

Last night the second song was Neil Young’s “This Note’s for You,” straight out of 1988.  No one cared when I said “this one’s for you.”  Most of them didn’t remember the song.  Nor did they know that Neil Young’s trademark sideburns are his disguise.  He hides on stage, not in public.  They tend toward classic rock or older pop.  To them, what I know is deep and mysterious.  Sadly, that stuff is easy.  They’d be shocked if they were adventurous to put on some Motown or Memphis Soul.  We never go  where my memories are broken and sad, like Detroit.

I rarely have to try hard.  They don’t have stations that play copious amounts Steeleye SpamJim Carroll,  Gentle Giant or Can.  Jethro Tull’s “Hymn 43” is not obscure in my world.  Most of the time it is a banal stream of Journey, Bob Seger, Foghat and Aerosmith.  Often some garbage like “We Built This City” comes on.  Songs everyone has heard over and over till our synapses collapse in despair. My friends wouldn’t know Annie Haslam and Renaissance if she walked in with SchererazadeThey don’t understand.  Shouldn’t they know that a Steely Dan was sex toy in William S. Bourough’s Naked Lunch? Or that at the time “Light My Fire” by the Doors was the longest song ever to be number one?  “Stairway to Heaven” was never released as a single?  Before CDs, “Hey Hey What Can I do?” could only be found as the b-side to “The Immigrant Song?”  Was I the only one that watched “Rock and Roll Jeopardy” on VH1?  Hosted by Survivor’s Jeff Probst, of course.

 I have absolutely no musical talent except to hear a few notes and have the disk drive that is my mind pull the title from the catalog with its related trivia.  Today when one barista told another, “you have hair like Tina Turner,”  I corrected her that Tina Tuner wore wigs from all the abuse her hair took earlier in her career.    She stared at me, like I was nuts.  Then gave me props for knowing that.  All in a day’s work for Encyclopedia Greenberg.

I often catalog songs in my head.  Roasting me the other night around the pool, Lambchop referred to “Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth and “So. Central Rain” by REM.  These are near the end of the aisle in the “Title not in the Lyrics” section of My mind.  Of course so is Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot” and “The Wanton Song.”   Tool’s “Aenima.”  Another popular aisle is “the Call Out” where the singer either calls out a band mate or himself.  Robert Cray’s “Right Next Door” and The Blues Brothers’ “Soul Man” are prime examples.  Another section is genealogy.  Of course you knew Michael Schenker was UFO before (and during) his time in The Scorpions, right?  The incestuous nature of musicians, their band hopping and their influences on their band  always interests me.  Why couldn’t Paul Carrack keep a job?  And no, he’s not dead.

After a while Thin Lizzy rumbled through the room, adding darker shades to the poker game.  Jailbreak is a great album.  “The Boys are Back in Town” always gets a ton of airplay and I began to preach the virtues of the rest of the album.  One of the guys said something to the effect how perfect it was in THE movie.  THE movie? Oh shit, I think I’ve been outed.  “What movie”, I asked?  Five sets of eyes glared at me.  As if of one hive mind they said, “48 hours!”  Clearly, I’ve never associated that song with that movie.

I have a dirty secret. Lambchop knows. Most other don’t.  I’m not a movie guy.  I enjoy them.  I don’t commit them to memory.   48 Hours? Eddie Murphy’s ex-con on leave to Nick Nolte’s straight cop.  Hijinks ensue.  Nope, no other details.  What’s my favorite movie?  I don’t know either.  I know notes of songs, texture changes and key shifts, but I don’t remember movie plots.  Sure,  I know” Goodfellas,” “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,”  “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (etc.)  and “The Lord of the Rings.”  I do have my man card.  I know the secret of “The Crying Game”.  But I don’t recall the basic plot.  I know enjoyed the Bourne and Mission Impossible Movies.  Mystery, fighting, chase, secret organizations  and corruption. Kaboom. Hooray for the good guys.  Plot? I dunno.  Look I remember Short Round, do I need to recall more?

I realize I’m wired a bit different from most people — they memorize movies. I study sounds.  When ever anybody asks me “what’s your favorite movie” I panic.  I don’t have a favorite.  I like them. I often love them. But for me they are ephemera, they fade quickly.  Maybe its an undiagnosed type of dementia.  I know it’s a different world now.  Movies on demand, television shows on DVD s and Netflix streaming.  When I was a child (I am resisting quoting Roger Waters) I listened to music and read.  I knew I loved music at about 9 or 10 when i got my first clock radio.  I now know it was Top 40, but I listened every night as the timer clicked of an hour before shutting down the sound.  My kids?  They watched Thomas the Tank Engine and Disney movies over and over and over.  I don’t think I can watch Disney’s “Robin Hood” ever again.  But I’ll always have The Hampster Dance. I get re-watching a movie after the details fade.  I re-watched “The Maltese Falcon” a few months ago and loved it again.  I never wanted it burned into my being.

Music is engrained in my DNA, but I am not a bullshit three-ring sideshow of freaks.  I can’t play a note.  I barely have rhythm; after about 2 minutes, I lose the beat.  Luckily, I have Elvis Costello help me re-find it. If only you’d help me to convince Lambchop to add “The Immigrant Song” to her repertoire, I think she could wail on that opening and convey the final joy of a trip to Valhalla, well-earned.

My Kinks are not what you think

I don’t think people realize how fragmented my thought process is.  I was thinking about the things my children won’t know.  You know the internet meme.  The latest offshoot is the 45rpm adapter that all of us over 40 know so well. I don’t think my brother had singles, but that is a different issue.  For some reason, my mind immediately went to “Death of a Clown” by the Kinks.  Perhaps you don’t know it.  The Kinks – other than “Lola” which my Lambchop loves and “You Really Got Me” (re-popularized by Van Halen in ’78) – are seriously under appreciated.

“Death of a Clown” is the rare Dave Davies contribution.  We all know and love his big brother Ray.  Some of you probably even remember his relationship and child with Chrissie Hynes of The Pretenders (and now you realize why there was a Kinks cover on each of the first two Pretenders albums.)  Meanwhile, I’m still drinking to the death of clown.

My makeup is dry and is cracked on my chin
I’m drowning my sorrows in whisky and gin
The lion tamer’s whip doesn’t crack anymore
The lions they won’t fight and the tigers won’t roar

So let’s all drink to the death of a clown
Won’t someone help me to break up this crowd
Let’s all drink to the death of a clown
Let’s all drink to the death of a clown

The old fortune teller lies dead on the floor
Nobody needs fortunes told anymore
The trainer of insects is crouched on his knees
And frantically looking for runaway fleas

Let’s all drink to the death of a clown
So won’t someone help me to break up this crowd
Let’s all drink to the death of a clown
Let’s all drink to the death of a clown

And I continue to drink to the death of clown.  In an effort to expand my thoughts, I turn to “David Watts.”  I’m pretty sure most of you don’t know that song either.  Why aren’t the Kinks more popular?  I know most of you know the song “Picture Book,” but that is because it was an HP commercial a few years back.  I wish I could be like David Watts…

I am a dull and simple lad
Cannot tell water from champagne
And I have never met the queen
And I wish I could have all that he has got
I wish I could be like David Watts

He is the head boy at the school
He is the captain of the team
He is so gay and fancy free
And I wish all his money belonged to me
I wish I could be like David Watts

Well, maybe I’m not that simple.  And I don’t want to be too gay and fancy free. I forgot, this song is a bit homoerotic.  The 60s were a bit ambiguous in some ways weren’t they?  But we all have our heroes to worship.  No, I’m not going to talk about David Bowie.

We should all stretch a bit.  Go find “I’m in Disgrace” from Schoolboys in Disgrace or “Everybody’s a Star (Starmaker)” from The Kinks Present a Soap Opera or “Celluloid Heroes” from Everybody’s in Show-biz.  Who doesn’t love a song that references Greta Garbo and Bela Lugosi?

We often wonder how did so and so get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The Loving Spoonful for example.  The Loving Spoonful in a the rock hall makes me think about the MLB Hall of Fame.  Some people want to turn it into the “hall of very good.”  Do any of you associate the Kinks with “very good’ and not “Fame?”  The Loving Spoonful is very good.   Isn’t it time  you dug a bit deeper and turned your vague affection for the Kinks into love?  I’m sure you know “Rock and Roll Fantasy” by  Bad Company.   Do you “Rock and Roll Fantasy” by the Kinks that came out a few months earlier?  It is a love song to rock and roll, not Paul Roger’s feeble attempt at upstaging Kiss’ stage show in a song.

The next time you revel in your Beatles and your Stones, stretch a bit and remember The Kinks.  Tonight, I’m drinking to the death of a clown.

*Props to those of you who found the hidden Bowie/Mott the Hoople reference.