Re-blogging this thoughtful and poignant essay. It is also incredibly sad. One phrase was especially haunting, “…it’s really about depression and cynicism. Those two go hand-in-hand, along with their nasty little sister, anxiety. When the three of them get going, they just eat hope as quickly as it can be summoned.”
Chris Cornell died early Thursday morning. His band Soundgarden played a show on Wednesday night at the Fox Theater in Detroit. Two hours after the show ended, he was gone.
For two days, I’ve been working on a piece to pay tribute to him, and it’s been a struggle. Usually when I have a problem like this it’s because I’m staring at a blank screen trying to figure out what I want to say. That’s not the problem this time. The problem is I have way too much to say.
I’m not going to sit here and claim to have been a huge fan of Soundgarden. I didn’t dislike them, I just had to take them in small doses. I was a fan of Cornell. I love “Seasons,” the solo song he had on Cameron Crowe’s movie, Singles. It’s a droning acoustic song about isolation and the…
Our featured redhead is Shirley Temple. Temple began her film career in 1932 at the age of three and was Hollywood’s biggest box office star from 1935 to 1938. In addition to being nearly as cute as my granddaughter Penelope, Shirley was a talented tap dancer.
Here is her classic staircase dance with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson:
Fans of the Melvins are probably aware of the connection between our featured redhead and the 1990 Melvins album Bullhead on Boner Records. Joining founding lead guitarist and vocalist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover is Temple’s daughter Lori “Lorax” Black, featured on bass.
Formed in 1983 in Montesano, Washington, the band Melvins is hard to define, but their signature slow, heavy metal and punk influenced sound has been described as doom metal, drone music and sludge metal, and was a big influence on Seattle grunge and tribute drone bands. Bullhead is a HEAVY as it gets. The music is a physical presence as much as it is sound. The opening chords of Boris churned out by Osborne against the pounding drums of Crover and rumbling Lorax bass line immediately set the tone.
The pattern repeats over and over while Buzz spits, drools and gurgles the lyrics.
Anaconda is like an unstoppable force, leveling everything in its path, while Ligature is shifting tectonic plates, forcing continental masses upward. Osborne’s guitar wraps a stranglehold around mountain peaks, painfully yanking them skyward. Overflowing everything is oozing molten metal.
It’s Shoved and Zodiac are the closest you will get to driving rock in this collection. Buzz is aptly named as his guitar style is heavy on distortion and sustain. My overall impression of Osborne’s vocals is that they sound more like an exorcism than singing. Not surprisingly, the cataclysmic event is represented by If I Had an Exorcism. Osborne’s opening incantations are filled with venom and vomit, alternating between suppression and release until launched by deliberate drumming and thunderous bass. The guitar riff is a single repeated note, evocative of an air raid siren, sustained over the remaining minutes of the song.
Your Blessened returns to the mood and tone of Boris; dance hall music for dinosaurs. You can picture massive, plodding feet raising dust clouds as they stomp in a ritualistic, prehistoric mosh. Crover is the Cow in the finale, oblivious to everything except his drums, stepping out of time to play as he feels. It is a fitting end to a set that is active and physical while maintaining core musical elements. Darken the room and crank up the volume.
Bullhead Playlist (all written by Buzz Osborne)
“If I Had an Exorcism”
In what has become an afterthought, and maybe a bit anticlimactic, my short story, Pops continues:
One hot, sticky morning in July, I arrived at Pops’ store and was surprised by a CLOSED sign on the front door. Checking the door and finding it unlocked, I slowly pulled it open and entered the store. The noonday sunlight filtered through the front window, illuminating the store in a streaky glow. The floor creaked as I started toward an open door at the rear of Pops’ office, and was met halfway by the muted sounds of a trumpet. The sounds were low and melancholy and held me there between Pops’ empty grocery shelves. I stood motionless, listening to the slow, reflective melody, until the notes suddenly became light and buoyant. They seemed to dance before me, just beyond my reach, and then, waft skyward. I stepped to the elusive notes which lifted themselves upward, always upward, lifted themselves upon invisible wings.
I found myself in the doorway, looking out at a small courtyard where Pops stood with his back to me, his shoulders hunched and his eyes closed in concentration. Pops gently swayed as he played, and moved forward with short, mincing steps. Sensing my presence, he turned in a small circle toward me, opened his eyes, and blew one last softly rising note.
“Don’t get too many customers when it’s this hot, so I decided to take the day off,” Pops explained, “One of the advantages of being your own boss,” he added. I smiled self consciously and nodded. I remained silent, still embarrassed after being caught watching.
“Well, what do you think of my garden?” Pops asked.
My eyes scanned the courtyard. It wasn’t the kind of garden that would win any awards as “an oasis of beauty and growth in the midst of urban decay.” Actually, it was a direct reflection of the difficulty that Pops experienced with everything that he attempted. The soil was dry and sandy and full of glass fragments that Pops had been unable to sift out. However, also like everything else that he attempted, the garden somehow yielded a meager crop of lettuce, tomatoes, string beans, and collard greens. There was even a thin, stubborn birch which leaned against the rear wall of the courtyard.
“I didn’t know you were a musician,” I said, ignoring Pops’ question.
“I guess there’s quite a few things that people don’t know about me,” he replied. “Do you play?
“I play the tenor sax,” I answered automatically.
Pops leaned back and chuckled. “Looks like you’re full of surprises yourself — especially the way you snuck up behind me — nearly scared me half to death.”
“You didn’t look so surprised. Besides, you shouldn’t leave your door open like that,” I laughed, feeling more relaxed, “You know how this neighborhood is.”
“Well now, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. I think I know most of the people around here pretty well.”
“But, what about Bobby?” I asked. “Why do you put up with him?” I crossed my arms and waited for Pops’ answer. He reached into his apron pocket and pulled out his pipe. Lighting it and wedging it in the corner of his mouth, Pops smiled slightly as he wrinkled his brow in thought and began to speak.
“I can’t see that I got much choice in the matter. Bobby is part of this street.” Pops stopped suddenly as the sky darkened and it began to drizzle. “I think we better move inside.”
He started back toward the doorway, and I followed. Once inside, Pops pulled up a folding chair for me and sat himself on the edge of the counter in front of me. He leaned forward, drew on his pipe, and continued.
“Like I was just about to say, the boy is confused is all. He don’t see too many choices available to him, so he’s frustrated, mad and frustrated. Look at me, I can barely pay my rent. We all need something son, something to help us get through. Bobby’s got his bottle and I got my horn. When I play, sometimes I can understand why I hurt and why Bobby hurts. At least I can let my horn do the talking for me, but Bobby, he don’t have no voice.” Pops lowered his head and became silent for several seconds, until he turned to me.
“It’s different for you son — you got choices. You don’t have your back to the wall. No sir, you got options…you can do anything you want.”
Pops had struck a nerve. I didn’t know whether to feel grateful or ashamed for this privilege, or was it an unfair advantage that Pops had implied? Resenting what I believed was an accusation, I answered defensively, shoving my hands into my pockets to hide their trembling.
“But, that’s no excuse. I get confused too. You don’t see me running around in the streets all day, trying to bully people. I can’t always do what I want either.”
The storm outside grew stronger as Pops leaned closer in the fading light.
“What do you want to do son?” he asked softly.
Pops had me there. I had been trying to avoid that question, hoping that an answer would somehow be revealed to me, that my life would work itself out, but I knew from Pops’ grave expression that he would not accept my idle optimism. I stuttered something about wanting to feel my music again, and then, suddenly dashed out of the store in an overwhelming panic, as Pops called out behind me.
I’ve learned a lot in just over a year’s worth of blogging, and yet there is so much I still don’t understand. Take of my observations and opinions what you will, and feel free to provide your criticism, comments and suggestions. I greatly value your feedback and interaction, as the social component of WordPress, the community of fellow writers, is the reason I’m here.
Writing is hard, and writing well is really fuckin’ hard. I agonize over the words I commit to the page and sometimes can’t create a complete sentence no matter how many ways I twist and turn a phrase. So many false starts and drafts that will never see the light of day. I must love punishment, because I keep coming back for more. So it must be for many other bloggers.
I can’t tell you how to grow your audience, leverage social media, or maximize your Search Engine Optimization. After a year, I can boast of my 56 followers, but I do know this, for anyone to take the time to really read a piece of my writing, and especially to offer a comment or encouragement, that is love. I respect and appreciate the talent and dedication of my blogger brothers and sisters.
What have I learned? For me, the greatest gift has been vision, the understanding that it is better to show than to tell, to enlighten, illuminate and awaken, rather than cajole or preach. So much may depend upon a red wheel barrow, but I need you to show me why I should give a shit. Thanks to those of you who have succeeded and inspired me in the process.
Me giving advice about blogging reminds me of a favorite baseball story I’ve repeated to family and friends ad nauseam. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and baseball announcer Tim McCarver recounted one misguided trip to the mound. As McCarver approached Bob Gibson, the Hall of Fame pitcher shouted out to him, “What are you doing? The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it!”
Here are a few of my takeaways:
Readers love stories and photos of travel adventures. My posts with most likes–term most is relative in my case–are those about interesting destinations and day trips. Travelogues are some of my favorite follows as well. I admire the bold spirit in others and like to live vicariously through their chronicled adventures. Unfortunately, my personal exploits are few and far between, so wouldn’t provide enough content to sustain a blog dedicated to travel.
Poetry, especially short poems, are also popular. Many bloggers post quality work on a daily basis. I don’t consider myself a poet, but appreciate the music in my native tongue and will write a short piece when the spirit moves me. Whether it can be defined as poetry is a question best left to more talented writers.
If you are attractive and photogenic, include pictures of yourself in your posts. It can’t hurt. Pictures of me that I would wish to share are few and far between.
Frustrated with the lack of feedback, I’ve read a few articles on why bloggers struggle and a lot of that can be explained by the frustrations of being a writer. Central to the advice in one article is that if you write something of value the readers will find you. I do understand that bad writing is bad writing and no amount of social media savvy can change that, but I am relieved that I never quit my day job.
Ego often gets in the way of art, as it does with spiritual awareness and relationships, but sometimes you just need to take the attitude of baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams as chronicled in Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four:
Ted Williams, when he was still playing, would psyche himself up for a game during batting practice, usually early practice before the fans or reporters got there.
He’d go into the cage, wave his bat at the pitcher and start screaming at the top of his voice, “My name is Ted fucking Williams and I’m the greatest hitter in baseball.”
He’d swing and hit a line drive.
“Jesus H Christ Himself couldn’t get me out.”
And he’d hit another.
Then he’d say, “Here comes Jim Bunning. Jim fucking Bunning and that little shit slider of his.”
“He doesn’t really think he’s gonna get me out with that shit.”
Know thyself, and understand why you decided to create a blog in the first place. It’s you, it’s yours, and nobody can take that away from you. It’s entirely possible that sometimes they just don’t get it, or they don’t get you. But, it sure can make you doubt yourself sometimes.
I really wish I knew how to put more asses in the seats…
A recent post, Cultural Osmosis, by WSW, World Surfing Warrior, got me thinking about how people from different cultures connect. Culture consists of so many components, large and small, some so small they may seem insignificant and superficial, but I would advise you not to blink. I have seen very little of this world, having ventured outside of the States only a handful of times. As for my own culture, I am an expert on what it means to be an American of English, Italian, German, Norwegian, Irish ancestry growing up in a densely-populated small city outside of the New York metropolitan area, who marries outside of his race, religion and nationality and adopts a child from yet another country on the far side of the globe.
Beliefs, practices, customs and traditions, these terms are often linked or even interchanged. They may be attributed to a specific society, in a fixed time and place. Does this make culture exclusive? Must I be born into it to understand its subtleties? Have I painted myself into a corner?
My culture is over here, yours over there, but every day we build little bridges and meet somewhere in the middle. This unique shared experience is a sub-culture that may evolve and expand, or simply dissolve in an instant. The catalyst for these connections is the search and discovery of something familiar, and this essential element is often simple, basic, and instinctive.
If music be the food of love, play on.
Musicians speak of a universal language. I can listen to the sounds of an Indian raga played on an oboe or sitar and hear strains of Mississippi Delta blues. You can understand the attraction of a foreign land for the expat musician who’s art is taken for granted at home yet revered in a new world. Count off a few beats, and strangers from the far reaches of the Earth communicate through a collection of notes or dance steps.
Then, there is the quickest way to a man’s heart…
I’m not talking about Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy. Sharing a meal can be a spiritual or sensual experience.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.'”
This is no small thing. Whether it is rolling out dough for pierogies, or roti, or a pie crust, there is a bond formed whenever two people work shoulder to shoulder in the kitchen.
When I traveled to China to adopt my daughter, our group of adoptive parents traveled the country in a little cocoon, led by local and country travel guides. Before embarking on side trips to the individual provinces where our little girls waited, we were given a taste of Chinese culture, visiting several famous sites in and around Beijing, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and the Great Wall, and tourist traps like the pearl and silk factories. We also shared all of our carefully planned meals at local restaurants. Did this experience in any way help us understand what it means to be Chinese?
I had a very different interaction while scaling the stairs on a stretch of the Great Wall. The steps are of varying heights, or rise, making it nearly impossible to find your rhythm or gain momentum. The combination of thin air, warm temperature and pollution soon had me sucking wind. Glancing to my side I noticed a chubby Chinese teenage boy struggling as well. We paused, smiled at each other, then put our arms over each others shoulders and tried to tackle the obstacle together. We laughed and stumbled and spoke in our native tongues, understanding only that we both probably looked hilarious.
Then, there was the confrontation in a Wuhan shopping mall when a group of us parents with children in arms were shouted at by an older women who was obviously expressing her displeasure with the foreign intruders who had come for her native daughters. She said her piece until her nervously smiling daughter managed to pull her away. This was balanced by the kindness of the young women who ran a little shop in Guangzhou and loaned me a stroller for the couple of days I was in their city. Their shop near the White Swan Hotel was aptly nicknamed, “Your home away from home.”
We seek something familiar in the new. In an earlier post, Paris Redux, I expressed the loneliness and sense of isolation I often felt during my stay in a city where I couldn’t speak the language and knew nearly nothing of the culture or customs. Before I set off for Paris, my boss instructed me to “drink a lot of wine.” Others encouraged me to sample the cuisine, and while a few authentic French dishes found their way to my belly, I craved and sought out something that reminded me of home, and in doing so created my own little ad hoc sub-culture.
I didn’t drink much wine; not my thing. I usually had beer or mineral water with my meals. What was I homesick for? A hamburger and fries? Maybe pizza? –Soft, runny cheeses are popular choices on a pizza in France–No, I craved Indian food. I never got completely used to eating alone, but sitting in a quiet Indian restaurant, comfort in the familiar went beyond the menu. Speaking with the owner about home and family, knowing he was from somewhere else, I realized we were both travelers.
I’ve been married to a wonderful Indian woman for over 35 years, having met when we were just teenagers. Love at first sight, but that’s a story for another day. She was born and raised in Guyana, South America. Her family, and others like them, emigrated from India, carrying their culture with them where it blended with those of Africans, indigenous Amerindians, Chinese, and Portuguese to become something new. The story is repeated in Trinidad, Canada, Singapore, the U.K. and in the United States. The Desi experience is so incredibly varied and diverse, yet all share a common bond, mother India.
Culture is Mahatma Gandhi, discovering his destiny in South Africa, leading non-violent protests to fight for the rights of the oppressed. Culture is Kobe Bryant, speaking fluent Italian and playing American basketball as an African separated by generations from his homeland. It is a young Chinese woman, playing American jazz on her saxophone on a bridge over the Île de la Cité. And, it is legendary chef Gaggan Anand, reinventing traditional Indian cuisine in his Bangkok based restaurant, at the same time planning its closure in 2020 to continue his quest with a new venture in Fukuoka, Japan.
So it is that culture is not a fixed thing at all; it is constantly moving and evolving, both exerting its influence and adapting to the unique customs of an adopted home. “Everybody here is from someplace else,” is usually an accurate statement, no matter where you’re standing. Somehow overcoming the obstacles of language, religion and local customs, we manage to connect through our shared love of food, music, art and sports.