Sunday, March 28, 2010

No particular place to go...

Kids are gone for Spring Break and I'm about to head out to a friend's for a day of food and frolic...

Bad blogger me, I've been terrible about reading other's blogs, much less posting anything here. And as mean-spirited as my last post was, it was a true tale and little there that was strictly bilious. Anyway, thanks anonymous and Johnboy, I do appreciate the support.

I'll again cheat and post last week's column but I have HUGE news to post here (probably in the next day or so) but, until then, I hope you enjoy this:

The lamb laid down this past weekend, after the lion took a somewhat vicious nip on Friday. A nice slice of springtime on Saturday and Sunday, following a blast from the past the day before; as if March is a spoilt child — adorable one moment, a candidate for the river-bound gunny sack the next.

For more than a month, I’ve heard locals grumble at the hint of snow, “I’m done with it, already.” No argument from me but I also know that, if this spring is anything like the previous two I’ve experienced in Pagosa Country, the massive mounds of snow will disappear quicker than we could imagine, the afternoon sun will warm our shoulders, with more hope than despair and more green than white, brown or gray, but the lion will continue to return.

Readers here will have noticed that I keep bringing up springtime in my columns and for that, I won’t apologize; spring is, for me, air. Arising from the dark cave of my despondency, the winter of my discontent, I embrace every ray of sunshine and bask in the warmth, breathe deeply, savoring the aroma of new life, celebrating the numerous moments of my own rebirth.

Yet, the season does not come without some regrets; some bittersweet some need to seriously reflect on the march of time (as Pink Floyd said, “Shorter or breath and one day closer to death”).

This spring is no exception. During the past week, the passing of one Rock God occurred in tandem with the resurrection of another Rock God.

Close as we are to Easter, I’ll begin with the resurrection: the release of “Valleys of Neptune” by Jimi Hendrix, a compilation of previously unreleased material that, apparently, hasn’t pissed off Hendrix fans in the way that previous posthumously released albums have.

And, considering the album shot to number one on the album charts the day it was released, I figure the rest of the world was, like me, waiting for another Hendrix album.

Considering my first guitar came with a “Hendrix note-for-note” tablature book, I have to admit to a certain bias and affection for Jimi, “Purple Haze” being the first proper song I learned how to play on guitar (my band would eventually arrange the tune of “Purple Haze” to feature the lyrics to the “Green Acres” theme). Everything Hendrix played was my standard as a lead-guitar player. I knew I’d never come close to the bar but we all need something to shoot for, no matter how impossible to reach.

So, to see some dead Hendrix stuff released had my chain yanked — and I was not disappointed. While the previously recorded songs on the album — “Stone Free,” “Fire” and “Red House”— all involve much more production than the originals, yet not substantially different, we hear those cuts as if experiencing them for the first time.

Of course, Jimi’s playing is sublime … who the hell else plays like him?

No one. Hendrix stands head and shoulders above anyone else, not just as a guitarist but as an arranger and “Valleys of Neptune” shows him as both, miles above Count Basie or George Gershwin — I’d bet Hendrix will continue to stand long after many of his predecessors have fallen from renown and memory.

For instance, the version of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” bypasses anything Eric Clapton could have done, raising it beyond — if you can imagine — anything Cream or Clapton could have conceived of or arranged. Whereas the Cream version is a classic in its own right (deservedly so), Hendrix turns it into a garage band rave up that nonetheless pits the slow hand against Magic Sam’s dice. Who shot the sheriff? Who cares, there’s a new sheriff in town, Hendrix declares.

As a guitar player, however, I listen to songs like “Hear My Train a Comin’” or “Ships Passin’ Through the Night” or the title cut and wonder how I ever imagined that I could even imagine to play guitar. Hendrix didn’t just intimidate me, he reminded me of my tiny place in the universe. Just an insignificant speck on a small planet in a tiny solar system residing in one in a billion galaxies ... dude.

Rising from the dead, Hendrix brings an awareness: the eternal nature of music, the miracle of his talent and its ability to transcend time and death itself.

Likewise, lyrically (and compositionally) so did the guy that died last week: Alex Chilton.

I have to admit that I walked backwards in order to understand Alex Chilton. Whereas Hendrix held me close to my guitar (I slept with my first one for years, a Fender Broadcaster teddy bear), Chilton escaped me for a long time. In the ’80s, as a punker, I read how bands like REM and Teenage Fanclub would go on and on about how awesome Big Star and Chilton were and, well, I just wasn’t convinced. The little access I had to Chilton and Big Star didn’t really impress me.

It was another example of how nearsighted and closed-minded I could be. When I finally took the time (and shelled out the scratch for the records), it was apparent to me how wrong I had been. It was as if I’d pulled an old suit jacket out of the closet, something I’d never worn before because I’d made up my mind that it was ugly and boring, only to discover a hundred dollar bill in the pocket and the coat made me a chick magnet.

Anyone listening to indie rock now hears Big Star (and, by implication, the genius of Alex Chilton). #1 Record” — Big Star’s first release —has plenty of evidence: “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “In the Street” (which became the theme song of That 70s Show (with a brilliant remake by Cheap Trick), and “My Life Is Right,” are complete classics. Likewise, songs like “Thirteen” and “Try Again” remind one how modern how Big Star was — off of one album. One incredible album, that was, one off for whatever reason. While we were listening to Zep or Lou Reed or whatever, this album was out there, floundering, unheard until we got hip.

Whereas #1 Record never came close to grabbing whatever Chilton hoped to achieve (he’d done fabulously with the Box Tops and hits like “The Letter” and “Soul Deep”), Chilton continued to create some of the most revolutionary pop music ever. The rest of us be damned; his follow up album, Radio City, really wraps it up with an emphasis on Beatlesque harmonies and song structures thirty years ahead of their time – songs like “Life is White,” “Way Out West,” “Daisy Glaze” and “September Gurls” could be heard on XMU today, without a second thought or a wayward glance.

Whether #1 Record or Radio City, it’s all contemporary, as fresh as if you’re listening to the latest Frightened Rabbit or the Shins or A.C. Newman (all profoundly influenced by Chilton) — and the records were from the early 70s, amazingly enough.

Whereas most music contemporary to those two albums sound dated and quaint, snapshots of that place in time, #1 Record and Radio City remain timeless, not of that time or any other time, for that matter. The Zen quality of Chilton’s music on those two albums is that it captures the here and now.

While Chilton’s arrangements refuse to be locked in time, it’s the lyrics that seal the deal. Universal and consistently fresh, Chilton’s themes are simple: a celebration of love and life, even if heartbreak is involved. He manages emotional complexity only because he is capable of capturing exactly how we feel; there is never a false note nor inauthentic phrase. There is nothing maudlin or manipulative about the music, nothing rococo or pretentious. What draws us in is that we know precisely what Chilton is singing about.

The music is an exuberant testimony of what it is to be young, to have no other worry than to steal a kiss or score some beer, to drive all night with no particular place to go. “Hanging out, down the street/the same old thing we did last week/not a thing to do but talk to you,” might have been turned into a dirge of adolescent angst and ennui (see Big Black, “There’s kerosene around, there’s something to do ... set me on fire!”) but Chilton makes it a paean to having nothing but time to talk to his sweetheart, there is absolutely nothing angry about the sentiment.

At the risk of being a blowhard, I state the obvious and declare that adolescence is a tumultuous time, the threshold between the nursery and the workplace, full of adventure and sorrow and confusion and discovery and love and fear — but mostly, fun. Chilton risks nothing, he states it with such clarity and unassuming wisdom that we are only reminded what it is to have loved and lived, reminded that the simple things are indeed what we should most appreciate.

And so, with his passing last week, I was reminded of those simple things: the slight chill in the morning after sleeping with the window open all night, the distant sound of a lawn mower and the smell of fresh cut grass, the rattle of a baseball glove dangling from the handlebars of a bike, the taste of Coke from an ice-cold bottle, the way the horizon looks like it has caught fire at the end of the day, well into the evening, with the chatter of the neighbors on their porch, the cool skin of the hood of a car and the exhilaration of finally, finally touching the fingertips of a new love and feeling her hand move timorously to respond, palms pressed together, warm and wet.

Chilton’s music is just about that, really, and not much else. Were he still with us, he’d ask us to crank up the new Hendrix CD, I think, pull a cigarette from behind his ear and light it up, smiling and looking up from behind the bill of his ballcap to say that, yes, it’s about time. Spring is here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OH! To be her!

In better times, seeing what a phony tastes like

So, last year we filed taxes together, 'married, filing jointly' because the IRS likes everything on the up and up, supposedly.
However, this year we're no longer married and I need copies of those taxes.
Nope, she says, you can't have them.
What? I mean, I signed my name to that shit and everything, I should have them. Already one agency has asked for my taxes from the last three years and I have this big blank from last year, because she... well, she just doesn't want to give them to me. God knows why she just doesn't want to, maybe she has her reasons, but it seems fucked up.
Supposedly she's all spiritual and shit, moaning at the moon every other week with her supposedly-spiritual friends, burning incense and chanting in their made up moon people babble but, hey, isn't spirituality about treating people right?
Right. All you have to do is look at all the Christian assholes and Muslim assholes and Jewish Assholes and Hindu Assholes and on and on, with their guns and fire and bombs and frothing-at-the-mouth zealotry and you'll see that "spirituality" gets you a hole in the head when you're standing on the wrong end of dogma.
OK, not getting my taxes from last year is not the same as a hot poker down my gullet but stay with me, in some circles, it's just as good.
Per my last post, I live marginally -- hell, I wouldn't pay for internet except that sometimes I have to work from home when my kids are sick (I swear, that's the only reason... well, you got me there but it is handy) but we're frugal. No vacations here, no nights out. I'm no welfare mom.
So, as my last car was on its last legs, I decided to buy a truck from a co-worker, a big truck, a pig on gas but relatively new and reliable. What I didn't know (nor he) was that I'd have to pay nearly $500 to get plates on it. I'm not shitting you, $500 for plates on a 12 year old truck.
Tax refund, I figure, is the best way to get out of this conundrum, I can keep my trips to a minimum and keep the cops ignorant until I get my plates. Going on Turbo Tax, I find I get about $2000 more than I can figure out on paper -- cool. All I need to do is efile and all I need to do that is get a PIN from the IRS based on information from last year's filing.
Uh-huh. Except, she's not going to give me that even though, um, it's kind of mine, also?
This is a woman living off her dead dad's money, doesn't work at all, doesn't volunteer in the community, kind of squirrels up in the family's 200-acre compound and pretends she's head Hecuba for a handful of other aimless women, all going up to the Big House to bow down at the Goddess's feet. Big time spirituality and watch where you walk, motherfucker; bombs and all that shit.
Thing is, if I want to get my own copy of the tax forms, I have to ask the IRS to fax it to the nearest office (in Farmington, NM, a five hour round trip). On my expired tags (she doesn't have to purchase tags, dead daddy's company pays for those), in my vehicle (again, dead daddy's company pays for that), with my gas (ibid), taking a day of from my job (she doesn't need one, dead daddy, yadda)... yeah, there's your spirituality!
It's always amazed me how socialism is considered obscene in his country except how it applies to the rich (the hand outs go to them) and how "a sense of entitlement" gets bandied about for those of us struggling but those at the top -- again, they're immune, it means nothing.
Don't get me started on her lawyers insisting on me filing on 'married - filing separately' to benefit her rich ass (and keeping my kids from their EIC, which she had NO problem filing for last year!)...
Sorry for "my ex is such a bitch" post but there you have it.

Weasels tore my flesh

Thank you, you unfortunates who've read me and keep checking in -- I deserve much better (and you deserve much better than the likes of me) -- you keep me humble. No, OK, nothing keeps me humble, I'm a prick like that.
As some of you know, I'm writing for a small town paper, kind of picking cotton and putting ink down on it. Living in a HUD house, collecting Food Stamps, CHP for my kids and working just enough hours so they don't have to provide me benefits.
Yeah, I'm livin' the life. Just like 27 million other Americans. Because, as they told us, oh, 30 some years ago that, if we cut taxes, and it will all just trickle down.
I have to say, I'm wanting a little more than the trickle and I'd venture a guess that some Americans less fortunate than me, would be happy to share the trickle I'm getting.
Still, I love what I do and I'm apparently willing to do whatever it takes to make that dream work.
In my next post, I'll discuss the life and times of the idle rich... should be fun!