Saturday, May 23, 2020

She Married Me Anyway

Some people hide their true natures from others as a way of sneaking their faults under the radar until it's too late. They go out on dates and order mineral water, instead of their usual six or eight cocktails. They turn down reefer at parties, when they usually smoke a gram every couple of days. Ladies, be careful. That ardent lover that you're considering marrying may turn out to be a selfish and lazy lover after the honeymoon. Look for the signs, ask around. I don't know how you discover the truth. I ain't no Dick Tracy. But try.

Some men, like me, are the opposite. In fact, I tend to broadcast my true nature, my likes and dislikes, very early in any budding relationship, whether potentially a friendship or a love interest. I have abandonment issues, and one way of avoiding abandonment is to clear the air right away so that there are no surprises. If there's something about me that you don't like, I won't be keeping it a secret. Better that you know these things right away. The sooner you skate, the better it will be for both of us. I'm not here to waste anybody's time.

I kept no secrets from the woman who became my first wife, that's for sure. She married me anyway. Much to her eventual chagrin. If you have any questions about our divorce, don't ask me. I never understood why she loved me, and I have certainly never understood exactly why she kicked me out. But honestly, can't we agree on this? It would have been better if she had stopped returning my calls after the first few months. Better than kicking me out after we had raised two children together, and we were both already on Medicare.

Surely, she saw the signs. I was totally indifferent to making a living. In fact, my favorite form of employment was unemployment. I was a bundle of nerves, a hive of anxiety, and deeply angry and depressed. I drank alcohol every day, and I preferred to sleep very late. Along with my friends, I bought my share of everything that we could get our hands on. My friends and I enjoyed it all together, on a very regular basis. I hated school, although I was a voracious reader of unassigned materials. I hated conformity, authority, work, society, my parents, politics, and myself.

Even my positives were annoying. I was a serious, motivated movie fan when we began to date. No, I was a serous fan of cinema, that's it! Cinema! World cinema! I'm still a fan, but for about ten years there I was crazy on the subject. I went to see films two or three times every week, either alone or with a friend. The Italian Neo-Realists; the French New Wave; silent films; Bergman; Fellini; screwball comedies; and, perhaps especially, Japanese movies. Art houses, museums, re-run theaters, the tiny Japanese-only theater west of Broadway in the high-40s, wherever the good stuff was being shown cheap. I guess I did begin by taking my then girlfriend to sure things, like “Blazing Saddles,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” or maybe Marx Brothers' movies. Who doesn't love the Marx Brothers? But I went too far very quickly.

We went to see a triple feature one time. Was it at the old New Yorker theater uptown? Yes, it was. The first movie was “Un Chien Andalou,” by Luis Bunuel, credited, I believe, to Bunuel and Salvatore Dali. That film was, let's say, experimental. Surrealism on the movie screen. I was spellbound, so I didn't notice that she was less than thrilled.

The next feature was, “The Night of the Living Dead,” the original, about a year after its first release. Again, I was fascinated. Not just to be watching the movie, but to consider how one very talented man could have put that movie together for almost no money, obviously having to spoon-feed all of the (probably) amateur actors all of their lines and stage direction. It was a real triumph of the will. The will of one man, “I'm going to make a feature film, damn it!” My future wife was unimpressed. No, that's not true. She totally hated it.

Bear in mind that the theater was crowded with very respectful cinephiles. It was the times.

The third movie was Ingmar Bergman's, “Hour of the Wolf,” which, to be fair, can seem a bit obscure to the uninitiated. Again, I was too wrapped up in the movie to notice that my girlfriend was grinding her teeth, sitting there like an unexploded bomb, with her arms tightly folded and her chin making a mark on her pretty breastbone.

That's the last time I let you pick the movie!”

If you had asked me, at the time, to make a list of everything that I loved about her, I could have filled pages. If you had asked her to do the same thing about me, she might have sat there for five or ten minutes with a furrowed brow, chewing on the pencil. The nicest thing that she ever said to me was, “at least you're not boring.”

In light of subsequent events, she might have added, “. . . yet.”

Lee Dorsey - Sneakin' Sally Thru The Alley [7"] - 1970

You might also like Robert Palmer's cover of this song. Many of the same musicians on both versions. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Put It In Cookies And Call Them Hydroxy Cookies

Yesterday, Trump announced that he has been prophylactically taking hydroxychloroquine. Side effects include “delusions.” Today, Trump accused a TV journalist (via Twitter) of murder in the accidental death of an employee at the journalist's office in 2001. He seemed to understand what he was saying. He called for an investigation. That is slander-per-se, for one thing, untruthfully accusing another person of a heinous crime. (Or libel-per-se, if a Tweet is officially considered to be publication.) The death was that of a young woman at work in the office at the time. She was stricken by some medical event, lost consciousness, fell to the floor, and hit her head just right. The blow to the head killed her. There was a police investigation, and it was written up as an accidental death incident to the medical event. The journalist wasn't even in the state at the time, and no one who was in the office caused her to fall. Trump's accusation at this late date is the action of someone who seems delusional. I think that it's fair to ask: which came first, the hydroxychloroquine or the delusions? He says that he has only been taking the medicine for a couple of weeks (and that he will be discontinuing it in a couple of days).

Anyone familiar with Trump's public behavior over the last four decades knows that “delusions” have always been part of Trump's profile. It's easy to get bogged down in examples, so I'll just go with, “biggest crowds of any presidential inauguration in history.” For a post-hydroxychloroquine delusion, let's go with “Obamagate,” and the afore mentioned murder accusation.

A better question might be: is Trump actually taking hydroxychloroquine? Which he, in his way, refers to as, “the hydroxy.” I would bet that he is not now taking it, nor ever has. It's just part of his sales pitch, because he has a financial interest in the company. “I've been hearing a lot of good things about it.” It's safe to say that the promotion is making money for the corporation. Trump's fellow traveler in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, is now pushing the drug for general use on COVID-19 sufferers there.

COVID-19 is a dream come true for Bolsonaro. The odds are that it will kill off primarily Brazilians from the lower economic demographics. As a bonus, it seems to have fatally moved into indigenous populations. The virus will provide an effective distraction from Bolsonaro's program of leveling the entire Amazon rain-forest. The Indians who have called that huge jungle “home” for eons were already on Bolsonaro's shit-list. These political leaders who are now blowing it so spectacularly will probably come out okay in the end. They'll figure out a way to take the credit when the whole mess is ready to wrap-up, either by way of a vaccine or the virus itself running out of steam. People who believe and follow guys like Bolsonaro or Trump will believe anything.

The virus is now doing boffo business in the heartland states of America, where Trump has had his greatest electoral successes. It will be interesting to see the result when the spike in COVID deaths comes from Trump's base. They were happy to laugh it off when Trump was saying that it will all go away on its own, and the dying was mostly occurring in coastal states. Very quickly they were desperate to get back to work, which was understandable, and desperate to get back to Applebee's, which was not understandable. And to get back to their phony churches, of course, because it's so important to handle that collection plate and give your last money to those phony preachers. They want to do all of that without masks or social distancing. They're suffering now, and how they react will be illuminating. Trump is already steering them towards blaming China, and my guess is that their natural dislike of the coastal states will lead them to also direct blame at New York and California. Eventually, as is usually the case, someone will suggest blaming the Jews. Reason would suggest blaming Trump, at least for the severity of the pandemic in America. Trump's base seems adamant, though, about “dancing with the one they brung.”

I have heard that older Americans are beginning to wonder if their trust in Trump was misplaced. Maybe Trump really is an idiot, as most older Americans had firmly believed throughout his career in the public eye, up to the point where he chose to run for president. I will also believe that one when I see it, and not before. My own geezer Trump fan Facebook Friends are still hard core.

Ultimately our protection will fall into the hands of President Michael Pompeo. Mike loves his religion, and you will too, if you know what's good for you. America will return to universal conscription in preparation for Armageddon. Church services, at the churches of government approved evangelical Christian religions, will be mandatory. (Sunday services, and Wednesday evening Bible study. No masks please! We have Jesus to protect us.) Antidisestablishmentarianism will again be a hot topic in our political discourse. Heretical sects will be terminated. Buy stock now in private prison corporations; avoid the rush. All against the backdrop of continuously rising temperatures, climate catastrophes, new pandemics, and weather driven mass migrations.

I'm afraid that this train is just getting rolling.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Death And Can

The four founding members of Can were Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli, and Irmin Schmidt. (Not in order of importance, a concept that they all would have rejected in its entirety.) Can were the best band that you've never heard of, and the echos of their influence have been important to rock, pop, jazz, classical, and progressive music since the day that the band was founded. They had no intention to be popular, to be groundbreaking, to be well liked, or to make money, although they casually, almost accidentally, managed to do all of those things. If you have heard their music at all, it was probably in a film score, or, if you are German, the score of a TV show. Or even an advertising jingle. Those things paid the bills, while Can made records that were gobbled up in the dozens by enthusiastic fans.

This was the 1970s, and early on, suddenly, there was a burst of energy from Germany. Really, energy, since the music followed the rules of physics as well as the rules of music. Kraftwerk was the door to this music, but Can was the destination. There were a lot of very good outfits in this scene, Guru Guru; Amun Duul; Popol Vu; Faust; Tangerine Dream; to name a few. I will still say that Can was the destination, because their music was the most consistently excellent, challenging, and entertaining.

I am not the type who keeps up with things; I am the type who lets things slip into the twilight of memory. I do not forget things that had a powerful effect on me, and I revisit the music and the visual arts that I have loved along the line, but they will usually be considered as objects of memory, as opposed to ongoing interests. I was surprised, for instance, to discover that Holger Czukay, Can's bass player, had released a steady stream of terrific solo-albums during the 1980s and 1990s. There was one question, however, that remained in the back of my head for almost fifty years: why did this positive explosion of innovative electronic music appear in Germany in the 1970s?

A friend from that time recently made me aware of a book called, “Can: All Gates Open,” which presents the story of Can in microscopic detail. I got a Kindle copy, and I'm a few chapters into it, and I can report that it will be answering my question about “why?”

Thinking and reading about Can, I have unfortunately discovered that only Irmin Schmidt remains alive. I am glad to have lived as long as I have, but there is a sadness in the closeness of death that comes along with it. I am daily reminded that my contemporaries are succumbing to death, which forcefully implies that I will be joining them soon. Michael Karoli, Can's guitarist and the youngest of the group, has been dead for some time. Holger and Jaki both died in 2017, and it occurred to me that I could easily have died that year myself. Very easily, and, in fact, I probably came very close.

Can one experience a heart attack and simply wait it out, without dying? It appears that I did just that some time in 2017. The facts suggest that it did happen, as later confirmed by a medical professional and an experienced heart attack victim (my friend Bill, five heart attacks, all with bypass operations). Why would anyone just wait it out, when the symptoms were so unambiguous? That's a fair question. The answer is in the variations in the human personality.

Kevin Smith is a popular, successful performer and movie maker. I enjoy his work, and I'm glad that he's okay. He has traditionally been on the heavy side, and after a stand-up comedy set not long ago he began to experience symptoms. Chest pains, thermal blasts, shortness of breath, left arm pain, the usual. He laid on the floor and had someone call 911, this all happened backstage in the dressing room right after his set. The hospital rushed him through an echocardiogram, an ECG, and whatever else, maybe a cat scan, and they decided to put him on the table immediately and do an angiogram. They found things they didn't like and they put in a few stents. They had fixed some very constricted areas of the one they call, “the widow maker.” In America, that all comes to about $100,000, including the ambulance and a night or two in the cardiac ICU. After that he was fine. That's the way it happens when the victim is a relatively well-adjusted person with some money, great insurance, and a successful career.

But I'm not that guy. You may recall that I live in Thailand, for one thing. My story begins in 2016, when there was a shocking emotional event in my life. That followed closely on the heels of another shocking emotional event in 2014. In 2017 my blood pressure started to crawl upwards. Now, bear in mind that I had never had a chest pain in my life, no one on either side of my family has ever, to my knowledge, died of a heart attack, and after a previous echocardiogram the doctor had told me that I had “the heart of a race horse.” A pattern emerged in 2017: my blood pressure would elevate beyond acceptable limits as the evening progressed. This happened whether I was having cocktails or not. It got to the point where I was taking notes and seeing a cardiologist. I had a machine to keep track.

One evening, at about nine p.m., I began to experience chest pains. These grew quickly to alarming proportions. My left arm began to hurt. I went to the couch and took my blood pressure. It was 183/105. I had never seen anything close to that previously. I returned to my desk, where by now my ears were whistling, and the chest pains were sharp, and both arms were aching, and my hands were beginning to hurt. So the question became: what should I do? I could get a taxi to the hospital, or I could call the hospital and they would send an ambulance. It's a very good hospital, no fooling around, and they had my file. I thought, sure, and I'll get there and my BP will be way down, the pains will have subsided, and then I'll have to hang around all night while they do a stress test and an echo, which is already a few hundred dollars, and maybe a cat scan, which is another eight hundred. So I said fuck it. Let's just see what happens. And I rode it out. It took about a half hour, with half of that time being descending action. After a half hour, my BP was within normal limits (if a bit on the high side), and I felt fine.

Over the next few months, I got the stress-test, and the echo, and the cat scan, and the angioplasty with the stents. Two stents on the widow maker, in fact. Over that few months I had experienced recurring chest pains, which I treated with nitro pills provided by my cardiologist. They worked every time. The difference in our approaches to the problem is the difference between Mr. Smith and me. My budget is a closely watched thing, with narrow margins for error, and my health insurance policy is very limited in scope (although they do pay their share, which I appreciate). But the critical difference is that I am deeply depressed, and I would leave behind only a lifetime of underachievement. Only my second wife would mourn my passing, and she's a Buddhist, so she would accept it pretty readily at my age. It was easy for my to sit there and think, “fuck it, if I die, I die, I'm riding this shit out.”

The early death of Mr. Karoli saddens me. He gave a lot to the world, and he died at the age of 53 of an unspecified cancer. That always makes me suspicious that the cause of death was actually something more dramatic, but that's probably because I watched too many years of “All My Children” when I was a younger man (age 35 to 55). Mr. Czukay and Mr. Liebezeit lived fuller, longer lives, but their deaths were tragic considering the contributions that they had made in life. I wish Mr. Schmidt the best of luck in what I call, “the place of bad roads.” (Old Age.) If he wants to live forever, that's okay with me.

Me? I've had my seventy, my three-score-and-ten. Plus. So I'm on Golden Time. Whatever it is that overtakes me, and whenever that happens, is okay with me. As for funeral arrangements, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “the person in whose honor the event is being given does not care if there are flowers.”

Sunday, May 10, 2020

RIP Richie “Alto Madness” Cole February 29, 1948 - May 2, 2020

This happens to me too often: great musicians have to die to get my attention. 

The band goes like crazy, and Richie himself is phenomenal, but you've got to hear the piano solo that comes after Richie's opening solo. Not only is Bobby Enriquez a fantastic conventional hard bop piano player, but he's got a bag of wild tricks up his sleeve. Too many piano guys make a dead spot when you shine a light on them. Bobby is so full of life cops want to blood test him. 

RIP Richie. Nice nickname. Nice to meet you; I miss you already. 

Welcome To Brunswick, Georgia

I've actually been to Brunswick, GA. That was long ago, before Route 95 was an interstate highway. Well, technically it was already an interstate highway, but at the time you were driving on a two-lane-blacktop with no lights that went straight through every little town between Roanoke, Virginia and the Florida border.

My grandparents had moved to Florida in the mid-1950s, and we went down to visit them regularly. One year, on the return trip, my father decided to stop in Brunswick overnight so we could do some sightseeing. It was one of our summer trips to Florida. Brunswick is the gateway to Sea Island, which is something like the Newport, Rhode Island of the south.

Sea Island is a really beautiful place, and if you've ever been there when it's hot you know why it's very popular with rich people. Especially rich people long ago, before air-conditioning. Georgia is a very hot, humid place, miserable, actually, but on Sea Island, it's like the air-con is on high all day long, even when there's no air-con. To get to Sea Island you first must find Brunswick, and from there, a low causeway bracketed by reeds leads out to Sea Island, which I believe is actually a couple of islands. As you go out the causeway, the temperature starts to drop. If it was ninety-five in Brunswick, which is nothing in Georgia, it'll be about seventy on Sea Island. Maybe even sixty-seven. It's cool. Hence the rich people. The houses were very impressive.

Ahmaud Abbery got gunned down for nothing last week in Brunswick, or some other little municipality on the outskirts of Brunswick. I'm not surprised at all. They say that he had been running around various neighborhoods for fun for many years. I'm surprised that he lasted as long as he did. Brunswick might look nicer than almost any similarly sized town in Georgia, but that doesn't make it a nice place. Those people are still fighting the Civil War; they have not yet accepted that they lost the Civil War. Black Americans? Hell, they hate most white Americans too. I learned that lesson very young.

Another year, on another trip, we had been to Florida for Christmas and my father knew that it was freezing cold in New York. We stopped for gas in Georgia, and he spotted a hardware store very close to the gas station. For those of you who mercifully grew up in a place that never froze, the door locks on a car will freeze solid if the car is left out in freezing weather overnight. You need to un-freeze the locks to get into the car, and the easiest way to do it is with this little spray thing of graphite powder that is called Lock-Ease. So my dad set me up for an adventure. I'm sure that he knew what he was doing. He gave me a buck or two and sent me to the hardware store. “Ask them if they have Lock-Ease.” Very simple. I had seen the stuff, and I knew what it was. I walked into the store, a nice eleven year old white kid, as white as a sheet of loose-leaf. “Hi,” I said, “you guys sell Lock-Ease?”

There was a guy on my side, and he just laughed and turned away. The guy behind the counter made a face and said, “Lockees? This is a hardware store! We don't sell cigarettes.” Just like that, as God is my witness. I was a regular little Bugs Bunny at the time, so I was happy to sarcastically explain to him what LOCK . . . EASE was, and ask him again if he had any. I guess it doesn't freeze overnight in Georgia, because the answer was still no. The lesson was that as soon as they heard my Nu Yawk accent, I was immediately put on the shit-list. 

What chance did Mr. Abbery have running around places like that? He should have known better. He was a tall, sturdy, athletic black man too, just running around the neighborhood like he owned the joint. That's a good way to make the white folk angry in Brunswick, GA. God help him if he ever tried running out that causeway to Sea Island! I'm sure they have a gate by now, checking IDs. He'd have been killed long ago if anyone saw him running around a neighborhood on Sea Island.

This is your shining City on the Hill, America. What a bunch of bullshit.

Frankie Lee Sims-Walking with Frankie

If you've ever heard a record better than this, you are a very lucky individual.