Thursday, July 30, 2009

5-year-old boy plays "Folsom Prison Blues"

This makes me feel good in too many ways to enumerate:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A few words on “reverse racism”

I’ve been watching all this crazy shit with the cop and the cranky professor and waiting for it to blow over and so far, I haven’t had any luck. On and on it goes…

And I’ve watched the clip-jobs of the various dopes, mostly on Fox News, making a big noise about “reverse racism” and it gave me pause.

What if they’re right, I thought? Even though they’re on Fox News and the subject is civil liberties?

On the Broken Clock theory, I decided to give it a little bit of honest consideration.

And what I decided was, what the right-wingers are calling ‘reverse racism’ looks more to me like justifiable resentment and a reasonable level of paranoia that proceeds directly from several hundred years of black human beings being bought and sold like livestock in this country followed by another hundred-plus of winking Jim Crow civil rights abuses. America didn’t get serious about Reconstruction until the nineteen-sixties for God’s sake! A hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation that was supposed to have freed them.

Hey hey, LBJ, how many dreams did you fulfill today? And it still cost his party the South for two generations...

And that was only 40 years ago, when progress actually began (based on my awareness of teacher Pete Dixon as a mentor figure on “Room 222” in 1969), measured against 400 or so preceding years of institutional, codified slavery. Relative to the amount of time the black man has spent under the white man’s thumb, really, their journey to full equality is only just beginning. And Professor Gates is old enough to remember a time before MLK and LBJ, when ‘equal justice for all’ was just a phrase they carved into courthouse walls and nickel souvenirs.

To accept the theory of reverse racism as proposed on Fox, one would have to be ignorant of or shrug off the entire back-story of civil rights in America and assume that when we woke up this morning, black people and white people were on an equal playing field and always had been.

But the sad truth that this latest incident illustrates is that in America today, even with an African-American in the White House, a black man confronted in his own house by a white cop still has damned reasonable grounds to fear for his safety. Prof. Gates should have had more sense than to backtalk the cop, oh yes. I’m a middle-aged, law-abiding white male and if I found a cop in my house, day or night, the last thing I’d do would be to get all up in his face. But the professor had locked himself out of his own damned house; if you’ve ever done that, you know how hot under the collar he must have been. Not an excuse, but it should have been a consideration, especially to a responding cop who specialized in racial sensitivity training. The irate, feeble old fart giving him shit was clearly not a threat to anything more than this officer’s ego. How was he to know this particular uppity negro was personal pals with the Prez?

I agree with the conventional wisdom that it was a “my-bad” situation on the part of both gentlemen, the perfect example of two wrongs once again failing to make a right. But those are just the details, not really the issue.

The issue as I see it is, by flogging the notion of ‘reverse racism,’ its proponents seem to be asserting that there is only one proper kind of racism; that it runs only in one direction, from white to black, and as a white man myself, I find this construct outrageous and insulting on its face! Since when did the American White Person get the exclusive franchise on racism? The term – reverse racism – in itself is racist.

Racism, like the gay pride flag, comes in all colors. If you hate somebody else solely based of the color of their skin or their ethnic heritage or religious affiliation or sexual orientation, you’re a Goddamned racist whether you’re white, black, yellow, red or pin-striped. There’s nothing reverse about it except the screwed-up direction of your thinking.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Geezers of Pop

(or: Learning the limits of my new iPhone’s ability to take live-event photos.)

These days I usually only venture forth from my office except to go to daycare, the grocery store or physical therapy. What precious time work, parenting and aging disgracefully doesn’t engulf and devour I usually spend torturing my acoustic guitar (see example in post below).

(For instance, my homeopathic clergyman comes to me, but I have been asked to keep mum about that because he is not licensed to practice outside his indigenous state. Which is a shame because I felt tons better after he peppered my lower back with acupuncture needles last weekend. I will instead post a photo to make you glad there is no text accompanying it.)

But The Last Boy Scout, being the Good Egg that he is, drags me out of my cave a couple times a year for a rock or pop show. He’s my Rush buddy, we’ve seen Queen, Iron Maiden, Motorhead together – well, you get the idea.

Last year we went to the local minor-league baseball park in triple-digit heat to watch a lame bill of nostalgia acts including BOC and Eddie Money. It says a lot about how bad BOC was in 2008 that Eddie Money’s set outperformed theirs by a mile.

When he proposed doing it again this year, I was up for it anyhow, just because I recognize the social imperative of getting out and passing for normal at least a couple times a year.

This year’s oldies theme was “The Teen Idol Tour” featuring Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees and Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and “Indian Reservation” fame (left). Opening was Maxine Nightengale and her Two Big Hits (not talking about her boobs, here) followed by a motley assemblage of background musicians from B-List 70s & 80s bands playing each of their previous outfits’ big hits. For instance, the bass player from the Knack was there, so we got to hear “My Sharona.” Like that.

A bonus this year was the fact that a mutual friend drove out from Florence, AZ to see the show with us. If he could afford it, his personalized license plate would read MARKLINDSAYFAN#1. The man is a walking encyclopedia of useless pop and sports ephemera and we thought it would be a blast to have him with us.

So Maxine and the B-Listers blew through their sets in the wilting Christmas Island summer heat while the three of us hung to the shadows of the concourse and remarked on how many more sweet young things were at this year’s event than last year’s. I even coined a new phrase for the phenomenon: Poonteen. (You can use that, but please be sure to credit me.) For example, can somebody tell me how three tarted-up babes with granddaddy issues below scored backstage passes? Was there a test or something?

Anyhow, the trio of former teen idols came out eventually and did a couple of tunes together before Noone and Dolenz ceded the stage to Lindsay for a quick run-through of the Raiders’ greatest hits, occasionally backed by Noon and Dolenz. To their credit, the three of them seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves, with much good-natured banter and interplay between them.

Then it was Dolenz’ turn in the spotlight. Honestly, I’m a huge fan of former Monkee Michael Nesmith. To me, the other three Monkees were like barnacles clinging to his brilliance, so expectations for Dolenz were especially not high. But man, can that guy sing! All three aging popsters turned in fun, energetic sets, but Dolenz really has the pipes.

The last act to hit the stage was Peter Noone who performed a mini-set of the Hermits’ greatest hits, again aided off-and-on by Lindsay and Dolenz. Much to my delight, he even added a cover of Cash’s immortal “Folsom Prison Blues” of which I grabbed a couple minutes of from both way too close (for listenable audio) and way too far away (for viewable video) with my iPhone (see clip, below). Chances are my expensive new Mac Phone works better than the images accompanying this post would indicate and the fault is in operator error, but I had a lot of fun racing down the center aisle and snapping photos till Security cleared the lane again. Lots of us did!



(If anyone out there can tell me how to focus, zoom and/or compensate for shaky camera hands with my iPhone, please leave your instructions in the comments section.)

By night’s end, I had long abandoned my two somnambulant friends (Jesus, even with my fucked-up back, I don’t go to a concert to sit on my ass all night!) and even ended up pulled into a conga line during Noone’s set and making some new friends I’ll never meet again (my favorite kind!).

Bur for my abysmal failure to document it competently, an excellent time was had by this correspondent. If the Teen Idol Tour comes to your town, drop the $40 and go check them out. And oh yeah, everybody else there was shooting the event using their actual cameras, so feel free to bring whatever you’ve got to help you remember the event. The iPhone is great for a lot of things, but apparently photographing live events at night is not one of them.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Dr. Mrs. B

Seven years in and I haven’t developed so much as an itch.

I’ve been hacking at the guitar in secret (well, not from The Missus), attempting to pick it up at the tender age of 46 last year. Frankly, it’s not going as well as I had hoped it would. But this one Tom Waits song – a song I used to woo her with and included on our official wedding disc giveaway – just fell into my lap. Its chords cried, “Play me!” Its vocal line shrugged, “Even you shouldn’t be able to screw me up too badly…”

And it’s hardly a flawless performance, partly through simple ineptitude on my part and partly because I decided on the fly to change the point of view to first-person for a verse and spiders were hurt in the production of this video, but she liked it and that’s what matters.

Thanks for hanging in there honey. I’d be nothing without you, nor, literally, would The Boy.



(I also really like this girl's version of this song, too.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Daddy Delirium

Today The Boy brought home the artwork above, another in his expansive “Robot” series. But that’s not what has me so pleased; by now I’m conditioned to expect top-notch robot illustrations from the lad.

As occasionally happens, the job of putting him to bed fell to me tonight. After the compulsory milk-fetching event, I sang him our traditional wake-up/go-to-sleep tune, “I Walk The Line.”

I started with the classic recording’s “hummmm…” to find the pitch, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t mimic me, landing on the same pitch after only a brief effort.

Wondering if it was a coincidence, I switched to the higher “hummmm…” of the second verse and he mimicked me again, matching my pitch this time almost immediately.

“You have pitch!” I yelled at him. “You’ll be able to sing! You have no idea how cool this is…” I was genuinely excited. Singing even averagely well has been one of the great cool things in my life. I’m so glad he’ll have this avenue of expression available to him.

He could see that he was winning my approval, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that when I switched to the lyrics and paused at the end of each line, he sang back an approximation of that line to me. He didn’t nail any of them, but he came awfully close on a few. And he always ended on or near the correct last note of the line.

I may have to start putting him to bed more often. Waking up he’s quiet and cuddly (even when we’re not watching “Batman”), but going to bed he becomes a performer. It’s his venue and he makes the most of it.

Really, I couldn’t have been any happier if he had pulled the cure for the common cold out of his box of crayons.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Backing into Old Age

My fellow Americans…

As we gather here today in the cozy confines of the interwebs, it is my duty to inform you that the state of my lower back is SHIT. If my back was a test paper, I’d return it to the student with a huge red “F” scrawled across the middle of it in pig’s blood.

A battery of X-rays and MRIs have revealed a grab-bag of wrong shit going on down there, at the skeletal level. We’re talking bone spurs, a corkscrew twist in my spine just over my ass, arthritis, osteodegeneration, other big words I’ve already forgotten – if it was a cocktail, it would be a kamikaze.

(I tried to get a copy of the X-Ray to post here for your gasping-in-horror pleasure, but apparently I am not allowed access to pictures of myself outside the specialist’s office. It wasn’t a gynecological exam for Christ’s sake, just a black & white snapshot of my roller-coaster lower spine. If its status changes, I’ll swap my close-up, above, for it.)

I’d been advised by multiple sources that after I saw the spinal specialist the other week, he’d likely refer me out to somebody with a big needle full of temporary relief. Which relief came with some nasty side effects, but I figured I’d dole it out to myself parsimoniously – only go get a shot when I had to travel. I’ve been dancing with addiction since I was a teenager, I’ve gotten pretty good at staying a step ahead of it.

Alas and alack, even that sword of Damocles was denied me. As my symptoms are limited to sudden, incapacitating spasms of pain, not the steady, relentless 24/7 kind of pain, I do not qualify for The Big Shot.

Instead, I receive a prescription for copious amounts of physical therapy, a referral to a pain management specialist and the promise of inevitable back surgery down the road. The assistant specialist told us off-the-record that spinal surgeries tend to lead to more spinal surgeries, he referred to it as the surgical equivalent of The Domino Effect. Thus, they exhaust every other option first in an effort to put off that initial spinal surgery as long as possible.

It’s a shitty prognosis, especially considering I’m still relatively young (47), and the rest of my life in pain (and/or physical therapy, which is the same thing to me) looks at this point like it could be a long time.

So I come home and make the following report to The Last Boy Scout, my official external conscience (talk about shitty part-time gigs!), after he expresses concern that I don’t use this as an excuse to let the addictive side of my personality run amuck with the whole ‘pain management’ thing.

I write:

No. dude, they were trying to throw muscle relaxers at me – both of them today, like the main doctor and his similarly-clad flunky (obviously a mentor/mentee relationship). My doctor looks like an Arab John Lovitz. It’s all I could do to keep from making jokes about it at first, but the outlook became so progressively dispiriting, eventually I didn’t feel inclined anymore.

Anyhow, my problem isn’t with pain. Pain is pain. We all get old and more shit hurts, more work is required to sustain a comfortably ambulatory lifestyle. Nor is my problem with drugs. I like the two I’m already on and am EAGER not to add anything potentially volatile to what is currently an ideal pharmacological cocktail.

My specific problem is with out-of-the-blue, crippling spasms for which they got no drugs anyhow (it’s the whole “out of the blue” part – you don’t know you’re going to have one till you’re sucking carpet). I had one while The Missus was out of town last weekend. Thank Jeebuz it happened in the middle of the night and The Boy wasn’t around to see Daddy go all noodley. It went like this: Fell asleep as soon as I put The Boy down earlier in the evening, wiped out and overslept my usual 2-ish hour limit by a considerable amount. Woke up stiff and sore, rolled gingerly out of bed and walked into the front room. Saw one of The Boy’s book’s lying in the middle of the floor and didn’t want to slip on it in the darkness. Bent down to pick it up and BLOWIE! The next thing I knew I was gasping for breath and eating a faceful of couch, my feet and knees still on the floor. My back wasn’t about to straighten up and it was willing to take down the entire organism to make sure it couldn’t be forced to work as designed.

It was trippy. I don’t remember how I made it to the couch, but my knees were unskinned so I must have pivoted as I realized I was passing out and thrown myself at the sofa! What I wouldn’t give to see third-party footage of that. But it’s what I do when I can feel sudden unconsciousness coming on, I throw myself toward furniture. Usually chairs, but I couldn’t stand up this time. Even passing out, my brain made a calculated (or lucky) choice and saved my ass. I was able to crawl up on the couch and into a sitting position and bla bla bla, the event passed.

So I was really hoping for a Magic Bullet Shot this morning, even if it had side-effects. I thought I’d only get them only once in a while, not regularly. Whenever I had to pass for normal outside my indigenous environment. When there’s a multi-day family event to pass as normal at, where I didn’t wanna be the spoiled-before-his-sell-date old man sitting in the rocker on the porch, telling stories nobody’s listening to about when he used to have teeth. Hearing whispers of “Gee, Fang’s really gone downhill since his back bla bla bla” while much older in-laws than me go out and scale K2 for laughs.

It’s just depressing, but I’m definitely going the NSAIDS/gut-it-out route, not Goofball Alley from where no good ever returns.

Okay, report is over. I’m back talking to you now:

My first challenge occurs later this month during the annual ‘weekend in Yosemite with the in-laws and their entire extended family’ – always a low-pressure gig for a people-person like me to begin with. The trick will be finding a sleeping situation that a) allows me to sleep without provoking the spasms that knock me on my ass and B) doing it discreetly enough that my encroaching infirmity isn’t the talk of the town after we leave.

Don’t expect to see a lot more reports about this sort of thing. I’m only mentioning it now so, years later when I get to wondering when it all started to go downhill for me physically, I can scroll back to this post and go, “Oh yeah, that was it!”

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

This is my Mom, watching me on the YouTube:

You’re watching me watch her watching me … no personal intimacy required. I love the interwebs!

(That’s my niece making the magic box do tricks for my Mom.)

I hate our dog

Tomorrow it will have been a year since we brought him home. And every goddamned misbehavior that he demonstrated then is still being practiced today. Always stealing food, digging around in the garbage and the gardens and biting people whenever he has the chance.

Less with the biting people and that’s only because it’s not something he can do behind our back. We still have to cage him up any time someone comes over, and over the course of a few hours The Missus will let him out and I pray that this won’t be the time he bites someone litigious. Or is a bleeder.

Everything else, he’s just a sneaky fucker. He’s good as gold all day when he and I are here alone. Completely well-behaved. Every day, all day. But as soon as anybody else is introduced into the mix, he just goes off the fucking rails. And that tells me that he’s calculating, not stupid. If he was as stupid as he appears to be, he wouldn’t have enough sense to be good when we’re alone. No, he’s deliberately waiting for his opportunities to be bad.

Every time the boy is eating and gets up and walks away from his food, even for just a second, BOOM, the dog is there and the food is gone. Natural canine behavior yes, but A) we’ve been working with him on it for a year now and B) he’d never pull that shit if I was sitting there in the room with him.

Just a couple nights ago, I went to bed, closed the bedroom door. As I was about to hit the sheets I remembered something I needed to do on my computer before I could call it a night. Opened the bedroom door to traverse the short hallway to my office and this malicious fuck comes barreling out of my sanctum sanctorum, head and tail low like a greyhound chasing a wooden bunny. It’s been 20 seconds max since I shut the bedroom door and he’s already defiled my office garbage, leaving chewed-up Kleenex all over the floor.

That’s why I hate him. Not because he’s incorrigible, not because he’s a big goofy idiot who just can’t help himself, but because I’m harboring a deliberate, scheming bastard in my own house whose evil machinations are all focused directly on upsetting my carefully-established order.

He might as well be the devil himself.

U2 fans not so crazy about Going Crazy Tonight

Actual snippets from recent u2 concert reviews, posted on their own site:

“I traveled 833 kilometers from eastern France to hear U2 play “I'll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” - twice. Let me restate that: I traveled 833 kilometers from eastern France to hear U2 play “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” - twice.
I know it's only your second show on this pointlessly-enormous roadshow you've got going, U2, and you still need time to adjust to the production, but if you must do a video shoot for the worst song on your new album - I beg that you do it on your own time.”

“I love U2 and everything and the show was absolutely wonderful with lights and action - but thy need to drop the I'll Go Crazy “remix” version immediately and revert to just playing the full band version. It's just plain awful. Sometimes I don't know what the band is thinking.”

And my personal favorite so far:

“oh yeah oh yeah ooo ooo oh yeah oh yeah. love seeing a show in barcelona because it has beauty more wonderful than bees kissing.
first time i see band ever. they play this song that starts: see the storm set in your crack.
beautiful. moved to tears.
oh more beauty: during song, ultraray, bono wears light suit and he beamed it in my eye. beauty suit.
very much beauty. song of the night was party boy and girl. bono touched hand of lucky woman who had many flabs.”

More critical and inarticulate hilarity is sure to follow here as the tour and the fan-reviews continue.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Johnny Cash hearts America

Happy birthday, old gal. You’re in pretty good shape for the shape you’re in.

Come on along and ride this train…



I’m posting this clip because not many people remember it, but July 4 is a noteworthy date in American history for more than the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson and Adams both dying years later on the same 4th of July.

It was also 146 years ago today that one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War was won, the Battle of Gettysburg. Between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans died during that three-day bloodbath, and they died close-up, face to face.

(CLICK HERE to download Johnny Cash reading the Gettysburg Address.)

I heard one of the pointy-headed swells on NPR today say Gettysburg was as much a turning point of the Civil War as Normandy was for WWII. Sobering thoughts, especially with America currently at war on two fronts. Have either Iraq or Afghanistan had their Gettysburg yet, their Normandy? Is the worst behind us, or yet to come?

As some clever wag before me pointed out, the problem with life - like wars - is that it can only be lived forward and understood backwards.

Friday, July 03, 2009

My son, the photographer

These images just show up on his camera at month’s end. I don’t know what some of them are or where he took them, I just hope to be as good a photographer as he is when I grow up.