Prednisone Grapevine

GrapeNorth of LA - the Grapevine, a horrifying but also fun! section of Highway 101 that starts your journey through the future post apocalyptic nuclear wasteland between LA and the Bay Area. It takes me six hours every weekend to drive this route – and six hours back again - in an ill conceived money losing commute from my job in Orange County to my home in Alameda in the Bay Area. The job pays $15/hour. The gas needed for the drive is around $200. Times are tough and things are stupid. I lose one day driving, giving me one day to see my family. Proof you can get used to any ridiculous thing.

My weight sits at an abysmally high 275 lbs, the most I have ever weighed in my life – due to the Prednisone. I’m sweating profusely, my head and hair drenched so that I must wear a  bandana across my brow to even be able to see the road – because of the Prednisone. I have to be very careful about the color of  any bandana I wear, the wrong colored bandana could easily kill me – because of the gangs.

SiriusSince normal frequency modulated waves cannot, or will not penetrate the bland nothingness of despair and radiation in this 300 mile tract, I must rely on Sirius Satellite Radio to accompany me. Sirius (the Dog Star) came free with the car, the previous owner having never cancelled his subscription. This is a case of something being better than nothing. Without Sirius there is only the howl of shrieking ghosts and rumbling of probably misaligned wheels on the asphalt. There is no easy hooking of an ipod to this car and I’ve misplaced the damn thing anyway. But I’m not a huge fan of Sirius. Out of hundreds of possible stations none really grab me. I click around. I need  music to make this drive, but you get what you pay for I guess. Normally I’ve got the rig tuned to the dum “Underground Garage” where I like the talking better than the tunes. Little Steven has some great, erudite interstitial monologues about rock and pop culture history that are worth waiting through his obsession with doo-wop and other old, crappy shit. There are also two DJs who I like just for their voices: Andrew Loog Oldham, who is so fucking British you could butter your toast with his accent, and the thoroughly awful “Handsome” Dick Manitoba, who like Oldham is an acquired taste, but once you accept him, like Jesus, you will be entertained.

When I get to Oakland a first order of business is to fill a prescription for Prednisone, a cortical steroid and the pharmaceutical Pillsestablishment’s gift to all humankind. Its great for when they know something’s wrong with you, but do not know exactly what. It is the WD40 of drugs and they give it freely to anybody who walks in their door. When you get to the Kaiser’s pharmacy there are usually several techs in white coats and white hats scooping mounds of Prednisone into large paper cones, bottles and ziplocks, and handing them off to grateful supplicants. Prednisone is supposed to work great on polymyocitis, so they hand me a 7-11 Slurpee cup filled to the brim with clattering little tablets.  ‘Cept it turns out I don’t actually have polymyocitis.

I would find out much later that I a version of Poly, known as, “Inclusion Body Myocitis,” much less catchy and harder to say and interesting for its complete indifference and lack of response to Prednisone, which by now I am addicted to in unsafe dosages.

One Sirius station is called “Classic Vinyl” and as soon as I hit the button they are spinning “Karn Evil #9” by my old, dear friends, Emerson Lake and Palmer - clicks, pops, scratches in all. Are they literally playing a record, I wondered, or were these sounds digitally mixed in for effect? I wouldn’t put it past them. This sends me on a pleasant teenage nostalgia trip, laying or lying on my teenage bed in Pittsburgh, poring over Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery’salbum staring at HR Giger’s gatefold art trying to figure out what the hell it all meant. Classic Vinyl, I could stay here forever, be safe here. I heard ELO and BTO and all great “O’s” of the ‘70s, and nearly cried my way to the Coalinga turnoff when the acrid smell of cows and fertilizer seeped in through the gaskets and the music suddenly turned to Bob Segar and the Eagles. I mopped my head with a turquoise bandana and saw brownish residue from the stench. I jacked the AC and hit “scan” as I tore ass out of Coalinga.

My body was a damp, gelatinous mass. Unfortunately, Prednisone is not the kind of steroid that pumps you up. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’d be a massive Jose Conseco skulking through Orange County. But instead I’m a medusa jellyfish washed up on Newport Beach. My Creatine Phosphokinase enzyme level (CPK) from my besieged liver sits at an insane 2700 u/l’s, where in healthy folks would maybe hit 200 at the very most. The Prednisone has brought this number down over the months to about 1800 or so, so on paper I’m doing great.

I see the word “Lithium” pop up on the Sirius display. Ha! Music for depressives! That should work. But no, Lithium, it turns out is Lithiumsome kind of reference to “Light Metal” as the metal lithium is chemically the lightest of all metals, and its “salts” can alter brain chemistry! Rad and deep referencing by the lads at Sirius. But light metal? Some kind of horrible hybrid I wasn’t aware of? Nu Metal? Elevator Metal? I lingered there to find out. Strangely it wasn’t as bad as it should have been. Or maybe the radiation was getting to me? I heard Tool, and Rage Against the Machine, Garbage, and a dozen other bands I would have switched off the instant I heard their name mentioned. But now that I was on lithium I gave them a chance. So I left it tuned to Lithum, tucked my gut into my seatbelt, swabbed my brow and rocked my way North. Dude.

How do you lose a biopsy? I wondered and asked the Kaiser as soon as I was granted an audience. The Kaiser could give a shit. “Happens, asshole, grow up, get another one, sheesh do I have to do everything around here? But first I have to get you off the fucking Prednisone. Who gave you this much Prednisone for fuck’s sake?” said the Kaiser.

To know what strain of Poly you might have (there are 3 of them) a biopsy is in order. I had one, but the Kaiser botched it and lost it in that order. Biopsies aren’t a walk in the park either like you can just pop in and get one and be on your way. It’s a minor surgery Aaand you (or I) have to be put under to have it done. But not the kind of “under” as in a heart transplant kind of thing, more of a light knockout where you may wake up for a sec and see robed and masked individuals floating around you holding knives and hoses and laughing hysterically, probably at your enormous 275 lb gut hanging out. Later you may have a weird flashback to this scene and remember it clearly as an alien abduction. So another biopsy? By now I had enough of the Kaiser and his zany band of  surgical merrymakers, and decided to take my Poly where they take this shit seriously: you guessed it, Pittsburgh, PA.

One last trip down to Orange County to quit my job and ditch the car would be in order before a trip to the ‘burgh, and by now Sirius was on to me and stopped all transmissions until somebody paid their goddamn bill! I raged and tore at the car.

I tried to play it cool. It takes a while to lose all signals from the Bay Area so I milked the FMs as far as they would take me, well into the Country Western bandwidths where I did my best to be open minded but the cold shakes and fuzzy visions were coming fast as Prednisone addiction and withdrawal happened simultaneously. The country twang of the radio was making me angry. Really fucking mad and hungry and short tempered and sweaty. I was a fool to think I could do this alone, without music. I would never make it. I listened to static, half stations, howling wind. Sometimes you just got to let the noise into your head, if you know what I mean. Let it saturate and marinate and jumble your wires. Turn it up and drive the thoughts of Poly and Prednisone from your head and enjoy the landscape speeding by, the blur. Hear your own thoughts for a change! So what if you see a weird tumbleweed blowing cross the road? You’re almost at the Grapevine, time has passed so quickly, only about 2 hours till the OC. You hardly have time to notice the sudden LA-based smog-storm that has silently crept up over the mountain, and has covered the road and all cars with swirling yellow dirt. I jam on the brakes.

Visibility is zero and I have to draft behind wildly swerving trucks. Dust seeps into the car and is on everything, including my Tumblewdrenched face and arms. I look in the mirror and see I am turning yellow. I’m afraid it will  harden into a radioactive shell. I trundle down the Grapevine trying to wipe my brow and cursing LA. Spinning tumbleweeds start barreling  toward me. Great, giant ones of all colors that can not be avoided! I brace for impact but they only bounce harmlessly off the car when they hit. My heart rate is a mess – because of the Prednisone - or lack thereof.

The radio comes crackling on at the Tejon Ranch – Mexican (whoa ho!) and I’m so happy I blow past the dozen or so available gas stations there and run out of gas at the Magic Mountain. I literally coast into the desolate Amoco station that sits David Lynch-like at the base of the ‘Vine. The dust storm and tumbleweeds are also lingering here. There’s a guy on a scooter also covered in yellow silt who is attempting to fill dozens of red containers with gas, splashing it everywhere. The man in the booth does not care, nor has an opinion about the storm or the tumbleweeds. I do catch my reflection in his glass and I look crazier than the scooter guy.  

The next day I pack my remaining Prednisone in a couple of carry-on bags and leave for the John Wayne International Airport where I’ll be abandoning my car in their lot and catching a plane to Pittsburgh. Before I do I give Sirius Satellite Radio a call and renew the car’s subscription for another year. Might as well leave a fighting chance for the next unlucky guy. Or a small shred of hope in whatever storm.


The Riddle of the Sphinx

SphinxThe Riddle of the Sphinx

The Sphinx, a monster threatening death, asks all travelers its riddle: “What goes on four legs at dawn, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?"

Oedipus heroically was able to answer: "Man - who as a baby crawls on four legs, then walks on two legs as an adult, and in old age walks with a cane ... "

--

Sometimes I wonder if I didn’t bring certain things upon myself. I had always been drawn to walking sticks and canes. From Patrick Avengers 1Macnee in the Avengers - a suave gentleman type spy with his cane (or sometimes umbrella) that was also a weapon with a hidden blade inside, just seemed the cool way to do it. To ol’ Alex in Clockwork Orange. The stick would always be with you, then when you needed something extra – surprise!

Of course on any walks through the park or trails it was traditional to find a suitable walking stick to use through your hike. You’d pick up a good prospect, test it for strength, strip some leaves, and use it until maybe you spotted an even better stick further along. At the end of walks I always felt it appropriate to give my stick back to the park and say a silent “thank you” to the forest.

Alex cane 2Sticks could also be found in the city. I picked up a few here and there in my wanderings, but as I walked to school in Squirrel Hill I often wished I had a real cane. Not a rough stick but a cool Avengers type cane to tap along the pavement, to point at things, people, ready to use if some ruffians were fool enough to accost me.

And then some sticks seemed imbued with something extra – a vibration maybe? Magic? One stick in particular seemed to attach itself to me, follow me around my entire life. And now, afflicted as I am with a muscular disease that limits my ability to walk, where I actually need a cane, I wonder, did I wish this upon myself?

Stick 1 copyThe stick in question was a wizard’s staff. Naturally crooked and curved at the optimum height to be a cane. A rare specimen. Very few found sticks take this shape without modification. I came across it in West Virginia while attending a camp there in my pre-teens. I couldn’t believe my luck. The stick was perfect, lead me sturdily and confidently through the hike. And instead of returning it to whence it came at the end of the walk, I kept it and brought it back with me to my cabin. Perhaps this was my first transgression.

But it became my constant companion. I carried it with me walking anywhere: to the dining hall, to nightly campfires and sing-a-longs, and on one infamous night, to a talent show. At this “show” I became the “Wizard.” I was not slated to perform, but since I had my ever present staff, a counselor asked me jokingly why don’t I “bless the proceedings - like Moses?” I ran back to my bunk and threw on my terry bathrobe over my clothes. Not being a shy person, I got up on the stage and raised my stick high in the air. I wasn’t going for Moses, but more a wizard.” And the rest, for that month anyway, was history.

When camp ended, I brought the stick back home with me to Pittsburgh. I wondered again if I wasn’t doing the wrong thing, taking this stick from its forest and far from its native state. But I couldn’t leave it behind. I’d become attached to it, I guess emotionally, as The Mandid the “Man” in one of my favorite comic books, “The Man” by Vaughn Bode. This was a surprisingly poignant indie comic about an early human and his only companion, his stick. Much like Tom Hanks and his volleyball, “Wilson,” The Man imbued the stick with very human characteristics. By the story’s end I was filled with sorrow, as the stick met a tragic end. I was not about to abandon my stick to unknown vagarities of  West Virginia. I carried it with me on the bus home, and when I got home I put it on our porch. And there it stayed – for decades.

Though “stayed” isn’t exactly the most accurate word. It moved, or was moved around many times. At first I got used to seeing it propped in a corner on the porch. It grew cobwebs, spider webs, piles of leaves massed around it. Then it would be leaning against a different corner. But anybody could have moved it for their own reasons. Then at one point I noticed it was gone. Perhaps my mother or father got sick of seeing it on the porch and threw it out? Or tossed it over our backyard fence? I started to look frantically for it, and found it out back in our garage, a weird place to put it. The garage was a dilapidated, dangerous unusable structure, its plaster crumbling and too small for a car. Hornets had built impressive nests back there and ancient cans of motor oil still sat on a shelf. But there was my stick, propped up in a corner there, old tires, window screens et al. So there I left it.

Over the years attempts were made to clean out this garage and toss out the debris. At one point I examined the stick. It was a mess: now hollow parts had filled with spider eggs and more webs and who knows what. I felt bad about that. So I gave it a good blasting with the hose. The hollow parts sprayed forth dead leaves and insects and mold peeled off the bark. What a great stick I thought. All these years and neglect and it still held its integrity, was strong, intact, could be a cane one day. I let it dry in the sun then moved it to the basement.

GandalfI went to college. I graduated. I lived back at home for a summer and remember seeing the stick in the basement on occasion. It was good to know it was still there. Comforting in a way.

I moved to California. I married, divorced, married again. Had a kid. Came back to visit every year or so and forgot about the stick. But on one winter visit with my now teenaged son, I saw that it had appeared back on the porch, propped up where it had always been. “Oh my god!” I said, and picked the thing up. “What is that, dad?” my son asked. “My stick!” I said. And I tried to explain to him about the Wizard and sticks and camp, but who knows what it sounded like to him.

More years. Another divorce. The onset of polymyocitis. And a move back to Pgh some 40 years after I initially found the stick in CanessWest Virginia. But it was gone again.  I looked. Not on the porch. And there was no longer a garage, its hornets having long left, it had finally been torn down. The stick was not in the basement. No one had seen it or even knew what I was talking about. I scoured the house, filled as it was with other artifacts and nostalgia, but it was not there. And that Bode comic book feeling came back to me for a unwelcome visit. A sadness. Loss. Oh well, I thought, I’m older now.

Then even more years later I was surprised. A harsh winter’s snow had thawed in Pittsburgh, and there, poking out of our front patch of ivy was the stick! buried in the snow all winter and now visible to my astonishment and joy. I couldn’t believe it! I retrieved it and held it close.

At the same time my walking had become precarious and I had taken a couple of falls. I needed a cane. But as enamored as I’d been with sticks and canes as a kid, now that I finally needed one, I would not use one. I tried. Bought a tester from the drug store but it made me feel old instead of suave, and certainly not like a wizard.

These days I have a variety of canes, some from the drug store, others thrifted from Goodwill and garage sales, and even some fancy and beautiful canes, hand crafted from rare woods. But they can be troublesome. They get in the way, smack into things in the car, and fall over loudly in restaurants. I’d rather not need one. I think about my younger self meandering around the sidewalks of Pittsburgh wishing for a cane companion. Did I finally get my wish?

Old manSo what about the Stick? After all these years hadn’t its time for use finally come? I wanted to use it, but it had not aged well. It had weakened and lost much of its integrity, chipped and softened by all the spiders and burials in the snow and things. So now it just sits against a corner in my current garage out in the North Hills, unused and quite possibly sad. When I see it it nags at me sometimes, but honestly I don’t know if I can even trust it. To not wander off and get lost again for reasons that I don’t understand. And to offer me the necessary support, or at least a little of the old magic.


The Great Winnowing

A lot of us seem to marvel and scratch our heads at what we see of our fellow humans these days. The landscape seems rife with what looks to us like stupidity. We are of course having a serious health crises, but even with all the mismanagement, anxiety and strangeness involved, it isn’t complicated what needs to be done. Yet so many refuse to do it, and so many willfully fly in the face of what has been shown to be sensible, that many of us can’t understand it.

To me this not startling. I do believe that evolution is still working hard on our species in an attempt to push us further UP a ladder of intelligence. But this also means that a large percentage of us are still far behind in the smarts department, and still grappling with baser animalistic tendencies toward violence, domination and greed. I can only console myself knowing that slowly, very slowly, evolution is working on the problem.

Over time fraught with wars and plagues and darkness, plenty of people have emerged with advanced intelligence. And they, as a small group have had a massively large influence on the race as a whole. One smart guy invents the telephone and millions of less smart people get to use it. This makes it look like we’re more “advanced” and “evolved” than we really are. But actually only a small subset of us are – a minority I believe, and the struggle for the majority to catch up continues. At the glacial pace of evolution it could be hundreds and thousands of years before some sort of parity is achieved.

And now we’re getting a little booster. The Cornovirus pandemic will effect a great winnowing in its wake. A good deal of senseless people will rely on their unfounded or mystical instincts, and ignore the advice of those with sense, resulting in higher then normal numbers of casualties in their ranks. When the parks and beaches are still full of crowds; when a country elects or allows the election of a senseless leader; when at Easter large groups of like minded contrarians gather to celebrate, the chips will fall as they must. We see it clearly, the majority is suspicious and threatened by the small numbers of those with sense, and it becomes a statement for them, political, chic, and defiant to oppose them. Logically, the defiant groups, by these actions, will be winnowed.

This is tragic of course, and I wish it weren’t so, but it is a shortcut in evolution’s relentless uphill battle. So when you see what you see out there and scratch your head, don’t be so amazed. Its actually very normal for our species, and there is very little we can do to stop it. Winnowing


Fear of Music

Fear of Music

Not long ago I was watching a repeat episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s show, “No Reservations.” Bourdain is always an good watch. His sad demise now casts a different light on a lot of his later work, and sometimes I look for clues that something was wrong. (There are a few if you’re observant.)

BordainI landed on an episode he shot in the California desert where he visits the musician Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. This caught my eye not because of Queens of the Stone Age, but due to my fondness for the California Desert, particularly the Palm Springs area of the Coachella Valley, a place I’ve visited a couple of times, and have been taken with its beauty and its beautiful midcentury architecture. The place just felt right to me in that weird way that seemed like perhaps I was meant to be there. But no, life would be impossible for me in 100+ degree heat.

Bordain goes up there. He and Josh Homme appear to be friends from earlier times. Homme seems subdued and reticent in Bordain’s presence and goes along with his suggestions to eat giant slabs of prime rib and drink martinis in a cool local bar and shoot the shit. The two casually pal around Palm Desert and well, hell, it looked like a lot of fun. And this Josh Homme character seemed like an affable guy. Maybe I should at least take a listen to some of his music …

… resulting in a nearly unending onslaught of Queens of the Stone Age mania in my life, dominating my listening, that at some point passed over from being new and rocking discovery, to an obsessive closed loop that that had no end.

Yes, I can get locked onto a particular artist or song for a while. A “jag” I call it. I rolled through a significant Talking Heads jag several years ago, particularly their album, Fear of Music, that followed a read of novelist, Jonathan Lethem’s brilliant 33.3 book on the subject in 2012. Lethem states about the album:

 “… my identification was so complete that I might have wished to wear the album, Fear of Music in place of my head so as to be more clearly seen by those around me.” (Lethem, Fear of Music p.x).

Though Lethem immediately disavows the sentiment as “extreme” and “bogus” it rings entirely true to me and apt when I’m caught in a seemingly inescapable  jag.

Fear of musicAt some point you feel helpless. You’re involuntarily wearing music as your head and you want it off. You like to think that you control the music, that you decide what to play, but the music has other ideas. It takes control and plays until it is finished. Try as you might to shift your focus and play other things, do other things, think other things, you are pulled back. Your only recourse is to wait it out, and eventually the music will let go and you both can move on. Certain damage may be done. As Craig Finn of the Hold Steady sings, “Certain songs they get so scratched into our souls.” And this is exactly what happens, scratching, vandalism, marring, permanent damage. You may never be able to listen to certain songs again.

Long before Letham was a Talking Heads fanatic, Ol’ Skirblog was also a kid in a room and voluntarily wore several albums on his head at different times. Why? He only owned a handful of them and it was not unusual for him to play them over and over until they were physically destroyed. The Doors, Strange Days; The Who, Tommy; Yes, Fragile; The Beatles, Abby Road, really there was no alternative to this kind of thing. We all did it. Had our dozen or so albums and our t-shirts and stuck with them. But later, when you owned 2000 records and had the entirety of the Internet to choose from, you could broaden your playlist a little, then a lot, then repetition would be rare and jags even rarer.

But they did happen.

The album Dummy by Portishead took me twice, first when it arrived in the mid ‘90s full of ear candy and sultry mystery, then dozens of years later when I reluctantly let it back in, on purpose, knowing how strong it was, and glibly thought “I can handle it.” Well I couldn’t. I was in its grip for what seemed like eons.

Bowie of course, many times, and certainly after he passed, had me listening to “Starman” on repeat and writing elaborate theories and critical analyses of Ziggy Stardust.

The Fiery Furnaces’ dreaded, Blueberry Boat of all things, is a mind killer. Such an innocent title. But beware the Blueberry Boat my friends, it is not an album to be trifled with. One casual listen to this day and I am gone, possibly for weeks with nothing but obsessive, worrisome listening as my constant companion.

I don’t understand the psychological mechanisms behind this phenomena, only that when I finally heard my first Queens of the Stone Age song just 20 years into the Third Millennium, I went off the deep end.

Problematic for me was QOTSA’s firm place within the mainstream. A stream I tended to avoid for decades Qotsaprior, ‘cause that’s the kind of snobby, rock elitist I can be. I couldn’t even appreciate Nirvana until about five years ago, so I sure as hell wasn’t listening to no QOTSA. I have my issues, but one of them isn’t knowing kick ass ROCK when I hear it, hook-laden, crunchy, artfully written and recorded rock that is oddly devoid of lameness and pretension while also having some lameness and pretention built in. Not an easy line to walk, but somehow these QOTSA characters managed to do it – for oh, about 20 years without my knowledge! 20 years. That’s what hurt initially. I mean, I’m into music. Heavily. How is it that generations of bro’s and dudes and groupies and stoners all got the benefit of QOTSA without me? How did they play countless times in cities I’ve lived in without me once considering attending? How did they rise from humble desert origins to serious global mega stars without Mr. fucking music (me) ever once, even by accident hearing a song? I was clearly the idiot here.

But what riches! Seven albums going back to 1999 and I went to work. Wasn’t hard, favorites emerged immediately, and when those were fully absorbed, new favorites surfaced. Songs ripened and matured like a fine cheese, a fine wine. like a …

I’m gonna stop there. I’m not going to gush on about them. I’ll sound dumb, starstruck and woefully too, too late. Like the worst jags before them, QOTSA turned from being a great listening experience, to an impossible to shake mega-jag of the worst variety. And it went on so long that I began to worry -- something was going on with me.

We know so much about music but at it’s core there are many mysteries. If you ask someone to define the difference between singing and talking you will get a flummoxed person. Even questions like “what is music?” are not easily answered. But we know we like it, love it, and need it sometimes. Last year I dipped my toe back into the Fear of Music pool when I was taking care of my two infirm parents: my mom with a stroke and dementia, and my dad, 89 years old, feisty as hell and in hospice care. Very little music seemed appropriate for this kind of soundtrack, until I landed by random shuffle one day on side two of Fear of Music:

"Air"
"Heaven"
"Animals"
"Electric Guitar"
"Drugs"

Fullsizeoutput_1781That was it! That did it. Beautiful songs with a tinge of melancholy, a tinge of strangeness, but also fun, a groove, and abstract in a way they could be about different things than their titles. They could be about me, my life and this is what I played, all the way through that hard, long ordeal. I didn’t play Side One of Fear of Musicthough. The opener, “I Zimbra” didn’t fit my mood. And there is also that one song lurking at the end of Side One that I tried to avoid. I knew it was there, but I left it there unplayed and heavy. “These Memories Can’t Fade,” perhaps the most beautiful and profound song on the album glowered there, pregnant with meaning, but I wasn’t going to do it. Too pointed, too sad, and I didn’t need those memories yet, I had the present to contend with.

So the rest of the playlist played on, bass lines bubbled up and guitars staggered then recovered. The singer was often scared and often wry -- so much unlike my QOTSA who never faltered! Who were all bravado and confidence from day one, note one, over and over again proving it hasn’t all been done before, that the drums still pound and the strings still have guts. Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t shake QOTSA. I needed them on infinite play. I needed Rock like I needed a rock. And they are certainly that.

Then on April 12 of 2019 the song “Memories” was finally added to the playlist. My dad passed that day and my mom had moved to nursing care. It was time to activate that song. “Memories” held no grudges for being overlooked so long. It waited patiently to do its job. And when finally played It brought the tears sure, the emotions - and some of the fear as well.


Where I've Been (Pt. 2)

Where I’ve been Pt 2
(as noted, this is Part II. You should probably read Part I first, below)

My personal Poly M. attacked me one Spring afternoon in a park peopled with other dads and moms and their kids. I was throwing a Frisbee for my guy, when I just suddenly fell flat on my face. Didn’t trip, didn’t get pushed over by a giant Saint Bernard, just splat! on my face. Well that’s odd I thought. But it happened again. Other parents eyed me suspiciously, maybe that guy is drunk over Frisbeethere throwing that Frisbee. Maybe there is some kind of problem and I need to gather my preciousnesses and go. “Heh, heh,” I said after the third fall, “I swear,” I said. “I’m not drunk or anything.” And everybody knows that the second you say you’re not drunk you sound drunker than the drunkest drunk man …

Next couple of days I struggled to get up staircases. Huffing and puffing. Never a problem before. I fell again. I huffed and puffed harder, my knees were awfully scraped, so I finally went to see the Kaiser of Northern California himself, and found out about the Poly M.

Poly attacked my quads and my hands most intensely. It also got up in my shoulders and wrists and some other muscles involved in standing, walking up inclines and moving with any kind of speed or alacrity. Which was never really my forte to begin with, alacrity. I was never a very speedy nor alacritous person in my life.  Not that I didn’t like to move! No, I liked to move, to walk and look at trees and oceans and stuff. And I really liked to ride my bike on the mostly flat surfaces of Alameda, CA, and San Francisco, CA, as I commuted from my house in Alameda to the ferry boat, where you could bring your bike and rack your wheels, then after a pleasant float disembark in SF and bike down Market Street (the “death ride” I called it) to the poor, poor San Francisco Chronicle, who is also on medical infusion these days from what I understand.

So things became harder, but not impossible for many years. If I wasn’t trying to rise from a chair or surmount a flight of stairs, you’d think I was a regular person.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being shown, graphically and painfully how difficult my dad had it in his later years. His knees. His “fucking knees” he said 100% of the time when referring to his fucking knees. His back. His severe and untreatable arthritis. He could not get up from chairs without help. He could soon not use the bathroom nor shower without help. He once told me he didn’t care who saw what in the bathroom anymore as he had “lost all sense of humility or dignity long ago.” What’s that like? For the son Walker or daughter or wife of a compromised person it can go from zero to annoying faster than you would think. Accidents, either falling or the incontinence kind start to be wearying, you wonder, maybe they are avoidable? Maybe better planning would help? Do they have to happen every time we try to go anywhere or do anything? Am I being an asshole for being impatient? Maybe, yes. Maybe I was an impatient asshole (though honestly I put up with A LOT okay? A LOTTTT before I started to fray at the edges) and I am now being graphically shown what it was like to be him? But why now? Why at age 57 (Heinz!) as opposed to his age 90, is a mystery.

So yeah, it happened. In the Barc-o-lounger, Infusion Center, Day One, 3 hours into it and no question, I was going to have to “use” the “facilities” for my “business” and its “intended purposes.” I got up (with difficulty, the Barc-O-Lounger is too low, too squishy and fuck all) unplugged my IV stack (battery power ACTIVATED) and dragged my dripper (stupid wheels like Giant Eagle shopping cart) to the “rest” room.

It didn’t look so bad at first. Looked official. Tiles. Shiny silver handrails everywhere, a sink, a drain in the middle of the floor for the hosing down purposes, so I wheeled  the IV beside me, unhooked the jeans and sat. And immediately knew I was fucked.

This is a bad feeling. Its more about the future than it is the present. In the present you are fine. You are sitting down and your body has performed the Miracle of Waste. In this moment you are calm, empty and satisfied. No, its your future that is guaranteed to be horrible in several choice and worsening ways, and yes, you can panic. In the end, you know, you will need help. You will need strangers to enter your “privy” and take in the glory of you, T. Skirblog, fully asquat on the cuckstool, as he sits above his rising smells (Joyce, Ulysses 4:69), parts and messes uncovered, stark, unhidden and overt. This is of course the opposite of how we of the Western Culture like to do it. Like it to be. Look, you know your needs for privacy, and perhaps you know what its like to have them taken away from you, say in prison or the army. Not to be trifled with, a powerful human experience. For some reason.

But First! I will try to avoid this. I will try everything to avoid the coming Invasion. Of Privacy. There are tricks, increasingly useless and futile tricks I have learned in order to attempt to rise from low seats as I progress through my Poly M. Futile, but I will try them anyway. Right? Makes sense. You never know.

OuthouseI can tell immediately though that I am too low to have any leverage at all. My arms are useless for leverage. But I have learned that if I take off my shoes, I will gain maybe an inch or so of extra space. So shoes get kicked off. Then there are the pants. Taking off the pants, or at least one pant leg, affords me the additional leverage of spreading my legs further apart. I don’t understand the physics of this but it has sometimes worked. As has scooting to the edge of the seat where it is a bit higher, scooting to the sides, using the sink as push off, leaning very far forward (nose over toes!), pleading, kvelling, blaming. All these things were tried with great difficulty and thrashing around and I must have inadvertently pulled or activated the emergency string thing that is hanging on the wall because suddenly a voice crackled through. “Are you ok?”

“I’m stuck,” I said. “I didn’t know I’d pulled the string.”

“Ok,” she said, “ I will get the key.”

And that is where I gave up, the inevitable future arriving. Soon the door would burst open and an aide, a nurse maybe, or an “orderly”? would enter the lav and see your humble narrator not so humble, one pant leg down around his feet, the other off entirely, both shoes flung to different parts of the floor, and all etcetera hanging out for professional non-staring or view. And so she came, a young woman of course, quickly surveyed the situation and called for another aide, another young woman, because she saw that the strength of two would be needed in order to hoist one USDA Grade A American Skirblog from such a low position. They efficiently snapped on their purple Nitrile gloves, and got to work.

I was still calm and resigned and thinking about my father as they made their first attempt to lift me. Like him, I let a bit of my dignity slip away from my body and flow into the drain in the middle of the tile floor. It was something of a relief.

Attempt number two came close, but didn’t quite get it. I made the expected jokes, “you both must be glad you came to work this morning,” or “best part of the job right?, hazard pay,” but they were steely eyed, stolid and insisted they had seen it all and this was a mere trifle! Nothing!

Attempt number three and we got it. Counted to three, all of us. Teamwork! And I was standing. “OK?” one asked. “Yes, I’m fine, I can handle it from here.” But she looked at my pant leg and shoes all goofed up and splayed across the floor and asked, “did you have a plan for getting those back on?” Glove

The alarm on my IV pump began to beep wildly, as by then, my battery had run out. “My plan?” I said, and I found that funny. These aides are great! making a joke at a time like this. So I laughed a stupid little chuckle, and that too seeped down and made its way through the plumbing.


Where I've Been (pt 1)

… The Infusion Center, a suite in the hospital where one would be infused, via a prick in a vein, connected to some tubes and a pump with various substances that best enter the body liquidly and slowly, a drip at a time. I have nothing better to do for the next 7 hours than jot this down, or perhaps fret about if I may need to go and sit on a toilet here, in this hospital, a place you’d think is sensitive to the needs of various compromised people, mobility compromised people like myself, but for some reason it is not! For some Water-Drip-280x219reason they, the hospital, built a lovely, brand new Infusion Center as recently as last year, but blew off thinking about the common requirements of many of those who visit the place. Like how far off the floor do we situate a toilet? People in wheelchairs need to use them, yes, and they have that covered. But what about ME? Mr. Skirblog. Not a thought about me? A person not in a wheelchair who cannot, under any self propelled or gymnastic circumstances, ever hope to rise from a low seat, toilet or otherwise, without the help of at least two capable and brave people?

For a good part of the day my lower GI has cooperated like a champ. It can be like that. It can know when you really can’t go, like in the middle of a meeting, interview, traffic stop, a performance, a tête-à-tête of some kind, and it can wait. Amazing really, and appreciated for sure. Sometimes however ... Other times no, it reads the situation as perfect for a go. You’re just sitting on a chair at an infusion center, a lot of liquid is entering your body. You are bored and not necessarily doing anything important so yeah, c’mon, let do this! And hence the fretting, wondering if I may be stuck on their lovely, new hospital can, in dishabille of course, and of course, helpless.

These days, in my life, I have a lot of ADA type requirements where before I had none. Curbs, steps, handrails, toilet seat heights, all now on my radar. Things you, or I, never thought about before: cracks in the pavement, divots in the grass, pebbles on the asphalt, and exact inches off the ground a toilet seat sits, now occupy my thoughts more than I would care to admit. If I am not focused on these things constantly and entirely, I may fall, or get stuck. And I have fallen, and been stuck many times. A fall IMG_7682almost guarantees my head cracks the ground, as I am unable to hold it up neckwise. There are technical reasons for this, which may be described later in various appendices and footnotes that will certainly be needed. I will crack my head on the ground and not be able to rise up again on my own. I will need at least two strong Samaritan type people who are hopefully nearby and willing to deadlift 240 pounds of your friend, the skirblog. Though I am happy to report that in every case of me hitting the deck, there have always been heroic fellow humans in the vicinity just waiting to spring into action. Always. Every time. Helping, springing, willing to help. Just knowing this gives me renewed hope for humanity when I am low. But being low, literally low on a low lying seat of some kind is far from good and causes me a fair amount of fretting.

 

Where I am

… at Magee “Woman’s” Hospital in Pgh, PA, in a barc-o-lounger type chair, to be infused with Gammagard, hung above me in a 1 liter plastic sac of human immunoglobulin (plus a hint of vanilla I believe) that will drip very slowly and intravenously into me over a 7 hour session, 2 days each month. Because I have polymyositis.

“polymyositis” - a rather sing-song-y name for an uncommon inflammatory muscle disease -- has made mobility in my life odd and increasingly difficult over the last 15+ years. It does a thing where it attacks healthy muscle tissues, usually in the trunk area of your body, and turns them into muscular versions of swiss cheese. Why it does this, nobody knows. How you end up getting it is also unknown. How to treat it is again a giant mystery.

But if you get one of these mystery immuno inflammatory diseases you’re going to want to be in Pittsburgh PA my friends, and not say, Northern or Southern California where I first learned I had I something, and where health care is dominated by the monolithic Kaiser Health System who could give a rat’s ass about your poly wolly doo what? And does whatever they want with little regard to the tiny annoying little patients who scurry around their hallways clutching papers and printouts. No, Kaiser may fuck you up before they help you, then fuck you up again. Wires

So I eventually dragged myself and my polymyocitis out to Pgh, PA, dominated as it is by the also monolithic UPMC Medical System but where they seem to want to do stuff more along the lines of helping people in their staggering agglomeration of hospitals and clinics, and where they were already studying the disease, and where they happily welcomed me into their monolithic arms.

Being infused is much like air travel. You sit in a chair for many hours, one that looks outwardly comfortable but is inwardly not comfortable at all, where you can’t get up and move around very easily without a bunch of awkward maneuvering, and where you try to patiently occupy yourself and not go insane for the duration. Infusion sitting is far from horrible, and in my case the worst it does is make me feel like yuck, the kind of yuck you feel smelling the outgassing plastics, microwaved food, and burnt coffee that you smell on an airplane. The potential benefits outweigh any yuck that may hover about. At this point dripping IVIG is the only thing medical science has come up with to address weird inflammation like Poly M. and it has had some positive results. IVIG aka Gammagard, is made out of human immunoglobulin which come from your blood plasma. That’s right, yours. Thank you, although shit, you should see how much a liter of it costs! Around $80,000 folks. (that’s what an insurance statement read, who knows what it really cost or who got any money for it.) I paid my deductible and let the globulins flow. So yes, your blood plasma is valuable and Signprecious and keep it coming is what I’m saying, cause we're experiencing sporadic turbulence in the cabin.

END OF P.1 - Next post: Getting Unstuck


skirbworld

Westworld 1A post to say how much I enjoyed watching Westworld last week. And I'm not a fan of Westerns by any stretch, even sci-fi versions. But Binged its entirety over two days and found so much to appreciate on many levels. One issue in particular is handed in a great, if not slippery fashion, that of the dehumanization of our stand-ins, the not quite human beings, androids, or “hosts” as Westworld calls them, so they can be subjected to wholesale, unsavory violence in the name of entertainment. The show traffics in this entertainment, much like Walking Dead or Game of Thrones does, yet it is also very concerned with the psychology and morals behind it. A tag line which gets repeated often in the show is “these violent pleasures bring violent ends,” and its intoned as a warning and a truth.

Wd 1One of my biggest complaints about a show like the Walking Dead is this very thing. It creates a human “other,” a stand-in, like we’ve done for ages in our stories: Indians, Slaves, Aliens, Zombies, then takes much sport in all the ways to do our worst to them: murder, rape, humiliation and countless mutilations in hundreds of grizzly ways to the point where the people who were once people, zombies, etc can be experiments in how far humans will go over various lines, and how much humans (watching) will tolerate. So far, no limit.

 

Yes, many people like this for a variety of reasons. Some say its a release into fantasy of what we would never actually do, that theres some kind theme park or haunted house thrill about seeing it done so graphically and particularly to “not people,” zombies, or in Westword, androids. Though I begin to wonder about all that killing. Why is it entertaining over and over. It isn’t entertaining to me, nor do I receive any carrhesis or other psychobabblish benefit from watching it. It only disturbs me and gives me less and less hope for humanity. And as many have noted, is probably desensitizing in a bad way. 

I don’t feel good about his aspect of entertainment, and I rarely subject myself to it. Yet Westword takes a chunk of its violence out of this “gratuitous” realm and allows it to be fuel for internal debate and moralizing on itself - without getting preachy. Now we have the android’s perspective, and its horrifying. 

Of course we never forget that HBO is just as intent on titillating our violent or sexual impulses by having as much nudity, sex and graphic violence on the screen as the story can support. They need the ratings for Westworld just as badly as the fictional Delos Corporation needs the ratings with its baby, Westworld, and they both use the same tools and for the same reasons. So the show self aware and guilty at the same time. And there’s plenty of great narrative to be gained as a result.  Ww 3

Westword then is very “meta,” almost unbearably so. But it is also very small and claustrophobic. It is also very large and sprawling. Just brilliantly done.  One of my favorite things about it is a refusal to explain or get bogged down in a lot of technical details. There is deliberate vagueness about: how are the “hosts” constructed, how their brains work, how do they eat or sleep or leave and come back? Where is this park? How advanced is the “real” world” and on and on. We have to - gasp - imagine it, based on small clues. Very little is shown. Dark rooms, flickering lights, a tool that could be anything. I love this kind of construction. I’ve always argued it goes deeper and is more meaningful to us than that which tries to show everything. 

Ww 2That Westworld is far more engaging and interesting than probably any theatrical film I’ve seen in the last year continues the trend of television supplanting film as the premier way of telling a great story. For all the advances in CGI and 3D there is less and less to care about on the big screens. Its also interesting to think of the original ‘70s film Westworld starring Yul Brenner, of which I’m a big fan! Look at how our fears have shifted: from being afraid we’d create robots that would malfunction and kill us; to creating robots so lifelike that we’re now afraid of what we’ll do to them …

 

 


it's not you ...

Ap_facebook_dislike_kb_141212_31x13_1600... It's me.

So I quit Facebook, a thing I really used to enjoy, but started to dislike for a number of reasons. I didn't "rage quit" but I did quit in a fit of pique. (Yes! Say that 10 times fast!).

I didn't mention on Facebook that I was quitting. I didn't "flounce,” a great term people use for overly dramatic QUITTING on line when peeved. I just shut myself off and deleted the app. Here’s what happened:

I was in the middle of posting a comment about a ridiculous event a few weeks ago, where a guy from North Carolina drove all the way to Wash., DC, went into a pizza shop armed with guns, and began shooting up the place. When arrested he said he was "investigating" a child slavery ring that he read was operating out of this pizza place, run by Hilary Clinton. So absurd. So dangerous.

DroopThe media dubbed this "Pizzagate," reported about this and other "fake news" problems, and all the various connections this actually had to Trump and his entourage and followers and bla, bla, and it added another straw to the already cowed and disabled camel's back that was my relationship with news and media this last year. I sloughed it off. But soon after I found out that this pizza shop was located next door to the bookshop where my sister works, and I got scared. 

Scared, imagining my sister being injured by this asshole. Imagining a street full of “real” people going about their lives who were put in grave peril by this fuckface. I got so angry. Really hot and blood pressured angry. And naturally wanted to take to Facebook to vent it all. 

I started doing that by way of responding to another’s post about it. I was there venting and posting when I happened to glance at some of the other comments and stopped dead. The usual: trolls and gun nuts and Trump supporters and news critics and arguing on and on. I froze. “What the fuck am I even doing?” I thought. What am I trying to prove? To who? Nothing I realized. I’m just adding gas to a fire that’s consuming me in the process. I’m making myself more angry, and solving nothing. In a flash I had deleted my post, deleted my response and deleted the Facebook app from my phone. 

All the negativity. All the snark - much of it having been generated by me over the year, had amounted to a giant disgusting glob of nothingness wrapped in aggravation, preaching to the converted, arguing with unconverted, and frustration and bad feelings.  40191

It was hard. I was fairly addicted to Facebook, and have argued its merit to naysayers for years now. I’ve been on since its early days and have made many, many excellent connections and some great RE-connections, and learned a lot of cool stuff about people I like. But perhaps its run it course for me. 

I wish there was a new way to hear about friends, see pictures of what they’re up to, their kids and dogs and cats, but there isn’t that I know of. I am on Instagram which is much more benign but its not really so “social” for me. 

Its not really fair, expecting you to read the blog of somebody who’s opted out of the general conversation. But I had this blog long before now and I’m gonna consider myself “grandfathered” in. Plus You can def. comment here, and I hope you do, and perhaps a new round of discourse can be achieved. I’m still on Facebook Messenger if you want keep me in the loop about stuff as some of you have. I will definitely miss most of you and your comings and goings.

It’s not you …

Speaking of me ...

Totally unrelated and random weirdness: 

My young cousin, who I saw last night, who I barely know, but she's def. a good kid, likes to watch travel video blogs, came across a vlog about San Francisco. She was watching it when she noticed something odd in the background of one part. Take a look:

HAPPY NEW YEAR FOLKS. WE ALL DESERVE IT! 


Gathering No Mas

 

In which I resist, resist! please don’t do it, quoting the Who line about dying “before I get old,” but there it is anyway god damn it! Still such a bold and ballsy Daltrey youngstatement. I mean I knew Roger Daltrey wasn’t serious back when he said it, but jeeze, I didn’t know how far off the mark he’d be! He got old. Didn’t die, and continues to sing the line!

 

So maybe “old” isn’t old. Like he meant it back then, like it means when you’re a kid. Or as it pertains to rock and roll music.

 

Med bayComes up more these days when, I don’t know, due to medical advances, the
Internet, etc., rock stars, and performers from the more golden ages of various rock genres, surface, or resurface as older versions of their former selves, to play the rock and (now) punk rock songs we all loved so much. There’s always a bit of cringe (stolen from my kid, who actually says “cringe” out loud when confronted with something awkward. Or used to six months ago. Now its probably old and passé) factor when I hear that so-and-so, old rock hero, inconoclast of my youth has resurfaced out of the ether, ghostlike, after living only on my LP collection or occasional CD, to suddenly appear live and in person all these years later, in an impossibly smaller, intimate and less disgusting venue then I would’ve ever seen them in before.

Its funny cause I was just wondering what ever became of Echo and the Bunnymen, or Gang of Four, or Jonathan Richmond or the Who, Rolling Stones, Blue Oyster Cult Television Stranglers Wire X Buzzcocks, etc, etc, where are they now? It turns out they are here. Everywhere. If there isn’t some kind of nostalgic book they’ve written, or filmed documentary about them, then chances are they are on tour. And I cringe. But just as quickly I un-cringe, cause what the hell, right? Who am I to cringe at a guy my age (or older!) playing music? I could certainly do the same. I could certainly get up there and strap on the ol’ bass and pound out a few tunes. Right? That is if I didn’t have the fucked up knees. Or hands. Or arthritis, high Chart blood pressure, tendonitis, depression, gout, migraines, blurred vision, muscle atrophy, kidney stones and allergies. Not to mention kids! But otherwise, yes, I could do it, I still have things to say, music to write, songs to sing. So why all the cringing?

On the surface you wonder and worry that your ol’ faves are just plain going to suck. You loved the Who or Whomever so much and they were so good, that to hear them miss the high notes, forget the words or the guitar part, or watch them sweat like pigs and miss time is more than disappointing. Its shattering. It rewrites history. It goes back through time and contaminates your memories, landing on the many occasions you heard and loved that song, and swats it like a landed fly, zaps it to shit. You stand there hearing the wrong note and the strained, cracked voice, and your own history becomes altered like a time travel movie, and you disintegrate. 

FluI have to admit I’ve been wrong more times than I’ve been right. I’ve gone to see more and more reunion shows and “oldies” acts, since more and more are around, and been genuinely pleased at how good most of them are. But the one or two times things were wrong, they were very, very wrong, and I did the whole disintegrating thing which is very unnerving and raises the blood pressure and never good when you’re old and finally out of the house for once in a rare, bad moon.

Yet we allow our other artists to get old, sometimes the older the better, and even venerate them and gather at their feet to learn from their experience and wisdom, instead of making fun of how old they are up there strutting around that stage. Most genres of music allow this: Classical, Jazz, Blues, Country are replete with old masters, wizened and wise figures who have ripened and matured. Yet Mick Jagger chicken struttin’ around at age 70 or 80? Yuck. Because rock music is different isn’t it? Born of youthful revolt and being a kid. It said fuck you to adults and rules whenever it could and should still do that. What? Now you’re the cool adult, the hip parent who runs with the kids? You still says fuck you with your financial planning (smart!),  estate holdings and mouths to feed? Get outta here.

~

I always marvel, my listening stuck in the late ‘70s as it often is, that all my favorite stuff was created by musicians who were kids at the time, youngsters, 20-year olds who thought they knew everything and sounded so convincing about it. They still do! I still want to take advice from a young Pete Shelly of the Buzzcocks, who knew all about love and life at age 20. But its Buzz easy to forget how much time as passed. Shouldn’t I be listening to my contemporaries? Aren’t I lucky Frank Black and Bob Mould and Mike Watt are still hanging in there, banging it out, singing about recovering from drugs and alcohol, heart attacks and parenting?

Yes. I guess. I like those guys a lot. But is it rock?

As music alone, without the label, perhaps not. But as music alone it has to have improved, become better as the artist ages, keeps learning, practicing and mastering his craft. Mike Watt as a teenager was already a virtuoso on his instrument; 30 years later should he not be the Zen master of the bass? The Ravi Shankar, the BB King? Yes, he’s great; but no, because he was a Wattpunk in the Minutemen and he channeled youth and traded on everything that youth trades on: living fast and loud and to your own beat. Smashing it all up and being immortal. You can’t live by that particular sword then go ahead and suddenly play the part of the seasoned, traveling bluesman mentoring the young now can you?

Yes, it appears in certain cases, like Mike Watt, Frank Black, or Mission of Burma, Paul Weller you can. And for the many others (not Billy Idol) from the day who all keep playing and aging and getting better, who still write new songs, tour, and kick ass, and joyously illustrate that there’s no reason to quit, to die before the “old” age. Which is what age anyway? 30 (don’t trust anyone over), 40? 50? 52? We define it. Or Roger Daltry redefines it every year.

Its backwards really. In other musical genres you are nothing as a kid. A learner only. Far from having the gravitas of the seasoned jazzman, the traveling bluesman. That is only earned after a lifetime of paying your dues, apprenticing. Yes there are prodigies out there, but that’s a parlor trick. What life experiences does a prodigy have to sing about? When did they earn the gravel in their voice, the tone of their instrument? You need the depth and battle scars of age to be taken seriously right? Unless you’re in rock. In rock you can only be a kid! The less life experiences and chops the better! More DYI! Bravado, dumb energy and youthful intuition! “Pick up your guitar and play, just like yesterday!” Daltrey says, 

Roger-Daltrey oldbut it can never be like yesterday. When you’re old you’ve thought too hard about it, you’ve played that hit song a million fucking times. How many more times can you play that song? Hundreds? Thousands? It plays and plays and never stops, in your head forever, a nightmare, a skipping record. Deep breaths one more time as its demanded at the “rib fest” circuit, the weird casino show, the roadhouse populated by balding, greying fans in double-x and frayed tie dyed Ramones t-shirts who have stagnated right along with you.  

How to reconcile these opposing forces? How to rock and age?

Just as there can no longer be new “punk” there is can no longer be new any “rock” really. Not that kids aren’t playing “in the style of …” but its homage, post modern, something else entirely. It is “Classic Rock,” “Post-Punk,” music from a specific time period now firmly ensconced in a Cleveland museum. Dead. Kids may still play it but it is largely irrelevant. Music, Rap, Pop, Dance became its own ghost, ephemeral, existing as “information” in computers and clouds to miraculously float down a song or two when skies are blue. All the while my record collection weighs down its poor shelves, sagging the floorboards with my heavy, waxen Cringe Rock.

StoneIts not necessarily a bad thing, this “dad-rock” or “Cringe Rock as I now call it,” just a necessary process to redefine things every 30 years or so, while our stones, still rolling, are now allowed to gather some moss.

 


gave it away

RHCP logoI’m interested in the reactions to the minor controversy that erupted when it became clear that the Red Hot Chili Peppers faked their Superbowl half time show performance. Not because I think its so horrible and wrong to have faked a live music performance in this way, but that people seem okay with these faked performances, and don’t care so much if they are Phonofaked as long as other, kind of weird criteria are met like: did they admit to it? Did the performers at some pointactually play the music that was faked to, perhaps recording it the day before, or maybe they just slapped on an old record that they recorded in the ‘80s? I don’t know.

I do know however that you don’t care whether the Red Hot Chili Peppers faked their Super Bowl half time performance or not. You think the Chili Peppers suck now anyway, even though when you saw them back in like ’84 for $3 at some dive bar they were good, but after that they climbed, or descended the long ladder of suckage, selling out, or whatever it was they did that you hate. Plus you think half time shows are dumb and don’t care about them either, or the Super Bowl or television or Bob Dylan on the car ad. There are plenty more important things to get riled up about: the snow, the wars, and all that.

But that’s why I’m here. To remind you not to give up so easily on everything goddamnit because each seemingly insignificant loss like this half time show fakery, adds another straw to the cracked and bending back of the poor pack animal that is our culture with its dwindling integrity, and if we keep not caring we will soon be subsumed in an unrecoverable mire of Orewellian barf. 

Quizzicle mimeIt is the not caring, the “you’re reading too much into it” that has enabled our entertainments to backslide into the current pablum of mediocrity and has helped cover our world in the opposite of amazingly creative expressions of independent thought: slick, over-studied, designed-by-committee sell-messages that run roughshod over our lives. Let me tell you something people, you wanted, you needed to have the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing live on a stage during the single most watched television program in a year’s worth of crap; because they were one small hope that even the smallest crack in the armor of tight assed, boring corporate control would briefly let a light shine through a place where the lawyers and pollsters and reapers of all kinds couldn’t stop it. But it failed.

Why did it fail? Because we don’t care. We work within the system as Flea so painfully admitted in his contradictory apology after the fact. Because kids, we take what bone is thrown to us and would never, never jeopardize that bone because in the long run we risk being on the outside forever and out of a fucking job. And when we do that we think only of our careers and paychecks, Flea, and not making art or protesting or opening anyone’s eyes, as you say you will gladly do, just at some other time and venue, not at the Super Bowl.

If you never did contrary or inflammatory things as a performer, like Bruno Mars, or Beyonce, then there is no complaint. You sing a song, you put on a show, you get hired by the NFL and you do your job. Good stuff. Boring. But sufficient. ‘s why I don’t seek out or consume such music in my own narrow life. Does nothing for me. And just as I’d not attend a Bruno Mars concert or the tons of shit like it, because it bores me, I don’t also watch it on the television set if it happens to come on, including the Super Bowl halftime show. (For the skirblog, half times are for takin’ a break. Takin’ a piss, getting some air, letting your poor eyeballs retract back into their sockets for a few minutes. Every second of football need not be Droopy eyescrammed with blazing lights and screaming and shouting. Fact is we didn’t even include such high end entertainment like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson into our Super Bowl halftimes until approx 1991, when after a succession of marching bands and crooners and people, somebody realized there was a giant 15 minute hole when a whole new spectacle could be inserted to gather up valuable missing Neilson points. So in ’91 they got Disney to lend out the New Kids on the Block for the first of many corporately disgusting fuck fests. The list is here for your amusement.)

SocksBut if you’re the Who (2010), or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and you have a history of breaking the rules, and saying something contrary, then to my mind you are suddenly in the position to bring a little more to the table. You have uttered pronouncements of independence in your pasts, you have rattled people, you have screamed when you should have been quiet, you have played too loud, too long, said “fuck you” too many times. You have smashed your guitars, you have worn nothing but socks on your penises, you had our, or at least my attention. But when you were asked to get up on the biggest stage possible, you caved. You got scared. You settled. You did what you were told.

 

 

That’s problem number one.

Problem number two is the way in which you obeyed your masters makes no sense.

Superbowl statueThey asked you, a rock band, if you would “play” during the half time show. You said “of course, what? Do you think we’re crazy? Of course we will “play” during the single most watched bit of American television in a year’s history. Because even though we, the band you know as RHCP have been around for over 20 years, we have never had this much single exposure ever! Imagine the new markets, the new virgin potential fans who can now learn first hand of the legend of the RHCP! We will rip that stage apart we will! We will show America our patented brand of furious rock funk punk hip hop. And we probably won’t wear shirts either so suck on that America!

Yes! The NFL said. We’re hep. Do that, the shirts, everything, but one small detail: live sound in a stadium SUCKS! (sorry all you thousands who’ve seen the Who or the Chili Peppers in some stadium somewhere. You got ripped off dude!), you, we, nobody can quality control it, I mean sound and electricity flying around everywhere, its horrible, so if you don’t mind, we’re gonna axe you not to actually “play” in the traditional sense of the word, but play in the sense that we slap on an old CD of you guys playing and the one dude can sing if he wants to, but as a whole, its like 100% better if you don’t uh actually “play,” or plug any instruments into anything, and just, I don’t know, pretend to play but with like a ton of that crazy energy you all are known for. That sound ok?

RHCP: Well yup. I guess so.

The next day Flea wrote a sort of misguided explanation of the thing  and oddly this didn’t seem like fakery or lying to most people. Most people went: yeah, ok, I see the point. No foul. Makes sense. And you know what? Kudos to you Flea for coming clean! We love you Flea! Case closed. Matter done. It was ages ago anyway by now. Move on. Deal.

But it is my job not to move on. For you gentle reader, I stay stuck.

FleaLook, I love the Flea too. He’s an absurdly talented bass player and showman, and he often has interesting things to say about the world. But unfortunately this was not one of them. The truth is they did what they did and if anyone would be honest, it was nothing less than a massive betrayal and failure. But the larger problem has been around forever: image over content, style over substance. It’s more important to have everything look good than for anything to be good. Over the years we’ve had artists fight that war and even working within the system successes were had: think of a prime time TV show like All in the Family, and the other Norman Lear classics. They are radical compared to what people try to do in 2014. The 2010s have seen so much retrograde backsliding in so many areas (politics, treatment of women and minorities, lulls in art and popular music) precisely because there are fewer and fewer artists willing to risk a slap on the hand when given the chance to reach an extremely wide audience. Think Jim Morrison singing the word “higher” on the Ed Sullivan Show during “Light My Fire,” when the network expressly told him (ordered him) not to. And he famously said fuck you, antihero that he was.

Why the need for flawless perfection? That poor Olympic ring that didn’t open in the Sochi opening ceremony meant what?
 That the Olympics suck and failed? That it everything is wrong with evil Russia? That humans can’t control everything even though they aim to do it? Isn’t it okay for a rock band to sound rough or raw? Wasn’t that initially the whole fucking point, especially of music born of the punk movement like the Red Hot Chili Peppers? I say yes. I say that if a band is on a live stage with instruments, they should be actually playing those instruments for better or for worse. If Broom guitarthey are pretending to play those instruments and only tell us this after the fact, then they lied to us, and their apology means nothing. And if we still enjoyed the show knowing all this, then we enjoy lies, and enjoy being lied to, and are ridiculous pigs marching to the slaughter, because we allow and encourage the giant, monolithic Lie which assaults us on a daily basis. Somebody had a chance to throw even the tiniest wrench of integrity into a large, slick machine. But then they sadly, freely, gave it away.