I’m not about class

I’m partial to brightly patterned shirts.

Not obvious things like tie-dye or stereotypical tiki/Hawaiian/lounge kinds of things, because I hate things that are kitschy for the sake of being kitschy. (In fact, the only shirt I own that could probably be called Hawaiian is cool because its only colors are blue, white and black . . . yet the pattern is definitely tropical, giving it a weird mix of Nordic and Jungle imagery).

It’s easy to go spend a lot of money on a shirt with a stock loud pattern . . . but it’s much more fun to look for the ones that are just this side of being flat out wrong, ideally at a second hand store, or on deep discount. Last weekend, I went to the Salvation Army and got five new shirts for $18 (including the one in the current photo on this blog), and have happily worn each of them to work already, probably making some sort of statement to someone, although I’m not really sure what that statement is.

Last night, I was folding laundry with my wife, Marcia, and the following exchange ensued:

Me: Wow! What a great pile of shirts!

She: Yes, very classy (insert friendly sarcasm here).

Me: Well, y’know . . . I’m not about class.

And that’s as good a credo as any to live life by, isn’t it?

Me . . . I’m not about class. I can put class on when I need to (yes, I can be dressed up and taken out), and I know class when I see it, and I’m capable of running a classy organization that puts on classy events, but classiness sure isn’t a motivating factor in the ongoing daily execution of my life.

Or life style.

And I’ve got the shirts to prove it.

Unrelated book reference:

Reading a very interesting book (well, interesting if you’re a music geek, I guess) called Seventies Rock: The Decade of Creative Chaos by Frank Moriarity. It’s interesting because unlike most musos, Moriarity just literally writes about what he says he’s writing about: a year-by-year accounting of the state of popular (and not so popular) music from 1970 to 1979.

Why is this odd? Because most critics come up with artificial constructs for dealing with the ’70s that aren’t actually tied to the calendar, operating on the notion that the ’70s actually began with (pick your moment) Woodstock, or Altamont, or some other late ’60s construct, and that the ’70s ended with the punk explosion in 1977. None of that for Moriarity: the ’70s were 1970-1979, just the way real people experienced them.

Moriarity also doesn’t chop music into genres or categories while writing about: there’s not a disco chapter, and a metal chapter, and a punk chapter, and a garage chapter, and a New Wave chapter. Nope, things didn’t happen that way in real time, so he doesn’t cover them that way.

So . . . in the 1972 chapter that I just read, the book covers: Frank Zappa, Deep Purple, Captain Beyond, Cactus, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, ZZ Top, West Bruce and Laing, Ginger Baker, Fela Ransome Kuti, Good God, Yes, Genesis, Procol Harum, Electric Light Orchestra, Jethro Tull, Captain Beefheart, Roy Buchanan, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix (posthumous releases), Free, Curtis Mayfield, Neil Young, Joe Walsh, The Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tony Viconti, T. Rex, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Slade, the New York Dolls and the Rolling Stones.

And it does so in a very informative, readable, non-forced way in which you get interesting information about all those performers, presented in well-linked ways that don’t make it feel like just a jumble of name drops.

Impressive, so far. And recommended.

A glass too much?

I often read about how smell is the most evocative of senses, the one most closely linked to memories, a single scent bringing back waves of feelings and thoughts and emotions unbidden.

I buy that, on some plane, but I think that the sense of hearing . . . of hearing songs, most specifically . . . is far more evocative for me. I’m a music geek, so I suppose that’s to be expected, but I can pretty much give you a very detailed accounting of my surroundings and feelings the first time I heard just about any song I can remember. My mental archives are all indexed to what I was listening to at different obsessive stages in my musical development.

From Simon and Garfunkel to Steppenwolf to Wings to Steely Dan to Jethro Tull.

From Emerson Lake and Palmer to Genesis to Peter Gabriel to King Crimson to Roxy Music to XTC to the Clash.

From the Dead Kennedys to the Butthole Surfers to Black Flag to Bauhaus and their spawn.

From Einsturzende Neubauten to Robyn Hitchcock to the Jazz Butcher to Foetus to Big Black to Swans to Killdozer to the Birthday Party to Nick Cave to Hawkwind to Fundadelic (I often obsess about things in non-chronological order, obviously).

From Coil to the Chemical Brothers to the Residents to Snog . . . and then back through a lot of the list again, picking up CDs to replace old dodgy vinyl.

My enjoyment of the new Jethro Tull Christmas Album made me go pull out a bunch of my old Tull albums today, and I had one of those music-dredging-up-acute-memories experiences that I described at the beginning of this rambling post.

The album in question is The Broadsword and the Beast, and the song is “Flying Colours.” I bought this album when it came out, very shortly after one of the most deep, significant romantic/emotional relationships of my youth came to its first full stop. (We got back together a year or so later, and then went through another traumatic breakup a few years later after that).

Ian Anderson isn’t known for being one of the world’s romantic lyricists, but the song “Flying Colors” just absolutely stung me as I was nursing my hurt: I liked the song, but I physically couldn’t listen to to it at the time, because listening to it was like looking in a mirror and not liking what I saw. Here’s the words:

Shout if you will, but that just won’t do.
I, for one, would rather follow softer options.
I’ll take the easy line; another sip of wine,
and if I ignore the face you wore it’s just a way of mine
to keep from flying colours.

Don’t lay your bait while the whole world waits
around to see me shoot you down, it’s all so second-rate.
When we can last for days on a loving night;
or for hours at least on a warm whisper given.
We always pick the best time to rise to the fight.
To break the hard bargain that we’ve driven.
Once again we’re flying colours.

I thought we had it out the night before,
and settled old scores, but not the hard way.
Was it a glass too much? Or a smile too few?
Did our friends all catch the needle match, did we want them to?

In a fancy restaurant we were all aglow
keeping cool by mutual permission.
How did the conversation get to where we came to blows?
We were set up in a red condition
and again we’re flying colours.

Shout, but you see it still won’t do.
With my colours on I can be just as bad as you.
Have I had a glass too much? Did I give a smile too few?
Did our friends all catch the needle match, did we want them to?

We act our parts so well, like we wrote the play.
All so predictable and we know it.
We’ll settle old scores now, and settle the hard way.
We may not even live to outgrow it!
Once again we’re flying colours.

I hadn’t thought about that song in years, but when I put the album on tonight . . . bang! those feelings were right here, right now, me once again thinking “Wow, how was I such an idiot screw-up to blow that amazingly good thing? Self-destructiveness? Obliviousness? Cruelty? Masochism?” There were no good answers, then or now, just stinging hurt. Mind well: it isn’t that I want to go back in time to fix or change things or anything like that (I am most very happy with my life and loves today), but it’s just that this song is so hard-connected in my brain to those emotions that hearing it brings them right back up to the front of the mental queue. Far more vividly than any smell would, I think.

Now I’m listening to Tull’s Thick As A Brick, which makes me think of Jim Pitt, my bestest friend from Mitchel Field days, with whom I used to obsess about all matters Tull. Problem is, Jim was killed in the Lockerbie airplane bombing some few years later, so there are sad associations there, too. Guess I’d better find a Tull album with some happy associations before I dig up too many dark spots.

Stormwatch, for instance. That’s the soundtrack for me to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, which I read for the first time at Mitchel Field (with Jim) while listening to that album over and over again. It’s a grim trilogy (and a dark album), but it’s one of my favorite reads of all time, with one of my favorite characters, one that makes me happy in its grimness, for the sheer exuberance and poetry of the words that Peake used to tell his incredible tale in the years before mental illness and premature senility destroyed his creative capabilities and killed him.

Nothing better than a good dark wallow to cheer one up, I suppose, ideally with an evocative soundtrack!

Musical surprise of the week: The Jethro Tull Christmas Album.

As uncool as it is in certain circles to admit it, I’m a long-time, nearly life-time, fan of Jethro Tull. After Steely Dan, they were my first obsessive musical love in the mid-’70s, and one of the first musically-related pieces of journalism that I ever published was a Tull career retrospective article in the “Teen Corner” column that I wrote for the Mitchel Field weekly paper when I was 13 or 14 or so. I have seen Tull (or Ian Anderson, solo) in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, and enjoyed the experience each and every time.

I’ve found the current reasonably long-standing line-up (Anderson, Martin Barre, Andrew Giddings, Jonathan Noyce and Doane Perry) to be quite stupendous live (better, by far, than some of the ’80s line-ups I saw with chunks of Fairport Convention in the band), but their recorded output has been, methingks, a bit on the spotty side, and a bit too middle-of-the-road folk-flavored rock for my tastes.

Christmas Album, on the other hand, plays to their strengths in great ways: lots of spry acoustic numbers with Anderson’s flute and Barre’s guitar front and center where they belong, Anderson’s voice sounding better than it has in years, some strong new songs, some classic old songs given stellar new spins, and a few instrumental chestnuts of the season for good measure. All together, a fine holiday album, and one that you can listen to any time of the year.

Interestingly, the album was recorded from afar, with tapes going hither to yon and back for various members to record their various parts, and on no song does the full current quintet all appear at the same time. Old bassist Dave Pegg (of the Fairport Tull/Jethro Convention era) makes a couple of guest appearances, and James Duncan (who just happens to be Anderson’s son in his spare time) plays a lot of the drums in Perry’s stead. Still: it’s nice to get such a nice album so deep into these guys’ career, and it really reminds me why I have liked them so much for so long.

I’m bummed, though, that I replaced my vinyl with CDs a couple of years ago, only to have them reissuing remixed/restored copies of the classic albums now with lotsa bonus tracks. Dagnabbit.

Sensaround Surrealist Colorama

Some combination of extreme physical exhaustion, two tabs of Valerian, and the extra oxygen provided by one of those nasal strip thingies turned my brain into the Sensaround Surrealist Colorama last night, featuring a long, incredibly detailed dream with far more staying power (after waking up) than normal. In summary . . .

I was at an air show, and one of the events was airplane races, but the planes were racing people on the ground, flying incredibly low, their props and wing tips occasionally dipping into the crowd below them, that parted and surged on along the tree-lined dirt road, like an aviation version of the running of the bulls.

One group of runners managed to get a blanket tossed over a plane, and as the plane flew on, they were pulled behind it, laughing at their ingenuity, until the plane began to go too high, and they realized that when the props cut the blanket, they’d be toast, so they let it go.

Then I was elsewhere, watching a documentary about an assassination from long, long ago, and the widow of the fallen leader was shown tending his tomb, digging around the bottom of it to make sure that the grass and weeds didn’t grow over the inscriptions, but at the same time making sure that the soil was well tended so that the grass would grow green and lush.

Looking through trees, I realized the tomb was to my right, and it was looking a bit over-grown, so I began to dig around its edges as I’d seen the widow do, and after getting about six inches of dirt out in a little trench along the front of the large, square monument, I punched through into a hollow space, and it was filled with worms, one particularly large one slowly plowing through a mass of smaller ones. My reaction wasn’t one of revulsion: I realized that they were weren’t there eating the dead, they were there because the widow had put them there to make sure the soil was well aerated.

Looking right, I suddenly realized there was a window in the side of the tomb, and inside it I could see what appeared to be an iron lung kind of device, with two women inside it, only their heads visible, in some sort of kinky amorous embrace. One spotted me watching them, and they opened the door to the tomb and began to castigate me, with a very heavy militant/lesbian/feminist slant to the tirade: I was male, I was bad. But then they realized that I wasn’t there to voyeur them, it was only an accident that I was watching them, I was being respectful of the tomb.

They softened, and offers were made for the exchange of sexual favors, but then the two women left and were replaced by another, a brunette, who was more forceful in her amorous offers towards me, and then the sex began, and it was very intense, and as we got into it, I realized that I was on the floor of my room at the Naval Academy.

Just as things were reaching a peak, I heard my Naval Academy room-mates say “He’s being really loud, she must be giving him a real work out,” and I realized that I must have been dreaming and making noises in my sleep, and that they could hear them, and they knew what I was dreaming.

I didn’t want to wake before the payoff on the sex, so I was trying to be really quiet–both in the dream, and in my room, so my room-mates wouldn’t hear me. But they weren’t fooled, and one of them grabbed me off the bed and flung me bodily across the room, where I hit the wall and fell to the floor.

I laid there on the floor thinking “Damn, that sucks, getting woken up during the middle of a sex dream . . . ”

And then I REALLY woke up, and realized that I’d been having a dream within a dream . . . a meta-dream, and my first waking thoughts were: “Well . . . if it sucks to get woken up during a sex dream, does that mean it’s a good thing to get woken up from a dream where you’ve just been awakened in the middle of a sex dream?”

Analyze that, Doctor(s) Freud . . .

Basement Ball

The time has come, the walrus said, to follow up on my promise of a coupla days ago to write about Basement Ball, a really pointless, stupid game that helped keep me sane while I was on restriction for a good chunk of my junior year at the Naval Academy. (Why describe it? Because I think it’s another good example of how young males entertained themselves in an era before the Internet, and when we didn’t have TV’s, and there weren’t many women around). (Take heed, bored young males sitting in front of your computers, porn surfing and gaining weight).

Down in the basement of fourth wing in Bancroft Hall there was a long, thin hallway with doors at both ends (for those who know the Naval Academy, this hallway has since been consumed by the ever-sprawling Midshipmen Store). This was the Basement Ball stadium. Like Base Ball, there was a team at bat and a team in the field. You only got two outs per inning, to keep things moving briskly.

In the field there were two position: pitcher and outfielder. The outfielder was armed with a lacrosse stick, and stood in front of one of the doors at the end of the hall. The pitcher pitched a ball made of rolled up socks wrapped in masking tape, his “mound” a spot in the middle of the hallway.

The batters batted from in front of the door at the other end of the hallway. The bat was a raquetball racket. If the pitch got past the batter and hit the wall, it was a strike. The hallway floor and walls had zones that correlated to single, double, triple, based on where the ball fell. A home run was scored if the ball hit the back wall, behind the outfielder. If the pitcher caught the ball in his hands, it was one out. If the outfielder caught the ball with his lacrosse stick, it was two outs, so an inning could be over with one at bat. However, the ball was large, so this didn’t happen often, in general the lacrosse stick was there just to knock the ball down before it hit the back wall. No one actually ran bases; ghost runners were used, but they advanced when forced by subsequent hits. As long as a team won, they kept the court, with subsequent teams arriving to play the winner. A series of games could go on for a long, long time if there were enough people around to play.

And that was it, pretty much. Not much on paper, but on nights when we had lots of homework to do, more often than not we could we adjourn to the basement for a game or ten of Basement Ball, because it was more fun than homework, by a long shot. And besides, we could always cram at the last minute before a test, but an evening of Basement Ball missed was an evening of fun never to be recaptured.

Sad, on one plane, but noble on another: the pure pursuit of entertainment where none was readily available.

Or maybe it was just procrastination, I can’t quite remember, it’s been a while, y’know?