Glory Days

Six thirty 🕡. I just listened to an old Rush album; kind of corny but it was fun. I think of one of the rock bands I was in and have to smile at how bad we were. We played by instinct and the sense of hearing alone. Never mind music theory, we’ve got this. From the perspective of jazz theory, we had no idea what we were doing, so there were times when it didn’t work. I recall a gig at the Moose Lodge in Cottage Grove, around Christmas time 21 years ago. We did a Judas Priest song with an extended intro, just chugging eighth notes on the same F sharp chord until people recognized the tune. Supposed to be dramatic, but really it was cheesy. There was food for us, but I don’t remember eating very much. I sat at a table with the drummer and we talked about music; we had nothing else in common. The gig was a little disappointing because we had to mix our own sound. There was no house PA system or sound man to give us credibility. Our Cottage Grove gigs were all like that. But two years later we scored a steady situation at the Hollywood Taxi in downtown Springfield. The owner of the club mixed sound for us, yet we still weren’t very good. Our rhythm section was very competent overall, but the guitarists were rather awful. We tried to do Led Zeppelin and slaughtered it. The Hendrix we did fared even worse. One time we played two different AC/DC tunes simultaneously due to confusion of one with the other. Both songs were in E minor and cut from the same cloth.

Everywhere we played, the singer depended on the band’s “bible” of song lyrics because he couldn’t memorize the words. To his credit, however, he had perfect pitch. Also he was good at impersonation while singing a song. And when he brought out the harmonica for a tune by The Romantics, everybody caught the spirit and we rocked the house. It was a lot of fun when things clicked with the Muse, as happens to people in a group. Probably because we could work this energy in the band and with the crowd, we gained a little following locally and regionally… And then come home with my ears ringing all night long. One night at the Taxi I played hard enough to scrape the skin off of my fingertips and bleed on my ‘79 Precision Bass. The blood came off with some Windex, but for a few weeks I could only play using a pick.

There are lots of things I don’t miss about being a professional musician… and then something conspires to call me to adventure all over again… 

First Day, Second Thoughts

Seven forty.

Thick fog hangs low in the street outside. Aesop needs canned food before nine thirty, so I have to make a trip to the store soon. I won’t forget the birthday lunch for Angela. I just started hearing “Onward” by Chris Squire of Yes in my head. Perhaps it is appropriate to the way I feel, which is a little hopeless, like flying into the light of a dark black night. I had a lot of dreams of being caught in public without a mask. Today I feel almost like withdrawing from society completely because I have no defenses, no disguise to hide behind. But the squirrels are having a good time. Aesop is being quiet, lying in front of the sliding glass door. Another day in the life of a very funky year.

Nine o’clock. Flashback to the taxi ride to Springfield the other day. The driver was so calm and quiet, except I caught her harmonizing to a song on the new country station. It was sweet, but I felt a bit alienated. As if I didn’t belong in the world. Then she switched stations, and presently Yes came on, followed by Aerosmith doing “Walk this Way.” Last night I dreamed about the Tom Hamilton bass line, and how cool it would be to play in another rock band. Impress the girls. I also dreamed about an old friend who was a musician. He was very homophobic, like most musicians in this area. Our friendship was sort of love hate. I was socially clueless and he was driven by greed and the need to be popular. He wanted to be cool. At first I liked him because I thought he looked nice. But his nature took a darker turn over the years I knew him. Mine did too, an impulse to self destruction. On second thought, maybe rock and roll isn’t so great. I believe I was misdirected when I was growing up. What is the counterculture to me now? A whole lot of alcohol and marijuana. The music is secondary to the lifestyle.

Ten thirty. Pastor has been busy on the problem of the “darkness” of the past six months. He sent out a letter urging us to email him stories about God’s grace working in our lives. Also he emphasized that salvation is a matter of here and now, a heaven on earth by the way we treat each other. So, I guess I’ll give it some thought…

Thursday Morning

Nine o’clock.

Debris from the wind yesterday is everywhere on the street. Aside from that, fall is in the ambience outside, replete with memories of previous seasons. Mostly cloudy skies right now. I’ll probably stay home from the church event this morning. The squirrels are still busy in the backyard, making no attempt to be furtive. Aesop is bored with them. I’m trying to ignore the discomfort of my body today and get on with what makes me happy. I could do some music this afternoon, go for a bit of jazz on my bass. The healing properties of music might override the pain. I can’t believe that the tradition of social music is gone away forever. Not for a silly thing like the coronavirus.

The present I ordered for my birthday is coming tomorrow by UPS: two volumes of sci-fi writing from the Library of America. I don’t know much about the genre as such except for its classical roots in Edgar Poe and a little Jules Verne. Doubtless it came a long way from there.

Like yesterday, I bought two Snapples rather than a Coke and saved 75 cents. For some reason, soda doesn’t appeal to me lately. I’ve had quite a few bad experiences with Coke. I think the carbonation disagrees with me. And maybe I just got tired of pop. It’s a rather big step for me quitting the soda. In the parking lot outside the store I passed by two people smoking cigarettes. I asked myself why people do things like that, but then my addiction to alcohol was likewise inexplicable. I still think about it every day, but I believe I’m safe in the absence of toxic and slippery people. The person I worked for was like the devil on the subject of alcohol.

The sun is splashing down on my backyard, orange and mellow. The notion of freedom and control comes to mind. Possibly my willpower keeps me sober, but what’s wrong with that? I wouldn’t entrust my sobriety to the wheel of blind Fortune or the four winds. If I’m not in charge of staying sober, then nothing is. It’s nothing to be fatalistic about, but instead, free and responsible… I can remember deferring credit for my bass playing to the inspiration of the “muse.” It was my little romantic superstition, influenced by Homer and Plato, and by Emerson and Jung. I believed in it for a decade, from 1999 to around 2009. The problem with this belief was that my muse quickly assumed the form of a demon, if not the devil himself. This happened because of the Satanism of the local rock music scene— however ridiculous that sounds. Eugene is a rather backward community for rock and roll, and in the outlying boonies it’s even more unintelligent. Perhaps it wouldn’t break my heart to have to give up my music. Life is changing radically with each new year, and no one is immune from mutability.

Sophomore Thoughts

Four thirty. I’m having fun with my laptop now; no painful memories. The wildfires have been such a shock, and now my mind is settling down a bit. Times don’t seem so apocalyptic as on Monday. We’re planning on having the food pantry Saturday, so, conditions allowing, I’ll go help. Seeing Sue and Nancy should be fun. I played my white Precision for what must’ve been 90 minutes. The classic tone inspired me to pick out some Queen songs from the mid- to late-70s. I guess The Game was released in 1980. I haven’t listened to those albums in years. I’d like to hear News of the World and Jazz in their entirety again. John Deacon was a wonderful bass player… Wow, the smoke is still quite dense outside. Aesop is handling the situation okay… I remember, in the band Blueface, how I wanted to cover “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” But with our inept guitars, it wasn’t realistic. You can’t cop a Queen song with just a rhythm section and a lead vocal. I’ve wondered before why I chose bass over guitar; is it just because it’s an easier instrument? But no, I genuinely love the tone of electric bass. It sounds great to me. There’s nothing better than the sound of Chris Squire’s powerful bass on “The Gates of Delirium.” Suddenly, I feel like I did as a sophomore in high school. I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on. I also started listening to Led Zeppelin…

My taste in reading material changed from ERB to stuff with more magic in it: Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber, especially. Their writing just seemed more mature somehow. It dealt with essential problems of life, such as death, in a more realistic way. Perhaps it came across sadder and wiser than the adventurousness of ERB. The latter was like reading westerns, with clear-cut heroes and villains, and it was gratifying to see evil punished. But in the other two writers, victories often were pyrrhic. Emotions were more complex and confused, and the truth was ambiguous. It seemed that more serious thought went into their content, and feelings ran deeper. Sure, it was only sword-and-sorcery fiction, but it was comparatively well-done. I also enjoyed Roger Zelazny and Karl Edward Wagner. The second raised questions of the rectitude of selfishness. The antihero, Kane, was brutal and ruthlessly selfish, and even megalomaniacal in the scope of his projects. Basically, he wanted to rule the world himself. He was all about gratification. Where Conan had been power hungry, it was presented in a way that made you cheer for him. He was plainly the good guy fighting the bad guys. But Kane’s designs were not so clearly for the general good. And in the whole array of writers from ERB to Wagner, you witness a loss of innocence over time. The naïve romance of ERB beginning in 1912 gradually collapsed to the cynicism of the 1970s. Just as the wars grew more complicated in real life, so did the fiction that was written. Thus, you have the reluctance and remorse of Moorcock’s heroes, the slowness to answer the call to adventure. The adventures were no longer fun and exciting. Heroism was not so heroic anymore…

Musical Sunday

Noon hour. I’m hearing an old song by The Cars in my head: “Good Times Roll.” It was their old sound, before they went synthetic in the 80s… I wanted to buy some Snapples for Damien before it gets too warm out. I didn’t think of it on my trip this morning. I looked out for Number One instead. I think a lot of people are doing that, but it’s making us miserable. One thing I am enjoying, however, is A Farewell to Kings by Rush. I still haven’t heard all the bonus material or read the booklet. IMO, this album was the beginning of their more sophisticated sound, working with complex chords and soft subtleties. It was more sensitive overall than 2112, and more musical in the abstract. It was just different from their previous stuff. Basically, it was inspired.

Three twenty five. Damien hasn’t replied to my text from this morning, and he isn’t here yet. I take people too literally, I guess. He has things on his mind and a lot of work to do. I skimmed the liner notes to the Rush album. It goes into some musical detail about each piece, some of which looks inaccurate to me, particularly the analyses of time signatures, but I know I’m being pedantic. I’d forgotten that the band recorded it in Wales, so this explains part of the difference in temperament from previous records. Alex Lifeson also reports having used chorus effects on his electric guitar for a fuller sound… The music gets sort of lost in the translation into words. I can say with confidence that hearing these old songs makes me feel happy. And it’s very satisfying to sit down with my bass guitar and nail a part played by Geddy Lee on the original recording. I feel as if Rush were in the room. Who says rock and roll is dead? 

I’m Not Alone

Quarter of one. Long conversation with my sister this morning. She is definitely opposed to rock music, especially the image part of it. But I halfway agree with her… dunno. She has religious objections to rock and roll, as if it were inspired by the devil. It makes a part of me rather mad, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Whether she’s right or wrong is impossible to say, so I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I think that her opinion is awfully narrow and unfortunate, but I don’t need her blessing to play rock music if I want to. She represents a certain type of Christian; not all religious people are like her, luckily. Pastor likes rock music, even Led Zeppelin. It’s just my sister’s complacency in her opinion that gets my goat. This difference in taste goes way back to when I was in junior high school and I got involved in the band program. I’m feeling very defensive right now, maybe a little persecuted because my sister is so convinced that she is right. Why should I care what she thinks? Is it because we’re family? She categorically tars and feathers all rock and roll, and that’s not very fair. I guess it’s up to me not to personalize her attitude. It hurts my feelings, but I should let it roll off my back. Her opinion is adamant, so the only thing to do is avoid the subject with her… After our talk, I replaced the battery in my Aria bass and made some racket for a while. I’ve had that guitar for about 11 years and just now am discovering its potential. I felt angry but a bit daunted at the same time. As if there were something wrong with the activity. And I remind myself that I am the only musician in my whole family— but not the only musician in the world.

Going to a Jam

Nine thirty five.

I’m pursuing a lead to a music jam. I talked with him once this morning. So far it’s not very promising because he doesn’t like white people music, and I can’t help being a white intellectual. I feel self conscious of my whiteness, which is blinding. Maybe he won’t call back. I’m not a racist at all, but I’m white and I like The Beatles… I fed Aesop and then tried to call Polly… It’s another sunny day today, but it won’t be so humid. I dreamed that my brother was an inpatient at a drug rehabilitation place, and I had gone to visit him. It would be my habit to see him once a week. I wish something like that would really happen.

Noon hour. I’ve spoken with the musician again, and also with Polly. The music thing will probably fizzle because I am sober, and most musicians do alcohol and weed. One way I can network for people is to go to a few AA meetings… He just called me back and said we’re on for Wednesday at two o’clock, so it’s true that mind reading doesn’t work. Now I’m looking forward to making some music this week. By a coincidence, his name is JP, like my old friend from a decade ago. I doubt if there are any mysterious parallels at work here, but it’s fun to entertain the thought.

One forty. I jammed on my white bass long enough to ensure that everything was there. I really hope it all works out for Wednesday. It’s been so long since I was a minstrel. That is the real purpose of music: to educate and humanize people, and make them feel good.

Maxwell Community

Eight thirty.

Clear skies this morning, but still forecast to be cooler. My parents are on my mind. No regrets for the past at all. I stuck by my mother until the end, especially when it became clear that my brother hated her. Someone had to defend her… Recording the church service is tonight. I guess I’m doing it for a favor to Pastor, or to all of them, as friends. It’s always good to have friends. Yesterday I reread part of The Fountainhead and was impressed by how antisocial it is. I think that, if we are honest with ourselves, everyone has a deep craving for love and understanding by other people. I wonder what made Ayn Rand different? I may never know… I saw nothing unusual at the store. Michelle had a few customers before me, but they seemed nice in spite of their rough appearance. I look pretty ragged myself today, and no one says anything. There’s more to life than looks. I believe this will be a good day. Maybe I’ve been a little hard on the Jesus guy, but I also think the Bible is not the only book worth reading. I love that little market on Maxwell Road, just as I loved being a student at Kelly Junior High forty years ago. As I’ve noted before, Maxwell has a particular vibe. It is mostly Christian, I think, and possibly a bit conservative, though kids wear gothic black sometimes. Wherever there’s Christianity, there’s also rock and roll. It makes me remember writing a report on rock music in eighth grade. Mom bought me a beautiful history of rock and roll published by Rolling Stone to use as a reference. Years later I lent it to a friend and never saw it again. But I got a good grade on my report…

Confessions

Noon hour. People don’t communicate with each other like they should… The poems I wrote after my dad’s death grew more pornographic and doubtful about my orientation. Was I just a pervert, maybe a victim of rock and roll music? Sometimes I wish I could drink again and forget what a degenerate I am. It takes the pain away for a while. I remember a day in January 2002 when most of the band Blueface came to my house. That was fun and heartwarming. I used to drink a lot and do the whole rock and roll lifestyle except I wasn’t promiscuous. I looked at porn, that was all. But I was on the same page with the band, whether it was evil or whatever. They connected it with the devil, uncomfortably for me, and it worsened my delusions. The lifestyle dichotomized experience into a Christian good and evil. The band actually wanted to go to hell. I didn’t want to believe in either heaven or hell, but to just be my agnostic self. I recall the day at Borders when I picked up The Riverside Milton, kind of an editorial blunder. I doubt that it’s in print anymore. But I bought it and began to read Paradise Lost, thinking of Satan as a hero.

One o’clock. The magnetic pull of summertime activates old memories of the gigging life and how rock and roll affected my mentality. Is it really desirable to play rock music again? It’ll be good to go to church Sunday and purge my dark thoughts for a while. Out with the bad, in with the good. I feel tempted to drink beer in the summer sunshine, get loaded and do something with music. But I won’t do that. This mood will pass, like everything. I’m really a thrall to my memories, triggered by the seasons and the weather… I can remember the feeling of being shit faced drunk. It was wonderful at first, but then it became unpleasant because of withdrawals. The year 2011 was so much fun, especially in the fall when Kate and I exchanged gifts and so many emails. But what a chore for my body to push all that fermented fluid! Poor liver and pancreas, stomach, kidneys— everything. Alcohol gave me a foretaste of heaven, but it was false, merely a release of endorphins in the brain. Over time the heaven turned into a nightmare of hell. I finally stopped drinking because my stomach couldn’t hold the liquor down anymore. I was wasting my money.

Polemic

Seven o five. The weather suggests that it will be mixed again today. Mostly cloudy. Typical June. Everything is gray and green outside, with a bar of pale yellow. The shadows of the clouds are lavender and gray. And people are all colors and none. Does the idea of racial equality even need vindication? Unfortunately, some people think so, when this truth ought to be self evident.

Eight thirty five. Aesop gets peanut butter treats today… America has been going in reverse for too long. We need to open our doors to the world again, but instead, people are closing them even more. What is COVID to us but an excuse to isolate ourselves from the world and perpetuate MAGA? Do we really prefer The Monkees to The Beatles? Or Elvis Presley to Elvis Costello? My sister used to talk as if the Revolutionary War were still being waged against England. Hello! What we need over here is another British Invasion, another New Wave. Terry Bozzio of the LA band Missing Persons first played drums with prog project U.K. It featured John Wetton on bass and Eddie Jobson on keyboards. This happened in 1979, and Bozzio brought the British scene back with him to the USA. The Police was another cosmopolitan band from the same time period. We did it before, and we can do it again.