Seen the arrow on the doorpost

“And I know no one can sing the blues, like Blind Willie McTell” – Bob Dylan, Blind Willie McTell

9 months is a short time. It’s not an under appreciation of child-birth, it’s just my thought for the day. Today my brother got on a plane, which tempted me to play John Denver’s Leaving on a Jetplane but I withheld. We’d been living in the same city (five minutes away from each other) for the last 9 months, but today he headed off to live somewhere else. It’s been the first time since I was in college that we’ve been living in the same city and it has been a lot of fun, but like I said, 9 months is a short time.

“I traveled through East Texas. Where many martyrs fell”

We have the same nose. Voice too. A lot of similar mannerisms. And we both love Bob Dylan. People say we’re very similar to each other, which is probably true, but at the same time I think we’re becoming more and more different over time. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. I’m a fucking fool and he’d be a saint if only he believed they existed.

“Smell that sweet magnolia blooming”

My brother’s a special guy. He’s a great brother, the best actually (as cliché as that might sound), but above that he’s a special guy. If I took out all the great things he’s done for me I’d argue I’ve never met anybody like him. If you ever bump into him, get to know him. He’s a special guy.

“He’s dressed up like a squire. Bootlegged whiskey in his hand”

Around 2005 he spent 6 months in China and came back with a suitcase full of burned CDs and DVDs. I looked though the CDs and he’d clearly been hitting Dylan hard. As you can see special and smart, sorry ladies, he’s not single. When I say listening to Bob Dylan hard, I mean he’d been listening to a bunch of live concerts, bootlegs and everything he could get his hands on. Blind Willie McTell had been the priced jewel from his efforts. He came back thrilled of having discovered this song that Dylan wrote about a blues man who lived during the first half of the nineteen hundreds. It’s a great song… really, it’s a shame he’s not single.

“But power and greed and corruptible seed, seem to be all that there is”

I’m taller. Actually we’re the same height, but I always look about a foot taller in pictures, so I’m taller. Funnier is still up for grabs. Taste in movies, me. Looks, up for grabs. Everything else… his. No doubt about it. So far I haven’t written much about one my grandfathers (I only mentioned him briefly in a previous post), but for the purpose of this post I’ll say that until he died he was the most honorable person in my life. A father of nine, a loving husband and an incredible grandfather, when he passed away we all had our wind knocked out of us. I cried like a baby, as did everybody else. It was hard to envision being without somebody who gathered so many good qualities.

“Them charcoal gypsy maidens, can strut their feathers well”

Now we’re a big family, and my grandfather influenced all of us in one way or another… but if you ask me who reflects his personality and good nature the most, it’s my brother. I used to think nobody had inherited my grandfather’s good nature, just a little of this and a little of that, but now I’m convinced it’s my brother who reminds me the most of my grandfather. Hardly ever a bad thought, if he has one hardly ever will it become a bad gesture, and if it does he’s always the first to realize it. I can’t say that of a lot of people. I’m grateful we shared the last 9 months because I think I’ve gotten to know him even better than I did before. I enjoyed my brother the brother as much as I always, with the added perk of discovering more about my brother the special guy, the one I was talking about before. I hope I get to live 5 minutes (or 10) away from him at some other point during my life. 9 months is a short time.

“And I know no one can sing the blues, like Blind Willie McTell”

I’m not as pretty as I was

“And you be the Captain, and I’ll be no-one” Kasey chambers, The Captain

The longest relationship I’ve ever had lasted 5 years. Well, actually, a little over 5 years. It’s with out a doubt the relationship that’s taught me the most, so I remember it well.

“Well I have handed all my efforts in, I searched here for my second wind”

It was her birthday a couple of weeks ago and I sent her an email wishing her all the best. We usually exchange emails about 2-3 times a year and birthdays are always one of those times. It got me thinking… could I remember what I gave her on any of the birthdays we were together? I could not.

“I’ve kicked myself at times because I’ve lied”

I didn’t give up, these last two weeks I kept on thinking… and a few came to mind. The last year we were together I was living abroad and I sent her a foot-long panoramic photograph. I remember the picture, she was standing pretty along a ridge that overlooked the craters of two volcanoes to her left and right. I think she liked it… Then I remembered that our first year together I gave her a reproduction of the first page of a British paper covering the fall of the Berlin Wall (a time in history I knew she particularly liked). I think she liked that as well… Finally, the last one I could remember was a fancy hour-long couple’s massage at a spa. I liked that…

“So I will have to learn to stand my ground. I’ll tell ’em I won’t be around”

So I’m happy I was able to remember 3 out of the 5, even though the massage got me thinking that I kind of mailed that one in and that I could’ve come up with something better. She was a great girl and I have absolutely no regrets of spending 5 years of my life with her. Our relationship should have ended 1 or 2 years before because we seemed to have different expectations, but we had a lot of fun and, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the relationship taught me a lot.

“And if I tread upon your feet, you just say so”

That was not the relationship I wanted, but it taught me what I want out of one. When I look back I always think it was time well spent, 5 years was a bargain when I think about what I took from the experience. Plus I met a great person, from a nice family, that I still keep in touch with today. I don’t remember the fights, the struggle of being long distance (3 out of the 5 years) or the periodic discussions on “where is this going?” whenever it came up that I might go off to work abroad. I remember the good stuff. We traveled to more than a dozen countries, shared a ton of laughs, made friends in common and enjoyed seeing each other become something better than what we were when we first met (at least in her case). There are only a few people I get really excited when I hear something great has happened to them, she is one of them.

“Did I forget to thank you for the ride”

This song is for her. Well, actually it’s for me, to remind me of her. I really like this song, but she loves it (or perhaps loved, who knows). She once told me that she listened to it occasionally when she missed me. I honestly don’t miss being with her, but I’ll take a page out of her playbook and use it to remember her… that I like doing.

“I tend to feel as though I owe one to you”

 

Thoughtful, impassioned, they easily open their minds

“Through the eyes of a child this world is truly divine” – The Tulips, Summer Song

After a horrible winter season and a stretch of cold and rainy days that has lasted well into May, I’m glad to say… it’s about summer. At least in my city. It’s usually my least favorite season, but not this year, this year… it’s about summer.

“All the kids, they want today, the world’s problems to go away, it’s about summer”

My grandmother passed away in April of 2012. She had 9 children, 7 sons/daughters-in-law and 8 grandchildren who looked up to her and loved her to death, she was unique. It’s been a little over two years and I still miss having her in my life, but as much as I miss her I also like being able to remember her so well. She was giving, loving and caring, but also fun, witty and passionate, for all that I’m fortunate to have spent 26 years of my life so close to her.

Around 2008 she began to get pretty sick, slowly at first, but it got progressively worse until she was pretty ill the last couple of years of her life. She had several surgeries in her track record, but most noticeably her memory began to fade. It was tough seeing a person who had been so energetic, who had raised 9 children, who liked to go mushroom picking on weekends, who loved going for walks or who kept the plants in her terrace in tip-top shape, have to spend most of her day in a sofa, a wheelchair or in a bed. However, as sad as the overall situation was when you were with her you kind of forgot about all that. My favorite days back then were those when I’d be able to pay my grandparents a visit, stay for lunch and just hang around with them in the living room until they inevitably dozed off for a nap.

“All the neighborhood catch the love. All wanna get along, in the summer.”

Which brings me to mention my grandfather (excluded from the 9+7+8 listed above because he was in a league of his own). As much as my whole family loved and cared for my grandmother, we were always blown away by how my grandfather dealt with her illness. He lived those years caring for her, putting his own health at risk and never losing faith (which he had a lot of) that she could get better. He was outstanding. Everyone in my family did everything they could to help out, but what we did can’t compare to what he did on a daily basis. I’m sure I’ll write a post (or twenty) about my grandfather, so for now I’ll just say that he was outstanding.

“All the kids, they want today. Look ya in the eye and say its ok. It’s about summer.”

In 2011 I saw the movie The Music Never Stopped, which tells the story of a father who reconnects with his son when he’s informed that he’s been in an accident and has developed a brain tumor that prevents him from forming new memories. The movie is decent (not great) but I really liked the premise of the story, which is that the father begins reconnecting with his son through music. Through his favorite songs the son’s able to remember things from his past and the father’s able to interact with him. It sounded a little familiar….

When my grandmother was in the hospital she’d have days where she could hardly be bothered to talk, yet whenever we’d sing her a song from back in the day she’d liven up. Even though she couldn’t remember why she was in the hospital or what they were doing to her, she’d all of a sudden remember the lyrics to a song and sing along, it was incredible. As I was watching the film I couldn’t help but make the link. We sang her a bunch if different songs, songs she’d listened to for years throughout her life, but for some reason for this post I wanted to take a song from the movie. The movie soundtrack is great and it includes artists such as The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles and a bunch of others. However, the song that stuck with me after the movie was from a hardly-known band called The Tulips. I barely know anything about them, all I read online was that they formed in the 60’s, that their lead singer died electrocuted and that the group dissolved soon after that. That’s it. I doubt I’ll ever hear much about The Tulips, but their song Summer Song I’ll fish out every now and as usual I’m sure it’ll put me in a good mood.

“It’s about summer”

In the pouring rain…

“Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs. Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known” – The Beatles, Penny Lane

Why was she humming Penny Lane? I’ve wondered that a few times. It’s not a bad song, but hardly one of The Beatles’ best. It is catchy, I guess that could’ve been it. Although maybe there’s another reason, one I’m not sure I’ll ever find out.

“In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass, and in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen.”

I worked with her for two years, the second of which sharing a desk while we typed away on our piece of shit laptops. Hipsters would’ve loved them; I thought they were pieces of shit. It was a great working relationship, we discussed the projects we were involved in, we stopped every now and then to chat about… well, anything really… and we had fun joking around. Our jobs weren’t very stimulating, but we had great times. So I wonder, where did Penny Lane come from?

“Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout..”

We talked about music occasionally, we both loved the classics: in her case Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky… in mine Dylan, Cohen, Waits, Joplin, Van Morrison, Lennon, Baez, Petty, Harrison, McCartney, Jagger, Richards, Fogerty, Townshend, etc. (just a much better list in general). Yet we still managed to find a lot of common ground, and talking about music was commons practice during our last months working together. Even so I never asked her, why Penny Lane?

“On the corner is a banker with a motorcar. The little children laugh at him behind his back”

I can’t remember exactly when it first happened, but my guess is that it was around the fall of 2012. It was just a random day at work and for some reason she began to hum Penny LaneNa, na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na-na… I love The Beatles, so I nodded along as I typed on my computer (I may have even made a poor attempt at whistling the melody, that sounds like something I would’ve done). The song struck me as an odd choice for her, but for some reason she got into the habit of humming the song fairly often during the next few months. The most I recall saying is something along the lines of “Oh, Penny Lane, nice song”, but that was it. After she began going back to it pretty often I began to wonder, why Penny Lane?

“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes”

Did she just hum it for kicks? Did she like the catchy melody? Did she listen to it growing up? Did it have some romantic meaning? Had she made love to it? Had she seen McCartney play it live? Has she actually been to Penny Lane? I’ve often wondered… I probably should have asked her at the time, but it’s one of things where I’ve become more curious over time, a little bit more every time she hummed it. One option would be to ask her now, because as I mentioned before, my current girlfriend used to be my co-worker (I’ll let you put two and two together…). I know I’ll definitely be tempted to next time I hear her humming it, but I kind of like the option of just wondering… why Penny Lane?

“There, beneath the blue, suburban skies”

Dirty old river, must you keep rolling

“As long as I gaze on, Waterloo Sunset, I am in paradise.” – The Kinks, Waterloo Sunset

After talking about Streets of London just two days ago, I began remembering a trip I took to London in 2007. The trip cost me a friendship, but clearly not one that was worth having. So in retrospect, I gained the memory of a broken friendship to the tune of The Kink’s Waterloo Sunset, in exchange for a poor friendship… let’s call it a win. Although a close one, he was a good friend for a while.

“People so busy, make me feel dizzy, taxi light shines so bright”

He was my age, but his girlfriend was 2 years younger. She came to study at the same university as us when she turned 18, a nice girl. They made for a horrible couple, but they were nice people. For a year all three of us were at the same university at the same time, so I became friends with her as well. He even called me up during a semester he was abroad because she was going through a stage of depression and wanted to see if I knew of anybody who could help. Like I said, we were good friends.

But I am so lazy, don’t want to wander, I stay at home at night”

2007 came along. I was finishing university, he was already working and she had just left to study in London her third year of college. I didn’t have too many classes and had flexibility to travel every now and then, so one day we were talking and agreed that I’d go visit her. All fine and dandy. I book the flight, get ready for the trip and get a call from her the day before saying that perhaps it’s better if I don’t stay with her because my buddy, the “he”, thinks it’s not a good idea. Lovely…

But Terry and Julie, cross over the river, where they feel safe and sound”

So having been fucked over by not one, but two of my friends (because let’s face it, when your partner’s being a dick, sometimes it’s best to tell them “stop being a dick, he’s just sleeping on the couch”), I called up a good friend I had in Bournemouth. I asked him if I could catch a bus and stay with him for a few days instead. On a day’s notice he said “sure, no problem” and I spent a few days visiting Bournemouth and getting plastered with his friends. That actually was lovely.

“Millions of people, swarming like flies ’round, Waterloo underground”

– 7 years later: I don’t know what’s become of him. I get the occasional email from her. They’re not together… and I just spoke to my buddy from Bournemouth last week even though we’re an ocean apart.

– My thoughts today: I was happy with the girlfriend I had at the time. They both knew that. All I wanted was a couch to crash. To visit a friend. And to visit London. After that, salvaging that friendship would have been a waste of time. I think.

“But Terry and Julie, cross over the river, where they feel safe and sound”

The funny thing is my friend, the “she” this time, felt so bad she insisted on getting together in London before I left for Bournemouth. I agreed, so I went to pick her up at her apartment. Which was conveniently located, at Waterloo Station.

“Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station, every Friday night “

I’ll show you something, to make you change your mind

“Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London” – Ralph McTell, Streets of London

I could have picked around 50 songs to help me shape a memory of my father, but Streets of London had to be my first choice. The song is by British folk singer Ralph McTell who, in all honesty, I don’t know anything about. I’d struggle in trying to name three songs of his and would ultimately end up failing. Although I do know Streets of London pretty much by heart, and it’s a damn good song. The song is basically asking people who complain how they’re able to do so with so many people around them who are worse off, so I like the lyrics as well as the melody.

“Have you seen the old man in the closed down market,
Kicking up the paper with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride, hand held loosely at his side,
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news.”

I mentioned my father before in the post where I linked Bob Dylan’s My Back Pages and he’s bound to come up more often. He’s someone I should thank regularly for the musical influence he had on me, thanks to him there was always good music playing around the house or on our family road trips. He liked folk music, classic rock, jazz, blues and a bunch of other good genres, plus he was always buying new records and CD’s so it wasn’t the same albums playing over and over again. He still loves music today and (most of the time) has a pretty good taste for it. Streets of London was his discovery and, as I mentioned before, it’s a damn good song.

“So how can you tell me, you’re lonely
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London, 
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.”

The reason I immediately link this song to my father as soon as I hear the first few chords dates back to about six years. It’s at this point that I should mention that my father, as well as being an avid listener of good music is a self-taught guitar and piano player. He’s not a very good musician, but a musician none the less… and the only one in the family. So six years ago he picked up the score to Streets of London from a random songbook and the usual learning process began to take its natural course:

After a week…

– “Hey, come listen to this song on the piano. It’s sounding pretty good, right?”. It was not.

A few weeks later…

– “Come over, I think I’ve got it down pretty well”. He did not.

This usually goes on for about a month then he moves on to a different song, but with Streets of London it lasted more like six months. It was a struggle, for all of us. He still plays it every now and then and truth be told, if the original is a damn good song, my father’s cover on the piano is damn good too. Don’t worry, I’ve linked the original below.

“Have you seen the old girl who walks the streets of London,
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She’s no time for talking, she just keeps right on walking,
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.”

 

We’ll ride through the city tonight

“I see the stars come out of the sky. Yeah, the bright and hollow sky” Iggy Pop, The Passenger

I’m not a devoted Iggy Pop fan, I haven’t listened to The Stooges much either… but The Passenger is one of my favorite songs. For some reason it gets me going, every time I listen to it I want to get up, scream along the la la la la la’s and just kind of bounce along from one place to another. I would’ve loved to have played the role of David Bowie who sings back-up during the chorus! Which is why writing this post is proving more difficult than expected.

“Yeah the bright and hollow sky. You know it looks so good tonight”

In all truth the difficulty for writing this post is that this song during the last 10 years of my life this song has been everywhere and for some strange reason I’ve mostly kept it to myself. I know I’ve listened to it with my brother a few times, it’s made its way onto mix-tapes/cds for some road trips with friends, but the memories I have of this song are of me listening to it by myself. While in my last post I argued that Neil Young sings about her in Cowgirl in the Sand, this song is all about the first person singular, and I love it. That’s why it’s so contagious.

“I am the passenger and I ride and I ride.”

It’s true the song later goes on to talk about the we and the “stars made for us tonight”, but I don’t really buy it. I think that comes in when the song already has you worked up about yourself, your alleged free spirit and how you’re riding along through the city’s lights. I’m sure many see it a different way, but that’s always been my feeling whenever I’ve listened to it. I like it this way too…

“I ride through the city’s backsides. I see the stars come out of the sky.”

I have to admit I’ve tried listening to this song with some of my girlfriends to see if they like it… not a single one of them has. Mostly I’ve gotten indifferent reactions. Perhaps it’s that in a relationship the idea of being a passenger is a no-no (when everything is going well), but I think I’ve been with girls who deserve more credit than that. I think it’s as simple as everybody having a song that for whatever reason pumps them up, but these songs have to be discovered in a way that you can be absorbed by them. It doesn’t work if somebody just plays it for you. That works for the Dylans, Cohens et al, but not for Iggy Pop and The Passenger. It’s too raw, too energetic. You can’t share that, what are we crazy? 

“So let’s ride and ride and ride and ride. Oh, oh, Singing la la la la lalalala!”

Watch out now, take care

“Beware of greedy leaders. They take you where you should not go.” George Harrison, Beware of Darkness

George Harrison is the best. I like all members of The Beatles, all three of them plus Ringo Starr, but Harrison is a step in front. His songs with The Beatles are special and I also like his solo albums more than those of Paul McCartney or John Lennon, but what impresses me the most is the way he carried himself. Whenever I brush up on Beatles’ history I always get the impression that Harrison led the lifestyle that he wanted, while the others were influenced by their status. Harrison’s the one I would’ve liked to have met, no doubt about it.

Beware of the thoughts that linger. Winding up inside your head. The hopelessness around you.”

When I heard in 2011 that Martin Scorsese was going to follow-up his Rolling Stone documentary Shine A Light with one about the life of George Harrison I was ecstatic. As soon as George Harrison: Living in the Material World came out I went with two friends to see it in the only cinema in the city that was showing it, an 11 pm passing of this three and a half hour documentary. It was completely worth it, just a great plan for a random Wednesday.

The documentary is well made, but even if it hadn’t been I’m pretty sure I would’ve liked it. It’s just so much Harrison condensed in one film, it’s incredible. Musicians like Tom Petty or Eric Clapton pop in for interesting anecdotes, but mostly you enjoy the focus on Harrison, a guy so talented and creative that even after having been a part of the Beatles you could argue he’s underrated. I thanked Tom before, now I have to do the same with Martin, thanks.

So for the rest of that month practically all I listened to was George Harrison, I played his solo albums and made sure my MP3 player (this was a good 5 years after my discman days mentioned in yesterday’s post) included all his songs with the Beatles. There are a few of his songs which I like better that Beware of Darkness, but for some reason they included a live performance of it during the documentary which I really liked. So before I continue rambling on about the great George Harrison…

“Beware of darkness”

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

“Now the sun’s coming up, I’m riding with Lady Luck”Tom Waits, Old’ 55

As much as I like Tom Wait’s albums, his first is still my favorite. Closing Time is not innovative, it’s not as creative others, nothing about it is attractively bizarre… it’s just good, very fucking good.

I owe this album a lot, because going to 7 different record stores and finally finding a vinyl record of this album made for what ended up being one of my better gifts. The girl hadn’t heard it before, liked the concept, went to her parent’s house the next day to listen to it several times and told me later she loved it; to this day it’s the best relationship I’ve been in. So as I said before…

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

However, part of me has to think… how could she not like it? She could not like me or hate needing a record player to listen to it, but not the songs. In my previous post I inadvertently wrote that “for me” Leonard Cohen was one of the classiest of his generation, this time I won’t be so conservative. Closing Time is an incredible album that everybody should like.

As soon as the first track begins, Old 55’, you feel driving alone in the highway leaving a girl behind…

“Well my time went so quickly, I went lickety-splickly out to my old ’55. As I drove away slowly, feeling so holy, God knows, I was feeling alive.”

But obviously…

“Just a-wishing I’d stayed a little longer”

Every time I go on a road trip Old 55’ is the go-to-song whenever I want to really start enjoying the road, it gets me excited about the moment, but more importantly brings back memories of the girl I’ve cared for the most. I’d heard the song dozens of times before ever hearing it with her, but the moment when I gave her the album is the first one that pops up whenever I listen to it now. That was 2 weeks before we began going out, so for a third time…

Thank you Tom, I’m sure the album mattered.

One… two… three… four…

Fallen Robin

“You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception” Leonard Cohen, Chelsea Hotel No.2

In my attempt, through this blog, to write about specific memories of the last 10 years of my life, one of the artists that will come up is Leonard Cohen. For me the classiest songwriter of his generation, or at least classiest in the way I like, which means that he’s able to say all the things going thought his head, be them beautiful, filthy or despicable with style and grace.

His song Chelsea Hotel No.2 I would love to say reminds me of a personal relationship I’ve had, but that’s simply not the case. However, the song (dedicated to Janis Joplin) depicts so many elements of a relationship that didn’t last, that it’s hard not to find a lyric in there to which one can relate.

It goes from sex…

“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, you were talking so brave and so sweet, giving me head on the unmade bed…”

to separation…

“Ah but you got away, didn’t you babe, you just turned your back on the crowd, you got away, I never once heard you say, I need you, I don’t need you..”

to a simple memory…

“I don’t mean to suggest that I loved you the best, I can’t keep track of each fallen robin. I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel, that’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.”

I few years ago I began dating a girl I’d been friends with for a while. It didn’t last very much and the relationship ended for reasons that could have been obvious from the beginning. We had fun, but at the end things went sour, had a rough couple of weeks, moved on and I haven’t heard from her since. While I’d have many reasons to have a bad memory of her, that’s just simply not the case. I wish I could be as smooth as Leonard Cohen and say “I can’t keep track of each fallen robin” (not so many fallen robins on my list…), but for other reasons it’s clear that I really didn’t love her the best and simply don’t think of her that often.

I just simply “remember” her; I have isolated memories. Everything in between which are the feelings I had, the things I liked about her, the things I didn’t, her personality, the things I wanted when I was with her… all of that is completely gone.

So I can say I remember her… well? Not really, at her apartment, at a beach, at a hotel (not the Chelsea), but not much else, none of the good stuff.

Anyway, we’re ugly, but we have the music: