Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vacation, all I ever wanted....

Greetings. Took a week-long vacation back home to Idaho. Went to see my Dad and Sister. Tracked-down 1 old friend & tried to find more; at 1 point I wished I'd kept in touch with more old friends from highschool so I'd have more folks to track down....
But I went mainly to see my Dad & get a break from work, maybe get back in touch with myself again. I've been way too grumpy & sad for way too long.
Idaho was very different. The pace there was MUCH slower. For a week I didn't hear people yelling, didn't see folks stressing-out, nobody tried to run over me on the road, nobody yelled obscenities at me for driving too slow -- nobody seemed to be in too much of a hurry. & I didn't see any weirdos freaking-out in public.
It was ... pretty great.
Coupla minor drawbacks: I was so far out in the sticks that I couldn't get cellphone service -- so far out the World's Smallest Laptop couldn't suck-up enuf signals to receive or transmit, tho I tried.
I was a little different, too. I didn't drink as much coffee. Didn't need it. I woke up before noon, regularly -- as early as 7 am, some days -- got up just because the sun was out & it was a beautiful morning. Of course on vacation you can do stuff like that.
The air was different there too -- way lighter & less humid than here in Western Washington. Tho it got hot -- up into the mid-90's -- the dryness of the air made it feel maybe 10 degrees cooler than the same temps here. Course when it got over 100, that was hot enuf for anyone....
It was nice to see the family, & my 1st day back I got a little reminder of what I've missed in my nearly 30 years away from home -- I was introduced to an adorable little 4-year-old girl who is 1 of my nieces, & I was intro'd to her as her "Great Uncle." I still can't keep track of who my sister's kids are married to. I've missed out on a LOT.
Spent a lotta time just driving around the Boise area -- there's a lot of nostalgia there for me. Wish I'd had time to do more. Didn't find a single decent used bookstore that was open -- tho I drove by several that had closed. Didn't even bother trying used record stores -- was afraid of what I might find. But neither of those things were why I went.
Can't comment on Idaho radio because I hardly listened to any: When I was driving thru my old hometown I wanted to be IN IT, not distracted. Can talk a little about radio on the drive there & back: There's a rather good oldies station around Stanfield & Hermiston, Oregon, that specializes in '60s & '70s hits -- I hadn't heard Paul Revere & the Raiders' "Him or Me -- What's it Gonna Be?" in awhile. But the station faded out as soon as I got into Oregon's Blue Mountains.
The only other thing I can tell you is that Eastern Oregon has a few too many radio stations broadcasting about the wonders of Jeezus & Ghod 24/7 -- I remember making the same trip back in '79 & coming over a hill near Baker, Ore., only to be suddenly blasted by the Voice Of Ghod announcing the adventures of "God's Own Agriculturalist -- George Washington Carver!!!!" Their programming hasn't changed much....
Perhaps this weirdness is because there's a lotta wide-open spaces in Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington & lots of Idaho & Wyoming -- there's a stark beauty there, but there's also MILES of Nothing. That's why many people fly over that part of the country rather than drive it. But I hate to fly....
I took tons of CDs with me for the trip, then ended up not playing most of them. Played most of Camel's ECHOES best-of ("Never Let Go," "Rhayader," "Unevensong," "Breathless," "Echoes," "Drafted," "Sasquatch," "West Berlin," "Mother Road"), & started on Caravan's CANTERBURY TALES best-of ("Place of My Own," "And I Wish I Were Stoned," "Golf Girl," "Nine Feet Underground," "The World is Yours," "Songs and Signs") -- but when I narrowly avoided wrecking the rental car by trying to dodge around a shredded tire in the middle of the freeway, I decided 2 put the CDs away & focus on what was in front of me ... at least for the next hundred miles or so. & I never got back to them....
I didn't take anything to read with me. While there I wanted to DO & BE -- experience, not try to get away.
The only thing wrong with the break -- of course -- was that it wasn't any longer. Nothing here changed while I was gone.
There are a FEW jobs in Idaho, if you want to work for $7.52/hour, which I don't. But I liked the slower pace, after years of stressing out. & the sunshine & clear skies, long as it didn't get TOO hot. & the closeness of family, even if I haven't seen most of them in years. & being surrounded by a place I know very well. & I have a few friends there.
I needed the break, tho coming back home felt pretty good too. Tho mosta those good feelings were gone by 11 pm on my 1st nite back to work. Since then I've shredded the fanbelt on my truck, so I'm now walking the mile to & from work -- which actually hasn't been that bad. Sort of a nice break, & the exercise is probably better for me than I wanna admit. Long as no passing cars try to run over me during my walk home at 1 am....
...I'd like to get back to blogging here. There are lots of things I'd still like to write about, lotsa great music & books I'd like to turn y'all on to. But I needed the break. Most of my reading experiences lately have been disappointing. & except for the little bit of music I listened to during the trip, I don't think I've played any music in the house since about April -- which shoulda been a sign to me that something was wrong....
I hope to get back to this, I hope to write more in general, perhaps even try to push on with that rock-group novel. As I was reminded while on vacation, I'm 50 ... so I'd better get on with it. Even if my health was perfect I couldn't expect to have 50 more years left. Maybe 20? So I've wasted too much time already. But I already knew that.
Can't promise I'm gonna be back to my old productive self, but I am feeling a LITTLE better. If anyone has an idea about how I can take a year off & still get paid, please let me know....

Sunday, July 4, 2010

It is what it is (Or: It's just bizness III)

Iain Banks's ESPEDAIR STREET (1987) isn't a bad rock&roll novel. It's a pretty solid 250-pg character sketch of a guy who turns his back on the music bizness at the peak of his success, because of the guilt he feels over the deaths of 2 of his friends & fellow band-members. Their deaths were absolutely NOT his fault. But the incidents were triggered by his ideas.
The book is the reminiscences & misadventures of Daniel Weir, better known by his stage-name -- Weird. He's the main songwriter & leader of the Fleetwood-Mac-meets-Yes-style '70s/'80s band Frozen Gold. FG is phenomenally popular -- poppy yet arty, they can cover the musical spectrum without losing their audience. Weird's the mastermind behind it all.
There's some great stuff here -- Weird's 1st time seeing the band play at a local hall, his 1st meeting w/ them -- when they look at his songs & agree to polish them up a bit, & fame & riches follow soon after -- discussions of album projects & tours. Some of this is very vivid & well-done.
But. It's a bit of a jumble. There's a lot of flashbacks, & some of the "present-day" narration seems a little cluttered. There are a lotta loose ends in the reminiscences. For me, there was too much looning about in local pubs or drinking aimlessly inside the fake-church that Weird lives in, looking out over the city of Glasgow.
I can see why that looning around in pubs is in the book -- because what happens in those incidents forces Weird to reveal his true identity & past to the new friends he's found in Glasgow -- who don't realize he was once a world-famous rock star. And that revelation leads Weird on to the steps he must take to reach what he hopes is happiness at end of the book.
But. I don't understand why he feels so guilty. He says he felt guilty as a child, long before his music career. Bad parenting? We meet his mother, she's not so bad, & he tells us his father's a brute, but we never meet him.
This is also the 3rd book I've read in a row where the message is that achieving artistic success doesn't lead anywhere. At the end, Weird's desperate search for peace of mind leads him to an old love & a new instant family.
I can understand the importance of that, of the need for friends & love in your life. But. This embrace of middle-class values is what he'd been trying to get AWAY from since before the start of his music career.
Just once I'd like to read a rock&roll novel in which it's affirmed that artistic success (& the financial comfort that can go with it) DOES lead somewhere -- that creating art can transcend life's more mundane worries. That it DOES lead somewhere good all by itself -- that artistic achievement & success doesn't just open the door to drug abuse & alcoholism & other stupid pointless pursuits. Otherwise, why bother? If drinking & drugs & enough leisure time to truly screw-up your life is all people really want, why does anybody try to do anything creative? There must be easier ways to make a living....
Certainly if I had Weird's money I'd find something better to do with it than drinking too much & sitting in my fake-church, looking out over Glasgow, feeling sorry for myself. (Not the drinking too much part, anyway.)
This is an above-average novel that never gets near what creating MEANS or how those songs that so badly needed to come out ended-up changing Weird's life. Or if they did. He might've gone on the same way even without success. But what did those songs MEAN to him? We never find out.
It's no wonder songwriters have trouble explaining what a song's "about" or where it "came from" -- it HAD to come out. There it is. What more can you say? It's beyond explanation -- you'll havta settle for The Thing Itself. & if it affects you, if it somehow changes your life, that's between You and It.
I held off reviewing this book for a few days, & thought about it instead, trying to get a handle on what dissatisfied me about it. I'm also aware that Rastro, who often comments here, is a fan of ESPEDAIR STREET, & I didn't want to miss or misunderstand anything that he might call me out for.
I think what dissatisfies me is that I always want to know more. I want to think that people with talent would do something WITH it once they've hit the jackpot -- that they wouldn't just piss it away thru drinking & drugging & bed-hopping & shopping.
I'd like to think that songs mean something to their creators -- that they aren't just a means to obtain another high. I'd like to think that a creative person would be true to their muse, that there's a REASON why someone has been given a gift, & that an artist's job is to explore that gift until they can't use it anymore. I don't know of any higher calling.
But artists havta live in the Real World, too.
...OK, so I'm starry-eyed & idealistic. I don't drink or smoke or drug, so I can't relate to any of that. But I can relate to the creating. Very much. & I want to know MORE -- How? Why? What does it mean? Where did it come from? How did expressing this help make sense out of your world?
Or did you just wanna jot down some simple words to go with a catchy tune?

Coming eventually: Don DeLillo's GREAT JONES STREET, Laurence Gonzales's JAMBEAUX, & more music.