Friday, November 20, 2009

Set List

I sold all my big amplifiers a long time ago. I really am not that big a fan of loud these days. I loved the power of loud when I was young and the way I could feel a chord with my whole body when my pick hit the strings of my guitar with a force that would break more than my fair share of strings. I thought, and I still believe, that that force is the defining power behind rock-n-roll, or if not rock-n-roll, punk rock.

But, these days, I like melodies and rhythms and structures of songs. I play an acoustic guitar, mostly and I can hear my voice clearly when I sing. I don’t play out, but think I might some day again. For now, I strum my guitar alone in the house with my family and occasionally for a select group of close friends (cronies).

If you happened to stop by, this is what you might hear. I don't play with a pick but with my fingers, my thumb plucking out a strong steady bass line. My fingers brush against the strings with the back of my fingernails on the down-stroke to drive the songs rhythm and pluck the song’s melody with my nails on the upstroke. The sound is full with the melody weaving in and out of the bass line with a steady constant rhythm going on. I do all of this without thinking after years of playing and listening. Without band members, I have learned to create as much of the full band sound as I can all by myself.

I will start with a random song that falls from my head to my fingers. If I can’t find a song, I might reach back for an old one-even all the way back to an old Floored song. Its funny how much melody those songs actually had, underneath all that noise. I can’t even guess at the number of times I have heard my wife say “that’s really pretty, whose song is that?” after I have played an old Floored, Hammerhead, Diddy-wah-Diddy, Loaded or even a Mess song on my acoustic guitar.

Eventually I will pull out a folder of songs I have with lyrics written down to play and sing with. I might start with Taj Mahal’s “Johnny too Bad” to see my sons face light up so he can sing along to “You gonna run to the rock for rescue and there will be no RoocccKKKKK.” Dragging the Rock out like he is an opera singer.

After that song, I might choose John Prines “The other side of Town,” just to see my wife’s look of disapproval. The first time I played it for her I said to her, “Every time I hear this song I think of you.” And she sat down to listen in anticipation until she began to understand the meaning of the song around the second verse with “You might think I’m listening to your grocery list, but I’m leaning on a juke box half…”

Perhaps, then you might hear me do Tom Wait’s “The House where nobody lives,” followed by Greg Brown’s “Like a Dog,” that always gets a hoot from my son at the end when I howl like a dog at the moon. I will work in Michael Frante’s “Nobody right, Nobody Wrong” or “Bomb the World” just to provide a little inspiration before breaking into Charlie Parr’s “Cheap Wine,” that I just can’t help singing with much more bitterness from the liquor store owner perspective than Charlie’s sweet singing of old ladies and bums.

You would surely hear me sing “The man in the bed” by Dave Alvin at some point, but might not notice that I have changed a verse to reflect the man in the bed as my father or noticed the tears behind my eye and the lump in my voice. I will quickly switch to “Home Grown Tomatoes,” by Guy Clarke to liven up the mood again and then do “Rex’s blues” by Townes Van Zandt just for the pretty melody despite the sadness in the song.

I will do “Cold War” by Fred Eaglesmith, because I remember the cold war, my daddy fixing small machines and him listening to Johnny Cash on the radio. There will probably be some other songs mixed in, but I will end with the last song I wrote. I used to hate doing other peoples songs. If you remember one of my old bands, you know we mostly did our own songs. Except, it seems, everyone remembers that Floored did a mean ass cover of “Age of Aquarius,” and if I am in the right mood and I am passed my fourth Summit beer, you might still hear me do “Age of Aquarius” all the way through to “Let the Sunshine in.”

The last song I will do is Wishbone, which I wrote a couple years ago for my son. My son will sing along with this song too. I wrote it after I introduced him to his first wishbone and asked him to take a pull. He was about 4 years old at the time. Its got one Chord (E Major) and a steady Blues beat and melody weaving in and out of that one chord. Here's the lyrics.

Wishbone

We plucked the chicken
Skinned it too
Put it in a pot
Then we made some soup

(Lookie here) Now I got a wishbone
Tell you what we’re gonna do
I’ll make a wish
You make one too

Chorus (Wishbone, wishbone, wishbone,
Wishbone, wishbone wishbone [repeat])

I’ll take one end
You take the other
We’ll both pull it tell it gives
And then we’ll see which end is longer

Don’t you worry
Don’t you fret
You still got a chance
Though I ain’t lost one yet

Chorus

Don’t you cry
Dry your eyes
Don’t you know
That the wishbone never lies

Hold your head up
I rigged this one for you
My only wish
Is all your wishes will come true

Chorus

Been 4 years now since I wrote my last song. Still waiting for the next one to come along.

The Science of Fasting

Beginning at sundown every Friday I don’t eat for 24 hours. It is my own personal Sabbath, although I will work in the garden or back by the compost heap cutting up small sticks.
I can’t read the future and fate may hold other cards I’m not aware of, but I’ve always thought I would live a long life. I am 45 now and I feel my life is close to being halfway over. I don’t feel like the end of my life is approaching in the next decade or so. No, I am pretty sure I will see 2050 and my mind will be sharp when I do, even if I will often repeat myself.

I eat well and I fast a bit, and that will be my secret – that and I was lucky enough to make it through the highways and the terror of violence that is always at hand somewhere in the world. Some will say I died peacefully after a good long life, and I suppose they will be mostly correct. Life has been, is and will be satisfying although the way to the end, even with whatever trauma inevitably awaits me. I hope I will have grandchildren around me and a son I am so, So proud of, even if he has broken my heart several times with the inevitable turning away from the dreams I hold for him.

But, through all the good and bad luck, I will have eaten well and done my fasts, so I will live long, I suppose. I’m just wingin’ it. I don’t know any secrets and I don’t have any good science on my side, although I do think like a scientist. Eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health. Eating Kimchee and Yogurt is good for your digestion. You don’t need science to tell you this. Make these foods a significant part of your diet and you will start to feel better. But what about fasting.

First, anecdotally, humans have been fasting as part of our evolutionary history forever. Read any old text on ancient or nontraditional cultures and medicines and fasting will have played a part in religious and healing ceremonies. Second, there are Seventh Day Adventists. They fast once a week and they live longer and healthier lifestyles when compared to the general population. I read that somewhere. Look it up.

Finally, we come to my science. I read a New York Times article a few years back and a year or so later caught a 60 minutes episode on a new discovery. Both were a reporting of the discovery of a chemical compound found in wine that could extend the average human lifespan. This chemical apparently causes the human body to produce a chemical or hormone that switches our body chemistry and tells our cells to change emphasis from reproduction to longevity. In the New York Times article, just in passing, they mentioned that the Body is also induced to produce the chemical when we fast. But, hell, there is no money to be made in fasting and Americans love their pills. So, the race was on for patents to produce a product that can be sold as the fountain of youth to Americans and others wanting a long lush life. Eat McDonalds, take a pill, live a long life.

Well, I don’t think it works that way. There might be a chemical in red wine that induces the body to produce a chemical that changes our body chemistry. But, that is probably just happenstance. It is the fasting that the body is reacting to. Think about it. We go along millions of years, living as hunters and gatherers and having to face times and seasons where food is scarce. Evolutionary, we also strive to pass on our genes from one generation to another. So, when food is available, our bodies and cell structures put their energy into reproduction and the passing of our genes to our offspring. Men use their caloric intake for producing sperm and scheming for mates, while women prepare their body to carry a child to term. The child is born and then food becomes scarce, what do we do? We fast out of necessity and any scarce food goes to the children and the young whose bodies are also being prepared for reproduction.

When elders and parents fast, for the benefit of children and the passing on of genes, their bodies produce this chemical that induces cells to stop putting all this energy into reproduction. Evolution favors adults that produce this chemical, because once we have passed on our genes, longevity is more important than spreading more of our genes around. We need to live long for the sake of our offspring to teach and guide them in the world and to help them secure nutrition.

Enter the modern age where food, not nutritious food, but corn syrup and empty calories, is always available and we no longer fast. We get heart disease and cancer. Moreover, as our sex drives decrease we desire to recapture our health and take Viagra to feel young and sexual again.

Fasting may also kill those unhealthy cells that may lead to cancer or heart disease. And, fasting feels good. It makes you aware of your body and everything you put into it. You don’t eat for 24 hours and you will stop shitting for 24 hours. 24 hours after the Saturday night when you eat a salad and a meal, Sunday afternoon comes along and you have felt that salad and meal go all the way through you as you expel the remaining waste products.

So, I fast for 24 hours once a week. A few times a year I attempt to fast from 2 to 5 days. I’m wingin’ it, no doubt. Some people might think I’m doing it all wrong. People who eat regularly and are conscious of their health and diet cannot fathom the idea of going without a meal. They think their body has to maintain some homeostasis and their blood sugar levels need to be constant, or they will feel weak. But, I think they are wrong. I think all systems and parts of our bodies need rest and this includes the digestive system. Our cells also need to rest and need a trigger for the release of built up toxins from the constant metabolism stimulated by the constant caloric intake.

That is the purpose of the Sabbath. It’s not necessarily a testament to the creation and the rest required by the creator after a week of making the universe. Like every tale, the story of creation is a myth that provides us with a metaphor. We need to fast to allow our bodies to rest. Growing children need a constant supply of nutrition to meet their needs as their bodies grow, but adults should fast once in a while. That's my theory with the science to back it up.

Sex and Growing Old

There are so many things to adjust to when growing old, but one aspect of it stands out above all others and is the source of great wisdom. Yes, there are the aches and pains, the creaking joints, and diminished physical abilities. There are decreasing tolerance for some things (crowds, loud music, obnoxious people) and increasing tolerance for others (cultures, political differences, religious differences, obnoxious people). There are the worries about health and, for men, the prostate, in particular, becomes worrisome as the urge to urinate become more frequent, the difficulty of starting a flow when the need arises becomes more difficult, and the urine stream becomes weaker when one’s bladder is finally able to empty itself.

The prostate is a very mysterious organ. My understanding of it is about as knowledgeable as my understanding of female reproductive organs. It always has served me well in the past when most needed, even if it often appeared to act all on its own. I believe it is a gland that either is also a muscle or somehow acts like a muscle to restrict the flow of blood out of the penis and cause an erection. It also cuts off the ability to urinate and is the impetus behind the power of ejaculation. But, the prostate grows over time as men age and as it grows it apparently causes urinary malfunctions or incontinence. I don’t believe this expansion of the prostate has any consequences in regard to impotence or the ability to achieve an erection, although relative to the aging process, I am still in the beginning stages of growing old and impotence remains far off in the future, although the anxiety that incontinence is the precursor to impotence grows in proportion to the enlargement of my prostate gland. Yes, prostate troubles are particularly worrisome for men as they age. However, this is not the most astonishing aging fact that we experience. The most remarkable and astonishing aspect of growing old is the diminishment of the sex drive.

Hell, maybe even that is caused by the prostate. Perhaps, the enlargement of the prostate over time is a result of the many past erections. I probably spent 21 out of 24 hours from the age of 17 until 23 with an erection and if the prostate is a muscle (fuck if I know, I am assuming, but likely my medical facts are completely wrong), then all that work, like exercise, has grown the prostate over time. Until the age of 40, I probably had, at a minimum, over 50 erections a day. But, now, I wake up with an erection and, although I still have some days where an erection is ever present, mostly, it seems, there are more days than not that my only erection is the one I wake up with to begin the day. And, going by my theory, if all these erections cause a prostate to grow over time, then maybe the downward quality of my life is being spared by all this lack of erection time, so I can at least have a good pee now and then. Yes, I am pleased to say, that a particularly remarkable and astonishing thing about a diminished sex drive is how many body functions are on par with sex or ejaculation as far as pure bliss and joy. Taking a shit, relieving oneself of a full bladder, flatulence and a sit-down meal of ribs, homegrown potatoes, vegetables and a salad all washed down with an ice cold local brew, are all looked forward too with as much or with more fondness than a good fuck, blowjob or cunnilingus.

Is that sad? I suppose in some ways it is. But in so many ways it is also reinvigorating. Don’t get me wrong, like all body urges noted above, the urge to ejaculate can still become all consuming just as the urge to eat well, shit and piss does. All bodily urges can be overpowering. In the case of ejaculation, this overpowering urge still possesses the capability to either lead one to bliss or drive one to do an incredibly stupid, embarrassing and unexplainable act despite our growing old and our diminished sex drive.

But the sex drive is also revealing of human nature, at least from my point of view as a man. There is nothing more annoying to me than male novelists, screenplay directors or other male artists who cast the elder male protagonist in a relationship with younger female counterparts. Woody Allen is an obvious example, but Philip Roth, Michael Ventura and many other male artists provide similar examples. The annoyance results from completely unrealistic portrayal of these relationships and I don’t mean because of the obvious revulsions most young females have for the aging male body. Despite the universal fact that as we age our physical attractiveness diminishes due to our bodies decaying and our odors becoming increasingly wrenching, I don’t think it is unrealistic to fathom that there might be a small minority of young woman out there who feel a need to be with an older man. A younger woman may feel the need to have a relationship with an older man and to live with him so she can be provided with a sense of security that an older man may arguably be more apt to provide than a younger one. No, what makes the older man/younger woman relationship untenable is not the attraction of younger women for elder men, but rather the inability of an elder man to stay interested in a younger woman once the sexual attraction wears off, which inevitably happens with all relationships, but happens more quickly as the sexual drive diminishes.

Hey, obviously, all men, when presented with the hypothetical lineup of women at a brothel, will choose the younger woman over an elder one. As men’s odors become more repellent when we age, so do women’s. As stomachs grow and various body parts sag, so do women’s asses grow and sag. That beauty is most revealing in the young is a universal fact no one can deny. But it is also a universal fact that there are very few people any of us can stand to live with. Once the sex is over and you are presented with the possibility of cohabitating with the person to raise the potential child that may result from the most recent copulation, it is not an unusual reaction to feel revulsion toward the person you only seconds before were intimate with. There is no better explanation for the oldest profession in the world than that, because when paying for sex a man is spared from even the contemplation of living with the outlet for his desires. For that matter, once you understand the level of detestation we can feel for the human and biological, you can understand why the history of war has always been accompanied by abhorrent acts against women and children.

Our inner and deepest natures are not our better natures. If forced to live with people we would happily bed down with in moments of overwhelming lust, the inevitable reaction will be violence.
The fact that we detest people we have to live with is not an aberration that only a few of us experience. We all experience it in one form or another many times in our lives. The challenge is to choose someone to live with that we will detest the least, not someone we will lust after the most. Once the sex is over, I could not imagine living with a person who has no memory of her Daddy listening to Ray Christiansen broadcasting Gopher football games on Saturday afternoons before turning the channel to a country station to sing along with Johnny Cash on the radio, no memory of the Cold war, and no opportunity to have seen the Replacements perform on Saturday Night Live. Once the sex is over, if there is no history to share between two people, how can there be any possibility to move beyond the detestation that will inevitably result when one human lives under the same roof as another?

And this is how our tolerance grows as our sex drive diminishes. Sex does not keep any relationship together where two people live together under the same roof. Infatuation will always wear off once exposed to another’s habits, ticks, and odiferous waste products. Infatuation can only continue if there is enough separation between two individuals that there is no opportunity to actually know one another. This wisdom is not available to those still caught in the threshold of multiple erections and infatuations. In fact, this wisdom is the first thing to leave us whenever we succumb to the urge for copulation, and it is always immediately recognizable upon the moment of ejaculation.

Our detestation for the person lying next to us and for ourselves is in inverse proportion to the amount of shared history we have for the person. And, of course, this is what makes the affair so devastating. Not to the other, but to ourselves. The more shared history, the deeper that devastation will be. For once we ejaculate with the stranger who has become the outlet for our sexual urges, our detestation for this stranger is on par with the detestation we feel for the person we live with. Without any shared history, we cannot overcome this detestation for the human and the biological that we all share. And the longer we live with a person the more shared history we accumulate. If that person is the mother of our children the history becomes even more impactful.

Of course, it is also true that sometimes the history becomes too painful to carry with us for any number of reasons, including affairs. In those cases it becomes necessary to find someone new to live with. But, even that someone new has to have something from her past that can be shared. A young woman cannot provide that to an older man.

The diminishment of the sex drive as we age is not astonishing because we cannot fathom life without sex. Sex is always an urge with the potentiality for being all-consuming for periods of time – even as we age. But, the diminished sex drive offers us a glimpse into what it means to be human and to be accompanied by all of our foibles and shortcomings for getting along with one another.

Darkness, Poetry and Marbles

The darkness is moving in all around us. I awake in the dark and turn lights on as I move from room to room and ready myself for a day of work under the bank of fluorescent lights hovering over cubes within the suspended ceilings in the capital-city downtown office building. I can see the sunshine in my daily walks through the skyway system, and upon leaving work to pick my son up from his day in school. From there it is a rush against the turning of the Earth as the sun settles in the sky while we hurry home to throw a football in the yard, shoot basketballs in the neighbor’s driveway, or toss a baseball back and forth. By the time we are called in for dinner, the darkness has almost enveloped us for the night and our play will be reserved for indoor activities until an early call to peel off and go to bed.

The long days of summer are gone and the garden has been put to rest. The leaves are piled high in the compost heap and the raised beds are all covered in straw. A gopher, some rabbits and many field mice scurry amongst the beds digging holes and piling dirt and causing worry to the gardener that refuses to use poisons or chemicals in his dirt that grows so much food to sustain his family. But the garden paradise he has created that flourishes with lush green growth from May to October has also created a panacea for other critters to call home. The rabbits and the mice he can live with, but this gopher going around digging tunnels and leaving gigantic piles of excavated dirt around his garden is the source of new frustration and worry. Is it time to get a gun?

Fall and winter is the time for reflection and also a time to let the darkness settle in all around us. We can be overwhelmed with thoughts of doomsday, as the Christmas shopping season ramps up and the Salvation Army bell ringers take up positions in the skyways, outside on downtown street corners and at the entrances of big boxes everywhere. We are also given a gift of time as the summer activities end, the harvest is over, and we sit indoors with our families and ourselves driving each other crazy. It is a time to read, play guitar and to write down thoughts. Winter provides opportunity to be poetic and to appreciate our longing for summer, even as the beauty of a winter snowfall covers pine and spruce trees and leaves the bird feeders at the center of the winter ecological backyard community.

And so, my guitar has been liberated from its stand and its strings are tenderly being caressed awake by my fingers several times a week as they mindlessly pick tunes and melodies on it and search for a lost voice put away early last spring. My son plays marbles and listens, sometimes sings along, and sometimes asks me to stop to join in his marble game. From upstairs I hear my wife’s voice say, “that was pretty, whose song was that?” Usually I don’t answer, embarrassed and slightly annoyed that I have to tell her that the origin of the song is unknown and has simply come with the darkness of the season. But, I am thankful for the effortlessness of my fingers as they pluck out melodies and a rhythm while my thumb keeps pace with a steady bass line on the low strings. Somehow my mind has picked out the songs of the darkness for my fingers to translate and the rooms of the house fill with a new lightness.

As I play marbles with my son, my thoughts remain on the guitar and I hear my voice call from within. I want to go back and pick it up and sing songs I’ve learned as my fingers provide the accompaniment. But, that will have to wait as my fingers struggle with a newer skill and get thoroughly trounced by smaller and defter fingers shooting marbles along side of me.