January 7, 2017

Previously on Dense Milt.......

Previously on Dense Milt:

What we're gonna do right here is go back, way back, back into time.
When the only people that existed were troglodytes...cave men...
cave women...Neanderthal...troglodytes.

Minus nine months:  Life is one of the strange ones, in that it doesn't start at one.   When does life start? People have been debating this one long before Roe v Wade; a twinkle in my dad'e eye, a stirring in his loins, or a hunger in his soul?  Did my mother dream of me and prepare the grounds for planting?  Was it scattered there like drift?  A trace of this and a dash of that.  For whatever reason, the me that is me began either late March or late April of 1957.  In June of 1957 my wife to be was born in Ottawa.  I had some catching up to do.

Zero:  When I began, I was a zero.  An open mouth screaming.  Apparently I was a month overdue. That is what I remember my mother saying at one point.  She can no longer verify this statement, as died and had dementia for many years before her death.  But right from the start I felt the need for attention.  I was waiting for the moment I could make the most impact by delaying the big day.  Timing- it is all a question of timing.  Like the drummer's description of the singer- How do you know a singer is at the door?  They don't know when to come in and they can't find the key.  A shard from a song I wrote Gods and Killers: "Right from the start broke a piece off his heart, just a little flack from his little mommy's sac, Life wasn't his bag."

15 months: The novelty has worn off.  The baby is boring.  My mother opens the door to her station wagon and welcomes another hitchhiking fetus, who will be my little sister.  My days as the baby of the family are numbered.  Roughly speaking there were 270 of them.  You hold the baby.  No, you hold the baby.  Can I get a bottle?  Who is minding the bar here?

Two: We move from Burnaby to North Vancouver.  I am no longer the youngest child.  My first actual memory happens at two when I fell head over heels for my new sister, down a concrete stairwell, losing my left front tooth in the process.  OUCH! What a kid will do for attention.

Three:  I have no memory from age three so I can only assume that this is either my first dissociative state or when the Satanic indoctrination began.  I ran out of the house naked (well who doesn't?) prompting my mother to beat me with abandon.  OK she just spanked me.  Most likely I learned how to use the toilet at this age.  Good boy.  

Four:  I punched a kid in the eye.  I felt bad.  I felt good about feeling bad.  I put my hands in wet cement.  We moved from North Vancouver to Port cessation.  Pulp mills, tomato plants, concrete, cousins....

Five:  My youngest sister is born.  I am put up for a few nights with my sister at our aunt and uncle's house in Qualicum Beach.  I reported woke in the night to say to my 2 year old sister, "Let's get out of here, sis."  Uncle and Aunt overhear the escape plan, and my first plot is foiled.  Our family is now made up of Mom and Dad and seven kids, five boys and two girls.  Due to Canada's six child limit, my family is forced to leave Canada, travelling by caravan to Missoula Montana.  Montana is called the Big Sky Country.  We are in the old West.  Arguments are settled with a gun or a razor.  To avoid eye contact,  everyone looks up at the sky.
There were no speed limits in Montana, just tiny white crosses that they planted on the side of the road wherever someone died.  We finally find a family that is larger than our family with the introduction the next door neighbours.  They are Catholics and the last name was Sullivan.  The Sullivan family have nine children and their house smells like honey and urine.  For years I believed that was what Catholics smelled like.  I know better now.
As a January born child, I was held back from school.  Since the only kindergarten in Montana was for Catholics only, I stayed at home with my mom and two sisters.  I still had older brothers and a father, but they had their own fish to fry, their own deer to kill, their own cars to crash, their own wars to fight.   As a Canadian living in America, we were forced to relearn English.  American English.   Creek (rhyming with speak) was now crick ( rhyming with brick). 
Roof (like truth) was now roof (like the sound dogs make, or the hoof of a heifer).  
For two more years I was allowed to play with my next older brother.  Then one day, unannounced, he became a teenager, and I acquired the affectionate nickname "cowpie."
In Montana, I was introduced to my first pet, Peter the cat.  We inherited Peter from a family named Cunningham who moved away.  Peter was black and white, and vicious.  I hated him.  He would hide in the bushes near our blow up swimming pool, and jump out to attack me when I ran crying to my mother. Two other stories about Peter.  
One day my sisters saw a cute Pekinese puppy hanging around the back door where the cat's dish was.  In those days, dogs ran wild, and all animals were kept outdoors.  My sister's made the mistake of encouraging this little dog to come by and eat from our cat's dish.   One day, we are playing inside, and we hear a ferocious fight, cat snarling and dog yelping, whimpering and ran out to discover a lot of dog hair on the lawn, no dog in sight, and Peter walking around like he owned the place.  Because in the law of the west, he did own the place by asserting himself as the biggest pecker in the pecking order.   Peter Pecker pulled no punch, picking on a Pekinese, had Chinese for lunch....
Peter the Cat story two.  Remember we inherited this cat- we never chose to have a cat, and most of us did not want him.  And he was an outdoor cat.  One day he left.  Either tired of rejection, or lured by the promise of more love or tuna, he ran away.   Which should be the end of that story.  Except the cat came back.  About a year later, the cat came back.   I don't remember how we finally "lost" Peter, only that when we next moved, he was no longer with us.   Perhaps my parents were sending us a signal.  Watch your step kids.  There are seven of you.  Who would miss one of you if you were to go missing?   
Before we move on literally and in the telling of the story, let me tell you of how my mother decided to quit smoking.  As Canadians, my parents had been required by Canadian law and custom to drink rye whiskey with ginger ale, and to smoke.  Smoke 'em if you got 'em.    One night in Montana, my father was away on business, (he was always away on business - but that is another story), she fell asleep in a chair smoking, and according to her recollection, nearly burned the house down.  As good a cessation excuse as one could come up with on the fly, raising seven kids in the frontier town of Missoula.   

Six:  School starts!  My first teacher was Mrs. Lake, a tall woman with horn rimmed glasses.  She was very similar to my Nana (my mother's mother).  As a result of being held back, I was anxious to learn, and was not only a quick learner, but always did well in school.  Everyday I walked to school on my own, as kids did then, down a big hill.  On my way to school, I would sing songs of my own invention, and talk to myself.  To say I had a rich inner life, would be an understatement.  
In the winter, the snow drifts would be up to 5 feet high; the word "trudging" was invented.  In elementary school, I would meet many wonderful and strange characters, people who were even stranger than the Catholics next door, and believe it or not, more strange than my own family.
to be continued.......   

January 2, 2017

Raw Milt


They got me on the ropes
gnawing for a laugh
another noose around my neck
a pink elephant on a raft

I must be careful
I must be cautious
but the gnawing
Leaves me nauseous

And gnaw and gnaw anon anon
And gnaw and gnaw anon anon

"Is there a way to get out of here"
said the prisoner to the rat
The rat replies, Life's a box of chocolates, melting.

August 9, 2016

This Bomb is Personal

I have a bomb in my body.  It could go off at any time.  Unlike other bombs, this bomb is personal. 
It will most likely not kill others around me.  It has my name on it alone.  It is my bomb.  That said, there may be collateral damage. It is unavoidable. Please accept my apologies now. 

I can hear it ticking right now, and that is good thing. As long as the bomb is ticking, I am safe.  I am good to go.

This personal time bomb is of course my heart.  It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.  

Recently , I had to call in the bomb squad.  More accurately,  I walked myself to the local  ER, which is only a few blocks away. That is a good thing.  
I took my bomb and asked the experts in the ER to help me understand if the pains that I have felt consistently for the past week were in my head or in my heart.  I wanted to know if the pin was loose.   
After about four hours, they completed their inspection.  While they did not doubt the
pains in my chest were real, the experts could not tell me why without further tests.
They did confirm that my bomb had not gone off.  There was no evidence of a recent attack.
Nine years ago, the bomb went off. There were no casualties, but hello! Call it a wake up call.

Today more tests.  I did the nuclear stress test. They injected me with the radioactive solution, They took pictures of my bomb, they made me jog until I reached their designated limit, then injected me with more radioactive solution. 

Once again, I passed with flying colours.  My bomb is safe and intact, and not in any immediate danger of going off. 

What am I to make of this?

Have we reached a Detente? 
Are we entering into Peace talks?
Should I expect A Cold War?
Was I just having the male equivalent of A Hot Flash?

Hopefully, me and the bomb will come to a better understanding.   After all, we do have to live together. We depend on each other.  What happens to the bomb, happens to me.  And well, shit happens.

For now, the situation is temporarily defused.  The bomb is still ticking.  

But there is little doubt that one day, the bomb will go off.  One day, 0my personal bomb will shut me down. My shelf life will be up.  

I remember an evangelical preacher, who told me in teens, to be afraid.  Very afraid.  Because God was going to get us, because we were all evil because of Original Sin.  You could slip in the bathtub and die tonight.  You could be killed riding home on a bus, or driving a car.  A toddler could shoot you.  Terrorists, jihads, nuts, strangers- there is a whole schmorgasbord of fears to choose from.  

The important thing is to relax, breathe and not focus on the fear. 
I try to focus on the love, the music, family, and friends.  I am blessed with so much love.
And Life goes on until the day that it doesn't.  

I do not have control, but I do have my bomb.  My own little personal bomb.  And I am happy as long as it keeps on ticking. Tick, Tick, Tick...   

August 7, 2016

The Sandwich Test

After 37 years in the spotlight, there are two things I can say.   I love writing and performing my own music, and I love watching other people perform their music.   When I am performing, I am in the here and now.  I focus on the job at hand.  There is a connection between me and the audience, there is a connection with the band, and there is a connection that my mind makes with my body.

Although I bring a certain confidence on stage,  I am always nervous as hell before, and hyper-critical after.  I am my own worst critic.  But when the performance is happening, and that mind/body connection is working right, there is no greater feeling.  I get lost in the music. I can only give you everything.

Performance is similar to being intimate with someone, in that you are feeling and smelling and listening and vocalizing and staring intently into eyes. You are not thinking of anything else at that moment.  You focus only on the beauty of the moment.  If you cannot bring that focus, just forget about it. Go home right now.  Do us all a big favor and hang up the gloves.   If you are thinking about someone else at this moment, then you are not in the right bed.

I have different rules when I watch other people perform.   I call it the Sandwich Test.
Am I getting caught up in their performance, thinking of nothing else or is my mind wandering?
Rarely do I relax and just be the fan.  I begin imagining myself up there on the stage.   I begin thinking about what kind of sandwich I could be eating.

What choices would I be making?  White, Rye or Sourdough?

June 25, 2016

Nude Girls Sit On Cows...To Cure Them


To cure them.

To  cure them of what?

To cure them of being a cow?

To cure the girls of being nude?

This is a classic "teaser" from 1965, a time when attention grabbing was much simpler than in 2016.

The year was 1965.
I was seven.
I remember the first party that I ever went to at Johnny Mercer's house in Missoula, Montana   Yeah.  Even his name was cool.  He had a Beatle cut, and a stylish little Beatle suit.  I probably was sporting a crew cut, but I still had all my teeth.   Only a year later, I was to chip my front tooth, and had to bear the shame of a silver cap over my front tooth.

I guess I was Gangsta before my time.
Johnny's party was co-ed, which was also a first, and the music that he played was of course The Beatles.   Rubber Soul was my favourite. A certain song about a girl named Michelle, planted an attraction in my head some 10 years ahead of the time when a certain Michelle would come into my life.
Consider that I met my future wife when I was in my last year of high school, bored with the status quo, I decided to take an acting class at Capilano College, travelling once a week from Richmond to North Vancouver.There I met many very cool people, including a skinny girl with long black hair named Michelle.
She had a psycho boyfriend at the time, which cool girls did.   I had a girl that I was "in love" with who was younger than me, but who was also going out with an older guy named Jim.  Later in life our paths would cross again, as Jim was re-born as I Braineater.
At Cap College we had a teacher named Kayla Armstrong, who was from New York.  Doesn't get any hipper than that, kids.  She was smart and edgy and inspired us all.  I met other friends in this class, including local actor Robin Mossley.  Kayla and her husband Robert put on a series of one act plays, and Robin and I were given the challenge of performing Edward Albee's Zoo Story.
Even then I was being typecast with the psycho roles, so Robert switched it up, and cast me as Peter, the quiet mild mannered guy who encounters an outsider named Jerry.  As Wikipedia states:
"Peter and Jerry meet on a park bench in New York City's Central Park. Peter is a middle-class publishing executive with a wife, two daughters, two cats and two parakeets. Jerry is an isolated and disheartened man, desperate to have a meaningful conversation with another human being. He intrudes on Peter’s peaceful state by interrogating him and forcing him to listen to stories about his life, and the reason behind his visit to the zoo. The action is linear, unfolding in front of the audience in “real time”. The elements of ironic humor and unrelenting dramatic suspense are brought to a climax when Jerry brings his victim down to his own savage level.
Eventually, Peter has had enough of his strange companion and tries to leave. Jerry begins pushing Peter off the bench and challenges him to fight for his territory. Unexpectedly, Jerry pulls a knife on Peter, and then drops it as initiative for Peter to grab. When Peter holds the knife defensively, Jerry charges him and impales himself on the knife. Bleeding on the park bench, Jerry finishes his zoo story by bringing it into the immediate present: "Could I have planned all this. No... no, I couldn't have. But I think I did." Horrified, Peter runs away from Jerry, whose dying words, "Oh...my...God", are a combination of scornful mimicry and supplication."
Even as the "quiet guy", I was the killer.
Later that year, I was to play the role of Charly in my high school production of Flowers for Algernon.  Charly was a mentally challenged adult, who is given drugs that make him a genius.  Unfortunately, like many drugs, they wear off, and Charly returned to his simple minded ways by the end of the play. Thinking  back I cannot imagine memorizing all those words, when I am dumbstruck now even trying to memorize the words to Born to Be Wild!  But that then, and this is now.
In another one act play at Cap, I played the troubled violent man in Tom Walmsley's play The Working Man, where in an act of stupid Method bravado, I kicked a fellow actor in the head.   This actor happened to be Susan,  the best friend of this girl Michelle.  We can all laugh about it now, but at the time, even I was horrified by how "into the role" I had become.   
Two years later, I was at Langara, taking theatre there, when a teacher sent me into battle in a game of "status" with another fellow actor.  By the end of the "scene", I had the poor guy in tears.  I would now see this as irresponsible direction by the teacher, and certainly, a confusion in my young mind as to the difference in how to play a character versus inhabiting a persona, that was becoming far too comfortable.

A few months later, I was forced to sit in a lighting booth in the dark during a technical rehearsal, while my  actor friend was able to go see Patti Smith, my hero, at the Commodore.  I decided then and there that acting was not my gig.  I needed to live life before I could play someone else's life.   I was drawn to the punk aesthetic of DYI, where I could be actor, performer, writer and director all in one.   The sugar water of the early punk scene drew my "human fly" ego to it, and it has never let go.
Somewhere in all that confusion of ego, performance, sexuality and sound, I found my way to bring a certain girl named Michelle back into my life.   Fate was calling me.  Like nude girls sitting on a cow.  

November 14, 2015

How to Protect the Unconditional Heart

From your first breath, the possibility of unconditional love lives in your heart.
But as you move through this life, various conditions are placed upon this love.
This unconditional love becomes conditional;
And over time, the inventory of conditions become what is known as a heart condition,
As they act to harden the heart.
These conditions are self-imposed upon our hearts, 
with the false hopes that they can protect our hearts from breaking.
In reality, these conditions themselves work to harden the heart,
with the end result being the heart becomes more brittle and subject to breakage.

In this digital age, we fall in love with the new and the novel,
And in a continual effort to remain current, we install software programs 
to what we will call “the heart drive.”
And we come to believe that these applications will help to make us more efficient,
allow us to go faster, and to help make the images of our life more clear,
or less clear if that is the desire, what we call fading in or fading out.
This is why our “heart drives” can become cluttered, 
resulting in usage of too much memory, freezing up, or endless buffering.
Over time, a frozen heart drive will cause your system to crash or simply shut down.

October 17, 2015

Put Me Down Like Your Favourite Pet

In my part of the country, there are clinics with signs that read Walk-Ins Welcome.  I have often joked about a not too distant future, where the signs will read: Walk Outs Welcome.   In Canada, we face a future where the vast majority of the demographic is made up of aging Boomers, and many of the Boomers, like myself, have not planned well for a future.

Issues of declining health and lack of wealth, rising rates of Alzheimer's, and the usual suspects of Heart disease, Strokes and Cancer, may push some of us aging Boomers to choose to check out.  As my song Freedom 85 states " I can't afford a hole in the ground, Hey Buddy, got a match to light me on fire? I told my wife," Take me to the vet, and put me down like your favourite pet."

This last week, local artist and musician Elizabeth Fischer made the choice to end her life with assisted suicide in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.  She had been told recently that she had stage 4 terminal lung cancer.  She also recently put her beloved pet down, and remarked on the way our society views this action, as something that is acceptable for humans to do for pets, but somehow not acceptable for humans to do for other humans, or even for humans to make that decision themselves in regards to their own life.

Elizabeth was an extremely talented visual artist, songwriter, bandleader, lyricist and singer.  Her work with the D.P.s, Animal Slaves and Dark Blue World was intense and compelling.  She was a dark, but humourous person; she was a difficult person who did not suffer fools gladly.  She could be judgmental, and I think I fell into the "fool" category for her upon many occasions. She was someone who challenged me, and my concepts of friendship for many years.   We were not "friends" when she made the decision to take her life.  While I regret not taking the opportunity to remedy that situation prior to her exit, it was something I could not bring myself to do.
But for all our personal animosity, I never lost my respect for Elizabeth's art or her music.  She was an important artist, with very unique voice and vision, and she was always true to that vision.

She had relationships with some of my friends, including close friends Ross Hales and Greg Reely, but I could never say I was particulary close to her. We were colleagues and competitors in a small scene.  We worked together many times, my bands playing with her bands, we were co-founders of MO-DA-MU, a musical collective that included 54/40, Rhythm Mission, Animal Slaves,  Junco Run, the Work Party and Tin Twist.

Tin Twist was fronted by Elizabeth's cousin, Judy Kemeny, who was tragically taken from us when she was quite young with cancer.   Elizabeth and Judy both came from Hungary, and their parents were concentration camp survivors.  Obviously, that experience deeply affects the children, and children's children for many generations.  This dark history informed Elizabeth's art and music, it fired her anger and fuelled her art.

She was a strong person, she was a person with a dark sense of humor, she was a performer.  As performers, we  love a stage, we seek drama, we look for the statement or opportunity to make a statement.  Elizabeth had just had a book release and art show Orphans and Dogs, which was a culmination of her life's work; yet how would anyone know that would be her last work?  With someone so creative, I am sure there would have been much more work if only there had been more time.  With the pronouncement of stage 4 cancer, she knew her time was running out, and she decided to end her life on her own terms, the same way she had lived it.

I suppose it is ironic for me that all of this took place in the month of October, normally one of the darkest times of the year for me.  My good friend Lenore Herb died a few years back of stage 4 terminal pancreatic cancer.  Lenore was also a very talented person who was very challenging, outspoken, and not universally loved.  I sat with her on the day before she breathed her last breath, and can only say that cancer is one of the most cruel ways to die.  At that moment, I totally understand why Elizabeth would choose to end her life the way she did.

Another friend of mine took her own life last year around this time of year.  Her suicide was not assisted, she organized it herself.  She was in a very dark place, and we will never know why she did it, or what events in her life led her to that decision on that very darkest of days.   We are left with shock, and sadness, and anger and confusion.

Death of any kind leaves a hole in the lives of those left behind, the people who were friends or family of the departed.  It is a very sad moment no matter what the circumstances. But our reactions to death are very different depending on age and circumstance.  When a person is much older, we say "they lived a long life, and it was time."  Or if they were in much pain, we say, "it was a blessing, now that pain is over." If a person is very young, we say "how tragic that a life is cut so short, when there was so much promise and future."

In the case of assisted suicide, many of us agree that a person has a right to make the choice.   We may say how brave they are to make that choice.
But in the case of suicide, those of us who are left behind can only ask ourselves, why?  What more could we have done?  While there is a general acceptance of assisted suicide, especially when the person has a physical illness,  there is a general non-acceptance of suicide when the person who commits this act has a mental illness.

I have no answers to this.  Personally, I hope that when the time comes for me, it happens fast. I do not fear death as much anymore.  Every year brings more death, and within my circle, there is not so much birth, but there is always opportunity for new friends and changed relationships with old friends.

What is known for sure is that we have no shelf life.  We are born to die as my friend Frank Ramirez said.  There is much work that has been done, and much more left to do.  I would end this with a shout out to Elizabeth.   I am glad that I had the opportunity to know you, to view your art , to hear your music and listen to your voice.   I have no clue what happens when we leave this life, but I honor the life and time that you had; you made a huge impression and you leave behind a body of work that will live on.  Next time around, perhaps we will be better friends.

Shadow from Days to Come

by Alejandra Pizarnik
For Ivonne A. Bordelois*

they’ll dress me in ash for the sunrise,
they’ll fill my mouth with flowers.
I’ll learn to sleep
inside the memory of a wall,
on the breath
of a dreaming animal.