April 18, 2014

One Good One

Twenty one years and 9 months ago I made a decision  that changed my life for the better.

I married the most beautiful woman in the world, at least the most beautiful woman in the world to me, the woman who is salt to my pepper (and peter).  We had lived together for 13 years so we were not strangers, but a commitment was made with the institution of marriage, and  9 months later, almost to the day, our daughter was born.

In the movie Brokeback Mountain, one cowboy seals his love and fate with the line, "you complete me."  This means that you were incomplete before, and perhaps that there is some kind of finish line.

I can't say that either my wife or daughter complete me, because that seems so final, and also because there is still so much more to complete.  It's not a question of a glass being full or empty; at a certain point, you need to get more glasses.

What  I can say without hesitation is that my wife and daughter make my life better than it would be without them, that they bring so much life to my life, that I treasure all our many experiences together, both good and bad, and that they are without a doubt two of the best reasons to keep living.

We live for intimate moments in this life.   We crave intimacy, to come together.  Science proves this with quantum theory.  We are not meant for separation.

When you get to a certain age, people ask "are you in a relationship?"
Then they ask " is it a serious relationship?"
Then they ask "when can we meet this person?"
The next question is "when are you two getting married?"
Have you thought about having kids?
When are you having more kids?
Nothing seems to be enough for some people.

When I was asked "how many  kids do you have?", I always answered, one good one.

What more could I ask for?

One good one.

She is smart, funny, talented and a real stunner, as someone in her daycare once said.  Even the nurses at the hospital when she was born, said she is a beautiful baby, and we can say that because they all aren't beautiful you know, some are downright ugly.

I think ugliness tends to grow on people. With time.   Like a suit that doesn't quite fit.

When I was a child I would say to my parents that I was going to run away.  They said, fine.  You can go out like you came in, in your birthday suit.  The thought of walking naked out the door and down the street always stopped me from making my exit plans a reality.

My child is turning 21 today.  One day in the future, she will want to leave, and I know that.
While there are days when I would welcome this news, in reality it would leave a huge hole.   But that is life.  Huge holes.

As our children age and separate from the family, the intimacy that we knew when they were so small is usually long gone.

I remember reading her bedtime stories, and she would look at me with such rapt attention, then pulling me closer to her, and saying "puh".  Then she laughed.  Then she did it again.
"Puh".  And again.  It sticks with me what a strange intimate moment that was.  A closeness that cannot be duplicated in any other way.  

Or when she would tell me, Dad, I need a hug.  I demand a hug.  And I would oblige.   Or the night when I was reading her a story I had read her so many times before, and I stopped, and she starting reciting the story, word for word, verbatim for almost a page and half.   I was shocked, amazed but she was telling me loud and clear she was listening.

I remember the time  she was learning to skate, and went out to the middle of the ice and just sat down, oblivious to the rest of the kids or the class going on around her.

I remember walking into her second grade class and some other girl making a catty comment, and how I felt like punching an eight year old girl for being mean to my little girl.

I remember driving her to school so many days, years, and usually being late, and her telling me from the backseat one day, that's ok Dad, we are a family of liars.  OUCH!

I remember the day she graduated from high school, and everyone was supposed to write a slogan that described who they were.

She came out with a sign that read "Colour Outside the Lines."

That's my girl.

Happy Birthday!

February 10, 2014

The Hands of Time

Time is all around us.  It reminds us; it surrounds us, haunts us, envelops us in darkness and memories.  Ghosts rewind down empty hallways....

My good friend and I were talking today, and we went down a path that lead to a discussion of fathers.  Immediately I recalled my father's hands.

Why his hands you might ask?  I remember that last day of his life, and knowing that his life was near its end, and I took his hands in mine, and I felt the firmness, the solid meaty firmness of my father's hands, the meat and potatoes and way too much gravy firmament  of his hands, his hands in mine.  

These were the hands of a man who grew up in the Great Depression, a man who always had great stories of his adventures growing up in East Vancouver.  How he used his last dime taking his girl home on the streetcar to Dunbar, then walking back to Granville and Broadway, he stops in at the Aristocratic.   He sees a neighbourhood man who was a boxer, a gangster perhaps.  The man says, Freddie, what are you doing out here at this hour?  So my dad tells him the story, and the man says, Well, Freddie, do you want to hang out with me the rest of the night?  If you help me with this favour I will make sure you get home safe.   Then he put a big roll of cash in my father's hands.
My dad was to hold this cash for him, and they ventured off  to various houses of ill-repute.  It was an adventure, and just one of the many adventures that my father used to tell.  Each time he told the same story, there was a new detail that was not revealed in the previous telling.  

How telling were the histories in his hands: the years working on the Great Northern Railway, when a  conductor grabbed him by the ear, pulling him on to the train as it was moving, which explained his cauliflower ear.  At least that was the story we got; what really happened to cause that mishapened ear will never be known now.   These were the same hands that laboured in the restaurant my mother and he started in Qualicum with the help of my grandfather.  The same hands that stirred the pot and held the restaurant soup ladle that resides in my drawer.  Just an ordinary soup ladle that one can find in any restaurant supply store, but still, it is imbued with the hands of my mother and father who used it so many years before the economic realities of running a restaurant crushed that dream.
These were the same hands that went off to war, that opened the door to the rooming house my mother stayed in while they were stationed in Halifax, sneaking past the landlady who was used to putting a stop to these kinds of late night visits of young people in love. 

These were the same hands that held my mother in his arms, so many nights, caressing her, holding her, creating eight babies(that we know of), seven of whom survived, one of which is me.

These same thick working man's hands of my father are so different than my own hands.  His fingers were thick while mine are thin.  His fingers short, while mine are long.  His hands so warm and my hands so cold, so icy cold today.  His wedding ring a simple gold band, which is the same as me.  I wanted a simple gold band, just like my father who was married to mother until the day he died.  

As I sat there looking into his sad eyes knowing this moment would haunt me the rest of my life, I felt the warmth of his hands in mine.  And later that night, after driving back to Canada from Olympia Washington with my sister, after listening to Smashing Pumpkins and screaming and crying in her Golf as we knew, we knew that this was the day, I was awakened by my wife's father, my father in law, who told me the voice on the other end of the phone had just told him that my father had died.  So we all got out of bed and met in the kitchen, and the whiskey was poured, and glasses raised.
A week later, sitting in a room with my mother and brothers, my brother said something about my father passing away, and my mother, without missing a beat, said, "He didn't pass away.  He died.  He is dead and he died."  No candy coating it here.  And that is my mother in a moment, a perfect mother moment that was so cold and matter of fact, so disimilar to everything else about her, but yet, like me, this duality exists.   The warmth and the cold.

Her hands are very different than my fathers.  Her hands are more like mine.  More like her mother, my Nana and her father, who died before I was born.  Long, cold English fingers, descended from the Huguenots, runaways from France, elegant, aristocratic hands, fingers that seemed destined to play the piano.  

Her hands were so soft, worn down and worn in from all the children, the laundry, the dishes, the endless cleaning that a house of seven children would bring.  

I remember my hunger for her hands.  How I wanted and craved the caress of my mother, wanting wanting always waiting and wanting more.   Lying in bed with scarlet fever, chicken pox, or measles (both German and non-German) my head burning with fever, and the bed spinning, and the room coming in and out of focus, the kind gentle hands of my mother, so cooling, so soft wiped my brow, brushed my cheek, and held my hands.

How those same hands found me in Atlanta, when at age 49, I had a heart attack.  There was my mother, before the dementia set in, by my bedside holding my hand, her little boy in bed. 

Those same hands now connected to the arms and body of my mother, whose mind is lost within her.  
Still,  she gifts me with her occasional laugh, what I take as recognition and a conspiratorial wink, making me think that just maybe she is still in there, not completely lost, but struggling to get to the surface of her congested mind.  

These are the hands of time, the hands of my mother and father, hands gone, and hands lost.  Johnny Thunders says, "You can't put your arms around a memory", but sometimes you can get a hand in there, grasping for fingers, pulling up these memories from the dark pool of time.  

January 11, 2014

A Tale Of Two Cities

This is a tale of two cities on two continents:
Watertown and Berlin,
separated by a vast ocean of stylistic differences and audiences. 
Two of the greatest vocal stylists of the past century in popular music, Lou Reed and Frank Sinatra.

On the surface, there are no similarities, no common influences, no relationship to speak of, and yet we are drawing one now. 
The concept albums Watertown and Berlin, were  released in the early 70's and both albums can be considered as career defining works.  The impact of rejection of these personally invested works defined both singers later careers.

In my opinion, Frank Sinatra was the inventor of the concept album.  It can also be said that he invented the album, as a specific statement.  Long before Sgt. Pepper went to the Dark Side of the Moon with PF Sorrow, and Tommy to hear the Pet Sounds, Sinatra released Songs for Swinging Lovers, In the Wee Small Hours, and his brilliant collection of "saloon songs" - Only the Lonely.   

His album Only The Lonely was a first:  dark and beautiful songs that explored adult emotions in a song cyle. Frank downplayed the artist tone, calling them saloon songs, and said he was just a saloon singer.  From his pitch and tone, to his interpretations of the Great American Songbook, Sinatra literally wrote the book.   In fact much of what we call the Great American Songbook was written specifically for him.    
In the late 60's, Sinatra was looking for something new,  and was approached by two songwriters, Bob Gaudio and Jake Holmes.   Bob Gaudio was a member of the Four Seasons, who had tried their own hand at a concept album in 1969, The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, which was also co-written with Jake Holmes.  
Holmes is  better known as the composer of Dazed and Confused , later "stolen" by a certain Jimmy Page for Led Zeppelin. 
Watertown was released in 1970, and was supposed to just be a few songs for old Blue Eyes, but it turned into a full on concept album about the dissolution of a marriage, from the perspective of the man left behind.  It is not explained why his wife is leaving,  and some listeners even have theories that she is not only leaving the marriage, but the astral plane,  therefore never coming back.  The interpretation does not really matter; what is heard on Watertown is the pain of a man going through the death of a relationship as sung by one of the great singers and stylists of the 20th century, Francis Albert Sinatra.

In 1973, after the success of Transformer, Lou Reed released Berlin, produced by Bob Ezrin, and featuring full orchestration including a chorus of crying children ( actually Bob Ezrin's own kids, who he prompted to cry by telling them their mother had died!).  
The names (Caroline/ Stephanie, Jim/Gin) were drawn from previous works, and the themes of depression and suicide are familiar ground for Reed.  

Berlin kicks off with saloon sounds-  a piano and backward vocal tracks that sound like something out of Twin Peaks, but more malevolent.  Lou is quietly setting up the tableau. 
"In Berlin, by the wall you were five foot ten inches tall, candlelight and Dubonnet on ice, it was very nice….Oh Honey, It was Paradise."  

It doesn't take much intelligence or irony to intuit that it was not paradise.
What follows is far from paradise.   Berlin itself was a divided city at the time.  Berlin was shorthand for decadence, failure, a major divide or separation.  If Watertown in  the disintegration of a marriage, Berlin is the disintegration of the individual.

Interesting that both albums feature a song called Lady Day. " I said no no no, Oh Lady Day."  She leaves the bar going, to her room at the hotel, Lou singing in a very controlled way, while the music gets increasingly more frantic.  We are not clear what is about to happen, but it cannot be good.   Caroline Says 1, starts off whimsical, picking up in tempo with Lou talk-singing in his trademark style.  The rich irony of Lou's voice, snarling, snarky, superior and full of bile, Caroline is still his queen.  Knowing his supposed orientation at that time, it is not clear if Caroline is a man or a woman, but either way, she is his queen.   
How Do You Think It Feels takes it down a bit, drawing you in with a conversation, conspiratorial, accusing, the guitar stinging, Lou up for five days, hunting around, afraid to sleep making love by proxy.  He taunts "when do think it stops", and we know this bus will be stopping for someone, but only after it runs them down first.

Oh Jim drags us into the gutter, fill us up to here with hate, pointing out the two bit friends that always try to put us down.  The horns are lively, contrasting with the wanking guitar solo.  Nothing really is happening here, keep it moving. Back to the strumming acoustic guitar How Could You Treat me this way, gently singing when you looking through the eyes of hate….and time to flip the record.  Berlin has a tension and Watertown has a progression of emotion.       

Side one
1."Berlin"  3:23
2."Lady Day"  3:40
3."Men of Good Fortune"  4:37
4."Caroline Says I"  3:57
5."How Do You Think It Feels"  3:42
6."Oh, Jim"  5:13
Side two
7."Caroline Says II"  4:10
8."The Kids"  7:55
9."The Bed"  5:51
10."Sad Song"  
All tracks composed by Lou Reed

Caroline Says II takes us down a dark hallway, picks her up off the floor beaten, still not afraid to die.   One of the great lines "she's not afraid to die, all her friends call her Alaska."  She is defiant, biting her lip telling her  abuser that he can hit her all he wants; she will gain control by becoming the architect of her own demise.  She puts her fist through a pane, remarking "it was such a funny feeling, so cold in Alaska."  And sweetly the strings end the song, and we know Caroline II won't be back for a Caroline III.

The Kids is one of most evil songs every written and produced.  I am embarrassed to admit that I would play it to torment my own mother, who would yell at me to turn down that 'horrible song".  They are taking her children away, because they said she was not a good mother.  What did I expect my poor mother to think?   And Ezrin making his own children cry is the ultimate in Method acting and Bad Parenting.  
The Bed takes it down further.  How much further can we go down?  

This is the place where she cut her wrists, 
oh oh oh what a feeling.  
A ghostly choir is the background. 
A simple strummed guitar.  
The details of the room and bed where his girlfriend takes her own life matter of factly quietly noted.  
Because in the end the other person is gone.  All that is left is the place, all that is left is the details, the dust, the detritus of emotion.  Creepy, lost, a not so heavenly choir, and last but not least Sad Song.  Like Send in the Clowns, or a movie story, sitting on her picture book, just goes to show how wrong you can be.  The anger of the one left behind remarking somebody else would have broken both of her arms.  What is this?  Is this all there is- a house?  A song?  A sad song?  She is not coming home. 


Track listing[edit]

  1. "Watertown" – 3:36
  2. "Goodbye (She Quietly Says)" – 3:06
  3. "For a While" – 3:09
  4. "Michael & Peter" – 5:10
  5. "I Would Be in Love (Anyway)" – 2:31
  6. "Elizabeth" – 3:38
  7. "What a Funny Girl (You Used to Be)" – 3:00
  8. "What's Now Is Now" – 4:04
  9. "She Says" – 1:51
  10. "The Train" – 3:26
  11. "Lady Day" (CD bonus track) – 2:47
All songs written by Bob Gaudio and Jake Holmes

Which takes us back to Watertown.  Was Lou Reed influenced by this record in any way?  Probably not.  Like different lives in different towns, the story is often the same.  What differs is the details, and the telling of the tale.
Lou Reed is not a confessional singer in the classic sense. But his songs are often full of the occassional confession, slipped in after all the matter of fact details, and he nails you to the wall with a line.  She's as cold as Alaska, all her friends call her Alaska.  Lou is the song writer and the lyricist.  
Frank is not a songwriter, except perhaps the song he "wrote" for Ava Gardner, I'm a Fool to Want you.  Which if he did write it, why why why did he not write more??? 
No, Frank is an interpreter, an actor, and storyteller.  Not the friendly Dad in the cardigan with the pipe in his hand that was Bing, bada binging his bad babies when noone was looking.  No, Frank was a bad boy. With a chip on his shoulder.  With a sensitive heart.  An image he carefully cultivated from the post Bobbie Sox singing in his Columbia Days.
And after the comeback in the 50's with Reprise, and From Here to Eternity, and the Manchurian Candidate, and Jobim, and Mia Farrow and the Kennedy's, he was looking for something new.
Watertown was presented to him, and he didn't flinch.  He didn't want rewrites.  He even indulged the producer with retakes, as he notoriously would come in and nail in a single take.  Say what you want about his private life, Frank was the professional.  He was the greatest singer of the last 50 years, hands down.
To hear him sing Goodbye (She Quietly Says) is like being let in on the most intimate of moments.  In For A While, the goodbye is over.  Now he is lost in the day to day of living, after the big moment.   "I forget that I'm not over you, for a while."  How do we forget something like that?  Well we do, until we are reminded, and the wound reopens.  "the days go by without an empty feeling, then he remembers you are gone."  His friends try to fix him up to get him out of the house, out of this shell, but they forget.  He is not over you.
For a while.
Michael and Peter is about the kids left behind.  They are not crying like in Berlin.  They are living reminders of what is and who is gone, as each of them remind the listener of the other.   The singer starts to tell us about the house needing paint, and the lyrics are styled as if he is writing a letter to his wife.   "All those years I worked for Sante Fe, never had a raise in pay."  "You'll never believe how much they are growing."  He is at a loss for words, so he describes everyone around him, except himself.  But in doing so, he says much more that he is actually saying.  Yes the kids are growing, but he is dying inside.    

The lyrics are so beautiful on this record.  And Frank sings them in probably some of his most sensitive singing.  He knows she is gone and there are no words to say, but he knows only he would never change a thing.  How do you think it feels?  Lousy, that's how it feels.
Lou has his Caroline, and Jim, and Frank has his Elizabeth. 

And they both have their Lady Day.  It is said Sinatra's Lady Day was written for or about Billie Holiday.   Oh what a feeling. 

Frank Sinatra: Watertown                                                  Lou Reed: Berlin 1973

Watertown                                                                         Berlin
Goodbye ( She Quietly Says)                                            Lady Day
For A While                                                                       Men Of Good Fortune
Michael and Peter                                                              Caroline Says
I Would Be in Love (Anyway)                                          How Do You Think It Feels
Elizabeth                                                                            Oh Jim
What A Funny Girl (You Used To Be)                             Caroline Says II
What's Now Is Now                                                          The Kids
She Says                                                                            The Bed
The Train                                                                           Sad Song
extra: Lady Day

What a Funny Girl and What's Now is Now are truly great songs that can work on their own. The sensitivity of Sinatra's singing is some of the best of his long career.   She Says is very dramatically written with soaring verse that keep reverberating in the back of my head.
She Says she is …….coming home.  And so we move to waiting for the Train, like Lou waiting for his man.  Will she or won't she come back?  Well, it doesn 't end so well.  
These are not albums with happy endings.  Just endings.  


December 30, 2013

Icebergs on the Seas of Possibility

In 1975, Patti Smith spoke of  the“seas of possibilities,” imploring us to“seize the possibility”.  

In 1976 Richard Hell articulated his concept that he called The Blank Generation.

He envisioned this term, not as a nihilistic summation, but instead as a realization of potential, Do It Yourself, as opposed to waiting for someone else to do it.  

Following the lead of these two visionaries, Dense Milt was reinvented as a performer.  Hell and Smith (what a great name for a law firm) may have provided the concept that became my creative license, but it was my own license that allowed me to drive on the new roads built by this community of outsiders.  

In a similar vein,  a concept in business emerged around 1990 called “seizing the white space.”

A company may look to exploit their “white space”, which is defined as when we move far beyond core competencies into uncharted territory -- into the white space.

Some companies miss out on capitalizing on opportunities when the opportunities did not fit within their preconceptions of what they do well.   One needs to look no further than the contrasting stories of Apple and Kodak to see how we must escape our self-imposed constrictions.

We either think outside the box or climb within the box and start piling on the dirt.

To realize new value(s), we must first recognize what it is that we are doing well.  
But what to do when our recognition is defined by what we see in the mirror, and not what we or others can see within.

Perhaps we should explore the iceberg metaphor on this sea of possibilities.

The iceberg metaphor is defined by the empirical fact that what rises above the surface of the water is only a fraction of the iceberg that is submerged below the water’s surface.
We see visually what is above, while the iceberg below remains hidden, unknowable and therefore frightening. 

What is it that fuels our perception of the unknown as something to fear?

What if we were to view the unknown as a blank page, a palette waiting for our brushstrokes, a song waiting to be sung? 

What if we could see the unknown as something discoverable, and not threatening?

Can we derive understanding from the fact that the iceberg above the surface and the iceberg below the surface are both the same iceberg?

What we see on the surface is ice, but what we can’t see below the surface is also ice. 

So what separates the ice?

Surface tension.

The surface of the water.  Yet ice is also water, just in a frozen state. 

If the temperature above the water or below the water rises, more of the iceberg becomes water. 

So another factor in transformation is heat, the atmosphere and the relative temperature of the water.

Both the temperature of the air and the water can affect how fast or how much of the ice  melts. 

The lesson of the Titanic was the danger of ignoring what was below the surface, while the lesson of climate change will be the danger of ignoring what we are doing to the surface. Of how we ignore just how interconnected everything is.

If we apply the iceberg metaphor back to human potential, we see that what lies below the surface is our potential.
This potential is hidden, unknown and frozen in time.  This potential houses all of our fears, unknown dangers, and obstacles.

But it also contains seas of possibilities, discovery, magic, and new ways of thinking and being.

So release the potential.
Turn up the heat, raise the temperature.
Both inside you
and around you. 

dm 2013 

“Up there -- there is a sea
the sea's the possibility
There is no land but the land
Up there is just a sea of possibilities
There is no sea but the sea
Up there is a wall of possibilities)
There is no keeper but the key
(up there there are several walls of possibilities)
Except for one who seizes possibilities, one who seizes possibilities.
(up there)
I seize the first possibility, is the sea around me”

Horses  Patti Smith 1975

December 10, 2013

Nancy With The Smiling Face

Nancy Sinatra has a new album!  It is a new musical work called SHIFTING GEARS,  a collection of previously unreleased songs.
There is a special cheese to this collection.  She starts off with As Time Goes By, there are two Neil Diamond songs; she kills us softly with his song, hangs out in MacArthur Park, and a song for Christmas.
Like Claudine Longet, she is a bigger star than her voice might suggest, but there is a character to that same voice.  There is a believability, a casual cool, a 60's-70's languor that slides down like fine Spanish Brandy.  It is instantly warming, a slight fire around the edge of the tongue,  a soft gooey centre.
You see her old man in her eyes, the cheekbones.  There is a confidence to the voice, "We know she believes and how".
She is a Sinatra. I do think she will find the recipe, despite her protestations.  I would melt through the dark if she left my cake out in the rain.
Oh NO!!!