Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Dr. Nu, I Hate You
Dr. Nu, I Hate You
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
I Do, I Do, I Do
---Dr. Nu, Martin Luther Lennon (2000)
Those folks that know me well know that I've been battling a mysterious, ill-defined medical problem for the last five years. It's a problem that affects my neck, sinuses, ears, jaw and throat to varying degrees -- I know more or less what happens, I just don't know exactly why or what's a cause or an effect. It affects my hearing, my ability to sing, and sometimes my ability to breathe. From 2005-2008 I went to about two dozen doctors of various specialties, had three surgeries, and generally became fed up with the diagnostic abilities of the entire medical system. The longer I lived with this thing and the more I was able to track down what it was, the less the doctors actually listened or believed me, until it got to the point where this was the standard exchange:
"What seems to be happening is this, this and this," (me)
"What you're describing is medically impossible," (doctor)
"Well, that's what it feels like. Give me a better explanation." (me)
"I don't want to argue with you..." (doctor)
I finally shined doctors entirely, decided to ignore everything a doctor ever told me, and just focused on doing what my body seemed to respond well to. And guess what? I got a lot better. I still had to spend a lot of time managing the problem, but it became a nuisance to work around rather than something that was ruining my life.
So about six weeks ago I started getting massive drainage out of my left ear. The whole thing had started with an ear infection that didn't get treated, and one of the theories of mine (not the doctors', because they were never very good at diagnoses that actually fit the symptoms) was that the infection had gotten holed up in some obscure place around the ear and never got out. Now it looked like it was getting out, which was good, but it did require me to go back to the doctors for antibiotics and try to explain the whole damn saga again. I did get the antibiotics, but the drainage went on for three solid weeks before it finally stopped. By that time I'd gone through the usual course of events with them: initial optimism, then doubt, then that glazed look in their eyes as I told them more about the problem and they referred me to the House Ear Clinic ("the finest ear specialists in the country" who did a craptastic job treating me in 2005 and by refusing to believe there was an infection were one of the main reasons the whole thing snowballed), or the UCLA TMJ Clinic to get further evaluation.
I had always had UCLA's TMJ Clinic in the back of my mind as a place that MIGHT actually get to the bottom of the problem, since they're supposedly used to thinking out of the box, but I booked the appointment with a great deal of trepidation. Just thinking about trying to explain this to doctors stresses me out. It always goes pretty much about the same way:
1. The doctor asks you what you're there for. Since the problem extends over five years, a whole bunch of crazy symptoms, and things that correlate that I already know the doctor won't believe have anything do with one another, it's nearly impossible to get it down to a nice little soundbite.
2. You try to explain it as much as possible. The doctor interrupts you with a few questions, gets a dubious look in his eyes, then cuts you off at about the three minute mark.
3. Physical examination, or a checklist. The doctor has his or her usual shtick that they go through.
4. "Everything looks OK except ____________." The doctor then fixates on the one thing he sees that is wrong, and offers up a preliminary diagnosis based on that one isolated symptom. At that point he starts talking about a test for this one thing, or referring you to someone else that specializes in that. He will at no point attempt to correlate that to anything you've described yourself, nor will he accept that any two symptoms that you have described are in any way related to one another.
5. I shoot down the doctor's theory as something I've already looked into and ruled out, and give him a few more factoids to try to get him back on track to what I've come in for. The doctor starts to get that glazed look in his eyes.
6. The doctor basically says he can't treat anything he can't see, and everything he sees looks fine. You ask how you are supposed to proceed. He says dubiously that there's this other doctor you could see, and they might be able to help, but there's basically nothing he can do.
I'm posting this because this is exactly what went down today at UCLA. I wonder if these guys have any idea how similar they all are, how they all have the exact same myopic approach to a problem, how little information they actually gather, how much they will rely on tests and personal observation without giving the patient report much thought at all, and most of all, how little imagination any of them actually have. I understand all the reasons for this -- honestly, I do -- but it's like each one of them thinks they invented the wheel. I actually told the guy today, dude, you guys are all the same. I've been down this road already. I need an investigation, a diagnosis, some thought put into what would account for all the myriad symptoms I've tried to lay before you. What I got was a shrug.
When you deal with something for a long time, you really get tired of it. Not just living with it, but talking about it, having your friends roll their eyes any time you talk about it (and who can blame them), but even more than that, you feel like everyone is judging you for not having taken care of the problem already. "You STILL are having those problems?" someone will say, and I know they're thinking I'm one of those cranks that won't take care of themselves.
Well, I tried, repeatedly, and I never had significant improvement until I started abandoning, even ignoring, doctors' advice. Because the fact is, I have met very few doctors who are worth a damn diagnostically. They're great at setting bones and prescribing antibiotics, but they are piss-poor detectives. I might try eastern medicine at some point, because systemic approaches have worked really well, but I have no further plans to see any western doctors for this problem. It has been a waste of time and money and more than that, I've gotten much healthier on my own than I ever did when I trusted them. And I've been on a particular upswing the last few weeks, so who knows, maybe I'll take this thing out on my own? Screw 'em.
Whenever I hear of a friend that has a non-specific condition that they're trying to track down, I always wince inwardly, because I know that, like most sensible people, they will lay the problem before their doctor and trust them. As far as it goes, that's fine. But I also know that for far too long, if their body tells them one thing and the doctor tells them something else, they will keep trusting the doctor. And I have learned that is a bad move, and sometimes, a fatal one.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Jump Street is notable for launching, from humble beginnings, two of the great media giants of the new millenium: the Fox Network and Johnny Depp. It's remembered vaguely for the glittery, scrubbed look of its stars: a sort of younger, prettier version of Miami Vice. I myself had never watched it in its heyday; I didn't have cable then.
In fact, I had only ever seen one episode front to back, quite by accident, and it was the memory of this episode that peaked my interest, because it was a jaw-dropping hour of television, one of the best single episodes of any show I had ever seen, not to mention an acting tour de force by Depp. It was this one ep -- more on this later -- that prompted me to start watching the series last month, as well as maybe wanting to cure myself of any lingering '80s nostalgia for my teen years.
The pilot episode introduces us to the Jump Street quartet -- fresh faced, naive Tom Hanson (Depp), big lug Doug Penhall (Peter DeLuise, Dom's son and now Stargate director), African-American preppy-hottie Judy Hoffs (Susan Robinson [Peete], later of Hangin' With Mr. Cooper), and Asian pretty boy Harry Aoki (Dustin Nguyen, now a martial arts star here and in his native Vietnam). Mentoring them all for the first five episodes is an annoying ex-hippie type played by film actor Frederic Forrest.
The Jump Street program is supposedly a pilot program run out of an old church that puts young-looking police officers into undercover situations in an unnamed American city that seems to hop from the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast and then into some kind of alternate-universe annexed part of Canada (the show was actually shot in Vancouver and there are endless, obvious shots of British Columbia licenses plates throughout the series' run).
The city itself seems to have an unlimited number of school districts so that our heroes can "transfer" in, make friends with the students in an impossibly short span of time, crack the case and get out...something the series begins to address towards the end of the second season, by which time our crew has been in, oh, about 40 school districts.
The above paragraphs sum up the premise, and the inherent flaws in it, pretty well. And the pilot episode, shown in two parts, was absolutely godawful. Imagine if you will a Johnny Depp that cannot act his way out of a paper bag, and who gets no help from the rest of the cast, nor the hackneyed TV-movie script. The opening and closing credits were cheesy beyond belief (this was Fox's first hit show, and the money presumably wasn't there for something better) and as for the music -- I know that much of the original, period music was changed out for the DVD version, but enough remains for me to tell you that the guy that did the music cues for the show definitely owned a Roland Juno-61. The opening theme song did give us an admirable display of team spirit -- Robinson sang the idiotic lyrics, with Depp and DeLuise doing an enthusiastic job on the backup vocals. The theme song, along with a lot of other things, got revised in the second season with a better vocal and the most egregious lyrics dropped.
The series limped along for its first few shows, with Depp still not being Depp and Robinson's extreme cuteness being the only really watchable thing going among all the cheeseball afterschool special-ness. I wondered how this could possibly be the same show that spawned the one episode I'd remembered seeing years ago -- had I been drunk?
And then, a funny thing happened. Six episodes in, in an unexpected show of chutzpah the series was to display more and more frequently, they killed off one of the main characters. Forrest's annoying ex-hippie was worm food, and in comes temperamental badass (and much more believable undercover cop) Adam Fuller (Stephen Williams) to clean house, and the tomb-like Jump Street chapel that previously housed just the five main characters becomes a bustling hub of activity for all manner of kiddie-faced teens in blue. The four well-scrubbed cops who up to this point had lived a pleasant, poorly-written idllyic existence were about to come face to face with gritty '80s reality.
No sooner had they heaped dirt on Forrest's tie-dye T-shirt than Hoffs and Hanson (and later Penhall, who gets inside by delivering pizzas!) had to contend with being undercover in an entire school being taken over by gang members. The still-green Hanson blows his cover almost instantaneously and is reduced to making tut-tut platitudes to wear at the increasingly frayed nerves of the gang leader, and it's up to Hoffs to hoochie him up and get herself into the getaway car, where she makes the bust on her own. (Robinson is the most consistently watchable part of the first season...unfortunately, she's also the first of the characters to wear out her welcome, and she's the only person in the series for the entirety of its five-year run) It all felt pretty contrived, but even so, the spectre of the virginal Hoffs character having to play a game of sexual chicken with the loony gang leader to maneuver herself, and then him, into a vulnerable position is pretty gripping stuff.
The series ups the ante again very soon afterward, with "Blindsided" -- a good title because throughout the first half of the episode I couldn't believe they were going to go where they went with it. Hanson, undercover as one of the "McQuaid Brothers," amusing JD personas Depp and Deluise would reprise regularly throughout the show, gets approached by a female high school student to kill off her dad. Depp, incredulous, begins to do some background checking, and it slowly becomes apparent that her father is both a highly-ranked police officer but is also molesting her. The show slowly ramps up to a gripping conclusion where Hanson goes to bust the dad, and winds up in a struggle where he accidentally shoots him. Depp's character starts to get interesting at this point...his Tom Hanson had started his metamorphosis into the highly conflicted, deeply compassionate but rigidly stoic character that Depp's portrayal would make so fascinating as the series progressed.
The show steadily improves for the remainder of the first season and into the second, but remains incredibly uneven...almost every show had moments of greatness that alternated schizophrenically with moments of head-slapping cheesiness. One early highlight was the Depp showcase first season closer "Mean Streets and Pastel Houses," where Hanson goes undercover to investigate the punk rock subculture, and finds himself strangely drawn to it and genuinely curious about the motivations of the people in it. The plot is crap, but the tonality of the scenes and shots and the slice-of-life interactions between Depp and the other punks feels more like a low-budget indie film than a prime time TV show. Agent Orange even did the music...and we for the first time start to glimpse the alienation and nascent disillusionment that would make the Hanson character more and more interesting, even as Depp's interest in the part waned.
Indeed, as the series starts to deepen, moral choices become murkier, and the actors find their feet in the middle of season two, the genuine strength of 21 Jump Street begins to manifest. All four of the main characters seem pleasant, vacuous and well balanced on the outside -- but they all are basically products of dysfunctional or non-existent family environments (only Hoffs had an intact family unit; all the others had experienced a violent death of a parent), and for all their '80s preening and glitter, they really were just very moral, fundamentally lonely people who wanted most of all to believe in and work towards the best of humanity and create a new, stable family unit for themselves.
That's what makes the 21 Jump Street brand of grittiness in its own way as compelling as, say, NYPD Blue or one of its brethren. You have these four kids who want to believe the world, and the people who live in it, are better than the circumstances they grew up in...and as their job proves them wrong, time and time again, you see the initially spunky, playful characters -- the kind of people who you would expect nothing bad to ever happen to -- wear down before our eyes.
No one epitomizes this better than Depp's Hanson character, and the series -- and Depp -- rocket into greatness in the middle of season two with the show I had accidentally witnessed years earlier, "Orpheus 3.3." The show had already aired several strong eps that upped the characterization ante, including "Christmas In Saigon" (where Ioki was revealed to not be Japanese [duh] but Vietnamese, with much of the show flashbacking his experience as a refugee). There was also "A Big Disease With A Little Name", a deeply affecting episode about AIDS which surprised me by revealing, midway through the episode, that its sympathetic main character had contracted the disease through gay sex and not through a blood transfusion. At that time, this distinction was a big deal -- setting us up for a Ryan White situation, cutting it out from under us, and then daring us and Depp's character, to draw a moral distinction between the two -- which makes the final man hug between Depp's somewhat homophobic Hanson and the dying teen one of the most moving things I have ever seen on television. "Orpheus" was immediately preceded by "I'm OK, You Need Work," where Hanson goes undercover to help one of his early busts that's now locked down in an abusive teen rehabilitation clinic. In what would soon become a 21 Jump Street hallmark, there is an unhappy ending for all and Hanson once again wonders how much good he's really doing.
But "Orpheus 3.3" tops them all, an absolutely stunning piece of television and Depp's debut as a major actor, with solid support from the entire cast, especially Robinson (only the role of the villain is a trifle overplayed). The setup is that Depp is ready to ditch his girlfriend (introduced, in another example of the series' surprisingly good continuity, several episodes before and appearing in the background in the interim, thus building rapport and sympathy with the audience), but doesn't want to be the bad guy. Penhall, now Hanson's partner and BFF, advises Hanson to behave like a jerk so that his girlfriend will dump him. Hanson doubts this will work, saying "she's too even tempered" and then, in a funny scene inside the car on their way to a dinner date, proves himself right.
After bickering, the couple decides to pick up food to go at a local convenience store. While the girlfriend is in back picking out munchies, Depp and the clerk are suddenly confronted by a tense, gun-wielding robber. In a teeth-gritting scene, Depp's eyes dart from the gun to an overhead mirror, where he sees the girlfriend happily picking out groceries, as oblivious to the robber's presence as he is to hers. Just as the robber is about to bolt with the money, the girlfriend comes up to the line and calls Hanson's name. The robber whirls around and shoots her dead on the spot, to the impotent undercover cop's horror.
The remainder of the episode is a study of the initially stoic, but deeply guilt-ridden, Hanson character coming apart at the seams as he obsesses over the murder. He betrays the trust of his friends and captain and trashes his own career, unable to lose the grip of the event on his psyche, all the while existing in a state of utter denial as he becomes, undeniably, insane -- in a truly demented sequence he even hallucinates himself, gangsta revenge style, into a Run-DMC video. There are a few plot contrivances along the way, but the show is so incredibly well-acted that it just doesn't matter. When the show finally reaches its inevitable conclusion, at first it seems a little too much like a happy ending, until the final bit of dialogue between Hanson and Fuller, where it becomes clear that Depp's character will never be the same.
From this point until the beginning of season four, the series is simply oustanding. Depp pulls off a similar spiraling tour de force in "Swallowed Alive" (3x9), where Hanson and the rest of the crew are undercover in a juvenile detention facility. One by one, all the other cops are removed from the picture, leaving Hanson to contend with the Lord Of The Flies situation completely on his own. Depp's portrayal of the stone-faced Hanson coming apart from within as he contends with the threat of death, prison rape (yes, they go there), and the guilt at seeing the final, violent, hopeless outcome for many of the people he and the Jump Street officers had incarcerated, is another watershed.
It was about this point that Depp began to chafe at the restrictions of being a teen idol and acting in a cop show, but the writers had now hit their stride and were able to channel Depp's increasing ennui into the Hanson character's more and more open questioning of his own purpose. Depp may have been increasingly bored with the show, but his acting skill manifested that boredom as an initially idealistic, gung-ho character who was more and more disillusioned and struggling with a deep, undiagnosed depression, which gave the series both some of its most poignant moments and its funniest (as Depp pulls some great physical humor out of his character's don't-give-a-shit-anymore apathy in many of the later episodes).
I've spent most of my time writing about Depp, but the ensemble cast is solid, and you can make the argument that the series is as much DeLuise's as Depp's, particularly as Depp began to pull away from the show and there were more and more episodes centered around the rest of the cast. Indeed, DeLuise's Penhall character undergoes even more changes than Hanson's, though while Hanson's trajectory is more or less straight down, Penhall's travails are more like real life -- deep tragedy that spurs gradual growth.
Indeed, the two most heart-rending episodes of the series focus on Penhall's character and again show the series' increasing propensity to think out of the box and to deliver shockingly gritty realities inside its gilded frame. These both come late, in season four. The first is "Come From The Shadows," where Penhall is undercover investigating a priest suspected of selling babies from El Salvador, then racked by civil war. Penhall meets, suspects and in quick order falls in love with a beautiful young refugee named Marta. As is not unusual in 21 Jump Street, he inadvertently helps seal her doom by mistakenly arresting her just a few days before a deportation hearing. In a plot progression that sounds hard to believe but is so appealingly acted that it totally works, Penhall courts and then marries Marta -- not just to save her from deportation but because he genuinely loves her. It's all for naught, however, in a gut-wrenching courtroom scene where Marta is literally dragged away to an almost certain death.
Penhall seems OK after this episode, with Marta not referenced much again for about half the season, but this show is all about continuity, and ironically after one of the most lighthearted episodes of the whole saga ("Spring Break," featuring a suitably creepy cameo by John Waters, who was filming "Cry Baby" with Depp at the time), the show segues into its darkest, "La Bizca", where Penhall, with Depp in tow, decides to go to El Salvador himself to learn Marta's fate.
To say the trip does not go well is an understatement. The harrowing hour that follows does not flinch in the face of unrelenting confusion, fear, pervasive misery, torture, and sudden and violent death. Even Depp, who's basically been sleepwalking through the whole season, looks deeply freaked out, particularly in the scene where a bloodied man lays dying on a stone slab as a rebel leader tells him to check the man's boots after he dies, because they might fit him. The closing scene, with Penhall at his wife's graveside, had me in tears at Deluise's skillful, understated performance. You have to see it to understand.
After its uneven beginnings and somewhat clumsy Afterschool Special-ish approach to current events, the show consistently surprised me with the depth and thoughtfulness with which it examined difficult questions, many of which had never been fully aired on prime-time TV before. It's been said that this was the first television show to really look at teenagers as real people with real concerns of their own, but I would go further and say that, while its underlying view of humanity was deeply and deceptively pessimistic, it did an excellent job at portraying the complexity of the gray areas of human behavior. I was particularly impressed by its complex, non-exploitative examination of homeless teenagers (3x17, "Blinded By The Thousand Points Of Light") and lesbianism (4x14, "A Change of Heart"), both of which prominently feature Robinson ("A Change Of Heart" actually had a girl on girl lip kiss, the first instance of this I'm aware of, and Robinson's amusingly mixed reaction is both priceless and extremely well-acted).
Robinson also shines in the episode where her already tightly-wound, control freak-y character is raped, "Stand By Your Man," (4x8) though I found this episode extremely difficult to watch and some of the set-up hard to believe (it seems like Hoffs, with her police training, could have kicked the guy's ass). The most interesting thing about the episode was the complexity of the characters' reactions, particularly that of the rapist, who until the end is all wounded self-pity because he honestly doesn't realize he's done anything wrong -- a bold move for the writers to make considering our deep sympathy for the Hoffs character, but again, very true to the complexity and rationalizing nature of the human psyche -- particularly the young.
Nguyen's presence is more subdued -- Ioki's character has all of Hanson's stoicism but none of his patience, meaning he spends a lot of the series in chafe mode while his partners misbehave -- but he is featured in one of my favorite episodes of the series, "The Things We Said Today" (4x12), where we see a smug, younger rookie Ioki in flashback saying "I'm so glad I got to make a difference in one kid's life" after which we see that, following that bad advice, the kid's life completely and irrevocably falls apart, along with the lives of his entire family. Shannen Doherty (I was in a movie with her! Three degrees separation from Jump Street!) is in this one.
I've gotten as far as the final episode of season four, Depp's last, "Blackout," which is widely regarded as a weak episode but is just an intriguing premise (a mob of high school students take over the school in a blackout, echoing the first post-Forrest episode in season one and thus a fitting wrap to the original series and goodbye to Depp and Nguyen, who were gone from the for-syndication only season five) that was unevenly executed -- again, much like season one.
Some other episodes I would highly recommend are (all shows available to watch on hulu.com):
"Best Years Of Your Life" (2 x 20) -- a no-answers examination of suicide with a brief cameo by Brad Pitt;
"The Currency We Trade In" (3x3) -- Penhall ruins the life of a prominent writer by arresting him for a false charge of child molestation;
"The Dreaded Return Of Russell Belkins" (3x12) -- a light-hearted change of pace with Hanson playing romantic foil that will have Depp fans in ecstacy;
"Nemesis" (3x14) -- a showcase for Richard Grieco's widely-hated (I didn't mind him) third-season-only Booker character, who is the show's one true "bad boy" cop and brings a darker dimension to this story of self-recrimination when the wrong person gets killed as a snitch than I suspect Depp (who refused it) would have -- again, a TV show that feels like an indie film; and
"2245" (4x14) which features Rosie Perez as a guest star and brings back one of the more interesting villains from an earlier season, this time facing his own execution, which they show in excruciating detail on camera.
In one way 21 Jump Street did come out as I expected; it cured my nostalgia for the '80s. Yes, there were some pleasantly common-sense social attitudes that have since been discredited by a thousand talk show hosts demonizing perfectly reasonable ideas as being somehow too liberal, but having said that, God, I forgot how much the '80s sucked. It was like Cusack's character said in the recent Hot Tub Time Machine film -- "We have to get back...we had AIDS, we had Reagan..." not to mention the Cold War, covert ops in South America, the Iran-Iraq bloodbath, rampant gay bashing, and Vanilla Ice. But there was one thing going on in the '80s that I did not appreciate at the time...a glitteringly packaged, but surprisingly brave, moving and thought-provoking television show called 21 Jump Street.
Monday, June 28, 2010
One of the reasons pop culture -- even something as asinine as Gilligan's Island -- is important is, in the 20th century, it was a unifying point for our society. Even if we didn't agree on much else, we could discuss and find common ground about what we saw on TV last night. It was a basis for shared experience and discussion.
Nowadays, like everything else, most pop culture is niche marketed. Music, TV, and to a lesser extent films, all have smaller and more select audiences. Pop culture isn't something we can all discuss anymore.
I'm not blaming anyone for this, but it's interesting that most people, even the people that are supposedly being targeted, find the current state of the media, all media, unsatisfactory. And I'm asking myself if it's because it no longer a unifying force in our culture? There's no question that a lot of the decline in the quality of the media has to do with (a) needing to appeal to the widest slice of a declining audience and (b) failing that, making a product that's as inexpensive as possible.
There are times I try, for the sake of being in touch with what's around me, to engage more fully in new music...but so much of pop radio now is either recycled ideas from the past (taking an old song and laying a beat or a rap over it), or recycling itself (using one beat and one chord sequence and just varying the dynamics or the melody). And you can call me old school, and that's fine, but without saying "it sucks" in a knee-jerk way, if there is an audience for that, it has to say something about how much people engage in what they're listening to anymore.
I'm not trying to grind my own axe here, because I was thinking more about TV than music when this thought hit me. I'm just thinking out loud.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Anyway, yesterday I went on a "Full Moon" hike to the Echo Mountain ruins near Pasadena with a number of hiking groups from meetup.com. A "full moon" hike is short for "we can see in the dark, so let's all go climb a mountain and get really fucked up." Now that a lot of my days are spent at home, hiking groups are an important part of my life because I get a good workout and get to meet people that I wouldn't otherwise encounter in a the course of my day (because not that many people hang out at my house).
I got there late, but it was a "go at your own pace" arrangement and I wound up with a group of about ten people, basically six women in the 40 range and three youngish (20something) Asians. I liked this group right away; much rowdier and funnier than the people I'm used to hiking with, and I felt really loose and relaxed right off the bat.
What was really interesting for me about this hike was the return of a persona that used to be a big part of who I am - this rowdy, boisterous, witty, hyper, say-whatever-pops-into-your-head nutball that is a little too intense for the room but at the same time motivates everybody and gets the party going. I have not seen this guy in ages, and I did not think he was still in me anymore, but for some reason -- maybe it was the endorphins or the looser environment -- but he came back full blast last night.
I also found out that, despite needing to lose about 15 pounds, I am in really good shape. My group rapidly split into two subgroups, with the younger folks opening up about a 3/4 mile gap between the older ones, but instead of picking one or the other, I decided to follow one group for awhile, then run back down the mountain to motivate the stragglers, then go back up to catch up with the young ones, rinse, and repeat -- much to the consternation of the hikers in between struggling to get up the mountain one time, as I dashed past them going down, and then going back up again. I had no reason for doing this other than the fact that I liked them and when I get in this kind of mood I am basically nuts, but in a very adventurous what the fuck kind of way that I wish I could hold onto all the time, frankly. You have to understand that the Echo Mountain trail is a relentless 3 mile upward climb that, if you are not an experienced hiker, can be really challenging, and indeed, a lot of my later part of the hike was spent coaxing the 40-somethings up the last part of the trail, as night started to fall and the women got increasingly tired and nervous.
The scene at the top of the mountain was great. It was 2-to-1 women to men, which was a nice change from the hikes I'm used to going on, and everyone was loose, friendly, and somewhat drunk (partly due to the jello shots being passed out on the giant stone foundation of the old hotel that had stood there 110 years ago). It was so nice to be around people where I could really cut loose and be myself -- the me both that I haven't had the energy to be, and also the me that I tend to keep under wraps because he's a little too intense and offputting for strangers -- and as always happens when I bump into this kind of a group, I wonder where the heck they've all been hiding out.
One of the things that's weird for me about getting older is, now that I've recovered my health for the most part, most days I just don't feel it at all. I still do crazy shit like I did when I was 20, and physically I'm probably in better shape than I was then. In fact, when we all got back down the mountain, I was so wound up that I went back up again, to find and harass a bunch of kids that were shouting at us from across the canyon when we were going down. In fact, the trailhead, on an old estate that's been converted to parkland, was crawling with teenagers, and after I finally plopped into an exhausted heap in the middle of a dirt trail to look at the moon for awhile, I narrowly missed a front row seat to two high schoolers humping right in front of me. Fortunately, I had decamped just moments before their arrival.
On the way down in the dark with no flashlight, I caught up to a group of about six more kids who, startled, one by one turned their own lights toward me to see who this lunatic was wandering around the park in the middle of the night. I saluted each one in succession.
"Are you a ghost?" asked one in all seriousness.
"Boo," I said wryly.
One of the girls said incredulously, "you're here all alone?"
"Are you going to beat me up?" I asked.
"Are you going to beat US up?" asked one of the guys.
The idea of me taking on six robust high school seniors single handedly amused me greatly, and right then the meaning of "living without fear" really hit home to me, since it dawned that those kids were way more scared of me than I was of them (which wouldn't be hard, since I wasn't scared of them at all, even though they could have easily pummeled me to death if they wanted to).
"You know how ghost stories get started?" I said. "You say, 'I was hiking one night, and this old guy comes out of the dark and passes us, and we ask if he's a ghost, and he says 'boo', and then he disappears in the dark. Later we found out he was the guy that used to live in the place we were hiking!'"
No response to that.
I passed these kids, gave a hearty greeting (which was returned in kind) to four quasi-gang bangers huddled in the shadows, and then, when I was near the gate, I stopped, having seen something very strange up on the side of the hill...what looked like an open fire on the hillside. This concerned me -- I narrowly escaped being burned to a crisp in the Ventura Country fire in 1992 -- and I pointed this out to the six kids. "What the fuck is that?" I said. "There's no trail up there."
The kids all looked very concerned. We stopped for a minute, muttered impotently, then continued the march toward the gate. It still bugged me, though, and at the very last second I made a sharp right turn on a trail towards the hillside to conduct a (fruitless) investigation.
"Where are you going?" one of the guys asked nervously.
"I'll see you guys later," I said.
"Be careful!" One of the girls called out.
"I will," I said.
The flashlights followed me down the trail for what to me was a ridiculously long time as I heard the teenagers whispering to each other. The last thing I heard was one of the guys say to another, in a hushed tone, as I finally escape the glare of the flashlights:
"Dude...that was a ghost."
Well, a cockeyed one, I suppose.
Being different from most people can really be a drag sometimes. But you also have some really unique experiences.
Guess which one of these people is me:
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Look, when Andrew Dice Clay (who? Exactly) started doing his anti-PC shtick back in the '80s, it meant something. There really were certain mass unspoken thoughts that needed to be vented that people were uncomfortable saying because of prevailing social pressures. There needed to be some sort of counterweight to that. (Just like there probably was a real liberal media...as opposed to "liberal" holding the conveniently circular definition as "anything that doesn't support a conservative worldview"...in 1988. Don't get me started on that topic. We'll be here all day, and I'm planning to go hiking later)
These are now different times, and partly due to the influence of hundreds of media figures who've made their living taking Clay (who was a comedian, gang) to further and further outer extremes, the words "politically correct" (like the word "liberal") have become so toxic that it makes anybody who would dare defend the concept out to be a nutball.
And so I'm going to defend it right now. Look, anytime I hear someone go "this may be politically incorrect to say, but..." what I hear is "I am going to say something that normally would reveal me to be a bigoted asshole, but by invoking the words 'politically correct' I am going to put anyone who would might call me on it on the defensive by pre-emptively implying them to be thought-policing, rigid, humourless jerks."
I have zero -- zero -- respect for this. It just makes me roll my eyes. If you have a controversial opinion, if you think it's going to offend somebody, don't be a pussy. SAY it, have the courage of your convictions, and take your lumps like everybody else. Because here's the thing: the root of the whole anti-politically correct ethos isn't just about free speech. It's also saying people who get offended should just lighten up and take a joke. OK, that's a valid viewpoint as far as it goes, BUT at the same time, if you go there and then won't stand for the payback, you're just a bully. In playground terms, if you can't dish it out, don't take it. And the funny thing about people who like to sling the words "politically correct" around: they're usually people that have the power to throw these ideas out there, and then walk away without any accountability. Once again, I have zero -- zero -- respect for that.
But the original "politically correct" movement went too far, right? Sure, probably...but it's 25 years since Andrew Dice Clay, PC has gone from being a target deserving of the ridicule to a tired toothless whipping boy, and still folks invoke the phrase in an era where I hear people becoming more and more openly bigoted every day, and when called on it, often accuse the other people of being racist. To me it's like beating up on your sister when you're 33 because she stole a cookie when you were 12. When I hear folks talking about "politically correct" I hear people that want carte blanche to say whatever they please about anybody, but then go hide behind a rock when they're called on it. What a load of crap. In what way is that a dialogue? In what way is that constructive? How is that going to lead to any kind of understanding or solution? Oh yeah, that's right, that's not the point anymore...the point these days is just to complain and let everyone know we're unhappy...I forgot.
PC-bashers like to think of themselves as being on the cutting edge of free speech, even though this has become as vapid and mainstream as, I don't know, cable news. I like hearing ideas that are truly out of the box, myself. Here's one to consider: I once expressed my concerns about the oppressiveness of the politically correct movement (this was in about 1992, OK?) to a liberal friend of mine who said, "to me, 'politically correct' just means good manners."
I hadn't thought of it that way before, but the more I did, the more I thought she had a really good point. With the debatable exception of hate crimes, "politically correct" is not enforceable law. It's simply an idea that suggests that if a certain group of people is going to be offended by being called something, then we should respect that, or at least have to think about it. As individuals we have a choice whether to observe that or not -- e.g., I generally call black people black, not African American, because when I was a kid that's what we were taught and the new phrase is a bit unwieldy -- we're perfectly free in this country to express just about any idea we please.
Just as any kind of collective effort isn't the same as socialism, being asked to consider someone else's point of view isn't the same as oppression. It blows my mind that we've gotten to the point as a society where that distinction would need to be explained to anybody. Every social order makes a decision where to draw the line for what is and isn't considered acceptable, and clearly we have moved far, far away from political correctness, to the point where basic ideas about how we should respect and tolerate one another that were just common sense when I was a kid have nearly gone out the window.
We could use a little political correctness right now -- to the degree that it means we remember that the people we criticize are real human beings with real concerns and problems and most of all, feelings, and that maybe, just maybe, we should come to grips with that perspective before we open our yaps. That doesn't mean, say, that one shouldn't come out strongly against illegal immigration -- there's nothing racist about saying people have to respect the law. But if you start throwing around blanket statements about Mexicans being filthy and lazy, for example, you should damn well take your lumps for that. I saw a few people on a message board make this exact same assertion, and when an understandably outraged Latina woman responded, the same people all called her a "hater." I mean, wtf? Again, the first rule of the playground is that if you can't take it, don't dish it out. What deranged universe do we live in where this is considered OK?
Maybe this is the best way I can make my point:
I don't think it's politically correct to say so, but I think people who hide behind this two word phrase in making a point are bullying cowards who are afraid to stand behind and justify their own ideas in the face of real criticism.
But that's just my opinion. Which I now have to defend. And that's how it's supposed to work.
Friday, June 25, 2010
I was especially pleased with the harmony vocals...since I've got this new regimen that's clearing out my head, I am really on fire with cutting backup vocals. I did them all in just over an hour and it's some of the best multi-tracked harmony singing I've ever done. I, of course, immediately sent mixes off to Alan Boyd and Earle Mankey and said, "check this out, suckers!" Alan had sent me a working mix of his version of the Beach Boys' "Child of Winter" for the upcoming Steve Kalinich tribute album and I called him and said, "I just one upped you in the Brian Wilson sweepstakes!" Then I took his girlfriend out and she got me drunk. (This is actually true...but his girlfriend and I are old pals [I actually introduced them], so it's not as rude as it sounds! Still, my day was more interesting than Alan's I bet!)
The song doctoring continued today as Jerry White asked me to help him rework one of the songs he'd been asked to polish up and record. This is the first time I've been in at the ground floor of this process and when Jerry asked me I said, "are you sure you want me to do this? You hate all my ideas!" And we did indeed butt heads quite a bit but surprisingly we wound up with something we were both satisfied with.
The song was called "Christmas Has Begun" and it was even more Jesus-oriented than my session earlier this week, but because had more of a traditional Christmas hymn thing going on I resonated more with it, and whereas the old version was a ballad in 3/4, the new version is more uptempo in 4/4. Jerry sped up the tempo to the point where it was almost an Irish shanty! It was also kind of cool to have input on the songwriting part of it. It wasn't something I would have written, but I did succeed in knocking out all the parts of the song that either were boring or didn't work to my ears, and that's plenty. Once we had it all together, I sat down with the guitar and bashed the thing out, demo'ing it in three different tempos. And then I was done, not a bad three hours' work.
At the end I told Jerry I had an idea for another song. I picked up the guitar and started singing:
To my surprise
One hundred stories high
People, gettin' loose y'all
Gettin' down on the roof...
For some reason Jerry did not rush to record my new Christmas hymn.
That wraps the projects on the table for now. It's been a slow month, though not as bad as I originally feared. The one nice thing is it gives me a chance to exercise, drop some more weight, socialize and reach out for some new and different projects. Nothing's turned up yet, but it's still early days. I'm enjoying having the extra free time. I do seem to spend a whole lot of it drinking red wine, though.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Like Bob Lefsetz, this was the first version of the song I ever heard, and the first time we ever worked it up with Evie, I tried to persuade her to use the little blues riff at the end that's unique to Ronstadt's version of the song.
If you've never been on the receiving end of Evie's withering stare, it is something to behold. I never brought that up again.
I recently did a google search and ran across an entry for "lyrics for 'I Can't Let Go' by Adam Marsland." This is totally wrong and an accident of databasing, since my only contribution to the version that nominally is mine is bad background singing and worse guitar playing, but even though it's credit undeserved, I can't deny having a little pride at being associated with the song. I take greater pride, though, at embarrassing Evie every time we play the song by educating the audience as to just WHO is about to sing it. I think it's my favorite part of the show sometimes, though sometimes I get a little carried away, as was the case on LONG PROMISED ROAD where we had to bury in the mix my introduction of "EVIE M**HERF**KING SAAAANNNNNDDSSSS!"
I'm pleased to announce, by the way, that we're finally going to do an all-Evie Chaos Band show on November 5.
Now if only we could do that little blues riff at the end...
So does my long years clinging to analog, because Jerry has made a VERY uneasy peace with digital recording. He has an extreme distaste for using the edit window while laying down tracks, which means no playlists or cross-editing between takes...you get one master take and you have to get it right, and if we run into the next section of the track or miss a punch, we don't go to the edit window and fix it. You do it again, just like the old days.
What's been great the last few weeks is I've got a new regimen to deal with some old health problems that has cleared up some congestion in my head that's made my singing unpredictable the last couple of years...I've got a lot better control and pitch lately and it's really helped on these sessions, which usually take place in the early afternoon not long after I've gotten up.
The quality of the songs being recorded varies pretty drastically. Some of it isn't half-bad, though it might not be music I'd choose to listen to, while on the other hand there are some things that would qualify for an "MST3K of music," and it can be a jarring experience hearing my own vocals back on a final mix weeks after I've blocked out a particular song (think Raul Julia in "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank"). Still, this kind of work has a noble pedigree -- Elton John, Lou Reed and Harry Nilsson all did the exact same thing, though at the beginning of their careers as opposed to, um, the mature stage -- and my attitude these days is if you pay me, I owe it to you to do the best work I can do with what I'm given, so I judge my work on how quickly and how well I get it done, and I don't make a distinction between tracks I like and tracks I don't.
And this week I was really smoking, some of the best vocals I've ever done on these sessions. My brief? Backing vocals for a clutch of Christian ballads done by a rural Texas minister. If you're old enough to remember TV commercials for Cleo Laine, you get the idea. There was one uptempo tune as well -- and by uptempo I mean Anne Murray when she's not in slow dance mode -- and growing up in the '80s with no access to good radio really paid off here. I stole a few licks from an old Dan Seals record, pulled off a perfect "Good Timin'" Beach Boys on the bridge of one of the ballads, and in general managed to be perfectly slick and purty throughout. One of the songs had an unexpectedly clever acid-era Beatles reference in the second verse, and I insisted on doing a harmony to that as well, since I wanted the client to know that someone out there got the joke (as I doubted his parishioners would).
I have to sing all kinds of lyrics I would never write on these sessions, and I have to admit that singing "Praise the Lord" at one point gave me pause, and I took a second to mentally analyze why. After a moment's reflection I realized it wasn't the religiosity that bothered me. Put me on a mountainside on the east face of the Sierra looking into the canyon below and I have no problem saying "Praise the Lord." And it occurred to me that it wasn't the sentiments expressed that bothered me, but the simple-mindedness implicit in it.
I was even more disturbed when Jerry's devoutly religious wife misheard a vocal and, perhaps sensing some ambivalence I was trying very hard not to put out there, accused me of changing the lyrics to amuse myself. I hastily assured her that I came from a family of believers (two preachers, a guy who hangs out in Buddhist monasteries, and my late brother who converted to traditional Russian Orthodoxy before he died) and I would never mock someone else's faith. And I wouldn't.
However, if someone's faith leads them to say or do something really asinine, stupid, intolerant or illogical, I have no problem mocking that. That is a distinction that is lost on many people. Believing something really hard, and having a lot of other people believe the same as you, doesn't mean you automatically get a pass for how you perceive that belief leads you to act -- I don't care if you're a Christian, Muslim, liberal or conservative or whatever. Criticism on the basis of your words and actions is not persecution. It's holding people accountable for their behavior. And our moral basis for that is, guess what, rooted in religious tradition.
It occurred to me recently that, ironically, to the extent I have liberal beliefs it's rooted in my Christian upbringing (I'm the only one in my family who was affected this way, apparently, which is interesting anthropologically I suppose). I'm not a practicing Christian simply because you have to believe in the Resurrection for that, and I don't, but many of the tenets of the belief are very much at the core of who I am.
What bugged me about "Praise the Lord" is that, to me, it reduces the concept of an all-seeing, all-knowing Higher Power who is bigger than the universe, which itself is bigger than anything the human mind can begin to comprehend, to a three word slogan. OK -- I get the argument that the simple is complex and sometimes that's the best way to express what you can't comprehend, but I really don't believe that's what "Praise the Lord" means to most people. It's a totem, an easy way to say you belong to the group, that you've found an ordering point for how you view the world. It doesn't convey the east face of the Sierras to me. It's something closer to a McDonald's hamburger. And that's what bugs me about singing it. It's not because I don't have faith. It's because on some very deep level, I do. And slogans cheapen it to me.
There's a reason why people consider the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds -- an album that only peripherally talks about religion, and lyrically is most concerned with romance and personal growth -- one of the most spiritual albums ever made, and that is because Brian Wilson was able to combine sounds in such a way that hinted at the vastness of all-encompassing nature of a Higher Power -- and this was not an accident. Brian Wilson wasn't God, but he did have, in his own way, a very intuitive and gut-level understanding of what spirituality is. To have hemmed it in with words would have been to cheapen it. Van Morrison understood this too...if I had to pick a lyric to express What God Is, "Inarticulate Speech of the Heart" comes pretty close. The rest of that song, if I recall correctly, is pretty much an instrumental. And so there you go.
On the topic of cutting God down to a man size (which, unlike Burger King, is to make Him much smaller) I've never understood how religious belief can lead many people -- some of them not at all stupid -- into moral certainty, intolerance and raving leaps of illogic, because the core of Christianity is the idea that we're all flawed before God, and God alone is Absolute Truth. If each of us is flawed and we can never possibly know the entirety of God's Will, then doesn't that call any practicing Christian to self-reflection, first and foremost? There's so much in the Bible to underscore this idea...every skeptic who is ready to play "Gotcha" with a religious person knows the "judge not lest ye be judged" bit but I prefer Matthew 7: 1-5, which reads "Why do you observe the splinter in your brother's eye and never notice the great log in your own."
Self-reflection is at the very core of Christianity. The idea that any one human being "knows" the will of God is, to me, deeply sacriligeous. Again, it's cutting something way, way, beyond all comprehension and not only shrinking it to our size, but claiming it as our own personal property. The point of religious faith is to clean up your OWN act -- not somebody else's. Because you DON'T have God's perspective, and to adopt it for yourself is an act of extreme hubris.
There's been something really spiritual for me in letting go of a lot of my artistic aspirations and just focusing on the simple pleasures of making music. Did I sing in tune? Did I play in time? Does the sound I make resonate in a way that moves me, and moves other people? There is something to me about the dance of a musician with a metronome that is fundamentally spiritual. You can never completely lock in to the beat, but you can get so close to it that you enter a trance not unlike focusing on your driste (third eye) in yoga, and that I suspect is very similar to the peace that comes with prayer. You do, indeed, find God in the simple and most fundamental places. But the minute you start yapping about it, you push it further away.
And so, in my own way, I sang my heart out for Jesus. The faith being expressed in the lyrics may not have been my faith, but there is a spiritual aspect to giving yourself over to a song, accepting it on its terms without trying to control it, and doing as good a job as you can on it.
Oh, I almost forgot...this week's session wasn't the only time I discovered a hidden ability to really kick ass at an unexpected genre of music. The last time I was singing high, screeching background vocals on a set of grunge metal power ballads. And I was scary good at that.
God gave rock 'n' roll to you, indeed.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
So I was out on a weeknight hike with the Sierra Club tonight, huffing and puffing up a steep hill behind a skinny Korean woman who looked like she was about to pass out, and in fact disappeared from our group shortly thereafter along with the guy doing the sweep, we assume because she was too tired too continue though I suppose a coyote attack is not entirely out of the question, when I got a call from my BFF Amy. It took me a long time to realize this, because I just got a new phone yesterday, and the default ringtone is the kind of hip-hop nonsense that you always identify with someone else's phone. After fumbling with it for what seemed an interminably long time I heard Amy's yo-dude-what's-up voice ring through the line.
"We haven't connected in forever. I'm going to be hanging out in my 'hood tonight, at a new girl bar I just discovered. Do you want to come join in?"
Girl bar, for those of you that don't go to girl bars, is a euphemism for a lesbian hangout. I spent a lot of the last two years hanging out in the gay community and I know a LOT of lesbians. I like women a whole lot and it's nice to be able to have a conversation with one without the whole "is he trying to fuck me?" question hanging like a damp Southern night over the interaction. I never know the answer to that question until I've had the conversation, anyway, so the whole thing is just annoying. So the company of lesbians works out great for me. I hadn't been hanging out with that crew much lately -- mostly because I had started to miss having sex -- and so I said if she was still around after the hike and my meetup with Tony Perkins (ex-Poptopia, Martin Luther Lennon) that I would swing by.
After a sweaty hike during which I got separated from my group, joined another group, got separated from them too, and then finally stumbled back to my car, I executed a sticky change of clothes in the Astro Burger john, hung out with Tony for a bit, and then headed over to the girl bar where Amy was, as usual, holding court and saying whatever popped into her head and making me laugh. Amy is a little like Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, except with an awesome rack. She is one of my favorite people in the world, because she always is exactly who she is. No pretense, straight up.
Anyhows, I settled in and before I knew it I felt pleasantly buzzed with the company of witty people who keep me amused (e.g. not the Sierra Club) and we started exchanging stories of our latest personal life dramas. Amy and I didn't have much to report, but Amy's "lesbro" friend, who I'll call Sherman, was telling us all about his latest fling.
"He was this older guy, and he had this big beard. It was kind of like having sex with Santa Claus. It was great!"
Amy and I both have a pretty big bandwidth for odd statements and out-there sexual behavior, but I think we each looked a little horrified at this revelation. Sherman, generally a fairly unflappable dude, backtracked a little and said: "I mean, not Santa Claus when he was old. When he was young. You know."
Horror turned to befuddlement.
"You know, like, when Santa Claus was St. Nick, he was hot. Not like the fat old guy with Mrs. Claus and all that. St. Nick was a hot dude. It was like St. Nick."
"Never mind...I didn't mean St. Nick. I meant Casey Jones. I was with Casey Jones."
I was still struggling to get the Jolly Old Elf image out of my mind and I couldn't begin to follow this. Luckily, right about then in her usual way Amy made three new friends to our left at the bar. Two of them left, but one joined us. She had just come out recently, into making new friends, and was excited to meet three people that were part of the lesbian community, even though two of us were guys. Like Amy, she was a very beautiful what-you-see-is-what-you-get type who made for a good hang. She also was very liberal with the dispensement of the Merlot, buying us all drinks and getting me quite buzzed in the process. And given that I live in the Valley, that meant another early morning shuffling around Los Feliz trying to sober up when the bar closed. Which is to say, a pretty typical night out for me.
A good night. But I don't think I can sleep, because my mind has now assigned a whole new meaning to "ho, ho, ho..." I need a hug.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
People find out you're playing a nudist colony and they get all excited about it, but whatever folks are thinking it's like is what it isn't. First of all YES I WORE CLOTHES, though there was a comical misunderstanding because I thought I was supposed to dress like the '80s and I had hauled out some ridiculous paisley spandex that I wore when I was a lad, and as ludicrous as it looked on me now that I'm pushing middle age I don't think it looked any better when I was 20. And of course when I got there everybody was dressed more or less normally, so the spandex stayed mercifully in my day bag.
Anyway, vis a vis the nudist colony, what you need to know is:
1. I was one of the youngest people there, and I'm not that young.
2. I was one of the fittest people there, and I'm not that buff.
3. Some older women actually look better in the altogether. However, apparently once past 50, clothes almost invariably do make the man.
4. Many nudists have special outfits that cover most of their bodies but leave critical parts hanging and dangling.
5. It only costs $450 a month to live at a nudist colony. I think a lot of us would strip down for that.
The folks were super nice. And I wasn't above taking a sneak peek now and then though since the best body in the room by far belonged to our new, leotard-clad Italian lead singer, I had the best seat in the house anyway (as did she, I might add). There was a pleasant hippie vibe to some of the people which I don't exactly relate to, but I kind of approve of. The one thing that bugged me were the nudist families. I just don't think the nudist thing should extend to the kids. That's my own prejudice.
My own issue with the nudist concept is that showboating of any kind just rubs me the wrong way (and rubbing the wrong way at a nudist colony can be perilous, let me tell you). The nudity doesn't bug me -- you acclimate yourself to that mostly, though someone will do something particularly acrobatic when dancing to draw your eye and then you see something you didn't really want to see -- but I wonder if the motivation for some isn't freedom, but exhibitionism, and exhibitionism for its own sake annoys me. I think if you want attention, you should do something valuable to get it. It's not for me to judge what's in another's heart, and it's not my business anyway, I'm there to play...however these people want to live is not my concern, and they guard their privacy very zealously. But at the back of my mind that's the thing that nags at me a little.
The best thing about the gig was making friends with the new singer, who took me clothes shopping later that week. She is a sweetheart and I desperately needed the new clothes...and it sure was cool having someone with a European eye to tell you "no, that color's not for you."
Quote of the night, to me, from a husband re his topless wife. "Be careful, she might fuck you." What do you make of that? (We were under strict orders to not fraternize with the locals, so I escaped this conversation as gracefully as I could).
Monday, June 21, 2010
So why am I here, on Blogspot?
Well, let me tell ya...everybody said that I should just upload the wordpress software to my own domain and administrate it from my own page. I'm paying for the web hosting, might as well, right? And yeah, it uploaded in a snap. But then, I sifted through the miles and miles of documentation telling me how to format this and CSS that but nothing told me where to log in. I had to google a message board to find out, after an hour of frustrating flailing around.
Once I got into the program I still couldn't tell what the web url was supposed to be (since it read "adammarsland.com" and two websites can't exist on the same url) or how I was supposed to blog...it was WYSOBAFRTWYG (What You See Only Bears A Faint Relationship To What You Get) at its finest. But the worst thing was the templates. The big selling point for Wordpress was you could choose from all these zillion templates, but they were all ass! All very dainty and understated and clinical and boring. I went through 20 pages of templates and I hated all of them.
Then I thought about all the blogs where the people cool enough to write about my music resided. They were all on blogspot. What's more, their layouts were cool. I liked how the templates looked. They made me feel at home. Like I was among friends.
So, yeah, I know Blogspot is limited and google are censoring Nazis and they can take down my posts whenever they want. I don't care. If this thing isn't easy and fun, I'm not going to do it. Blogspot it is.
"Adam Marsland is considering never playing original music onstage again. Thoughts?"
Not surprisingly, this set off a cascade of comments. The original post was just a joke, albeit a bitter one, prompted both by a friend requesting a covers song for one of my increasingly rare originals shows, and by a depressing accounting of sales on my last three albums the day before.
But as the conversation unfolded, I uncovered a deep well of bitterness. I posted my own comments where I flat out said that I thought my work was undervalued and taken for granted and that I was really tired of putting my heart and soul into what I was doing and either having it not acknowledged, or suffering in comparison to music that was shallower and more obvious.
Steve Gregoropoulos (he of WACO and Lavender Diamond) tweaked me for trolling for compliments, which was interesting more for confirming how I felt I was viewed in L.A. after 15 years than what my actual motivations were (and I appreciated him saying what I think a lot of people were thinking but wouldn't say to my face).
Because the fact was, I didn't need the compliments...I knew the usual suspects who liked my music would be supportive, the rest of the people who didn't care wouldn't even read the thing. I am way past blaming the audience or whining because people don't come to shows. It just is what it is, and if people are busy, or if you don't rise to the level of the most important thing to do that day, well that's just tough. I was more annoyed by the expectation that I perceive a lot of music listeners have of musicians these days: that it shouldn't matter how little we get paid, how much our work is devalued, how unfulfilling the job has become. We should do it anyway, because we love it, right? And that attitude just annoys me.
After I'd had the time to think about it I realized it was this simple: this was one of many annoyances that would bug anybody in my shoes, but I'd hardly vented any of them. I used to be that guy that would pigeonhole people and tell them about his own thing for hours. I outgrew that and became more of a listener...except the funny thing about being a listenter...you often don't wind up saying that much about how you're feeling.
So it dawned on me that all these little frustrations, minor slights, financial worries, disappointments had had this slow, cumulative effect to the point that it bust out in unexpected ways, and then I'd just suddenly post something very bitter on Facebook, except of course nobody really knew what I was talking about, so how could anyone relate?
Taking my music and using it to personally connect with people used to be my strong suit. In fact, it was a big reason why I did it in the first place. It was a way for a quirky guy to find his place in the social world; an acceptable place to put all these observations and thoughts that didn't seem to occur to other people, and a place to be appreciated for what talents I have. And I realized the whole kerfuffle, such as it was, had a lot less to do with how much people appreciated my music than with how disconnected and alienated I'd gotten to the people I was playing for.
Whether I gave up playing my music or not was not really a very burning question. The answer was found in the comments: just play less and play smaller and more appropriate venues. And of course, the very next show we did was well-attended, all-original and the band played great and people appreciated the hell out of it. The only trick is to have more of those and fewer of the soul-destroying gigs. And I'd already made the decision to not do anything musically that would lose money, which meant no more albums and no more promotion of same for the forseeable future, but I've put out four albums since 2006, and people haven't even caught up to that output yet. No need to pile more on. So yeah, if there's a worthwhile gig and people want to hear it, I'll play my stuff. If there isn't and they don't, I won't.
What I realized I really needed to do was start a blog. Take all those little frustrations, write about them, get it out there, let people hear about it, and make it into something people can laugh at and/or learn from. Get feedback not just every time I blow a gasket, but take people on the journey with me every day.
I used to do this all the time. Back when I was on the road 24/7, my tour diaries were widely read, and people seemed to like my writing. I stopped because, like a lot of things, it had started to seem like an obligation that fewer and fewer people appreciated but everyone expected me to keep doing regardless.
But if I can write something meaningful and funny and truthful, and create an audience for it, it's a win-win for everybody. People have something fun to read, I get to speak my mind, and maybe I'll sell a few albums. And the life I'm leading now, bouncing from nudist colonies to casinos to garages to stadiums in search of a gig to pay the rent, has plenty of its share of humor. If I jot down a little bit every day, it shouldn't be a burden. In fact, I think it will do me a world of good, and maybe entertain some other people in a different way.
So, welcome to Adam Marsland: The Chaos Diaries. I hope you enjoy what I have to write. I'll try to make it interesting.