30 May 2006

Creative burst: accompanying myself on tambourine

Today my daughter and I had a lovely outing for a late (post-school) lunch after school. She fell asleep in the trailer on the way to the pool, so I went home and she slept for another hour in the back yard while I drank a coffee and read a magazine. And she got completely wound up tonight. As is our new kitty, Jack, who is burrowing into some blankets heaped on the TV-room couch.

But then I got all inspired and picked up my electric guitar. I even tried tapping the tambourine with my foot while I played guitar. I tried different styles of strumming, fingering patterns, and found a chord progression I really liked that isn't just another variation on the same old E-A-D progression. And I got some really nice ringing tones in the reverb a few times.

Then I wanted to write about it. Silly me!

29 May 2006

A brilliant piece of work

I finally found a copy of Untitled: The Bootleg Cut, the director's cut of Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe was roundly pilloried by the critics for his latest film, Elizabethtown, which I haven't yet seen. But anyone who can create Say Anything and Almost Famous is always going to be okay in my book, whatever he does or doesn't accomplish with the rest of his life. I could watch this film twenty times and notice different things each time.

This time watching the film I realized what a testament it is to the power of family. So many people just complain about their families, but here Crowe found a way to be critical and loving, even adoring, all at once. What a rare gift.

I also love how he shows how different people have different relationships to music. Lester Bangs exists as a critic in opposition to the music. Without something to criticize, he wouldn't have become himself. I heard the voice of Pamela des Barres in Penny Lane (played by the luminous Kate Hudson), and in Sapphire's (Fairuza Balk) speech about the "new" girls, who "don't know what it's like to love the music so much it hurts." For many of the people on that scene, music was the ticket out, a story we have all heard about. But then there's William Miller, the Cameron Crowe character, and he gets it both ways. The music is his ticket to coolness even while he gets to have his family behind him once he starts living his own life. I'm sure some people thought that was too idealized a portrait of his home life to be believed, but I like to see how people show their love of something or someone (see also films by Wim Wenders, Marcel Pagnol, and Peter Weir for some more examples).

(In an odd and almost not-worth-mentioning coincidence, Jason Lee, one of Almost Famous' stars, is the guest on Late Night with David Letterman tonight.)

18 May 2006

That restless frontier spirit

I am drawn to the topic of reinvention not only because it describes me but also it describes how I got here (well, except for the bits of Cree Indian and African, which add up to about 1/16th of me and have been subsumed into the mostly European whole so that I have fair skin and freckles and moles that the dermatologists like to look at every year or two now). If people weren't trying to break free of their circumstances, the United States would not exist as we know it.

If people didn't believe that something bigger and better was available if they would just change their immediate surroundings and circumstances, I would not be here. My family has certainly exemplified that. A late great-grandfather toured Alaska and became an expert who gave lectures about his adventures. My grandparents were all travelers: My father's parents as members of the upper class, my mother's parents as bohemian artists. Then my parents were travelers, rejecting what their parents were offering to search northern California for their own answers in the late 1960s. And I've gone to live in Europe and have a sense of what that dislocation is like and both how easy and how difficult it is to truly reinvent yourself.

Here's a concept described in 2005's "Year in Ideas" issue of the New York Times Magazine:

The Hypomanic American: For centuries, scholars have tried to explain the American character: is it the product of the frontier experience, or of the heritage of dissenting Protestantism, or of the absence of feudalism? This year, two professors of psychiatry each published books attributing American exceptionalism to a new and hitherto unsuspected source: American DNA. They argue that the United States is full of energetic risk-takers because it's full of immigrants, who as a group may carry a genetic marker that expresses itself as restless curiosity, exuberance and competitive self-promotion - a combination known as hypomania.

Peter C. Whybrow of U.C.L.A. and John D. Gartner of Johns Hopkins University Medical School make their cases for an immigrant-specific genotype in their respective books,
American Mania and The Hypomanic Edge. Even when times are hard, Whybrow points out, most people don't leave their homelands. The 2 percent or so who do are a self-selecting group. What distinguishes them, he suggests, might be the genetic makeup of their dopamine-receptor system - the pathway in the brain that figures centrally in boldness and novelty seeking."

So what do I mean by reinvention, after all? Did the frontierspeople, the pilgrims from Europe, decide to remake themselves in a new place, or did they just want to get rich? Are they the same thing? Did Diablo Cody reinvent herself, or just decide to be herself? Is she the perfect example of the hypomanic American? Did she do it for the money? (Can't go wrong with that.) Cody describes herself as a devout Catholic kid growing up, sheltered and on the predictable path of such a person as an adult. She was a cute kid and then a cute, literate geek with a fashionable job but not much more.

So she decided to crank her life up a notch when she walked into a strip club with the intention of getting a job there. And not only did she succeed, she also pushed herself far along the path, to some of the highs and lows of the oldest profession. But she is quite savvy and charming, and I get the feeling she knows exactly what she's doing, since now she's got her book published and three Hollywood deals going and is happily married with her sweet artist husband in Minneapolis. She didn't even have to move to L.A., like everyone insists! She may look like a cookie, but she's sharp! Has she been on Oprah yet?

My mom was somewhat alarmed that I was so enthusiastic about Cody. My mother, who can swear like the best of truck drivers, I think was a little horrified by the young woman's willingness to display her stuff in the way she did. Perhaps it's Cody's naivete, too. It often looks as if she's just doing it for the thrill because she spends appallingly little time acknowleding any larger context for her decisions to bare all for said thrill, fame, and fortune. She insists it's solely about her own desire to expose herself. That's Cody's weakness, if you ask me, but it's not that she's not aware of any other areas of inquiry. She just doesn't care. She's more interested in the most concrete answers to the questions "what is it like to expose yourself to others?" (and "what can I get for telling my stories?"). She's funny in the ways she objectifies herself. She posts seminude pictures of herself on her blog. She loves to say shocking things out loud (basically because no one else does, I think) and she enjoys describing in her books and interviews how her husband got to have a stripper for a girlfriend and how that elevated both of them in each other's eyes and among their peers. But I think she's cool because she's letting her quirks show (yet some might even argue she is letting herself be defined by her quirks). I just like her because she is funny, charming, smutty, and she seems like a fun person. And I admire the way she didn't follow any of the rules about getting a book or screenplay deal and now she has lots of them anyway. Ha!

So she fits right in with what I was writing about yesterday. It's all of a piece. And there are more pieces just lying there waiting to be picked up, like happening to watch The Tyra Banks Show yesterday, something I would never normally do.

Rock on. May you find your own pieces to pick up today.

17 May 2006

Reinventing the pimp? Or the right to self expression?

I just stumbled into an hour of a talk show on some of the exact issues I've been writing about lately. I'm following a thread about reinvention and what that means, and what it is to be an empowered woman today socially and sexually. I would like to find out more about the changes in our culture that go along with choices to be open about sexuality.

A pronounced generation gap revealed itself on May 17 between the host and her guests on The Tyra Banks Show. Banks explored what people are willing to do on tape and why, interviewing the creator of the "Girls Gone Wild" video series. A real social and behavioral difference in tolerance for homosexuality emerged; Tyra expressed her surprise at the casual way in which these women talked about making out with their friends in bars.

Culture-watchers have been decrying the way people talk about casual sex ("hooking up" and "friendships with benefits" are the current watchwords) for a while now, and this talk show offered some evidence that a more casual attitude toward sexuality truly has trickled down to younger American women.

Whether this is a positive example of this new acceptance is worthy of discussion. I found that the young women and men who felt it was positive for them were all trying to make a living and deciding this would increase their chances of doing so. Even the ones who regretted it, who went home to humiliation and labels, ended up working for Joe Francis. Francis, the creator of the Girls Gone Wild series, said to one of the women after she complained about her regrets on national TV, "I'm just not getting that from you. I just don't see it." Indeed, it turned out she had been leafletting for Joe Francis' company just the week before. So even the ones with regrets are willing to try and gain some exposure working for him.

Tyra was a tough interviewer even to the point of being wet blanket and shutting down interviewees with a judgmental comment ("I never found that having a good time meant removing my clothes"). She was hard on Francis but she also allowed that he was charming. He was tricky, bunting balls back to her and saying she was projecting when she suggested something less than wholesome about him. I knew she was for real when she said, incredulous, "You're saying this is part of the women's movement?" and then twitched her eyes at the camera as if to say, "Watch him try to explain this." But I still have some questions she didn't get to on her interesting show:

For Joe Francis (creator of the "Girls Gone Wild" series): How do you balance your high-minded talk about women's rights to expose themselves -- ahem, I mean express themselves -- with your willingness to profit on them? I agree that women have the right to expose themselves for fame and fortune, but does it follow that someone (e.g. you) has to make gobs of money on them? It is a scenario disturbingly similar in my mind to pimping, or date rape. If most of these women are drunk when they are filmed, is it right to take advantage of that state and reproduce images of them doing things they wouldn't otherwise do? (I also want to ask Joe whether all the women are 18 when filmed -- age makes a real difference in the development of young brains and I maintain no one should profit on those particular shots EVER. And assuming every single person in every video is an adult, do they get signed releases from all the people shown in each video? (I did learn that they are allowed to back out of their "Girls Gone Wild" release for about as long after they sign as it takes to sober up.) What if one woman signs a release but is kissing someone they don't get a release from but whom everyone back home recognizes as her good buddy from the softball team?

For Tyra Banks (who could retire on just the money she made as a model for that soft-core staple, the Victoria's Secret catalog): How can you with a straight face tell other women that it's not okay to flash their chests for a) a good time or b) fame and fortune? As a high-priced model, Banks could hardly believe that women would flash their breasts or otherwise "go wild" for a t-shirt or a hat. In fact, she was outraged by that. Maybe she feels it reduces her market value, or the value of all women, but mostly she just acted like the offended prude anytime she heard soemthing she didn't like. Whatever anyone told her, she judged. She drew a moral line in the sand and held it. After a couple of women in the audience confessed to having their own exhibitionistic antics recorded on camera, one woman who said she'd worn pasties during her misadventures. "At least you had some decency!" Tyra cried, giving the woman an approving squeeze around the shoulders and a shove back toward her seat.

11 May 2006

Gomez covers: In: "Soul Kitchen" Out: "Do You Feel Like We Do?"

After dropping my reluctant kindergartener at school, I had Gomez on random play and heard a jaw-dropping, laugh-out-loud live cover of "Soul Kitchen," a Doors song. Ben Ottewell, who sings lead on that particular track, absolutely rocks out -- he's really learned to go deep into the songs when he performs. It's thrilling and wild: you can hear it even on a second- or third-generation copy. Whoa, Nelly! (And a BIG shout out to rdesranleau for weeding that out to me a little while back -- I'll have to pass that along to a friend.) I hope I get to hear that live one day. I'll even trade in my request for Peter Frampton.

Now I'm listening to Ben O. again on Gomez' new album, How We Operate. These guys have now soundly disproven their suspicious critics who thought they were just in it for the novelty of mashing up obscure blues artists. That this was just one ironic joke that they were out to wring for all of the record company swag they could grab before lights-out. (And it's not a bad strategy, with the rise of alt-country and the ilk. And remember Us3, who mashed up Blue Note's catalog to fantastic effect and one of the best things to come out of the '90s? Without them, we'd probably never know about Zero 7 and so many other greats.)

But IMHO Gomez have aped every lick with loving care and curiosity about where it came from. I hear a deep love of music coursing through this album. When Ben says there's nothing else he'd do -- if he weren't in this band he'd be in another -- he's not kidding. (I understand: No matter what I do I have to write. That's my need, my drive.) Where earlier albums were riddled with post-adolescent druggie humor and sonic in-jokes, this band is reaching out a little farther now for something different, more universal. And if it's a calculated way of creating summer hits and getting radio play, well, that worked for the Beach Boys, did it not?

With How We Operate, Gomez have brought out into the world a neat stack of loving references, some might even say homages, to other artists and times and places and genres. There's only continuity in their willingness to mine a variety of genres, from singer-songwriter folk-rock to the peppy melodic power pop of "All Too Much." "Charlie Patton Songs" diverges from Robert Hunteresque grandeur into jamband territory; yet these are very different tunes from "See The World" and worlds apart in turn from "Man! Woman!"

Yet none of these poses seem the least bit ironic. Whether Ben is singing background sha-la-las or growling his way through the title track, he means it. Something good has happened as a result of all of this effort to get these songs out there and they know it and go at these songs (and their back catalog too) with feeling, with soul. Gomez know they're lucky to have a shot at being a widely loved band. With their gifts, they shouldn't be ready to let go of them just yet.

And I know I'm gushing at this point, but their gifts are freakish, I tell ya. At their live shows they perform a lot of covers. Ian will try just about anything people call out at his solo shows. And everything I have seen them do they have done with verve. I listened to the members of Death Cab for Cutie whine about keeping it real during their shows and how hard it is to remember each show is not just another repetition of the same songs but a big event for the audience, who typically only see them once a year or so. Over the years of going to their shows, I have enjoyed the way Gomez put their efforts into having a good time onstage -- and often goading the people into a frenzy so everyone will have an even better time. That's so much more constructive and fun that all that navel-gazing reflection.

Lest you think I have only good things to say about Gomez' latest efforts, however, I admit to finding a high cheese factor in their more recent material despite their apparent efforts to rise above that. The cheese factor existed in the older songs too (I still snort at the lyrics to "Tijuana Lady" -- liking that song feels exactly the way I felt watching There's Something About Mary. In reaching for the stars of universal experience, sometimes these guys just seem to come back with fistfuls of green cheese. "Tell us what's your secret? Have you got somethin' to hide? You make it look so easy, like you don't even try." I don't know, it all reads like a dime novel sometimes. I felt that way about their last album, too, Split the Difference. There was the musical bombast of a crazy adventure tale called "Do One," and the employment of the skiffle in a goofball riff on three of the mortal sins. Look, Johnny, here's the sleazy part of the tour in "Cry on Demand": Cut to Ian Ball singing, "...'cause what happens in Vegas don't take very long." And is Tom Gray not the very definition of twee on "Man! Woman!" and "girlshapedlovedrug"? Some of this stuff is too precious for many listenings -- this collection of songs is not the album that invites you to sprawl out with a bong and forget about your worries for an hour or two the way their entire albums once did (back when they were "stoners doing bugger all" and not striving mortgage-holders getting ready to have babies and the like).

Yet I do believe they've got soul, and sometimes they even know how to use it. It carries them far -- as it does me and a handful of others around the world as well. Gomez' body of work makes a brilliant argument for breaking away from your roots while expressing your influences and your own pet sounds all the while. Don't worry, I'm on it.

06 May 2006

Unfinished fiction: Night out

He’d gotten up early and met his buddy up on the trail at seven. They’d pumped themselves up hills and hopped down them enough so they finally felt they could coast for the rest of the day. Awash in endorphins, he parted company with his spandex-clad pal and turned back to his ranch-style bachelor pad to enjoy the privilege of having the day free, unlike the other working stiffs – of which he’d been one until a month ago, when his telecom company laid him off. He’d had a fantastic job as a user interface tester. The pay was good, the work was fun. It looked like that ride was over and he wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. Jobs like his seemed to have dried up and blown away overnight.

But he put gas in the car and then stopped to buy Sarah pastries and a flower. Sarah, laid off from her job two months ago, was still sleeping when he got back. He didn’t mind seeing her in his bed. He could not tell whether she would be here long, though. After he woke her up, they spent the day puttering around the house doing the maintenance and catching up with newspapers and phone calls. Today she went shopping with a girlfriend.

He now slumped in the dark watching sports and scratching himself. More often than not, when they came to rest, each was doing something different. He wasn’t sure if sitting in the easy-lounger watching sports was for him anymore. He wasn’t sure if he should believe her when she said she was out with her girlfriends. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do now.

But then the beer ad came on. The music begged and pleaded, the bottle stood rigid, dripping, a swirl of steam flowing off the chips of ice that trickled down its sides. “What the hell,” he said, reaching for his swelling cock. At home alone in the dark, the pulsing glow worked its magic on him, as if it were designed only for him at this moment.

After he had caught his breath again he stood and stretched, stumped into the bathroom, took a piss, stripped, and got in the shower. He pulled on his jeans and Vicious Kitties t-shirt and slammed the door behind him. He jumped into his car and went to meet Sarah and her girlfriends at the show.

Floie closed the book on her desk, aligned it with the edge of the wooden organizer, and nodded to close her day at work. She rose and reached for her sweater. She locked the door behind her, clicked down the hall and into the parking garage, where her car awaited her at the best parking spot in the building. Early birds do get their worms, she thought with satisfaction when she saw her car at the end of the day.

But this wasn’t a typical Friday night for her and she felt agitated. She was going to go on a date on her own with a guy she didn’t really know except for meeting him one time with friends. They were going to dinner and then going out to hear a band that he liked. She didn’t know the band, either. Couldn’t really get a fix on them from the little she’d heard. So she fretted about the first of the decisions she had to make about tonight: What to wear. She put on a dress and then felt dowdy, old-fashioned. That didn’t seem right. What had he said about this band? They were an art-house rock group? He said it ironically, out of the corner of his mouth. What on earth did that mean? What to wear? She settled on jeans and a white sweater, with some chunky ceramic beads, and her leather boots. She pulled her coat out of the closet and worried about the evening in earnest.

Ben was on time. His lopsided glasses were of a style that almost demanded a piece of tape somewhere. Bet he was picked on at school too, she thought. But he was a smart one, she could tell that right away. She would have to keep on her toes. She was always a little nervous about telling people she never went to college. Some people just lose interest so fast.

Over dinner they discover they have both worked as river guides in Colorado, which gives them lots to talk about. Floie feels good. She’s ready for some of that slinky psychedelia she heard in the song they played on the radio. Ready for some lovin’.

Inside the small theater, they stand at the railing where there is room to put your drink and a clear sightline. They try to chat, but Floie finds herself trying hard not to reveal her lack of an education and she falters.

The lights go down.

The band launches into an attack on three electric guitars – not to mention the bombastic bass and drum combination -- and Floie is in shock. It is so loud. This is not the kind of music she expected at all. Ben is thrilled, expecting his grin to be reflected on her face. She can’t look at him. She is angry, riled by the clangorous guitars.

The woman next to her along the railing bounces up and down like a pogo stick, and Floie can’t imagine what this woman is hearing. It’s weird: they are dressed alike, this other woman in a white t-shirt and tight jeans. She hops obnoxiously in time with one of the band members, a cute guy with soft curls of brown hair. Floie watches his bee-sting mouth but he looks too sweet, too simple. Boring. The middle guy, the one with the raspy voice made for blues, looks oddly like her date. She doesn’t find him attractive. The guy on the left just looks wasted. He looks like an anorexic, a camp survivor. He’s probably a junkie, Floie thinks, her mouth pursed.

The woman next to her swings her arms out in front of her, forging a little dance space and Floie’s irritation spikes. Just one more time, she mutters, one of those hands gets into my space and I may not be responsible for what happens next. I have a right to enjoy the show, too, Floie seethes.


It’s so rare these days, Marianne thinks, having a babysitter and going out for some live music. I love it, she sighs, the anticipation, the smell of all those leather jackets brushing together as the crowd oozes into the bar to get loose and wait for the sound check to end. They wait a good 20 minutes, pressing closer and closer until their release into the dark hall. People flow out to their places of rest, hang coats, order drinks from the roving waitress, spill some, and order more. She and her husband wait, talking and making each other laugh. She marvels again at how perfect a date her husband is.

An hour later when the opening band still has not taken the stage she leaves the theater and flashes a charming smile at some polished and buffed 18- or 19-year-old girls so she can direct them away from the only pay phone, which none of them are using (they all have cell phones, Marianne is certain). She calls the babysitter. The bands haven’t even started yet, she says, so I’m sure we’re going to be out until 1 or 2 easily. All is well. Their sweet child sleeps. The babysitter is happy to make the extra cash and get back to kissing her boyfriend on the couch, with the monitor turned on.

Marianne hangs up the phone, skips across the street, and has a little smoke. She’d love to share it with her sweetie, but he’d just fall asleep. She gets wired on a couple of hits, walks to the end of the block and back, milling and seeing the crowd, spotting the band’s bus.

When the first band finally comes onstage, she is initially impressed with their groove. There’s something a little presumptuous, a little too tailored for the college crowd, Hootie-and-the-Blowfishesque. The guy whose name the band uses has some lyric skills, and the ability of Moxy Fruvous to ape musical genres convincingly. It all starts working and she dances.

The bartender and his buddies drinking in the aisle in front of her holler, “You suck!” while the opening band plays their first song. Marianne smiles at them and says clearly but too softly for them to hear her: “Come on, this guy is good!” A few minutes later the trio is reaching skyward, jabbing the air in unison, and belting out a chorus they’ve never heard before, living out their rock-star fantasies through the guy on the stage.

She bounces between shocked at their brazen requests for sex and awe at some of their chops. Again and again the words come around to the same old thing. The skinny kid in a midwestern mask of John Deere hat with bent visor is shameless in his do me do me do me please do me do message. Midway through the second song in his short set he whips out a chant of Bob Marley’s “One Love.” Marianne knows he hasn’t earned the effect the song has on an audience fed a steady diet of Marley on the radio and at all the local festivals. Marianne holds back on the chanting, but many in the audience are playing along, feeling good, having been drinking for the two-hour wait.

The singer slithers toward sleaze, sings of eating humble pie (not the pastry kind) and chants about staying in bed all day. The next tune is a surprise: “Too Much Ado,” a clever and catchy tune about one of the Enron execs, yet another gimmick, but one that confers on him instant cred in this liberal university town for being current on affairs. The guy has his original moments. She recognizes in his nervy patter a decent writer.

Marianne looks a towering front-row follower who inadvertently shows just how sincere each “oh, oh, oh” is by parroting each one exactly, sometimes just ahead of the singer. She noticed him earlier in the bar, speaking Spanish with his pal. He has clearly been following one of the bands on this tour. She’d figured them for European – they all get oodles of vacation time. He mirrors every one of the lead singer’s plaintive expressions. The fan has heard every break in the singer’s voice and knows where each one goes.

Now and then she grudgingly slips the singer a bit of awe at his chutzpah in presuming the devotion of the crowd’s female contingent. And then he blows it again: “Any ladies out there?” he asks, a salacious shiver in his voice. “Selective, isn’t he?” she murmurs wryly when a few women clap and holler.

He breathes his willingness for sex as if he’s about to go down on his mike – and as if anyone in the room could have forgotten about his readiness in the three seconds since he last proclaimed it.

The first band leaves the stage, having reviewed and concluded, a) we want drugs, b) we like sex, c) we like to drink, and d) did we mention that we love sex, and e) here’s an “address” where the “foxy ladies” can find us. “You know where you’ll find them,” says Marianne’s husband through the side of his mouth, “In the van.” So burst the pot-scented bubble of hotel-room slogging that had formed in Marianne’s mind.

At last the main attraction takes the stage. Three youngish men front the group: a mousy-haired stringy, stick-thin guy who seems to hold the keys to the doors that lead to trance and techno, a cherubic sculptor of sounds on keyboards, mellotron, and guitar who bounces on each beat, and a guy who looks like a computer science grad student but has a way with his guitar and an earthy, seasoned blues voice. The three sing, execute guitar heroics of all kinds, keyboards, and other things and continuously trade the spotlight, supported by a small fleet of tight rhythm musicians.

In no time at all Marianne’s imagination breaks free of the late-night porno antics she had imagined for that other band. A new thought fills her mind, as if projected above the band’s head. What if I were that guy? she thinks, amazed at the ability of that birdlike singer to be utterly himself. In her new fantasy, the spotlight is on her. She sees her own hair slicked back under a fedora, a zoot suit resting on her shoulders, a 1940s angel. She wears a loud guitar on her shoulder and a strap-on in her pants. Or she wears jeans and a t-shirt, and big feathery wings on her back. It dawns on her. I am such a fag. Or is it fag hag? I had never imagined that word was about me. She grins and skips in time with the bouncy roundfaced drunk boy who is standing right where she herself wants to be most in the world, soaking up the audience’s loose, freewheeling love and admiration.

She loves it and feels herself at the center, or at least playing a crucial part in making this a night to remember. Her feet can’t stop. After a few songs, one of the singers says something utterly sincere about the audience being really kind and everyone, including the three musketeers in front of her, pauses in a rare moment of collective praise.

A soft, yearning psychedelic melody is a soothing drone. She feels bells ringing all over her body. She is still here, at the center, blessed to be with these others in the light, all of them swirling together, filled and redeemed by sound. She swings her arms in the space around her as the song lifts and takes flight. Her soul stretches its wings and carries her up, up.


I come onstage in a t-shirt and old jeans but I’m wearing my blue velvet shoes. I wonder if anyone can see the glitter I wear in my hair. The lights are so bright and hot on me, on all of us, my clan, and everything slows down. I feel every drop of sweat flow down my back, hear every whisper, and I listen. I listen for my entry, my moment, my chance to develop the theme, riff on a tangent, reply to the questions.

I am home again, loose and present, letting the music I know evolve into something new. People laugh and cry, their faces contorted with passion. I can’t stand to look at them sometimes; it’s like watching people fuck in the movies. But they have an insatiable thirst for my guitar solos, which I have an insatiable desire to give them. When they dance, I know I can do anything. Then they sing my songs back to me as lullabyes and it’s all I ever wanted, wrapped up in a piece of blue velvet and handed to me. I can’t explain it or apologize for it. It’s all there is.


Pablo, stares at his Spanish friend Teo in wonderment. How can one guy, one package, be so hot -- and so uncool? It is simply beyond him. Craggy-faced with a lightbulb of blond afro, Pablo himself has had to cultivate his charm and wit to maintain his place in the world, which, he feels, is here, at the center of the known universe. He thrives on the freewheeling whirl of the bands and their entourages. He’s been coming through town to this club for so long that everyone knows him. He and his fellow tourheads are the reason bands invite folks out to party after the shows. They are all celebrating together, steeped in music and travel, smoking and drinking, making and trading friends. A new pleasure around every corner.

Pablo met Teo at the Knitting Factory. He knew his impression of him had been biased by meeting at his favorite New York haunt, and when he saw how taken Teo was with his own favorite band, Pablo had an instant crush. He wasn’t into Teo physically, but they were somehow soulmates. Teo was always at the center of a group of women, more big brother than lover to any of them, so it was a good partnership. They went to clubs together, met each other in favorite cities to hear new music, and Pablo fell for woman after woman while Teo tended to skate lightly and avoid entanglements. Pablo’s type was a tall willowy woman with a great laugh. It was his discretion and his gallant manners that made the women all think he was older. And the craggy chin.

Sometimes when they went out on foursomes Teo neglected his dates and kept Pablo in the corner of his eye. Pablo was beautiful to watch, turned into a Michael Jordan of grace in the presence of a woman. As much as Teo enjoyed the attention of a lovely woman, he’d never been with anyone who had been as inspired as Pablo’s lovers usually were. He had never lit that spark himself, and he studied Pablo to learn how it was done.

During the set break the two men and two women chatted and drank brown liquids. Teo found himself looking at Pablo’s Adam’s apple, imagining the texture of that bony burl on his tongue. Teo gave a little shudder. He wasn’t going to go there. They were friends.

Teo sprang into action, gathering empty glasses, playing the hero by offering to remove the empties of everyone within ear shot. (His motives were selfish; he wanted to be able to move during the show, so it behooved him to clear the debris.) He carried an impressive tower of glasses to the bar, set them down, turned around to face the stage, and the lights went down.

When the lights came up on the three men creating a storm of guitar sound, a woman turned to Teo, grabbed him, and kissed him. It felt like New Year’s Eve. When he came up for air, she grabbed him and kissed him again.


Ben buzzes with excitement. He puts on a clean pair of corduroy pants and a dress shirt, and he drives to Floie’s airy flat to pick her up. He loves it there: It is the exact opposite of his dark corner at the bottom of a staircase on the shady side of the street. Her apartment makes him like her, and want to know more about her. It is painted so crisply, white walls with red and yellow window sashes, curtains hanging on shiny yellow rings and the sun coming through them, illuminating the fruit.

Come to think of it, it is the opposite of any place he has ever lived in, but she makes him feel that it is still possible for him to break out of a life of dark damp houses and apartments. For she is shy, like he is. She hides behind rituals, putting away his coat in her hall closet, fixing tea and cookies for them. They sit in the light that grows golden and stumble through the niceties, trying to find some overlap they can pounce on and unravel together.

Over dinner they discover it: They’ve both worked as river guides. This is great, he thinks. Those were some of my best times, those summers. Wouldn’t it be something if we’d met back then and not even known it? He shares his most outrageous stories and she does too, but at a certain moment he feels her slip away from him. She’s no longer his for the night and he has no idea why.

He patiently waits through the opening band’s set, unmoved by their obvious attempts to score sex and drugs. He felt older than he’d ever felt next to these randy boys. It reminds him of how he feels watching the kids walking around the junior high he went to. They all seem so little to him now.

The band comes onstage in a blast of amplified guitar backed by driving drums and intricate bass. Ben settles in for the groove. It is all worth it, even Floie’s awkward glances, the date gone bad at some specific moment that he still can’t identify. He is here, having the time of his life with the band of his dreams.


Sarah and Jill meet at the club early enough to go out for sushi. Over yellowtail and quail eggs they giggle about the men they know and the stuff they’re doing at work. They drink tea and beer and sake.

Back at the club Sarah sees Mike in the crowd and knows their days were numbered. He’s nice – the pastry and flowers were a treat, but he isn’t striking that spark in her. Nor is he the refuge she had found in other men. One of her girlfriends with kids had described two-year-olds as playing in parallel, and that’s exactly how she felt with Mike. They’d learned how to like all of the same stuff, all of the stuff everyone promised would make them happy, fulfilled adults. But high school, college life, frats and sororities, jobs in hip downtown firms, and sporty weekends had not answered any of the questions she had today.

Sarah thought about the time she spent with her best friend and felt Jill understood her in a way that Mike never would. He was just such a guy’s guy. He was growing up to be a stockbroker who never misses a day at his gym. She felt like an accessory in her only vision of their future together. She was afraid to wake up one day and find herself mutated into one of the matched set of stainless steel appliances, mutely overlooking the grand view in some enormous house filled with surfaces that had never been touched by human hands.

She remembers her shock at meeting his parents. She wasn’t surprised by them -- she had guessed well what they were like from the things Mike said – so much as shocked at their taste.

Mike was impressed by their house, and spoke of it with pride. His parents had invested a lot of time and energy in it, but she found it plain and suburban. Big, yes, with a nice garden, but boring. She realized at that moment that she was a snob. The new recliner every three years stuff just didn’t do it for her. Your surroundings had to be real, have some sort of provenance. His parents were most proud of the new Thomas Kincaid above the gas fireplace. Coordinating wallpaper borders topped walls cluttered with shelves and gewgaws. The elaborate moldings and frilly curtains only made her claustrophobic. After she saw that house, everything they did annoyed her, seeming common and derivative.

She knew that her snobbery toward his family had clearly spilled into her relationship with Mike. He was a La-Z-Boy at heart, she saw, and she knew he would only become more so. She had to see the world, look for what people were doing well, ask questions about art and nature and god. He wasn’t so curious. He liked what he was given: his movies, sports, TV shows, newspapers. Her questions only baffled him; to him they were unanswerable. But Jill and the other women she knew were on quests. They half supported one another and half competed to be the one get somewhere good first. They all knew that the people they were at 24 were not the people they would be at 40.