17 June 2008


Some thoughts for this Tuesday morning (this post is dedicated to my friend Charlotte):

I had a survey Western civilization course at Berkeley, 20-some years ago, where the woman who taught our discussion section was absolutely brilliant and yet had no clue about popular culture. She knew the Greeks and the Romans inside and out, from scientists to historians to politicians to warriors, and explained wonderful things like "hubris" and "hamartia" (missing the mark, a great concept) to us relative neophytes. One time she was explaining Yom Kippur and the idea of atonement, which she broke down into At-One-Ment and I have always read it that way since. In the worldview she described to us, the concepts of atonement and becoming as one were completely intertwined. Yet when someone said, "May the Force be with you" and we laughed, it went right over her head. (Note to Charlotte: I haven't read McEwan's book so I don't know. But your posts make me want to read it very much, and I will.)

That's one of the things I admire about my friends, though: they do think about the big stuff and the little stuff. As my friend recently pointed out on her blog, a lot of people are preoccupied with the little stuff to the absolute exclusion of international relations, politics, law, etc. A frat house near the university in our town was shut down last week because of health and sanitation violations (you know things are bad when they have to say "health" AND "sanitation" in that context). Authorities said the boys had been living in "substandard conditions," surrounded by overflowing and broken toilets, vomit, and "loose garbage" (another evocative elocution that calls to mind a scene from Trainspotting or something). From the front, the "house" is just a somewhat shabby brick building, like many of the buildings that house students in that neighborhood. It's three stories high and has some greek letters adorning the front. You can't tell from the outside that there were eight people living like animals in there. And what were they doing? What were they thinking? Did they know anything about the Supreme Court's decision about granting habeas corpus hearings to suspects being held at Guantanamo this past week? Do they know who they are going to vote for and why in the coming election -- or are they planning to register to vote at all? What was on their minds before the inspectors and cops came to close their residence down? I am sad for these young fellows, yet also continually heartened by my friends and glad to know we're all out there thinking and waging our own little battles against apathy and ignorance, working at staying human.

This just in: The BBC radio report this morning cited a study in Sweden that showed remarkable similarities in hemisphere sizes of the brains of (get this!) straight women and gay men, and between the brains of gay women and straight men! I just love this bit of information! It just seems to absolutely confirm something I have long felt.

14 June 2008

Hearing the beat

Everything clicked today for this outing: My friend asked if I wanted to take the bus down and I did. The space stayed free in our schedules, amazingly. And as we walked through the plaza between the Denver Art Museum and the Public Library we heard the beating of drums. "I hear my tribe calling," said my friend, and our steps toward the music quickened.

And so I spent my day with my friend and my tribe at the Westword Music Showcase. It was a day packed with music and music-loving folks of all stripes and sizes and styles in a few interesting venues in Denver's "Golden Triangle," just south of the Denver Art Museum. We all gathered to hear and declare our collective support for our local music scene, and we were rewarded with an astounding variety of decent music. We saw many, many hipsters, many, many big sunglasses, many, many tattoos. I was inexplicably pleased every time I saw the guy in the charmingly shaped glasses and the "FAG" t-shirt. I noticed that I seem to be evidence of a generation gap in that I skipped over the tattoo in my own quest for individuality. My friend asked one of the venue staff about the rest of his tattoo, and he peeled back the arm of his green t-shirt to reveal a big Jesus on the cross, stigmata and all. There wasn't much to say but to thank him for showing us and move onto the next act.

Highlights: DJ Ivy on the rooftop at Bar Standard. Loved that vibe, but it was soooo hot up there! And we didn't even want to think about the outdoor stage by the time we got that heated up. Downstairs at Bar Standard we heard a couple of young and earnest indie rockstar-wannabes. The lead singer of Astra Moveo got off the stage and did his thing in the crowd, despite the audience being more bemused than engaged, yet I found it pretty endearing in the end. I liked Hello Kavita (whom I picked out to hear based solely on their charming name)-- they had songs that were nicely emotive and had interesting changes that they seemed to enjoy playing together. The crowd seemed to be into them, too.

We saw Hello Kavita at Sutra, which we dubbed "the dark place." An affected solitary vocalist (Matthew Orloff?) was uttering phrases full of emotion and meaning to a packed room the first time we dropped in, but it was all too dark for us and we were too hungry, so we scooted next door to Andrews on Lincoln (no, there's no apostrophe) and thanks to the woman who sold us earplugs were able to enjoy the very loud sounds of Vices I Admire, followed by The Epilogues, who were pretty good, and also loud, while consuming chicken teriyaki skewers, hot off the grill. That and a couple of refreshing beverages made everything better.

The biggest surprise of the evening was at Dazzle, where we heard Tito del Barrio Malaga, a Latin-Moroccan fusion jazz quintet headed by a very eastern-sounding singer. Great melodies, rhythms, vocals, drums, arrangements. Their music put a shine on everything: them, the club, the waitresses, the enthused audience, even the guy begging for money next to us.

We slipped into DC-10 next door, where a Bed Supperclub-white decor and intriguing guitar sounds awaited us; turned out UmConscious was doing their soundcheck. We hung around in the air conditioning for a few minutes and once they got started decided to move along down the road and check out the Drive By Truckers, now that the sun was about down.

I collected a few more bits of free schwag along the way, but the music wasn't grabbing us and we decided we were ready to head back. Nice, too; I was happy to be home by 10:45, after all my bus connections home worked out fine. And like my friend said, "It's good to be exposed."

In all, we caught some of the following sets: George Inai (featuring my hardest-working musician friend Eric Moon, also of local combo gogoLab, on a small stringed instrument and an accordion), Jessica Sonner, DJ Ivy, DJ Soup, UmConscious, Hello Kavita, comic Adam Cayton-Holland and the funny and less raunchy guy who was on just before him, The Widowers, Cat-A-Tac, Chain Gang of 1974, Drive By Truckers, and Tito del Barrio Malaga.

We never made it to a couple of the clubs: La Rumba (where I once attended some professional development workshop years ago) and 1114 Broadway. We didn't hear many, many bands, including the intriguingly named Spools of Dark Thread, nor Meniskus, nor the punk band Lyin' Bitch and the Restraining Orders (that one was a real name, but we never really wanted to go there). I would still like to hear The Hot IQs, The Swayback, and Born in the Flood, but it wasn't to be today. I was so disappointed when I learned that not all the bands listed as up for awards in this thing were actually playing: specifically, I had really wanted to hear what Breezy Porticos sound like. I guess I'll just have to go to their MySpace page or listen to the CD at my local CD shop (does anyone even do that anymore?).

That's all I would do differently next time: Do more research on the bands ahead of time. Oh yeah, and offer to Dave Herrera to redo Westword's lame printed and web schedules. Good show!

10 June 2008

Murakami's ten percent rule

I still remember reading an interview with John Irving in which someone asked him about all those hours he spent writing while his children were small. I believe the question had been about whether he felt any guilt about that time (was the interview a mother, perhaps?). His reply was stunning to me: Irving said he never considered not writing during that time. (Or during any other phase of his life, I would venture to guess.)

I felt that same earthquakey sensation in my psyche when I read about Haruki Murakami's decision to write a novel (and become a runner) in this week's issue of The New Yorker. I was intrigued by his story of how he applied to his literary work the expertise he had gained by running a jazz club, another venture everyone told him was nigh on impossible to succeed at. He said that when he decided to write a novel he also decided to devote more of his time to working for his readers. Also, he figured out that in his club, success depended on having ten percent of his customers to become repeat visitors. If he could do that, he didn't have to worry so much about the other 90 percent of the people, he said. He applied the same principle to his growing group of readers and wrote with the idea of attracting ten percent more readers with every book. That's the kind of thing entire self-help books are based on -- so simple and apparently modest, yet so apparently doable.

I don't know that they ever came up with a similar formula, but I presume bands like Gomez and The Old '97s and Elbow have similar philosophies -- and a similar understanding that hard work on behalf of building your audience is part of the deal. (My first thought is about the dangers inherent in the rock-and-roll lifestyle, like the heavy drinking that is part of Gomez' and Elbow's culture, especially in some of its members, but then I think, those people would be heavy drinkers no matter what they did for a living. Like I said, it's part of their culture.) All the creative folks I've written about here appear to have an artistic gift to share and a grasp on reaching out to and trying to actively cultivate and grow their audiences.

I do get so inspired when I think this way. It's that frisson of recognition. That inner Aha! I have always been fascinated by how people develop audiences, maybe from going to concerts large and small over the years and seeing firsthand how some people are able to connect with their audiences and the others tend to disappear from the circuits. Same is true for the stories and books and music I've immersed myself in that many others have loved as well (from Laura Ingalls Wilder's frontier stories to the Tao te Ching, from John Irving's eccentrically perverse World According to Garp (I hadn't known you could write novels like that, until I read it and saw how popular it was), from Mario Puzo's and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather to The Grateful Dead, from Agatha Christie's mysteries to the Oprah show.

But I also feel that in my personal life I have shown almost zero gift for that -- I didn't recognize what it took. I know people who get it, who write the perfect notes at the perfect times and say the right things and stay open, but I feel so much more awkward than that, so inept at maintaining certain friendships, even though I do have a fairly wide network of friends and extended family (both the literal and figurative kind). But I've felt a lack of something in my own life and hence been stingy with myself toward my dearest people on the planet up to now, I feel; that is one of the things that is motivating me to write here and to put my thoughts out there for all to see at last.

I was channel surfing one night recently and PBS guru Wayne Dyer was talking about how he "manifests" all sorts of things in his life. He was talking about "source" and how "source doesn't understand 'not enough' -- it just reflects back what you ask of it." That was another little lightbulb: for so long I've thought something was missing in me or in my abilities, or that I had some lack that others didn't suffer, and lo, it was so. Now, I am seeing my glass as mostly full. I am feeling the gift of this flow of words I can simply turn on when I have feelings and ideas to work through. I am perceiving the value of sharing my truths with others who need to hear them or recognize themselves in them. There's nothing missing at all, it turns out. Surprise, surprise, surprise!