“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”


I seem to only check in these days to commemorate the passing of a celebrity or other luminary.  2016’s been a really hard year.  Beyond the cataclysmic political changes, my personal life has kind of gone to hell in a handbasket.  With Mom’s illness (illnesses, if you count the last couple of weeks), I’ve just been barely keeping my head above water.  A hard rain is indeed falling on me.  It’s falling on a lot of people, but I’m having a tough time getting out of my own way enough to care.

Patti Smith’s performance of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” is something of an antidote to my personal storm, in spite of this song’s melancholy and ominous sense of doom.  She is so breathtakingly human, so perfectly imperfect.  Smith is that rare artist who means what she says.  She is not putting on characters in the sense that she is masking herself from her audience; the personas she adopts for her music and poetry are all authentic reflections of the person she is.  When she bothers to adopt a persona that is.  Mostly, when Patti Smith says “I” she means herself.  That kind of honesty and bravery is really beautiful and terrifying.  And her fumbling of these lyrics–from a song she probably knew inside and out long before heading to Stockholm, a song by one of her greatest influences–is beautiful in its own way.  She admits to her own fear and nervousness, something most artists would never do on any stage.  But Smith remains as open about that as she is about pretty much everything.  I don’t think most people know how to deal with that.

It’s one of the reasons I tend to retreat when I have problems of my own.  I have a tendency to not want to bother people (something I know I got from my mother; the last couple of months have shown me that many of the qualities I find most upsetting in myself seem to have been inherited from her, either through nurture or nature).  But my retreat is more than that.  It’s also more than my feeling that my problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world (quick. . . name that movie!).  I know, deep down, that people really don’t know what to do with honest emotion and I am crap at hiding my emotions.  I know I don’t know what to do with other people’s feelings.  I always want to do something to help, to make them feel better, but I also know how fucking annoying I find it when people do the same thing to me.  I don’t always want comfort; sometimes, I just want to feel.  It’s hard to do that around other people without making them really uncomfortable.

So I’m gonna try to come out of my self-imposed exile.  Music helps heal me, and I’ve been neglecting even listening to it lately.  I don’t need advice or comfort, although I won’t stop anyone from offering it.  Distraction is nice; waving shiny objects in front of me almost always helps me feel better, but it’s not obligatory.  I just want to break out of my own tangled web of emotions.  I’m still gonna feel them, I’m just gonna try not to hide it so much.  I might melt down on y’all.  I know I’m gonna say stupid stuff.  And like Patti, I’m gonna fumble the lyrics occasionally.  But I’m gonna own that, just like she did.  If Patti Smith can be that open and generous and honest, then I can try it too.

Crap.  I think I just made a New Year’s resolution.

“The Times They are A-Changin'”


I’ve been thinking a lot today.  That’s usually not a good thing, since a tendency to get lost in the woods of my thoughts often produces anxiety for me.  And to be honest, there’s been a fair amount of anxiety in my thoughts today; to be fair to myself, there’s a lot of anxiety floating around in the air these days and most of it isn’t mine.  But I’m not feeling anxious.  Just. . . thinky.

I’ve been thinking about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, and how that’s produced some Very Strong Opinions from a lot of people.  I’ve been thinking about how I can see both sides of that particular argument, and therefore refuse to take sides.  Been thinking about how the award comes largely from the Baby Boomers’ love of Dylan and his life-transforming music and lyrics.  Been thinking about how awarding a musician–a popular and already heavily lauded and awarded one, at that–an award for literature kind of shuts some very deserving author of the credit and exposure they so desperately need.  But Dylan’s writing is so influential, so undeniably great, that I can’t argue that he isn’t deserving of it as well.  I’ve also been thinking about how some of the backlash about Dylan’s award is probably rooted in a the false notion that Rock & Roll is not a high art form, that it is not Art at all.  That this music holds no complexity or answers, or even any questions, about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.  That it is something to be enjoyed when you are young but discarded as soon as you turn forty.  (And anyone who actually does believe Rock is that shallow and only for youth should first of all LISTEN to some goddamn Dylan, who is about as complex and chimeric as anything else in Rock.  Then they need to read some Greil Marcus to understand just what this music says about America, among a few other things.)

I’ve been thinking about my volunteering at the historical society, and some strife that’s going on there at the moment; it’ll pass soon enough, but it makes things a little tense right now.  I’ve been thinking about the assignment that’s due this week that I haven’t done yet; it’ll get done, but I’m having my usual minor stress about how and when it’ll get done.  I’ve been thinking about a job I’m in the running for, and the kind of minor blow it’ll be to my self-esteem if/when I don’t get it.  I’ve been thinking about who I am and who I want to be.  Things I think about a lot, but don’t generally mention to anyone.

I’ve been thinking about my cousin, whose mother died today.  (If you want to get technical, she’s my mom’s cousin, which makes her my first cousin once-removed.  And yes, I did look that up once.)  Her dad, my mom’s uncle, is also in failing health.  I want her to know I understand how weird her life is right now.  How sad and numb she’s feeling.  How confusing it is to lose a parent, to have such a huge momentous thing happen, to feel your world come to a complete and utter stop. and to wonder why the hell the rest of the world hasn’t stopped right along with yours.

I’ve been thinking about how in just a little less than a month, we’re going to elect the first woman president in this country.  And how that woman is going to be president in four years, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.  And how simultaneously exhilarating and depressing it is that I will be here to witness that anniversary.  Exhilarating because I make sure I exercise my right to vote; I just got my ballot in the mail and I’m looking forward to filling it out.  Exhilarating because it gives me such joy to know that women before fought for this right and that I, as well as every other woman who votes, is the living embodiment of this victory.  Depressing because we should have had the vote from the moment this country was founded.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  And right now, I’m thinking this song is more relevant now than ever.  You might notice that the version I chose is slightly different from the one most people are used to.  It’s from one of Dylan’s Bootleg series, a demo probably, with a piano standing in for an acoustic guitar.  I like the difference.  It suits the times.  Because they are indeed changing.  And you better start swimming, or you will sink like a stone.


Change to me has always represented disruption, and to me disruption is bad.  That’s not true.  Yes, these days, change seems to come mostly out of negatives: crime, bombings, anger.  There’s so much whirling around these days it’s kind of hard to get a grip on anything.  But not all change is bad, something I’ve been trying to learn for a long time now.  Change is inevitable, and the only good or bad is how you react to it.  That’s what this song is saying.  “The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast.  The slowest now will later be fast, as the present now will later be past.  The order is rapidly fading.  And first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changing.”

Let’s see where things are going.  Who knows?  It might be fun.

A Peek Inside My Brain


I sometimes feel as though my entire brain is an iPod on shuffle.  Random songs pop into my head at odd times.  It’s been like this for years, even before I got an iPod, although it has been a bit more. . . pronounced, shall we say, since I bought that first one many years ago.

There’s two perennial staples on my mental playlist, songs that generally come up when I’m doing some kind of mundane task.  The first is what I call my Filing Song.

While I enjoy Frank Sinatra, this particular song has never actually been a favorite.  But when I spend more than five minutes filing (like I used to have to do at the community college I used to work at), “Strangers in the Night” just appears like the proverbial bad penny.  I don’t sing the lyrics; I don’t even know most of the lyrics.  I just hum, and occasionally “do be do be do” to the tune.  It’s a satisfying enough way to occupy my brain, although I’d prefer to alphabetize to “All of Me.” (If I’ve been filing too long, I get a little lost in the middle, and have to sing the ABC song to remind myself if K comes before or after M, but that’s a different story altogether.)

The other song that randomly, and rather aggressively, injects itself into my consciousness is a Disney classic.

I don’t think I’ve seen this version of the Three Little Pigs since I was in single digits, but “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” has been on rotation ever since.  Just as I mysteriously associate “Strangers in the Night” with filing, this song is mostly a kitchen tune.  Cooking brings it to the forefront of my brain and I find myself singing the chorus (the only words I remember) over and over in a high-pitched, kiddie-style voice.  Why?  How the hell should I know?

What these two songs seem to best illustrate to me is that some melodies are so ubiquitous either to the culture or our personal experience that they become woven into the fabric of our lives.  Also, that I have virtually zero control over what pops into my head for which reason.  The human brain is a weird and wonderful place, but I wouldn’t want to get lost in mine.

Thoughts on the Brexit


I’m a couple weeks late on this one, but I had to spend a little time ruminating on the idea that Great Britain is about to go it alone again.  I finally settled on my official opinion:

It’s a really bad idea.

I’m not even going to pretend I fully understand all the economic and political ins and outs of the issue.  I can’t make heads or tails of those things in the U.S. sometimes, so I’m not even going to attempt it on other nations.  But I know that going trying to fly solo in this day and age after being a member of a more or less unified Europe isn’t really smart.  GB is going to have to work twice, maybe three times, as hard to achieve the same results they’ve been getting as a member of the EU.  Yes, they already have working relationships with the most of the countries that they’re going to be dealing with as an independent nation, but you know they’re former EU mates are going to be just the tiniest bit bitter and will probably make things a little tougher on the Brits than they have to be.

While I’ve never fully grasped the concept of all the separate countries of Europe as “unified” in some way, it makes sense.  There’s strength in numbers, and all the smaller countries of Europe working together as one theoretically gives them all a bigger voice and a bigger slice of the pie.  It also just seemed kind of nice.  After decades of war, uniting together made Europe seem even more like a victory against fascism and tyranny.  Years ago, when I told BFF that they were building a WWII memorial in Washington D.C., she commented that “They already have a monument to WWII.  It’s called Europe.”  That’s always stuck with me.  The fact that all these different groups and cultures banded together to save each other from Hitler, et al., said something important about humanity.  They believed in freedom and sovereignty.  They believed in fighting for human rights and equality.  While the EU has always been more a matter of economic convenience, I feel like there was a certain justice to it.  A reaffirmation that the only way to conquer ugliness and hatred was together.  They were united for the same goals, but they retained their individuality and history.

Of course, the European Union has never quite been the kind of Disney-esque “Small World” that existed in my head.  Many of the problems that have always existed with linking more and less successful individual economies were exacerbated by the last great recession.  And the ongoing strife, civil war, and terrorism of the nearby Middle East have spilled into Europe, primarily through refugees from war and ISIS attacks on EU countries.  But to bail on their fellow Europeans like this seems kind of churlish and selfish.

It’s also fearful.  That’s the biggest enemy to unity.  Great Britain has shown just how rattled they are by the complicated problems everyone is facing by running home and hiding in the back of the closet.  They’ve also shown just why these kinds of decisions, just like civil rights issues, should never be put to a popular vote.  Because given the chance, there is always a large portion of any population that will vote against what it is afraid of instead of in favor of what it hopes for.  They let fear (along with its attendants, racism and isolationism) win.  That’s what makes me the most sad about the whole thing.  It’s also what makes this ominous little classic the song that fits the current mood best.

“Raining in Baltimore”


As if things weren’t bad enough.

I spent much of the weekend watching footage of Kathmandu, Nepal literally crumbled to pieces by a 7.8 earthquake.  There were occasional reports on the volcanic eruption in Chile, and I’d switch to other news which really wasn’t much better.  Fire, war, murder–in other words, the usual.  I thought things were relatively okay in Baltimore, in spite of this being the location of the latest death of an unarmed* black man in police custody.

Today shows me just how wrong I was.

I don’t know much about the arrest, injury, and subsequent death of Freddie Gray.  Frankly, neither does anyone else except for the arresting officers and the late Mr. Gray.  The mystery of how he was supposedly walking and talking when he was put in the back of the van and ended up with a nearly severed spinal cord and crushed voice box is one that has not been solved yet.  But the investigation has been fairly swift, and, since it involves the Feds, looks like it will be thorough.

The Baltimore PD has already essentially admitted they screwed up.  The brass has also made it pretty clear that the officers involved not only made mistakes, but that there will probably be criminal charges of some sort.  How do I know this?  Because the line when something like this is usually, “We believe our officers acted appropriately, and we stand behind our brothers in blue.”  But by saying that mistakes were made, and that further investigation is warranted, the department is throwing these guys under the bus.  One of the six officers involved has pled the Fifth, which tells me something really bad went down.  While the anger of the citizens of Baltimore, especially the African-American community is fully justified, I think all they had to do with this one is wait a couple of weeks.  I don’t know that charges will come down, but it looks like things are leaning that way.

Peaceful protests were held, but things started going downhill.  Today, after Gray’s funeral was held, rioting broke out on the streets of Baltimore.  There has been looting, police vehicles have been burned, and at least seven officers have been injured.  Who knows how many civilians have been and will be hurt. Tonight’s baseball game was postponed due to the rioting.

I get the anger.  Like I said, it’s justified.  But violence never is.  And looting businesses that didn’t have anything to do with any of this bullshit is really unnecessary.  The only people harmed by rioting are the people who are rioting and the innocents who happen to be in their path.  Baltimore has pretty much turned into a war zone, with stupid people taking advantage of genuine problems to create havoc.  If only rain were the only thing happening in Baltimore today.

*It’s been reported that Freddie Gray had a switchblade knife on him, and that’s what precipitated his arrest.  But a switchblade against the firearms of six policemen really doesn’t count as a serious threat to me.

Gone to the Movies: “Bye Bye Life”


I just watched the end of All that Jazz on some channel or another (I think it’s one of the offshoots of a local broadcast channel, but I’m not sure).  I probably shouldn’t have.  Not because I don’t like it; All That Jazz is a terrific movie.  It’s based loosely (or not so loosely) on the life of Bob Fosse, who directed the film.  Bob Fosse was one of the greats of theater/film, and he was a favorite of my father’s.  The film centers on Joe Gideon, who is slowly working/smoking/drinking/fucking/pill-popping himself to death.  It’s his heart, of course, which is highly susceptible to hard living.  My father lived pretty damn hard in his time, and his heart is finally what gave out on him.

Maybe it’s the couple of glasses of wine I’ve had tonight.  Maybe it’s seeing the movie.  Maybe it’s because Dad’s birthday is just a few days away.  But it got to me.  I’ve recovered enough that I’m not currently in a fetal position; maybe I’ll do that later.  I don’t know.  I know I’ll never really put his death to rest, I’ll never quite get over it.  I’ll always feel like I could have, should have done something more–even though I’m pretty damn sure there isn’t anything else I could have done.  Even though I know it isn’t true, I’m always going to feel responsible somehow.  There’s always going to be a shadow of a doubt, a small recrimination that I should’ve taken better care of him.

And I’m always going to wish I had another chance.

“Makin’ Whoopee”


A little Duke Ellington number came up on the computer this afternoon, and it reminded me of this song for some reason.  There’s no other reason for this post.  I just felt like hearing this fun little song performed by two very, very underrated artists.

Fact is, my brain’s kind of deserted me the last few days.  I feel a bit stuck.  I don’t mind a good rut; I live my life based on routine.  But although my activities and actions are pretty proscribed, my mind is usually going a million different directions at light speed  (trust me, it’s not nearly as fun as it sounds).  I have noticed that my thoughts do tend to run in cycles, with certain ideas dominating at various times.  I have a set of worries and fears that plague me pretty much all the time.  There’s a few story and poem ideas that bounce around in the foreground sometimes.  There’s a set of regrets and what if’s that like to sucker punch me  on occasion.  The daily to do list is always there, waiting to be checked off.  And the daydreams are always ready to move up when there’s nothing else to think about.  The only things that really change are the specifics.

When I get something in my mind, I tend to hang onto it like a dog, shaking it like a rat between my teeth until its little neck snaps.  (I saw our dog–a dalmatian–do that once; it was kind of horrifying.)  I turn ideas over under sideways down in my head, twisting them until they’re recognizable by no one but me.  The current bit of weirdness running through my mind is the idea of paranormal investigations.  I even went so far as to google “paranormal studies” and “parapsychology” today.  During my first great ghost story phase as a kid, I really thought that might be a cool career to get into.  I still think it sounds pretty cool, but I’m not really considering it; it’s just another bee in bonnet.  I have to ride it out until this particular thought flies away.

The inability to settle on one cool idea or line of study has perhaps hindered my life–although it has made me pretty good at Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit.  I know a lot of stuff because I’m constantly picking up strange little thoughts and thinking about them until all the thinking has been thunk.  I like to learn things.  Just about anything, it turns out.  It’s led me down some interesting musical paths, too.  Watch the video again just in case you didn’t notice.