Monday, April 29, 2013

Bad Company

For the last two weeks, I've had the flu, and - when I'm sick, I have a tendency to whine, sleep, and read. In other words, it's not all that different from when I'm healthy. At any rate, the other night, after finishing my book, I ended up reading Rolling Stone's, "100 Greatest Singers" and saw that Paul Rodgers from Bad Company came in at number fifty-five. Though they don't need my approval, I must admit - it was a good pick. After all, when Jim Morrison (number 47) died, the Doors wanted him and - more impressively, after Freddie Mercury died, Rodgers toured with Queen. For the record (no pun intended), Freddie Mercury was number eighteen on Rolling Stone's list.

Now, if you think Paul Rodgers can't bring it, I challenge you to listen to him sing, "I Want it All." Keep in mind that Freddie never performed it live because he was so sick. If you want to hear him, you have to listen to the album, and - if you've never heard it, go do it now. That said, if you listen to it and hear a man ravaged by AIDS instead of an artist's sheer will power and ability to accomplish perfection regardless of his circumstances, you're dead to me.

But I digress, the point is that only a handful of days ago, my mother went into congestive heart failure again. By the time I got the call, she had already been stabilized and was lucid. In fact, I was lucky enough to talk to her shortly thereafter. Like every good mom she said, "You're sick. Please don't drive or fly home while you have the flu. You'll never get better. Besides, if you walk through the door, I'll be convinced that I'm dying and no one wants to tell me."

You laugh, but when my dad was diagnosed with liver cancer, he told the doctors and all of us that he didn't want to hear the details. He knew it was fatal but he didn't want to know how long he had. He didn't want to be told what to expect. He wanted his life to be on his terms, including what he did, how he felt, and when he died... not according to some self-fulfilling prophesy that a team of doctors handed to him. For the record (again no pun intended), it worked. A headache remained a headache, a stomach ache remained a stomach ache, a muscle spasm remained a muscle spasm - not a symptom that the end was near or an omen of terrible things to come.

Like my mom, he was adamant that I not come home when I couldn't. Instead, we talked on the phone several times a week and wrote long, rambling letters to one-another, much like the non-sequiturs that I blog about… and music. We talked a lot about music. As a professional Jazz pianist for more than fifty years he was fortunate enough to meet, watch, and jam with a lot of pretty relevant musicians. Plus, he just knew a lot about music.

Anyway, when I talked to my mom and mentioned that DB is playing in a band again, I was blown away by how much she knew about Blues. She’s a CPA with an MBA who was an Executive all of her life. This is a woman who admits that she voted for Nixon and may have actually missed the Sixties. Seriously. Upon hearing the shock in my voice, she said, “Honey, I spent almost as many nights watching your father play piano as he spent playing.”

You know, I simply never thought about it.

At any rate, given that she dropped a bomb on me, I felt obligated to share my day with her, including the fact that during lunch, my straight, hot friend admitted that he stripped his way through college. Yes. Really. And that’s when I told my WASP mother that I’d missed my calling. I should have been a DJ at a male strip club, because – honestly – if the movie Magic Mike has taught us anything, it’s this... unlike men who prefer their strippers with no clothes or plot, women want their dancers to emote and I want to give that to them. I have no desire to see men pull-off their pants. I want to see them pull-off stripping to Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler or Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson. Think about it:
  • Cost of a drink at a strip club - Seven dollars
  • Cost of a lap dance - One dollar
  • Watching some pompous, fully-waxed, twenty-five year old guy's face as Amazing Grace comes over the speakers and he has to drop it like it's hot - Priceless
There really are certain things that money can't buy. 

After she told me she’d miss me because she was certain that I was going to Hell, we laughed ourselves into a coughing frenzy. Given that I only had the flu but she was recovering from congestive heart failure, I was certain that this would kill her and that my siblings would kill me because of it. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Instead, I get the opportunity to spend another Mother's Day with her. That's right. I'm going home to Appalachia. I might be Bad Company but I’m a good daughter.

Besides, even if it weren't a holiday to celebrate the incredible job she's done raising us, I'd want to see her. Like my father, she’s my hero. Even from a hospital bed, she could laugh and she could make me laugh. I guess that, while the exuberant cry of youth may be, "I Want It All and I Want it Now," the wisdom and temperance of age gives you a different perspective: who you are when it's hard is who you really are and what you do with the time you have is totally your choice. To quote Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” It worked for Freddie Mercury... It worked for my dad... Clearly it works for my mother and I hope to God that it works for me.

Talk to you later. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Three… it’s a magic number.

And who am I to question the wisdom of Schoolhouse Rock: “The past and the present and the future; faith and hope and charity; the heart and the mind and the body give us three.” Think about it, even jokes follow the Divine Trinity. For example, a plane goes down over the Amazon, and there are three survivors – a Tibetan, an Englishman, and an Irishman. The good news is they’re rescued by natives. The bad news is that, unbeknownst to them, the people who save them... are cannibals.

Anyway, a month goes by, and one day, the drums start beating, and the natives start chanting, and the chief rushes into the tent and grabs the Tibetan, who says, “What are you going to do with me?” To which the chief replies, “Well, we’re going to skin you, use your skin for a canoe, chop you up into little pieces and serve you as dinner.” Peacefully, the Buddhist says, “I’m from a long line of pacifists and cannot participate in this violence. Can you give me ten minutes?” The chief lets him meditate, the monk stops his own heart from beating, and sure enough he dies and is dinner. 

The next week, once again, the drums start beating, the natives start chanting, and the chief rushes in and he grabs the Englishman, who says, “What are you going to do with me?” To which the chief replies, “Well, we’re going to skin you, use your skin for a canoe, chop you up into little pieces and you'll be dinner.” Aghast he says, “Good God, man. This is completely unacceptable. There's no dignity in that. I’m a nobleman from a long line of Dukes and Duchesses. Do you have a revolver?” The chief hands the gun to him, he kills himself, and sure enough – he’s dinner. 

The next week, yet again - the drums start beating, the natives start chanting, and the chief rushes in and he grabs the Irishman, who says, “What are you going to do with me?” To which the chief replies, “Well, actually - we’re going to skin you, use your skin for a canoe, chop you up into little pieces and you'll be dinner.” Resided, the Irishman says, “Look, I’m from a long line of alcoholics. Do you have a bottle of whiskey and a fork?” Confused, the chief hands both things to him. Within minutes, the Irishman downs the Jameson’s and proceeds to stab himself repeatedly with the fork. Dumbfounded, the chief says, “What the hell are you doing?” To which the Irishman simply replies, “Fuck your damn canoe” and passes out. 

Being almost one-hundred percent Irish, not only do I get to tell that joke – I get to dedicate it to the city of Boston, which has almost as many Micks as Ireland itself. Nicely done Bostonians. Nicely done. Also, because this post is about the rule of three, last month the following three things happened:
  1. My karma ran over my dogma passed the “10,000 readers” mark
  2. My blog on Salon hit the “5,000 readers” mark
  3. My manuscript is actually being reviewed by a real editor
I know, I know – it sounds more impressive than it is, but one day I hope to post something along the lines of, “A blogger, an agent and a publisher walk into a bar…” Talk to you later.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Lenny Bruce was not afraid.

For those of you who are now humming, "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," you're welcome. For those of you who know the lyrics because you:
  • Owned the REM cassette tape, Document.
  • Sat in bed with nothing more than your notebook, pencil, Walkman, and teenage angst, pressing Play, Pause, Rewind, Play over-and-over and-over until you captured each and every word...
Well done. For those of you who did it any other way (even because you were born after 1987 and have never heard of a company called Memorex), you're a poseur (you know who you are).  All jokes aside, ironically enough, this post has NOTHING to do with that song. It's actually about Lenny Bruce.  

If you don’t know much about him, you should Google him. If you love him, then you already know that he inspired almost every comedian since then, and – if he didn’t inspire them, at the very least he set the precedent which protected them from being arrested for using obscenities on stage. That’s right, if you like George Carlin, Margaret Cho, Louis CK, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Rita Rudner, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Robin Williams, or anyone else who ever told a dirty joke – you should thank Lenny Bruce.

Now, at the risk of only giving you the Reader’s Digest condensed version of history, the story goes something like this… He was arrested in 1961 for using the term, “Schmuck,” on stage. Then he was arrested again in 1962 and twice more in 1964 on similar charges… by undercover cops who were in the audience documenting every word that came out of his mouth. At his trial in 1964, free thinkers like Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, and others testified that it was a violation of free speech, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Regardless, he was convicted, sentenced, and died during the Appeal process. He later received a full posthumous gubernatorial pardon, the first and only in New York history. 

You know, they say no one reads the retraction on page five, but Lenny Bruce may be the exception to that rule. His pardon said, “If you are an adult and you bought a ticket, you consented to the content. If you don’t like it, leave. He didn’t come to your house and hold you hostage. You paid to watch him perform. ” Amen Lenny, Amen.

That said… he went too far. Unfortunately, the process bankrupted him, and I mean that in every sense of the word – financially, spiritually, and comedically. Initially, no one would book his show because they feared the police would be in the audience and everyone would get busted. Then, no one booked his act because he stopped being funny. He was so disgusted and depleted by the lack of protection from that kind of brutality that at times he would simply sit on stage and read the First Amendment into the microphone. 

Please don’t ever let me become so bitter that I’m more consumed by anger than laughter. Please don’t let me go down a slippery slope where I become that person. You know who I’m talking about… that crazy lady on the block who mumbles and hands out feral kittens on Halloween. The woman who opens the door dressed like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, and you’re like, “Nice costume.” And she says, “What are you talking about? I just got home from work.” And even the kids are like, “Thanks for the rabid cat and the chewing gum, ma’am” but are actually thinking, “She’s fucking insane. Can we please leave?” And because this is about Lenny Bruce, don’t be angry about that joke. Those kids learned that word from their parents – not the crazy woman who answered the door. But I digress. What I’m trying to say is… please don’t let that happen to me - where one day you’re fine, then the next day you drive to work in a dirty wedding dress and people refuse to make eye contact with you. 

That shit happens (or so I’m told). 

Anyway… the POINT of this post is to apologize for the recent lack of humor in my other ones. Life has been hard lately, very hard, but whose isn’t? Besides, Lenny’s legacy wasn’t simply fighting for what’s right. It was his brilliant sense of timing and an uncanny, unfiltered, uncensored ability to laugh and make us laugh – at him, at life, and at ourselves. 

With that, all I have to say to you is this, “LEONARD BERNSTEIN!” Well, that and talk to you later.   

Sunday, April 7, 2013

To quote Mumford & Sons, “I’m a cad but I’m not a fraud.”

Last month, on Real Time with Bill Maher, California Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom, said something that resonated with me, “Stand on principles, then lean in.” Now, if you know me, then you know that I don’t know anything about baseball or boxing, but I understand the point… Be ready. Put your back into it and your full weight behind it. It’s going to hurt like Hell either way and Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right. You’ll be criticized regardless.”

Where has that gone? How has the truth become what’s decided by polling the masses? To bring it back to Bill Maher, “This is the fallacy of argumentum ad numerum, the idea that something is true because great numbers believe it, as in "Eat shit. Twenty trillion flies can't be wrong." Don’t misunderstand me. I agree in compromise. I don’t even see it as, “Neither one of us got what we wanted.” I believe, “We both gave up something and we met in the middle. I respected your input, values and perspective, and I appreciate that you respected mine. We saw it differently but true diversity of thought produces real solutions.” Where has that gone?

Or am I simply now that middle-aged cliché, who sits there and says, “Well, when I was younger…” 

I don’t know. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” and there are certain facts that are simply facts. Again, maybe I’m now simply “of that generation,” who thinks, “Hmmm – you don’t get to make up lies and debate me with them. You don’t get to sidestep facts because they are inconvenient or you don’t like them. And SIMPLY because you say something over and over and over doesn’t make it real.” For the record, it makes it annoying. I just don’t know…

Maybe I’m having an existential crisis because I cannot stop myself from mentally meandering down this rabbit hole. I mean it. Lately, if you were to see me in my car at a stop-light, you would be JUST as likely to catch me bringing it like Madonna during the Superbowl as you would be to witness me giving a person with Tourette’s Syndrome a run for their money over something I heard on the news.

As they say in Vegas, it’s a crap-shoot. 

And I don’t know why it makes me angry, but it does. Actually, scratch that. It infuriates me. Maybe it’s because I hate wondering whether or not I’m an idiot for playing by the rules and being honest. Or maybe it’s because I resent the fact that the status-quo forces me wonder about this AT ALL. Seriously, in 2013, shouldn’t we be far enough along as a species to say, “Yes, that’s a fact. Let’s collectively move forward and tackle another problem.” 

No, instead I find myself wondering if I should suspend my humanity and jump down to the low road to fight it out. Too bad my mother is right, “If you put your integrity on the table, someone will take it. Accept that. And, more importantly, never argue with an idiot. You’ll stoop to their level only to have them beat you out of experience alone… each and every time.” As a result, because I cannot lie, I have to accept the truth… often times I lose… and there is little solace in that but in the end – I am only responsible for my behavior. 

I guess I could take comfort in what John Adams said, “Always stand on principle....even if you stand alone.” I could try to find peace in his Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s, advice, “In any struggle, truth is the only weapon we possess." Or I could go big picture, and I mean that literally… I could take advice from the movie, “People like Us,” and live according to the following Six Rules of Life:
1. Don't like something just because you think other people will like it... because they won't.
2. What you think is important isn’t. What you think is unimportant is.
3. Lean into it.
4. Don't shit where you eat.
5. Most doors are closed - so if you want them to open, you need a cool knock.
6. Don't sleep with people who have more problems than you do.

It might not be eloquent, but it works for me. Like I said, I’m a cad but I’m not a fraud. Talk to you later.