Categotry Archives: All the Poets Became Rock Stars


This Desert Life

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I find I have less and less to say with my own voice. The wide applicability of that comment is hard to underestimate. Most music is dying for me, but the few songs that aren’t say everything I could possibly have to say at this point.

All my friends got flowers in their eyes
but I got none this season
all of last year’s blooms have gone and died
time doesn’t give a reason
hey baby do you ask yourself sometimes
what you need to be forgiven
everything that you ever done wrong
is the reason that I’m driven
straight to you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I get my ends and my beginnings mixed up too
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to stay for just another day
or two

(It’s just like answers
that come in small packages that go in the mail)

Waiting for the trains that just never come
beginning to believe in
the disappearing nature of
the people we have been
we have begun to change
into the worst kind of people
so unkind
oh apologies
no apologies
this apology
doesn’t describe
the way
it feels
to feel
for you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I find myself
slowly disappearing too
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to help me to remain
with you

I just wanna stay for a little while
I wanna stay a little while
oh come on come on come on come on

There’s a night life falling down on me
I just feel like a change
beneath the sun in the summer a sea of flowers
won’t bloom
without the rain
but oh this desert life
this high life
here at the dying end of the day

I wasn’t made for the scene, baby
but I was made in this scene
baby, it’s just my way
I don’t wanna go home alone
I wanna come on home to you

Waiting here for you
wanting to tell you
how I line my sky with all the silver I can use
just the way you do
I thought if I told you
you might want to stay for just another day
or two

(Isn’t that just like
disappearing into the sum of yourself
and the person you are disappearing into
it’s like one plus one equals nothing at all
one plus two equals nothing at all
one plus me equals nothing at all
one plus you equals one plus you equals you equals
you and you and you and
nothing at all)

-Counting Crows


Won’t Somebody Save Me Please?: a Desperate Plea from a Loaded Catapult, also known as a Counting Crows Show

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Tags: , ,

All of a sudden she disappears
just yesterday she was here
somebody tell me if I am sleeping
someone should be with me here
cause I don’t wanna be alone

As already indicated, it’s been a crazy last few days. The way things are going, almost everything is becoming believable at this point. But before I knew the extent of the damage to the apartment here or the extent of damage my body had suddenly started taking, I decided to go to a Counting Crows show in Montclair, New Jersey, since they had extra tickets for the 18 August show. And since I’d missed the show I was scheduled to attend on July 31st. And since I needed an emotional bloodletting, of which Counting Crows shows are the best kind I know. And since I don’t care what happens to me anymore. And since I just need to find a way to get through the next eight days, likely in many ways to be the most painful of my life thus far. Those of you who know what’s going on know exactly why that is.

I wanna be the knife
that cuts into my hand
and I wanna be scattered
from here in this catapult
what a big baby
won’t somebody save me please?
won’t find nobody home

I found Montclair, New Jersey to be something of a dying small-town community feel nestled in the midst of an industrial wasteland. This probably sounds a little worse than it is, but I haven’t exactly been in the most flattering of moods lately about anything. Everything looks dead or dying, everything seems to be atrophying, everything has the stench of broken dreams. The miniature downtown of Montclair seems to be built around the newly reopened and revitalized Wellmont Theatre, a pretty nifty little venue long fallen into disrepair and recently rescued. If the fellow line-waiting front-row patrons are to be believed, the ceiling is still in danger of collapse and they have a thin excuse for netting up there to make sure no one takes a direct plaster hit if so. Against the odds, the building remained intact not only while I bought tickets, waited an hour or so in line, and jetted up to the second row on the floor, but even through the duration of the emotional turmoil unleashed when CC and their friends took the stage.

All of these quiet battered voices
wait for the hunger to come
we’ve got little revolvers
and stupid choices
no one to say when we’re done
well I don’t wanna bring you down

This is part of their summer tour and their summer tours lately have been subheaded The Traveling Circus and Medicine Show, an innovative amalgam of whatever three bands they have grouped together, all switching out songs and sets and playing two acts with an encore like a seamless 20-piece band. It’s not exactly my favorite incarnation of the Crows, but it works pretty well most of the time, even when they have an angry joke of a white rapper as the third piece in their triage. There’s a rockabilly sensibility to this manifestation of their live act, but this particular show lacked most of the boisterous highs one would typically expect to come along with that. Adam Duritz seemed more dazed than I felt, often staring into space and almost muttering lyrics in a dejected haze. It wasn’t sloppy or misdelivered in any way, though – it was deliberate, calculated, crafted. It spoke of a person whose life has whizzed past him, leaving him to contemplate the rubble. It spoke to me.

I wanna be the light
that burns out your eyes
cause I know there’s little things about me
that would sing in the silence of
so much rejection in every connection I make
can’t find nobody home

I wept, literally, through six of the songs. Having been to something like ten Counting Crows shows, I have long come to expect that they will move me, that I will find them religious experiences, that the poetry and pathos of the live delivery will shake my foundations and reignite the core of my soul, for both good and for sad. What I am often not prepared for is that even my expectations of transcendence will be exceeded and surpassed. That the phrase “Awareness is Never Enough – It Must Always Be Wonder” is so frequently made corporeal in those unexpected moments of a CC show. What song will they build into what other song? What meaning will be encompassed or recalculated in such a way as to render the entire deepest voice of a song bare in a new and scintillating light? What will cut so hard and so fast to the quick that one’s heart will bleed anew, pouring forth a whole new reason for pouring? This is the emotional breakdown and rebuild, the evisceration and glinting hope, that these shows offer.

I wanna be the light
that burns out your eyes
cause I know there’s little things about me
that would sing in the silence of
so much rejection in every connection I make
I wanna be the last thing that you hear when you’re falling asleep

It was actually Augustana who offered me one of the most painful and beautiful moments when they stuck “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” in the middle of “Boston”. I openly bled tears, taken back to both a moment on a bus in Scotland convinced I was going to die when that song came blaring over the speakers to give me hope and also to the understanding of the song’s original purpose: an open letter to a suicide, committed to voice too late to make any difference for that one but submitted all the same in hopes of saving others. Suddenly the fact that “you don’t know me and you don’t even care” was cut back by the fact that we’re all “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it”. It was at that moment, after a long soliloquy on growing up in light of “Up All Night” and two songs before “Catapult” that the song selection stopped speaking to me and started being for me, about me, through me. By the time “Time and Time Again” was paired back-to-back with “Richard Manuel is Dead” near the open of the second act, I was slayed and begging for more.

I wanna be the knife
that cuts into my hand
and I wanna be scattered
from here in this catapult
what a big baby
won’t somebody take me please?
can’t find nobody home

It’s impossible to explain everything I’m feeling or thinking or going through now, or was then. It’s impossible to explain the importance of “Richard Manuel is Dead”, Emily’s favorite Crows song, or the precise implications of the way Adam sang “A Murder of One”, centering on a to-me-unprecedented line of “I need to change,” observing and reflecting on the painful nature of growing up through things one shouldn’t have to experience. By the time “Rain King” was offering hope “With a Little Help from My Friends”, I’d already settled in a numb fuzzy-faced coma of crying to the point of catharsis. It was no wonder that I stumbled home to find a dumpster overturned by the storm in the parking space normally reserved for the Prius and would be in the Emergency Room within a few hours, dealing with the extraction of kidney stones. Every day, hour, minute, is its own special trial. And like the singing of a song or the passing of a kidney stone, the pain embedded deep in each moment makes the overall picture impossible to even grasp. No wonder Emily seems capable of such callous calculation and diffident distance. No one could hope to understand what’s happening without living through each second. Even me.

Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Up All Night
Stars and Boulevards
Boston (with Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of)
Steal Your Heart Away
Twenty Years

Why Should You Come When I Call?
You Ain’t Going Nowhere

Four White Stallions
Time and Time Again
Richard Manuel is Dead
Safe and Sound
A Murder of One (with Doris Day)
[NOTAR x2]
Just Like a Woman
Shot in the Dark
Sweet and Low

Come Around
A Long December (with A Murder of One)

Rain King (with With a Little Help from My Friends)
This Land is Your Land

(Augustana songs in italics; NOTAR songs not named)


…It Pours

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Quick Updates, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

This is getting absurd.

The Counting Crows show was a great experience overall, despite manifesting as an emotional woodchipper that forced me to hysterical tears during at least six songs. I’ll write up that whole situation at some point – I was excited to post the setlist and review after spending a first night here in Princeton.

Turns out I wasn’t so lucky. I went to sleep with a good deal of pain in my left side and it was so excruciating at 5:00 in the morning that it woke me up. I spent a panicky half-hour wanting to throw up and being unable to, then looking up appendicitis, discovering my pain was on the wrong side, and still being concerned anyway. I wound up deciding to head to the ER. After all, no one’s here living with me to talk down from the ledge or reassure me or offer me anything anymore.

Turns out, five hours of hospital later, including my first-ever CAT scan and first-ever IV, that I have kidney stones. Yeah. Also known as perhaps the only human experience more painful than childbirth. Because that’s what I needed about now. A good old-fashioned medical walloping. Hooray.

Lots more doctor’s visits to come to determine why I’m getting them and what I can do to mitigate. If you need me, I’ll be ducking and covering under the bed and trying not to blink.


Submitted Without Comment

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

Our conversation was short and sweet
It nearly swept me off-a my feet
And I’m back in the rain, oh, oh
And you are on dry land
You made it there somehow
You’re a big girl now

Bird on the horizon, sittin’ on a fence
He’s singin’ his song for me at his own expense
And I’m just like that bird, oh, oh
Singin’ just for you
I hope that you can hear
Hear me singin’ through these tears

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast
Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last
I can change, I swear, oh, oh
See what you can do
I can make it through
You can make it too

Love is so simple, to quote a phrase
You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days
Oh, I know where I can find you, oh, oh
In somebody’s room
It’s a price I have to pay
You’re a big girl all the way

A change in the weather is known to be extreme
But what’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?
I’m going out of my mind, oh, oh
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we’ve been apart

-Bob Dylan


When the World is Silent, the Mind Comes Alive

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

Twice a week, I drive to New Brunswick from Princeton, a 16-mile jaunt that usually takes over half an hour to complete because of the nature of driving in New Jersey. I head up there in the 8:00 hour to arrive at 9:00 for meetings of the Rutgers debate team, usually returning around midnight as they’ve wrapped up.

There are two ways I can make this trip that are almost identical in mileage:

One is to take US Route 1, a literal straight line road that hearkens back to legends of the tsar drawing plans for a railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow. While straight as an arrow, the route runs south of both my origin and my destination, adding a bit of time. More importantly, Route 1 (in Jersey, at least) is perhaps the worst four-lane road in America, a bizarre combination of highway lane structures and traffic with endless stoplights. Despite the lights, left turns are strictly forbidden, requiring “jug-handles” where one exits to the right to then turn onto a crossover lane. There are no conventional exits, just jug-handles. And the thing is filled with trucks and Jersey drivers, who remain the only people worse than drunk New Mexicans, murderous Manhattanites, and raging Massachusetts drivers, somehow blending the worst aspects of all three.

The alternative is NJ Route 27, a pastoral winding road whose frequent elevation shifts are outnumbered only by the number of times the speed limit changes between Princeton and New Brunswick. If Route 1 is the express (or tries to be), Route 27 is the local, plowing through the center of random townships and dropping the limit from 50 to 25 with almost no warning. This is a two-laner (one in each direction) and is frequented by these aging gray buses that seem to run local routes in this thickly settled part of the state. There are no trucks, however, and very little traffic at all late at night, when all the lights are green. There are lights, but probably fewer than on the “highway” counterpart.

After doing round-trips on each, I’ve settled into a vague pattern of taking Route 1 up to New Brunswick in the evening and returning on Route 27 in the middle of the night. Route 1 seems to have a stagnant amount of traffic 24/7, which is more palatable in comparison to the fairly heavy traffic on 27 at around 8:30, but less palatable compared to the emptiness of same past midnight. But more than anything, there’s just something peaceful and rewarding about taking 27 home, soaring through empty silent communities like a high-schooler the night after graduation.

Tonight, however, the road was deader than ever. It was ghostly, the kind of night that inspired Ray Bradbury’s story “Night Meeting”, where a Martian and an Earthling colonist cross paths through the midst of time on desolate night roads. The first leaves were covering the road in some places, sent sailing as I would race through in an effort to stay ever 5 miles an hour above the mercurial legal maximum. I think I passed all of two cars going my direction the whole time, both fairly close to New Brunswick, and maybe 5-7 in the other direction the whole way. In 25 minutes.

There is much time to ponder in such settings, though they have a way of dominating the mental space with their own unique offering. We spend so much time surrounded by people, their structures, the possibility of interaction. To be moving swiftly through a voided landscape is at once solipsistic and comforting, calling attention to one’s place in the universe and focus to the significance of each passing minute. The more I noticed my aloneness, the more I felt both isolated and somehow unified with a larger presence and could feel the awareness of the moment pile upon itself.

I had a CD to keep me company, but its significance was only to underscore the larger reality around, not to take center stage. Like Kitaro on a road to Jewell that suddenly became endless and transcendent, with my Dad so many years ago. The songs were like leaves, like the occasional droplet collected on the windshield, to be considered and passed like most days on the wind.

And then, as Princeton approached faster than normal, and cars six and seven northbound, Dave Matthews Band’s “Christmas Song” came on the disc. And the world of silence, of sleepy village churches and big box brand name signs illuminated for overnight advertising of empty stores, shifted. It transformed to a seventeen-year-old kid who made the decision to buy his first-ever CD (after years of accumulating cassette tapes) because it was the only way he could acquire this song he’d heard just once on the radio that had captivated his feelings about Christmas in a way he could handle as a no-longer-Christian. Who had looked everywhere for a tape, knowing that he already had one DMB tape, finally settling ironically for the older album on CD only and wondering how to deal with the technological shift. Who came home and skipped right to the last track, wondered at the trail of lightning sounds that followed the track, played it on repeat most of the night. It was a cold night, beckoning to Christmas still a couple months out, a night not unlike this one. Then there was a play to direct, a year to get through, somehow, colleges and a future to seek (up). Tonight, not so different perhaps, a novel in place of a play, colleges behind but not forgotten, a year to be savored instead of endured. Perhaps life really does get easier over time, after all.

I listened to the last three recitations of the closing chorus in the stopped car in front of my current residence, smiling at the yellow porch light and the barely visible Christmas lights within, decking the top corner of the living room walls. “And the blood of our children all around.” The last fade of notes, the car switched off, and a gathering of paper for the trek inside. Crossing the threshold, I felt the wind swirl behind me and wondered what message it carried from what past or future self. I am never (and always) alone. But tonight, oh tonight, it all seems to make sense.

I went inside to find Pandora staring at me as though she’d been waiting this whole time.


All Wide-Eyed Like the Rest

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

It was a weekend to examine youth.

Em and I have been watching the Up Series, a continuum of documentaries about 14 British children who turned 7 in 1964. In the first film, they are shown expressing their hopes and dreams for the future, answering a variety of standard questions about the human condition and giving a full range of kids-say-the-darndest-things responses. In subsequent films, their lives are shown to follow or deviate from the prescribed path. While the series was ostensibly made about Britain’s class structure and how opportunities are truly unequal, the films end up being much more about the similarity of people’s lives and, frankly, their simplicity.

Given that Netflix, to which we have recently subscribed, offers most of this series for free and immediate streaming download, Em and I have torn through 7, 14, 21, 28, and 35 in less than a week. Crossing the threshold from 28 to 35 gave pause, as we went from watching people younger than we to older in the span of a scant two hours. And while in many ways this transition was the least overtly noticeable, the aging and especially the confrontation of parental mortality were sobering.

More than anything, the impact of this series has been to further invigorate my excitement about where I am at this particular juncture of my life, knowing it may be the first threshold of those offered in the films that my 7-year-old self would have been proud to see me on. I cannot say enough times how much the pain of crossing 30 is dulled by finally embarking on the steps that I have longed to take since I was very young. Watching these 7-year increments in quick succession is a ruthless reduction of the lives of others and reminds any conscious viewer how much waste and irrelevance compiles into a standard human (especially first-world) life. My nightly writing efforts are my only real antidote, though I am drawing much satisfaction from the debate coaching as well.

Much of the weekend was spent conducting the first-ever Novice Retreat for the Rutgers team. For many hours on Friday and Saturday, we (the Rutgers elders and I) drilled and trained the novii in each speech position and general debate strategy. Friday especially gave me a good taste for what high-school teaching might have been like, as I gave three consecutive 45-minute sessions on how to deliver the first speech for the Opposition. Of course the classes were smaller, everyone wanted to be there, it was three sessions instead of seven, and it was one of my favorite subjects of all-time. But, y’know, close enough.

On Saturday, we were able to conduct practice rounds as well as finish up the training, and I think the novii will be about as prepared for this coming weekend’s novice tournament as any I’ve seen on APDA. With any luck, I’m hoping Rutgers’ drought of reaching the elimination (“break”) rounds will be over by this time next week.

Though the Retreat ran very long on Saturday, costing me the chance to help celebrate Greg‘s birthday, it failed to spill into Sunday. Thus we were able to attend the Weakerthans show in Philadelphia as scheduled, after a brief tour of Fish’s house (Em hadn’t seen it) and a lengthy Mexican meal in an authentic dive. The show was great, perhaps the best aggregate setlist for the interests of myself, Emily, and Fish. (Madeleine was there as well, but is less familiar with these Canadians.) But the crowning moment was that John K. Samson finally delivered on my perennial shouted request for “Sounds Familiar”, the greatest Weakerthans song of all-time. Our acquisition of his handwritten setlist (actually the drummer’s, but I presume it’s John K.’s handwriting) revealed that the request had nothing to do with it and it was planned all along, but I’ll take “Sounds Familiar” any way I can get it.

Samson was sick and has put on a bit of weight, but his shiny resilience and abundant joy at performing was still present. We were about three rows back on the floor of the remarkably small World Cafe Live club and were old enough to have parented some of our surrounding attendees. John K. talked a lot and joked with the crowd about requests and seemed genuinely pleased with how nice most of the crowd was. And played a pretty long set considering his condition. Even more than the average show, this Weakerthans set came across as wearied and humble, but resilient, which seems quite reflective of the overall mood in general. The whole world is sick and tired, but we’re not dead yet. And, with luck, we still have something to say.

Night Windows
Tournament of Hearts
Our Retired Explorer
Reconstruction Site
Relative Surplus Value
One Great City! (John K. Samson solo)
Sounds Familiar (John K. Samson solo)
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
The Reasons
Sun in an Empty Room
Left and Leaving
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist

Civil Twilight
Everything Must Go!
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure

As promised, we procured an original setlist. Please note that the encore was changed from “Pamphleteer” to the two closing songs listed above. No other changes seem to have been made on the fly…


Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Quick Updates, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , ,

Today (defined loosely as from noon yesterday till right now), I:

  • Took delivery on a flat-screen television, which will hopefully never have network or cable TV thereon.
  • Spoke to my parents on the phone.
  • Listened to Barack Obama’s speech and…
  • …Decided that I am against the current incarnation of “healthcare reform”.  (More on this later!)
  • Spoke to Em’s mom in person.
  • Welcomed Pandora back into our home.
  • Ate a bunch of fried food.
  • Had a soda for the first time in weeks.
  • Wrote Chapter 21 of American Dream On, weighing in around that magic 2,000 words.
  • Played “Hero” by Regina Spektor on repeat for some time.

The only difference between these days and the old days is that these days matter. I am writing and that changes everything. My whole outlook on life can be determined through the filter of how much control I have over what I do on a given day and how much of that links to what I feel I was put here to do.

Daily fulfillment is not about the space in between, the margins, even most of the time spent. It’s about intentionality, living deliberately, and whether what is done is part of what should be done. Not on the path there, or some esoteric larger vision of being there, but actually a PART of what is intended overall.

This makes all the difference. And I am grateful, eternally grateful, for every day on this side of things.


Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: , ,

It’s hard to believe that Friday night marked the ninth time I’ve seen Counting Crows live.

To this day, I would probably rather spend time watching them in concert than see almost anyone else I haven’t seen – actively choosing what would now be the tenth time I watched them perform over people whose performance before me would be unprecedented. Aside from another Simon & Garfunkel reunion show or Cat Stevens getting back out on tour with his full canon, it’s hard to imagine a musical act I’d be more excited about seeing. Even summer tour shows, even sets played almost entirely with other bands, are so emotionally charged as to put a spigot straight from an emotional well into the observer’s soul.

Fish and I had an eventful weekend, including my first visit to his Mole Street place, a trip to a classic Jersey diner, visiting Monopoly’s fabled Boardwalk (with hotels!), hours of overnight poker in Atlantic City, and my second viewing (his first) of the truly excellent “500 Days of Summer”. But the highlight, of course, was the Crows show.

It was a weird show in some ways – the show itself dubbed itself the “Saturday Night Rebel Rockers Traveling Circus and Medicine Show”, an effort combine CC with Michael Franti & Spearhead and Augustana into one epic 18-piece band. It was preluded by one of the most bizarre concert check-in experiences I’ve ever witnessed, where the Borgata Casino staff checked our tickets, issued numbered wristbands (a la Southwest), then checked our tickets again as they move the line up a few stairs, then checked wristbands, tickets, and stamped us with an invisible stamp (no joke – when we alerted them that the stamp hadn’t made a mark, they said it wasn’t supposed to), and constantly checked our numbers against each other. I felt old, as I often do in the early part of lines for rock shows, and wondered what proximity my #217 wristband would procure me.

Turned out, about third row. Which, somewhat remarkably in the face of all the other shows I’ve stood in line for and been able to touch the stage, was the closest I’ve ever been to Counting Crows. They just haven’t played all that many shows in places with a standing-room floor in the West lately.

The show itself was pretty remarkable, and not just because they were shuffling 18 people in and out at a rate that ensured that virtually no consecutive songs were played by the same collection of people. There were a ton of covers, including covers of Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Woody Guthrie. I actually actively enjoyed “Hanginaround”, a song that often annoys me (in no small part because it almost always closes sets and thus means the set wasn’t closed by “A Murder of One”), since the crowd was so insanely involved and everyone was just screaming along by the end of the tune. I’ve become familiar enough with Augustana (they keep playing with CC) that I enjoyed most of their songs as well. And Michael Franti just kept making us jump. Which was fun.

We had intended to play poker for about an hour or so after the show, but it was 6:20 in the morning by the time we actually started rolling out of AC. We’d both more or less broken even (me a little more, Fish a little less), but we’d had quite the time with AC vacationers and bachelors-not-to-be alike. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more gregarious ten at a poker table.

Despite my tiredness at driving home, I’ve now pretty well converted my schedule to something resembling a dawn-to-noon sleep schedule, most conducive to writing and the creative life. Although the noon has been more consistent than the dawn – I still have a ways to go before regaining my youthful reliance on 4 hours or less.

Seeing “500 Days of Summer” again convinced me that it may be a perfect movie. Not that it’s competing with “Shawshank” or anything, but it may be flawless in delivering an emotionally honest, real presentation of the experience of love, in its full and many ranges. About a week ago, I was having a discussion about my top ten movies and the amorphous 5-10 that sort of hang out in the teen periphery of my rankings. I think “500 Days” is at least in that company, and possibly climbing.

And (though this is chronologically before most of what I’ve discussed) I was pretty disappointed by Atlantic City. Granted, it was a stormy day and we got there in late afternoon, but the town did little to convince me it was any better than Santa Cruz or Venice Beach with a few casinos tacked on. The Boardwalk was nice, and pretty long, but it was no more amazing than many other beachside walkways. Maybe living near Seaside for much of my youth has jaded me to the wonders of beach communities, but I was expected something more epic, more grand. Maybe I would only have been satisfied by a full-scale reversion to the 1920’s, complete with sepia-toned eyesight. Yeah, AC probably didn’t have a chance against my expectations.

You know what did? Counting Crows.

Hello Bonjour
Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Sweet Virginia
Sweet and Low (Mr. Jones Intro)
Meet You There Someday
Boston (with Raining in Baltimore)
(You Gotta Walk and) Don’t Look Back (with Casey Jones)
[unverified Michael Franti song – possible cover]
All I Want is You (with Tainted Love)
The Gambler (partial, joking)
The Sound of Sunshine
I Got Love for You
Delta Lady
When I Dream of Michaelangelo
Children in Bloom
Little Bit of Riddim
Yell Fire!
Say Hey (I Love You)
Just Like a Woman
Why Should You Come When I Call?

Rain King (with Raise a Ruckus Tonight intro, With a Little Help from My Friends middle)
This Land is Your Land


Everything Must Go!

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: , ,

Garage Sale. Saturday. I need to pay my heart’s outstanding bills. A cracked-up compass and a pocket watch, some plastic daffodils, the cutlery and coffee cups I stole from all-night restaurants, a sense of wonder (only slightly used), a year of two to haunt you in the dark for a phone call from far away with a “Hi, how are you today”, and a sign: recovery comes to the broken ones. A wage-slave forty-hour work week (weighs a thousand kilograms, so bend you knees) — comes with a free fake smile for all your dumb demands, the cordless razor that my father bought when I turned 17, a puke-green sofa and the outline to a complicated dream of dignity, for a laugh (too loud and too long). Or a place where awkward belongs, and a sign: recovery comes to the broken ones. Or best offer.
-Weakerthans, “Everything Must Go!” (complete song)

Yes, I’m up earlier than I’ve been in weeks to get ready for a block-yard-sale in Oakland. We’re piggybacking into the front yard of a coworker of Emily’s since our place hasn’t proven to be the most marketable locale (though I guess we could always get some interesting traffic off of University). Lots of furniture and some random extra items, plus the attitude that pretty much no offer is too low. This is all about not shipping things we can replace for less than the cost to ship. Or that we might not need to replace after all (see, e.g., two stereos from our respective college experiences).

I already sold my 1,000 kg forty-hour work week, but I can offer this memory of same that I ran across when sorting through papers earlier this week:

I wonder what foundational document of the next phase of my life I may be creating even now, to look back on with a quiet sigh of wondering how much predominantly futile effort was yet to be expended in whatever direction seemed to make the most sense at the time. Without these pieces of paper, these organizational memories to bring order to the chaotic-seeming decisions of our lives, we would be almost nothing but a binary code of inexplicable choices. It is the context that recalls the free will that gives these choices, however painful or complicated or ill-advised, meaning.

And not to say that I have a collection of regrets – three years at Glide taught me much. But so did more than a decade spread across thirteen schools… it doesn’t mean that any of this was the easiest, best, or most efficient way to learn these things. And if I want to learn anything, it’s probably how to make the choice of easier, better, or more efficient ways of learning or doing.

This is why I keep the paper. And sell the TV.

You want it?


But I Can Feel, I Can Feel: A Counting Crows Show on the Verge of Everything

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , , , ,

It must be observed that this has been a week beyond the average.

To attempt to capture it all in some sort of laundry list seems to trivialize it (as, indeed, the very nature of the phrase “laundry list” captures). Besides, I sort of gave a preview in this post just 12 days ago. To think of a time when I was “searching for direction” seems almost laughable now in the face of directions very much found (chosen?) by the collective perspective.

If nothing else, the turmoil and heightened activity is certainly well captured by my recent prolificity in this very format of communication. It is surely oversimplification to say that when one is writing more, it is a reflection of more events worth living through – but no doubt the volatility in my own mind (or perhaps “mind at large” as my Dad would put it) has manifest in an outpouring of understanding. Like I said, I need to process everything and I get there too.

I imagine Adam Duritz to be somewhat like myself. This is quite an understatement – I have spent much of my life believing Adam to be somehow a kindred spirit, and no doubt a fostering of this perspective through highly empathetic lyrics is at the core of Counting Crows’ success over the years. I was not even the first person to describe a CC show as a “religious experience” to myself – I had heard many others say this was so before I even particularly new many Crows songs. And yet the discovery of the truth of the statement was in no way contrived or unduly advertised when I saw them for the first time in New York in 1999. I dubbed it “the perfect show” and am still unsure if it’s ever been eclipsed.

Trying to describe a Counting Crows show to the uninitiated (or those who, heaven forbid, don’t like or know the band) is a little like Plato struggling with the forms. Yes, we’re still talking about chairs and rooms and people, but you’ve never really seen any of these things in your life until you’ve been to a CC concert. I realize that I’m sounding hyperbolic to the point of undermining what I’m trying to express, but really. For emotional sponges like me, a CC show is like an oxygen tank for asthmatics. Suddenly, for the first time, there’s enough of everything I need.

Last night’s show was no exception to any of these rules, though there are a few cautionary notes. It was both a summer show and a double-headliner, both slight drawbacks from maximal emotional flood. They’re on tour with Maroon 5 of all people, a band that is perhaps the least like them of anyone they’ve ever toured with and seems to combine vapid, repetitive sound with lyrics that sound like a kindergartener regurgitating the most average pop songs they’ve ever heard in staccato. It occurred to me early in the show that they selected this matchup to heighten the contrast between the opener and closing act to pack an even tighter, more profound emotional punch.

But the summer shows (yes, it’s September, but it was an outdoor concert with summer-type billing) tend to be shorter, slightly less focused, and a little more crowd-pleasing. It’s important to stress that these are all questions of degree – the lamest Crows show ever is still probably the best concert experience you’ll ever have this side of Simon & Garfunkel.

But it’s worth noting because I feel that even Adam got in too deep too quickly in last night’s show and had to back off a little bit. Which both heightened and flattened the effect of the message, making me wonder if there isn’t something even larger and less grapplable going on that we’re just scratching the surface of.

The stage featured an almost pyramidal array of stair-steps toward the drums, keyboards, and then a massive fake-brick wall peppered with a large screen and several smaller ones. The most striking component of the set-up, though the clustered sodium lights were notable, was a huge clock in the center of the wall, set to 11:00. It’s the eleventh hour, and Adam’s letting you know. Already, the chills were underway.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Adam in such a mess as a show began as last night. Emily leaned in and remarked something to this effect, implying he was somehow intoxicated, but it looked much more to me like he was grappling with some kind of emotional chasm that was entirely unchartered. He couldn’t get some words out through teary bleary overwhelm. He changed everything about every song, peppering the opening “Round Here” with plaintive cries of hope against hope. The only thing familiar were strands of “Have You Seen Me Lately?” intermingled with new riffs into the song, made all the more stunning when the second song of the act was the original “Have You Seen Me Lately?”.

But before I even knew that was happening, the screen filled with upraised arm silhouettes clawing for some sort of solace or retribution, all aiming at 11:00 on the wall. It was the most viscerally moving and distressing thing I’ve ever seen at a concert in my life. This was on display for the whole final third of a “Round Here” rendition that must have taken ten minutes. I was openly weeping, not even knowing how to take this and being altogether sure that I was not ready for the depth and breadth of the show I was about to witness.

It was thus at once disappointing and relieving that the rest of the concert never reached the tremors of that level of expression. It’s exceedingly rare for a CC show to peak on the first song, but it felt like peering over the abyss, building up as though to jump, and then thinking better of it and dancing on the edge instead. Enough Maroon 5 fans were walking out as the show went on anyway that we have ended up with a concert for a thousand people had he pushed it. And that’s not what summer shows are about, no matter how close they fall to October.

While the show had many obvious and more surficial themes, including a concerted effort to include every song with any sort of reference to California (there are many), key threads of desperation and hope against hope in the face of overwhelming odds seemed to carry throughout. You could argue that these themes are constants for Duritz and company (company probably including me), and you might be right, but it doesn’t make it any less relevant. Those may be the themes of the last decade or so, after all, and the coming few years. If indeed we have years to come.

Early on, it formulated in my mind that the show felt a bit like Adam’s suicide note. And then again, perhaps just a love note. Isn’t every suicide note a love note? And of course, I’m sure I mostly just have suicide on the brain in the wake of David Foster Wallace’s recent action. Then again, it’s worth noting some stark similarities between DFW (born in 1962) and AD (born in 1964). After all, they look like they have something in common:

I’m not the only one that sees a resemblance, right? Then again, for that matter:

Perhaps I’m pushing things a bit far, but this is how CC gets its fans to relate to what’s going on. The intro to the show featured a tribute to the late Isaac Hayes and I was practically expecting something similar for DFW at the show’s end. But DFW didn’t make music, and for all I know Adam Duritz didn’t even read him.

Still, the thread of self-destruction was prevalent in the show and it was hard not to see it as a possible farewell. The unbelievable stripped-bare vulnerability of “Colorblind”, the dramatic trauma of “Cowboys”, the mostly seemingly ad-libbed earnest regret of “Miami”. Every song seemed to have some tie-in to the entire question of deciding whether to exist, though once one starts looking for something in a CC set, it’s hard not to find it. By the time the “feathered by the moonlight” line from “A Murder of One” was folded into “A Long December”, I was just about ready to lose it again.

And then, a sudden retraction, almost as though he was scared of what he was saying to himself, let alone the fans. “Come Around” closed the set, after a brief explanation that the song was about coming back to cities on tour, no matter what else was going on. A song, for the first time, about constancy and a lack of change. And then, after the briefest encore departure in history and only one more song, just four words, each a sentence, loudly into the microphone: “We. Will. Be. Back.”

There was the briefest of hopes that he meant tonight as he walked off stage, but the first strands of “California Dreamin'” over the stereo indicated that he was making a promise for the future. Or maybe trying to convince himself. It’s a weird thing to say to your hometown crowd when half the show chatter was about staying at home with the parents and doing laundry, seeing old familiar places, how much he loves Berkeley, which he sees as the town where he grew up. It’s the kind of thing you say to Pittsburgh or Cleveland or the Philippines when you’re not from there, when those places are remote and perhaps vaguely undesirable, but you’re convincing people to tough it out and wait for you.

And maybe he just means that about the planet. It would certainly be understandable, if so. It’s not an easy place to be, sometimes, and not looking much easier. Me, I have reason for personal hope right now. I haven’t even begun to engage the 10-year reunion homecoming implications of this weekend’s trip for which I depart tonight. I almost wrote a post called “High School Never Ends” a month ago and it still needs to be declared. I joked with Fish about offering live updates on the blog after each interaction with classmates.

But I think, for now, I’d rather feel things in the moment. Live each second as it comes, no matter how packed and overwhelming. There is anticipation, excitement, dread. Reason to believe there’s no idea what to expect. I am ready, I am ready, I am ready, I am fine.

Round Here
Have You Seen Me Lately?
Los Angeles
Richard Manuel is Dead
Ghost Train
Washington Square
A Long December
Come Around

Rain King (with Augustana, Mr. Jones alt)


Tuesday Roundup: Takin’ Care of Business

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, If You're Going to San Francisco, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , , ,

Just because I don’t write Introspection anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t often think in terms of quick updates. This blog format affords the luxury of doing both short blippy quips about my life like the old days, as well as the longer, more thoughtful pieces…

One of the grand ironies of the American experience is that some of our greatest themes and anthems for revered concepts are actually songs lambasting said concept.

The least subtle example of this may be Peter, Paul & Mary’s “I Dig Rock-n-Roll Music”. This is a more obscure case, but it remains PPM’s only really fully legitimate radio song. With lines like “But if I really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless I lay it, between the liiines,” it’s not really hard to see exactly where this song’s loyalty lies. And yet it made the radio and remains there to date as a sincere tribute to rock-n-roll (as opposed to folk music, which PPM were actually advocating). I’m sure the even crueler irony of this being their one radio hit when it complains that the radio won’t play folk music… yeah.

The most damning example may be Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. This tune has become third only to “Proud to Be an American” (a song guaranteed to induce vomiting within 30 seconds) and the national anthem itself as the theme music to flag-waving jingoistic American patriotism. And yet the song was written as an indictment of American hypocrisy and the Vietnam War. The non-refrain lyrics are just hard enough to understand and the chorus is just loud and brash enough to ensure that this song will always bring a smile to the face and a cheer to the voice of those who are unaware they are celebrating an anti-American tune. “So they put a rifle in my hand, sent me off to a foreign land, to go and kill the yellow man.”

But the song that’s stuck in my head from this category today is “Takin’ Care of Business”. Office Depot or a related office store has become the latest in an unending string of businesses using this anthem to explain how productive you’ll be when using their products. “It’s the work that we avoid and we’re all self-employed, we love to work at nothing all day.” Yeah. This song is about quitting your job and starting a rock band, which is explicitly stated to be a lazy sort of scam on those who actually slog away at day jobs. Business indeed.

The song is stuck in my head because it’s one of the rotating theme songs for my baseball video game of choice these days, the 2007 mod of the greatest baseball game of all time, MVP Baseball 2005. My Mariners are getting massacred in this game on a regular basis, but any time I win makes it all worthwhile.

And speaking of the Mariners and winning, last night offered a glimpse at the best inning of the year for the (real-life) Seattle Mariners. Raul Ibanez had 6 RBI in a 10-run seventh inning that catapulted the M’s from a 6-1 deficit to an 11-6 win. When I tuned in around the fourth or fifth inning, it was 6-0, Twins. I wasn’t even sure why I tuned in when the score was already that lopsided. The M’s haven’t exactly been specializing in comebacks this year. But Ibanez hit a grand slam that made it 6-5 and the M’s proceeded to tack on and on and on, all the way to bringing up Ibanez again in the inning as the 14th man to come to the plate, and again with the bases loaded!! He only smacked a single up the middle to plate two and the inning only ended because Willie Bloomquist tried to score too on a throwing error and got barely tagged out.

It’s funny how just an inning like that can redeem a mood and a perspective for a day or so. Even in a hopelessly lost season.

It’s the sun that’s hopelessly lost here in San Francisco, and it’s looking like my trip to Las Vegas (Thursday evening departure) couldn’t be coming at a better time. The 10-day forecast in San Francisco does not get above 65 degrees (high temperature). The same 10-day forecast in Las Vegas does not get below 81 degrees (low temperature). I am a little nervous about “Florida Syndrome” in LV, wherein people will air-condition casino interiors to the point of being as cold as August highs in San Francisco, but then I may just cancel half the poker to go sit outside on the Strip and bake. I desperately need to feel the illusion of some sort of summer.

Meanwhile, my job continues to be my job. Slightly more livable than two weeks ago, ebbing and flowing, constantly leading me on only to crush my spirit. If nothing else, it’s giving me great fodder for future books and stories, future tales of how the American work model fails its people on all levels. And I know that where I’m working is better than 95% of what else is out there. We’re not even driven by a profit motive.

And speaking of profit (and even prophet), is it too early to declare the End of Capitalism? Today, Wall Street wants to think so. It’s just so exciting to have a negative net interest rate! To just feel that money devaluing in your pocket. I mean, how often does your pocket burn a hole in your money? That’s just nifty. Let’s buy financial stocks before they fail.

What surprises me is not that people are revealed to lie, cheat, steal, cut corners, and fabricate in pursuit of almighty profit. What surprises me is that people are surprised by the revelations.

Work out.


I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: , ,

I have yet to see “I’m Not There,” allegedly a very good film about the many sides of Bob Dylan. And maybe “I’m Not There” is all the message one needs. I have written so much about being there or here lately that it’s hard to imagine what not being would be all about. But I’m thinking it’s time.

Well, he hands you a nickel,
He hands you a dime,
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time,
Then he fines you every time you slam the door.

I’ve never done the manual labor described in the song, but I don’t think Bob did much either. Maybe a little, in those early Minnesota days, but my Mom had a good friend that went to school with “Little Bobby Zimmerman” and he didn’t exactly have the farmer physique. Me neither. The point becomes, really, that any labor can end up feeling physical and manual if it’s bad enough. People go home for backaches, stomach aches, are “just sick” and won’t be coming in for days. There is a word, psychosomatic, but it’s not psycho at all. Why work when nothing is working? Why try when everything’s trying?

Eventually it all feels like you’re out on the farm, being ground into the ground by a machine that nickels and dimes you but carefully controls your feelings and perspectives. Has insidious, trained ways of drawing you back in. Even if you manage to dodge the raining (reigning?) bullets of debt and fear and materialism, they’ll find a way to strike you down, to huff and puff and blow your house down. And hope is not far behind.

My Dad has long (six months?) been saying that “nothing is working anymore.” I’m skeptical as to whether it ever was. But the more I see, the higher my perspective, the more laughable it all seems. What would it even look like? Who is working? Why? The situation is well-nigh screaming at me to cut bait and take my losses. It’s like What is Success? rolled up with Seneca with a sprinkle of Broadway and the Advocate and everything else. I can give myself an India reprieve, maybe. But that depends a lot on the next 7 days. Open future, options and decisions to be made. Is humanity worth saving? Some things are so broken that it’s best to start over.

Emily and I cried at “The Great Debaters” for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because we missed debate. Imperfections aplenty, and some really bad people (mostly great, though)… but rules and order and intellectual rigor and curiosity. Everyone on a (roughly) level playing field in the quest for discourse and powerful voices rising to quiet the din of a confused and ill-informed public. Ivory towers rising to the sky, for sure, but to get above the nonsense and into the light. We will never go back, even when we go back. It’s all over now, baby blue, and maybe when people reunite to run the country it will be different this time. But we know which ones will rise in that way and those were the ones we would’ve voted off the island first (and won the elections there, just as elsewhere, of course). So it’s all for naught, even in the best of cases. What is worth saving?

Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks.
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks.
The National Guard stands around his door.

I talked at length what seems like eons ago (it was, chronologically, just over six weeks ago) about Distribution and how few to no people in the world would “need to work” if the world were properly distributed. Or how we could all work a few hours a week (like six or eight) and more than comfortably provide for everyone. Maybe this doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing ever to most people, but I would imagine it does. “The Great Debaters” touched on these issues, and many more, about the nature of work and whether it helps or is necessary or is just one of those hurdles a manipulative society puts in the way of its people.

The point is, we have all been trained and raised to believe in work, no matter what that looks like or how absurd it is. I’m reviewing here. But it takes repetition to break down stereotypes. What are you working for? What am I working for? (I’m really asking here.) For debt? For needless planned-obsolescence gadgets? For the opporunity to give offspring more debt and more obsolete gadgets?

Well, I try my best
To be just like I am,
But everybody wants you
To be just like them.
They sing while you slave and I just get bored.

I am chronically addicted to telling the truth and busting the doors open on perceived needs for privacy, and it is for this reason more than any other that I am getting blindly angry this past week or so. When people try to restrict my ability to speak, to say what’s going on, to share and communicate, especially when it’s completely obvious that such communication is the only road to functionality and the converse is the road to ruin, I get really frustrated. And more so the more it goes on and builds up. It gets hard to even sit still, to breathe, to know what to do. If some place is willing to compromise you more than you even knew you could be, what are you doing? What am I doing? (I am asking here.)

I know all my counter-arguments, my rebuttals, my refutations. I understand the temptations that I am drawn in by, the draw of influence and power, proxies for the opportunity to lead. To provide leadership. To be a leader. In some ways, the worse and more profoundly silly things get, the stronger the argument for staying and fighting and cutting through the madness. I could fix this, give me six months and enough “buy-in” (code-word here for the ability to unite, to wield power for the positive, to bring people together). That’s all it would take.

And maybe, it occurred to me just this morning, the job of every worker at a non-profit should be to put themselves out of a job, just like the work of every non-profit is to put themselves out of work. Everyone who’s doing right by non-profiteering is trying to get our distribution away from needing the work of the non-profiteers. We’re making up for things that shouldn’t be as they are. If we do our job, then we won’t be needed anymore. How many parables and lessons carry a central figure as a traveling teacher whose stint is brief but more powerful than 13-17 years of an educational system?

So six months, maybe twelve, to put myself out of work. Then forget it.

But in six days, mark this, it may already be too late.

Let’s go, time’s a-wastin’.


I’m Feeling Lucky

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Blue Pyramid News, Read it and Weep, Tags: , , ,

I have spent the better part of the last 2.5 hours finally updating the list for OMBFP. (This stands for One Million Blogs for Peace, but I really only call it OMBFP. That’s how I roll.)

Anyway, updating this list for the first time since 9 September (read: +67 blogs), laboriously copying and pasting into my detailed database (read: spreadsheet), and sifting through the attempted splog signatories (read: many many cialis many) has transformed my mood from, say, somber and reflective to, perhaps, giddy and punchy. (I seem to really lack a giddy-n-punchy post here as yet, but parts of this are close.)

So I was wending my way towards the end of my computer evening by doing my last nightly round-up of websites, many of them to see how the Blue Pyramid’s doing today. (Despite this blog’s resurgence, October is a way down month after a banner September and a very good August.) And I got this post as one of the recent updates, which of course reminds me of the fact that if you type in “best books ever” on Google and click I’m feeling lucky, you get the list I made. And not even the updated list I made or the good list I made with tens of other people. It’s this list I made in 1998. For years now, that has been Google’s definitive #1 answer to the question of what the best books ever are. With quotes or without. Rain or shine. Lucky or discerning. And boom.

The irony? About the not being widely read in fiction (yet) but my opinion on books is my great Google success? Oh yeah.

You’d be amazed at how often people try to find the “best books ever”. A lot. Just since switching to my new servers on 3 October, people have headed for the BP after searching for best books ever 1,095 times, best books of all time 325 times, best books ever written 240 times, greatest books of all time 110 times, and greatest books ever written 83 times. There are seven more similar search strings with 50+ times.

Why me? To what do I owe this bestowal of random authority on books?

One of the only things I’ve ever been able to discern about this supernaturally high ranking (a cool 142 million sites show up for best books ever) is that my posting of this to the web on 22 February 1999 just gave me “dibs”. (Someday I will again be able to think of this phrase and not think of the crunchy ice cream snack. Curse you, Dreyers, for replacing my thoughts of swell 50’s-era phraseology!) I got in the door first, and everyone had to get in line behind me. This is not exactly how search engines work, but it’s close to some principles thereof. It hasn’t held up for the quizzes as much, which have flirted with front-page rankings and since subsided. But dibs in 1999 and dibs in 2003 are way different animals. Ice cream aside. (Incidentally, Dibs the ice cream has overtaken Wikipedia’s article on dibs the calling-aide for the coveted I’m Feeling Lucky spot for dibs. I wonder if they called dibs.)

There has to be more to it than getting in the door first, though. And I think a lot of it has to do with people being afraid of using a term so definitive as “best books ever written”. There has been much made throughout my educational history of it being intellectually savvy to equivocate. It occasionally backfires for politicians, but it’s quite sound for an academic. As long as one is willing to hem and haw, to go back and forth, and to constantly modify every statement (“‘I’ statements, please!”) with qualifiers, then one can’t possibly be driven off their point, however watered down into oblivion. I, being an extremist, had no problem dubbing (note: not dibbing) my list with an incredibly over-the-top phrase. (Though note again, not without some self-awareness, in tacking on the all-important “(More or Less)” to the back end of the list. See, that’s being able to laugh at yourself while still being an extremist! Note also that, to date, not a soul has found the BP by searching for the phrase more or less.)

The point is that anyone else who was willing to make a list of 100 books that they thought were the peachy-keenest (peachiest-keen?) would also be very careful to moderate their title for it so it seemed reasonable. And so it was probably years until anyone else went grandiose on their title. And by then, they had to get in the back of the line.

Not all of my Googular victories are so coveted. It’s possible the Weakerthans already had some inkling of who I was, because I’ve topped the list for weakerthans setlist since shortly after the show in SF in December ’04. Depending on whether you put a space in setlist (please, sir, can I have more semantics?), there are only 5k-19k competitors. I get both, despite the words “set” and “list” not appearing separately in the aforementioned setlist. Google is getting smarter.

Despite feeling so lucky here, only 8 times has someone landed at the BP after searching that string (this October).

I was pleased to note just today that I also top the list for 2008 presidential ticket, mostly (I would surmise) because of the ungainly nature of that phrase. Despite the election year fervor, this string shows up less than a quarter-million times on the interwebs. And I named a quiz after it!

It’s also worth noting, though (lest I feel too lucky), that not once this October, but twice, someone has shown up at the BP after entering the following words into Google:
the parralel between jim crow and to kill a monking bird

Maybe it’s time to start a third incarnation of the Search of the Week. That or start investing in the acquisition and sale of monking birds. I hear they’re like crows.


Of John K. and Signage (or: I Have All the Cool Experiences)

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, If You're Going to San Francisco, Tags: , ,

I am not, by nature, someone who is particularly prone to planning ahead. Unlike some people who one might classify as “flaky”, this is a deliberate choice and not something I internally struggle with. I like not planning. I have my reasons, and to me they’re all true. But rather than delve into an expository on those reasons, I think this vignette of my life last night will serve to illustrate. Showing, not telling, they tell me.

Months ago, the Weakerthans let me know via their e-mail list that they would be coming to visit the city where I work, San Francisco, on October 3rd. The Weakerthans are a relatively obscure Canadian band who have chosen to stay on independent labels despite being talented enough to go for the big-time. They’re one of the bands I only know because I’m friends with David Gray (don’t misunderstand the musical mixed metaphor here – I’m talking about my friend, David Gray, not a Scottish folk singer… perhaps it’s best if I just call him Gris from now on). But unlike most of the music I’ve heard only through Gris, the Weakerthans are really good.

So they say they’ll be coming in October and I start to ready the usual suspects of people in the area who would want to go (Em, Gris, Anna) and get people excited about the show. Then I let it go for awhile, right up until this week when it flashed into my head that something exciting was coming up in October. By this time, rechecking with all the usual suspects reveals that no one else wants to go (everyone’s quite busy) and, lo and behold, the Weakerthans snuck a new CD out a week ago that will clearly be the basis for the show’s set and I don’t know it! Double-decker disaster!

(I initially thought that my e-mail list which is supposed to automatically keep me abreast of all things Weakerthans failed to inform me of the new CD, but upon review it seems that I was easily misled by the title of said disc. It’s called “Reunion Tour”. And I think they announced it in the same e-mail wherein they invited me to see them on their… tour. Chalk one up for not skimming the e-mail updates … or perhaps for bands never ever titling non-live album releases with the word Tour. Incidentally, the band has never broken up.)

Swift action was called for. I came to work yesterday with a plan to acquire the new CD at a music store near my place of employ and (gulp) listen to it at work sufficiently to catch up with it for the new show. I gulp not because there’s any sort of restriction on me listening to music at work – it’s all but encouraged – but because I pretty much can’t concentrate when there’s music on. Any noise that I can make sense of makes it almost impossible for me to zero in on anything else. Ambient, non-linguistic noise does not have the same problem, even at high volumes. I have always been amazed by people who legitimately seem to focus better while listening to music.

So the plan rolled out and I was able to find absurdly rote work to do for the first 40-minute run-though of the CD. Not enough to learn it, but at least I could know which songs to get excited about. And then I decided to hang out in my office for 40 minutes after work to more closely repeat the experience. It wasn’t until I was rechecking the show time on the website of the club (Slim’s) during track 7 that I actually saw the words… “PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS SHOW IS COMPLETELY SOLD OUT – THANK YOU!”

I knew the Weakerthans had stayed independent, so there was only one possible interpretation of that sentence. I wasn’t going to get to go.

Just as my heart was recovering from the shocking jolt of this realization (I had really been spending the whole day preparing for and thinking about this show), a plan began to hatch in my mind. So, only slightly fazed, I put together a sign to print out with a collection of Weakerthans song titles reworked to implore concert-goers to give me an extra ticket they might have (e.g. “This is a Ticket Seeker Never Leave Open”). I wrapped it up with a quote from “Pamphleteer” about standing on a corner, trying to get people’s attention, [and a ticket]. And I made it clear that I would pay face value for the ticket and was not seeking a freebie – although I would gladly have paid well more than the $15 face value of the ticket, I was quite concerned about being rung up for some sort of scalping infraction were I to put in writing that I would pay double face value. In fact I was quite concerned with this whole project that I could get hauled in (or at least shooed away) under scalping accusations of some sort or another. There’s a reason actual scalpers don’t entreaty customers with signs.

My larger concern, of course, was with investing hours of time in the cold with my sign and ending up going home without seeing the show. If it sold out in the first place, who knows how many die-hard fans they had accumulated since the last time they played SF? Would there be a fleet of people with signs like mine, boldly bidding $100 for entry? At least if I got shooed away early, I would only be out a brisk mile-plus walk across the city.

So I got there at about 6:20 (doors 7:30, show 8:00), to stand against a pole by the entrance perfectly positioned to face the line. The line had three inhabitants, stalwartly bracing against the wind tunnel formed by Slim’s on the right and… the tour bus on the left! Interesting. The box office was closed, so I couldn’t cajole them. I asked the three line-standers if they had an extras, then hauled my sign, backed with cardboard from my backpack. The wind was blowing such that it pinned the sign against my chest, which was rather fortunate… had the wind or arrangement of the street been reversed, all my hair would have obscured my face and the sign would constantly be in danger of catching the wind on a corner and blowing down the road.

Band members began to filter back and forth between the bus and the club, sometimes glancing at my sign and a couple took time to stop and read it. (The fonts were to small and people have a harder time seeing than I do, so people would often have to stop right next to me and sort of lean in to get the full impact of the sign. But people kept doing it.) Very few actual concert-goers were showing up. And then John K. Samson, the lead singer, turned the corner with an apparent local friend of his and was chatting with him for awhile. Then he popped into the club, then back over to the bus, and then came by to read my sign and say hello.

Dialogue in these situations is always a little strange. I don’t think stars (major or minor) like the fan who just opens up and starts talking about how they think the star is brilliant and speaks to them or some such. It may be true, it may even be implicit in the interaction, but it’s just weird to hear, especially in an off-the-cuff interaction that doesn’t have indefinite amounts of time to explore lyrical interpretation or the symbolism of syntax. My perception that this is the case is drawn from strained interactions with debaters when I was one of the top debaters on APDA… it’s probably the closest I’ve been to feeling what an adult celebrity might feel like. (And I’m not trying to exaggerate here or delve into grandeur – I’m very well aware of what debate was and wasn’t. I’m just explaining a sensation of an interaction that seems vaguely microcosmic.) Novice debaters I’d never met would walk right up to me and start talking about how they felt about a round, or try to get my opinion on a type of case, often with no introduction, warning, or observation of the fact that this was a weird thing to do. The lack of introduction exacerbated things like them knowing my name and my not knowing theirs. And they almost all seemed to come from the school of thought that if you just talk to someone like you’ve been good friends for a long time, then everything will go perfectly. It was often too odd for words, and always left me feeling a little bad about not having memorized the 214 people who might be registered at a tournament and anticipating everything they might say to me.

So I didn’t want to do that.

“How’s it going?”
“Good. (laughs) I like your sign.”
“Thanks. I didn’t think you’d sell out.”
“Yeah. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’m just hoping to get in to see you guys tonight. I’m sure someone’ll come along with an extra. I’m pretty confident.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can do for you. I’ll see if we can work this out.”
“That would be great! Thanks.”

He stopped by a couple times thereafter, once to tell me that he was “working on it” and another to say that he thought it was going to work out.

Shortly after the last interaction (about 50 minutes from when I’d started standing there and the line had now grown a bit with no extras in the crowd), someone clearly in some sort of band-manager position came up and asked me to write down my name on a piece of paper in a Sharpie I could hardly open because of the wind tunnel cold. Five minutes later, she said I had been put on a list for the will-call line and could buy a ticket!

The rest was history and became like the normal experience of going to a show by myself, one that (like doing many things alone, such as going to movies) I often really enjoy as a uniquely personal event. Going to a show with others is great fun, but the event becomes as much about the people you’re going with as the music itself or the band or even how one as a person experiences the whole environment. Going by oneself really isolates the emotions of the event itself… I wouldn’t choose that kind of approach every time, but it’s nice from time to time. Plus I get to eavesdrop. And I really enjoy eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers. It’s one of the best schools we have and the best ways of grounding ourselves in the perspectives of others outside our sphere or vantage point.

I did manage to write “THANK YOU!” on the back of my sign and get John K. Samson’s attention with it during the second or third song, which he acknowledged with a smile and nod. I say a smile, but John K. smiles more than anyone I’ve ever seen on the stage at a show… he constantly seems elated and giddy to be performing. Which is a pretty reasonable reaction, if you ask me.

Did I mention I was in the front row? I was in the front row. I was the sixth person to get up to the stage despite being the 20th or 25th person in line. Only the first five people in line and I were concerned with actual proximity to the show (as opposed to, say, first in line for T-shirts or drinks).

I filled the rest of the sign’s back with the setlist, which I’ll post at the bottom of this now absurdly granular and lengthy post. The Weakerthans may never play “Sounds Familiar” in concert, but it won’t keep me from calling out for it during the silences. “Reconstruction Site” back-to-back with “Aside” was probably my highlight of this show, though the entire first encore was pretty great too. While I was ecstatic that they came back for a second encore (they haven’t done this in the two prior times I’ve seen them), the actual songs left a little to be desired. John K. even got my hopes up by saying “We haven’t played this song in years” before the final tune, but it was not the aforementioned “Sounds Familiar”. That would be a great way to close a show, but it seems the Weakerthans like to end on an up-note, unlike say, Counting Crows, who would totally close on “Sounds Familiar”. If, y’know, it were their song.

Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call
Civil Twilight
Our Retired Explorer
Reconstruction Site
Night Windows
Relative Surplus Value
Sun in an Empty Room
Left and Leaving
Tournament of Hearts
The Reasons
Time’s Arrow
History to the Defeated
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute

One Great City!
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure

Swingin’ Party (cover)
Exiles Among You

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