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Wig Shopping With Anthony Bourdain

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end of summer

The end of summer as we know it is on the horizon – can you smell the difference in the scent of the air?

… and so … in a pretzely-twisted kind of way it seems appropriate that I’m writing a song these days about another end… death.

More specifically? Suicide.

And now here I am trying to think of a way to drill down into these depths and find some humour to share because I don’t want to be all morose and maudlin. I like to write upbeat posts filled with fun and hope and smiles.

But sometimes upbeat is hidden in a dark closet and unavailable.

My first exposure to suicide was in my teens. Luckily, his wasn’t a successful suicide.

Steve was a young co-worker of mine at the local McDonalds.

He and I weren’t bosom buddies but we did share a common cause.

Steve and I went out wig shopping together… yup, you read that right… wig shopping!

No, neither of us had cancer with chemotherapy that robbed us of our glorious hair. No, neither of us had early onset alopecia.

What we had was… 1970’s teenaged-onset long hair.

Hair.jpg

Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy…. HAIR……..

McDonalds had a firm policy that no male employee would sport tresses that fell across or over the ear.

Steve and I had a firm policy too!

My friend and I wanted the McJob but there was no way in the world we were going to allow some barber to neuter us like treacherous Delilah had done to Samson. Teenage years were difficult enough without nerdifying us into Lawrence Welk sycophantic clones.

So we trod off to a wig store on Hamilton’s “Mountain” and a very nice lady there found us inexpensive short-haired wigs that were our hair colour and … after a few dozen bobby pins and bobbles were applied… ta-dahhhh… everyone was happy. YAY!

But I guess Steve wasn’t happy inside. It wasn’t long after that when my co-worker/friend took an overdose of pills as a cry for help that sent him to hospital.

I had no idea what to do or say … I wasn’t Sweet 16, maybe Stupid 16.

I never saw Steve again.

I hope he got the help he needed and has lived a reasonably happy existence for the many years since. Maybe he’s dead. I don’t know.

My exposure to suicide over the years has been at arms-length. Thankfully.

I’ve worked in labs where on any given typical week, I would see an autopsy form tucked in the Pathologist’s In-Box that outlined the coroner’s story of a likely suicide victim awaiting examination in the downstair’s morgue refrigerator.

These cases – these people – these fellow humans – these suicides – weren’t reported in the newspapers like motor vehicle accidents. Their obituaries gave us no clue.

I know that suicide potential exists all around us.

Every one of us could be in the direct line of a close friend or relative who, unbeknownst to us is on the cliff’s edge. We may not know that until the jump happens.

OK. Back to the song I’m writing.

The recent past has brought a shocking number of celebrity deaths with suicide as the stated cause… Robin Williams. Kate Spade. Avicii. David Foster Wallace. Margot Kidder. Anthony Bourdain. These are the ones we know of and were successful.

celebrity suicide 2

According to the World Health Organization, someone on this planet commits suicide very 40 seconds. In Canada, the reported ones total about 10 per week.

Just as the expression tells us that the rich and famous pull their pants on one leg at a time… so too do they experience the depths of despair and depression. Sadness knows no socio-economic statistic that magically elevates the happiness quotient.

I’m writing an ode to the pain of suicide with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain as my muse.

Why a suicide song?

Maybe it’s because I enjoy cooking.

… or perhaps because the sheer numbers of suicide are penetrating my awareness.

… or maybe my experiences at the soup kitchen have hammered home the potential that exists in so many to write the final page in their book.

Here’s one stanza of my song-in-works (pre-bridge and chorus) :

We didn’t know
It never occurred -we never prepared
another meal might not be shared
How could we guess
Why would we think – who ever thought
the ingredients were a sign of distress.

His Days were numbered
our days are numbered too
sometimes we choose to count them down
at times they’re counted down for you
the smiles cry smokescreen
shadow normalcy through pain
when sun comes shining thru the clouds
yet nothing falls but rain.

………………………….

It’s 6 am as I write these words and the sun is still settled well below the smoke-hazed Okanagan horizon.

Soft muffled sounds of tourist cars laden with tents and coolers and floaties and sleeping children in the back, echoes off in the distance in a mix with cricket chirps.

A moth flits anxiously against my screen window, the early morning flight of the Air Canada Dash 8 rumbles overhead.

Another day. Another start. And I wonder. I ponder.

Will all those who awake in the world with me this morning find a reason to lay their head back on their pillow at the end of this day…

dog countng sheep

I think that I shall never see…

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Poetry

Poetry…

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love (Leonard Cohen)

For most of my life, I’ve not truly, verily… understood poetry.

Mud puddles and Gobbledegook!

Sure, I’ve understood and tried to use poetic language in my prose, my letters, my e-mails, my blog posts… language is a beautifully scented rose in life’s garden …

But the essence of a poem: the stanzas, the subtlety, the nuance, the deep intrigue that typically holds hands within a poem have usually left me spinning – confused and suffering from a deep-seated feeling of “inferiority”… why don’t I understand what the poet is saying?

Poetry typically oozes emotional depth… am I merely too shallow to swim in these waters?

I know I can be accused of laziness.

In high school I enjoyed reading poetry.

My teacher would recite each line aloud and explain the meaning submerged within the words, like weed tendrils floating beneath the lake’s surface… the pain, the glory, the love … “ah, so that’s what she is saying, this is good stuff.”

Poetry is very cool.

Then… the teach would send us home with an assignment to read such and such poem or sonnet.

She’d command that we come back the following day with a well thought out interpretation of what the writer intended and why their choice of cutting metaphor and incisive imagery was so cleverly insightful and amazing. So deep.

“But Ms. French, I’M NOT deep.”

“Dr. Seuss I get… Bartholomew Cubbins and his 500 hats makes total sense… but this Shakespearean sonnet is about ….?love?… which physic did except? huh?”

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed:
    For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
    Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

 

The weeds kept dragging me down into the darkness – I wallowed and drowned in starless misunderstanding.

Even music lyrics, like written stanzas of poetry are my dyslexia… a Johnny Flynn song I’ve been rehearsing with a musical partner lately goes like this:

Now quick to the cut are we waking
And seeing it all as the dream
The pillars that raised us are shaking
And Samson’s will is the theme
That one minute we see and the next we don’t
In our minds in the devil’s long tail
Slapping sense to its peak and a hard strung out week
And so back to the love in our sails
Gonna sweep this house clean out
Gonna blow out all of the lights
We’ll dream back up the Amazon
We’ll steer her home tonight
We’ll steer her home tonight

 

Samson’s will is the theme… huh?

The rhythm of the waves slaps at the shoreline but I can’t see where they’re coming from, the wordy fog too thick for my understanding.

But wait… there’s hope.

Now maybe… maybe… music, for me, has been the parallel substitute, the lyrical language that is my poetry… the wandering melody and harmony the stanzas of beauty that make my beating heart rise high and float with the clouds…

Music without words is its own poem. When we listen to music we feel the tugs and pulls of joy and sadness: the long drawn out sorrow of death, at times the elation of love, the passage of time.

Can you listen to Pharrell Williams sing and not feel HAPPY? Take in the strains of Vivaldi’s SPRING and the violin’s vision of birds flitting in their bouts of twitterpation?

What is this if not poetry?

Psychologist Howard Gardener proposed a variety of types of intelligence: visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical, interpersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and musical-rhythmic.

So perhaps … the poetry that we each find in our world is a factor of where our intelligence muscles originate.

Maybe you see and sense poetry in the movement of your body, your neighbour in the logical ways of numbers and math formulae.

But for me, I’ll pick up my guitar and delve into the musical poetry that reads true joy into my harmonious heart.

And occasionally, when I need some of that old-fashioned wordy-kind-of-rhyme,

I’ll slip into a scintillating stanza or two from Dr. Seuss or even Shel Silverstein…

Falling Up Shel Silverstein.jpg

 

The Man From A.B.I… or… D.R.O.Y.L.

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boy improving

Yeah, that title’s a wee bit of a stretch. I do that sometimes when I want to draw you into my message.

So here’s the message…

Always Be Improving… akaDon’t Rest On Your Laurels…

I was at the beach late yesterday afternoon – the off-white sand of Sunoka Beach is sweetly satisfying in the blazing hot Okanagan August sunshine – and was stunned when I spotted a group of 4 – one man and three women – in their beach chairs beneath a blue shade umbrella at water’s edge.

No, I wasn’t stunned because they were stretched out naked, airing out their naughty bits (although I was in the buff – ok, maybe not), but because each, instead of eyes down into their iPhone or Samsung device, were eyes down into … wait for it… a book. Cue the piercing screams.

Four people. Together. Every one of them. Submerged. In a book!

I tried hard not to stare. Really hard. I felt myself drawn in to the bizarre visual like some creepy Peeping Tom.

I couldn’t tell for sure but it didn’t look like they were studying their scriptures or 50 Shades of Grey. 

Maybe they were exploring. Maybe they were learning. Maybe they were improving.

The sight ran against my expectation, like seeing a camel casually loping down Main Street in Vancouver.

camel in town

I felt shocked. I felt shocked that I would feel shocked. But I felt pleased too.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with perusing your phone. Communication is a good thing – to a point.

But an amoeba won’t likely ever grow into a Homo Sapien if it never improves and becomes a greater entity than its parent, its grandparent.

We’d probably all be amoeba still if we only carried phones. Hmmmm…. do you think amoebae could have invented an iPhone?

…………….

Henry Winkler “the Fonz”, in a later episode of TV’s Happy Days, gifted us the expression jumped the shark, that moment when we’ve crossed the dividing line into devastation, certain oblivion.

But “Eey… Correct-amundo“… the Fonz didn’t allow a momentary defeat to shape his life trajectory.

Today? Well, Winkler doesn’t look at all like the cool Fonz anymore. He has made himself over into a new popular character Gene Cousineau on the HBO show Barry.

winkler then and now

Winkler says: “When I was 27, I knew who I wanted to be as an actor, at 72, I am getting closer.”

Winkler learned, studied and grew.

I’ve jumped the shark too many times to count. When I was 19 I knew I wanted to write songs. I tried but I wasn’t ready. I’m not 91 yet but I too am getting closer to what I want to be.

Whaddya mean, closer?

Learning and trying and growing is the gunpowder in my head. Learning is how I’m getting closer.

We all traverse the spectrum of our lives like a Russian nesting doll. At different points through the years we grow and change and “unnest” a new entity of ourselves that carries us forward. Da

I’ll never be the boy wonder I’d like to be, but the effort put in to improving just a tiny bit every day keeps me both juvenile and rejuvenated.

Let’s face it. I’m just you sitting here in this chair, watching a tiny ant wandering around the desk surface, typing away with my host of worries and insecurities and ideas and dreams. I have lots of weaknesses and so I reach out… to learn.

We all open our doors in the morning and bravely head off into the world in different directions, the places we lead our lives, the places – hopefully- we love and want to be.

Reading good books, practicing and developing our skills and interests, keeping a keen focus on the important and not the trivial, attempting to be as fearless as possible and not worrying so much about what others think of us when we attempt and fail…

It’s the pursuit of ABI or DROYL that matters. We all need a sense of purpose – the desire to learn and improve. It’s our Northern Star.

It doesn’t matter where your focus, your passion lies. Learning and growing, always improving, inspires an inner flame of enthusiasm.

Always Be Improving is a lovely way to open your eyes to the morning each day.

It can be as individual as your fingerprint, the pattern of your iris, or even a beautifully romantic, wintry snowflake.

And… exactamundo… it just don’t matter whether the ABI inspiration hits in the midst of a marathon run… lounging in the bath… waterskiing over a voracious sea predator… or yes, better yet … while stretched out naked in the sun.

reading while naked.jpg

The Investment Magic of Writing…

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“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
poet Mary Oliver

…………………..

music magic

I’m trying to become a musical magician but it hurts like an August sunburn…

I was a huge fan of Elton John in his early years… Yellow Brick Road, Candle In The Wind, Love Lies Bleeding, Tiny Dancer, Your Song… tons more.

Honestly though, much of Bernie Taupin’s lyrical imagery for John’s songs were beyond my ken (lack of hallucinogenic stimulants?) …

back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad…

What the hell is that? Intriguing, yes…

I dreamed and schemed of wearing weird multi-hued eyeglasses in my teens as if that would make me a super songwriter… NOPE!

Alright, eyeglasses aren’t the magical secret. So what is?

elton john glasses.jpg

Good writing, whether prose, poetry, lyrics, or music is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that conjures magic from the ether.

But like any magic, it isn’t really magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand.

Good writing is hard work and when it reads or sounds easy to our ears and eyes, I know the crafter has worked the hardest of all.

Hemingway and Stephen King and Shakespeare and JK Rowling were/are no slouches at the art of writing. Imagination, imagery, metaphor.

Lennon and McCartney, JS Bach, Paul Simon, Antonio Vivaldi dedicated 10,000 hours and beyond to their efforts.

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field… Paul Simon (America) 

Paul Simon takes us on a emotional journey in 8 lines of verse where the initial fun and exuberance of young love fades as they pass over the landscape… it’s simplicity that likely took him a month or more to write.

He could have told us the same story in 4 lines filled with cliche and “you and me” directness but instead filled our minds with storybook images.

………………………….

… magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand …

………………………….

Pretty much any of us can get lucky and write something of quality… something that’s meaningful and memorable… once.

Almost any person can line up a tee shot once in their life and hit a hole-in-one. But can they replicate it? Play the Vegas slots enough and one day a big winner will likely come your way. Once.

But the writers and musicians that make me want to kiss them and raise their children, are those that work past the “lucky” stage and consistently find ways of speaking to us that engage our head and our heart.

I used to think that inspiration was the key. So wrong.

Inspiration is a lazy verb… hell, it’s not EVEN a verb… how slothful is that?

David Ben, a former Toronto tax lawyer turned magician, has been an entertainer for almost 40 years and says he still rehearses several hours each day. Inspiration through dogged rehearsal.

Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel the same.

Inspiration is the feverish result of watching and listening and dreaming and pushing and pulling.

There’s an inquisitiveness aspect to magic-making where we drill in closely at a microscopic level trying to understand what it is that makes something work.

I’ve always been far too lazy or disinterested to understand how a car engine truly functions, or how a sail catches the wind in just the right way. I’d spend my 10,000 hours of learning in a bored-out-of-my-tree haze.

I hunger for magic that makes me jump up and down.

I unearth that feeling when I’m typing words, or picking out guitar notes.

But the inspiration usually only comes with time investment, which is really good for me as I jump up and down when I think of investment.

For the past two years I’ve invested time and thoughtful energy into a song, a song that I publicly previewed for the first time at an Open Mic in Oliver last night.

Two years investment. One song. Three musical minutes.

And it’s an investment – based on a lifetime of learning – that I look at… and as so often like with my financial investments, the end result isn’t quite as rich as I would like.

But that’s just being greedy.

It’s not the wondrous magic filled with fireworks that I dreamed of, but it is magic lite. 

And magical writing – wondrous or lite – is a process that goes nowhere without the sweat equity that makes any investment prosperous.

All these years later I’m still trying to become a musical magician, and damn if it still doesn’t hurt like an August sunburn…

 

Paper Rose photo (1).jpg