Friday, October 21, 2016

Autobobography XI—Things Have Changed

I’ll run through some of my favorite Dylan music which I thought of when I started writing this series but haven’t mentioned in previous posts. Blowin’ in the Wind was his first classic. It’s hard for me to get back to the hopeful naivety which provides its power, but still a classic. Like a Rolling Stone led off one of his finest albums, Highway 61 Revisited, with its aching tale of karma, loss, harsh reality, and homelessness. A couple songs later comes It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, a great shuffling piano and harmonica blues. 

Positively 4th Street: I’ve never personally felt this degree of disgust with an individual but here’s one of the greatest putdowns ever, concluding a song full of them-- “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, you’d know what a drag it is to see you” Just Like a Woman: I think of it as a beautiful touching song but it pissed off a lot of feminists. Dylan was happy to egg them on by occasionally changing a lyric to “she bakes just like a woman”.

The mid-70s was my favorite Dylan period, highlighted by what most people consider his best album, Blood on the Tracks. I’m one of those people, even with the nine minute mistake of Lily, Rosemary, & the Jack of Hearts which doesn’t fit with the rest of album which is filled with heartache that seems more real and personal rather than overtly fictional characters. Idiot Wind was a favorite song at the time. I can remember snarling along with anger and misanthropy and jealousy and self-loathing even back then. The next album Desire wasn’t quite as good but Emmylou Harris’s vocals and Scarlet Rivera’s violin made for a memorable sound. 

The 1975 Rolling Thunder tour which featured many of the songs from these two albums is captured on a release in the official bootleg series. These high energy fast songs (reportedly driven by lots of speed) aren’t the definitive versions but they’re interesting versions; it’s not a favorite of some people but at least his vocals are understandable. I also have three cds of live Dylan concert versions of songs from Blood on the Tracks which were put together by fans.

The born again religious period made me stop paying attention to Dylan releases so I didn’t notice Oh Mercy at the time it was released. It was a Chris Smither cover of What Was It You Wanted which made me finally check out the album. I liked the sound which producer Daniel Lanois provided and have a cd of alternate takes; some didn’t like Lanois’s production and Dylan apparently had issues with him, yet he used him again to produce another of my favorite albums, Time Out of Mind. That one was released while I was managing a college bookstore where I chose the music, which one student said always made coming into the store interesting because of the variety. I remember telling people I considered this Dylan’s best album since Blood on the Tracks.

I used to care, but things have changed

Clearly, one thing that hasn’t changed much is my love of music. It may not have quite as much emotional power over me as it once did but it’s still one of my favorite ways to spend my time. The arts in general still matter to me, but almost nothing else about the human world does.

I used to march, to protest, to write passionately on a variety of social issues which I no longer care about. As society has moved further away from interacting with the natural world, I’ve chosen to remove myself further from society. And it’s a society which has become increasingly fractured, with no shared values or goals. There is no human issue, including matters of life and death, which I consider important compared to what our species is doing to nature and other species because of our overpopulation, greed, selfishness, and shallowness. Earthquakes, explosions, economies, wars, who’s shooting who--I don’t care. The last human disaster that mattered to me was Katrina, and that was only because of location.

For the most part, being among people irritates me. As Anders Osborne sings in one of the songs on his great latest release Flowerbox—I used to be sexy, now everything vexes me. And I’m ten years older than him! Imagine how vexed I am!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Autobobography X—Tangled Up In Blue

Trapped in Reagan’s early 80s, the farmers and I were depressed in a western Illinois university town. I’d walked out of a fast food job rather than tolerate unfairness, leaving behind so many tempting coworkers I’d been unable to choose until one came home with me from a party and didn’t leave. When she finally did, I wound up with her cat. There weren’t any other jobs and it became the first time I lost everything I couldn’t carry. I wound up back in Massachusetts living in a trailer on my father’s land, working in a local factory to pay off debts and save enough to get an apartment.

A woman from another company visited my job regularly and after months of business chats, I finally asked if she’d like to go out and she gave me her number. She drove twenty miles to meet me for dinner during which I stared entranced by the pendant in the teardrop opening at the neck of her white blouse. 

We went back to her place and sat talking and kissing at her kitchen table until she said let’s go to bed and I let her lead the way to candlelight. After the second coming, I said I think we’re getting the hang of this and she said she should get me home because of her kids in the morning. I said I hope this means I’ll be seeing you again; she said you’d better, you asshole.

We spent long Sunday mornings in bed with the newspaper, thick in those days. I loved the curve of her hip as she reached for a cigarette. I couldn’t get enough of her, and told her, and showed her. We commiserated about our parents and childhoods. At a restaurant, a pianist played As Time Goes By and she told her father it was my favorite song. She worried I’d be attracted to her younger sister. 

We spent time by the ocean, at theaters and concerts, and in her home which gradually came to be the first one I’d ever felt, alone and with her kids and dog. Poor and not driving, I was still crazy enough then to ask her to marry me, and she was crazy enough to say yes. Her daughter asked should I call you dad; I instantly got a lump in my throat. The girl now a woman doesn’t remember, but it was my happy moment of fatherhood.

She ended the relationship for no real reason but her fear of commitment when I moved to her town, and I felt I’d lost not just her but a home and a family. But the connection never ended, and we reunited whenever a late night phone call brought us together again after months or years apart. We each knew that both of us were screwed up, incapable of a healthy long term relationship, but no matter how much we might hurt each other, we also knew there was a deep love and bond between us and we always came back for more.

We shared a therapist though not together. I needed one and she recommended hers but we were both uncomfortable with the incestuousness of that threesome. I went looking only for a recommendation of another therapist, but the energy worked and she helped me for years. 

During a visit by my college roommate and his wife, we all went to a club where she got very drunk and asked me to dance with her, I refused and she called me an asshole. Knowing she wasn’t serious but embarrassed anyway, I lashed back and asked why she was with me then and she looked shocked. After we left, I stayed at her house and sent my friends back to my apartment. Later he’d say she treats you like shit, but it was him I visited after his wife left him. Only two people really know what happens between them, and often even they don’t really understand it.

We spent a Valentines weekend in a Boston hotel. At dinner her foot was in my crotch beneath the floor length tablecloth. We made love in the tub, but what I remember best is her saying don’t you know I love you, how could you, I never say it. Even then, she’d later claim it was just the drink and not true, but I always did know, despite her difficulty in admitting it.

One reunion broke up my next relationship with a woman who loved me so much she’d offered me sexual freedom (not what I wanted or needed) unless I was falling for someone else, then I was to break up with her. She believed I was still in love with her predecessor--she was right and I hurt her by following her instructions.

In one late reunion she said she’d heard there was a porn star who looked like her and asked if I knew who it was. I said no, I wasn’t looking at much porn these days; later I found it was Sandra Romain. As always, the resemblance is more obvious in some photos than others -- the similarity in the eyes and hair and skin tone mostly. What did you think it was going to be? 

We had a vicious ending after I took the job in Yellowstone – kicking me while I was down from my grandfather’s death and father’s betrayal, she wondered how she’d gone from loving me so much to hating me? Was it because I was leaving her for good? Was it because I was just a shell of the man I’d been and she knew she was partially responsible? Was it because I’d accepted the fact that I was worn out and defeated?

When I made a quick last return to Massachusetts to ship my things from storage to Duluth storage, I eventually kicked back in one of my vilest moments, sending an email suggesting a hate fuck because I’d never be back.

I had nothing really left to give to another woman, and all my future relationships began through detached means such as newspaper ads or internet communities. All the other attempts at real life interactions failed before they really began and I gave up for years until hooked by a last intriguing possibility in the park which became the biggest and saddest final failure of them all.

While working in Yellowstone, I learned that she’d been attacked in her home, which had been mine for a while, and barely escaped being murdered. I traded final conciliatory emails with her and her daughter.

In a town near Yellowstone in my final year in the area, I met a woman who looked like her and immediately wanted her. Still tangled after all these years. 

Next up:

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Autobobography IX—Highlands

I’m in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Well, maybe I do but I’m just really not sure

One last place piece. I grew up in the eastern megalopolis, but in a small town that at the time couldn’t have even been called a suburb. The earliest Boston experience I remember involved going to a medical center for testing to see what I was allergic to—really, it was more a question of what I wasn’t allergic to. The procedure was nothing traumatic and what I really remember is going to a nearby diner with my father afterward and having beef stew, blueberry pie, and a glass of milk.

My other early Boston memories came about because my grandfather knew someone in professional baseball. In 1967, the Impossible Dream year for the Red Sox, I met one of the pitchers who took my program back to the locker room and returned it with autographs from most of the team, the longest and biggest being Carl Yastrzemski. At a game the following year I got a baseball autographed by the Minnesota Twins. 

Twenty years later I was working for a financial corporation which had private boxes at Fenway and Boston Garden and I was able to see Sox and Celtics games that way. At the Red Sox game, a foul ball flew past us into the room where some of our group was watching the game on television. My only other fond memory of those corporate years is when I told one of the people working for me to take as much time off as she needed after her pet died.

During the fifteen years I lived in or around Boston, I attended hundreds if not thousands of movies, concerts, plays, dance performances, museum exhibits, and lectures including hearing Gary Snyder. I took adult education classes in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, as well as through Harvard Extension School in subjects including writing, nature, tai chi, and many more.

I took frequent train trips west to Walden Pond, north to Rockport, south to a large Audubon hiking area, and boats east to watch the humpbacks. I walked and ran through all the parks in Boston’s Emerald Necklace. One regular routine was to take a couple subway lines to hang out in Harvard Square on Saturday nights and buy an early copy of Sunday’s Boston Globe. Another was trying new restaurants with two coworkers, women from Italy and Trinidad (much more interesting than Americans).

It was a good life in a city I loved. Even with outrageous Boston rents, I was saving money while working less than forty hours a week. Eventually though, all the opportunities stopped interesting me, and even though offered a leave of absence by the college where I’d worked for ten years, I knew it was time to move away from the area permanently, a move I’ve never regretted despite still considering Boston one of my favorite cities.

I’ve written more than enough about Yellowstone in the four years I lived there and since, but I have to include the Rockies in these place pieces, especially in one titled Highlands. Waiting for the bus in Minneapolis on my first trip there, I met a woman in line who lived in my destination Bozeman and we talked much of the way across the country. When the first snow covered mountains—the Crazies—came into view, she said this is why we live here.

The views were sensational, but the wildlife was the reason I lived in Yellowstone for four years. Wildlife as it should be, large and free, with humans just one part of the landscape instead of the only part. In theory in the park, humans weren’t allowed to treat the natural world with the contempt they show in most of the world, but assholes are assholes and can’t always be controlled. People have been damaging Yellowstone’s features and killing its wildlife ever since it was created. 

Watching that behavior got to be a drag, and I think I got out just in time before it got even worse with increased visitation. Despite that pain, what ultimately drove me from Yellowstone was feeling betrayed and disappointed by people I knew and the company I worked for. I’ll never go back unless there are major changes in how tourists are dealt with. And even if the tourists are handled better, there’s still a big chunk of the population of the surrounding states to deal with—the ones who couldn’t wait, and sometimes didn’t, to kill a wolf and now foam at the mouth for the chance to kill a grizzly. People—can’t live with them, can’t manage their population. Wildlife—life without them is a poor substitute.

I had an offer to work in Yellowstone thirty years earlier than I eventually did. I would have had the chance to experience all that thirty years earlier, including meeting a woman who started then who I later worked for when I finally did get to the park. Looking back, I think the decision to not go to Yellowstone in 1980 might have changed my life more than any other I’ve made—I don’t exactly regret it, because many experiences I’ve had and people I’ve known would have been missed in exchange—but it feels like it would have been more life-changing than the many moves I’ve made or not made or the two marriages which didn’t happen. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Autobobography VIII—Hurricane

I’ve been dealing with a couple infections, nothing of the seriousness which almost killed Dylan twenty years ago but, along with the humidity, enough to keep me from drinking beer which is what usually inspires my writing. I like to avoid modern medicine as much as possible, but this time I got three prescriptions along with the usual surprised comment that they hardly ever see anyone these days who isn’t taking some drugs. One worked without any problem, the second I used once and threw out because of a side effect, the third I used sporadically and stopped early because of a side effect. 

A few days ago I read about Kris Kristofferson, who I forgot to include in an earlier post about spiritual or seeking musicians I’d listened to long ago (and still do), and his misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s and subsequent decline for a couple years because of the drugs he was given when he really didn’t have Alzheimer’s but Lyme disease. Would have made a good example for the shocked medico as to why I try to avoid prescriptions. 

Last time I ignored the meaning of a song and based a post on one line in the song. This time I’m ignoring everything but the title as an inspiration to write about New Orleans so I didn’t even post the link to the irrelevant lyrics. Dylan did record something called Bourbon Street of which I’ve only heard a sample, but apparently it’s (appropriately?) such drunken nonsense that the official site doesn’t even have lyrics for it.

I’m not sure exactly when or why I first became interested in New Orleans—books, movies, or the two main reasons, music and food—but it wasn’t until my brief corporate period that I had the extra money to go, along with the motivation of hating the life I was living. So it was October of 1988 when I made my first visit, flying from Boston although I would have preferred the train if I’d had more time.

I stayed in a fancy old hotel in the French Quarter and like most first-timers spent most of my time in that area—eating oyster po boys, and huge sandwiches from Café Maspero, café au lait and beignets at Café Du Monde, and gumbo at Galatoire’s which I called the most delicious food I’d ever eaten, making several visits to Maison Bourbon to hear Wallace Davenport play trumpet (I later bought a couple of his albums), listening to a saxophonist play by the Mississippi River at 8 AM, drinking a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s after listening to old jazz at Preservation Hall, and visiting the Old Absinthe House. Somewhere there was a waiter who looked like Fats Domino. I was amused by risqué t-shirts about how to eat oysters and crawfish, and by the jive routines of kids hustling on the street. I loved the architecture and still have the photos I took of the old buildings. I did leave the Quarter to go to the zoo, where I saw alligators and flamingos, mostly for the opportunity to take a riverboat one way and a streetcar the other. The weather was perfect, warm but not humid, and I enjoyed the atmosphere of sensuality, feeling free, relaxed, and renewed in what seemed like a different world where I could be someone else.

Like many who fell in love with the city, I considered moving there (two of my favorite musicians moved there from Europe) and checked out the cheap apartment rates and poor job market. I thought of my time there often and expected to at least make regular visits. Almost a year later I was wearing a New Orleans shirt and a woman on the train told me it was her favorite city in the world and that she’d seen a lot of them. A few weeks later, still considering the moving or visiting options, I wrote, “A move, I think, would be my final step for when I’m completely done with the world. I would have to completely indulge myself in the food, drink, music, atmosphere to be able to live there.

During the 90s, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston was Dixie Kitchen, run by Mary Gauthier, who went on to become an excellent songwriter after selling the restaurant. My usual meal was shrimp creole, greens, and cornbread, but for whatever reasons, that was as close as I got to returning to New Orleans.

Although the city still interested me and I read the Katrina books and listened to New Orleans music, it was more than twenty years later, inspired by a Yellowstone coworker who loved New Orleans, before I returned by train in November 2011. This time I was going primarily to hear music and I stayed at what turned out to be a dumpy hotel close to the clubs of Frenchmen Street. My favorite club there was d.b.a. where I went to a couple $5 shows by favorite local performers who tour internationally. One afternoon I was looking for a place to hear music and went to Margaritaville (which has more pictures of Jimmy Buffett than one should see in a lifetime) and bought a cd from someone new to me after watching him play a set. I bought more local cds at Louisiana Music Factory. 

A day at the Po Boy Festival combined music and food. I also had a muffuletta from Central Grocery, and a great meal of catfish, shrimp creole, greens, and yams at Praline Connection. I took a bus to have lunch at Liuzza’s by the Track—gumbo, a garlic oyster po boy, and a bloody mary, then walked a few more blocks to City Park (1300 acres which was flooded for weeks after Katrina) to wander beneath the Spanish moss covered live oaks. Between meals and music, I also visited the aquarium and insectarium, and took a ferry across the river and back.

The people were still interesting—a guy sprawled across the sidewalk happily told me I looked like Jerry (Garcia), and a couple women took to calling me Yellowstone based on the shirt I was wearing when we first talked. But unfortunately I got a bad cold while I was there, and didn’t feel the magic I had on my first trip although I think that had at least as much to do with my age and attitude as the city. Instead of a general feeling of sensuality, I saw a few examples of garish tastelessness this time. On departure day, I decided to walk from the hotel for a last look at the Quarter and bowl of gumbo on the way to the train station. It was so incredibly humid that my last clean shirt was completely soaked by the time I reached the station and in the bathroom I found my cleanest dirty shirt to wear on the trip home.

I didn’t have time to wait another twenty years so I had a visit planned for April 2013 to stay in the hotel I’d used twenty five years earlier and attend the French Quarter Festival (several days of free music on stages all over the Quarter). I also hoped to take a tour of a bayou. But as part of my disastrous last year in Yellowstone, the government shut down the bus company I was going to use to get to my train, just as they would shut down the park itself a few months later, and I had to cancel my vacation. I haven’t thought seriously of returning since, but reading my journals and fact-checking on the internet for this post has made me ache to be there again. I couldn’t afford to live there now because rent has become much more expensive post-Katrina as the powers that be decided that rather than remain a unique city, they’d much rather get rid of as many poor people as possible and make as much money as possible. A vacation trip seems unlikely unless I win the lottery, but maybe I’ll be walking to New Orleans.

Next up--Highlands