Sunday, January 25, 2015

...and the sad thing is, it could get worse

So, I've come up for air after spending the past four months or so writing a novel.

I've spent the time doing that, looking for a real job (no joy there), and taking a walk every day. I've been without a television or a radio. YouTube has been my friend. I've listened to a lot of music, but I've pretty much been ignoring what's been going on in the world. Anything I've known about what's been going on in the world has come from either Facebook or Ravelry, a website for knitters.

Don't laugh. Ravelry sometimes scoops the national networks when something big happens because, with over 2 million members, Ravelry is everywhere and Ravelrs are smart.

Anyway, in the past few days since I sent the manusscript off to soe beta readers, I've been looking at a bit of news. And, you know, I wish I hadn't. It's just too depressing, both the headlines and the background noise. Rioting in Egypt. Extremists beheading hostages. Both Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are talking about running for president again. Televangelist John Hagee thinks that the unemployed should be made to starve to death - well, I think the word he used was "allowed" to starve to death, but it comes out to the same thing.

That last may be the thing that bothers me the most. Because, you know, I'm still unemployed. Working, since writing is very damn hard work, and only people who have never written think otherwise, but getting paid for work right now. And, at this point, I'm not only not making money, but I'm losing the place where I've been staying tomorrow and I don't have anywhere to go. And becuase of that, this Hagee guy, who professes to be a Christian, wants me to die.

He doesn't know me. He knows nothing of my circumstances. He isn't doing anything, as far as I've been able to discover, to find jobs for the unemployed. He just wants to abandon a growing segment of the population of our country to die because...well, I'm not sure exactly why. He says the Bible says that those who don't work shouldn't be allowed to eat. However, I'm not sure that his attitude really represents the sort of Christian charity that I was taught that followers of Christ are supposed to show their fellow human beings.

I guess it's par for the course in a country where the rich are getting richer, the middle class is in danger of becoming the poor, and much of the corporate world advocates not only not paying workers a living wage but wants minimum wage laws overturned so that they don't even have to pay their workers a minimum wage that is inadequate to support an individual, much less a family. There are times when I think a certain segment of our society (and I'm looking at you right now, Koch Brothers) won't be happy until we becoe a feudal society, where a very small number of very reach individuals owns the rest of us, body and soul. There is something very wrong when, in the richest country in the world, there are not jobs for everyone who wants one, where some people don't have a roof over their heads and enough food to keep them healthy enough to work.

Because, God knows, I want to work. I'm willing to do anything I can physically do - and, of course, that is legal and moral. But, in three years of looking, of submitting so many resumes that I've lost track of their number, I haven't gotten even one interview. Oh, people want my labor. They just don't want to pay for it. So, I've done volunteer work. I've tried to generate my own job by advertising my tutoring services, but it seems like everyone who has enquired about getting tutoring for themselves or their children suddenly loses interest when they discover that I expect to be paid for my work. You know, like everybody else in the world.

I realize that I've said most, if not all, of this here before, in other posts. But I have to be honest: I'm getting kind of tired of being expected to do a thing, but then denied the basic conditions in which to do that thing. I'm told by society - get a job. But then I'm not given the opportunity to compete for a job by interviewing for jobs. Even worse than that, I'm condemned by certain segments of society for not working, but then I'm told, through their rhetoric in the media, that because I'm not already working, I'm not even allowed to have the basics to be able to have a chance to win the job if I do get an interview. I don't deserve, in their opinion, even a place to sleep safely, a place to keep myself and my clothes clean, enough food to keep myself healthy enough to do a job if I can even find one. I'm not entitled to have a phone and an address - but who is going to hire anyone who doesn't live anywhere and who can't be reached by phone to come in for an interview?

You know, I intended to write a nice, upbeat, "Yay, I wrote a novel...I've always wanted to do that" post today, since I've been away so long. But I just don't have "upbeat" in me today. And yeah, I'm feeling a little sorry for myself today. But things aren't all bad. I'm getting some mentoring toward getting some money coming in from my writing. It isn't going to be easy, working from the street, but I'm determined. Well, some people would call it stubborn. I'm going to fight these idiots who think I should just be written off because I happened to lose a job in the general downsizing that came in the wake of the financial sector shooting the world economy in the head.

But, you know, as stubborn as I am, as determined as I am, there is a stubborn, contrary part of me that almost wishes that the whole situation had made me suicidal. Becuase if I was - and I am not, so don't worry about me - I'd find a way to get me to John Hagee's church, and I'd sit down on their front lawn or whatever it has, and I'd have me this big sign that said: "Okay. You think I deserve to starve to death. Great. I'll just sit right here and do that for you and see how you like watching it. See how you like how that really looks in practice."

Becauase if I deserve to starve to death, the people who want that deserve to have to watch it, up close and personal.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Return", Chapter 2

And, so, Chapter 2, very short, but introduces the second timeline.

Chapter 2

I awakened with a start.

What had I been dreaming? I remembered it seemed vividly real, whatever it was. But all I could recall now were tears and fear, and the feel of lips on the palm of my right hand. I could still feel those lips. I looked at my hand in the dim predawn light filtering into my bedroom, touched my palm. Not even that could erase the sensation left over from my dream.

I had been myself in the dream but...not. I had been in another place, another time. An impossibility.

I looked at the clock on my nightstand. Eleven o'clock, straight up. I'd only been asleep for an hour or so. I'd been in bed before ten, ridiculously early for me. I'm never in bed before midnight. But I had been so sleepy that I couldn't keep my eyes open. When I'd dozed off grading papers and put a thin red line down an essay I was reading, I figured it was time to give it up and go to bed.

It was hot in the house, and I got up to get something to drink. Since it was still so early, I considered staying up for a while to do some more grading, but I was so distracted trying to figure out what the dream had been about that I just went back to bed.

How could a dream be that realistic? The details started to come back as I sat on the side of my bed and sipped from the glass of ice water I had brought back from the kitchen. I was remembering everything that had happened in the dream, remembering as if it had all happened to me. It was a total memory - sight, sound, odors, touch. It wasn't just the sensation of that kiss on my palm. It was the cold of the night and the warmth of the long cloak over my dress, the weight of it, the texture of the fabric, the hood over my head. I could feel the man's - John's - arms around me, holding me close. I could feel his lips on mine, the tickle of his beard against my face.

I could feel the motion of the cart, hear the clopping of the horses hooves on the packed dirt road. I could smell...what?...rain in the air, the fragrances of the flowers in the garden, other aromas I couldn't quite identify. Why could I smell rain in the air, still? It hadn't rained in over two months.

Most of all, I could feel the love between these two people. It was sweet, it was passionate, and it was deep. It was something they were willing to risk everything to hold on to, even their lives.

I lay back down after a while, knowing I should go back to sleep. The alarm would ring early. It was a work day tomorrow. But I lay in the dark staring at the ceiling for a long time, trying to figure out what had just happened. And trying to decide if I was more afraid that I would have another dream like it or that I wouldn't have another like it.

Copyright, Elaine Frei, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Return" Chapter One; Or, Yes, I really am writing a novel

I've been busy lately, working on a novel. Now that I'm on the third draft, I thought I'd share a little bit of what I've been doing. "Return" is a romantic fantasy (yes, it's a romance novel, but it might break a few rules along the way) that takes place in two time-streams. And that's all you need to know for now. Here is chapter one, at least as it stands now.


"Return", Chapter 1

When Annie didn't find John in their usual meeting place, she began to panic. He was always here before her. Where could he be?

What if someone had discovered their relationship and had already come for him?

He was never late. Never.

Should she go look for him? Return to her rooms? What if someone had followed her here from her father's rooms? The thoughts came close on one another, and she was paralyzed by them, not sure what to do.

She was still trying to figure out what she should do when John turned the corner into the little alcove in the gardens that had become their refuge. No one ever came out this far, especially at night. She had never even thought to worry about being seen, being followed. But now?

Now the stakes had changed.

John swept her into his arms, held her close.

"I'm sorry I'm late, my love," he said. "I had to deliver a report to the captain of the guard, only I had to wait for the patrol to get back. They were late, and then I couldn't find the captain, and I couldn't leave until found him."

John kissed Annie deeply and then pulled back to look into her eyes.

"You're trembling, love. What's wrong? Are you angry at me? I'm sorry."

Annie shook her head and burst into tears. She couldn't get the words she needed to say but dreaded, to come. She buried her face in his chest.

He bent to whisper in her ear, "Is it really that bad? It'll be alright. You'll see." His lips and beard tickled her ear. She loved that, it always made her laugh, and when she only sobbed harder, John knew that whatever had upset her was serious. He folded her in his arms and held her as tightly as he could.

Annie closed her eyes and tried to memorize the feeling of his arms around her. It could be the last time, and she wanted to be able to remember.

He whispered again, "Whatever is wrong, I will fix it. And I will beat whoever has upset you so much."

It took several minutes for Annie to be able to say the words.

"I've been ordered to marry Andrew. The wedding is tomorrow." She took a deep breath, tried to steady her voice.

"I thought we still had time, you and I,” Annie whispered.

"No," John said. "God damn it. No."

Then the words began to tumble out of Annie. "Please, John. Can we leave? We must leave. Tonight. I can't marry him. I love you."

"Of course, my love," John said. "Of course, we'll go."

"Thank you," Annie said. "I was so afraid you would say no." But then she paused, shook her head. "No. I can't ask you to do this. It is too dangerous for you. Forget I asked. Forget about me and find someone who is free to love you. Be happy. And forgive me for putting you in danger. But you must go. If they even suspect..."

She couldn't continue. She still clung to him, belying her words.

"No," John said. "How could I ever be happy without you?" His voice dropped. "I will go if you wish. I only want you to be happy, and I'll do whatever you want. But my safety doesn't matter. I want to be with you. I will only go if you tell me you don't love me."

Annie sighed. "I can't say that. You know I love you. But if we go and are caught, the only thing that will happen to me is that I'll be dragged back here and married off to Andrew. But you...even if Grandfather spares you, Andrew will hunt you down and kill you for daring to touch his property."

"If that happens, if you are taken from me, I won't care if he kills me. Without you, I have nothing to live for." John willed the tears in his eyes away, but they wouldn't go.

The two of them stood for a moment longer, entwined in each other's arms and then he gently let her go.

"Stay here. I was afraid this day would come, and I have made plans. I just need to put them in motion and I'll be back and we can go."

Annie put her arms around him again. "Don't go. Don't leave me alone. I'm afraid that if you go, I won't see you again." She put a hand against his bearded cheek.

John put his hand over hers, turned his head and kissed her palm once, twice.

"I promise," he said, "I'll only be gone a few minutes. I'll be back. We'll soon be away from here and safe."

John kissed Annie again and was gone. She shrunk back into the shadows of the trees, in a dark corner defined by overgrown hedges. She prayed to a God she did not believe in that she hadn't been followed, that John would be safe and return to her. She kept having to remind herself to breathe.

It seemed like it took him forever, but John finally returned. He was carrying a hooded cloak over his arm. He settled the cloak on her shoulders and pulled the hood up over her head, hiding her face in it's shadows. He was just an anonymous soldier, but she was a granddaughter to the king, and would be recognized.

"Walk with me," John said after he had kissed her again. "We will leave the garden, walk one street over. I have arranged passage for us in a delivery cart that will get us past the town gates."

"But it will be searched," Annie said. "All the carts leaving the town are. And we will be found, and that will be the end."

John shook his head. "This cart will not be searched. I've seen to that. Come on, we have to hurry."

And they did hurry, over the garden paths, down an alley, and around a corner to where the cart, already hitched to two horses and being loaded, was backed into an alcove between two buildings. The laborers acted as if they didn't notice that John had helped Annie into the bed of the cart and then hopped up himself. They just continued loading goods in around where Anne and John had seated themselves, enclosing them in a recess in the merchandise that had already been loaded. It was completely dark once they were surrounded by the boxes and sacks.

John put his arm around Annie and she lay her head on his shoulder. He whispered, "Now we must be very quiet for a while."

The cart turned several times as the horses pulled it toward the town gate. When it came to a stop, John heard Annie take a sharp breath. He tightened his arm around her but did not say anything. The cart started and then stopped several more times in quick succession. Finally, it started up again and did not stop. Only after it had been moving steadily for nearly half an hour did John feel safe to whisper in Annie's ear, "Are you all right?"

Annie was too afraid to speak, but she nodded her head against John's shoulder.

"We will ride for about another hour," John whispered. "This cart is delivering merchandise to an inn, where there are horses waiting for us to take us on to my family's homestead. We'll be able to rest there before we go on. We should try to sleep a little now. Once we get on the horses, it will be a long night's ride."

Annie closed her eyes and moved closer to John, leaning her head on his shoulder. She was sure she wouldn't be able to sleep, but within just a few minutes she was dreaming about a house along a stream where she and John would happily grow old together.

Copyright, Elaine Frei, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Musicians You Should Know: Dennis Wilson

This might end up being a bit of a rant. So be it, and hang on to your seats. (Don't worry - not politics or economics for once.)

I was just taking a break from working on the novel I'm writing (and the writing of which is why I haven't been on here much lately). I'm over 300 pages in and getting close to the end of the first draft. That's a lot of hard work. Anyway - I digress. Taking a break, I was over on YouTube listening to a little music, and I decided to check out a cover of a song I like a lot. It's a Beach Boys song that never got onto any of their albums, but is floating around as an unreleased demo. It's called "Carry Me Home", and it was written by Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson. Really good song, but definitely not your average Beach Boys material. The cover was by Primal Scream (which I'd never heard of until I was tracking down some information on this song a few weeks ago).

At any rate, one of the comments on the YouTube page with the Primal Scream cover asked the question: who ever thought that the drummer of the Beach Boys could come up with a song like this. Words to that effect.

I was tempted to leave a comment saying, "Who would have thought? Anybody who's ever heard any of his other work, with or without the band, that's who. Idiot."

And that's the thing. Not that many people know Dennis Wilson's work - the songs he wrote and co-wrote, and the songs by others that he sang with the Beach Boys. I know I didn't, until about a month ago. And it's a damn shame most people don't, because as far as I'm concerned, he was as much of a genius as his brother Brian.

No, really.

It also happens that I'm reading a book right now, Dumb Angel: The Life and Music of Dennis Wilson, and a lot of my contention is supported by what I'm reading, and by some other articles I've come across recently online. The title of the book comes, apparently, from a nickname that Brian Wilson had for Dennis. It was also the working title for the album "Smile", work on which and it's rejection by much of the band (except, apparently, for Dennis) and the record company, was the final straw that broke Brian's mind. Yeah, there were drugs involved, too, but it was the late 60s, when everybody was doing that.

At any rate, I'm digressing again. Where was I. Oh, yeah.

Dennis Wilson was a genius.

Maybe not a genius in the same way as Brian. No, definitely not in the same way as Brian, because they saw the world in different ways, judging from their music.

Except that nobody in music, and certainly not in the band, paid any attention to Dennis when he was alive, except to point out his shortcomings. He'd always been the bad boy of the three Wilson brothers - there was Brian, the Genius; Carl, the Boy with the Voice of an Angel; and Dennis, the Menace of the neighborhood from the time he was just a little kid.

And, well, once the Beach Boys started recording, Dennis was also The Cute One, who grew up to be The Hot One, and who pretty much knew it. That meant that nobody really ever took him seriously. He was The Sexy, Dumb One. Except not so dumb, it turns out. But he wasn't even much of a drummer, they said,. Which wasn't altogether true, either, when it comes down to it. But that's another post for another time.

Oh, yeah. There were the other things, too. Dennis was The One Who Hung Out With Charlie Manson - which was true as far as it went, except it didn't go as far as most people think and Dennis dropped Charlie and his Family after a few months of them sponging off of him (and occasionally threatening him or his adopted kid) when Dennis was all of 24 years old and probably not a little naïve in some ways. And there was Dennis the Fuck-Up: the alcoholic, the addict. And, yeah, he did fall down that rabbit hole and die a drowning victim at age 39 after a day of drinking and diving, but I suspect (not having been there, but having read and heard the testimony) his substance issues ended up being more a matter of self-medication that got out of hand than any evil intent. Because there was also the fact that by all accounts, Dennis was also The Generous One, The One With the Big Heart. The one who would give anybody anything, and pretty much did.

But I'm here to talk about the music. The man wrote, or co-wrote, some of the most beautiful, romantic, touching, haunting songs I've ever heard. He was also the first Beach Boy to release a solo album, "Pacific Ocean Blue", in 1977, which didn't sell huge amounts of copies, but sold more than any of the Beach Boy albums from the same era. It also got huge critical acclaim. It isn't "Pet Sounds", but only because it's different from Brian's masterpiece. Because by then, Dennis wasn't naïve any more - he'd had his heart broken by then, I think, just as much as he had broken hearts along the way - although still the melancholy romantic at heart. In contrast, what comes out on "Pet Sounds" is a sweet, naïve romanticism that marks all the best of Brian Wilson's work.

Some examples of Dennis Wilson's work.

For my money, Dennis Wilson wrote the most perfect love song ever written, "Forever", with Gregg Jakobson, who co-wrote many of his songs. Even Brian Wilson has reportedly called this song "the most harmonically beautiful" thing he's ever heard. With Dennis singing lead, this song appeared on The Beach Boys 1970 album "Sunflower" and on the B-side of their single "Cool, Cool Water", as well as on a Beach Boys anthology album "Hawthorne, CA", in an a capella version.

This song, "Cuddle Up", written by Wilson and Daryl Dragon, appears on the 1972 album "Carl and the Passions - 'So Tough'" (Carl and the Passions is a band name used by the Beach Boys for a short time before they became The Beach Boys - and it really isn't a bad name for a band). In a review at, Matthew Greenwald calls "Cuddle Up" an "emotional masterpiece", attributing that to the lyrics and to Wilson's vocals on the track. And, yeah, the first time I heard this song I had to go back and listen to it a couple of more times just because it was so beautiful, which is attributable to the vulnerability and fragility in Wilson's delivery of the song. Given his reputation, which has often been characterized in the media as "macho", this song is a revelation.

"Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again" was recorded in 1971 but didn't turn up on record until 2013, when The Beach Boys released the 6-disc box set "Made in California" in 2013. Another beautiful, emotional song, it includes the lyrics "Who ever said a man can't cry/I know I can cry", and is another vocal performance from Wilson that is shot through with vulnerability. A man who is macho to the core (and I've known more than a few men like this) would not sing that lyric. So, while he might have engaged in macho behavior, that clearly didn't define him.

Another song that didn't turn up on record until "Made in California" was released, although it was recorded in 1974, is "My Love Lives On". Wilson co-wrote this one with Stephen Kalinich. It takes on an added poignancy considering Dennis Wilson's early, tragic death, but even absent that, this is a simple but powerful song about the potential of love to endure. This is another song that I had to listen to several times through when I first discovered it because I couldn't not listen to it again. It is, simply, a gorgeous song.

All of this is not to say that Dennis Wilson did not write songs about sex, because he most certainly did, and in a much more straightforward manner than was true of most rock of the time. He and Mike Love (and there's an unexpected writing partnership, considering that theirs was a difficult relationship, according to most sources) wrote "All I Want To Do," which appeared on 1969's "20/20" with Love singing lead. "All I Want To Do" sounds remarkably punk for the time and even more so for a Beach Boys tune. Among its lyrics are the lines, "Come on baby/I just wanna make it with you". And those noises you hear at the end of the track, if you listen really closely, with the volume up loud? Rumor has it that those noises are Dennis Wilson "making it", so to speak, with an "unidentified woman" in the studio. Rumor further has it that the girl was either a hooker that he went out and coaxed into the studio, or perhaps one of Charlie Manson's girls (although that seems unlikely considering the 1969 recording date). So, yeah, Dennis Wilson was no angel. On the other hand, this song is also living proof that Wilson was a versatile writer who could work in more than one style.

There's also "Got to Know the Woman", from 1970's "Sunflower, which is also blatantly and explicitly sexual, especially for the time and for a Beach Boy's record, written and performed by Wilson, in which he tells the story of meeting a woman who he just has to "get to know". It's more than clear from the lyrics that he means that in the Biblical sense. The thing is, this isn't just a song about sex; it's a funny song about sex. How many of those do you know?

So, how do you reconcile the two impulses here, the Romantic and the Dirty Young Man? I don't think you have to. I think you just have to recognize that at the age Dennis Wilson was at the point when he was writing these songs, he was at an age (middle twenties) when most young men are capable of both impulses; he was just more adept than most in expressing these feelings, and he had a bigger platform from which to express them. You also have to remember that when these songs were written, HIV and AIDS had not yet appeared. These songs might not be politically correct here, now, in the 21st century. But, damn, they're good songs.

Anyway, if you want to try to reconcile the romantic and the frankly sexual impulses that appear in Dennis Wilson's songs, you need to also reconcile that the same man who co-wrote "All I Want To Do" also wrote the gorgeous Christmas song, "Morning Christmas" (1977). This isn't just a Christmas song, it's a reverent Christmas song.

So, yeah, if you want to do that sort of reconciliation, go ahead. For me, it's enough to enjoy the diverse work of this talented man.

One of the things that seems to always be brought up when discussing Dennis Wilson's career is the way in which his addictions robbed him of his looks and his voice. And, God knows they did that. And yes, he was a good-looking man. Make that an extremely good-looking man

Or, if you prefer less facial hair:

But, you know, that's beside the point. The man died at least partially due to his excesses. In that context, the loss of his looks really doesn't matter. It was what was inside that was the important thing. And while some of his ex-wives have been quoted as saying he was "empty" inside (and they would know better than I), the feeling I get from the songs he wrote, the way he sang them, and some of the clips of interviews with him that I've seen and heard, I have a suspicion that the opposite was true - he had too much in him in a culture that is often empty. But, like I said, I wasn't there. That's just my impression, and I might have the slightest tendency to romanticize the tragic. But there it is, and I think there is evidence that there was, a lot of substance to Dennis Wilson and his work.

The issue of the loss of his voice is more important to the point I'm trying to make here. And he did lose his voice, the range of notes he could hit when he sang, to a significant degree. This is illustrated by two clips of him performing the same song live, four years apart, in 1976 and in 1980. The song is "You Are So Beautiful" - a song credited to Billy Preston and someone called Bruce Fisher. However, the story is told that it was actually written by Preston and Dennis Wilson at a party one night with Wilson, who was notorious for his generosity, as I mentioned earlier, and then he gave the song to Preston. There is, as I understand it, no way to document this, since both Wilson and Preston are dead now, but part of the story is that virtually everyone who knew Wilson swears that it sounds like something he would write. considering his body of work, it does sound like it.

Whatever the case, for years Wilson sang the song live as an encore at Beach Boys concerts, and he certainly sang it as if he owned it. Some of those performances were captured on videotape. They are a graphic way of illustrating the effect of his excesses on his voice.

Here is a live performance of "You Are So Beautiful" from 1976:

And here is a live performance of the same song from 1980:

The thing is, as much as he struggled with the song by 1980, as much as his voice was gone by then, his voice was still amazingly expressive, and I have to confess that the 1980 performance is actually my favorite because to me, this is a haunting, heartbreaking, heartfelt performance.

But, back to my original point, way back there when I started writing this. If the person who had written that comment about the Primal Scream cover of "Carry Me Home" was actually familiar with Dennis Wilson's music, he would not have been surprised at all at the cover, or at the stark beauty of the demo of this song that was never released on a Beach Boys' album (it should have been on 1973's "Holland") because it was, in Wilson's own words "too negative" for the band's image and style. The song tells the story of a soldier, injured in war, lying near death in a ditch, as he realizes he "won't grow old" and begs God to spare his life. Wilson voices the words of the soldier as he shares vocals with Blondie Chaplin. The fear and tears in Wilson's voice are palpable. This is quite easily the most moving performance of a song I have ever heard.

In truth, it is understandable that The Beach Boys have never released "Carry Me Home", even on the far-ranging compilation "Made in California". Considering how Dennis Wilson's life ended, it's hard to hear him on the song, singing about being afraid to die. It would be harder for those who knew him, worked with him, and loved him - and there is evidence that they loved him even if they didn't take him seriously when he was alive - to listen to it. On the other hand, it is an amazing song, and needs to be heard.

And here we are, at the end of a very long post, and i haven't even gotten to Dennis Wilson's solo work yet. Not that there is a lot of it that has gotten out into the world. But what there is, is an indication that he had a whole lot more to do, and it's a damn shame that he didn't live to do it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Some days there are just some songs you have to hear...

As I've no doubt said here before, I love lists.

When The Book of Lists, by David Wllechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace, came out in 1977, I was in bliss. I'd been making lists of my own - favorite movies, favorite books, favorite tv shows, favorite songs and albums - for a long time by that time, and I was so happy to see that someone else enjoyed making them.

Granted, some of the lists in the book and those that followed it were, um, unusual, and some of those lists got the book banned from some libraries. They also produced something called The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, that I imagine also produced some complaints. That was a book that was essentially a list in and of itself, broken into several different categores.

All of which has very little to do with today's post, except that I've been list making-making again and decided that, to make sure that it wasn't a complete waste of time, I would share with all of you. I was going to call the list "My Favorite Songs...Today", but that isn't quite accurate, so instead I'm going to call it "The Songs I Really, Really, Really Need to Hear Today". Which means that some of them might be repeats, because I've got several songs in my life right now that I've been needing to hear on a fairly regular basis.

That is certainly true of "Forever", by The Beach Boys. Yes, I know, I've been obsessed with the band for the past few weeks. But this song has struck me in the most forceful way, and it amazes me that although it was on the band's album "Sunflower", which was recorded in early 1969 and released in 1970, I did not discover it until, what, three weeks ago or so. It was written by Dennis Wilson and Gregg Jakobson. The song has been called "timeless" and compared to some of the best of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's ballads, which isn't exactly faint praise.

This is a mostly a capella version of the song, on which Dennis Wilson sings lead. Right at the end, someone gets really silly (and I've seen people debate online whether that last note is Brian Wilson or Carl Wilson getting creative), but this is really a lovely, lovely performance of the song, which is quickly becoming my favorite song:

Love songs come in all moods and flavors. Another one of my favorite love songs, and favorite songs without qualification, has a completely different mood than "Forever", which is quiet and sweet and meditative. The Turtles' "Happy Together" (which I'm sure I also must have shared at some point, possibly not very long ago), which is just plain, well, happy. This is another song that I really need to hear today, and on as many days as possible, really. This song is deeply embedded in popular culture, having appeared in at least 20 films over the years, as well as in a number of television episodes. It has been covered by many other artists (including by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, performing later as Flo and Eddie) and is the 44th most performed song in the US in the 20th century

This lip-synched performance, from "The Ed Sullivan Show", is really badly synched, but I like this particular video for its excellent example of the by-play between Volman and lead singer Kaylan, which was sort of a trademark of Turtles' performances:

And there is "Love Hurts", which could have equally well been called "Love Sucks". But, since just about everybody goes through a "love sucks" sort of experience at least once in their lives, this could be considered the universal love song. It has been covered by just about everybody, it seems, since Boudleaux Bryan wrote it. It was first recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1960 (and released in 1961). The list of cover versions on the song's entry on Wikipedia runs to over fifty, starting with Roy Orbison (in March 1961), and including The Who, Nazarath (which was the first version I ever heard), Cher (twice), Journey, Heart, Don McLean, and Rod Stewart, to name just a few.

This is my favorite version of the song, recorded by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris for Parsons' album "Grievous Angel" in 1974. Parsons had just the right voice to convey the pain and ache of love gone wrong:

Another favorite love song of the melancholy variety is "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away". This song, which appeared in the movie "Help!" and on the soundtrack album in 1965, was credited as a Lennon/McCartney composition but was actually written by John Lennon alone. Like "Love Hurts" it deals with love gone wrong, but takes a more bitter tone. And Lennon's rendition of his song is brilliant, but my favorite version comes from The Beach Boys. Their cover appeared on the 1965 album "Beach Boys Party!", which was released late in the year as a collection mostly of covers meant for Christmas. Again, as with "Forever", the band's drummer, Dennis Wilson, sings lead, lending just the right inflections in his voice to make you believe what he is singing. Basically, on this song Wilson out-Lennon's Lennon, which is quite an accomplishment.

This is not the album version of The Beach Boys' cover of the song, but the audio of a live performance at Michigan State on October 22, 1966:

Speaking of John Lennon (and getting away from love songs), I also have a huge need to hear "Working Class Hero" today. This song is on Lennon's first album after The Beatles broke up, "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band", recorded in 1970 and released in the US in 1971 but not in the UK until 1975. It is a very stripped down song, just Lennon's voice and his guitar. It's the first song I ever heard with the word "fuck" (well, "fucking", actually) in it, and for that reason it was banned by some radio stations and the manager of one station that did play it was charged and faced prison time for letting it on the air, but the charges were ultimately dropped. In Australia, the offending word was cut from the version of the album marketed there and from the lyrics sheet that came with the album. But it's a good song, and here it is, obscenities intact:

But, it seems like I can't get away from the love songs today, and especially the melancholy ones. Like this one,, "Spanish Moss", by Gordon Lightfoot. I love Lightfoot's music, and this may well be my favorite of his love ballads, if not his whole catalog of songs. It appears on his album "Summertime Dream", from 1976. It's a very cinematic song, and I've always been able to feel a whole story in there that goes beyond the actual lyrics. And speaking of lyrics, this song has one of my favorite lines in all of popular music. I mean really, "...kisses mixed with moonshine and red clay" is just, well, really sexy (which is a word I don't like because it is overused and misused so much, but it is the only word I can find that is appropriate to how I think of this line):

I can only introduce the next song I needed to hear today by saying that the first time I ever heard it, on the radio, back in 1987, when it first came out, I was speechless for about 10 minutes. It's that good, lyrically and musically. By Gary Moore, it is from the album "Wild Frontier". I didn't catch the name of the song or artist that day, and I spent a good two or three days listening to the radio whenever I could, hoping they would play it again and actually say who it was or what the name of the song those pre-google and pre-YouTube days, that's what you had to do sometimes, to find out enough about a song to get your hands on it. And, in fact, I guess I should say that this is "Over the Hills and Far Away", not to be confused by the song of the same title by Led Zeppelin. Because it is totally not the same song:

There are more on the list of songs that I need to hear today, but this has gone one long enough for one post, so I'll stop at one more. It's a love song, too, of the "I love you but I can never have you because somebody else got there first" variety. This was my favorite song when I was in the 8th grade, and I still love it now, all these years later, as much as I did then. This is The Grass Roots and "Midnight Confessions". I suppose it should be one of my guilty pleasures, but I feel no guilt about it at all:

As I said, I could go on doing this, probably all night. But I have other things I should be doing. The amazing thing is that I haven't fallen down the rabbit hole I could have, going through and listening to everything I found along the way while I was putting this together, other songs, some of which I haven't thought about in a long time, that made me think, "Oh, I need to hear that, too." Sometimes my willpower amazes me. Other times, it just fails me, but it's working at the moment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This California Girl is Going (back) to California

Well, it turns out that after all this time and expense and effort, I'll be on my way back to California soon.

I ran the numbers this morning after a few days of indecision, and I just can't afford to stay here on the East Coast looking for work. So, I'll go back home and try again there. I know I hit my head against that particular brick wall for far too long, and it isn't going to be easy to find anything there now, either. But I will at least be on familiar territory.

See, that's the thing. I've been having trouble navigating here. I don't know which way is up - well, which way is North and so forth, and I just don't feel comfortable when I don't know which direction is which. I also often can't get where I want to go because I don't know the area and don't know which buses go where and when.

That aspect of it wasn't too much of a problem in DC itself, actually, but I've been out here in Maryland, about halfway between DC and Baltimore for nearly a week now, and it's just hard to get around. I ran around in circles for about three hours this afternoon trying to figure out how to pay for my train ticket back to California once I made the reservation on the phone. There is no Amtrak station with a ticket agent in the town I'm in right now (Laurel, Maryland). The nearest one is about 10 miles away. I couldn't figure out how to get there on the bus, and it was going to take about two hours each way, anyway, and I really wasn't up for that. And I didn't have a credit or debit card to pay over the phone - if I'd had that, I could have just made the reservation and paid online. That would have been much easier than talking to a computer to make the reservation. And I certainly wasn't going to pay for a taxi to take me those 10 miles and back. I wouldn't have, even if I could have afforded it, which I can't.

Jeez - either someone is sawing something next door, or they're having sex on a bed with a very squeaky mattress. It's only 7:12 p.m. - it's too late for sawing and a little too early to be having that loud of sex.

Sorry or that interruption. To get back to the story - I finally decided that I needed to get a pre-paid debit card so that I could pay for the reservation. See, they would only hold it until tomorrow, but I don't check out of the motel I'm staying at to go back to DC until Friday morning. That was not going to work. One of the motel employees told me where she thought I could buy a pre-paid card within walking distance. I walked down there. No joy. So, walking back up toward the motel, I stopped at a convenience store to ask if they knew where I could get one. And the clerk did know. He told me that they sold them at Family Dollar, and then he said, "and they sell them at 7-11, too. There was another man in there, clearly someone the clerk knew, and he said, "What are you sending her clear up to 7-11 for. That's too far." (It really wasn't too far, but it was farther than Family Dollar, and uphill.) It was kind of cute, and they were very helpful.

This is one of the things I've learned while I've been out here, by the way; most people are more than happy to be helpful if they can be.

So, I walked to Family Dollar, bought the card, came back to the motel and activated it, then called and paid for the train ticket. So, the trip back to California is a done deal, and I'm glad of that. The odd thing is that I haven't been aware of being homesick since I've been here, but now that the decision is made and the ticket is bought, I'm very glad to be going home. Even though there is actually no home to go to out there. It's still home.

But, that whole process took about three hours, from making the reservation to getting the ticket paid for, most of it out in a warm-to-hot sunny day. I've got a lot more stamina than I did when I arrived here, nearly a month ago, but I was tired and hot by the time I got to the motel. Not least, I realized at nearly five p.m., because I hadn't eaten anything all day. This is a problem when I have a problem to solve or a task to accomplish. I start concentrating on that and I completely forget to eat.

So, I had to go out again, walk back over to the Subway sandwich shop, and get dinner. I could have had a peanut butter sandwich, but I decided that just wasn't going to cut it. I've grown fond of that Subway shop since I've been here, although I haven't eaten there every night. They make good sandwiches and the people who work there are friendly. At any rate, now I'm fed, and not so anxious, and have the rest of the evening to relax.

There's be pre-travel things to do tomorrow - primarily doing up the dirty laundry I've accumulated since I've been here and packing to leave the motel on Friday morning, but also trying to figure out if there's anything I can leave behind so that my luggage won't be quite so heavy. I doubt there will be, but I'll unpack everything and repack, and in the process I might find something that isn't essential. That would be a helpful thing, since I've got to drag all that stuff back to DC and onto the train. Thank goodness for checked baggage. However, since I'll be in the train station Friday night, I will have to lug everything around with me all day Friday and part of the day Saturday, until time to actually check the bags.

I'm really not looking forward to the night in the station - another one. It isn't a pleasant place to begin with, and it's positively dismal at night. At least I should have my ticket in hand, so I shouldn't have to try t find places to be all night and can grab a chair in the ticketed passengers section and get a little sleep. The train, though, doesn't leave DC until just past 4 p.m. on Saturday, so that's going to be a long time in the station. If there were a place I could park my bags, I could go sightseeing Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, but that costs too much to even think about. But, I've got knitting, and I can spend some time in McDonald's using the Wi-Fi - I'm going to be in withdrawal across the country, on a train with no Wi-Fi access. Still, I can listen t music and watch DVDs and write - they do have electrical outlets at each seat.

I'm trying not to worry about what happens when I get back to L.A. just yet. There isn't anything I can do about it now. I've already been looking at job listings out there, and trying to see what the possibilities are for a safe place to sleep when I first arrive. But tonight? I think tonight I'm going to take advantage of the motel Wi-Fi, listen to some music, maybe do some writing, and just think that by this time next week I'll be back on the Left Coast...which is the right coast or me.

I just hope it doesn't welcome me home with an earthquake, like it did when I arrived there in March.

Quakes or not, though, I'm a California Girl, through and through.

Monday, September 15, 2014

If I had a TARDIS, I'd...

Somebody really needs to get their act together and invent time travel.

No, really. In between doing the job search thing and getting a few other things done today, I got to thinking about how cool it would be to be able to hop around in time and witness past events. And then I got to thinking about it some more and soon realized that most of the things I want to go back and see aren't discrete historical events - moments in history, or even the things you traditionally find in the history books. Instead, they are processes, many of them, events that happened over a period of time and that have had an impact, but not necessarily on war, politics, and economics - all those drivers of academic history.

I shouldn't really be surprised by that. I chose to major in anthropology rather than history, and I'm really fascinated with how people get along and how they do things, individually and in groups. As I think I've mentioned here recently, process is a big thing for me. There are a few more traditionally historical things that I'd like to go back and see about, but there were also some very pop-culture things that turned up on the quick list of ten that I drew up. I imagine that if I took more time, there would be a list that's a lot longer than this, but these are the 10 that came immediately to mind, starting with the less traditionally historical entries:

1) Opening day at Disneyland.

Not the famously disastrous "Press Preview" day on July 17, 1955, but the next day, the real opening, when people started lining up at something like 2 a.m. to get in to see Disney's newest production. I've always loved Disneyland (for all that I was chided once for that love and told that liking Disneyland is not "sophisticated"), and it would be so cool to see what it was like at the beginning, before it expanded and turned into the icon that it is today.

2) A Beatles concert.

Preferably the one that appears in the movie "Let It Be", the final time all four Beatles performed live in public together. That was on January 30, 1969, on the roof of the headquarters of Apple Records. But any Beatles concert would do, because it just isn't right that I never got to see The Beatles perform live.

3) The recording sessions for "Pet Sounds".

I've been watching some documentary footage recently of the sessions for this Beach Boys album, considered by many to be one of, if not the, greatest pop album ever made. Fascinating. I don't think all those people who call Brian Wilson a genius are just engaging in hyperbole. Clearly, Wilson hears things that the rest of the world doesn't, and that he managed to get those successfully on record is miraculous (especially since he is deaf in one ear), and I'd love to be able to witness that genius at work. Because they were done the same year, I'd like to also include in this the "Good Vibrations" sessions, which were a continuation of Wilson's experimentation on "Pet Sounds".

And now, on to the more historical events that appear on the list:

4) Mission control during the flight of Apollo 11.

Yeah, I'm a space geek. I proved that a couple of weeks ago when I visited the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian, and burst into tears several times at the things I saw there there. I've seen some film of operations in mission control at Johnson Space Center in Houston during that mission, and I would love to have the experience of seeing that first moon landing from where the flight was being directed.

5) A meeting of England's Queen Elizabeth I with her Privy Council.

Elizabeth I must have been one hell of a woman, running a country at a time and place in history where women were just not expected to do that sort of thing. I'd love to see how she handled the responsibility - and the men who had to acquiesce to her as queen.

6) One of Savonarola's sermons around the time he came to power as the de facto dictator of Florence in the mid-1490s.

I'm really curious about how that ugly little monk (sorry, I've seen paintings, and if they are at all accurate, the poor man was one of the least attractive individuals who ever lived) was able to impose his will on the home of the Renaissance for a bit over two years after delivering a series of fire-and-brimstone, prophecy-laden sermons to the population of the city. Hell, even Botticelli burned some of his artworks in Savonarola's "bonfires of the vanities" after hearing his sermons. Michelangelo, thank goodness, wasn't as swayed by the monk's admonitions. Savonarola finally overstepped in his ambitions when he started preaching reform. Pope Alexander VI excommunicated Savonarola and put Florence under an interdict as long as they harbored him. That was bad news for Savonarola, since instead of just kicking him out of town, Florence had him and two of his fellow monks burned at the stake. The thing I'm interested in, in all this, is how Savonarola managed to work his way into power in the first place.

7) Michelangelo painting the Sistine ceiling.

Just about the time that Savonarola was coming to power in Florence, Michelangelo left his home city for Rome. He returned to Florence to carve his David after having sculpted the his Pieta that stands today in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Once again in Rome, summoned by Pope Julius II to carve the Pope's tomb, Michelangelo found himself instead assigned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He resisted, insisting that he was a sculptor and not a painter. But those were the days when you really didn't say no to the Pope, and over four years, from 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo created one of his most cherished masterpieces. Of course, he made things more difficult on himself by designing a much more ambitious series of frescoes than the pope had asked for, but that was Michelangelo for you. I would love to be able to witness the process that resulted in such beauty.

8) The building of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Well, yeah. It's the Great Pyramid. Every once in a while, someone says that they've figured out how the Egyptians lifted all those heavy, heavy blocks to build that pyramid, but I would like to see for myself exactly how it was done. Because, you know, I don't buy the story that it was aliens.

9) Life in what is now the US southwest during the time when the Pueblo peoples were building and living in those giant apartment buildings they created.

There's more to it than just the cliff dwellings such as those at Mesa Verde in what is now Colorado and freestanding apartment buildings like Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico. There were the roads that supported a wide trade and indications that they traded even outside the region and into Mexico, over a thousand miles away. This was a complicated culture, and I would love to see how those communities were built and sustained in such a difficult environment.

10) The United States Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.

I get tired sometimes of hearing politicians talking about the original intent of the framers of the US Constitution. I would like to see for myself exactly what was said in those meetings, and in the after-meetings where the framers probably said what they were really thinking. But, again, I need a time machine to do that.

The truth is, if I made this list again tomorrow, or had made it yesterday, it would be different than this list. Probably not completely different, because at least a few of the entries are non-negotiable, at least today. No, I'm not telling which ones. And as I said at the beginning of this, if I had taken more time to think about it, this list would probably be a lot longer.

The thing I'd like to know now is, if you made a list like this, what events would you put on it? Why would you choose those events? Please, if you feel so inclined, drop a comment about what your list would include. Or, if you use this question as a prompt for a blog post of your own, please drop a comment and link so that I can read it.