Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When Rock Was Young (Repost)

In honor of today, Elton John's 67th birthday, I'm reposting this entry from a while back – Happy Birthday, Reg!!!

The program from the first time 
I saw Elton John in 1976.
The other night I dragged Tom to the outer limit of his patience... I made him go see Elton John. Being an intensely discriminating music critic, Tom shuns most mainstream pop and you can’t get more mainstream or pop that the Queen of England himself! During this trip into my 13-year-old self, my thoughts and feelings were all over the place, so I won’t be churning out any well-crafted essay... you know, a hymnic chord structure, melody, harmonies, four verses, a chorus, and a bridge... Like an Elton John song... No, this is going to be more like a jazzy improv... a list of scattered reflections... 

1. Elton John has been super-famous and larger than life for so long, that people don’t really remember that he was once a little boy named Reg – with a sad childhood who grew up, paid his dues playing piano covers in pubs, writing songs “Tin Pan Alley” style, and traveling with a blues band called Bluesology. 

One of my favorite EJ albums
2. His fans are old. From our cheap seats, we had a great view of the jewelry rattlers in the floor seats - and it was a sea of grey heads. Sadly, I, also, am old. Yet despite the evidence to the contrary, I will continue to insist that I am young – that when I walk down Franklin Street, I blend right in with the students. Also, old people look funny when they act like young people at a concert. I include myself in this indictment.

3. When we were walking in, I said to Tom, “I hope he plays a lot of obscure songs that only I know.” I was kidding, but he did play a few obscure nuggets like Holiday Inn and Grey Seal. I could have done without I’m Still Standing, however, even though I appreciated the sentiment. A high point of the evening: His feisty rendition of The B*tch Is Back, with a video screen that flashed "B*TCH" every time it occurred in the song, along with other hilarious visuals like lipsticks and the silhouette of a dancing woman... I guess if I were mature, I would have been offended, but it was simply too funny.

Another one
4. I did not have sophisticated music tastes as a preteen/teen... Elton John is a great musician... not much of a rocker, though. His music smacks of the English music hall and musical theatre...you know... POP. This bothers my husband, who is hypersensitive to what is cool, but it doesn’t bother me at all. Elton was what I needed when I needed it.  At a certain point the other night – I think it was during Rocket Man, I re-experienced that old feeling... like I was wrapped in a cocoon of a sweet part of my adolescence. Being a teenager can be agonizing, and I often shut out the pain by hunkering down under my headphones, filling my noggin with Elton John’s perfect melodies and soaring harmonies. Banging out approximations on our piano in the basement was also a lovely escape for me. 

5. Also lovely: my hilarious sister Lea and her husband were at the concert with us. I sort of feel sorry for my younger siblings, as they were forced by their over-enthusiastic older sister to listen to Elton John too... since I always had him playing. But, I guess since she wanted to go to the show, she didn’t hate it! Anyway, it was great to share the experience with Lea. And she never fails to crack me up.

Davey Johnstone still looks
and poses the same!
6. Elton has these great, well-loved songs, but we can’t really know anything about him by listening to them – except maybe what his sense of song is. Because the words were written by someone else – namely, Bernie Taupin. And even then, much of the time, the songs are stories, and not introspective. In his youth, Bernie was a romantic soul, fascinated with, among other things, the American West. The record Tumbleweed Connection is loaded with images of Americana. The stories are evocative, but I always loved when Bernie wrote about their own story: Tiny Dancer was about his then-wife's seamstress who worked on Elton’s costumes. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was an entire album of songs about their origins as a songwriting duo for Liberty Records. It’s one of my favorite records of his.

8. Sports arenas are for sports, not music, and few musicians can play to them well... U2, Springsteen... the list is relatively short. The acoustics at this show were not ideal. I guess as a way of reaching out / connecting to the humongous audience, Elton would jump up between the songs and address the audience with waves, bows and ... a whole lotta pointing. “No, YOU, Elton...!” 

There was a whole lotta pointing...
9. At Friday’s concert, he had drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone with him. I LOVE these guys! They, along with Dee Murray made up his band when I was a youngster. Davey Johnstone, if I understand correctly, did a lot of musical direction of the earlier albums like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, figuring out those tight harmonies that I know like the back of my hand. At the show he played not only guitar, but mandolin and banjo. A musician extraordinaire, is our Davey. 

10. I do know EJ’s earlier work intimately. I am deeply familiar with every guitar lick, every backing vocal, every bass riff... every word, and intention. They were a big part of my inner world back in the day. Judging by the amount of singing along at the show, I was not the only one.

Elton and Bernie AKA Captain
Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
11. On the way over to the show, we listened to Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech at this year’s SXSW festival. He brought up a group he admired as a youth - The Animals. “They were considered one of the ugliest groups in rock ‘n’ roll… That was good for me, ’cause I considered myself hideous at the time." Anyway, this was one thing I loved about Elton when I was young - he was proof that you didn’t have to be beautiful to be somebody. Really, he was a short, chubby, balding guy with glasses and he was rockin’ (or poppin’, I guess) people’s socks off. As a short, chubby girl with glasses, I found this to be... a relief. Not that I’m poppin’ anybody’s socks off, but ... it was nice to know that beauty was not a requirement for success.

12. Elton John has tiny hands. I could tell from whenever they showed them on the huge screens... but they move effortlessly across the keys. Of course he’s been playing since he was 3 – that’s 62 years... Lore has it that he was a prodigy.

I have no idea how to wrap up the list of random thoughts about Captain Fantastic. I’m no longer twelve, and I know he’s not hip... and but I still love him!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Got Your Status Update Right Here

In Matthew 6, Jesus Himself says the following: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." I mention this because I'm about to talk about what I am giving up for Lent. I always do this, but it's just this year that I realized that discussing it with you guys may drain my sacrifice of its meaning... even though it is more of a confession than a boast!

Anyway... for Lent this year I am attempting to give up Facebook and I'M DYING HERE!!!! It is by far the hardest Lenten challenge I've ever undertaken… (Last year's doesn't count because it wasn't merely difficult – it was impossible!)

Anyway, I'm sure I'll get over it soon, but i just so completely miss the whole thing… I feel completely out of the loop – I have no idea what's going on with Jason and Sally's house search; I haven't seen one of Holden's beautiful black and white photographs of the Orange County landscape since Mardi Gras; and I have no clue how Joy is doing with her new BF. And that's just a snapshot of the folks I can't check on. In short, I MISS MY PEOPLE!! YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!

As much as I hate the absence of my friends and the lack of vital information pouring into my brain, I might hate more not reaching out to them and dispensing my own useless and pointless knowledge. I'm not kidding! I went to a show and didn't check in or post a SINGLE blurry photo. I've been to restaurants without uploading a photo of my beer. I've seen all manner of weather – rain, snow, sleet, sunny sun – and not made a single comment. No shower songs of the day, or daily a lo divino... or profile pics of handsome dudes. I hate it.

As a child and adolescent I was always painfully shy, but have since developed quite a talkative streak. Facebook is tailor made for an extrovert who is stuck at home alone. Or an introvert who likes having time to think of what to say. Both of which I am. I both don't give a rip what you think, and at the same time, I'd really, really want you to like me!

And on Facebook, you can say something and people "Like" it IMMEDIATELY. Needless to say, I love the constant flow of affirmation. And while I'm more of a silent eye roller, plenty of people make it clear pretty quickly when the DIS-like something. Which is not my favorite aspect, but I'm willing to take the bad with the good.

Anyway… I love my friends on Facebook and I miss them – and it – with a lot of my being. Maybe not every ounce, but a lot. And that's how my Lent is going.

*photos I might have posted IF I were on Facebook: top to bottom: customary stage photo at Shovels and Rope show at the Cat's Cradle, men in kilts! (pipers at downtown Raleigh St. Patrick's Day Parade,) school project by Bill – a model traditional Native American house made with completely natural materials (ie. NO GLUE,) Bill and his besties at a birthday party, Aziz Ansari – too far away to discern, obligatory beer shot at The Pig. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma Threaded with Bacon

Psalm 8 and Psalm 15, both
referenced here, are
attributed to King David.
Now I'm finally out of Job… and into the Psalms! And what I read today in Psalm 8 bounces off what I just wrote about Job in a most peculiar way. It's the one where David is amazed that God has anything to do with us: "What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" 

And after reading Job, I kept wondering the same thing... about how much we don't and can't understand about God… how utterly THICK we are… about all the times Jesus was like, "DUDES!!! What is WRONG with you?!" This, of course, is my paraphrase. The things He actually said to them are "You of little faith, why are you afraid?" (Matthew 8) and "Get behind me Satan!" (Matthew 16)

So we're complete boneheads, am I right? Well, I can't speak for you, but I can say with certainty that this describes me. Further, Psalm 15 poses the question  "Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?" The answer involves words like "righteous" and "blameless." In other words, not me. Not any of us! 

Howard Stern as Fartman
in his biopic, Private Parts
Okay, we're total dumbasses AND we lack moral fiber. And really we're just a mass of appetites and excretions... or as my old friends in the band Id of the Cadavers called us, "tubes." In Philippians 3, Paul says "Their god is their stomach," when describing one group of people, and I gotta say, that hits home with me as the previous owner of many fine eating disorders. I'm thinking about that crazy autobiographical movie about Howard Stern, Private Parts. That guy was just a mass of crazy foul language, disturbing preoccuptions and bodily functions, but ... his wife loved him. The whole time I watched the movie I was thinking, "How can that lovely, kind, together woman love him?"

Not sure why God made Adam,
or why He continues to put up
with his descendants.
Which is just like what David was speculating about in Psalm 8, ie. "What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?"

That, my friends is a profound mystery. I'm reading over Genesis 2 right now, and it never says exactly WHY God made Adam – AKA the very first man. It does say that He put the guy in the garden to take care of it. And it seems like God regarded Adam as different than the other creatures He had made… because He realized that the animals weren't adequate to keep him company.* I wonder if God made man to keep HIMSELF company?**

Pete Townshend wrote songs for
the Who at home alone in his studio.
I mean, as John says, "God is love," so maybe He wanted something to receive His love – that could love Him back… no matter how messy or imperfect. 

I think love is definitely involved in all this. At the beginning of Job, God's pretty much saying to Satan, "Look at Job - he's awesome!" like a proud father... like one of these people who drive around in a car that has a bumper sticker that says "Proud parent of a Springfield Elementary School student!" And Jesus regularly hung out with 12 cottonheaded ninnymugginses who were constantly missing the point. Only His great big love could have covered their multitude of sins. (I Peter 4:8)  And they're the ones He had building his church in the world! I know! Crazy!
What the Who then did with them was
bombastic and fantastic... if a bit messy.

A long time ago I read Dave Marsh's book Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who in which the author, who obviously thought Pete Townshend walked on water, spent a lot of time on this theory: The ideas in Pete's brain were so complex that he had a hard time finding words to describe them. Then he had to communicate them to three very different guys who may or may not have had the intellectual capacity to grasp their complexity. And then they had to play it back to him. The end result was not anything near that perfect music in Pete's brain, but… somehow, it worked. 

Maybe God prefers a messy
garden with us in it....
The melodies that sound thin and reedy coming out of Pete's mouth on his demos tapes were bold and masculine pouring out of the mouth of Roger Daltrey, former sheet-rock worker from Shepherd's Bush. Similarly, the demos sport accurate but fairly light drum and bass lines… but when "replicated" by bass player John Entwistle (AKA Thunderfingers) and the mad, mad Keith Moon – who played the drums like a genius toddler – the result was bombastic and fantastic.

I'm not comparing Pete Townshend to the Almighty… It's just that… Pete Townshend could have just played all his own instruments like Prince or Todd Rundgren and kept everything sounding closer to what he had in mind, but he didn't. He chose three wild, over-the-top guys to communicate his message to the world. Then again, maybe what Pete had in his mind involved a bold, masculine voice, loud thumping bass and drums that sounded like a crashing ocean.
...to a pristine garden without us!

Maybe what God has in His unfathomable Mind is not perfection, but a relationship, no matter how messy. Maybe His garden is more of a free form (but lovingly cultivated) "naturalist" garden rather than a formal garden. To be sure, there's no way we can understand what God is all about, but He does choose to work with us, in all our brokenness and imperfection… 'cos He loves us. Why? I have no idea... and no matter how much I chew over it, it's still complete mystery.

*And yes, I know that animals can love – it's obvious that pets love their owners… but I'm thinking it's not exactly the same thing…?

**Here's another question I have: why wasn't God enough to keep Adam company?