I've got Hendrix on the earphones, always a bad idea when trying to write. I can't help it if my comfort music includes Jimi as well as Frank. My tastes are eclectic. Still, I generally require of a performer two qualities: expertise and soul. I've always had problems with U2 and Neil Young for that reason, as they have soul but their musicianship is at best, average. Dylan, for that matter, knows how to pick a good backing band, and in his recordings there is enough soul to overcome occasional musical missteps and turn them into a rustic charm. I've been trying to make peace with U2 and Neil Young for years, as they are outstanding stylists despite ham-handed guitar work and the fact that “The Edge” (a title which irks me) couldn't even play his way out of a twelve bar blues break. I guess it's one of those “sum of the parts exceeds the whole” thing.
My ultimate comfort music is the Beatles, whom I listen to each Sunday morning with “Breakfast with the Beatles,” a longstanding California tradition and radio show. Once a week for a couple of hours the Beatles are plain therapeutic. Their genius becomes more firmly established with each new year of Grammys for songs with no melody to speak of. Fun that Aretha got a special award this year, though I blame here for introducing white and black America into endlessly toying with each note, sometimes over three octaves, as if to impress the American Idol judges. Whitney Houston and Beyonce' just took it too far, IMHO.
A good song doesn't need a bunch of embellishments to make it good; just straightforward, soulful singing will work. You know of what excesses I speak-- the runs and riffs that singers, especially female singers, wring out of notes today. “Won't you be-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee mi-hi-hi-hi-hi--i-i-i-ii-iii-ne for-ee-ee-ee-ee-ever.” I think our national anthem one tune extremely ill-served by such pyrotechnics. And I sometimes think all the playing around with the least syllable is a way of disguising the fact that many singers can't hold a true, honest note for more than a second or two. Some of my favorite singers? Fred Neil, the guy from Crash Test Dummies, Cat Stevens, Frank Sinatra (even Tony Bennet dolls up his tunes too much for me), David Byrne, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, Eric Clapton (I think he sings better than he plays), Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Streisand, Phoebe Snow, big, rich voices—although I'm also quite partial to Dylan and Lennon and their nasal tones and twang for some odd reason.
Yesterday's treatment went smoothly. Afterwards I hitched a ride into the city with my sister and wandered around, finding a pair of shorts and a new backpack at a four-story Ross Dress-for-Less downtown. It felt good to buy something for myself. As for food, I had a jumbo San Francisco dog with everything from a vendor near Union Square, a tuna sandwich from an Internet cafe', and some sushi from Safeway later, with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and a Lagunitas Seasonal Ale thrown in there somewhere.
I most enjoyed visiting hippie hill and the drum circle in GG park, where I danced, or moved rhythmically (depending on one's point of view) and let all my joints loosen up. The drum circle at GG is one of the best I have ever heard. Really good players come there. One guy specialized in three types of cowbells and several tambourines all mounted on a custom rack. Others had the usual congas. The whole effect was of a living, breathing organism, and it felt so human! No other animal can accomplish such diverse patterns of rhythm in a communal exercise. The complexity, the changes, the movement, the spaces, all very therapeutic. If music is the universal language, then rhythm is the universal touch. To let your joints dangle freely in response to multiple beats is good therapy. I truly felt a part of, not apart.
So the day went well, and I even had a chance to chat with my sweetheart for about an hour from an Internet cafe. Because of our new digs, Kathleen's captioned phone is not yet working. But the chatting brought back old memories, as in the winter of '99 after we had first met and we used to chat a great deal from LA to NY. I still have records of some of those conversations, just like I have hundreds of our early e-mails tucked away somewhere. I'd love to tell our love story sometime, as amazing as any love story I've heard. It seemed as if heaven and earth moved to bring us together and afterwards we could never be sundered.
There is true love, true Eros that can last a lifetime, but it is an anomaly, an anomaly I wish for all, pofor nothing is so good as to be deeply in love and have love reciprocated, or better, multiplied exponentially.
Here's the Valentine I wrote for Kathleen:
You are a granite waterfall, my love.
Your stone is slippery and sensuous.
I fall into a pool beneath your feet
And lie upon a thousand polished stones.
I look up at the alders overhead
And marvel at how you give yourself to them
Without diminishment, without attrition,
A steady miracle of sacrifice.
Downstream trout fingerlings mouth bits of algae
Because your pounding fed them oxygen.
The vines that weave the cliffs live off your spray.
Bright orange salamanders make their bed there.
The hummingbird hovers to sip your mist;
Droplets adorn his iridescent green.
A pale succulent grows in your cleft,
Its purple stalk a wand of yellow stars.
Inside the moss-lipped haven of your granite
I hide behind your thundering skirt of water.
Your clarity dissolves all self-deception.
I would not recognize myself without you.
The shelter of trees is never so generous
As your pouring and thinning of yourself
Into the forest air. I kneel and drink
And like the alder rise up satisfied.
If I can keep from any conflicts with my loved ones I may yet heal. I cannot bear to hurt or be hurt. I need comfort, not rigor, mercy, not judgment.
Thine in Truth and Art,