I am sorry that I’ve never written to you before. I’m sorry that I never took pen to paper to scribble a fan letter, and I regret that I didn’t write about you at all during the decades I spent writing about pop music. I wrote about Gary Glitter. I wrote about Toni Basil. I wrote about Stars On 45, for cryin’ out loud. How silly does that seem now?
The thing is, I always considered myself just a casual David Bowie fan. I mean no offense when I say that you were never one of my very favorite artists. Because, casual or not, I was still a fan. I heard “Changes” on the radio, and had to own the 45. I delved a bit deeper when I got to college, starting (perhaps incongruously) with a used copy of PINUPS, and falling hard shortly thereafter for “Suffragette City” and your magnificent ZIGGY STARDUST album. I knew a couple of other disaffected teenagers who were big Bowie fans; one was a high school pal who adored the sense of alienation conveyed in the lyrics of “All The Madmen” on THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD, and the other was a college acquaintance into hard rock, metal, and David Bowie. The high school pal killed himself in 1979; the college acquaintance was a kleptomaniac with a heart of gold, and I betrayed his trust in a manner I still regret, almost 40 years later. Let me collect dust. Memories….
But if I was just a casual Bowie fan, why am I so sad that you’re gone? The news was a true shock, delivered to me in an email from my friend Gretta, under the subject heading “Bowie Departs.” I have even found my eyes stinging, watering–just a little–in memory of this artist, of whom I was just a casual fan.
And I think I’m starting to understand the reasons why.
More than any other artist, performer, or public figure I can think of, you made it okay to be different. You made it okay to be weird, or strange, or left-of-center. You made it okay to be gay, or straight, or neither, or both. You made it okay for anyone to be whomever his or her inner muse wanted to be. Sometimes it was a struggle, and sometimes our efforts would fail, but you made it okay for us to try our own way. Maybe you even made it okay to be a lonely, chubby teenager from the suburbs of Syracuse. Casual fan? I loved your music more than I even knew. I still have my copies of your ‘70s LPs; they have survived every drastic purge of my record collection, over a span of many, many years. Although I stopped buying your albums after 1979’s LODGER–casual fan, that’s me!–I had a chance to see you in concert in 1983, and you were terrific. I’ve been listening to your stuff again all week, including a few things I never really played much before. You influenced so many other artists I love, and you made wonderful, timeless music that will live on and on and on.
I took you for granted. I miss you now.
Many of us believe in forever. In your new digs, I’m sure you’ve already had a chance to re-connect with Mick Ronson, with old friends like John Lennon and Klaus Nomi, maybe Freddie Mercury, Lou Reed, or Andy Warhol, perhaps Bing Crosby…because, why not? I bet you’ve chatted with Salvador Dali and Arthur Rimbaud, and with Einstein, too. I hope you’ll have a chance to meet Buddy Holly, and James Jamerson, and Elvis, maybe play with all of them. You can play with Miles Davis, and Count Basie, and Hank Williams, and Bob Marley, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Caruso, and Leonard Bernstein–that would be really, really cool, and each would consider you a peer. Lemmy’s probably got it all set. Heaven must indeed have one hell of a music scene. We wish we could hear it down here.
But now, there’s a Starman waiting in the sky. Our minds have already been blown. And we mere mortals can only gaze upward, and note that the stars look very different today. Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.
There is one thing you were wrong about. Unlike the spat-upon children you mention in “Changes,” I was not quite aware of what I was going through. I know better now. And I wanted to write you, just to say thanks. Thank you, David. Thank you for everything.
This letter originally appeared on this groovy/far out/outta sight blog (https://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com) after Mr. Bowie’s passing. But, Carl’s a cool guy and he writes cool letters so we’ve reblogged it (with his permission) for your reading pleasure.
There is no song in the entire musical universe that better encapsulates the decadent torpor of a season spent with no responsibilities. Wet bathing suits pulling at groins, Bomb Pops smeared across faces, the hush of city roads, unused, while drivers fill downtown skyscrapers.
The summertime world is languid. It is the snick-snick-snick of sprinklers. It is Perry Ferrell crooning “Tag. You are the one.”
I was an awkward child. Bookish. Isolated. My discovery of Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking is the event which separates my childhood and (early) adolescence.
In the late ‘80s—even in North Florida—air conditioning wasn’t a guarantee. Especially not in the garage apartments grubby kids like myself occupied while parents worked. We weren’t old enough to work. We were too old for Vacation Bible School. We were left to our own devices.
I couldn’t have been more than 13. An older boy—homely, stinking of cigarette smoke—handed me a Mickey’s and dropped the needle on a record that was completely unlike the Phil Collins and Kenny Loggins that had been occupying me that year.
The malt liquor made my stomach draw in. Sour. The other kids flopped on ripped corduroy sofas, seemingly confident in their place in the universe. That morning I had—somewhat nostalgically—acted out a pretend game in my playhouse. These boys would never pretend. I couldn’t picture them acting silly, or frivolous. They were sweaty, and intense. Chain smoking and issuing guttural exclamations at random.
As Dave Navaro’s opening riffs on “Up the Beach” filled the room, the kids tipped their heads back. They affected a sense of experience. They were transported by these musicians, teleported to the other side of the continent. We were in a California flophouse sharing air with the protopunks of the west coast scene.
Later I would participate in the shoplifting of the small green bottles we used to feign inebriation until someone came across a reliable ditch weed dealer. But today I was drunk on the exhilaration of three reluctant sips.
I didn’t have a word for it, but Jane’s Addiction was sex made tangible. Ferrell’s screams, echoing against Navaro’s guitar moved my teen loins. I was uncomfortable. Sweaty. When “Had a Dad” played, I pulled in. I had lost my father the previous summer. He left only a note, then a series of postcards from across the American West.
“Dear Daughter. I saw the Grand Canyon today. I think I may drive into it.”
The odor of the boys in that garage apartment was what I deserved for not being daughter enough to keep my father close.
I heard “Ted, Just Admit It” and I wanted to live inside the bass line. I didn’t have a context for the political imagery. I lived in suburbia; we didn’t talk about the nightly news. Ferrell shouted “Sex is violent” and I tried to act like I’d heard that hundreds of times. Who’s a virgin? Certainly not me. Violent sex, yep. All day, every day. Nevermind that I still wasn’t sure what a blow job was.
“Standing in the Shower, Thinking” is such a relief after “Ted.” It’s nearly a throwaway. It’s perky. It’s guileless. It’s direct. But as a setup for “Summertime Rolls,” it’s ideal. After a Faith no More-esque crescendo, the quiet bass at the beginning of “Summertime” feels like water picking its way through an ephemeral stream, leftover after a thunderstorm.
Ferrell and his girlfriend wore no shoes. Her nose was painted with pepper sunlight. Whatever that meant, I wanted to embody it. I wanted to be as serious as serious could be with anyone, truly anyone.
(As an adult it’s easy to recognize Ferrell’s dependence on heroin as a theme throughout his music. As a 13-year-old girl I just knew I wanted someone to feel that way about me. I later looked to “Three Days” as the epitome of sexual and romantic love.)
“Summertime Rolls” builds slowly, built on the foundation of a ponderous baseline. But when the melody hits, it’s staggering. If the teen boys in that room felt it, I couldn’t tell. They were making plans to build a plywood skate ramp. I was lost in the heady psychedelia of the orange buttercat chasing after a crazy bee.
Since that day I’ve chased the feeling of being timeless, lost in a July afternoon. The closest I came was dropping acid during the day and lying in a field with a lover discussing the shapes of the clouds. But that was 20 years ago.
Listening to “Summertime Rolls” through headphones is like a courtroom sketch of the lackadaisical feeling of being trapped between childhood and responsibility—I can see the shapes, even make out a few details.
But now I have a lawn to mow, children to drive to the pool. Summertime is no longer a lazy river, carrying me prone from one experience to the next. Summertime smells of spray-on sunscreen, not clove cigarettes. It tastes like small-batch gin; malt liquor left behind as a child’s game.
Summertime might still roll, but not for me. Thank you all the same.
The final installment of our (Early) Summer Crushes series
Fun Fact: These two writers have known one another since infancy
(1) I’m going to be sneaky here and use music as an excuse to talk about a movie. Do you ever do a thing where you start watching a movie and it immediately begins to resonate with you in a way which causes you to cry approximately every 15 minutes for the duration of the film? If yes, then you’ll understand when I tell you this is how I felt throughout “20th Century Women.” This is a movie, made by a man, about women, in the most respectful, loving, and feminist way, that I was moved to tears and swooning simultaneously. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll just drop some key terms; Zoe Moss, clitoral stimulation, and “I think I’m a feminist” (as said by the most adorable teenaged actor who plays the male lead role). I’m now on the fast track to wanting to do more research on Roger Neill who did all of the instrumental/incidental music for this movie (do you like how I brought things back around to musc?).
(2) I have been listening to this album/particular songs from this album every day for the past 1-2 weeks. For me, this album is a perfect example of needing to hear music at the right place and/or time. I tried to listen to it when it first came out and for some reason I found it inaccessible. When I reflect on that now it makes me want to build a time machine just so that I could go back and give myself a good shaking. Sarah Assbring is the sole member of this group. Yes, go back and read that sentence again. One woman, who is clearly a genius, is behind this music. The whole album is brilliant, and I highly recommend listening to “Endless Ways” and “Kouign-Amman.” But, someone has kindly put the entire up on YouTube, so you should just listen to the whole thing.
(3) Here’s how I got into Shriekback. I was on a roadtrip and we had Sirius radio. As the trip progressed my significant other and I were both in agreement that the station that played the most consistently good (or bare minimum interesting) music was “1st Wave” where for some reason all of the disc jockeys have Australian or British accents (or pretend to). Anyway, on the last day of our trip one of the djs played this song and shared that he felt it was a precursor to bands like “White Zombie.” Now, I’ve never been into “White Zombie” but I am into Shriekback. Especially after seeing this clip. If there was a class that all aspiring performers would be required to pass before first taking the stage, I feel confident that there would be content on the final exam connected to this Shriekback performance. Also, on the recorded version, take note of the woman who sings the super high part in the background. Shriekback created some highly ambitious pop music and I dig them. Fun fact: The director Michael Mann is also a fan of this band and used their music in Miami Vice and the truly amazing movie “Manhunter.”
(4) I got into Nitzer Ebb vis-a-vis Shriekback. As in, I kept coming up with excuses to talk to my significant other about Shriekback whenever it seemed like it wouldn’t be too much of a conversational stretch. When that didn’t work I would just say things like, “Can I talk to you about Shriekback now?” As part of my fervor I borrowed a Goth music box set from the library (because there was a Shriekback song on one of the discs) and subsequently said, “I thought I was into goth music, but maybe not.” To which my SO replied, “I think you might actually be into industrial music.” A quick Wikipedia search later on Industrial Music and I was doing a swan dive into the world of Nitzer Ebb.
As you listen to “Join the Chant” please consider this; being that music is so much about organizing and arranging sounds, why don’t more artists work human noises (that aren’t words) into their songs? I’m pretty seriously obsessed with that yelp/cry/moan thing they do in this song and I want more of it. Also, how do you record something like this? As in, what the bejeezus are you doing in the studio to get yourself to be able to make that sound on cue in order for it be recorded? I guess these are all secret Nitzer Ebb mysteries to which I may never find an answer.
(5) I might be stretching the parameters of this “Summer Crush” prompt with this one for a couple of reasons. (1) I’ve been really into listening to these talks for over a year now which certainly pushes the limits of the definition of the word crush, and (2) while these talks do include some chanting (usually at the start), they aren’t really musical in nature. But, I. Don’t. Care.
My favorite speaker on this site is Ajahn Amaro because he’s so amusing/down-to-earth/relatable/smart/entertaining/insightful/calming. Thus far I pretty much only listen to the posts which feature Ajahn Amaro. I’m fairly certain I’ve listened to every one of his talks from 2016 and thus far I’m really trying to pace myself with the newly posted 2017 talks. I will leave “Kindness to Yourself” here for you, because I hope you will find it accessible (even if you aren’t a Buddhist). Before you immediately write it off as some modern day mindfulness gobbledy goop, I would encourage you to take a listen with an open mind. You might just find it helpful, in the simplest way possible.
Bleachers: There’s a couple of bands that are my go-to’s in the summer – you know, the ones you just have to blast in the car with the windows rolled down on the highway, driving … exactly the speed limit. Probably one of my top summer bands is Bleachers. I discovered them a couple summers ago when I was living in coastal South Carolina and had long commutes everywhere I needed to go. I think I listened to their first album nonstop for the entire summer. It checks a lot of boxes for me – it’s got a kind of nostalgic 80s feel to it, it’s anthemic and it’s real music, not this shit that passes as music these days. And their new album just dropped a couple days ago so it looks like I’ve got another summer of Bleachers blasting in the car to look forward to.
BetaPlay: This little band makes my heart happy. It’s another of my summer go-tos. And they are coming to Virginia Beach in July with Toad the Wet Sprocket, and I am definitely going to be there. (Also, who else didn’t know that Toad the Wet Sprocket was still a thing?)
My David Bowie coloring book: Look, I don’t know what the rules are for this Summer Crush list, but I feel like my newly acquired Bowie coloring book has to be on it. There are no rules in rock ’n’ roll anyway, right? My aunt sent me this coloring book, and it’s everything. Not only does it have iconic Bowie pictures to color, but it also includes a bunch of facts and stories. And I can use my David Bowie calendar to make sure I’m coloring all of his outfits correctly (because coloring Bowie all willy-nilly seems sacrilegious somehow).
Graveyard Whistling: The Old 97’s (I wrote about them once, remember?) put out a new album a couple months ago, and once again, they have not let me down. Of particular note, the song “She Hates Everybody.” A misanthrope love song? Be still, my beating heart.
The Handmaid’s Tale: OK, OK, it’s not exactly music-centric, but this show uses music in the best way possible. I don’t know who’s scoring this thing, but it’s fantastic. There’s not a ton of music, but that’s why the musical moments really resonate. And the music really says something about the characters and also serve as a reminder that at one time these characters had normal lives just like us and they listened to normal music just like us. (New episodes Wednesdays on Hulu – you need to be watching this).
Things we’re crushing on at the start of summer 2017.
Donna Summer – Romeo (Live) – This performance must be part of the argument for why Donna Summer is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Holy shit! Wait for it to kick in after the malt shop intro. Hopefully this backing band was at least invited to the Rn’R Hall of Fame dinner…
I used to think that Iggy Pop was gaming David Bowie. I’m beginning to accept that it was likely the other way around.
Released in 1987. You could release this song today and it would make 40 year old men with Trans Am CD collections wet across the globe.
Midnight Oil – Read About It – Live 1985 – So, Peter Garrett is basically an Australian Freddie Mercury fueled by social justice! Resist!
Sometimes life is tough. Sometimes we find ourselves alone and heading into battle with only one song to spark a sense of hope and reassurance. For me, this has been one of those songs in recent months.
Summer is a time for falling in love (or so we’ve been told via music, movies, and books). Here at LL2RNR we like to be proactive, and so we’re prepping early for summer love by compiling some lists of our writer’s Top 5 (Early) Summer Crushes. This is Part 1 of a 2, or (if we’re really lucky) 3 part series.
“Under the Sound of Rain” by Sinn Sisamouth: I first saw the excellent documentary film Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock ‘n Roll last winter, but this song is particularly suited to late spring in New York. Whether it’s an all-day soaking that covers the streets in fallen flower petals, or a warm night fog that blurs the tops of the buildings, the precipitation pairs perfectly with these languid saxophones and soft, heartsick vocals. It’s the blues, but a particularly luxurious variety thereof.
“Ring the Alarm” by Tenor Saw: When I was little, summertime meant long trips in the back of my mom’s car. The music varied, but quite often, it was one of her Bob Marley albums—Survival, Uprising, or one of the greatest-hits collections. So, inevitably, a link formed in my mind between reggae music and warm weather. Lately, this song has taken up serious residence my head. That gorgeous, rich voice, the slinky, slightly haunting melody, and the undeniable beat are just begging for hot nights, cold drinks, and serious dancing.
“Shut Up Kiss Me” by Angel Olsen: This one taps into a whole range of teen-girl fantasies. It’s the kind of thing you blast in your best friend’s car on the way to Dairy Queen, when it stays light until ten o’clock. Or maybe it comes on at a party and you dance in the corner, trying to catch the eye of any cute boy who might be watching, but also sort of hoping that nobody’s watching, because you’re not sure you’re ready to actually be kissed like that yet. It’s walking around the mall, chewing sour bubble-gum as ostentatiously as possible. As for what this has to do with me, well… I never did any of that stuff in high school, but when I listen to this song, I can imagine what it would have felt like if I had.
“On Lankershim” by Foxygen: From its opening lines, which echo Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel”, to its swooning, Hollywood-tragic finale, this song taps into the kind of mythic Americana that I will probably always be drawn to. Dreams of neon and cacti and the glow of gas stations, of hanging around scrubby bars with friends after a gig, trying to stay sober enough to beat the boys at pool… I mean, look, it’s an old story that’s been told in countless ways, but right now, this song is telling it the way I want to hear it.
“U.S. Gay” by Sons of An Illustrious Father: This was written in response to last year’s massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, but given the state of things, it’s an anthem we’re going to need for a while. This song, and the accompanying video, makes the crucial point that for some of us, celebrating who we truly are is a radical act in the current climate. So let’s do it—fight back the darkness with love and glitter and loud music. They’ll never know what hit them.
(“So my Summer Top 5 are my go-to albums for summer activities.”)
FIRST ALBUM OF THE SUMMER Funny Farm by King Kong
We all have that one album we reach for to acknowledge that summer is finally here. For me, it is the second album by King Kong. This one tackles tough topics like farm life, tornadoes, being stranded in the desert or even on a desert island. It also includes a pretty sweet cover of Laid Back’s “White Horse.”
COMMUTING TO WORK Whammy by the B-52s
Traffic sucks. This album doesn’t. I pretty much ignored this one until recently which is my loss as it’s great. Analog Drum machines, angular guitars, dancehouse horns, and B-52 pop hooks.
CUTTING THE GRASS Danzig by Danzig
Maybe it’s kind of a “I fought the lawn and Danzig won!” anthem or maybe it’s Rick Rubin’s production that cuts through the sound of the lawnmower. Whatever it is, it gets the job done. Every time.
RUNNING/EXERCISING Phantom of Liberty by Camera
This album gets me going. It’s got all the stuff I love about Neu!-inspired krautrock with fuller production and less of the trying passages. Driving “Motorik” drum beats, repeative riffs, and no fussy singing to get in the way.
DRIVING AT NIGHT Lifestyles of the Laptop Café by The Other People Place
This is album is best enjoyed on a long road trip in the middle of a humid night with the windows down. 808 + 88° = night rider.
A Seat at the Table by Solange
DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
This song and video >>>>>
“Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan
Wilco performance at Beacon Theater, NYC on March 18. My mind keeps returning. March is always a tough month. Cold, wet, rain, snow, gray plus an overwhelming desire to see some sun and foliage asap. The set was beautiful and immediately put my mind at ease. Went with a good friend and we agreed that it was the antidote to everything that is terrible right now (surely you know what I’m talking about). It also shined a light on everything that’s lovely (having a child is perhaps top of that list). Jeff Tweedy said it well that night: “Save your pessimism for better times.”
First off, I need to tell you that it gets better. No, really. A letter to one’s teen self often starts off with that tried and true sentiment, because it fits. It’s real. Writing decades later, I know things improved, but you haven’t discovered that yet. It won’t be better all of the time; there will be both good days and bad days, awful times and celebratory times, and all the shades of experience in between. But you make it through. I’m you, writing to you from more than forty years in the future, so yeah, you survive it all. Not unscathed, possibly not quite intact, but you make it.
Ah. I’m getting ahead of myself. The perils of hindsight.
It’s January 17th, 1977. A Monday. You’re a senior at North Syracuse Central High School, but there’s no school today. The weather outside is frightful, and everything is cancelled all over Central New York. As you look through your window at the quiet suburban street, you see that the frigid elements have transformed Richardson Drive into a chiseled sculpture of ice, its frozen beauty both breathtaking and dangerous. On the radio, WOUR-FM is giving away a free James Montgomery Band LP to the first caller who can identify the U.S. city that was home to the first traffic light; some memory of visits to your sister in Ohio compels you to call and say CLEVELAND!, the correct answer. The album is yours–Happy Birthday, Carl! This is how your 17th year begins.
It’s a scary time all around you. That same day, killer Gary Gilmore is executed in Utah, the first time that the death penalty is carried out in the U.S. in nearly ten years. Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer and Governor from Georgia, will be sworn in as President in a few days. And you’re going to college soon, sooner than seems possible, far sooner than you’re ready, yet not soon enough to meet your need for something–anything–positive to happen to you.
You’re lonely. You feel alone, in spite of the presence of a family that loves you, and a smattering of friends with whom you share some good times. Is it teen drama? Is it clinical depression? Is it both, or neither? The vantage point of four decades gone has not clarified the answer in my head. Nor could anything I say now at 57 have any real meaning for you at 17. The twisted, uneven path before you remains only yours to tread. Tread carefully.
You have music, and it helps you. Your favorite group is The Beatles, and that will never really change. Your current affection for Boston and Fleetwood Mac will abate somewhat over time, but you’ll remain a steadfast fan of The Monkees, and your burgeoning interest in The Kinks will grow stronger. You’ll still like KISS, though they won’t remain at the very top of your pops for long.
But, within the next year or so, you’re going to hear two groups who will join The Beatles as your all-time favorites. You know The Ramones, that group you’ve been reading about in Phonograph Record Magazine? Yeah, that’s right–the scary guys with the leather jackets, and the songs about sniffin’ glue and murder and similar fun in the sun. They frighten you now, but once you finally hear them? You’re gonna start calling them The American Beatles, the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band of all time. Oh, don’t roll your eyes at me, young man! Just wait. You’ll see. And then just over a year from now, you and your friend Jay Hammond are going to see a local band called The Flashcubes, and you’re going to feel like you’ve just seen God.
You’re going to mature, but you’re not going to mature all that much. I wish you would, or could. The music you’re listening to right now, all that Beatles and British Invasion stuff, plus Sweet and The Raspberries and about a billion others, are going to dovetail with the punk rock you’ve been reading about, and it’s all going to come together as Your Music in this crucible of 1977. Pretty soon, you’re going to hear a band called The Rubinoos, and you’ll think Heaven formed them just for you. You’ll hear The Sex Pistols, and think that your notion of what is and isn’t rock ‘n’ roll is due for redefinition. You’re going to forsake The Bay City Rollers, briefly, but you’ll come back to them almost immediately.
In later years, you’re going to develop an appreciation for some pop sounds that might not be relevant to you just yet. I know you don’t really care about The Who; you will. I know you don’t like The Beach Boys, at least not the way you like The Dave Clark Five or Paul Revere & the Raiders, but someday, you’ll regard The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as the greatest album of all time. Yeah, even more than that Christmas gift you got last month, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Believe it or not! You’re going to like David Bowie more than you do now. You’re going to like Bob Dylan less. If I recall the timeline, you’re almost ready to start hating The Eagles. You’re going to discover Stax; you’re going to discover reggae; you’re going to discover rockabilly. And you’re going to discover a name for your favorite music, the music you’ve loved the most for the longest time, but never thought about what to call it; it’s called power pop. Power pop is going to be almost like a religion for you.
Before this year is done, you’re going to write your first article about rock ‘n’ roll music. You are going to write many, many, many more after that, over a span of decades. You’re going to get pretty good at it, but you’ll come to bristle whenever someone calls you a rock critic. (The only exception you’ll ever make will be when you’re thumbing through a book one evening, and discover that you’ve been quoted, as in “according to rock critic Carl Cafarelli.” Yeah, you’ll make an exception for that one.)
A little over a year from now, you’re going to give up on comic books; you’ll come back to them after college. You will not marry Lissa DeAngelo, nor will you hook up with Suzi Quatro. Sorry, man. But you will have girlfriends. In fact, a girl will seduce you, rather eagerly, in the not-too-distant future, and I don’t intend to spoil that surprise. Later on, you’ll meet a young woman with whom you’ll want to spend the rest of your life, and she’ll feel the same way about you.
You’re going to keep on making mistakes. You’ll say things you regret, you’ll do things you regret, and I wish I could prevent all of that. But I can’t, and I shouldn’t. Because fixing even one of those bad, bad things could divert you from the path that leads to your greatest joy: your daughter. Your daughter is something else, man, and just being her father will earn you more pride and fulfillment than anything else you will ever do in this life. You won’t even mind that she becomes a better writer than you, because all of her accomplishments make you happier than you can even imagine now.
And you will share a love of music with your daughter. You won’t like the same kinds of music–let’s not get crazy–but music will fill every fiber of her being, just as it fills yours now.
Keep listening to your music. Keep reading about new sounds. Keep faith in the sounds you already know and cherish. Keep writing. You’re gonna get published. You’re never going to make much money at it, but you are going to find people interested in what you say, and in the way you say it. I know you lack confidence in yourself, but I know you believe in your writing. Others are going to believe in it, too.
Very soon now, you’re going to write a short story that reads like a suicide note. It’s just a story; I know. I know. There are people you know right now–at least three of them–who will choose to end their own lives, and will follow through with that fatal decision. You can’t save them. You will look back and wish you could. You will look back very often and wish you could have done…something. But it is within your power to save yourself. You can do it. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve already proven that you can do it. It will not be easy, but you will succeed.
You’ve been listening to Sgt. Pepper. You’ve been singing along, It’s getting better all the time. It will get better. You will have triumphs, perhaps modest ones, but you’ll feel that elation nonetheless. You will also battle depression. I can’t promise you the paradise you crave, because it ain’t coming. But you’re going to have a good life, marred by disappointments, devastated by tragedies, yet still a life worth savoring, a life that will touch the lives of others in, I hope, mostly positive ways.
Oh. And you’re gonna get to see The Animals and The Searchers and The Kinks and The Rolling Stones and David Bowie, Ray Charles, The Everly Brothers, Tina Turner, The Beach Boys. You’re gonna get to meet Gene Simmons, and he’s going to be an absolute dickhead to you. You’re gonna see The Monkees. As I write this, it looks like you’re gonna see Paul McCartney. You’re going to ask Ringo Starr a question at a press conference, and he’s going to answer you. You’re going to see The Ramones nine times! You’re going to see a bunch of acts you haven’t even heard yet, like Prince and The Lords Of The New Church and The Bangles. There’s a lot of music ahead of you.
And this year is crucial. Everything starts for you in 1977. Keep your head held high. You won’t get the reference just yet, but keep your head held high. Your life will be saved by rock ‘n’ roll.
Much Older (Little Wiser) You (Carl)
PS: That hope to die before you get old? Stupid notion. Discard it now.
*The writer recognizes that this post is not in the form of a letter. But, to quote the great Lesley Gore, “It’s my (blog) and I’ll (write what) I want to.”
I grew up being exposed to live music. This was not because one of my caregivers was a career musician nor because I had parents who were ex-hippies (if you know my parents you are already chuckling over that one). I believe it was due to growing up in a rural section of eastern Pennsylvania where on any given Friday or Saturday night you can attend one of many “carnivals” and “fairs” which are organized and put on by a wide variety of local fire companies.
Isn’t it interesting how the place you live can and will shape your definition of certain words? This is an assumption, but I believe that when most people hear the word carnival or fair they probably picture a midway with a wide array of games, rides, cotton candy, sno-cones, popcorn, and so on. Back home, when someone invites you to attend a local carnival you should know that it would be a rare event for there to be even one ride, and that there might be one cotton candy/sno-cone stand (if you’re lucky), and the real purpose of attending, the true focus of this event, will be to see and hear live music. Yes, there might be a ring toss where you can win either glassware or knives, there will probably be a bingo tent, and without a doubt there will be homemade chicken corn soup because when you live in a place that appears to be 50% corn fields you’ve got to figure out a way to do something with all that corn. But, the real reason people drive 10, 15, 30, sometimes 40 miles from their homes on Friday and Saturday nights is to hear the hottest up and coming country music act or a local long beloved cover band from the comfort of their most favorite lawn chair.
In the city, when you want to see a band or musician perform, you typically have to go to bars or clubs that don’t open until later in the evening and have performers who often don’t make it onto the stage until even later in the evening. You have to show ID at the door, get a wristband/have your hand stamped, stand around, probably order drinks while you wait, endure a cloud of cigarette smoke (less likely these days, but still possible), and if the band has a decent following, secure your preferred spot in the venue by standing in the same location for hours while alternating bathroom breaks with your friends.
At the carnival you will drive down back roads until you see some boy scouts or volunteer firefighters directing traffic towards the fire hall parking. The parking lot is a large sweet smelling grass field. Perhaps it is overgrown. Perhaps it is muddy, in which case there will be hay added to the grass which produces an even earthier and more delicious smell. The “parking lot” will likely be surrounded by corn fields because Lancaster County has some of the most fertile soil anywhere and the people who live here have been farming since they first set foot off the boat fresh from Germany or Switzerland, or some other area in that region of Europe where pacifists and Anabaptists were being persecuted back in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The set-up is simple, no frills. Everyone brings their own seats. Lawn chairs and blankets are abundant. The woven webbed lawn chair with the aluminum frame has not gone out of style at these gatherings. Here they are worn and well loved, but still in operation, colorful woven splashes of avocado green, yellow, orange, and blue set up and ready to go. There is a stage, and in front of the stage there is space left open for people to dance and/or to stand so that they can be closer to the band.
The food is brought to you by your local fire company along with a few other vendors who have their own separate stands selling things like funnel cake, lemonade, or the newest addition to carnival life, the deep fried __________ (fill in the blank with candy bar, Twinkie, Pop-tart, etc.). The soup is highly recommended. No one here finds it strange to eat piping hot soup in the summer. The corn is fresh and abundant, and the soup is distinctly PA Dutch style; including pieces of hard-boiled egg, more corn than noodles or chicken, as well as saffron, and parsley.
The opportunity to see live music performed in an outside venue for a small fee is something that has been a staple of weekend entertainment in the area for a very very long time. My Aunt’s father Bobby supported her and his wife working as a professional musician at carnivals such as this throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. He played the stand-up bass in various groups. He was in a musician’s union. He was the real deal.
Growing up, my parents took me to carnivals regularly. My mother will often tell the story about how she recognized that I could keep rhythm when as a toddler I was sitting in my stroller at one of these events and bouncing my foot along to the music. I saw Jerry Lee Lewis at a carnival, but I was too young to remember it. Maybe he was the one to cause my foot to bounce? Or maybe it was Marty Stuart, John Conlee, Ronnie McDowell, Waylon Jennings, Tommy Cash (yes, Johnny Cash has a brother, and he toured/played the carnival circuit) or The Mudflaps?
What started me reminiscing about rural eastern Pennsylvania summer entertainment was a clip I came across after doing a YouTube search for Flamin’ Dick and the Hot Rods. Yes, that is their name and I don’t believe there is any irony or innuendo intended. Folks back home as a whole tend to be either very religious and/or moderately to severely sheltered. That being said, it is probably only the most wayward of teenagers who would even have the thought to snicker over the band’s name. All of that aside, I was looking them up because I have seen them….live! At a carnival! It was a few summer’s ago, likely at the Reinholds Carnival, and the event delivered in all the ways I needed/never expected it to. There was soup, there were lawn chairs, there was Bingo, my parents ran into present and former accquaintances, we bumped into one of my former elementary school teachers, and all evening people stumbled back and forth between their seats and the food stands like food zombies carrying first a sloppy joe, then next a funnel cake, and then finally an ice cream. You can’t drink, smoke, or have sex back home, but no one will blink an eye if you consume sugar at an epic rate towards the diabetic finish line. Most importantly though, Flamin’ Dick and the Hot Rods were simply great. They played “Cara Mia” by Jay and the Americans and they pulled it off. Not an easy thing to do, even for Jay. Their performance exuded the air of professional musicians who are simultaneously having fun and getting paid with no ambition beyond those two possibilities. They were there to sing and play and help the audience to feel free and happy for a few hours. The grass smelled sweet, the music sounded magical as it bounced off the corn fields, and the people were entertained.
And so, after a lengthy, heavily nostalgic and biased ramble, I present to you, Flamin’ Dick and the Hot Rods circa 2016 at the Wernersville Fair via YouTube. I want to be very clear that my objective in sharing this clip is not coming out of a place of irony, or mockery, or too cool for schoolness. I encourage you to watch this clip and observe the joy that the band is bringing to those people who come and go in front of the camera over the course of the non-stop two hour set (Bruce Springsteen eat your heart out!).
It’s okay. There’s no pretention here. You are allowed to revel in the amazing power of live music being played for the sake of pure enjoyment.