02 March 2010

Sarah Bringing It All Back Home

I became a fan of Bob Dylan on Facebook and my friend Sarah commented and asked me "Are we supposed to think you're cool now?", which is funny for a couple reasons. First, poseurs become fans of stuff they think is cool because they think it's cool. Second, Sarah is teasing me for being a poseur when she knows I love Bob Dylan. Sarah loves Bob Dylan too. Last year at this time my friend Dana gave me a Dylan biography and while I was reading it I listened to the records Dylan recorded at each particular time I was at in the book. It made me realize that Dylan's first six records were recorded in a little under four years. And then my head blew up. "Blowing In the Wind", "The Times They Are A-Changing", "Like A Rolling Stone", one of my personal favorites "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry", as well as freakin' "Visions of Johanna", and umm..I don't know, all of HIGHWAY 61! Incredible! At the end of this prolific period, or maybe just towards the end, Dylan had his mysterious motorcycle accident and disappeared up in the wilderness of New York somewhere. The changes that Dylan's music went through during this period are remarkable. He hit in '62, writing and singing "protest" songs while the Beatles were crafting pop love songs. Dylan went through his changes faster, "going electric" at Newport in '65 and then touring with, ahem, the (Freaking) Band(!), one of the best Americana bands, if not THE best, of all time. Highway 61 absolutely kicked the door open to my favorite rock and roll music, a blend of Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, and primal energy. Dylan's lyrics and music blend so that one drives the other. Singing along to Dylan with the rhythm of his phrasing is the closest I can get to playing rock and roll guitar. Dylan's music after '65 wouldn't be the same. He released one of my favorite records to listen to on Sunday mornings, Nashville Skyline, a record with "Lay Lady Lay" on it, and dismissed at the time by some fans as a novelty country record. But I love "Country Pie" and the duet with Johnny Cash, and the laid back feel of it all. I wasn't around to be a snob in the Sixties so I just take the music as I've discovered it and I've come a long way since wondering who this guy Bob Die-lan was when he sang for USA for Africa in 1984. I don't know everything. But when I heard and saw Dylan sing "Tangled Up In Blue" on footage from his '75 tour, I knew I had to get that song, which brings me to Blood On the Tracks. Talk about Sunday morning music. I'd play this one summer when I was going out with a red headed girl (wondering if she had changed at all, if her hair was still red) who was with me when I bought it. Of course she is long gone but the memory remains, which seemed to be the point of this record. Connection and loss, and then reconnecting with someone who had changed, bitterness, optimism crushed by our own faults, Dylan sings about it on this record. Between "A Simple Twist of Fate", "Shelter From the Storm" (I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn), and "If You See Her, Say Hello", Dylan takes something personal and makes it universal to anyone who has felt heartbreak. Like Bruce Springsteen, Dylan was a guy who had to become Dylan. He aped alot of music and people, like Woody Guthrie, until he broke out as himself. Springsteen is similar in that he lived his dream, no matter where it took him, and was transformed. So that is my riff on Bob Dylan. I hope you think I'm cool now, Sarah.

My Friend Eva In Wonderland

My friend Eva has a blog called Eva In Wonderland and you should go read it. Upon my first return to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where I had failed out the year before, I hung out with DJ on homecoming weekend. I left the party early Friday night (probably like 3am?) and the next morning DJ, Johnny, and Tommy came in the apartment, laughing hysterically at a frying pan while they cracked a couple eggs and said "This is your brain on drugs!" Later that day DJ was bummed out by some former Phi Sigma Kappas who thought that our fraternity President (DJ) should have put more of an effort into Homecoming. This was in 1987 and if these guys were thirty-something that means they would have went to the Boro in the mid-70's. I think these guys were suffering from "everything-was-cooler-when-I-was-in-college" like alot of those 70's, self-centered a-holes were. I'm sure they still thought they were much cooler in their forties than me and DJ are in our forties, to which I say "Good luck with that!" We have as much fun as we ever did even though our brains aren't on drugs nearly as much as they used to be. Anyway, DJ left that day and went home, ran into an old friend and together they ran into this girl named Eva. Her and DJ and DJ's friend had went to school together. She asked DJ and his friend to go out to a movie with her, the friend (maybe) stood them up, and they went to the movie just the two of them, where Eva threw herself at DJ. I hope she laughs when she reads that. The next day DJ told me about this girl that he met and after that it was history. We flew out the next year to Arizona where Eva had moved to combat the effects of the goddamned Lupus that she was suffering from. We drove to Mexico and slept on the beach, drank Coronas, ate burritos with rocks in them, and almost got busted at the border. We had a day that changed my life, a day that I can look back on and say that it affected the rest of my life. Even if it was just sitting in the backseat on a drive through the desert, looking at the rising moon traced against the daylight sky. Since then Eva has been my friend. I owe her for turning me on to the Grateful Dead, getting me out to Arizona, and just knowing that she's there. I'm so glad there are people like Eva out there. Just like her husband DJ, I can check in anytime and feel present in my life. She got me to write this blog and you should go read her blog Eva In Wonderland. Do it now. She needs the money.

Please Read Mary Karr

Mary Karr is a Texas native who wrote about growing up with an oil worker dad and an artist/bohmian mom in a small town that smelled like rotten eggs. She was a tomboy growing up and she wrote The Liar's Club about her eccentric family and her youth. This is a really tame description and you have to read the book to get the full effect of the dysfunction and nuance of her family and story. Her mother was married five times, twice to Mary's dad. He served in WWII and was a no-nonsense storyteller and drinker, part Okie and part Indian. Mary says that, in a town full of characters, her family stood out. There were gunshots, fires, and lots of drinking. Mary tells stories that are outright hilarious, sad, and bewildering. I fell in love with her after she tells the story about climbing the neighbors tree and taking shots at them with a bb gun as they are coming home from church. This was in response to a schoolyard altercation in which Mary did not get the best of the boy she was fighting. She writes about long, boring summer days, rereading To Kill A Mockingbird, and hanging out with her mom. One critic called her writing prose with a poet's use of words, which I guess is pretty accurate. If you love good stories or admire the use of language, this is a fantastic book. I personally liked Mary as a young girl so much that I developed a huge crush on her on the page. If she was my neighbor growing up I'm sure I would have been so infatuated with her that I would like her even if she shot me with a bb gun. Please go read this book.