Saturday, June 1, 2019

Raised by the Racket




Thanks to my parents, the soundtrack of early childhood resounded with The Beatles, Janice Joplin, Errol Garner, and Bach. After that, I was on my own.

For years I turned the dial, continually underwhelmed by what vibrated through the speakers. Billy Joel was lame, early rap clunky, and new wave had as much soul as the supermarket aisles over which it now plays. 

Then a girl in tenth-grade social studies let me borrow a Memorex mixtape starting with The Dead Milkmen’s “Bitchin’ Camaro.” I replayed that snotty, sarcastic lo-fidelity raving until my Sony Walkman chewed it up, and then spent an hour performing surgery on the tangled mess of magnetic ribbon so as to salvage the cassette as well as my chances with this chick.

But the Milkmen are to punk what Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi are to the blues, so it was quickly on to the legitimate intensity of The Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, and early D.R.I. That shit? Made me wanna kick down doors, burst through walls, and whirlwind-destroy every room therein!

In a good way.

Punk was uniquely cathartic and motivated fans to surge toward any goal set to its soundtrack: causes fought for; democracy exercised; broken hearts welded; workouts conquered. Most importantly, the scene connected scatters of colorfully awkward outcasts too creative and brave to surrender, but nonetheless worn down by Top 40 expectations. Minorities in our far-apart high schools, suddenly five-hundred-strong in a charged concert hall.

So, what happened?

Like the hippies it replaced and the hip-hop that’s replaced it, punk’s just another iteration in the grand timeline of counterculture. A stop along the evolution of revolution… eventually a mohawked anachronism. 

In the meantime, for those old enough to remember, the fire that music ignited continues to light the path of our current endeavors, fueling productive rebelliousness and keeping us spiritually honest until we slam dance into the great beyond.

I hope they blast “Rock for Light” at my funeral and catapult my studded coffin into the grave at the center of the ensuing mosh pit. My last stagedive.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Tacit Peace


Routines are an inevitable necessity. The cosmos works on interconnected unity and repetition. Had I not finally established an official spot for my car keys after the fifth time leaving them somewhere, I might be writing a "Do Not Tow" sign instead of these words.

Familiar rhythms crescendo to a beating headache when overplayed, however. I drove one route to work for years (on the days I had my keys). Every morning at 6:53 by my dashboard display, I passed the same stoic, mustached, walrus-like construction worker standing at the corner of Motter Ave. and Dill St. waiting for his ride to an overly familiar gig. The pattern was initially comforting, a reassurance that I had company in facing the day. Later on he just bothered me, a tired character in a tired plot. (At one point I stopped seeing him there. I guess it got to him too.)

We eventually cease to appreciate even the most spectacular encounters. Once you've lived in a place at the shore for a while, you no longer look out at the ocean, and that upbeat yellow you painted the living room now drives you up the very same walls. Notice how mellow the crowd remains under a ritual Independence Day sky, as if the fireworks were happening on a distant screen saver. Chronic users get low instead of high, the cannabis cloud thickening into a lead blanket, the harder stuff a deathbed.

There are some cycles that have to be broken altogether, certain landmarks that belong in the rearview mirror. You don't revisit quicksand, perpetual religious conflict only begs the apocalypse, and one colonoscopy is enough, thanks. Otherwise, a well-timed departure begets a positive return. The best chocolate cake comes at the end of a diet. A forgotten view takes your breath again. Love is renewed after time apart.

The more things change, the more they stay the sameness.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Unlocked




Keys have always captured my imagination because they open worlds.

A world of wonder, as the lid of a treasure chest releases with a baritone creak.

A secret world, finally accessed by the inheritor of an eccentric relative’s safe deposit box.

A world of memories, when I come across the key to a house (and marriage) long since demolished.

A freer world, the moment iron bars slide sideways to discharge an inmate.

Most of the time, they admit us into routine living: turning deadbolts of front doors, starting cars, and protecting valuables in gym lockers.

People are lockboxes, too, denying or permitting entry depending on the solicitation.

Waiting for that uniquely inspiring teacher to move our potential.

For that singular love to unwind our individual complication.

For that particular chemical to trigger addiction.

For that one insult to unleash our fury, then our fists, then our firearms.

And at long last… for that unifying cause, compelling us to let loose our collective best impulses before Karma changes the locks, and humanity is shut out altogether.

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Plentitude


America is desensitized to its existential advantage. It’s not that you can’t find agony in the USA, but we’ve collectively lost sight of what a relative haven this is, bitching about the long red light while sitting in a Hummer with heated seats. Heaven forbid that Amazon order of unicorn stretch pants arrives a day late, and there’ll be hell to pay when the delivery driver forgets extra garlic sauce.

Imagine dropping a dying third-world skeleton in Wegmans: he’d die of shock before starvation, taking in the neon-bright pyramids of polished, organic produce and aisles of self-care products too long to see the end of. An avalanche of abundance―yet we whine about going to the supermarket on our day off and impatiently sigh waiting to roll our overflowing treasure cart through the checkout, back to that Hummer with the heated seats.   

I’m the worst. I get pissy the moment I pull into the strip mall, resenting every taken space with mumbled epithets, nerve-wracked over who’s going to dart out in front of me with car or cart. Then it’s total lizard-brain mode inside the store, the other shoppers becoming detested adversarial obstacles with lower deli-counter numbers than mine. I recall the guinea-pig owner ahead in line. She remembered the woodchips but forgot the carrots and would have to go back for them. So I waited. Then we all waited. Then I fantasized about hammering a carrot between her eyes like a railroad spike. (I’m fine now.)

Many will fall apart once our society does, ill-equipped to suffer catastrophic hardship. It's an outrage to find an empty shelf where the two-for-one eggnog should be, so imagine the tantrum when the whole shopping center is a crater. Before that happens, take a moment―this one―to breathe, look around, look within, and marvel over something you've got that someone somewhere else might not. Does not. If enough of us hold onto that thought, we could grow the will to preserve this paradise in progress.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Pierre Is Strange



Everything is surreal at first. Drive a baby under the track lighting of a freeway tunnel with the sunroof open and watch his face transform as if seeing God. Forty years later, he’ll do a dead-eyed daily commute along that same stretch, unmoved as a Pac-Man frog, because each experience has a perceptual contour of spike and decay. Otherwise, honeymoons would last forever, the first hit wouldn’t be free, and the latest fashion would still be Cro-Magnon chic.

We thrive on the right kinds of change. Discovering punk rock in high school was a glorious, exploding gift from an alternate dimension after years of enduring the pedestrian sedation of Top 40. These days my favorite reality shifts occur through travel, where a foreign landscape becomes home over time, and home feels foreign upon returning. Then reality reestablishes itself, and I begin planning my next departure.

Long before our body collapses, our soul withers when starved of novelty. The agony of solitary confinement hinges on indefinite sameness, but the unincarcerated also cage themselves by uncritically settling into mind-numbing routines, slow boiling in the gradual cook of their rerun days until retirement hits with scarce time and energy for a spiritual recovery.

Now is the time for new. For getting a better job. For taking a different way home, at least. For catching a buzz or trying sobriety. Time to paint with the other hand. To be on the bottom or in front during the act. Time for a strange conversation with an unusual stranger. Today is the day to act on curiosity and inject some life into our lives.

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Friday, August 31, 2018

Can't Crop A Giraffe



You can’t crop a giraffe.

You can’t make a cat follow the rules.

Can’t make a kazoo subtle, and plaid always takes over the outfit.

Weeds will continue to sprout wherever, as sand won’t stay on the beach, as water finds its way out of any vessel.

Every rumor spreads like fire, like they’ll never censor every curse word.

You can’t force art inside the lines.

You can’t keep a viral trend from its time.

Nothing restrains true love or righteous revolution.

And yet all poems…

Must come to an end.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Faraway Needs


The less accessible a thing, the greater our desire. We’re cats, incessantly scratching at a closed door while ignoring the open one next to it, obsessing over what we can’t have.

Those late-night munchies intensify once you see that the takeout place is dark and closed for the evening. Husbands yearn for the woman next door as their wives lay close. Compare the panicked sprint to find a job with the dreadful slow-walk toward the time clock. Then you slump at your work station, lamenting all you could get done if only you were at home, but come your day off you’ll procrastinate that to-do list like a root canal.

The largest economy in the world is a carrot on a stick; the American dream is a long con of unfulfilled appetite, where every ad campaign presents a hole and sells the filler. How many companies would collapse if we recognized that fulfillment comes from within—the shortest distance of all?

We reach for faraway wants, leaning ever farther away from our innermost needs.

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