If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?
Monday, March 19, 2012
THAT WAS PUNK, THIS WAS NEW WAVE: WHY I'M STILL WAITING TO MEET JOHN TAYLOR
When I graduated from high school in 1977 (yeah, I know it was a long time ago), I had only one real objective: to get a summer job and make enough money to move to California where, I was absolutely certain, I would be able to make a name for myself as a singer. It wasn't a pipe dream. I have a good voice, probably way better than the majority of people who claim that they have good voices, and I was a songwriter as well, although, not ever having learned to play a musical instrument for the purpose of accompanying myself, that fact was hardly my strongest selling point. Still, I could sing and my heart was deeply immersed in rock and roll and all of its accompanying mythology. So what else was I supposed to do? Go to college and get a degree in something that would allow me to have a high-paying career and possibly one day own a ranch-style home and a gas grill? Not on your life. I was a rock and roll time bomb. Move over, Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, and Ann Wilson. Your replacement is on her way. (Well, maybe not Ann Wilson. I mean, what would Nancy say?)
Then, one afternoon, I came home from my new job at Pizza Hut (it was horrible; they made us wear brown uniforms with plaid trim) and my older brother asked me if I wanted to listen to the new album he'd just bought. Sure, I told him. What is it? "Never Mind The Bollocks by The Sex Pistols," he replied. Two...maybe three...minutes into the album, I had completely renounced my California dreamin' and was wondering how much it would cost to fly to England and meet Johnny Rotten.
I'm still not sure what it was that clicked inside of me when I heard that album. I had and still have a great love and respect for classic rock, always including among my favorite musicians of all time The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks. One of my absolute favorite musical things to do is work out harmonies (my long-time guitarist, with whom I still occasionally perform, always chided me for automatically slipping into the harmony whenever he backed me on a song, which I am embarrassed to say I don't even realize I'm doing). But I was 18 and had issues with...well, pretty much everything. A few hours before, I would have killed for a cool, guazy white smock like the ones Linda Ronstadt wore to show off her Southern California tan. After hearing "Anarchy In The UK" for the third time in a row ("Play it just one more time, Frank, come on, man, please!"), I realized that I required a new uniform and it wasn't made of filmy gauze with billowy sleeves. An hour later, I was still trying to hunt down a pair of scissors so that I could cut up my favorite black T-shirt and widen the shreds in the knees of my Levi flare jeans, which I couldn't wait to ditch in favor of a pair of skinny straight-legged jeans. And then I needed to come up with a man's suit jacket, preferably on the boxy side, and a skinny black tie, and there was still the matter of whether or not to go for broke and stick a safety pin through my nostril...
It wasn't all about the clothes, of course. It was the music and the attitude and that gut-level charge that hit me like a sucker punch when Steve Jones hit the opening chords of "Anarchy In The UK" accompanied by John Lydon's maniacal laugh before he growls, "Right nooooow...." I loved the chaos of Jones' unschooled guitar chops mingling with Glen Matlock's (Sid Vicious' more talented and much less bloody predeccessor) bare bones bass, the primal poetry and jaw-dropping audacity of Lydon's lyrics, the band's unapologetic indifference to rock and roll conceits and radio friendly melody lines. In that first, brief introduction to The Sex Pistols, I understood completely what they were, and why they existed, and how their sudden emergence on the music scene had changed, profoundly and forever, the entire industry, rendering its superstars obsolete and exposing them for the establishment puppets that they really were. Of course, I didn't actually think all of this as I was listening to the album, but the point is, I got it, on a visceral level, and it changed my life.
Six months later, I was in London, dragging my one sad suitcase (I borrowed it from a friend's sister because my family never traveled and no one had a suitcase) through the door of the youth hostel that had been recommended to me by the cabbie who drove me in from Heathrow and wouldn't let me tip him because he had a daughter my age and wanted to make sure I had enough money to buy something to eat.
"Go over there and tell 'em Joe the cab driver said to give you a plate of bangers and mash," he said, pointing to a nondescript little pub on the corner across from where we were on Oxford Street. "You never 'ad bangers and mash, 'ave you?"
"No. What is it?"
"You just tell 'em you want a plate of bangers and mash. Tell 'em Joe sent you over. They know me there."
"Okay...Joe," I said.
I waited til he drove off and his little black cab disappeared into traffic before walking in the opposite direction toward the youth hostel. That was my last semi-normal interaction with a Londoner for a long time. I spent three awful nights in an eight bed room at the hostel before I met Dawn and Simon (she was a borderline punk who worked at a shop on Portabello Road, he was her gay flatmate and a part-time hairdresser who read Tarot cards on the side), who for some inexplicable reason liked me well enough to invite me to stay in their flat on Queensway in Bayswater. I spent my days babysitting for Dawn's older sister, who paid me partly in cash and partly in alcohol, and my nights pub crawling in search of a glimpse of The Sex Pistols. Saw Paul Cook once in a pub. (He was the drummer.) That was it. But by then it really didn't matter so much anymore. I had to go all the way to England to figure out that I had already missed the real punk scene, and that it had all happened in New York City, which was where Sex Pistols inventor Malcolm McLauren had first seen Richard Hell and been inspired to return to England and create the genre's first successful band. Not only that, but, after countless late night talks with Simon over beer and cold chips sloshed in vinegar (aka French fries, stateside), I realized that, while I still appreciated the music that came from the London punk scene, I was, at heart, actually a New Wave person.
There was a very definite difference. Sort of like the difference between rockers and mods in the 1960s. According to Simon, "Punk is about getting pissed and breaking chairs and looking like a pile of shit just to shock people. New Wave is about the music and the clothes. It's like a musical fashion statement. And you don't have people walking around proud to have snot dripping out of their nose."
Of course it's not really that cut and dried. There are blurred lines and overlapping sensibilities, just as in any other art form. One of the main components of punk rock (so called) is its diffidence toward standard musicianship. The whole point was that you didn't need to be able to play your instrument as long as you had something (preferably angry) to say. But that only works for so long. Steve Jones might have started out as a terrible guitar player backing up a snarling front man, but he ended up as a pretty good one, mainly because you can't base an entire music career on anger and sneering expressions. I didn't fit in with the punks because being pissed off wasn't who I was, it was how I felt, at that particular time, at that particular moment, and the music captured some of that and threw it back at me. As Simon said the night he was dying my hair in black cherry cellophane (to match my wild aura, he explained), "You're too good a singer to just scream out at people on stage. And they won't hear it anyway. I see you more as a New Wave version of Julie Christie."
"Uh...okay. Except Julie Christie doesn't sing."
"But you could still be a New Wave version of her. I can really see it. Hmmm...have you ever thought of wearing bangs?"
"Bangers and mash?"
"What? Oh...God, no. That's the trouble with this country. People eat too many sausages. It's because the Royal Family is descended from Germans. If it wasn't for Nico and Dauchsunds, I'd say obliterate the entire culture and start over again. Are we actually supposed to forgive them for Kraftwerk? Please. And stop turning your head to look out the window. He's not coming. I've already told you, he's a completely undependable person and completely homophobic as well..."
Can't quite remember the name of the guy who I was looking for out the window. I think it was Kevin. But in this instance, Simon was wrong. He did come. Funny thing about that, though. Two years in the UK and never once did I date anyone who remotely resembled a Sex Pistol or Richard Hell or anyone else from the punk scene. By the time I left the UK and headed back to the US, I had my heart set on meeting John Taylor of Duran Duran. I even wrote a song about him and sang it for unwitting audiences in an endless succession of bars and clubs in an equally endless succession of nowhere little towns and cities all up and down the East Coast for the two years I devoted myself entirely to music before deciding to devote myself entirely to love, which, as it turned out, was the wrong choice. But I still have a rock and roll heart, planted in classic rock soil, fired in 1970s punk, and glinting with the shameless glamour of 1980s New Wave. And, sorry, Simon, but I even like Kraftwerk. Now as for bangers and mash, well, that's another story for another post. Thank you! Good night!