Category Archives: literary

on the mall at the Democratic National Convention: “come on out and buy some product!”IHa

Having no special tickets to get me into the “special musical events” for the “special” people at the Democratic Convention (the conventioneers and those who are connected to them and those who donated lots of money or those who are just paying close attention to the parties), I didn’t see Sheryl Crow or Stevie Wonder or the Drive-By Truckers playing for the Montana party or any of the other people who performed in the exclusive events.  But I didn’t really want to…much.  I was even too tired to try for the Rage Against the Machine tickets, in part because I think the band is imitative and strident and NOT FUNNY (the best of the older punkers had a sense of humor, remember?).  But I kind of wish I had, since there was a big protest afterwards, and it would have been fun to see that.  But by then I had already spent hours walking around the 16th Street Mall, a ten block downtown area that was packed with people throughout the convention. (Oh, it seems so empty and lonely now.)  I went to hang out, to watch, to just sit and listen.  I heard some music in the protester’s park and I heard some musical snippets of conversation.  I’ll try to give you a sense of what it was really like at the convention, from someone who was not Important:

On the way to the mall, walking through Denver’s strip of parking lots and office buildings–one lot attendant to another: “The guy got a replacement eyeball and he said he never wanted to  see the person it was  coming from.  He said it just kept lookin at him.”

This set the tone.

The mall is crammed with people.  Not the kinds you’d necessarily imagine.  Some were delegates, easy enough to spot in their suits and conspicuous nametags and their happy grins.  Some were tourists, all ages (especially teenagers) from all over the city, all ethnic types, all shapes, all weaving through and seeming to have a good time.  It is very carnivalesque; a lot of people are drinking from cups, people drinking liquor in the sidewalk cafes, people laughing.  While there is an armed brigade of police in riot gear on every corner, in the middle of every street, literally everywhere, it doesn’t diminish the generally gleeful mood.  People are really happy about the Obama thing.  (Sure the press is full of accounts of disgruntled Hillary people, but they weren’t very obvious about it.  I saw very few Hillary signs, saw very few people looking angry.  Maybe the press assumes that all middle aged women are Hillary supporters?–because there were many middle aged women around, particularly among the delegates, all of them exceedingly well groomed.)  There was a guy on stilts and an Uncle Sam outfit carrying his signs, and a random T-shirt booth trying to pass off the Hillary gear, but other than that….It felt all about unity, man.  Progression, all that good stuff.  The glee was apparent at night when people would stumble out of the clubs, trying to figure out how to find a taxi in North Denver.  It actually did have a feeling of hope.  

Though hope was not particularly apparent in the music that I heard that day.  The street musicians were singing folky songs, but nothing that would offend–nothing that you wouldn’t hear from any standard street musician in any given city.  Like the pan flute–oh, yes, we had one.  And a guy with a clown nose playing Dylan on a harmonica.  You couldn’t really hear the 5 piece doo wop group who sat against a downtown wall that entire day, collecting money for independent musicians (according to their sign).  They were mostly drowned out by the anti-abortion protesters not far from them, who were rather vocal in their disapproval of the Democratic party.  They were the most obnoxious and obtrusive of all the protesters I saw on the street during the convention.  They positioned themselves at an intersection and proceeded to block the sidewalk so that it was nearly impossible to get around them, and thus were forced to actually listen to them.   Another vocal protester was the nutjub who walked down the street chanting “Democrats are Crybabies!!”  He was engaged in vociferous debate with a tidy young man until a police officer strode over to add his views on the matter.  Also drowned out were the clipclops of the horses ridden by some of the officers, who mostly hang out in groups and talked about their horses.  The token German Shepherd was also led around by riot police looking for drugs? bombs?  Once the dog started fiercely barking, sounding like he was tearing off someone’s leg; when I walked past, the officer told another, “I love this dog’s bark, it sounds so ferocious.”  And the dog was just hanging out, not looking particularly threatening, but looking rather German nevertheless.  Occasonally, too, you’d hear the rev of a group of cops racing their motorcycles down the center of the mall (causing consternation among the crowd, who scrambled to grab their children).  Also bullhorns blasting out views of various varieties, most of them conservative, actually.  

“This place has a bad vibe, man,” I heard one teenager say.  

But I did spent quite a lot of time at the center of radical activity, the Civic Center park.  This was where the hippies, the protesters, the rowdy professorial types, the media, the curious set up shop.  Ther e were booths promoting the legalization of pot, booths against the war (of course), booths for animal rights (veganism, anyone), booths selling tshirts and buttons and such of course–maybe 12, 20 booths in all, scattered around the periphery of the park.  There was a bus for Rock the Vote (which never garnered a bit of attention the whole time I was there).  It all felt very sixties and early seventies, as in the days when I went to college at the hippie school (Sangamon State in Illinois) and there would be protests emanating from some of the residents of the nearly communes and from radical faculty and such.  People even dressed the same, had the same beards, but they were young, and so that was strange, that was quite timewarpish.  You’d think that they’d have some new styles, something other than the long hair and braids and peasant skirts, but maybe it’s just that “back to the earth” thing.  I liked the face paint.  Anyway, they were all very quiet, these people, sitting in their little roped off areas playing guitars and singing folk songs and (maybe?) getting high (though with the police presence, maybe not).  They looked a little bored, a little disappointed, because really,  not a lot of protesting was happening, and there weren’t that many of them.  It felt a little lonely somehow.

So I saw a band there.  I’d tell you their name, but I don’t know it, because I didn’t get there at the beginning of the set and they weren’t exactly handing out programs.  These were the free concerts, “for the people,” and they performed in this well area where the acoustics aren’t too bad.  The band was, I believe, a Puerto Rican-American hip hop band from Chicago.  Five or so people who played instruments and sang along with their rapping. And they were pretty good.  They added some flavor, and while I thought I was just observing, I actually got into them.  The listening crowd was pretty sparse–maybe 50 people up front paying close attention and a lot of scattered observers–and so their chants about liberation and the murdering pigs kind of fell flat.  The murdering pigs, by the way, were there, but they stayed far back from the action, hanging out on their bicycles and talking about their lives.  They seemed to be pretty amused by the whole thing, and didn’t rise to the bait.  “You have to be willing to DIE for your beliefs!”  Right.  And it’s true.  Unfortunately, they were being ignored by the authorities at the time, even though I never shook that sense that we were all being watched.  Because we were, and having our pictures taken, too.  I walked around the park area while they were playing, taking in the scene, and I’m posting a few pictures of what I observed there.  Despite my own cynicism, I was taken in by the feel of the thing; it felt important that it be there and people be allowed to say what they felt.  Maybe it was that old sixties laid back feel of optimism and community that I was trying to find.  They were lucky to find it so simple.

The media did outnumber everyone else there.  And I have to say, I found that exciting.  The documentary crews (announced by their shirts, which said Documentary Crew).  The CNN, MsNBC, Associated Press, the unidentified, it was interesting to watch the interplay between them and the people being observed.  It added to the sense of it all being staged, right down to the peace & love (although I know that the kids were sincere).  It felt like something I was watching from a distance.

I left when a performance poet, a really bad one, came on–preceeded by an announcer who said:

“Come to the liberation source!”  (And just where was that again?)

“Art is not free!”  Which was a lead in to:  “Come on out and buy some product!”

Hmm.  You mean over at that Free Trade Booth?

It’s hot as hell and my feet hurt.  It’s starting to get dark and the police are looking ancy; they start challenging some of the people working in a booth; someone, I hear, gets robbed.  Everyone is drooping.  On the way back, a man carrying a Hillary sign is laughed at uproariously by a man in shades sitting in a sidewalk cafe–Hillary guy starts yelling “Chill out!  Chill out, man!”  And the guy laughs louder and louder as the crowd looks at the Hillary guy runs away.  

Even so, it is mostly quiet.  “Freedom ain’t no joke, ya’ll” were the last words I heard from the performance poet.  Mexican workers begin carrying in chairs from the middle of the mall.  The shops begin to close.  The mall empties as people head to the speeches, to the parties, to the food.  I think I even saw Angelina Jolie throwing out her lemonade.

Advertisements

come on, I know white people have rhythm!: music at the Democratic National Convention

Denver, where I live, is swarming with people here for the Democratic Convention.  Fifty thousand or so, say the papers.  It’s like a big party out there, even the protesters and cops smiling until they got into the pepper spray.  Booths selling Obama dolls (made to look suspiciously nappy-headed) and Arbonne Cosmetics and sno-cones and of course lots of T-shirts, buttons, stickers, banners. It’s like going to the State Fair without the cows and where everyone is pretty much like you.  White is mostly the color of the day here (from skin to t-shirts), and the attire ranges anywhere from suits and pantsuits (for Hillary supporters) to the kind of casual almost boho attire that relatively hip older people like me like to don.  Once in awhile I passed someone dressed as a donkey.  Once I passed a girl in a pink Playboy Club type outfit riding a bicycle.  Secret Service people are everywhere, although they try to come up with disguises sometimes (you can see it in their eyes–steely, just like in the movies–and they usually don’t move from position).  I saw one skinny guy in full jogger attire, carrying a huge jar of protein mix, and could never decide if he was real or undercover.  With the crowd, though, there was not much jogging to be had.  The real attention grabbers were  the riot police driving down our usually quiet Denver streets in tanks.  They are everywhere: huddling in the shade, when they can find some, or perched on the tanks, or just leaning against buildings.  A lot of them smile at you, like they’re in the spirit of the whole thing themselves.  Hey, it’s my job, don’t worry.  But they have weapons.  They have riot helmets.  As a kid, I was obsessed with Kent State.  Obsessed with, curious about the Sixties, would stare at the photos of the hippies and the soldiers for hours, the kids coming up the hill, the kids laying face down on the ground.  I’m not trying to be melodramatic here, but I couldn’t shake it out of my mind.  Even though the bystanders,

Susan, Lawrence, self & Paige touristing at the DNC

Susan, Lawrence, self & Paige touristing at the DNC

the tourists, the media, far outnumbered the 100 or so protesters who we soon glimpsed, I was paranoid.  Things just happen–as they did last night, when a group surrounded by officers and pepper sprayed.  They’re saying it’s going to be worse as the convention goes on.  But you know, I’m going to go watch it all this afternoon anyway.  There’s an excitement to that kind of fear.  Everyone is enjoying it, this party, just as people in Denver always seem to enjoy themselves.  Anyway, it’s Obama, everyone is happy.

 

Surreal.  I know this has nothing to do with music yet.  So let’s throw some in.  Most of the music events are by special invitation.  No surprise.  Not being any kind of official press, I didn’t even try to get a pass.  Anyway, there’s nobody here I’d really want to see, to tell you truth.  But I do walk down the packed streets and I did go to a concert last night at Red Rocks.  Let me tell you quickly about the Red Rocks affair, which, in the terminology of the young, COMPLETELY SUCKED.

It was sadly disorganized.  Or, well, it was organized, as in it was done in proper order and timing.  But the music selections didn’t work for the crowd and the thing wasn’t well advertised.  Being at Red Rocks, an enormous outdoor mountain ampitheatre, when no one is there is just depressing.  The sound bounces around the rocks and makes for some kind of sucking void of guitar distortion.  In brief, a sad spare  crowd, average age about 50, exceedingly white, are greeted with a folk singer (Jill Sobule, who was sweet and entertaining), a boring DJ doing dance mixes of 60s and 70s song, a young rap singer named Murs (who tried so hard to no response that I felt sorry for him)…by the time Apples in Stereo came out, the crowd was in a state of depression, no doubt thinking that if they were actually important Democrats they’d be at the convention itself watching Michelle Obama’s speech.  Poor Apples in Stereo were predictably poppy and sunny and silly to the point of being oppressively whimsical, but good, you know, and fun, and would have been fun to see in a bar.  “We LOVE Obama!” they’d occasionally trot out, to crowd cheers, but they made their love sound a little like mushy love, like they wanted to ask him out on a chaste date, complete with roses and a meaningful hand touch at the door.  Sigh.

The best song of the evening: Jill Sobule and her mother singing Nelly’s “It’s Getting Hot in Here.”  Seriously.  And Mom could sing.  Most painful note by rapper Murs-the-Seventh-Wonder:  “Sing along with me, people–when I say Hustle, you say Hustle!” Cringifying.  Although hilarious to see about 200 middle aged white folks imagining drive bys in West LA while yelling  Hustle in unison.

Okkervil River, who were billed, apparently didn’t show–or at least hadn’t by the time we left, after 3 hours of boredom.

My husband, sitting beside me, was just pissed.  “Fucking Democrats can’t organize themselves out of their own asses,” he said, or something to that effect.  He made a list of what they needed to do to arrange the event and get the trains to run on time.  He began the list by insisting that the event NOT be a Red Rocks, a giant wall of rock that is miles outside of Denver.  Even though the musicians loved being there (as in “I LOVE being at Red Rocks!” and “I finally get to play at Red Rocks!”), nobody else did.  

Once when I escaped to  the bathroom, I saw melancholy women wearily washing their hands: “Well, at least we couldn’t have asked for a better sky!”

After all this, they were to show 10 short winning films on democracy.  But by the time they got around to it, everyone had left.

from San Miguel to home

Back in my last post I said some stuff about Mexican music.  About how in San Miguel in Mexico I hadn’t heard any rap and rowdy music on the streets because the town was so small & quaint, etc. etc.  Most of those ideas had to be changed the next night when the neighbors next door had a crazy pool party.  Or maybe it was the neighbors.  Actually, we think it was probably some of teenagers who were doing construction on the house, which to that point consisted primarily of a concrete shell and a hot tub and a swimming pool.  So with the tarps flapping over the window spaces the guys switched on the lights, brought in the stereo, and got the water ready.  By midnight the pool was filled with girls and the wheelbarrows with beer.  And the music went on all night.  Loud. Right by my room.  Thus I got a good overview of what a party full of Mexican teenagers listen to all night. 

            Really bad pop, really bad rock, a little rap, and (by 2 a.m.) mariachi.  A few American songs mixed in, but nearly all Mexican.  The only thing that got the sing-along chorus going outside was the mariachi–and the wails and the yee-haws went on for quite some time, until I finally fell asleep.  Until then most of the music was pretty wretched….It’s funny how bad cliched tunes transcend all languages, especially in the early morning when nobody wants to hear them.  I’d be moved by this idea if it hadn’t been so painful.  The kids seemed to be in disagreement about the song selection, with the volume turned up then down, a love song replaced by a rap song, etc. In the morning, the detritus of the night (empty bottles, clothes, who knows what) lay scattered across the cement until finally someone woke up and cleaned it all up again.  Since most of the large walled houses on our street were owned by rarely present whites, it’s unlikely that the owner would ever have known.  (Unless, of course, the house is owned by Mexicans–but Mexican owned mansions didn’t seem to be the norm in our part of San Miguel.  The full time residents seemed to live in the small adobe houses abutting the little fruit stands.  The trend seemed to involve razing these houses to construct walled complexes for the gringos, like us.)  At any rate, the drunken house party gave me a chance to hear some watered-down  mainstream Mexican rap.  The next night I heard it again, playing quietly on our street as a pack of six kids loitered around a low-slung Chevy.  Just like in our neighborhood at home.        

            Once back in the States, I found that the carniceria a few blocks from us no longer looked so forbidding, even if I didn’t speak Spanish.  Mexicans, even Mexican Americans, seem to just take us stupid gringos in stride while they work and collect our cash.  I guess when we leave town, they have a celebration.  I vow yet again to learn Spanish and to go engage our neighbors in conversation.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to it.

 


wandering San Miguel

 

I find myself in San Miguel Allende, a Mexican town in the center of the country.  I’m lucky to be here, putting in my pesos to stay with my friend Sharon Solwitz.  She is renting for the month; Paige (my daughter) and I for only ten days.  I understand now the desire for a month of writing time in this place.  Although there are internet cafes and even (if you really really want one) a Domino’s pizza, the place is relatively separate from the kinds of traffic and noise and strip mall clutter that you get anyplace in America.  There is no stream of WalMarts along the highway because there is no highway.  The road to San Miguel, a paved 2-lane, winds through a string of towns selling tamales and Cokes in bright shacks along the roadside.  The only thing in the states I can really compare that drive to was a trip once made through the South.  It is the rural, but not American rural—instead of tractors, nearly all of the farmers used plows and donkeys.  It was lush, mountainous, beautiful—green, after the monsoon season—the cacti and the trees all enormous, not failure like the shrunken Colorado cacti I’m used to seeing.  For some reason I thought I was expecting scrubbrush, a place so horrible that people would fight border guards to leave it.  The only thing I see plaguing this particular spot is poverty, and even that seems to be kept to a relative minimum by the number of gringos and Mexican tourists who flock to San Miguel to patronize its many shops and restaurants.  

This place is not exotic or rustic or cute or any of those labels that you might expect to apply to a non-coastal Mexican city.  If there’s a label of that sort to be had, it might be quaint—. It feels in some ways old and untouched and still a town.  You know that everyone here knows one another.  You know that they watch to see who you are and what your name is and where you are staying and if you plan to stay and if you have dogs and children.  There are many dogs and children here.

And there is music.  And this is a music blog, so I swear to keep mentioning it.  There is music every night here somewhere, and I won’t have time to see much of it live.  I hear it on the streets, though, everywhere I go.  From shop to shop to shop a radio is playing.  From private windows comes music, and to seduce us inside the restaurants, a guitar player or mariachi band.  The dogs bark and roosters crow in rhythm.  (And they bark and crow a lot.)  From the cars comes some Mexican rock.  So far I haven’t heard any rap or anything that is cursing too loud.  I’ve heard a lot of Mexican rap in my neighborhood in Denver, but none here; I don’t know if that’s by choice or whether the teenagers are kept under lock and key because the town caters to tourists. There’s plenty of Mexican pop on the radios, pretty much interchangeable with Britney Spears-type stuff, and there’s some Mexican rock, not too rowdy but with a lot of rhythm and some spicy inflections, but I don’t know my music well enough to identify who is playing.  Much of the music, though, is traditional.  I’ve come to think that it’s the Mexican version of country and country/folk—I guess here they call it regional.  Some of it seems to be more authentic than others—and I get this impression in part by flipping through the many Mexican language channels on our cable TV here.  Lots and lots of music channels.  Mexican MTV (like ours, same audience, more music), VH1 (the same), plenty of other channels, and then the Mexican version of CMT (Country Music Television) which has rougher production values, more crusty men (or young soulful men) in matching outfits and cowboy hats.  What am I saying here….Mexico is not very different in what it likes commercially than us in the States—their music breaks out urban and country, likes ours—their music TV seems to be either directly patterned after ours or run by the same US companies—.  But walking the streets here you just hear one melody after another and nothing is too loud or too obnoxious—it’s tuneful, melodic, light on the bass.  It fits the town, it doesn’t grate against it.  Perhaps the kids here never rebel against their families in that way.  They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to help support them, and to take care of brothers and sisters.  I’m only guessing.

Our cab driver from Leon to San Miguel told us he had crossed the river ten times to take jobs in Texas and North Carolina.  He would work and then bring the money back to the family in San Miguel.  He said that on his last trip he had been jailed for six months and told if he returned he’d be in for 3 years.  Several of men I’ve talked to here speak decent English, come from spending time, they said, in Texas.  

Yet I’ve seen no more beggars here than I would in any US city.  I don’t know if they keep them off the streets or if everyone gets by okay.  There are many people with small shops in the neighborhoods.  Many sell cokes, fruit, laundry detergent, and such.  The shops have names like “Victoria” and “Laura.”  Many of these places have children, girls, as vendors; they know very little English but are willing to work with my very little Spanish.  Closer to the tourist center the shops focus on crafts and clothing, the tamale stands turn into Japanese restaurants and Irish pubs.  There are street vendors, too, roasting corn and meats over open flames.  The streets are cobblestone and the traffic (many cabs and buses) wind through them slowly, all one way.  Everywhere, buildings are being constructed and rehabbed; there is always the sound of hammering and sawing.

The ultimate destination in San Miguel, the center of life, is the medieval church on the plaza.  Pilgrims come to this church and spend time in its courtyard.  The church is old, a bit battered, almost frightening in its serious saints and Mary.  It does not have the feel of a welcoming church—but then, I’m not Catholic.  It is all arches and points.  

There are many churches in San Miguel.  We hear the bells tolling all the time.  I suppose that is a kind of music, too, although it also seems to be a kind of alarm.  The birds are plentiful and here on my balcony that’s the music I hear.  LIttle bird chirps, abrasive sqwawks and wings flapping.  (At least when the people next door aren’t drilling on the new stone mansion that probably replaced someone’s little home.)   It all moves very slowly; it is a flowing rhythm, no pounding or jarring.  

I imagine that the young people must be bored.  But it moves at about my speed.

I hope to add some photos later (perhaps even of local musicians).  Right now I don’t have the cord to attack my camera to my computer.  I am, though, able to hang out at a local coffeehouse and use their wireless service.  And so here I am.

–Becky Bradway

the spin of the platter (music memoir one)

My brother turned into a radio patter rock jockey whenever he was talking into a Hot Wheels car.  Later, once we got the microphone to the tape player, he laid it all down even better.  My voice overs weren’t nearly to par–though, being older, I started it all.  I became the spinner, the one who pulled the scratched 45s onto the turntable and cued up the beginning of that tune pulled off the radio and taped onto the tan casette deck.  As kids in the middle of the cornfields in the sixties, we didn’t exactly have the equipment.  We didn’t really need it, though surely I wanted it.

In the beginning, my brother mostly sat there while I took those scratched up discs and popped them onto the old 45 kids’ turntable.  I didn’t need tapes then–it was all a live broadcast, straight from the breezeway to nobody’s homes nationwide.  Old singles my mom had held onto, good stuff, too, the Little Richard and Elvis and, hell, even that crappy Pat Boone, they all had their moments as spinning discs.  Singles I’d eaked out allowance money to buy, the Carpenters, the Doors, the Monkees, Aretha, Sly & the Family Stone, as I got older more added to the spindle of possibilities.  Playing DJ, it didn’t matter what was on there, because  it wasn’t the music then, it was the words, the game being the voice that led the oblivious listener down the pathway of song.

You always assumed whoever was out there was paying no attention.  My brother knew that to do it right, you had to be loud, you had to be full of insanity and in their face, you had to drop and raise that tone til it sounded like a racecar going around a track.  You had to have a low voice, a guy voice (I’d never heard a female DJ, not once, as a kid), and you had to turn it into a production. 

So as he got older and I did, too, and as I fell out of the game, he kept it going.  He got a setup, he got two friends who’d get in it with him.  They made a studio in the basement with microphones and decks and albums now, not 45s, and they played the hard driving stuff, no pussy music for them, but heavy metal, man, and they cranked up the volume.  His friends were geeky, one with his horn rimmed glasses and lonely life and vaguely threatening eyes, rejected by family and my brother his only friend, and the other guy an in your face used car salesman bullshitter who never stopped talking, ever.  They spun platters, they did slices and cuts, fades and volumes, they put together new music from the old, and, you know, I missed most of that.  I hated their music.  I was pretty out of the house, in a new life, while they spread equipment across that dank basement.  Turned out street kids across America were doing the same stuff, with different music, swapping it with friends, no marketing deals, they did it for fun, while here were these kids in the basement in a place where nobody but they would ever hear it, nobody would be breakdancing to their beats. But none of that mattered because it was the creating it, the moment, and then that playing it back, hearing just how good they sounded over those thumping beats and guitar screams.  Oh well.

I still played the radio while all that was going on, made tapes.  In my room now,  knowing better than to do any silly voice overs.  I had an elaborate taping system, each song carefully pulled from the airwaves and stored, to be pulled and played again.  To capture the song, you had to put up with that voice, that stupid DJ voice, the one that intruded on the beginnings of “Hot Fun in the Summer Time,” insisting that yes, it was HOT HOT HOT and it was SUMMER SUMMER as in FUN like the FUN you find at Joe Malone’s USED CARS.  Try as you might to cut it off the tape, the voice would still slip in, and the bastard would cut off the end, the fade,  so I could never find the ending. The songs truncated into the GUY again just when I desperately needed them to resolve.  My sixties, my high school seventies, were on the airwaves, every hippie party grasped by the scream of Grace Slick’s voice or the Grateful Dead’s guitar and I was so desperately trying to understand, but, you know, there was always the SHOPPING at KMART and the THAT WAS THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE!!!!!  And when my brother did it in the basement I had to smile because he was so good at it, so much better than JOE in the MORNING.  I was sure he’d be a DJ, if he could just get out.

But that’s the thing about basements.  They encourage the kind of growth done by mold on boxes.  It’s cozy down there in the dark, and it’s easy to forget about anything other than what’s in your head.  My brother had an ability to filter out whatever was around him.  He would look at the ground and sing to himself, would spin a toy in his hands, would take a coffee can lid and turn it into a jet wheel, and he could do this anytime, any place, and  did.  Not even as a tune-out mechanism–he just went there.  It was kind of cool, really, that nothing seemed to touch him, that he could make up entire comic scripts without a break unless someone punched him in the head, which did happen.  It was annoying to be around that all day.  That patter, he ran it without the music, without the tapes, he went to other countries that I’ve never visited, even today.  He used to get beat up at school until he got so big that he could slug people back.  Even I couldn’t tease him anymore.  His head was a land of absolute freedom.

The tapes got put away late.  His buddies and he worked on them past high school, putting together sophisticated cut and paste concept albums, for chrissake, during which time my brother and the vaguely scary friend got jobs at KMart and his motormouth salesman pal went to junior college and became, in reality, a DJ.  The tapes went on until my brother got himself married and almost immediately after was forced to join the service, having no other options.  (Someone with a constant stream of patter doesn’t make a very good stock shelver.  There are too many games to play with windshield wiper boxes and vinyl shoes.)  The equipment got left behind.  The albums, too,were stored in boxes which in time got hit by the river flood and the covers came off in your hands.  My cherished 45s had been decimated already by constant play until their skips became parts of the songs and were finally thrown away by my father in some moment of grand house cleaning.  

Even when my brother was in high school, I tried to get him to be a real DJ. I carried on the argument for  years. I tried to explain to my mother that there were ways of doing this, since he was not thinking at all about the world outside the house.  My dad believed all along he should join the service.  My brother himself had long been obsessed by planes, flying them accompanied by accurate whooshing noises and sonic booms.   I argued hard against the military, having been influenced by Warm San Francisco Nights, Stop Children Watch that Sound, and all those family war stories.  Be a DJ, why not, just do it, and he would look at me, and he would tell me there was no money in it.  You don’t make money now, I pointed out.  He would tell me that there was no way to start.  Your friend did it, I’d say, that Mark, you’re better than Mark.  I couldn’t really go in, he would say.  Go to college, get a degree.  I hate school, he would say.  There were all of those reasons.  Really, none of us knew how to begin, none of us knew that world out there, which was, my brother was right, not a world of cassette decks lovingly cued in otherwise silent rooms.  We knew nobody out there, we had no way of connecting, no language but the sounds themselves.  And  nothing is as pure as sound, be it everso overproduced, overpracticed and sold, we only knew it as what came in when nothing else could.

Once he got married, there was no reason to listen.  The single path presented itself as as a signature on a line.  Letting go was as inevitable as a baby.  Endings are created in a click.

the shuffle, the old vinyl

My music is nearly always “all,” always shuffle.  It’s a happy mixtape.  I’ve got the newly arrived, the old standbys, and the medium range, the ones played maybe only ten times rather than a thousand.  I’m a junkie with more music than I’ve played; I find no shame in the used, no need to have 2007 over 2002 or 1958–it’s all the same to me.  I’ll play the cheesiest balladic C & W next to dancehall techno next to rap next to mariachi next to French air next to African jazz and if I play it any other way I get a little bored.  Certain moods demand full albums, but I rarely make my way through them now.  It has to be great, really great, to sustain the sustained play.  And look, I’m fifty years old, and I’m obsessed with the sheer opportunity, the explosion of sound.  You have no idea how limited it once was, unless you are as old as I.I have my vinyl.  I love my vinyl.  I pull out the album covers, stare at Patti Smith in her boy pose,images-1.jpegimages-1.jpeg at Elvis Costello all joint-splayed like album in yellow and black, images-2.jpegimages-2.jpegI love the tone of vinyl, I even love the scratch.  But since I moved a year ago, I have not set up my stereo.  My turntable went the way of old things, into the sad trash.  I miss it, but not enough to actually find a place for it. Oh, those old days of playing Wall of Voodoo or Blondie or the Sex Pistols over and over, catching every note, absorbing the very inflection of the words, then going out to hear cover versions done by angry bands who would’ve stuck pins in their noses if they hadn’t thought it would hurt too much.  I knew the music then.images-3.jpegNow I let it wash over, occasionally slipping in to catch me up and show me some new span.  The spikey bango and guitar interplay of Jake Schepps on “Todo Buenos Aires” is what’s on right now,images-5.jpeg a sound that’s like hillbilly sucked through salsa hesitations.   I never knew it until I pulled up a compilation CD that came with an issue of, I think, Songlines magazine.  Turns out this guy Jake Schepps is a singular composer that lives in Boulder, Colorado, only 30 minutes away.  So here’s the amazing interplay that leads me to go out and find the group’s new CD Ten Thousand Leaves.  In my album days, when I was more broke and with less access (Springfield, Illinois and an Appletree record store), this most likely would never have happened–I would never have found it–it would be lost to me.  Now what’s playing? — The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Societyimages-4.jpeg–music that completely escaped me when it first came out–so sweet, going “I miss the village green, all the simple people….”  This is truly a concept album, one best played in whole, but I’ve now gone on to Silvio Rodriguez singing in a language I don’t understand and don’t really worry about not understanding…. I swap CDs on lala.com or swapacd.com, eschewing the random downloading of Limewire and such, which are truly samplings, usually flawed ones, buggy and distorted and, for me anyway, anxiety-producing.  I’m too paranoid to allow myself that much access, which always feels like it lets in the malevolent outside world that can fuck up my computer if it wishes or even arrest me….Anyway, I like the artifact of the CD itself, and I like giving away the CDs after I use them–it’s a bargaining, an exchange, that seems a little cleaner than the file swapping of the virtual world.  Yet without the internet I would not be able to find all of that music off the CD swap programs, and I would not be able to post this post.  So my final thought here: hooray for the swap, hooray for the shuffle, the World belongs to me. mexican radio