Satan Street and Others Sorrow (R.I.P. Rod McKuen )

In my years of thrift store and garage sale surfing, along with Montovani and Ferrante and Teischer LP’s, I’d come across Rod Mckuen’s Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows. One day I thumbed through a few poems and was sure I’d discovered a steamy, cruiser rec sex subtext that had never surfaced. After word by word recombinant surgery, this alternate narrative was exposed. Now that he’s gone, it can be revealed.

Here are a few. In his own words.

Satan ST.2

SatanSt4

SatanSt1

Satanst3

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Insignificance

WRITING 101 – Day 19

“Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go.”

[OK, I dictated this into my iphone while driving home from a gig but spent some time cleaning it up so it’s not exactly non-stop. But close enough.]

Hollywood doesn’t make much sense anymore but I guess that’s to be
expected when you’ve been here this long it’s kind of like saying the same word
over and over and over again like Lenny Bruce saying nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga – you say it enough times, a word becomes meaningless.

After the gig tonight a girl on her way out of the club glanced my way. As she turned her head, her eyes meet mine for an instant but instead of resting there for any longer than that, there was only the few milliseconds delay while she calculated if I was worth any more than a few milliseconds of her attention and decided I wasn’t. Her head continued on its arc, she continued on her way. She’d paused only long enough to decide I was of no interest, not worth the slightest pause, flicker of longing. it’s the
shit

Just heard a radio interview with the guy who wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He’s
saying that we have all been cut in half, divided, man from woman and love is an attempt to rejoin
those halves and become whole and that’s a terrible thing, he said, to think of love like
that and I’m thinking why is that so terrible? I must have missed something.
That’s love. Love is becoming whole. Love helps us fulfill our purpose and that’s enough, at least for tonight.
Love is code for Reason.

It’s 11 PM and that old Russian is walking down Beachwood
In nothing but shorts and shoes and his utility belt with water bottles hanging off it like he does everyday of the year no matter the weather. He’s walking slower these days as he’s getting on in years but still there he is right as rain.

Where are you tonight? Where are you, why am I sitting in the car alone in the driveway with the windows rolled up, the
night passing by around me, engulfing me like a black shoebox
Like the black box Schroedinger’s cat lives in or dies in or both or neither.
I played a gig tonight but it seems that mopping the floor when I get home is
more significant. That girl was in the audience singing along to the chorus when we did “What’s Goin’ On” but she still didn’t have the time of day meaning more than a few milliseconds for me.

Watching that smorgasbord show At Daryl’s Place with Daryl Hall – or is he Oates? I see Billy Gibbons playing “I Thank You”. I read on a facebook thread that he plays with super light strings – .007 on the high E string –  which is totally the opposite of what you would think since he gets such beefy
tone it’s kind of like everything you know is wrong.I’ve
struggled with playing heavy strings – .050 on the bottom and .010
on top because I’ve always thought notes have more punch and well, weight, and it’s still a struggle unless I practice for 1 1/2 hours a day for weeks and look at him so smooth and sinuous without breaking a sweat. All these years. His big epiphany came when BB King told him “You’re working too hard”.

Tony Robbins says we have 6 or 7 basic needs in life. Love, security, novelty and I forget
the rest but significance is definitely one of them. Insignificance sucks.

Sent from my iPhone

It Changes Everything

“Earlier in the course, you wrote about losing something. Today, write about finding something. For your twist, view day four’s post and today’s post as installments in a series.

I was working at the Digital Entertainment Network in West LA in 2000. I was the producer of a punk music website. I’d just come from an advertising agency and was very aware of fact that out of all the creative and business people there I was one of the few with a marketing background. I constantly asked for the traffic reports – the number of daily visitors to the site, which pages they’d viewed, where they’d come from and so on so we could better gauge what kind of content to develop for the site.

I was constantly given the run around, was told there were problems with parsing them, they weren’t available. It got to be very frustrating. The site was made up of around 8 online shows and none of the other show producers seemed to know how many people were visiting their sites either. I should mention that DEN was one of the big media ventures that were founded on the run up to the Internet bubble bursting backed by $40M of Blockbuster, GM, Coca-Cola, Valvoline of all things and other big consumer brand’s money. Oddly even though there was so much money on the line, we  had almost total creative control, which of course none of us had experienced since maybe being in high school bands

There were signs around us the bubble was beginning to leak at the seams and I think most of us knew at the least that this couldn’t last forever, that there was some kind of “adjustment” coming as they say in the stock market.

There was a meeting  to rally the troops, over 200 of us in one of the digital sweatshops where we very happily created low budget TV shows way before Youtube. The senior executive who had hired me was dropping F-bombs and telling everyone how much we were going to kick ass and take no prisoners in the coming year. This was a few weeks after a big launch party where we’d taken over a local bowling alley, brought in go go dancers, ice sculptures, the works. There was an air of frenzy to the partying, a feeling we were celebrating an imaginary thing, nothing.

One day towards the end of the year I heard rumors there would be massive layoffs. In this Last Days of Saigon atmosphere, I was walking by one of the junior executive’s offices when he asked me to come in and shut the door. He had a printout on his desk with a sheet of paper covering it with a hole he’d cut in it with some of the print showing through, the hole presumably so I couldn’t see what the other shows were getting. He said, “Since you’ve been asking about traffic, I want to show you what you’ve been getting at your site.”  I was expecting 10 to 20,000, maybe 50,000 visitors a day. He kind of resignedly turned the paper so I could see it.

It said “200”.
“Two hundred what?” I asked.
“Visitors. A day. On average. And yours is one of the more popular sites.” He said.

In that moment I discovered two great things. One, that very smart people at the top of their game, in world class enterprises, people who would become the “1%” a decade later, were as naïve and wide-eyed as children. They’d been sold a pipe dream by a very persuasive Internet pioneer (who would go on to be indicted and found guilty of transporting underage boys across state lines to have sex with them, which was the tip of the iceberg so to speak, but that’s another story), swallowed it hook, line and sinker because they, like most people in the country, for a while at least, wanted to believe such a marvelous thing could happen, that the Internet could change everything, even basic rules of nature, that up and down weren’t absolute, that with technology anything was possible. It was like seeing the Wizard of Oz was a little man behind a curtain.

I also realized in an embarrassing flash that I’d been incredibly naïve, innocent of how the world works. I’d been infatuated with my own importance, how clever I’d been to insist on traffic numbers and that my keen insights gleaned from the data would bring order to the chaos. But there had been another layer of manipulation, of power at work, of panic operating way above and beyond me that I’d been completely unaware of and excluded from. I’d been as clueless as an uncontrollably excited puppy or a moth battering it’s wings at a window.

Within a few days I and three quarters of the staff were given notice and walked off the property escorted by a weird bunch of what looked like out of work Armenians someone had hired in a hurry to be the muscle.

We believed then that the Internet would change everything. Fifteen years on, it has, just not the way we expected it to.

Overthinking

[We’re driving out to the Valley, Jonah and I, to deliver the bit coin mining gear to the guy, I guess you’d call him a miner. A weird situation to get into but I don’t have much choice since there’s a few bucks in it and I can’t be choosy about where the bucks come from these days. He’s pissed at me for thinking too much.]

“I don’t get it,” he says. “what’s your problem? You see an opportunity and take it. You know one when you see one, right? Just do it, dude, just freaking do it.”
I say “It’s not that simple.”
“It IS that simple. You overthink things.”
“It’s not overthinking, it’s just thinking. I mean maybe what’s overthinking to you is just thinking to me.”
“See, you just did it.”
“Did what?”
“Overthought that whole thing.That’s your problem.”
“It’s not a problem, it’s what I do.”
“How’s that working working for you?” He turns away from the road for a second and holds my eyes, a slight smile smearing those rubber lips.
“I’m surviving,” I say.
“Is that enough?”
“No. That’s why I’m here. When it’s good it’s great, when it’s bad it’s fucked beyond belief.”
“For me it’s all good all the time.”
“For real? you seem kinda pissed off all the time.”
“Things bug me but I get over it. Life is good
“Sometimes when I have a grip on things, I’m confident and ideas are flowing and I see how everything fits, I just, I’m just full of wonder at life, you know? Everything makes sense.”
“Watching a fine ass move down the sidewalk – that’s wonder, that’s beauty, baby.” Now he’s got that hungry smile.

We drive. Sometimes the swish of the tires on the road, the wind on the windshield, the traffic combine into white noise like the recording of waves we used to use when we put Cooper to sleep when he was an infant. We kept using it, found Karen and I had come to depend on it to get to sleep.
“Do you think some people are born happier than others?” I ask. “I mean is it a gene thing?”
“Why not? Some people are born with 10 inch dicks. That’s just the way it rolls.”
We drive. I look out at the low rent store fronts along Magnolia Blvd. rolling by.
“Lighten up. Don’t take everything so seriously.”
“It’s not that easy. That’s who I am.”
“Change.” He says it simply, no agenda. It’s not a demand. He’s not calling my bluff or anything, just offering a solution. That’s Jonah at his best.
“Well, what about when you have problems with your wife? I mean I hear you on the phone sometimes. You seem pretty heated. Doesn’t that stress you out?”
“I get worked up, but hey, it’s just a relationship. Relationships are a part of life like work or anything else. Just something you do. Nothing to get to tripped out about.”
“What about your kids?” I ask.
“I love them, I love her. Simple as that. You can make it simple or complicated, it’s a choice, just a choice, that’s all.”
“What about the guys at work you’re dealing with?”
“Yeah, they’re a drag,” he says and takes a quick look in the rear view. “But soon I won’t have to deal with those fuckers anymore.” He laughs and peers out the side window as he slows the car to a cruise.
“We’re here,” he says.

Tilting at The X Factor

4/19/12

T I L T I N G     A T     T H E     X    F A C T O R

Day one of the X Factor experience. Flew into SFO last night at 12:30AM, asleep by 2 and up at 4 to make it to the Cow Palace by 6 to register. Drove up Old Bayshore. Passed through Colma – the headstone capitol of the Bay Area – there are a couple major cemeteries nearby – where I’d been dropped off hitchhiking high on acid in the late 60’s. Heavy. The headstones are on display in the bright clear northern california sunlight that makes every detail sharper.

Past Colma to Brisbane, the Cow Palace turn off. It’s like rural Arkansas around there – Funky bars and small sleepy Southern town vibe in the shadow of San Francisco’s southern reaches. Built in ’41, The Palace is a hulk of a building  – a giant Quonset hut, like a hydroelectric plant in a Daffy Duck cartoon. I remember driving back from a camping trip with Fee in the ‘70’s and seeing a sign – “Rev. Ike now appearing – Cow Palace”, pulling off the freeway and checking it out. We sat in back alone in the nose bleed section some of the few white faces there, and watched a few people in wheelchairs wheel up to his podium and him saying a few healing words. Noone tossed their crutches away or anything like that. I remember he had a big smile and pomaded hair – this was before Jeri curls – and tried to talk us into buying prayer cloths you were supposed to hold up to your radio during his broadcast sermons so good fortune would come your way. The power of attraction – old school.

As a kid I saw rodeos there and at least one hot rod show. Walking the exhibits at the show, I saw a couple of Hells Angels checking out Big Daddy Ed Roth’s cars. I remember their backs to me and the logo spread across lived in, greasy denim sleeveless jackets. I’m not sure why but I walked up to them and asked for their autographs on a napkin. The shorter one wrote “Chocolate George”. When he died in a motorcycle accident in ’67, 200 bikes rode to his wake in Golden Gate Park and the Grateful Dead played.

It’s a spectacular early spring day, the air like the clearest glass in a tiffany showcase and everything lit to perfection. I park and walk past a half mile of serpentined crowd control fencing. Now empty, waiting for tomorrow’s crush. There’s a weirdly festive smell like cotton candy and PCP coming from the dozens of porta potties planted around the site. I wait in line for 15 minutes to register for the auditions and head home to get some sleep.

As I’m drifting off, I hear mom talking on the phone about editing the church newsletter she’s helped put together for the last 50 (?) years. The Pine Tree. The name is reassuring. As I’m going to sleep, song titles and melodies drift through – “Early Onset” and “An Eye for an Eye for an iPad”.

I talk to Cyn that night. Boop’s been crying “Dada” throughout the day. This is the first day I can remember being away from him all night. For this folly. I’ve awakened with him almost every day since he was born.

It’s not complete folly. I’m hoping for some mandate, a sign this is what I should be doing. In a promo video for signing up to try out for the show, Simon Cowell asks “Why are you worth $5,000,000?” My initial reaction is “How about $500,000…” Warner Bros. probably put up $5M in today’s dollars over the life of Code Blue counting how much it cost to record the album, tour support and promotion. I’ve been worth it before…

That night I visit Bruce, Nancy and Lillie on her birthday. Bruce tells me about the latest developments in commercial energy engineering – the use of “Big Data” – mining vast amounts of real time nanodata so that energy use  can be controlled moment to moment for maximum efficiency. “Think of a building breathing, like an organism.” Cool and exciting concept.

The next day I get there by 8. The crowd control fences are now filled with thousands of people. I get in line in Chute 5. There’s legacy cattle herding nomenclature like “chutes” and “We’re gonna load you in now”. Two black guys in their early 20’s near me are decked out in Hot Topic style punk gear – random suspenders, straps and studs attached here and there, vaguely punk slogans on their leather jackets, with geometric shapes cut into their hair and eyebrows. The pretty one starts singing in a light falsetto “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. He’s good, real good. I wonder how many are as good as he is.

After a couple hours waiting in the sun, some guys in the chute across from us rig up a game  – putting a dollar bill on the ground on a walkway between the chutes with a string attached. When someone bends over to pick it up they yank it away. The crowd can’t help but love it even though it’s bad behavior. A water vendor comes by and falls for it. A squabble ensues as the two black punks hassle him about wanting warm water instead of iced as it’s better for the throat when you’re about to sing, others tell them to quit hassling him as it’s hot and they just want to buy some water. Squabbling over water – we’re in our own little eco-system. It doesn’t take long to break the situation down to essentials.

A roving video crew with sound hooked up to the PA system roamed around picking contestants at random. “You got 10 seconds. Show us what you got.” And they’d cut loose with their best riffs. Two out of 10 were pretty weak but the other 8 could really lay it down. As good as the pretty one or better. I get my first sense of the level of talent here. Pretty high.

Finally after 3 hours in the sun, we’re herded inside the Palace past memorabilia from its days as home of the rodeo. Our chute full of entrants takes its place in a section of seats above one of the exits.

Below us on the arena floor are 36 cubicles in four rows of eight made of black cloth stretched on frames about 8 feet on a side, open at the top and one side. Ominous, like something from Abu Ghraib or office cubicles in hell. “Down on the killing floor…” to carry the cattle metaphor further. In the stands it feels a little like we’re gladiators in the Coliseum waiting to be called.

They start calling the entrants nearest the cubicles down to do their thing. It looks like it’ll be a few hours until they get to us so I wander around. As I open the door to a hall way, there’s a low roar of dozens of contestants posed here and there warming up in full voice bouncing off the high concrete ceilings and walls. Babel. I read a story of a driver in a car accident having a near death experience. He felt himself in what must be heaven – much soft white light and thousands of angels singing. They were each singing different songs but it being heaven, he could somehow hear every song distinctly. This hallway scene was the opposite. Like in theory, the presence of all colors is white, but in practice, when you mix all the colors on your palette together, you get brown.

In the stands moms are fiddling with their sons and daughters’ hair and outfits, a striking busty Katy Perry type sits looking over legal briefs, a 6 foot transvestite in high heels, bleached blonde wig and wedding veil stands in line at the men’s room. The crowd is less than 50% white, mostly black and latino, a few Asians.

I stand with a group where we can see into the cubicles. The contestants are gesturing grandly to the judges, pantomiming – they’re too far away to hear. Then they stand still as the judges render their verdict. If the contestant passes the first round there’s jubilation and thankyous. One goes down on her knees in thanks, is given her yellow card signifying she’s passed the first round then runs out of the booth waving her card in the air and a cheer goes up from her fans in the stands.

The ones who’ve made it through go out the west arena entrance. The ones who’ve been given the thumbs down walk out the east entrance below us – “The Walk of Shame” I hear someone call it. Their body language completely different – slumped shoulders, slack jawed, some crying. A woman behind me keeps yelling out “Stay encouraged!” and applauding as they pass below. Some of us join in the applause as they slump past and most smile, give a thumbs up, walk a little taller. Some make grand exits, smiling and strutting, laughing at defeat. As she gets close to the stands, a black woman on her way out starts shaking her booty and shimmying, really working it. The crowd in the stands loves it, gives her an ovation. “This is her real audition right here” someone says.

They seem to be letting about half the contestants through, separating out the bush leaguers and nut jobs. I’m encouraged, thinking they’re being generous in their judgment and I should be able to make it through this round. I practice my “Can I Get a Witness” and “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” every chance I get. Originally it had been 3 songs but now it’s down to a verse and chorus of 2 songs.

About 2/3 of the contestants have been called.  The section next to ours is called to go down to the floor and lineup by the booths. The adrenaline slow drip begins. “Oh my God! Courtney made it”. I hear a high school girl saying behind me. Rather than bein jubilant, she’s staring with slack jawed disbelief and envy at her friend on the opposite side of the arena ecstatically jumping up and down waving her yellow card. Didn’t know she had it in her.

Finally our section is called. We file down to the floor and quickly line up in groups in front of each of the 8 rows of booths. A few of us say a hurried goodbye and good luck. Everything is moving faster the closer we get to the booths like water as it approaches a waterfall or a bathtub drain. One of my ears plugs up as I’m waiting. Perfect timing – it must be a mental thing. We’re given last minute instructions “You’ll do a verse and chorus of 1 song. Please don’t touch the judges. Have fun.” We line up singly in front of each booth.

Then I’m stepping into the open side of the booth. There’s a guy in his late 20’s, with clip board and inauthentic, drained smile sitting on a director’s chair. “Hi. Where are you from?”

“Los angeles”

“How old are you?

“60.” No point in lying about it. Maybe it’s an asset.

“What do you do?”

I choke. “I’m a…trying to be a musician.”

“OK let’s get started,” and he nods.

I tear into “Can I Get a Witness” complete with hand raised like I’m testifying on the chorus, and a few dance moves but the whole thing has a frenzied feel to it. My ear is still bugging me. I’m distracted and off my game. Why couldn’t it have been a female judge? I would have done better with a girl sitting there. I realized the melody is pretty much clustered around 2 notes – the chord changes under the melody are what give it its character. Without a band playing the changes, it’s static but my vocal coach had recommended I go with it. Cyn preferred Softly when I sang it to her over the phone. Maybe “Softly” with a bigger melody was the way to go and I blew it.

I finish a little out of breath.

“I’m going to say ‘No’ for today.”

“For today?” I’m thinking. There’s no next day. Does he mean I should try again next season? “Can you give me any pointers on how I did?”

“I can’t really…” That smile. Tough job.

After waiting for 7 hours, it’s over in 2 minutes. I say thanks and walk out of the booth in dull semi-shock.. Someone walks into the booth behind me. “Let’s get started,” I can hear the judge. I keep my head down as I leave and head toward the east exit. I seem to be almost alone. Did everyone else make it through? By now there’s only one section of contestants waiting to be called. The section where I’d been sitting had been sitting is empty, the “Stay encouraged” lady is gone as I walk out the east entrance to mom and dad’s Corolla. I drive back through the same park I’d detoured through on the way to register but it didn’t lift my mood.

Though I told everyone it was just like running the marathon – something to tell the grandkids – I was really counting on that mandate more than I realized. Some kind of sign that I’m on the right path. Not getting it is leaving a big hole – though I did have a great visit with mom and dad. On the plane home, I feel like I’d fought in Sarajevo on the losing side. No jubilation, but a quiet awareness of damage, survival and resilience. Whether or not what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger depends on how you interpret it, the narrative you build around it. It’s a choice.

quix·ot·ic  (kwk-stk) also quix·ot·i·cal (–kl)

adj.

1. Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.

2. Capricious; impulsive:.

I’m not so sure how romantic or noble this escapade has been but capricious and impulsive – definitely. I may have been inspired by the story of how the guy who created FedEx ran out of cash in the early days when the business was struggling, went to Vegas, put all his money on one throw of the dice and won. Losers are “capricious”, winners are “strong-willed”.

I wonder how quixotic the attempt to revive my music career for the last 10 years has been. Have I been tilting at windmills? No, it hasn’t been capricious – it’s been considered and decided. Maybe my risk assessment could be more rigorous, but I’ve tried my other option – holding down a straight job and found it to be ultimately unfulfilling. Maybe I’ve jousted with inner demons, but not impulsive tilting. I’m where I’m supposed to be.

After his adventures have come to an end Don Quixote wakes from a high fever restored to “sanity”, renounces his quests and adventures, then dies.

After I get home I’m driving the new Prius. It’s a used car and there are radio station presets left over from the previous owner. I flip through them. One is a Christian station – Focus on the Family. A woman is talking in that Anita Bryant kind of “oh gosh”, clipped, hyper-enunciated, nuance free, relentlessly upbeat way, as if God has a low tolerance for ambiguity or irony. She’s talking about her painful divorce and how it was such a trial for her since in her circle it “just wasn’t done” (divorce). You were supposed to pull yourself up by the boot straps and make it work. But she couldn’t and the marriage failed and left her in shock and challenged her faith. She found it led to a deeper understanding of God – as if finding a friend who’s there for you through thick and thin and not just an abstract object of veneration and fear. It gave God a shape and led to a deepening of “my relationship with him.”

 …

It’s Sunday and I spend a few minutes thinking about where God was during this adventure. The emptiness feels like God’s absence. But my God doesn’t play golf, go on vacation, or get distracted when someone’s in need. I have to accept God was present and that there is a plan at work, though I can’t see where it’s leading, when I’ll arrive at any kind of resolution or fulfillment. Rather, it looks like it’s leading to the edge of the world, that I’ll fall into an abyss. It’s kind of a cop out to take a “Jesus Take the Wheel” attitude that God will always be there like a safety net, but maybe our idea of safety is too narrowly defined. And maybe that’s the lesson from this pilgrimage – have faith. Even though the path is dark as midnight, know there is fulfillment, deliverance ahead.

House Rules – 2/15/13

In every episode (tell me if you’ve seen one where he doesn’t), House has a moment in the last act where some unrelated incident inspires him to make the hyper obscure diagnosis that’s been eluding him. Like Wilson telling him how he killed it at poker that night and “the aces were hiding there all the time.” Closeup on House’s face, his eyes narrow and stare off into the intuitive distance. Cut to scene in the lab where they run the test that will confirm his diagnosis…

Sometimes the solution comes later than you’d wish and is revealed in unexpected sources, like fossils that have been there for eons hiding a few inches beneath your feet.

Guitar Lesson – 2/14/13

Been practicing scales – dumb do re mi fa so la ti and an alternating one: play 4 frets chromatically up, then skip back 3 frets and play chromatically up the next 4 frets – very rote, unmelodic runs. Feeling my fingers getting stronger and am reminded that ability, let alone excellence, to a greater degree than I’ve admitted, comes from just building up the muscles. And not just the glory muscles, but the whole system…

Whether maintaining a relationship, raising a kid – getting out of bed in the morning? -the same applies. Just do it. Over and over until it gets magical.

My Old Lady

It took me 30 years to realize that someone sanded off the edge of the fingerboard on the neck of my ’64 Strat before I owned it. I imagine because when you first pick it up if you’re a beginner the edges seem a little sharp when you wrap your hand around it. But to sand the edges off it basically ruins it. And it took me this long to figure it out. I’m sure the guy who sold it to me knew and took me for a sucker. I come across him on facebook from time to time and he’s still around in the pro audio community. Will never forgive him for it.

But what can i do? I’ve love that guitar for so long, i have to accept its shortcomings along with its beautiful unique tone.