Almost Famous, conclusion

Stillwater is at a crossroads at which point their star could rise exponentially or crash into obscurity. Add to the mix their skepticism yet tacit acceptance of William, the 15 year old “devil” could either be the best thing that ever happened to them in their quest for fame, or he could destroy them. Not unlike passing a car wreck, you can’t look away. If you do, you will miss the real.

Real is a big thing to Stillwater. Russell really is about the music. Beyond the fans, the industry and the personality conflicts, the thing that is real to him is the music. Enter the most memorable segment of the movie, when an exasperated Russell, reeling from a band argument, heads out on his own on a quest for “something real”. William accompanies him, and it is at this point that the culture of devotion and love for the music by the ones that matter, the fans, is accurately and beautifully depicted. He ends up at a house party with a huge sample of his true demographic; partying long-haired teenagers who seek refuge in a keg, recreational drugs, and music. Russell is ecstatically welcomed to their party and this party is so much like ones that I, and most every baby boomer in 50 states attended. The party goers don’t swarm him, beg autographs or perform any other typical celebrity worship, instead they just welcome him. They get to know him. They share their love for music, his and every other band. They just connect in a “just say whoa” kind of way. These were my favorite people of my youth. There was no pretense, no posturing, no fights. Just good, mellow and let’s face it, stoned people having a good time talking and listening to music. It was just what Russell needed. It was real.
Of course, the party eventually gets out of hand when Russell takes acid, culminating in one of the premier moments of the film when Russell climbs to the top of a garage and deafeningly declares that he is a “Golden God!” and jumps into the pool.
In the morning, the real-world calls as the bus shows up and the band retrieves their out-of-it guitarist. Tensions are high. They are pissed at him, and he doesn’t care. The tension on the bus as they travel to their next gig is thicker than LA air pollution. As they sit in angry silence, Elton John’s Tiny Dancer comes on the speakers. As the song builds the band and Band Aids gradually lose their scowls, stop glaring at each other and begin to move. Gradually at first, then a little more. Then the drummer taps to the music and by the time the chorus hits and Elton belts out “hold me closer tiny dancer” they are all smiling and singing along. Goosebumps are had by all. And there it is, the point of it all, the thing that made the most sense to me. The music, in all of its magnificence has not only the power to inspire, but it can also heal. The band is reminded at this moment why they are doing all of this. It’s about the music. It’s always been about the music.

William never gets his interview. Russell tells him as they part ways to write what he wants. William does. He tells the truth, following the advice of Lester Bangs. “Tell the truth. All of it. And be merciless.” Rolling Stone loves it, despite the realization that the writer of their cover story (the goal of the day was to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone after all) is 15 years old. All is good in the world until the band (not Russell) get spooked about the possible fallout of the story and tell Russell to deny all of it, crushing William and his credibility. The story is squashed.

There is a happy ending. Russell, in his adherence to the “real” eventually tells Rolling Stone that every word was accurate after all. But not before going to see William and giving him the long overdue interview.

As you can probably tell, I love this movie. I turned a simple Billy Mac movie review into a think piece on my love for the music and the era. I suppose I’m so into this movie because I am also on a constant quest for the real. I have never been comfortable with pretense and superficiality. Maybe that is the best way to summarize my feelings on music today; beyond my hatred for over-production, auto-tuning vocals, unimaginative and uninspiring lyrics and music that seems to have no effort behind it is my belief that the artists of the era made the music unapologetically their way. It was quality. It was eternal. It was the hallmark and peak of their creativity and artistic vision. The music of yesterday was better, even on scratchy vinyl. I can say this because it survived the ultimate test. That of time.

One last thing…

Almost Famous

Every once in a while you see a movie that not only gets under your skin, but penetrates your soul. I know, strong words. But strong emotions require strong words. Music, especially the music of my formative years, evokes powerful feelings in me. The soundtrack of my formative years was the Rock and Roll of the 70’s and 80’s. Post Motown and R&B and pre Disco and the New Wave synthesizer-laden shit of the 80’s were the Super and almost but not quite super groups of the 70’s. Groups that put out amazing efforts of exhaustively complex, soulful and often life-changing music with less regard for commercial success but instead a quest to create something that would transform, inspire awe, and stand upright longer than a few radio cycles but instead stand the ultimate test of time. Music that packed arenas and penetrated basement dwellings, house parties and the comfortable confines of adolescent bedrooms where legions of kids found a connection, a soulmate in the music. For many, it was life-changing.

You’ve probably gathered that I am a music lover. Most certainly. But I am a larger fan of the era, the culture that rock and roll created. I have always been a student of the cultural events that led to the inception of the music, it’s impact and most importantly the link to an actual identity. The late 50’s and early 60’s marked the first time in history that the youth of America had their own music. The days of listening to Mom and Dad’s music was over. It was the final piece of the puzzle that was the cultural revolution of the second half of the 20th century. The youth of America had asserted themselves as a cultural force, a separate and powerful demographic that demanded to be heard but had formerly lacked an identity outside of the umbrella of the nuclear family. They rebelled against the puritanical Patriarchy and demanded to be heard. At first it was Chuck Berry and drive-ins and carhops. The parents tolerated it but called it harmless. Then came the 60’s and Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and the massive music festival Woodstock became the voices and symbols of the counter- culture. The patriarchy became concerned. The once (somewhat) obedient youth of America had begun to rebel and the Poet Laureates with guitars provided the soundtrack of the new generation. Once Vietnam dominated the cultural Zeitgeist the divide was nearly complete as the youth of America rejected the thinking of the previous generation about so many aspects of society. It was a us vs. them. By the 70’s the generational divide was established. But behind the political and cultural impact there was the music.

In 1977 I was 14 years old. 14 is the age often cited by those in the know as one of the formative years of development and it is theorized that the music you enjoyed at that age would be the music you would love forever. At 14 I was a lost soul. An only child that didn’t understand the world around me. Desperate for guidance (I always wished I had an older brother) and hungry for acceptance I needed something, anything to identify with. I was an awkward kid. I was bullied. I dressed badly. My hygiene needed work to say the least.
I loved to read but hated school. Still, I was considered smart. I was offered a double promotion in 5th grade. My family said no because I was already young for my grade and skipping 6th grade would have made me the youngest 7th grader by far and my parents (correctly) concluded that the bullying would only get worse. Subjecting me prematurely to even bigger kids was not a winning proposition. It didn’t matter in the end. Regardless of my age, the bullying in middle school was as predicted by my parents. My school day consisted of being slammed into lockers and having my books dumped in the hallway.
But I was still considered smart. But that also put a target on my back in my school. The mouth-breathing Neanderthals that bullied me resented those of us that could count past 11 without taking our shoes and underwear off and they lashed out. So, I withdrew academically. Once a B plus to A minus student in elementary school, I became a C and D student. I was frightened and angry and my grades suffered terribly. I would never really recover. Not that I was ever destined for academic greatness, but I never reached my full potential. I became sullen and withdrawn. Good enough to get by was my mantra.

Enter Rock music…one of the only companions I could count on in life.

In 1977 I joined the Columbia Music record club. Remember that? Buy 8 records or tapes for 1 dollar with a commitment of one at full price per month. And no-one ever paid. I chose to let them send me the selections of the month. My music collection to that point was oldies. I always loved the 50’s music of doo wop. I even enjoyed to a degree the surfing shit by the Beach Boys. But I had never really gotten into 60’s and 70’s Rock. The first shipment contained 5 albums. Boston’s original album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, the Doobie Brothers’ greatest hits, Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits, and Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell. I had found my muse.
I’m not sure why I didn’t listen to the radio that much but it was clear to me that this music had been around for a while but I had never really listened to it. I was too busy reading. Suffice to say that I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of the driving drums, guitars and production of Boston, the fusion of pop influences and original compositions of the music of the Doobies, the ethereal vocals of Christin McVie and Stevie Nicks (I also fell in love with Stevie Nicks for other reasons typical of the hormonal teenage boy), the folksy but eternal harmonies and lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel. As for Meatloaf, I really don’t have words. That album was like nothing anyone had ever heard. From that moment on, if I was awake, I was listening to music. If I wasn’t home I carried a Transistor radio(remember them?) and later a Boom Box. I spent every penny I had on music and all of my time immersed in it. My journey had begun.

My friend Marc and I spent a lot of time hanging out. He was way ahead of me on his musical journey and had a formidable knowledge of it as well as a very repectable record collection. He played for me Rush, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and The Who, just to name a few. We sat transfixed in his basement bedroom as we absorbed the lyrics and played epic air guitar solos, slowly grooved to intros and solos that tantalized the senses, often building to orgasmic levels. We were there, eyes closed and hanging on every note. To say that it was transformative is a true understatement. Music was so much more than just simple entertainment. It was my haven, my escape, it spoke to me. It would become the music that I would love for the rest of my life.

The only thing that I would come to love as much as music was movies. Imagine my joy when I discovered a movie that would help me rediscover my love and passion for music, and the impact of it on my life.

Enter Almost Famous. The movie that just plain fucking NAILED it.

to be continued…

on wisdom

“If youth is wasted on the young, then wisdom is wasted on the old.”
–George Bernard Shaw

I am as guilty as the next guy when it comes to fantasizing about the “redo”. To go back in time and redo entire parts of my life, the times when I zigged when I should have zagged, taken a right at the crossroads and not the left, said the wrong thing and did something stupid. All of these moments are fresh in my memory and I replay them in my head at 3 AM when sleep evades me. It is a horrible habit and I think that rehashing all of them is incredibly unhealthy. After all, what does it actually accomplish to relive bad experiences except to bring yourself down? I can only think of one, the acquisition of wisdom.

As the Shaw quote clearly states, wisdom is wasted on the young. I believe that wisdom can only be gained through experience, often bad ones that result in a teachable moment. Youth is the time that you make the mistakes that you reflect on later. If, and only if, you learn something from it then and only then do you have the message, the takeaway that can lead to wisdom. Any attempt at wisdom by a teen, unless they can successfully convince you that they are a time traveler, will seem out of place and illegitimate. It just doesn’t fit. At least to me.

So how does the second half of Shaw’s quote work? It is a bit ambiguous and very Pigeon-holing in my eyes. How is wisdom wasted on the old? Most older people can’t wait to share their experiences and for the most part are ok enough with their past to effectively share what happened, why and the end result. My theory is that it can only be wasted on the old if a)they care not to share it, or b) nobody wants to hear it. I know when my dad tried to share it, I mostly brushed it off. I didn’t want to hear it. Of course, now I find myself talking to his stone, telling him how right he was about everything. His wisdom was not wasted on me, it just had a tape-delay.

I like to think I have some wisdom to share with anyone who wants to listen. My wisdom stems from a wide variety of fuck-ups in my life. My scars, of which I have plenty all have a tale to tell, even the ones that you can’t see. I am a walking cautionary tale. But it’s a tale I will gladly tell. But someone needs to solicit it because I am not one to offer up anything unless requested. Maybe that is how it is wasted, young people who tend to “know everything” are unlikely to ask therefore the available resource of wisdom is untapped and therefore wasted.

In closing, just as we have a world of information contained in a single cell phone, we live in the most uninformed and uneducated era in recorded history. Similarly, the older amongst us contain a veritable treasure chest of knowledge about how things happen, why and how to prevent them. But unless asked for, it will die off.

If my experiences can help just one person avoid a life-altering mistake, then all of my scars will have been worthwhile. Not wasted.

the biggest kid in the room

One of the benefits of living in your childhood home is the memories, the connections, the triggers that bring back the memories of your youth. Both good and bad I suppose, but since I have grabbed my psyche by the metaphorical balls of late, so to speak, I have been able to focus more on the good things.

A tough realization of late is that I am a big kid at heart. I love playing with small children. I enjoy dumb comedies. I say goofy things and I like to be silly and I still think nothing is more satisfying and fun than lying on the floor playing with my dog. Charlie Brown nailed it when he said, “happiness is a warm puppy.” It sure is, not much makes me happier. Charlie Brown is my hero.

I think it has affected my social life. A funny instance occurred a few weeks ago when I was out on the boat with a female companion. We were moored in a popular spot where the water is shallow for a hundred yards or so from shore. People moor there and hang out, drink or eat and swim in the shallow water. Ducks in that locale are famously used to people and are not shy about swimming up to boats. A family of ducks approached my boat and I instantly exclaimed “look, duckies!” My companion looked at me like I had three heads.
“Duckies?”
I realized that she thought I was out of my mind or grossly immature. Oh well.
“Yes, Duckies.” I said. “Sorry if it seems weird but I’m just a big kid at heart.” I leaned over the bow and made quacking noises at my visitors.
I still don’t know if that’s why I haven’t heard from her since.

I’m tired of fighting it. With all the battles I have fought with my health and other matters, my youthful, a nice way of saying emotionally stunted I suppose, outlook has kept me going and I won’t apologize for it. It’s my way of not letting my disgust with the world I currently live in from tainting my desire to move forward.

I actually think it is what my small but loyal circle likes about me and what the core of people who look to me for inspiration (not being cocky, I actually do have some patients and readers who look to me for a lift) see in me.

It’s really quite simple. Before life kicked the everloving shit out of me I was a happy, eager and optimistic kid. Without his spirit, his happy memories and almost Pollyanna’ish approach to life, older current me would be lost.

I don’t just like to be silly and goofy. I need to be. I do not,will not and cannot allow others to bring me down if I allow that inner child to exist within me. I’m the biggest kid in the room.

Deal with it.

Song lyric Sunday

Some of you may know this song by heart, some may have never heard it. It is one of those songs that proves the adage that the music you listen to in your formative years will always be sentimental to you, if not remain your favorite music. The latter has proven true for me, and in times when I lack clarity or need a reminder of what drives the blood in my veins I play those songs.

Bob Seger’s Like a Rock is the title track of his ’86 album that cemented my love of Seger’s gritty, honest, relateable songs. This song, before it became a Chevy commercial at least, was a staple in my daily playlist.

Now, as I find myself weakened and looking for strength I love this song more than ever. It reminds me of the days when I was young, strong and carefree. Of the days when I walked with my shoulders back and my chest out. When I swung an axe in the crux of a cold October afternoon in just a T shirt, my brow sweaty and my muscles tight, plowing through the woodpile my dad and I had just created. My friends were all playing football but I committed myself to the task at hand. Like a rock.

I miss that feeling, I want it back. I hope to get it back. When I hear this song I am reminded of better days and given hope that they will return.

Give it a listen will ya?

Stood there boldly
Sweatin’ in the sun
Felt like a million
Felt like number one
The height of summer
I’d never felt that strong
Like a rock

I was eighteen
Didn’t have a care
Working for peanuts
Not a dime to spare
But I was lean and
Solid everywhere
Like a rock

My hands were steady
My eyes were clear and bright
My walk had purpose
My steps were quick and light
And I held firmly
To what I felt was right
Like a rock

Like a rock, I was strong as I could be
Like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me
Like a rock, I was something to see
Like a rock

And I stood arrow straight
Unencumbered by the weight
Of all these hustlers and their schemes
I stood proud, I stood tall
High above it all
I still believed in my dreams

Twenty years now
Where’d they go?
Twenty years
I don’t know
I sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they’ve gone

And sometimes late at night
When I’m bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin’ a ghostly white
And I recall
I recall

Like a rock, chargin’ from the gate
Like a rock, carryin’ the weight
Like a rock

Like a rock, the sun upon my skin
Like a rock, hard against the wind
Like a rock, I see myself again
Like a rock