I turned 38 a few days ago. For the first time in over 25 years, I willingly tried to celebrate my birthday. I hung out with a friend and attended a concert. It was by far the most immersive birthday I've had since... maybe Grade 6.
Oftentimes in the past, when my birthday would approach, my parents, friends, or spouse would ask me, "What do you want to do for your birthday?" And I would say, "Nothing." And if they proposed something, I would fight it. "I don't want a birthday party," I'd say. Once, perhaps 10 years ago when we lived in Hope, I tried to get over myself and let my wife arrange a birthday for me, but I myself didn't really market it seriously. It was a long time ago, so the memory is faint, but I don't think anybody came. And that was ok with me, but not quite with my wife, who had put real energy into it. I haven't even imagined even trying to celebrate a birthday since then.
And I don't know if I'll bother again for any time soon. This year, that was enough. It was astoundingly difficult, even in such a low-key setting, to handle the attention, the self-maintaining goal to "take care of myself" by celebrating my existence for once. I had a good time, but it drained me, and when it was over I crashed into a rather embarrassing sadness-spiral that could only be slightly endured after a counselling call. I'm glad I did it, but I don't think I'll try it again next year. (Although my birthday does take place on a Saturday next year, so I could very easily go back on my current sentiments.)
Shutterfly sends me occasional updates about photos, saying "Do you remember __ years ago?" usually showing family photos from a given week. Today, Shutterfly sent me some photos, saying "Remember four years ago?" They were photos of my kids when we still lived in Harrison Hot Springs, in our last month living there before we moved to Chilliwack. And I looked and I thought four years? It's only been four years? Because that feels like forever ago. So much has happened: my family fell apart, my kids moved away, I've been working through the usual rigmarole of divorce.
And I've barely written a song. The songs I have written seem hackneyed and trite, nothing like the quality that I maintained 13 years ago. My emotions are caught-up in adultish issues: budgets, debt, paperwork, appointments, parenting, phone calls, workplace balance, driving, car maintenance, etc.. There are people who can write emotionally despite these life-themes, but I haven't been able to do it. As much as I want to find the poetry in these sorts of common events, the words, the melodies, have eluded me, or I haven't been able to muster the energy to approach them.
Until this weekend, when I think I assembled a few words that reflected an actual feeling. Although I've written emotional songs in the last decade, very few of them discussed feelings that were close to my heart at a given moment. They're the sorts of emotions that might be considered "youthful," insofar as they deal with some intense feelings that one feels deep to their core. I'm not going to write the words here because I'm still working on them, but I'm kinda' excited, hoping that I can get a ball rolling in a manner that's creatively viable.
In other news: I've accepted a part in a play, my first play since I acted in A Flea In Her Ear with the Chilliwack Players' Guild. I'm excited about it. I've worked with most of these cast members before, either in Jitters or A Flean in her Ear. It's a musical comedy and I have to sing a song. Costumes should be ridiculous. More info forthcoming.
Also, I might start working a bit with a small company that's homing to make videos and music in-house in Chilliwack. This is good because it will give me a chance to practice and perfect things I've never really worked with before. And finally, for the first time since I lived in Victoria, I might be able to work with people to create music and art again. Most of my attempted musical collaborations have fallen apart over the last bunch of years, but this one's got some potential because people want to be professionals in a low-key enough way that I might be able to make my life work with it. Woo hoo!
I remember seeing this video (embedded below) on MuchMore Music maybe 20 years ago, maybe more. I knew enough to understand how cool it was to get these guys together for the performance, but I didn't quite realize just how special it was. What a performance, and what a way to introduce people to an excellent song.
For the last few months, I've been working on memorizing songs I know, but I don't quite have memorized. I started with "Gentle on my Mind," a song I feel like I've known for as long as I've been alive but never quite memorized. It took a while, but eventually I was able to get the imagery in my head into an order that made sense, and I'd like to think the song's basically in my long-term memory for good now.
Then I moved to "My Back Pages," which challenged in a much different way. Each verse is built on strong imagery, but the images smash into one another; they don't quite create a full photograph like the verses do in "Gentle on my Mind." It took a few weeks of singing along, practicing verse-by-verse, copying out the lyrics by hand, before I could have it memorized. And even now, when it's all in my head, I still struggle to make some of the lines flow from their previous ones.
The last stanza mentions "abstract threats too noble to neglect." Dylan writes,
Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
To me, this sort of lends itself to our current "identity politics" moment: the Venn Diagram of Abstract to Practical is kinda' messy right now. That messy overlap is ok, but I hope we can acknowledge its blurriness. Everything's always more nuanced than it seems, no matter the side we pitch our tents. And abstract threats... are still threats. We need to move beyond threatening one another to move change in a useful direction.
On November 15, I attended the Hard Rubber Orchestra's King Crimson tribute at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, BC. The theatre was packed, largely with older couples who appear to have followed the band since the 70s. One of the guest vocalists, Leanne Dunic, is a friend from high school; she's someone I've lost touch with, but I've followed her artistic escapades through social media for years. It was a good show overall, and the arrangers certainly had lots of fun with their arrangements of King Crimson classics like "Starless," "Frame By Frame," and "In The Court Of The Crimson King."
I've listened to King Crimson since high school, when a couple of my friends had copies of their debut album and THRAK, one of their most recent albums at the time. We often listened to them straight through, laying inbetween the speakers in order to fully experience the delicately-produced songs in stereo. We'd sit and talk about the perfection of "One Time," the absurd timing in "21st Century Schizoid Man," and the Mellotron-laced, despairing tone in "Epitaph." These are good memories for me, since the music seemed both passionate and interesting, perfect for someone like myself. Over those years, I collected a few more of their albums and enjoyed them immensely, even as my friends seemed to let them go.
There are plenty of songs I could talk about, but there's one that's been running through my head for the last few days, one I keep going back to despite its comparative simplicity: "Prozakc Blues."
"Prozakc Blues" follows a blues progression as closely as King Crimson can, despite numerous time changes and near-atonal solos. It's a wonder that one can hear the traditional blues format through it, particularly when it's so intensely dissonant. Despite the song's overall intensity, Fripp adds moody, airy fills throughout, and they inexplicably fall into place.
Lyrically, the song follows the blues pattern as well, but takes it to a ridiculous place. Sometimes King Crimson's lyrical humour can come off as a little too smart to even laugh at, but in "Prozakc Blues" it fits just fine. It's a narrative blues song that tells a story, that satirizes numerous classic blues tropes: "Woke up this morning," going to the Pearly Gates, etc..
When I hear "Prozakc Blues," I mainly think about the year I lived in Egypt. I had the song on shuffle on my Blackberry and spent a lot of time walking around the streets of 6 October City, trying to memorize it, trying to make sense of the time signatures, trying to hear the push-pull of the guitars and the drums. The song made me smile a lot because its humour, musically and lyrically, was pretty tough to come by in Egypt.
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