Musings and Mirth
I have never been the kind of Bruce fan who has seen every concert. I haven’t played every one of his albums non-stop, nor do I know every small detail about his life and work. There are those kinds of fans. I know those kinds of fans. The truth is, I was just never on the ball enough to get that kind of shit together. Obsessive details are not my strong suit. I did grow up listening to Bruce, as I grew up listening to Bob Dylan – almost to the exclusion of everyone and anything else. I’d be lucky if some great guy would deposit a mixed tape in my life and open up a world of music to me. That happened a lot. It wasn’t that I was always the girl who loved the music the guy loved. It was that the men I loved or even liked a lot usually had better taste in music than I did and so they would introduce it to me. Listening to it through them, as though I WAS them, was how they entered me so profoundly, for many years. As such, music is often tied to a relationship, for better or worse.
But Bruce was a standalone love, not tied to anyone in particular. He is so universal that if he touches you deeply he becomes a part of you and a part of your life forever.
His Broadway show, which I should have moved mountains to pay thousands to see but didn’t, is one of the best things I’ve ever seen him do. He tells stories – Bruce stories in the way he tells them, just not the way we expect to hear them. He doesn’t want to bring us to heightened excitement so much as sit around the fire and tell us a few tales. It turns out they are all quite moving. His story about his mother, Clarence, his father, his hometown.
We know these characters because they thread throughout his songwriting, inspire so many of the lyrics – the universe of Bruce and New Jersey and working class men and women trying to find a reason to believe. Bruce has taken us all the way there, like his own private Idaho, or his Castle Rock. I know Faulkner has one too but I can’t remember what it’s called.
The way I listen to Bruce now is only through his live recordings. I can’t listen to the original records because I’ve heard them too many times. On the Netflix show, as many times as I’ve heard Born to Run, it sounds different when sang as part of a storytelling ceremony, though the eternal power of that song is unbreakable.
I was a teenager when I first was deeply touched by Bruce. Darkness on the Edge of Town was my favorite – a record full of longing, full of desire for something you don’t have yet – which is, a life somewhere else. I remember listening to it in my bedroom over and over, Something in the Night, Prove it All Night, The Promised Land, Candy’s Room, Racing in the Street. The whole thing, like so many of his albums, has a distinct beginning, middle and end – it’s designed with its own dramatic arc, with conflict, and Bruce always feels the impulse to right things in the end. He doesn’t want to send you away sad.
The best lifelong songwriters do compile their albums to be long stories that take you from one place to another. Springsteen is particularly good at the highs (no one does the highs better, no one) and the lows. In his show on Netflix he talks about going on a journey with his fans, and how performing for us gave him a profound sense of purpose. He thanks all of us for going on that journey with him. Oh, how many of us want to thank him for filling the empty spaces, for reviving dead things, for taking us into worlds of used cars, wet skin by rivers, Jersey girls, velvet rims, state troopers, forgotten wives, redheaded women, the badlands, ghosts of Tom Joads, brilliant disguises, men who wrestle with demons, women who try to stand by them and love them. How do we thank someone who has given us all so much?
Maybe we can thank him by remembering what the real stuff is, by staying connected to people creating music and worlds still, in this blacked out, empty, dark and lonely world. We can keep what Bruce helped invent alive. Maybe that will matter. Maybe.
Over the years, captured on camera.
My dad is dying. He’s really finally going. He’s been going for a year now about. I watched the slow decline of someone who did not think anything was wrong with him, refused any sort of treatment for what ailed him, and then his body just decided it was time to let go. It’s been a long road, his death. And he isn’t quite ready yet. Somehow his strong heart keeps beating. I am realizing that death brings us to a point of celebration and love we couldn’t really get to before they pass. I am watching his friends and family come together to show him their love which is kind of amazing.
I don’t really write much here. No one really blogs as such anymore. They use Facebook or Twitter because the response is immediate – you can reach a much larger audience that way. No one reads this anymore – or ever – so it’s a “safe space” for me now to write if I feel like it. Tonight I feel like it because I want to record the time my daughter Emma and I went to his hospital room and watched Black Panther as he lay dying. He was in the VA in Westwood before moving to the hospice, where he is now. He was obsessed with watching the movie Dark Tower, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. It’s not very good to me but to him it’s the greatest film ever made. It revolves around – at least as far as I can tell – a boy with special powers who has to be sent off to a school where they “understand” him better. My dad was sent off to school by grandmother because she – a single working mom in the 1930s and 1940s – could not care for him. He was a troubled kid – theft, drugs, eventually gangs before he found Jazz drumming as an outlet. He’s known in jazz circles of LA as a bit of a legend when it comes to drumming. One time his jazz friends came to his hospital room and jammed with him. He picked up his drums and played on a practice pad with them.
When people we love die we do have to come to some sort of conclusion about them. Were they good to us? Good to the world? Were they bad? We’re all a mixture of both, I would imagine, despite the internet’s mass hysteria daily that seeks to roust out anyone not “pure” and “good.” We all do make mistakes. Someday I’ll tell the whole story of my dad but for now I want to just leave it at: to most people he was never “enough.” Not enough of a son. Not enough of a man, not enough of a father or a husband. But to me he really was. As hard as it was to communicate with him at times he was a man of great kindness and compassion. THAT is something I will dearly miss.
So here’s to you, pops. Please do go gently into that great night. You have earned a little peace.
Sometimes when I watch movies now I think that film criticism is a waste of time, a waste of art, and a waste of human emotions. You can pick apart any movie but where does that get you? What road does it take you down? To have standards? To express your opinion? I’m not sure. I’ve seen this Peter Weir movie dozens of times, back when I had no clue what it was about and now, when I know what it’s about.
Mel Gibson has to be the gold standard of handsome in this. And sure, that’s probably a lot of the reason why I still watch it. But I also think it’s a nice blend of politics and love. It’s strange and beautiful but overall the message is about journalism. When a story is more important than loyalties. I think the film sides against the journalist but it’s a tough call when something is that important, civil war and all.
I wrote this on Medium back when people though there was no chance he ever would.
I dreamed Donald Trump was president
I dreamed Donald Trump was president. It felt like any other day in America, if all you knew of America was what you saw on Reality TV. Trump was the indestructible villain who week after week remained in the race, or the house, or the relationship, or the job — no matter how many nauseating traits of a sociopath he revealed. For some, he was clearly a monster. But for those who grew up watching monsters for fun, he had just what they wanted. They wanted a spectacle and he gave them one.
They knew him because he spoke a crude form of Twitter that any child could grasp. His sloppy hashtags and off-key memes were absurdly compelling. He threw bizarre baby tantrums online then reeled them back in just as weirdly. Then came the allure of money. Rumored vaults full of money. With it, he bought tons things. Pretty things and gaudy things. Expensive things that nevertheless looked horribly cheap. No building was too high, no faucets too gold, no wife too perfectly plastic. None of this remotely resembled a normal American Dream but it was the dream of many millennials because reality TV had raised them to think that way.
Just land a spot on a show, prove you can survive some silly make-believe hardships, and voila! — become a celebrity and an overnight millionaire. Who cares if you got rich from sleaze, got fame from scandal, and built your empire on corruption. Chasing that spotlight, it doesn’t matter if they hate you as long as they’re talking about you. Some people will do whatever it takes. No selfie is ever too racy, no gaffe is ever too coarse. As long as it all goes viral, your following will surge. Whatever the backlash, simply feign regret and move on. From one mess and clean-up to the next, your empire just keeps growing. In a world where maximum notoriety reigns supreme, being notorious to the max is its own self-sustaining reward.
Hillary doesn’t come from that world. In her world fashion is trivial, pretension is pointless, and her well-earned status is no big deal. If esteem serves a higher purpose, that’s fine, but ostentation for its own sake is pathetic. She only does selfies because she has to. Hillary shows no sign of vanity and that’s turned out to be terribly disconcerting to some in America 2016 where vanity is all. “How can you go out with bags under your eyes? What do you mean you don’t have a trainer and no unattainable goal weight to stress about? Why not indulge in lip plumpers and fillers and Botox and hair dye?”
I dreamed Donald Trump was president and far too few Americans did anything to stop it. Those who wanted to, couldn’t stop it if they tried — the forces of media manipulation were too persuasive, too pervasive. It was a reality show with great ratings, frightfully fascinating stars, and a parade of wacky guest stars. There they are, The Trumps — The Kardashians of Manhattan — gleaming Aryan children flanking The Donald, the whole family jutting as much arrogant chin implants as cosmetic surgery can fabricate. He’s famous so they’re famous, so yay! we’re all famous! because he’s going to be our President! Ivanka, Melania, the creepy Trump boys whose personalities seem disturbingly interchangeable, with their vacant mannequin expressions (“lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes…”).
They will provide most of America with the satisfaction they so hungrily crave from all of our TV reality stars — an opportunity for us to feel we’re better than they are. Since very few of us are frauds to such a surreal extent, deep down we know we are better than the Trumps. So, yes, a good solid half of America can afford to love them. And do love them. Far too many of us get a kick out of this freak show and we don’t want it to end.
Imagine, an ongoing Trump storyline as he faces a flustered Congress because, oops! — the president decided it was a good idea to threaten North Korea with a nuke. “Who’s gonna stop me. Lyin’ Congress? Crooked Congress? They can’t stop me. There’s scrawny Paul Ryan, what’s he gonna do? Flex his pecs at me?” Then the Trump show confronts protesters who gather around the site of whatever reckless pipeline he’s just approved. “They think they can stop me from making America great again? Oil is thicker than drinking water, and a helluva lot more profitable, believe me!” The Trump show in season two goes to an international emergency summit to stop a giant blob of trash from suffocating the entire Pacific Ocean. “Who cares about fish. They’re fishy, those failed fish! Nobody wants fish when they can have a Trump steak.” The loyal Trump audience tunes in to watch as Melania Trump goes to an elementary school to read a Dr. Seuss story: