Monday, October 25, 1999

Hollow Missing

To be booed takes on a whole other meaning during Halloween. Self inflicted jeering turns to deeper reflection with thoughts and feeling that are intense enough to scare even yourself. It is the time of year of being haunted, of remembering a ghost that escorted the boy with a pith helmet down Summit Avenue through the gigantic neatly manicured lawns up to the big wooden doors at the end of impressive porches, attached to substantial houses. The ghost who was never to leave the boy couldn't quite make it back home with all her candy in tact. There was a desperation in her actions. "What tastes sweet now turns so sour," she said. Although she had eaten too much already and was suffering from an all too frequent sugar overload she had to sample each and every treat they were handed by weary homeowners who thought they looked a little too old for the annual custom.

Many years later, now a homeowner, the boy had his own annual tradition come October 31. He would pick up his usually affable but semi-neurotic if not usually comatose cat, Mr. Max, under the cat's ample belly and take him to the kitchen where a vat of black shoe polish awaited. Gently dipping Mr. Max into the vat the gray striped short haired kitty with a butterscotch underside took on a brand new look- the fearful feline whose path one wasn't supposed to cross, especially on this particular day. The tradition had begun the first year the two moved into the brick house on a busy St. Paul street where every trick or treater's ring of the door bell had Mr. Max at his wit's end. The boy found the change of appearance, the shiny costume was enough to distract Mr. Max's mind and scare the kiddies at the door all at the same time. A costume, a slight change of appearance was enough to get Max's mind thinking not of soul's lost but of a potential brand new beginning.

But this year was different. It had been a year where events dictated a certain draining of the spirit, where as much as possible one wanted to hold on to things relied upon in the past as much as the need to change the routine so as to start anew and somehow, some way move forward again. It was exactly a year ago to this time when the boy left Mr. Max alone for a night and through the gentle encouragement of one who always seemed to know when that gentle encouragement was most needed found himself driving north past the fallen leaves (having just missed their wondrous colors) to see a performer perform in his Iron Range hometown city. The night was special as the boy roamed the barren downtown streets on a brisk afternoon eventually ending up at the edge of Lake Superior where a couple of ghosts accompanied him with an endless marathon stinging.

On his drive home the boy felt an undying temptation to just keep on driving- somewhere- anywhere and leave his trivial troubles behind. But there was a responsibility if not a job, and there was a cat that needed his presence. This year thus marked an anniversary of sorts and the boy and Mr. Max had to do something a little different from the norm. So fighting the ever creeping agoraphobia the two decided rather than stay at home and hand out bags of Reeses Peanut Butter cups to the never ending stream of elf like mitts, they too would join the crowd and venture through the streets.

It had been awhile since the two had taken a walk together. Back in days when taking small steps was a constant meaningful reminder of how far the two had come from nearby days, they would venture outside the small efficiency that housed all that was left, and stroll through the neighborhood with the boy puffing on his long forgotten pipe. While patiently allowing the strapping on of the thin black harness attached to the leash, Mr. Max's anticipation was visible. After the securing procedure was complete Mr. Max headed immediately to the door and stood with his nose pressed against the wood until the boy finally was ready to open it. Once outside he occasionally would forget he was attached to the leash and as he caught whiff of an odor carried by the wind, he would take off full speed only to be yanked back unmercifully by the leash. The boy would try to keep up with the speedy Mr. Max but inevitably the cat would tumble backwards.

So as the evening lights settled the two headed out one last time. The last door they came across was opened by a girl that seemed to have been waiting for their arrival. The boy took off his mask. The girl, who knew how to fix up broken homes, offered her hand, unafraid, unobtrusively, and with a sincerity that was equally as comforting as it was unexpected. "I've forgotten more than you ever knew," she said with a snort. "And that wasn't all that much to begin with." Though he knew it wasn't always going to be there and that he didn't dare hold on too long, the boy was grateful for the assistance. He was glad that he was still able to smile. As they left her door there was a palatable renewal of spirit. Still more than a tad unsteady the boy nonetheless felt glad for having met her. To survive the fall that was could only make him stronger.

Monday, October 11, 1999

Holey Man

Just how do you go about writing about the most significant loss of your life? There aren't any words that can possibly even begin to express the sadness, the hole left inside. For someone used to using writing not only as an outlet of expression but also as a method of sorting out the stuff inside- it must be more than a tad frustrating to not really be able to write about the pain of the loss which is only equaled by the pointlessness of the words that are left inside. There aren't adequate words to even begin to do justice to what you feel but at the same time you almost feel overly obligated to try.

Paul McCartney is perhaps the most talented writer ever that rarely reveals his emotions. His songs are as skillful at concealing his heart as they are at revealing it on rare occasions. Paul is more often effective at using his music as craftsmanlike entertainment rather than for any lofty artistic ambition. That skill fits his personality perfectly as the utmost populist. Yet the forever sunny soul has shown cracks during his most difficult public moments. The days following John Lennon's murder Paul did the only thing he could do- he went to the recording studio to work. When a reporter shoved a microphone in his face to get a comment on John's death Paul muttered the immortal words, "It's a drag." As sentimental as the man appears to be, he has never been one to lay himself out emotionally as well as say, Mr. Lennon did.

The time following the death of his wife Linda, Paul once again headed back to the studio to finish up the album of her songs that the couple was working on. Since Linda never had the comparable talent of say, Yoko Ono, the Wild Prairie project was seemingly more therapeutic for Paul than being of any creative value.

So for McCartney fans there has been interest to see what his own next album would be. How would he touch on the death of his wife from the same cancer that took his mother from his life at a young age? Would he write heartfelt spiritual tomes pondering the question of life? In "Here Today" his moving tribute to Lennon, he took the approach of writing about personal memories singing them directly to John. Would he take a similar approach with the loss of Linda and finally lay open feelings about what made that marriage work so well? Last week with the release of the retrospective rather than introspective Run Devil Run, we sorta got an answer. As he has done in the past, Paul gets back to yesterday to move himself forward. The CD, recorded a year after Linda's death during a three month period, is Paul's second album to feature covers of '50's rock and roll songs that influenced him as a writer/musician. The goal seems to be to capture the magic of Elvis' unmatched Sun Session recordings. The song selection itself is inspired from Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Bop" to Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town" to Carl Perkins' wonderfully jaunty "Movie Magg."

So what does Run Devil Run reveal? It shows a masterful musician singing and playing his heart out. Unlike most McCartney solo efforts the songs go for feeling rather than the ever futile attempt to remain an "artist" of significance. This is a man who is doing what he does best- to deal with his loss- he's singing the songs that touched him as a youth in hope that they can take him back to another time if only for a moment. It isn't a man singing openly about his grief but rather trying to deal with a heavy heart by singing the songs that brought him joy early on in life. And as a result the meaning of the songs to him comes clearly flowing through. Paul lovingly uses others' songs to express what he himself can't quite put into words.

The faithfulness of the arrangements and styles pay homage to '50's rock and roll while putting the ever polished McCartney signature on each track. He once again forcefully refutes his reputation as a sappy balladeer by rocking out through the CD's 15 tracks as soulfully as John ever did. Yet it is in the quieter moments when the effort of it all is McCartney at his breathtaking best. During Nelson's forever classic "Lonesome Town" the way Paul cries out at the upper range of his vocal register, "In the town of broken dreams, the streets are filled with regrets/Maybe down in lonesome town I can learn to forget..." shows emotion so nakedly rare for him. This is the voice of a man that will go on as he always has yet with the acknowledgment that he will never quite be the same again. Nostalgia gives way to timelessness. The spirit whose memory will always be there gives way to the voice you can't ever forget.

Monday, October 4, 1999

The Great Potato Famine of 1999

Cross my heart and hope to die I swear they must have lived happily ever after. Ruly just would never know. While a globe of people were working on avoiding the millennium bug, Ruly was the one when asked what he thought of the Y2K problem would inevitably and invariably say with only a slight hint of snicker in his most deadpan voice, "The question isn't Y2K, it's Y2B?"

One day he found himself sitting at the desk of the person who was driving him to a not so instant ulcer. Maybe it wasn't a mere coincidence her name rhymed with Hades. The sympathetic power of beauty whirled by and revealed that she had discovered the meaning of life the previous night. "It's to always remain curious. As soon as you lose your curiosity, your desire to learn, you die," she said as she scurried away. It was one of the repeated times Ruly mistook intimacy for love. He never forgot her unmatchable skill for making each and every one of the people who worked for her feel special somehow.

Sure enough he was eventually sent away, mostly voluntarily for being a hopeless romantic. He was on the fringe of a desperate edge where breaking down was no different than breaking up; where as good as he felt for two years (and in a way he'd never felt better) he now knew those warm inspired feelings were all wrong. His self imposed exodus behind the colorless but graying metal bars was spent trying to write his way out. Ruly didn't write to the warden, and he didn't write to the governor. He wrote to the dishwasher who washed her marbles in the kitchen sink not minding much if she lost one or two.

He called the mother to find out she wasn't home. He said he didn't want to leave a message because, "Your daughter is sorta mad at me right now." "My daughter doesn't get mad," the slightly polite but stern British voice said through the crackle of the airport pay phone. Ruly remembered it was at another airport pay phone not that long before where he talked to her daughter who was stark naked just out of the shower the day her uncle fell off the top of a bus meaning they couldn't get together while he was in town. He wanted to tell the mother he wasn't angry, he was mad. Or at the very least on the verge of madness. Even with his Latin roots he often wondered why certain words like stress and depressed rhymed so effortlessly. Some of us are on-line while others of us in-line, Ruly concluded many years later.

He finally got out when he revealed to those who mattered that if he were to be reincarnated as a fabric, he would come back as Velcro so he could hold things together. He then went on to write a fictional biography of a former President who didn't so much go mad as he did senile. A rather sad tale in the end where the writer's life was far more endemic to the story than the biographic subject.

At the checkout desk a cohort in his crafts class told Ruly she had been in after each and every one of her children's births. It was a common malady she was told, kind of like clockwork if not too entirely routine. She wished him well with a kindness to offset the harsh experience he would never be able to forget. It was like during an eclipse with darkness descending how the experts always warned people not to look directly at the intensely lessening light but the self destructive part always was so tempted to just take a peek- just to see why you shouldn't look. Ruly did manage to amuse another mother who demonstrated a keen awareness, by relating he cracked a tooth eating a donut filled with raspberry filling. She smiled knowing only he could manage such a feat. It was another total eclipse of the heart.

They sat on a park bench holding two dogs at the end of their leashes. He told her the last remaining piece not so much out of desperate understanding but more so out of need. She didn't move, didn't look phased. It was significant but his attention was more on the frolicking mocha colored young Labrador short haired German Shepherd puppy who teased the usually unmatchable in the frisky category, Rat Terrier. It was a day he would try to forget but would never live down. She said the most upsetting thing that he could almost bare but would forever keep to himself, even though she had shown she understood the spiritual sadness that consumed him. It wasn't the same game anymore. She simply didn't have further time for his shenanigans.

Ruly had endured a stressful grocery trip where he saw a foursome embrace. One of the couples' children screamed in ecstasy. The child continued screaming during Ruly's entire visit, rolling spastically on the grocery store tile. Under the maddening din he bought two bags of groceries for her. As she picked them up he forgot to give her her bag of potatoes (pronounced POH TAHH TOES). She promised an undelivered taste of her chocolate tort. The next day as he opened his mostly empty vegetable drawer he saw the sack of spuds. It was the last straw. He started weeping. It wasn't exactly spilt milk but it was the next closest thing. Once upon a time.