The Eighth Of December

December 8, 2010

There are a lot of music fans today recalling and recounting the details of their lives when they learned that John Lennon had been murdered.

My memories are hazy and uneventful.

December 8, 1980 was a Monday and a lot of folks had the sad news broken to them on Monday Night Football, but I had gone to bed at halftime and missed Howard Cosell’s anouncement.

The next morning, I might have heard the news on Good Morning America . The television was undoubtedly tuned to the show as everyone scrambled about preparing for the day.

But, I don’t recall hearing the news of John Lennon’s death from David Hartman or Joan Kunden as I ate a bowl of Cheerios. It might have been because my usual routine that morning was altered with a dental appointment.

I learned of the death of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century from the radio station playing as I got my teeth cleaned.

I was thirteen and my interest in music was casual. Of course, I knew the music of The Beatles.

(is there anywhere in the world – where there is electricity – where their music isn’t known?)

But, I have to confess, the news had little effect on me.

I was a passive witness not an active participant.

As the years passed and music became a more important part of my life, as I learned the lore of bands and artists that had ruled the world, John Lennon’s death took on more significance.

On December 8, 1990, I had just finished the final credits for a misconceived degree and the world was headed toward the first Gulf War.

MTV had added the video for an updated version of Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance performed by The Peace Choir, which brought together Yoko, Sean Lennon and an array of artists including Peter Gabriel, Iggy Pop, Cyndi Lauper, Little Richard, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Duff from Guns ‘N Roses, Wendy & Lisa, LL Cool J, Lou Reed, and numerous others.

That night, walking home from the record store where I worked, I switched my Walkman from the cassette to which I was listening and channel surfed radio stations. The brightness of the moon illuminated the landscape as it poked through fluffy clouds in the night sky.

It was one of those skies that, in the Midwest, you recognize as heavy with snow.

On the radio, the DJ – like DJs all over the world – was noting the passing of a decade since John Lennon’s death and playing songs of the late Beatle.

I trudged back to my apartment and was greeted by my dog. Those minutes after returning home from work or class (or both) often redeemed the day.

Part German shepherd, part Golden Retriever, Coke – a nickname not affilated with the drink or narcotic – loved water and, even more so, he loved snow.

I walked around the apartment grounds with him that night, probably pondering the idea of ordering a pizza, watching some college hoops, and becoming one with the couch.

Then, both of us looked up as, suddenly, massive flakes – the size of baby birds – began to flutter from the sky.

Coke spent the next hour diving into the rapidly accumulating blanket of snow and trying to dodge and/or catch the snow balls I lobbed in his direction

Once inside, I was too drowsy from being out in the crisp air to do much more then thrown on some sweats and a baggy sweater that was a size too big. I lit some candles, put on some Beatles and Coke and I stetched out on the couch and listened as the snow continued to fall.

The Peace Choir – Give Peace A Chance

Being Ravi

November 4, 2010

Not quite a year ago, Paloma and I took in a pair of black cats that had encamped on our eave and porch.

(at this point I am sure that Paloma would want me to – in the words of her 93-year old grandfather – “let it be known to all” that we think at least one of them was abandoned by a neighbor)

Paloma’s focus was on JuJu, the larger of the two, as she had given birth to a couple of kittens.

I spent several weeks observing Ravi, a diminutive, quiet ball of fur.

“Ravi is a freakin’ genius,” I informed Paloma.

“She’s sweet, but I think she’s a little slow.”

(madam, I hope by slow you mean freakin’ genius)

I explained to her that Ravi is quite simply the most contented creature I have ever encountered. There is not a more zen soul on this planet – not a man, woman, child, goat, Phil Jackson, Buddhist monk, or houseplant is more in harmony with its universe than Ravi.

Pick her up, sit her down somewhere else and she just settles in.

Rub her ribs and she grooves on the affection, but she doesn’t pout like the others if someone else is receiving attention.

She doesn’t whine and doesn’t beg.

She just lives and let’s live and nothing seems to trouble her…ever.

This creature has figured something out and it’s something that eludes most everyone I’ve ever known.

And I want to know what it is.

With my brain reduced to poi, my nerves jangled, and the day gig being some hybrid of Wall Street and Lord Of The Flies, here are the soothing sounds of four random tracks from a playlist I created of light rock from the early ’80s…

Hall & Oates – Wait For Me
from X-Static

Whether you listened to a lot of music in the ’80s or not, if you are old enough to have been there, you likely know (or would recognize) a good number of songs by Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List, Private Eyes, Maneater

And twenty-five plus years later, the stuff holds up and seems to have earned a measure of belated respect. As good as their big hits were, the duo had a lot of hits that seem to have been forgotten a bit – Did It In A Minute and Family Man come to mind – that were pretty fantastic.

I’d put Wait For Me on that list, too.

Toto – Make Believe
from Toto IV

I never tired of hearing Rosanna during the summer of ’82 and that following winter I’d search the radio dial just hoping to hear Africa one more time.

But the hit song from Toto IV during the autumn of ’82 – nestled between those two iconic ’80s songs – was Make Believe. I didn’t really care for it at the time, but it’s grown on me over the years.

Quarterflash – Night Shift
from Harden My Heart: The Best Of Quarterflash

Thanks to Casey Kasem I know that Quarterflash got there name from…I think it’s an Australian saying…yeah, I had to look it up. It came from an Australian slang description of new immigrants as “one quarter flash and three parts foolish.”

Though well remembered for their big hit Harden My Heart, Quarterflash also had several other hits like the manic Find Another Fool and the sultry Take Me To Heart. I don’t recall hearing the slinky Night Shift very often, but it did pop up during the summer of ’82 and is pleasant enough.

(and lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross had a certain appeal to us at the time)

LeRoux – Nobody Said It Was Easy
from Last Safe Place

Formed by several members of a band that had backed up Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, LeRoux would, in a later incarnation, also feature singer Fergie Frederiksen who would briefly replace Bobby Kimball as lead vocalist in Toto.

Nobody Said It Was Easy was merely there to me when it was inescapable – at least where I lived – on radio during the spring of 1982. The thing was that I could hear LeRoux and Quarterflash as well as AC/DC, Human League, Journey, Dan Fogelberg, Devo and even Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap on the same Top 40 stations I was listening to at the time – sometimes in the same hour.

Like Toto’s Make Believe, Nobody Said It Was Easy is a song that I’m more fond of now than I was at the time.

So Long, Little Friend

September 20, 2009

glass of water on tableLike most people, I would prefer the days to unfold like the colorful pages of a Dr. Seuss book, populated by the playful antics of furry, non-existent creatures and lots of nonsensical rhyming.

OK, maybe that’s just me.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of reality to real life and it’s not always easy or pleasant.

I’ve known Paloma for nearly twenty years and, for most of that time, I’ve known Coltrane. She had found Coltrane in a garbage dumpster, a tiny ball of black fur that someone had left for dead.

Coltrane had found someone who would give her a home.

I’ve stated before that I am a dog person, but when Paloma and I became a couple and, later, when we moved in together, I made an effort to embrace the felines that came with her.

I didn’t understand them.

They wouldn’t curl up and watch sports with me like my dog had. They certainly wouldn’t fetch. I had no idea what was on their minds.

‘trane was, perhaps, the most inscrutable to me. She was calm, contented, and a mystery. Buddhist monks would have envied her zen-like state. Sometimes she would give me a gentle head butt.

Though she was old, she was healthy. She moved at a leisurely pace, but she retained remarkable agility.

Over the past year or so, Paloma would, on occasion, comment that she was trying to emotionally prepare herself for the day when Coltrane’s long life would reach its conclusion. I dreaded the idea because I knew how hard that day would be for her.

Then, about six months or so ago, I was writing one evening. Paloma had gone to bed. Coltrane quietly ambled into the living room. I knew what she wanted and scooped her into my arms.

In the kitchen, I doled a portion of one of her favorites into her dish. As she ate, I filled a tumbler full of cold water from the fridge and took it back to the living room.

Several minutes later, ‘trane climbed onto the coffee table and drank from the glass of water. As I rubbed her head, it struck me that the two of us shared numerous daily rituals including this one.

It was that evening that I realized that somehow, perhaps when I wasn’t thinking about it, Coltrane and I had developed a bond. I also realized that the day that I had dreaded for Paloma was now one that I was dreading for myself as well.

Last Thursday, I arrived home to find Paloma tending to Coltrane. The small animal was struggling in her efforts to do the smallest of tasks, tasks that a day earlier she could do slowly but with little trouble or pain.

The spirit was still there – the abiding sweetness – but her small body was failing her.

On Friday morning, Paloma made the difficult but compassionate decision to let Coltrane go. She did so with no hesitation and knowing that it was the one, final act of kindness she could offer ‘trane.

And though it was hard, and though she’ll be missed, it was a peaceful end to a good, long life.

Mark Knopfler – Going Home (Theme Of The Local Hero)
from Local Hero soundtrack

I considered posting some music by Coltrane’s namesake, but one song kept coming into my head the past few days – the closing song from Dire Straits’ guitarist Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack to the movie Local Hero. Much like ‘trane, the movie is low-key, quirky and sweet with a charm that sneaks up on you and is hard to shake.

As for the song, there’s a touch of sadness, but that quickly gives way to a determined melody and concludes with an anthemic, almost joyous close that leaves you feeling that everything’s going to be alright.