Friday, April 17, 2009

Two weeks, two funerals

Just when you think you have problems, life presents an example to make your problems seem puny. On Easter I learned that a childhood friend's sister had died. She was 45. Today I learned that my childhood friend had died. I can't imagine what it must be like for a mother to have to bury two children in two weeks. Or to lose a sister and brother in the same amount of time. And both still young and in their prime.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The aggrieved policeman

When the policeman entered my kitchen, the first thing he asked was whether I was related to a man with the same last name who taught at Bayonne High School. Since both my parents grew up in Bayonne and still had family in the area, this was not an uncommon question. When I informed him that my father's cousin had taught at the school and asked if he was a good teacher, I didn't get the immediate response I had expected. When he hesitated, I thought I could gain his sympathy by informing him that he had died a couple of years ago, in his fifties, of cancer (I didn't really know the man; I only met him a couple times at family funerals). This didn't really register. Instead, he looked away from me, traveling back in time to the high school class my father's cousin had taught. "Yes, I had him as a teacher," he said, "No, he wasn't a good teacher." He didn't go into details, but it seemed important for him to get this off of his chest even after I had told him that he had died. I could tell by the look on his face that he had been hurt back then (perhaps he had flunked a class) and it was still with him and that this, at last, was his revenge.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Late to the party

Recently, I was beginning to think that music was losing its hold on me. Nothing grabbed me the way that it used to. Everything sounded like a retread. Had I reached the age where nothing new would interest or excite me the same way it had for the past 37 years or so? Of course, I would have all my old favorites (and there are certainly many of them) to sustain me and make life more bearable, but there was something inescapably depressing about the idea that my musical journey was nearing an end, that my years of active listening would yield less and less fruits in the future. Some may have already sensed a bit of desperation and impending doom in my previous explorations of soft rock. Things got so bad that I was willing to give bands I had previously listened to and not liked that much (The Smiths--sorry, I can't get past Morrissey's voice) or enormously popular bands that I sensed I would not like at all (The Cure--ditto Robert Smith's voice) a try. The results were as dismal as my soft rock foray (all I liked was The Smith's "How Late Is Now?" and The Cure's "Pictures of You" and "Just Like Heaven"). I guess it was in a similar spirit that I picked up a used copy of The Jesus and Mary Chain's compilation, 21 Singles 1984-1998, and haven't stopped listening to it since I first played it a couple weeks ago. The strange thing is that I had bought The Jesus and Mary Chain's album, Darklands, when it came out in '87, but for whatever reason it didn't take hold at the time and I never looked back (strange because I now realize it contains three of my favorite singles: April Skies, Happy When It Rains, and Darklands). I've since gone back to listen to Darklands and their first album, Psychocandy, which I had bought a while ago but never got around to listening to. Unfortunately, aside from the singles included on the compilation, the original albums didn't grab me song for song the way the compilation did. The early singles that got them noticed, and created a controversy at the time that like most controversies seems absurd today, are drenched in feedback (some fans also took offense to their short sets and the fact that they performed with their backs to the audience. Silly, right?). Once the feedback gimmick is dispensed with, it's one great single after another. Moody vocals, evocative lyrics, echoes of the Velvet Underground, The Ronettes, Link Wray, The Beach Boys, The Ramones; what's not to love? So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that the end may not be as near as I thought, that music continues to surprise and exert its mysterious hold on me which is probably another way of saying that I'm not dead yet.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Half a singer midget's weight in a bathing suit

Since his death in January, I've been reading more John Updike lately. I read The Witches of Eastwick (more sinister and entertaining than the Jack Nicholson vehicle) and I'm currently reading The Centaur. I also read his famous article on Ted Williams, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, to get in the mood for the upcoming baseball season. In the footnoted version of the article that I read (the footnotes aren't included in the linked version), I came across a famous quote from one of Ted Williams' early critics, Bill Cunningham. He said, "I don't believe this kid will ever hit half a singer midget's weight in a bathing suit." A horribly inaccurrate prediction, yes, but also an odd and perplexing (not to mention crude and insensitive) metaphor. The first time I read it I didn't even understand it. The word "singer" threw me off. I mean I grasped that he was trying to imply that Williams' batting average would be a low number, but why was it necessary to also include the midget's occupation? Were singer midgets dramatically lighter in weight than other midgets? I still don't get it.

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