Daily Dose: The Bones of J.R. Jones, “Hearts Racing”

That time we found our kinfolk, running down a meadow still soft with folded grass as the daisies chained themselves into a crown.

That time we snapped our fingers, and they didn’t make a sound but the sight of the attempt was something so much more profound.

That time when life was simple, and things were sorted out in kind.

When time was just a concept that we paid no mind.

Daily Dose: S. Carey, “Crowd the Pine”

Sometimes, when she rode MUNI on her way to work in early morning fog, she imagined the opening credits of a biopic based on her life and with what they would be soundtracked. If this thought struck her just as the train jumped in to/out of the Sunset Tunnel, the song that picked it’s place was always “Crowd the Pine”.

Daily Dose: Nat King Cole

When I was a kid, I suffered from night terrors that would prove to be a lifelong affliction. In the earliest one I remember, my childhood dog was ravaged by a roaming pack of wolves that crashed through my bedroom window and brought the fight into bed with me. Then, after the delinquent parents of some neighbor kids down the street allowed the viewing of an R-rated vampire flick, the night terrors got real weird, real fast. My mother had a stroke of genius and created “Monster and Wolf Go-Away Spray”, a mixture of water and a few drops of her perfume with which I would douse every nook and cranny of my room under the assurance that the concoction would repel unwanted visitors. Because fear is relative, the trick worked for a time, but, unfortunately, its effectiveness began to fade as I grew older.

In middle school I began listening to music while I fell asleep since night terrors one night often inspired insomnia in the next–a fear to sleep for fear of what may come. Mostly classical at first–movie soundtracks, Erik Satie, etc–but this was too light. Then I moved onto the harder stuff, like Bush, but that was too much. Then I found the sound that was just right: Nat King Cole. Jaunty and melodic, there are nothing but feel-good rhymes, sentimental songs, and finger-snapping tunes that come from his smooth and perfectly pitched voice. There was something about falling asleep to this aura that soothed me completely, and from that point forward I listened to music of his sort every time I slept alone.

As life has gone on longer and times they’ve gotten tougher, Nat’s voice has seen me through the roughest of it–namely the loss of the two brightest guiding lights in my life. As I wrote some time ago, Nat King Cole held a prominent role in the soundtrack I orchestrated for my father’s funeral when I was just 26. I also included him in the mix the night we said our final goodbye to a beloved grandmother just last year. These were deliberate choices, to be sure, but on other pivotal occasions he has found a way to appear free of personal selection.

Two years after burying my father, we sold the rambling ranch home I had grown up in and left Los Angeles for good. We packed my childhood into boxes and sold what didn’t fit, hauling the load to San Diego where we had summered all my life to be nearer my father as he followed the race track circuit south each year from June through August. Now the place was our permanent home, my mother’s mostly but also mine too, and after a long, exhausting day, my uncle suggested we go out to dinner. We showered up and ventured down the road to a restaurant my father had watched in each stage of construction, poking his head in for opening updates and assuring the owners that he and his girls would be their first diners. We were and the place was a favorite family eatery thereafter because it was good but also because it was close to home.

That night, I sipped my glass of wine, chatted with my mom and favorite uncle, and commented on the music playing softly in the background–a well-curated mixture of indie and contemporary music. Then it happened. Anathema to any music that played before or after it, Nat King Cole’s “Smile” came up in the queue. Since this is the song I chose to play at my father’s funeral, the one that played as my mother and I left the church, arm in arm, it stopped our table cold. No one said a thing since to speak would be to sob. We shook our heads, took an extra hard drink of our preferred poison (black coffee for mother, wine for we drinkers), and individually sighed heavily. We finally made eye contact, and my mom said “That can’t be a coincidence.”

Later that night I asked our waiter who had made the playlist for the evening. Turns out, it was Pandora–a randomly selected station that played randomly selected songs. Meaning Nat King Cole had found his way into our moment to soothe the fear of what may come, or perhaps he was sent to us from another stratosphere by a bundle of Stardust energy from beyond doing what it had always done best: protecting its girls.

 

Daily Dose: Cat Power Two-for

I found Cat Power in college at a time in my life when I really needed to find Cat Power. At the tender age of 23ish, I was emerging from the wreckage of a 7-year relationship that had found me as a teenager and left me unsure of who I was as an adult. I was adrift, a fact that had its pros and cons, and in search of what I was/am. Somehow I’d gone from a black-clad beatnik in high school to a pink-satin sucker strutting around San Francisco like I was Carrie Bradshaw or something. I needed to get the pink out.

So I lived alone for awhile; I wrote prose poetry, was miserable and lonely, and then I began a period of ill-fated dating in which I said yes to any fella willing to ask this broad out. There’s no faster way to discover who you are than to subject yourself to a flotilla of first dates that have no prayer for seconds. Being a lady, most dates ended with a sweet high-five becuase there is nothing less sexual than a high-five: it requires minimal bodily contact, it’s rife with bro signals, and it creates very visible distance between two people. This caught many men off-guard, angered a few, and often, despite my best efforts, ended in an awkard hug and a deflected, overly moist kiss that (thankfully) landed on my neck and not my mouth.

At a point, I gave up on men and focused my energies on writing and, later, music. Cat Power entered my life via her 2003 album You Are Free. Songs like “Good Woman”, “He War”, and “Free” spoke to me with their fragility, their indie grace, their absolute honesty and intrinsic tragedy. It had highs and lows, just like I did at the time. This was a woman to relate to, this Chan Marshall Cat Power, and she didn’t wear pink. Shy by nature, she was entering a stint in rehab in 2006 to remedy the way she used and abused herself in coping with crippling depression that often masqueraded as stage fright. Luckily I never needed rehab for my misadventures, but I was definitely, shall we say, somewhat pickled at the time so I identified with her demons.

Concurrent to my Cat Power discovery, I met a boy who helped hammer the lid shut on the pink-satin sucker I longed to no longer be. He was a writer, he was a mystery; he echoed the whipser that flowed like ink through my pen, and above all…he silently understood it all because he was my peer. To call it love would be to minimize it in some way since this boy gave me so much more: he gave me the gift of myself. I met his friends, a spectacular group of people pursuing passions, who welcomed me in as one of their own. On many a Thursday night, we drank, drove ourselves mad on conversation, and danced like idiots to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money” at a dive bar on Irving Street. In this motley crew I felt, perhaps for the first time in my life, surrounded by like-minded folk, and the comfort of belonging did much to reorient my priorities, help me settle some unfinished business with my previous beau, and, in general, be calm.

This boy and I were not to be the thing we tried to be. Ultimately, it was a classic case of poor timing. Instead we float in and out of each other’s lives now, ironically always at the perfect time, and he remains a sustaining pressure point for my writing, a sort of phonetic accupunture that stills the nerves and let’s the words roll; he is a very good friend. The writing has become habitual to a point where I dare call myself a writer. Cat Power, too, still calls to me. I was fortunate to see her perform at the Warfield in San Francisco a year or so after she successfully completed rehab. She was vibrant, sang and played the piano beautifully, and connected with the audience by handing many of us white tulips at the end. Stage fright conquered, to be sure. And that dive bar on Irving? It’s still there, albeit under new ownership, and I walk by it every morning to grab a latte on my way to work.

On the days that I’m particularly nostalgic, I’ll pause a moment in front of that bar to shift my hot beverage from one hand to another, but really it’s to let the memory of a time when I lived in bars and danced on tables sit for a minute. The past in present, again and again and again.

See & Read

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These dreams dropped into real-time and took root;

So taken, as they were, with unreality turning tricks to see the morning come.

And me?

Here I am, a plaintiff in a sea of stories treading water to stay afloat:

Finding current in a song,

Strong and Ready,

Steady as I cook a fix;

Sturdy with conviction as I learn to WRITE in FLIGHT.

He Did

I frequent the same coffee shop every morning on my way to work. This addiction means I’ve developed a rapport with the staff, particularly a young kid from Mexico City who has an earnest sweetness to him. This morning, the morning after Father’s Day, he asked me “Did you call your Dad this weekend?” I replied, with an uncomfortable chuckle, “Uh huh, no. I didn’t. My Dad’s dead,” as I scurried to the other end of the bar and away from the eager customer behind me, jonesing for java on a Monday morn. When I turned the same question on him he told me he didn’t know his father. Never did.

I bid him good day, and walked out to my car. Sliding into the driver seat of the VW my Dad posthumously purchased for me, I took a moment. I set my latte down, tossed my piece of illicit crumb cake onto the passneger seat, and rummaged for a CD from the glove compartment to realign my professional comportment. Fish, fish fish and found it–Anais Mitchell’s Young Man in America.

I forwarded through to Track 6, “He Did,” which accompanies this post in video form despite it delivering no video (not my preference, but it’ll do the job in a pinch). I default to music in times of (let’s say) stress without a second thought, as compulsory as an irregular heartbeat, because music makes memory move and marks moments; it heals through submersion since feelings felt fully are the ones that will eventually form a scab. While it probably made other customers uncomfortable, the exchange with my beloved barrista reminded me that while the void is very deep, still, in spite of passing years, at least there is a hole to fill. A path to find. A row to hoe. And an empty page to fill. It reminded me of how it feels to be my father’s daughter, alive like this.

For if nothing else, I am my father’s daughter.

Dark Dark Dark, “Daydreaming”

We are consumed by a treasure hunt of unparalleled proportions on an island that has no name. This is the search for meaning, the journey towards a definition. This is life. The little things, the tragic things.

The sticker on the corner of a medicine cabinet mirror, left there by the daughter of a previous occupant and now a part of your morning narrative. The glasses worn by a woman of Italian heritage, removed from the bridge of her nose by death and sold for a pittance from her garage, now worn proudly by a young man more than half her age to that indie show headlined by that band (you know, the one with the lithe bearded gent at the helm) in a small basement around the corner from a former firehouse. The piano, a wedding present to that bride who secretly despised her groom, now spreading the gospel of tolerance and devotion to hundreds of bodies placed piously in their pews.

These are lives overlapping. The past marking the present as it gets passed by for the future. Nothing without meaning, even if the words have not been said and understood. Every anomaly not really out of place, but merely misunderstood. Layers are interwoven atop foundations poured by people framed in frozen photographs hidden in a drawer. Or maybe, if they’re lucky, gathering dust near the edge of a nightstand. Still remembered, still present.

This is history. Not an archaic subject caked in dust and mummified by dates to be memorized, unanalyzed. History is the story of people chasing dreams, or of dreams chasing people; of stickers, glasses, and pianos; of ephemera, sights and sounds.

History is meaningful. History is you and me, and all the other things I see. History Is.

Lost in The Trees, “Villain”

I speak, but say nothing. Noted for a skill I do not have but just appear to possess. A prize of false perception; a quill taken and held high. As high as those walls there in the distance, the ones just beyond the glenn. The one in which the zephyr sits so solemn in its ghostly dock, fully covered by the Spanish moss dripping, dropping in its gravity down into its death.

The fault? Oh Yes, that was mine. Wrought with good intentions, I just didn’t keep the time. I stalked the ground for seven big, brown years and found the circle comforting. No fear of losing compass, no dread from the unknown. Just the constant left-bound motion of a path so tried and true. A ticking, a tocking, an ever-present hum of deadlock finding favor in the absence of a choice.

I will go where I will go. Nonsense pulling triggers where safeties were left unlatched. A cascade of destinations just beyond those walls. A cacophony of options too numerous to understand. Easy enough to find, harder to enjoy. With that whisper of decision upon the tongue tip, trapped in execution.

A fatal pause. Another lap around.