Statuesque

She gazed over at him with a subtle look of longing in her eyes.  The florescent lights shining down from the ceiling subtly accented her pink lips and illuminated the blonde highlights in her hair, making her seem as if she would always look perfect no matter where she was or what time of the day it happened to be.  Every day she stood there wearing the latest dress or the newest and most attractive tennis outfit and beckoned to him with her gaze, the look in her eyes seeming to beg for his attention.  Every day her pouting glance locked onto him as he stood across from her, dressed in the best suits and the most expensive and perfectly polished shoes and never even once glancing her way.  She wore the most expensive and bright accessories and never had a hair out of place, and sometimes his beautiful face would angle in the hint of a glance–calling out to her like a siren, but he would never truly acknowledge her, even with the most subtle of glances.

In the mornings, after her outfit was picked out and her face was made up perfectly, she would be brought out to stand and wait for him to take his place in an almost mirror position to her, but always out of reach.  Then, just before the store would open, the girl from the perfume counter would come over and spritz her with a light fragrance and throw her a mischievous wink as if to say, “Maybe today will be the day,” but it never was.

The music that constantly projected out from hidden overhead speakers was always a sweet melody of love that would float down and land upon her ears, but never managed to touch her heart.  How could such joyful music possibly hope to move her when the object of her longing gaze stood forever just out of her reach?  There she lingered, staring, but never acknowledged.  She stood a mere six feet apart from him, but without any hope of ever being able bridge the gap.  The distance between them was an infinite divide that she would never be able to cross.  The aisle that divided the men’s and women’s departments would forever be the barrier separating them as they stood in their perfect poses and shined under the constant glare of the florescent lights in their perfect plastic bodies.

Light And Sound

It’s an old joke, but I can’t help replaying it in my mind as I blunder around the aisles looking for my seat in of an old, but still serviceable theater:

A piece of string walks into a bar.  The bartender says,
“Hey buddy, we don’t serve string in here!” 
The string goes back outside, ties himself up, frays his ends and walks back into the bar.  The bartender takes a look and says,
“Aren’t you that same piece of string that I just threw out of here?” 
The string says,
“Nope I’m a frayed knot” {afraid not/ a frayed knot}

That joke is lame, but it always makes me laugh and it’s particularly relevant tonight, because it is at least partly responsible for why I’m here.  I glance down at the rice paper and cellophane program and chuckle to myself when I read the name of the band—The ‘Fraid Knots.  The fact that these guys were cool enough to use a variation of a lame old joke as their name scores big points with me.

I manage to find my seat after annoying only the few people who happen to be unfortunate enough to be seated next to me.  Usually my inability to find my seat without disrupting life, the universe, and everything around me enrages everyone within several square miles, hell small children in Ethiopia get pissed off when I lumber around trying to find “seat A row 3” or whatever.  Maybe I am improving…or maybe it’s because on a Sunday afternoon only a few rows worth of people have shown up to see an obscure string quartet that specializes in unusual and experimental pieces of music.  Either way I count it as a win.

A musician friend of mine who was heavy into ambient and noise music introduced me to this band a few years back and they ended up becoming a regular part of my “weird music” rotation.  He had also turned me onto the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, so I trusted his judgment.  Ever since my initial introduction to their music I had occasionally wandered onto web forums looking for nearby concert dates, but the ‘Fraid Knots always seemed to be playing where ever I was not. Having finally stumbled onto a single performance of theirs within 100 miles was sort of like finding Excalibur with a $5 price tag in a yard sale. I bought a ticket without thinking twice and began eagerly marking off days on my calendar. When the night of the performance finally arrived I was like a kid on Christmas morning, so eager to tear into my present that I barely took the time to dress myself properly.

I can feel my excitement rising as I watch light panels being put into place on stage followed by the four players taking their seats.  Blackout curtains are drawn across all of the windows and the house lights dim and then darken as the concert begins.  A soft blue glow from four of the light panels illuminates two violinists, a viola player, and a cellist—a fairly standard set up for such an unusual quartet.

The viola player and cellist begin in unison with a deep, low drone and the panel lights begin to darken and deepen in hue.  The two violinists jump in with a high pitched squeal that quickly dive bombs into a low and explosive tone.  As the violinists begin their dive the panel lights flash red and yellow and a set of strobe floor lights begin to go off, rapidly increasing in speed until suddenly all of the lights explode into a bright white flash and a rain of confetti falls down onto our heads from above.  The lights black out and the music stops; the room is so quiet that I can actually hear the hum of electricity as it flows out from the amps and power cables.  A yellow light slowly comes to life, glowing around the form of the cellist as she begins a sad sounding solo—the PA system begins to broadcast an interview with a young Bosniak who had survived the ethnic cleansing of his home town by Serb paramilitary units.  The violins, now highlighted in red, begin a pizzicato back up to the cello.  The young Bosniak’s voice becomes more anxious and pained as the viola player, now highlighted in blue, rushes in loud and angry sounding.  I can feel the emotion of the moment as I listen to the music and watch the light show.
The night continues on in a weird medley of odd noise pieces and emotional experimental pieces all of which paint vivid pictures of the human condition.  Despair and loss, glory and happiness, and all of the emotions and ideas from one extreme to the other are illuminated on stage by lights and sound.  There are recorded tracks of different noises, fake explosions, and lights of all descriptions and wave lengths all over the stage.  It is a feast for the eyes and the ears.
At the end of the show the players take a bow to enthusiastic applause and file off stage one by one.

As I make my way outside I listen to the comments blurted out by the rest of my fellow audience members.  They discuss the political statements that they imagine have been made.  They talk up the moral plays and the ideas that they saw.  They praise the avant guard artistic experimentation of the quartet and collectively pat themselves on the back for being so open to a new and unusual experience.  Personally, I wonder if they even noticed that there was a show going on.  I was too caught up in the entertainment of the concert—the oohs and ahhs of a musical fireworks show, to worry about what emotion the color purple represented.  I witnessed a traditional string quartet playing and presenting very nontraditional music and hopefully sending its audience back out into the world changed.  The band performed some amazingly impressive musical and visual art and worked hard to present an entertaining and thought provoking spectacle, but the vast majority of their audience seem to use the show as nothing more than a way to impress each other with their ability to deconstruct the whole experience using obscure references and pretentious double speak.  I feel a wave of disappointment sliding over me until I hear a young couple enthusiastically discussing the concert.

“That was so awesome, why haven’t we heard of these guys before?”
“I dunno, but that whole thing was fucking cool.  Kinda sad though.”
“Yeah, I never really thought about Bosnia all that much before, I guess it was pretty bad over there.”

And on they go.  I eaves drop on them for a while as they talk up the high points, quietly relive the emotional themes and ideas, and generally give me hope for the possibility of intelligent life on our planet.  I smile and take a deep breath before heading back home, a little better off than I was before and forever altered by some beautifully orchestrated light and sound.

Lou Reed Battles The Airship Pirates

“Steampunk is an adventure from a time that never was, but one we wish had been.”
                              –“Captain” Robert Brown, Lead Singer of Abney Park

Steampunk has evolved from its initial beginnings as an obscure literary subgenre into a full on cultural phenomenon.  Looking like a crazy fusion of Jules Verne’s worst nightmares and something out of a pirate movie and sounding like what would happen if a goth band and a Middle Eastern folk band were to have an unholy union, the musical group Abney Park is leading the steampunk charge in the realms of music and fashion.  While there are plenty of disputes as to what the musical version of steampunk should sound like Abney Park is looked upon as something of an archetype even by the most divergent of steampunk fans, their unusual and exotic sound combined with their stereotypical steampunk look makes them a sort of bridge between the warring factions.  For any fan of steampunk Abney Park is the band that sets the standard.

I was lucky enough to be spending a few days on the west coast for a meeting while Abney Park was headlining a small show just a few miles from my hotel.  I managed to get into the place and crammed myself into the packed room just in time to skip the opening act and to hear the beginning chords of “The Wrong Side,” one of my Favorite Abney Park tunes.  The gothic and electric mix pumped out of the amps at deafening levels and got the crowd worked up and jumping.  Robert Brown’s vocals sounded almost whispered and harkened back to Abney Park’s days as a dark wave goth band, making it seem as if something sinister lay just below the surface of the music.  He stared out at the crowd as he caressed the mic, drawing the audience into his performance.  Nathaniel Johnstone, the violinist/guitarist bounced around next to him on one side with Jody Ellen providing backing vocals and an undulating counterbalance to Johnstone’s manic bouncing on his other side.  The quiet intensity of the song seemed to engulf the crowd, creating an almost cult like scene of fans completely focused on the band, ignoring everything else around them.

Without so much as a pause the band jumps right into “Sleep Isabella,” The gypsy sounding violin perfectly accompanied by Brown banging rhythmically away on a darbuka.  The song is fast paced without actually sounding like it, Daniel C. on the bass and Kristina Erickson on keyboards fly through their bits trying desperately to keep pace with the speeding violin as Johnstone plays his hypnotic tune.  Brown’s vocals, as usual, are moderately paced and loudly whispered which contrasts extremely well with the chaos that is thriving all around him and makes the music stand out even more.  Ellen’s backing vocals make you visualize something less than wholesome; her ability to seduce the audience with just a few soft lyrics is undeniable.

Just as the echoes of “Sleep Isabella” have managed to fade away, the band pauses long enough to do the usual “introduction/how’s everybody tonight?” thing, which sadly seems to be a mandatory sort of event at shows.  After the formalities are dispensed with the band begins to play “This Dark and Twisty Road,” which I have to admit, I am not a fan of.  The song sounds like something from a Spanish pop album and always sort of makes me cringe.  The song is well executed and fairly well received with all of the parts well played and flowing together, but in my mind it is a low point in the night.

Weird keyboard sounds combined with an unusual bass riff make up the opening of the next song and as I cock my head to the side, trying to place the tune, a recorded cello track comes on and leads me to the realization that the song is “Dear Ophelia,” an odd sort of song which mixes dark rock riffs and creepy lyrics to come out as a hybrid tune that doesn’t really fit well into any category.  It does fit well into the set, but sort of drags down the mood of the room with its slow tempo and plodding bass line.

The night continues on with high energy songs mixed in with slower, darker tunes, making the show feel up and down rather than progressively energetic.  By the end of the night I am actually tired and ready to get moving.  The show was impressive with lots of great tunes and effectively used brass fittings and electrodes meant to enhance and make otherwise mundane stage props look exotic, but the whole thing really managed to wear me out. 

As I am preparing to wander out I hear the most bizarre and unlikely tune as it floats down from the stage…Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” I am so surprised that I actually do a double take before turning to see what in the world is going on.  I see a darkened stage and, at first, assume that it’s just a sound guy with good taste in music playing something over the PA system while the crowd waits for the encore, but then a spotlight comes on and I see Robert Brown singing.  The rest of the band joins him on stage to play a really well done cover of the song as the audience stare at them in stunned silence.  It may be the single most unusual thing that I have ever seen at a show.  I begin to laugh a little too loudly as I sway from side to side and sing along.   The song sounds darker than the original, but does a good job of paying homage without sounding like a cheap copy.  I decide that absolutely nothing else that might happen tonight could possibly top Abney Park covering Lou Reed and head back to the hotel happy and exhausted.

Friends In The Night

I’m sitting at the bar in a dive of a jazz joint somewhere just south of nowhere when a band that I know all too well finally decides to take the stage.  A trumpeter, two trombonists, a drummer, bass player, and singer all manage to cram themselves onto the tiny space that has been set aside for the stage without having to maneuver or readjust too much.  All in all it takes them maybe ten minutes to set up their gear which is pretty quick considering the fact that it’s well after midnight and they look like they might have had a drink or two too many.  The entire band is dressed in 1930s garb—spats and dark suits for the guys, slinky dresses and old style starlet hairdos for the girls, which works perfectly for a be-bop jazz band no matter what year it might happen to be.  After a quick sound check the dark haired lead singer, her dress clinging to her body like a second skin, throws me a wave and a wink before announcing that The Blue Notes are ready to play.

The house lights dim and a slow steady beat begins droning out from the bass in an adagio sort of tempo.  The drummer kicks in on the bass drum with a steady marcato beat, her arms jumping up and down in an exaggerated emphasis of her playing.  The lead singer begins to sway from side to side with the beat, smiling seductively out at her audience, drawing all of us into the pull of the music before the horn section suddenly explodes in a wall of sound and slams us all back into our seats.

The Blue Notes are up and jumping, setting the pace for the rest of the night.  The band members slide and slink around the stage as they flow from song to song without even a brief break in between.  The music is fast paced be-bop and swing and the audience is showing their appreciation by flying around the dance floor, laughing and enjoying an afterhours party that looks like it belongs several decades in the past.  We all know each other, the local jazz scene is pretty small, and we’re all happy to be there, supporting our friends on stage and putting our real lives on hold for a night.

The band pauses for the first time of the night while they drag a guy from the audience on stage to sing a number.  This gets everyone’s attention and we all lean forward expectantly.  The horns dive into a sloppy and hollow sounding rendition of “Minnie the Moocher” while the new singer begins a Cab Calloway walk toward the mic.  I cringe as I listen to a slowed down and poorly rehearsed version of one of my all time favorite songs.  The beat keeps switching up without warning; the singer could make a deaf dog howl in pain with his off key warbling and poor timing.  It is easily the lowest point of the evening, but the band plays on.

The band’s set jumps along with ups and downs in the music; a well played (if a bit odd sounding) cover of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” here, a poorly played but lively version of Louis Prima’s “Oh, Marie” there.  Overall it’s a good set of tunes.  The band might not have hit the mark on every one, but what they may have lacked in presentation was made up for in enthusiasm and enjoyment.  Every song makes you want to get up and dance, every instrumental is a showcase of talent.

At the end of the night the lead singer sits on a stool and sings a slow soulful crooning of “Somewhere Beyond the Sea”.  The melody is accompanied by a quiet bass and a softly drummed beat and as the tune floats through the air we all say our goodbyes.  The lead singer belts out the ending with passion and wishes us all a goodnight before shuffling off the stage.  As I wander out the door the last notes continue to echo in my mind.

It’s almost 4am by the time I pull out of the parking lot.  The breaks on my bike squeak a little too loud and I swear a half hearted curse into the night.  I remind myself that I have got to make time to get into the shop before I end up as a messy stain on the asphalt.  It’s just another reminder that I shouldn’t have even been here tonight.  I should have been at home using what little time I have in between a full load of classes and a full time job to study for tests that seem to pop up every time I turn around, but what good are deadlines if they can’t be ignored?

I glance around a few times before I notice the lead singer sitting on a bench, staring at me with an amused look on her face.  The sequins on her dress seem to shimmer and dance in the bright glare of my bike’s headlight.  I turn off the ignition and lean forward, appreciating the sight.  Her eyes sparkle as she looks up at me and smiles.  Without a word she stands and slinks toward me, a smile on her lips the whole time.  When she gets to me she stares into my eyes as she slides her dress up her long legs and then slips onto the seat behind me before kissing the side of my neck.

“Well big boy, it’s about time, I was beginning to think that I was going to have to walk.”

“Babysnakes, I would never abandon you.”

She looks at me sideways before shaking her head and sliding her arms around my waist.  I feel her head rest against my shoulder and a smile crosses my face.  I kick the bike back to life and we race down the long road home.

Flash Fiction

I’ve always been a fan of flash fiction.  You take a single idea or situation and expand it into a very short story.  It’s sort of like a double concentrated version of the traditional short story format.  If you have an idea rattling around in your head a piece of flash fiction can get it out and onto paper in just a few minutes.  With flash fiction there is no excuse for not writing, either you do it or you don’t.  The dishes can wait for five minutes, you will survive with five minutes less  sleep, and the kids can keep coloring on the wall for another five minutes…but that idea that’s begging to be born may just disappear forever if you don’t grab hold and wrestle it into existence.

I happened to stumble upon a flash fiction piece that I wrote for a small, now defunct, on line zine a while back.  I took it out, did some minor editing, and giggled, so I figured that I would share it with you fine folks.  Enjoy the story and don’t forget to take hold of your own ideas, all it takes is a few minutes and a little fantasy.

Jack

Jack had been on the phone all day long trying to find someone, ANYONE who could help him with his…problem.  From the very first moment that he saw that THING growing in his back yard he knew that he was going to have a bad day.
 
Jack had been, admittedly, slightly drunk when he had made the trade, but it had certainly seemed like a good idea at the time.  When would he ever get another chance to barter a lame old milk cow named “Bessie” for some genuine, fast growing, magical Beans?  These weren’t just any magical beans either, no, these beans were Uncle Wiggly’s Magical Beans.  Name recognition means quality in the magical beans market and everyone knows the name Uncle Wiggly.  How was he to know that they would actually grow into that…thing?  He had a mind to sue Uncle Wiggly’s Inc., after all the bag did say for entertainment purposes only.
 
If Jenny, his wife, came home from her job at the fairy dust factory and were to see that damn bean stalk growing out of their back yard and into the clouds he was done for.  She would KNOW the story that he had told her about cattle thieves running of with Bessie in the night while he was on his way home from the “church fund raiser” was a lie.  He had gone on and on about the theft.  He wondered aloud about how scandalous people were these days, and where his tax gold was going to when ruffians could wantonly accost a God fearing man returning from a hard day of fund raising and spreading the word of whatever religion they happened to belong to these days (he had lost track of just which religion that was a few years back, but he was fairly certain it had something to do with wine).  If Jenny realized that his harrowing story of cattle thieves was a lie then she might find out that he had, in reality, gone to the tavern.  If she discovered that he had gone to the tavern then she might begin to ask uncomfortable questions about why he’d brought a cow to a bar.  Uncomfortable questions that only had uncomfortable answers…
 
Jack’s only hope was to spray the bean stalk with so much herbicide that anything green within a hundred miles would scream and pull up its own roots in order to flee in terror.  That was the answer, lots and lots of herbicide and prayer.  He had been praying to whatever god he believed in (he was fairly certain that his name was Fred or something holy like that) that he would be able to find a wholesale industrial strength herbicide distributor and that after the bean stalk was dead and gone that who ever was making that incessant Fe-Fi-Fo-Fumming noise would stop.

The End?

DON’T PANIC

On my first day in boot camp, as the group that I was with was being lead around a seemingly unending maze of administrative halls and checkpoints, two words kept running around inside my sleep deprived brain…”DON’T PANIC”.  Those are the words imprinted on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a warning to intergalactic travelers meant to keep them from freaking out when something truly awful or daunting is barrelling down upon them.  While I repeated those words over and over again, trying to keep myself calm as my anxiety level steadily began to rise, a soon to be graduating recruit quietly and cautiously snuck up to our nervous little group. The petty officer who was in charge of us was organizing the next hoop for us to jump through, so the recruit seemed to feel like it was his chance to impart some wisdom upon our unsuspecting heads.  After a quick glance around he signaled for us to come in closer and then he whispered, “Run, while you still have the chance, I’m not joking, get the hell out now!  Until you sign the final paperwork you’re not really in the military, you can still get away.”  We all laughed nervously and figured he was messing with us, he frowned when he saw that we didn’t take him seriously and walked quickly away before anyone noticed him.  The fact that none of us took his warning to heart turned out to be a sort of Cassandra Syndrome situation.  Cassandra, for those of you who do not know, was destroyed by the gods when they gave her the gift of foresight, but cursed her to be believed by no one who heard her.  She was given the ability to see into the future without being allowed the opportunity to change it.

I joined the Navy at the age of 17 and served as a Navy Corpsman with the Marines for five years.  I did well while I was in, I learned quickly, traveled the world, had some amazing times, and advanced in rank and responsibility swiftly and efficiently.  For some people the military is just not a good fit, but I was not one of those people, in fact I was often held up as an example of what a good Corpsman should be like.  By all accounts I should have been on track to a long and fruitful career, but I was also completely miserable.  I frequently said things like, “Have you ever had a bad day, every day for five years?” Or, “Being in the military is like going to work one day and then just staying there…forever.”. I value the interesting times and unique experiences that I gained thanks to the military, but I would never want to go back to that life.

I often think about that first day in boot camp whenever I begin a new endeavor.  I think about how nervous I always get when I jump into something new and unknown and then I think about that recruit who tried to warn us about our future. I wonder how the world would be different if more people listened to the Cassandras out there.  Not the doubters and nay-sayers, but rather the people who have been through what we are about to go through and who are constantly trying to warn us away from all of the possible tragic futures that they see for us.

We are built by our mistakes and bad times as much as by our victories and successes.  It is impossible for us to be the people that we are without going through the difficulties of life.  We learn from our mistakes and if we are always second guessing ourselves and avoiding anything that we may not enjoy or fail at then we can never really learn and grow.  My time in the military may not have been a pleasant one, but it was an important one, it lead to everything that came after it.  Cassandra may be able to point out the tragic future, but she can not show us what good may come from that tragedy, and even if she could we would never listen to her.

This blog is a new experience for me, it is a new thing in my life that I have decided to jump into in spite of not knowing exactly how it may turn out.  I have things to say and a hope that some folks out there may be able to relate to and understand my message.  I have a lot of nervousness about failure and about doing something completely wrong, but when I look to my possible future I am not thinking about Cassandra, I am thinking about the words on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “DON’T PANIC”.  I try to remember the wisdom of a fictional guidebook and ignore the warnings of Cassandra.  I grab my towel, take a deep breath, and take my leap of faith by jumping into the unknown feet first.

I hope that some of you folks out there will come along on this jump into the unknown with me and ignore Cassandra’s warnings.  Just remember those two important words when you are trying to do something new and frightening…DON’T PANIC.