Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chris Maher on "(Everywhere I Look) I See Your Face"

Justin, buddy, I know it feels, when your mind is playin' tricks on you, only lettin' you see one face. How do you cope?

The old you would've reached out for pack of smokes, but you swore those off after things got good. Now you feel destructive. You still drink, but you haven't left the house for days and the well's run dry: You've polished off the Jack, had the last of your burgundy, and now the cream's gone bad so no more White Russians.

You can't call your friends, they're sick of hearing you talk about her. You think maybe you should sip on some tea or take a Tylenol PM, try gettin' some sleep, but you know she haunts your dreams, too. So you prepare for another sleepless night.

You find an old, half-filled lighter on the kitchen table, grab that blue candle, and you go sit by the radiator, your window cracked, letting in the cold night air. You nervously flick the lighter as the candle wick burns. Blue ghosts dance on your ceiling. Your thoughts dance, too. Like Dylan's Johanna or Hank's whoever, you just can't get her off of your mind.

You recall that foolish optimism, just after she'd told you she was leaving, when you assumed the two of you would mend fences. You likened yourself to George Harrison, or whoever it was who wrote that song the he covered in the 1980s: You had your mind set on her and no matter how much money and time you'd have to spend, you were gonna get her back. But that naive dream was shattered when she let that little friend of hers take off her party dress. She's probably moved in with him by now. You have no idea. You don't want to know.

After that, it was hard to pick up the pieces: You'd ride the L train to the G train and the G train to the F train, and wonder, "How could she run away from me?" You'd go out to all the parties, looking for a little fun, but all you'd find was a darkened corner. One gray afternoon, as you were washing your clothes down, a girl at the laundromat invited you out for a drink. You went, wore a nice clean shirt, but after your second whiskey sour, you realized you had nothing in common with her and you left the bar feeling worse than before.

You wrote some songs about it. "(Everywhere I Look) I See Your Face" was one of 'em. You started going to movies by yourself. You grew a beard. You bought self-help books. You learned about wine. You dressed in black and read Camus. You got political. You treated yourself to dinner more often than your paltry income allowed. You did all the things you could do to pretend she didn't exist. But none of it worked.

Every time you spied a pair of sweethearts walking by together, you'd imagine it was her with her new boyfriend. You'd think: "How can I even try? Hearing them, seeing them, in the state I'm in?" You'd pass that small cafe where the two of you used dance at night. You'd think: "I was born to love her." And when your thoughts drifted that way, you'd know that the cold, wild wind wasn't far behind, that it wouldn't be long before it'd blow you right back inside.

So, as you sit by the radiator, those thoughts spinning 'round your brain like a dusty 45, the candle wax pools and those blue ghosts get bigger and bigger, their dance slower and slower. Your head grows heavy, your sight gets blurry and your ears start to ring. You decide you've got lie down. You shut the window, blow out the candle and crawl off to bed.

Early the next morning, the bright sun wakes you and you stumble into the kitchen only to find that you're out of coffee. You can skip your evenin' liquor but you can't skip your mornin' caffeine fix. So you throw on your jacket and walk to the nearest coffee house. On the street, you pull your scarf like a noose to keep out the cold. You can see your breath.

When you reach the coffee place, you admire a string of white Christmas lights hung up in the window and you walk inside. At the counter, you order a red-eye, grab a copy of a free weekly and take a seat. As you wait for your coffee, you see a couple having an argument at the other side of the cafe. You can't hear what they're sayin' but they look miserable. Stuck, unhappy.

Then it hits you: Love is war and you don't wanna fight anymore. You aren't jealous of 'em. You're free. Free to do whatever you want to, whenever you want to. You don't owe any bit of yourself to anyone. The front door opens and you see a girl walk in. You look at her face and its her own, not the face your mind's been stuck on for who-knows-how-long. You look around the cafŽ. You see more unique faces.

The barista calls out your order, you grab the paper cup and run out into the cold. You look up in the cloudless sky, take a deep breath and smile.

(Oh, wait, this song is about a girl you're crushin' on, not one you've already dated? Well, don't say I didn't warn ya!)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Mike Baglivi's response to "Sundaes on a Sunday Afternoon"

Remer's little pop wonder of Grandma and her grandkids - and how every quality of their relationship is revealed in the sharing of ice cream - manages to capture the most profound of human emotions: Something that makes you happy as a child, and the affection for the people who gave it to you.

Like emotion from the unassuming bounce of a pop song, feelings like this often come from the simplest and most casual of circumstances: They're the memories you aren't looking for, because they already are happening right in front of you. And like any art true enough to parallel life, he accomplishes the same trick by writing in this humble language: giving the details just as they are, and then letting the feelings resonate with the lightest of tones. Songs like this sneak up on you, right after you underestimate them.

Especially as I've gotten a bit older, I'm more aware of what life really is - you know: the meat, the stuff that'll last when you're too old, or just too damn tired, to do anything else. Sure, it's art - but even with the biggest audience, art is still a lonely man's game, and is a process ultimately experienced alone(ever been dying for people to know what you can actually hear in your head?).

There's no greater legacy than one you share with someone else, and there's no better way to bond than over some good food: Something so small and natural that you couldn't possibly be doing it for any reason other than their company and the purpose itself. Sure, food's an ambition, but its one we can all share - especially when we're both hungry. And besides, when you don't wanna be bothered with anyone, you just eat alone. Dining is a commitment like no other -- even more than art. And in its moment, it gets just as much attention, and receives just as much passion, as any love life.

Meals Are Sacred.

There is nothing as honest and pure as being hungry, and it pushes life to the fullest of its ends: I think all of our laziness, hesitation, and unrealized potential is redeemed when we make the very most of the moment we're given -- and there is no greater realization of the human experience than in the total self-awareness and mortal stimulation of the first bite.

Anyway, this one really touched me, so that was just the intro. Here's what I actually wrote:

I'm so glad I didn't have a diet-conscious mom... heck, I'm grateful for being spared a lot of parental combinations: clean freaks; overly religious (as well as extremely atheist) fanatics; deadbeat yoga hippies; aging, obsessed, daughter-competitive, flirting-with-my-friends terminal teenage cocktease; ex-bar band musician, pot-smoking classic rock cornball; "cool with the kids" adult adolescent.

No, my mom and dad are old-fashioned. They never gave in to an easy way out - a simple, "all-in-one" lifestyle that could coddle them with a limited perspective that they could pound into our baby fat while we were still tender, encouraging us to start talking down to our relatives by age 8. Rather, they took the harder road of "as it comes, as you are" life, and guided us along with dignified generality (God and country, go to school, go to bed, be nice)... and always gave us just enough room to live.

Dairy Queen was always family endorsed - and they spanned it out just long enough to keep it a treat: When we went out for ice cream, or even out to eat, it was like fucking Christmas. I've always loved our house - which my mother always said looks "lived in", as opposed to the museum-quality disinfectant standards of the more upper middle class homes of our town. We've got a real old, classic middle-class house - the only kind you can make a home in. Aluminum siding, immigrant landscaping, shoe racks at every door, the creepy smell of preserved carpet, and the cold shine of spotless marble floors have no soul -- they just have the redemption of the maid who cleans them. I mean C'mon: Don't you people eat? Where's the stains on the carpet? Where's the proof that you even live here? Where's the evidence that you EVER EXISTED??????

They never denied us life - and always set the limits before they would've messed us up bad: TV, video games, sports, music (though I kinda had to do that one myself: Sonny and Cher with a weekly dose of the Statler Brothers don't raise a good songwriter -- but forcing him to find it on his own DOES), sleepovers, birthday parties (my favorites were at the Roller rink, and Lucky Strike Lanes, this white trash bowling alley they just tore down -- and once I even had a party on a submarine!), staying up late, horror movies (Jason and Freddy were the fucked-up uncles I never had), tons of Christmas presents, vacations (even when we couldn't really afford it), and most of all: GOOD FOOD.

With an Italian mother, and a dad at least half of that percentage, we never had a bland pallette (although my dad's love of sundried tomatoes, veal marsala, baked lasagna, tartufo, canoli, antipasto, ravioli, garlic, most seafood dishes, and any kind of marinara sauce makes me think that his "Mangia!" spirit may go a bit deeper - the man has macaroni on Thanksgiving).

And rather than spoil me, or give me a "lack-of-childhood-angst" identity crisis during the Grunge era, I think it actually showed me what the good things are in life, and instilled an appreciation for what's really meaningful: Family and a Good Meal.

At the end of the day - or life, world, song, drive - it always comes back to something simple: When you wait everything else out, the human experience really doesn't add up to more than an ice cream cone. And when people suggest that I've been spoiled, I tell 'em that I've been loved. And if love for another is shown in your effort, your generosity, and your time, I think there's no better way to love your kids than to give them good food. And besides, its not like we had candy bars for breakfast. We always ate healthy dinners.

I STILL get ice cream cakes for my birthday - I'll never let that go. No matter how old you get, you're never too old for ice cream. And ill never deny myself slush or Italian ice, either - that's the only stuff that keeps me from drinking.

I don't care what it all does to my cholesterol at age 60 - something's gonna kill you eventually, no matter how hard the environmentalist and Vegan Nazis (ie: not ALL vegans, just the ones who talk about it in public*) try to sanitize every act of an inevitable nature. Face it: you're GONNA DIE. You are not immortal, and you never will be: So have some humility and just let your body rot the way it was meant to. People who need a bland diet or a clean, dull house to make them feel accomplished, are really cheating themselves out of the whole experience of being fucked: It's the possibilities, man - GIVE IN! The heightened meaning of the moment in the face of utter, and utterly doomed, insignificance is the greatest freedom you'll ever have. At that point, all you HAVE is the moment - and things like
food, music (NOT music culture), and girls become very important without causing any poetic delusions of a higher meaning. Things that are great because of EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE - now that's the stuff you can die with.

I hate seeing these girls I graduated with in New Jersey all of a sudden put on this "maturity act" at age 26 or so - all business-like laughs and condescending talk: "Yeeeees, you take care too, dear." Bitch, you were giving blowjobs in ninth grade - and now you want someone to marry you???

There's gotta be a way to reconcile both sides - like a black and white twist cone. I don't even like chocolate, and I could settle with that combination for the rest of my life.

And hell, I'm not giving us all an excuse to be pigs (especially while eating them) - I mean shit, I recycle. It's just that i seem to find that a balance of things - like any good recipe - often turns out better than any one extreme. And not that I see this as another easy way out, either - one of those cultural reference guides for all your uncertainties - but rather, I actually think it's really hard. And it takes a long time - a lifetime, even - of trial and error, and give and take, to really get enough of it right to be happy. Right before you die, i bet you figure it all out, and maybe that's why you're then ready to move onto something else. As for those who die young, well, that one I haven't figured out yet. But I'm sure there's a reason for it somewhere - either that or there's no answer at all.

And I can accept that as much as anything.

I think if I ever get to meet God, rather than question him about the meaning of life, or demand an explanation of evolution, the Pyramids, or that crazy feeling I get when I hear the film score to "The Natural", I'm simply gonna ask him what his favorite ice cream flavor is. I think that would say more than anything, and probably answer just about everything else too.

*C'mon, what would an essay on good eating be without some vegan bashing? Those guys HATE food!!