Monday, October 28, 2013

LOU REED - ANOTHER FALLEN ICON

Lou Reed is dead.  As my age progresses it seems like a lot of the people I looked up to either in the arts, sports, or public figures and politicians  see to be passing on at an increasing rate.  Just earlier this year Ray Manzarek, the true genius behind Jim Morrison and the doors passed away.  Stan Musial passed away shortly before the start of the 2013 Baseball season.  Every time one of my old icons passes I think, there is no way but there is a way.  They are getting older too and time just keeps ticking away.  Every time one of these icons dies, I wonder who will be the next one or will it be me.

Lou Reed was special though.  Like many kids my age, my first introduction to Lou Reed was in 1972 when he released his classic "Walk on the Wild Side".  It was a song that was instantly likable.  It had a soft smooth rock beat to it that slowly built then faded away again.  The words were edgy and pushed the song right up to the limit of being to edgy for air play.  It would be the only time that Lou Reed saw the top 40 in his career.

As my peers and myself fell in love with that song, we began to wonder who this Lou Reed was and we searched out his older material.  I remember the first song I heard of Lou Reed's other than "Walk on the Wild Side" was a song called "I'm Waiting for My Man".  This song was more what, I would come to realize, the style of Lou Reed.  It was raw electric rock.  It had a heavy fast beat and was meant to be played a little on the high side of the volume knob.  The lyrics to it were very edgy as it told the story about a boy going into the black part of New York City and waiting for his drug dealer to show up and make a delivery.  This is what Lou Reed was about for the majority of his career.

Lou Reed was New York personified.  New York ran through his veins and everything that seemed tied to Reed and his music was also tied to New York.  He started out as a youngster writing pop songs for others to sing.  They were not very good pop songs and for the most part, none of us have probably heard them very often if at all.  There something magic about to happen to Lou Reed though as he worked his way through New York looking for a way to express himself.  When he turned that corner another icon would discover Reed.

That other icon was Andy Warhol.  Andy Warhol was just breaking out into the pop art world.  HE was becoming famous with his modern art that looked like no one else's.  Warhol was an original and he liked to keep himself in the company of other originals..Warhol had a loft in New York called "The Factory" and it was here where he did most of his painting and his film works.  He invited Reed up to the factory, made one of his famous screen tests of Reed, as he did with almost everyone who visited the loft, and began a friendship with Reed.  When Andy found out that Lou Reed and John Cale were musicians he encouraged them to make a house band for the factory.  The two men did get a band together and began writing songs that appealed to them, not the pop songs that Reed had been writing.

Warhol listened to a few songs and encouraged the band to get rougher, edgier, push the limits and that is just what they did.  Andy came to love the music and the band, which became known as the Velvet Underground was born.  Warhol continued to encourage the band and introduced them to a tall blonde model named Nico.  The sound was raw and edgy and sounded like no other band at the time.  It created it's own unique New York sound.  When the Velvet Underground finally recorded it's first album, Warhol did the artwork for the cover.  It was a simple white cover with a plastic banana that could be peeled off and placed anywhere on the album that the owner wanted it to be.  After the initial release of the album with the original Warhol artwork, the banana would simply be printed on the album cover.

Things started to spin around the band and the factory.  Drugs of all types were encouraged there and were available.  Nico eventually died as did many other factory residents, like Edie Sedgewick. Then came the crash that would change eveything.  Warhol died.  The factory stumbled a long a little while but without Warhol, there was no glue to keep things humming along the way it use to.  It wasn't long until Reed and Cale to the Velvet Underground out on it's own and recorded an album or two that did not get any notice at all.

It was then that Lou Reed and John Cale split and Lou Reed cut his first solo recording and "Walk on the Wild Side" was born.  People began buying the album and soon discovered that the Lou Reed sound was a mixture of different styles.  The west coast did not embrace Reed but the East coast, especially the New York/New Jersey areas fell in love with him.  He became a regular at New York night clubs preferring not to actually tour but to stay in New York and simply play his music, the music he loved so much.

That was how he started and how he became known and grew into a national Rock and Roll star.  Lou Reed did not care what people thought of his music.  He did not care what people thought of his voice or his edgy words that made the songs what they were.  Interviewers were likely to get lectured from Lou Reed for asking stupid questions.  His reviewers in the New York Papers did not phase him if they gave his recording a bad review.  Lou Reed was being Lou Reed and this was his music, take it or leave it.  He was one of those magic poets who had a talent for using words to explain feelings and to tell the right from wrong.  He was in the class of Bob Dylan and Neil Young and would create his own following that never left Lou Reed.  The following grew as Reed grew and as he began to age a whole new generation began discovering Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.  His songs never lost their meaning or their effect on society as a whole.

Lou Reed became a model for a lot of singers that would come later.  His influence on the world of music and rock in general will forever hold it's place.  There will always be a little of Lou Reed when a new band comes out with that rough edgy sound.  You can hear a little of Lou Reed in the work of Bruce Springsteen for example.

Yesterday, Lou Reed did not pass away at age 71.  Lou Reed died and he happened to be 71.   He died.
Lou Reed and Nico 1965
Lou Reed and Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol Album Artwork for the Velvet Underground
Lou Reed at the beginning of his elder statesman years
Lou Reed, age 71 2013
There was a loud "THUMP" in the world of music when Reed took his last breath.  It was not an easy slip into death, it was the sound of someone who had died.

For all of us music lovers out here, who have listened to Lou Reed's music all these many years, there is a hole left in the music world that doesn't occur often.  Every artist that dies leaves a hole of some size or other but there are those whose deaths leave gigantic holes that will never be replaced or forgotten.  Lou Reed left one of those hole, along with John Lennon, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, and Jimi Hendrix among others.

The Lou Reed hole will never be filled. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

OCTOBER TURNS PINK

It seems these days that we have an "awareness" month for almost everything under the sun.  We have "Black History" month, which I expect to change to "African American" month very soon depending on what is the political correct way to describe American citizens of that race at any given time.  Along with that there is "Women's History" month as well as "Latino Heritage" month.  There are little known awareness weeks or months that nobody knows about except those effected by these certain causes.  Two weeks ago, I believe, was "Mental Disease Awareness" week.  A whole week that was suppose to be designed to bring awareness to the problems of the mentally ill.  It failed miserably again this year as it does every year and the result of it was that people still do not understand depression, anxiety, bi-polar or schizophrenia.  After "Mental Disease" awareness week, the vast majority of people who do not suffer from depression still think that depression is just a bad day that when you get home from work you feel blue.  They have no idea how debilitating a disease real chronic depression is.

There is also "Lupus Awareness" week which is just as successful in making people aware of what lupus is and does as "Mental Awareness" week is.  It seems that there is a never ending list of special days, weeks or months designed to make people aware of one cause or another.  There are a few of these causes that overshadow the causes that don't seem to be as important.  HIV/AIDS awareness month is such a one, but not even it is at the top of the list.  There is a "Cancer Awareness" month which draws a lot of publicity through commercials on television from the American Cancer Society.   Some of these causes that we are made aware of become so large that they border on changing from an awareness cause to a downright event that almost borders on the impact that holidays have on our lives.

Apparently, breast cancer is much to large of an issue to be satisfied being included with all the other cancers during Cancer Awareness month.  It is so important and such a crisis in this country that it needs to have it's own month.

Breast Cancer Awareness month has crossed that line.  It isn't just an attempt to make people aware of breast cancer and how it affects a lot of people in the world but it has turned into a great event that the supporters of the cause plan year around for in order to flood the country during the month of October and about half of November.  In short, I think it has become such a big event, it is out of control.

Before I go any further, I want to emphasize that I do know that breast cancer is a deadly disease that if diagnosed early enough can be treated fairly successfully.  I get it and I am painfully aware of breast cancer and the dangers of it.  I am aware of it because every single day during the month of October I get told about it plenty.

During the month of October it seems you can't go five minutes without being exposed to something pink to make you aware of breast cancer.  It has gotten to the point of being pointless.  It has become a show and everyone wants to be in the act.

A long time ago there was a NASCAR driver named Patty Moise.  Her Tampax sponsored car was the only sign of pink on the track until she hit the wall every week.  Now during the month of October there are a minimum of four or five cars with some kind of pink paint scheme on them weekly.  Watching all that pink go around in circles can make a person a little nauseous.

Every weekend during the month of October, National Football league players don pink shoes and towels and gloves as the go out to play.  Just recently, they considered making the flags that the officials throw when a foul occurs Pink, but decided against it because pink was rather hard to pick out, against the background of all the other pink on the field compared to the standard bright yellow flags that officials have used for decades.

A few years ago when my great nephew was but six years old he was playing in a football league for the first time.  It was flag football and the kids were looking forward to a time when they would be playing tackle football like their older brothers.  They were having a great and fun season, then October arrived.  The coach made these six year old kids wear pink sock for breast cancer awareness week,  Let's go over that again because to me, it is more than a little ridiculous.  SIX YEAR OLD FLAG FOOTBALL PLAYERS WERE FORCED TO WEAR PINK SOCKS DURING THE GAME.  As if that wasn't bad enough, it was in tghe great state of Alabama,  football cradle of the country.

I got a phone call last weekend and when I answered it, the female voice on the phone started rattling off statistics concerning breast cancer and if they sent me a card would I pledge a certain amount to breast cancer research or whatever.  In my mind I was thinking, "Do you have any statistics on Prostate cancer or how deadly it is and how common it is?"  I kept the thought to myself and didn't ask her, instead telling her that I give to certain charities and wasn't interested before I rudely hung up the phone.

Look, I GET it as a friend of mine is fond of saying.  I know breast cancer is a terrible disease that takes far too many lives every year.  I AM aware and don't need a whole month every to remind me of my awareness.

The big question that I am left with is this.  How much money is spent on making people "aware" of breast cancer for a whole month that could instead be spent finding a cure or educating kids in high school or any other more productive things than pink race cars, pink shoes and gloves and for goodness sake making a six year old wear pink socks while playing football.,

Sunday, October 6, 2013

FRIENDS COME AND GO

I have never been much of an out going person.  Before the depression and anxiety hit, I was what they call an introvert.  Personally, I think being an introvert made the depression easier to attack me and take hold in my life.

When you are an introvert, friends are hard to come by and even harder to hold on to.  I have had friends as I grew up in life, mostly through school or from the neighborhood.  When I was in elementary school, they seemed to keep a group of kids in the same class all the way through sixth grade.  I came to know these kids that went through school with me and am still in contact with a few of them.  Doug lived down the street from me the whole time I was growing up.  We were pretty close.  I made a few friends during high school, but none that I would say were very close.  Well, there was Larry and Ronnie.

Something happens after high school though.  We all go our own different directions and we lose track of people.  I already had started on my career in engineering before I graduated and so I had a job that I went to putting off college for awhile.  When I first graduated high school I didn't think I really needed college.  Instead I got married the fall after I graduated and began my career.  It was only when I matured that I saw that I needed to go to college and I did.  I went nights and weekends spending a lot of my spare time studying.  While I was studying I lost track of people and they moved on while I stayed.

The only friends you can't get rid of, or lose track of it seems is family, and that is kind of a forced friendship.  I don't think much of my family, immediate or extended really know me that well, or who I really am.  They try I think to know me but I guard myself against anybody knowing me, even family.

So the few close friends I have had have moved on.  Moved to other parts of the country.  Ronnie is in Houston now and we only communicate through an occasional email.  I don't hear from Larry at all.

I had one close friend at the office and we were friends for a long time.  I have lost track of him now.  He moved to Jackson Mississippi and then retired a few months ago.  Since his retirement, I haven't heard a peep from Dennis.  Close friend?  may be at one time but as of now he is gone and I have no way to get a hold of him.

I think I push these friends that have entered and left my life away from me.   I am not sure why I do that or even how it happens.  It just does.

So this is what life has come down to.  I have succeeded in putting up huge walls around me and the payoff is that I am supposed to live without a friend.  There is a Paul Simon song that I have posted before but I really relate to.  I feel it describes me SO very well.  It is almost like I have patterned my life after this song.

"I Am A Rock"

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries. 


Friday, October 4, 2013

SAVING MEMORIES

I am a pack rat.  A hoarder of sorts if you will.  There, I said it.  It is out.  Everyone knows that I have a problem throwing things away.  However, before you pass judgement on me for holding on to things from my past give me a chance to argue my case.  I save, or hoard for you purists, only special things.  They are things that revive my memory that would otherwise fade.

It started many years ago.  Actually I think it started with books.  I have the hardest time letting go of a book from my grasp.  I have no idea how many books I currently have in my house but there are a lot of them.  The first book I remember getting and reading was a Christmas present from my mom and dad.  It was a children's novel that told the story of a kid trying to get on a basketball team only he isn't quite good enough.  It tells of one summer when he worked non stop on basketball, practicing everyday targeting in on his jump shot until it was as smooth as glass.  When he returned to school the next fall, the coaches and the other players that had made fun of him for even trying out for the team the previous year were astounded at the change in his game.  He made the team, wins the big game with a last second shot ... la-de-da la-de-da .. typical feel good ending as too many books tag on at the end.

Another book I held onto for years was one that was kept in my grandmother's house.  It was an old copy of the original story of Pinocchio.  On the inside of that book was a little very basic rough writing that said simply "Danny Hill".  It was my uncles book when he was little.  I have always assumed it was a book from when he was sick and quarantined within the house.  That book traveled with me as I grew up and got married and moved to an apartment and onto the house.  That was one book I was able to let go of, though it wasn't easy.  My uncle was in town one time and I decided to return the book back to it's proper owner.  I gave it to my uncle and he was absolutely thrilled.  He gave it back to me eventually when he moved back to Kansas City and it was placed back into my collection.

Over the years the collection of books continued to grow.  Most of them were paperback and the majority of them dealt with history.  The collection also grew as Christmas brought books to me once in a while.  The collection has finally reached a point where it has to stop and I have stopped collecting books for the most part.  When my uncle died, he left me his entire book collection which has moved into my house.  No more room for books.  Maxed out.

After the book collection was well established, I began collecting music.  It started innocently enough with cheap 45 RPM records but soon I was shelling it out for full albums.  The record collection grew faster than the book collection had.  I was discovering new music by the week and was immersing myself in the sounds that would become the soundtrack of my life.  Every record that I bought marks a place in time for me and brings back a memory from my past that otherwise would be forgotten.  Led Zeppelin's fourth album brings the memory of a party at one of my girlfriend's friends house.  The Rare Earth In Concert Album brings back the memory of laying down a back patio at Scott's house.  Three Dog Night's Naturally album is marked by one song.  The album is full of great songs but this album contained Three Dog Night's biggest hit, "JOY TO THE WORLD".   That song for some reason pushed a button inside of my mothers head and would send her into spin that was reminiscent of the cartoon Tasmanian Devil going in any undefined direction, or so it seemed.  One thing was for sure and that was that the song did get a reaction from mom, and so I played it often if only for the show.  Later I learned how to play that song on the piano which gave me another avenue to get a reaction from her.  Like my books, I was able to let go of one album and like the book, it wasn't easy to get rid of but it was the right thing to do.  When my niece Kelly was a little girl she was up in my bedroom with me and The Best Of Bread was on my stereo.  She took the tone arm and laid down a scratch on the record that was visible and popped everytime I played the record after that.  I finally let go of that album and gave it to Kelly so the memory would stay with her from that day.  There is no way I am going to forget it after all these years now so it is the right thing that Kelly has it.

The album collection continued to grow and has now turned into a CD collection and moving into an MP3 collection.  Each one of them holds a memory from my life that lives inside the music.

The book and music collections are important and are a big part of my life, but they do not qualify as the most sacred of my collections.  In my basement tucked away against the wall close to the corner is a large cardboard box.  In this box is a collection of various items that truly do define the first thirty years of my life.  I haven't added anything to the box for a very long time as it is close to getting full, but what is in there is a treasure.

There are school projects in that box ranging all the way from probably third grade to graduation.  I can look at those projects and remember the time when it was done and the teacher's reaction to it as well as the letter grade that it received.  There are magazines from numerous historical times.  There is a little plastic record in that box that holds the recording of Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon.  There are newspapers dealing with President Nixon and Watergate on through to the day President Ford was sworn into office.  The newspaper that came out the day after the Kansas City Chiefs won the fourth Super Bowl resides in that box.
Every historical thing that happened while i was growing up went into that box.  The walks on the moon, the space shuttle, a collection of Big Eight Basketball history in the form of game programs from the holiday tourneys are all in there.  It has been with me for years and hasn't worn out.

I do not get into the box very often.  It sits in the basement waiting to be discovered by some generation in the future.  When I pass on, there will be some people going through my stuff.  I know this.  As they are going through my stuff, someone is going to stumble on this old box that seems mysterious.  There are no markings on the box to give a clue as to what is inside.  It is just a simple plain box sitting off by itself not bringing attention to itself.  As they are going through stuff and finding things that make them ask "WHY??" one of their eyes will fall on the unassuming box and their hands will reach out to it and pull it towards them.  Then slowly the flaps on top of the box will slowly open and then eyes will widen and a smile will come across a face as an expression of surprise emits from the mouth of the one lucky enough to have opened it.

They will all sit around on the floor together slowly and carefully pulling one thing after another out of the box and discuss it among themselves.  It will be a gold mine and that box will eventually go home with somebody and my memories, my most important memories will be passed on to a new generation and they will cherish the collection.

The collection will not only be a memory of history passed down, but a history of myself passed down as well.