Saturday, August 22, 2009

Best. Cat. Video. EVAAAARRR!!!1!1!!

Best. Cat. Video. EVAAAAARRRR!!!11!! Anyone else thinking about putting a cat video on YouTube now, just...stop. Just....give up, and I mean...right now. Put down the camera, and walk away. Because you're video of your cute little 'Mittens' or whatever playing the piano will never, ever, ever, EVER have and entire MUSICAL PIECE written FOR THEM. BEHOLD AND TREMBLE, SUCKAHS!!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

All Roads Lead to Raoul's

Follow I-95 North from Boston for about 2 hours or so, and you'll eventually land in what is arguably the crown jewel of the Northeast. Infinitely smaller than the wasp's nest sprawl of Boston, and about twice the size of her older sister, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Portland, Maine has long been a haven for artists, craftspeople, Bohos and anyone who has just felt the need to create. Regardless if you are good with your hands or not, this city will draw the need from you. You will have no choice but to give in to your own personal muse. Towering Banking Headquarters in the center of town that have seen the rise and fall of whatever economic climate of the time may be, fade into the background against the vibrance of weekly Farmers' Markets, and yearly Art and Music Festivals. The people who inhabit her, in this city that wakes up before the rest of the country, take their work as seriously as their play. It's a serious college town. It's a serious college town that still knows the privileges of youth and how precious that brief moment in time is.

What I'm trying to say is this town likes to drink.

This town likes to drink, dance, eat, carouse. This town likes feeling alive, and this town loves it's music.

There is a small but measurable sense of pride that Portland has about it's burgeoning local music scene. To say that it's huge, would be a great injustice toblahblahblah[Hi. Author here. This is the section of my journal entry that just went on and on about the Portland music scene. Rather, the Portland music scene of my memory. This is also the section of my journal entry where it evidently went through several drafts. From what I could discern from the chicken scratch in my book, it looks like a bunch of run-on sentences about this place and that venue. I was either really tired, or really happy. My point is, the Portland music scene isn't unlike most towns in the world; it's everything from aspiring hopefuls who either have a record contract, or have made their own label (I'm so proud of my Twisted Roots), or they're the weekend warriors that play for beer, or they're music students from USM trying to get their bones on any gig they can. However, regardless of what I say, I feel I cannot paint a proper picture of the scene having been gone for so long. Bottom line: the scene is diverse. It's as deep and wide as the Back Cove, and I miss it, and miss being a part of it, that's all I really wanted to say. Anyway, let's get back to this geezer's rambling before he notices we haven't been paying attention.]e, complete with a full horn section.

The pride also extends in some part to the major acts we attract. The Cumberland County Civic Center is either a starting point, or a last venue for arena-packers like Def Leppard on their world tours. Add to that, the acres of bars and cafes that were and may always be the place to see any band "before they were cool". As in politics, we have given our not-so-silent approval to acts such as Live and the Indigo Girls from such establishments; our warmest blessing magically sprinkled upon them before they went supernova. On any given night, we might unknowingly give the next biggest thing the Portland Bump. If you want to catch them before they turn pro, I suggest heading over to the Big Easy or even Zootz on some nights. But up until recently, if you wanted to check out the favorite haunt of artists such as Ani Difranco and Leo Kottke, or if you wanted to put a face to your ultra-hip record collection, then the place to go was Raoul's Roadside Attraction.


~***~

"Weren't you supposed to teach me that song?"

"Which one?" I ask as if the span of over fifteen years didn't just flash in front of me. This is an abbreviated email exchange between me an another college buddy that came out of the woodwork to find me on Facebook.

"Oh, I can't remember," she replied. Of course she remembers. All of it. As we all still do. She remembers that privileged time. "Maybe it was something by John Gorka?"


Back when I was still a wandering troubadour, I kept a handful of songs in my pocket and few more in my guitar case. Only two of them were original and hardly ever saw the light of day. The rest were cherry-picked from here and there; jam circles at parties, learning by ear. All of which accommodated the scant few chords I mastered, and they were all put to the test at said jam circles while drinking beer, beer gigs, and playing for spare change on street corners...to buy beer. I did say that this town likes to drink, right? My guitar, my weapon of choice, my dancing partner is an Alverez Dreadnought 12-string. For these many years, she has been my secret lover, and I have been trying to impress her since the day we met. How and why she keeps singing for me, I have no idea. So we dance, at another party. I break out another old reliable from my pocket, and she impresses without effort. This was one of my go-to's:



First of all, I'd like it to be known that that's not me in the video (of course). Second of all, I'd also like it to be known that I would never perform this song for cash. Beer sometimes, but never cash. For me, it was more about finding my own voice through other artists and, let's face it, to get girls. It was the musical equivalent of walking into a crowded room with a new suit on and asking what everybody thought. I didn't fall in love with this song right away, but once it set in I couldn't let it go. It became a part of me, it became automatically associated with me, and perhaps, that's not all bad.

Follow Forest Ave. until you've just about hit the outskirts of town. As soon as you see the signs for Westbrook, you've gone too far. I'll even go so far as to go to cliche-land and say if you blink, you'll miss it. Actually, blink all you want. They padlocked their doors some years ago; End of an era.
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There it once stood, defiant against time and the Earth and the landscape that has been trying to reclaim it for years. During its prime, the place was a dump of the highest caliber. It was the Dive Bar at the End of the Universe. The weather, the years of diesel saturated atmosphere had rendered it's facade prematurely old like some champion sun worshiper. So it was either through sheer force of will, genius design or somewhere in between that the miracle of how the walls stayed up laid. I don't know. Maybe it was the sawdust and peanut shells on the floor.
To be sure, finer, larger and albeit more architecturally sound places are plentiful all the way across town. You could run the gamut from the sleek and sterile meat market of the Old Port Tavern, to the warm and cozy dungeon, the son of a CBGBs, purveyor of all things Metal, The Cave, in the span of an hour or two. But, they all lack the soul of Raoul's; An old fashioned honky tonk that refused to give into the pressure of passing trends. Raoul's is the guy at the end of a dimly lit bar that's holding court over his glass of Old Grandad. Raoul's is the faded beauty that still holds vigil in a downtown train station, ever hopeful that he'll be coming home on that next train. Raoul's was the Blues, and as such, attracted just about just about every major Blues artist that still drew breath to its stage. Etta James, Susan Tedeschi, bless my soul I do believe even John Lee Hooker made an appearance or two. But they weren't all blues, all the time. Even the powers that be knew that it would be wise to keep a diverse portfolio, and therefore, charmed the likes of Warren Zevon, Robyn Hitchcock and Marshall Crenshaw to play. Artists who don't get radio play, but still manage to pack houses through their devoted following. Artists like John Gorka. Portland loves its music, John Gorka loves Portland. The love-fest happened on a fairly regular basis at Raoul's Roadside Attraction.

~***~

"I never did tell you about the time I went to go see Judi Collins at Raoul's," she wrote. We were catching up as two people that haven't seen each other in years often do. "I had no idea who this guy opening up for her was, until he opened up with 'Stranger With Your Hair'." It's a funny feeling when you suddenly realize that you haven't danced in a while, that the piece of your life that you were saving in the back of your refrigerator and you swore you'd use in something has been forgotten for so long that it has become unrecognizable. I haven't played that song in years. I haven't played any song in years.

"The place had really good acoustics. Too good. I said to the person next to me, 'this is Tony's song!'." What happened next will put a smile on my face for the rest of my life. She continued, "John heard me, turned to me and said, 'No, I'm pretty sure it's mine.' "

Yes Mr. Gorka, you did write this wonderful music. And I'm very glad. Without you, I wouldn't have found the kind of voice I was looking for. I wouldn't have had that special connection between man and guitar. I wouldn't have gotten laid. Most importantly, this probably would have never happened:

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and our 7 month old daughter are hanging out at home. She has this song on in the background: This is a song I sang to my girlfriend in our early days of courting. From the moment she was born, I have hummed her to sleep with a fairly decent cross section of lullabies. As far as I know, my daughter may have never heard this song, but she is a direct effect of it. After the intro, when the first lyrics were sung, my baby daughter turns to the direction of the music and says, "Dada!"

Yes Mr. Gorka, I'm pretty sure you wrote all of your wonderful music.

...But I'm fairly certain I've made it my own.

Photo Credit:

  via Freephoto.com

Saturday, August 8, 2009

8/6/09

He was the kind of kid that could get away with murder. He didn't come from privilege. He wasn't dynasty or royalty. His mother was a domestic, his father was career military. He couldn't buy his way out of a sticky situation, he could never bargain his way out of a losing argument. Not that he would ever have a need, because he would make sure he would never put himself in that situation to begin with, or at the very least, try not to get caught doing it. He was slightly spoiled, a budding criminal, charming with the ladies but slightly reptilian. He was my best friend. He was my best friend until I graduated high school, and I caught him red handed stealing money from my room. Although he denied it, I'm sure he was getting funds to get a month's supply of Purina Monkey Chow. He and I went down different roads.


The year was 1985. Summer. In a matter of days I'm starting my Sophomore Year in high school. So far, we held these truths to be self-evident: The food court at the Mall was choice to meet girls and English Leather helped seal the deal, HBO was probably the best thing ever made since Atari, and parents relied on us to program their VCR's. Or rather, our parents relied on us to program our VCR's that we let them use on occasion.

"Hey. See if you can come over on Saturday," he whispered into the phone with a sort of excited glee. "I just taped this really cool movie."

"Really," I replied with half interest. "Which one is it?"

"Ever hear of the Breakfast Club?"



~***~



John Hughes was beyond influential, he was a force of nature. To be an acclaimed director is one thing. To be an acclaimed writer/producer/director and have your work woven into the fabric that makes up the modern pop culture tapestry, is a seat at the grown-up table that's reserved for a select handful. It's one thing to have your own Wikipedia page, or to appear in a footnote in a college textbook, it's entirely another to be referenced and sub referenced in movies, books, television shows and, most importantly, water cooler conversations, ice-breaker material and blog subjects. His work, unlike this crude flesh that entraps the soul, will live on; Far beyond this lifetime.

How do I know this? Let me throw out a few examples: When you hear the first few chords to The Beatles' Twist & Shout, is the first thing you think of is four young lads from Liverpool tearing the roof of some German club, or is it a completely unfettered Ferris Bueller leading the entire city of Chicago in a sing-a-long? Ever have a craving for a Cap'n Crunch sandwich? Can you say any of these lines without laughing about the context or completing the line that follows? Betcha can't:

  • Automobiiiiiiiiille?


  • Buck Melanoma!!


  • Besides....MoeLAY really pumps my nads!
Up until this time in the mid-Eighties, Teen Dramas were relegated to the Cliche Siberia that was the after-school special; secular parables that didn't require a high level of coherence to view, just a set of eyes to watch the pretty lights of a State Farm Insurance commercial. For all the good they presumed to bring, one would be hard pressed to find anyone that grew up in the Eighties that actually remembers any of those shows. Not because they weren't memorable, because they weren't. Thank heavens for VH1 coming to the rescue on this item. If it weren't for them going, "Hey, you aging farts, you remember THIS little nugget of your past? Of course you don't! Neither do we! In fact we don't give a rat's ass if you remember this or not! It's of no relevance whatsoever! We're just taking up space so we can pimp our website! Please come to our website! You'll have to use a computer to get there! You do have a computer, right? Grampa!?" I don't think any one of us would give it a second thought.

Then, from out of the west comes John Hughes, slowly putting daylight between him and National Lampoon. From 1984 to 1988 (my high school years), he systematically laid out the framework of what the teen drama should be, and for the years that followed, has been used as the Gold Standard. Without Ferris Bueller, there would be no Scrubs, there would be no embracing whatsoever of metafiction either, for that matter. John Hughes' Shermer, Illinois is in direct correlation to Kevin Smith's Leonardo, New Jersey, and therefore, accounting for at least 70% of Smith's New Jersey Saga (Clerks to Dogma).

Did Hughes have an agenda? Not really. Was there any deep message in every film he made? Was he keen to propaganda? Far from it. With the exceptions of his earlier works and later writing gigs, his work had more to do with the current social strata and how we aligned ourselves with it. Was it important on the grand scale? Not in the least. Was it important on the personal level? You better believe it. We, as his target audience, were not used to this type of observational commentary. With his films, we were never lectured to, the morality wasn't frosted over in that Brady Bunch-ish type of way. We took away from it what we wanted. We were all of us brought into the fold. He knew us. All of us. He knew our dreams, desires, fears and hang ups.

A common hiccup I've noticed among some writers--myself included--is when we write dialogue, it more often than not tends to sound like two people, one voice. It's the result of not properly fleshing out your characters. It sounds awkward and rushed and in the worst circumstances, can ruin a perfectly good idea. Hughes wrote as if he walked a mile in every pair of shoes we owned since we were Fourteen. All of us, from the loner to the jock to the Homecoming Queen, he knew that at the end of the day, we are all human, we are all flawed, and with the possible exception of the invisible social strata keeping us in place, we all wanted the same thing. That's where the true nature of comedy and drama lay. In the simplest of terms, and the most convenient of definitions, he saw us as he as we were, not how he wanted to see us. John Hughes made it work, made it sing.

And we all listened.

~***~

The year is 2008, and in a month or so, I'm going to receive word that I'm going to be a father. At the time a few things are certain: the job that I worked at was horrible, the apartment I was living in was feeling more like a prison, the town that I was living in was feeling more like a ghost town the longer I stayed, and my friend of so many years ago, the one who introduced me to the Breakfast Club, was found dead in his one bedroom apartment. Survived only by his cat. The papers didn't elaborate on cause of death. They didn't have to. I could only speculate, but I had a pretty good idea.