Friday, March 18, 2011

Interviewer: Ahem. Dear Maestro, do you think it's true, as Buddha says, that attachment is the root of all suffering?

Maestro: Well, perhaps it is true, but I don't see how we can avoid this messy thing of attachment. It's in the fiber of our beings. You're attached, to your family, to lover, to friends, and even to people who pass randomly through your life. How can you avoid it? You feel bonded. That's probably why we are artists, out of that great feeling.

It doesn't take much to make us feel bonded. You could go to a shrink who would come up with explanations about the peculiarities of your own attachment process, but it wouldn't change much. You're stuck with your attachments. It's nothing one should feel sick about, as if it were a sickness. In fact, it's good health. Your chemistry is working.

Romances are created about these firings, or maybe they are misfirings, of our chemistry. Boy X kisses Girl Y and he falls for her, as they say. He's stuck with it, no matter the realities that come to bear. Wuthering Heights kinds of stuff. Beethoven's Ninth kind of stuff, perhaps, if we were to view the insides of such chemistry or sentiment, whatever we should call it. Shakespeare was great at it. And also so good that people in general don't recoil in embarrassment at all this 'romantic nonsense,' as seems to be their instinct, practical creatures that they are, but seem in general to more or less 'get it.'

But I will say this, in conjunction with Buddha, or other spiritual writings, that in the process of attachment one becomes more and more selfless, even to the point of Buddhist perfection. Why not regard our capacity for attachment as the way we become better people, the way we become like our parents who loved and sacrificed for us.

And so we find a kind of odd message created in, say, advertisements, that love is, or involves, making a big show of things. When really, if it is the real thing, not at all about show. Leave the show up to way society should celebrate when love happens, like a traditional wedding festivity.

Anyway, that's what I get from doing my own math, that love is virtually invisible, like light, quantifiable not as a particle or a wave, neither. Is this a sad thing? Well, I'm afraid it can be, you know, like when Cordelia refuses to profess her love for her Dad, King Lear, and having been outrageously buttered up by his other two (less loving, more selfish) daughters, tells her, "nothing comes from nothing," and thus sets a course with inevitable conclusions and tragedy. Yes, it is sort of funny, that those gifted at a young age for the empathetic receive the punishment somehow.

Interviewer: Indeed. What can we do about it?

Maestro: Well, one can try to celebrate, or notice, or make light, of this apparently strange behavior. To Kill a Mockingbird has that in it. Chekhov, as in that story of the shy soldier who receives a kiss in the dark at a party... Or that other one of his, about the fellow who goes to spy on one of his enemies, posing as a lackey servant who ends up falling for his enemy's poor unloved wife. Chekhov is full of this curious effect. Lady with the Pet Dog, ending as lovers face a strange sad anonymity as far as being able to present themselves to society, doomed in their own special way. There's an enjoyable kind of modesty to his tales' characters, even in those who are not being so 'modest,' (in the sense that they are fulfilling their biological urges and desires) a shyness that once upon a time was equated with decency, and rightly so.

That is the strangeness of a situation portrayed in A Hero For Our Time, the strange almost mathematical playing out of the phenomenon of the heart's ways, so to speak. It is not the insensitivity, as one solicited literary agent saw in the manuscript, I think anyway, but the excess of sensitivity. Which maybe should be bred out of the race anyway.

But, dear interviewer, don't ask me. What would I know? I am just a lonesome middle-aged bachelor without a chance anyway, probably too conflicted to amount to much good, best left alone, no idea what to do with his life beyond a daily basis anyway. Like Beethoven. Someone who screws up whatever he touches.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Since we're all about to be radiated, it is an unfortunate admission that we live in the nuclear age. That genie, out of the bottle. And I like bottles.

With the atom age came, as if by consequence of the original, the big bang, the fact we're shot far apart, ever distanced from our fellows in our own nuclear carriage, whisked away into our own dimension, our own warp of time and space that is the consequence of driving an auto. Your life is now Doppler Effected away from mine which is Doppler Effected away from yours.

It makes sense that the only way we really meet people is through walking, but this happens less and less, because we're so used to stepping into our own time and space envelopes. The television that brings us horrible event for the human creature brings us in the same breadth a cold distance, a video game I-saw-it,-but-it-didn't-happen-to-me-or-anyone-I-know, so-therefore-it-is-not-so-real, real enough for me to worry about beyond my normal worries.

It's like walking along an avenue, a major artery of a city, like Massachusetts Ave. at four o'clock. A car whisks by. You're on foot. The car driver doesn't care about the pedestrian seen, if at all, in fleeting glance. The walker, moving slower, feels more vulnerable, worries more in general, but cannot see the driver, but just the big vehicle that comes charging along, going too fast, burning up some fuel energy that, seriously, will one day run out, totally out. The pedestrian feels fear and alienation, and steps into a path in the woods and feels a form of peace not to be had on the commuter run.

Every time a bomb goes off, human relations, in general, suffer, applicable everywhere. Historically, the bomb was small to begin with, a pebble, a stone, a rock. Then they got bigger. The bomb answered, or set the pace, every single time, to match the current thinking, the current economy. Brady's photos of The Civil War show the shot's effect, the neatly severed hand, not far away from the bloated face displaying teeth to the sky. That was the economy then, so to speak. Friendly was dehumanization back in 1860. Lincoln's death, perfect metaphor. I'm looking forward, with my wife, watching a play, and I don't hear, don't see, until I turn at the last moment, and Lincoln, of course, had excellent peripheral vision and saw the guy, Booth, coming, raised arm, bang. Was it pain, exactly, Lincoln felt? Some horrible feeling in the heart. Strong bastard, as if to say what we now call 'fuck you,' he lived for eight or so more hours, getting his spirit in shape to depart this fragmented world he had tried to bring together into the same space and time, by words, a union, sad though it was. Mystical, the start of a gathering, a good revolution, never for selfish reasons or base reasons or economic gain, that sort of thing. We stand together, because human atoms do, because we are one with all creatures, and nature is the great democracy, where all things are balanced out.

Then, of course, same the first of world wars, and then, the second. Each showing it wasn't so friendly anymore, and more the quantum opposite. But what do we know, there are only some old farts left, some stories passed down, sons and daughters of those who went through the actual.

But, thank god, the human spirit always fights back. There was Emily D., and so many other poetic spirit and efforts, as witnessed in letters, truly empathetic, caring, all that.

And this is why some of us don't mind standing for, in our humble service way, the public meeting house, a place where cuisine and ambience and stuff to drink are matched with accompanying friendliness (if anyone cares for it anymore, that ugly peasant legacy of the middle ages and serfdom--and who wants to recall that? Except the Buddhists, and all those cool cats of that cool tradition.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Funny. In these crazy days I am reminded by a customer on Jazz Night at the bistrot wine bar, of my gig at Austin Grill. Ten years behind a small bar in a good Tex Mex restaurant, back when Glover Park was cheap rent. "You were famous," she says, "like that guy at The Mayflower..." A reference to the famous Sam, Sambonn Lek, Head Bartender, Town & Country Lounge of The Mayflower, which closed in January after what? fifty years? Longer. A great barman. Whose signature cocktail is "SAM I AM," a mix of 2 oz. citron vodka (preferably "Ketel One Citroen" according to his business card) along with some citrus, a little Amaretto (of the non-endorsing kind), a little juice which is red in color, etc. A gentleman far and way more fun than the cocktail that bears his name and inventiveness. A generous spirit, to say the least, the two words vying. Magic, humor, utter friendliness, man, you can't top this guy, no way.

So it is taken as a high compliment, even as it comes out of an obscure past, one I almost feel some shame about somehow, I don't quite know exactly why. I started there as one of two original busboys. The original Austin Grill. Ann C. in the kitchen, Johnny F. behind the bar, both mentors, Rob W. bringing his sense and sensibility, Kurt M. hiring a great staff. Almost fifteen years did I work there, and yeah, I was a barman. Through several generations of wait staff, the long lived of which might last two years. I was a repository of history, of institutional memory, and I didn't even screw up too much, except maybe the time I confused a nice quiet woman coming in from work with--I don't know how or why--a homeless person I thought I'd seen.

But anyway, yeah, I was the bartender at a special place. That's what I did, proudly, decently, with care and organization. Tequila tasting, margaritas made with fresh lime juice. And along the way I learned how to do it, gentlemanly teachers, great cats, Lawrence, a man who taught me about music, took me to places. It wasn't easy work. But there were always great people to work with. Peter, Teddy, Bob, Spike, Owen, Ed F., Ed C., Jesus the list goes on, Squirrel Boy, to say nothing of the many many cats who worked in the kitchen, German, Oscar, Juan, Tomas, Pedro, the base of the operation of fajita, taco, enchilada, chili, chicken wing, burrito paradise a la Austin Texas, even barbeque brisket sandwiches on Wednesdays.

From one restaurant, two, and then, a small chain. And somewhere along the line, not to mention the great music and pedal steel twang, it had to end. What is born, replicates, and then begins to die. And death for a cool single individual restaurant that never wants to be corporate, but leave the front line grunt in charge, not fearing those above, cordial in fact, and fair and decent to all, eventually, yes, slides into the corporate. And like a story book, two brothers showed up one day, and in fact, sat at my bar on a sunday night, smiled, and played perfectly dumb. On the one hand they wanted the 'famous bartender'--if they'd been prepped, probably not really--to 'comp' them a Dos Equis, but behind the smiles, or the smiles of hidden aggression and ruling power to seize, they were corporate number crunchers, and somehow wisely I did not buy them a round of this beer they liked so much, even as they told me they were restaurant people come to look at a restaurant. (And yet, out of some kind of macho pride, they really personally wanted me too. Hah! I'm not so stupid after all.) Soon enough, one who was guiltier than anyone of real sexual harassment on the power job level would be inviting us to an early Saturday morning meeting in which he himself would shout, like Castro or Stalin, or whomever, about "Sexual Harassment," and made us sign some document, yeah, made us. (I should have handed in my resignation right then.) Okay, maybe the guy was just skeptical, concerned perhaps rightly even about lawsuits, and thought, from some experience, that restaurant people are dirty creeps. If that's what he thinks, good luck, buddy. (Brothers, correct me if I am wrong. Yes, you're just doing a job. no harm in that. my apologies, of course.)

I won't say, what followed them was a story of nascent corporate goons, of the kind who eventually fired me as I came in for my Sunday night shift to start the week and ate my chicken tacos sub spinach instead of rice up on the third floor I'd seen change quite a bit. They fired me, sending a corporate chef, whose effort at understanding me was remembering how long I'd been at the place. "do you know what you did? tell us about the end of the night.' As if drinking tequila wasn't sometimes involved, when a corporate mentality has undercut staff and morale. Escorted from the building, even, this famous bartender, part of the community of Glover Park, a trusted friend, Uncle Teddy, Budweiser serving brother, tequila Buddhist.

I was at work at a new place two weeks later, a place where I remain. Working with good people again. I don't speak too much of the old days, and these days are quieter. I close up by myself, go home, and have some wine, by myself and think of Irish music, my own kind of music. A face from the old place comes in, well, that's cool. It's nice to be remembered.

To think, once, I was a barman of some fame. Hah, that's cool, I like that. I put a lot into it. Nice to have that come back.

Cheers, Happy Saint Patrick's Day. By the way, The Pogues were great at the 9:30 Club last Wednesday.
News of the most horrible sort comes over from a television voice. It creeps in, still abstract, then becomes more real, yet still, how to fathom? The Earth is angry, and yet its wrath is felt in small remote innocent fishing villages tucked away in a mountain landscape, or suddenly encroaching upon the farmer's fertile plain.

Who was the fool we studied, whose thesis was the end of history?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I gather they don't let Mr. MacGowan wander off by himself during a tour. He'll get himself in to something. He'll go to a bar and get into the whiskey, and then he'll be too wasted to make it on stage.

Does that say something about a particular type of artistic personality? Admittedly 'addictive.' The kind of person drawn toward things, unable to stop, along for the ride. Difficulty with decisions and the complexity of choices. Living in the present.

So what can one do, an artist like MacGowan, to protect himself? Be very very careful. There is the draw of always making art out of the raw material of life as it is. There is the childishness Cervantes gave to his hero, a quality of disposition toward being talked into things by pretty much anyone.

What tensions such a person must often feel, a quality of being torn, even while knowing what he wants. And some people you have to help them out with matters, as not very adult as it sounds.

And so they take good care of Shane MacGowan when he's out on tour, for many reasons.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What the hell? The U.S. Congress doesn't want to support PBS? What happened to defending art? Whatever happened to seeing the beauty in a book?

Do people hold against you the things it takes to be an artist? Do they think you slip in caricature, some stupid stereotype, like the time I saw The Cranberries play a free concert from Ireland on the Mall and the DC suits reaction when they had to stop playing for some kind of technical difficulties was 'did they run out of drugs, ha ha ha.' (A favorite guitar got stolen in the confusion. An electrical storm approaching, if I remember.)

A piece of art is a sturdy thing, but the matter of whether it will be appreciated in its own time, or ever, is a far more fragile matter. It's a huge stroke of luck, in fact, when anything new gets noticed. It takes the normal editor of a book review to be away on vacation in sleepy days of summer for an On the Road to be praised, 'avatar of the Beat Generation.'

PBS, faulted as all things are, is good at least in saying 'hey, here's something to care about, here's something worthy of attention.' And maybe that is its main function. Let us learn about Lou Gehrig, an artist in his own way, a sensitive chap who, much to one's surprise could go back and be reduced to tears in the dugout, feeling insecure, and the story of how his own iron horse body cracked, as we all crack. Imagine, smiling calm easy-going kind Gehrig, the Pride of the Yankees being multi-dimensional, a sweet story for public television.

PBS will have an author talk about history. Wow. Shelby Foote evoking a hot summer day, 'every Southern boy knows what it was like to be there...' Gettysburg. Over the TV, the way the word Gettysburg is spoken when it means a lot to someone, someone who gets history.

It's like instead of a cop on every corner of America, there should be a nice person, who says, 'hey, be sensitive, be kind.' Or, 'hey, how's everything going?' just to bring a little cheer. Some kind person not preaching anything, on some sort of government stipend checking in on people's hearts and feelings. "No, you don't need to go buy more stuff, more crap you don't need, you just need to save your money and take care of yourself, exercise and eat well. Hey, what's your blood type? Shouldn't be eating that, it will give you arthritis, but you'll learn, gently. We're not here to mess with you."

That's how a great work follows us around. Ulysses, for instance. As if to say, "hey, it's okay you think a lot and carry on with all sorts of untidy things in your mind." The Greeks idea was that we're all heroes just for getting through a day and not falling apart. The great heroic journey of the everyday, just as T.S. Eliot memorializes our common thoughts and existences in "Preludes." Hey, pat on the back, you made it. You survived Cyclops and ship-chopping rocks( and Tuesday Wine Tasting and Wednesday Jazz at Bistrot Lepic--author's note) and Sirens singing and suitors, everything gone to hell... all enough to cause a nervous breakdown at the mere mention of it all. The Greeks were aware, as if suddenly, that we, the species, had minds, minds full of energy talking to us, spinning us a story of life, quite towering over any piddling little attempt any particular pundit based commercial filled network offering could offer us, even if they blabbed from here on 'til infinity.

Thank God, every now and then a calm person comes along in our history. A Lincoln, a man strong enough to withstand his own inner repeating nervous breakdowns, to sort of smile at them, wake up from them, see this nest of individuals needs a mothering touch.

Oh, the pain, the pain we suffer. And PBS like some small ointment on our cracked skin, to seal a throbbing spot off and heal it, so that we are self-contained again, not leaking our energies, not looking elsewhere in craziness for some answer. Yes, PBS, as anything good, knows pain and sorrow.

Lincoln's ghost sits over some golden imaginary and never-to-be-implemented clearing house (is that the word?) of ideas and thoughts and creative efforts. Something provided for in the ideal underlying a good democracy. Good works of art and literature should see the light of day and be promulgated, if only to 'provide for the general welfare,' to help those who aren't in school anymore to learn and study and be themselves to some good result. PBS is a model for that, a modest one, but a good start. And so, particularly these days, we shouldn't have less of it, less funding for the arts, but more. More? MORE? Yes, because the arts, at least the ones worthy of a nation of people, are vital to our health, our well-being, our future.

It wasn't a coincidence that a nation once came out of a Depression by putting people to work for public good. Artists were given work. Trails for hiking and natural places... There should have been room for making local wineries in Roosevelt's WPA. And the only way this great answer to the Civil War, this negation that everyone has to be a complete prick type-A frowning egotistical aggressive asshole-make the other guy sweat, rather than, say, share a recipe for something, was derailed was that solitary and bizarre act of complete egotism which was Adolph Hitler and all that followed, Nazi, Gestapo, my-ego-deserves-that-i-get-into-running-your-life-too. Which spawned the imitations that history always has of ego.

James Joyce as Gandalf, you and me as Bilbo and Froddo in the modern day Beowulf (I've never read it)...

That's the problem. Artists know they have to go through things and suffer in order to constantly reestablish, verify and create and repeat the act with validity. And a person of another habit might well ask, 'why do you go through all that? Can't you just be happy...' What to do with that argument?