In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I reflect on the simple joy of singing in the bathroom, and the not-so-simple task of capturing that sound on a recording.
In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I take another trip to Weirds-ville, recounting a strange night of sneaking around my house ninja-style, reading books in the dark, and muttering to myself about existential loneliness. I also sing a weird little tune. Enjoy!
In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I pay tribute to the man who has been my top source of musical inspiration for the past several years, the inimitable Glen Hansard.
Here are some past blog posts in which I extoll the virtues of the mighty Glen:
In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I do my best to keep this podcast train rolling, despite competing time commitments, and also dig through the old song idea archives looking for buried treasure.
[A snippet from a writing project in gestation that will probably make more sense if you read the preceding snippets.]
If you’re reading this ten, twenty, thirty years from now, then the technological landscape must be beyond what I can imagine at present. Certainly I was not able to anticipate how quickly this landscape would change during the time period that I’m writing about. When I started blogging about my experiences in Mexico I was the only person I knew who blogged. Most people I knew probably had never heard the word “blog” uttered by a human being. It still strikes me as a ridiculous word, one that rolls off the tongue like a mouthful of cheeseburger. Some of us can remember that time when the internet still had that fresh “new car smell.” (Note to future: cars were vehicles we used to “drive” around in, back in the day.) I remember first hearing about the social networking website Facebook (circa 2007), but I didn’t join right away because I was already a member of MySpace, which seemed to serve pretty much the same function. In just the few months that had elapsed between leaving for Mexico and returning with the knee injury, it seemed that everyone had dumped their MySpace profiles in favor of Facebook. Reluctantly, I created an account. I had never used my real name on the internet before — not in my blog, not as an email address, not for anything. I enjoyed the freedom of expression afforded to me by anonymity. Only the handpicked few knew about my blog and my MySpace page. I could create without fear of judgment or unsolicited criticism. However, the whole point of Facebook, aside from paving the way for corporate America to infiltrate every waking second of everyone’s life, was to allow old friends and acquaintances to find and connect with you, and so using my trusty pseudonym would defeat the purpose. And so I whipped up a quick profile and gave it a trial run. It would prove to be a fateful decision.
Within a few weeks I was saying “Hey” to an entire universe of ghosts from my past. Several of my buddies from high school were alerted to my presence in Troy, and before I could fully think through the pros and cons, I found myself sitting at the bar of Downtown Dan’s with Tim Steele, Jacky J., and crazy Henry Beckett.
Tim and Jacky looked like slightly fatter and older versions of their former selves, as one might expect given the passage of almost twenty years, but otherwise they seemed utterly unchanged as personalities. It was comforting, on one level, to discover that a piece of my past had been preserved in amber, that Tim and Jacky were still carrying on as in days of yore. The only hitch was that I felt out of place and fake, pretending as I did that I too was the same ol’ Bobby, only with a beard and few lines around the eyes. Then there was Henry. Clean cut. Clean and sober. Clean up and down, inside and out. No longer Crazy Henry, but now Mr. Henry Beckett. Father. Pillar of the community. Upstanding citizen. Sane as rain. “Change” is too week a term to describe what seemed to have happened to Henry. It was a complete transformation. I scanned his forehead for the lobotomy scar but saw only the little mark above his eyebrow, barely noticeable now, from when he crashed through Jacky’s front door in drunken stupor that night we experimented with the vodka and Tang.
It only took about two minutes post-handshakes for the homophobic banter to commence.
“I heard you turned queer out there in San Francisco. How’s the boyfriend?” Jacky said.
“Great Jack. Thanks for asking. I never would have guessed cock tasted so good. You should try it sometime. It might even feel good shoved up your twat.”
I didn’t resist even a wee little bit. Even though I had made several gay friends in San Francisco and worked hard for years on eliminating gratuitous homophobia from my language habits, it just seemed pointless to play any role with these guys other than the one they expected.
Of course I got far drunker than I had intended and was more than ready to sleep it off by the time Henry pulled in front of my parents’ house to drop me off.
“Listen, Bob”, he said. “I heard you’ve been working as a shrink or a counselor or whatever. Well, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind having a chat with my son, Henry Jr. He’s 14 already, right around the age I started acting up and whatnot. Well, he’s into some really dark shit, has some pretty self-destructive tendencies and stuff, but he won’t talk to me or Lisa. I mean, I know you’re busy dealing with your knee and stuff, but I was thinking maybe you could at least meet him and let me know what you think.”
Shit. I was hoping this type of thing wouldn’t come up with friends or family members. Thinking quickly on my feet, I explained to Henry that of course I would be happy to help him and his family out, but meeting with his son for an actual counseling session was out of the question, as I would be practicing in a state where I wasn’t licensed. I suggested that Henry (Sr.) and I meet up some time soon to discuss his son’s situation in detail, and then I could share my perspective and recommendations, as a friend and not a professional. Henry seemed to understand, and we left it at that.
When I got up to bed I threw myself back and stared at the ceiling for a good long while. I imagined the bed was the corner of an enormous spider web in which I was helplessly stuck. I could feel the vibrations as they traveled up my spine and realized it would be only a matter of time before I was fanged and sucked dry. Fucking Facebook. How did I get myself into this predicament? One minute I’m in a foreign land reinventing myself, and the next I’m back in the womb-tomb reliving a past hardly worth remembering.
The next morning I dragged myself through the dull routine of my rehab exercises before flipping open the laptop to see if any other ghosts had slipped through the ether during the night. Another “Friend Request.” Ann-Marie McCarthy. Ann, no e, hyphen, Marie. The thee. The first. We dated throughout our junior and senior years of college before she decided to cut bait and disappear back into the mean streets of Brooklyn, leaving me sniveling on my shirtsleeves for the next two years or so. Fast-forward seventeen years later, and through the black magic of the internet I was but one click from opening a door I had assumed was closed, nailed shut, and burnt to ashes for eternity. Crazy Henry Beckett and now this? I needed time to think this one through.
I met up with Henry the following afternoon at Duncan’s Diner. It didn’t take long for him to glide right past the issue of his son and into the unraveling of his own, delicately knit-together sanity. Turns out Henry had been spending all his expendable income on prostitutes and cocaine. Coke and whores! Now there’s the Henry we all knew and loved. He was on shaky ground with both his wife and his boss. The shit storm was rumbling overhead, and it was just a matter of time before the streets ran brown with chaos and calamity. I didn’t know what else to do aside from lending an ear and extending some compassion. What could I do? Nothing. Whether in a formal counseling session or in an everyday encounter like this, there was never anything to be done, really. If I had learned anything from my years as a mental health professional it was that relationships of all types are subject to the same basic principles. All that was ever required, to be good counselor or friend or whatever, was to pay attention and respond with compassion and genuine concern. Everything else takes care of itself. Or not. And so I patted Henry on the shoulder, picked up the tab for our omelets, and told him to hang in there. Everything would be okay. Or not.
The interaction left me more anxious than ever to get back to Mexico. Social entanglements like this could only hinder my progress along the path to the Promised Land, and I was already in the weeds with this knee injury nonsense. The last thing I wanted was to get sucked back into the past by one ghost or another. And so I resolved to ignore any future friend requests, virtual or actual, and to focus on getting myself in shape for my return journey to the Pueblito. But what about that knock on the door from Ann-Marie, which was technically set in motion before my resolution?
I decided to sleep on it, and sure enough that night my dreams were driven by a torrent of hormones and dark emotions, a brew toxic enough to leave traces of salt on the sheets. Ann-Marie. The way I had worshipped her was fucking disgraceful, looking back on it, but at the time I couldn’t help my virgin self. She was a Goddess, thought I, a Goddess who never even noticed me until I came to class one day with crutches and a braced knee. She was the teaching assistant for my Psychology Statistics class, and I had just had knee surgery for a torn ACL. A torn ACL! Anyway, somehow I found the courage to ask for some “extra help” with the assignments, and before I knew what hit me she was calling me “just to talk,” because she was having a hard time with her boyfriend — the captain of the friggin’ basketball team. I played the only good card I had, the “nice guy card,” and soon she was dropping by the dorm room to say hi. One night, she didn’t feel like going home. I stepped out for a moment, to inform my roommate that he would have to clear out for the night, and when I returned, the Goddess was buttoning herself up in one of my shirts, a makeshift nightgown that meant, above all else, that she was not wearing much, if anything, underneath. I can’t remember what led to what exactly, but at some point she whispered in my ear, “Do you want to feel what it’s like inside?” This was without a doubt the most compelling question put to me in all my years of education. A simple yes or no answer was all that was required, and I didn’t even have to think about it. I could’ve just nodded I suppose, or said “Uh huh,” but no, I gave a clear and resounding “Yes!” as if I were answering on behalf of the entire universe for all time. So began two years of ecstatic adrenaline rushes, jealous rages, drunken arguments, and an underlying sense of insecurity that culminated in an hour-long session of convulsive weeping in the passenger seat of her Mercury Zephyr, as she drove around looking for a suitable place to set me free.
To say Ann-Marie was my “first” is, I think, to place too much emphasis on sex. If, rather, we’re talking about romantic love more generally, then the story could just as easily have begun five years earlier, or ten for that matter. So many points of entry, all leading in to the center, like eating an apple. It was in 5th grade when I finally confessed to David Prescott that I “liked” Hannalore Stanton. That bastard David, he made it seem like telling him was this big bonding thing, like we just became best buds or something, then he goes and tells Hanna the next day, tells her right out in the hallway as we’re all readying to go home. She wheels around, gives me a look of pure meanness and shouts, “Well, I don’t like HIM!” I never forgave David, that little fuck. Years later, when he was desperate for a friend, weeping at boy scout camp over being shunned by the cool kids, I coldly told him that I didn’t like him that way. The scoutmasters feared he was on the verge of suicide, and his parents had to come fetch him from camp.
Each year it was a different Goddess, starting the year before Hanna, in 4th grade, with Pola Russo. Pola, with an “o.” She was quite the looker, and years later she actually got some work as a model. I never said a word to her, just stared all gaga from the next row over, several seats back, a perfect spot to gaze lingeringly and lovingly, undetected. It’s not that I wanted to boink Pola. My prepubescent pee-pee and I didn’t quite know what boinking was. She just made me feel weird. Good weird. After Hanna it was Amelia Lewis, then Michelle Wilson, the latter of whom I most definitely, desperately, did want to boink. Then marched in countless more, a string of unattainable, unapproachable vortexes of feminine energy, projection magnets that sucked out the best and the worst of me, and everything in between, down into the unfathomable unknowableness of their mysterious beings.
Molly was the first woman in all my life — and I was thirty when we got together — whom I related to as a human being, a real person with flaws as well as beautiful attributes, a woman possessing her own soul apart from my needs and projections. And so, in a sense, she was the “first,” the first to know me as an individual secure in my own being, confident, aware and awake, able to respond spontaneously, transparently, and authentically. I can’t help but wonder though, what it would be like, setting aside the rules of space and time, to relate to any one of the Ghostly Goddesses now, from the perspective of my more secure, more mature self.
I suppose I don’t have to wonder. If I really want to know, it would take but a click of the mouse to open the door.
In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I talk about being burglarized, and also about resolving to be more productive creatively.
I’ve been feeling down and out — on the creative front — following an exhausting (but enjoyable) vacation back east to visit family. I just can’t seem to get back on the horse and move forward on any of my projects (writing, podcast, music, etc.), and my bad habits and poor choices are leading me back into an amotivational abyss. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal yesterday to listen to Maria Popova (of the Brain Pickings blog) respond to listener questions on the Tim Ferriss Podcast. Here are a few gems Maria offered that lifted my spirits:
Write for yourself… Creating something that is rewarding and sustainable over the long run requires, most of all, keeping yourself excited about it… The key to being interesting is being interested, and being enthusiastic about those interests. That’s contagious.
Don’t think about your writing as “content.” There’s nothing more toxic to the creation of meaningful cultural material, whatever its medium, than the term “content.” “Content” is something you produce and purvey to other people that becomes currency for advertising and whatnot, and not something that you do for yourself. Nobody does “content” for the joy of their soul. And the second you start thinking of your writing as “content,” you’ve altered the motive. You’re no longer writing for yourself.
Consistency is the key to becoming a great artist in any given field. Showing up, day in and day out, rain or shine. Whether an artist is experiencing agonizing self-doubt or the intoxicating elation of being in love, whatever it is they’re feeling, they still show up. They still face the blank page, the empty canvas, the fresh roll of film, every day. And they do their thing. This doggedness is a deep love of the work, a deep need to do the work in order to feel alive. If you’re looking for a formula for greatness, the closest we’ll ever get, I think, is this: consistency driven by a deep love of the work.
In this episode of the Head The Gong Podcast, I do what I do best — struggle to express myself authentically.
Here’s a blast from the past that strikes a similar chord: Hi, My name is Bob, and I’m a struggler
It’s a two-handed stranglehold I’ve got going on: On the one hand, I struggle to get in touch with my deepest and most authentic intentions. And on the other hand, once I do get plugged in and grounded, I have a devil of a time staying on track once the initial wave of inspiration passes and I’m confronted by the fears and distractions that inevitably crop up.
So, what if I give up the struggle? Who drives the bus then—the devil or the angel? Or does it just veer off the road and land in a ditch somewhere? Does it really matter? Do all roads lead to the same place in the end?
[A snippet from a writing project in gestation that will probably make more sense if you read the preceding snippets.]
I’ve been walking around the neighborhood every afternoon as part of my pre-hab regimen. My route takes me past a hilly patch of maple trees that, if followed through, leads back to the dead end of Pleasant Street, where my parents live now, and which will forever be “Grandma’s Street” in my mind. I remember vividly when, as a kid, I fully explored these woods for the first time, starting from the dead end of Grandma’s street and clambering my way through to this other end where I’m standing now. It was like discovering another planet. “Who are these people living in these strange houses?” I had thought to myself. This little patch of woods was like a whole world unto itself back in those days. It looks so small now, so insignificant.
Across the main thoroughfare and several blocks away is the house I grew up in. At the end of that street is a much bigger patch of trees, but still, nothing compared to my memory of it. These were the woods where David Woodburn and I discovered a pile of porno magazines, just lying there conspicuously beside a well-worn path, like a hastily laid trap. I can still remember the name of one the centerfold models. Cathy St. George. I smuggled the key pages of that issue back home, folded up in my back pocket, and kept the stash buried under the front porch in a zip-lock sandwich bag. I can still recall the musty smell under that porch, how I would have to pull back a piece of broken wood to crawl under, how I would brave the spiders for a look at Cathy, but for no other cause. Those woods were also where Jason Gillam and I saw a “walking stick” crawling up a tree one day. There was also the mysterious “underground fort” we found in a hidden clearing. Actually, it was a dug out pit covered by a big piece of plywood, and it was full of empty beer cans. David and I smuggled my Daisy Red Ryder B-B Gun into these woods once. I remember the thrill of lining up my first bird, then the shame when it dropped dead to the ground. And, of course, who could forget the “sand banks”— that ledge from which we would leap down onto the soft, sandy slope below, sometimes tumbling all the way down to the apartment complex at the bottom, the one where all the poor people lived.
There was also a teeny tiny patch of trees – long since cleared away—directly behind my house, which provided just enough cover for the neighborhood boys to convince Cindy Wilson to pull her pants down and show us all what was going on down there. Afterwards there was talk of how Frankie Dalton stuck a stick up her crack, but I don’t think that really happened. But we did build several forts back there over the years, most of which were eventually torn down by rival groups of kids living down by the “brick road.” Of course, we would search for, find, and destroy their forts as well, for good measure, although who knew who started the whole mess. We built some really cool tree forts and one huge fort on the ground that was like a little house. Our parents even let some of us sleep there one night. Carry Woodburn was there, and the rest of us conspired to try the old “warm water” trick on her after she fell asleep. And did it ever work! She pissed herself right through the sleeping bag.
All this from passing a little patch of maples.
The other day the wind was blowing briskly, and I noticed a few leaves drifting down from these maples onto the road in front of me. Suddenly it occurred to me – I hadn’t caught a leaf yet this year! It’s my own little fall tradition, to catch at least one leaf as it falls from a tree. In years past I’ve been known to run down a promising leaf to the to ends of the earth if need be, often diving onto the grass or even out into traffic in an attempt to make the grab. I even got Molly into it last year, although she was less willing to go the necessary lengths to make a legitimate catch. It has to be fresh from the branch and caught before it hits the ground. Nothing off a roof or blown up from the ground will do. Anyway, being crippled in Mexico this fall, I had forgotten all about this annual event. Having remembered it presently, there was nothing to do but catch a friggin’ leaf, come hell or high water. To fail to do so would be a disgrace of the worst variety. I have said it many times before, that the year I go an entire fall without catching at least one leaf, that’s the beginning of the end, a sure sign I have given up the ghost and lost all connection to reality.
Well, let me tell you, it’s not as easy as you think, especially with a torn ACL. In fact, I only had two realistic opportunities to make a grab over the course of my walk, and both times the leaf suddenly changed direction just as I was about to gain possession. This, of course, is the whole challenge, the whole fun of it, but the bottom line is I returned home without having made a grab. Now, it’s always preferable to catch a leaf in the natural course of things, as one is walking along and notices a leaf drifting somewhere within reach. Being overly intentional goes against the spirit of the whole thing. But it being late fall and there being no guarantee of another suitably breezy day, I resorted to standing under the big maple tree in my parents’ backyard. I stood there staring up at the leaves for about forty-five minutes until my neck started getting sore, but the time invested did not yield a catch. Five or six times maybe I had a legitimate shot at one, but whether it was the knee or just wanting it too badly, I just couldn’t get it done. I went back inside to get my bearings and to let my mother know what I was doing, in case one of the neighbors called her to report the strange goings on in her yard. To my surprise my mother admonished me a bit for giving up so easily, and with that I went back out for round two. Within a minute or so, I made the grab. A leaf hit me square in the face, so all I had to do was reach up and pin it to my nose before it had a chance to slip away. But there was more work to be done. I had to catch one for Molly, as she probably had a better chance of seeing a tarantula fall from the sky than a maple leaf. Again, within a minute or so, I had corralled leaf number two. After releasing it back into the breeze from whence it came, I strutted back into the house victorious, rewarding myself with a salami and cheese sandwich and rich cup of coffee.
It seems there’s still a bit of magic left in these old Trojan maples. The veins in the leaves, the roots in the earth—somehow these things are connected to the neurons encased in my skull. Somehow these magic maples can lead me back into the deep woods where long forgotten things can suddenly spring back to life, where boobs, bee-bee guns, and walking sticks float back into view out of an empty September sky, winding their way through the blue before making a soft landing on the tip of my nose.
I’m getting increasingly stoked about the music scene here in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The latest artist I’ve “discovered” via the magic of the internet is Simeon Beardsley. He’s got that mellow, acoustic, soulful vibe that I’m a sucker for, and which is on full display in the video below:
I dug this song so much that I was compelled to click my way over to his Bandcamp site, on which I found (and promptly purchased) his brand-spanking-new album called June, which is also super-cool. Check it out.