Thursday Thoughts: Uncle!

My uncle is a judge. He’s also a beautiful writer. Which goes to show that you can do more than one thing well, something I did not used to believe. He came over last night to record the audio version of his latest essay, which is soon to be published in the Superstition Review, a rarified literary mag.

He came directly from court, tired, happy, tie off but suit still on, ready to record. As I was setting up, we talked a little bit about politics and the world, and what strange feelings are swirling around in the atmosphere. Then we sound-checked, I hit the spacebar, and Tony began to read.

It was a story about him at 16 years old, a junior at Beverly Hills High, in love with the popular girl who didn’t know he existed, playing Risk on Saturday nights with friends instead of dating, while the Vietnam War rumbled all around. But really, of course, it was about the riskiness of life. About what it means to be becoming — becoming a man, becoming afraid, becoming brave, becoming who we will be instead of who we wish to be. Being who we are while being in the world. And how do we reconcile that? How do we learn to be okay with who we are? How do we leave the definitions and wounds of our families, our peers, and walk into the great unknown of us? How do we walk forward with determination when we sometimes want to sit on the floor and cry “Uncle”?

It’s not a rhetorical question. I want to know. I have some tools I like to use — writing songs is the big one of course. It helps me figure out what I’m feeling in the world and where I fit. It helps me roar when I want to whisper and whisper when I want to roar. I mean, it’s a roar-in-training. My throat gets tight. My chest gets tight. That’s okay. It’s part of getting strong. Our muscles are sore when they get stretched.

I’ve been working on a new song this last week — called “Some of Us”. And the end goes, “Some of us see it all as just a part of it all / Some of us call it growing up/ Some of us admit that we’re thirsty / Please fill up my cup”.

Life is in the details. In playing games on Saturday night while we yearn for the world. In recalling it and rolling it off our tongues 50 years later, and then going out to dinner with our niece. That’s it. It’s as simple and as infinite as we want.

It was a good night.


Thursday Thoughts – Oh Mexico

Sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low
Moon so bright like to light up the night
Make everything all right

James Taylor. I heard somewhere that he wrote that song when he was supposed to go to Mexico and got sick and couldn’t make the trip. Last week I did make the trip. Flew down to Los Cabos for a few days of reflection and sunburn and whale watching and surf sounds at night, so loud the waves kept me from sleeping. While I was down there I felt such a funny combination of perfectly relaxed and completely dissatisfied, longing for something just out of reach. Which sounds sort of like complaining and sort of over-the-top cliche emotional, but it’s the best way I can describe how it feels just before I start to write again.

I hibernate in the winter. I only figured this out last year, after panicking for the umpteenth time that I would never write again, I’d dried up, it was all over! Then I realized, as spring approached and I got this itchy longing feeling that then started spilling out into new songs, I realized oh – I just hibernate. I have seasons too. What a relief. Why did it take me 20 years to figure this out? I have no idea. Sometimes I’m slow.

So I knew, when I had that strange feeling last weekend, that something was getting ready to trickle down into a tune. What I wrote yesterday is sort of about Mexico, and sort of about everything. It’s about uncertainty, physical and emotional walls, the unknown, death, life, the fear of the journey and the willingness to keep walking.

So here are the new lyrics, and I’ll debut the song next week with the boys at my show.

Some Answers Hide

I fell asleep and woke up down in Mexico
Truth be told I don’t even know
I don’t know how I got there
There were fevered dreams of ripping seams and hearts that broke
Thickening clouds of billowing smoke
Filling up the air

And there’s things that you ain’t never gonna know
It don’t matter now how rough or smooth the surface of the road
There’s ways that you can learn how to ride
But some answers they just hide
Some answers they just hide

I sat out underneath the burning sun down on the beach
Watched the whales dance and breach
Felt the song just out of reach
Yeah I waited till the air cooled down and night began to fall
Saw the buzzards dive and call
Heard the seagulls flock and screech

And there’s things that you ain’t never gonna know
It don’t matter now how rough or smooth the surface of the road
There’s ways that you can learn how to ride
But some answers they just hide
Some answers they just hide

Well you can sit for days inside your haze
And wait for truth to flow
It might come fast it might come slow
It might never come again and you don’t know
That’s how it is
You just don’t know

When I came home it all looked changed
The atmosphere was clear
Time can make things disappear
Or it can make life one big test
In the end we all say what we want to say
It might or might not make you stay
Who knows if something’s a sin anyway
Until they ask you to confess

And there’s things that you ain’t never gonna know
It don’t matter now how rough or smooth the surface of the road
There’s ways that you can learn how to ride
But some answers they just hide
Some answers they just hide

Thursday Thoughts – Don’t Do Me Like That

First in an occasional series…

Did you know that the show “Cougar Town” used a Tom Petty song to title each episode? I know, what’s “Cougar Town”? That’s not the point. The point is that you can pretty much use music to explain/accompany any conversation, theme, world event, anything. Which is one of my favorite things to do/one of my most annoying qualities. I can be in an elevator and someone can say something really innocuous like, “Nice sunny day today”, and I’ll start singing “Gonna be a bright, bright sunshiney day” under my breath.

I watched a lot of “Cougar Town” about a million years ago when I was going through a breakup and needed something mindless to tune in on, and I had already watched every “Friends” episode at least four or five times (don’t judge). People like to harp on escapism — people like to talk about the importance of being aware, staying informed, being hyper vigilant about the world, your country, your relationships, all of it, everything. And while I am a big advocate of being awake and firmly rooted in reality, I also believe that escapism is not only helpful to living a healthy life, it’s critical.

Actually I don’t like the word escapism — seems kind of judgmental. Or maybe that’s leftover from my own self-judgment, worrying that if I take a break, somehow I’m trying to escape something I’m obligated to stay within.

Our brains get so tired. The rest of ourselves follow our brains through every loop and winding curve of every thought, and the brain just keeps going even though it’s like a tired little kid who’s being told it HAS to keep going, otherwise we’re in danger, we’ll fall, we’ll miss something, the other shoe will drop!!!

The truth is that shoes drop every day. The world is a strange brutal place. The world is also a loving, beautiful place. Therein lies the rub, as they say. (Cue “Rub You the Right Way” by Johnny Gill!) It’s a healthy thing to escape. Watch something sweet. Play a little guitar. Have fun. That’s not frivolous. That’s the thing that makes your battles worthwhile.

What I’m saying, other than the fact that whoever created “Cougar Town” was a huge Tom Petty fan, is that I’d like to see folks tuning. Either tuning in or tuning out, however you look at it. Watch a movie. Read a book. Listen to music. Go to a show. Go to my show. The universe awaits.