The Middle Man: Why Loudon Wainwright III is the Greatest Family Memoirist of Our Time

Psychological histories, let alone psychological histories of entire multi-generational families, don’t get any more whittled down than this verse in Loudon Wainwright III’s 1992 classic, “A Father And a Son”: 

When I was your age I was just like you,
And just look at me now; I’m sure you do.
But your grandfather was just as bad
And you should have heard him trash his dad.
Life’s no picnic, that’s a given:
My mom’s mom died when my mom was seven;
My mom’s father was a tragic guy,
But he was so distant and nobody knows why.

It’s that last couplet that kills me: The image of the well-to-do mid-century father. Fortunate by birth (handsome; monied; an American aristocrat) and yet plagued by a misery that has little to do with his wife’s death. He was so distant that nobody knows why. 

You can see the buttoned-down shirt. The graceful arc of his chin. The mothball funk of the bad old days, when the gentlemen and ladies of the better classes hid everything except the darkness behind their eyes. Then came the flower children of the ’60s, the whole oats parents of the ’70s and the sharp-eyed children of the ’80s. Everything changed. Especially if your parents were well-known pop/folk stars, with long hair and birth control and….

Nothing changed. Here’s Loudon’s daughter, Martha, responding directly to her father in 1995’s “Daddy/Daughter Dialogue,”

You sing about a father and son

Retrofit Dialogue: Bruce Springsteen’s “Your Own Worst Enemy”

The subject: Bruce Springsteen’s “Your Own Worst Enemy,” from his 2007 release, “Magic.”

I think it’s one of Springsteen’s best. “An intricate weave of straight-forward music and elaborate production, with lyrics that tangle personal observation and social commentary,” and etc.

Kasey, on the other hand, thinks: “It’s vague and cliched in the worst way; (and) musically it’s a clusterfuck.”

Say what? But then, you’ve gotta listen because  Kasey is Kasey Anderson: The  singer/songwriter/bandleader extraordinaire, whose latest album, “Heart of a Dog” is entirely kick-ass, and whose “Nowhere Nights” was by my lights one of the best albums of 2010. You definitely want to check out his work, if you haven’t yet.

Even if he’s totally wrong about “Your Own Worst Enemy.”

 PETER

Like virtually every song on the “Magic” album, “Your Own Worst Enemy” is quite a complex song: an intricate weave of straight-forward music and elaborate production, with lyrics that tangle personal observation and social commentary into a narrative that can be perceived on a variety of levels.

Just for context, let’s recall that “Magic” came out in late 2007, right when frustration and, increasingly, outrage over the Bush administration’s antics were climbing to all-new heights. Consider the botched campaign in Afghanistan; the pointless war in Iraq, the start of the financial crisis, etc. And yet the administration’s particular brilliance — their magic, as it were — resided in their ability to ignore any information that didn’t fit their pre-conceived sense of how things ought to be. The good old truthiness ideal: if it feels right, no point in thinking about it anymore.

Much of “Magic,” particularly the title track and the kick-ass “Livin’ in the Future” deals with this specifically. So does “Your Own Worst Enemy,” albeit with a metaphorical veneer. Here’s the first verse:

You can’t sleep at night

You can’t dream your dreams

Your fingerprints on file

Left clumsily at the scene

Your own worst enemy has come to town.

Which creates questions: Who is ‘you’? What accounts for the person’s psychic static? Was he/she involved in some literal crime?

More details arrive in the second verse:

Yesterday the people were at ease

Baby slept in peace

You closed your eyes and saw her

You knew who you were

Now your own worst enemy has come to town

Check out the reference to “the people,” which gives a glimpse of a wider arena. The sleeping baby, the beautiful object powerful enough to define another person’s existence. (In this case, You.)

What this begins to tell me is that this song is about far more than one ordinary lovelorn or solitary person. This is a story with much broader significance. One whose ‘enemy’ amounts to an idea, rather than a human antagonist.

I also like the strings and bells producer Brendan O’Brien folds in. Because it makes it all the more bejeweled and stately. And as a result: Creepy.

Is this not compelling? I think it’s pretty fucking compelling. And there’s more.

KASEY

I want to preface everything I’m about to say with this: Bruce Springsteen is not only one of the greatest songwriters of the last century, he’s one of the most important artists in Rock ‘n’ Roll, ever. There’s not a Springsteen record I don’t own, love and listen to constantly. That being said:

This song is just loaded to the gills with platitudes. It’s vague and cliched in the worst way, which is awfully surprising given how adept Springsteen is at transcending cliches as a lyricist. His themes are always enormous and universal, and, far more often than not, he gets to the heart of the matter without a lot of ornate dancing around, and still manages to be poignant, literate, and poetic. Not here. Here it’s clumsy line after clumsy line. “You can’t dream your dreams.” OH I GET IT. “Dreams” works on TWO levels! Not just the dreams of the sleeping but the larger, American dream! How incisive! “Once the family felt secure / no no one’s very sure.” Cool! Feel free to dress it up a little bit Bruce. That’s one half-step removed from “We used to feel very safe / but now we do not.” That’s some borderline remedial sentimentality and expression right there and it is so far below the bar Springsteen has set for himself that I’m tempted to believe he either completely phoned this one in or there’s some really incredible subtext that is just so far over my head I can’t even recognize it.

Musically, the song’s a clusterfuck. Magic is a sweeping pop production album in the way Born to Run was (or that’s what we’re to understand, anyway), with Springsteen sacrificing some of the grittier elements of his band for lush, layered melodies. That’s fine. I can dig that. But O’Brien’s production is such a directionless muck of piled-on schmaltz for this song I can’t even begin to imagine what the concept Bruce had in mind would have been. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” on the other hand, is equally robust but focused, every instrument and melody headed for the finish line. “Your Own Worst Enemy” is a herd of blind cattle slamming into one another and, ultimately, collapsing.

What say you to that!

And furthermore, who is the Enemy in this song, in your opinion? Bush? Government in general? Self-deception? The one thing I do like about this tune is that he uses the word “own.” To me, saying “your own worst enemy” rather than “your worst enemy” suggests that, whoever or whatever the enemy is, we’re responsible.

Then again, given the rest of the song, he could have just tossed the word “own” in for cadence.

PETER

I’m completely flummoxed by your aesthetic call here. I hear all the same things you do on that tune, and it all works for me. Throw in the intensity of your dislike — a little noxious cloud of sulfur erupts from my computer screen every time I open one of your emails — and I’m left to ponder the quirkiness of individual taste.

So I can’t refute your opinions, exactly. All I can do is explain why I feel precisely the opposite way.

Musically, and production-wise, I think O’Brien’s ideas are fine. (and I don’t always agree with his production calls…and might have mixed this album in a different way, too…) Given how dry the strings sound – the cellos are high in the mix, and the creak of the bows adds to the tension of the track, I think — and how far to the back the timpani and bells are — the orchestration’s grandeur underscores what I hear as the real point of the lyric, and the song.

I think the person he’s addressing in the song is George W. Bush. And while I don’t agree that the dream he can’t dream is the American one (on the contrary, I’d say Bruce is describing what he imagines to be a scene from Bush’s own internal life) it’s easy for me to hear how certain phrases and word choices could fit the experience of a failed chief executive, right at the moment when the extent of his own failures overwhelm him.

He can’t sleep at night. He recalls the thrill of his first taste of power (“you knew who you were…”). Only now he sees it through the bitter truth that he only made everything worse. “Everything is upside-down.” No one feels secure. So what was the administration’s answer? Think back to the days when those roc
k-solid guarantees of WMD’s in Iraq (this is why we fight!) proved absolutely false. When the guarantees of a hero’s welcome in Baghdad turned into bombs and firefights. Did Rove, Cheney, et. al even pause to acknowledge their errors? Um, not quite. And thus: “The times, they got too clear/So you removed all the mirrors…” Which only works to an extent, as Bruce imagines Bush (the decider) realizing, constantly (“there’s a face you know/staring back from the shop window/The condition you’re in/Now you just can’t get out of this skin…”

Then comes the final couplet, which cinches the personal and political even closer together: “Your flag it flew so high/You drifted up to the sky…”

In the name of American glory — and the unfortunate confusion of personal glory with the national good — Bush has lost himself in his own facade.

I’ve got more to say about all of this, but I think this amounts to a compelling — and surprisingly empathetic — peek into the heart Bruce knows Bush still had, and has. He’s tasted his own kind of power, too. He understands what leads an ordinary man to believe he might be something more than ordinary. And he also knows how it feels to wake up one morning and realize that you’ve just made a huge mistake.

In a business where confidence means everything even a whiff of failure strikes the deepest kind of terror. It is, without a doubt, your own worst enemy.

To hear a lovely stripped-down version of the tune, check out this video from the Light of Day show on Jan 15. Bruce opened with an acoustic arrangement of the tune, and from where I was sitting that night, nothing but shivers.

KASEY

I like that performance. The performance. Doesn’t change the song for me, but I like the way he plays it there.

I think O’Brien’s ideas are fine, too. He’s an excellent producer and whatever problems I have with his production on Springsteen records is countered by how much I think he has enhanced the way Springsteen’s band sounds. It’s give and take and he has given Springsteen – and, by extension, his audience – plenty. I just think “Worst Enemy” is clumsy and oversaturated with sound as compared to “Girls” or even “Last to Die” (a far better song about a very similar subject).

What’s really interesting to me is where we differ on lyrical interpretations. You see him addressing Bush, but I hear the narrator say, “you closed your eyes and saw her / you knew who you were,” and wonder, if he is indeed addressing G.W., who is “her?” Certainly not Laura. This leads me to believe one of two things is true: 1) the song is more a “relationship song” than it is a social commentary (the lyrics still make plenty of sense that way) or 2) it’s lazy writing. I believe option #2 to be the more likely option, in this case.

But – BUT – maybe that’s the brilliance of a song. It is both specific and broad, depending upon the listener. Maybe that’s Springsteen’s trick here, he uses this very broad, generic language and lets us project the rest upon the song. In most other cases, I’d say, “No, you’re giving the writer too much credit; it’s just lazy writing, not some ingenious songwriter’s trick,” but in Springsteen’s case, you really never know. But, y’know, he’s capable of horseshit songs, too. There’s some flat-out schmaltz on Human Touch and it’s not all an ingenious use of negative lyrical space, y’know? He takes a big cut and misses every now and again, like anyone else.

So, if it is about the Bush administration, or more specifically George W. Bush, who is “her?”

PETER

First thing, I’d like to back off half a step from my rock-solid declaration that the song is a straight-forward  letter to GW Bush. That’s how I hear the song, but it’s silly for me to foreclose any other options for other listeners. Or, for that matter, for B. Springsteen himself, who may be thinking something different.

And yet part of what I love about the tune — and the whole “Magic” album — is how it scans on more than one level at the same time. How it compresses the larger societal mood down to a story about self-image, doubt and loss. Think about the narrator of “Radio Nowhere,” the guy in his car in the middle of the night, lost in some kind of radio-less zone just when he’s craving human connection. “I just wanna hear some rhythm,” he chants, thereby boiling down the gloom of social disconnection into musical/rock ‘n’ roll terms. “Livin’ in the Future” takes its own path to the same destination — this time confabulating a sexy temptress with the cowboy swagger of GWB in the fall of ’00. (On one hand, the narrator is kissing a girl;  on the other, the whole saga is set on election day, as an attractive stranger comes strutting into town “bootheels clickin’ like the barrel of a pistol turnin’ round…” So – social malaise; political hi-jinks; seduction/deception. It’s a love story gone wrong…a faithless chick; a cocksure leader whose collection of cattle reside entirely inside his spotless designer cowboy hat.

So the ‘her’ in “Enemy?” Another seductress: In this case, that taste of globe-rocking power. Suddenly you knew who you were – the leader of the free world, motherfucker. If you can dream it, you can do it. Only once you do, it’s not a dream anymore. It’s stone cold reality, complete with death (“Last to Die,” “Gypsy Biker”) widespread alienation (“Magic” the song; “Long Walk Home”) and on and on. The ‘she,’ then, feels less like a literal person to me. She’s a wraith; a hallucination; the demonic power of the ring at the core of “Lord of the Rings.” “Ahhh, the pretty! The pretty!”

Literal meanings are for you to hear. What sticks with me now, three-plus years later, is the memory of how it feels when one man’s much hoped-for vision collapses in on itself, and everyone else pays the price.

Happy Birthday, Brian Wilson!: An extra-bonus interview with a man made for all times.

Dateline: Beverly Hills, July 20, 2010. 

Brian Wilson stands on the porch of his house, watching his guest climb awkwardly from the rental car and limp/gambol up the walk. “Hey, Brian!” the guy calls. Brian waves. “You better come inside,” he says. “It’s a hot one.” 

The subject of the moment is his about-to-be-released album, “Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin,” which paradoxically sounds more like Brian than a lot of his more recent records of original songs. He’s always excited to sell his new work, but this time he seems extra-proud of himself. Unsaid, but real: He didn’t dog it this time. He threw himself into the project, really put his own, personal, 21st century stamp on the arrangements and, particularly his vocals, which aren’t perfect, per se, except for that they’re so tuned in; so full of emotion; such a vivid representation of his quirky, tormented, beautiful mind. 

Brian points to his teleivision. “Have you ever seen this show?” he asks. “This stuff is amazing. I love this how.”

Point of fact: The screen is black. 

But so what?: He’s listening to one of those cable music stations, this one is all oldies from the ’60s. Unlikely shit, too, like Paul Revere b-sides, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, on and on. When Brian tunes into the sound – as he will occasionally, holding up a finger to stop the conversation — he stares fixedly at the black screen while the music plays. What’s he seeing? We’ll never know. Something beautiful, I suspect.

(Hit ‘Read More’ to follow the jump!

Brian Wilson doesn’t think like you and I do. This has caused him great pain over the years. And yet it has also allowed him to create majestic works of music, many of which define the American experience of the mid-to-late 20th century. You see a black screen, he sees the face of God. It’s the music that matters. 

Here’s part of what he had to say that day.

 

 Q: So tell me a little more about your first memories of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

I was listening to it, but I couldn’t think. I was like, ‘Hey I love this!’ after I grew up I remembered that. And then when I was much older I learned how to play that pretty part, you know the part with the violins? I learned how to play that on the piano. I didn’t listen to it that much growing up. Just when I was two, and then about 20 years went by, and when I was 28 I learned how to play it. My best friend was a total Gershwin fan, Tandyn Almer, he wrote ‘Along Comes Mary,’ by the Association. My parents didn’t own that record. But there was like a ton of songs to do, and we had access to 104 unfinished songs, played by George himself. We narrowed it down to 2 out of 104, so we wrote two original songs inspired by those songs. We went through all of them, and slowly narrowed it down.

Q: Do you feel haunted by your own past? (in attempts to bring up the Beach Boys’ sour legacy)

I think I’ve come quite a ways. I didn’t really like that ‘Imagination’ album (1998 comeback recorded during his brief stint in the Chicago exurbs, with country/adult contemporary Joe Thomas co-producing) as much as I did some of mine. Some of it was alright, though. Some of it is okay. I like ‘Cry,’ I like ‘South American,’ that’s the one I wrote with Jimmy Buffett. “Lay Down Burden,” I like that, too. (Successfully dodging attempt to bring up the Beach Boys’ sour legacy)

Q: And that clarinet section in the middle of “She Says That She Needs Me,” I love that. Is that your arrangement? 

Oh yeah, that was me. He (talking about the clarinet player/section leader, I think. Or Joe Thomas? Who knows?) took it down verbatim and did it right there.

Q: Are you surprised that you’ve turned into such a road warrior after all those years? I saw you do a lot of shows with the Beach Boys in the ’70s and early ’80s and you always looked like you were miserable, frankly. But now you seem to love it up there in the lights…

We’ve d toured our asses off for 12 years. Not sure we’re gonna do it this year, tho. I took to it pretty quickly. All that showmanship stuff, like saying, ‘Hello, hey, how you doing!’ and ‘Okay, now we’re gonna play ‘row, row, row your boat,’ with the audience singing back to me. I took to touring really easily, like a second nature or something. My favorite part is istening to my band play. They’re the best musicians I’ve ever known. They learned all my songs before I met ‘em, even. They had them all learned. That was wonderful when I met the Wondermints. I went up to them and said, ‘Would you ever consider backing me up?,’ and they said, Sure! So we got those four and rounded up a bunch of other people from Chicago and so on, and we had ourselves our group. They stuck together longer than the beach boys. The Beach Boys are about done now, without Carl. When he died that was it for the Beach Boys.

Q: Are you surprised by how much you’ve achieved in the last 12 years?

I don’t know. I just got back into writing songs, I guess. I had a creative explosion a couple of years ago, just before ‘That Lucky Old Sun.’ I wrote 18 songs in two months. I couldn’t believe it, the songs kept coming and coming and coming. ‘Midnight’s Another Day’ is a very good song, I sang it very beautifully, too. I knew it was gonna be the best song on the album once I wrote it.

Q: Do you think that finishing ‘Smile,’ and having it be such a huge hit, was career changer for you?

Not really, it just seemed like one more second. It did feel good to get it out of my hair. People loved it, though. Having it out was a real mind-blow. 

Q: How did you go about recording all those Gershwin songs? Was it intimidating to take on songs by one of your biggest heroes?

Well, we had a ton of songs to do. Paul Mertens, one of my band members, arranged the orchestration part of it. We took it one day at a time. Two songs a day, and within a week we had all the orchestrations down pat. Then we said, Oh my God, we’re gonna need some backing vocals! So I arranged the backing vocals, and that took about a week or two. And finally the leads started happening. It was a monster of a project. I would sit and sing for 8 hours a day. My wife produced my vocals.“You Can’t That Away from Me,’ does have the ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ sound.

Q: And yet, you’re not as much of a white boy musician as people think…I really love your vocal on “I Loves You, Porgy,” (Hey reader – Remember what I said earlier about the vocals on the Gershwin record? Exhibit ‘A’ – check out how vulnerable and bewitched he sounds on this track…so swept up in feeling that the cracks near the top of the melody actually ADD to the listener’s pleasure, b/c vulnerable people are by nature a little cracked, and plus also he’s singing in the voice of a woman, one accustomed, it seems, to totally fucked-up relationships, and you you know who else is familiar with similarly fucked-up relations? Brian Wilson, that’s who, and so here’s a cover version, borrowed from an African-American woman, that is somehow one of the most haunting autobiographical songs in BW’s hauntingly autobiography catalogue!)

Well, I was always inspired by that Chuck Berry song. He taught me how to write songs.  And I learned how to play boogie-woogie on the piano when I was 12. ‘Shortenin’ Bread’ had that boogie-woogie beat. I knew some of ‘I Loves You, Porgy’ by heart, but then I learned the rest of it. My buddy Paul Mertens taught me how to do it.

(Starts to sing) ‘I loves you, Poooorgg-eeee! ’ I had a natural feel for it. I loved the tune. I instantly had a natural feel for it. And it does have that sweet yearning sound to it. And man, that whole ‘Porgy & Bess’  part of the record is my absolute favorite part on the whole record. It all just fits together. 

Q: The ‘Rhapsody’ melody flows throughout the whole record…it kinda makes me think of how ‘Rhapsody’ itself has flowed through your life and career…

Yeah, sure. It flows and flows on the album, sort of like a river. The album is loaded with good melodies. Gershwin’s melodies are like, great. When we finally came to the one tune, ‘the like in I love you,’ I thought that was a beautiful tune, a really beautiful tune. That line, ‘the pain in painting,’ Scott wrote that, I love it. A little bit of pain in the edges, just like life. It makes the rest of it more sweet. 

Q: So you don’t sound the least bit intimidated about collaborating with George Gershwin.

No, not really. I was beyond myself with like being proud, you know? And of course I was in awe of Gershwin himself. Someone gave me a book called ‘Gershwin,’ written by someone very close to the Gershwins. I’m gonna read the book. I’ve never read anything about him before.

Q: Well, what are you up to now? Melinda and the kids are out of town, you’re sort of doing your own thing here in the city. So are you writing new tunes?

Naw, I haven’t b
een working for a while, I’ve run dry. Totally dry on concepts for songs, you know. Can’t get a melody written, can’t get a chord pattern written, nothing at all.

Q: But Brian, you’ve been telling me that for ten years, and then there’s another album of new songs coming…

Yeah, I know. I guess it goes in cycles. 

What are you listening to now?

You see this show? (he points to the black TV, with that ‘San Francisco (Wear Flowers in Your Hair)’ song playing in the speakers) That’s a tv program called ‘Sixties Revolution,’ and I listen to it lot of the time. I thrive on music, I need music to live. Because without music I would not be alive. Doesn’t it feel therapeutic to you? What kind of music do you like? (blah, blah, blah, blah, Beatles) Well, obviously the Beatles, I mean obviously. And Bruce? Oh wow, he’s great. He’s just a wonderful singer. And I’ve been listening to Elton John, Marvin Gaye, who is absolutely one of my favorites. Also Elvis Presley, the Doors, and. . . What’s that song? (sings -‘She came from somewhere back in his long ago…) Who’s that? Oh yeah, the Doobie Brothers. So I like that, and Van Morrison, too.I’m really familiar with all that stuff again, because I’ve been spot-checking the radio stations lately, and so I can tell you what’s what.

Q: Are you a Stevie Wonder fan?

Have you heard ‘Superwoman’? When I heard that I thought, that guy’s really got it on the ball! And ‘He’s Misstra Know It All?’ Oh my God! When I heard that I thought to myself, how in the world can Stevie Wonder write that kind of music? In the early-to-mid 80s I bought that album with ‘Superwoman’ and I said – what am I listening to!? That Moog synthesizer, ‘I think I can deal with that, is what went  through my mind. . .’ then he goes into the synth thing and I thought, I’ll never hear anything that good again in my life.’ (made to love cover): I like Carl’s version, too. They’re both good. But Stevie is a fabluous singer, a really good singer.

Q: I’m a big fan of Wilco, too. Have you heard them?

Wilco? Huh. Is there something to it that I might like? For instance, what is it about them that you really like? (blah, blah, melodic, blah blah experimental, electronic noise, great songs, kind of spooky…) I will definitely check it out. And the guy does ‘Love and Mercy’?’ Okay, I’ll check it out.

Q: Yeah, you should. I can make you a CD, if you want…and you should really check out the albums they made from Woody Guthrie’s old lyrics…this one called “My Flying Saucer,” it’s so not what you expect from the “This Land is Your Land” guy…

Do you think there’s anything real to UFO’s? Or is that just something people say? In general, have they established that there are really UFO’s? They have pictures, don’t they? Is that stuff real, or do they know for sure? (John Lennon said he saw one over New York City in the ’70s…)  No kidding!!!! He said he saw a UFO? (throws back his head and guffaws really loudly) Maybe that thing liked the Beatles! They wanted to get his autograph. Jesus, there are so many things out there people don’t understand, it’s a weird trip.

Q: Do you feel like you’re in a mystical trip when you’re writing; like when it feels like the music isn’t coming from you, but THROUGH you?

It’s like you can’t put your hands wrong, it just falls into your lap. And it’s like, what is this? What the fuck is this? We wrote ‘God Only Knows’ in 45 minutes. That one came faster than any song we ever did. Then McCartney told me it was his favorite song. That’s when I said to myself, ‘My God! Paul McCartney who wrote ‘Let It Be’? I’ll tell ya what, though. Every time I listen to that song, ‘Let it Be’ I turn the damn thing off. I can’t listen to it anymore, it’s too scary. Not too powerful, just too…whatever. Too gospelly, too something, I can’t tell what it is. But I can’t listen to it anymore.

Q: I’m totally confused right now.

Years ago I used to rely on it to help me live my life. When things happened I’d tell myself, ‘it’s okay, just let it be, it’s going to be okay.’ I did that for years, and it would help me just let things go. But now I’m scared of it. Songs do that. They carry you from one trip to another, like a meditation. 

Q: I know you think music is totally spiritual. It has the power to soothe you, and freak you out.

Absolutely. It is a way to connect to a higher force. Spector did it, and the Beach Boys did, too. We all put our heart and soul into the vocals. Like when we did, what the hell, ‘Dance Dance Dance?” the vocals bounced between the bass and the high part – Dance/dance, dance/dance, that was cool. (It’s that surfin’ singin’ sound…) Yeah! 

Q: Your brother Dennis was a big inspiration, and a great songwriter too. But sometimes it seemed like the Beach Boys didn’t want to do his tunes, even when they were getting so good…

Yeah he was an idiot. We all had to kind of tame him down. We used to have corporation meetings, and Dennis would start yelling. He’d walk around the room  yelling, ‘You guys are a bunch of idiots! You don’t know what’s going on!’ And Mike would go, like, ‘What the fuck?’ And he’d go on and on for like 10 or 20 minutes, circling the table. He did that a few times. And after he did that a few times we didn’t like him anymore. He was being such an asshole about everything. I hung out with him in the early ‘80s for a while, but not much. It was a happy time, in the ‘80s, though.

(Absolutely no clue what he means by this. The years he and Dennis hung out were dismal and awful for both of them; Dennis was addicted to everything bad and Brian was trying to smoke, drink and drug his way out of his hellish psychiatric problems, which were then undiagnosed, untreated, unsympathized with, etc., basically the most un-fun experience anyone could have. The songs they wrote together were pretty awful, too. Sorry, but it’s true.)

Q: I know you were crushed when Dennis died. Then Carl died. Gershwin died young, too. Like, really young. Some guys just don’t make it to the end of their story…

Yeah, Gershwin had that brain tumor. Brain cancer, right? The same thing? (You’re like a horse, tho…you survive everything) no, that’s not true. Some of these radio stations play these advertisements that just drive me crazy. They’re just crazy, you know. Totally far out. So that’s it? We’re done? Thank you man. I’m gonna go to the park and take a lap.

(He gives his guest a hug, walks him outside and waves goodbye. And….scene.)


Just Stand Back and Let it All Be

Clarence.

Nothing to say now except the obvious: A masterful musician. A golden soul. A source of wonder for everyone he met, and the millions more who simply saw him at work.

He lived well. He did good works. He suffered like mortals must, even as he moved deeper into the light of his own spirituality.

The Clarences of the world may die, but they never really fade away. As long as his music lives, so does he.

A Few More Words from Clarence Clemons

They didn’t think he was going to make it.

When  Clarence Clemons got to the hospital on Sunday night he was in tough shape. But the doctors got to work and by the start of Monday his vital signs were stable. Hours later it seemed his paralysis had ebbed, too. Later he was conscious, squeezing the hands of friends and family with both hands. The Big Man returneth.

Make no mistake, he’s got a long road ahead of him. “This is a time for all of us to share in a hopeful spirit that can ultimately inspire Clarence to greater heights,” Bruce Springsteen said in the official statement released on Tuesday.

So keep thinking about him. And understand that this big man — “The future of the whole fuckin’ thing!” according to Bruce at the Hyde Park concert in ’09 — already knows quite a bit about helping other folks find their way to higher ground.

Take it from Clarence, sitting on his oceanfront balcony on Singer Island, Fla. back in March, tracking the mud sharks slipping through the breakers.

“I started working as a counselor at a reform school in New Jersey. I always told Bruce that if he’d been a bad kid he’d probably be one of my boys in reform school. But it was a tough job; most of these kids were disabled; it was the special treatment unit, an institution within the institution. Kids who had been taken advantage of by the regular community. And it was tough – trying to help these kids get through, knowing they’d be returning to the same life that got them into trouble. I just tried to give them something to hold onto.

“I taught them how to start a garden; how to use their hands to make things. Had them dig a garden and plant stuff they could eat immediately. The first crop was watermelons. All the other kids would walk by and tease them, but when the stuff grew up we’d sit outside those same kids would be back asking for some. My kids would be overjoyed: ‘Now you want what we got!’ That was a real sense of ownership.

“Sometimes I took my kids to this gym, these ten kids were so rough and loud. But I did this thing where we’d raise a parachute over our heads and then sit underneath it, on the edges, and as the parachute settled down we’d have to talk quietly, so when they came out they’d be whispering to each other. That was beautiful.

“Narada Michael Walden told me about Sri Chimnoy, and about meditation, and when I first did it I went so deep into it that when I came outof the trance I stood in front of a full-length mirror and didn’t recognize myself. It was the freakiest thing I’ve ever been through. I mean, I liked the person I saw, but I had no idea who the fuck it was. Now before the show I always have a meditation. A quiet time when I ask God to come into my life and help me become a light, a beacon, to help guide people.

(another shark fins past the balcony)

“Geez, look at that. They’re going by all the time, looking for something to eat. And sometimes people do get chomped. Just not as much as you’d think. Though that is a big fuckin’ shark, man.”