I'm Not Gonna Cry
When Spike wrote about the new Ry Cooder album "I, Flatland", it started up a flood of nostalgic reminiscences and regrets and inner groans about the dickhead I was back when...
I was alone in my flat, in these four walls of books, the library I am building around myself that defines myself. It is too dark a friend says, too gloomy, I need more color. I have moved the black wine fridge into the loungeroom to make space in the second bedroom for when Izzy returns next month. I hope that pleases him. It has a red LED on it, colourful or what?
A ball of something sometimes comes up into my throat, regret, loneliness, and I stifle some tears for the silly person I used to be, back when I listend to Ry Cooder obsessionally, for the grand idiot that I have become now, without any Ry Cooder in my iPod. There is no music playing, no soundtrack to my life that I approve of at the moment. I'm not gonna cry.
ASIDE: I am trying to copy some songs from CDs while I am typing this (and downloading a new non-sucking Text-editor to type more comfortably in a slightly less bare-bones environment) - the iTunes at first recognizes the music CD, then after I click OK to import the songs, the CD's icon disappears from the desktop and from iTunes. I have to use the keyboard hard Eject key as Finder seems to have lost the fact that the CD exists. I might rename Finder as Loser. Because it is a fucking loser. I have to re-insert the CD, then iTunes and Finder find it again and THEN it starts to work.
Fair dinkum. It just iFucks with me. Everyday. EV ERY FUCKING DAY.
I must have been a naive 17 year old when I first heard Paradise and Lunch. I didn't have a drivers licence so I was at the mercy of my older friends, people in a group I was peripheral to, but wanted to be a part of: blues fans, surfers, smart-arses, masters at brutally cruel but funny put-downs. We had gone around to the house of a friend of a friend in order to score some dope, at around sunset on New Years Eve - 1974? The friend's father was a doctor. Nice house. They lived in a house on a hill overlooking a bend in the Barwon River above a roundabout. The house had a patio next to a pool. I had never been to a house that had an in-ground pool before. The intense warmth of the day was passing and the evening was chill, fresh and luminous over the river-flats; the best time of a Victorian summer. We sat on wooden furniture on the patio, watching traffic, watching the river, drinking beers, rolling some joints, and then this friend put on a record. It was the B-side of P&L - and they laughed and toked on the joints and passed me one even though I was younger and didn't smoke much, because it was the seventies and everyone was a buddy-of-the-leaf and Ry Cooder was a Fool for A Cigarette.
Up until that time, I had pretty much thought music had started with Led Zeppelin and ended with the old blues guitarist bands, like Brownie McGee, Buddy Guy, etc. I was a guitarist of sorts (I am just as good/bad now as I was then - talk about progress) and was passionate about quality guitar playing - I even went to a Robin Trower concert, qu'elle stoopide - so long as the music didn't venture anywhere too near the twang of country music. Blues was sacred, country was profane.
I think for the longest time, maybe until I came to Hong Kong, those two hours that I spent on that patio chatting with much older people (the Doctor's son was 20 or so and at University), about music, chilling out, drinking beer, smoking weed, listening to that revolutionary music - Cooder's dustbowl/country/folk/blues/Tijuiana/gospel roots immediately transcended and made a mockery of any "classifications" I might try to make - they were the coolest hours of my life. It was almost like I was rich.
I am sure you will appreciate that the rest of that NYE was a complete disaster - the 60 mile drive to Ballarat, five of us in a Morris Minor, for a party that didn't exist as Sue, the sister of Dick, one of the five guys in the car, had fought with her cheating boyfriend that day and gotten stoned on heroin and locked herself in the bedroom and no-one did anything except yell and swear for several hours as the clocked ticked towards morning. All that boring night (nobody knew where to go to do anything in Ballarat - it was after midnight by the time we got there anyway, all the pubs were shut - what a fucking cock-up) looking for more cold beer to drink and something to eat, forced to listen to the commercial sellout of Supertramp on a tinny 3-in-1 record player, instead of Ry Cooder's uniquely successful cultish back-turn on the industry that fed him on the Doctor's son's HiFi, having no-one sensible to talk to - the boyfriend had all the boyish charm and warm self-fascination of your typical strung-out heroin-abuser - uncomfortable non-sleeping on couches and cushions on the floor without enough blankets (Ballarat is cold every night of the year, even in the height of summer), no fresh milk at breakfast for a cup of tea, and the long drive back next morning we swore vengeance upon Dick. "We all hate you, Dick," was the refrain. "We hate you forever."
Poor Dick. He never lived it down. But he shouldn't worry, almost all my subsequent NYEs were crap as well, this one merely set the precedent... Now I am too old for NYE fun.
All my friends of those days, mostly from the class above me in high-school, I never see any of them. Not one, and not because I am in Singapore. Even then, when I was so desperate to impress them, so obsessed about music, surfing, about fitting in with them, I was the only guitar player and they couldn't cope with my restless urge to know the music better, to OWN the music within me, to bring it out. They loved the same music, sure, that was part of my link to them but weren't actually musicians. I began to to idolize Ry Cooder. But I didn't have the skills to be that good and I continually disappointed myself...
I could play Ditty Wah Ditty, the intro and the fiddly bits - but obviously not Earl Hines' piano section which, to me, just got in the way. I annoyed people.
I wanted to recapture the laid-back atmosphere of that night. It was just the best. I was restless all the time, needed to badger my friends into coming out and sitting somewhere else. Even if they were in a restful zone themselves, I wanted to take them with me to somewhere more interesting than my usual experience of dun-coloured Geelong. I was trying to find the evening on the patio again.
For many years, I annoyed people with my intense searches, my frustration. They saw me as inept and overly eager, trying too hard. It did not come natural to me - I grew my hair exceptionally long to make it obvious who I was. Other people I met did want to know me better but I was more interested the approval of those first friends and the new relationships never blossomed, as I just didn't put any effort in. I sought the continual re-approval of those others. Often they wanted to like me too, but I started to bug the hell out of them. It came natural to them this sense of belonging, they belonged to the group of who they were. I was someone else, a year younger, and I had to seek it out, as my absolute contemporaries were by definition "dickheads", they knew no Ry Cooder, did not love this type of music, were not surfers.
I think of the Jimi Hendrix movie, that bit where they interview the older guys who grew up with him in his neighbourhood. They thought Jimi was just a try-hard punk who could never be manage to be cool. A prophet in his own town. I think those heroes of my youth thought the same of me.
What happened? I got married, but had no money for a big wedding so only a handful of my friends were invited - the others felt snubbed, and rightly so. I got a respectable job, got a career, had a child, had to look after him. They were still bumming around, surfing, looking for work that involved music - they loved music but had no instrumental skills. I think later two of them even joined the Army, to get into the band, and learned how to play the trumpet or something as they marched along, tbought it was cool. I couldn't think of anything less cool myself. Maybe my definition of "cool" was at fault, maybe theirs was.
Even so, looking back I guess they thought they were better than me. Not much better, just a little bit better, maybe because they were a bit older, and I was desperate to impress - what's that cartoon with the two dogs, the big bulldog one and the little one scampering beside him? Maybe they thought that I had silly ideas or that in my attempts to seem smart, I was overly intellectualizing things. I had developed a habit of quoting people to justify my opinions - half-read writers, one-tenth understood philosophers. I still do that, yet another peer-group inspired obsession I haven't grown out of...
There is one crucial scene.
I am 18 with a car, still single. I am bored fuckless, midweek, late on a cold winter's night. I have dropped out of University. I drive over to my friend Max's place, way across town. I don't call first in case he tells me not to come. Max is one of the five guys who were in the Morris Minor with me that NYE - now 18 months ago.
He lets me in. He has been watching TV by himself (his retired parents are never home, always down at their holiday house), in front of the gas heater, reading some set texts for University. He is calm and rested. He has soft leather Italian slippers on. I am agitated.
"Let's go out", I say.
"Where?" He asks, knowing I have no idea where to go. There IS no where to go. This is Geelong in the 70's. He has lectures in the morning.
"Anywhere. Let's get a coffee at the Top Of The Town." A pizza parlor, that's as much as I can come up with. I'm thinking SOMEONE might be there, and I want to hear Max talk to people, he is so funny, so witty in conversation, I want to be a witness to that, for I have doubts that my intellect is sufficiently sharp for me to be sole participant. "Come on, let's do something." Just talking to him is not enough, would not be good enough. (Why? Christ I was a fuck-wit.)
"Fuck," he eventually says and gets out of the comfy chair. He makes a big deal of taking off his comfy slippers and putting on his boots - he had his obsessions, slip-on over-ankle boots were one of them. I thought they looked ridiculous.
We are driving up Aphrasia St in my freezing cold car, and I hear something familiar come on my car radio, a cheap plastered together piece of second-hand electronics with free floating rear speakers that slide across the rearwindow deck whenever I turn a corner. It is "Vigilante Man" from "Into The Purple Valley" - a slide guitar masterpiece on the fucking commercial radio! I am stunned! I turn up the crap radio. "Fuck, it's Ry Cooder!" I can't hear it properly due to the road noise, so I pull over.
Did you get that? I pulled over and stopped the car in order to hear a song on the radio.
Max thinks that I am fucked in the head. He freaks.
"Take me home. Take me fucking home, right now!" He is angry.
"But it's Ry Cooder," I say. I have the radio insanely loud.
He nearly screams, like he has been kidnapped. "Big fucking deal! Take me the fuck home! NOW!" Ry Cooder doesn't impress him any more.
I start the car, turn around, take him back to his house. "Just drop me at the front," he asks. He gets out and doesn't invite me in.
"Go home," he says. "Just go home."
I saw Ry Cooder on his two trips to Melbourne. He was intensely brilliant. I recollect him playing Billy The Kid on his mandolin like a madman. My ex-wife liked Ry Cooder too, not so much Jethro Tull, so we got along for most of the time.
Like I said, I find today that I have no Ry Cooder in my iTunes, although there are seven CDs in my rack. I started burning them this afternoon before I went out. I looked up the web, to remind myself about how Ry Cooder was integral in the developing the musical repertoire of the Rolling Stones - how he taught the open-G tuning to Keef Richards (useful for Gimme Shelter and countless other Stones songs since) and according to the cover notes for "Into The Purple Valley" wrote the riff to 'Honky Tonk Woman'.
I decided go shopping, to look for that new "I, Flatland" special edition, the one with Ry Cooder's short novel in it. Instead I find "My Name Is Buddy" - 'another record by Ry Cooder' concept fiction/music album. It has a funny/sad short series of fictional vignettes about Ry being a red-headed cat in the depression era.
I sit outside of Borders with a cafe-moccha ice-blended and read the last one of these stories which has the following lines:
"That was the woman with the camera, the one who cried all the time," says Lefty. "I wonder if she got any good pictures."
"She was deep in the spirit, and forgot about the contraption. Sometime folks need to be at rest in themselves and stop thinking about everything for a little while. That's the best thing you can do for them," says the Reverend, with an air of satisfaction.
I start to cry at that line about the woman crying. I am not depressed, it just feels the right thing to do.
Earlier, I gone inside Kinokuniya and found a book by Francine Prose whose prose is supposed to be peerless (lots of metonymy, no doubt).
I picked up a book by Tim Winton too, "Breath". Winton is supposed to be the best Australian writer, unlike Peter Carey who is just our most famous and most popular. (His most recent laundry lists are to be published in a run of 200,000 copies next year.) Winton I have had trouble with in the past: I never finished The Riders, as it was so... I don't know: ethereally soppy. This is no doubt totally unfair. Too Australian (by definition this means superficial and dumb), yet it is too profound, it's such a contradiction to my experience of Australian arts - think A Country Practice, or Neighbours scripted by Checkhov. He goes somewhere I just can't go yet, where Patrick White went bravely in the 50's and 60's only to be marginalised with a 'poofter' epithet and a Nobel Prze, the ultimate sign of irrelevance. Winton's world is too familiar to be art, it's Kath Joyce and Kim Beckett, it's me and my friends if we were gayoid or metrosexuals, which is a terrible way of saying: This is what we might say we felt if we knew that we had feelings, and what the names for those feelings were. But we don't, I don't. In my frustration, in my abortive attempts to communicate with words, without music, instead I just cry.
In my experience of a Winton book, everyone is sad (Maggie has just died again? - A Country Practice, the 80's TV soap reference, sorry!) and on the verge of crying all the time.
Not too many Australians are comfortable in those Patrick White suburbs and on these Tim Winton beaches. I know I am not. Or maybe Winton IS just a wanker, and it's not my fault.
In the store I read the first pages of this book - it looks to be about a surfer and his obsession with the sea and so hey, I totally relate to that... But it starts with an incident of an older ambulance driver and his young female partner attending to a 17 year old who seems to have strangled himself (perhaps while masturbating) and whose mother has washed him and dressed him and combed his hair and laid him on the bed before the ambos and the police arrive.
I start to cry. Maybe because no-one in the book is crying even though the situation is as sad as anything you've ever read, ever experienced. Hey, I say that, but I don't know what you've experienced and I know that I've experienced some exquisitely sad shit in my work at the hospital - my friend's parents dying one after the other, bang bang, and him going crazy, young people maimed by the sudden deceleration of cars and motorcycles when they strike each other and/or immovable objects, little children with cancer... I didn't cry then either, like the ambulance driver, it's sad but it was my job.
OK Tim, you win, I'll buy your sad fucking sad book about sad people who should be crying more. I'm not gonna cry again about it though. I swear.
I think of the Shawn Colvin song from the 1996 album "A Few Small Repairs" that I really like and that I been thinking about since I listened to Jo's album the other day when I started to cry. The song she wrote that made me cry in the training room is called "In Time" and these were the guilty words:
so I - try-y-y to take a deep breath and say the right things,
but I - fi-i-ind solace in what the silence brings...
I don't know why I cried, but I did. Did I tell you that I came up behind her as she was talking to someone else and I gave her one of my big bear-hugs, and she turned from the person she was talking to, how could she not, trapped in my arms, and I released her and I said "Thank you," and turning she smiled and she said, "Oh, you're crying. That's beautiful." And I was, and it was, but I said I wasn't, I said that no, I was crying because I had sinus trouble. I wasn't, you know, SOBBING, there were just a few tears in my eyes because it was a beautiful song with a set of frequencies that resonated in my lacrymal ducts and stimulated them, is all.
And the Shawn Colvin song I was thinking of after that was Nothin' On Me, when Shawn says:
Now I'm not crazy
And you not nice,
So don't try to save me
With your advice -
I'm not gonna cry-y
And I'm waving goodbye...
Because the double diphthong on the "Y" sound reminds me of the triple diphthongs in Jo's song and because it's true, I'm not gonna cry. Not any more, not with this upbeat song playing (it's playing now). I went back into Borders and looked for a recent Shawn Colvin album. I found one, called These Four Walls.
I place the new Shawn Colvin CD in the iMac to copy the album to my iPod. The iTunes program asks if I want to copy it. I say Yes, of course. iTunes and Loser loses the album. It disappears from the desktop. I try to Eject the disk using the hard Eject button on the iMac keyboard.
IT DOES NOT EJECT. The disk is gone, deep into the bowels of the system. It is electronic- not mechanical - I cannot stick a pin in to retreive it.
It has been tethered. Mightily fucking tethered.
Imagine if this software was driving a spaceship. All those people on the spaceship would die. It is so sad.
I start to cry.
(OK, a day wasted typing this self-indulgent drivel when I had intended to write about my Hong Kong story - I am going out for sushi...)
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
great stuff rambo snr...
There may be some genetic code thing whereby you're the only one who truly understands how stupid I really am...
p.s. I love ya!