Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Last week, I sent my 300th song to the U.S. Copyright Office.

Of course, a few of those hundreds of songs are repeats and reprises from my two classical albums, but if you add in the smattering of songs I’ve thrown away, it’s a wash, and 300 is a good official number. And of course, I have proof of this on my Bandcamp page, if anybody wants to fact-check me. Go! Count them! (The last 10 are going up within a week or two.)

I have a new milestone in a couple of months that also has a zero in it. That one I have less control over.

And that’s led me to a message for older people out there: I wrote more than two-thirds of this music in the last three years, a period of explosive growth for me as a songwriter, and during what people would call middle age. In my 20s, I wrote only a few dozen songs, and perhaps doubled that number in my 30s. But since 2016, at which time I was well into my 40s, I’ve made 14 albums, writing music everywhere–on the train, on the plane, on the treadmill, on the couch. I even tried to stop for months at a time while I worked on fiction, but it got to where I was writing songs unconsciously just walking around the store.

You might sniff and say it’s just the robot software doing it all. I have been, after all, writing stuff in GarangeBand–on my phone–and a lot of my work involves tape loops and buttons. But that’s the wrong conclusion. My guitar playing, both in speed and nuance, got three times better in 2016. And I suddenly started playing piano with no training in 2018. The iPhone is helping me, but it’s not writing the music or arranging it.

How have I become so prolific later in life? I don’t know. I have no idea why it all suddenly came to me. It’s been said and demonstrated to me over and over that we’re all supposed to lose inspiration and start sucking at art, and especially uptempo music, when we get older. We lose our muse. We get complacent. We resist the new ideas; our minds are less malleable, less playful, less able to assimilate new truths and discoveries and all else that makes you a great artist. That’s the conventional wisdom.

It’s also a crock of shit. Your ability to discover new talent within yourself has no age limit. Your style has no age limit. The idea of your imminent deterioration as you age is largely a mental and social construct–not unlike the fabrication that high school was the best times of our lives. Both ideas, we ought to suspect, have more to do with other people’s pitch to sell us stuff, and less to do with essential truths.

So this is something new I hope I could offer, besides my music itself: I can tell you unequivocally that I found an ocean of inspiration in my 40s, that these have easily been my peak years as an artist, peaks I hope will be eclipsed in my 50s.

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  1. Who knew gold prices would plunge that far?
  2. Why don’t you try running a country?
  3. Who needs a job at the Export-Import Bank, anyway?
  4. I can go to any country in the world, so who cares if I don’t have children?
  5. I don’t like it when women are called bossy.
  6. Well as far as I knew he really did have a friend with an EpiPen who was dying!
  7. Joanna Newsom is a genius!
  8. My bones are just dense.
  9. We were working with the best intelligence we had at the time.
  10. He just has to get drunk and throw things and leave the room angry sometimes, but I love him, OK?

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Roses–*We could have sent a singing telegram.

–*We could have made reservations at an upscale restaurant days in advance.

–*We could have bought our love ones sexy essential oils like sandalwood or jasmine.

–*We could have created a “coupon” for one extra sexy bath.

–*We could have cooked a surprise dinner of London broil garnished with rosemary and crushed garlic.

–*We could have written a special poem just for the occasion.

–* … bonus points for one that didn’t rhyme.

–*We could have taken him or her for a carriage ride around the park to create an extra sexy mood.

–*We could have lit some candles on wall sconces, turned off the lights and listened to sexy music by Barry White, Beth Orton or Bon Iver.

–*We could have found a sitter.

–*Or we could have just acknowledged that after 10 years of marriage, the pint of Ben & Jerry’s sufficed.

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I haven’t posted recently, and don’t really want to post about the Newtown, Conn. shootings today, in which 20 elementary school children were massacred by a gunman while they were trapped in their classroom (along with seven adults). But I also think silence has its own kind of disrespect. So I’ll say only that I’ve been too sick in my stomach today to want to put my feelings into words. It’s something fatherhood has done to me–made me feel protective of every person’s children, since mine could have just as easily been harmed as theirs. To open yourself up to that kind of love for a being, to feel protective of that being, responsible for that being, and know that it’s possible he or she can be taken away from you in a meaningless burst of violence, is almost impossible to reconcile to logic. It makes you want to shut down, give up, go away. Take your child and run and hide.

I am being told that to politicize this patently political problem today is unseemly. That is the conspicuous pile of bullshit being spread by a certain rights lobby, whose defensive posture and rhetoric says more than I ever could about them. I could go on for pages about that. But lucky for them I don’t feel like it. I feel only like being with my small, hopeful, innocent son, holding him, watching over him and spending the next few days trying to remind myself that my plan was to bring him into a good world.  Would that it were always true.

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Girly Man, With Son

I don’t know if anybody saw this article in The New York Times a week or so ago. It says that men’s testosterone levels drop after they have children. This study prompts the Old Gray Lady to ask, “Dads, are you no longer manly?” That’s right, it’s official, according to science. Being a dad has also made me a woman.

I have friend, a new father like I am, who answered the proposition that we’re not macho anymore with one word:  “Good!” What’s not to like that we don’t pick fights or try to pick up other people’s chicks anymore? What’s bad about the fact that my maternal instinct has kicked in around my newborn son Xander, who doesn’t, I think, need a football coach at this point?

Sorry to sound like a shrill feminist, but on one level, the questions the paper asked are insulting and set up a completely false dichotomy. If men really are more nurturing, less aggressive, less randy and less territorial after they make sprog, then there is obviously some biological imperative at work, right? Some good reason? Yet we’re supposed to get our panties in a wad, says the paper of record, because this biological phenomenon doesn’t accommodate the totally cultural concept of masculinity. In other words, the paper asks, shouldn’t we be protecting the image of ourselves as macho ass-kickers at all costs, even if nature doesn’t even think it’s necessary? What the hell is that all about, New York Times? Whom exactly, I ask, are we doing this for? Our relatives in the military? Clint Eastwood? Arnold Schwarzen-lecher? Our dads? The other guys in the locker room in junior high?

Nature, we’ve got to admit, really mocks us when it comes to reproduction. Our mandates, science suggest, are not static, but change. We are attracted often to people who are not good for us in any way. We often want someone badly who we later don’t want at all. Researchers have found that women like macho guys at one time of the month and girly men at other times–when they are not ovulating (the story I read said Sean Connery is more attractive during ovulation and Leonardo DiCaprio at the other end of the cycle. Put that on a movie poster! How about we call it “Moon Men”?) And while evolutionary biology has explained a lot of things, it still doesn’t explain why some of us are born attracted to the same sex and can’t be changed under any circumstances.

What in the hell kind of lessons are these to take from our vindictive Hebrew deity evolution? I remember an Esquire article written years ago called “The Big Dog Gets the Girl–The Return of the Alpha Male.” I loved the writer (a manly man himself who actually offered me a job once) but hated the ideas. He forced the reader to confront the thought that certain attributes generally considered “male,” including the randiness, the out-of-control lust, the aggressiveness, etc., were necessary and useful in a world of animals, which of course we are. You don’t have to go much further than your corner bar to see that females, regardless of education and despite all their bitching, respond to aggressive behavior and turn up their noses at the weaker protein (and these patterns don’t necessarily disappear if you’re gay). I have to admit that these are points hard to argue with. But then you get in trouble with your generalizations when you encounter people who don’t adhere to the rules. There are lots of guys who are effeminate (not homosexual, which is a different thing, FYI) and women who want to join the Army and go kill.

I think we lose our way when we think these mix ups are a bad thing. We err when we draw broad conclusions about what a girl or boy is. In fact, in a perfect world we could share, switch off, take turns at being boys and girls when the mood strikes us. The diversity among us–and within us–is just part of the imperfection of the sex drive, whose hallmark more than anything else is its drive to diversity (Thank you, Mr. Kinsey.)

This doesn’t have to be distressing news to you douches out there with your proud douche heritage. Nor to women who revel in the rich rewards of their feminine wiles and all the free margaritas that come with them. Because being only an alpha male all the time, guys, or being only girly girls all the time, girls, are limitations that can rob you of the richness of experience, whether you have a dick or not. This is what the sexual revolution was partly about: playing the rigid roles 24/7 was making us all assholes. Haven’t you watched Mad Men?

So, if you have read The New York Timesand feel confused, I personally give you a dispensation. Go be a boy. Or a girl. Or not.

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My wife and I finally switched off our cable for good the other day. I could use this column to reflect on all the fun that I had with the now antiquated concept of cable TV–the place where I discovered music videos, Tony Soprano, meerkats, Wolf Blitzer’s beard, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s breasts, Suze Orman’s teeth and, back in the early days, practically non-stop viewing of the Kris Kristofferson’s film Convoy.

And yet I feel like what I’m saying goodbye to now ought not to be called cable but simply “The Kardashian Box.” The fundamental problem with cable is the illusion of choice: It was supposed to give us thousands of channels, and perhaps offer us a peek into different languages, religions, histories, cultures, entire libraries of film (old movies, new movies, lost movies and perhaps even the 90% of independent movies that don’t get distributors). That’s not even to mention the sports. Instead, cable has become a brand-building machine–an entablature of pretty faced caryatids with fake boobs who sell us and perfumes and young adult books and predatory lending scams and those death traps called “cars.” The Kardashian Box has organized into a few repeated themes–nostalgia (TV Land), masturbation (Cinemax), death drive (the CBS weekend cop shows, and I guess the increasingly aggressive nightly news programs, too) and fetish object (QVC and Snooki). Because the audience is hard to corral otherwise, my one-time favorite movie channels are now showing cheap reality TV and reruns to keep their overhead down and still showing more ads than broadcast TV. Why in the hell am I paying for this?

And there is probably no better time to get rid of cable than now, when America has seemingly become enthralled by the tax-revenue-consuming capers of a monarchy we rejected 235 years ago. “Could Kate Middleton be the new Diana?” ask the journalists as they run down the street chasing Prince William’s bride and miss the irony. If you have ever seen Bernardo Bertolucci’s film “The Spider’s Strategem,” perhaps you have a sick feeling like I do when Jane Seymour and her blinding dentition come onscreen with more Royal news. The Bertolucci movie was about a man who was trying to escape his family’s history and for his efforts found himself increasingly enmeshed in it. So, too, do I shudder at watching the press build up another couple of people they can later tear down. The viewers, of course, aren’t stupid. At this point, they likely know how the dirty game works. They’ve torn down Britney, Lindsay, Miley and Barney (OK, maybe not Barney). A lot of them have given it up this game and stopped watching. Others, however, still need the comfort of seeing the accident happen over and over. Fetish. Death drive. Deliverance. Stasis. Digestion. Bathroom break.

Perhaps nothing is as telling in the royal wedding phenomenon as the fascination with clothing, traditions,  supporting characters. The identity of the dressmaker is shrouded in secrecy until we find an appropriate moment to invade his or her privacy. We are schooled in the finer points of heraldry and learn the difference between a lozenge and an escutcheon, a party per pale and a party per saltire and other details of the bridal panoply. For good measure we invite the ghostly visitation of one departed player whose spectral, Pre-Raphaelite vacuousness haunts us as certainly as Hamlet’s father: Yes, SHE is back. We are asked if the couple’s first female child will be called Diana. We are shown split screen comparisons of old bride and new. A news story breaks that William will use his mother’s sapphire engagement ring. Kate’s Libelula dress is compared with Diana’s Emanuel dress. The old video is shown. … And then, as James Frazer predicted in The Golden Bough, the “Killing of the King” process begins anew as new bride supplants old in a form of psychological ritual murder (OK, sorry, just riffing there).

In a way, life has come full circle, because the Royals were reality TV before there was such a thing. Henry VIII’s exploits were fodder for townie gossip and scandal sheets long before we had a Kardashian Box. Both then and now, the viewers know the game and even may know the rules are contrived, just as they know Jersey Shore‘s Snooki is likely flirting with invisible cameramen. It’s just that the viewers don’t care. I once met a Lancashire woman who was something of a political firebrand and came to America to announce that U.S. citizens owe all Native Americans reparations. I felt hard-pressed to argue, but then in an unguarded moment, she admitted she had loved the royals and wanted to be Princess Di when she was younger. Who was I to be self-righteous at that moment and say, “Your monarchy lives off the fat of the poor and is an abomination to the Rights of Man, Republican idealism, human equality and basic morality. Also, they can’t dance.”

I, too, love reading English history and marvel as chips off the block of William the Conqueror globe trot and take gap years in Chile and need to do little else to stand as testament to the island’s storied past. It’s just that you can love Roman history without needing the Empire to come back. Still, forget the argument about whether the royals are important, whether they should be taxed, or whether their political function makes them easily replaceable with a rubber stamp from Staples. The more important question is: What is the emotional need they fulfill, even in Americans who are supposed to be decathected from such nonsense? Do men in Britain still feel an aching affection for routinzed charisma? Do women still secretly love the idea of being chattel princesses? Or is it more simple? I feel that if we looked into ourselves deeply enough, we’d discover that it’s the same reason we need cable (and pay so much for both): We are existentially sick. We no longer want to live in our bodies. We have checked out. Watching Kate Middleton wed in a story book tale allows us to project ourselves inside of her (take the meaning there however you want), and abscond from our own here and now and the responsibility to our reality. (FYI: Another way to abscond from reality is to believe in heaven.)

Being in our own here and now, after all, is too hard. We are most of us at the mercy of adrenal glands who do our thinking for us. Our bodies are tired from feeling things, freeing ourselves from them mentally is our constant burden. To be in your body all the time requires constant thought and maintenance. Exercising. Working. A debate. Running errands. Motorcross. Skydiving. Even blogging. To take ownership of your own being is a task many of us would readily shrink from. Some literary critics even contend that it’s the struggle where mythology originates–the contrived stories we tell each other and which we use to arrange reality are nothing more than shadows on the wall projected by our own conflicted glands. Thus the royals are are not just Williams and Harrys. They are also our Dicks.

I leave you with that thought as you enjoy the royal wedding. I hear that Sophie Cranston is a fab designer!

Where does that leave me? … Just bought a new Apple TV. So juicy … so delicious … here comes my descent into existential oblivion.

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I was working one afternoon in a coffee shop on the Upper East Side writing, when I found myself in a familiar Manhattan situation: I was forced to listen to an intimate conversation between the women next to me and learn things about them I shouldn’t know. It seems one of them was having trouble dating. Finding the right guy was hard for her, and yet she defined love not in expansive terms but overwhelmingly in the restrictive terms of things she did not want. She didn’t like momma’s boys, for one thing. The latest deal breaker was that a guy she was seeing had used the word “sketchy.”

Really? Is “sketchy” a dealbreaker? If you aren’t familiar with it, the word is in what we in Oklahoma call the goddamn dictionary and is defined as “iffy” or “questionable,” as in a questionable person. It’s first known use, according to Webster’s, was 1805.

I took umbrage, maybe because it’s a word I like. Its slang variants have given us fun phrases like, “He’s a bit of a sketch,” which are useful to me as a writer. But then I started to wonder (as he started to sound like Sarah Jessica Parker) have we become too judgmental? Then I realized (continuing to sound like Sarah Jessica Parker) people make quick and poor judgments because they want to judge first. For he who does it first, does it best, parrying all attacks and rejection. Yet as well all know, that’s mainly the obsession of people who have all their lives been judged. So I took another look at this woman, her crossed arms. Her mostly camouflaging outfit, her stern face and realized (this blog is turning into “Sex and the City” and lacks only the puns) oh, my God, this woman has been rejected more than a subprime home buyer. No, scratch that. In America even subprime homebuyers get homes. This woman must have been sub-sub-prime. Her FICO score could have been 376. Who else would reject a guy for using a harmless word like “sketchy”?

I, too, was rejected a bit in my youth, and wondered if I judge people, too.

The words of my friend Carol rang in my ears, “Eric, you’re too judgmental.”

She’s right! The other woman in the conversation had been sitting by herself a few moments before. She was a lot more cheerful than her friend, much perkier. And she was very excited to hear “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi come. She started shaking her head to the music at the table and having herself a time, and I remember very clearly what I said to myself in my head: “I reject you.”

All of us cover up vulnerability in different ways. Some people are lucky enough not to have emotional vulnerability, and they go on to head up companies like Halliburton and Bank of America and Goldman Sachs and largely avoid jail time. But the rest of us create armor for our lack of confidence. We tell jokes. We hide behind a guitar. We only leave the house on days when the perspiration isn’t so bad. We create huge altars to the Virgin Mary or to Cure founder Robert Smith. We construct public personae that are increasingly elaborate and perhaps even estranged from who we are inside.

I once read a description of introverts and extroverts I quite liked. This was the way I’ll interpret it: An extrovert will get into a car engine and just start playing around to see what’s wrong with it. An introvert must make a map of the engine in his head before he touches anything. The extrovert will fumble around and might lummox up everything–but if not, he might get it done a lot more quickly. The introvert, meanwhile, might needs to constantly make notes and reassess the situation, and figure out what might be wrong in the extrovert’s thinking. That slows things down quite a bit. And it means making judgments. Sometimes these kinds of judgments can make you come off like a real asshole. But sometimes it can make you cautious enough to say, I need more information before I make a decision about a complicated matter.

I don’t know whether to put this woman in the cautious category or the asshole category. It could be that she doesn’t know who she is, and trying on boyfriends and discarding them is a way of getting to know herself. Is is possible to judge people and accept them at the same time? Can I accept the parts of Noam Chomsky’s political outlook I like and then vehemently judge the rest? Do I have to reject the philosophy of Ayn Rand or can we just be friends? Maybe the ultimate goal isn’t to be judgmental but simply selective. That way we can grow without becoming ingrown. Accept other people’s rejection of us as an opportunity to grow up. Maybe the sketch is us.

How’s that for a pun, Sarah Jessica Parker? I reject you.

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Remember, young mommies, breast milk is for your baby. Kids who have been breast fed have fewer allergy problems. They are less susceptible to diseases, both as infants and later in life.

So with that in mind, realize that making ice cream of your breast milk is a bougie waste of time that takes precious nutrients out of your baby’s mouth, mostly to make you look cute. If you had any extra, you could be donating it to banks.

Shame on you!

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Looks like another Egyptian has been liberated, but it’s not good news this time.

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I’m not a huge fan of sad anniversaries. I understand that it’s important to mark occasions like Sept. 11 so that people can perhaps exorcise demons and pains all at the same time. But I also know that grief has no clock. At some point, pain becomes ritual. And then, ritual becomes pain. Maybe even extends pain needlessly.

A year ago today I lost my mother in a car wreck. I have told my nephew, who was also in the wreck, that in no way should he hate St. Patrick’s Day, hate the Texas beach where he was going, hate the state of Texas (where it happened) or create any other long-lasting horrible psychological association where there need not be one. If you want to hate St. Patrick’s Day, then you ought to only because of the New York parade (just kidding, New York).

I get a lot of kind mail from readers and friends about the accident and I appreciate all of it. Suffice it to say that I’m looking back fondly at my mom, looking ahead with nervousness at my impending fatherhood, and making a lot of art in the meantime to stitch it all together before I myself drop dead. Love takes courage because we all face loss all the time. I keep that in mind not to be morbid, but because it makes joy, any joy, that much sweeter and the love we have that much better.

So here’s looking back at you, ma. Love you.

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