Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ghosts in the Machine....

A couple years ago I spent some time setting up a My Space page which I later mostly abandoned after I started this blog. Sometime later I set up a Face Book page, but I quickly forgot my log on information and put it out of my mind. Occasionally I would try and access the page, but for some reason I could never get the "lost password" link to work. Finally, about a week ago, I managed to get back on and I found a mailbox full of messages.

The effect was disorienting.

The best way I can describe it is that it was like a scene from a science fiction film in which a group of people who were abducted by aliens thirty or forty years ago suddenly return, walking out of a mist into view. Or, perhaps it is the memories that, like rescued miners, stumble of the mine entrance, their hands shielding their eyes from the daylight.

With every name from the past I found, I would look at who their friends were and find more names that sounded familiar and I would follow those links. I began to look at the photo books of people I didn't know or only vaguely remembered and, after an hour or so of that, I clicked on another collection of photos and found the one above.

I was stunned.

The photograph was taken in 1973, in the basement of my parents' house in Northeast Philadelphia (Cottman & the Boulevard for anyone who knows Philadelphia). The paneling, ceiling tiles, that dartboard, all instantly recognizable. I'm standing at the left; next to me is my friend Cliff. It was Cliff who introduced me to Bruce Springsteen when, after I'd moved to Clarion PA to start college, he mailed me sheets of lyrics from the Asbury Park album that he'd copied out by hand. This photo was taken right around the time I went back to Philadelphia and the two of us drove over to New Jersey, to see the E-Street Band for the first time at a bar called Uncle Al's Earlton Lounge.

$1 cover charge and $1 beers.

Next to Cliff is David, one of my best friends from that time, being held by another person I can't quite remember. I have no idea who took the photo either. I am pretty sure, however, where I got the idea for the sideburns.

I am in awe of the past. I am in awe of the future. I am in awe of the present. The "internet" -- this seemingly infinite mass of information that has no mass -- seems like a connection to another dimension outside of the four we move through.

This is also, however, where understanding that 75% of all the people on Earth today have never used a telephone comes in handy too. It helps pull me back down here on Planet One where real things still really matter.

Still, fun, these interwebs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Marilyn Gets High....

A home movie that shows Marilyn Monroe smoking a cigarette reportedly filled with marijuana was sold at auction for $275,000. The video, which shows Monroe relaxing and laughing with friends, was filmed about 50 years ago at a home in New Jersey. According to the Daily Mail, the person who made the film confirmed that the cigarette contained marijuana, saying: "I got it (the pot). It was mine. It was just passed around. It was not a party. It was just a get-together. You know, come over and hang out."

I'm not sure what it is about this photo, a screen capture from a silent 8mm film shot at a party over half a century ago, that I find so... comforting.

I think it is an echo of my early-1970s self; a fantasy in which I'm passing a joint from Marilyn to John and Paul, sitting in my living room of that small house on Liberty Street in Clarion, PA, Bonnie Raitt's Give It Up on the stereo. Rum and cokes all around.

Life is good.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Late Great Johnny Ace

Twenty-nine years ago today I was at a late-night poker game. A friendly penny ante game at my friend Steve's apartment. Steve lived above a garage on South Street in Clarion, PA. I lived in an apartment above a garage about a block away. We drank beer and played records and I'm sure I bitched and moaned about every card I was dealt. The game broke up about 2:30 and a half-hour later I got a call from Steve. He said his brother, who'd driven home to Fryburg after the game, called to tell him that he'd heard on the radio that John Lennon had been shot.

"He thinks he may have been killed."

This was back before the advent of 24 hour news channels. CNN had started that very year and wasn't on the cable system in that small town yet. I thought, I don't know what I thought; maybe "I hope not", and I went to bed. I woke up late the next morning and turned on the TV and on channel after channel I saw the kind of photo and film montage that can only mean that someone has died.

I was working at a small local record store and I remember being furious with the people who called to ask if their Beatles and Lennon LPs were worth a bunch of money now. One guy called one evening, not too long before I closed the store, and he just wanted to talk about it. Not about the killing, but about Lennon and about the Beatles and about our childhoods and our memories.

I remembered the very first time I'd heard the name "Beatles", sitting in my desk in class at the local Catholic grade school. The parish priest's voice boomed out of the PA system to tell us that, in no uncertain terms, would "beetle haircuts" be permitted. None of us had any idea what he was talking about and yet all of us suddenly wanted one. What we now know as "THE SIXTIES" might have started that very morning.

My favorite John Lennon memory goes a little past thirteen years before that poker game when my friend Bob and I came back from the shop across the street with the new Beatles 45; this was late-November 1967. I had a crappy record player in the basement of my parents house and we sat there, not even taking our coats off, and listened to "Hello, Goodbye", a decent enough I suppose Paul McCartney song (elevated by some fantastic drumming by Ringo) but possibly the single most undeserving A-side of a single ever, or at least so we concluded after flipping the little disc over and dropping the needle on "I Am the Walrus."

In November of 1967 I was fourteen and had only read the stories about LSD in Time, LIFE and Look magazines; now we found out what LSD sounded like. Hearing that song there in that basement was like the moment in The Wizard of Oz where everything shifts from black and white to technicolor (of course, so was hearing "Strawberry Fields Forever" for that matter).

That same year Rolling Stone Magazine appeared for the first time and Lennon graced the cover of issue #1.

Rolling Stone ceased to be relevant sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s, but I always thought that had Jann Wenner had far more class than he does he might have simply and quietly folded the magazine after their last great issue.

Of all the work the individual Beatles did after the dissolution of the band, there is only one moment that, in my opinion, manages to surpass the best of it. On John Lennon's first solo LP, the song "God." His vocal on the lines, "The dream is over... what can I say? The dream is over" is among the most sublime things I have ever heard.

There are a bunch of songs about John Lennon, but the one that I think stands by itself is Paul Simon's "Late Great Johnny Ace."