Bruce Springsteen’s Terribly Nice Thing To Say

Brooklyn N.Y.

Oh, radio, radio, today’s sound salvation is one of the classics, “Born To Run” — Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 smash ode to getting the hell out of town.  It came on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current today, just after 10:30 a.m.

There’s undoubtedly reams upon stacks of writing on the song — desperation set to expansive music: a Dylanesque language chandelier shattering on a Wall of Sound.

It is, I would argue,  a successful attempt at a “big song,” like “Hey Ya!” by Outkast or many such tunes from “The Joshua Tree” era U2.

Before I get too far down the turnpike writing about Bruce and “Born To Run”  (oh, it’s tempting,  so, so tempting), I’m going to exit at my favorite line in the song.

If you dig, like way down in the hole dig,  lyrical masterworks such as  “Visions of Johanna’ by Bob Dylan or “Don’t Believe the Hype” by Public Enemy, you likely can quote back to me a favorite line.

A favorite literature professor of mine, Richard Cunningham, said that once about “Absalom, Absalom!,” that if you take a trip  into  Faulkner’s linguistic world, you come back with a souvenir.

So it is with “Born to Run.”

The line I love is this: “Wendy, let me in I want to be your friend/ I want to guard your dreams and visions.”

Isn’t that a terribly nice thing to say to someone and to offer to do?

First, it the the “guard” that gets me. It’s sound writing, much like my favorite line in Springsteen’s “The Ties That Bind,”  — ‘Who’s going to quiet your pain.”  It’s not ease your pain, it’s quiet your pain. It’s better.

It’s not  important that we learn what Wendy’s dream and visions happen to be; it’s that whatever they might be, they matter.  They are precious.

There’s also the idea that Wendy isn’t completely sold on this guy, and she’s holding back a bit.

It’s an acknowledgement  bravery of falling in love with someone.

It’s not just who you are, it’s how you see yourself. It’s not  just what you’re done, but all you hope to do.

Maybe it’s that Wendy and this guy are young and that road stretches to the offing. But does that feeling go away? I don’t know. I hope not.

Your visions and dreams change, but the person that loves you stands guard.

That’s really what a good song can do — if “Born To Run” if it’s anything it’s a good song — it  emulates the space where the past and future whirl around, potential energy for a last chance power drive.



Sick Tunes Journal

Brooklyn N.Y.

I think the coolest part of having Apple TV is the ability to conveniently stream radio stations from around the world. Forgive me if I sound like a rube, but it blows my mind.

I’ve long been a dues paying devotee of Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, and I usually start the day with with their morning show and sometimes leave it on until 11 a.m., when I switch to BBC Radio 6, to listen to the influential British DJ Steve Lamacq.

Today Lammo played old cuts from  Longpigs and Lionrock, amid newer stuff.

I first heard Lamacq during the ‘96-97 academic year I spent studying in the UK. I had radio in my  room and would spend many evenings listening to Lamacq and Jo Wiley, who hosted a Britpop-centric show on BBC Radio 1 called the Evening Session. Then at 10 p.m. my hero John Peel would come on. It was heaven, really.

Having Lamacq on in the crib  today also jostled loose a memory and a lament.

Of  all the stuff I’ve lost down the years, the one I wish I could conjure would be my radio journal from that year in Britain.

Now, “journal,” is, yeah, a little grand a for what it was — a spiral 8.5 x 11 (A4, if you’re listening in Blighty) notebook where  I scribbled down the names of songs and bands that I heard on Radio 1.

That task is now unnecessary, as radio stations post their playlists; it’s super convenient.

Back then, it was essential, as my short-term memory was (and is) wretched, and I could never quite remember the names of the latest tracks when I went a-hunting at the record shops.

I remember the first time Radio 1 played Teenage Fanclub’s jangle-rific “Ain’t That Enough.” I cranked the radio and I wrote it down  in my crap penmanship. It’s now one of my favorite songs, but if I had my radio journal, I could see the record of that first blast of love.

While packing to come back to the States it went missing, probably got trashed and has now degraded into nothing.

Writing down the names of songs on you hear on the radio is a dorky kind of fun. I imagine some of you keep track of how many tomatoes or cucumbers you harvest from the back garden.

I think the need to document songs comes from that same need to keep track of things  that inspires people to buy Fitbits and the like.

So, today, I found a blank notebook, a medium-sized one with a green cover. I took out a black Sharpie and wrote “SICK TUNES” on the cover. I’m going to start again. And gee, if that ain’t that a Teenage Fanclub song.



A Good Word: Propulsive

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Those of us that love writing and/or reading have words we hate. It’s hard not to and it’s understandable — every boat has some bilge water.

My damp, sick, tiny, coughing weasel of a word these days is “curate.”  It’s a little grand a term for my taste, unless of course you pay the bills working in museums or the like.

Oh, you curated an Apple Music playlist?  Did you now? How lovely.  

So, that’s one that causes dismissive hisses and grunts.  But there are words, many, many, words, that are excellent to read, say and type.

Today the one that’s been sliding to and fro in my mind is “propulsive.”

I said it last night to my roommate. She just spent two weeks on beaches in Trinidad and Tobago, sipping Carib beer and reading a novel.  We were having a chat over coffee about it. I mentioned I just finished the excellent Toni Morrison novel “Sula,” from 1973,  one of hers that I had not read.

What I like about Morrison’s work is that  you can spin the book  around and it’s a lot of different things. There’s  slashing prose describing racism in Ohio, a “normal” place to American readers. “Sula” also has some sumptuously written sex scenes, where you can feel love amid the sweat glistening on bodies. Gorgeous stuff.

But I chose “propulsive” because Morrison moves the narrative along, on a very human scale. The chapters are divided into years, yes, so that’s a tip, but Morrison does a great job aging the both the title character and her friend Nel.

Each time you pick up with them, you can sense changes, sometimes in actions and dialogue seasoned with wisdom and sometimes they are doing what they’ve always done.

Wonderful read, if you haven’t yet got to it, and still wonderful if you have.


Pocket Veto

Brooklyn, N.Y.

The tropical Christmas we had here in the northeast United States has now snapped back into line. It’s in the 40s under a leaden sky, all poised to get colder later on, with maybe some sleet.

While it’s pedestrian to talk about the weather, I did just go out for a walk outside, bodega bound,  and I returned with a baby kale salad  for a light lunch.

Before leaving, and in  what has been a rarity this December, I pulled on my black peacoat with a pleasing, just-above-the ass cut. Cold, at times, yes, but fashionably cold. And it doesn’t deprive the world of a view of le derriere du Chupaska  just because it’s winter.

So, after a quick button — only three on the peacoat –I plunged my right hand into my right  pocket and pulled out my winter hat.  Now, I had no idea my winter hat was in that pocket. Had I  searched for it, I would have eventually found it, but not without the dash of panic that precipitates the sense that one might have lost something.

This brings me to one of the more annoying aspects of a cold winter: that the amount of things you have to bring with you and pockets you have on your person increase exponentially.

In summer, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s even after sundown, you’re wearing less clothes and therefore less pockets.

My two go-to shorts, a fun red pair and a sensible gray pair, each have three pockets.

If I’m out in the summertime, there’s only two places to place my keys, wallet and phone.

It’s much easier to keep track off. Plus, shorts are made less sturdy material than my four pocketed Levi 511s, so each  item has presence in my shorts  and I know where they are, and will quickly realize its absence.

Come winter, there’s an explosion of pockets.

There’s the two plus two on my jeans, plus there’s side pockets and inside pocket on my blazer. (Quick bit of parenthetical fashion advice: wear blazers; it adds some elan no matter the occasion.). That’s before I get on my winter coat, which has two big pockets on the side, plus a smaller one, with a zip,  on the inside.  

After consulting with my accountant, that’s 10 pockets total.

So, in addition to the said wallet, phone and keys, I add gloves and a hat.

Upon arrival to a restaurant or a bar, I take off the hat and gloves and scrunch them into my coat pocket, and it bulges accordingly.

Sometimes when you’re at the bar, especially a crowded one, there’s always that interval between arrival and finding a place to sit — the, hot sweaty,  standing stage of your night out.

So, my coat stays on, the wallet comes out of the jeans pocket, and I’ll get a round. After paying,  sometimes the wallet goes into the coat pocket, often the same one inhabited by my gloves and hat.

I think it’s because some pockets have a kind of most favored nation status. One pocket could be vacant and roomy, primed for gloves and hats, but no, all your possessions go into the same pocket.

So, my keys and wallet will nestle in the folds of my hat, or escape like a hedgehog down one of my gloves.

Then, either because it’s my round or because I’m visited by that “Where the hell is my wallet?”  and “Where are my keys?’ shock of worry, I’ll burrow through pocket full of wool and leather until I find them.

And of course, I’ll curse the pocket problem, instead taking a moment to sensibly distribute the contents.

But at least there is the expectation, in my world at least, that with the greater amount of pockets, the more intense the worry that  the wallet might go missing.

Well, on Christmas Eve I actually lost my wallet while wearing clothes that number seven pockets — jeans plus blazer.

It’s actually gone. New New York state license and credit cards are on the way.

But seven pockets? In the middle between minimum and maximum pockets?

The mediocrity of it all.


David Letterman and consensus

Ever since David Letterman announced his retirement last year, the world of running commentary has been writing think pieces at a sprinter’s pace.

To tease out common themes:  Letterman was a true innovator cast as a true original in American comedy, as the Atlantic Monthly put it this past week.

Letterman was the one who mocked the artifice of television and show business.  Dave drew attention to the fact that you were watching a television show, that it wasn’t another world that you were transported to as viewer. It was a guy in a room with strange ideas about what was funny set to a kick-ass rock band.

There’s been plenty written about how he was skeptical of his guests and a prickly  Letterman interview was the ultimate late night thrill cam.

Then critics pointed out that the show became broader and less innovative when Letterman moved to CBS and the sacred 11:30 p.m.  Eventually, Letterman’s show evolved into something resembling Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show,” with the host as a storyteller.

Several pieces ended on how things are different now, with people’s shared experience of late night comedy happening the next day online rather staying awake to watch it live.

Now that we’re not watching shows as they happen on television are we better rested? Are we having more sex? What are doing with that time?  But I digress, as I just did.

For the most part, I agree with all of those takes on Letterman’s legacy.

And maybe that’s why I’ve felt agitated in the run up to  Letterman’s, it must be said, splendid finale last night. It’s the warm, wooly consensus.

This was a person and comedy show that seemed to go against convention.

Whether or not Letterman and “Late Night”  actually did subvert the mainstream is less important. It was representative of that impulse to me.

“Late Night with David Letterman,”  the 12:30 a.m. show on NBC, is my favorite television show. It was when it was on the air, it is now and I suppose it always will be.

“Late Night”  entered my world in  the summer of 1988, the year my parents got a VCR.

At that point I had heard of Johnny Carson, through my parents explaining the joke in  Weird Al Yankovic’s “Here’s Johnny” parody of that old El Debarge chestnut,  “Who’s Johnny?”

So, after a look in TV Guide,  I started programing the VCR to record “The Tonight Show” and because I was paranoid that I wouldn’t get the whole show, I made sure it recorded past the hour mark.

The first few times, I don’t think kept watching the tape after Carson said good night.

I don’t remember the first time I kept watching, but when I did,  I kept watching all the way through end of my junior year in high school, in 1993, right before Letterman jumped to CBS.

Letterman came to me right on the cusp of high school, when kids start to  take possession of things in the culture. It was around the same time when R.E.M. and the Replacements became “my bands.”  “Late Night,” quickly became “my show.”

Mad Magazine was already “my reading material,” and it more than anything medicated me with the proper dosage of  irreverence and got me healthy enough to fully experience Letterman.

The Top Ten lists were the easiest to consume. I eventually got all the compilation books that the show put out and passed them around my high school like I was the guy who could buy cigarettes.

The first one still makes me laugh: “Top Ten Words that Almost Rhyme With Peas.”

It’s so wonderfully weird. Every time I think about it, it’s like I’ve taken some mind expanding drug.

Then, magically, A&E started putting on reruns of “Late Night” on in the evenings. So, I was able to watch old Dave then still record Letterman at night to watch the day after school. Nascent binge viewing, I suppose.

Letterman infected my language. My friends and I started using the word “beverage” in casual conversation, mainly because Dave asking Paul Shaffer to play some “beverage music” as he sipped something out of a coffee cup.

Letterman was different and it made me feel OK  about being different.

It’s tough to elaborate on that.

I’ve always had a more stable relationship with facts than I’ve had with wisdom,  but if I’ve noticed something in my 38 years, it’s that being different, challenging cliches and acting on your discomfort with accepted ways of doing things is really hard.

Don’t confuse that with righteousness. That’s something else, important, yes, but something else.

I felt a little of that old spirit during Letterman’s last show. It was like joyous celebration of self-deprecation —  generous and a bit off.

Maybe it’ll hit me later that Dave is really off.

Printing what’s offensive: Dunham, Noah, Connecticut College and Charlie Hebdo.

Whenever there is a story about someone who does something deemed by some people as being offensive, there follows reliably logical response.

What is it? What did he or she, do, say, write, draw or sing? Can I read it, see it or hear it somewhere?

And then one finds what they regard as their comfortable, authoritative news source and, more often than not, they can readily find out what all the gasping and fussing is about.

And then, in the same comfortable, authoritative news source one can read articles, columns, think pieces along with the offending material.

It’s all presented in a tidy package. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

In the past two weeks, that banal scenario played out in separate kerfuffles involving the writer-actor Lena Dunham,  comedian and incoming “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah and Andrew Pessin, a professor at Connecticut College.

In the March 30 issue of The New Yorker,  Dunham wrote an undercooked piece for the magazine’s humor section, “Shouts and Murmurs,” called “ Dog or Jewish Boyfriend: A Quiz”

The column is a list of situations that invite a guess as whether they would better ascribed to a Jewish boyfriend or indeed a dog.

After it appeared online, it  was criticized by some as being offensive to Jews with the most prominent attack coming from  Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman.  Shortly after, Dunham received a throaty defense from New Yorker editor David Remnick after the controversy started zipping around Twitter.

On March 30, Comedy Central named Johannesburg native Trevor Noah as the successor to Jon Stewart on their flagship  “The Daily Show.”  Near universal praise on the Monday was then followed by rancor on the Tuesday, as journalists using that keen J-school-approved investigative tool — the search box on Twitter– found that Noah wrote some jokes making fun of Jews and women, that yes, offended some people.

Perhaps due to the role “The Daily Show,” occupies as the most popular televised fount of American political satire,   Noah spent an unpleasant day in the internet interrogation room, with the promise of more to come.

On March 26, students at Connecticut College,  located in  New London, Conn., my old hometown,  petitioned the school administration to denounce Pessin for a Facebook post that compared residents of Gaza to “chained pit-bulls.” The controversy led to campus-wide forums and plenty of commentary in the student-run newspaper and elsewhere, notably Slate.  Pessin has now gone on leave for the remainder of the spring semester.

Apart from some of the subject matter, what unites these three examples, is that in each case news sites the world over presented examples of the supposedly offensive material in their stories.

There were quotes lifted from Dunham’s piece and Noah and Pessin’s posts were embedded in the online versions of the stories.

Good, right.

Expedient, even.

He said what? Oh that. She said what? Oh that. Oh, dear.

But as you might recall, similar reprinting of supposedly offensive material did not happen after the Charlie Hebdo murders in January.

Papers no less that The New York Times and blogs such as Salon did not show readers in their pages, print or digital, the cartoons of Mohammed that inspired fanatics to kill writers and artists.

Now, to be fair, they did describe the cartoons, but they didn’t show in their pages the actual images, which are the crux of the matter.

Well, what is the difference?

Is it because Charlie Hebdo’s drawings are somehow more offensive, than what Dunham, Noah and Pessin wrote?

Is it purely a matter of an editorial board choosing to print whatever they would like?

Certainly, that’s what Salon editor David Daley told comedian Patton Oswalt in an  article published on March 11.  Daley found the Charlie Hebdo drawings to be objectionable  and felt he was under no obligation to print them. As he put it:

“Supporting your right to publish does not mean I surrender my own right to decide what to publish. The ACLU supported the KKK’s right to march in Skokie. They didn’t go join them.”

It’s a reasonable,  I think defensible position.

Newspapers deciding what they want to do without any interference from anyone, least of all the government, is sacrosanct in the United States. To barricades, if not, right?

Is it because cartoons are an image and we respond differently to images than we do text? That seems self-evident, but how does that work when deciding what goes into a newspaper or news site?

Or is it that the reprinting of the Mohammed cartoons could result in violence toward staff members and associates of said news organization?

That was reasoning editors and news directors took in 2005  when they decided not reprint or broadcast cartoons that ran in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

And, yes, there could be violent reprisals.

Or as Daley wrote in Salon,  “That’s not cowardice, it’s thinking through consequences and cycles.”

In January, in Paris, there were “consequences.”

Now, we can go column-to-column, post-to-post in the papers and blogs, about Dunham, Noah, and Pessin.

We can debate if some jokes are funny, or demeaning, or just stupid, and we do so fearlessly.

We can dialogue.

We can have national conversations, or better still international conversations.

And that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But violence, with us, there’s always violence.



Australia: A Love Story

You can’t plan falling in love.  It’s not how it works, as poets, singers and movies have instructed us down the years.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my apartment in New York and like every soccer fan on the planet, I was so glad that the World Cup was here and on television.

Now, as the first match of Group B, Chile-Australia was supposed to be a plate of spring rolls — spring rolls being the most democratic of starters — before the gourmet dinner of Spain-Netherlands later in the day.

The Chileans, playing on their home continent, were heavy favorites against the yellow and green clad Socceroos, who many pundits picked to have the poorest showing in Brazil.

And the game wasn’t yet 20 minutes old when Chile demonstrated their class and put two in the back of the net.

Now, I didn’t have any real emotional investment in the game, perhaps with a slight pull toward Australia. I have a host of cousins in Sydney, but I’ve never been to visit and I haven’t  seen them since I was a boy.

And, well, the Go-Betweens, one of my go-to bands in periods of severe emotional crisis are from Brisbane. (By all means, go find  “Bye Bye Pride,” by the Go-Betweens. I’m certain the song will make your day better.)

But with La Roja up 2-0, I made that classic sports fan transition from “watching the game,” to ‘having the game on.” I think we’ve all been doing a bit of that during this absolutely glorious World Cup.

I had the game on my computer and was listening to it while doing some work.  For the next 10 minutes, I clicked over only when I heard the mix of announcer excitement and ambient crowd noise come to crescendo during an attack.

At about the 30th minute, after hearing a couple of those, I turned my full attention back to the game.  Australia, despite being down two goals against a much better team, kept coming at the Chileans, who were already content to defend.

In the  35th minute, Australia’s Tim Cahill, who plays his club soccer for New York Red Bulls on the west bank of the Hudson in Harrison, N.J., headed in a cross from  the right to get one back.

It was now 2-1 and Australia was out of the coma and starting to walk the halls.

I was now all in for the second half and whatever mushy part of my brain that regulates all my hopes and dreams began to pulse.


It wasn’t a chemical reaction out of loyalty or allegiance to a team I follow. There wasn’t the panic. The USA games will, as if they were cigarettes, get me in the end. I know that.

It wasn’t a comparison to the United States either, though Australia is a  young team, and like the USA, is still sorting out an identity in a nation where soccer isn’t the most popular sport.

In the second half, the Aussies played with such effort and drive. They challenged every Chilean attack and played with coherence when they had possession.

It was like Australians had at halftime developed some machine for converting passion into sound soccer.

Now of course, soccer is in the end about getting something from a match — a win, three points, or a draw, one point — but unless you’ve got money on it your focus can wander into the game’s nuances.

And the Aussies played on, every pass was good music, every attempt on goal the perfect thing to say.

A weird mix of fear and happiness came over me. Air hissed out of the pit in my stomach that first opened during puberty.

No, it can’t be.

Love is like real laughter, it’s like weather, it is undeniable when you meet it.

And there I sat at my table, completely and totally in love with the Australian soccer team.

Now, they were still down a goal, but I hoped for an equalizer. It was plausible.

Chile dashed that with an injury time goal, making it 3-1 with the whistle lodged between the referee’s teeth. I was disappointed, but I was glowing.

This was, after all, love. But then I began to think.

Now, as any drug dealer or those of us who watch movies and TV shows that feature drug dealers know, you don’t put pure grade out there. The shit gets cut with something. Now, I began to step on my love with thought. And the manifestation  of the love-thought mixture is projection: If this is love, what does it mean for me and what does it mean for Australia? If Australia knows that I’ve fallen in love, will that change things? Will I become I different person? Will they?  Will my love change them? I’ve been in love before and how did that work out?  Is it more of the same?

And I began to worry in terms that sound like bad Elvis Costello lyrics: my love is poison. I didn’t want to hurt them with something toxic.

The Socceroos next match was in five days time, an impossible fixture with Holland, the attractive side that had just thrashed world champions Spain, 5-1.

As a soccer fan, I’ve always enjoyed watching the Dutch, the 2010 runner-up.  At their best they remind me of Paul Westhead’s Loyola Marymount college basketball teams — always looking to score and doing so with style.

My fears for the match rested not in an Australia loss, but that they wouldn’t play in the manner that shot me in the heart.

In the 20th minute, Arjen Robben, the Bayern Munich man whose speed and rapaciousness with the ball make him one the can’t miss players in this World Cup, dashed through the Aussie defense and buried a splendid shot for 1-0.

“Damn it,’  I said to my roommate’s cat, Westley, who shrugged.  Cats are in a perpetual shrug.

But with Robben-like quickness, a warmth came over me.  My love for the Australians was born out of their response to a bad situation.

A minute later, Cahill uncorked a volley that went flying past the Dutch keeper. The equalizer was glorious: the timing, the connection and way the net swallowed the shot.

Everyone likes to have their emotions validated and reciprocated.   We now trusted each other. There was a bond. And now we were both wondering how the world would deal with us and how we would negotiate this new circumstance.

And life, now great, got even better.  Nine minutes into the second half Australia’s Mile Jedinak converted a penalty to put Australia up 2-1.

 This is a song. This is flowers. This is fiction made real, like Jeff Daniels coming off the movie screen in ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo.”

It happens retrospectively, but every love relationship has an apogee. It could last a lifetime, or it could be half an afternoon. Duration is irrelevant and this was it.

For Australia and me, this was it and it lasted four minutes.  In the 58th minute, Robin van Persie, whose bird -in- flight header against Spain provided this World Cup an iconic moment, made things level with a professional finish off some nifty quick, short passes in the danger area.

Ten minutes later, Memphis Depay blasted a dipping shot that bounced a few yards from goal, which flummoxed Mathew Ryan, the 22-year old Australian goalkeeper for the eventual match winner.

Still, the Aussies fought on and I kept hope alive, shielding the lit wick from the breeze.  But for the first time since we fell in love, there was that creeping sensation that this wasn’t going anywhere.  It wasn’t going to last the season. We weren’t going to make it to the third game with spot in the knockout round at stake. It was over. To keep calling would pointless and painful.

After the Netherlands game, my eye wandered a bit, to Bosnia-Herzegovina who were playing in their first World Cup and to Ivory Coast, with Chelsea legend Didier Drogba coming off their bench.

Sadly, life got in the way, and  I didn’t watch the Aussies match with Spain, which they lost 3-0 in a meaningless game. You let it go. School’s starting soon or the boss needs that report by Wednesday morning.

The World Cup is a summer fling, but summer flings matter, sometimes quite a lot.