A couple weeks ago I was standing on a mountain and I really did feel sunshine on my shoulders. It was about 20 degrees but the sun was ablaze and the sky was going from periwinkle to ultraviolet to deep indigo. I know I should have been cold but suddenly my shoulders were ablaze and the rays found its way through two or three layers.
The sun was in my eyes too, but it didn’t really make me cry except to feel joy. I never knew what John Denver meant by that second line
“sunshine in my eyes can make me cry”
But in that moment I did understand. Sunshine is so beautiful it makes you cry. Beautiful as to be blinding. It was too bright to see beyond my tracks in the snow. But I could feel an ethereal love starting as a tiny pinpoint and ending in an infinite ray. A love that came from a million miles away, a singular white light love that only a burning star can send to a slowly spinning planet. As I stood there in my tracks on the trail that led into the sky I thought of one thing only.
I belong here.
I belong in the bright light, in the sphere of the now and the know.
I will stay here as long as I can.
Only a few months into 2016 and I’ve realized all the major inspirations of my creative life are slowly passing on. Must I tack on yet another broody tome reflecting on the death of David Bowie? Yes.
It was David Bowie that taught us kids it was good to be different. Zesty and zany. The lifelong interwoven mystery of Major Tom. Pink monkey birds. Pappamamas and rock-and-roll bitches. Diamond Dogs and Cat People. Peoploids and Starmen. Vaudeville space rock meets Kibuki theater.
“Let the children boogie.”
And they did. David Bowie was a pioneer, someone who sets the stage and rages it, constantly reinventing himself in such a way that made it clear that there would only be one David Bowie.
And how true it is that there is only one of each of us. We should express ourselves as freely as possible, borrowing a little nectar from this bloom to that, taking what we know and expanding the universe as we wander into the unknown.
Speaking of autobiographies—another page-turner is Keith Richards’ Life. It’s a satirical title, considering all the blather about how he never should have survived it. Reading autobiographies have a way of flying celebrities back down to earth. They seem so larger than life and then I read about them and realize they’re just monkeys like the rest of us. I’m thinking back to another autobiography where John Lennon explained to a fanatic who camped for days in his yard, hoping to meet him:
“I’m just a guy who writes songs.”
The colorful blobs are my take on sound. Ever since The War of the Worlds, I think about the aliens in the story who could sense things we could not. What if we could smell colors and see sounds?
For anyone who wants to go beyond the American History textbooks of seventh grade, read The Grapes of Wrath. If you’re searching for a metaphor for your uncertain future, read The Grapes of Wrath. (If you prefer a metaphor for the Book of Genesis, read East of Eden.) If you still think the middle class really exists, read The Grapes of Wrath. When you reach the last sentence, ask yourself if anything in this country has really changed. It’s true that history repeats itself, because although we insist otherwise, people never really change. Some are virtuous, others are greedy. While it’s true that Americans have certain freedoms that others do not, I never forget we are always free to starve. This is common knowledge for the masses, yet another truth that one half of one percent cannot understand.
Travels with Charley is one of the greatest classics of the travel genre. It is an autobiography set in 1960, when Steinbeck loads up a trailer and circumnavigates the United States with his dog Charley. One of my favorite things about Steinbeck is his honesty. If he never sugar-coated American History, he certainly didn’t sugar-coat his own reactions to the people and places he encountered. There is a favorite excerpt of mine in Travels with Charley. After driving all day, he rents a room where everything is sterilized, covered in plastic. (“Everyone was protecting me and it was horrible.”) He goes to the hotel restaurant and meets a waitress, also adorned in a plastic apron. He finds her demeanor so dull and cynical (“Some people spread a grayness in the air about them.”) he goes into a spiritual tailspin and ends up in the hotel bathtub with a bottle of vodka. Thankfully his dog Charley, who is well-documented as having a personality all his own which sustains his owner, coaxes him out of his funk by making him take him for a walk under the night sky. He sees the stars and he is cured. I’ve been cured by the stars too many times to count. They never fail. Knowing that Steinbeck had that same muse bonds me to him forever. It doesn’t matter he’s been dead almost as long as I’ve been alive, we are kindred spirits. If he came through the filament in plasma form and we had a brandy old-fashioned together, I’m sure we’d get along fine.
I hate to say it, but seeing Steinbeck with a cigarette smoldering between two typewriter-worn digits makes smoking look cool. Phillip Morris should have been paying attention. It’s not the cigarette, but something about his expression that tells me—with all his smoke breaks, the man has had some time to think. I wonder—especially now, when smokers are banished not only out of society, but at least ten feet away from it: what do they think about whilst huddled in a far frozen corner, taking another drag of nicotine between their blue lips? (Smokers, you have been prompted to comment on this blog!) Reading great authors like Steinbeck makes me understand that honesty is the hallmark of a great author. Great writers frame the truth; they know the truth is beautiful. They draw from their own experiences—they don’t presume to be something they are not, or try to write about things they know nothing about. Honesty is the best policy, anything less than the truth is propaganda at best. At the worst, it’s a shit sandwich.
I’ve science-fictionalized a picture of two high school wrestlers featured in the local paper. This is a classic example of when I pick up something realistic, pass it through my turning wheels, and it emerges as something completely different. I’ve learned to not to expect anything to turn out completely the way I imagine it. No matter how thorough I am in my planning, it never does. It’s a good thing I’m not a civil engineer. This is why I like impromptu mock-ups like this—there’s no expectation, just a glimpse of an oddity.
So who do you think wins the fight? Will it be the red guy or the blue guy? Does it matter? Is there an equation based on how many times you’ve watched Star Trek in your life? Is it possible that all the stories you’ve heard can be condensed down to one or two stories?The first story is the good guy wins, the bad guy loses. The second story is the bad guy wins and the good guy loses. Win, lose, lose, win. Is there anything else? And yet, there are as many stories as there are stars. It’s the post-modern era blues.