I don’t think I literally live and work in cities of the dead until I have to get through certain days.
I got a few texts from one of my bosses before my shift started. There had been a shooting at an intersection in a city about 10 miles north of where I live. It involved an ex-boyfriend with a short temper and a gun crossing paths with a woman taking her two children to a day-care center.
I got there on time and talked to a police department spokesman, who pointed out the green spray-painted spots on the road where the woman’s sport-utility vehicle had gotten boxed in before the single shot rang out at a quarter to eight in the morning, with the kids still sitting and watching from the backseat.
I made it through today. Not everybody who started today did. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.
Every night I sing karaoke, it saves my life. Sometimes it saves someone else’s.
The guy who splits Mondays nights jockeying at a bar in a nearby shopping/nightlife corridor recently told some of his regulars to step their game up and stop singing the same four songs over and over again. That reminder, and the memory of a pal’s 52-pickup challenge last year, came to me when I got off work and felt like someone was rubbing a cello bow against my right ventricle.
So I went over to see what something I’d no memory of ever having sung felt like. I got enough air in me and remembered to breathe often enough to do all right on Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels.” Then, after a guy brayed through Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” his skinny full-sleeved sail-for-a-T-shirt skater kid pal started singing this sneakily perfect song I’d never heard before. Searching the lyrics, I realize he was doing Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” which I’d never actually heard before as I’d never listened to “The Bends.”
Taking heart at the song and his talent, I figured I’d close out by singing Morrissey’s “The More You Ignore Me (The Closer I Get).” The kid lost his shit and gave me a full-body wraparound bro-hug. He couldn’t stop talking about how “Vauxhall & I” had gotten him through high school in San Jose. He said he’d never seen a fellow black guy belt out Morrissey before.
I showed him that link from weeks ago about bad T-shirt idea sales, and listened to him complain righteously about tickets to canceled shows. I thought about it, but decided against telling him about seeing Moz at SXSW a decade ago. He bought me a small bottle of beer and declined my offer to buy him one. We toasted.
The KJ then called a jockey’s choice and, as if to reward me for wandering farther afield, made me sing one of my wheelhouse regulars, Kenny Loggins’ “Heart to Heart.” As I left, the kid was laying into the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” with every wheedle and warble he had in him.
About a week ago, a co-worker and a former co-worker e-mailed me with an idea for a musical. Because I liked the idea, I figured I’d send them a song about the day after the events it might be based on.
They both liked it, and one of them wrote back just after midnight with ten ideas for songs. I served back with one just before I went to bed around 2 a.m., woke up and started playing around with the other ideas.
I think my personal best might’ve been three songs in a day, but something about the challenge in filling and fleshing out one on the basis of an image, a title or a possible plot scenario was pretty stimulating.
The first five came pretty easily on the fly. For the next two, I used a couple of made-up temp tracks that fit with what I was writing. I don’t know in what form they’ll wind up used, but it’s almost beside the point. For twenty-odd hours’ work, it was exactly the way I’d want to spend one of several recent days off.
I figured I’d take it easy after a lot of folding clothes, dodging dust and stained surfaces, surfing the aisles at the nearby thrift stop, throwing out old credit-card solicitations and junk mail, sorting wires and chargers and cords, so I went over to my favorite Oaksterdam/Uptown Oakland bar.
What’d I hear? My favorite DJ spinning vinyl, everything from Donald Byrd’s “Dominoes” to the Pointer Sisters’ “What A Surprise” to Lee Moses’ “Time and Place” and Little Feat’s “Forty-Four Blues / How Many More Years.”
The surprise track for me was Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child,” which I always got confused with “At Seventeen” for reason and hadn’t heard before.
It’s a week for nostalgia. I’ve already looked back at U2’s “The Joshua Tree” because the darned thing’s coming back out again, and the Irishmen along with it. Tonight I might as well needle-drop another one of 1987’s monster platters that mattered, not least because today’s Pitchfork review of the reissue put it in mind. What comes to mind as I listen to it, drift away to a distraction of a video or two and swim back toward it, is how so many of today’s post-genre pop songs floating around draw on some of the same musical textures, without any of the classic-rock history that used to come with it. All that was solid, format and reference, has melted into air, or drifted off into streams and mixes, digital-audio workstation pre-sets and patches. None of this even takes into account the old choir, or Victoria’s lovely take on “Everywhere” kicking around somewhere on our band’s account. I’d better set my watch for whenever it is that Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie album they teased earlier this year will drop.
You get up and get dressed and go out, ready to chin-up and console. You sit down early in a corner booth to beat the rush. You look up what’s going on, and then you learn that someone rolled away the stone. You make a face and laugh loud enough to make a few people in the far corner look at you for a couple of seconds, not like a weirdo or like trouble, but more like someone having a Friday on their Saturday. This is my testimony: It can take a little while but when you learn that history never completely repeats and your day gets well and truly made, you find you don’t even really mind the wait. You find you’re just grateful to be present.
Today was about reassuring my mother that I wasn’t at immediate risk for a 30-foot wall of water to come rushing into Oakland. It was also about explaining how far away I live from the Oroville Spillway and the Feather River floodplain, and how many people had to evacuate, and what might happen in the next week with rainy weather forecast, water draining from a lake as fast as safely possible, and the stressed Delta levee system’s effects on the state’s drinking water prospects. This stuff is not the same as the Edgar Cayce stuff I grew up hearing about from her and going off to the public library’s shelves to bone up on out of curiosity. Today, as it turned out, was also about trickling leaks, treacherous currents and the swiftness with which a man may find himself lost in a flood.