Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Never Got To Say 'Goodbye'

When I was 18 years old I had a group of really good friends. A bunch of high school buddies. We moved into a big green five-bedroom house together. We played, and laughed a lot. They were carefree times in one respect. Very profound and serious times as well. We talked about remaining together through the future, starting another band, traveling, and maybe even changing the world somehow. Yeah, we were dreamers like everybody else. Big time. But we were honest dreamers.

Jim was a dichotomy. He was very responsible in many ways, much more so than some of us. But like the rest of us at that age, and in those times, he was irresponsible as well. Had a good head on his shoulders, for the most part. Seemed to have a loving family, but nobody outside a family really knows that family. Appeared to have good self-esteem, was good looking, and always had the things he needed. Had his pick of girls. They were lined up like hookers in a Cat House waiting for a nod from him. Drove an old MG sports car, a convertible in very good condition. It fit him well.

But Jim was not happy. He would go into deep depressions, suddenly, without any sense of provocation that we could see. Just went from normal to strange. It happened often. We learned to leave him alone when it was going on. He’d get a funny look on his face, as if he were seeing demons, or God. When in those pronounced depressions he’d sometimes laugh sort of a crazy laugh. It kind of scared us. This was not drug-induced behavior. He was like this before he ever started using drugs of any kind.

Jim played guitar, sang a little, but was more shy than some of us. Liked Jim Morrison and the Doors. Liked their darker, moodier stuff. I liked the Doors also, but in a different way than Jim. I thought they were musically skilled, profound, lyrical and edgy. But Jim liked the darkness. I was a little afraid of that in him. So many of the other bands of the day were producing good music, but without that inherent gloom, the sense of hopelessness. The Doors had kind of a dangerous element to them, a quiet desperation. Jim often secluded himself, with the Doors as a steady diet. It was not good for him. He identified too closely with Jim Morrison. Morrison was not a healthy man to be so deeply, so profoundly connected to.

LSD was Jim’s favorite drug. It was his kaleidoscope. It was the means through which he saw the world. It was his light, the color in his life, the color of his life. I fully understand that. But LSD was too much information. Too much inundation. It was too much stimulation of the senses. Not only for him, but for all of us. We took it regularly, a lot of it. But it was bigger than we were. Much bigger.

Jim was a sensitive young man. He was kind, and he was loving. He used to cry sometimes. Nobody else I knew ever cried. Besides myself.

Jim went out one night and never came home again.
I didn’t know he was gonna die.
And I never got to say Goodbye.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Be Quiet

I have an old Toyota Corolla as a second car. Used to have a radio/tape player in it, but it got stolen. Didn’t bother me much. Sometimes I listen to what circumstances have to say, and like most of us, sometimes I don’t. But this time I did, and circumstances were saying ‘maybe a little quiet would be a good thing’. Lately I’ve been thinking about quiet. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. How little of it we actually have in our world. It gets to the point sometimes that when we do find ourselves with a momentary lapse of sound we quickly find a way to fill the silence with more sound. It’s what we’re used to. And the more used to it we get the more uncomfortable we become with silence.

I’m a musician. I’ve always liked to listen to music. I find it motivating and inspirational. It makes me feel good. Even sad music makes me feel good. Most of my life I’ve had music on in my environment. I’m also a thinker. I like to think. And I like to listen to reports, comments and opinions that make me think, that provoke me to form my own opinions, to come to my own conclusions. I think about everything. I even think about thinking. What is thinking, really? We do it automatically, accidentally even, but very seldom do we do it deliberately.

I listen to talk radio in the car sometimes. Sports and political shows, community programs, social commentary, even some religious stuff. Provokes thought, some of it. Of course, some of it is just garbage. Got to think it through to know that. But some of it you just know. If it smells bad it’s probably garbage. Anyway, the point is that the radio is additional sound in an already deafening environment. It’s more clutter. It may be intellectual clutter that serves a purpose, but it’s still clutter. When we’re not careful, it can think for us. And it can keep us from hearing. It can inhibit our ability to hear the still small voice within us, the sound of our own understanding, the conscience of our inner self.

We get so inundated with sound that we lose, not only the ability, but often, even the inclination, to hear. When that happens we lose a big part of ourselves. How can I ever really know myself if I never have a good quiet conversation with myself? In observing the condition of the world these days, I think it’s a conversation we ought to be having on a regular basis. Many of us are terrified of the prospect. We make sure we have auditory distraction day and night. Rather that having meaningful discourse with others, we even find ourselves parroting useless information, and wielding words like a shield of sound, rather than as a means of connection.

I like to drive my Jeep much more than the Toyota. But in the Jeep it’s hard not to turn the radio on. Seems to kind of turn itself on at times.
Sometimes I drive the Toyota specifically because I never replaced the radio after it was stolen. It affords me a built-in quiet time. It’s funny how many of the important decisions I’ve made over the past few years have been arrived at while driving that car. While being quiet. While listening.

Somewhere in the Bible it says “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Certainly couldn’t hurt.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I'm Comfortable In This Truck

I drive a 1990 4-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee. But I’ve occasionally been driving my sons new Toyota 4-Runner when I take my grandson out for some one-on-one time. I love that vehicle. Feels really safe. Big mirrors. Air bags. Automatic door locks, windows and alarm. Everything is automatic. Good sound system. It’s comfortable and easy to drive. Feels secure. Feels insulated. And I feel like I’m protected with maximum insurance coverage.

I also feel a strange sense of isolation when I’m driving the 4-Runner. And it’s not just his truck that has that effect on me. It’s just about every new car I’ve driven, or ridden in, over the years. I’m really happy for my son that he has that truck. It’s a good utilitarian vehicle. And it will serve him well.

But I like my Jeep because it bounces around like an old tractor, or a stagecoach. Makes me feel like I’m connected to the vehicle, by extension, connected to the road, and by even further extension, connected more intimately to life. I like feeling connected that way. I need it somehow.

The Cherokee makes a lot of sounds that are not necessarily innate to its operation. Parts wearing down. Parts wearing out. Other parts working extra hard just to keep up with the general flow of things. Has a lot of squeaks, and the sound of wind coming through the cracks. Visually, it has scratches, some worn paint and a lot of rough edges. Has a ding in the corner of the windshield that I’m sure I’d miss if the windshield was ever replaced. The Jeep’s usually unwashed, not really dirty, just not really clean. The drivers seat is not as solid as it once was, reformed from its original shape. 135,000 miles of fanny on that cushion. But I like that. It reminds me that life changes as it goes, that it does not maintain itself like it began. That it shapes itself around us as we add miles along the way.

I think life is more like my old jeep, than it is like any new car.

I’m comfortable in this truck. Not comfortable like a nice pair of slacks is comfortable, but like an old worn pair of jeans. The kind you hope will hold up for another washing.

And another wear. . .

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Summer Of Love

The Summer of Love. 2007, the 40th Anniversary. I have not participated in the festivities. But I was there in 1967.

I remember sitting on a distant hillside in West Covina, California with a couple of friends, and watching my high school class graduate below. Quite a surreal experience. I remained quiet. Just took it all in. They got their diplomas. I eventually received mine in the mail. I left that night for the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco.

The Summer of Love was calling. Don’t know how they got my number, but they did. Had to go. Had to join the parade of flower children and hippy wannabes, in our quest to change the world, or at least to change our place in the world. We hopped aboard the peace train on our pilgrimage to Mecca and made our way as best we could. Crashing in basements of abandoned houses, renting flats, fifteen to a room, sleeping in the park, in parked cars, and in the garages of unsuspecting home owners. Suburban refugees chasing a dream, and following the trails of yesterdays LSD. Everybody wanting to be part of the cultural revolution. Everybody wanting some of the love the movement promised. It’s eventual downfall was that everybody wanted to be loved, but nobody knew that love is really about giving, not getting. Music, drugs, sex, hugs and silly smiles. A formula for peace. What lab did that formula emerge from? The movement eventually died of its own indulgence, though some pretend today that it never went away. And maybe it hasn’t for them. Many of us were lost early on. We were quick to accept the illusion? Shows the depth of anger and disillusionment we felt concerning the establishment. I hugged a lot of strange people, heard a lot of good music, and lost a lot of friends. I knew girls who got raped, kids who got beat up, robbed, burned on drug deals and overdosed on bad drugs. I knew a lot of kids who used to be alive back then, including my best friends, until the scene got hold of them and drowned them like a litter of unwanted puppies in a tub. That’s the part we never hear about the Summer of Love.

But the families of those kids know.
Yeah, they know.

Those who led us into the abyss of narcissism and egocentricity, and the members of my generation who followed, have still never taken responsibility for the devastation the 60’s set in motion, nor have they apologized for the tragic consequences visited upon the lives and culture of the innocent, including subsequent generations who have become the unwitting victims of their parents moral relativism, addictions, and divorce. For this, we as a society continue to suffer.

We thought we found freedom in the 60’s, but we had to close our eyes to believe that. And all the while, the drugs were convincing us that our eyes were finally opened, that we had found the path to enlightenment. Well, that path led to a lasting enlightenment for many. Unfortunately, it was a pseudo-illumination they would never, could never, recover from. We failed to realize that a freedom born entirely of ones own self-indulgence lacks, not only the will, but also the foundation, to sustain itself, eventually feeding upon itself for it’s own survival. With the emergence of ‘group-think’, and the subjugation of one’s own morality to that dynamic, the definition of freedom expands to include any ideology or behavior any member of that group is willing to engage in. The Summer of Love was a Pied Piper for many young, well-meaning idealists, and many are afraid to admit today that they followed a phony musician.

It’s always easier to re-define freedom than to take the time to actually try and understand what true freedom actually is. Human nature is such that it will always push the proverbial ‘line not to be crossed’, further away, to keep it always out in front of us. If we get too close to the line we move it even further again. It’s how we are. If we cross it, we consider the line to be obsolete, and in need of being re-drawn. Always stretching the boundary, enlarging the dimension, until we are lost for lack of an ability to even find a boundary if we need one. The Summer of Love. The 40th Anniversary of the death of our innocence.

It is in family, it is in loving relationships, and it is in generosity that one is truly able to find freedom. It is in that context that freedom will ultimately define itself. It is in considering the greater good, the good of the whole, that one finds goodness, and wholeness, within one’s self.

It is a principal that was missing in the 60’s, and is still missing today in the afterbirth of those times. But it is a principal that pays dividends for those willing to seek, and find, the honesty of its embrace.