Man of Constant Sorrow Keeps on Smiling

Photo politely borrowed from Amazon web site. Warner Bros. is the record label for this 2015 album.

These days I’m rocking out to Dwight Yoakam’s “Man of Constant Sorrow” off a now six-year-old album, Second Hand Heart. I may be late to the party, but serendipity has no expiration date.

The original, published in 1913 by blind Kentucky fiddler Dick Burnett, is “the crown jewel of the Appalachian song tradition,” said Ann Powers for NPR when Yoakam’s record came out. The number has been widely covered, including versions by Bob Dylan, Ginger Baker, and Alison Krauss.

I found out about Dwight Yoakam’s rendition riding around listening to SiriusXM. Elizabeth Cook, a country player who moonlights as the sexy DJ of “Apron Strings,” a lively, eclectic Outlaw Country show, played it. It pricked up my ears. Then she commented on how she loved how Dwight hears something he wants to make his own and then just plucks and assimilates it.

Here, he takes his country inspiration to the place where, with the help of sizzling guitar work, it becomes rock ‘n’ roll. I felt the same way about Dwight’s “Guitars, Cadillacs,” “Fast as You,” “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” (which tops an old version by hippie country band New Riders of the Purple Sage), and “Intentional Heartache” (an innovation with its rap overlay about the fury of a scorned woman).

Remember the 2000 Cohn Brothers movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson — the Soggy Mountain Boys — sing “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” (the original title) into radio mikes, a peak moment in an uneven film. I like the song better brought into rockabilly bloom by Dwight Yoakam.

I often find cover artists bring an original into new glory, as with Judy Collins’s “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell) and Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Everything Is Broken” (Dylan). Since I heard Dwight’s nasal twang and impeccable nuance on “Man of Constant Sorrow,” I haven’t been the same.

BARB FINALLY decided she would get the shot, her first, a Pfizer, and wanted me along in case she got sick afterward. We rode to Cottonwood together and I put Second Hand Heart on her CD player. My Subaru Forester is a good ride, but the fidelity sucks compared to the symphony acoustics inside her Honda.

Barb dug the tunes.

“I love Dwight. Now I can have this with me all the time,” she said. Her car records CDs automatically.

After she got the shot, at a CVS, we found a Mexican restaurant and ate outside, warmed by the spring sun. I was glad to be with her, found myself gazing at this woman who has endured me all these years, will accompany me on a 22-year anniversary getaway to Lake Havasu soon, makes me see I have a good life.

In related news . . . I have decided to retire from Walmart.

Regarding my employment there, I have come to realize the ultimate, exquisite irony: I will be going out on top.

This job as an aging stocker represents the best work experience I ever had.

Used to be hard to grok this. Now it tickles me.

I grew up among Jewish kids destined to be doctors, lawyers, titans of commerce.

I have topped out as a member of the CAP 1 stocking crew at Walmart #5303 on Gale Gardner Road in Prescott, Arizona.

The overall arc of my lifetime “career” experience has made me a man of constant sorrow. But I have discovered something inside me I didn’t know was there: pure obstinate refusal to capitulate. I won’t lay down and stop living.

To have overcome this last work difficulty constitutes a win in a life that’s often seemed short on victories.

I am relied on to work the store freezers, stocking raw freight off pallets, and scanning boxes of binned frozen entrees and ice cream and carting this too out to the floor. On days I show up, this task awaits me and me alone much of the time.

I should be mad but I’m not.

I titled a perhaps unpublishable book Working the Freezer in Paradise, a kaleidoscope of linked vignettes, about (well, among other things) how a character is forced into this task by a resentful supervisor but never flinches. He makes the job his own to show how tough he is. Now, I find I can’t resent that this job is dumped on me. Given my old-guy hardiness and clear expertise, the store managers choose me because I’m good.

Yes, I am being exploited.

But I am also appreciated.

I did not feel this way as an editor slash writer slash journalist slash PR hack back in Cleveland, nor as a harried teacher tragically bad at disciplining recalcitrant teens in alternative Arizona high schools.

And so, here I stand at the end of it all, almost resistant to the idea of stepping down from this . . . misbegotten ascension into career fulfillment.

MY THERAPIST says that, rather than let Walmart drain me — because the job is physical, a real ass bust — I should think about retiring. I could write, travel, work around the house, go on bike rides, firm my aging musculature at Fitness for 10. After a life of putting my shoulder to the wheel of the Gross National Product, I can stop.

As far as the travel thing, we’re on it. After Lake Havasu (I’ve got to see that transplanted London Bridge), we plan a September ride to the Black Hills of South Dakota and the great annual “buffalo roundup.” I always was fascinated by Native Americans. Maybe I’ll stop being a white man; I’ll jump on a spotted pony with a bow and arrow when I see those bison thundering over the land.

I have geared down from four to three days a week at Walmart and, at Laurie’s suggestion, targeted my birthday, in October, as the demarcation point for my stockboy swan song. I used to worry about idleness and addictive behaviors, a resumption of old bad habits. Watching TV all day. Becoming an aged idiot seduced by internet titillations.

But I’ve got too many disciplines. And a growing gratitude list.

Though this life has had more than its share of misfires, blunders, embarrassments, losses, and unmet expectations, I will continue to digest, with gratitude and equanimity, the long, strange trip of this mortal round. Life is for learning, Joni Mitchell said in “Woodstock.” I’m gonna try an’ get my soul free.

SOMETIMES a song finds its way into your internal soundtrack while subverting expectations that surrounded its original composition.

Dwight Yoakam’s “Man of Constant Sorrow” is life affirming, rousing and joyful, but the words are dark, frank, gloomy.

It’s the way he channels the pain. Like blues, country celebrates our human agonies and frailties.

And so, to paraphrase and even fuse stanzas from my new favorite song:

I may die tonight on this train . . . you may learn to love another as I lie sleeping in my grave . . . but you will meet me on that golden shore.

And all that’s fine.

At least we lived.

I Feel Justified in Watching It Again

Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. (This is an FX show, all intellectual property rights being theirs. May they forgive this benign theft.)

Just got back from lunch with one of my favorite people, a man who once was my boss and still is an original Kentucky hard-ass. U.S. Army helicopter fighter pilot and Vietnam veteran Jim Taylor ran Yavapai County High School, a place in Prescott Valley for at-risk kids where I felt nurtured and loved teaching English for quite some years.

I didn’t know what I was going to blog about, but, driving home from seeing him, along with some other good friends from that happy time, I knew it had to be about one of my favorite TV shows.

It’s as Kentucky as he is.

I watch shows all over again that I’ve already seen if they’re that good. I plead guilty of doing this with Breaking Bad.

If I opt to re-screen such a show, I study it this time around.

I enjoyed Timothy Olyphant’s ramrod-spined sheriff in that genre-defying HBO western Deadwood. Now I’m watching him (again) as U.S. Federal Marshal Raylan Givens in the FX drama Justified (currently available on Hulu). He was a righteous, wrapped-tight lawman in the former show, winding that tension up so high his eventual carnal release with a languid, glamourous laudanum fiend was all the hotter.

His character is a little looser in Justified. With his lanky, ambling stride in blue jeans and cowboy hat, and that curious smile, he’s a throwback to another era of law enforcement, though his rigid adherence to the principles of traditional American masculinity and heroism — that menace lying in wait behind the drawl — recalls Seth Bullock of the South Dakota mining town.

Justified sprang from an Elmore Leonard novella I’ve been meaning to load onto my Kindle. Where else in written or visual fiction do you get the satisfaction of a protagonist whose daily job requirement is that he be quick on the draw? And, of course, he’s the loveable badass, always a little at odds with his boss Art Mullen, amiable chief deputy of the U.S. Marshals field office in Lexington, a role well played by Nick Searcy. There are lots of great roles here, including women who are easy on the eyes, some of whom wind up romantically entangled with our hero.

I’m on season two. If it’s not the show’s best season, it’s close.

If you hated Margo Martindale as Hilary Swank’s ungrateful trailer-trash mom in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby but found her talented, you were right. What a brilliant character actress! Her KGB operative Claudia on The Americans, a role devoid of the rural southern accent Martindale has elsewhere exploited, showed us her full range. Here, on Justified, she’s Mags Bennett, matriarch of a family of hillbilly pot growers, and more than a match for everyone who comes down the pike to challenge her, including a high-heeled head of a rapacious mining concern. Martindale seems outfitted for roles loaded with the macabre. Her Russian spymaster ordered many hits in a show ghoulish in its depiction of politically motivated execution. We will come to associate the drawling backwoods general-store owner Mags Bennett with her cinnamon-flavored, sometimes deadly moonshine, “Apple Pie.”

But I think the steadiest glittering jewel of the show is a character who spanned every one of the six seasons: Boyd Crowder. Here’s where you want to see Walton Goggins, who has since looked silly and ill used in a sitcom whose big conflict was him trying to get dates.

Goggins steals Justified. As with southern-bred Martindale, Alabama-born Goggins’ own roots help with the speaking style that loads so much credibility to the role. When we meet him, he’s a hillbilly criminal mastermind commandeering a group of white supremacist terrorists. After a run-in with Raylan’s unerring gun (only a wounding shot from the old friend), Boyd renounces the idiocy of that former lifestyle and resurfaces as a backwoods preacher.

The thing that’s exciting about Boyd Crowder is your inability to nail him down. His slow speaking cadence packs an almost Elizabethan tang, as when (I can’t wait for this to happen, way up ahead from where I’m at now) he confronts a rich hypocrite up the hill who fatally underestimated the outlaw down the holler. Great bad guys have sympathetic qualities. We find ourselves rooting for Boyd; we can’t help ourselves.

It’s the old buddy story, the thing between Raylan and Boyd. The last episode of the final season culminates with Raylan saying, “We dug coal together.” It’s a mantra of the show.

It explains everything.

Raylan Givens understood Boyd’s potential for evil better than anybody, and was sworn to defeat him – indeed, wielding an anger parallel to that of his nemesis — but the two men have a bond as old as the hills.

When I find myself getting all twisted up in the dreary memory of my own tepid life, and how it erupts in blogs that then embarrass me, I come to a show like this, a show this exciting, for nurturance, a way to recharge myself, even my zeal in exploring the mythology of my own hero journey.

Yeah, it’s guy stuff. Barb is bingeing on Grey’s Anatomy; I go to Harlan County.

Having entered into the soundtrack of my mind is the innovative theme song by Gangstagrass, “Long Hard Times to Come,” a divine melding of rap and bluegrass. It’s so good I still have yet to hit “skip” on my remote when it plays each time, inaugurating another episode.

It’s so good I feel justified.

Below: Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder and Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett (both photos politely borrowed from FX, which has the right to sue me)

The Night I Became a Rock Star

This photo was taken by the Washington Post. It reminds me of me.

Watching a bunch of ignorant louts storm the Capitol on January 6, I suffered a sinking, eerie feeling that gnawed me worse than my revulsion at the violence being done my country’s shrine of government. I empathized with those self-described patriots; I related to these assholes fed a daily diet of Q-Anon and Trump’s own lies. Because for three decades of my life I was a similar schemer. I, too, dreamt of storming the stage.

This is about the one time I attained that stage and how it transformed me. It’s also about how it didn’t transform me, not until the sickness, impervious even to the prescribed catharsis, had to run its course, like some wounded tank slowly drained of petrol. On that day I realized that everything, the whole melodrama, had been about mere ego, just as that army of idiots may one day realize nothing was proved but their need to be seen.

To collapse a back story: after getting kicked out of Columbia University, I returned in the mid-seventies to my native Cleveland, where I discovered that my older sister’s friend, a gentleman named Roger Kleinman, played bass in Wild Horses, a rock band, launched in Columbus, that had moved up to Cleveland and were making a name for themselves. A “recovered” pothead who never went to bars, I went with Lisa to see them play.

I fell in love. And discovered the recreational joys of drinking. It was nothing for me to see the band play and dispatch a six of Miller Genuine Draft or Rolling Rock. Wild Horses represented to me whatever was rejuvenating, rebellious, and affirmative in rock ‘n’ roll.

 I was at the Pirate’s Cove every Saturday night. A rowdy Flats saloon adopted by bikers, the place had begun to resemble an S. Clay Wilson comic. Once, a fistfight raged around me while I sat up behind the sound man’s riser with Lisa, sublimely zonked on Seven and Sevens. I met a beautiful girl at the bar once and had a great time with her and would grow to wonder why I never called her again. For the most part I just got drunk and drove home. I collected a few DUIs during this period in my life.

It should have been all fun, but a sour syndrome of recrimination and worry began to pervade my nocturnal adventurings. An undeniable envy sprouted within me as I watched the band and drank. I fought off a sense I belonged on that stage with them but was too diffident to attempt such a thing. I would sink into worse, more private states of resentment and self-abuse at seeing one guy, as abandoned as I was inhibited, make a weekly ritual of getting up on stage Saturday nights to belt out “Johnny B Goode.”

The band’s hirsute, stocky singer, a toothy, clownish character, was a point of connection yet subtle mockery. When he wasn’t banging a cowbell or trying to play saxophone, he lent vocal credibility to such numbers as “Louie Louie” and “Eighteen” and would, from the stage, cajole the likes of me with the mid-set exhortation, “Get drunk and be somebody!” Maybe he had an arrangement with the saloon owners to help boost liquor sales.

I still just drank and didn’t do anything about my secret yen.

Wild Horses were dismissed by some as just another cover band, despite a flicker of at least regional fame with their quirky, reggae-styled little number “Funky Poodle.” I liked “Carbona Mona” better. I am given to understand that both originals sprang from the pen of guitar player and singer Steve Jochum, to whom my then-girlfriend ascribed the only star potential on the Wild Horses stage, amply demonstrated on that little pop-rock number with its predictable progression of chords.

Much of the appeal of Wild Horses resided in their fealty to the classics as well as recent radio hits they made their own. They did Santana, Stones, Beatles, Bowie, Kinks, Allmans, Skynyrd. The more I drank, the more I got swept up in the sense I was with them, which was fine, but this always morphed into a nagging conviction I had to do something about it.

I was of the same psychic stuff as Mark David Chapman or any of those people who assumed, or strove to assume, celebrity status through an act of violence.

I was and am a writer. I cannot help but write. I never felt that way about music. I threw off early classical piano lessons when I discovered marijuana and the Beatles’ double white album. (My dad clouted me across the jaw when, smirkingly stoned, I headed out the door to “party” rather than wait for Mrs. Krausz to come over and try to get my tangled fingers around that Beethoven sonata.) In my adulthood, during my Wild Horses fan years, I piddled around on an electric guitar I bought for over four hundred dollars and played along to Some Girls down the basement before I sold it to some kid who riffed chords on the thing and made a cutting remark about “having to work for it.”

And yet I kept going to see Wild Horses play, kept on aching to go up on stage, kept on telling myself I could do that. Sing. And kept chickening out. I’d veer toward the stage — before cutting over to the bar for another beer.

Why even have this stupid hang-up? I wondered in sober, self-pitying reflection. Many, many people stood around at the saloon swilling beers and listening. This did not palliate my conviction that I was a coward. I guess I thought I was special, I should do more.

The band cut a few albums that got regional airplay, even did some traveling. They kept on playing around town and there was Bobby Gitlin, still at it, still a fan, if disfigured by self-loathing.

There were aborted attempts to break out of my anonymity. Once I willed myself to proceed robotically onto the stage at the Sahara Club in Willoughby Hills and stood at the mike frozen, or pretending to sing, and when for weeks later some girl at the bar, who’d liked the look of me up there, kept telling me I reminded her of Springsteen it made me wish I had it in me to do it again, whatever it was I’d done. But dragging myself up there had depleted me. My revenge mission against nobodyness and failure remained but half waged.

I was in my thirties and forties, working jobs that located me squarely in the realm of lower middle class. By Achieving Jewish Standards of the era that produced me, I was a poor schlub laboring on the outskirts of anything resembling success. I could only afford some squalid apartment on the poor-person perimeter of Shaker Heights. I was a talented freelance writer, but most of my paychecks came from salaried sub-editor gigs for industrial magazines. That my craft must find inspiration in corrugated paperboard and vending machines did not sit well with this self-styled Kerouac, this would-be Salinger.

My therapist, to whom I’ve been talking about all this, tried not to smile when, remembering my life, I told her I’d thought my big problem at the time had nothing to do with entrepreneurial failure and living just above the poverty line but that I didn’t have the balls to get up on stage with Wild Horses. This silly hangup stretched on for half my adult life.

BY MY FIFTIES I’d moved to Arizona to teach high school. One summer I went back to Cleveland to visit. I spent an evening with Barb’s parents, who were, politically and culturally, the opposite of my liberal parents. I had some affection and gratitude for my mother- and father-in-law, and not just because Joe Chiancone had built a floorcovering business whose profits were already being distributed to his daughter and me as early inheritance. I felt at peace with these two working-class people as they sat in their den watching Larry King. Maybe that serene, almost drowsy feeling explains what happened.

After I excused myself, hugged Barb’s mom and shook Barb’s dad’s hand, I drove to Legacy Village, an upscale shopping plaza in Lyndhurst, where, on this balmy summer night, aging, never-say-die Wild Horses were playing outside. I didn’t drink anymore, having established sobriety and racked up several years of this as a new lifestyle.

I stood in the crowd loving the band. Tummler and self-appointed MC Roger with his between-song wisecracks as he stood there with his bass slung over his shoulders. Another bearded eminence, keyboard-playing ex-hippie Billy Buckholtz, who’d started the band and sang like Greg Allman. Jochum gone, replaced by one in a series of new guitarists. The ladykiller Italian drummer, Tony, gone into real estate. The bearded singer was still up there.

I stood in the little crowd enthralled, happy, reminiscing not without savor . . . when it occurred to me I still had those old thoughts. I still wanted to join them. And a new, fizzy calculation hit me: how easy it would be to do just that.

I marched through the light throng of mostly drunken frat boy types, up some steps, past an amp or two, sidled up next to Dennis (“Get drunk and be somebody!”) Christopher, stood behind a mike, and sang along best I could to “Honky Tonk Woman.” I think it was Dennis who handed me a tambourine or a cowbell, which I whacked with a will. I stayed up there for the next tune too. The band seemed glad to have me there, though I was miming some words. You’d have thought, having seen these guys seven thousand four hundred and thirty-eight times, I’d have them memorized.

They took a break and I got down from the stage.

Elated, I floated to my parked car, fumbled out my phone, and called Barb long distance. I gushed to her how I had done it. I had fucking done it!

She started to congratulate me, just as a call came cutting in and I had to get off.

“Where’d you go?”

It was Roger. They were going to start another set.

But I was so drained from having done what I’d done, I wasn’t sure I had the energy.

I have no memory of there being any continuance of Wild Horses with Bob Gitlin that night. I may have driven right home.

That should have been the end of this story. I wish it was. But it’s not.

Now I had something to prove. Had to do it again.

The next summer, they played Legacy Village again, and I made it a point to be in town again.

I drove around and around the place, got out and listened to the band, and chickened out. Began driving home, then castigated myself, pulled over onto a ramp off of Route 271, turned around and went back, chickened out again, and finally let myself go home to sleep at Mom’s.

Despite this, somehow singing had become part of my life.

I had wandered into an Arizona synagogue in an attempt to be Jewish, by which I mean I strove to unearth my birthright Judaism. I loved the rabbi, who took me in, fully understood my red diaper secularism, “got” that I’d had very little formal training in sung Jewish prayer, gave me a primer to learn Hebrew letters, even “conscripted” me (his joke) into the choir. I relished the spotlight, belting out the “Chatzi Kaddish” High Holy Days in yarmulke and fringed prayer shawl. Yet I was fully conscious this wasn’t the star mode I’d spent all those drunken nights contemplating. Bellied up to the bimah I manifested stocky pedantic Tevye, not yowling sinewy Jagger.

I flew back to Cleveland again one summer. Wild Horses were playing a big outdoors engagement during my stay.

They were playing outdoors to a huge crowd on a field by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Surveying the human sprawl, I quailed. This was fucking Woodstock! so unlike that Legacy Village parking lot opportunity with its accommodating gaggle of fans. But I steeled my resources and marched into “action.” I wended my way past people and speakers. The band was far off on that big stage. A mike near me was probably turned on. I parked myself behind it and yipped and growled to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Face burning, I left the stage right after the song, wanting to erase myself.

Roger told me on the phone next day, “Nobody knew you were there!”

We had dinner. I murmured something about still liking to sing. He said, not without a little acid, “Stick to the choir.”

My eyes fell on my plate. I felt ashamed, angry at myself for alchemizing one sweet magical moment into this sour end.

But that was the end of it, and in some tired region of my soul I must have been relieved.

ROGER is the big brother I never had as well as my longtime pro bono psychiatrist. I rarely call him to lament these days. Old age has knocked much of the mishigas off me.

But I had to call him a month or two ago for lawyerly advice about my wife’s and my will.

Soon as he saw my number flash on his cell, he picked up and cried, “More cowbell!”

After a startled moment I laughed, with happy relief. This greeting washed away the taste of his consigning me to the senescent temple choir, far removed from the soaring rebellion of Wild Horses.

“You know,” I said, “I will always remember doing that.” He knew I meant the good time, that magic solidarity at Legacy Village. “That was one of the most fun things I ever did.”

There was a pregnant pause, a moment of tacit brotherhood on the line, before Roger said, “Hey, at least you didn’t storm the Capitol.”

I chuckled obligingly, knowing what he meant, knowing all too well.

After I finally got off the phone with him, I found myself smiling bleakly at his remark.

A smile that widened as the days went by.

Shards of a gift

I was listening to The White Album in my car, bathing in a double disc package whose technical name is The Beatles and that I might have paid three or four bucks for at Recordland when it came out; listening to the two CDs, cruising around, when I came to realize — yet again, and in a new way — just why the Beatles have magic. There is no way to appreciate this multifarious foray into new zones without remembering how they started, with “Yeah yeah yeah” and “I saw her standing there.” How far they ranged!

Photo courtesy of Apple Records

You can trace the dissolution of the band through the gestures and key moments of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. McCartney may be set on sweet nonsense (his “Silly Love Songs” was a dud), but “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” makes you happy! Whereas I always associated Lennon with the confusion and violence, the dissonance and horror: “Yer Blues”; “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey”; and “Helter Skelter,” even though it turns out that was a McCartney composition!

But despite the dissonance, there’s an artistic integrity in Lennon, a poignancy, that outreaches anything else in the Beatles canon. He challenges you in his obstinate divagations from the pop songbook. I guess in the Lennon/McCartney pairing, it all gets mixed together, and that’s what made those songs great.

Is there anything weirder than “Revolution Number 9”? From the English gentleman’s “They are standing still” to the doomed and sonorous cantorial warbling, from the young woman’s “You become naked” to all the scratchy crosstalk of studio sound effects used against the laws of aesthetics and harmony, it’s a dissection of the whole mess of the human psyche. The Beatles produced songs that were downright scary! This one is rather in the footsteps of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” off of Sgt. Pepper, a song whose carnival music elicits a prickle of dread. One thinks of William Burroughs’s cutup theory, how the books he crafted that way are unreadable but for discrete, congruous patches; the avant garde weirdness of “Revolution Number 9” was crafted that way yet is all of a piece! I feel the John energy on this one, just as he was with that masterpiece of psychedelia “Tomorrow Never Knows” off of Revolver, and what many call his best work, the climactic chapter of Sgt. Pepper, “A Day in the Life,” a combination of dreamy narrative and mounting orchestral riot.

There is no Lennon without McCartney. The White Album would be flat and unpalatable without Paul’s whimsy. Perhaps my favorite number on the whole record is his reproduction of a nineteen-twenties dance hall ditty. With its scratchy backdrop and way of singing, and its overall lilt, “Honey Pie” had to be a faithful rendering of an existing song, I thought, till I Googled it and found that Paul wrote it! Randy Newman identified McCartney as one of a handful of geniuses at concocting melody. Recreations of old Swing Era ballads tend to be disturbing, in fact created for that purpose, like the Gold Ballroom soundtrack of The Shining or the pop hit of Johnny Favorite in Angel Heart. But Paul’s song is different; it warms and consoles. Paul rocked hard, but he also sang us lullabies.

George Harrison’s contributions are far from negligible. I once cringed at “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” indulging in Nik Cohn rock-dreams speculations I had no right to, relating to the unplasant detail (to me) of Clapton pirating George’s wife. And here’s Eric contributing those agonizing riffs! But I dig the song now. Those men re-cemented their friendship to build another monument to Beatles magic. It has the cosmic energy of a blues classic, as affirmed by anybody’s YouTube perusal of the Rock Hall tribute pending George’s passing, with its input by all manner of rock luminaries including Prince’s jaw-dropping guitar finale. George Harrison was a genius. “Who knew?” George Martin would muse. We knew he was “a magical guy” (Clapton’s words) ever since “Here Comes the Sun” and “My Sweet Lord.”

Oh, and speaking of the Beatles longtime producer, Howard Stern is a little off the mark to badmouth George Martin as an intrusion, an afterthought, unworthy of being mythologized with the four Beatles. His contribution was immense. Martin’s traditional sensibility, manifested in those symphonic productions and arrangements, enlivened and expanded the Beatles palette. “Eleanor Rigby” is but one early example of the debt we owe George Martin. And it was Martin, the “old straight guy,” who would say, about his having heard the raw tapes of what became Revolver, “They were starting to hand me much more interesting work.” He was as hip as they were.

A schismatized magic gleams out from The Beatles. As do some pure, stand-alone nuggets that stand any test of time. “Dear Prudence” is still gorgeous. A folk singer named Colette used to play and sing it at the Barking Spider in Cleveland with such fealty to the original I would listen with something near rapture. I still jump around in my seat to the flat-out rocker “Back in the U.S.S.R.”; Russians love it too, have a whole cult and party scene around it. Nobody rocked like the lads from Liverpool. “Birthday,” same thing. Hold onto your fucking hat, and what about that galactic ending?

It’s a shame the band is no more, but you can read history in the runes. You can see, in the White Album, the pieces of a mosaic representing this astounding breadth of artistry. Just as you can see how the pieces, once separated, would never come completely back together again.

Chillin in the ‘hood of my mind

Woodrow Call & Augustus McCrae | Lonesome dove, Lonesome dove quotes, Hat  creek cattle company

Call and McCrae: great foils make great movies.

Trouble with retiring is the big question “And do what?”

That’s where I’m stuck. I have this blog, which some people read, and I send stories out to magazines and other publishers. I do have “hobbies,” which seems a lackluster word. My wife says I better get some before I think of retiring from Walmart.

It’s become an urgent topic of consideration, what with Social Security money, for the first time, about to cross our threshold.

Hobbies. Hobbies.

Hm. Let’s see …

I sit around on my free time and read what other people wrote. I finished Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, and was so impressed I wrote him a chummy letter.

Yeah I know. Dreaming myself into the company of great men.

One meets distinguished men in the common course of life.

Met one who majored in Russian and Slavic literature in college. We hit it off. He gave me a stack of Gogol, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, and some others, and at present I am enjoying The Idiot.

This is a source of encouragement for me.

The Idiot is about a very pure, sweet man, a sort of saint, a man without suspicion or rancor, who is regarded, perhaps because of epilepsy, as an idiot. An anecdote emerges from my private fund of Beat apocrypha. When Allen Ginsberg was committed to a mental hospital in the forties and met Carl Solomon, another patient, allusions to Dostoyevsky sounded between them. (Given a small paperback imprint by his father, Solomon would one day respond to Ginsberg’s publicizing push by printing Burroughs’s Junky.) Ginsberg said, by way of introduction, “I’m Prince Myshkin,” referring to the abovementioned saintly character; Solomon fired back he was Kirilov, from The Possessed. I remember Kirilov as a maniac up all night having drunk too much tea. That’s about all I remember from the book; I may not even have finished it. You need a table of characters at your fingertips what with so many of them, and use of first as well as last names, diminutives and formal.

Dostoyevsky’s bitter, terribly personal Notes from Underground is one of the books that shaped me, but I wavered in my respective slogs through Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov (the latter I recall as Lear only with sons instead of daughters). Perhaps I have always masqueraded rather than truly been a reader, a scholar. Working chest and triceps, or back and biceps, or legs and shoulders at Fitness for 10, then biding my time on my easy chair before the big screen, may be more my speed.

But with this new book, The Idiot, I just might succeed in finding a Dostoyevsky to at least balance off the one little book of his I already love, thereby burnishing my credentials as scholarly. Hate to run around calling myself a Dostoyevsky fan having taken to my heart but one little book of his.

I’m thinking of signing up for that Master Class they’re advertising online. David Sedaris teaches humor writing; Joyce Carol Oates, the short story; Scorsese, making film. I could tell Barb I was involved in something like that and she’d stop calling me unconnected to the world. She thinks I’m a hermit. Though we all are during this Covid lay-in.

What else do I do? I watch old movies I’ve already seen before. My wife chides me for that, too, just as my mother used to do.

I myself wonder why, after the riveting beginning and early action scenes of Black Hawk Down and that throbbing soundtrack, I don’t bail out when it becomes Tom Sizemore yelling at the top of his lungs into the ears of the other soldiers on that fateful day in Somalia, unable to hear anything above the shelling. It gets dinful.

How many times can I watch Lonesome Dove? But it’s that good. Augustus McCrae may be the greatest cowboy hero of all time, and I view this performance as the apex of Robert Duvall’s career. And there never was a more perfect foil than Tommy Lee Jones’s tightlipped Woodrow Call. Speaking of westerns, one reason I loved Brokeback Mountain was the perfect pairing of complementary characters as played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. The corresponding literature of both these films – as with that template, To Kill a Mockingbird – more than does justice to the movies.

I recently watched, yet again, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which a Facebook person in my orbit called, correctly, “criminally underappreciated.” Russell Crowe’s jaunty, impeccably militaristic Captain Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany’s intellectual Irish-rebel ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin constitute another example of perfect foils.

In my retirement, indeed my dotage, I shall sit around contemplating my worth as an appreciator of the arts. How eclectic I am! The same man who loves Annie Hall loves Taxi Driver; the same man who loves “Here Comes the Sun” loves “Yer Blues.”

Come to that, did anybody but me feel Bon Jovi hit exactly the right note with his Inauguration performance of that George Harrison song? Happiness has been elusive. Watching Jon sing this sweet, magical testament to life’s way of rejuvenating itself was just what the doctor ordered.

But enough sitting on my ass in my writing chair. Better go to my reading chair and plow further into The Idiot.

Be an idiot not to.