Monthly Archives: July 2013

What Went Wrong?

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SimonGarfunkelI’ve had this problem, one that started early into adulthood. The problem is that there is music I love that I cannot bear. Be it in the background at a supermarket, on the radio, with friends, on my own, this music always brings me to tears. Not tears due to the content, it’s something else, something that is so deep in me I never could quite pinpoint it. It’s not a feeling I have about anything else, no matter how much I love, have loved, or how terribly important it has been in my life. It’s Simon and Garfunkel. I have not even owned any of their albums on CD, as the music they made began stirring me to tears way back in the days of vinyl. Why?

I missed the sixties, they were before my time, but I did not miss the aftermath, the music was still in the air, there were still hippies about, still daisies, California sunshine, a feeling of brotherhood, and big promises, though I think around the eighties we all knew that all this was slipping away. See, when I was a kid, terribly young, I lived down a dirt road, Peck Road, in Akron Ohio. We couldn’t really see our neighbors, and there was a pond, a swamp, in the backyard, and it was all a lot like where and how I live now, as I am starting over. Sometimes my life has a bitter-sweet way of coming full circle. The sun shines, the light shimmers off the water, the air is fresh, and I can’t see my neighbors, but there is no innocence left in the air. I am not 3, and Bill Withers is not charting hits anymore.

Down the dirt road we’d go, I remember passing the park kids having mud fights on clay mountain, and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to join them. Barreling down Peck Road I’d stare down at the floor of the old beater my dad’s friend owned, Johnny Cash in the background, and watch through the hole in the floor as the road rushed under the car. The world was full of that kind of magic.

On the weekends my dad would have all the kids over from the park where he worked, and the whole event, every weekend party, was filled and flooded with all the promises the Summer of Love had left in its wake. Wild things were happening in our backyard, teenagers and college kids from the park were at our house building fires, holding unfurled Queen-sized sheets over the fires until they ballooned and took off, floating high and hovering like ghosts. One of the ghosts caught fire, and I’ll never forget standing at the window, barely able to see over the ledge, as the sheet rose, brushed into the trees… and the leaves caught fire. And all the while music blared from our little house, a soundtrack to the last vestiges of that era, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, the music of Simon and Garfunkel, all of it so rich, so loaded, so powerful. How could I accept anything less than that, as THAT was the profoundly spiritual music that imprinted on my young heart and mind. See, that’s why I couldn’t possibly give a crap about Radiohead, I was immersed in deep water as a kid, so deep.

“Time it was and what a time it was,
It was a time of innocence,
A time of confidences.”

I found a frog, a bloody mess of a thing. I was a barefoot kid then, and my mother took hold of it and walked it to a safe place in the garage, and she warned me that it was pretty bad, a snake had gotten a hold of it. I stood quietly as she set the frog in a safe place, did all she could. I checked on the frog later, it was gone. Of course, in my mind, it was all better and had bounced off, back into the swamp. Everything was going to be fine. And I was going to grow up and inherit a world full of healthy frogs, harmonies, flying sheets, kids from the park, Simon and Garfunkel, George Harrison, joy, sun and hope. I couldn’t wait to grow up, pull on my very own patched bell bottoms and run barefoot into it all.

But it didn’t work out that way. The eighties came, and I started to realize as I matured into a world full of shit like AC/DC, Judas Priest, the J. Geils Band, and Punk Rock, that something had gone wrong, that I didn’t fit in and I didn’t know why.

I returned to our house on Peck Road once, years after we had moved away from that magical place. My dad took me there when I was late into my teens. The house was a wreck, no walls, smashed-in windows, graffiti on all the walls, bottles smashed all over the floor, and I went back to my basement room in the suburbs of Stow Ohio, shocked, my mother saw the wide and sad-eyed whiteness on my face. I was devastated to see my childhood home, a place that had been so full of hope and dreams, destroyed, useless, nothing. In despair, home, in my room in the suburbs, I turned on the Beatles and tried to forget that they “sucked” (as all the kids in Van Halen shirts had been telling me), and tried to forget about Peck Road, the park kids, and Simon and Garfunkel.

It became impossible for me to listen to Simon and Garfunkel without weeping. I still can’t. I’m tearful now as I play the first CD by them that I’ve had the courage to buy and play EVER. I can’t bear it, I really can’t. For years I thought the problem was that I missed Peck Road, the park kids, my youth. Then as I got older I figured that Simon and Garfunkel brought me too close to those memories, and that caused me to pine for my innocence. That was what hurt, the loss of my innocence, that was why that music was so painful… right?

Of course as the years rolled by I realized that I hated my father, my own body, the way the world viewed my art and music, and the ghetto I lived in, and I felt more and more apart from the world in which I lived. So the world moved on and as I became disinterested and indeed contemptuous towards the new things, Grunge, Rap, Modern Country, first-person shooter video games, I began feeling all the more like the loner I never wanted to be. But, when you don’t fit in or understand your time… what choice do you have but to conform… or… retreat.

I fought the retreat for a very long time, tried to find somewhere to fit in, to think that perhaps I was wrong, perhaps I’m just closed-minded because I despise Punk and Hip Hop. perhaps I’m just old ’cause I don’t give a shit about modern TV shows. Perhaps I’m just a snob ’cause I don’t care about this or that. Perhaps I was simply born in the wrong time as well as everything else.

Today, listening to a Simon and Garfunkel album for the first time since childhood, crying, I realize why I can’t take it. It’s ’cause they remind me. They remind me with every note that all my childhood dreams were misplaced. The world I believed I was going to grow up and inherit as a child is not there, I’m stuck in this one. The promises the tail end of the sixties experience made to my young self were not fulfilled. I didn’t inherit a world full of All You Need Is Love, Lean On Me, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, and Smile On Your Brother. Hoolihan and Big Chuck are gone, so are bell bottoms and pretty paintings of barefoot girls riding bikes surrounded in golden light and good vibrations. No, there’s no place for me in a world full of tattooed baddass bald guys with attitudes bickering on “reality TV” shows, Fox News, Taylor Swift, or the Smashing Pumpkins shouting at me that I’m just a rat in a cage.

I don’t know what went wrong, or when it happened–but I’m willing to blame the eighties. I’ve often said that Ronald Reagan killed the last barefoot girl. Sure, there are good things going on, good vibrations here and there if you look hard enough on YouTube, but let’s face it, the good vibrations are NOT in the air anymore, not as the golden thread that runs though pop culture, not the way it was then, not in this culture so mired in cynicism. This is not the world I was promised as a kid, and I’m pissed. I feel robbed, and listening to Simon and Garfunkel just reminds me of it, of what I think is more of a failing of our society and our world than a failing of mine to accept the shit I inherited as the hippies sold out, bought Purell and became scared of terrorists. They had the chance to keep it up, but so many of them moved on and bought houses in Stow Ohio. In the end, I’m not so sure I ever lost my innocence. I know now that this world has lost its innocence, and THAT is why I can’t listen to Simon and Garfunkel, they bring that home to me hard.

But there’s hope, there’s Gainesville, SAW, my beautiful room on the lake, Joe Courter, Florida Sun, my determinedly barefoot life, my dear friend Joe Blue Sky, and so many other beautiful things. And there is hope in Hinduism, a religion that teaches that this world we call “reality” (reality, the only word that should always have quotation marks around it as Nabakov said) is all an illusion anyhow. Well, if you want your illusion full of reality TV, Techno/Industrial music, Rap, American Idol, cynicism and terrorists, enjoy, but I’m choosing my illusion.

And as for me, I’m Homeward Bound, where my love lies waiting silently for me.

Bare Feet, Teaching, and Kids

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disney-rapunzel-tangledI’ve been teaching a lot of art classes the last couple weeks. I’ve taught a lot in general, kids, adults, in all situations, overseas, in Ohio, here in Florida, but I’ve never taught quite in this combo. This summer I have my first job teaching art to kids as “Barefoot Justine,” meaning that I’ve never had to walk into a class full of kids barefoot and teach.

2 things happen, first off, the kids want to strip off their shoes (and socks) as soon as they begin to assume that I might not stop them. Of course, I am not about to stop them. I’m not sure I want to be responsible for starting them or encouraging them down this path, not kids. Kids can be careless, can get hurt just ’cause they’re reckless. Yet, as a kid I spent most every summer barefoot, as did quite a few of us… then things changed. Here in the States the environment grew very uptight, very conservative, very Purell, and bare feet are, of course, sensual, daring, and in the minds of most people “dangerous,” and definitely not Purell. Of course all those negatives may be true if you’re not vigilant. Yet in all good conscience I can’t discourage a kid from the simple joy of being barefoot no matter what. Hell, I survived many many barefoot adventures as a kid, and I think perhaps my hesitation to encourage kids to do the same is hypocritical on many levels, and a sign that even I have been corrupted by the irrational foot-phobia of America as it is now. I guess the bottom line in my thinking is… screw this new and frightened America, go barefoot kids, have fun, get dirty, get hurt, get over it! Be free, live free, live barefoot!

One thing I know, no question in my mind, is that kids (people) don’t want to wear shoes. Kids haven’t had the joy of being barefoot beaten out of them by an irrational culture of phobic frightened adults. Given the opportunity, unlike most adults who would never consider stripping off their shoes in public, kids are free of programming… off go their little shoes.

And the other thing that happens are the questions… lots of questions. Today the questions with this group of kids were endless, penetrating, exploratory, revealing. I’ve never endured such a lengthy interrogation about my being barefoot. I realize that what most tugged at the minds of my classroom of little barefoot acolytes was that I am so hardcore. See, the first questions are, “Where are your shoes?” What shoes? I don’t own any shoes.

Usually this is followed by a few questions or satisfaction, so off go the kids, but not today. These kids interviewed me, editorialized, considered, and talked about this for nearly the first half of the class… all the while we worked on our projects. They wanted to talk about everything: what do I do about going into stores, don’t my feet get cold, and on and on. One wanted to tell me about someone in their family who hates shoes. More than once I have had a girl tell me that when she grows up she’s never wearing shoes. Well, good for her!

OK, sure, you might think being barefoot is risky… so is skiing, kayaking, biking, playing sports… get it? Ask yourself how many dangerous skull-cracking activities you participate in in your spare time? Are they more dangerous than being barefoot? I bet they are. But there is something more important than all that in there… being barefoot in public means you haven’t bought it. You haven’t bought the socialization, the Purell, the fear, the conformity, the deadening of your senses. Bare feet are rebellious, alternative, and anything but conservative, safe, or boring.

Of course I don’t push any of this one way or the other, but if they ask I will tell them, and I will tell them the truth.

So, as far the kids in my classes, go for it! Free your feet, free your minds!

The right to shoes, the right to choose, I choose barefoot.

On the Dove Cult Leaving

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Regarding the Dove Cult leaving Gainesville, Lord Jesus issued this statement from his office:

92689564_330486706_4e67fa7fc3_xlarge“The office of Lord Jesus Christ would like to make the following statement (and it’s the gospel truth): While Lord Jesus is pleased that the people of Gainesville will be getting a much deserved break from the ugliness belching forth form ‘Pastor’ Terry Jones, Jesus wept (not grown-up Jesus, but little Baby Jesus) to realize that now a whole other city and population will be subjected to the Dove Church lunacy. The very unfortunate consequence of this move of course being that another community will actually be left confused and believing that these ‘losers and loonies’ (Christ’s exact words, italic emphasis his) are actually representing him. Lord Jesus would like the city of Gainesville and any city inflicted with the unholy hate-filled invasion of the Dove church to understand that Mr. Jones and the Dove Church in no way represent or are affiliated with Lord Jesus, his disciples, offices, or words (you know… the red ones).”

As a side note, I would like to add that the official letterhead from the office of Lord Jesus was substandard, and the office of Lord Jesus might consider using a designer who has some knowledge of design, the workings of Photoshop, and fonts (re: Comic Sans is no longer acceptable). If you don’t mind my saying, perhaps, with all due respect to our Lord and Savior, the unpaid interns in your office do not make the best designers.

HOT Rockin’ With Bill Haley!

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Mercy! I’ve always looked back, never once felt in-step with my time. Even in high school I was surrounded by enthusiastic lunkheads in J. Geils Band and Def Leppard T-shirts telling me the Beatles sucked. Well… I knew better, even at 16, I knew better. Frustrated with trying to get them to see the light, I ended every confrontation with, “Talk to me about this in 2o years.”

Well… I, of course, was right. Those flashes flashed, the pans are rusting to nothing in landfills. Since those days as a teenager I realized that “This stuff is shit.” It’s still shit. I feel the same way today, whether it’s Lady Gaga, Little Wayne, Smashing Pumpkins or whoever. So I kept looking back, seeking, finding, and knowing every time I get or got stuck listening to stuff from the here and now that… this stuff is shit… too. Oh, sure, I know there are good people out there making great stuff–some stuff I really love, by the way. But it’s not as relevant, vibrant or powerful as what I’m hearing right now! Pardon my enthusiasm, but what I’m hearing now is spectacular… even the clarity and sonics are great!

tumblr_mdwplqqvRj1rlbauqo1_400Today, desperate for something else in my collection, something different to listen to, I picked up a “Bill Haley and His Comets collection.” This stuff is hot. Haley and his band knew how to swing. The energy level is mind-blowing… and all done without a dash of anger, cynicism, distortion, or worthless intrusions from computers.

Men playing hard, swinging, rocking, and confirming that there was nothing new about Punk either, let alone metal. No sir, this stuff is high energy, genuinely intense… ELECTRIFYING! The solos, guitar solos, are wild, truly wild. The drum intro. to “Birth Of the Boogie” alone should fill metal enthusiasts and Punks with a sense of shame. No, it hasn’t been done any better than Bill Haley did it, and that’s a fact. Listen! It’s all there, it’s all there!

As for me, tonight, Bill Haley’s rocking this joint… and after that, who knows… Gene Vincent? Oh yeah, that would be sweet!

Well, kids, this is why I spend so much time alone. I just don’t get what everyone’s all on about. Give me Bill Haley, Jimmy Rodgers, Gene Vincent, Wanda Jackson, Link Wray, Hank Williams, Louis Prima, Duane Eddy, Barbara Pittman, Carl Perkins, and I’ll go with you up to the Beatles, but after that… I’m looking back, way back. And I really don’t expect anyone to join me, I’ve accepted that I’m taking this trip alone. Yep, just me and the Beatles (and Bill Haley), and if people still think I’m wrong… we can talk about it in 20 years, if anyone still remembers what everyone thought was better than the Beatles or Bill Haley 20 years down the line.

Of course, I don’t expect many to agree, so in the words of the poet… “Farewell, So Long, Goodbye.”

The Myth Of Self Expression

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“I do not believe in the value, let alone supremacy, of self-expression. I believe in the respect a person has for what they have to say as demonstrated through their dedication to the discipline it takes to learn to express themselves well.”

Barefoot Justine