Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Saturnalia

I know I’m not the only person that feels a sense of emptiness and loss as I watch my babies grow into young adults. I’ve just been looking at my Christmas records over the years.

Every year since the 70s I’ve made Christmas music for my mother. It started out as original music but when the kids happened, that became too difficult. I found it easier to make psychedelic versions of the standards. I think the whole idea was inspired by the Beatles Christmas records. They released one every year for their fan club.

The pics on the pre-kid covers were usually the highlight from that year’s biggest adventure. When the kids came along I used pictures of them of course. My mother loved it.

I think when Dylan was 6 and Chloe was 4 I started using them on the recordings. I was afraid they were a little hard for folks to listen to so I stopped putting them on St. Louis’ annual Noelathon.

The Noelathon is a Christmas project run by my good friend Margaret Bianchetta. Proceeds go to charity. She used to try to get me and Stephen Martin to ring bells for The Salvation Army. She’s really into the Christmas thing. I will have to do a post about her one of these days.

In the 4th century, when Christians had only just stopped being Jewish a hundred years earlier, the Pope decided to take Rome’s best party Saturnalia and call it Christ’s birthday. For some reason, when the Romans took it from the Pagans, they decided the solstice was the 25th.

In spite of my hatred of all things religious, I love the holidays. The best experiences are shared ones. Consider how much less fun it is to drink alone. I love sharing a party or ritual. I think most people do. I also know what it’s like when you go through a holiday alone. There is nothing lonelier!

But, as usual, I digress. I have mixed emotions when I look at my kids growing up on the CD covers. I still think about running around an entire block twice holding a bicycle up by its seat, or pushing one of them on a swing. It’s amazing how much richer your idea of love becomes when you have kids.

On this year’s cover they’re standing in front of the tree we brought home. There’s an old woman who lives on an island off the River Road in Illinois. For years we’ve taken a ferry over and she lets us cut one down. Either her daughter lives there now or I’ve just gotten older but the woman over there seems younger. The back cover is a bridge in the park across the street from our apartment.

The back cover of the 2003 CD is the last winter I still had a whole family. Kim’s even in the picture. We were sailing just off a small island by Puerto Rico. Married life obviously wasn’t healthy for me judging by how fat I was then.

I ended up getting sun poisoning when Dylan and I snorkeled through a coral reef there. Parts of my back I couldn’t reach with sun screen were directly exposed to hours of tropical sun. The itching, burning, misery I went through was only alleviated by a waterfall I found up in the hills of the Puerto Rican rain forest. As I stood under it I was in ecstasy as tons of water pounded my back. Oh, a lot of booze helped too.

The pic on back cover of the 1999 CD was taken by Dylan. I was shooting basketball hoops at the garage of a friend of ours in Chicago. Dylan was 5 and had just gotten his first camera. I loved that it was taken from his perspective. It gave insight into how he saw the world.

The kids used to just sing on the CDs. Last year Chloe played flute and Dylan composed the basic melody. He wrote it out on staff paper and had me play it. He presented the music to my mother with the CD.

This year Chloe played flutes and Dylan played bass guitar. I might put it on my music MySpace. The kids are getting much better and perhaps we’ll be making appearances at the annual Noelathon again.

Happy Christmas, I hope you’re able to share it with someone.

Oh and I almost forgot, don't forget the true meaning of Christmas----

Share a Coke with Santa!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Kent

I ran into my old buddy Kent in the locker room at the YMCA last week. Last Sunday he turned 50. I still think of us all as teenagers.

Kent and I lived together as kids. We both had single moms. I still think of his mom as Aunt Suzy.

Kent and I had a lot of adventures together. He was with me when I was molested in Forest Park as a kid and when we had a big raid at our apartment in the DeBaliviere area. I posted those stories earlier.

When we were kids living together in the West End we were in the middle of a large gay community. We were both heterosexual but that didn’t stop us from running around with guys that took us to places like the Red Bull in East St. Louis. We were minors and got in everywhere. We never paid for anything of course.

We could be very rude and maybe even a bit homophobic. We’d giggle at guys making out at the bar. We’d feign gayness. I’d call him Lance and he’d call me Trent.

The movie My Own Private Idaho reminded me very much of those days.

It’s funny who you run into at the YMCA as you stand naked in the showers. I run into lot of old friends who are turning into old men.

Several years ago I had to use the downtown Y when they were cleaning out our pool. As I showered I noticed an old man playing with himself. He was watching me. Surprisingly, it didn’t really bother me. I figured this was all he got.

On another occasion I stood naked showering with a bunch of Irish musicians who played at a local pub. Later I learned they were IRA fugitives hiding out here in the States. It’s weird to think of standing around naked with people who have actually killed.

Anyway I really wanted to give a shout out to my old buddy Kent.

Happy birthday man!

I don’t have any recent pics of Kent but this is how I still think of him. We were living in Soulard. He’s with his old girlfriend and one of my favorite people Allie Bock. I just got in contact with her through FaceBook. FaceBook has been incredible!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Burl Ives

My kids and I were in a super market last night shopping for dinner. The usual seasonal Muzak drifted mostly through our subconscious. Burl Ives’ Holly Jolly Christmas began to play. My son Dylan reminded me of a review my band Wax Theatricks had gotten years ago.

We had just released our last LP and it was winding its way through the rock press. I was rifling through our old releases but I couldn’t find it. A reviewer from Hawaii really liked it.

There’s nothing that strokes a song writer’s ego like seeing your lyrics printed in a newspaper. After the kind words he went on to say, “but the singer sounds strangely like Burl Ives.” That was my buddy Dominic and I don’t think anything ever cut him as deeply. I still think it’s funny as Hell!

Wax Theatricks promo pic by Matt O'Shea circa 1981

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More on Fire

I almost forgot what is probably the most life defining aspect of fire. Fire dies.


Valerie, the kids and I went to the highway 64/40 reopening last Sunday.

Whenever I see a person in a suit at a public function I always make a crack about it being the mayor. Sure enough, this time it was mayor Slay and I was totally oblivious as usual.

My kids were excited about walking where speeding cars would be. I could only think about the thousands of miles of American Interstate my buddy Dominic and I hitchhiked as teenagers.

I am definitely jaded.


Even in the St. Louis public school system it’s possible to run into teachers that can leave a lasting impression on you.

In 9th grade I had a history teacher who made it clear to me that history was written and rewritten by the winners. She really liked me and encouraged my urge to explore the human condition through history. She gave me Ds in the class because I wouldn’t do my assignments. By the end of the year the class had only gotten about a quarter of the way through our text and I had read it twice. I was fascinated with it.

It seems like I was always left alone in the back of my classes, like there was an unspoken “you don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you,” agreement.

In 7th grade I had a science teacher who posed an interesting question, “Is fire a life form?”

It was my first real thought experiment. What exactly constitutes life? Fire seemed to have all the elements. It feeds, breathes, reproduces, and eliminates waste. I learned that smoke was combustible material that wasn’t processed efficiently. Just like most human waste.

It was an early introduction into thermal dynamics. What we experience as heat is molecular activity in various states of excitement. There are 4 states of matter; solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Plasma really caught my imagination. The molecules become so excited (hot) that electrons are stripped from atoms.

Fire still captures my imagination. I can’t imagine anything more dangerous but we would have evolved without it.

I spend a couple of days in the middle of the week in St. Peters with my kids. They go to school out there. We come back to the city on the weekends.

Man I wish I could put them in a city school but I’ve given up on the idea.

My ex graciously disappears to her boyfriend’s house and it’s almost like I still own the place. I don’t sleep well there. Usually, after a lot tossing and turning I turn on the TV.

Last Thursday I turned it on to a news bulletin about a fire. It had gotten out of control. It was across the street from California Donuts. The residential properties around Mattingly’s Micro Brewery were too far gone to save. It slowly sank in that they were talking about my apartment in the city.

Horrified, I called my girlfriend Valerie. It took a long time for her to answer which only heightened my anxiety. When she finally did she was groggy. “I thought I smelled smoke,” she said.

It turned out the fire was at a storefront across the street from us. In the summer we’d often hear gun shots coming from there. On more than one occasion there would be police cars and yellow crime scene tape around it.

Valerie always gets to know our neighbors. She had learned from them that the cops had been scoping the place out as a drug front. They were waiting to gather more evidence before the big bust. I guess that investigation is over.

When I came home to check it out I was immediately impressed with the effect of condensation on the tree in front of the store. It had been one of our coldest nights and the fire created a wave of heat that condensed on the tree and then froze.

Fire it up!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Valerie, my kids, and I went to CompĂ´nere, a small gallery in University City, last night. Our friend Mark Hurd had a show that was opening and we never pass up free wine and snacks.

I’ve always thought galleries, where you can be a little too loud and even heckle the artist if you want, was a better environment for art than a cold, uptight museum where art goes to die.

When it’s warm out we like to go to art fairs and it seems like Mark is always there. Lately he’s been doing prints of iconic St. Louis places. My kids love them because they recognize all of them.

There were a few other artists there I really enjoyed. My favorites were Stephanie J. Witte and Bill Reid, both of whom are sculptors.

Stephanie works with painted gourds and tiny pieces of watch machinery. She said she has to get her gourds from California. The local ones are too thin. Her pieces remind me of Jules Verne or maybe The Wild, Wild West. I was trying to identify some of the materials she used and she told me she found them inside a hard drive.

She also does furniture with full sized characters seated in them. I asked if her home was crowded with them. She said her husband was a left brained computer programmer who was incredibly tolerant. They have a perfect yin and yang relationship, and yes her home was filled with it.

The other artist I really liked was Bill Reid. He worked with painted, welded metals. They all had great titles. My favorite was a complex contraption that appeared to have a bird feeder at one end and dragster slicks on the other. It was titled A Perfectly Safe Birdfeeder.

I’m posting John’s painting of the Eat-Rite diner because I have a very personal history with the place. My friend Judy Northington was murdered there.

I asked about his printing process and was given an extremely lengthy explanation. I noticed a large printer in the corner of the gallery and asked if it was ink jet. I was told it actually used acrylic paint.

I wish I was in a position to patronize artists I really like. I did my best to steer people who seemed to have money toward my favorites.

The prints were numbered in series so I asked John’s girlfriend how this worked. “It’s not like you can destroy the original template,” I said. They were stored on a computer. She told me it was the honor system and John was totally trustworthy.

This brings me to the real point of this post, art speculation.

When I was in my twenties I idolized Salvador Dali. I was well aware of his standing in the art community. It had been years since Andre Breton (founder of the surrealist’s movement) rearranged the letters of his name to spell Avida Dollars. I threw myself into both Dada and the Surrealist movements. It didn’t stop there either.

The allure of the subconscious, science and a lot of drugs on my part were just too tempting. Dali was painting intense equestrian war battles based on DNA models. I have a poster of a group of live nude ballet dancers he formed into a giant skull. To me it represented the specter of death lurking behind youth and beauty.

Dali was as big as John Lennon to me.

I was living with Stephen Martin on Oregon. We shared an audio studio with bedrooms on either end. I got a direct mail post card with a drawing for a Dali print as a prize. I was still naive to the ways of the commercial world and entered the contest.

A few weeks later I got a call from an art broker in Arizona. He told me a really fascinating story.

It seems Dali was commissioned to paint a series of tarot cards. He whipped them out without any enthusiasm and his clients wanted their money back. Dali wouldn’t give the money back and it ended up in court. The judge agreed the paintings were garbage but said Dali had lived up to his end of the bargain. He did make Dali sign 1000 blank sheets of paper that the clients could put prints on to sell for whatever they could get.

Well this was the closest I figured I’d ever come to owning a Dali. I bought a litho and an etching. I put $5,000.00 on a credit card. I figured it would never go down in value.

Somehow my ex girlfriend Pam and I were still in communication with each other. She thought it might be a good investment too. Unlike me she did a little research. The original 1000 sheets of paper turned into 10,000.

The broker ended up doing five years in prison and I lost my money. The weird thing is the forgeries were lithos. One of mine was an etching and the signature looks totally different. Who knows?

I figure I have $5,000.00 worth of posters.