Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas with Patrick

Christmas is the only day I see my brother Patrick. Every visit is more than enough for the year.

My brother has always had an incredible imagination. When we were young I thought it bordered on genius. Now I’m thinking his imagination might be symptomatic of dementia.

We both seem to suffer from a form of OCD with our individual manifestations.

I have been a chain smoker, a drug/alcohol addict, a career skydiver (which ruined my credit), and a tyrant when it came to my band. I have a tendency to push every pleasant conversation to the point of torture.

My brother’s chemical obsessions leave mine in the dust. His stories turn to fantasies he becomes convinced are reality.

I remember his Christmas visits when I was married. My ex, Kim, was always terrified he’d make a scene in front of her parents and he always did. I’ll never forget the year he was so rude and obnoxious Kim burst into tears yelling, “I don’t ever want him in my house again!”

I was always impressed with her parents’ tolerance. They were pretty uptight otherwise. The image of my 8 year old son, tears welling in his eyes, telling me, “This is the worst Christmas ever!” is permanently burned into memory.

My brother and I share a lot of very dear friends. They’re always asking how he is and why they never see him anymore. Patrick dropped out of society 20 years ago and has no intention of dropping back in.

Our friend Fojammi is in the hospital following surgery. Just before the operation I told him I’d bring Patrick by Christmas day, provided he wasn’t already too drunk.

Danny wasn’t feeling well so our visit was short. Coming down on the elevator, my son pointed out there was no 12th or 13th floor button. I assumed these were floors that normal folks weren’t supposed to have access to.

The elevator was crowded, so I guess Patrick felt compelled to put on a show.

He gave us all a lecture about the government putting the 13th floor in the basement and running their secret conspiracies from there. This was happening in large buildings all over the world. It was the wildest “Beware of the big bad government” story I’d ever heard. Every jaw in the elevator had dropped by the time we exited.

From there Valerie, my kids, my mom, my brother and I met up at our apartment to share Christmas.

Valerie only smokes in our kitchen. I guess my brother figured it was the designated smoking area. He said he wanted to hang there for a smoke and asked if he could have a beer. I had just gotten a Christmas six pack from my ex’s boyfriend. I popped off a crown cap with my church key and handed him one.

I left the room to visit every one else around the tree. I came back after what seemed the time it took to smoke one cigarette. All six bottles were empty in the trash can. I never really saw him drink, but in the few hours he spent with us he drank three six packs and half a bottle of whiskey.

After 4 beers I wake up with a hangover. I can’t imagine what his mornings are like.

My son loves his uncle Patrick. He’s always wondered why I’ve always been so apprehensive about my brother’s Christmas visits. This year Dylan admitted Patrick was more fun to talk to the more sober he was.

In spite of that Dylan had a wonderful time. One of his gifts was a bottleneck slide. I taught him to tune my guitar to open G and almost immediately he figured out Leadbelly’s Black Girl. He played and Patrick belted out the lyrics. Dylan talked about it all night after everyone left. “How did Uncle Patrick know all the words?”

He’d be surprised to find out how much Uncle Patrick knows.

I have the most beautifully dysfunctional family. My mother has always been curt with her opinions and not at all sentimental about ritual. My brother is just out of his mind and the tension between the three of us drives most people to despair.

Somehow Valerie embraces the whole situation. Every Christmas is a zoo and my son sees it all as family tradition. I’m not sure about my daughter Chloe but at the end of the night she smiled and very quietly said, “This is the best Christmas ever!”

The kids and I were camping so Valerie went to see George Clinton at Vintage Vinyl to represent. She took this pic of Patrick and his long time girlfriend Gwen.

Patrick and me a couple of years ago at Christmas.

Group photo of us with my mom’s mom, brother and family. This was a family reunion in Hardy Arkansas late 70s or early 80s.

70s pic taken by Matt O’Shea with our beloved Cokes.

Soulard pic of us just before we moved away from home.

The second to last one shows my brother with an eye patch. He had to wear those for a while. He was a pirate even back then.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Captain

My buddy, Dominic, called the other day with news that Captain Beefheart had died from complications of Multiple Sclerosis. Dom was pretty choked up. The news hit as hard and personally as John Lennon’s death. I can’t even begin to express the effect Captain Beefheart has had on my taste and aspirations.

I remember an interview with Ian Anderson in the early 70s, before Jethro Tull became trapped by the stigma and success of Aqualung defining the band. He was asked if there were any American musicians he respected. He said the only thing happening in America was Captain Beefheart.

I’m not sure how Dominic discovered him. Dom really opened my eyes to a lot of important and obscure artists when we were very young.

The Captain did take a little getting used to. He was totally uncompromising, totally idealistic, and he backed it up with a huge body of work!

Needless to say, he went through a lot of record labels.

I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun as singing along to Trout Mask Replica with Dominic in our early teens. We knew all the lyrics to every record by heart. The poetry was wild, disjointed, and deep. We caught every subtle innuendo intended or not. The music can not be described in words. He somehow, literally, painted and sculpted sound.

I remember thinking most of my girlfriends thought of him pretty much the way they thought of the Three Stooges. Something only boys liked. I was wrong.

It only took one listen to Orange Claw Hammer to convince my girlfriend Jill. I saw her a few months ago and she told me I was responsible for her marriage. Her husband fell in love with her when he saw Trout Mask in her record collection.

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band performed in the Washington University Quadrangle when they toured the album Unconditionally Guaranteed. My girlfriend Pam and I were in High School and into photography. We always had cameras around our necks. You were allowed to go to concerts with cameras in those days.

We were up front, against the stage, when Pam grabbed my arm and pulled me past security. “Press,” she said. The camera must have convinced them. We enjoyed the entire performance on the stage. Man, she had balls!

Years later, The Captain came with Frank Zappa, touring Bongo Fury. Somehow, Pam and I ended up outside with the band after the show. I stood right next to Zappa but had absolutely no interest in him. I mentioned my love of Trout Mask to The Captain and we ended up at the hotel with the band. He was as charming as Hell. I have since learned he can be a real jerk, but that’s probably only to people who work with him.

The Captain told us, that night, to meet up with him at a place called The 5th House, near St. Louis University. I couldn’t believe my luck, the man was God to me.

I had my mother’s VW, and, for some reason, we had to drive somewhere far away before we could go. My mom’s clutch cable broke, and we couldn’t make it. Dominic tells me The Captain sat in with the band at The 5th House. He read a newspaper into a microphone as the band jammed on.

Today, Pam sent me a story from a friend of hers who knew Van Vliet when he was a teenager. The Magic Band lived together in a house, where they also recorded. If someone flubbed a note, they were sent downstairs to practice until they got it right. Pam asked if I remembered the car breaking down that night.

I must have thought about it a million times.

Friday night Valerie and I listened to Trout Mask, Clear Spot, The Spotlight Kid, and Safe As Milk. Everything else I have is on vinyl and I’m not set up for that right now. We could have gone through his whole catalog.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Mountain

Years ago my girlfriend Joanie and I spent some time in the Smoky Mountains. I always wanted to brag that I’d climbed a mountain so we decided we would. I can’t even remember the name of the mountain we were on but there was a path that led to a water fall at the top called Rainbow Falls. It seemed to take all day to reach the top. I thought we were really mountain climbing but it was a hill compared to the mountains I would see eventually in my travels.

Just before I got married, Kim, my fiancé, started talking about a dream her dad had of taking the whole family on a trip to the Rocky Mountains.

By the time he realized his dream we had two kids.

We rented several cabins on a mountain that was probably over 13,000 feet. The cabins were at about 8,000 feet. This was a real mountain. My brother in law Colin and I decided we were going to climb it.

We started out one morning just before sunrise. We figured it would be a long trip so we packed a few supplies in backpacks and headed out.

We got above the tree line and it got difficult to climb. I seem to remember hitting permafrost that never thawed. It took all my energy just to lift a leg one more step. We’d take a couple of steps and rest.

I remember looking down at the cabins and then up to the peak. We weren’t even half way. When we talked about it later we both admitted we wanted to quit but neither one of us wanted to be the first to give up. I was also out of shape around this time.

When we finally reached the top the mountain actually came to a point. There was mountain goat poop at the apex. It seemed like it was a message left behind that humans were weak. Like the goat was saying, “See, I poop on the mountain!”

As we collapsed to look out over the valley I remember thinking, “I wish I packed a couple of beers in Colin’s backpack.”

The view was worth every bit of the pain but I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. I think I’m satisfied being able to say, “Been there, done that!”

Pics are: One of my favorite pictures of my dad at Pike’s Peak, Me climbing a mountain with my friend Vince (this was a trip my buddy Tracy organized at hot springs in the Rockies for my old band mates), and a camping trip Tracy and I went on in the Rockies (this was when my marriage fell apart. Tracy thought I needed the distraction. I did a lot of soul searching.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010


For all the pain and anxiety my kids’ adolescence is putting me through, there’s a beautiful side to it all. Philosophical, youthful exuberance is hitting my kids head on. Their intellectual curiosity is raging. They’re asking questions and seem to have a genuine respect for my opinions and experiences.

My son is 16. He’s fascinated with marijuana. It might be naïve on my part, but I believe him when he tells me he's not using drugs. I know everyone has different experiences, but I’ve known too many people whose emotional and intellectual development stopped when they started using them.

There seem to be two different types of people when it comes to drugs. For some, it’s just a matter of getting fu%#ed up (might as well be booze). For others, it’s a genuine lust for exploration.

I have junkie friends who look at LSD and other psychotropics with disdain as “merely recreational”. Altering their state of consciousness is strictly a physical experience.

All my son’s rock and roll heroes are big druggies of course, so he’s naturally curious.

Altered states of consciousness are a natural part of intellectual curiosity, but I’ve asked Dylan to wait until he’s in his mid 20s. He’s promised he would.

Dylan’s been reading Herman Hesse. I’m about to turn him onto Carlos Constaneda and maybe John C. Lilly.

Constaneda’s first book, The Teachings of Don Juan, was written for his college thesis. Don Juan was a Yaqui shaman. One of the first things Constaneda learned from him was how to know when you’re dreaming.

His trick was whenever you saw your hands in a dream, you'd realize you were dreaming. It took practice, but I taught myself how to do it. I was almost always lucid in my dreams. I fully intended to search for some deeper meaning in life, but all I could ever think to do was fly. It was a lot of fun though. It still happens every now and then.

I fell in love with the band Supertramp when I heard the song Dreamer. “Can you put you’re hands in your head?” “But now you put your head in your hands, oh no!”

Dylan is learning about the Buddhist philosophy of becoming one with the universe from Hesse. Meditation is just around the corner.

John C. Lilly invented the sensory deprivation chamber and wrote about his experiences meditating in one, as well as taking LSD. He was in his 50s, and it was the 1950s.

When I was around Dylan’s age, I trained myself to turn off my inner conversation from information gleaned from these books. It was harder than waking up in my dreams.

I remember staring at the wood grain pattern in my bedroom door one night. My inner conversation stopped, and I began to hallucinate. The door became an entrance to a cave, and I went in. Planets and stars began to whiz past me, and I felt an overwhelming sense of euphoria.

Adolescence can be a wonderful experience. It breaks my heart when I hear how terrible it was for so many of my friends. I know my kids are on their own, but I can’t help but want to do every thing I can to make it a great time for them.

Pic is my brother Patrick, me, and my girlfriend Pam in my bedroom in our Soulard apartment. Believe it or not, we were in High School. You can just make out my brother’s dog Cello’s tongue sticking out from under the bed.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Time with Valerie

I found an old hard drive and decided I should hook it up to my PC for more storage. What a stroke of luck! I found a bunch of photos and MP3s on it.

I’m sure I have the photos backed up somewhere, but I’d forgotten about them. Most of them are pics of my kids through the years. My greatest burden is a sense of nostalgia I can’t seem to get away from.

My girlfriend, Valerie’s birthday is Monday. She pointed out we’ve been together for 6 years. When we first got together, my kids were very young. 6 years seems like a few months to me, but my kids have grown into young adults in that time.

Valerie worried that my kids wouldn’t like her. Much to the consternation of my ex, they love her. The same can’t be said of Kim’s fiance.

Chloe had the hardest time accepting the changes. She kept a cold distance for a while. Dylan seemed to have no problem at all. He can talk right through any disaster you could imagine.

In these few years we’ve gone from fingers in a belly button and too much candy to worries about drugs, sex, and driving.

We’re juggling college and the threat of dropping out altogether. Is there a realistic way to focus on the pursuit of happiness and stability?

Every time I look at the old pictures, I miss my babies. Now they just want to be taken seriously as people.

Valerie has had to put up with a lot of my family crap. I’ve spent more time dealing with my ex than on her. She’s even said Kim has 2 husbands. When we plan our time I usually try to include my kids and I know our time alone is important to her.

Happy Birthday Valerie!

Early pic of Valerie and me at the Free Fall Convention in Rantoul, IL.

Dylan, Valerie, and me at a Dennis Connelly party this year.

Valerie and me at a Jay Farrar show last spring. This was taken by a photo journalist and published on line.

Birthday kiss on my 50th birthday.

2008 Camping Trip with Valerie and the kids.

Dylan and Valerie on recently completed highway 40.

2007 Christmas picture of Valerie and the kids.

Valerie and me in a pool at my skydiving buddy, Mike Lambert’s birthday party.

An awkward Valerie with Kim and her fiancée at his property as my kids hunted Easter eggs.

My kids at Monk’s Mound, an early day trip we all took in 2004.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thank You

Cannot tell where path lead until reach end of road. (Charlie Chan)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

No S#*t - There I Was - Thought I Was Gonna Die

The most fun thing about skydiving, other than the act itself, is standing around a bonfire or VFW post, drinking beer and telling war stories at the end of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re new to the sport everyone is looking out for you and it’s safe. If you’ve been around for a while you not only have bragging rights, but you’ve probably lost a few good friends.
Sometimes you feel like an idiot and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before it’s your turn. It’s very hard to resist the lure of freefall. The only reason I’m not jumping right now is no time and no money. It was also a terrible distraction from music and I’m beginning to want to leave behind a body of work.
I think it was 1990 in Sparta, Illinois. My friends Becky, Stuff and I planned to take a small Cessna 182 to 10,000 feet. Becky brought Cyrus, her 5 year old for an observation ride. Since then most drop zones require passengers be the age of legal consent. I think the plan was Stuff and I would do a 2 way and Becky would ride the plane back down with her kid.
At 7,500 feet there was a loud, metallic pounding sound. A sheet of oil covered the windows and we were blinded. Stuff and I looked at each other and said, “Guess our skydive is going to be at a slightly lower altitude!” We threw open the door and jumped.
Not long after we landed we saw our plane glide onto the runway.
I wish I could remember our pilot’s name. I think it was Vince. He was a great story teller. He told me his first impulse was to follow us out of the plane but he turned and saw Becky and her son huddled in the back of the plane. He opened the window and did everything he could to see where he was going as he glided the plane back down for a safe landing. He was in the military and got a medal for heroism.
Becky told me she was trying to figure a way to cinch Cyrus into her straps so she could jump with him. Luckily it didn’t come to that.
The airplane had a hole in its engine that must have been a foot in diameter. It had thrown a rod. It proved to us you really could glide those things back down if you had to.
We pressured Dave, the DZ owner, into getting a large plane so we could do larger formations. We were a small budget operation so Dave got a Beechcraft Queen Air. It was as large as a King Air. King Airs hold about 12 people and climb to altitude very fast because they have turbine engines. They’ve become an industry standard. The Queen Air had piston engines and was terribly under powered for our purposes.
We rigged a quilted blanket with snaps as a door for easy exits. For some reason we were always at odds with the airport’s FBO so we often flew to other small air ports to jump. The FBO is kind of the boss of the airport. When we finally moved permanently to Vandalia, Dave made sure he could be the FBO.
We spent one day in St. Clair, Mo. Once a year Dave had us jump into a local fair as a show for the local orphanage. At the end of the day, as the sun began to set, we all boarded the Queen Air to fly back to Sparta.
I’ll never forget starting at one end of the runway, beginning to roll and picking up speed for take off. Our pilot began to yell obscenities as we started to pull up. I unsnapped a few buttons at the bottom of the door and peeked out. At the end of the runway there was a tree line. I watched the trees coming up and the plane not rising. Our pilot’s language got uglier. Finally we pulled up but trees rubbed the bottom of the plane. I was looking right at them. I thought we’d had it. I think only our pilot and I knew what a close call it was.
After a great sigh of relief we headed home, but not before a little detour over Six Flags. We had to use our gear for seats. Our only light was a soft glow from the instrument panel. We drank beer and reminisced about the day. Our pilot said, “Look out the window at Six Flags.” Suddenly bombs were going off all around us. We had flown right into the airspace of Six Flags’ fireworks display. I know what it’s like to dodge shrapnel from cannon fire.
One night we were standing around a bonfire in the middle of Tennessee. Out of nowhere, my friend Colorful Tom said, “One day you’ll have a terrible skydive that just won’t end!”
The very next day 2 buddies and I exited at 14,000 feet from a King Air. We jumped right into a cloud that was full of ice pellets. The pain was so intense we covered our faces from the blast. As soon as we did we lost sight of each other. I could still see my altimeter.
I never got below the cloud and it became clear that I would have to deploy my parachute soon. There were 2 other bodies out there somewhere and we risked entanglement. The only thing I could do was go lower hoping the cloud would dissipate. Finally somewhere around 1500 feet I deployed. It’s illegal to open this low.
Somewhere around 900 feet the cloud disappeared and I was heading straight for giant power lines. I’m talking those huge suckers that span the country side to infinity. I was able to steer just in time to avoid them as I landed in a cotton field. It took about half an hour to pick my canopy out of the barbs and walk out alive.
When I got back to the airport I discovered that my sides and underarms were bloody from the pounding of the ice. This was through layers of clothing and a jump suit.
A few years later my wedding jump went into an ice cloud. My friends that were part of it remember it as the worst jump of their lives.
I used to love jumping at night under the light of the moon. One night we decided to do a 12 way out of a King Air. Just after our exit only about half of us made it into the formation. We broke apart early enough to get plenty of distance between each other. I could just make out my altimeter from a glow stick I had wrapped around it. I though I saw other bodies nearby so I tracked a little farther out and went a little low. I still had the paranoid felling there were bodies nearby. I ended up deploying at a dangerously low altitude. I wasn’t out of the woods yet. All my friends and I have small canopies that glide fast. I knew we were landing around the same place at the same time. I decided to land farther away from our well lit landing area just in case. Sure enough we all had that idea. We still had to dodge each other. I totally last any desire to ever jump at night again.
Since then I’ve had friends that didn’t deploy at all during night jumps and hit. I’ve also had several friends whose automatic activation devices saved them when they lost track of their altitude.
This has turned into my longest post and I haven’t even scratched the surface.
To be continued……………

Pics are me under my PD 170 (170 sq ft), it was quite sporty in its day. For those interested I went from a Falcon 175 to the PD 170 to a Sabre 135 to a Stiletto 120 where I remain. I’ve jumped smaller and faster but it’s not wise in my weight group.
Not sure why the rest of my pics are of my ex but the first is me putting her out of a Cessna 182 when she was still on student status. The 3rd and 4th are in the hanger at beer thirty while friends packed their canopies. Beer thirty is when we’re allowed to drink after the last load of jumpers has taken off.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My First Roommate

It seems like two weeks ago we were celebrating Tony Patti’s 50th birthday. Last week Tony turned 52.
I posted a few pictures from old notebooks last week and mis-identified a couple of them as Tony’s. I should have known better because Tony’s stuff has always been easy to spot.
Aside from an unsuccessful one night experience in a Central West End carriage house with a guy named Ed Emerson, and a week we spent at Tony’s mom’s place on The Hill when she was away, the first place I lived away from home was a tiny apartment in Soulard with Tony and my brother Patrick.
Tony and I were 16 or 17. With his permission, someday I’ll tell the story of the night we got the idea to live together.
It was a three room apartment we shared with two dogs. I was able to throw a single mattress on the floor of a closet so I had privacy. A gas space heater stuck out into the middle of Tony’s room and I burned all my winter clothes as we huddled around it. As I’ve said before, the rent was only $50.00 a month and we had trouble coming up with that.
There was a tiny store front under us where some religious group held revival meetings.
It seemed like there was 24 hours of sinning upstairs and redemption downstairs.
For a while our buddy Fojammi slept in a hallway that led downstairs to the front. It was dark out there and I was afraid there might be rats. We always used the back door.
Tony was always reading us passages from Marcel Proust and James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. It would be years before I actually read Joyce and I still haven’t gotten around to Proust.
We ended up trashing the place so much that when the apartment next door became available we moved. At that same time, my father’s heat had been turned off so I invited him to sleep at our new place.
Tony and I came home very late after a heavy night of partying to find my dad asleep and shivering on the floor next to the dysfunctional space heater. We hadn’t gotten our heat turned on yet and it was the middle of winter. It’s a wound in my heart that time will never heal.
The saving grace is that my mom let us all come over to her place to sleep on the floor. I remember the four of us gathered around a tiny TV watching Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr in Boom Town.
I’ll never forget Julie Heller, one on the great loves of my life, bringing her friend Nancy Post over to visit. Nancy was one of Julie’s private school friends. She lived in a palace on a private street across from Forest Park. Nancy couldn’t hide the fact that she was horrified in this environment and Julie seemed to love every moment of her discomfort.
My dear friend Marge couldn’t stand to see me living there and practically pulled me by the ear back to her apartment in the West End.
I moved without hesitation and I think it must have hurt Tony’s feelings. From that moment on he would always refer to my brother Patrick as his best friend. It used to hurt every time he said it.
Over the years I’ve left my notebooks, drawings by friends, films and tapes all over the city. I regret that many have been damaged by water and neglect. Here are a few pictures by Tony from that time. I used a cheap scanner. I had to scan pieces and reassemble them in PhotoShop.

The first is “Lectric Tea”. I t features my brother dinking his tea from his favorite steel glass, a sissy bar from a Stingray bike, me, Lee Bock, George Clinton, Captain Beefheart, a roll of toilet paper, and a collection of beer bottles and cans that were everywhere in our apartment.

The second is Tony looking back as I smoke a cigarette behind a tearful Annie O’Connor. Annie was the first great unrequited love of my life. I think Tony is looking at a stone sculpture of the unattainable woman.

The third is called “Don’t You Know We Need Somebody To Do Some Work In The Street!”

Click on the pictures for details.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Notebooks

Last week I tried to give a little background to my taste in art that led to my love of my favorite painter Remedios Varo. It was way too ambitious. I didn’t talk about her at all and I couldn’t even scratch the surface of all the people and movements that have meant so much to me.

Maybe I’ll start a new blog with each post devoted to a single painter.

I went through a lot of my old notebooks looking for Tony Patti’s drawing of his Multi-Diagonal Mighty after last week’s post. I never could find it but the sheer volume of notebooks I filled up in my youth was staggering.

Independently of each other, my friends and I all used to carry notebooks around. We’d fill them with stories, poetry, songs, plays,film scripts and art. I even made flip animations on the sides of my notebooks. If I ever get the energy, I’ll make Flash animations out of them. I never did keep a journal, which I regret now.

We’d experiment with automatic writing. I wrote stories together with friends and we played the game “The Exquisite Corpse”.

To play, one person would start a picture or story and expose the very end to the next player where they’d pick it up. The finished product could get pretty surreal and sometimes downright hysterical.

Here are pics from various notebooks---------

  1. A drawing of me bussing tables at Duff’s Restaurant around 1976 by my buddy Bill Schmidt. I used to bring home food I found in the bus pans to feed my roommate Tracy. He thought I was buying the food.
  2. A 2 page spread by my buddy Fojammi around 1977 or 1978. On second thought, it might be Bill.
  3. An imagined image of my boss Mr. Wong at the Lantern House Restaurant in University City. I used to wash pots and pans and it was almost impossible to please him. He would yell, “Too Gleasy!” Fojammi did this around 1977.
  4. Another picture of me by Tony around ’77 of ’78.
  5. A pic by Dominic around 1977. Note the penis arm.
  6. A prototype of a batik I did about God. The batik portrayed God as Louis Armstrong playing his horn. His music is all of creation. I wish I still had the batik, it turned out quite well.
  7. Another by me around ’76 “The Saliva Sisters” .
  8. Another page by Bill with 3 panels. The bottom one is a futurist druggie scolding a square. He’s telling the square to “Get Jarve”, a 2013 way to say hip done in '77. The middle panel is me in a room full of weirdo squares.
  9. A 1980 pic of some fat monster. I can’t remember who did it.
  10. The last one is a Logo Dominic was working on for our band Wax Theatricks. It’s an actor made of wax holding a flame skull. His head is also a flame. Click on them to enlarge

Swan Song Rejection

I thought my band mates would get a kick out of this. It's a very polite form letter rejection from Swan Song records, Led Zepplin's label. I found it in one of my old notebooks.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Favorite Painter

In every art form, style is recognized over substance. I guess it’s easier to jump on board when something is recognizable. Obviously there are as many different ways to experience art as there are people, but when art has the ring of truth, especially if it can reach a level of meaning that can’t be easily expressed, you have my attention. There’s nothing in the world as exciting to me as sharing an inner or even hidden truth.

An example is Endre Nemes painting Legend of a Mother. When I first saw it I thought, “that’s it,” “that’s all the pain, happiness and nostalgia I feel for my mother.” It almost brought me to tears.

In some ways it reminded me of a little drawing my friend Tony Patti used to work on. It was a little disjointed cowboy figure with an outsized misshapen sheriff’s badge. He called it the Multidiagonal Mighty. He did everything he could to lose his practiced drawing ability. He was after the honesty of a kid that couldn’t draw and man he got close. I think I still have a copy somewhere.

When I was a teenager I fell in love with Dali, Dada, and a lot of the Surrealists. That led me through a history of mostly western art.

I was fascinated with cave paintings that were thousands of years old, especially if they involved hallucinogenic drugs. These were happening all over the world at the same time.

An interest in Maxwell Parish led to the Renaissance and Northern Renaissance which led to Mannerism and Baroque art. I loved the Realists for their sympathetic look at human suffering. Especially Courbet, Millet and Van Gogh’s early Potato Eater works when he was still pursuing religion. Van Gogh always interested me because he made it from pre to post Impressionism while somehow skipping Impressionism altogether.

When photography made painting portraits unnecessary, art branched into several interesting tangents. Artists wanted to express their thoughts and convey their impressions about their subject matter.

Eventually, even the subject was given up on. The surface of the canvas became the subject for the Abstract Impressionists and Abstract Expressionists. Why did these guys all beat their women? David Smith’s and Jackson Pollack’s stuff even looks violent doesn’t it?

I loved it that Mondrian threw away representation but couldn’t give up composition and there have been so many new ideas since then.

We seem to live in an age when it’s taken for granted that it’s all been done. We find Ready-mades, use Collage, Photoshop, and sampled bits of music. Technique might be suffering but the depth of our thinking seems to be expanding.

Recently, my friend Sharon turned me onto the graffiti artist Banksy. If you don’t know who he is, Google him.

At the height of my passion for art I found a book filled with prints by Remedios Varo on a coffee table at my friend Sue Leonard’s house. I was totally bowled over. I must have been twenty years old and had never seen anything like it. She was a Mexican painter who had been born in Spain. Most of my favorite painters are Spanish. To this day, she's my fave.

It seems like Sue always took care of me. Her parents picked up the book in Mexico. She made them pick up a copy for me when they went back. They were impressed with my passion so much they also brought back a book of the art of Leonora Carrington to turn me on to. Carrington was one of their favorite painters. It was fantastic.

I’ve never been a great fan of superstition with one great exception, art. Superstitions seem to be symptoms of our subconscious. There are secret and wonderful things lurking in there.

Legend of a Mother by Endre Nemes-Composition 10 by Mondrian-Armonia by Remedios Varo-Anthony by Leonora Carrington-Banksy

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dear Mom

A couple of weeks ago, Valerie and I went camping. With our typical luck, it was the first cold weekend of the season. Fortunately we were able to scavenge wood and our fire kept us perfectly comfortable.

As we sat with our feet in the fire gazing up into the infinite starry night I could feel the crap in my life start to fade. It’s no wonder my blood pressure is a bit high.

It occurred to me that I haven’t been able to have a conversation with my mother without scolding her. We’ve come to a point in our lives where I’ve taken on a kind of angry parent role with her.

She leads a very sedentary life and it scares me. She’s already lost half a foot to diabetes.

Several years ago my girl friend Joanie and I got a phone call around four o’clock in the morning. Her sister Patti found their mother Maggie dead in her apartment. It was the same apartment complex my mother lives in now.

The Udell men have always been stoic. When I was 6, as I was about to go to bed I tried to kiss my dad goodnight. He told me I was getting older and from now on we’d be shaking hands. My mom was furious when she found out. I’d be kissing my father goodnight again but it was never the same.

I’m not sure I’ve ever told my mother I loved her. It’s always been understood.

Even with my own kids it didn’t come naturally at first. Luckily my kids have always been emotional extroverts. Saying “I love you” is a natural part of our conversations.

My girlfriend Valerie is openly affectionate. Occasionally she displays her affection in public and I get nervous. I’m working on it.

It occurs to me from time to time that I’d better tell my mother I love her before she’s gone. She really has been there for me through the years.

When the rest of the world was going through a cultural revolution and expanding their consciousness in the 60s, she threw herself totally into being a single mom with 2 kids. I remember feeling an incredible sense of guilt that she never really got to be young during all that.

When I drove a cab for Checker I would sometimes go for weeks without getting paid. I destroyed one of my mom’s credit cards keeping gas in my cab. When the company finally went under she let me move back in for a few months until I got my life back together.

I bought a couple of rental properties when I was in my 20s. She put up her life savings and I still haven’t paid her back.

She always watched my kids. My ex was always a little angry with her folks because they weren’t as available.

Recently my ex’s boyfriend moved in with her. He’s allergic to cats so my kids’ pets had to go in spite of the fact that they’d had them for 11 or 12 years. I couldn’t take them because Valerie has a 16 year old cat named Charlie that couldn’t adapt. The kids and I were beside ourselves.

My mother came through again. Even though she’s confined to a wheelchair in a two room apartment, she took the cats in. If anything happens to Charlie they’ll be coming back to me.

When my buddy Dominic and I were 15, most of the kids we knew were rebelling against their parents. Dominic told me he loved his mother. That had a big effect on me. Until then I never really thought about how much I loved mine, but I really have thought about it ever since.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You Can Never Go Home

Last weekend Valerie, the kids and I took my mother on a nostalgia trip. We went to Giessow’s Cottage Farm. Giessow’s is a small village of cabins between Morse Mill and Ware Missouri. I spent a lot of my childhood there. So did my dad and his dad. Valerie and I went camping 2 weeks before and on our way home decided to look for the place. We started at Cedar Hill and drove to Morse Mill. I had gotten a little turned around thinking Morse Mill was Ware and we never did find it. I called my mom for help and we got into an argument about my memory. I said, “Okay, next week we’ll all go out there and find it!” She loved the idea.

In the 80s I took my girlfriend Joanie out there to find it. We did and it was as beautiful as I remembered. This time, just like then, we came to a small rock road with a bar across it. If we’d have blinked we would have missed it. Just like when I was with Joanie, my heart sank having gotten so close and just like then it had been left unlocked.

My son Dylan and I worked the bar open and I drove in. Memories began to flood my mind. The road was lined with a barbed wire fence. My mom said, “That ditch by the fence is where a momma pig was always feeding her babies.” I remembered it vividly.

The road wound up to the top of a hill and split off. The high road was called Tuxedo Junction because the rich folks lived up there. It’s where my Uncle, cousins and grandparents had cabins. I used to stay there with my grandmother. There was a huge deck that shot way out from the hill. The view of the Big River valley was spectacular.

We met a woman up there that told us we should find the current owner for information about changes the place had gone through.

There really weren’t many changes. The cabins were much smaller than I remembered. That was a little unnerving.

We drove down to my old cabin. Man, it was tiny! The screened windows that ran most of the way around had been replaced by solid walls. “Old number 19,” my mom said.

My dog Sinbad used to sit staring at a tree in the front yard. He sat frozen, waiting patiently for a lizard to scurry down. The tree looked exactly the same.

A giant metal barrel we burned our trash in was still on the side of the cabin. There was a path that led down to an outhouse and all was the same. The cabins still don’t have water.

From our cabin you could see a building across a field we called the Fun House. There were dances there in the summer. Some nights we’d take blankets out to the field and lie watching the northern lights.

Across the rock road from the Fun House is an artesian well where the residents still get their water. Behind that is the home where the original owners, the Giessows lived. Behind that is a cable car that runs down the hill into the river valley where we swam. It looked the same too.

We found the new owner at the little general store by the well. His name is Ken. He said he’d been out there for 60 years. I told him several generations of my family used to stay there and my name was Dave Udell. He said he remembered Jerry Udell. I told him Jerry was my dad and Valerie said, “Everyone remembers your dad.”

Ken told us no one ever went down to the river anymore since they put a pool in. I told him I would much rather swim in the river. He told me our old dock was still down there.

I asked him if anyone went to Sunset rock to watch the sunset. He said it had been so long that the path to it was overgrown. We drove up the road to the top of the hill and walked through he weeds to the rock. The view was still incredible.

When I was a kid we shared the cabin with two other families. We were always there together. I really never did understand where the grown ups found places to sleep. My brother and I slept in the only real room in the cabin and that was heated by a pot bellied stove. Rent was $150.00 a year and we all split it.

On our way out I asked Ken what the rent was now. He said a couple of thousand a year. I asked if there were any cabins available. He said there were about 15 families on a waiting list but he took my name and said he’d call if anything opened up.

I’m not really sure if I could go back.

If you follow the shape of the roof you can tell the cabin I’m in front of with Chloe and Dylan is the same one I grew up at in the pic with Sinbad. Sinbad at his tree. Me at Sunset Rock. My dad, grandpa, uncles and Aunt Gladys at their cabin. The last pic is me on the old Morse Mill bridge. It was obscured by overgrowth. There was a pavilion next to it in the old days where kids used to dance. My dad told me about a kid that dove into the river from it when he was a kid and hit a boat. He died instantly. While I was there I met a woman who hadn’t been there in 30 years. She said when she was a kid her brother climbed to the top of the bridge, dove off and hit the bottom of the river. He’s been quadriplegic ever since.