Without a few of Miller's non-fiction essays tucked into my subconscious I might not be as aware of so many of the everyday joys in my life. Which is to say his writing sort of re-calibrated what, why, and how I do the things I do. He taught me to appreciate with a new mind simple things like writing, drawing, shooting photos, ripping around on long aimless drives, hopping boulders in the woods, petting trees, talking to animals, fucking, sleeping late, waking early, staying up for days on end, holding hands, being alone, enjoying ankles and odd noses, riding a bike, making a meal, huffing a grizzler, listening to music, gardening, baked goods (!), playing music, moving crap around, changing the sheets, listening to strangers, ye olde tymers and kids, basking in silence, sitting in the sun, making hellacious noise, staring into nothing, gazing at a thing, describing a thing, enjoying a thing (no matter what it is) for exactly what it is....
Henry Valentine Miller proposed the radical idea of being purposeful for the mere joy to be had in doing a thing, rather than for the assumed outcome of it. He proposed loving life, finding the joy in it.
In other ways and for too many reasons to list here, I suppose much of how I think and feel about life has come from a sketchy combination of my own experiences intermixed with the works of other writers. Mahfouz, Bunker, Vollmann, Vonnegut, Sontag, Bowles, Woolf, Murrow, King, Salinger, Maugham, Garcia Marquez, Nin, Durrell, Chekhov, Fante, Joyce, Auden, Austen, Washington, Bukowski, Ibsen, Miller, Bulgakov, Hurston and so many more. Each has had a role to play in how my brain has come to function as it does. But no other writers' work quite expresses the intrinsic love of life that Miller conveys. All at once, his writing is funny, sloppy, sensitive, ecstatic, serious, heart rending, idiosyncratic, corny, defiant, sentimental, truthful, wise, foolish, and poignant. His writing is an ode to life; an ode to being a conscious human being in a universe that offers no explanations or allegiances.
I like it for three reasons: 1) He's as mystified, astounded, and perplexed as I am, and 2) His work is actionable, and 3) Unlike the works of so many other writers and essayists, there is very little structural scaffolding holding up his narrative premises. There is no prologue. No arc. No denouement. As a reader, you're not initially awed by the prose. Rather, at first you're convinced it might just be terrible writing, then you're struck by conversational ease of his narrative tone, and then you're bowled over by how staggeringly spastic, real, and applicable it all is.
Which is to say his writing has had a genuinely transformative effect on how I look at a lot of the bullshit in my life. Things that others might define as of no consequence or too mundane to believe capable of offering much joy, (say, vacuuming the stairs or walking to CVS for a box of envelopes), thanks in part to Miller make me practically ecstatic. Surprisingly, only the correspondences of Jonathan Swift or the essays of Antoine de Saint Exupery come close to so accurately detailing the human condition and the inherent strangeness of consciousness.
From ass loads of weird odd jobs and weird journalism gigs to long, weird years as an athlete and working musician, I've spent most of my teen-into-adult-years doing whatever was necessary to pay the light bill. Sometimes this has meant penning copy for clients like underwear manufacturers, In-flight magazines, and Fortune 500 companies. Sometimes this has meant having the good fortune to see the world writing travel pieces for action-sports, education, and leisure publications. Sometimes this has meant digging ditches and framing houses. Sometimes gutting fish. Sometimes pouring concrete. Sometimes coaching kids how to fly through the air. Sometimes producing arts & cultural events. Sometimes driving dubious cargo across country. Sometimes fixing a bleary-eyed guzzlebot his ninth gin and tonic. Sometimes this has meant having enough loot on hand to lend a friend a few clams during fallow times. And, sometimes this has meant waiting on checks that never arrive while having $27.50 in the bank and not the faintest idea how I'm gonna pay rent in three days.
Sometimes you're up. Sometimes you're not so up. But that is life. So go play a guitar. Take a walk. Eat a blue cheese-stuffed olive. Write something. Paint something. Move something. Even when times are heavy, there are always things we can do to enjoy life, to love it, to celebrate it, to share it... and hopefully make it better, or at least a bit more manageable. Henry Miller wanted to do what every writer hopes to do—be relatable. In my case, he succeeded. The exuberance displayed in his life, in his work, in his ideas and ideals was magnificent. He showed me that we are not chained to our past and we need not fear our future.
Yesterday was Christmas 2009. We're nearly at the end of a year I'd perhapsrather erase than recall. Among other things, this was the year of my Grandfather's passing. A year of ongoing wars, recessions, domestic hardships, and international disasters. Everywhere you look, people are either losing their lives, losing their shirts, or losing their will to keep on.
This was the year my friend Sharon Harrison opted to end her life. Over the years I've had friends and family die suddenly, tragically, even stupidly and intentionally. As have most people after awhile. But Sharon's suicide has been a terribly hard one to swallow. It just sort of floats around, passing in and out of my mind. It doesn't recede into the background or achieve equilibrium. It resonates in colors and emanates in waves. It lodges itself in my days and in my dreams. When I think of her death, my mind stumbles... and I do what I can to move on. I suppose I'll likely spend the rest of my life wishing she'd chosen otherwise. Sharon was one hell of a friend. Really, one of the most exceptionally kind, creative, and intelligent people I've ever known.
This was also the year of J.J. Klein's overdose. This too some have called a suicide. Fair enough. Fifty-fifty chance it was one or the other, as far gone as she was it doesn't make a damn bit of difference. For those of us who knew her, (even for those who only met her once or twenty times), I think we all saw that one coming from a decade away. You spend enough time bonding with crack & heroin instead of playing drums and making new memories worth having, odds are you're untimely death is assured. One way or another, the rhythm of that life is gonna get you.
Upon hearing of J.J.'s death, my only thought was this— at least, at the very, very least, at the very, very, very least... J.J.'s now at a peaceful distance from her demons. After all the hell she put herself through these last many years, (hard though I may be for saying this), I'm comforted by her demise.
I am actually in favor of it. I want for her to be whatever else is out there. Be star dust. Be an ant. Be a waterfall. Be a pixel on a computer screen. Be anything but a junkie. Go to wherever you go after this and don't look back. Go to where you are found. Go to where you are free. This is my wish for her. Despite her addictions and inconsistencies, she was good. She was my friend and musical peer. I only wish she would have left us with a few more songs and several more years.
A thought which leads me to the songwriter Vic Chesnutt. Apparently, two nights ago on Christmas Eve, at the age of 45, he opted to eat a pile of muscle relaxants and slip off into a coma. This was not the first suicide attempt. While some may say, "Oh no," I say, "Vic, I get it." And I truly do. As a kid, seeing him perform for the first time gave me strength and filled me with awe. That two-fingered guitar technique. That sweet Southern drawl delivering those serious, sad, and very funny stories. And, ultimately, that wheelchair. Always that wheelchair. You could not notice it. It was the throne and the cage from which he delivered his oratory, his tales of woe and pain, his jokes and asides. As much as we may have noticed it from our standing vantage points in the audience, he noticed it a lot more. He lived it every day.
Vic Chesnutt was born in 1964. Adopted. Car accident at the age of 18. Paraplegic. Thereafter tethered to a chair. Eventually remembered he could play guitar. Gifted with a whip smart intellect, insight, and a gravitas that could swallow a room... so, naturally, he became a songwriter. On stage and on record he was grief incarnate. His fascination with death and decay was boundless. Seventeen albums of it. As a listener, to get with it you had to be predisposed to a similar point of view. These were songs that said as much about you for liking them as they did about Chesnutt for writing them. This was the beauty of his music. Poignantly and poetically, he broadcast life's dark side. He put unfairness, folly, idiocy, guild, regret, cowardice, and death on blast.
Though surrounded by folks who loved and respected him, he seemed to the core an isolationist and a death-obsessed romantic. He came to national attention in 1996 when several artists covered his songs for the Sweet Relief charity album Gravity of The Situation. Oddly enough, it was this organization, (indeed probably proceeds from this very album), that helped me through an extremely hard time of my own only a few years later.
In 1999, exactly ten years ago I broke my neck in four places. C-4, 5, 6, and 7. There was a good while there when it looked like I was to be a quadriplegic. However, after three spinal surgeries, two titanium plates, four screws, my hip bone grafted into my cervical spine, and several months in a halo, the paralysis lifted. I was fortunate enough to get my legs, my arms, and ultimately my life back. While in the trauma center, three neurosurgeons and half a dozen nurses hourly reminded me I should have died, and if not died then at the very least I should have been paralyzed from the teeth to the toes for the rest of my life. That I was not is inconceivable to every medical professional who has ever had reason to examine my x-rays and MRI scans. Despite a fair amount of misfortune, I am a fortunate man.
But for the next three years, from 27-to-30, while trying to regain my life I lived in abject poverty. I lived in squalor in the attic of a broken down house in Seattle's north end. No heat. Drunk, pill-head housemates and their junkie friends, siblings, and girlfriends. Waking to frost on the insides of the windows. Twenty-two pounds underweight and emaciated. Doubtful. Unsteady. Painful pain. Indescribable pain. Emotional, mental, physical and spiritual pain. I lost everything. $115,000 in medical debt. No work. No prospect of finding any. I got by on $338 a month in state medical disability assistance. My rent was $200. I logged hundreds of hours lapping the wooded trails around Ravenna Park trying to will myself to be better, calmer. Shuffling slowly to and from the grocery store pondering what was to become of my life. I bought everything with food stamps. Shitty kids made fun of me and snarky checkout clerks doubted my condition. Upon seeing my halo, (and later the permanent pin scars in my forehead), old men in wheelchairs would descend upon me in grocery aisles and in parking lots to ask what had happened. They would weep when I told them, not out of sadness but for joy that I did not suffer their same fate. The gravity of the situation has never been lost on me. This is no sob story.
I spent my days in physical therapy and my nights either writing & recording songs or contemplating killing myself. Once I was healthy enough to resume touring, I packed all of my belongings into boxes and stored them in a closet as if planning to eventually go somewhere, to move, to start over. But aside from the tour van, the rehearsal room, the recording studio... I had nowhere to go. I could not go back to what I was and I didn't have the slightest idea where I was going, except perhaps to oblivion. Or the next tour. Eventually it was all the same difference. The thought of that oblivion was an almost constant source of comfort. I held it in reserve. Every aspect of my life was atrophied. Nine months a year swimming in a milk bottle; gray skies and rain, waiting for either the next tour or the next wave of suicidal depression to hit. So, finally, after a final Japan tour in 2003, I packed up and left my entire life. For what, I had no idea. I only knew it couldn't get any worse. Moving to Los Angeles, it could only get warmer. That was it, I had no plan other than to be warmer. And that was enough of a hopeful start.
To this day, whenever I swallow, my esophagus catches as the peristalsis slides across the plates in my neck. I touch my hand to the scar on my throat and feel nothing where the nerves have been severed. I live with chronic pain in my neck, jaw, shoulders, back, and knees. I am a pile of poorly mended bones and faltering muscles. One day in the not too distant future this frame will collapse... and that, as they say, will be that.
Every few months I turn a corner and am faced with a prospect. Perseverance or is it time to become something else? Star dust. Bathroom tile. A jar of pickles. I have been this way my whole life. A fatalist by birth, but a hard won optimist by broken neck and daily maximal effort. I was this way long before my sister's death. Her absence perhaps only made it more pronounced. Events before and after conspired to further ingrain it in me. So whenever I feel the dull thud of nihilism lurch into play, before it can overwhelm me, in my head I make two columns, pro and con. And then I take stock of it all— the whole arc and breadth of my entire life. As long as the most recent two years are better than the two years prior, I feel pretty damn lucky. Did I learn new things? See new things? Make new things? If so, I feel alright. I persevere. I go on without getting too gripped. And if it gets real bad I play the same notes over and over for hours, or I go skateboarding or hiking in the Angeles National Forest, or I crack open a few pages of Henry Miller's Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.
Call it tools. Call it coping mechanisms. Call it tactics. Call it delusions. Call it whatever. No matter how fucked everything might get down the line, today my will is good. My love is strong. My perspective is long. My weariness is so vast as to collapse in on itself and become enthusiasm. At the slightest hint of anything remotely new or strange, I am reborn. My fascination and appreciation for life and all it offers—good and bad—is intact. I want to know this life, this world, and these people and places in it. I have no hot tips for nobody, no pep talks, no baloney words of wisdom, no self-help chicanery. Basically, I assess where I came from, see where I'm at now, and ask myself whether I want to see what's around the corner tomorrow. It is touch and go. Wanting to live makes all the difference. It is the new black.
So I suppose what I'm trying to say is this—Vic Chesnutt was tired of
it. Tired of the struggle. Tired of the financial instability. Tired of
the wheelchair. Tired of the responsibility to persevere, to be cheerful, to be reconciled to his fate. Perhaps the
world no longer filled him with wonder. Maybe it never did. I do not
know. All I know is that when he was up there playing guitar with his balled up fist and two fingers I
felt like I was watching my kind. He made me smile and cry all at once.
He was a member of my existential kin. So to learn on Christmas Eve
that he had decided to finally bring things to a close by his own hand,
I was sad but not surprised. I was deeply sad. Deeply and abidingly sad. Because I get it. Though there are a fair number of folks I can talk with about all sorts of fun, terrible and stupid things, there is no one with
whom I can discuss my web of inner thoughts on paralysis, chronic pain, suicide, and
depression. Hence, this post at 6:24 AM.
On a related note, it was Sharon Harrison who first brought The Sweet Relief musician's medical assistance fund to my attention. She was instrumental in gathering my medical documents and submitting the application. Without Sharon, I'd have never learned about Sweet Relief, and they would've never helped me with my medical bills all those years ago. Without Vic Chesnutt, the organization likely could not have afforded to help so many working musicians with our medical crises. That a decade later both would commit suicide, (each by swallowing pills, no less), is heartbreaking. There are not words enough to express my appreciation and gratitude to them both, nor my heartache over their passing. In large, small, and tangential ways, my life wouldn't be what it is without them. My future would be no future.
On a more cheerful note, rather than spend Christmas Day holed up inside celebrating zilch, TT and I decided to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and into the Santa Monica Mountains. Just rippin' around staring at crap and shooting photos. The weather was sunny and cold. We dropped the roof, donned knit hats and puffy coats. Nearly empty freeways. Dead-quiet city streets. Closed supermarkets and gas stations full of napping attendants. I thought about Tam, about Sharon, J.J., my Grandfather, my sister Melissa, my dad, Baby Kelley, Travis Tyler, Vic Chesnutt, and so many others living and deceased. Life, real honest to God life, has absolutely nothing to do with Baby Jesus.
So two nights ago, while still ill as hell and vaguely delusional, I drafted a brog about:
1) America's ongoing universal health care debate.
3) Griffith Park's weird annual holiday promenade of lights (who knew?). Apparently it's been going on for 150 years. Again, who knew?
4) William Mulholland, godfather of LA's aquaduct system.
5) The genius of Andy Coronado.
Unfortunately the post got lost when I tried to publish it via some sort of publisher timer do-dad. Like, POOF! Gone. Very sad. The good people at Typepad.com are right now trying to find it. With any luck, they might. Here's to hoping they find it, it was a doozy of an entry (i.e., mega-long, rambling, full of gratuitous swearing and dubious opinions). For now, let's consider this post a totally lame place holder. Fingers crossed.
In other news, Daihatsu has created a concept car called the "Basket." Beyond small, it is sort of a cross between a compact car, a golf cart, a mini-truck, and an ice cube tray. While I'm not terribly fond of brand new cars and don't advocate anyone buy one ever, nevertheless, the basket is rather brilliant. Apparently it goes very slow and gets excellent gas mileage, which is fine. More significantly, it is all wheel drive, a circumstance which would perhaps make it an excellent in-city utility vehicle + snow rager. Would be lovely to see all those OC dickbagz trading in their lifted & kitted 4x4s for these lil bread boxes on wheels. If so, Big Bear and Mammoth might actually have snow in 50 years time.
PSYCHE! NEVER GONNA HAPPEN. Anyway, as of right now the Basket is merely a concept car, which is to say Daihatsu is presenting it at car shows in effort to gauge the public's enthusiasm for the project. In the event new car consumers are pumped, it may go into production soon. Let's hope so. Though I'm most fond of fast, comfortable, bulky 80's 5-series BMWs, I can absolutely appreciate a small AWD baby car like this and would probz find a way to own one. Frankly, seems a hell of a lot more interesting and useful than the Prius, the Mini, or those overvalued Smart Cars. However, them fucked up white plastic rim caps would definitely have to go. Straight up Tupperwear lids. No dice.
The 2009 Daihatsu Basket and the 1987 BMW 535i could totally be friends.
Been home here in Los Angeles for a week now. Disembarking the OAK—BUR flight last Friday night, I realized I'd become suddenly sick. In the span of less than an hour the plane's recirculated air had gifted me the germs. Was about time, I suppose. I've been on more flights in the past 9 months than I can recall. TT's avoided the worst of it; Sunday she flew off to the UK for nine days. For seven days I've been home alone, laid up in bed and on the couch, blowing vast trails of green goo from my nose and chest. Just dog-log and I lurking on a cloud of comforters while it rains and blusters outside. Other than that, apart from working in my home office, there hasn't been much else going on.
Ah, unless we consider these shots I forgot to upload from SF last week. Above is Mario Rubalcaba of Earthless, shot at Bottom of The Hill. His drumming was riveting. No hyperbole. Like, truly on point, top shelf, fucked up beautiful drumming. Earthless played with the band everybody in metal world seems to be yapping about, Baroness. But I gotta say, after having my own first-hand experience, apart from the frontman's Guild S300-D, Baroness is not so much my bag.
And here's a nice photo of a pile of Mission district garbage. No idea why I like it so much, but I do. It is now Friday night. Still raining. Still blustering. Still sick with the flu. I've made a massive pot of lemon, beet, and chicken noodle soup.
As I type this I'm in SF. The last month has been a real wild ride. LA, NYC, Austin, Portland, LA, SF, LA... A blur of lurky dudes, family, friends, fancy dames, events, mud, rain, funerals, designers, drug addicts, ghosts, dogs, do-gooders, dummies, duds, and dickchickens....
It gets weird.
Because Halloween or not, there's always somebody out there with this vibe. Or thankfully, this vibe....
Shokrae & Emi, hands down two of the best dames in NYC.
That lady sitting over there mega-texting. Her hair, petty coat, and earrings were great.
What's good about Los Angeles right now? Megatron Edwards crushing minds in her vertically striped jumper at Phil Frost & Barry McGee's opening at the new Prism Gallery in uber tepid West LA. The kid's come a long way. Aside from her jumper and maybe the Honda Ya Izakaya, it doesn't feel like much is happening in Los Angeles at the moment. That Tube Works amp and weird "pro" bass with the active pickups are pretty sweet.
Man, I just noticed... that is a SERIOUSLY early-grab air. Wow. Teenage brutalism. Texas.
Jimmy Jolliff & Erin Garcia (a/k/a Brother Reade) kill the Three of Clubs... for what feels like the 300th time.
This Will Destroy You did not destroy me. On the contrary, I sort of found them strangely inspirational. For a medium so filled with mediocrity (instrumental rock), these dudes actually caused me to pause and ponder the genre with renewed interest.
As does Totally Tammy. She's the coolest.
And then there's Alex Maslansky. Man, thank fucking God for Alex Maslansky.