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Friday, May 28, 2004

9 long days....not too much to tell.
Memorial Day is approaching. None of the veterans in my family gave their lives for the cause. My father served during the Korean War, but spent most of his time in occupied Japan in geisha houses. My grandmother once told me about a cousin of hers that served during WWI in Europe. He came home and began to have seizures. It turned out that he was exposed to mustard gas. He was taken to a military hospital in either Maryland or Virginia and eventually succumbed to the effects of the gas.
I sometimes think that the dead soldiers are the lucky ones. I have seen the living relics of the Vietnam War far too often on the streets of my country struggling to find inner peace and failing. Having been 9 years old when the last helicopter left the roof of the U.S. Embassy in what was then Hanoi, I grew up thinking that every war, deep down, contains error and miscalculation. Whether it is a repelled invader or the resolve of a eventually vanquished defender, one side eventually turns out to be in error. Watching old newsreels of battles from a time before I walked the planet, I was shown moral imperatives for battle, and yet every infantryman in every army that ever existed, no matter what the moral persuasions of their commanders, carries with him the idea that he is right.
Seventy years ago, my country entered a war which was supposed to be fought against an imminent threat to the well-being of the nation, but ended up being a war defined more by its racism than its true goals. We went on to spend trillions of dollars on it and continue to do so to this day. We spend all of our time in this war fighting it from the wrong side, and no one has the nerve to call for a stop to it, and if they do, they are quickly beaten down verbally for even daring to put forth such an idea. This war has become not a victory, but a long protracted lesson in tic-tac-toe, or rather, one endless string of draws. This war is called the War On Drugs, and I fear that the War on Terrorism is following its wasteful model. It's no longer God Bless America. It's God Help America. As an American in these troubled times, you'll pardon me if having this leader of our country gives me the feeling of living under a ladder with a target painted on my chest. Or as Pete Seeger said so many years ago, "When will they ever learn".
To all the soldiers in Iraq, come home quick, stay safe and know that if it were up to me, you'd all be home with your loved ones now. May no one ever cry for you on Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It's an exciting week!
Last night, I experienced the beauty of the local emporium known as the Bremen Cafe. I played the open mic there. I did a fair version of one of my own songs, a horrible version of "Candy Man" by David Ackles and if I might say so myself a pretty damned good version of "Once I Was" by Tim Buckley. I was thanked by some people for that one. Then the heavens opened up and it rained enough to kill off half the rat population of greater Milwaukee. I figured it was Ackles getting back at me for screwing up his song.
Tonight, on the last night of qualifying, I answered all five phone round questions for "Super Millionaire" (a guy can dream). I have to have my cell phone on from 8 to 11 tomorrow for (hopefully) that random call. I haven't been to New York in about 14 years. I'd be happy to win enough to buy Lou Reed a drink. That wouldn't THAT set the twilight reeling!
And now it's time to scrub the tub (Lovely Lady Leslie's orders [it needs it; she's right again; when will she stop that?]) grab another soda, and tempt fate by hitting the ATM after dark. Adieu!!

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Laura Nyro
Spread Your Wings And Fly: Live At The Fillmore East May 30, 1971

April 8th is a horrible day in contemporary music history. April 8th, 1976 found Phil Ochs taking his own life after a long decline fueled by being attacked in Tanzania three years before and descending into alcoholism. April 8th, 1994 brought the discovery of Kurt Cobain's body in his Seattle home. April 8th, 1997 took away Laura Nyro, one of the first and greatest of the "Singer/Songwriters" that would change the landscape of American popular music for the better part of the late '60's and early '70's.
This latest gem from the Columbia/Legacy catalog represents one of the last concerts at Bill Graham's Fillmore East. Nyro is alone at the piano on her home turf of New York City, bringing forth more soul than any white girl before or since. Slowly, through a deft use of melody and medley, she offers the audience a brief history of the songs by herself and other contemporaries such as Goffin and King (her splendid interpretation of "Up On The Roof") that had delivered her to this point in time. As the liner notes are careful to explain, the sound quality of this disk is not without its flaws, but the occasional sonic accident doesn't diminish from this music. Nyro, on this night, effortlessly moved the audience from songs of desperation ("I Am The Blues" and the David/Bacharach museum piece "Walk On By") to songs of hope ("O-o-h Child" and "Map To The Treasure"). Two tracks on this album, "American Dove" and "Mother Earth" have never been released in any form on any of Nyro's previous releases.
It is important to note that the audience responds most vociferously to Nyro's own "Save The Country", a song that takes on increased relevance in these troubled times. While it is songs of life and the heart such as "Stoned Soul Picnic", "And When I Die" and "Eli's Coming" that put her on the musical map and ensured her legacy, it was songs such as "Save The Country" that give Nyro a timelessness and continue to make her music relevant seven years after her death. In fact, it is maddening that in the 33 years since this performance, we seem to have been forced back to square one with regard to ecology, war, and man's inhumanity to man by the current keeper of America's keys. As another of Laura's songs says, "I'm mad at my country", but it is Laura Nyro's shining musical messages of love and peace that give me some sense of hope and strength these days.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

It has been roughly 11 days since my last confession, and these are my triumphs (God wants us to do well).
On May 3rd, I officially became John Paul Spencer for all the world to see. It became easy to explain to the judge why I wanted to change my name when his clerk mispronounced my old name. The paperwork for these changes never stops. I'm rather amazed at the different levels of proof all of the financial and governmental forces at work would like from me. The only thing I have to update are my 4 CD club memberships and I believe that I am finished.
I wrote one song on a whim and finished another by force. One started out grandiose and ended up light-hearted, the other started grim, became morose and descended slowly into utter despair. As you may have guessed, I'd rather play the first one.
I have a busy weekend ahead of me, all of it involving some sort of athletic pursuit. On Saturday, I join Lovely Lady Leslie on the NAMI walk (according to the brochure, that stands for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). Lovely Lady Leslie devotes her professional life to the treatment of the mentally ill, then comes home to me. As you might have guessed, she never gets a break. I'm beginning to understand her constant need for sleep. On Sunday, I play street hockey with friends. I wonder how I'll look out there.
This evening, we dined with friends expecting their first child. The man in all this, Dylan, is also my band mate in the two-man-plus-effects-box collective known as The Jumping Frenchmen Of Maine. Very soon, we shall set about cutting a record with the help of all of our musical bric-a-brac and Dylan's computer. More on that next week.
And so, as the sun rises on Central Europe, I bid all in the dark and light and peaceful, a quiet, a humble goodnight.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

I'm in the middle of what could be the most important weekend of my life. On Thursday the 29th, I turned 38. It was low-impact. I stopped by The Philly Way on 2nd & Florida and got myself a chicken cheesesteak. For a further taste of home, the Phillies were on ESPN, they lost in 13 innings, but I enjoyed what I stayed awake for (c'mon, it's BASEBALL! What, did you want me to stay awake?). Today, I got the best haircut I've had in a LONG LONG time. I feel and smell great from the head down. I got a few compact discs in the mail today. I already listened to "Cold Spring Harbor" by Billy Joel, noted pianist and reckless driver. I'm currently listening to the Belfast Cowboy himself, Van Morrison. "Bang Masters". My favorite album until the day I die is "Astral Weeks".
I got a pleasant surprise at work before I left on Thursday; Jenny, a young lady who handles charts for one of the clients I deal with at work, sent me an e-card for my birthday. Such a sweet person, Jenny. I wish wonderful things for her in her life. May the bumps in the road be few. Tomorrow, I'm going engagement ring scouting with Lovely Lady Leslie. Yes, it's that serious, and it almost always has been since we came across each other. She has been feeling ill lately with a virus. As usual, she's asleep at this late hour. Sh always warned me that she loves her sleep. Unfortunately, she paired off with a ghoul.
I feel I need to recommend one-half of a recent album purchase; Disc 2 of Nellie McKay's "Get Away From Me". It's an ambitious debut. Too bad she's touring with a relic like Sting. My Lord, why doesn't he retire already? I feel embarassed for him. I'm wondering just exactly when he began to morph into Enya.
Now that my diet soda cup is empty, I'm going to move to Rolling Rock to help me get some rest. Monday is the big day. With the grace of a judge, I will officially be known to the world as John Paul Spencer for the rest of my life. If the door closes, dear friends, kick it back open. Accept NOTHING at face value. Good night. I may be back in an hour or two. I'm wired on caffeine.