Friday, April 10, 2015

Synchronous Serendipity

I take the bits and pieces of life - the hopes and dreams and responsibilities and commitments and all - and try, desperately, to order them, "rowing ducks" I've called it.  It's planning and prioritizing and playing odds and thinking about contingencies.  It's dinner and bacon and bananas about to go bad.  It's shorts not jeans, baseball not basketball, sunsets not sunrises.  It is all manageable, quantifiable, tractable, straightforward, though increasingly complex.

I get it.  I do it all everyday.

But there are moments or events that I do not see coming.  Not tragedies or hardships, I understand that these are a part of life.  Not the coming of understanding that springs from Faith, the unexpected  tears on Good Friday nor the relief of resurrection, that is simple Grace.

No, there are moments and events that just seem so well-placed.  Some are fleeting - the phone call from a friend just as you were thinking of them, a bolt that lands in your pocket as you work under a car to switch out an alternator in the snow.

Sometimes these moments are huge, unfolding over time involving dozens of characters and places and things.  Five teenagers thrown together in college dorm, each perfectly suited to a spot in the group, this one giving this song, another adds this book, another a story, another a center, another a spoke.  Decades later, still in touch, still marveling at the perfection of a few years of flawless synchronicity.

And then there is the sheer damn luck of it all.  How, possibly, could a cat wondering into an apartment - my cat, Marci's apartment - lead me here, raising up twin boys, happily married, safe, contented, something I never thought I'd be?  Serendipity?  Good fortune?  Divine intervention?  Or, as I said, sheer damn luck, the good kind.

Two weeks ago I posted a piece here about how I encountered music when I was coming up in the late sixties and early seventies.  I bemoaned the lot of N and Z not having the very visceral experience of vinyl records and paper sleeves and liner notes and poster art.  I was hard on myself for not introducing them to piles of music.

My brother and his daughter came into town to visit.  My niece said she had a gift for the boys' birthday.  She seemed pretty excited about it.  She's a pretty cool chick.

Yes, a portable record player, a stack of old 45's and some classic LP's.  Now, understand this, she did this well before I wrote the piece about records and such.  She sought out the player, selected the albums, made this all happen, without knowledge that I was even thinking about this.  Coincidentally, co-incident-ly.


There's more right?  Yes, thanks for asking...

You probably see Art Garfunkel's upside down head there.  That's Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits album, one I know so well I could sing it to you start to finish with little prompting.  That's just one of the odd little stack of albums she gave them.  There's some vintage The Ventures - you know, the "Mission Impossible" and "Hawaii Five-O" dudes.  There a 1971 pressing of J.S. Bach Brandenburgisches Konzert F - dur... yes, the gateway drug of orchestral music, in German.  There's a Jazz Immortals album, it's old school - Charlie Parker and Dizzy and that crowd.  There is also a curious thing called Space Songs: Ballads for The Age of Science sung by Joe Glazer.

I told you it was an odd lot, an oddly appropriate odd lot.

There was one other album.

This one:

I opened up that turntable when the boys went to school and played it.

It was fun.  The needle hit the platter and the sound was so familiar it took my breath away.  I quickly regained my ability to read the print as it spun,  "Rainy Day Women #12 & 13."  The loud, raucous horn section starts... You know the song, "Everybody Must Get Stoned," yeah, that one.  An influential song, an unforgettable song and a remarkably clever one as well.

This Greatest Hits album was released in 1971, I probably got it in '73 or '74.  I'm guessing.  To say I know this record would be understating.  I said once before that we "choose the soundtracks of our lives" and this is a part of mine.

The second cut is "Blowin' in the Wind," the quintessential Dylan song.  I'd say it was easily one of the first twenty songs I ever learned to play and sing.  I played it just Sunday, sitting on the porch as the boys made LEGO models... and sang along.  And, and, two days later the song literally lands in my lap.  Out of the shear damn blue.

"The Times They Are A-Changin" follows.  There is a scratch here and it adds another layer to the staccato strum that accompanies words I didn't understand people could say.  Not allowed to say, and these lyrics pushed some serious boundaries, no, could be said.  When I first heard this song, and then later as I went on to learn it, I was flabbergasted at the boundlessness of human creativity.  I've come to understand that as an adult, but man, that first glimpse at our collective potential is electrifying.

Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand,
For The Times They are A-Changin.'

I mean, who gets to write that, who is chosen for those words?  The words, as beautiful and carefully hewn as they are, aren't what impacted me.  The fact that this sort of inspiration can be available to us, to me, blew me away.

"It Ain't Me, Babe" is next.  A lament?  A defense?  An attack?  I've never known.  But at thirteen or sixteen on twenty-one hearing the words "It ain't me you're lookin' for, Babe," is a bit of foreshadowing worth noting.

Side one ends with "Like a Rolling Stone."  Another song I know forwards and backwards and still it still draws me in every time I hear it, no matter who sings it.  I forget it is a story song, a redemption song.

There is another whole side to go, wait...

I remember this moment, this intermission that every album offered.  I had forgotten it until I had to do it again.  A time to reflect and discuss and get a beer and wait, a time to anticipate.  What a gorgeous idea, an exquisite device - stop and savor and wait in the middle of things.  When do I do that anymore?

Not often enough.

I won't take you all the way through the second side.  It begins with "Mr. Tambourine Man" another song I still play, another song where the words seem so impossibly clever.  The side ends with "Just Like A Woman" with those haunting words "...but she breaks just like a little girl."

What does he mean by that?

What do I mean by this?

This album came back to me at precisely the right moment in time.  I didn't need the songs or the words or even the album in my hands.  No, I needed the event.  I needed to go through time with it.  I had to thank it with my time once again.  We, I, must study the things that move us, contemplate the ideas that stir in us understanding, curiosity and, perhaps, wisdom.

I started a journey with this music when I was ten or eleven.  Mind you, this is a "greatest hits" album, the music was released well before 1971 when it came out.  The vast majority of these songs had floated already into the zeitgeist of radio music and into the living rooms of booming families much earlier.  And, still they float.

Nick and Zack recognize nearly all the songs on this album.

I like that loop.

I like seeing continuity, seeking continuity.

Bob Dylan's words and melodies have been more than a soundtrack to my life, that would underplay it.  Dylan's music opened my eyes and ears and heart in a way nothing had in my life.  I've fashioned my vocal style after his.  I adore drawn out vowels and alliteration piled in precarious pillars, perfectly placed.  I love lists and details and difficult references.  Nuance.  He led me to an understanding not only of potential but of success.  I am right because of Bob Dylan.  He helped show me who I am, not as a role model, not necessarily as a hero, no... he was - and still is, I'm coming to understand - my Teacher.

I am tempted here to tease myself, poke fun at my melodramatic prose.  I don't think I will though, mostly because I feel I've learned something of myself.  Also, there's one more little bit...

The album came with a poster inside.  My niece unfolds it and I instantly recognize it and I nearly fall in the wind of images and places and people.  A dorm room, a childhood bedroom, a lover's bed, a living room, old friends, lost friends, New York City, rural Ohio, a Parisian bookstall, a dank basement, ping-pong tables, smoke, smoke, dreams and smoke.  All at once...

It is hard to impart to you how unexpected all of this is... was, will be.  (Fuck tense, I can't get a handle on it.)  And how arbitrary it is.  And how profoundly necessary it is, was, shall be.  (See!)

I've kept you, haven't I?  I'm sorry, this all sort of snowballed.  I hope you'll come back again.  I may not be asking you in as much here in the coming months but I'll holler when I do.  I've got chores to do, baseball games to think about, memories to sift through... and two boys to watch turn into men.

Peace to you...


  1. Memories of Washington Hall are joyously flooding my brain - beautiful, visceral, open-hearted memories. Thanks.

  2. Always a pleasure to walk with you.

  3. Thanks for having me.
    I'm a Dylan fan as well. I enjoy that album as well though I didn't hear it till a decade after you first got into it.

  4. I grew up in the 80s and my parents didn't really approve of most popular music. I did, however, grow up with a fond appreciation for vinyl albums, after listening to damn near every single one that my parents held on to, from their 70s days. I loved listening to the my dad's "Physical Graffiti" Led Zeppelin and Johnny Cash albums, just as much as I did listening to my mom's Earth Wind and Fire and Michael Jackson vinyls. Good times, man!

  5. I recall not too long ago commenting on Facebook that I didn't like Dylan, and I remember you "Liking" it. I knew you were probably "Liking" my honesty, and not what I was saying. :)

    I do recognize his contribution to songwriting, and love quite a few of his songs — when they're performed by someone else. I guess growing up singing in church and performing with a chorus causes me to cringe every time Bob opens his mouth.

    However, I did get goosebumps when you described pulling out the poster. While I'm too young to have experienced it firsthand, I've studied it many times as an art/ graphic design student. Milton Glaser is the Dylan of graphic design. Actually, he's probably also Elvis and The Beatles.

    I also loved how you described the gap between sides of an LP and remembering how it used to feel. I had 100s of LPs up until I sold them all in college — for religious reasons. U2, Prince, Depeche Mode, Japanese imports I bought in Japan, even Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits that I bought at a secondhand record store. I've since replaced them all with CDs or MP3s, but I hope my records found a good home.

    Insert clever "Blogin' in the Wind" wordplay here. ;)