I’m re-blogging this today from Paula Bosse’s Flashback: Dallas blog (click on the above link), a great blog you should check out, especially if you lived or grew up in Dallas as the city came of age from the 1950s through the 1970s. Her blog is always a fascinating read and I love seeing these old historic photos. My family moved to Dallas in 1960 from Hartford, Connecticut, a couple of months before my 4th birthday; I grew up there during the 1960s and 70s, lived there in the early 80s and much later, off and on, from 2007-2011. Apparently, Dallas is still on my mind somewhat since we visited there last month and that already seems like ages ago.
There’s also a bit of shared history here. I never knew Paula before I started reading her blog. I don’t know how we got on the subject of the house where I used to live in 1984 – had to be from a comment I made on one of her posts, but in the ensuing e-mail exchanges it turned out that same house I lived in back in 1984 – with my “derelict” musician roommates/bandmates (and I include myself in that description) – was the first house she lived in years earlier.
Big Bend, as in national park Big Bend, in far West Texas, bordering Mexico, and separated by the mighty, muddy Rio Grande River. Think Fandango (a young Kevin Costner) and No Country For Old Men (Tommy Lee Jones)…
I was reminded, via Facebook post this week (thanks John!), that today, August 27th, was the day the St. Mark’s School of Texas Class of 1975, from Dallas – about 92-93 of us – boarded buses, along with our Outward Bound instructors and select faculty from the school, and set off at 7:00 a.m. 45 years ago for the remote and rugged Big Bend country south of Alpine and Marfa for an adventure. We would be there for 10 days – 5 in the Chisos Mountains, 5 on the Rio Grande River.
This was the official start of our freshman year, 1971. The first Outward Bound trip (mandatory for us) had come into being that year as an alternative and replacement for the annual rite of passage known as Freshman Day at the school – a one-day melee which involved a lot of shaving cream, silly string, dunkings in the library courtyard fountain and general harassment from the seniors toward the incoming freshman class. The trip to Big Bend was supposed to end that tradition, which it did (I think), and was to be our rite of passage.
I was 14 at the time. I had just come back to Dallas from my first summer of working up at the Evergreen Conference in Evergreen, Colorado only the week before. Mostly I was helping out with routine maintenance and kitchen duties, although the first job I was assigned was to clean out the incinerator which probably hadn’t been touched in a couple of decades. It had to be the dirtiest, nastiest job my supervisors could think of to give me as an initiation and I’m sure they were laughing their asses off that entire week I was cleaning it out. On the brighter side, I was always off work by 2:30 and could hike or hang out down at Bear Creek the rest of the afternoon; there’d been a summer romance with a girl from the Midwest, and The Who’s album Who’s Next had just been released and was on the Denver FM stations constantly. “The Song Is Over” (featuring Nicky Hopkins’ excellent piano work) from that album quickly became my favorite song and still is to this day.
And then came the trip to Big Bend…
First of all, it’s absolutely beautiful country – if you’ve been there, you know and if you haven’t, you should definitely go. I remember we got there late in the afternoon and were glad to get off the buses after 12 hours. We quickly divided into groups – several of them would go to the river first, several would stay in the mountains. I was in one of the groups that would get the mountains first. We all ate hamburgers for dinner, then got our gear and said adios to the groups that were headed for the river… and later we camped out under a cloudless sky filled with a million stars. Will never forget that… I just stared up at the sky for the longest time, ’til I fell asleep.
And the first five days of the trip in the mountains were the best, at least for me. We hiked the trails, hiked up to Lost Mine Peak with 35-40 lb. packs on our backs; I remember I was reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath at the time and had it tucked away in my pack. The days were predictably hot (but it was a dry heat), the nights cool because it was the desert. One classmate broke his ankle and had to be carted out – I remember that; the highlights: a 200-foot free rappel down a sheer vertical rock wall where you could lower yourself as fast or as slow as you wanted, an overnight mini-solo in the wilderness, and of course, those cool desert nights. We may have all sweated like pigs during the day, but the mountains were “no sweat” and essentially familiar terrain.
The same could not be said of the days on the river, the muddy Rio Grande. In fact, as I thought about this trip in the weeks leading up to it, the time on the river was the part I had been dreading. For good reason as it turned out. Most of the time in the boat on the river was boring – if it got too hot, which it inevitably did, you just rolled off the side into the river and floated along. There were raft wars, wasp wars, swatting at the damn wasps with the frying pans in our packs, but then I also remember one day hearing the guys in the boat up in front of us starting to sing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” so we all started to sing along in ours. That was cool.
I remember being in the boat – and we were always switching into other boats – that helped two guys cross the river from the Mexican side to the U.S. side. I remember seeing dead livestock in the quicksand near the river, a dead horse… a body floating downstream, lifeless. A human body. Those who were in that particular boat that day will remember… ’cause we were all a little freaked out, even the Outward Bound guy. Most of the time on the river was fairly peaceful and then you’d have the occasional rapids and everyone would work as one to get through them. For whatever reason I happened to see a lot of death on the river. At 14 years of age, it leaves an impression… Can’t unsee it.
And then there was the last day… It was supposed to be an easy day – only one last set of rapids before the takeout point. I wish I had all the pictures I took on this trip – I was telling a classmate I had shot 12 rolls of film on the trip, actually was bragging about it as I was a bit more of a camera buff back then, in the photography club at school and all. But they were lost that last day, never got to see ’em – my camera, waterlogged and ruined even before the raft turned over. The following passage comes from a journal entry I wrote much later, 25 years after the fact, looking back on what happened, and now 20 years ago… For those who remember, this will fill in some gaps.
What I remember about that last half-mile or so before the takeout point… I see the three of us – Mark, Mike, and me – in the boat, coming through the rapids and it was late in the afternoon; it was actually quite beautiful because there was that “cinematic honeydew light” that you get just ahead of sundown. The golden hour. We were actually coming through those rapids quite late in the day and I remember watching the boat up in front of us – I was at the back of our boat, playing captain. But the boat up in front of us hit a hole in the middle of the river; I watched their boat dip into it and then watched as it veered off way to the right toward the rock wall on the south side of the river. I remember thinking we had to avoid that hole and so we started paddling harder and I was trying to steer the boat as best I could away from it. Well of course, that proved futile and we ended up dipping down into it as well. And sure enough, we started drifting way to the right just like the boat in front of us did. Even so, I didn’t think we were in immediate trouble – then just as quickly realized we were. That would have been when the boat was getting too close to the rock wall and then as the boat got stuck against the wall by the current moments later.
The first thing that happened when the boat got stuck was that Mark, who was sitting up at the very front, got swept away by the current. The river just swept into the boat with such force he was gone in an instant, and I can still remember that look of surprise he had because he turned around in the water looking back at us and then he was downstream, gone. I remember that being kind of an ‘oh shit’ moment and yeah, I knew we were in trouble. So it was just me and Mike in the boat at that point and he’s still trying to paddle and I’m trying to push us off the rock wall with my paddle. I was noticing also that the water was pushing against the boat with such force that the boat was starting to inch its way up the rock wall itself and eventually it was going to turn over on us. Mike turned around and yelled, “What are we gonna do, Thomas?” It was very clear we couldn’t stay where we were and wait for the boats behind us. The river wasn’t going to let us do that ‘cause it was going to flip the boat over on top of us. It seemed like the only thing we could do is try to jump and swim away from the boat and the rock wall as far as we could, get out into the current and go with it. That would be the instinctual thing, right? I yelled back at Mike to swim hard toward the center [of the river]. That was the plan, so he pushed off and went into the river and now I’m all alone and the boat is even more at an angle.
I don’t remember being scared here, probably because there wasn’t time to be scared and possibly because I didn’t fully understand just how dangerous a situation we were in. Sometimes it’s good not to know. A few moments later, I took a deep breath and moved my foot to the left side of the boat, getting ready to push off… then tried to push off but my foot slipped and next thing I know I’m in the water, underwater, and the boat has landed on top of me. OK… now I’m scared. There were some duffel bags in the boat, a few strongboxes and some other equipment but there wasn’t a whole lot which was good because that stuff wasn’t tied down and now this stuff is landing on top of me and I was pushing my way back up to the surface through it. There were only three of us in the boat when this happened. Usually there were 4-6 of us in a boat and one instructor from Outward Bound or one of the teachers who came on this trip but for that last set of rapids we did not have any of the ‘grown-ups’ on board.
When I was still underneath the boat and trying to push it away, I did surface briefly then went back under. I surfaced a few seconds later and saw the sky, caught my breath, and went back under again. There was no control over anything – I was just simply at the mercy of the current. I remember thinking, “Well, this is it, I’m gonna drown…” and the next thing I knew, I could see the sky again and I’ve got a small canister of Kodak film in my mouth. Really. This time I was able to keep my head above water and I was just carried along with the current.
Eventually that current brought me into the same small inlet where it had deposited Mike. We both ended up in a small eddy in a cove on the Mexico side of the river, then scrambled up out of the water onto a small grassy area and watched while the last couple of boats passed by us. I started blowing a whistle, trying to alert any of the boats passing by; Mike pulled out his pocket Bible and was praying (he eventually became a preacher). That we both “landed” in this semi-hidden cove I’ve always thought of as highly providential (the second meaning of the word). It took an hour-and-a-half to two hours to send a motorboat in and get us out of there.
All three of us eventually got to camp that night, ate dinner as we were all starving by then, re-told what had happened out there on the river. Everything I had brought on the trip was lost; the clothes I came out of the water wearing were the ones I wore on the bus the next day heading back home. At least they were dry by then. By the time the buses got to Sweetwater on I-20 on September 6th, and the local Dairy Queen – 200 cheeseburgers ordered, oops sorry, 198 cheeseburgers and 2 hamburgers owing to a classmate’s allergies (hey Robert!) – things started to feel more “normal” again. Actually, those were the best-tasting DQ burgers I ever remember having had, before or since.
For the next year(s?) St. Mark’s decided to hold the freshman Outward Bound trip elsewhere… which turned out to be the Pecos Wilderness area in New Mexico near Santa Fe. As far as I know (I transferred to Irving Cistercian the following year, but not because of the trip), the Class of 1975 was the only class who ever made the trip and completed the course in Big Bend – we were trailblazers! And for those who made this trip and were there, I salute you! It is an indelible part of our experience, individual and collective. On this 45th anniversary.
Nights on Venus News: The new single “Speed of Life” will be released mid-October. Yes, the David Bowie song “Speed of Life”. Licensing/permission has been obtained. It will be a 2-song single also featuring a new original “Confirm Humanity (I’m Not A Robot)”, both instrumentals, and the two songs will be on the album “We Are All Haunted By Something”, scheduled for release in June, 2017. Stay tuned for updates. A mini-interview I did recently with Bandwidth Daily should be up online soon.
So we’ve been back home in Golden now for a few days… We’re into May now. I’m still unpacking, slowly, as is my custom, trying to find places for everything we’ve brought back and we’re back into our routines here for which I’m grateful. On this short, whirlwind trip, most of Sunday and Monday has been kind of a slow, mad rush to get outta here, stress-filled to the point where Tuesday’s long drive home – just slightly under 15 hours this time – feels (almost) like a piece of cake. Easy, in comparison.
Erin and I will both miss the Tex-Mex food… and hanging out at Drip coffeehouse on Lovers Lane in the mornings which, with its wi-fi, has been kind of a lifeline in staying connected to the rest of the world. If you live in the Park Cities area in Dallas, be sure and stop in here instead of Starbuck’s. Steve’s got everything Starbuck’s has only much better, plus a better ambience, and he’s a local business.
We leave very early Tuesday morning, just after 5:00, and it’s a “Six Feet Under” finale moment – “You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone…” – Nate’s ghost to Claire. Just last night it had been raining heavily for a while and I was concerned about what it would be like in the morning because we still had the paintings and a few other items to load into the truck, but it’s dry and we finish the load-out quickly. When we’re in the truck I see dad standing in the doorway in his white bathrobe; the lights in the cab of the truck are on so I wave to him and he waves back. And then we’re off. Once we’re past it I can’t see the house because the view is obstructed out the back and we only have side view mirrors. It kind of reminds me of the years I would visit at Christmas, living in Colorado, and mom would come to the small windows by the front door and I’d see her looking out as I drove away. This is the last time I’ll be leaving from here.
We turn right onto Hillcrest, another right onto Northwest Highway; I’ve got my extra-large coffee from 7-11 and when we come to the Dallas North Tollway I turn right, heading north, because I know it’s the only freeway I can count on not to have some kind of construction going on (you know, the concrete barriers, no right shoulder) as we get out of the giant amoeba, surging ever northwards, that the Dallas metro area has become.
We pass through Denton on U.S. 380, University Blvd. through town, and yes, the Waffle House is still there but we don’t stop at it and by the time we’re within a few miles of Decatur, the Dallas city vibes have dissipated, been left behind, and we’re free.
Dallas I can sum up the experience of Dallas, as it is now, in just two words, both this time and the last time Erin and I were here 2 1/2 years ago: Too. Big. As in too big for your britches. It may come as a surprise to those who have heard me bashing on this city since the mid-1990’s, but I really used to love this place when I was growing up here in the 1960’s and early 70’s. I really did. I loved Dallas and that was really the time to be here – it was a big city that didn’t feel overwhelming… like it does now. So many memories that are still fresh in my mind and too many to list here. They should go in a book.
Maybe a lot of this feeling comes from having lived in a small mountain town of 420 people for four years (Empire, CO), but I can think back to the late 1970’s when I was in Lubbock and the city I’d come back to over Christmas break and for the summer really started to change. It started to change even more in the early 80’s when I was doing singing telegrams here, playing in a couple of bands, the pace of life here always ever accelerating, but back then it still seemed more-or-less manageable. I’d hang out in Lower Greenville or the Lakewood area (which we didn’t get over to on this trip) and those were the cool places to be… and then I moved away to Santa Fe.
Well, nothing about Dallas feels manageable anymore; it just appears to be go-go-go all the time, non-stop, and just try to keep up, even when visiting, and woe to the person who can’t or chooses not to. This is not your place. Erin pointed out that the traffic lanes on the roads we were driving seemed more narrow than what we’re used to – claustrophobic, and the parking lots wherever we went were always full, the spaces hard to pull into because they’re narrow too. Try to squeeze in as many people as you can – gotta make that extra buck. That’s Dallas. I noticed the same thing too and it wasn’t just because I was driving dad’s Buick. Getting around anywhere just produces a lot of stress that doesn’t need to be there. And this is inside LBJ Freeway (635) – Dallas proper. I’m not talking about the suburbs and outlying areas here. Another odd thing is that all the traffic lights at intersections seem interminably long… which only adds to the stress and frustration when you’re trying to get somewhere/anywhere.
I lived in Dallas again during parts of the years from 2007-2011 but the energy here now just feels completely different even from that recently and even more alien. More scattered, frenetic… hyper is a good word to describe it, and oddly more generic (i.e., soulless). A lot of this can be seen in the McMansion monstrosities that are devouring the old, familiar neighborhoods in Preston Hollow, where my dad lives (for another month or so), and some, though less evident, in the Park Cities. Neighborhoods that once had character. Well, a lot of them still do, but what about Dallas screams ‘Tuscany’ that people and home builders feel compelled to put up Italian-style villas on these blocks, complete with palm trees?! Lose the freakin’ palm trees!! They’re not indigenous to North Texas! Ugh.
And it doesn’t have to be this way. As we drove around Preston Hollow, we saw plenty of ranch homes, the staple of this neighborhood for so many years, that had been updated along with mid-century modern homes that were beautiful with beautiful landscaping ’cause hey, you can grow anything here (reference the backyard picture from Pt. 1 of this series).
At one point Erin said that Dallas feels like Orange County, California. In other words, it’s all about appearances and keeping up with everybody else. Since I haven’t lived in the OC since late 1980 I’ll take her word on that.
The problem with all of what I’m seeing here is that people start to think (and get used to) all of this as being just “normal” and that the pace of life here is “normal”, and all it does is just produce nothing but stress from the competitiveness of it all, and really, there’s nothing “normal” about any of this. It’s just pathological.
That’s more of a rant than I’d intended, but it is sad to see as I have loved this city… and really, now it just pisses me off and I want to get outta here and get home.
The House Itself With the house on the market now comes the realization that eventually and soon, it will sell, and when I pull up the address on Google Maps a year from now, most likely the house will be razed to the ground or there will already be a new house – another generic, McMansion monstrosity – in its place. I don’t have a problem with that so much because it’s inevitable given that the house now is a total tear-down, a scrape-off… but it will seem weird when I actually see it (via Google Maps).
Dad had it appraised recently and has listed the house at its appraised value and even I know you can’t do that with a tear-down. You’re only selling the land it sits on. He’s still under the illusion that someone will want to buy it, update it, and basically keep the house intact, but that’s just not going to happen given its current state. Why did he not update the house, cosmetically-speaking, over the years? Both inside and out. Why would you not do that when your home is arguably the most important investment, financially, you’ll ever make? The baby grand piano in its current state – needing the keys, hammers, and strings all to be restored – is a metaphor for the state of the house. Why, why, why did he not restore such a beautiful instrument like that? And him being a musician. I don’t get it, but this is where things stand.
A friend from high school who’s a realtor told me that he’s seen the house and the comps in the neighborhood, and thinks it should be listed for about $50k less than the price that dad is asking. I had been thinking the same thing – the current price is too high. After a month on the market, that’s why it’s not selling… but what can you say here? Some resistance to selling it going on perhaps?
As for the house itself… the wallpaper in the rooms where it’s been applied (from the early 1970’s) is peeling off and just looks supremely dated and tacky; most assuredly there is mold in them thar walls and nobody wants to deal with mitigation there, and the attic… after squirrels had made their way through the east side of the house to the attic, nobody ventured up there anymore. Total. Tear-down.
I had intended to be a bit more mindful of my time in the house, knowing that this was going to be the last time I would ever be in there, but by Sunday afternoon I’m ready to get on the road and mindfulness goes out the window. I am glad we took an extra day on Monday when we picked up the truck (and it doesn’t suck… only 11,000 miles on it, everything in good working order), because it allows me time to walk through all the rooms one last time and had we tried to leave Monday it would have been too hectic. By Monday night I’ve made my peace, I’ve said my goodbyes. And then there’s the Christmas tree…
The legendary Christmas tree in the den is still there – yes, I know it’s April – where it has been since sometime in the mid-90’s and it has its own special story. I visited Dallas one time in March, maybe 1996, and my parents still had the Christmas tree up. I said something about it and mom said that dad would get around to taking it up to the attic. I mentioned that maybe if it was still up in March, they should just go ahead and leave it up all year round. So they did. I plug the Christmas tree lights in one last time before I go to bed Monday night to see if they’re working – obviously they’ve been changed out since the mid-90’s – and they all light up.
Now that we’ve been back for a few days and I’ve had some time to reflect on a few things, it seems that the strangest thing about last weekend: the incongruity between the fact that everything is about to change (radically) and that inside the house everything looks the same as it ever has, same as it ever was, even after we took out everything we did, and it’s just business as usual, and that it could go on that way forever.
Shmoopy Takes the Wheel… At Trinidad, just inside the Colorado state line. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon. The original plan had us arriving here at around 2:00 for lunch, but we had breakfast at IHOP in Wichita Falls and driving into a headwind we made Amarillo around 12:45 and ate lunch at McDonald’s. McDonald’s… we never eat at freakin’ McDonald’s. The Big Mac I order tastes good except there’s too much thousand island dressing on the two all-beef patties and it gets all over my hand. But the fries are great! Except for the stretch between Amarillo and Dumas, I’ve driven the whole way – the boring part of the drive. The prairie and farmlands. I have a high tolerance for boredom. Erin (Shmoopy) does not and coming into Trinidad she tells me that she just wants to get home and she’ll drive us the rest of the way. We’ve been in the truck for 12 hours at this point and I’m like, “Go for it.”
We’ve had various classic rock stations on the radio in the truck because the truck is old school with AM/FM radio – no CD player, no iPod connection. Not even a cassette deck. The most memorable of the radio stations has been The Big Dog FM, coming to you out of Altus, Oklahoma and we’ve been hearing a lot of Stones, ZZ Top, and Rush. It’s two-fer-Tuesday! We’ve crossed the Red River just above Estelline and there was actually water in it for the first time in ages… and the water was, appropriately, red, and I’m listening and a lyric from Rush’s “Freewill” gets lodged in my mind:
“You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice.”
And now that it’s Sunday I’m still hearing this. After we watched “Whiplash” at home last night. Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, wrote these lyrics and as we were driving through West Texas I thought about books that he’s written – I’ve read both “Ghost Rider” and “Traveling Music” and both are excellent. I highly recommend them; Neil is an excellent writer and I enjoyed these books immensely.
It also makes me think about the possibility that this could be the last time I drive this particular route between Dallas and the Denver area. Over the years, certain music has been designated for certain stretches of the trip – Alice Cooper’s Killer for the stretch between Childress and Memphis, Ziggy Marley’s two albums, Conscious Party and One Bright Day between Amarillo and Dalhart; The Cars’ 1st album between Walsenburg and Pueblo, Colorado.
By the time we get to Trinidad, Shmoopy notices I’m tired so she takes the wheel. We stop in at the liquor store on Santa Fe Trail and I pick up a few shot bottles of things that sound enticing, try a couple of them in the truck now that she’s driving and try to nod off in the passenger seat. Of course this is not going to work ’cause I can’t sleep in a moving vehicle and like looking out at the scenery too much, even if there isn’t any, but we’re back in Colorado now and that won’t be a problem. The Big Dog morphs into 107.9 FM out of Colorado Springs… more Stones… “Gimme Shelter”.
And Erin becomes a “woman on a mission”… We get home before 8:00 and before it gets dark. And then we start unloading the truck…
Despite the challenges and the frustrations, this was a good, memorable trip for all the right reasons, even if it was born from necessity. We had to go, but it was the right time.
Moving forward: the house will sell, certainly within the next couple of months, and had I known about it beforehand, that he was going to do this, dad could have come up here to live with us. We could’ve moved into a bigger house, in the mountains, Evergreen probably, and the baby grand could have been saved, but the invitation is always open. I don’t know right now where we’re going to be spending Christmas this year, whether he’ll fly up here and join us at our house or if Erin and I will be flying down there, in which case we’ll be getting a hotel room and a rental car. I suspect it will be the latter. I do know this: the Christmas tree in the house on Northwood will finally come down after a successful 19-year run or thereabouts. This year.
Saturday… we get an early start and the paintings start coming down off the walls. I put plastic sheeting over them and staple it to the wood stretcher frames so they’ll be ready for traveling. There are 18 paintings coming back with us, the largest measuring 6 feet x 6 feet, 9 inches (183 cm x 206 cm). I remember mom used to ask, “why do you paint so large?”, and I told her it was easier than painting small and minute; you get to use bigger brushes. It is – the materials just cost more.
Soon, the walls are completely bare in three rooms of the house; I can’t remember ever seeing them completely bare like this, except maybe when we moved in. I was 8 years old then and I really don’t remember that.
The house might look more empty… if it weren’t for all the clutter everywhere else. Just overwhelming clutter still. After a few hours, we’ve hardly put a dent in any of this and I know we’re not taking that much furniture back with us. Dad said he’d had some friends help him and that they cleaned up quite a bit before we came down. Well… we’re here now and there’s very little evidence of that.
Books stacked up on top of each other horizontally, on top of low bookcases about 3 feet high, the spines turned sideways so you have no idea what the titles are. I go through a few of them… the Time Almanac from 1994, World Almanac from 2001, how many books on “natural folk remedies” do you have here?… and give up.
Dad says to take any of these that I want, also any CDs, DVDs (Erin grabs a handful in passing – Goldfinger… score!)…and, oh look, VHS tapes! There’s nothing here and not a whole lot of time. I guess the plan is to let the estate sale people deal with whatever’s left and there will be a lot to deal with. Erin and I start boxing up all my stuff; by mid-afternoon we’ve hit it hard and go out for a break and an Internet connection.
It’s while we’re sitting in Cantina Laredo on Royal Lane for a late lunch… we see the news on the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal. Just unbelievable devastation in Kathmandu. We have a friend from Colorado who’s there to climb Mt. Everest, again, and knew he had just arrived at Everest Basecamp earlier in the week; we quickly wonder if he’s OK and see that he is. You can read his first-hand account of the earthquake and the events of the last few days at the link below. It’s a very compelling read…
Seeing the first images of the destruction left behind by the earthquake online puts everything back in perspective. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Nepal.
The reunion that night is definitely the highlight of this trip and a necessary respite from the work we’re doing at the house and from some frustrations that are starting to mount, chief among them being the communication connection issues (and no, Mercury is not retrograde). It’s great to see all my classmates from those years at St. Mark’s, most of whom I haven’t seen in 43 years. You try to place the faces in the present with how you remember the way they used to look when everyone was 14, 15 years old. We trade stories…
Brett, who was one of my best friends all through high school, reminds me of a truly awful trip we made to Lubbock to check out Texas Tech University during our senior year and how we spent most of a Saturday afternoon in a muffler shop waiting room with our host who was getting work done on his car. Yes, I remember that too. Brett ended up going to University of Texas in Austin.
Paul and I talk about the French class we took in 8th grade from a teacher who I remember – now that a long-forgotten memory has kicked in – looked a bit like Jeanne Tripplehorn with glasses and everyone apparently remembers as being “nice”. He also reminds me that I came up with a cartoon character for the middle school paper and that has been long-forgotten, now unearthed as well.
We talk to just about everyone there and find out what’s going on in their world and I’m surprised to learn that there’s a good-sized contingent of the class who now lives in Colorado so I hope we will stay in touch. The one thing we don’t see, and it’s not until we’re leaving that Erin points it out: no one there is checking, looking down at, or is otherwise glued to their cell phones. In fact, no one is even taking pictures or selfies with them. The cell phones are nowhere to be seen.
Special thanks to Marc and Wendy for hosting the reunion at their beautiful home. It was a very memorable evening.
Once Erin and I get back to the house for the night and I have a chance to see all the work we’ve done, I’m glad we worked as hard as we did during the day. I can already feel an energy shift as the focus moves toward finishing up the packing and leaving early Tuesday morning. It feels like we’ve been kind of jogging along since we arrived Friday, at a faster pace then we’re used to at home in Colorado as Dallas in no way could be described as laid-back, but by the time we get home from dinner with our friends Jeff and Pat tomorrow night, it’ll be an all-out sprint to get everything done and get on the road and we’re both already more than a little stressed.
Friday… We land at Dallas Love Field a little after 11:00, Erin and I; it’s been raining and is expected to rain more today, possibly some severe thunderstorms with a chance of… tornadoes! I’m glad we’re on the ground. I had been following the weather forecast for the last week or so and saw rain for Friday here and there had also been thunderstorms during the week. I hadn’t been on a plane for almost fifteen years (yes, really).
So we’re on the ground safely – Erin minus her little ‘girly’ Swiss army knife on her keychain which has remained at Denver International Airport courtesy of the TSA (and I tease her about being such a troublemaker) – and we’re here for the weekend. Originally we booked this flight back in January for the 40th Reunion Weekend of the St. Mark’s Class of 1975, a group of classmates I didn’t graduate with but went to school with from 7th through 9th grade. My dad had his 86th birthday in March but we weren’t able to make it that month; the reunion weekend in April seemed like a good idea. In between came the news that he’d put the house up for sale so now the weekend has taken on a different tone altogether. It’s also moving weekend!
I’d only been bugging him to sell the house for the last 8 years or so; we moved into the house on Northwood in July, 1965. For 50 years this has been the family house – I grew up here and over the years it had become kind of a repository for much of my artwork and a few other things from my various moves, especially since 2007 when I closed down the gallery in Empire (CO). Now, all of that has to come back to Colorado with us. Half a century! It seems like this must be some kind of record but I’m sure it isn’t. In fact, I’m sure it’s pretty common… but 50 years! So this is kind of a big deal and it’s kind of been freaking me out a little.
From a logistical standpoint it means that the original plan of driving a rental car back to Golden has been scrapped in favor of having to rent a truck. Budget turned out to be the cheapest so we went with them. I hope their truck… doesn’t suck.
The first thing I notice as we’re driving through the Park Cities from the airport: everything looks very green and very soggy. Dallas in April.
Within 20 minutes, Erin looks like she just stepped out of a 1970’s disco with big wavy, disco hair.
And of course the first thing we have to do is get lunch… at El Fenix. If you live in Dallas and have people visiting from out of town, you are going to go to El Fenix for some Tex-Mex at some point during their stay. It’s tradition and obligatory. I order my fave, the Puebla Plate, and two Inca Gold margaritas (hey, I hadn’t flown for almost 15 years and it’s humid as hell). They are refreshing.
At the house, we step back into 1976… just the way I remember it when we were last here 2 ½ years ago. I look out into the backyard; it’s a freakin’ jungle out there. Erin asks me if my dad has a gardener. I reply, “Does it look like he has a gardener?” For his part, dad says that it’s been raining a lot, and I’m like, “Ya think?”
By 6:30 the weather is on TV, ongoing coverage, and we have a severe thunderstorm warning in effect. A line of thunderstorms is moving east through Fort Worth and Arlington at 60 mph and projected ETA’s are given for the Dallas metro area, 7:05 for where we are. Heavy rains and wind gusts of up to 65 mph, possibly up to 75 mph. I hook up my laptop to the Ethernet cable from the old computer (it’s still there) to get a connection ‘cause I know we don’t have wireless here… and get nothing. Dad tells me there’s no Internet (and not because of the storm). OK, we will have to go out to connect to the world.
The thunderstorm brings only the heavy rain, no high winds. We both feel grungy from traveling and the humidity. Welcome home!
I keep thinking of Steely Dan’s last album, “Everything Must Go”… There will be an estate sale in a couple of weeks. If you want a 1919 Steinway baby grand that needs the keys, hammers, strings, and probably a few other parts restored (but the soundboard is good), it can be yours at a reasonable price. Send me a message. I would’ve loved to keep the piano, could certainly have used it, but just don’t have the room for it in our current digs, not to mention the cost of moving and restoring it. Which is ironic… we don’t have the room for it in our house?…. The baby grand piano was the reason my family moved to the house on Northwood 50 years ago in the first place.
I’m back, baby. Last week was a very busy one in which I did several astrological chart consultations and immersed myself in those for a few days and virtually nothing else got done, including last week’s blog.
Christmas is bearing down on us – a week from Sunday – and when things slowed down enough this week I noticed that for the first time in 50 years, I won’t be in Dallas – where I grew up – for the holiday (hence the title this week). That may not seem like much of a big deal, but given all the places I’ve lived over the years – Seattle, L.A., Denver, Houston, Santa Fe to name a few – it’s actually kind of remarkable that I always seemed to make my way back to Dallas come Christmastime. 50 years… since my family moved to Texas in 1960 from the East Coast. The streak ends after half-a-century. I wasn’t even aware there was a streak involved until I realized I couldn’t find a single year where I hadn’t been in Dallas for Christmas.
This year I’ll stay put in the cozy confines of Golden, CO, in the foothills – time and money constraints have something to do with that, but also there’s the fact that I’m more “needed” up here right now. So no long drive back and forth this year to get ‘home for the holidays’ as has been the usual custom. Something new this year…
Since it is the Christmas season, that means the annual barrage of Christmas music that we’ve been inundated with in the stores and on TV since about Halloween (the onslaught of this seems to move up every year). Some people love it – it puts them in the holiday mood (or rather, it has conditioned them to get in the holiday spirit), but a lot of people don’t. Obviously, I fall in the latter camp. It’s the same ‘standard’ songs every year, sometimes re-done and updated by new artists and the new versions are usually lame compared to the originals, and we’ve heard them hundreds of times before whether we wanted to or not. Usually, playing it is in the service of enticing people to buy more ‘stuff.’ There are a few exceptions – John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” comes to mind, but generally speaking I’m not a fan of Christmas music.
Call me a ‘Grinch’, call me cynical, but, resisting the slick advertising ploys of all the world’s marketeers, I’ll stick with the “peace on Earth, goodwill towards men” and it would go a long way toward improving conditions in the world for everyone if we would remember this on a daily basis the entire year round, not just the month of December or a few days around Christmas.
I do have a favorite Christmas album though, and it’s not a ‘Christmas album’ at all. It goes back to the Christmas of 1982…. [picture the Wayne’s World dream/flashback sequence here – I couldn’t find it on YouTube]
I was playing keyboards in a New Wave band called Sound and the Furies at the time (nice name, eh?) – I was one of the Furies – and my day job – the day job they tell you not to quit – was doing singing telegrams all over Dallas. I had that job for three years – probably the best ‘job’ I’ve ever had, day or otherwise. Not from a money standpoint, but mostly because it was a blast. It wasn’t so much a job as kind of a surrealistic, theater-of-the-absurd romp through corporate offices, hospitals, restaurants, people’s homes, and countless parties delivering helium-filled balloon bouquets and of course singing while wearing top hat and tails, oversized paper maché heads such as a penguin, or a chicken suit, and on at least one occasion, getting chased out of a downtown office building by a pair of portly security guards while wearing that chicken suit. I still remember the words to the ‘Balloon-o-Gram’ song to this day.
It was also kind of a tough time back then. My roommate booted me out at the beginning of December – after I’d paid rent and was short on cash – and the parentals wouldn’t let me move back in except for a few days around Christmas – their version of “tough love” I suppose. Apparently they weren’t too thrilled with my ‘career’ choices at the time – I mean, hey, I had a fine arts degree; it wasn’t like I was suddenly going to go out and become an actuary or a CPA. There was the infamous “time-is-running-out, son” speech… Hell, I was only 26! (Time is running out a lot faster now.) So for the next couple of months I ended up sort of semi-homeless, sleeping in the back of the Balloon-o-Gram van some nights (you could sort of do that in those days) or in the office in between the racks of all the B-O-G costumes, or occasionally crashing at my one of my friends’ or bandmate’s places. It was kind of a ‘Kerouac – On the Road’ type of existence for a while.
Which, in retrospect – and only in retrospect – was kind of cool. My constant musical companion during that Christmas was a cassette tape of Marshall Crenshaw’s first album and I probably wore that thing out from playing it in just those 2 months bopping around the streets and freeways of Dallas doing singing telegrams. “Someday, Someway” had already been on the radio for a while, climbing the charts – I went out and bought the album and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it probably got me through those days and nights. That and the fact that I loved what I was doing. If you love rock ‘n’ roll with a rockabilly feel, chances are you probably have this album already. It’s impossible to feel down listening to it – every song is a buoyant slice of pure retro power-pop heaven. [Rolling Stone magazine gave it 4 1/2 stars – out of 5 – when it came out. I don’t know where they got that 1/2 from – clearly it earns 5 stars in my book.]
Here’s “Cynical Girl” from that first album, set to film clips – wait for Bette Davis at the end.
December, 1982 wasn’t an easy time to be sure but looking back on it, it was the most memorable Christmas out of the 50 spent in Dallas. I always took a night to drive around the familiar streets of Big D listening to MC’s first album, just like in the Balloon-o-Gram days, and I’m sure I’ll do the same up here. It’s just tradition now, for 29 years. It won’t quite be the same, but it’ll still feel like Christmas.
New music is coming soon – currently working on a trio of songs for “In For the Evening,” the next release from Nights on Venus in the summer of 2012. ‘Til then…
Need some last-minute gift ideas and stocking stuffers? The Nights on Venus debut album is available as a digital download (MP3) and can be found on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon.mp3, eMusic, and other fine online retailers.
This week, a little excursion out into the night… just a few images I shot while out and about – sort of a photo essay. Nightspots, night shots… And then toward the end, a few thoughts about R.E.M., coming on the heels of their announcement Wednesday that after 31 years there will be no more R.E.M (‘it’s the end of the band as we’ve known ’em’).
I’ve finished recording “Intimacy and Solitude” and now doing the final mixdown – after initial mastering, it will be posted on the NoV ReverbNation page next week. This song would fit right in on the first album and yet, it’s also unlike anything I’ve done before, so that’s coming…
At the time I took these photos, the Balcony Club was going to be closing its doors so I was paying my last respects – I’d spent many a night down here over the last 4 years since returning to Dallas (off and on). The club did in fact, shut down… for a few nights.
The BC had been open since 1989 and it was – excuse, is – a great place to see live music – just a small club, long and narrow, so narrow in fact that when the place is packed, you enter onto what essentially is the dance floor – the aisle between the bar and the stage. Mostly the music is jazz, but really you’ll hear everything down here – rock, reggae, folk, country…
But all of that would be going away… or so we thought.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending: a new lease was worked out with the landlords and the Balcony Club re-opened earlier this week.
I’m sure I’ll be spending a few more evenings down there while I’m still in Dallas…
[I’m hearing the opening notes of “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” as I write this…]
If you’re a fan of R.E.M., no doubt you were shocked or, at the very least, surprised by the announcement Wednesday that they were ‘calling it a day’. I know I was. I saw it, first on Facebook (the “new look” FB no less), then on their website. That a band should break up is not shocking in itself – it happens all the time. All bands – well, those not named the Rolling Stones – do break up at some point, but R.E.M…. I don’t know… it was like you almost took it for granted or assumed that they’d always be there and continue to be R.E.M. They had been there for 31 years.
I remember having first heard “Radio Free Europe” at Ground Zero, a New Wave club in Dallas (used to be over off of Shady Brook near Melody Ln., near Fangti China) in late 1981 or early ’82. The song didn’t sound like any of the New Wave bands the DJ was playing in between live band sets; R.E.M. sounded very different. They certainly weren’t Adam & the Ants or Duran Duran – they didn’t sound like anybody else at the time (except maybe Translator); to me they sounded more like… the Byrds, only speeded up. When the “Chronic Town” EP came out in 1982 I was hooked on them immediately. R.E.M. only got better and better with every subsequent release.
Essential R.E.M. albums – a top 10
Life’s Rich Pageant (1986) Murmur (1983) Reckoning (1984) Automatic For the People (1992) Document (1987) Fables of the Reconstruction (1985) Live at the Olympia (2009) Out of Time (1990) New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996) Accelerate (2008)
Personal favorite: Life’s Rich Pageant To me, this is also their best album. The opening riff of “Begin the Begin” is one of the best openers to any album and sets the tone for everything that follows. Michael Stipe’s singing was finally up front where it belonged. The songwriting was particularly sharp and focused as was Don Gehman’s production. As a whole, R.E.M. never rocked harder than they did on this album… until “Live at the Olympia” 22 years later. It’s the album of theirs that spends the most time on my CD player still, or now, gets the most plays on my iPod…
I know I mentioned to a friend of mine – sometime in 1984 right around the time their 2nd album “Reckoning” came out – that I expected them to become huge. They did eventually go on to become huge, gathering an ever-increasing audience (even a ‘mainstream’ one) and deservedly so. They became… “a household name.”
I saw R.E.M. in concert 5 times between 1983 and 1989 – they were always great live, highly energetic performances. They had a certain sensibility – arty, intelligent, bucolic – that was a perfect reflection of their home base, the medium-sized college town of Athens, Ga. They got played on college radio, were called “underground”, and practically invented/re-invented the genre “alternative.”
Their four late-80s albums formed the musical backdrop to my graduate school years at Univ. of North Texas as much as any other band I was listening to at the time. How many days and nights were spent listening to them on my boombox while I painted up in my studio? A lot I can you tell that.
Long-time fans know their story so I won’t go into more career details here. They were one of the greatest bands ever and people will be listening for decades to come.
Favorite humorous moment captured on vinyl: “Walter’s Theme/King of the Road” from the album Dead Letter Office – listening to Michael Stipe sing: “I got a half a slice of O-klahoma… puttin’ on my boots, goin’ down to Walter’s…” – as in Walter’s BBQ, a local eatery. Apparently recorded as a commercial, it segues right into an equally humorous and casual rendition of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.” (Also notable on that album was their straightforward cover of Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic.”)
Boils down to three – “What If We Give It Away?“, “Bittersweet Me” (video below), and “Man on the Moon.” Why those three? Not altogether sure – I know I find myself singing to “Cuyahoga” whenever I play it in the car – that line “Let’s put our heads together, start a new country up”… why not that song? Don’t know… it might be as random as the way they arrived at their name.
If your knowledge of R.E.M. begins with “Losing My Religion”, you owe it to yourself to go back and get their first 5 albums – the I.R.S. Records years… now.
From their Facebook page: “Perhaps Peter summed it up best on Wednesday when he said, “Being a part of your lives has been an unbelievable gift. Thank you.”
Back at ya, Peter. Thank you R.E.M. – Michael, Bill, Peter, & Mike, and extended R.E.M. family – for being of the uncompromising sort, for doing it all on your own terms, and for all the great, memorable music these last 31 years. We will look forward to the reunion concert(s) in a few years…