shake before serving: lou reed, john frusciante and other soul games

I should probably tell you how I ended up driving down Dallas streets in 110 degree weather with a cup of coffee and Lou Reed. The truth is it was as hot as Satanís ass out there but I needed to get out of the house in bad way. I was tired, worn-through and trying to write. When that happens, thereís only one thing for a guy like me to do. Thank god for automobile air conditioning. So thatís how I ended up strapped in hobbling along Preston avenue with Lou Reed. Well, not in the literal sense, but rather, he was trapped in that little six-inch disc contraption that only ever seems to catch musicians and actors in it. I had the musician one with me and so, feeling more than a little bit like a Ghostbuster, I tapped the play button and turned right on spring valley.

Thatís when Lou joined up with me. For a few mintues there, it actually was a perfect day and ripe with all the feeling a man like Lou Reed accidentally falls into. Heís gotta be in his sixties by now but heís still the best damn voice for all the broken, dirty, huddled masses. He has the way of a man whoís only singing because youíve somehow suckered him into it and heíd much rather be doing pretty much anything else. Of course, even he canít avoid getting locked inside some of those songs of his and, when it happens, without exception, youíre pulled in with him, into the muck and shit and dope-shooting dark side streets of the bad-seed side of a half-bent Manhattan nightlife. Thatís his racket, you know. He sneaks right up on you like heís no threat, and just when you let your guard down, he shows you right quick whoís boss and drops you ten stories into a cesspool of real life. So I canít really do much better than just try to keep the wheel straight when heís telling whoever it is that they keep him hanging on. In fact, for a little while there, he kept me hanging on.

After he casually informs me that Iím going to reap just what I sow, the song pulls up to a light and I turn my intentions right around. I mean to pull into the first available place and pick up the mixings for a few dozen long island teas and head home to start building a hangover. In this town, itís dry about every third block so I know I have to shoot up to Inwood and make a dash for Nasty Deli because itís cheap, dirty and the employees are so rotted-through you can smell them from the street. And thatís just right sometimes. This is one of those times. Besides, what do you expect down here in the Bible Belt?

By now Louís telling me how, as a young man, he wanted to play football and, even though I didnít, I know that some small part of me is also a ďConey Island BabyĒ. Of course, Iím never all the way on board until he reminds me about the princess on the hill who loved me even though she knew I was wrong and then I know for sure: this is the sound of being here and alive in rusty, old America sometimes scraping by sometimes thriving but it doesnít really matter either way because itís all just a card game in the night anyway. We just have to try to live up to what old Lou calls ďthe glory of loveĒ which wouldnít mean half as much without that simple little guitar littering itís way around off in the background somewhere. Probably by the ferris wheel eating a hot dog made of god knows what.

By the time ďyouíll know you were lovedĒ comes on Iíve changed my mind about the booze and decided just to hang out with lou and see what happens. You never know, with him, anything is possible. I like feeling that way. So I shamble onwards through all those love affairs that didnít last and onto the dirty boulevard, where I know a thing or two about whatís heís saying. I nod my head in chilled agreement when he rewrites the epigram on the statue of liberty to say what we really mean, if our behavior is anything to judge by. Then the colored girls go ďdoo do-doo doo do-doo do-do-do dooĒ and I have to admit that I concur.

I donít remember making this c.d. so I donít expect what happens next, which is californication. Suddenly john frusciante joins me and lou and weíre sitting there while anothony tells his little story. I have long since written over the muddled unintelligible parts with words I think it sounds like and have never bothered to learn the real words because I donít want to lose the image Iíve built of the song. When I hear I see this sad little story about a man who goes to Los Angeles wanting to tell a story about hope and looking into the future, about progress as a species. He goes to Los Angeles because itís one of the few cities that can rightfully claim it changed the world. What he finds when he gets there is a much darker story, but itís the only story waiting there for him. Californication. I have no idea what was meant by it when it was written, but thatís what I see and I have no inclination to change it. Just listening to it, I hear the sadness of the man, I can actually hear his heart breaking open. Chills roll up my spine.

I flip a bitch at marsh and head back up spring valley on the fast track to nowhere and the dave Navarro chili peppers come in with an aeroplane of their own. Iíve always felt a kind of kinship with this song because I think itís a bit how we are as people. We never want a thing any one way. We want it jumbled and shaken up busy and then we pick one lone aspect of it and call that the feeling even if it isnít, even though it usually isnít.

I have to be careful when I talk about the red hot chili peppers because anyone who knows their music will be lost in my comments because they know Iím talking about three totally different bands with sounds that spawn from the guitar player they had at the time. The first, with haleel, was incredible. With Navarro, they were unbelievably good. But with john frusciante, theyíre good enough to be st. peterís opening act at the pearly gates. And Iím sure, someday, they will. Thatís when the chills set on me again and the song pulls closed and I have to pull over because Iím losing motor function. I think my eyes were rolling back in my head.

Suddenly, Iím being chased by a Neville mariner version of ďthe serenade for the windsĒ and I can feel my skin starting to cry with each rolling note and flurrying pattern. The oboe, the flutes, oh god, Iím dying here.

I come back to earth a little bit when ďdarknessĒ by rage against the machine comes on. Itís a wonderful little song and not much like their other work, but it always takes me back to when I used it as the background music for this fake commercial I had to make for a broadcast journalism class I was taking. When I hear that song now, I can actually see the room in front of me while I made my presentation and then pressed play on the commercial.

Music is such an odd little time machine. Itís the only thing of its kind. When you hear a song, it can take you so far back in time that you can actually smell the smells you smelled one afternoon while the song played, you can taste the barbecue and hear your friends yelling and laughing down by the lake. I think thatís kind of why I fell so in love with it.

What follows ďdarknessĒ is this strange cover of the above mentioned ďperfect dayĒ which sounds like it has everyone from bono, to pavorotti, to Elton john on it. Is that beth gibbons? Iím not sure, but itís interesting and Iím glad to hear it. Iím not too upset when it ends though and Iím brought back to frusciante and the red hot chili peppers with ďscar tissueĒ, a dazzling little tune. If youíve never sat down and focused all your attention on the guitar parts to the frusciante tunes, do yourself a favor and get to it. Itís like an audio-orgasm. Chills that roll on and on and on. Itís better than that, though. If youíve ever had full body chills that last for twenty minutes straight, youíll understand what I mean when I say that orgasms are the inside straight of soul games: theyíre strictly for suckers. And thatís what happened there in the car, with me and lou and john, all melting away into an audio-shambhala theyíve built for me.

When I come back to my senses after that I pull out of the parking lot and get onto Preston to the dribble dribble dribble bop bop bang of ďsoul to squeezeĒ and find myself unfolding throughout the song. I see vast ancient dances coming together on sandy beaches and dark-skinned men in masks praying for sacredness. Then the solo comes in and Iím bending every which way, in ways no human body was ever meant to, right through to the volcanoís edge, then eruptions. One eruption, two eruption, three eruptions, a fourth, and a little banter before ten seconds of scat which still makes me shake when itís done right. And it is, here.

I decided years ago that I donít want to live in any world where a song like ďsoul to squeezeĒ goes out of circulation. And truth be told, neither should you. Not if you have any sense in you at all. Of course, I donít have to worry about all that because a thousand years from now, long after theyíve dropped the bomb and weíre all just sand monsters crawling around looking for an active well we can suck on, thereíll still be the chili peppers. Living on and on because where these songs live, humanity lives. Itís more than we ever meant to be but only because we forgot just how human we can be. But those songs are little slices of reality cut from broken strands of hair left by people who lived and loved and laughed and cried every bit as hard as we do. They are us. And thatís what makes them matter. Sooner or later itís clear that we canít all be bob Dylan, invincible, uncompromising, uncorruptible, brilliant. We canít all be the beatles or the stones, ageless and superior somehow like the air they breathe is made of something else, some dark and secret concoction that only they have access to. How else do you explain a man like keith Richards who has more herion residue in his blood than dom deluise has cholesterol?

We canít all do that, be that. We canít all have the mad-genuis of Brian Wilson, tucked away in our beds changing the way music is made and heard.

None of that is true with the chili peppers. Even in the ones we donít understand or that donít mean anything at all, at least not in any concrete sense, itís always there and clear. They are us, even when even though weíre nothing like them physically or spiritually, itís there. Like a self portrait. We know ourselves when they play. Especially on the frusciante tunes.

I was thinking about how he was this punk kid, 16 years old or something when he joined the band and then, at the height of their fame, he wandered off in the orient to pursue great golden opium dreams and only came back years later, molding, out of that time, one of the all-time great records in californication. A true piece of mastery by each and every one of them. The record sounds like four people who finally know who they are and how to go about being it.

Then Iím under the bridge, but not feeling nearly as lonely as the man in the song but knowing, equally well, that itís only because I have the song to keep me warm on those dark nights in this cold, cold world. I remember the first time I heard this song the way some people remember their 13th birthday party. Itís a part of me. Like thousands of other songs by thousands of other people that all add up to who I am, where Iíve been. These songs, this music, is the roadmap of my life. In and out of love, through school, through near-madness and back around again. What else can we really ask for?

I pull up to my apartment to the replacementsí ďunsatisfiedĒ and think ďyeah, thatís me and damnit, thatís how it should beÖĒ


2005-09-17 | 2:19 a.m.
0 comments so far

previousnext

background