Simpler Times…

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Freddie Mercury, The Book

In nearly retracing Odysseus’ Odyssey today, I had time to eyeball the first seven chapters Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones.

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As if it was possible, I like Fred a bit more after learning this about him: despite the insistence on behalf of many family and friends that his time and efforts would be better spent on more conventional pursuits, his vision of his life’s pursuit remained utterly myopic. In the face of the challenges, setbacks and criticism he would endure from even his own band-mates, his resolve remained incorruptible. His vision was his truth, and hence it would become true.


© 2014 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

The Truth About…Layla

Unrequited or impossible love is perfect, because it is given breath–and therefore, life–solely in the mind of the beholder.  It is unspoiled by disappointment.  It is unscathed by truth.  It is untainted by reality.  Let’s be honest, to covet what one cannot have is human nature at its most innate, intrinsic, inherent.

And it is not only the unrequited or impossible love itself that is untainted.  The accompanying suffering is of equal and balanced perfection. It is the suffering–stealing a line from a colleague of mine–the “quiet desperation”, that is the truly truly savory.  The suffering is the genesis for just about any emotion one can conjure: sadness, lust, angst, euphoria.  Suffering–in this context–is a muse with an insatiable appetite–this, I promise!  And Eric Clapton would wholeheartedly agree…or at least he would have back in 1969.

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Love’s eternal quest for justification in the lost-and-found bin is no trip to the amusement park either.  Well, save the part about the roller coaster.  In fact, someone for whom I have respect well-beyond reproach once typed:

“Honestly, I have been on an emotional roller coaster for the past 6 days, and I feel like I have been bolted to the fucking seat, with no way of getting off this horrible ride. I am unrecognizable from all of the crying and stress of not knowing how to act, what to say or what not to say and who to be. I don’t know, I am so tired all I want to do is sleep, and I can’t seem to do that for more than a few hours…I don’t know.”

I know that sentiment well, I know that sentiment’s smell.  I have experienced that notion; I second that emotion.  I–as well as the a fore-mentioned anonymous author–are in the same boat as P!nk when she “penned” her latest album: The Truth About Love. There is something accessible and communal about a relationship that has survived a series of peaks and valleys.  Clearly none of the peaks and valleys will be neither experienced universally nor exclusively nor even specifically, but everyone who has been there and done that has some knowledge of how–in essence–“it” is done.  Well, (al)most everybody, anyway.

I offer the following from P!nk..

“(Blow Me) One Last Kiss” excerpt:

Tie a knot in the rope, trying to hold, trying to hold,
But there’s nothing to grab so I let go 

Just Give Me A Reason” excerpt:

Just give me a reason
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again

Just Give Me A Reason” excerpt:

Sometimes I hate every single stupid word you say
Sometimes I wanna slap you in your whole face
There’s no one quite like you, you push all my buttons own
I know life would suck without you

Unrequited Love Sonnet Series” excerpt:

Losing you would simplify my life
My heart will beat through the strife
Our souls will reunite in the afterlife

Love lost (and regained, and lost again, and so on) is raunchy and messy.  There are always a pair of sides in this “war” of attrition and surrender and truce and so on. Rarely do they [the two sides] share harmonious synchronization.  Hell, what would be the point in that?

The suffering that accompanies love lost parallels its demise with a sense of perfection that will nary be seen from the outside.  The exclusive nature of the demise of a relationship will invariably spill right into the mourning stage.  And any attempt to explain it to an outsider will be met with a combination of frustration and disappointment.  Nothing can eviscerate self-confidence more completely than a magnificent break-up – the more magnificent the more prolific the evisceration!

In summary…

Love lost is all about what can no longer be.  Unrequited or impossible love is all about what never was.  But if you stand each one up on either side of a mirror, there is a resemblance.  For both ultimately crave the knowledge of what might have been.


Copyright © 2013 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Various Artists — K-TEL Presents: BLAST OFF

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As I began to make the daily rounds my old man’s rotation of three records, it dawned on me that I could actually join the ranks of the record buying public.  Plus the monotony was wearing me down – even at age 10.  Along these lines, I walked into K-Mart–on one of the may occasions that I found myself there with my father on a weekend–and walked out with K-TEL’s latest compilation: “Blast Off”.  I am trying to retrospectively recall if:

  1. I threw any logic behind this purchase?
  2. I asked for this as a Christmas present?
  3. I sought out this particular LP based on an infomercial for said LP that I had seen while watching Solid Gold?
  4. I was perusing the compilation bin and had a hankering for this particular conglomeration of hits?
  5. I was just so giddy at the prospect of being allowed have my very own first LP purchased for me that I grabbed the first shiny rocket-shaped guitar thingy on the shelf?

I believe the correct answer was #2…but my total recall from 1982 is a bit sketchy.  I mean I remember being 10, I just don’t remember the logic I applied to most decisions at the time.  As my brother often says: “It [purchasing this LP] will be one the the first movies I watch when I settle into my spot in heaven and have access to the video archives of mankind’s journey from B.C. right on through the Apocalypse.”

I am sure it took me about 2.3 seconds to de-shrinkwrap this LP when I got home, but again, total recall – less-than-stellar.  The funny thing is that to this day, the album art–thank to: Christopher Schmitz – whoever you are–was thoroughly burned into the deep recesses of my personal RAM.  About a week after I was given the PL-400, I stumbled across this LP at a thrift store in Elk River, MN.  I practically “blasted off” right there in the thrift store…until I examined the actual LP.  It looked like it was used as a face shield during a sand-blasting job.I was quickly “grounded”.

Anyway.

I stumbled across a few other copies over the years, but all were crap.  There is nothing quite like the euphoric drain of finding a long lost friend that is just not the same due to the deterioration of age.  Recently, I found an acceptable copy after basically giving up hope of ever finding this–my own personal–“holy grail” of K-TEL compilations.  After a quick trip through the Spin-Clean® Record Washer MKII, which I see comes in a limited edition clear version (dammit, I want that one), I dropped the needle on history…

…and disappointed, I was not…

First off, as I have mentioned numerous times, Solid Gold played a large role in my formative musical appreciational years.  Many of the hits on this LP were also fixtures on the Solid Gold countdown.  Joan Jett & the Blackheart’s version of the Tommy James and the Shondells classic: “Crimson and Clover–for me–is the seminal Solid Gold countdown fixture hit.  I would swear that I watched the Solid Gold dancers sashay to this little ditty in at least a dozen different costumes over the course of 1982.  “Crimson and Clover was my Christopher-Columbus-discovers-the-new-world moment.  Prior to it, I was sorta focused on my old man’s record collection and what was made available to me.  After “Crimson and Clover and “Blast Off”, I became acutely aware of musical freewill.  And I would take full advantage of my new-found freewill and begin to explore.  My appetite for musical colonization was as unquenchable as it was endless.

Anyway, back to “Blast Off”…by far the most catchy song on this conglomerative masterpiece is Steel Breeze’s: “You Don’t Want Me Anymore.  

I mean…how can you not love a tune that hits you with a layered attack that builds from and in-your-grill organ to an additional backing organ to a cheesy 80s guitar riff and finally crescendos with a uncomplicated drum beat?  How, I ask you?!

Although “Crimson and Clover” will always hold a special place in my heart, the needle definitely got dropped on “You Don’t Want Me Anymore” more than any other tune.  Until it became a self-fulfilling musical prophecy, and I moved on to the next LP…


Copyright © 2012 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Juice Newton — Juice

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The first LP that captured my imagination on my journey as a music infatuationist was Juice by Juice Newton.  But aside from watching the Solid Gold dancers darting from platform to platform to the upbeat guitar strum of “Queen of Hearts” each Saturday night that it lingered on the Solid Gold Top 10 Countdown, I was not particularly well versed in Juice’s musical exploits.  Yet I was so enamored with my old man’s Koss headphones and the private concert they provided, that I literally wore out the grooves in my old man’s Juice LP.  It likely got 98% of its action on the PL-400 as a result of my burgeoning love of music.  To this day, I am not sure he ever got to listen to this LP himself.

I would listen to this LP constantly.  I would listen in the evenings when the old man was watching his programs on the sole (accessible to me) television in our house.  I would listen after I completed my 3rd grade homework assignments in the evenings.  I would listen on rainy weekend afternoons — Dad had custody every weekend — when my brother and I were not accompanying the old man on a forced march of blissful errand running.  I would basically let the PL-400 plow through the old man’s Juice LP any time I got the chance.

For me, this music was truly magic.  The old man’s LP collection made it accessible. The old man’s mini Pioneer silver stack made it flow. The Solid Gold dancers made it exciting. I was hooked, and I could never look back.

[unrelated related side note alert]

I vividly recall a moment in the reception area of my mother’s hair salon waiting for her to finish work (c. 1980).  I was sitting in one of the chairs next to a table stacked high with copies of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Town & Country staring at the silver intercom speaker in the ceiling as it pumped out the soft rock classic fare of the day.  I distinctly recall having a crush of sorts on Anne Murray without knowing a damn thing about her, as a result of hearing “You Needed Me” cascading down from that silver intercom speaker in the ceiling.  When I got home I remember looking for anything by Anne Murray in the old man’s LP collection.  Much like Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, which was seemingly issued by federal mandate to every suburban home in the United States, the old man had a copy of  Anne Murray’s Christmas album (who didn’t in those days).  And, although it is tough to beat Anne’s rendition of “Silver Bells”, “You Needed Me” was conspicuously absent.  Also, I was not much in the Christmas music mood – even during Christmas.  Oh well, I’d always have Juice to serenade me.

[end unrelated related side note alert]

It’s interesting to me that I had no concept of a playlist back in those formative years.  Cassette tapes were just coming out, but even an average deck could run upwards of $200 with blank cassettes running $5 a piece.  Hence, I listened to LPs.  LPs, sequenced by a record company — whether accidentally or on purpose — to tell a story.  A story that was written somewhere between my ears and refined with each drop of the platter, each spin of the LP.  A story that soon followed a familiar sequence each time the needle dropped.

Years later, mixed tapes would allow us to direct our own musical productions.  Each chosen song, a backdrop for imaginary thespians to act out their scenes – an imaginary version of my thespian self often among them.  But little of my directorial work done in the medium of cassette saw plots and narratives as rich as the ones that unfolded when I listened to an LP like Juice.  Today, listening to a collection of four billion MP3 files on an iPod has become an exercise in futility from storytelling persoective.  Shuffle, the preferred playback strategy of most, creates a chaotic, frenetic and illucid experience not unlike a good acid trip.  In fact, the plethora of “improvements” in musical technology likely evokes copious memories of the simple-yet-pure LP in many like myself.  Or, maybe I am just tripping out on an overdose of schmaltz.

So, in my formative days, my road-map for appreciating music was tucked neatly inside of the dust jacket of the Juice LP.  The last vestiges of my musical innocence were sacrificed on the altar of the PL-400 as Juice sang the hell out of classics like: “Queen of Hearts”, “Angel of the Morning”, and “Shot Full of Love”.  I would nary be the same from that point; the “damage” was done.

In my life, music would displace many of the fancy-tickling activities in which other boys my age would eagerly participate.  Missing an episode of Solid Gold was akin to the old man missing an episode of All in the Family.  Soul Train and American Bandstand would occupy my late Saturday mornings in lieu of riding my bike, swimming in the lake or playing football at the park.  And then my musical world was flipped upside down—again–when the old man got cable in 1984 and I laid eyes on my first Rod Stewart video via this crazy concept known as MTV.  No longer did I have to depend on Friday Night Videos to watch music—holy shit!  And it simply continued to roll from that point onward, music truly became my rock, and it all started when I took Juice for a spin…or a roll, whichever it may be…


Copyright © 2012 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Let Us Begin Where It All Ended

Your very own musical innocence—do you remember when you last possessed it? Probably not, as innocence lost is innocence long forgotten—such is the nature of innocence. I do, however, recall the days when my musical vernacular consisted of an endless stream of little ditties that were sung during my vocalist heyday: second-grade choir. These ditties were generally sung during holidays like Halloween while sitting cross-legged on a gymnasium floor, while the lyrics echoed across the cement block walls and basketball backboards—200 cherubic voices singing Have You Seen the Ghost of John by the glow of a toasty overhead projector.

Musical innocence, like a steadfast belief in Santa, is hard to hold. As your jackass yet somehow-cooler-than-you’d-ever-hope-to-be friends are trying to convince you that your parents are actually Santa, you plug your ears and close your eyes and remember last year’s wonderful Santa gifts. Hmm…how in the hell did he know that you wanted a 12″ Chewbacca? That was a truly fucking amazing guess, right?!

And then all-at-once, it all ends with a loud, thunderous, and rhythmic series of thumps—you notice your parents listening to actual, real, authentic music. Not the music that you clanked out on a triangle in elementary school, but music made by fabulous people who somehow figured out how to get paid to clang cowbells, shake tambourines, and sing from their very souls. When it happens, all of the musical notes chaotically careening around in your head suddenly align, and you begin to comprehend the greater cosmic significance (and sound) of music. Music becomes so much more than just a rote exercise in chanting lyrics projected onto a screen halfway across the gym.

The first “adult” song I can remember consciously experiencing was the Spinners classic medley, “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl”.  That song first appeared on the Spinners LP: Dancin’ and Lovin’. There is a vision that I can recall at-will, like some sort of a reoccurring dream, where my old man—impersonating Deney Terrio with every fiber of his being—is slicing and dicing the brown/yellow shag carpet in our family room like a combine harvesting wheat as “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” banks off every inch the gold foil and faux-cork wallpaper that adorned the walls. In this Felliniesque vignette, I swear I could see actual carpet fibers being thrown into the air—screaming in horror—as the razor-edged 1″ heels of his navy blue alligator loafers separated them from the rest of their fibrous family.

For me, that was the moment when it all ended: my musical innocence.

I was forever ruined from that moment on. Renditions of “Row Row Row Your Boat” never sounded the same, even if performed (as they always were) in a round. For I knew, that the great wide world of music had oh so much more to offer than a gaggle of cherubic vocalists belting out the classic Sesame Street anthems of the day. Plus, the grass sounded a hell of a lot greener coming out of the old man’s Marantz 33/330 speakers—that was for DAMN sure!!!

Charles “Chuck” Donley, my old man, would nary discard anything that could potentially yield some future purpose. Along those lines, he saved—bless his quadruple-bypassed heart—not only the the entire stereo, but the the flippin’ receipts from this first component stereo system through which the Spinners popped my musical cherry. Just as he may have been unaware of how significant it was that he passed on to me an appreciation of music, he will never comprehend how important it was that he somehow managed to preserve these historical artifacts which spawned my love of music. 10,000 thanks dad! It is one of the most amazing things, however inadvertently, you have ever done!

Here is what he preserved from the time I was eight years old until the eve of my 39th birthday, when the eventual stewardship of these historical artifacts was passed on to me in a mind-blowing exchange chronicled in my second forthcoming novel:

Pioneer SX-780 Receiver

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Pioneer PL-400 Turntable

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Marantz 33/330 Speakers

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By mid Halloween 1980, my old man had replaced his sketchy Sylvania Hi-Fi console—it was destined to become a over-sized combo: buffet/coffee table/Christmas knick-knack staging area—with a real live stack of shiny silver stereo components. And, as far as I know, the Spinner’s “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” may have been the first song to pass through the Marantz LS-33-330s. I would describe my memory as “solid”, not photographic.

With my musical innocence lost, my fate as a music infatuationist was sealed—forever! I believe every new experience in this life impacts everyone with a different degree of cosmic importance. For some, seeing their first in-person sporting event injects an unquenchable lust for their favorite sports team into their very blood—they bleed their favorite team’s colors. For some, their formative experiences with a family pet fosters a love of animals that borders on the hysterical. For me, there would be no event that would ever hit me in quite the way watching my old man give his new component stereo hell by way of the Spinners’ “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” would.

Everything about the six minutes and two seconds of that memory is seared into my psyche. First, there was the way my old man could move, like REALLY move. Thinking back, he didn’t dance like any Midwestern white dude I’ve ever seen. He was literally possessed by the rhythm of the song. He shocked me—he was dazzling! Next, the grandeur of the music—the beat, the harmonies, the guy with the really low voice who’d solo a line or two every other verse. I’d never heard anyone sing that deeply, soulfully. Finally, about halfway through the tune, my old man cranked up the volume to a level my young ears had never been subjected to. I could not only hear the utter awesomeness of this moment though the Marantz 33/330s, I could not only see it in my father’s dancing, I could feel it at my core. It was fucking fantastic in nearly every sense!

Soon after the stereo purchase, Chuck added a pair of Koss K/A6LC Dynamic Stereophone Headphones into the mix. And with that addition, I began to realize that enjoying music could be accomplished on a singular level. Jamming to the Spinners did not require group participation and serial carpet-fiber murder.

So, at the ripe-old-age of eight, I had been inadvertently converted to a music infatuaionist by my father. And there were three LPs in heavy rotation during that initial formative year:

  • Juice Newton – “Juice”
  • Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show – “Greatest Hits”
  • Beach Boys – “Super Hits – As Seen on TV – a Ronco Records Production”

All of a sudden, by way of the of Koss K/A6LC Dynamic Stereophone Headphones, I had musical freewill—it was immensely liberating! Around that same time, my old man seemed to have become more interested—at least in an aesthetic sense—in acquiring the aforementioned stereo components than actually enjoying them. His “musical” taste had inexplicably shifted to the talk radio (WCCO) that was constantly blaring out of the cheap transistor radio in the kitchen. Coming from the man that once played records and danced around the family room with the grace of a shadow-eyed ninja, the man that took lessons on how to dance “the Hustle“, the man who vigorously clanked his heavy gold ring on the steering wheel to the beat of any song on the car stereo, this was sort of a confounding shift.

The happy accidental upshot of Chuck’s shift in “musical” taste, was that I basically had his spanking new component stereo system to myself. This was a magnificent turn of events to be sure! I had a pair of Koss K/A6LC Dynamic Stereophone Headphones, a Pioneer SX-780 Receiver, a Pioneer PL-400 Turntable, and all of my old man’s LPs at my disposal. It is akin to inviting a man who has just completed 40 days and 40 nights aimlessly wandering the desert to Thanksgiving dinner. And so I began to consume as many LPs as I possibly could. I would quickly devour anything that existed in the old man’s record collection.

From there, as life unfolded before my very eyes, musical media, formats, and styles evolved as well. I would frantically fold all of these musical developments into my own coming-of-age story. But is was not until the eventual stewardship of the musical artifacts of my youth was passed on to me, that I paused and once again contemplated raw, organic, analog musical enjoyment.

Just like every other digital drone, by the late ’90s (my late 20s), I was immersed in a minutia of a musical bits and bytes. I was more concerned with acquisition than experience. I fell victim to all of the conventional “improvements” in the arena of musical enjoyment to such a degree, that enjoyment of music had actually become tedious, a chore of sorts. I had become prodigiously jaded toward music. I had completely lost track of the joy of watching goosebumps rise off my arms as the initial notes of aural excellence whizzed past my eardrums and beyond.

When my old man gave me the old stereo, I realized it had been a long time since I had had any ear-shattering aural sex—a sad realization, indeed…

So, after some (significant) procurement and juggling of vintage stereo equipment, I assembled the world’s most dangerous Pioneer Silver Series stack this side of the Mpls./St. Paul border.  I paired it with a set of Pioneer CS-703 speakers acquired from some dude in Ohio by way of eBay.

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With the [ confl (uence conv) ergence ] =  conflergence of three events:

  • Stewardship of the musical artifacts of my youth
  • Realization it had been a long time since I had experienced ear-shattering aural sex
  • Journey of assemblage of the world’s most dangerous Pioneer Silver Series stack this side of the Mpls./St. Paul border

It felt essential to go back to the future and retrace the steps of my musical journey in a effort to give music a chance to once again recapture my imagination. In the spirit of that notion, I walked into a thrift store and began flipping through the LP bin. In 2010, I bought my first LP in 17 years, and I once again discovered the sheer joy of musical nirvana. With that, I decided to go back to the beginning and acquire the LPs that heralded the onset of the end of my musical innocence.

I will listen to each intently, and in future episodes, provide my thoughts on said LPs.  With each new LP that I procure, I will perform a similar exercise of discovery and review. And in the process, I hope to seamlessly weave together the two great loves of my life—music and writing. I figure if I can’t create art (music) in the same manner as the musicians I admire, I’ll create art in the manner I can (writing) and hopefully provide a few moments of joy for anyone soul who takes the time to read this rambling.

Ramble on…


Copyright © 2012 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

 

Writing About Music

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In a magazine dedicated to the history of rock and roll called Time Barrier Express, the September-October 1979 issue contains a profile of the group Sam & Dave by Gary Sperrazza in which he discusses the interplay and rapport of the duo:

“All quick, very natural, and captured on vinyl. It’s so hard to explain on paper, you’ll just have to find the records and listen for yourself (because I truly believe — honest — that writing about music is, as Martin Mull put it, like dancing about architecture).”

And so it seems to be that: “writing about music is indeed like dancing about architecture.”  I have not quite mastered the proper dance steps to a brilliant Frank Lloyd Wright tribute, but I’m gonna give this music writing gig a shot.


Copyright © 2012- ∞ B. Charles Donley

Music vs. Love: The Life, the Numbness, the Cessation

If music be the food of love, then play on…and suffer a thousand deaths; a thousand tiny deaths. These thousand tiny deaths that require us to not only find, but to rebuild ourselves from a thousand tiny pieces. And in the rebuilding process, there is hope; it does spring eternal. And there sits music…watching over and interfering with both sides of this epic struggle. There is nothing so prospective as a perfect song. Conversely, there is nothing so destructive as a retrospective song.

So that makes music the almighty equalizer, right?

Time takes a toll on all of us, but it is music that accounts for every penny time exacts. It crystallizes those raw emotions that frame our unique experience. And because music is eternal, so those raw emotions are permanently woven into a unique tapestrial soundtrack. A soundtrack with the ability to remind and replay every ounce of joy and misery that love grants us. And when it finds our ears, it transports us back to the very second where we felt ecstasy or agony, whichever the destination.

Can anything connect the past to the present as music does? Can anything color in the edges of a memory the way music can? Can anything revive a long dormant feeling the way music will?

As amber preserves everything that falls into it’s fossilized minutia, so does music stop time to eulogize, memorialize and canonize every feeling, every emotion, every moment. In the notes of the music and the story of the lyrics are those feelings, emotions and moments. Each ready to sprung again at the drop of a needle, the friction against a cassette head or the kiss of a laser beam.

Whether we long to recapture on-purpose by playing a time capsule song, or we are struck like a bolt of lightening with the first few notes of an unintentional melody that accidentally drums our ears, music — like no other force for the senses — can seize our attention and demand a revival. For as painful or joyous as that may be, it is no less magical from either side. And when that time-capsule memory is intertwined with a love story — good or bad — the magic is expansive and deadly.

If music be the food of love, then play eternal…


Copyright © 2010 – ∞ B. Charles Donley