Tag Archives: The Beatles

With a Song in My Heart: V is for…

“Valotte” – Julian Lennon, 1984.

Without exception, the first reaction anyone has when hearing Julian Lennon sing is “wow, he really sounds like his dad.”  Released a mere four years after John Lennon was murdered in New York City, “Valotte” would not sound out of place on Lennon the elder’s final album Double Fantasy.  The entertainment press of the day, as skilled as their contemporary counterparts in crafting stories from smoke and nonsense, immediately started running rumors that the three surviving Beatles were planning to reunite and begin recording again with Julian standing in for his father.  Paul McCartney shrugged them off of course, pointedly asking why Julian would ever want that.  Every son stands in the shadow of his father, and Julian (and Sean) Lennon are within the umbra of one of the most famous and beloved musicians who ever lived.  Julian writes in the introduction to his mother Cynthia’s book John that strangers approach him constantly and tell him that they loved his dad.  To him, though, John Lennon wasn’t the larger-than-life rock god who gave the world the Beatles and Imagine, he was a flawed, often absent and cruel parent, and the relationship was complicated until the moment John died and remains so long afterwards.

As I expect Julian does from time to time, I envy those friends of mine who can still ring their dad up and kvetch about the Jays and the Argos and how the kid is getting along in school.  For all but eleven of my years I’ve tried to manage a relationship with someone who is not here.  The lack of resolution, of closure, can at times feel like a wound that begins to bleed again just when you think it’s finally scabbed over.  From the moment you enter the world, you have this aspirational model waiting to show you how it should be done.  (For some, you have a cautionary tale waiting instead.)  Legacies are a difficult birthright, a yardstick by which every single thing you do will be measured, evaluated, and just as often, judged.  When the legacy is invisible, the task is even more difficult.  You’ll never be able to ask him if he’s proud, or, conversely, on a bad day, you’ll never be able to shove it in his face and say, look what I did without your help.

In his youth my father was a high school football hero fighting off women with a stick.  I was a quiet geek whose tongue would knot itself in the presence of a breath of perfume.  In career he was a civil law barrister and solicitor with his own practice.  I am… well, incredibly not.  There was a moment, maybe a couple of years in high school, where I thought I wanted to be a lawyer.  I figured out what courses I should be taking to ready myself for the inevitable university degree and law school, and yet, it isn’t as if in my spare time I was watching L.A. Law or Law & Order obsessively, or hanging out at the local courthouse watching proceedings, or tracking down my late father’s attorney friends and asking them if I could fetch coffee and read amicus briefs in their offices over the summer.  I was watching movies, writing Star Trek fan fiction, drawing James Bond comic books, playing drums in my hometown’s world-renowned marching band and trying and failing to work up the courage to step up to the plate with girls that I liked.  It was fairly obvious by my graduating year that law was not where my passion lay, despite the caveats of my grandmother (the other one) that a law degree was the golden ticket.  She’s not entirely wrong, and there are moments when I think I should have just gone ahead with it.  Hindsight and all that.  And since any success I would have would be compared to my father’s anyway, maybe it should have been an apples to apples comparison.

When the sons of John Lennon decided to go into music, they were walking into it fully understanding of the comparisons that would be made, and that the success of their father was an impossible benchmark.  At the risk of sounding a bit trite, they had to be doing it for love, and because they were driven by a desire to express their own creativity and personality, not to merely offer a pale imitation of what had gone before.  Even with your father present and guiding you, a son always has to forge his own path.  On occasion that path can venture through dark territory, and perhaps it will never lead to a place as prosperous as that achieved by your dad, but it will, at the end, be your own.  In the music video for the other single release from that 1984 album, “Too Late for Goodbyes,” Julian performs with his band while a silhouetted figure, strongly implied to be John, dances in a brightly lit doorway attempting to distract him.  Eventually Julian stops looking and continues to go his own way instead.  Rightly or wrongly, it’s his choice, as it is for the rest of us.

Had I tried to be more like my father, it’s arguable I might have had a more financially rewarding career, more options now for experiencing more of the world and giving those closest to me more options with theirs as well.  Would that translate to a better life?  The people I know who are wealthy certainly don’t seem like pillars of joy.  Maybe we’d be happiest of all sitting on a pebble by a river playing guitar.  When we truly commit to our life and become willing to accept the consequences of our choices whatever they may be, the shadow of the father fades away.  I think about this in the context of being a father myself and knowing that at the very least, my son will have a better life than his birth dad’s, and every opportunity to exceed my achievements as well.  But none of that matters so long as at the end of it all, he can look back and say that he was happy.  I guess that’s the irony that becomes apparent only when you get to the other side of the divide between having a parent and being one.  You expend so much energy in thinking you’ll never live up to your father’s impossible standard only to find that he never wanted you to in the first place.  He always wanted you to be your own man, and to pass the same lesson on to your own son.  That’s how you make him proud, even if he’s not here to see it.

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With a Song in My Heart: N is for…

“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” – The Beatles, 1965.

My wife and I are fond of saying that adopting an older child is a bit like dating; you’re attempting to integrate another fully formed personality into your life, only without the option of ever deciding that you think you should see other people.  Our son came to us with likes and dislikes entrenched without much room for further influence by us, and one of the most frustrating aspects is his lack of interest in music.  It’s not entirely his fault, but rather a product of the different foster homes he grew up in, none of which apparently had so much as a radio in it.  From the perspective of someone who was practically nursed on classic rock & roll, it seems incomprehensible that a child could be brought up in this corner of the world without it, and we often sigh in disbelief when he gives us blank looks at the mention of legends like Buddy Holly and Little Richard.

When I was growing up that stuff was always playing somewhere in the background, whether at parties my parents would throw or as part of the oldies countdown on a lazy Sunday.  As soon as I figured out how to work the record player I’d comb through my father’s booklets of old 45’s and listen to artists like Del Shannon, the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons obsessively (until the tragic day I dropped and broke his copy of “Walk Like a Man”).  Good grades aside, Dad was prouder that I could mimic the scratchy vocals in “Wooly Bully” and that I understood, unequivocally, that bird was the word.  At the age of eight I wondered why I must be a teenager in love, and never failed to compare the rising sun to a red rubber ball.  The merest out-of-context mention of two words that happened to appear next to one another in a lyric set would prompt me to offer an unrequested rendition of the entire related song.  It was glorious, and likely irritating as all get out to anyone outside the family.

Somewhere in this decade-long musical crash course, I found two albums that would kindle a lifelong love of those four lads from Liverpool.  One wasn’t even theirs.  This is going waaaaaay back so my friends born in the 80’s and onward will have no idea, but there used to be a group of professional impersonators called “Stars On” who would release disco medleys of popular songs.  The Stars On Long Play album’s A-side was snippets from about 20 Beatles songs stitched together with a dance beat.  Though whoever was imitating them sounded like the Beatles by way of the Swedish Chef, I listened to that cassette until the tape demagnetized.  Even in bowdlerized, Bee Gee’d form, something transcendent resonated within me when I would listen to those songs.  Like recognizing the voices of friends from a past life.  Fortunately, we did have a few copies of the genuine article, the most accessible being the double album compilation that was the Beatles’ Love Songs.  The cover resembled brown leather, and inside was a printed booklet on parchment featuring the lyrics in script.  For the young, slightly-obsessive Beatles fan, a treasure to be devoured.  25 selections of auditory bliss, none more so than track 3 on side two of the second disc.

“Norwegian Wood,” recorded in 1965, is a noteworthy (pun intended) Beatles song for a couple of reasons, the first being that it is said to be the first example of a song by a Western rock band to feature a sitar.  Second, the Beatles’ output to that point especially as concerning the subject of love had been focused largely on promises of undying devotion or pleas to avoid heartbreak.  This song is about an affair, carried on without remorse.  Of course, it’s not like young me would have had any way of understanding that.  At first your concept of love is that you meet someone, you marry her, you have kids and you stay together forever.  The movie version, essentially.  You don’t comprehend the complexities and nuances of emotions and the mad and often despicable things love and lust can drive you to.  How could you – you’re just a kid, swaying back and forth to the triple time rhythm and giggling at the part where John Lennon sings that he “crawled off to sleep in the bath.”  And the part at the end where he burns down his lover’s flat by setting fire to her Norwegian wood furniture goes right over your head.  But that doesn’t matter, and when other kids your age are warbling off-key and arrhythmic renditions of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” to the applause of beaming relatives, you offer this number instead.  Your relatives cringe as you croon in a little boy’s voice about biding your time and drinking her wine.  And your dad’s grin is as wide as the room.

From time to time we’ll have the music going and ask our son if he can guess who’s singing.  His default answer, if it’s a male singer, is the Beatles.  I’ve played the albums for him from time to time, looking perhaps to recreate the conditions by which the same fascination may be sparked – so far without much success.  It saddens me a little to realize that he may not ever share this particular passion, and that I have to be okay with it.  Every so often, though, I’ll catch him humming something he may have overheard, a few stray notes that are indeed Beatlesque, and I’ll smile, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before I find him at the computer, playing “Norwegian Wood” and looking up the lyrics.  Isn’t it good.

With a Song in My Heart: F is for…

“The Fool on the Hill” – The Beatles, 1967.

Once dismissed by a critic as a “most unworthy Beatles standard,” and certainly not one that gets any regular airplay, “The Fool on the Hill” makes my list for a single shining reason:  it was my father’s favorite Beatles song.  When he was alive I didn’t give a lot of thought to why people liked certain things and not others, so it never occurred to me to ask him his rationale for preferring this song over some of the more popular Beatle hits.  When I picture him singing – as he did, whenever possible, and loudly – this is the chorus I hear:

“But the fool on the hill

Sees the sun going down

And the eyes in his head

See the world spinning round.”

Paul McCartney once said that the song was about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (prior to the Beatles’ disillusionment with him), or, more generally, the idea of the man who sits off by himself and is thought of as lesser by his peers because of his methods or appearance, but who regardless appears to have all the answers – or at least thinks he does.  I’ve attempted to speculate as to why the lyric appealed to my father so much.  Did he see himself in the song?  Did he feel like that ostracized outsider watching the world turn on its merry way without including him?  Or did he just like the melody?  It could very well have been the latter.  My father dragged us to church each Sunday, yet the Bible was never spoken of at home, nor were we expected to pray, or even do the barest minimum of saying grace except at large family holiday gatherings.  No, Dad went to church so he had an excuse to belt out hymns at the top of his lungs.  It didn’t matter that he didn’t appear convinced of the message in those hymns; for him it was the sensory reverie of notes flowing from the larynx and reverberating from nave to narthex.  Mostly that came from his own mother – more on that when we get to “Q” – but you got the sense from my father that singing was the only time he ever felt truly free, and song choice was irrelevant.

Back to “The Fool on the Hill,” though.  Many years later I finally saw Paul McCartney play live and at one point in the set his bandmates left the stage, and without introduction he plunked himself down at a psychedelic-hued piano and started playing this “most unworthy standard.”  Did I chance to look up, even for just a second?  Maybe.  Certainly I paid much closer attention to the lyrics, picturing the man sitting at the crest of a sea of tall, windblown grass, knees to chest, overlooking the village in the valley below and contemplating the great mystery, instead of staying where he ostensibly belongs.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I fancy myself a questioner of things, looking evermore for the solutions to the riddles that evolve into new riddles themselves.  Wondering why things work the way they do and if there is a pattern to it all lingering just out of reach.  However, the biggest questions, indeed, the biggest doubts, are reserved for myself.  I doubt my ability, my purpose and my voice, endlessly, and find solace to these doubts in fleeting, empty validations.  I fear that I am missing out on life by commenting on it rather than participating in it; that while some might consider the unexamined life not worth living, there must be some life there to examine first.  I wonder if that makes me the fool, and if the whole enterprise would be served better by me shutting up, packing it in and going down the pub for a few pints with the lads.  Few are the days when these particular thoughts don’t flit across my consciousness.  Fewer still are the days when I confidently think the reverse.

It seems eerily prescient that even though my father was long gone before all of this took shape – whatever this turns out to be – whenever he dusted off “The Fool on the Hill” he could have very well been describing his son, the man his son would one day become.  Though he never thought of me as foolish; like most fathers the slightest of my accomplishments merited praise to anyone who’d listen.  Perhaps, though, he noted the eyes in my head seeing the world spinning round.  Certainly the moment he died was the instant I became obsessed with making sense of why the world operated as it did, why fairness remained elusive and why history was built on reactions to random occurrences.  Or finding meaning in a boy losing his father when there was so much yet to learn and so many Beatles songs left to sing together.

With a Song in My Heart: A is for…

“All You Need is Love,” The Beatles, 1967.

So we begin this 30-day, 26-song collection with what might seem a fairly obvious choice; indeed, an immensely popular, zeitgeist-entrenched piece of music that means pretty much the same thing to millions of people all over the world.  But rather than attempt some lurching, musical-snob faux-hipster, high-falutin’ rationale of why “All You Need is Love” is more significant to me than it is to the rest of you posers who only got into the Beatles after they became popular, I can merely set the scene and leave the judgment to my dear readers.

What is the meaning of “All You Need Is Love”?  Is it a tremendous oversimplification, cynical pablum for the forlorn masses, or is it a justifiable mantra, a truth keyed into by four Scouse musicians and shared, prophet-like, in the Our World broadcast of 1967 – in a performance where author John Lennon can be seen nonchalantly chewing gum, conveying perhaps his true opinion of its significance (or maybe just trying to soothe a dry mouth)?  No matter; once the sound flies from the amplifiers it no longer belongs to its creators, but to the world.  We puzzle over the strains of “La Marseillaise” leading into that undanceable 7/4 time introduction, and Lennon’s litany of pronouncements.  “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.”  Reminds us a little of the opening of Waiting for Godot:  “Nothing to be done.”  But what’s he really saying?  That there are no horizons left to conquer, or that there is nothing beyond accomplishment?  Does it matter?  It’s still a killer tune no matter how you interpret it.

But there’s one line that gets me.  “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.”  It’s not the easiest of ideas to hear, let alone believe, particularly in the moments when the excrement is weighing us down to the point we can barely lift our legs to take the next step.  You have to come to accept the notion that the worst of experiences are essentially mid-terms for the soul.  However, the news isn’t all bad, because where you’re meant to be applies equally to the best of times.  On a warm summer day, roundabouts five in the afternoon, sandwiched between a bocce tournament and a family picnic, beneath blue sky and upon green grass I looked out over the faces of sixty-four treasured family and friends, clutched the gentle hand of the woman I’d just pledged myself to and heard this song play.  The first song I heard as a married man.  The first song for the next step.

And it was exactly where I was meant to be.

The Advice Guy Is In!

Wikimedia Commons.
Wikimedia Commons.

Anyone who blogs is familiar with search engine spam:  the nigh-incomprehensible, often hilarious terms that somewhere, someone is typing into Google and finding themselves directed to your site with.  Since I’m a conscientious writer who likes to ensure that no fan is left behind, I’m taking this opportunity to address some of the possibly legitimate questions that have gone unanswered.  Let us have at it then, and continue doing our part to bring light to the world’s mysteries.  I should note that according to the WordPress calculamatron, every single one of these searches has been entered more than once, which means somewhere someone waits in vain for a response.  Wait no more, say I!  Behold:

“how to sick solar panel to car bonnet”

Firstly, you should check the solar panel’s temperature to determine whether or not it has as a fever.  If it does, make sure it stays warm and feed it plenty of broth.  Flat ginger ale is always a good option as well, but be sure it’s completely flat because you do not want to have to burp a solar panel.  Once the panel is feeling better you may then go ahead and attach it to the car bonnet.  I recommend a good strong length of rope and a bowline hitch.  Do not drive faster than 20 mph or in southeasterly wind conditions.

“where can I buy graham crackers in london”

Round the shops, guv.

“el final de Breaking Dawn: Part II”

Mucho gusto!  El final is caliente with mucho, mucho vampiros emos attacking el chupacabras with nada shirts on.  Es muy bueno!

“face Stockholm French martini”

This is actually one of my favorite drinks.  To make it, shake equal measures Lillet and Bollinger over ice and pour into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with an Allen key and then smash your face into it.

“have I displeased you”

Yes.  And you know why.

“what does being forged through fire mean”

I had to check Google Translate on this one but the closest definition I can find is that apparently it involves taking an item, placing it in a fire and hammering it until it’s the right shape.  It is strongly recommended that said item is not any part of the body.

“did john lennon appear in on her majesty’s secret service”

This is a little known piece of movie trivia, but in fact, he did.  About thirty minutes in, he can be spotted hiding behind George Lazenby’s left eyebrow.  The predicament of Lazenby as the only James Bond to ever appear in only one movie inspired Lennon’s later solo unreleased demo, “You Cooked Yer Golden Goose You Naff Git,” which was rerecorded by the surviving three Beatles in 1995 but lost after the master tape was eaten by a passing walrus, goo goo g’joob.

“professor splash sexy picture”

Borat, is that you?

“life lessons learned from Mario”

  1.  Eat every mushroom you can find
  2. Stars are a plentiful source of invincibility
  3. Avoid bananas on the rainbow road
  4. The princess is in another castle
  5. Keep leaping because there’s always another barrel coming

“my little pony dude”

Now that’s a name nopony would self-apply where I come from.

“google coldplay”

Google them yourself.  I’m not your damn keyboardist.  Well, I was, for a time, in the hazy progressive rock band days I don’t like to talk about, where we would eat mushrooms (see above) and spend hours contemplating the collected works of Frank Herbert before attempting to translate them into song form.  Sadly, “Be My Shi-Hulud” never really burned up the charts the way we hoped it would – though it did result in a surprising number of restraining orders.

“snack crackers shape”

Trapezoidal, because five-sided crackers are for posers.

“sequence of events to become president”

Witness:

  1. Make a lot of money
  2. Join a political party (suggested method:  coin flip, depending on weather)
  3. Find someone else who is richer than you to back your campaign
  4. Run for office and don’t say too many stupid things
  5. ??????
  6. PRESIDENCY!

Alternatively, use the Frank Underwood House of Cards method:

  1. Be evil
  2. Convince everyone between you and the presidency to resign
  3. PRESIDENCY!

“conjuring demons through music katy perry”

It’s relieving to know that I’m not the only person out there who thinks “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is an invocation of the evil power of Our Dark Lord Satan.  I mean really, when she sings about dancing on tabletops, that would be enough to get you burned at the stake in Inquisition-era Spain.  I know, you probably weren’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.  *loud, ominous note*  NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!  Our chief weapons are fear, surprise and Katy Perry.

“sean bean 2012”

I totes would have backed that ticket.  Oh well, there’s always 2016.  As long as he can pledge not to be beheaded/impaled/blown up/shot/drowned/stabbed before the end of the term, I think he’s in like Flynn.

“argument for god the devil and the perfect pizza”

I’m for it unless it will make me unpopular, then I’m against it to my dying breath.

“I just wanna spend my life with you lyrics”

You know, some men will search their entire lives to find a really beautiful, deeply understanding and heartfelt set of lyrics they can pledge themselves to until death does them part.  I mean, I’ve had a desperate crush on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” since puberty, when lyrics stopped seeming so icky, but she’s never had any time for me.  Seriously, once you’ve heard that “Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine/I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ bout the government” couplet, how can your heart ever belong to another?  Though I’ve found as I’ve aged my tastes too have leaned toward older lyrics and now I find myself very curious about “Use your mentality, wake up to reality” from “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

“tolkien rips off harry potter a lot”

Please, do the world a favor and just go away.  There are some lovely caves in Canada’s north that you might find appealing.  Unless bitumen is located beneath them, then it might be a bit noisy with all the drilling and fracking equipment moseying about.

“things people do not know about graham crackers”

If you eat 100 of them in a single sitting you will attain superhuman strength.  (Editor’s note:  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, IN A CAR, AT WORK OR REALLY, ANYWHERE YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF WITH OCCASION TO TRY EATING 100 GRAHAM CRACKERS AT ONCE.  THE MANAGEMENT BEARS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR INABILITY TO DISTINGUISH SATIRE FROM ACTUAL THINGS THAT ARE REAL.)

“the parent trap the end”

The twins realize life is a meaningless existential hell and tragically accept a teaching post in Australia.

“youtube videos of sweet honeys tied and gagged in inexorable bondage”

I don’t… I can’t even… heavens, where to even begin.  I’m not sure what’s more perplexing, that such a query would lead to my site, or that the person searching for said videos was literate enough to include the word “inexorable” in their search string.  Admittedly, it is possible that each one of those words has appeared in a different context somewhere back in the archives of my 262 posts, but that the mysterious forces of the algorithm should see fit to mesh them into a giant arrow that points here is, honestly, an argument for the existence of the fickle finger of fate, or at least, the conclusion drawn by the twins at the end of The Parent Trap.

This post is humbly dedicated to all those who have ever penned a “sarcastic advice” piece, because Zeus knows I didn’t come up with the idea.  And to all those who continue to fuel our biting wit with their comical inability to use the Internet properly.  We salute you.

Son of a preacher man

apostle

I’m fighting through a fog today; one of those insidious, creeping mists that slithers through your ears into your brain and blurs the connections between the synapses with shrouded fingers.  Maybe it’s choosing to give the nervous system a day off from the habitual double espresso poured into a concoction of milk and caramel.  Maybe it’s the gray sky choking out all the blue, and the persistent drizzle draping the morning in damp.  Whatever the reason, my gaze turns inward and I find myself unsatisfied with what I’m looking at.  I’m feeling like one of those old-timey salesmen drifting from town to town in a creaky covered wagon pushing miracle cures.  Like a prettily painted canvas being eaten by moths on the other side.  It’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two out, and I don’t have a bat.  Yet that doesn’t stop me from telling you how everything should be, how you should do this and that and why these things should be more like these other things, and if we would all only do more of this the world would be so much better.  The saying goes, a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; I’m claiming in my arrogance that I know the value of everything, and I’m damn well gonna tell you about it.

I’m a preacher reading from a Bible of empty verse.  And this morning we’ve hit a point of critical mass where the contradictions are crushing me, smelling like that unfortunately familiar odor of hypocrisy.  Who the hell do I think I am, and where do I get off?  I have no business telling you how to write a novel, I’ve never published one.  I have no business telling you how to make a movie, I’ve never directed one.  I have no business telling you how to run a country, I’ve never stood for office.  Robert McKee, the well-known screenwriting teacher who has never had a screenplay produced, is fond of remarking that the world is full of people who teach things they themselves cannot do, but I find it difficult to stand comfortably in those ranks.  I’m much more inclined towards the ones who merely prove they can do the work without crowing about it or trying to pass the divine secret onto a host of others.  People who lead by example and not by lecture.  Because when you stand up to the microphone and start your diatribe, there is every possibility that someone in the audience is going to yell back, “Fraud!” – and be bang on.

There are as many opinions as there are stars in the universe, and the democratization of media through blogs and the Internet has ensured that every single one will have its day, regardless of weight, validity or even coherence.  The op-ed, once the realm of what might loosely be termed “learned elders,” is now ubiquitous and available to all comers.  The result?  A veritable cacophony of voices in self-constructed pulpits telling you how things should be, how you’re living your life wrong, that if only these ten specific events would occur then all would be milk and honey, and you’re all idiots for not doing exactly what I say you should have started doing fifteen years ago.  It is not even to suggest that such opinions are always offered from a place of malice or spite – in fact, a great majority are genuine and selfless offers of help.  But there is a line when we cross over from teacher to preacher.  It’s porous, foggy, and easy to miss, and I’m worried that too much of my work falls on the wrong side of the DMZ.  And that my pulpit is a balsa wood facade, and it’s crumbling under the weight of empty words.

In the 1970’s, after the split-up of the Beatles, John Lennon wrote a song called “How Do You Sleep?”, which was a thinly-veiled attack on Paul McCartney, featuring such accusatory lyrics as “the only thing you done was ‘Yesterday'” and “those freaks was right when they said you was dead.”  At the time it was thought to be in response to some like-minded sentiments found in Paul’s solo work directed at his former bandmate.  Yet in years following, Lennon had a change of heart as to who his song was really about.  He offered:

It’s not about Paul, it’s about me. I’m really attacking myself. But I regret the association, well, what’s to regret? He lived through it. The only thing that matters is how he and I feel about these things and not what the writer or commentator thinks about it. Him and me are okay.

I found the first part of the mea culpa intriguing, particularly as dovetailed with one’s perception of John as a contradictory man full of anger who preached peace.  Beatle-weary wags might suggest that it was a half-hearted chickening out in the face of bad press, that if you watch the profanity-laced performance of the song in the movie Imagine you can see for yourself how pissed at Paul John really was.  As I’ve often been reminded, however, the criticisms that sting the most are those we know are about genuine failings within ourselves.  Perhaps John took Paul’s songs personally because he knew on some level that Paul was correct.  And that the wrath flung back towards the man he once stood beside on stage and in the studio was indeed meant to be directed inward.  “You must have learned something in all those years.”

When we’re preaching, ultimately it’s for a congregation of one.  The only person we’re trying to convince, cajole, persuade, motivate, shake out of their complacency or even knock off their immaculate marble Doric-columned pedestal is ourselves.  Even the most rage-filled screed against the unfair world is us picking away at our own flaws, burning off the fat, tearing away veneers of falsehood to get at the kernels of truth hiding in the innermost layers of our soul.  So we can be okay with occasionally having no real ground to stand on; we don’t have to feel like complete phonies.  Posting about how a story should or shouldn’t be written is my own inner Robert McKee giving myself a stern lecture, because I’m the person who needs to work harder at his craft.  Musing about how the world should operate is a challenge to myself to do something about it instead of just voting and complaining.  If someone else happens to agree, wonderful – but I’m the one who is meant to benefit, if, naturally, I choose to get off my duff and take my own advice.  I can be okay with sermonizing from time to time because I can shoulder the responsibility of calling myself out if I think I’m full of it.  That doesn’t make me a hypocrite, or a fraud – just a soldier in the cause of trying to figure out the big mystery with the limited tools at my disposal.  As expected, mistakes are inevitable and necessary, but hell, man, every stumble is still forward motion.  The exercise is a lifelong endeavor that ends only when the lungs breathe their last.

So shine on, crazy preacher man.  Those freaks was right about you.

What Kind of Tweeter Are You?

whatkind

Oh, dear, dear Twitter, how I love thee.  Since I never have time for television anymore, movies are too expensive and regular social gatherings terrify me, Twitter has become a combination news/ entertainment/coffee shop packaged conveniently in the smartphone belted to my hip.  After having been on it for almost three years and with an eye to noticing patterns that I’ve been told by experts that I possess, I’ve managed to categorize the users of Twitter into twelve distinct types, eleven of which are itemized here for your reading pleasure.  Group Twelve is celebrities, i.e. those privileged to be blessed with the Blue Checkmark of Twod (Twitter God), and the rules are a bit different for them, even though you might find that some of them do indeed fit snugly into a few of these.  I should attempt to weasel my way out of potential controversy even further by saying that with some exceptions, none of these are absolutes.  On our best and worst days we tumble into each of them, yours truly included.  I offer the list instead as observation and a little bit of warning.  Shake it up.  Don’t ever be a type – be a human instead.

So have at it then – and let me know if there’s another category you’ve noticed that I’ve missed.

The Shill

Apparently you have a novel or product of some sort you’d like me to express some interest in?  Your following/follower count is about equal and in the high thousands, suggesting that you’re a pretty popular fellow.  But your interactions are minimal and your tweets are variations on a theme of asking the rest of us to click on/review/ purchase your wares, implying that you’ve accumulated your flock merely by following every single person who promises that they follow back.  You have sacrificed what little remains of your humanity on the Great Altar of Commerce and your tweets appear with the tedious inevitability of television commercials.  You have essentially turned yourself into Vince, the Slap Chop Guy.  How’s that working for you?  (I’m guessing it’s not leading to record sales figures.)

The Preacher

You have a keen, unique (self-applied description, of course) insight into what ails the world and you know exactly how to fix it, if only you could get more followers to listen and spread your gospel.  It irks the hell out of you that you’re not already president/emperor/ generalissimo of your chosen realm as the ones presently in charge are irredeemable dingbats who couldn’t gather the leadership necessary to wipe themselves without peer-reviewed studies by four different executive committees.  But rather than doing something about it in the real world, you’ll settle for being a sanctimonious cyber-complainer to a sparse flock of like-minded folks.  Note of caution, however:  decisions are made by those who “show up,” not “log in.”

The Stalker

Harry Styles is your homeboy, or at least, you’d like him to be, in the tweet you sent to him 58 times today.  Though your chances of marrying him are about as good as Dick Cheney’s for winning Man of the Year from Greenpeace, you press on with dogged determination, forever believing deep inside that the next tweet will be the one he favorites.  You should be proud in some respects, in that you’re the latest in a subspecies that emerged with those people who used to hang around outside Abbey Road waiting for the Beatles to show up.  But why not do something with your life instead of devoting the entirety of it to worshipping others who’ve done a hell of a lot more with theirs?

The Oversharer

Guess what I had for breakfast?  None of your followers ever have to wonder since you provided eighteen different pictures of it, along with a detailed rundown on the quality of the service, the décor of the restaurant and your dining companion’s complaints about her BFF.  You are convinced that you are the most fascinating person to walk the planet and damn, you’re gonna strut your stuff whether or not anybody asks.  Your tweet count is up into the hundred K range already and you’ve only been on Twitter for a month.  Because nary a single moment of your mind-bendingly amazing life can slip by without you having to comment on it, leading to a veritable plethora of banality flooding a platform which was already drowning in it.

The Smartarse

Groucho’s got squat on you as you say the secret woid and weave your incisive Saharan wit through the foibles of a mediacentric universe rife with comic potential.  To you, Twitter is a personal standup comedy club, and headlines, celebrity musings, even the matter-of-fact comments of your friends can’t get past you without some kind of wisecrack.  Those you’re following dare not misspell a single word lest you jump in with a cheesy pun.  And your insecurity about wanting to be as off-the-cuff funny as Patton Oswalt is beginning to show as you wear out the screen beneath your notifications tab from rushing to check out how many times your zany zinger “Duck you, Autocorrect!” has been favorited and retweeted.

The Curator

You aspire to become a living embodiment of The Huffington Post as your feed is naught but link after link to article after article in your chosen area of expertise (usually social media, which everyone claims to be an expert in but nobody fully understands), offered for consumption without comment or original take.  I guess some people may find it helpful to have a single go-to for that latest BuzzFeed piece about the ten ways Miley Cyrus is annoying the world this week, but if you are choosing to act as endless advertising for other people’s material, shouldn’t you be getting paid for it?

The Misanthrope

The world is a bleak, nihilistic pit of darkness and despair, and anyone who follows you is bound to learn this lesson quickly.  You have taken to Twitter solely to vent profanity-filled spleen against whatever politician or celebrity has irked your delicate sensibilities lately, resulting in your achieving a record number of blockings and abuses reported from your Proustian-length list of targets.  To be fair, you do warn people in your bio that you’re mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore, but as you have never learned the lesson about attracting flies with honey, I fail to understand how this is supposed to help you in your life’s work – which, if your employers discover your feed, will be quite short, or at the very best limited to asking about fries with that.

The Cheerleader

You are a supernova of sunshine in everything you tweet.  You provide inexhaustible encouragement, your #FF list is longer than the Great Wall, and you always retweet and have great things to say about your friends’ posts and comments.  Whenever a follower has a bad day you’re right there to perk things up with a tweetbit of timely wisdom.  Stay gold, Ponyboy, don’t ever change.

The Parrot

You, pickle, are the reason the “Turn off Retweets” button was added.  Barring anything of your own to say, you spam everyone else’s feed with a barrage of your friends’ trite banter about how they literally can’t even the latest episode of Sherlock because arghasdgawouhgs, or the latest in profound insight about the nature of creativity from that one D-list celebrity you love but nobody else can stand (see “The Stalker,” above.)  Or you decide that what your followers really need is a ten tweet-long stream of pics from all the weird sexual fetish accounts you enjoy.  Because what you really want in life is a bunch of strangers thinking I didn’t sign up for this s@#$.

The Guru

You’ve got lots of inspiration to share, either of your own creation (awesome, keep it up!) or cribbed hopelessly from the same dozen or so bastardized bromides incorrectly attributed to the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King we’ve already seen shared on Facebook twelve million times since 2004.  The irony is I don’t think you actually believe you should shoot for the moon because you can miss and still land among the stars.  The Apollo astronauts might have had an issue with that.

The Grammarian

most of ur tweetz read liek this becuz yur 2 kewl fer roolz or speling, so U end up soundeng liek a maroon.  But hoo cares, cuz YOLO!!!

A Writer’s Journey Through Disney World: Part IV

spaceship earth

The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was Walt Disney’s prophetic vision of how we would be living today; a vast city thriving on the substance of its connections.  Walt wanted people to live and work there, but after his passing the Disney corporation decided they did not want to be in the business of running a municipality (ironically, Disney does operate its own municipality, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which manages the land on which the Walt Disney World Resort sits) and instead transformed Epcot into what they knew they could run well – another theme park.  Famously derided by the likes of none other than Homer Simpson, who wailed “it’s even boring to fly over!”, Epcot has long been an oddity, its ultimate purpose somewhat out of sync with the predominant Disney mantra of just coming to play and be a kid again.  Throughout the evolution of its exhibits from opening day in 1982 it’s always been the more mature, educational counterpart to the whimsy of the Magic Kingdom, the fairy dust harder to see in the polished presentation of the technology of the future and the many shades of our present.  This is the park for the grownups.  Epcot the Expo.  Divided into two distinct lands, Future World and World Showcase, and presided over by the imposing sphere (or overgrown golf ball, depending on your attitude) that is Spaceship Earth, Epcot is more linear; easier to find your way around, harder to lose your way amid winding paths.  Yet for some reason I never feel I’ve truly arrived at Disney until I’ve reached Epcot.

There is an indelible scent to Spaceship Earth that speaks to my distant memory like trumpets heralding the return of a long-absent pilgrim.  A peculiar brew of industrial strength air conditioning, special effects smoke and wheel lubricant combines into a unique visceral trigger, the feel of the arm of an old friend draped around my shoulder.  What is ostensibly Epcot’s signature attraction offers a journey back through 35,000 years of human history, with the voice of Judi Dench guiding you from a frozen plain where primitive man hurls spears at mammoths in unforgiving darkness, through the development of written language and the spread of civilization across the planet made possible by the phenomenon of communication.  Drifting past animatronic humans painting glyphs on cave walls, an Egyptian slave pounding out reeds into papyrus, toga-clad Greeks delivering a lecture on mathematics and Arab scholars sharing opinions over a hookah, anyone who calls himself a writer cannot fail to appreciate the significance of what is unfolding before him and the small, yet important part that he plays in this ongoing saga.  (He is particularly moved when he sees Gutenberg examining the first printed copy of the Bible.)  Humanity defines itself by the sharing of its ideas, the stories we tell to each other and the method by which those stories are passed on, long beyond our mere mortal existence.  A mind raised in the presence of the Internet can scarcely fathom the limitations faced by our ancestors, the incredible patience needed to etch history into brick and mortar.  We live in a time when it is easy, too easy some might argue, to fire off every thought to the entire world in real time, with a few keystrokes and a click, regardless of whether those thoughts have any lasting value.  The democratization of communication gives everyone equal ability to mouth off at the celebrity whose last movie we hated or whose political opinions make our skin crawl, without the need to consider our words first.  Passion drives communication as it never has before, as ink no longer needs to be bought by the barrel and rationed out only to the reasoned.  Spaceship Earth‘s main presentation ends with a facsimile of Steve Wozniak building a personal computer in his garage in the late 1970’s, but if the golf ball was bigger, perhaps it might be updated to advance thirty years and show us where we are now – to remind us that as trifling as they may seem in the moment, our communications are our legacy to the generations to come, as much as those dusty scrolls in the ancient libraries are the legacy of those who preceded us.  Every precious word is written into the future.  One way time travel, as it were.

Gutenberg, regrettably reading the comments.
Spaceship Earth‘s Gutenberg, regrettably reading the comments.

Beyond the confines of Future World lies World Showcase, the part the kids usually find boring.  It is a collection of eleven pavilions each dedicated to a different country and staffed exclusively by citizens of those far-flung lands.  Walking clockwise you can stroll through Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, the UK and finally Canada.   The pavilions are sponsored by private corporations from the countries in question (with the exception of Morocco, which is sponsored by its government) and each features a signature restaurant and souvenir shops, where other attractions may vary.  Mexico and Norway are the only two with actual rides inside, while Canada and China feature movies and The American Adventure contains an animatronic show about the founding of the United States.  If you’re walking by at the right time you may chance to encounter characters, buskers or live bands.  And for the littler ones staving off yawns there’s an interactive adventure based on Phineas & Ferb that encourages them to hunt through the Showcase in search of clues while their parents ponder purchasing a kimono in Japan or getting henna applied in Morocco.  You’d think that Canada would be my favorite of the undectet, shameless patriot that I am, eh (despite my non-adherence to the rules of Canadian English spelling), but my soft spot here at Epcot has always been for the UK.

Not that you can tell by this picture or anything.
Not that you can tell by this picture or anything.

Anglophile leanings aside, regardless that a Beatles tribute band can often be found performing in a nearby gazebo and Mary Poppins is usually on hand to advise on how to say supercalafragilisticexpialadocious backwards, what endears this place to me is a memory of my father attached indelibly to it.  About three or four times a day a group of improvisational players gathers in the square and invites members of the audience to take part in a humorous spoof, jape or vignette drawn from the annals of that fine British tradition of pantomime.  The first time we ever visited Epcot they picked my dad to join in, and I’m sure his boisterous manner didn’t factor into it at all (he may possibly have jumped up and down to volunteer).  When I walk these pink pathways and look around the corner past the pub I can see him again, reaching for the rafters as he crumples to the ground with a plastic sword tucked under his arm while the players narrate “And he died… OVER THERE!”, pointing six paces to his left and forcing him to get up sheepishly and walk over and do it all again.  Olivier he was not, but he loved being part of that sort of thing, ever happy to look a bit silly to give a stranger a laugh.  I come by a bit of it myself, to be honest, and I’m often the first to raise my hand when a similar enterprise arises.  It feels like paying tribute to the late great old man, and so walking through the faux-UK at Epcot is too akin to the metaphorical laying of flowers for someone long gone.

But back to Future World, to The Land, and the most popular ride in Epcot, Soarin’.  It’s not uncommon that the fast passes for this ride are all snapped within a scant few hours of the park’s opening, it remains that popular.  Seinfeld‘s Puddy, Patrick Warburton, plays the chief flight attendant welcoming you aboard your 5-minute trip over the scenic vistas of California, set to a majestic score composed by the late, legendary Jerry Goldsmith.  You are seated in “gliders” that are raised high above the floor before a massive screen, and the film that projects before you brings you sweeping through the clouds over San Francisco Bay, through Yosemite National Park, Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, Monterey and Anza-Borrego to name but merely a few.  The experience is not only visual as you are also greeted by the scent of citrus as you sail over orange groves and of salt mist as you watch surfers tumble.  Goldsmith too modifies the arrangement of his theme as it evolves to give appropriate flavor to both the natural wonders and the human achievements rushing toward you, before a fireworks finale over Anaheim Disneyland introduced by Tinkerbell heralds your inevitable return to earth.

soarin

I’m uncomfortable with heights, so I had every reason to expect that this experience would leave me dizzy, gripping the sides of the glider in nauseated panic.  But just as the theme song to Firefly insists “you can’t take the sky from me,” even acrophobics can come to understand the pull the clouds can exert upon those of us fated to stand on solid ground and gaze up at them in resignation.  A few years ago when my wife and I were in the Dominican I signed on reluctantly to try parasailing, and only after putting it off to our last day.  What surprised me most as the parachute dragged us up, up and away, was the silence of the sky, the utter peace to be found less than a hundred meters up.  The ground is a noisy place and we’ve all become inured to the persistent drone of our 21st Century lives – mechanical equipment, inane conversations, half-assed music played on repeat.  Dial all that down to zero, banish the distraction, and you find a hitherto unknown treasure buried beneath – a chance to hear the spirit speak.  In a theme park dedicated to the wonders of communication, Soarin’ is a reminder of the greatest communication you can have, and one you owe to yourself sooner rather than later.  It’s a chance to think about who you are, the sum of your contradictions and the difference between the face you present to the world and the true shape of your inner self that lies hidden behind it.  To unite the sense of the present with the memory of the past and the dreams of the future and find that the answer leaves you smiling.

It’s possible that’s why Epcot completes the equation for me, why it’s what makes me feel most like I’m back.  I could go on at length about our experiences this time at some of the other favorite attractions; my son’s insistence on riding Mission: Space four times so he could fill each different crew position, his chance to have a conversation with an animated character from Finding Nemo at Turtle Talk with Crush.  Those family memories will be added to the extensive cache getting ever larger with each visit; complaining at the age of 8 that I didn’t like the food in the restaurant in the German pavilion (nein to your schnitzel!), watching IllumiNations around the World Showcase Lagoon on New Year’s 1990, listening to the Future Corps play the Jetsons Theme on a trip there with my high school band in 1993.  Ask me what I did a week or two before or after those individual moments and I’ll give you a master class in blank stares.  But decades later, here I am, transcribing these moments for the world and understanding that they, like those hieroglyphics on the pyramid walls, will now outlive me.  Writing into the future.  Just beyond the park entrance, before you reach Spaceship Earth, lie a series of obelisks on which Disney allowed guests to “Leave a Legacy” – a small, laser-etched photograph of yourself to be mounted there for all time.  The program was discontinued for whatever reason so a majority of space on the obelisks remains unfilled.  Yet it doesn’t really matter that I don’t have a picture of my face waiting to see me again at Epcot.  The true legacy is something I take with me when I go, etched in my mind, inspiring me far beyond the borders of Walt Disney World and Florida.

illuminations

Yes, I would like Fry with that

fry
Credit: SamFry Limited, Creative Commons License. http://www.stephenfry.com

I come to you today with a confession, though not one unfamiliar to anyone who’s peeked at my Twitter biography.  I am an Anglophile.   Although perhaps it’s more precise to say I have Anglophile leanings, or, curiosities, as it were.  I haven’t taken the full plunge yet into declaring an allegiance to a U.K. football franchise, or learned what the hell is going on in a cricket match.  Downton Abbey remains unviewed to this day and I’ve never been able to glom onto Doctor Who (those cheaply made space monsters with the creepy accents scared the piss out of me when I was little.)  I do, however, have an enormous infatuation with certain cornerstones of British popular culture – James Bond, the Beatles, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens, Eddie Izzard, the original Whose Line is it Anyway, David Attenborough nature documentaries, The King’s Speech.  My taste in music is almost exclusively British bands and performers.  My conversations are peppered with British idioms, and when required, British profanity (nobody swears better in English than the ones who invented the language, you bollocks-arsed wankers).  My sense of humor has always leaned British in its dryness and self-deprecation.  And in this spirit of confession I am forced to admit a massive man-crush on that pillar of all that is magnificent about being British, Stephen Fry.  In fact, one of my little goals for my Twitter experience is to somehow convince Stephen Fry to find reason to follow me – without going the usual route of “hey plz follow meeee back!!!!”  (He follows about 50,000 people while over 5 million follow him – so I figure I’ve got a 1 in 100 chance, hardly impossible odds.)  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this post is part of that strategy, but what the hell, Stephen Fry rocks, so even if he never sees this, it’s still worth writing.

The name might not be immediately familiar, but the face and voice are – the tall, imposing if sad-eyed figure with the bent nose, the deep, plummy voice you’ve heard narrating the Harry Potter audiobooks.  Stephen Fry has led a remarkably rich if not always charmed life, which you can read about in copious detail on his Wikipedia page.  From humble beginnings (naturally) he has become something of a world-renowned adventurer, not of the climb-the-mountain-while-battling-wild-zebras type, but of the mind, pursuing ventures literary, theatrical, televised, cinematic and everything in between, fueled by a love of language and a curiosity about everything.  As he says on his website, he finds it uncomfortable recounting his achievements, but he has nothing left to prove with a CV so varied.  One of the most interesting facets of Fry, particularly in his film roles, is that his screen time is usually limited, giving you a mere taste – as a result, he is this inscrutable larger-than-life character who never lingers long enough for you to figure him out and thus lose your interest.  You’re always left curious for more.  Indeed, there never seems to be enough Stephen Fry, and he seems to like it that way.  (Twitter in particular is tailored perfectly for people like that – I’m sure I come across as far more interesting in periodic bursts of 140 characters than I do in real life.)

The first time I saw Stephen Fry was in catching up on reruns of Whose Line.  In one episode he took part in a sketch where Josie Lawrence read every other line of a play while Fry was a flustered customer trying to purchase an airline ticket from her.  You can watch it for yourselves here.

His command of language is obvious; clearly a brilliant mind at work, confronting and embracing the absurdity of the premise and diving in with the bone-dry, semi-flustered and entirely elegant phrasing that marks the best of the British sense of humor.  Later, as I discovered and devoured his genius sketch comedy collaboration with Hugh Laurie, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, I could see the man at the height of his creative endeavors.  One of the biggest reasons why English humor often doesn’t translate is that much of it is built on the class system, one social stratum poking fun at the foibles of another.  Fry has the education of an upper class “to the manor born” man but he resents that caste’s appropriation of high culture, and slays mercilessly, on their own terms, those who attempt to use their Etonian upbringing to peer down snootfully past upturned noses.  Check out this brilliant sketch where Fry displays his unbridled love of the English language while mocking the personae of highbrow elocution-happy would-be intellectuals.

So much of popular comedy, particularly on this side of the pond, is based in being crude, breaking taboos for the sake of “oh no he didn’t” shock value, mocking those who can’t punch back, spewing endless profanity at high volume.  What I’ve always appreciated most about Stephen Fry is that he proves by example that you can be smart about being funny.  That in English, we have an enormous, infinitely quirky tool at our disposal that can be bent, twisted, turned inside out, dropped on its head, sent through the post, dusted off, sprinkled with garlic and spread about liberally to uncover some wonderful and unique ways of expressing ourselves in a manner that will always evoke a smile.  Fry loves puns; he loves surprising us with linguistic connections we’ve failed to realize.  Behold, my favorite Fry and Lauriein which this trick was never more hilariously illustrated.

When I’m working on my novel and I write the phrase “He was crestfallen; in fact, his crest had completely fallen off,” that’s me doing my best Stephen Fry impression.  For me, English words have come more alive since discovering the collected works of Mr. Fry – I’m looking for those connections now and holding them up proudly while jumping about like something of a crazed jackrabbit when I find them.  Stephen Fry has also shown us, in his very public struggles with his manic depression, that a flawed man can still achieve great things – in fact, his greatness is emphasized by his ability to manage his weaknesses.  Not defeat them, necessarily, but acknowledge them as an inexorable part of the whole.  In The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, Fry talked about wanting to keep his mania phases, even if it meant having to suffer the extreme craters of the other side – a bold choice, to be certain, even if some might justifiably disagree.  Contradictions and all, Stephen Fry remains someone to admire, a man who has been described as one of Britain’s national treasures – one can imagine the bemused smirk on his face at hearing that.  But as an Anglophile, or Anglophile-curious, I can think of few Brits who deserve it more.  So thank you, Stephen Fry, for being you, for the influence you’ve had on this one Canadian whom you might humbly consider lending a Twitter follow to at some point, some day.  Soupy twist!

We need to go darker

Katy Perry in the video for “Wide Awake,” conjuring some musical magic.

Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” has been on my playlist all week long, an incongruity even sandwiched inside an eclectic playlist that includes Hendrix, Dylan, the Byrds, Tom Petty, Richard Ashcroft, Thomas Newman, Jerry Goldsmith, Mychael Danna and Hans Zimmer.  I cannot stop listening to it.  It accomplishes the remarkable feat of being both catchy and soulful, bruised yet full of hope.  Apart from innocently fancying Ms. Perry herself (which my Alexander Skarsgard-adoring better half assures me she’s totally okay with) I’ve been indifferent toward her music until now.  Her breakout hit “I Kissed a Girl” is the giggle of a nine-year-old too chicken to truly explore questions of confused sexuality lest her parents think badly of her.  “Firework” is a well-meaning song undermined by Perry’s inability to hit and sustain high notes.  The lack of proper rhymes in “California Gurls” and the Brady Bunch-esque misdeeds of “Last Friday Night” are a saran wrap-deep package unwilling to chafe against the very successful mould in which she’s been forged.

Then her marriage to Russell Brand broke apart, and she wrote, recorded and released “Wide Awake” as a meditation on what she’d been through and where she is now.  And it’s a great song.  This isn’t a pig-tailed goofy girl jumping up and down on a beach – it’s the honest testament of an emotionally bruised woman picking herself up off the concrete.  Katy Perry has established such a niche for herself that she didn’t have to record this song – she could have released yet another ode to partying in the sunshine and achieved plenty of accolades and album sales.  But she chose to try to say something profound about who she is and how she’s feeling about the world.

I’m not going to go faux-Lester Bangs and suggest that “Wide Awake” is a watershed moment in music.  But it illuminates a larger question that I think most artists grapple with.  Is introspection by its nature a journey of sadness?  Does something have to be dark to be good?  Is the stuff of genius found only in the minor chords?  There’s an old axiom that says all real comedy is born from pain.  So too does it seem that the best music is that which reflects lessons learned at great cost.  This is not to say that everyone gets it right – it seems that every Kelly Clarkson song is about breaking up with someone and being better off because of it, but unlike Katy Perry in “Wide Awake,” you get the sense that Kelly’s just reading the lines someone else wrote for her instead of feeling them through the notes, and that’s why, at least to my ears, “Wide Awake” will have greater staying power than the grating and empty “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”.

Bob Dylan told John Lennon when they first met that he needed to get personal in his lyrics.  You begin to witness the transformation through the Beatles middle period as songs like “I’m a Loser” on Beatles for Sale and “Help!” lead to angry kiss-offs like “Norwegian Wood,” the existential exploration of “Nowhere Man” and the psychedelic dream state of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and the Sgt. Pepper era becomes the truly dark, soul-baring Primal Scream anguish that closed out the Fab Four and realized itself fully in John’s solo career.  Had Lennon and the others chose to rest on their laurels and sing nothing but upbeat generic pop for their entire careers, they might have done very well.  They might still be touring casinos and retirement homes today.  But they wouldn’t be legends.  It was their choice to share their vulnerability, their humanity, that made them so – the gods who dared to admit they were the very same as the mortals who worshipped them.  In the documentary Imagine, there’s a scene where Lennon confronts an obsessed fan who is trespassing on his property, who wants to know how Lennon could have known so much about this fan’s life as to write songs that seemed to be about him.  Lennon responds, frankly, that “I’m singing about meself.”

The stories that have the deepest impact on us are tales of catharsis; of people like us who are tested to the limits of their endurance, who go all the way to the point of breaking and come back changed, improved, and renewed.  To find the brightest light, one must brave the darkness, because it is only in the dark that light can shine.  Every artist who starts out warbling giddily about rainbows and lollipops will face a crossroads at some point, where they will be forced to decide whether to continue skipping along the yellow brick road or stumble off into the gloomy forest – with no guarantee that something better waits on the other side, only faith that it does.  It’s a journey that is always worth taking.  The Dixie Chicks’ music improved immeasurably after their fracas with the American right over their Bush-inspired version of John Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus moment”, when they got away from karaoke-ready dreck like “Goodbye Earl” and opened up with powerful anthems like “Not Ready to Make Nice.”  Brian Wilson struggled his entire career against the goofy surfin’ tunes that characterized the Beach Boys and that his record label insisted he continue to produce, and as a result we were blessed with lasting gems like “God Only Knows.”  I have no doubt whatsoever that someday Justin Bieber will grow a goatee and release an acoustic album, and you know what – done with the right intentions, and not just as a sales gimmick, it’ll be terrific.

Until then, play “Wide Awake” again and think to yourself, damn, Katy Perry makes for one fine-looking goth.