Category Archives: Remembrance

#7 – THIS THING CALLED LIFE – Prince and the Nature of Collective Grief

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As we approach our third anniversary on February 6th, we are counting down the top-ten most-read posts from the last year.

 


When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.


William Shakespeare – Julius Caesar


“Style ain’t sittin’ court side with the owner of the team
Style is owning the court and charging ’em all a fee
Style is not lusting after someone because they’re cool
Style is loving yourself ’til everyone else does 2 “

Prince – “Style”



It was just hours since the news of Prince’s death had been released, and social media was already filled to the brim with shock, news stories, remembrances, and a massive outpouring of grief. I was behind the counter at the shop where I work, listening to every Prince song I had on iTunes, which thankfully was several hours worth, when two women walked in. They were fairly unassuming Pearl District types, which by Portland standards generally means freshly scrubbed, gluten-free, Barre workouts, and a mild aversion to tipping. That’s all fine for what it is, but I only mention it because it tempered my expectations for the interaction. They were around my age and nice, and we fell right away into casual, friendly conversation. We were talking as I rang them up, and just then the song “Purple Rain” came on the speakers. The woman who was paying froze, and her face began to twist with pain, her cheeks flushing and her eyes filling with water. “Oh my God,” she said. “I haven’t heard any Prince songs yet today. Oh my God I’m so sad. I can’t believe it, I’m going to cry.”

And that’s exactly what she did. Real, wet, hard tears, right there in front of the register. She wiped her eyes, embarrassed, but that didn’t stop them from coming. In fact, they seemed to flow even harder. Her friend touched her arm, and said “Oh honey,” and she had tears in her eyes too. And then there I was, raw from too little sleep, and those warm, sweet opening chords filling the room and Prince’s wounded but upright voice singing earnest lyrics about sorrow and pain and laughter, which had certainly made me weep before in other distant personal circumstances, and I too felt my throat tighten and tears burning my eyes. The three of us stood there suspended together for a moment, the only ones in the whole place, as the song rose into its gospel-infused chorus, between us the absolute encapsulation of grace and beauty and loss, and the guts and talent it takes to give such a gorgeous gift to the world.

“Unbelievable,” she muttered, sniffling and doing her best to gather herself. We all looked at each other wiping our eyes and laughed. I handed the woman her change, and she said thank you with a trembling smile that I will never forget, and they turned and walked out together, leaving me there, shaking and laughing to myself as the rest of the song played out.

Later, when I thought about what had happened, there were a number of surprising things about it. Firstly, I had not expected a moment of such unbounded intimacy over the far-out, sexed-up artiste. Not there, certainly not with them. I mean, I suppose when I saw them I unconsciously expected them to not care that much. They didn’t seem like outwardly sensitive or musical people, or that the music of Prince would be anything more than a distant soundtrack to their lives, no different from any other dusty, cracked CD in a box in the basement. But then, of course it was. He was such a massive musical force, his divine gift was to create the kind of music that transcended any and all boundaries. It was so contagious, so potent, so emotionally resonant that it made its way into even the most obscure cracks and corners of the world, filling them with his wild, transcendent soul. Continue reading


THIS THING CALLED LIFE: Prince and the Nature of Collective Grief

160421153915-restricted-64-prince-file-exlarge-169


When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.


William Shakespeare – Julius Caesar


“Style ain’t sittin’ court side with the owner of the team
Style is owning the court and charging ’em all a fee
Style is not lusting after someone because they’re cool
Style is loving yourself ’til everyone else does 2 “

Prince – “Style”



It was just hours since the news of Prince’s death had been released, and social media was already filled to the brim with shock, news stories, remembrances, and a massive outpouring of grief. I was behind the counter at the shop where I work, listening to every Prince song I had on iTunes, which thankfully was several hours worth, when two women walked in. They were fairly unassuming Pearl District types, which by Portland standards generally means freshly scrubbed, gluten-free, Barre workouts, and a mild aversion to tipping. That’s all fine for what it is, but I only mention it because it tempered my expectations for the interaction. They were around my age and nice, and we fell right away into casual, friendly conversation. We were talking as I rang them up, and just then the song “Purple Rain” came on the speakers. The woman who was paying froze, and her face began to twist with pain, her cheeks flushing and her eyes filling with water. “Oh my God,” she said. “I haven’t heard any Prince songs yet today. Oh my God I’m so sad. I can’t believe it, I’m going to cry.”

And that’s exactly what she did. Real, wet, hard tears, right there in front of the register. She wiped her eyes, embarrassed, but that didn’t stop them from coming. In fact, they seemed to flow even harder. Her friend touched her arm, and said “Oh honey,” and she had tears in her eyes too. And then there I was, raw from too little sleep, and those warm, sweet opening chords filling the room and Prince’s wounded but upright voice singing earnest lyrics about sorrow and pain and laughter, which had certainly made me weep before in other distant personal circumstances, and I too felt my throat tighten and tears burning my eyes. The three of us stood there suspended together for a moment, the only ones in the whole place, as the song rose into its gospel-infused chorus, between us the absolute encapsulation of grace and beauty and loss, and the guts and talent it takes to give such a gorgeous gift to the world.

“Unbelievable,” she muttered, sniffling and doing her best to gather herself. We all looked at each other wiping our eyes and laughed. I handed the woman her change, and she said thank you with a trembling smile that I will never forget, and they turned and walked out together, leaving me there, shaking and laughing to myself as the rest of the song played out.

Later, when I thought about what had happened, there were a number of surprising things about it. Firstly, I had not expected a moment of such unbounded intimacy over the far-out, sexed-up artiste. Not there, certainly not with them. I mean, I suppose when I saw them I unconsciously expected them to not care that much. They didn’t seem like outwardly sensitive or musical people, or that the music of Prince would be anything more than a distant soundtrack to their lives, no different from any other dusty, cracked CD in a box in the basement. But then, of course it was. He was such a massive musical force, his divine gift was to create the kind of music that transcended any and all boundaries. It was so contagious, so potent, so emotionally resonant that it made its way into even the most obscure cracks and corners of the world, filling them with his wild, transcendent soul. Continue reading


On Prince – Eve Ewing

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Drunk in a Midnight Choir - 4.22.2016 edited-page-001

 

record shopEve L. Ewing is a Chicago-born essayist, poet, editor, and visual artist. Her work has been published in Poetry, The New Yorker, The Nation, The New Republic, Union Station, In These Times, and the anthology The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a finalist for the Pamet River Prize, and a scholarship recipient for the New Harmony Writers Workshop. She is one half of the writing collective Echo Hotel (the other half is poet, essayist, and critic Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib). She loves cookies and bikes.

Darling Nikki: A Mixtape Memory

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Author’s note: This personal essay was originally written for the Literary Mixtape Reading Series in December of 2015.
 
 

Kristen and I were smoking Kools together in her room. Curling iron plugged in and resting on the formica top of her dresser where there were several scorched divots already. Wearing t-shirts and underwear and waiting for the last possible moment before laying down to zip up our acid wash jeans.

Kristen was beginning to tease her hair around her face like a fan, covering one eye, the left one. Her black and silver double deck boom box silent before she flipped the empty tape case to me and pressed play. Kristen was gorgeous and dark. Dark in a slashed jeans kind of way. Dark in a melting the tip of her eyeliner with a lighter kind of way. She used White Rain hairspray because Aquanet was for pussies. She may have already had capped teeth.

The night of the seventh grade dance, when I heard Purple Rain for the first time, when Darling Nikki came on, winter of 1988. I smoked. Poorly (never any of my own, holding them like a dork between first two fingers instead of pinching between thumb and forefinger), but it was enough to give me a little cred with the kids at the pool hall down on Central.
Continue reading


Turn And Face The Strange: The Starman Bids Goodnight

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“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now”

-David Bowie-“Lazarus”, from Blackstar, the album released on his 69th birthday,  two days before he died.

 

The padded envelope came without a note or a return address, but according to postage and markings, it had come from Thailand, and it was addressed to me. Inside was a jersey style t-shirt with a picture of the Goblin King on the front. It was an odd gift. Anyone who knows me even marginally well knows I’m more than a casual Bowie fan, but I’ve always been pretty indifferent to Labyrinth. Even as a kid, I was never swept under its spell like so many of my peers. At 13, perhaps I was just a bit too old (and prematurely cynical) for the child-like wonder of it, but not old enough to really understand who David Bowie was beyond the “Let’s Dance“, “Modern Love,” and “China Girl” videos that MTV played on heavy rotation in its early days (though in  hindsight, I do find it hard to believe that at the very least, 13 year-old me wasn’t completely enamored with 16 year-old Jennifer Connelly–sadly, I was clueless about nearly everything back then.)

After some asking around, I discovered that my brother had bought it off Etsy and sent it to me for my birthday. He knows I love Bowie, of course, and the Goblin King was probably referencing shared childhood memories  that seem a bit cloudy now. I think he was also making fun of me a little. Either for being too cool, or because the Goblin King is ridiculous, or both. Either way, the shirt is fucking awesome, and I love it, and every time I wear it, I get streams of compliments. I mean, apparently people of all stripes unironically love the Goblin King! Go figure. Anyway, I’m wearing it right now, and I haven’t taken it off since I learned of Bowie’s death late Sunday night (which I could hardly believe, and am still not totally sure I believe). Cosmically, according to Facebook, that shirt arrived at my house on December 10, 2015, exactly one year before the great Starman passed into the next dimension. Continue reading


Places To Stand: Thoughts On David Bowie’s Passing

Bowie-Lazarus

My first college roommate was pure evil.

It was during my first freshman semester that I suffered my first significant breakdown/depressive episode, and he spent a great deal of time encouraging me to kill myself and thin the herd, as I was obviously weak and needed to die. (Not exaggerating. I still recall his thin blond smile and his laughing at my tears.)

He was also obsessed with David Bowie, looked superficially like him, and played his albums constantly.

My first experience of Bowie’s music was, therefore, that it was the soundtrack of betrayal — I knew the guy from high school and thought of him as a friend.

Man, I really hated that music.

My “friend” didn’t come back for the second semester, and I ended up with a single room.

Spring of 78, I discovered that I missed Bowie’s music and started buying the albums; I then got into punk and found a partner in listening to it with a floor mate who later became a bit of a rockstar herself and was also a Bowie fan.

Slowly, I became a fan myself, although not a fan the way some folks are… Continue reading


The Church of Mad Love is Such a Holy Place to Be

David Bowie in 1973

I’m still waiting for the hoax announcement.

My first memory of David Bowie is probably either Changes or Space Oddity, with its primitive video that I think used to play in that otherwise blank space between movies in the early days of cable circa 1980. When I was a few years older, there was the sequel to that song, Ashes to Ashes, and then the whole Let’s Dance period with Nile Rodgers, China Girl, and the homoerotic but somehow wholesome tease of Dancing in the Street with Mick Jagger. As a young teen, I liked all of this well enough—it was pop music and it was something more. It spoke to me in a way that Michael Jackson and Madonna did not, with a semi-cryptically articulated wisdom that would serve me then as a boy of 13 and now as a man, 30 years later. Bowie seemed to be saying that, to paraphrase his colleague, and in some way, mentor/mentee, Lou Reed, that no matter what, it was all right. We will all get lost somewhere, in space, in time, in our own egos. Alienation, silence imposed inside and out, what must sometimes seem like otherworldly urges—it’s all right. There are scary monsters out there and vast reaches of inimitable nothing, and it’s perfectly normal to dwell there. It’s also okay to dance.

What Bowie has fully meant to me over the past four decades, though, can’t be so easily summed up. He’s never left my life. A few months back I watched a BBC documentary called Five Years, which focused a lot on the late 70s and early 80s Bowie. The Plastic Soul and the Thin White Duke, Carlos Alomar and Brian Eno. I watched it wide-eyed at 4 am high on coffee and all alone. I immediately wrote a poem by scrawling it with one finger into my space-age and five-years-out-of-date smartphone. A couple hours later, I sent it to my friend, poet and teacher Mark Lamoureux, who was work bound on a train somewhere in the snowy American northeast, which as far as I was concerned was just as far away as Bowie’s Starman or Major Tom. I called the poem Berlin. Continue reading


On the Death of Mr. Spock

color_nimoy_headshotI learned not five minutes ago from a New York Times alert that actor Leonard Nimoy has died. Being the idiot that I am, my initial reaction was to try to post the absolutely most hysterical Star Trek reference about the passing of the iconic sci-fi star that the interwebs could ever possibly conceive. I have a number of hilarious friends and I know that the competition to make the most poignant, funny, yet tasteful joke will be in full swing by—well, it’s probably going on right now.

But man when I was a little adolescent punk back in the Disco-Gas Line Era of the late 1970s, reruns of the original Star Trek were a mainstay. Cable hadn’t expanded our channel base, so television content was limited to PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, or the two UHF channels, one of which showed Star Trek reruns every day after school. I was a nerd in a nerd neighborhood with nerdy friends, so we talked A LOT about Star Trek, space exploration, teletransportation, advanced weaponry, warp drives, green women, photon torpedoes vs. phasers, phasers vs. sonic disruptors, phaser one vs. phaser two, Klingons vs. Romulans, and occasionally the importance of tempering emotion with logic and reason. Continue reading


I Don’t Care About History: Rock Rock Rock & Roll High School – Sam Teitel

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The movie “Rock and Roll High School” is 10% musical, 10% creepy underage sex fantasy and 80% weird love letter to themselves that The Ramones made in 1979. Most of the jokes barely stand the test of time if they were ever funny at all, but there is one bit that I still think is pretty funny. It’s the part where Joey Ramone has to sit there while some condescending record industry asshole forces disgusting looking green health food powder into his mouth and his band mates sit in the background enjoying pizza, cigarettes, and beer. That part is hilarious. I like it because I think I have been everybody in that scene at different points in my life, and I have pretty equal amounts of contempt and grudging respect for all of them.

As of this past summer, The Ramones are dead.

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Just to give some context, one of the first T-shirts I ever cut the sleeves off of was a Ramones T-shirt. If you’re a suburban white kid who just happened to stumble into your spoiled, safe, hormone-driven angst in the days when the word “scene” was an adjective more often that it was a noun (like I was), then you know what a big deal that is. If you’re a real punk then this pathetic attempt on my part to show my weak credentials should be making you roll your eyes. Additionally, if you were around in whatever time is “back in the day” to you and feel the need to whip out your dick, condescendingly tell me how old and knowledgeable you are: Yes. Fine. Go ahead. You were there back in the day. You hung out with The Clash one time. Yes, you are more hardcore than I am. Now please go be a real punk somewhere else.
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Remembering the Genie

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In 1991, during my senior year in high school, I was lucky enough to win a grant from the Marin Education Fund for my writing and theater activities. I’d written some plays and directed one and acted in several and had served as Editor of the literary magazine for a few years and won a poetry prize. Honestly, none of it was really much of a big deal, and the work was of course all embarrassingly amateurish and awful, but I was pretty good at making it all sound impressive on paper. I didn’t think I had much of a chance when I applied, but I somehow managed to snag one of the top prizes.

During the awards ceremony at our school, which had a large chunk of the winners, they read a short introduction for each of us. During mine, they quoted one of the judges, who had reportedly dubbed me “…maybe the most creative and talented person to ever attend this high school.” I flinched when I heard that. It would have been nice to think she was right, but I couldn’t even momentarily pretend that it was anywhere near the truth. I knew a handful of people in my class alone who were miles more talented, creative and accomplished than me– just maybe less good at showing off. Later, my theater teacher and mentor was beside herself over that. “What a terrible thing to tell someone,” she laughed. “What were you thinking when you heard that?” I grinned and told her that at that moment I had happened to be looking right at the picture on the wall of Robin Williams in his Redwood High jacket. She liked that.10616126_10152411968054215_7846144473125059066_n

Robin Williams was our most famous alumnus. Growing up, I grilled any one who had known him for stories, but rarely got any good dirt. Once, I had found a magazine with an article about celebrities in high school, and he was one of the features. It claimed he would shout “Good morning Redwood High!” every morning in the halls. I asked someone who had gone to school with him if that was true, and he frowned. “No way. C’mon. Nobody does stuff like that. That guy was such a geek. He wore bow-ties and was super quiet. I never liked him.”

Well okay then. (Keep in mind that this was from one of the daytime regulars at The Silver Peso, who was also a small-time coke-slinger and all-around unreliable source.)
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