Four column Monday. Houseguests. Family obligations. Brain: dazzled hash. But! The big work’s done, so let’s see what rote bleatage we can haul out before my fingers seize up. Hmm . . . nothing happened today; Gnat was gone on a day “camp,” just sat at home typing . . . I know! Let’s write about what I’m listening to at the moment. That’s always good for 900 words.
I have one Lou Reed album: Street Hassle. It’s the musical equivalent of the million monkey theory. There’s no reason it should be any good, because nearly everyone is too wasted to put pick to string, and asking them to find the beat is like putting boxing gloves on a drunk and asking him to find a Polly Pocket shoe. In a barn. A dark barn. It may be true that Sally Can’t Dance, but Lou Can’t Sing; even when he sings a note correctly, it’s the wrong one. But you can’t not love a crude stumbling number like “Dirt,” especially when the background singers sing “Cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, uptown dirt” in a saucy Motown style; likewise, “Gimme Some Good Times” is just “Sweet Jane” redux, but context, man, context! This was Lou’s comeback, his chance to be Grandpa Punk at the dawn of the New Wave. The reason the album made the critics smile was the title track, which had three songs based on the same theme, with a string section! Lou, with cellos! That was punker than punk in its own perverse way.
The “Street Hassle” suite – and I feel germy using that word – has a brilliant sucker punch, a moment that gobsmacked everyone in 1978. It’s a Spoken Introduction, moody and damned, ending with the words: Tramps like us, we were born to pay.
It wasn’t just the reference to Springsteen, the God of the Moment, that astonished the unsuspecting stoner, it was the voice. It was Bruce Himself who read the lines.
But those were the times; crossovers and synergies, all combining to create the illusion of a movement. Still, I remember going over to a friend’s place – he was a painter, abstract of course. It was spring; the breeze mingled with the cigarette smoke. Lou Reed on the stereo. You’re 20; there’s a current shooing through everything in the world, it runs right through you too.
It’s a wonderful thing to experience, and a grand time to recall, but nothing I’d want to do again. In any case I still have the music; just called up “See No Evil” and “Friction” by Television, and thirty years haven’t shaved a micrometer off those tracks. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go out in the back yard and have a cigar and bob my head until it hurts. Also there will be much grimacing at the end of “Friction,” which contains the most ungodly guitar moment of 1977. Be right back.
Back. A good day; had supper at my wife’s sister’s place, with my fine French brother in law and mother-in-law and uncle-in-law. Steak that was Tolstoi-thick; Lou Grant bread (crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, hot for Mary), roasted corn. Gnat played with her cousin, and we discussed the depressed real estate market. Unc’s a realtor. (He found us Jasperwood.) The reason why sales are down is simple: everyone who was going to buy a house, bought a house. The last few years, everyone came out of the closet. People with credit scores in the teens got mortgages. People who wanted to trade up traded up. Perfect storm of supply and demand, and everyone was happy, but at the end of it the number of people who could buy houses wasn’t growing as fast as new construction or existing home sales. Add to that the jillion new condo projects, and voila: the bubble deflates. He’s had better summers.
I’ve been meaning to make something clear. When I say it’s the Best Summer Ever, I mean that in jest; it’s the sort of thing a small child says. Actually, now that I think of it, small kids don’t say that. Best Day Ever, at the most. The idea of a general estimation of summer doesn’t hit them until they’re teens, at which point it’s often the Worst Summer Ever, because they flunked the driver’s license test and you wouldn’t let them go up to the lakes with friends even though HEATHER’S MOM DOESN’T CARE SO WHY SHOULD YOU, and so on.
The term is also meant seriously; in meteorological terms, it’s been the pips. We haven’t had such frank consistent heat since 1996, and if my theory holds true (the last decade of cool summers were due to sunspots, which move in 7 to 11 year cycles) then we’re in for many more summers like this. Good for us. Bad for the farmers, of course; a decade of dusty bowls might hasten the consolidation of small family farms into giant AgroWads that sprawl across state lines, have the deep pockets to invest in irrigation equipment to stabilize production, thereby draining the aquafers at an accelerated rate while still begging for Federal subsidies. It’s all a tradeoff, in other words.
I also mean it in a certain whistling-past-the-graveyard sense. I am not a gloom & doom person, except when it comes to myself, and I am still optimistic in general, since I learned long ago that depending on a US-USSR thermonuclear exchange eventually disappoints and promotes bad savings habits. Nevertheless, when you wake up and read that the entire Alaska oil supply is OFF LINE for the next nine years or so, you wonder: what next? Texas-sized comet chunks heading for America? Comet-sized Texas chunks heading for Europe? The pace of bad news seems to have picked up an unnerving momentum. Enough with the flow. Some ebbing would be nice.
Mind you, it’s not the actual news that bothers me as much as the reaction to it; the reactions speak to something amiss in the heart of the West, a failure of nerve, a fatal lack of faith in the civilization we’re entrusted to defend. But the heart has two ventricles. There’s a large portion of America who – well, no. I can’t make generalizations like this, because they’re ridiculous, and it’s not for me to speak for 150 million of my countrymen. But I’ve had this suspicion for the last year. People joke about the “American street,” the basic Joe’s rising animosity to the Middle East. I don’t think there’s a rising hatred of the area; I think there’s a growing indifference. In the end, that’s worse.
In the end, most Americans simply don’t care what happens to the Middle East aside from Israel. They’d like the region to be free; they’re happy when everyone gets to vote. They don't give a fig about Libya but it would be nice if Egypt was safe, what with all those museums and the like. They’d be perfectly fine if every nation in the Middle East was like France – open, free, stable, great vacation destinations, full of politicians and intellectuals who didn’t like the US but confined the rhetoric to tart epigrams or unreadable academic polemics. It’s the seething sectarian nutwad component that makes people weary. The looped scripts, the Jew-slagging, the misplaced blame, the unslakable aching sense of injustice over things that happened 500 years ago. Okay, well, sorry about the Crusades. Now you Persians apologize for Ionia and the war on the Greeks. C’mon. C’monnn, ya knuckleheads. I knew Darius, and he was a Party. Animal. But let’s send it all to the big Bygone House and hug, for Mr. Planet’s sake! (Bill Murray for UN Secretary General. Seriously.)
But this isn’t going to happen. Mind you, I’m not raising this to debate the veracity of the claims or the reactions, just to note what many people think, inasmuch as they think about it at all. (Which they don't, and that's why it seems a spiky shouting ullulating Durkastan, just like America seems like Fat-Ass Burger Whore Town to others. ) So. As I was saying: most people would like the Middle East to be free and happy and prosperous and free of incomprehensible religious differences (Sunni, Shiite, Sufi – help us out, guys; do they all have to start with S?) and generally off the radar. Thirty years of hearing Death to the Great Satan, however, hasn’t left the average American mad. It’s left them bored. It's left them disinterested in the final consequences to the societies in which the chanting mobs appear. They don’t care. And as I said, that may have more injurious consequences than Disappointed Engagement or Active Animus. The former leads to withdrawal; the latter leads to rash plans quickly nixed when the anger cools.
A nation that no longer cares about what happens Over There is a nation, I think, that has already made its peace, however subconsciously, with a horrible conclusion.
Just a thought.
In this, the Best Summer Ever! Really. Life is good. It's a lie that we only have today. I'm writing this on Monday. I suspect we have tomorrow, too. Drink up and have some pie and wander outside and listen for crickets. Summer's nowhere near done with us yet.