November 2004

OLD IRONY

Loath as I am to delve into matters political, at least within the confines of this newsletter, I will now run the risk of a dabble.

During the Democratic National Convention in Boston, some protestors were observed burning the Flag. Local TV news stations aired footage of gleeful slouches dancing around the flames. OK, fine. Free speech and all that. So what are they saying? I think it's reasonable to assume they're saying that US policies, foreign and/or domestic, are wrong or evil or whatever. I think, further, that we all understand that that is what they are saying. So it could be said that they're making their point; their point being that they don't like US policy.

The Flag, though, isn't a symbol of US policy. It is, surely, a symbol of American ideals which include the familiar life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, equality, etc., and for which thousands of Americans have given life and limb. These ideals remain before us as a beacon to our better selves, unmoved by the tempest of human affairs and steady as the North Star, however short we fall in their attainment. Rather than burning the Flag, burning a politician in effigy, for example, as a symbolic complaint over the shortcomings of governmental policy, would be much more effective and appropriate. And to the point. After the last presidential "election", the entire Supreme Court could have been consigned to the flames. We could have warmed ourselves 'round the ideological bonfire. So by burning the Flag these people are not really saying what they mean. The rest of us regard them as an adult would a child who doesn't know what he's talking about yet the adult well knows what the child wants. Burning the Flag, in the end, is not so shocking as it is tedious and annoying. Whatever response the Flag burners are trying to elicit, the actual one is more like: We get the point you're trying to make although it's not the point you're making, you stupid idiot. Moreover, better people than you have had their heads blown (and sawed) off to defend your right to burn the Flag, you imbecile.

This brings me to something less conspicuous and more insidious, and that is the wearing of the Flag. I've regarded this practice with vague unease since I first witnessed it back in the '60s. As insignia on a military uniform or on a veteran's grave or anywhere else along those lines, it appears, to my eye, justified and appropriate. But everywhere else, not. I think the Flag belongs up on a flagpole so that we must raise our eyes to see it. Lifting our gaze, in a real sense, lifts our hearts and emboldens us to be brave and strong as we daily face the challenges of existence. But when the Flag is lowered to our mundane, walkabout level, when it's slapped on every other tailgate and T-shirt, when it festoons the gas station, when it peppers the landscape in every direction, it begins to meld with the motley mosaic of mind-numbing bullshit we all swim through every day. Such promiscuous display is a degradation.

So again, we have people making a different point than they think they're making. They mean to proclaim their patriotism and remind the rest of us to be patriotic but in so doing they cheapen our national symbol. You wear a T-shirt with the Flag on it, trumpeting that "These Colors Don't Run" or whatever, and soon it smells of body odor, it's in a hamper, it's in a pile on the laundry room floor. So finally the colors that don't run are faded, not by exposure during a military campaign but by repeated washings. Is this honoring the Flag?

This really came home to me a couple summers ago in Martha's Vineyard. I saw a man get out of his SUV (with a Flag decal on the window), along with his attractive wife and bright, shiny children. He seemed at a glance in every way like a decent, clean cut, tax paying, family man. A Good American. And I'm sure he was, don't get me wrong. He was wearing Bermuda shorts that didn't just have the Flag on them; they were the Flag. The field of stars took up one hip and buttock while the stripes wrapped around the rest of his private area. It occurred to me that every time the guy sits down, he's sitting on the Flag. And then my mind pulled me where I didn't want to go, as it so often does, and I pictured the guy defecating in some public men's room, which he surely would sooner or later, and that there, in the dark, on some urine splattered concrete, our national symbol would lie crumpled around his ankles.

Is this any better than burning it? I'd say no. I would argue that burning it is actually better. The flames imbue this already potent symbol with a misunderstood martyr's dignity. Christ-like in its constitutional forgiveness, the Flag gives up its colors to the rising smoke.

Being sat upon by some guy having a burger at McDonald's, on the other hand...

The final irony in this wealth of ironies is how close together the Burners and Wearers stand. Pretty much hand in hand, in terms of unintentional insult to the very concepts they seem to hold dear. I would say to them all to leave the Flag alone. Leave it on the pole, up in the sky.

I was recently at the Battle Green in Lexington, Massachusetts where the fight that began our bloody baptism occurred. Traffic and busy life goes on all 'round and yet there's a sense of quiet about the place. I looked out across the expanse of green and pictured the grim forces that faced each other just where I was standing. I thought of what it would be like to engage a deadly enemy, of what was in the minds and hearts of the men who stood there that day. I thought of my father deep in the hold of a troop ship as it zigzagged through Hitler's wolf pack in the North Atlantic. I thought of my father-in-law holding a hilltop in Korea. I thought of my friends who went to Vietnam but never returned. I thought of the men being blown to bits every day in Baghdad.

In a central location on the Green is a flagpole, of course, and a mighty one it is. I don't know its height, but it's about as tall as can be. The Flag is high enough to catch wind unfelt at ground level. I could hear the snap of the fabric and the ping of the clips striking the pole. I could see the Flag moving against a blue sky with migrating clouds behind. The sight filled me with sadness, awe, gratitude, humility, and inspiration.

My plea, then, is for everyone to stop burning and wearing and decorating with the Flag. There was a time, not long ago, when the only thing people did with the Flag was fly it. One would fly the Flag. The Flag flew. Like an eagle. Not like a thing bandied or despised or discarded. Let's leave it up in the sky where it can be something to look up to; something to strive toward. And while we're at it, let's stop tailgating each other and remember that there are barbarians at the gates.


LOWLY CREATURE DISCOMFORT

Toad and Lizard Lounge are nightclubs in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They stand apart from other joints around town because of some indefinable cachet that dubs them COOL. They are cool places to go to, cool places to be and to be seen in, and, for musicians, cool places to play. Naturally, when I started my own band and then my own solo effort, I deemed it worthwhile to add them to my résumé.

Who knows why a certain club attains "cool" status for musicians? It certainly isn't the money. My salary for a night's work at Toad or the Lounge would be an insult anywhere else and yet I clamber to get over and in. It took me two full years to get into Toad. I finally succeeded only because I got a little push from Steve Morse, the music reviewer with The Boston Globe. When I did get in, my estimation in the mind of Joe Blow was significantly elevated. A typical exchange:

JB: "So where do you guys play?"
JT: "Well, let's see...Captain Carlo's, Dodge Street, Barking Crab, Toad..."
JB: "What? Toad? Wow! You guys must be good."

It's weird. Especially because some acts I've heard at Toad have been, to my ear, not what I would call, um, good. Execrable, as an adjective, comes a little earlier to mind. But music appreciation is so subjective, isn't it? One nice thing about playing these places is that, since they are cool, acts that appear in them are perceived to be cool by association so people actually pay attention because they figure you must be good whether or not you actually are. I mean, what does Joe Blow know, really? The fact that Hootie and the Blowfish sold more records than Little Feat ever did pretty much says it all. Perception is everything.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Anyway, to get into Toad or the Lizard Lounge you have to get past Billy Beard, who books these places. He's a drummer who's in constant demand and who plays all the time with countless bands. How he finds time to act as a booking agent I don't know, but you can imagine how inundated he must be with submissions of material from struggling acts, like mine, who see these clubs as an important step. A vital rung.

Billy cannot be reached by phone. At least, not by me. I have to send emails. And send them I do. As soon as I finish a gig at Toad or the Lounge I start with the emails so I can get back in. You gotta stay in. You don't want to fall out of the Loop of Coolness. And just because you send an email doesn't mean you'll get a response. You have to keep trying. I typically send five emails to Billy before he gets around to offering me some dates. But now I'm concerned because I've sent well beyond five and still he has not replied. Am I no longer cool? Or is he just too busy? I'm sure it's the latter. Pretty sure. Must be that.

To make my emails stand out from the rest I've adopted the well known technique of putting new lyrics to familiar songs. Following are some of my latest attempts to get Billy's attention.

8/13/04
Song: All Of Me

Billy Beard
To you my mind has veered
I was reared
To keep on playing

Book this bass
I want to thwack it
Give me Toad
And I'll attack it

Lizard Lounge
That, too, I'd like to scrounge
My guitar
Is gently moping

You are the guy
I ain't gonna lie
So please book me Billy Beeeeeeeeerrrrrrd!


9/03/04
Song: Born Free

Bill Beard
I'm writing you, Bill Beard
My offer is two-tiered
One's Lounge, the other one's Toad

I'm skeered,
You've forgotten me Bill Beard
The ghost of doubt has reared
Its face in my humble abode

Bridge:

Bill Beard
My bubble will be speared
If you don't get back to me
And book me now todaaaaaay!

Now that
I've told you where I'm at
I'll look for the welcome mat
To your roster Bill Beeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrd!


9/14/04
Song: Oklahoma

Booooooooooooooooooooook!
Me Billy 'cause I want to get back to the Lounge
And the secret code
To play at Toad
Is a thing I'd dearly like to scrounge!*

That's why I saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaYO!
Don't mind the lousy paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaYO!
I'm only askin'
Please book me now won'tchya Billy
Won'tchya book me
Today tee oh dee ay why book me Billy
Today!

*Rhyming with "lounge" is hard.


9/20/04
Song: Unforgettable

(a recent review referred to my playing as "impeccable", a fact of which I informed Billy, and which led to the following):

Just Impeccable
That's what I yam
So Impeccable
Like Hoover Dam

Book me, Billy
Stack the deckable
And then you will
Be respeckable
Don't you want to
Be Impeccable
Toooooo.


10/04/04
Song: Danny Boy

Oh Billy Beard
My trio is so yer-her-ning
To play at Toad,
That dump in Porter Square

And don't you think
It's time for my re-tur-hur-ning
To Lizard Lounge
Where hipsters sit & stare

The prickly pears
Of life
Are deep down in my pants
They're telling me
To keep
Flogging that horse

So won't you please
Just book my act
Sometime this year
Oh Billy Beard
Oh Billy Beard
You are...
Da...
Man

Cha cha cha!


10/13/04
Song: Get A Job

Billy Beard!
Yo no tengo
Uno stinkin' gig!

Billy Beard!
Whatsamatter
Donchya know I'm big!

Billy Beard!
Have a crouton
Tell me when you're done!

Billy Beard
Writin' to you
Sure is lotsa fun!

Bopbop dipdip boomboom wopwop
Dingdong flapjack whoa!
Billy Beard!

Thang-ya. Thang-ya vairmush.


10/22/04
Song: La Cucaracha

Oh book me Billy!
Please book me Billy!
Then set fire to your head!

Oh book me Billy!
Why donchya Billy!
Let me play before I'm dead!


10/28/04
Song: Wild Thing

Bill Beard

Now that your head's cleared

Have some dates appeared?...Book me

Bill Beard

Nuh nuh nuh nuh!
Bill Beard I...think you need me

Nuh nuh nuh nuh!
So I'm gonna tell you what

Nuh nuh nuh nuh!
Come on and...drop yer trow

Nuh nuh nuh nuh!
You need me

Boom boom
Gadoom boom boom
Whack whack whoa!
Gadoom bing bong
Hey boy
Gading zig zag

Hama lama dong
Zappa ding dang
Whata lotta booze
Watchyer pocket baby

Snorta lotta blow
Porka poodle puppy
Winkie dinkie doo
Flappa doodle buggy BILL BEARD

You are my Sam Sneed

I think we're agreed...aren't we?

Sam Sneed

C'mon c'mon
Sam Sneed

Shake it shake it
Sam Sneed

Cha cha cha!


Do you now see the depths to which I lower myself just to get a gig? And why doesn't Billy respond? Do you think I've overdone it? No, go ahead. Be honest. Does Billy, who once, I guess, saw me as a musician of some stature, sporting Morse's imprimatur, now regard me as a cowering, crawling, needy, groveling, cringing, sniveling, grasping, glomming, kowtowing, apple polishing, toadying (!), slavering, bootlicking, brown nosing, cock sucking pain in the ass?

Well, does he? Answer me!

Sorry. It's just that he doesn't respond. But that is so often the case when trying to get gigs. That's why I need a booking agent. It's just business. But when you promote yourself, it's hard not to take it personally when you get no response. Maybe he's going through a mile-high pile of stuff. Probably so. But maybe he listened to your cherished submission, laughed derisively, and used it to wipe himself. You don't know. How can you know? So you keep sending it out, sending it out, and wondering if your plaintive pleas are swirling down the hopper, heavy laden with poop.


SON OF A BITCH

Speaking of heavy laden, I'm fat again. It got so bad I stopped weighing myself for a couple months. But today I decided to face the music and discovered that I weigh 244 lbs. Unbelievable. Up to a couple months ago I daily recorded my weight in my calendar so I can tell you that a year ago today I weighed 209 lbs. And that was up from a buck ninety-five. I see that I underlined the 209 to alert myself to the alarming trend. How adorable that looks from here. Well, it's gone about far enough, don't you think? I put the number on today's date: 244.

DEFT YET DILATORY

I originally intended to send out a monthly newsletter. Then bimonthly. And now it's been over a year since my last one. For that I apologize. Many of you seem to enjoy my newsletters, which is troubling. I am often upbraided for being so slow with them. It's just that my life, like so many of yours, I'm sure, is a hurricane of busy-ness. At the end of the day, when I have the time to write, I usually just don't feel like it. With writing, it helps to feel like it.

Another delayed thing is my new CD. I had hoped for a spring release but, once again, mundane necessities take priority. As I say to people who ask about it, all I need is time and money. I will say that, so far, it sounds good. Maybe Christmas.

There has also been talk of a live recording of Troy, Mattacks and Brown but at this point there is some disagreement over how to go about it, as hard to believe as that may seem.

BY THE WAY...

The Red Sox won the World Series. Did you hear? If you have any questions, you may approach between sets and I'll tell you about it. Then we can go out and burn some cars.

I'm John Troy, and I approved this message.




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