Like any working stiff, even one who has worked odd hours for a couple of decades, I find myself relaxing a little at sunset. Even if I’m hard into a project of some kind, I’ll usually take a few minutes to watch the sky’s blue deepen to indigo and whatever clouds there are pick up the last rays of the sun, watch the birds as they fly purposefully at odd angles across the darkening sky.
Sometimes I’ll sit with my guitar in my lap, plucking out a tune. Sometimes I’ll just sit, hand on chin, watching, trying to keep words from forming in my mind… just… watching.
This little solo guitar instrumental has a kind of jaunty feel, I guess, but the chords are similar to Gene Clark’s “She Darked the Sun,” which I played the other night (none too well, I’m afraid… it was a rough day but I was glad to be around people and devote myself to music for a few hours and the audience was kind and, of course, I had my pals Tareq and Raindog to take up my slack.)
And the style reminded me — in its clumsy way — of the finger style playing of guys like Richard Thompson, whose song, “The Dimming of the Day,” I’ve always deeply admired.
I sort of ran it all together in my head and came up with this oddly constructed title…
I knew his health hadn’t been too good since he broke his hip in a bicycle accident a little over a year ago. When I saw him a few times around Christmas, he was thin — as always — but he was very happy.
For the first time in many, many years he was in love. He excitedly talked about buying a ring for his girlfriend, Charlene. If you knew Kurt, as I had for almost 30 years, that was deeply surprising — to put it mildly.
Still, there could be no questioning his enthusiasm for his new relationship. At times it was all he could talk about. And there was no questioning his genuine affection and love for his girlfriend, despite surprising differences between them.
So it was especially saddening when one of our mutual friends called me this morning to tell me Kurt had passed away less than 24 hours after checking into the hospital. We still don’t know the particulars of his passing and, really, it’s hard to feel like they really matter much. He was not young, at 53, but not old, either. Still, his health had been increasingly precarious, especially after the bike accident knocked him off his feet for the better part of a half year. The last time I saw him, he was still using a cane. (I used a cane, myself, for five years after a motorcycle wreck when I was 29, so it’s never something I like to see one of my friends leaning on. I kept hoping he’d be throwing it away soon but… ah well.)
Anyway, I’ll be writing more about Kurt, who was a very good painter and graphic artist (the hurriedly photographed picture above that he gave me as a housewarming gift almost 20 years ago only hints at his skill and vision… I hope to share more with you over coming months) as well as a fine percussionist (he was part of my all improv ambient ensemble Drift in the mid-90s, along with clarinetist/guitarist Steven (Caz Camberline) Becker and violinist/vocalist Ann De Jarnett).
He was a witty, often wildly funny man. At times he lived a little large and maybe a little wobbly — but he was a hell of a guy and a hell of a friend and — damn it — I really miss him already.
Kurt plays all the percussion on this wild and woolly workout. We recorded in two passes, with me on guitar and him on a handful of his percussion toys on both tracks. And I later went back and added some keyboard parts (no, that’s not really a sax section, back there).
Kurt is joined on congas on this track by our mutual friend Michael Bay on shakers. The two conga tracks and the shakers were actually recorded for one of the songs on Mike’s unreleased first album that he recorded a number of years ago in my old project studio and he graciously allowed me to swipe them and build a whole new track around them.
OK… I guess it’s no surprise a lot of us theoretically creative types have… oh, let’s call them… mood issues.
Of course, we don’t all go the Elliott Smith route and there are, undoubtedly, some happy-go-lucky types who keep pouring out music and words (or other forms of art) and never once think about plunging a dagger into our own hearts.
Well… there must be.
But it ain’t me.
We all have ups and downs, of course. And, perhaps, it stands to reason that those who “live large” will have higher highs and lower lows. Not to mention more erratic cycles of up and down, longer, shorter… maybe a little like heart arrhythmia, I suppose: too fast, too slow, pounding, barely beating… that’s what the emotional life of some of us is like.
A life of interesting times, you might say.
Anyhow, I’m not bitching. Good grist for the kind of songs I write. (Or do I write the kind of songs I write because of… yeah, you think?)
But it’s been a long and rocky journey, too. And, as those adept at reading between the lines have probably already sussed, after a few decades of alternating — and, not unoften, overlapping — periods of attempted monogamy and semi-wanton carousing, all of it well-lubricated by society’s drug-of-choice, alcohol, I have in recent years led, by comparison, an almost monastic life of relative seclusion and sobriety.
That might sound like something healthy and mature — and, to be certain, I have, thank God, no desire to try to squeeze back inside the bottle that contained me for so many years. But alcohol did, for me, have a leveling effect on my moods. It sort of mushed them together.
And, honest to God, for me, a good, nasty black out drunk and killer hangover seemed to have the same kind of salubrious effect claimed for electroshock therapy. You wake up, you can’t remember anything, you ache all over… but whatever it is you were obsessively worrying about is pretty well forgotten, just part of the smear of history. Past history.
That was the good part of drinking, for me.
The bad part was that what started out as an occasional blow-out became, over the years, a somewhat more subdued, but nightly, then daily routine. (Well, the two beers every morning before coffee counted for something, yeah? After breakfast, I was good ’til cocktail hour… as long as that began about 5 or 6 pm and lasted until closing.) I had many adventures over the years with a bottle in one or both hands… but at the end I was just watching TV and sluggin back one Bud after another. The guy I swore, when I was 19, that I would never be.
But no good deed ever goes forever unpunished… the receding tides of alcohol revealed a jagged and rocky emotional landscape I’ve found myself picking my way through, ever since.