Saturday, June 23, 2012

Every Grain of Sand and the Cobra

I have several real "friends" on Facebook. Not so many on Twitter

December of 2010 was cold in Los Angeles. The city was suffering from a heavy and extended rain storm, while my very small family (Marisol and my dad Blayney), were driving back and forth to Saint Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, the place of my birth. This time my mom, Lavina, was there to complete the circle of life.

In the long and final days after my mom's heart surgery, she never left intensive care and was barely conscious. There was a lot of sitting around and waiting. To distract myself from the pain of the moment, I turned to the same place most modern people turn...Facebook.

For most people it was simply the days leading up to Christmas, a day I know my mom, semi-conscious or not, wanted to survive past. She always lived for milestones. I'm not going to lie, it was hard to watch other people, celebrating so freely at every turn, while we formed our small circle of grief. So I used Facebook not only to get the word out to my larger family and friends, but I used Facebook to distract my mind. 

I was during that cold and rainy time, I virtually met singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked on Facebook.

Earlier in the year I had sent a "friend" request to Michelle and she had "accepted," so according to Facebook we were "friends" even though we had never interacted. Michelle was feeling the limitations of Facebook, that those in the public eye quickly have to confront. She had decided to set-up a new profile for people who weren't real-life friends, but instead were fans, supporter and lurkers. She sent a message to everyone and I responded. Michelle chose to engage, so we sent a few messages back and forth, while I tried to forget, if only for moment, that my mom was dying under the same roof she gave me life.

I told "Miss Shell Shocked" how much I admired her "skateboard punk rocker" music and courage to follow her own musical path. That I used to listen, on a loop, to my 1988 cassette of Short Sharp Shocked on my beatbox. A time when I was first digging deep into music...even before I got hooked on Dylan.

Nearly needless to say, I asked her about Bob. Michelle said she wasn't really a fan, but she acknowledged his place as an important artist.  Knowing Michelle had openly embraced her Christian faith, I asked her if she knew one of my all-time favorite Bob Dylan tracks, Every Grain of Sand from his Gospel album, Shot of Love. Michelle didn't seem overly familiar with the song, so I sent her a link to Bob's site to refresh her memory.

Meanwhile, a few days before Christmas, my small family saw signs of hope, but by Christmas Eve we could only hope for the best. Feeling powerless, I decided to try and send a prayer into the universe, by recording an a cappella cover of "Every Grain of Sand Sung by the Solo Choir in my Attic"  and posting it on my podcast. I didn't know what else to do.

Our small, and now growing smaller, family spent Christmas in my mom's room. The hospital was nearly deserted. It seemed like just the four of us saying goodbye. Christmas Night, after sitting with my dad in the waiting room watching "our" Lakers lose, I went back to my mom's room to say goodbye for the last time. 

I leaned over to kiss her goodnight and said, "Well Mom, you made it through Christmas." With her eyes closed, she nodded yes. 

The next morning she let go.


Facebook became an even more powerful "social media" tool after she passed. I was able to let family know without have to contact everyone personally. Also I was truly comforted by warm messages from all corners of my life. In fact, the response was so powerful, just the thought of it brings me to tears, even today. Literally.

A few weeks into the New Year, I sent Michelle Shocked a note about what had happened to my mom, with a link to my very humble cover of Dylan's Every Grain of Sand. Michelle claims to like my version better than Bob's, although her resistance to Bob certainly gave me an edge.

My correspondences with Michelle naturally waned as she geared up for her upcoming tour, and as my small family made plans for my mom's celebration of life. I know my mom is eternally grateful for three choices we made. First, we had her cremated (she was always very claustrophobic). Second, we held her memorial at Descanso Gardens. Third and most importantly, her beloved cousin David Starr Archuletta sang at her service. I asked David, a pastor, to sing Every Grain of Sand. It was perfect.


I mentioned my mom's passing on Twitter to a chorus of crickets. That was a harsh reality, I was forced to accept. Yet moments of magic can happen on Twitter too.

Over the past several of months I've been following Sinead O'Connor on Twitter and her many different Twitter aliases. Sinead has gone through a lot, much of it in public. From a distance, she can seem erratic in one moment, yet brutally clear in the next. She unabashedly gushes over Dylan, in long rambling and often brilliant, "letters" to Bob. 

I first heard Sinead's The Lion and the Cobra in 1987 on my college roommate Jay's turntable. I loved the album. Sinead's powerful and haunting voice, floored me. In fact, her bold hair style, helped give me the courage to shave my own hair, after fighting a losing battle with baldness since high school. My connection and reverence for Sinead O'Connor runs deep.

Recently Sinead put together an impromptu recording for a cover of Dylan's Meet Me in the Morning. Then, with the help of her Twitter followers, she made a quick slide show video of her family photos to accompany the song.

After that, I sent a tweet with a suggestion to sing Elvis Costello's favorite Bob Dylan song...Every Grain of Sand. A few days later I followed up with a tweet with a link to my humble version of the song, sung by the solo choir in my attic.

And then magically this response...

Do I think Sinead O'Connor will take the time to listen to my questionable singing? Yes I do.  

I asked Sinead to be kind...after all I was only asking one of the great singing voices of the turn of the century to listen to me sing...alone and in a moment of desperation.

Maybe if I'm lucky...lucky for all of us...maybe Sinead will sing Every Grain of Sand. Then the circle will truly be complete.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Verge of the Dude: Heroes in America

As a follow-up to my last post, here is a podcast I recorded back in November 2010.

Hey Dude - I trip on my upcoming interview on the Raw Garden blog & the greatest two-song Rock 'n Roll set ever at The Concert For NYC.

Proudly presented rawunedited and in one-take... recorded and "Verge of Bowie" shot on my iPhone.

America written by Paul Simon and performed by David Bowie and Heroes (Bowie) at the Concert for New York CityOctober 20, 2001.

Bowie vs. Dylan

Blogs have their place. I see that now.

This morning I was going through my daily ritual of "publishing" my Verge of Bob Dylan "paper" that  aggregates, via Twitter, stories about Dylan and related artists, thanks to the cool people at Paper.Li. Today my top story was from Boston Herald by a dude named Jed Gottlieb. Jed, who bills himself as "the Northeast's preeminent David Lee Roth scholar," posed the provocative question: Is David Bowie the equal of Dylan, Zeppelin, Floyd?

I sink or swim with Dylan, that's obvious. As for Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, they are unquestionably influential and trans-formative bands in the history of Rock 'n Roll, no doubt, but I've never been a rabid fan. They both have blown me away many times and in much different ways, but they seem distant. Maybe it is just me...and I can except that.

David Bowie on the other hand poses a real challenge from the outside, to the horse I have all my money on. Very few performers are in their own category, the best example being Ray Charles. One could argue, and I will, that Bowie is also in his own category. Like Dylan, how can you really define Bowie? Jed gives us a launching pad with "he was a spaced-out folkie, psychedelic heavy metal pioneer, prog-rock overlord, dynamite soul singer, minimalist outsider, and pop music king." 

Bowie sparks the imagination, because the audience is challenged to fill-in the blanks with their own mind.

I remember being confused by him as pre-teen kid in the 70's, when I saw him on Saturday Night Live. He was wearing this crazy red...I'm not sure what...while being carried out on to the stage. "Who is the guy?" I thought, "What a weirdo." Over the years, the transgender persona of his youth has aged with grace and gravity. 

It wasn't until the mid-nineties that I really dug into Bowie. I was living in funky house in Burbank with my best friend and another dude from his band Kittens for Christian. I was 30 and still chasing the Rock 'n Roll spoken word artist dream. I was renting a room and was just barely keeping it together. I remember playing Bowie on loop in my room...loud...seriously loud. One night our crazy postman neighbor was banging our front door, demanding I turn it down...or else.

During that same period, I was studying physical theatre, also known as mime, with one of the masters of the art form (the OG form of storytelling). My mentor had lived in New York during the seventies and was part of the downtown Bohemian scene. At one point he even was in the same American Mime Theatre class with a young David Bowie. He said that Bowie was fantastic, a natural and striking performer. On a few occasions, he even shared a couple of cups of coffee and conversation with Bowie at a local SoHo diner. He said Bowie was generally low-key and humble...even after he became famous.

A few years ago I was talking about Bowie with an old junior high classmate, who back in the day was the "pretty girl" who used to set the boys' hearts aflutter. With a Devil's grin, she said she had an agreement with her husband, that if fate ever landed her on the same deserted island with Bowie, she had her husbands' blessing to have a night of bliss.

Today when I read Jed's question, I thought of two videos I've watched many, many times on YouTube. My initial impulse was to a link to Jed's piece on Facebook followed by my "argument" about Bowie's greatness, by posting the two examples. Three separate posts. 

Which made me face an earlier thought I had this morning. "I need to revive my blog, but where do I start?" It's been years. Politics makes me sick, although it's an obvious choice. Then a few hours later, I'm reading Jed's blog post and considering annoying my "friend's" slumber on Facebook with three post...and then it hit "response" calls for a blog post.

So here I am, back, not in black, but in blue.

A great performance is a mixture of many things coming together in the same fleeting moment. An artist's performance, material, venue audience and setting. David Bowie's opening two song set at The Concert for New York City, just days after 9/11 is a perfect example of a great performance and will be locked in America's time capsule as long as our story is being told. 

Dressed a modest beige, Bowie opens with Paul Simon's haunting song America. A perfect choice. Bowie sits almost a modified lotus position...while playing a small Casio style keyboard. 

After Bowie briefly acknowledges both the audience and the moment, he launches into the definitive version of Heroes. Definitive because of the moment. 

I rest my case...for now...I need to post this on Facebook.

(p.s. Thanks to Jed, David...and Bob too...for the inspiration.)