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  • Posts Tagged ‘love’

    Aging Rock Star
    June 10th, 2013

    Aging Rock Star

    Tuesday night, two weeks ago, at the City Winery, one of three sold-out shows, we arrived for the Dave Davies concert with curiosity. The place was packed with old hippies, rock-n-rollers, retro-boomers and lots of younger people who wouldn’t have been alive for The Kinks’ first hit. So were they Kinks fans? Dave Davies fans? Nostalgia bingers?

    I had loved The Kinks back in the seventies and eighties, though I’d been too young to know them in the 60s. I’d been aware of the bitter rivalry between Ray and Dave, but I hadn’t kept up with their various individual projects or given them a lot of thought in recent years. That I found myself at this show was a matter of happenstance. My curiosity mingled with pessimism because Ray Davies wrote most of the songs and he’s the one you think of when you think of The Kinks. Dave was known more as the guitarist.

    The pessimism felt quite justified when Dave Davies opened with I’m Not Like Everybody Else, one of The Kinks’ more turgid songs in the best of circumstances. But now, as he yelled in his hoarse, cracking voice, I’m not going to be what you want anymore! the song bordered on ridiculous. And ridiculously loud.

    Dave Davies on guitar

    Dave Davies on guitar

    His voice was so rasping and weak, I wondered if he had a cold or something. He seemed to forget his lyrics. His fingers couldn’t find the right notes on his guitar.

    I couldn’t decide whether to resent him because I’d paid $55+convenience-fee for a performer who did not have his shit together, or to feel sorry for him because he was in over his head. And yet there is something profoundly likeable about Dave Davies.

    How could we not root for a sixty-six-year-old man still out there playing music and doing his thing? In 2004, he suffered a stroke. It’s a miracle he’s still with us.

    When Dave Davies burst into Tired of Waiting for You, assisted by the voices of the drummer and the other guitarist and the audience sang along, people screamed their appreciation. Even I, pessimist, couldn’t resist. That audience love, combined with the lyrics and melody of a song that had entered my life and my body on a cellular level at an early age, bringing fraught sense memories of the past, eliminated all my resentment.



    We don’t hate each other!

    Aging, afflicted with our heartaches and physical ailments, it’s a miracle we’re all still here. As for the well-publicized enmity between Dave and Ray, Dave cried, We don’t hate each other, you know! before launching into Young and Innocent Days. Well, not that much anyway! And the audience howled their approval.

    When he donned his reading glasses so he could see his lyric sheet, his voice grew more confident, and it seemed that the audience affection buoyed him and sustained him, so his playing and singing improved with each song. And he seemed so grateful for the love, it would have been mean-spirited to withhold it.

    Dave Davies in mutual love with the audience

    It’s a real question!

    We’re all feeling a deep connection here, aren’t we? he shouted at one point, eliciting confused laughter from the audience. That’s a real question! he cried. More laughter and applause. A woman shouted, We love you, Dave! Oops, was that me? It could have been. It’s what I was thinking. Here’s my love if it will strengthen you.

    The band left the stage after four encore songs, one of which was a repeat of their opening. The piped-in music started in over the sound system, a sure sign the show was over. Though the lights had not yet gone up, people were standing, settling checks, gathering things, ready to leave, when Dave Davies came back onstage, crying, But it was a request! It was a request! The band followed, dutiful and bewildered, and they played their last song, You Really Got Me.

    And that really got everyone. I’m still singing it. You got me so I don’t know what I’m doing. Yeah.




    Books, Books and more Books
    April 23rd, 2013

    Books, Books and more Books

    I have always loved books; from the dust jackets and canvas-covered boards of hard-covers, to the french-folds of trade paperbacks, from the texture and grain of the pages, deckle-edged or smooth-trimmed, to the layout and typography. I love the inky, gluey smell of new books and the tangy musty scent of old ones. I relish the cracking sound the spines make when you open them. And that’s just the physical aspect. I love the unique universe each book represents, the heart and mind and spirit conveyed through language. It feels simplistic, verging on cliché, to say that my love for books and reading led me to becoming a writer, yet that’s how it is. Though I’ve had setbacks in the publishing arena, I habitually return to this deep appreciation of books. And remember why I’m in the game.

    But, recently, I was bequeathed approximately four thousand books, and my love was severely tested. Like many New Yorkers, I own more books than I have space for. They overflow the shelves to inhabit every surface, including the floor. But they number only a small fraction of what I inherited–four thousand books, contained in four book-filled rooms. The only rooms that held no books in that apartment were the bathrooms. Yes, two bathrooms, rent-controlled, in Manhattan.

    just a few books in the dining room

    just a few books in the dining room

    There is no way around the work of clearing after someone dies. The living must do it. The work must be done. But at first I couldn’t touch the books. They had meant so much to me over so many years—evidence of a deep, intuitive, alignment I’d formed with a complex, gifted woman. She had always thrust books on me. As a teenager and into my twenties, much of what I read was at her behest. We had long discussions, she and I, of writing and writers and literature, of sentences and paragraphs and poetry. You’ll get the books when I’m gone, she used to say, which made me covet them and feel ashamed.

    Now they were mine. She was gone, and her books seemed dead, too. Inert, neglected, gathering dust, all the life inside those pages, all the drama and humanity, had become quiescent. The sad and bitter irony is that she had lost the capacity to read. Suffering from dementia, she had devolved, year by year, month by month, from comprehending the philosophy of Wittgenstein to barely grasping the plots of James Patterson, to being unable to recognize written words at all. I can still see her sitting in a chair in front of her bookshelves, mute and bewildered, only the pining in her eyes revealing an awareness of what she had become.

    After she died, the books came alive. They clamored at me, demanding to be read. But their overwhelming number exposed my own mortality. Even if I’d quit my job and done nothing but read and read and read, there were not enough years. How finite I am and how infinite in number these books appeared to be.

    another stack, removed from the shelves

    another stack, removed from the shelves

    They haunted me. Night after night, I was screamed at, berated and cast out. I was trapped in fires, fleeing floods, serious nightmares. Woken by the sound of my own wailing, muscles coiled, throat and jaw aching, I would lie awake, drenched in sweat and shivering. The books, the books, the books! What will I do with all the books?

    As I began the seemingly insurmountable task of sorting through them, I was beset by questions about the books. Why did she possess three 30-volume sets of encyclopedias, from 1910, 1954 and 1987, respectively? Was David Hume’s History of England relevant today? Had she purchased the 15-volume set of the complete works of Balzac with the pages still uncut intending to read them? Had she actually read Frances Parkman’s works in twelve volumes? Could the Oxford English Dictionary, both the compact version with magnifying glass and the enormous 20-volume set with supplement and bibliography still be valuable when the electronic version exists? Why was Volume Seven missing from the gilt-edged, 10-volume, first-edition set of the Collected Works of Henrik Ibsen? The questions continue to plague me.

    drama books

    some drama books


    Even alive, she wouldn’t have been able to answer. The books symbolized the intellect that had vanished long before she died, vanished along with my younger self who’d latched onto everything she’d said, who’d admired and loved and emulated her. Her death reminded me of what we’d once had, of what I’d outgrown. How easily I’d forgotten what she once was, who I once was. For, before we’d managed to negotiate a relationship of mutual adults, she had lost her bearings and her mind, a long, slow quietus.

    The books were so dusty, handling them blackened my fingers. In latex gloves, my palms perspired profusely. Bits of paper and old receipts fluttered out from between pages. I stripped off countless post-its. Brittle and discolored with age, the post-its were the most painful. Torn and crumpled, unmoored from the text they’d once marked, they dispersed the ghosts of her former selves, intelligent critical women who’d once been in charge; powerful, angry ghosts. Alone in her apartment, I jumped at the slightest noise. I wept and sneezed and apologized. Dust caked my nostrils and coated my skin. As I drifted from room to room, sorting, sifting, browsing, and stacking for many hours and many days, the only evidence of having accomplished anything were the filthy latex gloves I peeled off, and the scabby painful rash that covered my hands.

    Sorting books, however, is not unpleasant. It’s a meditative task. Opening pages at random, reading a line here, a poem there, it’s easy to get lost in all the voices and remember how life can expand while reading. I had to do right by these voices. I had to find them homes.

    At first, I thought I’d create a database of all the books. Open Excel, start a file called “books.” But entering titles, authors, publishers, dates, and ISBNs proved impossibly laborious. Many had been published before 1970, pre-ISBN, and many before 1898, pre-Library of Congress Control Numbers, which meant the data was inconsistent. The inconsistency bothered me. I had entered about two hundred books into my database before I realized I simply did not have time. The apartment had to be cleared in a month. Forget the master database. I decided to inventory only those books that might be valuable. I could sell those. The rest I’d keep or donate. But how to choose? By what criteria is a book “valuable”?

    Biographies of people no longer relevant, poems by forgotten poets, historical incidents no one remembers, were, I discovered, of value to no one. Old books are simply old. And no one wants them, even as a donation. I gave books to friends but those giveaways were drops in the vast sea. I contacted several organizations, hoping to donate the books but only one place responded: Housing Works Books. If I could deliver them, they would take them.

    Reluctantly, I packed up all the books I’ll never read, the visions I will never see, the perspectives I’ll never absorb. Like a crowd of elderly people with so many stories to tell, they chattered and exhorted, but I had no time to listen. I passed them by. Hopefully, someone will connect to some of them.

    boxes of books

    boxes of books I couldn’t part with

    Letting go is my life’s lesson. I’m a person who clings and saves and hoards.

    I’m still clinging to thirty boxes of books currently piled in my living room, developing the permanence of furniture. I can’t bear to give them away but I don’t have room to keep them. When I find the time, I hope to sell them on e-bay or somewhere.

    Yes, my love has been tested but I can’t help it: I’m still devoted to these extraordinary objects called books, with their promise of undiscovered constellations, of visions and worlds, rich with wisdom, curiosity, language and culture. My intent was to fulfill the obligations of this gift as decently and thoroughly as possible, and emerge unscathed, and wiser. But I’ve already been scathed. People die. Words fade. Minds vanish. Books gather dust. It’s all true. I don’t know if I’m any wiser.