POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don’t get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE’s purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the curtain of my specific process.
Leaving a message for Kelly Sue: I hug Rockefeller Center for her. As I grip the corner and squeeze, someone walks by and says, Hey, that guy’s humpin’ the wall.
Goodbye, New York.
Some things will never change: Handsome Black Actor Danyon K. Davis makes it to KC for a day in-between being in Arkansas and heading back up to the Guthrie in Minneapolis. As per established ritual, the lyrics of Steely Dan are once again analyzed and debated before reconfirming, as we have before through all of these decaying years past, that every Steely Dan song is in fact about weird sex and heroin. Astonishingly enough, and contrary to all evidence otherwise, some things never change.
Traveling this morning was surprisingly easy, with the exception of waking up and all that jive. The airport was spookily deserted– so much so that Kel and I assumed we’d fucked something up somehow. Were we flying out on the wrong day? Did something happen? Did we sleep a whole day through, and was it in fact now Christmas? Nope. It was just quiet. The good quiet. There were no lines, no waiting. The plane was full, but not chaotic-full. It was the easiest flying experience I’ve had since air travel went all batshit. We’re staying at my parents’ house for the next few days. There are too many people dead or gone in my family this year than there were last; we’re trying to fill up what would otherwise be an empty house.
So now here we are, waydownsouth. It’s been raining. Creeks are rising. Branches and trees lie snapped from an mean ass ice storm that careened through this part of the world last month.
The mud’s red. I never get used to that part.
I want to write something about the south. I want to write something about the inherent goodness of most of the people down here, the basic human decency so absent from anywhere else I’ve traveled. I’m tired of seeing the entire region written off as the domain of mother raping father killers and donkeysexuals. It’s all subjugated class-ism anyway, which is really just racism where the only color that matters is green.
And besides, Kentucky is up north. DELIVERANCE took place closer to Ohio than the Carolinas, goddammit.
Every cheap hood strikes a bargain with the world: Joe Strummer going came like a kick in the slats yesterday. Ignominious way for him to go, somehow. I don’t mean he should’ve died in some grand drug catastrophe or up in a bell tower or any of that juvenile bullshit, but shit– he was only fifty. That’s no time at all, that’s nothing. I wanted Joe Strummer to turn into some wonderful kind of grand old crank; I wanted Joe Strummer to be around forever. Punk’s own elder statesman. More brains than a gaggle of Ramones, and more sincerity than Johnny Rotten or anyone else, I wanted the guy to be laughing and cursing and spitting until his plug got pulled in favor of keeping, I dunno, one of the Spice Girls alive or some shit.
Because, you know, in the future there will only be one outlet with which to keep our elderly musical icons alive.
LONDON CALLING, like DOOLITTLE or A LOVE SUPREME, was one of those transformative albums of my youth. I wore my first tape copy of it out, stripped the damn thing until it all sounded like a bad radio transmission. It was dubbed for me by a junior high art teacher, the same guy that gave me a copy of BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS and made me promise I’d not rat him out if I got busted with it. This was, after all, waydownsouth.
Lester Bangs wrote a great couple of pieces while following The Clash around England. He’d shown up knives out and teeth bared, ready to dismantle and expose them for the rock and roll phonies they really were. He’d heard the stories, heard what people were saying about these punks with a purpose-that they were the real deal, that they were The Only Band That Mattered– and Bangs was ready (eager, even) to burst that little bullshit bubble as fast as his chubby amphetamine hands would let him type.
And then The Clash won him over by basically being descent guys. As a matter of fact, by the end of the articles you end up liking The Clash, who come off as genuine good folk if not a little overwhelmed, more than you like Bangs, who just comes off like a cloying and desperate rock journalist dying to be liked by the cool kids.
You never had to turn up your collar to The Clash, no matter what came later. COMBAT ROCK aside, I mean, The Clash never did anything so bad as to make you reconsider the victories of the past. No Public Image, Ltd. to make you shake your head in shame, no soundtracks to PET SEMETARY, no marriages to Courtney Love.
Okay, there was that whole Big Fucking Audio Dynamite thing, but I’ll listen to “The Globe” (or whatever that song was called) a hundred times over a single listening of “Disappointed.” And you’ll never see Paul Simonon hosting his own show on VH-1.
I’ve bought, copied, and re-bought LONDON CALLING so many times that I don’t even begin to imagine how much money those four sides of brilliant, desperate music have cost me over the years. Easily a hundred dollars. Maybe more. I would like to imagine enough royalties were generated by me, having my Clash records borrowed, stolen, or lost over the years time and time again, to buy them all several drinks, as I never had the chance to, myself. Except Mick Jones. He’d get nothing. Fuck that guy.
I first heard LONDON CALLING when I was fourteen, something like that. And the doors just got blown right off. Rage honed with ideological focus, politics and passion co-existing without co-opting one another. Everything missing from everything else that was supposed to matter was right there. How on earth could I take U2 seriously after hearing The Clash?
When it first came out, I’m sure LONDON CALLING sounded like a street-level document of its times. When I first heard it, the record was like a road map.
Today it sounds like a warning.
Next we’ll hear that Billy Bragg’s got the Old-Timer’s or John Doe has something wrong with his gall bladder. Tom Waits will get it in a freak train derailment and Springsteen’ll have polyps and the cancer will eat anyone else you ever gave a damn about, everything else that ever mattered to you. Planes drop from the sky. Cars crash. Change a tire and get pneumonia. Stand up one night to get a glass of water and have a stroke. The march of time is a motherfucker. More people keep dying, changing, going bad, or just going different. Friends turning into strangers, the important and the insignificant interchanging, life going on regardless and in spite of what you want it to do. Things falling apart, centers not holding– all that crap you never find in a Christmas card, that’s what you’re left with at the tail end of a year.
I’m typing this in a near-empty house, where two years ago people were practically falling over one another to get to the coffee pot. It’s bringing me down more than I want to admit. Everything just feels a little haunted right now, and more than a little fragile.
I like this time of year. I like that feeling like everything that got fucked up and done wrong over the last eleven months are about to get the big do-over. Year’s end, new shit’s comin’ down the pipe, get your game face on because we’re all getting another chance to get it right. Or at least more right than last time. Here’s another shot. Gather your thoughts, take some deep breaths, and make it count, stick the landing.
I’ve never really been one for heroes until they were gone and it was too late. And next year is too late. Things fall down, like the man said, and people get up. If there’s a lesson in all of this, if there’s a lesson of the season it’s this: say Yes. Say yes, say yes, say yes.
Because life’s a motherfucker and it ends in a blink. So c’mon. Shake it off. Get to it.
Here. Here is a shill for you: THE ANNOTATED MANTOOTH! (OCT022287) is available from your local retailer as of 26 December for a meager 12.95. I got the proofs this week and, you know, for a goofy laugh it looks really great. Grab the fucker online from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1932051058/.