Watching a YouTube-guided playlist of era-specific videos while tending to the mindless task of scanning an unending pile of lead sheets for my new paperless life as a musician, I was brought back to some long-forgotten guilty pleasures, one of which being the band 707 playing their 1980 hit “I Could Be Good For You”. The live recording is rather primitive, but the performance is loaded with energy, and it positively thrills me.
Guitarist Kevin Russell, slumped over his low hanging Gibson, with his early rocker haircut and form-fitting T-shirt simply reeks of Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap. (In fact, the more I think on it, the more convinced I am that Christopher Guest may have modeled his character after him. Did Kevin Russell create his look or was he simply mirroring the collective archetype of the time? It’s a chicken-or-egg type of dilemma I suppose.) From the outside, this guitar player is a caricature, but from the inside, (to me) he represents the familiar.
These days, things familiar are dwindling. So seeing and hearing the band 707 as they were back in my youth brings me a mild sense of things being right again. It makes me feel the energy and hope of a kid. And who on earth does not thrill to the feeling that only naivete, inexperience and limitless possibility can bring?
While we make plans for the future and almost always have our eye on goals down the road, this doesn’t usually include the final stretch. That patch when it gets ugly and real. Seriously, who the hell ever truly thinks about getting old? Older, yes. But old? Consider this for a second.
I’m guessing being “old” is a vaguely defined time for you, a place in time far off into the future. You might be mindful about the process ahead, but I doubt you’re deeply aware. (Barring any unique or extreme situation, that is.) Me, I’ve yet to truly face the mirror. Yeah, I broke my neck once, but youth and good luck helped me to avert a life path which might’ve had me looking more closely at my mortality a whole lot sooner.
I’ll wager you haven’t put a lot of mental energy into visualizing how things will end. How things will really end. End end.
These days my mobility is limited. Really limited. And it sure does shed light on what the ending times might look like. The prospect of descending the five steps from my kitchen door to the ground outside is a challenge. Lightning bolts of pain are a possibility in every thoughtless move. A single step must be fortified with a cane’s solid contact with the floor and a tightening of core muscles. It’s exhausting. So is getting out of bed. The whole thing – just moving through a day and trying to maintain some faint semblance of time spent in contribution, not to mention performing the basic functions of living – is a huge effort and takes gobs of time.
Guilt blankets my spirits as I try to rationalize my diminished output. After a week of merely just existing, my ego is broken and looking for harbor. My inner voice sounds like a forgotten old woman muttering to herself: I’ve been a useful person, right? And I’ve been a musician, too. How lucky for that, right? But wait, was I any good? I think I was… I was good enough, I suppose… But what the hell was I doing all that for anyhow? It seems a bit vainglorious, truly it does. Well, at least I know that I’ve mostly been kind to people. I do know that. And I’m a really good teacher, yeah, I know that too. I do. And there’s also still a lot I’d like to write about – that’s of interest to some, but honestly, who cares? Wait, does any of this actually matter? Who needs another piano teacher or another blog post to read? Can I just be satisfied with my turn as it stands? Has my contribution been enough? Haven’t I had enough fun? Do I still have any reason to be here?
(Further musings go much deeper into the existential conversation; I’m still ambivalent about the “everything happens for a reason” philosophy, however pieces do tend to arrive in serendipitous ways, which tempts me to believe. But at the end of the day, whether we’re here for a reason or not, the ultimate takeaway for me is that we may as well do our best job at life while we’re here. Be kind, help when able, and do what we’re good at doing. Seems that’s the least we can do, and also the most we can do, too.)
I feel like Cinderella when I recall a reality of just six months earlier in which every one of my dreams had seemed to be coming true. A time in which I had a new keyboard, a new band and new prospects. Damn. I had it for a minute there. Right? Wait, did I? Well, I had a taste, at least. That’s more than most people ever experience. Dammit. I won’t be able to do any of this shit for much longer. Crap. Will I ever have it again?
Watching my 87-year-old mother moving around her house pushing a rollator and hanging onto the counters like a rock wall, I’ve harbored some sorry thoughts. God, how sad. How does life end up like this? And just what in hell is she even living for at this point? I like to think that I won’t end up thusly. But do not we all think this? Ha! We can all be sure, at least as things are now on this planet for most of us, we won’t have a choice in the matter. Some of us will draw the lucky straw and go either peacefully or quickly. The rest of us – the majority of us – will languish for a length of time in ill health and weakness, dependent upon others for basic tasks. This is a future none of us wishes for. But statistics show that it’s our likely outcome.
The lava lamp in my son’s bedroom has ceased to flow as it always did; the wax inside has grown stiff and slow-moving. Looking it up, I learn that yes, even lava lamps have a shelf life. I resist the temptation to see this as a metaphor for my own life and how it has slowed precariously over the past few months. This is not a sign from the universe, I remind myself. Get over it.
I begin a search on YouTube for back injury success stories. I’m gonna need some footholds on the way back up.
It appears I have a herniated disc (MRI next week will confirm). This new situation isn’t the usual back issue that’s bothered me since my twenties. This is acute, intensely painful and very different. While there’s been a slight improvement over the past few weeks thanks to several chiropractic sessions, I’m still unable to walk properly (let alone racewalk or dance, two things I dearly love). I certainly can’t workout – I can’t twist my core or lift a hand above my shoulder without experiencing a stunning electric shock of pain.
Perusing vids and websites, I’m encouraged by success stories. One young woman peppers her shpeel with the phrase “check your ego”. I really didn’t get her meaning for the first few minutes. And then, when I began to understand how long my road back to physical fitness was going to be, I got it. Sheeeit. I got it. Who cares if I was working out six days a week and could easily curl 20 pounds last May? None of that matters. I can’t do shit today, and I have to let all that “I used to” stuff go. No laurels to rest on. Crap.
My body is weak, soft, fat. And injured. But I just received my first round of exercises, so at least I’ve got a plan. Sadly, I’m beginning from a place way behind the usual starting line. That’s discouraging. It’s gonna be a long climb. This recovery will demand the kind of patience and perseverance I’m not keen on. The process won’t be sexy. But the alternative seals the deal on a lost future. So, onward I must go.
My mother faces a knee replacement in the next month, and this is the next family hurdle. I’m feeling slightly stressed that I cannot be of any significant help to her right now. She is in pain – I’m guessing it’s worse than mine – yet she doesn’t let on how horrible it is. But it shows; she looks weary. It’s all got me a bit emotionally guarded and on the ready for difficult times to come in the new year. My mother speaks cryptically about dying before she makes it to surgery, she laments the long wait time before the procedure (she needs relief now). She tells me how this is far more daunting a prospect than having her mastectomy this past summer. She’s a stoic woman and seldom allows her deep feelings to be known. But I can tell she’s afraid. Hell, I am too. My dear friend Ganga was seven years younger than mom when she died, shortly after her hip replacement. This stuff happens. We all know it, but aside from the very frank and helpful consult with the surgeon, no one else has spoken this fear aloud. It’s a strange time. A new and scary place.
My small and sedentary life of late has not been entirely wasted; I’ve written a number of songs. Most are toss-aways, some novelty numbers, a small number of earnest songs too, if not a bit too simplistic. Hey, I’m not a poet. At best I can write a jingle or a hook. So this is new territory. It’s taken a hard stop on my go-go-go life to bring me to writing music, so in some ways it hasn’t been a total loss.
A few weeks ago (before things got this acute) I saw the comedian Maria Bamford perform here in Saratoga. Her candid, stream of conscious style was stunning, mesmerizing. She is a genius. I am not, but I am definitely full of something that still seeks expression. Seeing her inspired me. She gave me a small dose of courage. She helped plant a tiny seed of a thought…
Characters, voices and bits come to me, and they quickly get recorded on my iPad memo app before they have a chance to vaporize in my flimsy memory. I don’t sleep a whole lot (getting in and out of bed positively sucks!) so I drag on into the wee hours of the morning, writing, inventing, improvising. I’m beginning to hatch a plan to weave all this into some sort of one-woman show. There are online busking platforms that might work as a venue. It’s only a germ of an idea at the moment, and until and unless it becomes public, only my son and a few friends will hear these primitive stabs at content. It’s a tiny light which helps to distract me from the sucky slog that is my life right now. All in its time, I suppose.
I may not have a lot to contribute at the moment, but I shall do my best to avoid wallowing. I’ll do something every day to pull myself up and out. I have my mom, my lost brother, beloved son and high school bestie to think of. I can’t leave them all quite yet. So for now, my life will consist of gentle core exercises, a handful of piano students, and writing new material. I’m a bit anxious about the next two months, so this seems like a productive way to focus my energy and take my mind off the worry. (My body doesn’t move fast, but my brain continues move with the pace of a nervous squirrel.)
Hopefully, by the close of this short chapter, I’ll be in a better place. Hopefully, by then I really can be good for you.
707 performing live on the Midnight Special. As a kid I would try – mostly in vain – to stay awake long enough to watch the show.
A short clip of Maria Bamford, with a clever piano accompaniment by Luke Thering.