Sunday, January 22, 2006

I wish I had duck feet

"Did you have an unhappy childhood," asks a correspondent and I answer, "Yes I did, thank God."

The great compensation. In exchange for an unhappy childhood, the gods gave me about a zillion little gifts and all through a mainline writing career, these little abilities have popped up and there was little I could do to stop them from coming out.

One day I decided to go out and be a rock star. I found out I could fake some chords besides faking paragraphs for the Globe and Mail, but as soon as I hit centre stage, my small musical talent seemed to leave me. What is this silver-fretted Fender thing doing in my left hand? What is that big bright light, who are all these people? Who am I?

"You're a rock star, you asshole”, says the bass player. “Start rockin'."

So I closed my eyes for a second and imagined myself to be Jimi Hendrix, played some riffs I'd learned from Lightnin' Hopkins and tried to think of the tablature for a Jimi Hendrix song.

"Picks up guitar. Drops pick. Picks up pick. Drops guitar. Picks up guitar by the neck and smashes it on an amplifier. Turns to drum section. Picks up can of lighter fluid. Pours lighter fluid over smashed guitar. Looks for lighter. Can't find lighter. Rummages through tight satin pants. Plucks forth Bic lighter. Sparking now. Broken guitar now on fire. Awful feedback still there after Star Spangled Banner ending."

Oh f*ck. Wrong tablature. The tapes in my head are all scrambled up. Get the other tape in the old brain.

Thank god the sidemen are into a Jimmy Reed boogie lick and now, finally, I know what I'm doing.

You got me peepin'
You got me hidin'
You got me peep hide peep hide anyway you want
A little roll.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
You got me doin' what you want to
Baby what you want me to do.

Ah, that mothergrabbin' blue note, in between a major and minor, that flatted fifth, reaching for it now as I somehow go from an E to an E-5, hit the blue note, the bass player picks it up and we are on our way. Doesn't matter now, the backup guitar player can do the riff. Got away with it.

Then the Blues Brothers routine with the other guitar player and we somehow get applause.

After it's all over, I tell the bass player I'd better stick to writing, and he says, “Why? I wanna keep on playing with somebody good."

Where did this entire musical episode come from?

I have no idea. All those stupid tapes in my head.

I used to read a story to my children, I Wish I Had Duck Feet, a little kid wishing he had duck feet so he could walk home in the rain and a waterspout on top of his head so he could douse the playground bully and it did strike me that my small talents made me a lot like the kid with the duck feet and the waterspout on top of his head, where all the tapes were, and my son, who was turning out to be a mathematician was a lot like me, though not as crazy, as crazy as his old man who was writing for his life, spinning out fantasies that he could sell to the people. Making a living at it, but the god always demands a price. Occupational hazard. Alcohol.

"What does Daddy do up in that attic when he finishes typing?"

"Don't ask.”

"Whom do you drink with?" Wifey wanted to know.

"I was stuck," I'd answer.


"Supper daddy."

Eat? I'd rather be poked in the eye.

Having a dialogue with my friend in the glass trenchcoat.

What do you do when you're young, married, rich and spoiled? Do a Kurt Cobain? Better stick with the sauce. Sensible wife is no Courtney Love.

“What do you do for a living?” somebody asks at a party.

"I'm a pig farmer," I reply in all seriousness.

"So tell me about pigs and their ways," the cocktail dress lady almost snickers. "Certainly not the usual line of work".

The tape goes on in my head: "Instances of swine urisipe are quite common. Pigs do have heart attacks..."

She was starting to believe it.

Where the hell did that come from? The drinking? The information is there all right, it's just that it's scrambled up now.

Still, much better to tell people you're a pig farmer than some other fraud, like a writer.

I decided to park the writing for a while, took a leave of absence from the Globe and went back to the music.

But it got to be a job, like anything can get to be a job. I was drinking even more and the need to go out there and be brilliant every time took a lot of alcohol. The great Gordon Lightfoot was on the same TV bill as me. Impossible act to follow. So I drank, got Lightfoot to show me more chords, and more or less faked my way through.

"Better quit your job," said my friend the bank teller. "You're starting to look really bad."

Back to the writing, back to the spinning of fantasies.

But here, after all the alcohol, a problem. Blank screen syndrome.

I can't write.

A night watchman with no flashlight? A fireman with no hose? A traffic cop with no whistle?
The damn John Barleycorn.. Now I can't write. Where are those tapes? The tapes had always been there.


The editors are waiting. The mighty presses are poised to roll. And I can't write.

"You're blocked?" says the harried editor. Professionals don't get blocked. "I'm blocked Jerry. Real bad."

"So write about the block, you asshole. Gimme something, anything."

So I did. Wrote about the block.

And the tapes are suddenly, inexplicably, back.

The block has somehow produced a written piece. Jewel in the toad's head.

Those damned tapes again.

I think I need to see somebody.


R.J. Baker said...

Excellent capsulization of my life to date, except for the fame and fortune.

My new vocation? Pig Farming.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Thanks, R.J. Baker.
Looks like you've travelled some of the way.
I notice on your C.U. that among the other greats, you like Hank Williams. Much underrated these days. He did more in his 28 years than most of us in a lifetime. Even Leonard Cohen has a tribute to the great HW in a song--and that's something, coming from another great.

Bernita said...

I like pigs, you swine.

Old Thinker said...

Well Ivan, as Hunter Thompson put it 'It just ain't strange enough yet!. LMAO

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

As a part-product of the Sixties and a frequent visitor to Chicago, I can't help but answer in a
Soo-Wee, Oink-Oink! Off the Pig!
I guess I was sort of offed here and just for that you get a whole bunch of hokey pig jokes:

e-Bay of Pigs.

Swine Lake (for Beethoven fans);

(For astronomers): Pigasus.

People like me: Pigmalion.

French Canadians: Porkois?

Phony studens of Greek and Roman history. "There were the Ionians and the Peri-Oink-Oink.

I am not disgruntled.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Yeah, old thinker:

In my case, I have somehow turned the good doctor around, and when the going got weird, the pros themselves turned weird.
Trying to pick up your site, but Blogger doesn't seem to want to give it to me.
Welcome to the site.

R.J. Baker said...

Leonard Cohen is one of my all time favorite song writers. It seems all that I like is out of favor in the POP culture of today.

It seems the older I get the less I think I know.

The more educated, the dumber I've become.

Where did the wisdom of maturity go?

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

R.J. Baker,
It's the Metal. Bob Seeger and Ritchie Sambora trick-of-the trade apparent switching of keys while all the time you're staying in D, for example. Base players and guys on harp know that you can be in D and G at the same time, and F and A and all the variations of C.
I am especially fascinated by Bon Jovi's Dead or Alive,which uses all those tricks. Works beautifully because Sambora wrote the song and that mother can not only write but play.
Don't know about you, but I started out as a three-chord wonder and until fairly recently, while at the uh, hysteriacally young age of 53, I was forced to spike my hair(sic) and learn the modern stuff(!!!)
But now it seems the chord style has suddenly changed and Greenday, for example are back to using minor chords reminiscent of Bob Dylan's Masters of War...Easier to play... Yeah, some of the older songs are unbeatable, like the Police's Roxanne. And Cohen does wonderful, prescient, near-apocalyptic stuff. He predicted 911.I missed just about all of the Seventies, so I can't do Van Halen and all that; gone forever.
As for thinking you know less and less as you grow older: Not so.
Kids think kind of vertically. They see what's in front of them and they act on it. Adults think in modules. It does not mean adults are smarter than kids (they are not), but adults have a better field, sort of like a visual field. Adults also have experience, which adds to the modulized way of thinking. Adults know what a dimension is.
As for education, who knows (to introduce a redundancy)?
I get this from no greater adept than Ed the Sock: Better to be a smartass than a dumbass. A trained brain will carry you through, in part, because you had the discipline to sit through it all to get the paperwork. A dumbass will not. He/she will be too easily frustrated. There is also not the stigma of being a dropout, an incubus most people who did drop out carry for the rest of their lives and seem to spend more energy on trying to control people as compensation...But how much can
a Magna parts assembler actually control?
If you think you're losing it as your grow older, you're really not.
The bright flash just after a conundrum seems to always come, no matter how old you are. At least I hope I am right. Two packs of cigarettes a day, eight beers and an economic situation crying out to Paul Martin, or whoever.
Hate to go back on an old saw, but I for one can't create anything until I suffer like a mother**ker.
Jethro in vintage Beverly Hillbillies: "I know an artist has to suffer, but man, are you going to suffer when you see your shiny BMW all covered in cement after that big truck lost its load.

R.J. Baker said...

It's funny about the musical cycles and life.

My father, who is now in his seventies, has always wore narrow ties as long as I can remember. I asked him, when I was a teen in the 70's, "Don't you know those ties are out style, they are wearing really wide ones now?"
He said,"These are the ones I like and eventually they will be back in style."-and they have several times since then. Ya know, The older I get the smarter my old man becomes.

The Dylan-Green Day analogy fits. I've played by ear most of my life and it seems the simpler the song, the more pleasing to the ear - like Cohen's Hallelujah. Simplicity and beauty.

I have the suffering and self-abuse down pat. I come later in life to this gig than most. Perhaps it's arrogance that makes me believe I now have something important to say, maybe vanity, possibly the urge to cry out.

My style, if there is one yet, is an attempted emulation of Fitzgerald, Hemingway,Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald - out of style and fading these days.

In my little way, these are my narrow ties and three chord songs. I'll keep wearing and playing them until they shovel the last load of dirt in my face.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Nice comment, r.j.
Kind of musically evocative on its own. Swore I heard Hank Williams'
When God Comes and Gathers His Jewels and Willie Nelson and Blue Skies, and (can you believe the segue?) Merle Haggard, Especially "Are the Good Times Really over for Good".
It took me forever to break the three-chord mold, only to discover, to my puzzlement and amazement that de debbil plays the best music. Seems you have to torture notes the way we all tend to torture words. But there are chorales of angels as well.
And then there's Leadbelly, and Irene Good Night, and there's something to be said for the simple origins of emotion, a fact not at all lost by the best rock and blues musicians.
Play on.

R.J. Baker said...

Ah, if da debbil donna play it, he definitely inspires it...

Isn't it strange how severe pain inspires truth? In words and in music. Truth seems to bleed through the bullshit. It is apparent on its face.

I was just listening last night to Muddy Waters, Johhny Lee Hooker, and Stevie Rae Vaughn - it doesn't get much better than that. That an five PBRs...

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

I had a little talk with the Man too while listening to my favourite rock station, Y 108 out this way.
Slight hangover.

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Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Lucy Langley,
You say you found my blog "inquisitive".
What do you take me for, Pope Innocent IV?
You spam me one more time I'll crawl down all these railway telephone lines and give you an Inquisition you'll never forget.

Anonymous said...

Got dem ole disappearin' spamway blues, oh yeah!


Bernita said...

A belly laugh this time, Ivan.
Beautiful retort.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Doubting Thomas.
Just finished listeneing to an old Cheech and Chong tape.
"What do you mean pigs don't come when you call them?" Watch this:
"Hey Pig!"

Yep, that and Blind Lemon Chitlin.
Love to do a Blind Lemon Chitlin on the spammers.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Hi Bernita.
Thanks for input.

R.J. Baker said...

Ivan, Its been a long time since I heard(or saw) anyone quote Blind Melon Chitlin'.

Annunciation, Blind Baby, Annunciation...the kids love it.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Whoops. I should have said Blind Melon, not Blind Lemon.
Was the real guy named Blind Lemon Jefferson?

Blind, Lame and Crippled Horribly?

..Something like that.

I dunno. Just writin' for effect.

You write good. About three images there,all entertaining,smart, funny.
Thanks for keeping old EyeProp
Another site, Anonalogue, hung the EyeProp monicker on me.
Was gonna use it for a band name, but out here in Lake Simcoe country, I came across a legitimate business called Port Bolster Natural Stone.
But I can't use it, since it's an established business.
The Mortarforkers?
I still think I need to see somebody.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Whoops. I should have said Blind Melon, not Blind Lemon.
Was the real guy named Blind Lemon Jefferson?

Blind, Lame and Crippled Horribly?

..Something like that.

I dunno. Just writin' for effect.

You write good. About three images there,all entertaining,smart, funny.
Thanks for keeping old EyeProp
Another site, Anonalogue, hung the EyeProp monicker on me.
Was gonna use it for a band name, but out here in Lake Simcoe country, I came across a legitimate business called Port Bolster Natural Stone.
But I can't use it, since it's an established business.
The Mortarforkers?
I still think I need to see somebody.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Oh crud.
It's double-printing again.
Same thing happened when I sent me Goat stroy to poor H.E. Eigler at PHANTOM KEYBOARD. Poor chick got
six copies of THE OLD GOAT in her comment space. Technology lag, bit time.
Dare I eat a peach?

R.J. Baker said...


I think you are right, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the real guy Cheech & Chong based their skit on. But Blind Melon was waht was on he album. I loved those guys-sick me.

If you can believe it, me and some of my friends did the Sister Mary Elephant Skit in eighth grade for a talent show and was booed off the stage...the shape of things to come.

Any way, this blog thing is interesting and you meet the damn-dest people. Gotta love it.


Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Sorry the Sister Mary thing didn't work out in Peoria. Cheech and Chong maybe too hip. Nowadays, White Stripes too hip, but Jon Stewart had them on--a first time for the Daily Show to have musicians. Home- grown Russian nihilists on guitar and drums.
I thought my association to do with Jack White and his sister as being sort of Prince Kropotkin and uh, his sister Elena Bakunin--were off base until I hit a Russian site, and what do I see? BAIT STPAIPS in cyryllic. I Guess Seven Nations Army is popular all over the world.
Everybody's going to Wichita, far from this opera for ever more
"I'm gonna work the straw
Making the sweat from every pore..."
I had a similar disaster when I wrote a skit for professional theatre. They asked me to put it on during intermission.
That'll teach me to write for the stage when I know next to nothing about it. Still got a job there as an actor there. Probably one of your sidelines too...You've obviously done just about everything else like this trickster.
But ah, the play's the thing, the novel's the thing, the blog's the thing.
Gotta follow Norman Mailer now and hoard my energy like a miser, like the Body Fluids man in Dr. Strangelove. "I can't give them my fluids, Mandrake."
Captain Queeg: It was the strawberriers, that's whee I knew I had them. With clear, geometric logic, I proved...."

Today, social scientists say, is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year.
That's why all the hysteria, I suppose.
Keep on rocking in the smoke-freee world.

v said...

"So I drank, got Lightfoot to show me more chords"


Prop cops chops from Pops?

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Hip HIck Got Lick

R.J. Baker said...

No smoke free world around my domain, smokin', drinkin', and f***ing...

Is there anything more to life than these and art?

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Old Ovid: No water drinker ever produced anything worthwhile.
Holy trinity of alcohal, tobacco and booze.
Ogden Nash: Malt does more than Milton can
To show the ways of God to man.

As for sex, what't that?
I am getting old and feeble reduced to one antique pornograph.

R.J. Baker said...

"As for sex, what't that?"

Ivan, I wonder that every day, at 43 i would think I should be prolific by now, where has the 60's gone?

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Don't sweat it.
At 45 I was still (in my own opinion anyway)--very much the sexual acrobat.
No offers from Cirqe du Soleil though.
Tell you about one story I published in the Star Weekly magazine with my name on it--way back in the Sixties: "Topless- bottomless rollerskating wrestlers."
Pretty tame stuff compared to today
but it really was an inspiration for my sexual athleticism.
Look ma, no hands.

R.J. Baker said...

Ah, the sixties when I was just a pup. I suffered young age and didn't get to play among that cherry lane...nore frolic in the autumn mist.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Learning how to roll and listening to Sgt. Pepper.
Alienation-Baroque Rock and Roll.
What happened to those seven-foot- tall Christs in the military overcoats and sandals?
I think a lot of them just plain died.
"When that Horse kick you, man.."