Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Nurse the Hate: Discovering Rock Music

I have two (2) distinct memories about discovering that I liked rock and roll.  I am not sure which came first but I suspect that the first was when I was in the passenger seat of my father's company car, a majestic Grand Torino station wagon with faux wood paneling.  The seats in that car were not built for a strapping lad of five or six.  They were some type of fake leather which meant that you instantly stuck to the seat like flypaper and burned your legs in the summer, or slid across the bench seat on the smallest turn in cooler months.  This being the early 70s, the seat belts were shoved down into the fold of the seat allowing me to careen across the car in full freedom.  We lived for danger in the 70s.  No seat belts and all adults smoking heavily in the car at all times.

I was driving with my father to get sand for a sandbox he was building my brother and I.  This remains the apex of my father's engineering history, only threatened in scope by a birdhouse shoddily installed later that decade.  I was baking in the sun's rays like a broasted chicken, the open little triangle side window offering little relief.  My father had the radio on.  It was a music station, which was odd.  Normally he listened to the Phillies get the shit kicked out of them, though he seemed to have no emotional investment in the team whatsoever.  I can't remember liking the music coming on.  While the 70s garner very nostalgic feelings amongst anyone that wasn't there, let me assure you that the 70s sucked.  Everything was ugly, it smelled vaguely of chemicals, the food was terrible and almost all of the music sucked.

My musical knowledge was extremely limited.  My parents somehow got through the 60s with no impact being made upon them from the counterculture.  Their tastes ran towards moldy Broadway musicals.  "Abbey Road" had come out three years ago and they were listening to an original cast recording of "Bye Bye Birdie".  I had three records.  The Jackson Five's Greatest Hits, Michael Jackson's "Skywriter" and The Osmond Brothers "Crazy Horses", a strangely subversive record from a group of Morman teenage boys.  Other than that, I was dependent on hearing snippets of songs that snuck on Network Prime Time variety shows or wafted on radios left on in public.  I didn't even know what was out there.  I was five!  Cut me some slack!

We turned the car down a gravel road, the stones crunching on the tires.  This was when the big moment happened.  On the radio the chorus of "American Pie" kicked in.  That absolutely perfect hook of that chorus sunk into me.  Taking your Chevy to the levee, and then finding the levee was dry?  Good old boys drinking whiskey and rye?  I didn't know what any of it meant, but it sounded highly adventurous.  I wished I was in that Chevy driving to the levee, I will tell you that.  I bet your pale little legs don't get burned up on fake leather in that Chevy.  And how can you drink rye?  It's a bread dammit!

We stopped in front of the gravel/outdoor supply business and my father turned the car off.  American Pie disappeared.  I spoke up and asked him to put the radio back on.  He was confused as to why this normally shy five year old was demanding the radio come back on and tried to clarify my request.  I started to lose my shit.  As he was hemming and hawing, the song was escaping.  Every second mattered.  Time was of the essence!  He finally understood what I wanted and I heard the last 15 seconds or so of the song.  The song ended.  OK.  We can get the sand now.  It left me in a haze.  What was that?  How do I get more of that?

I would not hear that song for another decade.  It was like my white whale.  I always remembered it.  The only thing I could recall the details of was the "chevy to the levy" part and how it made me feel.  I wanted to shout along to the chorus.  It felt like when you went speeding down a steep hill on your bike, going faster than you could pedal, the thrill outweighing the danger.  It was about as an exciting as things get for a five year old.  It seems impossible now, but I would not hear "American Pie" from 1972-1983.  The song came on a "K-104 Top 500 Songs Of All Time Labor Day Weekend" when I was in high school.  I shot up and excitedly said "That's it! That's it!" to my incredulous friends, who all wanted to know how the hell I couldn't know the title of "American Pie" despite being heavily into obscure English New Wave bands.  It was a valid point.

The second big incident happened at the Pennypacker Swim Club, to which my family were proud members.  Boasting three pools, the largest having a high dive for teenage boys to prove their mettle, it was the home base of every area kid under the age of 16.  This was where life happened from June through August.  Like all important facilities catering to overstimulated children, the Pennypacker Swim Club had a snack bar.  The pools had one of those shitty PA systems with beige plastic horns playing music everyone could agree on, which translates to "music no one likes".  However, in the snack bar, the staff had their own radio turned to whatever the crappy Top 40 station was at the time.              

There was no job with higher status than to work at the Pennypacker Swim Club snack bar.  Well, at least to a five year old like myself.  The teenage girls behind the aged wooden counter dripped with cool disconnect as they poured fountain drinks into wax paper cups and fetched hot dogs from the roller cooker.  Dripping wet kids hopped back and forth trying to stave off pissing themselves as they waited for their food refuel as mandated from their stern mothers.  These kids would then jam the hot dogs down their throats as fast as possible, and then painfully endure the one hour moratorium on re-entering the pool.  That pool was Studio 54 to a kid.  It's where it ALL happened.  To be on the sidelines waiting for your food to settle made time stand still like Xmas Eve.  Yet, we all knew that death was a certainty for any poor child that dared enter that water at even 59 minutes past eating his or her lunch.

I was standing in line thinking about my order.  I wanted to make sure and impress the girls at the counter, so I would likely order something worldly like a Birch Beer.  Ah, look at the little gourmand.  I pictured it in my mind.  "Oh, that young man ordered a birch beer?  Well...  He's something special isn't he?"  This would result in me somehow being accepted into the cool clique of teenage girl snack bar employees.  I walked up to the counter and it happened.  A song came on the radio and it blew my fucking five year old mind.  Heavy guitar chords came crashing through the tiny radio speaker.  I felt like busting the room up.  What the fuck was this?  How come no one else is freaking out?  This is AMAZING!

The song was "Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple.  It was like the first time you had a piece of Bubble Yum or had a bowl of Lucky Charms.  All limits that you thought existed were wiped away.  That riff was the coolest thing I had ever heard.  I was transfixed.  I bet my mouth was open like a lobotomy patient.  "Hey!  Kid!  What do you want?"  I had become so entranced by the song that I didn't notice I was up at the counter.  I babbled out "I'll have a coke" like a goddamn fool.  The girl put her nose up to retrieve the flat wax paper cup 8 oz coke like an irked supermodel.  I took my flat coke and loitered over by the plastic trash can, trying to appear laissez faire as I silently rocked the fuck out.  As the song played, I wandered over by the counter, playing it cool.  Well, as cool as a five year old with a wax paper cup of coke and a damp pair of swim trunks could be.  I stared at the teenage girl trying to will her into noticing me.  I must have looked damaged or at worst like a lost puppy.

"Do you need something?"  Umm... Do you know who this song is?  As she was probably a 15 year old girl focused in on David Cassidy, she had no idea.  She scrunched her nose up and gave me a dismissive "I don't know" while at the same time suggesting a condescending "isn't the little boy so precious" quality.  Then, a miracle.  The DJ came on the back tag.  "Deep Purple smoke on the water coming at ya on a party Friday weekend kickoff!".  (Seventies DJs spent a great deal of time "coming' at ya"). The good news was I had the information.  I was in the ball game.

After a week of pestering my mother about the immediate need to get to Grant's Department Store, she finally acquiesced.  Grant's had a wooden bin in the front of the record shop area where all of the Top 40 singles were available via 7 inch records in largely white paper sleeves.  It never would have occurred to me to get Deep Purple's "Machine Head" LP as it was much too expensive at $5.98 and frankly a bit much for a five year old to wrap his head around.  Nobody needs a little kid whacked out of his head on "Space Truckin".  Instead I got the "Smoke On the Water" 45 which featured a live version on the B-side.  The ultimate record company scam, this "live" B-side turned out to be nothing more than the studio cut with fake crowd noise dropped on top of the mix.  It didn't matter though.  I would play the record, flip it over, and then play the "live cut".  You came over to my house to play with Legos, and you just might get your head rearranged with "Smoke on the water" followed up by a little "Crazy Horses".  Don't tell your Mom.

It's hard to ever recapture that type of enthusiasm and excitement with music.  The band has been writing new songs lately which has been challenging.  As I am not having any real experiences, it's hard to find the inspiration.  Ideas that normally just present themselves like little Easter eggs are more carefully hidden in Pandemic World.  Yet, last week as we worked through some new material, these little flashes of excitement came across at some of the new things the four of us are creating.  Something that didn't exist minutes before is now a living thing and the energy that we are all putting into it comes back to you in greater force as you absorb the other member's ideas.  These little flashes, more rare with the passage of time, are still there if you let them in.  I'm still the little boy with the wax paper cup of coke, excited by a new riff.          


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nurse the Hate: This Will Never End

I am fairly certain that the United States will never get out of this pandemic nightmare until some hard working scientists in a country like Germany find a vaccine.  The United States is now incapable of following even the most simple prevention measures, something we used to look down at in "Third World" countries like Brazil and India.  The photo above is from Kid Rock's bar in Nashville LAST WEEK.  Ah, another reason to dislike Kid Rock...  Do you think we are going to lead the way on getting out of the pandemic?  No way.  Not when there's chicken wings and Jason Aldean on the jukebox.  It's impossible.  How in the world can our nation discover and then deliver a vaccine to our citizens?  We can't even get a basic plan together on how to minimize the spread of the disease.

It is tantalizing to blame Trump and only Trump.  He is a perfect target.  He is utterly incompetent and that dangerous kind of fool that believes himself to be the smartest man in the room.  In fact, it is hard to come up with a scenario where Trump fucked it up more badly short of loading the virus onto crop dusters and spraying major population centers.  Yes, it is very bad that he thought inaction was action, and then focused on denying that this inaction was his fault, but is it really ALL his fault?  We knew he was stupid.  We knew he doesn't like believing in nasty facts like science that don't support him "winning" whatever monstrous plan he has cooked up.  That is on us.  We should have ignored him much earlier.  It's hard to believe but his assertion that leaving 50 states to go it alone might actually be better than having him directly in the mix.  It's better when he is concerned about what people said about how he walked down a plank like a fragile grandmother as opposed to trying to concentrate long enough to find empathy and come up with a plan for the common good.  He's a buffoonish reality TV star.  How the fuck could he handle this?  His forte is tweeting racist shit about the Grammy Awards.  He had no chance.

I think some blame should go to Fox News and their ilk.  In the odd chicken-and-egg world of Fox News, it's hard to say if they lovingly report on policy disasters from Trump and Co., or if they come up with the monstrous ideas that Trump and Co. embrace as their own.  I'm a guy that works in communications.  Take it from me.  If you have a bunch of Communications Majors setting policy for the nation, you're in Big Trouble.  The only reason we were all in Communications is because we failed math and science.  That's the reason so much of the coronavirus reporting is sketchy.  You have dumb shits like me trying to figure out how to convey complicated scientific ideas.  We don't know how science works.  Do you think Tucker Carlson knows anything about science?  Do you think Tucker Carlson knows anything about anything?  He's a rich kid from La Jolla CA that couldn't get into Yale so had to go to Trinity probably because his geometry grades were as bad as mine.  His brother's name is "Buckley" by the way.

 "Tucker?  Would you fetch Buckley from the pool?"  Tucker and Buckley aren't a couple of guys that I picture being focused on the needs of others.  "Tucker, like I was telling your mother, the problem with The Mexicans is they just refuse to work hard which is why we live in this villa by the seaside and they live wherever it is that they live.  Excuse me.  I need to go yell at that gardener!  After ten hours of digging up those cactus, you would think he'd be done by now!"  Cut to show young Tucker in bathing trunks watching his father scream at a tired Mexican gardener.  Here's a fun fact.  Tucker's father married an heiress after his mother left to pursue a more "bohemian lifestyle".  There might be some things in those boyhood years for Tucker to unpack on the psychiatrist's couch...

The problem with a TV channel focusing on covering up for a buffoon's bungling a public heath crisis is that TV is VERY persuasive.  It's why the cigarette companies aren't allowed to run TV ads.  It worked too well.  If you run enough TV content saying something crazy like, I don't know, "building a wall on the Mexican border will solve illegal immigration", people will start to believe it.  If you have the same people suggesting that the virus is some sort of nefarious hoax cooked up by The Villians and wearing a mask is a show of weakness, my guess is that those old folks and hillbillies you see at the grocery store won't wear masks or do anything to prevent the spread of this disease.  Are media outlets that are knowingly speading public health disinformation "evil"?  I think so but I know what they are doing and why, so I'm judgemental like that.

However, when you get down to it, the problem is really with "us".  The American People are shockingly stupid.  I have been fortunate to travel around a bit.  Let me tell you, that idea that we are "The Greatest Nation In The World" that keeps Wal Mart Nation puffed up with pride?  It's a myth.  Look around when you leave your bunker.  It's grim out here.  Hell, we might not even be the greatest nation in North America.  The USA is now on a short list of nations that includes Brazil and Russia (also with strong men virus denier leaders) that the EU is going to ban from being to enter because we can't get the virus under control.  We are fat and stupid and think we are exceptional.  We elected someone incompetent as leader because we liked that he sounded like us.  We reject science when it doesn't fit with our needs of convience.  We are never getting out of this pandemic.

I was reading about how Germany is re-opening.  They have 25% the number of people living there as the US has under much more dense living conditions.  They had 900 deaths.  We are at 125,000+.  How did they do it?  One of their leaders on the pandemic response team said "we took the information from the studies that were done in the United States and applied it."  That's all we had to do.  Follow our own science.  Not here.  We had hillbillies with guns declaring their "freedoms" were being violated.  We had 50 different governers executing 50 different plans all with different agendas.  We have scientists telling the South "don't open up yet" to then get ignored and have the virus spike up to the highest levels of the pandemic.  Meanwhile I still see hillbillies and Propaganda TV consumers continuing to ignore even the smallest precautions as I death defyingly enter Home Depot.  These people see themselves as tough guys or warriors to their cause.  They are 100% convinced that they are right despite all evidence to the contrary.  I see them as the reason I will be locked up in my house unable to do anything I like to do until 2022.

So to get out of this, all we need to do is not congregate in large groups and wear a mask.  Can anything be easier?  Yet there is still pushback.  The great example is something my associate Mr. Lanphier told me he had heard.  The virus is carried via droplets from our mouths.  Think of the virus as being piss.  If you come across another guy, neither of you are wearing pants and he just starts pissing all over the place, you get covered in piss.  If that scenario repeats and you are wearing pants, you'll still get some piss on you but not as much.  If he has pants on AND you have pants on, well then you don't get any piss on you, do you?  It's not that difficult. 

We'll never do it.

See you in 2022.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Nurse the Hate: Thoughts On Cotes du Rhone

I was having a Cotes du Rhone blend this evening, a red from Southern France.  These are everyday wines in France and are often “field blends” of grenache, syrah, mouvedre, carignan, and who knows what else.  The idea of the field blend is if farmers planted a bunch of different grapes that ripen at different times in different conditions, it provides a hedge if the weather is dodgy.  The syrah is underripe?  Not a problem.  The grenache is perfect and when it’s blended, everything will taste fine.  It’s like making a Sunday morning omlette when the past peak tomatoes will get covered up by the green pepper and cheese, but it’s still nice to have that tomato in there so you toss it in the pan.  You take all of what you have and make it good together. 

The big mistake I made in my serene little world was to look at social media.  I think the pandemic and resulting social distancing have resulted in creating an angrier less tolerant nation.  This isn’t a major revelation as the rioting in multiple cities will attest, but I’m speaking more about hair trigger reactions to smaller slights.  Like most people, my social media feed reflects who I am.  I have an outsized voice coming from white suburban middle-aged guys with a very healthy match of liberal artistic musician voices.  The musician voices are saying the same thing as always.  “Trump sucks.  Look at this corruption.  Life is unfair.  Shop local.  My band is doing a Facetime Live.”  That keeps me busy clicking “like” even when I know goddamn well I am not going to go to a coffee shop across town or watch a poorly recorded webcast.  Meanwhile, the suburban dad voice has become edgier…

There appear to be two types of Suburban Dad conservatives coming out of their Great Rooms and Man Caves right now.  Type 1 is the “I love the military and police so much, all I want to do is shoot machine guns and bomb anyone that doesn’t have a flag tattooed on their ass”.  It’s odd because almost without exception these men have never been in the armed services, did everything they could do avoid being in the armed services, and derided the ex-strong safety bully from the high school football team that became a cop in their small town so he could continue to bully people.  Yet at some point these guys made a turn and started to identify with the people they used to villainize. 

I can’t tell you how many guys I used to know that were “let’s get crazy party guy” when they were in their twenties that now sound like one of those out of touch crew cut construction workers from black and white late 1960s news clips.  “Well, the police need to get those damn longhairs off the streets.  They should cut their hair and get a job!  If they don’t love America, they can leave it!  And if they won’t leave on their own, me and the boys here will make them leave!”  They fear what they don’t understand.  They have worked hard to get a 3500 square foot house, two enormous SUVs, 2.5 kids and a new set of golf clubs.  They are WINNERS godammit.  They’ve got a good thing going.  Don’t mess with it.  They are essentially harmless blowhards.

Type 2 is much scarier.  There is a group that has been quietly collecting guns, joining chat rooms, and collecting their news from fringe conspiracy sources.  They are frustrated, simmering privately.  A couple years ago they knew in their hearts that their ideas were fringe, something to keep private.  Suddenly Trump started to trot out racism as a policy and this flicked the green light as these ideas became normalized.  It’s like if you were shamefully fucking a sex doll, and one day the President said “Lots of people are fucking sex dolls.  Lots of GOOD people!”.  Hey, what I’m doing isn’t just OK.  It’s downright Patriotic!  The next thing you know, you pull into a Home Depot parking lot and four or five Ford F-150 pickups all have sex dolls riding shotgun.  The sex doll guys feel good about it and say “We ALL fuck sex dolls.  We’re just brave enough to be open about it!”  On the one hand, I suppose it’s good to know who is fucking the plastic doll, but on the other hand it’s unnerving to see how many people are into it.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last month I have seen these Type 2 guys talking about “helping out” the police, or “helping to keep order”.  One guy keeps talking about how he and his “well armed biker buddies” are going to go to so-and-so and “protect the country”.  In almost every case, these are men that have never been in a real altercation much less a gun fight.  It must be a steady diet of Hollywood vigilante movies that have them convinced that when a situation calls for it, only they are suited to dole out moral justice via their death dealing super weapons they purchased at Cabela’s.  It’s insane, but that is the head space of more people than I want to admit.  They are actively looking for something that they don’t really want any part of.  They don’t understand that if they show up somewhere firing a gun, THEY are the villain.  THEY have become the “bad guy”.  THEY are the kook locked up forever.  Will this guy ever act?  I don’t think so, but he sure as hell feels vindicated talking it through openly in a public space.  It’s not far from where they are now to that Texas clock tower.

In both cases, I don’t think there is an understand how history is going to look back at this awful period.  Just like we now condemn the 1960s hippie bashers, the Iraq war cheerleaders, the Communist Witch Hunters, the pro-fascist groups of the 40s, the anti-labor groups of the Industrial Revolution and on and on and on, these me or worse yet, their children, will be ashamed of these views. Unlike Germany in 1946 when people could burn their old uniforms and pretend they were cooks during the war, the internet never forgets.  It is the black and white news clip of fist shaking ignorance. 

It’s been a brutal period.  It’s tested everyone.  Hopefully we can get past our divisive national leadership and come together on a local level.  Washington is a reality TV show run amok which is hopefully in its final season.  I think for all of our own sanity we should ignore it, much like the State of Washington has chosen to do.  There is still a reason to hold out hope.  In Cleveland, the same million people that came downtown together joyfully to celebrate the Cavs championship are the same people divided today.  It didn’t seem incredible that there was no violence.  Why would it?  We’re all neighbors.  It’s sort of like a field blend in the Rhone.  Not everyone comes out perfectly, but when we are all blended together, it can be quite nice.

Let’s keep it together out there. 


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Nurse the Hate: A Fine Gigondas and Thoughts on 1968

When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by the late 1960s.  Like everyone I knew, I had gotten into Zeppelin and then fell into a mission of discovery about all bands from the late 60s that “rocked”.  There is nothing like being 15 and being certain you are the first one to discover bands like the Rolling Stones put out albums from the late 60s that were somehow filled with songs that were not hits but incredibly great.  “Hold on?  Beggar’s Banquet has this on it too?”  One point leads to another.  This Hendrix fella seems important.  Wait…  He played at Woodstock?  Who else played there?  Wow.  A lot of those bands seem cool too.  Next thing you know you own Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” and are reading about San Francisco in the Summer of Love.  Then someone mentions this obscure band, you probably won’t like them, they’re heavy…  A bunch of radicals from Detroit that scared the shit out of everyone, The MC5.

I was hooked.  I read all about the MC5, the White Panther Party, the insane chaos of the counter culture protest movement, Hunter S Thompson, Abbie Hoffman, Malcom X, and on and on.  The late 60s was a time of great change, a time where any stray cinder could light the whole thing on fire, where one side of society had no grasp of the other side and vice versa.  Rumors flew around about radical groups planning to bomb government buildings.  Petty infighting between splinter groups.  Government informants, dope dealers, idealists and opportunists swirled around a confusing center of the Vietnam War but all had their own agendas.  Everything was important.  Everything was absurd.  The world was changing and only a fool couldn’t see it.  What a time to be alive and I missed it!

So now we find ourselves in our version of 1968.  Protest marches turn violent while old white men in suits point fingers at “outside agitators” to protect their economic interests.  The new Boogieman is “Antifa”!  The initial killing of George Floyd is just an excuse at this point.  The idealists create the marches.  The fringe elements jump on to stir up the shit for their own evil agendas of anarchy, destruction or triggering a race war.  The third layer are the opportunists, some protest tourists eager for Instagram moments to create social media cred, and others looking for a chance to knock out a window for a free TV.  They all get lumped together as “protesters” by the reporters for the Viewers that struggle to understand what is going on behind their various screens shielding them from real experiences.  Everyone is convinced they are right.  Everyone is wrong.  It’s all chaos.

It seems obvious now that a population that were in isolation for three months, a quarter of them losing their jobs, economic uncertainty, a pandemic with swirling moving facts, and a total lack of leadership wouldn’t need much to set it off.  Topping it off is a divisive national leadership that has been focused on an “US’ versus THEM” narrative.  The battle lines have been drawn.  These are the conditions for what historians refer to as “really bad shit happening”.  If 1968 has taught us anything, I’d keep your head on a swivel during the next heatwave.

One thing we didn’t have in 1968 was social media.  As the rhetoric has heated up, a genuine ugliness has crept up.  People with some views that a few years ago would have been labeled as perhaps “fringe” or more likely “racist” have nestled into comforting bubbles that allow these ideas to become at best “normalized” and at worst “patriotic”.  People I have worked with, gone to school with, and known as smiling faced acquaintances have allowed their previously guarded views of “those people” to flow freely as they now don’t have to worry about being “politically correct”.  We have discovered the enemy in America.  The enemy is us. 

I don’t know how things will shake out this summer.  My gut tells me it is going to be bad.  Very bad.  History repeats itself, but the wrapping paper changes.  We are in 1968 with a healthy sprinkling of 1936 in for flavor.  Our phones are the most powerful educational tool known to civilization.  Yet no one reads.  No one is looking at the bright light of the oncoming locomotive.  It’s cat videos, pornography and limp dicked protests like turning your Instagram screen black.  If I am you, I start to listen to some MC5.  Dope, guns and fucking in the streets.  It’s the Summer of 2020.  It’s the Summer of 1968.  Surf’s up.        

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Nurse the Hate: A Simple Grenacha Blend from Valencia

I have been having a difficult time writing as each featureless day blends into the next.  I woke this morning, laying perfectly still with my eyes closed, trying to deduce if it was Wednesday or Thursday.  This went on for maybe only a few minutes, like a bad dream version of when you were 11 years old on summer vacation.  Whereas those days that blended together were of unbridled excitement and opportunity for adventure, these days are tedium and the promise of doing the dishes yet again.  I finally remembered that this was Thursday but then I also accepted that it didn't really matter as life was now like being a sturdy homesteader in the 1800s.  I'll have to remember to take my Saturday night bath to look proper for Sunday Services.

I was trying to study Piedmont yesterday.  I am finding it extremely difficult to retain knowledge.  I had decided that I was going to travel to Piedmont this year, to see what Barolo and the Langhe hills looked like in the Spring.  It always helps me learn if I have first hand experience.  When I think about Bordeaux, I know what Pomerol smells like running through it as mist lifts during the sunrise.  It's a real place to me now.  Now as I stare at the DOCG map breakdowns of Barbaresco, Ghemme, or Dogliani I might as well be studying a map of Tolkien's Middle Earth.  The city of Turin is as fictional as that Elf City.  The maps I am staring at are clearly another work of fiction, a world that is fantasy.  "Hmm, let's see...  The best Nebbiolo is grown at the foothills of the Dwarf Kingdom whereas Dolcetto is primary in The Shire.  Those goddamn Hobbits sure know their way around a well structured Dolcetto, don't they?".  I can't make it stick.  The thought that I will be able to travel there, or anywhere for that matter, seems impossible.

The basset hounds stare at me.  I stare at the bassets.  We are all united in our highlight of the day.  Dinner time.  I pour their kibbles into their dish as they begin to anxiously walk around the kitchen floor like nervous race horses.  Their nails clack on the tile as they try to will me to place their bowls on the ground faster.  I get my own food pellets ready and make the most consequential decision of the day.  What wine will I open?  It's Tuesday, so there's no need to get crazy.  I settle for a weird GSM blend from Valencia in Spain.  After I open the wine I remember that it is actually Wednesday and feel regret that I didn't open something more substantial.  I have no idea why I am sticking to my self imposed tradition of "ramping up" the wine quality as the week progresses.  Every night is Monday.  Every night is Saturday.  

The wine is decent and demonstrates the good value that can be counted on with Spanish wines.  Served blind it would likely be mistaken for a Cotes du Rhone at first glance, but it's a little too juicy and ripe in character while lacking that herbal edge that sneaks into a typical Cotes du Rhone.  This would be a good choice digging into a Sunday lunch at a nice Spanish family restaurant in Valencia.  I've never been to Valencia though.  I have seen photos of it many times.  I was supposed to play a show there once on the Cowslingers first trip to Europe, our wonderfully chaotic trip to Spain when we released the "Fistful of Pesetas" compilation.  A bunch of those shows got cancelled on short notice.  When that would happen, Pepe, one of the tour masterminds, would take us into a tapas bar and order a plate of the best jamon.  This was the obscenely expensive acorn fed kind we couldn't possibly appreciate at the time.  This was all part of the process to help cushion the blow of the cancellation.  Bobby Latina and I still do an impression of these talks.  (insert Spanish accent in a low baritone voice). "Bob...  there is more bad news I'm afraid...  the show tomorrow... has been cancelled...  here... try this octopus..."

We could have cared less. We were relatively young men experiencing Spain together for the first time.  Everything was new and delightfully foreign.  Our hosts were great guys and the crowds couldn't be more welcoming.  It was a great tour, and is one of my fondest travel memories.  I can still have whispers of that type of enthusiasm well up in me when I travel to a new place now.  As I stared at the maps of Northern Italy, I feel a combination of sadness that the experience of potentially traveling there has been lost, and a growing sense of anger about looking for someone/anyone to blame for the pandemic.  I'm stuck here.  But...  but...  I had plans!  This pandemic is a nightmare and I'm not even sick.

I will make another attempt at the Italian wine maps tonight.  I am now having trouble getting rid of the concept in my head that the Dwarves farm the "tongues of land" at the foot of the mountains, while the Hobbits make the more modest Dolcetto and Barbera.  I guess the Elves make Moscato d'Asti?  Fuck.  Next thing you know I will be listening to my old Yes records while drinking a Pio Cesare Barolo with some age on it speaking in some Olde English fake accent while pronouncing Italian subregion names.  One thing has become painfully clear.  This exam is not going to go well.      

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Nurse the Hate: Musing Over A Ventoux

I am having a Cotes du Rhone, a humble little bottle from Ventoux.  The Cotes du Rhone is in Southern France, a place that is quite pleasant if you like good weather and the air to smell like lavender and olives.  These wines are the everyday wines in France, or they used to be before American fast food and movie culture switched over the younger generations over to energy drinks and spirits.  They are the kind of wines that I rarely open, but almost without fail when I drink them I think, "Hey, that's pretty good.".

Southern France would be a great place to live.  Hemingway spent a great deal of time there, having lazy swims in the clear blue ocean and reading the papers with pitchers of cocktails in small hotels that kissed his ass.  Impressionist painters rushed in to capture the colorful landscapes.  Movie stars bought the land with gorgeous views in the 1950s.  Picasso swaggered around taking in the sun and fucking young girls.  Hell, even the Papacy moved there in the 1500s.  The famous wine region Chateauneuf du Pape is "House of the Pope", a nice little summer castle where a Pope could let his hair down and have fabulous wine made by his minions.  What am I waiting for?

I cannot speak French.  I can barely read French.  I have no understanding why I cannot discern the sounds of foreign languages, but still hear a slight tic in one of my vocals on a record made 16 years ago that drives me crazy.  "You hear that John?  Where I make that weird "huh-uh" sound before coming back to the verse?"  John Smerek then stares at me trying to simultaneously fix the problem while letting me know with his blank expression that no one will ever notice what I'm talking about.  Godammit John!  I still do!

How does that type of obsessive hearing go completely South when listening to someone say "Monsieur, pouvez-vous s'il vous plaît arrêter d'appeler tout le monde copain?"?  All I hear is "mama fah mum ahh no duh nuh".  This is a clear problem, because once a group of foreign guys recognize that you can't understand them, they will start to talk shit about you right in your face.  You can tell something is up from the facial expressions and reactions of grins and so on, sort of like a dog is aware something is happening when he sees you gather up some towels and the dog shampoo before heading to then spare bathtub to warm the water for his unwanted bath.

Assuming I can't speak French, now I can't have a job of any type unless I become some odd expat rake that hustles tourists with "tours" where I make up all the history of the region on the spot as I drive them around in my beat-to-shit Citroen.  This is too much work when envisioning the Hemingway/Picasso lifestyle of padding around in leather sandals calling out pigeon French to shopkeepers wildly interested in pretending to be your friend so they can overcharge you for cheese.

The hurdle to having a country hamlet in a state of beautiful decay appears to be my not being a genius author or artist.  I knew that would come back to bite me eventually.  In this new world of social distancing in a Greater Depression, it's not going to be easy to pull off.  Now more than ever Religion and Chemicals are the key to the future.  And I'm a guy that knows about wine and advertising and commercially unsuccessful music.  Hmmm.  Maybe I could eek out a few years by masquerading as a knowledgable American Wine Importer that can help local vintners Get Into The American Market.  

I looked up a house I could afford for at least a few years.  I could lease out these vines, swagger around giving unwanted and largely unwarranted advice.  I'd make myself a regular at the main bar in the village.  "Look Pepin, if you want to break into the American market the right way, we have to control New York and Chicago!  I know the guys there that can make that happen!  (I don't).  Your wines are fucking fabulous!  (They aren't).  I just need a couple grand a month to grease the wheels over there.  (I'd spend that on a shitty car and restaurants, and wheeling around American tourists on history tours in Monaco where I'd make shit up as I went.). We can make that happen!  (I can't)."

In these Uncertain Times, all options are in play.  I also need to mention, this Ventoux is actually quite good.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Nurse the Hate: The Story About Having A Port In New York

I bought a bottle of Sandeman Fine Tawny Porto on my last suicide run to the grocery store.  I can tell I must be getting older as I have developed a taste for tawny port.  It's a shame I cannot sit at a dinner table with friends and say, "Gentlemen, let's allow the ladies to retire to the parlor while we have our port in the library."  At this point I can stare at Netflix by myself and need to restrain the urge to gurgle the port down a beer stein.  I am watching the clock, waiting to get back on my path.  Like you, I am stuck in this purgatory.

I always think of the English when I think of port.  They established the trade after all.  I watched a British period docudrama last week where men shot blowguns at targets while their ladies jousted with verbal barbs at a proper emotional distance.  That was a generation that knew how to handle a pandemic.  "Yes, as I understand it Perkins spent 13 agonizing days with the fever before succumbing in that tent in Burma.  Nasty business this...  Oh, my honor?  Freshen up my port, would you Williams?"

I got into port about 30 years ago.  My Uncle Jack (who Bobby Latina clipped his name for "The Jack Fords" for those interested in minor Ohio rock and roll trivia) was amused that I had taken a liking to this very out of fashion beverage.  I remember having a port at Windows On The World on top of the World Trade Center.  I didn't have a dinner jacket, so they gave me the "rental" penalty jacket.  Restaurants would sometimes require gentlemen to wear blazers, and if they didn't have one they would provide one they kept behind the reception desk.  The key was that this jacket would be blatantly unfashionable and fit poorly, theoretically punishing you to the point where you would never again forget a jacket at an establishment as fine as this. 

The problem with this policy is the poorly fit blue blazer was better quality than anything I owned, so this was like traveling where I had my clothes shipped ahead.  Imagine walking into a hotel room and they made you wear a clean pair of Chuck Taylors as opposed to the filthy cheap knock offs you normally wore.  "I can wear this?  Seriously?  Sure!"  I was probably wearing an early 90s enormous XL cut shirt with an ugly pattern that looked like a pajama top and some unflattering pleated pant, so anything that covered any of that eyesore was a welcome addition.

When I traveled to New York under these circumstances, I was jolted to understand how out of fashion I was at that particular moment.  I remember once going to a party at an apartment across from Wall Street and I noticed I was the only guy with his shirt tucked in and wearing a belt.  "Wait?  We don't tuck our shirts in anymore?  When did you guys find out?  Who told you?"  There is never a time that you feel more Midwestern.  The good news was I got the tip and became one of the first Cleveland guys to wear his shirt untucked.  "Hey man...  Look at Miller.  How come his shirt isn't tucked in?  Is that a thing now?"

That night with Jack Ford we had a port at Windows.  After dinner Jack Ford wanted to take us to an old bar he knew in Manhatten where he insisted we all had to get another port.  I returned the blazer to the sneering host, in the back of my mind noting I needed to buy new clothes when I got back to Ohio.  Jack drove us to the bar.  He swerved all over the road with the misguided confidence of a senior citizen with a belly full of gin and port.  We stopped at a place with long graceful brass rails down the old wood bar.  It was one of those New York places that seemed like it had always been there and would always be there.  They had three different ports, so we split them up amongst us.  I remember my father was there, and my cousin Nancy.  My mother had recently died, so my father must have been lonely.  The holidays are brutal that way, an experience each of us is doomed to have unless we have the relative good fortune to die before our loved ones.

The night had hit that point where conversations had drilled down to the person immediately next to you.  I asked Jack about his business, a murky "international moving company" that had extensive work in Central America, Africa, and the Middle East.  We were drinking a Taylor's Tawny, a nice but by no means great port.  It was a good one to have at the quiet last part of the night.  Jack had his guard down a bit, something I had never seen.  He was probably drunker than even I realized.  He stared straight ahead and starting talking.  It wasn't so much to me.  It was something on his mind he had to get out.  "I was in Nicaragua one time with two guys I worked with.  We were doing this project down there.  We were at this little country bar.  A beer joint basically.  We all had to take a leak, and they had an outhouse in the back.  There were three stalls, you know, those little boxes with holes in the ground.  I was heading out with the other guys, and then this kid bartender asked me if we wanted another round.  I turned back at the bar and some local got up and cut me off to go to the outhouse.  So I ordered another round and then all three of those guys got machine gunned in those outhouses."

Up to this point we had been having our normal dry sarcastic banter.  Jack got faraway for a minute.  He looked at the mirror across from us, all the colorful bottles in the three deep row, paused and knocked back his port.  I was stunned, waiting for some kind of "Ah gotcha!" punch line.  There wasn't one.  We sat there quietly for a moment.  The spell broke.  He tuned his head to look at me, returning to the present.  "How's your port?"