Monday, July 28, 2008

7 Days

1. Tore out ten more feet of fence, and one post. This post was heavier; had to wheel it to my dump staging area.
2. Removed the sod to create a 5' x 8' garden.
3. Enjoyed There Will Be Blood & Trailer Park Boys. The latter I watched twice.
4. Visited Jen and we picked up a surprised Mark while waiting for the bus. Hit Talrico's. Nobody told me everyone is moving Westside!
6. Saw C at the bus stop next morning because I was getting to work with a hungover turtle's momentum. Chatted her up.
7. Pre-ordered my iPhone; the story changes whether I get to keep my old number or not. On a happier note, my company provides a nice discount on the monthly AT&T bill.
8. I begin writing Mercurial U; doubt I'll publish it.
9. See C at bus stop again, this time I'm really kicking myself for not asking her number or something like that...I sometimes forget how shy I am. I keep leaving it to chance, that I'll see her again...
10. Visited Marika. Briefly.
11. Rethinking beard. According to Just for Men, and my co-worker Ray, 'Gray gets no play.'
12. Saw S, who I haven't seen for years. After hearing about the split, he shares his own anecdote implying that he saw something wasn't right...something that annoys me a bit, since it only reinforces this idea that I was the only person in the world who didn't get that something was wrong. And I'm hearing this from someone drunk, at the video store, at 8 pm.
13. My sister dropped off the karaoke CDs, and Dance Dance Revolution for the Wii. I really need to give that thing a chance.
14. Rented and watched Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). I've avoided Woody's 70's stuff until now. It was better than I was expecting.
15. My parents visit. They give me a lot of ideas for the yard.
16. Rented and watched The Notorious Betti Page. Gretchn Mol. A beautifully shot film.
17. I go to market. I replace last week's flowers with new ones. I buy rasberries that will go bad over the next 4 hours.
18. I dig a 25-30' trench on the north side of my house. It is right against the foundation, so I'm always digging on my right side. I submerge a draining pipe that has rested above ground - rather tackily - since the day I moved in (1999). I'm surprised it only took a day, starting after noon, to complete the project.
19. Neighbor interrupts to talk about the trees in the backyard. He wants to add on to his house, and might have his removed. This would weaken the roots for my 2 trees (and derail some of my landscaping plans out back). Or, he might just move. But if I have to remove mine? 5-7,000 dollars. I've been attracting a lot of 7K 'surprises' lately.
20. Wendy visits, and it is great to hear how well she is doing.
21. I sleep terribly. I awake at 01:30 and check in with a deployment; I wake at 05:30 to finish it off. Usually when I'm this sore, I sleep the just sleep, but I think my BG got low in the middle of the night.
22. My soreness continues.

Friday, July 25, 2008

File Under Things To Do Before I Die

I want. Not to belabor the Prince kick I've enjoyed lately, but I had to toss in this fashion addendum. I arrived at work obsessed with hunting down the...well, any really...polka dot suit. If you start out with Google, like I did - good luck. Nobody is making and marketing men's polka dot suits online. Sure, you can have one custom made, I'm sure of it. I'm not budgeted for custom-made suits right now. I'm not the greatest search engine driver either, and my efforts went unrewarded.

But I know a polka-dot suit exists; I have the same Uptown fanzine from which this screen-scrape was taken (note the opposite page imprints ruining an otherwise stark black and white photo). I was a bit frustrated that I couldn't find this LoveSexy-era pic in digital...I think its one of the coolest photos of Mr. Nelson, and though he's always flirted with polka, I've never seen it so overwhelmingly so.

I would of course lose the reflecting mirror heart corsage (there's a better view of it in the pic below; this one just shows up as a light-catching glare). I would also lose the heels and go for something more contemporary - probably some Stacy Adams. I might try LeRoy's next week and see if they have something on hand. I dunno, the last time I stepped into LeRoy's, I got a lot of "you're no pimp!" stares, and zero customer service.

Even if I get this suit, there's a problem with occasion. Once I found my suit - once I proved something like it exists - I had to share it with co-workers. "And where exactly do you plan on wearing it?" "I dunno, somebody's wedding?" I replied. "Hah. You can't upstage the bride!" Whatever. I'll find an occasion; perhaps I'll just ask to be buried in it.

(The Til Eulenspiegal part of me thinks, well, if I don't like the bride? I might just wear it anyway. The Sam Louis Obispo part of me just want to wear it all the time - with a matching bowler & cane, steppin' out.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Colour U Peach and Black

I had Ed pegged for a rocker: he was effusive for Van Halen and Metallica, and when we did talk about music, he would cite bands that were either mega-this, death-that, or about to slay-one-another. So when we did hang out, when the 'older, bad-influencing' Ed invited me to his house, I was surprised at the music he was burning to share. It was 1983, and he had just discovered Prince.

It was the audacious raunch. It was more direct and shocking than the euphemisms and metaphors cited by an army of hairspray bands: Ed wasn't going to let me leave until I heard Prince pronounce, Marsha, I'm not saying this to be nasty...but I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth (I never could figure out why he was insistent on "Let's Pretend We're Married" over the aurally more graphic "Lady Cab Driver"). This was my first exposure to Prince - I wasn't particularly wowed by the music. My interest at the time was limited to the Beatles, Elton John, John Denver & Kenny Rogers...artists who weren't preoccupied with rhythm or groove or funk. I didn't get any of it, but I thought watching the impaled eyeball spinning on the turntable was pretty cool.

This is not to say that an impression wasn’t made. Ed liked Prince, and the Ed I know shouldn't like music like this. What gives here?

The following spring, as my 8th grade class graduated, When Doves Cry was inescapably, repetitively, making its rounds on the airwaves. I was a little wiser at the end of the school year. I began to better understand what musical genres were, and I began to understand the appeal: Prince was someone who was transcending them. This was made ever so more concrete when Let's Go Crazy hit the radio rotation: this was no ordinary artist. After a lot of pining and pleading, Purple Rain showed up in my Easter Basket: thank you Jesus Bunny.

So my love affair with Prince began. It was, like my real life love affairs, a tentative one. I loved Purple Rain, but at age 14 my bank account wasn’t so expansive that I could indulge the idea of owning 2 albums by the same artist: I would have to hear three singles before feeling it was essential to purchase Around the World in a Day. I was the only person I knew who owned this album, and had the challenge of trying to get friends on board with me: a frustrating, fruitless endeavor. When Kiss hit the airwaves, I didn't know what to think. Prince was putting to the forefront the falsetto I knew he employed, but felt that he succeeded in spite of. I bought Parade with much reservation, consoling myself that the cover was at least more tastefully imaginative and artistic than the previous album's mural. Over the course of these 3 albums, Prince led me from being a pop singles-loving adolescent to an (elitist?) eclectic fan of AOR. Amongst my friends, I was becoming increasingly solitary as a fan of his music, something that made the bond more sincere.

Also over the course of these three albums, my appetite for music in general was growing. Having an artist - especially during the 80's - who put out a new album every 11 months -proved to reinforce my new addiction. Prince was unique in his prolificacy; he was also playing a dangerous game of overstaying his welcome. How were any of these songs going to become classics if people don't have the time to absorb them, create personal experiences with them? For me, it was fun: each new single, each new album, would surprise me with what he's capable of. He created an illusion of unlimited creativity. He wasn't following the normal pattern of putting out a (either repetitive or alienating) follow-up to an amazing album, then disappearing. This created an unsettling feeling: how long can someone possibly keep this up? Even if someone can keep this up forever, doesn't the audience eventually change?

Aside from the public, radio-friendly leanings, Prince also fulfilled a need for something deeper, more esoteric. I would greedily collect the remixes and maxi-singles and legendary b-sides that would accompany them. Hello, 17 days, Another Lonely Christmas, Erotic City, Love or Money, Always in My Hair, Girl, How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore, God...It seemed I had to revamp my mixed-tapes with each single's release. Fan and critical consensus, in retrospect, conclude that a few of these should have been singles. This secret knowledge only served to draw me further into Prince's universe.

I was apprehensive when I first heard the single Sign O the Times on the radio. It was stripped down and bare. He fired off The Revolution in 1986 (on my birthday!), and the album I was anticipating - even though I hadn't completely absorbed the underrated Parade - had all the signs of being a disaster. I tended to multiply this stripped-down song times twenty, thinking that this would be what the anticipated double-album would sound like: bandless, with nothing but Prince and studio magic and automation. A mysterious advertisement for the album in Pulse! Magazine - a black page with only a peach colored heart, peace-sign and cross - only reaffirmed my discomfort. Warner wasn't leading with the music like on the previous 2 albums; they were relying on mysterious, obfuscating advertising. This had the potential of being a double-album of demo quality, high on symbolism & self-indulgence; low on production.

I brought home the maxi-single - not the edited 45 rpm - for Sign O the Times; La La La, Hee Hee Hee - the flipside - dispelled a lot of the reservation. Though the Linn Drum leads as usual, the 10:32 "Highly Explosive" extended play has one of Prince's funkiest bass guitar solos committed to vinyl (in writing this, I had to hook up 10 sq. ft. of stereo speakers, and of course - a stereo system. It was worth the trouble). It is a song as playful and whimsical as the A-side is pensive and mournful. Even before the release of the album he'd established that he has so many grooves on the shelf he needs to cast a few of them to B-sidedom and other artists. Prince also played a little gender-bending trick: on the maxi-single cover he appears to be dressed in a peach skirt and tube top, tasseled gloves and garter with an inset heart. He appears thoroughly waxed, Brazilian-like, as he holds a large black heart over his head. The reverse side shows him in full face exposure, lip-sticked with matching peach cloud guitar in hand. Only it isn’t him in drag, it is Cat – his backup dancer- dressed and hair-styled to look like him. It’s a convincing sell.

I bought the Sign O the Times LP in late July 1987, a week & a half after its release. I missed out on some beautiful weather so I could sit cross-legged on the floor in front of my stereo, headphones on and reading through the inner sleeves on my lap. It had my full attention, and when I got to the end, I had to start it all over again. I was in awe. It was so different from the previous few albums – it felt bereft of an overseeing concept or a self-evident stylistic approach. It felt like a barrage of hits waiting to be culled out and discovered. It would be easier to list the songs that didn’t grab me on that first listen: Slow Love (it sounded like a typically burlesque Prince ballad), Hot Thing (a funkier retread of Girls & Boys from the previous album), U Got the Look (the Sheila Easton duet had something forced about it, and there’s a good explanation for this), and The Cross (two chords, and the only overtly religious song on the album).

By the time Sign was released, critics had already formed a dossier on Prince as a songwriter. Sure, he could play over 30 instruments. Sure, he could write irresistible hit songs. But - and critics are always there to remind you where your ‘shortcomings’ are - Prince has this conflicting & recurring pre-occupation with god and sex. Sometimes the contradiction appears in the same song; sometimes it appears in the same line in a song. But it never seems to get resolved; it isn’t a conflict that Prince gets beyond. One of the first notable things about Sign: they are kept comfortably separate. The Cross is a purely religious /social observation; the same can be said for the song Sign of the Times. They may be kept separate, but not equal: there is a treatment given to these songs absent from the rest of the album, and they are in a very small minority…two of an offered sixteen.

This doesn’t mean that the rest of the album is dedicated to sex. There’s preposterous strutting, heartfelt preaching, ridiculous psychedelic imagery, nightclub posturing, internal monologues, and rallying cries to celebrate life. There‘s definitely sex; there’s plenty of it. But Prince adds a new dimension to it. It seems more cognizant of its own obsession: Prince has approached it with a new maturity that at times is romantic, at times pathologically or compulsively unsettling.

Side one can serve as the cliff notes take on the album, topically, if not musically. It opens with the title track and first single – a relaxed groove with a pulse like a clock winding down a body’s expiration; a song that reads a list of woes that threaten the world, posing the question why humanity continues to move forward in spite of them:”When the rocket ship explodes / and everybody still wants to fly / Some say a man ain’t happy truly / ‘til the man truly dies.” It directly addresses the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, inquiring whether some of the pursuits of humanity fail to look for the value in pursuing them…particularly in light of all the social challenges we have on earth. He ends the lyrics quizzically: “Let’s fall in love / get married and have a baby / we’ll call him Nate…if it’s a boy.” He doesn’t settle for the political song that leaves the listener blaming someone else; he ends with accusing the listener with the same headlong rush towards the end of their life. It has a subdued groove, an uplifting yet – at the same time, lamenting – transition into the chorus. It ends with sporadic bursts of percussion and synth.

It segues into Play in The Sunshine, a deceptive remedy. It is a strange transition; living up to the playfulness alluded to in the title: “Someway, Somehow, I’m going to have fun.” But the lyrics allude to such odd imagery, that one questions whether the voice in this tune is looking for solace in an opposite extreme (“I want to be free,” “we’re going to love our enemies ‘til the gorilla falls of the wall”, and “the big white rabbit begins to talk.”). Prince has a history of knocking on hippies, and it’s tempting to resign the lyrics to having fun with them again. Even if that’s the case, Play in the Sunshine is as musically diverse and dynamic as the album opener is stuck in a rut. It starts out in a frenetic rush and unrealistic declaration, breaks down for two separate guitar solos, before the background vocals that have grown increasingly complex through the song, devolve into a gospel choir hung over and deplete of energy.

Then the funk & Camille’s sped-up voice break in: Housequake’s “Shut Up Already, Damn!” cuts in before Play’s celebration completely winds to a close. Uncharacteristically for Prince, Housequake employs horns combined with familiar ‘eerie’ background synth lines. Though inspired by James Brown, Prince brings an irreverent humor to it. It is one of the highlights of the entire album; lyrical content takes a backseat to comedic timing; the first three songs resolve in the funk being the final solution the previous two songs’ internal contradictions.

The Ballad of Dorothy Parker is the earliest song recorded with the intent of being on either the Crystal Ball, Dream Factory (when Prince had a 3 album set in mind), or Sign of the Times (we’ll just call it “his next project”). Musically, it changes direction sporadically – an illusion created by vocal layers that shift and change directions frequently. It reads like an early attempt at a song focused on relationships, but it doesn’t take itself as seriously as later songs on the album: this is the fun of being seduced. Despite the line “I needed someone with a quicker wit than mine / and Dorothy’s was fast”, Prince was unfamiliar with Parker the writer. To him, it was a name pulled out of the effluvium of pop culture reference. There are many instrumental shifts and voices put on display, but it is a subdued contrast to Play in the Sunshine. The callout to Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”, and the way he employs it, is impressive. Dorothy Parker ends with a wah-wah guitar groove that has little to do with the proper song, but implies doors being open to something more, depths to explore.

When I first listened to side two, I thought it was the weakest on the double-LP. If any of the four sides have to be the weak link, I would stand by this notion – though I also believe making side two the weakest separates it from The Beatles or Songs in the Key of Life. But I’ve come to appreciate it over time. It reveals where the god/sex contradiction went: shifted to sex/love. It is book ended by It, an unreserved expression of sexual desire, and Forever In My Life, a reflective song in which the narrator confesses to himself that there is a time to settle down. They share a similar tempo. It progresses with a hypnotic synth melody that indicates a crescendo that will never be reached. Prince cites banal lyrics over the build, all Id in his delivery: “I wanna do you you baby all the time, alright / I’m gonna think about it all the time / fuckin’ on your mind, baby / feels so good it must be a crime”. Forever In My Life, by contrast, is lyrically pretty. Prince relegates the Linn to the background, layering his background vocals to anticipate his bluesy lead delivery. It is an honest song, sounding almost extemporaneous; there is a strange trade-off between It and Forever in musica versus lyrical complexity. Even on early listening, I questioned how Prince could be more compulsive about sex, or more sincerely honest about relationships.

One strong point to be made for side two of Sign: it doesn’t lose momentum. The only thing making this side ‘weak’, is comparing it to the other three. Couched between It & Forever, are Starfish & Coffee / Slow Love / Hot Thing. Starfish is the most popular of the three, a song that would fit comfortably on The Beatles: precocious, precious, and full of sugary imagery. Slow Love feels like a ballad Prince has done before, though it sounds perfectly executed. Hot Thing pounds and drives with fiery horn lines and a danceable backbeat. All three are great songs, differing wildly from one another. It is almost as though his adept ability to handle such diverse approaches to songwriting was too hard to resist, creating the most erratic collection on the LP. It also doesn’t help that every song on sides 3 & 4 have – whether in pop culture or in cult fandom – a resounding significance.

U Got the Look finds Prince using the Camille-voice in duet with Sheila Easton (the Camille project was another ancillary, and eventually absorbed project, into Sign & The Black Album). It is a song that can’t determine whether it is dance or rock, and the electric rock churnings in the background sound as though they may have given Trent Reznor an idea or two. Did I say this didn’t impress me at first? I stand corrected. U Got the Look was the last song written for Sign of the Times, when Prince wanted to intentionally attempt something commercial to tack on his album. In terms of requirements and deliverables, he hit the mark. It might not forward any of the psychological contradictions on the album, but it displays how Prince can nail it in spite of himself: a sped-up voice, dissonant synth-lines, and a near cabaret treating of pop-rock. He does it with catchy, memorable, simple lyrics and an unforgettable – if not absurd – bridge that finds him singing each word in the line “Well here we are” in four sequentially different keys.

If I was Your Girlfriend is a masterpiece in Linn-drum and synth sequencing. It also stands as one of the creepier love songs ever written. Prince brings the same obsessive approach from It, refocusing from sex to the relationship itself. He strives for a possessive intimacy that leaves no room but for the person who adores. I was always surprised that it received any radio attention, since it’s descent into a sexual madness – all that was cut from the radio edit – makes the song what it is. “Would you run to me if somebody hurt you / even if that someday was me? Sometimes I trip on how happy we can be” is a haunting lyrical pairing; everything that follows - right unto the symbolic, post-coital ending of the song – sounds like the sick mental schematic from which such a statement arises. “We’ll try to imagine what silence looks like…” repeated over and over, begs a votive candle be lit to ward all the preceding demons away.

A poppier approach to the same subject matter follows. Strange Relationship looks at things from the outside: “Baby I just can’t stand to see you happy / More than that, I hate to see you sad.” “The more you love me sugar, the more it makes me mad.” It propels itself with a driving, heavy drum beat and catchy synth melody…though the topic matter is overshadowed with a threat of violence. Prince, as narrator, has switched from unabashed honesty to an observation of the relationship – it’s like you see an ego emerging. He is seeing the thing – and his reaction to it – for what it is. Just like most of the songs on Sign, it quickly follows it’s predecessor, announcing itself on the scene with an urgency.

The Freudian triptych resolves in I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man. Topically, it is distant from Strange or Girlfriend, but the narrator has developed a certain morality about relationships (if this were a three-song side, excluding U Got the Look, it would seem even more intentional…but since that isn’t the case, this is my own reading). “Honey, you might be satisfied with a one-night stand / but I could never take the place of your man.”…subjects the narrator to not getting his way, in spite of his honest assessment. And the music is pure pop, perfect for radio, relatable for its simple message: it could be the most unequivocal hit on the album, with an extended version that satisfies the faithful. ICNTTPOYM is a song that had been around awhile (since 1982). It takes an unusual direction for Prince, breaking down a tight pop song for a subdued groove and playing some funky delayed rhythm before re-emerging with the melody. This is the same Prince who was genius enough to leave the bass out of When Doves Cry; you might think he is marring a good thing. But when the melody returns, it is effective.

Side three ends with indirect resolution, begging the question: where can one go from here? Well, god, for starters. And Dancing. And arguably, the most romantic love song Prince has recorded – among many – yet.

Side four is where you either poot out and resign yourself to filler (The Beatles) or pack in the hits (Key of Life). Prince is somewhere in the middle. It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night, the longest song on the album, is closer to As or Another Star than it is to Number 9, that‘s for certain. The middle piece of the LP finale is a pastiche of his marketed Minneapolis sound, live energy, newly discovered horn lines and contemporary - though accessible - rapping. I’ve yet to see a review of the album that doesn’t qualify the song as ‘heavily overdubbed,’ and considering that Sign wasn’t meant to be a live album, this is rightfully so. It is the last relic of Prince performing with the Revolution, and the effect reminds that the parting – artistically, anyways – ended on a high note. Like the title indicates, it is positive, and for nine minutes the listener has a lot thrown at them: Oz-land chants, multiple voicings, jazzy rubato, funky rhythm guitars, playful tomfoolery. Even if it is overdubbed from the Zenith, Paris, performance, it is a postcard that makes one with they were there.

However, it is The Cross that quietly launches side four with an eastern sounding, quiet guitar-lick. It is a song sung twice – once with Prince’s vocals leading over musical embellishment, a second time in a different key, with more strain, drowned out in distortion. It is the most direct addressing to Prince’s spirituality; a wiping of the slate clean following the preceding three album sides. Depending on where you are coming from, you might either appreciate the stop-gap, or wonder if…if he were to pursue the straining honesty of side three, where it might have taken him artistically.

The last song is Adore.

Though Sign O the Times has been viewed as a classic in many circles, it didn’t chart amazingly well: it achieved a high of 45 on Billboard charts. In light of what the album offered, the series of singles fall short of being representative: Sign O the Times was followed by If I was Your Girlfriend. Though the follow up had a killer b-side in Shockadelica, it threatened the momentum of the album. It was followed by a pair of double a-side maxi singles – U Got the Look / Housequake and Hot Thing / I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man. Considering the material discarded from the 3-album set, the direction of double-A sides is surprising. Imagine throwing Dream Factory, Sexual Suicide, A Place in Heaven, or Possessed into the mix. U Got the Look & ICNTTPOYM were videos taken from the Sign O the Times Concert film, garnering some video rotation on MTV….though decreasingly so. Sign, the single, reached #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100; Girlfriend made next to no impact, and U Got the Look went to #2. At the time, this meant very little to me. As my focus shifted towards the underground, I was pleased that I could hear Prince’s music on KJET or KCMU. As I made my own genre shift, I was validated that I wasn’t the only person who appreciated his talent or music.

Sign also served to end a high artistic run for Prince. He would follow up the album with Lovesexy in 1988, but self-indulgently limit CD listeners to a single track representing the entire album (no track-skipping). Ironically, it was the first album that I bought on the day of its release – I remember bringing home its (obsolete) long-box along with Morrissey’s Viva Hate. Lovesexy was announced with another great single – Alphabet St. – a funky, playful number, that was lost in the controversy over the pulled-at-the-last-minute Black Album and the indignant response to Lovesexy’s religious overtone. It is a departure from Sign, where the synth and full-band sound at times overwhelm anyone who would’ve accused Sign of being too thin or sparse.

And again, the release of his next album left little room for appreciating the previous one: LoveSexy may have hurt Sign, just a little bit.

Late July of 2008. I’m still listening to Sign O The Times, and even though it sounds like the 80’s, it conveys a lyrical wisdom that reaches beyond being confined to an era. The music can be pinned, but a few of the overtones and topics are universal. Perhaps I can handle it better than others because I’m a Paisley-head. I’m caught up in the mystique of what the album could have been if Prince had his way and released Crystal Ball or Dream Factory. I’ve invested the time and money in getting each and every album like lightening might strike again; like Prince might pull off something like Sign again. I’ve made allowances and explained away shortcomings. I brought home the finally released Black Album with it’s official release, optimistic that it would provide the missing link between Sign and Lovesexy.

Late July of 2008, and really: me and Sign have only reached 21 years together. Time to have a drink to this album. It’s hard to absorb the idea that more time has passed since its release, than between it and the release of The Beatles. It might be old age, but it seems musical revolution isn’t progressing at the speed it once did.

The horn lines slink in as the audience of Its Gonna Be A Beautiful Night recede into the background. Adore announces itself like many Prince ballads from before: “Until the end of time / Ill be there 4 u / U own my heart and mind /I truly adore u / If God one day struck me blind / Your beauty I’d still see / Love is 2 weak 2 define / Just what u mean 2 me”

Adore has distinguished itself as THE definitive Prince ballad: stylistically, it has some formulaic elements, but there’s a humor and idiosyncrasy to it – making it all the more genuine. “U could burn up my clothes / Smash up my ride, well maybe not the ride / But I got 2 have your face / All up in the place.” The idiosyncrasy lies in the structure of the song. It doesn’t build up to a fantastic ending. It reaches a crescendo at mid-mark, becoming reflective about this adoration: “you own my heart, you own my mind…” In a strange turn, he revisits the sentiment of Girlfriend, but musically, it doesn’t sound possessive or obsessive. When he says that he wants to be “More than your mother / more than your brother / I wanna be / Like no other”, the music allows it to be romantic sentiment instead of guilty or sickening confession.

“Tell u what u mean 2 me / Every time u wander / Ill be your eyes so u can see / I wanna show u things.” There are 2 references to eyesight in the song; one indicating that the adored transcends the vision of the one adoring; the second to an insinuated guidance to things to be seen – a giving over to seeing things in spite of distraction or ability. However, it is ambiguous as to whether there’s possessiveness about it. Given the context of the song, it feels romantic and heartfelt – it may not have been intentional. But it is difficult to be sure. Considering how Prince wields relationship matters on Sign, it seems he would make a statement, however veiled it might be, about the positive nature of a relationship: how in a healthy partnership, sometimes you lead; sometimes you follow. It is a perfect ending to a double-LP, but like the preceding 3 sides, it ends nicely and raises some questions at the same time.

I’ve listened to this album for 21 years, and even after a perfect ending, I’m wondering what surprise will break in to interrupt it. I want to hear what side 5 has to offer, what depths or heavens it takes me to. Prince reached his zenith with Sign O the Times – the preceding albums, many of them also considered classics in their own right - feel like a building toward this moment. All subsequent albums get compared to it. Personally, I never get tired of it. Each and ever song has grown on me over time. Sometimes it is hearing an outtake, a live rendition of it, or just the reconsideration you give an element from repeated listens. And I’ll probably only like it more and more, until the end of time.

Monday, July 14, 2008

WS Street Fair / Carl Owens Golf Tournament

Friday, I made it by the Street Fair late to do my yearly uzshe: got Henna'd and bought sunglasses. This year, I chose the symbol 'The Way' since it smacked of a distant relevence to a consistent and divine golf swing. The gal doing the work had great cleavage (since she's applying it to my inside forearm, there aren't too many other places to look). Stopped by Jen's hut and said HI. I couldn't stick around and talk to her long; she was busy running the joint while her lump of a coworker proceeded to do nothing but text away with one leg up.

Pete & I had a blast at the Golf Tournament. I picked him up way too early for the trip. No regrets, it made for a relaxing, unhurried day. It was nice to see his family again, though Holden - now age three - kept asking "Where's Michelle? - Where's Michelle?" I thought it was funny, D'arcy looked discomfit, and I'm impressed that at his age he even remembers.

So we were early enough to hit a bucket of balls before shotgun. My first drive was perfect. My first pitch was perfect. I left the range at Carnation feeling really good about my swing.

I shot a 118. That's about 15 over my average. This, in a year where I really want to break 100. I contribute this to: a) My drives were hot or cold. When they were cold, they were 'goodbye, I'll never see that ball again' cold. So I did a lot of hitting 3 off the tee. b) The rough. The coordinator for the tourney complained about it as well: it was poorly maintained and ate up a lot of balls. Really, I shanked a couple I should have been able to find easily. More penalty strokes. c) After 5 holes, I summed up where I was at, and decided that I wasn't going to break 100 anyways, so I may as well start drinking. Which I did with gusto.

I love chatting up the beer-cart girls.

As horrible as my score turned out to be, it was also a day of some of my most amazing shots. For me, anyways. On a short par 4, I almost drove the green. My ball ended up dead center, ten yards shy. I don't think I've had a better drive. Also, due to the sly mechanics of the Calloway system of scoring, I managed to beat Pete (really, only the net matters to us, so I don't feel like I beat Pete). I walked out of there with a new golfing bag, Pete with a beverage cooler. It was a long drive back, and I resigned myself to not going to the Street Fair for the Saturday night Dance Party. I don't think I could handle getting drunk twice in a day.

Sunday, I made 2 trips to the fair: I needed to hit the Farmer's Market in the morning (stock up on flowers), and I wanted to see Carrie Akre in the afternoon. I came back with so much more from the morning trip: an earful from Jen, still holding the fort down, and...comics! I spent about 45 minutes under the hot sun looking for Fantastic Four's I didn't already own. I bought seven, when I got home I realized I already had 5 of them. I also stopped by the Rat City Roller Girls to see if they new some of the people I remembered from the rink, and they did! But they weren't going to show up until later. I bought a RCRG shirt and made my way home.

After playing guitar at home for a couple hours, I headed back. I was behind on time, so I quietly waved to Cali & Jen as I made my way to the North Stage. Carrie was amazing. I haven't followed her solo career fanatically, but I love the most recent album - and her band. She was behind schedule starting, so I snuck in for a quick beer and texted Juan to come join (no response). I finished up, Carrie started up and it was one of those intimate experiences because you are watching it all alone. I really enjoyed it, along with the crazy scarf hippie who danced away several feet from me. He persuaded a couple people to join him, and handed out his business cards to them (I really secretly wanted one, but I didn't want to be lulled into public dancing. I mean, what is it that he's selling?).

That was the weekend, in sum. Now back to work.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Shrill Posturing

"So...this is going to sound like an odd question", leveling my eyes at her. "How would you go about baking a cake? I don't want you to tell me how to do it, I want you to tell me how personally, would go about doing it."

I'm humoring, complicit with the look on her face, though I can see she is not going to take the question seriously. She's not in a position to question the questions: "I would go to the store. I would get a box of cake mix. I would read the side of it and figure out what ingredients I need..." And her mind wanders a little; she pauses for a moment. The moment I've been waiting to break in.

"No, I don't think you understand the question. A cake. How would you go about baking a cake."

She gives me the look I was waiting for. A blank face, all attention and seriousness. All searching for how she could have misinterpreted such a stupid question in the first place. Absorbing her mis-step. "Okay, I think I understand. First, I would find a cookbook." I raise my palm up to signify that she should stop right there - "Really, this is what you would do?"

The cake question was never my idea. Someone asked me it when I was the interviewee, a long time ago. I never did find out the right answer, nor did I get the job. It was a mean turn I wanted to give back to the universe - some day, at some opportunity. When Rebecca arrived reeking of marijuana and sporting a relaxed confidence, I felt it was now or never. "I understand it seems like a simple process - baking a cake. Let's try this one more time." I'm a bit astounded. If I were her, I would be angry by now - but Rebecca just looks terrified. I've harshed her mellow. She collects herself, swallows deeply, and gives it another try.

"If I were to bake a cake. First off, I don't know if I would ever bake a cake. If, If I were, if I had to...I'd talk to someone who knows how to bake a cake from this what you're looking for? Bake a cake from scratch?" I shrug, like it doesn't matter to me. Either way you want to play it, Rebecca. I add an expectent nod to continue. "Okay, from scratch then. So I'd do some research. Look online? Get a recipe? Then I would go to the store to buy all the things I need to bake it. Funny, I don't even have a pan for baking cakes. Not a round one. I guess I would know by now what cake I want." And her enthusiasm bottoms out, as she sees that if there were a right or wrong, she ended on the wrong end of it. "I guess I should have said that first."

I pretend to jot a short note on my legal pad. "That'll do it for the cake question. People either get it or they don't."

"Don't stress too much over it - I can assure you it has little or no bearing on the outcome of the interview." Having had my fun, I feel the need to retreat a step: "It's just...there are so many directions you could go here. It has little to do with this position. But you could find yourself leading a project, or, something like that." I add, "It beats being asked where you see yourself in five years. Now that...makes no sense at all."

After escorting Rebecca out, politely shaking her hand and letting her know when I'll be making a decision (a date that usually slides, since hiring people isn't as simple as baking a cake) - my phone rings. "Hello?"

It is the director: "There's been a mixup with recruiting. Your 2 o'clock? Don't hire him."

"Can I ask why?"

"Sure - he came highly recommended. Internal Referral. But someone in recruiting misplaced his it turns out, he failed it." This shouldn't be a big deal. The READ is a test as inconclusive as asking cake-baking questions. It asks straight away if you've stolen from your place of work. If you've done drugs. Whether you've physically assaulted someone. Except it goes on like that for 150 questions. The end result - you've either answered all the questions honestly, and shown you're imperfect in a few areas. Or, you've answered it dishonestly and are too saintly for your own good. It has a few trippable metrics in the background, but relying on the READ as a reliable tool has been a running joke to hiring managers since it came in-house.

"So? We've both taken the READ test and failed! Has there been a change in policy?" My boss laughs. "Well. If I can get a copy of his, I'll show it to you. This guy failed pretty much everything about it."

I hang up the phone. I need a moment to absorb how stupid this is. This test no one takes too seriously, this weak sieve that doesn't serve to weed out, concretely, the psychologically unstable or the morally crippled - except under the most extreme conditions. And what happens the single time it sets off an alarm? It gets misplaced and I have to fake an interview. What if I happen to like the candidate? I look over his resume. Saying he is over-qualified for the position I'm filling would be a gross understatement. I've never seen a more perfect resume: a logical progression of increased responsibility at two different businesses. His most recent occupation, I know for a fact, just outsourced their tech department wholly - I doubt he was fired. The number of computer languages. Multiple platform. Not just multiple platform hardware ops experience, but coding experience for them as well. When did this guy find the time to do all the bad things the READ exposes? Did he just get yes and no confused while taking the test?

I give up trying to make any sense of it. I've received my directive. I have only a single dim bulb of inspiration - play it grim. From the get-go, from the initial handshake, make sure he knows his chances are slim...for reasons beyond either of our control. The phone rings: it is Sandy; my appointment is here. "I'll be there shortly." I'll have to imagine some creative reasons as I make my way.

He's African-American. As soon as I see him, I am counting how many African-Americans we have in all of our technical departments. I can't get past the number two, and quickly calculate the percentages: even if I could hire this man, we'd still be woefully below any ideal quota. His smile is warm as we shake hands; I note that this experienced expert is about to be interviewed by a man almost half his age. And Jesus. As I flash my access card to gain entry to the interior offices, I can't help noticing he's following me with a terrible limp. Like he has a club foot...the second notion I muster to replace like he's had a gunshot wound.

"I know, I'm overqualified. You're probably wondering why I would apply for this job - it's almost entry level. I've been at this for over a month - and it's been rough. This morning, I had a second interview for a lead position at another company - made it to the final three - but didn't get the job. It would have been perfect for my skill set." I'm wondering if other companies have READ tests. But all I can tell him is that the market is tough, and techies all around are being asked to do more with I really repeating the kind of trite sayings that annoy me when I hear them? Yes I am. "Well," he tells me, "I don't want to give you the idea that this is the job of my dreams. In five years, I'd imagine I would be in a position more aligned with my experience." A small part of me wonders how I'll use this against him.

We arrive at conference room 7E, and I ask him to make himself comfortable. I wait for him to choose a seat, and find one opposite where we can see each other face to face.

I make my normal introduction, iterating the values of the company. I recite the mission statement for the immediate department he is applying to (he was wrong - it wasn't near entry level. It was entry level). I ask him exactly a dozen questions, taking notes. Questions passed on to me from the previous manager; questions that I could never quite peg for what insight was to be taken from them. Usually, it comes down to either a good or bad feel for a person. In light of the other candidates, this guy is my first notch in the good side. I add a thirteenth question - where does he see himself in five years - because I believe it is a question he wants to answer. I take him on the tour of the multiple IT departments, the server lab, the computer room that he would be working in if he were hired. I show him my desk. I have used up the necessary hour to show how I treat every applicant very seriously, and we return to the conference room.

"Now, I know this is not your dream job. And we always want people who are working to better themselves, competing for a better position. I want to be honest with you about where this job comes in at..." I write a number on a yellow sticky. I'm never good at lying, so I pick the lowest number in the pay scale, despite his over-qualifications. He looks blankly at it for several seconds.

"You're joking, right?"

"I'm not." I need something between the lie and the truth: "Personally, I think you are over-qualified, and I would bring you in at top scale just to get you on. But for budgeting reasons...I can't bring anyone in at but the lowest pay. I'm probably telling you more than I should, but that's what is going on in the background. If I want an add to head count, which this position is, an add - I have to do it on the cheap."

It is ridiculously low, the number. I believe it will be enough to deter him - it's almost a ten dollar an hour difference - but he only sighs. I don't know what he's been through these past months. I don't know how seemingly hopeless it has been for him. And he doesn't know that the only way I can come away from this, feeling good about it - is if he is part of the decision process. But he only sighs, takes it in, and says: "Okay." This is not working.

"That, and we are going through a restructuring. We might lose this position." It is a complete lie. I have a fear he is going to leave this place, and stop looking because he lowered his standards so low that he couldn't possibly not get this job. In a way, he is correct in this assumption: in a perfect world without READ tests, he would be a shoe-in.

He looks at me blankly: "You could have told me that from the start." I think for a moment that he will become angry. It comes over his face, but he is professional enough to quell it. "This does amount to an afternoon of my time."

I switch gears into my normal wrap up. We'll let you know when we come to a decision, etc. That I'll pass his resume on to other departments, etc. He is no longer making eye contact with me; I don't have his full attention. I can read it on his face: he is too busy wondering what he will do next, because he is a fighter. That he is mentally dismissing me, in my presence, is a balm to the empathy I'm feeling for him right now. I deserve to feel this small. I'm playing the part of the complete tool: not knowing for certain why I'm 'following orders,' only knowing that I'm doing the exact opposite of what, if things were up to me entirely, I would be doing right now: offering him this job outright. As we walk to the door and I see him out, he tells me thank you absent-mindedly. I want to believe he has completely written me off, by now.

"Dean. I just interviewed a candidate you might be interested in. Daniels referred him."

We have about 12 open positions, all told. Most of them are only internally posted, so the public never sees them. As I'm handing the resume to Dean, I'm working on another lie. I could have handed the resume to Dean before I got the call...I can figure it all out later. I could be defiant and simply tell Roberts that I think this guy is a good hire? I don't know. Unlike my interviewee, I don't really have a plan. Part of me wants to make this somehow work for everybody. Another part of me just wants to redeem myself, even if it means making it someone else's problem.

Dean reads the resume, his eyes growing wider with each line.

Monday, July 7, 2008

At Random (A Journaling)

Strange; a week ago, I was pissed - at everything. The little things that were tripping me up, the things that were beyond my control, the things that were in my control, but were hanging about with a nasty importuning...because I had no desire to deal with them.

I had to rearrange some priorities. It's pretty silly, when I think about it, how easy it is to put yourself in a better frame of mind. To bolster yourself with a sense of efficacy. It all started with making some appointments. Doctors appointments, Eye Doctor appointments, get the car in to have the oil changed, etc. Of course with work, meeting appointments is always a challenge. But they were met. Sometimes I forget I have a knack for automating my job (but again, even that is an importuning & challenge I have to meet head on).

I regretfully had my final doctor's appointment with my primary. I was a little agitated since I had run out of insulin and my doc was no longer covered on my plan, so I had to shell out for it. I definitely have cholesterol issues. That makes sense. I had my first appointment with my new eye doc (basically searching for the nearest to my home covered by my plan), and I'm happy to announce I've managed upon a caring, condescending, preachy, no-nonsense, in-your-face guy. It makes me wonder if what I really needed was a deserved (as opposed to irrational & drunken) pistol-whipping this entire time...

Then the weekend came. I had plans, but I blew all of them off.

I sat down and wrote a list of things I want to do to the house. The things that could take anywhere from 2 hours to 50 hours. To hell with the fourth of July, to hell with the Long Winters show...diving into that list (only checked off 2 items by weekend's end) was more rewarding to me than relying on doing what I would usually do.

I do get inspiration and motivation from being alone. I think I have to face that fact. But I've been operating on this assumption for too long, that I cannot be I'll go crazy without some nurturing company, and I'm beginning to recognize how erred that assumption was. I think it led me to mitigate my standards for friendship. I think it led me to really lower the bar and persue some superficial people. I think it didn't allow me to be myself; it led me to be, at times, someone I'm not. I should have listened to the obvious signs: if you aren't feeling good about it, you should just get away. It seems simple enough.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Prayer for Hank

Or Henry. I have about 7K worth of words scattered amongst 3 voices. It is going nowhere fast, people. Casanova was to be my big deal; my tribute to the most selfish - yet charming - person I ever met. It was supposed to be my first attempt at method acting (because I'm neither of those); my first real short story. Don't know how to stitch all of this together. Don't know if it will ever get done.

I wanted to see if I could set about it like a task. Tell myself I'm going to write for a couple hours, and actually DO IT. I recognize the achievement is rather small, in the scope of things. But this has dragged on for so long...the initial takes that I did write, the notes I wrote in my little notebook - they've had time to simmer and get very cold. When I read them, they already look fumbling and amateurish (though I know deep down the whole effort isn't going to bowl anyone over) and only distantly relevent to things I've written over the past couple weeks.

I dunno. Perhaps I'll attack it and write the whole thing from scratch. If I'm going to do this at all, it's unavoidable! But really, I'm hoping tomorrow-me...because today-me is getting 'meh' about the endeavor...gets a passion about Hank.

Perhaps Hank isn't as likable as he is charming. There's a certain point you get with people, when you really start to see them.