Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Eulogy For My Dad

In loving memory of Robert H. Getz: December 3, 1930 - December 20, 2012
 
In the beginning there was this very tiny room, and these two other people who were taller than me. We lived in an upstairs apartment that sat at the top of what seemed like an endless flight of stairs, and in that apartment what I remember most vividly was a record player accompanied by the world’s smallest record collection, a handful of albums comprised of titles like Chubby Checker’s Limbo Party, Gene Autry sings Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the soundtrack to the Elvis Presley movie, Loving You. In retrospect, they all seem very personal and prescient now: My father was renowned for his ability to do Checker’s signature dance The Twist, he loved the singing cowboys of the movies as he was growing up and, truth be told, for the rest of his life, and the Elvis…well, maybe that was more of a signpost about what was to come, not just for me but all of us. 

Of course in time, other people showed up demanding more rooms and larger rooms. It’s difficult to remember how I felt about this at the time, but I can’t imagine I was at all pleased with it. Things kept going from bad to worse until one final move as a family in the 70’s. My Aunt Shirley saw the house before I did and when I quizzed her about it, she just said “Oh, you’ll love it, honey. You’ll be able to be a hermit as much as you want” and, indeed, it had taken years but I once again found myself in a tiny room at the top of a flight of stairs. This had always been the best arrangement, I felt, and after a lifetime of consideration, I had to believe that my parents had finally begun to come around to my way of thinking. 

My parents moved to Philadelphia shortly after I was born, but when we would go back to visit, it seemed to me as a child as if they had materialized out of some humid mist of the past, from behind an ancient curtain which lay just this side of words like Scranton, Lackawanna County, Wilkes-Barre and WARM and industries that depended on coal and steel. I knew that my grandfathers had dug coal and there were times during my 20-year tenure at an insurance company that made me wonder if the Getzes had really come very far at all. Beyond this you sensed there were probably albums of sepia-toned photographs that either proved or gave the lie to stories like the one my father’s mother told us about our great-grandfather being the gamekeeper on the Kaiser’s estate. “You know,” she said, “he had to be declared dead before he could leave Germany.” It was all a bit difficult to swallow but we had to admit that our presence in the United States was proof that he had succeeded one way or another. If I had to make an educated guess based on experience and what little I know of our family tree, I figure that he’d probably meant to get off somewhere in the United Kingdom, but overslept. 

Thinking back on these early days my memories are scattershot: I can recall my mother working as a waitress at a diner called the El Rancho and my father and I visiting her there. I can remember being fascinated by the water cooler in my father’s office. In fact, our move to Philadelphia had been made because of my father’s job and the fact that my mother was working at some point as well indicates that we needed the money. The difficulty in making ends meet for a family with four children in some ways defined and shaped my father’s life as well as my mother’s. And this, perhaps, was the difference in the generations. Anyone who came of age when I did, post-Elvis and the youth culture he ushered in, became accustomed to the idea of instant gratification and it was our parents’ great misfortune to have to serve that sense of entitlement or suffer the consequences of temper tantrums and pouting faces. Their sacrifices were not occasional or sporadic, but lifelong. They did not have the heart to disappoint us or have us think of them as anything but completely capable of providing anything we wanted. And so, many of us had no idea of the toll that was taken on them and the price that real life sometimes demanded of them. I have a friend about my age that I talk to once in a while about such things and inevitably when we get to the subject of our ages and the list of infirmities that seems to be snowballing, one of us ends up saying, ‘Why didn’t somebody tell us about this?’ which is our way of saying that we grew up being extraordinarily protected from reality and so we find ourselves feeling woefully unprepared for it now. Oh, my father would enjoy the pretense of telling us no, but he just wanted to make us work for it a little bit; there was never any doubt what the end result would be. We were given everything and denied nothing, but as in all transactions of this sort, all accounts are eventually settled regardless of our ability to pay and life finds other ways of demanding its due. So let me say, proudly and publicly, to my Mother and Father, thank you for doing so much and often getting so little in return and, if you can, accept my apologies for what I can only call selfishness. I did not understand. Now I understand. 

When my mother died so suddenly, I watched my father shatter as I had never seen anyone shatter, asking me “What am I going to do now?” I had never felt so completely unable to answer anyone. But he persevered, slowly regaining the things that made him who he was, even his sense of humor which was often so dry that it was difficult to tell whether he was speaking seriously or not. Of course, he also had that regulation supply of dad-humor that is always issued to dads at the birth of their first born. Upon meeting my friend Jim for the first time, my father enthusiastically greeted him with a booming ‘Hey, Jimbo!’ This easy and slang-infested familiarity did not sit well with Jim, which basically ensured that every time my father saw him, the first words out of his mouth would be ‘Hey, Jimbo!’ And I would not be at all surprised to discover that my father, using the secret and masonic techniques known to all dads, has somehow arranged for my friend’s own eventual headstone to read ‘JIMBO’ thereby accomplishing the greatest ambition of all dads, that of annoying someone for all eternity. 

He was doubly tested when he found himself having to be both Mother and Father to my sister Pam. He was torn in two by his inability to refuse her, as any dad would, and by having to come to terms with her addiction, which meant having to set boundaries. It’s practically an impossible balancing act but I watched him handle it with grace and affection. If she lost that battle, it wasn’t for lack of trying on his part and I hope he realized that. 

I remember once telling my mother that I felt that whatever the best parts of my personality were, they had come from her and Dad, a revelation which, my mother later informed me, confused my father a great deal. But the truth of it was that we were for better or worse a very straight middle-class family that had not wandered terribly far from the coal mines of Scranton and it was that sense of grounded and unpretentious middle-classness that I inherited from them that I would treasure more and more as the years went by. This is not to say that I wouldn’t have loved to be in the position to give them millions of dollars. They’d have deserved it all and more. But I’m not sure they would have known what to do with it. Perhaps my father would have looked into whether or not there was such a thing as an Armani pair of Bermuda Shorts. Or maybe my mother would have left her purse open with some hundred dollar bills hanging out in anticipation of my next request for a loan. But at heart they were modest people and I think that sort of wealth would have embarrassed them. 

There is so much else I wish I could share with you: the guy who brought me comic books when I was sick; the dad who drove miles out of his way to take me to an art museum simply because I desperately wanted to go; the man who seemed not to be listening when you talked of your ambitions and who would shock you years after the fact by helping you fulfill them; the father who was often too shy to put his feelings too openly on display but who nevertheless had pride in you. And now we have a Lutheran service for a Presbyterian with a eulogy by his Jewish son. If I can paraphrase Walt Whitman, my father was large and contained multitudes. I hope I have managed to practice the values I learned from my father as well as my mother, for as the years go by and I find myself worn smooth like a stone, I see myself more and more for the grain of sand that I am, and my father’s face becomes clearer and clearer in the mirror, as I’m sure it does in my brothers’, and I see less and less the things of this world and more and more the things of the spirit. These things are my true inheritance and the sort of treasure that lives in the heart, and although time may conspire to steal our parents, the things they gave our hearts and minds outlast us all and are immortal and permanent.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Drive-In Forgery

News Item: A blogger who posted a preview of what he thought was a David Bowie book project has held his hands up after realising it was fake.

This is Hermione Gingold, my girlfriend in the late 60’s. Some saw our age difference as problematic, but we did not. In fact, my most treasured memory of her is the day when, after listening to me lament my eventual mortality, she took me aside and whispered “Nothing’s gonna touch you in these Gingold years,” which immediately set me off in search of a pencil. We eventually broke up when she refused to wear the spacesuit I had made specially for her at Harrod’s.

Always artistically restless, I had originally planned to follow up Station To Station with a concept album about the many and varied uses of sticky tape, aiming to use it as a metaphor for the tape that sort of, like, binds or, like, keeps us joined together or something. In the end the idea was jettisoned when Eno showed up with a new haircut and a guitar he’d made out of candy wrappers and string. All that remains is this one test shot of what would have been my next protagonist/character, The Thin White Guy Wrapped Up In, Like, Police Tape Or Something.


This is a bit of trivia that will shock even the most knowledgeable of my fans, I think. It’s a secret I’ve sat on since its release. The truth of the matter is that my creativity was at such low tide at this point that I charged someone else with recording this album, Never Let Me Down, for me! That’s right. The vocalist (who shall remain nameless) used the occasion to do such a hilarious, over-the-top impression of me that it still makes me laugh to this day! To review: I neither wrote nor sang any of the material on this godforsaken piece of crap. Understood?

Victoria Station, 1976. No excuse, really, but I was drinking a lot of coffee, if that helps.
Blimey, not a good year all round, really. Don’t remember much about this, to be honest, other than to say that I never really took a bad photo.
I love this one. A photo of Gary Numan that I took surreptitiously with my iPhone. He’s really let himself go, hasn't he?


I’m still not sure what this does, really.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

How Soon Is Cow?: Top Ten Unlikeliest Morrissey Covers


















1. Gimme A Pigfoot and A Bottle Of Beer

2. Struttin’ With Some Barbeque

3. Purple People Eater

4. Neon Meate Dream Of A Octafish

5. Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth

6. White Castle Blues

7. Do The Funky Chicken

8. Cheeseburger In Paradise

9. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

10. The Deli Song (Corned Beef On Rye)

Monday, February 28, 2011

One For Don

don has broken
the fleet van go like sloe gin fizz
and is you is
or ain't

the paint has ran
like this fleet van and
turned to can from
cain't

i liked the way your
doo dads flew
doo moms and kids
fly free

the flea all fly like
doo dad sky and
shimmied next
to me

the moon came down from
out of town it's
fur a feathered
rain

the fleet van flew we're
too much blue or
not enough
champagne

to day to dark the
trees all bark a
broken chamoisee

don's broken now
the moo said cow
this pig's no ham
today

(premiered at 2/20 show in Oakland)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Strictly Personal

















Did I ever meet him?

Yes. Once.

I was tucked away in Rhode Island when the news came around that Captain Beefheart would be playing with a new Magic Band and in a style far more resembling that heard on his classic recordings of the late 60’s and early 70’s, as opposed to the last time he had been heard from, fronting a somewhat disappointing collection of musicians who might have been seen playing behind anyone and whom wags had unkindly taken to calling the “Tragic Band.”

It was the late 70’s and word had traveled through the grapevine that Beefheart had recorded a far worthier album called Bat Chain Puller that was looking for a record label. The British trades had gotten hold of a tape of it and printed detailed descriptions of each track and fans were chomping at the bit. Unfortunately, legal problems held the thing up and it seemed unlikely that anyone would ever get to hear it.

Against that backdrop came this announcement of a show in Boston and although I knew few people in Rhode Island, I had made the vague acquaintance of a group of progressive rock and avant jazz fans who, luckily for me, were eager to make the trip.

That I wouldn’t have missed it goes without saying.

It’s rather difficult to describe the impact someone like that has on your life. Was there ever such a thing as a casual Captain Beefheart fan? I suppose there were some, folks who had a copy of Clear Spot in amongst the mainstream LP’s it nearly resembled. But usually the price of such originality is the creation of a coterie of the hardcore and the rabid. Some are there to try and outhip the hip. Some hear a challenge that needs to be addressed. Many of us, the great majority I think, were just simply thrilled by the aggressive musical textures and poetic language. Sure, there was nothing else like Trout Mask Replica, but there is nothing like spinach either. This was something that, like Ornette Coleman’s music, seemed to have tremendous roots in the past while flinging itself headlong into the future. So many native American inventions seemed to be referenced in it like jazz, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll that it was like listening to a compressed version of the uncontrollable spirit that lay at the heart of American music and American art.

And you seemed to get it or you didn’t. It may have taken an awfully long time, perhaps, but from what I’ve been reading online from fans and admirers, an awful lot of people really got it.

My own personal reaction was that I simply wanted to listen to this music over and over.

After the two albums considered his most difficult came two that seemed to want to cozy up to the commercial mainstream. The Spotlight Kid sounded shockingly simple after Lick My Decals Off, Baby, whose tin-can-and-wet-paper production made Trout Mask seem warm and inviting. There was something a little turgid about this new album, but by the time Clear Spot arrived, critics and fans agreed that he had found something of a happy medium here. It’s hard for me to imagine a more excited audience than the ones I witnessed driven into a frenzy by Big Eyed Beans From Venus. Any rock ‘n’ roll band would have been happy with the reaction the Magic Band inspired night after night.

But it still didn’t have the desired effect in the marketplace and the following albums were desultory affairs that fans bought out of loyalty more than anything else. The mid-70’s were rough all around, my friend, and don’t let anybody tell you different.

Which brings us to Boston.

As we found our seats (I think we’d arrived somewhat early), I noticed a man up front who seemed to be fielding questions and shaking hands. Surely not…

Ah, but it was.

Now I will be the first to tell you I am a terrible fanboy, or rather I am actually a very good one, hence the word “terrible.” I will babble mindlessly in the presence of an idol until the expression on their face tells me that getting to the point would probably be greatly appreciated. It’s happened time and time again and there seems to be little I can do about it.

This night, thankfully, the gentleman in question seemed to take it well and then said to me, “Yeah, I think I remember you!”

Now I’d read many an account of people being told this by Beefheart. It’s hard to say how much he believed it or whether he just wanted to make you feel welcome. After all, where would he have remembered me from? The nosebleed seats at the Tower Theater? The upper echelons of the Spectrum?

Still. Nice to be “remembered.”

There was another onslaught of compliments that I was vaguely aware was coming from me, and then a handshake as he said, “Thank you, and I think you’ll like what these guys are gonna do.”

Was there ever such an understatement?

It was an evening of jaw-on-the-floor entertainment. Not only could these “guys” play the most difficult songs in his catalog (and the song list came, remarkably, from every period in his career without sounding disjointed in the least), they played it with a fervor and excitement that made even the oldest songs sound incredibly new.

I was absolutely astonished.

Soon, Beefheart would have a new record contract and Shiny Beast would provide a good idea of what the lost Bat Chain Puller had been about. He would receive the greatest acclaim of his career and two albums would follow that built on this, although there were hints that something was wrong. Either the well had started to run dry or something had gone terribly wrong. Now it’s all very plain, of course, but I’m so glad he hung in as long as he did.

Words frequently fail art. Perhaps they have failed me here. They probably have.

I wanted to write something, though.

Yeah. I think I remember him.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wrecka Stow

When I came to, my wife was fanning me with a limited edition 12-inch single.

“What the…what happened?” I asked, already assuming the worst from the expression on her face.

It was Record Store Day, that day originally created to celebrate the rapidly disappearing independent record store, but which has latterly become a bonanza for speculators who buy up as many of the collectable releases made available that day as possible and then resell them on eBay.

“Well, let’s see…” she began, “do you remember the cashier with the dyed hair and severe bangs?”

“Sure. The one who accused me of ripping them off.”

“She asked if you had been in line before.”

“Same thing,” I said, brushing the free keychains out of my eyes.

“Well, you pointed out to her that she had misspelled Bettie Page’s name on her tattoo. She ran crying out of the store.”

“No doubt to seek solace in her collection of antique corsets and heroin. Then what happened?”

“You remember the other cashier?”

“The white kid with the dreadlocks?”

“Yeah, well, he accused you of crimes against Jah.”

“That seems a trifle harsh.”

“So you told him ‘I and I think you’re a moron’”.

“That was telling him.”

“Then, as he ran out to comfort the other cashier, you yelled ‘Keep fighting Babylon with your parents’ credit card!’”

“Jesus. That doesn’t sound like me. But that was it, right?”

“Oh, no.”

“No? Really?”

“Oh, no. With all the employees gone, you then got behind the counter and started just…giving crap away.”

“See? That’s the way to fight Babylon.”

“Then you hopped up on the DVD display and started playing air guitar to the limited edition Electric Eels single on colored vinyl. After that things got kind of Day Of The Locust.”

“Hmm. So how did we make out?”

She held up a tattered piece of paper and a plastic bag.

“We got half a single sleeve from a Ducks From Neptune 7-inch and a bag of Sonic Youth chocolate-covered pretzels.”

“Not exactly what I was hoping for,” I said, resignedly. “Still, better than last year.”

Unintentional Jasper Johns At The Museum Of Modern Drunkass


Monday, March 01, 2010

I Warned You About The Shakespeare

“I was thinking more in terms of an action-adventure film with a female protagonist.”
- Screenwriter Linda Woolverton explaining how she came to change one or two things in Lewis Carroll's Alice books for Tim Burton's upcoming screen version.


(The office of a famous Hollywood producer. Two fresh-faced young men enter and sit.)

“Well, what have you got for me, boys? Let’s hear it.”

“You…are going to love us…so much, JR!”

“…so much!”

“Because we have found a property no one’s touched yet! And it’s perfect!”

“…perfect!”

“So, what is it?”

“Two words, boss: Edward Lear.”

“Lear? That’s not like King Lear, is it? ‘Cause Shakespeare stinks up the joint unless we can get Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox.”

“No, nothing like that, boss! He’s like that…you know, the Alice In Wonderland guy, whatzisname…”

“Carroll?”

“Yeah, Carol somebody. So he’s a Victorian, too, just like her, which really captures the zeitgeist right now…”

“It’s the whole, you know, ‘Hey, let’s break out the doilies’ thing…”

“Right, right, only Lear, right, has this whole contemporary feel…”

“Right, finger on the pulse!”

“So what’s the story?”

“Well, you know how it is, JR, there’s no real story, per se…”

“…not really a story, no…”

“So we have to kind of, you know, thumbnail it, find the themes…”

“The themes are the whole picture!”

“So, dig this: we’ve got this Pobble that’s got no toes, awright?”

“No toes! Can’t balance!”

“It’s like our world today! Out of balance? Global chaos? Al Gore? Get it?”

“What’s a Pobble?”

“This year’s Hobbit, that’s what he is, JR!”

“It’s Lord Of The Rings meets Narnia!”

“But…how will they know what a Pobble is?”

“No sweat, JR, that’s all taken care of in a Star Wars style intro crawl! You know, ‘In the time before the Rebellion’ blah blah blah…”

“They’re up to speed!”

“So why hasn’t he got any toes?”

“You’re gonna love this! He lost them…in the whole Iran/Afghanistan conflict!”

“…you’ve got your whole…contemporary war angle…”

“…post-Obama generation Z…”

“This is all in the book?”

“More or less! But of course there’s got to be a conflict!”

“Nothing without a conflict!”

“So we’ve got our Doctor Doom, our Darth Vader, our big bad!”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah! Get this, see it, feel it…(closes eyes, strokes air as if to indicate a title) ‘The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!’”

“Is that fantastic? You couldn’t write this stuff!”

“Now The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo is our Phantom Of The Opera here: unrequited love, passion that can never be…”

“It’s Narnia meets Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet!”

“I warned you about the Shakespeare.”

“But The Bo, which is what his buddies call him…”

“He travels easily among the common man…”

“The Bo’s a twisted genius, right, ‘cause he’s all backed up on account of the Pobble screwing up his wedding!”

“We move into Judd Apatow territory…”

“But to have his revenge he needs one more thing to complete his ultimate weapon: a Runcible Spoon!”

“…so you’ve got the whole…quest angle…”

“It’s Star Wars meets Transformers meets Indiana Jones!”

“So it’s a race against time?”

“You bet, JR! Whoever gets the Runcible Spoon gets to call the cosmic shots, if you see what I mean…”

“But The Bo, see, has a bit of a weight problem…”

“…all the repressed rage…”

“And just as it looks like he’s going to beat the Pobble to the Spoon, he gets thrown off this plane for being too fat!”

“It’s the whole…Kevin Smith…”

“…American over-consumption…”

“We even make him up to look like Smith, you know, kind of a shout-out to those in the know…”

“…easter egg…”

“Kind of a fanboy thing.”

“It’s Narnia meets Watchmen meets Clerks!”

“Meantime, there’s all of these secondary characters…”

“…you know, the comic relief…”

“We’ve got Scroobious Pip…”

“That’s pure Star Wars, JR! But this Lear guy made it up first!”

“We’ve got the Quangle Wangle Quee…don’t tell me he didn’t hang out with Yoda at the Cantina after quittin’ time!”

“Tim Burton would give his eyeteeth for a Quangle Wangle Quee!”

“But that’s not all, JR!”

“It isn’t?”

“Nope, not by a long shot! ‘Cause here’s where we get all muhfuh meta on your ass!”

“Hang on, JR, ‘cause it’s Lost meets Fringe time!”

“Because we’re not just telling this story, awright? We’re telling…Lear’s story, too!”

“You get it?”

“We’re weaving them together, awright? Showing the roots of the story as we show you the story itself! Weaving in, weaving out, weaving in, weaving out…”

“…loom of the gods…”

“Now it turns out this Lear had a cat…”

“…loved the cat…”

“Couldn’t do without it…had a big funeral for it…”

“Pushes him over the edge…”

“So that at the end, when The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo is finally unmasked…”

“…stick a fork in him, he’s done…”

“We find that it’s really… are you ready?”

“…no good, no evil, shades of gray…”

“…Lear himself! Is that fantastic?”

“It’s Narnia meets Harry Potter meets The Dark Knight!”

"And Benicio Del Toro is on his knees to play the cat! He's begging!"

“So what do you think?”

(There is a pause.)

“Boys…I see a viral campaign that we break out at Comicon: ‘WHO IS THE BO?’”

“Great!”

“All you see is a silhouette from the back, right? But there in the corner, bright red, is this small unremarkable spoon…”

(Fade out)