(Ask me anything?)
You Could Have It So Much Better
Paul F. Tompkins
Robyn Von Swank
Emily Maya Mills
April Richardson, Go Bayside (via okfuckit)
I continue to stand by this statement.
This is a picture my friend Chip took four years ago at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday jam at Madison Square Garden. Again, the man in this photo was NINETY (90) years old. Look at how psyched and full of life he was! Moments earlier he was SHREDDING on banjo. It was awesome.
Obviously celebrity deaths are weird territory, as you didn’t know them personally, yet they gave you so many memories with their work. I went to New York four years ago to celebrate my 30th birthday, and while there, my friend Billy was like, “I’m playing Pete Seeger’s birthday party if you want to go!” He and my friend Vaughn got me and Chip and our pals Barbara and Bob in to the show and even backstage, where we got to rub elbows with Pete and fuggin’ Springsteen and Tom Morello and even Oscar the Grouch (ha!), and Chip lost his mind when he got to meet Joan Baez. But the reason this occasion will remain one of my fondest memories forever and ever is because everyone was so KIND. Everyone. I like all sorts of music, and I like all sorts of musicians: Sometimes I want to see a dude in leather pants do drugs and be ridiculous and larger-than-life, sure. But there’s a reason my absolute favorite tunes are ones made by aging socialists: THEY ARE NICE PEOPLE. They’re just compassionate human beings, and that is primarily what their art is based on and motivated by. We need Pete Seegers just as much as (well, I think MORE than) we need Mick Jaggers. We need people influencing future musicians to want to change the world for the better just as much as we need archetypal rock stars inspiring weirdos to fuck it all up.
This guy was like a gentle grandpa to me, a total stranger, when I met him on the night of his birthday party. He influenced the works of other truly nice people whose albums can be found on my shelves, and for that, I am really grateful. Rest in peace, Pete. I hope I’m half as excited to still be here as you were when you were celebrating 90 years of just trying to do some good.
The first time I ever came to California, I landed in San Francisco. I was 19; I was traveling with my best friend, Millie, to visit our mutual pen pal/zine friend (remember zines?) Heather, and to see a band called The Lucksmiths. We flew across the damn country — from Atlanta, Georgia — to see this band play, and our flight ended up being delayed, and the plane hit the tarmac at probably the exact moment the guys were finishing up their last song. It was a bummer, but not for long, as soon we were at Heather’s house in Berkeley, surrounded by new friends, ready to explore the Bay Area. After a couple days of BART and burritos and Amoeba Records and Rasputin Records and Lookout Records (I’m sure you can tell where all my money goes), we decided we should focus on a very specific goal: finding MC Hammer.
We had recently watched Mr. Hammer’s Behind the Music on VH1, and I was pretty determined to have my picture taken in front of the fabled Hammertime Gates, the opulent, gold-adorned iron barricade surrounding his mansion that we assumed to be in or around Oakland. (Please keep in mind that the Internet was still pretty rudimentary at this point, so just Googling something wasn’t really an option yet. Also, please know that I was not being “ironic,” thank you very much; one of the first concerts I went to as a kid was MC Hammer — with Boyz II Men opening — when I was in fifth grade or so.) A group brainstorm session to determine how we could find his house produced the following very practical ideas: figure out at which church he had recently become a pastor, and “follow him home after the service”; call the police and say, “Something’s going down at Hammer’s house,” and then listen for the sirens and follow them to his manse; call the local hip-hop radio station and ask them for his address. I know what you’re thinking: “Well April, all of those make perfect sense and probably would have immediately yielded the desired result.” True, but we chose to go with the last option, the least Three Stooges-esque one of the list. So I asked Heather what the cool rap station was in the area, and when she turned on KMEL, I got on the horn to them immediately. The conversation went something like this:
DJ: “This is KMEL…”
Me: “Hey! So, uh, where does MC Hammer live?”
DJ: “… What?”
Me: “I swear this isn’t a joke! I came from Atlanta to visit, and I want to see the Hammertime Gates!”
DJ: “Um, hold on.”
(A minute or so passed before we heard the DJ say, on air, “So, caller, what was your question again?”)
Me, trying to block out the maniacal laughter of everyone else in the house: “I seriously want to know where MC Hammer lives!”
DJ: “And you’re from ATLANTA? Home of all things hip-hop? And you came out here just to find MC Hammer? Are you serious?!”
Me: “I am serious! I want to get a picture of his gates!”
DJ: “Girl, you’re crazy. I don’t know anyone trying to find MC Hammer these days. I think he might live in Tracy now, anyway…”
Me: “Tracy? Uh, okay. Thanks!”
DJ, laughing: “This girl is here from Atlanta looking for MC Hammer!”
I then asked Heather, “Tracy? What’s that? Is that a place? In Oakland?” “Dude, sorry — we’re not driving to Tracy,” she said. “But congratulations! You just got on the air on KMEL and basically told everyone in the Bay Area you flew 2,000 miles to find MC Hammer’s gates.”
A couple of additions to this previous entry:
We’ve Got to Get THE DISC, the One Disc With All the Computer Information On It, By Any Means Necessary!
And of course, the most classic of film genres: I Woke Up Today and I was 20 to 30 Years Older and/or Inhabiting the Body of One of My Parents!
A few of my favorite film genres, or what I would name the categories if I owned a video store (compiled from my Twitter feed):
I dated a guy last summer who remains one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Incomprehensibly well-rounded, he had extensive academic achievements coupled with street smarts and was as hilarious and wacky as he was practical and logical. He was handsome and rugged and sensitive and charming, and understood the complexities of my personality and my desires better than anyone I’d ever known. (Read: I’m going to high-five you and call you “dude” a lot, but I secretly want you to open the door for me and pull out my chair for me and treat me like a lady.) He saw my boundless enthusiasm and endless curiosities as refreshing and exciting, not annoying or exhausting, and the latter is kind of what I’m used to (which is fair enough). He was immediately open and vulnerable with me, and I with him, and he spoke to me in a manner I’d never really experienced before; he was careful and deliberate with his words, always putting my feelings first, and was just basically a character from a romance novel come to life. I am brusque, I am mannish, I am loud, I am lumbering; although I have dated only truly nice guys, I understand that I don’t generally inspire feelings of protection, of nurturing, of adoration. This guy treated me as if I were a combination of Chrissie Hynde and Audrey Hepburn, equal parts badass and delicate flower, independent shitkicker and wide-eyed beauty. He supported me unconditionally and was proud of me and wanted to show me off; he loved that I didn’t need taking care of, but he wanted to be there to do it anyway, should I change my mind. He would send me pictures of things he knew I would find funny and send texts that would simply say, “I’m thinking about you.” When I went on vacation to Greece, Internet connections were harder to find on some islands, and during that time when we couldn’t communicate, he sent a series of e-mails for me to read when I was able — because I couldn’t answer at the time, the letters were written as if I were an astronaut who had been lost in space, and he was waiting patiently back on earth for me, and although everyone else involved in the mission had given up hope, he just knew I would come back one day. The missives were so beautifully composed, and once I returned to the mainland of Greece and a steady Internet connection, I wept as I read each of them, following the careful narrative he’d designed over several letters made to sound as if they’d been written by my partner who had watched me launch into space in 1968 and had waited for my return ever since, so detailed and intricate, showing the effort he’d put in and how much he missed talking to me, even after only three or four days of not being able to do so. No one had ever — ever — done anything like that for me before. It was so creative and lovely and the effort put forth just floored me. I don’t have low self-esteem, but I also don’t often think I’m worth things like that, just in the way that I know how I come across and I understand how someone wouldn’t think to do anything like that for me. I’m not the type of lady whose face launches ships or whatever; I’m a goof. It’s not often that people see past that; it’s not often that men see past that. But he did. And he wanted me to know that he did, and he wanted me to know it often. And it made my heart melt every time he did. Every single time.
If a few days went by when we weren’t able to talk on the phone due to our schedules (our relationship was long distance), we’d send each other video messages. His were always so eloquent, and he always made sure to list the things he missed about me, that he hoped I was having fun, that I was out being loud and crazy and doing something I enjoyed, and how sad he was that he couldn’t be with me, watching me enjoy myself.
When we broke up, I couldn’t bring myself to delete those e-mails or videos. I hid them, along with all pictures of us, in a remote file inside of another file inside of another file on my computer, so that finding them would take time and extra navigation. I guess I hoped that after a third or fourth click of the mouse, I’d think, “This is a bad idea,” and I’d give up the search. That didn’t work tonight. It was the anniversary of the first time we spoke, and I thought of him all day. Tonight I sought out those videos, and I watched them. And I cried, but not only purely from missing him… I guess I also cried because it seemed so fleeting, so temporary, almost like I dreamed it, like the concept of someone treating me that way existed only in a bubble that had long since burst.
I need to put those videos in a much harder to reach folder.
I am not what you would call an intellectual, especially on paper; I’m sorely lacking in traditional academic achievements. I am technically not very well-read. I mean, I’m certainly not dumb, but a lot of what I do know didn’t come from an Ivy League classroom or a classic novel; a lot of what I know came from songwriters. I heard things in songs, wondered what they were/meant, and looked them up/sought out books and read them — that’s been the pattern. So I’ve always been kind of weirdly ashamed that when a heady subject came up, my first thought was often, “I heard about that in a song!” This has also made it a little difficult for me to explain to people why music means what it means to me, to impart its importance, to convey why I hold certain records so dear — that it’s so much more than just, “I like the tune.”
I watched a documentary on Howard Zinn recently, and he talked about first finding out about an important historical event from a Woody Guthrie song; my face lit up with delight. This respected historian and I have something (however small) in common! If it happened to HOWARD M.F. ZINN, then I should no longer be embarrassed to say, “Oh yeah, I heard about (insert important thing here) from a Billy Bragg/Clash/Public Enemy/etc song!” I mean, as long as I made the effort to learn more about the miners’ strike/Spanish Civil War/institutional racism/etc, who cares if a song got me there? Right?
“One day, I heard a song by Woody Guthrie called the Ludlow Massacre, a dark, haunting, powerful song, and that lead me to look in the library about this event which nobody had ever mentioned in any of my history courses, which no textbook of mine had ever mentioned.” — Howard Zinn