The best that you can do…

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One of things I love about my band (I mean, besides the fact that we get to play B-52’s songs all the time) is that we’re all, more or less, coming from the same cultural perspective. We pretty much have the same encyclopedic knowledge of popular music.

Last night, we took a mid-rehearsal break and somehow the conversation turned to Christopher Cross. If you were around in the early Eighties, chances are very good that you’ve got you some Christopher Cross ineradicably scorched onto your hippocampus. Dude was lord-god-king of soft rock from 1979 to about 1983. Listen – I won’t front: I had the “Think of Laura” single. I’m not one of these people who insist they listened to nothing even remotely mainstream in the Eighties.

There was a very specific kind of pop song that flourished in the first couple of years of that decade. Air Supply. Rupert Holmes. Robbie Dupree. Dan Fogelberg. And at the risk of drawing ire from any fans of the aforementioned, that specific kind of pop song can best be described as “schmaltz.” Slick, sentimental schmaltz. Because you’re talking about a period of “prosperity” and excess interwoven with the fear of nuclear annihilation. The Top 40 charts reflected this. The music that hung onto the top spots for weeks and weeks at a stretch were soft, comforting, sweet things…the aural equivalent of coffee cake. And Christopher Cross was everyone’s favorite coffee cake.

This morning, my bandmate Josh sent me a link to an interview with Robyn Hitchcock, in which he takes apart “Arthur’s Theme,” one of Cross’s biggest hits. Hitchcock touched upon the very things we talked about last night at rehearsal – that the socioeconomic climate at that time set the stage for what was essentially the “dawn of the power ballad.” It really is a great interview, perfectly illustrating why I love Robyn Hitchcock so, but I DID take issue with one thing he said, in the context of the film itself:

(The song) is applied to this sentimental early-’80s film with Dudley Moore—may his soul rest in Elysium—but his working partner Peter Cook was a terrible alcoholic, and it always amazed me that Dudley Moore did what struck me as a rather goofy, sentimental characterization of a really serious problem.

I disagree. I frequently recommend Moore’s turn as Arthur Bach as one of the better, more heartbreaking portrayals of an active alcoholic. Perhaps that’s because I see the layers in it now that I’m sober; there is a very palpable pain under the clowning and cackling. There’s a scene in particular that gets me every time, about a minute and a half into this clip:

He’s on the floor, completely scuttered, and trying to reassemble this mail holder at stupid o’clock in the morning. It’s agonizing to watch, because I know that feeling: you’re too fucked up to fix the simplest thing. Audiences laughed at Arthur Bach, because alcoholic sad sack millionaires lolling drunkenly in their limousines are funny. This is not to say that people SHOULDN’T laugh; it’s a comedy, after all. But there are moments throughout the film where those “in the know” recognize the exhaustion beneath the façade of being the life of the party. Too, there is Arthur’s deep ambivalence about coming into himself as an adult.

One of Hitchcock’s many problems with “Arthur’s Theme” also has to do with the feeling of it, that of a “combination of defeat and indifference.” In this way, it really is the perfect song for the story.

Fortifications

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I recently joined Pinterest, even though I really don’t need another social network I have to remember I have (hellllewwww – Google+?). So far, it just seems like a place where I “pin” things I:

  • think are cool, but will probably never get around to doing;
  • think I want, but will probably never get around to buying;
  • think look yummy, but will probably never get around to making.

It’s like creating an alternate version of myself that’s made entirely out of “pins.”  Here’s what I’d wear if I could afford it!  Here’s where I’d write/make music/make art if I had at least one more room in my house!  Maybe that’s not how other people are using it, but this is how it strikes me right now.  An online, visual manifestation of all the things I don’t have or haven’t done.

Pinning or pining.  There doesn’t seem to be much difference.  Just another reminder that I’m fueled by want, but driving around on at least 2 bald tires.

But it’s interesting to go in now and then and see if other people are “pinning” the things I’m “pinning.”  A few days ago I was struck by the sudden need to look at pictures of blanket forts, and sure enough, there are people on Pinterest who also like to look at pictures of blanket forts.

When I was a kid, we had a fairly big playroom in our attic.  This was perfectly suited for sleepovers with our eighty billion cousins.  It was also just the right size for my sister and I to build entire cities of blanket forts.  There were times when we hardly ever slept in our bedroom, in favor of spending the night in our blanket forts.  See ya, Ma…I’m going upstairs to read in my blanket fort.

Blanket forts were incredibly comforting.  At nine years old, I didn’t have the knowledge that this may or may not have represented a yearning to return to the womb, but I definitely understood that being in a small, soft space with my Madeleine L’Engle books was vastly preferable to going out and having to pretend to be normal around other people, which was exhausting.

I wonder, now, why I stopped engineering these ways to comfort myself, and went straight for the sources of self-harm that presented themselves as means of comfort. Probably because these seemed to be more sophisticated, and – well – normal. Alcohol.  Drugs.  “Relationships.”  There’s a reason, I think, that so many of us refer to drinking as “fortifying” ourselves before having to go out there and put on our happy faces.  I could have saved myself a lot of grief if I’d just made blanket forts instead of getting shitfaced.

Over the past 10 years that I’ve been in recovery, I’ve been re-learning those means of creative comfort.  I rediscovered writing poetry, stringing words like blankets around the thing I’m struggling with.

Kiss Me, I’m Irish (and sober).

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It’s my tenth Saint Patrick’s Day without getting rotted in the name of celebrating my “heritage.” And yet this is the first time I’ve really sat down and attempted to write about what that means.

It’s funny. My last name is McColgan. My mother’s maiden name is Flaherty. HER mother’s maiden name was Coyle. McColgans, Flahertys, Coyles, and Dorseys are all over my family tree. It can’t be mere coincidence that I grew up to be a writer, AND an alcoholic, right?

Nobody loved to get stinking blotto on Saint Patrick’s Day more than I did. It was a lot of fun, until it stopped being fun. And I never wanted to be one of those people in recovery who sneered at everyone drinking their green beer (although even when I WAS still drinking, I never would resort to that fuckery). I do, now, question the sense in honoring what it means to be “Irish” by promoting the stereotype of the falling-down drunk.

powder

(Google “simian caricatures of the Irish” sometime, and then I would respectfully ask you to think about that before you hit the bottle.)

Last year, around this time, I wrote a poem:


Roud 1173

a toast of jameson at the grave
plastic cups a quarter full of
brilliantine amber all around me
as we sing the wild rover and
for the briefest of seconds I forget
that I’m supposed to refuse the cup
proffered

we usher our dead through
with tears and poitín
and my hand grasps at air
as I stare at blanched ground
thinking I’ve betrayed my own

an old man next to me
elbows my arm
and whispers

sometimes it’s better NOT to drink

and he hoists his empty hand
to the sky – sláinte – and beams

I can celebrate what it means to me to be an American of Irish descent without a pint (or three) of Guinness. I am not “missing out” on anything today. I was brought up with many other values, and absorbed and observed many fine characteristics and talents from my Irish, and Irish-American, relatives. I love a good story. I can tell a good story. In the bleakest moments, I can find humor. I am fiercely loyal to those who have shown me kindness.

Beannachtaí na Feile Pádraig! Be careful out there.