Remembering David Bowie

 

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How do you write about someone whose entire body of work has been showered with superlatives, and when those superlatives have been exhausted, we simply coined new ones? How do you write about an artist who’s on the very very short list of artists that have influenced generations to follow their instincts, go against the grain, and dare to challenge.

Many words will be spilled to mark, sadly, that David Bowie has died. His life in the coming days will be commemorated, and deservedly so. That doesn’t hide from the fact that his death is something devastating, something that, like what he did in his glorious, fearless-driven life, knocked the Earth off its axis.

I won’t lie. The news of David Bowie’s passing knocked the wind out of me. There were rumors he was sick, fueled even further by the ruminations of death and mortality on his most recent album, “Blackstar,” release just three days ago, on his 69th birthday no less. His time on Earth was coming to an end.

Still, this brings me no comfort. I feel extremely empty today. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m not related to David Bowie in any way, but he’s been a big part of my life for several decades; it’s almost like I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t David Bowie’s music, his words, his fashion, his iconoclast ways, in my life and everyone else’s I knew.

Like most people my age, I came to David Bowie through “Let’s Dance,” both the monster title song (it’s an instant classic, one that even my eight-year-old daughter adores) and the album itself. From there, it was a rabbit hole, discovering his vast discography, confused at first, but understanding there was something larger than life about David Bowie. He was a non-conformist about his artistic endeavors, yet he was no stranger to mainstream success.

His songs were the soundtrack to my life, and so many millions more. “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Golden Years,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Under Pressure” (his brilliant collaboration with Queen), “Let’s Dance,” “‘Heroes'” these are songs that will continue to stand the test of time, and be the music I consider essential. His albums embody the mindset of an artist forever chasing and engaging in a musical muse that led him so many times out of his comfort zone, and into creating worlds of musical landscapes that will forever stand the test of time. Seriously. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bowie’s output recently. The glam-soaked punch of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane can still be heard today. The experimental nature of Low and “Heroes” still influences so many independent-minded artists today. From today’s current pop landscape, and previous landscapes, the following can easily trace David Bowie’s influence into their bodies of work: Madonna, Lady Gaga, U2, Kanye West, Marina Abramovich, Joy Division, Arcade Fire; even Bowie’s son, the gifted filmmaker Duncan Jones, has widely acknowledged his father’s artistic influence.

Hell, even David Bowie the actor was fascinating. My mother once reminded me of when she saw him on Broadway as the Elephant Man, and how she was impressed by him. My mother’s cool factor shot up after that. Bowie had screen presence to burn – I loved his turn as Nikolai Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and, hell yeah, he was utterly fucking awesome as the Gnome King in Labrynth.

Bowie was always acting, wasn’t he? Whether he embodied the messianic rock star Ziggy Stardust, or the cynical, coked-up Thin White Duke, or Major Tom, and the several other personas he embraced throughout his career, Bowie was never the same role twice. This is, to this day, an important lesson he taught us creative types: what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow, embrace uncertainty, leave nostalgia for others.

I’m listening to “Lazarus,” one of the tracks off Blackstar, which kicks off with the line, “Look at me/I’m in heaven.” He sings of being free like a bluebird; knowing what we know about the cancer diagnosis he kept secret, “Lazarus,” is a cry of relief, a man coming to terms with his mortality, even perhaps sharing a joke with the Grim Reaper.

Most musicians, or artists for that matter, would recoil at the mere notion of death, no less again. Not Bowie. Throught the fucking phenomenal Blackstar, Bowie jumps into the flame of excitement, knowing he was facing death head on, and he was going to mine this for all its artistic worth. Morbid, perhaps, but Bowie was never like you or I. He was never shy about facing challenges.

And that’s the thing about Bowie: he was never afraid, never afraid to search, never afraid to ask, never afraid to demand, never afraid to fail. It’s these traits that made Bowie’s body of work such an irreplaceable part of the pop culture canon – witness the legions of musicians, actors, directors, artists that have not just paid their respects to Bowie’s passing, but whose works have been influenced in large parts by Bowie. His successes are breathtaking: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars; Hunky Dory; Aladdin Sane; “Heroes”; Low; Lodger; Station to Station (my personal favorite); Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps); Let’s Dance. Even his failures  bore the marks of a restless, forever seeking soul.

I’ll end this with a quote from Bowie that’s been oft-repeated:

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

Thank you for the music. Thank you for the words. Thank you for being an iconoclast when the world demanded comformity.

Thank you for being David Bowie. Wherever you have gone, may resting in peace be foreign to you; that would be too boring now, would it, restless soul?

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The Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated…

It’s been a while, I know. Almost a year since I last posted something on this blog that’s been abandoned.

But some things have happened in the meantime…bought and moved into a new house, spent too much on new furniture, saw the new Star Wars movie three times, built a pretty sweet vinyl record collection – that’s a blog for another time, promise! – and turned 44 years old.

Oh, and my cat died. I miss him terribly.

Oh, and Donald Trump happened. Fuck that guy.

I would love to regale you with swashbuckling tales of literary madness, that I wrote a novel-length manuscript, got an agent, sold said manuscript to a publisher, and did a book reading tour in support of the book.

No, no, nope, and no. None of that happened. In fact, I stopped writing altogether.

I had some harsh conversations with myself about my writing. In short, I came to the realization that I don’t have the discipline (read: attention span) to write a full-length novel. Or a novella, for that matter. My writing comes in bursts, short threads that I can work with within a smaller confine, but this writing approach doesn’t work well when you’re trying to write 50,000 or more pages, then edit the fucking brute.

I would have seemed hypocritical from me to continue posting stuff on my blog about the “writing process” when I was failing miserably at it. About what little progress I was making. About how frustrating I found writing becoming.

So I gave up. No, not writing; posting on my blog.

What I did learn, much to my eternal surprise, is that I have a knack for poetry. Yup, poetry.

Why is this surprising? Because I used to hate poetry. HATE poety. HATED HATED HATED it. Honestly, it was personal biases that got in my way. Poetry always seemed soft and quaint, in the words of John Keating, something “to woo women with.” It wasn’t until I started reading what you can call “outlaw” poetry, i.e., the Beat Poets, Richard Brautigan, Sapphire, and, of course, Charles Bukowski, that I saw writing in riddles and codes, dancing with metaphors and similes, that’s when I was able to unlock why poetry matters.

I did find a community of poets and writers on Instagram, of all places, that willingly and openly shared their work. Since I was there already, I figured I would jump into the pool. My first attempts were tentative, small attempts at mimicking what I knew. The more work I read on IG, the more I felt confident about posting my own words. In the year or so that I began posting my poetry and micro-poetry on IG (more than 700 posts!), I’ve garnered a pretty sizable following, and have made strong connections with the poetry community on IG.

Time, then, to also start showcasing my poetry here.

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I have no bold plans for this blog, nor do I have bold plans for my writing. I’m still writing poetry, which I will be posting here frequently (and thank you in advance for reading it; critiques are welcome, unabashed fandom is greatly recommended), and I’ll update my site on random thoughts and observations that come to mind. Just not politics, though; my political ranting days are over, and, besides, with the public cannibalism that goes for presidential campaigning these days, my teeth-gnashed rants are not the sort of thing I want to contribute. I’ll wear my politics on my sleeve and go about my business.

(Team Bernie, in case you’re wondering…)

I can’t promise exciting things, other than I’m helping out on an anthology that will hopefully see the light of day this spring, and putting together a collection I will self-publish before the year is through.

And fuck Donald Trump.

Thanks for reading. Talk soon.

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(Reblog) Should I Get an MFA? 27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA

The age-old question that’s asked every year: should a writer get an MFA, or should they not get an MFA?

27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA

Lots of food for thought from many writers who give their perspectives from both sides.

For those of you who’ve either gotten your MFAs, or are in the process of completing your MFA degrees, what’s your take? Worth the time and investment? Inquiring minds want to know.

An Open Letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell

Dear Roger,

First, let’s dispense with the formalities, shall we? I think I can call you Roger going forward. You seem like the kind of pompous blowhard who loves to go by Mr. Goddell. I’m not giving you that kind of benefit, not right now. Because as far as I’m concerned, whatever cachet you once earned, you fucking blew it.

Look, I realize right now you’re neck-deep in planning a full PR blitz trying to cover the NFL’s collective ass in the shady and despicable way you and the league handled the Ray Rice mess. It was bad enough you insulted every thinking fan out there by handing Rice a mere two-game ban after surveillance footage had been released of Rice dragging his unconscious then-girlfriend (and now-wife) from an Atlantic City hotel elevator, after having beaten her. For a league whose fan base has grown more popular with women over the past decade, the two-game suspension sent a mixed message, didn’tcha think?

Yesterday, TMZ gunned for a Pulitzer Prize and got a hold of the complete surveillance video, showing Rice beating up his girlfriend. Rice was immediately cut by the Baltimore Ravens, and you, Roger, announced that Rice was “suspended indefinitely.”

Bad enough that the NFL now has to save face and do something it should have done months ago, but then it was revealed, perhaps as a shock to absolutely no one, that the NFL not only knew this surveillance footage existed, but that it had seen the footage, knew what Rice had done, and took little action against Rice.

Roger, I’ll cut to the chase here: your actions over the past several months, in how clumsily you’ve handled punishing Ray Rice – and while we’re at, several other NFL players who have also been arrested for domestic violence disturbances – have been nothing short of reprehensible. No amount of back-peddling can repair the damage you’ve brought upon both the NFL and to yourself.

There’s only thing thing you can do right now to make things right: resign as commissioner of the National Football League.

When you took the Office of the Commissioner many years ago, you came in on a “get tough” mandate. Your predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, let’s face it, was pretty soft on a lot of players who’d run afoul of the law. Slaps on the wrist, but no real consistent policy against the players who were breaking the law, not just once, but repeatedly. You became Commissioner and declared that you were going to hold all players accountable for their behavior off the field; they were expected to conduct themselves as model citizens, and if they weren’t to comply, they would receive punishments that befit the severity of their crimes. Your mandate was immediately brought to its sternest test when it came to light that one of the league’s biggest stars, Michael Vick, was operating a dog-fighting ring. While some would argue that the punishment you handed Vick was harsh, I applauded you for taking swift and decisive action. Were you to dither in your decision, this “mandate” you spoke of would have been mere words. Instead, the league and its players took note: you meant every word, and if players were going to act like irresponsible fucktards off the field, then they would be punished like the irresponsible fucktards they were.

Which is why, flash forward seven years later, the lack of consistency you’ve demonstrated recently has been baffling at best, infuriating at worst, and frankly insulting. The message you’ve sent is this: dog killing gets you a harsh sentence, but (until yesterday) beating up your girlfriend or wife gets you a slap on the wrist.

You see, Roger, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t talk about fostering a family atmosphere, yet turning a blind eye to the barbarism that’s taking place not just on the field, but off it as well. You can’t talk about making a concerted effort to make the NFL more attractive to women, and be a major contributor to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, all the while giving a slap on the wrist to players who beat the ever-living shit out of their wives and girlfriends. You can’t preach about a safe environment when you’re given safe haven for abusers in your league, who in turn become role models for others who might think, “Well, if Ray Rice can get away with beating up with his girlfriend…” You can’t talk about holding players to higher standards when you won’t hold yourself to higher standards. You’re basically throwing your hands up in the air and saying, “Well, football’s a violent sport, full of violent players, so shit happens, I can’t be held responsible if some stupid loses his cool and beats up his girlfriend.”

Uh, yeah, you can. You need, no, I take that back, you should be held accountable for the actions of the employees of the National Football League. After all, you’re the head cheese. Nothing happens unless you say it happens, and if you say it happens, then it happens. Unfortunately, your actions regarding Ray Rice, months ago and yesterday, speak massive volumes about your character.

(And I’m not even going to discuss your stance on concussions. Your repeated denials that blows to the head don’t cause concussions are like climate change deniers shouting to anyone who’ll give them credence that wild temperature fluctuations are just normal is simply fucktard science on your part, and a shameless attempt to hide what everyone already knows, so why fucking deny it?)

And don’t give me this horseshit about “football’s a violent sport.” Watched hockey lately? That’s another sport that’s built on pure aggression, but the National Hockey League doesn’t fuck around when it comes to its Code of Conduct. Gary Bettman may be about as useless as a nun wielding a strap-on dildo when it comes to being a commissioner, but his office handles player conduct issues with an iron fist. Players are held accountable. As in, “do something that goes in direct violation with what the league finds favorable, like domestic violence, and you’re done for. Finished.” Leave the aggression on the ice. Off the ice, toe the fucking line, jack.

But you just can’t do it, can you? You can’t make your players toe the line. Because you’re a gutless coward who’s more concerned about protecting the billions in revenue (hence your shameful “there’s no such link between concussions and brain damage” stance) than you are about protecting the integrity and the image of your league. Which is why your position right now as Commissioner of the National Football League is beyond untenable right now. If you really and truly care about the integrity of the league, do the right thing and fall on your sword. The truth about what you knew about what Ray Rice did, and the lengths you took to, let’s be real, protect this scumbag, will only come back to destroy you. The truth won’t tarnish your reputation; it will destroy it.

Which is why you need to resign immediately, for the sake of the National Football League, for the sake of the fans, for the sake of battered women everywhere.

But, really, you need to resign because you’re an asshole, and the damage you’ve caused for being a blind, enabling asshole is more than enough than the National Football League and its fans deserve to endure.

TOO MUCH ANTHOLOGY RELEASED FROM UNKNOWN PRESS

My story, “Shake, Shoot, and Squeeze” is appearing in the new anthology “Too Much,” a collection of stories, poems, and essays that document tales of excess. Times when our obsessions and desires went way too far. It’s a terrific collection that’s now available at Amazon, and you should get a copy RIGHT NOW.

Thanks to Bud Smith and Chuck Howe for curating this fine anthology.