Get Back

May 24, 2010
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Later, after the divorce, none of them could explain how that day had worked out so well.  Even in the middle of it, they were clear that their time as a family was coming to an end.  Somehow, they managed to put their anger aside and to use their British sense of propriety to make a day of it.


Father woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across his head.  Found his coat and grabbed his hat, dashed outside… and remembered it was Saturday.  He took off his shoes.

He took a walk.  The sun was shining down.  Burned his feet as they touched the ground.

He thought, “We should have a picnic,” and went back home to wake the family.

Mother was still asleep.  She had been out late once again with her art class girlfriend Yoko, drinking funny-smelling tea and giggling over obscure jokes.


It was easy to blame Yoko for pulling mother away from the family, but mother had felt dissatisfied for a long time.  After all, it was mother who had signed up for those art classes in the first place, telling father “I need Help!”  His friends had warned him not to let her do this.

“You’re gonna lose that girl,” his friend Linda told him.

“She said that living with me was bringing her down, that she would never be free while I was around,” father said.  I feel like I don’t even know her anymore.   The other night I found her…  Well, she…”  He looked down, dropped his cigarette stub on the floor and ground it dead with his shoe, then looked back at Linda.  “She came in through the bathroom window.  I just don’t know what to do anymore.”

Mother and father had had a few good years, then their initial squabbles became bouts of fighting and hostility.  These became so frequent that one stretched into the next with, at best, a brief chill between.  For a long time, they kept up appearances.  People thought of them as the perfect family — even idolized them.  Wry mother, cute, silly father, their serious, hard-working son George, and Ringo, the family dog, who thumped his tail rhythmically against the floor whenever he was happy.

Their story was not unique.  Mother had always been manic-depressive.  She tended to drink.  She could be romantic and exciting one moment, caustic and brittle the next, then disappear, morose, to her bed for days.  Father was known to drink his share as well, but tended to be a bit compulsive and rigid.  He liked timeliness, he liked everyone to play their roles, and appearances were very important to him.  She brought the excitement he craved, and he the stability she longed for.

At first the fights were intense.  “Try to see it my way,” father would say.  “Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?”

Mother would attack him obliquely.  “I’m looking through you,” she would say, standing in front of father and staring past him as if she couldn’t see him.  “Where did you go?”  This drove him bonkers.  He was a concrete thinker.

“I’m right here, fixing the bloody hole where the rain gets in!” he would shout.

“Language, luv,” mother would say, looking stern and nodding towards George’s room.  “Don’t you be corrupting our beautiful boy now, with your anger.”

George grew more and more sullen with time.  Now nearing adulthood, he spent as much time out of the house with his Indian friend Maharishi as possible.  When he was home, he stayed in his room with his door shut, burning something that smelled like incense, and playing his funny guitar.

Ringo padded around the house, snuggling against whomever seemed down and thumping his tail.  The times when Mother, Father, and George were all in the same room and not fighting, he would look at them quizzically, head tilted, with his fuzzy chin perched on one or another of their laps.

He was not their first dog.  That had been Pete, whom Georgie had loved.  Pete tended to knock things over, and he often peed on the rug next to mother and father’s bed.  One night he did that when they were trying to be romantic, and that was the last straw.  They told George that Pete had gone back to be with his family, though in reality they had dropped him unceremoniously at the pound.  George seemed devastated, so that following weekend Ringo arrived.  Ringo never had accidents, and, though his thumping tail worried father, he never knocked anything over, either.  They all quickly grew to love him.


That last happy Saturday before the divorce was unseasonably warm.  Father was right.  It was perfect picnic weather.

He knelt by mother’s side of the bed with his face near hers, and called gently “Good morning!  Good morning!”  Mother opened one eye.  This was an ancient ritual from early in their courtship, and she smiled at the reference.  She reached out to muss his hair.

“Well, here come old flattop,” she said in a croaky voice.  They both smiled.  His hair was long enough to cover his eyes, but this had been one of her nicknames for father in their early days, when his hair was short.

Father reached over and opened the shade, saying “Here comes the sun,” to warn mother to cover her eyes.  “Little darling,” he said.  This was another old pet name of theirs.  He looked out at the bright landscape.  “It feels like years since it’s been here.  Let’s have a picnic.”

Mother smiled.  Despite the toxic level of anger and scorn she felt for father, she liked a good picnic.  And she and father always put together the best of picnics.  “I’ll wake George,” she said.

Father went to the kitchen, whistling, and pulled the old picnic basket down from on top of the fridge.  He rinsed off the plastic plates and cutlery, and smiled when he found Georgie’s old yellow toy submarine hidden in the folds of the picnic blanket.

Mother, after quickly stopping in the guest room to wake Yoko and press her to come along, carefully opened George’s bedroom door.  One time he had gotten so mad at his parents’ barging into his room unannounced that he left at 5AM with a friend who was a car mechanic and ran away for a few days.  Since then, mother was always nervous that he wouldn’t be there.

He was, though.  He was asleep on his bed.  Something… something in the way he moved made his mother think of the times long past when she would tuck him in at night facing one way, then, when she came to wake him in the morning, find him turned completely around.  She looked around the room, smelled the stale incense smell — what kind of incense made that smell?  It seemed familiar.  She shook her head and gently woke him.

“Picnic time, Georgie,” she called softly.

He groaned.  “Mo-THER,” he complained.  He hated being called “Georgie”.

“Sorry, luv.  George, come have a picnic with us.  You know how Ringo loves them, and it’s been ever so long.”

George opened his eyes.  They were bloodshot, as if he had gone to bed very late, indeed.  “I was with ‘rishi last night.”  Mother nodded.  “We were talking about the space between us all.  We were talking about the love we all could share.  With our love, we could save the world.”  He looked in his mother’s eyes.  “’If they only knew,'” ‘rishi said.  “I want you to know I love you two.  I just need you to let go sometimes.”

Mother put her finger to his lips.  “I know, dearie.  That’s nice.  I think we all feel the same way.  Let’s just have our picnic now.”  George smiled.  He nodded, and sat up.

Mother started to leave his room, when George called out.  He asked, “Can I bring a friend?”

Mother stopped and looked back at him.  “A friend?  Sure.  You know we like Maharishi.”

“No,” George said.  “I want to bring Billy.”

“Billy Preston?  Sure,” mother said.  “We like him too.”


Each of them, even Ringo, had their specific preferences for what to eat, and where to set up the blanket.  Somehow, that day, they each let go and let it be.  They ended up on a rooftop in the middle of town, and spread out the best meal they had made in many years.  They made enough to feed the hungry people who passed by.  Here were some of the best dishes they made that day:

Get Back

Dig A Pony

Two Of Us

Don’t Let Me Down

Let It Be

Happy fifty and third, Rosanne.  This one’s for you.


The Strikeout List

May 24, 2010

We age.

I do, anyway.  I seem to have company.

We seduce.

When we are young, this can be a crude process.  With years, with a little success, with the easing of the frantic hormones, we refine and sublimate it.

We discover that seduction is a path.  It needs a destination, but the two are not the same.  Nor does the destination need to be sex.

I’ve learned to love the path.

When I was young, these distinctions were not clear.  I doubt that they are for many young people.  For guys, anyway, the path seems more like a doorway.  A doorway, after all, is the shortest path between two points.

The internal monologue of a young man is not much more complicated than this:  The door is closed.  Open the door.  How do I open the door.  Woohoo!  I opened the door! or  Argh!  The door stayed closed!

We look for keys.

For many of us, one of those keys is music.  Music was an important one for me, especially when I was in college.

I once read an interview with Elvis Costello, in which he divided 1970s rock into Led Zeppelin “Look At Me, I’ve Got a Big Willie,” and Jackson Browne “Fuck Me, I’m So Sensitive.”  That second one almost made me spit out my coffee with laughter.  I had my Fuck Me, I’m So Sensitive playlist, full of simple, melodic, confessional songs.  It wasn’t an act — I was that guy, and I loved those songs — but part of me understood very well that displaying that side could unlock certain doors.  Thank you, Lord, for giving me both Joni Mitchell, and the ability to truly appreciate her.  Nothing says “come to me, I’m sensitive and deep” like “forgetting” to close your dorm room door while listening to the album “Blue”.

I also had a Let’s Get In The Mood playlist, with lots of Marvin Gaye, and Al Green, and Roxy Music.

Then there was the hybrid playlist — people like Van Morrison and Joan Armatrading — personal, but also kind of sexy.

I don’t think I ever literally had such playlists.  Oh, maybe the Get In The Mood one.  It’s hard to remember.  Usually, I would put on a record or cassette that seemed to fit the moment.  Walk the path a little ways.  Start to learn that the path had its own rewards, too.


Yesterday a new friend inadvertently planted a terrible idea in my head.  Thank you, new friend.  Here it is:  the anti-seduction list.  Songs with an inherent gender differential.  Guys sometimes love ’em.  Girls usually hate ’em.  Invite her up to your dorm room, put these songs on, and listen to the slam of the metaphorical door, the click of the metaphorical lock being turned, the clatter of the closing metaphorical deadbolt.  If you’re lucky, you don’t hear the sounds of retching.  Metaphorical OR real.

I’ll start the list here, but mostly just want to hear other people’s ideas.  I’ll start with my new friend’s contribution.


The Strikeout List

“just to mention Yes is enough to send People of a Certain Generation running for a sickbag”

King Crimson kills

Deep Purple is deeply unsexy

Drum solos provide excellent aerobic exercise for the drummer who performs them.

Guitars are good. Extended guitar solos are not. I guess the general rule here is that solos do not beget duets.

Shall we give a special non-musical shout out to mutton chop sideburns and big belt buckles?  Yes.  Let’s.

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Song of the Day — David Bowie

May 24, 2010
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Thanks, new friend.

Andy Warhol

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Song of the Day — Natalie Merchant

May 22, 2010
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This is a peaceful song by Natalie Merchant, though the lyrics and the music make odd partners.

San Andreas Fault

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Song of the Day — Neil Young and Gavin Bryars

May 21, 2010
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That baby I delivered on Tuesday came to see me today.  He didn’t come alone.  His mother brought him.

How immature.

He was yellow.  Babies are yellow sometimes.  It’s one of those immature things they do.

He was peeing blood.  Babies don’t pee blood.  That’s not a question of maturity.

When I saw his name on my schedule it felt so gratifying.  I admit that I wanted to be the perfect doctor for him.

I was a good enough doctor, but only after I dropped the “perfect” thing and focused on my job.


Called the hospital for results a little while ago.  Initial results are good.


am fried.


I’ll keep thinking about him.

Here are a couple of distractions:

Neil Young gettin’ out of town:

On The Beach

And Gavin Bryars sinking with the Titanic:


Song of the Day — Nick Drake

May 20, 2010

Last night a dear friend introduced me to Nick Drake.  Gee, thanks, dear friend.

Reading about Nick Drake is like reading The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.  It’s like reading Blindness, by Jose Saramago.  The man started writing and recording songs just as he was assaulted by a swamp ghost the likeness of which I have never seen.  He sank into depression, withdrawing slowly, smoking more and more weed, moving back into his parents’ house, and finally overdosing on amitriptyline in 1974, at the age of 26.

He release three albums, which sold a total of 13,000 copies in his lifetime.  He stopped performing.  After his 20 pounds per month stipend from the record company ended he couldn’t even afford to buy new shoes.

Gee, thanks, dear friend.

And yet…

And yet…

These songs are not depressing.  These songs are incredible.  Thank you, Peter Buck from REM and Robert Smith of The Cure for keeping this alive, thank you Lucinda Williams and Badly Drawn Boy for spreading the word, thank you to whoever thought to include his music in movie soundtracks, for keeping his music floating close enough to the surface of our collective consciousness that I would eventually, in a conversation with my dear  friend, be asked “how have you not listened to Nick Drake?”

And thank you, dear friend.  I want to pay forward, and introduce this music to whomever wants to listen.  Wow.

Pink Moon

Which Will

Things Behind The Sun

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Addendum of the Day — David Bowie

May 19, 2010
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I realize now that those 3AM musings managed to do what I could not do in real life: ignore the presence of David Bowie in the room.  Oh, yeah.  Mr. Velvet Goldmine, Mr. Glam Changeling was not beside the point.  He just got subsumed by one of the most satisfying births since, oh, the beginning of the mammalian era.

This song, “Fascination”, is one of a few stellar products from his mid-70s, post-Ziggy/Aladdin-freak, pre-Berlin-cool phase, when he embrace the Philadelphia Sound (which to my ear consists of funked up R&B with cool electronic gizmos).  Although others are worthy of Best Song of the Phase status (most notably “Fame”, which he sings with John Lennon, and “Young Americans”), “Fascination” reminds me to dive through that portal.  The music is like a magnet, the words give it focus, and when I listen to this song I feel like I am body surfing and have caught the best wave of the afternoon.

Check it out.  If this style is at all your style you’ll like it.  If this song is an old, forgotten friend already, then say hello again.


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Song of the Day — David Bowie

May 19, 2010

What a silly time to write.  3 in the morning, while on call.   Following two women each of whose labors are slow, each of whose babies are doing fine.  I could nap for half an hour.  Tomorrow I will regret not sleeping more.

Tonight I am fascinated.  And once again Late Night Exuberant Nick indulges himself at the expense of Morning Slow-Moving Grumpy Nick.

Thus it has always been.  Thus it remains.

There’s a reason that Harold and the Purple Crayon kept me so absorbed — Harold understood that no matter when the portal of fascination opens, you must take your purple crayon and dive through it.  Go exploring.  Indulge.  It’s a crime against yourself to do otherwise.

Today I got to be present for an amazing labor and delivery.  A young woman from Guatemala, standing all of four feet, eight inches, having spent all of five months in this country, pushed out her first baby — an eight pound, five ounce boy.  Pretty standard story, so far, to my eyes.  We get a lot of Guatemalan Harolds here, keeping their heads down and working their purple crayons to draw new lives for themselves.

What was unusual was her two older sisters.  They were utterly acculturated, speaking perfect English with only slight accents.  Though they were in their mid- to late-20s, they had a total of only one child between them.  They were almost as small and thin as my patient, and worked constantly.  One would murmur in her ear during contractions while the other refreshed the damp cloth and wiped her forehead.  One would draw the bath while the other calmly and forcefully reminded the patient that she was going to do this, that she should breathe through this contraction.  The patient took a few baths.  Each time, when I walked in the room afterwards, the fronts of her sisters’ shirts and jeans were soaked.

After a while, I decided that these women must have attended many births.  I knew that their mother (whose body had borne 9 children) was a midwife.  Not only were these two sisters engaged throughout, nurturing her, coaxing her, reminding her that she was strong enough to get through this, they also had a mastery of the small touches.  The face cloth.  The back massage.  The well timed joke.  It was no surprise, when the disc that monitored her baby’s heartbeat slipped off, that one of her sisters absent-mindedly picked it up, swabbed more gel on it, and replaced it.  Perfectly.  Found the heartbeat immediately.

The aftermath of a normal, healthy birth is always a warm, euphoric scene — a similar feeling to that of a dressing room after a successful performance.  It’s always satisfying to catch the new mom’s attention and explain to her exactly what she, personally, here, today, did that was amazing, and why that means she is likely to be a great mom.  I never lie.  I never have to.  Maybe three or four times I have felt like I couldn’t find meaningful praise, and those times have skipped this spiel and just said congratulations.

Today, I got to do this, and then lingered longer than usual to praise her sisters.  That’s when I found out that, though the eldest had been through her own labor, neither of them had ever attended a birth before.  I must have looked surprised, because the younger of the two then launched into the story of how they had talked to everyone they knew, and had taken books out of the library and watched “many many videos.”  Clearly, this was the project of the entire few months since they had found out about their newly-arrived sister’s pregnancy.

I said, “Excuse me, but we read a lot in medical school, too.  You’re not supposed to be this good at it without experience.”

She laughed briefly, to show me that she got the joke.  Then said, “but it was FASCINATING!”

It is.


One last thing.  Roll your eyes if you want to.  Yes, I’m talking to YOU, my dear.

I want these people in my country.  I’m talking about people who grab their purple crayons, who bust their butts to make good lives.  This is not at all about lefty-liberal politics.  This is me wanting to surround myself with people who work hard and show initiative.  I love that.

You can unroll your eyes now.

Song of the 25 minutes between morning and afternoon patients

May 17, 2010
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I took a walk around the Lynn Commons, as I commonly do.  Headphones like umbilical cords, stretching from ears to iPod, protecting me from the overly friendly, and feeding me a soundtrack for my thoughts.

Today, by chance, came this song.  I posted it in February, but must repeat it today.  With each listening it seems to stretch — new words swim into focus, new images and meaning coalesce — but never loses its core: the pure joy of existence.  This is not something that I’ve spent enough time reveling in.  It’s time to start.


This time is fine just as it is.

This day is whatever I want it to be.


I’ll hush.  You listen:

Central Reservation (Spiritual Life _ Ibadan Remix)

Housekeeping — Take Five

May 15, 2010
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A few people have told me they can’t download the songs from this blog.  That seems like a problem, since almost every post is driven by a song.

Two of the people who contacted me did not have Itunes installed in their computers.  For the technophobic among you who think downloading iTunes will commit you to buying music, or will require you to use and iPod, or allow Steve Jobs to control your thoughts, don’t worry.  It’s just a program that allows you to play music on your computer — including the music I post here.

Try going here, and downloading the program:

Once you have the iTunes program on your computer, then clicking the little blue links to the songs I post should either automatically start the songs downloading, or else make a popup window emerge that offers you the choice to open or save the file (which is the song).  If you download the song, then it will live in your computer as a bunch of gobbledygook symbols that need a program to interpret them.

Enter iTunes.  Once the file is in your computer, try to open it.  If it starts playing, then you have wasted your time reading this post.  If your computer asks what program you want to use to open the file, you can choose iTunes.  (There are other programs that can do this, too.  I think I upload the songs in formats that can be interpreted also by Windows Media Player and Real Player.  I’m not sure that I do this, though, or that I do it consistently, so you may need iTunes to play the music.  I, personally, like iTunes, because the others seem to slow down my computer more than iTunes does when I use them)

It distresses me to think that anyone might not be able to hear these songs.  PLEASE let me know if you continue to have trouble, and I will investigate further.

You could try it now with this classic Dave Brubeck song:

Take Five

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