Not Fade Away

Those of you old enough to have been Lookout readers in the 1980s or 90s may remember that the magazine (such as it was; more like a handful of xeroxed and stapled sheets in the early days) came out like clockwork every month for the first couple years, then became a bit more erratic, and eventually abandoned schedules altogether in favor of appearing randomly and unpredictably once or twice a year until it finally stopped publishing altogether after 1995.

And it’s a bit disingenuous when I refer to the Lookout as “it,” as though it were some autonomous entity like the weather over which we mere mortals had no control; the reality of course is that the Lookout rose and fell entirely as a result of my own efforts or, as ultimately became the case, the lack thereof. So when I began publishing on this website, my intention, my very devout intention, was never to let it go the way of the Lookout, but rather to keep developing it in a way that would provide new reading material on a daily or at least near-daily basis.

Sad to say, it hasn’t happened. Or, to put it more bluntly, I haven’t done it. I find myself dodging my writing responsibilities – and I do consider them responsibilities, even if they’re self-imposed – as assiduously as I used to evade work and/or the boss back in my factory/steel mill/warehouse days. Why, I don’t know. In terms of productive activity, writing and/or music are about all that matter to me these days, and yet I constantly find myself going to extraordinary lengths to avoid them.

It would make at least some sense if all my time were being used up in doing things that were more fun or more rewarding, but sadly that’s not the case. Oh, I’ve had some great times lately, but we’re talking a few hours here and there, not whole days and weeks during which I simply couldn’t get to the computer or the guitar. I’d guess I spend 50% or more of my time within arm’s reach of both (New York apartments are small, remember), but something always seems to intervene. No, it’s not “something,” it’s me. I intervene, invariably finding other ways to pass and/or squander time until I’m so frustrated with myself and the world that it’s all I can do to wander down to the corner for some dinner and recriminations.

It’s not as though I’ve suffered any shortage of opinions, ideas and stories worth sharing with the public. It’s when I’m not writing, in fact, that my mind is most apt to be spinning like mad with things I’m dying to say to someone but instead end up turning over and over in my head as I gaze out a bus window or disconsolately kick falling leaves out of my path as I meander across the park in the dying light of a late autumn afternoon.

On my desk and/or computer desktop I keep a list of topics that I simply have to write about while they’re still fresh in my mind; this list grows longer and longer until I realize most if not all the topics are hopelessly out of date (I suppose there’s something to be gained by reading about last July’s trip to the beach while cranking up the furnace for the first real cold snap of November, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it), at which point I toss out the list and start over.

So here I am, ready to try again, even as part of me hankers mightily to get outdoors and enjoy the unnaturally mild and pleasant weather that London is enjoying today (no, I haven’t moved back; just on a brief trip about which I’ll have more to say later). I also want to tell you about last Sunday’s reunion of the West Country Walking Society for a 14-mile traipse over the Wiltshire countryside, and the previous week’s reunion of the Potatomen for a 40 minute run through some of our better and lesser known hits in front of a gratifyingly appreciative crowd at Greenpoint’s Lost and Found, and am torn between leaving that for later as well or charging right ahead with it.

Well, why not? First, the Potatomen: as any of you hardcore fans (I can probably name all of you from memory, but will refrain) will know, we haven’t been active since the turn of the century, and with Patrick Hynes, my chief collaborator in the band, comfortably ensconced on the opposite coast from me, I didn’t see that changing anytime soon. But this past August, Patrick told me he was considering making his first-ever visit to New York City and I countered with, “Why not play a show?”

It turned out to be surprisingly easy: I recruited Michael Silverberg, who played bass with us during our last incarnation and who now lives in Brooklyn, and Adam Siegel, who’d never played with us, but had the requisite talent and, shall we say, aesthetic. The three of us practiced together until Patrick arrived; we then had three sessions with the whole band to get ready for Saturday night’s show. Chaos somehow resolved itself into order and beauty, and though at our final practice I had serious doubts about whether we’d ever be ready, it became clear in a moment of preternatural inspiration that, to as FDR would have had it, fear was the only thing standing in the way of triumph. I speak, by the way, for myself only; while the others seemed quite calm, I was terrified. Suddenly I found my voice (an important thing in any case, but especially when you’re the singer), and on the night of the show, it all went like a dream. Nobody threw anything, hardly anybody walked out, and people cheered wildly, demanding we play until there were literally no more songs we knew (if we’d realized it would go over that well, we could have practiced a few more, but didn’t want to be overly optimistic).

Patrick Hynes and yours truly onstage with the Potatomen, 10/23/10.

Everybody in the band was happy. “I’d forgotten,” said Patrick, “what a rush it is to be up there on stage.” Upshot: we may do it again. Where and when? Don’t know yet, but a likely prospect is on the West Coast sometime this winter, say January or February. Don’t buy your tickets yet, as it’s all pure speculation at this point.

The following week saw my birthday, which turned out to be an absolutely stunning day with temperatures well into the 70s, despite it being near the end of October, and early the next morning gave myself a birthday present by jetting, just hours ahead of the season’s first major cold snap bringing a foretaste of winter to New York, out of town to London, where summer (English style, i.e., above freezing) is still hanging on.  My first day was marked by a return to Craven Cottage, where Fulham returned to winning form by skunking Wigan 2-0, and the following day marked the West Country Walking Society pilgrimage to, well, if not quite the West Country, at least halfway there.

Sad to say, the WCWS exists in a greatly reduced and bedraggled form these days; most of its recent walks have consisted of two members, so even being able to muster three walkers for this outing was cause for cheer.  (Back in the glory days of the mid-oughts, it was not uncommon to muster, well, six or even seven of us.)  It turned out to be a beautiful day for it, too, despite what turned out to be a completely mistaken forecast of steady rain.  As it was, the rain stopped as soon as we’d got out of London, and I believe we even had a few glimpses of sunshine during what turned out to be about 5.5 hours of walking covering about 14 miles.

It actually wasn’t meant to go on quite that long, although we wrapped up just after dark in a quaint little pub in the village of Aldbourne (not that remarkable, since it seemed apparent that nothing is allowed to be built or maintained in Aldbourne that isn’t quaint), but at about the two thirds point our way was barred by a camo-clad member of the gentry (or a minion thereof; opinion differed on that question), who barred our path with his mud-splattered Ranger Rover and inquired “Are you English?”

Since two of the three of us are, in fact, American (though emigrant Wes will be a full-fledged Brit as of next year), I thought there might be some point to his challenge, but apparently it was only meant to frame his next point, i.e., that we had somehow failed to read the “Private, No Trespassing” sign at the bottom of the road.  His wife sat sourly glowering at us as Danny attempted to engage him on the various arcana of English land use law over the past several thousand years (as an investigative journalist, Danny has copious experience with walking in places where people feel rather strongly that they’d rather not have him walk).  This didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, so we turned back and walked the long way around, which entailed adding about four or five miles to our journey.

Making our autumnal way about Wilshire.

This gave us ample time to speculate about why he’d been so keen to keep us off that particular piece of land (he’d specifically pointed to one spot on the map and said “We definitely don’t want anyone walking through here.”).  Perhaps swayed by his camo trousers and my experience in Northern California, I posited that he’d been guarding an illegal marijuana grow.  Either that or the Ministry of Defence were conducting some heinous sort of experiment up there atop the hills.

Later, just before dusk, he turned up again, several miles away, and now completely jovial, breezily chatted with us about the various ways we might complete our journey and ended by giving us formal permission to cut across his field to reach the road into the village.  Naturally this led to further speculation about what might have prompted this change in disposition.  I pointed out that perhaps his wife had been egging him on during the previous confrontation, and now that she was gone, replaced by a complaisant black and white dog, he no longer felt the need to brandish his authority.

Unless, Wes suggested, his wife had turned into the dog, which would cast the matter into an entirely different, shall we say, downright Hogwartian light.  After all, this was the 31st of October, and that part of the country has long been said to be replete with witches, wizards, warlocks and their assorted tomfoolery.  Just as well, then, that we soon found our way back to civilization, or at least the Aldburnian version thereof, where we were able to sit by the fireplace (no fire visible, but it somehow radiated great warmth nonetheless) and dry the accumulated mud on our boots, trousers and faces.  Then back to London, where I’ve been knocking about ever since, and will continue to do so until the weekend when I’m heading off on my first ever journey to the Middle East.

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