Story of a Life In an Attic

IMG_0596In 10 days from the writing of this, I will move to another place, closing the door on decades of my life and starting something new. Today, I packed up my attic, separating trash from treasure and skipped rocks through the story of my life.

KateandStuff 028I found loads of pictures, thousands of pages of writing going back as early as 1981, material for hundreds of books I won’t live long enough to publish. I found music and memory in old journals.  I found an old flask among my daughter’s high school things that still had liquor in it. That made me laugh.  I kept the flask. She looked so innocent back then. You’d never think it, huh?

IMG_0585There were all my daughter’s beanie babies. At her birthdays from about the 4th birthday to maybe the 8th birthday, we used to hide all the beanie babies as a bit of a treasure hunt and the children would trade them in for prizes.  I couldn’t manage to let go of those either.

I found the last bill I paid my daughter’s private school. The last of her college stuff she dumped off before taking off for New York. There were yearbooks, grades, college acceptance letters, honor roll certificates, team pictures, and all that kind of thing.  Video games, old music CDs, a score of broken phones and sunglasses, shattered bits of memory and life, somehow all the pain absolved as the bad went into the trash and the diamonds made from all of it found places in well-marked boxes.

That was all the stuff I expected to find. Maybe not some of the writing. That was lovely as I had wondered where I had put so much of that.  Then I began to find things from my life, before my daughter came along. And so the story of my life played tunes in my head. In a recent blog post, Janet Reid, Queen of the Known Universe and agent extraordinaire, wrote about the The Distinction Between Rhythm and Cadence,  something Mr. Harry Chapin demonstrated as only a master of words can.

Yeah, he thought he was writing about his life and his wife. What’s genius is that we all have this thing that is the story of a life, not the same story. It was a wife for the song writer, a child for me, a husband or father for someone else. But holy shit, these words came crashing back to me today. I could remember 23 and 15 and then 35 and on until I this very day.  So, from the grave, I give you Harry Chapin as he recalls the story of my life.

 

IMG_0597IMG_0600I can see myself it’s a golden sunrise
Young child open up your eyes
It’s supposed to be your day.
Now off you go horizon bound
And you won’t stop until you’ve found
Your own kind of way.
And the wind will whip your tousled hair,
The sun, the rain, the sweet despair,
Great tales of love and strife.
And somewhere on your path to glory
 You will write your story of a life.

 

911newyorkafterAnd all the towns that you walk through
And all the people that you talk to
Sing you their songs.
And there are times you change your stride,
There are times you can’t decide
Still you go on.
And then the young girls dance their gypsy tunes
And share the secrets of the moon
So soon you find a wife.
And though she sees your dreams go poorly
Still she joins your story of a life.

IMG_0601So you settle down and the children come
And you find a place that you come from.
Your wandering is done.
And all your dreams of open spaces
You find in your children’s faces
One by one.
HouseHunt 034And all the trips you know you missed
And all the lips you never kissed
Cut through you like a knife.
And now you see stretched out before thee
Just another story of a life.

So what do you do now?
When she looks at you now?
You know those same old jokes all the jesters tell
You tell them to her now.
And all the same old songs all the minstrels sang
You sing ’em to her now.
But it don’t matter anyhow
‘Cause she knows by now.

Nanowrimo2016So every chance you take don’t mean a thing.
What variations can you bring
To this shopworn melody.
And every year goes by like a tollin’ bell.
It’s battered merchandise you sell.
Not well, she can see.
And though she’s heard it all a thousand times
IMG_0598Couched in your attempted rhymes
She’ll march to your drum and fife.
But the question echoes up before me
Where’s the magic story of a life?

Now sometimes words can serve me well
Sometimes words can go to hell
a3b6e4e3-c51e-46cf-b9b1-588b25e40f5cFor all that they do.
And for every dream that took me high
There’s been a dream that’s passed me by.
I know it’s so true
And I can see it clear out to the end
And I’ll whisper to her now again
img_0445Because she shared my life.
For more than all the ghosts of glory
She makes up the story,
She’s the only story
Of my life.

 

 

Full of Grace #AtoZChallenge

FI cannot, will not tell the story behind why this song shakes me so hard. It’s too personal.  I did think Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series made lovely use of the song and wished that the reality of letting go of someone you really love was so easy.

No one, not even my precious daughter knows the story behind this.  The song keeps my secret and holds my pain. Music does have that power. It’s better this way….

 

Edge of Seventeen #AtoZChallenge

EIn 1981, I was still looking at that bright edge of seventeen, aching to vanquish fifteen,  hoping for more freedom at sixteen, and thinking at seventeen, no one would treat me like a kid anymore.  So funny how your perception of time and age change over the years. This song seemed to ache and yearn in all the ways I did at the time.

Whenever I am dealing with an adolescent girl in story, this song helps recall all that passion, confusion, want, and curiosity.  I do know most adolescent girls are probably not the frightful terror I was back then when I knew it all. My daughter certainly seemed to traverse her adolescent years with far more aplomb than I managed. Different aches. Different yearnings.

Some few months before my daughter moved to New York, she and one of her good friends took me to see a Fleetwood Mac cover band.  My daughter loves the music of my youth more than I did when I was her age, and she and her friend listened to the stories these old songs conjured up from my past. The band closed with Edge of Seventeen, and I was amazed how a song can make something that happened long ago seem like it was only yesterday.

 

Dust Bowl Dance #AtoZChallenge

Eerie and angry, a cry in the dark, despair and resolve all caught in this song. I tend to love songs that tell stories.

DDust Bowl Dance by Mumford and Sons takes it one better suggesting so many tales that are far too common in this world.  It is a recent song compared to many of the others I am citing in this challenge. However, songs like this often help me develop the rougher and uglier parts of my characters, especially the protagonists. I like my heroes dirty and my villains clean.  This helps me understand how desperate a good man can become beyond my own experience. And that is what great art should do. Take you outside your own experience.

 

Dust Bowl Dance

Songwriters: Benjamin Walter David Lovett, Marcus Oliver Johnstone Mumford, Edward James Milton Dwane, Aubrey Aladar Marshall

The young man stands on the edge of his porch
The days were short and the father was gone
There was no one in the town and no one in the field
This dusty barren land had given all it could yield

I’ve been kicked off my land at the age of sixteen
And I have no idea where else my heart could have been
I placed all my trust at the foot of this hill
And now I am sure my heart can never be still
So collect your courage and collect your horse
And pray you never feel this same kind of remorse

Seal my heart and break my pride
I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide
Align my heart, my body, my mind
To face what I’ve done and do my time

Well you are my accuser, now look in my face
Your oppression reeks of your greed and disgrace
So one man has and another has not
How can you love what it is you have got
When you took it all from the weak hands of the poor?
Liars and thieves you know not what is in store

There will come a time I will look in your eye
You will pray to the God that you always denied
Then I’ll go out back and I’ll get my gun
I’ll say, “You haven’t met me, I am the only son”

Seal my heart and break my pride
I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide
Align my heart, my body, my mind
To face what I’ve done and do my time

Seal my heart and break my pride
I’ve nowhere to stand and now nowhere to hide
Align my heart, my body, my mind
To face what I’ve done and do my time

Well yes sir, yes sir, yes it was me
I know what I’ve done, ’cause I know what I’ve seen
I went out back and I got my gun
I said, “You haven’t met me, I am the only son”

 

 

 

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy #AtoZChallenge

cfatbdc-fullNo other song (or album for that matter) has had as much of a profound influence on my life as Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. I was not yet a decade on this earth when the album came out. My aunt knew I was a fan and working with a radio station at the time. She gave me the album to explore.  I remember my mother’s frustration at me the summer of the album’s release because all I did was listen to the album over and over again. I learned the name Bernie Taupin. He was the lyricist. He had written the words that infested my dreams.  Over forty years later, Bernie Taupin and Elton John are still spinning tunes and rhymes together. I wonder if there has ever been such a prolific songwriting team.

CI already loved Elton John by the summer of 1975 because an older cousin introduced me to him when I was six. Rocket Man and Yellow Brick Road filled so many dreams and inspired so many of the tales I wrote in notebooks, on sketch pads, in diaries and at my dad’s typewriter at night.

I read that Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, as an album, was meant to be semi-autobiographical. It detailed the early music careers of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. I learned all I could about them at the time, and this way before the internet.  It seemed fate to me that a small advert in a magazine brought the duo together. Their music then held sway over so many lives. How could such a thing be?

It was one of those tales I took as proof that words and music can change the world. It was the spark that ignited the creation of Aerda and its lost land of Alleysiande.  Really, one line from the title track brought into existence two characters that have lived inside me since before my tenth birthday, a pirate captain and a pretend prince joined together by happenstance. How different than what the songwriters meant, but is that not the power of good writing in whatever form it takes? Are there not songs, poems, films, or other works of art that have influenced you in ways the artist could not imagine?

And all this talk of Jesus coming back to see us
Couldn’t fool us
For we were spinning out our lines walking on the wire
Hand in hand went music and the rhyme
The Captain and the Kid stepping in the ring
From here on sonny sonny sonny, it’s a long and lonely climb

 

 

Bat Out of Hell #AtoZChallenge

BOh my Holy God, I love this song so much. From the first time I heard it all trapped in my pre-adolescent shell of a body, the lyrics, the vocals, the keys, the strings, the drums, a cacophony of delight ah…the symphonic ecstasy of music.  And the imagery, sweet child of Music, a picture painted in a deluge of sound and brightly colored notes penetrating every spore of my being. I felt myself an angel escaping Hell on a roaring bike to force my way into Heaven.

 

Being ever so passionate and given to the dramatic ever since mortal flesh imprisoned me, I felt an angel born in Hell who could just make out the borders of paradise, forever out of reach. It was always that idea that fed my fantasy, that fallen one, a demon now but an angel in another time and place caught in Hell, forever separated from the light of Creation, guarding the gates of the dead and damned. A glance of something wondrous and a rebellion in Hell begins and then like a bat out of hell….oh how I wish I could make these words my own.

 

“Bat Out Of Hell”

Meatloaf, Lyrics Jim Steinman, Music by Todd Rundgren, 1977

The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling Way down in the valley tonight. There’s a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye And a blade shining, oh, so bright. There’s evil in the air and there’s thunder in sky, And a killer’s on the bloodshot streets. Oh, and down in the tunnel where the deadly are rising, Oh, I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter, He was starting to foam in the heat.

Oh, baby, you’re the only thing in this whole world, That’s pure and good and right. And wherever you are and wherever you go, There’s always gonna be some light. But I gotta get out, I gotta break it out now, Before the final crack of dawn. So we gotta make the most of our one night together. When it’s over you know, We’ll both be so alone.

Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone when the morning comes. When the night is over Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone-gone-gone. Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone when the morning comes. But when the day is done, and the sun goes down, And the moonlight’s shining through, Then like a sinner before the gates of heaven, I’ll come crawling on back to you.

I’m gonna hit the highway like a battering ram On a silver black phantom bike. When the metal is hot and the engine is hungry, And we’re all about to see the light. Nothing ever grows in this rotting old hole. And everything is stunted and lost. And nothing really rocks And nothing really rolls And nothing’s ever worth the cost.

And I know that I’m damned if I never get out, And maybe I’m damned if I do, But with every other beat I’ve got left in my heart, You know I’d rather be damned with you. Well, if I gotta be damned you know I wanna be damned Dancing through the night with you. Well, if I gotta be damned you know I wanna be damned— Gotta be damned, you know I wanna be damned— Gotta be damned, you know I wanna be damned Dancing through the night— Dancing through the night— Dancing through the night with you.

Oh, baby, you’re the only thing in this whole world, That’s pure and good and right. And wherever you are and wherever you go, There’s always gonna be some light. But I gotta get out, I gotta break it out now, Before the final crack of dawn. So we gotta make the most of our one night together. When it’s over you know We’ll both be so alone.

Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone when the morning comes. When the night is over Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone gone gone. Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone when the morning comes. But when the day is done and the sun goes down, And the moonlight’s shining through, Then like a sinner before the gates of heaven, I’ll come crawling on back to you. Then like a sinner before the gates of heaven, I’ll come crawling on back to you.

I can see myself tearing up the road Faster than any other boy has ever gone. And my skin is raw but my soul is ripe. No one’s gonna stop me now, I’m gonna make my escape. But I can’t stop thinking of you, And I never see the sudden curve until it’s way too late. And I never see the sudden curve ’til it’s way too late.

Then I’m dying at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun. Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike. And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell. And the last thing I see is my heart Still beating, Breaking out of my body and flying away, Like a bat out of hell. Then I’m dying at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun. Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike.

And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell. And the last thing I see is my heart Still beating, still beating, Breaking out of my body and flying away, Like a bat out of hell. Like a bat out of hell. Like a bat out of hell. Oh, like a bat out of hell! Like a bat out of hell! Like a bat out of hell!

 

A to Z Challenge Reveal #AtoZChallenge

thmrevelLast year, I had a blast doing the A to Z blogging challenge. My theme last year was beer. I had a beer for every letter and wrote a short story around it.

This year my theme will be music. Each day I will feature a song beginning with the appropriate letter and write a little short story inspired by the song.

Music has always been a big driver of mine, and great songwriters are also great story tellers and great poets. I made this argument with my high school English teacher thirty years ago. She disagreed. Too bad she passed away before Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in literature, huh? So I hope all of you participating have as much fun as I do.