The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Aug 15th: A Homeless Journal Of Sorts

..."a journey is a person in itself; no two are alike" 
 -John Steinbeck (Travels With Charley, In Seach Of America 1962)

...Ivy's Zorba The Greek moment...

I often spend an hour or two in the evening at Starbucks...not just for the free wifi, since free hot spots are all over, but to charge my devices. 

It's just quiet enough so that a table is always available, but busy enough that no one notices that I don't always buy a coffee (yes, I'm just kidding myself, of course they know :-))

Ivy doesn't always like waiting in the car, and by the time I return, she's often hyped up, and experience has taught me to give her a walk to burn off the energy.

One night she was really pissed or something and she jumped out of the car as the door opened, and looked at me with an odd look on her face.

We stared at each other, then We understood, and began hopping around in a sort of barn dance stomp, which made her lift each paw in turn with tail wagging...I began to spin around and she did also but in the opposite direction, and every time I changed and spun the other way, she mirrored it.

I was surprised to see her that rambunctious, it wasn't something she did in our five years together. We kept it up for a while, and now on most nights, that's what we do after I get out of the coffee house.

After all that's happened in the last seven months, maybe Zorba was right...I would like her to do it on command instead of as she pleases though...last night she sat there while I was doing the Jed Clampett and I swear she was laughing at me...

...we own the night...

As vigilant as the mood was, it's good to have the night back as a friend, and not as some vague veil of fears.

The night hours always had a meditative quality before this new life. I almost always practice guitar at night, for example, and play with my eyes closed. 

Part of it's to separate the hands from the eyes, to link thoughts and instinct to the music and not think in terms of where on the fretboard my hands are. 

Also, to me, creating music is a form of prayer.

...let's digress a bit...I always love talking music...

Ken Kesey used to describe each person's life as a movie being created in real time, and Frank Zappa once said that music is often an accessory like clothes that people wear to present the desired image to the world.

I plead guilty to thinking both of the above, though I tend to define life as a universe or timeline, Kesey was right, life is a movie.

Interacting with others is an intersecting (or collision) of movies (or universes is you prefer) and in my case, the movie has a soundtrack. 

My Spotify playlist (called the "A List) has around 1200 songs, and that's only because I need to keep it under 4 gig or else my my iPhone 6 plus' career as a super mini iPad would be a non starter.

Most are songs that run through my consciousness in daily life. All part of being an introvert, though I prefer the term, "deep thinker."

The random shuffle feature pioneered by Apple was a revelation...all the genres are shades of the same color. Jazz, punk, reggae, folk, rock, and world music play in a continuous stream in my mind depending on the mood or how good the hook is.

One root sensibility is early 60s folk and folk revival music. My second grade teacher loved the stuff and exposed it to us in class. While some went nuts over the Beatles, I thought the Limelighters were real rock and roll.

In 7th grade music appreciation, while most of the students acted bored and demanded rock, I found the variety of sounds a door to a rich new life.

...anyway, excuse the following digression from my original digression...

Many artists became my spiritual godfathers. Seeing John Fahey live in the early 70s was a turned me on to solo acoustic guitar. 

When I practice, the spirit of Bert Jansch is present. Jimmy Page raved about him, and Neil Young called him the Jimmy Hendrix of acoustic guitar.

What impressed me was that his playing wasn't tethered to the blues alternating bass pulse (I never could master that technique anyway) and was freer, moving from idea to idea with a jazz sensibility.

I love many other teens, my first exposure to was via Desmond Dekker's hit, "Israelites" (which is technically Ska). Not many reggae tunes crossed over to American Top 40, and so that song is a very rare bird.

60s reggae permutations like Rock Steady and the later Dance Hall style remain favorites and still influence my taste. 

Bob Marley is a mystical figure, the equal of John Coltrane in my mind. I loved the Ska revival of the 80s, my favorites being UB40 and the English Beat.

I still listen to both groups, and keep up with their music. On many days, the Ali Campbell UB40 song, "Fijan Sunset" from 2014 runs through my mind. 

It's classic 80s style reggae, with a more prominent drum track (maybe not louder than the 60s, but with more punch due to better recording technology) and gorgeous instrumental textures on's heart is that catchy as hell rock steady pulse, and Ali's ska/dancehall influenced vocal.

I also play electric guitar, and will get one again someday (my treasured telecasters were early casualties of homelessness). When I think of electric music, it's generally about 50s blues, even before rock, and my hero of the blues is Elmore James.

His epic version of Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom" is my favorite link from acoustic blues to electric blues, and ultimate rock and roll. There's other theories and ideas about the roots of R&R, and like most theories about music, all are probably true to some extent.

Jazz had an interesting evolution with me. 

Prior to playing in a punk band in the early 80s, I generally liked older, more traditional jazz like small ensemble swing and early bop...but wacking away at high volume without regard for even keeping the instrument in tune made previously strange dissonant works like Coltrane's "Ascension" and the entire body of Sun Ra's work make sense.

My favorite jazzer is Mose Allison. His music is a pleasurable mix of piano jazz, blues and a nasal, snarky voice that exuded low rent modernism, yet rooted in traditional sensibilities. 

Mose was the apex of poetry and jazz, with a cynical yet humorous outlook on life exemplifying the only real freedom we have, a free and uncompromising mind.

There's other artists I admire and revere, and when in the mood, listen to as one would read a classic book.

Mose's music is in that narrower list of music I listen to for fun...

...the palette is wider now...

I loved Punk and loved playing it in a band in the Mabuhay Gardens scene (before it became the Fab Mab) in San Francisco. 

In terms of development, punk really started and ended with the Sex Pistols, except in the countless press releases put out by various godfathers of punk since.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the later music of artists like Green Day and Ramones (arguably the true first punk band, though the argument about who was first gets complicated and boring) but it wasn't punk as defined by the English bands in that first wave. 

The ideal was to reject the elaborate production of modern mainstream rock, to just make music even if one's skills were not up to the standard of professional session men, and not care about fame and money (hahahaha)...

The instant that "punks" strove for riches, fame, or career longetivity, punk became a product and part of industry entertainment packages marketed to consumers.

If you want money for your music, then you're part of the music industry, no matter what the press release says. 

That's neither good or bad, it simply is what it is. 

Music is like a great painting or a bubbling hot greasy pizza; it speaks for itself, and evolves in meaning. It's one of the closest things to true spirituality that man can create. 

If you disagree and think another art form is superior, then cut off your ear and send it to me, or ship me the most awesome  foodie meal and I'll take be happy to take your objection under consideration...

...always be charging...

In the movie "Glengarry Glenross," the stud salesman said that they should "always be closing."

That's advice I've taken to heart, except that my motto is "always be charging."

Most of the comforts of home can be had in the field, even keeping clean, but in this Internet age, even the most sophisticated device can't run without electricity and you can't just fly a kite in a lighting storm to get it.

Even before the open road (or parking lot), a set of power packs was essential equipment (especially if using smart phones).

Keeping those charged (I always make sure a two week supply of power is on hand) in my situation is one of life's important details, like mowing the lawn or something.

I keep a set of fully charged power packs in reserve and use a smaller set that gets recharged almost daily at a Starbucks or any place that lets me loiter and plug in.

Even when waiting last month in the Cadillac Dealer's customer lounge for my car to be repaired, both the phone and a power pack was being charged in a nearby outlet. 

I went through a phase where most of my reserve power resided in a single high capacity unit until it failed after only one month. My phone was running at 20% all week as a result (I believe that's about five minutes on an android phone).

Luddites might suggest that dispensing with things like smart phones might be better, but this geek likes the Internet and smart phones (this blog, for example, is typed out on my iPhone, the iPad having been sacrificed to the Road God).

...fear of the night and other attitudes...

One of the most common observations heard in homeless conversations (in my experience) is that it takes time to function normally because of all the things that have to be unlearned.

The most important thing is to get past the image society and the media have of the homeless. This can range from the downtrodden victim of circumstance, smelly drug abuser who poops in public, and other variations or combinations.

This has changed as the homeless population grows, the subculture (which is what it is) now encompasses a wider range of people. As a rule, it's the really nasty ones that get most of the press.

When you become homeless, it can feel like more like Satan's fall from Heaven than a temporary phase.

It's a two phase mindset. 

First, one has to realize that the stereotypes do have some basis in fact, but it doesn't mean that you've suddenly become one of those archetypes. 

Also, there's the various attitudes that society can label you with; like the homeless want to be that way, that any of them could get a job if they really tried, that transients lower THEIR quality of life and property values and so on.

The way out is to realize that all those labels are just profiling. While it may apply to others, it doesn't necessarily mean it's what you've become. 

The second phase is where you realize that all that stuff is self other words, it's really about self esteem.

...what the newbie is stepping into...

If you look at the lowest rung of the ladder, at the mentally ill or drug abusers,bin most cases they're not deliberately being that way.

A Hollywood star who becomes a druggie is considered to have a treatable condition, for at least as long as it takes to get out of legal trouble.

No one simply gives the celebrity dope head some money and leaves it at that...the person's just going to spend it on drugs, yet that's what society often does with a homeless druggie.

A partier who gets drunk during Mardi Gras and pees against a wall is generally viewed as someone who's simply had too much to drink. 

Both the homeless and the life of the party generally do it for the same reason; no available bathroom. I'd say there are exceptions, but anyone who's been to a rock concert knows that being a gross pig about human waste isn't uniquely a homeless thing.

Homeless are often cut some slack until things go too far, as society is actually tolerant about transients (in many cases) but attitudes ultimately become conflicted, swinging back and forth between compassion and anger.

This pendulum swing is what many new homeless confront. In areas where there's frustration and fear over some homeless who've turned an area into an open sewer, that's a brush a newbie can be painted with...keep in mind that what the public is getting riled about is an incident that's in the news, not what might be the reality for the whole homeless population.

...what you see, and what you think you see...

A soup kitchen, for example, can be a helpful free meal, or it can be part of the trappings of a permanent lifestyle.

The difference in those outlooks define the roads a newbie can choose.

The public is both on target, and very wrong about the notion that many homeless people "choose that life."

A transient has many of the same choices in life as his presumed betters, and the negative images seen or applied by society often reflect different economic class mores and expectations.

We hear and read all the time about what the homeless are or aren't.

It's more interesting to look at the people who are defining us and creating all the various labels. In court, it's a line of inquiry that establishes or impeaches the credibility of the witness, accuser, or accused.

In other words, when some person makes a negative comment about the homeless; is it a truth, or does the statement reveal more about where the critic is coming from?

I'll talk about that in detail next week, and also relate what many homeless have said to me on the subject. You may be surprised to hear how penetrating and intelligent their insights are about society and their place in it.

The Ivy Corner: in which she provides compelling glimpses of life on the road.

Today's Topic: Honing the primordial hunting skills inherited from her fierce warrior dog ancestors in case we run out of pizza money...

Ivy seen here polishing her stalking and tracking skills. I've hidden a bag containing part of a MacDonalds cheeseburger, and she is to pick up the scent and run down the hapless prey. 

So far, she finds the bag about 30% of the time, though it's not always clear if the high failure rate is due to her goofing off knowing that she'll get the piece of cheeseburger anyway.