Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My two sonny boys

This picture was taken a few weeks ago. Brisbane was never to sure about Donovan, but on this day he knew better.

A Real Gone Cat is Gone

This might not seem like a music entry, but it will be by the end.

On Saturday night my cat Brisbane left his bowl of Fancy Feast almost full. That sent up a red flag because he lives for that stuff. We usually feed him around 5 p.m., and he starts meowling for it around 2:30. And doesn't let up.

He's been looking pretty scrawny and my wife said that he also threw up pretty bad earlier in the day. The next day he was hiding behind the couch so I decided that, as much as he absolutely despises going to the vet, and how much it breaks my heart to put him in the pet carrier, I had to do it. When he's had check-ups he usually has to have a tranquilzer to calm his nerves, and to ensure that he won't pee in the carrier. I skipped it this time given his condition.

A little background: I have no idea when Brisbane was born. He was a stray cat that used to chase our cat Ivy up a tree, in hopes of getting some action. One summer I began a courting process where I'd take food out to him. I dubbed him Sad Kitty because he looked forlorn and lonely. As much as a cat can be a bastard, he needs to eat. Eventually he became bold enough to jump through the hole in our screen door, come in and have something to eat and then curl up on the floor for a nap. For the first time in my life, I had a pet.

That was 1995.

Ivy passed on in 2003. The next year we got Nina, who liked him a lot more than Ivy ever did. (Ivy tolerated him, but just barely.) Then after a bout with kitty lymphoma, Nina crawled under the basement steps last year and went to sleep.

During one vet visit a year after he was adopted, the doctor took a guess at Brisbane's age. He put it around four or five, judging from the wear on his teeth. This would put him at 17 or 18 in 2009. He hasn't been to the vet since 2003 when he got his teeth cleaned and his canines broke due to age. He's been an indoor cat and he's lived the life he wanted, so I don't feel too guilty about that.

When I took him to the vet on Sunday, I expected to here one of two things: "Yeah, he's pretty broken down, so this might be the end of the line for him," or "He just has __________ and that can probably be treated with a dose of _______."

Instead they wanted to draw blood to see how it looked. Then they wanted to take x-rays. Since they weren't conclusive, they wanted to keep him overnight and do a ultrasound in the morning to get a better idea. That didn't lead to anything conclusive, so they talked about keeping him a few more days and........ and......... and..........[insert sound of a cash register here]

It took a phone call and some time to come to my senses to realize: he's 18 years old. He despises the vet. I'm not with him. He can't take it and I can't take it either. I've been gearing up for this awful moment for a while now. It's time for him to go to sleep.

On Monday night, I fussed over him a little and let him walk around the room. They trimmed his claws, something he never let me do and something I never had to guts to force on him. Maybe his paws felt better. He was shaved underneath and looked scraggly but his head looked sharp as always. I held him as he drifted off. For the first time ever he seemed cool with medical treatment.

He must've known I love when you go out with a joke: After he was asleep, I noticed his tongue was sticking out a little bit. That not sick, you see, because Jennie and I always loved when kitties forget to put their tongue back in after grooming, so I got a final laugh from Brisbane. I'm sad but I'm okay.

In 1997, my band Mystery Date did a song called "Tryst" and the second verse was all about Brisbane:

Never knew where you next meal was coming from
You had to be sure to eat every crumb
On the back porch rolling in the dirt
When I got close to you I could see the hurt
In your eyes

I picked you up and took you inside
You regained some of your pride
In your coat
Then we built up a level of trust
But every once in a while your crust
shows through

Now you've got me wrapped around your paw
Empathy is my fatal flaw
Someday I will learn to say no
To you

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The power of educational television

40 years ago today, Sesame Street debuted, armed with the crazy notion that television could educate kids. All those years ago who'd'a thunk that it was more than just a wild idea and would go on to have words like "institution" attached to it.

I've always felt that a lot of the significant education we get doesn't come when we're sitting at the desk listening to teachers. It comes from the in-between stuff: the revelations you have while reading books; conversations with fellow students, who offer a greater perspective on how people comprehend different things; off-the-cuff advice from teachers or instructors. In other words, when you don't think you're learning that is often when you can pick up more things.

So one weekday morning in 1971, I sat down to watch Sesame Street and the show opened with a blind keyboard player singing through something that made his voice all garbled:

1-2-3 Sesame Streeeeeeeeeet
A-B-C Sesame Streeeeeeeet

He did the numbers and letters and his three back-up singers did the other part.

For years I wondered if I was just piecing this together in my mind or if Stevie Wonder really did sing that song. A few years ago, my thoughts were confirmed with the Sesame Street box set Songs from the Street came out. Stevie did sing that song and he was on the first disc. And it was exactly how I remembered it.

Then a few months ago I was routing around youtube and found this:
Go ahead - look at it. Now. It's 6:47, just so you know.

Now you don't put something that heavy, that badass on a kids tv show without realizing that it's going to leave an impression on them. First of all, that song is one of the bad-assest songs ever written - with that killer clavinet riff and the funky bassline/countermelody. But kids aren't going to know what a clavinet is. They're just going to get caught up in the beat and Stevie's head bob. Because he's into it. All those guys look cool, even the pudgy trumpet player and the geeky bass player.

And its effect might not be one where it changes lives. It just makes you think - about music and about race and how everything seems really cool. I completely forgot about the clip, to be honest, until I stumbled across it. Suddenly it all came back to me and I remembered it and it made me wonder if it's been with me, in the back of my head for all these years.
The arrangement is great. Note that he changes the line in the second verse to reference Sesame Street, and also gives a shout-out to Cookie Monster before the break in the middle. (There's also some screaming off mike early in the song.) Then just when you think they're done, after playing that killer closing riff, he makes the band go back into the main vamp again. And dig those Fender stacks - right on Sesame Street.
So as the show marks the big 4-0 I want to thank everyone involved for what they've done to make me the way I am. Which is a lot. (I didn't even go into the vaudeville aspect of most of the skits!)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Here I Go Again

I've spent the last week to 10 days up to my ears in CDs that I have to review for either Blurt or JazzTimes so the blog has been neglected. At this point, Blurt two reviews from me with another finished one that will be sent soon, and one more to write. Then I have five jazz discs to cover. Check out the Blurt site to see if my reviews of Karl Blau (great solo artist on K) or the new Echo & the Bunnymen are up yet.

Yeah, that's right - Echo and the Bunnymen. I feel like I've spent the last few months giving updates on veteran bands that are still at it, or who have reunited: Mission of Burma, Echo and now, just this morning, I finally finished a review of the new album by My Dad Is Dead. I'm not going to offer any details here (keep checking the webzine!) but I will tell you it's good. Now I get to write about Danielle Howle, who I love. Or is it "whom I love"?

Yesterday was my first day off from work after nine straight days. It would've been a good day to write, but I was hanging out with the kid. Writing was limited to naptime. Oh well. Gotta go.