I can’t dance worth shit.
Me, on the dance floor, is like some other writer once described — I think they may have been painting a word picture of — David Byrne of Talking Heads: like a spilled container of Tinkertoy parts randomly tumbling out onto the ground. Or maybe I’m more like a box of plastic army men thrown my a tantruming kid, or a walnut being batted about the kitchen floor by two cats. Basically, I’m a fucking disaster.
Ever since I was in junior high, and my spasmodically swinging arm came around and hit poor Lisa Hunefield, may she now rest in peace, in the mouth, I’ve been a monumental embarrassment to myself and anyone near me. So even though I secretly used to groove to Soul Train and other dance shows on Saturday morning, imagining myself in iridescent souladelic threads and loose shoes, hip-popping and grinding on the floor to the thumping hot funk grooves, then dancing all close like melted butter to the sweet soul jams, the real-time animation of my gawky frame was somewhat more problematic.
So, in high school, I became much more adept at rolling numbers and chin-stroking out to Jerry Garcia guitar solos with my pals, or getting drunk off my ass and falling down to the Allman Brothers Band’s feral shuffles, than I was at working up a repertoire of effective dance moves.
Then, in early adulthood, the whole disco thing hit, and I was a long-haired record store clerk for part of that time. The subtext in Stockton where I grew up was that straight white dudes were rockers, and disco and dance music were the bailiwick of gays and a mix of blacks, Hispanics and various Asians — Filipinos, Chinese and Japanese, primarily, because that was before the various Indochinese ethnicities and Punjabi Sikhs had assimilated, although there were a bunch of Persian and Arab college students who were already big into disco. You kinda had to pick sides, or at least if you were a white funkateer or soul aficionado or, god forbid, a disco freak, you would catch major shit from stoner white trash and Okie fucksticks.
But the biggest problem with the disco subculture, for me, was the dress code. I couldn’t goddamn manage to get my guido on to get past the doormen, and if I did, I often got a bit too fucked up to dance. It wasn’t until I got a job tending bar at a Reuben’s Plankhouse and had to wear a monkey-shit brown Angel’s Flight vest and slacks with a white shirt — and with a turd-brown bowtie, too — that I spent real time inside any kind of dance club. By that time I was hanging with my punk-rock pals, getting fucked up to Flipper and Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, and work was pouring drinks to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and I was afraid to start boning my way around the waitress pool because my fellow bartender Mike had this seven-months pregnant dolly who he’d knocked up in a night of post-disco abandon holding court on a barstool every night, making sure he didn’t get any more bang on. Sure scared me enough to chill my tumescent Wilbur Post, and I think I had a girlfriend at the time, too, who was keeping me too satisfied to stray.
Then I went back to work in record stores and soon fell into writing about music and getting too drunk to dance. The alcoholic rock critic was a caricature I embraced with full relish. Others shook it on the floor, and I stayed in the bar with the serious music fans.
So here’s the deal: Today I may be a six-foot-whatever guy who’s in his 50s, but lately I’ve discovered I like to dance, again, the way I liked to before my catastrophic accident in junior high made me forever self-conscious. And now I’m so old and poor and crinkly around the edges that 1) I don’t give a fuck, and 2) I don’t think anybody else cares, either, and if they want to laugh at the old guy shuffling his way through some half-baked Art Carney ramble to Sly & the Family Stone jams, or even electro beats and shit, they can do that. It is not to worry.
And besides, I’m too goddamn old to be picking up on any women, or even embarrass myself by thinking I can do that, and these days I look like such a goddamn hobo anyway that the probability of me getting all babe-magnetic is kinda up there with a San Francisco Giants-Baltimore Orioles World Series. (Of course, that could happen, and, in actuality, perhaps there is more of a chance that I’ll transform into an incandescently suave and intelligent man of irresistible allure and luminous charm than there is of an orange-and-black Series happening. Slightly.)
But large parts of my life are not working right now. And rather than do the same shit every day, expecting different results, I’m trying to do things differently, to be more social and open and fun. And after going to my friend Jeff’s New Year’s party and dancing up a good time, I’ve decided, well, fuck it. So tonight, I went down (literally) to the Press Club and spent some time on the floor sliding around to the shit DJs Larry Rodriguez and Hailey aka MOM were laying down. Yeah, hipsters, that was me in the fishing hat, doing the spilled-Tinkertoy spazz to Rodger Collins’ “Foxy Girls in Oakland” and all the other cool sides that got played. No, I can’t dance for shit, but it really felt good to move my body, and maybe I can start carrying some of that momentum and mojo into my daily life.
Next up is to make my writing fun again, so people like you and you and you will enjoy reading it. My grand master plan is to keep writing about all the stupid mundane shit I’m doing until I get disciplined to do this once again for money, and I get good enough that editors start offering me money to write. A day job wouldn’t be a bad idea, either, if any of you are hiring.
But already I’ve rediscovered my love for flinging a bunch of words onto a page, and that seems to be carrying over into a lust for life that hasn’t been there for a while. I’ve got a whole bunch of ideas — more ideas than I’ve had in a long while. I’m writing songs and playing music (and if you want to hear what that sounds like, then fucking show up at Luna’s this Friday night at 8 p.m.), and I’ve even caught myself wishing I had a space to go all Kevin Seconds and Kepi and start painting like I used to do when I was a teenager and my family all thought I’d grow up to be some kind of visual artist.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got wood, and it feels good. Do I sound like a mook for saying that? —Jackson Griffith
“I am going to continue to walk that dog.”
Occasionally, we get to hear choice little kernels of wisdom, and this one came from a formerly homeless guy named James, outside of a meeting I like to attend on Sunday mornings. I try not to make a big deal about these meetings at a public level, because the overarching group of which this particular morning meeting is connected to likes to make a pretty big deal about maintaining anonymity. It’s even in one of the overarching group’s traditions, which number a dozen or so. And so I won’t tell you the name of the overarching group, but most of you can figure it out, and if you’re having trouble, it can be found, as talk-show host Craig Ferguson once put it in a monologue, toward the front of the phone book.
I like to go to this particular meeting, because it’s less orthodox than others; it’s kind of the hippie druid pantheistic meeting in town. Some meetings affiliated with the above-mentioned overarching group can get a little bit god-squady, as in people talking about how you need to find God and find Him now, and the God they’re talking about can only be found in the Bible, and in some meetings, people are even what I call “rocking the J-man,” which means they talk a lot about how accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is absolutely essential to not only their making progress on the path of recovery, but in your making progress on the path, too.
Now, I happen to think that God, or god, or g*d, or great spirit or goddess or Grandfather or loving cosmos or Cthulhu or Flying Spaghetti Monster or billions of dancing nature sprites doing the zampoughi to Cannibal & the Headhunters’ version of “Land of 1,000 Dances” or even nothing at all, is a personal matter. And when I began to come around the meetings of the above-mentioned overarching group, I was pretty freaked out about having to submit to some pentecostal-style altar call in order to keep coming around. I have nothing against other people doing that sort of thing, but if those were going to be the terms of me putting down the bottle and the bong, I’d have to white-knuckle it.
Fortunately, I found that there were other people who had the same aversion to mainstream evangelical Christianity as I did, and they managed to stay not only what we like to call “clean and sober” over time, but they were able to embrace the dozen sequential components, or steps, in the process outlined by the founders of the above-mentioned overarching group, and work them without placing themselves under the yoke of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson or the Pope, and they didn’t have to register as members of the Republican Party, either.
So this little group I mention meets in a converted school in Sacramento’s Elmhurst neighborhood every Sunday morning at 11, and I just have to give thanks for it being there, and for the people who have kept it going over the years. It begins, like other meetings of the above-mentioned overarching group do pretty much everywhere, with a reading entitled “How It Works,” but there are places in the course of the reading where people in the room balk like chickens or hum like angels, a touch of irreverence that I always found endearing and refreshing. The meeting closes with a portion of “The Charge of the Goddess,” which is a shade different from the more commonplace Lord’s Prayer you hear recited — a prayer whose use can offend those of us who don’t profess Christianity — or the more ecumenical Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr.
In between, the meeting features people getting up and talking, usually around a theme established by the meeting’s chairperson via a reading from a text, about what’s going on — what’s really going on — in their lives, with often brutal honesty and self-reflection. This is something that I find especially helpful, because it’s all too easy to forget that we’re not the only person who is forced to navigate patches of difficulty in day-to-day living. I’m really not sure about you, but these days I like to experience connection to a community, rather than feel like I’m adrift on my own little desert island, watching ships pass in the distance with no awareness of me.
And sometimes — or, strike that, oftentimes — the conversations afterward are the best part. What I think James was trying to say was that he’s going to continue to walk the talk. Somehow, dunno about you, I find the metaphor of continuing to walk that dog slightly cooler.
And so: I am going to continue to walk that dog, too. —Jackson Griffith
So a couple of days ago I was sitting inside the Naked Lounge at 11th and H, the one inside the old TraveLodge, listening to Kevin Seconds on the evening of this first day of 2010. It’s a nice little space, fabricated with designer-tweezed details to make it appear to be a funky performance venue, with a quarter-octagon stage in a corner and deep terra cotta coloring and ersatz exposed brick and a few abstract nudes on the walls and funky plastic Jetsonesque portachairs packed in tightly around round plywood cocktail tables anchored to the floor on metal poles.
I’d planned to make it there in time to see David Houston, who was set to go on first, because maybe it’s good to start the new year by watching your friends play music. But then another local singer, Autumn Sky, had posted an item on my Facebook page two days prior, inviting me to join her and a few other people on a bill at Luna’s, one of my favorite places to perform in town. Of course I jumped at the chance, because I figure it’s almost always good to make music with new people, in front of audiences that may not be familiar with me or my music. And because Autumn’s been playing around town a lot in the past year, I figured she had all the details nailed down, and the stuff about Luna’s being shuttered for a holiday break until January 4 on the café’s website, I figured, was outdated information. A no-brainer, right?
Anyway, when I rolled up at around 7:45 that night on my bicycle with my guitar, the venue was locked up, and there were a bunch of people standing around outside on the sidewalk, including James Cundiff and Tyler Ragle, two musicians who also were invited to play. But the person who invited us, Autumn Sky, was nowhere to be seen.
We hung around long enough to make a couple of phone calls to Art Luna, the proprietor of Luna’s, who didn’t know anything about the gig. Autumn thought she had booked it three months ago, but hadn’t followed up with Art to firm up the date. Now, my experience with Art is that you have to follow up with him a couple of times and make sure you’re still good to play, because otherwise someone else might step in and grab the slot. A lot of club bookers are like that; if you don’t stay in communication with them, they assume that you’ve lost interest, while someone else hasn’t.
Now, it might be easy to assume that we’d been punked by Autumn, especially because she hadn’t bothered to show up that night. “I didn’t know anybody’s phone number,” which she told me once someone did get her on the phone, doesn’t quite work as an adequate excuse; it’s probably better to drive down to the venue beforehand and let everyone know, in person. And it takes a person of courage to step up, but that’s how it’s done.
But Autumn’s pretty young — younger than my daughter, in fact. And she did send a not of Facebook apologizing profusely for the mix-up. So no hard feelings, at least from me.
What’s nice is when you get those indicators served up by an occurrence in your day-to-day life that you’re not responding to events the way you might have at an earlier point in your evolution. For me, not jumping to any kind of conclusion and wanting to fix somebody’s wagon from the get-go is a place I’ve been for a while, but I really don’t think about it all that often until something like this happens. I guess that sitting every day for a half hour with my eyes closed, focusing my attention on the air moving in and out of my nostrils while observing what thoughts are arising, must be having some beneficial effects in the time I’m spending off the meditation cushion.
Oh, and sorry about missing a post yesterday. I had a family holiday event. I’ll post something else here later today.
Oh, and one more thing: If you’re interested at all in coming to see me play music, I’ll be at Luna’s this Friday, January 8. I go on first, at 8 p.m. or so. —Jackson Griffith