Didn’t intend to have a crummy day, but that’s just how it worked out. Some days are like that. They pick up momentum, and there’s one little thing that happens that alters the trajectory toward the corner pocket courtesy of a random eight ball, or hurtling into the gutter, or whatever your metaphor du jour may be.
Me? Woke up late, even though I’d gone to bed early the night before. Got to work and all the parking places on the side of the building were taken, and I had to park up front, directly across from where one of the bosses was showing off his new 600+ h.p. muscle car. D’oh. But that was okay; where things went south was mid-morning, when I breathed in and suddenly noticed a stabbing pain in my lung, and then pretty much felt like a compost heap for the rest of the day.
I try to dissect the particulars of whatever is coming up as the day goes along, because I know that it’s possible to turn a day around at any point if you set your mind to it. But my throat was mildly sore, and my temper was unusually short, and it became almost comical how really little things were pissing me off completely.
So then, a spot check using an acronym: Hungry? No; ate taco truck tacos just before noon. Angry? Yeah, more than mildly butthurt that my horizontal intimacies with women have slowed beyond a crawl to a complete halt since the demise of my marriage over five years ago, and rattled that I can’t find a fan base for my music while certain people seem to get booked once a week in this town and jizzed all over by the so-called music critics who took my place when I more or less got pushed out of the writing game by circumstances and opportunistic competitors. Lonely? Well, yeah. Who doesn’t want to love and give love in return? Probably my biggest saudade right now. Tired? Yep. Got home and slumbered for an hour and a half, and I’m still a bit janky.
So here I sit in a neighborhood cafe, looking at a very cute and nerdy couple on what appears to be their first date, discussing what they like and don’t like and what they want from a relationship. I feel like I’ve stumbled into one of those indie movies made by the son or daughter of somebody involved in the entertainment business, who’s got a leg up in the industry by virtue of the Lucky Sperm Club. The date appears to be going well. They like each other!
And now Nora Ephron is dead, and Dick Cheney still walks the earth. —Jackson Griffith
Another Saturday night and I ain’t got no- … Wait a second. I got myself. I’ve got a full belly, and I’m sitting in my fave little neighborhood coffee joint with a fresh caffeine concoction, laughing at the chubby Hispanic woman sitting at the counter with her back to me. She’s wearing a white wife-beater, and it keeps inching up, exposing two large, moon-like gluteus maximus globes that peek out over her low-riding black jeans. In between the moons, there’s a big ol’ buttcrack, which makes her look like the plumber character Dan Aykroyd played on Saturday Night Live decades ago. I wonder if she’s got a screwdriver in there? At any rate, I tried to snap a smartphone photo, but it didn’t work because I’m a crummy photographer.
I guess I shouldn’t make fun of her. She kinda flirted with me when I first got here. Must be that cleaned-up butch I got at the barbershop today, which might make me marginally more attractive. Or maybe it’s the pranksterish mood I’m in tonight, which is what happens when you wear a plaid flannel shirt over a striped undershirt and walk through the, um, ghey district, getting the tsk-tsk eye from multiple passersby. Or, maybe, hey, I dunno. I sorta let go of the idea of me being any kind of player with the ladies a long time ago, or at least a while back, and so today I’ve got the love life to match my Buddhist monk butch, and I guess that’s all right. Don’t ask me to wear a saffron-colored robe, though, because I’m too damned tall for that. Anyway, it’s Saturday night. Anything can happen.
I got up early this morning, as is my custom, and did my Double-A stuff that I do, which took me through noon or so. Went and got the haircut cleaned up, and then had plans to hit this picnic but, because I sleep kinda crummy in the summertime, being a wilty Scottish fellow who doesn’t do well in hotter climes, I fell into a mid-afternoon slumber to make up for those lost zzz’s. Actually, I started watching some old Dragnet episodes on the laptop, and next thing I knew I was zoned out for a couple of hours. Woke up, watched more Dragnet eps, sensed an unhealthy pattern might be developing, picked up the guitar and strummed out another troubadour-like love song to a woman I like to call Winky McFuckmepumps, and then got my act together and went out to eat.
Question: Why is it so many really attractive women are out on the town with totally douchey guys? This reality-show aesthetic has really messed it up for quirky gentlemen like me, because the standard seems to have shifted in favor of scummy dorks in porkpie hats and shit. I’mina halfta skeeze up my game to catch up with these shmoheims, because what I’m putting forth right now isn’t quite cutting it.
I wish I had a nice Gibson SG plugged into a Marshall stack waiting for me when I get home, because I feel like waking some neighbors with high-volume power chords. I’m in as much a mood to cause trouble as I get, which really isn’t much, maybe just a few more wisecracks as usual. I’m filled with great conversation, yet there’s a beautiful woman standing five feet from me talking to some assclown about shopping for paint for a house that he just bought. Which illustrates the old maxim, women care far more about security than they do about witty conversation. That shit goes back to Fred and Wilma Flintstone days.
Fuggit. I’m gonna kick it here for a bit, and go watch more Dragnet. —Jackson Griffith
Guess I missed out on the whole Sacramento lovefest a few weeks ago. There are things I love about this place, mainly Midtown, the American River Parkway and a bunch of places for cheap eats. And there are things I hate about myself. Sometimes, those two things go together like kiwi jelly and Marmite. I’m not so sure why I get so conflicted about this stuff. Most of me wants to be that warm and funny life of the party who shows up and lights up a room, or a backyard, or your life. Not the guy who cuts that trouser-burning brapper that clears the room.
Sometimes I have this most marvelous way of shooting myself in the foot. This isn’t a self-pity rant as much as it is the recognition that I habitually seem to fuck myself somehow, usually out of insecurity. See, I write and play songs, but I used to be kind of a music critic at the local level, and before that on the national level, and I got a little burned out on that over time, and I still make snarky statements about some local acts that come back to haunt me. Mostly it’s out of frustration; I’m still beating my head against the wall, trying to get my music out in front of people, and I’ve had a really difficult doing that in Sacramento. Part of that may be that I and my music “suck,” at least according to Sacramento standards, and part of it comes from the fact that some people just don’t like me because they feel I’ve treated them badly. (The reality is that sometimes I’m goddamn lucky to make it out of my apartment, and what people perceive as me giving them the stinkeye is really me flopping around the dock like a fish out of water, and any sullenness is just the proverbial storm clouds lurking around my head that I thrash in vain to dissipate.)
So tonight, I heard a story at an open mic from a local singer-songwriter, about how he’d tried to add me onto a bill at a local coffeehouse, but the booker told him, “Find some other guy. Anybody. But not that guy.” It turns out the booker is a member of a very popular local band. It isn’t that I don’t like his band; it’s just that I’m not over-the-moon multiorgasmic about them the way that a bunch of people in this town are, as much as I’ve tried, and when I’ve heard so many people gushing about the greatness of this band, I’ve wondered why I just can’t get onboard the Mondrian-patterned groovy love bus. So maybe that, coupled with my own frustration, caused me to say some stuff that I should have kept to myself. Like I said, I am an idiot much of the time, but I have to be an honest idiot, and I’m too old to fake enthusiasm for things that I’m just not feeling. So I don’t blame this guy for barring me from playing his club for mouthing off about his band. I really don’t.
To me, Sacramento is a funny place. I’m just woefully out of sync here for some reason. I know I write good songs, and when I play them elsewhere, like at the gig I played in Stockton last weekend, people respond. And I’ve had some really good shows at Luna’s (here on 16th Street, in Midtown, or Downtown, where I think I’ll be playing on Saturday, August 13.) But this place often goes nuts for stuff that leaves me scratching my head, and it ignores people I think should get a lot more support. It must be some residual toxin in the water that I’ve managed to avoid since I got here in 1984. Or maybe it’s just that my planets are in some kind of detriment in Sacramento according to astro-cartography. Or maybe it’s just that I’m an unrepentant and incorrigible asshole, but I’m the only one in the 916 who hasn’t figured that out.
But part of me really likes it here. I’ve got an anonymous life, and I could hole up in my apartment with a guitar and no one would be much the wiser. I love the feel of walking around Midtown, usually alone, and I’m on reasonably friendly terms with enough people here for me to feel somewhat at home. On top of that, the recovery community in Sacramento is like none other, and I’d really miss thse people if I left. But otherwise, this place has been pretty lonely, and I haven’t had the best luck with women here, or with making close friends in general for that matter.
Yeah, the grass is greener elsewhere. Maybe I should find out how green. Someday, I will. —Jackson Griffith
Just got down to the local coffee joint in time to see some monthly swingers’ group vacating the premises. Of course, I was hoping to get a gander of what kind of people do the naked pass-around circuit these days. Probably the same people, minus the mutton chops and the beehives and the leisure suits, and plus some tats and piercings. But, hell. I don’t know. Contempt prior to investigation and all that.
Not that I feel like investigating. I’m pretty square in that department, like some old-school goofball who keeps hoping to walk into his own personal Frank Capra movie and instead winds up stumbling into a celluloid hellhole written by David Mamet on a laudanum speedball bender and directed by an unholy collaboration between David Lynch, John Cassavetes and Luis Buñuel. So maybe putting on some smooth jazz and seguing into character as that oiled-up libertine who can quote Rilke in Barry White sotto voce to pretty real estate agents may be what’s what.
I’m just writing shit to make today’s post time, really. And now, must find dinner. Chow. —Jackson Griffith
Addendum: The people I saw from the swingers group coming off the patio were like, well, imagine those Dungeons & Dragons kids from the 1980s, all grown up now, with the excess pounds the years add, plus lots of random tats and pink hair. If they had group sex, I’m not sure I’d want to watch the porno tape they made, unless it was narrated by Sir David Attenborough or something. But at least they’re getting laid, unlike one blogger who comes to mind.
I never quite made it to the Sammies this year. Part of that is that, more and more, I feel alienated by the local music scene, but this has more to do with the contents of my own head, and my own longstanding frustrations, than it does with anything else. I’m glad that the Sacramento News & Review stages the Sammies each year. And I’m even happier that I don’t have to work them, like I used to have to do when I was employed there.
That said, I understand the reasoning behind the Sammies, which are what you do when you want to brand your publication as the place to go for information about local music, and you want to show your advertisers that you’ve got a young, hard-drinking readership that likes to go out and spend money. It’s business, good business. My problem with the Sammies stems from their participatory democracy aspect, which is beautiful in theory, but in reality it tends to manifest as everything I hated about high school, a horrifying popularity contest where the people who are rewarded again and again are the ones who do best at politicking all their friends and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and people who work at the local grocery store and people they randomly stop on the street or in coffeehouses or on their Facebook pages to vote for them as “best” whatever. I’m not saying that the whole thing is tainted that way, and more often than not, the right act wins, but there’s enough of that high school madness going on to make me look for other things to do on whatever day or night the Sammies are being held, because to stand and watch just bums me out too much.
Yeah, I know certain people might take this the wrong way, and I mean no malice. Besides, no one from the SN&R invited me to participate in any way this year, and the last time I wrote for the paper, or adapted something I’d already posted here, local photographer Jesse Vasquez and a guy I don’t know named Richard Stofle responded with this, which I didn’t even bother to read because Nick Miller told me upfront it was pretty scathing. Just not in the mood for that these days, I guess.
But lately I’ve also been thinking about a comment that Marty DeAnda, the Dig Music impresario and Jackie Greene’s manager, made in the comments section on local jazz magnet figure Ross Hammond’s Facebook page. Tonight I’m too lazy to look it up, but I think I can paraphrase it: Why do musicians think they need to leave town to find a measure of success, he mused, when they oughta stay here in Sacramento and make it big first with a local audience?
I think I can answer that. Sacramento is a weird place. Some talented people get a lot of love, and others can’t find anyone who gets their art. As a music journalist, I saw a lot of that, and it was hard to watch some brilliant but misunderstood person fade into the woodwork after getting repeated snubs from the powers that be — and I’m not talking about music scribes, who have very little pull, but the people who book the venues and can make a difference by putting people in front of audiences that might develop love for them. And as a somewhat reticent singer/songwriter, I experienced plenty of that phenomenon personally and up close.
What makes Sacramento a generally lousy environment for music, from my experience, is that, for some of us, there aren’t any places to play music. Instead, we get to watch certain acts get booked over and over and over, just because a particular booker or promoter has taken a special interest in them. (And I do know one person in particular who might read this and get offended because we’re friends, but I’m not talking about him because he doesn’t book old guys like me unless, y’know, they run his soundboard … well, I can’t exclude him totally, because he definitely plays his favorites, but I’m really referring more to the city in a larger context, and all the little cliques of musicians that I’m too goddamn clueless to be a part of.)
So, anyway, I’ve lost my affection for this place as a springboard for the arts. Not sure if it’s permanent, but for now I’m going to practice my songs and play them to four walls and maybe some select friends. I’m working on a project with some old pals from out of town who are interested in doing some of my stuff, and that’s pretty inspiring. But the local show thing? Probably not going to happen. Hell, when I do play, I’m such a chronically lousy self-promoter that I’m lucky if anybody shows up. And yeah, I could go to the Fox & Goose every Monday night, but sometimes you don’t get to play, and when you do, it’s three songs, and, well, I won’t say any more because I’ll get in trouble, what with people taking up slots to do half-baked cover versions (instead of half-baked originals, like me). And the Fox & Goose open mic is no way to get a booking in that place.
I did manage to get booked into the Naked Lounge a few months ago, which is booked by the same guy who books the Fox & Goose. He’d paired me with a local media superstar jack of all trades who happens to be a singer-songwriter. The other guy made a big deal of needing to go on first because he had some kind of big interview the next morning, so I acceded to his wishes, and then he didn’t show. Only a few other people had drifted in, and we waited for a half hour after the start time, and finally I began my set. Then Mr. Sacramento made the scene, slightly hammered. I cut my set short because I’d started late, and then he went on and played an epic, Grateful Dead-length set that went on for like two hours. It may have been the worst gig of my entire life, and I doubt I’ll be getting any more bookings from those guys. It was bad enough to kill what was left of my desire to play live music, and I think that may be the last time I played out.
I’d had one sparkling, incandescent gig right around then, maybe a week before, at the Sacramento Poetry Center of all places, as part of a music and poetry thing put on by Franklin W. Dixon Graham (kill me if I’m bollixing your name, Frank, but you probably won’t bother reading this and no one else will either so I guess it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things). If the Naked Lounge gig was the worst, this was the best, most fun gig I’ve ever played. And if I could plan another one like that, I would. That was one moment where I felt like people really were getting my music, or were appreciating what I’m trying to do as a songwriter.
See, you gotta have a champion. And the elephant in this room is that I had one once. This guy started showing up last winter when I was playing the Fox & Goose, and he’d be bummed if I’d already played, and if he was there to see me play, he was really encouraging. Yeah, he had opinions, and he wasn’t afraid to tell me when he thought I was off track or something wasn’t working or artistically I was full of shit. But generally his commentary was quite positive. Sometimes he’d ask me to play a song again in the side room so he could pick it apart. And he was really smart and he knew a lot about music, more than I do, and sometimes he and I and Sal Valentino would stand in the parking lot on R Street after the open mic and talk about music.
His name was Tommy Vanwormer, and he died suddenly last May. I miss the guy terribly, still, to this day, and playing music out in public just isn’t the same for me anymore. At least in Sacramento. So there’s my highly personalized answer for you, Marty. Some people are lucky to find champions, like Jackie Greene found in you. Others, well, we’re not so lucky, are we? Or we find them, and then they’re taken from us.
Every artist needs to find at least one champion who believes in his or her art. —Jackson Griffith
Ever just have to have a nail clipper? I got to that point this evening, and I needed a few other items, including something to hang Buddha and Elvis on the walls, so I walked the block from the new place to the Rite-Aid. I’d never been inside that Rite-Aid; the last time I’d been inside that building, it was a Lucky supermarket, or maybe an Albertson’s. And I remembered the walk, too, because when I walked out to the alley lot behind my new place, I could see my old window, on the back of the haunted Victorian where I was living in 1991 through 1993, the first apartment of two in that building where I lived, the one where I spent most of my time in a whiskey-induced stupor.
The walk to Rite-Aid made me recall a few impaired stumbles to Lucky, maybe “just for a little wine with dinner,” which would change to something harder once I hit the liquor department. Lots of those walks, really. I guess the reason I’m going on about this is that here it is 18 or 19 years later, and I’m back in my old neighborhood, albeit older and wiser with nearly two decades of continuous sobriety under my belt. Been through a lot, gained a lot of stuff, got married, got divorced, lost a lot of stuff, watched my daughter grow up and move away, took care of my mom until she died, flailed around like a fish out of water for a while, ate a whole bunch of what the French might call merde on a baguette, as in metaphorical sandwiches that a metaphorical coprophage might savor, and now here I am. If you would have told me that in my mid-50s I’d be living in a little 1970s apartment in my old hood, relatively broke, alone and happy as a clam, I’d have responded to you in jaunty fashion with those two little one-syllable English words that typically accompany a stiff middle finger.
But heck whiz and gosh darn, I’m probably too nice for that these days, or at least right now. Ask me later, and I may tell you where to go. Right now? Sitting two blocks and change from the pad, inside Weatherstone, typing and listening to music and looking at all the women who are too young for me; I guess I’m more attracted to women who have a few crow’s feet, not to mention a pathological aversion to plastic surgery and ersatz mammaries.
I’m kind of letting go of a lot of things these days, and alone is good. Yesterday, I was going into Peet’s on J for a big coffee before going to help a friend move, and I saw this woman sitting on the deck who looked kinda familiar because I really didn’t give her any kind of once-over. As I was leaving, she got up and said hi, and I realized it was, well, someone I’d been thoroughly enamored with for the year we were together and a lot of time after she gave me the bum’s rush from her life. What was weird was that my emotional response was so flat, like she could have been your sister, or the sister of the guy selling pizzas down the street, and not this beautiful woman I got all heartbroken over when she decided it was in her better interests not to spend the rest of her life with me. She was on her way to another yoga class — big surprise there. I guess I finally care as much about her as she’s cared about me for a really long time. But all is not completely lost; I guess I got a few pretty good songs out of the deal. So thank you, Lisa.
Lisa also brought me a thangka back from India a few years ago, when she went on a Buddhist pilgrimage. Tonight I hung it up on the wall my zafu faces, which sits on the zabuton she bought me, too. None of these things have had a home for a long time, and now they do. I have a nice bed, and I climb into it early, and then I can get up really early and sit on my zafu and get a meditation session in before prayers, shower, granola and, if time permits, a little guitar picking, before heading south toward the 209 and a job that I’m really grateful to have.
Oh, and the other thing I hung up tonight was my holy Elvis tapestry, which was defaced and sliced by my ex-wife in a fit of anger, but she had enough good sense not to destroy it. Which I’m also grateful for, because its margin is covered with signatures — Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Los Lobos, Chris Isaac, Mark Knopfler, Randy Newman, Richard Thompson, a bunch of others, plus some surprising ones I’d forgotten about — Dusty Baker, and Angelina Jolie’s father Jon Voight, who wandered into my office one evening when no one else was around, looking for an appointment across the street. There are some other names on there, too. Anyway, I pieced it together as best I could and hung it up in a place of honor.
So that’s my home sweet home, a very nice place to be right now. —Jackson Griffith