Scenes From a Jeep

Scenes From a Jeep

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rock is Dead or Alive

Here's a scene outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Whenever I visit Cleveland, I make it a point to visit the hall and see what's new, or more accurately, what's old in rock music. I always enjoy the trip since it makes me think more deeply about something that wasn't intended to be thought about too deeply. It raises questions like, “just what is rock and roll?” and “how's it doing these days”? 
Rock and roll supposedly comes out of the depths of teenage frustration and confusion. Every generation creates its own version that only they understand, and that their parents can't stand to listen to. Maybe that's a good working definition for rock and roll – “music I like that drives my parents nuts”. I think a generation should conspire to really freak out their parents and get into something unexpected like polka or pan-flute (no offense to polka and pan-flute fans). But they almost always create or pick up on something new. And usually when they become adults, they package up their own unique rock collection, give it a sub-genre name, and carry it with them for the rest of their lives until it eventually gets called “oldies” or “classic”. 
I think that because the music originates with frustration and confusion, it is appropriate that rock itself can appear a bit frustrated and confused. For instance, Neil Young sang that “rock and roll will never die”. The Who, on the other hand, sang that “rock is dead”. Which is it then? It's probably both. The old rock dies and makes room for the new stuff that a kid's rock and roller parents can't stand to listen to. 
Even the rockers themselves are sometimes confused over their existence. Remember how The Who sang “I hope I die before I get old.” Today, Roger and Keith may have changed their minds on that one. I'm sure they are just as happy to still be kicking it on stage in their 60s than to have fulfilled their musical death wish. Paul McCartney was dead once. Some say he still is and was actually replaced by a new Paul that's been doing the job for all these years. I watched two family members argue this one for hours. For a good time, go ahead and search “Paul McCartney death conspiracy”. Whoever he is, the current Paul is still in the running for longest-surviving Beatle. Rock and roll lives.
I'm sure you're already thinking that my own song and artist references are dating me and my rock generation. You would be almost correct. I actually claim to have been born late for the party I was supposed to attend. I gravitated to the music from about ten to fifteen years before my time. I think that may have something to do with seeing parents or older siblings connecting with their music. That seems to be happening more often now as father, son, and sometimes grandfather come together at a Bruce Springsteen or Rolling Stones concert. I guess that makes a case for rock never dying. But again we have a rock conflict... if you and your dad like the same rock music, is it still, according to our definition, rightly called rock and roll? I'm confused and a bit frustrated by the question, and that alone may make it OK to call it rock. And even though father and son attend the concert together, there is sure to be music in each one's iPod that totally disgusts the other.
After something like rock and roll has been around long enough, and has a following that spans several generations, it's bound to get a museum or hall of fame. So not surprisingly, rock and roll has a beautiful hall of fame and museum in downtown Cleveland. But here is another irony... the very thing created as a means to stick it to the man, now has, or in some way is, its own man. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a foundation to support its operation and a nominating committee that votes in new inductees every year. The idea is that a person or group that is rebel-enough with their anti-establishment rock music can be considered for induction into the hall's time-honored institution. As a bonus, if the artist works hard to insure that they don't “die before they get old”, they can attend the ceremony, give a speech, and perform for all the distinguished guests – maybe even dress up nice and wear a tuxedo for the event.  
The hall of fame has its own rebels though. Some artists like the Sex Pistols and Axl Rose refuse to have anything to do with it. Is this confusing? Well it should be, “it's rock and roll man”. It's only fitting that rock lives on with a museum and hall of fame that, on one hand keeps the memory of its past alive, while on the other hand gives some of the old rockers something to rebel against. It's all good then.  
In my opinion though, the poster child for the whole rock thing is one of its founding members, Bob Dylan. Do I like everything good old Bob did? No, but that's the point. When too many people liked what Bob did, Bob rebelled, stopped doing it, and did something else. Whenever he was labeled, he'd rip the name tag right off his jacket. “You're the voice of our generation, Bob!”, they would scream. “I don't think so!”, he'd reply. 
Bob started by rebelling each year in the 1960s with the good people at the Newport Folk Festival. When that got “too heavy” and people wanted him to lead their causes with his guitar, he jumped ship and went electric, lost some fans and then got some new ones. When those fans expected to hear their favorite songs in the familiar way, he'd play them differently or not play them at all. Being in his band could best be described as a game of “what's Bob gonna do next?”. Check him out in Martin Scorsese's rock-umentary The Last Waltz, and watch The Band struggle to keep up with him as they try to guess what song he'll launch into next, and when they think he'll end the song he's playing. No matter what he was doing, it came with a side order of confusion and frustration – rock and roll at its best.
So next time you're in Cleveland be sure to visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's the one museum where you're not supposed to think too deeply about it. Take in the confusion and let yourself feel a little frustrated. But be sure not to let your rebel side get out of control and start throwing things. After all, the building is made of glass.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Random Act of Fashion

This scene is a reminder to always expect the unexpected in New York City. It started as a typical traffic-packed cruise up the Bowery one evening as we looked for a good dinner spot. But we got so much more – a free fashion show, and a reminder to always have your camera ready in the city that never sleeps.
I always thought that was a fun expression... “the city that never sleeps”. It sounds so exciting in a Sinatra song – No sleep! All fun, all the time! Woo! The reality, though, is that if you live here for any length of time, you'll be wishing someone would at least put the town down for a good nap once in a while. That way you could get a little break. It might also keep the city from getting too tired and cranky. But no, the city truly never sleeps.
I can't always prove that true, because I try to get some sleep here myself every night. So I don't always stay awake to see what the city is up to. But most mornings, if you look for it, you can usually find some evidence that somebody was up all night, you know, doing it Sinatra-style. Here's a case in point... One Sunday morning we were driving through Manhattan before most people were up and about. There were a few one-offs walking around as usual at that time, looking like they were still in their Saturday night clubin' clothes. Now I have heard about the “walk of shame” - I had a friend explain it to me once. But what I saw that morning took it not only to the next level, but a level no one should ever let happen to them.
Walking up sixth avenue was a nice young fellow in a ski jacket that sat just below waist-high. It was early winter, so the ski jacket seemed a smart enough choice. Along with that he had a sturdy pair of hiking boots, you know, in case we got snow. The nearer we got, though, the more we realized something was wrong. We couldn't figure out where his pants were. I think he was having a similar problem. We gave him the benefit of the doubt and told each other that he probably had on some really short shorts under that jacket. It was probably one of those new fashion movements we hadn't yet read about in The Times. But as we drove by, all doubt was removed, much like his pants. The funniest part for me, though, was that he didn't seem to be the least bit concerned. His confident stride was telling the world, “Yeah, I meant to do that! Ask me where my pants are. You won't believe it!”
Sadly, I doubt I could ever share such bravado. If I found myself sans pants on the streets of Manhattan on a crisp Sunday morning, I imagine myself doing all in my power to cover up around the equator. Even with my very limited fashion skills, I could have done something more creative with that ski jacket to somehow convert it to a lovely cover-all. Let's hope I never have to put that theory to the test.
Looking back, I shouldn't have been so surprised really. Random acts of fashion happen all the time in New York. It's an expected thing, almost required. With so many New Yorkers constantly blazing new fashion trails, you can't help but see it everywhere you go. Take a walk in any direction and you'll bump into a fashion photo shoot like the one we saw here on the Bowery median strip. With all the photo shoots I've stumbled upon, I'd like to think I picked up a few fashion tips along the way.
For example, always stage your photo shoot in an unusual place, like the middle of the street, an abandoned warehouse, or a pile of construction debris. I think the trick is to try to make yourself the best-looking thing around. If you present yourself tuxedo-clad standing in front of a burned-out building or in a crowded fish market, your rugged good looks are bound to stand out.
Another lesson is to look hungry. Real fashion models look like they're about to pass out from poor nutrition. Sometimes I worry about them. I've even considered starting a charity mission and naming it something like “New York Food for Fashion”. I could drive around New York, and when I find some models at a photo shoot, I could offer them a sandwich, or a handful of nuts and an energy drink. Nothing too fancy of course, but just something to get them through the rigors of the shoot.
Finally, I think the greatest fashion lesson I learned from what I've seen is something any of us could do when we're feeling a little plain and drab. Here's what you do... Put on a tuxedo or your sharpest suit and tell your girl to get on her flashiest red dress. Go out and buy her one if she's running low – I'll almost guarantee she's running low on pretty red dresses. Go ahead, ask her. Then tell her you're going out some place special. Hail a cab and head up the Bowery or any other local street in your area with a good quality median strip. If the curb is busted up or the grass is overgrown, all the better. Remember that your goal is to out-shine your surroundings. Have your photographer friend meet you there with his camera and tell him to bring the big over-sized lens to make the whole thing look legit to those driving by.
Now hop out onto the median and strike your best pose. Really ham it up and get some good shots. After all, it's your fashion photo shoot! Dance, jump, twirl around, the whole nine yards. Give it the serious look, the playful look, and the “I'm too beautiful to look into the camera” look. And when you're done, simply get back in the cab and go straight home for some flax crackers and a mineral water. When your girl asks about the restaurant, just remind her that real fashion models don't eat dinner. For extra credit, stay up the rest of the night. Then take an early morning stroll, with photographer, in your fabulous evening wear. Rest assured, you'll never forget the feeling you created with your random act of fashion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cow Pasture Pass

Here we're taking the Jeep through one of our favorite cow pastures. Upon closer inspection, though, we see these are not cows, but some beefy bulls. All the better then to be inside the Jeep rather than outside. These are some big boys. Having lived for a few years on a farm, I learned just few things about the bovine – some things to do, some things not to do, and some useful terminology.
One of the first things I observed was that compared to the cows, the pigs were much less, well... piggish. The pig pens actually had a clean side and a dirty side. Without any obvious training that I was aware of, the pigs tended to keep their hay-filled sleeping end of the pen relatively clean, while dutifully heading to the other side to dispatch their barnyard business. This would have been very valuable knowledge to have as a child. When mom would complain that my room was a pig pen, I could have countered that no, it is not, since a pig pen is only half filthy, while my room is fully 100% a disaster. I could then point out that it would have been more accurate to describe my room as a cow pen. Proud of my wisdom and quick wit, I then would have swiftly ducked to avoid the stinging blow of mom's wooden spoon. Covered in tomato sauce from stirring the pot, the spoon's resulting splatter only served to make the room cleanup all the more difficult. But enough of that, back to the cows...
Unlike the pigs, the cows drop their loads pretty much anywhere they stand. After adding some liquid, they complete the recipe by slowly mixing with the steps of their cloven hoofs to make what I heard the farm hands call “gravy”. “Watch out for that gravy!” they would yell. And, “Hey there! Grab that shovel and scoop that gravy!”. Let me tell you, there was a lot of gravy. Calling it gravy stuck in my mind for a good while. The similarity in appearance between barnyard gravy and dinner table gravy is staggering. I had a few dry roast beef dinners before the memory faded enough to where I could again ask someone to “pass the gravy”. 
Also, from what I could tell, I don't think the cows are on to us yet. They don't seem to know what we're up to, you know, with the steaks and hamburgers and such. At least they're not letting on that they know. In general, I found them to be quite playful and curious with people. The young ones especially are like big dogs that want to be petted and chased around. I witnessed a few calves escape their pens and lead the farm hands in a game of “catch me if you can”. When they were finally caught, the disappointed look on their faces wasn't all too different from that of a third grader when recess was over. Even the adults showed an occasional playful curiosity. Here's an example...
One afternoon, I was heading to a favorite fishing spot and the quickest way to get there was to cut through a cow pasture close to the one in this picture. Usually the pasture is empty, or the cows are clear on the other side, or out about town somewhere. This particular day was no different. As I hopped the fence to cut through, I saw a herd off in the distance. I passed by, minding my own business, and they seemed to be minding theirs. 
After a few hours of harassing the local bass population, it was time to head back. I climbed back over the fence, and passed through the wooded section into the open field. Suddenly, I was startled by a noticeable change in the strategic positions of everyone involved. The herd had moved! There I was, staring at about ten to fifteen Holstein heifers who were all curiously staring right back at me. 
Not wanting to go back and walk the long way around, and having seen my farmer friends work closely with these animals every day, I thought I would just walk on through the herd to the other side and try hard to look like I knew what I was doing. Taking a deep breath, I began my slow march. Each cow's eyes were fixed on me, turning their heads slowly to follow me as I passed. As I got through the herd and kept walking with my back to them, I heard something that almost caused me to make my own instant gravy – hoof steps! I stopped and looked around. Immediately they stopped, some staring right at me, while others quickly looked away as if to play it cool, like “No big deal. We're not following you or anything like that.”
I started walking again and at once heard the hoof steps pick up again behind me. When I stopped, they stopped. When I sped up, they sped up. When I slowed, they slowed. At that one moment, I wondered if it was possible that they weren't being playful and curious after all, but rather were on to us meat lovers and saw this as an opportunity to score one for the team when nobody was looking. It's funny how a lone thought like that can take over and single-handedly decide your next move.
You guessed it... I started running for the fence. And as expected, so did the cows. I still didn't know what they had in mind, but with a dozen thousand-pound, suede-wearing freight trains on my tail I figured I wouldn't stop to ask. With a few yards to go before the fence, I threw my rod and tackle box across the rail before taking the jump, in what, to this day, must be my most athletic moment ever. No sooner did I land on the other side that I saw the whole bunch of them crash into the fence, and each other, in an attempt to make a sudden stop rather than try to make the jump themselves. Dazed and shaken, we all took a moment to gather ourselves and get up off the ground. I picked up my fishing gear and took one last look at them and they at me, as if we were all trying to figure out what had just happened. 
The rest of the walk home was uneventful, and I was never so thankful for the part that had just a plain old sidewalk for people. To this day I still don't know if the cows were wanting to play or trample, but I do know one thing for sure... I was thereafter resolved to have a little more protection, perhaps inside a Jeep, the next time I passed through a crowded cow pasture. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Back to the Future

In this scene we stumbled upon a well-preserved DeLorean DMC-12. “Great Scott! 1.21 Jigawatts!” - sorry I couldn't resist. In 2012 there's only an estimated 6,500 of these still in existence. So this is a rare site on the street. This one was making a brief stop at the local repair garage. Seeing a DeLorean makes most of us children of the 1980s think of two things... the failed DeLorean Motor Company and the 80s movie Back to the Future. In 1985, the car company was already bankrupt and the movie was making campy predictions of what the future might look like in 2015. Today in 2012, we're only 3 years shy of the real 2015. Oddly, neither the car company nor the movie's future vision turned out as expected.
First, how are we doing when compared to Back to the Future's vision of 2015? At the end of the first movie, the DeLorean had benefited from a trip to the future (our present) with a new hover unit and a Mr. Fusion reactor that turned banana peels and old beer into nuclear fuel. Wouldn't that be so awesome right now? However, if this were to happen, I'd think we would still see banana peels and old beer costing $5 per gallon. I think beer already costs more than that. The high prices would have something to do with Iran trying to refine their own beer to build a keg, or possibly investor speculation in the food garbage market. So no Mr. Fusion for us. Even in the movie's sequels it was revealed that Mr. Fusion only ran the time circuits and that the car still needed gasoline. So much for that. 
We also didn't get the hover technology. Maybe that was for the better. Hover cars sound like a great idea until you take the weekend course in creative driving on the streets of New York City. Here in New York, lane markers, street signs, and traffic signals are merely suggestions and not meant to stifle the creative driving flow of those zipping around you and cutting you off. If you're going to play this game it's better to limit yourself to two dimensions. Adding a third dimension to this adventure with hover technology should not be part of anyone's grand view of the future.
Ok, so how about the bankrupt DeLorean Motor Company? Thirty years after it went out of business a funny thing happened. There's now a new DeLorean Motor Company based in Texas. They've been dealing in used DeLoreans, parts, and restorations. And get this... they are advertising that soon you could buy a newly built DeLorean like the one from the 1980s! Go figure - even here the future is not what we would have expected.

So when I saw this DeLorean, how was I to know where or when it came from? Did it zip here from the past using the flux capacitor time circuits? Or maybe it's one of those newly-built DeLoreans from the not-so-distant future making a little appearance now to whet our appetites. No, it was neither of those. It proudly displayed its New York historical license plates. The New York DMV doesn't mess around. There has to be a clear paper trail for any such vehicle before it's awarded the historical tags. No, that DeLorean got here from the 1980s the same way I did... 30 years of hard time dodging taxis and keeping oneself fit and road worthy.