….the crack in your heart let the light turn black, hope all turn to gloom
What will load each empty chamber? Which caliber of doom?
Not sure what constitutes the family dinner table these days.
Perhaps you can get them all together in the same room for a meal, all gluten-free and vegan approved, doled out by Blue Apron or UberEats. We open the right app on a screen and are rewarded with nutrition, reduced to lab rats pushing the correct button after all.
Conversation is now replaced by the swipe and click of a half-dozen personal screens, each member of the tribe on a different episode of Stranger Things–ahem!
We were lucky enough to enjoy the last vestiges of the nightly hearth back in the 1970’s, modeled after the Bradys in their rancho deluxo tract home: Dad at one side of table, mom at the other and grandma, Obaasan, hovering over us all.
We all somehow had a sense that the end of innocence was coming very soon, but for a brief golden moment each weekday evening, we could relax with our family as a whole. Milk shooting out of nostrils upon punchline, curse words tested in front of the parents, inside jokes amongst brothers and sisters: living in a big family, this is the stuff you remember.
Now someone tips his chair backwards completely.
Mash potatoes splatter, undetectable upon the asbestos moonscape of the ceiling.
The Doctor would put down knife and fork and wipe his mouth. He’d look around the table, bewildered by the savages he can barely still recognize, and ask, “What’s so funny?”
The modern day campfire, that’s where you learn the personal history of your family. Dad’s earliest days on the frozen streets of Philly, Grandma coming over from Hawaii to cook food for Ojiisan’s shady Yakuza-adjacent cronies.
And of course around that table is where we first heard the stories of the Internment Camps of WWII.
Mom and her brothers being forced from home, bringing only what they could carry. Grandpa burying his precious ceremonial swords to keep the hovering Oakies from grabbing them as they would ransack the house-a home!– that would be vacant tomorrow.
They would live along the pungent paddocks of Santa Anita before being shipped away. Mom would tell of her adolescent years in a prison camp, the camp dances and boys, and it sounded almost quaint.
But I recall that inexpressible rage. It was history, but not in the History books.
That would come back to the surface when we first got into a recording studio for the track Manzanar.
The connection between inspiration and the memories absorbed by your DNA, well, it’s about the best you can hope for when you get to the lyrics. You hear those stories, that familial poetry often enough, and it becomes the very myth of your life.
A tale that has been left half written, awaiting you to come up with the ending.
We’d been working steadily on the songs the last month. We had a pretty good handle on which ones would be recorded, which ones we’d let go.
In the strange transatlantic process we were now comfortable with, we would track each session and Dropbox the batch over to producer Jay. He would peruse with his morning mug of Kaffee in Hanover as we slumbered through the Pacific Standard witching hours. He’d email his notes (Cheesy. Cut in half. The Producer will allow it-once!) and then we’d repeat the process.
Everyone had their own homework on the tasks that lay ahead. Kimm gets to work on guitar parts, Nick comes in with new beats each session, whittling the parts into songs. Anthony washes his DOA shirt in preparation for bass tracking day.
So now it was time for me start naming these new pets, baptizing some of the tracks with silly working titles, while others seemed to have the words jumping forth from the very subliminal code of their beat and key.
In the past I would have the songs complete, and report to recording Day One with notebooks of hilariously self important lyrics written down to the pompous semicolon.
Let the songs tell us what they wanna be called, wot?
Still, gotta stay ahead of things. You search your battered matter for inspiration, jot down a grip of song titles in the middle of the night that will appear absolutely stupid in the morning light.
I drive around aimlessly blasting the rehearsal tracks over Bluetooth, screaming inane phrases into a digital recorder, hoping something might stick.
We had that one strange off tempo song, all minor key and empty space. The stepping off point was of course London Calling, the rhythmic strike of guitar, the spare line of lead mirroring the Simononesque bass hook of the victim.
On the television, our new leader continued his frenzied hate rallies, as if he was unaware the election was over–and he won!
The chants of Build a Wall, of Put her in Jail!, well.
What we had here, apparently, was leadership built of bumper stickers.
The national discourse now reduced to slogans embroidered on red baseball caps.
Fuck you. No, Fuck you.
There is always that racist undercurrent to anything this guy says, and you get the sense that it is just a matter of time before he starts yelling Nigger! or Chink! to his frothing masses. I am reminded of the spark, the inner twinge of pain that brought forth Manzanar and how, sadly, that bitter ember is stoked again.
I am back at the dinner table, listening to those stories of injustice. Acts of hate disguised as patriotism.
Fighting words, hurled like buckets of feces from both sides of a wall that is threatened to grow ever larger.
And so we boil it down to its schoolyard essence, Put ‘Em Up.