Monday, August 29, 2011

august in retrograde -- or irene, good night

i tried to stay home all month, like an urban hermit that's taken a vow of antipeople: just me, my guitar and my bright ideas. i have no idea why. something instinctively compelled me to close the door upon myself. in retrospect, it wasn't a bad notion -- not this august, anyway. it was oppressively hot, dangerously hot. so hot, it felt as though the sun pummeled me about the head and shoulders with a bright yellow sledgehammer whenever i went outside. running around at night was no fun, either. the heat was still on and on and on, muted yet insolent enough to sass me, with the kind of sweat that made my entire backside sticky mere minutes after i stepped into it.

navigating the city on the weekends was unthinkable. there's just too many drunken idiots out there, trying desperately to dress like they're in new york city and pushing hard to make sure they have some kind of new york city fun. it's exhausting, just being around them. in the end, they're the epitome of the generic and the average and the ordinary that they're attempting to escape. why? because there is no escaping who or what you really are. to paraphrase the great john lee hooker, it's in you -- whatever it is -- and it's gots to come out. especially if it's your culturally condoned incompetence.

as if all of that weren't enough -- and you know it is -- there's more: mercury was in retrograde for practically the entire month. it seems that everything is crawling out from under that introspective boulder right about now. not that i co-sign astrology but when i read it from my comfy bunker in harlem, it seemed to explain a lot. and yes -- if you're enough of a hippie enough to know what any of that means, you probably wanted to stay home and avoid the world, too.

yes, of course there's the stuff that's absolutely necessary. church. boxing. foraging for victuals at the dominican grocery store up the street. the rest was extra and although there were some things that couldn't be avoided -- a weekend getaway, perhaps or a get together with friends -- i zipped home as fast as my well-toned legs would carry me.

yet and still, i felt compelled to hibernate. this special month of record breaking heat waves, golf ball-sized hail and water main break flooding, topped off by a hurricane found me at home, growing things -- working on the libretto for the billie holiday project (it goes up in september at dixon place), practicing guitar, vocalizing with my slightly out of tune piano, making several submission deadlines for all kinds of stuff and writing more songs and lyrics.

hurricane irene turned out to be the icing on my summer cake.

i can't even tell you how many southern relatives called me, laughing at the yankees they saw on the news who were frolicking on the beach under such ominous skies, and ignoring warnings from the police and fire department. my aunt in charleston south carolina told me one supergenius somewhere on the jersey shore remarked that he lived on the second floor of his building, so he would be fine. hilarious!

for everyone in her neck of the woods, hurricane season is just starting. they've got another two months or so to live through -- bracing themselves the same way some yankees did: shopping for food, taping up windows, filling the tub with water, unplugging everything, burrowing themselves in shelters or leaving the state entirely, well into the month of november. they do it every year during hurricane season. it's a way of life.

how well i remember the many hurricanes of my southern childhood, when we would turn off all the lights and throw open all the windows and unplug everything and gather in the den and pray. even a summer storm could turn violent and deadly. all of us -- cousins and uncles and aunts and my grandparents -- huddled together in the darkness. we were so collectively solemn and profoundly unshaken for the most part, even when the lightning would streak across the sky and a powerful clap of thunder would follow, and shake the ground itself.

listen, my grandfather would say, after an especially loud jolt would rattle me all the way down to my little girl bones, and i would shudder involunarily. it was almost as though my body knew to be scared, even if i didn't. listen, he murmured softly, holding his pipe between his thumb and first finger, the ashes glowing in the darkness. he would lean forward and point at me and give me a knowing look. listen, he would say. God is talking.

apropos of nothing, i leave you with one of my favorite neil young songs, like a hurricane. what a beautiful love song.

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