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A little older, a little more confused


Thirty years ago I bought an album called Blast of Silence by the Golden Palominos. Not many people have heard of this band. They’re so obscure you can’t find lyrics to any of their songs online.

The group was founded by a drummer named Anton Fier, whom I’d never heard of, and I didn’t know any of the musicians featured on Blast of Silence: Sid Straw, Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrell, and T-Bone Burnett, to name a few. Fier often changed the band’s lineup. Other albums featured players unknown to me at the time, like Richard Thompson and Michael Stipe. I know who they are now.

Back in ’86, though, I knew one of them: Jack Bruce, best known as the bassist for Cream, although blues-rock was just one of his musical accomplishments. I knew Bruce had played with the Golden Palominos, and that’s why I bought the album.

Two songs in particular stand out: “(Something Else) is Working Harder,” which features Bruce on vocals; and “Work Was New,” sung by another musician I didn’t know (Peter Blegvad). The first of those songs is chilling. It’s about the never-ending struggle of good vs. evil, sung perhaps from the point of view of Jesus:
I am my father’s only son
His ambition drives me on

The singer, regardless of his persona, realizes his task is futile:
People work hard to keep a lid on their anger
To see that justice will prevail
To no avail
Their efforts fail
Something else is working harder

“Work Was New” is a vein from the same mine of despair (here’s a video of the band performing it): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZpoa0YaZAw
They oughta shoot me
Put the hood over my head and execute me
Put me out of my misery
Like a broken horse
I don’t mind dyin’.

And
I drink too much
I drink too fast
Prefer a bottle to the glass
From the finest French Champagne
To Thunderbird
I prefer my senses blurred

Two or three times a year, I’ll revisit those songs. More than anything else, though, one particular line from the album—the very first one, and very last one—never really disappears from my brain. It’s an insistent whisper. It’s not a song lyric; it’s seven words spoken by Dennis Hopper:
A little older
A little more confused

Thirty years ago, the first time I heard the album, the spoken lines were a curiosity: Dennis Hopper on a rock album saying something that surely applied to him, but not to me. Hopper’s been dead six years now, and my head has caught up with him. There are times I understand him completely.

I turn 62 this month and will retire in May. I’ve got no problem with 62, because my brain doesn’t feel like it’s any particular age at all. As for retirement, I was called to journalism, and then I was called to teach writing, but now something is calling me away. To what or where I don’t know, but as I tell my students, “We are riding in a car, but we are not the driver. We are passengers. Trust the driver.”

This trust means the ground beneath my mental feet is almost always steady. Most of the time, I am sure of myself and the surrounding world. But still the ground trembles on occasion. I let the smallest things push me into the pit of depression—sometimes for hours, sometimes for days. I often think of enemies as friends or think of friends as enemies. Worries consume me. Those thoughts are millstones, grinding my insides.

I’ve got headphones on as I type this, and iTunes just popped up a new song by Foo Fighters called “Iron Rooster.” I had to stop writing to look up lyrics I just heard:
I'm an iron rooster
Cold and still
Irregular sculpture
Held against my will

The line “held against my will” means someone is doing the holding, of course. With decades behind me, I’ve got some clear perspective, and I realize I may never have had had any will. Or maybe I've held myself back. I’ve been content to life happen. I’ve been like water on a hilltop, taking the easiest way to the river. I’ve been content to feel the breeze on my face instead of flying.

Perhaps there’s a counter-argument. I’ve always worked hard. I’ve always tried to excel—to be better than my fellow reporters, to be a newspaper editor who left things better than he found them, to be a writing teacher who worked semester after semester to learn more about writing and teach better. Mine may not have been the easiest path after all.

I tend to lean toward the former; that’s my nature. That’s one reason a poem by Peter Davison called “A Word in Your Ear on Behalf of Indifference” is, like those Golden Palominos songs, always just over my mental horizon, waiting to rise like a clouded sun. Referring to indifference, the poem’s speaker says:
My client gives us the power this side of death
To shackle ourselves, to live within our dimensions,
To ignore for hours at a time
The outrage and the dread
Of being no more than we are.

As I said, I’m pretty much mentally grounded, my brain steady on its feet, but existential questions linger: Have I ignored the outrage and the dread? Abandoned will in favor of chance? As I get older, will I become more self-assured or a little more confused? I’m reminded of what are reputed to be Marlon Brando’s last words:

“The fuck was that all about?”

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Mar. 7th, 2016 01:19 am (UTC)
62 is merely a number. As i roll down life's highway, i care little about what most people think about me except those who I hold closest and love the most. I agree with you that we may not be the driver but I like to amuse myself by believing I'm the navigator. My decisions, fate, and dumb luck got me through life and where I'm at today. Looking back, i don't regret the road traveled or detours and stops along the way. I've been blessed with a great life, wife, family, and friends. I wish the same for everyone else. Enjoy your last days of being 61 Pat. 62 is pretty good!
(Anonymous)
Mar. 25th, 2016 12:58 am (UTC)
the trump "hope" poster - dec entry
can you email me?

i'm interested in using the trump "hope" poster art you used in one of your dec posts.

im@gregorywilker.com

Thanks,
Greg
patrick_vecchio
Mar. 25th, 2016 10:02 pm (UTC)
Re: the trump "hope" poster - dec entry
(Anonymous)
Nov. 23rd, 2016 12:06 am (UTC)
Don't forget about...
THE Matthew Sweet, on bass and delivering his trademark harmony on "Something Becomes Nothing"

THE Don Dixon (REM and everybody else cool) delivering another of his fine songs and vocals on "Faithless Heart"

THE Peter Holsapple (The dBs, REM's "5th member" and... man does REM have to be the benchmark for all these awesome cats? I guess so) writing "Diamond" which is a banner Holsapple tune.

This was a supergroup and a super album. Thanks for remembering it.
patrick_vecchio
Nov. 24th, 2016 12:58 am (UTC)
Re: Don't forget about...
Thanks! I recognize those names now that you mention them but couldn't tell you one thing about any of those guys. And thank you for reading and commenting. You're the first person I know of who's even *heard* of the Golden Palominos.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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