Monday, February 28, 2011

'SUPER 8 GREAT DEBUT ALBUMS' BLOGFEST

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If the ‘Super 8 Great Debut Albums’ blogfest was about listing the most important or influential debut music albums of all time, we would all be forced to mention stuffs by Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. And that wouldn’t be a lot of fun for those of us who dislike the Jimi Hendrix stuffs, and are just kind of “Eh” when it comes to the Beatles and “The King Of Rock And Roll”.

Fortunately, this blogfest is all about which debut albums each of us personally most enjoys or was most influenced by. It’s all subjective and… it’z all good!

Below are my carefully chosen selections. After each album entry and commentary you will find 3 or 4 song titles taken from the album in question. Each song title is a link. Click on it and you can hear (and in some cases even “see”) the song, or at least a portion of it.

My album choices are listed in chronological order. I did not select my albums with this intent but I noticed after my list had been compiled that I had included at least one album from each of the last 5 decades. I like that.

And away we go . . .
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‘ASTRAL WEEKS’ - 1968
Van Morrison

Moody, mystical, introspective, dream-like and deep. That is ‘Astral Weeks’. This collection of song-stories and swirling, stream-of-consciousness symbolism is also regarded by a majority of professional music critics to be one of the very best Rock music albums ever recorded. The book ‘Rock Critics’ Choice: The Top 200 Albums’ by Paul Gambaccini puts it at #4. Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums Of All-Time list puts it at #19.

‘Astral Weeks’ is a wonderful music album. What it ISN’T, exactly, is a “debut” music album. After leaving THEM, the Irish R&B band he fronted, Van Morrison went into the studio and recorded a variety of songs with the idea of releasing some of them as 45-RPM singles. Without his approval, and against his wishes, Bang Records collected some of those songs, packaged them with his 45 hit single ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’, and released it as Van the man’s first solo album titled ‘Blowin’ Your Mind’. Van the man was mad!

Van had not conceived these songs as individual units of a whole and he despised the album cover artwork, protesting that it did not at all reflect his vision of himself nor his work. In a sense then, ‘Blowin’ Your Mind’ was a kind of “unauthorized” solo debut; a “bootleg” album produced and promoted by Van’s own record label without the artist’s support. Since Van himself does not view ‘Blowin’ Your Mind’ as his authentic solo debut, I feel justified in thinking of it similarly and presenting ‘Astral Weeks’ – a collection of 8 songs, conceived and recorded specifically with unifying themes or moods – as Van Morrison’s “official” or “authorized”, artist-approved debut solo effort.

The music itself is mostly mellow and atmospheric – a mental exploration. Really, it’s something like a musical meditation. The album cover shows you exactly what you can expect to hear. It’s a going back and a going within to the sound of lightly structured Folk/Jazz-styled improvisation.

In the very early 1980s, I would often hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign (“borrowed” from a nearby hotel) on the outside knob of my bedroom door, so my partying roommates would leave me alone, and then I’d listen to ‘Astral Weeks’ in the dark while lying on my white-carpeted floor. I considered those to be “soul-searching sessions”. Listen to ‘Astral Weeks’ someday and see if you too can “find yourself” in there.

If I ventured in the slipstream / Between the viaducts of your dream
Astral Weeks

And all the dogs are barkin' / Way on down the diamond-studded highway where you wander…
Beside You

We strolled through fields all wet with rain / And back along the lane again / There in the sunshine / In the sweet summertime / The way that young lovers do
The Way Young Lovers Do
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‘GOD BLESS TINY TIM’ - 1968
Tiny Tim

No, WAIT! Don’t go away! I’m being SERIOUS here! Have you ever heard the album ‘God Bless Tiny Tim’? If not, you should withhold your judgment until you have.

Just like you, I was going through life with a lot of unfair assumptions about Tiny Tim. I had wrongly allowed his big hit song “Tip-Toe Thru The Tulips With Me” to color my opinion of Tiny in a very negative way. I just figured that if that song represented his music in general, then everyone was probably right in labeling Tiny Tim as amongst the weirdest and the worst when it came to recorded music. And… well… to be honest, he DOES still rate amongst the “weirdest” but, hell, I’m weird too and… a funny thing happened on the way to judging Tiny: I was amazed to discover a little over two years ago that I genuinely like 57% of his music.

Tiny Tim was NOT a One-Trick Pony and forget what you THINK you know about his music based solely on “Tip-Toe Thru The Tulips”.

Did you know that his debut album was produced by Richard Perry?  Did you know that as a producer Mr. Perry has over a dozen gold records to his credit? And other than Tiny Tim, do you know what other artists Mr. Perry has produced, signed or assisted in their music careers? Try Captain Beefheart, Fats Domino, Harry Nilsson, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Art Garfunkel, Diana Ross, the Manhattan Transfer, Leo Sayer, Andy Williams, Percy Faith, Ringo Starr, Billy Thermal, Bates Motel, the Plimsouls, The Cretones, Bill Medley, the Pointer Sisters, Neil Diamond, Randy Travis, Elton John, Rick James, Chaka Khan, and Rod Stewart.

Trust me, ‘God Bless Tiny Tim’ is a very well produced record. That’s all I’m going to say about this here, but if anyone wants to learn more about how - to my own utter amazement - I discovered I loves me some Tiny Tim, they can read my blog bit THE MAKERS OF ‘MOTHER CROAKER’S HEMORRHOID OINTMENT’ PRESENT . . .

Stay down here where you belong / The folks who live above you don't know right from wrong / To please their kings they've all gone out to war / And not a-one of them knows what he's fighting for
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Way up above they say that I'm a Devil and I'm bad / Kings up there are bigger devils than your dad / Stay Down Here Where You Belong
Stay Down Here Where You Belong
[Written by Irving Berlin, this is probably the best anti-war song ever recorded! The crackling sound you hear is not indicative of a poor recording but represents the burning flames of hell as the devil pleads with his son not to venture up here with us.]

If I only owned the Pennsylvania Railroad / And if Tuesday Weld would only be my wife (Tuesday Weld: “Oh, Tiny!”) / If I could only stay sixteen forever / Then I know that I'd be satisfied with life.
Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life

Look and you'll see / Rainbow pools reflect in / Emerald melting sherbet moons / Silver angels drift through timeless / Neverending joy
Strawberry Tea
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‘NILS LOFGREN’ - 1975
Nils Lofgren  

This is the only album on this list that scores at least as many points for style as it does for sounds! As I have written previously here at ‘STUFFS’, this is my all-time favorite album cover. It so ideally captures the spirit of Rock ‘N’ Roll: Nils Lofgren’s wild, colorful T-shirt which is mirrored by the circus advertisement in the background represents the flamboyant theatrics of Rock; the black leather jacket symbolizes Rock music’s punky, ‘street hood’ attitude; and the swilling of 80-proof alcohol straight from the bottle captures the youthful, rebellious, good-time mood of Rock ‘N’ Roll. The fact that it happens to be Grand Marnier that Nils is tilting – Grand Marnier, the liquid god of the booze spirits and the buzzbird of happiness – only adds a little high-class Rock star luxury to the mix.

I kid you not, just for the cover photograph alone I would have this album in my music collection, even if I disliked every song on it! Heck, I’m fairly convinced that it was the cover of ‘Nils Lofgren’ that inspired me, subconsciously, to arrange this photograph of myself during my first trip to New York City in 1983:
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OK, but what about the music? Well, Nils Lofgren’s first solo album after disbanding his group GRIN is a treasure chest of unpretentious, hook-laden, meat ‘n’ potatoes Rock ‘N’ Roll with catchy melodies and tastefully executed guitar licks more than compensating for Nils’ somewhat wiry voice. This is Old School Rock, stripped down to the basics: guitar, bass, a bit of piano, and solid drumming provided by the always-in-demand Aynsley Dunbar. No synthesizer here, just songs you can sing along to. It’s a combination of sweet ‘n’ punky, but without being either syrupy or mean-spirited. It’s tough (“If I Say It, It’s So”) and it’s tender (“Goin’ Back”), and all the tunes go great with Grand Marnier on the rocks!

All in all, a solid solo debut that every Old School Rock fan ought to own if for no other reason than the truly classic cover that looks as “Rock ‘N’ Roll” as the songs sound!

I don’t want to know your boyfriend’s name / I don’t want to know all the men you claim / I don’t want to know where you slept last / I don’t want to know, I just want out fast
I Don’t Want To Know

I dropped out of high school / It bored me to death / They taught me a dress code / And lost my respect
The Sun Hasn’t Set On This Boy Yet

I think I’m going back to the things I learned so well in my youth / I think I’m returning to the days when I was young enough to know the truth
Goin’ Back
[Nils doin’ it on stage.]

If you’re a teacher of love / Then I just dropped out of school / This ain’t no concert for me / I’m still auditioning you
If I Say It, It’s So (30 sec.)
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‘RICKIE LEE JONES’ - 1979
Rickie Lee Jones

Not before or since has a singer burst out of the chute so loose, so sassy, so self-assured. Rickie Lee Jones hit the scene with the aplomb of a seasoned recording star, possessing the “Take It Or Leave It” attitude of Billie Holiday melded with the “Little Girl Lost” undertones of Judy Garland, and stellar songwriting chops likely inspired partially by her relationship with ‘Top-Of-The-A-List Lyricists’ boyfriend Tom Waits. (Rickie’s second album – and last really important one, in my opinion – ‘Pirates’, would include numerous references to the Waits breakup and the broken heart he left her with.) However, when Rickie’s number got called, she was more than ready to step into the spotlight on her own.

On hand to lend their considerable talents to the ‘Rickie Lee Jones’ debut album were veteran, world-class musicians/singers Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, Willie Weeks, Dr. John, Randy Newman, Tom Scott, Michael McDonald, and others. Rickie got first-class backing, and she deserved it.

Boasting top-notch musicianship, well developed but breezy and “In-Your-Face” uptempo songs counterbalanced by emotionally bare ballads, alternating between aggressive and pleading, Rickie Lee Jones’ first album was masterful and yielded a Top Ten Billboard hit in “Chuck E.’s In Love”. The hit song caught my attention and was appealing enough to convince me to buy the album, only to find that the hit was well eclipsed by some of the other better gems on the LP.

For me, the highlight was “The Last Chance Texaco”, a ballad about a lonely, unlucky-in-love woman that was loaded with clever automotive imagery and references that never becomes kitschy because it is anchored by an absolutely intense, plaintive emotional quality. The song is brillantly conceived and masterfully performed. This newcomer – a female, no less – announced her arrival by presenting recorded music with its very best “car song” ever. And this coming from a guy who loves the Beach Boys and early Tom Waits stuffs!

Other stand-out tracks include Rickie’s saucy “Danny’s All-Star Joint”, the moody “Coolsville”, and the incredibly sensitive and touching “Company” and “On Saturday Afternoons In 1963”. Boy, does that latter one take me back to my Orange County, California, boyhood!

‘Rickie Lee Jones’ is simply a parade of one winning song after another – there’s not a poor or even mediocre track on the album. You’ll find heartrendingly sincere, willowy ballads, followed by Rhythm & Blues-influenced, funk-filled swingers; an amazing start to what appeared to be a “can’t-miss” superstar career. Sadly and surprisingly, however, it turned out that Rickie had started at the top and had nowhere to go from there but down. The follow-up, ‘Pirates’, was excellent – only slightly lagging behind her debut, but from that point on, her writing just became so personal, abstract, and opaque that this listener was left feeling he couldn’t really understand – and thus relate and empathize with – the characters and the action of subsequent songs.

Rickie Lee Jones seemed to gradually crawl so far into her own private life that she forgot that music is a shared experience. I tried to follow along for a few more albums and finally just gave up on her. Rickie increasingly drifted into an overly stylized songwriting/performance approach with “ultra-Method-Actor” slurred lyrics of indecipherable meaning, and I concluded that for her, music-making had become nearly synoymous with “do-it-yourself sex”, which really leaves the listener (i.e., her “lover”) feeling left out.

Nevertheless, this artist made a couple of outstanding records and ‘Rickie Lee Jones’ rates as one of the very finest debut albums ever released. Rickie was like a shooting star: they’re brilliant and impressive, but they’re gone in a blink.

There was this block-busted blonde / He loved her free parts and labor / But she broke down and died / And she threw all the rods he gave her
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But this one ain't fuel-injected / Her plug's disconnected / She gets scared and she stalls / She just needs a man, that's all
The Last Chance Texaco

The most as you'll ever go / Is back where you used to know / If grown-ups could laugh this slow
On Saturday Afternoons In 1963

Keep a third eye watching behind you / You never know when you're making a memory / They will wish they were here together again someday

Remember, you might have looked like cool twelve / But your fuse felt just like dynamite
Young Blood
[Performed live, hot and joyfully in 1979!]
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‘EL RAYO-X’ - 1981
David Lindley

‘El Rayo-X’ is easily the quirkiest album on this list. At the time he released his first album in ’81, David Lindley was already well known for being one of this planet’s best slide guitarists, who had guested on countless recordings of other artists. But now Lindley was stepping forward with his own concept of what a music album should be.

‘El Rayo-X’ is a collection of 12 songs, 10 of which are covers that David Lindley makes 101% all his own because of his super-unique style. Surprisingly, what one might expect to be Lindley’s greatest liability – his unusual, high-pitched, nasally vocals (think Willie Nelson drunk on a fifth of Geddy Lee!) – oddly turns out to be one of this record’s strengths – they add yet another component of strange individualtiy to some otherwise familiar songs, such as “Bye-Bye Love”, “Twist And Shout”, and “Tu-Ber-Cu-Lucas And The Sinus Blues”. A quirky voice for quirky tunes!

Another ingredient that adds to the “one-of-a-kind” quality of ‘El Rayo-X’ is the instrumentation: aside from the standard Rock instruments found on this recording, one will also hear a Vox organ, Divan saz, timbales, bandurria, fiddle, accordion, whistle, and hammered dulcimer. Wrap much of it in a pronounced Reggae beat, add loads of humor, absolutely A-List percussion, and Spanish and French lyrics on two songs, and you have ‘El Rayo-X’ – one of the most bizarre and fun (and one of the best) debut albums ever!

The first memory I have concerning this record is of me drinking rum and horsing around with ‘The League Of Soul Crusaders’ in the alley behind “The Pigwalk” in the Summer of ’81. Someone had a radio playing in the alley and the DJ decided to spin “Mercury Blues”. Well, any ass-kicking song like THAT is sure to get my attention, and it surely did! And it wasn’t long before ‘El Rayo-X’ was in my “Licorice Pizza” collection.

I mean, who couldn’t relate to a song about copulating to death, or a song about a man less than one and a half feet tall? Who can’t appreciate a song about a ’49 Mercury? – the same car James Dean drove in the movie ‘Rebel Without A Cause’.

In fact, the day a Martian lands its flying saucer on my front lawn, knocks on my front door and says to me, “Take me to your record collection. What is this thing you Earthlings call ‘Rock And Roll’?”, the song I am going to play for him is “Mercury Blues”. And if his next question is, “What does this thing you Earthlings call a ‘Venice Beach bum’ look like?”, I’m going to hand the Martian my copy of ‘El Rayo-X’, point at the cover photo of David Lindley and say, “This! This is what a Venice Beach bum looks like!”

I’m pretty sure the Martian will respond: “Hey! That’s my long lost cousin, Rayo-X81!”

The girl I love, I stole her from a friend / He got lucky stole her back again / ‘Cause she know’d he had a Mercury / She know’d he had a Mercury / I’m gonna buy me a Mercury and cruise it up and down the road
Mercury Blues

I lit up my pipe / We sat by the fire / It was there by the embers / I had no desire / To go back to the bar / And drink some Old Crow / I left on my smoking jacket / She took off my romeos
She Took Off My Romeos

Sittin’ at the laundromat /Tryin’ to keep clean / Twenty-five women arrive on the scene / Ain’t no way, baby / Ain’t no way yer gonna get to me
Ain’t No Way
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‘BOOMTOWN’ - 1986
David & David

‘Boomtown’ must certainly be the best debut album that never saw a follow-up released. And that despite its enjoying a Top 40 hit (“Welcome To The Boomtown”). It seems that David (Baerwald) & David (Ricketts) just couldn’t get along together. And that’s waaaaay too bad because, together, they really had “It”, and this recording was released when I really needed it.

It was 1986 and a good friend of mine had just shot himself in the head – the second one of my friends to commit suicide in ten years. I had let a girl who liked me, and whom I was interested in, get away. I was beginning to see the hand writing on the wall: the acting career I had been aiming for wasn’t going to happen. I was emotionally dead. And I don’t even want to go into detail about the old man I saw struck by a car on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. We’ll let that sleeping dog lie.

And then I found David & David’s ‘Boomtown’, with its raw, guttural guitar licks, imaginative piano riffs, and unique arrangements, all servicing a collection of musical stories about isolation, urban angst, real street life, and the seamy underside of Hollywood glitz. The album was filled with down-and-out, hard-luck characters, any number of which could have been me. My reaction to this album was visceral and immediate; I felt that Boomtown’s 10 tracks spoke for me, they represented my voice. There is no other debut album on this list that I related to equally on such a pesonal level. This was by far my most often played Rock record in 1986.

But it wasn’t all doom-and-gloom; there were little glimmers of hope interspersed throughout ‘Boomtown’ – lines like: “Maybe they'll come alive; maybe they’ll come alive” and “Maybe it ain't over, I can see it's up to me / You’re only out when you stay out / You stay out when you don't believe”.

Yes, despite it all, I still had little embers of hope burning inside me, and although I had been “Swallowed By The Cracks”, I thought I might still be able to claw my way back up… “Hee-Hee-Hee! Foolish me”.

Some of the song settings on ‘Boomtown’ are meant to evoke the Los Angeles landscape – my hometown and the place of my ’86 melancholic mind-set. In a sense, ‘Boomtown’ was like the Eagles’ ‘Hotel California Life-In-The-Fast-Lane’, only much grittier and more guttural and urgent, married to early Springsteenian themes and characters, only less grandiose and more believable, more beaten down by reality.

If this list was reduced by half, and only 4 debut albums were allowed, ‘Boomtown’ would still be standing. And, yes, it still speaks for a somewhat sullen and battered character suppressed somewhere within me. I have friends and family, but sometimes I still feel “All Alone In The Big City”.

The ambulance arrived too late / I guess she didn't want to wait... / So I say, I say, Welcome / Welcome to the Boomtown
Welcome To The Boomtown
[The video was filmed on location in my hometown of Los Angeles. Note that David & David appear in an “empty” house. You get the symbolism? Or ya want I should ‘splain it to ya?]

And the cleanup kid hangs his head / He's the quiet type, came to L.A. to write / But he never made it out of the fringes / He keeps a low profile, you kick him he'll smile / Thinks that blood is his payment for losing
A Rock For The Forgotten

We would talk through the night about what we would do / If we just could get started / I would choreograph; Eileen, she would act; while Steve was a writer / Then Stevie ran away and get bored, Eileen took a job in a store / While me, I became this drunken old whore / ‘Cause you see we'd been swallowed by the cracks / Fallen so far down / Like the rest of those clowns begging bus fare back / Swallowed by the cracks, our pride worn down / Talking times gone by, like everybody else
Swallowed By The Cracks

But when I tell her about my problems, she don’t sympathize / She says, “We’re all alone in the big city.”
All Alone In The Big City
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‘SONGS FOR THE DAILY PLANET’ - 1994
Todd Snider

Todd Snider’s special message to YOU, from the liner notes of his debut album ‘Songs For The Daily Planet’: “May your laughs always be loud, may your nights all be long, may your ideas always seem strange, and above all, may you never fit in.”

This is the one album on my list of eight that I did not find on my own; my buddy DiscConnected  turned me onto it in early 2009. I was at Doctor DiscDude’s house here in Phoenix, Airheadzona, when he put on ‘Songs For The Daily Planet’ and played me that album’s “hidden track” - ‘TALKIN’ SEATTLE GRUNGE ROCK BLUES’ - which wasn’t as great as finding a couple of naked, post-bust-enhancement women hiding in my shower, but it was probably the next best thing.

Doctor DiscDude followed that up by playing ‘You Think You Know Somebody’ and ‘Alright Guy’. I was immediately interested and asked to borrow his compact disc. Just one trip through the album’s 12 songs (counting the hidden track) and Todd Snider vaulted into my upper echelon of lyricists; I put him in the Super-Major League of all-time songwriters – a league that included only two other writers: Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. Yes, just one listen to ‘Songs For The Daily Planet’ and I added Todd Snider to THAT league – that’s how talented this guy is!

In fact, it makes one wonder about a God who would lavish so much talent on one character like Todd Snider while a loser such as myself was at the back of the line and pleading tremblingly with my Lord: “Please, Sir, I want some more”.

Yeah, Snider got my portion of talent. But don’t laugh at me, because he got YOUR portion too! The sonofabitch. Let’s get him! Let’s get Snider!

Here was a more-than-Alright Guy who could write hysterically funny songs, but could also write songs of such sensitivity that he could bring tears to a listener’s eyes. Apparently Snider’s first album got him categorized as “Alternative Country” but, in my opinion, that’s plain silly because musically he is all over the map, and this debut includes songs that I would classify as Country, and Rock, and Hard Rock, and Folk, Gospel, and Bluesy Jazz. And let’s not forget Comedy!

Snider is an A-List wordsmith; he’s clever, witty, sincere, and as funny as Ol’ Waylon Jennings was.

Todd has released plenty of really good material since his debut. For instance, I love “Betty Was Black And Willie Was White” (“Yup!”) “Doublewide Blues” should be officially declared by Congress as the anthem for trailer trash everywhere across this great nation (“Take me home, boys, I think I’m… drunk”). And the story he tells during the performance of “Ballad Of The Devil’s Backbone Tavern” on his live album ‘Near Truths And Hotel Rooms’ is perhaps the funniest thing ever recorded.

Nevertheless, as good as some of Todd’s later material is, his first album remains, to my mind, his best work. If it’s not the best debut album ever released, it’s damn close to it! And although I couldn’t call Snider a “Christian” according to the Biblical standard, that doesn’t change the fact that his song “Somebody’s Coming” is one of my all-time favorite songs ever composed about Jesus. (The last verse can literally make my eyes well up.)

My friend Dr. Disc turned me onto Todd Snider, and now I’m passing the word on to YOU! Todd Snider: the Guy’s Alright and then some!

We were raised up in the hallowed halls / Of half a million shopping malls / And there ain't any price that we're too proud to pay / We'll buy anything from Diet Sprite / To one thousand points of light / Hey, I admit we're not that bright / But I'm proud anyway
My Generation (Part 2)

I let my woman move in last Fall / Now she don't ever let me touch her at all / She's been picking at me all day / I came here to get out of her way
Turn It Up

Well I may be alone but there's someone at home / I just know I'm making a mistake / A woman like you walks in a place like this / And you can almost hear the promises break.
Trouble

Tell all these people makin' all these decisions / Somebody's coming / Tell all these people with their hateful opinions / Somebody's coming / Tell everybody in the KKK, in the FBI, in the CIA / That there's Somebody coming / That's gonna change everything
Somebody’s Coming
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‘GOOD HANDS’ - 2003
Danny Caron

Danny Caron’s album ‘Good Hands’ could just as appropriately have been titled ‘Bone-Deep Blues’.

Driving home from work one night in February of 2005, I put on the local pseudo-Jazz station. Late, when they figure nobody's listening anyway, KYOT sometimes shelves the Kenny G and Dave Koz and spins “stuffs” a little more adventurous. About halfway home they started playing some hot guitarist whose style I did not recognize. Damn! This guy was GOOD! I pulled into my garage, shut off the engine and just sat there listening, unable to go into the house until the track concluded. (And I'm thinking to myself: You KYOT Airheadzona DJ better tell me who this is!)

"That was DANNY CARON with THE PROMISE," the DJ announced. Now, I know from past experiences that whenever a musical piece commands my attention to that degree upon first listen, I've found a winner.

I ordered the album 'Good Hands' and when it arrived I found myself staring at a middle-aged, balding guy who looked like the archetype late night television talk show host. My first impression: Well, yeah, it's good, but maybe I didn't really need to own it. That opinion was radically reversed by my 4th or 5th trip through the nearly hour-long disc. By then, my ears had picked up on what he was doing with that guitar, and now I’m thinking: Hokey-Smoke, man!

While I have no doubt that Caron could trade blazing licks with virtually any "guitar god" out there, that's not what 'Good Hands' is all about. These are mostly slow to mid-tempo, deeply smoldering Blues, but played with awesome Jazz chops. The first thing you'll notice is the impeccable cleanness of his sound: sharp, single-note runs possessing an extraordinary finesse and rhythmic sense! And after your ears become "educated" you begin to notice the brilliantly executed shadings he employs to wring out the genuine emotional content of each piece. Hey, I love my Blues guitarists, but even “The Three Kings" (B.B., Albert, and Freddie) could learn a thing from Caron about Blues nuance. Dang! This is just an exquisite Blues/Jazz guitar album of uncommon sensitivity; as soulful a recording as I have ever heard! If you're a young guitarist and you want to learn a thing or two about imbuing your music with an authentic feeling, a deep passion, 'Good Hands' has a lot to teach you.

Danny Caron has played on numerous recordings with artists such as Van Morrison, Charles Brown, Clifton Chenier, Bonnie Raitt, Donald Fagen, Dr. John, Little Milton and John Hammond Jr., and he has toured with Robben Ford and Maria Muldaur. Caron is also the featured guitarist on the Van Morrison-produced John Lee Hooker album ‘Don't Look Back’ which won two Grammy Awards.

Nine of these eleven tracks are instrumentals. And if you like the classic Jazz guitarists such as Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass, and early George Benson, then you'll surely want to add Danny Caron to your collection.

What a travesty of justice that so much acclaim is lavished on each new long-haired, Hard Rock speed freak guitarist who comes along, but a player like THIS remains unknown. He's never going to get the recognition that he deserves but, hey, you can forget all about Allstate, man, because you're in REALLY 'GOOD HANDS' with Danny Caron!

Shine On

Hey Jimmy

A Rainy Night In Georgia

The Guitar Speaks

Soul Street

HONORABLE MENTION:
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‘VAN HALEN’ - 1978
Van Halen

This is the only recording mentioned in this blog bit that I no longer own. When this was released in ’78, I was a teenager and a Hard Rock junkie. By 1985 I was listening almost exclusively to Blues – and I mean the REAL Blues, not Blues-based Rock. I’m talkin’ Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, and, of course, Muddy H2Os. By 1988 I was listening mostly to Jazz, and when I traded in my old LPs (“Licorice Pizzas”) and began converting my music collection to the compact disc format, I did not reacquire a lot of the old Rock that I felt I had musically outgrown. ‘Van Halen’ didn’t make the transition with me.

Nevertheless, I HAD to include it somewhere on this list because of the effect it once had on me. I can still vividly recall where I was when I first heard it. (You’d think I was writing about where I was when I learned that President Kennedy had been killed, huh?) I was carpooling to work with Big Al (a friend of mine and another teenaged Hard Rock junkie) and I was in Al’s Cougar with the loud sound system.

Big Al says, “Check this out” and he pops in the newly released ‘Van Halen’ cassette. I hear this loud siren which gradually subsides and then this thumping bass takes over and leads into “Runnin’ With The Devil” . As soon as my head stopped spinning and I had collected my jaw from the floorboard of Big Al’s Cougar, I thought: Wow! Who the hell are these guys?!

Next up was “Eruption”. That instrumental comes blaring through Al’s speakers and my brain explodes! We were only half of the way through “Eruption” and there was one thing I knew with absolute certainty: the VERY FIRST thing I was going to do when I got off work that day was damn sure buy me my own copy of ‘Van Halen’!!

“Eruption” would probably sound commonplace to a teenager today, but that’s only because the two-handed “tapping” technique that Eddie Van Halen had mastered has been copied ad nauseam since 1978. But at that time, none of us had ever heard anything like that before; Eddie Van Halen had literally revolutionized electric Rock guitar playing.

When I got my own copy of ‘Van Halen’ home and heard “Eruption” again, I scoured the album liner notes; I read them and reread them and re-reread them. I was looking for the “S”-word: synthesizer. Because nobody – NOBODY! – could really play guitar that fast and fluidly, right? It was nearly impossible to imagine! But there was no “S”-word; he was really doing it with a 6-string electric guitar.

Alright, back to Al’s Cougar and track #3: It was a cover version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” all Van Halenized. This was the first time an electric guitar LAUGHED like a human being! It’s an overused expression, but I was simply “blown away”.

[A few weeks later I read a review of Van Halen’s debut album, probably in either Circus or Creem magazine, in which the writer made the dumbest, most absurdly inaccurate statement I’d ever encountered in print. He wrote that Van Halen’s version of “You Really Got Me” was – and I quote precisely, even after 33 years have passed – “spunkless” . Yes, he stated it was “spunkless”. I was 18 years old and that may have been the very day that I first realized that you can’t believe everything you read simply because it has been professionally published. Love it or hate it, say what you will about Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me”, but “spunkless” you cannot call it and remain honest! If Van Halen’s cover version of “You Really Got Me” was “spunkless”, then the Kinks’ original was “stillborn”.]

Eddie Van Halen created these distinctive, meaty rhythm riffs and tossed off these extraordinary liquid solos as if they were nothing, and consequently, he left the former guitar gods – the Pages, the Claptons, the Santanas, and the Blackmores – sounding old and tired and floundering in his wake.

The world of Rock music had a new god, and for awhile he was utterly unchallengeable.

Well, over time, my love of Hard Rock music vanished, just like the pimples on my face, but I would have been remiss had I not mentioned this mind-blowing debut album on this list. For me, in 1978, the Rock And Roll status quo got turned upside down and then it “Erupted”, and it was Eddie Van Halen who brought the fireworks and lit the fuse.

Below is the 1-2-3 combination that introduced Van Halen to the world:

I found the simple life ain't so simple / When I jumped out on that road / I got no love, no love you'd call real / Ain't got nobody waitin' at home
Runnin’ With The Devil

Eruption

Girl, you really got me now / You got me so I don't know what I'm doin' / Girl, you really got me now / You got me so I can't sleep at night
You Really Got Me
["Spunkless"?]

WHERE’S WARREN?
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I know what you’re thinking: How could a Warren Zevon fan like Stephen T. McCarthy have overlooked Zevon’s self-titled debut album? Well, in fact, I did not overlook it. Although ‘Warren Zevon’ contains some of Z-man’s best songs, such as “Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded”, “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me”, “Carmelita”, and (my all-time favorite Zevon zong) “Desperados Under The Eaves”, what a lot of people don’t realize is that ‘Warren Zevon’ was not Warren’s first album. In 1970 he released an album titled ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’. While I have never heard ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’, by nearly all accounts it “ain’t that pretty at all!” And unlike Van Morrison’s ‘Blowin’ Your Mind’, Zevon’s first album was released with his full approval and so I was unable to include his self-titled 1976 album on this list.

Let it be known, however, that but for Z-man’s great early misstep, ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’, his album ‘Warren Zevon’ would surely have made my “Super 8 Great Debut Albums” list. Too bad. Dumb Warren – he screwed up accidentally like a martyr.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

"NO DRUGS EXCEPT FOR PINK FLOYD" (Part Two)

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A few of you might recall my 2009 blog bit titled "NO DRUGS (EXCEPT FOR PINK FLOYD)". If not, and in case anyone's interested, I will post a link to it at the bottom of this installment. At any rate, I never intended to create a follow-up to that blog bit, but an exchange that I had with my brother Napoleon a little while back inspired me to create a Part Two.
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.For decades I have occasionally used a certain expression, generally after I have explained to someone my view about something. I might make a comment and then follow that with the question, "Can ya dig where I'm comin' from, baby?" It's the sort of thang you might have heard a hippie say back in the late 1960s.
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Well, in the not too distant past, Nappy and I were discussing something in our kitchen when I said something and then followed it with that silly question. Nappy said to me, "Where'd you get that line from?" and I told him it came from a cartoon I had drawn back when I was a teenager. Then I dug out one of my old sketchbooks and showed it to him. Nappy laughed and said, "Hey, that's a pretty good one." That's when I got the idea to eventually post a second blog bit about my sketchbooks and share with you more of my old drawings.
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I probably haven't drawn a single thing since 1984, when I worked as a sign designer. And please understand that I'm not showing you these illustrations because I think it's good art. It's NOT and I know it! I'm sharing these only because it shows the way my (weird) mind worked in my youth. I do believe that what I lacked in artistic talent I made up for with a wild imagination.
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You'll recall that as a young man, I sometimes listened to Pink Floyd through headphones in my darkened bedroom and would later draw some of the images that came to mind. But some of my "stuffs" was so bizarre that people who saw it sometimes asked, "Dude, what drugs were you on?" I answered this question so often that a few times I actually finished a sketch by adding the notation: No drugs!
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It's true, I never did drugs; this weirdo stuffs just came naturally to me. Today, my favorite thing about my old sketchbooks, and the reason I value them, is that they serve as a kind of "Diary Of Drawings", showing what was on my mind in my late teens and very, very early twenties.
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OK, now that we've gotten the explanatory notes out of the way, wanna take a walk with me through the recesses of my strange, youthful brain? Here's the stuffs, man, here's the stuffs . . .
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I might as well start with this :
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It's some sort of Cyclops Worm from outer space asking, "Hey baby, can ya dig where I'm comin' from?" Where's Ed Wood when you've got a good idea for a Sci-Fi/Horror movie?
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Don't ask me! I have no idea who "Martisk" is, nor have I ever heard of "Deep Forest".
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OK, here's "a picture of me dying" :
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This quick little sketch illustrated a dream I had long ago. I was sealed up in a brick pedestal that supported a statue of Buddha. I was gradually running out of oxygen, and the people gathered in front of the statue and taking photographs of it had no idea that someone was dying inside the base of it. (What's it mean, Arlee Boid? ;o)
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"I'm a spy in the house of Love" :
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Any guesses who this is supposed to be? :
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And how about the next one? Any guesses? :
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After drawing the cartoon below, I got to thinking that he looked like "the universal slob", so I added the question, "Doesn't this guy remind you of somebody you know?"
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"Hi, I'm Spunky the Squirrel . . . and I'm totally nuts!"
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'Ite, I'll admit it: this next one I really like; it can still make me chuckle. I dig the concept of taking a letter from the alphabet and personifying it by adding a face, but most of all I dig this one because it shows that even way back then I was engaging in wordplay. And I largely credit Bob Dylan's 1965 album 'Bringing It All Back Home' for inspiring me to play with words.
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"G" is for gnome. Never mind the fact that the "g" in "gnome" is silent. Ha!-Ha! I'm sorry; I know it's bad taste to laugh at one's own jokes but sometimes I make me chuckle.
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OK, here's a little more wordplay:
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"I'm lookin' fer a girlfriend . . . anybody seen one?"
Yeah, I was always lookin' fer a girlfriend!
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And below, I was messing around with a song title. Obviously I had been listening to the Pink Floyd album 'Ummagumma' which includes the track 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene' :
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Somehow, the drawing of "a pregnant fish coming up for air" got slipped in there.
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These next two are included primarily for the amusement of my good friend DiscConnected. [Be sure you visit his blog and sign up for his 'Super 8 Great Debut Albums' blogfest taking place on Monday, February 28th!]
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"The Magic Rat" and . . .
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"Well, I unsnapped his skull cap and between his ears I saw a gap, but I figured he'd be alright."
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I would often practice drawing human eyes (you know, "the mirror of the soul"). No actual models, but just from my imagination :
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"She came to me in a vision."
Yeah, unfortunately she didn't come to me in real life, damn it!
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This next one's closer to reality. The note attached to this drawing reads: This is a portrait of the girl that Stephen took to his high school prom. Two years later they were wed. When asked why he married her, Stephen replied, "Well... she may be a bit on the shy side, but she sure is a good listener!"
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"A pencil-neck geek!" :
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"A big time Hollywood director!" :
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This next one is titled "Madame Wong's Stable" and it represents a menu of prostitutes and their prices. The real Madame Wong had nothing to do with prostitution at all! She was the owner/operator of two nightclubs: Madame Wong's in Chinatown, downtown Los Angeles, and Madame Wong's West in Santa Monica. Back in the late 1970s and into the '80s, these were two of the premier clubs that booked New Wave and Punk Rock acts in the L.A. area.
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Reading from left to right and top to bottom we have: Marylin Majesty, $175.00; Sue Anne Supper, $100.00; Paula Payne, $175.00; Laura Leather (best show on the West Coast), $300.00; Madylin Whip, $200.00 ($150.00 without the glasses); and Bertha Ancient, "Will take best offer."
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In this next one, I was "Gettin' Druggy Wit It" (But not really! Remember, "No Drugs Except For Pink Floyd".) This is my Sister's favorite of all my old drawings :
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Occasionally, photographs found their way into my sketchbooks. Below are two examples. The first one is a picture taken from an old Playboy magazine (like my buddy DiscConnected - and every other guy who has ever purchased a Playboy magazine - I got it solely "for the articles"!)
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This particular issue had a feature about some National Football League cheerleaders who were fired because they had posed nude. I glued a picture of one of them into a sketchbook and gave her something to say :
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I know it's dark and hard to read. This is what she's saying: "Hello, I'm Elizabeth Caleca. I was one of the cheerleaders for the San Diego Chargers who was too hot for the NFL. I was fired for posing naked in Playboy magazine. So now I'm going to be a movie star."
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In other words, now she was "posing" as an actress!
Yeah, sarcasm - it's what I do . . . and always did.
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This next picture shows Yours Truly wearing a pig mask while holding up a can of Coors beer. My artist friend Eric (a real artist!) is wearing 3-D movie theatre glasses that he had colored black to create cardboard sunglasses, and he's holding up a can of Skippy dog food. This was taken in one of those drug store photo booths circa 1978. There isn't any real meaning to the picture; we were just being weird :
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The caption for the photo reads: "Horacio The Pig versus The Atomic Punk in the Showdown of the Century". Who won the Showdown? I guess it all depends upon whether one is more thirsty or more hungry.
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At times, my sketchbooks also served as 'Preservers Of My Philosophy'. On the page above I had written some of my "deep" (Ha!) thoughts from when I was a teenager. Some examples:
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...And the lonely shall inherit the Earth.
The artist's mistakes are half of his art.
Be careful about who you discuss your pain with.
The blade of a knife is no sharper than a blade of grass.
Don't think . . . feel!
[That last one was my personal motto back then. Uhp! I was an idiot!]
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There is more fire in the eye than in the mouth.
He who stops asking questions . . . stops living.
The road to satisfaction is dimly lit.
Light is in the mind.
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Robots . . . too many robots.
Genius . . . everywhere I look, I see a genius. Just once I want to find an artist.
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Some know, some must pretend to know.
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Every so often you run into fire, and fire is more refreshing than air.
What are you about?
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Are your pants too tight?
When you talk with others do you look into their eyes? Or do you look behind them?
Listen to meaning, not to words.
Anger is often a meaure of desire.
Desire is often a measure of anger.
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Oh, life is so grand.
(Yup. Sarcasm! It's what I've always done.)
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Well, that's enough of that.
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Anyone who might want to see my really weird drawings (this stuffs was pretty normal by comparison) can check out the first installment of "NO DRUGS (EXCEPT FOR PINK FLOYD)" by clicking HERE!
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Yak Later, Dudes and Dudettes.
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~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

BOCEPHUS: IN BETTER SHAPE THIS TIME

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This doghouse here is mighty small
But it's better than no house at all
So ease it on over, drag it on over
Move over old dog 'cause a new dog's movin' in
~ Hank Williams, Senior.
from 'Move It On Over'

Cause he'd run through a ten and he'd run through a twenty
And he'd run through a hundred just as fast as it could go
Like a big dose of sauce to a little bitty fella
He'd spend a thousand dollars on a hundred dollar show
~ Hank Williams, Junior ("Bocephus")
from 'The Ballad Of Hank Williams'

OK, my minions, I've got a dream for you here that is hot off the mind. I was so sleep-deprived this week that my body finally crashed and I slept until just about an hour ago (11 AM). Well, just prior to coming back into consciousness I had a damned funny dream which I'm going to share with y'all. As I type this, my dream is no more than two hours old - they don't come any fresher.

Don't ask me why, but I found myself dreaming that I had come upon Hank Williams Jr. (his dad nicknamed him "Bocephus") and his band on their way to a gig. There was a bunch of band members and they were traveling in a van that was towing a U-Haul trailer behind it.

This convoy is going up an unpaved mountainous road. The scenery consisted of nothing but dust, boulders, sagebrush, and maybe some cacti; it was hot and desert-like.

On the side of the U-Haul trailer were images of Bocephus and the various band members. Suddenly the images came to life and began talking to each other. They spoke of being on their way to a Country music festival, one they had played the year before with disastrous results.

CUT TO:
Now I'm inside the van observing Hank and the guys. They are playing poker at tables in the back while the driver navigates the van and trailer over this rugged dirt road. Hank and his band are further discussing this Country music festival they are headed for and reminiscing about how awful the event was last year. Amongst their many complaints about the former festival, one is that, in the town where it is held, there aren't any really good bars.

That's when I learned that the U-Haul trailer contained a whole bar - Hank's and his band's own personal bar - which they were going to assemble once they got to town. It wasn't just a bar, but a barroom, with walls, windows, tables, chairs, lighting, everything! It was all disassembled in the trailer but they were planning to piece it all together so they'd have a good drinking establishment during their entire stay at the Country music festival.

As they continued to play poker, they discussed the myriad things that had gone wrong the year before and how they were determined to make a success of the festival this time.

CUT TO:
The van had broken down on the dirt road, and now I'm seeing Hank and his band scrambling to address the situation. A couple of guys are pushing the van up the mountainous dirt road, a few more are carrying musical instruments. Some are dragging the bar up the road and others are carrying the parts of the barroom - the walls, etc.

Just then, two band members walk past me carrying one of the barroom walls. It's wallpapered with an old-tyme design and mounted on the wall at the top is a deer head, with its many-pointed antlers serving as a cowboy hatrack. Standing on this wall as it is being carried up the dirt road is Hank Williams Junior.

And as all this activity is taking place, the entire band suddenly breaks out into song, just like a scene from some musical. They're all singing this really good upbeat Country song - a song that doesn't really exist because I dreamed the song up just like the rest of this stuffs.

It's a full-length Country song they sing (which I personally think has the potential to be a genuine hit in the "real" world). Unfortunately, I can't remember most of the words. I only know that it covered the same territory as the earlier discussion, about how rotten the Country music festival had been the previous year. But I do remember the principal line of the song's repeated chorus. Imagine seeing all this activity - these guys pushing a van and carrying their instruments up a hill, and dragging a bar and toting barroom walls through a dusty, barren wasteland - while they're singing something like this:

And we didn't make no money 'cause we lost every dime
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But we sho as f#ck in better shape this time!

I kid you not, I found myself laughing in my dream! How many of y'all LOL in your dreams?

And incidentally, in truth, Bocephus is more than capable of writing very funny songs. The idea of him writing a humorous song about a situation like this is not entirely inconceivable. For examples, check out the links below to some "real" Hank Williams Junior songs that are at least as funny as what I dreamed up:

Ballad Of Hank Williams

If You Don’t Like Hank Williams

The Coalition To Ban Coalitions
[I liked the plug for Ron Paul that some commenter posted!]

Pleasant Dreams, Y'all!

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

THE BERNARD PIVOT BLOGFEST

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First things first: Don’t fergit to sign up for the February 28th “SUPER 8 GREAT DEBUT ALBUMS” Blogfest. Click HERE!

Don’t fret, friend, I’ll remind ya again at the end.
(Yeah, I’m poetically unchallenged.)
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It seemed that it would be such a quick ‘n’ easy project, that I signed up to participate in Nicole Ducleroir’s ‘Bernard Pivot Blogfest’. I thought to myself: What the hell? (Even though “hell” isn’t my favorite curse word.)

The idea is to answer ten questions conceived by Bernard Pivot which James Lipton routinely asks each and every one of his guests on the TV program ‘Actor’s Studio’. So here are my answers to these not-so-challenging questions:

1. What is your favorite word?

Oh, shoot, that’s a challenging question! There are so many words that greatly appeal to me. I mean, ya gotta love “antidisestablishmentarianism”, right? Who cares what it means! And, of course, “supercalifragilisticexpi—” ...oh, never mind – my fingers are getting tired.

Well, one that I really like is “bourbon”. I love the look of it, the sound of it, the smell of it, and even the taste of it. Yep, I’ve always gotten great pleasure out of “bourbon” – I enjoy typing it almost as much as I enjoy drinking it. But truthfully, my favorite word can change daily.

However, for today, I’ll go with an old standby that perpetually ranks amongst my Top 25. Today’s word is “FLUMMOXED” . Use it early and often.

2. What is your least favorite word?

Oh, I dislike it when people act pretentiously, using a multitude of large words in order to give the impression that they are especially intelligent or well-educated. For example, I dislike every other word that emanates from the mouth of Dennis Miller or stumbles off the tongue of Todd Christensen.

But non-pretentious words that I also dislike are “chick” and “sucks”. [Hmmm... I swear I didn’t premeditatedly put those two words together like that. It was merely an unfortunate coincidence. No, really!] However, despite my displeasure with them, I do occasionally use both of those words when I’m being that Stephen who only my Mother could love.

But a word I don’t like and never use is “Groovy”. It’s been on my Banned Vocabulary list since “The Summer Of Love” – 1967.

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

GOLDENSHADOW – the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.

4. What turns you off?

The only thing that turns me off quicker than a tattooed woman is a tattooed woman driving a pickup truck. In other words, two-thirds of half of the American population turns me off. [How’s that Individuality workin’ for ya, babe?]

5. What is your favorite curse word?

I don’t use profanity, so I’m not going to
answer this bullshit question!

6. What sound or noise do you love?

Oh, hokey-smoke! Nothing beats that little *eeep!* sound that a cork makes when it’s pulled from a bottle of bourbon!

7. What sound or noise do you hate?

The barking of small dogs. Nothing compels me to preheat the oven faster than a yapping Chihuahua!

The only thing that could possibly be worse is the screeching of Chihuahua nails on a chalkboard!
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8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Other than my own? Oh, heck, just about anything - you name it!

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Other than my own? A Chihuahua breeder.
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10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

“Come on in and join Me at the ‘Cloud Nine Last Supper Club’, where Mahalia Jackson’s always on the stage and the bourbon’s always on the House.”
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For “Mo’ Fun With Chihuahuas” see . . .
The Chihuahua Cutthroat

And sign up for the February 28th “Super 8 Great Debut Albums” Blogfest. (Told ya I’d remind ya again at the end, friend.)

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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Monday, February 14, 2011

"SUPER 8 GREAT DEBUT ALBUMS" BLOGFEST CHALLENGE

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Oh, come on, man! Any Bozo can select the 15 music albums they would want with them for the remainder of their life on a desert island. And any shuckin' 'n' jivin', lowdown Know-Nuttin' can pick their Top Ten favorite songs! That's cake, dudes and dudettes.

But do you have what it takes? - Do you know enough about music to list the "SUPER 8 GREAT DEBUT MUSIC ALBUMS" of all time?

If you think you can hang with us Big Dogs when it comes to real music knowledge, then sign up today for DiscConnected's "Super 8 Great Debut Albums" blogfest taking place on February 28th.

Sign up HERE and prove that you can elevate your music game to the Big League level.

Ah-Ha! Suddenly it ain't so easy, is it? Now you gotta do some serious thinkin'. Morris Albert's "Feelings" can't save you now!

Heck, my list is already compiled and waiting for February 28th. All I gotta do is copy and paste it.

Uhm... Wait a minute! What was Supertramp's first album called? - "Chicago I" ?

Hmmm... I'd better go check. (Maybe I'm not quite ready for the blogfest, but I've got time yet to think this thang out.)

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.
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Sunday, February 6, 2011

GOLDENSHADOW: “THE STAB, THE PANG, THE INCONSOLABLE LONGING”

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“There’s a sadness in the heart of things.”
~ Warren Zevon

[from his song ‘The Heartache’]

GOLDENSHADOW: THE SET-UP

It occurred while I was flying alone from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Or maybe I was headed back to L.A. from Phoenix. Either way, the woman seated next to me on the airplane initiated a discussion by commenting on the book I was reading. In the course of our talk, she learned that I was a new follower of Jesus (not the gardener; the mystical Savior!) And she recommended to me the C.S. Lewis book ‘The Screwtape Letters’.

It probably took me a year or two to get around to reading “Screwtape” but when I did, I was floored by the brilliant mind of Christian writer C.S. Lewis. That book was diabolically brilliant! Soon afterwards, I read his acknowledged classic on Christian apologetics, “Mere Christianity”, and was again blown away by this amazing thinker! One thing I knew for certain: I would have never relished the idea of debating Lewis about ANYTHING, even if I knew I was defending the correct position and had possession of all the information available. When I later ran across the following quote, it came as no surprise to me:

One of Lewis’ leftist students in the late 1930s, John Lawlor, wrote of Lewis’ effectiveness in dispelling Lawlor’s collectivism after Lawlor entered Oxford’s Magdalen College: “I was allowed the initiative on every occasion; Lewis gave me the choice of ground and of weapons and of course beat me every time.”

No, my brand of religion/spirituality is not altogether in sync with that of the mainstream “orthodox” Christian writer C.S. Lewis, but nevertheless, as correct as I believe my views are, he’s not someone I could have debated and felt optimistic about beating.

Those first two Lewis books were so rewarding that I ended up reading two more of his books – ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ from his Chronicles Of Narnia series (I didn’t care for it) and later his autobiographical account of how he reasoned his way from atheism to Christianity, titled ‘SURPRISED BY JOY: The Shape Of My Early Life’. Hokey-Smoke! Was I myself in for a surprise!

In the preface to ‘Surprised By Joy’ C.S. Lewis writes this:

How far the story matters to anyone but myself depends on the degree to which others have experienced what I call “joy.” If it is at all common, a more detailed treatment of it than has (I believe) been atttempted before may be of some use. I have been emboldened to write of it because I notice that a man seldom mentions what he had supposed to be his most idiosyncratic sensations without receiving from at least one (often more) of those present the reply, “What! Have you felt that too? I always thought I was the only one.”

And later in the book, along the same lines, Lewis writes:

Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.

I had assumed that by the word “Joy” in the book’s title, C.S. Lewis meant something like “glee”, which is what the word “joy” has always implied to me. And I didn’t know what he was referring to with that allusion to some sensation that might engender a response such as “Have you felt that too? I always thought I was the only one.” But I didn’t have long to wait in finding out. And never in a million years would I have guessed that by “Joy” C.S. Lewis meant what I have always meant when I used the word “Goldenshadow” – a word I had invented to describe a feeling that I always assumed I was the only one to experience, and thus a new word was needed!

Please allow me just one major flashback in this blog bit.

Flashback . . .
In a blog bit from May of 2008, I wrote the following paragraph:

So, imagine my surprise to find a huge portion of myself being sung back to me while I was listening to [Bob Dylan’s album] BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME. It felt like I had stepped back in time and come face to face with my youthful self as it was unconsciously developing its own writing “voice.” I always knew that I had picked up some of Steinbeck’s empathy and Twain’s cynicism, humor, and sense of irony. But I never realized before that I had learned how to manipulate words, how to PLAY with concepts, and learned how to swing wide the mind’s gate encouraging the ingression of ideas, by listening to Bob Dylan all those many years back. Only now do I realize that my “voice” is a combination of Twain, Steinbeck, Dylan, and the most lonesome and homesick shade of the color Goldenshadow that we can live with. (If only I had one tenth the talent of any of these three aforementioned artists, I would be rich and famous, and you’d have to pay $ to read what I write… which would be much better than THIS!)

Naturally, when I posted that paragraph, I expected at least one of my readers to ask me what “Goldenshadow” was. And naturally, none of my readers ever did.

But I considered “Goldenshadow” to be my secret weapon as an artist; it was that one totally indefinable “feeling” that enveloped my life and ran through it going back to my earliest memories. It was a special gift from God. I could use it in my art and in my life. When Warren Zevon sang one of the greatest lines ever committed to song, “There’s a sadness in the heart of things”, I got it! I totally got it and I figured that nobody else did. Certainly I never saw where anyone else ever pointed out what a perceptive, accurate and fabulous line that was. Frankly, I even kind of doubted that Warren Zevon, who wrote the line, really fully understood it. But in one simple yet brilliant sentence, he had captured “Goldenshadow”.

Goldenshadow was my own utterly unique “thing” – a state of mind, a prevailing feeling of the soul that I had and yet no one knew I had it because I wasn’t telling; I wasn’t even going to attempt the impossible and try to explain it to anyone. And no one could ever really understand it anyway because I alone possessed it. Or so I thought. Re-enter ‘Surprised By Joy’ by C.S. Lewis . . .

GOLDENSHADOW: THE “JOY” OF C. S. LEWIS

On just the 5th page of Chapter One, I encountered this passage:

Once in those very early days my brother brought into the nursery the lid of a biscuit tin which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers so as to make it a toy garden or a toy forest. That was the first beauty I ever knew. What the real garden had failed to do, the toy garden did. … As long as I live, my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother’s toy garden.

My reaction to this was immediate: Oh, my God! Oh, my God, I think he’s talking about Goldenshadow! He’s talking about Goldenshadow!

In amazement, I read further:

…The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me. Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden comes somewhere near it.

Now I was nearly sure that what C.S. Lewis called the sensation of “Joy” was the same sensation that I called “Goldenshadow”. Why did I believe this? Because although people cannot really induce the feeling of Goldenshadow within themselves, there are certain things that can help trigger it. The catalysts may be somewhat different from person to person, but for me, one of them I had already identified as carefully cultivated and manicured miniature scenes or models. Just as his brother’s “toy garden” had triggered the first experience of “Joy” for C.S. Lewis, I had discovered over the years that the sight of a similar sort of “toy garden” or “toy forest” could induce the feeling of Goldenshadow within me . . .

Back in the late 1970s and through the ‘80s I was a Disneyland junkie. I used to buy the Annual Pass and drive down there sometimes two or three times a week after work, and often by myself, just to roam the park, people-watch, and sometimes ride the attractions by myself. I loved the “safe” and beautifully maintained atmosphere of Disneyland.

Now, being a blue-collar, heterosexual, “Old School” type guy who grew up playing baseball; who was a varsity wrestler in high school; who loves to see a bone-crunching, A-List hit on the football field; who loves the power running game of the NFL; and who thinks tennis is for “Tinkerbells”, what do you suppose my favorite Disneyland ride was? Space Mountain, right? Or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? Maybe the Matterhorn? Or perhaps even Pirates Of The Caribbean because of all the pillaging and drunken revelry, right? Wrong! Wrong, wrong, and wrong!

My favorite attraction at Disneyland was always the sedate, quaint, kiddie ride called Storybook Land Canal Boats. No trip to D’Land was complete without cruising the canals of Storybook Land.

The ride begins when the slow boat carrying you enters the mouth of Monstro from the movie Pinocchio
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and when you exit Monstro where his tail ought to be but isn’t, you’ve entered Storybook Land, where many buildings and even whole towns from famous stories and nursery rhymes have been constructed in miniature along with miniature parks and miniature mountains.
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More often than not, a trip through Storybook Land on one of the canal boats on a sunny day would bring about Goldenshadow in me. How I wanted to climb out of the boat and just lie down amongst those sets like some crazy, Goldenshadowed Gulliver and spend the day there on my stomach examining all the small, fine detail of Toad Hall or Geppetto’s Village. I could have happily spent the rest of my life there in Storybook Land.

The following photographs of The Magic Kingdom’s Storybook Land have been stol— er... that is to say, they have been “borrowed” from Richard Harrison’s excellent ‘Photos From The Parks’ blog and from Dave DeCaro’s wonderful ‘Daveland’ website:
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GOLDENSHADOW: THE WAY IT FEELS

More from ‘Surprised By Joy’:

… It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. And one went back to the book not to gratify the desire (that was impossible – how can one possess Autumn?) but to reawake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, “in another dimension.”

Autumn? OK, now I was absolutely, positively CERTAIN that Lewis’ “Joy” was my “Goldenshadow” because “Autumn”, the idea of Autumn and the feeling engendered in me by Autumn was indeed another trigger that could awaken the Goldenshadow within me. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year, and Goldenshadow bubbles up in me most during the “Autumn” part of a day. And, of course, most powerfully during the “Autumn” part of an AUTUMN day! That’s a totally unbeatable combination. Yes, to describe Goldenshadow in the best abstract way is to say: It’s that feeling you get during the “Autumn” part of an Autumn day, when the grass is mottled with shades of bright golden sunshine that is streaming between the leaves of a tree but which are highly contrasted by the elongating shadows where the sunbeams have been stopped short of the lawn. Add just the wisp of a crisp breeze and now it’s “perfect Goldenshadow”.

But what does it feel like in a more specific way? Let C.S. Lewis tell you:

The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.

Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.

All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be.”

Do you know what Lewis and I are referring to? Have you felt this also? Here’s more from ‘Surprised By Joy’:

I had, to be sure, the society of Tim, who ought to have been mentioned far sooner. Tim was our dog. He may hold a record for longevity among Irish terriers since he was already with us when I was at Oldie’s and did not die till 1922. … He never exactly obeyed you; he sometimes agreed with you.

Admittedly, that had nothing to do with Joy or Goldenshadow, but I slipped it in here only because I thought it was funny. Now this next part IS about Joy/Goldenshadow:

GOLDENSHADOW: THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION

I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least.

Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.

The inherent dialectic of desire itself had in a way already shown me this; for all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort, “It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?”

We mortals, seen as the sciences see us and as we commonly see one another, are mere “appearances.” But appearances of the Absolute. … we have, so to speak, a root in the Absolute, which is the utter reality. And that is why we experience Joy: we yearn, rightly, for that unity which we can never reach except by ceasing to be the separate phenomenal beings called “we.”

Shortly after reading ‘Surprised By Joy’ and being shocked to learn that Lewis knew my Goldenshadow (even if he referred to it as “Joy”) I described Goldenshadow to my Brother and Sister and was again surprised to learn that they also knew what I was referring to. So much for my having a “unique gift”, eh?

I had now come to realize that those fleeting feelings of “Joy” or “Goldenshadow” are probably a nearly universal human experience. In fact, my brother Nappy even recognized that Warren Zevon’s line “There’s a sadness in the heart of things” was an excellent description of Goldenshadow, and my Sister said that - as with me - Goldenshadow is sometimes induced in her by certain songs, although the songs that worked on her were different from those that work on me.

The autumn part of Autumn Days can give life to Goldenshadow in me. Heck, even high noon of Autumn Days can do it. Disneyland’s Storybook Land Canal Boats can do it too. Just staring out at the setting sun and seeing it reflect off the glass windows of a building or glinting on the chrome bumper of a parked car can do it. I can’t make myself feel Goldenshadow, but a couple of songs can usually be counted on to give life to it within me. One of them is “Magic Journeys” the song from the now defunct Disneyland 3-D Fantasyland Theatre movie of the same name.

And another one (perhaps even more effective for me) is the Henry Mancini soundtrack song “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. Interestingly, two other songs from that same movie score can also bring out Goldenshadow in me – “Holly” and “Sally’s Tomato” – but neither of them quite so powerfully as the title track.

In my recent participation in Alex Cavanaugh’s “Top Ten Tunes” Blogfest, did any of y’all happen to notice the semi-poetic way I described Henry Mancini’s tune “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”? I wrote: “What a sublime piece of music. It flows like a wistful, lonely, melancholy stream emanating from some ancient, half-remembered dream. It always breaks my heart.”

Based on the above excerpts from ‘Surprised By Joy’, do you now recognize that I was attempting to describe the “Goldenshadow” feeling? I’m sure C.S. Lewis would have read my description of that song and said, “What you mean to say is that the song gives you Joy, right?”

GOLDENSHADOW: THE MOST NOTEWORTHY EXPERIENCES

In my waking life I have experienced Goldenshadow many times. But undoubtedly the two most powerful encounters I’ve ever had with it took place in the sleep state. Some of you might mistake these experiences for simple “dreams” but I can assure you they were no mere dreams. These were remarkable spiritual experiences.

In one of them, I found myself as an adult back in my paternal Grandmother’s Orange County Mobile Home, where we used to go to spend Christmas Days with her when I was a child. But it didn’t really look like her mobile home did in reality. For one thing, it was considerably larger and most everything was a deep, rich green or glowing gold color. The old-fashioned beauty of it and the longing it created in me to “go back” to those good old days was so strong that it sort of hurt me. It was a mixture of glee and pain – overwhelming! I had that dream many years ago and yet I still sort of feel the emotion it induced in me even as I type this now.

[However, the “good old days” of my Grandmother’s mobile home which I was longing for was merely a symbol for something else. The real “Good Old Days” that this dream was pointing back at took place in a spiritual Kingdom long, long ago. As you shall learn at the very end of this blog bit.]

The other Goldenshadow “dream” I had was even more powerful. The next morning I wrote about it in the Spiritual Journal I used to keep. Here is a word-for-word copy of my journal entry:

Feb. 4, 1998
I HAD A REMARKABLE DREAM LAST NIGHT; LIKE NONE I HAVE EVER HAD BEFORE! I found myself in a fairly nondescript setting; there were a number of trees in view, and they were, perhaps, lining a dirt path – that’s all this place consisted of – the location for this dream seemed irrelevant. It was my very favorite time of the day, when the sun is finishing its descent toward the horizon, when patchy spots of golden light are contrasted by long shadows stretching toward the east… the last of the day [Note: the “Autumn” time of day], when the world begins to settle into the stillness of evening.

I was admiring the light and shadows in the foilage of the trees when I became absolutely OVERWHELMED BY AN INDESCRIBABLE SENSE OF WELL-BEING! It was as if I had become a part of the serenity around me, and rather than beholding beauty, I HAD BECOME BEAUTY! And instead of inhaling air, it seemd that I was breathing the light and shadows I had been admiring, and had become dusk itself. I was filled with unfathomable peace, although “peace” is really not the right word for it – I was wonderfilled (yes, a slightly better description) and I felt far better than it is possible for a mortal mind to even imagine! I felt so great that it quite literally took my breath away, and I found myself gasping between exclamations of, “OH!...OH!...OH!”

Indeed, I felt so good that weeping seemed to be the only natural and reasonable response, and an act of inexpressable gratitude. Soon I began to experience a pervasive melancholy because there was nobody else present to share this with. It was truly too good for just one person to have, and all that was lacking in this perfect state of being was others. I, one of the great loners, suddenly found that I desperately wanted to have people around me to share this feeling with, and so a deep sadness was mixed with the euphoria.

I thought to myself: I’ll have to remember how this feels so I can tell others about it. But then instantly I realized that this would not be possible, and I answered: No, it’s no use. I’ll never be able to tell ANYONE about this because there aren’t any words that can describe it. This feeling can’t be translated in words!!! And this saddened me further. Soon after, the dream ended.

I have had many unexplainable spiritual experiences in my life, but to this day, I consider that the most powerful one of them all. If, by my description above, you believe you have gotten some glimpse of how I felt in that dream, think again! Because even I, who had the dream, can’t really recreate in me what that felt like. It was something “given” to me but which I couldn’t hold on to and keep and which I can’t truly remember in any worthy way. I can only say that my mortal consciousness was overcome by wonder and Love. And that’s an utterly failed attempt to use words to describe the indescribable.

GOLDENSHADOW: THE EXPLANATION?

While it’s clear from the above excerpts from ‘Surprised By Joy’ that C.S. Lewis perceived a spiritual component to his “Joy”, still, in the end, he seemed unable to explain it, other than to equate it in some way with a desire for “Eden” or “Paradise”.

And yet, he caught the essence of the thing so perfectly when he wrote:

the experience was one of intense desire. … It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, “in another dimension.”

“It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?”

All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be.”

In my opinion, the “orthodox” spiritual beliefs of C.S. Lewis are what prevented him from fully grasping the meaning of Joy or Goldenshadow. I believe that his limited understanding of the thing was due to his viewing it through a too narrow, mainstream, “accepted” Biblical Lens of mankind’s origin and destiny. That, I think, is what prevented Lewis from being able to correlate the feeling with that sense that it somehow “reminded” – that it was a desire for something the person has been somehow reminded of, a desire for something in the past.

And yet, he nailed it so exactly when he also tied it in to the future. Goldenshadow or Joy is a “desire for something longer ago or futher away” and yet something that is (as Lewis said) “still about to be.”

I think my spiritual outlook adequately makes sense of Goldenshadow / Joy. Because unlike Lewis, I believe that our souls pre-existed our bodies. I do not believe that God creates a new soul for every new conception that takes place in a womb. God finished His earthly work on the “Sixth Day”, therefore the incoming soul already existed and was alive prior to conception.

I also believe that all of us, Created by God, once dwelled with Him in His Kingdom, in a state of Paradise or Eden. The real “Fall” of mankind took place in the spiritual realm – it was our souls that fell from Grace - and our current lives on the Earth are the results of that “Fall”.

I am convinced that the key to fully understanding the Bible’s parable of “The Prodigal Son” is in realizing that it speaks of a fall from a state of spiritual perfection. When the prodigal son leaves his Father’s estate, he has left his spiritual Paradise and gone out into “this world” to live foolishly. When the son comes to his senses and decides to return to His Father’s House, it is really speaking of a decision to forsake the ways of “this world” and return (thanks to the Grace and Forgiveness of God our Father) to the Heavenly spiritual State where he previously lived.

Therefore, that feeling of Goldenshadow or “Joy” that sometimes springs up within us is in fact a genuine soul “memory” that has been somehow triggered by something in “this world”. And that memory is one of intense longing or desire for our authentic spiritual estate mixed with the pain of realization that it is something we gave up a long time ago when we chose to live the life of “a prodigal son”.

However, because I believe a deeper understanding of The Holy Bible reveals that in the final analysis, “The Good Shepherd” (Jesus) will ultimately recover every one of His lost sheep (because, as Jesus told us, that’s what a “good” shepherd does), all of us “prodigal sons” are destined to eventually rejoin our Father in His Heavenly Mansion, or in other words, our original spiritual state of Paradise with God.

And that is why C.S. Lewis was right in saying that Joy or Goldenshadow “reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away” and yet something that is “still about to be.”

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

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