Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What Makes A Great Steak?

I haven't posted in ages on this site. I have been posting reguarly on my smALL AGES blog, but this one has escaped me lately. I just couldn't find the motivation. And honestly, I've been writing so much (new books!) that I can barely stay awake at night long enough to do this. But I was thinking I would try something new.

There is a Wilco song, it's called "Hell is Chrome" and when I hear it, the lyrics, it makes me want to write. I don't know if anyone else has that feeling for a song, but this song, it has that effect on me. (Affect? Crap.) The lyrics conjure such a story that I feel longs for flesh. It is about the devil.

So I began to write a story based on the idea behind the song. Or rather, what I thought the idea behind the song was, my own interpretation. And so I've decided to post the first chapter here. It's super rough, no editor and I need an editor. But still. If you actually read it, let me know what you think. Not sure you can see exactly where I'm going with it yet, but I know. Oh I know. Song posted at the end.

I would sell my soul for a voice like Kelly Clarkson.

Not that I'd use it like she does.

I mean, save for that one catchy cheese puff "Since You Been Gone," hers isn’t exactly music to my ears. I prefer mine less glossy, less made-for-TV. But that voice. It's soulful, it's sweet, it's girly, it's sexy, it's pure pop perfection. You could do any number of things with it: A White Stripes 60s redux with screeching yelps and knowing hip shakes. Or a tender reading of a classic that brings tears to everyone's eyes. You could don a guitar and rock out like Jenny Lewis in Rilo Kiley, drawing all the boys in with coy smiles and knowing glances. You could sing sweet alt pop with an electro dance beat that gets all the gay boys on their feet. You could sit at a piano and sing melodramatic pithy songs about your sad internal life. Or punch it up with a swinging back beat and turn out some cool blue jazz for the new millennium. And of course, you could win American Idol and go on to sell bazillions of records. If that was your sort of thing.

I once asked my parents if there was any musical talent in the family genes. Did they ever sing in a chorus? In church? Did aunt Thelma know how to play piano or did Uncle Jim play guitar? I would've gladly eaten up that my distant cousin Pete playing banjo at a backwoods bar, badly. But all I got was a simple "Nope."

My parents are non-conversationalists. Not non-confrontationalist, but they are that too. See, they don’t have conversations, as in two-way, back and forth, ping pong.

They talk, for sure. My mother barely takes time for a breath, but they don't engage each other. Or me. Or any one else I've ever seen.

My mother rattles things off, like she's writing lists in the air. And she gives you blow by blow commentary on whatever is passing by her eye at the moment. Like in the car, "Oh there's the bank, it looks open" (not that we were headed to the bank or even needed to go to the bank at all) or, "you can't park along this stretch of road here" (not that we were setting to stop there or anywhere near there.) And her favorite topic is the weather, as in "haven’t seen this much rain in three months. Or four. No, three." None of which is kindling for conversation.

My father tells the same dozen or two very limited stories over and over again. They're not of the great action and adventure variety. They're more about a great savings at Costco on six extra large cans of baked beans or his dog's irregular sleep patterns that force him up at 3 in the morning. I say his dog because the dog simply ignores the rest of us in the house as if we were not there at all. Always has the best seat in the living room, the one facing the TV. His focus is solely on my dad and I think my dad likes it that way. Not that you can tell. He doesn't much smile. My dad's speech is mostly comprised of "uh-huh’s" to my mom’s endless parade of non-sequiters. That, and the occasional canned dinner table talk: "This butcher always gets a good steak." So one day I confronted this statement, which had just been said for at least the 17th time in this, my 17th year, I said, "What makes a good steak Dad?"

He didn’t even look like he thought about it, he just said, "You know one when you taste one."

So I asked about the butcher, "What's his name dad?"

"Don't know," he replied. He didn’t even look up from his plate.

"Where do the steaks come from dad?"

"Couldn't tell you." See what I mean? There is talking, sure. But no conversation. And the non-confrontational thing, well if I had finished that little conversational attempt by tossing out "I'm giving up steaks, Dad, and becoming a vegetarian," he would have just nodded and given me his patented "uh-huh." No questions asked.

I used to think the house's stifling boredom was due to the fact that my folks are so much older than my friend's parents. Sort of like, they were such normal 50s-era Leave it Cleavers they were weird. People always think they're my grandparents, not my parents, which seems to neither bother them nor amuse them. But then I figured it out. I put my finger to the core issue, the driving or rather stagnant factor of my mysterious familial misery. It's this lack of communication thing. The omission of dialogue. It’s the non-conversation. How can you value opinions when you don't ever seek them? How can you value knowledge when you're not ever asking any questions? How can I grow up to be a creative genius when I live in the thicket of this?

I’ve taken to imagining their lives before they had me. Or re-imagining them in my own shadows. Dad played piano in a juke joint, one of those places that barely had four walls and smelled of stale liquor and nobody minded. He did this in the evenings after working all day as a neurobiologist, curing diseases and whatnot. I dreamed he was a perfect yin and yang of brainy brilliance and searing talent. I dreamed that maybe he didn't talk so much even then, but his silence was simply masking his deep-seeded internal struggle, what with all the neuro-stuff by day and hot bombshells after him all night. Plus there was that super secret spy work he was conducting 24-7 unbeknownst to every one except the tight-lipped handsome man in a suit that appeared out of the shadows every Tuesday. Now Mom I imagine was a basketball star (she's tall, she could have been) with a sultry voice that made all the boys hearts quiver even though she wasn't the best looking broad in her brood. She was dangerous, she was a risk-taker, she was the personification of intriguing. I suspected that she'd sneak out to piano bars after her own folks were asleep and sing for the sailors, her long legs only barely sheathed in luscious ruby red satin.

It's hard to keep this image floating in my head when I hear her honk in her geese-like soprano, "Slow down, there is that deer crossing up ahead on the left." The deer crossing we pass every solitary single time we leave our neighborhood.

Wilco, "Hell is Chrome"

1 comment:

Jimena said...

you like since you've been gone??? you should really look at ted leo's version.... it's really fun and there is a surprise right in the middle of the song. And there isn't any musical talent in my family either.
Coincidentally I was telling my friends that my parents are pretty boring and you know what??? One friend just blurted out: Your dad lived in the 50s, he cannot be boring. And he is absolutely right... he was one of the boys who wanted to be like James Dean (not that he was THAT good looking, but You get it). Well, my mom IS a bit boring she grew up on the seventies but was one of those girls who doesn't even hear real music just the shit in the radio.
But hey, they brought me to this world!!