Jeff Zittrain

Don’t Fear the Future

Me and my friend Joe (his shot is from “Some Enchanted Evening, 1978)

I recently became friends with one of my childhood heroes, Joe Bouchard, the original bass player for Blue Oyster Cult. Sort of. On MySpace, that is. And in the world of MySpace, the term “friend” can truly lose all meaning. (Bay Area trickster musician Joe Rut once told me he wrote a song called “My MySpace Friends Hate Me in Real Life” after running into one of them in Home Depot and not being able to get the time of day…)

But this seemed actually real, with more communication than your average MySpace networking. I sent Joe Bouchard an email along with my friend request, telling him that all my years of air-guitaring to BOC’s live records had paid off in some real music of my own and thanking him for the inspiration. The next day I received an email from him saying thanks and asking about life in the Bay Area. I’ve since noticed that he’s listed me in his top 20 friends, meaning I show up right there on his homepage – I keep expecting him to realize his mistake but every time I check back, there’s my mug grinnin’ back at me, as if it knows it’s up there alongside Jimi HendrixRoger Waters and Bo Diddley.

I relate this story because back in those air-guitarin’ high school days I diligently followed the instructions on the back of BOC’s live album “Some Enchanted Evening” to send them a self-addressed stamped envelope to receive a copy of their lyrics. I calculated Pittsburgh-to-New York-back-to-Pittsburgh mail times and after 2 weeks had the interesting medley of “Stop oh yes wait a minute mister postman” running alongside “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in my head as I checked the mail each day. A few months went by and it became a running joke between my sister and my mom (I don’t remember laughing at it) that I might as well be waiting for the Great Pumpkin, singing those songs in vain and never getting those lyrics. But there’s a surprise ending: amazingly enough, approximately one year later, my self-addressed stamped envelope arrived at my door, a little worse for wear, but stuffed with the lyrics, printed in sloppy, uneven type on that old-style green and white computer printer paper.

Here come those lyrics…

I may have been a little optimistic in my careful snail mail computations…But that optimism rules in our brave new computer age! Forget the impersonal year-late computer paper lyrics! Now Joe freakin’ Bouchard personally writes back to me the very next day…!

This is important because I have been known on occasion to complain mightily about the shallow, fast-paced, disposable, crazy-making age in which we live (see my previous columns on “24” – “Leave the Bone Alone” or the iPod – “This is the Way the World Ends” and “Give a Gift, Save the World, Really” for example) but here is an example of things going quick-as-a-whistle, swimmingly right.

And it’s not the only example – a few weeks ago I sat on my couch and recorded some spontaneous solo acoustic guitar flights of fancy to my direct-to-disc recorder and that night sent the mp3’s to Kynd editor Dave Terpeny. When I woke up the next morning he had uploaded them to my MySpace page and sent out a bulletin announcing this to my friends list – where potentially, less than 24 hours after I first had the idea to play them, 3000 miles away, Joe Bouchard was grooving to them.

I offer up these stories as a bulwark against the sometimes overwhelming sense of things spinning faster and faster and out of control. Yeats’ famous poetic articulation reads thusly:

“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

“The center cannot hold” – The Widening Gyre by Emily Tellez, based on Yeats’ poem

Yet keep in mind that Yeats penned this in 1919, long before Al Gore or anyone else invented the internet…

Perhaps this is every generation’s difficulty, as they’re challenged by the next g-g-g-generation. Yet there’s no denying that the rate of change is certainly increasing exponentially.

Alert readers may have noticed there’s been a break in my previously “monthly” Right Action columns – this has been because my life has hit some personal whirlwinds (is the phrase “in transition” always a euphemism for “falling apart”?) but regardless of my own personal travails, it seems that, as Yeats envisioned, the overall cultural zeitgeist is an increasingly non-stop whirlwind.

Part of Right Action is learning to ride the waves. Which means settling into a groove. Which means focusing, reaching deep inside, and finding your own center. Writing-wise, in the non-traumatic areas of my life, I’ve utilized the plethora of riches that the computer age offers (dvd’s, mp3’s, online shopping, etc) and had all kinds of great ideas for the column…really! Allow me to enumerate them here:

  • I watched the “Apocalypse Now” “Complete Dossier” dvd (which includes both the original film and the “Redux” version with full-length commentary and numerous featurettes). Kynd Music/Right Action relevance? The script was originally called “The Psychedelic Soldier” and featured a whole soundtrack of Doors songs, not just “The End” – and Coppola’s improvisational filmmaking certainly had lots of right action-y elements – and of course Mickey Hart’s Rhythm Devils did the soundtrack. (And as an added synchronistic bonus, Blue Oyster Cult used to cover The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.”)
  • I bought the complete “Midnight Special” dvd set – of live performances (no lip-synching) of pop hits from artists throughout the 70’s – and despite the show’s cheesiness and lame sweaters that everyone used to wear (Was it always colder back then? Or were they simply following Jimmy Carter’s beleaguered example to conserve energy…) I was impressed at the high level of musicianship – particularly the disco and funk stuff (The Bee Gees, War, Sly and the Family Stone, Wild Cherry, KC and the Sunshine Band, Ohio Players, etc.)
  • I randomly found bargain dvd’s of “V for Vendetta” and “The Warriors” – with a weird coincidence: the first is a comic book series from the 80’s turned into a real life movie in 2006, and the second is a 1979 film which turned real-life scene segues into comic book form for its much-maligned “Director’s Cut” in 2005. See my earlier column on Synchronicity and other dvd’s, “Comin’ Around in a Circle” for more on…um, synchronicity and other dvd’s…
  • After reading Dave’s Kynd review of Doors drummer John Densmore’s “Tribal Jazz” project, I surfed to Amazon and bought and read Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s autobiography as well as his novel “The Poet in Exile” in which Ray imagines himself meeting a still-alive Jim Morrison who faked his death and is now living on an island with wife and kids – the autobiography is really good, the novel pretty weak, but fascinating if read as Ray’s wish fulfillment – working out his personal demons and finally coming to terms with ol’ Jimbo’s death…
  • I bought “This Hungry Life”, the great new cd by the great Tanya Donelly – and also bought the equivalent of about 3 other Tanya cd’s of live cuts and demos which she made available as free downloads (although I contributed to the “virtual tip jar”) on her site.

  • I watched the documentary “Gumby Dharma”, with music by Bay Area musician J. Kleinberg, who loaned me his last copy of the dvd at a party when I told him I missed it when it aired on PBS. For the non-Gumby experts out there, you should be able to tell just by the title that there are some very Right Action-y sentiments emanating out of that odd green clay…
This one is too obvious for a caption…

And two topics that didn’t necessarily come about from the influx of glorious digital abundance but which I feel compelled to list just to keep them from disappearing into the ether:

  • My missed trip to Tucson where I was being flown out to play lead guitar for Mark Matos’ band in his triumphant return gig except that my flight got cancelled and I spent the day sitting in the Oakland airport and railing at the universe and the powers that be and then calming down after thinking about what might have happened in Iraq that day.
  • The death of one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. (Aha, now you see why my columns twist and wind and digress as the spirit moves…)
Kurt Vonnegut, 1922 – 2007

So for now, that’s what I’m reduced to. Simply listing all the topics I planned on writing about. Which is ironic, because one of the main things that I‘ve learned over the years is that when you stop and focus on something, it magically reveals its mysteries and depth. And from the iPod to “24”, I seem just as unable to stop and focus as the next ADD adult. But actually, upon deeper reflection (and also upon just flying by at breakneck speed), there’s value in both modes. Which, don’t stop now, reminds me of another one:

  • Peter Gabriel’s videos for “Don’t Give Up” and “Steam” (I bought the dvd of his complete videos) – both are stellar – and from totally opposite approaches. “Steam” throws a million ideas and images at you so you can barely keep up – it’s like a crazy, overloaded dream. “Don’t Give Up” simply features Peter and Kate Bush holding each other on a mountaintop singing in one long take with no cuts. It’s a single sustained beautiful emotional wallop.
“Don’t give up…you’ve got Kate Bush for support”

Speaking of which, I went to see my friend (on MySpace and in real life – we would certainly tell each other the time in Home Depot…) Mike Glendinning as the “featured performer” at an open mic last month in Berkeley. He suggested I bring my axe and do a song. A week later Mike sent out a MySpace bulletin with a link to a video of his performance “and some other killer musicians” and lo and behold, there’s yours truly doing my thing in one long take but (and this probably goes without saying) without Kate Bush hugging me. No mountain either. But I sent the link to Kynd Dave who subsequently posted it on YouTube. Now you too can check it out and tell me what you think or leave a comment right there. O brave new world…!

And if you want the lyrics, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope and you’ll have them in a year. After all, that’s what friends are for.

Where friends meet…

Editor’s Note:
There was a plethora of great comments for this column which have sadly been lost in the Kynd machinery…