Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Music, Friendship, And Therapy

A bit of juvenalia from my early twenties, since none of my current art projects are ready to show. I did mention that I first studied art and writing because I wanted to do comic books, right?

Hypermasculinity always seems to have a homoerotic component to it. And while I think of myself as completely heterosexual, it's hard to look at much of adventure fiction and the imagery associated with it and not see that it's got a queer component to it that's only invisible to most of the creators and most of the audience.

In other words, when they make a big deal in the media out of gay superheroes in mainstream comics, who are they fooling? All superheroes are gay. For pete's sake, they are defined by the fact that they wear fetish gear straight out of Tom of Finland. Of course if you told me that when I drew this I would have freaked out.

I've tried not to make a big deal out of it here on the blog but I've been going through a rough patch lately. My back has been killing me and I've been subject to a bad case of floating anxiety, the kind where you always feel as if the world is about to be pulled out from under you, where you wake up in the middle of the night and immediately start thinking about your problems and shortcomings.

February is the hardest month for me. My crazy always bites a little harder this time of year. As I've matured I've gotten better and better at handling this -- but this year things have been worse than they have for a long, long time.

As a result I've been getting about two hours of sleep a night -- which doesn't help the anxiety -- which doesn't help the the crazy or the pain. A big part of dealing with chronic pain comes down to will, which I have been sorely lacking.

But I'm not pleading victim here. The above paragraphs are a jumping-off point. See, last night I slept for eight hours. My back is in bad shape and I'm still going to need to restrict my activities in the near future -- but I have to look for the pain to notice it. The pain itself is not a concern. I have a calm, sunny disposition at the moment -- quite content with life and my place in it. Why?

Last night I got to hang out with my best friend, have a few drinks and some cigarettes, play music and talk.

This seems like such a small thing. And the term 'best friend' seems like something more fit for the playground than for use between a couple of guys in their forties. But it's the right term. Since this post is going to discuss a nefarious activity or two, we'll call my best friend Buck, at his suggestion.

We've known each other for about thirty years and for a long, long time now -- Jesus, somewhere around nineteen years -- we've been getting together to hang out on a regular basis. For the past while the routine has been fixed at twice a week, Thursday and Saturday nights.

We play the same handful of songs, me on bass and Buck on guitar, do some musical noodling and improvisation, share a few beers, maybe a shot or two, and every so often we go out on the deck to smoke cigarettes -- he's a habitual smoker, I'm opportunistic (if I'm around smokers I'll bum a smoke, otherwise I'm a non-smoker) -- and listen to music, trading back and forth between his and my collections.

We talk about how the women in our lives are trying to assassinate us through sexual denial and willfully crazy behavior, affirm that we love them enough to let them do this to us, confess our own odious behavior and figure out how to minimize it, discuss political news in increasingly loud and angry voices, cast our thoughts back to the joys and miseries of our rather unpleasant childhoods, I talk about my creative work and school, he talks about his job and how much he loves his son -- now sons. The arts, literature, nature, world culture, science, mythology, history, language, and a bizarre gallimaufry of other subjects are discussed, dissected, and delighted in. It's good to have a smart friend.

No matter what mood we're in when we start, by the end of the evening we've entered into what we call 'band space.' Low key but energetic, calm but confident. The music and the drink and the company and the ritual of it all work together to evoke a very specific mental space.

Do I dare to risk the wrath of the gods by using the word 'happy?' Yes. I do. We wind up happy. It's very, very rare for one of us to leave band practice in a bad frame of mind -- and even then, it's a better state of mind than we had going in.

It's our therapy.

There was a TV show that went off the air recently that I was very fond of. It was called Boston Legal. It's appeal was very straightforward -- one part freak show, one part 'I am right, you are wrong' porn, and one part friend porn.

(Then there was the Shatner factor -- William Shatner played a character named Denny Crane who was clearly Captain Kirk in his filthy degenerate dotage. This is an example of what I think of as the principle of actor continuity -- all the characters played by a certain type of actor are the same individual at different times in their lives. For instance, the Jeff Bridges character in The Big Lebowski wound up in that state because of what happened to him in Tron. But I digress.)

Buck never watched the show and one night I was explaining to him that the emotional core was the relationship between the characters Alan Shore and Denny Crane, how at the ending of each and every episode they were sitting out on a balcony overlooking Boston, discussing the events of the day, sipping whisky and smoking cigars, and basically affirming that as long as they had their friendship, as long as they had that time together, all was right with the world.

And as I explained that, I looked at the cigarette in one hand, the glass of Anderson Valley IPA close to the other, looked over the railing at my wife's garden in the moonlight below us, and looked at my best friend.

I realized that we'd been doing this long before that show aired and would be doing it long after -- that when I watched those balcony scenes, what I felt wasn't envy. It was an affirmation of an important part of my life.

Last night we got together for the first time in a long time -- and as I said, last night I slept for eight hours, my back is tolerable, and I'm in a good mood. I love my friend; I missed my friend; I saw my friend and now I feel better. And I know that it went both ways.

He's being a good husband and father these days, attending to his family now that his second child has been born. He's doing the right thing and more power to him. We're going to have to change the pattern of our time together -- we'll be over at his house and his kids and wife will be part of the mix.

But seeing him last night made me realize that it's all gonna work out fine.

I was going to tell you about how we found out that we were friends but this post is already too long. I'll save that story for tomorrow. It involves, as I mentioned above, nefarious activities, Jack London, my sorely-missed brother Duncan and a coming-of-age passage, The Ramones and Screaming Jay Hawkins, a trailer park, class warfare, and just a wee little tiny bit of amnesia.

It's a pretty good story. I think you'll like it.

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