David Byrne and the Beauty of Failure

I spent a lot of years thinking that the first song that David Byrne wrote, “Psycho Killer”, was the result of his inability to successfully imitate Alice Cooper.  Something so quirky and original was , in my mind at least, the end result of the failure to not be original.

Blair Jackson, writing in Mix magazine in late 2002, wrote an article about the creative process that the songwriter went through when he was writing the song.  I’ll include the whole quote because it helped me understand that David Byrne probably had a good notion of what he was doing.

Byrne noted many years ago, “‘Psycho Killer’ was written as an exercise with someone else’s approach in mind. I had been listening to Alice Cooper — Billion Dollar Babies, I think — and I thought it was really funny stuff. I thought, ‘Hey, I can do this!’ It was sort of an experiment to see if I could write something.

“I thought I would write a song about a very dramatic subject the way [Alice Cooper] does, but from inside the person, playing down the drama. Rather than making it theatrical the way Alice Cooper would, I’d go for what’s going on inside the killer’s mind, what I imagined he might be thinking.

“I wanted it to be like Randy Newman doing Alice Cooper. One way of telling the story would be to describe everything that happens — ‘he walks across the room, he takes so many steps, he’s wearing such-and-such.’ That tells you everything that’s going on, on one level, but it doesn’t involve you emotionally. The other extreme is to describe it all as a series of sensations. I think that sometimes has more power and affects people a little stronger. It seemed a natural delusion that a psychotic killer would imagine himself as very refined and use a foreign language to talk to himself.”

So…maybe it was the inability to write an Alice Cooper song that brought us “Psycho Killer”…maybe it was a much more conscious thing.  The original quote made me think that it was only his attempt to write an Alice Cooper song…more naive and less self aware than the introspective quote above would have me believe.  I kind of like the thought of it being a “happy accident” a little more than the idea that he knew what he was doing the whole time.

I tend to gravitate towards the artists who can’t help but be originals.  Whether it’s the visual arts or music or any of the other ways people express themselves, it’s the people who are so quirky and outside the expected that capture my interest.  I wonder how many of these people are never noticed or give up on their talents because they “can’t sing like Rihanna…can’t write like Bon Jovi…can’t paint like Leroy Neiman” …negative self talk because they can’t measure up to a standard that doesn’t have any need of being repeated? The “you sound JUST LIKE” compliment is really kind of the kiss of death if you look at it in that light.

On the other hand…the wishy washy other hand…a lot of artists start out with imitation and then move in to a different place when their ability catches up with their creativity.  There was a quote that was featured in an old book I love called On the Loose…”After the First Artist only the Copyist” that really puts it in perspective for me… being “creative” is different than being “the Creator“.  Our ego puffs us up…and brings us down…but it’s all just the work when you come down to it. Like Joan Armatrading said, “some days the bear will eat you…some days you eat the bear”.

We all copy…I think I read that Picasso said something like “good artists borrow, great artists steal”…it’s just that some people, either through skill or “naive savant-ness”, seem to copy with transcendent results. I’ve read a lot about people who were trying to approach a certain style, to write or paint just like their “hero”… who failed in the attempt to imitate but came up with something beautiful and fresh “by accident”.

In the end it seems to be just the “doing“…the “chop wood, carry water” approach that let’s the real creativity flow.  Waving our empty hands in the air until a bird flies into them…putting in the mileage until we win the race.


Part of being a parent is trying to take care of things that can’t be taken care of…like putting together a thrift store Lego robot for your 3 year old at 6 in the morning.  It only takes about 5 minutes to realize that the reason it ended up at the thrift store wasn’t only that the original child outgrew it….this ROBOT IS MISSING PARTS.

Try as I might…with my son egging me on, “Noooooo….it needs wheeeels!!!!”…I am not going to be able to get this miniature Optimus Prime together.  His head doesn’t sit where it should because the one little transitional piece that you need for true structural integrity isn’t even in the box.  The instruction manual with the pictures of Optimus Prime transforming into a car ARE IN THE BOX…the instruction manual that tells my son that IF DADDY WAS A REAL MAN HE COULD GET THE DANG ROBOT TOGETHER.  Most of the instructions are in Japanese…so I suspect that the subliminal message of Lego impotence is buried somewhere in the characters of the ancient Asian language.  Or maybe it’s some weirdly latent Pearl Harbor holdout…take us out with some embarrassingly impossible robot toys…swoop in when we’re all exhausted from trying to get the Optimus head to stay on the Optimus body.

When you tell a child who wants to play with his new toy to “be gentle with him…he’s very delicate”, the end is going to be less than satisfying.  Children don’t do “delicate” at the age of 3….and the instruction manual shows Optimus transforming into a fully functioning motor car with a head, so that’s the way this morning should go down.  I know it won’t…but it should end on a happy, “robot all together…robot good” note.

I don’t think that a parent ever gets it perfectly right.  We just keep putting the head back on, trying to explain why the wheels won’t stay on because the transitional piece wasn’t in the box (and realizing that phrases like “transitional piece” moves the conversation into the “talking with the dog” zone when Nate’s eyes glaze over).

I had a friend who said that his father used to tell him “do SOMETHING…even if it’s wrong“.  I think that he ended up designing software for Microsoft.  I’m on page 6 of a separate 36 page section,  trying to find the 4 pieces that allow me to transform Optimus from a rickety pile of semi-complete plastic robot parts to an equally rickety and incomplete Optimus car.  I am getting good at doing it wrong sometimes… but I’m seeing that some of the secret is maybe just in the doing part of the deal.  Just put my head down and push through this big pile of Lego….stuff.

Time to quit writing. Mommy just got up and told me, “No….the car was together when we got it.”  I think Nate heard that part….so even if he can’t verbalize his complex feelings…it probably just reinforces my Lego impotence in his eyes.  I guess we needed a project for a quiet Sunday…Optimus RISE….or Optimus ROLL !!!

PS…later in the evening…my spouse tells me that all the pieces were there after I notice that she has the car together.  I am sure the pieces were not there. Maybe she was hiding them from me?



Snooki had a Baby…..

…and my window won’t go up.

Snooki had a baby.  Why and how I know who and what Snooki is is a mystery…the melange of valid and trivial information floating around in my head is strange…total devastation in the Northeast and Ashton and Demi are having a hard time with their divorce and Snooki had a baby.  And now my window won’t go up.

I am employed by the USPS.  I drive a rural route down here in the Carolinas (which sounds more romantic than saying NORTH CAROLINA…”Carolinas” sounds soft and warm and welcoming….something I need to remember going into winter)…delivering mail year round…6 days a week now after the last mail count and resulting downgrade.

It’s funny how when you are cooking pizzas for a little bit of money, it’s a JOB…but when you join the UNION and they pay you a little more it becomes a CAREER. If you are in the midst of Art School (my capitalization), you think of yourself as an ARTIST…but when you deliver mail 6 days a week you darn well better think of yourself as a mailman. What’s your option?  You wake up doing it…and go to sleep knowing you’re going to do it all again in the morning.  (Some dairy farmer somewhere is thinking, “yeah?!  So?!!”).

Anyway…back to Snooki and my window.  My window stopped going up in the middle of the route yesterday.  Luckily, it was stuck in the down position.  It would have been really awkward to deliver the mail if my window had stuck in the closed position….so that it is stuck open is a good thing.  It is a good thing.  I went to the parts store and bought the ninety dollar part…sure that that would fix it (because what else could it be?)…installed it in the dark with the trouble light giving me fits…and it didn’t work.  It was the OTHER THING that was broken.  I need to buy the OTHER THING now (the switch)….that’s another hundred or so dollars if I can’t find it at the junk yard.  Usually my method of repair is to just shotgun it…repair everything that might be wrong for like 189.61 in parts and then inwardly crow that I didn’t have to pay someone 250 dollars to diagnose it right the first time and just fix what was wrong.  Admitting the problem is the first step to RECOVERY, right?  “HELLO…I’M PETER AND I WORK ON MY OWN CARS”.  I hear people say, “I’ll have my MAN look at it”…like if they just throw a little money at it, the problem isn’t a problem and the greasy stranger will make it all go away. Old habits die hard for me….we aren’t in the full on, full time panic mode anymore… “we need a lightbulb!!!!what are we going to do??!!!  No…it’ll be alright…we get our EARNED INCOME CREDIT in another couple of months…we’re going to make it.”…but I still feel like I’m running around like a headless chicken when the cars are screwed up.

So, back to Snooki.  I’m trying to quietly figure all this stuff out.  If you are LOUD AND LOST and they decide that it might be funny to put you in situation where they film you day in and day out (and you can sing like a FREAKING BIRD…no…that’s Beyonce…that’s someone different than Snooki)…you might be RICH.  What’s right about that?

Dire Straits sang about “Money for Nothing”…but it seems like the narrator of that song was griping about somebody that was actually doing something.  Now we have a bunch of role models…(and how about those STEROID FUELED, NON-HERO ATHLETES?  WHERE IS THE HERO THAT YOU NEVER HAVE TO DOUBT?  Oh, sorry….I digress…)  a bunch of role models…a bunch of role models…what was I saying?  Oh, yeah…a bunch of “role models” that people with even less ability emulate to lesser effect.  There isn’t much that I can think of that is more pathetic than a watered down imitation of a watered down life.

So it’s a rant.  I know it and should stop it , but I can’t.  I RANT.  (and how about IRAN?  what the heck is that all about?)  Maybe I’ll figure something out by the time I get my window to work again.

An orange Schwinn Varsity…and a DREAM

Back when this book first came out, I was still riding the old orange Schwinn Varsity that I’d gotten when I was 13.  Nothing’s very sophisticated or high-tech about a heavy, steel framed dinosaur….but I loved to ride.  Watched ” Breaking Away”….I was the Italian guy zipping around (in my head…on the bike…in reality I was still a little Norwegian guy on an orange bike). I read what books I could find on cycling…saw a couple of cycling movies….read some more….and, probably in a review in Outside magazine, discovered this book.

from the Amazon synopsis:

This is the delightful and often humorous story of an around-the-world bicycle trip taken by two young people, Barbara and Larry Savage.

It took them two years and 25 countries. Along the way, these neophyte cyclists encountered warm-hearted strangers, bicycle-hating drivers, rock-throwing Egyptians, over-protective Thai policemen, and great personal joys.

They returned to a new life in Santa Barbara, one Barbara never lived to savor. She was killed in a street accident, Barbara and her bicycle vs. a truck. We are lucky to have this memoir, throughout which her vitality, warmth and compassion glow.

I was formed by many things…I suppose we all are.  Parental contributions are and should be first and foremost on the list…all the little things they did for us shaping us and helping us grow…but there are random but life changing things that come in from unexpected angles (the camp job in NC, smiling at the shy beauty for the first time who became my wife, other things more minor…) that mold us and leave a trace forever.  This book was one of those things for me.

A young person thrives on the tragic…a sense of drama must come with the territory….and to read this book as a young and untested man and to discover that Barbara was killed after returning to the States…after all their shared adventures in what one would suppose were the “really dangerous parts of the world”… was mind blowing.  It was a tragedy….horrible and unexpected and, to a young person, beyond understanding and unfair.

But that’s not what I remember taking away from this book.  What I remembered then and what I remember years later was the LIFE…the adventure and humor and willingness to experience…the willingness to LIVE. Barbara and her husband Steve weren’t funded by CocaCola…they weren’t part of some big reality show where fame and fortune waited at the end of a filmed “adventure”…they were just a young couple out in the world, meeting other people on their own turf and on their own terms,  meeting other people (not “visiting the Foreigners”…whatever that may mean..) and making friends along the way.  I guess that’s the beauty of a bicycle…more chance to interact than you have at 70 mph.

I have friends I’ve never met…people who’ve never said a word to me directly who’ve helped shape my world view…and I would include the author of this book in that list.  Thank you, Barbara.


A short PS…I may have had my first generation, second-hand steel frame Diamondback Ridge Runner mountain bike by the time this book came out…so that’s what I would have been riding…but an orange Varsity is still so much more picturesque.  So…imagine me on that if it helps paint the picture for you.

Sourdough…a great movie trapped in the tape

Back when I used to spend time picking up video box after video box, trying to decide on a movie that the whole family could watch…I discovered “Sourdough”.  I love this movie.  My family groans…sure that I couldn’t possibly be serious…but I am serious and I do have a lot of affection for this film.

This movie is the story of an older “mountain man” who’s spent the bulk of his life living way out in the Alaskan wilderness….and the eventual disillusionment he feels when “far out” isn’t far enough anymore.

It’s kind of a strange movie in some ways….kind of feels like a documentary with a plot…and I’m pretty sure that it’s out of print…just another one of those movies that you might find at the Salvation Army buried in a bin with about a couple of thousand other VHS orphans. It’s a  beautiful, slow paced, scenery rich film that “out realities” any of the rose throwing bimbo fests currently wasting our time.

Gil Perry was the star of the film…another mystery…I googled him to see what I could find and apparently there isn’t a lot out there. The movie was made back in the day when if you told someone that you’d googled them they probably would have punched you out…not understanding that it wasn’t anything with a deviant twist to it.  In the end… I couldn’t find out anything about Gil.  It was easier to disappear when it wasn’t so easy to find you.

This is one of the great “lost ones”…not like the Holy Grail or anything…but worth seeking out.  And if you can find a copy and watch it, maybe I can add you to the list of folks who groan when I say, “Awwwww…I Love that Sourdough movie…you ever see it? You want to watch it again?!!!


PS    Just discovered the above link….the movie’s writer/cinematographer’s  site that explains  his background and mentions the movie. He’s written two books about the history of the Iditarod…check it out.

Camo Truck

I’m approaching mid life in about 10 or so years (I’m 52 so that should give me a pretty good run) and I’ve started thinking about what kind of vehicle I need to get to satisfy my mid-life hunger pangs. The red Ferrari is the cliche….the little red Miata is kind of fey…so what’s a transplant wannabe mountain kind of guy to do?  Get a camouflaged Monster Truck, that’s what.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to command any respect in my golden years…but I think that when I pull up behind you in my 7 mpg hide in the woods mobile, welllll….people sit up and hunker down in their car seats and take notice that Big Daddy has arrived!

That I’m thinking at all about what kind of vehicle will command respect is probably a pretty good sign that I’m going to need something to compensate…but why not start early and get a jump on it all?  They probably check to see if the future owner has ever used a phrase like “command respect” before they let you register a camo truck, though…weed out the posers.  Wish me luck if you don’t see me  (I’ll be camouflaged, you understand?)


Barack re-elected, recreational use of marijuana approved for Washington and Colorado ( I don’t believe it was a cause or effect situation as far as the re-election went, though….the marijuana thing, I mean…just coincidence…not like “what were you smokin’?” )….and all this happens right after I get a chance to mention Lloyd Kahn in my blog for the first time.  Who’da thunkit?

I do like that song that Jennifer Hudson uses in her weight loss commercial, though…although the “new day” starts feeling like  the old day more and more.  Maybe we’ll get a chance to hear it in the coming days, who knows?  Or maybe we’ll get a chance to hear that CSI song that the Who did for the TV show? (just kidding…I know it wasn’t commissioned  to play while they were driving the fast boat).

It did feel like a year ago that if you could wear the “I’m a Republican” t-shirt that you were a shoo-in to become the next President of the United States. Not really sure what that says about the campaign….maybe that the guy we know about looked better with all his faults than the guy we wondered about.

Anyway, back to the marijuana thing.  Who’da thunkit.

My Favorite Lloyd

This is one of the books published by Lloyd Kahn and the folks at Shelter Publications.  These are great books…Lloyd has a great deal of curiosity and enthusiasm for all of the places he features…and I value any of his stuff highly.  He has a wonderful blog that I check daily…lots of excellent links and information…fine photography….an all around good guy.  Links for the Shelter store and the blog below:





Survivalism and the Law of Attraction

I used to wake up every morning, turn on the computer, and spend all morning before the rest of the family woke up reading the survivalist blog that I’d set my home page to. I was an expert on all the bad things that could happen to me and to my family…every threat and solution…everything that should and did keep me awake at night. For years I did this…all the news that was fit to print was just fuel for my paranoia.

I drive a rural postal route for money now ( I almost said to make a living…but by the grace of God I wake up every morning still breathing… I don’t think that the USPS has much to with my living) and one of the perks of my job is that I get to listen to books on cd as I open every mail box in my part of the world. Some of the books I’ve gotten to listen to have been about the Law of Attraction…the idea that what we think about determines what and who we are and what happens around us. It hit me after a little while that I had to question just what I was attracting with this interest in survivalism. I’m pretty convinced that we find what we’re looking for…and I was looking for the bad like knowing it was coming was going to help me prepare for all the worst to come.

I guess that the real turning point for me was when the writer of the blogs wife passed away. He loved her…you could tell by how affectionately he described their interactions…how he respected her contributions to their efforts to prepare, to build a business and blog….and then she was gone and I couldn’t help but feel that it was really pretty sad that so much of their time together was spent preparing for the bad times to come. Our time is pretty limited here on earth…both my parents are gone now and the fact of all of our mortality makes more of an impact on me than it did when I was 16…and I’ve lived long enough to know that bad things happen…but good things happen, too. (The people up in the northeast know it…you can’t go on if you don’t believe that good can come).

I don’t think that I steer the outcome of my life with an obsession with only good thoughts….I don’t think I have that power…but I do know that I notice a lot more of the good things when I’m looking for them. I can’t continue to prepare for the worst…but I can prepare in anticipation of the better things to come. That’s the choice I make…that things are better than I think…that the undercurrent that runs the strongest is one of good.


Ramit Sethi is a smart as…

Ramit Sethi is a smart as heck know-it-all Indian dude that , when it comes to finance at least, knows what he’s talking about. ( I suppose you thought I’d misspelled A** in the title? maybe….he is kind of a smarta**…and that’s probably a lot of the appeal of this book.)

The book isn’t a get rich quick kind of situation.  The main idea is that if we can “get out of our own way” (my quotes….not his), automate our finances, learn to avoid/eliminate fees, and save money in simple ways that we stand a better chance of being rich than if we continue to make the mistakes that the majority of us make.

I’ve read a bunch of this type of financial books….trying to figure it all out.  I guess it’s kind of like the friends who live at the beach who always want to come to visit the mountains.  We always want something different than what we have.  Temporarily, we don’t have a huge pile of money.  I’d like a huge pile of money….I’m not embarrassed to say it…a big old imposing pile of money…lots of money. I don’t love money….that’s the root of all evil…but I would love to have a bunch of money.  It would be fun.  Ramit’s book is a fun read. It’s fun to read about how to save, invest, and handle your money so that someday the reader might end up with a GIANT pile of money. (did I mention that I’d like to have a big ol’ honkin’ Scrooge McDuck style monster pile of money?  Well…I would. )

This book is currently a little more than ten dollars at Amazon.com….I can think of at least three tips that he gives that would save the price of the book in the first couple of chapters alone.It’s a bargain and a smart investment.

I’d like to sit down with Ramit sometime and chew the fat, have a couple of beers, let him pick up the tab (he’s a rich author, you know?)…but until that happens this book is the next best thing to hanging out with him.