My wife was made for the pioneer days. She would be perfectly content living on the edge of white America (which also explains how she fits in so well in Oregon). Surrounded by the wild, unpredictable western weather patterns and the mountains and bears and mountain lions and bison, my wife would feel right at home. She would sew all our clothes, wash our laundry down by the creek, skin and cook elk. In some ways I’m sad I can’t give her the life she was meant to lead.
Many people have asked me how I got my trophy wife. It’s an understandable question. A woman of her caliber deserves to be with a titan of industry, a man who dabbles in classic car collecting and extreme yachting before realizing his life lacks something important. Sometimes that man doesn’t get the girl. Sometimes, like in a Woody Allen movie, the nerd gets the girl.
But it wasn’t always this way with us. Long ago, in a small Colorado mountain town, I almost missed catching this prize woman.
My wife, who in this story goes by the name Isis, worked in the local chain bookstore. She was putting herself through college. A professional bookslinger by day, a visionary architect student by night, Isis seemed to have the perfect start to the rest of her life. She even had the perfect boyfriend, Trent Highbrow.
Trent Highbrow, heir to the Highbrow copper dynasty, drove a cherry red Mazda Miata. He tipped poorly and was astonished when he saw a Mexican doing something besides cooking his dinner. His wavy blond hair was always perfectly coiffed, his suits always freshly pressed.
Yet all was not well at Highbrow manor. The family’s coffers were at low-tide and dropping thanks to bad investments. Trent did his best to hide his family’s lowering endowment, but the frayed edges were beginning to show. This all did nothing to change Trent’s prejudices against the middle class, a class from which he incidentally hoped to rescue Isis.
Enter the wandering Jew. Isis didn’t think much of me at first. She eyed me with suspicion, wondering how I was able to find employment at all, let alone at the country’s most prestigious minimum wage employer.
I witnessed Trent pick Isis up after a long day of selling Dan Brown’s latest bestseller. His Miata screeched to a halt at the front of the bookstore. Isis, who had been waiting patiently for only half an hour, jumped inside and they drove away. I could hear them laughing together as though the rest of us regular folks didn’t exist. They were in love with each other and in love with the money they thought would be theirs very soon. How wrong that assumption would prove to be.
I knew Isis wasn’t meant for Trent. She needed a dose of nervousness and guilt, and in me she would find both. My suspicions were confirmed one day when our lunch breaks happened to fall on the same half-hour.
I asked her about love.
“Love?” she said with a deadened look in her eyes. “Love is a festering open wound that runs and runs.”
Trent didn’t stand a chance.
Things came to a head one day when Trent came in to the store. I knew something was amiss. A man of his wealth should never have to enter a bookstore: what possible use could a book be when you’re already rich? His stooped posture and wrinkled jacket gave away the rest. Trent had discovered his family’s secret; they were about to declare bankruptcy. His older brother had already fled the country in their last Lear jet and his mother was obsessively scrubbing a shirt she claimed was stained with blood. Trent was coming to collect his last remaining possession: Isis.
Trent grabbed Isis by the elbow and began leading her out of the bookstore. I, like the rest of my colleagues, watched the ensuing chaos with a mixture of horror and secret delight that we were on the clock and therefore being paid to watch this happen.
Isis turned to Trent. Her rage would have burned through an ordinary man, but Trent’s brain was a concoction of styrofoam and plastic; he couldn’t understand her deep emotion. She yelled that she was not going anywhere with him anymore. He stuttered something to the effect of, “b-b-but you’re my girlfriend!” She pulled herself out of his grip.
Trent looked around and realized that, though his money was gone, and his girlfriend was leaving, he could still salvage his pride. So he hit her. Isis, never one to back away from a fight, lashed out with the strength of a thousand comets. When the fight was over, Trent pulled himself up, tears falling from his eyes, and staggered out of the store. He was not seen in that part of Colorado again.
Later, on our fifteen-minute break, Isis took me aside. She confided that she didn’t want wealth or even a man with good looks. She wanted me.
There have been many more stories since then. I couldn’t ask for a better partner, without whom those stories would not be possible.
On November 9, 2007, Friday Robots were born. It was a whim; posted hastily-drawn sketches of creatures so bizarre the only name I could give them was “robots.” I’d actually been drawing robots for some time, but thanks to this here blog I was able to spread the robot love all around the world. The next Friday it was official: Friday Robots were here to stay.
Two years and 115 ‘bots later, Friday Robots are still going strong. Today I created a stamp to mark the special occasion. Check out this modern piece of machinery:
As I said, these robots were carved, stamped, then paired with a piece of desert known as the Painted Hills of Oregon. It’s crazy, I know: Oregon has desert.
Thank you all for supporting Friday Robots, and here’s to another year of human/robot cooperation. High five!
As my two favorite blogs both sent out such nice Thanksgiving messages today, I wanted to join in the cheer. Thanks to all of you, my dear readers. Without you I’d just be some crackpot; with you I am a respected blogger. You make all the difference in the world.
Part life story, part medical treatise on the long-term mental effects of pot smoking, Peter Ames Carlin’s new biography, Paul McCartney: A Life, chronicles the once and future Beatle from his parent’s meeting all the way through his latest album, Electric Arguments.
Carlin’s book doesn’t deal in those oft-repeated “truths” about The Beatles and Paul McCartney, and it never succumbs to nitpicking. It is written by a fan who loves Paul but is not blinded by that love. Carlin has written an engaging, well-researched biography of the Cute Beatle.
While Paul was for years dismissed as a lightweight next to John Lennon, people have finally started to come around. His contribution to the greatest rock band of all time was nothing short of foundational. Without Paul’s sense of melody and artistic experimentation, John songs like A Day in the Life or Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds would never have achieved their full potential. The Beatles were always a band, and Carlin shows that you can’t discount any member of that group. (Even Ringo.)
In spite of Carlin’s not being able to speak with Paul directly, he has 50+ years worth of interviews, news articles, books, and of course music to draw from. It really isn’t a drawback that the biographer doesn’t have direct access to his subject. Paul usually interviews only when he’s trying to sell something, and he also tends to be just a bit spacey. Not necessarily bad things in themselves, but it isn’t a mixture conducive to introspection.
It also doesn’t help that Paul rarely critiques his past work. I would love to sit him down and ask, as an intrepid Playboy interviewer did with John Lennon many years ago, what Paul thinks about every song on every single one of his albums. My friend Andy, a Beatle scholar of utmost integrity, theorizes that Paul doesn’t think about his past work. He sure doesn’t play the majority of his catalog on tour. If you just saw him live, you’d think he only made about a dozen songs from 1970 to the present. Bob Dylan, on the other hand, whips out a vast assortment of songs on his Neverending Tour, from hits to obscurities.
Paul’s desire to be liked, to keep earning his fame, is probably his greatest motivation. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all, but it does force him to “forget” a large part of what he’s done over the years. As Carlin is quick to point out, sometimes a failure can be just as interesting as a success. Much of his commentary in the book is reserved for Paul’s lesser-known works.
Carlin’s portrait of Paul is of an inventive, egotistical, creative, musical, artistic, autocratic, blissful, angry, oblivious, hardworking, chipper guy. Because of all his contradictions, Paul comes off as truly human. That is the great success of Carlin’s biography. Breezy without being glib, deep without seeming pretentious, A Life presents a Living Legend in all senses of that phrase.
Although I’ve read more than my share of Beatles commentary, Carlin’s biography does shed some new light on that oft-written period of time. While Paul always wants to come off as a nice guy in public, he is a huge star and is used to having his way all the time. That tension is the crux of the Beatles chapters. Paul clearly wanted to become the leader of The Beatles after Brian Epstein died, an ill-advised move that probably led as much to the breakup as Yoko’s incessant howling. But it was also his vision that created Beatles out of a group of Liverpool teenagers. So you could say that balances things out.
The part of Paul’s life I was most interested in hearing more about, however, came post-Beatles. How can a man who thought up and executed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band produce utter garbage a few years later? Easy! Carlin tells us how:
Paul’s problem with putting out consistently good albums seems to be:
1. Big ego, plus
2. an unsureness of his own talent, compounded when
3. his big ego gets doesn’t allow him to listen when someone has a bad thing to say about his new songs.
Paul, like all us artists, needs an editor. His best editor, John, was never interested in working with him after the Beatles, and Paul never found another person he could trust as much as John. Paul’s reliance on how easy it all came to him was actually a hindrance, allowing him to put out albums regularly without any of the sweat needed to hone a group of songs to perfection. Then, if the album did well (which it usually did in the 1970’s, because this is a new Paul McCartney album after all), he’d just assume all was well and continue on his merry way.
I was particularly interested in Paul’s brief partnership with Elvis Costello. I really wish he had released the songs they recorded together as-is. Instead, second guessing himself, Paul re-recorded all of them. When they came out (in Flowers in the Dirt and the misbegotten Off the Ground) they had lost their energy.
Sometimes the production got in the way of perfectly good songs, but many times Paul just didn’t have anything to say. He was a blogger before his time. At worst, listening through Paul’s post-Beatle albums is a fascinating way to chart the moods of one of the most famous people on the planet. Feeling it was his duty to keep making albums, Paul sometimes lost the thread.
But that isn’t always the case. Every once in a while he’ll release Band on the Run, or Flaming Pie, or the recent Memory Almost Full. (Although for my money, McCartney is still his greatest solo effort.) Albums that, if they were made by a total unknown, would propel him to stardom.
Carlin compiles the story Paul never seems willing to tell. It is the story I’ve long wanted to hear. What Paul doesn’t know is, it is his failings that make him great. It’s the fact that he can release (and champion!) Give My Regards to Broad Street as if it were the next A Hard Day’s Night. I find it comforting that even a musical genius can have an off day.
I also find it comforting that a book such as this exists. Now I think I’ll put my headphones back on and listen.