HOME

The street was the same as I remembered it. And the birds swooped as if to herald my return. So it was true, I hadn’t dreamed it. For a moment I stood and took in the beautiful cacophony of noise that I’d never fully appreciated before in all its ugly glory. The sun came out to shine on cue and its warmth informed me that I had now entered a safety zone for lost boys.

How can you know a place so well and yet feel that you are seeing it for the first time? If this is a dream and I awaken now I will be angry all day. Maybe all days.

I continue moving on further into it until I reach the gate no one ever closes, and the narrow cement path  leading to the apartment block steps I once knew so well I could climb them in the dark, and under the influence of too much life. This time there seems to be a lesson learnt in each step and greater effort needed to conceal the weariness of the outsider.

Halfway up I enter the glow from the first storey window that conspires to shine God-like behind the statue of Buddha as if even the universe is welcoming my return.

More steps and more weary remembrances of lessons learned and I am at the front door, knocking in a drum pattern of whimsy and familiarity.

After an eternity of seconds the door is opened and I see your smiling face as I remembered it from a long ago carefree time. Bright, loving and kind. I can now die in my footsteps and not be lost to wander and wonder.

I enter and am surrounded by the comfort of the greatest books and music ever written. Each word and note a friend of mine. And I sit at the empty table. Alone no more. Everything and nothing has changed as I take my place amongst it.

You ask me how I am. But there are no words to convey the miracle of ordained destiny.

For in that sheltered moment, I am home.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2017

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BOOZE AND DRUGS

There’s a great scene in “Breaking Bad” where Walt White and Hank, his DEA brother-in-law, discuss the thin line between what’s legal and what’s not. And that even good people can topple over sometimes onto the wrong side of the line for the simplest of things.

Much has been made of Robin Williams’ on and off drug problems and struggle with alcohol, but I would suggest when he decided to end it all he was straight.

On October 28, 1919 – a date that will live in infamy if not the annals of stupidity – the U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act over President Wilson’s veto and prohibited the sale of alcohol to the public. And what was the effect of that? It made gangsters like Al Capone very wealthy men. By 1925, in New York alone, there were, estimated, between 30,000 and 100,000 speakeasy clubs. The moral of the story? If people want something bad enough they’ll get it. Making it illegal just insures that you have to pay inflated prices for it and deal with criminals and underworld characters that brings with it its own dangers.

When Hollywood previewed the Brian DePalma remake of “The Untouchables” they found they had a major problem with it. The audience were rooting for Al Capone over the do-good law enforcement Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness. And why not? The latter was hell-bent on denying the public booze. So the studio had to shoot an extra scene early in the movie that showed Capone’s men placing a bomb in a store that wouldn’t pay protection money and a little kid was killed, thus turning the audience’s sympathy from Capone to Eliot Ness.

So, in those dim dark ages, if you knocked three times on a speakeasy door and gave the right password, you were let in to have a scotch or a gin or whatever alcoholic beverage you were seeking. Oh, and you were considered a criminal.

Alcohol was banned to stop people over-indulging. That’s like banning food because some people over-eat. I think it’s always a very dark and sinister act when the government attempts to control what should be, in a free society, one’s personal choice and responsibility.

I would argue that cigarettes have killed more people than alcohol. Why don’t we ban those? And how ineffective would that be? Again, we’d just give a lot of criminals a new business opportunity and make them a fortune. And we’d end up paying $100 for a pack of cigarettes.

In 1922, during the alcohol prohibition years, cocaine was also banned and thus another substance, that had been legal and freely available, was given over to the underworld to boost their pockets.

The celebrated Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, himself a cocaine user, prescribed the substance to his patients believing it was a cure for depression and sexual impotence. In 1884 he published an article “Uber Coca” which promoted the “benefits” of cocaine, calling it a “magical” substance.

In 1886 it got a further boost when John Pemberton included coca leaves as an ingredient in his new soft drink, Coca-Cola. This new drink was also considered to be, ironically, a cure for a hangover caused by an over-indulgence in alcohol.

During the early 1900s, cocaine and opium-laced elixirs (magical or medicinal potions), tonics and wines were broadly used by people of all social standings. Notable figures who promoted the “miraculous” effects of cocaine included inventor Thomas Edison and actress Sarah Bernhardt.

By 1905 it became popular to snort it. By 1912 The United States government reported 5000 related deaths in one year due to an over-use of cocaine. By 1922 it was officially banned, which, when news reached Sherlock Holmes it probably resulted in his suicide by throwing himself off the Reichenbach Falls.

So, like alcohol, it was not the substance itself that was lethal but rather some people’s over-use of it.

Did you know if you drink too much water you can die from it? All we need is 5000 of us to do that in any one year and perhaps they’ll ban that too.

What I’m getting at is where does one’s own personal responsibility come into it? And where’s the line where the government intervenes into our lives and criminalizes something because some people are over-indulging?

I used to listen to a talkback radio guy in L.A who was a Libertarian. Their political philosophy upholds liberty as the principal objective. Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing political freedom, voluntary association and the primacy of human judgment.

A woman’s debate about the right to abortion is that “it is my body and the government does not own it and anything I wish to do with it should be my choice and not theirs.”

Well then, it you want to take that debate further, and not that much further, isn’t it also correct that if I own my own body then I should be allowed to do whatever I want with it? Is it not my own personal choice if I want to drink a gallon of scotch, or shoot up heroin, or snort cocaine, smoke a carton of cigarettes, or my smelly socks for that matter? And if I’ve had enough of this life isn’t it also my right to end it? Surely it only becomes a matter for law enforcement if we are intoxicated, or high or suicidal and get behind the wheel of a car? Because by doing that we are putting other people’s lives at stake. People who have chosen to want to live. Then, of course, it becomes a concern for society at large.

John Lennon once had a hit with a song that said, “Whatever gets you through the night is alright…”

I try to get through this life attempting to be as non-judgmental of others as possible. Unless of course they steal from me or attempt to harm me. If someone is struggling and needs prescription drugs to get through, or need to self-medicate themselves with something that makes them feel better, what business is it of ours? My sympathy is with those that need it, and also my prayers. But to judge Robin Williams or Jim Morrison or Heath Ledger or Elvis or any of the millions of people out there is an act of arrogance and shows a severe lack of empathy for the pain they may be carrying. Perhaps those people who sit in judgment in their ivory towers need to come down and fuck themselves.

How do you end the drug wars and get rid of the criminal element in one swift and effective move? You legalize it. At least then there would be some monitor on exactly what people are taking and what amount. And perhaps if it is noticed that some are in such pain they are over-indulging then maybe some counseling could be recommended. But again, it would be one’s personal choice as to whether they accepted that or not.

In California now and in some other U.S. states “pot” is legal with a medical prescription. Have people gone mad with it? Of course not. They buy what they need to get them through the week and go home. Like buying a 6 pack of beer.

Cannabis oil has also proven to be a great help in prolonging and enhancing the lives of cancer patients.

Believe it or not Richard Nixon was the first President that believed drug addicts should not be treated as criminals but instead needed counseling. It would certainly free up law enforcement officers to focus on more important crimes, like people murdering each other. Or the next terrorist attack.

And besides, I would’ve thought the Government would prefer us all to be medicated anyway, so that our anger would be numbed to what idiots they are.

Anyway, just thinkin’ out loud.

(c) Frank Howson 2014

THOUGHTS ON ROBIN WILLIAMS

It was always his eyes that got to me. No matter how hard he smiled or how manic his brain was working, machine-gunning out hysterical one-liners, most of which you missed because you were too busy laughing at the last one – his eyes were sad. The sadness of a man who possibly knew that the world was insane and he was just going to go with it.

To me all the great comedians have one thing in common – they see the world from a unique point-of-view. Sometimes it’s not even that the one liners are that funny. What is humorous is their perspective on things. They see the bizarre in the things we take for granted, the mundane actions we mostly do on auto-pilot without even thinking about. But they do.

Another great example of this humour is Ricky Gervais. We identify and laugh at how silly and futile some of the things we do and say really are under the light of scrutiny.

I know a woman who worked for a TV show in Los Angeles for some time and she said one of the many guest stars on the show over the years had been Robin Williams. She told me when he arrived he was rigid with nerves. He was concerned he wouldn’t be funny. He was intimidated by the guest star on the previous week’s show and that he couldn’t top what they’d done, etc., etc., etc. She said he got so worked up he almost walked out before the taping and she had to calm him down and assure him he’d be wonderful. Perhaps that explains his rapid fire delivery of one-liners. They were being propelled at us from the nervousness he felt inside. What a drain that must’ve been on him and how exhausted he must’ve felt after every show, like a champion boxer after every title bout. Ironically, that inner fear that ate him away like a cancer also made him great.

That is the way with many great artists. Their flaws or perceived disabilities are their strengths.

Having spent many years researching the life of Bobby Darin for a new musical I have written, I was struck by a comment from his son, Dodd. He said that the heart problem that had afflicted his father from an early age also propelled him to greatness. Bobby had overheard a doctor say to his mother, “If that kid lives to sixteen it’ll be a miracle.” Now, there are two ways you can go with that knowledge. Either you just give up and think what’s the use of doing anything or you can go the other way and squeeze everything you can into every minute you have left. Dodd Darin has said, “People think that disease killed my father. Oh no, it made my father.”

Robin Williams said he was once advised to go see a shrink. He made the appointment and went to the therapist, laid down on his couch and talked about his life and his problems. At the end of it, the therapist said to him, “I think I can cure you, but you may not be funny anymore.” Robin got up, shook hands with the guy and left never to return. The world thanks him for that decision but damn, what a burden he carried for our pleasure.

Like you I will miss Robin Williams not being in the world. His absence, like that of John Lennon, makes all our lives a little colder. All I know is I’m going to miss him for a long, long time.

Every time I hear Smokey Robinson and the Miracles sing “Tracks of my Tears” I will think of him, “…So take a good look at my face, you’ll see my smile looks out of place, if you look closer it’s easy to trace the tracks of my tears.”

Rest in peace, dear man.

(c) Frank Howson 2014

NIGHT MOVES

 

 “The Cave” opened in 1912 and was located in the basement of the Gruenwald Hotel (later the Roosevelt) in New Orleans. It is now believed to be the first “nightclub” in the United States.

From the early 1900s working class Americans would frequent honky tonks or juke joints to meet people of the opposite sex and dance to music played on the piano or a jukebox. During the US Prohibition years when alcohol was made illegal the night clubs went underground and were controlled by the gangster element. These clubs were known as “speakeasys”, the name deriving from the fact that the clientele had to know a secret word in order for the doorman to allow you entrance into the place.

The banning of alcohol during these years should’ve been a lesson to governments that the banning of any substance is futile as those who want it bad enough will always be able to obtain it. All it does is give the product to the control of criminals and make them wealthy in the process.

 When the Prohibition law was repelled in February 1933 the night clubs really took off in a big way. Such iconic venues as New York’s Copacabana, the 21 Club, El Morocco and the Stork Club went all out to set a high standard and capture their share of the market. Many former gangsters became legitimate businessmen and went after the night-owl market. Maybe they liked the feeling of power that owning a top night spot gave you. In those days the entertainment music was supplied by big bands featuring New York’s top jazz players.

In Harlem, Connie’s Inn and the famous Cotton Club were hugely popular venues for white audiences.

The success of this formula soon swept across America and then the rest of the world.

 In Occupied France, jazz and bebop music, along with the jitterbug dance craze, were banned by the Nazis who saw it as a decadent American influence. I guess they thought killing men, women and children was acceptable but having a dance and a drink on a Saturday night was going too far. The French, not known for taking no for an answer, took to meeting in hidden, secret basements. These places became known as “discotheques” and the music was supplied by playing hit records on a single turntable. Even in Germany the Nazis were fighting an unwinnable battle trying to keep music, alcohol and “decadent” social gatherings away from their citizens. Underground discotheques popped up in Berlin basements and were patronized by anti-Nazi youth called the swing kids.

 After the war, in Paris, a club named the Whiskey a Gogo set into practice what would become  the standard elements of the modern night club by laying down a dance floor, suspending coloured lights and using two turntables so that there would be no breaks between the music.

By the 1970s the disco night clubs came into their own and record companies began producing long versions of songs that were ideal for keeping the patrons on the dance floor. Some of the most prestigious clubs were outfitted with elaborate lighting systems that throbbed to the thumping beat of the music.

There also began a thriving drug subculture that chose Cocaine to enhance the experience of music and lights. Amyl nitrite (also known as poppers) also became popular as did Quaaludes which affected motor coordination and turned your arms and legs to jelly. Again, these illicit substances attracted the gangster underworld and they were more than happy to supply to demand and make fortunes from the trend.

The environment and drugs also fuelled rampant promiscuity and the new age of night clubs, heralded by New York’s infamous Studio 54, became cocaine-filled hangouts for celebrities.

 For the wealthy, they slept all day and partied all night. The scene became their lives. And, in some cases, their deaths.  In the words of the Danny O’Keefe song of the time, “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,, “…you play around you lose your wife, you play too long you lose your life.”

(c) Frank Howson 2013

VEGAS

 

what happens in vegas

stays in vegas

including our money

 

there’s a war raging outside

but I just got four aces

and the rolling stones are in town

we haven’t seen the sun in 10 days

these are nights without end

and steak dinners at Binions

at 3am

so fucked up and decadent

but hey, you only live once

and if you do it right

that’s all you need

 

there’s the corner eddie was shot

and here’s the last place lou was seen alive

over there tommy took one

and see that place….?

 

my friend knows all about vegas

he’s my tour guide of death

 

mccartney’s here this weekend

maybe we should stay?

maybe we should move here                 

he smiles

serious

I smile back and suppress my urge

to shoot myself

with his gun

the one with the silencer

(such a caring device)

why annoy others with the sound of someone’s messy death?

 

maybe it’s the constant rush

but I am so depressed

here I am surrounded by lights,

movement, people and shows

and yet I just want to cry

 

there is such desperation in the air

even worse than L.A.

 

neon lights

billboards of people i thought were dead

$12.99 steak dinners

any time day or night

 

only elvis was big enough

to put this place in perspective

 

we see some shows

george carlin

neil sedaka

little river band

america

 

george carlin spends his whole act

trying to convince the audience to go home

and commit suicide

 

the laughs are stilted and self-conscious

too many among us think his argument has merit

 

to take our mind off our death

we play the tables and get free drinks

while losing a fortune

 

but it’s only money

 

we’re having fun

after all

 

let’s get some hookers to our room says my friend

 

now there’s an idea

designed to make us feel even worse

about ourselves

 

hey, c’mon, let’s have some fun

 

we’re soon back on our way to lost angeles

 

(c) 2013 Frank Howson