Monday, January 16, 2006

Piedmont: The Impediment?

You never forget where you come from, especially when it's like a Twilight Zone episode. I lived here from the day I was born until I was 14.
Piedmont California is a highly affluent community with the average land value being markedly above the already high Bay Area real estate costs. Piedmont is notable for its minimal amount of commerce when compared to its statistically similar counterparts, however, since it is right in the center of the Oakland Hills there is plentiful shopping in adjacent Oakland neighborhoods such as Piedmont Avenue, Montclair, Grand Lake, and Rockridge.All of the area, especially the city of Piedmont itself, was planned out like Disneyland.For a real laugh, drive up to Sotelo Dr. or Glen Alpine and check out these mega Chateaus that sit in ostentatious silence directly across
from puny little 60/70's mini ranch and Boogie Nights houses.
The huge houses near my Alma mater of Beach School are in Piedmont
itself and represent a time when they enforced a dress code at PHS because gals
were coming to school in floor length minks.

Their is an Oakland history book (Oakland, the
Story of a City, Beth Bagwell) and it says the entire area of Rockridge
was created to keep out the "Jewish, Asian, Black, and 'southern
Mediterranean' peoples." Piedmont was no different.That vibe was in effect up until the mid-90's, in reference to Piedmont being created as an white supremacy enclave.

That is why, to this day, Piedmont Ave. is not considered Piedmont by realtors. Renters and transplants feel it's Piedmont but anyone who grew up in the city proper knows that it's a very separate reality.
If a black person walked up the street during the
70's in Piedmont proper, then everyone started watering their lawns and peeking out of the curtains.

Today, it's mostly Democrats and rich kids, many of whom are hip hop
wannabees, and they have an arts school (Millennium) that is open to any kid in the
Bay Area who is accepted (once unheard of) but it's still bizarre and nouveau
riche...Stephen King meets Disneyland!
Piedmont is entirely surrounded by the city of Oakland, California. Residents originally sought incorporation in 1907 to avoid annexation by Oakland. The papers filed with the State of California to incorporate the new city used a map from the Piedmont Sanitary Sewer District.

Piedmont is home to ex-Major League Baseball player Dave McCarty, ex-National Football League star Bill Romanowski, Raider owner Al Davis, ex-49er player Bubba Paris, and Green Day member Billie Joe Armstrong. UCLA Quarterback, Drew Olson also grew up in Piedmont and played for their high school football team. Another notable star athlete raised in Piedmont is Courtney Paris and her sister Ashley Paris, who are each currently attending University of Oklahoma, where Courtney has already broken the scoring record in her Freshman year with 22 points. Courtney, is the starting Center for the USA women's basketball team. Courtney and Ashley's father is fellow Piedmont resident and ex-NFL star Bubba Paris.

Thanks in part to Wikipedia

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pete Townshend: A Tribute

What most writers miss about Pete Townshend that has been very obvious to me if I look back on his unparalleled career, is his amazing physicality. Onstage and off he is so graceful and in his body that a pilates instructor such as myself can only stand agape. He contains all that resplendent energy in one form that seems to crackle electrically with both humor and seriousness. Many writers also miss (or pretend to miss) the fact that he's never followed the crowd, a rarity for someone with his fame in a media that seeks out conformity in artists. He has paid hard dues for that uniqueness. Another fact often overlooked is that Pete Townshend comes from the true tradition of Rock n Roll and its roots in Black music. Maximum RnB was not just a slogan on a poster, Pete has a faintly sad soulfulness in his voice that recalls Al Green or Marvin Gaye and yes, he can damn well sing the blues.

It was Pete's solo album Empty Glass that first had me looking closer at Pete Townshend the person as opposed to Pete Townshend the guitarist for the Who. The opening chords of "Rough Boys" and its blistering horn sections seemed to sum up a frenzy of emotions and sensuality that I was feeling as a bohemian adolescent stuck in Piedmont, California, a very wealthy Bay Area city surrounded entirely by Oakland. Many of my snobby classmates were ardent Who fans before I was. It did not take me, the poor relation, very long to usurp them and carry around my cassette deck blaring "Don't Let Go Of The Coat" and "Jools and Jim." They were miffed. But when I wore my older brother's Who tour jersey, then the fur really flew. What I wouldn't give for a picture of my 12-year-old self, swaddled in that t-shirt, gobs of kohl black eye pencil ,chin out proudly with my one and only pair of jeans on ready to smash a million guitars over those sculpted preppie heads. Rich kids just can't rock n roll.

The Empty Glass album came with printed lyrics on the inner sleeve and I read them to my mom, who was divorcing my father at the time and losing our house. As we moved away to a lower income area and our relationship became strained, I would attempt to connect with my mom via Pete. I'd sit in her room after she worked graveyard at her shit job that was keeping us alive and read lyrics to songs liked "Somebody Saved Me" and "Slit Skirts" from Pete's follow-up "All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes." I felt something deep in those songs but she was actually living them. And so was Pete, who has shared his life with the listener and nurtured his music through vulnerability, anger and honesty to create a complete sense of connectedness with the audience.
It's been hard on the critics, even those who revere him as fans, because he's naturally bright and usually better educated than they are. He sees through political spiel and admits he's human, which ironically makes him seem more super human. Pete is like three people to me; a very literate, disciplined, astronomically prolific and gifted musical innovator, a brilliant, sensual, raconteur with one of Britain's all time greatest speaking voices and a very private man devoted to his family and lovely girlfriend, Rachel Fuller.

Seeing him up close at the Fillmore in April of 1996 was very interesting because it seemed like he was hanging out at the local pub with us. One can hear me screaming at the start of the disc and then asking to him to play 'Pravadigar.' At the end of the gig he framed his face with his hands and smiled right at me to make sure I got all the attention I craved for that brief and shining 30 seconds in which I sprouted wings and a halo and flew to heaven. His eyes are not just blue but turquoise blue, just amazing.

But it has not been all pageantry and elation. You grow to depend on a hero and then you really need him one day and you find he needs you more then you've ever needed him. I deplore the way the media vultures treated Pete during his ridiculous arrest in 2003 but in retrospect I'm cross with myself that I did not do more than just tell all my friends how untrue everything was. I should have been on a plane, I should have spoken louder. And I learned to never again have that regret, lest it be me one day. Everyone in my life, including the half dozen Bay Area families whose children I look after, know how important and loving Pete has been in fighting the good fight to clean up the internet's exploitation of children. Almost without exception they already knew or were pleased to hear how vocal he's been. Pete Townshend inspires many things, but cynicism isn't one of them.

It's no surprise that Pete shares his birthday, May 19th, with Malcom X and Ho Chi Minh, easily two of modern history's most important revolutionaries. And while he himself is a revelation in revolution he's also smart enough to embrace the spirituality that politics and sociology foolishly ignore. When he was a kid experiencing that unique childhood about which he's talked and written so much of, it seems as if a seed of optimism and joy was planted inside his mind that nothing has been able to kill, it only seems to grow stronger-and louder! Nutured by the universe not the rhetoric of a few.

Much like the writing of Charles Dickens, one looks at Pete's wonderfully British life and sees many colorful characters, lifelong friends and wild adventures that all seem to come together happily in the end regardless of vicissitudes and travails. Be it a very quiet and influential devotion to Meher Baba, an unabashed love and support of his loved ones or his Boy Who Heard Music blog, we are all included and expected to participate in his amazing journey.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I Wanted To Be Keith Moon

Keith Moon wore costumes in everyday life and always seemed to be clowning, that's why I thought he was someone to emulate, as I feel life should be joyous. His name sounded mystical too, you take a very rock n roll name like "Keith" and combine it with 'The Moon'. There are so many crazy , awesome and awful things he did in his life and as kid, I had no idea what they really meant. Keith Moon was like a god to me. When I won "best actress in a comedy" at my High school's drama awards ceremony, I talked about the impact he'd had on my young life. When I was Rotary student of the month for 'originality' I posed as him in the school paper,wearing a paper top hat and substituting my guidance counselor's Mercedes for a Roll Royce. I grew my eyebrows to frankly unflattering proportions to frame my large brown eyes ala Moonie. I acted like a nut too.

My best buddy Rachael, was Oliver Reed and I was Moonie and we were able to get the local wino to by us a big bottle of Dekuyper brandy (VSOP Courvoisier or Remy Martin was not in our budget but now that Rachael is a star attorney I'm sure she has a few bottles about;) Then we hung around our High school having duels, quoting Monty Python and Peter Cook and generally being completely bonkers.
I had framed photos of Moonie's glass house Tara. And there's more; my name is in honor of his daughter Amanda Jane Moon, who is supposed to be an absolute sweetheart.
On my very first glorious trip to lovely England, I was at Golder's Green Crematorium third dispersal field to pay my respects to Moonie within a few hours of landing. What a beautiful place it is, to be out 'here' in the fields.
Gradually I decided that Moon was not the way of life for me but that message was really sent home with that reality when for a few months back in 2001, I became best drinking buddies with the hottest and wildest British chick that had ever hit the small University town of Davis California, whom I'll call "S".
S and I took over the college bar scene and like a very feminine Derek and Clive we lived the Moonie way.

Granted S was only 21 and I had to look out for her, so a lot of it involved cutting wild evenings short, just in time. She was also a very serious drinker and I had never drank with the exception of that brief , few crazy months. If she was not out drinking and tormenting frat boys and most men within a three mile radius who could not resist a hot blond from Witney England, she was dead on the couch watching TV, recharging for another night out.It was then that I truly realized that a Moonie type lifestyle was a very hard one on the body.
I was working out nearly everyday with a personal trainer and elite triathlete at the time who knew the local scene and warned me that 'she'll rip you off' as a friend and bring down your stock socially. S did to a certain extent but I forgave her and wish her well, wherever she may be, as a DUI saw her carted back to her parents. She has the same birthday as Keith Moon, August 23rd, so I may never forget her.

It's fascinating to now have the clarity to see heroes as mortal and regular people because I feel it makes for a better world. Being able to have romantic notions about rock n roll is still something I cherish but I see that's its just that; romantic. Keith Moon in a colorful jester outfit running across a green field in search of a rolls royce to smash up is a charming movie I see in my mind, not a life to aspire to.

Pete Townshend once said rather pointedly, that the late heroes of rock that the public holds up as icons were HIS friends.
"They may be your fucking icons, but these were my friends! My friends and they're dead!"

When I was younger I might have felt slighted by that statement, as I felt Keith Moon was my friend too, but now it makes as much sense as a custom made double bass drum kit with the world's finest drummer behind it. I never knew Keith Moon as much as I thought I did, but due in part to his breif mecurial life, I now know myself.