What's In A Name?

Part One: The Podcast

Because it's the Solstice—the two of which are really the most significant days of each year—and the Cold Moon—so I'm up early, morning insomnia, hours before sunrise—it's time to write a memo for this website—which has been my home for gibberish for the last couple of years. The big news here is the availability to that part of the world that can access the “web” (presumably where you're reading this)—aside from some minor adjustments—at the top of this site's menu (or in the three horizontal bars, if you're on your phone) the word “podcast” will take you to a page where sound can emerge—as if by magic—the first time something on this website asks for your ears rather than your eyes. It's something I have to grow into, as it feels more active and less passive than I'm used to—but as I've developed a fondness for listening to podcasts, myself, lately (which I can do while I'm walking outside—one of my favorite activities), it makes sense. The level of technology I'm comfortable with is writing with a ballpoint pen on paper pages of a notebook. Just retyping them and then posting them in a website is a dizzying stretch for me, so naturally the freaky magic of audio files kind of feels like getting into an airliner cockpit—so this is not without a lot of help.

The idea for this podcast comes from Mark Zbikowski, who is a friend of mine in Milwaukee (and not to be confused with the famous hacker, so you're safe!) who had this idea for “The Randy Russell Podcast”—and I both want to justly credit him with coming up with the idea, while also assuring people (who know me or don't know me) that I haven't gone off the deep end and have started referring to myself in the third person. I mean, I am arguably a narcissist and egomaniac, but I do, as well, have a modest side. Anyway, after some thought, I agreed to go ahead with the podcast idea with the understanding that it is a collaborative project, which I've shied away from lately, being a control-freak. But the benefits of collaborating are obvious, one of which is to work on something with Mark Zbikowski, and also my old, dear friend Sara Zbikowski (they are married, this isn't another name coincidence). The idea for the podcast is that in each episode (weekly?—we'll see!) a “guest host” runs the show, and welcomes their “guest”—who is me! It's not just a running joke—it creates an interesting dynamic (a little like the author within the narrative, once removed, voice that I incorporate in almost all my fiction writing—that just occurred to me!) as well, and hopefully a comfortable yet charged platform for an hour-long or so conversation about what-have-you. I think it could work! I mean, there is no shortage of stuff to talk about. The first episode is a conversation with Lauryl Sulfate (guest host!) centering on coffee shops and diners—and it occurred to me, I could talk for an hour a week with Lauryl Sulfate about coffee shops and diners—yet, the next one will be another guest host, and centering around another subject—so the possibilities seem limitless.

Of course, whether or not it's your cup of tea depends on, first, whether or not podcasts are a cultural time-wasting option you've adopted. I admittedly pushed them away for quite awhile, but being able to enjoy them while exercising, walking, commuting, and dishwashing is a real plus for me. Then, of course, whether or not you are interested in each guest host and primary focus of subject matter—but seeing how they are not serial in nature—meaning you can mix and match, skip around, and discriminately choose, and partially listen—that's up to you. It gives a lot of control to the potential listener and doesn't demand a lifetime commitment, vow of fidelity, or credit card number. And finally, whether or not you can put up with my bullshit. Presumably if you've read this memo this far, you are that much tolerant with my rambling thoughts. But listening to me audibly and unedited might be another thing— it could be an acquired taste, like oysters and Night Train wine, I don't know. You can say, “not for me”—I won't be offended, and you can even actively criticize me, if you'd like, as long as, you know, it's somewhat fair. And you're not a troll—in which case, I guess, you might want to ask yourself, why am I a troll?

Part Two: The Tour

The shorter life gets, the more brevity eludes me—it's a cruel paradox. Thus, “Part Two”—which is what started me on this memo, this Solstice, Cold Moon morning. If I took a mini-survey of friends, I am guessing more don't like Bob Dylan than do—but I'm an old fan, so I was compelled to read this long article on the Vulture website about his “Never Ending Tour”—it's by Bill Wyman (the journalist, not the coolest Rolling Stone). It was a fun thing to read—not merely one of those pieces ranking Dylan slightly above the Frigidaire. People are still people, and names are names. (When I last moved to New York, in my first job, I worked along-side “Leonard Cohen.”) Someone knows a guy at the 7-Eleven called Bob Dylan. Many, many other people know someone with another name entirely they'd rather listen to sing. But the point of this article is, even the famous Bob Dylan has had to make some hard choices for himself—one of which was, “Do I want to go on living?” (We won't even get into any of those conspiracy myths about there being a second, after the fatal “motorcycle crash” Dylan, or multiple Dylans—that's for another Saturday.) It's not just touring, playing music live, that was his answer, but his entire approach, which I find fascinating.

I read that yesterday, and thought about it this morning, and this theory came to me, and I was about to text my brother with this idea, but it seemed too long for a text, which turned into a potential email, which then evolved into this memo. My idea is that Dylan, having a crisis and a revelation (it's talked about in the article), then later (I'm making this part up) watched The Last Waltz (1978) on some Thanksgiving (it's our family traditional Thanksgiving movie, so why not Dylan's—plus, he's kind of at his best in it!) and that part where they're (the guys in The Band, with Martin Scorsese) are talking about retiring (which is the point of the movie) and how “The Road” has taken so many people. And you know, they weren't even that old at that point. Too early to retire! And then one thing or another started taking them, anyway—I mean, it's going to be something—if it's not a poorly maintained airplane, it might be a poorly maintained diet. But the keeping busy part of keeping busy never killed anyone. And I swear, retirement should come with a warning label like on cigarettes.

My overwhelming preference, though, is to stay home. I can't think of a worse life than “on the road.” If I lived somewhere with trees and a garden and dogs, no one might ever see me again. (Though if I had cats, you'd see them a lot on Instagram.) But, I mean, how many of those suburban shopping strips with the same fast food and gas stations and big chain stores can you witness before becoming comatose? On the other hand, there is still great stuff out there—maybe less every year—but there are still diners and lunch counters, here and there—you have to find them. Every evening when I'm too tired for typing or reading, I'll get out some of the songs I've written with various bands and see if I can still play them—sometimes they just die, and sometimes they get better. I still want to play these songs, but that would mean hanging out in a bar (I'm just not fond of bars)—and who needs to see another old, bald, potato chip white guy play country folk songs about midlife crisis? Not even me! And I can accomplish that with a wardrobe mirror.

Still, I've got this idea, and it's an idea for something, and that something is a tour. What we'll do (we being me and a tourbus full of my favorite people, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, craftspersons, etc.—you know who you are!) is travel around the country during the next presidential campaign and try to encourage a message of kindness and decency while playing music, selling art that normal people can afford, and maybe occasionally helping to strengthen levees (physically, I mean, not metaphorically) against rising water. On the way we can visit the last remaining great old diners and coffee shops and drug store lunch counters, as well as the new places—ventures by human beings who are working hard to make their corner of the world better. Can we learn from past models how to create a new model (for a Tour, I mean) that doesn't much resemble the past models? Can such a thing be built without necessitating the same hyper-confident killer instincts that also are the failings of the predator? Can we be decent people and still be able to pay our rent back home? Can we face the dark vacuum of failure and make it to the next day? Can we, if it comes to that, not collapse under the weight of success? I guess there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, but first of all, maybe the most important one of all. What do we name the tour?

Randy Russell, 22 December 2018