I'm certainly one to look for signs the Universe is sending our way, and if there aren't any I'm certainly one to make them up! That's a joke, but I wonder if it isn't always that way, really—there is no meaning, higher power, or master plan—it's just all part of the narrative we make up ourselves in order to deal with mortality. An imaginative person and good story-teller will see a lot more signs, because it's all there—you just have to connect the dots. Anyway, on this Random Song Sunday, the sign that I saw was the one that said “Open” at the Blooming Lotus Bakery, an establishment I have, in the past, complained about not being open on Sunday. So apparently they have special summer Sunday hours to serve their special Sunday summer homemade vegan ice cream. On this day, however, I had already eaten breakfast, at Ma Fischer's, followed by what has been the most classic tasting, New York style (my own designation) diner Rice Pudding. Not one to eat two desserts in one morning, I opted for a cup of coffee (excellent coffee at Blooming Lotus, I think it's Valentine), but then, naturally, I saw that they had gluten-free doughnuts, so I had to get a doughnut. Dragonfruit, which means nothing to me, except that it was pink frosting on a dark brown cake doughnut—quite beautiful, and delicious, and of course, in my mind, another sign.
I have recently made the decision (as in, what to do with my life) to go back to working on the revision of my novel, The Doughnuts, for better or worse, poorer or destitute, because I want to finish it, once and for all. Once I got into it, like last week, I realized it was the right decision, because I love it, and I love my characters, and I love the world I created there. But it's pretty clear to me at this point that the story of one man's search for gluten-free doughnuts is necessarily a period piece, in that gluten-free doughnuts are everywhere now. And it is: a period best referred to, probably, as post 911. That time, which feels like yesterday to me, but is decidedly not yesterday anymore. It's also not really one man's search for gluten-free doughnuts—that's just my misleading but tasty tag-line—it's really about much more, and then even more, and ultimately, more than that. So where the songs come in today, after I ate my doughnut, was drinking coffee, and writing in my notebook, a song came on. There was music playing all along, but this song stopped me in my tracks. (Or, some would say, chicken scratch.)
The song was “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, from 1963, and if you only remember it in you mind, stop reading right now and listen to it again, because your mind tends to engage the mundane filter on everything, but the song is actually anything but mundane—it has one of the most audacious sounds in rock'n'roll history. But better yet, look on YouTube for “opening credits to Mean Streets,” and watch that, because I think those credits, to that 1973 Martin Scorsese movie, is the best use of a song in opening credits in any movie ever. Also, unforgettable, to me—that song and that movie will always be linked in my mind. One thing I do always forget is that the movie doesn't start with the song—first there is Harvey Keitel's character waking up in bed, like from a nightmare, and he's barely audible, says: “You don't make up for your sins in the church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit, and you know it.” He is clearly tormented. Then the song starts, and then we see an old movie projector showing home movies of the characters in the movie, in what proves to be happier times. I think it is because of the association with this movie that this song remains so powerful to me. I mean, it's a great sounding song, just that sound! The lyrics are pretty nothing special though. But that movie—the first time I saw it, at the New Mayfield Theater in Cleveland's Little Italy, there was something so visceral about it (I've told this story a million times) that it almost made me throw up.
So then, right in the middle of enjoying this flashback, finishing my coffee, and writing in my notebook, the song stops! I look around, what happened? I couldn't tell if it was an employee or a patron, but someone changed the channel! I mean, it was on some music service, and they were fishing around a bit, and then finally came up with something with a contemporary sound. So me, being no fool, realized this was a golden opportunity for a random song review double header. I asked my phone, which told me the song was called “If I Ain't Got You” and was written and performed by Alicia Keys. I was ready to rip into this song, you know, due to the context, but it's actually a very catchy pop song, and now after listening to it few times at home, it's probably there, in the happy part of my brain. The lyrics seem to be a lot about criticizing people who are into material things, because for her, nothing means nothing without the presence, and I suppose love, of someone addressed to as “you.” I can tell she feels pretty strongly about these lyrics, this message, because they don't exactly fit real well, but she makes them fit, which I think might ultimately contribute to the song's charm and appeal.
I guess I can understand a young person taking off “Be My Baby”—obviously not having the same context as I have—and maybe to them it's just some rock around the sock hop Happy Days bullshit. What's interesting is that the Alicia Keys song came out in 2003, which is roughly the time period of my novel, The Doughnuts—and while it feels like yesterday to me, it is actually over 15 years ago, and for much of the original audience of this song, probably now feels like an “oldie” itself. Crazy. Another thing that struck me was that both songs are addressed to “you”—I know that is common as dirt, but I wonder if someone's done some kind of study of that phenomenon. In either case, “you” could be quite specific, one person, out there, at the time it was written—but once the song goes public, beyond the ears of the original “you,” “you” then becomes the listener, and in that case, right now, it's me. And I do feel it, from both songs. I'm thinking of calling either Alicia Keys or Ronnie Spector on the phone, if I can get their number on the internet—I'm not going to call both of them, though—that's kind of a reprehensible dick move. I've got to choose. Alicia is quite a bit younger than me, and Veronica is quite a bit older, but really, that doesn't matter so much as the fact that they are both famous and wealthy, and I'm some schmoe from Kokomo, holed up in a leaky basement apartment, nothing to my name but an old guitar and an empty bottle of booze. And sure, a woman once wrote a song about me, but it wasn't addressed to “you”—rather it was written from my perspective and called: “Bugs Are Crawling All Over Me.” What a world. What a world.