I’m on the brink of turning forty. Forty trips around the sun, and still, against all reasonable expectation, I walk the earth. Tempted to post a long, rambling reflection on life thus far lived – where I’ve come from, where it all seems to be going, and the first glimmers of mid-life crises. Instead, I’ll post a long, rambling reflection on the amazing party my friends threw for me last night. And when I say amazing…
Teaser: Kazoos and voice boxes, dada rants, colored vinyl, recombinant DNA, and deliciously cheesy Casio keyboard beats are involved…
16 people, all of whom I’ve know for at least 10 years, and most of whom I’ve known for more than 20, were here. Beautiful spread – tamales from Cactus, Gina’s guacamole, baald’s home-made horchata (he milked the rice himself!), Chris’ home-brewed lambique, kids at play…
After dinner, rinchen pulled me aside, told me they had “an offering.” Sat me down in the living room.
Roger emerged from the hallway with a fez on his head, followed by half a dozen other friends. Colleen introduced “The El Cerrito Kazoo Conspiracy,” and I got scared. The conspirants pulled out matching kazoos, Rog counted them in, then the opening riffs to… wait for it…. Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” for real. Note for note, a version of the junior high stomp track, hummed through wax paper. Turns out their decision to cover this particular song was not random – more on that later.
Halfway through, the kazoos settled to a drone, and Roger began to read an excerpt of my now-antique Can You Get to That? essay on Parliament-Funkadelic. The words ricocheted, recycled back and forward through the years. Roger was, as G. Clinton proclaimed, “Doing it to you through your ear-hole.” That interstitial, in turn, segued into a cover of The Minutemen’s “My Heart and the Real World” (from “Double Nickels on the Dime”). Roger on spiel. Then into Happy Birthday, and finally back into Whole Lotta Love. I am defeated, I’m a cool, damp, clay.
Elated, never expected anything like this for my birthday. And never imagined at that moment that the evening of performances had just begun.
baald pulls out an electric guitar, unplugged. rinchen produced a little voice-warping microphone yanked from a halloween costume – built-in “alien” and “monster” voices with lots of clipping and distortion. baald started to jam, a dirty, out-there blues in elliptical orbit. rinchen started chanting “Open to the room, open to the room” over and over, until everyone did. Then they launched into a breathtaking cover of Captain Beefheart’s Old Fart at Play — ripped up, torn down, reassembled as only the two of them could.
We broke for a fantastic carrot cake, the words “You Are Awesome” in script across the top. Suzy Cream Cheese frosting. Made an election night wish as Miles helped blow out the candles.
Next up, Paula and Gina – I’ve known them since junior high, and they’re the mothers of Miles’ friends Amelia and Simone. The pair were introduced as the Unbearable Hotties (the missing link between Milan Kundera and the Tom Tom Club). Roger magically produces a Casio keyboard, rhythm controls set on “stun.” A tweaky shuffle beat, a whooshing keyboard flourish, and Paula and Gina start rapping. “Scot, Scot, he’s so hot, a little bit nerdy, a little bit not.” A kick-ass rap called “The Unbearable Hotness of Scot” that pulled and tweaked on aspects of my life, of our lives together over the past 20 years. Some good ribbing about my college eating habits and annoying fastidiousness (we shared a house in college years). More soaring keyboard silliness. More rapping. I’m beyond floored.
Stacia, Stacia, once-upon-a-time girlfriend, wife of our dear and departed friend Matthew, read a prose/poem she had written, ripe with embarrassing, loving details from our past, references to bits we had written together or for each other back when I worked at Small Press Distribution and was doing a lot of poetry slams. A righteous, touching piece, most of which I could never reproduce here.
Then, as if baald hadn’t done enough damage with his guitar work on Old Fart already, he leaps from the couch, grabs a pair of saucepan lids, and launches into an artful anti-art performance piece he had prepared for the occasion, riffing on the memes of d-u-u-u-u-u-d-e, dada, Da-Da (daddy), with lots of guttural mouth sounds, crashing of cymbals, insane facial expressions. “Surfing was too linear, so you decided to have a baby.” A majestic performance, and brave. God, I wish someone had videotaped all of this.
Roger, on his feet again, now with a spoken word piece. A long, masterfully crafted collage of memories, things I’ve said and done, essays and poems I’ve written, descriptions from adventures I’ve had or we’ve shared, my surrealist personal ad, memory of Dr. Juju’s magic lantern calling to me in the desert night, all interwoven into a mind-blowing rant. Could not believe my ears. Like hearing your life flash before your eyes. With gusto.
Finally, Amy was up. She sang to me, sweetly, tenderly, The More I See You (Amy’s most familiar with the Chet Baker version). After all the surrealism, it was calming to hear something simply beautiful, and Amy’s rendition was truly beautiful. A capella. She has a lovely voice, I don’t get to hear her sing often enough. And the lyrics were so touching. Heard later that there were a few tears in the room.
I was speechless at this point. Just couldn’t believe how the hits kept coming, one after another. It all meant so much to me – the best birthday ever, for reals. My only wish is that I could have heard what Matthew would have performed if he had been there to enjoy the evening with us, or how he would have transformed the musical performances – Matthew was behind the song we wrote and produced for Roger’s 40th birthday several years ago.
So we drank some, chatted some, floated around the house. Then Chris and Leila handed me a bag. Inside, a piece of laboratory equipment used in recombinant DNA testing – hundreds of glass microtubes threaded through a series of paddles, the array of threads wending their way through thin air, each still allegedly carrying traces of experiments past. Originating in a base of electrodes meant to extend into a vat of plasma, terminating in a micro-nozzle that poots forth tiny golden droplets of god water. A sculpture for the mantle, to be played with and admired. Also a copy of The Fiery Furnaces‘ “Blueberry Boat” – listening to this for the first time now, and it’s a trip, totally original. Looking forward to digging in deeper with the Furnaces.
Andrew, an amazing artist, produces a painting from a bag — a trembling, radiant center on a dark background, above which an ovaloid miasma of dots — pixels. Pillars to the sides vibrate with energy. Embedded in the dark background a sea of barely visible glitter – as much for texture as for vibrancy. This, I learn, is a painting of a new computer, better than a new Mac. Together, we decide that it’s an algae and plasma quantum computer blasting Flaming Lips at high volume, and that the machine is so fast that it automatically clears your email inbox the moment email arrives so that you’re always caught up. My dream device.
Announcement from Linda and Max that two items were on order, not yet arrived – a CD (or book? unclear) of “Side Man” – a story and elegy to the big band era, and The Banana Splits Unpeeled – DVD compilation of Splits episodes from my childhood. I’m in heaven – over the past year I’ve gone through a renaissance of interest in Bingo, Fleegle, Drooper and Snorky.
Roger passes me a square package. I’m about to start tearing the paper off when I realize that the tissue on top looks vaguely familiar – leapin’ lemurs, it’s one of the giant rolling papers that were distributed with original LP copies of Cheech and Chong’s “Big Bambu” (he gave me just the paper, not the record, which I already/still have… I think). The original LP was designed to look like a giant pack of Big Bambu rolling papers, and included exactly one paper. The paper never lasted long – nobody could resist the temptation to roll “the biggest joint, ever” even if it meant smoking dirty socks (what else could fill this thing up? It’s like 10″x20″). So it’s pretty hard to find copies of the record with the paper intact. Where Roger got this, I have no idea. But he did.
Inside the box, a small stack of LPs. Saw what was on top and nearly fainted. In Jamaica last summer, Roger and I discovered that we were the only two people in the world we knew who had once owned copies of the Temple City Kazoo Orchestra’s Some Kazoos (see bottom of that page) – a troupe of kazooists doing covers of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Wagner’s “Sprach Zarathustra,” The BeeGees’ “Saturday Night Fever” and The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.” Indescribably bad, yet magically delicious. Tight. Roger had remembered that night in Jamaica, and had — god knows how — tracked down a copy, in multicolored vinyl, just like the copy I had had all those years ago. Floored. Also in the stack, “Bouzouki Music from Greece,” The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “Les Stances A Sophie,” and a copy of The Firesign Theater’s “How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All?” Not as random a sampling as it may seem – each record connects to my life, to our lives, in special and meaningful ways. Jimminy.
Finally, the coup d’etat: Amy handed me a large box, I had no good guesses. Inside… an original Kimmel yard gnome – made by the same company, and with the same materials and paints as the originals from the 1890s. When we moved into this house, I had told Amy that all we needed to complete the picture was a lawn gnome. She balked, wasn’t into it. I’d long since forgotten… but she hadn’t. We have a yard gnome now, and my life is complete.
By the end of the evening, my cheek muscles were sore from smiling. So overwhelmed most of the time I didn’t know how to react. Face frozen into a giant stupid grin. Everyone poured so much of themselves and our years together into this party, never to be forgotten. I am blessed, and happy to be 40.