Musings on Rock and Roll
by Ken Shimamoto





Posted April 23, 2002


It's a damn good thing I had my best weekend in forever last week. Hell, I'm STILL skying from the buzz I got watching Powertrane in Cleveland and Ann Arbor. Since then, I've been listening to "Outside" and "Powerglide" nonstop (with a little "Parts Unknown" and the Torpedos set on Motor City Music for variety). I went back to work on Monday profoundly chilled.
Then Tuesday morning, I got fired.

Without going into too much detail, let's just say that I disagreed with my management once too often, once too vocally. They exercised their prerogative. That's fine. I have no regrets, and there's nothing I'd do differently given the opportunity. My job just became finding another job. Been there before, ten years ago, and ten years before that. (Birth years that end with a "5" tend to bring cataclysmic changes for me.) This time I have a LITTLE bit of a cushion, not as much as I had upon leaving the Air Force. But still, I'm thankful for that.

Actually, I'm thankful to have lots of good things happening in life right now. Good friends, for one. Uh, good health (even though I HAVE degenerated into a sedentary blob over the last nine years of sitting on my ass in an office all day, especially since I started playing music again four years ago). Good rock'n'roll. A baby granddaughter who'll be a year old on May 7th. A daughter (her mom) who's getting married this Saturday, and her sisters, who are the best part of me (and THEIR mom).
I must confess to not being quite ready for this wedding. (My ex feels the same way.) I can remember when my oldest daughter was a baby more vividly than I can some stuff that happened last month.

She was conceived in Memphis, where my company had moved me to open a record store. My company had given us one day to house hunt, and I'd foolishly moved us into a place that cost half of my take-home pay for rent alone. I was working 20-hour days then. You'd achieve a state of delerium where you'd walk across the store to do something, forget what it was, and have to walk back to where you'd started out so you could remember. There were only three of us on the payroll when the container trucks full of fixtures started arriving. I'd cruise Elvis Presley Boulevard looking for carloads of teenagers to buy beer for to get them to help us unload the trucks. When my future ex got pregnant, she was sick for two weeks before I was able to get time off to take her to the doctor. Somehow, we were able to open in time for Christmas. Then a couple of weeks into the New Year, somebody hit the till on my shift for $200. One of the guys who'd come from Dallas with me disappeared the next morning, leaving his rented TV on someone's stoop. When they asked me if I knew who did it, it seemed obvious, but I told them no, because I didn't KNOW (although I suspected). The manager talked about pressing charges, but wound up just shitcanning me. My then-father-in-law (bless him) drove up from Fort Worth and helped me load all of our possessions in a truck, then drove it back home.

I spent a morning at the Texas Employment Commission waiting for my number to get called, said "Fuck it," and went and enlisted in the Air Force. My oldest daughter was born three weeks after I arrived at Kunsan Air Base, Korea. She walked for the first time three weeks after I got "back to the World." I remember holding her up and showing her the moon the week I got back. (I guess that's one reason why the old Stones song "Child of the Moon" that the Celibate Rifles covered last year has such resonance for me.) But I digress.

I was talking to Peta about my daughter's wedding the other night. Peta's a Sydney rock'n'roll chick, very smart and funny and wise, and I'm working on getting over her as a vicarious lust object now that she's got a fella (howdy, Pete!).

"I think it will be beautiful," she said. "Seeing her happy will make it so."

I told her I wasn't encouraged after having read the service the minister wrote. Starting with the comment that my granddaughter needs parents who love and are committed to each other (in my mind, I was thinking, "Unlike both sets of YOUR parents"). Then he tried to personalize it and talked to my prospective son-in-law about doing some of the same things in his marriage that he does in his job. He's a DOG GROOMER. And finally, the bit about the ring "letting others know that you're OFF THE MARKET." HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I dunno, maybe I'm just too jaded.

"I have to say though," Peta countered, "even the lamest weddings I've been to had such warmth and depth to them. The hopes and happiness of the couples doing it, the pride and love of the parents there, the friends and loved ones gathered in the same place, in their Sunday best. I think even the most jaded old shit would have to feel something. Even if it's just to wish for them that it works out OK."

I told her that my wedding was in a courthouse on Long Island. We were there for a week, and had to get waivers for the waiting periods after the blood test and license. The big judge just happened to be in my town (only time that month) the day after. The room was filled with people waiting to pay traffic fines and minor offenses. My father was running around snapping pics as people held their raincoats over their faces (I think of them as "Mafia family photos"). The big judge graciously took us into his chambers before dealing with any of the other cases. I was half in the bag from a bottle of champagne my homeboys had bought me. We had Chinese food at my folks' for dinner. I got a fortune that said "You are domestically inclined and will be happily married." (I thought it was a setup, but then again, it didn't say to whom.) Then we stayed in my old room upstairs for our "honeymoon." My future ex was leery of, uh, consummating our marriage (we'd been living together for months) in my parents' house (squeaky bedsprings, etc.). I told her not to worry; they were deaf. The next morning we were eating breakfast in the dining room (on the other side of the house) when she heard a sound. "Oh, that was the cat walking in Ken's old room," my mother said. My future ex was mortified.

My sister was married in a university chapel in Manhattan. Eight or ten people, standing facing away from the altar. Not exactly spiritual. My bro.. J.W. and his wife Trina were married in the same place. A whole roomful of families (hers: lefty liberal academics; his: southern Baptists except for his gay sister & her Significant Other), and the commie priest who used to run the discussion group on El Salvador where J.W. and Trina met (they used to argue and bait each other horribly). He was actually married once before, for six years, while I was in the service. I never got to meet his wife. They lived together for seven years before getting married.. He said he wanted to make sure that this relationship would last longer than his first marriage before they did. They bought the rings on the way to the rehearsal. At the wedding, Trina (the funky artist chick) looked like an angel, J.W. (my old nemesis in a band we had up in Colorado, who looks like a more paranoid and asocial version of Kurt Cobain) looked like a matinee idol. I fucking wept.

The week before last I was at a reception for a guy I used to work with. He and his bride (who's a VP of her company and probably makes twice what he does) went to St. Lucia in the Caribbean for the wedding, then had the reception here for their families. His: crazy Armenians from New York; hers: straitlaced southern Baptists from Houston. Luckily for me, the Armenians won the argument about the open bar.

"The point of all this," I concluded, "is that I think if you respect the ritual, it's magic. If you don't, not magic." As another friend said, it's "definitely important to honor the ritual. Rituals tend to define our cultures, show us how we feel about ourselves and those around us." It's true. Last weekend in Cleveland and Ann Arbor, I was a participant in one kind of ritual, bonding together a community (of people who dig Our Kind of Music) and honoring the Dance [of Existence]. This weekend I'll be part of another, marking a milestone in my oldest daughter's passage through life, bonding individuals and families together.

So anyway, I was debating what to do this Friday night after my daughter's rehearsal dinner. Mike Haskins (ex- Nervebreakers) is playing at Club Dada in Dallas with his new instrumental band, the Big Guns, and wants to buy me a drink on the occasion of my having been shitcanned. At the same time, my friend Jimmy's band Gun Crazy from Houston is making their Dallas debut up the street at Spider Baby's. And back here in Fort Worth, Rocky Athas (former guitarist in the Dallas band Lightning when I got here in '78, who's since spent time in Black Oak Arkansas) is playing the 6th Street Grill. Decisions, decisions.

My friend Geoff Ginsberg, who'll be in Brooklyn that night watching Tek, Morgan, Asheton, and the rest of the Powertrane boyzzz laying waste to the Warsaw (lucky bastard!), offered this perspective: "If you go see Rocky, you won't get as loaded as if you go see your friends and have Mike buy you one drink and buy you some more. You don't wanna be hung over at the wedding. Bad form."
On reflection, he's right. So, it looks as though Friday might be a Blockbuster night here at Casa el Shim (after the rehearsal dinner, anyway). It'll be my way of respecting the ritual. - Ken Shimamoto