The Writing Wombat

An American Marsupial in Fiction Land

Month: March, 2016

The Case of the Missing Billy Joel

I’ve been listening to a lot of Billy Joel recently. There was a temporary Billy Joel Channel on Sirius/XM and, shockingly, they played a lot of Billy Joel.

One wouldn’t think it was shocking, but my thought process whenever I got back in my car usually goes something like, “Whoa, Billy Joel is on. Wasn’t Billy Joel just playing when I went in the store? Oh right, Billy Joel channel.”

I’m used to listening to Margaritaville Radio, but that’s only about fifty percent Jimmy Buffett. Maybe because Margaritaville’s a permanent station. Billy Joel Radio’s only had a limited time frame, so it had to be all Billy all the time.

One nice addition to this station is that Billy Joel introduces a lot of his songs and says what went into them. Beautiful nuggets like the song “Honesty,” for which he had the melody before the lyrics. His drummer needed lyrics to figure out how to fill it, so until Billy could come up with lyrics, the drummer was singing “Sodomy.” I guess that would get you writing some lyrics pretty hastily.

Although I think the original title would’ve worked just fine. “Sodomy is such a lonely word… and mostly what I need from you.”

But the most shocking revelation was that Billy Joel hasn’t written a song in twenty-three years.

“That can’t be right,” I thought. “I remember when River of Dreams came out. Since then he’s released…. Well… Nothing that I’ve bought, but I’m sure something.”

I’ll be honest. I haven’t bought many albums since college. But I know they still exist. Paul McCartney released Off the Ground the same year as River of Dreams, and although I haven’t bought any Paul McCartney albums since then, I know there have been some. Evidently the bouncer at the Grammy awards post-party is in the same boat as me.

I just assumed Billy Joel was in the same boat, having gone on to release a whole bunch of albums that I didn’t buy containing songs I hadn’t heard on the radio.

But Billy Joel was not on said boat. The last metaphorical boat he was on was floating down that River of Dreams. And then he went cold turkey. Or cold fish, maybe? To keep the metaphor going.

He even told us that he was done on that album. The last song on his last album was called “Famous Last Words.” The song is all about being done. “These are the last words I have to say/It’s always hard to say goodbye/But now it’s time to put this book away/Ain’t that the story of my life.”

Whoa. Did he just drop the mic on his career a couple decades before dropping the mic was even a thing? Has this ever been done before? An artist just deciding they’re done and telling us as much?

Sure, the Beatles put “The End” at the end of Abbey Road. But then they moved “Her Majesty” after it. Then they released Let it Be after they had broken up. So that kind of killed it.

The last chapter of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is titled “Nothing More to Write,” but I think that was from Huck’s point of view, not Mark Twain’s. If the latter was what was intended, then he fucked up big time because he wrote a lot more books.

Speaking of which, how many books has Stephen King written since he retired? At least ten, I think.

And Stephen King is a good counter-example to Billy Joel. A creative person who said he was finished, yet continued to create. Because how does one really turn that part of their brain off?

Seriously, Billy Joel, how did you do that? Have you really gone through the last two decades without a single idea for a new song?

And Billy Joel wasn’t some one hit wonder. He was not a J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee, who had one big hit then went into seclusion. If Billy Joel had just released “Piano Man,” then went behind closed doors, I could wait patiently until he was on his deathbed when his entire catalog would be released.

I’ve known Tommy Tutone. Tomy Tutone was in a Walkman of mine. You, Billy Joel, are no Tommy Tutone.

Billy Joel had, and I would wager still has, talent for writing songs. He produced twelve albums over a span of twenty years. For a while there, he was producing a new album every eighteen months or so. Then nothing.

On the radio station, he gave a few hints as to how easy it is for him to write songs. He says he has “Magic Fingers,” which thankfully, did not refer to some sex act he uses to get all of those supermodels. Instead, he just plays a chord on a piano, then he moves a finger to make a different sound. Diminished, minor, maybe a flat 7th. But that new chord puts him in a mood or gives him and idea and he goes from there.

“And that’s how I write songs,” he says, “or how I used to write songs.”

Almost caught yourself there, Billy! I know you’re still writing songs. Where the fuck are they?

One time, he explains, he had a whim to make an homage to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. So he worked on his falsetto. Then he took the Four Seasons song, “Rag Doll,” about a rich boy upset that he can’t date a poor girl, and decided to reverse it. Add in a little biographical info about him using his magical fingers on Elle McPherson and, voila, “Uptown Girl.”

But he didn’t stop there. He kept that jazzy falsetto feel going decided to throw in a few more homages to his musical influences. Take a little Ben E. King, add a dash of Little Richard, mix in some  doo-wop style, and before you know it you have one of the definitive and best albums of the 1980s, An Innocent Man. Not only does that album have the aforementioned “Uptown Girl,” and its title song, it also has a minor little ditty called “The Longest Time.” Heard of it? Oh yeah, and “Tell Her About It.”  Plus “Keeping the Faith” and “Leave a Tender Moment Alone.” I could go on, but I’d have to divert to explain to my younger readers who Rodney Dangerfield is.

But evidently a guy who can churn out that list of songs in less than a year after releasing Nylon Curtain can’t find a single thing to write about since the first days of the Clinton Administration.

Maybe he believed that the end of the Cold War really was the end of history. A lot of his songs were based on the historical events that happened during his life. Vietnam, the Cold War, and the post-industrial economy. He always said if he hadn’t been a musician, he would’ve liked to be a history teacher. To which I say, “Want to switch?”

But trust me, Billy, there’s a plethora of other history for you there, Billy.  I know St. Petersburg is harder to rhyme than Leningrad, but I have faith in you. If you don’t like history, you can try a science fiction song again, like you did in “Miami, 2017.”

Dude, he should so play a concert in Miami next year.

He does still tour, after all. Maybe he knew that concertgoers always hate the new stuff and he didn’t want to give them the opportunity to go to the bathroom during his concerts. Or maybe, as a self-proclaimed social scientist, he foresaw the coming time when musicians didn’t make jack shit from album sales.

Part of me wonders if he’s afraid to go back to writing because of that whole drop-the-mic moment. In a few interviews, he implied that he wasn’t necessarily done forever, but that he was closing that book. There might be more songs in the future, when he’s at a different point in his life. In one interview, he even implied that the title, “Famous Last Words,” was meant to be the sarcastic usage of that phrase. “This is my last cigarette.” “Yeah, famous last words.”

So maybe in 1993, he thought there’d be more writing in the future but as time went on, it became harder and harder to get back to it. Maybe he has some song ideas now, but doesn’t think any of them are worthy of going back on his “Famous Last Words.” If he released a new song now, regardless of how good or bad it might be, there’d be a lot of people who would say “Wow, twenty years away and that’s what you break your silence for?”

I at least have faith that it would be better than Van Roth’s “Tattoo.”

I keep going back to Stephen King. If he had taken a year or two off after his retirement, he might not have come back. Instead, he went back to some of the old ideas he had had earlier in his career. Now that the pressure was off, he could try again and it didn’t matter if he failed. In my opinion, it’s some of his best stuff – I love both Under the Dome and 11/22/63. I don’t love the latter enough to pay Hulu to watch TV shows I can watch for free on demand, but it was a damned good book. I mean, JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?

In fact, that last line might be a little nudge to Billy Joel. Stephen King finally got around to writing a sequel to The Shning. How about a sequel to “We Didn’t Start the Fire?” That’s usually how I start off my history classes. We listen to the song, then I have them look at the lyrics and write another verse . I can forward some of their compositions if you want.

In the meantime, let me help you get started. “No World Series, Nine Eleven, Tupac and Biggie gone to heaven, something, something, bread unleavened.”

Damn, this is hard. Maybe you should just stick to the classics Billy.

“Sing us a song, you’re the Piano Man. Just make sure it ain’t nothing new. Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody. The one you wrote back in ’82.”

 

 

Dear Other Former British Colonies,

So New Zealand’s thinking of changing their flag to take out the Union Jack, huh? I also heard a rumor that Australia was thinking of loosening their ties with the mother country. It’s the very same “mother” that kicked them out eighty years ago, but hey, baby steps.  Kind of like when Greg Brady moved his room to the attic. And maybe, if either of these moves prove successful, Canada can take its rightful role of “America’s Hat” instead of “Britain’s Toddler.”

As an arrogant American, if any of this happens, I’d be the first one to say “Welcome to the eighteenth century.”

Early in my teaching career, during one of the seemingly bi-annual budget cuts that schools go through, I started looking at which other countries would accept my teaching credential. When I looked at New Zealand, which I had once spent three days in and absolutely loved, I was disappointed that there was no reciprocity with the United States. They WOULD accept a Canuck Credential, or Aussie or South Africa or any number of other nationalities’. But not a Yank.

I tried to bribe a Canadian official with some maple syrup (“Have you met my friend, Aunt Jemima?”), but no luck.

Those other countries are deemed as “culturally similar” to New Zealand, but the United States is not. Evidently the whole “former British colony” didn’t seep into a people’s culture until 1850.

The whole “asking for your independence” thing makes the Commonwealthers aghast. There’s a certain cultural element to waiting until your parents kick you out of the house. I’m sure we Americans were probably a bit too brash – screaming at our parents and running away from home while still in our formative pre-teen years. But really, Kiwis? Y’all waited till your parents converted your bedroom into a game room. Then you still asked if you could just live in the garage.

And none of you three are even independent now. How do I know? Because you still depend on your parents for money.

And last I checked, all y’all still have the Queen on your money.

You also still celebrate the Queen’s birthday. Although you can’t seem to agree on when said birthday is, and it is nowhere near the actual Queen’s birthday, but that’s a post for another time.

I don’t mean to call the three of you out, but you are aware that Fiji finally got around to taking her off their money, right? This is the same Fiji that proudly made up the phrase “Fiji Time,” meaning “when we get around to it.”

“I thought the bus was supposed to get here at 7:30.”

“Ya, da bus get here at Fiji Time.”

Those people beat you to the whole “putting our own people on our currency” by six years and counting. No pressure.

So the Queen’s still on your money after, what, 85 years of independence? That’s a serious question. When did you three become independent? I tried googling Canadian Independence and Google just laughed at me. Then it gave me a whole range of dates, some as early as 1867, some as late as 1982.

But the year 1931 seems to be a regularly agreed upon date. I assume that’s when Britain made you start paying rent. The earlier date was when she told you to get a job, and it wasn’t until 1982 that you had to start paying for your own insurance.

What? You guys don’t have to pay for insurance? What the fuck?

Regardless, just like you aren’t really an adult until you have your own place, you aren’t really a country until you have money featuring people that live there.

Fortunately, I can help you out with that. After all, I’ve visited ALL THREE countries we are discussing. I don’t think there could be any more qualified person on this planet, Kiwi Teacher Credential Board be damned.

Besides, having an American condescendingly tell you how to run things is another one of those “rites of passage” for being a real country.

Since the Queen is currently among the living, I can only assume you aren’t tied down by that pesky “must be dead to be on our money” rule that ties us down in the United States. If we didn’t have this restriction, I’m sure Britney Spears would be leading Harriet Tubman in that “which woman are we going to put on the three-dollar bill” debate.

So it’s a good thing you guys don’t have that rule. Because I’m not sure I could name any historical figures from any of your countries. Wait, the Crocodile Hunter is dead, right?

So without further ado…

Canada: This one’s a little bit tougher than at first glance. The natural assumption would be to pick a hockey player. That’s the first thing that people think of when they hear Canada. And from what we hear, they are even more popular inside Canada than they are outside.

Sorry, Canada, I meant “ootside.”

There are other Canadian sports figures, too. I would suggest a curler, but the more logical person would be Steve Nash.  Not only is he a Canadian athlete, but also owns gyms throughout Canada. On the road to Vancouver, there is a Steve Nash Sports Club right next to a Tim Horton’s, and I think that spot right there is the most Canada spot on the Earth. The only thing that could make it more Canadian would be if, instead of an exact address, it was “Aboot 250 Centre Street.”

Wait, is Tim Horton a real person who can go on your money?

Outside of sports, Canada is known for a number of actors, especially comedians. I think roughly half of the SNL members have been Canucks. It’s a seriously impressive list: Dan Akroyd, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Martin Short, Phil Hartman, Norm MacDonald, John Candy, Seth Rogan. Shit, even Dana Carvey was born in Montana, which is effectively Canada.

But how would you even begin to pare that list down? Plus, the unfortunate fact is that most of their memorable characters aren’t Canadian. Mike Myers is known for an English secret agent, a Scottish ogre, and a teenager from Ohio. Dan Akroyd plays an alien and Norm MacDonald was last seen as a dead Kentucky Colonel.

Music? Bryan Adams defined the 1980s and Alanis Morissette took over the 1990s, but they haven’t been heard from since. A friend of mine told me that Rush was Canadian, which I found surprising. Not that Rush has a particular nationality, only that someone would think of Rush when discussing Canada. Or discussing music. Or really at any time, ever. My biggest problem with the book Ready Player One was how the the guy who created the game was a huge Rush fan. Nobody, I thought, is actually a Rush fan. Much less a big Rush fan.

But wouldn’t it be ironic if Canada put Alanis Morissette on their money? Don’t ya think?

Yeah, I’m going with the obvious one here, Canada. Wayne Gretzky’s going on your money. Maybe Mark Messier and Patrick Roy can go on different denominations

New Zealand: Ooo, this one’s a toughie. Google’s already laughed at me once today. I’m not even sure Wikipedia could help me find any famous New Zealanders.

My own personal famous Kiwi was the cute blonde that worked at the Zorb run when I visited, but I don’t think she was quite currency-ready.

You could put the kiwi bird on there. Or the kiwi fruit. Maybe a kiwi bird eating a kiwi fruit? But that sounds more like the back of money. The front really ought to have a person.

You could put the All Blacks on your currency. I’m sure the average Kiwi would know who they are. But when you try to exchange that money anywhere that doesn’t play rugby, people will just be confused. Plus you can’t have someone wearing shorts on your currency. Sorry.

I guess you’ll just have to put the hobbits on your money. The Lord of the Rings movies are what you’re most famous for.

I’ll be nice and let you guys vote on whether you use illustrations from the books or the actual actors. I assume Sean Astin would let his likeness be used.

You might have a little more problem with Orlando Bloom.

Australia: The world is your oyster, Oz.

There really are a shocking number of Australian actors. Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, both Wolverine AND Thor, not to mention the late Joker. Both of the Crocodiles (Dundee and Hunter). Russell Crowe.

What? Russell Crowe is from New Zealand?

Hold on, let me think.

Nah, New Zealand, you’re still good with Elijah Wood.

And it’s not just actors. Rick Springfield comes from the Land Down Under. As, of course, do Men at Work. So does Kylie Minogue. Most people might throw Kylie into the same category as Rick Springfield and Bryan Adams, as a throwback to the 1980s. Not so. I discovered when I was in Australia that not only is Kylie Minogue still making songs, but the Aussies are fiercely proud of her for it. I’m pretty sure every third song on the radio, and every other video on the TVs at the night clubs, featured the former Locomotion artist.

Keith Urban is the most unlikely Country star ever – not only is “Urban” the worst Country-sounding name, but how the hell does  an Australian get a Southern twang?

Actually, there seem to have been a few Aussies who play American cowboys. Like Russell Crowe in “3:10 to Yuma.”

Wait, Russell Crowe is a Kiwi? Are you sure?

And of course, combining singing and acting together is none other than Olivia Newton-John. I could see a full line of paper currency on her career. Maybe the five would show the good Sandy from Grease and the ten would feature naughty leather-clad Sandy. The hundred might have that memorable character from Xanadu. You know the one. Then all the coins would have the fat people working out in the Physical video.

But something’s missing from this whole thing. None of these people fit that international concept of Australia that the Aussies themselves hate so much. Where’s the “shrimp on the barbie?” I don’t see a Bloomin’ Onion anywhere.

And are we going to advertise the new currency with an “It’s Australian for Money” campaign?

You Aussies are known for getting blitzed, right? And being ready to fight at the drop of a hat? Like the time Russell Crowe got in that bar brawl or threatened that one reporter?

Dammit, Russell Crowe was born in Wellington. Wellington is in New Zealand. I can’t be the only one surprised by this.

We’re going to have to combine some of this Oz stuff together, Australia.

Let’s start with Wolverine. I don’t mean Hugh Jackman, I mean the character Wolverine. Sure, in the comics he’s Canadian. But he’s been played by an Aussie twice. Hugh is nice enough to hide his accent, but the Wolverine in the original X-Men cartoon made Steve Irwin sound like a caricature. So let’s go ahead and put him on your money.

So Wolverine snickts out his claws and we throw some shrimp on them. Then we barbie those shrimp over a fire made out of a few dried-out remnants of the Great Barrier Reef. With a Bloomin’ Onion and a Foster’s on the side. With a Kyle Minogue song playing when you take the money out of your wallet, like when you open those greeting cards. The ten can have the relatively tame “Loco-Motion.” Most people gamble with twenties, so those should play “I Should Be So Lucky.” And, giving truth to power, a hundred-dollar note should sing out “Can’t Get You Out of my Head.”

On the back, you could write, “Did You Know… That Russell Crowe is not Australian?”

So you’re welcome, former British colonies.

You’ll definitely want to re-visit this post if Prince Charles outlasts his mother.

Sincerely,

America

The Apple-Google Civil War

So I guess Google is now backing Apple’s encryption fight against the government.

Dammit!

Don’t worry, I’m not coming down on the side of Big Government. I just don’t like to see Google and Apple agreeing on anything. It’s like those episodes of “Tom and Jerry” where the two got along. Nobody likes those.

But Apple and Google playing well together and, even worse, teaming up against the government, destroys my future narrative. I was sure the country was headed toward a Civil War between these two behemoths. Now what am I going to do with this elusive Apple-only virus I’ve been working so diligently on?

Yes, I know there are still great geographical divides between different ways of life. Contrary to President Obama’s inaugural address, we are still a nation of red states and blue states. But I don’t see us resorting to geographic fisticuffs this time around. If Mississippi woke up tomorrow and decided they didn’t want to be American anymore, I think the collective blue state response would be, “Can you take Arkansas with you?”

But mock my android phone? Oh, we’re coming to blows.

Because whether you opt for Apple products or Google products is much more than a geographic choice. It defines your character. It defines your very way of life. It announces whether you want your favorite company to steal your money or your information.

Just like in the first American Civil War, economics trump God and country.

(Oh shit, I said trump. That’s a Civil War that’s not quite as funny to comprehend.)

As a relative moderate on the political scale, I’ve had plenty of arguments with both Democrats and Republicans. Usually those arguments end with something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t agree with you, but it’s an interesting perspective.”

But when I tell an Apple-phile that I like my Android phone? Like, I actually PREFER the phone over an iPhallus?

I get a blank stare back.

Blink. Blink.

“You just mean for the price, right?” They ask.

“No. It swipes better. The widgets are better. The home button works more logically.”

No response.

“Why would I pay twice as much for a product that is obsolete as soon as it comes out?”

“I just…” they’ll respond, “I don’t know how to respond to that.

“Can we talk about something not as controversial, like re-instituting slavery, instead?”

So the two sides seemed to be firmly entrenching themselves for a brother-against-brother battle when the stupid FBI had to get their grubby Fourth Amendment paws involved. Now the iWorld and Chromeland are all peace, love, and understanding.

Dangit, now what am I going to do with all of these non-iPod MP3 players I’ve been stockpiling?

I couldn’t think of the name of any non-iPod MP3 players off the top of my head. Maybe I should google it.

But maybe my dream isn’t too far from happening. Maybe they’re teaming up to get the United States government out of the way before they can truly face off for dominance. Like all dominant civilizations throughout history, they are creating a vacuum of power, then will vie for which worldview will fill that void. Stalin and Caesar both teamed up with others to oust their rival, then turned on their allies.

But who is iStalin? And who is Chrome-zar?

I figure the coming war will be fought primarily on the west coast. In Oregon.  They already have a football game there that they call the Civil War for no damn reason. I could understand calling it the Civil War when Kentucky plays Tennessee. Or West Virginia against Virginia.

But Oregon versus Oregon State? Last I checked, there were no fights in Eugene or Corvallis back in the 1860s. Which means they must be referencing some other Civil War. A future Civil War, perhaps.

How would they know where a future war will be fought? Why, a time machine, of course. And if any company has a time machine, it’s Nike. Where else can they find people willing to make shoes for 25-cents a day, but 1875?

So the Google troops will march north from the Silicon Valley to take on the iTroops swarming down from Seattle. Yes, I know Apple is also currently based in Silicon Valley, but I can’t imagine a war would be fought entirely in San Jose. Neither army would even be able to move unless they took public transit. And BART won’t make it that far south until the fifth Civil War.

In my scenario, the Fort Sumter of the Second Civil War would be Google’s storming of Apple HQ. Apple would be ousted from California pretty quickly and have to make amends and take refuge with their old buddies at Microsoft.

How will they be routed so quickly? They weren’t informed of the impending attack because it was posted on Facebook, a natural ally to Google. Or maybe Apple tried to find their way to the battlefield using Apple Maps.

Apple would have some pretty quick victories at the beginning, because they’d schedule an offensive right after the new iGun comes out. Their troops would smugly show off the new weapons they waited in line for three days for.

“Siri, how do I gut a Google prisoner of war?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know which mutt grew more.”

Of course, they wouldn’t realize that the Chromegun that just shot them has had that capability for two months. It might have taken six weeks of that two months for the Verizon people to get it all set up, but the capability’s at least been there.

Verizon is Italy in this war. They’ll play both sides and keep jumping to the side that’s winning.

And Apple wouldn’t help their troops any. They would already have the iGun Plus ready to go, but their marketing department would not let them release it for six months.

Plus another two months while the Verizon worker taps the counter saying, “It just needs to upload your contacts.”

And it’ll be hard for their troops to fight when they’re standing in line for three days waiting for the new iTillery. The new iTillery uses Google Maps to drop a bomb in the right place.

By then they’ll be in quick retreat through Portland.

“Siri, how do I get the patchouli smell out of my iTank?”

But then the northern offensive would sputter out. Google has been selling the location of their troops to the highest bidder. They all get distracted by ads for a lovely bed-and-breakfast near Crater Lake. Google tries to commandeer the Amazon drones to fly new supplies out to their troops, but it’s too late. Troops on both sides are now devoting all of their time to the true victor of this war.

They’re watching video after video on YouTube.

They were really only planning on watching one, but then there was a video just like it on the sidebar, and dammit, now these new videos are just playing by themselves unless you click to stop it.

The videos both sides are watching?

Nike commercials, naturally.