Blogging from deep down beneath the Greater L. A. hipsterpolitan region….

I’m a writer, but there are zillions of writers, perhaps you’ve noticed. This here is a bunch of my stuff. I hope you dig it.

I try to blog at least once daily so there’s a lot of stuff here. You can browse by category or look at some selected essaysstories (non-fiction), neuroscience pieces, jazz writing or smartassery. Some flash nonfiction even.

My LA Weekly stuff can be found here.

My email is brickjazz@yahoo.com. My phone is 323-420-7410. I do a lot of short writing on my Brick Wahl page on Facebook, and really short writing on Twitter. I get all professional on LinkedIn, all pensive on Pinterest, and all whatever the hell it’s for on Google Plus. You can even look through my library at Goodreads. I’m all over the goddamn internet and all over this goddamn town.

Police story

Last night after the drunk plowed into my parked car and took off, the LAPD showed up within a half hour. Being that it was 2 a.m. on a Saturday night (or Sunday morning, actually)–the Witching Hour–I was amazed they were so prompt. Out of the car stepped a very handsome thirty something male officer and from behind the wheel this gorgeous little blonde. She was a knockout, in fact, and for a moment I thought I was in a TV show. I wasn’t. Apparently Silver Lake gets only the most telegenic police officers. We didn’t used to but we’re gentrified now. They were both extremely polite and we had a pleasant chat for half an hour. Finally I said that I’d better let you two go and thanked them. They thanked me. As they drove off they waved. I waved back. I’m told this is not the way it happens in other parts of town.

Listening to Wanda Jackson and thinking about the end of the world.

“Fujiyama Mama” by Wanda Jackson is on the radio. Some badass rockabilly from 1957. Haven’t heard this in decades.

I’ve been to Nagasaki, Hiroshima too!
The things I did to them baby, I can do to you! 

I suppose atomic bombs could be kind of funny/cool until the late 50’s. Mutually Assured Destruction–MAD–was just depressing though we weren’t quite there yet. The Russians had a couple hundred nuclear bombs. We had 2,500. We would win. As would Wanda Jackson in the sack, apparently. By 1960 the Russians had 1600 bombs, but we had over ten times that. We would still win, though there’d be a lot less left, and certainly no Wanda Jackson songs. By 1965 the Russians had over 6,000 bombs, enough to blow up the world, and we had over 30,000. I’m not sure what Wanda Jackson would say at all. Not even the hottest mama could do to a man what thirty thousand H-bombs could do.

I was born in 1957, the year Wanda Jackson recorded Fujiyama Mama. I have no memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which has always struck me as odd, being that I six years old. We were living just outside Washington D.C., and if the missiles flew and bombs dropped we were as good as vaporized. My parents must have hidden it from us, as did the teachers. My folks must have been terrified. My father certainly was, he was working with the navy at the time and privy to all sorts of water cooler scuttlebutt. He told me later he was scared out of wits. The worst week of his life, he said. Somehow none of this had sunk in. Or perhaps I repressed it, though I have vivid memories of the Kennedy assassination just a month later. I was fully aware of the fact that we could all be obliterated, however. I remember duck and cover drills in kindergarten. The air raid siren would go off, and the teacher had us curl up under these tiny desks. It would have kept us alive an additional millisecond. Some of my earliest memories of nuclear bombs were just being scared and depressed and trying not to think about them. Maybe scared isn’t the right word. Dreaded maybe, though one doesn’t think of children dreading anything, just being scared. I remember seeing some movie about the end of the world when I was in third or fourth grade up in Maine in 1966, Five or On the Beach, and though the thing was hopelessly over my head I completely understood the feeling of doom. I watched it all the way through to the end and it was like I’d discovered a grown up secret–we were all doomed. There I was nine of ten years old thinking about the end of the world and feeling hopeless. I remember walking outside and it was chilly and grey and very, very sad. Those years of duck and cover drills had taken their toll.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, those times can seem funny now. I really like that John Goodman flick Matinee, basically a screwball comedy about the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s charming. The end of the world rendered cute. How can you not love it?  The only funny take on the end of the world I remember before then was Dr. Strangelove, which is hysterically funny. Came out about the same time as Failsafe, which is not funny. I wonder if they were ever double billed anywhere? Two ends of the world for the price of one. Which would they show first? In Failsafe Blackie bombs New York City and the last thing you see is a flock of pigeons. In Strangelove you get Vera Lynn. Don’t know where don’t know when. I suppose I’d want to see the pigeons first. Why ruin the whole weekend scared and depressed? Better to be laughing, scared and depressed.

Thinking about it now, though, dread is an apt description. Weird how that never completely disappeared back then, the dread. It was always there, in the background, and no matter how much you’d forget about it, there was always something to make you remember. As a kid no matter where we moved we were always in a target zone, which by the 70’s meant annihilation. You can’t duck and cover from multiple H-Bombs, and by the time I graduated from high school the Russians had almost 20,000 of them. We had 27,000. Where the hell would Kremlin drop it’s 20,000 nuclear bombs? Where would the Pentagon drop our 27,000? After the first thousand there’d be nothing left. I can’t remember how we dealt with this conundrum. I do know that we lived every moment with the thought in the back of our minds that just one mistake by somebody somewhere could send fifty thousand nuclear weapons to their targets and annihilate not just us and the USSR, but all life everywhere. That was the beauty of mutually assured destruction. We studied it in school. We looked for ways to game it, to fix it so one side could win. It never happened. Both sides always lost.

By 1980 the US had actually reduced its arsenal, though we had bigger and better quality bombs. One of the newer ones could vaporize Omsk, say, where we’d needed two before. Though we’d probably hit Omsk with two or three anyway, just to be sure. The Russians kept growing their stockpile. They had thirty thousand warheads in 1980, and almost forty thousand in 1985. We wondered what they could possibly do with forty thousand nuclear bombs. When does Mutually Assured Destruction veer into just a waste of money? I mean if you could already destroy the world with, say, five thousand warheads, why destroy it eight times over?  As if there was any logic to any of this, really, by that point.

The atom bomb still had a kind of innocence in the fifties. First Hiroshima. One little bomb, one vaporized town. Then Nagasaki, and another vaporized town. The Japanese got the message, the war was over, the boys came home. So simple. There was logic to it. Sure it was morally awful, but you could argue that it made sense. Then forty years later there are 50,000 bombs and it made no sense at all. It’s hard to find any logic except Mutually Assured Destruction. Then suddenly the Soviet Union was gone, just like that. The Cold War was over. Neither we nor they were on the brink of self-immolation. Indeed, it wasn’t even us or them anymore. The bi-polar system was gone and destroying the world no longer made any sense geo-politically. Now we freak out over terrorists.

Yet even the craziest terrorists, even terrorists with nuclear bombs, seem like child’s play compared to Mutually Assured Destruction. Though it’s hard to explain that now. It’s hard to explain just what it was like living with the threat of complete and total annihilation over our heads. Everyday with that thought in the back of our minds that, well, this could be it. This could be your very last sunrise. Your very last sunset. The very last time you see your kids, your wife, your parents. That could have been your very last kiss. Everybody’s very last kiss. Someone will press the button and nobody will ever fall in love again.

The Wanda Jackson tune ended ages ago. Now it’s something wry and ironic. There’s time to be wry and ironic now. The world won’t end any second.

It could have been worse

Since 2006 our lives–that is Brick and Fyl’s–have been pretty much an unremitting string of catastrophes, some sudden, some slow motion. It’s not like we have made any horrible lifestyle or financial or personal decisions. We’re not drug addicts or raging alcoholics or gamblers. We didn’t sell narcotics or flip houses or buy anything we couldn’t afford. We never busted up our marriage or joined a cult or shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. It’s just this string of unexpected disasters. We’ve overcome them, for the most part, but they’re starting to take their toll. We stopped expecting good things to happen years ago because they don’t, or when they do, they are immediately cancelled out by something bad again. It’s been that way for a decade now. You get to the point where you just expect something lousy to happen and roll with it, thinking well, it could have been worse. Ten years of it could have been worse. That’s my philosophy of life now, it could have been worse. Like this car thing. I looked at my wrecked Buick and shrugged and said well, I could have forgotten to pay the insurance. But I didn’t. It’s the little things.

Car

Somebody just ran into our beloved Buick. It was parked out front. There was a huge bang. Guy took off, someone in a black SUV now missing part of his bumper and a functioning radiator. He must have been wasted. The left rear end of our car is stove in and the axle is obviously a mess. Everything else works, but I don’t think the insurance company will be repairing it. A shame, we loved that car. Never gave us any trouble, nothing ever broke down. They don’t even make them any more.

Reality comes in big mean doses.

Enheduanna

“My king, something has been created that no one has created before.”

So wrote Enheduanna, an Akkadian priestess of the 23rd century BC, in her collection of Sumerian hymns, Exaltation of Inana. Much of it has survived, in fragments, and there are several English translations, yet in each her poetry comes through. Enheduanna was a gifted writer, a great writer, in a language not yet designed for florid prose. Nor was cuneiform just something one could dash off quick thoughts with. But she managed both, in beauty and verbosity, and her works were held in esteem long past her lifetime for a thousand or more years. She was the first, it seems, who showed the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent just what a truly beautiful thing the written word could be:

On the wide and silent plain, darkening the bright daylight, she turns midday into darkness. People look upon each other in anger, they look for combat. Their shouting disturbs the plain, it weighs on the pasture and the waste land. Her howling is like Iškur’s and makes the flesh of all the lands tremble. No one can oppose her murderous battle — who rivals her? No one can look at her fierce fighting, the speeding carnage. Engulfing water, raging, sweeping over the earth, she leaves nothing behind.

At her loud cries, the gods of the Land become scared. Her roaring makes the lesser gods tremble like reeds. At her rumbling, they hide all together. Without Inana the god An makes no decisions, the god Enlil determines no destinies. Who defies the mistress who is supreme over land between the mountains? Cities reduced to ruin mounds and haunted places, shrines become wasteland. 

A deluge. An earthquake. A windstorm. A total eclipse. Four thousand years later you can still sense the awe and terror. Enheduanna looked upon the ruins of ancient cities, already dead two thousand years, and pictured a goddess’s wrath. Even in her time the plains of Mesopotamia were littered with vanished civilizations. Without history, each would have been evidence of some unforgiven sacrilege. Hubris, perhaps, or worshipping the wrong gods. The result is always the same. Ruin mounds and haunted places, she writes, and shrines become wasteland. That, as they say, is some writing.

A votive disc of Edheduanna, carved in her lifetime. She is at center.

A votive disc of Edheduanna, carved in her lifetime. She is at center.

Dwight Trible at LACMA Friday, July 31, 6-8 pm, free!

There’s four amazing Friday nights in a row of Jazz at LACMA that I’ve been waiting for since spring sprung. They kick off tonight with Dwight Trible. Calling him a singer doesn’t quite give the full effect. Vocalist doesn’t work either. A force of nature would be closer. Because when Dwight Trible gets going, really gets in the groove, the mood, the transcendent moment, it is jazz like you’ve never experienced before. Profoundly moving stuff, deeply spiritual, exquisitely musical and yet it roars like a freight train. I recall once, years ago, showing up to LACMA for a Dwight Trible show and parked way they hell across the street on the other side of Wilshire, way back in the corner, and it was rush hour on a Friday and the streets were jammed with cars and woofers blasted rap and a helicopter circled nearby and a fire truck came screaming up Fairfax and it was textbook urban cacophony…yet over it all could be heard Dwight Trible. As I walked across the parking lot all the other noise slipped into the background and all I heard was Dwight Trible. Some things are just so musical they overcome all sonic resistance, even LA at rush hour.

He has his usual incredibly good band with him including John Beasley on piano. I’d write more but I have to get going myself. But if you believe in the transformative powers of jazz music, or want to believe, then get down to LACMA by 6 pm. It’s free.

Weaving

The Kesh Temple Hymn (or more precisely, Liturgy to Nintud on the Creation of Man and Woman) is in the long dead Sumerian language and written in cuneiform that was scratched with a stylus into fresh clay tablets and dried in the sun, as were all writings in Mesopotamia at the time. That was about 2600 B.C., or four thousand six hundred years ago. At some point a century or two afterward the tablets were baked hard as rock in a fire when the city was burned by some conqueror or another and the city archives were buried in the ruins. Over the years they were covered by sand and protected from all the history that happened on top of them. Mesopotamia is a vast scattered library of such tablets now, a half a million or more in museums already, and who knows how many more still in the ground. Archaeologists uncovered the Kesh Temple Hymn in the first decades of the 20th century, and one of the world’s few living readers of cuneiform–it is incredibly difficult to read for those of us raised on alphabets–translated the seventy three lines of text by 1920. Its significance was recognized immediately. This anonymous temple prayer, a Liturgy to Nintud on the Creation of Man and Woman, is humanity’s first known literature. A century later and we’ve still found nothing earlier. It’s not the first writing–that had been around a couple centuries already–but the first literature. We consider it literature because the words are so pretty. There’s a cadence, a lilt. There’s art. It is something very special written by an unknown scribe with a talent for written expression, and that was a brand new thing in the world:

The princely one, the princely one came forth from the house. Enlil, the princely one, came forth from the house. The princely one came forth royally from the house. Enlil lifted his glance over all the lands, and the lands raised themselves to Enlil. The four corners of heaven became green for Enlil like a garden. Kesh was positioned there for him with head uplifted, and as Kesh lifted its head among all the lands, Enlil spoke the praises of Kesh. Nisaba was its decision-maker; with its words she wove it intricately like a net. Written on tablets it was held in her hands: House, platform of the Land, important fierce bull!

You’d have to be a Sumerologist to know what all that is about exactly. You get the general idea, though. And dig that repetition, like chanting. The princely one, four times. In my head I see a line of priests, repeating it. The ways of writing still reflected the manners of speech then.

But something extra special in the text immediately stuck out for me. This:

 ….with its words she wove it intricately like a net. Written on tablets it was held in her hands….

Because that is actually a description of writing itself. Perhaps the very first description we know of, though I rather doubt it. The Sumerians had been writing documents–lists, letters and the like–for a couple centuries by 2600 BC. Indeed, schools for scribes opened not long after this was written. Doubtless writing is described earlier, but prosaically. A Sumerian skill set. But these two lines (verb phrases, actually, each only half a sentence) might have been the first time anyone ever described the act of writing so poetically, weaving the words intricately like a net. And it’s that metaphor which amazes me, the use of weaving to describe story telling in written words. Though perhaps the author was not talking about story telling per se, but of writing down the words in cuneiform itself…

cuneiform-writing-of-the-ancient-sumerian-or-assyrian-civilization-in-iraq

…which, in seventy three closely spaced lines, might well look like a intricately woven net. I’m more inclined to think that is what was meant, now that I’ve visualized it. In the five thousand years since writing was invented by the Sumerians, written metaphors have become very rich and very subtle, very abstract and quite opaque. But when writing was new metaphors were typically visual, things you could see. And line after line of cuneiform etched into a clay tablet could look, with a little imagination, like a seine net stretched across a stream. Today it’s the sentences we weave into a story, and few writers now–John McPhee, maybe–would ever think of a seine net at all. Or even know what one is. Besides, our alphabet doesn’t look like netlike, not in the least. I’m not sure what it looks like, besides letters. Those letters used to look like something–they began, most of them, as Egyptian hieroglyphs, which began as pictographs, which began as things–but now they’re as neutral and metaphor free as a writing system can be.

But still, I’m struck by the thought that the weaving metaphor is still used 4500 years later. We still weave stories, like a net in fact. Certainly more like a net than a sweater or a pair of socks or a bird cage cover. A net makes sense that way. Lateral, linear, spaced. Maybe there’s a direct metaphorical connection between Sumerian scribes weaving prayers into nets of cuneiform and the weavers of tales today tapping things into the ether. Or maybe not. It’s just astonishing to think that writing, though five thousand years old, is such a new thing that Bronze Age metaphors still apply.