Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hey, hey, mama, here's my Top 10 Led Zeppelin songs

When Red Hot Chili Peppers’ virtuoso bassist Flea inducted Metallica into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, he said: “There are divine forces at work that make magic things happen, and in the rare instances—when that magic happens in a band—it’s not something that you can add up with regular math. It’s a cosmic chemistry and it is inexplicable.” Though I’m an atheist, I totally agree with him. Each generation has a moment when time and the elements align for a group of talented individuals to cross paths to pollinate and give communal birth to music offerings that will last as long as humankind will. Led Zeppelin is one of those cosmic happenings.

My homeboy, Justin Goldman, happens to be a big Zeppelin fan, too. (And we both revere Jimi.) Since we had so much fun coming up with a list of our ten favorite episodes from The Simpsons, we figured we’d keep the good times rollin’ by compiling a list of our ten favorite Zeppelin tunes. You can check out Justin's list here. And here’s mine:

1) Kashmir

Picking my ten favorite Zeppelin recordings is difficult enough, but it would be impossible to pick one favorite Zeppelin song. That said, if I had ten minutes of breath left and if I could listen to one last Zeppelin song, I’m fairly sure “Kashmir” would be my pick. This song with its simple D major melody—though Jimmy Page's DADGAD tuning is hardly elementary—is simply transcendent. Page’s fascination with Eastern and Middle Eastern melodies is evident on this track. As Page said in an interview, John Bonham’s drumming is the key to the song; his bass drum beats are simple but thundering; the notes he doesn't hit is what allows the song to work. Similarly, John Paul Jones’ triad bass notes are just enough to give the song a pulsating drive yet restrained enough to allow Robert Plant’s vocals and the Egyptian/Moroccan orchestra string and horn sections enough space to dance and float above the rhythm. The result—especially when Plant wails at the 4:14 mark—is godly. The song is immaculate. That’s why I would listen to “Kashmir” over any other Zeppelin tune—and over just about any other song ever recorded—if I were on the brink of kicking The Big Can. Why bother with the abstracts of a make-pretend heaven when you can just close your eyes and listen to this song and be there?

2) The Rain Song

This is the springtime of my loving/the second season I am to know

Inevitably, a list like this gets personal; this is where mine takes that turn.

Over three years ago, during my Life Before Lymphoma, Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy—though the disc sat in my spinning CD tower—barely made a blip on my musical rotation. “Dancing Days” and “The Ocean” were the only songs on that album that I was drawn to at that time.

Words alone could never explain what happened within me during Life After Lymphoma. An alchemic change (of sorts) took place; the ABVD cocktail of chemotherapy that was injected into my veins produced its share of curious side effects but feeling “The Rain Song” on an emotional level I did not before Life With Lymphoma could not have been an anticipated effect. With certainty, I can say two things happened to me after I regained my good health in the spring of 2010: a part of me softened (probably an affect of growing older, too), and I have a greater appreciation—every once in a while (because I’m dumb and get wrapped up in our text-message present like everyone else)—for the life beating within me.

“The Rain Song” starts as a lilting, tranquil acoustic song. Once Jones’ mellotron fully enters at the 1:38 mark, the song—at least to me, coupled with sliding notes from Page’s Danelectro—literally sounds like a symphony orchestrated by a quiet torrent of raindrops outside one’s window. It is a song I can close my eyes to and feel myself floating peacefully through the sky like a singsong leaf descending in the wind. Sometimes I listen to this song and wish my death will be like this.

It is a moody ballad that slowly builds to an emotional peak before the end of the song. And there is something about the song’s peak; it feels triumphant with Bonzo’s drums and Plant’s invigorated vocals. It feels like a cleansing—like Plant and the band have attained some sort of long-sought freedom. And that’s what making it through that trying time in my life and being alive feels like for me. Like one of the lyrics in the song, this part of my life—when I remember that I am healthy and alive—is “the summer of my smiles.”

And the ending, with Page’s guitar playing, is gorgeous. And perfect.

3) When the Levee Breaks
Like “The Rain Song,” I love this song because it is fucking epic. Bonham’s drums—especially the bass—sound mighty like few other rock recordings I can think of. (And thanks to my homie, Justin, for discussing this track and its recording in his blog where I learned how Page recorded Bonzo’s drums for this song.) Zeppelin’s mighty, bluesy power is on full display in this song: Plant’s otherworldly vocals, his wailing blues harp, Page’s understated but powerful guitar playing, Jones’ relentless droning bass line to accompany Bonham’s thundering drums and clanging cymbals.
This song feels timeless and sprawling in a way that few other songs ever have for me.

Whenever this song has played from my iPod or the CD player from my old car, I have never grown tired of telling whoever I’m riding with (usually mi amorcita, Maria): “Best part of the song’s comin’ right—” then lifting my hand and one finger up in the air before pointing at the music player at the 5:27 mark. Try it!

4) Since I’ve Been Loving You

A lot of what I wrote about “When the Levee Breaks” also applies to this blues number. Led Zeppelin’s potent, bluesy power is cranked to 11 in this song off their third album. But to that let me add this: if I ever had to convince a room full of Delta blues-playing black musicians that white boys like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page can sing and play the blues, without a doubt this is the song I’m playing to make my case. For his blues playing, this is a signature track for Jimmy Page. Throughout the seven minutes and twenty-four seconds of this epic song Page never fucking fails to hit the right note to pull at the heart. And this is a signature track for Robert Plant, too. Let me give you this scenario to more fully explain: if an alien ever crash-landed to Planet Earth and asked, “So who is this Robert Plant fella?” I could play one track—this one—and let his wailing, shattering vocals in this song answer that question.

And that outro peak that “Since I’ve Been Loving You” builds to, starting at the 5:33 mark, dear mother of god, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to it throughout my life and felt this surge of energy ripple throughout my body to make the hairs on my arms stand in ecstasy. As long as I have a pulse I don’t think that feeling will ever go away when I really listen to that part. I have motored down the highway with my jaw agape and eyes watering because there is a part of me that cannot believe what I am listening to during that outro; there is a part of me that literally cannot comprehend how a human being can sing like that; how a collective group of four musicians—four measly human beings—can conjure that music, that power, those emotions. I still cry from awe just listening to it. I could re-do this list every year and this song will always be in my top 10 Zeppelin songs of all-time.

5) Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
If “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is a signature song for Jimmy Page’s blues playing, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is a song that perfectly displays his mastery of the acoustic geetar. Page carries the first 35 seconds by himself—and the way he plays it, he could probably carry the entire first minute if he wanted.

So how fucking rad was Led Zeppelin?: they could make people rock out to an acoustic song. The handclaps are a nifty touch that gives “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” a light, chipper touch. And the song has one of my favorite Plant lyrics—two lines of lyrics I used to enjoy asking myself when one of my past relationships inevitably teetered:

Can a love be so strong when so many loves go wrong
Will our love go on and on and on and on and on and on?

This song is a hoot; it carries none of the emotional torment I tend to favor in my music (and books—and movies. And well everything.) I’d probably go cuckoo-bonkers if I ever played it on a bar jukebox.

6) No Quarter
Like “The Rain Song” from the Houses of the Holy album, this song has grown on me in the past few years. This is where I’ll confess and tell you I’ve never really listened to Zeppelin’s last three albums; I do intend to change that. Though I deeply admire the musical range they covered from Led Zeppelin I to Coda, I’ve never gotten into their later, more progressive material. But “No Quarter” is a song I love for its progressive vibe. I love the peach-fuzz distortion of Page’s guitar; Plant’s ghostly-sounding vocals (from a frail-sounding tone to his extended, distorted wails); the unusual guitar effects captured in recording; Bonzo’s solid drumming as the song’s anchor; and Jones’ keyboard playing.

I love the breath and jazzy-patience the band allowed in this song. It gives this track an improvised vibe. From beginning to final note “No Quarter” has a strange vigor to it. It’s an unusual song that became a staple of their live performances including an excellent rendition for their The Song Remains the Same live album.

Like many of my favorite songs, “No Quarter” makes you feel like you’re on a pleasant high. It’s a musical journey that takes the listener somewhere. When I picture the perfect setting to play this song, I think of the time I cycled alone in the Atacama Desert in Chile. It seems like the perfect tune to listen to for a long, long ride into a mystic unknown.

7) In the Light
My second favorite song on Physical Graffiti. Like “Kashmir,” this is an epic—and one the band members are particularly fond of though they never played it live.

This is one of those rare exquisite musical compositions I could play for someone and with complete seriousness say, “The very best of mankind is in this song.” Jones’ clavinet notes, Plant’s lyrics, his searching vocals, Page’s complementary guitar playing and Bonham’s emotive drumming synthesize together to create this godly tapestry of a song.

And since this list—like any—is completely subjective, it would have been difficult to impossible to leave this song off mine. When I began my chemotherapy treatments in the summer of 2009, I listened to “In the Light” while I cycled around San Francisco on a few sun-filled days. One time, while I was cycling up Golden Gate Avenue toward USF I remember closing my eyes and feeling the sunlight fall on my arms while Plant singed Light, light, light/in the light. I imagined myself grasping that sunlight, imagined it to be like water seeping to my roots. I imagined myself becoming one with the sun’s light (which we are an extension of)—its warmth, its energy healing and nourishing me as I pedaled on. And I really believe it did. So understandably, this song and me are close.

8) The Rover
Like “In the Light,” I feel like this Zep song has a touch of the divine. I hear it in Page’s simple riff for the song’s chorus; the notes sound as though they are twinkling on beams of light. (I swear I have been sober while I have written the entirety of this blog post.) Being a former bassist, I love John Paul Jone’s playing on this song: the effective yet simple driving bass notes he thumps along with Bonham’s drums during the verses; the ascending scales he plays to busy up the chorus. Like he has done throughout his career, Jones always provides a bass line that the song needs, not one that shows off his chops. After all these years, he is still the bassist/musician I would aspire to be.

A final note on why I love this song: Plant’s lyrics are decidedly hippie: “If we can just join hands” and “Oh how I wonder, oh how I worry and I would dearly like to know/I've all this wonder of earthly plunder will it leave us anything to show.” I suspect the zombie hippie within me digs his lyrics? No se.

9) Immigrant Song (BBC Version)
“Immigrant Song” has always been one of my favorite Zeppelin songs. The simple octave-driven riff. Plant’s Tarzan-like wails. The relentless thumping rhythm section. Altogether, it gives the song an exotic, frenetic quality to it. Zeppelin’s live BBC performance of the song only amplifies the wildness of this song. Driven by Page’s guitar playing, the band literally feels like a force of nature when they begin playing this song.

10) Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
Since I noted earlier that I gravitate towards emotionally tormentous artistic material, it should be no surprise that this song squeaked into my top 10 list. This 1969 rendition of Joan Baez’s cover of the song showcases Led Zeppelin’s raw power. Whether driving a car or riding a bike, I’ve headbanged beaucoup times to this song.

It’s hard to believe, but Robert Plant was only 21 years old during this recording; Page was 25 (at most). Jones and Bonham were kids, too. At 21 I had barely lost my cheap virginity yet Plant was singing with youthful sonic vigor coupled with a sense of maturity that belied his young age. I couldn’t fathom any young band in our generation pulling this song off like Zeppelin did. Not even fucking close.

That’s what made Led Zeppelin such an extraordinary band. They’re one of those rare once-in-a-lifetime pairings that manage to advance us as a species. Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham literally evolved our musical possibilities.

And really, if you were being swept off to sea, what other band could be worthy of being one’s last words like Otto in The Simpsons “Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood” episode?

Tough cuts:
· Bring It On Home
· Dazed and Confused
· Whole Lotta Love
· Heartbreaker
· Trampled Under Foot (live at Earl’s Court, 1975)

Monday, July 22, 2013

My Top 10 Simpsons Episodes Ever

Coming up with a top-ten list of The Simpsons episodes ever is, by far, the toughest and most agonizing list I have ever drawn up. At first, coming up with a list to accompany (and compete!) with my homeboy, J-Oro’s list seemed like a terrific, exciting endeavor. Ultimately, it still was, but by the end—after watching and carefully considering at least fourteen episodes for my final four spots—it wasn’t so fun. Coming up with a top 15 list would have been dandy, like a stroll through a verdant park with a pretty girl, but picking only ten best episodes from the entire Simpsons repertoire seemed like an unfair exercise. (And really, I only looked at Seasons 2 – 8.)

So before I get started with my list, let me be explicit about a couple of rules that Justin and I followed:

1) Treehouse of Horror episodes did not qualify (though, for my money, my favorite Halloween episodes are III and IV),
2) Simpsons clip episodes such as “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular” and “Homer’s Triple Bypass” were not considered, and
3) Though I think it’s a hilarious episode, I did not consider The Simpsons “Behind the Laughter” because it is not a typical Simpsons episode.

And since I fancy myself a proponent of transparency (unlike certain current presidents who promise such overtures before being elected to office), let me share with you the simple methodology I used to attempt to help me complete my list. By the end, when I was struggling to pick my final four episodes for the top-ten cut, I graded the episodes I watched on a school-grade system of A+ to F. After scoring each episode segment between commercial breaks with a letter grade, I came up with a cumulative grade. The best ones made the cut.

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get on to the fun ladies and gents! I offer, with humbleness and confidence, my top 10 Simpsons episodes of all-time:

1) Last Exit to Springfield – Season 4

On more than one occasion, I have told my fellow Simpsons lovers, Maria and Justin, that I could write a thesis about why I believe this is the greatest Simpsons episode ever. And I seriously could. There are so many classic gags from this episode that I can name off the top of my head: The Big Book of British Smiles; Lisa’s dentist (who, arguably, is one of the greatest Simpsons bit characters to ever appear on just one episode); Homer’s interior monologue of “Dental plan! Lisa needs braces.”; Homer’s explanations for the scars on his skull; Burns and Smithers attempting to run the nuclear power plant by themselves; Homer’s fantasy of being a corrupt union boss that is a parody of The Godfather II

I could go on and on—and it’s only one episode!

2) Cape Feare – Season 5
What would a top-10 list be without an episode starring Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob? And this episode, in my humble opinion, is by far his best Simpsons episode (with the “Black Widower” episode as his second best Sideshow performance) and my second favorite Simpsons episode of all-time. Like “Last Exit to Springfield” and every other astounding and immortal Simpsons episode, “Cape Feare” has at least one—or probably a few—gags that I would argue are Simpsons lore; “Bart the Daredevil” has Homer soaring over Springfield Gorge (and the Truckasaurus bit!); “Rosebud” has Smithers daydreaming of a naked Mr. Burns popping out of a cake to sing “Happy birthday” to him ala Marilyn Monroe; and “Marge vs. the Monorail” has quite possibly the greatest Simpsons episode intro with Homer’s exit of the power plant ala The Flintstones.

Cape Feare has so many such moments: all the blood-strewn threatening letters Bart gets while the ominous (now funny) Cape Fear theme plays; The Simpson family’s run-in with Sideshow Bob in the movie theatre; Homer’s inability to respond to "Mr. Thompson”; Sideshow Bob repeatedly stepping on rakes in Terror Lake; and, of course, Sideshow Bob singing the score of the H.M.S. Pinafore to Bart. And then there’s so many other laughs: Homer’s daydream of being John Elway; Sideshow Bob’s rough ride through the cactus patch while tied beneath The Simpsons’ car; and Bart tattooing “WIDE LOAD” on Homer’s butt while the entire family and an impeccably-timed Nelson laugh at him. Top to bottom one of the most entertaining episodes ever.

3) Homer at the Bat – Season 3
In re-watching so many of the golden-era Simpsons episodes, I can’t help but conclude that The Simpsons used to handle celebrity appearances in a more fluid and organic manner than they do now. Starting around the “Homerpalooza” episode near the tail-end of Season 7, I feel like celebrity appearances on The Simpsons became more forced; it’s hard to explain, but “Homer at the Bat” is a great example of how they used to include celebrity appearances with ease and fluidity. Mike Scoiscia’s turn as a wannabe blue-collar stiff is hilarious. Darryl Strawberry’s exchange with Homer over playing right field is funny, as is the way he constantly kisses up to his skipper, Mr. Burns. Even Ken Griffey Jr.’s first line of dialogue is in line with the chipper personality he conveyed during his playing career. Back in the glory days, The Simpsons creators seemed to create situations and dialogue that was in character with their celebrity guests instead of forcing them to say things that wasn’t so in line with their personas.

“Homer at the Bat” has a playful sense of innocence to it that helps it stick out over other terrific Simpsons episode. I think this tone is perfectly captured with the nostalgic jingle and montage that comprises the outro credit sequence (arguably one of the greatest The Simpsons ever produced). It’s a great episode with notable contributions from famous baseball players like Jose Canseco, Ozzie Smith, Ken Griffey Jr. (“It’s like there’s a party in my mouth—and everyone’s invited!), Steve “Saxy Boy” Sax, and Don Mattingly and regular Simpsons characters such as Mr. Burns, Homer, and Apu (who has one of his best lines when he says “Such a mighty wallop” after watching one of Homer’s Wonderbat-driven home runs soar over him).

After “Homer at the Bat,” my final top seven episodes are not meant to be in order of my favorites; it would be hard to impossible to somehow figure out which of these episodes are better than the others (though I suspect my homie, Mr. Goldman, could say a word or two to the contrary). They are simply listed to fill out my list:

4) I Love Lisa – Season 4
Like “Cape Feare” and “Last Exit to Springfield,” this episode is a goldmine of great gags and quotes: Ralph’s “I Choo-Choo-Choose You” Valentine’s card to Lisa; Bart rewinding footage of the Krusty special in slow-mo to show the very second when Lisa broke Ralph’s heart;

Chief Wiggum’s dating advice for Ralph; Ralph’s classic “My cat’s breath smells like catfood” line, and Homer’s advice to Lisa on how to ward off the little Wiggum: “Six simple words: I’m not gay, but I’ll learn.” It’s fucking hilarious.

I love having this episode in my top 10 because it features other characters besides Homer and Lisa (see remainder of my list), like Ralph and good ole’ Chief Wiggum. (“Nothing gets chocolate out, see!”) Plus, it has a tender ending that is cute and cool without being cheesy (though I can be quite the cheesy man).

5) The Last Temptation of Homer – Season 5
Noticing a trend yet with two top episodes from Season 4 & 5? What can I say; I feel like Seasons 2-7 were the golden years of The Simpsons with Seasons 3-5 being the creamy cream of the crop.

If The Dentist in “Last Exit to Springfield” is one of the greatest bit characters to ever have screen time on one of The Simpsons episodes, I think a decent argument could be made for Michelle Pfeiffer’s turn as Mindy in this episode as being one of the best feature characters to ever make one appearance. She is a delicious character to pair Homer with—a female version of him. All the things they happen to share in common—from hamburgers, drinking beer and watching TV, free shower curtains, and the way they both say “Can’t talk; eating”—is hilarious. Between them Homer and Mindy share some classic Simpsons moments: their awkward elevator conversation and—to a lesser degree—the conversation Homer instigates at the plant with writing on his hand.

Like most great Simpsons episodes, “The Last Temptation of Homer” has a hilarious subplot. In this episode, it is Bart’s turn toward dweebdom thanks to the corrective glasses, shoes, and salve he has to wear to school for two weeks. This subplot provides one of my favorite exchanges between Bart and Milhouse when the two chums are in school and Bart sees his reflection in Milhouse’s glasses and says, “Ugh, I’m a nerd,” then Milhouse sees himself reflected in Bart’s nerdy glasses and says, “Ugh, so am I!”

Other great strokes in this episode include the moments Homer and Mindy share in Capital City and, of course, the classic “Hubba Hubba” moment the hotel bellhop has not once but twice.

6) Lisa the Vegetarian – Season 7
This episode has a terrific beginning with the Simpsons visit to a petting zoo. It has a Simpsons classic with every piece of meat—including a live worm—speaking to Lisa in a little lamb’s voice. It has a classic Troy McClure promo with The Meat Council’s film on how meat is made; The Simpsons version of the food chain:

It also has Homer’s BBBQ invitation, a hilarious homage to Pink Floyd’s Animals album cover when Homer’s pig is seen flying past the nuclear power plant. And it has a cameo by Paul and Linda McCartney! To boot, the ending has a message of accepting one another when Homer and Lisa decide to put their differences aside. A great, great episode.

7) Duffless – Season 4
An excellent episode from beginning to end, one that centers on Homer, one of the greatest TV characters of all-time. The main plot involves Homer sneaking out of work to go to the Duff Brewery with Barney while the subplot revolves around Lisa using Bart for a fiendish science project after he ruins her plans to end world hunger by growing a ginormous tomato. It has so many classic moments: Homer’s interior monologue-gone-wrong about his Duff Brewery plans; the slow-motion sequence of Bart throwing Lisa’s giant tomato on Principal Skinner’s butt; and it has my absolute favorite Troy McClure promo when he narrates a grisly, fucked-up driver’s education film. It has a classic Simpsons moment with Homer singing his ode to beer:

and the sequence near the end when Homer is remorselessly tempted to drink beer.

“Duffless” ends on a sweet note with Homer picking a bike ride with Marge over going to Moe’s.

8) Burns’ Heir – Season 5
What would a top-10 Simpsons list be without an episode that features Montgomery Burns? Years ago I listened to a few Simpsons episode commentary and was a little surprised to hear the writers say that Mr. Burns was their favorite character to write dialogue for. But now that seems like such a “Well duh” moment because he has the most unique verbosity of all the Simpsons characters. Even Lisa can’t pull off using the word “rapscallion” like Monty can in this episode.

“Rosebud” and “A Star is Burns” are terrific episodes but I think this is overall the best one that features Mr. Burns. It has the classic auditions scene (“I specifically said no geeks!”) in the first third of the episode that graded as an A+ for me (the only other episode in which the beginning segment graded so high was the “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode).

Though the episode centers on Bart’s evolving relationship with Mr. Burns, Homer has some of his best lines in any Simpsons episodes: his advice on never trying in life, his line to Bart in front of Mr. Burns: “Bart, get over to the mansion and open up all the windows. We want to get the old people smell out before we move in,” and his line about “lurking in the bushes outside Chef Boy-Ar-Dee's house.” Aaaaaah, I laugh just thinking about them.

Besides the auditions scene, “Burns’ Heir” has the scene where Bart drives a race car through Santa’s Village and a classic scene near the end of the episode where Mr. Burns has actors impersonate the Simpsons family. And the whole brainwashing of Hans Moleman into Bart is pretty funny, too.

9) Deep Space Homer – Season 5

For me, it was between this episode and another Homer-centric episode, “Mr. Plow,” but I picked this one because of the power of its classic scenes. “Deep Space Homer” has classic Simpsons lore with his whimsical potato chip-eating sequence to Strauss’ “Blue Danube”:

Kent Brockman’s ridiculously hilarious turn toward accepting Planet Earth’s “new insect overlords,” and it has a funny cameo from the usually gentle and boring James Taylor. Buzz Aldrin has a couple of zingers, too (“Second comes right after first!” and “Careful, they’re ruffled!”) And it has one of the nastiest Itchy & Scratchy episodes. The wit and genius of The Simpsons creators is on full display in this episode. And since I’m a huge Stanley Kubrick fan, they get double brownie points for the usage of “The Blue Danube” and the parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s transition from a flying bone to a spaceship with the final seconds of the episode.

10) Krusty Gets Kancelled – Season 4

Since we’ve arrived to my final selection, let me preface by telling you who my favorite Simpsons characters are. They are (mostly in order): Homer, Mr. Burns, Lisa, Sideshow Bob, Bart, Moe Szyslak (I love asshole characters, what can I say), Martin (“Look fellas, the first snapdragon of the season.”), Nelson (his haha’s are almost always impeccably timed for laughs), and Krusty the Clown. This episode features Krusty while seamlessly incorporating several guest voices such as Bette Midler, (Sideshow) Luke Perry, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Carson. “Krusty Gets Kancelled” also has the one and only appearance of Gabbo which ensues in lots of gags: Krusty’s attempt at ventriloquism; the replacement of The Itchy & Scratchy Show for Worker & Parasite;

Gabbo’s prank call to Krusty, and Gabbo and Kent Brockman’s “S.O.B.” faux pas. From beginning to end, Krusty’s fall and comeback is a great watch.

Honorable Mentions:

Mr. Plow – Season 4
Rosebud – Season 5
And Maggie Makes Three – Season 6
Bart the Daredevil – Season 2
Mother Simpson – Season 7
Lisa’s Rival – Season 6
Marge vs. the Monorail – Season 4
Three Men and a Comic Book – Season 2
Saturdays of Thunder – Season 3

So what do you think of my list? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. Thank you!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fantasmas de San Francisco: Corner of 15th and Dolores Street

David was a friend I made while we were receiving radiation treatment for our respective cancers. We met in the men’s locker room in UCSF’s basement at their Mount Zion campus in January 2010.

Davidcito was born in 1939—the same year my dad was born. He was originally from Utah but moved out to San Francisco in the 1960s so he could be free to be the vibrant gay man he was. As far as I know, he never left the city. He loved opera, film, literature and once blared a famous opera—I wish I could remember which one, but I don’t—from the music store he worked at in Salt Lake City and walked out into the middle of the street, facing the store, and waved his hands to and fro as though he was conducting the score. He told me these stories weeks before he died on May 7, 2011.

Before he left Planet Earth, I would walk over to the condominium he and his partner, Jimmy, had over by 15th & Guerrero Street. By then, David’s cancer had spread from his anal canal to his liver to other surrounding parts of his body. He was frail compared to the man I first met before my 7:45 a.m. radiation treatments.

On those weekday mornings, we would gingerly walk around his block, his arm nestled around mine. His gray hair was cropped. His beard had grown out. He would tell me about his siblings and nieces who were coming to visit from Utah. He would make me laugh with a few of his stories, especially some funny ones about all the good times he had with weed and mushrooms. I remember how tranquil and peaceful our walks seemed. Birds chirping in the trees we passed. Sunlight trickling through their leaves, Mission Dolores a block away. It felt nourishing to slow down with David. By then, my lymphoma had been in remission for a year.

Months before he died, I remember a walk we took to Church Street to eat an early lunch. It was September 2010. During the summer, he had a surgery to snip off part of his liver where his cancer had spread. While we walked up to this corner of 15th and Dolores, David told me more about the spread of his cancer.

The tone of his voice was not somber or dejected when he told me how grim his prognosis was. His voice was simply matter-of-fact, which made it more difficult for me to take in. By the time we got to the crosswalk, my eyes were filling with tears I was trying hard to hold back, especially when he told me, “We all have to go sometime.”

As we crossed Dolores Street, David hooked his arm around mine. I could feel myself lighten when he did. I looked back at a driver that stopped to allow us to cross. In that moment, I could see myself and David through his eyes. I felt so honored and fortunate to be able to care for this beautiful man who put his arm around mine.

“I used to think that cancer would never get me,” he told me. “Not David Hardy! I’m too tough. But—I found out that we’re all vulnerable. All mortal.”

“Mortals!” I said, shaking my fist.

In snapping pictures for this blog column, I revisited the block David and I used to walk together, two years before.

To my surprise, I didn’t feel really sad to walk along the very same sidewalk we once strolled together. The afternoon sun was out. A small U-Haul trailer was parked on the sidewalk. Somehow, seeing it filled me with some sense of solace; I thought of the brand new galaxy of memories that would be founded by whomever was moving into that tranquil part of the Mission. A chain of life continuing on.

But that whole area of the city bordering the Castro District—the block on Guerrero between 15th and 16th Streets where I ducked beneath an apartment building to sob after my September lunch date with David in 2010; Chilango Restaurant on Church Street; and even seeing Mission Dolores in Hitchcock’s Vertigo is tinged with my friend who left. I knew David for a smidgeon of his life. I only got to know the version of him that struggled mightily for his life.

Even now, I stare out my window facing west, toward San Francisco, Elton John’s “Daniel” playing, the sun setting. And I’m crying. It just doesn’t seem fair that David’s not here to see this same sunset when I know how badly he wanted to stay. Part of me is grateful to still carry this sorrow but it still doesn’t seem fair. I’m not sure if I’ll ever shake this feeling, however long I live.