Keep on the Sunny Side

Finding something to do

“Baby mammoth dies, sinks in tar pit, as helpless mother looks on …” 

Cherie Currie, lead singer of the awesome 1970s band The Runaways, is a chainsaw artist. She carves grizzly bears holding Bibles and giant raccoons and mermaids out of palm trees and sells them out of her front yard. She seems happy rocking the safety goggles.

If you see a mermaid held prisoner inside every tree stump, it is your job to set them free. To find work that is strange and dangerous, constructive and deconstructive, and also fun, is what I want for all my friends — something to focus mania and make you really tired at the end of the day.

Like Joey Ramone says, “All the kids want something to do.” People so rich they never have to work and people so broke they can never stop working all need something to do.

Dionne Warwick working the phones at the Psychic Friends Network in the ’90s or Professor Longhair working as a janitor in the ’60s were like a million other musical geniuses driven into a corner by their own demons, or by the poor taste and lack of imagination radiating from the top of the record industry.

Whitney Houston (Dionne Warwick’s cousin) filled some of her cloudy days and lean times with the very modern, desperate work of being a beautiful, sad and exploited reality-TV star. Whitney would have needed to carve grizzlies like a maniac to keep up with her crazy-high overhead, but at least she would have been outdoors and she would have been her own boss. It might have been a better way to spend her down time. If she had been my wildly talented, unhinged, drug-addicted friend, I’d like to think that I would have driven her out to the Husqvarna store.

What should you do when your friend is cracking up right in front of you? The gears are spinning behind their gleaming eyes, meshing zipper-tight or flying wild and knocking out teeth when the spring has been sprung. They are spitting out ideas like water from an open fire hydrant. Every idea is undeniably brilliant, or at least really funny, spraying up in great arcing rainbows before falling down wasted and vaporizing on the steaming sidewalk. So much enthusiasm and optimism coming from someone who is so clearly fucked makes you remember why we all should care about art and try to make things, or play music, or do something, instead of just hanging around waiting to die. And then the heartbreaking sad part starts again.

If you are from here and you don’t have at least one completely brilliant, exhausting, manic friend who is totally swinging wide off the hillbilly hook, then you have probably turned your back on someone from your past. There is probably someone you have cut loose.

Living in Louisville, I forget that in most of this country it is considered unusual, or even suspect, to still be friends 20 or 30 or 40 years later with the people from your kindergarten class or high school. Here it seems totally normal. People from Kentucky don’t move around too much. In larger cities, it’s easy to move to a distant neighborhood and choose new friends that you actually like or maybe people who can be useful to you in some way. Here, I feel like we are stuck with each other in a small town, shallow-end-of-the-gene-pool way. It should make it easier to look after each other, but all it really does is make me feel even worse when I let one of my friends fall off a cliff.

Winter, the season of death, is almost over. Daffodils are blooming in the cemetery. Right now, there are two things I know for sure. The perfect time will never get here, and death is for everyone — not just saints or fuck-ups. If you have any important plans involving other human beings, do what you can to make them happen.

Black God, Juanita, Tara Jane O’Neil, Kentucky Chrome Review, Catherine Irwin and other local musicians will perform at a memorial for our beloved Jon Cook on March 9 from 5 p.m.-midnight at the Tim Faulkner Gallery (943 Franklin St.) in Butchertown. The event is a benefit for Jon’s 7-year-old son.