Smoke and Mirrors

In a perfect world . . .

Month: February 2005

…They call Alabama the “Crimson Tide”…

Several years ago I read an article written by Jessica Mitford. In it, she attacks the funeral industry and their various insidious techniques used in the embalming of a body. Pretty gruesome stuff. An email I received tonight took me to the Blog of Death, an interesting website in and of itself. Death has always had a stygian hold on my psyche for many years so I found this website to be oddly interesting. Maybe I should be concerned…
Anyway, I wrote a piece after reading Mitford’s article that explains my feeling on the subject of my own demise. I thought it was well thought out if anything. The only thing I really desire upon the beginning of my big dirt nap is the playing of “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan at my funeral. Don’t ask me why, I just do. Weird, I know. I’ve informed my wife that if my wish isn’t fullfilled, I will turn the atmosphere around the house into Poltergeist to the 10th power. She doesn’t like the sound of that very much (even if I am kidding, and I am)

The Sweetest Goodbye


Death is the real final frontier and the end of life as we know it, though what lies on the other side of that threshold is anybody’s guess. The departure from this life remains shrouded in mystery while the question of how we are to travel there does not. We are faced with a choice as we stand before that threshold; a choice not to be made lightly, as Mitford so succinctly explains.

I have decided to enter into eternity with a minimal amount of baggage; no industrial strength chemicals I can’t pronounce the names of will ever swim through these veins, voluntarily. I predict my duodenum will be a mere ashen memory upon my first step into the great beyond. To embalm the body is simply a matter of choice and after reading Mitford’s essay the decision for me was as crystal clear as a virgin pane of glass. I have made those intentions known to the ones I love that I intend to be charbroiled to a crispy well done, no meat thermometer needed here, thank you very much.

Mitford’s idea that the funeral industry may be concerned about public awareness of the embalming procedure is well founded and direct. Why would anyone want to have a trocar inserted into his or her abdominal cavity is incomprehensible to me. Just the idea of internal organs being sucked through a tube scrubbed my name from the embalmer’s waiting list. She writes the word “molested” several times throughout the piece, a seemingly apt description of the entire embalming process. One can only hope (and pray) that the funeral director harbors no necrophilial tendencies, another proverbial open can of moist, squishy worms.

They say, life sucks and then you die. They should say, life sucks and then you die and God help you if you’ve taken that dark left turn down Dismemberment Boulevard. Judging from her graphic narrative, Mitford seems to be a definite candidate for cremation, given her somber yet droll description of the art of present day mummification. The inclusion of the line, “Il faut souffir pour etre belle”, translated from French, “one must suffer to be beautiful” serves only to highlight her obvious mordant view of this age-old embalming tradition.

If embalming is in fact the road needed to travel to reach the pearly gates, I can only hope my final images are those of a can of gasoline and an open book of matches. Not only would I save the funeral director from an unnecessary and messy task but also might serve my family as a means for toasting up a few marshmallows, which to me seems like a much sweeter way of saying goodbye.

© michaelm 2005

“Whatsoever you do…”

It was on Tremont Street in Boston that he approached me for the first time. He wore a tattered, soiled and sandy colored P-coat that reeked of street filth and body odor. To see him walking in your direction made you want to cross the street to the harbour of the other side but somehow he’d managed to corner me. His sunken jujube eyes stared at me wildly as he reached out his hand.

Hey, mistah…got some spare—“

I waved him off before he could even finish the question, a learned response somehow turned involuntary from having lived in the city many years ago. The number of threadbare pariahs had risen in recent years as had their brazen ‘come on, buddy’ attitude towards the multitudes of customers that walk their territory on a daily basis. I thought little of the mundane encounter and went about my day. It wasn’t until dusk, as I made my way down Columbus Avenue to the train station, that I unexpectedly experienced a repeat performance by the same man.

Hey, mistah…can ya’—“

I was even quicker this time in waving him away but was overwhelmed by the fact that this was the same beggar that stopped me on Tremont Street less than five hours ago. Some emotional cog turned inside my brain awakening the latent Good Samaritan from my catholic upbringing. Thoughts of the denial of Jesus Christ during his Passion by Peter transformed into epiphanies that made me wonder if I hadn’t just committed the same sin. I’ve never considered myself a devout Christian. So why was I questioning my actions now? I got on the train almost believing that I might have to share a seat with this man. What would I say when he turned to me asking a third time for the smallest crumbs of my apathetic compassion? As the train began moving through the darkness, I wondered how many times in the past had I stared blindly into the face of want. My soul felt bruised, I was ashamed. What if Christ himself had asked me for spare change? Would I wave him away too?

©michaelm 2005

Remembering Miss American Pie

This is a piece I wrote several years ago but still seems to me to apply to the present day music industry.
I am still a musician at heart but venues to work in are drying up faster than a droplet of water in a bucket of dry sand.
It’s an abysmal state of affairs these days musically and sadly we all saw it coming.
Some say business is cyclical. I wonder.
Hey, Paul McCartney played the halftime show Super Bowl Sunday, right?

Remembering Miss American Pie

The musicians of the 60’s and 70’s had a wealth of powerful and insightful compositions from which to draw their inspiration. The songs had shine and creative musical integrity that would forever set them apart from today’s musical mainstream.
The music spoke of the dynamic of the human experience; from love found and lost to political innuendo shaking hands with world peace.
The older generation frowned upon these freedoms of expression and saw the music created as an irrevocable evil to be stamped out in the hopes of ending the reign of terror that floated over the airwaves.
From the shaking hips of Elvis to the Mop-Tops from England to the androgynous and enigmatic David Bowie, the music written back then made us think and connect; it gave us an up close and personal view of the broken heart.
So what the hell happened to perceptive content?
Music, in its purest form is therapy, a most fundamental discipline of meditation the human race has, but along the way we altered the magic formula, ultimately changing its destiny as well.
It’s supposed to make you feel good.
Just think of a song that truly means something to you, take out a piece of paper, and jot down five things that come to mind immediately.
Chances are you can come up with more than ten.
That’s the miracle of music; when something unexpected touches the heart.
Much of what I hear today is tainted, biased and so musically inept that when I hear one of these prized gems, I can only wildly shake my head and slobber saliva like an angry PBR bull (which tends to make loved ones around me very uncomfortable).
A rule of thumb for future songwriters regarding lyrics: if it rhymes with shucking but has nothing to do with corn, get out a thesaurus and find another word.
The English language is chock full of them. Really.
It seems that few people write real songs anymore; that is a simple and yet sobering fact, not a generality. If it weren’t for artists like John Mayer and Dave Matthews, I’d have lost my mind by now.
Much of the music today is like bad poetry, arranged, set to a groove from the late eighties, and thrown into a 4,000 track, all digital recorder (yes, all the tracks must be used, read the contract).
Recently, while listening to a song on a brand X radio station out of Boston—the exact frequency slips my mind…you’re welcome—I remember thinking to myself, what language is this guy speaking?
I strained to hear anything remotely intelligible.
Musically speaking, the song was as mundane and pedestrian as an arrangement that oozes from a generic portable keyboard purchased at Wal-Mart.
I also thought that somewhere in the midst of this urban cacophony, I could hear the sound of a dog being run over and over, and over again… I’m not positive about that and maybe it’s just me. Somebody call the ASPCA.
The inspiration for this article came to me as I ambled down Main Street a few weeks ago (us old guys don’t walk, we amble…it’s much hipper) when a pulsating sub-compact Toyota Celica loaded with what sounded like two, maybe three 18-inch subwoofers drove past me towards City Hall, emitting music so thunderous it almost knocked down the lady walking next to me.
Initially, I thought it was just wind.
I didn’t get the license plate number because I was too busy bending over to retrieve my own two eyeballs off the sidewalk.
Sound pressure levels that can cause buildings to vibrate precariously…hmm, I wondered if the Slater Building was up to code on that one.
Nope, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Then there’s the whole debacle surrounding present day artists hiding behind the 5th amendment, and we all can see what a gush of rotting sewage that is, but it doesn’t mean we have to buy a bucketful of it.
When a major proportion of the music available has a “parental advisory” sticker slapped on it, what’s left for those of us who prefer substance in what we listen to?
Maybe we need a special store that caters to people fed up with listening to music and lyrics that insult our intelligence with the glorification of worthless profanity while wasting our hard earned money on garbage that someone in the recording industry somehow deemed fit for human consumption. Bon appétit.
Maybe I’m not meant to understand what all the hype and excitement in the industry is about these days, because I’m no longer a child.
But there’s always that outside chance that as I struggle with my own foreseeable mid-life crisis, I’ll pleasantly discover that perhaps I’ve grown a little bit wiser in the process.
Just watch the Grammy Awards this year for a taste of the ultimate in garishness.
In the end, the music we choose to listen to and support should remain solely in the hands of the listener, but the overall message that it brings should be more of a boon to society as opposed to an outrage against the machine.
Comedian George Carlin hit the proverbial nail on the head when he stated that, “…inside every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud.”
Get out your umbrellas, kids; it looks like rain.

© michaelm 2002

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