Book Publishing, Music

Even rock stars mature

A couple of weeks ago, I threw out my back while leaning over in the shower, merely shaving my legs, though no one nor the light of day cares if I did. This is what it means to be 50-something.

In time, I’ve rehabbed my way back to a comfortable seated position after weeks standing or walking – the only way to manage the pain. I looked at my sleepless nights as time to read some books I’d had on my desk for a while, including Flea’s memoir, Acid for the Children (2019, Grand Central Publishing).

You may know Flea by his parasitic stage name and for his bass-thumping beats behind Red Hot Chili Peppers’ catalog of work. He’s a founding member of the band. Unexpectedly, Flea – born Michael Balzary – ends his memoir just as the band begins its trajectory toward decades-long fame and international popularity. He begins it where he started – suburban Australia, his birthplace – and leads the reader on a wild journey from Australia to Rye, New York, and settles in the hedonism of late-’70s/early-’80s Los Angeles. 

We ride along as his family splinters, through his parents’ divorce, and as his Dad retreats to Australia. He speaks of a childhood spent in search of a father figure, and how his mother hitched herself to a struggling substance-abusing musician – who, despite having some redeeming qualities (like introducing young Flea to jazz) was never a stable substitute.  

His childhood story is partly about discovery – discovering rhythm, musical genres and musical instruments, new bands, and the chicks who swooned for them. We see Flea’s musical tastes evolve, expand, become refined. He opines on the virtues of complex jazz. He confesses to being a late-comer to rock and an unapologetic Led Zeppelin fanboy. For the rest of us who weren’t part of the L.A. music scene, he makes us feel like we were there, alongside him, in the pit, experiencing bands like X, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, and FEAR – a local band that made him anecdotally famous before RHCP hit the big time. He recalls his first listen to Sugarhill-produced hip-hop and what it felt like in his very core the first time he heard Public Enemy’s bass drop. 

In a way, the memoir is also a tale of untraditional family and forgiveness. Flea narrates his story by linking together formative years and influential characters he encountered along the way. He speaks of lifesaving friendships with passion, reverence, gratitude, and awe. He learned to seek out relationships that transcend superficiality, that have their own rhythm and palpable energy, like what he’s had with RHCP front man, Anthony Kiedis. 

Contrition is a running theme throughout the book, and Flea – the middle-aging man today – has clarity about his shortcomings, mistakes, and unbridled recklessness of his youth. His wild-child antics read more like street-kid felonies. 

And, of course, there were the drugs. Copious amounts, readily available, a smorgasbord of drugs, alluring, emotion-tamping, mind altering, psychotic-episode inducing drugs – many of them injected into his veins with shared needles. 

By the time Flea sat down to pen Acid for the Children, he was 27 years sober. 

Like with any rock star or musical icon, fans likely think they know Flea by the music he makes and his on-stage funkified persona, but he peels layer upon raw layer back for the reader to see here. In defiance of his good fortune, his has been a hard life, a hard-lived life. It could’ve, should have, hardened him. But that is not how the story ends.

Book Publishing, News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy, Printing and Imaging, Uncategorized

Everything I Know About Capitalism, I Learned In the 6th Grade

This headline is not true, and yet, it was in this pre-Middle School era of my life when I first began to fully “understand the value of a dollar.”

I find that’s a popular phrase passed down through generations, an invaluable life lesson or a rite of passage. For two sixth-grade classes in the 1970s, their introduction to commerce and capitalism began that week.

That was the year that the number of students had outgrown the school, and some lucky contractor got the local school system bid for providing pop-up classrooms made out of stitched-together double-wide trailers. Two sixth-grade classes shared the one we’d been sentenced to, with a sliding partition between the two groups, each with its own teacher.

The partition was an insufficient barrier that mostly rendered us distracted by what was happening with the kids on the other side. When they laughed, our heads swiveled. When we acted up, they’d go silent and giggle as they listened to our punishment being levied. One teacher would have to raise her voice to keep the attention of her class whenever the sounds of the other teacher seemed more interesting.

And vice versa, and so it went.

Imagine the delight in our little hearts when one day the partition was folded in on itself, the two classrooms of kids facing off at last. The once competitive teachers joined forces and announced that we were going to learn about “the value of money.” They went on to explain that for a period of one week, there would be no traditional classroom lessons and that our trailer would be transformed into a microcosmic town.

Each of us had a role to play in the town. They asked for a show of hands when assigning roles like bankers, retailers, landlords, food purveyors, even insurance carriers.

I was the only one who wanted to run the town’s newspaper.

The town also needed governance and law, and so a show of hands indicated which of my classmates aspired to political life – managing their day-to-day duties while also running for a handful of offices, including mayor and sheriff.

We spent a day or two planning and building the town. Creative cardboard cutouts became our storefronts. Logos were designed, and signs went up over our storefronts. My classmates got right to work. The banker “handprinted” money and distributed a precisely equal amount of cash to each of the town’s residents, so everyone had a level playing field – a comparatively endearing socialist start to what would end in survival-of-the-fittest capitalistic carnage.

The most popular business, by far, was the town baker, who sold decadent treats to a classroom of kids given the freedom to make their own nutritional and expenditure decisions.

We didn’t speak of food allergies back then.

I got right to work wearing all the hats at the newspaper – a lot like things are today.

I reported and designed the layout. I “printed” the paper on the front office’s mimeograph. Printing is a big cost for actual newspapers, but I’d managed to get the paper and “press” for free. This would be seen as an ethical breach for actual newspapers.

I had to hock the paper, selling single copies to passersby. I sold advertising and wrote ad copy. I had to distribute the paper when it was hot off the press.

And though everyone wanted to read the paper – mostly to see if they were in it – few wanted to buy the paper. It was hard to compete with Mom-baked brownies.

I spent the week walking around the perimeter of the trailer, interviewing my classmates about the health of their businesses or who they liked in the pending election. I wrote trends pieces about how the town’s residents thought the rent was too damned high and how they wanted to be able to spend more of their money on luxury items, like those chocolately brownies. I vaguely remember writing an expose on the insurance carrier in town, who I saw as a huckster selling vapor.

“People give you money, but what do they really get in return,” I grilled him like I was Woodward or Bernstein.

One by one, the small businesses fell, exiling their owners from town, to a corner of the trailer-classroom to watch an episode of “Free to be You and Me” or to throw a sixth-grade temper tantrum, perhaps.

Naturally, the bank endured; it thrived off of the interest. The insurance carrier – who had minimal overhead costs and a contained, safe environment that put odds in his favor – stayed afloat. The baker had fistfuls of colorful cash by week’s end. And the newspaper endured, though I, too, was pretty busted. By the time I’d covered my own costs – rent, insurance, crayons – I didn’t have enough currency for much else.

I’d spent days coveting my classmates’ disposable income and how they frivolously, happily spent it on baked goods and insurance policies.

Somehow, I’d managed to get the news out, but it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t lucrative.

Book Publishing, News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy, Uncategorized

Mary L. Trump’s Book: A Review

I bought Mary L. Trump, PhD’s book, “Too Much and Never Enough” not so much because I was interested in the family dynamics of the Trump clan, but because I have an (confessed) staunch disdain for men who try to silence women, and for Presidents who make people around them sign NDAs and file frivolous lawsuits to delay and degrade every publication or opinion about him. So, when I heard that the Trump family had tied the book up in court, I pre-ordered it.

It’s a thin hardback and an easy read.

In the early chapters, she struggles with voice.

At times, Trump reminds the reader that she is a clinician, highly educated in and informed about mental health and mental disease. Occasionally, she breaks from that serious tone, injecting editorial that is biting or snarky. I’m not sure those work in her favor.

A few chapters in, she hits her stride, and the book transitions into what it wanted to be from the beginning: A highly personal memoir, with decades worth of cringe-inducing memories of sadism and cruelty that runs like sap in the Trump family tree. Knowing that, you might tend to believe that this is purely “a hit piece,” written for retribution or revenge. She is wounded – and who wouldn’t be – but it becomes evident that malice isn’t her motivation. Rather, the narrative seems to indicate a patently private person’s strange sense of duty to the public, to correct the record on her family’s biography and image, including the curated and fabricated story of her Uncle’s business acumen.

The stories of family “black sheeps,” of dramatic dis-ownings, or siblings who turn against one another for their parents’ affection or post-mortem spoils, are nothing new. But the story of the Trump family is particularly tragic, because the repercussions of their greed, cruelty, and tumult have trickled down to all of us now. They’re global.

The saddest part of this story, it seems to me, is the acknowledgement that family can be so easily fractured, and that sometimes a person can spend a lifetime thinking they play a certain role in the family – thinking they are (if not well liked, then) well-loved by other members of the family. They can carry on blindly under those assumptions for years, decades even, until one day they come to realize that they didn’t have that firm standing at all, that the affection they felt for others was not reciprocated – the unsteadying realization that “I am on my own.”

I think that must’ve been how it felt in the moment Mary Trump recounts near the end of the book – a fateful phone conversation with her grandmother, the President’s mother. It’s a gut punch.

By the end, I was surprised at how viciously the President’s immediate family and inner circle denounced his niece’s recounting of her life to date. Donald, his siblings, their children? They were raised in a culture of abuse. You’ll close this book and think, “That explains so much.” It almost makes a person feel pity for the President, for the man he came to be. Almost.