My Grandpa Hank died on Saturday, February 18, 2017. I just got back from the funeral. This week is 28 years since the death of his son, my uncle Michael, who was killed while driving to our house. He was just getting out of rehab and was going to move in with my mom, his sister, to help get straight. He never made it out of Atlanta.
His ghost has many sightings and looms large in family lore. At my house he would turn on and off the TV, flick the lights on and off, make appearances throughout the house. Once my brother woke us up screaming, saying his face was coming out of the closet. One time I remember waking up to look over and see his ghostly visage watching over my brothers as they slept. He followed us when we moved to the house next door, getting more obnoxiously poltergeisty, lights going on and off. My mother yelled for him to stop it, and was able to cast him out, and he went to Florida to live with my Grandma Pat in Tampa. Whenever we visited he would turn the TV on and grandma would complain to Mike in first person.
My mom and her sister both experienced Mike once again turning on and off the TV as they visited their dad. My grandfather lying brain-damaged, struggling to breathe, was flashing his arms in the air above, trying to catch something. Mom asked if it was Mike, and that if it was, could he show them a sign. The TV went on. It went off. It apparently did this for a moment, over and over. At the end my grandpa chuckled, the final laugh of his life. The TV was silent.
It is very difficult to comprehend all of this. This is a very close loss for all of us. It is like an out of body experience. I feel a very physical loss. It was painful to see him in his final moments, but even though he could not speak or do anything but look, he looked at me with his eyes, and I looked at him. We spent our last hour together at his house just sitting, breathing, resting. He was barely conscious and sleeping a lot, my mom shaking his feet whenever someone came to visit, saying "Wake up, daddy", reverting to a primal psychic language. To lighten the mood Mom wanted to play some music so I suggest Schubert. I found a compilation of "Music for the Angels" which had Schubert on it, popped open the CD case and took out a CD that was, you guessed it, Schubert.
After that it is a haze, a little family drama, some missed connections, getting pulled over by the cops, my 6yo neice inventing anime characters. I told my brother to watch "My Neighbor Totoro" with her, that it was by the guy who did "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke". She said "I've seen that!" That's a heavy movie for a kid to see. Damn. She's going to be the coolest person ever.
I met my other aunt at the airport, she flew down and is the middle sister, still living up north. The family is from Akron, Ohio, famous for Devo, who was friends with my mom growing up, before the family moved to Boston. They knew people that went to Kent State too, they went to that same Diamond Dogs Tour David Bowie show. My aunt who flew in from Boston was getting picked up at the airport, and I don't have a car so arrange to ride out with her and a new, really awesome and caring in-law. I took MARTA to the airport and went to baggage claim. I was early so I sat down near some old lady and there was a bag under one of the seats. I asked her if it was hers, she said no, and that she had just reported it! I sat down next to her and some airport security came up to me. They had this fucking attitude and asked me "Hey sir, having a good day today?" like I was up to no good. Fuck those assholes.
My aunt's father died while she was on the airplane down to see him, and I was told not to tell her so that her sister could. I had these big purple sunglasses on so I could just cry whenever I wanted and it didn't matter. For most of the weekend I would slip into these half-hour long Slow Cries. So she was getting baggage and in her New England way throwing f-bombs and very pragmatically complaining and saying things like "I hope dad isn't mad at me for... etc" cos she didn't know. And I knew. It fucking sucked. She found out very soon, in the car. Our driver, my new uncle-in-law, was listening to Lithium radio, and it was playing Nirvana "Sappy" and Janes Addiction. This was very comforting.
While Grandpa was a awake, on Friday, we had planned on Sunday to have a "Celebration of His Life". He died Saturday around noon, so by the time I arrived, I realized it was a funeral. Only with no religion (in Grandpa's poems he wrote about God but our family is mostly ex-Catholic), just people talking in a room, a conference area we borrowed at the old folks home where he lived, and it filled up with people just sitting and hearing us talk about him. Grandpa Hank was a living legend, a walking saint upon the Earth, for us and for most everyone he knew. Born in Brooklyn, he soon moved to Akron where he lived most of his life, going into the Navy (decoding messages and playing basketball), then advertising (OG Mad Men), then through a divorce, married a 2nd time to the love of his life, into retirement and a good 20+ years of travel and charity work visiting inner city schools twice a week, giving book talks and lectures, and working to give back and help the underprivileged in one of Ohio's poorest and most troubled cities. He was an open-minded individual, a man of love, the most open-hearted person I know (next to mom). The world is a poorer place for not having him in it.
Still, he was slipping, and we watched him slip. He moved down south to be closer to us as this happened, and for that, I am incredibly thankful to have had all that additional time with him. But it was very painful in the end, and he is now given mercy. Amen. At the funeral there was a piano, so I sat down and played. I did ragtime versions of Super Mario Bros. music, some Slim Whitman, some Amazing Grace, When I'm 64, Velvet Underground, but all of it hitting wrong notes from time to time cos I am extremely out of practice, which was fine bc I was not in any frame of mind, and it was a background performance. Truth be told, I was hiding behind the piano, and didn't speak a word the whole service. The piano was a good place to cry.
That morning mom and I were crying in the kitchen and I suggested we make collages so we stopped that and started cutting out pictures of Grandpa and friends & family, remedying our afflicting with Art Therapy. These were displayed alongside a legendary cartoon of him drawn decades ago at the funeral in lieu of a body. It was a very informal, very humble affair, and I bet he would have loved it, if he wasn't actually there. He did die in that building, and if there are spirits, they tend to attach themselves to places most of all. My aunt and mom were remembering him conducting songs from the H.M.S. Pinafore as he drove them around, "What never! No never!" and nobody had set up a sound system so they were looking it up on the phone, the entire room just waiting. Mom dialed it up on youtube and put the mic up next to the phone, and we all strained to hear this crackly, distorted, electronic version of the song. It was kind of spooky tbh. It felt like she literally dialed into sound from the past and we were listening to that memory, all living that reality together, for a brief moment.
We talked about all of his famous in-jokes. Whenever we went out to eat he would always compliment the waitress on her looks (he was a ladies man from an older more elegant era) and when they asked him what they could get him he would say "A date with Sofia Loren". The man had taste. He was also a terrible flirt. Many women at the old folks home that spoke said that he made them feel beautiful and that it made them feel happy. In a very simple way, this is a good summation of what kind of person he was: he wanted to make people happy.
He will always be with me, forever and ever, amen.
"End of the Weekend" and "Sweet Thing" - New Dust Bunnies Songs
I've uploaded 2 new songs from Dust Bunnies for an in-the-works 2016 album. Like my 2015 (In Search of Graphics) and 2014 (Night Terrors HD) albums this is going to be constructed song-by-song, writing and recording over the course of the year at my own pace. The songs are free. Here are two tracks I've finished.
The first song is "End of the Weekend" which kind of started off as a psych folk drone Pink Floyd ripoff but ended up turning into a more keyboard oriented thing with the addition of overdubs from my Yamaha Portasound PSS-170. I was given this keyboard last year by an old bandmate, Andrew from The Kiwis, and it is my favorite keyboard of all time right now. There are three harpsichord sounds that are FUCKING AWESOME and it has that classic FIREWORKS sound I fondly recall from my youth. There is a saxophone sound that actually sounds like the fuzziest Moog bass you ever heard in your life and I love it with all my heart and want to use it on everything now. It's featured in the second song. Most of the upcoming songs I write will probably heavily feature this keyboard.
The second song is "Sweet Thing" which was written about my cat Five. He is always sleeping, so the lyrics begin "Sleeping, you're always sleeping". When I wrote this I was listening to "Revolver" alot on LP and so this song heavily alludes to the classic "I'm Only Sleeping". Sound-wise I was going for something halfway between Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing" and T-Rex but it probably just sounds like some loser doing a one man band. I attempted some vocal harmonies here and feel like I sort of pulled it off. I'm not Everly Brothers but I would like to try and incorporate some close harmonies into my newer stuff, something I've never really gotten to do in any bands. Ah, the freedom of home recording...
Shoutout to the Dust Bunnies fan I met while working the Fifth Planet table at Atlanta Zine Fest this year! It was a hot summer day in Hotlanta but it was totally chill downtown amidst the art and zines. I had a bunch of video game perler bead art for sale and people asked if they were 3D printed. Anyways I met someone from Columbus who recognized me from Dust Bunnies and said she was a huge fan who saw Dust Bunnies open for Deerhunter years ago at the Variety Playhouse (that was an amazing show, with Nirvana Kelly (Little Tybee) on violin) and she and wants to book me some shows cos there is apparently a fanbase in Columbus! It was extra cool because I recently drove by Columbus and went to Providence Canyon right near there and seen the Grand Canyon of Georgia just recently. She knew all about it! Alas my theremin is busted so I can't really play any shows with it but that's ok cos I don't do those type of Dust Bunnies shows anymore anyways. I have been writing original music and taken the Dust Bunnies in a whole new direction (which was just covers) since then and wonder if fans of the old stuff would like my new stuff at all. Who knows? I honestly don't expect anyone to like anything I do, in fact some of the time I like it the least of anyone. Anyways you can always download free Dust Bunnies music at our Bandcamp page. All the music is free, at least I think so. If not, then a hell of a lot of it is free.