Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Ten years ago, my dear friend, Hank D. Ballenger, pen name Dr. E. Amer died in a hospital room in Philadelphia. Unlike those old Medical Alert commercials, he'd fallen and he did get up, just not for very long. Felled by black ice and a banana or orange peel (his poor sight made it impossible to identify the evil object), he carried for a few days with a leg broken in several places. This happened despite his reassurances to me that a fall would never hurt him. He wrote this in a letter a couple of years before the fall. Could he have known on some level? It seemed to me from a very young age he always knew everything.
At least he knew a lot of stuff before I did. He was always ahead of the curve, telling everyone about the latest writer, music, or newest gadget. He could quote reams of poetry. He held diverse social groups together. He played guitar and practiced Akido. He even fenced. While I spent hours listening to Simon and Garfunkel's "Richard Corey" in a vain attempt to pull depth from the lyrics, Hank translated the Ovid. Effortlessly cool in the way that people who don't give a shit about being cool or how others see them, he had a wicked sense of humor. Did he have flaws? The dead often don't. Hank did. He had many of what he referred to as "blind spots." When a blind man tells you about his blind spots, it's both funny and true. At this point, Hank himself would instruct the readers to do self-service humor and make up their own jokes. He loved the wrong women or the right women at the wrong time. He had a temper, a righteous anger, and could hold a grudge longer than the IRA. He ate too many meals that were listed under the scary words, Value Menu.
But these flaws were ever so minor. Ten years after his death, he still remains my Virgil, leading me through this crazy, beautiful, difficult world. Especially during dark times, I look to Hank for a sign of how to proceed. Hank would laugh at this tendency and say, You're counting on a blind man to lead you through darkness? But yes, I am. Who better to know what to expect?
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I seldom recognize an opportunity until it has ceased to be one." Mark Twain
Documentary suggestion: Dig
Benedictions and Maledictions
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Another sad day in the always tough month of February with the death of Whitney Houston. I never thought too much about her music one way or the other, but I remember having debates over the song "I Will Always Love You." Dolly Parton sang the original, but Whitney's version became incredibly popular in the nineties. I always stuck by my feeling that Dolly's version was the best, but my friend Hank disagreed, much to my surprise. "I prefer Whitney's. It doesn't make you feel like taking out the razorblades." In this assessment, I had to agree. Whitney managed to take this terribly sad ballad to lost love and make it seem hopeful, rather than tragic. Dolly's verison evoked the trauma of always loving someone whereas Whitney's interpretation gave room for hope. Maybe it wasn't so awful to have that spot in your heart for someone. Dolly made it the listener feel as if she didn't have a choice -- that's the purity of Dolly. But Whitney makes the listener feel as if it's okay to always love someone, that it might be a good thing.
Now Whitney has passed, much earlier than anyone might have guessed, even with her array of personal demons. She started as a beautiful cheerleader type of singer, a singer who could just get so emotional, baby and lead us into happy worlds of pop joy. But as time passed, we saw Whitney struggle with the vices that grip so many -- drugs, alcohol, difficult love. We saw her transform into what the kids call a hot mess. And still, she was beautiful with the voice that nobody could quite replicate. Alas, rest in peace, dear Whitney, the neon-colored outfits that marked your best years, your prime, the one where you will always love and be loved.