Farewell To The Thin White Duke

Posted in Music, Travel with tags , , , on January 11, 2016 by David McInerny

david_bowieAs I write, I’m conducting business in Kuala Lumpur, and the death of David Bowie is front page news in the Asian morning papers. Like many artists his age (69), he didn’t have to die to get his due as the icon of popular culture he cultivated for himself for nearly five decades. The adulation of Bowie rarely waned through his career – adulation he carefully and skillfully cultivated. This from a young man who began his musical career recording insipid child-like tunes for Decca Records in the mid-sixties until one day he decided to reinvent himself (over and over again) and set the rules for pop stardom all the way up to his most recent album, Blackstar, released just this past Friday. Ironically, the initial single of the same name has Bowie crooning, “I’m not a pop star…” Ever the master of sleight of hand.

Just when we thought we understood his current persona, it disappeared and was replaced by a new one that pointed us toward the next phase of his vision, which legions of artists followed, many without knowing he was the vanguard. That said, it was always about songwriting first, and surrounding himself with great players (John Lennon, Carlos Alomar, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp), some of whom he put on the map (Stevie Ray Vaughn). Bowie’s music has many phases, folk, arena, funk, electronica and, in the past few years, a genre of his own creation of which Blackstar is the apex. Dark moods with lovelorn lyrics using a slowed-down groove that somehow keeps the listener aloft.

One day in the summer of 1979 I went to the record store (The Record Joint in South Bend, IN) with the specific intent of buying some albums of music I was not familiar with. One record I came home with was David Bowie’s 1977 “Heroes” and I listened to its raw, slinky crunch over and over. Within a year, I had purchased everything he had recorded to date and was a FAN. To this day, I’ve anticipated new music from Bowie with the eagerness of a teen, and listening to Blackstar straight through last night with the knowledge that he was gone was an agony of mixed emotions.

There are very few artists about whom I’m convinced I could spend an hour with talking about life and not be disappointed, but David Bowie is at the top of the that list. Because as much as he put himself out there in so many formats, I believe that when the album was finished, or the show was over, Bowie shed his personae to reveal a self only the closest to him truly know.

“Life’s still a dream
Your love’s amazing
Since I found you
My life’s amazing

I pledge you
Never be blue
There’s too much at stake to be down

My nightmare
Rooted here watching you go
Divine in both, our lives”

David Bowie, “Amazing”

 

Japanese Dreams

Posted in Family, Food, Travel with tags , , , , on October 31, 2015 by David McInerny

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Up until last week, Tokyo for me had been a quick fly-in from Taiwan, a rush to Sony headquarters, and verbal sparring over the cost of GPS components with some of the best negotiators I’ve ever encountered. It was while negotiating in Japan that I learned the value of the application of a long, awkward silence. Unfortunately, I saw precious little of that beautiful country.

This Tokyo trip was minus dark suits and plus one complete family, and there were no long periods of silence. Somehow five adults – two parents and three adult children – managed to manipulate schedules and budgets in order to orchestrate what may be the final overseas trip for a family that committed itself to seeing the world with a first venture to Amsterdam in 2001. Later there was Rome, Munich, Paris, Nice, Zurich, Valencia, Arles, Cancun, Salzburg…and now Tokyo. This journey had a sense of nostalgia to it before we climbed onto the plane for the long haul from Los Angeles.

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Fourteen years ago the agendas were whatever I made them, and my “ducks,” as I’ve always referred to my family on the road, followed behind. This trip I turned the planning over to the ducks, mostly so I could observe my children as adults and watch their choices and their manner of choosing, and enjoy them navigating a foreign country as my parents had taught me in the 1970’s.

Those who have read my column are aware of my senseless fear of urban metro systems, so my delight in watching my trio dive into the task of zipping around underneath Tokyo was unlimited. They never put us on a wrong train, and we never missed a stop. The kids also arranged a dinner in the the legendarily weird and risqué Ripponghi District. It was a first for us to have dinner next to a club named The Ten Sluts, but the view of the street from a second floor balcony made for first-class people watching, and the fried tuna cheeks were excellent!

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In fact, the dining was as good as we all hoped. My wife and daughter got their fill of uncooked seafood, battered seafood, and fruits and vegetables I’d never seen or eaten before. However, it was after a long night of souvenir shopping along the Cat Walk that we had a late dinner and my favorite – incredibly authentic Italian cooked while we watched the chef. The boys needed a day trip to Kobe for the legendary steaks – sold by the gram! This had me double checking the budget while the boys poured over the menu.

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As with all travel, for me, the best part is simply being there. Whether it’s tea on the Ginza or coffee in a maze of streets surrounding a temple, it seems that going halfway across the globe is the easiest way to strip away all the unnecessary parts of me so that I can view the world with fewer filters. Doing it with the family has always been another notch up into the otherworldly.

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“Wanderlust” is on sale

Posted in Books, Fiction with tags , , , , on September 20, 2015 by David McInerny

Get your copy of my most recent book on Amazon.com. Wanderlust is a collection of short stories revealing men and women out of their element, reacting to life as it happens.  

  

Encountering Jimmy Page

Posted in Music, Travel with tags , , on August 29, 2015 by David McInerny


One nice thing about an impromptu trip is that little can go wrong with one’s plans, since there isn’t enough time to make any of complexity. As I flew to London to finish a book and enjoy a few days of walking the city, I was content in the knowledge that I had secured a ticket to a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre. Beyond that, if I happened to see Abbey Road Studios, or view the Magna Carta or a Shakespeare first folio at the British Library, those would be nice add to the itinerary. Mostly though, the book needed to get completed.

Any traveler learns that the best memories are the unplanned ones, because they can’t be planned. They’re gifted. They occur when one moves about with eyes open and a willingness to deviate from the plan.

And so there I was wandering up Charing Cross road on my way to hear Jazz at a small Soho club when I saw a string of used book stores. Deciding I could be a little late to the show, I started browsing the books in search of first editions I might need.

Coming out of the last shop I turned right, and Jimmy Page was on the sidewalk sauntering my direction from 50 fifty feet away. How many thoughts can be launched from one mind in the space of time it takes two men to cover 50 feet walking toward each other? I don’t know, but I set a personal best. My first notion was that he was wearing the same all black outfit, including scarf, that he dons in all his recent pictures.

Then, scrambled thoughts! ‘Don’t bother him!’ ‘Maybe he’d love to be recognized – it’s not 1975 anymore.’ ‘I want to tell him he did a marvelous job with the new Coda companion disc!’ And so on.

We locked eyes. I smiled. Jimmy returned the smile and puffed his lips like he does on a downstroke power chord. He continued on, and I turned and watched him continue on for another block.

It was enough.

And the show at the jazz club was great.


  
  
  

1598 – Shakespeare’s Risk

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , on August 26, 2015 by David McInerny

After becoming weary of languishing negotiations to renew the lease on the theatre his troupe was using on the north side of the Thames, Shakespeare made the fateful decision to disassemble his theatre in the night (so legend has it) and rebuild it on the other side of the river.

The Southwark district at the end of the sixteenth century was a dubious area teeming with brothels and bear-baiting houses, but acting was then itself a less-than-respectable profession so, The Globe was an instant success. It was such a hit, due to Shakespeare’s growing reputation as a playwright, that it forced London’s original play house, The Rose, to move to another part of London to survive.

The Globe we enjoy today is not the original, though it was built in 1989 to what is believed to be the approximate dimensions and materials of it’s progenitor that was located down the street and around the corner. It’s only through great fortune that we know what the Globe looked like. A visitor to London in the early 1600’s with an ability to sketch made a panorama of London from the southeast side, in which the Globe, with its polytagonal shape, wood sides, thatched roof and brick staircase, features prominently in the foreground.

The original space of the Globe is now marked, but easy to miss, as I almost did last night while I wandered the neighborhood around the new Globe waiting for the start of the Bard’s Richard II. A bronze plaque barely draws the eye to a vacant car park. A decade ago, researchers dug and found the foundation for the original Globe’s brick staircase. They took measurements and photos and then flooded the structure to preserve it, and replaced the parking lot. In the photo below, the dark cobblestones mark the spot of the Globe’s foundation.

Why didn’t the researches excavate the rest of the site? Well, it happens that a modern, swanky apartment complex sits lucratively on top of it. Imagine living in a home directly above the stage where William Shakespeare performed in his own plays: Hamlet, Macbeth, Midsummer Night’s Dream! I’d be constantly on the lookout for the ghost of Yorick.

International Travel Gets Easier

Posted in Family, Travel with tags , on August 7, 2015 by David McInerny
Anne Frank House - Amsterdam

Anne Frank House – Amsterdam

When we took our first family trip outside of the country in 2001, the preparations were so very different than the trip we are planning for this Fall. Fourteen years ago the kids were 10, 8 and 7 years old, and you’d have thought we were trying to smuggle them out of the country with everything the school required to pull them out of class for a week.  All three needed their first passports, and we weren’t sure our youngest really understood what we meant by the fact that we were leaving the country. What if the kids got airsick, picked up a bug, or simply hated being in a foreign country? What if we couldn’t find food that they liked? Would they need a break during the day with all the walking we planned? And the big question everyone asked – why Amsterdam?

The last question was the easiest – KLM had a cheap fare to Holland that made it possible to afford to take the entire family. Also, Amsterdam was a city I knew well from previous personal and business trips, so I wouldn’t need to worry about maps and navigation. I mean let’s face it, a dad takes his family on a great trip to establish himself as a hero, and it can be a bit scary to the tots if he shrugs his shoulders at some point and admits he is hopelessly lost. My wife is used to this admission from me, but it seemed something to avoid when carting around the whole family.

I got very lucky on one point. The elementary school the kids were attending was focusing on the art of Van Gogh that year (unbeknownst to me when I booked the trip), and it gave them a purpose to cling to when they realized that we would see the Van Gogh museum. Beyond that, I felt canals and windmills would be exciting and different for kids of all ages. As long as I skirted the red light district during our wanderings and avoided stumbling into a gay bar for a family lunch, I figured little could go wrong.

The trip went off smashingly, and Amsterdam was the first of several more trips overseas with the kids. Whenever we saved enough money to buy a new car, my wife and I would often decide to coax another year or two out of the beater and book flights. Each trip was different in terms of planning to keep the kids interested, but each journey got easier as the kids got older and appreciated the adventures more readily. One trip incorporated the new Harry Potter movie, another incorporated Christmas on the Mediterranean. Incorporating the familiar with the foreign seemed to help the kids adjust to a new culture quickly and have more fun.

Now the “kids” are 24, 23 and 21, and this time my wife and I gave them the budget and told them to pick the place and plan the agenda. They not only loved the idea, but it looks like the trip will come in under budget. They have set up their own frequent flier profiles with the airline, and we’ll be flying into L.A from all over the country to meet for the long haul to Tokyo. After years of doing all the planning, dad is just going along for the ride. I’m told we’ll be seeing the Imperial Palace, Mount Fuji and Disney Tokyo. We’ll be dining on lots of raw fish and exploring the legendarily busy Tokyo subway system. This time I get to be just another baby duck following the leaders, and I’m looking forward to it.

Notre Dame - Paris

Notre Dame – Paris

Limit River - Zurich

Limmat River – Zurich

Mozart's Birthplace - Salzburg

Mozart’s Birthplace – Salzburg

Trevi Fountain - Rome

Trevi Fountain – Rome

On the Beach - Valencia, Spain

On the Beach – Valencia, Spain

Bedtime Reading in Rome

Posted in Books, Family, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2015 by David McInerny

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The school year was 1969-1970, and I was in the third grade. My dad, having taken a sabbatical year from Notre Dame to do research in Rome, moved the entire family of eight for a year into a large apartment which we quickly made small with our numerous presence. The address has stayed with me for reasons I don’t know: Via Ugo Balzani 6. My little brother and sister slept with me in a bigger bedroom, with my sister on a single bed under the window. My three older sisters were scattered throughout the apartment. I have no idea where my parents slept… It was a magical year of learning another language, schooling with students from around the world, and traveling to places that I had never heard of. We had a tan VW microbus, manual shift, and my older sisters regaled us in that hippie van with the new Tom Jones cassette as well as a collection of top Italian pop hits, San Remo ’70, which was Italy’s answer to Woodstock that year.

My dad was writing what would become his first New York Times bestseller, The Priest, though at the time I only understood that he was holed up in a small closet with a typewriter day after day, and seemed very pleased with his progress. After dinner, we would go out on the street and play with the neighborhood kids with real names like Massimo, or made-up names like Blondie Boy because we couldn’t pronounce his real one, and dad would write until it was time for the “three little kids” to go to bed. While my mom checked the homework of the “three big kids,” dad watched us brush our teeth, tucked us in and pulled out one of several paperbacks he’s found at an English bookstore in Rome. Each night he would read us one chapter, first from Treasure Island, and later that year from Huckleberry Finn. We would beg for more than a chapter, even though dad often had to stop and explain the story lines to us, but it was one chapter only each evening. When those books were complete, he started writing his own series of children’s stories featuring Granny One-Tooth, her grandson Roy Boy and their friend Sheriff Omar. He wrote a chapter in the evening while we were playing and would read it as our bedtime story.

Dad continued the Granny One-Tooth series after we returned to Indiana, and in later years we would recall them and ask why he wouldn’t publish them. He always refused with a smile, and when he passed away those pages were never found among his voluminous writing. Today, when I think about two things I have adored my entire life – traveling and reading – there is no doubt how those passions were deliberately fostered by my parents. Living in Rome, traveling the European continent, nightly tales of running away and heading south down the Mississippi or across the ocean with pirates, all before the age of ten. I didn’t have a chance.