Sunday, November 15, 2009

Garage Sales, God and KISS

"When I want for you what you want for you, then I truly love you. When I want for you what I want for me, then I am loving Me through you.

So, too, by the same measure, can you determine whether others love you, and whether you truly love others. For love chooses naught for itself, but only seeks to make possible the choices of the beloved other."

-Neale Donald Walsch

I came across this in my morning meditation today. And yes, I meditate in the morning, so suck it, spiritual haters! Wait- I think I just invalidated something there. Oh well.

Anyway, every morning I get up and walk the girls (my dogs) down to the park. Then I come home, feed them, make a big mug of coffee, and retire to my office, where I sit in a big comfy red chair next to a book case. I grab a book and read until what I need to think about that day hits me between the eyes. Sometimes I read a book end to end; sometimes I the book is only a fling; and sometimes I grab a book, open it randomly, and read until I stop. There is only madness to my madness.

I read the above quote this morning from "Conversations With God," Book 3. I started this book well over a year ago, and stopped after... well, not long I guess. This morning I decided to restart it, and it immediately made sense to me. So I guess this is what I'm supposed to be reading right now. The above quote is on Carl Yazstremski (Page 8), and as soon as I read it, I felt God punch me in the arm, like we were sitting next to each other in an Old Timey Western Saloon. I immediately realized that the impulse to write, that I haven't had in well over a year, had just returned, thrown it's duffel bag on the floor of my head, and was somewhere in my mental kitchen, making coffee. I simultaneously realized it wanted me to write about something I hadn't thought about in 30 years.

My mother grew up in a pretty modest area of Worcester, Massachusetts in an area of the city called Main South. It was populated by immigrants from all over, but mainly Irish. Her parents were both off the boat Irish who started a big family here in the States. My grandfather was a laborer and my grandmother took care of my five aunts and one uncle, which uncle had Down's Syndrome. Their upbringing was of the strictest flavor of Irish Catholic- mass every day; no meat on Fridays- ever; confession every week; and unshakeable guilt and reward notions about God.

For example, if you used God's name in vain, you were quite literally slapping Jesus across the face. In Heaven. It took me years to begin to conceive that if Heaven existed, people probably don't get slapped there. But if anyone were to get slapped, I'd guess it would be someone other than Jesus. Still, God was always watching, making a list, and checking it twice, so get your shit together.

Anyway, my sister and I were raised in a similar fashion. My father, who is 93 years old as I write this blog, still goes to mass almost every day. But while my mother's flavor of Catholicism was decidedly fear chip with guilt sprinkles, my father's has always been more of a compassion sundae with marshmallow love sauce and extra whipped cream (no metaphor for whipped cream- just dig it, baby!).

I bring this up to explain that while my mother's love for my sister and me was never, ever in doubt, she was a very strict parent. I get so many of my passions and emotions from her, which is something I've come to see more and more clearly as I get older. A good grade would earn me a profound celebration of a favorite food or maybe extra play time with my buddies. A good grade, by the way, was an A. A bad grade (a non-A), would usher in a mist of disappointment in the house that would cloud all other events. The badder the grade, the more colorful the disappointment I would inspire, leading to groundings and removal of things that pleased me-mainly music or electronic games.

She meted punishment out ruthlessly, at times dusting off a wooden yard stick to administer our version of caning. Now, the yardstick was thin, papery wood, so the caning was not all that effective a deterrent. I often giggled while receiving the yard stick. Suffice to say though, I grew up in fear of punishment. I wanted peace all the time and when I screwed up, I was eager to take the bullet train back to Fineville, usually with limited success. My friends and cousins feared her, which I think says something, because for a kid to fear a parent other than his or her own, said parent must mean business in a decidedly colorful way. Yanno?

Now music has always been my greatest passion. When I was little I found Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman" album in a stack of records, and from that moment, it was on. I played the ever loving shit out of that record, on a tiny little turntable my parents bought me when I was maybe 8 or 9. I would lay on the bed in my little room and stare out the window listening to the his gorgeous, honey-soaked vocals on that classic Jimmy Webb title track. Or scour the liner notes while grooving to his shit-smooth rendition of Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." I was only a potential music snob back then, so I had yet to learn how to apply judgment to the fact that he himself apparently did not write his best songs. Yes, I am a douche.

In 1978, KISS released "Double Platinum." The track list was a blueprint for rocking and rolling all night, and then partying not just on the weekends, but every day. Years later I would adopt this philosophy in a frightfully literal manner and it would nearly kill me, but as a 10 year old kid, I embraced the swagger of the lyrics with blissful ignorance. My neighbors had introduced me to KISS (via the "Destroyer" album), and I had long since abandoned Glen Campbell for these made up millionaires and their unstoppable capitalistic urges (KISS lunch boxes, KISS television specials, multiple releases of the same album, etc.). It was my first attempt at metal.

My friends were KISS fans too, and back then, it was just super cool to be able to say the word "hell" and not get slapped (by the way, if I ever used that word around my mother, I would most certainly get slapped). KISS were so rad, they actually used that word in the title of a song ("Hotter Than Hell"). I was an unapologetic KISS freak, and I played the albums with a ferocity that required changing the needle on my record player with some regularity.

So we had KISS loving Joe living in the same house with God-fearing Joe's mom. She did not ever pretend to understand my music, and egregious conduct on my part was almost always met with the removal of whatever my favorite album was at that time (almost always KISS). She was a devout Catholic and not at all too jazzed by me lip synching "Makin' Love" in the mirror of my bedroom (it was my favorite KISS song, ever, even though I had no idea what it meant at the time I so wildly embraced it). And so there was a natural tension in my day to day life between my love of Paul Stanley and her love of the Son of Man. In those moments of tension, my interests rarely prevailed.

But I remember one afternoon, sitting in the tv room, doing something other than listening to KISS, but equally unproductive. My mother pulled into the driveway after an afternoon of hitting garage sales. She LOVED garage sales. She loved bargains almost as much as she loved the time-honored process of haggling ("Two dollars? For these juice glasses? There's a guy who's got a yard sale around the block who's selling them for a buck fifty!")

In any case, I heard her enter the house and she then called me into the kitchen, where she stood holding a magazine with the cover facing her. She was smiling- it was the smile of true inner happiness. It was one of those smiles that hinted at something good for not just the smiler, but for you too. Then she turned the magazine around and presented it to me- it was a KISS magazine. It had an embarrassingly lurid cover of the band members in their meat suits, with Gene Simmons coughing up blood, and sensational story lines plastered in giant block letters (one of which alleged that KISS had recently been cloned). It was about as far from Jesus as one could get at the time. And there stood my mother, holding it like the Hope Diamond, smiling ear to ear as she explained how someone else almost got it, but she knew how much I would enjoy it.

She handed it to me, and like a relay runner grabbing the baton for the final lap, I squealed thanks, clutched the magazine, and disappeared to my room in a nanosecond.

I read that magazine cover to cover hundreds of times. To this day I remember some of the "stories" therein. For a young music fan, to expand my musical world beyond vinyl was a staggering advancement. I have since read thousands of music magazines and rock biographies, and now spend untold monthly sums to read my new gospels (MOJO, UNCUT, Revolver, Q, and embarrassingly, Rolling Stone). I have freelanced for SPIN magazine, written artist biographies for labels, sent myriad playlists and recommendations to friends, and even submitted academic papers on the importance of music in my life. But that KISS fanzine- that was the painted up face that launched a thousand ships.

When I read that Neale Donald Walsch quote above, that magazine popped into my head as clearly as the coffee in front of me. From whence it came, I could only speculate. But when he wrote about how love is wanting for someone what they want for themselves, I was reminded of just how much my mother loved me. And on that day long ago, the Pope would have to just fucking deal, because her little boy liked some music group that sang about Hell, and for reasons unknown to her, it made him really happy and when she saw that magazine, love took over and there was no stopping it.

My mother passed away from breast cancer in 1989. As time moves on, I don't always remember her as often or as clearly as I'd like, but I'm so grateful that on this November morning, her memory visited me and reminded me that love really is in the little things. Like a hug, a smile, or a magazine about KISS.


  1. I found this a deeply moving post. Thank you, it made my day :)

  2. You're just the coolest, Joe D. Big love xxx

  3. "Lola" led me here and I don't think I'll stop weeping this afternoon. Heartstrings plucked and singing. Hoping the grateful joyous notes will reach the angels and our mothers' ears.