Thursday, August 29, 2019

I Have Powers --King, Ellison, Fagen, and Voice of the Unknown



I’ve been listening to books on Audible lately. I just finished listening to How to Be Like Walt Disney, which focuses on all the good traits to follow (but omits less beneficial ones like “smoke three packs of cigarettes a day”). Prior to that interesting and occasionally inspiring book, it had been a succession of music biographies read by the musician who wrote them: Kim’ Gordon’s Girl in a Band, Bob Mould’s See a Little Light, Paul Stanley’s Face the Music: A Life Exposed.. I’d forgotten to download next up in my queue, Donald Fagen’s Eminent Hipsters, and had such a long ride ahead of me I did something I’d never done before—pull up at a Dunkin Donuts for free Wi-Fi rather than a coffee.

Twenty seconds later, I had my book. I’d read a couple years ago and liked it enough that I thought the experience of hearing Fagen read it might bring it alive in other ways, and thus far my preconceived notion has proven true. The book mixes memoir and insightful cultural commentary and achieves the affect of being at once intensely personal and wide ranging. Unlike the bands the three artists I’ve mentioned above spent much of their careers in (Sonic Youth, Husker Du, and Kiss), of whom I’ve absorbed a great deal of information about and have been listening to for over thirty years (and have the entire catalogs of), I know next to nothing about Fagen or Steely Dan and have only been listening to for about five years (and yet I still somehow have the entire catalog, band and solo. Sigh). I’d heard some songs prior, of course—and hated them. Steely Dan would be a mainstay of the AM radio my mother listened to in the car, and often their hit songs would creep into the playlists of the Hartford and New Haven-based rock stations I’d listen to in my formative years. “Reeling in the Years” couldn’t hope to have the same visceral impact as “Something I Learned Today” on the fifteen-year-old Reagan-era me. Somewhere in adulthood, though, the sound, sensibility, and vibe of Steely Dan’s music “clicked” with me, as did later-in-life enthusiasms like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and jazz. Steely Dan’s records often hit the turntable in my house now, and two years ago I bought Fagen’s Cheap Xmas career retrospective boxset, one of my favorite things to listen to in a hotel room when I’m far from home.

Several of the essays in Eminent Hipsters touch on radio personalities Fagen listened to as a kid growing up in New Jersey; the title song of his first solo album The Nightfly is a portrait of a late night DJ in that mold, and Fagen—who I have since learned is reclusive and has suffered stage fright!—appears on the cover as the titular character, one of the few times he appears on any front-cover artwork. After listening to the first half of the Audible, I go home and put Cheap Xmas on, and as usual when absorbing the work of an artist I’m not familiar with, I seek a more immersive experience through secondary sources. Google, in this case, and I’m soon clicking through Wikipedia pages on him, his band, and his albums—my first page is the one for The Nightfly. I went there first because I wanted to know what the first track of the album, “I.G.Y.”, stood for—for whatever reason, my mind plugged “I Get You” into the acronym for the first two or three times I listened to it, so I’m pleasantly surprised to discover it stands for “International Geophysical Year”, which Wikipedia later tells me is the period between July 1957 to Christmas 1958, and was an international scientific project in which 67 countries participated in. Despite being a student and aficionado, or so I thought, of fifties culture and fifties astro-culture especially, I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of the IGY before—both Sputnik 1 and Explorer 1 were IGY projects. My appreciation of Fagen increased, my overall knowledge and worldliness increased, and I was flush with the joys of new discovery. Reading a little further on The Nightfly, I saw that the song “Green Flower Street” is a nod to the jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street”. I tripped on that fact, slightly, if only because I didn’t recognize “On Green Dolphin Street” as being a jazz standard. I figured I’d probably heard it at some point, but the melody didn’t spring to mind.

Speaking of mind-springs, here’s where I’m going to veer way off the narrative road I’ve established and drop some thought you might find so off-putting that you avert your eyes, close this blog, and never return. I wouldn’t blame you; I’d probably feel the exact same way if a voice I’d hear previously as being relatively sane suddenly flies off into crazyville and wants to take me with it. But here goes!

I believe I have psychic powers.

Specifically, I believe I have not only a mild precognitive ability, but that I also can subtly influence the outcome of the future events.

Still with me? Here’s the problem—this ability—at least how I perceive it—isn’t something I can turn on or off; it isn’t a “wild talent” like in a classic Stephen King novel or comic book. I don’t think it had anything to do with the onset of puberty, an excess of hormones, stress, or altered states of consciousness. It isn't psychometry, but it isn't fully random either. It must be triggered. I think I’ve identified the trigger, partially, at least. Basically, if I see or hear a word or a phrase that was previously unknown to me in completely different contexts twice within a span of a few days, I can anticipate a “precognitive event” before long. It has to be the same word or phrase, and it has to be in completely different contexts. So reading “I.G.Y.” and then “International Geophysical Event” in the same essay would not trigger anything, nor would reading “International Geophysical Event” three times in the same article. There are probably some other stipulations about the context and the word or phase itself that I haven't figured out; I don’t believe the first couple times I heard a word like “chipotle” did anything for me.

Additionally, I'm not predicting major world events. I've yet to be able to steer people away from calamity; I'm not like Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone seeing apocalyptic scenarios caused by a  future President (at least not with my psychic abilities). The future events I "see"--if that is what I'm doing--are only very personal glimpses into my own future. 

Make sense? No, I don’t think so either. And I've read those wonderful books on cognitive biases You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb by David McRaney, and what I'm describing exhibits several of the biases and fallacies he describes so beautifully. But... reality is just a construct anyway, man, and we all employ different architects. On the average, I have zero to one of these events ("delusions", if it makes you feel better) a year—I have had maybe fifteen my whole life. On at least three of those occasions, I believe my having seen the future event allowed me to influence its outcome. 

So why mention this now, when we were having such a nice conversation about Donald Fagen’s work? I happened to be listening to The Nightfly through headphones while reading the Wikipedia article, and when I was done I set my tablet aside a picked up a book I had bought last month at NECon, Stalking the Nightmare by Harlan Ellison. I was thrilled to discover that the introduction was written by Stephen King; the book was published in 1982 (same year as The Nightfly was released!!!), and while I love just about all things King, I especially love his 80’s writing—that’s when he began warping my mind in earnest—and so finding a fragment new to me was a thrilling surprise.

But then on page nine I read this:

Weirdness #1

So, I figure after reading that I’m quite likely going to have a precognitive event. And yes, all the while I’m thinking—maybe I’m just ignorant, and everyone in my age bracket knows what the International Geophysical Year was, or I’m a dullard who has been exposed to the concept dozens of times before but never let it sink in through that thick skull to penetrate my brain-mud. Whatever. I keep reading, because Ellison’s own forward is up next, and I enjoy his biographical material as much if not more than his fiction.

And another nine pages later I read this:

Weirdness #2

It is interesting, for the moment, just to imagine the probabilities and synchronicities needing to happen to create these supposed conditions for precognition. Skeptic at heart, and in my head, I consider the vast amounts of culture I consume and how that influences the odds of me running into previously unknown words or phrases on a regular basis. But when I add the timeline elements into the mix in this specific incidence—what weird confluence caused me to pick that particular book (and it was off the NECon 5 bucks a bag table, which was like a rugby scrum with competitive consumers), but then even weirder to not read or even open it until the very same day I listen to The Nightfly, and then read those passages within moments of first discovering them on Wikipedia? And by the way, Stalking the Nightmare will be the 100th book I’ve read this year (unless I finish listening to Eminent Hipsters first; I count Audibles). I’m not positive, but I don’t think any of those ninety-nine books prior mention the International Geophysical Event, nor do I think I’ve heard it in any of the songs I’ve listened to or the movies or television I’ve watched (although full disclosure—the Eric Dolphy recording of “On Green Dolphin Street” exists in my music database after all, nestled among another 79, 751 tracks). 

Maybe it isn’t so strange after all; 1982 would have been the 25th anniversary of the IGY; maybe there were celebrations, news magazine profiles, articles galore, and maybe at 13 I was too ignorant to have noticed any of them. But maybe that anniversary somehow inflamed and inspired both Fagen and King, or both King and Ellison had heard the Fagen album, had discussed it even, and so the ghost of influence was transferred to their individual work on Stalking the Nightmare.

Who knows? And, more importantly, who other than me cares?
That’s it, end of story. For today. I figure I’m moments away from launching into some Nostradamus-level future-gazing. I’m feeling the urge to write up a few quatrains, actually. If you see me post about fleeing the country, avoiding certain brands of snack foods, or investing heavily in coastal real estate, you might want to act accordingly.
* * * * *

Postscript #1 Interesting that another essay in Eminent Hipsters contains commentary on Philip K. Dick, L. Ron Hubbard, John W. Campbell, and A.E. Van Vogt, writers who may have harbored para-psychological ideas at least as crackpot as my own. They were all featured extensively in the seventh book I read this year, Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee, a history of the Golden Age of science fiction. Once that synapse fired, I figured I might have read about the International Geophysical Year within the pages of that book—that crew was all writing then and certainly would have been interested. A quick flip through the index yields International Astronomical Union, but no IGY. Curiouser and curiouser.


One of the characters in these books also claims to possess telepathetic powers. If my own story didn't scare you away--or even if it did--you might enjoy them. They can be found HERE




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