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A Few Crucial Hours on the Run with Dan Bern

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SEAN MCSORLY GUITAR SMASH
Alamy: Andrew Paterson

"Sometimes you get lost and you find something new." -Dan Bern

Yeah, sometimes the reality check comes home.

It's bound to happen.

We spend a lot of time slashing and burning around here, so of course it gets hard to differentiate between the slash and the burn; and sometimes you can barely see a sliver of light between them, and other times there is no light at all, believe me. So you get lost in the joke of it all, where the joke is going -- if it hits Fitzgerald's "High White Note" or when it bottoms out -- but in all the absurdities of human endeavor we traverse here weekly, from one hypocrisy to the next, there is very little in the way of direction or point.

And that is precisely the point of what this space provides, a pointless point. For when the rubber truly hits the road, there is no actual point, and therefore, ipso facto, the point.

Ha!

Don't worry. You're not confused. I am. Check that -- was confused, or if not confused at least temporarily off kilter about the space we inhabit here each week; to provide the service of one voice. That's all you have, really, One voice. Unless you begin to stagger into the hypocrisy area, then you inhabit several and varied voices that become a cacophony, which is far worse than a pointless point.

To wit: a few weeks back a friend and colleague, the esteemed novelist and griper, Vincent Czyz wrote me a one-sentence response to my overly wise-ass-to-fairly-beaming attempt at defining the Occupy Wall Street movement. In so doing, Czyz perfectly nailed the entire milieu in which we merrily occupy -- for 15 years here and for many more before that in a host forms.

"Perhaps my memory is faulty," Czyz wrote, "but while I have seen lots and lots and lots of world-weary, jaded, I-know-how-this-is-all-going-to-turn-out-better-than-you (you poor deluded suckers) criticism in your columns, I don't recall ever seeing a solution. Not a serious one anyway."

Ah, this not only struck a chord, but a big fat G chord on a beautiful Gibson Songwriter Series, a fantastic piece of American engineering that I broke down to purchase a few years back and trust me when I tell you that for my dollar it can ring out a fucking big-fat-God-fearing G chord like no other guitar in existence.

"Oh, my friend," I returned in earnest. "You have nailed this one. Never has it been put more on the nut than that. It shall go on my urn."

And it shall.

But since I am not ready for my urn just yet, I spent most of the following week thinking of how I would broach this absolute truth to my readers; get out from under the mask, flick on the light, face the mirror and describe the scars. Hell, I can do this. I'd done it before in this space. Get real for a few words. Come out from behind the curtain and try and explain what solutions I may offer or if I believe in anything, and if so, for more than a fleeting burp or a gin high.

Nothing came.

At least nothing worth writing, or if it got out at all, reading. So I decided instead to address the youth of America, as old a rant as there is in the annals of middle-age commentary. I have volumes of garble on my shelves by aging scribes giving half-assed advice about "not fucking up like I fucked up" crap from Norman Mailer to Pete Hamill. This is what happens to writers, especially deteriorating male ones. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have listened to their wounded call, like the dying elephant walking proudly to its final resting place. Not everyone could feel good and write about feeling good and mocking you for not feeling as good as Henry Miller did until his last breath. That bastard had better be in heaven. He sure as shit carved out a chunk of it here.

So, in my malaise of self-examination, into town blows Admiral Bernstein, aka Dan Bern, songwriter, troubadour, novelist, painter, and one-time guest columnist to this space. Bernstein has been to me and my artist/yoga/vegan crazy-person wife, a dear friend and sounding board, a brother-in-arms, a fellow wise-ass in the great hall of wise-ass fame. We have run the gamut with The Admiral that has been only broached in public by any of us; from the deserts of New Mexico to the Lower East side.

What happens on the fringe stays on the fringe.

Turns out, in his usual perfect timing, Bernstein is on the road again and through the big town. Sure, I thought, a few minutes with The Admiral will provide daylight.

First stop was the shores of the Hudson at an aging theater under construction called The Beacon in Beacon, NY. The stage was set up in its vast lobby, making its ironic backstage a massive, ornate 1930s rotunda, where we shared Thai food and discussed of all things parenthood.

Because that's where we are now, bub. He has a girl; a beautiful brown-bob, button-nosed, round-eyed cherub, who I would be humbled to meet the following night, and me and the crazy-person with our own striking, dirty-blonde, giant green-eyed, ruby-lipped gal. The Fringe dwellers deep into the center; a place we would occasionally visit but could never hang for too long, but now with the beauties hanging on every word and calling you dangerous things like "Daddy", it is indeed a Reality Check.

And so we spoke of fatherhood and writing (songs and other stuff) and personal evolution in the grand scheme of that madness, during which the man said, "You're on a roll, keep it up, you're doing a great thing; they can't put a label on you" or something gut-punching like that. And then he hit the stage, pulled out his own G-fat Gibson and played some of the most heartfelt of his songs, new ones like "Economy" and "Party By Myself" and a gorgeous song about Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and George Jones; a country ballad about maturing and teaching and understanding where you're from and guessing where you'll end up.

We left with hugs and a sense that it wasn't enough for me. I needed to run the streets with Bernstein again; feel the aura of those far-off days of fist-pumping creativity. And so we met the next day downtown to toss around why we're never sure that what we do is what we actually do and if so what's the point? We spoke about why we love films, baseball, Spain, beer, J.D. Salinger; road a van up Fourth Ave., ate Indian food with these really great guys from Common Rotation, an L.A. band I plan on writing more about. I watched the entire clan play songs at a magazine, made vacillating top-five lists on Tom Waits and Woody Allen backstage across the street from the Village Voice at Joe's Pub, and before I left we promised each other to never again search for a point in the grand pointless dance.

We'll just dance.

And that is where we found our center.

Okay, Admiral?

I'll see you back on the fringe.