About SP Clarke

SP Clarke is a writer, musician, novelist and rock journalist who lives with his girlfriend Lesley and their dog, Zoe.

Adventures in the Realm of Dog Part 1

I’ve been thinking about Mitt Romney a lot lately. No, not because he is the most wooden excuse for a human entity that ever mechanically laughed at the most inappropriate time. Not because he reeks of rich kid, laizzez faire cynicism: ‘What will be, will be. And it’s gonna be really good for me.”  Not because his hair is dyed the color of a black hole (perhaps disguising a remnant imploded brain of similar hue), or the fact that he wears his (neatly pressed) jeans like a forty-five year old mother of four from Schenechtady, New York. It’s not even because he’s an habitual liar, an inveterate opportunist chameleon, a tool, and a corporate mule.

Though I probably should, I haven’t been thinking about Mitt Romney because he lives on his “capital gains income,” upon which he pays a mere 13.9% tax, while hiding most of his “gains” offshore. I’m not even thinking about him because it would appear that his plan for the nation would be to continue to squeeze the American middle class back to serfdom and bondage, if at all possible. You know, a lot of the old, aristocratic wealth in the Western world is still pissed off about that whole Magna Carta thing. It disrupted a lot of lives.

No, I’ve been thinking about Mittens for one reason only: Seamus the dog, a friendly looking Irish Setter lad. Poor Seamus. I know a lot about dogs and families. I’ve been closely involved with both for most of my life. I consider myself to be something of a learned expert on the dog/family dynamic. And it says so much about Mitt and the whole family Romney that they would even contemplate driving 500 miles or so with a dog stuck inside of a (no doubt) luxury “air tight” carrier, lashed to the top of the Romney family station-wagon.

I have never been witness to the family dynamic between Mitt and the rest of the Romney clan, but out on my limb of the tree of humanity, no self-respecting kid would have gone anywhere near a vehicle where the family pet was being tethered to the top. In my family, my sister would have thrown a royal shit fit at the thought of it long before it would have occurred to the three of us boys. But we would have objected too. Eventually.

And there was no way my mom or dad would have even considered putting our dog in a carrier on top of the car in the first place. Why should they? That’s what the luggage carrier on top of our station-wagon was for–luggage. And really, if we absolutely had to transport something living uptop, my middle brother, the adventurer of the tribe, would have happily volunteered for the position. But that never happened.

We kind of swung the other way when it came to dog issues. My dad had specific ideas regarding how dogs should behave, and it was nothing like anything the AKC ever heard of. Our first dog was Pepper. He was a black puppy, vaguely labrador. He didn’t last long. He got hit by a car he was chasing. We did not live on a busy street. Not at all. And how he developed the car chasing habit is a mystery to me. I was young at the time and as yet not within my full faculties of dog sussmanship.

Car chasing appears to be one of those activities that dogs have managed to evolve away from. Probably by natural selection. The ones that chased didn’t live long enough to procreate. End of the line. Either that, or it’s the leash laws.

Next up was Marty. He was the first in a short series of dogs named after Walt Disney  characters. Marty died a tragic death, the details of which I will not divulge in this particular tale. There will be no wags dogging our tales here, I tell you.

Not long after Marty’s untimely demise, we moved to another part of town. It was just after I’d finished the second grade. Shortly after settling into our new abode, we acquired a dog. I believe we found Tyke (not a Disney-related name) tied to a tree out on the playground at the grade school. At that time, tying a dog to a secluded tree out in the middle of nowhere way at the back of the playground, and deserting it, was an indication that ownership was being forfeited and the first young swagjack to come along that was of a mind (and relatively certain of convincing his caregivers) could have that dog. For free. It was an acknowledged form of canine transaction in those days.

Anyway, one of us ended up bringing Tyke home. I’m pretty sure it was my sister, because her radar for deserted dogs was especially keen. It’s probably a good thing people didn’t leave horses tied to trees at the playground. We didn’t have enough room for that. At some point, during my year in the third grade, Tyke disappeared. I do not suspect foul play. Dogs were allowed to roam at large back then–and we lived in a fairly rural urban area. There were a lot of wide open fields–across the street, and near by. Given the opportunity, dogs are known to wander. Tyke wandered a tad too far, it would seem.

It’s my recollection that we picked up Yeller late in the following summer, just after school had resumed. I’m not sure which of us it was, I suspect it again was my sister (see above), but one of us found him tied to the tree at the back of the playground, and brought him home. I do know that Yeller had formerly belonged to Tommy McDonald. I never found out the circumstances surrounding the necessity for the McDonald family’s surrendering Yeller, but they did.

We named Yeller after a heroic Disney movie dog, the subject of an especially tragic story–one which we kids had held dear for many years, I suppose waiting for Yeller to come along. Whatever the case the name Yeller befell upon that particular dog who was, no doubt, familiar with some other name when he was boarding with the McDonalds. But he was Yeller, and Yeller he was. If all this were taking place now, I’m sure his name would be Joey after the horse in the film War Horse.

Gypsy and Yeller (More about Gypsy in blogs to come)

He was nearly full-grown when we got him, around two years old, not a big dog, maybe thirty-five or forty pounds. Very early on we decided that he was a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel blend. He looked like a small Goldie, but he had Charlemagne Cocker ears. As we grew older we concocted a lot of breed names. Golden Cock, Cockatriever (more on this later, perhaps) etc.

Yeller was a handsome young fellow, and, apparently bearing in mind his uncertain circumstances with the McDonalds, he never once took for granted his place within our family. He aimed to please–especially my sister, whom he loved dearly and completely. Yeller would do (and did) anything for my sister. Those exploits will be detailed at another time. I’m talkin’ about the poor Seamus Romney connection here.

And how it is hard for me to conceive–in my anti-Romneyian universe–of not treating Yeller as a member of our core family. Not a pet, a comrade. He took that responsibility very seriously and for that he was often well-rewarded. Especially when we were having meals at the dining room table. He was small enough that he was able to maneuver unimpeded, and mostly undetected, under the table.

Here’s an example of my father’s somewhat eccentric approach to these not infrequent family connundra within which we were swept by the livestock that freely grazed throughout our household. As Yeller made the rounds beneath the table, we four kids supplied a steady stream of delicious bits. Whatever we had. Bread. Baked potato, macaroni, corn, peas, fat, gristle. Yeller was not at all picky. Pretty much anything that hit the floor, he claimed for his own–an unspoken agreement between us kids and him.

For quite some time there was no impediment to that particular food chain and it conveyed without interruption. Until one day while at dinner, my dad dropped something to the floor, I don’t remember what it was. Maybe his wallet. I don’t think it was food, but I think Yeller thought it was. Before my dad could reach down to pick up whatever it was, Yeller had already snatched it up and pulled back, ostensibly to eat it, if at all possible.

Either my dad actually never knew about the deal we had going on with Yeller, or (far more likely) he was just in the mood for a little entertainment, Clarke-style. Whichever the case, he stood up with a fairly ferocious start, scaring the holy bejeesus out of us and poor Yeller, who was a very sensitive dog. My dad dramatically tossed his napkin down on the table and grabbed an extra chair from the corner bellowing good-naturedly, “If you’re gonna feed that damn dog human food, he can sit at the table and eat like a human, too.”

At that, Dad yanked Yeller out from under the table and plopped him down in the chair. With an odd expression on his face, my father went into the kitchen and fetched a plate and utensils. Then he began to load up the plate. Maybe mashed potatoes and chicken and green beans. Who knows? Scooting us over, Dad slid the extra chair forward, up tight against the table, about chest-high, and placed the plate of food in front of Yeller.

Snatching up a napkin, Dad tucked it into Yeller’s collar. Picking up a fork, he slid the handle between the pads of Yeller’s right paw. Slowly, he helped the mortified dog to scoop up a forkful of food from the plate, guiding it unsteadily toward his mouth. While we kids laughed hysterically, Yeller unenthusiastically ate dinner at the table with the rest of the family. Though he never again was seated at the table, Yeller steadfastly maintained his patrol of the territory beneath. However, he avoided at all costs my dad’s end of the food conveyor.

I’m certain, if it was Mitt and the Romneys, Seamus never would have been allowed in the house in the first place, stationed instead in his apartment at the back of the estate. Seamus couldn’t possibly have lurked under the table, but if he somehow managed to make it that far, the question must be asked: What Would Mitt Do?

Certainly Mitt would have Seamus dispatched forthwith back to his apartment, after a stern rebuke, of course. Probably a few rounds of obedience therapy with the trainer. Maybe the electric dog collar for a few days, just so old Seamus would remember his “boundaries.” We can’t have that dog running around like a wild animal, now can we? Maybe a little kennel time’ll take the spring out of his stride. Oh, he’ll ride on top of the car. Yes, he will. You bet he will. And he’ll damn well love it. Won’tcha fella?

Left to me, I’d let Seamus drive the station-wagon while Mitt rode in the “airtight carrier up top. (Oh he loves it. Climbs up there all by himself! Don’cha boy?). Then again, if it were up to me, I would be far more inclined to vote for a dog than any of the candidates running for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election.

A dog can be trusted. A dog tells the truth and never lies. A dog tries to see the good side of things and to make the most of them. A dog is loyal and unbiased. Prince or pauper, a dog will love you all the same. A dog can sniff out your motivations. If he thinks you’re up to no good, he will let you know of his suspicions. It’s hard to argue with a dog. Dogs are persistent and honorable. Dogs are noble. Dogs care.

Name for me one politician to whom those characteristics might apply. Yeah, I can’t name one either. In fact Mahatma Gandhi was the only name I could think of to fit all the qualifications, the high personal standards of the common mongrel. That’s a pretty sad commentary. But it’s true. And if Yeller were still running around, and running, I’d vote for him.

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As part of my ongoing series, attempting to describe to you the time-honored process, wherein, for representation by a literary agent or publisher, one must “query” ahead before you can get anyone to look at the synopsis of your book and maybe a few chapters. Tell your story. What’s your book about? You have fifty words. Maybe a hundred. But really, if you don’t get your point across in the first couple sentences of your query, you’re most likely heading for the rejection pile. Last time, I described the process as like trying to write a haiku to describe the Bible. Try it. I’d love to see other submissions. Here’s my second installment.

The Bible II

John Lennon once said:

“Nothing to get hung about.”

Don’t tell Jesus that.

I’m sorry. I was raised a Catholic.

Enter 2012

Here it is, another New Year. I’ve had more of these than I care to count, so this business of “resolutions” is lost on me. I resolve not to make any more resolutions. Amen. There are many things within my life about which I am very resolute. Not one of those things have required the expiration of some arbitrary year (nor its magical imagined metamorphosis into another) in order to motivate me toward them. In the end, you either do it or you don’t.

This being my inaugural voyage piloting the good blog SP, I don’t have any intention, agenda, or anything enlightening to say. Those who know me will not be in the least surprised at that disclosure. But it’s never stopped me in the past. More or less (probably less) I just wanted to take this thing for a spin, RPO it (for those not acquainted with the ins and outs of the automotive repair industry: Run the Piss Out of it) and put it back in the driveway for a month or two. We’ll see about that.

Those familiar with my “work,” the more public aspects of it anyway, are familiar with my (euphemistically speaking) career in the realm of reporting upon the transpirations of the local music scene. I have been doing this for far too long. I’m starting to feel like Dick Clark on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. “Wheel the old boy out and give him  his confetti.” Speaking for myself–and I am the only person I entrust to do such a thing–I would hazard that Dick probably still enjoys showing up for the event. That’s my MO, anyway and I’m sticking to it.

This is my attitude about putting a dog to sleep. If it’s not having fun anymore, then it’s time to consider…you know. Because what is a dog’s life if not (hopefully) fun? Most dogs lives aren’t fun I suspect, and that is, no doubt, the subject of another blog on another day. But, dogs were designed by the human race as sources of endless inter-species funitude. One thing dogs know how to do is to have a good time. At least that’s true for the dogs I know. Fun lovers, each and every.

So when Dick Clark stops having fun, it’ll be time to pull the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve plug. That’s my attitude too. When local music and musicians stop being fun for me, I’ll turn in my turntable. Until that day, here I shall remain. I’ll give up my pen when you rip it from my cold dead hands.

I already have repositories for my work in the area of local music. My current reviews and observations appear at www.buko.net under the heading: The Good The Bad and the Ugly. Also at the buko.net site is a link to the Two Louies archives. Eventually all of my album reviews and articles (way, way over a thousand reviews and a million words) through many hundred issues of Two Louies will be posted online. In addition, my History of Portland Rock is linked to both sites. The History is incomplete, to be sure. It’s my understanding that history is never complete. But all of the local music history that I have observed is linked here. So think of this site as your one-stop hub for all things SP. If that is not a enough of a caveat, the outcome is out of my hands. Warning served

God bless him, Mister Buko seems strangely reluctant to commit his every waking hour to the necessities of my websites and creative outpourings, thus I must be patient with the tortoise-like pace at which these various sites are assembled. Trying to maintain these things for myself is out of the question. My girlfriend refers to me as a Luddite. And, truly, in that respect she is being much too kind.

I am technologically impaired. This is not a new revelation. I was the source of endless frustration for my father, who could not understand my inability to differentiate between a car’s generator and radiator. It was always my contention that the device “radiated” electricity. However, this confusion has made my communication with mechanics (of whom there have been many, over the years, given the fact that I have worked for pikers for most of my life) very difficult– a situation greatly magnified by the fact that my longtime mechanic, Mister Ho Hoang of Ho’s Auto Repair at 33rd and Division, is Vietnamese, with English as a very distant second language. Our conversations sound like Marx Brothers’ bits. Fun stuff.

So, without the kindness of strangers, I would probably be still scribing my tomes on the backs of paper sacks and envelopes (in the driver’s seat of my inoperative vehicle), and the few of you who might stumble across these missives would be shut out from the benefit of my inciteful insight. Just ponder that for a minute or two!

Blame it on the enchiladas. I am more inclined to think it’s Michael Jarmer. For some reason, last night, I was inspired to consider this ongoing exercise in literary masturbation called a blog. Right now, I think I already have the best readership here that I’m likely to encounter: me. Strangely, I get almost all of my jokes and view myself as being pretty witty and erudite. All other estimations appear to topple from that lofty nest. I’ll make some effort toward readership. But, I must say: self-promotion is not among my attributes. I’ll see if I can get a few friends to like it for Facebook. That should do the trick.

What does one do with these here blog thangs, anyways? My first inclination in all things is to smoke it. And, as an existential conceptual exercise, I have to say I’m gettin’ a buzz. Beyond that? Meh. Tell you what. In commemoration for these days of resolution, I hereby resolve. I will try to promote a few of my creative pursuits. I mean, if not here, then where?

I don’t know.

Maybe it is and maybe it ain’t Maya Year Zero. We’ve got what? 353 days until we find out? Well, let the meltdown countdown begin. I just want to ask. Are there still any Mayas around to re-calibrate their long count calendar, if it’s just a case of the original authors running out of rock? That’d give us another 5,100 years, give or take, and we can be done with the whole matter for a while. I’m looking forward to putting this one to bed once and for all. But not until after Carlos & Toni’s End of the World party. Hey, if you’re going out, you might as well party like it’s 1999.

Now, if the world does indeed survive whatever the Maya have planned for December 21st, you might well ask: “Well, SP, what was it, exactly, you were planning on promoting?” That’s a good question for which I actually happen to have an answer. Unreal Gods. Unreal Gods? Unreal Gods. It’s a band. It’s a book. It’s a way of life. It’s biographical. It’s a novel. If I can shake out enough people here, I might post a few chapters. It’s, like, 625 pages long. So, Ive got a few extra pages for show purposes.

Unreal Gods is a novel based on the life of Billy Rancher and his band the Unreal Gods. If you’re not familiar with Billy’s story, and an alarming few hipsters in this vaingloriously cutting-edge artistic rats nest are familiar with it, then, here is the novel to tell you of his adventures.

I spent twenty five years sitting on Billy Rancher’s tale. I wanted to blur for myself reality and fiction. It actually took that long to forget it all, so that I could tell Billy’s story from a more distant, objective perspective. Plus, a lot of what is in the book is not true. A lot of it is. I don’t want to be responsible for the accuracy of either. I hate accuracy. That entails research.

My own research typically does not extend much farther than consulting my History of Portland Rock or other similar resources. And if you’re at all interested in the story of Billy and the Gods, the History provides details and a basic outline and chronology. It’s a great story. Timeless. Sad. Timeless and sad.

I’m sure I have lots of other stuff to promote. I’ll think about that. Right now, I need to remain focussed on the book, as it is very important that Billy’s story is told. As soon as I figure out how to do such a thing, I will link to Michael Jarmer’s site. Michael is a longtime Portland musician (Here Comes Everybody) who is also a writer and he is wrestling with many of the same dilemmas that I am, in regards to the pathetic publishing industry and the ridiculous hoops one must jump through to even hope to get a book published. Your assignment for today: write a haiku describing in vivid detail the plot of the Bible.

We’ll save that gnashing of teeth for another play date. For today, I wanted to put forth my manifesto. I lack, I think, a thesis. A punchline. A cause. So, it’s a manifesto without a cause. If that doesn’t sound like “not with a bang but a whimper,” I don’t know what does.

THE BIBLE

A pretty good book.

The hero dies in the end.

Oops. Spoiler alert.