Thomas Wictor

Grady Harp review of Ghosts and Ballyhoo

Grady Harp review of Ghosts and Ballyhoo

Grady Harp has reviewed Ghosts and Ballyhoo on Amazon. Five stars!

Thank you, Grady.

I was going to write a post about how Mom’s death has left me in a state of hyper-irritation. Most of what I see and hear strikes me as unbearably trivial. The radio spews out the same set-piece political bitch-fests that have been playing for twenty years. Someone sent me a link about a guitarist who’d lost his guitar and then found it; after writing the post about his not-lost guitar, he “passed out from emotion.” Test screenings of Russell Crowe’s Noah haven’t gone well.

Lots of my friends are avoiding me since Mom died. They’re thinking of their own mortality, of course. But dying isn’t catching. If people don’t want to talk to me because it reminds them that they’re going to die, that’s fine. They’re still going to die.

You know what I’m doing to ease my irritation? I’m immersing myself in Mom’s life. Tim, Pat, and I just had a three-hour conversation about her, as well as our views on the possibility of life after death. I’m very surprised that Pat’s opinion is nearly identical to mine, except for the multiple-chances part. He’s not opposed to the idea; he just isn’t as confident as I am.

As I write I listen to Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks over and over. It sounds better every time I hear it.

When I published In Cold Sweat: Interviews with Really Scary Musicians in 2001, I did a book tour. Since I knew I’d hate it, I rehearsed the show I’d give, which consisted of me playing some music on my bass, reading from the book, and then taking questions. Mom was my audience. She helped me hone the show by listening and then quizzing me.

This was the music I played. Mom was blown away. She didn’t know I could play so well. I’d done all my professional playing in Japan, during the five years I avoided my family. At her request I put on my show several times, in the cement driveway behind my house. The acoustics were terrific, like a little amphitheater.

I brought out my effects and my amp, plugged them all in with an extension cord, and played for Mom, who sat in that lawn chair. It was great. Remembering that makes me happy, not sad.

My unsolicited advice to you who don’t want to think about dying? Better wrap your minds around it as soon as you can. Both my parents refused to accept that they’d die, and the initial stages of their deaths were the worst torture of my life. Watching them die so badly was agony. Their comas were pure mercy.

There’s no reason to be afraid of death. You will live on. The Planner loves you and will give you strength when you need it. You will see your loved ones again. Everything will be all right. I promise.

That’s a little in-joke. When Mom and Dad got their cancer diagnoses, and Dad went insane, I spent three or four hours a night at Mom’s house, just listening to her talk or talking when she wanted to be distracted. While Dad lay in the other room, raving nonstop, I made her laugh until her sides hurt. I took her to a different place. And when I’d leave, I’d always say, “Tomorrow will be glorious!

“You promise?” she’d ask with campy earnestness.

“I promise,” I’d say.

Mom and Dad aren’t here anymore, but I think they’re okay. Dad threw some pretty nasty tantrums for a while after he died; I’ve got some amazing photos to prove it.

Last night I dreamed that Mom and I went on a tour bus trip. She was only about twenty-five, and when we stopped to eat at a restaurant, she said she had to wash her hands. There was a huge Catholic holy water font right inside the front door; it was made of red granite and had a white-tiled interior. Mom climbed in and submerged herself up to her neck, vigorously rubbing her hands together. There was algae at the bottom of the font, beautiful bright green tendrils swaying gently as though in a cold mountain stream.

The water purified Mom. When she got out, she was instantly dry. A waiter seated us, and we ordered mackerel tempura, which she ate with gusto. Mom hated mackerel. The Catholic nuns at the boarding school forced her to sit at the table for hours when she was five, not allowing her to leave until she’d eaten her mackerel. That’s why eighty years later, she made herself anorexic and died. Without knowing it she was furious at the way the nuns treated her, so she wouldn’t cooperate with us. She killed herself to avenge the child she once was.

In my dream I was ecstatically thankful that she now chose to eat mackerel, and she enjoyed it.