Monthly Archives: June 2010

Stop and appreciate the dragonflies.

I’ve always loved dragonflies. Heck, when I was a kid, anything with the word “dragon” in it was cool. I was a fantasy fan from early on. I don’t remember there being a lot of dragonflies around when I was growing up. I spent a lot of time in the woods and near a creek, (pronounced “crick” where I come from) but I don’t remember seeing dragonflies there. So my first encounter, other than nature shows on television, occurred when, on a trip with my parents, we stopped at a rest area, and there were many small dragonflies rising out of the grass. One even landed on my shoulder. I was delighted. Dragonflies were more interesting to me than say, butterflies. Dragonflies seemed to have more of a purpose. Indeed, dragonflies eat evil mosquitoes while butterflies merely help pollinate flowers. Not surprising that in a choice between an interesting, ferocious predator insect and a beautiful insect which is often prey, I would choose the predator.

I moved to New Jersey, and since the state is basically a sand bar and very damp, every now and then I would see one of those big, apache helicopter style dragonflies zooming over a parking lot. Then when Gene and I (mostly Gene) built the pond, they appeared in our back yard. I guess they were attracted to the running water. I enjoy seeing them every summer. The bright, almost electric blue variety is the most common.

The park where I like to rollerblade is next to a large creek. (yup, it’s called a creek down here, not a crick) There, I have seen more varieties. One day, a bright golden dragonfly zoomed in front of me as I skated along. When I returned to that part of the circuit, she zoomed along in front of me again. This went on for each of the eight miles I skated until I was too tired to continue and the golden dragonfly found other ways to amuse herself. In that same park on a different day, a frost colored dragonfly sat and sunned himself on the blacktop. He had beautiful gossamer wings as they all do, but with two black vertical stripes across them. I skated carefully past this small thing of beauty. He rose up and flew away, but returned to the same spot by the time I came around again. Again, I was able to slow down and appreciate this lovely insect in the middle of my work out. The saying is that you need to stop and smell the roses. Well, sometimes, you need to stop and appreciate the dragonflies too.

Dragonflies have made their way into my decorating schemes for years now. They are on the wallpaper chair rail in my home office. A plaster one that I picked up in Florida adorns the wall. I have candles and candleholders covered in dragonflies. More perch on my desk and are attached to a wire below a kitty decoration I bought at a cat show. (I bought it for the dragonflies) Writer Nephew even bought me a string of dragonfly lights to celebrate my book deal. Funny thing, I had been looking at those exact lights and had nearly bought them for myself.

I never thought my favorite insect would find its way into my writing, but it did. Dragonflies, a.k.a. Odonata, inspired my vampire series. For the record, I never thought I would write a series, much less one involving vampires. Just goes to show that inspiration comes from everywhere, leading us to places we least expect… that is, if we stop to appreciate the dragonflies.

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“Holding Grudges” or “Why I hate the Allman Brothers”

I try not to hold grudges. My philosophy is that if I dislike a person enough to remember whatever incident(s) made me angry, then (s)he is not worth the time and energy it would take to retain that anger.

That being said, I have one exception: The Allman Brothers. And here’s why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNvWLb1_BBk

I was eight or nine when I finally realized that Paul McCartney, my most beloved musical hero, was singing “Jet” and not “Jes.” I was devastated. So I went in search of a song with my name in it. There was “Jesse” by Carly Simon, but that was obviously about a guy, ditto Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” Besides, I was rapidly outgrowing that nickname.

So I sat down near my brother’s record collection and started searching. About halfway through the stack, I found an album with a little blonde kid on the cover. It was “Brothers and Sister” by The Allman Brothers Band. I had never heard of them, but if they wrote a song with my name in it, they would be my new favorite band. (after Paul McCartney and The Beatles of course.) I checked the song list and sure enough, #6 was simply titled “Jessica.” Excellent!  A glimpse at the record showed that it was a long song too. Wonderful. Here was my new theme song. I envisioned it magically playing whenever I entered a room. (It was the early 80’s and I watched entirely too much television, okay?) I wondered what wonderful things this band had written especially for me. I counted out the grooves on the record and set the needle down to play…

My first thought was that it had a good beginning. And then that it had an awfully long beginning, but that happened sometimes. There was an Elton John song (“Burn Down the Mission”) that seemed like it would never get started. Surely these Allman guys would get to the words soon. About a third of the way through the song, when the piano bit started, and I accepted that this was not “my song” at all, just a long ass instrumental. I was too disappointed to bother listening to the final 4 (or is that 40?) minutes. I just lifted the needle and put the record back in its sleeve.

To this day, when “Jessica” comes on the radio, I turn it off. Many years later, “Mambo No. 5” was released and amongst all the rest is “A little bit of Jessica, here I am…” but it was too late. By 1999, I didn’t care anymore. The child who thought she could have a theme song was gone, replaced by a slightly cynical adult.

Okay, that’s not entirely true, since I have considered “Paperback Writer” my theme for many years. It’s my ringtone on my husband’s phone too. I’ll take a song that describes who I am over music with my name (common name that it is) attached to it any day. Also, it was written by Sir Paul, who is still my favorite musician. Even if he does sing “Jet” when he should be singing “Jes.”

Oh yeah, and screw you, Allman Brothers. Ha.

Krieger is god

I first saw The Doors perform live in April of 2003. Yeah, I know, Jim Morrison died in 1971. I was born a few years later, so it’s not like I could have seen the Lizard King himself. This was as close as I could get. They, meaning Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek, two of the original four, called themselves the Doors of the 21st Century, with Ty Dennis and Angelo Barbara from Robby’s band playing drums and bass respectively, and Ian Astbury doing the vocals.

I went in with no expectations. I mostly wanted to see Robby and to hear these songs, which I had loved my entire life, played live.  Our seats were front row center of the balcony at the Tower Theater over in Upper Darby. It’s a small venue, so we weren’t far from the stage and had an unobstructed view. They were late, and the crowd in true Philly fashion started the chant of “We want the Doors!” We had been sitting there so long, I had almost forgotten who we had come to see. Finally, a picture of Jim appeared on a screen and “O Fortuna” blasted out of the speakers. Seriously, the crescendo of that opera makes for the best intro ever! Just as the cymbals crashed and horns blared, came the words “Ladies and gentlemen! From Los Angeles, California, it’s the Doors!” Pandemonium.

That performance blew me away. Ian had all the magic I imagined Jim having. Gene, having seen Jim in the 60’s, actually said that Ian was better, being sober and all. We saw them many times after that, traveling to New York, Montreal, California and even London for the shows. Most times we were in the first or second row and just a few feet away from Robby and his guitar. Wow.

A few things have changed over the past couple of years. Ian Astbury returned to his band, The Cult. Since I am a huge Cult fan, this pleases me, even though I miss him with the Doors. Ray and Robby can’t call their band any version of “The Doors” as a band name anymore thanks to a law suit from John Densmore, the original drummer. My opinion of him is best left unsaid. So now they are just “Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of The Doors.” Densmore and his lawyers can’t take that away from them. They have a new singer, Mili Matijevic, who has a hell of a voice and a lot of charisma, if not the magic of Ian Astbury.

Saw them last night in Atlantic City, and it was a hell of a show. Best of all, I got to stand just a few feet away from Robby while he played. At one point, he and Ray were talking, and Robby’s fingers still moved absently over the strings. I guess it’s just that natural for him. Robby plays with a pick, without a pick, fingertips the strings (he did that long before Eddie VanHalen, thank you very much) and makes the fluid strumming of flamenco style seem effortless. I never get tired of watching him. He’s just that good. Together, he and Ray create a musical atmosphere and carry the audience along for the ride. After all these years, the power never fades. It’s still a “dance on fire” and an experience that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

Too Sober for Bourbon St.

I don’t drink much. I’ve been drunk a grand total of once in my life. It wasn’t pleasant, so I don’t feel like repeating the experience. So what would I be doing on the famous Bourbon St. in New Orleans?

 We had to go to Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana for the worst of family emergencies, but were determined to appreciate a bit of the scenery despite the sadness each day brought. Certainly, the Big Easy is a good place to forget your troubles. So we tried some local cuisine, and wandered the streets. One restaurant had a guy playing a trumpet out a window to attract patrons. Street musicians, sometimes entire bands, were common, and most of them were very good. You can hear Bourbon Street from about two blocks away. The street is lined with bars and strip clubs and a few souvenir shops thrown in for good measure. Every bar blares music out open windows and doors, to the point where you can barely differentiate one song from the next. During the day, it’s chaotic. At night, it’s like one giant party stretching well over 10 blocks. Every night is Mardi Gras.

 I got a frozen daiquiri from a bar called Jester’s in a plastic cup as long as my forearm. They gave up some jester beads with the drink, which I was happy to add to my growing collection. No, I did not lift my shirt for the beads. On every side, people crowded overhead balconies and tossed beads to those of us below. Gene kept getting hit in the head with them. I guess I was the original target, though I didn’t actually see anyone throw them to me. Not being proud, I picked up several off the ground. Why not? I ended up with quite a collection that way.

As for my Jester Daiquiri, it never seemed to get any lower. Must have been the slushy ice melting. Either that, or I really am a lightweight. One thing I can say is that everyone was very friendly and nice. With all those people crowding the streets, there was plenty of bumping around, but also plenty of shoulder patting and congeniality. I can’t imagine that happening in New York. It reminded me a little of New Year’s in London. The whole city seemed happy and ready to party. Wow.

The crowd was more eclectic than I expected. It was made up mostly of 20 – 25 year old party animals dressed the way you would expect, but plenty of older people around retirement age wandered the streets too. Several bookish looking young women wove through the crowd, and a few Asian tourists photographed their kids surrounded by all the lights and mayhem. In the middle of it all, an evangelist group held large crosses and handed out pamphlets to the drunken carousers. That reminded me of a group of republicans who came to a Michael Moore speech back in 2004. Some people are confident enough to go anywhere.

And what about me? I’m not the noisy, partying type. I don’t expect, nor require attention from strangers. (Except of course when it comes to reading my books – and maybe my blog?) When I start to get too buzzed, I switch to Coke or Pepsi and look for food. I love live music, but like to actually be able to sit and listen to it, as opposed to barely being able to distinguish it from the general cacophony of the area. The heat and humidity was unbelievable, and I just wanted to get back to the hotel and wash off the city grime.

So, Bourbon St. is not for me. It was interesting to see and experience, but once was probably enough. We did party all that night, as appropriate for our last night in New Orleans. Ended up in the hotel bar, singing “Hey Jude” and “Piano Man” until the sun rose. Staggered up to the room and eventually onto the plane back to Philadelphia. As much as I gripe about New Jersey, I was happy to come back. Cliché or not, there’s no place like home.