Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The 27 Club and Friend Andy

In my younger years I had a friend. Let's call him "Andy". He was a short, quiet boy, who would sit in the school classes drawing heavy metal band logos or rock lyrics to his notebooks. He was often in his own world. Thinking. Being creative. Composing stories in his mind. Trying to put them into words. Whether they were lyrics for a band a mutual friend of ours had, or for the short stories he wrote.
Andy was extremely talented. His English skills were superb for a boy growing up in a Finnish suburb. He went abroad later on as an exchange student. Ended up getting best grades in his creative writing class in the school he attended. I often waited when Andy would get published. It was to be only a matter of time. So I thought.
I remember a moment around Easter 1999. Having a dinner with a friend couple in a restaurant in the city centre of Helsinki. Suddenly the other friend of mine breaking the news. Andy had been found dead in his apartment. Andy had turned 27 the month before. He had apparently had a seizure or something. Nothing suspicious.
I often think what Andy could have become. A husband or a father to someone. A talented, published writer. I wonder what kind of stories he could've ended up bringing to this world. In many ways, Andy was ahead of his time. He was often talking about the kinds of streams in literature or popular culture that only became known or popular years or decades later.
I remembered Andy as I came across a story about a Finnish band Hanoi Rocks. I was in sixth grade in school when the band made a wonderful album Two Steps from the Move. It was to be the first step to their massive international success. Finally there could be something coming out of Finland. Surely there had been some wonderful bands, but for some reason they never made it across the big pond, not even to the other parts of Europe. Hanoi Rocks had the chance.
Then came the December 9th, 1984. Redondo Beach, California. Two friends jumped in the car to get some more booze to their party. They were intoxicated, the driver speeding. These men were Razzle, the English drummer of Hanoi Rocks, and Vince Neil, the singer for Mötley Crüe. The car driven by Neil crashed into another car. Razzle was taken to South Bay ER, but was declared dead on arrival.
Pretty soon Hanoi Rocks split. Over the years they've reformed and split again. Still for me the golden age was just before and during the tragic times in 1984. I wonder what they could've become as a band.
Hanoi Rocks has had an unusually strong impact on later glam-rock wave. They inspired bands such as Guns N' Roses. Some very well-known rockers still honor Hanoi Rocks as their big inspiration.
Somehow I feel Hanoi Rocks died as a band with Razzle. Every time I hear songs like Don't You Ever Leave Me or the one dedicated to Razzle, Million Miles Away,  I think of what waste accidents and addictions cause in this world. I wonder it in the context to my own life. Thinking it as a parent of a kid, who is getting closer to the puberty. How I should raise my child so he wouldn't end up mixing himself with substances. Even cigarettes.
We've had our talks. Discussing how my son never got to see his grandpa, my dad, who died of lung cancer at 52. How these rock stars Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and others never got to make more powerful music as they did already during their short careers.
Why take the risk? There is nothing fancy to be on the verge of death at 27. Additionally, life can be full of surprises. Interrupting life anyway. Causing sorrow.
There will never be replacements for people who pass away. There will never be dreams that came true. And as me and my friends remember: there will never be new Andy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cheap Journey Down Memory Lane

I sometimes have this habit of spending time browsing Youtube and Wikipedia at the same time. Often listening to the songs from the 80's, when I grew up.
It's a nostalgic journey to my memories. Remembering the first week of March in 1986, when I was in seventh grade in school and we got our first cable/satellite TV with Sky Channel, Music Box and the local cable channel showing a wide range of oldie TV series such as Kojak, TJ Hooker, The Fall Guy...
The music brings back the memories of those moments in pictures, even scents. Sometimes it's even possible to remember the feeling of warm or cold air on the skin as it was back then.
I could easily spend several hours going through this music-information combination. When finding a good song, I might search the lyrics and if there's a story behind it available, I'll read it from Wikipedia or elsewhere. Sometimes I bump into stories I never even understood existed when I was a teenager.
Some of them are part of a dialogue between real people. Not necessarily the person performing the song, but the songwriters. The singer is just a megaphone for all that felt heartache, pain, hatred or other unprocessed feelings.
I never knew that Feargal Sharkey was one of those megaphones with his two consecutive hits A Good Heart and You Little Thief.
The first one was written by then only 19-year old Maria McKee about her relationship with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench. The second one was written as an answer or a payback by Tench about his relationship with McKee.
Sharkey ended up placing the songs next to each other on his debut album. It would be interesting to know how much commercial thinking this all had. Or was it done purely out of opportunity. Natural way, of course.
I don't mind. The songs are memorable. And the story, now after over quarter of a century, is still alive. For me freshly. Even when it doesn't have that mystery in it anymore.
As still has You're So Vain by Carly Simon, released in the end of 1972, my year of birth. According to Wikipedia, the song is a critical profile of a self-absorbed lover saying: "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you." The subject's identity has long been the matter of speculation, suspects including a wide variety of celebrities from Warren Beatty to David Bowie, from James Taylor to David Geffen.
Artists are artists. They get their material from everywhere. It might be nabbed from real events, from own, friends' or neighbours' lives. The content might have been grabbed from imagination, stolen from the bum passing by, or from the vegetable salesman they've known for years. Or the real life events with some small piece of news from the newspaper. Sources of inspiration are endless.
For whatever it is; music, literature, movies, somehow all these speculations might boost the sales, or at least interest towards the song or the person behind it.
I'm just wondering what kind of feelings does it boost in the mind of a person who created that actual piece. Relief of having let it all out by writing or composing? Relief of telling all the world about the reality behind the scenes before? Feeling of vengeance? Feeling of love finally let out in public? Feeling of being an artist and getting attention? Feeling of being able to touch someone's heart? Someone, unknown, out there?
Feargal, Maria, Benmont... I don't care. But you got me. Even over quarter of a century later. Sometimes the pain in heart brings great results.
Feelings. Nothing more than feelings. But also nothing less.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Theatre of Shame (and Joy)

I should be ashamed. I've lived in Ireland for over six years and the times I've been to theatre here can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Considering that in some phases of life I went to see just about everything available, I should be tied to a chair in a theatre.
I grew up in Martinlaakso in Vantaa, Finland, often known as the childhood suburb of famous formula one drivers Mika Häkkinen and Mika Salo. Helsinki city centre was only a twenty-minute train ride away.
The suburb I grew up in was one of those fast-built complexes reflecting the fast urbanization of the 1960's and 70's. It wasn't exactly the worst place to live in, but not the best one either. The earlier childhood still had its memorable moments.
In the end of 70's life was not about what we had. It had content. Some kind of feeling of togetherness. Therefore it wasn't a surprise that my very dispersed home city put some money into providing free or near free cultural events.
At one point they started handing out free theatre tickets for children. The stage was in the school auditorium. The school I would once enter when I'd be thirteen, and would walk out of with my white graduation cap on when I'd be nineteen.
To get those free theatre tickets, people had to queue outside the local swimming hall early in the week. If I remember right, it was on Monday evenings. My mother was there every Monday. And I mean EVERY Monday. I really should be thankful for her now that I realize how valuable those Saturday plays were for me. Me and my friends must have seen a big bunch of plays for children. One I remember well was When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town.
Even though my parents were cultured and always cheering me and my sister up to read good books and replace nonsense TV series by watching critically acclaimed films, seeing the great plays on stage was something magical for a kid growing up in a concrete suburb. It was such a good experience that I must have told my friends about it. Soon some of the slightly rougher boys ended up going to the theatre with me. With the tickets collected by my mother.
The second theatre phase I entered, was when I was working as a journalist in my twenties in Turku region in Southwestern Finland. I used to get free tickets so we'd write reviews of the plays. At one point, I must have seen just about all the plays in the nearby areas.
There are some very good professional theatres in Turku. The official ones that have their monthly paid staff, having also their summer theatres in beautiful surroundings of this former capital city by the Aura river.
I was quite young then. Maybe therefore I found the smaller, younger, professional, semi-professional or amateur theatres more tempting. Their plays were often more out of mainstream. The people working on stage and behind the scenes were hungry. Really willing to put themselves fully into making great, meaningful and innovative, fully entertaining theatre. In addition, they really seemed to have all the fun doing this.
During those years, among all other plays, I got to see Patrick Marber's Closer on stage at TeatteriSusi five years before it was made into the big screen with Jude LawJulia Roberts and one of my favourite actresses, Natalie Portman. I saw Death and the Maiden (written by Ariel Dorfman) first time on stage in Uusikaupunki, directed by an old (young) college mate and friend of mine Toni Enholm. I still remember the gruesome, but natural faces Toni had managed to get out of his main actors and the actress on stage. Haunting in a positive way. I saw a new version of Dracula with an amazingly haunting music composed in Turku, just for this play.
I saw Shallow Grave, also known as a movie as well as Death and the Maiden, adapted to stage. It was adapted by a team named Jorma-ryhmä (Jorma Group). Always innovative, not using the fanciest stages, but often old warehouses or factories as their premises.
I can still remember the play going on. Them using strobe lights and slow motion of actors to picture an unreal dream-like event. Simple, but well-working trick. I remember the characters talking about packing the body into a car trunk. Then opening the side door of the stage, pulling the "body" into a real car trunk and driving away. With a real car.
Somehow it brought the whole fictitious story to reality. To the point where theatre can be larger than life even with just small innovations connected to real life.
But also giving life to people who would manage to find the meaning of content of what theatre can give at its best. Imagination. Escapism. Even changing slightly the life of a frustrated boy growing up in the grey concrete suburb.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Treasure Box of Stories

Exactly hundred years ago, a well-known ship Titanic was about to sink. On the deck before the ship sank, was a Finnish-born couple in their thirties and their Finnish friend, aged 17. The husband of the couple was a reverend named William (originally Wilhelm) Lahtinen, the woman his wife Anna. Their friend was their relative named Lyyli Silvén. She was with them to emigrate to United States. The couple had been living there before. Their destination was Minneapolis in Minnesota.
As we all now know, there were not enough life boats on the ship. Anna was given one of the last seats in life boat number 16. But in the last minute, she decided to stay with her husband. They had lost their little daughter to tuberculosis only some weeks before. Anna gave her place in the life boat to Lyyli. As the last glimpse of their friends, Lyyli saw Anna being nervous on the deck as William was smoking his cigar calmly. She never saw them again.
Lyyli and the others, including Lyyli's friend Anna Siukkonen, in life boat 16, were rescued to Carpathia, brought to Jewish 'Welcome Home' in New York in address 225 East 13th Street.
We don't know much about Lyyli's later times, though she was in letter contact with some relatives in Finland. She married a man named Otto Mailanen, apparently also of Finnish origin. She lived her life and died in Berkeley, California in 1974, 62 years after the sinking disaster. She was 79 years old. 
The connection to this blog is that Lyyli was my late grandmother's cousin. My maternal grandmother was thirteen years younger than Lyyli. My grandmother died in 1973. I was then only six months old.
I heard about this Titanic story only in the late 1990's when living in Turku, Finland. It was natural for me to start digging information from the website archives at the time. I ended up going through some of the Migration Institute archives which, by coincidence, were located only a short distance away, also in Turku.
At that time I wondered what kind of subconscious interest I had had of Titanic all the years before. When I was in second grade in school in early 1980's, I remember having written a story about Titanic. If there were coloring books, which had Titanic in them, I immediately bought them.
Surely Titanic drew interest to just about anyone. During my studies in Turku, I was working as a security guard. I remember seeing the crowds coming out of the cinema when the film Titanic was just out. One of the local, worn-out street bums known to me, walked out of the cinema telling he had gone to see the film. The whole story had to have some tragic magic in it.
It's now hundred years from the disaster. There are no survivors left. But the story continues. It's a treasure box for opening old and new stories. What happened to the people inside. To the ones who survived. To the people who were connected to the people who had experienced the night. This network could go on forever.
In this blog, I'll be bringing up hopefully interesting stories, comments and observations of life and its more or less quirky events. They may not be as monumental as the story of Titanic was, but some might have a big meaning to just one person somewhere.
Hoping you'll enjoy the journey. Hopefully there aren't that many icebergs on the way.