MARCH 22, 2012 8:41AM

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(Note – I wrote this several weeks ago and didn’t get around to finishing it until now. I’m leaving it in the present tense.)

According to clocks and calendars, time marches along at steady, metronomic tempo. That’s not how it feels to us. Time stretches and shrinks, depending of what kind of time we’re having.

They say, “Time flies when you’re having a good time.” Certainly been true these last five weeks in sunny San Francisco.  Seeing old friends, new friends,  seeing the sights. 

Just yesterday afternoon my time accelerated to super-sonic speed. We arrived at Yosemite an hour before dusk, at which point we needed to be at a particular spot to witness the rare phenomenon of fire fall (LINK). So we crammed the whole of the park into that single hour. El Capitan! Angel Falls! Half Dome! Upper and Lower Falls! I felt the minutes slipping like sand through my fingers as I bugged my eyes trying to take in every ounce of these momentary glimpses of monuments, any one of which could take half a day to explore.

This morning we headed out of the valley to see a relative up north in Grass Valley. The moment we got back in cell phone range a call came in, telling me I had an MRI scheduled at Stanford in 4 hours. We turned and raced west.

The hours to Stanford Medical were not flying time, but biding time. I was getting used to it. Our vacation had been interrupted already by four trips to the hospital, most of which consisted of sitting in waiting rooms. I bided my time best as I could, with my iPad and this computer. As I write it’s afternoon. I’m waiting at the Eye Clinic, writing, even though my eyes are blurred with drops. 

So, I’ve done flying time, racing time, and biding time.

This morning I did MRI time. That’s another kind of time -hard time. Certainly there is far harder. I’ve watched friends go through chemo. Pass kidney stones. Literally rock hard time.

The original “hard time” is prison time. I’ve spent a couple of nights in jail, and man the time really crawled. I can’t imagine prison.

In the TV series The Wire, Avon Barksdale explains to fellow dealer Stringer Bell how he manages a long prison sentence, “I only do two days – the day I go in and the day I come out.” I interpret that as advice to “be here now,” not to obsess about how many years remain in the sentence, but to experience this day, this hour, this moment.

I tried to carry that advice with me as they strapped me onto a board and rolled me into a tube tighter than a coffin.  I knew what to expect, because I’d had one before.

MRI -BrokenSphere

(Credit:  BrokenSphere)

Forty-five minutes of…well the technician said it best, taking the words right out of my mouth. “This will be like the worst music you’ve ever heard.”

I did my best to imitate Avon Barksdale in prison.

Surrender. Surrender to the moment. Breath deep from the abdomen. Relax the muscles. Don’t fight the sound, or the tight enclosure. Become one with the tightness, the sound.

Good practice for the MRI, and good practice for life. It was working.

But a couple of minutes in I got distracted from this practice. Distracted by my own internal noise machine, which clanks on minute by minute, pumping out thoughts. Dylan spoke for me, when he sang, “I’ve got a headful of ideas that are driving me insane.”  Sometimes they howl loud as an MRI. And the only technician that’s ever going to turn them off is that dude with the scythe.

My noise machine was saying, “Worst music you’ve ever heard? Is that true?”

I remembered  my job as producer at a recording studio, working with some terrible “artists,” enduring endless takes of singers who couldn’t hit a pitch if their life depended on it. Searching for talent in heavy metal clubs, coming away disgusted, with my ears bleeding. Perhaps worst of all, squirming through concerts of  “contemporary classical music.”

It was true. This was the worst. Everything before was Mozart compared with this MRI. The technician’s voice on speaker, from behind a thick glass window was practically indecipherable as he announced the length of each coming sequence. Did he say 2 minutes?  “CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK….” Or was it two hours?

So, how about reviewing this, as if it were a piece of music?

They do get two things right. A lot of rhythmic variety, all steady as a drum machine. And each sound is quite different from the last – whether its chugging, honking or squealing. And they cover an impressively wide range of frequencies, from bass you can feel rattling every bone in your body, to whining that feels like a drill into the center of your brain.

The only other music it remotely resembles is Nine Inch Nails. Though I don’t choose to listen to him, I have great respect for Trent Reznor’s sonic imagination, as he explores the emotional range from existential dread to screaming horror.

 The MRI sounds like Trent after aliens in a very pissy mood


(Credit: on Flikr) 

abducted him, sucked his brains out, then hosed the void full of silly putty, leaving only his uniquely abrasive sonic sensibility.

I was done with my review. O stars out of 5, category of “R&B” – that being Bang-Bang-Bang rhythm that can really give you the blues.

I need to digress for just a moment to talk about my mother. She was the cheapest person I’ve ever known. Even when she lived in a fancy house, with food money an issue she would never face, she insisted on buying margarine instead of butter, even when my sisters told her it caused cancer. She said, “It’s a few pennies cheaper.”

I couldn’t help but pick up some of her belief in “waste not, want not.” I hate wasting stuff. Including that headful of ideas.

It bothered me for years. Then I found the solution.


Which is exactly how I spent most of my hard time in the MRI. Writing this post.

All I’m doing now is taking dictation from memory, which faithfully recorded every word.

So it was hard time, very slow time. But not wasted time.

Writing time.









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I squirmed all the way thru this, while gasping with admiration for the art of it. My MRI date lasted only a minute or two, but it found the kidney stone that was persuading me to sell my soul to al Queda or somebody and so I secretly boogied along pumped with callow optimism. The ultimate discovery, along with a shot of Vicodin, made me want to buy their album.
I've never had an MRI, but I am fairly confident that if I ever do your words will be echoing in my head.
Avon Barksdale as zen master was the icing on top of this artful writing of an awful experience. Your former passions/vocations woven into your tales add a personal stamp that makes anything you write not only informative, but with a unique twist.
MRI... only once to verify a hairline fracture that didn't show up in X-ray... ttick, tick, boom, boom, boom, boom, booom...
I too have had an MRI.. Yikes.. I feel for you.
NO NIN???:)
Listen to some of the tracks he did for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:)
Thanks for the nod and hope to become an old friend of you and the musette.

I saw a review of Tartine and it reminded me of our wonderful day.
Words to have an MRI by. That's a new one. You handled this with such grace.
You are lucky to remember anything after all that pounding.
I endured several MRI's over the years and I could barely remember my name when I got out of there.
rated with love
I talked with the MRI tech about whether anyone had tried to sample the beats because I actually think you could do somethng interesting with them. He said due to the magnetism, it's really hard to record the sounds you hear in there but that people had tried. So next time, rememeber the sounds and try to create them!
Linda - Thanks for pointing out Trent's score to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." I edited out my part about that, because my posts are always so long. 

I loved his soundtrack - actually a little too much as film music (it is true that film music isn't quite doing it's job if it calls too much attention to itself.) Never mind. It is fine music. And a fine film.
Glad this was several weeks ago, glad you wrote about it. the mind is a beautiful thing ....
good for you for finding the good in even a not-s0-good situation. Hope the MRI results were ok,
MRI is another way of doing the best you can do with something that seems to really work most of the time.
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I like keri h's idea of sampling the sounds. There's something in that. Also, thanks for the comment the other day. We must have nearly crossed paths (in fact, we might even know each other.) I'm also from Massachusetts and in '78 I was playing in Phoebe Snow's band. I believe Livingston was on the bill several times.
Small world department?
I enjoy a good MRI! I once had about a dozen in a 2 day hospital stay. (Subdural hematoma that would not stop bleeding.) I drew on my old LSD experiences and convinced myself I was on a starship. I have the ability to stop my brainwaves, marvelling the nurses, as long as I tell them in advance. I have had about two dozen now, and I enjoy the whirring and jarring. I play mind games with it, and more than once I have reached euphoria and burst out laughing. I few times I've asked the technician If I could have another. He thought I was kidding.

But it is the ability to daw on all those acid trips that gets me by.
How did I miss this post?! This was absolutely brilliant. And also something I know I'll carry with me and try to think of if ever I have to get an MRI. You truly are a musician and a writer - these are what you go to when you need comfort and to survive. Bravo for your bravery and fortitude. And I hope things are okay now.

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