Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memoir. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Awfully played music deserves awfully written reviews?

Babies and Punks | San Diego Reader:

As a few of you are doubtless tired of hearing, I wrote music reviews and features for the San Diego Reader in their early days, a moment when a young man was revealing some signs of genuine word-slingerosity who was, as well, an uneasy admixture of self-consciousness, hubris and occasional moments of insight and random kindness. Barely into my twenties, I desired a public intellectual of some rank, a critic, a provoker of greater, deeper considerations of the arts in readers and the various beer-drinking academies I found myself keeping company with. I found the Reader, a then-new alternative weekly started by the enterprising James Holman, who was kind enough to print my first submission, an energetic if scuff-kneed recounting of my second trip to Los Angeles for the required examination for the draft. It actually wasn't that bad a tale as I wrote it, given that I  was still seeking my voice, my cadence, while I   was borrowing the rhythms of other writers. That comes with time, of course. But it seems to me that a lot of what the Reader was kind enough to publish by me was tone-deaf. Bad writing, in short. The editors, bless them, acknowledge the writers who've written for them over the decades and will reprint old stories by them as examples of the prose flavors they brought to that unique publication. 

This set of two record reviews, of Alice Cooper's wearisome teen anxiety factory Billion Dollar Babies and Humble Pie's double - record castrati fest Eat It. Such were my   tastes at that moment- in -time, a white male lover of Post-Cream guitar heroes , trying to make an argument that  guitar pounding in 4/4 time was an art form for which there were standards that must be adhered to, and that the titles here were violating a social contract, of a sort, with the audience. I  wanted to maintain that this mattered, but my attempts to subtly make the case and seduce disbelievers into buying hard rock albums rather than Blue Note jazz reissues at the Sports Arena Tower records were all but so much vapor vanishing into the night air. Ironically, I was trying to give reviews to what, I thought, were bad records with writing as awful and full of obvious phrases, dated buzzwords, and herd-thinking as the records I thought substandard. 

I  wish it had been Mailer or Vidal or Bangs in quality. It was, though, something less, the yearning of a man wanting to sit at the adult table. Well, let it not be said that my bad deeds against writing haven't gone unpunished. Along with the fabled Steve Esmedina, I came to the Reader in the 70s from Mesa College with it in mind to set the world straight as to what constituted good rock and roll and did so in terms that were, in retrospect, presumptive, pretentious and awkwardly worded. The writing was bad, and my only plausible defense was that I was learning how to write, seeking a bit of the quipping panache my various writing heroes had. That said, 44 years later it's safe to say I've learned how to put a couple of cogent sentences in sequence. This is a not-so-grim reminder that my beginnings as an art critic were little more than another ill-phrased rant from the peanut gallery. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My new knee and the rise of soft core optimism

Aches, pain killers, a stiff knee, a new scar, relearning the fundamentals of walking all over again. As reported , shared , revealed (or whatever term you prefer for the phenomenon of someone in the throes of compulsively giving you too much information), the total knee replacement surgery has happened, and the surgeon and members of his team were pleased to report that the procedure went well. That was November 16th, some four weeks ago, and let it be said that the quality of the recovery is fairly much as they laid it out to me in various classes and pre-operation consultations . No surprises , nothing unexpected , no  complications, all of which is great news and something that I kept in mind as I hobbled through the early  sessions of physical therapy and pain.

A great stiffness overcame me, my left leg was one purple, swollen mass of tissue and retreaded nerve ganglia, my pain was , for a time, out of this world. It chafes my pride a bit to admit that I had lost interest, for a period, in the doings of the world outside my sphere of pain; it was the only thing I could focus on. But, as I said, the team involved in aiding back to the world of the ambulant were good and attentive and knew how to manage a patent's pain. Select pain medications, of course, were called for in this endeavor, both to give me respite from the searing agony of intense discomfort and, most importantly, to allow me to commit to the exercise required to acquaint myself with my new substitute  knee apparatus . The mission now, with the physical therapists, is to build up strength, to build up the muscle that has diminished , to learn the right methods of crossing the streets in a city that at the moment seem to be little more than broad avenues that exist only to form busy intersections full of cars   trucks, motor cycles,skate boards and punk motor  bikes on patrol to keep those with canes , walkers and wheel chairs on their side of the street. 

Yes, that's not how I truly see the streets of hometown San Diego; it's just an idea that forms as you begin to miss the mobility you had as pedestrian. That said, it's a view I can get over, as my career of being myself seems to involve a continual process of getting over myself, which is, mostly, conquering fears, or at least stepping ahead of them after making a decision --the worst thing in this existence is suffering the consequences for refusing to change with the currents or ignore the protests of the body that only get louder and sharper with time. What I looked forward too is writing more, a lot more, much more writing, playing more music, much more music, involving myself more in the occasionally inspired photography I've done in the past few  years, and , of course, a longer life of walking , of being a professional pedestrian, touring my far flung neighborhoods without pain. There is a new adventure on the horizon. I pray, simply and too a higher power that knows no political allegiance that I continue to roll with the punches and keep the willingness to change when the change is underway. As always, keep a smile your face and your wits sharp. The conversation, I suspect, is about to start anew.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Glass knee

Total knee replacement surgery will be my fate in two weeks, and after that painkillers and, I'm promised, a vigorous rehabilitation regimen. As any person with a sliver of sanity would expect, I am dreading and looking forward to the procedure at the same time, an understandable ambivalence. First, I hate pain, I hate change, I don't like being in hospitals for anything. But I am looking forward to being able to walk without pain, something I've been doing since that time in 1965 when, on a dare, I jumped off a concrete trash incinerator attached to the back of Chippewa Drugs in the alley on a balmy summer day in Detroit. We were looking for trouble, moderate trouble, and looking for cool things people had thrown away, "we" being my brother Hollis, a weaselly friend named Casey, and a couple of others. I  climbed atop the incinerator to see if I could climb, somehow, onto the roof of the drug store, as I thought I could find footholds in various ledges abutting security barred windows. 

None of that came to pass since I looked down and saw Hollis, Casey and the two others turned and run to the main street the alley was adjacent to."Jump, Burke" is what I heard Casey yell, and I did, a short distance to the ground , the cement , a distance I could jump and land properly for all along,and then spring back , ready for action in some imitation of a Batman recovering from a punch before delivering a star and moon inducing uppercut, but I landed wrong, I had slipped it seems to me know, I landed at the wrong angle and felt my left knee twist something horrible. The rest, they say, is a history I don't care to recollect in this brief sketch. I was able to walk to my house, a very long half-block trudge, but an hour later, after the adrenaline had worn off, I was in pain and made quite a bit of noise about it. Crying and whining I think is the correct description. 

My Mom didn't look impressed with the pain I insisted was killing me, but we got in the car, went to the hospital and had an operation. Bear in mind this was 1965 and the procedure for torn ligaments in the knee was not as it is today; the cartilage  and such was completely removed , leaving me to recover with that joint being bone on bone. It's been like that for decades. I made due and accepted it as a younger man; running, dancing, climbing, and other sorts of activities that require me to stand for hours on end were matters I attended to without thought. Now, though , it's beyond the pale. The pain  is bad, and it's time to do something about while I have the means. I am grateful to have the means at this moment while this journey just gets more interesting by the day. It's an existence of uncertainty and cautious optimism. Being able to trudge that road without pain will be a wonderful, near-term result.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ode to Autumn

  (This originally appeared in the September, 2015 issue of  The San Diego Troubadour. Reposted with kind permission-tb).

It never rains in California, so the song goes, and there are no seasons in this terrain, according to a great many residents transplanted from other states with what is commonly termed “real weather.” I was relocated from Michigan in 1969, in late July, at the same time the Woodstock Festival was in full swing and the counter culture was hitting its critical mass. To say the least, even at the age of 17, a head full of the rancorous MC5 and the careening blues improvisations of Cream still rattling in my memory from the times I slogged through snow, slush and hard, cold rain to attend and come home from no-age-limit rock ‘n’ roll shows, which were hosted in various Detroit clubs and associated caverns of calamity, I thought San Diego’s weather was over ripe with sunshine, warm wind, the sea breeze and salt air.I didn’t take to my new hometown that well in my first half decade here; it took about ten years for me to stop telling new acquaintances that I was from out of town, that we did things differently in the Motor City, that San Diego was inferior because there were no seasons to gauge your mood with, there was nothing conducive to making an inner life more soulful, fuller, deeper. 

It took time, of course, but over the years, through high school and junior college and the different circle of friends I formed, I tired of my “outsider” rap and realized that there were seasons in this area after all, that once I stopped trying to instruct the world in what it should mean and be, the subtleties of the season, the shade of the light and the tone it creates in shadows are lovely indeed.There is beauty to be had, there is sadness to be felt, and there is peace to be engulfed by. Blessed, somehow, with the gift of surviving my best thinking and most of my mischief as a younger man, mellowness comprises more of my mood and the incidental things, the sweet sounds of lyrics against a forlorn melody drifting through an autumn air where the world is darker, colors deeper, the shadows of trees looming longer across sidewalks and lawns and streets, where the material world appears much more solid and even the plastered, stucco sides of apartments and the splintered siding of old, fly-apart garages give you a sense of being more solid and with a density of significance that suggests itself in the right light, the right month before the ascent of winter. It is a moment of clarity, which, perhaps, is too easily referred to as an epiphany, a moment when the air suggests the passage of time and the acquisition of my years to one’s life is not just an intellectual construct that is measured and filed away, but rather becomes felt experience. The floodgates open the collected memories of six decades, gather in a tight ball, and unspool.

All this is to say that I came across a version of “Autumn Leaves” by Eric Clapton, a game interpretation of the classic in which he applied his warm, husky burr of a voice to the melancholic melody. The song was a 1945 French song “Les Feuilles Mortes” (“The Dead Leaves”) written by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. By 1947 English lyrics were written for the tune by American songwriter Johnny Mercer, and it has been a jazz standard since that time, with legendary renditions by Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, a very important melody in the Great American Songbook. Mercer, perhaps sensing that original title, translated from the French as “The Dead Leaves,” might be too grim for an American public, changed the title to what we know it as now. A crucial choice, as “autumn” suggests not the fatalistic end of something beautiful, thereby leaving someone in a permanent state of mourning. Rather, the substitution suggests that life is cyclical, that lifetimes have beginnings, middles, and ends until one’s last day or night on the planet, but that in between birth and death there is a variety of experiences to go through, curiousness to be satisfied; love to have, hold, and lose; fortunes to be made and lost; and always a new beginning, a new spring, a new summer, a new fall, a new winter. Growth, decline, renewal, a great chain of being, each experience enriched by the joys, frustrations, and sorrows that have come before. 

You mourn the loss of a lover, the absence of wife or husband, you feel the ache deep in your marrow. You are reminded in sensations and rushes of exhilaration the memories of things that have changed you and made you the person you are at the moment a song plays, a piano chord chimes in the background, a singer’s dulcet one wafts through the window from a passing car, that melody releasing just a little of the stored emotion and that nearly overwhelms you with the idea that you are a part of a set of experiences that have made your life one that is full of meaning and purpose. Such as the filtered light of autumn sunshine casts long shadows and gives the world the neighborhoods one lives in and walks through a feeling of place that is deep and quirkishly profound. It is somehow more soulful for the sheer volume of human activity within its walls and along its streets, so you too feel older, rooted, a soul with a deep and quietly observed feeling for the small things, the incidental sounds, details, words that make up the world that you cannot, finally, be complete without.

The song is a beauty, a gem of the rarest sort where the melodic structure and the simple, bittersweet, yet achingly evocative lyrics lace together in a twine that is alternately tight and loose, a bind that has you in a grip and yet allows you, even compels you to remember, to dream with eyes open. Mercer’s lyrics are a marvel of brevity, the kind of lyric that is spare and without excessive poetic flourish, a sentiment of mixed emotiona that are spoken plainly but still have the power to evoke powerful recollections of when life seemed boundless with opportunity.

The falling leaves drift by the window,
The autumn leaves of red and gold.
I see your lips, the summer kisses,
The sunburned hands I used to hold.
Since you went away the days grow long,
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.
but I miss you most of all my darling
When Autumn leaves start to fall.
There are those who prefer Elvis Costello’s opaque moroseness, with each stanza rife with slippery rhymes and a nearly narcissistic grasp of one’s sorrow, others will opt for Joni Mitchell’s travelogue heartaches concerning her passing fancies, many will cite Tom Waits as their idea of a lyricist who combines surrealism with the ground-in grit, and many of us kneel before the altar Leonard Cohen’s sacred and profane testimonies of an inner life both erotic and spiritual. “Autumn Leaves,” though, speaks directly to the idea of the wizened season, of the days getting shorter as darkness overcomes the light, the air turns crisp, and the branches of trees become stark arrangements leafless limbs. It equates the color of the leaves with lips of the beloved, red and gold, the hands of the lover that are no longer there to grasp. There is, in the melody, a wonderful, simple intoxicating feeling of the melody going up and down in pitch, the slight rush of recollection in sunnier times, the realization that what is being is something that is memorized nostalgia and that one must confront, yet again, the hard truth that someone you loved is gone and getting on with his (or her) life, all this so one may get on with their own life. These are autumn moments when you stand in the middle of the sidewalk on residential streets staring at the curled leaves and their tri-colored hues waft on increasingly bare tree limbs as the wind gets chillier and more insistent. The leaves you see cover walkways and lawns in front of homes and apartment buildings that are being absorbed by a deep, muted light that makes the inanimate things of the world seem to pulse with significance, memory history that is private and without an adequate vocabulary to bring to sharp clarity. The melody climbs, pauses in a center as if to consider the sudden elation, and descends again, bringing you back to the present tense, the beautifully muted light and the pleasant cool air that assuages the troubled brow.

Eric Clapton sings in a low key, his wonderfully, slight hoarse croon not quite reaching the notes on the songs highest pitch, but still bringing us a message of a man who knows the seasons and the reconsiderations they entail. The late Eva Cassidy, a singer with an exquisitely expressive voice whose artfully timed inflections were the place where deep, rich bells seemed to ring, slowed her version down, making the melody move as if in a swooning reverie of intense happiness before giving way, haltingly, to the regret that what was once sweet is now removed. She sings it, croons it, and seduces the emotion from the lyric, a voice filling in the areas where one thinks there should be extra qualifiers, adjectives, verbs. But there is no need for that , for Cassidy, as her voice lingers over the words that are there, bare though they are, her tone modulating just so to the left and to the right, a slight inflection changing emphasis, suggesting other emotions welling up just under the emotional mess being confessed.

This is the state of being between moments of clarity – minutes, weeks, months when you notice the sun setting around 3pm and, as traffic stalls at intersections on the way to the freeway on ramp, the radio plays the old music and as you drum your fingers on the steering wheel, half aware of the traffic until a car horn blares, you get absorbed by the cool air, the dark cloud formations, the lyrics and musical hooks of songs that are the soundtrack for your story so far. You pause, or are made to linger, and you drift into the wonders of what it was like, contemplate just what the hell happened to you and the loves that made you whole, and come to accept the world you’re now a member of, an adult made full by every kiss and slap in the face one’s had the honor to have bestowed on them. We remember our mortality and become grateful for our humanity, grateful that ours are lives that have been touched and have touched others in turn.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Teen Age Waste Land

I was a guitar obsessive for years over a slew of players--Larry Coryell, Leslie West, Ritchie Blackmore -- and there were parents, friends and the less friendly alike who thought that I would be better off with a more purposeful hobby. Building ships in bottles,say, or collecting bottle caps with cork linings.But I was in my teens and early twenties, after all, and matters of family, work, sobering up , and career change would eventually consume the time I would otherwise have spent waxing on , 24/7, about my favorite guitarists.

 In the meantime, I gloried in the fretwork of the string bending maniacs I called heroes, I read all their interviews, I bought whatever biographies were published, I owned each album these guitarists released in bands or as soloists, and my various apartments , through the years, were filled with the galvanic crash of frantic guitar music. Notes swarmed like bees over the lights. I was a fan, again, an obsessive, caught in the grip of having to have it all. I was also growing up and becoming slowly, faintly, conspicuously bored with my efforts to be definitive in my peculiar music world. I wanted something more. A life, perhaps. Some are not as lucky.

The sad part of the story is that I know some fellows, from a variety of circumstances, who are my age, late forties, and rattle on about their musical agendas at the drop of a beret. I did an interview with Ozzie Osborn in the early eighties for a weekly when Black Sabbath were coming through town, and an acquaintance named Roy couldn't get over the fact that I was the undeserving son-of-bitch among his associates who'd received an audience with his Ozziness.Roy complimented on this fact, saying that I must be something special to get the interview --"You met Ozzie, Man, that's doesnt jus happen, bro, you met Ozzie, I mean , The Oz, the god-damned Oz shook your hand , bro..."-- and then would kneel , valet style. Of course, being a young asshole myself, I got a kick out of that, but he kept it up for weeks, months, months turned into years, a decade passed, friends got married, had kids, other friends died of many different things, life became full and complicated, and close to twenty years later, around the time I turned forty, I was in the local market when Roy turns up in the aisle pushing a cart, thick around the middle, hair long, grey and thinning.

"Hey, how's the Oz man" was the first thing he said. I said I was okay, and after the expected pleasantries, he asked me what I thought of Randy Rhodes, Osborne's guitarist who was killed in a plane wreck. Not much, I said, I liked Van Halen better.

"But Randy played with Ozzy, man" he said," and you met Ozzy. Where's that at? Randy Roades played behind Oz and he could..."


Thursday, February 28, 2013

True Story

Some passing thoughts on the events at work is only a grieving for the passing of notes in fifth grades when the two sisters were turned to the blackboard chalking up the High Math of The Second Coming.

It was a note Tony Graciano  penned saying that after school he was going to kick my ass because I slammed his hand in the cloak room door .I looked at Tony behind me, the note under the desk,
and he was smiling the best his gummless mouth could manage, vapors of bacon and death on his breath.

“Would you like to share that with every one, Ted?” keened a voice, piercing with a hint of whistle swirling around each slippery  ’s’ that slid against the tongue to the enamel of each capped tooth .Sister Marie, basketball tall and looking grim as grime in her stiff, consigned vestments, held out her hand, wrinkled and thick veined at the knuckles, demanding to see the note .I looked up at her, knowing   God sees everything on a too-big TV screen as wide as the sky, and then handed the note up to her.

Her. long fingers wrapped around the paper like a satchel of loving snakes.

I remember from the fourth grade that Tony had said he wanted to be a writer when asked
by a lait teacher what he wanted to be when he grew up. Why, asked the teacher, and Tony enthused over the adventure stories he liked too read, and that he wanted to write his own someday that’d be even more terrific.

Terrific, said the Teacher, Then you ought to take pride to signing your name one everything to write from now on. Tony beamed  that same gummless grin and nodded his head rapidly as though he’d just snapped a spring.

Sister Marie held Tony’s note in front of her face, an inch from her thick-lenses glasses that made her eyes seem to bulge frog like, and read the words quietly, a silent mutter moving her lips. Her face, already creased and lined with years of pure Catholic rapture, hardened even more as she lowered the paper and stared over and past me down the aisles of neatly lined school desks, her eyes finally stopping where Tony sat.

A vein popped out on her forehead. I looked back and saw Tony looking back at the sister with an innocent expression only guilty could provide. Sister Marie didn’t let him say a word.

“Mr. Graciano, into the hail, pleases, and bring your books with you” 

She walked up the aisle briskly, as Tony stood after closing his books, and turning around for a good view, all I could see was the broad sweep of her water blue cloak spread like Superman’s’ cape that seemed to absorb Tony in whole. Next I remembered the classroom door slamming, and then there was silence, one nun and a class of scared kids observing
a ceremonial gravity. It was as though Tony had not been in the class at all, not even on the planet.

Sister John Mark, whose name I never understood, picked up a rubber tipped pointer and said “We must be well behaved when we’re learning of the good news of Christ.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Loose Fitting

(A slight expansion of a previous post.-TB)
I thought this small verse I wrote  was a decent attempt at the loose-fitting sonnet form, as practiced by Ted Berrigan and featured in Gerald Stern’s engagingly gangly book American Sonnets. The distinction between these efforts and the Elizabethan sonnets one parses in college courses is that the “loose-fitting” form (my phrase) is an attempt to bring the particularly American instinct to confess and promote one’s idealized personality in free verse, ala Whitman and Charles Olson , with the limits a more formal structure. The results satisfy nearly no one but those who appreciate perversions of form, with the hope something new emerges. Sometimes something does.  A side comment, the phrase “loose fitting” comes from  the last time I bought a near pair of jeans, forty bucks  worth for one pair, a cut of denim termed as such, looser than what you  would normally purchase I suppose. It maybe a euphemism  for sizes intended for those recently widened in the     waist line and who tip the scale more than they had. None of this, though, ads gravity y to the sonnet, which is precisely what it is, nearly weightless, but nice all the same.

Sonnet 16

A sign of the cross and a sign on the door or just sign
yourself out if it’s a weekend pass you’re dealing with,

sign yourself up for a moment in the sun when you
have your tax refund check in hand, give us some cash for

the diversions that approach the distraction level
of morons who get their exercise reading the labels

on records as they go ‘round and ‘round on the
phonograph, signs of life in a living room, your parents

house and sofa, I am hiding behind a chair before the light
switch is flipped and a panic like business plans that come

undone where you signed a dotted line that ends up
being a perforations around your wrists, like you see

on butcher’s charts, you know, under the sign that reads

 Interesting, and as often happens on the forums, the first response to the poem brought something else in the poem to think about other than how well it works as an amateurs attempt at  more structured verse.  It’s a relevant to ask   how many people understand what’s  meant by an oblique reference  to phonograph record labels spinning around as they play. Good question. Who would have thought that LP's would be something that reveals your generation? I remember years ago talking to a young man , twenty years younger than I at least, about various matters. When it came time to say goodbye, I said "I'll see you on the flip side".

 He looked puzzled as we shook hands as asked me what I meant by "flip side". In an instant I realized that he was too young to remember long playing albums, vinyl, and briefly explained that before CDs records had two sides, side A and side B, and that the phrase meant the other side of the record. The long and short of his wasn’t crucial to anything at hand, nor was it that interesting to anyone, but it was informative that I was now old enough that some of the cultural references I'd been using for decades were now potentially incomprehensible to younger adults. Existentialism   returns to toss another bowling ball down that long empty hall called a mind: life is incomprehensible outside the meaning you create for it, and the terms of that meaning , subtle though  they maybe, are quickly made obsolete by perversions of old definitions, and changes in technology. "Flip Side"  has no slang currency. It has precisely the same resonance as that of an old man on a bus trying to tell a college student about his glory days of seeing the MC5 and the Stooges in a Church basement on Detroit's 6 Mile Road. The student's eyes are off in a stare, his head plugged into his telephone, pizza joints, barber shops and tattoo parlors stream by the passenger windows. So we should remember this : wear the moments like it were a loose fitting garment, and bring a change of clothes.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Some years back I was in a coffee house thoroughly caffeinated into a babbling blend of erudition and nonsequitor overkill , arguing with someone , a young man dressed in black and brandishing a dogfaced copy of Ecce Homo that life had no meaning because it had no real structure, no arguable basis for being something other than an accident of molecules colliding at precisely the right point and time. Whew, I offered, that is the best Dime Store nihilism I've come across in a long time, and recommended that he put it on his blog, ;under a pilfered photograph of Richard Nixon. I went further and remarked that I had to disagree on the matter of life having no structure. Then the coffee really kicked in. 

Life, actually , does have structure, in the communities we create and the institutions we formulate to hold them together,and in the culture that is shared that provides a diverse citizenry with a sense that there is a purpose to where and the way we live, and that there are the means to improve, correct, or change the conditions of our lives. This is structure. While life has no narrative arc, per se, literature certainly does, and it is in the art of that narrative that the contingencies of life, all those things that one cannot predict (let alone prevent from happening) are contained in fictive form and which can be appreciated as drama, comedy, moral instruction, what have you. Literature is a means to make sense of life, to provide resolutions to brief joys and large traumas, and it is a way to prepare a reader for what ever strange turn one's life might come to.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Notes on the Rapture, sort of

The world is supposed to come to a foretold end, or at least many of us who've been selected in secret on high are due to abruptly depart for Heaven's Gate Station, but my guess that most of us will still be here on the 21st,  our for casted day of divine interdiction, May 21st. Those who won't be here are the ones who leave via the standard methods, death by natural causes, horrible accident or suicide, or skull crushing boredom. I do have, though, a poem about the Rapture I wrote about five years ago, an extended musing on what it might be like in neighborhoods to have  people just vanish, leaving their material things, including their clothes, in a lifeless puddle behind them. 

I posted the poem soon afterward at supremely inbred poetry board referred to as The Gazebo, where a group of seemingly smirking sycophants followed the lead of the crotchety , fumble phrasing alpha dog and criticized me for writing a poem of such blind faith in Christian mythology; the fools hadn't a nickel's worth of irony amongst them and thought my poem was an profession of faith. 

I  quickly let them know what I thought of their summary skills and used words intended to give offense; I  used  the fact that I'd been banned by these nitwits as a something to brag about.  Should I mention that I am thin skinned above all else? On the subject, I used to work in downtown San Diego at a bookstore in Horton Plaza, and as I walked from the bus stop toward the mall I would pass a retail space that was being used by a store front church; in the window someone had placed their artwork of The Rapture in action,crude, blocky depictions of an urban landscape of those who had been summoned, post haste, by God. 

They were seen leaving their clothes on the streets and sidewalks and ascending toward Heaven in gleaming, garish swirls of bright colors,  genitals and female breasts obscured by convenient swirls of tri-colored mist. What was disturbing wasn't so much the idea of  an impending Final Judgement, but that the painting  , in it's minute detail, featured a bus driver being elevated from the vehicle he was driving; while he was being taken to join his Creator, the suddenly driverless bus was shown running a red light and crashing into oncoming traffic. If Heaven were a night club, the doorman would be performing summary executions on those who didn't look cool enough to get through the door.
Here's the poem:


The mailman drops his parcels and
falls to his knees in the middle of the street

as a light comes through the clouds and
makes the commotions of the city radiate

gold tones like the frozen poses
of ancient photographs

found under the stairs of every parent’s house
that aging children have to close.

You see the mailman on his knees and wonder
why he’s praying, hardly aware of the increase in light

or the music that blares all the big band music of
trumpets and saxophones that disguise the grind of

passing cars, it’s such a shame that religious fanatics
are hired to deliver the mail, you think, so much depends

on what comes through the System, envelopes full of
what’s owed and what’s not covered by any plan

that can be written down; you run the water in the sink,
you wonder where did the clouds go?

There is no rain anywhere,
says the radio announcer,
and the light is tremendous all over the globe,

there is not a dark corner
in any corner or nook on the earth,

And then the radio gives out to static, and the TV
releases itself to snow, the music in the street is very loud

and swinging hard to the left and the right and then right down the
middle as all the notes scurry brilliantly through the hedges

and up the driveways, into the homes with each reed instrument
improvising disembodied melodies that form their own sheet music,

That is a very loud set of speakers in that passing car, you think.
and the radio announcer cuts through the music and says something you

hear as that millions of people all over the world have just vanished in
plain site under bright light and big bang music, gone in a wisp and puff of smoke,

You look at your watch and note that it’s time for lunch,
the clouds have fallen over the city again, the sky darkens,

the shapes of the neighborhood take on their deep hues again, saddened
with history, dense in dumb witness to what never ends,

You stop, look out the window; you turn off the water you ran,
in the middle of the street, by itself, flat on the cement,

The mailman’s bag and his clothes,
topped by his hat, kissed by a cool breeze.

Friday, January 7, 2011

About the Velvet Hammer

I drank at the Velvet Hammer a couple of times with my buddy William in the days of lesser light. The last time I drank there was some time in 1984 when I was sitting next to some old drunk hippie who started a conversation with what he thought of the Ku Klux Klan and what he'd like to do to each of them.

He informed me, in a language not this delicate, that he'd like to severe the genitalia of these KKKers and shove in the mouths of their mothers. I was intent on finishing my drink and let him prate with his alcoholic bile--it had the memorized rhythm of a nursed resentment that could be rattled off, word for word, at split-second provocation--until the barmaid emerged from the back room and said "Okay, Bobby, just leave the man alone and let him enjoy his drink." Bobby, who'd maintained a slurring, snarling Gordian knot of a grimace, a result, no doubt, of too many years of blown opportunities and short term day jobs and shorter-term love affairs, suddenly let his face go slack, all those tight coils of resentment giving to the gravity of his situation.

He stared into his drink while the barmaid wiped the counter and emptied a bucket of ice into the bar well. It was a cozy little nest of diluted dreams defied the SoCal sunshine during its years on La Jolla Blvd., Bird Rock's ground zero for bad juju. The Velvet Hammer was, by the time I rolled in for drinks years after whatever conviviality it contained had lapsed and sputtered, was an enclosed argument with the sunny side of things.The last thing I recall while sitting there in this dark lounge, was when I noticed that the only source of illumination seemed to be the stray beams of sunshine that came through the cracks of the bar's entrance.  It seemed no one ever walked out that door, nor walked out, seeming that way until someone opened the door from the street, a thirsty man gritty under a work soaked collar. The sunlight flooded the bar for a moment and the three of us stared into the glare, each of us hoping in a variety of ways that this was the moment when things either got better or stopped altogether. Either way would be an improvement than the moment we were in,  which was timeless and fatal.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Deliver This From Evil

Sometimes I wonder if I was born or merely set aside in another dimension of newspaper grey and was launched into this world because what ever the case was running low on the premium designs. 

It's a habitual thought, a shudder of doubt when staking hands or crossing streets or visiting people who and which are so familiar, 
so complete in intimate nuances and shared knowledge that they seem alien and strange, like specimens under glass in a museum I keep visiting for a lesson that just keeps turning the corner to the next gallery when my hard shoes hit the tile. Everything I look for is just out of focus, short of the designs I see and have drawn. 

Believing the world is seeing beyond the box scores and trusting what it says on the certificate; the biography has already been started, a page of facts that have gotten absurdly complicated, in love their own inventory of details that are pressed now in their uniqueness, creased and pleated, ready for rough waters I imagine await at the end of the map, where boats fall off and drift with sails full of solar wind until I wake up and yawn and scan the items on the table, the newspaper, the dirty bowls, someone else's pack of Marlboro 100s. The universe is reassembled, seamless as death itself. 

Years ago I wondered if there was life on other planets precisely at the time when she left me, or asked me to leave, I wondered who else in this darkness knows this hurt as well as I?, and I stared for hours at her apartment as if trying to make the walls fly away, to lift her off the sofa, away from her meal , and bring her into my arms where I stood in the dark, next to a payphone, with out change to call out far enough to the wilderness where there is only wind and tall grass, maybe houses at the bottom of canyons that you see from jets leaving your home town before you enter the clouds that will drag on the wingspan, I would stare and the walls would stay where the carpenters intended them to remain, there was nothing to see, but I stared harder, right through the building, to the stars I knew were there, receiving radio waves, TV shows, thoughts of strong desire translatable only by action, hear me, hear me, who else shivers in a dark corner in unique misery, genius of articulated regret, who else speaks when no language gets the purity of the idea right, just right, thus forcing one to live in craziness, at the end of the alley, drinking from bottles I've pealed the labels from? 
As usual, the stars don't answer, they don't say a word.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I was in high school during the late sixties and early seventies, suffering from all the belated-arrival blues that was the usual blend for teens who wished they were older than they were, thus more experienced and hip. The daily aggravation started with a look in the mirror and sighing loudly, too loudly, that my facial hair wasn't coming in thick enough. I was particularly pissed that I'd missed out on the Beat era, and that I was too young to truly be involved in the college folk revival.

Still, I took my Dylan very seriously, although I considered him at the time to be an also-ran--the last great age of hipness was the fifties--and I went about my way, my rather self centered and self righteous way, to become a campus poet, seer, gadfly, intellectual, man of mystery. I had long hair, wire frame glasses, I wore as much black as I could, which was absurd since I was living in Southern California, a terrain where I still hang a shingle and get my mail.

Black clothing makes sense, I guess, if you're in colder, damper, more overcast climates, ala NYC, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, but in So Cal there was and remains a surfeit of sun, which made attempt to be a gloomy, dark, frost-bitten avatar of hip a ridiculous enterprise. It's only beginning to occur to me how absurd my middle class yearnings for street credibility really were. I'd lived up to that point as a self-conscious, shy, hard-of hearing and overweight nerd who was often the brunt of abuse from others because I was thought of as dull and dumb do to my hearing loss--I didn't always catch on to what others were talking about and tried, often times, to bluff my way through a conversation. My responses to what others had said or had asked me , or what I put forward in attempts to become part of a conversation already in progress, were as often as not guesses at the topic, based on what the words I thought the phonemes resembled . It was a poetry of its own sort, and I felt absolutely exhilarated when what I had offered at risk wound up being dead on, and it was even more electric when my mad stab at relevance somehow managed to jump the rails of the subject and introduce a related tangent that others hadn’t considered and thought was a brilliant leap on my part. Too often, though, my remarks caused a quiet in the room that had the dead solemnity of a tombstone; I was the Coltrane of Confusion, the Mozart of Misspeak, and the Picasso of Puzzlement. It went something like this:

"I just got a new bike..."
That's great. What kind is it?"
"One o'clock..."
Norm Crosby, a comedian who was a regular player on the Ed Sullivan Show, came up with that joke, but it got the experience of a hard of hearing fellow trying to make his way through the world without letting on that he had a loss. Crosby got the absurdity of it precisely right and I still use the quip as a reference point some forty years later Even so, I wrote poems, did special readings in 7-11 parking lots, and performed some original verse at an ersatz antiwar rally where in an especially precious ad lib I announced that Bob Dylan was "...the father of us all". One might have wondered how I discovered half the paternity of the counter culture. My nonsense utterances gathered many rueful looks; I was among those weenies that went to dances to listen to the band. During my senior year I'd made something of a name for myself as a faux bohemian, dark and mysterious as previously described, taken to mispronouncing names of famous men and writing reams of awful poetry of which there is not a single line in existence; I tossed the poems into the trash one night, all three folders and four notebooks. It was liberating, if that word ever had any meaning. It was as if someone had taken a big boot from my throat. I was now free to be a pompous git on my terms alone. Not perfect, but progress, no?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Something my Dad told me

My father worked as room clerk in a Detroit hotel during WW2, where rooms were scarce and the racial divide was still strongly enforced. He told one night that there was a clutch of nervous looking white men who wanted to check in a guest--there was a small mob, and the intended guest was still waiting in a car outside. My dad was about to hand over the room key when a manager tapped him on the shoulder and eased him to the side. The manager explained to the man who was signing the hotel register that the hotel was full-up, and politely offered to call the nearby Wolverine Hotel to see if they had a room. The intended guest in the car was Lena Horne, it turned out; the hotel my dad worked at had a policy of not allowing blacks stay at their Inn, regardless of any other considerations.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Like many another clueless air guitar rebel, I sang in a band during the Seventies, a strange assortment of druggies, layabouts, alkies, and genius geeks who all loved hard rock. I was the singer, and the songs I sang ranged from Trower to Led Zep to Deep Purple to Mountain--I had a miserable voice, but I was the one who could get a raspy tone and volume, so sang I did. No one seemed to mind, most likely because they were usually as drunk as I was. In any case, Dewar and Trower were the perfect combinations of singer and guitarist--there likely hasn't been a collaboration this good since Rod Steward and Jeff Beck or Paul Rodgers and Paul Kossoff (in the late, great band Free). Trower, additionally, is about my favorite British blues guitarist--he broke the Clapton mold his fellows got snared by and developed his own sound; I think he's pretty distinct from Hendrix, even with the similarities. I've seen him pass through town in the last few years, and the man plays better than he ever has. Yeah. Great stuff. The saddest day of my life, though, was when someone who'd recorded one of my band's kegger gigs played the gig--we sounded awful. Even the time-honored honored rock and roll aesthetic favors attitude over expertise; we sucked, in turn, long, deep and hard.

A bag full of agitated electric razors would have sounded better than the clamor we were producing, out of tune, atonal, thumping, with a guitarist who was fried on cocaine and rum who managed to make his guitar sounded worse than car alarms screaming in a West Virginia mall. I, in turn, had the timbre that sounded, to be kind to myself, like someone who was clearing his throat over the loudest microphone on the stage. A crazed dog would have told me to shut the fuck up. I didn't stay quiet, though. At best, the rhythm section, a bass player and drummer who wouldn't be out of place in a police line-up in Hooterville, sounded like two winos having a knife fight under behind an abandoned coin laundry. We knew we were the shit.

 That night we had a gig, and what I did was drink more and scream harder. My voice was gone the following morning, and I could talk or eat shellfish for a month. But I pressed on, I continued, a true believer in my own capacity as a post-blues revenge howler who could tear a hole in the ozone with one ball-squeezing shriek. I was in a band in the Seventies that played hard rock, butt rock so-called, and I was the singer, not that I could sing, but it's not as if any of us could really play either, save for a guitarist who had chops, no ambition, and a taste for coke. Everyone in the band is missing in action, including me, but the fact that my phone doesn't ring with queries from these guys hasn't diminished my lifestyle. Between groping other guys' girlfriends, stealing drugs and records, and not paying back any of the borrowed money I promised to pay back in merely a couple of days, it's just as well that bad news that's over thirty years old remain the tragic history it has so far remained. Our song list:

Hot Blooded
Mississippi Queen Bad Motor Scooter
Tush /Waiting for the Bus / Jesus left Chicago
Heartbreaker/Rock and Roll/Goodtimes Badtimes
All Right Now / Wishing Well
I Just Wanna Make Love to You (FOGHAT VERSION)
JEANIE JEANIE (remember Automatic Man?)
Dancing Madly Backwards (remember Captain Beyond?)
Too rolling stoned/The Fool and Me/Day of the Eagle/Man of the World
Hellcat (Scorpions)
Dirty Love (Zappa)
Thumbsucker (Mountain)
Hiway Star/Space Truckin/Black Night(Deep Purple)
Supernaught (Sabbath)
Bang a gong
Rebel Rebel

There were hundreds of hours of rehearsal in a floating crap game of a scene, going from one band member's parents' house to the other for what were really drinking parties. Things usually got destroyed, and sometimes we made it all the way through a song. We even played a few dozen times. I was drunk most of the time so that I could scream the few words I actually knew to each song, somehow, truly, thinking that I sounded just like Robert Plant or Paul Rodgers or Rod Stewart or any of my swaggering, macho strut heroes, only slightly aware that for all the half-skips sash-shaying I took for masculine intimations of heterosexual power were in fact very much a swanning display of featherless fan dancing. To the end of my time in front of the microphone, twisting my vocal cords into twisted knots of scraping rasps and glottal whispers, I was convinced my style was akin to the greatest belters blues and soul music gave to the white world for worship, Ray Charles, yes, Otis Redding, oh yes, Little Richard, fuck yes! It was a small beer that I never knew what I sounded like, the grunts and groin-splitting yelps buried under layers of un-tuned amplified guitar, farting bass lines, and the endless thrash of a speed freak drummer. Someone once recorded one of our gigs on a reel to reel at a San Diego State Frat Party, and it was a gross, hell-bent, auto accident cacophony, fuzzy and sputtering with feedback and wrong notes and crowd noise and breaking glass: the noise hurt the inner ear: the MC5 without conviction. I was singing, all right, but I sounded like I had two wool socks crammed in my mouth, screaming in muffled horror while a serial killer approached me with a blade. I sounded drunk. The band sounded drunk. The decade was drunk.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Shag and the Mullet

I had a shag haircut for a year or so during the early seventies. I borrowed twenty bucks from my Dad, who thought I was going to get a flat top and thus appear neat-as-a-doctor's office coffee table, and paid a guitarist who called himself Ramada to take the scissors to what was then an impressive, shoulder length cascade of curls. Ramada was also a badass guitarist for a local band called Madame Beast, who specialized in British rock--Small Faces, Spooky Tooth--and over all , I thought he looked cool, bitchen, the shit. I couldn't play guitar, but damn, I wanted his hair cut. A half hour later, I emerged from the bath room, tight ringlets of clipped curls on the floor waiting to be swept up, a skinny, glasses-wearing kid in jeans and a layered hair cut that made me look, well, ridiculous. And chubby-cheeked. And incredibly self conscious. I would try the trick of trying to catch my profile as I passed store windows, I'd linger in Sears clothing sections checking myself out from many sides in the three-mirrored fitting rooms, I would spend time in the bathroom trying to get my hair to seem to fall just so, like Keith Richard or Ron Wood. My Dad was pleased with neither the haircut nor the time I spent in the bathroom doing, apparently...nothing. No, the haircut didn't make me a hit with the ladies. But I did get stared at alot.

The Sixties died when rednecks starting wearing their hair long, and you knew that the bloom was forever off the rose for British rock and roll when the shag haircut morphed into the mullet, a style intended for the ambivalent white twenty somethings stranded between a gas station and a pancake shop just off the interstate who couldn't decide which was a better ideal to live up to, military respect or rebel-yell hoo-hah. As with a conflation of two bad choices, we have results that are worse than if one chose to do nothing at all. The mullet does not look good on anyone, at any time, in any era. Like much of American life itself, where the fabled opportunities and boundless avenues of choice have shrunk to the most scant options, the mullet is a haircut that isn't selected to someone so much as assigned, like a military issue. It's symbolic of one's willingness to dedicate themselves, in order, to family , flag, and God and yet retain the revolutionary spirit of our country's founding, a nice trick if you can manage it, but too often what we see are listless and angry young men working against their own interests, ready to bash gays, blacks, beat wives, girl friends, any one they suspect of being a terrorist merely because they don't resemble them in skin tone , speech, or accent. And perhaps also because they aren't wearing a mullet.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

At least play some better music

Last Friday night, noise, random bleats of bass lines and cursing twenty-year-old males drunk in apartments by the Pacific Ocean, burning away the night with tequila and swear words. It's all I can do from climbing the stairs and slamming a fist on the door, screaming a rude word from the many I know, demanding quiet, silence. Pacific Beach, just south of LaJolla, is the party town of San Diego County, a collection of streets that are a characterless grid of box houses and gross condominiums that crowd the shoreline of rock and gravel that have replaced what used to be a white sandy beach. Drunks, homeless and crazy people stack themselves on top of one another in this peninsular wedge, and between those moments of relative calm and sanity, there is always something to contend with, some vague threat that dogs you into your sleeping hours. The nighttimes becomes a noir cliche. You walk past businesses lit up with flickering neon lights spelling out words like "LIQUOR" and "LAUNDRY" or "CHECKS CASHED" in deadpan, sexless fonts, you're absorbed by an unblinking darkness, instinctively crouching, shooting a side glance at the alleyway you're treading past, past a dumpster caked with the smear of bar closings and unfinished meals. The dumpster is pressed against a cement wall honored with graffiti words of alien neighborhood lingo and concert posters that have been torn, pissed on, as forgotten as the musicians of the bands they advertise. The hiss of tires arises from a grove of trees whose branches form a canopy over the black street your walking, there is the rapping tap of footsteps not your own. A car door closes with a faithless slam. Tommy James coos over his hanky panky as the car cruises, all headlights white, red and blurred. None of that. I'm not in the mood to have my face punched in, though most of the time these amateur drunks defer to my gray hair and the grit in my voice that reminds them of their dads, no doubt, and fall quiet after some apologies and other gestures to restore the eternal serenity that was formerly part of the weave of darkness. Instead, I look at my watch again, and again it says that it's after two in the morning. I look up to the window where the voices are coming from. Screams, goddamned screams, names against dad, something about a goddamned fucking piece- of- shit table being broken. My neck hurts as the voices climb an octave and break on the weakest syllable; this is the border between hysteria and hilarity. The wind creeps along the sidewalk along the courtyard I stand in; I'm wearing no socks and my feet are cold, numb by now. One of these young men is crying. Shadows cross the room, silhouetted against the drapes. There is that flat, smacking sound of someone doing a high five with their best buddy who doesn't quite have the knack of pounding the flat of their palm against the calloused palm of another. Sometimes I wonder why I quit drinking if what's left for me is to listen to the results of other sons of jerk offs squander a good buzz with clotted rage and self-pity.

They could at least play some better music.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Control Freaks,Rowdy Hooligans and the man who cannot hold his tongue

The evidence is in , overwhelming, conclusive, as irrefutable as sun spots and as damning as stains on a pair of white slacks; I love to hear myself write. The same goes for talking, actually talking, of course, but there is that thing about writing long sentences, windy paragraphs, dealing in abstruse associations , indulging in obscure metaphor that seems all the more empowering. In this sphere, the writer, the keyboard, the monitior filling up with words in search of a cluster of ideas worth chasing down and embalming in generalities, gives me the sense of knowing what I'm talking about. Truth be told, I rarely know anything for a fact, and the entries on this blog amount to gusty guess work and bluster as often as not. But the key is this:it's fun, it's entertaining, no animals nor natural resources were harmed or burned up in the pursuit of my prolix muse.

I sometimes imagine selling someone a book where I work about the cultural highlights of the town I live in, San Diego, and my imaginary customer would ask me what the big deal is with Apollonian and Dionysian drives battling it out in the smallest interstices of the culture. It’s like the world was really little more than a huge red light district and free fire zone, with the older instincts, the ones for order, rules, traditions and institutions charged to protect the faintly described freedoms we have in a struggle with the forces of the rowdy, the raucous, the dis-repecters of orderly conduct who desire to upset a given procession of society in order to allow their own vague notion of liberty to rise from the confining murk. At this point, after putting the book and receipt into a recycled bag and giving this mythical customer and truth seeker their proper change, counted back to them from the bill they tendered, I would rub my knuckles and scratch my chin, perhaps lowering my glasses down my nose a bit, looking over the rim to allow my eyes to stare off on the shelves of books containing the world’s knowledge just in the background, and then begin to speak. This would be my version of conflating everything I’ve read on this odd subject, conflating ideas with constructs they don’t belong to, making stuff up as I go along. But ho!, what fun, what exhilaration thinking on the calloused balls of one’s feet.

Nietzsche’s Apollonian drive is a desire to find order in a confused, chaotic, and cruel world. It is the mother of all control issues, an insanity of over organization that compels the spirit to quell the spontaneous spirit and instead attempt to keep everything in its assigned place. Half the work is creating categories and new places for the finite groupings of worthy things and excluding newer, suspect ideas, ideas and tendencies unproven and likely to be fraught with danger. Risks not worth taking with what works are avoided, efforts to expand beyond the granted wisdom is suppressed. It's a conservative notion that argues that civilizations are built upon the foundation of unchanging truths about the nature of man, and that the culture that's been created is an accurate representation of everything that is best in our nature. It denies change, and it is an institutional inclination that seeks hegemony in every aspect of life. Order must be maintained regardless of everything. Nietzsche found that life and faith in this state of affairs was the worst sort of slavery.

Contrarily, the Dionysian drive, desires to break down that artificial order. Nietzsche had great fondness for those institutions that reinforced what he felt was the codified falseness of culture, but he was inclined by instinct to favor the Dionysian impulse to make the old order a smoldering ash heap, at least metaphorically speaking. The Dionysian drive was an attempt to describe what instinct must be present for a human being to free themselves of lies, babble, cant and religious and political crudity and position them to witness truth, and create meaning relevant to their existence. It is an impulse to take something very orderly and beauty in all it’s unmarred elegance and then destroy it, smash it, make it as unappealing as aesthetic object as it was in its formalized existence. Marcuse was a Hegelian who had an idea of the movement of history toward some great purpose that was only being gradually revealed to us. Not exactly the Dionysian sort, which is a spontaneous effect occurring among individuals. Nietzsche had little patience for the fate of masses of people, or to restoring them certain rights and qualities liberal philosophy argues are universal; these are sham arguments, he argues, and focuses instead on the sensual experience of the individual, unbound by convention, living beyond the narrow view of existence and possibilities in it. Nietzsche’s is a precursor to many of the rapturous and unruly strands of modern thought that embrace contradiction, irrationality and refute the knowability of invisible and undisclosed meanings and likewise mute ethical laws, and his cranky and provocative views makes him a hero of libertarians, who habitually regard themselves enlightened beyond the comprehension of society. Stalin was not a Dionysian; neither was Hitler. They were monsters.

Does Marxism and Communism, with their materialism and anti-intellectualism arguably "Dionysian” or at least anti-Apollonian, the same thing? No. What Marx has in common with Nietzsche is a dominating idea that the way things are in the world are false and oppressive, and that there needs to be a radical change of venue in order to attain a natural state of being through which individuals can fashion themselves , unencumbered by creaking hegemonies. Beyond that, similarities fade. Marx did foresee a withering away of the State, it was only through a long period of presumably enforced reorientation through the dictatorship of the proletariat; in any event, this meant consolidation of power, economic strength, and coercion of all kinds. Marxism as theorized is rich in insight, and offers a cool sociological analysis to material relations better than breathless Idealist philosophies, but as an applied political method, it became a cumbersome, slow moving contrivance that could not accommodate social experimentation or diversity. Free market systems, I think, are closer to being Dionysian in nature. Ruled by an instinct for profit, it is about as anti-intellectual force that you might mention, and in fact seems to thrive on creating chaos, and like creating order from the mess that it cannot help from making. Nietzsche , Classicist he is, insisted that a balance between The Dionysian and the Apollonian was what should be achieved and maintained, a conservative, disciplined instinct blended with an spirit of adventure, innovation, self-definition. The superstructure of one makes the experimentation of the other possible, workable.

At this point, it would be my luck to have the customer introduces himself as the Chairman of a philosophy department in some small liberal arts college in the Midwest who’d then dismantle all my assertions, letting the air of out all my tires. Or have the client nod rapidly , trying to supply me with a clue that he was in a hurry. Or they would just smile and thank me and join a wife or a fiancé outside for coffee, leaving me with the
sudden sinking feeling that I’d just spoken long and with a certain freelance adherence to the facts and why was it that I couldn’t simply answer that there are things I know about ,and others that I can only guess at? Yes, I love hearing myself talk.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Getting a grip

I'm the first to admit that I was an opportunist jerk more often than I care to remember when I was in college, a bright boy with a morsel of talent who had large pretensions ; I came to realize these things, though, and I've managed to fit into the skin that God gave me. That is, I sobered up July 16, 1987, the day after my 35th birthday. The gave me the gift of time, twenty one years to change my mind about the mission I came to think I had and to try a different game altogether. It's been ragged , rough and full of mistakes, you bet, but there's been good orderly direction all the same; better writing to, although there are those who'd argue contrarily.

The change of attitude has improved my writing. Kerouac, though, never had the chance to get over his over sized idea of himself as a jazz-keened godhead, he instead became bitter when the vibe went numb and the scene became crowded with people he didn't approve of--Kerouac was essentially conservative, after all. As such, he drank himself to death , bitter and disappointed. Writer Barry Alfonso and I have talked about this repeatedly since our days in college, and what he insisted on is that art shouldn't, by default, be in service to some one's death wish. Leaving a good looking corpse is a myth, he said, dead people just look dead and those who died because of drugs or alcohol just bring on sadness over the waste of not so much talent as the life that contained it. Dying young is not cool, he said, and I've remembered that.

These days I respect writers who have resilient through the years and who constantly challenge themselves with new styles and approaches--both the late John Updike and Norman Mailer are examples of these artists. Bright, brief flames for most part seem to get blown out just when they seem to be getting started with the good stuff. How many decades have we rationalized Kerouac's feckless lack of form, or pondered what Hendrix lived and learned to keep his guitar in tune?

It's a species of hero worship that obscures the newer talent: it's the idea that everything that was good in this culture has already happened , and that more recent additions to our arts are imitation, variation, and elaboration of past genius. It's an odd thing, this latter day Spenglerism, this worship of the dead, that it comforts us in times of an uncertain future. I always thought the future was ours to

Monday, July 21, 2008


Time was in the seventies and eighties when I had an exceedingly high opinion of my opinions about poetry, literature, movies, and music, and it followed that during the period I would share my opinions with you as to the aesthetic merits and sins of what cultural agents were trying to sell us. Rather, it was more like I was telling you how the world work or why it didn't work; I wasn't a philosopher, a politician, or priest. None of that. I was something better, a critic. My reviews were in the Reader, The Door, The UCSD Guardian, Kicks, The Triton Times, The Paper, tabloid pages were my means to have a say on lyrics, fumbled organ solos, botched metaphors, I was in love with my own voice as it said sour things about a whole lot of people places and things.

Not that I've come any more modest with time, but I've calmed down some since taking the pledge; being a drunk for twenty years with the arrogance I held onto is looping mindset that kept me drunk. Not to wander into a drunkalog here, but let us say that my phone stopped ringing, my prose was incoherent, my poetry naught but an angry page of typos. Getting older and sobering up, I'll say, are the best decisions I could have made under my reeking circumstances. It's a miracle that I was able to make the decision at all.

Well, here we are again, another pair of special occasions come and gone, and still, the novelty of turning 56 on my birthday and the celebrating a 21st sober anniversary hasn't worn off. When I was younger, in my thirties, this arrangement of back-to-back touchstone dates were my primary bragging rights, something I would share, no, declare to each stranger, work mate, attempted girl friend and luckless traveler. It became a standardized rap, a memorized monologue about miracles, phoenixes arising from stirred ashes, cruelties, indignations and various cheats against daily ethical limits, and the sure deliverance a horrible biography needed.

Sure enough, I was impressed with the results I'd experienced as a result of laying aside the bottle, but I was word drunk all the same, and often times a bore. With every success in work, love, career, with each disaster or middle state of the same, sobriety was my boilerplate, spirituality was the punch line, and the signature phrase was my length of sobriety was the number of years I was beyond my life expectancy. The miracle sounded canned, in other words, and I could hear myself going through my paces as if I were the person I was talking at (as opposed to speaking with).

Even I couldn't deny the staleness of the best phrases, how slack the cadences and rhythms had become. It was something I couldn't spice up, juice up, liven up no matter my efforts; the only thing left to make it interesting to dwell on such matters aloud would be to make things up, that is, to lie, but that was contrary to the point of staying sober in a fellowship constituted on a spiritual cure for my hopeless situation as someone who couldn't stop drinking by his own power. So I a sat in the back of the rooms where folks like me gather night by night, listening hard, making it a point to ask how other people were doing, letting them finish their answers ; the hardest part of this project to take a genuine interest in others was refraining from offering up my own version of the anecdote they might have shared, and to avoid giving intense forms of unsolicited advice on what they ought to be doing with their problems. Surely, it was a humbling experience realizing that those around me weren't problems to be solved or ills to be cured, but rather people with live no less difficult and no less blessed than my own. At 56 and 21 respectively, I think I might be getting the hang of that simple notion.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Notes on a poem for 2 upcoming anniversaries

I am under a month away from two special occasions, a birthday when I will be six years past the half century mark, and the day after that, on which I will have twenty one years sobriety. Thank you, thank you. The goal today is not to die or take a drink before the crucial days in July; in any event, I've already been to rehab, at the Betty Ford Center in fact, in Rancho Mirage, California, in the Palm Springs area. What I love the facts of my sobriety date is that I can honestly say that "I went to the desert to dry out in town called Rancho Mirage", amusing myself with the low irony of mashing the cliche of alkies "drying out", the desert being the driest clime one might choose to live in, and that the town name summarized what I felt July 16, 1987, the day after my thirty fifth birthday, the feeling that what was happening to me was unreal, unprecedented, consciousness expanding,in its own way. What I knew at the time was that I couldn't stop drinking nor stop the wreckage my worst habit created, and that the first night in treatment was also the first time in a decade that my head hit a pillow without having a pint of vodka to ease my into rough slumber. Anyway, all this musing over what it was like , what happened and what it's like now through the last week prompted this poem tonight; I've also been reading Berrigan, O'Hara and Padgett lately, some of each shows up here. At the near age of fifty six and with nearly twenty one years sober, I trust something of my own style seeps through the influence.

it means go, brother

as it goes
this year
this month

i am 3 sheets shy
of a coastline to
walk upon

just coasting
on old bed frames
anticipating Spring

and Summer
close behind
another year older

in every cents of the word

5 years past the half dollar mark
20 and change since
a drink or the handcuffs
that came with them

i go to work
i pay my bills
no one crosses the street
or leave their tables in diners
and cafes where
the gossip
is about celebrities
and not what i did
or didn't do
on last decade
this month

it's all money no one sees
axis that keeps the spheres on their paths
though one cannot
see a cog or gear
for all the lavish metaphors

sometimes it's enough
to lay on the mattress
and stare at the ceiling
after i tire of visiting my problems

you call me
you call me
the phone rings and it's you

talking the same old lines of how-do-you -do

did you read those
books i lent you?

it's 3 clean sheets
that hang on the line,
the same phone number
for 10 years since moving day

it rained last night
a mist wraps around the homes on the hill
beautiful traffic rushes forth
through the fog and green lights,

it means go, brother, go!