I am having an intense reverie this morning. I’m taken back to the spring of ’68. I see you and me and John Renner and Ren Deaton riding in that old peuse green Oldsmobile convertible driven by Bob Clifton. We ate some colors and headed up toward the Red River from Denton in the early morning hours. Then all of us on a hilltop overlooking the Red River. We built a fire and every one of us but Clifton stripped naked at the dawn, praising the sun and crouched like cavemen around the fire. Clifton just leaned against the wheel of the Olds with a toothpick in his mouth, fully clothled and admired our bodies. Then we waded through the underbrush to the river. The wind whipped our hair into dreads on the way back to Denton in the convertible. By the time we got there your eyes were nearly swolen shut from the poison ivy to which you were most allergic. In the next scene we are cleaning kilos in that little garage apartment in East Dallas that had so many fleas that you needed a hazmat suit to walk in there. Flash forward to you and me and John in your little Corvair on the beach in Galveston. When the cop was shaking us down I could see you trying to hold your hair over the doobs that were behind your ears and the wind was whipping in off the beach. That night it began to rain and the three of us got into the Corvair sitting on the beach along with Sugarbear, the 300 lb beach-bum. I remember the way we looked at each other as Sugarbear’s corner of the Corvair started to sink into the sand first. Then I remember the next morning digging and digging trying to free the Corvair from the sand and the beautiful and charitable girls who pulled us out with a wench and took us to their motel room and showerd us with….well, showered us.
The final scene of my reverie is you and I and John in a carwash in Austin washing the salt and sand off the Corvair when over the radio came the news of RFK’s assination. It seemed like it went to your heart more than it did to mine at the time, but I’ll never forget that moment.
I love you, my friend.
I’m sending the books today. Since I haven’t heard from you about the autographs, I will sign one book to you and just sign the other one without a name, in case you want to give it to someone else.
I stopped by my post office box today (the one I call molasses ) and was delighted to see among the trash mail a gem shining with your name on it and a hope of breaking even.
Yes, you did select sinister portraiture but then again I quoted the price. Grant failed at nearly everthing he tried until he was commander of the Union Army. He spent his last days in a rocking chair on his front porch with throat cancer from too many cigars, writing his memoirs and swilling laundanum. I am but miles from the capitol dome. You know that thing is made out of cast iron?
When I saw your handwriting on the note you sent with Mr Grant I was transported back to a time when you wrote me notes from Berkely (including hollowed-out books) and it was like remembering a fragrance, seeing your script from the past.
Now, down to business—
To whom should I autograph these volumes before I send them tomorrow?
Maxine asks me to tell you how much she enjoys the wit displayed in your writing.
Thank you for this very tangible encouragement, mi amigo.
Maxine is at the post office as I write. I am sending you TWO copies of The Heart Has Many Signals. I will still, as per your request, give away to a totally unsuspecting victim/beneficiary, a copy. The extra one I have included can be disposed of in any way you see fit. (See if the Corsicana Library wants it.) I would like this in exchange—-a few words of appraisal or comment about the product.
I think Maxine did a wonderful job on the layout and design. And the poetry ain’t too bad. Anyway, tell me what you think and maybe you’ll see it on the cover of the next edition.
I don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ve got three more books in the works and are trying to produce a cd of spoken-word and music. So little time.
Let me know when you get the package.
Survival is a kind of rapture. And the bell jar is an atmosphere of sorts, convict air wishes it was a vacuum of silly putty. Rubber zerox and high-tech yo-yo’s. Lobsters walk backwards and make progress that way. It’s a matter of semen and fortitude clipping the fog, trimming the vapor and wishing, ever wishing. Kevlar, like salvation, doesn’t necessarily make you bulletproof but the insurance rates are better cuz they know you’ll never live to collect. My firmness is anothler illusion convinced by drugs. God wore a cardigan of universes. His dry cleaning bill is charged in light years of fluid and space. He scoffs at the franchisers who are trying to sell his name and likeness and a copyright on the void.
The cocksure reciprocal pulled up his tights and reached for a pocket that wasn’t there.
Only god’s codpiece.
The ramshackle joint had an atmosphere of socks and band-aids, things stuck together with tape worms grazing on your nourishment. They mock you for trying to paint the air with sound. But if you got moxie, you continue. If you wanna fly you gotta taste a lotta dirt. Icarus said, “It’s all about just getting off the ground. After that it’s easy.” Easy as the sun on wax. My peter slumps like that after too much wine and not enough sleep. Only antidotes I’ve found are love and marijuana.
That is a dylan quote that has travelled with me for years. It has been my credo, in fact. “To live outside the law, you must be honest.”
The essence of this statement is that to survive we must have a code. I’m not talking about laws imposed from without, but a self-adopted code of ideas and values to which we are dedicated. This is why I get along well with bikers, even though I am not a biker myself. They have a code and live by it. I admire that.
The cop/criminal game is just that, a game. When I was locked up, the favorite tv show among the inmates was “America’s Most Wanted.” They all wanted to be cops in their secret hearts, just like “every cop is a criminal” (mick). It is an obsession with rules, either making them or enforcing them or breaking them.
I have spent most of my life living outside the law. Coloring within the lines was never my long suit. But I see the lines as our friends. Same as the beat and chord structure are our friends in music even though I habitually exceed those boundaries in my playing.
Do we ever know which words are resonant? It’s like shooting BB’s through a concert harp. The BB can pass right between the strings and not make a sound or it can make contact with the F or the C string and cause it to vibrate. Ideas and symbols (words) are the BB’s and the mind and sensitivities of the listener or reader are represented by the harp. Sometimes you hit something and sometimes you don’t.
Of course, knowing your audience makes it easier to determine what words or styles or poems or songs to use. When you are writing to one particular person it is possible to (by knowing them and their emotional or intellectual set-up) aim the BB’s pretty accurately. With a larger audience it is more difficult but still possible if you can see them react. When I walk into a venue and I see that everybody in the audience has tattoos and piercings and magenta hair, I will pull out some of my edgier stuff. If they are sipping tea and eating crumpets then out comes the fluff. That’s just guaging your audience. But when we write for the larger unknown audience—the unseen audience of time—how do we know? How do we know?
And what can be taught?
Allow me to relate a story about Maxine’s daughter, Alicia (who has become one of the joys of my life.) She is ten years old and very bright. When I came here from texas, slightly less than a year ago, she became interested in playing the piano. I’m not a piano teacher but a student myself but I would give her pointers and explain bits of theory to her. She is very quick and I could tell she had a natural talent for the instrument. Her fingers are like little medussa snakes and she has an instictive musicality, even her little memorized pieces from the elementary books and what Maxine has demonstrated for her have a well put together and fluid sound. From listening to Maxine play, the bach piece—Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring she has picked it up. She has a best friend who expresses a desire to learn to play as well, and the other day while they were both sitting at my keyboard, Alicia decided that she wanted to teach her this piece. She jumped up from the keyboard and grabbed a piece of my staff paper and began scoring her version of the bach piece for her friend. I was amazed because scoring is to me a very difficult and tedious enterprise. But I had taught her the lines on the staff and rudimentary note value. She began translating what she had learned by ear to the page. It was not exact but it was a fair approximation of the piece. My point here is that her impetus for doing this was communication—she wanted to show her friend how to play the piece. It has been obvious to me that she already knows the things that can’t be taught about music—how to listen and that the score is in her head. But her desire to communicate and convey the piece to her friend (who couldn’t have begun to understand the notation anyway) caused her to try to master the notation.
This made me think about skills as opposed to talent. Some things can be taught and some things cannot. I believe that critical thinking is one example of this. There is also the factor of the ‘need to express or communicate’ which is what I think is the motivating influence that makes a student wish to master the skills and techniques (which take effort and discipline and can be taught)
I have always remarked at the dichotomy between ‘natural’ musicians and ‘trained’ musicians. I can’t tell you how many times that I have encountered ‘schooled’ musicians who couldn’t improvise if their lives depended on it. This has always amazed me because you would think that a schooled musician could always overtake a natural musician. I think this is an expression of the ‘cleavage’ that you mention.
It’s five in the morning and I can’t sleep.
(note: doesn’t the word ‘cleave’ also mean joining with in addition to separate?)
Your odd juxtaposition of subjects struck me in an amazing way because of an event in my life. In the mid seventies when the sex pistols were making their first US tour I saw them at a seedy country and western honytonk in Dallas called the Longhorn Ballroom. A couple of days later I got on an airplane to go to Jamaica (as it was my habit to do in February to lie in the sun and smoke de herb and listen to the distant throbbing of the reggea.) Seated next to me were Johnny Rotten and Malcolm McClaren (sex pistols manager and brains.) McClaren was an interesting guy with a headfull of ideas. We talked most of the way to Jamaica. Johnny Rotten, on my other side, was like sitting next to an empty seat. (to be fair I don’t think he was feeling well—looked pretty jonesed out.) Interesting flight though. Joni Mitchell was sitting somewhere up in first class.
Dallas Skyline is a piece that I wrote several years ago when I was working as the MC at a rave nightclub in Dallas just south of downtown. It was a huge warehouse and we had an average of three young garage bands per night playing there. Over the year that I worked there I met hundreds of these bands. It was a great experience and an ongoing education about what young musicians were thinking and playing. Of course the bands ran the gamut from completely awful adolescent excessive pompous noise to some rare and exciting and creative music. I was amazed at how MANY bands there were, it was a seemingly endless stream. Set me down anywhere in suburbia and I won’t be able to spit without a garage band getting wet. I think there are something like 300,000 bands with their music on MP3.com.
Anyway, I lived at the warehouse, called the Dunebuggy Headquarters (because that’s what they used to do in the warehouse–build dunebuggies.) I lived in a former office that had a huge picture window that looked out upon the beautiful Dallas skyline. This piece was inspired by that view.
In the sixties and seventies it was my honor to know and play music with Spence Pershkin. His ground breaking band was called Shiva’s Headband. This was one of the first bands that combined country and rock and roll with a psycheldelic flavor that became known as the ‘Austin Sound.’ Spence was a wildman on electrical violin. We both have daughters named Sativa. I served time in the same prison with him in the eighties. We were both creators of chemical revolution. You might remember Spence from the great album called Mother Earth. He wrote ‘Living With the Animals.’
One day he said to me, “Over the years people have said to me, that ‘You’re ahead of your time’ or ‘you’re behind your time.’ All any of that means is—you ain’t makin’ no bucks.’
I’ve been playing all my life. I was raised to be a player. The gentleman’s game—golf, as well as gin rummy and bowling and pool. All games with skill involved. Skill #1: It’s not how good you are, it’s how well you pick your opponents.
I started life as a small time journalist and academic boy scout accessory after the cold hard facts were assasinated.
I sold acres of pot and poppies and even made my own contraband from stolen chemicals and thin-air theory. I dug twelve-foot holes and raised marijuana in them. I invested in real estate flim-flam car deals and bogus stock. I manufactured licence plates. I’ve slaved at anonymous computers and been a music whore. I’ve written legal briefs and collected box-tops and cracked rocks for the state. I’ve planted trees, fathered children, built houses and written books. I’ve been a con-man a dope dealer and a convict, a cab driver and a courier and a wheel man. I’ve been a consultant, a counselor, a jeweler, a chemist, a producer, an ice-cream vendor and an utter failure.
And the hell of it is: I keep writing
I’m not gonna let you get away with this. My pristine memory of your work is not the point. It’s the quiet volcano inside of you that’s the point. I’m sure making hinges is an honorable profession. I’ve seen that you manage the relationship with your co-workers with great aplomb. But I have to think that things stir within you that harken to some primal Venezualan rain forest whose vines stretch from the continent through the ferment of the sixties, nihilism, addiction and onward into families and bankbooks and mortgages and fear of illness and joys and disappoinments and mostly perspective steeped in your fine sensibility. This is not nostalgia or a test of your skill. I’ve seen Schindler’s List. This is a chance to excercise the muscle that God gave you. Anyway, I will love you no matter what you do but I hope you will take the time to collect the sweat and seepage of the inevitable literature that lives in your mind and direct it to this pool.
Have you been in touch with Linda or Jaime?
Here is the link to the secret Hill House Chronicles web site:
First go to Jaime’s web site: mbay.net/~jansellf
Then click on Photo Pages. From the top of that page click the title: Photo Pages. This will lead you to the HH section. After a few pages of Jaime’s intro you can click on Clay or Jack to see some of the early material.
It was my first trip to Jamaica. It was hot, August in the tropics. I was staying at Grandma’s Place. This was a house in Red Ground, the area just above the cliffs in Negril. We were eighteen miles from the nearest telephone. Grandma ran a small rooming house. She was adored by the community, because she was….adorable. She was the magistrate in Negril. This is the equivalent of Justice of the Peace.
She sold me herb while I was there, lovely lamb’s bread. If I had been arrested for possession, she would have been the judge I would have been tried before. She said, “Yes, that would be my job, but I couldn’t lock anybody up for smokin’ de herb. Everybody smokes de herb.”
One day I was sitting on her porch, smoking a spliff and playing my flute. As I was playing, a seven foot tall Jamaican man came upon the porch. He introduces himself as Son Facie. He said that he played the reggae and that he wanted me to come play with his band that night. He said he would fetch me at dark-time.
He came with a flashlight at dusk and we walked on a path from Red Ground up into the hills a couple of miles. We came to a hut. The band was gathered there. The only tunable instrument was the banjo played by the leader of the band. Son Facie played the bass box. This is the instrument upon which reggae is built. It’s like an oversized kalimba. It is made from a wooden crate. The player sits on it and plays the tongues between his legs. It has six or eight tongues made out of car-springs or something. It’s the bass instrument.
So, we played under the moon, everything in the key of G. I fell in love with reggae that night.
I am most saddened. Hadn’t seen Hugo in some months but we had strangely kept in touch over the years. We had the respect and affection that can only be built over years. I will write some memories about him. Never met a man could snore as loud as Hubert. I remember him having to sleep in his car because of this.
I have relocated to virginia where a lovely poet has opened her home and heart to me. It’s a rare blessing. Thank you for relaying the sad news about Hubert. I grieve with you. I love you.
My first real job, outside of mowing lawns and throwing papers or baby sitting, was at Ashburn’s ice cream parlor in Dallas. This was a job where I actually had to punch a clock, pay taxes and show up on time. I think I was making a dollar seventy-five an hour, which was a respectable fifty cents above the minimum wage in those days.
Ashburn’s ice cream was home-made and delicious and we sold it for six cents a dip.
I had secured the job by the time honored means of knowing somebody. My grandfather played golf with the owner of the company. They had eleven stores in Dallas and I was placed in the flagship Ashburn’s #1 on Knox St.
Knox St. is a short street. It’s about six blocks long and it sits in a peculiar place between Highland Park (where Dick Cheney lives) which is a very affluent part of town, and pedestrian East Dallas. In the mid-sixties there was also a small black community two blocks away where the people from Highland Park kept their domestic help.
On Sunday afternoons Ashburn’s would be packed, the black people and the rich people shoulder to shoulder waiting for their ice cream. The cash register at Ashburn’s #1 would, by ten o’clock at night when we closed, read $5000. That’s something like eighty thousand dips of ice cream. I’m glad I was young; it was a strenuous job. After a year of working there, my right forearm looked like Popeye’s from dipping ice cream. (this muscular development was also supplemented by enthusiastic masturbation)
Ashburn’s #1 was a mere hundred yards from the Highland Park city limits. As you walked up Knox St. you would pass second-hand bookstores and antique shops and the Highland Park Cafeteria where old ladies in hair nets would serve you roast brisket that would melt in your mouth.
Then you come to the Knox St. Theater. When I first started working at Ashburn’s #1, The Knox St. Theater was boarded up. It had once been an elegant theater but had fallen on hard times with the advent of suburban movie houses. Some developers grabbed the property and opened a nightclub there. It was called The Phantasmagoria. This was the mid-sixties and The Jefferson Airplane had just recorded White Rabbit and psychedelia was all the rage. Johnny and Edgar Winter were the house band.
By this time I was getting sick of dipping ice cream and punching a clock. My only drug experience up until that time had been the Bacardi rum that one of the older guys at Ashburn’s #1 was able to buy at the liquor store on Knox St. We used the lime sherbet to make Daiquiris in the milk shake machine.
Right next to The Phantasmagoria there was a little nook of a shop. In late 1966, Chuck Knox leased the space and opened the first head shop in Dallas. He called it Psychedelic Supply. Chuck had been to San Francisco and had seen what was happening in Height-Ashbury and recognized a potential business opportunity.
It just so happened that I went to high school with Chuck’s younger brother. So again it was demonstrated to me that in the matter of employment, it’s not so much what you know as who you know. I asked Chuck for a job. I went from selling All American Sunday Afternoon Ice Cream to selling cigarette papers and black light posters and buttons that had risque slogans on them.
Then, at the second hand bookstore, I bought a copy of Doors to Perception/Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley. The rest is history. I began my spiritual quest by quitting my job at Ashburn’s #1 and swearing that I would never punch another man’s clock, and I also found some LSD.
OU Weekend circa 1978
Our state fair is a great state fair
Don’t miss it, don’t even be late.
It’s dollars to doughnuts that our state fair
Is the best state fair in our state.
—Rodgers and Hammerstein
I used to smell it when I was a kid too. Fletcher’s and candy floss and candied apples.
My most vivid memory was of the night I first got drunk. The Texas/OU pep-rally in downtown Dallas that always pre-ceeded the opening of the fair.
There were mattresses and televisions raining out of the hotel room windows on Commerce St.. I was seventeen and riding in a convertible. Shortly after we emerged from the famed Triple Underpass, I discovered that if I made the ‘hook-em horns’ sign with my fingers, that somebody would slap a bottle in my hands. By the time I got to the end of Commerce St. in Deep Ellum, I was walking with a girl under each arm and a bottle in each hand. I don’t know how I got home.
Some years later I went down to the celebration again. I walked this time and the cops had things under much better control.
I was with a girlfriend who had hands as soft as lotion and labia that rested like swollen rose petals covered with dew between her thighs.
We snorted speed and pretended to be from Oklahoma.
I don’t remember how I got home that night either. Maybe I didn’t
We had a flood in our house. It was a subtle flood. Water began seeping up from our hardwood laminate floors. Then the carpets started to go ‘squish-squish’ when you walked on them. It was a creeping nightmare. It had to be a leak in the plumbing we decided.
After examining all the pipes and finding minimal leaks and trying to trace the path of the water, we decided it was time to call in an expert. I said to Maxine, “I’ll bet an experienced plumber could take one look at it and go straight to the problem.”
She reminded me of my little quip about plumbers: “There are only two things you need to know to be a plumber–shit flows down and payday’s Friday.”
The plumber was very bright and personable. It took him all of two minutes to locate where the water was coming from. I had searched every drain and spigot for two days trying to find that leak and he found it in two minutes. This is where the value of expertise becomes apparent.
It turned out that the leak was not in the plumbing at all, but in the air-conditioner. All these gallons of water that we had been mopping up for several days were coming from condensation because the drain to the overflow pan was clogged. It took the plumber another two minutes to run a coat hanger through the tube and fix it. The check was written for 125 bucks. Four minutes of work. It was worth it. We weren’t paying him for what he did or how long it took him to do it. We were paying him for what he knew.
The other lesson from this experience is that sometimes trouble can come out of thin air. It is amazing how much water our air-conditioner sucks out of the air. In our house, it’s something on the order of a gallon per hour judging from how much water we were having to mop up.
Yes, it was feeling like New Orleans around here for a few days. Made me want to put my clarinet together and play the blues. Tune about floods coming from thin air. I guess that’s why trumpets have spit valves.
I hope you had a pleasant Labor Day.
I’m still in position here, or maybe I’m just an imposition here, but I’m here.
Had a very uplifting experience last week. Maxine’s 92 year old mother was staying with us. She found my books on the coffee table and spent a solid five days reading all three The Poet’s Eye books. She read them from cover to cover. She would call me over and ask me questions about things she didn’t understand. She said, “I just can’t put these books down. I love them.”
So she took the only copies I had of the books (the proofs from which I was making corrections) when she left. She called me on the phone yesterday and told me that she had started reading them for the second time. What flattery!
Dorothy is the first person to read these books. She was obviously entertained, which is my purpose for writing them. It was really a boost to my artistic self-confidence and a very badly needed one. Maybe I’ve discovered my target demographic–92 year old women.
Anyway, I think I have viable product here. Next problem–how to sell them.
Which brings me to the other brilliant idea I had. It’s called Love Cuffs. Alicia started High School today. She is such a joy. She’s sure to kill all the boys and charm all the teachers. So, I talked to her about Love Cuffs. Here’s the idea: sell a piece of costume jewelry that is a bracelet that looks like a handcuff. It has a place to engrave a name. It also has a clasp on it that can be connected to another Love Cuff. Kids could trade them and ‘hook up’ with other Love Cuffs. I think it could be bigger than the Frisbee.
Enough nonsense. Just thinking about you.
Thanks, yes I have been notified about the hack. I have taken the recommended steps. If they are gonna hack my account, at least they could give me a kickback on the viagra they sell.
I love your kite tale. Great image and nicely told. I have been concentrating on similar pieces lately using a single clear image or event and working it through its natural elaborations. Small stories are the best way to tell larger stories.
The other day, in the process of promoting The Poet’s Eye, I made a post on a conservative, tea party leaning web site. Mostly in the past I have published on sites that were fairly left-leaning. I have been publishing for several years on Daily Kos for example. The site I’m talking about appears to be in that league in circulation, a leading conservative site. Well, figuring that I might be spending too much time preaching to the choir, I decided to post articles and links at places that might not be as friendly to my message which is commonly perceived as a liberal one.
I posted the recent light-hearted piece about Christine O’Donnell and BozoGate. It was hardly partisan polemic. The place erupted. I have never been called a troll in so many different ways. It seems that the term ‘troll’ has taken on the meaning of ‘anyone who disagrees with the party line.’ There were quickly about a hundred responses complete with some very clever stock pictures of trolls and people getting ‘zapped’ and insults with acronyms that I didn’t understand. It was a swarm. They were on me like white blood cells on an invader in the bloodstream. It was obviously a familiar and cherished local ritual to tar and feather the outsiders before running them out of town on a rail. I was quite entertained. It had been some time since anyone invested so much imagination in the cause of my defamation. It reminded me of what a caustic place the web can be and of the sad level of polarization we see in our nation.
Anyway, I’m pleased to announce that The Poet’s Eye circulation has been growing nicely. Last week I had over a thousand discreet readers. I still can’t get in over at the Huffington Post. I guess I’m too far out there for them. I find that a certain humorlessness is what the far left and the far right both have in common.
The whole thing amuses me greatly. I’m not a political idealogue, I’m a humorist. I don’t have the attention span to be partisan. I’m neither liberal nor conservative. I make fun of them both. The right is just an easier target than the left at this particular time. So to most people I seem like a liberal.
The whole tone of the liberal-conservative polarity has just become so ugly and petty. They have both become pejorative terms depending on whose mouth speaks them. Conservatives assume that they know what liberals think and liberals put words into the mouths of the conservatives. They both limit themselves with these labels. My experience on the conservative web site didn’t surprise me. I was a little surprised that they were so uniform in their intolerance of any new ideas and were completely beyond the concept of laughing at themselves even a little bit. The site is called Free Republic. Another thing that amuses me about both the right and left is how the names of their organizations are so completely oxymoronic.
I can’t believe I got three pieces of fan-mail today. Think I’ll make some tissue paper kites. Keep yours aloft.