Noise

“For the most sensitive among us, sometimes the noise can just be too much.” – Jim Carrey – upon hearing of the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The cross city bus clamors out a murderous seasick solo backed by an orchestral scrum of whizzing internal combustion engines in uproarious brawl spewing invisible air and ear pollution death while begging for second gear; both instruments of audio-olfactory destruction, an offense to the ear and nose from landlocked personal space-ships bumper to bumper on the narrow streets of San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood; all, along with the antique streetcars sing out a cacophony of noise so disturbing I had to hold the phone, physically 1,500 miles away from the action, six inches from my ear.

Our story’s hero Jeff is laboring, careening up and down intensely inclined ski sloop streets chasing said bus while he screams into his cell phone at me “Man, the first thing you’d notice if you came back is the noise”. I tell him he’s preaching to the choir. The air in my environs of northern Wisconsin is so calm I can hear the sound of autumn leaves rustling along the well-kept lawns and iridescent blue birds singing their daily arias.

Writers flood into big cities, whether they know it or not, to be uncomfortable; since like the late, great Charles Bukowski opined “no one comfortable ever wrote anything worth a damn”. The city is life on steroids; it’s intensity keeping us all tense. The boulevard is a raging river of humanity and sometimes inhumanity. There is rarely a shortage of stimuli upon which to opine. Here the writers cup runneth over.

Our hero confides he’s been reaching back into his past to make that connection that sooner or later, sooner I think for some of us given recent societal developments, we all eventually make; that DNA linked memory to our roots. Jeff is currently covered by a warm blanket; surrounded by like-minded west coast social justice warriors – yet when looking back over his shoulder in contemplation of revisiting comrades from his mid-western past; he is floored, repulsed and catatonic over the addiction he sees in his childhood pals adherence to the new ersatz fascism; the redneck noise that is Trumpism.

In the same way it’s nearly impossible to escape the noise coming at us all like a Chinese parade, from eight different directions all at once; it’s the same for our natural inclination to decipher the content and arrange it in some assemblage of bite-size order. Is it as it seems? Is the new avalanche of information overwhelming our capacity to upload, sort-out and categorize it’s meaning and importance so we might get a handle on our collective future?

It can’t only be me and our hero who, overwhelmed by the noise, wish solace in heeding the wise voices from our past. Timothy Leary’s advise was “tune-in, turn-on and drop out.” Or the angelic voices of groovy guru of the day who suggest wandering in an open field for mindfulness training. Or the Birkenstocks environmentalist who insist we head back to nature and hug a tree; or the mental spiritualist that whisper meditation is the key. Maybe the best of them are the Tantra yogi’s who claim sexual pleasure is the way in and out; that the answer is a bit more of the old in and out. Being a hedonist myself I tend to flow in this direction.

Yet, with escape valves in place in case of overload and prayers to the universe for guidance, I can’t help myself wanting to sort through the noise and discover, like a pathfinder, which direction to point; for myself and others. The Stoics posited that the philosopher left the cave, examined the outside world and returned to tell the others of the joys and dangers outside the cave.

Now they’re be a noble and heroic cause; to be a fearless scout in the face of unknown dangers; to be a trailblazer for the greater good in a quest to report, interpret and transmit the findings. The conundrum seems to be we can’t translate through the noise to know what’s coming if we disengage from it.

In the end I’m left perplexed. Shall we try to make a path through the noise though we fear not knowing the answers and fear worse not even understanding the questions? Are we all just like our hero; wishing to be heroes; but succumbing to the dictates of surviving the day and reach for the safety and sanity of just catching that bus? #rednecknoise #Stoics #Trumpism #CharlesBukowski

A Drum is A Woman

“Give me the beat boys and free my soul; I wanna get lost in your rock n’ roll – and drift away”. Drift Away – Written by Mentor Williams – popularized by Dobie Gray.

Big Pauli and me skip-tracing a venue he’d told about somewhere in the bowls of downtown Oakland late that evening; clicking our Italian heels across the concrete sidewalk on a warm, damp, narcotic American inner-city night, glided under a bruised autumn sky crackling with atmosphere; the energy sending lighting bolts scurrying above our heads and sparks beneath our feet. We rambled serpentine passed rundown warehouses in Oaktown Cripps territory; Asian kids; hip-hop rappers with one foot in their graves and beefing mightily with the premiere Black gang, the 11 Five Mob; kept our heads on a swivel.

The music seeping from the storefront styled rat trap building cascaded; enveloping us in the rapture of a celestial choir; a sense impression causing me to imagine what it sounded like in heaven. The ecstasy to my ear lifted me nearly off my feet. I’d never felt an auditory sensation so all-encompassing, so movingly beautiful. We ducked inside to find a beatnik/hippie style flop, a homeless squat overrun with piles of personal effects from beings either dead or dying. It smelled like your grandmothers closet.

There was a stage of sorts at the end upon which rested a full size standing Harp behind which stood a beautiful angelic looking black girl dressed in an elaborate costume that made me conclude, from the quality of her play, she had just left a gig and was here to jam. Beside her rested her protegé; probably her boyfriend. I couldn’t tell. He had a fine-looking axe which confirmed for me they were probably professional musicians.

His guitar sang a twang perfectly accompanying her Harp. There was a microphone, an amp, speakers, a drum set and the like and sitting in front of it all a magnificent conga drum that’s hide stood just a bit above crotch high on me. I’d always wanted one long as I could remember since for reasons unbeknownst to me I was a born percussionist. Whatever it took to be that I was. I could always play. Somehow my inner workings had a mainline that tapped right into the beat; that first sound man communicated with; the drum; that primal reggae beat.

Pauli, Oakland’s answer to Harry Connick Jr., harbored fantastical visions of being the next Bobbie Darin modern jazz singer and truth be told wasnt half bad, grabbed the mic. I settled behind the Conga drum. The angel played, the guitar blended in and once I got a taste of what they were up to let my drum sing. Paulie launch into some Billy Holliday standard. Man, we waggled and dangled for what seemed an hour or more and once we grokked each other the angel Harpist asked me to open up and for the rest of the band to follow.

A few minutes in I guess it was I vanished into some space, some sanctum santorum. I was gone. The drum played itself or so it seemed. I couldnt hear a thing but I could feel it; the beat, the rhythm, the pulsing of some invisible cyclical that emanated from the earths center; a secret rhythm of the saints, the sacred beat of the universe flowed through me.

To this day I can’t tell you how long that Jam lasted but when we stopped like on cue I was saturated, soaked in sweat and the pain in my swollen fingers threatening to burst into a bloody mess consumed. I stripped off my shirt and undershirt and slopped them down on a chair. Our impresario, the angelic harpist, began to introduce the band, beginning with herself, the guitar player, a drummer who’d stepped in while I was trance-simpled out and then Big Pauli. All received what I thought to be above average applause.

I was getting a bit nervous while also completely exhausted and calmed out which took off the edge when she asked my name and I gave it. I didn’t know what I’d played so I kinda hung my head a bit a shuffled about like I’d dropped something when I heard “And Nick on Conga”. Just as quick the beast sprung as one, the assembled multitudes, numbering maybe 25 souls, erupted in applause. I can’t tell you what their faces looked like at that moment since being so flabbergasted I couldn’t manage the courage to look at them. The appreciative noise went on for a while. I’m pretty sure they were standing. It’s maybe the only time I’ve ever felt embarrassed. Anyway; that was my musical moment.

I said all that to say this. Yesterday the UPS man delivered to my door the spitting image of that Conga drum; a gift from my brother Big Pauli. Wow! I set it up carefully and ever since I’ve walked by it, positioned center most in my den, and with each pass I caress her buffalo skin top; treating her like a wild animal – letting her know she is safe and soon will be set free; to sing, to play, to release.

A drum is a woman.

Harvest Moon 2016

 “Autumn is the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ― William Cullen Bryant

Surfing ever-deepening grooves carved in this country road by repetitious smoothing from my extremely low-frequency sounding spaceship tires, I zone into my own private symphonic opera. A humongous full moon meets myhigh beams and swallows the horizon. Pitch dark street light free ribbons of black asphalt snake along narrow paths to home and back separating the wild from the man-made world. By their grace I live in this dirt and courage wilderness.

I wave, as is the custom here, to the other spacemen travelers inhabiting our lifeline corridor as we whiz past each other with that all too familiar catatonic stare that monotony turns all commuters faces into; a kind of crazy, irrational drunkard swoon that seems to us all too rational. We are compatible complaints; dutifully fulfilling our social contract and coloring safely inside the lines.

Our axis rotating planet is orderly and slowly releasing its summer soul; producing more dark each day than light. In the murmuring twilight the gloaming summer is lifting her skirt. Summers death rattle beckons the underbrush and she begins to whisper as seductive and dangerous as a woman’s breath in the throes of passion. The sun begins to fall faster and everything seems to take on the sighing autumnal ember colors of all the sadness there ever was.

The pumpkins appear overnight, lined up and stacked in pyramids of orange and white like harmless cannon shells strategically set along highway shoulders for some impending artillery battle. Battalions of corn stalks surround them and us and everything for more miles than eyes can see. They are zombies, stoically awaiting the farmer’s murderous front row cultivators, threshers that mutilate then bury the detritus that once winter ferments will resurrect. A crisp cool Canadian breeze foretells fortune tales of fall.

Flowers fade, fruits flourish and fresh vegetable Bodega glisten with a luster from the sky. You can feel the baby’s breath of winter. Harvest moon is the fullness of life. Leaves turn red on their last days full of life and color them beautiful in death as they abandon the twigs that sympathize with their decay. Albert Camus opined that autumn is a second spring. But the migrating geese and me agree; we put distance between ourselves and funerals.

It’s a Paul Bunyan land of ballgames and barbecues here; a feast of Walden Pond and Lake Woebegone. The thousand little compromises we make every day that eventually add up to the loss of ourselves, that decayed stench of hollowness, disappears. This life to death with beauty dance is the real thing. Welcome to Pleasantville, USA.

Extinct

“Now for me some words come easy; but I know that they don’t mean that much. I’m good with the words that are spoken with a lovers touch. You never knew what I loved in you; I don’t know what you loved in me; maybe the picture of somebody you were hoping I might be.” – Late for the Sky – Jackson Browne

Rose felt the trembling tingle of a sleepless night. She stared at the full moon outside her window on Charles Street in New Orleans as thoughts of her lost lover slipped through her fingers. Beams of blue flickered through her window pane and caressed her face exposing the brown stains under her eyes; etched there forever by her rusty tears.

Palmetto bugs danced all around the flames of the many scented candles she’d lit before she lay upon her futon to contemplate her lost desire. She wondered how that same pale blue moon looking down on her could shine down in his eyes all those thousands of miles away.

She dreamed that she was sleeping and in that sleep dreamed how every minute of pure ecstasy she’d felt with her lovers in their cathedral bed had brought 1,000 hours of torment when the alliances inevitably spun apart.

Planets rotated, glaciers melted; and without trying or practicing or even knowing it could be done, just by thinking it, she suffocated her desire, sure that like the morphine that rose like a flood, pounding in her blood, the rapture she felt from her lovers touch was not worth the sickness that came when, always, inevitably, they left her; lost and desolate.

And so, when the next lover arrived and the fevered ecstasy dance began anew, slowly moving them toward each other like a magnet, she surrendered to the pull. Yet, when finally they were inches apart and the game was surely afoot, she felt nothing but the bottomless abyss, completely deserted in a state of bleak and dismal emptiness. Her desire, once so omniscient, the thing which gave her life meaning, evaporated into a whiff of smoke; and she with it went.

Football and Gun-Play

“This is a violent civilization; If civilization’s where I am. Every channel that I stop on, got a different kind of cop on; killing them by the million for Uncle Sam.” Gun – Gil Scott-Heron

Boys, some no older than those sacrificed to the worship of guns, wasted at yet another school shooting this week, like almost all boys, were introduced to their first taste of manhood by throwing a ball around the back yard with Dad. Sport for boys symbolize maturity; we compete and watch admiringly and often worshipful, the professionals; a phenomenon corporate, capitalistic and American as “baseball and apple pie”. Professional sports are the military’s number one recruiting tool.

This weekend the NFL will start every game with jingoistic American flag waving extravaganza’s, with flags the size of the entire field, hoisted by spit-shined troops from all the armed-services strutting like real life G.I. Joe props complete with medals and real guns sending a subliminal message to America’s youth to join the army and be tough and brave like the gladiator pituitary cases on the field; about to chance ruining their health for money. All festivities accompanying the games will combine unspoken words of patriotism with multimedia presentations replete with renditions of The National Anthem and God Bless America while Stealth Bombers fly overhead.

What all that pageantry has to do with football, or the other sports that do much the same, is the link of sports to military service; where you’ll get to compete but with a gun; and we’ll give you free of charge a bunk and grub and life long health care, life insurance, subsidized housing for the young wife and child along with a modest paycheck and a chance to blow stuff up just like in those ubiquitous video games that glorify murder that we weaned you on; albeit murder by “the good guys against the bad guys” perpetuating the obligatory obscene xenophobic myth.

But moreover the whip cream on the apple pie is, and this is the accepted politically correct practice of all Americans, honoring our warriors as if they were not just the tip of the spear but the foundation of the nation; you’ll get respect; every young mans quest. Bashing the troops for any reason is akin to treason in our society. So from babies; its sports good, army good, guns good. Is it any wonder we’ve spawned a culture that has resulted in America having half the guns that exist in the world and more guns in the country than people?

I’m not saying sports are bad; I played and I’ll be watching. Nor am I saying ban all guns since it can’t, unfortunately, be done. We are where we are. But guns are for cowboys in Cripple Creek, Wyoming, cops and army guys; they have no place in the modern city in the hands of civilians. Besides; truth is; real men don’t use guns.

In my youth we still had street fights using only our fists. The Italian kids Vs the Polish kids was a regular obligatory match. Every one carried at least one or two trophy scars from earlier fracas, badges of honor for bragging rights and a teenage macho ritual.

Chicago was a city of alleys. In the old days the alleys were the main streets where rag men in daylight clumped along cobblestones in wagons pulled my beat down nags and housewives leaned over dilapidated balconies buying fruit and bartering for worn out second-hand clothes and pots and pans. On dark summer nights turned moist with heady smells, these alleys became battlefields beckoning the warriors.

Car loads of young toughs on the way to match deeds with reputations, or make new ones; the taste of adrenaline in our mouths, all sinew, muscle and bone aching to be unleashed, raw nerves, high anxiety and hot wire tension. Beautiful then, heart breakers and life takers we’d enjoy saying, but no one ever died. Once you conquer the fear of close hand combat you discover that it doesn’t hurt when you get hit, not then when your nerve is up and the adrenaline and hot blood is pumping. You hear the punches but you don’t really feel them, until the next day.

The two boss stallions square off while the pack sizes up the prey. Gradually more guys step to each other and before long everybody is throwing hands. It’s a hell of a thing to watch and everywhere we went there were girls. Sometimes they even got into it, slapping at each other harmlessly and pulling hair. Soon someone would yell “Bulls” and off we’d stagger to our chariots like wounded Spartacus, scrambling to safety to lick our wounds, kiss the girls and lie about the force of each blow. It was how it would be decided who you were, who was who and what you were.

Everybody except the truly psycho even spoke of using knives let alone guns; where no contact is required and nothing is risked, nothing decided, nothing affirmed. We all just wanted what boys today want, to feel like we are somebody, to show what we were made of and in the same way a soldier signals to his mate “I’m here for you” experience the camaraderie soldiers are known to say is why they fight; and when it was over, all that was needed to be known, was.