Tag Archives: Berklee

A Tale of Two Singers

Last night I had the opportunity to take in a performance by a young singer-songwriter-guitarist named Adam Dale. I understand he’s originally from the Shreveport area but now based out of Baton Rouge. He plays a mix of original material and originally arranged covers that run the gamut from political satire to straight up rave up, all in a style that while definitely unique reminds me of a number of other performers, including but not limited to Dave Matthews and my good friend from Berklee, Aaron Flinn.

In particular, the parallels with Aaron were remarkable.

Both are very intricate and rhythmic guitarists, who manage to be delicate, dynamic and driving at the same time – which is no mean feat, I can tell you from 30 years of guitar-playing experience. It’s not any easy thing for any guitarist except Richie Havens to fill so much space without sounding like a repetitious drone. For good reason, Aaron has been recognized as the best acoustic guitarist in Vermont. I venture that Adam could fare likewise were such a competition held in Louisiana.

Both have very dramatic, one might almost say operatic, voices that they employ from a whisper to a scream to first draw you in and then almost knock you senseless. Their lyrics, too, have a cryptic feel and course with an ultra-personal and almost secret sense of meaning, and seem to weave perfectly between the polyrhythms of the guitar on their voices. Adam and Aaron both use quite a bit of falsetto; when I first heard Aaron sing, I thought immediately of Kate Bush, or Tori Amos. I still draw the comparison, vocal-wise, and do the same with Adam.

Then there is the physical showmanship. I guess having started as a classical musician (violin and clarinet), and then as an upright jazz bass player before I learned to rock, I never really learned (or rather, was taught to inhibit) the art of movement while playing. John Mayer’s got the art. Joe Cocker has it (in you might say a Picasso sort of fashion). Aaron Flinn and Adam Dale have it. Onstage, they keep moving. Always in motion, always (if eyes not closed in a moment of deep emotion or pique) in contact with their audience. In tandem with, or as counterpoint to, the jump-stop guitar chuka-chuck; approaching and retreating from the mic with the grace of swans. Myself, I’m more like a walrus. Not so interesting to watch.

I have seen and performed with Aaron numerous times in an acoustic setting. I have now experienced Adam Dale in similar surroundings. Both artists (and they are truly artists, definitely deserving of greater public acclaim, distribution and critical attention) also front full-scale electric bands. I’ve heard recordings of these efforts, but never seen them live and electric. I’m sure these shows are, no pun intended, electrifying, if they are anything like the acoustic shows, but bigger and more grandiose.

But there’s one area, I think, where both Aaron and Adam miss the mark. Both, in my opinion, have gorgeous and pure, clear voices. The majority of their vocal delivery, however, masks this underlying beauty with a kind of affectation, a deliberate quirkiness that runs the gamut from Stan Ridgeway to Tim Curry. Even when they’re singing ballads, they tend to truncate the notes, do some range jumping calisthenics and maintain a certain distance from what I can judge is a massive volume of pure tone. Both are large men with large voices; both are certainly effectively emotional singers. But I think both Adam and Aaron are a little afraid of their voices sounding gorgeous. Of casting aside all gimmickry and showmanship, all the fabulous guitar noodling, and simply stopping you dead in your tracks with sheer beauty. Because beauty, and that kind of exposing of the soul, is not what’s hip. It’s never been, nor probably never will be, cool to remind people that they don’t pay attention to what’s really important. It’s a scary thing to do, I must admit. I’ve only managed it on one or two occasions, and one of those was in private. Neither one of those times did I come close to what I think Aaron or Adam is capable of — because I’m more or less a trained singer, while these two are naturals.

Both Aaron Flinn and Adam Dale are capable of that kind of beauty, intrinsically. I’ve heard what they can do onstage. I’ve been in awe of the way they combine their vocals with their obvious guitar prowess. To put it in a clumsy metaphor, I’ve heard Saturday night. But I want Sunday morning. Take me to church, so to speak. I for one would love to hear it.

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Outside the Morphology of Poetics

For about two years, I have immersed myself in the classic forms of Poetry, forcing myself when I write to use common stanza forms with their dictates of rhyme and meter. I felt this was a necessary exercise to “formalize” my training as a poet – after all, one can’t begin except at the beginning. The imposition of form, particularly with respect to the traditional Welsh meters, I felt was essential in determining whether or not I could in fact have qualified as a “bard” in the traditional, Celtic Druid sense.

And I feel that I have achieved a certain degree of success in this endeavor, not the least of which is the creation of roughly a poem a day for two years – some of which have been collected into a manuscript that is currently under consideration for the Walt Whitman award.

It may seem strange that a collection of sonnet forms is what I submitted for this competition, particularly since Walt Whitman himself was a champion of new forms, so to speak, and did not adhere to the sonnet, or any other form, on a regular basis. But the point was that Whitman, although one of my earliest poetic influences, was not the only luminary on my horizon. There have been others who used form that heavily influenced my development, although my real impetus to focus my writing was my discovery (really, at the age of 28) of Henry Miller, who I owe a great debt of consciousness regarding writing, and Allen Ginsberg, whose biography by Barry Miles I am currently reading, and jazz by virtue of attending Berklee College of Music.

My initial attempts were to create my own beat Poetry – and being under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, various hallocinogenics and other mind-altering substances and conversations only served to fuel that fire. It was later, in Memphis, where the drug of choice was coffee, that my real experimentation began – using form as a vehicle for modifying sentence structure, creating new words, stringing thoughts Joyce-like in endless streams of consciousness, playing with the sound of language as integral to its meaning, and so on. And so began the manic creation of reams of paper filled with words. At the time, too, I considered myself a songwriter; so to contrast the freeform, Ornette Coleman style of “free jazz” Poetry, there were structured songs that used, like Willie Nelson is wont to do, ten-dollar words. And the constant abstraction wrought by needing to write regularly, in order to have something to present on a weekly basis at readings, to discuss among fellow poets, and to keep my mind (racing on caffeine) occupied.

Now, I find myself weaned of the frantic pace of living that ultimately deteriorated my health to a degree, and while I still write manically at times, these episodes are more structured. I use smaller words, I discovered the other day; so today I deliberated introduced the word “sinew” into a poem. At times, Robert Frost is like a lighthouse – a clear signal in the storm, and at the same time, a marker at the end of a dangerous shoreline. And Blake. One of my earliest influences, I discover by reading Ginsberg’s biography another parallel to that mystic soul. It’s like my appreciation of David Crosby. Ginsberg, Crosby, Yeats, Dylan, Joyce – with each of them there are aspects of their childhoods, their philosophies, their paths, that are mirrored in my own, but not mirrored or traced, because I had no foreknowledge of their presence on them; more like we sought for Truth using the same instinctual guides.

But back to Poetry. The point of all that is that while my work has been shaped and honed and pointed by form and meter, and these things will always affect, influence and inform my work, that they are merely lines to choose to color within, or blur, or ignore altogether.

BTW, can anyone recommend a good overview of the theoretics of modern Poetry? Besides, say, TS Eliot’s commentaries, or Stevens’ A Necessary Angel?

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In Boston

In Boston, where I cut my teeth
on the raw meat of delusion,
and watched myself in disbelief
live penniless out on the street,
my college days found conclusion.

There on the green line, Brookline bound,
I took a job dispensing meat,
catching the train just above-ground
where the fare was free, and found
my way back home on snowy streets.

I lived on brown rice and boiled beans
(having not the funds to acquire
the steaks I hawked) and sorted greens;
and turned my hard earned meager means
over to an ex-friend and liar.

There were many ex-friends those days,
all concerned that I might impose,
asking a spot to store my clothes
watching the clock during my stays;
there were better guests, I suppose.

Not like the early summer time,
when I first moved into Beantown
and thought to turn my life around —
in Berklee’s halls to find sublime
music, and perhaps write it down.

But who you are will seek you out
despite your best efforts to change,
and every granule of self-doubt
you own it will bring out, and flaut,
making your thoughts crazy and strange.

And then all you can do is leave
behind those tattered dreams, that place,
knowing yourself no more deceived.
Then, in memories later retrieved
there is no point in saving face.

15 AUG 2003

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Kind of Blown (Miles Davis is Past Tense Now)

Esse Quam Videri :

The siren’s song bleeds forth through tenement crags:
the plaintive wail of mad dog penguined Perseus,
hunting down in ancient rites street Circe and her rabid whores.
Along this path, this street of more than visions bust wide open,
broken alcoholic remnants sing their way through chartless waters,
their beatless feat marauding innocent tattered papyrus

(who will play the amphitheater tonight?)

in dreams of sessions with the kings.

No Nirvana at each or any egress here, yet here the many ways are becoming:
the way of light, of fire-bombed boarded sanctuary,
of semen dreams and sweat-stained prophylactic idols;
illuminated cubes of frozen water stained by grease and yellow sticky air;
petroleum distilled and consumed by combusted, rusted alcoholics.
Pupils of the raven cult and pots-flesh with the ague of morning slip the steps –
the eightfold path – and leave their standards dog-eared, tattered, spiral-bound and out of context.

Across the way, in sheds of glass and steel and concrete linoleum we exchange choruses –
like cardboard heroes of America’s pastime or faded glues of philately –
I’ll consider swapping one of Shakespeare, two of Marlowe, maybe a faded and torn Goethe
for a single mint G.B. Shaw or Aristophanes.

What’m I bid?

Some lukewarm geezer cat expands, and presents in trade a wisp of the Marquis de Sade –
‘Stella’ badly improvised or ‘Nigeria’ backwards.

Hardly hearty, hurling hardy-har-har hauntings
in language that recalls the Septuagint,
if not in content then in form,
our twisted Greek-inspired language compresses life
into steps of seven and its halvings.

Salaam alaikum

The spirit of darker men with darker pasts slides smoothly off the windexed glass.
Who will hear, and who will know the difference if we, careless, mutter
tempus fugit or reducto ad nauseum?

Homo Africanus

Where is your champion,
cut from pagan games we liken to our ritual dances?
Death, where is thy tag?
thy who is it?
and beat the time and tabulated circumstance
for whom the olly-ox is free?

This place exists, but oh, where is it?
Trust an atlas, or go visit.

Who walks these naked, hard, forsaken, bliss-infected, dead-end streets of time
and space and each? ‘Tis Perseus again, in winter’s cap and caftan

(each enclosing like memory’s hard and bitter lovers).

The Father Quest, the Mother Envy, vagina lust and penis frenzy,
copulated in Circe’s graven image while Tiresias looks on,
flaccid and overcome with bored secrets.

Tanked (entanked) we plexi-flex our sinews and synapses;
breathe our last condition exhalation then replace our ears with diaphragms
of extra-chambered artificial percussion;
The drums of my sonic perception have received the mark,
VU needles driving through the flesh of my waking self and scarring the inner child
with rhythmic tattoos.
Later, hands with nimble digits, dexterous in equal tasks:

(nicotine embalming, flower picking, moist and sticky sweet oh shall we load the pipe again and inhale dreams of lethargy and ends-of-clocks and magic lantern slides in Ginsberg’s etchings on the skull?)

seek sweet release in telephone’s substitution code –
a number for a name for a face for a person for a bag for a few more dollars.

How’s my credit, slick?

This time exists, but oh, when is it?
Trust chronology, or visit.

The siren’s song surrounds us as we, restive, banter;
lined on sandless beaches seeking something, nothing, waiting.
Grins through crooked lips as officers of peace and oxymoron
seek their secret seeker out among the pelicans that form our ranks,
quaffing salted tears and sucking in the saltpetered herrings at our lips.

Nueve uno uno?

Who has summoned from the magic circle spirits of authority
by chanting the mantra of tardy rescue?

Ladies of the evening, biology, chronos, and welfare wrought, bring forth
their solid wombs of sorrow in mid-morning, or at any and each time the call is weaker.

How our sweet Aegean island beckons yet repels the cyclops who is ruler in his own blind land!

Who has heard the rasping, muted chorus of the dark,
when Perseus claims his pyrite fleece and we become lambs?

Choruses are still exchanged,
like cards on Federal holydays that cannot be delivered;
like blows that turn to kisses in the light of Armageddon;
like oxygen that unites with Hydro’s fire and then is drowned,
gasping for air or the last of a cigarette.


I’ll give you Jonson, hard to come by as the Beckett,

hard as nails
or steel
or time
or luck
or rock
or comprehension.


Homo Africanus

Speaks unfettered, bound and packaged for the holydays
in sweet, suggestive, sullen streams of soft, seductive slavery.

A homeboy (mind exploded from an implication) wreaks his private havoc on a world
that blind says, ‘now I see.’

Reversed names become institutions while the real school swelters
in the carbon frost of glazed and bitter days;
Perseus and his Father are One, the myth of becoming has ceased
to believe its own symbolism.

This me exists, but oh, who is it?

There are more than empty halls of rooms that dream of exits,
each and any and all times of passion,
reaching out once cold and malevolent fingers
in the massage of ivory of hardened plastic of brass of wood of fate.

Solomon sings the sirens’ song with technical prowess;
none of the notes escape the wise man save for each and every one.

Liar, lyre, parts afire,
can you bring me wood that’s drier?

Solomon sings
the sirens’ song – 
but he’s got
the changes wrong.


This is a poem that I wrote while in Boston, studying to become a jazz Musician (LOL). Composed a day or two after Miles Davis died, I like to think of it as my Jazz Impressions of “Prufrock”, or daring to disturb the universe that is professional musicianship; wondering why we do the things we do in the name of artificially inseminating a culture. I also was thinking of writing a longer piece, like “Howl” or “The Wasteland”.

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