Tag Archives: legacies

Thoughts on Time and Loss

A conversation yesterday prompted me to think about time and loss in a personal way.

Think about it: as a musician, it seems like one is always surrounded by greatness in terms of performances and songs. Upon close examination, you find yourself watching a recent Neil Young concert documentary where he’s playing songs like “I Am A Child,” “Old Man,” or “Down by the River.” You see the Beatles on TV doing some of their great songs, or Paul McCartney in concert within the past few years, and you hear “Yesterday”, “Let It Be” or “Helter Skelter.” Put on Hank Williams record.

What do these artists and songs have in common? Age.

All the Beatles recordings were made before John, Paul and George were 30 years old. Hank Williams, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Ian Curtis, etc., etc. wrote and performed their best (in some cases, only) work in young adulthood. The Rolling Stones were in their prime in their 20s and 30s. Steve Winwood was 15 to 17, for heaven’s sake, in the Spencer Davis Group.

How does this relate to me, you may wonder?

I’ve been writing songs and playing music since I was eight years old. In the 30+ years since then, I’ve written probably 600 complete songs, composed countless additional melodies, and crafted lyrics for hundreds of songs that are still awaiting melodies. Many of these were captured on fragments of paper, journals, napkins, dozens of cassettes, a couple of CDs, and existed in NO OTHER FORM. It’s the rare song, and usually one from within the past 10 or fifteen years, that exists in digital recording form (MP3) or whose lyrics still exist – usually because I posted this information on my journal.

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, any extant documentation in written or recorded form is lost forever. That means that my musical output that correlates to that of John Lennon, Hank Williams, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan from the ages of 8 to 35 may as well have never existed.

Imagine if John Fogerty, for example, had to start at age 40 writing songs and had never composed “Run Through the Jungle”. Or if Jimmie Rodgers had never written “Blue Yodel #5”.

There were some great songs in my younger days. From a perspective that I don’t have anymore. Because I’m 42, not 18 or 23 or 27. I’ll never fall in love for the first time again. Or a lot of other things for the first time. Or be as politically angry and energetic enough to scream about it. Or have a four octave range, for that matter. And just because you may have never heard those songs, doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth missing, or wondering about.

I suppose it’s the equivalent of having spent 30 years writing a 1,000 page manuscript, never making a copy, and suddenly having only pages 899 through 937. How do you recreate it?

How many great songs does a songwriter have? How many poems? Would W.B. Yeats have the same cultural significance if the only thing he could prove he’d written was “The Wild Swans at Coole” or “The Stolen Child”?

I used to think that my legacy would be the documentation of a life in art – from cradle to grave as a writer, musician, philosopher, bard. But instead, I find myself in a kind of reverse Rimbaud. Arthur, you’ll remember, gave up poetry at 19 to become a businessman, and never wrote another verse. I can only prove I started out at about 28. Elvis died at 42 – the age I am now. Where would he have gone had he lived, without having had those years from 17 to 41 documented and memorialized so thoroughly?

So many words, melodies, pictures, and recordings make up a true artist’s magnum opus.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve suffered a literal and figurative lobotomy.

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On Tools

What future use will be our tools
for building greater monuments,
technologies to reach beyond
our yesterday capacity,
if all that drives tomorrow’s will
is to create for their own sake
more grand machines to take the place
of what was once achieved with hands?

What purpose, past mere science gained,
will drive the new mechanics’ soul
to strive outside the here and now
of knowledge limited to cogs,
efficiencies and labor’s yield?

Posterity will need more art
than engineering can provide;
lest it learn just technology
that serves as means to many ends,
and can be turned cruel and unjust
by pure philosophy’s intent.

What good these tools, these saws and nails,
these plows and drills, these guns and bombs,
without instructions for their use
that clearly spell the dangers out?

What will our far descendants know
of how we brought these things to bear
in carving out a worthwhile world,
one nurtured carefully and shared,
if all we choose to leave behind
is how to build, not reasons why?

22 MAY 2007

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Rock the Casbah

In one sense, as the Casbah rocks,
it merely sways on concrete blocks
that buried deep beneath the sand
give history its strength to stand;

and its foundations, built of steel
and solid rock, can barely feel
the tremors from such surface noise
cranked out by grown men and young boys

who think to change the world, but fail,
forgetting it takes years for shale
to yield to pressure, making oil
there miles beneath the fertile soil.

In one sense, as the Casbah crowd
believes the hype thats blast so loud
across the endless sea of sand,
it neither will evolve or stand

for anything beyond its press,
just fade to nothing, more or less,
converting substance into style,
then neatly sorted to some file:

the “where are they”, “what happened to”,
brought out of mothballs for their due
at some parade where they are mocked
by those who never knew they rocked.

10 APR 2007

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Leaving Something Good

The kind of bands that play
the music that I write these days
seem few and far between;
somewhere between grasping the brass ring
and the consequences
lie some broken dreams.

Just for myself, it doesn’t matter much;
but without substance,
how can we survive?
When everything is so disposable,
how will we prove
that we were once alive?

A lifetime isn’t long enough
to waste a single ounce of what you find;
in every hour’s experience
there’s suffering and pain and being kind.
To think your generation’s got it right
is tanamount to being blind
unless you’re learning from the past, living the now,
and leaving something good behind.

The kind of songs that live
in memory aren’t written
for the copies that they sell;
They represent a drink of water
in a world that seems to build
only dry wells.

And for those who’re never
thirsty, maybe it’s enough
imagining a drink;
but so many die in deserts,
waiting for a single drop;
it makes you think.

A lifetime isn’t long enough
to waste a single ounce of what you find;
in every hour’s experience
there’s suffering and pain and being kind.
To think your generation’s got it right
is tanamount to being blind
unless you’re learning from the past, living the now,
and leaving something good behind.

14 JAN 2007

Listening to John Hiatt’s Chronicles, and thinking about the parallel between some distinctive voices: John Hiatt, Richard Manuel, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker. Yes, they can lay on the coals and push the volume, but each of them is most effective when they approach the breaking point: when you feel as if the next note they sing may well be their last. And it got me thinking about something I read regarding Joe Cocker — that he was willing to do physical damage to himself in order to do proper service to a song. You may well wonder, and surmise that it would have to be a pretty damn good song to be worthy of that sacrifice. Which brings up another question altogether: why inflict such self-suffering on mediocre material, on art that isn’t likely to last the month, let alone the decade or millenium?

Learn from the past, live in the now, leave something good behind. Explaining that to a generation that thinks it can learn how to play like Eric Clapton by listening to Eric Clapton perhaps is a waste of time. Talking to a Deadhead whose only concept of music is the Dead and other “jam” bands, without realizing the scope of music from which the Dead drew their inspiration, maybe is wasted breath.

But maybe it isn’t. There’s a line from the movie Footloose where preacher John Lithgow asks, “If we never trust our children, how will they ever become trustworthy?”. I wonder along a similar tangent: “If we never share with our children why our music (or anything else about our culture or lives) is important to us, and all they get is our CD collection when we die, how can we expect them to appreciate why we bothered to keep it for their inheritance?”.

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Soundtrack for a New Age

Each historical age is determined by the predominant societal position given to the individuals, groups, nations or empires that can produce or have the resources to acquire whatever substance that age equates to its varied definitions of power. The Bronze Age – whoever could make the most bronze weapons and tools was the predominant culture; The Iron Age – same scenario, different metal. Once societies ran out of harder or more workable metals, they had to pause and re-evaluate their priorities. As a result, we had the Dark Ages – whoever could keep the most people in the dark about their own potential and thereby utilize the brawn of the world without the cumbersome benefit of its brain; the Industrial Age – the period during which those who appeared to be the most industrious were valued, when how much you had really first became more important that what it was you had so much of; the Computer Age – that period of time after we figured out we could get someone else to do the thinking for us, and ending just before the period of time when we began to realize we couldn’t tell the difference; and finally, we are in the midst of what some are calling the Information Age. Of course, because there are so many of us in this world now, and each of us more or less autonomously by consensus creates, borrows, buys, steals, inherits, creates, is allowed, is deluded into, or avoids their own separate, unique and individual opinion on the subject, whether we are at the beginning, in the middle, or nearing the definite conclusion of the information age is highly subjective.

My belief is that we are near the end of the Information Age; and that means that a new age is on the imminent horizon. I will outline my reasons for this belief, both in its ceasing to exist and clearly waiting to exist aspects, in a while. For now, let me just skip forward to my conclusion: The next age we are about to enter is the Wisdom Age, and unless we start thinking about gathering some of it together now, you and I and a lot of people on this planet are going to be on the bottom of the food chain, socially speaking.

The first question I would put forward to anyone I encountered in this new age would not be, “Do you speak MY language, stranger,” but rather, “Can you sing in your OWN (language)?”

At the conclusion of my initial interrogative statement I would commence to demonstrate a song of my own devising, in my own language. If there was no reply in kind, then that person would be required to locate someone of his own kind who could in fact sing a few bars. If that individual was willing to teach the first “stranger” something of the way of singing, then improvement of that culture could continue. Of course, there would be attempts, in the beginning of the age, where some would try to get others to sing on their behalf (which would of course give credibility to the singer and only by association improve the standing of the employer in some respects, and lower their believability in other respects), or would learn, by rote, someone else’s songs and try to bluff their way through (of course, a true singer would know that the song was not of the singer’s creation, and would know something was false in the communication). But this would rapidly prove the exception.

After the first exchange of songs in each of the singer’s native languages, translation of ideas and other information could ensue. Without a meeting of equals, an individual or group, no matter how extensive or impressive or overwhelming their other assets, had no basis for transacting communication and no wise way of achieving that objective. Unless two individuals can understand, through that shared experience of each other’s inner being that singing your own song weaves into reality, what really is important to the other person, there is no fair, equitable, honest, open, profitable or moral grounds for business, trade, marriage, treaty, alliance, division, disagreement, censorship, condemnation, ridicule, friendship, religion or warfare – in short, none of these partnership activities can occur. If you want any of those things but can not get your songs in order, you just have to wait. You’re obviously not ready for whatever it is you think you want. So you have time to work on your song and get it together.

Maybe this will help put things into a bit of perspective:

Imagine walking down the sidewalk on an early spring morning, a light mist still hanging in the air in the coolness of the day. You could be in a metropolitan area, or out in the middle of the desert (of course, the construction and very nature of your sidewalk will vary depending on that first choice). There could be thousands of other people involved in this selfsame activity, or you could be the only one. For the sake of this illustration, imagine yourself and at least one other person who will become aware of your presence at about the same time you gain awareness of them.

Now imagine that instead of having a set of headphones on your head that is fed from Sony Walkman, you are accompanied in the open air by a group of between two and six musicians, all accompanying themselves using whatever acoustic (that is, non-electrically powered) instruments, devices, accessories, tools best describe and reproduce the music that describes you. This may take a while to imagine, and of course, at different times, the group may be composed of different and perhaps interchangeable individuals and/or attachments. Chances are you’ll have several varying groups, but at least one or two. Now imagine the body of work that they might perform. It might be songs from the radio, ambient sounds, religious hymns, classical works, etc., etc. At least one of the songs must be an original work (exactly how original is always going to be a problem, it always has been, but I think the nature of the problem will probably change in the future), the performance of which you take an active part whenever it comes into rotation, or by request, whichever comes first. Since this discourse will get confusing unless we somehow divide its parts into recognizable segments, let’s call this first imaginary product in the course of this analogy “The Soundtrack of Your Life.” Don’t worry if you think you might have left something out – there’s going to be ample opportunity in the future to expand your repertoire.

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The Wheels of Progress

When ground to standstill, mired, besmirched,
their cog-end mesh begun to rust,
the wheels of progress can but lurch.
Their motion barely moves the dust;

and each gear’s inch assaults the ear
with tortured squeaks and sudden stalls.
Behind all effort lies the fear
of a collapse. Beyond the walls

that seem now solid, storm clouds build,
and in their grey depths store the seeds
of new despair, and drain the will
that seeks out hope, and guarantees.

The great machine we all assume
needs only maintenance to sustain
prosperity — is it now doomed,
its circuits blown under the strain

of finding crisis hidden where
in some illusion, we once thought
ourselves immune, and without care
protected by the things we bought?

The factory that once supplied
in part and parcel, our defense,
lies now in ruin, paralyzed,
struck dumb by an experience.

03 OCT 2005

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Weak Blood

The blood that courses through my veins
has been diluted. I can sense
its former potency at times:
remembering my father’s strength,
my great-grand sire’s blind wandering
(which was itself a pale claret
compared to further back in time
when his ancestors sought freedom
in the New World, alone and broke),
the continents and oceans crossed
in times of war, in famine’s peace,
must have required more courage,
gumption, even, than I now possess.

Your plasma, too, is watered down:
in veins passed down from one who preached
the merits of peyote worship
to the Great White Father in the East,
and made the exodus, on foot,
from Canada’s Acadia
down to the Deep South’s draining heat.

How weak the strain our genes might mix:
like royal hemophiliacs,
or hypochondriac offspring
that dare not risk a paper cut,
or need a day of rest to cure
a sniffle, or a broken nail.

21 JUL 2005

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