Tag Archives: personal history

Ground Zero

What conversation would you like rejoined,
pretending that no years have intervened
and that the cares we once thought so immense
still weigh in at their same old magnitude,
when those long idle hours spent in talk
with no intent except to measure time
with Prufrock’s gilded set of coffee spoons,
pretending some profundity in words
that seemed so easy then, rolled off the clock
like AWOL soldiers beyond duty’s fence?

What alternate reality would seem
the right place, now, to take up where we left,
imagining somehow the world had stopped
at just that precise moment when we two
in some ungainly ballet both were cast,
commanding neither balance or much grace,
and fumbled blindly at each other’s steps?
The music for that dance has long since stopped.
An awkward silence echoes from the stage
that swallows whole all kinds of might-have-beens.

What conversation that we never had
(at least, aloud in words, in the same room)
needs finishing at this point in our lives?
There is more water underneath that bridge
than fills the seven oceans of the world.
No, if we speak again, let’s talk as friends
who simply compare mileage and confess
no secrets, or regret for past mistakes;
what participles dangle in the mist
are sentences we’ve both served long enough. 

17 SEP 2009

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Back to the Bass-ics

After years of playing rhythm and lead guitar, tonight I’m returning to the bass for a jam session at Roque’s Blues Hall here in Natchitoches. To reindoctrinate myself, so to speak, I’m listening back to my earliest influences and remembering why I loved the bass first and foremost during my musical development.

I started out at the end of the second grade playing classical violin. By the end of the fifth grade, my hands were big enough (and the need in the school orchestra was such) that I could handle the upright bass. Fortuitously enough, the orchestra director (Dr. James Loveman) was a double bass man himself. He gave me private lessons, and helped me blister my way through Simandl. By the end of the seventh grade, I was good enough to audition and be accepted in the Lima Area Youth Symphony.

But let’s face it — classical bass is pretty dry. I was listening to jazz and blues, and wanted to play them. I added Ray Brown’s bass method to my repertoire, and Charles Mingus, Ray Brown and Ron Carter to my turntable.

Again, fortune stepped in. My junior high band director (Dr. Dennis Mack) was a low brass and bass man, too — he played tuba, double bass and electric bass. And he was also the high school jazz band director. At time I came along, he was playing the bass for the group himself, to fill the student void. Although I was only in junior high, he asked if I would sit in. My reading chops were up to snuff, and I sailed through on the big double bass. But he wasn’t satisfied. I just wasn’t loud enough.

And here’s where the history really starts. He let me borrow his electric bass and amplifier to play with the high school jazz band. I added Carol Kaye’s electric bass method to my repertoire, and Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Bootsy Collins and Jamie Jamerson to my turntable. Of course, I also had some mighty rock influences — Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, John Entwistle. And I practiced my ass off. I slept with the bass in hand.

That was the beginning. By the time I graduated high school (with the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award for outstanding high school jazz musician in tow), I considered myself capable of playing almost whatever I wanted (or needed) on the bass. That was the middle.

Skip ahead. Skip through orchestra gigs, skip missing the audition for Ozzy Osbourne’s band by a day, skip the Blue Wave Band opening for PeeWee Crayton (who said that I was “the baddest m*f* bass player” he’d ever seen), skip Peewee’s grandson Marshall wanting to put something together with me and Jeff Lorber (which of course fell through), skip through Sun Concert Bass heads, Gallien-Krueger cabinets, skip the Faith Assembly goth and the Moondogs psychedelic revival.

When I went to Berklee, it was on a voice scholarship. Because you had to submit review tapes, and it seemed like voice was more strongly featured on what tapes I had. But on the same day I did my voice placement auditions, I ventured over to the bass department and breezed through their tryout and placement process. They wanted me to switch majors. But that would have meant losing my scholarship. That was the beginning of the end.

I played a great gig with the Bloodfarmers in NYC; played bass, and rocked, because what they really wanted was Geezer Butler, who I could replicate with my eyes closed. For me, it was just a flashback. Somewhere along the line, probably when I had to sell all my bass gear before moving to Memphis, the guitar seemed easier to transport. And all those influences I’d picked up between the beginning and Memphis — Willie Dixon, Paul Chambers, Duck Dunn, Jack Cassady, Chris Squire, Tony Levin, Jack Berlin, Geezer Butler, David Porter Jr., Steve Harris — seemed to slip away. I started playing a lot of solo gigs, which definitely were easier with guitar.

And now, 32 years from when I first picked up a bass, it feels like I’ve come full circle. In that time I’ve played in a lot of bands. In those where I didn’t play bass, I never felt the bass players really got it. In listening to a lot of bands, and watching a lot of pretty good players, you start to notice there are probably only a dozen bass players that do. All the bands where I played bass seemed to fall apart once I left them. In other words, I used to be irreplaceable.

Now, I’ve got to prove that all over again. Fingers, don’t fail me now.

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Americana circa 1953

Recently back from Austria and Switzerland, where he was stationed during the Korean War, here are my father (right) and uncle circa 1953, both in their mid-twenties:

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What did you expect here in the space above my name?
The golden boy you never thought I was?
Redemption for some lost and lonely cause?

Guess you’re right to wonder about who and what’s to blame
From nothing, a great nothing came to pass
And left just me behind as epitaph

Yeah, there’s money in the music business for a chosen few;
If that was all there was to it, I’d be a rock star too.
But somewhere down the line I dropped the ball, that’s what they say,
and figured out I wanted just to play.

What did you expect, some tale of glory found and lost?
Still waiting for that ship that never came,
Bad weather and coincidence to blame.

Guess you’re right about me, but I understood the cost
of learning how to sell it for a price;
and losing what I thought was paradise.

Yeah, there’s money in the music business for a chosen few;
If that was all there was to it, I’d be a rock star too.
But somewhere I lost interest; reality got in the way,
and I learned to love the hours that I could play.

What did you expect, a price tag hung on every song?
They came to me for nothing, after all.
It don’t seem right that they should have to crawl.

Guess you’re right, my talent’s wasted and my life’s gone wrong;
But these old songs are proud to be called mine;
go write your own, become your own John Prine.

Yeah, there’s money in the music business, if you shake the tree,
and wait around for it to drop, it comes eventually;
But in the meantime, don’t lose sight of where you are today,
and do it simply ’cause you love to play.

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If You’re Not Growing

Some of my old friends
seem the same year after year:
just like they were in high school,
at the start of their careers

They talk in careful circles
around where they ought to be;
and most of them still don’t
understand me.

When I look in the mirror,
where I was at seventeen
is covered up and buried
by the miles come in between …

Old trucks, slow trains,
cool nights, and hard rain:
the little things worth
more than buying.
New love, a fast car,
hot sounds from a guitar:
it’s the little things
that keep you trying …
if you’re not growing, man,
you’re dying.

There are just two choices:
growing old, or dying young;
it seems to me no toss-up
to decide.

It seems far too crazy
just to give it all away
before you’ve even given it
a ride.

When I look in the mirror,
sure, I miss what used to be;
but I’d much rather know
that the face I see is me.

Old trucks, slow trains,
cool nights, and hard rain:
the little things worth
more than buying.
New love, a fast car,
hot sounds from a guitar:
it’s the little things
that keep you trying …
if you’re not growing, man,
you’re dying.

21 MAY 2006

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LJ Interests Meme Results

Borrowed from Ed Book. After reading his results, I was intringued, but did not imagine that my own results would prove equally as insightful. I’m really quite surprised at how closely this set of ten selected interests REALLY sums up a good part of who I am.

  1. bukowski:
    Poetry, in a world that discounts art, that praises mediocrity, that devalues beauty by worshipping youth, is not pretty. That to me is the lesson of Bukowski. Combine that with his general philosophy that great writers are born, not made, and I’m hooked.
  2. dictionaries:
    Words, words and more words. For a time, I used to read the dictionary for relaxation. Words have power; to know the name of a thing is to control it. Likewise, to know the origin of a word is to understand your own history. I’ve always been fascinated with learning new words, new ideas, new facts.
  3. gil scott-heron:
    The power of the word to fuel a revolution. The tangible strength of the spoken voice to connect the earth to the sky and rumble the foundations of power. I remember the first time I listened to “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox” all the way through; it was not just the stuff of revolution, it was revelation. This was what poetry, when harnessed to will and a microphone, was capable of doing. This was slam without competition; this was performance.
  4. india:
    Apparently, my first word was “elephant”. I have always been drawn to India: her people, her languages, her diversity, her religions, her extremes, her history.

    Om namah shivaya

  5. lefty frizzell:
    Wow. So far, this interests grabber is right on the money. Lefty Frizzell represents the clarity, phrasing, intelligence, humor and lyricism of traditional country. He is one of my all-time country music idols, and paved the way for many others – Willie, Merle, George Jones, Roger Miller, and me.
  6. perennial philosophy:
    This phrase, used but probably not first coined by Aldous Huxley in his book, sums up my life’s spiritual quest: to find the common threads that run through all religious traditions; to seek the truth that does not fade although its names change from generation to generation; to learn to appreciate the journey spent along the shore communing with the ocean, rather than grasping for a single grain of sand to call the answer.
  7. revolution:
    To change the world by changing oneself; to call for a reinforcement of evolution; to participate in the world at the speed of now, moving with the spheres as they revolve. To constantly challenge the status quo; to resist the urge to stay self-satisfied; to never be satisfied with “because it’s always been that way” or “you can’t fight City Hall” or “no fish ever got caught, ‘cept it opened its mouth”.
  8. sonnets:
    So short, so simple, so compact, those fourteen little lines. Ah, you can take your Milton, Steven Vincent Benet, Longfellow, Poe, Pope and other such longwinded fellows; and give it to me sweet and intricate. To master the sonnet is to understand what it means to call poetry an art form. It is to appreciate the limitations of language, and at the same time, comprehend its infinity. That’s not an easy lesson to learn, absorb or accept.
  9. vedanta:
    Two of the most influential books in my life have been “The Gospel According to Sri Ramakrishna” and “The Complete Writings of Vivekananda”. It’s my understanding that these two sources form the basis for much of what is called “modern” Hinduism. Certainly, this was the form that reached the West, and has influenced so many of the writers and thinkers that I love and respect.
  10. zen:
    The first Eastern religion that I attempted to practice was Zen Buddhism. It represents, to me, cutting through illusion and simply living in each moment; applying the principle of Occam’s Razor to each and every act, each breath, each word.

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Hello Mister America

Hello Mister America, you’re just in time for tea
There’s no Kennedys or Rockefellors, so I guess it’s just you and me
I’ve got soda crackers instead of crumpets, but I think you’ll agree
We’ve got to watch the deficit ’cause sugar sure ain’t free

Sit down, Mister America, I heard you weren’t feeling well
Your constitution’s been weakening and your ratings have gone to hell
And that bill of rights you stand for, is it just a hollow shell?
Does it mean as much to you now that it really doesn’t sell?

Well now, Mister America, how’s God been treating you?
Do you feel closer to Him now that the Senate seats are pews?
Do you still serve the Catholics, Atheists, the Baptists and the Jews
By singing the un-separation of the church and statehouse blues?

Hey now, Mister America I have to tell the truth
I hardly recognized you from inside your voting booth
I realize that television can rob you of your youth
But substance outlives style, so I am sure that you’ll recoup

OK, Mister America I have to say goodbye
Don’t make me any promises, ’cause I know you hate to lie
Just help me get a loan so I can keep my powder dry
‘Cause my enemies aren’t overseas, they’re right before my eyes

So long, Mister America, I won’t tell them you got lost
And I’ll be steady, strong and true in summer and in frost
Just do your part and keep the constitution reinforced
‘Cause if you forget your principles, then who could count the cost?

Mister America, I think you knew my dad
He worked your land, he fought your wars
He taught me good from bad
Mister America, do you know who I am?
I’m your younger generation you think doesn’t give a damn.


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