Plain Speaking: toddaid


“You must speak more plainly, sir,” he said,
“Most men ignore the complicated.
Their jaded minds and souls seek simple things:
weak drinks, brutal sports, the understated.”

“How much more sad that seems,” I made reply,
“to have no dreams than see them all fade.
A life made of no attribute but length.
I’d not have strength for such charade.”

“Aye,” he answered back, “’tis quite a showing:
all the time knowing there’s nothing more,
no real sense of self, nor point in being,
for years, seeing naught but shuttered doors.”

I spoke then, “What a statement on mankind:
that so few find a purpose beyond toil,
but slowly fade to nothing, spoiled and torn;
just born to return back to the soil.”

06 JUN 2017

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Like Nothing


There’s no thing quite like Nothing;
and so much of it around.
It fills the nooks and crannies
and absorbs the smallest sounds,
obsessed with taking over
and with being something more.
It wants to be the ocean’s deep,
the shallows, and the shore.

There is no thing like Nothing;
how can anything compare?
It’s hard to feel superior
to something not quite there,
that whispers from the shadows,
or drops such subtle hints
that seem to come from nowhere
in our own experience.

There’s nothing beyond Nothing,
except in let’s pretend.
No yesterday, tomorrow,
or up just around the bend;
yet we would cast in concrete
or immortalize in stone,
build monuments to Nothing
just to decorate our homes.

There’s no thing quite like Nothing –
and yet most of us believe
in some illusion we imagine
out there to achieve;
and once it is completed,
this vast Nothing, great and wide,
what will be left for us to do?
More Nothing, ’til we die.

06 DEC 2016

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So Much To Do, So Little Time


“So much to do, so little time”, or so the saying goes;
as we waste both the hours and doing, pacing to and fro.
Refusing any call to act without sufficient thought,
we fine-tune the social contract – every strophe, caesurae and jot –
while life slips by in seconds grown to decades, year by year,
and what we feel needs done becomes our hobby or career,
a never-ending sidetrack from the job always at hand,
and then the moments are no more, and we can’t understand
why we have not evolved or grown in all that span of time;
and have not learned the reason of it, nor can sing its rhyme.

The meat of life, untasted; its sweet fruits left out to spoil
awaiting us at table while we spin in pointless toil,
imagining importance in such little, vapid things,
we wake up late in winter, having missed so many springs
that we can scarce remember when the world and we were green,
nor count the wasted chances and short hours in between
our hungry, mewling day of birth and stiff and meatless end
where none of what we finish matters, not to foe or friend,
but lingers uncompleted, our great lists of “yet to dos”
reduced to tattered palimpsest and left for rats to chew.

“So much to do, so little time”: the two are never swapped;
The time ends all too quickly, and the doing never stops.
The world’s pace never pauses, slows or even skips a beat,
to celebrate a victory nor acknowledge a defeat.

1 DEC 2014

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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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At the Lakeshore


Thoreau spoke of a quiet desperation:
a sad affliction borne by other men,
whose lives are filled up, not so much with silence
but with a never-ending dulling din,

the calling card of progress and its engines,
whose pulse and throb churn on into the night
and rob the world of any moment’s stillness.
With engineering, we would prove it right

that idle hands seek evil, free from working;
that contemplation breeds unrest and doubt;
that in a second’s peace, there is a lurking
malaise so foul that noise must drive it out.

What genius, to encourage entertainments
that thrive on a cacophony of sound
and into pensive hours, inject such vigor
that even philosophic minds are bound

to see in growing deafness, evolution;
amidst the constant murmur of machines
to hear a mantra granting absolution;
and find in silence only the obscene.

As if truth is transmitted by loudspeaker
not needing other volumes first turned down,
instead of lapping, quiet at the shoreline
where we must either learn to swim, or drown.

Lake Catherine, Arkansas
29 OCT 2006

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The Spell Kit


Why bother to meditate,
chanting some mantra for years,
servant to some potentate
guru’s smoke and mirrors?

You’re right to hesitate;
what proof describes an answer
a fool could appreciate?
Only a clever dancer

could be seen no hypocrit.
Your path is no one else’s;
who else would have traveled it?
You must build your own spell kit.

01 AUG 2006

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Art of the Midwest


I understand the Midwest: there is no substitute for work,
labor being the sacred art that transcends even grief.
What is madness, but belief that toil will not resolve conflict,
and an aversion to the sweat through which the Holy Spirit flows?

I understand the Midwest: no outward sign of strife or tears;
the stock pot never brought to boil that simmers on, each passing year.
The art of work is Midwest art; a beauty to be utilized,
from steady hands held firm despite a frailness to be disavowed.

I understand the Midwest, and the metaphor of Luther’s hands:
despite the drudgery entailed, the Lord’s work will be done.
And those whose hands are smooth, without a callous or a scar?
They tend to the demented souls who cursed, are unemployed.

I understand the Midwest: Sandburg’s rough Chicago smile,
the farmer’s tan, the sweat-stained cap, the sun-bleached overalls.
What is madness, but excuse for someone else’s hands
to lift your shovel, tote your bale, store up your share of coal?

I understand the Midwest: steam that blows the whistle there
must be imported from the coast; what’s native turns the wheel.

28 JUL 2005

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