Tag Archives: music

Right Place Right Time

When music is right I say that whether
it lands upon us as hammer or feather 
in right place at right time
music is life and is no crime

Soca calypso punk polka country
Metal reminder that wrecked hearts still beat
Right song at right time
Music itself is never a crime

Musicians may scrap and murder and steal
but music they make may yet save and heal
Right note at right time 
Music itself is never a crime

Police drive up saying music’s too loud
Hands on their guns eyes on this crowd
Wrong place friends in a rebel time
It isn’t our music they see as a crime

Ancestors knew this and said it through drum
Children know this and cry when it’s done
Right place and no wrong time
Music is how we stay sure we’re alive


Not All Boomers Love The Beatles, Man

Regretting time spent considering my teenage years
when I was compiling 
banks of music, art, and literature
the world could use to define me.

Unlike so many boomer peers
I’m mostly no longer
in love with all that. Instead 
I’m somewhere I’m not

supposed to be, forever chasing the new.
I’m a bad example of my peers — 
nostalgia is for the easy
to please and I’m not that,

never have been. But
there are times when by chance
something from ages ago
stirs a new feeling, or someone

from long ago stirs a new pot,
and instead of disdain I feel
small hope that I might have
a final twist in me too,

or will at last be able to unlock
my one true thing, my one
best offering, and all the rest
of why I ever loved those artifacts

might make sense and I’ll at last
be unafraid to reclaim all of it
without looking down on the love I felt
as a relic to be left behind. 


Only A Minor Threat

Revised, from 1999.

he died silent on a Monday
looking into that last camera
without a smile

eyes rolling up
like a tail gunner
during a spiral
still doing his job

the reporters on hand 
either saw him blink
or didn’t see him blink
said he was either resigned
or defiant
confident
or arrogant

not one said remorseful
not one said scared

the Friday after he died 

a jogger in Kansas City
found a 4 year old girl 

another one found
her head a day later

when several days had passed 
and no one had reported 
a four year old girl missing

a local church group
began going door to door
to identify her

refusing to call her
by the police procedural name
of baby jane doe
they renamed her “precious”
because “someone must have known her 
someone must have thought her precious”

last night

for the first time in years
I recalled the night I sang with Minor Threat
flying on crystal
maintaining barely well enough 
to pass for straight edge 
in a crowd militant for sobriety

the night irony was invented

when MacKaye handed off the mike
to what must have looked like 
just another shaven runt in the crowd

I was so thrilled to be just straight enough 
to remember the words

and that was the first one I remember
the first of those all-American moments

when 
faced with something dangerous
and contradictory

I lunged for a safety net and tried to

simplify
to boil it all down 
to a head shake 
and a slogan

simplify

to stick a fist in the air
and shout along
with the long national hunger
for swift closure 

simplify

because

if we can find a way to call her precious and insist
that she must have been beloved

if we can forget that in spite of that
no one seems to have missed her

if we can forget that it is likely
that her killer knew (or even gave her) her real name 

if we can find a way to call the truck bomber
a madman and insist that he is an aberration

if we can forget that he cried
when he saw children burned in Waco

if we can forget that he nonetheless
meant to burn the kids he burned 

if we can forget that they are not just any monsters
but our very own

looking for their own versions
of the easy answers

if we can get by those sticking points fast enough
we can return to the luxury of certainty

simplify

safely tuck it all away

and say

only a minor threat
only a minor threat


Lowell George, Sylvester, and Heaven

Let us pray on the questions.
Let us listen to the answers:

is church or swamp the holiest of holies?
How deep into murky water will you go to find God?

Heaven, Hollywood, Watts: how far apart are they?
Did Lowell George meet Sylvester at the Whisky back in the day?

Glory, glory in the Commodore Hotel;
a choir full of lust and memory.

Glory, glory, hallelujah on the dance floor,
as real as anything, as anything could be.

Is a dance floor less real than the seat of Heaven?
Is the church the only true entrance to paradise?

Preacher in white coveralls offers Scripture
with six strings and a spark plug socket.

Gay black angel in glittering wig and robe
unfurls wings below the sacred mirrorball.

Is any rock club you could choose any more sacred
than any disco you could name?

Is the distance to Paradise from your stage
truly shorter than theirs, or do you just measure them differently?


Working on…

A music project. Poems to return in a day or so.


One Sick Session

Remember how sick that session was?
We all walked out the door saying that was one sick session.
No idea now who played. No idea now what we started with.
I must have had a red guitar but which one?
I must have played my heart out but I don’t remember.

You were there. You’re shaking your head but you must have been.
If you don’t remember it I’ll try to remind you. Remember?
You offered me a smoke and I turned it down because no filter.
I smoked Winstons back then. Haven’t smoked in what now, a decade?
You say you never smoked? I could have sworn you offered me a Camel.

I know we started with a standard — maybe “Stella By Starlight?”
I don’t even recall how that goes now. You swear you never smoked?
I don’t touch my guitar anymore either. Maybe I never did?
The room I recall was full of smoke. Maybe it’s all in my head?
That sick session I rely on to remind me of who I was — did it happen?

Did I ever play at all? The room had gray walls and a ceiling fan.
Did it happen to me? I can just see five or six shadows intent on music.
Was it on TV? Everything is, you know. We were wailing, I promise.
No cutting, not us. We wove and bobbed and it worked, it just worked.
Did it happen? Did we play together? Everything used to just work back then.


Cookout Blues

A song is playing loudly
in the neighborhood, a song
you can’t stand hearing,
another person’s favorite song.

You worship at the altar of curation.
You can’t fathom why
they can’t use earbuds
to keep their atrocious taste to themselves,

dammit. This is America. You have
the right to be unbothered by
the presence of others. You have the right
not to find out who is who

through their music. Their food smells
good, though. If it were over here
you’d try it. But the music — the music’s
all wrong. It ought to be unheard,

and while we’re at it, they’re pretty loud
themselves. Too loud. This is America.
You have the right to call someone
and get them to do something about this.

You have the right not to know
one damn thing about the people
who lives up the damn block.
That’s why you bought the earbuds

in the first place. That’s the whole point
of a curated playlist. That’s the reason they invented
noise cancellation. You have the right
never to hear another voice as long as you live.


My Life In The House Of Music

Born sheltered under country,
opera for a roof, walled in by popular crooners
on a street where Lawrence Welk might live.

Only dug the classical wing of that house
now and then. I preferred to take that
small: string quartets, solo guitar.

Later, rock music compacted me,
helped me fit better into tight rooms
full of other people.

Later, I felt funk as earthquake
cracking a back wall I thought
would be too thick to fall. I was wrong.

Jazz, though: jazz kicked open a locked door
in a stone wall in the little rock room,
got me past the classics to the open air.

I had to leave the house I grew up in
to grow up. It took flamenco palmas
to lock the door behind me, Afrobeat

to help me turn the corner
into the broad boulevard
headed out of town;

there has been so much more since
I cannot name. I’ve lived
in so many places since then

that I can listen to anything now
and not go home again because
I know so much of what the world looks like.


Chordophones

The guitars my country of old men loves to hear
support the binary my country of old men adores.
They must have either six or twelve strings,
must be either acoustic or electric.

My country of old men mostly loves only songs
that are played on guitars. If there are
mandolins or banjos in the song they must be
there only as adjunct to guitars. Ukuleles

have their place among the acceptable
for their chiming and their cute faces; they look like
infant guitars to the old men and who would take
such candy from babies? They’ll surely outgrow them.

A bass guitar is acceptable; this is why it is called
a guitar. Any other instrument with strings
is inferior to guitar and should be at best
relegated to guitar support, say the old men

of my country. This is why no one around here
recognizes any kind of cuatro or knows what a saz is,
why no one has ever heard a vihuela, a charango,
a guitarra de Lisboa.

Those who play such dangerous instruments
keep to themselves around here for fear of
my country of old men. You have to spin the dials
a long time on secret radios to hear any of them played.

It’s as if the old men
know this would be
a different country if everyone
heard those sounds.


Words And Guitar

I wrote my first poem 
when I was almost too young
and marked by that
went on to write only poems
for an entire lifetime;
that was music to me.

It was always music I sought
in words, how they butted up
to song, slope of one line into
another, beat of syllables
against my teeth and tongue.

When deep in later life
I touched my first guitar
I thought of all those poems
and as my fingers built chords
I recognized what was happening;
it was the same.

All of that is vanishing now.
The need to play is slipping
from me. I sit and think
of my dusty guitar
on the far wall. I sit
and think about the dust
on the seams of this poem.

There’s fantastic music,
clouds of it in fact,
still playing clearly 
outside somewhere;

none of it 
is meant
for me to play.


You Should Be In A Band

If you look like you should be in a band,
you should be in a band. 

You may already be in a band, or maybe
you are in camouflage, in disguise as a member

of a band. If someone asks if you’re in a band,
whether or not you are

you’d better be able to tell them
the name — 
and if they ask what you play,

you’d better say you are a vocalist —
unless you play something?

Do you play something, play well enough
to be able to comfort the eagerness of the questioner?

They’re going to ask you if there’s anything your band does
they might have heard. Shrug it off; be modest.

Be the band member you’d wished you had met at fifteen,
the one too cool to boast. Be the one who answers

all questions and maybe you give an autograph, 
a hard to read scribble on a stray napkin.  

After the encounter, get back in your car.
Write a damn song, would you? The band is depending on you.

If you aren’t in a band,
you know where to start.


A Learning Process

Exhausted by the pressure
to keep up with the news
I chose instead to listen
to the birds and squirrels
cheating each other out of
hanging feed and stray seeds.

I drew no relief from that so instead
I went to the park and lay on the grass
as far from all other beings as I could
but still the clouds warred above me
and struck out the sun.

Back home I opened a novel
and the words danced and wrestled
so fiercely I could not follow them
where they were going. 

I opened a blank book
to try and tame my own words.
There were only a few at first
which soon enough followed the others
into the tangled woods where I lost them.

There was a guitar on the wall. 
There were my hands out on the ends of my arms.
There was something to do now
that I didn’t need to understand.

There I was, inside a badly played song
with all the room I needed there to breathe.


Passages

When the architect passes
you still have the building.

When the musician passes
you still have the music.

When the person passes
you have what you remember — 

when Fats Domino passed,
when Little Richard passed,

I remember how their hands
looked on the keys.

I remember how I knew
from watching them that the piano

was not for me. I remember
nonetheless imagining

how it might have been my path 
in another life. I remember 

my own long years of lessons
and how I struggled. When

I heard of their passages,
I fell back into those struggles

and recalled the flash of sequins
from one, the explosive chords;

the strong steady rain of notes
from the other, the sideways smile.

But it’s not about me today.
It’s about gratitude and about

new holes in the air
around the building.

The building’s
still standing.

The music’s
still playing.


Guitar Lesson

A hard lesson
from my guitar tonight:

my left hand’s become
a bald-faced lie

at which my
right hand cringes, 

but it does not demand
the truth.

A body divided against itself
cannot sing.

I grind my teeth
and pick up the guitar again, 

ask it at last to tell me
anything about what’s true?

I manage a chord, a small
simple chord, struck weakly but precisely;

start to recall, now,
what I know will actually heal

a damaged body; the willingness
to go through pain on the way

to the body’s rightful music.
I try again. I listen,

correct myself,
grind, chase the truth.


Scanning

Endlessly scanning
the car radio
seeking music
I don’t recognize.
 
Roll the window down
near every food cart
trying to guess what
they’re serving.
 
People ask why
I would ever want to do these things.
Why listen to music
you don’t know and like already?
 
Why allow the smell
of something foreign in?
Such an all-American
trait to assume
 
that the air around you
should only hold
your favorite scents
and sounds —
 
and while we’re at it,
to hell with your earbuds:
let the world in,
you cowards.