Tag Archives: music

Tenor Guitar

I owned
a tenor guitar
for three months.

Four strings
over six seemed a 
novelty, a downgrade 
back then.

It tickled
something in me
to think of mastering
the antique. Soon enough

I gave 
the guitar away
to someone more excited
than I was to try.

This morning
found myself humming
Ani’s “Little Plastic Castles”
(which is played on a tenor guitar)

and memory,
all this memory, came
rushing back
and now I want a tenor guitar again,

longing for
four strings I can’t play,
rebooting since
I can no longer play six:

my hands
full of recall
but unable to execute;
the desire for music

stronger now
as a way through this 
to something
newly perceived as fresh although

I have
been here before:
more than once, with old guitars
and fancy pens, blank notebooks

and blank people,
things I bought or faces I found
that seemed to promise
surprise, any kind of surprise

that might
break the hard walls
of the hole within and give me
a chance to climb out and be new and free. 

Listening To Queen

(like it was yesterday,
like it was the first time again)

to “Keep Yourself Alive”
and the chug of Brian’s 
guitar throughout 
and especially
the creamy and climactic ascension
of chorused notes following 
the back and forth lines
between Roger and Brian
before Freddy kicks back in with them
for their final

I first heard this song when
I was thirteen or fourteen
and it hit like a religion
and made me want to shine forth.
I don’t think 
there’s any god in there
or anywhere
that cares much whether or not
I feel the same and
I’m thinking now

I should have listened more closely
all these years
to John,
remarkable anchor
too often unremarked,
as I’ve involuntarily
lived my life
more often in
the background
of whatever cosmos
I have found myself in.

Greatest Song Ever Written

suppose you stop snickering
and get shut of the need
to scorn those folks over there
fingering slipcovers
in the discount aisle
talking only to each other
when they speak of
perfection and how well
these would go with 
the drapes in the front room

and suppose
you quit sneering at those
who proclaim their love
for the Beatles as you cannot
distinguish between
an emotional bond to their
soundtrack of a lifetime
and your own decidedly
enthusiasm for whatever minute
you find yourself in
of course
it hits you
like a never-ending
cryogenic block
on your future)

and suppose
you get your head
out of whatever fragrant
arrogant nook
you keep it in 
and see yourself
years from now
dressed fifteen years 
too early for retro fashion
choosing from cheap mirrors
in a bargain aisle
while humming
greatest song ever written

Listening To Ornette

Inside this music
is an ocean
with tides that sweep
into then away from
where you’re standing

bringing you mysterious
objects then taking them back
before you can fully understand
what you’re seeing
and now and then

something washes up
to your feet still alive and then
it’s gone again and you
end up on your knees before
the pulse of the sound

praying that you yourself
could be swept away 
and then back again holding
all these secrets you’ve glimpsed
long enough to understand them

so you can then release them
back to the ocean
for others to find
when they face
the music and pray

Nostalgia Is A Death Cult

Listening to today’s
pop music:
how comforting
it is to hear

music not written
to privilege
who I am, who we were.
How glad it makes me

to be at last
completely comfortable
with being un-affected
in any strong way

by the hits.
To be able to
decide with no sense
of being dragged

by the emotions
into debates
and passion
about this one’s 

merits and that one’s
evils. I can listen and say
that arrangement is 
interesting, how do they

make that sound, 
the production on this
is wonderful, is boring,
is cluttered, is clean;

then I walk away
back to my own guitars
and songs, taking
what I need

back to the forge as fuel.
When now and then 
something new does
set its claws, does

dig in and seize
the means of emotion,
I count it as a late-life gift.
Sometimes I even discard

something I used to love
to make room for it
in my chest where
favorites live. And

the next time I reach for 
my guitars and my songs?
It’s there. I am open for
new business. I’m alive.

To Restring A Guitar

To restring a guitar
on the morning of a snowstorm
is to convene a seminar 
on the joys of knowing very little.

To restring a guitar
is to open a familiar door
and find familiar things
have been moved to a new room.

To restring a guitar
is to pull the pushpins
from a bulletin board
and throw away the outdated notes.

To restring a guitar
is to understand nothing again
and find something else
has been made clear again. 

To restring a guitar 
when the weather is bad
is to declare that last night’s forecast
was incomplete. 

Twenty Flight Rock

Woke up 
singing Eddie Cochran’s
“Twenty Flight Rock” 
No idea why

At once I thought 
of seeing Ry Cooder
play it — solo acoustic — long ago
at the Newport Folk Festival 

I’m not much given
to nostalgia which feels
to me to much like 
lusting for ghosts

who can only feel
what they have always felt
Why do that when
there are new things

to be felt
Why repeat yourself
endlessly with the same
old same old movements

going back again
and again through one
life two lives three
lives four 

I’m starting to drag
and soon enough might be
ready to sag

I’m not yet ready to
say things were
so much better
before when

I could look at Ry Cooder
playing a song from his own old days
in his own splendid fashion
and say I could be him someday

So fuck the ghosts
who crowd around me
demanding obeisance
to their past

when I am still learning
to play not like
Ry or Eddie
but like myself

No matter how far
I have to climb I swear
I will only go to bed
when I get to the top




If I say “Chopsticks” is
my favorite piano piece
will you think I am being
facetious or simply 
and incredibly stupid about
how much great piano music
is out there that I must have heard
at some point and yet here I am
championing something
almost anyone with fingers
and a memory of hearing it
can play with little thought
once they are shown where 
to begin? If I tell you
that the reason I claim
such a thing is for 
that precise reason —
how accessible it is and 
how it connects so easily and
how much delight one may see
in the eyes of a new player
of any age — how the sound of it
might make even a seasoned pianist
ever so slightly nostalgic
for their earliest days upon 
the ivories — would you think
I am being facetious then
even as your own fingers
begin to twitch and beg you
to let them try? 

Guitarist’s Prayer

Poem from late 1990s. Lightly revised.



“ it was not the first time /  I left a guitar behind  / and it would not be the last” 
— patti smith, “munich”

dreaming of things beyond / my own ruin

i pray for a
ruined guitar

i pray my
hands will some day pry open /  the lid on the case where hope is hidden

and brush
aside the fierce ills that torture me  / as they fly by

and if
/  as i suspect /  i find that hope is a guitar that’s been trapped for too long

one that’s
been scorched and broken

neck just
cracked enough / strings just frayed enough

that one
good chord / will rip the instrument finally / apart

i pray that
my hands will recall their past

i pray the
strap will hold / when i lift that guitar into place upon me

i pray
there’s a decent cable /  in the case

i pray the
Amplifier of Heaven /  is plugged in and warmed up near by

i pray i
will remember /  the name of the right chord

i pray i
will remember how /  to set my hands in place /  on the strings /  so that chord can pour through them

i pray i
take a long quiet moment /  before i strike  / for the spaces are as important as the music

i pray i
have the patience /  to not worry too much / about the perfection of the tuning

i pray the
Pedals of all the Saints / are arrayed before me

i pray for
enough time to stomp every possible voice / into that chord before it fades

for the
right chord is itself a prayer

and tonight

i pray that
i pray it / just right

i pray that
then / i will have enough grace / to know when i am done

to know when
to set that wreckage down





The Telecaster
is in my hands
unplugged at 
11 PM so as
not to disturb
anyone but me.

Even in this
incomplete state
it does its best
to cry and
offer prayer
as I try

to make
my sick hands
move one iota
more like they did
six months
a year two years

ago. The doctor
calls this “diabetic 
neuropathy” and
people beyond
the doctor like to say
it’s my fault

or at least my fault
and my parents’
fault but what I know is
I was bad at this before
it happened and am
no better now that
my fingertips feel 

nothing. Meanwhile
the Telecaster is still
doing that transparent thing
where its voice becomes
my voice and my voice
becomes an insult

as well as a prayer
and together we do 
what a thousand thousand
teenagers with guitars
have been doing
forever: trying to

keep their pain silent
when the house is asleep
and all they want to do is
scream. Here I am though, 
old and numb, trying to pretend
that old and numb doesn’t lead

to the same
kind of pain, this
Telecaster pain,
this stumble-finger agony,
the discomfort

of knowing
that regardless of whose fault
all of this is,
I am failing this guitar,
and it is not
the other way around.

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
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

faced with something dangerous
and contradictory

I lunged for a safety net and tried to

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


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



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


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.