Heavenly Blue Peak Shrouded in smoke and ashes May flavor return
When I got up Thursday it was Friday. It had been another strange and overly extensive day into night’s sleep. Before, I’d already stayed up a bit too long and whiskeyed a bit and was more than prepared to fall out of it when there was a last minute turn and I decided to do what needed to be done instead. So then came further hours of getting stuff ready to go to the post office, walking down there and a side-trip to a store where I bought and consumed things which I should have not. After the staying up, stayed down a sleep-and-a-half in penance; waking briefly for visits from the cat, too impatient with me to stay in my arms, and a surprising explosion from the sky followed by reassuring water fall. Maybe there were some other memorable but forgotten interruptions, but still little indication from my waking mind that it would ever wish to re-enlist.
Toward the end there was one of those long, connected, maybe lucid dreams in a place with diverse enough areas and people to seem to justify the many chapters and themes. Unfortunately, I was once again unwilling or unable to get up after, and the details and connections are eroding and wafting away.
The event was outside at first, a festival of some sort I guess as there were booths and exhibits. In front of the booth where I was, which no doubt had something to do with African-American, and perhaps Jewish-American, cultural history there was an “amusement” of some sort, a game or ride, involving a tall pole. There seemed to be a reference to lynching, a “heritage” thing I guess, and its position right in front of us felt like an intentional provocation. Frustration. Leaving for awhile. Return as things were winding down and some conversation about whether anyone had done something, or why we/I couldn’t. “Well, anyway, they are gone and we are still here, so perhaps…”, she said.
Then it was inside, after-party with many people in The Lodge. Although, there was some kind of overlapping with my place. For, in discussion with someone about my extensive incomplete and undistributed works, as I was trying to explain about how I had been a visual artist as well as songster and writer, I was pointing out that the works on the wall didn’t include any of my best prints, but there were some upstairs I might be able to root out. From nearby a confident-looking gentleman, a solid well-groomed fellow with dark hair, sidled into the conversation. He said he had heard enough to know that I had something, but that I was in need of representation. I allowed that that may be true, and he assured me that he was the man for the job and knew how to begin our business. I was all for it.
It is at this point that I began to have a recurring problem with understanding the other characters’ words. I couldn’t tell whether it was because the noise of the event was making it hard to distinguish, or they were actually using words which I did not know. However, since the confident dark man seemed to be going into academic and Arts catch-phrases of some sort it may have been the latter in this conversation. He started right out with something like, “So, you write Shakespearian <insert Latinesque neologism>s which can be related to <more gobbledy-gook> and for which there is a market in <who-the-fuck-knows>…
I interrupted with frustration (and some yelling, I suppose), to object that, no, I don’t. I had merely made some passing reference to a one-off sonnet, and that all I really do is (generally odd) songs and drawings. He walked off in disgust.
Then I was sitting in a corner next to some stairs, from under which people occasionally crawled out of a door. Someone had witnessed the encounter with the salesman and said that they had noticed his mask. It was a party, so I suppose there may have been masks, but I had not seen him in one. They said, “It was his smile. It is the mask of The Devil.”
Then from the stair-door emerged a lovely young woman who I thought was someone I know (unlike most of the nice helpful women I encounter in these places, who I don’t recognize.) She was talking of someplace I could possibly go and take refuge. A room, or maybe a box. I picture a pillar in the middle somewhere. That it would be alright if I stayed to this one side where the water hadn’t reached yet. But, I couldn’t make out what her word for this place was, and some other details. I kept asking her to repeat it, and she did. But I had to say, “sorry, I’m still not getting it.” After awhile she went off to other things, but leaving some hope that we were going to be getting together later.
The last thing I remember is doing some washing-up with some other women whose words of encouragement I cannot recall. The surfactants in the tub seemed to be working well for them in clearing off the dishes, but I was left struggling with scrubbing at some small utensils whose tiny nooks and crannies, curves and corners, held onto globs of grease.
so, I said to my cat, (instead), no I’m not mad at you; yes, you can live here, that’s just fine; you stay with me, you and all the spirits. Maybe I could have said that to Noah Maybe I could have said that to Pete Maybe they would have been too much for me to handle, let alone help; but what good am I if not the last refuge of the lost musicians who kept washing up on my sure If not the one who brings the bad trippers out and down Pete, Noah, Chris… well, I did harbor Pearcy for some time, years ago. But, then I didn't. Why couldn’t I take them all in, and work the magic write the magic words on the magic almonds that transfer the people’s disease into me and then I just shake it off, like I do. See me shaking? yeah, it will be over soon. Shaking it right off. So I had a rough decade or so after allegedly saving that last tripping stranger’s life. I’m sure it was just a coincidence. probably. Maybe I did, just now, say it to all of them, all the spirits in or around the cat. The cat is trying to speak for all, he says. Is that what he said? I keep getting it all wrong. All right. Alright. Oh, Glory. Glory, Glory. All Glory, all the Time time, time
This is just a little promo video for this amazing concert video I watched last night. Well, this morning actually. I suppose I should have taken a break in the middle and gone to bed around sunrise but I got caught up. This is Pete at what I think of as a peak for him. He was just beginning to become one of the biggest influences on my life, although almost entirely excluded from American media. He had only recently had his Federal prison sentence for contempt of Congress commuted. I was starting to hear his concerts through Folkways records I found in the basement of the Grandview Library, along with copies of the hard to find Sing Out! magazine in which he had a regular column called Johnny Appleseed, Jr. A new contract with Columbia Records, his first major label since the Weavers got blacklisted in the early ’50s while they were top of the hit parade, resulted in a great Carnegie Hall concert recording from this same year, but I never imagined there would be a way to actually see him performing. At the time he was blacklisted from the TV show named after a phrase he and Woody had made popular. I wonder how it would have affected me at 13 to see him as a human rather than just a disembodied voice and some dramatic still photos. Standing alone in the middle of 3,000 people who sing along reluctantly, and for some apparently cynically, at first; but by the end transformed into an emotional choir. He closed his show, before encores, with a song by “a young friend” of his, Bob Dylan. (Pete was a member of The Old Guard of folk music, 44 years old here.) “A Hard Rain…” Bob’s own record of it had barely been released when Pete did it at Carnegie Hall, and I don’t think it was being heard that much yet. If people knew of Bob at all, it was as a guy who wrote some Peter, Paul and Mary hits, but sounded too funny to actually listen to. It was interesting to see that Pete was still using crib notes on it here. He wasn’t reading it, no music stand nonsense, but you can see him glancing down at his feet between lines to check what came next.
One thing that weirdly stuck out to me, having had my ears ruined by the age of electronic tuners, was that he was never quite in tune through the whole concert. He would take a few seconds to tune, usually not the string that I was noticing was bad, but he didn’t obsess about it. Went from Drop D to standard on the 12-string, kept moving the capo up and down sometimes in the middle of a song when he decided it was not in the best key for everyone to sing, and therefore having to change the 5th string on the banjo. It seemed so obvious to me during the brief attempt at tuning that he hadn’t got it. But, he just charged right on, and once he got going it really didn’t matter a bit.
That studio clip where he is chopping the log was during a long segment on some TV show devoted to a salute to Leadbelly. After he finishes chopping through the work song, he looks up at the camera and says “Well that’s a ridiculous thing to do on TV, isn’t it? It doesn’t belong on a screen! Well, face it, folk music doesn’t belong on a stage, either.” Then he goes on and chops along to a film of Leadbelly doing “Take This Hammer.”
It’s just such a fascinating contradiction how he continually had massive success in industries he considered essentially wrong, and made a virtue of it.
At least twice when I was a child I walked out of school in the middle of the day, awol and without notice to any adults. For reasons beyond my comprehension the authorities and parents got riled up about this, but it was always the only response I could muster to adult unreasonableness. Both times I think the biggest problem was a demand that I go to a room I was not familiar with to face some strange teacher. I had had enough difficulty working out how to find the rooms I attended classes in.
The first time was in 3rd grade (so, first year in Columbus) and I don’t remember what the problem with the strange teacher was, but I know I walked straight home the 1.3 miles, so I don’t know how my parents had time to become so alarmed.
The second incident was rather spectacular and I have been reminded of it a couple of times in a short period of time recently. After I had been thinking about it, out of the blue I coincidentally got a note from an old classmate I hadn’t seen since those days referencing it and even recalling the name of the teacher!
This incident was in 7th grade, my first year in the old stone prison-like institution known in those days as Jones Jr. High. I was in a large study hall early in the day, planning on completing an assignment due the next period, and discovered that I did not have any blank paper. The teacher was this German woman who I remember as being kind of a Frau Blucher type, although in updated mid-century American style of course. Her name was actually Mrs. Gudat. I slim, harsh-faced formidable character. She had strictly forbidden talking or noise of any kind in her study hall, but I was desperate enough for a piece of paper that I risked trying to whisper as quietly and surreptitiously as possible to the person in front of me to try to borrow one. Of course, this flagrant violation did not escape the preternatural hearing of the hawk-like Frau Gudat, who marched down the aisle, where I was a good ways toward the back of the room and against the left wall, so this drew the attention of the whole group, to administer admonishment and forbid the transfer of illicitly obtained class-work materials. I tried to explain that I just needed one sheet of paper and I really needed to finish this assignment, a situation for which she had no sympathy. “You should have done it last night!”, she barked, and headed back to her podium.
I sat there fuming over my untenable academic situation and the injustice of the authoritarian regime and began to have one of my incidents of rising heat and anger. In those days I always used a cartridge fountain pen, a cheap Schaeffer that was widely available. I took off the cap and made a forceful arcing gesture with it toward the front of the room, shooting a plume of ink down the aisle. The ink ended up hitting a boy quite a ways up the row from me. By a stroke of bad luck, he was a boy with a bit of a limp from some childhood disease or something, which added further shame to the whole incident.
Mrs Gudat came storming down the aisle demanding to know why I was picking on the poor cripple boy. By now I was standing, and I said, “I wasn’t aiming at him.” “Well, what were you aiming at?”, she demanded. “I was aiming at you!” I replied.
The next thing I knew she was slapping me, rather dramatically, and said, “I’LL TAME YOU, YOU SAVAGE!!!”
This seems to have started talk amongst the student population that we were having some sort of steamy affair.
Then I think there was some sort of demand that I go to some strange room after school, and I walked out. This time I just kept walking for quite awhile. I walked out of Old Arlington, I walked up Ackerman past what were in those days fields of cows, and ended up at University City Shopping Centre on Olentangy. There I remember there being a new record store that I might not have had a chance to check out as of yet. It wasn’t very good, but enough to calm me down.
In the meantime apparently there had been a lot of hue and cry and search for the missing child. I was filled with shame and fear with the thought of facing the reactions of adults and students alike. My parents had to have yet another meeting with a Principal and I got some vague report that there had been discussion of how I was a bit peculiar but apparently some sort of genius, so I would get special consideration but I’d better watch it. I think Mrs. Gudat was induced to make an apology, which was surprising since in those days it seemed like teachers could treat students however they wanted. As for the students, it may have given me a certain cachet for awhile, but also undesirable attention and they quickly got back to ever intensifying ridicule and bullying.
Four Songs. Movie by Barry Chern
I’ve seen it mentioned that the date for this inauguration is palindromic. (“Don’t be so palindromatic”, the lexicographers said, expunging the offending dictionary entries.) This will be the last inauguration date that is a palindrome for 1,000 years. (And I can’t wait.)
What does this mean?!?, you are wondering. I’ll tell you what it means! Well, if you are lucky enough to live in some remote isolated eden where a particular calendar is not counting up in a particular numbering system from a particular date, it might not mean sheeeeit!. However, for the rest of you, those millennia of brainwaves following that count up have had a powerful effect on certain sub-strata of quantum strings. The song those strings are playing is a kind of cosmic ear worm.
So, I tell you, it means we are standing, nay, hovering on the threshold of the conjunction with a MIRROR UNIVERSE! Which universe do we enter? Do we turn back to the weirdly familiar one which we have been inhabiting, or enter the familiarly weird MIRROR UNIVERSE?!? How would we know, having been turned around so many times we are dizzy? Which would be a better choice? How could we possibly tell?
Oh, you tell me.
As I stumble about amidst the beauty of the trees' network of nearly naked limbs, modestly dotted with birds against skies of a grey mixed of oranges and purples, lit from below by the glowing boxes, I am often filled with a heart-breaking nostalgia for the way things are.
I built a tiny hut in my mind To live in briefly in the backyard of my brain where neurons flash rich complicated colors just before they fail and fall. But, intruder thoughts in Giant gas-guzzling vehicles Their flabby arms covered with Tattoos of large muscles Came by and broke it all to pieces. Squished the exotic fruits Set fire to the drying leaves So flashed and flew in panic Before a grey ungraceful fall Now I meditate in the embers and ashes It's warmer, anyway In a way.
— B. Chern, sukkhot 2020