r.i.p Noah Shull

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

‘Oh, Glory’

Pete in ’63

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.

My fabulous academic career, chapter three. I walk out.

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.

Deep Science Thoughts on the Inauguration

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.

morning announcements II

(pre-caffeination poesy)
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

Back to the Big House dream #10,336

Dream Suite (detail) lithograph diptych.

I had another dream where I was back in the Big House that was torn down in the late ’70s to put up a parking lot. I never stop trying to live there in my dreams. This time some group was involved in rehabbing it and someone had heard I might be interested so I agreed to rent a space. I was there having second thoughts because I had no idea who these people were or what it was going to be like, and I already was renting a place where I was all set up. There seemed to be a LOT of people there already. But, I told myself, it was good to be there with the good wood and the large spaces; and I did a little dance and stamped my feet on the oak boards of the large front staircase landing. There was a piano in an upstairs room and I was trying to tell someone it ought to be downstairs, then I went downstairs and was trying to tell someone how there used to be a full sized upright piano right there. “So, bigger than this one?” they said, indicating a little toy piano sitting there on top of a cabinet. “Yes, bigger than that,” I laughed ruefully. There were people working on replacing boards in the entryway ceiling, and I recognized one organizer as this younger musician, a much more successfully self-promoting type. I tried to tell him about how I had dreams about being back there, and thought it was going to be torn down when we left. “Oh, I thought it was just supposed to be rehabbed and sold to someone else,” he said distractedly looking at the ceiling. “No, see, it was actually condemned and…” “Excuse me,” he interrupted, “I have to go talk to these guys” and walked off while I was in mid-sentence. I went down into the basement with a bit of laundry, and tried to figure out what was going on with a bank of small coin-operated machines. The one that was not in use did seem to be a washer, so I started putting stuff in there and asked a person next to me if he had any idea how these things worked. “Well, first of all, don’t put boxes in there,” he said, pulling out a cardboard container blocking things up that I had apparently put in along with the underwear that came in it. “Oh, I don’t know what is wrong with my head,” I apologized, “I’m so flummoxed all the time.” I was having to step around construction on the basement floor, large dug out spaces having big squares of flooring glued down. I realized I had no real involvement and no say in what was going on, no real part in anything. That’s how I woke up.

morning announcements

There was a peaceful moment
just a little agony over facing the inevitable struggle with eggs or cereal
I even pulled up the shade on the back window for a rare look
and the bare fingers of the spindly trees posed against a long lit cloud for a two-tone fashion
subtle greys bottom and brashly contrasting summery top.
Then, there was a scratching at the back door
Did the porch cardinal suddenly decide to present demands?
No, scratching to the left and right there are never so many birds (would that, as we were just)
No. It was the wind again.
The director called strike this set
the cat started yowling again
or the cat was the director, I confuse
That cloud was rolled out stage left tout suite
Hold onto your hats