Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Jul 04 email newsletter
Vol. 1, No. 2

Humid air wets with rain, slow and persistent as the temperature cools into the evening. Jazz (Miles Davis’ “Gondwana”?) soft while your scent clings. I am more than ever me. I am not your expectation. I am, more than me, ever. I am not your expectation. I am more. I am me.

So many cops and lawyers and preachers and truck drivers and business people at my fortieth high school reunion; so many good folks but so few artists among them. I stayed for about half the evening, and left them a stack of free poetry chapbooks . . . Geddie family reunion: so many people in their 80s. Time passes. One 11-year-old girl who sneaked a small plate of banana pudding. She asked me to not tell her parents, because she’s an athlete and isn’t supposed to eat dessert. She’s a competitive gymnast who doesn’t know who Mary Lou Retton is. Nor even Shannon Miller. Her role models are a couple of Dallas-area girls who might be 15 or so, and who might make the Olympic team. Time passes . . . Eighty-fifth reunion coming up in October for people who worked on the newspaper, yearbook, and literary magazine at UT-Arlington. I want to see so many of those people again, but I want to see them as they were then. Time passes.

Freedom from, and freedom to. Freedom to be better than we often are. Living our own lives the way we want can be hard, but (not an original thought) we can’t really recognize the highs without the lows.

I just spent my first real time in a studio, reading some of my poetry into a microphone at Greg Weitzel’s small Arsfilia studio. The experience makes me a better listener, and gives me something of myself to share with my parents and some of the rest of you. The 22-minute spoken-word CD is called “27 Pieces of Silver.” It includes two of my newest pieces and a few favorites from earlier chapbooks, and is available on CDR for $10 postage paid for whoever might want a copy.

Months ago during an acoustic show at Texana Grill in Addison, over in the corner of the dining room near the fireplace, before the restaurant even had a stage for its musicians, Becca Dalrymple sang and strummed, Devon Lee played lead guitar, and Russ Sherefield played electric bass.

Sherefield brought his seldom-used upright bass along, and, to the audience’s joy, played it during a few songs. Sherefield enjoyed it, too; that was obvious. When it came time for the first break, Sherefield leaned the bass in a corner. I asked him if I could make a little bit of noise with the strings; he said yes. Leaving the bass in the corner, I touched and gently, randomly pulled the strings.

Another man, who’d been listening in the audience while he and his wife had dinner, walked up and looked at the bass. It was easy to tell that he wanted to play it. I looked at Sherefield, who nodded, and I invited the man to take my place. He ran his fingers over the strings and then the wood. He pulled that old upright bass out of the corner and nestled it in his left arm. He leaned into it, and slowly, quietly played for the rest of the break. After a while, I think, he may have even forgotten, for a while, that anyone else was in the room. (Later, he told us he hadn’t touched a bass in years, but that he used to play in a jazz band.) It was a quiet moment about one of the things that are important.

I choose to believe that everyone who can make music should, and that the rest of us should listen.

I choose to believe that the flags at half-mast during part of June mourned for the loss of Ray Charles.

I choose to believe that Adam Carroll writes sad songs that sometimes come out funny, and that Hayes Carll writes funny songs that sometimes come out sad.

I choose to believe that there are so many good songwriters in Texas that some of them have to go to Nashville just to make room for the rest. And I choose to believe that all of them – wherever they stay or go – win the success they deserve.

I choose to remember that man in jeans and T-shirt, quietly swapping raw, edgy songs with Lisa Markley and Gina Forsyth under a remote canopy at the Kerrville Folk Festival, than to remember the man I saw a couple of years later hailed as “the best new folksinger in the country,” whose once-rawness was replaced, at least on that recent night, by slick sociability.

I choose to think that the CD collection of old blues recordings by B.B. King, Elmore Leonard, John Lee Hooker, Fats Domino, Ike Turner, and Lightnin’ Hopkins will influence the seven-year-old boy I gave them to as a birthday gift; if they don’t, I at least know that his parents will like them.

I choose to believe that the best music is either right at the core of some genre, or out on the edge where genres blend and we hear something new.

I choose to smile when I hear that somebody is paying Paul Slocum and Lauren Gray to fly from Dallas to Denmark to use old Atari and Commodore computers and printers to make music. (Really, it’s a fairly enjoyable show that stretches the imagination.)

I choose to hope that rapper Amon Rashidi will find the right label, soon, for his CD that takes an abused woman’s point of view, rather than demeaning her like too much rap does.

I choose to like country songs that do the same thing, although a good cheatin’ song can still lure me to a smoky honky-tonk where the women wear too much makeup.

I choose to look forward to meeting the self-described, 6-3, 260-pound ex-hippie who owns the rights to a whole bunch of early Elvis Presley recordings and photos, and to seeing how much money he makes when he starts selling CDs on late-night TV.

I choose to believe, on some level, that Bubba Hotep was a documentary, and that both Elvis and JFK are still alive.

I choose small venues over large arenas.

I choose to think that Sarah Lynn Fisher’s piano-driven, soprano-sung songs sound like my poetry feels to me, and to be pleased that she’s about to go to grad school to learn, among other things, how to write about listening to music.

I choose to listen when the sun goes down.

Years ago, movie critic David Denby wrote a book named Great Books. He wrote of going back to college, near middle age, to once again study the works of Homer, Sappho, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, the Bible, Darwin, Descartes, Galileo, Hobbes (without Calvin), Dante, Cervantes, Marx, and more. “You couldn’t feel pleasure if you wouldn’t let yourself feel it,” Denby wrote, “especially if the art was new and unfamiliar, in which case the pleasure had to sneak up on you, unnoticed at first, and then barely noticed, a tiny sensation of well-being, and then maybe later, after much listening, a rush of feeling that left you shaking.”

All of that is in the music, too.