Friday afternoon in this northeastern corner of Portland, Oregon and I'm rocking out to Warren Zevon with the windows, front and back doors open, and the fresh air and sunshine pouring in.
Today's a good day to remember:
Everything that is simple is complex. Everything that is complex is simple.
The sun returned on Thursday when I went on my adventure with a friend to Astoria and the lovely, deserted-but-for-us beach at Fort Stevens Park. So today is continuing worship at its bounty and celebration of the bright, the light, the cast shadows, the warmth. I begin to totally get all those pagan rituals banishing winter dark. Today, I could paint my face and dance a jig around a campfire I feel so overjoyed to have the lit up and blue-skied finally and again.
From a great Warren Zevon song, anthem of sorts, really, called Desperadoes Under the Eaves:
Still waking up in the morning with shaking hands / And I'm trying to find a girl who understands me
But except in dreams you're never really free. / Don't the sun look angry at me?
I'll bet no one asked him to explain the meaning of that.
OK, Bob Dylan's XM satellite radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, is a gift to eclectic music nuts like myself. It is next to impossible to catalogue the various places he goes in his commentary or find any logic to his musical selections on any given show. There have been themes about parties, walking, the concept of #1, time, cars, and so on. This week's theme is Part II of a musical journey around the world including stops in Italy (did you know it's the shape of a boot?), Tunisia, Mexico, the Congo, England, and Japan. Here are a few of the topics that Bob touches on, in no particular order, just like his random samplings on the show:
-- The concepts of longitude, latitude, and the prime meridian.
-- The idea of the super-continent, pangea, from the Greek, meaning earth.
-- Loch Lomond and the Loch Ness monster.
-- Explorers from Marco Polo to Vasco da Gama.
-- Dublin, Ireland, and the County Cork as the setting for the New Bedford scenes in John Huston's movie, Moby Dick.
-- The River Mersey in England.
--Arrivederci, Roma by Dean Martin.
-- Making copies of your passport and other important papers.
-- Capistrano, an island off the coast of Albania.
-- Tom Waits reading a letter he sent Bob about all the inbreeding in Cleopatra's family.
-- Yoko Ono and her avant-garde music and art. (Don't ask.)
This show is worth the monthly cost of satellite radio, believe you me as they say back in northeastern PA.
Getting myself in the mood for I'm Not There, the movie kind of, sort of about the life and times and metamorphoses of Bob Dylan which opened in Portland today. I don't know how much Bob we have on the new iPod. I started with Blood on the Tracks first. Blonde on Blonde is next and, if necessary, we can go to the actual CD archives after that. I figure by the time we get to the movie—maybe Friday some time while everyone else is dropping because they shop—I can be thoroughly immersed in the eras of his oeuvre.
Ah, Blood on the Tracks. What can be said? I know the music so well it's almost like I don't even remember what the words are saying, they just come out of my singing mouth. It's a soundtrack most definitely of a time of change and questioning and discovery in my own life, freshman or sophomore year of college in Oberlin, Ohio. I'm not sure which of those years it came out but I do recall grooving to it, over and over and over again, with G. In fact, I'm thinking it may have been Blood on the Tracks that sent me back into the Dylan archives to maybe for the first time in my life, really listen to his music, really take it deep within. Because I was too young during his freewheeling and highway 66 days, still stuck in an adolescent groove of the Beatles and the Monkees with a dash of Motown sprinkled in. Only at college, with new musical tutors, and later over that summer I lived in Cambridge, did I range not only musically forward (Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, TRex) but back as well, mining what I'd once missed and coming up with pure, iconic gold, a song that got in with the white and red cells of my bloodstream and never left. Like If You See Her, Say Hello:
We had a falling out like lovers often will. And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill. And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart, she still lives inside of me, we've never been apart.
I watched the film about Leonard Cohen last eve, I'm Your Man. It's easy to forget about Leonard and for me to forget how much he influenced me when I was a young poetry-writing, song-struck kid. So the film was a reminder of that other self I once was (still am?), the one that hadn't yet decided to ignore what my gut tells me about what I do and do not like about writing and the world of words and song in favor of the marketplace, the trendy, the what-might-sell.
I had to keep pausing the film to write down what Leonard was saying he sounded that smart and prophetic and self-deprecatingly wise. Here's one about writing and perfection and winning (among other things):
"If it is your destiny to be this laborer called a writer, you've got to go to work everyday. But you also know you're not going to get it every day. You have to be prepared but you really don't command the enterprise. Sometimes when you no longer see yourself as a hero of your own drama, expecting victory after victory, then you understand deeply that this is not paradise, and somehow we're—especially the privileged ones—we somehow embrace the notion that this veil of tears, that it's not perfectable, that you're going to get it all straight. I've found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win."
Partly to honor Scorcese's win at the Oscars on Sunday eve and partly because I remain absolutely fascinated by Bob Dylan—his voice, his stories, his crooked teeth, his damn weirdness—I decided to watch the PBS Great Performances Series, No Direction Home again. I'm halfway into disc 1 and already the Bob has renounced his Iron Range roots and is living in Minneapolis not attending the classes he's registered for at the University of Minnesota. And beginning, like a sponge, to absorb the contemporary folk music scene. Here's what he says (so true, so true) about what he felt upon discovering the work of Woody Guthrie:
"You could listen to his songs and learn how to live." Amen.
I'm having a hard time listening to Bruce sing about a mule tonight and not miss my animal, my devoted cat/companion, departed this world 18 May 2006, Balthazar. What does matter, real estate investments or the best possible cat this side of the known universe who left, altruistically that day, to accompany a woman dying way-too-soon of hideous cancer on her journey? What does it matter, publications blurbs or a community of people and animals who adore you? Is this the freak-out of a 50 year old wash-up or the stark, raving, lunatic truth?
I wake up early again, do my morning writing (the usual nonsense, really, I wonder if they serve any purpose) and check e-mail where not one but two friends send me the thrilling news that Karl Rove may be indicted next week. A chink in the armor so that maybe there will be more speaking truth to power, something I wrote about this morning as personally needing a bit more of in this American life. These days when a performer from Comedy Central is channeling the zeitgeist of those of us who have to be in the majority, wingnuts and moonbats aside, when that's where truth, veiled behind jokes and laughter.
Highlights of my less-than-exciting week as I make my my way back to writing after the disruption travel always is for me:
--Back to work, to writing, with Balthazar the whip-cracking cat, ever eager to meow at me to get busy so he can sit on my lap while I type.
--Finding the lotus vine and the double-blossomed wave petunia at Shonnard's nursery and hanging them outside: sure sign spring has arrived. And the opulent fuchsia at Homegrown, so huge it's hard to find the dirt in the pot when it's time to water.
--Bruce Springsteen's new album, We Shall Overcome. Songs made famous by Pete Seeger, brought back to life and zip in this live recording with a backup band of fiddles, banjo, accordion, who knows what else, to make it all sound rollicking, thunderous, joy-filled, nostalgic and alive. I'd forgotten how much I like the old songs, even ones we learned back in Central Elementary School, Erie Canal and Shenandoah.
--Browsing through the pile of periodicals that accumulated in our absence. No Depression, the AAA magazine, Portland Monthly, The Sun, The Nation, Poets & Writers. Just letting myself sit in the sun on the deck and skim, not feeling like I have to even want to take every word in.
--Stopping by the Gathering Together farm store in Philomath for in-season organic produce—salad mix, oak leaf lettuce, golden chard, shallots, carrots and zucchini, a purple onion, a giant garlic bulb—to begin to re-fill our very empty, post-vacation refrigerator.
--Hauling the small purple table and the orange and green 1950s patio chairs—all spray painted in these new, lively colors by J. last year—from the winter-moldy garage to a spot in the sun on the deck.
Aimee Mann's Lost in Space. Some of it is me too lazy to dig for another. The rest is me celebrating spring, the first warm day up here on the Oxbow hill--I don't have to be bundled in layers and sweaters -- with a few windows up, doors open, rugs and the Pendleton couch throw and the goosedown comforter airing out on the railing of the deck. I am digging on the phrasing of Aimee's song/poetry words, things like the tide of overwhelm and hate the sinner but love the sin/ let me be your heroin. And all these years I thought she was singing heroine.
I bring two chairs up out of the winter-mold-stale garage for the cats. Balthazar likes to sit under one, slightly shaded from the sun. Potato Leek Soup, made and frozen a few weeks ago, simmers on low in the blue Le Creuset dutch oven pot. I finished a draft of a poem I've been tossing about in my head all week, a bit of this, a bit of that, urged along by a particularly sweet and vivid dream, resurrection of one dead. I feel so much lighter, so much...well, almost happier...after I get something, anything down. I suppose that's one of the pretty much foolproof signs that I'm stuck with this writing life, that it is what I'm meant to do. It's been better lately not to be fighting it. And the words are flowing, with less doubt, and, with each week, an increasingly assured hand. I feel like maybe I've crossed over, that I'm making up for lost time.
In the hunt for Tuesday evening music here in the Oxbow embarrasse de richesses. Her 2002 CD, "Lost in Space." She's married to Sean's brother Michael Penn. She's the nihilist in The Big Lebowski who sacrifices her baby toe. No, it wasn't Bunny. And she was in 'Til Tuesday, the band who recorded that one-hit wonder song,Voices Carry, one of those ones that G. and I shared across the early BitNet miles, I have the tape somewhere, as I'm sure he did too. And why did we like her? Because like Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Patti Griffin, Joni Mitchell, R.E.M. even, Aimee is a poet. Pure and simple. Why has it taken me to 50 to figure so much of this out?