He stood beneath a bank of trees
near the beach of a green spring
the wily busker taking deposits
of fruit in his cowpoke hat basket
a few choice purple cherries
a couple of greenbacks
and a nugget of fool’s gold.
He sang of broken hearts
paper torn into many pieces
litter along the roadway
how love collects like dust
up against the bent guardrails
that’s my heart in pennies
he sang out on the highway.
He worries the strings of his guitar
with his bent wire fingers
flap slaps the hook smacks the box
shapes his fretful music
the earth wants a cover
creeping vines and grasses
if any have many piled carpets.
To sand a page of flat board, one abrades first metallico then brushes dolce, as the piece turns to canvas. That is a music lesson learned in the woodshop. On the guitar, metallico is played near the bridge, where the strings are tight and unbending and sound like the steel wheels of a train or fingernails on edge across a chalkboard – both sounds rarely heard these days as trains recede farther into the industrial inner city or disappear through the countryside, and chalkboards fill landfills. In the middle of nowhere one learns to listen. Dolce on guitar is sounded where the strings loosen, up the neck from the soundhole. Sweet is dolce, but the hard, long ē of sweet sounds more metallico, so soft is dolce, not sour, but balmy. Metallico, that steel rail sound, harsh and disagreeable, straightens the spine and tingles the neck hairs. For some listeners, dolce raises goosebumps; for others, metallico does the trick. Dolce is the sound of the short, soft vowel, metallico the sound of the long, hard vowel. Thus the meaning of a musical note changes with its vowel length. A bent line over the vowel illustrates the soft sound (ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, and ŭ), a straight line the hard (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū). Often, the meaning of a poem rests within its sounds, not seen in its definitions. One must listen to a poem like one listens to a piece of music. The reading question is often not what a poem means but how it feels when read or heard, what its sounds suggest. Some poems sand wood; others cut stone.
Watch the stars as they collide
Erase the dots in your eyes
What do the lyrics say we can’t hear
The singer and the song disappear
Pretty vacant and we don’t care
Pretty vacant and we don’t care
What’s your name the color of your hair
Saw you down at the LA fair
Have so much no need to share
Look at us oh what a pair
Pretty vacant and we don’t care
Pretty vacant and we don’t care
“Pretty, vacant, and we don’t care”
was part of an originals set played on
Live at 5 from the Portland Joe Zone last night,
“Bury My Heart in the Muddy Mississippi”
“If You’ll Be My Love”
“Two Riders Were Approaching”
“She Shakes Me Out“
Writing for the New York Times Sunday edition for June 28, California veteran-reporter Shawn Hubler, reporting from Davis, California, on the ghost town effect Covid-19 is bringing to college towns across the country, and wandering around the abandoned town UC Davis keeps flush, notes, apparently sans irony: “Outside the closed theater, a lone busker stood on a corner playing ‘Swan Lake’ on a violin to virtually no one.” I know the feeling.
Meanwhile, musicians across the globe are turning to virtual possibilities to keep their chops up in front of a live audience. Amateurs too are getting into the act, as evidenced by the creation of the “Live at 5 from the Joe Zone” shows, nearly nightly live broadcasts (5 pm PST) via Instagram “stories” and “IGTV” posts, featuring myself, a nephew, and three brothers, to wit: “The Joe Zone nightly Live at 5 with Joe, @ketch3m, @johnlinker, @charleslinker, @kevin_linker: Portland, Salem, Healdsburg, Ione, Drytown.” Listeners tune in to hear music and stories while watching the player, and comment live, often talking, virtually, to one another, via their online comments.
The shows last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. These are not group performances. If we could figure out how to do that virtually, we might give it a go, but for now, each of us takes a night in our respective hometown pandemic quarantine digs and creates a solo show for the live entertainment of our loyal followers. The other night, I had 5 listeners in my audience (go ahead: irony, satire, and sarcastic comments all accepted with good grace). There were, at one point, 6 listeners, but one apparently came and went. It happens. But that was also a slow night. I’ve had as many as 14 live listeners, at once. Ok, ok, still not exactly Arena Rock. And, but, in any case, that’s not the point.
If one saves the live show via IGTV, most followers eventually find it, but at which point it’s a kind of rerun. The key is to catch it live. But of course 5 in the evening is not necessarily the best time-fit for any given listener. I’ve not saved my shows beyond a few hours, if at all. I caught grief last week for an immediate delete, since Susan thought it was my best show yet, but the rerun dilutes the live effects. And the show is intended as a real quarantine activity, a virtual get-together, a virtual hoedown or hootenanny.
Of course, all towns are potential ghost towns (there appears to be a gene for it they are born with), and all performances are played potentially “for virtually no one.” Still, Davis is but a rock’s throw from the much larger Sacramento (about a 20 minute drive) and just over an hour to the Bay. Not to mention it’s a major Amtrak stop for the north-south Starlight Special. In many other small college towns across the country you can already hear the whistle’s last blow and watch the tumbleweeds filling the streets.
Hey Joe, where you going all tangled up in blue?
Gonna change my attitude, walk on down the avenue
Fly away on a magic carpet ride down to Graceland.
Hey Joe, what kind of mood you in with that cat-like grin?
I’m moving off the dark side of the moon
Going over to see Jerry Lewis at the Paradise.
Hey Joe, what’s that seaweed vine around your neck?
After months at sea I washed up on a beach
Now I’m drinking water from a coconut cup.
Hey Joe, who you seeing, hanging out with these days?
When the going gets tough, the tough get lonely, that’s what she said to me.
Gonna put on a tie and suit up for a career in the red dust.
Hey Joe, where you going with that book in your hand?
This here book is Penina’s Letters.
Going down to the water and toss the whole book off the jetty at D&W.
Hey Joe, why do you sing songs when we know you can’t sing?
This is my song to the world that’s always singing to me.
I’m taking voice lessons from a locomotive trapped in a tree.
Hey Joe, what’s that in your DNA?
Trains, uniforms, wheeled and track vehicles
Off the rack guitars and SWR surf films.
Hey Joe, been down to the cathedral lately?
You don’t need a church to pray.
Jesus said, two of you gathered in his name,
and he’ll take you home, he’ll take you home.
I’ll be performing “Goodbye, Joe” from the JoeZone, live at 5 (PST), tomorrow, Sat Jun 6, on Instagram: @joe.linker
She shakes me out, she jiggles me down
starts me dancing like a rodeo clown.
Twist to the left, twist to the right
never do we get too way up tight.
She stays so near, she goes so far
she ain’t no Facebook or Internet star.
She’s seen over here, she’s been over there
all night and day, everywhere.
Turn it up loud, turn it down soft
turn it all the way off.
She never says yes, she never says no
she knows when to say let it all go.
She don’t wear silver, she don’t wear gold
she’s never been bought, she’s never been sold.
She rides me high, she rides me low
she rides me fast, and she rides me slow.
Turn me loose, I have no choice
she rides me like a pet mongoose.
She be hep, she be cool
she never ever don’t be cruel.
She sings the old songs, fingerpicks a guitar
she don’t care if all the words go wrong.
She walks the streets, visits the sick
she don’t mind being in the thick of it.
She knows how to live, knows how to die
she looks me straight in the eye.
Color me blue, color me green
she’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.
She heats my beans, toasts my buns
and I hardly ever get the runs.
She shoots pool, shoots the shit
she ignores all the rules of it.
She hits a home run, lays down a bunt
she lays it all on the line.
She knows how to fly, knows how to fall
knows how to climb this here wall.
She knows how to pray, knows how to sin
she always knows the shape I’m in.
She knows how to work, knows how to play
knows to go home at the end of the day.
She knows how to give, knows how to take
she knows how to ask if there is some mistake.
She knows how to swim, knows how to sleep
she knows how to make that midnight creep.
She knows how to laugh, knows how to cry
not every guy in a suit is a spy.
She likes a tete-a-tete with a cat or two
down by the water.
She likes it slow, takes it easy
drinks a bourbon in the salsa garden.
The sun makes her happy, but rain makes her glad
Her blue eyes seldom cry.
She forgives, she forgets
she’s got rooms to let.
I do her dishes, scrub her pots
change the diapers, that’s my lot.
The bells of Saint Mary’s, down by the sea
the waves they did cry.
The day she got married, on the radio
angels they did fly.
She took a walk, on the mild side
she went to bed, and fell asleep.
She shakes me out, jiggles me down
I get up in the morning like a working clown.
“She Shakes Me Out” is a song I wrote and performed on my show “Live at 5 from the JoeZone” on Instagram on Monday, May 18 (now deleted). I used the chord progression:
Bb7 Bb9 Bb7b9 Bb9 Eb9 Eb7b9 Eb7 Eb7b9 Bb7 Bb9 Bb7b9 Bb9 F9 Eb9 Bb7 F9
Tune in to Live at 5 from the JoeZone most nights (PST), a pandemic quarantine social distancing live video hour (or less) of music, talk, stories, and such to help pass the time and ease the mind.
Two riders were approaching
on hogs and wearing leather.
“Let’s stop here,” said one to the other,
“for a cool drinking beer.”
They passed the time on songs
that ofttimes rhymed.
On the trail or in the big city.
They parked the hogs in the gutter.
At the bar the one he uttered,
“What’s that you got in the vat?”
“Saltwort Ale,” the barkeep did tell,
combing his beard with a hand.
“Two lights for us, my friend,
the day grows warm and thin,
the dust is finding its corners,
the dogs want shade and water.”
“No light here,” the barkeep says,
“and we don’t serve no rhymesters.”
“But we are the two riders,
two riders who were approaching.”
“This here’s a craft brew pub,
not some seedy tavern.
Take your hogs and dogs across the tracks,
go see John Wesley’s mother.”
The two riders went back to riding.
On the trail where we last heard their cry,
they were still approaching.
Two riders were approaching.
we’re gonna go
our own way.”
we’re gonna go
our own way.”
“Two Riders Were Approaching” is a song I wrote and performed on my show “Live at 5 from the JoeZone” on Instagram on Saturday, May 9 (now deleted). I used the chord progression Am Dm E7 Am. I changed a few words and lines here, and I discarded here a few of the lines sung live, as follows:
“…where the hodads hang their hats”;
“The hogs are hot and tired”;
“I don’t care if you’re the four horses of the apocalypse.”
If I ever play “Two Riders” again, I’ll probably change it some more.
Meantime, tune in to Live at 5 from the JoeZone Saturday nights (PST), a pandemic quarantine social distancing live video hour (or less) of music, talk, stories, and such to help pass the time and ease the mind.
I wrote this song, as I explained on “Live at 5,” to celebrate the latest Bob Dylan recordings, his first with all original songs in eight years. The title of my song, “Two Riders Were Approaching,” is the penultimate line in the Dylan song “All Along the Watchtower.” As I asked my audience, “Have you ever wondered what happened to those two riders?”
Photo: Pic I took of a photo at the Oregon Historical Society “Barley, Barrels, Bottles, and Brews” exhibit in 2019: two musicians and a bartender at the Cowdell Saloon in Antelope, Oregon, 1913.
The guitar, given the day would be green, could not have been any other color. The sky would blaze orange when the guitar mixed its sounds with the day.
Wallace Stevens was not a poet born in squalor, though he would have savored the metaphor. He was schooled and trained as a lawyer and spent his working life with Hartford Insurance where he rose to be a Vice President of Claims.
One day, one of his colleagues entered his office with a book of poems Stevens had apparently written. That Stevens was a poet was not well known inside the insurance setting of his day job. He often walked to work, a route which took him through a local park, and he composed in his head as he walked. Stevens, his colleague exclaimed, holding forth his book, you’re a poet! But what does it all mean? Never mind, Stevens replied. You are far too literal.
Like houseplants, Poetry can pose dangers. A reader might contact some sort of chemical dermatological poison just by holding a book of poems in his hands. The cautious, casual reader might want to wear gloves and put on a pair of solar eclipse glasses.
Because the man with the blue guitar drifts afar:
The man bent over his guitar, A shearsman of sorts. The day was green. They said, "You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are." The man replied, "Things as they are Are changed upon the blue guitar." And they said then, "But play, you must, A tune beyond us, yet ourselves, A tune upon the blue guitar Of things exactly as they are."
Quote from “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” by Wallace Stevens. Pictured: A Baby with a Blue Guitar.
Speaking of guitar, I’ve struck up a live at 5 (PST) guitar gig evenings on Instagram. Random, improvised, distractions. Check it out here.
The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch (Swiss, 2018) is a coming of age story, Motti’s single marital status of existential concern to his mother, who tries to set him up with any number of, for Motti, unsuitable but available girls whose mothers are equally concerned about the marriage status of their daughters. But Motti has his own ideas about attractions and family values, even as his young and tender heart is yanked from his body by the carefree girl he falls off a cliff for, and a parental sponsored trip to Israel banking on his finding a girl the family can approve of only makes matters worse. Expect much laughter, and crying, out loud, with actors speaking German, Yiddish, and Hebrew. The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch is about the surprise of life.
Happy as Lazzaro (Italian, 2018) is another coming of age story. Lazzaro does, literally, fall off a cliff, but not for love, and his heart remains surreally whole, inviolate, even as his body is bruised and abused. He’s a static character, the same at the end as at the beginning, even as life around him changes dramatically. The dwelling settings, country and city, are brutal but beautiful. The lives of the sharecroppers, under imprisonment and later emancipated but just as poor, still captives of poverty, illustrate that poverty is protean, affecting both the poor and the wealthy.
Django (French, 2017). A dramatization of the life of the guitarist Django Reinhardt and his family during World War II. The Nazis persecuted the Gypsies, many of whom tried to flee to relatively safe zones, joined the resistance, or were caught, killed on the spot, or transported via train to the Nazi concentration camps. The film focuses on Django’s one attempt to escape France, and while he did try to escape to Switzerland, according to the book Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend (2004, Michael Dregni, Oxford University Press), Django spent most of the war in Paris, where he was allowed to continue playing his music because by then he and his music had become so popular. But he had to play for the occupiers as well as for the locals, his safe treatment thus coming at the cost of a kind of debt bondage. From the book:
“Hitler bore a deep hatred for Gypsies…From 1933, German Gypsies were doomed. The Nazis barred Romanies from cities, shuttling them into settlement camps. Nazi doctors began sterilizing Romanies as early as 1933. And German Gypsies were required to wear a brown triangle sewn on their chest marked with the letter “Z” for zigemer, German for “Gypsy” – a precursor of the yellow Stars of David pinned to Jews (168)….Yet in Paris, Django was flourishing. Never did he have so much work or live in such sumptuous surroundings. Just as the Germans permitted jazz in Paris, they allowed Romany musicians to continue to play – and paid to come hear them every night” (169).
Still, Django worried for his family and for his own life, and if some considered him a hero, others thought of him as a conspirator: “Being in the spotlight saved him from the fate awaiting other Gypsies, but Django began to sweat under the glare” (182). Django takes off with his pregnant wife and his mother. They get caught and are imprisoned, but then, in the absurd way these things seem to happen, Dregni says, “A miracle arrived in the unlikely form of the German kommandant. He was a jazz fan, and when he came to question his new prisoner, he was astonished. ‘My good Reinhardt,’ he said, ‘whatever are you doing in this fix?’ Django promised not to try to escape again, and was freed” (184).
Django the film is must see for anyone interested in Gypsy jazz. But it’s also just a classic film – the acting, the setting, the timing, the war, the family and country drama and suspense. It features much magnificent music, including the organ “Mass” piece Django created. Django the book by Dregni should also be read. Django never learned to read or write, save at a most rudimentary level, and that late in his life (he died age 43). The book reveals a deep history of jazz music in Europe, particularly Paris, including stories of the many Black American musicians who traveled through Europe, most stopping in Paris, many playing with Django, following both World Wars. It covers the business of music and recording and performance management, popular success and failure, the changing style of jazz as musicians work to assimilate new music experienced from new exposures.
South of Eureka, Highway 101 again turns inland, curling through more redwoods, passing through a few small towns. The road curves and curls through the tall woods and slants south-southeast away from the ocean, the trees gradually grow smaller and more sparse, the land opens up into rolling hills, and you enter wine country. Travelers wanting to continue hugging the coast cut over from Leggett to Fort Bragg and continue down old Highway 1, through Mendocino, and can roll and stroll on down all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Travelers wanting more Pynchon can spend a few nights in Garberville. But we were on our way to Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, in the heart of wine country, though we’d only be about 20 miles from the ocean as the crow flies, about an hour from Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock filmed “The Birds,” and on the south side of the bay, Dillon Beach, where my brother John likes to go surfing.
Alas, we would not go surfing this trip, in spite of the fact my brother has enough surfboards in his garage to supply a squad of dolphins, and Kevin had brought along his wetsuit. Healdsburg was a happy happening hive: a wedding was being planned though a couple of weeks out yet and anticipation was high; more immediate, a birthday gathering weekend was bringing California family coming in from all directions; Healdsburg High was holding its annual graduation ceremony; there was a jazz fest blowing in the downtown square; and at John’s place there were guitars enough to equip a choir.
After the long drive down the coast, getting lost upon arrival in tiny Healdsburg trying to find John’s house, and the excitement of seeing folks we’d not in some time, we slept like sloths.
…to be continued: this is part five in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.