The Old Busker

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.

An Approach to Stylelessness

Language, the dress of thought,
words its buttons.
What are we trying to cover?
Nothing.

The dress interprets
the body,
its own reveal, skin and hair,
apparently lacking

something necessary
to complete the ensemble,
where sound means
stylelessly.

Dress, the body licensed
for use, the slow decay
its words describe,
its missing buttons.

Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Jazz on a summer’s day
sleepy jazz on a rainy evening
jazz on the night of a full blue moon.
Jazz on a transistor radio in the next room.

Jazz in a whiteout blizzard
jazz on a foggy morning in the surf
jazz on a summer’s day
jazz when the falling leaves fall.

Jazz in a coffee house with wifi
jazz in a clean well-lighted place
jazz high up in the trees
jazz on a yacht in the tranquil bay.

Jazz trio at the wine bar
jazz aboard a tugboat
on the Mississippi jazz live at five
jazz out a picture window.

Jazz on a crosstown bus
jazz at a sock hop
jazz in the cold grotto
jazz in an empty church.

Jazz from a food cart
jazz in a classroom
jazz in Healdsburg
jazz in Drytown.

Jazz in a confessional
jazz working on the railroad
jazz in a sweatshirt
jazz in jail.

Jazz it kind of got away from you
jazz on steamboats fixing everything
jazz at The Coming of the Toads
jazz in and jazz out of a blue collar.

Jazz on a jukebox
jazz at Terre Rouge
jazz in a red convertible
jazz on a Martian moon.

Jazz in the slow lane
jazzy walk around the block
jazz down on Stark Street
jazz at low tide.

Jazz rumbles across the trestle
jazz if you go out in the woods today
jazz between Scylla and Charybdis
jazz on the air.

Jazz in Seattle in a coal car
jazz at a concert in the park caldera
jazz in the near light like a candle
jazz in the faraway dark quiet.

Jazz alone and jazz together
jazz out there and jazz in here
just jazz at a rent party cleaning
up after they’ve all gone home.

Jazz about this and jazz about that
jazz when flat and jazz while sharp
streaming jazz in a steamy heat
jazz on a fine summer’s day.

Universe as a Looper

Having recently acquired a Roland Boss RC-1 Loop Station Looper Pedal, and after several faulty attempts to quickly master the electronic musical gadget, and with the Mars Rover Perseverance and related NASA coverage in the news, and having just come off a few posts with the theme of home, I’ve begun thinking of the universe as a looper.

To begin in the middle of this current loop of thought – I read with interest an opinion piece from The Atlantic, “Mars is a Hellhole: Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity” (Shannon Stirone, 26 Feb 2021). It’s a guns versus butter model argument. Says Stirone, taking the Earthbound wealthy would be Mars colonizer Elon Musk to task: “Musk has used the medium of dreaming and exploration to wrap up a package of entitlement, greed, and ego. He has no longing for scientific discovery, no desire to understand what makes Earth so different from Mars, how we all fit together and relate. Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter.”

A counter argument might suggest that Musk’s enterprise is not quite the United Fruit Company, nor is he spending money on Mars, but here at homebase Earth, creating at least some jobs, presumably, and advancing knowledge in the general and random way that can lead to discoveries that tangentially do help Earth, however speculative or foolhardy they may seem at the outset. At the same time, at least part of the wealth created goes toward philanthropic efforts.

In any case, surely the universe will continue its looping design with or without Musk, with or without Earth, for that matter.

The looper pedal is used to lay down a series of recorded notes or chords (or electronic noises or sounds) that then play back while being added to, overdubbed, with additional series of notes or chords which in turn loop back around – in the RC-1, for up to 12 minutes before relooping. The key is the overdubbing and the circular motion. There is a beginning and an end to the loop, but no end, theoretically, to the looping phase, each one of which has a bearing on all the rest, and no end, again theoretically, to the overdubbing, each dub contributing to a new whole.

I’m now in the process of creating a musical composition using the looper. It will be a fugue that begins with a big bang and expands with overdubbing and recapitulations for the entire 12 minutes available to approximate a musical cosmological model of the universe. I’ll use 12 loops within the loop, ending by then recording the finished now finite whole loop using the Garage Band app on my laptop, and erasing the original from the looper station to free it up for more creations.

I do wonder how this fugue I’ve planned will help humanity, or will aid in space exploration or the colonization of Mars. It seems certain it won’t. But the universe will not be able to ignore it. My fugue will be part of the big looper and its seemingly even greater indifference.

Nothing but the Oldies

“nothing but the music” (2020, Blank Forms Editions, Brooklyn) is a kind of compilation, a box set, of pieces composed by Thulani Davis over the years 1974 to 1992, lines written while listening to live music or reflecting on the experience of an avant garde art form as it’s happening, and before it might be neutered by mainstream commercialization too influenced by those with control of the means of production. Most of the Davis pieces appeared in poetic form in alternative press issues over the years and some were set to music. The scores are informed, and may be read with reference to, performance and theatre, jazz and punk, R&B, and mixed forms or art form synesthesia, the courage and risks found in the places music is born, but the rewards too of achievement, however much that success may appear to some as failure. The music’s codification (its reliability, approvals, its aesthetic argument) might be seen in the cost for a ticket to get in: $20 – for a 63 page paperback, made possible in part by support from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Is the music now artifact? The oral argument, written or recorded, becomes a document. What the music feels like, in words, what it stands for, and stands against. The importance of the work, these pieces, these entries, is found in the subtitle: “Documentaries from nightclubs, dance halls & a tailor’s shop in Dakar.” Or, in the words of the book’s epigraph:

“to the artists
& dharma guides
who coax us
minute by minute
from retold pasts
& possible futures
ever
to the present
moment”

Each piece is sourced at its end with a date and location and often the names of the musicians. For example: “1982, CBGB, New York”; “April 27, 1977, The Rogue & Jar, Washington, DC. The players: David Murray, Hamiet Bluiett, Charles “Bobo” Shaw, Fred Hopkins. The poet: Ntozake Shange”; “April 15, 1975. Five Spot, New York. The Cecil Taylor Unit: Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, Andrew Cyrille.” That last piece just cited, “C. T. At The Five Spot,” begins:

“this is not about romance & dream
it’s about a terrible command performance of the facts
of time & space & air”

…and moves on:

“ripple stamp & beat/ripple peddlin’
stomps taps of feet slick poundin’ out
tonal distinctions between/keys & sticks”

…and ends:

“I have heard this music
ever since I can remember/I have heard this music”

(22-23)

If music is a cultural argument, an aesthetic fight, it must come complete with a thesis statement about which some will disagree, backed with claims with examples, illustrations, supported with evidence and sources. It’s not enough to dress the part and go punk for an evening; one must want to be hardcore punk, and harder still. The wall does not give way so easily. It’s not enough to listen to the radio or buy the recording; one must enter the mosh pit. Who can survive it?

“the punks jumped on the stage
and dove into their friends
let their chains beat their thighs
the crowd thought death
in two-minute intervals
heavy metal duos and creaming murder

the band of twelve year-old rockers
wished they could do it
come like that on the refuse
of somebody else’s youth”

from “Bad Brains: A Band”: 1982, CBGB, New York

We find, in “nothing but the music,” in addition to the music itself, criticism, analysis, reaction, conclusions, as well as questions for further research. What happens when the avant garde becomes tradition?

“Not just history not just Trane
No not what we heard about
What we heard
Just what we hear
It always being night
We’ll still be there
Dancing the dissonant logic
The loneness
Just playing music
He speaking to himself
Really paying us no rabbitass mind
Digging what himself was doing
T-monius and ‘al-reet'”

from “T-Monius”: February 17, 1982, 122nd Street, New York (50-51).

In a life of disenfranchisement, art may be the only place to find certain freedoms: of expression and voice, enjoyment and creativity, play and work coming together in a spirit of desire and interests, not of servitude or boredom, and where one may object to a status quo in a statement with examples of new possibilities. And beauty, where beauty may come to rest, looking tired and worn out, where she can mix with the crowd and feel at home and dig the music. And truth hangs out in the rhythm section. Some hep young cat might ask, “What was it like?” And the answer is important, how we answer, what we say, what we hold back. We are old now, and passing, older than we ever imagined. You can’t breakdance at 70 like you could at 17, Cornel West said in his ten minute section of Astra Taylor’s Examined Life: “Time is real.” Yes, and you can find it in the music:

“giving a spring to the dance
of who we are/unexpected beauty
beauty we have known ourselves to be
like reaching old age & infancy in a breath
of this is the music
knowing we can’t be us
& be afraid of who we are”

X-75-Vol. 1, Henry Threadgill “Side B (Air Song/Fe Fi Fo Fum)” (31-32).

Dolce & Metallico

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.

Salsa Party on the Moon

In the news, water discovered on Earth’s moon: Not so much water apparently though that NASA will start shaping surfboards for its astronauts; nor is discovered quite right – confirmed or proven more precise. Meantime, of course, what with someone always turning up the global warming thermostat in the house, we’ll soon be wanting to bring some of that moon water down to Earth. And where there’s water, there could be also be tomatoes. And where there’s tomatoes, there could also be salsa. Now, a salsa party on the moon – countdown! And where there’s water, there’s sound, so the previously assumed to be silent moon, if you put your ear to the crater, just might produce some good vibes after all; and what’s a salsa party without music?

You Can’t Go Home Again

Sylvie. 30 Day Letter. Termination. Goodbye, Seattle. Country Blues Song.

You can’t go home again. Neither should I have stayed on another week at Hotel Julian. The subdued rhythm of my pastoral turned boisterous with the arrival of the fleet, and my absence in Seattle and now my prolonged and somewhat mysterious trip south caught up with me, testing Walter’s patience, and as he was wont to do at any sign of disloyalty among those with a seat at his table, he terminated me. There was of course more to it than that. The Walter Team was disestablished. It would be near impossible to disambiguate the transactions. In any case, I was no longer Risk Manager to the gods. Sylvie said Walter had sent me a 30 day letter. I could transfer to a desk in Morocco or take my leave, but the 30 days had already expired, and I had been cut loose with a modest severance bonus. Sylvie was on her way to spring training with her Single A team in Costa Rica. She had leased the Queen Anne house to some moonshiners out of the hills somewhere in east Skagit who planned to set up a microbrew. She had taken the liberty of putting my severance into a fund of fund of funds with no guaranteed rate of return but with a reputable track record. While I would not yet have to give up my weekly room status for a berth in the bunkroom, I would have to scout around for some part time work. I would not go back to Seattle though. I would take my risks elsewhere and in due time. Come Thursday night of my second week on board I climbed the Hotel Julian fire escape up to the rooftop bar and grill where I drank a slow beer and listened to Jack Tar and the Flower Girl with the Weathered Weary Blues Band messing around with some country blues with players on guitar, banjo, harmonica, a snare drum with a single cymbal, a Flatiron mandolin, and a stand up bass. Flower Girl nearly keeled me over with this song:

“Back Home Again”

What I know about love, I wrote on a postage stamp,
and mailed myself half way up to the moon.
I’m in stardust singing – I do, I do, adieu.
I’m out on the road, and I can’t go home again.

I was born in the back of a beach bum shack,
again and again, then I sailed the seven seas.
I never made it back home again.
Adieu, adieu. You can’t go home again.

She was born in a coral of a rodeo,
off a road they call Route 66.
Between the cowboy and the clown she broke free.
Goodbye, goodbye. She won’t be back again.

The moral of this story, the point of this tale,
if you ever leave home, you can’t go back again,
because you won’t be there when you arrive.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, goodbye.

And it’s home again, I want to come back to you,
see all my family and all my old friends too,
but it’s true what they say, you can’t go home again.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, adieu.

Note: Hear “Back Home Again” played on the guitar
here: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CEAoxkhIXgq/

“You Can’t Go Home Again”
is episode 23 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Pretty, vacant, and we don’t care

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,
and included:
Bury My Heart in the Muddy Mississippi
If You’ll Be My Love
Two Riders Were Approaching
Goodbye, Joe
She Shakes Me Out

Virtually Nowhere

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.