Des’ree

Life

By Lara Shelton

At the time, I fancied myself a poet.

On a good night, there might be twenty of us. Some of us came and went. You could usually tell who wasn’t going to stick around because they would come with a little notepad or a carefully typed-out manuscript, and they would order a beer and place it before them on the table like a novitiate’s candle. Or they would come in with a bunch of friends–a traveling fan club which encircled them like a layer of bubble wrap, insulating them from the rougher members of the group.

Some of them were pretty rough. There was the guy who told me, bleary-eyed, that he had written his poem for the night on a sanitary napkin because the muse had taken hold of him and he had been tossing and turning for hours, and the only place he could find paper was in the women’s bathroom at the bar below his apartment. There was the woman who had a facial tattoo of Rimbaud’s quote Misfortune is my god.

These were my people.

There were public readings involved. The “scene”, as I called it in my head, consisted of a lot of drinking in bars, a stage usually made up of a couple of moving pallets with a piece of cardboard and some old carpet thrown over them, and all of the characters I mentioned above, along with a lot of drunken wannabe screenwriters.

There was a hierarchy. First the man who founded the reading night, he was most important, because he had published a chapbook that had gotten him noticed by a certain popular singer who then paid him a shitload of money to plagiarize his poem and add a good-time chorus. As I said, he was first, then anyone who had made it into his inner circle by being sycophantic enough to cut through his alcohol haze. They came next. If you were a hot enough girl, and his type, you could sometimes worm your way into this circle without having to be sycophantic to excess. I was a hot enough girl. Meaning, I was blonde and had no visible facial scarring.

Des'ree square 2So, in the beginning, even though I liked to hide in the darkest corner of the bar with the people who desperately scrawled their poetry on coffee filters in the middle of the night, and we liked to laugh hoarsely and share cigarettes and trash talk,  I came in the mid-section of the evening, between the guy who had founded the reading night and the people at the end–my people–the ones who liked to go dark. I was just a blonde with no visible facial scarring some poetic pretensions that had been stoked by winning a high-school writing contest.

What is it about older guys and sexualizing fatherhood? Why do older guys always want to think that you’re going to find them sexy because they’re more accomplished than you are? What is that about?

I was about to find out. First I got noticed, for being angry and bruised. Or at least for having angry and bruised poetry. When I look back on it now, it’s utterly ridiculous. I was angry, sure, but I was unbruised as a Whole Foods Asian pear. I had been wrapped in the styrofoam netting of privilege since I was young. Not the privilege of money, exactly, but the privilege of a stable childhood in a safe environment. But somehow being angry and bruised seemed more appealing than good schools and a two-car garage on a cul-de-sac, and so that’s what I spewed forth.

But I think he thought that I was damaged goods. And damaged goods come cheap.

Des'ree square 1Or maybe he wanted to save me, somehow. Maybe he wanted to stand up in his Bukowski sweater and point his fatherly finger in a fatherly direction and show me the way. Either way, there was an implied intimacy, and an implication that I should somehow be grateful. All while my own father, my real father, was probably at home watching 60 Minutes in the wood-paneled rec room.

I didn’t sense anything weird at first. I thought, foolishly, that it was merit which singled me out.

When he began to move me forward in the line-up I thought that was merit too.

Except, I was running out of new poems. The anger which had fueled the first dozen or so, once I had exhausted it, began to feel less and less authentic. But I had started off writing in a certain vein, and couldn’t exactly show up with hearts and flowers.

When I got there, things felt different. The people that I had bonded with looked at me like I was a traitor. When he announced that I was to come first, right after him, they sniggered behind my back. And when I looked at the material I had brought, I realized I was going to crash and burn.

So instead I got up and recited the lyrics to this song, which I had heard on the radio on the way over:

Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot doot dooo.
Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot dooo

I’m afraid of the dark,
Especially when I’m in a park
And there’s no-one else around,
Oh, I get the shivers

I don’t want to see a ghost,
It’s a sight that I fear most
I’d rather have a piece of toast
And watch the evening news

Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot doot dooo.
Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot dooo

Needless to say, I didn’t go back the next week.
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Des’ree

Clotilde

Secret Name

By Kedrick Rue

LAcityscape2Sometimes when you tell a secret–a secret without real context or precedent–you’re creating a mystery rather than solving one.

This is the kind of secret I’m writing about today.

So there was a bar, and there was a back room. You may as well think of it as a fairy tale, because it may as well be. A bar, and a back room, and a guitar.

Also, there was a woman. She may have been French. Her name may have been Clotilde; that may also have been a disguise she was wearing.

It was the early seventies, everyone at the bar was there to see the stoner band which went on at 10:00. But I was restless, and I was still young enough for something stunning passing through my line of sight to make a deep impression. I ventured into the back room, which was private. I knocked three times; I said the magic word; I passed through the hidden doorway. The woman sang a song.

The song was called Secret Name.

If I remembered the lyrics, it would be worse than forgetting them. If I remembered even a hint of the chord progression, it might disappear into thin air. What I can tell you is that Clotilde was small and thin. Upturned nose, brown heavy-lashed eyes. Impeccably dressed Kedrick Quote Clotildein a tailored white tunic which nodded towards hippie culture even as it summarily dismissed it. There was no crowd; the crowd had come to hear the stoner band which didn’t go on for another hour.

She played guitar with manicured nails. Her thumbnail had been reinforced with a shaving from a ping pong ball, and I remember her commenting that this, more than anything, would be the reason that she would never be a star. I think this was humor; it may have been deadly serious.

I also remember the subject matter of the song. It was a fairy tale which may have been invented by Clotilde, about a woman imprisoned in a pillar of stone by a curse, doomed to languish until someone discovers her secret name. Unlike most fairy tales of this sort, however, there was no one attempting to rescue her. No prince, no fairy godmother.

After establishing the context, the song went on to list the people in the village passing by the stone: the baker, the parson, the farmer. The baker commented that it might become a millstone, to mill his wheat. The parson mentioned that it might be carved into a crucifix. The farmer wanted to carve it into a watering trough. No one seemed to notice that the pillar they were walking past was actually a person.

Eventually five hundred years passed, and at the end of the song the woman herself had forgotten her name. And she hadn’t become a millstone, or a crucifix, or a watering trough. She had been only a pillar.

Kedrick Quote Clotilde 2The song ended, and the few people lucky enough to have heard it were shaken from their spell enough to mumble and clap. And then the stoner band began to play, and the crowds rushed in, and Clotilde packed up her guitar and left.

I woke up the next morning not quite remembering how I’d gotten home, but with a scrap of melody flowing through my head, like a lone golden feather drifting through a darkening forest, and the memory of a name–her secret name–which I had been certain she had whispered to me in my sleep.

I later met this woman at a party. It was a few years later, and she supposed no one remembered her. She didn’t seem particularly pleased that I did. But I did, and I asked her several questions, which she answered in third person.

ME: Why did you stop?
CLOTILDE: Why did she start?
ME: Because she had something to say.
CLOTILDE: Her English is not so good.
ME: But there was a spirit, an esprit–
CLOTILDE: A spirit in the air…maybe only a passing spirit…
ME: And did anyone ever discover her name?
CLOTILDE: No one even knew to ask. Finally she remembered it herself, and the stone cracked. So she walked away.

I never saw her again after that night. Somebody at the party told me that she had recorded a single in France, and that if you knew who to ask or if you looked hard enough, you might find it. But even in this era of YouTube and Spotify, it fails to show up. I wonder if this means she recorded under another name.

And I realize that, even as I’m writing this, it’s the sort of secret which cannot be shared. It was shared once, and may never be shared again, like the door you go through in the fairy tale to find that five hundred years have passed.

Five hundred years have passed, and I am still thinking about a song whose words I can’t remember, and whose music is just a suggestion in my memory.

If that’s not a spell, I don’t know what is.

If you have information on Clotilde, e-mail Kedrick at kedrickrue@gmail.com.

Clotilde

Sugarboom

Dress

By Laural Winter

sugarboom 2

You know how people say I’m with the band? Well, I lived with a band back in the early nineties. I lived there for the birth of an album. Sugarboom practiced Monday and Tuesday nights in our basement.  Anne, my roommate, was the bassist and rented the house partially because it was a great space for Sugarboom to practice in.

At the time Seattle sound was monstrously popular. And I barely noticed. I was into the local poetry scene, into seeing free movies because I worked at the Movie House, into seeing local bands. But I disliked seeing three guitar bands in a row. I wanted to see variety shows or cabarets. I wanted to see coed bands. I loved male and female singing duos like X or the Pixies.

So not the Seattle sound.

I ignored them and listened to X, the Pixies or defiantly pop bands like Crowded House. Ha! That would show them!  I didn’t hide that I loved Crowded House.

One night my friend Marina and I went to the Portland club Satyricon. It was THE place to see bands and hang out. We used to go there several nights a month. We had seen a lot of great alternative rock and punk rock bands there. We heard this great fast dance-able beat coming from the stage area. We raced in and started dancing immediately.

laural pic for post

Me reading at Cafe Lena

 

I don’t remember which Sugarboom song they were playing but it was probably from their first or second cassette. We hung around dancing and drinking. Marina and I loved to dance. I ended up buying the cassette.

Like I said they practiced Monday and Tuesdays. I read poetry Tuesday nights at Cafe Lena. I would hear the beginning of their practice and that was my cue to head down to the open mike at Lena’s. They were being creative and I was being creative. It felt good.

They each individually practiced on their own too.  I have a lot of respect for how hard bands work to create an album’s worth of songs.  It seems tremendous to me.  Sugarboom created the album Planer while I lived there.  Greg Sage produced it. I love that album.  It has an atmospheric sound with lovely vocals.  There’s a great blend of poignant and fun songs. The album is also the ticket to my 28-year-old self.  When I listen to it I have fun but a heavy blanket of melancholy can come over me if I let it.  I was extremely sad then and coming out of depression.  I was trying to figure out who I was and where I wanted to be.  So I moved to Philadelphia and went to Drexel University to study for a Masters of Library Science.  

Isn’t it amazing how music can take you down memory lane?  It’s up to us to find our way back and redefine the music so we can listen again without the fog of memory if we choose.

Dress is of my favorite songs by Sugarboom. Because I still want to go dancing. How about you?

Dress on YouTube

Sugarboom

Tchaikovsky

Theme from Swan Lake

By Theresa Snyder

Theresa pic 2

Mom at 20 showing off her new suit

 

Our home was always full of music when I was growing up. As an adult it has continued to be such at my home.

I was raised on classical music. My mother dreamed of being an opera singer when she was younger. She was a soprano with a three octave range whose voice instructor insisted on telling the surgeon how to remove her tonsils without threatening her career.

Mother used to encourage her mother and father to take the rest of the family out for picnics on Sunday after church. She would rush home, with the promise to clean the house and do the ironing, if she could only listen to the Sunday opera broadcast on the radio in peace.

Sometimes reality gets in the way of dreams. Mother married and had a family, but she never lost her love of music.

To her way of thinking, a cup of tea, a piece of classical music and a long chat could solve any problem.

She loved the power of Beethoven and Bach, the playfulness of Mozart, the commanding voice of Mario Lanza or Caruso, and the playfulness of Jeanette McDonald.

By the time I was in my teens I could hum along with most classical pieces from heart, but never bothered to learn the composer’s names or the names of the compositions. When I left home and become a writer, I found myself listening to classical music. Unlike music with lyrics, it was not a distraction while I wrote. Later, when my mother passed away, I started to listen to the classical station on the radio. It brought back fond memories of her and our lives together.

I longed to have some of the pieces mother had. When I would hear one I recognized on the radio, I would often sit in the car until it was finished, even though that might mean I was late to work. I would write down the composer, take the information to the local music store and ask one of the staff to suggest the best recording of that piece.

Theresa pic 1I found out two of my favorites were Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov and Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. Both of these pieces transport me into an almost ‘out of body’ experience. I can visualize the action. The storyteller of Scheherazade in the Arabian tent of the Sultan appears before me to weave her story and prolong her life. The swans effortlessly glide across the lake of my imagination in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake until confronted by the hunter.

And during both pieces I can hear the click of the spoon in mother’s cup as she stirs her tea and her soft voice smoothing the wrinkles out of my current problem. They call it ‘classical’ for a reason. It is timeless and oh so memorable.

Swan Lake Main Theme on YouTube

Scheherazade Main Theme on YouTube

 

Tchaikovsky

Henry Cowell

The Tides of Manaunaun

By Andrew Fort

Henry Cowell 2
 

Henry Cowell

 

When my two older sisters were teenagers, they rebelled in every possible way: moderate drug use, immoderate drinking, various unsuitable boyfriends. When my parents were home, they engaged them in melodramatic screaming matches. When my parents were away, they threw wild parties. They bought electric guitars and motorcycles. One of them even spent a night in jail.

Even so, I think my parents were completely unprepared for the level of my adolescent insubordination, because my mode of rebellion was far more troubling and difficult to understand than any they had yet been forced to deal with.

It involved 20th Century classical music.

If you’re not familiar with the music of Henry Cowell, he was the composer who pioneered the use of what came to be known as the tone cluster. Playing a tone cluster involves hitting a group of piano keys with a palm, a fist, or sometimes an entire forearm. The sound is dissonant and jarring and for many headache-inducing. This is partly why I liked it.

My classmates in high school either got into Punk, or Goth, or New Wave. In my mind, I mocked the punks with their torn t-shirts and safety pins for romanticizing anarchy. I scorned the Goths and their black lipstick for romanticizing death. And I reviled the New Wavers and their complicated hair styles for romanticizing their cans of mousse. But a special place in my own particular “worst dressed” line up was reserved for the Hessians

Iron Maiden t-shirt

—the Heavy Metal fans with long scraggly hair and seemingly endless supplies of identical-looking Iron Maiden t-shirts. Where the other groups were simply misguided, I believed the Hessians were willfully stupid, spending all their time playing air guitar and banging their heads and making “shout at the devil” hand gestures.

My own hair cut and style of dress were carefully chosen to betray no persona whatsoever within my slender financial means other than that of Conscientious Objector in the Style Wars. I think I was smart enough to realize that choosing one’s mode of rebellion from a culturally-sanctioned menu that may as well have been laminated and posted in the school office was not true rebellion. Unfortunately, I was too stupid to realize that rejecting all socially acceptable forms of rebellion would leave me eating my Hostess Chocolate Frosted Donette Gems alone in front of the school library, while the Hessians played air guitar in front of the Career Center, and the punks smoked cigarettes in the Large Quad, and the Goths re-applied their black lipstick in various abandoned bathrooms.

My aloneness, I reasoned, was not without precedence. Although Henry Cowell has his admirers, he is not wholeheartedly embraced by Classical music aficionados. He was an adamant modernist, but with a wide Romantic streak. Those who enjoy “classical” music because it is soothing and euphonic dislike the tone clusters and other discordant elements in Cowell’s music. Those who enjoy modern atonal music find in it too much melody and not enough intellectual rigor. He was caught between two camps. He stood alone. This is why his music spoke to me.

One piece in particular caught my fancy. It utilized a variety of tone clusters, including a series of arpeggios in which the performer is required to hit a low note with the elbow of his left hand and pivot the forearm down onto the keys, hitting all of the notes on the way up in succession. The right hand, meanwhile, plays a fragile, vaguely ancient-sounding pentatonic melody on the black keys. To me, this piece epitomized the state in which I found myself. The cacophony of the left hand was the noise of the world around me. The purity of the right hand was my embattled interior self, struggling to be heard.

I had to play it at the school talent show.

What I hadn’t counted on was the drum solo.

School talent shows were generally pretty predictable. Kids with every talent imaginable excepting the social performed. Accordions were involved. This year, however, there was a guy playing a drum solo. A Hessian. And he brought his own fan club with him.

So after the incessant pounding of the skins concluded and they cleared the twelve-piece drum kit to the screaming of the Hessian hordes, I went out onstage in a silver smoking jacket—a misconceived wardrobe choice, I now realize—and took my seat at the piano.

The first thing I heard was, “Hey, it’s Liberace!” I mentally gave the heckler points for being culturally literate enough to make that connection.Andy Quote

The next thing I heard was “Hey, it’s a fag!” I gave this heckler no points.

This was the eighties, and being called a fag didn’t carry even a smidgen of the hip cachet it might today. It was an outright slur. The best response, I reasoned, was to wow potential detractors with talent. So I played.

Even as I played I think I realized what the audience must have been witnessing: a gangly, pimply teenager in a silver smoking jacket pounding indiscriminately with one hand and tinkling a fey melody with the other.

And it didn’t rock like the drum solo had.

I left the stage to scattered, listless applause and more than a few intensely focused jeers.

I didn’t win a prize.

hostess-donettes-mini-donuts-60977

The next day, I was back to eating my Hostess Chocolate Frosted Donette Gems alone in front of the school library, my interior self feeling more embattled than it had before. The Hessians were over on the brick wall by the career center, playing air guitar. The guy who had won first prize was playing air drums.

I was puzzled by the world’s indifference. Something had struck a chord–or perhaps a dischord–in me, and I was hoping that same something might resonate with someone else.

Could it have been that the entire world was composed of idiots? Even I could see the flaw in that theory.

Yet I felt as if I had remained authentic to myself. I think that’s why teenagers rebel: they sense some inauthenticity in their surroundings and are drawn towards something they consider to be more authentic. This was why the Goths put on black lipstick. This was why the New Wavers adopted hair styles approximating the shapes of manta rays. This was why the Hessians wore the same ripped Iron Maiden T-shirts day after day.

And this was why I loved Henry Cowell.

I remember, at the time, trying to equate the percussive cacophony of the drum solo with the percussive cacophony of the Cowell piece. Could it have been that Hessians were not complete idiots? That there was some merit to head-banging? At some point I realized
that the arm motion I used to play that rolling tone-cluster arpeggio looked an awful lot like the arm motion used in hitting a snare, or a hi-hat. My drumstick was a half-eaten package of Hostess Chocolate Frosted Donette Gems. And my right foot, pedaling the piano, might as well have been playing a kick drum. And I remember opening my eyes to see the leader of the Hessian Hordes making approximately the same motions I was.

Was he looking at me? It appeared he was.

And was I playing air drums?

It appeared I was.

And when he signed “shout at the devil” at me, was I just a little pleased?

It appeared I was.

Henry Cowell, The Tides of Manaunaun

Henry Cowell

The Mountain Goats

No Children

By Mr. X

Does it say something about me that I hate love songs? That I hear the death knell of a relationship tolling when a partner suddenly announces, “This is our song!” That the roller coaster ride of emotions that a love song is supposed to present only leaves me queasy and barfing up cotton candy and popcorn by the port-a-potties?

Does it say something about me that this song, instead, with its lyrics of I hope when you think of me years down the line/You can’t think of one good thing to say and its refrain of I hope we die/I hope we both die! brings tears to my eyes?

I am not a cynic. I believe in love. I was in love, deeply. It was a fever which made my eyeballs burn and my synapses twitch.

Conversation Hears 3If I were to admit the amount of times I called her a bitch while screaming at the top of my lungs, I might be sentenced to state-sanctioned anger management training. But it could never equal the amount of times she called me “asshole”. Not by a long shot.

At the time, I thought I was in hell. But sometimes when I look back at it I wonder if it was just a rage-fueled version of heaven.

At any rate, she knew me better than anyone else has before or since. I want to say that she was my equal, but that’s not true. She was clearly my better. I liked to pretend I was smarter because I had been to better schools, but she had been to the school of hard knocks. The way that she would call me on every iota of bullshit, anyway, was worthy of a doctoral thesis.

But we were made of sandpaper. You rub two pieces of sandpaper together, and what do you get? A pile of sand.

I repeat, I am not a cynic. The reason this song moves me in a way that the “every night in my dreams I see you I feel you” drivel does not is that you get the sense that this couple really knows each other. They are either going to destroy one another, or spend the rest of their lives together. Maybe both.

We did not destroy one another. We never had the chance.

The reason she left had nothing to do with us, really, except it had everything to do with us. Her father lived on the other coast and was sick, and there was nothing to tie her here. Nothing, that is, except me. Which should have been enough.

But on the other hand, there was nothing to tie me here, either.

At any rate, she left and I didn’t. And that was the end of it. We didn’t try to continue the relationship; I for, one was too exhausted to try. Our last screaming match wore me out. She laid bare all of my faults with terrifying accuracy, but I could see in her eyes that she still loved me, despite them. Or maybe because of them.

Maybe that final screaming match, if we could have gone one step beyond it, maybe that would have been the last one, because we had exhausted ourselves into a kind of understanding.

Conversation hearts 4But I was too terrified to take that step. I was no longer sandpaper, I was the worn and wrinkled husk after the sanding has been done. Fragile to the point of translucence. Coughing up dust.

Which is what I’ve been trying to get at. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. I’ve been in a lot of indifferent relationships. I’ve only been in one which made me feel this kind of intensity.

And, ultimately, “No Children” is a song of hope. Almost every line starts with the words “I hope.” It doesn’t matter that what he’s hoping for is to cut himself shaving, or for their friends to desert them. He’s still hoping for something.

I guess I still hope that someday I’ll see her again, and that when I do I’ll be strong enough to take that next step.

The Mountain Goats