Saturday, May 30, 2009

Series of Dreams #5 - Crosses of San Carlos

Past Jerusalem Mountain; red-amphetamine sunrise
Mesquite, saguaro, great mystical agave…tell us, please,
Where in hell are we going?

There is a road which runs from Phoenix Arizona, on up to Globe and back down the other side to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Highway 60 melts into highway 70 at Globe and runs down through the San Carlos Apache reservation. This is the great cactus road of all cactus roads, with all the Sonoran varieties of agaves, prickly pears, ocotillos and chollas; and the barrels and the great saguaros and organ pipes. Don't forget the fish hooks, and devils fingers and ironwoods and stag horns and Palo Verde and hedgehogs. Might even spy a Joshua Tree with a Gila Monster hiding behind it. When you hit the San Carlos reservation the road becomes spiked and framed with the white crosses which mark the Indian dead. Drunk drivers, mostly. You see, there's no alcohol allowed on the reservation and sometimes the folks get thirsty and take off on a weekend spirit search for libation, which becomes a ghost dance. Those roads are snaky, sandy and treacherous when a man has twenty beers under his belt and he's pissed off anyways at what became of the Native West. All of it went to hell since they sent Geronimo into exile in Florida. Florida for Christ sakes. Can you imagine an Apache Warrior Chief in Florida? And maybe out there on that Arizona road, in dead of night, you might be lucky to glimpse the almost extinct Mexican Jaguar (one was recently collared and accidentally killed by well meaning Tucson park ranger biologists)…though it aint likely the Old Man Jaguar would venture this far north of the line. Let's say two boys stole a car from their drunken Apache brother and head for town; over yonder. This be Mangus Jack and Jimmy Yellow Eye. On the way back, drunker than a thousand white people, they are swerving and swilling. Swilling and swerving. They're listening loud to "Horseshoes and Hand Grenades" off of Green Day's latest: "21st Century Breakdown." The boys squint and see a Jaguar in the high beam lights. Brother jaguar is walking his coyote predator walk, down the middle of the road. There is a shooting star high up above Jerusalem Mountain; then a screaming and screeching of tires; the final war dance of blood, hot metal and sand. Shattered glass skimming sideways through the air like ancient arrowheads; piercing the sacred saguaros. The moaning and then the final silence. Three days later there are two more white crosses on Highway 70; a bouquet of plastic roses and a sign lettered in black paint. "In loving memory of our Apache brothers:Mangus Jack and Jimmy Yellow Eye. R.I.P. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades! Forever!" Amen.
(This is song #5 in a series of back-lit dream songs off the coming record "Blood and Candle Smoke.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Series of Dreams # 4 - "Criminology"

Well the devil rides a cubist horse
The devil he's got angles
But God is an expressionist
He's got the devil strangled……

When Pablo Picasso died I was working the lumber camp bars of Prince George, British Columbia. We had a rock and roll cover band called "Fathead" (when we worked country bars we were known as "The Mule Train." Skid Row's Finest Band!) I played piano for "Fathead" and we sang Rolling Stones and Kinks songs whilst the off duty lumberjacks tried to kill each other. I recall one guy knocking out another guy and then, when the ambulance was taking the poor bastard away, the protagonist who'd kicked him chased the sirens down the street, on foot, and opened the back door of the ambulance and climbed in and started clobbering the guy again. Just another winter's evening in a mill town. Rage and rock n roll. Catharsis. Boredom. Oblivion.
So, the night Picasso died the news came over the TV in the funky little broken down motel where we were living. At the very moment when Picasso's face flashed across the screen, five drunken Indian gals in the next room began to howl and keen and cry. For Picasso, I guess. Oh, the wonders of the primitive universe! There was must have been a deep, mystical link between what and who Picasso was and these drunken Native women in a frozen lumber town. (Picasso once said: "My mother wanted me to study medicine and become a famous surgeon. But I studied art and became Picasso!")
From Prince George we traveled to Prince Rupert, as the violence and drinking escalated. A desk clerk in a fleabag hotel in "Apache Pass" shoved a gun barrel against my face one night and slurred: "How you like it now, white boy? How's your blue-eyed boy now, Mr. Death?" Later I realized he was quoting E.E. Cummings.
Cummings? Picasso? Well that's the way it was. I was amused and interested in these little violent, character-building vignettes, because I had been educated as a Criminologist. Got my Masters degree, but never told anyone in the music biz. But in those honkytonks and skid row hotels I was experiencing the real subject matter - up close and very personal, without having to hang out with the boring and soulless academic tribe. And so, dear reader, the song "Criminology" carries on where "East of Woodstock, West of Viet Nam" was headed….basically cataloguing the many times I've had a gun pointed at me with mal intent or bad love. Oh, there were a few other instances….but time and rhyme got the best of me. I've done my criminology homework in the backstreet hotel rooms and skid row bars…pursuing Dylan Thomas' Adventures in the Skin Trade. Your reporter, signing off,from the outskirts of Juarez. The final frontier.
(This is song blog #4 in a row of 12 off the coming album: "Blood and Candle Smoke")

Monday, May 11, 2009

Series of Dreams #3 - Nina Simone

Outside in the freightyards,
the trains rattle and moan
It’s just Hank Williams talking,
to Nina Simone…(From the song Nina Simone)

San Cristobal de las Casas. Deep in the Mexican Yucatan. I’m wandering through the colonial backstreets and dark Indian allleys, when I hear Nina Simone’s voice filtering out of the window of a used bookstore. Vinyl. And old tube-driven record player. She was singing Dylan’s „Just Like a Woman.“ A transforming moment. I finally HEAR Nina’s true voice. A folksinger; that’s all she ever claimed to be. Reminded me of Morracco when I heard Dylan’s „Love is Just a Four Letter Word,“ with the lines about storefront windows and Gypsy Cafes. Those moments when you hear through to the poetics of the song. Down into the bedrock, where the iron water seeps through the veins and soaks into the words. Cante hondo. Nina Simone.
A few days ago we were walking along a canal in Amsterdam and saw a barge with a crane and steam shovel dredging out mud and trash from the canal. Out of the dark waters emerged broken and twisted bicycles, tree limbs, plastic bags and chocolate colored silt. So like the archeology of a song; dissecting a Nina Simone song, where the core is blood, mud, and twisted bicyles dripping with the silt of trainwrecked relationships. She was an angry woman, but contrary to journalistic belief, it didn’t all have to do with her blackness or her womanliness….it was a fathomless spiritual anger that strangled and confused her, and allowed her to inject the riveting, jagged noir nuances into the music. Blues in real time. Take it or leave it. She sang everything from pop to blues, country to folk, jazz to blues... and soul and French dance hall songs. She sang whatever she damn well pleased with a spit-in-your eye attitude that masked a very warm hearted, damaged human. Her anger was no different than Van Morrison’s. The eternal search for the reason people destroy each other. As the painter Francis Bacon said: „relationships are all about two people pulling each other apart.“ Nina sang the soundtrack and I heard it and danced to it as I walked through my lonely alley afternoons in the Mexican Yucatan. Years ago.
(Song number three in a series of twelve from the next record « Blood and Candlesmoke » )