Thursday, December 30, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

Walking through a snow storm in a Swiss Village. Singing about the girl from Ponchatrain; dark hair falling in jet black ringlets across her lovely shoulders. Raise a flowing glass to her memory! Then I’m humming Auld Lang Syne, wondering what it means. Or what we want it to mean. Old acquaintances. Olde Thymes. Olde love. Days of long ago. Another year. A goodwill drink. Songs imbedded in seasonal cheer. Buried in soul and bone. The spark of memory. Childhood recollections. Melodies ringing through the family house. Tradition. Or a French horn in a rescue mission, played by a soldier in the Salvation Army Band. Auld Lang Syne! Times past, yet remembered. Bad times. Better times. Should ole times be forgotten?

Now, blocking the snowy road - an apparition in a black hat. A sheepherder. Italian? He walked with a herder’s staff. Basque? Dignified. Biblical. Behind him a flock of sheep, turning the corner of a farm pasture. At least one thousand sheep. One pack burro. Four Border Collies, nipping and keeping the herd in line. On they went, until they disappeared down a side road, up into the low snowy hills. The last row of sheep drifted by, with a woman herder guarding the rear. Humming a song. An old herding song. Was it the melody to Auld Lang Syne? A chilling, warm coincidence on a winter’s road. Or maybe I’d just imagined the melodies were similar. This might be how Bobby Burns found the melody and the verse, two hundred years ago.

The Scottish bard Robert Burns is credited with Auld Lang Syne, though he admitted he’d collected the words from “an old man.” The melody is believed to come from an older traditional Scots song. Auld Lang Sine issues from “the folk.” The herders. Tinsmiths. Minstrels. Old men. Celebrants of the road. Folk. The eternal evolution of traditional song.

A drinking song. Ale or whiskey. Wine or tea. Water. What matter? A song of raising glasses in reverent toast to old friends and reminiscences –for old time’s sake. Lifting a cup of kindness. We have crossed the rivers of time, and the seas between us broad have roared…but yet…

We remember the jet black ringlets falling on naked shoulders. Death. Love. Loss. Recollections staining the bottom of the glass. Dregs melting into memory. Feelings of kindness, humility, and forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves. Years. The longer we endure the less we know. We are circling back, year to year, into the womb of the haunted earth. Earth which resonates with songs of the season. Songs passed down from old man to young man. From Robert Burns to Guy Lombardo. Back to this village road covered with snow. A melody and a memory, handed down from the folk, hummed to the beat of an old drummer on a Scottish road, on down to the jazz drummer in a New Year’s bar in New York... or measured out to the snowy muffled feet of two sheepherders and their biblical herd.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

True East/Beat Reflections

We flew east from Pie Town, Magdelena, and El Paso. Taking Poppi back to the Swiss country. Stopped in New York City and met with George Kimball, who used my songs in his new boxing book: “The Fighter Still Remains,” a collection of songs and poems about boxing. The book also includes Paul Simon, Colum McCann, Jack Kerouac, Tom Paxton, Muhammad Ali, and more… George has another book coming soon called “Manly Art.” I painted the cover. There also his great collection of American writers on boxing titled: “At the Fights.”

The night we arrived we wandered down to the old village to my wife’s favorite pizza joint, Arturo’s on Houston Street. Arturo’s could be a chapter out of Kerouac’s “Desolation Angels.” There was a one-armed trumpet player blowing wild; with a jazz trio of bass, snare and piano. A chanteuse named Joni Paladin nailed a hip version of “Moonlight in Vermont.” The pizza arrived from the coal oven; the white wine was poured in carafes; and the naïve paintings on the wall rattled against the beat of the snare. The regulars at the bar sipped martinis, brandy, and red wine. The waiters looked as if they were born there, sixty years ago. In fact the whole joint was born in another time of muted jazz and cool and cocktails. I thought of Kerouac reciting “October in the Railroad Earth,” and Allen Ginsberg, twenty five years ago, signing his book of photos for me in a loft in Soho; taking the time to draw an alligator, because I told him I was into alligators. Gone, man. Gone.

I’m leading a little beat tour into San Francisco as part of our next train experience and hoping to touch base again with one of the last true Beat poets, my amigo Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He’s 92. One morning in San Francisco Lawrence and I were having breakfast with NPR radio host Maria Gilhardin, in a café in Japan Town, across from the Fillmore West. Lawrence loved the record, “The Man From God Knows Where." He was sketching me with a felt tip pen on the paper place mat. He dipped his finger in ice tea and made the picture run, like a water color. The little breakfast painting is framed next to my Ginsburg drawing. We have film footage of Lawrence reciting my song, “The Pugilist at 59,” in our upcoming documentary “Don’t Look Down.” And I can’t forget Lew Welch reciting “Ring of Bone,” in Santa Barbara forty years ago, before he left a note and walked off into the wilderness, never to be seen again. “I saw myself a ring of bone, floating in the clear stream of it all….” Our first recording, in ’76, was called Ring of Bone. Ah, the Beats!

On our train tour we plan to visit City Light Books and walk down Jack Kerouac Alley and commute with the Beat spirits…check the train experience out: or email us at

Dispatches….On The Road.