Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brecht-Weill (und Leimbacher)

On the boards right now at the Biltmore in New York City, staged by Manhattan Theatre Club, is a musical play titled LoveMusik concerning the strange but compelling marriage of Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill--created by well-known playwright Alfred Uhry and directed by the legendary Harold Prince. But I'm getting ahead of my story...

In the late Eighties I had it in my head to try writing plays. I attended workshops and staged readings, had season tickets to a couple of Seattle theatres, etc. Most of my fledgling attempts at one-acts and full-scale works went nowhere, but one did arouse some interest from a local group and did evolve to a staged reading. Nothing beyond that, however, as local mainstages then turned me down.

So I went national, in fact sort of international...

Let's pause here as I reveal that the play was titled Brecht und Weill and had as its plot the experiences of those German artists (and Lotte Lenya) in the year-and-some from the end of 1928 to the spring of 1930, between their massive all-Europe success with Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera and the follow-up premiere of the next collaboration, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny/The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which turned into a theatre riot that literally presaged the Nazi takeover of all of Germany (forcing the later emigration of the three from Germany, and eventual move to America).

My play (he said modestly) had brilliant characters, personal conflicts, social concerns, great music, interesting scenes/settings, and more--and basically all I did was put down in words what actually happened among them all in Berlin and elsewhere during that period: the increasing friction between somewhat-sleazy politico Bert and stolid-but-brilliant musician Kurt, the pressure from society for another theatrical hit, the Hitler-driven attacks on Jewish ideas and lefty politics, etc. And my staging followed the Brecht-Weill model too, with projections of newsreels, photo stills, verbal signs, and more, focused on backstage scenes at various rehearsals and events so the Weill music could be utilized subtly, usually offstage so to speak, rather than in Broadway-belting fashion.

I thought of Sting, ex- of the Police, as a perfect choice for Brecht, so I managed to get an address for him in London (Hampstead, I think it was) and sent off a copy for his consideration. Never heard a word back, but gee, golly, who should turn up as Macheath or was it the singing Narrator, in a new version of Threepenny a few years later? Yep, Sting. Wonder where that notion came from...

Meanwhile I had also decided to try the Broadway people, and maneuvered to get copies to Harold Prince (yes, the same man mentioned up above) and his sort of power figure, but had the play copies returned as unsolicited and therefore not to be read--a protective legal action most artists resort to when faced with unwanted mail-in stuff from strangers. Not that the idea of Brecht and Weill might not be filed away, however...

Undaunted, I sent a copy and explanatory letter to Kim Kowalke, famed as a Weill scholar, but also on the Board of Trustees of the Kurt Weill Foundation in New York City (established originally by Lenya, or with her blessing anyway). Kowalke wrote me back and we exchanged a couple of letters thereafter. He praised much of the play's accuracy, warned me about the Foundation's protective policies regarding Weill's music (all adaptations as opposed to straight renditions would be frowned on and require negotiation, if not actually be prevented). He also officially entered the copy into the library or stacks or whatever of the Foundation (or so he wrote anyway); who knows, maybe I could visit and look it up!

But again the idea of a production went nowhere. I ran out of leads and abandoned the whole project, promising my amateur-playwright self that one day I would get back to it...

Now we can return to 2007, a decade and more later. Uhry's play LoveMusik has not been getting great reviews--too bad, because these brilliant and thorny characters cry out for a suitable stage presentation. The comments by critics complain about the diffuse storyline, stretched out over decades and mostly neglecting Brecht, rather than focused on any one or two periods, or on the difficult relationship of the several key figures. The carpers also point out that the music, those amazing songs, are used unimaginatively. The lead actors aren't getting much praise either.

As a different Kurt might say, "So it goes."

Meanwhile, anybody wanta put on a play about those crazy Germans, Kurt and Bert? I know this writer, we could get a barn...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hidden Depps

Jack's back, and the whole world is watching--or at least waiting in line for the next screening. This time the Pirates have left the Caribbean and headed for World's End... wherever 'tis waiting. Early reviews grumble that the special effects and three-hour length overwhelm plot and character, but I reckon Johnny Depp has enough character to make up for all the whizbanging and slithery creeps encountered.

The nice irony, a big plus for any Rolling Stones fans, is that Keith Richards appears as Jack Sparrow's father, which should be riotous since Depp built Sparrow pretty much on Keef's physical mannerisms anyway, half loose-spine junkie and half fey Ichabod Crane (hmm, another Depp role!), weaving and mumbling and grinning maniacally.

The idea of reaching World's End and falling over the edge haunted mariners for hundreds of years. And the southwestern tip of Portugal, Cabo de Sao Vicente, the furthest western point of Europe, is called just that, the End of the World--a holdover from those early exploration days of sailing when ships from Isabella's Spain and Henry the Navigator's Portugal thought of that lonely barren outcropping as the last bit of land they might ever see...

When I left the U.S. for two years of 'round-the-world travel in the mid-Eighties, sometimes continuing on westward by boat, I was vaguely aware of reversing the course of explorers like Magellan, but really thought nothing about such adventuring until I wound up in Portugal for the winter of 1986-87. My soon-to-be-wife and I chose Portugal's Mediterranean coast, the Algarve region, because we (erroneously) figured it would be the warmest place in Europe to spend the season. (That particular winter was the coldest Europe had experienced for decades--so much for warmth!)

The Algarve has both stark beauty and a rich cultural history, but it has also become overrun with tourists, especially the British, who use the region as their personal Hawaii. Yet the winter months are fairly quiet and mostly devoid of tourists, which was a plus, but we also found ourselves having to invent our own Christmas celebration, for example--scrounging a scrawny tree, handmaking ornaments from beach flotsam and jetsum, cooking up a duck dinner, and so on.

And we actually spent part of Christmas Day visiting the End of the World. The poem I wrote afterwards, two decades ago now, is sadly pertinent still...

At World’s End

A chill wind rising now, and storm clouds
thousands of miles old gathering over us,
arrived from remote Bermudas and Azore shoals:
we lean out looking down and down,
blown upright by the wind, casting our thoughts
below, where luckless sailors drowned,
their boat-borne souls smashing up

against the shear of the Cape, and others put in—
pressed hard to find haven, much less good hope.
Cabo de Sao Vicente served ocean’s masters,
not its victims: those bound south or east,
or west where winter’s sun shutters and dims.
We are here Christmas Day distressed;
we have come to the End of the World…

Portagee sailors looked back on this cliff,
trapped in the currents of history,
hurled by Henry Navigator to the edge
and off his charts, to danger lands and seas
far on the way to the unknown shelves
wrapped ‘round the Pearls of the Indies.
Lord Nelson rehearsed here for hell,

skirting the Spanish fleet, hard-by
a once-sacred reach where older gods
rested--and St. Vincent’s remains too slept,
briefly hidden from the Moorish invaders,
below a guardian host of ravens that
soon chased his bones north to Lisboa.
Oh, this land knew the blooding and blending:

warrior-poets, Christians with Moors…
now their fishermen descendents
sing the fado blues in white-stucco bars.
The wind-stripped coast was laid waste
by ravages of Drake and time,
by gale and earthquake and violent sea
breaking inexorably against its line.

The curious who come now to look
see no caravels, no azulejos or
blossoming almond, no Muslim paradise,
only the rock and water and wind,
where al-Garve, “the Occident,” dies,
and Europe finds its bitter end.
Unseasonably glum ourselves,

we welcome a cliff-top buffeting;
may it dispel this gone-from-home
gloom we’re ashamed to admit, but feel...
A down-day for the postcard sellers.
No tour buses clog the turnaround.
Only the dark man hawking sweaters
has made the drive out from Sagres, town

of crumbling stone where Henry’s Fortress
and ‘ball-diamond-sized Compass Rose
of all directions could remind us that
Europe’s end is its beginning, if we put
sun’s decline and the storm-wind behind us.
We give each other lookalike sweaters,
then ascend the worn lighthouse stairs.

The massive beacon waits for night,
air through its grid whistling wordless fado,
“Perigo de Morte” perhaps; that’s the sign
posted on some wiring nearby.
But we risk “Danger” daily—terrorists
and thieves: romance shocked by reality—
where world’s end conjoins our history.

Home is out there. Here,
sea raven scavengers spire overhead
as the sun burns orange into night,
and the red-blood earth in dying light
drains down to the chop and flutter
of white, the last of land collapsing
back where it began. Battered,

we lean on the cold wind, rising.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Whose Zoo's Who's?

In the fondly remembered days of record stores and bootleg albums--those produced for fans rather than outright illegal copies of regular releases--the single best label for boots was called Trademark of Quality, and a friend of mine, William Stout (comics illustrator, film designer, and dinosaurs/Antarctica painter extraordinaire) was the man who illustrated most of the best jackets, for (in)famous releases featuring the Beatles, Stones, Led Zep, Neil Young, and many others. (Bill also did work for the beginnings of now-giant label Rhino Records--which kinda relates, as you will see.)

But he outdid himself fashioning full-color jackets (now very collectable) for double albums by the Yardbirds and the Who. I've reproduced one jacket as a brief introduction to the Art of Bill--more about my pal in postings to come--and to offer a serendipitous visual for the two poems I'm offering up today, both of which grew from zoo experiences, the first down under in Australia (where a plaque memorializes the slightly comical, long-ago visit there by Eleanor Roosevelt), and the second when Sandie and I were living across from the Seattle Zoo, right opposite bison, wolves, and many birds.

So today, after too many meaty mini-essays, maybe, I choose to be short and simple, which is of course what age does for you anyway: you get simpler (mentally) and shorter (physically). I hope someone enjoys the break...

Rhinocerudes, Sydney

In the midday heat, three rhinos
Lie collapsed, as indiscreet as winos
In their concrete habitat. Iron
Bars hold them back from the siren
Rumble of a lumbering breakout—
Boulder-massive even sprawled about.

Two of them sport gray-black
Convict stripes where their rack
Of ribs pokes out from inside
The topographic map of hide.
(One’s eyes twitch, and pigeons
Instantly hurl themselves to regions

Far removed from all rhinocerudes
With rough, unpredictable moods.)
Their ears curl up without fuss,
Scroll-like and cornucopious
Around the double horns—one nub,
The other sharpened by the rub

Of life, years before this prison.
But look! the third has risen,
A slow and cumbersome climb,
Lurching itself erect in time
To stand bemused, wondering
Where to go when, then blundering

Around the yard, through the slops,
A battle-worn Triceratops
Exiled from some prehistoric veldt.
A certain Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt
Once scrutinized two such corrugated
Beasts, struggling as they copulated

In this bleak, unaesthetic hole,
Then blurted, "Bless my soul!"
Inspired by the President’s wife,
Reformed by their penal life,
These model rhinos more and more
Are aging to resemble Eleanor.

Zoo Morning

Without malice, in ecstasy
of the day, the grey wolves
across the way are scattering
seagulls in a pinwheel flutter,
trotting to and fro amid
the glitter of wobbling wings,
dazzle so bright both gulls
and wolves flare nearly white,
sunlight firing the trellis
of nobby twigs and fencewire,
each dazed and glazed thing
chiming that spring impels
the sap of running and budding,
flapping and climbing--wolves
churning, birds spiring, great
wheel vibrantly turning
another notch today in always,
tattered white peacock
needing no cloak of light
to screech his word of praise.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why Me, Kris?

Yesterday I watched the recent, well-received documentary titled Brats--which has as its subject us children of the armed services. I vaguely knew of this film but had no idea its name was so stark, and that I was duplicating it when I wrote a couple of postings for this blog. Oh well, Donna Mucil's far-ranging work certainly subsumes my casual thoughts on the matter!

I found much to agree with, some new revelations I'd never considered, and some sociology stuff I'd just sneer at: sort of, "So what? So there's a few million of us. Suck it up. Get a life." Guess that makes me sound like the Robert Duvall martinet father from that other movie, but I did NOT get the attitude from my father, fondly known to my sisters and me as "The Colonel." Dad was a reluctant warrior, a reservist called back for Korea, who decided to stick around till he could retire; and he was a fairly casual guy in the discipline department. Oh, sure, we kids had to be polite and do chores and such, but my family life was blessedly free from trauma, aside from all the moves.

Still, Brats is a very worthy look at the dependents life, helped considerably by the songs of honored songwriter, movie narrator and, these days, elder brat Kris Kristofferson. And he's the real subject today, as I relate the sad tale of Kris and Ed, two Air Force brats who went astray...

Back in the day, I wrote record reviews for Rolling Stone. And one review I was assigned circa 1970 was to examine new albums by Kristofferson and Leon Russell (without a copy of the review in front of me, I can only guess it was likely the second album from each of those soulful croakers). So, as one does, i discussed the artists' voices, song choices, and backing musicians, one of whom was vocalist Rita Coolidge, who sang on both albums.

Then, inspired by rock-crit wiseacres like Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer, I cracked wise too, making reference to the fact that Ms. Coolidge has been Russell's so-called old lady, had toured and sung with him, but was now singing and sharing the life with Kristofferson instead.

The fit hit the shan after that. Since I have never had the pleasure of meeting Kristofferson, I can only report what I was told thereafter. He reacted angrily, not to the remarks about his album, but to my snooping into and then discussing his private life. He called (or maybe wrote a letter to) the Rolling Stone offices to complain, and threatened to punch me out if we ever met face to face. I was stunned, intending only to be clever but instead arousing real ire, guilty of having acted thoughtlessly (i.e., see the very first posting on this blog).

I tried to issue an apology through the magazine and through record promotion people I knew, but Kristofferson was having none of it. His next album had on the jacket back a dressing room mirror scene, with supposed LP reviews tacked up, including a parody of mine signed by "Ed Limesucker"! Okay, I thought, fair enough; Kristofferson has gotten even.

But he was not finished with me. As his movie career brought both fame and shame, drinking and drugging (maybe) and casual flirtations (maybe), his relationship with Coolidge soured; and in some long magazine interview (was it Playboy? I just don't remember), he talked about how everything had started going wrong when this one asshole journalist had somehow interfered in his private life and introduced bad vibes or something!

A couple of years later, Kristofferson spent time in Seattle filming a not-very-good futuristic film directed by Alan Rudolph (I think). Once again, I tried to get word to the actor that I would like to meet him in person, to apologize and even take a punch or two if it would just clear the air. Again, I was told to stay away.

And so I have, all the years since. Kristofferson straightened out, got a whole new, evidently happy life, ascended to the Highwaymen rank of country stars, continued to act successfully in Hollywood, and so on. He's become a healthy, hard-running, grey-haired elder statesman, and now the fitting narrator for Brats.

I just wish he and I, two guys who spent too many years acting unprofessionally--un-military brats indeed--could finally settle our differences.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Whale of a Tale

In its bid to conquer the world, Starbucks recognizes no boundaries.

Rather than corporate maneuvers, I prefer to follow the moves of Starbucks Entertainment: first the company was compiling its own anthology CDs, then it began producing new ones like the Ray Charles prizewinners (and now it's edging into Hollywood moviemaking). The other day in a CD store I found a new Bob Marley/Wailers disc offering (mostly) unreleased live performances from the band's prime early-Seventies period; and lo and behold, it's courtesy of Starbucks! If the company continues to make such great music available to us listeners, I'll certainly find it easier to forgive the other aggrandizing...

But the CD also persuades me to tell my own Seattle/Starbucks story:

"History is lies told by the living to appease the dead"—that’s one poet’s view. Another, maybe more reasonable opinion holds that memory, biography, even history, at best can only approach the truth, because something or someone is always forgotten or missed in the authorial shaping.

Among those who wrote for the original, edgier version of Seattle Magazine back in the late Sixties, both on staff for a year or so and freelance afterwards, was a fresh-from-grad school writer/editor named Leimbacher—your humble correspondent on this sorta-blog--who authored a couple of dozen articles, columns, and reviews between 1967 and 1970. (I also wrote for the Helix underground paper, Ramparts Magazine, Rolling Stone, Fusion, the University of Washington's Alumni Magazine, and various other media as well.)

Seattle Magazine at that time was a mix of Ivy League snobs, heavy drinkers, marketing rejects, and young writers eager to be gadflies on the rump of Seattle. I covered corrupt politicians, the Black Panthers, oil refinery risks ("Oil on Troubled Waters" was the title), and other hot-button issues as well as the Seattle Repertory Theater, modern-day logging, archeological digs, corporate art buying, and certain other cultural matters.

And, soon freelancing, I became the magazine's specialist in writing about the Rock music scene--I actually turned the Seattle Opera's boss onto the Who's rock opera Tommy; and a couple of years after that, the Opera staged a version of Tommy with Bette Midler in a leading role. (She told me later she HATED the experience!)

Around 1969 I teamed up with friends named Gordon Bowker (another Seattle Mag early regular) and Jerry Baldwin to create a brief, season-of-dreams film company intending to write and produce--for the networks, we foolishly thought, in the era before Public Television--a series of films that would document the Music (and musicians!) of the South. Our pilot project, for which I wrote a quasi-script, introduced the richly varied styles of music to be found across Louisiana--blues, jazz, zydeco, Cajun, gospel, and more.

Anyway, I quixotically named our supposed film company Pequod Productions--a bit of whimsy indicating that the company expected to sink without a trace, as had its namesake, one of the ships in Moby Dick. Our documentary proposals were ignored in New York and L.A., and our Pequod thus sank. I continued on freelancing, and the other guys moved on too, to co-found a fledgling coffee company soon named Starbucks, complete with ship’s-figurehead mermaid as logo and a name also taken from Moby Dick, that of Ahab's First Mate. (Melville's whale novel sure did get around. Forget Howard Schultz's version of history; I know that the lost Pequod helped trigger that coffee company's soon-to-be-famous name.)

By then Gordon was also partner with Terry Heckler (ex-Seattle Mag designer) in a then-still-tiny communications design firm named for the partners. Ad work for K2 Skis and JanSport (the Everett backpack company) quickly showed that the team possessed great conceptual flair and creativity. (Actually, and here’s a scoop, one of the two men later told me that his partner didn’t really believe in the inventive, concept-driven, and often weird approach to marketing that Heckler-Bowker immediately became known for--cutting edge in its time, commonplace these days. Who was who? Should be an easy guess.)

However, as often happens, the other people who worked for H-B continue to go unnamed and forgotten. In ’71 or ‘72, when the firm clearly needed a second writer (because providing creative services for both K2 Skis and brand new client Rainier Beer would be a Herculean task), I was invited to join the team. Then when Bowker left a year or so later, selling his share of the business to Heckler (in order to concentrate on rapidly succeeding Starbucks), I became the only writer and agency producer for the renamed Heckler Associates.

Which means that from 1973 to early 1985, about twelve years, I wrote every print and radio ad for the wildly popular Rainier (many every year, with the parody radio spots heard across the Northwest) and produced every television commercial, writing the scripts for many of them as well. (Gee, folks, that means that the famous Motorcycle, Running Rainiers, Mickey Rooney ads, rock music parodies, and all others came through me, after Bowker had left.) And I provided the same writer/producer services for many other Heckler Associates clients--K2, Keystone Resort, Canada's Eatons Department Stores, etc.

And I'm not the only forgotten player. Where would the "golden era" history of Heckler be without all the support people and associate designers and later writers who joined and usually stayed for years? But I’ll just cite Craig Marocco and Dale Lantz, and--especially--brilliant scattered resident genius Doug Fast, who served as key behind-the-scenes designer for nearly 30 years. So it continues to gall me that in the usual fond remembrances of Rainier Beer advertising, for example, only Bowker and Heckler ever get credited or interviewed.

Owners and bosses and successful moneymen aren’t the only people worthy of historical and biographical attention. Just as the true history of Starbucks goes back further than corporate powerhouse Schulz--"Got a whale of a tale to tell ya, lad, a whale of a tale or two..."--so too the story of Seattle Magazine and its unlikely offshoot Heckler Associates includes tales that have never been told!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Marjorie Spivey

My mother died three months ago, and then I was chosen Executor, so one way or another she has been much on my mind. She was born in Georgia and all through the late Forties and early Fifties, we five Leimbachers (some of us with more Spivey in us than Leimbacher) got to visit her parents' farm fairly often.

For many years I have struggled to write the suite of poems that would pay tribute to that Southern side. I've rewritten, discarded, tried something else, etc., and finally whittled the work down to a fairly satisfactory five sections. But Mom's death has put cracks in the walls again. I have produced something attempting to tell her part in the Spivey story, have wanted her poem to be part of the larger suite. But I don't think its sentimental tone fits in; too much too soon, no doubt.

For now, let others judge. Here is the long Mystic poem with her section stuck in; if anyone reads the whole work and chooses to give me an opinion, well, I'd be grateful:


I. Stories

History is lies told by the living
To appease the dead. These Spivey stories
Lay moldering for 50 years and more…

Southcentral Georgia after the war—not
The Civil War but World War II, before
Civil Defense and Civil Rights proclaimed
That America’s true colors weren’t red,
White and blue, but Reds, Whites, and shades of Black.
And coming to Mystic too: three hundred
Souls wilting in a country-crossroads
Village, six dusty miles from Ocilla
And a pretty good ways from Fitzgerald.
But my mother’s family home: acres
Of corn and livestock and leaf tobacco;
Last fragment of the Spivey plantation’s
Antebellum past, of old "Boss Cotton"
And a hundred-odd slaves--house, yard, and fields
Put to the torch in that War between States,
Shriveled by failed Reconstruction,
Whittled away in the Thirties… now this
Fading bucolic retreat to the past.

II. Scenes

Languid live-oak silhouettes. Emerald
Elephant’s-ear plants flapping in the breeze.
Shattered pecan shells crackling underfoot.
Off-white columns, their paint cracked, wood mildewed:
Old pillars of the "Big House" that now hold
Up nothing. Yet the pineboard porch and worn-
Down farmhouse lean toward them for support.
Days when I dare to, I can balance, cling
With toe-tips and fingers, lean in, and edge
Slowly around each curving bulk of white
On a half-inch ledge just at porch level.
I wander the musty house and grassless
Yard in my pale bare feet (sweet sensation
For a city boy!) and sit on clay dirt
To play Mumbley-Peg—elbow, knee, and toe-
To-toe with colored boys my age, flipping
The sharp penknives they are free to carry.

Sharecropper kids—the sons of black farmers—
And me: from noon on, we chase the sun down
Dirt roads, through dust as soft and slick as silk,
And light like ripe corn. We guzzle ice-cold
Dr. Peppers at the one gas station,
Sliding them carefully through the water-
Chilled metal chambers, the locks and flooded
Ways of that battered pop-bottle canal.
We poke under porch-steps, prodding the blue-
Tick hounds that dream of possums moving slow.
And sometimes we light firecrackers, tiny
Dragon-snappers we toss over the nubbed
Wire fence of silver arches—exploding
In dust puffs that seem to hang in the air
Forever… I am eight and colorless.

III. Songs

Pinecone prickly and peach sweet,
a song of you comes
as sweet and clear
pretty as a spray of magnolias yet
tough as the Tar Baby's hide,
or a game of Georgia skin;
...moonlight through the pines,
that was Marjorie Lucille Spivey,
Southern belle, Captain's bride,
and mother of three (stubborn children
who checked her steely core)--
got the blues, can't be satisfied--:
for eighty years and more, she was.

Next-to-youngest of eight--six boys,
"Sister," and her rowdy tomboy self--
jump down, spin around, pick a bale a day,
unfurling like a new tobacco leaf,
a dazzling white cotton boll,
pretty mama, don't you tell on me...
she opened out: farm girl, then campus sweetheart,
then officer's lady, the role she wore best,
goin' up the country, mama,
don't you want to go?
Texas to Turkey to Tacoma,
whether Pentagon hostess
or South Korean mama-san,
no peace, no peace I find...
the "San" she became from then on,
grandmother name she wore like a badge.

Big star fallin',
mama, t'ain't long before day...
but the Colonel's heart and then his mind
were too soon gone,
you been a good old wagon, honey,
but you done broke down...

wearing her down as well, stealin',
the later joy she'd hoped to find--
look down, look down, that lonesome road...
sharpened Mystic memories finally
more vivid than her pain:
the road leads back to you...
her words lost in Parkinson's at the end.

IV. Shucks

Black and white, brassy bells clanking,
Bulged udders swoggling side to side,
The Holstein cows amble, slowly, home--
Their ramshackle weathered-gray barn
A cathedral of scattered fodder:
Wall-wide hayloft, feed-trough altar,
And brimming silage bin between.
Nine, I toss down the daily offering
Of cobs and rustling shucks, and would
Kneel to receive some transubstantiation.
But it’s a miracle I cannot grasp,
Though I squeeze and push and importune.
Scourged by swishing tails, bovine breath,
I must take any clumsy remembrance
From Granddaddy’s chalice cup of hands.

Yet mid-days in the barn I can ascend
To a kind of paradise—sprawled in corn,
Scaling sunbeams that spill down through
Cracks and jointures. The Baptist church
A short two blocks away is no more cool
Or peaceful, and just as empty noontimes.
Deacon ushers herd us in on Sundays
And Wednesday nights, to study painted
Glass, our Jesus unseen, the loft in back
For colored believers, and "war no more."
Oh, it’s hellfire next time, the preacher says,
But if we hold on to what’s unchanging,
We will have crossed over; we’ll be
Dwelling in Beulah Land by then.
But the rock I stand on now is sinking
Shucks, and chickenfeed, and a faith
As insubstantial in time as a cowshed.

V. Blues

All you be doin’ wrong bound to come back on you
Say all you be doin’ wrong bound to come back on you
You find out further on what it mean to be black an’ blue

Work song in daytime, people, blues come on at night
Work song long before sundown, blues on ti’ late at night
I jus’ cain’t figure out why you never treat me right

Tobacco grow low an’ green, sweet corn yella an’ tall
Tobacco done growed so green, corn stand yella an’ tall
Blackstrap molasses, tha’s the sweetes’ sugar of all

Boll weevil in the cotton, an’ trouble in the fields
See brown bug in the cotton, there’s trouble in the fields
Folks cain’t chop no squares if they forced to kneel

You scorn me an’ mistreat me, but I am with you still
Scorn me an’ mistreat me, you know I’m with you still
Ain’t but the one road goin’ on up this hill

VI. Shapes

And suddenly I am eleven, huddled
On the hardpack dirt floor of my
Grandfather’s smokehouse, hiding out
In hickory-scented black, bulk
Of dark shapes dangling from rafters.
Hams, sides of bacon, sausage strings,
Intestine-wrapped remains of fresh-
Bled hogs, homegrown and home-butchered.

Outside, the air shimmers, night scrubbed
From the landings, morning bleached white,
Rinsed clean, hung out to dry in heat
That renders each day limp with sweat.
Tin tub, washboard, and wringer steam
As torrents of light wash the stained
Workbench and plump chickens pecking
In the shade of the chopping block.

But I am secure in darkness,
Freed from my place as lone white boy
In the tobacco barn’s black crew:
Sorting, stacking, hanging green leaves
Harsh for the curing and blending.
These strung-up carcasses of pigs
Whisper violent histories
I can’t redeem, but can’t ignore.

The sun burns long. The days hum down.
My country kin accept me, yet
I am the Yankee city kid
Come calling; misplaced, weighed
By choices I am pressed to make.
We gather on porches, in shade,
To talk and eat and remember
A gracious past: the Mansion, yes,

Its crinolined belles, gallant beaux,
Quartered slaves defining the edge
Of pre-Secession elegance.
Nothing mean-spirited is said;
My kinfolk are determinedly
More than kind—consonants soft-slurred,
Epithets swallowed, good manners
Personified. Yet the smokehouse

Draws me in. No dissembling
Here, among shapes I almost see:
The blood is fresh, the black complete,
The smoldering ashes curative…
And still spreading hickory fumes
In the darkness of memory now,
A haze of blood and smoke and ash
Obscuring the Georgia I lost.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Two Kings

In the fall of 1955, I was a twelve-year-old seventh grader attending junior high in Montgomery, Alabama. The Bus Boycott was still several months off; Martin Luther King was just some unknown local preacher.

Life was torpid and turgid, ass-deep in the Eisenhour Era. Rock 'n roll, as far as anyone knew, hadn't even been born yet (though The Blackboard Jungle was bending a few minds); it was the Rosemary Clooneys and Eddie Fishers and Hilltoppers-types who still sold most of the records, with 78's slowly bowing before the onslaught of 45 r.p.m.

Cold War or not, the U.S. then, in retrospect at least, seemed as innocent as me, chubby Northern boy in a strange and steamy Southern city (rendered tongue-tied by the nubile, amazingly sophisticated, young belles-to-be). But even Montgomery in those days still meant Jefferson Davis rather than George Wallace.

Fortuitously, however, and without me having to put forth any effort at all, I was also experiencing and absorbing, pretty much at first hand, the laborious birth of rock 'n roll. The memory plays tricks, of course, but I'm fairly certain that during that miraculous year in Alabama I heard Fats Domino and Little Richard for the first time, as well as Ray Charles, Bill Haley, The Platters, Chuck Berry's "Maybelline," Smiley Lewis's "I Hear You Knocking," Nervous Norvus croaking "Transfusion," plus several songs by "the late and great" Hank Williams (another Montgomery boy).

And, on Sun Records of Memphis, a suddenly-rising young c&w singer with a distinctly "black" sound, Elvis Presley--"That's All Right," "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone," "Mystery Train"; big brash beat, fuzzy, echoing sound, Scotty Moore chords and all. The Sun was shining for sure--the radio seemed to hum with power when Presley (and a few others) played. And when he showed up on TV in January? Man--boy, rather--I was gone.

Within a year, Elvis was the King: an instantaneous national, and international, monument to the rock 'n roll explosion. But in Montgomery another King was rising...

An exhausted, hard-working woman, fed up with segregation's rule that put all black people at the back of the bus, decided to sit up front instead. Suddenly, all of the black people in Montgomery and the surrounding area were refusing to go to the back, and then refusing to ride those damn buses at all. The streets and roads were full of folks walking to get to their jobs, to buy their groceries, to go to the doctor or whatever.

And a local preacher named after the man who nailed those 99 codicils to the door in Germany was organizing and then taking over the movement. Rosa Lee Park's spontaneous action had become The Montgomery Bus Boycott, and white people all across the South and the rest of America were suddenly worried or interested, some even galvanized, paying close attention to the man in the spotlight, Martin Luther King.

(As a sidebar to this--see the photo above right--anyone who loves music, anyone who cares at all about this heartbreaking world we've created, needs to own the new Mavis Staples CD, We'll Never Turn Back, her resurrection of the Civil Rights era and its heartfelt, soul-rich, hold-fast music. Some of the best singing she's ever done, and that would be sayin' somethin'. And the CD has been given a harder-edge sound courtesy of brilliant producer and slide guitar master Ry Cooder--their collaboration a match made in heaven but meant to be heard here on earth!)

In King's city, meanwhile, some white people of good will, whether truly caring or merely acting for their own reasons, were helping the proud black walkers get to their destinations--meaning cars actually integrated, whites and blacks riding together, for however brief a time. My parents too gave rides to some folks, and so for four decades I carried around this hopeful memory that placed them squarely in the shining light of the anti-segregation efforts, what would soon become the Civil Rights Movement.

Sadly, my mother had a different explanation for what they had done; as she told me in the late Nineties when I finally asked about those shared rides, "Oh, we were just helping the maids and gardeners get to work; we couldn't do without them, of course."

So much for personal heroism, much less good will. I should have known, really; I'd seen the Southern attitudes in Georgia and in Montgomery, that strange mixture of closeness and disdain, paternalism and separation, and I was trying to sort it all out, even in seventh grade. Years later, I heard comedian Dick Gregory's cynical but precise description and recognized it for truth: "Down South they don't care how close you get, just so you don't get too big. Up North they don't care how big you get, just so you don't get too close."

We moved on from Montgomery in mid-1956, and the two Kings moved on as well, each to his own major role in our cultural and social history and each to his tragic destiny too (or was Elvis's just pathetic?).

Looking back, some years ago, I tried to put my seventh grade year into a poem, and here's what I came up with:

Et in Alabama Ego

"Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery":
John Prine warbled that, long after I’d gone and fled
For good. Nearing thirteen then, I’d nary
A clue compared to junior high’s Rebel debs--
Southern belles whose soft angora’ed
Shapes could stop a Crimson Tide,
Or breed an Auburn horde:
Dana Jo, Jewel, and languid Lenore
Running the ’55 fast lane
While Bigger girls Rita and Bonnie Gay
Coyly maintained their country-club ways.

Eddie-come-never, I was plain dazed
By training bras and formal drags,
Tri-Hi-Y functions and making out. Chubby outcast
In baggy pants, I’d more to do with j.d. trash
Like Bubba Beauchamp ("Beech-um," he’d snarl,
All snaggle-toothed sneer and coonass-mean,
Battered by him twice for not crying "Uncle!")
Or strong-arm Johnny, our own James Dean,
Determined to train me for future rumbles.

The "sosh" scene kids scared me worse,
Filled with their ‘Bama-style rage
At most things black: Negroes called spear-
Chuck and jungle bunny; boys my age
Gone nig’-knockin’. "You ain’t a man
Till you’ve dipped your pen in ink," they’d brag.
"And me with a pencil," I’d mumble--
Small-time loser at Deep South love and hate.

Was Wallace the governor yet? I disremember.
Hank Williams’ Caddy still lay in state downtown,
While a few whites gave rides to boycotters
Trudging by. Though two Kings rocked
The Confederacy’s cradle, I trucked
With Dixie dreams, Old Jeff’s unhurried curse.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Yankee Go Home

A person with too much money and too little sense these days can easily book him/herself into some sort of Extreme Travel experience--distant places, dangerous terrain, questionable social mores, volatile governments, very little security. (Photo thanks to Trieste friend Adelberto Buzzin.) I suppose it's the same principal as climbing mountains; the challenge and the on-going adrenaline high outweigh the risks for such people.

Chacun a son gout. Growing up as a military dependent teaches one to be flexible, to forget about missing some non-existent hometown, to make the most of new places and situations, to enjoy the travel itself no matter where one is bound, but to keep a low profile too...

I got married at age 20 and was a parent by 21, a graduate student and then working stiff thereafter--which brought all my travel experiences to a screeching halt. For 25 years I worked and parented and pretty much stayed put. But the marriage ended around 1980, with me left raising the kids for the last few years. By the time they were grown, I was ready to hit the trail to the world.

I left the U.S. in January of 1986 with a big backpack and a vague plan, intending to be gone for maybe two years, travelling to the South Seas and Asia and then on to Europe. I spent a couple of weeks in Bali, for example, hanging out in the same areas where the terrorist bombs would kill so many 20 years later; in 1986, however, Bali was still beach peaceful and Hindu beatific.

But across the world, in North Africa, President Reagan was unleashing our air might on Libya, retaliating for the Lockerbie bombing (wasn't that the reason given)? Suddenly I was seen as maybe one more ugly American, or at least as a representative of our cowboy President, so I was questioned again and again, by Asian residents and European tourists alike, asked to explain what in the world America was up to or had become. I didn't have many answers for anyone then--or now, some 20 years later, when even worse situations have arisen and the U.S. just looks paranoid (terrornoid?) and far from democratic (the small D version), rife with torturers and warmongers, Christian fundamentalist crusaders unleashed.

Muslim terrorists are loathsome and inhuman. (May they all be sterile, die childless, and cry out for Allah in vain.) But I'm also worried about the Land of the Fee and the Home of abu-Grave--outsourcing jobs, sending our soldiers into battle ill-equipped, relying on civilian contractors who get paid better and have no laws to check their actions, neglecting the wounded veterans, destroying the old America that God blessed.

Okay, enough political proselytizing. Some of those thoughts, and further musings from the service brat experience, figure in the poem that follows. This one began when I was sitting in a McDonald's in Basel, Switzerland, in the summer of 1985, munching on ice and thinking about the warnings dentists always issue about ruining one's teeth; then I found myself pondering the then world situation and those first signs of global terrorism... and the result, eventually, was this poem called...

Chewing Ice

From the press and rush, the crowd of quick and lucrid,
I have come to these familiar golden arches,
misplaced on a platz in Basel’s merchant core.
I’m thousands of miles from the nearest Boeing plant
yet less than a hundred from warheads and bombers,
weary of Pax Americana and accusations.
But this is not that poem.
Instead of fear or shame, just now I feel
relief. Drinking-in the culture of Coca-Cola,

I’m "Yankee Going Home," for the moment.
Among these neutral burghers I can sit
simply breaking the ice, my mouth making small talk
and cubelets smaller still—all the while remembering:
"Chewing ice will ruin your teeth."
Dentists have threatened that for 40 years at least,
but I have always reckoned on the inevitable
less-than-perfect dentures in a glass.
Ice is my connection.

To lemonade I sold in summers long ago,
each penny cup with its separate piece melting,
on some postwar development street in upstate New York,
or the shadetree road near Arlington’s dragon’s-teeth graves…
To the domed, grey metal crusher in some kitchen of the past,
its scimitar blades chewing over and over,
shredding and shaving each cube to crystalline gravel…
To the thousand brain-spearing pains I cursed,
shooting them up through the roof of my mouth and away.

I think of ice in the South:
of pre-Cold War trucks and horsedrawn wagons
hauling the great, cloudy blocks, the massive sweating men,
their claw tongs delivering burlapped relief, icebox salvation,
from that ramshackle icehouse down by the river,
whose strangeness of brine and shade
was a magnet drawing local boys like iron filings.
We’d drift in arcs of electromagnetic force
from one clanking hulk of machinery

to another: ammonia-dazed coils, brute forms chopping and grinding,
unnatural devices transforming water to mystery—
cold technology shaping all our futures,
taunting us with the promise of mastery over the earth.
I went seeking ice and silence;
I brought back the chilly, controlling ways
it seems now I may never lose…
Or was it earlier still, in the belly of my mother,
whose craving all that scorching summer and fall

on the San Antonio airbase was pieces of ice?
Chunks she held to her swollen sides,
cubes that cooled her cheeks and soothed her forehead,
chipped ice she chewed for company while my father
taught his fledgling fliers how to get aloft
and stay there, how to fight on the wind and air
and target their tons of fire,
how to never ever lose
a combat pilot’s cool and leather-jacketed smile.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Taken for a Ride--by Jim Morrison

In 1969 I was a busy rock critic, freelancing for Fusion in the East, Rolling Stone in the West, and various publications around Seattle. The Seattle Pop Festival came along that summer--plopped down at a site out in rural King County among the dairies and small farms--and I was determined to give it blanket coverage, interviewing as many interesting artists as I could reach.

Among those were the newly formed Flying Burrito Brothers. Southern charmer Gram Parsons and I somehow hit it off--I'll be devoting one or two future postings to Gram--and he agreed to ask Jim Morrison of the headlining Doors to talk to me too.The upshot was that I was invited to join Jim, Gram, Burritos' drummer Michael Clarke, and a shapely young woman in a clinging black dress for a Sunday afternoon ride through the Washington countryside in Jim's not-so-long black limousine...

From the beginning I was outgunned. Jim and Gram were both clearly high on some substance or two... Clarke, seated up front next to the driver, was already only half-conscious... and it was clear that the guy representing the press--me--was to be put on, mercilessly.

Jim began establishing his control before the limo even rolled. First he claimed for himself the jump seat facing backwards, positioning me on the cushioned seat facing him. Next he directed his lady friend to sit on my lap, and Gram to sprawl across the available space to my right. Finally, while I would be allowed to use a small cassette tapedeck to interview him, he insisted on the condition that he could stop our talk at any moment and erase any portion of the interview that displeased him. Too eager to be smart, I agreed, hoping that things would sort themselves out.

We set off about 2 p.m., and for the next hour-and-a-half I faced comically goofy harassment. Jim's ladyfriend (did i ever hear her name?) squirmed around a lot, her perfumed hair, breasts and bottom distracting me greatly, as Jim had presumably intended. Meanwhile, Gram and he kept cracking jokes, sharing a joint and giggling hugely at exchanges only remotely funny. Each serious question I tried to offer was met by a stream-of-consciousness--or do i mean expanded consciousness--response.

For example, when I asked about his Navy family upbringing, he launched into a long rap about "the vast limestone sinkholes in Florida" (his parents were living in that state, I think). This in turn became the theme of our "conversation," with Jim repeatedly grabbing the deck and erasing whole chunks of talk, in order to restate what was becoming his evolving free verse poem about sinkholes and collapsing social structures and doomed civilizations both modern American and prehistoric.

Somewhere along the line, I remember we stopped to buy beer at a ramshackle gas station/store. Since Washington state's Sunday blue laws were still in effect then, the guys had to settle for Cokes. (Of course that set off a round of jokes about things going better with...) Beyond that, and the nameless woman on my lap, and glimpses of a great many cows passing outside, the rest of the ride is pretty much a blur. I just gave up and let it all happen.

By the time we returned to the festival site, most of the laughter had died away. Probably Jim and Gram were as tired of the running gag as I was. The limo stopped and I squirmed out from under the lady and out of the car, clutching my useless tapedeck and mumbling some sort of thank you as they drove off. I stood there a moment, marvelling at my first real experience with rock's new celebrityhood, and then set off to find someone less famous to talk to.

That night, the Doors' performance was a decidedly mixed bag. The band played well, as ever, but Jim seemed less coherent--more out of control. He mumbled through the songs rather halfheartedly and devoted more time to haranguing the dedicated fans crowded down front, who were separated from the performers by a front-of-stage, members-of-the-press area--where I was--encircled by a wire fence; not barbed, but certainly substantial. Jim managed to repeat a few of the poetic phrases he'd worked up during our earlier encounter, but mostly he just kept trying to egg the crowd into "storming the barricades" and "breaking down the barriers that separate us" (and other statements both symbolic and of the moment).

I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting a stampede. But the wire fence held up, and the Doors ended their set--to less applause than Led Zeppelin had enjoyed earlier in the day. (Not to mention that accorded Ike and Tina Turner just previously--Tina and the Ikettes were spectacular, especially seen from a few feet below!) The rock foursome left for... wherever they were due next.

I wrote up the festival for a couple of publications, but chose not to reveal my inadequacies as interviewer. I do remember stating that Morrison on stage seemed to be adopting the pose of doomed hero in some modern-day Greek tragedy, determined to be torn to pieces by his own particular Maenads. (Foolishly pretentious writing; we rock crits did a lot of that.)

And after he did die a couple of years later, and a few times over the many years since, I searched for that scrambled tape cassette--to no avail. I must have just recorded over it, or thrown it away, or...

I prefer to think that one of Jim's true fans rescued it and is listening to it right now, as amused and bemused as I was that Sunday afternoon in 1969.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

God Save the Queen--from Bush

Queen Elizabeth visited England's paranoid ex-colony recently (maybe I'll coin a new word to describe America in the 'Noughts: terrornoid)--and our ever-inelegant President managed to make a fool of himself in her presence, stumbling over historical dates, cracking typically lame jokes, even winking at the grand old girl. (Forgive the fond familiarity, please, UK readers or fans of the Royals.)

The Queen journeyed across the Pond specifically to attend the Quadricentennial celebration of Virginia's Jamestown settlement (which has recently become a hot subject in revisionist histories, I believe), paid gentle homage to the recently dead students and faculty at Virginia Tech (a major change from her supposed reluctance to say anything at all when Diana was killed), and eventually hung out at the usual Washington, D.C. shindigs. But what I found most interesting was her visit with Prince Philip to the Kentucky Derby.

Radio/television newscasters made hay, so to speak, of her walking around the grounds, chatting with onlookers, and so on, casually enjoying such a crowded horse race--which just demonstrated once again America's willful ignorance of the rest of the world. For one thing, most royal personages are serious horse enthusiasts; moreover, England's Royals routinely and safely walk among the general populace, unencumbered by Secret Service or some phalanx of private-security bodyguards. (After all, hers is a nation of few or no guns.)

Besides, the Queen is a racing fan, of her own husband at least. Prince Philip for decades has raced (as in taking the reins) what's called a coach-and-four, meaning an open carriage pulled by four horses, and maybe larger conveyances too. He's a repeat champion, I believe, both from the Olympics and many years at the Windsor Horse Show, or whatever the name is for that two-day event on the vast estate of Windsor Castle.

Anyway, here's how my wife Sandra and I came to attend a Windsor weekend and wound up standing next to the Queen herself...

My family name Leimbacher is German-Swiss, and there are many more Leimbachers in the old country than in the U.S., although which ancestor emigrated 200 years ago to establish an American branch is unknown. But my father's brother Bob made it his special task from the Sixties on to track down Swiss Leimbachers and re-establish contact between the two purported branches of the family. The favorite Leimbacher he met and became close friends with (for a couple of decades) was my so-called "uncle" Heinrich, some years older than Bob or my father, but a cheerful, friendly, energetic guy.

Heinrich was well-to-do from the sale of the Swiss chemicals firm he'd founded. He and his English wife Barbara had settled in Sussex (as I recall) for many years, where one of their activities was riding--he had been an Olympic jumper, I think. Already acquainted with Prince Philip through the horse world, soon Heinrich became Philip's successful and well-liked Master of the Horses (I've forgotten the correct title) for maybe a decade, until ill health caused the older couple to leave England for Majorca.

To shorten this convoluted story, my wife and I visited Heinrich and Barbara on Majorca, and he made us promise that when we got to England later in the year, we'd go to the Windsor Horse Show, introduce ourselves as his emissaries, and then enjoy a royal (so to speak) welcome.

Came June or July and we trundled off to Windsor--where NO ONE we could connect with knew who Heinrich was at all! Instead of free tickets and a warm welcome, we were given the English brush-off, and ended up paying our own way in, just to watch the coach races since we had made the trip down.

Well, Prince Philip was driving that day, and Queen Elizabeth as usual came out to watch her husband race. The Queen arrived by car and then walked a short way along to stand at some favored spot near a stream... which just happened to be precisely where we had chosen to stand!

She was dressed in casual slacks and a jacket and head scarf, and had no more than one or two people in attendance--no guards with guns, no Bobbies with truncheons. She simply stood there patiently waiting. I'd like to think she gave us a friendly nod, but maybe not. There was certainly no one glaring at us or warning us off, but still we didn't quite dare cross the six feet of space that separated royalty and us commoners (i.e., we disinvited messengers from Heinrich).

The race proceeded. Philip drove by, splashing through the watercourse. The Queen watched silently and then climbed back into her car and departed. This time she did wave at some surprised onlookers.

A race or two later, we too left Windsor, convinced we'd actually enjoyed a bit of a royal welcome after all!

Monday, May 14, 2007

more Brats

(i'm still learning this blogger stuff, so please understand that this poem belongs at the end of posting Brats. cheers)


You see me
not, looking
at my skin;
my person
is to blend…
in. I can
assume that
look you want
to find, and
be myself
within. These
words are mine,
yet not, for
I give back
hers and his
and yours, all
honey on
the tongue, but
not my own
thought. I will
smile and smile
and take your
hand, or your
life, and all
the while be
elsewhere. And
when you think
to catch me
by some old
tale, I leave
it in your
hands and make
My blood runs
cold and slug-
gish out of
the light; I
need the sun
or the sweet
heat of an
other to
revive me.
I have been
so many
now—been them
and shed them,
twinned them or
filled them—that
I over
spill, in truth:
I forget
my self, you
see. No? Well,
I am still.


I'm a service brat... or I was anyway.

Born in the hospital at San Antonio's Randolph Field (Air Base now) in 1943, where my father was a pilot trainer--a Captain in the Army Air Corps, since the U.S. Air Force was still a couple of decades off. Dad was of Swiss derivation, from a family of four brothers living in Joliet, Illinois, and he had enlisted before Pearl Harbor brought so many other young men running to... whatever they found.

Mom on the other hand was a Southern belle, from a large farm family (she had a sister and six brothers, all but one older) then located in Mystic, Georgia, a small Faulknerian hamlet of 300 near Ocilla (a bigger town) or Fitzgerald (bigger yet), some ways from Macon. She had come to San Antonio for college, got caught up in the great rush of attention from young flyboys (she was definitely a looker, a Forties glamour girl). Then she met my Dad and that was that. They eloped in '41, and she took quickly to what became a decades-long career as officer's lady and home-maker.
I split that word in two because, as most military/Air Force/Navy brats will tell you, "home" is where father/mother is stationed, and rarely any one place for long. You don't really have a hometown; instead, home has to made anew time and time again.

Yeah, growing up on the move means living a bit like a Depression Okie or, today, an nervous immigrant worker, subject to the whims of chance, or the winds of war and Washington. My parents used to claim I'd been in ten different schools by the time I graduated from high school. (I still say, regarding military service, that I'd put in my 20 years by the time I was 20.) So we were stationed at several bases across the South until my Dad got out for a while in '46 (called back up for Korea in '51), living in Schenectady, New York for the late Forties and then Arlington (and the Pentagon) during the early Fifties.

Having to adjust to the moves and new quarters, the new schools and people, works on kids in subtle ways. I believe it pushes young dependents really in only two directions--you become either an outsider and maybe a delinquent, or you master the stuff and become a top scholar, school leader, major athlete. You either fit in big time, or not at all.

I was lucky--fairly bright in academics and a regular master of yak; I could routinely talk my way out of, and sometimes into, trouble. And it's words that have served me in good stead my whole adult life, brief or lengthy careers as teacher, freelancer, writer/producer, books and records seller. And through much of that life I also wrote poetry, some of which will appear in these postings when they seem relevant.

Like today. Here's one (of a couple) that stems from, and sort of sums up, my life as brat. It's self-explanatory. As a legal document might state, "further, deponent sayeth not."

(Please continue on to the next posting to find the missing poem.)

Lucky Life

I'm not a very thoughtful person.

Of course, my mind is always roiling with thoughts and speculations and perennial anger at politicians, so I am often lost in thought (thought-full, you might say). But I'm referring here to the other meaning of "thoughtful"... my awareness and concern for others is somewhat lacking. It may be a core selfishness or some genetic flaw, but my wives (first and second) and children and grandchildren, my relatives and few friends, have come to know me as, not uncaring exactly, but as mostly absent and often impatient when not--quick to end phone calls, quick to clear the table after a meal, wanting to "cut to the chase" in conversations, more inclined to be reading or listening to music or lost in a movie theatre, preferring to be alone.

Rather than thoughtful, I consider myself watchful--alert to words and their subtexts, often instantly aware of people's/strangers' emotions, quick to react to something I've observed, easily moved to tears or laughter, but a watcher rather than a player, a witness rather than an active participant. And that's how most of my life has passed, from 1943 to the present, watching the world progress/regress, seeing aspects of society alter for the worse (yes, and some few for the better), taking a Luddite's position on most technological change.

I can hear someone sneering, "Really? Then why write a blog?"

The answer is that, by accident, by grace, by dumb luck with little action on my own part, I have frequently been in the right place at the right time, again and again, participating (even if at one remove) in much of the popular history of the later Twentieth Century--from the McCarthy Hearings to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, from Monterey Pop to disastrous Altamont, from interviewing Gram Parsons, Jim Morrison, and many others to writing and producing Rainier Beer ads in their heyday, from having a secret connection to the birth of Starbuck's to standing next to Queen Elizabeth at a horserace, from backpacking around the world to owning a bookstore frequented often by musicians and movie stars, and now finally to buying and selling books and records on the blessed/cursed Internet.

The answer is that I have actually witnessed much more than the preceding short list, and I would like to leave a record, however small, detailing that lucky life.

So bits and pieces from that life as witness will appear here from time to time. Stay tuned if you are curious.