December 2005


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6th Avenue by Fairfield Porter

Do you know the poem, ‘Be Near Me When My Light Is Low…and all the wheels of being slow…’ by Tennyson. It rings true for me this time of year, though there is a beautiful moment of grace, as well. I’ve been producing a bunch, these past six months. Working mostly at my friend John Leftwich’s studio. Big 7 foot grand piano, drums, guitars and percussion instruments everywhere. Hope to get to my own album sooner than later. John is a California surfer and killer bass player. I first saw him play in the Chet Baker documentary ‘Let’s Get Lost.’ He has played with Chet, Mose Allison, Rickie Lee Jones, Lyle Lovett, etc. Right up my alley, obviously. He does music for Bruce Weber’s various films/projects. Always, a bunch of Bruce Weber books laying around the studio. Bruce puts out an annual literary journal/book, called the ‘All American’ series. Cool stuff in the most recent one about the painter Fairfield Porter. Fairfield painted a lot up in my original ‘neck of the woods’, Penobscot Bay in Maine. My brother was a Maine painter. Snowy landscapes and all that. It is a poweful feeling up there, on an island, in the woods, near the ocean. I’ve gone so far away from that life, into cities, and the big world. My grandfather and his crew were Maine guides. They’d take hunters into the wilderness of Maine on moose & bear hunting expeditions. Me, I go hunting the East Village for the closest bar with cold beer. Fairfield started out as a poet it seems. I read his beautiful poem ‘The Loved Son’ last night. I’ve got to find it and post it here. I saw a bunch of his work at the museum in Southhampton, NY a few summers ago. My goal is to get a house out there and split my time between there and the city (did I mention a house on the canals in Amsterdam?) I’m only short about 8 million dollars. The light out there and the beaches are inspiring. It’s a zoo and a traffic nightmare in the summer, but it’s still magic. The Amagansett country mart is my morning coffee stop- in line with half of the residents of New York City, New Jersey and Long Island.
Regards, Christmas, somehow the guitars, cars and Manuel suits were NOT under my tree on Christmas morning. It’s OK, Christmas in Mexico is not until January. I still have hope. Hey, was Jesus born in January, in Mexico? It gets confusing. I did get the new book from Frank McCourt called ‘Teacher Man.’ Very funny and moving, about his Irish roots and his 30 years teaching in the New York City school system. Having grown up Irish Catholic, I can relate. My mother was Catholic and my father Protestant, henceforth the holy war in my soul. The Catholics, they hammer the concept of SIN into you at a young age, from which you never recover. Even just thinking ‘bad’ thoughts is a sin. Man, my tally sheet is not looking too great. Not even sure that I qualify for entry into Purgatory. Here’s the Tennyson poem I mentioned at the beginning. Happy New Year to you.

Be Near Me When My Light Is Low
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.

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Gram Parsons in Manuel Suit

Well, it’s that time of year. The annual soundtrack for me this season is, “If We Make It Through December” by Merle Haggard. He’s one of my heroes. People are constantly asking me if I’m ‘country’- well, definitely NOT in Nashville. They haven’t seen me in my Manuel suit, I guess! Have you heard of Manuel? He’s one of my favorite people on the planet and his suits are works of art. In fact, he did western jackets for each of the 50 states, that are in the Smithsonian. Covered with spangles and hand sewn embroidery on every square inch. My Christmas wish list is, a few new Manuel suits, a couple of new guitars, and the keys to a ‘65 Cadillac convertible . I saw a photo in the New York Times of the CMA awards in New York this year. Little Jimmy Dickens had on a beautiful rhinestone suit and Vince Gill was wearing a pinstripe Wall Street suit. Speaks a thousand words about where country music is at these days. Ah, well, I like Vince’s music, so let’s don’t get cranky about it. I like it when the borders of genre melt and it all blends together. Merle Haggard meets Jimi Hendrix meets Joni Mitchell meets Mose Allison.
Back to Christmas, do you know Laura Nyro’s album, ‘Christmas & the Beads of Sweat’? I saw her many years ago, live in New York on a snowy night. I drove down from Maine through a snowstorm with an exchange student from Greece who was in love with my girlfriend. He’d never driven in snow before. Everyone was in love with my girlfriend- she had long blond hair and was a poet- the first heartbreak from which we never recover. My son is a handsome blond ‘dude’. I can’t bear the thought of his heart being broken, but it’ll happen. In the meantime he still believes in Santa Claus and I’m happy about that.
I play in the family band at his school. It’s an arty school- sons and daughters of music, film, and art types, along with the lawyers, guns, and money who keep it financially viable. Tom Petty’s stepson was there last year, and Jack Nicholson shows up for grandparent’s day. Quite different from the schools I attended . In my son’s kindergarten class they were taught ‘conflict resolution techniques.’ I need to sit in on those classes. I couldn’t throw my son to the wolves. People say, “why not, you made it through alright”, but I’m not so sure that I did.
Big snowfall all across New York this week. The lights, the scent of pine from the trees for sale on the corner, the general good mood, and moment of grace that befalls the city. The RV that drives up 6th avenue announcing over the loudspeaker that ‘Moshe’ is coming soon!’ Phew, I’d better get my act together! To everyone, Merry Christmas/Holidays of all variety.

Saw Bonnie Raitt at The Wiltern Theatre in LA the other night. Man, what a guitar player- the ghost of Lowell George meets the living spirit of Bonnie, and her spirit is on fire! Of course, she tears it up with her singing too. Do you know her version of the Mose Allison song ‘Everybody’s Crying Mercy?’- Well, everyone has a favorite song from Bonnie. The first time I heard her sing my song ‘Nobody’s Girl’ sent a chill up and down my neck. It was great saying hello to her. Backstage in LA= about 25% of the audience. Her manager, Kathy Kane handles it all beautifully. If only I had someone like that handling my day to day affairs, I wouldn’t have a problem in the world. A million other disparate projects in the works. I’ve been writing with a young band from Israel now recording in LA, called Moshav (www.moshavband.com)- The Wallflowers meet U2 meets the history of the Holy Land- can’t go too far down that road without stirring up controversy.

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Speaking of religion, cool essay from poet Mary Karr in the November issue of Poetry magazine, called ‘Facing Altars: Poetry & Prayer’ (www.poetrymagazine.org) She, the dark angel/fugitive kind has returned to The Catholic Church. In my youth I put my time in at ‘St. Mary’s of The Sacred Heart.’ The nuns would put masking tape over my mouth to shut me up. I haven’t stopped talking since. Mary wrote ‘The Liar’s Club’ and a great memoir of her adolescence called ‘Cherry’ - The glory & anguish of growing up. Now Mary has a son, and as a father I’m moved at the passionate insights she brings to the subject. Check out the poem for her 16 year old son in the ‘Poetry I Love’ section of my site. Speaking of which, there’s a killer poem posted there called ‘Postcard From the Party’ by a poet named Wyn Cooper. He wrote the poem that Sheryl Crow used in the lyrics for her song “All I Wanna Do (Is Have Some Fun)’ from her debut album. Now Wyn has made an album of songs, etc. with a novelist named Madison Smartt Bell- click on the link on Wyn’s site (www.wyncooper.com) and listen to the NPR interview to hear a bit of the album and stories about the making of the album. Speaking of Bonnie Raitt and poetry, I ran into Michael O’Keefe at a movie screening last week. Michael was married to Bonnie for a while and wrote a bunch of songs with her. He said that he’s been studying the art of poetry at Bennington College, I believe. I envy him, the time to dive into that arena. Me, I slug it out with my songs, running on luck, a lot of practice with rhyme, and my intuition. I saw a comment on intuition in the New York Times the other day that read, ‘What is intution but non linear knowledge?’ How else would I make it through the day? The movie screening where I saw Michael was for a documentary from Patricia Foulkrod called ‘The Ground Truth’ (www.thegroundtruth.org) It will be shown at Sundance in January. I wrote and performed an instrumental piece called ‘Mia Bella’ in various places throughout the movie. It’s an extremely affecting essay on the terrors of the Iraq war and the government’s callous treatment of the soldiers in their struggles with Post Traumatic Stress. I recorded my piece sitting on a small screening stage and it was tough to hold back emotion, performing the music take after take through the many scenes covering the horrors of war. At the Q&A after the screening there were some parents who’d lost their son in Iraq- It could’ve been me up there. Mary Karr talks about ‘giving thanks’ as being the beginning of her ‘return to faith’. I give thanks for every morning I wake up and my son is here and OK.