Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Gift

A few weeks back, thinking it would be a way to save money and be a marvelous gift, I asked my two brother-units for used copies of the two books that had been the most formative to the person they each have become.

The Grader Boob, an English prof who is absolutely under the gun at this time of the year, dealing with final grades and student complaints, instead sent me a very generous gift certificate to Amazon. Whether he knows it or not, the student emails that he included in our recent correspondance were his real gift - a representative piece of his life.

The request had really already been answered over the course of the years we have known each other as siblings. He schooled me, seeming to step into the role of Guide from about the time I was eight or nine, and has never stopped. He shocks me with claims that I have schooled him, that I am The One Possessing Knowledge.

My other brother-unit, Tumbleweed, left the "family" -- hmmm, hey! It was about the same time Grader Boob Actively Assumed the Mantle of Sibling Voice of Social Conscience (Dabbling in Rock N Roll). A temporal coincidence? I think not.

Tumbleweed, who now prefers to be called TW, was a young runaway with an old soul. Grader Boob and I loved him with all our hearts, and the many years that passed without word of him were... let's just say difficult. Doubtless, I have little right to claim any difficulty whatsoever, given the harsh realities that TW encountered, but I do, I do lay claim to those years as Hard Times.

He, at least, had been able to leave. He had been free. Doing whatever he wanted to do.


I mean, switch the genders in Joni Mitchell's Cactus Tree, and there you have it.


I grew up "while he was so busy being free."

It is only recently that I've discovered my anger at TW. It's not Big Anger; It does not overwhelm -- it's one of your best recipes, having the restraint of a secret bit of heat that hits the back of the tongue in a salty delay.

He had no shelter, no food, was shot once, almost died then, and several other times. He did what one does to survive, maybe more. He loved and won, loved and lost. He and a porn star had a daughter, who now has a daughter of her own. Predictably, they are almost strangers. He met some of the most famous people of his generation. He wrote some stuff, published, read, hid some stuff. He ate out of trash cans, lived in a tent. Learned and learned, stored it and shared it. In fact, if you listen carefully to him, the thing he seems to have dedicated himself most to is the sharing. He did not want anyone to leave him unelevated, unfed, cold.

As for the pain inside the man?
I don't dare go there, unless invited, and I have not been invited.

In my adolescence, he was Seymour to Grader Boob's Buddy. TW was the fourth sick artist adjacent to sick Kierkegaard, sick Kafka, and sick van Gogh. I was into the Glass family, and jealous of its members, when I was all of eleven. This famously convoluted passage copied unevenly across an unlined page in a very uncertain 11-year-old hand has been tucked inside my Bible during all these intervening mumblemumble years:

But where does by far the bulk, the whole ambulance load, of pain really come from? Where must it come from? Isn't the true poet or painter a seer? Isn't he, actually, the only seer we have on earth? […] In a seer, what part of the human anatomy would necessarily be required to take the most abuse? The eyes, certainly. Please, dear general reader, as a last indulgence (if you're still here), re-read those two short passages from Kafka and Kierkegaard I started out with. Isn't it clear? Don't those cries come straight from the eyes? However contradictory the coroner's report - whether he pronounces Consumption or Loneliness or Suicide to be the cause of death -isn't it plain how the true artist-seer actually dies? I say […] that the true artist-seer, the heavenly fool who can and does produce beauty, is mainly dazzled to death by his own scruples, the blinding shapes and colors of his own sacred human conscience. (Salinger's Seymour, An Introduction)

I'd have edited out the reference to the epigraphs if I didn't also have as profound a writerly relationship with them, were they not also emblemmatic of my imaginary life with the real Tumbleweed.

The actors by their presence always convince me, to my horror, that most of what I've written about them until now is false. It is false because I write about them with steadfast love (even now, while I write it down, this, too, becomes false) but varying ability, and this varying ability does not hit off the real actors loudly and correctly but loses itself dully in this love that will never be satisfied with the ability and therefore thinks it is protecting the actors by preventing this ability from exercising itself.
– Franz Kafka

It is (to describe it figuratively) as if an author were to make a slip of the pen, and as if this clerical error became conscious of being such. Perhaps this was no error but in a far higher sense was an essential part of the whole exposition. It is, then, as if this clerical error were to revolt against the author, out of hatred for him, were to forbid him to correct it, and were to say, "No, I will not be erased, I will stand as a witness against thee, that thou art a very poor writer."– Søren Kierkegaard

A few years back, TW settled, somewhat, spending a few months of the year painting houses around Lake Tahoe, five months or so leading hikers and other serious adventurers in treks throughout the Grand Canyon. The rest of the time, he works as a bookie, in order to earn money, he says, "for cat food."

A few weeks back, thinking it would be a way to save money and be a marvelous gift, I asked my two brother-units for used copies of the two books that had been the most formative to the person they each have become.

This is what was in the Christmas box from my big brother that Fred fetched, this morning, from just beyond the drawbridge, in the icy grass next to the frozen moat. (TW took my request to heart.)

The items, at present, are dumped in the middle of our bed, and are recorded in the order of their haphazard retrieval.

1. Grateful Dead, Winterland, 6/9/77 (cassette tape, live)

The Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo

On the day that I was born
Daddy sat down and cried
I had the mark just as plain as day
which could not be denied
They say that Cain caught Abel
rolling loaded dice,
ace of spades behind his ear
and him not thinking twice

Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello baby, I'm gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I'm on my way - on my way

If all you got to live for
is what you left behind
get yourself a powder charge
and seal that silver mine
I lost my boots in transit babe
A pile of smoking leather
Nailed a retread to my feet
and prayed for better weather

Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello, baby, I'm gone, good-bye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I'm on my way - on my way

They say that when your ship comes in
the first man takes the sails
The second takes the afterdeck
The third the planks and rails
What's the point to callin shots?
This cue ain't straight in line
Cueball's made of styrofoam
and no one's got the time

Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello baby, I'm gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I'm on my way - on my way

Across the Rio Grand-eo
Across the lazy river
Across the Rio Grand-eo
Across the lazy river

2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard: page 139 is turned down. She is writing about the actual texture of the planet, about a contour globe.

What do I make of all this texture? What does it mean about the kind of world in which I have been set down? The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility of beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.

3. Grateful Dead, Winterland 12/31/78 Side A; Oakland Auditorium Arena [w/joan baez on baby blue] 12/31/87 Side B (cassette tape, live)

4. Grateful Dead, Winterland 10/18/74, 3/18/77

5. The Complete Columbia Recordings, 1955-1961, Miles Davis and John Coltane (audio CDs)

6. Go Further, a Ron Mann film (DVD, 2003) "...explores the idea that the single individual is the key to large-scale transformational change. The film follows actor Woody Harrelson as he takes a small group of friends on a bio-fuelled bus-ride down the Pacific Coast Highway..."

7. Peter Brook's Marat/Sade (DVD, 1967)

8. Jacques Perrin, Winged Migration (DVD, 2001)

9. Glenn Gould: Bach -- The French Suites (Audio CD, 1973, 1974 CBS Records)

10. Carolan's Cottage, Joemy Wilson: Music of Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) on the Hammered Dulcimer Vol. II (Audio CD, Dargason Music, 1986)

11. Hotwalker: Charles Bukowski & A Ballad for Gone by Tom Russell (audio CD, homemade)

From Stylus Magazine, Reviewed by: Dom Passantino; Reviewed on: 2005-03-25
"It starts off as novelty. Within five minutes of the album starting, you’re laughing. You’re laughing half out of humour, half out of 'What on earth am I listening to?' What you’re listening to is a half-cut helium-voiced midget slurring the tale of the time he and Charles Bukowski drunkenly hijacked a diesel locomotive and drove it from downtown Los Angeles to Pacoima. By the time the album’s over, you’re not laughing, you’re discovered that that midget you were listening to died a few months after recording his vocals, the stage is littered with innumerable other corpses and lost hopes of America, and the smile has been wiped completely from your face, replaced by a stunned gape. Hotwalker isn’t just one of the best albums of this decade; it’s also probably the best documentary that the 2000s have yet produced.

A hotwalker is the name given to the guy at a racetrack who walks hot horses around in a circle to cool them down. Little Jack Horton used to be a hotwalker. He used to be a lot of things, carnival freak, poet, stuntman, 'Voice of the Great American Midway,' human cannonball, stuntman, friend of Charles Bukowski, preacher, alcoholic, philosopher, and alive. He was the midget in question (or 'little person' as he aggressively refers to himself, for an album that rails repeatedly against political correctness they do make concessions for our stumpy brethren) we just mentioned.

Hotwalker is the new album by Tom Russell, except it really isn’t his album. Of the 19 tracks present on this thing he only takes performance credits for nine of them. It’s part documentary, part mix-album, part museum exhibit, part evening spent listening to a rambling bar drunk who occasionally has a moment of clarity which you can’t help but share with him.

The whole enterprise is subtitled 'Charles Bukowski And A Ballad For Gone America,' and that’s what this is, an unapologetically backwards look that’s haunted with ghosts. Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce, Harry Partch, Edward Abbey, Dave Van Ronk, Rambling Jack Elliot, a eulogy for each and every single one of these guys and the America they fought for. As a man who’s written for Johnny Cash, it’s no surprise that Russell fetishises the outlaw, and the whole thing is a paean to playing by your own rules. He knows that all of these people have voices strong enough to tell their own stories, and he lets them tell it. So Bukowski performs 'On The Hustle,' exchanging jokes with the audience about his alcoholism. Lenny Bruce asks the audience if there’s any other losers in tonight, before using the loneliness of his divorce as material. So many other voices flutter through, a choir of the damned, and each one has something to say. And Russell isn’t Michael Moore, he knows that the correct place for a documentary maker is out of the picture making sure his subjects get the screen time they deserve.

When he does veer into view, though, his contributions are absolutely perfect. He tells of times spent at Dave Van Ronk’s house, as a drunken Van Ronk would shout at even drunker houseguests, hopeful poets wondering if Dylan had dropped any songs down the back of the sofa, as his wife played the same track over and over again: 'LISTEN TO THIS GODDAMN SONG, YOU PEOPLE.'

12. Pirate's Choice Orchestra Baobab: The Legendary 1982 Session (Audio CD, World Circuit, recorded 1982, digitally remastered 1989) i laughed with joy to see this included - it's just... superb.

13. dick's picks #14; The Grateful Dead, boston music hall, 11/30/73, 12/2/73 (cassette tape, live)

dark star
words by Robert Hunter; music by Garcia, Kreutzmann, Lesh, McKernan, and Weir

Dark star crashes
pouring its light
into ashes

Reason tatters
the forces tear loose
from the axis

Searchlight casting
for faults in the
clouds of delusion

shall we go,
you and I
While we can?
the transitive nightfall
of diamonds

Mirror shatters
in formless reflections
of matter

Glass hand dissolving
to ice petal flowers

Lady in velvet
in the nights of goodbye

Shall we go,
you and I
While we can?
the transitive nightfall
of diamonds

spinning a set the stars through which the tattered tales of axis roll about the waxen wind of never set to motion in the unbecoming round about the reason hardly matters nor the wise through which the stars were set in spin

#14. Grateful Dead, long beach arena 12/14/80, winterland 10/16/74 (cassette tape, live)

#15. Grateful Dead, greek theatre, berkeley, 5/21/82 (cassette tape, live)
crossed out: Placido Domingo (from bravissimo, domingo!) and Felix Mendelssohn's A midsummer night's dream
clipping of a nature morte by cézanne as "cover art"

Playing In The Band
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Bob Weir

Some folks trust to reason
Others trust to might
I don't trust to nothing
But I know it come out right

Say it once again now
Oh I hope you understand
When it's done and over
Lord, a man is just a man

Playing in the band
Daybreak on the land

Some folks look for answers
Others look for fights
Some folks up in treetops
Just look to see the sights

I can tell your future
Look what's in your hand
But I can't stop for nothing
I'm just playing in the band

Playing in the band
Daybreak on the land

Standing on a tower
World at my command
You just keep a turning
While I'm playing in the band

If a man among you
Got no sin upon his hand
Let him cast a stone at me
For playing in the band

Playing in the band
Daybreak on the land
Playing in the band
Daybreak Daybreak on the land

#16. An Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead: Playing in the Band
[An Updated Memorial Edition]
by David Gans and Peter Simon, foreward by Phil Lesh
St. Martin's Griffin, 1985

With a bit of paper stuck in between pages 188 and 189, at the beginning of Chapter 15, Epilogue: "that's me, holding the microphones, berkeley's greek theatre, early 1980s" and, indeed, there he is, front and center, bearded and beautiful. Photo by Bruce Polonsky.

#17. A Novel: The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979

"In 1798, Irish patriots, committed to freeing their country from England, landed with a company of French troops in County Mayo, in westernmost Ireland. They were supposed to be an advance guard, followed by other French ships with the leader of the rebellion, Wolfe Tone. Briefly they triumphed, raising hopes among the impoverished local peasantry and gathering a group of supporters. But before long the insurgency collapsed in the face of a brutal English counterattack.

Very few books succeed in registering the sudden terrible impact of historical events; Thomas Flanagan's is one. Subtly conceived, masterfully paced, with a wide and memorable cast of characters, The Year of the French brings to life peasants and landlords, Protestants and Catholics, along with old and abiding questions of secular and religious commitments, empire, occupation, and rebellion. It is quite simply a great historical novel."

#18. Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee
The Noonday Press, 1971
Three wildernesses, Four ecologies...

#19. A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present by Howard Zinn
Harper Collins, 1980, revised and edited 1995

#20. The Grateful Dead, Vancouver, B.C. 6/25/73 and Olympia Theater, Paris, France 5/4/72 (cassette tape, live)

#21. The Grateful Dead, Cow Palace, San Francisco 12/31/72 and Spartan Stadium, San Jose 4/22/79 (cassette tape, live)

Crossed out: Brahms, Chamber Music and Charles Mingus (ending with Mood Indigo)

#22. Bob Dylan, Royal Albert Hall, Manchester England, 5/17/66 (cassette tape, live)

#23. The Grateful Dead, Oakland Auditorium Arena, 12/31/81 (cassette tape, live)
Crossed out: Minnesota 10/19/71

#24. One Tibetan Windhorse Prayer Flag Garland, Handmade in Nepal by Tibetan Handicraft Industry for International Campaign for Tibet, 888-Tibet-Now

Contains a variety of important symbols in Tibetan Buddhism. These include the Endless Knot, representing the interrelatedness of all things; the Double Dorje or Diamond Scepter, symbolizing the indestructible and compassionate nature of Buddhaís teachings; the Buddha or awakened one, who introduced the Dharma or Buddhist teachings into this world; and the Healing Mantra, a matrix of Tibetan symbols that make up a healing mantra or sacred prayer. Hanging flags are believed to constantly be sending their prayers to the universe. To dispose of old flags with respect, please burn them.

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