Leonard Cohen

I never had a Leonard Cohen album and though I could probably recognize his voice easily enough the only song I knew by him for the longest time was Suzanne, and only because it was on a Joan Baez album that got a lot of airplay back in the day. I always liked the song, and seem to recall using it in a piece I wrote in a writing class with Barry Farrell at UCSB. That must have been 1978. I was assigned to interview this luscious raven haired beauty, we sat on her bed in her dorm and she talked and talked and then I went home and wrote a piece and think I quoted Suzanne a couple times, probably because she did. I remember the piece was called Laura, her name, and it was later one of the first things I ever transcribed on computer, tossing the typed and white-outed original, and then the computer ate the essay and it sank back into electrons like a stone.

Decades later I heard a raven haired friend sing Hallelujah and it blew my mind. I thought she had written it. She corrected me. No bed was sat on.

I remember seeing the Isle of Wight flick in a hippie movie theater as a kid but I have no memory of him in it then. Family I remember. Much later–decades, actually–I bought a copy of the flick and watched it and only liked a couple things–Family, Ten Years After, Kris Kristofferson and Leonard Cohen, who did a rather extraordinary take of Suzanne. Even the loutish yippies were hushed. Everything is hushed, the hippies hang on every word, and Leonard’s hippie chick back up singers look disturbingly like Manson girls but you don’t even notice. It’s as perfect a performance as you’ll ever see.

I suppose if they hadn’t called him a poet I might have picked up a record or two back then. I mean they called him that because he was a poet, a real poet. That word always gave me the willies, though. Not sure why. Maybe because I played drums.

Listening to Suzanne again here, the verses driving the chords on to unrealized endings, stumbling over the bridge as if stoned, music following words instead of words trapped by music, I deja vu back to that dorm room, that bed, and see now how I used the song to structure that piece, I can almost read it, almost remember it, but I can feel it. Maybe a roommate had the LP, I must have listened to this song over and over and over and wrote the first good thing I ever wrote in my life.

Funny, though, how I spent an evening alone on a bed with a dark haired beauty and all I could think about was words. That never occurred to me till now. Oh, Brick….


Let me quote in toto “A Vast Confusion” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti whose birthday is today on March 24–the Feast Day of sad little Simonino of Trento, never seen again except through miracles and visions–and Lawrence is suddenly 96 and that is a helluva gloriously long time, nearly a century of words and sentences and cadences and rhymes that aren’t there but are, like here, listen:

Long long I lay in the sands

Sounds of trains in the surf
in subways of the sea
And an even greater undersound
of a vast confusion in the universe
a rumbling and a roaring
as of some enormous creature turning
under sea and earth
a billion sotto voices murmuring
a vast muttering
a swelling stuttering
in ocean’s speakers
world’s voice-box heard with ear to sand
a shocked echoing
a shocking shouting
of all life’s voices lost in night
And the tape of it
somehow running backwards now
through the Moog Synthesizer of time
Chaos unscrambled
back to the first
And the first light

“Undersound”…I can dig that. Did you dig that? Undersound.

Hatlessly holding Howl, Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1957

Hatlessly holding Howl, Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1957

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl by Allen Ruppersberg

I stood in the room I thought alone reading the phoneticized lines aloud….I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix….and I realized two small ladies were standing in the corner, staring at me. I continued, louder. Angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness…. The ladies fled.

Howl still works, apparently.

Allen Ginsberg's Howl by Allen Ruppersberg.

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl by Allen Ruppersberg at the Skirball Museum.

Sometimes words work

So we watched an inspired, passionate Phil Ranelin set at the Watts Towers Jazz Festival on Sunday; it swept the crowd despite the amateur antics of the sound guy. Wonderful stuff. Pablo Calogero does amazing things on the soprano sax without ever venturing into the overwrought preciousness that afflicts that horn. What a wonderful player. Phil’s trombone playing is like expressionist watercolors, gorgeous and imaginative and just a tad out, and the alto player whose name escapes me was superb as well, just a hint of dry, a fine soloist. Don Littleton was on drums, good as always and smiling as the bassist nailed it over and over…I’m afraid I wasn’t being a journalist–been avoiding it–and got neither his name nor the pianist’s. The soundman somehow lost all power to the PA halfway through the set so the horn players had to really belt there for a stretch, it worked. Eventually the mics came back on (though the soundman didn’t seem to tell the musicians…who had to figure out which were live and which dead all by themselves….)  Then we headed way the hell out to Altadena for a BBQ and ran into Winston Byrd in the local Ralphs. He was shopping, not blowing high notes on the trumpet–that would have woken up the customers–but jazz, apparently, is everywhere. Or jazz musicians are everywhere.

As are words. Kamau Daooud was the emcee, if he read any of his own superb stuff (“each morning i read the newspaper/ and weep into a pot of coffee/ i muffle my whispered screaming/ with the music of the masters/ i find religion there/ rocking in ecstasy/ to the heartbeats of loved ones”) I missed it. (Look for The Language of Saxophones. I treasure my signed copy.) But I did have my mind blown by a poet at Watts, which doesn’t happen often. Continue reading

The oats they’re feeding me: the poetic license of Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad

The lyrics to “Inside Looking Out” by the Animals, with the Grand Funk Railroad version in italics.

Sittin’ here lonely like a broken man
Sell my time and do the best I can
I wasn’t boss this around in me
I don’t want your sympathy, yeah

I’m sitting here lonely like a broken man.
I serve my time doin’ the best I can.
Walls and bars they surround me.
But, I don’t want no sympathy.

Oh baby, oh baby
I just need your tender lovin’
To keep me sane in this burnin’ oven
When my time is up, be my rebirth

No baby, no baby,
All I need is some tender lovin’.
To keep me sane in this burning oven.
And, when my time is up, you’ll be my reefer.

Like Adam’s work on God’s green earth
My rebirth, my rebirth
Baby, yeah it means my rebirth

Life gets worse on God’s green earth.
Be my reefer, got to keep smokin’ that thing.
No, no, no, no, no, no.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Baby baby baby
C’mon c’mon c’mon
Yeah yeah, c’mon, yeah yeah

I said now baby … baby …, let me smoke it … smoke it …
Makes me feel good … feel good, yes, I feel good … ahhhhh …
Yes, I feel alright … feel alright …, yes, I feel alright … feel alright …
Yes, I feel alright … Ahhhhh …
Ohhhhh …

Ice cold waters runnin’ in my brain
They drag me back to work again
Pains and blisters on my minds and my hands
From living daily with those canvas bags

Ice cold water is runnin’ through my veins.
They try and drag me back to work again.
Pain and blisters on my mind and hands.
I work all day making up burlap bags.

Thoughts of freedom they are drivin’ me wild
And I’ll by happy like a new born child
We’ll be together, girl, you wait and see
No more walls to keep your love from me

The oats they’re feeding me are driving me wild.
I feel unhappy like a new born child.
Now, when my time is up, you wait and see.
These walls and bars won’t keep that stuff from me.

Yeah, can’t you feel my love
Baby, baby, need you, squeeze you
No-body but, nobody but, you girl
I love you, need you

No, no, baby,
Won’t keep that stuff from me.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

All right
I said everything’s gonna be all right
And if you don’t believe what I say
Just listen baby and I’ll tell you

I need you right now mama.
I need you right now baby.
Right by my side, honey.
All night long.

Can’t you feel my love
Can’t you see my skill
Can’t you yell my love
It’s getting louder
It’s getting louder
A little closer, yeah

Make me feel alright …
Yes, all …, yes, all …, yes, all … alright

I said baby, I need you, c’mon, squeeze, please
Lord, I love you, I need you, yeah
Yeah, right by my side
I need you here by my side

You better come on up and get down with me.
I’ll make you feel real good, just you wait and see.

But I can’t help it baby
But, I’ll be home soon
I’ll be home soon, yeah
All right, whoa

Make me feel alright …, yes, I feel alright …
Yes, all …, yes, all …, yes, alright.

 Apparently if there was a lyric sheet, Mark Farner was too stoned to read it.

Vinicius de Moraes

Vinicius de Moraes was a lyricist unlike anything in English, his stuff was so extraordinarily literate it read like real poetry, great poetry, with such imagery and feel. Check out this one, a remarkably good translation of Arrastao from the Portuguese, set to an Edu Lobo tune. The version here is Elis Regina’s classic take with the Zimba Trio, recorded live in Sao Paulo in 1965. It is intense and huge sounding yet it is just Elis with an acoustic trio, piano, bass and drums. There was absolutely nothing in American music like this at the time, not in jazz or rock, or in words even. Here below is the lyric, in English, awash in syncretic meaning, the ancient Mediterranean Roman Catholicism and Yoruban candomble intertwined, orishas and saints one and the same in the way the Holy Trinity is one in the same, consubstantial. Hypostatis the scholars described in it late Roman days, in Greek, a concept rejected by the Arians with great slaughter, but is now so embedded in Catholicism that the holies and spirits and gods of other religions become one with Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit, and with the Madonna and the saints and martyrs, and of course Satan and his minions. Thus our narrator here guilelessly prays to Yemanja the goddess of the sea with syncopated piano and rolling drum meter; then to her Catholic side, Saint Barbara, in a melody like the inside of a cathedral, soaring, the notes hanging in the still air. The people go out into the sea in boats and let float candles on tiny rafts and the bay is filled with points of light and the silhouettes of fishermen, and the night air rings with drums and chants and the low mumble of prayers. Yemanja answers, Santa Barbara answers, and the nets are filled with fish and hearts with love. Somehow, Vincinius tells all this in a simple fisherman’s prayer on a night spent trawling, in Portuguese arrastao.

Eh! There are dinghies in the sea
Hey! hey! hey!
They’re trawling today
Eh! Everyone fishing
Enough of the shade, João Continue reading