Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

My poem "Swallowed" (originally published in 2007) is this week's "Poem of the Week" over at the Valparaiso Poetry Review blog. This poem was always a little different for me, maybe even an odd duck, though reading back through it now I see a slight similarity to the tone of my current project, which also features fictional characters. Though that similarity may be all in my head...

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Five Women Poets, one of the groups I'm a member of, has its annual reading on Saturday evening, October 10. If you're near the Bloomington IN area, you are most cordially invited: 7 pm at Rachael's Café on Third St. The group consists of Patricia C. Coleman, Deborah Pender Hutchison, Antonia Matthew, Helen May, Carol Paiva, Anya Peterson Royce, and myself (yes, that's seven members of Five Women Poets; we're poets, not mathematicians!) and Bonnie Maurer will be our special guest poet. Drop me a note if you need directions or further details. I have no idea what I'm reading (or, more importantly, what I'm wearing) but it should be fun.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


There are some things I don't know how to do without talking about them.

There are some things I do that I don't know how to talk about.

And there are other things I do that I know neither how to do nor how to talk about.

* * * * *

Rolling Stone: You've talked about the E Street Band being so close now, but you quit the band back in the Eighties, and Bruce later broke the group up for 10 years. How do those two decisions look to you now?

Little Steven Van Zandt: There is no doubt that those two things were mistakes. I tell everybody, if you've got a band that works, it's a miracle. It's never going to be perfect, but if it works on some level, hold on to it with both hands and don't ever let it go. Bands should never break up. I had this conversation with Bruce. One of the reasons why we got back together is I really feel a moral obligation. You ask people to fall in love with you. To need you. To want you. To buy your records and come see you. You have an emotional contract with people. To break up is to violate that contract. That relationship has now been restored, and we are feeling it more than ever.

[from the October 1, 2009 issue]

* * * * *

Something about the trajectory of morning rain, a runner all in gray on the sidewalk.

* * * * *

Things get stuck inside your head sometimes in a way that makes you sad but not sorry.

* * * * *

In the end it all comes down to love & thunder
and the things you are willing to lose:
love & thunder, love & thunder, love & thunder.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Past the autumnal equinox

I miss poetry. Sometimes you have to take separate vacations even when you love each other, though. I just hope poetry and I can reconcile in time for us to whip some stuff into shape before some upcoming deadlines.

Speaking of which, I picked up a rejection slip at my PO box on my way out of town to go to my mom's and then to Chicago, last week. It had, as they say, "ink" -- the editor had particularly liked one section of a longish poem, which is one of my favorite poems from the new/current/ongoing project. So that was nice. Maybe I'm on the right track.

* * * * *

Last night I saw Lucinda Williams perform in a smallish club here in town. The place was packed and enthusiastic. I was about four deep in front of the stage, a nice spot. I hadn't seen her before, though I've been a fan of her music ever since Sweet Old World came out years ago; in honor of the 30th anniversary of the release of her first album, she's doing a chronological setlist on this tour, playing several songs from each album starting with the first and going through her current release. It was really cool to hear how her music has evolved over the years, from the rootsy acoustic folk/blues she started with to the rock-your-face-off sound she has now. Her backing band, Buick 6, opened with a very good instrumental set which definitely set the tone for the rock-your-face-off portion of the evening.

Sometimes, what you really need is just some LOUD. And loud felt really good to me last night.

This show was just a few days after Lucinda married her manager onstage at her Minneapolis show (a ceremony which included her father, Miller Williams, reading a poem) and she seemed to be in a fantastic mood. She also seemed to enjoy the high energy of the crowd and the rock vibe of the club (maybe she just needed some loud, too). If you're fond of good songwriting and bands with a lot of electric guitar, check out this tour if it comes near you. Good stuff.

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Dave over at Wings for Wheels has a particularly nice appreciation of Bruce Springsteen in honor of his 60th birthday (Bruce's, not Dave's); if you liked my post about the show in Chicago, his seems to come from a similar impulse. Yesterday's "Happy Brucemas" brought a plethora of articles, posts, tributes, lists, and other appreciations -- far too many to list here; if you really haven't had enough Bruce-related reading in your life lately, check out the links over at the Backstreets news page (scroll down just a bit for the birthday tributes) and the big honkin' linkfest at Blogness on the Edge of Town.

* * * * *

The trees are starting to turn -- I notice it a little more every day. Summer's definitely over. I always feel like I write more, and better, during transitional seasons. Sure hope that turns out to be the case this time around. I miss poetry.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The screen door slams...

I realize now that by waiting a couple days to post this, I risk its being lost in the flood of “happy 60th birthday to Bruce” blog posts and tweets and web pages and discussion board posts and lord only knows what all. Because, yes, Mr. Springsteen is sixty years old today. (And still jumping up on pianos and racing around onstage strapped into an electric guitar, natch.)

But this post, while it’s about Sunday night’s Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band concert in Chicago, is not really about Bruce Springsteen.

It’s about something bigger. Yeah, as big a megastar as Springsteen is (and he’s a pretty big megastar), there’s something bigger. And that’s the music.

So, the big deal about the Chicago show was that Bruce and the band were going to perform the Born to Run album in its entirety, beginning to end, at this show. (Along with a couple hours of other songs, of course.) He’d done this once before, at a benefit show in Red Bank NJ, at which he also performed Darkness on the Edge of Town straight through. There have been various rumors about why he decided to do it again: request from a VIP or a friend, filming for a DVD, a last hurrah towards the end of what could end up being the last E Street Band tour. (Nobody connected with the band has said anything about it being the last tour, but they have announced a hiatus of at least a year and a half, and after the loss of organ & accordion player Danny Federici almost a year and a half ago & given various health issues for other band members, I think they are all keenly aware that there are no guarantees.)

I didn’t manage to get a general admission ticket for this show, which is my usual preference. Sometimes you end up standing behind a couple of tall broad guys and when you’re 5 foot 1 like me you end up standing on your toes craning your neck wondering if the band is really up there somewhere, and sometimes you end up smack in front looking a guitarist in the eye and sharing a grin. I’ve had both experiences, and for the chance of the latter, I’ll put up with the former sometimes. But because I had a seat and didn’t have to worry about standing in line or holding my place, I was able to nab the opportunity to help pass out flyers before the show, promoting the forthcoming memoir by iconic sax player Clarence Clemons. (No, I haven’t read it yet, but I expect it will be pretty damn entertaining.) I didn’t get to meet Clarence or anything like that, but I got to meet his manager & her assistant, and I got a t-shirt, and I got to feel like I was helping out a little bit. And quite a few people were visibly excited at the prospect of the book, so that was cool.

After passing out a few hundred flyers, it was almost time for the show to start, so I found my seat. It was in the fifth row, not very high up off the floor but pretty far back, and I resigned myself to not feeling the connection with the band that I often feel when I’m up close (a highly addictive sensation, that).

Eventually the lights went down and the crowd made that tremendous WHOOSH like a jet airliner taking off (I love that moment so much) and under cover of darkness the band took the stage. I’d heard that they intended to kick off the show with the Born to Run sequence, so it was a bit startling when the crackling, bluesy guitar riff of “Seeds” filled the arena, Nils Lofgren whirling and dancing in the spotlight. Startling… but wonderful. Turns out that’s just an awesome song to kick off the show with. After a few moments Bruce stepped up and the crowd cheered louder, and after the first few vocal lines Max Weinberg’s drum kicks in with an almighty THUMP and we’re off and running.

The first handful of songs were reeled off at a breakneck pace, the band barely stopping for a breath or to acknowledge the thunderous applause between songs. As always the occasional crescendo of shrieks reminded me so much of a roller coaster, the biggest one of all – and we shriek at these concerts for the same reason we do on roller coasters, for the sheer speed and exhilaration and joyous risk of it all, and the wind in our ears. Finally it was time for the album, which Bruce introduced briefly by explaining that when they started recording it they’d put out two albums that had tanked and this was basically their last chance. Everything was riding on this album, for him. Everything. And you could kind of tell that he felt like a lot was riding on it again tonight.

And those familiar, beloved opening chords of “Thunder Road” filled the arena, and before the first verse was over the entire audience was singing along… as always, it felt like home. Or like church.

The songs followed one on another, without any introductions or chatting in between. Not a lot of “hamming it up for the audience” either. Just… the music. The work. The songs unfolded just as they did when I first listened to that album, back in high school, back when we always listened to albums beginning to end. Movements of a symphony. Parts of a greater whole. Even “Born to Run” itself, the ultimate anthem, was rescued from its role as a bit of a “victory lap” song; the house lights only halfway up instead of fully lit, the song not wrapping up the main set or blazing out as an encore, even the biggest song of all became just one part of the larger work. Oh yes, we all sang along like we always do, we pumped our fists and waved our hands in the air and screamed. But it was different… somehow, this song I’d heard so many times live and hundreds, maybe thousands, of times on vinyl & magnetic tape & shiny silver disk & invisible bytes – this song that I know as well as I know the sound of my own blood rushing in my ears – somehow, this song regained a little bit of mystery. Amazing.

I won’t talk about every single song (though there’s not a weak song on the album and there wasn’t a weak moment in the performance of them Sunday night), but “Backstreets” deserves mention. Talk about a song that’s accrued layers of history and meaning. When I first heard it, it was just a romantic song about losing someone. But over the years it’s become so much more. In Indianapolis last year, Danny Federici rejoined the band for a few songs after having been gone for a few months while undergoing treatment for melanoma. He was a little weak, but clearly radiant with joy at being back on stage; as it turned out, that was his last public performance. I don’t know if he or the rest of the band suspected that would turn out to be the case, but I do know that “Backstreets” hit me so hard that night. “We swore we’d live forever,” Bruce wailed, “on the backstreets we’d take it together.” A few weeks later, the day after Danny’s funeral, the band played in Tampa. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard the show described, and I’ve heard the bootleg; they opened with “Backstreets,” a single spotlight illuminating Danny’s vacant spot on stage, Roy Bittan’s piano suffused with loneliness, a hard emptiness where the organ was supposed to fill up the song, Bruce’s voice cracking with palpable grief. I’ve never heard the song quite the same since. Anyway, Sunday night’s performance of it in Chicago was exquisite, and somehow managed to roll together all the layers and all the years and all the different ways I’ve heard the song; Bruce added a small vocal bridge of “All the way to the end… just you and me… all the way to the end…” and some high, wordless moans the likes of which I’ve never heard. Stunning. Just stunning.

But the highlight of the album mini-set was, without question, “Meeting Across the River” into “Jungleland.” “Meeting,” rarely played in concert, featured Curt Ramm recreating the lonely, searching trumpet solo from the album and the wonderful Richard Davis on upright bass. It’s an atmospheric, jazz-inflected, melancholy song unlike any other in the Springsteen catalog, and thinking of it in the context of the history & significance of the album the desperation in Bruce’s voice on the recording became not just a great singer inhabiting a character, but a sign of how badly he wanted this album to be … exactly what it turned out to be. “We gotta stay cool tonight, Eddie, ‘cause man, we got ourselves out on that line. And if we blow this one, they ain’t gonna be looking for just me this time.” Like the guy in the song, Bruce knew this was his last chance. And the way he sang it Sunday, you’d think he still felt that way sometimes.

And then Soozie Tyrell's violin introduced “Jungleland” and I may not have breathed for the entire ten minutes or so of that song. I’ve always liked the song, and it’s always great to get it in concert, but this was probably the best I’ve ever heard it. Everyone in the band was completely focused, completely immersed in the music. Garry Tallent's bass playing, always exquisite, was especially solid. Little Steven Van Zandt's guitar solo was absolutely on fire. Everyone seemed completely and utterly present.

Let me tell you, there are some big personalities in the E Street Band: Bruce, Little Steven, Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, the Mighty Max Weinberg. But Sunday night, while they performed Born to Run, the personalities took a complete back seat to the music. I’ve never seen them so … in service to the music. And that sense peaked with “Jungleland.” During Clarence’s sax solo, always a breathtaking highlight when he nails it, Bruce climbed up on the piano – not to take the spotlight, but to raise his fist in the air with the beat of the solo, conducting the band, conducting the music. And I mean “conducting” in the sense that a lightning rod conducts. So it was appropriate for him to get up on that piano and become the highest point on the stage, channeling the fierce energy of the music from … wherever it comes from … and spreading it across the stage & out into the darkness of that packed arena.

The entire album was performed flawlessly, with devotion and focus and passion. Really, I thought it would be cool to see all the songs in order, but it turned into something a lot bigger than that. It was pretty fucking amazing.

The rest of the show was almost a letdown after that, I have to admit. It got a lot looser right away, and it was a fun show, well-played, lots of energy – but it was like the first bite of any food after the most exquisite chocolate mousse you’ve ever put your tongue to: just not quite the same level of incredibleness. Although I will say that “Badlands,” which closed out the main set, took on a life and a ferocious joy that I haven’t felt from it in years. Might have been the best “Badlands” I’ve seen since 1978, and I’ve seen a lot of “Badlands.” House lights up, crowd singing along at the top of its lungs, just an absolute celebration: “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive!”

I’ve said that with the E Street Band, I don’t always get the show I want, but I nearly always get the show I need. And that was so true on Sunday. I’m a very spoiled girl; I’ve been close enough to the stage to get eye contact with band members on several occasions, and that’s always special. But Sunday wasn’t about the band members, wasn’t about charisma and personality and stardom. It was about the music, plain and simple, and sitting (well, standing – who could stay seated at a show like this??) where I was, that far from the stage, I let go of wanting “connection” and just focused on the music – and that’s what I needed.

Love and thunder, baby… love and thunder.

On the way home, I didn’t listen to bootlegs as I’ve mostly been doing lately. I listened to studio albums: Born to Run (twice through), Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River. I found myself thinking about all the years and all the miles those albums have accompanied me through. When Darkness came out I had just started playing guitar. I was what, 16 years old. I honestly thought I might try to make it as a musician, though I knew it was the longest of long shots. Why did I veer from that course? I don’t know. Partly because I thought my greater talents lay elsewhere (though I’m not sure where, and if I do indeed have greater talents, I wonder if I’ve made sufficient use of them to justify walking away from something I loved as much as I loved being serious about playing that guitar). Partly because I was realistic. Partly because my courage flat-out failed me.

My dad, see, was a musician when I was a little kid, a bass player. He put himself through grad school by playing. We didn’t have tons of money, but there was always music in the house. When I was ten years old he got a job teaching college, and we moved away from his musical community. He pretty much stopped playing. I’ve always wondered whether the grief he must have felt about walking away from the musician’s life contributed to the health problems that eventually killed him. And it’s funny, isn’t it, that I myself turned away from the possibility of trying to live that life – though I never got as far as getting good enough to make money. I am my father’s daughter, I guess. And driving home from Chicago the other day I thought about all that, and I listened to Springsteen’s song “Independence Day” which is about a son leaving home and making some kind of peace with a painful father/son relationship:
So say goodbye it's Independence Day
Papa now I know the things you wanted that you could not say
But won't you just say goodbye it's Independence Day
I swear I never meant to take those things away

And that last line just hit me so hard. Because on some level my dad walked away from music in order to do something more stable, something with a regular paycheck, something that allowed him to feel like he was a good husband, a good father, a good provider. And in some small way I guess I’ve always felt a little guilty, a little responsible. And if the grief he must have felt over the choice he made was part of what killed him, then in some small way maybe I’m responsible for that.

But don’t we all kill our parents, somehow, on some level? Metaphorically speaking, of course. I think there’s a Shakespeare play or three about that one.

Anyway, I always justify the money I spend running around to these concerts by saying “it’s cheaper than therapy” – so there you go. Figuring out just what it is I need to learn to forgive myself for? That probably would have taken me thousands of dollars worth of therapy right there. “You’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above,” as Bruce sang in “Tunnel of Love.”

Anyway, I started writing poetry back then, when I was 15 and listening to “Born to Run” – as well as lots of other music. It was music that ignited that impulse in me. So maybe what I owe myself, and what I owe to that larger thing that is the music, is just to recommit myself to my writing. To give it all I’ve got. It may not be my last chance – hell, it’s poetry, there’s not much riding on it in the first place. But I need to give it that level of commitment.

Tonight I’ll be on that hill with everything I’ve got…
I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town.

Till then, tramps like us…

-AH September 22-23, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I wanna be where the bands are

Work has been pretty nuts lately. On Monday, the only times not blocked-out on my calendar were 8:00-9:00, 3:00-3:30, and 4:30-5:00. Today wasn't much calmer. Yikes!

Every day at lunchtime I try to escape from the stress and listen to a little music, which helps tremendously. It's pretty funny to think that for several years there I didn't even listen to music every day... it's like I forgot, for a while, how much music can feed me. If I ever forget that again, somebody smack me, ok?

Clarence Clemons & Bruce Springsteen

photo from backstreets.com

Speaking of which, just a few more days until I run off to join the E Street Circus yet again. Just one night this time, in Chicago; and it's going to be a slightly different show than any I've seen before, as they are going to perform the entire "Born to Run" album (along with other stuff of course).

I was initially pretty bummed because I did not manage to snag a general admission (floor) ticket for this one, and my reserved seat is not (by my standards) all that great -- it's way at the far end of the arena. Oh, I'm such a spoiled girl. But then an opportunity arose which I would not have been able to take advantage of if I'd been in GA, because I would've been standing in line before the show and not available: I will be helping to pass out promotional flyers advertising E Street sax player Clarence Clemons' forthcoming book, Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales. I know it's just a couple hours of passing out flyers, but I'm pretty thrilled to be able to help out even in this small way, to be a tiny little part of things. I was already excited about the book (I heard from someone who got a galley and he said it's pretty entertaining), so it will be fun to try and share a little of my excitement with a bunch of happy concert-goers.

And hey, what could possibly be more "up my alley" than promoting a book at a Springsteen show? Jeez, throw a cat or two in there and you pretty much have my entire life covered! :)

So, uh... not much poetry lately, I'm afraid. I do have a reading coming up with one of my writing groups -- October 10 is the annual reading by Five Women Poets, at Rachael's Cafe here in Bloomington IN. Hopefully I can drag myself back into "poetry brain" between now and then...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

These boots were made for blogging

I bought these from Zappos. They arrived on my front porch literally 18 hours after I clicked the purchase button, and they are ridiculously comfortable. I'm not a girly-girl about too many things, but I do get excited about new shoes! Seriously, I didn't know cowgirl boots were this comfortable, or I would've gotten some years ago. They are actually a little darker than they appear in this picture, but that's ok. They make 'em in black and bright red, too; I'd probably buy both of those if I were rich and stuff. (As it is, this is the most I have ever spent on a pair of shoes, and I won't be getting more anytime soon! Definitely a splurge, but I expect to be wearing 'em for years.)

I walked around in them for a good couple hours over the weekend at the Fourth Street Festival, a fabulous little arts & crafts fair here in town; and today I wore them to work to give them the all-day test. Put them on at 7:45 and didn't take them off until around 6 pm, and I kind of didn't want to take them off at all, they were that comfortable. The next and final test will be whether I can dance in them for three hours at a concert; that test takes place in Chicago on September 20.

Definitely a girly-girl when it comes to new shoes. They have to be comfortable shoes, though.

* * * * *

Delighted to see that my favorite rockstar has up and gotten himself named as one of the Kennedy Center honorees for this year! Bruce Springsteen will be recognized along with Robert DeNiro, Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, and opera singer Grace Bumbry. Kind of odd that there's only one woman on the list, but the pairing of Springsteen and DeNiro is pretty fortuitous, I think. Should be fun to watch the telecast when it airs in late December.

* * * * *

Have found it difficult to maintain "poetry brain" lately. I need to spend some uninterrupted time this weekend reading poetry; that should help it to kick back in. I kinda wish I'd had a three-day weekend to relax and read and write, but classes were in session on Labor Day and so I worked (in fact I was on the reference desk from 6-9 that evening). That's ok because I can take the holiday time later on, but a little stretch of unscheduled time would sure do wonders for my writing right now. Oh well. I'm trying to stay on top of the submissions, too, and fire off a packet or two every week just to keep stuff out there. I don't know if you've noticed, but you don't get published much if you don't send stuff out. :)

Getting the US Open wrapped up will help too. I get so distracted when there's tennis on.

* * * * *

Speaking of splurges and distractions, how about those Beatles remasters? Between the great piece on All Things Considered and the comprehensive review on Popdose, I'm sold. Just trying to decide whether I want to try and save up to buy the whole box set (I like the neatness and the self-containedness of box sets) or whether I want to run out and buy Abbey Road (my favorite) right away and acquire the rest one at a time over the next few months. I was a little too young to really "get" the Beatles before they broke up (I was born in '61), but I was a huge huge Beatles fan in my teens and early twenties. Pretty amazing to think of all the ways in which they've been influential, both culturally and musically. And commercially, for that matter.

* * * * *

Ellen on Idol? Really? Weird.

Monday, September 07, 2009


If you are even a casual Springsteen fan, and you have access to the NFL Network, do not miss the hour-long "Working on a Dream: Super Bowl Journal" documentary they are airing about eleventy-nine times over the next few days. Some hilarious moments, like Bruce sitting in the trailer supposedly putting together the setlist for his halftime show: "Hmmm.... then I'll read the Communist Manifesto, into 'Badlands'...." And a very nice glimpse into what goes through the mind of a truly consummate performer, how he prepares himself, what it's like to be on that stage. "On stage your exhilaration is in direct proportion to the void you're dancing over" -- which reminds me, in a slant-rhyme sort of way, of an old Jeanette Winterson line (from Written on the Body): "What you risk reveals what you value."

I don't believe I have ever intentionally watched the NFL Network before, but this was great stuff.

* * * * *

A drafty drafty draft:

[gone. poof.]