Monday, November 30, 2009


There’s a difference between where I am now, on the one hand, and productive silence (where you’re not writing but your silence is moving you towards new work) on the other. Where I am right now feels necessary and unavoidable, but not necessarily like it’s moving me towards any kind of writing.

On the other hand, who knows?

* * * * *

Shedding skin is an itchy procedure. Snakes get real cranky when they’re halfway there.

* * * * *

So after all the drama about “OMG is this the end,” it looks like Springsteen doesn’t feel like the E Street Band is anywhere near finished. Nice interview with him in Billboard this week, conducted just prior to the show I saw in Nashville. What amazes me is that the guy’s had basically the same job since he was a teenager and he still clearly loves his work. If you could bottle that kind of undying passion & enthusiasm and sell it…

Getting paid squillions of dollars for doing what you love probably doesn’t hurt the enthusiasm, of course.

* * * * *

Music just makes words seem inadequate. With just a few notes, a chord or two, you can convey a feeling as complicated as “triumphant but wistful, without regret” so clearly that everyone listening feels it too. You can convey feelings and images so complicated that there aren’t actual words for them. Add the dimension of performance, and musicians have a whole language that, as a writer, I barely have access to.

The same could be said for visual art as well, of course – there are things you can say with a certain intensity of blue, a certain slant of light – but I don’t have the vocabulary or the framework for that. Music, at least, I can hear with comprehension – even if I can’t produce it myself worth a darn.

I foresee guitar lessons in my future. I took lessons for a few years in high school, but it’s been a long time since I was anywhere near serious about playing – long enough that I think what I want to do is start from the beginning. I know it’s not the same as having an actual teacher, but I think I’m going to invest in lessons via Nils Lofgren’s online guitar school. He’s one of the most amazing guitarists I know, and with any luck the lessons will give me just enough to keep me interested and focused and give me a reason to sit down & practice every so often. I don’t think I stand a chance of ever getting good enough to get paid for playing, but I would like to regain enough chops to do a little songwriting. I used to write songs now & then and always enjoyed it, but was hampered by the inability to create music that could provide a strong enough framework to support complex lyrics, so my song lyrics were always kind of dumb and simple compared to the poems I was writing during the same time period. I’d like to revisit that effort. But to do so will require the acquisition of musical craft.

So that’s going to be my Solstice gift to myself, I think. And yes, I’m going to start at the beginning with the beginner lessons, make myself go from the ground up. Because the hard part of having been serious about playing & then letting it go for years is that my expectations are all out of whack – I pick up the guitar and my hands jus t don’t do what they’re supposed to, & I find myself trying to play things that I just don’t have the technique to do anymore. And because I’ve never stopped listening to music my ear is still good, so I can hear how much I frankly suck. If I start at the beginning and get somewhat disciplined about it, I think I can get my chops back. Might take a couple years.

And maybe, once I start playing again, the creative, articulate part of my brain will wake up and I’ll find my way back to poetry again. I sure hope so.

* * * * *

Still have an essay or two brewing, I think. Watch this space.

Friday, November 20, 2009

No, I haven't...

... fallen off the Internet. At least not quite.

Just back from a quick trip to Nashville, put about 580 miles on the ol' odometer (well, the rental car's odometer; my beater wasn't quite up to the trip) in two days and saw a terrific concert. I need to go back to Nashville when I can spend more time. Very cool city.

I've been a very, very lucky girl this year. Wednesday night was my 8th Bruce Springsteen concert of the 2009 "Working on a Dream" tour. He and the band play in Baltimore tonight, then Buffalo NY on Sunday night (no, I won't be there for either one, sadly) and then ... that's it for the foreseeable future. The E Street Band is officially on hiatus for at least a year or two. I think most of the band members have every intention of coming back together and touring again, but life takes its hard turns sometimes and there aren't any guarantees. I've certainly enjoyed every moment of the ride I've had; it's been worth every penny, every mile, every aching muscle.

April: Denver
May: St. Paul and Chicago
August: Mansfield, MA x2
September: Chicago again
October: St. Louis
November: Nashville

Add that to the 4 shows I caught on the 2008 "Magic" tour (Indianapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City) and it's actually been a two-year journey.

I have an essay-ish thing brewing about it all. Maybe this weekend I'll get it written. Gratitude is an important part of it, so it's an appropriate Thanksgiving-week thing...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Nearing Winter

Still not writing, and still experiencing poetry as a foreign language. I miss it, I do. I almost got it back as I was driving back from St. Louis on Monday afternoon - something about the particular combination of alertness and meditativeness that highway driving engenders has often brought me to bits of poetry. But alas, the words just flitted around the edge of my brain, laughed at me, and left.

What can you do?

* * * * *

Thanks for the kind words about my poem's appearance in Field - it's nice to share good news with people who appreciate it for what it is. Of course, the world keeps its balance, and I've had a few rejections this week too. C'est la vie. Book manuscript #1 is still out to one place, which I'm expecting to hear from just any day now; I'm holding off on sending it elsewhere at this point, until I take the time to give it a long hard look & see if it wants a big revision. (I imagine sitting it down, giving it a stern look, and asking it "do you want a big revision?" like a bad mom asking her child if he wants a spanking. Sigh.)

* * * * *

A week ago tonight I was in St. Louis for a Springsteen show. I met up with some friends before the show, and three of us went to get our wristbands together (when you have general admission tickets, you get there a bit early and get numbered wristbands; they draw a random number and the person with that number gets to go in first - so if you want to be together in the GA area you have to show up at the same time for your wristbands). We ended up doing pretty well in the lottery, about 150 back from the number that was drawn, so we ended up about 2 or 3 deep in front of the stage, pretty much right in front of Nils Lofgren's mic stand. (The picture here was taken a couple hours before the show, right after we got into the arena. We actually ended up a little closer to the stage than we are here.) I'd never been up close on that side of the stage before, so as the show progressed it was fun to have eye contact & interaction with the guys on that side, particularly Clarence Clemons & the aforementioned Nils Lofgren - who gave me quite a few great smiles throughout the show. It's no hyperbole to say that Nils is one of the greatest living rock guitarists, and it was very cool to be able to watch him play from so close. From all accounts he's also a very sweet guy, and I have to say his energy onstage is very light, almost constantly in motion but very peaceful at the same time - a lot of fun to watch.

The show itself - what do I say about it that hasn't been said? It wasn't an epic, awesome, one-for-the-ages show like the St. Louis show last year. But not every show can be that, by definition. People who weren't there say that the setlist was boring, and it's true that there weren't a lot of surprises or rarities (though the fan who brought the gorgeous sign requesting that Bruce play piano got us a wonderful, uncommon solo piano performance of "For You" which showed that Bruce's voice, even this late in a long tour, is holding up remarkably well). But everything that was played, including the Born to Run album straight through, was played with a lot of heart, a lot of presence, a lot of commitment. "Backstreets" was mesmerizing and heartbreaking, sounding more and more like all the band's history and love has been poured into it; when Bruce sang "we swore we'd live forever" I'm pretty sure Clarence Clemons was looking at the little "altar" he has set up onstage, which houses pictures of several departed friends including the late E Street organ/accordion player, Danny Federici (Clarence writes about the altar in his new book, Big Man). So that was a touching moment. And after delivering the final, intense, wordless wails at the end of "Jungleland," as the spotlight slipped off of him, Bruce bent nearly double at the microphone, breathing heavily, seemingly exhausted by the force of throwing every cell in his body into that vocal. Theatrics? Sure. But also, the physical commitment he puts into his performance is unmistakable.

(Incidentally, the Bruce-as-blur photo here was taken with my crappy little cellphone camera. I didn't bother taking many, because they hardly ever come out worth anything, but this one struck me as kinda cool.)

I find that, as an alleged writer, I am envious of musicians for the physicality of their art. I get a little taste of what that's like when I do poetry readings, which I experience as a very physical thing (it matters what boots you wear, how you stand, how you breathe when you're reading, even if you're just standing there at a podium in front of twenty people). And it's a lovely feeling, a means of settling into your own body as home. But it's not just the performance aspect that I envy, though there is that. It's the way you make music, if you're doing it right, with your whole body. You can kinda do that with poetry, but you can also forget to do it, very easily. If you hold your breath while you're writing a poem, you still get a poem (maybe not a great one, but). If you hold your breath while you're singing, you get ... silence, y'know? You don't have the option of remaining disconnected from your physical self. And I envy that.

I also envy the communal aspect of making music. Being in a band. You can collaborate in poetry, but it's not the same thing. Watching the E Street Band from so close, it's wonderful to see how they communicate. A nod of the head, a wave of a hand, can change the whole course of a song. (And when Bruce decided to do the "Detroit Medley," which starts with "Devil with a Blue Dress On," he told the guys closest to him & they ran to spread the word to the rest of the band - and I noticed Nils making little devil horns on his own head with his fingers instead of verbally telling everybody what the song was, a game of rock & roll charades. I got a kick out of that.)

In my next life, I'm gonna get over myself about 20 years earlier, so that when I'm in high school I won't be too shy to talk to other people who love music, and can start a band. Yeah. That's what.

Most of my friends at the St. Louis show were headed to Kansas City for the show the next night. Not me - I wasn't able to swing both shows, so I left STL on Monday morning. Before leaving town I took a tiny detour to Left Bank Books. I was instantly greeted at the door by a six month old tabby kitten named Olive, who followed me around the store and pounced on anything that even thought about moving and was generally crazy as a loon, which is what a six month old kitten is supposed to be. I picked up a few books as well as a magnet that says "If you don't grow up by middle age, you don't have to" (quote attributed to James Gurney). Seemed very appropriate for the moment.

When I got home I got a call from one of my friends at the Kansas City show. They'd done the lottery for the general admission folks & had everyone in line, when all of a sudden they announced the show was cancelled due to a death in Bruce's family. Needless to say everyone there was fairly stunned. This is not a band that cancels shows if they can possibly help it. Turns out it was Bruce's cousin who died, who had worked as the assistant tour manager for the band for the past ten years. He was in his mid-thirties, so one assumes the death was entirely unexpected and certainly very sad. Just goes to show you - you never know when a show will be your last. Or as the great Warren Zevon once said, not long before his own death: "Enjoy every sandwich."

I have one E Street show remaining - Nashville, in less than three weeks. After that it's going to be a long winter.