Words & Music

Fiction, Music, Poetry and the Occasional Drawing.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Games of the XXXI Olympiad

Some people hate the Olympics. They think it’s a waste of time and energy. Some even think that a gathering of people representing 205 countries should be concerned with more important matters like global warming or human trafficking or unequal distribution of resources. But there is something encouraging to me about all these countries getting together without drawing weapons (Ryan Lochte’s melodrama notwithstanding).

"The six colors [including the flag's white background] combined in this way reproduce the colors of every country without exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tri-colors of France and Serbia, The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland, America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Hungary, and the yellow and red of Spain, are placed together with the innovations of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan, and with new China. Here is truly an international symbol." Baron Pierre de Coubertin

There’s something elemental and animal about physical competition, and when it doesn’t involve hate, intentional injury, and death, it can be uplifting and from the supremely selfish perspective of an artist, inspiring.

Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs
Still, I get the indifference, or worse, toward the Olympics; I’m no fan of synchronized swimming. I like basketball and golf but they don’t seem like Olympic events to me. I like the old school events – javelin, high jump, long jump, discus and hammer throw, but especially the shot put. Have a look at Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs from the USA, who won gold and silver in that event. If you saw them at the end of a bar your first thought would probably not be, “those guys look like Olympic athletes.” Not that anybody would mistake me for an Olympian. I don’t have the physique of a gymnast or weightlifter. Mine’s more like a runner’s but when I watch the runners from Kenya and Ethiopia (not to mention the USA) I expect they could spot me an 85-meter lead in a 100-meter race and still leave me in their dust at the finish line.

North Korea/South Korea selfie

I’m not a big sports person, but there’s more to the Olympics than sports. There was the first North Korea/South Korea selfie and the first gold medal for Fiji. In any gathering of 205 nations there’s bound to be politics involved, from Russian doping to Caster Semenya’s gender. In addition to politics there’s the universality of the human interest stories. There’s even a sport where men and women compete against each other and it’s the only one that involves athletes from another species. It’s not skunk wrestling or mole vaulting – it’s the six equestrian events.

The Olympics provide a crash course in geography and stir up all kinds of questions about other cultures. Like, what’s the problem with the people on these Caribbean Islands: Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts & Nevis? How do they find enough in common with each other to form a single nation but not quite enough to give that nation one name? And the Dominican Republic & Haiti can’t come together on the same island, in contrast to England and Ireland, two distinct islands better left to their individual vices.


Christ the Redeemer and his hometown

A well-oiled Tongan
Even though I’ve never been further south in the Western Hemisphere than Venezuela, Rio looks like a beautiful and exciting place to spend some time. As I’ve never set foot in that splendid-looking sand I can’t vouch for the perfection it appears to be on my TV screen but I have been seduced by the music of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Jorge Ben, Joao and Astrud Gilberto and have experienced the magic of Brazil through their talents. There’s another undeniable draw to this international competition: some of the athletes are enjoyable to watch from a purely prurient perspective. For me it’s the females, though there was also a well-oiled dude from Tonga for those with different desires.

The men’s 4x100 relay gave a glimpse of why some of us are fascinated with the games. Here’s an event that goes back thousands of years, with racers passing a stick between their sweaty hands to see how fast a team can run. This year, there was a fine little race going on, with guys pouring their hearts out on the track, sweating and straining their bodies to their ultimate limits. Then somebody handed the stick to Usain Bolt and there was no more race. Instead, there was just an overindulgent adult playing a game with a bunch of kids who could only catch him if he fell down.

Leonidas of Rhodes

There’s also the lure of history in the Olympics – the Mary Lou Rettons, the Mark Spitzes, and Bruce/Caitlyn Jenners. There’s Cassius Clay and Jesse Owens. There’s Leonidas of Rhodes (“The Tripler” to his friends) who won three foot races, including one wearing bronze armor and carrying a shield, in the games of the 154th Olympiad in 164 BC. Then he won the same three races in the Olympics in 160, 156, and 152 BC, for a total of 12 individual Olympic Crowns, the equivalent of today’s gold medals. That record stood for 2,168 years, until Michael Phelps got his 13th a couple of Thursdays ago.

People run faster and jump longer and higher than they did a hundred years ago but not as well as they will a century from now. That might be the ultimate inspiration from these games. Either that or the opportunity to understand other cultures more intimately than we otherwise would.

Our man in Rio

I’ll leave the final word to our correspondent in Rio, George Santayana: “It was a curiously homeopathic remedy; avowedly a game, a great passion about nothing, a severe duty frivolously imposed. There was a kind of desperate joke in plunging into this sport, and suffering for it. It called out all the young animal instinct for play, for fighting, for rivalry. It had the saving grace of being hard physical exercise, of purging, rinsing, exhausting the inner man. It banished to the background all the complexity of human affairs, and restored the dull pleasure, the mute confidence, of merely living and being carried round with the spinning Earth in open-eyed sleep.”

Monday, August 8, 2016

So Long

So long to friends wild and weird
And to desperate antics and pleas
So long to waking up in strange places
With our pants around our knees
So long to visionary realms
To mirrors that live in the clouds
To laughing at suckers who work for a living
And know how to blend in a crowd

So long to friends crazy and cramped
To listening to the voices in our heads
To hiding our shame and our pride and our lust
To denying the words that we said
So long to living on crackers and beer
So long to the hopelessly strange
So long to lying and stealing and worse
So long to the chance to change

So long to friends dead or near death
And to those friends who might as well be
So long to sleeping three-to-a-bed
And waking up under the sea
So long to hoping, to shining, to loving the love
That rips bones from the soul
So long to believing the seductive words of
Friends spinning out of control
So long to friends ruined and wrecked
And worse, friends who've found peace of mind
So long to friends who've gone on ahead
And all who have fallen behind

So long to the future
So long to the past
So long to this strange in-between
So long to pretending
We can't see the ending
And everything else that we've seen
Friday, July 29, 2016

The Best Way To Get Old


Who's to say why people
Do the things they do?
Say the things they say?
Feel the things they feel?

Who's to say
What's the best way
To get old?

I've lost exuberance
But I've gained perspective
I've lost stamina
But I've gained perseverance
I've lost strength
But I've gained fearlessness

I've lost years
But I've gained precious days
I lost anger and I gained hope
Then I lost hope and gained anger again

I lost a step
But I found my stride
I lost my innocence
And found new types of guilt
I lost my mind
And can't imagine what's left to find
Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: Gwen Stefani at Jones Beach Theater

There's a few things you need to understand about Gwen Stefani and she's very good at making sure you don't miss them. She's sexy as fuck. And she's got a voice, as well as a body, that will not quit. She has a solid work ethic, a rigorous physical regimen, an amazing band, and a sincere appreciation for the support of her audience. Also, horns really lift a live band up a notch. But all of these things obscure the most important part of her appeal: Gwen Stefani is a hell of a songwriter.

Like Dylan and Lennon, she writes painfully personal lyrics that somehow turn universal in the ears of her listeners. 

I was fine before I met you
I was broken but fine
I was lost and uncertain
But my heart was still mine
I was free before I met you
I was broken but free
All alone in the clear view, but now you are all I see - From Make Me Like You

I don't know why I cry
But I think it's cause I remembered for the first time
Since I hated you
That I used to love you - From Used To Love You

Thursday night at Jones Beach she played a selection of songs from her new album, This Is What The Truth Feels Like, as well as tunes from her two other solo albums and her work with No Doubt. She opened the show with Red Flag from the new album and followed it with Wind It Up from The Sweet Escape including not only Richard Rodgers Lonely Goatherd sample but also the mountains from The Sound of Music in the background.

It was the final night of the Republican Burn-The-Witch Convention and there was a palpable feminine energy in the air, especially when opening act Eve joined her onstage for a couple of songs. Just as Obama's presidency has dredged up decades of submerged racism in this country, all the sexism and misogyny bubbling under America's lid is set to boil over with Hillary Clinton's election in November. Listening to the young woman next to me singing along with I'm Just A Girl gave me hope that it's going to be OK.

This shit is bananas

Take this pink ribbon off my eyes
I'm exposed
And it's no big surprise
Don't you think I know
Exactly where I stand
This world is forcing me
To hold your hand

'Cause I'm just a girl, little ol' me
Well don't let me out of your sight
Oh, I'm just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don't let me have any rights
Oh, I've had it up to here!

The moment that I step outside
So many reasons
For me to run and hide
I can't do the little things
I hold so dear
'Cause it's all those little things
That I fear

'Cause I'm just a girl
I'd rather not be
'Cause they won't let me drive late at night
Oh I'm just a girl
Guess I'm some kind of freak
'Cause they all sit and stare
With their eyes

Oh I'm just a girl
Take a good look at me
Just your typical prototype
Oh, I've had it up to here!

Oh, am I making myself clear?
I'm just a girl
I'm just a girl in the world
That's all that you'll let me be!

Oh I'm just a girl, living in captivity
Your rule of thumb
Make me worry some
Oh I'm just a girl, what's my destiny?
What I've succumbed to
Is making me numb

Oh I'm just a girl, my apologies
What I've become is so burdensome
Oh I'm just a girl, lucky me
Tweedle-dum there's no comparison

Oh, I've had it up to!
Oh, I've had it up to!!
Oh, I've had it up to here
Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Like the pain that falls onto the heart
During restless sleep
Strength also comes drop by drop
Bringing clarity to the obscure
Bringing answers to questions we don't ask
Bringing a whip to the circus

Stronger even than hate
More persistent than fear
Undeterrable, wild-eyed, ecstatic
Burning hidden under ashes
Biding eternity
Patient, kind, unquenchable

Strength waits in the shadow and watches
For the slip of the tongue
For the fall to the knee
For the cleansing vomit
For the extinction of hope

When the tide turns and the ocean retreats
Broken shells sparkle in the starlight
Dead bodies litter the sand
I find you there holding my hand
Telling a joke
Humming a tune

Monday, July 11, 2016

New York City

I wrote this song when I had only lived in New York City for a couple of years. I was already deeply in love with the place. I'll be performing it this Friday, July 15 during my 8PM set at Exile Above 2A on the corner of 2nd Street and Avenue A in Manhattan. The recording in the video is from the first band I was in that used the name Late Model Humans: I'm playing bass and acoustic guitar and singing lead, Martin Hill and Chris Park are playing electric guitars, Todd Elder is on drums, backing vocals include Carla Lother and Valerie Feuer. Chris is playing violin. I don't remember who played the organ.

The only place I've found
Where I can wear love like a crown
Is never going to let me down
Like every other ordinary town

New York City

Lying on your bedroom floor
Or with flowers at your door
If I still need something more
It's not as bad now as it was before

New York City

The sun sets on the other side
Of a thin wall that divides
Where we are from where we hide
And where we always end up back inside

New York City
Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tree Jealousy

How long can a man go
Out of sync with his species?

What has value for others
Is worthless to me
And what has meaning for me
Falls on deaf ears

Even the strongest connections are becoming frayed
I don't recognize my heart

Maybe the problem supersedes species
Maybe I need to see beyond the kingdom of animals
If I could be a tree
That's grown out of the dirt from a nut

I'd have stability
And the ability to open myself to the warmth of the sun.