Category Archives: Poetry/song

The Who Speak for God?

This morning I looked up the Rolling Stone interview with Pete Townshend. I found it revealing & illuminating. Who’d have thought such things of a rock musician? Connections to eastern religions are often acknowledged. But understood as god working to salve the pain of humanity and rectify injustice, the interview casts writing & lyrics in a whole new way:

Pete Townshend is a seminal figure on the rock & roll scene. His band, The Who, have been around since the mid-1960s. I heard on the radio that Townshend told the Rolling Stone Magazine the song “Love Will Open Your Heart,”  was conceived as Jesus singing to us. Consider the lyrics “There’s only one thing that’s going to set you free. That’s My love.” Rock & roll was often depicted as “the devil’s music.” Words, lyrics, can open us to different ways of being. In the following excerpt, Townshend speaks of the spiritual connection, background, and origin of several songs:

“A lot of the songs on the album—well, “Let My Love Open the Door” is just a ditty—but particularly “A Little Is Enough” and a couple of the others—“I Am an Animal,” I think—are getting close to what I feel I want to be writing: in terms of somebody who’s thirty-five writing a rock song, but one which isn’t in the George Jones-Willie Nelson tradition—“I’m a smashed-up f***** standing at the bar…” “Empty Glass” is a direct jump from Persian Sufi poetry. Hafiz—he was a poet in the fourteenth century—used to talk about God’s love being wine, and that we learn to be intoxicated, and that the heart is like an empty cup. You hold up the heart, and hope that God’s grace will fill your cup with his wine. You stand in the tavern, a useless soul waiting for the barman to give you a drink—the barman being God. It’s also Meher Baba talking about the fact that the heart is like a glass, and that God can’t fill it up with his love —if it’s already filled with love for yourself. I used those images deliberately. It was quite weird going to Germany and talking to people over there about it: “This ‘Empty Glass’—is that about you becoming an alcoholic?”

Poetry and song can allow us to address matters too far beyond the pale for society to swallow. This was true for the prophets, it is true today. Townshend continues:

“When you listen to the Sex Pistols, to “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “Bodies” and tracks like that, what immediately strikes you is that this is actually happening. This is a bloke, with a brain on his shoulders, who is actually saying something he sincerely believes is happening in the world, saying it with real venom, and real passion.

“It touches you, and it scares you—it makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s like somebody saying, “The Germans are coming! And there’s no way we’re gonna stop ’em!” That’s one of the reasons: a lot of new music is harder to listen to. So you get a band like the Clash, and they come out with a nifty little song like “Clampdown,” and you can’t hear the words, and they’ll play it on the radio in L.A. You read the f****g words, they scare the s*** out of you.

“Or the Pretenders—Chrissie Hynde’s got a sweet voice, but she writes in double-speak: she’s talking about getting laid by Hell’s Angels on her latest record! And raped. The words are full of the most brutal head-on feminism that has ever come out of any band, anywhere!

“And yet it’s only because it’s disguised that it’s getting played, and getting appreciated.”

I don’t necessarily aim to scare the hell out of anybody. Much of what I have to say may make others uncomfortable. The softening effect of music, poetry, and lyrics is a form of accommodation. Writing is, and has always been, a powerful tool for social change. Accommodation, as Townshend observes, allows otherwise unpalatable realities to be heard.

The Rolling Stone Interview: Pete Townshend (06/26/80)

Lizzo Blues

I wrote this when I was in my late teens. Much of the stuff I wrote in that time seems to be lost, but Liz copied the poem & decorated the margins with fall leaves. It hung on the wall in my attic bedroom until recently. The ink faded. In places it was only a shadow on the paper. “Trapped in cold concrete” refers to the community college I was attending at the time. “Paint crew reds and greens and blues” is a reference to stage crew. I helped build sets for high school & summer theater plays. See if you remember what it was like to be a teenager in love.

It’s to be sung to a traditional blues tune. I don’t read music, but I do whistle & have a pretty good ear. I’ll see if i can do a recording of it & get that posted.

The Lizzo Blues (ca. 1975)

Well I’ve been runnin’ all the morning

I’ve been runnin’ all the night

And you know some people tell me

Such cavortin’ ain’t too bright

But I’ve got the blues

I’ve got those rotten stellar blues

They get down in your pocket

And you’ll spend your time a-wishin’

You’d see her once again

So you’re working all day

And talking all night

Your parents been away

You’ve never known such delight

I’ve got the blues

I’ve got those far out Lizzy blues

And just one free back scratch

Can take away those blues

Well you wonder how she does it

Now just how she stays so pure

‘cause once you’ve been trapped

There ain’t no man-made cure

I’ve got the blues

I’ve got the flea-bitten, Lizzy-lookin’ blues

And though I feel like shit

I just know I’ll never quit

So here I sit just writin’

Entrapped in cold concrete

The wind and snow  a bightin’

But ol’ Lizzie makes me feel so neat

I’ve got the blues

Oh Lord, I’ve got the blues

I’s s’posed to go to sleep last night

But Lord I’ve got the Lizzy blues

I’ll sleep some more tomorrow

And I’ll stay inside tonight

A wonderin’ ‘bout ol’ Lizzy

I’ve got to figure what she likes

I’ve got the blues

I’ve got the paint crew reds and greens and blues

But I know that if I fall in love (heaven forfend)

My mind’s gone down the drain

Now I’ll write you one more verse, dear

I’ll write you one more line

‘Cause I know by now you must be

Feelin’ really fine

But I’ve got those blues

Those ? far out Lizzy blues

I can’t explain why I love you (reason to be found)

But I’d like to stay your friend

Season of Twilight

Season of twilight

Your father will grow old and die, as will you and I.

And our children….

‘Tis best to make peace while peace can be made.

When he’s curmudgeonly, ornery, contrary or just plain cussed,

Picture a sign on a strand of hairy binder twine around his neck,

The sign laying against his chest

Jagged letters by infirm hand scrawled, that say:

“Humor me.”

Just keep in mind that it really means

“God, I need your love

now more than ever”

Hold me tenderly in your heart

Allow me dignity

As I sing my final song

Remembering

No one knows the last line. ###

I’m not obsessed with death. This & “Back to Iowa” reflect what’s going on in my life. My in-laws come over for Sunday dinner. My wife was struggling with her dad. I wrote this for her on Christmas morning as I sat in the silence of Meeting for Worship.

Just for a Moment

Just for a moment can you set aside

who you think you are

so that you can see who you can be.

Perception becomes reality, so they say

but they also say garbage in, garbage out.

And if perception is based on garbage, well.

Wrong belief results in wrong action.

 

Just for a moment can you set aside

what your (or someone else’s) dogma says you believe

to see what is written on your heart.

To look past yourself to see a good beyond your own.

Passion can be an important source of energy,

but it can cloud vision, too

so we no longer know where rhetoric ends or truth and justice begin.

 

Just for a moment

Suspend disbelief

Love your brother, someone said

Though they grind your soul like Jezebel’s bones beneath the steed

Follow the light [of the world] and

Allow yourself to be set free

Peace is possible.

Remember that.

Back to Iowa

Back to Iowa.

One. Last. Time. Home. With a capital “H.”

For years, the trip was an annual pilgrimage

To see her mother, to see her friends, to see the land, to return

To gravel roads. Flaxen hair, riding beside her father

As they cruised the prairies looking for jewels.

On gravel roads high-crowned, deep-ditched

So they blew clear when the blizzards came

Wild rose. Indian paintbrush. Dwarf lupines. Meadow Larks. Blue birds

To the grocery & mercantile Uncle Willie ran in town

Nestled beside the apple barrel

While she read of fantastic places

I Married Adventure. Fifty Years Below Zero. Kipling. Sandburg.

 

Her mother died 45 years ago

Friends dropped away one by one.

She is the last one standing.

The county said she couldn’t live alone.

She could have a live-in nurse or go to a “home.”

She wanted neither.

When I visit, she says with pleading in her papery voice

Please don’t take me back to that place.

Where’s Bob? Husband. And Robert? Where’s Em and Peg? Three of her 7 children.

She doesn’t ask about the twins. Two of her children.

I haven’t heard from Mother in a long time, it seems like

 

I need to take care of some things at the farms, she says.

Century farms, their fate unclear after she’s gone.

The kids never got bitten by the farming bug.

The grandkids were all born in the east

They see the beauty of the place in its physical presence

Its place in her soul is a mystery to them

Union Slough. Reedy grasses. Herons, green and blue.

Red-winged blackbirds scratch their chick-a-ree call.

The sky in all its moods

From cerulean peace to tornadic wrath

Gridwork roads. North-south. East-west.

Tall grass ruffled into waves by the prairie wind.

Corn and beans and beans and corn.

Trees confined to the creek-bottoms.

I wonder why they always grow on the south bank, she wondered one time.

Life was always, prairie was always, a place of wonder, awe, beauty.

 

When can we go, she asks.

I want to go to the farms

Poor health or not, independent as a hog on ice (as the saying goes)

She’ll make the pilgrimage, no longer annual

Back to Iowa

One. Last. Time

Note: Eleanor Melville passed away April 3, 2016 about 60 days short of her 97th birthday. Though she moved to the Washington, DC area in 1963, her heart always remained in Iowa. She will be buried in Burt, IA, her home town. She was an extraordinary woman who lived a complicated life with grace and strength.

While the sting of separation is strong, she is still with us if not in spirit, at least in the lives of those she touched: in caring and compassion, in our family’s love for words and history and those fantastic places. Peace, friends.