The Dream Before by Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson

The Dream Before ~ 

 

She said, What is history?

And he said, History is an angel

Being blown

Backwards

Into the future

He said: History is a pile of debris

And the angel wants to go back and fix things

To repair the things that have been broken

But there is a storm blowing from Paradise

And the storm keeps blowing the angel

Backwards

Into the future

And this storm, this storm

Is called

Progress

Laurie Anderson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Character

One of the things I loved most as a kid was my Grandma Ruth’s collection of 45-records, passed on to her from her dad’s jukebox and pinball machine distribution business in Oregon.  She would “ride the route” from customer to customer (taverns, arcades, roller skating rinks, etc.), and change out the records in the jukeboxes.  That was years before I ever came along, but those records would become an important part of my childhood.

I was drawn to music and storytelling from the beginning, so my discovery of the old 45′s was thrilling, to say the least.  A few were old jazz and 70′s disco, but the vast majority of them were country songs, trucker songs, and obscure story songs from the 60′s and 70′s.  Songs of humor, danger, tough characters and outlaws.  Songs depicting bad guys as heroes.  Trains, knives, guns, booze, diesel smoke, and girls.  As Joe Piscopo says in his role as Danny Vermin in the film Johnny Dangerously, “these are a few of my favorite things”. I’m talking stuff like Red Sovine’s Big Joe and Phantom 309, Johnny Paycheck’s Colorado Cool-aid, and Cledus Maggard’s The White Knight. Songs in the vein of Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue”, but not as well known.

“Where the hell are we headin’ on this saunter down pothole-riddled memory lane?” you’re probably asking yourself now (in the voice of Sam Elliott) while stroking your handlebar moustache and squinting beneath the brim of your ten-gallon hat.  Just settle yer spurs, Lefty – I’m gettin’ to it.

One summer my dad took me to meet his dad – a retired shrimper named Buddy – in Florida. I was eleven or twelve, I guess.

“Grandpa Buddy’s gonna tell you that you gotta be tough, and that gettin’ old ain’t for sissies,” my dad told me.  For a country boy from Oregon who’d never really been anywhere, it was a big adventure.  Flying in a plane across America, I stared down in amazement at the “circles and squares” of farmland, and the silver ribbons of winding rivers.

“What kind of name is ‘Buddy’,” I thought?

Imagine my delight and surprise when Grandpa Buddy turned out to be a retired version of one of the tough characters right out of those songs I loved so much.  He’d lived a life full of adventure and danger as the captain of his own shrimp boat; he’d lived out a slice of the Americana I’d come to idolize, and so I instantly idolized him.  He had enough stories to fill not just a book, but an entire shelf, and he embellished those stories just right when he told them to me, in his deep southern voice that sounded like Johnny Cash.  He talked about a different world then the one I knew, but I identified it as the same world being sung about on those old 45 records: heroes, villains, tough guys, mercenaries, pirates and prostitutes.

“You gotta be tough,” he said over and over again.  Most of the stories ended with that sentiment – it was the takeaway, the moral, his mantra.  And in my mind, he was the coolest, toughest guy I’d ever seen.  He lived in central Florida on a river full of gators and snakes.  He made shrimp nets by hand out in his workshop.  He had tattoos, a jeep, nine machetes and an earring.  Okay, it was probably more like two or three machetes, but in my imagination it was definitely nine.

It turned out that my Grandpa’s real name was Marvin, a name he never liked. He quit school as a young boy and worked as a helper on fishing and shrimping boats. The fishermen would say “Hey buddy, get me the so-and-so”, “Hey buddy, I want you to do this or that, or “Thanks buddy”. And so his new name was born.

After that trip, I returned to my familiar life with my mom in our little house surrounded by farms and fields in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Depressed and bored, I stayed in bed all the next day, tears rolling.  When my mother asked me what was wrong, I told her I wanted to go back to Grandpa Buddy’s house. I was just a kid with an overactive imagination. I didn’t yet have the understanding that my grandfather was just a man, just a vulnerable person with fears and desires like anyone else. In my head, he was way larger than life.

I spent the rest of the summer hating myself, because I had learned that – when it came down to it – I wasn’t tough, and probably never would be. But I had also learned something of immense value, something I would carry with me from then on, something that tied the old 45 records and my grandfather together in a more cohesive way.

I now understood the magic of storytelling, and the power of character.

 

Discovering The Beatles

The first time I remember noticing the Beatles in a substantial way was in 1990.  I was sixteen, in the car with my step-dad Paul. My mother was fast-approaching the losing side of a battle against breast cancer, and on one of many two-hour drives from the Oregon coast mountains to a hospital in Portland, Paul slid a cassette tape into the deck. It turned out to be Abbey Road, and my imagination blasted off on a musical trip as the music and lyrics filled the car, evergreen forests rolling by on both sides, the foothills of the coast range eventually falling behind as we descended into the Willamette Valley.

I was aware of the Beatles at that point, and I suppose technically I must have heard them prior to this memory, but oddly enough – considering my hippie upbringing – I hadn’t actually experienced them yet. My mom’s record collection had consisted mostly of folk, jazz, and softer rock such as Fleetwood Mac.

Later, I would discover the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, and recall hearing those phenomenal lyrics as a child. And after high school I’d attend a gathering of the Rainbow Family in Mt. Shasta, California, where “Give Peace A Chance” was sung in unison by hundreds of people, the voices floating upward into the summer sky in a harmonic spiral.

With the passing of my mother, my late teens were an intensely emotional time. I went to live with my paternal father in Portland, and suddenly the Beatles were everywhere. Hipsters wore Beatles t-shirts, department stores played dorky instrumental versions of Beatles songs.

I began to learn guitar from my dad, who had a Beatles songbook and showed me some chords. It wasn’t long before I was playing “Let It Be” and “The Fool on the Hill”, my hand moving awkwardly over the steel strings of his old beater acoustic. My dad played their albums while he shaved for work. And when they came on the radio, his hand reached out and turned the volume dial. I began watching Saturday Night Live, and there was Paul McCartney in a skit with Chris Farley.

And, while walking an hour home from a girlfriend’s house in the middle of an August night, I took my first unforgettable journey into The White Album on my headphones, the timelessness of the Beatles’ prolific creative streak propelling me onward through a warm and empty world, among moon-shadows and the perfume of sleeping summer flowers.

Song Lines

Listen. A voice inside you is singing. You are following your song lines, you are singing the world and the land into being as you walk upon it.

We are surrounded by teachers: the path we take, the wind, the people on the street, the people in our lives, the one who makes us crazy, the one we admire, the one we envy, the one we pity, our peaceful feeling, our desperation, the goldenrod, the baby’s breath.

There are times when the sky is so blue and the clouds so soft at their frayed edges, that it all hardly seems real. Sometimes the magic of the sun shining on water makes us wonder how we’ll ever leave this place. Sometimes it’s “how will I do this, how will this work, this can’t be happening, I can’t do this anymore, I’m so tired, this is my life”. Meanwhile the sun rises, incredibly, and moves across the sky. The wind blows, incredibly. A bird sings, incredibly.

If your eyes shift to the rearview mirror for too long, you risk crashing into what’s in front of you. Time to go on walkabout again. Time to return to the song lines. Time to just be, time to remember every step is taken on a frail sheet of glass. Everything we do, we do while standing on a falling snowflake. Every time we give up is a new beginning.

So you arrive, from your long and arduous climb, at the platform where your voice has been waiting for you, and you know the sound of it. You know the lines of the song you are following. You are an instrument, the music of the land moving through you as you sing it into being. Alone as you are, you shall be with all the world.

 

Noe’s Theme Song

If the character Noe, from my fantasy novel, ever had a theme song…this is it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFGvmrJ5rjM

Breathe me — sia
Breathe me by sia with lyrics

America

Walt Whitman, where are your hymns, your patriotic prayers?  Beatniks, circle back around with your feverish daydreams.  I myself ached for America.  Gave her my number but she never called.

So I quit college after a year, swapped formal education for sunburn and highway grit against my neck.  A girl painted my shoes with suns and moons, and sent me on my way.  I bopped, swung, and rag-timed through the scenery of youth, always hugging the outside edge like a good red-eyed trucker on the highway, always on my feet, my Samson feet that I thought would never break.  I balled the jack, baited the hook, and everything was jake.  Even when all heart seems lost, I thought, you find it’s pulse again in places like this one.

America, where the value of the soul’s currency is not decided by you and me.  Where we’re turned inside out and thrust into the streets with no back-up plan, dodging diesel demons with wild faces on their engine grills.  America, where we keep our eyes on the stage but are hesitant to peek behind the curtain.  America your youth was no frosted cake and I worry about your future.

And yet around your jawbone and Eastwood crow’s feet is a marksman’s cool knowing, a way of tossing skirts aside and flinging garters to the floor as the rusty joints of the bed-frame whine and the headboard thumps the wall.  America who are you fucking now, in the private suite above the floor where the paying customers go?

America the steady bow, the speeding arrow.  You want it all but might lose the hand, so place your bets and take a stand.  America I’d be lost without you, yet long to get free of you.  Call me sometime.  Go on then, outfox yourself.

Wedding Song of the Faeries

My heart shines from its place in my breast,
a candle in a mist-bound wood,
to know you’re not like all the rest,
to sing your name soft as I could.

To sing of sage and stout tealeaves
while we roll among the heather,
to wander over root and branch
on woodland paths that wind forever.

Where every thicket hides a sprite,
and daffodils float here and there.
Where moon and star shine twice as bright
and wise ones council everywhere.

To sing your name soft as I could,
to know you’re not like anyone.
A wedding in a lighted wood,
a first kiss given beneath the sun.