Progress Report #116

June 21, 2018

Question: Now that you’ve finished your book, what’s going to happen?

Answer: Actually, I’m working on it some more…I decided to take one last pass, a final read through before handing it off to my agent. It was a smart decision. I’m cleaning up some bad edits and improving the flow. No heavy lifting, though. It’s done in the sense that there’s no more creating to do. Just pruning. I’m also waiting to hear from some readers to whom I’ve given the manuscript. Street Song is not like any book I’ve ever read and I want to get a sense of how various types of people might respond. After my agent gets the book, I intend to start posting to my blog here with more regularity and in greater depth than I’ve been doing. I have some ideas that are more complex and detailed than what one can put on Facebook, and I want to get into them. By August at the latest.

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Poem

May 15, 2018

When the world is vicious,
And the path is vicious,
Who can feel welcome anywhere?

Progress Report #115

May 11, 2018

Finished

I finished Street Song yesterday—a huge relief for my poor weary skull. There’s still work to do, though. If I were to compare Street Song to a head of lettuce, I’ve grown and then picked the head. Now I manicure it—pull off a few of the outer, funky leaves—and find a buyer. In prosaic terms, I’m going to make some print on demand copies so that I can look at it as a real book, make a few minor changes, and then look for a publisher. But for the next few days I’m going to do whatever I feel like doing—something I haven’t really done in more than 12 years.

Progress Report #114

April 6, 2018

So where’s the book? I’m currently making my last pass through, cutting certain things (small things), modifying the language here and there, and changing names. I just finished Chapter 14 and have 28 more to go. Usually I get one chapter done per day, but sometimes half a chapter, and occasionally two chapters. I can see the end now, but it doesn’t invigorate me. I’ve just entered my 13th year working on this and I’m tired. Instead of dashing to the end, I stop, catch my breath, rouse myself, and start forward again. When I began writing one part of me wanted to say everything, while another part of me knew that that wasn’t possible. It’s interesting when you have to decide what not to say. I’ll write again when I’m done–a month or so.

Onward and upward.

Emma Gonzalez

March 25, 2018

Emma

There isn’t anyone that I hold in higher regard right now than I do Emma Gonzalez. It’s extraordinary how she got pulled so quickly into the national spotlight and how much strength and poise she has shown there. But the very qualities that make her so riveting—her courage and her focus—also put her danger. In this madhouse we live in today the dangers are not simply those who would inflict violence on her if they got the chance, but those who would lead her into traps where she might get compromised, trivialized, or turned into a parody of herself. She’s young and the temptations can be strong. I hope the people around her are looking out for her. I’m rooting for her to be around a long time and to be effective.

The World’s Most Powerful Criminal Organization

March 17, 2018

The Republican Party has turned itself into the world’s most powerful criminal organization—a criminal organization with a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons. It no longer has any ideology. Its former ideology, which was really only ever egotism, got pushed and pushed to the point that it became total selfishness. And naturally enough, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, egotists on the planet came to lead them. None of this can end well. Evil has to suck away the energy of whatever good there is in order to keep going. At some point, the entire edifice collapses. I watched this get started under Reagan. I kept saying to myself, “this has got to be stopped before it gets really dangerous.” But it never was stopped. And now we’re in what almost seems an unbelievable, unreal situation. I say “almost” because I’ve been predicting it for so long. The only thing different from my vision was the ludicrous, buffoonish aspect of the man who came to lead them. I always pictured it being someone more blatantly sinister, like John Bolton or, say, Mike Pence…

Within You, Without You

February 28, 2018

harrison2

I’m recording a collection of songs (called Street Songs) as a supplement to my book (called Street Song). One of the songs is the George Harrison song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “Within You, Without You.” One day, around 20 years ago, I was curious to know which scale he’d used to create that Indian sound and discovered it was C Mixolydian. The scale is used a lot in folk, mountain, and bluegrass music, and I thought it would be amusing to play it as a hillbilly tune. But “Within You, Without You” contains some unusual, non-hillbilly meter, and I didn’t have enough interest at the time to work it out—until this recording project came along. Once I’d come up with a suitable rhythmic and chord structure, I recorded it—me on guitar, my sister Beth Lyons singing a duet with me, Peter Lacques on harmonica, Matthew Lacques on mandolin, and Bruce Kaphan on Weissenborn, a kind of lap steel guitar. I loved how it turned out and will make it available when my book is finally published. It was a group effort. The musicians came up with some great ideas, taking my original concept well beyond anything I was capable of.

Some people disparage the original recording of “Within You, Without You.” One reason given is that it’s not rock and roll, which is a pretty dumb reason. It’s excellent music, but there are a lot of rock fans who don’t really love music—just rock and roll. Some criticize it as faddish—that it’s just Indian-sounding pop music. But that doesn’t hold water. When Harrison wrote and recorded the song, he was a serious student of Indian music. (He remained one his entire life.) At the time, he was, by his own admission, neglecting  guitar in favor of  sitar, taking lessons from pupils of Ravi Shankar as well as from Ravi Shankar himself. He wrote the piece with an understanding of the forms of Indian song. He played on it without any of the other Beatles, just some Indian musicians and an orchestra whose parts were arranged by George Martin. In recently released outtakes you hear him guiding the Indian players. He’s not asking them for something “Indian-sounding.” He knows the scales he’s playing and how to count time in their tradition.

Another complaint some people make is that it’s too “preachy.” I think that’s something people say when they don’t want to hear a strong truth. Every word in that song is true—more true, I think, than anything Bob Dylan ever wrote.

Within You, Without You

We were talking about the space between us all
And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late, when they pass away

We were talking about the love we all could share
When we find it, to try our best to hold it there with our love
With our love, we could save the world, if they only knew

Try to realize it’s all within yourself
No one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you

We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold
And the people who gain the world and lose their soul
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?

When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you

Having lived with that song for more than a year, I’ve come to appreciate it more rather than less. It’s a great song—one of the greatest I’ve ever heard. Harrison had a creative idea that grew out of what he was experiencing, and he made it work. It’s something of a miracle that millions of people were exposed to it when it came out. We live in a time where its sentiments are seen as naïve or too idealistic. But that’s either going to change or we’re going to do ourselves in.

Egotism and Freedom

February 22, 2018

Wayne LaPierre says that gun control advocates hate individual freedom. Like a lot of right wingers, he mistakes egotism for freedom. They are not the same. People who are tied up in egotism are not free. They are slaves to all kinds of paranoia and suffer terribly when it comes time to die. To die gracefully you have to be able to let go of life. An egotist can’t do it. He inevitably finds death a terrifying experience. To be genuinely free requires a tremendous amount of internal work—work that men like Wayne LaPierre refuse to have anything to do with. They are the real slackers.

Progress Report #113

February 16, 2018

I’m currently working on the final chapter of Street Song, which is presenting me with some expected difficulties. The previous 41 chapters, “the story,” were told in a voice where the narrator (me) never knows much beyond what he is experiencing at the time. This was not a plan. Something inside me resisted using the voice of the omniscient narrator. So this final chapter, which I’m calling “The Afterword,” is told by me as I am today looking back at what I’ve been through, explaining certain things, and drawing conclusions. I need thoroughness and concision at the same time. Difficult to do. I hope to be finished by the end of April. We’ll see.

For the last year, I’ve been working on a collection of songs (called Street Songs) to go with the book. The book is fairly saturated with descriptions of and stories about music, and it occurred to me that you can’t really describe music with words. So I approached one of my readers of the work-in-progress, Bruce Kaphan, an outstanding musician, composer (he did the music for Judy’s latest film Pelican Dreams), and recording engineer, and worked out an agreement with him to do some songs in his studio, Niagara Falls. The original intention was to keep things fairly simple— more than just me and my guitar, but not much more. But things have gotten more elaborate. Two songs in particular have a somewhat large sound. I’ve always been curious about how recording works, and I’m getting some good lessons in that regard.

In my late teens and early twenties, I wanted to be a musician (or a rock star, whichever came first), but never got beyond singing in the streets and in bars during band breaks. It’s difficult to explain here how it happened, but I ended up on the street at the same time my musical ambitions ended. But even after I quit playing seriously, I used to go down to City Lights Bookstore and stand in front of the doorway and sing for spare change. One of the songs I used to do was the Bob Dylan song “I Pity the Poor Immigrant.” At the time I was quite bereft—even afraid for my life. To me, I was the immigrant in the song—someone who’d left his old life behind but was having grave difficulties finding a new one. I sang it as if I were praying. It’s in the book, and it’s an easy one to play, so it was one of the first songs I recorded over a year ago. It was just me and my guitar, played simply and starkly. At the time, Bruce suggested he add a harmonium (harmonium is a small organ-like keyboard) and a tambourine. I thought it was a perfect idea, but we moved on to other songs and the track was neglected—until yesterday. We finally dusted it off and resumed work. I was expecting the harmonium simply to add a little instrumental texture—sound. But Bruce knows a good deal about harmony and he added extensions to the chords that gave the song colors and feelings it didn’t have before. I was so incredibly moved—laughing sometimes because I was so happy with what he was doing, at the edge of tears sometimes because it was so solemnly beautiful. Very simple, but just right.

Alabama

December 9, 2017

One of the pivotal moments of my youth was reading an article about the firebombing and beatings of a busload of black and white Freedom Riders in Anniston, Alabama. I was shocked by what had happened there, and it burned into my mind a negative image of the Deep South—particularly Alabama and Mississippi. They seemed like evil and dangerous places to which I would never, ever go. Later, through listening to Delta Blues and the “Americana” music of The Band, I became fascinated with the mythology—both white and black—of the small Southern town. I considered it the richest mythology to have ever come out of America and they ended up making me want to see the place for myself. Around ten years ago I finally toured the “Blues” Delta in northern Mississippi. I had an interesting time. It was like visiting another country. One day, outside of Greenwood, which is very near Money, Mississippi, the place where the African-American teenage visitor from Chicago, Emmett Till, was tortured and murdered by local whites, I met a black man who’d moved there from New York City. That seemed a rather extraordinary thing to do. I guessed that the situation there must have changed a lot. I hadn’t been seeing any of the dangerous looking good old boys and wondered if they’d “died out.” He assured me they were still around, that all I had to do was look. After that I did start seeing them. I have no explanation as to why I wasn’t seeing them before. I feel them getting increasingly bold now. If Roy Moore is elected to the Senate, Alabama will once again be a place I deem too dangerous to visit or even pass through.