Archive for May, 2009

Messin’ with Texas

May 28, 2009

I happened upon some of the 2008 Texas State GOP platform: abolish the IRS, repeal the minimum wage, privatize Social Security, end the corporate income tax, mandate “American English” as the nation’s official language, evict the UN from U.S. soil, and “dispel the myth” of a constitutional separation of church and state.

As you can see, they’re big on privatization. I wonder if they’d be interested in privatizing the Alamo? Put in a Taco Bell and some condominiums. Pulverize the place and sell the bits. They are said to have deeply held principles. They might just go for it.

The Magnificent Return of Lane Tietgen, Part II

May 24, 2009

[Part I sits just below this post.]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a lot of talk about the singer/songwriters being the real poets of the time. They were said to be taking poetry back to its oral roots. When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with this idea. I loved books and I loved songs, and I longed to be a member of the noble fraternity of poet/singer/songwriters. Much of my new book, Street Song, is about this. I don’t think the “singer/songwriter as poet” idea has held up very well. Not that it’s inherently flawed, but show business destroyed it by seducing its practitioners and turning them into rich entertainers.

But this isn’t the case with Tietgen. While currently he doesn’t make his living playing and writing music, he never quit working on his art. And it sounds to me as though he has remained true to the original idea. The music consists of the usual American blend of folk, rock, and blues with touches of jazz, reggae, Motown, and so on. I say “usual” in regard to the form, not as a comment on the quality. The quality of the music is consistently first rate and the lyrics are fresh, original, and involving. He wrote a song that, if it had been described to me, might have made me cringe. Entitled “Some Call It Evil,” it’s about GMO, and it’s fantastic.

As I say, the high point of the album for me is “Raindrops on the Page.” The first time I heard it, it sounded like a happy-go-lucky, good-time type tune. (I thought it sounded something like the Beatles doing their version of Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35” with Rick Danko of The Band guesting on lead vocals.) But as I grew more familiar with the song, that happy-go-lucky quality began to feel more like triumph, which was odd once I began to understand the story the song told. It’s about great loss and deep disappointment. It’s fascinating how the music affects the lyrics. I guess you could say it’s about the glory of accepting that which is bitterly difficult to accept. I won’t say too much about the song’s internal workings. There is, after all, the joy of discovery, and I hope people reading this will have the opportunity to hear the CD for themselves. (It’s not currently available in the marketplace. If there is any interest and it does become available, I’ll let you know.) What I will say is that the song is honest in the way of all true poetry. A lot of people nowadays think that honesty is just having the balls to repeat whatever bullshit pops into your head. The more outrageous, the more courageous. But that’s not deep. For depth you have to dig, and this song digs. I’ll quote one line because the point of view is higher than that of most writers today—and I mean Dylan, too.

“She’s trying to see the whole thing through the eyes of love/and not just questions that she’s asking.”
(Lane Tietgen, Shaman Music)

I don’t hear that kind of maturity in anybody’s songs today. Sometimes this song pushes me toward the brink of tears. It’s only the song’s spirit of triumph that keeps me from having to go there.

The Magnificent Return of Lane Tietgen, Part I

May 20, 2009

A few weeks ago, while I was making breakfast, Judy came into the kitchen to tell me that she had a song running around in her head that would not stop. Interestingly, I had the very same song running around in mine: “Wheel of Fortune” by Lane Tietgen.

Not many people know who Lane Tietgen is. I first saw his name in 1971 when a friend turned me on to an album by the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, an early jazz-rock fusion band. Seven of the album’s ten songs were written by Tietgen, yet he was not a member of the band, which was somewhat unusual in those days. Nearly everybody did their own songs. They were good songs, intelligent songs, and I was curious to know more about the composer. But there was nothing on him. A year later, my friend turned me onto Crazed Hipsters, an album by Finnigan and Wood. Crazed Hipsters had three more songs by this Lane Tietgen fellow, and, once again, he was not one of the band members. One of the songs, “Highway,” was extraordinary. It seemed to speak of hidden truths, secret wisdom, and it became very important to me. The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and Finnigan and Wood had one musician in common: Mike Finnigan, a singer and keyboard player. He seemed the obvious source for the Tietgen material. The lack of any hard facts about Tietgen made him seem a bit of a mystery man to me.

Jump ahead 36 years:

Working on my book, I realized that “Highway” wanted to be part of the manuscript, which meant that I needed to try to track down Tietgen and seek his permission to quote the lyrics. Last Summer, through Google, I learned that  he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Not only that, in just a few weeks he was going to play at a bar/restaurant in nearby Sonoma. The day of the gig, Judy and I drove up there. It was a scene I knew well: folksinger in the corner playing songs that hardly anybody was listening to. Instead of playing his own songs, he was playing songs by others—Dylan, Van Morrison, and others like that. My old favorites, actually. He sounded good, but in that situation it was impossible to make much of a judgment. Between sets, I spoke with him briefly, explained what I wanted, and gave him my contact information.

In February, I got an email from Lane. He’d just finished a self-produced CD and asked if I was interested in hearing it. I’m usually a little uncomfortable when people offer me artwork. Even if it doesn’t appeal to me, I feel obliged to say something nice, and I don’t really like doing that. But I accepted. A few days later, Wheel of Fortune arrived in the mail. I put it on and immediately felt pulled into the first track, the title track, “Wheel of Fortune.” This is not to say that I liked it. (I seldom like any song the first time I hear it—especially the ones that end up meaning the most to me. The best songs usually have a density that requires repeated listenings.) But it did grab my attention. The CD was completely different from what I’d been expecting. It wasn’t some folksinger’s simple demos of his songs; rather, it was a completed work, with acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, several different types of keyboard instruments, saxophone, trombone, violin, mandolin, background vocals, and harmonica. Each song was throughly worked-out and richly textured. The lyrics were dense, smart, wise, amusing. His singing was fantastic. He tackled each song with real verve. There was nothing tentative about him. The first songs grew on me quickly, and I liked them so much that I started playing them for Judy. In no time, we were both fans and, as we discovered them, talked obsessively about the nuances of each number. I would say that there isn’t a bad song on the disk, and there are many great ones. As I got deeper in, my favorite song kept changing—that is, until I landed on the CD’s true center, a song called “Raindrops on the Page.” When I was in my teens, I was fanatical about good songs. I would force friends to sit down and listen to them. I don’t do that anymore, but if I did, I’d force everyone I know to listen to “Raindrops on the Page.” In Part II—coming in a few days—I’ll write more about this amazing song.

Progress Report #15

May 20, 2009

I finished Chapter Eight, also known as “Highway Song.” (More on this title in an upcoming post.) Tomorrow I start work on Chapter Nine, called “Blue.” All these titles are working titles. Some will go, some will stay. But the book title, Street Song, feels firm to me. How do I think it’s going? Fine. Really fine. But slow.

Injured Hawk Update

May 14, 2009

I received this yesterday from Ian Cooper, the neighbor who found the injured hawk:

“Just spoke with the Peninsula Humane Society – they have done blood work and weighed the bird and all seems normal. They are saying he’s a young red shouldered hawk (hasn’t developed the red shoulders yet). He (or she) has shown some improvement and is standing better, but not eating – as yet they do not know what the problem is and give the prognosis as ‘guarded.’ There is speculation he flew into a building – I found him right outside the art deco building on Montgomery. They are taking X-rays today.

Anyway, it sounds like he is in good hands. I’ll try to get another update from them in a day or 2. Fingers crossed and he recovers, they will release him back in SF.”

The Torture Debate

May 13, 2009

The torture debate now revolves around the issue of whether or not it was effective. Some say yes, some say no, while others say that even if it was effective, it’s wrong to torture. Maybe someone else has said this, but I haven’t seen it anywhere: I don’t think it had anything to do with extracting information. It was all about inflicting pain on people they hated. It was revenge. My hunch is that one of the reasons Cheney is being so loud is to protect himself from prosecution, which he surely deserves. But he knows that if he were to be prosecuted now, many would see it as Obama punishing him for speaking out, which would not be a popular act, politically speaking.

More from the World of Birds

May 12, 2009

A couple of days ago, a neighbor showed up at my door with an injured Red Shouldered Hawk. He’d found the bird sitting on a street not far from my house. He managed to wrap the hawk up in a towel and then, not knowing what else to do, brought the hawk to our house. It was an incredible opportunity to see one of these magnificent creatures up close. The hawk was clearly in a state of shock. We put him in a spare cage, and then called Animal Care and Control, who sent somebody out to get him. The next day, they passed him along to the Peninsula Humane Society. I’m waiting to hear what happened after that. He may have a broken pelvis, which, I assume, would doom him.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk

Another strange bird happening: For the past few months, there has been an albino robin flying around North Beach. Judy managed to get this shot of him.

Albino Robin

Albino Robin

The Left That Grumbles

May 6, 2009

Some of the leftest of the Left are becoming disillusioned with Obama—something I fully expected to happen. I’ve always taken what would be considered—in this country, at least—left wing positions. But I’ve never been impressed with the tactical sense of many Leftists—at least not the ones who want to ram their ideas down the throats of everybody else without making an effort to persuade. (In this way they are no different than right wingers.) Personally, I would like the president to immediately start withdrawing all the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to shut down every single military base and installation outside the borders of this country. And that’s just for starters. But I have little doubt that if he did that, he’d be taken out in a military coup. You have to take what you can get within the here and now. If you want to change a situation, you have to prepare the ground first. You have to convince the majority of people that your cause is righteous.

Bob Dylan

May 4, 2009

When I was young I thought Bob Dylan was great. At some point, I let go of him. But every now and then—usually when he has a new project out, and the media is making noise about it—I go check to see what he’s up to. Writers, journalists, and music critics have always been fond of rhapsodizing over Dylan’s ability to “reinvent himself.” I was fascinated by that ability myself. It seemed evidence of a truly remarkable mind.

One day, several decades ago, I suddenly saw this chameleon-like quality in a different light. It dawned on me that Bob Dylan is a character created by Bob Zimmerman, and that it isn’t a matter of Bob Dylan reinventing himself, but of Bob Zimmerman reinventing Bob Dylan. Not as hard a thing to do. I think he’s gotten lost in the role a few times, and, at other times, has lost interest in playing it.

Other people have done this sort of thing. Marilyn Monroe, for example. She was clearly a character created by Norma Jean Baker—not a real person. While the the Bob Dylan character exists at a different level, it’s the same phenomenon.