Archive for February, 2013

Progress Report #86

February 28, 2013

Just before starting the third draft, my final draft, I wrote that I was going to back away from the frequency of these progress reports, that I didn’t want to write the book while sitting in a department store window. I also said that from time to time I’d let people know where I was in the process and how it was going. This seems like a good place to do one.

One unexpected thing happened right at the start. My first and second drafts took me around five or six years to write. (I don’t remember anymore.) Both drafts started from a particular point in time. But as I was writing the second draft, which took me four years to complete, I gradually changed my mind about where the story should begin. But by the time I got to the end of the second draft, I’d completely forgotten that I’d changed the original idea. So when it came time to begin the third draft, I found that the material I wanted to work with didn’t exist. I’d never written it. So, since September or October of 2012 I’ve essentially been working up first, second, and third draft material for the opening section. It was a disappointment to have to go through all that again. I’d been eager to get to the more developed material of the second draft and elevate it. This week I finally arrived got there, and the writing is going faster now. I recently described the process of writing a book as driving across a landscape. Sometimes you get to travel at the speed limit; at other times, you have to slow down—for the curves and when it gets dark. Interestingly, my current favorite chapter is the second, which I’d feared was going to be especially tedious. It describes my family background. Was it my upbringing that sent me to the streets? In a way, yes. But not in the way one might think.

For years my shorthand description of the book has been “It’s about the years I lived on the street.” Now it’s become, “Have you ever wondered when you saw someone on the street how they got there? It’s the story of how I got there.” My story is different than that of most others. But everyone’s story is different. I know I said that somewhere else recently. Maybe here…Whatever…Writing a book is exhausting. It’s almost as if nothing else exists.

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The Fracking Kali Yuga

February 26, 2013

Not too long ago, the term “Kali Yuga” came up. I don’t remember why or how. I knew that Kali Yuga is an Indian religious concept, that a “Yuga” is an era or age, and that the Kali Yuga is the demonic age. But I wanted a little deeper understanding, so I did a search. The first link I hit defined it as “The present age,” which made me laugh. ‘Twas rueful laughter. I don’t know that I believe we’re in the Kali Yuga. Very often this type of thing is symbolism or myth, a way of talking about certain ideas. And sometimes they’re just superstition. But last night I saw a movie that made me think that, if there is such a thing, we might be in the Kali Yuga now.

The movie was Gasland, a documentary about fracking. (I know it’s already made the rounds, but I seldom see films.) If you’ve never seen it, you ought to. It’s one of those films about something bad happening in the world that is extremely discouraging. But the filmmaker, Josh Fox, has a good sense of humor, which made the film bearable. In a nutshell, the film says that while in office, Dick Cheney (in my opinion one of the most detestable men in American history) saw to the passage of a law that gets the gas companies off the hook for any environmental damage caused by fracking. The gas companies are clearly causing a great deal of harm to people, to the land, and to animals. Their indifference to the damage is demonic. They’ve been going to great lengths to make the film seem “controversial.” I can’t argue the science. I’ve never been that attracted to scientific learning. But I know liars and sellouts when I hear them, and the gas companies are clearly being defended by liars and sellouts. The government is not doing a thing to stop what’s going on. They either pretend it’s not happening or they actively assist the gas companies. I recommend the film to anyone who doesn’t know much about this whole fracking business. I had no idea how developed and wide spread it was.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

February 14, 2013

When I was a teenager and wanted to be a musician, I had two distinct phases. First, I had a gentle folky phase, and then one day I suddenly switched to harder, high energy music. I stopped listening to a lot of my old favorites. (I tell this story in my book Street Song.) During my  folky phase I was into Dylan’s more gentle songs (“Girl From the North Country,” “One Too Many Mornings”), Paul McCartney ballads like “Mother Nature’s Son,” James Taylor,  Donovan, and Simon and Garfunkel. I didn’t care much for Simon and Garfunkel as singers. In fact, I actively disliked Garfunkel’s voice. I found it cloying. But I did like their harmonies. I was mostly into Simon’s songwriting and guitar playing.

I haven’t listened to Simon and Garfunkel in more than 40 years, but a week or so ago I got one of their songs into my head—”So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”—and it wouldn’t leave. That led to my becoming obsessed with another tune—”Song for the Asking.” Both songs are from the same album, Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Eventually I needed a fix. So I went to YouTube where I found a video of Art Garfunkel doing a live performance of the song “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” It amazed me. It’s one of the most remarkable performances I’ve ever heard—and fascinating to watch.

In September of 1981 Simon and Garfunkel agreed to do a free concert in Central Park, and half a million people showed up. They hired some heavyweight studio musicians to back them up. The pianist was Richard Tee. The original piano part on the record was played by Larry Knechtel, a white studio player and it sounds like white gospel piano playing: nice and filigreed. Tee is black and the piano part has a different feel. He plays it on an electric piano and he funks up the arrangement just a little. There are more percussive, block chords than in the original, but he plays them tastefully. The first two verses are just Garfunkel and Tee playing a duet. You can tell they’re really listening to one another. Garfunkel is doing his choirboy thing, but he’s so pure, so devoid of any show biz pretense, and so musical that it’s very beautiful to watch. He’s intense, but restrained. He doesn’t get into any histrionics, which it would be very easy to do with that song. The way the melody is constructed and the key it’s in, he has to put energy into it to sing it at all, but he walks a very fine line. And, as the person who put up the video says, “He nails it.” It’s quite moving. He delivers the heart of the song and doesn’t make any mistakes, doesn’t fluff any notes, which is something very few pop singers can pull off in concert. They’re usually not disciplined or well-trained enough. And he does it in front of half a million people. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Art Garfunkel won my respect with his performance, and you can watch it here.

A Man and His Island

February 8, 2013
Santa Barbara Island

Signal Peak and Sutil Island

I’m back from my week on Santa Barbara Island. It didn’t seem prudent to say this publicly before going, but Judy wasn’t able to come this time, so I spent the entire week completely alone. I was eager to do it, though. I was curious to know how difficult it would be. I didn’t find it difficult at all. While I prefer being there with Judy, I was able to handle the solitude—I enjoyed it—and could have easily stayed a second week. Now I’m back in the big city and having to make the same psychological adjustments I did last time.

A Thought I Had While Sitting In Moonlight

February 1, 2013

I’m back out on Santa Barbara Island. Last night around midnight, I went outside to sit and listen and watch. I  heard sea lions barking, waves crashing against the cliffs, the peeping of some species of seabird, and the banging of the flagpole rope against the pole. I saw the stars, the moon, the reflection of the moon upon the ocean, and forty miles away the dim glow of Los Angeles. I thought to myself, “I ought to try to write a poem.” And then I thought, “Naw. Nobody reads poetry anymore. Poetry is dying.” A terrible thought, really, and I had to think about that for a little while.

What is poetry? When it functions correctly, it’s a people’s expression of its deepest convictions and insights. The universe has a constant poetry going that sometimes we see in the form of coincidence. Not accident, but coincidence—where things mysteriously coincide, that is, the workings of karma. Those levels are always there. So, poetry, or the poetic, never dies, but a people’s awareness of it can. We can lose our convictions and insights. If no one is paying any attention to poetry in America these days (perhaps you could even say the modern world), I have to think that it’s the culture that’s dying, not poetry.