60s Music / a poem in progress by Tom Evans

50’s music — straight standards with strings —

Sinatra Fatha’ Hines — my parents’ music

Schmaltzy corny square, any way you

Want to put it — understandable

After a Depression and war.

 

I was a captive audience,

Who, while hearing, wasn’t tuned in,

Much less turned on,

knowing there must be a better way.

 

And there was.

 

My music, when it finally arrived,

Meant freedom of a sort,

Which, while not total,

Took me to another place In time

Just in time,

A place from which I never came back.

 

It meant more to me, you see,

Being the soundtrack of my life,

And why I was so

Opinionated about it,

Perhaps to my detriment,

Eclipsing everything else as it did.

 

In fact, like Fiddler Jones,

To this day I’d drop everything

For even the briefest strain of

Music or lyric that caught my ear

Hoping it would last forever,

Knowing it wouldn’t.

 

A quick study, I almost instantly

Had the words of a new song by heart,

Except when I didn’t, some impossibly garbled

Beyond recognition.

(“Louie, Louie” being the most famous example)

 

With some songs it didn’t matter,

“A Whiter Shade of Pale” for instance,

Many of the words unintelligible,

Like the line I thought was

“As the metal tore his chest,”

Until looking it up recently

Found it was really

“As the miller told his tale,”

Which, while good to know, didn’t change a thing.

 

I decided I liked my way better,

The song being so ethereal,

Not meant to be construed but felt,

And so many memories attached

to my version.

 

There are the exceptions, some songs

You need to get the lyrics exactly right,

Fit them to the music to make it complete,

A song like “Dangling Conversation”

For example, or most of Dylan’s songs

(especially when covered by others and

you can actually understand them)

 

As with all good music It not only

Evokes your past, if you’re receptive

(Or high) enough it can take you right back

To where or when you heard a particular song,

Perhaps recapture the same feelings

You had whenever or wherever

You heard it, recovering

Your youth, if only in part.

 

Listening lying down, needle in groove,

Vinyl slightly warped, static and hum,

Stacked six records high,

Light some candles and incense,

Your magic carpet ride would begin.

 

It was going to be a while,

Might even make a day of it,

Nothing else, or better, to do

Nowhere to be,

It was a necessity,

And what kept me going.

 

Stoned, drunk, sober, tripping —

Each a vastly different experience

Requiring different music, if not bands –

Something mellow when stoned

(Though at that point

Almost anything will do) –

Jackson Browne, Byrds,

After the Gold Rush

Something loud when drunk –

Stones, Allman Brothers, Moby Grape –

Something trippy when tripping –

Dark Side of the Moon, anything Hendrix,

Sergeant Pepper

Everyone had their go to music.

 

The blues were an entirely

Different category:

Being Introduced to it Relatively late,

And then, by an English rock band

On the album English Rose,

With several authentic covers of

Elmore James tunes — also hearing

Slide guitar for the first time,

Which, to this day, is still my favorite style.

 

Definitely drinking music,

The blues didn’t really hit me until,

Well, I had the blues, which I

Didn’t realize until I heard the blues.

 

Whose Muddy Shoes, my first real blues album,

Played over and over, was all

I would ever need to get me through

The tough times — they understood, I didn’t

Need to say anything, it was as if I was

Talking to myself, and they to me.

 

Until I was turned on to

Mississippi John Hurt,

A completely different style

Bred on the Mississippi Delta,

Acoustic fingerstyle guitar,

Much more mellow than the

Urban blues, though at times even

Sadder because it was so wistful;

He was the ultimate raconteur –

Funny, sly, wise, spell binding,

One of his several (among countless

Others by others) versions of

“Stagger Lee” the best

I ever heard, talking for the

First several minutes, giving

The back story of Stagger Lee

And Billy DeLion, leading into

Masterful fingerpicking

And his rendition of the song;

In “Payday” and “Casey Jones”

He’d sing a line and then, seamlessly,

Would have his guitar sing the same one,

And I swear you couldn’t tell the difference.

“Rediscovered” nearly

Forty years later and trotted

Out on stage at the

Newport Folk Festival,

He brought down the house

With his performance,

Was signed to a record deal

And made several albums

Before he died a few years later,

And several more posthumously.

Better late than never, I suppose,

Though he was never one to be bitter.

 

Everyone had their own first concert story,

But none could beat mine:

Hendrix at the Aud, sneaking out to

See it, wearing yellow bell bottoms

With blue pinstripes, the only I ever

Wore or stole;

It was a night of firsts: first concert,

First smell of pot, first toke on a joint,

First snowball fight with Mitch Mitchell and

Noel Redding, first time in a taxi,

Paid for by them after I missed my ride;

“Take your hat off,” someone in the cheap seats

Yelled at Hendrix, “I’ll take it off

If you take your pants off,” Jimi replied,

I don’t even remember the music

I was so overwhelmed by it all,

And, after having the taxi leave me

At the top of my street, I shed my

Bell bottoms and tossed them in a

Neighbor’s bushes, never to be seen

Again, then made my way down my street

In a blinding snowstorm, nobody the wiser

As far as I would ever know.

 

Steppenwolf, with songs like “The Ostrich”

And “Monster” were a Howard Zinn

History lesson in the guise of a

Rock song waiting to happen,

Turning out to be the most prescient

Lyricists of their generation

(Who would have thought?)

Though I doubt many listened to them for

That reason, but not surprising for those who knew

John Kay had been through the shit as a child,

And was lucky to be alive.

Sherman Alexie

Currently I am reading “Blasphemy”, a collection of new and selected stories by the contemporary Native American writer Sherman Alexie. If you don’t know him, this short story title should suffice to show what you can expect from him: “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock.” The story is heart-breaking. You wouldn’t think this was possible with such a whimsical title but that is what Alexie does, walking a tightrope deftly between the shams (no, not shamans) of both Native American and American culture, presenting the plight of each in juxtaposition objectively and without sentimentality on the cusp of the twenty-first century. He is in his mid-forties, has written over 20 books of novels, stories, and poems, the latter two being a very intermingling hybrid in his hands. He has won all kinds of awards, has written a screenplay based on one of his stories that was made into a successful full-length movie, has written music and formed his own band, but that isn’t why I love him. I love him because he is so honest (brutally at times), yet outrageously funny while dealing with very difficult subjects, among them miscegenation, alcoholism, poverty, geneocide, and suicide in the most poignant way I have ever encountered. In the end he somehow manages to magically show that both our plights are intertwined without any polemics or trace of dogma. I recommend his earlier books (mostly because I happen to own them and know them best): “The First Indian on the Moon” (the hybrid poetry I mentioned before), “Toronto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven” (stories, the title story of which was the one the movie was made about), and “Reservation Blues,” a novel with a bedeviling premise. He is a delight to read and you are in for a real treat if you do. I would be very appreciative if you really enjoy a book of his I have not mentioned and get back to me about how much and why.