community, Friends, Letting Go, memory, Music, Relationships

Eric Panegyric: No Outer Limits

Page Heart

In the story we tell of our family, the Fall 2019 chapter will be entitled “Haunted by Tragedy.” Three people close to us died unexpectedly in the span of four weeks. The past few months have been consumed with sorting belongings, planning memorials, and dealing with the aftermath of loss.

This weekend, we held a joyous and moving celebration for my friend Eric Dixon at one of the pubs where he played many winning games of trivia. This marks the last of the tangible tasks left to the living. The heart carries on with the intangibles. Here is what I shared at Eric’s service.


It is the music that finally does it. Sylvan Esso, “Funeral Singers.” It’s not the song’s particular connection that splits me open. It’s the fact of the music. That I can hear so much better, that I have learned to taste, appreciate and eventually love music that would have never existed for me if not for Eric. I’m guessing this is true for many of us here. How many of us can say — show of hands — that it’s because of Eric that we know King Crimson? I bet we all have lists of things we call our own now because Eric’s enthusiasm infected us. For me? It’s Galactic. Janelle Monáe. The author Katherine Dunn. The mathematician Martin Gardner… and that’s just the start of my list.

Continue reading “Eric Panegyric: No Outer Limits”

Letting Go, Music

To Fill The Air

cicada dreams

Walking the dog, it comes. Out of nowhere, or somewhere almost forgotten.

If my words did glow
With the gold of sunshine

A song.

Out loud. Into this ordinary day, I sing.

This is the first time in months my voice has opened like this. It is not the first song, no – there’s always the radio, always mugging for neighborhood kids.

But like this? Just the day, the dog, and me? I am new all over again.

Continue reading “To Fill The Air”

Music, Outdoors

Echo Location

She scrapes bow across strings whose low moan rises to a shriek.  Her elbow a piston, it turns the wrist in a blurred ellipse that frees a cry, a frenzy.  Two boys appear from behind the stage, leaping sideways across the brush that separates this place from the garden plots where an old woman in a headscarf shambles between rows watering broad petals of cabbage.  One of the children waves a stick like a flag.  His face is a wide grin that says, see me, see me.

Another boy in a man’s body perches on the edge of a chair on this portable stage.  Shaggy hair falls across his forehead as he leans into the music.  He is from Ireland and lives in Portland where he has his pick of women.  He does to the accordion what Kobe Bryant does to a ball.  We call this thing “playing,” this version of play unlike anything the rest of us will ever experience.

Bent at the waist ever so slightly, he gazes far off towards what must be the west where a weary August sun peels back the day’s skin and exposes the pink, swollen flesh of dusk.  The grown boy’s fingers are dervishes in harmonious riot, balletic and blind, somehow whirling an unbroken ensemble piece on that tiny stage of keys.  I look where he is looking — in the direction at least because what he sees is all his own.  I want to imagine his eyes fixed on a montage of hills, rain, soil-scarred hands lifting open a latch and reaching for him.  Just as likely, behind his eyes growls a gauntlet of fractured traffic between the airport and the next gig.  Or a dim wash of notes.  When I look that way, I see only the deep outline of trees against a sky now a garnet throb.

Then the breath, the snared half-second of surprise when bow and key and string and drum, all stop —

it’s only a pulse of the heart yet it stretches, stretches like the still air across embouchure, its reverberation through a valley of brass.  It stretches like a quantum measure that is neither real nor measurable.  Swelling up into that pause (which may be the end of all history and also may not contain a single new beginning) surges the cry of cicadas thick in the shadowed branches.  Through the crack too flaps the leather wing of one bat dipping for a moth then careening off, this also in the direction our accordion boy looks but doesn’t see.  Not what I see see anyway, and certainly not what the bat sees, though his vision may be closer to that of his chiropteran brother, a sightless echoing that delineates a terrain through sound, through a chorus of shape and motion.  Maybe he draws a whole universe like this, one round, rapid beat after another firing across a field of night.


 

Creativity, Mindfulness, Music, People Watching

Beat Through

Unlike the other members of the band who splice the set together with self-deprecating anecdotes, the dude on piano and bodhran is a potty white-haired fellow who never speaks or cracks a joke. I have him pegged as the invisible base that holds up on 4/4 solid legs the tone and flourish that the fiddlers and singers — the real artists — splash across score.

The last song swells to its finish, the crowd cheers, the other musicians walk off. They leave him there lost in something as he messes with his drum. He looks up and glances around like he just noticed everyone else is gone. After a few confused and awkward seconds, he starts to tap a stick against the skin of the drum. It takes a few seconds for the audience to realize that something entirely new is happening.

The next 6 minutes are this with 6 years of mastery added:

 

The 2015 Martin O’Neill plays on stage alone, handling the drum with such precision that he’s making a melody from it. It’s skittering over scales, almost singing on top of its own rip-cracking beat. Then it shushes down, down before curving around what feels like a moan.

My heart is galloping but can’t keep up.

The beat topples all my assumptions.

A little skin stretched over a frame, balanced on one knee and worked with two expert hands, somehow produces how many thousand tones?

It’s humbling to find out yet again what a poor guide my judgment can be,  how very little I know about anything at all.

It’s exhilarating to let this new flavor fill my blood, to know how much more is waiting to split wide my husk of certainty.

 

Friends, Living in the Moment, Music

Dance Myself to Sleep

The remarkable sifter and curator, DMF, over at SyntheticZero posted a comment to Everything is Music with a link to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Paul Simon playing Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.

On the eve of an unwelcome anniversary and bracing for another night fighting off the devils that eat sleep, here I am in bed now, singing and dancing — yes, dancing alone in bed! — with the warmest thrill from smile to toes.

Now this word from Ernie & Bert:

Thank you for the most buoyant lullaby a girl could hope for, DMF. (And thank you, lambies.)


 

 

Creativity, Music, Poetry

Everything is Music

He points to Sting and Bob Marley,
his eyes hopscotching sideways
over walls of worn bright album covers
all the way to the ceiling, lighting
up for the first time
as salsa music and hissing milk
steam the room and warp
corners that squeeze
us into the proximity
of firsts
and nexts. Shots
in hot mugs clank against laughing teeth.
He slides forward in his seat
back again. When India Arie
escorted Stevie Wonder to the stage
he tells me, she kissed him on the cheek.  Continue reading “Everything is Music”

Creativity, Music, Things I Can

64. Things I Can Lift: These Arms

Last night, I danced at my cousin’s wedding. Danced like a toddler does, right up front.

Like this.

I’m guessing everyone else out there enjoyed Sara Bareilles’ music video for “Brave” at some point in the past two years. I just today discovered it on About Face, a website promoting positive body image.

Just as she intends, Bareilles’ video shivers open a smile that leaks tears.

Remember the game you used to play in the doorway? You stand facing out and press the backs of your hands hard against the doorjamb. You push there, muscles working, and count. Twenty, thirty, one hundred. Then you step out, and after a breath, marvel as they rise.

As if invisible threads.

As if a secret deal to suspend the laws of physics.

For most of the hours in most of the days, I push hard against something. The clock, a hunger, my doubts, someone’s needs.

The deadline breathing fierce at the base of my skull.

The flashing cursor, the buzzing phone.

The undertow.

It seems a whole life becomes this pressed angle, wedged here in a narrow doorway. I barely recall the name for air.

Until song calls me out, and shows me again the secret to tricking gravity.

 

Music, Things I Can

30. Things I Can Tap: The 4/4

Even on a day that saps breath, beat
remains.
Night, home, a high whine
sears the deep ear. When veering toward bed
or bread or any
webbed polyfil
to muffle
the last throb of momentum, habit
is the last hope.
Turn towards
Calabria, thud and sway
into currents
already in motion,
churn flesh inside
out. Turn up
here like sleepwalking
to Messina, like emerging
at the first dawn.

Children, Music

Jamming the Signals

He won’t stop talking about them. “In Animal Jam, my daddy plays on his laptop too and I made another pet who is just like the fox, and there were these phantoms I put in a crate, and. . .” The mere possibility of more screen time before bed reveals this unrecognizable boy who:

  • plays 45 minutes of basketball at the park and even shares his ball with a neighbor
  • finishes his spelling words (15 right, no mistakes!)
  • reads two chapters of his Bunny Private Eye book out loud
  • finishes dinner too fast, including all the broccoli
  • lets mama clip his scraggly fingernails
  • brushes teeth
  • changes clothes
  • does it all without a moment’s hesitation by 7:40 p.m.

“Yes!” he shouts as he jets across the living room. “Twenty minutes!” He plops himself down before the the growling, pinging machine and goes from dervish to droid in half a blink.
 
Seven years, and I finally gave in. Video games now live on the computer and my boy has a hand-held tablet at his disposal. It was only supposed to be weekends. Or maybe it was only supposed to be in exchange for reading. Or maybe on a timer-measured budget. Whatever model-parent solution I meant to try, we ended up here. The boy deliberates vocally about his moves while we’re dressing. Plans strategies in the car. Describes in excrutiating detail what he likes about the characters as we eat waffles. Lists the games he wants next and outlines their endless benefits as I brush his hair.
 
He talks. And talks. And TALKS about video games.
 
We keep the gaming down to little pit stops along the winding adventure of our days. We go ponk a tennis ball around a court or ice skate or visit friends. We slop around a trail or bake cakes or scoot around the block. We blare music and read joke books and draw. Then and only then does is Bug free to travel to pixel world. I hate seeing his turbo-charged engine idling to a stall as he hunches over his latest visual fixation. This kind of play may require cognitive engagement and it sure beats TV and cheetos, but here is what gaming isn’t:
 
Motion. Friends. Planting. Body. Magic.
 
Pulse.
 
Seeking.
 
Song.
 
Yet for all it is not, Bug’s new diversions prey on his attention even in their absence. Especially in their absence. Their sirens call. He talks and talks more until I finally bark,
 
Enough. For every minute you talk about video games, you lose one minute of playing them.”
 
Which is unfair and childish, but oh, how badly I wanted a home free of that electronic static. I wanted no static. All dynamic. All flesh and soil and story. But this is not my home. It is our home, Bug’s and mine. My son will have his loves. Some will baffle me. Others will make my skin itch. In any event, this kid should be free to feel his way and free to talk about the shape his desires take.
 
Still. I don’t take back the threat. Not yet.
 
In bed, we have finished books (one about Hieronymous Bosch, for god’s sake) when Bug turns and says, “One day, I’ll have a house with nothing but video games. Computers and ipads and video games.”
 
“Yeah?” I look at him. “One day, I’m going to have a house with 37-foot ceilings and a giant swing hanging right in the middle. And a three-story treehouse bed you have to climb a winding ladder to get into. Do you know what will be at the end of the bed?”
 
“What?”
 
“Big jars full of paint. So you can paint right on the ceiling above the bed what you want to see when you are dreaming. And my house will have an ice cream factory right inside with all the stuff for any flavor anyone wants to make. And a trampoline floor. And above the trampoline, a trapeze.”
 
“A bunch of trapezes,” he says. “So you can go down, and bounce up again, and swing.” He is arcing his stuffed polar bear through the air. “And go down and up and down and up and. . .”
 
“And a basketball court. And I’ll be able to make it really cold and turn it into a ice rink with flashing lights.”
 
“And 38 dogs,” he adds.
 
“Right. And a pool with a glass bottom so you can go under and see all the people swimming with all the dogs, and it’ll be just like the water-bowl-cam on Puppy Bowl.”
 
“And we’ll have the kitty halftime show.”
 
“And a whole room full of musical instruments. Anything you want to play, anywhere.”
 
“Except when you’re pooping,” he says.
 
“Are you kidding? Especially then. We’ll have a violin right there next to the toilet.”
 
“Not when you’re playing basketball.”
 
“Why not? I’ll put bells on everyone’s ankles so when they’re playing it’ll be like ching-ching-da-ding SWOOSH!”
 
“Is that someone making a basket?” He asks.
 
“Yep, and all the other players will be all jumping and jingling when you score the 3-pointer, it’ll be all jing-ding-a-ding-jing, like jazz.”
 
“What’s jazz?” Bug asks.
 
I explain that jazz is an American musical form rooted in the. . .
 
“No, how does it go?”
 
I attempt to bop-hmm through the opening bars of Charles Mingus’ Prayer for Passive Resistance. “Sorta like that.”
 
From who-knows-where, he asks, “What’s the blues?”
 
I turn and face him.
 
Well I woke up this morning. I reached across the bed. I went to hug my baby but I hugged a cold teddy bear instead.
 
I give his bear a limp squeeze. Bug is looking a little sideways at me. I kick it up.
 
Oh, I got so hungry for a sweet pickle but there’s none left in the jar, my baby got up in the night, ate the last pickle and drove off in my car.
 
Where the hell is this coming from? I belt it out before my mind can catch it.
 
Oh, I know she done left me because I’ve been gettin’ home late, I ain’t helped with the dishes and I left old cheese stuck to my plate. O-o-oh I got the blues. I got the empty bed, no pickle, teddy bear blues.
 
Bug bounces his polar bear and grins. I tell him the blues are usually about someone leaving.
 
“Like what?”
 
“Like. . . ”
 
I woke up this morning.
 
“The blues are always starting when you wake up.”
 
Looked for my panting dog. Ain’t no fuzzy tail a-thumping and the house is cold as a fallen log. I got the blues. I got the dog-gone-to-leprechaun-heaven blues.
 
“No, she didn’t go to leprechaun heaven.” He looks at me then tucks his head and sorta-smiles. Our pooch died on St. Patrick’s day. “That’s right. I forgot. Okay. Sing more.”
 
I reached for my furry lop-eared girl but she’s not there to warm my hands. Ain’t got no one to wake me up or lick bacon grease off the pan.
 
“I could do it,” Bug volunteers.
 
Oh, we got the blues. I wrap both boy and polar bear in a squeeze. The no Fenway in the morning, fallen-log, dog-gone, teddy bear blu-u-ues.
 
“Look,” Bug says. He pulls a tangle of Fenway’s black fur from his polar bear’s coat. “She left this.” He hands it to me and I rub the little remnant of our dopey girl between my fingers. Bug turns and curls around the bear. I tuck the fluff into my back pocket and curl around him.
 
Mama’s feeling good. For the moment, her boy’s absorbed in something. It’s raw and sweet hits the blue notes. And it sure won’t fit on a screen. Not even this one.