was built for
an economy that is vanishing
before our eyes.
is either too dense
or not dense enough.
If all thinking is signs
Reality is too
material or no
imagined or no
Everything that is
including our most
those who fly
within a space
whose borders we can
We fly dead alive
composed or not
is in signs
And we are signs
Freedom’s a sign
of our capacity
for thinking well.
It is the fan
that we call choice
What is a sign
it it’s not
Within the next year I did little but sit on my plastic chair, getting up to put logs in the chunk stove 20 feet away. I wrote song after song to capture what I read in the gospels. I had a book of gospel parallels. Mark, Matthew and Luke opened my eyes. Joseph more than likely WAS the father. Jesus more than likely WAS a healer. The figure of Satan was merely the summary of the ways human beings have of avoiding the truth and beauty that is there before all eyes. Jesus condoned law-breaking and practiced forgiveness. He was branded a criminal. His circle was conspicuously co-educational.
I began with John, the hoary prophet.
See the crowds
See how they love to be told
That the end is at hand
See how they look at us
Looking for what is in no one’s hand
See then as they rush to the river
To wash themselves clean
See them as they rush to the river
Not knowing what it means
I did not bypass Mary or the Magnificat.
I can hear you speaking to Elizabeth out loud
About scattering the wicked and bringing down the proud
Were you dreaming
Misty beginning and a sorrowful end
You tried to dream up an angel for a friend
It took shape. I went and saw “Jesus Christ Superstar”. It was a travesty. It took the orthodox notion of Jesus and made him no more than what the church had already made him. I went and saw “Godspell”. It was pleasant pap, without real bite or serious truth. The answer lay in these canonical pages. Including the explanation of why Jesus would become the precise opposite of what he intended as he roamed with his followers. I wrote with no thought of what would become of it. But clearly I meant it to be performed.
I did not think I could sing. I did not fancy my guitar playing. I called a flamboyant Jonathan’s Wake associate Baxton Bryant and told him I needed help. I should have called Will Campbell. I should have known Baxton would have come up with a solution to end all solutions. Hiram and Betty made it from Nashville to Cherry Street in a week flat. Life was crazed for two months. We were in the vortex of a cyclone. Beware a walking musical aspiration with ego to match. Hiram was twenty-something and full of himself. His detritus pushed everything within reach to the wall. Betty was blonde, buxom, pleasant. She deferred to Hiram. There was no sense that she possessed an independent existence. It took two months to determine to go it alone.Hiram and Betty went home. I went back to the drawing board.
And when you speak of real life you grasp the nettle, the sharp edge of everything that can make you bleed, no filter in between you and the truth, the dismal truth of failure. If we could simply begin with failure as a default, with doom as the sentence, with sadness as the underlying theme, we would be ahead of the game. Nothing would hurt us quite as much. Caring would not be a sin. Life facing reality would not cause one to shrink. Real life is what it always is. No different from days passed in illusory quests. Just seeing things with eyes more open. I was in Stockbridge not Chicago. I was moving forward in real steps not imagined leaps. I was seated in my plastic rolling chair in the rough-cut pine environs of my back building before my Smith-Corona, Gideon Bible open to a passage in Matthew. I was writing. Typing.
The smell of the desert was still on his cloak
The sound of the mountain you could hear as he spoke
A look of such love in his eyes I did see
And later I was sitting a few steps down in this wonderfully improvised old barn, my Martin D18 in hand.
I used to write the most poetic lines
But now they are all shattered
In the fragments of the chimes
Music. At first I kept it to myself. Almost somnambulant. Still shattered myself. I drove over to Monterey to Judy and David, my psychosynthesis friends, I smashed some pillows. I felt the twinges of release through all my body. I drove back. Someone had come. On the way up to Canada. Mark would shepherd him. The household was loose and peaceful. It wasn’t yet time for the realization to kick in. We were in that minor dark age Walter Lippmann said we were in. The poison of hate would not avoid this house on Cherry Street. I figured it would be 2020 before eyes would open to the mounting crimes and change would come. I continued to hate LBJ.
Continuing the unfolding of Book Nine of the Panflick History. The first 8 books are parked here.
Music. It had come slowly, in spurts. A little boy singing “Careless Love” in a 1940s-era recording booth in the Empire State Building. In self-audition. Yes near a movie theater on 86th Street, dreaming of going on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Rehearsing “She’s My Sunflower from The Sunflower State”. In obedient participation in the Brick Church children’s choir. In seemingly endless efforts to write notes, while picking away at “A Bicycle Built for Two” in Mr. Horvath’s dark apartment a few blocks from mine. In constant listening to AM radio under the covers, into the night. Lux Radio Theater. Talent Scouts. The Hit Parade. In listening with Bardolph to 78″ records on a huge wind-up Victrola. “Why Do They All Pick on Freshie?” In absorbing Josh White, Danny Kaye, Burl Ives, Spike Jones, Marais & Miranda at home. At Exeter, I heard my first Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie, along with the magic sounds within Harry Smith’s incredible collection of American folk music. These were early long-playing records. There was a transparent Stinson ten-inch with more than 20 songs – “Devlish Mary”, “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet”, “We Shall Walk Through The Valley”. Seraphic. Performing “Bring A Little Water, Silvy” at an Exeter dance. Elvis Presley singing “Mystery Train” at a little diner in Wiliamstown. Hearing close harmonies at Camp Rabbit Hollow. “Ready, indeed I’m ready. Tell the good Lord I’ll be ready when the great day comes.” Transported to a new freedom to the strains of “Spirit of God Descend upon My Heart” at a camp in Maine. Singing with Al Carmines at Union Theological Seminary. “Tell Her No.” “Don’t make me go to bed and I’ll be good.” Freedom songs in 1961 at Kelly Miller Smith’s First Baptist Church in Nashville. Singing with Ganya in the basement of St. James United Church of Christ in Chicago’s Old Town. “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at.” “Wildwood Flower.” Performing an acerbic self-composed talking song in the chapel at the World Council of Churches in Geneva in 1966. Driving around Chicago in my beautiful old VW, saturated by the encouraging words of “Hey Jude” as politics imploded in August, 1968. Music. Always there. But never as it would become.
Music was all that was left when I hung up the phone, after Dean Peerman, then managing editor of The Christian Century, completed an apology for the Century’s not having told me that my efforts to salvage a career had come to naught. What did it mean to have burned almost every bridge to what remained my ultimate concern? It meant you need to find a perfect pebble. There was nothing conscious in my movement. I did not find a perfect pebble on a dirt road or at the bottom of a brook. My perfect pebble was the smooth and magic reality of Scripture. It was the Word. It was words made into song. The servants of King James committed words to paper, turning old Near Eastern texts into English during the years past Shakespeare’s time. I became a novice theologian, taking words found now in every Gideon Bible. Singing them. Turning them into songs. Turning myself into a writer of songs. And thus began my real life.