Monthly Archives: March 2018

For Eddie Hazel, Sonny Sharrock, the Clash, and All the Other Places a Guitar and Drums Can Take Us

Photograph by Jose Padua
That night, I’d finished cooking dinner early. Although I’m so often late in doing things—or maybe because I’m so often late—there’s nothing quite as reassuring for me as being ahead of schedule. So, while waiting for my wife Heather to get home from work so we could eat, my twelve-year old daughter Maggie and I started listening to some songs in the dining room as my son (her little brother) Julien played with his toy dinosaurs in the living room.

“Have you heard this one by the Clash,” I asked Maggie. “It’s one of their poppier songs, but it’s really nice.” And I pulled up “Hitsville U.K.” for her on my computer.

“Oh,” she said. “Cool. Wait, is this from London Calling?”

“No, it’s on Sandinista. The three record set they came out with after their two record set for London Calling.” For some reason I always like to bring up the concept of vinyl records with Maggie. Maybe it’s because so often I’m pulling up songs for her to listen to on the computer. I know that we could actually go over to the parlor where I have my office set up, a space that includes a stereo complete with turntable, but it’s easier to go from one song to the next with the computer.

Somehow, after listening to “Hitsville, U.K.,” the next song I thought Maggie needed to hear was “I Just Want to See His Face” by the Rolling Stones. Maybe it’s because in this town where there’s so much religion going on, the line in the song that goes, “…you don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus/ You just want to see His face” seems to give me a sense of perspective about it. What that perspective tells me, I’m not quite sure, but when I hear this song I’m a little bit less afraid of what’s out here.

Then, as is often the case when I’m feeling no fear, my mind moved on. Which I suppose is why I asked Maggie, “Oh, do you know Lou Reed’s song ‘Walk on the Wild Side’?”

“Oh yeah,” she said.

“Well, the Holly in the song. You know, ‘Holly came from Miami F.L.A./ Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A./ Plucked her eyebrows on the way/ Shaved her legs and then he was a she.’ She died just this week.”

“Oh,” Maggie said. “Was she young?”

“Oh no. She wasn’t young. She was, I don’t exactly, around seventy I think. She lived for a while. And she lived an interesting life.”

Soon, Heather was home. After we all ate dinner, Heather was in the living room playing with Julien while Maggie and I stayed in the dining room. From “Walk on the Wild Side,” I went to playing a few songs by The Bad Brains, and then the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch ep, and then Annie Lennox’s cover of The Clash’s “Train in Vain” and on to Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain.

“Listen to that guitar,” I told her. “That’s Eddie Hazel. He was one of the great ones.”

After listening for a couple of minutes, Maggie noticed that the whole song was basically an Eddie Hazel guitar solo. “How long is this?” she asked.

“Oh, it’s about ten minutes long,” I said, and we kept on listening, then suddenly it was over.

“It’s over?” Maggie asked.

“Yes.”

“That was ten minutes?”

“I know. It doesn’t seem like it. That’s because Eddie Hazel could destroy time with his guitar.”

“Daaaaad,” Maggie said.

“No really. Look at what just happened. We were listening to ‘Maggot Brain’ then now, all of a sudden, it’s the future.”

“OK, Dad,” Maggie said.

Since we had moved ahead, I put on some music I thought would be appropriate for this jump into the future—Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages. After a minute or two Maggie asked, “Who’s playing the drums on this?”

“That’s Elvin Jones,” I said. “He was John Coltrane’s drummer for a long time.”

“Oh, I thought it had this jazzy feel I’d heard before.”

Right then I refrained from saying, “Yeah, Elvin Jones was a motherfucker on the drums.” Instead I just said, as I did for Eddie Hazel, “he was one of the great ones.”

And we kept on listening to Ask the Ages. To Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax, Elvin Jones on drums, and Charnett Moffett on bass.

Earlier that day, while Heather and I were up in Winchester for an eye doctor’s appointment, we stopped to pick up Maggie’s electric guitar. The sound had been going out, so we took it up to a guy in Winchester for a rewiring. He had it for a couple of weeks and called us that morning, saying it was all good now and the only interruptions in sound would be the interruptions we intended.

Pretty soon, I thought, Maggie will pick it up and plug it in, ready to fill our house with sound. Maybe, at some point, Julien will want to try it too. I think that one day they will both discover all the beautiful ways to destroy time. Through sound, through words, through form, movement, and more. Though I suspected—what with the way the days had moved ahead so swiftly—that they already had.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Because the Processes of Both Art and Living Are Filled with a Multitude of Disturbances and Other Possibilities

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes, like during the past few months when I’ve had plenty of paying work, I wonder how things would be if I just focused on that. If I tried to take on as much of the web work and editing as I can, and stopped writing all these poems, essays, and stories that don’t pay right away and much of time don’t ever pay anything, at least as far as money goes.

Soon after we moved to Front Royal, I began doing at least several hours of my own work every day. That doesn’t mean I’m at my desk or on the computer the entire time. Doing my own writing involves getting up to make a snack, going to the grocery store, taking the kids to school, picking them up from school, listening to my daughter Maggie play a Thelonious Monk song on the piano, building some Frank Lloyd Wright style house with my son Julien using stray Lego blocks, watching the evening news with my wife Heather when she gets home from the office. It’s a process that’s full of interruptions and for me, without the interruptions, there would be no process.

I recently read an essay by the poet Mary Oliver in which she maintained that she is “heedless of social obligations” and that her “loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late.” That’s all fine, I suppose. I’m oblivious in my own ways, too, socially awkward in even more ways, and unable to focus on things and people who don’t intrigue me. Again, that’s all fine but then she says, “There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done.” To which my reaction is a big Fuck You.

Frankly, any artist who tells you there’s only one way to make art is an asshole. This isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of great artists who are assholes—as well as some lesser ones. I know that I’m an asshole in my own way, just not that way. If your way of making art requires you shut out the world, fine. If going off to a writers colony will help you get that novel or book of poems done, fine. Me, I’d go crazy being in a place surrounded by nothing but other dedicated writers and artists. But that’s just my process. That’s why I’ve never considered going to a writers colony or retreat to get more work done, because I know that my process would mess with other people’s processes. And that peace and quiet would be no help whatsoever in getting my work done.

I’ve been keeping up this process of interruptions for nearly ten years now. Before this period though, the interruption went on for a rather long time, because in the eight years before we moved to Front Royal I didn’t write much of anything. Lately, too, there have been days when I haven’t written a damn thing—and, as with those eight years—I felt fine. Which had me wondering.

Then today, with Maggie and Julien back home after school, Julien was playing in the living room when he noticed a book on the table next to the sofa. “Can I look at this?” he asked.

“Sure,” I told him, and he picked it up. What he was now holding was Puñeta: Political Pilipinx Poetry, a small anthology edited by the formidable poet Eileen Tabios that included two of my poems, “Headhunters” and “Seven and Seven Is.”

Julien looked at it for a minute, then looked at me and said, “Great writing, Dad!” He hadn’t really read the poems, of course, but even so, it was the best compliment of the day. And, somehow, he remembered that I was in it—or at any rate, what he was able to read was my name on the cover and inside the book.

“Thanks, Julien!” I said. That’s when I remembered that we are kickers of stupid things, which comes from the punk song Julien improvised on New Year’s Eve last year. It goes, “I’m the kicker of stupid things, I’m the kicker of stupid things…” And on and on like that. It’s plain, simple, and to the point—and what it means is that he, Heather, Maggie, and I do not quit. It means Heather will keep working on her next book while attempting to make change in the physical world, Maggie will learn to play Chopin like Yuja Wang or to paint like Frida Kahlo before moving on to do work that is entirely her own, Julien will continue to be a creator of fierce ideas and wild progressions, and I will continue with my process, welcoming all interruptions, whether long, short, or somewhere in-between.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Self-Portrait in the Form of a Chalk Outline on the Concrete Belly of America

Photograph by Jose Padua
Jose Padua is a dish best served cold with onions,
mushrooms and tomatoes in a light broth and
accompanied by a rich lager with subtle aftertones of lemon.
Jose Padua is Arnold Swartzenegger’s imagined tumor
in Kindergarten Cop right when his headache is
at its most painful and the students are ready to revolt.
Jose Padua is the citizen who doesn’t look like a citizen,
the American who doesn’t look like an American, the
human being who doesn’t look like a human being except
in the looming darkness between the last of the previews
and the beginning of the feature film, that precious time
when the prospect of being entertained puts us all
on what the industry calls “a level playing field.”
Jose Padua is a plastic container of air freshener
shaped like a cone that’s run out whatever makes
the almost but not quite pleasant smell that makes
a bathroom smell like a bathroom and not something
that’s been manufactured in an unusually clean factory
in Wisconsin (not that anything is made in America anymore
besides debt, predatory lending, and opportunities
for fatuous demagogues to gain political capital).
Jose Padua is the alley in the neighborhood
he grew up in where all the drunks would stop to pee
and which all the young professionals who were moving
into the neighborhood would complain about because
My god, this is the nation’s capital they would moan
and christ he would pee there too in wet protest of
gentrifiers, scenesters, and financial speculators
because it was his home before it was theirs.
Jose Padua reads fancy books with fancy poems
and fancy stories and fancy essays and the fancy people
who write these fancy poems and fancy stories and
fancy essays totally ignore him except for a few
who’ll nod and say, “Hey, how’s it going, I haven’t
seen you in a long time? Have you bought my new book?”
and Jose Padua will respond by asking, “Hey, can you
lend me a condominium in a rough but upcoming part
of town? Can you spend hours staring at your multi-colored
aquarium fish? Are you the slow, lonesome journey
to a swiftly revolving oblivion?” as everyone whose spirits
had been momentarily lifted feels a dull ache in their knees,
and the thickness of the air that surrounds them makes them
think that time has stopped and been replaced by two or three
hit TV shows from the 90s that no one wants to watch anymore.
Jose Padua walks softly on delicate red rose petals through
the new renaissance he’s creating in his head—you should
take the time to pause and praise his creation; Jose Padua
swims through the ether with neither fear nor loathing
while making elegant strokes on the shifting surface of
popular trends—behold his cultural criticism whenever
you gaze at the nighttime sky and feel like you’re about
to sneeze. This—right here, right now, right off—is what
his lone bright soul contains. This is his vision of what
is crass and obscene and what you need to do about it.
This is his gift to you.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Tearing Up a Box and These Days Spent As if Walking on Unmowed Grass

Photograph by Jose Padua
Sometimes when I’m
tearing up a box
I’ll remember how my father
used to do the same—
collapse it so it was flat,
then rip it in half,
then quarters, and so on
until it fit easily in the trash
without threatening to burst
through the side. Sometimes
he’d tear one up before
we were done with it—
a box for a gift we’d have
to exchange or take back
to the store because it didn’t fit
or didn’t work. Sometimes
when I take the trash out
at night into the quiet street,
drag the bin to the curb,
then carry out the bundled newspapers
and broken down boxes,
I consider these little tasks,
the minutes I’ve lost then found
like an old friend in a fading memory;
the hours, days and sometimes
years spent organizing
small things.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua