Category Archives: 5. Music

Further Reflections on Sound, Image, and Time as Imprisoned and Then Released by Memory


We were getting close to Leesburg, Virginia on a Monday when the Rahsaan Roland Kirk song that was playing on the car stereo ended. Right away, my son Julien (who was almost six years old then) asked me to play it again. Now, there are some musical requests of his that I’ll turn down, like when he asks me to play The Smith’s “Sheila Take a Bow” over and over. It’s a song I love, but I don’t usually want to hear it more than once a day. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, though, is another matter, and when Julien asked me to play “Say a Little Prayer” again, I reached right over to press the button that would put it on again.

The night before, we were on Rixeyville Road on the way to Culpeper, Virginia to drop my daughter Maggie’s friend Lillie back at her house when the Gus van Sant/William Burroughs tune “Millions of Images” came on. In the year or so it’s been in the mix of songs I have on the car stereo, my wife Heather and I have come to the realization that there’s something comforting about the sound of William Burroughs’s voice. Whether we were lost on some country road in Virginia or central Pennsylvania, or making our way through the streets of Philadelphia to get to an Iggy Pop concert on time, the voice of William Burroughs helped to calm us down. I realize not everyone finds his voice soothing—and (as I’ve noted previously) that not every family listens to him together the way we do, but I guess we’re not like everybody else.

That week, like Julien, Maggie was back in school. For fun, Maggie had been taking Nirvana songs and figuring out how to play them on piano. She also worked on learning Ryuichi Sakamoto’s theme song for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. As for what she was working on with the guitar, I couldn’t keep up, but I recall hearing licks from The Kinks at the time, and during dinner one evening she said she had a Kendrick Lamar tune stuck in her head, so I imagine that that was appearing in the mix, too.

That week, I went to my primary care physician to get a referral for a neurologist. I kept having these brief episodes of transient global amnesia where my short term memory goes kaput for a few hours. It was nothing like six years ago when, shortly after my Dad died, I went an entire day without being able to remember anything for more than a few minutes. At any rate, after the initial shock, I wasn’t really worried about it. I think when you’ve got a million images bouncing through your head all the time, it’s not unusual for them to get stuck once in a while. It’s like when there’s a speck of dirt or a scratch on an LP and that sharp diamond stylus, tracing the groove on the vinyl surface, gets jammed and plays the same phrase over and over. You just have to give it a little nudge, or else gently lift the tonearm and plop it back down past the dirt or the scratch. Soon, the music is playing again, and the images, along with the soundtrack that accompanies them, are flowing smoothly again.

On the way back from Leesburg, the car stereo was playing Jackie McLean and Ornette Coleman doing “Old Gospel.” It’s one of those tunes where Ornette is playing the trumpet, an instrument he wasn’t at all proficient on. I know some people may disagree, but I think he gets it done anyway. Because in art there ain’t no single way to get shit done, and no single place you need to get to. Art is where you create your own destiny. Art is what, late at night when no one is looking, makes the goons in charge shit in their pants.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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Silent Tongues in the House of the Rising Sun

Photgraph by Jose Padua
My ten-year old daughter was playing
House of the Rising Sun
on the piano in the hall
when she suddenly let loose
with some improvised right
and left hand jabs that to me
sounded just like Cecil Taylor
at his jagged, poetic best,
and I started thinking that twenty years ago
what had just happened was something
I never would have imagined
much less dreamed of
after a clear New York night
of twenty-twenty sound and vision
(twenty drinks, twenty cigarettes),
but what’s even more beautiful
is that tonight in my small sleepy town
I can look up to the sky and see
a deep blue silence surrounding
a half, nearly see-through moon
that like the taste of sugar
from a salt-rimmed glass
leaves room for those great leaps of faith
that let the imagination
grow.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For All the Past and Coming Years of Sound and Friendship

Photograph by Jose Padua
I didn’t become aware of Prince until around the time of his third album, Dirty Mind, when I’d see this poster of guy with a kerchief around his neck, a flashy sport coat over his bare chest, and skimpy black briefs hanging in the window of Melody Records at Dupont Circle. I’d be on my way home from my first full time job after graduating from college, waiting for the bus outside the record store after getting off the subway. It was 1980 and I was a messenger at the Library of Congress, delivering requests for information by hand to various departments within the Congressional Research Service, while the guy in the poster, obviously, had a much more exciting job than I did.

But it was all fine with me. On paydays, I’d go into the store before hopping on the bus. At the time I was listening mostly to avant garde jazz, and after completing my mission of hunting down every record Albert Ayler had made in his lifetime, I was perhaps looking for some change of pace. The guy in the poster, of course, was Prince, and at first I had no idea what he was all about. I’d read about him here and there—stuff about him being the next big thing—and I was intrigued. But it wasn’t until someone brought Dirty Mind home—I don’t remember if it was me or one of my brothers—that I heard any of it. What I do remember, though, is hearing the opening of the song “Dirty Mind” for the first time—how the drums and keyboards led to that voice. I didn’t think it was a great voice, at first. I mean, Philip Bailey, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and on and on—I probably could have thought of a dozen falsettos I liked more off the top of my head. But as I listened I saw how Prince got his voice to say everything he wanted it to say, and what he was saying wasn’t like anything else that was around at the time, because what he was saying was both dirty and sweet, hard-boiled and romantic, light and profound.

From that first time hearing him, I was hooked. From then on, Prince’s music was a part of my life, though his wasn’t the only music I needed. There was still the avant garde jazz I was big on—the previously mentioned Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, and so forth; there was punk and “new wave” like Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, Wire; there was the Ramayana Monkey Chant and all sorts of music that to me was essential. I understood that not everyone was into this wide variety of sounds, and that was cool. I could hang with people who didn’t get Sun Ra, I could drink at the Tune Inn on Capitol Hill with Patsy Cline playing over and over on the juke box for the hundredth time, I could attend a prim and proper recital of Mozart and enjoy both the music and the scene, but if you didn’t like Prince I was immediately suspicious of you. And whenever I heard someone say something along the lines of, “I don’t think Prince is all that great,” I’d make my way to the other end of the bar, find someone else to talk to at the party, or just leave to get away from the ugliness.

Still, this isn’t to say that I always moved down to the other end of the bar. I probably spent a little too much time, especially when I was young, hanging out with people I didn’t quite click with, people who I felt safe with but who didn’t inspire me. But after a while I did move on. I started hanging out less with a crowd that only listened to Top 40 radio or classic rock and who didn’t care much about poetry or foreign films and modern art and a million other things. I started hanging out more with those friends from college who would actually party to Ornette Coleman’s music, Talking Heads, and Prince of course. They were a little bit crazier than my other friends, but then I was a little crazier than my other friends as well, and becoming less crazy was, for me, neither option nor choice.

Over the years I made new friends, lost touch with old ones, got pissed at good friends, laughed uncomfortably with bad friends, made up with real friends, and fell completely out with others because sometimes it’s just so hard to even say anything. There were people whom I missed like the next sip of bourbon, and people who were just stomach aches and head aches and sore throats and pink eye. As for me, I was, by turns, a saint, an asshole, a pillar of strength, a pompous jerk, the wittiest person in the room, the dullest clown in a travelling circus of the damned. There were things that I could have done better, things that I did do better, tasks that I performed spectacularly, and tasks at which I was completely lost but did anyway, because, Jesus, sometimes it was just nice to do something/anything whether I was good at it or bad at it. That I continue to have good days and bad days proves that I am alive.

Not long after he died, I played Prince’s Dirty Mind album again. And again. Then I listened to For You and the eponymously titled Prince album again, because in 1980 that’s what I did—I went back to those earlier records. After one more go at Dirty Mind I listened to Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day. I went on like that for a while—working, writing, doing the things I usually did by myself and with my family during the course of the day, all while reliving the progression and evolution of sound, from the late 70s to the present time, through the music of Prince.

I imagine that, during the course of those days, I was bopping my head up and down a little more, tapping my feet more than I usually did when I sat at the computer and wrote. And, I imagine, that with the help of this music, I felt a little more becalmed and content than my obsessive compulsive mind—with its unending flash of words and images and emotions—usually allowed me. Because in my more panicked moments, I look at life as an all too rapid process, the basis of which is solely biological and thus entirely lacking in the sort of essential qualities needed to form any manner of philosophical much less spiritual approach to existence. It’s when my thought processes slow down that they regain any kind of warmth in this regard, and I start to believe again that moments, years, even entire millenniums have direction and meaning. Oddly enough, it’s music that can slow me down like this.

One night, in the middle of all that, I took a photograph of my daughter Maggie and my son Julien playing in the back yard. My wife Heather was late getting in from town and by the time we were done eating dinner it was already starting to get dark. Still, we kept on going, bouncing this big red ball and a smaller blue and white ball back and forth between the four of us. In the photograph I took, Maggie is holding the red ball and laughing while Julien is holding the smaller one and looking serious because when you’re younger, like him, you feel like you have to work that much harder to keep up with everyone. At my age, much of the time, I still feel like that. Then I get caught up.

And so I watch as the years go by, taking into consideration the varying levels of light and dark, warmth and cold, speed and its opposite. While some parents may see money, career, and marriage as the most significant indicators of the brightness of a child’s future, I rarely think along those lines. And while they’re good to have, there are other things that are more basic and more important. Which is why, on a beautiful night, when the sun has gone down and the air begins to cool, what I wish for my children before anything else is a future full of sound and friendship. And the ability to move through the years like a falsetto that says everything that can possibly be said, and in so doing aspires toward grace.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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

One for the Morning and the Uninterrupted Dancing in my Head

Photograph by Jose Padua
This morning I’m
looking for my copy
of Reinbert de Leeuw’s
super slow performances
of the compositions
of Erik Satie
to play while I do
the work
I get paid for
but I can’t find it
and somehow
come across my copy
of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah
and put that on
instead.
And now rather than
doing my paying work
I’m writing a poem
which means
I think
that I’m coming out
both ahead and behind,
so watch out
all you fatuous clowns,
scheming prevaricators,
and exploiters of
the pure unadulterated dream
because I’m coming
for you next.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And the Green Card Moon Shines Brightly Over the Beautiful Black Ocean

Photo of Margarita S. Padua
That weekend started off with another encounter with the woman who always tailgates me when I’m trying to stay somewhat close to the school zone speed limit. I’d just dropped off my son Julien when she turned onto the road behind me from the main parking lot. Looking into the rearview mirror, I could see her cold blue eyes staring straight ahead in furious contempt. She followed a few feet behind me for half a minute. Then, when there was a break in the oncoming traffic, she stepped on the gas and zoomed around me. She got all of three, maybe four car lengths ahead of me before she had to slow down again because she was now behind another car that was more or less obeying the speed limit. Still, she had probably shaved an entire half second off her commute, which meant that by going around me she was that much closer to completing her role in making America great again.

Later that day, when we were all home again, I noticed that my daughter Maggie had been carrying around my friend Liz Hand’s novel, Waking the Moon. It’s about the supernatural happenings involving a group of friends who met at college and includes a character based on me. Although the character is much cooler than I was, it still felt odd to have Maggie seeing me this way. This isn’t to say that the real me she sees everyday isn’t odd enough already, it’s just that there’s something about books and real literature that makes you look at the world that much more closely, and I imagined that Maggie, after reading Waking the Moon, was looking at me that much more critically. I just hoped that when she was done with it she still considered the non-book version of me odd and weird enough to take seriously.

After dinner, Heather and Maggie talked again about a paper Maggie did for school on refugees. That’s when Julien asked me to show him my collection of vinyl records in our hall library. One by one, I pulled out the albums of recordings he’d only seen in CD form: Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Les Stances a Sophie, Ornette Coleman’s Friends and Neighbors. The full size LPs of all of these impressed him, but what really made his eyes light up was when I pulled out Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Blacknuss LP. At the time, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was what he asked to hear more than anything else. “Wow,” he said, and he reached out to hold the album himself. When he’s a little older, I thought, I can show him how to use the turntable— just like a couple of years ago when I showed Maggie how to use it to play the Velvet Underground albums she found in my record collection.

That night, we were in Richmond, Virginia, taking another break from the small town life. I was always astounded, whenever we visited a real city, how much more comfortable it was for me. Even in a southern city like Richmond there was so much more of a mix than in our small town. And though there were still people there in Richmond like the guy with the shaved head and yellow Tea Party sticker on his leather jacket—he made a point of staring at me as he walked past us at the pizza joint where we had dinner—most of the time I felt like I didn’t need to explain anything to anyone there. I was an American there in Richmond, and I could be as odd as I needed to be, at least some of the time.

Twenty-three years ago that night, I was in Georgetown Hospital in DC, spending the night in the reclining chair next to my Mom’s hospital bed. In the morning she had another heart attack, and then, that afternoon, she died. She was born in the Philippines in 1925, and although she was always Pinay, or a Filipina, she was also, by the time she died, an American. If she were alive today, and wanted to make one last visit to the Philippines then come back to America, she’d do it. Yeah, one way or as many ways as you can dream of, she’d do it. Because she had two homes—the country where she was born, and the country she worked hard to make her home.

I remember the day when my Mom got her green card. She was happy, she was relieved—I could hear the actual sigh she let loose when she found out. It meant our lives here were more secure. It didn’t mean we were what everyone here would call Americans, but it meant we could keep on trying. It meant that we had a chance.

This poem was written in celebration of my mother and the color green, and all the powers she and it had, both together and separately.

Green Card

Once she made
her way
to the States
in the early 50s,
my mother
never made it
back to the
country where she
was born,
which in the eyes
of some
didn’t make
her an American,
but which to us,
her children,
made her
as American
as she needed
to be.

-Jose Padua

Notes on a Day When I Contemplated the Possibility of Making a Living Playing Free Jazz

Photograph by Jose Padua
What I thought I’d remember most about that day was being in the store and seeing a guy with his girlfriend and the guy was wearing a tee shirt that said “All Guns Matter” and I wished he were walking closer so he could see me giving him a dirty look or shaking my head at him, though I know that with some people the less communication that goes on between me and them the better.

That day, my wife Heather had a meeting in Winchester and, as usual, we all went to Winchester with here. When the meeting was over, Heather, our daughter Maggie, our son Julien, and I drove up Route 11, north of town, on one of those stretches of highway where the decaying buildings and shady businesses from another era have me re-evaluating my concept of time. It’s one of my favorite things to do here in the valley, and although we didn’t go by Piggy’s Club, just past the state line in West Virginia—I usually like to drive at least that far up the road—we did stop at Clearbrook Park. There, Julien ran around on the playground, with Heather, Maggie, and I keeping up with him the best we could. When Julien was tired out, we got back in the car.

One of the new questions Julien has been asking lately is, “When did Ornette Coleman die?”—Ornette Coleman being the great jazz musician and composer who died in 2015—and that’s what he asked when we started to drive down Route 11 from Clearbrook Park. But instead of asking me to play Ornette Coleman on the car stereo after asking the question, Julien asked me to play Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Then, when Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s take on “I Say a Little Prayer” started playing, Julien abruptly said, “Rahsaan Roland Kirk pays the bills.”

There wasn’t much any of us could do by way of responding to the statement other than to nod in agreement—not because we knew anything about how Rahsaan Roland Kirk did with his finances but because to say that “Rahsaan Roland Kirk pays the bills” is to talk about so much more than money, so much more than bills and expenses, so much more than survival. This isn’t to say we don’t need to work in order to survive, but that the purpose of work goes beyond that and involves things that can never be paid for and will never be listed above the total on a bill.

With Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing on the stereo, Heather, Maggie, Julien, and I drove south on Route 11, back through Winchester, and on down our stretch of the northern Shenandoah Valley toward home. As we drove, the sun started going down—so we took our time and paid attention, listening for that sound the sun makes when it hits the horizon, and welcoming the darker shades of light as they rose higher and higher in the sky like red oak, blue mountains, and clouds.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Monkey Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was a minor soul ballad, though not quite a ballad,
or not a ballad at all, that brought Billy the Kid back
to life in a dive bar downtown. Someone started doing
a strut on the tile floor that looked like the floor
of a church, but it wasn’t a church it was Baltimore,
on a spring evening, during an era no one but me calls
the Renaissance of past lives now coming back to life
when someone plays that great goddamn song on the jukebox.
It was time to stand up, so we stood until we were taller
than we were before like flowers in the afternoon after
a morning when it rained, until we felt dizzy from being
so high over the tiny names carved on the wooden bar.
All the workers from the neighborhood stood up, too,
to dance, because Billy was always good to them and
was like wild west death to their enemies. So many
more names were added to the rough wood that night,
so many more words were breathed like lovers breathing
on hot, dank nights, and so many cow-men and cow-women
never sat down again for the rest of their lives, and for
four hours not a sip of beer was spilled, nor a drop of
bourbon wasted by being wiped away on a man or
woman’s lips by anything other than a kiss. And when
it was time, the floor turned to dirt in our bloodshot eyes
as Billy the Kid tightened his footsteps faster than a
pinball machine going TILT, dancing his way out the door
into the after midnight mist. And when it was time we ran
off into the night like saxophone solos, each note a word,
each sentence a nod to the tune that brought us here, each
day following the last, each night keeping the beat.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Story for the Mist and the Fog and the Rain, but Most of All, a Story for Us

Photograph by Jose Padua
We were somewhere around Frederick, Maryland when Abdullah Ibrahim’s “African Sun” came on the car stereo. It had been raining mightily since we left Front Royal, and now, near Frederick, it was raining so heavily that if I were so inclined I might say it was raining in biblical proportions. But, as I am not so inclined, I prefer to say that it was raining like a motherfucker. And that the song “African Sun” then started playing on the stereo.

Whenever I hear “African Sun” and the rolling notes of Abdullah Ibrahim’s piano, I swear I can see the sun coming up, swear that my skin is warming from the arrival of the sun’s bright heat. Abdullah Ibrahim’s “African Sun,” I thought, was going to clear out the rain. Was going to make the sun shine. I sped up slightly, certain that in another minute we’d be under clear blue skies and the soothing yellow of late-in-the-day sunlight. I turned the music up a notch. Sat up a little taller in my seat, the better to see the light. I waited, and I waited.

And it kept fucking raining. Kept raining on into the early dark of night. Raining and I was getting tired of driving, tired of the rain, and most of all, tired of driving in the fucking rain.

So I tried to think of the sort of things that would give me energy. I thought about when we left Front Royal, and my wife Heather was in the convenience store getting coffees for us. Thought about earlier in the afternoon when our daughter Maggie announced that she wanted to learn French, the reason being that she had just watched Truffaut’s The 400 Blows again.

I first saw Truffaut’s The 400 Blows when I was around fourteen, and it changed the way I looked at the world, changed the way I thought about film and art in general. I’d first shown Maggie this classic film of the French Nouvelle Vague about five years earlier. Back then, she liked it, but this time, she said, she absolutely loved it, and, what’s more, because of it, she now wanted to learn French. That, as far as I was concerned, was a big deal, and gave me a big lift for the start of this trip. But then there was this rain.

Still, it was beautiful going through Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia—we always take this longer but slower route whenever we go to see Heather’s family in central Pennsylvania for the holidays. That late afternoon/early evening, the whole town and the entire river there was covered in a thick white mist. It didn’t feel like Virginia or West Virginia or anything so every-day for us, and it didn’t feel like winter turned either miraculously or horribly into spring anymore, it felt like… I don’t know, but it felt like something—something I couldn’t quite name.

Just when we’d left our house that day, our neighbor Mary brought over some presents for Maggie and our son Julien. For Maggie, it was a nice angel doll (Maggie wasn’t so much in to dolls anymore and she’d never been into angels, but she liked it anyway), and for Julien she got a little brown teddy bear, and he liked his bears back then. Mary looked at Julien, saw how he was smiling as he looked at the brown teddy bear and asked him, “What are you going to name him?” That’s when silence fell upon us all. Fell upon us like… something.

Julien looked at the teddy bear for a moment, then said, “Nobody.”

“Oh?” Mary said.

“Yes,” Julien said again, “Nobody”—the name of his new brown teddy bear was Nobody. It wasn’t what Mary was expecting, but she thought it was cool anyway. As for Heather, Maggie, and I, we remembered back when Maggie was around three and declined to give her big rag doll a name. This led to the big rag doll’s being called The Doll Who Cannot Be Named. That Julien called his new bear “Nobody” warmed Heather’s and Maggie’s and my own heart. I mean, even now, a couple of years later, when I’m thinking of the word nobody I’m thinking of something that warms my heart, thinking of something that fills my sometimes congested lungs with crisp, fresh air. It doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but for us it’s a word that helps make us feel even more like family.

When we finally made it through the dark and the rain to our hotel in Central Pennsylvania, Maggie got out of the car and asked me, “Did you remember to bring my black Punk bag?” Maggie has a shiny black bag that says PUNK on one side and nothing, I think, on the other side (though maybe it says PUNK on the other side as well, I’ll have to check.)

“What?” I asked, and I remembered that I hadn’t remembered, which led me to ask once again, “What?”—with the word what meaning that Maggie had no clothes for the trip, other than what she was wearing.

So, first we ate dinner at the Hotel Hershey. I had the Chianti Braised Oxtail with Spinach and Crispy Carrots—I probably hadn’t eaten oxtail since the last time some thirty or so years ago when my Mom made the Filipino dish kare-kare. And after dinner we found a K-Mart on Jonestown Road (“Take a left on Kool-Aid Lane,” I said, and nobody laughed, except for me, which more often than not is enough. I’m happy even when I’m the only one who likes my bad joke.)

While Heather and Maggie were inside the K-Mart looking for clothes, I took a photograph of Julien as he and I waited outside the K-Mart. Of course, it wasn’t long before he wanted to go in as well. We hadn’t been in a K-Mart in a long time—not since the one we had in Front Royal closed down several years ago. This photograph of me was taken two years later. I was trying to take a photograph of the road outside the hotel where we’re staying this year, but there was an extra layer of plexiglass covering the window for some reason, and this layer of plexiglass picked up my reflection, making this photograph a self-portrait.

This year, the big song was Doug Hream Blunt’s “Fly Guy.” Julien kept insisted we play it again and again and again. And we did, quite a few times. The landscape we were driving past—the river at Harper’s Ferry, the hills that hide the Civil War battlefields of Gettysburg from view on the highway—went by more swiftly listening to Doug Hream Blunt. And they went by even more swiftly when my friend Casey Scott’s song “True North” rose up from the random mix on the car stereo. Maybe it’s because we were travelling north. Or maybe it’s because it’s such a beautiful song. Or maybe it’s because the world is moving in ways we ultimately fail to understand until we see it through our art, because in addition to the facts there is an essence that requires we approach it in order to truly live.

Two years ago, as Julien and I walked through the aisles of the K-Mart, I thought how there are, in the world, people who—though they be few in number—envy us our style and taste in clothing. People, even fewer still, who begrudge us our advantage in perspicacity as well as our precision and skill in sometimes employing metaphor to sometimes great effect. Which is to say, sometimes we get there and sometimes we don’t. Or maybe I’m just speaking of myself.

Walking through the aisles with Julien, I saw that they had their Adam Levine line of cool, sophisticated men’s clothes, and a Nicki Minaj collection of hot styles for women, and this collection, and that collection. It all looked so strange and horrible to me.

When Julien and I found where Heather and Maggie were, I said to Heather, “I don’t want any names on my clothes. Hell, I don’t even like wearing things with words like Fruit of the Loom on them. If I wanted there to be words on my clothes, I’d use my words. My Words.” And Heather nodded, meaning that she understood. Meaning that, yes, this is why we are who we are. This is why we are family.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua