Category Archives: 5. Music

Reflections on a Song by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson and Other Intervals Between Two Points in Time

Photograph by Jose Padua
Looking out
the kitchen
window in the
dim early evening
light I’m waiting
for the stray cat
in the back
yard to move
just scratch its
nose with its
paw or else
dash out between
gaps in the
run-down picket
fence when I
realize it’s not
a stray cat
I’m looking at
but a black flower
pot knocked over
on its side and
in that instant
I remember all
those years I lost
being obsessed
searching for meaning
in places where
there was none.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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These Nights We Lived Under Bourbon and Small Planets

Photo by Jose Padua

Her name was Sarah Star
and though the “Sarah” was
probably her real name,
the “Star” we weren’t so sure of.
She was one of our favorite bartenders
in one of our favorite bars,
the Scorpio on Avenue A,
and it was something like 1992
when I, going back and forth
from unemployment to temp jobs
and paying $700 a month on time,
sometimes not, for my apartment
on Avenue B, was in many ways
one of the well-off people in the
neighborhood. Sarah dressed like
a character from The Great Gatsby
and did it so well it was neither
affect nor pretense nor performance
but evidence of the manifestation
of celestial light in the souls
and shoulders of certain residents
of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
She was short but walked tall,
thin as an alley even though she
moved like Park Avenue right below
Grand Central Station just a little
before eight in the morning. One night
after last call she asked me and my friend
to walk her home and right away
we started singing Fats Domino
to her over what was left of our bourbon,
crooning “I want to walk you home,
please let me walk you home…”
and we sang it again on the way
across town, “I want to walk you
home” even though we were already
walking her home, and we talked about
galaxies and planets, the beer and bourbon
replaced by four-in-the-morning
New York air, breathing it in like
cigarette smoke, breathing it
back out. At the door of her building
we each said good night to her,
each gave her a hug, then walked back
to our side of town feeling enormous
like the sky, like a song only Fats Domino
could have written but which we sang,
into every corner of the night,
as if it were ours. And at Bowery
and Houston, my friend and I said
our “See You Later”s and he headed up
the street toward his apartment
as I kept going east, my feet moving
like the fingers on Fats Domino’s
right hand.

-Jose Padua

Another Friday Night Lost in My Head vs. the Collected Songs of the Filipino Genius

Photograph by Jose Padua
Tonight while doing the dishes
I wrote a song in my head
the guitar part came first
some jangly chords played
to a bold steady beat
going on for several bars
like a night out on the town
in the damp heat
of an infinite summer
and then I heard the voice
wailing midnight wisdom
in my inner ear singing
words that moved like
wheels burning on
the dark pasty asphalt
something about the way
they tumble about
the way I tumble about
the way you tumble
through it all and
never stop and the song
kept going on
in my head even
after I was finished
doing the dishes
even after I was finished
bagging up the trash
taking it out to the curb
wiping my feet on the porch
and by the time I was walking
back in the front door
I was still hearing the song
and as great as it was
I started to get
a little tired of it
weary of the melody
as beautiful as it was
and the beat which
didn’t make me want to
move with it as much
as when it first started
its renaissance of rhythm
dwindling into something
like the fall of an empire
when the people have
heard enough of everything
that’s real and want nothing
more than something
that’s easy to believe
a song that goes baby baby
over and over again
baby just show me
what you’ve got
.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Another Yellow Moon

Photograph by Jose Padua
I used to do it
all the time
and I was even
fairly good at it
but now with
my sometimes aching
fingers and diminished
ability regarding rhythm
I play about twice a year
and tonight I picked up
my daughter’s acoustic guitar
because my own
is all out of tune
and hidden behind
old books and older LPs
and after looking everywhere
for one of her guitar picks
and not finding where
she stashes them
I sat in the dining room
held the guitar in my hands
and looked around until
I found next to my spot
on the dining room table
an expired AARP membership card
which I put between my fingers
then tried to figure out
the chords to the old
Tom Waits tune
“Downtown Train”
and like a subway
stuck on the tracks
somewhere in Brooklyn
I didn’t get anywhere close to it
which isn’t to say
this is only reason
I’m writing
this poem.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Self-Portrait with Flashbacks in the Purple Bathroom of the Lavender Farm in Milton, Delaware

Photograph by Jose Padua
I remember the days of
cigarettes and whippets
a pack of Marlboro Reds
in a box you’d buy
after you pulled the
whipped cream can from
the store shelf when no
one was looking suck
the nitrous out of it put
it back down slide the
glass door shut then
go to the counter with
your cigarettes trying
not to laugh while you
paid then letting it loose
like dropping a handful
of spare change once you
got out the door and laughing
at the night sky walking back
to your neighborhood fast
or slow like a glass door
with smudges or the arrival
of the Queen of Sheba it
was hard to tell sometimes.
Some people did the hard
stuff but you were always
sensible about this and
measured it almost with
precision and a clear eye
on the future except one
time a friend said his heart
stopped from too much nitrous
but he/they/someone got it
going again and he’s living
in Canada now or Wisconsin
being some kind of life coach
or whatever they call that
professional self-help situation
when there’s someone with
a certificate doing the
unwieldy lifting for you.
And me I’m living the calm
life now in small town
conservative America thinking
beautiful socialist thoughts like
wild mist coming off dry ice
in the late Pleistocene or in
the evening quiet of the living
room loving both my family
and the way the rug ends
and the wood floor begins
when I walk toward the hall
on my way to the stairs when
its time to go to bed thinking
how every molecule within me
that has survived and is alive
moves in exquisite time like
an orchestra of oboes, bassoons,
horns, trumpets, timpani, strings,
and takes up space like brass in
pocket on a day coming out
of a store all shiny when there
really was nothing I needed to buy.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A Routine Evaluation of My Accomplishments at a Late Stage in the Middle Part of My Career

Photograph by Jose Padua
Because of a mix tape I played for what
must have been a couple of decades, I can’t
hear Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover”
without expecting to hear T.S. Monk’s
“Bon Bon Vie (Gimme the Good Life)”
right after it. There were train rides when
I was so weary I’d fall asleep in minutes,
days when I was so sad flowers lacked
both scent and color. Meanwhile, weeks
were lost like socks with holes in them
and days recalled like harmful products
except there was no store where I could
take them back, no class action lawsuit
for squandered opportunities and essential
connections missed. These years of love
have sustained me far beyond anything
I ever could have imagined; a dusting to
an inch of snow overnight on cold asphalt
resulting in a two hour delay is all part
of the good life. A red light long enough
for me to take a picture of blue sky over
grey pavement is like a shot glass from
a roadside gift shop, another memory that
never diminishes. I admit I didn’t always
know this, just as I understand that there
are gaps in my resume that will never be
explained, and disturbances in my sleep
which, like having to go to the bathroom
at 4am, only briefly interrupt the dream.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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

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