Category Archives: 5. Music

Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River

Photograph by Jose Padua
On a Saturday morning with the
TV off and all the usual means of
communicating with the outside
world down, my five-year-old son
declares, “If I close my eyes I can
see Godzilla,” which is yet another
observation and message from today’s
youth which rather than giving me
pause lifts me and through fluid logic
gives me concrete reason to believe
that in the future I will still be wearing
dark shades.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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How Does It Feel to Be Loved and All the Other Questions I’ve Ever Wanted to Ask the Armed Cheerleaders of the Corporate State as an Act of Defiance


That night one year ago, after dinner, I was in the dining room talking to my wife Heather when our thirteen-year-old daughter Maggie came in to ask me for help with the stereo. I followed her to the parlor, which for the last few years is where I keep my home office, and which, for simply practical purposes, is where our full stereo system is. What Maggie specifically needed assistance with was the turntable, the cover of which was tilted open. I bent down and pressed a few buttons on the receiver and made sure it was set to “phono,” then stood back up to lift the tonearm over an LP she’d already placed down on the platter. I hadn’t brought my reading glasses with me to the parlor, so I couldn’t tell what record she’d been trying to play; and I carefully laid the tonearm down on the black vinyl, anxious to find out.

I heard a split second of guitar, then the voice of Lou Reed going, “Well, I’m beginning to see the light,” which meant that what Maggie had been trying to play was the second side of the Velvet Underground’s third album.

“OK, thanks, Dad,” Maggie said quickly. She was obviously trying to get me to move along so she could be alone with the music of the Velvet Underground and before I could express any overly-gushing approval of her listening choices. She’d heard all that before and she knew—yeah, how cool I thought it was that she was listening to music like the Velvet Underground instead of the usual crap that’s marketed to teenagers (and I also saw that she’d pulled Big Star’s Radio City off the shelf to play next). So I went back to the dining room, where Heather and I had mostly likely been discussing the coming horrors of the United States of Trump.

The following afternoon, while waiting in the car with my six-year old son Julien for Maggie’s school bus to get back to town, I had the stereo on. Julien had been looking at a book he’d brought home from his school’s library when he stopped to listen to the music that was playing.

“Who’s that?” he asked. “Is that someone who died?”

Ever since hearing a few weeks earlier that Leonard Cohen died, Julien had been obsessed with the people who are no longer with us.

“No,” I said, “This person is still alive.”

“Play something by someone who died,” Julien said. I clicked the tab to play the next song on the random mix.

“Oh,” I said. “This person singing now is someone who died.”

“Who is it?”

“Her name was Lizzy Mercier Descloux.”

He’d heard Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s music before, but it had been a while. Also, I imagined that the last time Julien had heard “Mais où Sont Passées Les Gazelles?”, it didn’t matter to him whether or not Lizzy Mercier Descloux was still with us. Knowing she was gone, Julien must have sensed something in addition to the beauty of the song. I know, even now, a year later he’s probably still too young to really understand; but on that afternoon I gathered that what he was sensing for perhaps the first time was history. And that the main thing separating the present from the historical past was death.

I don’t recall the exact moment when I found out about death, but I’m pretty sure that when I found out I was around Julien’s age—and that when I found out I was obsessed with it. What’s more, with my OCD, it’s an obsession that never diminishes. As it is, not a day goes by when I don’t think about it. What’s more, with my sixtieth birthday coming in a few weeks—and, with a few of my friends having died in the last couple of years—the days seem to be going by rather quickly. But maybe that’s because of all the energy I spend trying not to think about it—making up poems and stories in my head to distract me, to stand as works of defiance and rebellion. And then I think about it anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s an obsession I manage to live with. That I’m also able to think what are sometimes incredibly beautiful thoughts is a gift that, I think, is made possible by all the darker places my mind travels.

It was five years ago on this day that my father died. Julien still asks about it every now and then, and about my mother as well, who he never got to meet.

“Did your Mom and Dad die?” he’ll ask.

“Yes,” I’ll say, sorrowfully. “Do you remember Lolo, though?” (Lolo being the Filipino term for grandfather.)

“Yes,” he’ll say. “I was small.” And then he’ll ask, “Who else died?”

If Julien is anything like me, which I gather he is, the question of who else died should soon evolve into something like, Who else was once alive and shone upon us with their bright light? Or something along those lines—both he and Maggie, I’m sure, will develop their own ways of expressing their defiance against everything that is banal and malevolent. They may use words, or they may use sound or sight more, or perhaps a combination of things. But whatever the case, I see them making works of beauty.

With every passing year, I think less of my father as being gone and more for what he was when he was alive, a man of many years and miles, an immigrant of color to this country, a worker who worked in small but steady ways to build a world.

This day is for him, and all of those like him who take more pleasure in creating rather than in destroying, who create a path through restlessness and confusion, making space where there once was none, who shine upon their surroundings with a great but subtle gleaming. And woe unto anyone who attempts to diminish that shine.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of Cosme Padua was taken somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley around 1950.

Notes on the Crepuscular Effects of the Music of Thelonious Monk on the Noise of White Supremacy

Photgraph by Jose Padua
This afternoon waiting
for his big sister
to get out
from school
my six year old son
asks me to play
“Ruby, My Dear”
over and over again
and because it’s
the music of Thelonious Monk
I don’t hesitate or try
to persuade him
that it’s time to listen
to something else.
Sometimes it takes
the revelatory light
of an entire summer’s
day to sustain you.
Other times even
the little glimmers
of late autumn light
are more than
enough to take you
where you need
to go.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Possibility of Creating More Beauty and Less Trash

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was the music of Franz Liszt that had me turning to my daughter Maggie in Armstrong Concert Hall at Shenandoah University that day and mouthing the words, “Holy Fuck!” She mouthed back an exasperated, “Dad!” then we turned back toward the stage, where Nikolay Khozyainov, the Russian pianist, was playing Liszt’s Transcendental Étude, S. 139, No. 4 as if someone were squeezing his balls and wasn’t going to let go until he was done creating the best performance ever of this difficult piece.

Khozyainov had started off the concert with Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob.XVI:49, and both Maggie and I were going “Wow,” but as well as he played Haydn, nothing prepared us for the way he took the music of Franz Liszt and, as good as it already was, made it seem like the best shit ever written. I mean Jesus! Khozyainov went on to do Liszt’s Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata from Années de pèlerinage II, S . 161, then on to close his main program with Schumann’s Arabesque, op. 18 and Fantasy in C Major, op. 17. Whether the music was loud or soft, fast or slow, Khozyainov played it all like he was the most insane motherfucker in the universe.

Of course, when he was done everyone in the audience applauded until it seemed like our hands would start to bleed. He came back out, and then again and again, doing three encores, the last of which was a punked up medley of tunes from Bizet’s Carmen during which he ran his fast fingers sick as fuck up and down the piano. I’d been hoping that maybe he’d pull Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1 out of his hat for a final encore, but his punk rock Bizet made me forget about that.

And I must say, that even though I love jazz, from Sidney Bechet to Sun Ra, and beautiful raw rock and roll shit like the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, and then everything from P-Funk to throat singers like Tanya Tagaq to the did-the-record-get-stuck modern symphonic music of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, there’s nothing like classical music from the Romantic era to make me think, Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck everything he believes, fuck everything he thinks he knows. I mean, there’s so much in the world that’s beautiful and we have to deal with his ugly shit and the massive stench he keeps building up with it and then be civil and polite and respectful about it? Fuck that.

That evening, when Maggie and I got home, I looked up some of the music Nikolay Khozyainov performed and played it for my wife Heather and our five-year old, Julien. They didn’t quite put it this way, but they looked at me and nodded as if to say, “Yeah, this shit is fucking good, motherfucker.” Then we ate dinner.

Late that night, when everyone was asleep, I looked to see if there was any footage of Nikolay Khozyainov playing Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1, and there was–after all, it’s one of those incredibly challenging and beautiful pieces which any badass classical pianist has to try at some point and Khozyainov is definitely a badass. So I listened to it, and Jesus, his Chopin was the fucking shit.

Still, I think the great Argentine pianist Martha Argerich’s take on Chopin was a little better. But then again, is there anything anyone can do that Martha Argerich can’t do better? Hell, back when she smoked cigarettes she smoked cigarettes better than anyone else. There are pictures of her doing it. You can look them up.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Days and Nights in the City Where I First Opened My Eyes

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother worked nights at home, daytime too,
in the house, at the sewing machine, making dresses
for women who could afford to have dresses made
for them. We bought our clothes at the store, though
sometimes she would sew something special for us–
a vest, a Barong Tagalog made out of sheer white
fabric which I never wore because I thought it would
make me look even less American than I already did
with what the kids at school sometimes called my
Chinese Checkers eyes. I liked jeans and tee shirts,
sneakers, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and
I’d never think of playing The Reycard Duet with
Tony Maiquez and his Ukelele Gang singing
“Oh! Baby” which was wild and raw and—though
I didn’t know the word for it at the time—badass.
My father took care of the ambassador’s residence,
made sure water ran through every pipe, and lights
went on in every big, fancy bedroom and in the
grand dining room where every piece of furniture
was hand-carved with ivory inlays and where the
long narrow halls were big enough for us to live in.
At nights he served drinks and appetizers to the class
of people who could drink strong drinks and
eat gourmet meals, hoping each night for good tips
and maybe good leftovers which he could bring
home to us—strawberries in custard in a miniature
pie shell, flaky black and white pastries that came in
layers that fell apart like the times as we bit into them,
staying up a little later than we were supposed to,
waiting for our treats, but mostly for him, which
was when my mom would turn the sewing machine
off for the night and come into the fluorescent light
of the kitchen, where we’d sit, the sweet taste on
our tongues interrupting every stray question and
tidy answer, our eyes getting heavier, happy, content
with long tiring days ending in long bright nights.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

For the City and These Long Decades Spent Wandering

Photograph by Jose Padua
After dinner one evening my six year old son declares
“Trump is a barbarian” from out of nowhere or anywhere
I can immediately recall not that speaking the truth ever
requires a prompt, instance, or specific rules of condition
with truth being, like clear air, blue water, or green earth,
its own reason for being. Later my daughter, or as my
son says, his big sister, asks for help in using the almost
thirty-year old turntable on my twenty-five year old stereo
so she can listen to a song from Neil Young’s forty-three
year old LP, On the Beach, in beautiful, black analog sound,
and I have to think about it, have to figure it out because
I don’t use it that often myself though once I started thinking
it all came back like an after-midnight walk down Broadway
through the widening space of a New York City summer
which despite being many drinks, a few decades, and several
presidents ago is not the sort of thing one forgets. And what
lifts me from weariness and dread are the small things, not
the grand recollections and gestures but the brief but glowing
movements, the laying down of a hand on a table, the darting
of the eyes while reading a book. The history of the world
is the history of your outrage versus mine, your fist against
my tongue, my speech against your fist, because what is
mine will always be mine and forever forged into my blood
like the taste of my true love’s lips. This doesn’t mean
I won’t offer you food when you’re hungry and doesn’t
mean we can’t walk forward and change tenses, but your
sad story will need a new way of being told and recognize
that we are now walking through flooded streets and that
all the buildings that once towered over us have collapsed.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Days Run Away Like the Great B-Side of a Hit Single by Prince

Photograph by Jose Padua
I was sitting in the car with Julien while Heather went into the grocery store. It had been about a month since Prince had died, and while for the last month I had been playing the music of Prince almost non-stop—he’s one of a small number of people you can do that with and never get tired of it all—that day, I was taking a break. So it was a sunny, spring day with something other than Prince playing on the car stereo. Julien listened for a minute before asking, “Who’s that?”

“It’s Herbie Hancock,” I said. We were a few minutes into the “Chameleon” from the Head Hunters LP.

Julien paused then said, “I don’t like Herbie Hancock. Play Miles Davis.” Miles Davis was Julien’s favorite at the time. I don’t suppose there are too many five year olds whose favorite music is Miles Davis’s music, but there we were. The windows of the car were down, and a cool breeze came inside.

I tried to explain to Julien that Herbie Hancock played with Miles Davis, but he didn’t care and he refused to give Herbie Hancock’s music a chance. To make the wait easier, I went ahead and put on Miles Davis.

Back then, while my daughter Maggie was doing her homework, I’d hear her playing Public Image Limited (PiL) a lot. She had been listening to Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Kleenex/LiliPUT while she was studying, but then she added PiL to the mix. After that I’d always hear the voice of John Lydon going “This is not a love song/ This is not a love song” or “Anger is an energy/ Anger is an energy” as she did her algebra homework or worked on a brief essay she had to write.

That morning, right before we headed out to take them all to school, Maggie looked something up on her phone then she said, “I have the same birthday as the guitarist for PiL!”

“You mean Keith Levene?”

“Yes,” she said. “We have the same birthday!”

“Wow,” I said. And I remembered that she also shares a birthday with Hunter S. Thompson, but I didn’t mention it because I think it’s still a few years before she’s ready to read about things like the massive drug run that begins Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I also didn’t mention that I share a birthday with Jean Genet, because I didn’t think she was quite ready to read a book like Our Lady of the Flowers yet either. But, when she’s old enough, these great books will be among my recommended reading and can be added to the volumes of Baudelaire, Lucille Clifton, and Junot Diaz that she was already carrying around with her all the time.

For a couple of weeks, the question Julien had been asking most frequently was, “Who’s bad?”—with it being election season and with the death of Prince there were a lot of bad things in the air, making it a time for questions. (But then, when is it not a time for questions?) In the second of those two weeks, Julien began answering his own question. And when we all said, “I don’t know. Who’s bad?” Julien would then say, without the slightest pause of doubt, “Donald Trump’s bad.”

“Yes, he is bad,” we’d say.

A couple of days later, while we were having lunch at Blue Wing Frog over on Chester Street, Julien answered his own question about who was bad and added, “Donald Trump is a poopy head!” Then he stopped to think about it for a moment before asking, “Does he poop with his head?”

“Well, in a way he does,” we all said. Or words to that effect.

And later that day, it rained. Like on the B-side of an old Prince song—it rained and kept on raining. After having spent a few days not listening to Prince that week, he was back on the soundtrack, and  I was listening closely, hoping for more answers.

I took this photograph of Union Hall, which was part of a joint called Victoria’s Restaurant, when we left Blue Wing Frog that day. Union Hall and Victoria’s restaurant have been closed since February 2009, when it was discovered that its owner was a fugitive wanted on drug charges in Massachusetts. Union Hall had been one of the few places in Front Royal where you had music and dancing. The owner had been here, in our small Virginia town, for nearly two decades. He raised his kids here, had grandkids, and ran his restaurant and club for as long as he could. And then they took him away.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Directions in Music and Other Ways of Approaching the Day

Photograph by Jose Padua
When I pick my five-year-old
son up from school
then stop at the grocery store
to get milk instead
of going straight home
he says “I’ll just stay here
in the car
and listen to Miles Davis”
because right then “Spanish Key”
from Bitches Brew
is playing on
the car stereo and
since it’s a warm spring
day here in the valley
and what he wants to do
sounds better than
what I want to do
we sit in the car
and listen
until the song is over
and we’re thirsty for something other
than sound.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Black

Photograph by Jose Padua
I don’t like to wear hats, but sometimes,
when I lived in New York, and it was cold
enough, I’d wear a beret. It was black, of course,

because if it isn’t black it isn’t really a beret.
Most of the clothes I wore in New York were
black, though it was hard to tell because that

rich deep shade was usually faded from being
washed and worn too many times—I didn’t know
the art of wearing one’s clothes gently, I never

mastered that because usually I was the one being
mastered. Mastered by some woman who wore
black better than me, mastered by my inability

to find just the right amount of work, mastered
by the middle class and those things you need
to buy, mastered by my apartment when the

bathtub backed up and the water that rose
from the drain was black. One time I sat
in my apartment listening to the stereo and

imagining that when Nina Simone sang
“Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”
that she was singing it for me. Or that when

Rahsaan Roland Kirk played “Never Can Say
Goodbye” from his album Blacknuss I wasn’t
in my apartment but in the audience, watching,

listening, traveling the lost years through time.
And when I stepped outside with that music
in my head, I put on my beret hoping it would keep

the music there longer. As if music were the key
to everything from the color of clouds to the
brightness of the early morning’s light. As if

on a dark winter night all the shelter I’d need
to keep my significant sound and light secure in
the cold winter air was the power of the color black.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Signs of Life

Photograph by Jose Padua
The Biograph Theater in DC, where I first saw
Casablanca on something other than a TV screen;
Joe Cocker and Leon Russell in Mad Dogs & Englishman,
a rock documentary I saw when I was still too young
to attend a live show what with all the pot smoking
and hippie kids dancing without their shirts; and
Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary while the outraged devout
camped outside the lobby, protesting the film’s supposed
blasphemy, has been a CVS drugstore for over two decades
now, a place where you can buy shaving cream, Slim Jims,
toilet paper, ibuprofen, and all the other tools, necessary or
optional, for living in the 21st Century. But where are those
images, the words, sounds and songs that I also need?
The airplane in black and white and mist that’s about
to lift Ingrid Bergman up and off to a safer place;
Joe Cocker singing and Leon Russell playing “Delta Lady”
with English accent and Oklahoma twang; the irreverent
challenge of taking the divine back down to earth with
allegory. There is a way of living, here, in that moment
that takes you away from whatever commerce brought us
together. That allows you to forget the body while being
of the body, seated, your eyes open, glancing away from
the screen and across the dark auditorium to catch, partly
by accident and partly by intent, the unforgettable sight of
a face, in the crowd, illuminated as much by sound as by light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua