Tag Archives: Miles Davis

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

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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

For The Saints And Angels, Miles Davis, And You

Photograph by Jose Padua
Miles Davis was a skinny motherfucker, a bitter and often mean man.
I have always been a little on the stocky side and while often bitter,
I am rarely ever mean.

Miles Davis was a master trumpet player while the only thing I’ve mastered
is the art of keeping my better qualities concealed like money
people hide in their shoes.

Miles Davis was a performer who most of the time would have preferred to just
rip your eyes out rather than accept your applause.
I am a performer who most of the time would prefer to just rip your eyes out
rather than accept your applause.

Whenever Miles Davis wanted to make money he’d just pick up his horn,
play it, and come home with several thousand dollars.
Whenever I want to make money I write a story and two months later I get
a check in the mail for a hundred and fifty bucks or less (usually less)
and whenever I write a poem I owe more money when I’m finished
writing it than I did when I began.

During the course of his life Miles Davis went to Paris, Tokyo, London.
The longest trip I ever made was the time I had the stomach flu and took
a Greyhound bus from New Orleans to Las Vegas to San Francisco
to visit an old friend who wouldn’t let me sleep on her floor much
less in her bed .

Miles Davis—people always seem to obsess on him.
Like the Irish Catholic girl I knew in college who said,
“All I know about jazz is Miles Davis.”
Like the kid watching a man play trumpet
on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Avenue A
and saying to him,
“Hey, man, play some Miles Davis.”

As far as I know no one has ever obsessed on me,
and though I have heard stories of people other than me
reciting my poems in public
I believe these reports to be greatly exaggerated.

I remember when Miles Davis died.
I was at a girlfriend’s apartment in New York
and they’d been playing Miles Davis on WKCR all weekend.

We’d gone out for Chinese food and when we got back
to her place she suddenly turned catatonic,
giving me an evil look as Sketches of Spain
came out of the radio.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, “Was it something I said?”
She just sat there on her living room chair saying nothing,
and after a while I walked out the door,
went home and turned on the TV.

Miles Davis would have screamed
“What the fuck’s wrong with you, bitch?” or maybe even worse
before picking up the phone to call one of his other women.

“Mary,” he’d say, or “Martha” or “Johanna” or any of a hundred other names,
“This is Miles. Meet me at the corner of Second Avenue and Eleventh St.
in ten minutes, and make sure you’re wearing that red silk dress I gave you.
No, not the blue one the red one. Did you hear me, I said RED, woman!”
Click.

Miles Davis is dead,
though I, at the moment, am alive
and remembering the night two years after he died,
when contemplating the wind’s direction, I stood
on the corner of Broadway and West 57th street
in a crucifixion pose.

Elsewhere the Eiffel Tower was standing tall and Big Ben still
ringing as the lights of Tokyo pushed out the darkness.
And with the November cold sliding through my winter coat
I put my arms back down and walked
like on a Sunday morning in the spring
when the blood rushes through your veins,
only it wasn’t spring and it wasn’t Sunday,
and I wasn’t anywhere near Heaven
with no money in my pocket, no tune to play
and no made-up angel in a silk dress
to take me home.

Miles Davis
is long gone and so is
Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad or whosoever
has inspired or moved you
but at least you are still alive,
living through your faults and transgressions,
while the perfect ones and talented ones
and even the ones whose only claim to greatness
was that they were bold as fuck
are all lying in the ground
or burnt to scattered ashes
in the beautiful, evil wind.

So let your idols expire. Let there be joy
on Broad St. and bedlam uptown.
Let young hearts and your own be crushed.

Commerce will work against you once again,
but the law of the land
is a wasp with mud on its wings
and honey in its left eye.
Its belly is full
but its heart is a sponge:
kill it before it kills you because
the gods will never punish you,
and the saints and angels will never squeal on you,
only men whose names have
already been forgotten.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

A City Named Elizabeth and a Million Other Ways of Resisting the Dream

Photograph by Jose Padua
I was getting tired and was annoyed with all the traffic after hitting the outskirts of Richmond right around rush hour. I also had to keep reminding myself this was Wednesday not Saturday—and that even though we were heading out on the road it was not the weekend.

We’d left Front Royal at around two and took, as usual, the slow way. Route 522 going south seemed like the way to go, but that day, as it wound around Lake Anna in Louisa and Spotsylvania counties, I started to feel this sadness. My American sadness.

Lake Anna. It’s a man-made lake, formed in the early 70s to provide a source of water for the purpose of cooling the North Anna Nuclear Generating Station. Since then it’s become a popular vacation destination in Virginia, and every summer it fills with people swimming, boating, fishing. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I find the idea of frolicking on a lake that was created to cool a nuclear power plant rather depressing. Of course, with my obsessive-compulsive mind, there are so many things that can send my thoughts veering off in some unpleasant or frightening direction.

When we got off of the slow, winding dreariness of Route 522 and onto the fast-paced madness of Interestate-64 at rush hour, I was pissed. Right away Heather picked up her phone in search of an alternate route, and she found one. All we had to do was go south of Richmond on 295 and we’d hit Route 460.

It was a slower road, going through these small run-down and run-over towns with vaguely British sounding names like Waverly, Wakefield, and Windsor as well as more intriguing names like New Bohemia and Disputanta. As is often the case when we’re on the road, there were numerous places where I wanted to stop the car, though not necessarily get out. This was, after all rural Virginia, and as fascinating and oddly beautiful as it can be, it’s not always the most welcoming of places. So we drove on, passing by gun shops and ammo shops and sometimes gun and ammo shops; seeing home-made signs along the road blaming Obama for everything imaginable, including one sign that urged people to fight Obamacare using the Edmund Burke quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Thinking that this quote would be more applicable commentary regarding Obama’s drone war, for instance, or for the record number of people his administration has deported, I had to give this sign the finger.

We drove on and on down 460, and then we got to Suffolk, Virginia. This was one town I was especially glad to go through, because according to what I’ve read, this is the town where one of my favorite musicians and songwriters, Fred Cornog (who records under the name “East River Pipe”) was born. I would have stopped, but we were already running late.

Suffolk was also where we saw, for the first time that day, a Confederate Flag flying from the back of some dickhead’s pickup truck. Well, there were most likely others, but that was the first one we noticed. But it was in Suffolk when Miles Davis’s “Right Off” from A Tribute to Jack Johnson came out of the random mix on the car stereo. It’s a piece of music that always lifts me up, always give me strength, and, looking back, I wonder if this was when the music of Miles Davis first clicked with Julien, who at the time was just four. Now, yearly a year later, Miles Davis is the music he always asks to hear, and it’s not unlikely that his appreciation of this music is a revelation that occurred on the road. I know that for me, the road is where a lot of revelations ascend as well as a determination to get where I want to be (and by getting where I want to be I’m not necessarily talking about an actual place so much as a place where I want my mind to dwell).

After we’d crossed the state line into North Carolina and were driving along the southern end of the Great Dismal Swamp, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major came on. Listening to it, with the swamp on the left, Heather to my right, and Maggie and Julien in the seats behind us, I got that pleasant sensation that happens every now and then when I feel as if I’m riding slightly off the ground. Flying, as it were, but at the sort of low and comfortable altitude I prefer. And moving forward in such a way that wherever we were, the ground beneath us felt like a home of sorts, a shelter—if only temporarily so—from all the vicious American dreams that clash with our own more peaceful ones.

Then we hit a clearing. That’s what you see in this photograph—the flat of the land of North Carolina as you get closer and closer to the shore. In a little while, we were in Elizabeth City, which was where we were stopping for the night. As we drove up to our hotel I saw, standing around the entrance, about a dozen or so good-ole-boy types. As I let Heather out the door so she could pick up the keys to our room, they all stared at me. It was that blank look of barely restrained disapproval—a look that sometimes disintegrates into something worse. A look that can say, as looks often do, a whole lot of different things—none of which were “Welcome to North Carolina.”

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In the Someday with the Sound of All the Passing Years

Photograph by Jose Padua
We only have one TV in the house, and last night Julien took a break from whatever he wanted to watch and let Maggie take control of it. What she put on was a DVD that had videos and footage of live performances by Nirvana. As Maggie watched, I remembered how she was impressed when I told her that an old friend of mine was in a band that had opened for Nirvana a number of times, and that Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was a big fan of this band. What impressed her even more was that this friend had been to our house here in Front Royal a number of years ago, and that she’d actually met him. I then tried to think of some other things that might impress Maggie, which brought Kurt Cobain’s wife Courtney Love to mind. There was, after all, a connection between me and Courtney Love, though not a direct one. That’s where Kathleen Hannah of the band Bikini Kill came in.

“Courtney Love and Kathleen Hannah,” I explained to Maggie, “had once gotten into a fist fight…” And then I paused, because I wasn’t quite sure how to explain my connection to Kathleen Hanna.

“Kathleen Hanna didn’t like Daddy,” Heather said.

“Why?” Maggie asked.

“Because of something he wrote in the Washington City Paper,” Heather continued.

I wanted to explain to Maggie how, back then, some of the things I wrote didn’t exactly come from a position of enlightenment, and to get to that, I had to tell Maggie how Kathleen Hanna used to work at the Royal Palace. I didn’t quite know how to tell her about the Royal Palace. That it’s a strip joint, and that a story I wrote over twenty years ago about it was rather unkind to the women who worked there. So first I told her about the Black Cat Club, the musical venue in DC.

“You see,” I told Maggie, “Kathleen Hanna denounced me from the stage during a show at the Black Cat Club because of what I wrote.”

Then Maggie said, “Oh?” and a look of puzzlement came upon her face. That’s when I remembered that our neighbor here in Front Royal, Linda, used to dance at the Royal Palace back in the day.

“You see, there’s this club where Linda used to work, and Kathleen Hanna used to work there too,” I said, and I paused again.

Maggie had heard vague references to “a place where Linda used to work,” and when we first moved here, I thought Linda looked familiar. It was a few years after we’d been here, though, when I finally asked her, “Did you ever dance at the Royal Palace?” That’s when Linda whispered to Heather and me so Maggie couldn’t hear, telling us about her wild, dancing partying days. And every now and then it comes up again, and all Maggie ever hears are the words “Royal Palace” and a lot of hushed words and whispers. So she know something’s up, and that the Royal Palace is a place where none of us works or drinks or does anything anymore.

And I was ready to go on about how I wasn’t always the way I am now. And how, like Homo Erectus or Neanderthal man, I evolved into something better. That’s when Maggie said, “Er, okay. You can just tell me later.” Which meant she understood that this was another one of those stories where I don’t come out looking all that good in the end. Where I’m, at best, more anti-hero than hero.

“Yeah,” she said again. “Just tell me later.”

So she went back to watching Kurt Cobain as he swung a guitar around on stage during a concert, and I never got to explain my connection to Courtney Love, and why she and I were both hated by the same person–Kathleen Hanna. Though I imagine that while she may still hate Courtney Love, Kathleen Hanna has most likely forgotten all about me. As have a lot of other people. And for that I’m grateful.

I took this self-portrait while I showed Julien a video of Amy Winehouse singing, “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It’s a sad and beautiful song, and Julien fell in love with it right away last year when I played it in the car while we were driving around Rehoboth Beach. Then, just a couple of days after we got back from the beach, I showed him, for the first time, the video of Amy Winehouse singing that very song. The look of astonishment on his face made me love the song even more.

A few months later, though, Julien had tired of the song. Whenever it came up in the random mix on the car stereo he’d say, “Different song. Different song.” Now, for a long time, he’s been hooked on Miles Davis. So many times, when we get in the car, he’ll say, “Play Miles Davis.” He knows the music from A Tribute to Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew, but one time recently I played Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way when I picked him up from school.

“Who’s this?” I asked. Julien listened for a few seconds, then said confidently, “Miles Davis.”

And we slowly made our way home, listening to “Shhh/Peaceful” from In a Silent Way. Getting from Julien’s school to our house is not a long drive. In fact, it’s a pretty short drive. But it was just long enough for us to listen and let the music shelter us—maybe even more than the rolled up windows—from a cold winter day. Soon enough, those days when time seems to move so quickly would be back. There was no need for us to rush.

-Jose Padua