Monday, June 6, 2011

Red Letter, Black Sweater--a poem, dedicated to two songs

In summer/fall of 1990, I finally got my first CD player, and first few CDs. I was 17, senior in high school, a bit tripped out, love sick and mad for drumming.

I was fully ensconced in the alternative/college music of the day, and had been for over a year, after finally shedding my "all 1965-72" obsession. Thus, the music that appealed most to me was the stuff that did "that thing" to one's head; that thing that was ingrained in the best of the old stuff that I'd listened to. That thing that traveled the road from brain to soul and back again. And yet, made me feel that I was in the here and now. 

Two songs that I was obsessed with, and that still, to this day, can put me exactly in a certain time and place, were "Blown Away", by The Pixies (from Bossa Nova) and "Disappearer" by Sonic Youth (from Goo). I used to like listening to the two songs back to back and just get into a real deep place. This was without any external aid. Just the music.

What is it about these two songs? Each have chord progressions that invite you to hop on board, like a cosmic skateboard flying by. The songs seem to both be waking from a dream.The melodies buzz and flicker like fireflies, singing words that tell vague, dream-like tales that are open to interpretation. The lead vocals both have a distance and reverb that suggest isolation--even disembodiment. They seem to be broadcasting from another plane.

In any case, for a little while, I've been wanting to pay tribute to these two songs in a song or short story. I wanted to refer to them within a scene that somewhat captures a brief, magical time in my youth.  This morning I thought about it again and decided a poem might do it best. After all, there's no real story to tell, in these songs or in my remembrance. It's just images, distorted memories. A mindset that, 21 years later, seems mummified and encased in glass. Dead but examinable.

Thanks to Mr. Moore and Mr. Black for infiltrating my teenage mind with such magic. Who'd have thought I could now say I've played gigs with them? But that's beside the point. And kind of depressing.


Red Letter, Black Sweater       6 June, 2011

Who were those birds that attacked you
and sent you to my door
a quarter mile away, in tears,
heaving and birthing soggy, defenseless words
that dream of escape velocity
stumbling dazed out of your mouth
holding up pictures of lost loved ones.

If you were flightless, then I am more so
If that is impossible then I'll be the exception
just so your highness remains intact
just so the chick stays warm, doesn't crack
you're fine, so long as I crack more
A time-tested method to send you home happy

Later I'll don a sweater of yours
I should have already returned
Pack a cassette tape and a clove
someone had left on the passengers seat
Fifty eight degrees, light wind, sky sleeping grey
Trees, arthritic, spitting out the final dead leaves
Undignified, they ignored last call
Now no hope for a pretty corpse
They once spoke of martyrdom and myth

I know the hill you described.
I don't know how it feels to be bombarded
By scared, possessive mothers
I've not known that kind of dedication
I can see water towers, crows, small planes
The clove and tobacco take over smell and taste
Headphones transmit two songs I rewind
and play a few times in a row, back to back

"Blown Away" and "Disappearer"
were both fairly new
and soothed me as the dazed, tired voices
resigned in their isolated life stations
and fuzzy soundscapes
melded with the tattered black wool sleeve
I clutched in my right hand
The words were read to me, two or three times over
I inhaled my name, exhaled a handshake
and signed a contract made of smoke
A lifetime of sound, mood, weather
and detachment so apparent
A mother bird need not bother

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