The Poet Makes Grief Beautiful: Revisited

gillian-welchI just read a terrific column at Salon.com by someone known more for setting words to music, the wonderful singer-songwriter Gillian Welch.

The crux of the piece is best explained by Gillian in her opening paragraph:

I want to talk about the tradition of tragedy in Southern folk music. This tradition connects with why people make art – to deal with the gnarliest, most painful events that occur. Things beyond your control, almost beyond human understanding. This is why we sing about them: the sinking of the Titanic, hurricanes, rapes, assassination, murder, suicide, drugs …

I highly recommend reading the rest, but the reason I’m sharing it here is because it reminded me of one of my earliest posts here at Fish & Bicycles, published five years ago in only my second month, something titled The Poet Makes Grief Beautiful.

In that post, I covered some of the same territory visited by Ms. Welch, and so I thought I’d share this excerpt:

[Poet James] Stephens writes:

For, as he meditated misery
And cared it into song — Strict Care, Strict Joy!
Caring for grief he cared his grief away:
And those sad songs, tho’ woe be all the theme,
Do not make us grieve who read them now —
Because the poet makes grief beautiful.

This is why art is so important. It is nothing less than our humanity in action. We work through our experiences, experiences of grief and hardship and joy, shaping them into words, melodies, images, movements, theatrics, structures, etc., and the care we take to make something meaningful of these experiences is an incredibly powerful, positive, hopeful thing. And we receive these gifts from artists and find that these works speak to similar experiences we’ve had, making us feel sympathetic solidarity, enabling us to feel less alone with the pain and love and even terror we have been through.

I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that discovering great music, literature, and visual art saved my life, and I can’t imagine surviving a life void of this Strict Care.

Video Fridays: R.I.P. Ian McLagan

ian-mclaganREALLY tough week for rock & roll.

The day after we lost unsung legend Bobby Keys, which I wrote about on Tuesday, the sad news came that another unsung legend, Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan, had passed.

It’s uncanny that these two amazing musicians should leave us at the same time, given their similar career arcs. Both Bobby and Mac played supporting roles for many, many rock & roll greats, a veritable Who’s Who, I listed Bobby’s credits on Tuesday, and Mac’s are just as impressive, including a shared longtime collaboration with The Rolling Stones: Small Faces, Faces, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Pete Townshend, Chuck Berry, Jackson Browne, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Westerberg, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Lucinda Williams, etc.

Of all his work, however, I’m deeply partial to Faces, whose classic lineup included Mac, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, Ron Wood, and Kenny Jones. They only produced four albums, from 1969 to 1973, but in that brief time, before Rod Stewart became a cheesy pop star, their music was soulful, gritty, raw, and powerful.

Lucky for us, there are 40 minutes of live Faces goodness available on YouTube, and I present it here in honor of Ian McLagan, featuring, at about the 29:20 mark, Mac’s amazing Wurlitzer electric piano work on the classic Stay With Me.

Thanks for all of the wonderful music, Mac! You’ll be missed!

Tweet of the Day: @TheOnion

LOL! And I thought I was the only one who finds splitting a bill to be a mentally exhausting challenge.

Be sure to click on the link in the tweet and read the entire “article”.

The team of physicists decided to test Dreyfuss’s Pay For What You Ordered Algorithm, which hypothesized that it was possible to determine what each individual owed by defining variables such as the cost of one’s entrée, the total number of beverages one consumed, one’s percentage of the sum ingestion of the component parts of the Firecracker Salmon Rolls and Buffalo Blasts, and “six bucks toward the birthday boy’s meal.”

R.I.P. Bobby Keys

bobbykeysOh boy. This is a tough loss. Saxophonist extraordinaire Bobby Keys, dead at 70.

If you believe in the magic of rock & roll, which I devoutly do, it isn’t in the individual. I’ve played in bands with A-team players all around. But unless they can play together, it doesn’t do any good. And you can take guys who may not stand on their own up against a bunch of individuals they might be compared to, but you put ‘em together, man, and they are unique unto themselves in a way that no one else can touch…That’s part of the music that I come from, cause I can’t read music…That’s not where I come from musically. I come strictly from feeling, and that feeling comes from rock & roll.

~Bobby Keys

That, right there, absolutely nails the essence of rock & roll’s magic; its accessibility, where the door is always open to anyone willing to spill blood, sweat, and tears, where even a bunch of musical misfits can make beautiful music together.

If you’re reading this and don’t really know who Bobby Keys was, first, I’d be sad for you, second, by way of explanation, I’d describe Bobby as an unsung rock & roll legend.

And, while most who do know and love his music associate him first and foremost with The Rolling Stones, for good reason — he recorded and performed with them off and on for over 40 years — the list of musical artists he collaborated with is like a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame roll call: Bobby Vee, Buddy Holly, Dion, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, all four Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Donovan, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie, Harry Nilsson, Faces, The Who, Humble Pie, Dr. John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Warren Zevon, etc.

That said, I most closely associate Bobby Keys with his work on my all-time favorite live album, and the film for which it was the soundtrack, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen. It’s a testament to his greatness that he stood out the way he did in that massive, and massively talented, 20-member band. (If you aren’t familiar with Mad Dogs & Englishmen, run, don’t walk, watch the movie and listen to the album!)

In that spirit, since just one video would not be tribute enough, I’ll start off with a clip from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and I’ll end with a Stones classic.

Thanks for all the great music, Bobby! You’ll be missed!

Rock Beats Paper

chris-rockListen, I know that the rules of Rock-Paper-Scissors say that paper beats rock, because paper covers the rock, but if you think of paper as something words are written on, and a large quantity of that paper with words on it has attempted to analyze and explain difficult subjects, like, say, racism, then…

Chris Rock beats paper, actually more accurately pulverizes paper, in a new interview in New York Magazine.

While white men of privilege like Rudy Giuliani blame the victims of racism:

…responsibility is on the black community to reduce the reason why the police officers are assigned in such large numbers to the black community

Chris Rock, in conversation with Frank Rich, obliterates this line of thinking:

Chris Rock: Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

Frank Rich: Right. It’s ridiculous.

Chris Rock: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Fish & Bicycles Lives!

Retro microphoneUm…hello…is this thing on?

Check! Check! 1,2,3 check!

Ok, so, how does one break a nearly year-and-a-half blogging silence?

Well, I left off with a June 2013 post, announcing that I was going on hiatus, partly because I’d been lacking inspiration, and partly because I needed to focus my attention on other things going on in my life (translation of the latter: I needed to get my shit together 😲).

In the interim, I’ve missed blogging a little bit, from time to time, but not enough to start up again, and yet just enough to renew the Fish & Bicycles domain name registration, twice.

So, what’s changed?

  • I’ve mostly got my shit together.
    • I’m doing yoga regularly.
    • I’ve lost 20lbs via a low-carb diet.
    • I’m spending more time with my now, gulp, 17-year old son.
    • I’m mostly achieving balance between work and play and family time.
  • I suddenly miss blogging enough to want to jump back into it.

And, what hasn’t changed?

So, let’s see how this goes. I’ll probably be rusty at first, right out of the gate, I’ll likely not be as prolific as I was before I left off, but maybe…

…just maybe…

I’ll find my groove again.

Cheers!

Fish & Bicycles Goes On Virtual Hiatus

hiatushi·a·tus
noun — A gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity; a break


You know, I’ve been working at a university for 12 years, and so, when I hear the term hiatus, I think of privileged faculty or higher up administrators who are eligible to enjoy the occasional long break from employment, six months to a year, knowing that their job will be waiting for them when they return.

Me, on the other hand, while I have excellent healthcare benefits and a retirement plan, as well as paid sick leave and vacation, the demands of my job and the low level of my position on campus do not allow me the opportunity for hiatus. Anything longer than a 2-week vacation is very difficult to get approval for.

Therefore, I hereby announce that Fish & Bicycles is going on a virtual hiatus, for how long I do not know.

This has been a very difficult decision to make. I’ve loved blogging. I’ve been doing it since June 2004, first at my now-defunct first blog, and here at Fish & Bicycles since October 2009.

But, a number of things have added up to a gradual decline in enthusiasm and enjoyment. My life offline has become too busy, cluttered with a wide range of things both voluntary and involuntary.

Meanwhile:

  • I have a 15-year old son who will not be living at home all that much longer;
  • I have a lovely wife whom I ALWAYS wish I had more time with;
  • And, at 48 years of age, I’m finding my physical, mental, and spiritual health to be demanding more attention from me.

Additionally, I find myself, more times than not, feeling obligated to post something here at Fish & Bicycles, just to keep it alive, rather than as the product of an inspiration to create for creativity’s sake. I know that maintaining a regular practice of anything requires persistence in the face of challenges, and I’ve managed to do just that for nine years of blogging. But, I just need to take a break for a while, to attend to other things in my life.

I LOVE that definition of hiatus that I included at the start of this post — A gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity. It sounds so Sci-Fi, and given that I’m taking a virtual hiatus, I feel like a time traveler!

Hopefully, on my “travels” I will find my muse again and I’ll return to Fish & Bicycles with renewed vigor and determination.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank all of my regular readers and the many folks who have chosen to Follow Fish & Bicycles. I’ve been honored by the time people have taken to check out what I’ve been doing here.

Cheers!