Song of the Month: I’d Have You Anytime by Evan Rachel Wood from Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International

This is a bit of an odd bird on a tribute album to Bob Dylan in that it’s really much more of a George Harrison song than a Dylan song (the melody on the verses is unmistakably Harrison-esque), but let’s put that aside. 

I first became aware of Evan Rachel Wood from her turn in the Julie Taymor–helmed Across the Universe where she played Lucy, Max’s sister and Jude’s love interest and had two solo numbers including an exquisite version of “Blackbird” which substituted a droning harmonium for the originals finger-picked acoustic guitar accompaniment to great effect. Here again, the song is beautifully reimagined as it might have been performed by a 1930s chanteuse. The end result transcends the original.

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It’s Lent

Trigger warning: Image of cross on field of ashesearnest religiosity ahead.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. There are a lot of folks who seem to take this as a sort of performative event, kind of missing a key passage from today’s reading:

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

 And then there are those who take it as a moment of self-improvement. No more smoking, or drinking, or perhaps lose a few pounds.

I didn’t really get Lent as a kid (among other things, I thought you were giving something up forever and not just until Easter), and it was only as an adult that it really made sense to me when I had given up drinking alcohol for Lent and I had one of my usual failures in my love life (because being heartbroken is the dominant theme of one’s twenties). So in the midst of my distress, I said to myself, “I need a drink.” And then I stopped because I’d given up drinking and instead realized that what I really needed was God.

And at that point, I realized that the key thing about a Lenten sacrifice was that it should be about giving up something that you do habitually so that you have that frequent reminder to engage in prayer at a higher level than you normally do. The fasting and sacrifice is there to be a reminder of prayer.

And for those who would engage in some positive practice in place of sacrifice like almsgiving or social justice work, that’s great, but that shouldn’t just be a Lenten practice, that should be an always practice. Lent is a time of engaging in a kind of extreme spirituality, going above and beyond what is sustainable for a short period of time.

Writerly resolutions: February status

Even though there was one less day and I Progress on the novel in February. An almost straight diagonal line upmissed a day of writing, I managed to get more words rewritten for the novel this month than last. I’ve also been in a bit of a research binge of late with even more books added to my list and more books read. Israel Joseph Singer’s¹ novel The Brothers Ashkenazi was a wonderful read.

On the revision front, I finished revising one story and got it into submissions. Another story is in progress and being a bit shorter and perhaps in somewhat better shape, should be quicker to get kicked out the door

On the new story front, I ended up, in procrastination over this story, writing a whole other piece which got workshopped in February. The procrastination may have worked a little because I think I‘m a bit unblocked on the new story. There’s a lot that will need to be cut as I figure out what the story is about.

  1. Yes, this is the older brother of the better-known Isaac Bashevis Singer. And perhaps a more rewarding author to read as well.
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Song of the Month: Lavender by Marillion from Misplaced Childhood

Misplaced Childhood is, I think, the best of the neo-prog albums that came out after the first wave of prog, with a great mix of accessibility and extravagance. And somehow, with all of that, and the fact that the album is essentially a single long song (split in two in the original release but performed without break on CD version of the live album The Thieving Magpie) somehow didn’t keep them from producing a couple charting singles in the midst of the 1980s when even Genesis and Yes had become more pop than prog.

The BBC’s Top of the Pops, from which the above performance is taken, is an interesting bird. The performances are mimed to pre-recorded tracks (eagle-eyed viewers will notice there are no cables plugged into Steve Kelly’s keyboards) and for this performance, lead singer Fish had lost his voice and even though he was miming the performance decided to use a big pad of paper to present the lyrics he was “singing” to the audience. It’s a brilliant piece of stagecraft and should I ever perform with a band again, it’s something that I fully intend to shamelessly steal.


Writerly resolutions: January Status

I succeeded in Graph showing generally steady progress on the novel from 12680 words to 24614 wordsgetting at least a little bit of writing done on the novel every day this month. At the current pace I’ll have draft two finished in mid-July. Of course there are always bits of research digressions which can throw me off (like I wanted to know what the name of the railroad tracks that divide Lawndale from the Near West Side was in the 1930s. Talking with my dad was not especially helpful, although I did manage to find a historic map which identified them as “C.T.T. R.R.” and further research turned up that this was the Chicago Terminal Transfer Railroad which was absorbed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, so I’m referring to them as the B&O tracks unless I get better information than that.¹

The revision work on workshopped stories continues. I’m currently doing a complete rewrite of a piece which was originally written in an invented pidgin² which I’m retaining for some of the dialog, but not for the whole piece like in the previous drafts. It will need at least one more revision round after the rewrite, but that should be less time-consuming. I’ve also found a number of problems with the mechanics of the story in the course of the rewrite (mostly minor inconsistencies in action or characterization) which I think the pidgin made harder to find.

The new story, which I had thought I’d be able to knock out in a month or less continues to challenge me. I’ve been creating a growing deleted text file from the story. I have realized that these things tend to be more aspirational than practical (sort of like those beautiful hardcover notebooks that so many of us will buy, write on the first 5–10 pages and then never use again) but it does make it emotionally easier to jettison stuff that needs to go. 

  1. To complicate matters, it’s not uncommon for Chicagoans to refer to things by long-changed names. There’s the obvious case of the Sears Tower, but there’s also things like Crawford/Pulaski or Northwestern Station, which was torn down and renamed twice and even the conductors on the Metra trains going into it still called it Northwestern Station.
  2. I can overindulge myself in linguistic things like this.

Song of the Month: Somebody’s Baby by Jackson Browne from Solo Acoustic Vol. 2

Something new. Once a month I’m going to highlight a song from my music collection that’s worth a listen or twenty.

To start things off, I’m going with a solo acoustic version of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby.” The song was originally released as part of the soundtrack for Fast Times at Ridgemont High which I don’t think I saw until a few years later when it showed up on cable. I still have no idea where in the movie the song appears.

This version, with all the 1980s production stripped out manages to catch the emotional core of the song, the longing and desire for the unattainable.

For me, the song is forever attached to my own high school experience. It received steady airplay all through my freshman year of high school and is forever engrained in my mind with my memories of a girl in my Advanced Algebra class who I had a secret silent crush upon, which I could never act upon because she seemed an ethereal being beyond the grasp of a mere mortal such as myself and she was a junior while I was a mere freshman so even if I weren’t afraid of talking to girls, there was no hope that she would respond positively to me asking her out.

I remember that she wore skirts and dress blouses to school every day except Wednesdays, a conundrum that was finally unravelled when I discovered that she was in the work experience program at the school that had her working part time at a local bank for class credit (in the 1980s it was typical for banks to be closed on Wednesdays, thus her casual attire on that day).

There was another student in my math class who also had an obvious case of lovesickness for her, which as far as I could tell, he also never acted upon. He had a somewhat nerdy demeanor and felt kind of like a potential future version of myself from my vantage point. I would like to imagine that he eventually managed to work up the courage to ask her out and they began a wonderful relationship, but most likely no such thing ever happened.

Jeannie and Anthony, this song is for you.


Wait what?

Watching I, Claudius, it was a bit disturbing to see a picture of Patrick Stewart looking like

Patrick Stewart as Sejanus in I, Claudius

but then looking for an image to share, I  found this picture

Patrick Stewart with long hair, sans toupee

and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again


Who were all those Facebook friends anyway?

It’s been a year since I’ve dropped off of social media. I occasionally fall off the wagon when I check the Twitter account for but for the most part I’m social media free and happier for it.

That said, I was a bit curious about who the people I was friends with on Facebook were. I’d engaged in some ruthless pruning of my friends list, clearing out the people posting racist and sexist stuff (and then in 2020 also anyone who thought that that Plandemic video was worth sharing). Maybe a better person could have engaged with them and brought them to reason. I’m not that person.¹

In my last days on the site, I tediously made a list of all 420 people I was friends with on Facebook and put them into a spreadsheet so I could make all sorts of nerdy charts graphs and calculate random statistics.

First off, how did I meet these people?

Family 5.7%	Early childhood 1.4%	Grade School 10.7%	High School 16.2%	College 14.0%	Grad School 18.1%	Church 7.4%	Music 6.0%	Work 1.7%	Online 4.8%	Writing 6.4%	Type 1.4%	Other 5.5%	Never Met 5.7%

 The categories are arranged roughly chronologically and there is some overlap (e.g., people I knew from early childhood—i.e., non-family who I knew before I started kindergarten, were often also grade school classmates and grade school classmates often high school classmates, but no other overlap beyond that really) which is why the percentages add up to more than 100%. The big categories, grad school and high school come down to when Facebook was a big thing (Facebook became a big communications medium for my MFA program) and the fact that early on, I used to accept/extend invitations to pretty much anyone I went to high school with.

Some categories call for explanation: Music is folks I was in various non-church-related musical groups with over the years (once upon a time I was a pretty active bass player), online is folks I only ever knew from online communities, writing is people I knew through writing activities, and type from my days when I was big in the typography world.

Given where I grew up that was overwhelmingly white and the overall state of American society, my racial breakdown of friends isn’t so great:

? 0.2%
Asian 4.5%
Black 3.8%
Latino 6.9%
White 84.5%

The gender breakdown was 56% male and 43.8% female with one person of unknown gender (I have no idea who “Dain Deon” is or was). I may have misidentified some people’s gender who don’t identify as male or female.

One thing that I found interesting was that Facebook “outed” a number of LGBT folks² in my friends list. In some cases it was their own activity, in other cases, it was the algorithm suggesting that because C⸻ was interested in a pictures of men in their underwear group perhaps I would be too. In most cases though, it was more a case of the person being out and my just not realizing they weren’t straight. My possible undercount had 5.7% of my friends being LGBTQ with almost half of them outed to me through Facebook.

Other interesting stats: 2.4% of my Facebook friends were dead, 11.2% were musicians, 27.4% were writers, 2.1% clergy, 2.1% used pseudonyms, 5.5% had deactivated their accounts and 2.9% were people that I looked at their profiles and had absolutely no idea who they were (although in some cases, I was able to figure it out eventually).

  1. And let me just say, a huge number of the people I grew up with are disturbingly racist. And this was a big motivator to dropping out of Facebook. They weren’t people that I would have continued friendships with later in life if Facebook didn’t exist so why would I want them in my life just because Facebook does exist. A couple of hours in a banquet hall every ten years for a high school reunion is plenty of exposure to these folks for me.
  2. My prize-winning outing story, though, would be the actor Dennis O’Hare who I met on a walk from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica who was outed to me by Gus Van Sant when the director appeared on Fresh Air.

Three poems in new anthology

I had three poems come out this weekCover of Rising Voices in the anthology, Rising Voices: Poems Toward a Social Justice Revolution. These are all part of my Chicago Sonnets series.

Chicago Sonnet #4 has its origins in a research paper I wrote in high school where, somewhat enamored of my role on the school paper, I decided to focus on journalism and picked two books from the school’s library to write about. One was Mencken’s Minority Report, a collection of short notes and observations. The other was a collection of articles written by Carl Sandburg for the Chicago Daily News about the 1919 race riots in Chicago.¹ Reading about this stuck with me (and it’s interesting that so few people are aware of this chapter in Chicago history) and when it came time to write sonnet #4, I decided to have it focus on this particular event. Of course, since I originally wrote it, the poet Eve Ewing has written a whole book of poems on the subject which covers it far better than I could ever have accomplished.

 Chicago Sonnet #27 tells of the fate of Cabrini Green, long the bogeyman of Chicago’s public housing, its location was far too valuable to be squandered on poor people and so the community that did exist there (Mary Schmich’s² articles in the 1990s for The Chicago Tribune were a great source of my own knowledge of the neighborhood even when I lived less than a mile away while reading them) was erased so that luxury housing could take its place.

Chicago Sonnet #29 was inspired by free-style rap and how rhyme was retained and meter largely discarded. Using this to give the perspective of a young Black man on the streets of the West Side is something that I’m still not entirely comfortable with and perhaps should the sonnets ever be collected it may find itself replaced with a different poem but for now it will stand in that number’s place.

  1.  One of the distinct memories I have about writing this paper was going to the downtown Chicago library to pull up microfilms of contemporaneous reporting on the riots. At that time, the original main library in what is now the Chicago Cultural Center was closed and the Harold Washington Library had not yet opened so there was a temporary facility on a couple-three floors of a high rise somewhere in Streeterville. 
  2. Schmich’s greatest claim to fame is being the author of “Wear sunscreen” which has been widely circulated as being a graduation speech given by Kurt Vonnegut. She deserves the full credit for a brilliant piece of writing (which I’d first read when it was published in her column space in the Tribune. She also is a Claremont Colleges graduate (Pomona College to be precise) which is another big plus for her. I’d say something about the shared mascot for Pomona and Pitzer where I got my degree but I don’t think in my years in Claremont, I ever met anyone who ever attended any sort of athletic event who wasn’t participating in some fashion.
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