Phil Dacey and Trains

I knew Minnesota poet Philip Dacey through my late wife, who was a writing student of his back in the 70s. I had the good fortune to hear him read his poetry several times, as he was an excellent performer of his work.

One indelible memory I have is Phil reading a poem in which Marlene Dietrich was mentioned, and rather imperceptibly he transformed into Marlene Dietrich, leaving the lectern and slowing reclining on a desk chair in the Blue Angel pose.

Sound hokey to you? Sound like some kind of Am-Dram over-reaching to make poetry more palatable? Nope. I was there, and it was riveting. Phil was so damn generous and genuine, and the actions so integrated into the open and honest poetry he wrote, that there was not a bit of disingenuousness about it. His being illuminated that poem.

Another Phil Dacey reading I’ll remember was a performance of several of his poems backed by a rock band his sons had formed. While that was not the origin of this Parlando project, it was one of the several threads that helped form this thing.

I was saddened to hear that Phil died last month. I suspect that Phil the performer of his poems now will only exist in our memories. Of course we can still read the poems ourselves, and we can be happy for that. Luckily for us, his poetry is full of his irreplaceable personality.

The story in this poem is more or less true. I was visiting his house with my wife, and he was talking with me as if I was some kind of peer as a writer, which was so welcome to me. I should have left the moment be, taken a good long pause to listen, or perhaps I should have just given him a big hug of thanks. Instead I just rattled on about things I sort of knew, an unfortunate personality trait I often inflict on others. Oh well.

You should see a player gadget below which will let you listen to my poem about that afternoon I talked over Phil and my current thoughts on trains.



I Have Believed In Foolish Things

William Blake once wrote that “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” I hope he’s right about that, though I can’t tell for sure, since I’m still in the persisting part of things.

Blake was a teenage hero of mine. I think I ran across him from two directions, and I’m not entirely sure which was first. My parents had a bookcase of books, some perhaps from their youth, some old enough to have been from my grandparent’s time. There were some odd lots in there. I remember at least one book that was devoted to William McKinley, and another was titled “The Beautiful Life of Frances Willard.”  One of them was some kind English poetry textbook, with a section in the back about minor English poets. Its paragraph or two about Blake included a summary: “Wrote some charming short lyrics as good as any in English, but his later, longer works seem evidence of madness.” That intrigued me. Around the same time I read that, I was able to use some gift money to buy three LPs, one of which was “The Doors,” a record with a track called “End of the Night” where the singer crooned a pair of lines: “Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to endless night.”  I read that the singer had kyped that from Blake.

There are nearly no poets today who will say a good word for Jim Morrison or the Doors, because there is so much foolishness associated with them. I’m wise enough not to go up against that. Please do not note the number of pieces here with shaky guitar, boogie piano, or weird organ—some of these pieces even without electric bass.

Unlike my attraction to the poetry of Sandburg, it’s easy to see what I liked about Blake. Stubborn iconoclasm. A belief that one’s own internal vision of things was more valid than the common view. A DIY ethic which had Blake creating his own books that he engraved on plates himself.  What’s more punk rock than that? If Blake had been an indi-rock band, he wouldn’t have just made his own record; he would have cut the damn master on his own vinyl lathe.

What’s a teenager not to like in all that?

If I live a few more years, that teenager is a warning to me that there are things I believe now that will seem foolish to me then. Of course that teenager was foolish, but he also knew some things I don’t know now, so that teenager and I talk all the time.

William Blake wrote down what the Angels told him, but what did Blake tell the Angels?

You should see the player below to play the piece “I Have Believed in Foolish Things.”

We Are the Instant People

Dave Moore takes us on a short Sci-Fi dystopia trip

Water isn’t just earth’s life-blood, it’s blood’s life-blood. Humans are, after all (as the Star Trek quote puts it) “Bags of mostly water.” So we had better pay attention to what happens to water.

In this piece we again have The LYL Band providing the music. Dave Moore wrote this and he is the speaker and the keyboard player in this performance. I’m playing guitar. Most of the pieces in this project will have me reading the words, but Dave will make regular appearances here as another reader.

As usual, you should see a player gadget below to let you listen to “We Are the Instant People”


Just as the words say, my friend and collaborator in this project Dave Moore was riding on a European train after visiting a Dutch art museum, and his moment of vision was that the clouds he was looking at out the train window were, in some way, the same clouds that the museum painters had portrayed. He wrote a somewhat longer set of words about that thought. I edited them down and added the music.

That was an audacious thing to do.  Dave allowed it, something I’m grateful for. Not just because I’m rather fond of the resulting piece, but because this was an early part of my journey to transform other people’s words and to set them among music.

Close listeners, you may hear in the catalog of museum painters the name “VanVliet”. Yes, there was a fine 17th century Dutch painter by that name. A few hundred years later a Californian added “Van” in front of his family name of Vliet, possibly seeking a connection to that painter. Audacity! Run paint run!

Stars Songs Faces

What a writer writes may come to mean something else to a reader, and what that reader thinks can change over time.

Many years ago when I was a young student, I had a mixed reaction to the American poets of the first part of the 20th century.  I liked some of things found in the typical school anthologies: T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound. But Robert Frost was a sticking point for me: a fuddy duddy, I thought, using an epithet that was created around the time of Frost’s youth to characterize that now old man.

What? You think I’m being unfair to Frost? Well, my opinions changed over time. We’ll return to Frost later in this project.

There were lots of excuses for why I thought that then, but never mind. Our prejudices, our subjective likes and dislikes, will always contain unfairness. One of the joys of art is that there is so much of it, and for everything we dismiss, ignore, or are exposed to only from compulsory education, there are so many other things that we can fall in love with instead. One such example for me was Carl Sandburg, who was Frost’s contemporary. Just as with my young person’s dismissal of Frost, my like for Sandburg was a little hard to explain. One thing I liked was his expression of the commonalities of human experience.

So even as I write here about reading Sandburg, from where I was at that time, and as a particular individual, one of the things I liked about him was that his poems weren’t obsessed with such internal monolog. His poems are almost never about “here is this strange and plausibly interesting thing that happened to me” but instead about those strange and notable things that happen to us.” He helped me form one of principles I’ll try to follow here: “Other People’s Stories.” Even when I write in these blog postings about myself, that’s only a frame for the real art: the music and words in the audio recordings.

As I got older, in my middle ages, I forgot about Sandburg. By and large the world did too, even though during his life Sandburg had reached just about the highest level of celebrity that a writer can reach.

I started to re-discover Sandburg in the past few years. For one thing, I picked up a book of his poems in a little bookstore along Lake Superior and began to remember what had attracted me to him in my youth. And as I started to think about ways that music and words could combine for this project, I began to wonder what Sandburg, that poet who always seemed to have a guitar within reach, could add.

Then, as I was intensively testing my ideas of combining music and spoken words this past winter, David Bowie died. What could I do to respond to that loss? I could write some words myself of course, but instead I found this little piece by Sandburg, published in 1920, that just seemed to sum up something I was thinking as I reflected on all the work that David Bowie had put out over his life.

You should see an player gadget below which will allow you to hear the piece:

On January 11th I recorded the basic track “live” with The LYL Band, and later that week added the synth strings and finished the mix that is now available here. I hope you enjoy it.