The First Cuts are the Deepest

Earlier this month I posted the Parlando Project audio pieces that were the most listened to as of the start of this Spring. Turns out it’s a pretty good mix of what Dave and I are trying to do with this combination of music and words. However, in looking at the stats for the Parlando pieces, it looks as if a lot of readers and listeners are coming in partway into the project, starting around the beginning of this year. That’s fine. I think I’m getting a little better as I work intensively on the goal of 100 Parlando Project pieces by August of this year, but I think some of the early pieces are missing the listenership they otherwise might have gotten if I’d posted them later.

Since we’re still in National Poetry Month (#npm17), it stuck me that this might be a good time for some of our audience to catch up. So here are a few of the 2016 Parlando Project “deep cuts” from last year that you might want to check out:

Stars Songs Faces.  I wrote the music for this Carl Sandburg poem as my tribute to David Bowie in January of 2016, and it was the piece I choose to kick-off Parlando. Although I’m not the first to write music for these Sandburg words, I still like what I did, and the LYL Band performance realizes my intention well. This piece also reminds me that it’s been awhile since I posted a Carl Sandburg-based piece here. I’m working on one this week, but the orchestration is not going as well as I’d like it to yet.

The Prairie.  One of things I enjoy most about coming up with material for the Parlando Project is finding things in the public domain poetry cannon that I’d never read or even heard of. This is one of them. William Cullen Bryant was not on my radar until Dave Moore visited the Mississippi river valley mounds last year and began to write about them himself. This audio piece is on the longer side, which may account for the lower number of listens.

The Green Fairy.  Here’s a good piece written and performed by Dave Moore that hasn’t been listened to as much as some other pieces he’s written here. My notes in the accompanying post were written in mystery about the actual intent of Dave’s words. I’ve probably got some other poets’ intent wrong too, but remember that’s one of the points of the Parlando Project: you can appreciate poems when they are accompanied with music just as one appreciates song lyrics (or even music without words at all), as bits and pieces of language that sound good, or as lines or phrases that attach themselves to you with little pieces of meaning without any requirement that you understand the whole thing.

This is the Darkness.  I ascribe the lower listenership on this one to the dark tone. And indeed it might be an odd piece to listen too in the late Spring as days get longer and eventually warmer here in the upper Midwest. None-the-less, living around the 45th Parallel Minnesotans and Canadians should understand this.

Christ and the Soldier.  When I was my son’s age, I was following a day-to-day summary in the newspaper, a series called “100 Years Ago in the Civil War”  which covered the events just out of memory of the living in the American Civil War.  And now, since 2014, I’ve been informally following the centenary of World War I, which has similarly passed out of the memory of the living.  Siegfried Sassoon’s poem is a biting comment on WWI from a veteran of that war’s trenches. You know that old saying “There are no atheists in a foxhole?” Sassoon has a more complex view.

This One’s for David Jones

Names are funny things. I was recently watching an old TV show from 1969 where Janis Joplin sat on the talk-show couch with a young British-accented rock critic named Michael Thomas. A Platonic dialog of sorts broke out on that show. Janis, the more intellectual than she liked to pretend singer, proposed that rock critics fundamentally obfuscated the experience of music. Thomas, self-evidently aware that he was a member of said tribe, tried to counter that all he was doing was presenting in words the same subjective experiences that Joplin said were the essence of music.

He could have said more, said that he was providing meaning and context for those experiences. She could have replied that meaning was beside the point, or at least meaning was beyond the point of the approximate trivialities that he writes. They could have agreed that experience was the greater part of the meaning of art, but that something remains, and can be changed and reflected upon after the experience and in doing so they could come to the conclusion of poet William Wordsworth, that it’s “Emotion reflected in tranquility.”

But they didn’t say that—commercial breaks stopped the dialog just as it was getting interesting, but I wondered about that guy, Michael Thomas. What had he written? Did he evolve a unique understanding of music as he developed as a critic? There he was, young and good looking, a member of the generation that was going to, like most generations, reform and reconstruct our culture. How did his individual story turn out?

I found a couple of magazine articles online he had written by the time of this TV appearance. Elaborate little hip-bourgeois celebrity profiles of no great import—but then most magazine articles are like that. And he was fairly early in writing about “Rock,” that more serious outgrowth of rock’n’roll that was still new in 1968. There as a lot everybody had to learn then. So, what did he learn?

Turns out there’s no way to tell. Wikipedia has over two dozen Michael Thomases listed on its disambiguation landing page, and none of them are him. Rolling Stone’s archives list a few articles by Michael Thomas, the earliest written in 1970 seem to be by the same man, while the last under the byline are about buying stereo equipment at the end of the same decade.  After that? More than 35 years of nothing I can find on the web. If I want to catch up on what, for example, Jaan Uhelszki did after writing about music in the Seventies, it’s pretty easy. Michael Thomas—not so much.

Like I say, names are funny things. My name is shared by several. There’s a Frank Hudson with some elaborately decorated big-rig trucks. There’s a hand-made English furniture-making firm with my given name. If I narrow it down to music and poetry, I’m still not unique. There’s a jingoist Australian poet, and a  fine Travis-picking Kentuckian guitar player. I’d like to think I might be related to that last one, after all I have some family tree roots from around there, and we both seem to play Seagull guitars at times.

Frequent keyboardist and alternate voice here, Dave Moore has his own eponymous issues, but let’s cut to another name issue.

In 1964 a young English guy wanted to get into the performing business as a singer. Lots of folks did in those days. His first recording, a single with his teenage blues band Davie Jones and King Bees came out that year. He kept plugging away at English pop-blues to no great success, until 1967, when he had a problem.

Davie Jones and the King Bees unlabeled

Davie Jones is the teenager in the middle


Well, he had a couple of problems. First, no one was buying any of this records; but secondly, his performing name Davie Jones, the informal diminutive of his given name David Jones, was more-or-less the same name as the performing and birth name of much more successful performer and teen heart-throb: Davy Jones of the Monkees. So, he changed his performing name to David Bowie and remained unsuccessful for a couple more years without being confused with the Monkee or the roughly 100 other David Joneses on the Wikipedia disambiguation page.

Eventually, he got his first hit. Eventually he started changing more than his name. Eventually he helped change our culture, making some dazzling records along the way. There was an immediate experience, and then something remained to be reflected on over time.

A year ago, he died. The official launch post of the Parlando Project here last August was the tribute I choose for Bowie, my setting of Carl Sandburg’s “Stars Songs Faces” that the LYL Band recorded the day after Bowie died. Now for our 41st official Parlando Project post, here’s Dave Moore’s self-written tribute “This One’s for David Jones.” Dave recorded this the same session as we did “Stars Songs Faces.”  It’s a rockin’ little number, because it seems like it’s been a bit since we rocked out. Click on the gadget below to hear it.

Homeopathic Hometown

Today’s piece recounts a common Midwestern experience, returning on a holiday to the much smaller town where one grew up.

For my post WWII generation, these smaller towns retained in our youth much of the vibrancy they had gathered in the first half of the 20th Century. The American rural world was larger then. Car travel was still not universal. Small farming and small manufacturing and small schools hadn’t been efficiently improved to larger sizes. Mass media, which seemed so large and potentially dangerous then, amounted to radio, newspapers, magazines and eventually a trio of gray and silver TV stations as the little rounded screens hovered into homes like flying saucers. So these little autonomous towns continued, 1950 like 1920.

How many of us, old now, can still, in memory, walk down main streets of their towns and small cities of their youth, seeing the storefronts, and hail silently the adult walkers and lost peers who might be walking there too? As I meet and talk to people near my age whose childhood was in larger cities, I find that they too had similar memories of neighborhoods. These neighborhoods were in effect, villages inside their cities—but this piece is about small Iowa towns in particular.

When we grew up, went to college, or left for adventure, marriage, or other work, we left a town and a time. When we went back to these towns, to visit our parents, our parents and our towns are found changed, not into coral bones and pearls, but into places slowly emptier and less vital. The storefronts empty and the eyes less bright; the houses, faded with dead paint and backs swayed.

Full fathom five thy father lies.
Of his bones are coral made.
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Eventually, it is as if the thread of memory has been unraveled from a large ball of yarn, and now the ball is no more.

In this way, our hometowns disappear, becoming gradually diluted of everything we could return to. Today’s piece “Homeopathic Hometown” is about this. Homeopathy is the theory that you can dilute a medicine until it, like our hometowns, retains nothing—or next to nothing—of the the medicine, and yet the solution will somehow “remember” the medicine and its effects.

That of course is how nostalgia works. We remember our personal version of the hometown, and find there is a hole between the molecules as we revisit our hometown. I suspect those without the specific gravity of our memories live now in a different appreciation for the place. It will take time for their own dilution to complete.

Bowie Low

Iowa! What am I doing in Iowa instead of Berlin?
I wanted to see late 20th Century decay, but, hog lots?


Musically, I was trying to emulate here the sound and feel of the David Bowie/Brian Eno “Berlin Trilogy” when I wrote and recorded this in 2015, about a year before David Bowie would suffer his own sea-change. Much of what sounds like keyboard syths in the mix is instead “normal” guitar filtered and delayed. I think the mix works especially well with headphones or earbuds on this one.