Fall 2018 Parlando Project Top 10 Numbers 4-2

4. Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant words by Emily Dickinson. It should be no surprise that Dickinson turns up often here. I’m attracted to short poems that have a word music of sound or thought, and Dickinson has both in abundance in this, another very short text: 41 words.

This poem is often read as Dickinson’s private artistic credo. In summary paraphrase: “I’m going to write about things obliquely, because you people can’t handle the truth.” Still, I think there are other elements here, other harmonic overtones. One is the human tendency to slant the truth. In the poem’s one simile, she likens this slanting to the pleasant myths told to children threatened by lightning, and I don’t believe that’s Dickinson’s goal in her writing.

Another aspect, reflected in another Dickinson poem, There’s a Certain Slant of Light,”  is the Transcendentalist outlook, one that she seems to have been aware of. In that other poem there’s that word “slant” again, but here we are to know it’s nature itself that’s slanting reality. The transcendence in Transcendentalism is the belief that the surface of reality is not all there is, that study and insight and a visionary approach can reveal a deeper reality.

In that harmony, Dickinson isn’t saying “Hey poets, just do what I do! Obscure your real thoughts and insights so the non-hip won’t gather what you’re talking about until someone takes a post-graduate course a hundred years from now.” Rather she’s saying “Reality will seem to tell you children’s-story myths. Get around them. Keep looking, and gradually the blinding surprise will come.”

 

The Emily DIckinson Internal Difference

My soul’s been Transcendentalized!

 

3. Crepuscule (I Will Wade Out) words by E. E. Cummings. More slanted light here, as Cummings meditates on the arrival of a sensuous night. If the 19th Century American Transcendentalists were the ancestors of the 20th Century American beats and hippies, Cummings here seems to be heralding the Surrealists that would soon emerge within a decade in the dreams of a European night.

With much extravagance of language, Cummings risks ridicule without a care.

I’m quite fond of the music I wrote and played for this one. The acoustic guitar is tuned in “Pelican tuning” which is named after a piece by John Renbourn that used it.

 

Bjork Lipping Flowers

“I will rise after a thousand years lipping flowers.” No, I’m not covering Björk Guðmundsdóttir, I don’t have enough diacritical marks or musical genius.

 

2. Cold Is the North Wind words by unknown. This is a piece taken from the Confucian anthology of ancient Chinese poetry titled variously in English The Book of Odes, The Classic of Poetry, the Book of Songs,  or just Poetry.  Since the collection’s poems date from deep antiquity, perhaps as far back as 1000 B. C., authorship is unknown, though not a few of them are written in a woman’s voice, and the subjects of the first section, The Airs of the States, are often everyday people and everyday activities, not Emperors or scholars, not heroes and their great battles.

The reason for collecting the poems and making them required reading is also hard for history to remember. The consensus over time was that in studying these poems an understanding of the Chinese empire’s subjects and concerns would be engendered. In England and its colonies, it was contrastingly once assumed that its future leaders would study ancient Latin and Greek poetry as a core subject.

Weighing something as large as history is hard, and I can’t say if either of these two traditions helped much. Evil and ignorance, mendacity and violence—how far can we range in history without running into lengthy annals and imposing monuments to those things? We can’t avoid these monsters, and yes, and so, we must study them. Yet, yet, what if our leaders were expected to study a song such as this? I can’t believe it would help most. I also believe it would help some.

 

Chinese  flying Teapot

Cold enough that some hot tea would be good, but Gong have flown off with the teapot.

We have just one more number in our countdown of the most liked and listened to audio pieces this past Fall. We’ll be revealing Number One in our next post.

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The Spring 2017 Top 10

Since this is National Poetry Month in the US I’m hoping that I can exceed the usual 7 to 8 posts a month pace I’ve kept up here since the Parlando project began last August. The next audio piece should be up this weekend. For those who haven’t read the early posts here about what the Parlando project is, I usually summarize it as:

The Parlando Project is words (mostly, but not always poetry) accompanied by music (various kinds).

The Parlando audio pieces have been downloaded by podcast subscribers since launch almost 4,000 times. Given that we are now past the halfway point, I thought it might interesting to let you know what the “Top Ten” downloads have been so far. In Casey Kasem form, we’ll count it down upwards from 10 to 1. There are links in the list if you missed one of these audio pieces and the posts about them.

10. The Spring of Dead Things. One of the 3 pieces in the top 10 where I wrote the words. That’s OK with me, but one of the Parlando Project aims is “Other People’s Stories” which leads me to feature other people’s words more often than not. There’s lots of folks reading their own poetry out there, which is good in itself—but there’s lots of people reading their own poetry, so think there’s an unmet need for reading others work.

9. The Garden of Trust. One of my personal favorites. Weston Noble’s thoughts on the power of music, hard-won thoughts he expressed after a lifetime of work, touched me the moment I first read them, and my feeling only deepened when I found I was able to hear him express those beautiful thoughts in a recording made before his death. My thanks again to Luther College for allowing me to use this recording in my piece. If you want to sample one thing that the Parlando Project represents, and it really doesn’t represent one thing, start here.

8. I Felt A Funeral in My Brain. Writing the Parlando music and considering the words for performance has deepened my appreciation for Emily Dickinson, whose words we’ve featured more than any other writer, and I rather like my music for this one as well.

7. For John Renbourn Dying Alone. I hope some of the listeners to this piece who like acoustic guitar music find this a gateway to Renbourn’s music.

6. Arthur Koestler’s Death Song.  Although we’ve featured Dave Moore reading and singing his own work here, and there will be more of that to come later this year, his Top 10 appearance is for a piece where he wrote the words and music, though I performed it.

5. Eros. I sometimes wonder if this one gets a bonus from those searching for or intrigued by its title. Another one where I’m happy with how the recording and the music turned out. I remind myself that I should learn more about Emerson’s Transcendentalist revolution.

4. 2ebruary. There’s no telling what the “bonus” may be that’s lead more people to this piece. It could be the discussion of the movie “Patterson”  in the notes, or it could be the connection to bicycling. Or perhaps it’s the connection to Frank O’Hara’s “I do this, I do that” poems that I treasure and try to emulate. If you like this, I have another bicycle ride poem coming up later this spring.

3. Boris Pasternak’s February. We’re into the top 3 now.  I was remarking to Dave Moore during a break in our recording session yesterday, that February rather than April should have been picked as National Poetry Month, as the deep dark end of winter engenders more cruel monthly poetry. Pasternak gets to help prove that point here. One regret I have with what we’ve done so far with the Parlando Project is that I have not received permission to post our version of Margaret Atwood’s “February”  here.

2. Hymn To Evening. Speaking of things I treasure, hearing Phillis Wheatley’s story on the Freedom Trail in Boston is another one. Art is this thing that, unlike even persons, no one can own. Colonialism is a system that crosses oceans to take things from other lands for profit. Art is the system that sends out messages that can crisscross time and oceans with the information inside our breasts.

dollar-bill

we’re offering pictures of our #1 Parlando Project author for only one dollar

 

1. Frances. Interesting that two pieces from the colonial United States are 1 and 2, and that a piece with words by an young amateur poet tops the list. Maybe this is a tribute to the Pixies/Nirvana loud/soft arrangement trick in the music? Or that when it comes to subjects, love conquers all? Or that acrostics are about to become a thing?

Please continue to read and listen this month. I have a lot of planned pieces I’ll think you’ll like coming up here. Remember that the Parlando Project seeks variety in music and words, so you may hear things you like as well as not like as we go along, but stick with us as we want to continue to surprise you. I also want to thank those that have hit the like buttons on their favorite posts, and those who have hit the RSS button to follow this blog.

He Hit Me First

John Renbourn, the English guitarist, and the subject of our last episode, once introduced a song in concert by saying he was now going to play an English song, “It’s a nice little melody—alas, there are just not that many good English ones.” As we said last episode, John’s repertoire was vast, so he had many musical traditions to draw from and could pick and choose. I mention this only in passing today, because when it comes to music, musicians accept no borders.

In the US today we have an odd holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, where we broadly and vaguely celebrate—well, not missionary saints. Instead many engage in an approximate celebration of Irishness, where amongst the dyed green rivers and dyed green beers, the “Kiss me I’m Irish” T-shirts, and the saucy leprechauns on everything, there is some occasional notice given to Celtic culture.

Saint Patrick

Indiana Jones : “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”

Alas, I have nothing prepared to be dyed green. I expect we’ll revisit Irish writers’ words soon enough though.

Instead I have a piece by the LYL Band’s keyboard player and alternate reader Dave Moore titled “He Hit Me First.” I think his words speak well enough for themselves, so I’m not going to add much here to them. When I asked him if the words were written about a particular incident, he told me that it was inspired by working on a book

Lester Moore

Lester Moore: preacher, Dave’s father

collecting some of his father’s sermons. Looking over a pre-publication proof of that book, and the sermons Dave decided to include there, I don’t see where Dave used any exact words from his father, Lester Moore, in He Hit Me First;  but I do see how Lester Moore’s inclination and approach informed it. Here’s a few words from a sermon Lester Moore delivered in 1981:

Christianity conquered an empire that was more cruel than Hitler’s Auschwitz.  And it was done by Christians who were willing to live the love that God gave them in the model of Jesus.

I sometimes wonder why it is that we still fail to see this. Christians who offer love in today’s world are called ‘soft-headed.’ But what happens when we bluster and threaten in today’s world? Are we nearer peace today because we speak in militant tones?

Psychologists tell us that we get a REACTION equal to the ACTION in the emotional world just as we do in the physical world. When we shake our fist at someone, we get a fist right back. So, who is soft-headed?

Love does not turn its back on evil. It does not pretend that evil does not exist.  Love stands firm and insistent. It is disciplined and ready to sacrifice. It cares about what happens to people, whether it has to do with freedom or hunger or health or hope.”

This is a complex subject, and I’ve only given Lester Moore a few words for his position. Knowing the action/reaction pair he speaks of, I anticipate one response, something I could summarize as “That’s all very nice, but in the real world, you may want those fists, that military, those soldiers to protect your music, poetry, and preachers.”

I will note only that Lester Moore earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star serving in WWII, before he took up the ministry and eventually gave this sermon.

To hear Dave Moore’s He Hit Me First, use the player gadget below.

 

To John Renbourn Dying Alone

A perennial question asked of songwriters is “Which comes first, the music or the words?” Here with the Parlando Project, the words often were written centuries before the music; but with the pieces where I write both the words and music, the method is for the music to come first with the words.

By that I mean, I tend to compose the words first, but the words emerge for me as melodies do, as a series of sounds that may precede any idea of their meaning. And even when I sit down to write “about” something, the improvisation of their melody can lead me to change what I am writing, even in the end, change what I believe I think about something.

While it’s a good assumption that my methods may come from my visceral attraction to music and poetry, this sense that the act of writing shapes, even reshapes, the thought is a common finding among writers. Have you ever thought yourself, “I didn’t know what I thought about this until I wrote about it?”

So where do melodies come from, whether they are melodies played on a string or melodies played on words? The answer, after millennia of human thought and knowledge gathering, is “We don’t know.” That area of knowing that it is, but not knowing why, is the genesis of myth.

The classical Greeks and their Roman inheritors ascribed these creative incidents to “the muses”—nine goddesses that could engender music or poetry in humans. Their stories told of the bad ends that would come to those who would mock the muses by claiming they could practice the arts without them.
This sort of thing gradually fell out of favor. Shakespeare in his 38th sonnet claims his beloved is as good or better a muse as one of the nine classical muses, and by the 19th century his humanistic idea that another human could serve as a muse to an artist became the common myth.

Nine Muses and Apollo

No, you didn’t count wrong. I think the 10th dancer is Apollo, wearing the knee-length number.

 

So, what use then is this old myth, the idea of an inexplicable outside source that informs artistic expression? Here’s one use I’m attracted to: it lets the artist relax a little bit about their efforts. Ever try to be inspired? That rarely works. Even the inspiration tricks that worked once, twice or twenty times may wear out and bring nothing. Have you ever been impelled with an idea, shape, thought, or melody when it’s inconvenient and unexpected? Ever beat yourself up when the ideas and expression just won’t come? Using the myth, the metaphor, of the muses you can get a handle on these things. This does not mean you don’t work at art. This doesn’t mean that discipline isn’t a valuable artistic trait. This doesn’t mean you sit on the mountain top and dawdle. Worshiping and honoring the muses just means if you sit on the mountaintop and nothing comes up, you might try the valley next time, but that “nothing” is not your fault. If you look for inspiration 365 days a year and it only comes around a dozen times, that’s a dozen more times than it would come if you never looked. If you look for inspiration only a dozen times a year, it will take 30 years to do what you could have done in one.

That is a long introduction to today’s piece “To John Renbourn, Dying Alone.”  John Renbourn was very good British guitarist and singer. Beginning in the 1960s, and with a small and wondrous circle of his contemporaries, he was fearlessly eclectic: blues, jazz, traditional British Isles folk music, American Appalachian ballads, 19th century broadsides, Asian music, modern singer-songwriters, or Renaissance tunes—all that could show up at a John Renbourn concert, or on one of his recordings.

John Renbourn

John Renbourn. The picture is silent because he could be playing anything on that guitar.

 
Two years ago this month, he didn’t show up to demonstrate once again his amalgamation of music at a scheduled date in a Scottish club. He was not mocking the muses—it was soon found that he had died alone in his modest home.

The day I heard the news, I hoped his suffering had been brief, or if not brief, useful. I thought of him like Frost’s solitary man in “An Old Man’s Winter’s Night,”  or my father imagined in “A Rustle of Feathers,”  or my own dear friend John who had died alone at home a few years earlier. I thought of John Renbourn and wished to apply this myth, this lie, of the muses to this man. An artist like John Renbourn, who informed us with his art, listened better to the muses than most any of us.

You can listen to my audio piece “To John Renbourn, Dying Alone”  by using the player below.