8.12.2011

Thanks!! And Calling Movie Lovers for the Next Blog Salon...

Thank you so much to our blog salon writers for sharing their thoughts of their favorite "sequential listening" albums!

The blog had 2,700 unique visits and 3,358 page loads during the period of the salon.

Please help me thank our wonderful writers again:

Collin Kelley
Lee Houck
George Scarlett
Tyler Gobble
Shavawn Berry
Matthew Hittinger
Julie E. Bloemeke
Bill Beverly
David Dombrosky
Kelly Cockerham
Jory Mickelson
Andrew Demcak
Jessica Burnquist
Michelle J. Martinez
Pamela Murray Winters
Sean Singer
Ruby Classen

It was such a great success, let's do it again:



There's no shortage of awful films in the world, right?

So, why can't we help loving them?

The next blog salon will run in November. The topic:

A Colossally Bad Film I Love

The films in question should be universally reviled either by critics OR by the general public (or both!). The cultier the better. But even shlocky, standard Hollywood fare is welcome too--whatever you love (and know you shouldn't).

The form of the essays is still open to your interpretation: memoir, critical writing, narrative or non-narrative, it all works here.

Start thinking and send me your posts (with a bio and photo) by October 20, 2011!

xoxo,
Charlie

8.10.2011

Epilogue: Ruby Classen on the Refound Joy of the Vinyl Record



Oh, Vinyl – Where are thou gone?

I admit it--I’m a closet vinyl lover! Not the kinky kind--we’re not talking zip up suits and strange masks--I mean honest-to-goodness 33 1/3 vinyl record albums. I grew up in the 70s and my parents had the classic record player console complete with mini bar. I would spend my days playing Weebles while listening to a Sesame Street soundtrack album or this nursery song two-record album set complete with large Bugs Bunny-esque character and his band of merry children. In the evenings, my parents would alternate between Dad’s country tunes (“donuts make my brown eyes blue”) and Mom’s Spanish albums (“El Sauz y la palma se mesen con calma”). I remember when I knew all the words before I even knew what they meant. The order of the songs played on those scratchy albums mattered the world to levels of anticipation and memory games.

Now – 30 some odd years later:

I bought a record player again, three years ago, before my son was born. Tried to find an appropriate place for it 'cause who knew record players could take up SO much room? We’ve gotten spoiled with CDs and MP3 players--heck, even a cassette player was NEVER this big. So it sat, under the console table, under the front room window. Until Saturday.

Vinyl albums have always taken me back to a special happy place. The mood was right. I set up the record player in the front room while my son played happily in a play tent with his Hot Wheels cars and Buzz Lightyear action figures. I dusted off the lid, wired up the speakers, cleared away cobwebs, and delicately took the cover off the record needle. Then I ran upstairs to where I knew half my collection sits in an old copy box relegated to the corner of the room under not one but two Boppy pillows and the box for my netbook. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I unearthed some favorites, focusing on “kid-friendly”: Motley Crue (not yet), Pat Benatar (soon), Tina Turner (SO NOT YET), The Muppet Movie Soundtrack (maybe), The Carpenters (do I want him to fall asleep yet?)--and then the motherload: my Monkees albums, all four of them (More of the Monkees, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., The Monkees Greatest Hits and Then & Now The Best of the Monkees).

Rushing downstairs, careful not to drop the precious cargo, I couldn’t wait to fire up the albums that made me laugh, sing, and dance when I was younger AND older.

As I set the needle on the first record, my son quieted down in his play tent. Then he peeked his head out. Then he stepped out and proceeded to dance his way around the room. He jumped and shook tiny fists into the air. He chased me, I chased him--I held him in my arms while I danced around the room, spinning him now and then just to hear him giggle. “Mary, Mary” is still a great groove and I can’t help but click over to Run DMC’s version featuring Stephen Tyler of Aerosmith fame. “Your Auntie Grizelda” with its quirky nonsensical odd mouth sounds by Peter Tork, never fails to make me laugh and apparently, in recreating them as best I could, made my son laugh as well. “Star Collector” has now earned a new name (“The Hello Song”) and is over requested by the 2 year old. And on and on: we danced, jumped on the couch, kicked a ball around (yes, inside the house), and eventually settled down over the final strains of “Kicks.” A four album morning playdate--and it couldn’t have been better, if it tried.



Ruby Classen (very-soon-to-be Harper) grew up in sunny Southern California with her inspiring, single mom and her younger brother. She now lives in Columbus, Ohio with her adorable and charismatic almost 3 year old son and their OLD little Pekingese dog. She anxiously awaits the arrival of her musician fiance from SoCal later this month. A dancer at heart, music has always moved her. She dances to the beat of his drum...happily ever after.

8.08.2011

Charles Jensen on Tori Amos's Scarlet's Walk




This story begins and ends with heavy petting.


The author opted to start this way because recent studies show a majority of Americans enjoy thinking about heavy petting as much as they enjoy heavy petting itself. While the petting was indeed heavy in the first instance, the petting that begins this author’s story, it was also urgent—the urgent heavy petting of two people about to fall in love with each other, who haven’t fallen in love yet, but who want desperately to be in love with each other soon.


The author will slowly introduce the fact that these heavy petters are, in fact, both men. America is warming up to concepts of hot man-on-man action, if the legislature of the state of New York is any kind of litmus test. If you a sensitive reader, it is too late to caution you. The author apologizes if you’ve been scandalized by this revelation. Perhaps you were already imagining heavy petting featuring a particular person of the opposite sex. If that’s the case, the author will allow you to supplant one of the men in question with a person of your choice. But he also wants to encourage you to consider giving this heavy petting a chance on its own, to be assured, silently to yourself as you read, that two men can fall desperately in love with each other as you (perhaps) once did with someone else.


This takes place in a small living room in our solar system, on planet Earth, in the United States, in the state of Arizona, the city of Tempe, which rests just outside Phoenix. Yes, the lights are off. Yes, there are candles, and yes, they are scented. A stereo bleats is sad love-lorn notes through grizzled speakers carefully placed to maximize the surround of sound. The stereo clicks, changing CDs (for this was in the time of the CD).


The next CD plays: Tori Amos begins “Amber Waves” with “Well, he lit you up / like amber waves in his movie show.”


Meta moment: the amber light of the candles flickering as if through celluloid.


The two men, the author and his future love, kiss passionately on an unfolded futon in this light.


Their skin, when it appears in flashes from beneath their clothing, has an amber glow. In each other’s eyes they see the tiny lights of the candles reflected there like far-off stars. These men think to themselves they want to sail to these galaxies and be among those stars.


As the album continues, it leads the men through a journey. Scarlet’s Walk is ostensibly one woman’s journey across America.


On the cover art: Tori Amos stands paused on a country road—is it Oklahoma?—half-turned from the camera. One foot toward the sun. One foot pointing away. A light breeze threads its fingers through her hair.


In the next song, “A Sorta Fairytale,” the singer is on a California freeway, a state these two men will visit by car several times over the next three years. They cannot imagine these trips now. That one of them will end up on a hotel bed in San Francisco crying to the point of breathlessness cannot be known right now. That one of them will almost die in a one-car rollover accident cannot be known right now. “I didn’t know we could break a silver lining.”


The album moves forward: the up tempo “Wednesday” dissolves into the pensive “Strange,” haunted by vibraphones, and then “Carbon” with its icy drizzle of piano notes gathering into rhythmic waves of acoustic guitar and drums. “Carbon made only wants to be unmade” the way two men desperate to love each other want to be unmade, to be taken apart and studied, to be put back together. This is a way of loving. The author underlines this point.


“Wampum Prayer” appears. The a capella chanting may startle one or both of the men, coming suddenly after the first movement of the album. This is a turning point in the collection. “Don’t Make Me Come to Vegas,” Tori sings. In a few weeks, one of these men will visit Vegas without the other. He will think at the time it will be a chance for him to explore some other pastures, but all he does is miss the other, has a horrible time with his bitchy friends, calls often. The one in Vegas buys a mug for the other with London Bridge on it, a sight they visit along the way. It has the man’s name on it. The recipient keeps it for 9 years, 5 years longer than these two men kept each other.


“Sweet Sangria” arrives in its tightest dress and dancing shoes. It may or may not have brought along its pole. The men, in their petting, are negotiating a clothing reduction program, but it isn’t going well. One man wants to feel his skin on the other man’s skin. The other knows this is a slippery slope, that shedding a shirt leads to shedding pants, and shedding pants—well, the author is certain the reader won’t need a diagram.


“If the rain has to separate from itself / does it say / ‘Pick out your cloud’?” she sings in “Your Cloud.” The men, at an undetermined point in the future, will pool their belongings into a home. Framed pictures will appear on those walls, furniture arrives, and a domestic calm settles around them like a net through which they will see but feel they cannot move. Ultimately this net, initially what holds them together, they believe, will hold them back. From what, the author cannot say. They will separate. They will pick out their clouds. Their belongings, by this point, have lost their identities as “his” or “his.” The dog, just a puppy, they opt to share, but this arrangement doesn’t last long. The author had already named this dog Arden.


This was in the long, uncomfortable wake of September 11, so when “I Can’t See New York” fills the room, both men feel a great sadness weigh on them.


Folksy “Mrs. Jesus” leads into “Taxi Ride,” written for Kevin Aucoyn. “Just another dead fag to you / just another light missing on a long taxi line.” The line, its meaning, resonates. It is in this room one man will receive an anonymous voicemail in which a male caller threatens to rape the man in this story for being gay. But this night, months before that, is a night in which they feel safe together, unknown by the outside world. They are fully themselves.


The last four songs are another movement. The men leave behind the sadness of the last few songs. They have their lives to live. In this night, they are concerned with only each other, with the way this feels. The music fills the room like a liquid. Like a liquid, their lives will take the shape of the years they will share together. It always finds its own level. Things are good until they are no longer good. In ten years, they will not know each other anymore.


These last songs: wistful, knowing. The lush strings of “Gold Dust” enter: “Sights and sounds / pull me back down / another year.” At the end of things, the author knows he has loved and been loved. But things change. The past is not changed—the past stays back where it is and lets us go.


“How did it go so fast / you’ll say as we are looking back / and then we’ll understand / we held gold dust / in our hands.”


The author promised to end with heavy petting and will stay true to his word. This album, played so many nights while that futon warmed beneath the author and his soon-and-former love, became a tour the author attended at a venue down the street. He goes in, he listens to this performance, his first and only experience seeing her play live, playing many of the songs that have become inextricably linked to the telling of this story. He sits in his third balcony seat and looks down at her. He is thinking of his love when he hears these songs.


Somewhere in that auditorium is the man the author is going to marry.


Somewhere in that auditorium, listening to these same songs, loving this same album, is a man he will meet years down the road, whom he will meet at the worst possible time and under the worst possible circumstances. Someone the author will almost let pass by like a taxi he decides he does not need. Someone who will fall asleep during his first viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Someone the author will realize is the man he has been looking for and, dear reader, unlike many movies, our author has this realization just before it is too late, before this good man has passed him by and left him alone with his record collection and his big empty bed and his dog, who has grown and grown and become a lady.


Somewhere in that auditorium, the author’s future is listening.


When they kiss, no music plays. The music is always there between them.

8.06.2011

Sean Singer on The Beatles' Revolver



Many albums are important to me: the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Glenn Gould’s 1981 Goldberg Variations, Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction, Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, John Coltrane’s Sun Ship, Horace Tapscott’s The Dark Tree, Elgar’s Cello Concerto played by Jacqueline du Pré, and Janet Baker singing Mahler lieder, for example.

But, Revolver was vital to me longer, and for better reasons than my own tastes. When I was in high school, I played it incessantly. It showed me that there was something imaginative and explosive outside the cultural desert (at least at that time) known as South Florida. It allowed me to escape the suffocating and traumatic aspects of my childhood.

Many of The Beatles’ most popular songs are on Revolver-—“Yellow Submarine,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Good Day Sunshine,” but my favorite is the last, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” an early experimental song written by John Lennon with sitar, tape loops, speeded-up guitar, and a modal form. “Tomorrow Never Knows” was an anodyne to all sorts of chaos, pain, and limitation; it let me give myself permission to be “creative,” and that may be a good meaning of the word “psychedelic.” It expanded my consciousness.

On the other hand, “Doctor Robert” is a lousy song, but “Taxman” is an awful song with an awful message. It implies that some of the richest people in the world, The Beatles, should not have to pay taxes, which are the core of social welfare and an egalitarian society. This shows that even something great can be two-fifths terrible.

Revolver is to the sixties what Radiohead’s OK Computer was to the nineties. I don’t know if Revolver is as good as any of the ones I list above, but for my own life, it was purposeful at a time when things were difficult.



Sean Singer’s first book Discography won the 2001 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.S. Merwin, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. He has also published two chapbooks, Passport and Keep Right On Playing Through the Mirror Over the Water, both with Beard of Bees Press and is the recipient of a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is writing his dissertation in American Studies at Rutgers-Newark.

8.04.2011

Pamela Murray Winters on Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights




In 1987, I was hired by a major scientific journal publisher as a trainee copy editor, not because I knew a damn thing about science, but because I knew that “syphilis” had just the one “l.”

Really, I can’t imagine what else they saw in me. I was 26, a library school dropout, somewhat brainy but utterly directionless. I had no office skills, I hated computers, and I had to borrow a suit for the interview. I was so self-conscious and fragile that a few years earlier, when called upon to give a poetry reading, I’d burst into tears at the podium and run from the room.

At this new job, I soon fell in with the lunchtime card-playing group, a clutch of fellow nerds who’d gotten about halfway through grad school, in French or botany or psychology, before some epiphany or happy accident led them to drop out, train up, and spend their days reading far too much about the interior landscapes of swine. On my second or third day, I made a joke that involved Tinker Bell and Simone de Beauvoir—-and got laughs. I’d found my people.

One was a fellow I’ll call Grey. Ten years older than me, he was in that enviable cohort with stories about sit-ins and hitchhikers and, especially, freeform radio. Mired among the artistically unadventurous in my formative years, the 1970s, I loved music, but like many people past college age, I was losing my ability to connect with new (or new-to-me) music. I subscribed to Rolling Stone, but not much grabbed me; I needed to be led.

Grey soon became, in effect, the older-brother-with-a-great-record-collection I’d never had. He’d lend me tapes, sometimes of single artists—-Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz, for example—but more often mixtapes.

One day, Grey asked if I’d heard the Tom Waits classic “Step Right Up.” I hadn’t, so he lent me a mixtape that included it. (I don’t know where he got these tapes, whether they came from friends or whether he made them for his own amusement. He didn’t make them for me.) “Step Right Up” was genius, kickass, with wordplay the likes of which I hadn’t heard since my mercifully ended suicidal-undergrad-poet days...but I was more curious about two other selections.

I’d read about Richard and Linda Thompson in one of those many Rolling Stone countdowns of superlative albums. The list contained the expected Springsteen and Beatles and Jimi, but up near the top were these Thompsons, whoever they were. The gulf between their critical acclaim and their album sales—-orders of magnitude lower than those of anyone else on the list—-intrigued my contrary nature. I don’t know why I didn’t chase after them right then; instead, the glowing review and fascinating story of Shoot Out the Lights slipped under the mental file cabinets.

Grey’s tape shook it out again. It had two songs from Shoot Out the Lights: “Don’t Renege on Our Love” and “Just the Motion.” I couldn’t believe they were by the same artists. The latter was a shimmering, melancholy song that might have been about resting, or drowning, sung by a woman whose voice was glass--clear and plainspokenly powerful. The former—-yeah, it had me at “Renege”—-began with this freaky drumbeat I couldn’t quite count out, little sparks of spiky guitar, and then this voice, this man’s voice, that sounded dark and foreign and unpretty and…edgy. (It was nearly 20 years later when Richard Thompson, at work on the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, offered an aesthetic statement that nailed what’s best about his work: “If you rub the edges off music, you really take away the music itself. The music is in the edges.”)

I loved “Just the Motion” from the start, but I can’t even quite say I liked “Renege”; I was merely possessed by it. The sound of Richard’s baritone pleading “Ah, noooo” wrapped around and through me, a dusky, spectral hand reshaping some unformed clay into a fully realized figure.

I became a woman with a mission. Very soon, I had found one of Richard’s solo albums, Daring Adventures, in the cutout bin at Tower, but Shoot Out the Lights was difficult to get in those pre-Internet days. My husband, after some intrepid research, went to a store nearly an hour away to buy the LP as a Christmas gift. By January, he regretted this gift, as I’d begun playing it daily. At least.

I gazed at the lyrics on the inner sleeve, which were printed in appealing puzzlelike patterns as fetchingly enigmatic as the cover, a swirl of amber light in which Linda’s portrait dangled over a sitting, slumped, shade-faced Richard like a judgment both deadly and desired. I studied the liner notes. Once too shy to sing even in front of my husband, I let my voice travel the harmonies, first clandestinely, later—-years later—-with abandon.

I guess you’d call the music “folk-rock”; to me, it had no genre. The critics, who, along with the Thompsons’ “cult following” (may I send you our newsletter?), are the ones who claim to know best, will tell you that the songs—-all conceived by Richard, with Linda’s input on “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed”—-blend rockabilly and Middle Eastern and Celtic styles, among others. I heard sounds both bone-familiar and plain odd.

What mattered, what matters, so deeply to me in this music? Was it my Scottish ancestry, my hillbilly heritage? Was it some musical madeleine from 1967: my father singing “My Wild Irish Rose” as he made a bologna sandwich? Was it my familiarity with watching the dark? Or did I, in my unsettled twenties, just need a good musical kick upside the head?

“Don’t Renege on Our Love” kicks off side 1, its title setting a challenge that the lyrical content of the ensuing album verifies that someone is doomed to fail. It’s followed by the brooding “Walking on a Wire,” with Linda on lead vocals. (What a voice—-a voice that Linda was then in the process of losing to dysphonia; at the time I first heard her, she’d been retired from music for a couple of years, presumably never to return.) Then on to “A Man in Need,” in which Richard embodies a man deserting his family with an inevitability that’s downright jaunty. (I don’t know at what point I learned, or remembered from that old Rolling Stone piece, that this record came at the end of Richard and Linda’s own marriage. I’ve never seen it as beautiful art imitating ugly life; I trust the power of an artist’s imagination.)

“Just the Motion” ends side one; flip the disc, and the title track smacks that placid sonic ocean with the force of a mortar. Shoot Out the Lights is very “sided”; one is supposed to feel that electric explosion halfway through.

I should mention here that, in early listenings, I didn’t really notice the guitar all that much. (Our old pals the critics will tell you that’s what you’re supposed to admire about Richard Thompson.) I enjoyed the rubber-bandy bend and sting of the solos in “Shoot Out the Lights,” and especially the market stall’s worth of instruments, headed by that guitar, in the engaging coda of “Back Street Slide.” But I was in it for something else, something tonal, most of which was carried in Richard Thompson’s turns of verbal phrase and in his voice.

Each song—-and there are only eight—-is a world, carrying its own atmosphere, gravity, terrain. “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?” is especially distinctive, with its sinister lyrics (“Lying in a pool of herself with a twisted neck”) and its billowing curtains of sorrow in the instrumental passages. Was it, or was it not, written about Richard’s bandmate in the groundbreaking Britfolk band Fairport Convention, the late Sandy Denny? Grey guessed it was, but then again, Grey had told me not to bother to buy Shoot Out the Lights, as his tape contained the only two tracks worth hearing. How could he not have been swept up by “Wall of Death,” the anthemic closer, with its fairground imagery, its brave harmonies, and its hard-to-parse lyric “This is the nearest to being alive”?

We were moving in the spring of 1988, and every day, my husband would come home to increasingly disorderly scenes, half-painted walls, possessions disappearing into more and more boxes, while in the background Linda’s long-lost voice wailed “Too many steps to take, too many spells to break...This grindstone’s wearing me, your claws are tearing me…” It got so bad that he had to ask me whether I was trying to tell him something. (Life was not imitating art; we’re about to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary.)

Finding my editing job, my friends there, and the music of the Thompsons both centered me and set me flying. I learned to drive. I took up black coffee and dark beer. I joined the Internet in 1993 to be part of a “Richard Thompson discussion list,” which is worthy of a lengthy essay of its own. At a folk concert, I saw a flyer for a magazine called Dirty Linen, which was named for a Fairport Convention song and covered the sorts of music I was finding I liked. I volunteered to write music reviews for the magazine. Ultimately, I parlayed these reviews into paid freelance work.

I began attending Richard’s concerts all over the world, a great adventure for someone whose family seldom traveled beyond the Beltway. (I’m currently holding tickets for shows in Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania and a weeklong music cruise in the Caribbean.) When Linda came out of retirement to tour, I got to hear her a few times; back in 1988, I’d thought I’d missed that chance.

As a Thompson fan, I learned about Scottish polka, surreptitious concert recording, morris dance, Sufism, vocal disorders, proper English tea (milk in first!), the moral complexity of marital discord, and the worth of standing in line for three or four hours or more, with my tribe, to gain a spot half-sprawled over the stage monitor at the foot of the 9:30 Club stage.

I left my editing job in 1997 to devote my time to writing. I spent several years on what was to be the first biography of Sandy Denny. Richard Thompson (a very, very good sport) wrote my foreword. The project fell apart rather dramatically, as did I, almost simultaneously. I pulled myself together and kept writing reviews for a few more years but ultimately realized that the work was neither my bliss nor my meal ticket. So I took my writing back in the direction of poetry, and I took my need for gainful employment back to the same job I had in 1987, in the same place, with many of the same people.

Grey’s still here. He’s tried to hook me on Leonard Cohen. Brilliant dude, but there will never be another Richard Thompson for me. That “Ah, noooo” is in my blood. I don’t know how it got there; I feel like it was always there, like some virus or other occult phenomenon, waiting for a chance encounter to wake it up.




Pamela Murray Winters grew up in Takoma Park, Maryland, and now lives in nearby Silver Spring, walking distance from a soon-to-be-opened music venue and a noted poetry series, right in the happy middle. Her poetry has been published or will soon be published in Gargoyle, Gettysburg Review, Delaware Poetry Review, Fledgling Rag, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Anatomy & Etymology, JMWW, Calvert Review, and Takoma Park Writers 1981. She is at work on a book of poems about the transaction between performer and audience. She sometimes posts daily poems at oncedailyasdirected.blogspot.com.

8.02.2011

Michelle J. Martinez on Tom Waits's Rain Dogs



Tom Waits: Rain Dogs

Twenty-one years ago, I lived in an old polished wooden house that carried a light scent of mildew in its core. It wore the sanded down and lacquered over footprints of hundreds of students, young bewildered energetic folks like me, hungry for freedom, control, booze, and sex, stepping out in to the unknown to try on a future self. At 17 and a half years old, I was the youngest in the house. I occupied the smallest room in that house on Dunn Street. A tiny perfect square, drab, with no closet, only a metal rack clinging to the thick wall like the kind in motels or boarding houses. There was one electric outlet in the room, and no phone jack. It was like stepping back in time. 1990 wasn’t all laptops and iPads like now and most people had remote control cable tv and VCRs, but something pure and sad about that room comforted me with its secrets. The window had no screen and opened over the back rooms of the house, so often I climbed out there to smoke and brood and soak in the quiet that takes over a college town in summer, leaving it all green grass and thunderstorms. All summer long I listened to Rain Dogs by Tom Waits. Somewhat steampunk and vaguely cookie monster, his vivid images and discordant harmonies spoke to the juxtaposition of the life I knew, and the dirty guitar through the album, strummed by Marc Ribot, just tickled me.

We sail tonight for Singapore, take your blankets from the floor, wash your mouth out by the door, the whole town’s made of iron ore, every witness turns to steam, they all become Italian dreams, fill your pockets up with earth, get yourself a dollars worth, away boys, heave away. The captain is a one armed dwarf, he’s throwing dice along the wharf. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. So take this ring. “Singapore”

Most nights I slept in my boyfriend’s bed. He had the only bedroom downstairs, and the only one with its own bathroom. He was the reason I had transferred to that college at 17 and a half and was paying for it myself, one class at a time, working weekdays for an eccentric old artist who was trying to squeeze 30 years of art and hoarding from a three story Victorian house into a two bedroom Craftsman. While I spent afternoons sorting and packing collections of ironing boards, antique salt shakers, and other obscure tchotchkes with the artist’s self-portrait painted gravely on their surfaces, listening to her political rants and tales of sadness, my boyfriend spent his days elusive and aloof. Under his white blond curls and sun golden skin, there was a dark edge. I would sneak into the forest with him, small shovels and collapsible water cubes in our internal frame backpacks, hydroponically grown clones of skunky high-test pot plants carefully packed in old coffee cans and lunch coolers. Deep into the humid Green County, Indiana forest we trekked and planted each one, hoping to harvest and cure in time for the student party surge at Homecoming in the fall.

Uncle Bill will never leave a will and his tumor is a big as an egg, he has a mistress and she is Puerto Rican, and I hear she has a wooden leg. Uncle Phil can’t live without his pills, he has emphysema and he’s almost blind. And we must find out where the money is, get it now before he loses his mind. “Cemetery Polka”

Some nights we slept on the front porch of the polished wood house to listen to the thunder and rain. When my boyfriend was gone on some overnight trip I was not invited to, I tossed and turned on the thin futon in my drab little room, and would flick on the little desk lamp perched on an overturned plastic crate stamped STOLEN FROM IGA and write until the pink dawn. Although I was only 17 and a half and taking one college course, I had already worked at homeless shelters and food banks in Minneapolis, Boston, New Orleans, and Indianapolis as well as had been exposed to the culture of the Midway of the state fair circuit and farm work in South. My memories were peopled with strange and rough characters, speaking in various languages and accents, smelling of stale smoke and drink. In fact, my own family had its fair share of these kinds of characters too. There was something about that room and the album Rain Dogs by Tom Waits that helped to pull these stories out of me. He spoke of a world I understood, a multi-cultural landscape of poverty and booze. I sat cross-legged under the window on the faded linoleum floor, pen pressed in hand and spilled prose into a lavender satin journal, the only thing left of my ‘little girl’ room back home.

Well it’s 9th and Hennepin. All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes. And the moon’s teeth marks are on the sky, like a tarp thrown all over this, and the broken umbrella like dead birds, and the steam comes out of the grill like the whole damn town’s about to blow. And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos and everyone’s behaving like dogs, and the horses are coming down Violin Road and Dutch is dead on his feet. And all the rooms, they smell like diesel and you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept there. And I’m lost in the window, and I hide in the stairway, and I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat. No one brings anything small into a bar around here. “9th and Hennepin”

Because he was 21 years old, my summer golden boyfriend went to the bars a lot. When a band I knew was playing, they let me carry in gear through the back of the club with a warning not to drink. I could see the show, but had to respect the favor. I knew I could drink later. I would often hide in the middle of the crowd and close my eyes and dance. If I danced with closed eyes I wouldn’t have to see my boyfriend dance too close to the other girls, feeling them pressed next him, rolling his hand down their curves, unbothered by whether I had gotten into the club or not. Most nights that he went out, I stayed in and scribbled into my journal or the tiny spiral notebook I kept in my pocket, Tom Waits and his colorful cast of characters and discordant harmony keeping me company.

Sane, sane, they’re all insane. Fireman’s blind, the conductor’s lame. A Cincinnati jacket and a sad luck dame, hanging out the window with a bottleful of rain. Clap hands. Clap hands. Clap hands. Clap hands. Said roll, roll the thunder and the roll, son ‘bitch’s never coming back here no more, the moon in the window and the bird on the pole, we can always find a million in a shovel load of coal. “Clap Hands”

While the boyfriend had gone out a few days on a trip to see some Dead Shows in the east, I had had a couple VCR movie night with a few friends. We watched Down By Law and Stranger than Paradise by Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch captured the black and white doldrums that existed in the eighties behind the AquaNet and neon colors. Tom Waits and John Lurie personified much of the angst I felt and craved. This fed my need to hear Rain Dogs more. The guitar in some tracks tore through my core. Tore out any fear I had, pulled some of my anger to the surface, made me aware of my name. I scribbled with fury onto small paper as Marc Ribot’s strings awakened something in me I knew of the lives in the songs, more than I had ever been willing to admit to anyone.

Well you play that Tarantella, all the hounds will start to roar, and the boys all go to hell, then the Cubans hit the floor. And they drive along the pipeline, they tango ‘til they’re sore. They take apart their nightmares and they leave them by the door. Let me fall out the window with confetti in my hair, deal out jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs. I tell you all my secrets but I lie about my past, so send me off to bed forever more. “Tango ‘Til They’re Sore”

One of the nights that I sat alone with the Rain Dogs on Waits’ cassette tape, I composed a short story called “Jazz, My Love?”. It became my first published story and earned a much-needed $250. The friend who had convinced me to submit the story excitedly delivered the news while also scolding me for not being easy to find. Summer golden boyfriend had replaced me with an anthropology major and I was hiding out on Smith Street, subleasing a shotgun apartment without a phone while its usual tenant was finding adventure somewhere in Central America. Ten years later, when I showed the tattered copy of the story to my present partner, a weathered musician from New York, and told him the story of it while we were in the early lustful interview portion of a relationship, he informed me that he played drums and percussion with Marc Ribot and John Lurie, and worked on the music for the Jarmusch films that had influenced me a decade earlier. For the first time in a very long while, I felt like I was home.

Inside a broken clock, splashing the wine with all the rain dogs. Taxi we’d rather walk, huddle in a doorway with the rain dogs. For I am a Rain Dog too! Oh how we danced and we swallowed the nights for it was all ripe for dreaming. Oh how we danced away all of the lights, we’ve always been out of our minds. The rum pours strong and thin, beat out the dustman with a Rain Dog. Aboard a shipwreck train, give my umbrella to a Rain Dog. For I am a Rain Dog too! “Rain Dogs”



Michelle J. Martinez and her weathered musician partner live in Tempe, AZ with their two kids and small dog. They all pound on drums and keyboards and yell their heads off in discordant harmonies.