You would not think, just to look at him…

So yesterday I was riding the bus, which I only do when I need to tote both my guitar and amp downtown. The two-plus miles is just a little too far for the ~60 pound carry, especially given an injured shoulder and wrist, and sidewalks that are a mess from a foot of snow last week.

A couple of stops  after boarding, on steps a guy with a very tattered beige coat, like something that might have been involved in say, some street fights, or use as a dog’s bed. He was dragging a heavy-looking plastic bag full recyclables, and sat down next to me.

“Play the guitar, eh?”
“Yeah” says I.
“What kind of stuff you like?”
“Acoustic 12…a lot of Bob Dylan, but also John Gorka, Chris Smither, Greg Brown, the Dead, some Zeppelin…some of my own stuff too.”

In the five minutes before he got off, he told me the abridged version of how he once played a lot, both guitar and keyboards, apparently as a professional musician, including a lot of local shows at various venues, with a band was busy and popular, mostly back in the 1980s and 90s I gathered. He said he made good money at it and even shared the bill with some well-known bands/acts, such as Mitch Ryder, Steppenwolf, and (I think) Dave Alvin’s band (The Blasters?).   About how Ryder once got quite upset with him, when his band was supposed to be opening his show but he was instead drunk in a local bar, having completely forgotten about it.  His band mates had to track him down, and the resulting delay caused Ryder to open for him, instead of vice-versa. He smiled at the memory.

I asked him if he was still performing or playing. He talked for a couple of minutes–about how that’s all gone now. He lives on disability and food stamps, supplemented I guess, by whatever he gets from collecting and hauling recyclables via foot and bus, and street begging, which he said he makes some money at.

“Yeah, I could…but damn alcohol…” he said.

As he got up to get off, I invited him to bring his guitar and we could jam together on the street. He said that would be cool, and would do so. There wasn’t time to get his name or number.  Hope I see him again.

Now you would not think, just to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

 

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Everything is broken

Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones

Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken

Bob Dylan, 1989

I will knock–just like before

I’m the latest apparition
Cutting slices in the night
I come through without permission
Moving in and out of human sight

I’m the tapping on your shoulder
I’m the raven in the storm
I’ll take shelter in your rafters
I’ll be the shiver when you’re warm

I’m the gold in California
I’m the wealth in Mexico
Like the vultures in the valley–
I will wait for you to go

I’m the gypsy in your pocket
I’m the horseman in your dreams
I’m the reason dogs are barking
I’m the hand that stops the scream

I’m the baby’s cry that isn’t
I am the distant relative
I’m the scratching in the ceiling
I am advice you shouldn’t give

I’m the ghost of a traveling salesman
My foot will be there in your door
Though I can walk through walls and windows
I will knock–just like before

Raven in the Storm, John Gorka

Behind the face of need

A man conceived a moment’s answers to the dream
Staying the flowers, daily sensing all the themes
As a foundation left to create the spiral aim
All movement regained and regarded both the same
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

Changed only for a sight, the sound, the space, agreed
Between the picture of time, behind the face of need
Coming quickly to terms of all expression laid
Emotion revealed is the ocean maid
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

 

close-to-the-edge-inner

 

 

 

 

 

Sad preacher nailed upon the color-door of time
Insane teacher be there, reminded of the rhyme
There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify
Political ends, as sad remains, will die
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you

I listened hard but could not see
Life tempo change out- and inside me
The preacher trained in all to lose his name
The teacher travels, asking to be shown the same
In the end we’ll agree, we’ll accept, we’ll immortalize
The truth of the man maturing in his eyes
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

And you and I climb, crossing the shapes of the morning
And you and I reach over the sun for the river
And you and I climb clearer towards the movement
And you and I crawl over valleys of endless seas

And You And I, Jon Anderson, Yes

close-to-the-edge-cover

When it happens to you

Well she was old enough, to know better
And she was strong enough, to be true
And she was hard enough, to know whether
He was smart enough, to know what to do

And you can’t resist it
When it happens to you
No you can’t resist it
When it happens to you

And you can tell your stories
And you can swear it’s true
But you can save your lies
For some other fool

And you can’t resist it
When it happens to you
No you can’t resist it
When it happens to you

You can’t resist it, Lyle Lovett (with Leo Kottke)

And if that doesn’t do it for you, this should:

Find it on your own

Say goodbye, you know it’s true
I know you’re leavin’ me–I’m leavin’ too
You won’t forget me, or the sound of my name
Please believe, I feel the same

It seems so empty now–you’ve closed the door
Ain’t it hard to believe you ever lived this way before?
All that nothin’… causes all that pain
Please believe, I feel the same

Broken soul, the heart it’s breakin’
Can’t make it whole ’til you know what’s been taken
All those pieces–find them on your own
All those pieces–find them on your own

I Feel The Same, Chris Smither

I am the ride

I awoke and someone spoke–they asked me in a whisper
If all my dreams and visions had been answered
I don’t know what to say–I never even pray
I just feel the pulse of universal dancers
They’ll waltz me till I die and never tell me why–
I’ve never stopped to ask them where we’re going
But the holy, the profane, they’re all helplessly insane
Wishful, hopeful, never really knowing

They asked if I believe, and do the angels really breathe?
Or is it all a comforting invention?
It’s just like gravity I said–it’s not a product of my head
It doesn’t speak but nonetheless commands attention
I don’t care what it means, or who decorates the scenes
The problem is more with my sense of pride
It keeps me thinking me, instead of what it means to be
But I’m not a passenger, I am the ride
I’m not a passenger, I am the ride

I Am The Ride, Chris Smither

Nobody knows

Nobody knows about what’s going on
With the wood and the steel, the flesh and the bone
The river keeps flowing and the grass still grows
And the spirit keeps going, but nobody knows

Poets they come and the poets they go
Politicians and preachers–they all claim to know
Words that are written and the melodies played
As the years turn their pages, they all start to fade

The ocean still moves with the moon in the sky
The grass still grows on the hillside
Got to believe in believin’
Got to believe in a dream
Freedom is ever deceiving
Never turning out to be what it seems

It’s amazing how fast our lives go by
Like a flash of lightning, like the blink of an eye
We all fall in love as we fall into life
We look for the truth on the edge of the night
Heavens turn ’round and the river still flows
How the spirit keeps going, nobody knows

Nobody Knows, Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers
(Chords here)

What’s his name again?

Yeah, it happens when the money comes:
The wild and poor get pushed aside
It happens when the money comes

Buyers come from out of state
They raise the rent and you can’t buy
Buyers come from out of state and raise the rent

“Buy low, sell high, you get rich!”
You still die
Money talks and people jump
Ask “How high?”
Low-life Donald…what’s-his-name?

And who cares?
I don’t want to know what his wife
Does or doesn’t wear
It’s a shame the people at work
Want to hear about this kind of jerk

I walk where the bottles break
And the blacktop comes on back for more
I walk where the bottles break
And the blacktop comes on back

I live where the neighbors yell
And their music comes up through the floor
I live where the neighbors yell
And their music wakes me up

Where the bottles break, John Gorka, 1991

The same thing that I want today…

Well I’m sailing away my own true love
I’m sailing away in the morning
Is there somethin’ I can send you from across the sea
From the place that I’ll be landin’

No there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love
There’s nothin’ I’m wishing to be ownin’
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled
From across that lonesome ocean

Oh but I just thought you might like somethin’ fine
Made of silver, or of golden
From the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona

Well if I had the stars of the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss
For it’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’

And I might be gone a long, long time
And it’s only that I’m askin’
Is there somethin’ I can send you to remember me by
To make your time more easy a-passin’

How can, how can you ask me again?
It only a-brings me sorrow
The same thing that I want today
I’ll want again tomorrow

Oh and I got a letter on a lonesome day
It was from her ship a-sailin’
Sayin’ I don’t know when I’ll be coming back again–
It depends on how I’m feelin’

Well if you my love must think that a-way
I’m sure your mind is a-roamin’
I’m sure your thoughts are not ’bout me
But with the country where you’re goin’

So take heed, take heed of the western wind
Take heed of stormy weather
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me:
Spanish boots of Spanish leather

Boots of Spanish Leather, Bob Dylan

Too many memories

I remember this town, with a girl by my side
And a love seldom found, in this day and time
And it gets melancholy, every now and again
When you let your mind go, and it drifts way back when
Now life plays its tricks, some cruel but fair
And even a fool can’t pretend they don’t care

When there’s too many memories for one heart to hold
Once a future so bright now seems so distant and cold
And the shadows grow long and your eyes look so old
When there’s too many memories for one heart to hold

There are those moments, and they just never fade
Like the look in her eyes and the way the light played
God moved in that moment, and the angels all cried
And they gave you a memory that you’ll have ’til you die
Now the lesson you learned, and you don’t dare forget
What makes you grow old is replacing hope with regret

And there’s too many memories for one heart to hold
Once a future so bright, now seems so distant and cold
And the shadows grow long, and your eyes look so old
When there’s too many memories for one heart to hold

The late Stephen Bruton, Too Many Memories
(Thanks to Mike Flynn for playing the Tom Rush cover of this last night on his great show, The Folk Sampler)