Promises

Little known fact:  I own every Cranberries album.  Don’t know exactly why, as I’ve never been a die-hard Cranberries fan, and I’ve also never been one to frivolously purchase music.  I’ve always been extremely selective with the records I’ve purchased over the years, and yet, whenever the Cranberries came out with a new album, I always managed to rush out and buy it post haste.

So today I’m sharing my favorite Cranberries track, Promises, in memory of Dolores O’Riordan.  It’s not the best Cranberries song (that nod should probably go to “Dreams” or “Ode to My Family” or “Zombie” or hell, even “Linger”) yet it’s still a kick-ass tune with brutally humanistic lyrics (this time about divorce) in keeping with the best Cranberries tunes.  R.I.P., Dolores.

You better believe I’m coming–
You better believe what I say…
You better hold on to your promises,
Because you bet you’ll get what you deserve.
She’s going to leave him over,
She’s gonna take her love away–
So much for your eternal vows, well,
It does not matter anyway.

Why can’t you stay here awhile?
Stay here awhile?
Stay with me?

Oh, all the promises we made,
All the meaningless and empty words
I prayed, prayed, prayed!
Oh, all the promises we broke…
All the meaningless and empty words
I spoke, spoke, spoke!

Do-do-do, do-do-do,
Do-do-do, do-do-do

What of all the things that you taught me?
What of all the things that you’d say?
What of all your prophetic preaching?
You’re just throwing it all away.
Maybe we should burn the house down,
Have ourselves another fight,
Leave the cobwebs in the closet,
‘Cause tearing them out is just not right.

Why can’t you stay here awhile?
Stay here awhile?
Stay with me, oh oh!

Oh, all the promises we made,
All the meaningless and empty words
I prayed, prayed, prayed!
Oh, all the promises we broke…
All the meaningless and empty words
I spoke, spoke, spoke!

Oh eh, oh eh, oh eh,
Oh eh, oh eh [Repeat]

Do-do-do
Do-do-do
Do-do-do
Do-do-do

(apologies to Dolores and The Cranberries)

Time to Move On

My favorite Tom Petty song from my favorite Tom Petty album. Enjoy.

It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going
 
Broken skyline, movin’ through the airport
She’s an honest defector
Conscientious objector
Now her own protector
 
Broken skyline, which way to love land
Which way to something better
Which way to forgiveness
Which way do I go
 
It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going

Sometime later, getting the words wrong
Wasting the meaning and losing the rhyme
Nauseous adrenalin
Like breakin’ up a dogfight
Like a deer in the headlights
Frozen in real time
I’m losing my mind
 
It’s time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going

(R.I.P. Tom Petty)

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Boy Crying With Ice Cream Cone

Just felt like sharing a poem.  No particular reason.

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The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal.
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

-Wallace Stevens

 

Storming the Bastille

LibertyEqualityorDeath

Happy Bastille Day to all the Francophiles and other freedom lovers out there.  Bastille Day 2016 marked a banner day for the Closser clan.  I am wallowing in my own misery, per usual, while damn near everyone I love is going through something terrible.  My mother is lying in bed in a nursing home with pneumonia.  My brother’s life “got flipped turned upside down,” as the Fresh Prince would say.  And my father had to put down his dog of nearly sixteen years, a black Dachshund named “Nietzsche” who was in such poor health that there was really no other course of action but to put him to sleep.

It’s always a sad affair when one loses an animal, but as the poet Mark Doty once noted, to have a pet is to make a “pact with grief.”  Unless you own a tortoise, odds are that you will inevitably outlive the creature you’ve agreed to love and nurture, and one day you will have to deal with the grief that comes with its loss.

It’s not a Mark Doty poem I’m choosing to share below, but rather it’s a poem from Billy Collins.  I had forgotten about this particular poem, but my father mentioned it in our phone conversation this afternoon, and now I feel the need to share it.  (Apologies to Billy Collins.)

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The Revenant

I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you–not one bit.

When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.

I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair to eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.

I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and–greatest of insults–shake hands without a hand.

I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.

You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.

The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.

While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all of my strength
not to raise my head and howl.

Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place

except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner–
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.

-Billy Collins

 

Stand up… Harper Lee has passed

harper lee

Harper Lee has died.  She was 89 years old.

Author of one of the most wonderful (and wonderfully overrated) novels of all time, Harper herself was a bit of an enigma.  A soft-spoken and somewhat reclusive resident of the small southern town of Monroeville, Alabama (the same tiny town where she was born is also where she would die), Nelle Harper Lee would become one of the most influential American novelists of the 20th century having only written one book.  But oh, what a book!  Harper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird was so successful that there was simply no need for her to write anything else; her lone novel eclipsing the entire body of work of her childhood friend, the brash literary genius Truman Capote.

She was a one-hit wonder for nearly all of her life until somebody at HarperCollins got wise and decided to make a small fortune last year by unscrupulously publishing her “rough draft” of Mockingbird, entitled Go Set a Watchman.  I initially withstood the urge to read this exploitative effort because I believed that some things should remain sacred, but the historian in me eventually won out and I compromised my principles and bought a copy.  And I’m sorry I did.  I made it about three-quarters of the way through the book before I completely lost interest and let the rest of the story go unread.  I should have known better, but HarperCollins got my blood money all the same.

51EU92Bi4GLdon’t judge a book by its cover…

It’s a shame, really, because To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite books, and one of a handful of novels I have read and re-read just for pleasure.  Damn near everyone has to read it at some point in high school, but I was about eleven years old when I first read it (although my first reading was equally mandatory).  My father, who was a literature professor, was fond of forcing books upon me and my brother during the summer months, even going so far as to assign us book reports, no doubt in the hopes of supplementing our public school education and preventing our tiny brains from atrophying any further from non-stop Nintendo playing.  [note:  we did not have a Nintendo growing up, and we had to visit our friends’ houses to get our fix.]

mockingbirdcover…unless its one of the most iconic book covers of all time

Though Mockingbird is set in the depression, its coming-of-age story is truly timeless.  Anyone who’s spent any of their youth growing up in the south will easily recognize chunks of their own childhood in the novel, which is one of the reasons I have such a special place in my heart for this book.  In fact, I would argue that this is perhaps the single greatest and most accurate account of childhood in all of fiction.  But the primary reason this book remains so beloved is not its depiction of the innocence and experience of growing up– rather, it’s the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) way in which it addressed racism and social injustice.  Mockingbird arguably opened up more hearts and minds to these issues than any novel had before (or since), and for that reason alone it will remain required reading in most schools for the interminable future.

When it comes down to it, though, my deep affinity for the book can ultimately be traced to one Atticus Finch.  He was the quintessential father figure– a hard-working man who was as tough as he was fair, as smart as he was honest, and whose bleeding heart carried a deep love for his family along with an unflinching sense of right and wrong.  He embodied the kind of man I aspired to be when I grew up.  In all the books I’ve read, few fictional characters have been as admirable or inspirational to me as Atticus was.

atticusfinchmy hero (and yes, I think the movie is better than the book– sue me)

As soon as I finished the novel for the first time, I knew that Atticus Finch was my literary hero, but it was Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus in the brilliantly cast film adaptation that would later cement the character’s place in my heart, so much so that I can remember getting emotional years ago when I heard Gregory Peck had died.  One of my functionally-literate co-workers at the time seemed shocked.  “Jeez, it’s not like you knew the guy,” she said.  “You don’t understand,” I replied, “I, and millions of people like me, just lost the father I never had.  So yeah… I feel like I knew the guy.”

It’s with the same sense of familiarity that I am now mourning the loss of Harper Lee, and I can’t help but feel that Harper deserves the same kind of respect shown to Atticus when he’s leaving the courtroom:

R.I.P., Harper Lee.

The Stars Look Very Different Today

davidbowie

Rock legend and pop-music icon David Bowie died on Sunday after an eighteen-month battle with cancer. He was 69 years old.

Although I’ve never really been a fan of glam rock, I’ve always felt a bit of a kinship with Ziggy Stardust. I considered myself something of an “alien” growing up– an outcast or a misfit who could never quite belong because I was just a little too smart and strange for my own good. Plus, I was born with dichromatic eyes, and people used to tell me I have “David Bowie eyes,” so I once had that going for me, too. But I hadn’t heard that comparison in a long while, as we’re living in an age where most people’s reference point for David Bowie is a Jimmy Fallon impression.

In an odd bit of prophecy, I heard the song “Heroes” this weekend, but it wasn’t Bowie’s version. Rather, it was a live recording from a long-since lost Blondie CD I found while cleaning out my car. Even odder is the fact that this live recording was from a concert held at the Hammersmith Odeon exactly thirty-six years ago today (January 12, 1980). I had forgotten how good the track was, and I must have played it four or five times in a row. One of the reasons this live track is so good is because joining Blondie onstage for that show was one Robert Fripp, the “pitched feedback” experimental guitar pioneer who just so happened to be the studio guitarist on the original record written by David Bowie and Brian Eno, and one could easily argue that Fripp deserves just as much credit as Bowie or Eno for giving the song its unique sound.

frippenobowieFripp, Eno, and Bowie being badasses in the studio

But what really makes “Heroes” such a good song is simply that it’s such a powerful piece of music.  The bittersweet lyrics tell the story of two young lovers and their doomed romance, and the beautiful music takes the lyrics to a whole other level.  With its hauntingly hopeful melody and musical progression, it’s almost an anthem of sorts– an uplifting and optimistic anthem to impossible and impermanent love.

I would argue that this is Bowie’s best song, but not only would you have to listen to his entire catalog to be able to debate the validity of my argument, you would also have to listen to his recording of this particular song, which I am not sharing with you today.  Rather, I am choosing to share Blondie’s live recording which is almost as old as I am because this is my blog and I can do whatever the hell I please with it. But do yourself a favor and listen to Bowie’s original, too.

R.I.P., space oddity– you will be missed.


I, I will be king,
and you, you will be queen–
though nothing will drive them away,
we can beat them, just for one day–
we can be heroes, just for one day.

And you, you can be mean,
and I, I’ll drink all the time,
’cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact–
yes we’re lovers, and that is that.

Though nothing will keep us together,
we could steal time, just for one day–
we can be heroes, forever and ever.
What do you say?

I, I wish you could swim
like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim,
though nothing, nothing will keep us together,
we can beat them, forever and ever.
Oh, we can be heroes, just for one day.

I, I will be king,
and you, you will be queen–
though nothing will drive them away,
we can be heroes, just for one day…
we can be us, just for one day…

I, I remember, (I remember)
standing, by the wall, (by the wall)
and the guns, shot above our heads, (over our heads)
and we kissed, as though nothing could fall, (nothing could fall)
and the shame, was on the other side–
oh, we can beat them, forever and ever,
then we could be heroes, just for one day.

We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes
Just for one day
We can be heroes

The Prairie Troubadour

vachellindsayquote

My previous post about poet Stevie Smith got me thinking about one of the other prized volumes in my poetry collection:  Vachel Lindsay’s Collected Poems.  Discovered by chance while browsing the poetry section of a used bookstore in Knoxville, Tennessee [note: used bookstores in academic towns are the best places to find fantastic yet forgotten books of poetry], it was the first (and only) time I’d ever encountered the volume, and I bought it immediately.

One of the first things I noticed about the book (other than its wonderful illustrations) was its dedication page:

IMG_1093“this book is dedicated to Sara Teasdale, poet”

For those who don’t know, Sara Teasdale was a poet with whom Vachel was romantically involved and very much in love.  A man whose means were as modest as his self-image, Vachel was far too worried about his ability (or inability, rather) to provide for Sara, and over much hand-wringing managed to convince himself that no matter how much she might also love him, he just wasn’t good enough for her.  So she, of course, ended up marrying a wealthy businessman with whom she was ultimately unhappy.  (Ain’t life grand?)

For lack of a better term, Vachel was an “interesting” dude.  Handsome, brilliant, and too artistic for med school (he dropped out to pursue his calling as an artist/poet), he was a romantic at heart as well as a bit of a politico.  Nicknamed “The Prairie Troubadour” for the impassioned poetry readings he delivered as he travelled the midwest, he was known as a nationalistic progressive, which seems something of an anachronism now (believe it or not, there was a time when patriotic people could both love their country and want to change it without having to be labeled a Communist).  Never to be mistaken for a cynic, Vachel was an extremely sincere man who stood for his convictions and among those convictions was fighting for equality, especially among racial and socio-economic divides, as evidenced in both his writing and his life (he was an early mentor of Langston Hughes).

Vachel also believed strongly in the musical roots of poetry, most of his verse carrying an undeniable musical rhythm within its meter.  I’ve often wondered what he would’ve thought of the last forty years or so of musicians who fancy themselves poets, particularly the more progressive songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, et al.

vachellindsay“my precious,” as Golem would say

Like Stevie Smith, Vachel was also a draftsman (and a talented one, at that), and his art is scattered throughout his Collected Poems.  And like Stevie, he, too, suffered from depression.  But Vachel didn’t handle his depression nearly as well as Stevie did.  On December 5, 1931, he killed himself by drinking a bottle of Lysol.  I can remember reading about Vachel’s suicide when I was a child, and that image haunted me then just as much as it haunts me now– I cannot imagine a more particularly terrible or horrific way to go.  [note:  two years after Vachel’s suicide, Sara Teasdale would kill herself by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills]

I’ll finish this post with one of Vachel’s poems.  It’s not his best poem, but it’s one I have always enjoyed for shallow and superficial reasons.  Though Vachel was from Springfield, Illinois, the woman he loved was from St. Louis, Missouri, and I’ve always identified with this poem as a writer from Springfield, Missouri.

vachel lindsay springfield