How Soon Is Now?

There are plenty of great rock anthems out there, but there are only a handful of nearly perfect singles in this world, and this gem by The Smiths is one of those tracks.  I’m old school, so I come from the line of thought that, much like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, you have to choose either The Smiths or The Cure– it’s theoretically impossible to like both bands equally, so you have to pick one.  Well, I choose The Cure because when it comes to emo angst, I’ll take Robert Smith’s sincerity over Morrissey’s any day of the week.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now” as one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s and also one of the greatest recordings of the last thirty years.  With Johnny Fuckin’ Marr’s hypnotic reverb riff and Morrissey’s haunting vocals, this is a song that sticks its hand right into your chest and grabs hold of your beating, bleeding heart just long and tightly enough for you to fully comprehend the pain of loneliness.

“I am human and I need to be loved– just like everybody else does.” 

Yup.

I am the son
and the heir
of a shyness that is criminally vulgar.
I am the son and heir
of nothing in particular.

You shut your mouth–
how can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved,
just like everybody else does.

I am the son
and the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar.
I am the son and heir
of nothing in particular.

You shut your mouth–
how can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved,
just like everybody else does.

There’s a club if you’d like to go–
you could meet somebody who really loves you.
So you go and you stand on your own,
and you leave on your own,
and you go home and you cry
and you want to die.

When you say it’s gonna happen “now,”
well when exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long,
and all my hope is gone.

You shut your mouth–
how can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved,
just like everybody else does.

(apologies to The Smiths)

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

(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear

Feelin’ awfully melancholy and nostalgic tonight (Melanostalgic?) and stumbled upon this old tune by the venerable pop/punk band Blondie.  While the band will always be remembered foremost for “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture,” it was ethereal tracks like this one that made them my favorite band when I was a teen (helped in no small part by Clem Burke’s wicked drum fills which made it impossible to listen to Blondie without beating the hell out of everything in sight whilst air drumming).  And name me another rock band to use the word “theosophy” in a song, I dare you.

Was it destiny?  I don’t know yet.
Was it just by chance?  Could this be kismet?
Something in my consciousness told me you’d appear–
now I’m always touched by your presence, dear.

When we play at cards, you use an extra sense.
You can read my hand, I’ve got no defense.
When you send your messages, whispered loud and clear–
I am always touched by your presence, dear.

Floating past the evidence of possibility–
we could navigate, together, psychic frequencies.

Coming into contact with outer entities–
we could entertain each one with our theosophy.

Stay awake at night and catch your R.E.M.s
when you’re talking with your super friends.
Levitating lovers in the secret stratosphere–
I am still in touch with your presence, dear.

(apologies to Blondie)

Mic Drop

This was a mistake.  I’ve been acting crazy…  that phone call just pulled me back to reality.  You were right– I don’t love you.  You don’t love me.  We’re just two lonely people trying to hate ourselves a little less.  Maybe that’s all we’re ever going to be.  Maybe that’s all we ever were.

I like cartoons ’cause they’re funny.

Big Yellow Taxis (September 16th)

sinkingyellowtaxissunken yellow taxis (handiwork of Hurricane Sandy)

I’ve been humming the chorus to Joni Mitchell’s classic tune “Big Yellow Taxi” all week long now, so I guess it’s ironically fitting that I just happened to watch an episode of the early eighties sitcom Taxi containing a scene that proved to be at once both incredibly poignant and eerily timely to me:

 
When you’re a child, you tend to notice the good times over the bad in part because of your age. Your limited life experiences keep you from having enough of a framework in place to distinguish the good days from the truly bad.  When you look at a calendar as a child, it’s only the good dates you see– the birthdays and holidays and such.  But as you get older, you inevitably learn the feeling of regret, and there will eventually come a time when you realize that some dates on the calendar are harder to face than others.  Today marks one of those dates for me.

September sixteenth was once the happiest day of my life, and now it’s easily the saddest.  But as Joni Mitchell sang, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”   Yep, Joni, darlin’… I paved paradise to put up a parking lot.

“Big Yellow Taxi”

They paved paradise
and put up a parking lot–
with a pink hotel, a boutique,
and a swinging hot spot.
Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got
‘til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
and put up a parking lot.

They took all the trees
and put them in a tree museum.
Then they charged the people
a dollar and a half just to see ’em.
Don’t it always seem to go,
that you don’t know what you’ve got
‘til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
and put up a parking lot.

Hey farmer, farmer,
put away that DDT now.
Give me spots on my apples,
but leave me the birds and the bees, 
please!
Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got
‘til its gone?
They paved paradise
and put up a parking lot.

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam,
and a big yellow taxi
come and took away my old man.
Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got
‘til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
and put up a parking lot.

(apologies to Joni Mitchell and to D.G.)