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3 Jun

I’m listening to something, calls itself: Bomrani. Is that a man’s name? A man’s voice piped thru the wire into the cushioned speakers against my ears, making the air vibrate thru holes in my head, straight to my brain. The sound of someone I’ve never met on the other side of globe sometime in the past.

The words are in Farsi, I don’t know what they mean. But the melody and the mood give the meaning away. It’s the soundtrack of the march thru this life. To be born, to grow, to flower, to fall apart and fold back into the stream of matter that makes up the cosmos. My people are famous for them and our music shares an ancestor with this Persian minstrel.

Another song, in English, not the singer’s first language. But it’s one of those sugar-flavoured pop songs that go all the way back to Detroit in the days when my parents were courting. A tune that has the house go a quiet, dark mass of human silhouettes. A scattered costellation of handheld flames. In Pittsburgh and Miami, in Sydney and Perth, In Seoul and Shanghai, Prague, Dublin, Rome and Bucharest. Buenos Aires, Sao Pualo, Mexico City. Alice Springs. The world over shares a ritual. From here back thru the historical bracken to Africa. All of us.

I was in a room last night listening to a sage, his German face reminded me of The Picture of Dorian Grey; Lord Henry’s observation that intelligence distorts beauty. That all beautiful people therefore must be dim. But no, this is refuted by the story. Its moral contribution is to give those with understanding the key to Beauty’s true nature. Our sensai’s ugliness belied true beauty of this kind. His tie was piquant, his manners sublime. His thought and metaphors always as deft as a cellist who plays Beethoven’s music in perfect temperance: technique and expression. Just so.

I knew well (mostly) his philosophy. Tho’ what he’d call it and its extent I know not. He referred both to Jesus and Bhudda, drew upon them. But also said that to join the official creeds of religious instition is to be a slave and to miss the point. He mentions Apollonius, sundry pre-Soctratic philosopers. But he’s not dazzling us with his classical scholarship esoterica. He’s saying something that can be used by the people of the street. His central maxim’s a balance: love and reason.

Aurelius wouldn’t’ve put that way. Epictitus had it too hard to be so Beatle-esque. But it sounds familiar to me. Naturally those gentlemen were more concerned with secular matters than metaphysical ones. Still they’d agree. The self is an illusion; a car driven by the Soul: the Light within. As the address was introductory, he did not elaborate, but perchance later will he proceed to the view that ‘my soul’ is simply that within that is part of the spiritual whole the way the body’s atoms will one day become something else, something that is not a human animal but perhaps a tree, a blade of glass or a musical instrument? That we are all… God?

It is simple to understand that desire brings misery and enlightenment obtains when one can forget the self, the mundane seeking after pleasure: food, sex, substances that bring about temporary joys. In response to a remark about LSD, the speaker nails it, first because there here was no prohibitionary judgement in his response. He did not express or, indeed, feel disapproval. It’s a short-cut, he says, a preview. I paraphrase. It is a tour of the realms beyond to a place where minds are free. But you must come back. To live there, the journey is long and arduous. The drug will take you to a place where you can see the City of Light but to walk its streets takes work. It cannot be purchased for $25.

Outside, afterwards, my little crew are (mostly) impressed. One of the party is Catholic and’s not really into it. Religion see. It puts fences about you and guides you down this path. It stops you getting lost, certainly. But if you want to get past the Devil and his chains well you gotta climb over the fence that St Paul built.

So sayeth me. And what do I know? We usually go to this one place Thursday nights (my one night out). And here down the street after agreeing with the Man’s jive viz: enlightement comes from leaving behind instant euphoria Priority #1 is to score weed. Not me, I’m piking out, early night. But sure I like the stuff, gets me in the mode, comes in real handy. But it’s not necessary. Caffeine, adrenaline, sugar, THC, LSD, fluxetine, nicotine, phenethylamine. Faster faster faster more more more. We’re, all of us, on the chemical monorail waiting for Godot.

Still sometimes it is necessary. Today I’m taking a shortcut to the Beyond. Fortune put in the ground infront of me, instinct had me stop to pluck it. I can do this because I know the stuff isn’t for playing with so I haven’t done it to death and I’m not now looking for the meaning of life in a store that sells magic powders and crystal pyramids. It’s sacred! Do not fuck with it for an empty Sunday morning screw with a stranger. But right here, right now – Yes.

The Almighty Whatever points the way. Jupiter enters my sign today. Scoff if you want. I’m not recommending astrology for anything but fun but I’ll slap a tome o’ forgotten lore on the table if you try and purge the uncanny omens from all consideration. The history of the world is punctuated with them, they are among the myriad, melodic hooks that keep the endless symphony of human comedy fresh.

If you’re asking yourself what the fuck I’m on about, the answer is: How the Hell should I know. I don’t actually think about this stuff. I just write it. It’s the only way to the truth. Mine, anyways.



20 Mar


Somehow video clips don’t suit her; beautiful eyes she has, ‘ey?


18 Mar


It was over 20 years ago when I first heard it. I knew at the time it was a cover. Michelle Shocked’s second LP. I’d read the songwriting credits I guess, saw that this song wasn’t written by her. It was my second favourite song on that summer album, 1989. The cover featured a photo of a stormtrooper with his truncheon around Shocked’s slender neck. It must’ve been real tho’ it was so well rendered it could’ve been staged. But the expression on her face is impossible to fake.


After “Black Widow” it was my favourite song on that album (and this was one I liked to listen to all the way thru). I was a pimple-faced kid at the time, I didn’t know I had good taste. The song’s easy so I learned it. Playing it under the house (Qld’er on stilts); the family next door my only fans.

Played it off and on for years; the only time I heard. Long since, I’d sold Shocked’s album for bread getting thru the last few days ’til payday. I didn’t know who wrote it, didn’t know when it was first recorded and until five minutes ago when I bothered to look I hadn’t found out. Wonderful thing the internet, plugs the holes in your ignorance.

The song was recorded by Johnny Cash in the 50s (I think). It doesn’t feature on any of his albums I’ve poked thru over the years. For ages I thought he’d written it y’see. I hadn’t heard Cash’s version but I’d gotten hold of the lyrics and realized that my favourite line wasn’t there: My God I wish the grass would turn to money!. Didn’t matter, I’d long played it my way by then. When I get to that line I rock out as they say. I credited Michelle Shocked with the line.

But it’s not true.

The song itself is radical when you think about it. Consider the following stanza:

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With scrip enough to buy the company store
But now he goes to town with empty pockets
And Lord his face as white as February snow

Cash covered this back in the pre-civil rights days. Remember Cash was a cracker. I don’t mean he was a redneck, or ignorant. But he was a southern white man; of the hardcore Scots-Irish stock that’d long been in a state of perpetual warfare with African-Americans. To sing these lines that not only express empathy with a black man but sing of blackness as a sign of strength. And whiteness as an emblem of the loss of virility and pride…

During Cash’s performance at San Quentin he expressed his admiration for Bob Dylan to deafening silence from the hacks in the audience. They weren’t shy about cheering. I guess they didn’t care for Dylan. Why? ‘Cause he was Jewish? Or some faggot folk singer? Both? Who knows. Cash always stood by his principles and he was one of the few true Christians. He stood for the outsider, the despised, the undermen. He had guts, Cash, but he didn’t write the tune:

He heard it, played his way. It turned into his tune. Shocked played it her way, I played it mine. Is tradition.


12 Mar


Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly


The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky


I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by


And as I wonder where you are


17 Dec


I can settle down
And be doin’ just fine


‘Til I hear an old freight
Rollin’ down the line


Then I hurry straight home and pack
And if I didn’t go, I believe I’d blow my stack


Some folks might say that I’m no good
That I wouldn’t settle down if I could


But when that open road starts a’ callin’ me
There’s somethin’ o’er the hill that I gotta see


Let me travel this la-and from the mountains to the sea
‘Cause that’s the life I believe He meant for me


I love you baby, but you gotta understand
When the Lord made me, He made a Ramblin’ Man

(Lyrics: Hank Williams)


17 Dec


In September of 1973 a trust-fund rich kid checked into the Joshua Tree Inn at San Bardino County, California among the spooky Death Valley desert with its iconic jagged rocks host to a thousand classic Westerns. He would never leave.

Oh he was troubled this golden boy from Tennessee. His mother Avis’d been a manipulative drunk, heiress to a fortune based on oranges and lemons. His father, ol’ Coondog Connor, came from an even wilder branch of the Southern tree. A charming sort, Coondog, with music in his soul but it was never a happy home. He worked for his wife’s family the Snively Clan at some desk and finally blew his brains out when he couldn’t take it anymore. So here’s the kid and his young sister trapped in the weary gilded cage of loveless wealth. But the kid liked Elvis. Worshiped Elvis. He’d snuck backstage and got his autograph and he was gonna do the same thing sometime. So his mother sends him to military school. I guess she thought he was trouble. Why who knows. Everyone who ever knew him commented on his impeccable manners – a true Southern Gentleman.

About five minutes after they planted Coondog, Avis married a slick salesman with a greasy smile and a reptile’s heart. He spent her money, cheated on her all over town, didn’t bother to cover it up. Soon enough the bitter old gal drank herself to death and the kid and the sister had no-one except each other. It was pretty obvious that Robert Parsons was a snake but he’d made the right moves, adopted the kids and now there was no getting rid of him. Later the kid got married and he had Parsons preside over the ceremony. After all he hadn’t come to expect much by way of love and his step-dad was all he had left.

And money. Money helps. He made it to Harvard where his interests in music deepened and hearkened back into country and bluegrass. He formed bands, convinced stardom was his destiny. Another bit of unloved flotsam from Flyover, USA looking for what his parents never gave him in the adoration of a million anonymous fans. He had money, he had talent too but the money queered it. He couldn’t deliver on time, couldn’t summon the goods at will.

His inheritance was a fortune in gold and a powerful thirst for oblivion. He was a boozer just like his parents and their’s before them. And this was the ’60s, so naturally he tripped the light fantastic as well. His first real band, the International Submarine Legend, featured in the Roger Corman LSD fantasia The Trip. With a name like that how could they not appear. The kid had half-arrived, already a semi-legend. He’d found himself out in California where he played the Whiskey-a-Go-Go and sampled the pot and acid West Coast flavors of Hashbury and the Freak Kingdom. After the ISB fell apart he patched up the freshly busted Byrds and had them go to Nashville to record The Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Almost no-one bought the album, it was the lowest selling Byrds disc yet. But somehow it changed the direction of rock music away from the Blues and toward bluegrass. People who met him often say they didn’t like country music beforehand, that they didn’t get it. He helped ’em get it. Even those who’ve subsequently written him off as a rich-kid fuck-up give him that.

Sometime around then he fell into the Mephistophelian circle around the Rolling Stones. Became tight with Keith. They played, they partied. And he took Keith and his lady Anita Pallenberg to his favourite place Joshua Tree, California to climb the mountains, drop acid, take in the sunset and wait for the UFOs that were known to appear around there.


This was the Stones’ great era: Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers: their high point. The country inflections and the ascendance of that style of music in their albums has been attributed to Richards’ friendship with this young southern gentleman. The gentleman’s demise has frequently been attributed to the Stones. After this hat trick listed above the Stones repaired to a mansion overlooking the sea where they would record the record that for some was their greatest and for others the start of their long slide down – Exile On Main Street.

The place was awash with sycophants and crocodiles. Everyone except maybe Charlie Watts was high and all the time. Richards was the conductor and impresario of this Fellini-esque circus. Some guy delivered a large bag of pink heroin on a weekly basis. Wires snaked thru the house from the portable studio into the basement where the various players would spend their nights pushing out this tribute to American music thru the Eurotrash haze. Richards spent the afternoons with the kid, writing country songs and snorting coke and then he’d leave him there and apply what he’d learned somehow in the basement. And the kid? He was trouble.

Trouble? This was a place where knives got thrown around on a regular basis; garbage, bottles and burnt spoons everywhere. Everyone was throttling it. But still someone in the Stones kicked the kid and his too-young, constantly whining wife out. He was trouble! Strange considering the lizards and moochers that stayed. But I guess they were concerned about him attracting inviting inconvenient intervention by the authorities by dropping dead.. He was dropping off all the time, out of it. So they gave him the boot and when he flew back to England and asked for the key to Richards’ London flat. The guy who held it said he’d lost it. Someone had phoned from the mansion in France and ordered him to lie.


Still the kid picks up, licks his wounds, takes the cure and back to California. He got on with it, recording his solo stuff, hanging out with Emmylou Harris. But the damage was apparent. This fresh looking boy was now a seedy, fat, ruined drunk. He’d go back to Joshua Tree to clear the webs from his soul but what good did it do? Every bar in town knew his face. So here he was, September ’73, checking in one last time. On phenobarbital to treat the after-affects of a motorbike accident three years before. It didn’t stop him drinking.

Different accounts argue the point but the story says that a young girl whose boyfriend or something pinched morphine supplies from the local Marines base came over late the next night and shot the kid up – twice. His request. He was already loaded on the barbituates and the booze and he wanted more. The girl gave him his second helping and ran. She saw the blue in his face and knew what it meant. The kid’s friends in typical style tried all the home cures before it snapped that they need medical assistance. Sometime about midnight coming into September 19th an ambulance picked up a near-corpse. He didn’t make it to the hospital.

Outside New Orleans there’s a simple grave you can visit. For years there was a simple wooden marker with the name next to the word ‘singer’. No-one gave a shit. The Snivelys didn’t bother with the funeral. But later on the kid sister came around and fixed it up a little with a decent headstone that now reads: Gram Parsons: God’s Own Singer.


15 Nov

I’m listening to what I’m sure is an Australian country band trying their darndest to sound like they’re from Talahasee f-l-a; Butte, Montana; Tupelo, Miss. The familiar heart-felt, simple-minded cliches: whiskey, men, women, longing and Biblical reference. The woman wonders when she’ll get time to be a woman, the man laments what women do to him. White people like to whinge and whine when they sing.

The black folks sing of much darker stuff with an simpler-minded joyful cheer.

Country music is what happened when a bunch of trogladyte Celts: Scots, Irish (all protestant!) went to America, pinched shitloads of arable soil from the locals and shitloads of arable people from Africa. They played the same 300 hundred tunes they always have, but the words and the accents morphed with the time and the landscape. Things stayed the same, things changed: some got rich, some stayed poor. And the poorer they were the more they hated the negras. From the end of the Civil War (1861-1865) to the 1960s when African-America finally won actual political equality: one hundred years, so many American generations living this parallel hostility.

What made the black folks suffer worse was the white folks had suffered also – long time. There’s an oft-told Irish tale wherein a young man lies dying of love for this lass Barbara Ellen who doesn’t really know he exists. She’s persuaded to visit him and only remarks that he appears to be dying. He dies. And on the way back to her village she encounters the burial procession. They stop and she gazes upon the boy’s corpse and falls into this socially safe yet self-dooming love; she goes home to die.

They bury them both in the church yard and, so the song goes: from his grave grew a red, red rose and from her grave grew a briar. They grow up the walls of the church spire making a ‘true love’s knot’ at the apex. The kind of love that Celtic Catholicism approved of – no sex, no choice. And leave good-looking corpses that make the Church look pretty. It’s the best love precisely because it’s impossible and serves only as a cautionary tale for the rest of us who aren’t quite as insanely passionate. The second-best love is the one where the pleasures of sex are void, yet many more children that can’t possibly be afforded are born. Poor people are good, they need God.

Again the original European settlers of the South were protestant. Catholics didn’t figure much ’til after slavery was abolished. But yet the mythology of such a song as “Barbara Ellen” resonates. What Catholicism polluted, Protestantism damn near killed off. Monty Python have a good joke about Protestant and Catholic sexuality. The Catholics are disgusting to the Protestant man because they have so many children. He’s proud of being Protestant and thereby entitled to buy condoms etc whenever he wants. He just doesn’t want to.

But enough of this polluted altar-boy antichurchdisestablishmentarianism;

“Barbara Ellen” is probably older than Jesus. What lyrics obtained in those bestial days I shouldn’t wonder. But the melody would make any words sad. Let’s have a listen to these Jewish lads sing it –