Friday, June 20, 2008

Music To My Ears

I miss playing music. Its been more than a month since my band broke up and my guitar callouses are vanishing. I've played once or twice with friends but its not the same thing as the camaraderie created when four or five instruments and voices try to get along, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Even bad music can be good, but doing the latter is a lot more satisfying.

Last week I met a young singer whose presence was both haunting and earthbound, and though I only heard one of her songs, I was totally smitten. I promised when I started writing that this blog would not serve as free advertising for anyone (other than myself), but here goes. Check her out, folks, it'll be worth your while. This is a voice you can fall in love with.

OK, speaking of creative people who make a lasting impression, has anyone out there read Earl Thompson's Tattoo? Thompson is my favorite American writer, and almost no one, it seems, has heard of him. He wrote four books and died impoverished in Paris in 1978.

Tom Page, in the online magazine Pemnican, writes:

"Thompson was a novelist in the tradition of American naturalism who attempted to understand his world and times. In his trilogy of autobiographical novels: A Garden of Sand, Tattoo, and The Devil to Pay, Thompson analyses his people and experience from the point of view of Cat, Jack, or Jarl--the various names given his central character: a thinly disguised Earl. In these novels Thompson relates the story of an incestuous relationship with his mother and his disgust of racism, homophobia, militarism, and imperialism. While A Garden of Sand has some rough spots, in Tattoo, The Devil to Pay, and Caldo Largo--the story of an alienated veteran who becomes a gun runner in the Caribbean--his novelistic skills are fully developed.
Who are Thompson's people? In an interview published in Esquire in 1970, Thompson said:
'My persisting values are those of that class which is trapped between poverty that is a personal moral failure and the lure of material reward for citizenship they can never achieve. A class that is a persistent pain in the ass to all representative societies, whatever their ism. People who are so early frightened by violence anything short of death is a personal victory. And all have been wounded. '"

I am on a one-man mission to have Earl Thompson's works recognized. So please buy his stuff, new or used.

Two artists, different media, different generations. Both Earl Thompson and Karyn Oliver deserve your support.

Here's installment 27 of Wasted Miracles.

Nothing meaningful was gone from Josie’s room, the small possessions the girl would never willingly part with were still there, the stuffed turtle and one-eyed plush rabbit that had accompanied Josie to rehab, the Chinese jade necklace she seldom wore but treasured, the not-so-secret sixty-dollar stash in her left cowboy boot.
Catherine sat in the kitchen, held her head in her hands. She picked up the phone, dialed 911, hung up before anyone could answer. No. She couldn’t call the police. What if Josie was dealing again, what if she’d gotten herself in trouble? She was 19 now, an adult, liable to be sentenced, taken away from her, imprisoned. They’d make an example of her. Nice white girl, see? Just to prove to you that everyone is treated equal under the law, we’re going to nail her.
Catherine wouldn’t be able to tolerate that. Three times Josie had gone away to treatment centers and three times Catherine had died a little, wondering who would be returning, her daughter or some stranger living in Josie’s skin, sleeping in Josie’s bed.
She dialed her husband’s office number again, heard the phone ring three times, heard, “Hi, I can’t come to the phone right now, but if you’ll leave a message...” She didn’t, hung up. Lars would tell her she was being dramatic, reading catastrophes where none existed. Then he would get angry, sermonize, justify his reactions and tell her he’d see her later that evening.
She poured a glass of ginger ale, added ice, sipped without tasting. She wanted her daughter back. Safe, sheltered, in her arms. She wanted to tuck Josie into bed and read her a story. She wanted time to reverse itself or at least to stop. She stared out the window seeing blurry trees and blurry grass. She prayed with a fervor that almost frightened her, willing her thoughts into God’s ear. She glanced at the clock. Time hadn’t stopped.

Chapter 6

Colin let the phone ring. He was awash in sweat, the veins on his arms reliefed like summer vines. Sitting, his back pressed hard against the vinyl of the bench, he counted a slow three seconds up, pause, then three seconds down. The air hissed through his nose, gushed out of his mouth, the dumbbell rising in a methodical 180 degree arc that ended just short of the shoulder.
The work-out gloves he wore had once been white but now were almost black with use, the wrist straps gray, he never washed them, it was an article of faith. When he finished 15 reps on each arm, he dropped the fifty-pounders, picked up the thirties, started over. It hurt, a kind of welcome and friendly ache, a warm pain.
The phone chimed again, stopped after three rings. He adjusted the bench, lay on his back, held the thirty-pounders straight out, let them sink to the floor, arms extended, up, up, meeting over his forehead with a dull clink. Twenty minutes later when the phone broke his concentration for the third time, he dropped the weights, said, “Shit!” and answered it.
“It’s Catherine. I’m downstairs. Can I come up?”
She said, “I was afraid maybe you had a woman up here. That would have been embarrassing.”
He motioned her in, shut the door. “Slim chance of that. I don’t think watching a man push large inert weights around would be particularly stimulating.”
She smiled very briefly, nodded once, said, “Josie’s gone.”
“As in Josie-your-daughter?”
A look of annoyance shimmered across her face. Colin saw it, added, “I’ve never met her or seen her, Catherine, and you don’t mention her that often.”
She shrugged. “Yeah. That’s true. Sorry.” She gathered herself, looked around the apartment briefly, clasped her hands. “She’s gone. Didn’t come home last night and that’s something she hasn’t done since she rehabed. She didn’t take anything with her. She’s just... gone.”
Colin glanced at her, saw she had more to say. “And?”
“And I’m really worried. I didn’t know who to talk to”
“What about Lars?”
She shot him a dry look. “Lars?”
“Never mind.”
There was an awkward silence. “You’re going to make me beg, Colin?”
He turned from her, walked to the kitchen, busied himself there. She followed him.
“I know you’ve done things for people before, Colin. Program people. Everybody knows that. With DD and Stan...”
“That wasn’t quite the same, Cath.”
She nodded. “I know that. But still. Colin, I don’t know what to do...” Her face fell apart. He moved to her, felt her shoulders shaking beneath his hands, led her to the couch. “Start from the beginning, Cath. How do you know she’s really missing.”
Catherine fished a Kleenex from her purse, blew her nose noisily, wiped her eyes. “I know. I just know.” She balled the tissue in her hand, looked for a place to dispose it. Colin took it from her. “When she was a little kid, maybe three years old, I took her to a shopping center and one moment she was there, the next she wasn’t. And I knew in the pit of my stomach that something terrible would happen if I didn’t find her fast. Mother’s intuition, whatever. So I had the security guards help me, and it took maybe 15 minutes but it was a lifetime, they didn’t believe me, kept saying she must have wandered away but I knew she hadn’t, she’d been taken, Colin, I can’t explain how it was I was certain of that.” She paused, blew her nose again, took a deep breath.
“And I was right! You know where they found her? Some deranged woman had just taken her by the hand when I wasn’t looking for less than a second and locked her in her car in the back of the parking lot. And you know what this crazy woman said? She said she’d gone shopping, wanted to buy some English muffins--I’ll never forget that--and when she saw Josie she just thought she’d take her home too, but then when she got to her car, she realized she’d forgotten the muffins! So she had to go back because that’s why she went shopping in the first place, the muffins. That’s the only reason I got Josie back, because this crazy woman forgot her god damned muffins.”

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