Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Levon Helm and I had never met, nor had I ever seen him play. But our lives Venn diagrammed in 2005 when I began working on my first recording at a studio in a converted auto garage in the backwater marshlands of south jersey. The project before us had been one of the last Dixie Hummingbird recordings, a gospel group from Philadelphia whose most pop culture claim to fame was singing Loves Me Like A Rock with Paul Simon. But if you went deeper, you’d find that the Dixie Hummingbirds were a serious staple of American music and anyone of the same mind, that is, with a deep sense of peace and place in that gospel tradition, wanted to be a part. Levon played drums on that last recording, so weeks before we set up for our sessions, he had been playing in the same live room and to me, all the musical history that preceded had leaked in. I was giddy to be breathing in that same musical air, putting sounds into the same microphones and sharing a sacred space. To be part of that tradition, more than autographs and handshakes, has always been my motivation.
Sometimes I imagine America as a grand piece of fabric and the musical history as a lovely rich dye and picture dipping the bottom of it into this liquid and seeing it seep up and out, into tributaries and cities, making its wild way. Levon resided for a good deal of his impressionistic youth down south where this reaction had its first contact. I do believe he, whether intentionally or by the default of his joyous pursuits, became a prime transmitter of this history but he also was so free in himself so as to play like no one else. He, and the band in general, has made me want to defy mediocrity and put something of myself into the world. The best always make you feel this way.
So even though I never got the chance in person, I am always greeting the spirit of Levon Helm with my music. In the joy of it. In my respect for its journey. In my ever seeking connection to listeners. In my continuing observance of this life around me.
All of us went to the tribute last night to celebrate and meditate on what he had such a huge part of bringing into this world. For, how could we not reflect back our respects like an ocean illuminated by the sun and moon?
Thursday, April 5, 2012
There’s that saying,
“If a tree falls in the forest...”
but here there are no trees.
So how will we know when
there has been a casualty?
At what secret hour
are all these bottles smashed?
What point does the potential become the kinetic
and cause all this glass to turn into stardust
covering the streets?
Catching in my bike tires
like thorns and booby traps.
A farthest removed cry
I visit Bob
every couple months.
He lives up where the stadium used to be.
They would watch the game from the rooftops until that
and a huge wall was put up to block the view.
superstition and the bad karma
and the wall was taken down.
Now he just spends his time in the house with the shades drawn.
An oversize aquarium tank with a small single fish
Viv, his wife, watches T.V. in the bedroom
unless there’s a church event,
and then she dresses to the nines
in crinoline and flowers.
She likes to say, “strange things happen everyday”
and I never can quite place the
Apathetic? Dismissive? No.
Perhaps more hopeful for a miracle.
Their adult son
divides time between here and Corpus Christi.
Right now he is splitting it between the opposite couch
and going across to the corner store
every twenty minutes
the veins in his neck twitching.
He talks to his girlfriend
on an old model cell phone
and winks at me from across the room.
He says he knows about two things real well,
“police and women”
and that he likes the rain "cuz it keeps niggaz inside”
but he himself seems undeterred.
His 90 year old parents shake their heads.
Done with it all but
loving enough to let him have the key.
The screen door slaps behind his son and Bob,
sitting in silence
staring at the linoleum floor without looking away
“You ever know what it’s like to have a cow that ain’t got no milk?”
She would knock on
the door so much
that it became
part of the city’s rhythm
like car beeps or
it would be
just to see you
to observe you
the desire to laugh
A band of brothers
and a mother
living in the
on the corner
You’d give her presents
paintbrushes and paper
and she’d place her pictures
in her bedroom window
to catch the light
When you moved
she whined and put on
her best sad face
and that was that
Her knowledge of people
being there or not there
but her life
the distance of
the stoop to the sidewalk
and all the joy
she could find
Friday, March 23, 2012
What do you do when you realize that which makes you happy is both the easiest thing and also the most difficult to sustain? I come from a line of accountants and reality adhesionists. You go with what makes sense. Perhaps this has been one of the grandest struggles for me, the long journey away from this truth. It’s not a universal truth, but it is a truth to many. So maybe it’s just a regional truth, and the region of my brain that holds my path is just due west or south of it.
When the kindergarten teacher told my mother over her desk during a conference that she had never really encountered a child who had such disregard for adults and what she was supposed to do, that was a primer for what was to come, right? Which is this. What is this?
I do know that when I am amongst the others of this tribe, I feel a support, an affirmation that it is ok. Not just ok, but supported and celebrated. Is it songs? Am I the defender of the importance of songs in the history of the human race? I’m trying to imagine telling someone this when they ask what I do. Does anyone really give a fuck that I have taken on this job that isn’t considered a job? Sometimes it feels like a sad secret, knowing this necessity that everyone can tend to treat as expendable. Other times it feels like I am holding the keys to a glorious kingdom and my time here is just a flash, so I need to act accordingly.
So I go out onto the stage, and I look as many people as I can in the audience in the eye and sing my heart out, even if my heart sings a little out of key and croaky as the bullfrog pond from a childhood memory of mine. I did love that bullfrog pond so I’ve taken it with me. I am the sole representative of all my memories; they DO depend on me to spread the word. I love this. And when in love you feel elevated and a tad invincible and no matter which way you turn it’s a battle of foolishness, foolishness to pursue such an elusive thing but foolishness to leave something behind you can feel is the core of your happiness. And happiness has truly been pushed aside way to many times by too many. We are a complex nexus of time and events but happiness? Happiness dwells in its own region.
For the tribe, this region is the center of the wheel on a rambling wagon that makes no promises and guarantees no futures. We are reality abstractionists, sound distortionists, and imaginary constructionists. And we do all we can to get to you, from town to town, compromising endlessly reality adhesionist truths, so that we may transmit a spark of the eternal. It is our grand nod to that which can't be harnessed but felt totally, humanly, and fully.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
People are always leaving. Everyone exits in different ways. When someone has been around for so long and their body lets go slowly, this is what we’ve come to see as the most natural way. These people seem to go as quietly amidst the expectedness as the closing of a flower.
My neighbor Antonio had been going for quite sometime now. He left us a week ago. He was 89. He had been in his bed for the last couple months, while his cat Cha-cha walked back and forth on top of him. I would call him a lot when it got to the point that he wasn’t able to come down and open the door and he’d say “no one is here right now Em-o-lee” in his thick Portuguese accent. It was like he was my Rapunzel. When I came home from working late or playing a show, I’d park and look up and see his popcorn ceiling sparkles twinkling through the cracks in his curtains and wonder how he was doing in the solitude that is inevitable towards the end. He said he had been counting the sparkles and noticed that there were only so many blue ones amidst the gold. I squinted to locate those precious few.
His story is long. It involves being shanghaied onto a cruise ship as a peasant child selling fruit on the docks of Cape Verde and ends on 46th street in Southwest Philadelphia taking trolleys back and forth two blocks in each direction to exercise his last freedoms of movement.
I went to his funeral mass and received the xeroxed life story that mentioned workplaces, children and grandchildren. But what about how he kept a brown bag full of percussion instruments fashioned from wooden bedposts by his recliner to clank along to the radio with? Or how about his memories of the women in fields as a child, where he stood under their skirts and watched the sunlight shine through? Obituaries are not my story of choice. It seems like such a cruel succinct way to sum up our rides, why should we take comfort in such a strict form?
My getting to know Antonio was a gift. It was and is part of my life that as a thirty year old woman I would meet this adventurer in the twilight of his life. I try to not sulk in the knowledge of how I couldn’t have been there with him when he was coasting on his bicycle as a young man. When he asked me to dance on his porch, awkwardly shuffling in the acutest of shifts, he did it with such bravado and thoughtlessness towards time that I fell right into rhythm. We would toast with some port wine tasting of grape juice and share what we could in the brightest of ways. While I’m usually quite modest when it comes to expletives, you know like, “geez louis!” , I’d like to say we gave a big f*** you to circumstance. See look, even just then I had to star it out. Things are because that’s how they be. Get on with your life in the most celebratory fashion.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Every moment is ready for resolve and intention. Sometimes we gather to celebrate this formally. But mostly it happens in little corners. And then, there are those times that it happens formally in little corners and if you observe you may be able to catch the fiery attempts like one catches a shooting star on the farthest corner of their blinking eye. This is how I have come to know my life. This is where my peace of mind resides.
We create our own customs within other customs and then evolve within the ones we've created to see to it that we are limitless and seeking vitality. Sometimes a song is involved, some shaking of tail feathers,a donning of a mask, and a prayer to the moon.
Love and light to you all infinitely... Birdie Busch
Monday, June 6, 2011
I often feel peculiar more and more in certain public places. Highway rest stops and summer boardwalks I move about like a ghost. This past memorial weekend, I rode a bike to the boardwalk in Ocean City on a quest to pick up a pair of dollar store sunglasses I admired of my sisters. I chained my bike to a railing and began walking the wooden boards. I stared at the sunburns on the backs of people’s legs. I awkwardly watched teenage girls awkwardly stare down their nose at their own breasts in bikinis. With each passing crack in the boardwalk I tried to squint and see couples cuddling as the famous song had alluded to but all I could decipher was the color beige, a mixture of sunlight and sand.
The boardwalk. It was and is such a rite of passage. I worked so many odd jobs here every summer when I was less of a ghost. Bob’s Lemonade stand with some Eastern European exchange students. The slide at wonderland pier where I was responsible for pushing parents and their children down in musty potato sacks. McDonalds where I had my own visor and ate the double cheeseburger value meal almost every day. The Beachcomber where I would replace little plastic license plates into the circular display with peoples names on them. I always lamented how sad it would be to have a name they hadn’t deemed popular enough for the placards.
Many of the stores changed names. People are always turning shops over to see what works, to see how they can make all their money in three months and then go elsewhere for the off season. Freeze dried ice cream pellets. Monkey bread balls. Pop culture often dictates what goes on the t-shirts hanging from the front of the stores and I realized that I had no idea what the slogans were referencing anymore. I found myself making up odd scenarios where the slogans came from, which all referenced my own experience completely outside the world of its original intent.
The dollar store had sold out of all the sunglasses I was looking for so I wandered around looking at flip-flops and puka shell hemp necklaces. Even in the cheapest of China factory wares the element of human design is still apparent, but in a distant way, like a picture of a picture of a picture, less sharp and more dissolved, no trace of a craftsman.
I weaved in and out, studying the inventory, letting my brain stretch out to colors and smells. Old war veterans handed out red fabric carnations to passersby. All the radios in each store were playing pop stations, which have such a specific sound. I have a close friend who is older than me that says, “You know, everyone thinks pop music is a specific sound but it really is just whatever is popular at the time. There was a time when pop music was eclectic and wonderful.” Hmmm. I definitely wouldn’t call what I was hearing eclectic and wonderful. I was trying to figure out why but didn’t really want to harp on the negative so I continued moving and just concentrated on other sounds. The ocean. Bits of conversation as others moved passed me. The clinking of arcades. A break in stores brought on a little less commotion. Mini-golf with a giant guerilla was coming up. Out of the loudspeaker at the entrance came this startling but familiar sound. “Uno dos one two tres quatro!” It was the beginning to Wooley Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and it stopped me dead. Of course I have heard it so many times including in the beginning scene of Splash when Tom Hanks and John Candy are kids on a river cruise and the house band is playing it. I leaned up against the wall next to the mini-golf and smiled and starting singing it out loud and caught a few stares my way. What was it that made it feel so electrified and alive? I was fixated. Could it be just the fact that all it was was the sounds that they could generate in their limited scope, which was their instrument and their souls and the collaborative energy between them?
I often feel that it is this union that woos me most and something often feels missing these days because when I do feel that its like an oasis in a desert that I’ve come crawling over the sands to drink, this time, ironically, from a group of guys that dressed up like Egyptian pharaohs to play rock and roll songs about wooly mammoths from over 40 years ago.
I stood and heard the whole song through. I no longer felt like a ghost. I realized that perhaps its not that I’m outside the circle of life but that I am so inside it that I feel like a stranger amidst the common culture and the pop that is reflecting it. Bad art imitates bad life. Bad life imitates bad art. Have faith in finding your own personal pop.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Hello everyone who reads this. My apologies for taking so long to return here. Seasons are coming and going. The babies of the world are becoming toddlers and so on. Whole huge trees have blossomed and shed to green. I remember seeing old footage of an interviewee asking Paul Simon what took him so long to make another record, I believe it was around the time of Graceland maybe? Anyhow, he said something along the lines of, “Well, it’s a lot to think about. Thinking takes time.”
I am a lion and the spring sun is distracting me. I’m headed to go find a warm rock. But on this rock I will be pondering and very soon I will gather these thoughts.