When my corduroy suit's turned to ashes,
When the asphalt is bent and decaying,
When my last lentil bin is depleted,
When the soles in my shoes are a memory,
When my krummhorn is covered with leaches,
So farewell you unrefined sinners,
Not this life I'm wasting,
Long time the soil's been barren,
I tried to build a library,
I tried to write a symphony,
Someone's sneakin' round the corner,
I tried to hit a baseball,
She was as black as her habit,
Now thru the cave it echoes,
I swam with jealous dolphins,
I tried to climb the theater,
O my weary feet have wandered,
With the quest & goal united,
Along with the devastation and continued governmental ineptitude of Hurricane Katrina, it is also the one year anniversary of my popular song "I'm goin' to see my Lord." I was able to record it last September in the CalArts studio, as part of an Angel Band project with Melinda Rice, but it is a simple recording of myself singing drunkenly into my computer which has won the public's heart. Indeed, it can be heard on mix CDs & at parlor gatherings around the country. I have had numerous occasions to perform it, once in a recital at a church with Mrs Bonnie Whiting Smith in New York City last January, & at a sampling of open mics & "talent hours" across Northern California. It is always met with smash adoration; in short, it is my greatest hit.
I have received many e-mails & phone calls demanding, sometimes with serious urgency, to have the meanings of certain elusive passages elucidated. I ask, did Leonard Cohen or Samuel Coleridge ever receive such pesky ingratitude? It were as if my fan's immortal salvation hinged on the clarification of the line "For the showboat was a failure / So I'm goin' to see my Lord." Such is the moral weight of correctly composing a sacred lyric. I recall my then-roommate James Eliot Quill - while playing "Civilization III" & drinking my wine - ridiculing me for the line "But the pork made her so heavy," commenting that juxtaposing utter nonsense with profundity can undermine the latter. I retorted that it can also inspire an informed understanding of the nonsense, but I did not consider that line to be nonsense, so I went and locked up my boxed wine from inspiring any further illuminations.
For the most part, I consider the lyrics to be mostly matter-of-fact, hiding few unattainable allusions. Also, I am too aware of the dangers of explaining one's own poetry in one's lifetime. It runs the risk of being forever chained to the text in a footnote, regardless of how helpful the author's explanation actually is. T.S. Eliot may have written his own useless endnotes. St. John of the Cross wrote sixty-page commentaries on his own six stanza poems. With the exception of what I am doing now, I refuse to engage in such ridiculousness. (I am also not a Christian-existentialist.) If one approaches a line like my 'pork' line without additional explanation, think of the freedom the listener has to generate or to ignore his own imaginative interpretations. One gets very nervous at press conferences, & an artist or politician will say all manner of unfitting things. It's been a year since I first sketched those lyrics, & if I were to say now that the 'pork' line was about the unhealthy Orson-Wellesian gluttony of the entertainment industry, and my subsequent abjuration of that art for more ascetic pursuits, I cannot ever be sure to what extent how I read it now corresponds to what I was or wasn't thinking then. Orson Welles was somewhere in my collective imagination, linked in a vast series of associations with my understanding of what "theater" is. Perhaps I called up his image, but I don't think so. Still, if Terry Gross were asking me about that line, I would probably mention his name. Was Orson Welles Jewish, did he even eat pork? Perhaps his obesity was wholly swineless. If something of that nature was ever attached in a footnote to that line, a graduate student writing his thesis on my lyrics might make a note that that is what the line means, & never question the issue again.
The other song "Gospel Train" is brand new. It was written as a sequel, written at the Webb Block, the site of Part Two of my Weblog, which soon will house the fanciest high speed wireless internets to plug into my slow old computers. The Webb Block is on the corner of a busy intersection, sirens & rush hours & the like. Like the first song, "Gospel Train" has two locals: where I'm leaving & where I'm going. I just noticed that both the dystopia & the paradise in "Gospel Train" are car-free. In the dystopia, cars can no longer drive on decaying asphalt & sunken bridges; in the paradise, the highways are cotton & the bike lanes are wide. And of course the idea of the gospel train itself is both retro and futuristic, but currently out of favor. Sustainable energies & a healthier transportation have been much discussed recently by scientists, journalists & politicians. Culture critics point out the societal desolation caused by sprawl. They even comment that art & business suffer because of the useless hours spent in a car commute, when any other vessel of conveyance leaves the hands & eyes free. But where are the theological-poetical voices? Don't the Christians think the soul & earth is suffering from a civilization built with freeways? Don't the Mormons question the raping of their holy land? Don't musicians miss quieter streets? Mystics & poets have a freedom that politicians & journalists tied to pragmatism do not. Even Bob Dylan sang eloquenty in the dialects of dystopias & utopias, a tradition as old as language. Has the Bush-era left us with such a fear of idealism, that when we need it most to radically alter the way a society moves, all we can do is limit Californian industry emisions 25% by 2010, & sing songs about sex?