Saturday, May 31, 2003

A Small Truth about doing radio at WFMU

The occasional person outside of WFMU staff & listeners who encourages me to take on a weekly radio show again is idealizing it merely as a cool thing; the encouragement is nearly always given by someone who has never done radio & is also likely to find some reason or other for not even listening to the internet archive if I did take on the responsibility.

The most recent time this happened, I invited the person to observe me during a two hour fill-in on Sunday Night for Rob Weisberg, from 8 to 10, as a way of dispelling the mystery. She'd see first hand that Montgomery Street in Jersey City is deserted. Vistors aren't allowed in the music library. Small Change - not hiply dressed for club DJing - wants to finish his online setlist & go have supper. He greets me, slides over the clipboard holding the officlal log, & reports that there aren't any technical problems. I write my name & the time on the log & now he's free to leave. There's no audience in Studio A. The phones rarely ring. Bethany Ryker, the next host, is wading through several hundred CDs in the new bin. The one or two other staffers in the building are quietly doing whatever they came to do. I come prepared with a well-organized show I think Rob would appreciate, air a few novelties, no clowning around on mic, enjoy myself. The trip home is late, boring & i'm tired & hungry. My friend declined to come along. Afterward, she left a message on my answering machine, "I heard the Beach Boys." That song kicked off the final twenty minutes of the program. She hadn't heard anything before it because she had to help her brother fix something in the basement.

I wasn't angry & I didn't blame her, although the very first song I'd aired after 8 PM was for her. But it proved something nonetheless: Why one doesn't do a program to satisfy friends who think it's cool to be on the radio.


Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The Reward of Piety

Middle class affluency appears to enable a greater freedom of choice; but since the choices have already been so narrowed, this freedom is largely illusory, limited to how one uses leisure time. Only a radical upward or downward shift in income, or serious illness, causes fundamental change. Only the young exercise much genuine freedom.

The affluent middle class has claimed the moral high ground for as long as there has been a middle class, basing this claim upon material abundance as the reward of piety. John Wesley saw this process as an unfortunate inevitability. It is also inevitable that affluent Christians (& Jews) are brought into on-going conflict with teachings that clearly favor the poor in these matters. In Judaism, the rich must serve the poor as a duty to God. "No bread without Torah, no Torah without bread." In Christianity, the haves are further obliged to prove, unconditionally, their moral worthiness to the have-nots, who are more than mere representives of Jesus - they are Jesus himself. Of course, Jesus after Easter is no longer required to prove anything, although he reserves to himself alone the privilege of doing so.

Affluency rarely has any connection with piety, but when it does, it is a byproduct, not a reward, & it signifies nothing.

Monday, May 26, 2003

There is a beginning & an end to history that is the most profound implication of having one birth, one life & one death. All else is outside of time & can be intuited only in the present moment. If the present moment is precious to us, imagine how precious it is to God, who knows our individual moment & yet for whom all eternity is as one moment.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I am not a cruel or indifferent person. I'm supposed to help people, but now I can't help anyone. My needs are so minimal as to be laughable: a place to keep me & my stuff, food, meds, a few cheap little cigars. If I had storage for my stuff, I'd need even less. With essentials taken care of, the world in return gets a smart, affable poet riding an old bicycle around town, a decent human being named "Rixon" who isn't afraid of ghosts, governments or granite gods; who listens to cranky old geezers, likes kids on skateboards, chats with school crossing guards, drops tips in the cup at Dunkin' Donuts, & feeds stray cats. I expect to be seen as a fool by some people - poets are used to it - although our real gift is for maintaining a translucent camouflage. Ah, life should be lovelier than it is.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Academics rarely understand how much more they know than is useful to them in common conversation. So if six people are sitting in a diner outside Paterson, New Jersey, having a late breakfast after a poetry reading, & two of them are professors of literature, & four are poets of varying ages & educations, the chat rarely centers around Williams or Ginsberg. The academics discuss the difficulties of translating the canzonets of 18th Century Italian poet, Pietro Metastasio. With luck, they might talk about Laura Riding. The poets talk about their kitchen window herb gardens.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Boiled Telephone

Salvador Dali's very legitimate disappointment that when he ordered a boiled lobster he was never served a boiled telephone. I may not deliver that boiled telephone very often, but I've always expected it, & I've always advised others, especially young people, to do the same, knowing that they weren't getting it from their parents, their teachers, or the paid arbiters of culture. Being aware of how infrequently contemporary poetry offers the dish, I believe the poet has an obligation to point to the poetry of experience itself as a "boiled telephone," & to regard seeing, hearing, curiosity, patience & acceptance of whatever happens next as learnable skills - which may render unnecessary the actual making of poems, or at the least, instill a valuable skepticism toward art, the artifact, & the people who sell it or worship it.


Friday, May 09, 2003


As a young adolescent, I pinned my poems & stories to a laundry line in the basement, just to marvel at the physical existence of the things I had created out of myself - a way of publishing them to my eyes.

The front, side. back, basement & garage door entrances to the writer's art are through reading. Reading is primary, unavoidable encounter. Without reading, every other privilege of participation including criticising, praising, blaming, misinterpreting, & most importantly, influencing the writer's content & tone, is lost. A family that for too long ignores a writer in its midst takes a great risk. A writer already knows that both ink & blood are thicker than water - also knows blood & ink are comparable, even marriageable, mediums for writing.

When a writer arrives at undisguised autobiography - most eventually do - that non-participation by one's family becomes a salient feature of the historical familial landscape. If one's relatives are literate - happen, in fact to be avid readers - their indifference to one's own writing is a naked cruelty, like childhood taunts now implied silently rather than expressed openly.

From a personal fancy in the cellar to now, on an internet Blog forty years later, it is not difficult to envision a very different kind of life from which to draw one's story.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

I try to be around people of diverse views. Three of my friends are strong conservatives, all own houses in New Jersey, all have modest incomes, two are women & Christians - a Catholic & a Presbyterian. One has participated in jazz history & has read more great literature than anyone I have known. I kid them about their opinions, sometimes strongly, but avoid falling into hot political arguments. We're all traditionalists. They test my beliefs & attitudes.

My four oldest friends, on the other hand, are men, artists, beyond or outside liberalism. Three are poets who also write fine prose, one a visual artist comfortable with painting, photography & computer graphics. Three are married & have families, the fourth is the guy who brought me into radio. Two are still wilderness hikers, another is experienced enough to do that anytime he wants. All four love & understand music. All are excellently educated. None live close to me. Two I've rarely even seen in person.

Add into that a number of WFMU staffers who know much more than I do about certain kinds of music I happen to love, whose knowledge & insight are trustworthy. One can hold contrary opinions, so long as the facts are correct.


I consider myself a progressive traditionalist. That is, I generally desire the transformation of established institutions rather than hope for their demise. To take one example: Gay Methodists expect full participation, not a United LGBT-ist Church. It doesn't seem so radical to me to want your Christian marriages blessed, to teach Sunday School, sing in choirs, organize Bible Study groups, pig out at Strawberry Festivals & Potluck Suppers, let your kids have the pulpit on Children's Day, rent a tent cabin in Ocean Grove, & freely preach the Gospel of Jesus. Jumping through theological hoops & living with the hurtful falsehoods in United Methodist Doctrine comes no more naturally to gays than to many thousands of other Methodists. The reason Methodism is so resistant to change is because it is comfortably traditionalist. The denomination is also feeling very old & not very wise. One accustomed to mainstream Protestantism would be at home with the worship service in a Metropolitan Church, which is probably not the one you can walk to on Sunday.


I've arrived at beliefs intellectually, dispassionately, only to have them force fed to my heart through actual events. While a beloved WFMU staffer was dying, I had to hear, on Thanksgiving no less, that AIDS was a punishment from God. Magnify the shock of that statement many times over & one surmises what gays have lived with every day for two decades. & whenever it seems to be over, another Matthew Shepherd is murdered.

Every commuter's immaculate SUV reminds me that our lust for oil beyond all reason still drives America's perception of the world abroad as it destroys our own. We undermine whole societies by amorally exporting American mass culture as if we were sending just another ship loaded with corporate farm corn. Since we created the demand, I'm not inclined to blame the hapless, unprepared Third World consumer. & all of this, to the discerning eye, also occurs in one's hometown, wherever open space is ruined to build a Walmart next to a K Mart. We can't even stop ourselves. We're drowning in redundancy.


We used to fear the left wing imposing national health care on us, making slave laborers of rich orthodontists. Now, enemies even more reactionary than our own government are terrorizing us. Go figure! Get thee to a seraglio.

As one's verities change - hopefully keep changing - so does one respond differently to prevarications, evasions & blind prejudice. "Why am I listening to this bullcrap you put out just because some authority figure thirty years ago told you it's true?" When I asked why the continents looked like a jigsaw puzzle & Africa fit into South America, adults gave me all sorts of ridiculous explanations, hardly an "I don't know." Plate tectonics came as a great relief. Yet there are millions of otherwise sane Americans who actually read & write & refuse to feel the Earth moving beneath them, rather than appreciating the miracles of the Hawaiian Islands & Horseshoe Crabs. The Eastern world was hip to this long before we were, even if they didn't get the details right. Judaic-based history began 6000 years ago, as the last of the ice melted. Flying dragons were around millions of years before that, surviving as fear & flee brain stem neurons. Time is the Divine Presence saying, "We are becoming together." Don't be so square. Christian eternity is time all at once rather than time infinitely repeating itself. Is a God who possesses time in any particular hurry?


In a secular society one ought to seriously question, even suspend if not put aside altogether, Leviticus Code morality & examine instead the uses of virtue. What we do, more than what we think, affects lives & situations that are invisible to us. Family can be a small sandbox in a fenced in backyard. Seawater is the world blood. God is like a color - a metaphor no two people can be sure points to the same thing. God blind. Color blind. Call a pencil a "crayon" & watch the Temple Curtain rip. Obvious.


Sunday, May 04, 2003

It was anough for me this past year to stare, first hand, into the horror & emptiness of a man's life, & then attend a family wedding comprised of one part fashionable pagan nonsense to three parts Babylonian excess. The disparity astounded me & sickened me. Yet both were, to use a Christian term, "demonic," equally out of proportion, distorted, wasteful; the former of a human being's very being-ness, the latter of money, memory & modesty.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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