Sunday, March 25, 2012

drug of voice

Long ago, when I was crazy and couldn't sleep, my shrink, knowing of my life before baby, told me I needed to start writing poetry again or join a band. He believed insomnia to be a symptom of art withdrawal.

He was right. I had chosen the poetry, and my sleep was restored. I'd have started a band, too, except that I have crippling stage fright.

Back when I fronted Question 47 in the early eighties, we played out once or twice a week. I eased my fears with a gin and tonic or two, and I was usually comfortable by the third song. But I know alcohol only makes you think you sing great. Still, I pine for that unrequited love. I would rather sing and play guitar than do much else, even though I probably have no business doing it at all.

So here's what happens to me when I get on stage—even to read poetry or give a lecture: My arms get heavy and numb, and they sting, as though the blood in my veins were plaster of Paris mixed with rubbing alcohol; my legs stiffen and cramp; my heart pounds out of my chest, and you can see it through my shirt like some kind of alien spawn; my voice shakes and quavers, and I can't stay in pitch.

Because of my fear and lack of confidence, with the exception of one brief embarrassing moment at my daughter's bat mitzvah last year, I've not sung in public since my old band days. Until Friday.

After a story on 60 Minutes awhile ago, I wondered about using Propranolol (Inderol), a beta blocker, to ease my stage fright. I mentioned it recently, and my best friend, a speech pathologist, admitted that she takes it when she has to give presentations. So I called my doctor. He gave me five tiny pills and the instruction to take half a pill one or two hours before my performance. Our school's coffee house was 6-9; I took half a pill at 5.

At 8:15, my friend's band announced that they were taking a break and asked if I wanted to play. I'd pretty much given up on that idea. But when Dave asked me again, I was up like a shot. If I was nervous for a moment, it's a moment I don't remember.

And it's the only thing I don't remember. The pill gave me some kind of super memory! I didn't forget the chords or the words, even though we were playing a new song. And when someone asked us to play another, I did an original.

I'm not saying I was great; I wasn't. But I didn't suck, either, and that was enough to delight me. Maybe after a few of these little shows, my confidence can return.

I have enough pills for nine more gigs. And I plan to use them all.

Monday, March 19, 2012

the poet

On Sunday, I had breakfast with a poet. A real poet. He didn't have breakfast with me because he'd had some "Irish soda bread" at home on his horse farm before our late morning meeting.

Real poets have Irish soda bread on their kitchen counters on their horse farms.

Last time I met the poet in this place, I helped him set up a Facebook page. Now, his canonical status updates read like a taunt.

In this order: Up at five but it felt like four. Iced hooves. Thought about meditation. Thought better. Remembered Ackerman (Come to Bed Jack), her eyes. Listened to Mundy, Garbage, R. Head. Reread Paul Hostovsky's "A Little in Love a Lot" for the twentieth time. Found something I'd missed.

My update: Beer is fucking delicious. Beer is like crack. Fucking crack.

Nearly every poem he writes punches me in the gut. Across the table, the poet tosses me three pages. On the first is a poem about shooting a raccoon and putting up Christmas decorations. It is so perfect that I need to find a quiet place to both punish and forgive myself.

Sometimes I punch back. And sometimes, the poet flinches. Last week, I sent him two new pieces—one the lushest, most violent, aching, throbbing poem. He sent them back from South Bumfuck. In an envelope. With stamps. Like only poets and poetry-loving husbands do. I ran to the mailbox each day like a puppy, and when I couldn’t take it anymore, I begged him to send his comments by email so I could set my poem free.

That day, the longhand-edited pieced arrived—with an entirely different critique. He told me on the better page: "This one is a great poem." It’s covered in cursive and printing, three different colors and weights of ink: a fine-point black pen; a medium-point black pen; and a cyan marker, which is his commentary.

In one week, the poet will turn 50. He'll go out to dinner with his wife. They'll talk about horses and poetry and wine. When it's my turn, six months from now, I will scratch 50 until it bleeds. And I will drink the delicious crack of Resurrection. I will wake up the next day and be exactly the same, but I will pretend that it made all the difference in the world.

The list of things to do between now and the next rotation around the sun grows: publish another book of poems (the first one's due out in May), form a band that plays originals and wholly original covers, travel somewhere by myself, go to Barcelona to see the mosaics.

The poet has lived in Barcelona and describes standing in Picasso’s house like only a poet can describe it.

And because I, too, am a poet, I am, in that moment, there.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

sweet harmony

Yesterday, I got to spend some quality, albeit brief, time with an old friend and his wife. We met at Nick's in Cross Street at noon and engaged in some laugh making, picture taking, Facebook posting, and two-fisted beer drinking. Despite the frenetic activity, not a drop of the 32-ounce trough of Flying Dog Pale Ale went anywhere but to my head.

We met when I was fourteen, some thirty-[inaudible mumbling] years ago. My best friend had just won 92 albums from WLPL (92 FM, of course), and I was the lucky bum who got to tag along. She and I were already cutting-edge ninth graders. We read Creem and Rock Scene and Circus. (We read Hit Parade, too, so we knew the lyrics to all the Aerosmith songs.)

We brought a shopping list. My girlfriend and I had seen pictures of the bands that made us swoon—The Sex Pistols, Richard Hell, the Damned, Television, the Stranglers—bands we couldn't hear on the radio. So we went to Harmony Hut to get schooled. Ira Kessler was the teacher.

From that moment on, I was home, even if home sometimes meant my dark closet with Patti Smith's Babel, a thesaurus, a notebook, and a pen.

I can't give Ira all the credit; I'd have found my way eventually. But that hour or so in Harmony Hut was a defining moment in my life.

Ira never left behind his career in music, even though he left behind Baltimore for Connecticut and, finally, New York. But in the early eighties, he and I were both in bands at the same time (his, Boy Meets Girl, and mine, Question 47, played many shows together). He's worked in the recording industry since his stint at Harmony Hut in Security Square Mall, and it was his first record company's reunion that brought him back to town after a couple years away.

One afternoon with his wife, Lori, proves that Ira's taste is still impeccable.

With maybe one exception: thirty-two ounces of Yuengling? Maybe it's a nostalgia thing. But he must now attend FuquinALE!, my seminar. And he might have to stay after class to exorcise those lager demons.