Archive for March, 2010

I have been invited to play and sing my songs at the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois student art gallery reception for the Open Studio exhibition. It begins at 5 pm and concludes when they ask us to leave or something like that. I hope my friend Rachel Lattimore Hasenyager will give  directions to the gallery in a comment following this post.

I have long felt an affinity for visual arts. I wrote a column called Art Seen for Illinois Times, initiated and maintained Central Illinois Visual Artist Galleries, a web site where area artists could share their art offered for sale, and a few years ago, when Jan Sorenson invited me to play and sing at a Sangamon Watercolor Society reception downtown, I wrote two songs about visual art for the occasion. I also sang several other songs I have written and some traditional folk songs. Great fun! Rachel invited me to pose at the Open  Studio and then invited me to play at the reception Wednesday night.

A friend of mine, Paul Fouch wrote a terrific biography about his grandfather Dr. Mark Foutch, a Springfield native, eye doctor and talented band leader, whom I knew through aviation interests. The title of the book — The Show Is On the Podium — is based on the good doctor’s wonderful musical work with his band that was a “fixture” at the Illinois State Fair for many years. As I read the book, I realized Mark might have given Paul the title before he died. From Mark Foutch’s perspective, the “show” was where he stood with his baton, leading the band which he had organized, written arrangements for and devoted a lot of his life to. I thought the title was misleading until a realized that when we watch a band or orchestra, where do we look? We look at the leader. It’s natural. The show may have been “on the podium,” but the music came from the musicians. When I play Wednesday night, make no mistake: This show will be on the walls as visitors view what promises to be an array of visual arts creations produced by members of the Open Studio program where students of visual arts paint and draw selected subjects for the fun of it and toward the goal of becoming better artists. The SHOW will be on the walls, perhaps on display stands.

The music will come from Tom Irwin and Job Conger. Tom is a musical “fixture” in this town as visible as the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon at Washington Park and to many ears, easier to dance to. He opened at the Illinois State Fair for Willie Nelson. I will also play and sing. To Tom Irwin’s musical barbecued ribs, I am the musical potato salad.

I will play the visual arts songs introduced at the downtown reception and two new songs I wrote for Wednesday night’s reception. This will be the first time I’ve shared the new songs when accompanied by my guitar, though a few weeks ago I sang them acapella for a few friends at another gathering. I will also sing several other songs, all of which I have written, including one particularly liked by Richard Falzone, and will include a Vachel Lindsay song I wrote, a Vachel Lindsay poem I set to music (“The Dream of All the Springfield Writers”) and a Vachel poem recited (“The Bronco That Would Not be Broken”). The recited poem MERITS a painting by Springfield talent. One of my goals in my small part of the evening will be to inspire someone (or more than one) in the audience to paint that painting. If it happens in the months ahead, I will seek permission to include it, with other illustrations, in my revised second edition of my book Vachel Lindsay: Strange Gold. I will also have copies of my books of poetry for sale Wednesday night, so AFTER you purchase a painting or two that appeals to you, and after you savor the rest of the visual art and Tom’s music,  and after I put down my guitar (which is not to say I intend to disparage or kill it), talk to me about books.

A good part of my life has been “possessed” in the last month by activity that will culminate Wednesday evening, but will echo afterward well into the future. I find my destiny in every minute devoted to poetry and music.  I hope you will attend the reception and enjoy what you like.

Live long . . . . . and proper.


Read Full Post »

When truth and logic prevail and fear is used by “loyalists” whose souls have been purchased for pieces of silver by fat kings of gold to bludgeon those who believe in truth and the general welfare of our nation, we would do well to remember that fear is not the final weapon to be used against us. It is the penultimate weapon.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

When You SIng the Blues
by Job Conger

It’s easier to take the next step —
Tramping to oblivion —
When you sing the blues,
Understanding life is a losing proposition
When you sing the blues:
Less demanding that Christianity,
Blues connect with our humanity
With more room for cozy vanity
In a world of mass insanity
When you sing the blues.

While considering the next step —
Tramping to oblivion —
When I sing the blues,
I know that as good as I’ve got Is as good as I’ll get
When I sing the blues.
Yes, it’s true, the past is history,
The future: blinding mystery.
There is no need for sophistery,
Or angst with clinched fistery
When I sing the blues.

The rhythm of the dance —
Tramping to oblivion —
When I sing the blues
Gives a man a second chance to resurrect and collect himself
When I sing the blues,
To put the brain on auto-fly
While navigating stormy sky,
Forgetting vast eternitie
And the pain of even asking why
When I sing the blues,
When I sing the blues.

written January 8, 1995
It’s a song that I wrote, and sang a few times . . . and considered worth publishing in Minstrel’s Ramble: to Live and Die in Springfield, Illinois . . . but the song never caught on with me as it did my friend Vicki Bamman. She and her husband were a part of the poetry scene not long ago, and since this post will eventually find its way to Facebook, and since she might read it, I consider this post a “song by unspoken request.” A toast: to history.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

I Want To Be Sedated
by Job Conger

This world seems to be oh so topsy-turvy;
Heck-bent for Armageddon soon.
Too many creeps passing for prophets
And mystics baying at the moon.
It’s hard to find a lucid stranger
And make it past the surface smile
The life is all too superficial,
A litany of bitter trial.

I-I-I want to be sedated,
Don’t want to feel so mad and mean.
I-I-I want to be sedated.
I’m even swearing off caffeine.

The many demons in my closet
They shake the door, they wail and scream,
And though the door is double-bolted
The cries are curdling my cream.
And noise from demons all around us
Contaminates the life once sweet.
It’s getting louder by the minute.
I need to make a swift retreat.

I-I-I want to be sedated.
Don’t want to hear your angry bile.
I-I-I want to be sedated.
The sound of music’s more my style.

Some people flirt with boozy weekends
And chug the drinks like popcorn shrimp.
While others ride passionate whore moans
And get their jollies from a pimp.
The chemistry from basement gardens
Will never see this body through.
But if you have a good solution,
I sure could use a dose or two.

I-I-I want to be sedated
With more than nods and knowing grins.
I want to be sedated
And find the road where hope begins.

written July 24, 1995
I searched Honey & Quinine to see if I posted this lyric before and found nothing. I’ve tweaked it (improved it) since it appeared in my book Minstrel’s Ramble: to Live and Die in Springfield, Illinois (available from the author). I was hosting a poetry open mic night at Capitol Caffe in lyrical downtown Springfield when I overheard someone say something like “You know Kareem, Conger should be sedated.” I turned to the person, said that was a great idea for a song, and I’d perform the new song next Wednesday at our next open mic. And I did. Someone told me The Ramones had recorded a hit song about wanting to be sedated, but I was unhip to the current top 20. My favorite tune was written in the early 19th century in Salzburg, and favorite song was written before The Beatles split. Later when I played this song at an open mic at the Hilton, Springfield, Bill Furry told me he liked it, and now that Lyle Lovett isn’t recording, I can’t ask for a better recommendation than that.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

Stuck In My Craw

It’s been in my craw like a bone stuck in my throat, a bone that allows me to breathe, but I feel it, and wish I could cough it out. It’s a distraction that’s been there since Friday about 4:30.

I work in a business where most of my associates lean politically to the right of Benito Mussolini, which is not to say I dislike them. My employer, who freely admits he gets his news from Fox, who has me read my own notes to him because he can barely read and who, though he’s been signing checks to me (when it’s a cold day in the spiritual substratum or he sees a porcine in flight) since 2008, still has to ask me my last name, finds me a curiosity because my political orientation is more liberal and to the left of Mussolini. In this post I call him Jersey — not his real name. Jersey seems to regard me as Howdy Doody with a guitar and a beard. And he likes to talk to me about this curious phenomenon elected to the White House in 2008, someone he considers a dangerous negro. In the occasional 10 minute conversations we spend talking about national politics, he shows the innocent curiosity others might feel for gypsies or members of the Bahai faith, and at the end of these conversations, he, smiling, always shakes my hand as though I’ve helped him carry groceries to his car and didn’t fall down, not even once. His step-son who shares the daily environs is a cardboard copy of him. I’ll call him Judd after the character in Oklahoma the musical show by Rogers and Hammerstein. Last Friday, Judd stood out of my sight around a corner as I explained to Jersey, as I sat at the showroom computer, why I hoped President Obama’s health care program would be passed Sunday. No need to repeat the reasons, and I don’t intend to change anyone’s mind here. After several minutes of respectful conversation with Jersey, Judd swung into view the way a hit-man might reveal himself after hiding for minutes behind a curtain. The way he stepped out and his expression made it obvious he had heard most of what Jersey and I had spoken.

“That f____ker is telling school kids to tell their parents how they love him,” Judd said as though he had chomped into a lemon. He continued explaining that kids are being told to tell their parents they know more about the environment than their moms and dads. He thought it was a crime that a kid should think he knew more than his parents. . . . downright unAMERICAN . . . . . downright SHAMEFUL! I responded that I bet any 9th grader could tell his parents the state capital of Idaho, and I bet few parents could name the capital of Michigan. Judd didn’t understand. I said I would HOPE kids would know more than their parents about some things, including the environment because if Jersey is a valid example NO parent is going to learn it from the telefiction news. Nothing registered with Judd, and that was okay.

My mind was still stuck on “That f___ker…”

And it still is. I am not threatened by strangers and acquaintances whose opinions are different from mine. I am threatened by an acquaintance who  casually lowers his zipper, pulls out something from between his legs and slaps it against the face of civil discourse.

For all my antipathy toward past presidents, I have never called someone legally elected president by what blog language monitors and many other respected individuals consider an obscene epithet. I’m not trying to hold my nose higher than anyone else’s. I don’t consider myself “a more perfect onion” (to paraphrase part of the preamble of our nation’s constitution). I simply respect the office and the USA and want to be sure everything is tucked in where it belongs when I talk politics.

Monday, I avoided Judd. It was easy. He avoided me as well.  Jersey was having a busy day, but late in the afternoon with Judd distantly elsewhere, he asked me if I was happy with how things transpired Sunday night. I told him I was, and that I had printed Paul Krugman’s Monday New York Times column, had made a copy for him if he would only promise me he’d read it! I told him that if he’d give me five consecutive minutes, I’d gladly read it to him aloud. All he’d have to do is listen.

“No, you don’t have to do that. We’ll talk sometime.” And he disappeared out the front door. I could lock up at 5:00; no need to call him to say I was heading home.

The ghastly tragedy in this personal interface is that it’s as American as apple pie. It’s called “freedom of speech” and it’s okay. There is more to be gained by holding my “tongue” in the name of getting along than there is in turning it loose in a crusade for the moral high ground. I have learned that in the fight for resolution of complex principles and to exemplify humanity at its finest, sometimes that man has to deal with a monkey on the trail. When that happens, time has taught me a sorry truth: the man will sometimes become the monkey. The monkey will never become the man.

The bone will remain where it is: in my craw, but I will live with it. I have bills to pay.

If I could work with people who know how to read, pay me regularly and don’t worry about “negroes,” I would in a heartbeat. I have a resume. Do you hire communicators? I’ll send it to you. In the meantime, Jersey, Judd and Job got along okay on Tuesday. I said about eight words to Judd and maybe 20 to Jersey. It was a typical day.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

God HEP me, I love to discuss poetry. I yearn to discuss poetry. That’s why I’ve endeavored over the years to start a second local discussion group that does discuss poetry when I CAN discuss poetry. Thursdays at 10  and Saturday mornings don’t harmonia-ize (as #43 might say) with my work schedule. So these days, when I discuss poetry, it’s usually with a married friend who lives in distant bliss in Arkansas. One of her goals for her poetry, as confided to me recently, is to “comfort” readers.

Her goal is TERRIFIC. I am confident that poems have comforted millions through the ages. I am less confident that poems, written to comfort readers have generated a dollar of profit fpr creator, publisher or reader aloud. That said, who can deny that greeting and sympathy cards from the likes of Hallmark and others “comfort” readers, and what do those cards contain? POETRY for heaven’s sake. I don’t dispute a necessarily subjective interpretation by some who with noses held high in the air as though hot on the trail of a jail escapee, proclaim “anything on card stock mailed in an envelope is not poetry. I believe it is poetry.”  It’s not a matter of “IF” for me; it’s a matter of “degrees of IS.” Sympathy cards include poetry as a necessary accessory to the gesture and the 44 cent stamp, almost as an afterthought. After all, sympathy cards are sold with pretty pictures and illustrations, and nothing inside. Still, you know it’s a sympathy card because the vendor puts the things in the sympathy card part of the card aisle and some of them even have an empathetic phrase on the front: something  that says  perhaps “In deepest SYMPATHY.. .”

Even so, while saying again my appreciation of my friend’s goal of comforting readers with her poems. I concede sans shame or second thought, that I believe I have never written a poem or song lyric to comfort someone else.

Poems and songs written to comfort anyone were written to comfort me. If any reader or listener harvests comfort from what I write, it is the hand of Divine  Providence that delivers that comfort; Providence and sometimes His handmaiden, Felicitous Coincidence.

As a poet (some would say “jingleman”) I’m trying to maintain my catharsis through terror and grief when I write some poems and songs.  I can’t transport my empathy into the heart of another person whose life I can barely imagine and certainly can’t understand.  I wonder if writers of blues songs can do what I can’t do. Maybe listeners who groove on blues connect by crafted direction from the lyric writer. That’s fine. I’m not denying it can happen.

It just doesn’t happen with me, and after all sport fans and athletic supporters. this is my blog; not someone else’s. It’s my portal and I’ll cry if I want to.

Live long . . . . . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

The winter of my sophomore year, my great friend Jim Richardson and his brother Bill and I went sledding at Illini Country Club’s snowed over golf course on a Saturday afternoon. A thaw since the snowfall, followed by a hard freeze and more warmer weather had put a coat of ice over the once-powdery snow. The walks to the top of the main hill dragging our sleds were challenging, though boots kicked through the ice coat made it possible. They were nowhere near as challenging as the rides coming down! We really had to think ahead to steer over the slick ice and inch-deep puddles here and there to go laterally to stop in time to avoid the small creek that meandered through the bottomland. We all completed two or three trips before my luck changed. On what became my last run of the afternoon, I realized I was going “too fast for conditions.”  There was no trace of ice remaining in the creek, but I was sure the water was none too warm. I began sliding myself off the back of the thing, hoping not to go as far as the sled, once we had parted ways.

The sled arched gracefully into the stream as tho’ in slow mo,’ followed by me about a half a second behind it. Initially I didn’t even feel cold though it was obvious I was totally submerged in the water that was probably three  feet deep.  I calmly talked to myself, reminding me that I should get my head above the surface before I inhaled. Automatically, without rushing or thrashing,  I stood up in the  water, not even up to my waist, looked up at the creek bank about neck high, reached into the water to recover my sled, and then lifted and pushed it out first.  By this time, Jim and others had arrived at the bank, glad to see I wasn’t hurt, and helped me out.  Without much fuss, we walked back to the Richardsons’ house, about three blocks away.  Mrs. Richardson put my soggy clothes into the dryer, gave me some of Jim’s to wear in the meantime. Then she called Mom to pick me up in an hour. I didn’t have a scratch on me, but it was a 12 block walk home, and I had had enough outdoors for the day.

A major influence my sophomore year was Mr. Schoenbeck, my English teacher. He encouraged my creative writing. I never had a writing assignment at SHS that I did not enjoy. I even had fun diagraming sentences because that helped me understand how the language works. (Part of the credit goes to Miss Ruppelt in 5th grade where we began diagraming sentences. Miss Kolaz in 6th was also terrific in patience and enthusiasm for the language.)  One day, our sophomore English text suggested writing an essay entitled “Driving in a Storm.” I KNEW what kind of essay the title was intended to elicit from future William Safires, but instead, I wrote a fictional account — not “on” but — about hitting golf balls at the local driving range on Wabash Avenue during a downpour. Mr. Schoenbeck appreciated my take on the task and read it to the class while seated at his desk at the front of the classroom. Thereby I became a future wiseacre blog screamer, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Zoology class was a mixed bag for me. The teacher was unofficially known as “Buggy Joe” Spitale, an older, bespectacled man whose mind moved at 100 miles an hour and whose mouth moved almost as fast. . He had taught zoology when my sister Dorothy matriculated through 12 years earlier. Dot had told me he was a lecherous old coot with female students. The girls knew to watch for him when they were hunkered over their microscopes, and they knew to sit up straight when he came over to “help.” The high point of the class, for me, was working on — not about — an insect collecting project with Sue Starling, a statuesque, shy, and to a degree, stand-offish person whom I thought had possibilities for amore some day, and who definitely had a great future because her mind was vivacious, curious and sharp as a tack. We collected bugs at Washington Park and completed the traditional sophomore zoology bug board for a grade I’ve forgotten but an interface I’ve always remembered. I also enjoyed learning Latin terms for classifying animals because that language is so connected to the one Welsh-Americans like me speak in Los Estados Unidos. On a major test, I flunked the half of the test that dealt with the life cycles of protozoa and metazoa and larger life forms advanced to but not including governors of Illinois and was given an A for genus and species identification.

Frequently on Fridays, the school had assemblies in the auditorium after lunch where prominent individuals would address us. One person was Jessie Owens who stressed the importance of being physically fit and demonstrated at age 80-something, one arm pushups with his fingers extended. I was amazed. Another speaker was a Belgian diplomat from the United Nations in New York who had spent significant time in Israel, Jordan, Egypt . . . . that scene. He talked about kibbutsim and how most Americans are woefully unaware of what life is all about in the other 99 percent of the world. I vowed at that time not to be an uninformed American. Another guy was a professional whistler, another made great large visual art with colored sand. The most impressive of them all was a guy named Nick Lindsay who visited Springfield High School in November 1962.  Most of us, myself included, had no clue re who this blond orator, bristling with passion, was until he explained his father was Vachel Lindsay. I knew that name. I read my first Vachel Lindsay poem “The Bronco That Would Not Be Broken” at Franklin Junior High in Miss Cheesboro’s English class. It had made an impression. So would Nick Lindsay. Something like 27 seconds (if memory serves) into his presentation, I was hooked. The power in his recital of “The Kallyope Yell” and his pronunciation of that word (most folks spell and pronounce it “Calliope”) penetrated me. So did his outlook regarding literature and poetry. Without Nick Lindsay I would not have studied Vachel and written a book about him, memorized about 40 of my favorite Vachel poems and made something of a pest of myself around the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site, whispering, passionately, Vachel poems to innocent visitors when the site director might hear me, or sharing them as Vachel Lindsay would have on the many occasions I have been graciously invited to recite them with the director’s permission. Without the match lit by Nick Lindsay and flicked into the heart of my soul, I would not have become a major fan of his dad OR of many other poets either. I would still have written poems and songs. As long as there are women, I will write poems and songs. Without Vachel, I would still be writing poems about only women and only affectionate ones at that.

Coming next: Bad times in Zoologyville.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »