Riffing on Riff

Riffing on Riff

This post is Riff’s 50th.  

We’ve only been around since late October of 2020, but already have posted some “Greatest Hits” with topics ranging from the gratitude of whales to “pop ops” about Harry and Meghan. 

We’ve been given sweet and salty slices of life by Nick Carbó, Rick Moody, Cornelius Eady, Owen Egerton, Ellen Sweets, Lee Martin, Ruth Pennebaker, Wang Ping, Jim McGarrah, and many others. They’ve shared quick-to-the-blood experiences; plumbed arguments; advised writers; and revealed questions behind questions (sometimes pretending to be answers).

In this epic time, compressed like a haiku written by Homer, we’ve watched the fall of Trump and the rise of human decency. Filling the vacuum left by binge tweeting, we now have substantive dialogue about science separate from opinion, infrastructure, climate change, and the impact of white privilege on black lives. We can again admit that problems exist and need creative solutions. As we rejoin the global community, we recognize the humility of leadership. We are regaining our dignity and owning our shame. American Democracy proved frighteningly fragile. 

Behind it all, driving both action and inaction, nationally and world-wide, has been the beating drum of the pandemic.

And RIFF has been there the whole way, aiming for crafted, fast reads on the themes of the day. While the word “riff” is rooted in jazz, we can apply a literary meaning, “To improvise in the performance or practice of an art, especially by expanding on or making novel use of traditional themes.” Apt, especially when one considers the etymology of the word as a “quickening” of the word “refrain.”

The literary appropriation of musical “refrains” seems about as natural as adding lyrics to song.

Milan Kundera in his astounding novel of ideas, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (which somehow survives translation admirably), blends philosophy, romantic love, history, and human values as seamlessly as brass, percussion, strings, and operatic trills. He then pilfers Beethoven’s motifs for his own character, Tomas:

“Tomas shrugged his shoulders and said, Es muss sein. Es muss sein. 

It was an allusion. The last movement of Beethoven’s last quartet is based on the following two motifs: Muss es sein? Es muss sein! / Must it be? It must be!

To make the meaning of the words absolutely clear, Beethoven introduced the movement with a phrase, ‘Der schwer gefasste Entschluss,‘ which is translated as ‘the difficult resolution.'”

 

This fusing of philosophical and musical imperatives feels right to me. Kundera’s characters find themselves driven by fate and thwarted by political and historical pressures (e.g., The Prague Spring) that challenge and then push their personal stories.

RIFF gives us similar pursuits in smaller bites. While not a full-scale novel, RIFF posts are no less driven by their dynamic context: whether the pounding of the pandemic drum, the rise and fall of shrill voices, or the slow, comforting downbeat of a returning refrain.

Which brings us to my first bloggish 45-degree turn at break-neck speed–my eager affinity with musical metaphors, which is more than a little odd since I’m far from being musically inclined.

My singing sounds like the offspring of a crow and a cat in perpetual heat. I snap my fingers and tap my foot mid-beat.  My overbite kept me from forming a tight enough “O” even to whistle well. My second-grade violin lessons never made it past two weeks of a screeching “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

We didn’t play “air guitars” when I was growing up, but hairbrushes made great microphones. From my bed-stage I’d shriek Beatle songs to an imaginary audience, a year later the Monkees, then Grand Funk Railroad, and by mid-teens, Jesus Christ Superstar and Neil Young.

My unrequited passion for music took vicarious turns. In college I went with not one but TWO jazz guitarists, both of whom had albums in the day. And, truth be known, I don’t even like jazz guitar.

But, I did love jazz and its steamy, twilight world: the low moaning sex of the sax, the tinkling piano keys, the swish of the brush across a drum . . .  I’m naturally a night owl—and here were my peeps . . .  a whole subculture rising under the dark, moon-shaped gel spots and nimbus clouds of smoke, nights that synched with Manhattans, chilled straight up.

Jazz and its whole heady lifestyle colored outside the lines, yet, like graffiti, told it like it is.

Conversely, scat singing took the human voice and turned it into an instrument, escaping the L-R confines of sentences, blending nonsense syllables into pure music. Having belonged to a Jesus-Freak cult for one of my teen years, I remember the swaying and harmonious stupor of speaking in tongues until (we were sure) our blood flowed God.

Three cocktails and a little Coltrane can do the same thing.

Or so it seemed.

In the day.

In retrospect, now, seriously sober and watching CNN, and reflecting on life carved into years, themes, blog posts, it occurs to me I really don’t know what I’m talking about, except that I am drawn to extended metaphors, to analogy, as are salmon to spawning waters.

Unable to sing or whistle or play an instrument, I found that soul-thumping sumpin sumpin through words and their craft. I could choose, instead, to become a conductor of all those off-beat, truant voices and braying instruments inside myself that want to play on stage, piped into elevators, alone in the shower.

Music and reading. Music and writing. Of course! I am in thrall to Kundera’s brilliant overlay of Nietzche with Beethoven.

Think Ragtime, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Amadeus.

From yet another prespective, who hasn’t walked down the street to the beat of a sound track playing behind us? Or found an ear worm thematically informing our every decistion for the day (“That’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, we like it uh huh, uh huh. . .”)? Or replied, almost singing, “Que sera sera“?

Music also gives us literary folk a wealth of metaphors where even poetry sometimes fails to deliver. “Harmony,” “Discord,” “Movement,” “Counterpoint,” “Accent,” “Cadence,” “Motif,” “Chord,” “Tone deaf,” “Composition,” “Genre,”” Croon,” “Phrase” – what writer or teacher of language hasn’t shared these terms to describe a voice, a brand of discourse, a form of writing?

After a few other hairpin turns, I’ve finally riffed my way back to RIFF. What a great word. Like “truffle,” “quip,” or “praline,” it’s just fun to say. And the meaning of “riff”–an improvisational or inspired refrain–is spot on what we hope to achieve.

Social media has taken on a life we didn’t expect. Why not use its existing infrastructure, like an autobahn, to drive readers back and forth between the blog, writers, and each other?

For those of you with Facebook, we’ve set up a RIFF group that acts as a reception lobby to chat it up with writers, other readers, literary professionals, and students. We share literary jokes, comment on RIFF blog posts, and try out some “riffs” of your own. Readers and writers are instantly interchangeable peers.

If you are not a member, but would like to be, join us here.

If you are new to RIFF, below by month is an entire table of contents with links to past articles and multi-media “jam sessions.”

Two forms, two motifs: Muss es sein? Es muss sein! / Must it be? It must be!

 

“In this epic time, compressed like a haiku written by Homer, we’ve watched the fall of Trump and the rise… of dialogue . . .”

 

Wagon of Books
Wagon of Books

“Twilight is the hour of the Motherless Child / Another man gone, gone down that lonesome mile . . .”

–Cornelius Eady

April is still in the making

Featured pieces can be found on the RIFF main-page carousel. Posts range from traveling tips in the real world to the unexpected benefits of rewiring our own lives in response to the Pandemic.

Watch for new pieces coming from Joy Harjo, Lee Martin, Debra and Josephine Decker, Kenna James, Ivica Profica, Laura G. Owens, regular contributor Ellen Sweets, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Wang Ping, and others.

We’d love to have you involved, whether as a contributor, a reader, a committee member, editor, WordPress assistant, and / or volunteer.

RIFF has many such helpers, some of whom you may never see on our carousel.

  • Special thanks to Zeke Fritts, whose contribution to making RIFF a reality has been nothing short of essential.
  • Heather Zacny, too, makes RIFF possible–amazing artistry and website skills. You continue to amaze me.
  • Also BIG thanks to Debra Levy, Beth  Riemenschneider, Michael Merschel, Jeanne Devine, Michael Puttonen, and Jan Morrel.

We would love to hear from you. Please check out our many topics, read some of these posts, follow the guidelines, and send us your own work. You can try out your ideas first on our Facebook group if that makes you more comfortable. Or watch from afar for as long as you like.  RIFF really is for “Today’s Fast-Paced Word.” RIFF‘s Contribution page link–here.

Simply staying open can be one approach to the Beethoven / Nietsche dilemma of the “difficult resolution.” Writers rely on solitude to write, as do readers to read, but we’re also hard-wired social creatures. Writing is our most intimate art form, as we can get inside another’s pattern of thought, and connect on a genuinely deep level. WHAT IF this connection we create together here becomes “group telepathy,” only each of us can choose what and why and when? Privacy or revelation remains our own.

Many of us have been listening and tapping our feet a long time, both to the beat of discourse and also in impatience for what’s to come. We don’t know the answer. 

Yet. 

Maybe never.

Muss es sein? Es muss sein! / Must it be? It must be!

Green Mountain Trail

Green Mountain Trail

Isolation has always been my love language, but as soon as I’m stationed overseas (which happens A LOT) or told to social distance, I’m compelled to begin creative projects with people I can’t get to.

Whether it’s collaborating with my brothers on music / art / writing or painting Bronte-inspired literary gifts for The Crow Emporium, this pandemic has produced unanticipated joy.

I think the only way to combat sadness, frustration, and terror is not to fight it; we have to make it work for us.

The “Silent Current from Within” Project

When we were small in Alabama, my father took us camping up on Green Mountain. I had one job: don’t get lost.

Camping on Green Mountain was The Wild. We drove up the road from the tornado-stricken valley where our house repeatedly survived, through dense vibrant forest, all the way to the top, to the lake. The winding trail. The little cabin left open for hikers to explore, take shelter, or pretend they were, say, a female Civil War soldier hiding from the enemy in need of a fire, more bullets, and a burlap curtain to peek out from.

We would drive to our site, pitch the tent, take out the pizza box, and pull up the antenna from Dad’s mini portable TV. I was assured that my survival skills were up to scratch as I ate processed cheese, watching black and white TV, on a Care-Bear sleeping bag IN THE WILD. Later once, at dusk, I went to the bathroom (a building) and forgot which way our tent was. For a terrifying moment I knew, in the core of my being, that I was alone. In The Wild. Well, I thought, standing on the gravel path, surrounded by tall trees, an outhouse, and the distant voices of unknown humans, this is where I live now. I was lost.

***

In the fall of 2020, so  . . . five months ago, seems much longer . . . my brother Charlie told me he’d finished a new EP inspired by Anne Bronte (of course, love it), Anne Carson (LOVE it, want to be her), and me (awesome, love–what?) ~-Reader, I wish you all health, happiness, and a brother who believes in you.~ He then asked me to be ready to come up with some sort of craft, because he was asking our brother, Chris, to write a folktale based on the prose pieces and the spirit of the music.

 

There are only four written springboards.

As Simple as Water” is inspired by Anne Carson’s “Camino,“ from her brilliant Anthropology of Water. In it, the journey itself is what gives direction. The road asks the only thing you long to give; I believe that is the thing you love that gives you life, your purpose.

In “If This Be All,” Anne Bronte’s heartbreaking and beautiful poem, there are no friends around; love must happen from far away; there is wandering and toiling, constant care, frequent pain. . . .You’re nodding your head, Reader. She writes, If this is it, God, then come get me. I wanna go home. Or . . . give me the strength to get through it. Because I know You can.

I wrote the piece leading to “A Marked and Mended Sign” for a friend who has become as close to me as any sister could be. We’ve never met. It began with a business-related email, which continued on to messaging and has resulted in a meeting of kindred spirits. I never saw it coming. I didn’t know anything was missing, and I have no idea how I’d come so far without her.

When I took a 6-week writing class in Italy (you can hate me a little right now; I know I do), I went with some girls to the Academia to see Michelangelo’s David. While in line outside, there were three fascinating middle-aged women, cousins, behind us. One was very athletic, no makeup, lousy outfit, an overbite; one was small, mousy hair, smiled a lot, agreed with everything, kept adjusting her purse strap; and one was tall, long dark hair, dressed to kill, bejeweled within an inch of her life, talked forever, danced with teenaged Italian boys, wore large glamorous sunglasses to shock said Italian boys with her age as she removed them, and also, she had cancer.

I lost track of the women as we funneled into the museum. Before I could get to the David, I had to go through corridors filled with unfinished, brilliant, sculptures: Michelangelo’s rough drafts. My mind was blown. I wrote a heartbreaking short story about three middle aged women seeing the David, filled with detail and meaning and character development and emotional tension. It was rejected for the next 15 years. And not “high tier” rejections, Reader. These were hard passes.

I kept thinking, But–The David scene! The Camping scene! They’re so good. Can’t anyone see that?

Nope. They couldn’t. Because they were hidden.

 

I joined a Facebook group in January last year whose sole purpose is to get 100 Rejections within the year. I made it to 78. It was a real mindscrew to not just be ok with, but EXCITED, for a rejection.

 

 

 

It–and I don’t say this lightly–changed my life. It gave me a direction as clear as any map. My list of rejections grew quickly and my spirits actually lifted. I took out that “boring three women in Italy story” and deleted everything that touched them until I had only the parts I couldn’t stop thinking about: The David and The Camping. Then I just talked to myself on paper.

It was the first thing to be accepted. Read it here 

Waterwheel Review (Love them; wish all magazines were like them) asked if I had any preference or knew of any artists to post as a companion piece. I messaged Charlie. “Until the Charm Fades” was born.

Sometimes hiding is neither cowardice nor preservation, but fermenting . . . gaining value.

I’m not the only one who did a lot of hiding last year. Some was forced, but a lot wasn’t. Also, my little fermenting metaphor isn’t 100% literary device . . . but I know that much of what’s been written, composed, painted, discovered, created, purged, ignited, realized, and accepted would never have happened without the isolation, fear, discouragement, and frustration we’ve all been through and continue to go through. We don’t have to believe it will get better. We just have to believe it could. That’s the only way to put a foot forward one more time.

***

On the Green Mountain trail, toward the end, there is an open-air chapel. Our dad was a minister, but more than that, he believes. No matter how gross we were, how tired, how whiny, or how exasperated he was with us, we would stop there and at least sit on the splintery benches. We’d still be fighting, but we sat down just the same. Somewhere in my child heart I knew: This is where I acknowledge Him. In the Wild. Even though I knew He was with me the whole time.

Anne Bronte was the baby of her family. She was quiet. Kind. Devout. Proper. But she wrote revolutionary, theologically-questioning, society-shattering prose and poetry. She knew how to acknowledge her hope while challenging everything that stood against it. I believe her faith was ironclad because she questioned.

Belief is a quest. If something doesn’t line up mind, voice, and heart–-then I know I haven’t found the answer yet. There’s a lot to allow, to concede, to compromise on a journey.

Preparation involves choices in equipment, nourishment, necessary comforts. Know your route. Take a map. Check the weather. Anticipate what you can and decide to power through what you can’t. It’s difficult to stay on course, questions and all, no matter how we get burned.

There’s so much out there that we can’t see coming, but it’s not all bad. In fact, it’s probably a lot better than we can imagine from our spot in The Wild.

The Good is hidden from us now, waiting. But that’s what treasure does.

Charlie Rauh’s EP, THE SILENT CURRENT FROM WITHIN, will be available from Destiny Records for pre-order February 12, 2021. BUY IT HERE 

A limited run of 36 packages will be offered at that time as well. Each package will include a hand written segment of “Note the Wind” (a folktale by Chris Rauh, written in response to the music), a full version of the story as a PDF download, a hand-drawn map detailing the landscape of the story, a compass, and a digital download of the EP and art work by me and Cameron Mizell.

Each segment of the story is also part of a larger image of the map, making the individual pieces completely unique.

 

For more from Christina, visit www.christinarauhfishburne.com

NICHO

NICHO

Nine-year-old Lionicio Rodriguez Saenz played the harmonica and accordion alongside his guitar-playing, ten-year-old cousin Romaldo Pérez for farm workers after a grueling day of harvesting beets in Minnesota fields. Realizing their migrant-worker treks prevented their only child from attending school, Sanez’s parents bought him the instruments to infuse musical grace in their hardscrabble lives. Self-taught and musically gifted, Saenz mastered the mouth harp and squeeze box in a migrant-worker world without daily radio, movies, or telephones. Campesino families gathered as the two boys sang Mexican songs and corridos of love, adventure, and beauty. To preserve their voices and strength, the farmers allowed them to act as water boys during the day and entertainers at night.

Born in Escobares, Texas, 1933, along the Río Grande River, Saenz accompanied his family in the annual migrant trips like thousands of campesinos who harvested America’s fruits and vegetables. The Saenz family had lived along the river for several generations, knowing they never crossed the border, the border had crossed them. At seventeen in 1949, Saenz convinced his family to allow him to stay with an aunt in Fort Worth, Texas’ Diamond Hill barrio while they proceeded north to the farm fields. They planned for him to reunite later, but in truth, young Saenz wearied of the work, seeking escape in the city.

Working at odd jobs during the day, Saenz noticed a glaring absence of Tejano music bands in Fort Worth. Aware that urban Tejanos worked as hard as farm workers at Swift Armour Meat Packing Plant, Texas and Pacific Railway, Texas Steel and other manual labor jobs, he entertained them with his new troupe, Nicho Saenz y Los Alegres de Norte. As the lead singer, Saenz played lively Tejano tunes with his accordion at church jamaicas (fairs) and parties throughout Fort Worth. Highly territorial, barrio boys normally didn’t tolerate young Chicanos coming to their neighborhoods looking for girls or trouble. For Saenz and his crew, their music calmed hostile glares at the first waves of lively Tejano polka tunes.

His wife Rosa Maria Garcia whom he had met at a jamaica convinced him to find a steady construction job. Late to work one day after missing his ride, he startled at his boss’s astonished gaze. Saenz learned five members of his pipe-laying crew had died in a cave-in earlier that morning. At his wife’s insistence, he left the construction job and worked as clean up man at Acme Tent and Awning Company where he met T. D. Wynn. A US Navy veteran, the African American canvas sewer helped Saenz to improve his English and taught him to control his temper when harassed with racist slurs freely shot at Blacks and Latinos.

In 1950s Fort Worth, overt White ridicule of non-whites was normal parlance for police to paupers. Segregated water fountains and bathrooms, separate public bus seating, and “No Blacks, Mexicans, or Dogs Allowed” store and restaurant signs proclaimed the racial order in the Lone Star State. Wynn related that Black sailors were relegated to cooks and custodians and were never permitted on deck to shoot the big guns. The navy assumed that Blacks’ night vision was too poor to hit anything. In face of racial hostility, Wynn reminded him it was more important to earn a living and to survive for their families in a culture glorifying church steeples and white sheets. Not all Whites walked the crooked path

Nicknamed “Shorty” for his five feet one inch stature by fellow workers, Saenz soon rose to head tent repairer and caught the eye of Rex Palmer, director of the Boy Scouts of America Dallas/Fort Worth region. Dissatisfied with Acme’s response to his tent repair needs, Palmer offered to help set up Saenz in the tent and awning business if he agreed to give the Scouts’ tents top priority. Taking on Wynn as a partner, Saenz opened their business, S & W Tent Canvas Products, at 212 W. Exchange Street in Niles City as the Fort Worth Stockyards Area was then called in 1956. Niles City at the time had a seedy reputation for drunks, prostitutes, and drugs. Saenz continued to work part-time at Acme until they fired him after discovering his new business venture and loss of the Boy Scouts account. Saenz boasted to his family that he was one of the few local Latino entrepreneurs who had a business not in food or construction industries.

An uncomfortable first in Niles City was the presence of a minority-owned business. Carlos Saenz, Nicho’s eldest son, recalled as a ten-year-old in 1960s helping at the store and hearing racial slurs, including the N-word, that White customers hurled at Wynn and his father. For example, an angry trucker howled, “Where’s that stupid spic? He was supposed to have my tarp ready.” Wynn explained that Saenz was picking up the supplies. “You tell that that damn wetback I better have them . . . A nigger and a stupid Mexican opening a business in the Stockyards. That beats all.” When Carlos asked his father why they tolerated the abuse, his father relayed Wynn’s advicete. “Let them talk all they want. They’re still spending their money.”  

In his 20s, Carlos acted as the company’s salesman, driving a Cadillac, wearing a suit, clutching a brief case to prospective customers’ homes in response to quote inquiries. When some White prospects opened the door, he met disappointing glares when they realized the company was minority-owned. It was Wynn’s idea to use initials in their business’s name lest Spanish sounds elicit automatic rejection. 

Spanish paid off in Sanez’s musical gigs. Known as Shorty during the day, he transformed into Nicho, Tejano band leader, at night. Carlos joined his father as a drummer at twelve years old as they played Tejano tough beer joints on north Main Streets such as the Blue Moon Lounge, Escondido, and Connie’s, and dance halls known as the Rocket, the Casino, Guys and Dolls, and Tango. The bars often lacked security and bath rooms, resulting in fist fights, shootings, and pisses in the alley.

Carlos recalled at thirteen-years old driving the band home, members too drunk to steer. The accompanying 1968 photo shows Los Alegres at a New Year’s Party they performed in Dallas, Texas, at the Bridgeport Ballroom. As the band prospered, so did Saenz’s canvas business.

Despite the racism, Saenz’s and Wynn’s hard work, quality craftsmanship, and perseverance stimulated sales. The awning business took on national clients including Bonanza, Black Eyed Pea, and Peoples Restaurants. Several western dining eateries owned by renowned chef Tim Love displayed Saenz’s curtains and awnings. S&W installed many business awnings along Camp Bowie Boulevard, a Fort Worth commercial zone. After Wynn’s death from leukemia in 1973, Saenz kept the “W” in the business name to honor his trusted partner.

Although Saenz’s net worth exceeded over $3 million in the 2000s, he continued to operate the business because his employees depended on the steady earnings for their families. After his wife Rosa died in 2013, Saenz closed his canvas operations in 2015, but not his accordion case. He often played with sons Carlos and Lionicio G. in their band The Latin Express.

In 2007, the Tejano Roots Hall of Fame inducted Nicho Saenz into their Millionaire Band. The Latin Express was inducted in 2008. He last played publically in 2016 with The Latin Express at Casa Mañana, a theater in the round, in a benefit concert for the Fort Worth School District Fine Arts Department. Saenz enjoyed performing on stage, singing, fingers flying, watching jubilant faces like in his youth when he crooned Mexican corridos for farm workers by camp fire lights. 

At his wake at Greenwood Cemetery Fort Worth, his sons and The Latin Express played to “standing room only” Latino mourners, swaying and singing to the tunes of Nicho Saenz y Los Alegres de Norte. Lionicio Rodríguez Saenz died on July 16, 2016, leaving cool shades and mellow sounds to anyone with the heart to hear.

 

Jam Session —  History Rhymes:  Black Lives Lost, PT. 4

Jam Session — History Rhymes: Black Lives Lost, PT. 4

When we asked Cornelius Eady about Black History Month, he responded by sending us a cycle of songs / poems. Eight in all, Eady named the cycle “History Rhymes,” after the famous Mark Twain quote, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Performed by the Cornelius Eady Trio, this cycle commemorates the injustices and wrongful deaths of many Black Americans. Riff has shared CE Trio’s songs dedicated to Emmett Till, Korynn Gaines, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, many others unfairly incarcerated, and millions ignored and forgotten by America looking the other way. Today’s post, “Turpentine,” looks at the many folks killed during the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 along “Black Wall Street.” Learn more here.

“In addition to being a major poet, Eady is among the most prolific and important contemporary American songwriters. Whether he is working with his eponymous trio, featuring top-rate guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu, or accompanying himself on guitar or dulcimer, Eady is incessantly writing memorable songs that are tailored to our troubling times.” —  John Freeman, The Museum of Americana.

Cornelius Eady TRIO

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady has set his poetry to song with the Cornelius Eady Trio. Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black-American experience and the Blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, and poet. Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum and recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

Cornelius Eady so well captures the spirit of RIFF–and especially the topic of “Jam Session”–taking us beyond poetry, beyond music, and into that hallowed place of meaning.

(Eady’s music is) in the vein of Taj Mahal when he’s at his metaphysical best, Keb’ Mo’ when he’s most squarely located at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, or Eric Bibb when he’s at his most soulfully transcendent.” — Joe Francis Doerr

Says Cornelius Eady:

“on old maps, all of the places left unexplored were often marked as ‘parts unknown’ (or ‘here be monsters’). A song for a year [2020] where the term ‘Never seen this before’ has been said far too often…”

Turpentine

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

I could see planes
Circling in mid-air
They hummed, darted
And dipped low

I could hear something
Falling down like hail
Falling down on the roofs

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls

Down East Archer St
The Old Mid-way Hotel
Was burning,
Burning from its top

I saw a dozen planes
Maybe more
Darting here and there
Like a crazy flock of birds

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls

The flames rose and
Licked its lips
Black Tulsa
Burned down from the top

Greenwood folks was running
With a hell hound on its trail
Had a bark like a
Tommy gun

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls

Here’s a postcard
Of a black corpse on fire
Of a black church
Charred to
Pennies.

Black folk shouldn’t get rich
Shouldn’t talk back
Shouldn’t brush
A white woman’s hand

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls

I could see planes
Circling in mid air
I knew too well
Where they came from

I wondered, where is the fire dept ?
Why won’t they let the Red Cross in?
Why are the cops standing
With the mob?

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
I paused and waited
For a chance to run
As flames around me
Belched and roared

The planes kept raining
Greenwood straight to hell
And hell was icy cold.

The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls
The sidewalks were burning
With Turpentine balls.

 

Listen to “turpentine” here.

Twilig(so

parts unknown

 Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Hide yourself
‘hind the Misery Tree.
Milishy man looking
For you and me.

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Like a poem
That can’t find a rhyme
Like a murder
That ain’t a crime

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

President called up his Goons
Said their time
Is coming soon

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Up jumped Karen to
Call the Police
Shoot the protestors
Give ‘em peace

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Hush now, baby,
Hear that sound?
New Jim Crow flying
From Town to town

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Virus come
To sweep you away
Boss man says
That’s OK.

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

Meet me by
The misery tree
Wave good bye
To what used to be

Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown
Parts Unknown, People
Parts Unknown.
Hey

 

Listen to “parts unknown” here.

 

Cornelius Eady Trio

Cornelius Eady: Vocal;

Charlie Rauh: Acoustic Guitar & Electric Bass;

Lisa Liu: Electric Piano & Guitar.

Arranged by Rauh & Liu.

“Turpentine” — Engineer & Mix: Tom Gardner.

“Parts Unknown” mixed by Charlie Rau.

 

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady 

Jam Session —  History Rhymes:  Black Lives Lost, PT. 3

Jam Session — History Rhymes: Black Lives Lost, PT. 3

When we asked Cornelius Eady about Black History Month, he responded by sending us a cycle of songs / poems. Eight in all, Eady named the cycle “History Rhymes,” after the famous Mark Twain quote, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Performed by the Cornelius Eady Trio, this cycle commemorates the injustices and wrongful deaths of many Black Americans. We have been sharing two a week the entire month of February. This, our third installment, begins with a song dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bland; the second recalls the “scary,” but transformational year of 2020 in America.

“In addition to being a major poet, Eady is among the most prolific and important contemporary American songwriters. Whether he is working with his eponymous trio, featuring top-rate guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu, or accompanying himself on guitar or dulcimer, Eady is incessantly writing memorable songs that are tailored to our troubling times.” —  John Freeman, The Museum of Americana.

Cornelius Eady TRIO

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady has set his poetry to song with the Cornelius Eady Trio. Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black-American experience and the Blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, and poet. Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum and recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

Cornelius Eady so well captures the spirit of RIFF–and especially the topic of “Jam Session”–taking us beyond poetry, beyond music, and into that hallowed place of meaning.

(Eady’s music is) in the vein of Taj Mahal when he’s at his metaphysical best, Keb’ Mo’ when he’s most squarely located at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, or Eric Bibb when he’s at his most soulfully transcendent.” — Joe Francis Doerr  

Says Cornelius Eady:

“[Haint is] A re-recording of a single first recorded with Rough Magic. Sandra Bland, a black woman, was stopped for a broken tail light in Texas. She died three days later, hanged in her cell. She was arrested for asking ‘Why should I?’ when the cop ordered her to put out her cigarette while still sitting in her car. Another cop, commenting on the story on a cable news show, said while the story was sad, her arrest was justified, since talking back to the cop proved she was arrogant.”

      Learn more about Sandra Bland here. 

“Walt Whitman was lying on his sick bed in Camden, NJ, and a biographer, about to leave, and noticing this hoped he’d be feeling better soon. Whitman replied, ‘It is clouded now, hopefully, it’ll pass by.’ A good way, I think, to wind up 2020, a very scary year.”

Haint  (TRIO VERSION)

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

 

I got this ache in my heart

The state of Texas is my host

I got this hole in my soul

The State of Texas made me a ghost

 

And my ghost howls

Woe

 

Now I’m a wandering spirit

My body swings in my cell

When they cut this poor gal down

Who’ll know how I got here?

 

And my ghost howls

Woe

 

Maybe I died by my own hand

Maybe I died by hands unknown

Maybe I was dead

The moment I talked back

Maybe I was dead

‘fore I was born

 

And my ghost howls

Woe

 

Damn the cop

Who damned my black skin

Damn the judge

Who agreed with him

My name’s Sandra Bland

I should be alive

Sass back in Texas

You commit “suicide”

 

And my ghost howls

Woe.

  

Listen to “Haint” here.

Twilig(so

It’ll Pass By

 Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

 “It is clouded now, possibly, it’ll pass by”

                        -Walt Whitman’s last words

                         To biographer Sadakichi Hartmann

 

 

It’s clouded now, but it’ll pass by

All those years

All that blood and tears

It’s clouded now, but it’ll pass by

 

You think you’re down

You’re tougher than the dirt

You think you’re out

You’re stronger than the hurt.

 

You think you’re lost

But your feet’s on the ground

That fog they taught you

Won’t stick around

 

Tried to shoot you down

The buckshot missed your wing

They ain’t got nothing

Can stop the song you sing

 

Hey, America

We’re waiting on you

Say, America

What you gonna do?

 

All those years

All that blood and tears.

 

 

 

Listen to “It’ll Pass by” here.

 

Cornelius Eady Trio

Cornelius Eady: Vocal;

Charlie Rauh: Acoustic Guitar, Electric Bass, Drums, & Percussion;

Lisa Liu: Electric Piano, Electric Organ, Elect & Acoustic Guitar;

Concetta Abbate: Violin.

Arranged by Rauh & Liu.

“Haint” mixed by Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu. 

Concetta Abbate, String Arrangement.

“It’ll Pass By” mixed by Lisa Liu.

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady 

Jam Session —  History Rhymes:  Black Lives Lost, PT. 2

Jam Session — History Rhymes: Black Lives Lost, PT. 2

When we asked Cornelius Eady about Black History Month, he responded by sending us a cycle of songs / poems. Eight in all, Eady named the cycle “History Rhymes,” after the famous Mark Twain quote, “History never repeats itself, but it rhymes.”

Performed by the Cornelius Eady Trio, this cycle commemorates the injustices and wrongful deaths of many Black Americans. We will share two a week over the month of February. This is our second installment.

“In addition to being a major poet, Eady is among the most prolific and important contemporary American songwriters. Whether he is working with his eponymous trio, featuring top-rate guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu, or accompanying himself on guitar or dulcimer, Eady is incessantly writing memorable songs that are tailored to our troubling times.” —  John Freeman, The Museum of Americana.

Cornelius Eady TRIO

National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet Cornelius Eady has set his poetry to song with the Cornelius Eady Trio. Eady’s songs tell the story of passing time, the Black-American experience and the Blues in the style of Folk & Americana music. Guitarists Charlie Rauh and Lisa Liu join Eady to create layered and graceful arrangements to bolster Eady’s adept craftsmanship as a songwriter, lyricist, and poet. Cornelius Eady Trio has performed at Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, AWP Conference, Peabody Essex Museum, and Hill-Stead Museum and recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

Cornelius Eady so well captures the spirit of RIFF–and especially the topic of “Jam Session”–taking us beyond poetry, beyond music, and into that hallowed place of meaning.

(Eady’s music is) in the vein of Taj Mahal when he’s at his metaphysical best, Keb’ Mo’ when he’s most squarely located at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, or Eric Bibb when he’s at his most soulfully transcendent.” — Joe Francis Doerr

Says Cornelius Eady:

“[‘TWILIGHT IS THE HOUR’ is] A re-recording of a song first recorded by my old band, Rough Magic. Soon after Trayvon’s murder I attended a poetry reading in Bryant Park; all the poets who read there had a poem about him, or the world that allowed this to happen. It was dusk, and the slow glow of the mercury lamps reminded me of fireflies . . . “

(Read the tragic story of Trayvon Martin’s shooting here.)

About ‘Razor Blade’: “A song that started out as my version of a prison work song, until we found out Lisa Liu once spent a summer playing keyboards in a funk band . . . “

Twilight Is The Hour

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

The lamps in Bryant Park glow like fireflies

Duende floats under the trees.

A group of poets sing the blues

To fill in the space where you ought to be

 

Twilight is the hour of the Motherless Child

Another man gone, gone down that lonesome mile.

Twilight is the hour.

 

There’s a tongue we use to let things go

There’s a song that we shake at danger.

There’s a way to wash a body down,

Even if he’s a stranger.

 

Twilight is the hour of the Motherless Child

Another man gone, gone down that lonesome mile

Twilight is the hour.

 

There are words we use to follow a hearse,

A prayer to un-jumble the mad universe.

The poets breathe Trayvon into the wind.

It could happen to you like it happened to him.

 

 It could happen to you like it happened to him.

Listen to “Twilight is the hour” here.

Twilig(so

Razor Blade 

 Words and Music: Cornelius Eady

 

Capt. tossed me in a box car

Filled it with razor blades

Capt. locked me in a box car

Filled with razor blades

Walked out the next morning

 With a trim and a shave.

 

 Capt. took the fever blanket

 Laid out my dying bed

 Capt. took the fever blanket

 Laid out my dying bed

 Looked so disappointed

 When I raised my vaccinated head.

 

 Nothing ever seem to go

 The Capt.’s way

 Nothing ever seem to go

 The Capt.’s way

 Every time he close the book

 I write another page.

 

Please don’t tell the Capt.

He ain’t ever gonna win

Please don’t tell the Capt.

He ain’t ever gonna win

 

Gets tall as a wall

Look at him fall in the wind.

 

 

 

Listen to “Razor blade” here.

 

Cornelius Eady Trio

Cornelius Eady: Vocal;

Charlie Rauh: Acoustic Guitar & Electric Bass;

Lisa Liu: Electric Piano & Guitar.

Arranged by Rauh & Liu.

“Twilight is the Hour” mixed by Charlie Rauh.

“Razor Blade” mixed by Lisa Liu.

Words and Music: Cornelius Eady