Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chef's picks from today's paper


This week's edition of The St. Louis American is sure to disappear from supermarket newstands almost instantly, and not only because its political commentary antagonizes a candidate or two running street operations that are known to pull pleasant stunts, like taking down the opponent's yard signs or dumping stacks of papers that take them to task.

This paper will go fast because it has a particularly tempting McDonalds coupon insert.

I caved in today and redeemed one of the coupons in the insert: medium fries free with the purchase of a Big Mac. I'm sorry, the Big Mac remains a delicious sandwich; and my daughter (six-piece chicken nugget, small vanilla shake) and I dined at a suburban franchise that served the freshest damn lettuce I have ever encountered on a piece of junk food.

Gutter cuisine has its appeal. Though there was no chef working the room at Mickey D's pointing out house favorites on the menu, I hereby offer the kitchen's picks from this week's American:

* I love Sandra Jordan's profile of a local couple making and marketing panty hose for women of color;
* Bill Beene speaks with an ESL sister girl writing songs for the likes of Hannah Montana;
* Jessica Bassett has a heartwarmer about when the professor meets the projects;
* Carol Daniel delivers painful truths about raising a generation of spoiled children; and
* The Political EYE pens an open letter to Chief Joe Mokwa.

With no results yet from our document request, we didn't have a whole lot to add to the Joe Mokwa towing scandal story by way of news, though Alvin A. Reid and I split a byline on a piece that ties the scandal to the outcry for City control of the City police and shows how Mayor Francis G. Slay was ducking for political cover on his token "no" vote against Mokwa's severance package.

I'm waiting for the documents before I believe what has been reported about that severance package. (The free legal fees were certainly the whopper!) Ed Rhode of the Mayor's Office tells me there is no record of Slay, Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford, or Director of Personnel Richard Frank corresponding about this crucial matter, which means either Easy Ed didn't look hard enough or it was all worked out over at St. Raymond's.

The City police, who have been nice enough to check in on Confluence City from time to time (hi, Erica!), still owe us an accounting of this. I don't think a severance package assembles itself!

Shift change at Schlafly Tap Room


I heard last night at a different beer-centric venue that the Schlafly Tap Room and its most recent kitchen manager/chef Clint Whitemore have parted ways.

Andy White, lately of Off the Vine, is stepping into Clint's scullery Crocs and donning his white apron.

No word yet on where Clint has landed. The guy could cook pretty much anywhere he wanted to cook. Maybe he will go back to his business plan and get his own place going, though the business climate seems forbidding for start-ups.

Scuttlebutt among Schlafly loyalists is that Clint is fated to be an executive chef, not a kitchen manager, and that the change will do him good. "Anybody can shuffle the papers," said one Schlafly stalwart. "Not everybody knows how to do with food what Clint knows how to do."

Andy White is a Tap Room regular and is expected to fold right into the kitchen, like sauerkrat on a turkey reuben.

We wish all of these gentlemen and establishments only the very best.

p.s.

In the process of spoofing an image of The Tap Room to illustrate this bit of news, I found an archived copy of an old interview with Tom Schlafly I did for St. Louis Magazine. I think it holds up, though it's nothing next to Tom's monthly column, Top Fermentation.

Open pitch letter to Bloodshot Records


One of the guys I grew up with (in graduate school, that is!) playing rock music on the road dreamt of a pitch letter last night. He is trying to get Bloodshot Records to re-release our first band's first recording. Herrrrrre's Johnny! Pitch it!

*

Enormous Richard's Almanac

By John Minkoff

This is a recording by Enormous Richard, the St. Louis band that later morphed into Eleanor Roosevelt, who in 1995 contributed the song "Espoontoon" to Bloodshot's seminal Hellbent: Insurgent Country Vol. 2 compilation.

Here we find most of the same musicians three years earlier in the summer of 1990. They're in a younger and somewhat sillier frame of mind and have a more lo-fi approach to recording. They're in a basement in Granite City, IL, running, with ragged live-to-two-track abandon, through an odd collection of roots-rock songs that make excursions into philosophy, vulgarity, idiocy, horniness, politics, history.

They know they're about to break up, and they're trying to get the songs down right before that happens.

It's a frenetic basement sound: banjos plunk, guitars scratch and crunch, the singer sounds crazed and jumpy. Many who've heard this mess of young men making a messy sound and telling messy stories instantly just don't like it. There are others who get in on the wavelength and think it's pretty exciting, hilarious stuff.

Obviously, we hope you fall into the latter group.

These songs had been kicking around for a while in a slightly earlier version of the band, and this recording represents a moment when the lineup changed a bit and the right group of desperate young men came together to capture these songs with the right spirit of rock and roll insanity and hilarity.

Released on cassette that summer as our 30-song epic Why It's Enormous Richard's Almanac, the record is part of a moment in St. Louis when a certain kind of roots rock was beginning to flower among a small group of bands, some of whom would soon become known nationally know (Uncle Tupelo, Chicken Truck, led by Brian Henneman who went on to form The Bottle Rockets).

We considered those guys friends and peers at the time. We were just a bit more, uh, primitive.

Many who heard The Almanac back then became instant converts; the recording got the band gigs throughout the Midwest and on the East Coast (turns out they didn't break up: they just changed again and went on the road). Even today there's a small group of Midwestern music fans who view The Almanac as a singular kind of event/achievement, even if they long ago lost track of the cassette, as people tend to do with cassettes.

Now grown men, geographically dispersed, we've been playing occasional reunion gigs and re-releasing some of our old music, because we just think it's worth doing. We even get hunted down by the very occasional fan boy and shoehorned into archival compilations of lost indie rock bands from the '90s.

We think you might like this old, spirited, loose-limbed recording. Please let us know if it seems like your kind of thing.

Contact: John Minkoff (aka Guitar Johnny) at 847-869-8173, mailto:johnminkoff@hotmail.com.

*

I am trying to convince the lads that we should interest Bloodshot (or whoever) into a Best of "Why It's Enormous Richard's Almanac" CD release, paired with a jazz-geekesque online archive of every take of every song from the session, handled by our friend Meghan Gohil at Hollywood Recording Studio - who, amazingly, recorded the Almanac in the summer of 1990 and in the summer of 2008 is still in on everything we do, especially the budget meetings.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A tale of two chiefs, by Francis Slay

Nothing new here, but the Mayor's Office of the City of St. Louis has completely ignored a Sunshine Law request coming from an African-American newsweekly in St. Louis with an audited circulation of 70,000 and an estimated weekly readership of 250,000, based on reader surveys and web data.

Nothing new. Ed Rhode in the mayor's office has been ignoring the St. Louis American since we stopped printing verbatim Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford's version of events, which has been the Post's modus operandi until the juicy towing scandal got their dormant journalistic fluids flowing again.

In this case, Slay's office can't legally ignore us, unless the documents requested fall under a separate jurisdiction, which seems to be the case. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department told us the request has been turned over to its Legal Department. When I told the PR person I am blogging the status of my document request, she volunteered that they had received a ton of open-records requests on Chief Joe Mokwa and Metropolitan Towing.

The smart money says some of these requests are from reporters for national publications. It would be very good for the citizens of St. Louis if this scandal gets national play. Some of us are hoping that U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway (who owes me a call today) jumps on this investigation as a career-booster, as she (presumably) eyes Kit Bond's seat in the U.S. Senate. Not often I say this about a conservative Republican, but go, girl!

In the absence of documents, we'll see what we can add to the Post's decent reporting on this story in tomorrow's newspaper (available for free in and around St. Louis at Schnucks, Walgreens, and other locations and online). In the meantime, enjoy this biting cartoon by Kevin Belford, which appear on tomorrow's editorial page along with our endorsements for governor, lietuenant governor, attorney general and state treasurer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Orisha chants for fun with Mama Lisa



My little blogspot buddy Stat Counter that lets me keep dibs on my reading public has a neat function called Recent Visitor Map. It shows the Earth with little tags marking the spots where people have accessed Confluence City. I am so happy right now to see even one little tag on the continent of Africa: in Dakar, Senegal.

No need to guess about this visitor. Mama Lisa already let me know it was her:

"As I am spending my last Saturday night in Dakar, I have treated myself to a night at Sofitel Hotel. This has given me the chance to read your last two posts. Somehow Mike Nelson remained on my mind. I had also stopped in on 'Mike and Friends' before I left town and saw K. Curtis Lyle and others. It was a nice gathering. Mike let me squeeze in an Orisha chant for fun."

It would not be possible to calculate the value, to me, of having friends who allow one another to "squeeze in an Orisha chant for fun."

Back to Mama Lisa:

"So while attending a balafon performance in Bamako, what do I hear? Orisha music and singing was the opening feature of the set. I couldn't believe it. I would not have guessed that Nigerian worship music would be appreciated in the heart of the Mali Empire. Of course, I wanted to jump up and repeat my 'Mike and Friends' skit, but I could tell that they did not know the song well, but could expand the music on two big balafons and a couple of gourd drums. They touched into Elegba and Yemanya. For the rest of the evening, cross-sections of the audience jumped up to shake a tailfeather to their favorite tunes."

Mama Lisa is a whirlwind of creative spirit here in Confluence City, a sister girl well on her way to transforming herself into a healer and an elder. These are sort of soft words, "healer" and "elder," but it has been a hard way for her, as a single mother of three, working her tailfeather off as an educator and arts organizer - and as a woman leader in the very male-dominated world of African drum and dance.

The photo, here, is of her (in the gold dress), along with Fawoud, Senabou, Ndeye N'Diaye, and Mama Djarra, at Goree Island, the historic former slaving hub. She writes, "Here we are in a bunker tunnel listening to a lecture on sand paintings using the sands from around the region: the island, pink lake area, volcano, etc."
Stick with Confluence City, and you will hear more of Mama Lisa - she has much to teach us all - though I personally look forward to the future yammering where she has just treated me to three beers at The Tap Room! In the days before the Schlafly gift card, there used to be a scrap of cardboard behind the bar where the bartenders tried to keep track of whether or not I had finished drinking up the tab she had staked me with. Always time to squeeze in a beer and an Orisha chant with Mama Lisa!

For fun.

Michael Lynch as puncture artist


Taking a break from the laugh-a-minute that is power politics in a corrupt, faded river town, I now resume coverage of The New Monastic Workshop weekend, working backwards from Sunday night. By now we're up (back) to Sunday morning.

Which I spent on due diligence to our one chore, as working monks. It was a pleasant chore. Brother John Eiler had charged all monks to help curate a set of prints for Brother Michael Lynch.

Michael is a guitarist and visual artist. He made much of his way in the visual arts doing airbrush paintings like the wacky face above. Judging by a quick dash through his old paintings to hang a show in the Eiler basement, Michael mostly connected with custom car culture and alternative comics. (He also once did a fair amount of illustration for the old, Ray Hartmann-era Riverfront Times.)

More recently, he has turned to bizarro collages, crafted from magazine clippings. Michael has assembled more than a dozen workbooks of this stuff, most of them starting with some kind of visual art book, though the underlying, original images have all been transformed beyond recognition. It was our task as working monks to look through all of these workbooks and tag a selection of collages we thought worthy of reproduction. John's idea was to then reproduce a number of these selected collages and sell the prints.

I am sad to report that this idea is offered in the spirit of a fundraiser, since Michael is struggling through cancer with very limited means. The Eilers are the lynchpin of a community effort in their South Grand neighborhood to make this exhausting and painful transition for Michael as comfortable as possible.

So I spent Sunday morning paging through Michael's collages while John grilled salmon. I wasn't sufficiently on the ball to scan any of my selected collages for the world to see here, but I most enjoyed his penchant for visual puns in formal terms. Michael has a great gift for finding the same or similar curves, colors, or relationships in very disparate visual phenomena.

The overall mood of his collage art veers from detached horror at what we are doing to ourselves and the world, to a sly gallows humor. He also likes to puncture one image with another - lots of sharp points breaking on through to the other side of something. In a way, Michael Lynch's collage art is itself one complicated puncture act: he pokes a hole in the world using cast-off images from the garbage of old glossy magazines.

In the spirit of Michael's collage work, I will now puncture this portrait of his art with an unrelated element, some accidental verbal art from a talking head on The Larry King Show chattering away in the next room: "cadaver dog."

They are talking about cadaver dogs and the smell of decomposing tissue.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Chicago Black and White and Brown Sox


I departed Chicago on Sunday, just as Barack Obama was coming back home there. I was driving back to St. Louis to edit a newspaper, and Obama was coming home from ... well, you know what he was coming back from. He was coming back from restoring international confidence in the United States. He was coming back to win The White House.

I am sure he was relieved to get home and see his city, his family, his family on the cover of every People magazine on every endcap in every supermarket.

I was just as happy to be leaving. Not that I have any reason to have anything against Chicago.

Chicago has been very, very good to me, as the wise man once said about baseball. When I was a young man in a traveling band out of St. Louis, we made most of our money in Chicago. The people loved us there - or at least about 250 of the people loved us, one Staurday night a month; and, at a $15 cover, with the headliner getting a 40 percent split of the door, that wasn't bad.

The people loved us, I tell you. It got to the point where we had to make appointments and book in advance as to which of our local friends would cook us homemade food and hand-deliver it to the gig to forestall any more fateful, post-sound check rush runs through Pete's Broasted Chicken.

These local friends were always beautiful and smart young women. (Lori Malatesta! Grandma's handrolled ravioli!) We were young men, who were neither ugly nor stupid. Chicago was very, very good to us.

But I never took to the place. Just as we were discovering Chicago on the road, we were discovering New York City on the road. It was an unfair comparison, but there it was, in our faces. Chicago has always suffered by that comparison, in my eyes. In my view, if I am going to swallow urban congestion on a massive scale, I need an ocean or mountains. I need something better than a big lake.

That's what I usually think, whenever I visit Chicago. But that wasn't what I was thinking, this time around. This time, I was thinking, "This is Barack Obama's adopted hometown." This is where Barack Obama feels at home.

I was thinking, "This is not Crawford, Texas." This is not a burning, bogus, alienated ranch. This is a throbbing Midwestern city, home to every kind of human being you can imagine.

This is not Phoenix, Arizona, home of John McCain. This is not a burning, alienated desert, born yesterday into a sprawling retirement megalopolis.

This is a throbbing Midwestern city, home to every kind of human being you can imagine. A confluence city. Home to Barack Obama, whose identity partakes of a large number of the kinds of human beings you can imagine - black, white, Midwestern, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Mid-Atlantic, New England. A confluence candidate.

Welcome home, Barack Obama. But a guy like you, I guess you're always at least a little bit at home, wherever you go.

Let the Sunshine in on Shaky Joe Mokwa


I just made the following request to PR representatives for the Board of Police Commisioners and The Mayor's Office of the City of St. Louis.
Subject: Public record request - Chief Mokwa severance offer
First, let me say given the notoriously complex governance of the St. Louis Police Department, I apologize in advance if I am asking anyone for information that is not their problem. I would appreciate a "reply-all" response for which aspect(s) of this request each of you will be responding to. I am copying John Fougere in the Missouri AG's office so that he is aware of these requests and so that he can "referee" any questions that might come up.
Under the Missouri Sunshine Law, we request copies of any severance offers made to Chief Joe Mokwa, as well as a precise accounting for his pension package as it now stands. We also request an accounting for any change made to his pension package in advance of or pursuant to his recent resignation.
We also request copies of any correspondence this month (July 2008) between Mayor Francis Slay, Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford, Personnel Director Richard Frank, and the Board of Police Commissioners regarding Mokwa's severance package and pension. For this second request, we request copies of communications between any of these parties and any other of these parties on the matter of severance and pension; the records we request are not limited to those where all of the named parties are involved. Electronic communications are included in this request, as are minutes of meetings where severance and pension for Mokwa were discussed.
The first of these two requests has priority for us, but all of these documents are of keen and immediate public interest, and citizens will be interested to have an accounting on these important matters and how efficiently this information is provided to the press.
Thank you.
--
Chris King
Editorial director
St. Louis American

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lee Enterprises is shopping in the Joe Mokwa aisle



Michael R. Allen once told me has some contraption on his blog that lets him see who is visiting his website, where their computer is registered and what link they rode in on. So after I got Confluence City up and running, I went looking for something that answers to that description and found Stat Counter.

It's terribly addictive. You feel like the owner of a store spying on your customers. (Except you're not making any money off them. Or, at least I'm not.)

For example, I see that someone in the Quad Cities (homebase of Lee Enterprises, publisher of the Post-Dispatch) with a Lee Enterprises computer has been reading my musings on disgraced Police Chief Joe Mokwa.

I'm not flattered and thinking the Post is looking to scoop me before The St. Louis American comes out on Thursday. After all, Mokwa is a member of the Post's Community Advisory Board, along with Mayor Francis G. Slay and his Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford. As the Political EYE in the American pointed out back in April, no black elected official serves on the board, and Mokwa's black counterpart in the fire service, Sherman George, was never invited to serve either.

If Lee Enterprises is snooping me out, it's probably because Rainford or one of the Post's other Slay-connected community advisors sent them here on some errand or another: "Look what a weirdo this guy is! See, you can't believe any of the crap he writes about us!"

Or maybe the Mokwa scandal and Slay's first attempt to cover it up and exonerate Shakey Joe has finally soured the Post's love affair with Francis and Jeff? That would be cool.

It will be interesting to see if Mokwa remains on the Post's Community Advisory Board. It's possible he will. After all, the late Kirkwood City Council Member Connie Karr (one of Cookie Thornton's victims) remained on the board, according to the Post website, after she was killed - indeed, until the EYE pointed out that the Post had one dead white elected official on its board but no living black ones.

Mind you, there is still a page on the Post site that lists the late Ms. Karr as a community advisor! Lazy website editing, or a latent belief in the paranormal at Lee Enterprises? You be the judge!

Editing Black Elk aboard The Hampton Jitney



In the end, I think I was the only person who actually shared a prayer at The Prayer Breakfast. We didn't hold hands in a circle or anything, and I didn't really pray - I just shared a powerful set of words that the other guys might want to use later, in the spirit of a workshop, a workshop of the spirit.

These words have worked for me. I told Elder K. Curtis Lyle and Brother John Eiler a long story about that, and I would probably tell you personally (if you are slogging through my blog), but I don't think I'll leave it dangling out here on Blogspot for every yahoo with Google on his toolbar to skim.

However, I will post the prayer, which is already in the public domain, in at least two other forms. And I will first tell you a little something about it.

In 1931 a poet named John G. Neihardt set forth from St. Louis (which is a tributary city, in this story) to gather notes for an epic poetic cycle he was writing about the American West. He took two of his young daughters with him to the Pine Ridge Reservation, looking for an elder Lakota who could tell him about the Indian experience of the great Indian wars of the 19th century.

He was directed to Nicholas Black Elk, who had survived the massacre at Wounded Knee as a boy. He was an old holy man who had rode for a time with Buffalo Bill's road show and was now living quietly as a Catholic catechist. ("My children have to live in this world," the white man's world, was how he explained his - partial - conversion.)

Black Elk, as the world would come to know him, still had some of the old spiritual horse sense, evidently, because when Neihardt approached his home the old man was standing outside. He said he had been waiting for an important visitor. (No, nobody text-messaged the old man to say a Wasichu on a mission was headed his way!)

Black Elk's welcoming Neihardt into his home was an important historic confluence. Neihardt gathered the material he needed to complete his Cycle of the West, but much more importantly Black Elk's personal narrative bloomed into a stand-alone volume that appeared as Black Elk Speaks. It endures as the most widely-read volume of American Indian spirituality or memoir (with lots and lots of strong competition in both genres), and the resurgent Indian activists of the sixties hailed it as a Bible that gave them a blueprint for reviving the old ways.

I read Black Elk Speaks to prepare for a trip through the Badlands in the early-nineties. It changed me quite a bit, especially as I thought about the book in the hard and lush country it describes. It changed me even more to read The Sixth Grandfather, which presents the actual transcipts of the interviews that went into the book. For Neihardt would ask a question in English, Ben Black Elk (the holy man's son) would translate it into Lakota, Black Elk would answer in Lakota, the son would translate his answer into English, and then Neihardt's daughters would write the answer down.

From this mass of notes, Neihardt very skillfully wrote Black Elk Speaks. Once you have read the original transcripts, you admire Neihardt's skill all the more. But you also see, of course, what he left out and what he added. His role was considerable (and, of course, it is Neihardt's name as author on the spine of Black Elk Speaks). This means The Sixth Grandfather, while much less artful, actually brings the reader much closer to Black Elk himself - his personal quirks, his sense of humor, even his dog, Bob, who gets no ink at all in Neihardt's masterpiece.

In the mid-nineties, I was invited into the continuing revival of Lakota ceremony by a white woman who had very much gone native. I attended two Sun Dances in Lakota country as her guest and supporter. These experiences continued the transformation I had started by reading these sacred books and by climbing through The Black Elk Wilderness to the spot where Black Elk had his definining vision, on the highest peak east of the Rockies.

I returned from the reservation, praying for the first time since I was a child attending Methodist tent revivals. I brought back a long and unwieldy prayer I had developed during the Sun Dance, which was much more appropriate for an eight-day religious ceremony, where some people never stop praying (except to sleep - and dream, which for Lakota is a deeply sacred space). I had never pared down a prayer before. I didn't know where to start. I didn't know who to leave out, the Earth or the ancestors or the spirits or the trees or the animals or my family or the Lakota or ... you get the picture.

I turned to Neihardt. Then I turned to Black Elk. I looked at those two versions of Black Elk's basic prayer. I saw some differences between the two, which freed up my editorial instincts. So I did a composite, which I then adapted over several hours spent memorizing the text, aboard The Hampton Jitney, of all preposterous vehicles of prayer. Here is what I came up with:

Grandfather, Grandmother, Great Mysterious One,
You have been always, and before You nothing has been.
There is nothing to pray to but You.
The star nations of the universe are Yours,
And Yours all grasses of the Earth.
Day in, day out, You are the life of things.
You are older than all need,
Older than all pain and prayer,
Older than all disbelief and doubt.
Grandfather, Grandmother, Great Mysterious One,
All over the word, the faces of living ones look alike.
With tenderness we spring from Your Earth.
Look on Your children with children in our arms,
That we may face the winds,
And walk a good road to the day of quiet.
Let me walk on this soft Earth and in these hard cities,
A brother to all that lives,
Give me strength to understand, and eyes to see.
Sweeten my heart, and fill me with light.
Help me, and guide me, and protect me,
For without You, I am nothing.

As I said to Curtis and John at our prayer breakfast: Try it, it works!

But, as I also cautioned them, the Lakota who taught me how to pray were insistent that people have no business praying for themselves. Your suffering, if anything, will only make the Great Spirit more likely to work on your behalf. Only if you are terribly desperate do you work in a small prayer for yourself, after you are finished asking for blessings for others. You have to trust that someone else, somewhere, is praying for you.

And, if no one else is praying for you, then you are lost anyway.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New Monastic Gigbook Poems



I can't help but go around accumulating gigbook poems, assembled from the most enigmatic and arresting things said by the people around me. This batch is from The New Monastic Workshop.

Most of these lines were said by the widely traveled and ever quotable John Eiler, but I also hear Robert Goetz and K. Curtis Lyle in here, as well as me. The illustration above, somewhat in the mood of the poems, is a detail from Michael Lynch's trashcan.


Fellow chronic notetakers may enjoy knowing that all of these lines were scribbled on the back of an off-print of Page 11 of the Diversity special section of the July 24-30, 2008 edition of The St. Louis American, which I kept folded in my pocket throughout the weekend's events for just that purpose.

Oh, if you feel like you're not getting it, there may not be much to get; but I'd suggest imagining a blunt, Midwestern John Ashbery or really elliptical, emotional graffiti before you decide there's nothing here for you.

*

1 Boy in the valley


This is the year between camper
and counselor – lag
bolts. It’s all on the edge: different
edges, at different
times.

Show your scar, sister
lovers. I knelt down. Calm
down, I calm down.
I was not made
to hurt.

A little white boy
in a purple satin shirt.
Where is she gonna go?
What is she gonna do,
in a minute, when this is all
over?

“Deep calleth to deep,
all thy songs and billows,”
I also grew five inches.
I didn’t know anybody
in the valley.
Everything I do
I do in a dark room.

*

2 Can we agree?


I volunteered that night
to hand out cigarettes,
I was looking for mixed-
use property on the South Side.
We were looking
at plumbing together.

Just because I can speak your language
doesn’t mean I’m not trying to keep you away.

Keep off the elephant grass,
keep off the monkey grass:
It seems like somebody in this movie
is always trying to tell somebody else
in this movie they need to make a sign!

How do you learn
about opportunity?
Try missing one. Can we agree
not to move
the disappointment
around?

It was like the house you never noticed
because you didn’t know who lived in there.
We’re going to go to Oregon
and go to sleep.

*

3 Good at grunt


I’ve got a lot of Three Stooges
reference points. I’m good
at grunt. Don’t carry a gun, boy,
just drive a machine.
Especially on a full moon, hop
the farmer’s fence.

He was an ethnobotanist at the right time,
way before PCP came to San Francisco,
a little embarassing for people
who are not easy to embarrass.

The rooster is news!
A butterfly is a woman.
You have to add that
to the schwag bag.

I was one of the asshole line
cooks, 20 tops, going nuts.
I could make a lot more money
at the front of the house.
All the coke deals that went down
in that town went down in there.

I’m doing okay drinking
without interruption.

*

4 Invitation not to kill yourself


This is an open-source invitation
not to kill yourself
that works
at the level of marrow.

I’m never surprised
by the people
who go through all that
and don’t overcome.

It’s hard enough to blow a trumpet.
Try taking down buildings with chainsaws.
It’s probably all in the sweat lodge FAQs.

If you didn’t need more
Mommy or Daddy, you’d never
tolerate the mysteries and deceits
of the opposite sex.

All you need to do
is put a death notice in
the paper; she’ll show up.

His mom was in the opera, fucking
some italian guy.
Joey is dead – I’m hanging
back with Cathy, and
crying.

Maybe he could have aged gracefully.
“You’re never going to hear from me again?”
That’s supposed to be the dead? No!
You’re going to hear from them tomorrow
And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Police chief eats shit sandwich


It's no fun to predict the future when you leave no public record of your prediction. I have been telling everyone who asked me that Deputy Chief Stephen Pollihan would get Police Chief Joe Mokwa's job when Shaky Joe eats the shit sandwich. And he did! At least the interim position.

How did I know this? Because his nephew Bill Pollihan was on the 2004 Fire Department promotion list over which Mayor Francis G. Slay (in effect) axed Fire Chief Sherman George when he wouldn't make the contested promotions. Black firefighters said at the time that Pollihan's uncle was a good Slay team player with some steam who had played some role in chucking Sherman George out of the way so his nephew (and the other good old boys) could get his hookup.

Let me try my prophetic powers now. I predict that Joe Mokwa will end up as director of homeland security for some distant city, on the federal payroll, while a piece of damaged goods from that distant city will come to St. Louis to head a similar position with federal money.

Why? Because I had a front-row seat for the attempted Sherman George payoff conversations, and one piece of bait dangled by a Slay surrogate was for Sherman to become director of homeland security for St. Louis on the federal payroll. Sherman didn't take the bait. If Slay's surrogate wasn't bluffing, then they still have that position and money to play with. I predict they will spend it on a damaged goods trade to get Mokwa out of town and keep his mouth shut.

By the way, anyone just now waking up to what a hot mess you have running your city government, the City's black firefighters have kept a pretty good online archive of news reports that have been telling you what you needed to know for years.

Spirit of Curtis, with grilled salmon


Before my day job deadline hit, with its requirement to tangle with river-city power politics, I was reporting on The New Monastic Workshop, working my way backwards, starting from the end, to accomodate the ass-backwards way blogs read.

It so happens the pause in the action came precisely at The Prayer Breakfast. It's almost as if I were hesitating to report on that. It would be so unlikely for a man to shy away from communicating publicly about spirituality!

The Prayer Breakfast's presence on our agenda owes something to my experience working in majority-black environments. It's not that black folks invented the prayer breakfast, but they most certainly have made it mandatory for public gatherings that spill over onto Sunday morning.

Elder K. Curtis Lyle was our scheduled prayer leader on Sunday morning. Curtis defines cool, for me. He grew up in Watts (L.A.) and saw all of the black consciousness movements of the fifties and sixties mushroom around him. So he knows a lot of dead men. I once asked him how he survived those dangerous days. He said, "Because those brothers kept running, and got shot in the back. I slowed down, and looked around."

He is still looking around. He looked around The Prayer Breakfast, held in Brother John Eiler's dining room, long before he offered any kind of prayer. John had prepared grilled salmon with a fruit salad. That was a kind of prayer.

And Curtis himself never really offered a prayer, proper. He did speak at length of a trip he took with his parents to Memphis in the late fifties, which opened up themes of the spirit.

His parents are from the South, and they raised Curtis with discipline in a South Central Los Angeles that was before the riots, and utterly unrecognizable from the urban squalor of today. The Southern Baptist preacher he encountered during that road trip to Memphis was a revelation to him. "The cadence of the preacher and his method, everything I use in my poetry up until today, I got from that one church service," Curtis said.

The spirit, of course, works in many ways. Curtis suggested he got just as much spiritual juice from the mother of a childhood friend in his neighborhood in L.A. "She drank whiskey, drove a bus, and listened to Billie Holiday," Curtis said.

Curtis' parents did not drive busses or drink whiskey. When his mother heard Curtis listening to Billie Holiday, after that first, critical exposure to her voice, she pulled her husband aside. Curtis remembers it as the one time his parents spoke about him behind closed doors. His father came out of that executive session to inform Curtis that he wouldn't be listening to any more Billie Holiday in the house.

It was too late, of course. His spirit had been set on fire - by God and the devil, by the sermon and the blues, by the Southern preacher and Billie Holiday.

*

A piece of Monastic bookkeeping: No one thought to do so at the time, but I would like to read Billie Holiday into The New Monastc Canon, or Cannon.

Mayor Slay eats his own


I've spilled some pixels in a previous post about reluctantly learning the unsavory art of power politics to work in the Black Press in a politically fragmented and divided city like St. Louis. This gives me an interesting vantage point to observe the meltdown of Police Chief Joe Mokwa.

Calling out Mayor Francis G. Slay for his protectionist stance toward Mokwa has long been a staple of the political reporting and commentary in the St. Louis American. The people who talk to our paper about City politics are all fascinated that Slay has now been forced to call for Mokwa's "retirement" (Slay could have called it a "resignation").

This comes fast on the heels of Slay trying to smear Personnel Director Rick Frank with the blame when unions representing City employees raised hell with the mayor over a series of broken promises.

What fascinates our sources is that Mokwa and Frank have long operated deep within the system and know where many bodies are buried, literally and figuratively. Slay, his Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford and the rest of this sordid outfit have now resorted to eating their own to stay in power. Public cannibalism tends to make for a fascinating spectator sport!

The question is whether Mokwa and Frank get enough enticements to keep their lips sealed. Oh, what tales they could tell!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama and beer


I had lunch and a couple of beers today at The Tap Room with an important Missouri operative for the Obama campaign. We didn't talk about the candidate's rock-star reception in Berlin, but drinking beer at that particular bar and talking Obama with someone who knows what's going on with his campaign reminded me of a conversation I had in exactly the same spot just last night.

I was talking to Mark Naski, one of St. Louis' many secret weapons. Mark did the receipe for the best beer brewed year-around in the St. Louis area (Ofallon's 5 Day IPA), and we all expect great things from the beer he is now brewing for The Stable.

Naski knows brewski. In addition to being a world-traveling master taster and certified judge, he is what one might call a beer professor, teaching such essential material as "Beer Appreciation,"

"What Is Ale?" "What Is Lager?" "What Is Pilsner?" "Big Bad Beers of North America" "What Is Pale Ale?" and "Where Is The Bathroom?"

Just kidding about that last one. The others are all genuine, with the classroom being a bar, namely, The Rotten Apple in Grafton. Beer studies! Talk about a gut course.

Naski also knows Europe. He is from Finland, and routinely travels the world for his day job with a trucking company and to judge beers. (Yes, indeed, good work if you can get it.)

Naski knows what millions of people know around the world, and any American who saw a television today no longer can ignore - that much of the rest of the world is rooting for Obama.

And many of them - especially in a town like Berlin - are rooting for him with a cold beer in hand. In Kenya, in fact, there is a beer, officially branded "Senator," that is known locally as Obama beer.

"So many Americans have no idea," Naski said, cradling a Schlafly Grand Cru that just went on tap for the mussel festival (and will be gone soon).

"Electing Barack Obama will be so good for America overseas," Naski continued. "It will be so good for business! Make no mistake about it. A lot of people all around the world will become instantly more interested in doing business with America if Barack Obama is president."

I'll drink to that!

The holy man who dances wherever he wishes


This week's St. Louis American has a really deep K. Curtis Lyle review of a new book about the collaboration between Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Clawing at the Limits of Cool by Farah Jasmine Griffin and Salim Washington. If you're in St. Louis and picking up the print edition (free at most supermarkets and drug stores), it's deep inside the Living It section.

I was privileged to meet Miles and his brother Vernon Davis, but I would classify myself as more of a Coltrane man. So I am mostly digging on Curtis' closing riff on Trane:

"Coltrane brought the sacred edifice of the holy into the profane space of the club. He made it make sense, and he made it work. His mission has yet to be understood. His collaboration with Miles Davis was the beginning of this new archetype: the holy man who dances wherever he wishes, without stepping on another man's toes."

Donkey stomps citizens who don't vote


I helped to conduct sit-down candidate interviews with most of the Democrats running for statewide office in Missouri this time around.

In this week's American, I provide a somewhat lengthy but I believe fair assessment of the major Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general and treasurer: Sam Page, Margaret Donnelly, Jeff Harris, Chris Koster, Clint Zweifel and Andria Simckes.

There are some sharp, compelling candidates in this bunch - there could be very good years ahead for the Missouri Dems.

The Missouri state primary is Tuesday, August 5 and my "girl" Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is doing everything in her power to keep it clean and fair. Make sure you are registered to vote where you live, and please go vote where you are registered on August 5.
Y'all.

Fool in the trenches



In my day job in journalism, I am often in the fool's position of telling people things they think they already know, like you can't trust politicians and government is corrupt.

However, I have found, after a few years in the power-politics trenches, it is very different to uncover evidence of these things than it is to knowingly assume they are true without detailed proof - attached to the names and faces of people who live in your own town.

This week, of course, the St. Louis American followed the scandal surrounding Police Chief Joe Mokwa's troubled daughter Aimie Mokwa and her suspicious access to impounded vehicles owned by citizens, but temporarily in the custody of the City and S&H Towing.

When the daily paper does its job, as the Post-Dispatch has been doing on this story, the weekly press spends a lot of time summing up and commenting upon their work. But we do add something new to the conversation this morning. It's this bit:

*

In another twist, according to incorporation documents filed with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, attorney Paul Simon Jr. (a principal at Sauerwein, Simon & Blanchard in Clayton) is listed as S&H Towing’s registered agent. A Secretary of State Corporate Division spokesperson said a registered agent is the contact person, not necessarily owner, and may be retained to assist with filings.

According to City records, Ken Bialczak signed for S&H when it paid for its most recent business license - for a $1,500 fee, appropriate for businesses with 11-20 employees - as well as for a recent application to operate a wrecker.

Neither Simon Jr. not Bialczak immediately returned calls to the American yesterday.

Paul Simon Jr. is the son of retired Missouri Court of Appeals Judge Paul J. Simon and the brother of former Public Safety Director Sam Simon, a former City police officer.

According to Mayor Slay’s Wikipedia site, the Slay and Simon families are related. The Slay and Simon families have political and business connections that date back decades. According to his official bio, Mayor Slay also was a law clerk for Judge Simon.

*

Of course, Sam Simon - brother of "registered agent" of S&H Towing, Paul Simon Jr. - is also the Slay cousin who "served" as director of Public Safety and collaborated with the firefighters union to undermine Fire Chief Sherman George and run him out of the fire service.

One can only hope the citizens of St. Louis begin to take the time to learn in detail the things they think they already know and work to improve their city government. The folks we are paying to run this thing are no good at all.


p.s.


Thanks to somebody's Flickr site for that ominous image of City Hall.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

STL Po-Po Used Cars


We interrupt our scheduled coverage of The New Monastic Workshop to bring you St. Louis American editorial cartoonist Kevin Belford weighing in on the latest hot mess to beset Police Chief Joe Mokwa and his friends at City Hall, not to forget Police Commissioner and Mayor Francis G. Slay.

It will appear on the editorial page (A4) of tomorrow's St. Louis American.

Tlingit Indian pissing match


I had Robert Goetz across the table from me, playing hate songs from his hate song cycle, handing me back my guitar after every song of hate. My turn!

I did what I do. I score poems. I put other people's words to music. I sang the words of other people as my own songs.

I first played a setting to a 49er song. These are Indian songs sung after a pow-wow, after the public has gone away. This is the sound of traditional, working musicians stretching out, goofing off, singing and playing only for themselves - much like "Lambango," the song enjoyed by jalis in West Africa, when they are singing for themselves, not for the king.

I played a song that was first sung in a native tongue, but I found it as words on a page, in translation. So I returned it to song. It was begging for it, because it's basically a blues:

"They all sound like howling wolves from here
everybody just beginning to get drunk
& I have to go away."

Actually, I just discovered, it's not a 49er song at all, despite my having introduced it as such at campfires and guitar circles for years.

I just went back to the text, Shaking the Pumpkin, to round up a little more detail than I gave to Goetz (and K. Curtis Lyle and John Eiler, who were listening in during The New Monastic Workshop). And the only connection this "Song on the Way to Jail" has to a 49er song is proximity in an anthology!

The anthology's source for the song is a collection of Tlingit texts collected by John R. Swanton at Sitka and Wrangell, Alaska, in 1904 and published as Bulletin 39 of The Bureau of American Ethnology in 1909. Yes, and unbelievably, those were our great-grandparents' federal tax dollars at work, paying for the collection, transcription, and publication of native wisdom from Alaska!

Also to my surprise, Swanton's collection of Tlingit texts is available in its entirety online, thanks to the good souls at The Internet Sacred Text Archive. This so-called "Song on the Way to Jail" appears in a section with the far-from-swinging title, Words of Songs Taken in Connection with Gramophone Records (that's "lyric sheet," to you and me). It is numbered as song (57).

In understanding the song, it's good to know, from Swanton's section headnote, that most of these songs were composed "in song contests between men who were at enmity with each other." At enmity with each other? These are Tlingit Indian pissing matches! Tlingit poetry slams! Tlingit emcee battles!

Here is what Swanton has to tell us about our song:

"Composed by Kakayê'k, a Kâ'gwAntân, about his brother's wife. His name probably refers to the wolf making a noise that can be heard a long distance off. The woman is represented as if speaking, and anticipating being sent away by the whites for drunkenness."

This guy is giving his brother the business for having a drunken wife. Roger that. However, Swanton's transcription of the fraternal diss song is unrecognizable to this dude here who thought he had been singing it for years:

"It is just as if I were beginning to get drunk. This is what you are like, Grass-people's children. Have pity on me before I am sent away from here, Kâ'gwAntân's children."

Whatever that is, it's not a blues, it has no howling wolves, and I very much doubt it would have yielded a song I could have sang to Robert Goetz in the spaces between his hate song cycle.

I know from the anthology where I first found this stuff that Swanton's literal transcriptions had been reworked by the poet and publisher James Koller; now I see how much of a hand he had in it. And I see now it was Koller's title, "Song on the Way to Jail" - which he invented, based on the aside that the drunken sister-in-law was "being sent away by the whites for drunkenness" - that suckered me in as a songwriter.

I have never set this to music - somebody else, have at it! - but I see now that the drunken sister-in-law gets in on the emcee battle. Swanton's song numbered (58), he notes, was "composed by the woman referred to above, in reply."

Step up to the mic, sister:
"What you are saying about me is very hard, Kâ'gwAntân's children. I am very sad. You (i. e., the man accusing her) have given me one drink of whisky after another. So you ought to have pity on me, Kâ'gwAntân's children."

Here is Koller's pared-down version - the one I recommend to insomniac songwriters who find this post one dark night and jump right on their guitar (or Cassio):

"I don't know why you tell me I'm drunk
it's you been giving me all that whiskey."

The internet and opportunities being endless, and every night being long, I see some other amateur ethnopoetics scholar (who seems to work for a hair salon) also has tangled with the Swanton texts/Koller workings conundrum elsewhere on blogspot.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bread from the abyss



An important point of confluence for St. Louis is Washington University. It brings all of these fabulous (and not so fabulous) people here. Many of them stay, whether or not the place is objectively good for them. St. Louis can be an easy place to live, if you pick the right neighborhood. For an artist, the effective absence of a local arts industry can be a blessing. It makes for less crass careerism, less maneuvering, because there isn't really anywhere to maneuver to.

If I am not mistaken, it was the printmaking program at Washington University that brought Robert Goetz to us from San Antonio. He quickly went local in tavern kitchens as a line cook, and then on tavern stages as an indie rocker. He probably has stayed beyond what was objectively good for him, as an artist - he is very talented and multifaceted artist - though St. Louis has benefitted from his inner tension through the work he has done while he has been here. And at least he has a decent day job in the arts.

When I found Robert, he was constructing Temporary Autonomous Zones and inhabiting them, in various contexts, mostly as part of his performance art duo with Brett Williams, Nosey Parker. It took me awhile to get a take on that gig. In the meantime, I coaxed him into playing in a band with me, which was a really good ride, for a pretty long time. He played bass on my songs, I played bass (badly) on his. I'd like to think we would have kept it going up until now, except for the extremely unfortunate fact that the drummer we shared killed himself three years ago.

I don't think any of us are over that. I also don't think I'm being reductive of a difficult subject and a complex artist when I guess that Hunter's violent act of self-extinction has something to do with why Robert is writing songs about hate these days.

He is doing more than writing songs about hate. He is writing elaborate song cycles about hate, recording them and printing them to CD, buying ruined cars with CD decks, driving those cars out intp the middle of nowehere, and then blowing them up while his hate song cycle is spinning away inside their doomed frames.

At Robert's invitation, I contributed some material to his hate song cycle - some poems of mine, one by E.E. Cummings, and some ancient Egyptian hymns. They had hate down pat a long, long time ago. Check this one out:

Pyramid Text #211

I hate hunger & I will never eat it.
I hate thirst & I will never drink it.
It is I who will give bread to those who exist,
for my foster-mother is the milk goddess
& it is she who nourishes me.
I was conceived in the night,
I was born in the night,
I belong to those who are in the house of the night,
before the Morning Star,
I was conceived in the abyss,
I was born in the abyss;
I have come & I have brought you
the bread which I found there.

(Trans. R.O. Faulkner)

I don't know that Robert has scored this ancient fragment of hate as of yet, but after he showed up Sunday afternoon for The New Monastic Workshop we did break out my acoustic guitar and trade songs, and every song he sang was a hate song. I remember a line about "prehistoric hate" (that dates back beyond the Pyramid Texts!) and another about "small fish, small hearts all around," which sounds like a bad, sad, drunk take on St. Louis.

The astonishing thing, however, was the bounce and joy - swagger, even - of the songs. It was a tricky way to communicate hate. It almost even managed to sell hate, if not as something that was good for you, at least as something that would be pleasant to hum. I imagined the buoyant bounce of Robert's guitar chordings and the confident, melodic ease of his vocal, singing about the self-hatred of swimming in a circle, surrounded by small fish and small hearts, as the source of the sound detonated, along with the car stereo and the car itself, in a terrible, violent flash.

Tangents, backwards


Also adopted into The New Monastic Canon, or Cannon, from my mixtape unspooled at the closing Open DJ Spin, was a band from Minneapolis called The Owls.

As a strange, smart person I found out here just said smartly, "Run the film of the tangent backwards, and you have a confluence." So, since I am telling the story of The New Monastic Workshop backwards, perhaps if I follow some Owlsish tangents, I will find some confluences.

The Monastic weekend was a temporary escape from the demands of parenthood and husbandom, but I must pass on some news you can use to parents. The Owls' first record was for nearly a year my daughter's single favorite piece of music. As all parents know, it truly is blessed when your child becomes fixated on something (as only children and loonybirds can get fixated) that also gives you pleasure. I wrote a novel entirely under the aural influence of The Owls' Our Hopes and Dreams, and after hearing these eight songs every day for a year solid (that is, until the advent of Hannah Montana), I never tired of any of it.


The way I came to possess what became my kid's first treasured record is a confluence story. It even happened along the banks of the mighty Mississippi. I was living alone again in St. Louis, with my family marooned back in New York as my wife tried to sell the house. I was all new to the highly charged experience of being the white guy editing the black paper. It was a Wednesday evening, and we had just put the paper to bed for the week. Exhausted, I dragged myself down to the riverfront, because The Hang Ups had an open-air, big-stage concert down there.


The Hang Ups had been in my head since my earliest days in a traveling band. Shy boys from Minneapolis, they grew up with Matt Fuller, my eventual bandmate. Hissy, seminal cassettes by The Hang Ups (and their several splinter projects) went with Matt in the van for years of gigs. They became a tour fixture. At afterparties, in maybe fifty towns, we crowded around Matt and sang Hang Ups songs as he chopped them out on acoustic guitar.


I became a fanboy. When I visited Matt at his family home in Minneapolis, I maneuvered my way into a Hang Ups rehearsal. We brought them down for a house concert. I did my best to keep up a penpal thing with principal songwriter Brian Tighe, whose day job was the deeply unrockist position of nanny.


It was Brian Tighe whom I saw sauntering through the festival crowd along the St. Louis riverfront that evening. I popped up on him. He remembered me. He remembered my gaudy enthusiasm for his music. He excused himself to get the new CD by his new splinter project. And that first Owls' record has been my constant companion, ever since.


The Owls played once in St. Louis, that I know of, at the now-defunct Frederick's Music Lounge. It was a small, homy room. It was hard to project starpower in that room. Maria May, something of the quartet's leader (or onstage focal point, at any rate) exuded star power. This is a woman who makes you want to run away and join the circus.


I visited with Brian, after their set, on the street outside Frederick's. Maria was smoking. It's often odd, for me, to see a pretty woman, or a singer, but especially a pretty woman singer, smoke. She had the nonchalance of the natural talent. We must have talked of children. I must have told her my daughter wanted to listen to her band and only her band, every day. I must have yearned for some kind of confluence, beyind that; surely I pushed for a songwriting partnership, through the mail. Surely we wrote songs together, started a band, hit the road. Surely I ran away and joined the circus.


It's not possible that I drove home alone, listening to Maria sing about there being only air where she used to care.

Monday, July 21, 2008

No stranger to suicide


The final Open DJ Spin of The New Monastic Workshop, held on Sunday evening, was mostly given over to DJ me and the mixtape I had prepared for just this occasion, when the time was short and precious, the conversation was hot, and no one needed to be thinking constantly about the next piece of music to play.

Brother Robert Goetz, Brother John Eiler, and myself were the last monks standing (and drinking syrah). Robert is a multimedia artist and songwriter from San Antonio; a searching soul. John is a widely traveled and deeply experienced soul brother. Having a couple of alert heads like these on-hand to explore core texts together was exactly what the Monastic experiment was all about.

One moment stays with me most forcefully. It was Robert and John's reaction to the song "Master of Victories" by the Italian "post-rock" band Giardini di Miro.

The song entranced them on its own strengths - it's a long, episodic, atmospheric instrumental. Then the back story really grabbed them. I had once ping-ponged emails with the guy who released the record, You Will Never Hear from Us Again. He is Adam Pehr of the Los Angeles-based Pehr Label. He told me he had commissioned a number of his favorite bands to write a new song about the experience of death after a friend of his had killed himself, and this was the result.

Robert and I have buried a drummer together. John is no stranger to suicide. This idea connected with them: a disturbing confluence.

I got caught up in the moment, like I always do, got excited and said something like we should get together and write or produce an essay or a movie called something like "An Invitation to Reconsider the Suicide Option" for all of the people (so many of them artists) who dangle off that ledge.

"No," Robert said.

John said, "No."

No.

Hot thought here: A reading of Rilke's "Young Workman's Letter"


We talked a lot about head injuries during The New Monastic Workshop. Seems like all of us have endured some good head wounds, over the years. Brother John Eiler even has the management of a Southern Californian brain injury clinic on his curriculum vitae.

I sometimes wonder about the parts of my brain that must have taken a dent from a football helmet, or car, or dad, or curb, or barbed-wire fence, or chunk of ground after a fall face-down from a tree limb. I wonder if some of my gray matter didn't get zigged or zagged in a way that left me more susceptible to intensity. Maybe this explains why I'm such an idea thrill freak.

Because I love the hot ideas. I get really restless with the ideas or the pursuit of ideas that doesn't aim all the way for heaven or all the way for hell. I start jiggling my leg and singing to myself if the intellectual temperature doesn't start to climb.

I seriously think this has something to do with my getting whacked on my head so many times. Or maybe I was trying to make it stop?

I know this is why I have been carrying "Young Workman's Letter" by Rainer Maria Rilke around all of these years. This is some hot thought here. I would say the relationship between Christian orthodoxy and human sexual nature is one idea that leads all the way to heaven and all the way to hell. That's what this short story is really about.

Rilke uses the frame tale of a letter being written by a factory laborer to a famous poet. This makes for a stodgy beginning and abrupt end. I have my ideas about why Rilke did this, but it has the effect of straining a serious reader's patience, especially at the outset.

I brought the story (included in Where Silence Reigns, a collection of the great poet's prose) to The New Monastic Workshop. I sprung it upon Brother John Eiler, just as the last Open DJ Spin wound down in the garage, in The Monastic Smokehouse, where all the other monks had been all smoked out.

The hour was late, the weekend long, the story's opening stodgy. Local hip-hop was thundering all around us. John got lost. I didn't blame him. I just took back the book and read him the hot thought hidden in the stodgy letter form:

"Why, I ask you, Mr. V. [the famous poet the workman's letter is being addressed to; Emile Verhaeren is a plausible ID for "Mr. V."], when people want to help us, who are so often helpless, why do they leave us in the lurch just there, at the root of all experience? Anyone who would stand by us there could rest satisfied that we should ask nothing further from him. For the help which he imparted to us there would grow of itself with our life, becoming, together with it, greater and stronger. And would never fail. Why are we not set in the midst of what is most mysteriously ours? How we have to creep round about it and get into it in the end; like burglars and thieves, we get into our own beautiful sex, in which we lose our way and knock ourselves and stumble and finally rush out of it again, like men caught transgressing, into the twilight of Christianity. Why, if guilt or innocence had to be invented because of the inner tension of the spirit, why did they not attach it to some other part of the body, why did they let it fall on that part, waiting till it dissolved in our pure source and poisoned and muddied it? Why have they made our sex homeless, instead of making it the place for the festival of our competency?"

We promptly read Rilke into The New Monastic Canon, or Cannon.

Rethinking this hot thought now, it seems Marvin Gaye has to go right into the Monastic record along with Rilke. "Sexual Healing" makes the same argument - in far fewer words.

The Monastic Trashcan, by Michael Lynch


I'll get to the floridly painted trashcan, I promise; but first, a formalist aside.

I have been writing every day for a very long time, far longer than has existed an internet or (God forbid) a blogosphere. And, to the dismay of readers and skimmers everywhere, I am drawn to long and complicated stories. Which makes a blog an odd form, for me.

Blog posts pop up at the top, so a long story accumulates backwards. To make the most of this formal anamoly, I'll write my long, complicated report on the inagugural New Monastic Workshop backwards.

I'll start at the end, and amuse myself by imagining some future Wifi-enabled insomniac who clicks his or her way onto "Confluence City" and elects to read the whole dang workshop report, from start to finish.

For those already with me as of [whenever Google gets this posted for me] on July 21, 2008, here we go, from finish to start.

You know it's over when the artist wants his trashcan back.

The artist is Brother Michael Lynch. He is an airbrush ace, among many other vocations. He has long airbrushed images and colors - onto his trash can and a chair and a table and lots of pieces of paper.
Brother John Eiler and I curated a show of this stuff for the workshop. It was almost overpowering to all the monks who saw the show.

But sometimes a trashcan is just a trashcan. "I need my damn trashcan back," Michael called John today to say.

So the Michael Lynch show at the New Monastic Workshop begins to come down - or go back - simply because the artist has started to accumulate garbage.

I forgot about the open soul from San Jose


He came late on opening night and the high-powered craft beer started very early, so perhaps I can be forgiven for forgetting to mention that the inagural Monastic Retreat (or, better termed, I am thinking, Workshop) also drew in Matt Fernandes.

Matt is a musician, rock blogger, news librarian, and all-purpose mensch. An open soul from San Jose, Matt's presence also strengthens a mysterious but pervasive overlap between the more radically creative elements of the 21st century St. Louis scene and California.

This STL/CA (and, often, L.A.) confluence will be one of many micro-topics explored as I unfold the secrets of the Retreat (or, really, Workshop - we were working, man! No retreat, baby, no surrender!).

Watch your head!


I have been disconnected over the weekend as Brother John Eiler and I coproduced and cohosted the inaugural Monastic Retreat at his house just off South Grand, in the Grand De-Centered arts district of South St. Louis, in our beloved yet segregated Confluence City.

Brother Eiler and I have declared the inaugural retreat an unqualified success. Any observer who would have ventured to qualify our success would not have known how very achievably our standards had been set. For we are two grown men who know how to set rational expectations, even when the primary thing we are setting forth to achieve is ecstatic confluence of temperaments and paradigms. And people. Peeps. Yo. Oh!

That is, we expected to entertain and educate ourselves, in an environment that temporarily excluded our wives and daughters. Even as this simple plan broadened to include an amateur underground culture conference replete with monastic metaphorics, we still agreed (especially as the established date for the weekend grew nigh, with absolutely no networking accomplished beyond the two of us) that the expected audience was an audience of two: John and me.

In the end, we managed to draw in a poetic genius in K. Curtis Lyle, an historic civil servant in Sherman George, an outer-orbit musician in Baba Mike Nelson, three multi-media savants in Michael Lynch, Bradley Bowers and Robert Goetz, two semi-pro boxing experts in Glenn McBrady and Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, Jackass veteran Rob Durbin, and our own coed off-campus Monastic muse, the lovely and ultra-talented Jenna Bauer, who was traveling with her own unimpeachably impressive Venus posse.

The retreat ended where it began, in The Monastic Smokehouse, John's garage, which also is a museum, of sorts, in honor of his late father, who raced motorcycles when he wasn't tearing down American cities or drifting into the seminal fiction of Richard Brautigan. I've got to go to work now, but I will leave you with this image of John's motorcycle helmet collection from The Smokehouse and an important piece of monastic wisdom: Watch your head.

And watch Confluence City over the next two weeks (or more) as I try to unfold all of the wisdom we gathered toward our new Monastic Canon, or cannon.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Jenna live at Chick Poets


The one public segment of The Monastic Retreat, Chick Poets Saturday in the garden at The Royale, has a volunteer for opening "Chick Poets": Jenna Bauer.


Jenna, a painter by vocation, will read from a three-ring binder of poems that date from a period of her many ever-shifting endeavors that she was a performer of poems.


Since the Retreat is a core texts endeavor intended to form a New Monastic Canon (or cannon), it is all good that Jenna is not reading Jenna in the garden on Saturday.


This event is under the radar of Royale proprietor Steve Fitzpatrick Steve and will be a hushed and unamplified experience off to the corner somewhere.


This will be one of the last chances to cherish Jenna in the flesh before she transitions to The Hudson Valley and the friendship circle of the mighty Melina Rodrigo.


Local genius Stefene Russell is the Chick Poets headliner. As her work is already cannonical (or cannonical), Stefene is expected to read from her own ouvre and who knows what all else.


My core texts, as of now


I hope I'm never clutching for something to read in the debris of a wrecked ship, en route to a desert island, but now I know which books and records I would take on a weekend-long underground arts Monastic Retreat (see following post) - at least when I leave myself about fifteen minutes to make my picks before I leave for work:






* Buraky









and among the writers ...








These are the fragments I have shored against my ruin, to ragpick a phrase from a St. Louis poet whose birthplace is now a pawn shop.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Introducing: The Inaugural Monastic Retreat


I'll cop to some nerdiness when I admit that I like conferences. To me they're like graduate school, except without the examinations or the sadistic, inbred faculty. Also, conference hotel bar afterparties tend to be much more happening than those twitchy grad student shoegazers of yore.

I had a journalism fellowship this past year that took me around the country for exotic professional development experiences, such as a backstage tour of the situation room at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where we watched the epidemiologists track ebola in eastern Africa and flooding in the Pacific Northwest.

Periodic junkets with the health care journalists made me hungry for more. Back in St. Louis, I found myself covering conferences hosted by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Missouri Department of Corrections, an organization (directed by a conservative Christian Republican) that I was amazed to find progressive and compassionate.

I guess this all gave me the itch to put a conference together. Hence the Inaugural Monastic Retreat, an all-male, underground, amateur cultural seminar that I will cohost this weekend with my friend John Eiler.

It started with two daddies, trying to deepen a new friendship while constantly parrying the attention demands of small children and the conversational rhythms of strong-willed spouses. I suggested a buddy weekend for just the guys in the city at the Eilers, while "the girls" (we both have daughters) hung out at our house out in the county. The girls agreed. A date was set.

Then the conference yen struck. One night in John's garage, while draining delicious California ales, we began to dream the dream. We thought we would invite over some of our favorite local artists and thinking fellows. Within some parameters, they would be encouraged to bring with them and share core texts - possibly of their own origin, but just as likely some obscure classic that the rest of us are supposed to know about.

Our fellow conferees were relegated to the male gender, a suggestion of Catherine Eiler's, who thought that arrangement would be more consistent with the "guys night out" concept, with which we began. Fair enough, we thought. We'll thematize the exclusive masculininity of the gathering and consider it a Monastic Retreat.

Real life and any number of tragedies, personal and professional, intervened between then and now, which means we are doing the final scheduling and confirmations at the last minute (ah, men! the women will say ...). But this is how it is shaping up:

Friday night: The Inaugural Monastic Film Festival

* A: Anonymous, by Daniel Bowers, hosted by star Ray Brewer
* Blind Cat Black, by me, hosted by the (a'hem) director, me
* The Bunglers, by Bradley Bowers, hosted by the director.

Followed by an afterparty and Open DJ spin in The Monastic Smokehouse.

Saturday morning: Boxing for Breakfast
Glenn McBrady, Steven Fitzpatrick Smith and K. Curtis Lyle each screen one of their favorite fights and host a discussion, with intermissions for Open DJ spins at the Bloody Mary bar and Men with Knives I: Eggs Madison by Chef John Eiler.

Saturday afternoon: Culture swap
The original dream for this thing had events all carefully scheduled and delineated into genre, with just the right intermission DJs spec'd out on the hour, but at this point we'll see who shows up and take what we can get. We'll still have Curtis in the house, and also expect Robert Goetz, Brett Underwood, Rob Durbin, Michael Lynch, Sherman George and who knows who else. Probably Baba Mike Nelson. Maybe Hammiet Bluiett. There will be one order of business: the monks will collectively jury a selection of Michael Lynch's collage work for future reproduction and sale.

Saturday evening: Men with Knives II
How to make Nymah Kumah's Jolof Rice, the West African precursor to jambalaya, with Chef Chris King; followed by a dinner of jolof rice.

Early Saturday night: Chick Poets
We are behind the 8 ball in planning an off-campus, coed excursion to The Royale, where members of the fair sex will entertain and provoke us with their wisdom and feminine energy.

Saturday night
Afterparty in The Monastic Smokehouse, with Open DJ Spins and/or live musical stylings and culture swap.

Sunday Morning
* Soulard Market excursion for provisions, followed by a Prayer Breakfast with Elder K. Curtis Lyle
* Health Panel, including guided meditation by Curtis, slow yoga by me, acupressure for hangovers by Chris Heeb and back stretches for fat guys by John.

After the Health Panel, John will open the grill, and women and children will be invited back into our lives as the Inaugural Monastic Retreat comes to a close. After an Open DJ Spin and coed barbecue, the monks will return to their conventional lives, toting home their Monastic Schwag Bags.