Howlin’ Wolf, “Killing Floor”
A stormy mountain top. Fires and skulls surround the blasted crags. I stand on the cliff, roaring as I deliver the wrath of my loneliness down from the heights. Rocks roll like dice down the hillside: snake-eyes, every time. The flames are from Hell, the skulls are yours and mine.
The Allman Brothers, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”
I am everything great and glorious from the ‘70s. I grow hothouse orchids and Northern Lights, ride a Harley, and am the finest vibraphone player in the greater Northeast. I earned three Silver Stars in Vietnam and adopted a Cambodian baby named Fen-Fen. I carve wooden duck chimes when I feel sad. My wife’s name is Mayflower, and our natural children are called Moses, Samuel, and Rose Sharon. We live inside a round house in the forest and brew homemade wine from stream water and blackberries. Our dog is a tamed policeman named Kesey.
Bach, Goldberg Variations
A spacious room off Rue St. Germain. There’s no furniture except a black grand piano. I watch rain roll down the window, then sit at the piano screaming. An empty bottle of absinthe lies on its side beneath the piano bench, a woman’s leather shoe sits upright in a closet. Somewhere unseen, a phone begins to ring. Cupping a hand to my ear, I realize the ringer is in the key of B, the caller is Kafka asking what time the movie starts.
Tom Waits, “Russian Dance”
Dressed in a huge hat and flying kaftans, I am a Cossack of appetites, of passion, heartiness, and vigor, with thick blood and a huge hat. When I dance, half-naked Persian girls clap, ripened dates hanging from their nipples. I will marry each with offerings of bread and salt before riding off to war on a shaggy war pony. I am a Cossack, brave and strong. My widows will weep for a thousand years.
Ben E. King, “Stand By Me “
The ocean waves are bright, the beach umbrellas a hundred different flavors of taffy. Kites flap in the air above, barkers hawk cheap thrills along the boardwalk, my baby and I hold hands and stare at the surf. Everyone’s watch melts in the yellowing late afternoon light, shiny mermaids beckon out past the breakers. The radio is turned off, towels are shaken out, we tiptoe across the parking lot. A thin man in a dark suit leans against a ticket shack, one cigarette tucked behind an ear, another lit in cupped hands: the Duke of Earl, waiting for evening to roll through in a candy-apple convertible.
Sinead O’Connor, “I Am Stretched on Your Grave”
Shanty and lace, lace and shanty; Gran stood in front of the butcher shaking a finger till Peg Shanahan told her to go home, just go home. Father’s ghost sat on the edge of the bed telling us of his death behind the hedge the night the whisky ran black and King Rat awoke with a tooth ache, then he shook his head and asked about the Flannery girl. A lowing calf passed along the road in the cold, the broken tether damp around its neck. Gran hissed it was an omen and to beware, but Father was already gone and the last acres sold off…Then she called us a pack of fools, why hadn’t we gone and fetched the calf already, beasts didn’t grow on trees, now did they? From his perch in the hawthorn, Father’s ghost pleaded for the Flannery girl the whole night through, while King Rat stood proud at the tavern, the other end of the tether clamped in his hard fist, waiting right where he knew we’d find him.
Miles Davis, “Flamenco Sketches”
I am an evil junkie genius. Between spikes I write poems that make Burroughs shudder with amazement and disgust. The best is a 70-page epic where an ambulance siren metamorphoses into a saxophone, which becomes a constellation in the shape of my dead sister, who then transforms into heroin. My only friends are Jimmie the Gimp, Marc Chagall, and Mom. They are the ones who understand. They are the ones who bring Chinese take-out when they visit my hovel. Chagall watches me pick at lo mien as he sketches flying lovers, Old World horses, and oceans parted by Time.
The Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime”
I am everything wicked and depraved from the ‘80s. I live in a glass monstrosity on the beach in the Hamptons. I have no idea who owns the house or how long I have been living there. I went to Bluffington College in Vermont and enjoy mocking my collegiate preppy uniform of gray sweater, faded blue jeans, and a long black woolen coat. Two friends have recently survived cocaine overdoses, and at parties I boast of survivor’s guilt and how I really relate to Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Because I read Tama Janowitz and have an old New Yorker cartoon taped to the toilet seat, friends think I am the artsy one. I reinforce this idea by wearing shirts patterned on the paintings of Warhol, who I refer to as “Andy.” When I finally bottom out and get a job on Wall Street, I realize that never again will I be so casually elegant as during my long-coated years under the red leaves of Bluffington.
Jimi Hendrix, “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”
I am more cloud than human; electric vapor rather than pale flesh. My eyes are thunderbolts, my body a mountain moving. I make love to a woman in five minutes time. I am a rider to the sea, I am the wolf’s cry; I am the pink Cadillac that circles the entire world. Death is my co-pilot. I believe everyone I’ve ever met is an angel driven with fire from Heaven.
Following My First Mind
If pop music can change lives, then the process must begin someplace in the mind, and more likely in images than words. Our writer sends us a postcard from the backyard of his brain, where Sinead O’Connor shares time with the Talking Heads.
Howlin’ Wolf, “Killing Floor”