And So It Is: Liner Notes

“And So It Is” represents a continuation of, or elaboration upon, the dying in the old person’s home theme announced first in “5150” as it concerns the “the old man.”

More details:

They put him in this big old place where every door is locked
They don’t want no one getting out they might go for a walk
He’s feeling sad and lonely now so far away from home
Not a single person there that he’s ever known.

All of this is pretty much true or as it occurred. But the refrain is mostly made up:

They take him to the window to get a little light
Blind as a bat he don’t know if it’s day or night
But his face like a flower it turns to the sun
And so it is and so it is
Until his day is done.

The last part–until his day is done–is of course a metaphor with the word “day” standing in for the concept “life.” But the other part seems to make an empirical or matter-of-fact claim: that he was “taken to the window” and that he was “blind as a bat.” Maybe he was taken to the window to get a little light. I don’t know, but I doubt it. He had a walker. I know for certain though that he was not blind as a bat. Though he was pretty blind, having suffered over a number of years ocular decay, resulting from something called macular degeneration. I am not sure what this is medically speaking. I only know its effects that one loses vision starting in the center of the eye. So right in the middle of what one should be seeing becomes a black hole which gradually expands taking up all vision except usually on the very periphery. One is left with enough peripheral vision to get about. So he was not blind as a bat.

I think his peripheral vision responsible for suggesting the line I like best in this song: his face like flower it turns to the sun… He walked, during our visit, into a large room, with light streaming at one end, and he cocked his head in a birdlike way, first to this side and then to that, trying to make out where was. He was using, I know, his peripheral vision, but to do that, he had to cock his head left and right as does a bird. Somehow his making that movement touched me. I couldn’t figure out how to get a bird into the song, so I changed his face to a flower.

This I think fitting since as we age the more we regress back along the food chain, so that in end, some exist only in a “vegetative state.”

5150: Liner Notes

Once again: based on a true story, or, perhaps…and I believe…multiple true stories that are bound further to multiply by the day as more and more baby boomers, themselves getting along in years, are forced to deal with their own dying and sometimes demented parents.

That’s what–in three parts–5150 is a tale of.

Part one: making the call.

5150 is CA Police Code for “a danger to himself (herself) and others.” So you dial 911 and say, “I have a 5150.” And depending on the details you give, the authorities will come and pick up the elderly.

Call 911, get the medic and his van
They come and took away the old man
He was threatening to burn down the house
Figured it was time to get him out

The burn down the house part isn’t exactly true, but close enough. And it’s no fun at all when things get to this point, and you have to make that call. And the elder doesn’t go peacefully, but screaming at the top of his lungs and resisting for dear life.

So they come and they took him away
Locked him up for 14 days
Trying to figure out where he might go
Fact was don’t nobody know…

Which is pretty much what happened. Being a veteran in this case, he was locked up, in a “pod,” they called it, at the VA Hospital for evaluation, for a legal period of 14 days.

Part 3:

They took him off to an old person’s home
He was sad and so all alone
I cry like a baby, that’s what he said
Couple days later I heard he was dead…

Also pretty much occurred as told. The old person’s home was very sanitary. You could smell that. But he was sad, and said so. In fact he said, “I am in hell.” And then a few days after I saw him in that home, he was dead.

Or as I previously wrote:

He left the room without making a sound
Nobody noticed till the orderly made his rounds..

So that’s the story of 5150. In three parts.

He Is Not: Liner Notes

“He is Not” is at the heart of my order of things.

That’s about “the old man” who died in 2006 though it’s not about him in any particular sort of way, excepting perhaps the line:

He left the room without making a sound
Nobody noticed till the orderly made his rounds…

That is true and particular to the old man (though I am sure also to many others who die in those “homes”). For the rest it’s much more generic.

Somehow he just slipped out of time
Leaving only his remains behind
An odd assortment of odds and ends
Fingernails, toes, teeth and skin….

Those are pretty generally the remains of anybody. So the emphasis ends up being much more on the “not” and not on the “He.”

You can’t say that he moved on
Cause there’s no place for him to be gone
He didn’t fly high. He didn’t sink low
No, he didn’t have nowhere to go…

When one is no longer, one is NOT, and that’s that.

Oh time is a mighty tide
It carries us far it carries us wide
It is the beating heart of the stars…
If you can still see’em you still are.

We should occasionally remember that.


That last bit–ain’t no x–may, with its postmodern under erasure feel, be overly clever. But I still like it.

Out of the Blue: Liner Notes

Once, years ago, I read that, when one gets old, one gets to having lots of memories. Those old guys sitting on the benches in front of the courthouse weren’t doing nothing. They were remembering. I remember thinking when I read that back then that, well, maybe old age would have some benefits. One would remember, in any case. I was still thinking like that when I wrote “Out of the Blue” five or six years ago. Then, five or six years ago, the memories weren’t coming back. Things have changed since then; they have started popping up all the time, and I wish they wouldn’t. I think more like William Blake now, “Drive your plow through the bones of the dead.” And I have the refrain of a song yet and perhaps never to be written: And now I am wondering/ Better to Remember? Better to Forget?

So I don’t know now that I could write “Out of the Blue.” But I still like it. I think it is neurologically accurate too. Brain science says that when the brain is idle or more exactly in neutral, when one is “wool gathering,” that’s when the brain gets involved in making up the self (making connections, telling stories). So the self arises when the mind is not occupied with an immediate task.

Theses lines are intended to evoke a dreamy state:

When the rain obscures the horizon
And the wheels hiss on the road
And the darkness is descending
And you’ve got miles and miles left to go…


When the wind is just a whisper
And something in the shadows stirs
And you forget what you are doing
And your mind becomes a blur…

Those are times, brain science says, when the brain is relatively disengaged that memories might pop up.

And the third stanza is about memory and aging:

Now that autumn is upon you
And you’re raking up the leaves
The spell of smoke is in the air
And it’s finally time to grieve…

That’s a bit too discursive, and really I underestimated when I wrote the song the degree of grief involved in remembering.

Better to remember? Better to forget?

You tell me.

Country Song: Liner Notes

According to Willie Nelson, “Three Chords and the Truth–That’s What a Country Song Is.” Well, it that’s true, this song is half way to being a country song, since it has those three chords, and only three. The “truth” part is a harder call, though this song is based, as was “The Curse,” on a true story or rather on multiple true stories, since I am sure this story is told in one way or another many times a day, around Nashville and probably in rural China too. But then we hedged our bets a little. The refrain runs:

Heading down that long road
All I got is gone
Feels like I am stuck inside
A real BAD country song….

So if we ain’t got the truth…or hit it somehow…it could still be a country song, though a REAL BAD one, making allowances though for that particular inflection in the sixties when BADD meant GOOD.

So perhaps the truth is ambiguous. And while it might not be the truth exactly, I do pride myself on having imparted at least a little social realism and immediate relevance with:

We’d lived too long on credit
Up to our necks in debt
When everything had been sold
There wasn’t nothing left…

A reference again to hard times. At one point I worked a yard sale into the song, but the rhyme didn’t work out.

And finally I can’t think of being stuck inside something without thinking of Dylan’s “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.”

Lighthouse of Love: Liner Notes

While not exactly joyous, the CD I made in 2008, Sea of Love, was at least about love which is generally viewed as a positive thing. Most of the other songs I had written in the four years before that and in the three years since have been depressing. So when I set about writing a few new songs for “The Tingles,” I felt a vague urge to give a nod backwards, as it were, to the more positive love stuff before plunging, in the cuts to follow, straight into the darkness. Still the song takes a while to get to the light starting, as it does, with a plunge into darkness:

When all of a sudden the bottom it falls out
And all of your certainty turns into doubt
And all your expectations turn out to be a hoax
And all of the promises are just dirty jokes

Looming back there in my mind not too far of course when I wrote these lines was the sudden economic collapse the dust of which still settles around us, as we appear even to be sinking deeper.

The lyrics then plunge on into the darker, if not slightly more metaphysical, waters with:

When there ain’t no signal coming down from above
When all is lost in the raging flood.

Katrina too was not that far back in my mind, what with the “raging flood.” But finally a turn if not to optimism at least to the possibility of something other than utter darkness:

Keep a weather out eye
For the lighthouse of love…

There’s a good deal of watery nautical stuff in this; “weather eye”? –You ask.

I don’t know where that came from except perhaps all those Captain Hornblower books I read in junior high. But it was very important back in the day of the clipper ship to–no matter what else one might be doing or even however important that might be–nonetheless, keep a weather eye out because the weather at sea and the failure to attend to it can be a life and death matter. So the song does end with a glimmer, like the lighthouse itself, of–if not hope–at least the possibility of it.

Cats and Goats

My brothers—mostly my brothers—and I had to clean out our mother’s house so we could sell it.  As the family historian, or the one interested in such things, or with the time to do it, I took charge of house1947a couple of boxes of pictures and documents that our mother kept in a cedar chest, and a few days back I pulled out one of the boxes and started going through it.

 That was a mistake.  I am never in a good mood and doing that, looking at pictures of a bunch of dead people from long ago, didn’t help my mood any.  But I found this picture and I think at some level I have been thinking around and about it since I first saw it. But I don’t know what I am thinking about exactly and whatever it is seems pretty confused and full of conflict.

That’s a picture of the first house we lived in when the old man took us back to South Carolina after WWII to grow cotton.  I think the house had electricity but it didn’t have running water or in door bathing and toilet facilities.  I appear to be looking at or for something in the grass.  Off to my right is a cat high tailing it out of the area.  A shovel leans up against the wall, and the screen on the door to the porch is a particularly thick and rusty kind of screen that’s hard to describe but you would know it if you have seen it.  Whenever I have seen it I have wanted to touch it.  It has that effect.

I don’t remember the day of course or the house.  I wish I remembered the cat.  But I do recognize the kid.  That’s me, OK.  I know that.  But I have a difficult time making the connection between me, as I sit here at a computer looking out the window at the California mountains about 58 years later, and that kid.  But I do feel a sort of personal, though generic, attachment.

I say generic because in general I like little kids about that age.  Whenever I bump into a little kids about that age I say hello, or sometimes, if I am wearing it, I take off my hat so they can see part of my head come off.  Usually, they don’t mind.  My conversations with these little kids are pretty brief, and I almost always find them satisfying.  I can’t say much passes between us, but enough I expect. What’s there to say but hello and then goodbye?  That’s probably the most basic and fundamental conversation anyway, hello and then goodbye.  That sort of wraps it up, I think.

I am glad the cat is in the picture.  I must have disturbed it—the way it is high tailing it out of there—just moments before the picture was taken.  When I first saw the picture I thought it was a little weird-assed goat with a long tail sticking up, but that didn’t make any sense; then I saw that what appeared one of the ears of the goat was in fact the right front leg of the cat.

I like animals too and I try to communicate with them whenever possible.  While I am very fond of cats, it would have been cool if the cat had been a goat.  I know we kept goats now and then.  Goats are an under-rated animal, pretty interesting, and even a little intelligent, I think.  Not like sheep or your basic fleshy fat cow.  They have a dull and dead look in their eyes.  But a goat will recognize the person who feeds it.  Cows—they don’t give a damn who you are.  They just want to be fed.