Thursday, August 03, 2006

Poetry Thursday: "Winter for Johnny" (Winter)

Poetry Thursday has put out a call for poems related to music this week.

In general I don't like poems that attempt to impart the experience of music or sculpture or painting. There's a reason why there are different mediums. That being said, there are also exceptions, like Auden's Musee des Beux Arts and Howard Moss's poem on a sculpture of Prometheus.

But I saw how Twitches managed to base a poem about a performance by John Fogerty, focusing on the characters rather than an attempt to describe music. My poem, below, is about the musician, not his music. Johnny Winter used to be the hottest Texas blues guitarist, but no more. He pre-dates Stevie Ray Vaughn but is younger than Buddy Guy. It's amazing Johnny's still alive, with all his bad habits.

Winter for Johnny

B.B. called him "My favorite blues guitarist."
Twice I saw him young, watched albino fingers
buzz frets like a methedrine mosquito,
his arms thin and pink under the stage lights
before the tattoos he added, I think,
to hide his track marks. Goofballs
killed Belushi but Johnny survived.

Legally blind, he dressed like a wannabe hippie
clothed in bolts from Texas discount stores.
Nothing fit him anyway. Onstage he stood
stiffly near the microphone so not to lose it;
not stiff as Orbison, he swayed a little like Ray.
His voice was gravelly as Louie Armstrong's
with the honey removed, sung through his nose,
a guttural tenor cut with the lemon of his native twang.

When I saw him in the seventies
as an underbill for Zappa,
half the audience left after his set. .
Later, when Rick Derringer joined the band,
I couldn't tell who was faster or more coked--
But Johnny had more soul, though never clean
as Clapton or patient as King, rather
a desperado of the neck, he clawed
against the dirt walls of his fingers'
limitations as if buried alive.

Last night, after a quarter century
had passed, I saw him again and was sad.
Now his twentysomething bassist had to cue him.
He met the minimum requirement
to fill the empty spaces of a power trio
but chorded mainly, his fingers no longer
an insect blur but hinged and mortal.

I think of John Lee Hooker nearing ninety,
his voice a golden, suffering god: "Howh,
howh, howh, howh!"--he just gets better.
Not so for Johnny's fingers, once faster
than smokestack lightning, bluer
than any Monday, almost outrunning pain.

Here's another one:

Old Friend

Bob Dylan's on the CD rack,
his voice sounds like a heart attack,
his cords like shredded steak—
his voice don't bend,
it just breaks and breaks.

(published in Eclectica)

I have little else to say. That denial is usually a prelude to new bloviations.

I'm surprised my sister didn't comment on the desecration of Elvis yet.

But she's a busy person. She's the only one in the family who regularly reads my blog, but I don't know if that's because of sibling loyalty or because she enjoys it. Growing up, praise was always suspect in my mind, so I should give her benefit of the doubt, then who can be objective about siblings? New studies show that siblings may be as influential as parents in psychological development and socialization. Glad they finally figured that out. The critical voice in my head may also be my older brother, not just my parental units.

To all depressives out there: You can get better, and you can read my blog's past weeks to see how the chemical miracle happened for me. If your doctor isn't helping you, see a new doctor, preferably a psychopharmacologist or biological psychiatrist. Even if you have no hope, do it. You will thank yourself later.

Thine at Rodent Neutral,


p.s. One of my correspondents recommended that I repeat my measurements for mood status. I invented my scale based on Roger Dier, whose excuse for maintaining a thousand rats in his house was depression. Nevertheless he still had the energy to schlep 250 lbs. of food for them twice a week. I established him as the basal negative measurement: 1000 rats, or one kilorat. For positive moods I decided on kilobunnies. If you're even at '0' you're "rodent neutral."


  1. Hey there... good to see that you doing better in the chemical arena. ;-)

    As for traffic... I seem to get higher traffic during Poetry Thursday.

  2. hey- good stuff here- I'll post mine soon

    and ferchrissakes stop obsessing over how much traffic you get- it takes a while to build-

    put out some logopoetry stuff- catch Ron Sillimans's eye- my traffic went up dramatically after that-

  3. These lines are on target in describing the inescapable state of music (and certainly relates to all the arts) that must leave the body:

    "a desperado of the neck, he clawed
    against the dirt walls of his fingers'
    limitations as if buried alive."

    I like the poem's closing reference to Hooker's voice as "a golden, suffering god". Amazing.

    Boom, boom, boom!

  4. "In general I don't like poems that attempt to impart the experience of music or sculpture or painting"

    Oh God, that is so how I feel! Anytime someone says they're going to read a poem about a work of art, I instinctively cringe. It usually ends up being too personal, or just a description, and there's nothing for me to grab onto.

    I love how you work so many musicians into that poem!

    And the second one - can Dylan be described any better? I don't think so. Chords like shredded steak!

  5. In answer to your question, don't sweat the readership, Doc. Just keep Field of Dreamsing it: Keep on building it and they will come. I honestly don't think that your readership is dependent solely upon your mood, sir. So, blog about what you feel like blogging about and don't worry if you get a little bit less depressed along the way. (smile)

    May I ask what this "poetry Thursday" business is about? I've seen it referenced on other blogs without any explanation. Is every Thursday poetry Thursday? Does poetry Thursday demand that one read and write poetry all day long? (grin)

    Seriously, I wanna know.

    (in the background as I type this, MSNBC's on, that countdown show with Keith Oberman--do you watch it?--and they're playing those tapes from 9/11 on which one can hear how completely clueless, lost and inept our military was on that awful day. Christ, it's....disheartening.)

  6. Thanks for the good advice LKD. I so long feared advice because I perceived it as criticism. But life beat me up and I'm semi-teachable now.

    The Poetry Thursday thing is a site you can click on from my list where each week they suggest a topic and on Thursday everybody's supposed to post a poem, theirs or another's, preferably on topic. It seems to be the latest poetic craze, soon to eclipse and The IBPC is now passe'.

    When I was an editor people seemed to give me a wide berth but now that I'm a nobody again it feels good. I get to actually know people I've met through poetry.

    And your nearer acquaintance is a pleasure, Laurel. And that goes for Sam and Cynthia and Twitches and everybody else who comes here, like Lorguru and Norm Ball. Shann's an old friend, someone I actually met in the meat world and a wonderful yet practical soul.

    Sam, you are too kind. I published so much from 1998 to 2002 and then slacked off in Mexico, not so much in writing but submitting. I had wanted to prove my work was worthy, at least at the Internet level (and I say that with respect) and I did. Then what was there left but collecting credits? I don't know. I admire Seth Abramson for getting into the tony print journals like Gettysberg Review. I ought to get off my big Viking ass and put some envelopes in the mail.

    Twitches, glad to find an ally in this regard (I forgot to include dance). And every poet gets to write one poem about poetry but only one.

  7. wha???

    the 'meat' world??

    LOLOLOLOLOLOL us and our clumsy fingers-

    must post poetry thursday poem!

  8. Anonymous7:01 AM PDT

    Well CE:

    It looks like the ambulance chasers have gone home. People want harrowing, near-death narratives. Maybe the kilobunnies are killing the excitement. Sadly, rats are a better read.

    take care

  9. I see no choking here - just good blogging. grazie. :)

    p.s. have a great weekend!


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