Thursday, December 09, 2010

Driving My Life Away

from "So Long"
by Walt Whitman


To conclude—I announce what comes after me;
I announce mightier offspring, orators, days, and then, for the present, depart.

I remember I said, before my leaves sprang at all,
I would raise my voice jocund and strong, with reference to consummations.

When America does what was promis’d,
When there are plentiful athletic bards, inland and seaboard,
When through These States walk a hundred millions of superb persons,
When the rest part away for superb persons, and contribute to them,
When breeds of the most perfect mothers denote America,
Then to me and mine our due fruition.

I have press’d through in my own right,
I have sung the Body and the Soul—War and Peace have I sung,
And the songs of Life and of Birth—and shown that there are many births:
I have offer’d my style to everyone—I have journey’d with confident step;
While my pleasure is yet at the full, I whisper, So long!
And take the young woman’s hand, and the young man’s hand, for the last time.

This tune was probably introduced to me by my old man when I was maybe thirteen or fourteen. He was big into country music after the divorce -- although, I think that was because that was as close as he could get to an Old School/Old Boy Rockabilly scene in Waterloo, Iowa in the Eighties.

It looks at the same pain-in-the-ass question the poem by Whitman looks at: We live and we love and we move on -- why are we doing this again?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Samson was a Bad-Ass

Relax, there's a song at the bottom.

Judges 16

1Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.

2And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him.

3And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.

4And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.

5And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.

6And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.

7And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.

8Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.

9Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known.

10And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound.

11And he said unto her, If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.

12Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And there were liers in wait abiding in the chamber. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread.

13And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web.

14And she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awaked out of his sleep, and went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web.

15And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.

16And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;

17That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.

18And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.

19And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.

20And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.

21But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.

22Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.

23Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.

24And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.

25And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.

26And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.

27Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.

28And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.

29And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.

30And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

31Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the buryingplace of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.

Posted below is a traditional American song -- possibly a slave song.

Students: look for the metaphors in the story -- at least for your own sake. What does the story of Samson represent in your mind?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Murder in the Red Barn

"Roadkill has its seasons, just like everything..."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Two Vids for My Students

Two videos.

One deals with questions of loss and of faith and is very personal to me:

The other deals with the fears inherent when committing to a new relationship: is this going to burn me? Or save me? It's a leap of faith in the end:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Ghosts of Mount Revere Opens

by Joe Jennison

“The Ghosts of Mount Revere,” an original theatrical production, written and directed by Mount Vernon resident Mike Moran, will have its world premiere Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 21, 22, and 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Street Community Building, 221 1st St. NE, Mount Vernon.

The theatrical piece mixes theater and music, and explores the ghosts of a mythical Iowa town, Mount Revere. The piece uses storytelling and music to introduce its characters and its town, culminating in a showcase of songs performed in a haunted juke house in the Iowa hills.

The piece features actors Nicci Miles-Thomas, Brandon Rowray, and Bill Thomas, and showcases music performed by Josh Woosley, Samuel Butz, Jessie Stewart, Zak Moran, and Rhythmixity.
And here's a spooky little tune dealing with the understanding that it isn't who you want to spend your life with that matters as much as who you want to buried with:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mount Revere is a Town

Mount Revere is a town that seems sometimes too sharp, too vibrant, like a professionally-developed photograph designed to make the colors of the autumn trees pop. Sometimes, though, it seems as if its perspective shifts, like an Edgar Mueller 3D street painting, it's downtown appearing from the right angle to be bursting through clouds, the Midwest's own humble Olympus.

And other times, it's like stepping through the screen of a small, dark movie with deep shadows and despair that you can't turn away from. This is how it's sometimes going in Mount Revere.

How are things going with you?

The Ghosts of Mount Revere, a new Goatsinger Production, goes up at
7:30 pm
October 21, 22, 23
at The First Street Building (221 1st St. NE)
Mount Vernon, IA

No charge. The actors and musicians are working for tips.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Cross Road Blues

Stumbling, falling, almost hitting the ground, guitar case held tight. If the world was watching, the world would call him him drunk.

But the world wasn't watching and Bob wasn't drunk. Too late at night – so late it was almost day and the horizon ready to crack the dawn like an egg against the edge of a frying pan. Cocklebur and horsenettle choked the edge of the dusty, dirt road heading out towards the old Dockery House. Estella was back screaming and clawing and throwing things at the wall still, no doubt – angry woman, but now the one woman who wouldn't take him back. Bob left in a hurry, bumping into his friend Willie Brown at the corner and telling him, "If I ever end up dead, you're the one who needs to know." He could hear Willie laughing at him even two blocks past.

Deep into the night and down the country road, Bob thought: How many different ways can I get hurt? Then he brushed the devil-thought off his shoulder and spit through his fingers. But the possibility still swirled.

How long before the ghosts came up on over the ridge in a pickup truck, a stretch of rope behind the seat and pale eyes looking through the windshield for a strong branch to bear the strange fruit? Every sound was a possible engine, rubber tires on a gravel road, carrying either a safe ride to a warm house, or ghosts. The crackle of dried weeds: morning glory, trumpetcreeper. The brush of wind clattering branches. The heart beating harder, faster; the feel of the pulse behind his eyeballs.

It was at the crossroads that Bob fell down on his knees. Rumor at the last juke house he'd played was some poor fool got run down like a rabbit by a couple of big rednecks and strung up in a poplar tree.

Long fingers squeezing each other, head bowed. "Save poor Bob," he muttered. "If you please, Lord, save poor Bob." The rush of blood and panic made the whispered prayer feel like a cry through the fissures of his neck bones, lungs, liver, spleen.

The trust to stand and wait, to try and flag a ride out of this dark spot, was a gutsy thing for poor Bob. And when the first flume of gravelroad dust kicked up at the edge of the land, he held his ground, put his thumb out, and waited.

The first car appeared as dawn broke. It was an old Pierce-Arrow with two dumb-looking white men in it; they blazed by without even glancing at him. So did the family in the Terraplane that passed some twenty minutes later. And the Essex a half-hour after that. It was like nobody saw him. Didn't take long before Bob hefted his Gibson and got a wiggle on.

Next car that smoked by him, he shouted after: "Tell Willie Brown I'm down to the crossroads!" Then he barked a laugh that sounded almost like a sob, startling a bobolink from the ditch into the morning air. Bob crossed into the neighboring field.

As he settled into the shade of a magnolia, drawing the weary L-1 Gibson into his lap, Bob was already humming. No woman up ahead, Estella left behind beating her walls, no ride, almost like he was invisible, and no doubt his friend Willie Brown all poised on his barstool and ready to laugh.

He taught it to me, by the way, the song he wrote on the edge of that gravel road, Bob did – the last time he passed this way through Mount Revere.

Monday, September 13, 2010

King Kong versus Denny

Denny Kristlopher's break from his family was all King Kong's fault. Of course, the family wasn't aware that he'd made this break, because Denny was no fool.

If there's anything you want to know about King Kong here in Mount Revere, the one to ask is Dennis Kristlopher of the Kristlopher Clan – just don't let his mother know he's the resident expert of the big ape or she'll no doubt tear his room apart to find any evidence, and even if she doesn't, he'll still probably be grounded to his bedroom for a month.

Sixteen years old now, Denny's been an expert on all things King Kong since he was seven: the monsters Kong fought and the order he fought them, beginning with Cooper's original through the ape's stint on Godzilla's bandwagon; the relationship Jessica Lange developed with the men who operated the giant ape-hands for the DeLaurentiis remake; the inside jokes in Jackson's grandiose take; the methods of Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation; Toho Studios miniaturization techniques; and the robotics used in the 1976 remake.

But, if you can keep it on the down-low – he's your boy.

The secret break with his family didn't happen because he was spending more time studying King Kong than he was on his Bible studies. He made sure to stay on top of those.

When he was younger, Denny Kristlopher was fascinated by the potential reality of such a creature. The awe that would transpire when faced with such a being would be life-changing. Although, he played as King Kong with his buddy, Gary (always over in Gary's yard), his secret desire was to become friends with Kong, to be the only one in the world capable of effectively communicating with, and on behalf, of this ancient beast. Denny would fall asleep in his room, looking at the eyes in the knotty pine ceiling overhead and imagine being carried gently through a steamy jungle held comfortably in the warm paw of the great ape.

The secret break with his family was due to straightforward physical science. When Denny was ten he read in a new nonfiction monster book in the school library, that a gorilla the size of King Kong would be physically impossible. Kong would, as some killjoy scientist explained, collapse under his own weight.

Rather than come to terms with this reality immediately, Denny began constructing in his mind some scientifically-sounding answer to this conundrum. Obviously, King Kong's skeleton was much more powerful than a normal gorilla's; his heart was ten times stronger, his blood moved faster – the scientists were wrong! Denny carried this conviction through his sophomore year of high school.

But like the god of Skull Island meeting his doom through the advanced, scientifically-sound engineering of aviation and weaponry, Denny's hope was eventually taken down. Once Mr. Uccisione, his physics teacher, explained Galileo's square-cube law to where he actually understood it, Denny Kristlopher could no longer hold up the absurd notion that King Kong could ever, truly, exist.

The stash of old Famous Monsters magazines and books of movie monsters that he had hidden in his band locker were in his hands and being held over the Dumpster in the back parking lot when Denny realized that he didn't have to give up his love for the big gorilla just because Kong only existed in the movies! Denny loved the idea of Kong. The potency of the image remained thrilling: the dedication and powerful love this ancient, noble god had for beauty, so great that he could break his bonds and touch the highest point of civilization before being overwhelmed by an unimaginative, small-minded race – wasn't this a worthy idea?

The break happened due to the fact that it didn't take much for Denny to start examining other stories, comparing the power of their ideas against the power of their physical reality. Sunday School, he realized, was an exercise in literary analysis, after all. The stories from the Bible his mother made his father read every night to Denny and his brothers and sisters – did they really need to happen historically for them to be powerful?

But Denny's mother was a small, curly-haired force of unimaginative strength, and Denny knew there was no way for him to ever voice his thoughts without being brought down.

So the break was quiet. Denny's new beliefs were a secret he would never reveal. Well, not until the woman who would become his wife appeared before him one fated evening.

But that's another tale for another time.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On Questions and Conflict and Virtue

Nancy Sherman, in her book The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue explains, "The agent [of virtue] comes to learn different ways of reading a situation and different questions to pose in order to see the picture with increased insight and clarity. How to see becomes as much a matter of inquiry as what to do."

Questioning, actively seeking understanding, is the only way to see truly.

Seeing or perceiving rightly is as much a virtuous act as the act of doing.

She also explains that Aristotle tells us: "Through ... friendships [of virtue] we gain transparency before ourselves, see ourselves ... as if in a mirror. We see our foibles and expose what we keep hidden from others. ... We need 'to live together with friends and share in argument and thought' in order to be fully conscious of the sorts of lives we are leading."

In essence, we understand better who we are in relationship with others--in argument and in the sharing of thought.

But only with those committed to the virtues. A liar, for example, who cannot admit to his or her own falsehoods, who claims--perhaps almost believes--the lies to be true, has the capacity to do great damage.

Seek out the virtuous friendship and shake off those who dangerously exhibit profligacy, uncontrol, unrighteousness, small-mindedness, and cowardice.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Running with the Iowa Goatsinger

AT RISE: IOWA GOATSINGER sits on platform upstage just off-right of CENTER with his guitar in hand.

(YOUNG MAN enters)

There are ghosts in Mount Revere,
the Iowa Goatsinger told me.
He showed them to me
when we were out running together one morning.


(IG waves)

Mount Revere is a town that thinks its streets make better sidewalks,
and this means often walking --
or running in my case --
past Mount Revere neighbors:
neighbors who may be out walking up to the Hickory-Stick-little-hippie-grocery-store-slash-deli
for a chicken wrap,
and then maybe across to the Diesel Coffeeshop with its jazz or indy music;
or neighbors who may be heading down to Stan's Tru Valu
to get groceries for the week;

or neighbors who are out walking or running just
because it feels good.

And passing others means greeting others, doesn't it?

But when I smile or nod or wave a hand as I go clopping by --
heart beating strong, music pounding a dance rhythm down the street for me --
they don't always return it.

Sometimes they look away,
or pointedly
look away --
like the tall, pretty woman who can be seen out around seven in the morning, rain or shine:
large-eyed, angular and attractive, sometimes smoking as she walks, never looking my way, and

She's not a ghost. Not yet.


It was a foggy morning when the Iowa Goatsinger went running with me.

(IG moves in some significant way in response)


The fog
was a cloud laying
lazy across the town.

It was a good morning for ghosts.

I didn't know that when I stepped off my front porch and to the sidewalk.

(mimes putting on headphones, pushing PLAY, and then running for a bit)

Twenty mother-
huffing minutes later and
I was just coming around the
big curve off the new development --
you know, behind the
gravel business, just up from the skatepark built in the shadow
of the old high school up on the hill --
when I first saw it:

the ghost.

It was a ghost.

(stops running. pause)

It was.

had the form
of a gray man:

and solid-looking.

Its back was to me --
it was moving down the slope of the street, head cocked strangely
to one side.


The Goatsinger -- geek that he is --
that's when he decides to remind me of the stories of Theseus --
yeah --
and his first journey to Athens.

And okay,
maybe this was the ghost of the monster Periphetes,
this giant
with a club.

Maybe this gray
was just waiting for me to get close enough so it could turn,
raise up,
it's mouth splitting wide and jagged,
and lift this big-ass ax all at once!
-- up in its left hand!
-- already swinging it back over its right shoulder!
-- already burying itself --
in my guts.

When the fog burned off I wouldn't just be found beaten up,
I'd be found in pieces
at the corner of the skate park.

(miming running again)

I came running up behind the ghost and thinking my monster-thoughts,
John Lennon kicking into an old rock and roll song in my head.

And I'm thinking:
"I just happen to be running this way,
nothing to worry about
Gray Man; just –"
When the gray man suddenly stopped --
and I found myself jumping suddenly --

(mimes jumping in slow motion past the gray man)

there's something in its hand --

and I was past.

(mimes hitting the ground and running back to full speed)

At the corner of the park,
rather than just plunging down the cement path beside the creek
with its woods and shadows,

(turning sideways -- facing STAGE RIGHT)

I turned
so I could run the steep street that ran

(turning face forward)

up alongside the football field
and then up alongside
the old


(mimes running uphill -- very difficult)

At the top,
on the quiet side of Main Street, I turned

(turns sideways -- facing LEFT)

and began my descent down the slope that bottomed
at the cemetery.

It's a long, slow decline.
The houses give up
to the creek and the small woods.

And it was out from these small woods that the ghost again appeared --
still in the shape of the gray man --
head still strangely cocked at the object held in its right hand.

But I wasn't afraid this time.

Maybe it was because we were on the Main Drag of Mount Revere.
Although, at this end,
as it heads down to the cemetery
that doesn't mean much.

So maybe it must be because I saw
that this was not the ghost of some
ax murderer,
but only the lonely spirit
of a lonely man.

I pulled back my headphone so I could let him know I'd hear him if he spoke,
and I started past him.

(miming jumping by the gray man in slow motion)

But his head never came up.

We vaulted by him,
the Iowa Goatsinger and me,

(miming landing and running again at normal speed)

and we turned at the corner of the cemetery and disappeared

(turning UPSTAGE)

down another hill,
into the fog.

(pause in the monologue as YOUNG MAN mimes running -- turning LEFT, then FORWARD, then RIGHT, then FORWARD)

Few minutes later,
on the sidewalk down by Stan's Tru Valu,
I passed a woman jogging in the other direction.

I smiled and she smiled.

(YOUNG WOMAN enters from UPSTAGE discreetly and sits facing upstage on a stool next to IG)

And then I passed another ghost.
I think it was a ghost -- like a pretty lady with large eyes, angular and attractive,
it glanced at me and our eyes met --
that ghost and me --
and then we both looked quickly away.

There was this old rock and roll tune in my ears during all this --
Chuck Berry wrote it, John Lennon sang it --
the tune that carried me as I ran with the Goatsinger that morning
past the ghosts
of Mount Revere.