Diamond Dogs

david-bowie-001It’s rare that I begin a post with a quote from another medium, but the first paragraph of The New York Times’ Bowie obituary succinctly hits home the truth about the cultural significance of losing him:

David Bowie, the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter who taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images and personas, died on Sunday, two days after his 69th birthday. -Jon Parelles, NYT

I hit play on Spotify this afternoon to listen to Blackstar for the first time. Last Friday, I spent the day listening to KEXP.org because the independent Seattle station played Bowie albums all day in honor of his birthday and the coinciding release of Blackstar.

I am not sure if Bowie had been insignificant to me until I attended the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last winter, or if the magnitude of his significance and influence on my life became apparent only during the fully realized installation of his life, work, and magic. As a poet, I am inclined to honor the latter, the homage to what permeates, to the patterns that are good.

What I remember first is riding in the backseat of my parents’ car in Central Massachusetts during the late 80s listening to Rock 102, listening to “Space Oddity,” watching the stars out the back window of my mother’s Grand Am, imagining I was somewhere in space, with the music, with the lull of a song that took even children whimsically out of this world. It was the song I always hoped I would hear on car rides.

I had not loved The Labyrinth. As a child, for me, it paled in comparison to The Dark Crystal, my Henson, puppet movie love, but I do remember the labyrinth dinstictly, and made reference to it in my January 2015 New Year’s blog because my back porch looked like the scene from The Labyrinth, a mental note I had made the day I moved in to that apartment.

In small ways, extended over time, Bowie impacted my life.

I am terrible at collecting albums or even following great musicians’ work in any historical or collectible form, so I was unfamiliar with many of Bowie’s albums prior to the MCA  exhibit in Chicago. What enraptured me while walking through the exhibition was his brilliant marketing strategies, his understanding of human nature and mass culture, and his ability to capitalize and infatuate a generation (generations) of audiences, but not in an exploitive way. He exploited himself in varying creative performances, as both critic and contributor to culture, and that’s where his brilliance, his duality lies. His ability to be both/and, both consumer and magician.

KEXP played LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” during last Friday’s daylong Bowie tribute. I am prompted to listen to LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” as an interruption to Blackstar, a song I had not connected to Bowie until now, but listening I can hear a clear musical reference (even the video is a nod) to Bowie’s work.

David Bowie’s song “Nite Flights” sounds like the theme from Ghostbusters.

His song “Girls Love Me” on Blackstar reminds me of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch (“Where the fuck did Monday go?”).

I think so many people want to write about Bowie but they have nowhere to end. I don’t think it’s a matter of beginning. We know where we found him. I could talk about Bowie’s androgyny and my love for “Boys Keep Swinging,” which is the song I walked away loving most after the Bowie exhibition at the MCA. In 1979, Bowie was deconstructing sexism while dressing in drag in a music video. I could write an essay about that alone.

I honestly couldn’t tell you what prompted me to buy the magnet depicted below. I almost never buy tokens from art exhibitions and I couldn’t even pin what was most significant about it at the time, but I wanted one. It’s been on my fridge since December 2014, always to the top right corner of the freezer door. I almost sent it to my dad, but I couldn’t figure out why he would love Bowie or what he would need this magnet for.

And that’s Bowie’s magic. We don’t need a reason. We need magic.

Thank you, David Bowie, for the magic.



Upcoming Readings | April 11 & April 15

Anam Cara Storytellinganam_cara-april2015-BW
Irish American Heritage Center
Saturday, April 11

Since September 2014, I have spent most of my Thursday evenings at the memoir writing workshop at the Irish American Heritage Center. The workshops are lead by Oakton Community College Professor of English Virginia Gibbons and curated by the ever-commited and talented, Theresa Choske.

Anam Cara means soul friend. In these workshops, we bring what we can. We are informal, opening the second floor library doors each week to the working writer, the struggling writer, the young writer, the dreaming writer, the in-love writer, the grieving writer, the elder writer, the tired writer–any writer–to come to the table with a pen and paper and with what words, or lack of them, we are capable of carrying that day.

Anam Cara Storytelling is a celebration of the writing we have been capable of carrying for the past year. I will be reading about ghosts, as usual. Others will be reading about ghosts, too. I hope you’ll join us.


CHIRP Radio Presents: First Time, First Lie
Wednesday, April 15th

In 2012, I performed at CHIRP Radio‘s “First Time, First Digs” live lit event. I told a story about my first apartment in Massachusetts. I paired it with the Tom Waits’ song, “Hold On.” It was a magnificent experience and I am grateful to have the opportunity to read again at “First Time, First Lie” at Martyrs’ on April 15. I won’t tell you what my first lie is, but I can assure you it will open an inverted world of wonder, faith, curiosity, satire, church, and restitution. Please, do come.

The Audible Snail

   The Audible Snail on CHIRPRadio.org every Sunday  

   from Noon-2pm.

   Here is a sample playlist from today’s show. Send   
   requests and condemnations to CHIRPDJ@gmail.

1PM Hour

1:59 PMThe Fall Laptop Dog from Ersatz GB (Cherry Red)
PMStephen Malkmus & The Jicks Dragonfly Pie from Real Emotional Trash (Matador)
 PMRatatat Breakaway from Sun and Shade (XL)
 PMThe Dutchess and the Duke Let It Die from Sunrise/Sunset (Hardly Art)

1:40 PMConor Oberst Milk Thistle from Conor Oberst (Merge)
PMKid Koala Music For Morning People from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune)
 PMFiona Apple Extraordinary Machine from Extraordinary Machine (Epic)
 PMJEFF The Brotherhood Stay Up Late from We are the Champions (Stolen Recordings)
PMThe Riverdales Judy Go Home from The Riverdales (Lookout!)
PMZombi Time of Troubles from Escape Velocity (Relapse Records)
PMTom Waits In The Neighborhood from Swordfishtrombones (Island)
PMTori Amos Frog On My Toe from Talula (Atlantic)
PMJames Blake Measurements from James Blake (ATLAS)
PMDinosaur Jr. Ocean In The Way from Farm (Jagjaguwar)
PMNirvana Molly’s Lips from Incesticide (DGC)

12PM Hour

12:58 PM
L7 Shove from Tank Girl Soundtrack (Warner Bros./Elektra)
 PMRainer Maria Mystery and Misery from Long Knives Drawn (Polyvinyl)

12:46 PMSocial Distortion Winners and Losers from Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll (Time Bomb Recordings)
PMThe Mutts Pray For Rain from Real Bright (8eat8)
PMThe Kills The Last Goodbye from Blood Pressures (Domino)
PMAmon Tobin Piece of Paper from ISAM (Ninja Tune)
 PMThe Roots The OtherSide (featuring Bilal Oliver & Greg Porn) from undum (Def Jam)
PMDaft Punk Human After All from Human After All (Virgin)
 PMGogol Bordello Start Wearing Purple from Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike(SideOneDummy Records)
 PMFeist Graveyard from Metals (Cherrytree)
 PMWoods Be All Be Easy from Sun and Shade (Woodsist)
 PMFleet Foxes White Winter Hymnal from Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
 PMSarah and the Crosscuts Tighnioga from Gun Shopping With Clint Eastwood (Self-Released)

Hard At Work On Handmade Capes

I will be reading this Sunday at 7 p.m. at Center Portion as part of the Two With Water Rx Reading Series and the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival. The theme of the reading is Ten Years Gone, and I will be reading a short memoir that maps the movement of time wherein a series masquerades as a lifetime. 
If you happen to be at the Festival during the day on Saturday, be sure to stop by the CHIRP Radio table and say hello. I will be there from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. promoting independent Low Power FM Radio, because that’s important, too.

Oh, you will also find me here come August.

2009 Pitchfork Recap

Ok, so the subject link has absolutely nothing to do with the Pitchfork Music Festival, but holy crap! Mad collaboration. Atlas Sound/Panda Bear. I dig it, and am not surprised at all. Beautiful. Go listen.

I bailed on Pitchfork’s Friday night performances (seen Yo La Tango too many times, Tortoise I’ll see at the Bottle someday, Built to Spill has never enraptured me, and I am unfamiliar with The Jesus Lizard), however, Saturday and Sunday splashed Chicago’s Union Park with the traditional indie-pop, garage rock, hipster flock, hip-hop, and astoundingly talented closers, as always. 2008 Animal Collective stole my heart, 2009 Flaming Lips hit the stage just as the sky turned violet and the green burst from the trees.

Old church steeples and broken roof slates to the West, the Sears tower (with whatever dignity it has left) to the East, the Green Line to the North (rumbling behind Connector), and the city’s industrial South surrounds the small park off Ashland Avenue.

Disappears vanished on me for the second time this year on Saturday, as I arrived 30 seconds after their final song, definitely placing an annoying lull to the beginning of my day. Fucked Up’s hardcore came to my rescue, caressing anger, guitar screams necessary for a pissed off start, soon followed by the soft vocals and violin of Final Fantasy. Yeasayer’s rain soaked dance party opened my chest in late afternoon, refreshing the staggering agitation in the air: “I like this, though I have no idea where they are going with it,” is an accurate sentiment.

Doom offered much needed hip-hop beats, though somehow my heart was never quite into it. Squished in the mob by the tree at the Balance stage offered no view of the pop-punk duo Matt & Kim, but their positive optimism held strong until I was just able to see them by the time Daylight ended. The National enveloped my evening, and as much as they get slack, I enjoy their ethereal rock ballads – lullabies for the night time, daydreams for the soul.

When I locked up my bike at the South end of Union Park on Sunday, I couldn’t help but settle into the fence behind the Balance stage, sucked into Michael Columbia, an unexpected electronic exhilaration. If I had known, I might have arrived a little earlier in the day. I’m sad to have missed the memorial at Dianogah, opting for Frightened Rabbit, Chicago-loved Scottish rock band, instead. I’d had my heart set on some bad boys from Scotland since the morning, scratchy as Hutchison’s voice was during the set.

The afternoon was awash with no direction, so I opted for the art tent and record fair, favorites include: Clothespin, Soapbox Soaps, Circa Ceramics, CHIRP, 826CHI, Threadless, and the Active Transportation Alliance. I sat down for the end set of DJ/Rupture, but missed out on the dance party. Next I hit the power punk three-chord jumps of The Thermals, though I’d had enough of them by the time they busted out their Nirvana and Green Day covers. Sorry 1994.

Rainbow slicks in a mud puddle, The Walkmen pitter-pattered our hearts as Katie and I fell closer and closer to the stage. Though I somehow missed their earlier debuts, In The New Year’s “And my heart’s in the strangest place/And that’s how it started,” or even better, “Oh I’m just like you/I’ll never hear the bad news,” are two of the best verses I have ever heard, and Leithauser’s vocal delivery only adds to their profundity. M83 followed up with a good dance mix, however cut short due to my interest in the all woman punk/grunge trio, The Vivian Girls. It was good to see Ali Koehler rocking out on the drums, and simple, solid guitar, drum, bass riffs sail through the collective vocals of Cassie Ramone and Kickball Katy (that just sounds hot). Grizzly Bear neglect on my part early in their open soon led me to the trance understanding of why I napped to them last year, and why I followed my feet amicability this year – solid, seductive sound.

Finally the night turned to a surprising close as I was reluctant to stay for the Flaming Lips set, then enamored by their playfully ridiculous performance. You can’t beat three dozen giant balloons and cannons of confetti amidst a colorful backdrop, Wayne’s megalomania aside. I have also never seen them perform a disappointing show, so when song 25 on the request list was announced and I heard the beginning of Bad Days, my Pitchfork Festival $65 investment became immediately and undeniably worth it.

Eric and I settled on a 9:30 departure and headed toward the B stage to give a quick shout out to The Very Best, then fell into one of the most beautiful, unexpected moments of the entire weekend. For the first time since his death, I celebrated Michael Jackson’s contribution to music history. In memory of the late singer/songwriter, The Very Best sampled “Will You Be There,” pressing through the speakers and into our feet. We danced and pedaled to our bicycles, closing the 2009 Pitchfork gate behind us, reminding us –


I like the way the days form structure around the weather. The lift and breath of weekends long awaiting late night conversations next to camp fires or Sherman’s Grillin’ Beans (since 1908). Waking up to Wilco and songs that orchestrate memory and good freedom. Last night Pressure Drop picked up a broken wing and I danced alone along the brick patio, quietly for awhile till the air shift and everyone shuffled inside to darts, poker, and baseball. I rode home slowly, empty cookie tin and change of clothes in my backpack, taking routes through the city that have become my backyard.

A month ago I demanded summer, wanted the fresh expulsion of lawn mowers and people in parks. People talk on subways and say hello on sidewalks and dance on subway platforms when the train takes so long. The good things about the quadruple seasons: there’s always room to change, always room to recede and progress. The months in the Midwest are longer, the politics structured, breakable, but home. I miss being cupped by the rolling hills and open pleasure of the east, the easy going nature of anger: forgivable. But I like the yellow grains of the prairie, the flat lands that express outward space. There’s too much room to grow, but so much room to maintain open. I am distracted by the city, by an inability to close up shop. Socialization that bridges networks like high tension wires that don’t cause headaches, or sever the ones that do.

It is May, near June rolling into July. I plaster a stamp on the month that says middle, listen to the yellow finches that hide in the trees when I look for them. It it summer, it is four weeks away. It is the best time to fly east, to camp out with family in backyards missed since Christmas, or the fourth of July.

I cry for the calm rest of the Atlantic, the breaking waves against the Norther Maine bays. The carriage of routes and rocks and conifers and the highways you know without a compass, the directions you close your eyes to find. Travel blindfold through the tops of mountain ridges, hawks circle the clouds around you.

When you look out you see no houses, just trees like cushions ready to catch you if you fall.


The most important lists. The most necessary accompaniments. We write them for friends and call them mix tapes, mix CD’s. Begin poems, fall in love over them. The last song scrolls in with the credits, a soft caress upward, a crash bound for explosion, closing time.

I forget how much I like Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, or Tom Waits on a sad day. Songs we play on repeat because we are comforted by their softening, empowered by their fury, use them to call focus to typing, sink the heart back to a place that is human, running circles in the turmoil. 

Songs that sneak up behind you because they are new, or old ones that are better at it. 

Walking down city streets, I stumble onto an old song under hotel speakers, a pop hit from the 1930’s. The Lion Sleeps Tonight and I walk under those speakers for as long as I can, confessedly springing in my step.

When I descend to the train platform, there are days I want to hear the subway musicians, bank on them being there to give at least a little comfort:

Don’t know much about history,
Don’t know much ‘a biology,
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the French I took…

There is not a day goes by I wouldn’t give a dollar to hear that song, or the slow, discordant notes of Oh Susannah on an old violin. The recognition and kindness in eyes. The remote interaction of exchange.

And these are not old songs. They are songs we grew up with, tuck ourselves into bed with, cry every time we hear.

We can’t get through You Are My Sunshine without weeping. Every generation sings it to their children. I’ve heard its soft hum in pools on mountain tops, surprised by its familiarity, its capacity to ease.

For years, I rejected the hippie enclave of the Grateful Dead. Instead, I opted for The Queers, Blank 77, The Cramps, Operation Ivy, Screeching Weasel, The Dead Milkmen (just me and god, watching scottie die), Propagandhi. There was something about being rudely underground, slanderous, and angry (when i got the music, i gotta place to go). Dreams of growing up in Orange County, or a slum in San Franscisco. Songs that supported political advocacy and left wing politic tendencies, helping to develop an articulate, pointed manner, the ability to drop into both the poetic and the obscene.

And we wonder if these songs will change as we get older. If our punk rock ballads or electronic urban beats cascade into slower days, or if ska on a hum-drum summer eve crawls out into the rubble of old age.

Or if we start exchanging mix iPod’s or Shuffles or MP3s, or if at this rate, we’ll never get there. 

If we keep dancing the arctic might stop melting. We’ll continue to close our eyes to the acoustics, hoping to find melodies that will sooth our longing, hoping one more cheesy pop song will lighten our step, one more techno beat will pick up our feet, move our hips to the exotic pound of percussion, the silence of orchestra, a sound that closes our eyes to the empty, cold, working towards a song we can’t remember, but hold on the tip of our tongue for days.