by José Angel Araguz
Episode 3: Poetic Interludes with Rockstars
[prologue: Counting Crows with Peteroy]
On the first of December, Associate Editor Don Peteroy walked into the Cincinnati Review office and made a casual reference to the song he had in his head that morning, “A Long December” by the Counting Crows. It was the kind of perfect, totally unexpected yet apt thing to bring up, not only because it was the beginning of the month but because mentioning the song brought up the opening lines:
A long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
These lines pretty much summed up the air of the end-of-semester/season change happening around me then. Most of the leaves that were going to fall had fallen; the rest were either hanging there dried and stubborn (like memories of 90’s songs) or hidden within the stark branches waiting for spring.
Don being our resident rock star musician, this interlude got me thinking about rock stars in general, how much of what lives beyond their music is often the musician’s own humanly perfect and totally unexpected yet apt things said either in concert or interview.
[interlude one: Bono]
It’s like landing a 747 onto your front lawn
This statement was said by U2’s Bono during an impromptu concert in December of 2000. The band had set up at the Irving Plaza in New York City, a venue whose capacity is capped at 1,000. For a band that can sell out stadiums on back-to-back dates worldwide, Bono’s simile rides a fine line between hyperbole and truth.
Whatever else (good, bad, South Park) can be said about the man, I have been a big fan of Bono the artist since I was a kid. I’m talking albums, but also books, magazine interviews, bootlegs, etc. I actually heard the quote above via a live radio broadcast of the concert that I recorded (on cassette, no less). When asked in college for tips on how to introduce a fellow poet at a reading, I have been quoted as saying, “You gotta be all Bono about it,” meaning you have to go up and share your enthusiasm and admiration for the work of a fellow artist, really bring forth those personal connections you feel. Here’s Bono himself demonstrating at Bob Marley’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
I know claiming Bob Marley as Irish might be a little difficult here tonight, but bear with me. Jamaica and Ireland have a lot in common. Naomi Campbell, Chris Blackwell, Guinness, a fondness for little green leaves – the weed…
But I must come back to the artist himself. There’s a quote I’ve carried with me for about seventeen years now, writing it on the first page of every notebook I’ve had in that time along with other quotes that inspire me at the page. The following words come from an interview during the promotion for All That You Can’t Leave Behind:
…the ability to surrender, to give yourself, either in reverie or revelry. And the journey of the artist is surely the journey away from self-consciousness.
Words like these bring forth the man behind those infamous sunglasses. I keep these words with me for what they say about what I experience working on poems. Whether it’s working toward a first draft or pushing myself into a fifteenth draft, the journey to the next words is exactly “the journey away from self-consciousness.”
[interlude two: Shakira]
Ahora vamos a ponerle un poquito de sabor a guacamole a la noche
[And now we’re going to add a little taste of guacamole to the night]
Shakira spoke these words during her classic MTV Unplugged set as she introduced the mariachi band Los Mora Arriaga. Together, they then performed her song “Ciega, Sordomuda” restyled as traditional mariachi song. To boot, the song’s breakdown had the singer and band snap into a Ramon Ayala-worthy Tejano beat.
My reaction as a seventeen-year-old brown kid in South Texas: *swoon.*
What is swoon-worthy about this performance is the tip of the hat to both Mexican as well as Mexican-American culture via the mariachi/Tejano mix. Here is Colombian rock star Shakira fusing together two Latinidades vital to North American Latin@s. Furthermore, what is poetic about this performance is summed up in the casual cool of Shakira’s statement above. In the quick analogy hinting at the nature of things to come, Shakira is being “all Bono about it.”
I found myself echoing some of Shakira’s swagger recently as I described my latest book as taking the prose poem and adding a little more guacamole and South Texas to it. If Shakira comes looking for me, tell her Bono made me do it.
[epilogue: a cento for David Bowie]
I had written the first half of this post in December, before the winter break. Coming back to it this week, I realize I can’t write about rock stars and their apt and unexpected human moments without honoring the memory of David Bowie.
Lunatic’s Lyric – José Angel Araguz
a cento for David Bowie composed of one line from the last songs on each of his albums
Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
of tombstones, epitaphs, wreaths, flowers, all that jazz,
where sad-eyed mermen tossed in slumbers
sighing, the swirl through the streets.
Like the leaf clings to the tree:
Share bride failing star
through morning’s thoughts and fantasies.
And the clock waits so patiently on your song.
She’ll lay belief on you;
Please heal these tears.
Let it be like yesterday,
with just a hint of mayhem
that burns your change to keep you insane.
That a man is not a man,
and it’s no game:
It’s the place that I know well.
You chew your fingers and stare at the floor.
Buildings they rise to the skies.
Made for a real world,
we scavenge up our clothes
with the sound of the ground.
So I’ll spin while my lunatic lyric goes wrong.
Trapped between the rocks,
black eyed ravens
stab me in the dark, let me disappear,
seeing more and feeling less.
“Memory of a Free Festival” “Please Mr. Gravedigger” “The Supermen” “The Bewlay Brothers” “Wild is the Wind” “Subterraneans” “The Secret Life of Arabia” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” “Lady Grinning Soul” “Untitled no. 1″ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” “Big Brother” “Fame” “Red Money” “It’s No Game (part 2)” “Shake It” “Dancing with the Big Boys” “Bang Bang” “Heathen” “Strangers When We Meet” “Law (Earthlings on Fire)” “Lucy Can’t Dance” “Heat” “The Dreamers” “Bring Me the Disco King” “I Can’t Give Everything Away”