Friday, February 10, 2012

I am sitting at the dining room table of what is called "the VIP suite" at Bates College but that is, in fact, a sparse, spacious, sunny apartment of the old-fashioned 1930s double-decker variety. The refrigerator is stocked with an unnerving collection of little packets of cream cheese, and the kitchen cupboards feature many, many boxes of single-serving Froot Loops. I wouldn't have thought of Froot Loops as a VIP staple, but then again, my experience with VIPs is slight.

As reading material, I brought along Richard Holmes's fat biography of Shelley. Let's see what it has to tell us this morning:

[Thomas Love] Peacock remembered Shelley in the grip of "a sudden, violent, irresistible, uncontrollable passion," torn between loyalty to [S's wife] Harriet and love for Mary [Godwin]. "His eyes were bloodshot, his hair and dress disordered. He caught up a bottle of laudanum, and said: 'I never part from this.'" He also implies that Shelley considered suicide.

Well, that wasn't exactly what I expected to alight upon randomly . . . although for some reason it does reminds me of the Vietnamese TV show I was watching yesterday during lunch, which seemed to be a very low budget soap opera about Genghis Khan. It was quite odd, especially since the restaurant's canned-music track was simultaneously playing the soundtrack to The Godfather and the man at the table next to us sounded as if he were improvising an informercial ("Well, Tom, I can't speak too highly of this new Van Halen album . . . "). Meanwhile, the wait staff sat at another table contemplatively eating Oreos.

But back to Shelley: this is what middle school girls refer to as "drama!" on their Facebook statuses, which sounds reductive though it isn't. Drama is one of the fuels of youth, and I am nostalgiac for my own, though it was a misery at the time. Boys, you know who we are.

Last night at my Bates event I read aloud my invented tale of a bad college rock band and its not-invented sensation of the furious attachment among friends and lovers. I hadn't read it for years, and I forget if I've ever posted it here. The poem appears in Boy Land (Deerbrook Editions, 2004).

Liner Notes
           from the digital re-release of The Reckless Pedestrians Walk the Dog

 Dawn Potter

   1. Empty Bed Blues

We debuted in a dorm basement
painted dirt green,
with low ceilings and dollar beers.
All our songs were covers of Carpenters tunes

that the lead singer had learned in high school chorus.
We were trapped by the past—
the effervescent desires
of Casey Kasem,

the static buzz of AM radio.
What options did we have?
You hear folks bad-mouth the Carpenters,
but try to sing like Karen

if you’re a fat nineteen-year-old boy
with glasses and a narrow range.
Nothing works out the way you hope,
as we discovered that night,

the room emptying out fast, folding chairs
parked against the walls, blank as a bus station.
It was depressing,
but we’d read enough Kafka

to accept misfortune.
Confusion is chronic;
and anyway, only the Japanese
are doing Carpenters covers these days.

    2. Seven Day Fool

In the eighties the natural place for a girl
in a band was on bass,
except if you were the Go-Gos.
We were past that Linda McCartney-and-Wings shit.

In our yellow-curtained apartment
we embraced our instruments like babies,
trying to force three chords
into the lush harmonies

of Burt Bacharach.
The cat yowled; neighbors quarrelled
far into the night.  Only
when the drummer began fiddling

morosely with the zipper on Sticky Fingers
did the answer come to us,
the last notes of “Close to You” fading
swiftly into the forgotten past,

Mick Jagger’s threat to remove his trousers on stage
rising like a phoenix—oh, we were young,
and in love, and happy to take ours off too;
and we could play all the notes!

It was like seeing Rothko for the first time,
then turning to the nearest stranger
and shouting,
What the fuck have I been doing with my life?

    3. Look What Thoughts Will Do

The guitarist stored a tattered copy
of On the Road in his case
and randomly read aloud from it
between sets.  The bass player

toiled through every break;
her fingers toughened like a farmer’s,
while the guitarist, pacing,
intoned Kerouac at the ceiling:

“ . . . arc, pop out, brake in, run. . . .
Somewhere along the line the pearl. . . .
‘Terry,’ I pleaded with all my soul. . . . ”
The roadies kept quitting,

the bathrooms smelled like puke,
and even “Freebird” can get you down
on a rainy night in March,
far out in the Amish wasteland.

It was the gulag, but we were alive:
catching the last train to the city,
dropping our cases on the stairs,
rolling into bed at dawn

with the crows outside just starting
to quarrel and the garbage men
slamming their loads
in the tender morning light.

    4. Love Is the Drug

And here we all send our thanks
to Jon Bon Jovi for his good advice
about shopping-mall acoustics,
which served us so well in the years

spent traveling from one Ground Round
to the next, bodies fueled by Coors
and dry yellow popcorn, fan club asleep
on the jukebox, the rest of us pounding out

ballads at two a.m. like this was the last
honkytonk on earth, fluorescent lights
faltering off one by one: bulldozers
could be moving in from the west

to destroy the place by morning,
and only electricity would save us—
AC bleeding through the wires,
guitar solos fervent as Jesus,

drummer hunched over, dripping with sweat,
and the lead singer taking off his glasses
to rub his eyes, calm and exalted,
like Socrates waiting for hemlock.

    5. Baby Let’s Play House

Some say Walk the Dog is the worst album we ever made.
But intonation aside, this was a record about love:
the purest, most pop-driven kind—
four happy people in a band, kissing each others’ hands

on the train, waking up at noon,
eating cornflakes without milk and playing our record collection
in alphabetical order because that kind of asceticism
would make us great.

Listen to every Boston album, and you’ll soon learn
how much eleven-year-old boys crave beauty,
in whatever surreal form.
We had the big picture in our heads—

rock-and-roll as undergraduate abstraction:
life spent cheek to jowl,
the guitarist’s head in the drummer’s lap,
King Lear parked upside-down on a speaker,

unread, hissing and muttering under his breath,
all of us singing “Sweet Jane”
as if Lou Reed had written it with us in mind—
screeching so loud that the little girl next door

banged on the wall in ecstasy
while her parents, on their knees,
begged her to think hard, honey, and please,
please, remember where she’d hidden the Moped keys.

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