All posts by Ghost Writer

Arizona Enthusiast. Writer. Rider. Dreamer.

The Poetry of Violence

As Marilyn Manson wrote, in his once again incredibly pertinent essay Columbine: Whose Fault is It? originally published in the June 1999 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine: “Times have not become more violent. They have just become more televised.”

Violence in our society, whether we are talking about the violence of mass shootings, domestic violence, the violence of war, or the inherent violence built into the class structure – is everywhere we look and the effects of violence surround us and inform our daily lives.

All of us, as human beings, are affected by the unpleasant fact that we share the world with twisted and/ or traumatized individuals. Many of us have come into direct contact with that kind of violence, in one way or another.

Movements like #blacklivesmatter and the #metoo phenomenon are just two examples of just how pervasive the aftermath of violence, and the current condition of our culture’s obsession with it, continually affect people’s lives.

I have always seen poetry as the language of pure human emotion. This is certainly not the best definition, as it leaves many aspects of poetry, and what makes words written as verse – poetic, out and unaccounted for.

This, in and of itself is a cause of great debate in poetry circles, as a poet and teacher colleague of mine and I are fond of discussing. William Wordsworth, easily on my short list of favorite poets of all time, defines poetry as follows: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility” – Lyrical Ballads. This definition, itself, has been the cause of great debate, and it is central to a discussion on the value of poetry composed as an emotional outcry from the effects of violence. Under the most lax analysis of this definition, Walt Whitman’s ‘barbaric “Yawp” is poetry. However, is that resounding, clarion call, affirmation of life, deep and penetrating “Yawp!” a poem? Did it, take its origins from emotion recollected in tranquility? No. The writing of the poem, Song of Myself, in all of its parts, however, certainly is.

In a few months, my poetry collection Kindred Spirits & Mirrored Souls will be released on Ghost Writer Press. It is a labor of love for me in many ways, and central to this debate and ongoing conversation in two specific ways. First: my friend Rhonda and I were very good friends from childhood through adulthood. We were constantly sharing our poems with each other as we were growing up, and both of us had a deep love of poetry. We had always dreamed of putting a poetry book together that showcased both of our works, colliding and juxtaposed over various topics. The root of our discussion lay at Wordsworth’s definition of poetry. In truth, I had a hard time seeing value in many of Rhonda’s pieces, as she took Wordsworth literally, at his most liberal interpretation.  Second: ten years ago, this June, my friend took her own life.  Afterwards, her family gave me a suitcase full of her poems, left almost like Emily Dickinson, on scraps of papers, envelopes, notebooks, everywhere her mind spilled onto paper.  The book is more of a reflection of two journeys, one that ended in tragedy, and the other that is still surviving tragedies like bullets, and trying to process them.  I am not sure if it is good… but I do think that it is poetry.

My aforementioned colleague, a poet from Tucson, Jefferson Carter, would certainly define most of my friend’s work as the poetry of a child that ought not be published. In response to an article published by the Sun-Sentinel entitled, Parkland Freshman Turns to Poetry to Ease Her Pain, Jefferson got some quite heated response from his original posting of the article on social media.  To be fair, I include it here not to throw Jefferson under the bus, but to use him as a very real, and vital, voice on the edge of this spectrum that we are discussing.  Is poetry valid, if poetry is everywhere?  Is poetry an art, if it is something that anyone and everyone can do?  Does society placing value on that which is more ordinary, harm the value of those ideas that are more complex and precisely honed?  Is the news less valuable if anyone and everyone can be a “journalist” on the Internet?  These are all valid questions, and a perspective that Jefferson had the courage to voice.

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A few years ago, I wrote a poem about the Tucson shooter for my own private “healing.” [The shooter he mentions is Jared Loughner, and the shooting he is referencing is the January 2011 shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.]  He was a good friend’s student at Pima Community College. I didn’t post it or try to publish it. Why? Because it felt like exploiting the pain and suffering of others, like turning a spotlight on my own precious feelings.”


Carter continues: “And tell me this: as the Parkland story disappears from the news and we wait for the next school shooting, do you think the “Sun-Sentinel” newspaper will be printing a poem about the same topic by an established, professional poet that is complex, skillful,and deeply emotional? Fuck, no! Easy sensationalism sells. And, perhaps, as a poet friend suggests, bad poetry drives out good poetry.”

A reader responded, basically summing up the liberal interpretation of Wordsworth, “Do you want to know why it’s good, even if it isn’t groundbreaking poetry? It’s an earnest, honest, heartbreaking experience, that no teen should ever have to endure, and this is an outlet for her to express how she feels. What kind of shit were you writing in your teen years? I’d wager it isn’t going in any Canon.”

Jefferson continued his argument: “It may be a sincere effort to express her feelings though why she has to “pretty” them up in rhyming verse, I have no idea. I also have no idea why she’d want a newspaper to print them. Groundbreaking? The question still needs to be answered: why post such poetic attempts or let someone else post them? The author must think the poem is good enough to “share.” Or if one simply wants to “share” his/her “feelings,” why cast them in verse?”

The following day, Jefferson reposted the article, with the following message:

“Well, I was right. I got LOTS of grief for my comments. I get it, the outrage about my insensitivity, etc. The best I can do to justify my position is a somewhat strained analogy: an earnest teenager with no background in law hangs out a shingle and takes on a civil rights case. A local newspaper praises the “lawyer’s” dedication to social justice. The legal community echoes the praises and trashes any lawyer who points out the imposter’s lack of qualifications and legal skill.”

In essence, and please, in regards to poetry which is the topic here, Jefferson is making the hard-line argument of the Wordsworth interpretation. The more mediocre poetry is praised as groundbreaking, the less value is placed on crafted poetry. T.S. Eliot would approve. I remember when I used to teach parts of The Wasteland in college, I would draw specific reference to Eliot’s own reaction to criticism about the sheer number of footnotes required to understand the poem. The sentiment is echoed perfectly on the student site, SHMOOP.com:

Yep, there’s no getting around it: “The Waste Land” can be one tough cookie to read. The poem constantly shifts between different speakers without warning, and it’s chock full of references to classic literature from cultures all over the world, many of which are more than a little obscure. Which raises the question, why oh why would Eliot want his poem to be so hard to read? Well, like many writers of his time (so-called modernists), he felt that Western culture was headed to hell in a handbasket, and that people were getting dumber and dumber (it’s a good thing he didn’t live to see the days of Conveyor Belt of Love). So basically, his message to readers was: “Hey, if you don’t understand what I’m talking about in this poem, go to a library!” 

As is evident, the debate between the purely academic {used here as a descriptor of one who sees poetry and verse as an exploration of craft, language, and finesse} side of poetry and the purely emotional side of it has been raging for well over a hundred years, and will certainly continue to be debated for as long as human beings write verse. Kindred Spirits & Mirrored Souls attempts to give a view into the actual poems of that debate – not to say that mine are immediately more important or of more value than Rhonda’s: we simply come from different areas of the Wordsworth spectrum.

This brings the argument full circle to once again rest on the question, is there value in the poetry of violence?

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On the first Sunday of February, I was sitting listening to the other Open Mic readers at The House of Bards in Tucson. One gentlemen got up and read a piece, and I really wish that I had a copy of it, about Vietnam, and its repetitive refrain haunted me: “and the farmers kept farming the rice”. The poem described the sheer volume of war, of guns, of helicopters… and the farmers kept farming the rice. I loved it, and I couldn’t help but think of the number of veterans that may be enrolled in workshops for just this purpose. Poetry can help heal the traumas of past violent events. Should it be shared?

The National Association of Poetry Therapy, obviously would say yes.

“Not I, but the poet discovered the unconscious,” wrote Freud. Other theoreticians, such as Adler, Jung, Arieti and Reik also confirmed that the poets were the first to chart paths that science later followed. Moreno suggested the term “psychopoetry,” as well as the term “psychodrama”, for which he is famous. By the 1960s, with the progressive evolution of group psychotherapy, therapists were delighted to discover that “poetry therapy” was an effective tool which they felt comfortable incorporating into their work. Poetry Therapy began to flourish in the hands of professionals in various disciplines, including rehabilitation, education, library science, recreation, and the creative arts.  

Mental health professionals were exploring the therapeutic value of literary materials, especially of poetry. Their contribution to the emerging discipline was two-fold: 1) emphasis on the evocative value of literature, particularly poetry; and 2) recognition of the beneficial potential of having clients write either their response to poems written by others or original material, drawing on the clients’ own experiences and emotions.”

In Psychology Today, Linda Wasmer Andrews writes:

“Back in 1982, the first piece of writing I ever sold was a poem called “The Miscarriage,” which originally appeared in Mothering magazine. The poem was a simple but heartfelt response to my own pregnancy loss. It had been a first-trimester miscarriage, so medically and societally, it was almost a nonevent. But emotionally, it felt like a significant loss, and this poem was my way of mourning it. Apparently, the poem spoke to other women as well, because it has been widely republished ever since, appearing in magazines and anthologies, on websites and blogs, and, most recently, in condensed form in Twitter tweets.  Did writing this poem help me feel better? Absolutely, and that was true from the moment I put it to paper, which was well before I ever showed it to anyone or submitted it for publication. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was instinctively practicing poetry self-therapy as a means of helping myself grieve.”

On her site, Healing from Complex Trauma and PTSD, Lilly Hope Lucario shares several poems that she says have “touched the heart of other trauma survivors”.

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When I was in college, one of the most interesting segments we covered in one of my poetry classes was The Poetry of World War I. No Internet. No Cell Phones. No Telephones. No Video Games. No way to escape… so they wrote poems. They wrote them in the trenches and they wrote them in letters. It was a heart breaking, and wonderfully human, and raw segment of the class. More recently, NPR did a special on an Iraq War Veteran who used poetry to process his ordeals in the Middle East.

“Brian Turner is a soldier-poet who served for seven years in the U.S. Army. Beginning in November 2003, he was an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. His book, Here, Bullet, reflects his war-time experiences in graceful and unflinching poetry. Turner tells Steve Inskeep about the military tradition in his family and why he joined the Army when he was almost 30. He reads selected poems from his collection and reflects on what inspired them. One poem, Eulogy, was written to memorialize a soldier in his platoon who took his own life.

It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,

as tower guards eat sandwiches

and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.

Prisoners tilt their heads to the west

though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.

The sound reverberates down concertina coils

the way piano wire thrums when given slack.

And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,

when Private Miller pulls the trigger

to take brass and fire into his mouth:

the sound lifts the birds up off the water,

a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,

and nothing can stop it now, no matter what

blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices

crackle over the radio in static confusion,

because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,

and Private Miller has found what low hush there is

down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.

PFC B. Miller

(1980-March 22, 2004)”

The Poetry Foundation lists not only a wonderful selection of wartime poetry and prose on their website HERE, but they also have a fantastic selection of World War I poetry that is very reminiscent of the class that I took at Arizona State University:

While many of these poems do not address a particular war event, we’ve listed them by year, along with a selection of historical markers, to contextualize the poems historically. You may notice that more poems in 1914 and 1915 extol the old virtues of honor, duty, heroism, and glory, while many later poems after 1915 approach these lofty abstractions with far greater skepticism and moral subtlety, through realism and bitter irony. Though horrific depictions of battle in poetry date back to Homer’s Iliad, the later poems of WWI mark a substantial shift in how we view war and sacrifice.” 

“If the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago had turned a different direction, then poet and writer Brian Clements’ wife Abbey, a teacher, might now be dead. She was spared; 26 people were killed.”  PBS did a special on NewsHour after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School:  His wife worked at Sandy Hook.  Now this poet is helping start a conversation about gun violence.

After that, a lot of other things happened, but it doesn’t really matter what,” writes Clements, of a day when so many lives were torn apart. That’s the last line of his poem in “Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence,” an anthology on gun violence in America published near the anniversary of the shooting.

The day was devastating for the hometown and the concentric circles of impact, the people who were there that day and the families of children who died,” said Clements, who is one of three editors on the anthology and recruited several voices to write reflective essays in response to the works. The shooting “changed our lives that day, and we became activists.”

Twenty children and six adults were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. Earlier this month, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard an appeal by relatives of Sandy Hook victims, arguing that companies who sold weapons used by the gunman should be held responsible.

The anthology includes 54 poems about gun violence in the U.S., from poets including Jane Hirshfield, Natalie Diaz and Danez Smith, and at least six pieces that are original to the collection. Each work is followed by commentary and reaction from survivors, activists and writers, including a foreword by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a gunshot wound to the head in 2011.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 56,851 incidents in 2017, 327 of which are considered mass shootings. As of Dec. 4, 14,331 people have died in the U.S. in 2017 due to gun violence.

I’ve always been in favor of varying degrees of gun control,” said Clements. “Sadly, it took the murder of 26 people in my hometown to light a fire under me and I think a lot of Americans find themselves in this position. We are quickly reaching a point where everyone in this country will be close to gun violence and it takes something like Sandy Hook or the Las Vegas shooting to make us pay attention to it.”

The anthology is a tool for a larger conversation on gun violence and empathy for survivors, Clements said. The editors of the anthology will also create public reading events in an effort to involve people in more direct action about gun violence. A book discussion will be held at the Boston Public Library on Dec. 13 featuring a selection of  contributors.

From the outset we didn’t want this to be a literary project; we wanted this to be a project of the American community… a conversation amongst Americans,” Clements said.

One poem that especially stands out to Clements is Dana Levin’s “Instructions for Stopping,” a poem about domestic violence, which has been linked to several mass shootings in recent years. The response to the poem is written by Kate Ranta, a survivor of domestic violence. “One of the untold stories is how many women die at the hands of their partners,” Clements said.

Instructions for Stopping

By Dana Levin

Say Stop.

Keep your lips pressed together

after you say the p:

(soon they’ll try

and pry

your breath out—) 

Whisper it

three times in a row:

Stop Stop Stop

 

In a hospital bed

like a curled-up fish, someone’s

gulping at air—

How should you apply

your breath?

List all of the people

you would like

to stop.

Who offers love,

who terror—

Write Stop.

Put a period at the end.

 

Decide if it’s a kiss

or a bullet.

 Instructions for Stopping” by Dana Levin, with a response from Kate Ranta, Domestic and Gun Violence Survivor and Cofounder of Women Against the Violence Epidemic. Excerpted from Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence  edited by Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader, with an introduction by Colum McCann (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with Permission from Beacon Press.

Kate Angus writes, in 2014, Americans love poetry, but not Poetry Books: 

People often dismiss poetry by saying it only matters to other poets, but a few minutes spent sifting through the Favorite Poem Project’sonline archives proves otherwise; these short documentaries present a wide range of Americans—salesmen, construction workers, bakers, nuns, anthropologists, accountants, Marines, and Bill Clinton—reading aloud their favorite poems. To listen to photographer Seph Rodney talk about coming home from a disappointing date to find solace for his loneliness in reading the caustic urgency of Sylvia Plath’s“Nick and the Candlestick” poem, despite his surprise that this woman from a “well-heeled New England family” could speak to “me, a man, a Jamaican immigrant—you could hardly get two people in the world more different” is to understand how false the misconception of poetry’s irrelevance is. Robert Pinsky, founder of the Favorite Poem Project, stresses that the organizers didn’t solicit participants; rather they sent out a call for people to apply to share the poems that moved them. “I’m very proud that the Favorite Poem Project didn’t tell anyone to read poetry; we asked people,” said Pinksy, “We had no advertising budget so every time I was interviewed as poet laureate, whenever I published anything anywhere, I asked [them] to advertise it. I used to give the cards to cab drivers and we got 18,000 letters from people who wanted to participate and read their favorite poem on camera.” Poetry Foundation president Robert Polito offers a similar anecdote to illustrate the value people outside the literary community ascribe to poetry, mentioning how a friend who teaches at a military academy frequently receives letters from former students, soldiers who tell her that “the experience of interpreting poems in her class proved the best preparation for the complex and ambiguous circumstances they encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan” 

As I have often made the argument before, I will make it again now, Music is the most prolific voice of popular poetry.  This is not to say that all lyrics from all musicians are poetic, but to immediately discount the value of poetry that does exist within the canon of world music, would be remiss. In Can Poetry Change Your Life,   A Critic at Large writes in the New Yorker in July 2017:

“You also need to concede that the experience cools fairly quickly, and Robbins is alert to that, too. “No one has ever changed his life because of a poem or song,” he says in a chapter on metal, with reference to Blake, Milton, Rilke, William Empson, Peter Sloterdijk, Ozzy Osbourne, and Kant. “Changing your life is for Simone Weil or the Buddha. The rest of us need German poetry and Norwegian black metal because they provide the illusion that we are changing, or have changed, or will change, or even want to change our lives.” I don’t completely agree, but it’s a wise caution.  Another advanced-pop premise is that everything is happening now. Springsteen and Dylan speak to our current condition, and so do Boethius and Sappho. “

Are we seeing a new age of poetry dawning… has the new millennium brought its own new title to the chain of movements throughout history… the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment the Enlightenment gave way Modernism….. Modernism to Post-modernism…. are we seeing the dawn of a new age?

Regardless….. I think here, in the final analysis…. at the very least, we can agree that poetry, is necessary.

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Keep the Greasy Side Down, my Friends!

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Autumn Harley & the Indian Ghost – Ride for the Wild Horses

The 3rd Annual Ride for the Salt River Wild Horses – Apache Junction, Arizona

There is something about growing up, developing a love of reading, being a certain age, and horse stories.  A friend of mine posted a question the other day on Facebook asking what books first opened the door to literature to us, and why did that book have that effect.  It was surprising to me how many people, especially of my generation, mentioned Walter Farley and his Black Stallion book series.  Marguerite Henry, with her Misty of Chincoteague Island series, as well as her books based on historical horses, Man o War, King of the Wind, Black Gold, and Brighty of the Grand Canyon, is another beloved young adult writer who discovered this passion among so many readers.

My grandfather had always had a dream of having a horse on his property for each of his grandchildren.  It was something he valued, cherished, and felt deeply devoted to.  Eventually, he would begin to see that some dreams do not translate into reality very easily.  Grandchildren live far away, they do not get to visit as often as perhaps one had hoped, and horses are a lot of work.  However, I was one of the first grandchildren, and thus got to see the dream begin.

My grandfather, Papa, bought me a wild mustang that had been running with a herd south of the Chiricahua Mountains and ranging into Mexico.  When the herd was caught, they were brought to auction, and my grandfather often told me the story of how that little Smoky horse captured his soul.

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Papa too, loved horses.  He was raised around horses.  He rode horses to school.  Chasing wild horses, and watching them from the top of ridges were realities to him.  One book he gave me, and told me always captured his true love of horses, was Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James.  It was about a wild horse, a mousy dappled grey who never really became tame, but befriended a certain cowboy…. and when that cowboy had no more need of him… he released him.  The story always haunted me, and resonated in other tales that I too, came to love: Call of the Wild, and The Man from Snowy River.  My grandfather named that mustang Smoky after the memory of that fictional horse.

Smoky was my horse, but I could never ride him.  I sat on him a few times with my grandfather always close, and I saw the horse throw my father several times.  Smoky was never meant to be tamed, but my grandfather said he never saw a tougher horse.  “That little horse is tough as nails”, he would always say.

Something in the romance, and the magic, and the adventure of those stories stuck with me, and although my own “horses” have always been two wheeled V-Twins, I like to think that the passion for getting out, experiencing the world, and really seeing it the way we want to experience it… were passions both my grandfather and I share, and chased in our own ways.  After all… it was my grandfather who coined the term, keep the greasy side down…. at least for me.

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Something in me never lost my deep love of wild horses.  The dream of them.  The freedom of them.  The lost world that they symbolized.  The world of no fences, no brave cowboys, and no private property signs.  I have spent many mornings on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in the Black River Wilderness watching the wild horses.  Laying silently, and in awe, like my grandfather must have done so many times, watching the stallions circle their mob of mares and whistle their screaming clarion calls.

There are a few things that no matter how many times you see them, they can still take your breath away; wild horses are one of these things.

The wild horses of the Lower Salt River Wilderness Area are one of the last wild bands of mustangs in Arizona, and they are often the subject of much heated debate in the Arizona legislature.

The history of the Salt River Wild Horses is somewhat disputed, but easily proven if one looks deeper into history than a letter written in the mid 70s alleging that the wild horses were let loose by ranchers no longer wanting to care for the animals.  In fact, an article written in January of 1890 calls the mustangs living along the lower salt as “native creatures” meaning at least five generations which would put them well back into the 1700s.  The full history of the horses, as well as the aforementioned articles are included at the Salt River Wild Horse Management Site devoted to the history of the animals.

The ongoing argument tends to fluctuate around the heavily used Salt River, and attached lakes as recreational areas, the safety concerns involved with a herd of wild horses because of this human encroachment, and the environmental needs of the animals themselves.

There is wide political support for the protection of the mustangs, but continual legislation abounds in regards to their protection versus the further development of the facilities in the Lower Salt River Recreation Area.

The bottom line, is that all politics aside… we are quite a huge stain on the world – us humans.  We are insatiable in our desire to explore our world and to be able to experience all she has to offer.  But… there are a ton of us human things…. and we take up a great deal of space.

There are costs.  Sometimes, we need to be reminded of them.

The purpose of the yearly ride, organized by The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group and Harley-Davidson of Apache Junction, is to generate continual awareness of this symbolically important issue and to continue to keep the pressure on the State to provide for the mustang’s protection.  This year, the ride also coincided with my birthday, so once again, my good friend Jason rode Autumn, his Harley Blackline down from Winslow and we met up at the American Legion in Fountain Hills – to ride  to donate to a great cause – to continually – daily – keep the greasy side down.

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Until Next Time My Friends…

 

 

With a Little Help From my Friends…

The Evolution of the Modern Artist/ Entrepeneur

Music, as well as most forms of art, is an interesting business.  Remember BMG, or Columbia Record Club?  I do.  Ah, the 90s.  Out of cassette tapes, and in with the easy to produce, speedy compact disc.  They were the rage, sign up with a club, get 10 cds for like nothing, then buy a few, stop the membership.  Do it again.  Where do you think most of my music came from?

As I have been going through Ghost Writer Radio, scanning and posting shots of the incredible music library I keep on my phone, I have noticed a few things that are very telling.  You find bands all over the place, through the late 80s, 90s, and into the 2000s that got record deals, released a couple of albums, and then vanished.  They are everywhere.  Why?  What about the business created so many record deals, but created so few lasting impressions?  Whereas nowadays, indie bands are doing all of the groundwork of the first two or three albums completely on their own, just for a chance to get noticed.  It is a completely different system.

It took some time, for the record labels to come to terms with the speed with which technology changed our music culture. Streaming came along with law suits, and Napster and file sharing eventually gave way to Pandora and Spotify.  When it comes to art, the entire purpose of representation began to shift, and perhaps it is the most obvious in the music industry.

Let’s take a time machine… back to the fifties, back to Sun Records, back to the golden age of radio.  What was the purpose of a record label?  Exposure.  The purpose for label representation was funding to make your music, and exposure to get it listened to on the radio waves.  Fast forward about sixty years.  Most of what a label did for an artist, is now possible to do yourself, and this has changed the way fans experience music, changed the way artists release music, and it has very much changed the time it takes to get signed to a major label.  Well…. unless you get a million views on Youtube watching you sing in a bathroom.

When you think about music in this context, think of the popularity an artist has to build on their own, before a record label is even on the skyline.  Look at acts coming out of the late 70s.  Depeche Mode.  The Cure.  The Smiths.  Echo and the Bunnymen.  The Cult.  Metallica.  Guns n Roses.  The Rolling Stones.  The Beatles.  The list goes on and on.  These folks were all kids… when a record label hit. 

Depeche Mode was playing covers of Bowie’s Heroes, in local Discotheque clubs… and had a label before the band members were 22.  The Cure, same thing.  Over and over again.  Look at the bands now…. mid 20s, mid 30s…. and still plowing along, waiting for that first break. 

Go back thirty years, bands were touring the world on less street cred than today’s average indie band.

Even if major representation is in the game plan, or potentially on the horizon, the average artist is much more of a business entrepreneur right out of the gates, than they have ever had to be before.

A while back, when I first started this Keep the Greasy Side Down gig, I did an interview with the Phoenix band, Wyves, and I tied it all into a Forbes article saying that the music industry was dead.  My interview can be viewed HERE, and it was all about refuting Forbes, when it comes to keeping your ear to the ground locally.

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Well, Forbes has struck again, but this time… I agree whole heartedly with the op ed piece, which basically says that in the modern era, all musicians, and I would go further by saying all artists, are basically entrepreneurs.  View the article HERE.

Paul Pacifico, CEO of the Association of Independent Music (AIM), says: “Artists today are pretty much by definition music entrepreneurs and owner-operated companies, building their businesses and their brands. For them, technology has been the principle driver, reducing the barriers to entry in terms of lower costs and the democratisation of industry supply chain resources, such as production equipment and support services.”

Therefore, the model of getting into the studio, recording a song on 45, with a B-side, sending it out to radio, and using radio play to fuel album recordings, and then tours to promote the album…. has certainly changed.  Now, YouTube, Likes, Shares, and Social Media presense is what clues the big labels into thinking they can make money off of your brand.  That is really what it all comes down to.  So…. kids singing in bathrooms and about change in their pockets can go viral, not necessarily based on talent, but based on the rabid nature of their social media followers.   And bands working the circuit, practicing, and trying to carve our careers can go unnoticed for years.  Again, based not on themselves, but on the craze they can inspire on YouTube.

That has created a new, and very interesting, indie entrepreneur model.  45 record radio singles, have been replaced with YouTube videos.  And the way that they translate from those single song recordings to studio albums and tours….. is the path of the modern artist.  Perhaps this is nowhere more visibly on display, than at a local album release show.

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January 20th was to be a great night.  Previously, back in December, Jane n the Jungle had done a charity event at the Phoenix Hard Rock Cafe, and I had taken my daughter and her best friend from junior high to see them play.  Well…. what an impression that made!  Jordan White, lead singer of Jane, took a huge step, and went out of her way to make those two young lady’s night.  They took pictures, got CDs and shirts, and basically…. single-handedly made such an impression, that Jordan created her very own Street Squad.  The girls had a total blast!  Fast forward a month, and Jordan sends me a message, “Did you get tickets for Crescent yet?  They just made it an all ages show, don’t get your kids tickets, we have got you.”

Without further ado…. it was a massive success.  And the massive support these artists gain by embracing the young music fan is priceless.  These are the fans that stream YouTube videos.  These are the fans that share Spotify playlists.  These are the fans that wear your merchandise, boost your visibility, and talk about your band to all of their friends.  It is one of the vast disconnects in the live music world.  The majority of venues have rules in place bases on insurance and liabilities for the mixing of ages and alcohol.  So…. an answer for local acts seeking to boost their youth presence need to be on the look out for not only traditional pub shows, but also venues much as The Nile Theater in Mesa that reach out to the younger demographic.

As we mingled before the start of the show, as usual, I dropped plenty of eaves on various conversations.  Keeping my ear close to the ground is a huge way that I develop material for future articles.  In so doing I overheard one of my favorite guitarists in town talking to a gentleman that I have seen at almost every Wyves show.  The soundbite that caught my ear was as follows, “We have been focusing on putting energy into singles, videos, and press.  It seems that this gets more media attention than an EP release where it feels like it is a one-and-done.”  He was not critiquing the night’s event, not at all.  What he was doing was providing a perspective on how an indie band surfs the waves of media to build their brand… which is exactly what the aforementioned Forbes article discusses.

Instantly, the perspective for this article started to take shape.  Instead of a simple review of a five band show, I decided to put the spin on it of taking a look at the way five unsigned bands from Phoenix are building their brand – as entrepreneurs.  In that light, it is not so much a showing of successes and failings, as it is an offering of a “how to” to sorts by looking at five bands at various stages of their marketing presence.  I have focused on two brand-building topics per band as a way to review the Oasis Unknown album release party.

ADERO

Hang around enough music people in the local scene, and you are bound to hear about the issue of set times and ticket sales.  This is a continual issue, and sometimes obstacle, for local acts, and it has to do with the needs of the artist versus the needs of the venue.  In fact, it is very similar to the idea of trending on YouTube leading to record deals.  It really comes down to money… for better or worse.  It’s business.

Exhibit A, a band fresh to the Phoenix music scene, Adero.  The band has a lot of potential, they are energetic, their singer is charismatic, and their playing shows a lot of raw talent.  They have played a handful of local shows, but one thing the band has shown that they can do besides deliver a solid live performance…. is sell tickets.

When a set of bands book a venue, in this case The Crescent Ballroom, it is impossible to simply think of the individual bands’ needs and seniority.  The venue needs to bring the people in, and keep them in, preferably drinking.  This is how they make their money.  So, regardless of a bands longevity in town, if they sell tickets, chances are the venue will want to keep those people in the club for as long as possible.  This does not always fall in sync with the artists’ ideas of longevity and play order.

The second business topic that I thought of while watching Adero, was simply professionalism.  Professionalism (a.k.a. faking-it-till-you-make-it) in some ways is the best rule of thumb when any artist is first striking out.  It is important to remember, you know yourselves far better than the audience does.  Everyone is going to make mistakes.  Everyone is going to be nervous.  Everyone is going to have growing pains, and those growing pains are going to happen live in front of other people.  However, also true… most of the audience will not notice each mistake if you do not point it out.  Pointing out your flaws humbles you, and acknowledging your newness can be endearing.  Do not overdo it, or you look like you are pointing fingers – on stage.

JANE N THE JUNGLE

If there is one band in town that I look to for guidance, as an example of good business and pubic relations, it is Jane n the Jungle.  From our first meeting, Jordan White’s business savvy was evident, and it has been very enlightening to watch their moves… almost like the way that one thinks about their strategy in chess.  The first of the two topics that come to mind with Jane, is the aforementioned outreach to youth and local charity/ public support.

The second, aside from always giving it their all and delivering a stellar performance each and every time they play, is their exemplary use of social media to promote individual singles on the way to building anticipation for an album release.  Three songs immediately jump to mind:

All three of these are from the upcoming album, but each has been fully produced, released, and submitted to media scrutiny en route.  When you see the band live, these songs are being sung to, danced to, jammed out to, right along with the previously released hits from the bands debut EP, and these new songs have not even been made available as an album.  This is similar to a bygone era, but it uses YouTube as a Net-Neutral Radio to gain airplay.

SUNSET VOODOO

I know my wife pretty well, and at this point I can always tell, almost immediately if she is going to like a band or not.  She loves energy.  Think Dave Matthews, Blues Traveler, Tedeschi Trucks, G. Love and the Special Sauce: ensemble bands, jam bands, bands that organically blend huge sound and often times large numbers.  Locally those bands are Banana Gun, Dry River Yacht Club, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra… and, at least energetically…. these guys: Sunset Voodoo.  Sure enough, after just one song, I was turning to give her the knowing nod, and she was already off to look for cds at the merch booth.

So, criticism… Sunset…. we need cds!  

But the strength of that energy was on display in two major ways that night, and both are queues other live performers would do well to learn a little something from.  The first, one of the things that The Sink or Swim did very well in this line up was surrounding themselves with very high energy acts: acts that were going to set a mood, and keep it there all night.  This is evident in every act on the bill, but in the case of Sunset Voodoo, these guys are the mood makers and the fun setters.  There is a sexual swoon and energy to this band that really gets things moving in the party direction, which leads to the second positive use of energy and readiness.  

Every band is going to have technical difficulties.  Every group is going to have mics that don’t work, kick drum stands that break, fuzzed out wires, or burned out amplifiers.  This show was no different, but being able to launch right into an impromptu cover of a song that everybody in the room is sure to know, say by Elton John, then a band is able to keep and maintain that energy by covering up the time necessary to make a repair.  This keeps the crowd plugged in, and does not allow a dull moment to kinda… come down.  This kind of professionalism, preparedness, and ability to maintain energy is highly desirable in a live performer of any kind.  Kudos!

THE SINK OR SWIM

If there was an oddity to the band list, ironically, it may have been the actual New Release Boys themselves.  Adero comes out with a we-cover-hendrix-gypsy-attitude, Jane comes out punked out and ready to rock,and as Jordan is often switching looks and fashion for her live performances, it is always a bit of a surprise to see what symbolic character she is going to play.  Sunset comes in with a hip and a swing and a creole lure right into a voodoo dance.  Then … comes The Sink or Swim marching along to an Austin Powers intro.

I have seen The Sink or Swim play a few times now, and they are certainly interesting characters.  However… they are also fringe characters in a way, like old school misfits that are somehow on the road to being rock stars.  There is an element of quirk to them, that…. does not necessarily play the same way as the bands around them.  Wyves own some kind of Rolling Stones Rock Reincarnation.  The other bands, as mentioned each have a very sensual and personal approach.  So… it plays to The Sink or Swim’s strengths, again, looking at the album release show almost as a showcase of indie artist business models, to be very careful with set orders and set times, and surround yourself with solidly successful friends.

WYVES

If there is a band in town that is paying it forward, playing on other bills, promoting other indie bands, and using their own crowd appeal and fan base to help their other local acts… it is these guys.  Wyves bring one helluva show, my friends. 

These guys are not to be missed.  Ever. 

Therefore, it is a mark to their great credit, that they are willing to throw that local weight onto a billing for the release of a different bands album.  That is exemplary.

It also immediately fits right into their own business model which is a crowd-funding model for album production.  This is a very common model in the indie world right now, whether it be in music or in publishing.  My friend Kevin Lucia uses Patreon in a very similar way, using monthly pledged “subscriptions” to fund content.  In Wyves case, they offer different packages of the new album, posters, and merchandise for different levels of pre-sales.  They can then use these funds to produce the album.   It throws the conventional need for record labels on its head, because in that model bands are basically in debt to the label, touring and trying to sell merch to pay off their obligations to the label.  Wyves on the other hand will not necessarily make immediate money when their album comes out, because so much of it was crowd-funded through pre-sales; however, they have the additional strength of being more or less debt free and clear, to launch tours, sell their album and merchandise through the power of their live shows, and they are free to reap the rewards.

Speaking of which…. check out a video… and run right over to the link and get yourself some of what is bound to be one of the most dynamic album releases out of Phoenix in 2018!

More power to ’em!  I love my Wyves!

 

Next Month on GHOST WRITER, LIVE !

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Keep the Greasy Side Down my Friends

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Poetry, is Necessary

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
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My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

“It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman, about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now, in my class you can either call me Mr. Keating, or, if you are slightly more daring, O Captain, my Captain.”

I always fancied myself as somewhere in the field created by the triumvirate of three fictional characters: Mr. Keating, from Dead Poet’s Society; Mr. Holland, from Mr. Holland’s Opus, and Pip, Charles Dickens’ immortal character from Great Expectations. It is a Romantic notion, and certainly could be emblazoned with self importance and inflated ego. Perhaps…. but

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Anyone who had ever been in one of my English classes, either at the high school or the local community college, can immediately see the comparison to the vivacious character brought to life by the legendary Robin Williams. “In my class you will learn to think for yourselves again!” The channeling, and influence of that story, Dead Poet’s Society, made me into the educator that I was. It molded that mental platform, that paradigm that defines reality through a particular lens, and I did everything in my power to transfer it to the students. Some of them flocked to my class, empowered and inspired by a teacher definitely not cut from the same Arizona White Mountains conservative cloth. Others, were afraid, or angry, or simply… not interested. Also… similar to Keating’s class.

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Teachers, in my experience really fall into two broad categories. Those who came to the profession out of passion, and those who got their certificate to have something to fall back on. I knew many teacher’s the great Paul Moro for example, who brought a fire with him into the classroom that you would have to see to believe. His classroom was the high school football field. He had offers to coach college. He had opportunities to much larger than he ever was. He loved high school kids.

Read about the legacy of a true Arizona Hero here…. and here.

I knew teachers who really wanted to be doing real-estate. They had dreams of a 100% different life, and teaching simply gave them something to do to allow them to stay in Pinetop. I knew teachers who only taught… so they could coach; so they could do drama; so they could….. do anything else that was not the actual job. And I knew teachers like me…. who came into the classroom like some sort of mutant creation from a different world where bikers were geeks that somehow grew up with a fire for old dead people. Sure, I had a novel in mind. Sure, I thought… I’m a teacher, I will have the summers off to write and create.

Laughing. My. Ass. Off. All day long.

Teachers. The passionate ones. The ones who you want around your kids. The ones who inspire them. The ones who challenge them to fill their perpetual bottles of potential. Those teachers…. do not end up with any time…. “I can’t tell you the last time that I had that was free!”

Those teachers, slugging it out, fighting the good fight, dedicating their lives to your children…. those teachers, my friends, are heroes.

And Pip. The poor lad, the forgotten child, the beat down dreamer with great expectations. The lover cursed with the soul of a poet.

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The lost son, trying to figure out his place in the world… and identity. The small lad with big dreams… who through some twist of fate is launched into that world…. only to define the previous.

This comparison is perhaps the most personal.

 

Well, here I am. In a different life. A Ghost Writer. Trying to prove, and show through an intense and very real passion, that I love this great state of Arizona and the four corners states of the Southwest. This is my home, and this is the place… where I want to leave my footprint.

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Keep the Greasy Side Down started as an online forum for me to offer articles and op ed pieces that would allow me to grow an audience and following for my other creative endeavors. It has been building strongly…. thanks all to you, my friends…. for nine months now, and I have very big plans for 2018. One of those involves a restructuring of the way that I release articles, and a branching out to bring in other Southwest voices through monthly columns and guest bloggers.

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This is the first of a monthly series exploring the nature and vitality of poetry. Why it matters. Why it is necessary.

I know. I taught people…. just… like…. you.

“Nobody reads this stuff.”

Who goes out and purchases…. books of poetry? Few. They exist, these truly beautiful, unicorn souls…. but they are mystically rare. However, all of you buy music. All of you know lyrics by heart that you can sing along to in the shower. All of you….. quote poetry.

All of the time.

This series will explore that.

THERE IS A POETIC RUMBLING HAPPENING IN ARIZONA

Allow me to introduce several new events happening here in our beautiful state, that you may want to mark on your calendar.

First, The House of Bards, located in Tucson is newly owned and renovated pub and music venue on Speedway in Tucson, Arizona. On the first Sunday of every month, at 7:00 PM, two retired profressors of poetry sponsor an amazing event. For the first hour, two featured, professional poets take the stage and read from their works, telling the stories of the poems and the twists of life that created them. After a short break, the Open Mic session begins, opened by your’s truly, where local, dreaming poets, share their tales and their own thoughts in a short, six-minute each, time frame. It is a great way to network, and take that plunge of exposing your throat to the admiration of your peers. I highly recommend attendance… you will not be disappointed.

Second, inspired very much by The House of Bards poetry event, I reached out to a dear friend of mine, the owner of 3 Kings Kasbar and Epiphany in Old Town Cottonwood. It was perfect. Her intimate venue would perfectly mirror what was being created in Tucson, and the Verde Valley, and the heart of Arizona, would gain a public, poetry experience. It was ideal for a sister event. Therefore, with no further ado, I will be starting a monthly poetry series at the 3 Kings in either April or May of this year. It will be a workshop format, where each workshop will cost $10 bucks, which is divided between the venue and the presenter – sometimes I will teach the workshop, other times I hope to bring in featured poets and teachers to share their views on the types and forms and vibrations of verse. Hopefully, with some support, and some success, these events will build to…..

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Third, Ghost Writer Presents. Is a new endeavor that will only revolve around the burgeoning southwestern poetry community. It will specifically promote poetry events. However, I hope to build to where once per season, so quarterly, I bring in a featured musical guest – who will perform an acoustic, VH-1 Storytellers-esque experience: taking about an hour to share a few songs and the tales that inspired them. These special events will then be followed by a special Open Mic session, drawn from the Verde Valley Poetry Community {and partnering communities}. These special events will have a cover charge/ ticketed events… with proceeds again going to the venue and to the performing artist. Please…. keep this FACEBOOK site on your radar to help promote poetry in the great Southwest.

And finally, fourth. This ongoing series of monthly poetry is necessary articles will hopefully not all be written by me. I am looking for professional poets and teachers to help, guest blog, and participate in these poetry events and these very vital explorations of the language of human emotion. Next month’s piece will be provided to you by the illustrious poet, Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow.

Stay Tuned my Friends…..

In Memory…

 

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And Keep the Greasy Side Down.

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