A Poem from Dan Raphael

Drunk on Bacon
by Dan Raphael

sitting in a claustrophobic, slat-sided shed for several days
in a world of clotted smoke
where meat falls like rain
no one dies    no one inhales     no one churns
to love is to have whenever the appetite

pigs are born small
trees are smaller than grass but singularly thicker
from sun to fire
        fire retards time
when the sun goes out our clocks will surrender to gravity
my wrist is a video portal
since i am so many places its always breakfast somewhere,
always the first drink of the day

when i smell myself approaching, swallowing lit matches, stealing firewood
my flame will never stop
every night a new tree falls, three more sprout
when stars turn green they’re moving sideways

[Sunday Lecture] "Citizens and Denizens" by Freeman House

Citizens and Denizens

by Freeman House

Keynote talk for the first Carmel Watershed festival, 2004

I’ve been asked to talk on the subject of watershed citizenship. That made me want to know more about that word citizen, so I dug around a little. It’s been a useful exercise. The word originated as “denizen,” meaning ‘of a place.’ As urban life became more dominant, denizen evolved into “citizen” meaning city person. As nations rose, the word came to define who belonged inside the boundaries and who didn’t. The ancient Greeks reserved the rights and privileges of citizenship to wealthy men, and for most of Roman times, they were dispensed at the pleasure of the emperor. It wasn’t until the American and French revolutions that the notion of popular and participatory decision-making came to be associated with the word. So we can trace the concept from ancient tribal and ethnic definitions of who does and who doesn’t belong to “our” society, forward in time as it evolves toward more inclusiveness. But always there is the notion of boundaries….. In the natural world, boundaries are rarely so clear as humans have been able to make them. (What grizzly or salamander would have invented the rectangular grid? The boundaries of, say, Idaho represent the range of what?)

As the word is used today, “citizen” is the creature of the invented world, rather than a participant in unfolding creation, which is what a denizen might be.

The truly marvelous concept of participatory democracy was partially conceived in the American Revolution, and conceptually pushed a little further in the first months of the French Revolution. We need to remember that these new ideas were an invention of men in the thrall of the so-called Enlightenment. Philosophers like Bacon and Descartes, who were thrilled to think that men could control nature for their own purpose, drove the thinking of the Enlightenment. Another philosopher of the period, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was the much more popular and widely read author. It was his ideas about the basic goodness and mutuality of the natural world that combined with the Enlightenment philosophers’ thinking to produce the bastard child, democracy.

So at the same time that we were moving in the direction of egalitarian society, we were also gradually removing ourselves away from thinking of ourselves as a functional part of nature. We have come to think of ourselves, rather, as being in control of nature—no matter how many earthquakes, tornadoes or floods we may have endured. In the end, citizenship is about who makes the decisions: about land use and zoning, how we care for and protect each other—a definition of we—inside some set of predetermined boundaries. There is generally an unspoken assumption that it is we humans who are making decisions for the natural world. Denizens, on the other hand, know without thinking that their own well-being depends on the health of the landscape surrounding, that those boundaries are rarely legally defined, and that each place presents is own range of opportunities and limitations. We will become informed watershed citizens only after we have become watershed denizens. How do we become denizens? How did we lose the knack? Where are the models?

I like to do a riff in the voice of a 10,000-year-old person talking for humans in the temperate rain forests of North America. We’ve been here for a long time—many thousands of years. And if you were listening to some generic person thinking like a species, outside of time and part of place, say this place, it might sound something like this:

When the last round of glaciers was melting, we were moving around in those hide-covered boats and with those tumpline burden-baskets. Damn. It was cold! Same time, the salmon were moving south as new rivers were shaped and exposed. Every time we saw the flash and wiggle of those fish going upstream, we’d say, “hah, this place could be someone’s home.”

We moved about, and then we settled, in groups separated by ridgelines, and shared most everything with our group. It wasn’t that we were any kinder than we are now; we weren’t. Generosity just seemed like the best strategy for survival. We’d been watching the other animals and there’s no question about it: they are generous as long as they’re treated with respect. As long as we behaved ourselves, the animals returned to feed us every year. It just made sense to treat each other that way, imitate the rest of the world. Over the years we learned that it made sense to extend those courtesies to other groups of humans nearby—then we wouldn’t be fighting each other all the time. And since we tended to settle near salmon rivers, we learned to take fish to eat in a way that guaranteed plenty would get upstream to spawn, and so that our neighbors upstream would have enough to eat also. There were a great many fish and only a few of us.

Before we’d go out to catch the salmon, we’d have big times; everyone was there. For days and days, we’d get reminded of how to behave and how we fit into the world. We’d come away knowing that if we didn’t act right the world wasn’t going to work right, and we’d come away with a belly full of salmon to prove it. We’d also learned how this year was different from the other years. The basket-makers would tell how the grasses were doing, and if the fires the women had set last year had done what they were supposed to do. The hunters would talk about the animal populations; we’d all remember out loud how much salmon we were able to dry and save last year. People would talk about the acorn crop that year. If there’d been a flood or an earthquake, that’d get added to the long narrative about us and about the places where we lived. In that way, all of us could remember years of feast or famine, the things that’d happened long before we were born. Given a few thousand years of that kind of repetition, a lot of people had a lot of intimate knowledge of their home river basins. Every year we expanded what we knew about the long term in our life places. Every year we came to feel more and more a necessary part of the place. We learned how to take care of places and keep things in balance. We settled in and stayed 10,000 years or so. Over time, we learned where and when to burn and prune, how to fish and hunt without robbing our children.

The great gatherings were a good place to meet lovers, too. But we were careful not to let our populations get larger than the place would support.

But in other parts of the world, populations were getting larger than their places would support and more of us began to pour into salmon country. We newcomers looked a little different but that wasn’t the important thing. Continue reading

PRESENCE: Lift to Experience's Josh T. Pearson talks about the Passion [Arthur No. 1/Oct 2002]

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002)

One Texan Band, Under God
Lift to Experience, the greatest art-rock band since Sigur Ros, talk about the Passion with Jay Babcock

Josh Pearson, the 28-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter for the extraordinary Denton, Texas-based art-rock band Lift to Experience, works in a world positively drenched in Judeo-Christian allusion and metaphor. So of course he’s conducting a mid-tour interview on a cel phone from a Manhattan pub called The Slaughtered Lamb.

“Yeah, it’s perfect,” he says, with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘Where do we go? Oh, there’s a spot.’”

Lift to Experience are in New York City on their first-ever extended tour of America. It’s a tour that’s been a long time coming, in support of a debut album—the audacious, double-CD concept record The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads—that itself was a long time in gestation. The songs that made it onto the album were originally composed in 1998, after Pearson had moved out to a ranch to work as a farmhand.

“It wasn’t a career move,” he says. “I just needed a place to be alone and not have to talk to anyone, to have enough time where the good ideas could become great ideas. I was alone and isolated and living in this little barn. It wasn’t glamorous, it was just mindless work: shoveling up the shit and taking the horses out to pasture and feeding them hay. It’s real therapeutic working with horses…”

Soon, the songs came. And with them, the concept for the album. No brief summary of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads can do it justice, Texas-style or otherwise. The album’s opening, spoken announcement is: “This is the story of three Texas boys busy minding their own business when the Angel of the Lord appeared unto them saying, ‘When the Winston Churchills start firin’ their Winston rifles into the sky form the Lone Star State, drinkin’ their Lone Star beer and smokin’ their Winston cigarettes, know the time is drawin’ nigh when the son shall be lifted on high.’”

Pearson says Texas-Jerusalem is “a concept album about the end of the world, where Texas is the Promised Land—the final battleground in the war between good and evil.” But it’s about more than that. The double-album’s lyrics are full to bustling with freight trains and incoming storms, strange prophets and fallen feathered angels, blood and fool‘s gold. Its protagonists are an ambitious Texas rock band desperate for a smash hit, ready, metaphorically at least, to deal their souls to the devil at Robert Johnson’s crossroads in exchange for material success. But Satan doesn’t show. Instead it’s the Angel of the Lord, announcing “just as was told/Justice will unfold.”

“Don‘t you boys know nothin’?” the angel asks the band, puzzled by the news of imminent holy conflict on Texas soil. “The USA is the center of JerUSAlem.”

Then, the music volcanoes. The rhythm is muscular, spacious, dynamic; the guitar is meditative, gossamer drone parted by noise mass and riff shapes; and the vocals are uniquely full and rich—triumphant yet resigned—sung in a beautiful voice of steady comfort. The lyrics—the metaphors, the literary and contemporary allusions—are relentless and poetic: the simple word ’star’ means, at once, the Lone Star state, the Jewish Star of David, the Christian Star of Bethlehem and, of course, Rock Star. A lot of work was put into this album, obviously. Taking it all in is a dizzying, overwhelming experience.

“It worked out real well with what I wanted to do with the metaphors,” says Pearson. “Texas being the place of last stands, from the Alamo. And Texas being an individual nation in its own, with freedoms that it celebrates that the other states don’t have—it can secede at any time, the only flag allowed to fly the same height as the American flag, that sort of thing, cuz it was a nation before it merged with the States.

“I started writing songs and they were all pointing to a place and then one night, I realized where it was headed. It made itself known. It’s one of those things where your body is just sorta following intuitively. I wouldn’t say you’re channeling it, but you’re trusting in your intuition that it’s headed in the right direction. Sometimes you never know why you’re headed that way, but it works out. All the pieces fall into place.”

* * *

Incredibly, Lift to Experience does the album one better in a live setting.

The first time I saw them was at 7:15 on a Saturday night in a small bar on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. A stained and horned bullskull sat at stage-center; a Texas flag draped over a bass amp. Behind and above them was the bar’s neon-lit sign that read (of course) “Salvation.” As the sun dipped into the smog horizon outside, Lift to Experience began playing to an audience of no more than 100, most of whom were unfamiliar with the band‘s music.

They began suddenly, with almost notice. And they began with a no-vocal, power trio cover of—I shit you not—“Kashmir.” It was intense, immediate, absolutely massive. There was Josh (The Bear) Browning—a bass throbber of burly frame, serious beardage and eyes-closed close concentration; there was Andy Young, a drummer with the build of the sturdiest steakhouse either side of the Rio Grande, leaning forward off the stool Keith Moon-like, switching between mallets, drumsticks and handclaps, his cymbals in perpetual perpendicularity; and there was Josh T. Pearson, a gangly lanky framed, scraggly-haired guitar-vocalist in biker Nudiewear and bracelets, his beaten cowboy hat ringed by thorns.

They seamed straight from “Kashmir” into an instrumental version of their own majestic “Just As Was Told,” without breaking. It was that rare kind of performance that dapples your skin with goosebumps. All the stuff on the album was there: the long builds and graceful a cappella interludes, the churning muscularity and psychedelic overload. We’re talking presence. Continue reading

A Poem from Smokey Farris

Another 2-d Christmas
by Smokey Farris

Fiesta frisbee legs running a gun.
Raspberry look a little giggle and a little tongue pulling in the sweet
Jungle gym girl, jungle jim standing up on the bars, jungle gym chasing
Rocko’s gang,
hey baby you remember this one.

It was a spiral of metal mathematical bars,
must have been our kid attraction,
the dome
pentagon top,
triangle sides,
reaching off the great earth and the huge playground,
with sparse attractions.
Most of the space was vacant and earth.
Jumping high above the scotch 79 soccer field
with up turned mesh chest shirts behind the head.
Blake Edwards.
Blake red and white windbreaker,
Dreamed of christmas UFO nights with blue parades of blue snowmen
and nearly two-d christmas lights
and the magic was fading from the evil yard.
It was disney land alight but it was alien,
it was prismatic.

It was on my street,
and before on the white and yellow pink day on the driveway crest
I saw a gold governing movement,
a great glittering gold tray or sleigh craft, a flat disk,
with an unforeseeable army,
There he was, the burger king,
with his scepter and crown,
blank fiberglass stare,
and all the spirit of a cartoon god.