THE DEAD SHALL NEVER AGE (for my father)

I was awakened to the end
From our waiting sleep.
He was going and it wasn’t long.
Sitting in his chair,
He bid us all farewell.
We were too scared to cry,
Too lonely to try,
Though we sat at his side.
Death left its calling cards years before,
But in morning’s safety had waited.
Gasping for breath that wasn’t there,
Holding our hands that were.
He never cried a lonely tear
Or closed eyes that knew only hope,
To those past long nights
When nightmares were life.
They came for him, ready as he was.
We brushed his hair and washed his face.
He knew, and we knew,
Though nothing did we say
Lest we frighten the other.
Yet I screamed so loud in my silence
And cried so long in my pain.
So many things left unsaid,
But, oh, think of the times we spent,
And don’t bring flowers for the dead
Unless he saw them in life.
Just think of his humour as dry as the sand,
And his smile as big as his heart,
And those eyes as blue as the sky
And twice as wise.
Even now we miss him,
Every day I’ll wish he were here.
He loved us more than he loved himself.
We loved him back as much.
Something’s gone now forever,
Part of us is gone with him,
And in the still of things a night voice screams — “God, I’m as lonely as hell.”

Dedicated to Henry (Jack) Francis Howson

By Frank Howson (c) November 1974

 

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WHAT IS TRUTH?

I’m at the age when people die. I view life from the cluttered comforting living area of a mystical art space, going from room to room as inspiration strikes me. A song lyric here, a line of dialogue overheard from lunch, a painting or sketch there. It’s a very full solitary life and reduces everything to the minimalists’ joy of simplicity. I suppose I would be just as happy in a jail cell with my necessary tools, although I’d miss the occasional walk in the sun. And impromptu visit from a friend. My life has been crammed with so many adventures, tragedies, faces, external forces, Machiavellian plots, heartaches, silent joys, defeats and comebacks etc., that I sometimes feel I’m five hundred years old. Other times I forget and am back to feeling like that seventeen year old kid with it all before me. Sometimes Hercules, sometimes Norman Maine. Many memories occasionally stampede through my mind from what feels like another life. Friends and lovers long gone, but my heart still carries the weight of their memory. Although death may take a life it seems that the relationship continues for those left behind, excluded from the final mystery. Sometimes I resent the birds who are not chained to the ground like us confused humans. Our only soaring comes in those momentary waves of joy that are so overwhelmingly spectacular and personal that there are no words invented to accurately verbalise them so we walk them away in dark alleyways, alone – as alone as our birth and our death. The magic hours just before dawn. There is an exquisite sweetness in failure, just as there is a sour aftertaste in triumph. Perhaps only General Grant fully understood this when he allowed General Lee to savour the nobility of defeat in all its glory and, as Grant stood in his torn and dusty uniform, head bowed in humility, paying homage to his defeated opponent, denying himself the tacky opportunity to steal the thunder of victory from a long and vicious campaign where young boys died bewildered and despairing on battlefields made muddy from the blood of their comrades.
In my own line of work I too have known long campaigns that have left me too weary to celebrate the victory knowing how much it has cost myself and those that battled alongside to make a dream a reality. “Was it worth it?” The eternal question that is right up with Pilate’s “What is truth?”
David Lynch believes that life is just a dream. And perhaps he is right. And perhaps it does one no good to think too long and deep about such things, for to stare into the abyss too long may be as damaging as staring at the sun. You just become blinded in a different way.
Does it matter how one achieves creativity? Does anyone really care what price is paid for their entertainment? Scott Fitzgerald put something of himself into six novels and over a hundred short stories, until there was nothing left. He died a hollow, weary, flawed man, old before his time. Broken by Hollywood because he took it too seriously and led with his heart. And didn’t realise it was all just a game.
I too have worked for many people in my past that nether understood what I did, or how I did it. But that doesn’t stop them attempting to piss on the tree to claim ownership. A bet each way. If it’s a disaster it’s all my fault. If it’s a smash, it’s because of them. I don’t work for such people anymore, regardless of the dazzling upfront fees that are used to tempt you to go against your instinct. This donkey has been beaten too many times and won’t go down the dark mine shaft anymore. I now only work for people I truly trust and/or admire. I can’t be bought by money because experience has taught me that it’s a false god and to worship at its altar will never fully satisfy your hunger for more and more until there’s nothing of you left. You will die like Elvis having over-eaten, been overworked, misused and misunderstood, devalued, surrounded by carny promoters, backslapping sycophants, con artists and those who want to be you and secretly resent that they can’t be. The most desired man in the world died of loneliness. Now, if that doesn’t tell you something about our society, nothing will.
Success has to come on your terms or else you lose your identity. And to lose sight of who you are is to become a ghost ship wandering lost in that innermost night of the soul. Going through life mimicking the happy-go-lucky person others expect you to be lest you reveal that you’re haunted and thus damned from seeing too much. As my dear ol’ daddy used to tell me, “The best way to lose people is to tell ’em you have a problem.”
Those who don’t understand creativity will seek to belittle your contribution, downplay your involvement, and even humiliate you by praising everyone except you. This is a tactic and you are smart enough to recognise it. And, thankfully, so is the audience.
Wilhelm Reich once said, “The living are always under attack from the dead,” and so it is and will be till the end of days. All I know is this – it’s alright to love something, but you are damned if you love that thing too much.

What is truth? Well you sure as hell won’t find it in your newspaper or favourite news channel or the Internet. These days it seems to only exist in our hearts. Our in-built shit detector. Trust it. It’s all we have.

 

(C) Frank Howson

THOUGHTS ON BOB DYLAN

The word enigma doesn’t come close to describing Bob Dylan. For a start he’s a Gemini – the sign of the twins. Duality. He once said he wakes as one person and goes to sleep as another. And that’s before we add all the different masks he’s worn, and the myths that have been woven by others, and by himself. This is no doubt an attempt by him to protect his true self – Robert Zimmerman. Bob Dylan was his invention and as such even his own autobiography “Chronicles Volume One” contains numerous things that are fictional. Again, adding to his own myth as a means of throwing people off the scent of this fiercely private man. He writes about Bob Dylan like the old Wild West reporters wrote about Billy The Kid, Davy Crockett or Jesse James. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

There must be many hundreds of books published about Bob Dylan. And why is that? Because he continues to fascinate us. We can’t work him out. Scratch the surface and you just come up with another surface. But I think this has always been his masterly plan. In the words of the late, great Alex Scott after seeing the movie about the life (or lives) of Bob Dylan, the aptly titled “I’m Not There,”  Alex said, “I knew more about him before I saw this movie!” Precisely. Or did you? I’ve had the good fortune to know quite a number of people who have known Bob for many years as a friend. And the words they use about him are “kind,” “sweet,” “gentle,” “loyal,” and “sensitive.” And those qualities are precious and need protection. “They say every man needs protection.”

Last Monday and Tuesday nights in Melbourne, a troubadour playing the role of Bob Dylan took to the stage at the Margaret Court Arena. No grand entrance. He merely sauntered on as a member of his band and found his designated place at the piano. No hello and no goodbye. Just two hours of brilliant songs, some old, some new, that any writer would give their soul to have written just one of them. But here is a small man trapped in the spotlight that has a catalog of so many classics they are too numerous to name. He has given us so much, and continues to give, thank God. When so many of our music heroes are gone, some cruelly taken from us who had so much more to give, we truly should be thankful that Bob is not only still alive, but continues to spend the majority of each year on the road performing for our pleasure.

Some people complain that he just stands there and sings his songs. There are no “showy” effects. No scripted witty repartee. But I continually have to remind some disappointed patrons that that’s all he’s ever done.

Bob was once asked if he still gets nervous before a show, to which he replied, “No. Never be afraid of disappointing people.” At first when I read this quote, I laughed thinking it was just another example of Bob’s very dry sense of humour. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised the heart of what he was truly saying. There is no point worrying about a performance. It will either soar or it won’t. He is not slick, nor does he want to be. He is an improv artist. A method actor. He has the same inspired, spontaneous genius as Brando. Always reaching for that unplanned moment of pure magic. The trouble with being that bold is that sometimes you miss the mark totally and run the risk of being ridiculed and walked out on. All of the greatest innovators have at one time or another been ridiculed and hung out to dry. But they’re the ones we remember. The brave ones. To be totally unique is a very heavy cross to have to carry. A lot of people will not “get” what you’re doing. Or what you’re attempting. But if everyone played by the tried and proven formula, where would the excitement be?

Bob has literally never looked back. The range of material he has tackled is extraordinary and at the age of 77 when most artists are happy to coast on their back catalog, Bob is still taking chances. Spare a thought for the huge risk he took in attempting, at his age, five albums of crooning the American Songbook. Yet those albums have been big hits and in some cases even named among the Top Ten Jazz Albums of that year.

But this is the same man who, just as he reached the pinnacle of the folk music world, went electric and angered the majority of his then fans. Next, just as he won most of those fans back with the electric mercury sounding masterpiece that was “Blonde On Blonde,” he goes country music. More angst from fans. Then he rebounds with introspective “Blood On The Tracks” about the pain of his divorce. Then Jesus popped into his life and we had the Gospel Years! Then, just when everyone thought he was no longer relevant, and running on empty, he comes back with arguably his best album, the multi-Grammy Award winning “Time Out Of Mind.” Then the Christmas Album. Then the Sinatra inspired saloon song standards. This man deserves a medal for bravery.

Oh, and when people say they don’t like his voice, I always ask, “Which one? He’s had about 6 different voices over the journey.”

As his dear friend George Harrison once described him, “He is a friend to us all.”

It filled my heart with warmth and my eyes with tears to see him perform such a spirited and brilliant concert last Tuesday night. It certainly was the inspired spontaneous magic he strives for.

And then, without a word of farewell, he was gone. But rest assured, he’s still on the road, headin’ for another joint.

(c) Frank Howson 2018

LONELY MAN GOIN’ HOME

The night ain’t falling
It already fell
Every street lamp
Has a tale to tell
It’s so quiet
You can hear God’s breath
‘Tis the hour when every hurt
Feels like a death
“Chin up, Sonny”
His mother would say
Keep somethin’ for yourself
Don’t give it all away
He never thought
He would end up this alone
But love has a price
Lonely man goin’ home
You pretty young things
Who laugh behind his back
You think you got it made
Think your life’s on track
You got the latest clothes
And the smartest phone
But you find your amusement
At a lonely man goin’ home
You’re so politically correct
When it suits your need
You give to charity
To disguise your greed
You don’t know this man
You’ve never been alone
But he knows you
Lonely man goin’ home

 
(C) Frank Howson 2018

THAT LONG TRAIN RIDE

I was right
About all the little things that didn’t matter.
I was wrong about all the big things that did.
But youth is for foolishness and mistakes.
The concept being that you will eventually learn from mistakes and your heart will grow a harder layer of protection. This can be a lifelong education of regrowth if you don’t pay enough attention to details.
One theory is that we keep falling in love with the same person, over and over, like some weird drunkard’s dance in a Groundhog Day scenario. Even if that person was all wrong for us in the first place. So is it familiarity that attracts? The devil we know is better than the saviour we don’t? Perhaps we just tire from the waiting and settle for what we know. Attracted to those who remind us of ourselves? Or marry for money and security even though that brings in its train a lifetime of boredom and unrequited dreams and hopes? But surely that is not a living, but a dying? For money proves to be a cold companion and takes more than it gives. Doomed to buy all the toys and trinkets to impress others whilst your subsequent depression stemming from your inner knowledge that nothing purchased brings any lasting pleasure. You are a compromised person and although you can lie to your conscience your sub-conscious knows the truth, and forces you to spend most of your days sleeping. Hiding from life. Avoiding waking to the horror of who you really are. A prisoner trapped in a cell of your own making. Spending all your approved allowance on the best drugs to dull yourself to the harsh reality that you are already dead.
I took myself to Disneyland today.
Why?
I wanted to return to a simpler, safer time when I believed in dreams and heroes.
All around me was the sound of the laughter of children and the look of wonderment in their eyes.
They are years from cynicism and reducing the world to something they can understand.
I had a photo taken with Mickey but my idol Donald Duck was nowhere to be seen.
Disneyland was conceived and built by a sad and lonely man who acted childish at times. Because the truth is he was still a child and needed to build a romanticised version of his childhood town – a place where it was always clean, and wholesome and safe. And contained no tyrannical father. Ironic huh? Was he insane? In most people’s terms, yes. But at least his dreams were safer than those of young Adolf Hitler, a failed painter from Austria. Y’know, if young Adolf had’ve sold three or four landscape paintings the whole Second World War may have been avoided. I always say, “Be careful about pissing off creative people. That creative light force once turned back on itself can become very dark and destructive.”
On the other hand, all of the world’s great accepted visionaries were a little looney tunes. Some, very much so. Fortunately their insanities were focused towards something more publicly palatable than the Third Reich or the NWO. They risked everything thinking outside the box. Their own lives became secondary to their dream. And many died in their footsteps upon that lonely highway. They sacrificed romantic relationships, friendships, their dignity (as many were publicly ridiculed), their personal happiness, and a comfortable safe life. Why? And what for? A higher calling? Immortality? If there is no God and no afterlife why do people do this to themselves? If we’re just here marking time until the long darkness, why not just put the tools down and embrace the fairly interesting train ride to nowhere?
It’s the same with love. If it’s not a God-given gift to share then what exactly is it? Why care so much about it? Or anyone else?
I pondered all these things as I sat in my chair looking out the window that was shaped like Mickey’s head on the Disneyland Express on my train ride back to somewhere.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

THE OLD MEN AND THEIR GIRLS

The old men with their girls
Seated at the best table
The young girls treat the waitress
With a haughty disrespect
Why?
Because they are seated beside
Old men with more money than God
They so easily forget where they came from
Who they are
Because tonight they are queens
Reinvented
Making a huge effort to speak in an accent that doesn’t give away their back street upbringing
And it seems the first thing that dies is empathy
For someone who struggles
And serves in an honest job trying desperately to please
For that much needed tip at the end of the night
So she can walk home happy to be greeted by her young children
Who love it when mommy is in a good mood
Back at the best table
The young girls laugh at everything
The old well heeled men say
Even the serious stuff
One wonders whether they will be laughing long?
Until next month?
Next week?
Perhaps until check out time tomorrow?
Sex is so easily given
When it means nothing
But care about certain women
Really care
And it is much harder to get them to part with their favours
Perhaps a kiss is way more intimate
Than sex anyway
And more revealing
Than nudity
Perhaps I don’t know anything
Anymore
Everything I thought I knew
Was a sham
A pantomime
A play acting
And I was too young
To hear the hollowness
At the heart of her laughter
She got what she wanted
At the end of the day
And I got what I deserved
A table for one
For believing in Hollywood endings
My thoughts are broken
By the sound of laughter at the best table in the best restaurant in town
These young girls are trying very hard
To appear to be sincere to the Moneybags on their way to Life Support
I order a coffee
No sugar
No milk
Just as it comes
I don’t want to disguise the taste of anything
Anymore
It is as it is
The old men and the young girls laugh hysterically
And I feel sad for them somehow
Their eyes contradicting their open mouths and perfect teeth
Like those scary clowns with those insane smiles and eyes of terror
I know how their stories end
I’m a writer
With all the wisdom of a fool
And a life misspent
And no one to impress anymore
It’s a great relief in some ways
I need no sugar or milk
And as such have become an acquired taste
Not pleasing everyone
Not wanting to
But pleasing those who matter
The other acquired tastes
Of humankind
I pay my bill and leave
Giving the middle-aged waitress a tip that I hope helps contribute to her happy walk home to be greeted by those who genuinely love her
I will take the long way home down alleys that go round in circles
No need to rush
I am keeping no one waiting

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

SWEET ROSEMARY

My sweet Rosemary
She came to tea
In 1994
She showed me
A thing or two
Before I showed her the door
We met again
By new year’s end
We kissed beneath our tree
Call me a fool
But I ain’t cruel
So once more I set her free

From her sacred chalice
I’ll never again sip
All my golden chances
I let ’em all slip
Now I’d lay down my life
If I could only see
Once more the smiling face
Of my sweet Rosemary

My sweet Rosemary
Come back to me
I’m broken and alone
I lay here
Beside you dear
And your grave of icy stone

I remember her words
Devoutly now
She said, “We’ll always be together”
She knew that, somehow
You don’t know the cost
Till you’re hurt this deep
And cannot awaken
From the nightmare sleep

From her sacred chalice
I’ll never again sip
All my golden chances
I let ’em all slip
Now I’d lay down my life
If I could only see
Once more the smiling face
Of my sweet Rosemary

(C) Frank Howson 2018

(c) 2018 photograph by Raija Sunshine