MADMEN IN THE WILDERNESS

I saw a crazy man in the heart of the city cursing the people he passed, cursing the buildings, cursing someone long gone, cursing God for this Purgatory.

People reacted in different ways. Some froze and willed themselves to be invisible, some scurried away in the opposite direction, some watched in that detached zombie way people stand transfixed at car crash sites, fascinated by the sight of real disaster and yet non-reacting as though watching a movie play out.

So what does it take to make someone just crack one day? One huge life tragedy too much, or a series of small ones too close together that defy our idea of logic and fairness? Perhaps if we raise our voices above the rumbling wearing down drone sound of the busy city traffic, God will hear us?

Why does our Maker withdraw his grace and allow us to free fall through darkness and scorn so far from home? Or are we meant to always be alone in search of ourselves in others, a perilous journey not for the fainthearted. Or the dreamers.

Maybe the crazy man in the street had been chosen to heed his inner calling to join the wild throng and it is therefore in the madness that lies the ultimate truth?

Was Don Quixote mad because he chose to see the world as it should be? Or were the people who gathered to ridicule and laugh at his expense the mad ones?

John Lennon, during his time, was called mad by many, especially the press and the conservative establishment. But his brutal death at the hands of, ironically, a mad man has now elevated him to the status of martyr and messiah. Today, his human flaws have been sanitised to fit what is acceptable in the gospel of his life. The nobody mad man who shot him for a shot at immortality got a life sentence, while the famous mad man got death. And then in death, rose again.

When you look closely at it, most of our true heroes in history were called mad during their lifetimes because they attempted to do something different. To shine a light into the darkness that most of us are afraid to acknowledge. To take us where we would never have dared go if not for them. To make us think and, more importantly, to make us feel. In achieving this, a great many of them paid with their lives so that we may live.

So next time you see a mad man or woman in the street, spare a few seconds to ponder the forces that shaped them. And perhaps in those seconds we may awaken the humanity in ourselves.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

GOD FORGIVE THE MAN WHO STEALS FROM HIS FRIEND

God forgive him, Lord, he knows not what he does. Unable to sleep, haunted by ghosts of all opportunities gone, still he goes on living not a life, but an existence. And the clock that cruelly ticks into his impending old age, treating him with the same snobbery he has shown every one of God’s creatures, is the only constant in what he has come to call his world. He is comforted only by the woman who won’t go away. In his youth he only dated the daughters of rich daddies, in the hope that he may eventually get access to Big Daddy’s hard earned fortune so he could fritter it away on his meaningless life. His chosen girlfriends were princesses with a range of two looks 1) Stunned deer look #1, and 2) Stunned deer look #2.

Now he has settled down with the only one who can tolerate him and live with the realisation that this too is her life sentence.

Some people are too refined to call him out when his hand is in their pocket. He takes this to mean that they are dumb, but no, they are three steps ahead and indulge him in this game as they silently grieve for his lowly evolution. Mistaking their looks of pity for forgiveness, he is doomed to have to return here many times scoring a crumb of enlightenment each visit. Some would call that hell.

He has read every book ever written on the art of the deal, seen every classic play expertly performed, and yet has learned nothing of the human spirit. To him it is as unfathomable as the concept of Eternity. Friendship is as complex as Socialism

Some have witnessed his best work and bear the scars. The man sent to jail for doing nothing but trusting that his word was true. The other man who lost his home and family based on a promise and a handshake. The banished woman who watched her parents die from the residue that their retirement fortune had been stolen from them.

Arrogance comes before a fall the ancient scriptures tell us. And man’s arrogance is on display everywhere from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the wars fought for nothing. It is true we get the world we deserve. But how strange to finally wake to its harsh reality.

I pity the arrogant person for I know what awaits him or her. The path to God is through humility. And if you don’t humble yourself, God will surely do it for you. Whether that comes in losing your money, your house, your loved ones, your health, a limb, your voice, your way, whatever – you won’t leave this life unscathed. In the words of that modern poet, Jim Morrison, “No one here gets out alive.”

Hopefully, when that time comes you will leave this condemned place spiritually wealthy.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

RADIO DAYS

I loved listening to the radio when I was a small boy. My ear pressed up against the speaker of the mahogany radiogram, a furniture feature in our modest living room.  All those amazing artists whose voices shaped my life, i.e., Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney, the young Elvis, Buddy Holly, Harry Belafonte, Anthony Newley, Eddie Cochrane, Patsy Cline, Sammy Davis Jnr., Little Richard, Jimmie Rodgers, Bobby Darin, Johnny Desmond, Louis Armstrong, Helen Shapiro, Johnny Horton, Ned Miller, Burl Ives, Johnny Ray, Tommy Steele, The Ink Spots, etc., etc. An eclectic bunch, and I loved ’em all.

My mum said I had an acute ear for voices and as a party trick she and my dad would challenge the guests to put the radio on and I would guess the singer within a few bars.  I was four.

My parents were slow to get their own television set so unless we visited relatives on a Sunday we had to settle for listening to the radio. It was our only outlet for news updates, music, plays and comedy sketches. Oh, and serials. I’ve always felt so sorry for my mum. She was addicted to a daytime radio soap opera serial entitled “Doctor Paul” – it ran for a phenomenal 4,634 episodes and my mum listened to 4,633 with rapture. I could’ve been hanging from a rope in the bathroom and she wouldn’t have noticed. Unfortunately she had to go out one day for a real doctor’s appointment and came home to the devastating news that she had missed the final episode. I tell you, the grief I witnessed from that poor woman rivalled Jackie’s after the J.F.K assassination. She never did find out what exactly happened. So I guess she shared that with Jackie too.

Those radio plays and serials were magic and a real art form, creating a visual world in our minds using just voices and effects. Orson Welles learned much from his radio days and brought a lot of his sound tricks to his film-making. If you close your eyes and listen to “Citizen Kane” it is as aurally interesting as its visuals.

When I was 14 and a child no school room could teach, I ran away and never went back, no doubt much to the relief of my teachers. My mum, who always took my side when I was in trouble and despairing, accepted my decision without judgement or debate, and took me into the city to try and get me a job as an office boy at radio station 3DB. She knew I loved music and the entertainment business so in her intuitive wisdom she felt this was the right starting point for my future life. And that I would learn a lot. And so I did. For the rest of her life my ambition was fuelled by my efforts to repay her faith in me.

As fate would have it, 3DB were not looking for an office boy at that time. Another lesson learned – success is all about timing. So, not taking no for an answer my quick thinking mum walked me a few blocks to radio station 3UZ. And yes, a meeting with destiny. The general manager, Mr. Lewis Bennett, a man of such class and distinction he has had a lasting effect on me, gave me the once over, liked the fact that I dressed like him in a nice suit, polished shoes and a bow tie, and gave me the job. I smiled at him with tears in my eyes as I felt the joy of finally being accepted in the outside world after years of humiliation and rejection in the then cruel school system. The warm inner joy I felt at being wanted and appreciated made me work my guts out for $16 a week so as not to let Mr. Bennett down. Sometimes he even sent me his leftover lunchtime crayfish sandwiches, and I sat in my chair in his secretary’s office, and slowly savoured them bite by bite, feeling like a king. And silently giving thanks for how lucky I was.

That job imbued me with many lasting ethics – the pride of working hard, not letting anyone down, being on time, not leaving until the job is done, being polite to people, the unselfishness of always presenting a positive attitude even if you’re down, and not taking the job for granted but, instead, always remembering that you have that job because someone had faith in you.

I learned so much in my three years at 3UZ that it’s too much to detail but, because it’s so ingrained in me, even today I may do something, or give a young person advice, and then realise it’s a lesson learned from those radio days.

In those magical days of the Sixties, dee jays were gods. And I worked with the best of them – Stan Rofe, Ken Sparkes, John Vertigan, Allan Lappen, Don Lunn, Graham Cherry, Sam Anglesea, Noel Ferrier, Mary Hardy, Jimmy Hannon, etc, etc, etc. We will not see their like again. Because, like a rare vintage wine, those days are gone.

But some of us remember.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

MURDER AS AN ART

It’s always midnight in my heart
Only the alleys have known my joy
For sometimes I have experienced a bliss that is so exquisite it can’t be verbalised to anyone
Not even to the few who would care
So I have walked it away
In the dark
Along empty city side streets                                                                                                             We bloom on cue then disappear from view                                                                           Such is life                                                                                                                                           It’s a pity Oscar Hammerstein didn’t write the script for our lives
He would’ve written it just right                                                                                                       It would’ve had its highs and lows, some humour, all the boring bits cut in Philadelphia And ending on a note of hope
Instead, here we are
What’s it all about, Alfie?
The Winner Takes It All?
A Change Is Gonna Come?
Were they just 45s from our youth?
Is this the little boy I carried?                                                                                                     Some disappointments and betrayals can never fully be washed away                               We live in a world where just about everything we’ve been told for the past 50 years has been a lie and the opposite, in most cases, is true                                                                    The shadow brokers are keeping the public confused by a daily avalanche of complexities, creating a terminal dose of anxiety and fear                                                           All designed to make us give up, surrendering our power and responsibilities                  To flee to the safety of watching mindless TV to a laugh track of mostly dead people           Or turn up the doof doof music and tune out                                                                         Those brave souls that come forth and tell us the truth get ridiculed by                             The card carrying experts who translate the news for us                                                         Because we are no longer capable of thinking for ourselves                                               Here’s some breaking news –                                                                                                       There is, in fact, no news anymore                                                                                               Just opinion pieces                                                                                                                               If the smear campaign doesn’t murder the brave truth-tellers                                                 Then the lone crazy gunman will be wheeled in again to create another convenient myth
New leaders are thrown up on a platform of change
But usually it’s just a case of
Same car, different driver
Evil does indeed exist
And those who have sold their souls
Worship at the alter of a false God –
Money
But all it buys them is emptiness
And if there is an eternity
What a hell it would be to spend it in the state of regret
Arrogance comes before a fall
And the weather report suggests a hard rain

(C) Frank Howson 2017

THE MUSE

I came
I saw
And was conquered
So many roads to choose
But they all became the same
I was driven
Before being driven mad
To seek a meaning to it all
Or at least some of it
But you clouded the issue
Appearing quite a few times in my life
In the guise of different women
Always fooling me
As I laughed into my drink
Thinking I’d seen it all
You were an exquisite distraction
To my work
But God always removed you
Leaving me with just enough pain
To be able to write about it
So there you live
Forever
In my work
Always young
Always intoxicatingly crazy
Always puzzling
To us mere mortals
Who worshipped at your throne
Thinking we had the time
To make a clean getaway
Before the fall
But it came
Like Babylon
Like Rome
Like America
And now old men
Aged before their time by you
Stand on street corners
And reminisce
While I
Being human
Take the easy way out
By writing about it
God tells me if I write it enough times
Eventually it’ll all make sense
But I have my doubts
And life is short

(C) Frank Howson 2017

MY CONVERSATION WITH GOD

My birth was a bit messy from recollection and ever since I have been flaying around like a man drowning in gasoline. People have come and gone in my life, some leaving an impression, others facial scars, but still, I wouldn’t change it even if I could shoot them.

Life is funny isn’t it?

Sometimes you win and sometimes the cards are stacked against you. Still, it keeps us occupied doesn’t it? I mean, otherwise we may turn into animals and attack each other thinking there was no purpose to it all. But the good news is, there is. I can say this with all certainty now as only a few weeks ago I was stirring my pot of porridge when I saw God’s face on the surface. He said unto me, “Listen, go forth and tell all the fucking morons that I have spent a fortune on this human experiment and have nothing to show for it. Other than one lovely Jewish boy and he doesn’t count because he is related on his mother’s side. All I ask is that you scumbags make a little effort and be nice to each other. It’s not brain surgery y’know? Oh, and your porridge is ready.”

I have since taken to the streets spreading the good news that God is alive and still loves us. And that we need to be kind to each other. In return I have been beaten, spat upon, cursed, betrayed by friends, had my sex tapes made public by Billy Bush, been blacklisted by Hollywood, been lectured by Robert DeNiro on morality, and treated by the media worse than Donald Trump. It could’ve been less kind, though. I could’ve been treated like Joan of Arc and roasted like a chicken as a public entertainment. Thank God I wasn’t a woman.

These days I keep to myself and have stopped eating porridge lest I get any more messages from you know who. I mean, I myself, even, don’t know why God chose me to be the bearer of his good news although he does have a history of choosing flawed messengers. Life is complicated enough without all that.

Father, forgive us we know not what we do.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

MONUMENTS IN THE SAND

The poet took a machete and cut his way through the field of golden daffodils coughing up blood from too many cigarettes, cheap whiskey  and women gone bad. His field of dreams had been burned by looters years before and the only place he felt comfortable with now was a field hoed by blood, tears and guts. He had learnt the hard way that this was the only place a poet could write the truth. That the ugliness outside will always drive you inward.

He was well aware that there was no escape clause in his contract and no safety net for those who braved the high wire. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God, they just weren’t on speaking terms since the Almighty had conspired to take Ruby from him in such a messy way.

He thought it was fitting that his best prose was written on toilet paper. He no longer craved awards or acknowledgements because he’d worn his heart out in the wanting when he was hungry and young, during that long drought before the rains came. Now, the only public he had was himself and the voices inside his head. Some belonged to long gone friends who, in his mind, would give him a slight smile and a nod when he wrote something that was real.

This was his domain now. Building monuments in the sand and watching the tide wash them away, lost to everyone but those it really mattered to.

Then he’d wander home to rest in the field of devastation to dream of beauty. After all, that was his job.

(C) Frank Howson 2017