MONUMENTS AND RUINS

I begin this story in the deep state of insanity, God knows where it will end. It is your fault as much as mine, that it has happened. For, you see, I was the one who came knocking all those nights you chose not to answer the door. But I have waited, without thanks or encouragement. Good things come to those who wait, my mother once told me. So here I sat, in this darkness, waiting for you to acknowledge me.

You didn’t kill me with your slings and arrows. Or your bullets and blades. No. You were crueler. You ignored me to death. I couldn’t find it in myself to forgive you. For you knew what you did. I bled in pain and, finally exhausted from hanging on too long, I suffocated.

I was taken down from my cross by the few who loved me, wrapped in cloth, and buried behind a rock to make sure I didn’t keep coming back like Judy Garland.

But I did. Many didn’t recognise me as I stepped into the spotlight on the stage of Carnegie Hall. But there I was. Transformed. In living colour. “At the top of his game,” wrote one critic, a friend of the producer. “He’s a laughter machine,” wrote another. “What the Fuck?” was the headline of the New York Times. That last review killed me. Again.

I wasn’t used to the warmth of the spotlight so my face hurt from smiling. My hand hurt from shaking others. My back from being slapped by strangers. And stabbed by a few friends. The crazier I became, the louder they laughed. My jokes were all at my expense, hence my well-publicised bankruptcy. I had no idea where I was going, so that became my plan. It has been emulated by many since, and they’ve all ended up in the toilet. Some of us have been in the toilet so long, people are talking.

Your love only gave me cancer. You kept begging me for closure, but you were really nagging me to death. I see it all now. For in death, we all become safe, don’t we? And then others are free to rewrite their memories so they can live with them. And you become enjoyable dinner party chat (gossip that, now you’re dead, becomes safe enough to become fact), to sophisticated listeners on their own way to the big fade-out.

I have kept on living just to spite you. You stole the joy from my life so that I could be as miserable as you. You paid me back for having friends. For having a future. For having a past. For having a positive attitude. For having bothered to put up with you.

I knew that by falling in love with you I’d be destroyed, so I only have myself to blame on that count.

You have more in common with those you detest than you realise.

The years I spent with you weren’t wasted as I learnt more money needs to be spent on mental health.

I’ve been on the streets and caught its madness. Even the traffic lights are wrong. Yesterday the TV lied to me. The toaster has the shits about something. The bathroom has turned right wing. And the refrigerator no longer engages in late-night conversations about literature.

I loitered on the corners of Dream and Nightmare, where I died waiting for a handout. A leg up. A racing tip. A sporting result. A kind word. A smile. A passing ex-wife. Anything.

“Live The Life You’ve Dreamed” was a framed quote on the wall of the local drug dealer.

I have found Life to be quite addictive. Like an Agatha Christie mystery, you keep wondering what’s next.

I can’t afford to travel as much as I used to, so I spend my days going up and down in the elevators of tall buildings. Besides, it does you no good to get away I’ve discovered. Jesus knew that.

I can’t go home any more because too many strangers are living there. And I’ve been away so long nobody remembers me.

I spend most of my days gathering food for the homeless. I call it lunch.

We know what got into Chet Baker’s arm, but what got into his head? Have you noticed that nobody seems to care about the important stuff once they have their headline?

Where is that black girl who showed me that Life was meaningless? She said the less you cared, the more luck you got. I have some questions for her. But I think I may have lost her by confessing that I loved her.

My father always told me that if Hitler had been able to get out of bed each day before noon, he’d have won the war. I’ve not been quite sure what I was supposed to have deducted from that advice. So, subsequently I’ve forced myself to be an early riser for fear of becoming a lazy fascist.

My dear ol’ dad took things to extremes, and no matter what time of the day or night I got out of bed, my father was always awake. I suspect he feared that if he slept in it could lead to him invading Poland. A terrible burden for a man to carry to his early grave. But so you have it. That’s all I was left with.

But what do I know?

It came as quite a shock to me when I was asked to write a book and share my wisdom with the world. I was also somewhat confused when I delivered the finished manuscript to my publisher and he laughed out loud at all the places I’d cried whilst writing it. When I inquired as to why this was, he laughed so hard he fell off his chair and shrieked, “Don’t worry, it’ll be alright!” And collapsed in hysterics again on his expensive carpet. I had to step over him to get to the door.

Later that day I returned to his offices to pick up my hat (I’d left it behind), and was told that a board meeting was in progress discussing my book and it’d been going for hours and I couldn’t interrupt it. I listened at the door and heard many people squealing with laughter, and gasping for breath.

I cried all the way home.

But no one noticed me. Anyway, I see nothing in the eyes of strangers I pass on the street. Nothing. Just an abyss that goes so deep you can’t scramble back from it. I have found myself on occasion, falling. But then, I always lost me again. So I’ve kept falling over and over and over in search of something familiar. In the end, the falling became my life.

I was shunned by everybody and then told to make my own way. I wasn’t in the club. I hadn’t gone to the right schools. My parents were poor. I’d read about universities but didn’t know where they were. This was in the dim dark days before Google Maps. When the Labour Party believed in who they were. And so did we. Everything I learnt I achieved by doing, and not from some academic book. So, I became the eternal outsider. Always looking in on others easy-come good times. Watching them through the window as they munched on expensive Government funded  finger-food and sipping vintage French Champagne. Some of the organisers saw me standing outside in the rain, looking in, and felt sorry for me. They said I could come in if I promised to dry off and only have a cup of tea with the kitchen staff.  But such treatment only made me stronger. And hungrier. So I developed the necessary resistance to haunt them. Eventually they thought they should give me an award as my alienation was becoming obvious. So, they gave me an award nobody had ever heard of but it had my name on it. It lasted a few years before it fell apart. Beating me by a few months. But while I was somewhat together, it got me a few easy lays and a social disease. And, for a time, it felt good to be noticed. It reminded me that I was alive.

It’s best summed up in the words of Ballsack who once said, “There is something out there that stems from something that makes no sense whatsoever to anything other than the something you may attach meaning to.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

I do sometimes remember to look around at the exquisite beauty of nature and am filled with humbling wonderment as well as contrasting anger at man’s obsession with destroying anything he hasn’t had a hand in. Such is our envy. Such is our insecurity. Such is our shortsightedness. Such is our spiteful will to bring about our own destruction. Although, in those last despairing moments of our self-inflicted demise we will cry and whimper like the true cowards we are. And shake our fists at our mothers for bringing creation to us and thus sentencing us to death.

Exist-tense, if we stick with it, rewards us with a present. A gift, if you will. But that can only be fully appreciated if we turn our backs on the past because what happened then was just a series of presents that we initially devalued but either gained from or lost our minds over, and here we are. At the crossroads, going forward or being pulled back into the abyss of “What if?” or “Why?”

People with rooms to spare won’t take in a friend who is homeless. Why not? Because they’re afraid you won’t leave. They don’t mind killing you as long as you don’t die on their premises. And once you do depart this life, there are so many stories they can twist to elevate themselves.

I recently saw workers erecting a monument to someone. It wasn’t finished yet so I couldn’t define who the subject was. But the shoes looked a lot like mine. I wondered whether this monument was a tribute to me and my life. A life in which everything I had ever loved I’d reduced to ruins.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2019

 

UNEASY RIDER

“All they wanted was to be free, and that’s the way it turned out to be…”   The Ballad of Easy Rider.

I was recently saddened to wake to the news that Peter Fonda had died. At my age it has become a regular occurrence, almost daily, to hear about a dear friend, acquaintance, associate, or a boyhood hero checking out of this world.

When I lived in Los Angeles for nine years I was very fortunate to have met a large number of actors, musicians and directors that’d inspired me during my formative years. Some of them became friends, others I’d see around here or there and we’d give a nod and a smile. They were mostly nice people dealing with their own pressures, families, problems and all those things we too juggle. Just on a much bigger scale. The few I encountered that were mean or monsters were the pretenders. The ones who’d seized a spotlight or some power through bluff, marketing or manipulation.

The bigger the talent, the nicer the person is what I found. Mostly.

Which brings me back to Peter Fonda. I only met him once. It was in one of my favourite books stores, Book Soup, on Sunset Boulevard, and I was browsing the latest releases when Peter came in with some people and they began setting up a table for him to do some book signings for his autobiography, “Don’t Tell Dad.” The title referring to his father, the legendary actor Henry Fonda, who was described by his children as being strict, uncommunicative, and unaffectionate. He never told them, ever, that he loved them. One of those closed men from an era when it was deemed unmanly to show your feelings. Perhaps this explains why both Peter and his sister Jane became rebels. Pushing the boundaries, striving to achieve and seeking approval from others. Running wild in Hollywood.

Peter had nothing in common with his father other than looks. I chatted with him that day and he was a genuinely nice, kind, loving individual. Before the crowd arrived he even signed a complimentary copy of his book for me. He was a hippie, spiritually, until the end.

Carving out a film career had been difficult for Peter. When he started out he had to stand in the very large overpowering shadow of his father. Remembered not for his work, but for being Henry Fonda’s son. Then later, he would be referred to as Jane Fonda’s brother. It must’ve been a creatively lonely and humbling existence for him. In fact, in most of his early films he looks stilted and uncomfortable, devoid of any identity of his own.  If the trick to great acting is total relaxation, he was a long way from it.

Not making much of an impression in movies such as “Tammy and the Doctor” “The Young Lovers” and other forgettable fluffy fare, the offers dried up as he sat on the sidelines watching his father continue to shine in major movies, and his sisterJane soar in one film after another. It must’ve hurt Peter to have been thought of as the “loser” of the family, but perhaps those forces also shaped him as the gentle, unassuming, empathetic, kind man he became. He knew, in his own way, what it was like to suffer. To be ignored. Or dismissed.

Like many outsiders of the big slick Hollywood machine, Peter stumbled into the conveyor-belt Roger Corman “B” grade movie productions churned out for drive-in market. These exploitation films had budgets less than what real movies spent on catering. Some of them were shot in two days! And those that worked on them, usually had two or more jobs to perform. But Peter joined an illustrious company of other young, eager outsiders who couldn’t get a break in mainstream movies either. People like Jack Nicholson, Francis Coppola, Robert DeNiro, Bruce Dern, etc.

The brilliant thing about the Corman movies was that you learnt on the job, from experience, seeing yourself on the big screen and seeing what worked and what didn’t. You can now observe in these mostly crappy movies how Fonda and Nicholson go from stilted, self-conscious actors to guys who  become so comfortable in front of a camera, their true self shines through and magic is born. We see this in Fonda’s performances in “The Wild Angels,” and the LSD fuelled “The Trip.”

And so it was, with a small budget film called “Easy Rider” (directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Peter, who also co-wrote the script and co-produced it) that Peter Fonda became a huge international star in his own right, and a cultural icon to a whole generation of baby boomers. His character Captain America oozed quiet confidence and the cool factor in abundance. The way he moved, how he dressed, the manner in which he spoke, had us boys all trying to emulate him. He became our martyred hero who, like us, was so lost, confused and despairing about the world, that we dropped out of the ranks of what was expected of us.

One of the last lines his character utters in the film, just before his date with destiny is, “We blew it.” He doesn’t elaborate. It is a beautiful, sad, famously enigmatic line that in a way is a eulogy to a lost generation.

Although Peter went on and starred in many movies and won Golden Globe awards and nominations for Oscars, it is his character in “Easy Rider” that still haunts us. That cool, disenchanted, silent-type loner, searching for the meaning of life on the coolest looking motorcycle we ever saw.

The advertising by-line to the movie “Two men went looking for America, and couldn’t find it anywhere,” best sums it up.

Peter screened the final cut of the movie to Bob Dylan hoping that the famous troubadour would give permission for his recordings to be used for the movie’s soundtrack. But Dylan was so angered by the movie’s tragic ending, he said he’d only give his songs to the movie if the final scene was reshot and the bikers won. But Peter explained that the two leading characters had to be martyred. That’s what happened at that time, at that place, in America. Young people couldn’t beat the system.

So Bob took a piece of paper and scribbled these lines on it, “The river flows to the sea. Wherever that river flows that’s where I want to be. Flow river flow, let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town…” He handed it to Peter and said, “Give it to Roger McGuinn to finish. He’ll know what to do with it.”

And do he did. Roger added the lines, “All they wanted was to be free, and that’s the way it turned out to be.” And “The Ballad of Easy Rider” was born. Dylan declined a credit as he’d given the lyrics to Peter, and the film, as a gift.

Peter Fonda was born to be wild. He is now free from the chains and restrictions of this earthly world. Free to ride the wind. To be a part of that beautiful dawn. To be as still and wise as the trees. And to flow with that river to the sea.

Farewell, dear Peter. Take it easy.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

ONCE I WAS A CHILD

Once I was a child
And the world was beautiful
And frightening
Loving and cruel
Simple
And complex
Much bigger than me
I looked up to everyone
Seeking guidance
Wisdom
A smile
Some grownups didn’t like children
You could tell by how they looked at you
Perhaps they didn’t like fellow grownups either
But I didn’t know that
I was just a child
I liked to play with little soldier figures
That I collected until I had my own army
Then I started collecting an army for them to fight
They like to hook boys on war as soon as possible
My army won every battle
But none of them got really hurt
They just pretended to be to satisfy my scenario
That’s a grownup word for story
Grownups like to show off
I also liked to listen to the radio
My mum said I could identify every singer
Just from hearing a few bars of their voices
My dad worked every week day
And sometimes he took me with him
I was made a fuss of by his workmates
Because I was a child
Sometimes my mum worked at night
I didn’t like that
I would sit on my dad’s knee
Listening to the radio
Eagerly awaiting her return
I wished that we had a TV set
And then one day Steele’s department store
Delivered one by accident
We never told them
And they never came back
My parents thought it was luck
I knew it was magic
And my wish had come true
But what did I know?
I was a child
Sometimes my much older sisters were nice to me
Most times they weren’t
I grew to accept that
I must have done something wrong to them
And they were paying me back
Or else they knew I was worthless
I should’ve thanked them for bringing this to my attention
But I was just a child
I liked watching things on TV
In those days shows always had a happy ending
And the cast would smile as the credits rolled
Sometimes they’d wave at me while they smiled
And I waved back
Before they faded out
I wished that I could be on TV
And then I was
My parents called it luck
But I knew it was magic
My wish had come true
Again
One day my mum took me to see a pantomime
At the Tivoli Theatre
It looked magical to me
And everyone seemed to be having fun
I wished I could be up there on the stage
And one day I was
My parents called it luck
But I knew much more
You see, I was a child
And for a time my wishes came true
Then I grew up
And I wished I hadn’t
But as much as I wished
Nothing happened
And I couldn’t go back
Ever again
Then my dad went to heaven
He said he’d had enough
So I got married
Because that’s what grownups do
When you replace grownups
And take on responsibilities
And it all begins again
And I got to learn grownup secrets
Like
There are not always
Happy endings
And that wishes rarely come true and it’s more to do with luck
The older you get
The more selective you become about what you wish for
One day my wife took me to dinner
And told me a happy occasion was coming
And soon we had a child of our own
I always knelt so as to not look down on him
No matter what he asked
I always smiled and gave him
Guidance
And what wisdom I had
I tried to make him feel he was worth
Everything
To me
Then one day it was all taken away
But that’s a long story
I guess I’d forgotten in my joy
To say thank you
To the one who grants the wishes
Or luck
And he can be a hard God at times
My mother didn’t want to leave me
Alone
So she hung on a long time
But finally she got so tired
She had to go
Sometimes people ask me what I want
And I answer that I want what I had
A long time ago
When there were heroes
Before the press tore them down
Back when my family and I gathered around
Our hot TV
And watched our favourites
And laughed as one
Cried as one
And cheered as one
When I was a child
And the world was new
Once
When wishes came true
And
If you were lucky
Stayed true
But now I’ve been cast as the kindly old man
And seek signs of affection
In the eyes
Of those I pass in the street
As I did when I was a child
But people’s eyes are cold these days
And they don’t see others
For they are only looking inward
I also smile at children
Remembering when I was one
But they confirm that I am now invisible
For they’ve been taught to ignore strangers
I’m no longer in the club
Expelled for growing too tall
Too grey
Even though my heart remains young
And open
And child-like
The deserted alleyways of night
Sometimes
Are the only friends one can confide in
Walk it away
Walk it away
Around the next corner there is no light
Anymore
And you can lose yourself
Quite easily
Sometimes I am seen
Looking lost
Frantic
Anxious
Searching for my youth
In the recycling bins
Trying to find one little toy soldier
Who might stand up for me
Take my side
Fight the good fight
And guide me
Home

(C) Frank Howson 2019

LONESOME ENDS WITH ME

We sleep in the dark
And wake to a stark
New day
We never learn
We wait our turn
Then forget what to say
When someone nags
We pack our bags
And flee
We push and shove
And try to love
But lonesome ends with me

Wasn’t I there for you
Aren’t I a friend too?
You sneak thoughts into my head
While I rest in bed
I used to feel alive
But now I feel
As good as dead
But
With that having been said…

We give what it takes
And make our mistakes
And cry
We walk alone
And turn to stone
I love you but you lie
I walk the beach
And sometimes teach
For free
That one and one
Can come undone
And lonesome ends with me

(C) Frank Howson 2019

ME WALKING AWAY

My key doesn’t fit any door anymore
No one excitedly awaits my approaching footsteps
No one offers me anything to kiss
But a cheek
My watch doesn’t tell time
It’s taken to telling fortunes
The lifeline on my palm keeps extending
I may outlive you all
Wouldn’t that be cruel?
The only laughs I get
Are from reading Emil Cioran
I know only too well what it’s like to be misunderstood
I see nothing in anyone’s eyes anymore
But suffering
It’s painful to be able to look at people
And foretell their destiny
So I don’t go out any longer
You could’ve saved me
But you seemed fully booked
With married men
And those going nowhere
Good luck with that
Dogs see more in me
Than you do
But you seem hellbent
On waiting for a bus that will never come
And in the waiting
Your life goes by
Until you die
I eat but don’t want
I love but don’t need
I seek but don’t find
I walk but don’t move
I sleep but don’t dream
I listen but don’t hear
I look but don’t see
I give my hand to those in need
Because I never learn
I befriend those who betray me
I rage wars without raising my sword
I remember those who forget me
I stand guilty of all the above
Only because you offered me no chair
What would it have cost you
To have given me some affection?
But I guess your plans were overcrowded
With images of yourself
From those heydays when you were young
And the world was at your feet
But you wouldn’t listen
You never listen
Well, not really
Our only difference is
I know when it’s over
“Too late, too late,” he cried
I have a stubborn streak
That has sprung a leak
I am my father’s son now
I will never ask again
Here I go
This is me walking away

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE BRIGHTEST LIGHT

Where do you find someone
Who’ll give you their heart?
And won’t take it back
Just to tear you apart
Someone who is
Everything she seems
A dream you wake to
When you wake from dreams
I’ve been searching so long
And learned to live alone
You kinda park your life
In a holding zone
But I believe one day
If you keep on giving
You’ll stumble in the dark
And find your reason for living
For it’s a contradiction
That in the darkest night
We see in the faraway distance
The brightest light

(G) Frank Howson

THE MISTS OF DAWN

Down here on this barren battleground
We have been issued no orders
We don’t even know who we are fighting anymore
Yesterday the fog was so thick
We mistakenly shot our own leader
And laid him to rest ‘neath a tree
Perhaps we should withdraw
Which is not a surrender
We mustn’t surrender
For there is too much to lose
But we’ve forgotten what
Send word back
That we have not thrown down our weapons
But we need back up
And supplies
It seems we have gone weeks without sleep
As we sit in the dark every night
Waiting for the enemy to attack
But they never come
This is a very sophisticated strategy
That we have not been briefed on
For our leader is dead
And his family have not received word
For they will only grieve
And too many tears have been shed
Too many hearts broken
Too many roads taken
Too many widows haunting us
In the mists of dawn
But we are holding our position
And ready for action
Eager to do him proud
To fight to the last man
We have burnt our white flags
So we wouldn’t be tempted
Our enemy has a lot to answer for
We just haven’t been informed of what
But we’ve been told to hate them
I wonder if they’re scared like us?
I wonder if they sleep?
I wonder if they just want to go home
Like we do?
I wonder if they’re still there?
Perhaps the war is over
I wonder who won?

(C) Frank Howson 2019