The Scale

Let us look at how we value violence

As a path to behavioral societal corrections

As part of necessary sacrifices

Let us assess our own silence

By measuring the connections

Between our comfort and its ever-raising prices

The costs stem from the choice

To view violence as a problem’s viable solution

Without acknowledging to the maimed and the buried

There is never restitution

We make the pivot to violence causally

We put it into games and entertainments

We view it as a path to power and strength

Instead of as one the souls most damaging contaminants

Sometimes judgement is the mirror

The sentence a song you hear in your head

Now the singer’s voice is growing clearer

Lilting the names of the dead

Maybe you know one among them

From Fallujah or Ferguson

From Aleppo to Attica

Maybe your fist is clenched

As you look upon the protests

Maybe your heart is wrenched

Seeing the agony and the tears of the oppressed

Maybe we start today

Acknowledging a scale that weighs our choices

And that the price we might pay

Is our loved one’s silenced voices?

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Be Brave

I have been thinking about people I have known the past few days who didn’t back away from the moment like the people in the streets fighting for reforms in name of the dead. Here is a story about two of them I have known.


Be Brave-

In the mid 1980’s a van broke down by my house in rural Pennsylvania in the middle of a snow storm on Christmas Eve.  It was a middle aged man and his wife and the man walked up the steep hill to the apartment I lived in with my mother, father, and sister.  My grandfather was visiting for the holidays also.  The man was very apologetic and all he wanted to do was use the phone to call an emergency truck to get the van.  We let him use the phone and they told him they would be there as soon as a truck was available and could make it through the snow storm, but they were not sure when that would be.  He said thank you and walked to go back to the van.  My father stopped him and said that he didn’t like the idea of them waiting in the storm down in the van on Christmas Eve and they should come up and stay with us while they waited.  The man said he would ask his wife and left.  He came back a little while later and said his wife didn’t want to impose and they would wait in the van.  My father quickly put on his coat and went back to the van with the man to change her mind.  He returned a little while later with two slightly bewildered people in tow. My father was a bit of an oncoming storm. At first it was awkward, but after a little bit it wasn’t too bad.  Later in the evening my neighbors came over and a friendly card game was started that went late into the night.  The man and his wife ended up staying for almost two days until a tow truck could get them to a mechanic to get repairs made.  Sometimes it was awkward and crowded, but it was always understood you don’t let someone freeze in a cold van on Christmas day.  I am not sure it was even my father’s choice to offer; it might have been part of his being.  As a child I was annoyed at the lack of space (there was none already), but I understood.  You had to be brave and deal with what came your way.
In 1999 my father had lost a long difficult battle with cancer.  I didn’t have much money and was working at a job where I didn’t get along with my boss and I was worried things were not going well.  I was depressed and unsure what to do with my life or what the future would lead to.  One morning on the way to work I ran out gas.  I managed to pull over and get out harms ways, but I was stuck far from any gas station.  I was going to be late and had no way to contact my job which didn’t seem to bode well for my employment status. I was hungover and thought about sitting there and watching the cars go by, but decided against it.  I wasn’t even sure where the closest gas station was so I started walking in a direction I thought there might be one.  It was a grey day and there were drops of rain in the air.  I walked for about five minutes until I heard a car pull up next to me.  It was a Cadillac driven by an elderly black woman.  She rolled the window down and asked me where I was walking to.  I said that I ran out of gas and was looking for a station.  She told me there was none in the direction I was walking toward and it was a bad neighborhood.  She asked if I wanted a ride to the nearest station.  I accepted and got in the car.  I will always remember what she told me next.  She said ‘I was real afraid to pick you up.  I wasn’t sure if you might be trouble to me, but I decided I should.  My husband died recently and I sure miss him.  He said his whole life that you have to do right and be brave.  He would have picked you up and helped you.  I figure he is gone now and I might not have much time left either, but I am going to be brave too.  Just like he was.’   I said that I was so thankful and that I was sure her husband was a great man.  I wanted to tell her I lost my father recently and he was brave and I missed him too, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to put any burden on her.  She gave me a ride and I got a can of gas.  She even took me back to my car.  I made it to work only slightly late and thought about the elderly woman’s grace and bravery and how proud her husband would have been of her and how my father would have done the same thing as her in the same situation.  I also thought about how I probably would not have.  In my life I have never been able to be as brave as them, but I hope someday I can be and I am forever grateful that people like them sometimes exist in this world.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Merchants of Anger

Merchants of anger

See no color

Hear no melody

Offering immediacy

Gritted teeth

Clenched fists

Ease of blame

Vague contours of control

Outlines of outrage

A road of broken concrete

Leading to a tire fire

In their statements

Evidence a faraway promise

If even thought of at all

Profit and power

Wash over them

When they steal your joy

Hollowness aches inside them

Disdain burns in them

For signs of growth or hope

In any of you

I will let you name them

You don’t need me to

Perhaps you scoff at me

Turn to them and indulge

What they offer for a while

To feel something

To fill yourself with

To provide meaning

Despite its acrid foul flavor

I know though

If you pause

You will realize

You are crying

For what you have lost

It is yours to take back

Your mind is forever changing

But that mind is forever yours

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Seussian Panglossian

The best of all possible worlds
Weighed among a universe of many
A world of harsh scarcity
In galaxies of both emptiness and plenty

I will take this
It is all I’ve got
We will create this
From something it is not

My optimistic friend
That’s just
Foolish magical thinking
Caused by too many fairy tales
And excessive drinking

My negative compadre
That’s just
An invasive thought
We can make this world better
If we give it all we got

Oh your dreamy wishes
The tools we have are many
Limited by the willingness to work of few
But a garden never tended
Come spring will not renew

Such fearful attitude
That’s just
Plain wrongheaded
It’s the world we’ve got
Why dread it?

Always over reaching
That just too much positivity
The world is clay and layers
Not just what you can see

So it goes with me
Candide and Pangloss
Fates tied together
Realizing there are more
Storms still to weather

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Record of the Day 5/18/2020 – Ocean Beach – Red House Painters

I like many records that Mark Kozelek has done over the years. His career has been varied between band projects he was the dominate force in and completely solo projects. I think think the lovely Ocean Beach record is my favorite though. It is a record that I think reproduces the feels of joy and melancholy on an open beach on a windy week day in early summer well. The first three songs on the record (Cabezon, Summer Dress, and San Geronimo) are a perfect opening for the effect the record is trying to produce. They hook you and show you Red House Painters intentions immediately. I find the record somewhat more sincere than Kozelek’s later ironic or absurdist stream of consciousness songs. I love his record Benji, but this early record seems like it was almost from a different person and I suppose being they are about 20 years apparent he likely was.  It is a record I like to put on for a rainy work day, perhaps a Monday, when you might need some vision other than you office.  In my book a classic.

BeardedRiffRaff

220px-Red_House_Painters_Ocean_Beach

Sometimes/Today

Sometimes I feel that I’m failing

From the weather or a smell in the air

Sometimes I feel that I’m winning

Despite the score showing I’m far from there

Sometimes I grow stronger

From something I decided not to eat

Sometimes a rock in my shoe

Slows the pace of my gate

Sometimes life seems like a deep woe

That I carry upon my soul

Sometimes I’m light as the wind

Endless days with no tire or toll

Today’s maybe somewhere in the middle

Some coffee and rain and some hope

Success and failure are not for this moment

Both lie out of the present’s scope

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Record of the Day 5-15-2020 – Room 25 – Noname

In 2016 I would listen to the record Telefone by Noname when walking in mornings often.  It is an easy smooth rap record, good not great.  It did show signs of greatness though.  Noname has great writing ability and wry sense of humor.  Her rapping and rhyming were solid if not quite great yet.  Her 2018 record Room 25 is fulfills that promise.  It didn’t get a huge amount of notice in 2018 from rap audiences despite her association with mega-star Chance the Rapper.  The content is basically tales of a girl from Chicago living in Los Angeles navigating relationships and the industry.  There is sexual content and imagery which is much different than Telefone.  The guest vocals are timed well and enhance the record greatly.  The music and rapping are purposefully slightly low-key and the lyrics and rhyming are intricate.  It definitely feels like a Chicago hip-hop record, with lots slam poetry style rapping and lots great lush jazz style arrangements.  I know when Noname toured the record she sold out places like the Orange Peel in Asheville, but she expressed disappointment at the audiences being all white and didn’t have a strong desire to ‘dance on a stage for white people.’  She also expressed interest in quitting if this continues to be the case.  I hope that doesn’t come to be and her audience expands and is a broad as she would like it to be.  She is a unique talent and I think many people hope to hear more from her.  It would be a shame to lose her voice in hip-hop.

-BearedRiffRaff

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More Pissarro Than Picasso

I want a world more Pissarro than Picasso

More the sum than a piece

More the glory of all of it

Than cubes of us at our least

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Camille Pissarro

Record of the Day 5-14-2020 – Schlagenheim – black midi

I guess you would call Black Midi’s Schlagenheim math rock? Maybe noise rock?  I am never sure where the genres cross over and become something else.  Let’s just say it has a lot going on.   They are kind of somewhere in between the howling fury of The Jesus Lizard and atmospheric chant rock of Alt-J with an ever present undercurrent of Don Caballero.  They play fast, well, and loud with tons of percussive elements and tons of atmospheric changes in tempo.  The first time I listened to the record I thought there were barely any lyrics, but maybe the third time through I realized the songs had full sets of lyrics when them some with actual semi-stories to them.  I am not sure the lyrics matter that much, they seem more like an addition of an instruments to the mix than a necessary element, but they are present.  The vocals are well done, but they are definitely secondary to the music.  To describe it in terms of how you would listen to it I would say you would take a walk and listen to something else and then reach a park bench and sit down and watch the world go by and listen to this.  It doesn’t make you want to move as much as ponder.  This not a style of record I would typically recommend to people, but it is definitely one of the best records of 2019 to me and I think people who might not normally enjoy math rock/noise rock might like it.  Some people might find not find enough melody or emotional engagement, but to certain listeners it is relaxing (almost) and compelling.  I think the phrase that describes the record to me most to is thought provoking.  It sends my mind off on tangents.  It is music that makes you neither want to dance or sing along which is sometimes very welcome in life.

BeardedRiffRaff

220px-Black_Midi_-_Schlagenheim

Dead Sitcoms Stars Cluttering the Psyche

Click

Ted Knight stares at me

Through the late night TV flicker

His hair is white and bright

It hurts my eyes in the darkness

I am sad to see him on the screen

He exists in some alternate universe

The 1970’s that did not exist

But he no longer exists here

Click

Norman Fell stares back on another channel

He is having trouble

With those cohabiting youths again

His career has not yet faded from one bad choice

At the same time

John Ritter’s face is young

His heart is still strong

This will be the greatest moment for both of them

Their faces show they do not know this fact

I do not know what the moments that flash through the

Viewfinder of my life mean

It is unclear until long after the point

And then it is fogged by judgments of episodes

Click

Andy Kaufman is on

Wild, crazed, and manic

Diamond in the rough never cut to a beautiful gem

His pain on display for posterity

Click

McLean Stevenson is

Forever dying on a plane

Shown endlessly

Once dead in life

Doomed to repeat forever

Across the mindscape they are thrown

Living in a syndicated trans-cosmic-loop

They know nothing of the present

It does not exist

The past doesn’t either

It is

Only an alternative reproduction

Dead sitcoms stars cluttering the psyche

Adrift and floating like out of orbit meteors

Digitally represented

Haunting and false

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Ted Knight