Another Year in My Life - 2023

The serious part first.

It stands to reason that the older you get, the more of your friends will have died. Still, this year it feels like I've lost a lot of the people I loved, and most tragically, Tabatha.
Leighton Scott  - "Scotty", died in December 2022 but I didn't find out until this year. . There were three
of us roommates Freshman year: Scotty, Linn Allen and myself. We soon got a reputation as "Bohemians". Beatniks hadn't been invented yet. Other class members would gather in our dorm room and berate us for giving Haverford College a bad reputation and hurting their furture career opportunities.  True story - it was the 1950's and young people really thought that way.

Linn and I were the literary types; Scotty was down to earth.  Linn became a journalist
and a playwright. In the class yearbook, he described a future Scotty who
"...devotes  a  good part  of  his  time  to  the  moral  mission  of  offending  the  fragile aesthete.  Plagued  by  timid  professors  who  falter  and  drop  their  pencils  when  fixed with  the  unwavering  indifference  of  his  cold  eye,  he  pacifies  them  with the  gentle  obscurity  of  his  literary  style.  Sadly  we  watch  as  he  tramps  off into  the  jungle,  his  .600  nitro-cxpress  in  one  hand  and  his  Sidney's  Arcadia " in  the  other."
Linn's foresight was 20/20. Scotty got a PhD in History at Cambridge and taught interdisciplinary courses at Appalachian State University. Summers he worked as a bounty hunter and was involved somehow in the conflict in Bosnia.  Sometime around my divorce I engaged him in a long drunken phone call late at night. Scotty didn't show much interest in me or in what I was doing
after that. Fair enough. I don't blame him.

Ike Russell was the bass player in our band. A sweet kid, at least 20 years younger than the rest of us in
the band. He was about to get married and I used to joke to the women in the crowd, they'd better grab him now, while he was still available.   

Last year he started posting incoherent speeches on Facebook. One day in March he left his home and never returned. MISSING posters started appearing around town especially on Minneapolis' West Bank where a lot his music venues were located. Six weeks later his body was found floating in the floodplain of the Mississippi, 50 miles down stream. At that point, someone posted one of Ike's last songs on Bandcamp. It ended

When I die put my ashes in Buckman lake gently,
let my soul go on up to the old witches tree.
I’ll be half way to heaven with Paradise waiting.
 Just 5 miles away from wherever I’d be
Tabatha, Rich and I went to Ike's service. There were over 300 people there, ironically more than ever came to any of his shows.

Tabatha Predovich was my singer. I loved her more than I've ever loved anyone outside my family; and
the last thing she said to me, five days before she died, was the word
"Love." After I gave our CD to French jazz singer, Mina Agossi,  Mina invited me to read a poem in Paris at her next release, a trip which gave me the opportunity to introduce my granddaughter, Marielle, to Europe. Then Mina asked me to contribute to a documentary about Covid and the arts so I had the chance to tell the personal story of Elliot Park and George Floyd to people in Europe. Tabatha made it all happen. She made a rock star out of this scholarly, tone deaf, 65 year old man. She had once worked as a stripper and earlier last year I thought to myself "I'm 83 years old and my best friend is a stripper. Maybe there is a God after all." If so, they're a capricious Deity indeed.
This is a photo album I made for the 15th anniversary of the day I met Tabatha.

These are the words I spoke at the Celebration of Tabatha's life.

Syd Ginsberg
, my former mother-in law and the grandmother of my three children was a sculptor. She
died at the age of 95. When her husband died she moved to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico where there's a large colony of American artists. There she designed her own house and set up her own studio and a sculpture garden to display her work..I stayed there when she invited me to San Miguel to do a poetry reading.

She was always loving and supportive of me and I enjoyed time with her on her annual visits to see her grandchildren in  Minneapolis. Recently she moved to North Carolina to be near her daughter, Jeanne. We all gathered the there in 2018 to celebrate her 90th birthday.

L to R Thomas English, Erica Shillock English, Lennon English, Sid Ginsberg, Stephanie Mitchell, Timothy Mitchell, Ian Shillock, Bret Shillock, Justin Shillock, Marielle Mitchell

Cancer has hit the family hard this year, My doctor is worried about some spots on my lungs. Most distressingly, my son Ian's cancer started growing again and his chemo has been increased to the point where it's followed by 2 days of agony. That's every 3 weeks. He and his wife are incredibly brave.

When I first heard Ian had Stage 4 cancer, I talked to other people who had lost their children: some at a very young age, some through suicide. My only consolation then was the knowledge that things could be worse. That's a troublesome feeling to have because it depends on the pain of others worse off than you. Now I can feel lucky to have 3 years
I never counted on.with my son With Tabatha I feel lucky that I ever knew her. After all, I had worked with 2 singers before her and they both left to concentrate on their own careers. I had to agree that working with an anarchist poet was hardly a sure path to fortune and fame so I couldn't blame them. Tabatha was looking for a side project and just happened to see my ad for a singer and thought it looked interesting.

The Second of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism states that attachment is the cause of suffering. Certainly my love for Tabatha makes her loss so painful. The problem is, it's these attachments that make my life worthwhile. And recovery from grief isn't much better . I cried for two days when Tabatha died. Now I only tear up occasionally. A fading memory is a bitter consolation.
Of course change is constant everywhere. I have two hangouts in my neighborhood, Elliot Park: one, the Gamut Gallery has new owners. The other, the Band Box Diner has finally reopened after Covid, but with reduced hours. My home, my neighborhood will never be the same.

Now my favorites.
Arts - Marielle
I'm so proud of my granddaughter. Marielle Mitchell, who got her Associates in Fine Arts Degree at Normandale College this Fall. 
I was able to help her connect with the arts.Gamut had an art fair in my back yard where we had our portraits painted. In the summer we spent a  couple days in Chicago and went to the Art Institute. They had a special exhibit on Seurat/Van Gogh, a connection I hadn't made before (dots/daubs) 

Show - Hamilton
This is the second time I've attended this three hour explosion of sheer energy; but with this crowd, you know I enjoyed it even more than ever! L. to R. Stephanie Mitchell, Marielle Mitchell. me. Anne Shillock.

Movie - Barbie 
with Bradley Coleman Johnson
I got really cynical when I heard they were making a movie about Barbie. How dumb can you get? It sounded like something that would rival The Flying Nun or even My Mother the Car in cliched stupidity! So I was delighted to read they had taken a very clever approach: acknowledging that Barbie represents an idealized fantasy and sending her on a trip to a place named the Real World. I contacted a buddy to come along, in case I was attacked by gangs of estrogen crazed women. We were both blown away. Hollywood pulled out all the stops. The sets and the dance sequences were over the top; the parody of 2001 was hilarious and the satire was razor sharp. At the end it had
deeply touching and profound things to say about men and women, life and death.

 It was one of the most imaginative movies I've ever seen; a perfect realization of what the Situationists called detournement which is repurposing artistic tropes to subvert their original intent. (You've seen these Batman/Robin memes all over.) Barbie is using Hollywood cliches to attack the power culture that gave rise to them. By playing totally against expectations so well the whole genre is elevated.
Books -Some memoirs and such, of people I've met
Lucinda Williams - Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You
Even though she has a lot of Minneapolis connections - her husband, songs called Hum's Liquor and Minneapolis, - I've only spoken to her once. It was the first night I heard her, I happened to walk into the 7th Street Entry and got
with Lisa Kennedy & Jon Bradley
hooked right away. At the end of her set she announced she'd be hanging out at the Times Bar down the street. I headed over there later and the place was so full they weren't letting anyone else in the front door. I walked around to the back and came in through the kitchen; Lucinda had a crowd around her but I managed to get her to sign some comps I'd picked up for her next show. This year I took this book for her to sign when Lisa Kennedy and I saw her at the Dakota. However Lucinda is still recovering from a stroke. Her songs sounded great but her husband had to help her onstage and the staff said she wasn't hanging out afterwards.

I enjoyed this book more than Patti Smith's National Book Award winner,  Just Kids. Lucinda had to struggle harder and she tells a grittier, more dramatic story. She's the daughter of poet Miller Williams and freely incorporates poetic devices into country-western. My favorite song is Changed the Locks on my Door where she completely dismantles the verse-chorus structure of traditional song then puts it back together so that it delivers a punch.
Lynette has been one of the biggest supporters of my work. She had me on her radio show: she's a poet and she and her spouse, Venus, have read at my shows; she's played the violin at my readings; she recorded on my CD and at the release, she read, played the violin, danced with me, and Venus lent me her fog machine! 
Wild Things is the story of the rock and roll spouse, unrolling conflicts between attention to the significant other and loyalty to the band that were complicated by Venus' gender transition during that period. She writes about the need for personal validation, a concept which got me to thinking about how we need it and where we get it. For me, a lot of it came from books, then Tabatha and now, my family..

Heidi Arneson - Work in progress
Heidi is brimming with genius in so many different fields - a sort of Babe Ruth or Shohei Ohtani of the arts. I first knew her from quirky performance pieces that left you laughing or crying - while her deadpan delivery made you scratch your head to wonder why. She also paints and creates claymation videos. Check this one out and for all things Heidi, see here. Her two books certainly aren't memoirs or autobiographical; in fact they bring in elements of magical realism to tell the coming-of-age story of Cat McCloud who lives in a small town and comes from a large family with a creepy uncle
Her next book is about Shelly who runs a B&B in her house which borders a University and a large hospital. I have had the honor and pleasure of listening to Heidi read it to me over the last several  months as part of her editing process. So far it's both more macabre and more whimsical than her previous work, also bawdier. Imagine Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alice Hoffman and Natsuo Kirino boarding with the Addams Family. Genteel mayhem ensues.

I used to believe in human progress and now another war has broken out on the ancient geopolitical fault line between Europe and Asia.The most intelligent thing I've read is by someone I know who works as a psychiatrist in an inner city county hospital.
" I continue to be crushingly disappointed in the ability of most people to consider nuance and question our society’s tendency toward binaries. It is possible to stand with Palestinian liberation and condemn the absolutely horrendous disregard for human life demonstrated by Hamas, acknowledging that the heinous actions of the past several days have not only robbed innocent people of their lives but will now lead to more civilian bloodshed on both sides. It is possible to condemn the IDF’s disregard for human life when considering the massive Palestinian civilian death toll over the past few decades (which will increase tremendously with the upcoming siege of Gaza) and condemn the staggering whataboutism regarding the value of Jewish lives, no doubt perpetuated by antisemitism that lives on a cellular level in many. It is possible to wonder about the origins of Hamas — an organization initially funded by Israel as a counterpoint to Fatah — and acknowledge the existential struggle of the Jewish people that exists far outside the metaphorical borders of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. I can go on and on.

In considering all of the above and much more, I’m left with a yet more crushing disappointment that this is a catch-22 for all involved, and there is no immediately obvious scenario without a massive loss of life. Dark times."     Daniel Volovets

Oddly enough I've come to the same conclusion as Daniel - except thru hatred rather reasoned nuance. As an old anarchist I despise all nations; Palestine as much as Israel. Daniel is a better man than I am.

1 comment:

  1. I love that pix of you & Marielle flanking Grant Wood's painting! - Danny