The Sequoia Saga, POST #4

Dear Readers,

Thanks so much for reading. Here’s another post.

First, a poem about long-distance writers.

Second is Chapter 3 of Cantab Tango.

Third, a link to investigate your Creative Practice.


Yours, David Krancher

Poem of the week:

Ex Atticus Finch, No Deus

A god in a machine, like Atticus Finch,
lives between chance and the law of karma
as does my coffeehouse server and me, but
no professors rave about our perfections—
no critics compare our rants with Aristotle.
We’re too flawed, we carry rags for spills.

The heroes in prayers themselves might kneel
in the rest room, but no line of bladders wait
to argue their urgent points with my principles.
Humans in the flesh swim in mystery enough
that no heroes need float us past our bigotries—
we’re full of coffee enough to join that line.

We writers allow our machines to propagate
our worst instincts into principles of action—
may rejection and spillage be our worst fears.

We all die no matter how many Hail Marys
we flaunt on Saturdays or hide on Sundays—
we only judge words that piddle on floors.

Cantab Tango Novel Excerpt of the week:


On our second night in the studio with Satchmo, he sits with his too-small gut-string guitar on a knee. Tony and I will now hear his new song, his own still-not-finished song, he says. After that last performance, I can’t wait—but this song is a mystery to me. I didn’t write a note. It’s probably not a funk and dance song. It’s probably not an angry screed against intolerance, either, because something else speaks strongly from the humility in his voice today—something from deep inside him, something personal—something authentic?

It’s a secret, but I used to be fat,” he announces.

What? I don’t expect to hear that—an odd way to start. Since I first saw him at an OA meeting, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, but he’s a twenty-year-old in dance-all-night shape. He starts with an understated syncopation: toe-taps, fingerboard slaps, lip smacks—and two different scratch-riffs. It’s a great set of rhythms—but done with a very soft feeling—nothing hard in it. It pulls me in as if it was authentic. True.

Tony looks at his phone. I lean in.

We have an advertiser session booked at ten, so get to it, Satchman.”

Satchmo stares down his heckler with heavy-lidded eyes. Tony looks away.

Yes. Enough fucking around. Here’s the first two verses with tag lines. It’s all I’ve got so far. And a bridge.”

I notice Satch puts his capo high up the neck for a more treble sounding voice—and to give it sharper rhythms.

It starts soft and sweet but it also snaps and pops, so I throw my weight over my right foot and push an ear forward. Even I could dance to this, even in a fat man’s bathtub.

My name is Booker and I’m ten years old.

It’s my first dance and my hands are cold.

Mother made me come or I wouldn’t be here—

So stay away from me, let me make it clear:

Don’t ask me dancing, dancing with you,

don’t ask me dancing . . . dancing with you.

I grab a cookie and head for the back

away from Bob, he still calls me Fats.

If I could ask my lips would speak—but

if you ask me, I’ll lie through my teeth,

so don’t ask me dancing, dancing with you,

don’t ask me dancing . . . dancing with you.”

To end the song, he looks up. No applause is the right response.

Sad and sweet . . . an anti-dancing song—and yet danceable. No bridge?

Tony claps his hands softly, but I don’t know what to say.

. . . so no bridge, you say?”

Oh, no . . . not exactly,” he says. “There is another verse that could be one. I haven’t decided yet. But I’ll play that now.”

Satchmo plays it.

Safe and warm by my TV light

I see Baryshnikov dance so right.

I wish, I wish that I could float away.

So every time I’m feeling down

I stand and push my feet around.

I wish that they could say that I love you . . .

So don’t ask me dancing, dancing with you.

Don’t ask me dancing, dancing with you.

There’s a serious rule, I think, about showing tears to prospective clients, so I stifle myself. It’s easy to imagine a little fat kid thinking of a girl named Cathi and dancing alone, very alone . . . so I can’t speak after hearing it, but Tony does.

So . . . Dancing With You? What’s that all about?” he says. “What a story. But it sounds like a kiddy story, or some teen romance thing from the fifties almost, too girly for hip-hop.”

Too girly, Tone? How can you say that? And who said it’s hip hop? It’s not ‘Lose Yourself’ or ‘Winter In America’ if that’s what you mean. Think about it—this is unique. Unique is good, honest is good. This song is unique. Authentic, you know? True.”

I know its story too well, it seems. It comes right out of his own life, I’m sure. I’ve heard too many speakers in OA to miss how honest this story sounds. When I hold out my hands to Satchmo they move in three-four, like a waltz.

It’s straight forward,” I say. “It’s honest. It’s brave. It’s a no-dance dance track. The rhythms are almost too happy for this song, though. Unless the music toys itself against the lyrics—with irony or something. Yes?”

Satchmo nods.

I like that, too. Do you know Luka, by Suzanne Vega? A huge tune in the clubs. It’s got a rave-up chorus you can dance to . . . and it’s a real sad story—and real like this. Great job, Satch. I like it.”

Satchmo nods and at this point I think to jump up to catch him because he looks like he’s about to fall off the stool. He stands but he teeters.

I should go home now. Up all night. Done. Wiped. To write that last part, I had to stand up the whole time and dance and . . . dance just to get it out.”

I jump up to catch his guitar before it tips off the stool. Tony leads Satch to the couch in the recording booth. He turns off the machines and the lights. I see a blanket float down on the couch.

That fucking ad agency just canceled,” says Tony, “Going another way, they say. Fuck ’em. You know the phrase ‘Power to the people.’ Well, an ad agency, they’re ‘Lies to the People’ in the opposite way. Let’s go out for lunch on their hour and let him sleep on their dime. He’s earned it.”

Tony and I walk. We don’t say too much, but we do take turns shaking our heads. He’s not what we expected our first recording artist to be—but somehow it’s OK, somehow this strangely tender music is exactly right for us. It’s the opposite of preaching: it’s a dance-step call from the smallest of gods. As if Satchmo’s older musical sister was Joni Mitchell or Laura Nyro or Nina Simone.

We find a tiny restaurant.

This is great falafel. Great,” I say.

I feel it’s time to reveal our secret. I do. Tony is not surprised most of Daddy Do is mine, but he does seem to look at me with new eyes. I can get the funk, too.

I don’t mean to take any credit for it, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you this happy,” he says.

This relieved, actually,” I say. “And it’s not your fault. I always hated being on stage—and now I’ve found someone who can do that for me. You know—actually stand right in front of me. He makes me feel free at last, hon. A little happy. He’s tall enough to hide behind. I’m free at last.”

Tony shakes his head as if I’ve sullied the words of M. L. King. But then he forks some tabouli salad and hesitates. It’s always the guy who thinks he’s boss who gets to restate the obvious.

So we’ve got most of two tunes so far, then. Daddy Do and Don’t Dance—not bad for the ‘Ds’—but what else?”

C this time. Coyote is next. My tune. Perfect for him—with a snappy reggae beat.”

Oh. You sure? Two sad songs in a row?”

We’re not programming a CD, Def. We’re exploring possible songs, that’s all. Why are you so antsy today? Got major surgery planned soon . . . or a date later or something?”

I’m kidding, but he gives me a shy shrug.

Oh, you do,” I say. “Who?”

I can’t say—don’t like to gossip.”

Ha! You love to gossip . . . it’s . . . oh, it’s Jaime again, isn’t it?”

He shy-shrugs again.

I speak.

You know—don’t invite me to your wedding, you two—I’m done with that. But I’ll be there at the divorce ceremony though, lawyer in hand.”

Tone Def wags a finger at me.

Coyote then: Ziggy and The Wailers to back him?” he says.

Slick change of subject, Tony.

Or Desmond Dekker. Richard Berry and The Kingsmen. Buena Vista Social Club? Dizzy Gillespie and the Afro-Cuban All Stars?” he says.

Tony shows off his encyclopedic music memory. He should. He’s a fucking wiki of music.

Or just Satch and Jack? And me.”

I nod. I do understand our recording budget is not that encyclopedic. And Tony would still be our best player in any case.

After that we’ve got my song, Insane, with an added thrashing hip-hop beat—part of our new punk-folk hip-hop sound from the unique production of the legendary Tony Records—producer, Tony Caputo.”

Tony shakes his head to hear the bullshit promotional style in my voice.

And then there’s my Brazilian hip-hop mashup “Your $” and then two or three others of his that’ll work after I fix them and after that I’ve got other songs to add, so we should have plenty,” I say. “Especially since we will have new ideas to collaborate on as they float into our studio off the Charles River. We should plan to start recording them soon—but hopefully in Cambridge. In Cambridge. He could live with me to write and record roughs and then use your studio for all the best production ideas, right?”

No. I want to, but we need a signed and legit contract first. No. We cannot invest all this time and money without a solid contract.”

I sigh. I raise my eyebrows. Tony the businessman rears his head.

We can only afford to do all that, invest all that time, if we can use Cambridge for it—but we can’t yet. Mr. Satchmo Jones here is not legal to go—he’s on actual criminal parole—not an unusual situation in New York’s legal system.”

Oh, my god—I had no idea. A criminal? Grand theft mockery?”

Public possession. A park ranger bust a couple of years ago. So he’s got to remain here in the big city unless we give him a salary, like a real full-time job. He needs to be gainfully employed like that. A limited period—two months perhaps or three. Only his parole officer can sign off on it. We go see his parole guy tomorrow so clean yourself up tomorrow: nice clothes, big smile, no weed. I’ve gone ahead and written a business plan for us, too.”

Can we afford that much salary?”

Tony nods. “No problemo. We’ll give him half of yours . . . plus all that pizza money we’ll be saving, right?”

Tony smiles. He’s pulling my leg but he doesn’t kid about budgets. Tony gives our new artist half of everything, my house and my salary. I’ll just have to trust him like I always do.

Tony is the boss—I ain’t lying.

He’s got a real typed-out business plan.

Link of the week:

“How Do You Keep Your Creative Practice Sustainable? How do artists make sure they can consistently maintain their practice, be it through the lens of finances, creative energy, life balance, environmental stewardship, or other facets?” — Read Artist Voices

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