Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Mandolin Punk Band

Last week, my spouse woke up and the first thing he said was "What would happen if we both lost our jobs today?"

Now, there was really no reason to think that I would lose my job, although as he points out, a lot of people who have lost their jobs in the past few years probably never knew what hit them.  And although my spouse works as an independent consultant at his job, there's really no reason to think he'd lose his.  It's not like his employer has to pay benefits or the other things, like a high salary, that would motivate them to fire him.

It's interesting, though, when the first words in the morning are thoughts of job loss.  It shouldn't be surprising--those news stories are hard to escape.  I think of myself as the ultimate apocalypse girl, but I'm surrounded by people who torture themselves with thoughts of worst case scenarios.

I always have a plan A and a plan B, and a back-up to both, and a plan Z for what happens should things go really south (buy chickens and learn to make a lot of recipes with mangoes and loquats).  Part of my problem is that the alternate plans start to look really attractive.  Yes, I'll start a retreat center that blends Christian spirituality and creative practices!  I'll quilt for a living!  I'll open a tea room!  I'll go to seminary to become a hospice chaplain!  This week, I find myself thinking of being on the road with my mandolin punk band.

Sure, I'm a little old for a band, and I really can't play--but lack of musical ability doesn't have to be a problem in a punk band.  I can write tortured lyrics with the best of them.

Ah, yes, punk music, a time honored response to economic downturns.  Who knew I'd be such a traditionalist?

I'm sure this Alternate Life Kristin has surfaced because of the great interview I heard with Ben Harper on Sunday (go here to listen, here to read).  He talks about performing, and much of what he says could be applicable to those of us who read our poems too (perhaps less so for people who get up and read a short story or a chunk of novel).  He says a set, which for him is 2 or 2 1/2 hours, "represents 20 to 25 songs. So, if you have a 25-song set, half of those have to be what got you there. So, material from the past - that's 12 songs; five songs have to be just me and a guitar, 'cause there's plenty of people who only want to hear that too - so, that's 17 songs. So, that leaves me with exactly eight songs that can be covers and more up-to-date material."

Obviously, we'd have to adjust a bit as poets, since most of us won't capture an audience for much over an hour, if we're talking about traditional readings.  Still, it's an interesting ratio:  half the poems should be from your past, only a few can be experimental, which leaves you with a little over a third of your time left for new work.  Something to keep in mind.

He also talked about finishing an album, and while he doesn't feel this way with every album, there are times when he says,  " . . . boy, I may make more records but they won't be better than this."  He says he's felt this way after only 3 albums.

Maybe that should be something we ponder when we put together manuscripts, since most of us won't be able to publish as many volumes of poetry as our rock 'n' roll buddies.  Before we send a manuscript out, we should wait for that feeling that our future manuscripts won't be better than the one we hold in our hands.  Or maybe that would be too paralyzing.

I've been sorting through my poetry folder, looking for a poem for today.  Here's one that proves that I've had this musician fantasy for quite some time.  It's not a strong enough dream to force me to actually learn to play an instrument mind you.  Just one of those yearnings that bubbles up every so often.

New Roots Music

                          “You don’t have to wear a Stetson hat to play the blues.”
                                                                                 Chris Thomas King

I want to blend my original passions, punk
and folk, into a new kind of roots
music, mandolins attacked with the ferocity
of a generation with no economic future
and no better way to spend time than assaulting
stringed instruments and hacking their hair.

Carl will play that violin he’s carried across the continent.
It’s endured indignities greater than our mandolin
punk band, poor long-suffering violin, having to hear
itself played torturously by a boy who wanted to fiddle
like a Carter family member, but had to learn Classical techniques.

Russ can play the drums, Westernized, sanitized
versions of their wilder African cousins
with their skins stretched tight across gourds.

Shannon will play the banjo,
that instrument first brought over on slave ships.
Shannon will save it from its Deliverance debacle.

We will play the mandolins bought to honor a wedding
anniversary, back when we could still dream
of time and tireless energy required
to master a new set of strings.

Perhaps seventy years from now, our biographer
will speak of us with the breathless reverence reserved
for the great innovators. We could be the Carter
family of this new music, the Coltrane
of mandolin punk. We can save
our classics from countless car commercials,
remind everyone of the glory days, back when music consoled
and would collapse before it bowed to Capitalism.


Kathleen said...

Loved imagining your band!

Dick said...

Love the poem and want to play bass in your band. But check out this website before you apply for a patent for mandolin punk!

Nic Sebastian said...

What are you waiting for? Start that band NOW! I will buy a ticket for sure!