Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.


December 2016

We need to talk.

a glance of the eye, the innocent look
the curl of your lips, was all that it took

That’s the first two lines of a song I wrote a few weeks ago. The narrator is beguiled by a look, a smile. It’s a wonderful thing, even if upon reflection, it seems a little superficial. Though the moment may come and go, like so many moments in a lifetime, it might be the beginning of a relationship.

we talked without words, there was so much to say

In this case, it was just the beginning. They moved beyond the magical, natural physical attraction, and they talked. They had a real relationship. Because the conversation is the relationship.

In the case of the song, it was a romantic relationship. But the conversation is also the platonic relationship. The familial relationship. The business relationship. The political relationship. The faith-based relationship.

If you want a relationship, you need to have the conversation.

Years ago I had a friend with whom I had one thing in common: our faith. We had long conversations about the fundamentals and the subtleties of our faith. Because of that, we were friends. Our situations changed, however, and he moved away and we lost contact.

Twenty years later, the contact was restored. I quickly learned that we no longer had common ground regarding faith. But there were other things. He was (and still is) an excellent writer. So we had conversations about writing. The relationship was maintained. But over the past few years, we have come to realize that our viewpoints had diverged too far to maintain meaningful conversations about anything. Neither of us said it, we just quit talking. Which is ironic, because he was the one who first articulated that fundamental truth to me. The conversation is the relationship. I still consider him a friend, but we no longer have a relationship.

That kind of thing happens all the time. Maybe Chauncey Gardner was right. Maybe it’s seasonal. Spring, summer, fall, and finally winter, when things go dormant.

And then there are all of you out there in internet land, most of whom I will never meet. At various times, we have joined in conversation about many things: music, writing, faith. Any given exchange may be only one or two sentences, but over the course of weeks, months, and years, we get to know each other because we talk. Sure, it’s in bits and pieces, but we talk. And because of that, we have relationships.

Weird how you can have friends, yet never sit across the table from each other. Never see an expression of surprise or concern or contentment. Never know what their laugh sounds like. Never hear the sound of their voice, even while you’re having a conversation.

Maybe it’s not weird at all. It’s just good.

Here’s wishing for more of the same in the years to come.

Footnote: The author Susan Scott is credited with the concept of the conversation being the relationship. In her book Fierce Conversations, she discusses the importance of the conversation in all relationships.

Joe Durango

I’ve never been big on New Year resolutions, but I think I’m going to try the George Costanza thing and do the opposite. So instead of ignoring the resolution tradition, I’m going all in, baby!

I’m going to change my writing style completely, and while I’m at it, I’m going to introduce a new character that will drive my writing from here on out. Joe Durango.

I realize that’s not so much a resolution as it is just a change, but heck, let’s not quibble. This is a big deal.

Now the name Joe Durango evokes kind of a rugged image. You don’t want to mess with Joe Durango. So with my character, I need to figure out what kind of story to write.  Here are some options.

Joe Durango.  A tough, gritty cop.  Misunderstood, with a lot of personal baggage. Solves cases his way. Women are drawn to him, but don’t understand him.

“You are one damaged cop, Joe Durango,” Damonica said. Then she walked away.  

Joe Durango, the lonely hero.


Joe Durango.  A drifter, just looking for a steady paycheck and a bunk. No one knows much about his past, but he has a way with horses. The other cowhands are afraid to ask him about the scar on his face. Women are drawn to him, but don’t understand him.

“So, Joe Durango, are you ever going to talk about what happened in Carson City?” Annabel asked. She waited.  “No. I didn’t think so.”

Joe Durango, alone on the range.


Joe Durango. Baseball prodigy, came out of nowhere. Throws a fastball like no one has seen before.  He plays one game in the majors, then walks away from it all. A living legend in baseball, but the rest of his life is a complete mystery.  Woman are drawn to  him, but don’t understand him.

“Take me with you, Joe Durango,” Willow said. “I just want to be with you, wherever that may be.”
“Where I’m going is no place for a lady,” he answered.

Joe Durango, man of mystery.

No, not really.


Ten Rules to be More Interesting

Author’s Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are opinions and as with most opinions, they cannot be verified by any supporting factual evidence, which is especially true in this case, as the author has absolutely no experience in being interesting. In fact, if he wanted to be factual, he would change the name of the article to Ten Rules for Being Uninteresting, and just describe himself. Maybe he should take that approach and reverse engineer this whole interesting/uninteresting phenomenon.

Here we go.

Rule One: Don’t talk in terms of reverse engineering and don’t use the word phenomenon.

Rule Two: Be the kind of person other people like. There is no how-to for this rule. You either got it or you don’t. But we’re not talking about winning a popularity contest here, we’re talking about being interesting. Apples and oranges. Or at least clementines and tangerines.

Rule Three: Don’t read books by Ha Jin. Or if you do, don’t tell anybody. You’re better off if you know who Doosledorf is. Doogledrone. Dumbledore. I had to look it up. (Google Harry Potter.)

Rule Four: Learn to fish. Talk about small-mouth and walleye. This only works with certain people.

Rule Five: Travel extensively. Trips to Wallback and Big Ugly apparently don’t count.

Rule Six: Shop at Kroger, or whatever big, overcrowded supermarket is in your area. People love to talk about their horrific experiences while being forced to shop at stores with great selection and low prices. Relating your own experience will make you more, well, relatable.

Rule Seven: Shop at Walmart. See Rule Six. Same, but different.

Rule Eight: You know, maybe there’s just seven rules.

Rule Nine: Oh, I thought of another one. Ask people about their favorite restaurants. People love to talk about eating and they will appreciate your interest in their dining habits. Don’t tell them that you think Wendy’s makes great baked potatoes. It will destroy your restaurant street cred.

Rule Ten: When it doubt, play like Chauncey Gardner. “In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.” Ahhh. Very wise man. Except he really was just talking about gardening, because he was, after all, Chance, the gardener. Peter Sellers in Being There. Stick to Harry Potter.

Why this hillbilly wears shoes.

I’ve got a few ideas I want to tell you about, but there’s something distracting me right now and I need to get it off my chest. (That’s a weird expression. Remind to look that up.) You may not be able to relate to this, but I live in West Virginia, and most of us don’t wear shoes, what with us being hillbillies and everything. But my office has a dress code. We’re required to wear shoes, except on casual Fridays when pert near anything goes. I just threw in that “pert near” as typical hillbilly lingo to add some local flavor to my story. Most of us don’t really talk like that.

I’ve had my shoes on all day. And my knee’s been hurting from running too much. Either that or just one of them getting old things, so I didn’t run today. So I really have had my shoes on from about 7:12 this morning until now, which, according to the clock Steve Jobs gave me, is 8:13. I’ve been home since about 5:24. I stayed a little late because after everyone left the office, I wanted to try out my new guitar amp. There was a guy who used to work for us, but he got tired of having to wear shoes all the time, so he got himself a job in Florida where all he has to wear are flip-flops, or as we used to say back in the olden hillbilly days, thongs.

Rob – that’s the name of the guy who went to Florida to wear thongs – I mean flip-flops (don’t want to plant any untoward images in your mind) – was a guitar player, too, and he had an electric guitar in the office that he’d play around with on his lunch hour. When he left, I told him he had to leave his guitar. Since I was his boss, he had no choice. So he left me the guitar and a pick. But no amplifier. I went up the street the other day to the Fret N Fiddle. That’s what we call music stores here in hillbilly West Virginia. I asked for the smallest amplifier they had. The young feller (more hillbilly lingo) showed me one for $40. Said it ran on batteries. Well, that wouldn’t work, so he showed me another one for $100. I’m way too cheap to spend that kind of money. Then I saw a little amp on the way out that had vacuum tubes. I should have known better. $500. I blame that on the millennials. Even in West Virginia, we have millennial hipsters.

I ended up getting an amp from an online store for $25. I know what you’re thinking. It couldn’t possibly be any good. But I forgot to get a chord. So today I went back up to Fret N Fiddle. They’re closed on Thursdays. Just some random day to be closed, I reckon (lingo). Up the road I went to Gorby’s Music. I had time since I wasn’t running because of the aforementioned sore knee. Gorby’s has been around forever. I got my high school trumpet there, I think. Or maybe it was Herbert’s Music.

I asked the guy at the counter, who looked like a Gorby, if he ever got any Harold Hayslett cellos in the store. Harold Hayslett is also a hillbilly from nearby (actually, he’s the furthest thing from a hillbilly, but I have a theme going here, so we ask that you bear with us) who makes world class cellos and violins out of gopher wood. Just kidding about the gopher wood. The rest is true. I know this because my sister has a cello that he made when he was starting out. The Gorby fellow says he hasn’t seen one in a while and tells me old Harold is still up on the hill. I told him I thought he died. There was a piece on the radio the other day about Hayslett and I thought they said he died but I was wrong. He’s 99 years old and still going strong. It was John Lambros who died. Lambros was another prominent figure from my sister’s cello days in the area and I guess I got them mixed up. Lambros was 98. There might be a connection between music and living a long life.

So I said my goodbye to Mr. Gorby and went back to the office (still wearing my shoes). My lunch hour was over but I plugged in the guitar to make sure my $25 amp worked. It did. At one point in the afternoon I was tempted to take off my shoes and stick my feet under my desk, but at the time, it just seemed like too much trouble. At 5:02, most everyone had left the office so I plugged in the guitar again. At 5:13, someone hollered from the other side of the building to see if I was still there. In West Virginia, we holler, even when we have telephones. I hollered back and said I was, then he left. I had the whole place to myself, so I cranked it up. Then pushed the little button on the amp that made the distortion sound. All of sudden I sounded like a rock star. It was so cool that I kept playing for another fifteen minutes. Then I went home.

I kept my shoes on even then, because once, a few years ago, I took my shoes off at home and was going around in my socks (it must have been winter). And believe it or not, I stubbed my toe on my shoe. One of those freakishly bad stubs. On my shoe. Ironic, yes? Kind of like throwing your back out when you pick up a pillow, which I’ve done. I thought I broke my toe. The big toe, of course. Ever since then, I always wear some kind of shoe until I go to bed.

Ok. I’ve been writing this little story now for 26 minutes. It’s 8:41. My socks are all bunched up in the toes of my shoes and it’s driving me crazy. I can’t wait for that moment, maybe an hour from now, when I get to set my toes free and they can breathe again and escape their leathery prison. I might write a poem about it. No, I won’t.

I sat down here to make some New Year resolutions and I couldn’t get my mind off my uncomfortable feet. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not.

You didn’t remind me to look up “get it off my chest.”


Good night.

funky jazz for the a.m.


If you’re sitting alone in your office/home/coffee shop and wouldn’t mind some cool background music, click the link, hit play, and crank it up. Prince from 1977.

today there is peace


today there is peace

well, not really
but today, more than any other day,
we want peace

we want the guns to go silent
the bombs to be dismantled
the swords to be sheathed
the fists to be loosened
the anger to be soothed
the hate to find understanding
the trespass to be forgiven
the pained to find comfort
the sick to be healed
the hungry to be fed
the thirsty to have drink
the forgotten to be remembered
the cast out to be gathered in
the lost to be found
the unloved to feel love
the tumult to find peace

today, more than any other day
we want peace

years ago a child was born
though not all believe
that he was the son of God
that he was born for redemption
that he was the Christ

though not all believe

more than any other day
we pray for peace

copyright 2016, joseph e bird


tell me what I don’t know
see which way the wind blow
spinnin like a gyro
playin with the vertigo
puttin on a big show
fakin like a puppet show
hear me up in idaho
this is it, here we go

it don’t matter what it is
it don’t matter if it true
listen what i say to you
dig my words, dig me, too

leavin on a jet plane
hoppin to the south of spain
sippin on the champagne
scared to try the cocaine
stayin home it so mundane
want to be like charlemagne
livin large, i can’t complain
it ain’t real, its all in vain

it don’t matter what it is
it don’t matter if it true
listen what i say to you
dig my words, dig me, too

tell me that you like my song
yo to me, i can’t be wrong
be my posse, be my throng
if you like, you sing along
ring the bell, bang the gong
dig it man, like tommie chong
fifteen likes and goin strong
make me feel like i belong

it don’t matter what it is
it don’t matter if it true
listen what i say to you
dig my words, dig me, too

copyright 2016, joseph e bird


Electronic vacuum tube

“…for in my radio with all its static I could hear, over and above Beethoven, the progress of a lightning storm a thousand miles away.” – from Prelude, by Mark Helprin.

Do you remember listening to the radio, late at night, and hearing that intermittent crackling?

Things have changed, of course, especially when it comes to how we listen to music.

Back in the day, my dad would occasionally tinker with our old-school television set when it would act up.  Televisons used to be big consoles that sat on the floor, and you would pull on a knob to turn it on, then wait while the vacuum tubes and the cathode ray tube (the tv screen) warmed up. Radios used to be like that, too, until the invention of the transistor. The glowing tubes went away.

Well, they’re back.

So are vinyl records and turntables. Audiophiles (if you play music using a turntable, you’re an audiophile) use words like “warmer” and “richer” to describe the musical experience they claim to hear.

I grew up listening to records on turntables, ranging from the cheap turntable in a cardboard suitcase that we played Beatles 45s on, to my college turntable that I bought after extensive research at all of the high fidelity stores that used to abound. As kids, we’d play a record so much that it would start sticking. So we taped pennies to the tone arm to hold the needle down so it wouldn’t jump the grooves in the record.

Of course with my high-end Yamaha turntable, the needle was referred to as a stylus and there was great debate over the merits of direct drive versus belt drive. I chose belt drive and was surprised to learn that the belt was little more than a rubber band. I wiped each record clean before and after playing with a special record cleaning pad and record cleaning solution, allowed a suitable amount of time between playing to allow the grooves to cool, and never, ever taped a penny to the tone arm.

Then along comes the CD. Digital music. Clear and perfect every time. No scratching from an overplayed record. If I wanted to play a song repeatedly, no problem. It was just as good as the first time.

Next, we started downloading music over the internet. But in order to keep files manageable, they need to be compressed. Some music quality is lost. This is when the audiophiles start to sing the blues.

Now we’ve come full circle in the quest for the ultimate stereo experience. Records, turntables, and vacuum tubes are back. And if I weren’t so cheap, I’d jump on the bandwagon, if for no other reason, than the fun of it.

But I can’t help but think that you’ll hear some crackle and pop from the stylus rumbling over the vinyl grooves, just like we used to, no matter how much you take care of your records.

I was reminded of all of this today as I was reading  Mark Helprin. His character was lamenting the bludgeoning march of progress and its effects on the simple things in life, and he says this:

“…for in my radio with all its static I could hear, over and above Beethoven, the progress of a lightning storm a thousand miles away.”

Maybe there’s truth in that.

Maybe a life is richer with a little static. And scratches. And imperfections.

Maybe perfect is too good.

photo credit: iStock Photography




boze naigle

another musical discovery, boze naigle, the alt hip hop artist on the west coast. this video is a low-key, black and white production to create that retro feel. and i like the casual use of the cue cards, just enough self-conscious to throw the timing off, like he really doesn’t care.  that’s the essence of boze.  cool urban poet.

nah. i’m just kidding about all that. it’s robert zimmerman, of course. 50 years ahead of his time.

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