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Joseph E Bird

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writing

Sing me a song of what it could be.

If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Then quit.
No use being a damn fool about it. – W.C. Fields

One of the good times. Matt Thomas accompanying me on the harmonica playing the Ray Lamontagne song, Devil’s in the Jukebox.

It was fun while it lasted.

I’ve spent more than a year pretending to be a musician. It started out with a few covers at the open mic of the local coffee shop. That first time was a disaster and I vowed that not only would I never sing again, but I also swore I wouldn’t even show my face at the coffee shop. But I was at it again the following week.

Yes, it got a little easier after that first time, but as soon as I started to feel comfortable with the whole performing thing, the bombs would follow. But I persevered.

I went to other open mics. I made friends, many of them fantastic singers and songwriters who were nothing but encouraging. They still are and I’m so blessed to have them as friends.

I performed short sets at festivals and other events. And I have written a few songs, words and music. I made progress, for sure.

I knew I didn’t have a great voice, but neither does Bob Dylan. I had hopes that maybe my songwriting would be engaging. Meh. Maybe the covers that I did would provide some level of entertainment. Not so much. I tend to perform songs of artists I like – Wilco, Avett Brothers, Foo Fighters – but are pretty much unknown to my audience. And when I do a Dylan song, it’s always an obscure choice.

One of my new music friends will admit he’s not the most accomplished guitar player but he is enormously entertaining. He bellows old country standards and writes clever songs. And he always has fun, which is contagious. Everybody loves him.

While my expectations were realistic and modest, my musical career has reached the point where the disappointment in my accomplishments has overcome the joy of playing music. As Mr. Fields advised, no use being a damn fool about it.

I find myself taking that advice in other areas of my life, but that’s another story.

For now, I’m going to refocus on writing. No more novels, which can be just as disappointing as music, despite critical acclaim. But I have several ideas for writing about music based on my new awareness of singing, songwriting, and the guts it takes to put yourself out there. Hopefully interesting to my faithful readers, and a little more satisfying for me.

Carnival Dreams – The Song

I recently published Carnival Dreams, my collection of short stories, poems, and songs. The book title is also the title of a song I wrote. Friend and colleague, Warren Iulg, wrote the music and recently recorded it. Have a listen.

cordite

photo by vadim kaipov

His hair was greasy under his hoodie and his clothes hung loosely from his skinny bones and had he not already shot me in the arm, I would have smacked him in the face and rolled him down the street. But I’m a realist. I didn’t want to get shot again.

“Sorry,” he said. “Tried to miss you.”

At first I didn’t feel much, just a sting, then I smelled the gunshot, kind of a chemically smell. Cordite, I would learn later, the modern replacement for gunpowder and the reason I didn’t see smoke drifting from the barrel of his gun. A 9mm, I guessed, but for all I knew it could have been a 45. I have no idea what those numbers mean. I’ve never owned a gun.

I looked at my arm and saw a hole in my jacket, my favorite jacket, and a growing circle of bright red blood, being pulled by gravity into an ever-lengthening oval.

“Get in the car.”

I heard him say it, a demand, really, and though I knew he might put another bullet in me, I didn’t comply with his wishes. Instead, I sat down on the guardrail and put my head between my knees and tried to fight off the world turning darker than it already was. If I passed out, the second bullet might be in the back of my head.


copyright joseph e bird, 2022

james

I’ve been writing less these days and playing more music. I’ve been a regular at the open mic night at Coal River Coffee, and though I have no misconceptions about my musical abilities, it’s been a blast performing songs that mean something to me. I never would have done this if not for the encouragement of James Townsend. James is an accomplished singer/songwriter, as you can see if you watch the Press Room Recordings below. He’s also an excellent writer. He’s writing a serial story about Billy the Kid and is currently writing a musical on the same subject.

Of the songs in the Press Room Recordings, my current favorite (my favorites change frequently) is Wars and Rumors.

Enjoy.

she came in through the bathroom window

One of the nonsensical (at least for me) Beatles songs that I added to my set list after watching “Let It Be.”

I subscribed to Disney+ just to watch it. I loved almost every minute of it.

Much has been written about it. Here’s an excerpt from an article written by Jill Lawrence for USA Today, speaking specifically about the concert on the roof.

“That mini concert, and this maxi documentary, underscore for all time the truth and universality of advice I’ve had posted on my bulletin board for years, from the late New York Times media critic David Carr: “Keep typing until it turns into writing.” For the Beatles, that translates into keep playing and singing until it turns into music. For politicians, keep negotiating until it turns into a deal. For scientists, keep experimenting until you get a vaccine. For my husband last week, it was keep trying until that box of boards, screws and what-not turns into an ottoman.”

Great advice.

You can read the entire article here.

and so it goes

All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.

— Ernest Hemmingway

Anna

Vronsky followed the conductor to the carriage and at the door to the compartment stopped to allow a lady to leave. With the habitual flair of a worldly man, Vronsky determined from one glance at this lady’s appearance that she belonged to high society. He excused himself and was about to enter his carriage, but felt a need to glance at her once more – not because she was very beautiful, not because of the elegance and modest grace that could be seen in her whole figure, but because there was something especially gentle and tender in the expression of her sweet-looking face as she stepped past him. As he looked back, she also turned her head. He shining grey eyes, which seemed dark because of their thick lashes, rested amiably and attentively on his face, as if she recognized him, and at once wandered over the approaching crowd as if looking for someone. In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile. She deliberately extinguished the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in a barely noticeable smile.


The first time we see Anna.

From Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.

the porch

Home. The theme of Katie’s writing challenge. I failed to get a new story for March. I tried, but it didn’t happen. I could tell you the reasons, but you don’t really care. Instead, here is something I wrote few years ago that fits the theme. Next month, something new.

She sits on the porch alone

as we drive by.

Stop on your way back.

Past the house,

we turn up the hill that’s almost too steep.

The trees reach out and touch the car.

as if to comfort, as if they know.

In the clearing, faded flowers lean

in front of slabs of stone,

forever marking the place

where we visit those

we can no longer visit.

Gospel music from across the hollow

filters through the trees.

Dusk is creeping closer.

Has it been that long already?

We leave because we must.

She sits on a swing

built by her husband’s father,

so many year ago.

We sit in rockers

and talk.

The porch is painted white,

the floor boards brick red.

Once-sharp edges are now round

from years of touch

by those who rest

on the hill above.

The swing creaks back and forth,

a soothing lullaby.

Nearby a bird calls in strong song.

Farther away, another answers.

Still another sings the song of

the solitary bird.

A frog croaks.

Just one, for now.

Others will follow later.

A cool breeze brings relief

from the hot, muggy day.

The serenity of the world

from the porch

is comforting.

All things of youth

are memories now.

He is gone.

Though there are friends,

though there is family,

she is alone.

She embraces the solitude.

I love this porch, she says.

In the mornings

on the swing

by myself.

I am blessed.

The Lord

brought him

to me.

And he brought me

to this house,

this porch.

And now,

though alone,

I am blessed.


copyright joseph e bird, 2016

listen to this song and learn about art and literature

Yet again I’m at my desk, working, with music in the background. Again it’s Wilco. I’m learning a couple of their songs and I’m letting them sink in. I came across this live performance of Shot in the Arm. When I play it on my guitar it’s just me and it’s a simple song, though the song itself is infused with conflict and doubt. In this live version, you see Jeff Tweedy up front, singing and playing his simple chords. In the background a whole heckuva a lot is going on. The conflict can’t be avoided. Doubt is everywhere. It’s all in the music and it might be a chaotic mess if not for the simple story (Tweedy) holding it all together. It makes a simple song complex and engaging. Good art and good literature do the same thing.

Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm.

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