Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


1 Comment

Bread Crumbs

The guy behind the counter was playing jazz when I took my coffee to a chair in the Just Bob Coffee Shop on Alberta in Northe20160916_142455_hdrast Portland last Friday. It was just after two in the afternoon, and while there was the occasional customer lining up at the take-out counter, most of the seats in the shop were empty. Mostly I didn’t hear the jazz music playing, and when it would intrude into my consciousness every once in a while, I’d ignore it. Jazz is not my thing. It’s funny, my non-appreciation of that purely American music form, because it was a favorite of The Beat writers, including Jack Kerouac, one of the writers I most revere, and try to borrow from as a writer. He wrote like jazz, these long, often connectedly discombobulated riff of words, sometimes making up new words to suit the flavor of the riff. Like jazz.keruoac

Which isn’t really the point, other than saying I love Kerouac and don’t like jazz.

There was a woman sitting in one of the three stuffed chairs in the shop — I was in another, facing her — and she was reading a paperback book, a softcover to be exact, and squinting my eyes I could see the title of the book was “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” She herself was a black woman, young, maybe mid 30s, and was taking notes in a bound notebook like the one I carried in. Mine was for recording any ideas I could brainstorm for the 11th and final story in my collection of Astoria, Oregon tales. (None happened to arrive while I was there.) So, I shifted tasks, and asked The Universe for ideas for future Blog posts — like this one — and the thought came to me to play detective — Buddy Cushman, Coffee Shop Sleuth — and follow the woman’s book wherever it would lead me.

When I got home, it took quite a while from NE way down to SE where I live, with Friday afternoon city traffic, but it was sunny and hot and I was playing, very loudly, one Tower of Power song after another, so the trip was not only tolerable but, in fact, a wicked blast, rolling, singing, howling, party on wheels (think The 52s “Love Shack” www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs ) Anyway, at the computer dr-tatumI googled the book from Just Bob’s and learned it is a highly valued thought piece on race and race identity and relations in the Country, collective experiences and perspectives written by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the President of Spelman College in Georgia. Here is a ten and a half minute review, very thorough and interesting, of the book and its author. It’s worth a look and listen:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_l5bO9KZrY&list=PLlFqqfHxQmjOGUX3oN6On3kJW253lUGRx     I now have the book on order from The Multnomah County Library system.

What can be more important than how we live with, and value, each other?

The woman with the book left before me, and I sat there looking at the sun stream through the multiple front windows of the shop. At some point the barista behind the counter changed the music and I instantly recognized the opening descending bass and violins of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee”. Hard to imagine anyone doesn’t know the song, and certainly anyone who grew up in the 60s. I mean, the empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.

I was struck, wleft-bankehen “Pretty Ballerina” came on a couple of songs later, about the so-often-highlighted black and whiteness of the world — of the day. The woman and her book, it’s black title, and now a thoroughly ‘white’ sounding pop group from 1965 New York City. After another song I walked up to the counter and asked the guy what exactly he was playing. Turns out it was a “best of” collection by The Left Banke called ‘There’s Gonna Be a Storm: the Complete Recordings 1966 – 1969’. A
couple of songs , white poppy little things, stood out to me — I’d never heard them, shame on me, especially working in a record store most of those years and holding The Banke’s debut album in my hands many times. So here they are, for your listening enjoyment, and maybe they are long-time favorites. “She May Call You Up Tonight”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZSlF2AkrS4   and “Let Go Of You Girl”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=POdiO1xOg-E

Way cool. And maybe all this matters not a wit to anyone but me, Buddy Cushman – Coffee Shop Sleuth. Oh well. And by the way, as Oakland’s Tower of Power — a strong example of what glory we can get when you combine black and white — since they helped me along my way home, I’ll end with one from them. Thanks for showing up.

“So Very Hard To Go”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9BRqGpppJw

tower-of-power-19731

Advertisements


Leave a comment

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

the scream

Harlan Ellison, the famous writer of science, speculative, and other fiction wrote a story/book with this title back in 1967 — “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”.  You have to go farther back for Norwegian artist Edvard Munch and his 1893 painting of “The Scream”. For me, they both resonate too well today.

Two years after Ellison’s story was published Neil Young gave us these lyrics: “Blue, blue windows behind the stars. Yellow moon on the rise. Big birds flying across the sky, throwing shadows on our eyes. Leave us helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.”

I woke up this morning, staying up late last night with the network news, and felt that my duty – my job – was to write words of comfort. To comfort. Like St. Francis, not so much seek to be consoled as to console, that where there is despair, bring hope. That where there is darkness, bring light. I sat in the blue recliner that belonged to my mother and felt very strongly that my job for this day was to make my best effort for being a channel of peace.

And yet, it feels like there are shadows on my eyes, that my ability to see clearly, and by seeing understand and come up with a solution, is clouded, smudged, diminished. That I want to scream to stop it – everyone just STOP IT – but that I have no mouth. No mouth big enough and large enough and smart enough and brave enough to shout over the sickness, the division, the on-slot, landslide, the tsunami of bad and badder and still badder yet news that floods our collective view as a Nation, as a Planet. The horror of our everyday that leaps from the screen on ABC and CNN and The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News.

I feel like the person in the painting. Helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.

And yet – again – I can’t give up. I can’t give in. I can’t say “No thank you” to the moral imperative that was waiting for me upon awakening. To be a channel of peace – tsunami or not.

In my case, where I’m at in my 68th year on the crying planet, I’m left with my writing and my painting. My mouths, as it were, with which and through which to scream. For common sense, for compassion, for plain old fashioned kindness and decency, for tolerance, for to each their own and it takes all kinds and we’re all bozos on this bus, for let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

I think that is part of it, and maybe a lot of it, even possibly all of it. The let it begin with me. I knew a guy named Kevin in AA back in Chelmsford, Massachusetts back in the 1990’s. Whenever he was struggling he’d turn to one or another of a couple of older women who served as mentors and comforters to him. He’d moan his particular moan of the day and their reply would always be the same. “It will get better.” No matter his degree of discomfort and psychic pain. “It will get better.” One day, his story went, he’d had enough and confronted them both about just what this “It” was. He was told, the “It” is “You”. You will get better. You will get better, and then it will get better.

I believe that. And I believe that with the right leadership, with true leadership, and with the insistence by leaders that we come together to talk and to listen and just maybe learn something about it takes all kinds and to each their own and, yeah, all of us being bozos on the bus,  maybe then I could get better and You could get better and even We could get better. And then just maybe It would get better.

It’s possible. Harlan Ellison wrote another book, “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World”. Neil Young wrote “A Heart of Gold.” And if you look carefully at that Munch painting you’ll see a couple of figures in the background. Who knows, maybe they’re angels, honest to God angels, just waiting for that scream to yell itself out, ready to step in and bring comfort and hope and light. It’s possible.

I’ve got some ideas, some very specific ideas, about how we could begin to fix the mess we’ve become. I’ll write about them another time, soon. I guess me writing this this morning is opening my mouth and making even just a tiny noise. It’s the best I’ve got today.