I am forty-seven years old, and openly weeping like a small child as the first massive chords of "Plainsong" sweep over me. There are over sixty-thousand people here, at last report, sharing the experience.
"I think I'm old and I'm feeling pain, you said. And it's all running out like it's the end of the world."
. . .
It is early in 1987. I am fifteen years old. I'm at a cast party for a high school play at the house of a classmate I've met recently. It's the first time I've heard The Cure. "Subway Song" is playing on a turntable. It trails off to nothing at the end. And then lets loose an earsplitting scream. A sixteen-year-old girl I know jumps high from fright.
It is 2019. A week before Pasadena. I'm chatting with that classmate about the upcoming concert. It was his forty-sixth birthday a bit ago. He's been my best friend for thirty years. And that startled girl? She's now a woman of forty-eight. She lives a few miles away from me with her roommate of two-and-a-half plus decades. Four days after the show we make plans to all get together in a few weeks for dinner.
It's August 1st, 2001. I am in Seattle, visiting the same two women while at the National Poetry Slam. My daughter is a tiny embryo. I am talking to her mother on the phone. The Twin Towers will fall in a mere forty-one days.
It's 2019. My daughter is seventeen and a senior in high school. She is now older than I was when I first heard Robert's voice. He was nineteen when he recorded "Subway Song" in 1979. I was seven at the time.
It's May of 1987. I'm standing in line to buy my first Cure record, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me." The manager of the store notes my intensity. He takes me aside and tells me that if I like this album to come back and he'll hook me up with their best work to date. Three weeks before, I tried to kill myself. It was the second attempt. I will make another in just four months.
It's May 27th, 1992. I'm taking exams in what turns out to be my last year of college. The Cure is playing at William and Mary in Virginia. I could have gone, but then I'd have flunked my exams. I really should have gone. I flunked out anyways, and I end up not seeing them live until just now. It really shouldn't have taken me that long.
"It was the hope of all we might have been that filled me with the hope to wish impossible things."
It's 1989. I am kissing a girl for the first time. I am listening to The Cure.
It's 1991 and she's leaving me. I am listening to The Cure.
It's 1996 and she's leaving me. I am listening to The Cure.
It's 1998 and she's leaving me. I am listening to The Cure.
It's 2001 and she's leaving me. I am listening to The Cure.
It's September 25th of 2006. I am thirty-four. We are making love for the first time. She tells me that I am beautiful. I am listening to The Cure.
It's nine years later, and she has told me she is leaving. I do not believe she thinks I'm beautiful anymore. Later I come to an understanding that she hadn't changed her mind. That it was just that what that meant changed. There is peace in this revelation. I owe her a debt for that.
It's 2019. The night before Pasadena. I'm with a woman I like quite a bit. I don't know if I know what love is anymore, but whatever this is? I have no need to know what it is. I can be kind and she can be kind and in the moment and we're just able to enjoy each other. This feels like growth.
I still listen to the Cure.
. . .
It's several hours after the show, and I'm sitting with a different friend who has the same first name. He gave me the extra ticket he had that pushed me to come out here. Hell, he made it possible for me to see this show. And we're in this bar getting a wee drop. Talking about love and pain and life. I ask him, "What do you want from love, man? Maybe you're asking too much. Maybe you don't need an answer to that question. Maybe you just need to learn to enjoy the moments."
"I stand and hear my voice cry out. A wordless scream at ancient power. It breaks against stone."
. . .
It's 1979. The thing I want most in the world is a 22 inch tall fully articulated Alien action figure. It is a horror fashioned from the disturbing mind of H. R. Giger. I have asked that it be procured for Christmas. My parents are appalled. The holiday comes around, and instead I receive a little red typewriter. I had forgotten that I asked for one. Within a week I have typed up my first poems and am stuffing them into envelopes for mailing to magazines, including one called "The Black Warrior Review." I do not know that it is an extremely prestigious publication. Founded in 1974 it is today, the longest running literary journal run by graduate students in the US. I just thought it sounded cool at the time. They were nice enough to send back an encouraging rejection letter. That Alien action figure really was fucking wicked, though.
The Cure releases their first record that same year: "Three Imaginary Boys." I'm not able to get a copy of it until 1990. I pay about 60 bucks for it.
It's 1987. My English teacher has handed me a folder with zeroxed literature in it. I turn randomly to a page to discover, "Christ Climbed Down." "Christ climbed down / from his bare tree this year and softly stole away into / some anonymous Mary’s womb again / where in the darkest night / of everybody’s anonymous soul / He awaits again / an unimaginable / and impossibly / Immaculate Reconception / the very craziest of / Second Comings." It opens doors in me that I did not know were there. It feels dangerous and subversive. I look for the author's name. It's Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
"I kneel and wait in silence as one by one the people slip away into the night. The quiet and empty bodies kiss the ground before they pray."
It's 1988. I'm reading Howl by Allen Ginsberg for the first time. "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz . . ." It sets a fire deep within me.
It's 1993 and I walk into a reading at the library hosted by the Poetry Society of Virginia. I wait my turn and read a few poems. On the way out a woman by the name of Nancy Powell stops me, asks if I'm a member. She encourages me to join the organization. I am twenty-one years old.
It is August 16th, 2019. I am in attendance at a memorial service for my friend Nancy, who has lost her battle with cancer and passed away. I was elected President of the Poetry Society three months prior. She was hugely supportive of my running. A grandly talented poet, she will be missed. I owe her a debt.
It's April 5th, 1997. Allen has died. I feel broken. Having heard of a coffeehouse about four miles and feeling like reading some poems, I hop on a bicycle and ride down there.
It's 2000. I'm meeting the mother of my child at that coffeehouse for the first time.
It's 1999. I have gathered five other poets at that same coffeehouse for a reading commemorating the Six Poets at Six Gallery reading where Howl changed the world. I point to the night sky and remark that those are the same stars Kerouac read under. That some of this starlight left their origin on nights while he was reading just like them. That we are all connected by these greater things across time and space.
It's 1989. I'm standing at the funeral for Tina Marie Adams. It's the first time a friend has died. My head is bandaged. Other friends stand nearby, also injured. It was a car accident. Coming home from a concert. She was sixteen years old. Her birthday is nine days away from today. She would be forty-seven too if she was here.
It's 1996. A friend and I are listening to "Wish" in his car as we drive to New York. We stop in to see my grandfather in New Jersey. He was a Pearl Harbor survivor and WWII vet. He was a police detective in Lawrence township for decades. He has provided so many sterling examples to me as to how to live a life of service to your community. Of the importance of giving yourself to others.
It's 2012. I'm a pallbearer in the procession for his funeral. I owe him a debt.
It is 1953. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is opening the doors of City Lights Booksellers for the first time. He is thirty-four years old. He goes on to publish books that shaped my life. Books by authors like Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, McClure, Synder, and others. I owe them all a debt.
"I really don't know what I'm doing here. I really think I should've gone to bed tonight but... Just one drink. And there're some people to meet you. I think that you'll like them"
It's the day after Pasadena. I've flown into San Francisco for the first time and I'm walking into that same store, struck with awe. I walk upstairs to the Poetry Room. I sit in the "Poets Chair" that these legends all sat in one time or another. I recite a few words of my own poems quietly and commune with their spirits. While some of their work doesn't hold up for me today, and while the more I learned about the personal lives of these heroes of mine the less sure I became that they were worthy of all the admiration? They were important beyond measure to me. I wouldn't exist as I am now without them. I explain this to the store manager. That I was a homeless gutter poet kid and then a slam poet and then a publisher of other people’s poetry and now I run one of the oldest poetry organizations in the country. And that it all came out of the work that was done in this building. We take a moment to feel that. He throws some extra stuff in the bag of books and other swag I've purchased. "You did it, man! You made the pilgrimage! Here -- Take these with you too!"
. . .
It's September of 1987 and that record store manager has slipped me a cassette tape with the words "Come on, Pilgrim" scrawled across its surface. I tried suicide again that morning, but failed. It's the last time. Later that night I sneak back into my high school. Climb into the rafters of the theater where I have fashioned a bed. Slide the cassette into the player and hear the first strains of "Caribou" by the Pixies. They are instrumental in teaching me how to have fun again.
It's May 13th, 2015. I am shooting the Pixies for my first major show as a concert photographer. I haven't seen them live in twenty-five years.
It's 2019. The Pixies have taken the stage. I don't have credentials to shoot this show, but I was allowed to bring in a consumer camera and I'm taking pictures from within the crowd. This marks the third time I've photographed them. In the past four years I've interviewed both Joey Santiago and David Lovering. I'd like to chat with Frank someday, too. And Robert, of course.
Later Robert opens up "Friday I'm in Love" by singing the words, "Where is my mind." And everything connects to everything else. The love is a physical presence in the space.
It's 1987. A week after I first heard the Pixies. I go back to the record store and remind that manager that he was going to get me some more Cure. You have to understand how different things were back then, before the days of Internet music. You had to find out about these records in order to buy them. You had to know people who knew the music. And very often the bands we most associate with the eighties now weren't easily found in stores. The songs we hear on those playlists today weren't played on the radio. They were of an underworld and you had to find a pass to gain entry. An obol for the ferryman. He handed me another cassette marked simply, "Pornography." I was a little weirded out by this, but he assured me that it was all good. Listening to the record, I realized for the first that I'm not alone in how awful I felt. That I wasn't crazy. That the world is simply horrible and it makes us feel horrible. The Cure had lessons to teach me, and I was more than ready to learn.
I review music today. Mostly local bands. Occasionally there are complaints that I compare everyone to the Cure. Fuck you. They're our generation's Beatles. It's not my fault you were influenced by them, whether you realize it or not.
Last night I picked up my guitar and started learning "A Night Like This." I don't know that there's any better way to connect with music than by playing it. I head over to an open mic to play it in front of a small audience. I can feel its author there in spirit.
There was a moment at the end of the concert where Smith hugged bassist Simon Gallup. Two imaginary boys who have spent their whole lives making music together. Since they were school kids. It was such a beautiful thing to watch, how happy they are making all these sad songs. How much they love each other.
. . .
If time is a dimension, it is a whole surface. If we plot a line, every point on that line is accessible. If we plot a two dimensional shape, all of it exists together. We do not look at one spot on a square and think to ourselves, "We can never reach this point again." It would be silly to say so -- we can see the point, so it must be there. And if time is simply another dimension, than that means that every iteration of ourselves within the entirety of time exists at once simultaneously. From birth to death, it's all there. And it never goes away.
I'll say it again. Time is a whole surface. We are always and ever and always ourselves. And in every bad moment the good ones are there as well. I find the notion comforting. Even if our linear relationship with the idea of time makes it easy to forget. We are always alive, even as we die. We are always in joy, even as we drown in sorrow. And we are always in love, even as the pain of losing love eclipses all other senses.
And so we watch the sun come up from the edge of the deep green sea."
In front of me is a book by Ferlinghetti. Opened to a page where he poetically paraphrases the great playwright, Bertolt Brecht -- who I first studied in high school around the time that I discovered The Cure.
“What times are these
When to write a poem about love
Is almost a crime
Because it contains
So many silences
About so many horrors....”
I think about that in relation to Robert. More than anything, he has written about love. Learning how to love himself. How to love brothers and fathers and mothers. How to love his partner. How to deal with losing love. Every one of his songs is like a single facet of that word. Another friend of mine remarked that in his hands the word love is as the Inuit word for snow. So many ways to say so many things with the single utterance.
This world. It's so fucked, man. We have so much work to do to set it right. But we can't do that work without loving and being loved. All of the best art and poetry and music is about this. The Beats got this.
And Robert gets that, I think. At his core. He helped me get it too.
And I owe him so much for that.
I just fucking owe him a debt.
Thank you sir. For all of it. Just.. Thank you.
-- end transmisssion --
"Deep inside the empty feeling all the night time leaves me. Three imaginary boys sing in my sleep. Sweet child. The moon will change your mind."
Emma Ruth Rundle.