Excavating life’s mysteries

Been meaning to transcribe these quotes from Springsteen’s Ties That Bind documentary, on the making of The River. It’s a simple doc: one part archival footage, one part singing songs and sharing thoughts outside, one part doing the same inside. But I appreciated the perspective on this decade in one’s life.

On your 30s:

By the time you’re 30, you’re, you know, you have a clock that’s ticking. You’re definitely operating in the adult world. And I know I was thinking about all of these things by that time — relationships, their success, their failure — and because of my own personal history it was a mystery to me how people were successful at those things. And really the writer’s life is sort of excavating those mysteries.

On the value of the personal in all writing:

It’s always public and personal, I guess, simultaneously for me. I don’t ascribe to myself any great political conscience or social conscience for that matter, but I always believe I’m trying to write my way out of some box that I found myself caught in when I was younger, or my self or my parents caught in, so really most of the writing I’ve done, it’s always personal in some way. And then it connects to the outside world, and connects to issues of the day, but it begins as a personal conversation between me and myself about something that is still digging at me from either my past or the present.

On writing one’s way through life’s blocks:

I was thinking about how to make these things more than aesthetic ideas in my own life, you know? How do I practically live a life like this, where I make the kind of connections that I’m very frightened of, but I feel that if I don’t make, I’m going to disappear or get lost? A creative life, an imagined life, is not a life. It’s merely something you’ve created, it’s merely a story. A story is not a life. A story is just a story. So I was trying to link this stuff up in a way where I thought I could save myself from my darker inclinations by moving into an imagined community where people were struggling with all those things in a very real way.

20 Springsteen shows

Lori made me a shirt to celebrate at Nats Park this week. The show was great. Three hours and forty-five minutes with terrific sound and a bunch of songs I’ve never been able to hear live before. New York City Serenade was amazing. Summertime Blues, Secret Garden, American Skin, a ferocious Because the Night, Lost in the Flood, Kitty’s Back, Trapped, I’m on Fire, and on and on and on.

Bosstime!

A photo posted by Patrick Cooper (@btrpkc) on

Baby’s 20th show. @btrpkc #bruuuuuce

A photo posted by Lori Grisham (@lorigrisham) on

The 20 shows + 1 cameo appearance:

  1. 9/1/1999. MCI Center. Washington, DC.
  2. 9/28/1999. United Center. Chicago, IL.
  3. 4/8/2000. Kiel Centre. St. Louis, MO.
  4. 8/10/2002. MCI Center. Washington, DC.
  5. 12/2/2002. Philips Arena. Atlanta, GA.
  6. 2/28/2003. Gwinnett Center. Duluth, GA.
  7. 9/13/2003. Fedex Field. Landover, MD.
  8. 10/11/2004. MCI Center. Washington, DC.
  9. 10/24/2005. Richmond Coliseum. Richmond, VA.
  10. 5/28/2006. Nissan Pavilion. Bristow, VA.
  11. 10/15/2007. Air Canada Centre. Toronto, Ontario.
  12. 11/12/2007. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.
  13. 5/18/2009. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.
  14. 11/2/2009. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.
  15. 1/18/2009. Lincoln Memorial. Washington, DC.
  16. 11/8/2009. Madison Square Garden. New York, NY.
  17. 12/9/2011. Guesting with Gaslight Anthem. Asbury Park, NJ.
  18. 4/1/2012. Verizon Center. Washington, DC
  19. 9/14/2012. Nationals Park. Washington, DC.
  20. 1/29/2015. Verizon Center. Washington, DC.
  21. 9/1/2016. Nationals Park. Washington, DC.

Recent poems in my life, with which to emerge from winter?

I know we are still in the first days of February. After temperatures were scarf-less early in the week, bone chills re-emerged last night. But I find myself favoriting the warmth in what I read — Jhumpa Lahiri learning Italian, Cord Jefferson writing about his love for his mother, Washingtonian magazine noting (and capturing visually, if briefly) acres open city land and beautiful city-ancient buildings before they’re gone or disfigured, and, as usual, some poems.

A great way to start the day other day was Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day.” She read it at Obama’s first inauguration. People didn’t love it. I loved it was a way to start my day. Italics are Alexander’s:

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Recently in my feeds as well have been two catch-you-off-guard poems about desire: Mary Jo Bang’s “Definitely” (“What is desire / But the hardwire argument given / To the mind’s unstoppable mouth”) and Heather Christle’s “Pursuits” (“It only gets worse / A girl’s gotta eat”).

And I’ve been catching up on The New Yorker too. Catching up for real. Before the holidays, my backlog had hit three or four months, and the physical stack was so sad. But I began digging over Christmas and have kept the pages turning. I’m now on the current issue. And it’s a double! I’m going to be a week ahead! Maybe. If I finish it today. You can’t count your Remnick chickens before they’re read.

Anyway, here’s the start of Hagit Grossman’s “On Friendship,” a poem of common life and so satisfactorily so, in the latest issue:

If a friend calls out to you late at night from beneath your window
Never send him on his way. And if you’ve sent him away and still
Insist on rigid rules, regain your composure after a moment
And run to the window and shout his name: “Come, Merhav!
Come back! I’ve got some corn cooking! Come eat something.”

Last but not entirely, I’m two issues behind on Poetry (after Conde Zero, so soon, I promise), but two favorites from the December issue were Caroline Bird’s “The Amnesty,” which packed so much metaphor and love in so little space, and Nate Marshall “Harold’s Chicken Shack #86,” which wrings Northwestern, names, race, and poverty from half a quote in a newspaper story.

Marshall also has a good one in the issue about Oregon Trail (“my first venture west was in Windows 98 / or Independence, Missouri…”), and the Poetry Foundation site turns up him penning a “Harold’s Chicken Shack #1.” Maybe the “#86” of the Northwestern poem is poetic license, but I hope there are 84 in between. I’d like to read them.

Related: The Springsteen song “Amnesty” made me think of. No one will put this song on a greatest-hits compilation, or any kind of compilation that comes to mind. But I’ve always found it strange and special, the best song on a not-great album. Heard it playing during a nice dinner at a nice restaurant last fall — Garrison, on Barracks Row — and found it fitting.

Related: It was a nice surprise to find Sally Jenkins writing on the front page of the Washington Post‘s Sports section recently about the friendship between NBA coach Phil Jackson and poet Mary Karr. I blogged about Karr’s “Loony Bin Basketball” poem here two years ago, and the article was a good reason to go back and reread the poem and her interview partly about it.

Related: Edward T. Wheeler writes for Commonweal about his prison ministry. “I was retired, convalescing from a five-month hospital stay, and needed a focus for my free time. … Soon I—a former high-school English teacher and long-ago Jesuit seminarian—was involved in a biweekly writing seminar for GED students, then a book discussion club, and finally a life-skills course sponsored by the state university’s extension division.”

They say Twitter will begin an algorithmically ordered timeline next week. They say it will be optional. I’m glad for the latter.

Sounding good on SNL

Meet Me in the City is my least favorite song of the outtakes in the River sessions in Springsteen’s new Ties That Bind box set. The track strains inside a too-small audio space, and putting new audio over old backing doesn’t come off as naturally as it has previously. But the song sounds great live. Was stuck in my head all morning after the show last night.

And surprises! Paul McCartney surprises. Plus, you know, Tina and Amy.

Santa Claus is comin to town. 🎅 #SpringsteenSNL 📷 @nbcsnl

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