Tag Archives: blues

islands in the raging sea

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with violence erupting
from deranged, festering, unthinking minds…
thirsty for action in the Hollywood style
so like the action thrillers that perked them up
as they stared listlessly
at the silver screen… in the theater
or the computer screen alternative
to their meaningless existence.
rivers of blood and forbidden sex
as an antidote to boredom and insignificance
wishing for a moment of glory before sacrifice
empty moon faces lost in space
spastic hyper active bodies
distended from shallow minds
the Arab spring, they called it, a few years ago
you can find it on facebook, I’ve heard…

can it be…
that we, on our island of serenity
may still enjoy some peace of mind
in the light, filtered through fall leaves
chickens picking at grains of vegetation
in the gravel…
and the cats, leisurely in their presence
taking pleasure in life itself,
cleaning themselves from time to time
awake, aware, but calm
in the patches of sunshine between
the approaching rain clouds

islands in the raging sea
in the midst of the storm

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moods

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Many years ago, while enjoying the hospitality of America, and furthering my education in the US, I fell in love with American music. First, I discovered the blues… and that led eventually to jazz, which is my favorite music to this day. What I loved about the blues was that they offered a catharsis and perspective, both to artists and listeners, often including a hint of humor. For one of the most difficult challenges we face, is trying to work our way out of sadness and depression.

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There are so many great artists and fine songs in that genre, that one could easily spend his whole life studying the culture. Being an outsider, I wouldn’t take it upon myself to be your guide. Yet I do remember one song that I consider an excellent example of the genre because of two lines that have amused me since I first heard them. And that’s ‘I Will Turn Your Money Green’ by Furry Lewis first recorded in 1928. They are: ‘If the river was whiskey, baby, and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom, Lord, and I’d never come up’. And later in the song, he sings, ‘I been down so long, it seems like up to me’. This line served as the name of a novel written by Richard Fariña, published in 1966, and was later the title of a song by the Doors.

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What had me thinking about the blues was a combination of listening to bad news on the radio here, all of this week, and reading a touching blog post by John Hayden, called Retirement, Depression, And Blogging. The week before that, there had been an incident here in my country, of a man biting a dog. Now, those of us who’ve studied Journalism 101 know that such an incident is a legitimate news item. But our local journalists who fear that the public has grown tired of exposés of the dire poverty of half the population, and intimidated by the encroaching competition of the internet, fell upon this story as if they’d just discovered a gold nugget in the drain of the kitchen sink. The story was seen as an example of the fallibility and decadence of mankind, and we were berated on countless in-depth studies of what happened, from morning to night, day after day.

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Of course, most folks swore up and down that they had never bitten any dog… but others, like myself you know, who don’t have such a good memory anymore, just weren’t sure. There are things you don’t think about till you’re accused. One of my friends, for instance, when asked if he’d ever spoken out against biting dogs, remained silent for a few seconds more than might be expected. And then, when the reporter mentioned that while males were 40% more likely to bite dogs than other members of the population, he was seen blushing. So hell yes, I was thinking of the blues… I was even thinking of maybe writing a blues song…

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And then I started thinking about how to get up. It’s been unusually hot here in Jerusalem for the last week. Like today, they said it would be 36° during the day, and then go up to 37° at night! So while it’s been that hot, I haven’t been walking that much. But I know that a brisk walk can really improve my mood. It usually stimulates a stream of consciousness which in turn improves my perspective. I thought if I’d go out towards evening and have a long walk, I might have more positive thoughts. Another thing I’ve noticed, is that though I don’t really like getting together with people when I’m down in the dumps, sometimes it is encouraging to see others having a good time, oblivious to the evils of this world.

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So I called up a very tolerant friend of mine, and asked him if he’d care to accompany me in my blue black mood as I walked from Talpiot to the German Colony and back. Despite the heat, it was really a beautiful day. The grass was green, and the sky was blue… and after we got back to the ‘First Station’ in Talpiot… I noticed that the beer was yellow. On our way, we stumbled across a ‘street library’ which was offering free books. You remember how I told you about finding those bus stops in Tzur Hadasah, where people donated their old books, and anyone could just pick one up for free. This street library was much the same, only more elaborate… with a lot more books. I tell you, I’d gotten kind of used to being blue, but after I found a weathered copy of ‘The Island’ by Aldous Huxley, I couldn’t help it… I was starting to feel better.

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The ‘first station’ is what they call the old railroad station in central Jerusalem. It was abandoned when they built the new one at the edge of town. But in the last few years it’s been redeveloped as a popular entertainment center, including bars and restaurants, toy stores, art galleries and jewelry and vegetable stores. We were sitting at the outside tables of a bar restaurant listening to some good Greek music and drinking that yellow beer when the waitress suggested we try their Arak. And would you believe it, it went well with the beer! In fact, I had another. And though I had no appetite to begin with… after a while… it occurred to me that it might be nutritious to eat something.

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Now if that hadn’t happened yesterday evening, I might be as blue today as I was most of the week. I might even have written a blues verse or two for the blog today… and I certainly don’t know what sort of pictures I would have published today. But now, you’ll just have to wait for that, ‘cause right now, ‘it looks like up to me’.

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goodbye don’t lie blues

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This ain’t a walk away from Sodom, but there’s no looking back…
so it’s goodbye and good luck, and I’ll be on my way
you were there when I needed you, and there was nothing you lacked…
yet the world is never ending… and I’ve had my stay

there are faces in the crowd that beckon to me
but it’s winter now, and freedom is harder to bear when it’s cold…
though I’ve always liked adventure… you know my friends, I’m getting old…
while trying not to get distracted, by all the wonders I see
or get carried away by a few steps of sunshine warming my back
the burden is heavy, so I’ll be throwing some of my troubles out my sack

went to sleep last night listening to a song from long ago
about a troubled mind and an ache in the heart…
and a whisky sour that lasted as long as the song
while singing the blues, there’s no need to judge between right and wrong…
but the nights are endless, and the coyotes howl at the moon
and thoughts slouch at the bedpost, imagining images of ruin
you can still hear them when you’re taking a nip for the hangover next noon…

the winter wind is blowing, and it carries me away
and there’s blues in the background, whispering to me … what to say
it’s all so tempting to join in with someone else’s blues
to cry my heart out on someone else’s bad news…
I could do it well, I could give it my heart , and you’d be crying too
but when it’s your own song, you’ve got to tell the truth to be really blue
and you got to face it to tell it; and sometimes that’s more than a man can do
I’ll just finish this whisky now… pour it on my head for a healthy douse
’cause I left her singing … she was built like a brick shithouse

touching our hearts

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Looking back at those days, some thirty years ago in Jerusalem, we were wide open and unsophisticated, but we didn’t know it at the time. The sixties were long behind us, and it seemed at the time as if life had settled down, and folks had gotten serious. But it was still pretty easy to find music somewhere on a week night, and on a Saturday night it was a sure thing. There were a number of bars that were happy to host a performance. You’d see locals and tourists, and expatriates from all over the world who’d find their way here for one reason or another.

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You could see them in the park on a sunny winter day, or in the spring and summer… making music for themselves till they got an audience, and then turning an accidental meeting into a full performance. And there were some very talented people who worked a day job, but came out at night to play. Often the venue was lit by dim lamps or candles because the place itself was lacking anything in the way of decoration, and if it was well lit, we’d have been distracted by the dusty shelves, the deteriorated furniture, or the garish paint peeling off the walls.

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But we didn’t notice all of that. We’d come without expectations, and reveled in the music. Most of us knew one another, by sight if not by name, and we’d have a good time, and a few drinks as the evening grew long. We loved the performers without there having to play a role for us… and if someone started accompanying the musicians while sitting at a table in the bar, he was liable to be asked to come join the band. The scene was very informal.

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There were two stars though, in those days. And though each had their own career, they would often perform together. Libby and Ted. Sometimes they had a whole band to back them up, and sometimes it was just Ted accompanying Libby. They performed the blues and some rock and roll. And when they got into the mood, they could just tear the night down the middle, and stop all conversation in the bar, as everyone there would focus on them, and forget anything else.

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Libby would belt out a blues or some soul song, and she’d have the power of Janis Joplin, though it was never an imitation. She was just doing her own thing. And I remember on numerous occasion, hearing a passing visitor say, ‘Wow, she’s great. Is she famous? Has she made any records?’ Well, she was famous in our town. But I don’t think she ever got to the music big time. She was known in a lot of places here in Israel. I guess you need more than talent to make it big. A lot of drive, and ambitions, and a bit of luck. Sometimes you have to sacrifice part of your private life too. But back in those days, we didn’t need any more than we had… and we had some really fine music of all types.

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The Passover Sabbath

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I mentioned in my previous post, that a dear friend of mine, David, died last week… and because of that, I just didn’t have the right mood to write what I’d planned to write about, which was on the subject of the foods we eat on Passover. This holiday, which began on Monday evening is probably the most connected to food. And we eat from a completely different menu than all the rest of the days of the year. I had intended to tell you a bit about the Passover diet. But as I mentioned, I wasn’t really in the mood. What I didn’t mention, was that I had had a lot of bad news even before the death of my friend. It was a difficult time for me, on a very personal level. And that is what lead me to the subject of today’s post… not the whole list of things that had gotten me down. But about the holiday, in relation to one’s mood.

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goblets, washed and ready for the Passover banquet

I don’t have to tell you how often it happens, that when it rains, it pours. And how that’s true of the blues. You have something go wrong in your life, and then you’re not in the right mood to take the next little break down that comes along… and one thing leads to another, and we can fall into such a mean case of the blues, that all of life seems more misery than worth while. I’ve had periods like that in my life, and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about… It’s a good time to be creative, if the creative spirit burns within. But sometimes, you just don’t want to do anything…

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One of the advantages of our religion, is that there are these holy days, spread around the year… There’s the Sabbath that comes every week, and is considered the second most holy day we have. Only the day of atonement is more important than the Sabbath. And on the Sabbath we forget about our day to day concerns, and behave in a way that disconnects us from many of the goals and aspirations we have in life. Even if you’re a painter, you don’t paint on the Sabbath… even if you’re a poet and you’ve just had an inspiration, you don’t jot down a reminder on the Sabbath. But on the other hand, if you’re mourning the death of someone closest to you in the world, you get up on the Sabbath, and do your best to get into the Sabbath mood. Time out.

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And what’s true for the Sabbath is true for the holidays of the year. On Passover, there’s no mourning, and there’s no sorrow… no matter how bad things are. And aside from the traditional holidays, there are also traditional days of mourning, and fast days… and then, whatever is on your agenda, once again… time out. You stop doing what you were doing, and you cry your heart out, or fast, or do some very serious soul searching.

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And as you practice this tradition, year after year, you learn… whether you want to or not, that the capacity for joy, and the ability for soul searching, and the deepest sorrows… are all things that one can choose… that we can emphasize or direct ourselves in life. We learn to have a slightly different perspective. We learn to appreciate that we’re not the center of the world, and that life goes on, no matter what we’re feeling at a particular moment in time. And even an old man like myself can sometimes get so down in the blues, he forgets that overall perspective… and then, how good it is, all of a sudden, to be reminded by tradition and the discipline of religion, that there are rules that just won’t make exceptions for me personally.

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there’s a bottle of wine in that white bag

And so, during this holiday, I’ve been forced to have a really good time… even if I wasn’t in the mood. I listened to one of my young grandsons, playing a mean piano in the middle of the night, and got together with friends… different people, all of whom have their own sorrows and joys, and shared with them the holiday spirit, catching up, and celebrating. There were a lot of pictures. Some of which never met the camera… because we don’t photograph on the first or the last day of the holiday… But even so, there were more pictures than I could possibly post today… In fact, I’m sorely tempted to post a whole series of my friend Janne combing her cat, Charlie’s fur. I really enjoyed watching that, the night before last… Maybe I’ll post the series one of these days.

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My grandson David, pounding the piano at night

And now, as we are about to move into the Sabbath of the holiday, when we’ll enjoy both Sabbath and the Passover holiday together, I feel almost completely cleaned of the sorrow that I was wrapped up in before the holiday. You caught that, didn’t you. I said, ‘almost’. And almost isn’t really good enough. But I’ve still got a lot of improvement to do. It’s not just that I’m not perfect… sometimes I’m insufferable. But I keep trying. Who knows, maybe this Sabbath I’ll take still another step towards enlightenment. And meantime, let me send my best wishes to all my friends, whether you’re celebrating the same holiday that I am, or another, let’s let the holiday spirit lift us out of our own little worlds, and let us rejoice.

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in the company of two fine women, Noga and Janne

Forgive me for my lack of blog activity, and know that I will soon be back, and commenting and answering your beautiful comments too. And oh yes, I just have to show you at leas tone shot of Janne combing Charlie.

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