An Interview with Erick Thomas

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Erick Thomas is the founder of and lead guitarist for Harlen Simple. The four piece band out of Virginia also features Travis Williams (vocals), Kenny Morrow (bass), and Ricky Coleman (drums). Their album Pay Up Charlie from Potomac Records mixes rock, funk, blues, and soul in delightfully eclectic fashion.

Since there isn’t a lot known of you yet, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a pretty laid back guy, or at least I think so. I’m a big music junky so my nights off from playing are spent checking out friends of mine who play and sitting in if they’ll have me. When I’m not doing that, I’m in my backyard with friends smoking racks of ribs, arguing about sports and talking about music while my dogs run around.

I’m also pretty sure I’ve got the world’s most patient wife, Aimee, who puts up with all of the craziness that comes with being married to a guy in a band. It’s late nights, crazy schedules and the general drama that comes with the music business. It’s not the go to Ikea and the farmers market on Saturday’s kind of lifestyle. It’s the “let’s go get tattoos and go run with bulls or something” kind of life.

I’ve also got an amazingly smart and beautiful daughter who has the music bug already. Her name is Jasmine and she’s playing drums now. I told her to pick an instrument where she doesn’t have to lug so much gear around but her heart was set, kind of like mine. Aimee is also pregnant with our son. The little butterball will be out in the world in a few months.

What did you enjoy most about growing up in Virginia?

I’m actually a Maryland boy. I was born in Takoma Park and lived in Langley Park and Silver Spring before moving to Virginia when I was a teenager. At first I wasn’t a big fan, Manassas was one of those towns where you took the bus to school and your mom drove you to the mall. It was WAY different from hopping on the bus or taking the metro somewhere with your friends. Those teenage years are tough for anybody. Throw in moving away from everything you know and you get a kid that can be a little “rambunctious.” My mom was a saint! Eventually, I made a couple friends. One of the first ones was Travis (Williams). Now Virginia is home though. I can’t see myself leaving. I’ve got my little family and home life Aimee and I are building here. It’s somewhere you absolutely have to get back to no matter where you are in the world. That’s home to me.

Is it more difficult to get your music out there when you are based out of there as opposed to some of the more densely populated areas out there?

The bigger cities are definitely easier to get yourself heard by more people just because there are more people. But, there are a lot of ways to get yourself heard if you’re willing to put in the work. You have to talk to everyone you know, post and use social media, and most of all, play out. You have to get out there if you want to get heard by new ears. It’s much easier to promote gigs now. The world is a much smaller place. When we play, the day after we always see the follows and likes on the Facebook (www.facebook.com/harlensimpleband), Twitter(www.twitter.com/harlensimple). Instagram (@harlensimple) and Reverbnation (www.reverbnation.com/harlensimple). I wouldn’t have gotten a sponsorship with Steve Clayton (www.steveclayton.com) if it wasn’t for the internet. I doubt they would’ve been hanging out in Virginia and said, “we need to get that guy some picks and slide pieces!”

How is the local music scene faring in your particular area?

From where we stand it seems to be doing all right. There’s a ton of support out there in our little corner of the world. We’ve been pretty blessed with the fact that we’ve built a good rapport over the years with quite a few people in a lot of places. We don’t ever really have a shortage of gigs. The shows are out there. Sometimes you just have to work a little harder to find them. Our manager, Tom Downey, is the man when it comes to that. He’s magic, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to booking. We say we’d like to do something and it shows up on the schedule. I’m not even sure how he does it, and I stopped asking a couple years ago.

Who are some of your influences?

I’m kind of a musical mutt. I’m big on people with soul in the sense that you can hear and feel what they meant when you listen to that song. Otis Redding is a mainstay in my playlists. His voice can tear your heart out and put it back during a single song. Social Distortion is another big one. Mike Ness says what he means and he means what he says. They also happen to be amazing live. I love the Drive by Truckers too. They have written some of the most incredible story-telling songs of the last 20-30 years. Now Jason Isbell is solo he’s turning out some fantastic music too.

Bill Withers is another big one. Anyone who doesn’t own his Live at Carnegie Hall album is missing out. Who could forget Mr. Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, Allman Brothers, Phil and Friends and the Warren Haynes Band? I learned a lot from the mixing of different styles that Brad Nowell and Sublime loved to share. I remember hiding the Black Crowes Amorica album under my bed because of the original cover. What was on the inside was a thousand times better than what my mom didn’t like on the outside. Blind Melon might be one of the most underrated bands ever. Anyone who hasn’t gone deeper than the one song you know is doing yourself a major disservice. I’m all over the place, like I said, I’m a musical mutt.

What’s great I still find new bands I like – bands like Uncle Luscious and Lucero are two everyone should take a look at if they haven’t already. One of my favorite things about music is that it’s a thing that is constantly evolving. It has to. If it didn’t we would’ve already written all of the songs there were to write. If you ask me this question in 6 months the list would probably have a bunch of different names on it.

What first led you to pursue a life of music?

I have loved music since I was a kid. I always said I wanted to learn to play. I wanted to so much I talked my parents into getting me a white JB Player with a black pick guard for my 16th birthday. When I was 20, I had the aforementioned JB Player and an old Yamaha nylon string guitar sitting in my college apartment. One day I looked at them and decided it was time to figure them out. I ran to the computer lab and printed every music lesson I could find online and stuffed them in my backpack. I went home and played until my fingers bled every day.

It wasn’t one thing in particular. It was anything I could figure out. It could be a snippet of a Hendrix song, the solo on What I Got by Sublime, or the chord structure to The Man in Me by Bob Dylan. My poor roommates – I even got them playing guitar, I would teach them whatever random snippet I could teach them so they would play too. That way I didn’t have to stop playing so they could watch TV. It was off to the races after that and I haven’t put it down since. It consumed me. I’ve learned over the years you never figure it out. You’re always chasing a sound, trying to find that something missing, racking your brain about what you need to learn or do to fix what doesn’t sound right.

Side note: I need to thank Doug and Brinkman, my roommates. I’m not sure if you have any idea what a guitar sounds like that hasn’t been tuned and propped up in a corner for 4 years. If you do they deserve more than a thank you.

Where do you think you’d be today if you hadn’t discovered the power of music?

If it all stopped now I’d probably open up a catering business or a restaurant with the wife. I love to barbeque and Aimee is an amazing cook too! That’s why I’m a lot skinnier in old pictures of myself. I would definitely go fishing a lot more than I do now. I used to go out on the Chesapeake Bay with my dad a couple times a year for rockfish, croaker, red drum, crabs, sea trout and blue fish. If I could get it into the boat I was going to get it into my belly. The Bay is such a peaceful place, one of those “Zen type” places for me. Music is the only thing in my life other than my family that I know though. If I were catering or out on a boat, that old blue guitar of mine wouldn’t ever be too far away.

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How did Harlen Simple come about? Can you tell us a little more about that?

Harlen Simple was conceived in a living room, grew up in a garage and cut its teeth in every smoky bar in Northern Virginia. Travis and I were sitting in my living room one day as I was trying to figure out the intro to “Rivers Of Babylon.” Something about the timing or the pattern that day was giving me fits. I had only been playing for about a year at this point and getting stuff like that down would make me crazy. He was ready to go somewhere, and we weren’t leaving until I got the song down. As the muddled notes continued he decided it was time to help. I was playing it “right-ish” but I wasn’t following it enough. Then he started singing…he didn’t just sing, he belted it out. I think I said something like, “Well, it looks like we’re starting a band,” and so it began…

We spent the next 2 years playing anywhere that would have us. It was a lot of open mics, playing at 11 am for all day charity events, playing for free in pizza places or any other place that would have us. We weren’t very good. Actually, we weren’t any good. But we had some potential and we weren’t going to go away. I spent a lot of time at those open mics asking other players how they got their tone, how they played certain songs and what can I do to get better? Travis spent time getting pointers from our friend Brian Barr. He was the lead singer in a band with Kenny at the time – The Truth Hurts Band. Brian would also helped me write some of Harlen Simple’s most popular songs such as I’ll Shine.

Right around that two-year mark things started making sense. We started getting paying gigs and we were getting better. At the same time Kenny became available. The Truth Hurts had broken up, his other band wasn’t playing as much as he’d like and he wanted to get out and play. Josh Marsh, a high school friend started us off and then our second bass player, Dave Garcia had to bow out. We ran into Kenny and he said he needed something. We spent the next couple years screwing with the lineup. Dustin Nadeau played saxophone for us, Mike Wagner was drumming, Ian Maynard played guitar too. We started traveling. We made a couple of road trips to New Hampshire, New York City, Pittsburg, and then it took a little downturn. Ian left to start his own project, Mo (Dustin) and Mike tendered their resignation shortly after. We had to go find a new drummer. Eventually we found John Peterson, and we grew even more. John was there the first time we played the world famous 9:30 Club.

John left when he had to take care of some family stuff. We were left with a full schedule and no drummer. We had 2 days to find a drummer to play a gig up in West Virginia and then film a TV performance the following day somewhere in Maryland. Kenny and I were just about to cancel the shows when we remembered a drummer we had played with back in the open mic days. Enter Ricky Coleman. He agreed to do the gigs, we burned a couple of CD’s and let him listen to them in the car on the way to the gig in West Virginia.

14 years, 3 trucks, 1 bus, and I couldn’t even fathom a guess at how many shows later, here we are.

What do you hope fans take away from your work?

The stuff we write is our heart and soul coming out. These songs are written about someone, something that happened, something we lived through, or something that just got stuck in our craw and the only way to get it out is a song. I just hope that people can relate. Life happens to everyone – sometimes it’s good sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes it’s funny. It’ll make you insane. But it’s ALL emotion. If something we’ve written can get someone through a tough time or be the song people are sitting around singing at a cookout loud and out of tune having a blast, then we’ve done our job.

What can they expect from your album Pay Up Charlie?

This one is pretty unique. It was recorded in 3 different studios over some time and it runs the gauntlet for us. They’re all tunes different from one another. Codeine & Cognac is about being a stuck in a rut with chaos all around you and trying to figure it all out, all the while knowing you’re screwing up but not really changing anything about it. In Your Shoes was about a guy I used to work with that was just a general pain in the ass. Everything he did was the greatest thing ever done in the history of the world at a menial job. The song is kind of tongue and cheek – “If I was as good as you were at everything I might be able to fill your shoes.” The music came about because Kenny had been playing this reggae lick in D minor in practice. I started to toy with it. The bass line had an awesome amount of space I could fit that lick inside. It also helps we recorded it at Golden Sound Studios up in Kensington, MD. Scot (Harlan) is a hell of a producer.

Oh Me we did down at Studio 77 outside of Fredericksburg, VA with our buddy Yarley. He’s got this really cool studio at his house with a big open room downstairs. We were able to record in the same room together, so there’s a feeling of unity complete with imperfections that give it tons of personality. It was old school recording – no digital, no Pro-Tools. What you hear is what you get.

Then there’s Naked Stephen. Travis and our friend Jesse Guay recorded it with my father-in-law, Scot Lienke, up in the mountains at his cabin near Front Royal, VA. A few years ago I was at the beach where we rented a house with my little brother and his friends in Topsail, NC. One night after a few too many grown up drinks clouding the judgment of our grown up choices, we took a walk on the beach. At some point in the walk, our friend Stephen decided streaking was a good idea. The problem was his drunk-ass forgot where the beach house was and he took off in a full sprint. He lost us in less than 5 minutes. We eventually found him the next day hiding in a bush in the marshland, all chewed up by mosquitoes and whatever other critters live in the marsh on the backside of the island. The lyrics tell the story in chronological order.

Who do you consider to be some of the best living guitarist of our time?

I’m not sure what you would consider “our time.” I love guys that have an identifiable sound. Warren Haynes is one of my all-time favorites – his Les Paul coming through that Soldano amp – is instantly identifiable. Billy Gibbons is way up there as well. I love how he phrases what he plays. The turn around on “Waiting for the Bus” has power like a hot rod shifting gears. It levels off and then goes right back into a verse lick that is so fun to play. I can spot a Mike Ness Song in two seconds or less. Dropped tuning with the capo on the second fret gives his tunes such a great tone.

I love how well Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley play off of each other; they’re a two headed monster. Anders Osborne is a madman. He does some stuff I catch myself replaying 20 seconds of one of his songs over and over again asking myself “How in the hell did he do that?” Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes has done incredible work. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to play along with him and failed miserably. There are so many. Gary Clark Jr. is a new guy but an old soul. I can’t wait to hear what he’s going to come out with next.

Are there any little known things about you that our readers might be surprised to learn?

I still can’t read music and I can’t remember the last time we wrote a set list. Instead we talk to each other while we play. If a song ends in E and we’re feeling a groove we roll into the next song to keep it moving. I wouldn’t call myself and adrenaline junky, but I’ve been known to go skydiving, bungee jumping, the aforementioned running with bulls, etc. I’m a big fan of life I guess, and there’s no better way to feel like you’re alive than doing something that might kill you and living through it.

Where do you hope to see your career in music led you next?

I’m not banking on anything, after doing it for this long I know that expecting anything is a recipe for disaster. I would love to get a chance to play with some guys that have influenced me. I would love the opportunity to open up for some guys who have paved the way for guys like me, or at least buy them a beer.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m writing for a new Harlen Simple album. I’m one of those guys that can’t write until I live a little. I need to have something to talk about or to get off my chest. I’ve been tinkering with other instruments as well – keyboards, bass, lap steel, etc. Different instruments enable you to say things another way. I’ve toyed with the idea of finding a band to play bass with on the side, bass players have a cool vibe about them, maybe I’ll go get a little gig doing my best Aston Barrett or Fred Thomas impersonation and people will think I have that cool vibe too.

“You” by Mamta Madhavan

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You

(to J)

 

I watched the burnt morning sun
struggle through the mist as it
chased the dew down the hills.

In my room, I tried putting down
your laughter on paper.
I looked outside to see a blue sky;
bluer than ever, that led me to search for
more blue hiding in the fescue grass.

Up there your giggles tailored the clouds
with curves and shapes as a handful of stars
coyly hid behind the brightness of the sun. As I
write this, your smile got stuck between the bamboo reeds.

Today I want to put down your laughter on paper
And I can’t. They just evade me like how they
find their way out of the bamboo shoots.

 

Mamta Madhavan’s oeuvre includes web content writing, book reviews, interviews, articles, and poetry. Her works have been published in various reputed journals and magazines worldwide. Much of the latter may be found at her blog www.gravidmoon@wordpress.com and her upcoming poetry collection Connecting the Dots. She incorporates vivid imagery into her writings influenced by nature, mysticism and spirituality. Her style of writing is mainly free verse.

An Interview with Kazuhiro Tsuji

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Kazuhiro Tsuji is an award winning makeup artist and fine art sculptor. His work has appeared in several exhibits and such films as How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Planet of the Apes, Click, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to name a few. His hyper realistic technique brings characters to life in a way that astounds the eye and delights the senses.

What were you like as a child? What are some of your most fond memories from your early days?

I had some hard times in my childhood. So I used to spend time alone, riding my bicycle, making something, drawing. Sometimes I went to junkyard and took things apart. I played with insects and animals. Visited traditional craft stores and watched people make something. Those were my escape and most fond memories.

When did you first know that you were an artist?

I think everyone is an artist, it depends on if they express or not. I liked to make something since I was very small.

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What do you love most about creating of your various works?

I love all process from thinking about what to create, when it’s all coming together, and watching people watching my work.

Is there any one project that has been more dear to you than the others or do you love them all equally?

All projects have good and bad, I love them all.

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What was it like to have the chance to learn from Dick Smith? Do you think his encouragement was instrumental in your becoming the artist you are today? What was the most important thing you learned from him?

I learned from him a lot of things. Actually I only had a chance to work with him on a film project a few weeks in Japan. After that , he visited to Japan every year for school where we taught, and after he retired to Los Angeles. We talked about life often more than make up.

I learned a lot from his life. When I made his portrait it was actually a gift from him. I made that for his 80th birthday. And it ended up the biggest gift from him that helped me to realize what I really love to do.

The most important thing I learned from him was how to live before I die. As I spent time with him last few years until he passed. That helped me a lot to leave the film industry to move into the art world.

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What is the most important thing to remember when trying to convey spirit to a sculpted piece?

Connect with the spirit of the subject even if that person is deceased. I think compassion is very important.

Do you have a dream project that you would most like to accomplish?

I like to keep creating and I have a lot of goals, one of them is to do a museum show with my portrait pieces. First may be with 10 pieces. I realized how powerful that will be after I showed my Dali and Warhol piece together at an LA art show, they gathered constant crowds. I loved watching how people enjoyed them and engaged with them.

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Are there any little known things about you that your fans might be surprised to learn?

I’m not sure.

Do you feel it is a privilege to be able to bring beauty to the world through the works of your hands?

It is an honor, if I am doing that. I think all human beings should bring beauty, love, compassion, and care.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I am planning and designing for the next piece.

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For more examples of his work and more information on upcoming pieces please see: Kazu Studios.

An Interview with Ralph Stanley

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Ralph Stanley has been entertaining the masses with his distinctive voice and banjo playing since 1946. Influenced by the traditional music of rural Appalachia he formed the Clinch Mountain Boys, and later The Stanley Brothers, with his brother Carter.The rest became history. As a banjo player he developed the unique “Stanley Style” recognized fast, continuous forward rolls followed by the index finger. In 2002 Stanley won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his version of O’ Death, produced by T-Bone Burnett for the for the film O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?.

What was it like growing up in Southwest Virginia? How were times most different back then? Do you ever miss those days?

Growing up in the hills of southwest, Virginia was a wonderful place to be born and raised. Of course we faced hard times, but the good outweighed the bad.

What do you love most about living in such a rural place as Dickenson County? Do people ever ask you why you decided to stay in the area you were raised?

I always wanted to stay home in Southwest, VA. A lot of folks ask me why I never moved to Nashville. I love the hills and I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

What did it feel like when you got your very first banjo from your aunt all those years ago? Do you remember was running through you mind when you first got it?

I was very excited. My mother gave me a choice to pick from a hog or a banjo. A lot of folks don’t know this but I always dreamed of being a veterinarian in my younger days. I Was interested in animals very much. But my mother could only afford one. Both were $5.00. So I picked the banjo. I’m glad I did.

What was the music industry like in your earliest days there? Any fond memories that stand out most in your mind from that time in your life?

Me and Carter (my brother) started out playing at family picnics and for a lot of our neighbors. They really seemed to enjoy what they heard. So we thought that we could make a living doing that. Once we got started, things moved fast. We had a lot of good success.

How do you think the music industry has changed most since you first began your career over 60 years ago?

Well the music industry has changed quite a bit, but I haven’t. I’m still the same ole mountain singer that sings a song the way I feel it. I don’t try to copy anybody else. I think that’s one of the reasons I have lasted 69 years on the road.

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What was it like to record O Death for T-Bone Burnett? Did you enjoy seeing it in the film?

Oh Brother Where Art Thou really helped old time music. I started seeing a lot of younger folks come to my shows and the crowds doubled. It really did wonders for bluegrass music. T Bone Burnett was a fine producer to work with. As soon as I started singing “Oh Death” A capella in the studio, he said “that’s it.”

Does it take a certain amount of love and dedication to continue a career for 6 decades? Do you still enjoy it every bit as much as you did when you performed your first song?

Yea it does. Music has always been my life. I’ve never known anything else. It’s not a life for everyone though. I don’t know what I would do if I ever retired.

As someone who has been married for over 50 years, what do you think is the key to having such a lasting relationship?

I have a very supportive wife who I love very much. She is a wonderful mother to our children and a wonderful grandmother to our grandchildren. She has always stood behind me.I guess she has been my rock.

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

The most important thing is to keep God first. Obey his commandments and thank him every day for giving you the gift of life. Always be honest and treat people the way you would want to be treated.

Does it feel good to be back in the studio working on your latest album? What can your fans expect from this one?

I’m very proud of this album. All of the guest singers did a fine job. It thrills me that Cracker Barrel and Red River wanted to do this project. I appreciate them so much. I hope my fans will enjoy it.

Do you have anything you’d like to say before you go?

I want to thank my fans for their support and outpouring of love throughout my whole career. I have no plans of retirement. I still love to travel and get on that stage every night. I’ll continue to do that just as long as the good Lord will allow me to do so.

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An Interview with A.D. Winans

Haight Ashubury, San Francisco, year unknown.

Haight Ashubury, San Francisco, year unknown.

A.D. Winans has worked as a poet, publisher, essayist, and short story writer. After returning from the service in Panama in 1958, he went on to become an active member in the Beat and post-Beat Era. He has written more than 60 books of poetry and prose and has appeared in over 1,500 anthologies and magazines. His archives are housed at Brown University.

What was it like being born and raised in San Francisco when you were growing up? What are some of your most fond memories from that time?

San Francisco has changed considerably since I was a child. I grew up in the Haight Ashbury when it was a blue-collar working class neighborhood, with a sizable Russian population. The Fillmore was largely a black neighborhood with many jazz clubs in a consolidated area that many referred to as “Bop City.” The blacks were squeezed out when the neighborhood underwent redevelopment, and the jazz clubs went with them. The Geary Street, Richmond district, had a large Russian population, many of whom moved to Burlingame.  Today it is largely Asian. The Mission district was an Irish neighborhood, but is now home to a large Latin population. Only the outer Sunset district, which was made up of largely middle class whites, has remained the same. My high school (Polytechnic) was torn down long ago and replaced with Condos.

Among my fondest memories is Play Land at the Beach. It was a smaller Coney Island-like amusement park, and a favorite hang-out for sailors and their young women admirers. I spent a great deal of my time as a teenager there. The original (a new one was built after a fire destroyed it) Cliff House was (and remains) a popular eating-place. They had a penny arcade as part of a bigger complex, which included the Sutro Baths with magnificent swimming pools. It was a marvelous indoor swimming facility (my sister used to swim there) with six saltwater pools and one fresh water pool that included seven slides and one springboard. Farther down was the now closed Fleishhacker pool, at the South West corner of San Francisco near the San Francisco Zoo. It was the world’s largest swimming pool in its day. 4,500 feet long with separate bathhouse wings for men, women, and children, and a large restaurant upstairs overlooking the ocean. It was closed in 1971 (although the foundation remains) after the main pipelines were destroyed during a severe storm. There was also an adjacent ice skating rink.

The San Francisco Seals Triple A Coast League Team were my father’s pride and joy, and he passed this passion on to me. Lefty O’ Doul was the Manager and had played the outfield in the big leagues. He would later manage the San Diego Padres to the championship in 1954, the same year I enlisted in the military. Joe Sprinz, the coach, formed two teams of kids and slow-pitched for both teams. I was one of the better hitters. Poetry and writing couldn’t have been further from my mind. I spent hours bouncing tennis balls off the walls of apartment complexes outside our flat on Page Street, living and breathing baseball, always looking for a pickup game. There were two baseball fields in Golden Gate Park, and you could always find a weekend game being played by semi-pro teams like Lucky Lager Beer, Moffit Manteca (a meat packing plant), or Horsetrader Ed’s (used car dealer), and others. The San Francisco Seals were the premier team in the old Coast League, and at one time all three Di Maggio brothers played in the outfield at the same time.

A memory that will always stick with me was an exhibition game between the Cleveland Indians of the American League and the Seals. Bob Feller, who later was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, pitched the first three innings. Before the game they held a raffle, my name was pulled from a fish bowl, and I was called down to the field to have my photo taken with two others kids whose names were also drawn. We were all given a baseball glove autographed by Feller and had out pitcher taken with him that appeared the next day in the evening edition of the News Call Bulletin.

I talk about all this in great detail, in my memoir, The Holy Grail, Charles Bukowski, and the Second Coming Anthology.

There is so much more I could talk about, but it would take up the entire interview. Here is a poem of mine that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I have walked these San Francisco streets
Like a crime photographer walks his beat
My eyes taking in her every movement
My brain recording images real and imagined
In seventy-plus years
Her changes have not eluded me
She is older now
More wrinkled and cranky
Much like me
But the two of us manage to get along
Like business partners looking after
The other’s interest

Market Street once a fashionable socialite
Now a gaudy whore
Mission Street once the home of the Irish
Now glossed over tough looking youths
With dagger stares

The city is like a cup of strong coffee
Stir her long enough
And the flavor floats to the top

I have walked these streets all my life
In good condition
And run down physique
Knowing there is no other city
In the world like her
She is like a pair of empty shoes
Sitting under the bed
With no feet big enough to fill them

She is like a squirrel running between
The live wires of a utility pole
She is like the last bullet
In the executioner’s gun
She is like a room full of poets
Crazed with their own conversation
She is like the face of God
All forgiving in her insatiable
Lust for life

Do you happen to remember what your very first favorite story was?

It was a series of them, the Earnest Hemingway “Nick Adams,” stories. Early on I wanted to be a novelist and short story writer, and submitted stories to magazines like Harpers and the Atlantic. They were returned with the standard rejection slip, which I pasted on the wall of my one room apartment in the Fillmore District of San Francisco. I turned to the Evergreen Review and Avant Garde Magazine. The latter commented, “Your style reminds us a lot of Vonnegut, and he’s no slouch, but it isn’t what we are looking for.” I decided to concentrate on poetry, which has always come easier to me than fiction that
I find I need to constantly revise.

Did you always have a love of words or is it something you developed along the way?

No, I wanted to be a baseball player for the longest period of time. It wasn’t until I discovered Ginsberg, Kaufman, and others in 1958 that I became fascinated with the written word.

I was discharged from the military in 1958 and returned home to find West Coast Beat mania thriving in North Beach, which was referred to as “Little Italy.” I found a part-time job working at the post office and enrolled at City College of San Francisco. I began reading the works of Steinbeck, Hesse, and Camus, and discovered the poetry of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Brautigan, and others. It was while attending CCSF, and after getting off of work at night, that I began spending hours at North Beach, browsing the basement at City Lights Bookstore, devouring underground magazines and reading both known and little known poets. It was there that I discovered Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind, Ginsberg’s Howl, Patchen’s Love Poems, and Corso’s Gasoline.

A.D's father who played first violin in the Denver Symphony.

A.D’s father who played first violin in the Denver Symphony.

What led you to serve in the military? What did you learn from your time there and in Panama?

I didn’t have any job skills when I graduated from high school, and a friend talked me into joining the Air Force with him. My military days are not something I like to look back on. The day I arrived at Boot Camp, I was taken to the processing center and asked what religion I was. I replied Protestant. I was asked what denomination I was, and again I answered Protestant. I had no idea what “denomination” meant. To me there were only Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.

The sergeant felt I was being a wiseass and kept asking me the same question, and I replied in the same manner. I was taken to the barracks and told to strip down to my shorts, and made to sit on a straight back chair in the middle of the room, where the sergeant and a corporal used me for batting practice. When they tired of the game, the sergeant told me, “We’ll put you down as Agnostic, why didn’t you just  say so and save us all the trouble.” Of course today this kind of thing is prohibited.

After completing boot camp, I was assigned to Albrook Air Force Base in Panama, where I played on the baseball team until I injured my leg and was assigned to the Air Police Unit, mostly standing guard at remote jungle posts of no strategic value.

My first year in Panama, the President was assassinated at the racetrack. There were three classes in Panama: The rich hung out at the gambling casino at the Hilton Hotel, the middle class was comprised in large part of Chinese immigrants who owned small shops and restaurants. The majority of the people belonged to the lower class, which lived in squalor and poverty in the rural areas and in downtown Panama.

It was while serving in Panama that I became disillusioned with the American system. The U.S. leased a section of Panama called the Canal Zone, which had all-white schools, a white Governor, and an all-white police force. The Panamanian flag was not allowed to fly next to the U.S. flag. Panamanians were only allowed there to work on the canal, and it was off limits to the military for fear we would contaminate the daughters of the civilians there. It may as well have been Selma, Alabama.

MEMORIES

Panama City
Could have been
Any slum city in America
Run by corrupt police
And politicians
But when you add
The American troops
Sent to safeguard
The people
It was worse than
Any slum you might imagine
Young boys selling their sisters
Taxi drivers taking you
To a donkey show
Or to the homes of young whores
While less than ten miles away
In the American Canal Zone
It’s home town, U.S.A.
The Governor’s Ball
U.S. Civilian police
White-skinned women
Sipping coffee and tea
Living the American dream.

(This poem is from This Land Is Not My land that won a PEN National Josephine Miles Award for excellence in literature.)

When did you first know that you were a writer? What do you love most about the act of writing?

I never gave this much thought. As for being a poet, I can’t tell you what makes a person a poet. I write because of these strange voices inside my head. I’m like a caretaker who writes down what they dictate. I share the same philosophy as the late Beat poet Jack Spicer that “verse does not originate from within the poet’s expressive will as a spontaneous gesture unmediated by formal constraints, but is a foreign agent, a parasite that invades the poet’s language and expresses what it wants to say.” I have been both blessed and cursed by the inner voices (demons) that possess me.

What was life like during the Beat era? What stands out most in your mind from that time? How has the world changed most since those days?

The difference is like night and day. Back then the San Francisco North Beach Beat scene was like Alice in Wonderland. It was an exciting period of time. I drank at Gino and Carlo’s Bar, where poets and writers like Richard Brautigan and Jack Spicer hung out, and frequented the Vesuvio Bar and the Coffee Gallery, on Grant Avenue, where I was the first feature reader, being paid $5 and all the beer I could drink. Mike’s Pool Hall was another favorite hangout that Ferlinghetti frequented. One of my favorite bars was The Place that Jack Spicer presided over. They had a weekly “Blabbermouth” night, an occasion where poets and philosophers could get up and espouse on any topic that came to their minds.

Another popular place was The Co-existence Bagel Shop, the private domain of Bob Kaufman. People came there in the hope of seeing him read his work. He would jump up on one of the tables and recite his poems and the poems of the Masters. He became a target for the San Francisco Police and frequently was taken to the old downtown Hall of Justice and subjected to beatings.

I ate at Woy Loy Goys, a downstairs Chinese restaurant that served low cost meals; however, my favorite restaurant was Sam Woo’s whose waiter Edsel Ford had the sharpest tongue in town. You had to pass through a butcher shop with cooks wielding meat cleavers to get to the upstairs restaurant where the food was brought up on a dumbwaiter.

And then there was Eric Nord’s Pad, in the old Warehouse District. Eric self-appointed himself as the “King of the Beats,” and wild all-night parties were held until sunrise. Some people think the sexual revolution began in thee Sixties, but it began before the Hippies, where on the rooftop of Eric’s Pad, you would find a string of mattresses strung out with couples fornicating in open view.

On my first 1958 visit to North Beach, on my return home from Panama, I wound up at a bar and restaurant run by an elderly French couple, who also owned the upstairs hotel. I was half drunk out of my mind when I made my way through the crowd to the bar and ordered a beer, when suddenly I felt some one tapping on my back shoulder. I turned and saw an attractive young woman who asked me point blank, “Do you want to fuck?” She had a room at the hotel and we spent a couple of hours in heated passion until she took me to a party and later for my first visit to Eric’s Pad.

A.D. and Blues Icon John Lee Hooker.  California Hall. San Francisco. 2000.

A.D. and Blues Icon John Lee Hooker. California Hall. San Francisco. 2000.

What moments from over the course of your career so far do you hold most dear?

First of all, I don’t consider poetry a career. Those who do either teach or live in a fool’s world. And then there is a second group of poets who do see it as a career, but I find most of them fall into the category of “political poets,” not committed to the art of writing, but on how they can personally benefit from it, how they can milk the system and the grant structure, and they are very good at it.

The dearest moments to me? That would be meeting and becoming friends with poets and writers like Alvah Bessie, Jack Micheline, Bob Kaufman, and Harold Norse. Meeting musicians like John Lee Hooker and Charles Musslewhite. Publishing Second Coming Press for 17 years. Shooting pool at Gino and Carlo’s Bar with Janis Joplin and her friend Sunshine. Organizing the 7 day, 3 county 1980 Poets and Music Festival, honoring the poet Josephine Miles, Blues Legend John Lee Hooker, and poet, community activist Roberto Vargas.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t play it safe. I have always said the only thing a poet has is his or her integrity, sell it out, and you have literally sold your soul to the devil.

What advice would you give to the writers of tomorrow?

The same advice that was given to me, to become politically involved, not by writing “ranting” political poems, but by doing something active in your community, something that helps others. Walk the streets and talk to the people. They are the ones who know what life is really about. And above all else, remember that poetry is not holy; it is only holy when it forgets its holiness.

A.D. and Beat poet Diane Di Prime.

A.D. and Beat poet Diane Di Prime.

 

How do you think you have changed most as an individual?

Well I’m pretty much the same person as I have always been, with the same compassion for the Down & Out and dispossessed, the same mistrust of government, but one mellows as he grows older. I try to hold back the inner anger except in the form of poems. Negative energy is bad karma that comes back at you with health issues.

Are there any little known things that your readers might be surprised to learn?

We all have skeletons in our closet, and I see no purpose in revealing them here. As for my life as a poet and writer, I think it’s all been laid out there. If you have read the body of my work, you know where I’m coming from. My poetry and my life are one and the same. They can’t be separated. But I’m sure most people are not aware of my 1973 arrest for alleged Felony Auto Theft, where I took a parked Yellow Cab (while under the influence of Jack Daniels and LSD) and led the police on a wild chase through the streets of San Francisco. I was not aware of the LSD that had been slipped into a wine punch bowl that led to this incident. This is actually a funny story revealed in full detail in my book, The Holy Grail: Charles Bukowski, and The Second Coming Revolution, a memoir of my days back in the Beat and post-Beat days, so there are things revealed in the book that a large majority of people are not aware of.

What are you own personal feelings on life and death and the things in between?

You begin the dying process the moment you are born and take your first breath. In between is life. We are all a product of our experiences along the road to finality. What you learn from those experiences and how you play them out ultimately defines who you are.

A.D. and late Beat poet Jack Micheline.  1976.

A.D. and late Beat poet Jack Micheline. 1976.

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

That’s not for me to say. I’m no guru, shaman, or prophet. Each individual must discover this for himself or herself.

How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?

I’d like to be remembered as a person who played it honest, as someone who cared for the down and out, as someone who valued integrity over monetary success or status in the literary hierarchy. As someone who valued friendship over the almighty dollar.

Do you have a dream project you’d most like to accomplish?

Writing wise I have pretty much accomplished everything I want to accomplish. I want to see my grandniece graduate from college and hope her dream of becoming a marine biologist becomes a reality.

 A.D. and Sacramento poet D.R. Wagner. Sacramento, CA 2014.

A.D. and Sacramento poet D.R. Wagner. Sacramento, CA 2014.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I had three books published last year. Some of the best poems I have written were written in 2014. I want to put a book together of these poems and find a publisher with a decent distribution to publish it.

Anything you’d like to say before you go?

Just be happy. A smile brings fewer wrinkles than a frown. Live each day like it may be your last because you never know if it might be. I recently turned 79 and consider each year a “free Pass.”

 

IT’S HOW YOU LOOK AT IT

Sitting here alone as
I’ve grown accustomed
Listening to Billie Holiday
As I pound the keyboard
Try to make a little magic
Jack Daniels racing through
My veins
Having just returned home
From a book party celebrating
the life of Bob Kaufman
Gone like so many others
An army of poets sitting
On my bookshelf
T.S. Eliot playing the banker
William Carlos Williams
Suturing wounds
Micheline walking the streets
Of New York with Mingus
Kaufman riding the subway
Getting off at 58th Street forever
Blake rolling dice with God
Lorca playing Russian roulette
Gary Snyder building word bridges
And suddenly I’m not alone anymore
The words falling like
Hard rain.

  Novelist Floyd Salas and A.D.  at presentation of PEN Oakland awarding A.D. Lifetime Achievement Award.  Oakland, Ca 2009.

Novelist Floyd Salas and A.D. at presentation of PEN Oakland awarding A.D. Lifetime Achievement Award. Oakland, Ca 2009.

Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Abandoned Planet Bookstore SF. year unknown.

Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Abandoned Planet Bookstore SF. year unknown.

"Dead Lions" available from Punk Hostage Press on Amazon.

“Dead Lions” available from Punk Hostage Press on Amazon.

“The Vanishing Point of Departure” by Linda Lerner

The Vanishing Point of Departure

 

when a plane vanishes with over 200 people
when there’s no proof of mechanical failure or a terrorist hijacking
when every lead leads into a black hole
it drives people crazy: they trek to the edge of that better place
to another planet, anywhere to locate them even accuse Martians
whose existence they’ve always doubted
of an alien abduction because
people can’t just vanish

but they have and the plane is still missing as is the husband who vanished
while his wife, the writer, fixing drinks in the other room
was still talking to him

I use third person backing off from myself
but sometime before he knew, said that when someone dies
it’s like a light that goes out, we throw away the bulb
I am still forcing that bulb to shine
doing it right now, forcing out
some light by which to bring him back, save him
and all those others who are waiting to be rescued
on an obscure island where the plane must have crashed
where everyone is waiting for someone to
bring them home…

 

Linda Lerner’s next collection, Yes, the Ducks Were Real, will be published by NYQ Books in 2015 as was her previous full length collection, Takes Guts and Years Sometimes. A chapbook of poems inspired by nursery rhymes, illustrated by Donna Kerness, Ding Dong the Bell Pussy in the Well was published in Feb. 2014 by Lummox Press. She’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. In 1995 she and Andrew Gettler began Poets(http://www.echony.com/~poets) the first poetry anthology on the Net for which she received two grants. She can be heard reading on http://www.poetryvlog.com