I made this song up while being driven around the New York highways, from the edge of Brooklyn to Manhattan. The person behind the wheel (well, my ex-husband, if you need to know) always seemed to be in various stages of falling asleep while driving, which caused me great anxiety. I tended to sing and clap loudly in the vain hope that this would help him stay awake. So that is where this song comes from and why there is only clapping and no guitar.
I’ve written a lot of songs that involve a character crossing an endless stretch of frozen land, because I feel a lot of my life has been about perseverance and trying to outlast unbearable situations without going insane- or at least without going insane in a way that is irreversible.
So this song is about a soldier/spice salesman, who uses the warmth of spices to help him and others survive (emotionally & spiritually), a hard, barren, and relentless lifestyle.
What can I say? By the time I wrote this song I was basically a red giant, flaming out from having taken such a martial approach to life for so long. I would burn cayenne pepper as an incense, even though it made me cough like a crazy person, hoping it could revive my passion for life and will to live.
I just found this song the other day. I don’t really remember writing it, and I’m not sure I ever sung it. Like so many of the songs I wrote in the past, it now seems shockingly crude to me, although ten years ago, I would have felt differently. Words that seemed wholesome and commonplace when I was married to Hugh Heffner, now stand out like gigantic monsters when I’m married to Ned Flanders.
Still, I like it, and don’t think it’s really crude, as long as you’re not a Jehovah’s Witness. I don’t think words themselves really can be crude. To me, words are hollow containers, packed with meaning by the speaker and also the listener.
In the south, people always pack their cruelest messages inside the sweetest words, share affection through teasing, and give praise in a way that sounds like an insult (this allows the praise to be accepted without the receiver feeling like a narcissist.) Therefore, it is hard for me to judge a word by it’s surface meaning.
That is why I feel disturbed by some of the hate speech controversies that have been sweeping the nation recently (Donald Sterling, Don Jones, Robert Copeland, Maurice Price etc.) I feel it would be a horrible mistake to set a precedent of punishing people for their words. If we really want to make the world a safer place, we have to look beneath the surface of things and resist knee-jerk reactions to predictable provocations.
But it would never do us any good to suppress people’s words.
For example, if someone makes racist comments because they are a racist, at least their words are letting us know where they stand so we can react accordingly. If a man makes sexist comments, that could be a useful clue that you don’t want to marry him. Unfortunately, the most dangerous predators probably don’t go around saying dumb things. But when someone does reveal their hand, we can be grateful for the info.
Other times, offensive words may be a cry for help. They may express an immature person’s need for love and attention, or a desire to feel powerful. They may be the ramblings of a mind that has come unhinged and is spouting notions it heard in the past. They may be the bilous expressions of a pain and agony that has become unbearable. In these cases, I feel we can forgive people for their clumsy attempts to get their needs met, and respond to the underlying message, just as we would with a child who is misbehaving to win affection.
One way or another, words are messengers, and as the saying goes, you never kill the messenger!
At the time I wrote this song I was obsessed with the color green. After all, green is the color of money, and money was something I desperately needed. Mostly, I needed money so that my husband would stop being depressed. I needed him to stop being depressed so that I could take a break from trying to make him happy.
So, I painted everything in my apartment green and filled it with plants. Every bit of wall space was filled with a picture of a saint in a green frame, since I figured saints would be lucky. Everyday I burned rosemary, sage, parsley and thyme to fill our home with their scent. To me they represented the four archangels, Rosemary for Auriel, Sage for Gabriel, Parsley for Raphael, and for Michael, Thyme.
When I think of green people, I think of people who are smooth and accomplished, while perhaps a little on the fake side. They hide their true self in order to get ahead and take advantage of opportunities. Just like plants, they are flexible, changeable, and eager to grow in any direction. They conform to the norms of society for the advantages and ease it brings them.
I had the notion that if my husband became more green, more willing to fit in and go with the human flow, that it would ease his troubles, both emotionally and financially. After all, it is hard to get a job when you are crying and wearing a batman costume. So I tried to change him, to get him to reign in his personality and emotions.
For starters, I had him change up his wardrobe and exchange football jerseys (which had the side effect of exposing large puffs of chest hair) for the more contained polo shirt. I tried to get him to wear socks and close-toed shoes. We compromised on socks inside of sandals. Every morning, I forced him- as best I could- to sit with a cup of coffee (which he didn’t drink) and pretend to read a newspaper. I felt that coffee and newspapers would both be civilizing influences. He wanted to get his news from the computer, but I felt the dry scratchiness of the newsprint itself would somehow soak up the black bile that was troubling him. I also insisted he wear glasses. He didn’t need them, but luckily we were able to find some ladies reading glasses that were practically clear. I felt spectacles would lead to a more organized mind.
I also convinced him to trade in his meals of “animal style” burgers and meats dripping in dark sauces, for something more mental and crisp, like a turkey sandwich with a side of chips and a Sprite.
A song from Brooklyn where everything was black, black, black.
In retrospect, I can see that the mental torture I experienced there was magnified by growing up in a culture that valued money, status, fun, and popularity above all else. These values motivate people to work hard and achieve, but make it harder to find meaning and peace of mind in undesirable circumstances.
My husband, on the other hand, was raised to abhor money and status, and to seek only Eternal Salvation. This hasn’t always made him the life of the party, but it does give him patience and a sense of himself that isn’t dependent on “worldly” approval.
He was taught that God’s chosen people will be reviled and persecuted while I was taught that the “cream of humanity” can be recognized by their wealth and success…
This is a poem and normally I don’t care that much for poems. Nonetheless, I have heard that gardens grow most vigorously when they are 3% weeds, and since I now have about one hundred songs in here, I thought I should sprinkle in a couple of poems to keep things healthy.
The reason I generally don’t care for poetry is because poems tend to be flavorless, hard to chew, and lacking in digestible matter. Like grass. Maybe the good ones are like vegetables and aromatic herbs. But rarely like candy.
Once I tried giving up candy for a few months and only eating vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other “natural” foods. I was inspired (or probably hypnotized) by a book called “Detox” that claimed if you ate this way your body would become so pure that your skin would be transparent. This seemed like an irresistible possibility, especially since I was due to get married soon and worried about looking my best for my big day.
The main problem with this diet was that it required me to eat literally all day long just to survive. Every moment I wasn’t eating was spent driving around buying strange foods like liquid chlorophyll which Detox required me to drink nightly mixed with olive oil and apple juice. I had to stop painting because there was no time to do anything but eat, and no money either (natural foods are expensive.) My healthy diet was consuming all my time and money, and even some of my friendships too, which had once revolved around going out for pizza and ice cream.
Maybe it would have been worth it if my skin had become transparent, but it remained as opaque as ever. In fact, no matter how many cauliflowers I ate I seemed to look exactly the same.
What is the moral of the story? That if you eat too many vegetables it may detract from fulfilling your life’s purpose. That’s why I like songs- they are like cookies, easy to digest and full of fun and accessible calories. They give you the nutrition you need without detracting from your modern, 0n-the-go lifestyle.
I believe there are spirits of justice in the universe, in fact multiple “species” of justice spirits. One group is called the Emerald Knights.
They patrol the forests where the fairies live, slowly riding their white horses around the forest’s perimeter, peering with their far-sighted eyes deep into the thickest parts of the woods where the most dastardly deeds take place. They watch and watch, and their piercing eyes record every injustice and abuse that occurs. They sit perched high up on their horse and do nothing, they let the chaos and the evil thrive, until a predator suddenly crosses a certain threshold of cruelty- a line known only to the Emerald Knights- and then WAM! like lightning they charge on their horse into the forest, and all the fairies close their eyes because they know what comes next will be horrible. It is hard to say exactly what does happen next, since no one but an Emerald Knight has lived to see it, but I think the perpetrators are more or less executed, so swiftly and violently that neither they nor their cronies have time to utter a word in their defense.
Then the Emerald Knight turns his horse around and rides slowly out of the forest, offering no explanation or words of comfort to the fairies who now peer at him from between their fingers.
In the movie Brooklyn’s Finest, a Brooklyn cop goes on a killing spree in order afford a safer home for his family. I can totally relate to his feelings, and yet, I kept wanting to yell at him, “Move to Indiana! Why don’t you just move to Indiana!! Don’t you realize there is cheaper housing there?!?”
Why does Brooklyn even exist- why doesn’t everyone just move to Indiana? What is the upside to Brooklyn? As far as I can tell, there isn’t more stuff to do, there isn’t greater earning potential… so, what gives?
At any rate, this is another song I wrote while struggling to keep my head above water in the belly of that concrete monster. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the hardest things to deal with was feeling deprived of all the things that make life feel happy and comfortable, like friends, nature, a happy home, a slice of pizza that hasn’t been held in a stranger’s dirty hands. My mind would spin around and around trying to think of ways I could bring this lost pastoral energy back into my life (Because somehow, just as in Brooklyn’s Finest, the idea that I could simply leave never seemed to enter my mind.)
At one point, I was convinced that the color orange was the answer. I saw Brooklyn as basically being the Kingdom of Gray, and thought orange might be the color that could cut through the thick dullness that gray represented, and bring in the energy of the Harvest, that time when all your efforts are rewarded and all the seeds you have planted come to fruition.
So, not having much money to spend on the color orange, I bought a basketball, a pair of orange high top shoes (the only orange shoes I could find for $9), plus some orange tissue paper and candles. I taped the orange paper to my wall and lit the orange candles beneath it. But when I opened my door, the paper caught fire and flew across the room like a giant orange monster, landing on the floor where I stomped it out (and then extinguished the wall). I decided to put the orange candles on my kitchen table instead, and let them burn through the night so I could wake up and enjoy my harvest in the morning. Instead, I was woken by a strange sound that turned out to be the entire surface of my kitchen table burning. The spirits of the harvest at work!
Probably the most traumatic part of living in Brooklyn was the cockroaches. When you lose control of your personal space, and cannot make it safe and clean despite your best efforts, you lose a part of your mind.
The first time I saw one I didn’t think it was real. I had just turned on the bathroom light in my newly rented apartment when a three inch long creature- that looked to me like an Egyptian scarab- quickly scampered down the drain. I didn’t see what a magical scarab would be doing in my apartment, and I didn’t see how something that large could have disappeared down the drain, so I figured it must have been a hallucination- and hopefully a sign of good luck! I thought- like the phoenix- it was the sort of creature I would only see once in a lifetime.
But unfortunately, it was just one member of a very, very, VERY large tribe, that tormented me day and night, and that is about all I can say on this subject without losing the contents of my stomach. Suffice it to say, this was just one more element of my life which felt intolerable, out of control, and left me turning to magic for answers.
Perhaps because I lived in a black part of town, most of the magic I learned seemed to have African-American origins, like Hoodoo for example. One book I read was called the 8th, 9th, and 10th Books of Moses. In the preface, it refers to Moses (if I remember correctly) as the Great Hoodoo Man of the Bible. It caused me to see Moses in a totally new light. Before, I had always thought of him as someone chosen by God to do God’s bidding with little will or volition of his own. Which isn’t very relatable, since most of us don’t have burning bushes to turn to for advice and have to figure out life for ourselves. But in the hoodoo version of Moses, he was more of a self-made man- a powerful, wise magician who led his people to freedom through his own knowledge, strength and cunning. Which makes sense when you consider that “God helps those who help themselves.”