Monday 27 July 2009


Spending a night in my old friend Don's house in South London, the first time I've seen him for many years. Lots of memories jogged and pleasurably unleashed in the course of the evening. Nefarious revisitings of previous 'lives'. Revenants awakened.

In the night, the door to my room swings open oh so slowly and in comes my mother, looking elegant and much younger than she was when she died about 20 years ago. She is pretending to be a ghost. She creeps towards me playing the game of spooking her kid. She jumps on top of me on the bed, making ridiculous theatrical ghoul noises, oohs and aahs, and we wrestle. For a moment, I'm genuinely frightened and try to bite her, my heart pumping. After a moment, we pause. My head comes up from under the covers, our eyes meet, and I realise it's a game.

'Hello love', she says, sitting up, smiling. 'I'm a ghost'.

When I wake up in the morning, the door is still open.


A few nights later in Devon, Sue and I are creeping alongside a wall at night, hand in hand, in silence. We don't want to be caught, and are walking quietly but freely on the grass. The wall goes on and on. We keep going where we are going. Then a small warm animal noise in the darkness in front of us: horse breath. We stop.

To one side - the direction we are heading - a group of horsemen are gathering quietly: they look like hussars in uniform, their swords are drawn, the horses' flanks catch the low light. The brief flare of a brass cuirasse, the glint of an eye. The horses paw the ground.

Then to the other side - the direction from which we've come - other horsemen walk slowly into the half-light, like actors quietly taking their place on the stage, their swords also at the ready. Gradually the numbers grow until all are present.

A silent stand-off, as the horses fidget; tiny sounds of metal, bits and blade. The calm before some sort of storm in this field of intersecting gazes.

We are caught in the middle, looking one way then the other. The confrontation is nothing to do with us, but we have no choice but to be there as it unfolds around us. Witnesses.

We wait. No one makes a move.

Monday 6 July 2009

rhythm (that was then)

Bob Dylan: I've always been real content with the old forms. I know my place by now.
Sam Shepard: So you feel you know who you are?
Bob Dylan: Well, you always know who you are. I just don't know who I'm gonna become.

(Sam Shepard interview with Bob Dylan, in Rolling Thunder Review Logbook, 1987)

A hugely engaging conversation at a conference in Aberystwyth with Andrew Todd - architect, jazz drummer, writer, hilarious raconteur - in part spilling out of Andrew's plans to write a book about rhythm. I tell him about some of my drummer heroes: John Convertino (Calexico), Jaleel Bunton (TV on the Radio) etc. He talks jazzers. A few days later I send him a text by Sam Shepard, pasted below. Very Sam of the early 1970s: a kind of elliptical cartography of a particular 'America'. Sam was the drummer with the Holy Modal Rounders, on tour with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review. He was also 'writer-in-residence' on that tour, producing the Rolling Thunder Review Logbook. In this book of fragments, Shepard's fascinated by the myth of 'Dylan', his personae:

'Tonight Dylan appears in a rubber Dylan mask he'd picked up on 42nd Street. The crowd is stupefied. A kind of panic-stricken hush falls over the place. "Has he had another accident? Plastic surgery?" Or is this some kind of mammoth hoax? An imposter! The voice sounds the same. If it is a replacement, he's doing a good job. He goes through three or four songs with the thing on, then reaches for the harmonica. He tries to play it through the mask but it won't work, so he rips it off and throws it back into the floodlights. There he is in the flesh and blood! The real thing! A face-lift supreme! It's a frightening act even if it's not calculated for those reasons. The audience is totally bewildered and still wondering if this is actually him or not'.

Anyway, here's Sam Shepard's text about rhythm, the one I sent on to Andrew:

If everything could be sung to the standard rock and roll progression – C, A minor, F, G chords – then everything’d be simple. How many variations on a single theme? The greatest drum solo I ever heard was made by a loose flap of a tarpaulin on top of my car hitting the wind at eighty. The second best is windshield wipers in the rain, but more abstract, less animal. Like the rhythms of a rabbit scratching his chin. Vision rhythms are neat, like hawk scoops and swan dives. Slow motion space rhythms. Digging rhythms like shovels and spades and hoes and rakes and snowplow rhythms. Jack-hammer rhythms make Ginger Baker and Keith Moon look like punk chumps. Oilcan rhythms, ratchet wrench rhythms. Playing cards in bicycle spokes. A string of rapid-fire, firecracker rhythms. Propeller rhythms. Cricket rhythms. Dog claws clicking on hardwood floors. Clocks. Piston rhythms. Dripping faucets. Tin hitting tin in the wind. Water slapping rocks. Flesh slapping flesh. Boxing rhythms. Racing rhythms. Rushing brooks. Radio static buzz in a car when the engine is the dictator. Directional turnsignal blinkers. Off and on neon lights. Blinking yellow arrows. Water pumps. Refrigerator hums. Thermostatic- controlled heating systems. Clicking elevators with the numbers lighting up for each floor. Snakes sliding through grass. At night. Buoy lights. Ship signals. Airplane warnings. Fire alarms. Rhythms in a stuck car horn. Eating rhythms. Chewing rhythms. The cud of a cow. The chomp of a horse. Knives being sharpened. Band saws. Skill saws. Hack saws. Buzz saws. Buck saws. Chain saws. Any saw rhythm. Hammers and nails. Money clanking in a poker game. Cards shuffled. Bus meters. Taxi meters. Boiling water rhythms. Clicking ballpoint pens. Clicking metal frogs. Roulette wheel spinning rhythms. Tire rhythms. Whittling. Stitching. Typing. Clicking knitting needles. Parrots sharpening their beaks on wood. Chickens scratching. Dogs digging for moles. Birds cleaning their feathers. Cocking guns. Spinning guns. Bolt actions. Lever actions. Snapping finger nails. Finger popping. Cracking knuckles. Snapping bones. Farting. Spitting. Shitting. Fucking rhythms. Blinking eyes. Blowing nose. Coughing without control. Candle flicker rhythms. Creaking houses. Thawing ice. And you call yourself a drummer?

(Sam Shepard, ‘Rhythm’ [1973], in Motel Chronicles / Hawk Moon, London: Faber & Faber, 1985, 164-5).

Andrew's email response: 'Given my shoddy performance on Oleo I could add mashing potatoes to Shepard’s pantheon. (Jack de Johnette suggested listening to your boiler room.) Nice text: perhaps a little expansive, but that was then I suppose'.

Photograph: Sam Shepard & Patti Smith performing their play Cowboy Mouth, New York, 1971. Photo by Gerard Malanga

For footage of Sonny Rollins playing Oleo, with Alan Dawson on drums, see here

Sunday 5 July 2009

dance (look at your eyes)

for vicky & gareth

We are so small we can barely be seen.

How can this great love be inside us?

Look at your eyes. They are small, but they see enormous things.

Loving actions are the seed of something,

A living-place.

Love means to look at yourself

The way one looks at distant things

For you are only one thing among many.

And whoever sees that ways heals their heart.

A bird and a tree say to them: Friend.

Look as long as you can at someone you love

No matter whether they are moving away from you

Or coming back towards you.

Some nights stay up till dawn,

As the moon sometimes does for the sun.

Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way

Of a well, then lifted out into light.

I want this music and this dawn

And the warmth of your cheek against mine.

Dance, when you’re broken open.

Dance when the bandages come off. Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.

Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

But no words will ever mean as much as a life.

So let the words stop now.

Open the window in the centre of your chest,

And let the spirits fly in and out.

Text read at the wedding of Vicky Major & Gareth Wolf, Saturday 4 July 2009, Harbertonford, Devon.
Poem adapted from Rumi and Czeslaw Milosz